Pac-12: Russell Wilson

Matt Barkley going to Gruden Camp

February, 15, 2013
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Jon Gruden’s QB Camp is back -- Spider 2 wide banana! -- and former USC quarterback Matt Barkley is among the players who will be put through the ringer by Gruden.

The series will begin April 4.

Nine of the top quarterbacks in this spring's NFL draft are scheduled to participate:
Last year, Gruden mentored Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill and others, arguably the most successful class of rookie quarterbacks in NFL history.

The series will also include a trio of non-quarterbacks: Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M); South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore; and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o.

Each prospect will visit Gruden’s office in Tampa, Fla., -- dubbed the Fired Football Coaches Association (FFCA) -- for a film session. Most of the players will also participate in an on-field workout.

Air dates and times for the entire series will be finalized in the coming weeks.

Take 2: Any second-week upsets?

September, 7, 2012
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Are there any upset specials on the menu in Week 2? Your Pac-12 bloggers can think of a couple.

Ted Miller: Wisconsin whipped Oregon State 35-0 last year. No way the Beavers can notch an upset against Wisky, right? A 35-plus point swing? Please.

Believe it. For one, we expect the Beavers to be much better than they were last year. And this Badgers team seems potentially much worse.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireOregon State coach Mike Riley welcomes back 17 starters.
Beavers better: QB Sean Mannion is no longer a redshirt freshman snagging a job away from a returning starter who was popular in the locker room.

Wisky worse: New Badgers QB Danny O'Brien, a Maryland transfer, is solid, but he's no Russell Wilson. Wilson made the Badgers last year, giving them a potent, efficient passing attack to complement a physical running game.

Beavers better: While things are chippy in Corvallis after consecutive losing seasons, the Beavers and coach Mike Riley mostly had a newsless offseason, only losing secondary coach Keith Heyward to Washington. They have stability.

Wisky worse: The Badgers have six new coaches, and among their losses was offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.

Beavers better: Oregon State welcomes back 17 starters.

Wisky worse: The Badgers welcome back only 11 starters.

Beavers better: Those seven freshmen or sophomore starters for Oregon State from a year ago will be far more seasoned.

Wisky worse: The Badgers, no matter how they say they won't, will have to difficult time mustering a focused respect for Oregon State, based on how easy things were a year ago.

Beavers better: They are playing at home, not in front of 80,000 hostile fans in Camp Randall Stadium.

Wisky worse: While it's not good that Oregon State's opener against Nicholls State was postponed, the Beavers got to stay home and watch the Badgers struggle in a 26-21 win over Northern Iowa. That game film, which Badgers coach Bret Bielema really, really didn't want Oregon State to see, surely boosted the Beavers confidence.

I think Oregon State is going to be better on both lines of scrimmage. I think Mannion's maturity as a passer will make it easier for the Beavers to establish an adequate running game. And I don't think the Badgers offensive line, replacing three starters, will be as good this fall.

Last year, the Beavers were outrushed 208 yards to 23. I think that number will be far closer this go-around.

Finally, there's this: Nobody on the Wisconsin defense can keep up with receiver Markus Wheaton. We know this because nobody on the Badger defense could keep up with De'Anthony Thomas in the Rose Bowl, and Wheaton is faster than Thomas.

No, this game is not 50-50. Or even 60-40. If the Beavers do win, it will be an upset, and just about everyone will be surprised.

Our point here is merely to prepare you to not be that surprised.

Kevin Gemmell: Wow. That was pretty compelling. Can't refute any of that, only to say that the last product we saw from Oregon State was the last product they had on the field in 2011. And it wasn't great. I too believe Oregon State will be much better this year, but if I were picking an upset in Week 2, I'd go with a team I've already seen in action (a lesson learned from my Washington State debacle last week).

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Franklin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesUCLA running back Johnathan Franklin ran for 214 yards in the opener against Rice.
Just so we're clear, I'm on record with a prediction that Nebraska beats UCLA. I was asked in my chat on Wednesday to assign a percentage to UCLA's chance of winning. And I went with 49 percent.

Were the Bruins outstanding in Week 1? No. But they won on the road with a rookie quarterback (never easy) and for the most part they were pretty good considering all of the youth they put out there. And that youth was evident, especially in the first half when the defense yielded 24 points and 282 yards.

Ah, but here's a little not-so-secret secret, Jim Mora can coach. Consider the second half -- a couple of tweaks to what Rice was doing on offense and the Bruins surrendered just 76 yards in the final 30 minutes -- only crossing into the UCLA half once. I asked Mora to explain the defensive difference between halves and his answer was satisfactory. UCLA didn't do a lot of full tackling in the fall camp, so they were a little rusty. Makes sense.

UCLA can't win this game on athleticism alone. Because Nebraska can match them speed-for-speed and player-for-player. In fact, when you look at the rosters side-by-side, it's probably a draw in terms of who has the better athletes. So UCLA will have to take advantage of the wealth of coaching knowledge it has on the sidelines and exploit the mismatches it does have.

For example, UCLA's offensive line is young and probably inferior to Nebraska's defensive front. So expect a lot of quick passes from second-time-starter Brett Hundley. No reason to make those guys pass block for three seconds, because they probably won't be able to. Nebraska will pressure Hundley far more than Rice did.

Also, Joseph Fauria is a mismatch for any linebacker or safety in the country. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Bruins ride that guy to the tune of nine or 10 catches. And we'll find out whether Johnathan Franklin is as good as his three-touchdown, 214-yard rushing performance against Rice suggests.

Defensively, they need an answer for Taylor Martinez. I'm not going to pretend to have it. But I will say Datone Jones might finally be maturing into the player we all thought he could be and a little pressure -- especially against a team on the road -- can go a long way.

This is going to be a competitive game, and much like your Oregon State scenario, no one should be shocked if the Bruins walk away from this game 2-0.
Almost exactly year ago, Oregon State was suffering total program misery.

First, it opened with a home loss to FCS foe Sacramento State. Then, it got drubbed 35-zip at Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireIs Oregon State coach Mike Riley on the hot seat?
Amid those two dispiriting defeats -- the Beavers would start a shocking 0-4 -- Oregon State made a surprising change at quarterback, benching returning starter Ryan Katz in favor of redshirt freshman Sean Mannion.

Sure, Katz had gone 5-7 as first-year starter, but he'd flashed a huge arm and plenty of promise. Yet a leak that started dripping while an injured Katz sat out 2011 spring practices became a torrent by the end of fall camp. Katz couldn't afford a slow start, and that's what he had. And he lost his job. From the outside, it seemed to happen very quickly, and it surprised even the writers who covered the team every day.

The end result was locker room upheaval, an embarrassing 3-9 finish and Katz transferring to San Diego State, where he is now the starter. Oh, and there are now grumbles that coach Mike Riley, two years ago probably the most secure coach in the conference, is now on the hot seat.

Hot seat talk or not, things feel far more stable now.

"Those are difficult times," Riley recalled this week. "With the young men here, that's not easy. We've managed to avoid those kinds of issues right now."
What's the same compared to last year is a Week 2 game with No. 13 Wisconsin on Saturday. What's different is this year's FCS opener, Nicholls State, cancelled its visit last weekend due to hurricane concerns in the Gulf Coast. There's no QB controversy for the Beavers, as this is solidly Mannion's offense. And the Badgers are making the long trip to Corvallis.



"It's as big a nonconference game as Oregon State has ever hosted," Riley said.

There are two ways to look at last year's game: 1. The Beavers got whipped, as they were outgained 397 yards to 284 and outrushed 208 yards to 23; 2. The Beavers shot themselves in the foot with stupid penalties and special teams mistakes.

Of course, it was a combination. But Oregon State held up physically better than the final tally suggests. Some might recall that Wisconsin's first touchdown came after Johnny Hekker produced the only backwards punt most football fans have ever seen. Or will ever see.


Said Riley at the time, "Just bad football."

This matchup seems far more manageable for the Beavers. While the Badgers have imported another ACC QB, this year's Russell Wilson is former Maryland QB Danny O'Brien, only 11 starters are back from last fall's 11-3 team that lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl. Further, coach Bret Bielema lost not only his highly respected offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst, now the head coach at Pittsburgh, but also five other coaches.

Last weekend, the Badgers barely escaped with a 26-21 win over Northern Iowa. While they still look like the favorite in the Big Ten Leader's Division, they presently don't look like a top-10 team.

While it's probably a negative that Oregon State didn't get its first game jitters out last weekend, it does have some advantage in having seen Wisconsin play and having the Badgers not get to do the same.

Riley has said over and over the Beavers, in order to get back to where they were in the conference pecking order, need to run the ball and stop the run better. The Badgers and Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball will present an immediate and challenging measuring stick on potential improvement going both ways.

"We'll see a lot about who we are." Riley said.

The Beavers are in a far better place than they were a year ago. But have they improved enough that they can turn a blowout defeat into a "We're back!" upset?

Foles, Pac-12 receivers shine in Senior Bowl

January, 30, 2012
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Pac-12 receivers caught three touchdown passes in the Senior Bowl on Saturday, a 23-13 North victory at Ladd-Peebles Stadium (40,646) in Mobile, Ala.

California's Marvin Jones caught an 8-yard scoring toss from Wisconsin's Russell Wilson in the second quarter. Arizona State's Gerell Robinson hauled in a 41-yard touchdown from Michigan State's Kirk Cousins, which gave the North a 20-6 lead. The South got an answer with Arizona quarterback Nick Foles’ 20-yard touchdown toss to his former teammate in Tucson, Juron Criner.

Foles, after a middling week of practice, had a strong showing in the game, completing 11 of 15 passes for 136 yards. Criner caught six for 77 yards. He and Boise State's Kellen Moore were the only two of the six quarterbacks in the game who didn't throw interceptions.

Robinson caught two passes for 64 yards. Washington had two players in the game. Running back Chris Polk had six carries for 19 yards, while defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu had two tackles for a loss.

Cal's Mitchell Schwartz started at right tackle for the North.

Mailbag: Tosh & Thomas reactions

January, 20, 2012
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It is Friday. Can we get some emergency college football tomorrow? How about a USC-Alabama scrimmage? Anyone? Anyone?

No. Drat.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Shawn from Albany, Ore., writes: You recently stated, "USC just became the strong front-runner in the Pac-12."... Why? You can't tell me you really think that just because Thomas is bolting for the NFL, that its going to make the Ducks any less competitive in the PAC-12 next year... Apparently you didn't pay much attention when True Freshman Bryan Bennett played this last year... Yes it will be his first year as our starter, but if you recall, Thomas took us to the National Championship game his FIRST year as starter... And if you ask me, Bennett's not only faster than Thomas, but has a better arm... That kid can sling a pigskin! Anyway... I'd be careful about stating anything that has to do with USC being somehow more dominant than us based simply on the fact we'll no longer have Thomas at the helm... It's time for a new era of Oregon Football... The Bennett Era!

Ted Miller: Well, I had USC as a slight front-runner in the Pac-12 in any event based largely on the fact that Oregon must play at USC on Nov. 3 and not vice versa. The Ducks' loss of Thomas just makes the Trojans front-runner status clearer.

With or without Thomas, Oregon is the clear front-runner in the North Division. I will be shocked if the Ducks don't play in the 2012 Pac-12 championship game. And I'd be more than a little surprised if they have more than two losses when they do so.

And yet the loss of Thomas does change things, whether Oregon fans want to admit it or not. Thomas is a given. You know what you will get from him. And, more important, so does Chip Kelly. When a coach really knows his quarterback, particularly a Dr. Strange offensive savant like Chip Kelly, it helps him engineer the offense to suit him in every detail. Kelly knows what Thomas likes and dislikes. He knows how he will react to just about every situation. He won't know that about Bryan Bennett.

Heck, we don't even know that Bennett will be the starter, though I feel strongly he will be. It seems some are intrigued by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

Bennett played well coming off the bench when Thomas got hurt against Arizona State. And he did a good job in his start at Colorado. But, well, the Buffs' defense wasn't exactly LSU.

How will Bennett -- or whoever starts -- react to adversity? Or prosperity even? Will he be durable? Will he protect the football? Will he be able to make consistent reads? Will he get overwhelmed by the spotlight? Can he digest the entire offense? Will be be able to counterpunch on his own when defensive coordinators start to get a feel for him?

How will be react to 94,000 fans at the Coliseum on Nov. 3?

These are questions Thomas already answered. Sure, he wasn't the perfect quarterback. But he was 23-3 as a starter, including 1-1 in BCS bowl games. If he started in the Coliseum on Nov. 3, he'd be smirking and eyeballing Matt Barkley thinking, "I'm better than him."

It's perfectly reasonable to have high expectations for Bennett. My hunch is he'll play well, perhaps even match or exceed Thomas' numbers. He, particularly, looks like a better runner.

Still, when you remove a starter who was 23-3, you insert unknowns. There's no way around that.

To Chip Kelly this: Bennett is a hypothetical. And we don't do hypotheticals.


Ken from Portland writes: Ted First off, I think Mike Leach is going to be a fantastic coach in Pullman. I think he is just what the Cougs need, and I don't really look forward to playing them in the future. My question though is this: Pullman does not have all that different of weather than the Midwest. Every analyst and their mom, it seems like, always points to the "weather" as the reason a pass heavy offense wouldn't work in the Big10 (and Big 10 fan's #1 excuse for losing to teams from the South, "well hey buddy, come try that offense in Ohio in November!") But everyone loves the Leach hire in Pullman? Would they be saying the same thing if he were hired at say, Indiana?

Ted Miller: Pullman's weather has never stopped the Cougars from being pass-heavy before, why would it be different for Leach's offense? The Cougars, with a long tradition of elite quarterbacks who fling the ball all over the place, ranked ninth in the nation in passing last season. If you look at this list of top passing offenses, you'll see plenty of teams that play in the snow and cold.

There are two reasons the Big Ten hasn't become more pass-heavy through the years. The first does involve geography: It seems like there are more big-time athletes -- offensive playmakers -- in the Southeast, Southwest and West Coast than in the Midwest. Recruiting lists tend to bear that out.

But, just as important: A deeply ingrained Midwest football culture. Michigan and Ohio State, the two flagships of the Big Ten, have long traditions of playing great defense and running the ball. You could say the same for their "new" flagships, Penn State and Nebraska. And that was Barry Alvarez's blueprint for building Wisconsin into a Big Ten power.

By the way, it's also notable that when Wisconsin signed up quarterback Russell Wilson, a highly capable passer transferring from N.C. State, it became a very good passing team, which helped it become an even better running team.

That deeply ingrained culture was a big reason Rich Rodriguez failed at Michigan. Many Michigan insiders -- most specifically former coach Lloyd Carr -- couldn't stand Rodriguez's spread offense, and that motivated them to undermine him at every turn.

Think about the Northwest: Rain, not cold, is the most difficult condition for passing the football. But Northwest teams have strong traditions of throwing the football. The culture of West Coast football wins out over the weather.

I'm not sure if anyone can build a consistent winner at Indiana. But if Mike Leach were hired at Michigan State -- or Penn State or Michigan -- and fans and administrators were 100 percent supportive, he'd build a highly successful passing offense. For better or worse, the Big Ten continues to play old-school, run-first offense mostly by choice.


Will from Novato, Calif., writes: I just saw the video you posted on Tosh's departure from Cal. You nailed it on the head. You will probably be lambasted on our fan boards, but oh well. You state it correctly when you say that it is a business. It's deeply painful for Cal fans. We haven't gone to the Rose Bowl for what now seems like forever and a day. What's more, these past few seasons have, well, been less than hopeful. Whatever hope we had when Tedford first came on the scene has started to dissipate, and fast. With Chip Kelly and Oregon on the rise; with USC seemingly always having our number, and with Stanfurd suddenly looking rock solid, the hope is diminishing. EXCEPT, we had Tosh. With Tosh, we felt that we were finally going to get the kind of recruiting studs that would help propel us forward. With a front four of Moala, Jalil, Armstead and McCarthy, I don't think opposing OL's would know what to do. So hope emerged...and then was squashed. You've followed the sport longer than I, but yes, all of the rancor that's out there is perhaps explained though this. Anyway, thought compelled to shoot you this comment. Thanks for laying things out with a unbiased view. I'm sure you get enough hate mail from angry fans, perhaps a "good job" email would be nice evey so often.

Bret from Washington D.C., writes: If Cal's recruiting class falls apart due to Lupoi's departure, how much blame does Jeff Tedford shoulder? Shouldn't the recruits want to play for him, not the D-Line coach? After all he is the head coach and is responsible for the health of his program. I wonder how Cal fans will treat him if we turn in another sporadic 7-5 season and a disgraceful bowl performance on National TV. I was a freshman for the 1-10 Holmoe season, and sat through every blow out. But I have to admit I'm starting to turn on Tedford, who can't seem to take the team to the next level

Ted Miller: Cal fans, meet Chicken Little.

Chicken Little: The sky is falling.

Cal fan: I know. Tosh just left for Washington. WAAAAAAA!

Chicken Little: Are you going to eat that seed?

Cal fan: Only if it's a Prozac. We're DOOOOOOOOMED.

Chicken Little: I think you might be overreacting.


First off, as of today, Cal is still ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 in recruiting, and the only recruit who decommitted after Lupoi left said his decision had nothing to do with Lupoi. We might want to hold off on the mass harakiri until, you know, signing day on Feb. 1.

Further, Tedford has long felt the intense celebration of Lupoi as a recruiter was overblown. That might explain that ridiculously low -- by industry standards -- $164,000 salary. Now that will be tested. If the Bears finish strong and maintain a top-20 class, you'd have to give credit to Tedford and his staff. Of course, next year will probably be a bigger measure of the Lupoi Effect.

As for the big picture with Cal, as we've previously stated, this is a big season for Tedford. Scattered pockets of impatience the past few years have solidified. He's officially on the hot seat. And losing two coaches to Washington, including one who fans celebrate -- rightly or wrongly -- such as Lupoi, doesn't help the mood around the program.


Erick from Seattle writes: I recall hearing a few months ago that the UW game at LSU was going to be a night game in Death Valley. Any truth to this? I can't find anything online about the game time being announced.

Ted Miller: While it's still a "TBA," my guess is it will be a night game. Night games in Tiger Stadium are fun for two reasons: 1. Incredible, intense atmosphere; 2. That incredible, intense atmosphere is brought on by perhaps the nation's best tailgate.

Yes, there's a good deal of lubrication, but the food at an LSU tailgate rates as good as any in the nation.

Here's one for any LSU fans reading this: The last game I covered in Tiger Stadium was the Cecil "The Diesel" Collins vs. Dameyune Craig showdown. Great game.


Champ from California writes: Your hatred and prejudice of Stanford is not hidden in your writing. Typical jealous sportswriter... hates people with the courage to have brains.

Ted Miller: I just included this because, with this note, I have now received hate mail from all 12 Pac-12 teams.

Of course, Champ, if you are referring to this, then I might be taking credit for something from my colleague, Kevin Gemmell.
With the transfer of the nation's second leading tackler, Arizona's glaring need at linebacker just got a boost.

Akron linebacker Brian Wagner will enroll at Arizona this week and will be immediately eligible due to an NCAA rule that allows athletes pursuing graduate degrees not offered at the former school to play right away.

Wagner, 22, averaged 13.36 tackles per game in 2011, and considering top tackler Luke Kuechly of Boston College is off to the NFL, Wagner will be the top returning tackler in FBS football.

Wagner, who earned first-team All-MAC honors, is taking advantage of the same transfer rule that was used by Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.

Why is this a big get for Arizona? Because its top two tacklers, Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo, are graduating, and the Wildcats' top two returning linebackers -- sophomores Hank Hobson and Rob Hankins -- combined for four starts and 18 tackles last season, in large part due to the Wildcats using a base nickel formation much of the season. But when you toss in 2010 starter Jake Fischer, who is coming back from an ACL injury, you have four experienced guys for three spots.

And, yes, you can essentially pencil Wagner, 6-foot, 235 pounds, into the starting lineup.

From the Tucson Citizen:

He played middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme at Akron. Exactly where he fits into Arizona’s scheme is to be determined, Wagner said, with the Cats presumably running a 3-3-5, no matter who coach Rich Rodriguez eventually brings in as defensive coordinator.


As for that defensive coordinator, nothing yet -- I found this to be an interesting narrative on back-and-forth with West Virginia DC Jeff Casteel. Speculation that Penn State also might be a player with Casteel raised one of my eyebrows, though Casteel's 3-3-5 doesn't sound like a Penn State defense.

PASADENA, Calif. -- Instant analysis from Rose Bowl Stadium where No. 5 Oregon defeated No. 10 Wisconsin 45-38:

How the game was won: Both teams traded scores and major momentum swings. But Oregon had just a little too much speed at its skill positions for Wisconsin's defense to match. As the Badgers slowed down with just 10 points in the second half, the Ducks were able to eke out a close victory thanks to a couple of key turnovers. Everyone thought this could be a shootout, and we weren't disappointed by one of the most entertaining Rose Bowls ever. Oregon just had a little bit more explosiveness.

Turning point: Wisconsin had the ball with a chance to tie the score, and Russell Wilson completed a 29-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis inside the Oregon 30. But Terrance Mitchell knocked the ball free near the sideline, and the Ducks recovered with 4:04 left. Even though Oregon's quick-strike offense isn't built to bleed the clock, the Ducks picked up a couple of first downs to leave Wisconsin with less than a minute to drive the field. The Badgers had two big second-half turnovers, including Wilson's interception near the end of the third quarter, just his fourth of the season. That was enough in a game where stops were at a premium.

Stat of the game: The two teams combined for 1,130 total yards. Oregon averaged 9.7 yards per play.

Player of the game: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. He didn't get a lot of touches but made the most of them. He had a 91-yard and a 64-yard touchdown run to finish with 155 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Honorable mention to quarterback Darron Thomas (17-of-23 for 269 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception) and running back LaMichael James (25 carries for 159 yards and a score). James moved into second place on the Pac-12's career rushing list.

Unsung hero of the game: Oregon receiver Lavasier Tuinei did not have a great season but came up huge in the Rose Bowl. He finished with eight catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns, with several drive-extending grabs.

Second guessing: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema burned two timeouts early in the third quarter, one to try and challenge a kick return that De'Anthony Thomas almost downed outside of his own end zone. That left the Badgers unable to stop the clock late when they had a chance to tie the score. Wilson spiked the ball at the 25-yard-line after a long completion with two seconds left, but the officials ruled that there was no time left for another play. Bielema was also questioned after taking timeouts before the Hail Mary that Michigan State completed in an earlier loss this season.

What it means: Oregon won its first Rose Bowl since 1917 and proved it could win a BCS game after losing close ones the previous two years. Head coach Chip Kelly will no longer be questioned about winning big games. Bielema could continue to hear that criticism after his team suffered its second straight heartbreaking Rose Bowl loss. Without Wilson and most likely Montee Ball next season, Wisconsin might have missed a window to do something special this season. Oregon should be a top 5 team to start next season even if James goes pro, as both Thomases and Kenjon Barner return to form a strong nucleus

Record performance: The 83 combined points were the most in Rose Bowl history, eclipsing the 80 points combined between Washington and Iowa in 1991. Oregon and Wisconsin also set records for the most points scored in the first quarter (28) and in any half (56) in Rose Bowl history.
PASADENA, Calif. -- If the fourth quarter is anything like the first three here at Rose Bowl Stadium, we could be headed for a finish for the ages.

Wisconsin and Oregon traded punches and turnovers in the third quarter, and it remains anyone's game.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas opened the half by burning Wisconsin for another big play, going 64 yards for a touchdown just three plays and 33 seconds after halftime. When Thomas turns the corner, it's lights out for the defense.

That looked like it might be dispiriting for the Badgers, but Russell Wilson led the team on two scoring drives, throwing a touchdown pass to Nick Toon after picking up two key third downs on the drive. An earlier Wisconsin field goal felt like a win for the Ducks' defense with the way this game has gone.

The Badgers' defense forced a rare three-and-out and came up with their second turnover of the game when Aaron Henry intercepted Darron Thomas on an overthrown third-and-long pass. But Wisconsin gave it right back on a Russell Wilson interception, just his fourth of the season. Oregon's Kiko Alonso came up with the pick.

Wilson was having a tremendous game in his first opportunity to play in a big bowl. That interception could cost him his quest to finish ahead of Baylor's Robert Griffin III for the NCAA single-season passing-efficiency record, though I'm sure all he wants is the win.

Surprisingly, it hasn't really been Oregon's pace that has bothered Wisconsin. It has been Oregon's speed and skill. And Wisconsin's passing game has been better than most people probably expected, though, that interception really hurt.

All the stars have shown up -- Wilson, Montee Ball, Thomas, LaMichael James. If the fourth quarter is anything like the first three, this could go down as one of the best Rose Bowls ever. And that's saying something.

Halftime: Oregon 28, Wisconsin 28

January, 2, 2012
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LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Quick halftime analysis from Rose Bowl Stadium, where we're tied at 28 after a fast and furious first 30 minutes:

Turning point: With the score tied at 21, Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor came free on a blitz and buckled the arm of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas. Teammate Louis Nzegwu was in the right place to scoop it up, and he rumbled 33 yards for the defensive score. In a game in which the offenses are dominating, any defensive reversal like that looms large.

Stat of the half: Oregon has 28 points on 29 plays, averaging 11.8 yards per play. Wisconsin is averaging an even 7 yards per play. The two teams have combined for 636 total yards.

What Wisconsin needs to do: Keep hanging around. The Badgers are moving the ball nearly at will, but it's going to be tough to keep up with Oregon if the Ducks keep scoring at this pace. If Wisconsin can keep it close in the second half, they can put pressure on the Ducks' offense and hope for another mistake like the Thomas fumble. The Badgers have been very good in the third quarter all season, and also have made excellent second-half adjustments.

What Oregon needs to do: Take away something defensively. Montee Ball has more than 100 yards, and Russell Wilson is carving up the defense on play-action rollouts. That balance is what makes the Badgers so difficult to stop, but Oregon needs to make at least one of those facets more difficult, as it did with a fourth-down sack of Wilson in the second quarter.

Record performances: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas ran 91 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter. That was the longest touchdown run in Rose Bowl history. Montee Ball tied Barry Sanders' FBS scoring record with his 39th touchdown on the season with a 3-yard plunge into the end zone in the second quarter. The two teams combined for a Rose Bowl record 56 points in the first half, 11 more than the previous high.
PASADENA, Calif. -- Sometimes storylines become so redundant that they feel like cliches. Reporters get just as bored with them as coaches and players do. But redundancy itself implies that something has been there and is there again and hasn't yet gone away.

[+] EnlargeOregon's Chip Kelly
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIREFor Oregon and coach Chip Kelly, a victory against Wisconsin would put to rest questions about their ability to win big games.
When Oregon coach Chip Kelly and the Ducks were asked about what it would "mean" to win a BCS bowl game after losing two in a row, they mostly swatted the question aside. Kelly, for one, repeatedly insisted he's not a believer in legacies.

"We've always been a forward-thinking operation," Kelly said. "I find it humorous when people talk about 19-, 20-, 21-year old kids and what they're legacy is going to be. They're just kids."

Well, not really. Teams that win Rose Bowls become a part of history. Teams and players that win Rose Bowls are remembered. They become the connective tissue of the fan experience, such when a single 25-year-old fan here today 15 years from now will tell his 10-year-old son how he was there when LaMichael James rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin.

No legacy? Balderdash. And as forward-looking as Kelly wants to be, his counterpart Bret Bielema, whose Badgers lost here a year ago, knows that losing the last game of the season on a big and storied stage is something that's doesn't make it easy to avert a backwards glance.

"This is the feeling you'll have in your mouth for the next seven to eight months until we get ready for our opener a year from now," he said.

Winning a Rose Bowl is a gift that keeps on giving. And losing one is a wound that festers. All the forward-thinking in the world won't change that.

So we have a game that both teams want to win even more because both ended their 2010 seasons with such a wound.

Another redundancy: This is a classic Rose Bowl cliche: Big Ten power vs. Pac-12 flash. Oregon is fast. Wisconsin is huge. And both teams are extremely good at what they do.

"It's almost scary how balanced they are," Kelly said. "When you play most teams, you want them to play left-handed, and let's take away their strength. But they have strengths in both facets."

Still, both teams are going to focus on stopping the run first. If one team has consistent success running the ball, it's likely going to win. But it's also possible the defense will step up -- see last year's national title game between the Ducks and Auburn -- and make things difficult for the offenses. It's possible big plays in the passing game will provide a critical difference.

Will the Ducks, a good pass-rushing team, be able to disrupt the timing of the mobile and extremely efficient Russell Wilson, who has been sacked 23 times this sea? Will the Badgers be able to handle dumps to James and De'Anthony Thomas in space?

Those are the Xs and Os questions.

But the ultimate question is this: Which team walks away knowing it won't have to deal with "Can't win the big one" questions next year?
LOS ANGELES -- If reporters weren't going to ask Nick Aliotti interesting questions this week, well, maybe he'd ask them a few.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireWhile Oregon's offense gets all the hype, Nick Aliotti's defense has also shined this season.
"I always find it interesting, not to be religious or anything like that, because I don't want to go there," Oregon's defensive coordinator said. "But it's always kind of like, we're praying for a win and they're praying for a win. So who's going to answer who?"

Pause for deep thought. Breathe in, breathe out.

Leave it to Aliotti to take a redundant question about Oregon needing to prove it can win a "big one" and turning it into a grounds for philosophical speculation.

What Aliotti was praying for likely was something engaging and different to talk about. There was clockwork predictability to the questions about his defense as it prepares for the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. Here's a guess you could name them yourself.

1. How will Oregon's smaller defense handle Wisconsin's superior size? 2. How does Oregon hope to contain the Badgers' balanced attack with running back Montee Ball and quarterback Russell Wilson? 3. Does it bother him that his defense is overshadowed by the Ducks' flashy offense?

"All I know is last year, all we heard was how Auburn and Oregon were going to go up and down the field," he said of the national championship game last January. "That didn't quite happen."

The Ducks lost, of course, 22-19 on a last-second field goal, but that was the Tigers' second-lowest point total of the season.

There is some resignation to Aliotti -- "I'm trying to answer your question here," he repeatedly said to reporters -- because he'd like for his defense to get more credit, but he also knows that Oregon's national perception is gaudy uniforms and gaudy offensive statistics. That obscures how solid the Ducks' defense has been and is again this season.

No, Oregon is not as good as Alabama or LSU on defense. No, it won't send eight or nine guys to the NFL. But the Ducks did hold LSU to 273 yards, which is comparable to the 239 the Tigers had against the Crimson Tide. And Oregon did hold Auburn to fewer points than the Crimson Tide did in 2010 (28).

Aliotti wants to explain things, but he knows -- "I'm not trying to pat myself on the back; I'm giving you a long-winded answer" -- that a nuanced explanation often doesn't get much traction with an audience in search of simple -- simplistic? -- black and white numbers.

So what most see is this: Oregon’s defense ranks 59th in the nation in total yards, while Wisconsin's ranks eighth. Decisive advantage Badgers, correct? Well, Aliotti would note if he were typing this (and do you really know he's not?) that the Ducks and Badgers yield similar numbers on yards per play: Oregon 4.93, Wisconsin 4.85. And the Ducks are slightly better on third down.

You've heard this before, right? Because the Ducks' offense works so quickly, it ranks last in the nation in time of possession while also ranking third in scoring with 46.2 ppg. That meant more possessions for opposing offenses, which is why Oregon faced more plays than any team in the nation -- 1,005 -- other than Oklahoma State, which saw 1,008. Wisconsin's defense, with the benefit of an an offense that ranks 22nd in time of possession, only saw 786.

"So it's simple math," Aliotti said. "You play 80 plays, 4 yards a play is 320 yards. You play 60 plays, 5 yards a play is 300."

Speaking of math, Wisconsin's offensive line averages 6-foot-5, 320 pounds. The Ducks average 275 pounds among their eight regularly rotating defensive linemen. It's one thing to give up 25 pounds to a line that averages 300 pounds, like Stanford, but giving up 45 pounds is something else entirely.

Isn't it?

"It doesn't mean anything," defensive end Terrell Turner said. "The way our defensive line coach trains us, we can play against guys who are 7-foot-8, 390 pounds."

So there.

As for Ball and Wilson, Aliotti believes first down will be key. The Badgers convert 54 percent of their third-down plays, which ranks No. 1 in the nation, largely because they rarely face third-and-long.

"If they are in second-and-5 or less a lot of the game, then it will be hard to get them out of their rhythm," Aliotti said.

And second-and-5 is a great time for play-action, Wilson's forte. With senior Anthony Gildon highly questionable, the Ducks will be extremely young at cornerback, with redshirt freshmen Terrance Mitchell and Troy Hill as well as true freshman Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. While the Badgers are a power-running team, they are extremely efficient passing the ball, with Wilson throwing 31 TD passes and two receivers who caught at least 50 balls for more than 800 yards.

Of course, no one thought Oregon would hold Auburn and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton to 22 points last year.

It's clear that Aliotti and the Ducks respect the Wisconsin offense. And they are accustomed to being overlooked and dismissed. But there were a few times this week when Ducks defenders looked like cats purring with canaries in their mouths.

Said Aliotti, "We can't divulge any of the weaknesses because we'd have to kill 'ya."

Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin

January, 1, 2012
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The Granddaddy looks like a heck of a matchup between high-powered teams that do things very differently but equally effectively.

WHO TO WATCH: LaMichael James. He's had a brilliant career and is likely off to the NFL after this last hurrah, but the one thing lacking on his résumé is a big-time performance in a big-time nonconference game. Against Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, Auburn in last year's national championship game and LSU in the 2011 season opener, he never rushed for more than 70 yards and averaged a combined 3.8 yards per carry. Most believe, however, that the Badgers' front seven and run defense as a whole are weaker than those of any of those aforementioned teams. James needs 122 yards rushing to pass former Oregon State running back Ken Simonton and move into second place on the conference's career rushing list. If he gets that, expect the Ducks' chances to go up considerably. Another thing: Despite not being much of a factor running the ball, James was a key receiver against Auburn and LSU, catching 10 passes for 100 yards with two touchdowns in those games. So watch for James getting short dumps in space to give him a chance to do his thing.

WHAT TO WATCH: Wisconsin's offense does everything well. For real. It is balanced and efficient and almost never turns the ball over. The Badgers' one issue: pass-blocking. They have given up 1.77 sacks per game this season, which ranks 73rd in the nation. Oregon ranks third in the nation with 3.3 sacks per game. The Badgers' passing game is based on effective play-action. So the first task is slowing down the Badgers' running game and getting them into third-and-long and obvious passing downs. If that happens, the Ducks likely will open up an exotic bag of Nick Aliotti blitzes and stunts, using their superior speed to keep the huge Badgers offensive line off-balance. But if the Badgers' running game is chewing up yards and leaving them with third-and-short, the value of an effective pass rush is muted significantly.

WHY WATCH: Because this feels like it's going to be a great game, for one. It's a true clash of styles: Wisconsin's power versus Oregon's speed. It's a traditional Rose Bowl between top-10 teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. And there will be plenty of star power on the field from James to Badgers running back Montee Ball to Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson. Finally, both teams are smarting because they've previously fallen short in BCS bowl games. The Badgers lost to TCU here last year. The Ducks have lost two BCS bowls in a row. Both are hungry to end talk that they "can't win the big one."

PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Oregon 30. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Oregon will win. In the Big Ten championship game, a middling Michigan State team was able to make the Badgers' defense look slow on the perimeter. That's something that surely raised an eyebrow from Chip Kelly. This is not LSU's defense, or even Auburn's or Ohio State's. But Wisconsin's offense is the problem. It's power running, sure, but Wilson gives it an elite passing game. Expect a number of momentum shifts, but with the Badgers eventually grinding out a victory late in the fourth quarter. And, yes, a lot of this prediction is about the Ducks' needing to prove they can win one of these games. The Pac-12 blog is still smarting about picking the Ducks to win the national title game against Auburn -- and feeling an unusually high degree of certainty about it.

Getting to know Wisconsin

December, 31, 2011
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The more you read about Wisconsin, the more impressive the Badgers are, particularly on offense. Here are some factoids, numbers and notes Oregon fans might find interesting in advance of the Rose Bowl.

The takeaway from the below numbers: Wisconsin is extremely balanced and efficient. And it doesn't turn the ball over.
  • Like Oregon, Wisconsin is one of just six teams to win at least 10 games each of the past three seasons. The others are Alabama, TCU, Boise State and Virginia Tech. Over the past six seasons, the Badgers are 60-18, and their .769 winning percentage ranks ninth in the nation.
  • The Badgers lost at Michigan State and Ohio State by a combined 10 points this year, with both games decided in the waning moments.
  • Wisconsin has turned the ball over just eight times this year (four fumbles, four interceptions). That total is tied for the fewest in the nation.
  • Wisconsin is ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency and red zone offense. It's third in third-down conversion percentage (54 percent).
  • As for that red zone offense, it's all about touchdowns. The Badgers converted 61 of 70 red zone possessions into touchdowns. That touchdown percentage -- .871 -- was No. 1 in the nation.
  • Wisconsin starts fast. It has outscored foes 149-38 in the first quarter and converted 67.5 percent of its third downs in the opening frame. It also is good after halftime: It's scored touchdowns on 10 of 13 initial possessions after halftime. Only Ohio State scored on its first possession of the third quarter against the Badgers.
  • The Badgers played four games against teams ranked in the top 10 in the nation in total defense. They averaged 36.5 points in those games.
  • RB Montee Ball leads the nation with 32 rushing touchdowns. QB Russell Wilson ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency.
  • Wilson is lights out on third down. He's completed 75 percent of his third down passes for 668 yards and 16 touchdowns. The pass efficiency rating on that is a mind-blowing 217.2. On third-and-goal, Wilson is 7-for-7 with seven touchdowns, which works out to a 463.6 efficiency rating.
  • The Badgers are the first team in FBS history to have a player throw at least 30 touchdown passes (Wilson) and a running back rush for at least 30 touchdowns (Ball).
  • Ball, by the way, has scored 38 total touchdowns -- six receiving -- and has scored at least two in every game this season, the longest multiple touchdown streak in FBS history. Ball needs two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl to break Barry Sanders' NCAA record of 39 touchdowns, which he scored in his 1988 Heisman Trophy winning season.
  • Ball, by the way, has not lost a fumble in his career. That's over three seasons and 536 carries and 45 receptions.
  • Wilson has thrown 139 passes without an interception. Sixteen of those 139 passes went for touchdowns. He threw 31 touchdown passes with just three picks this season.
  • Wilson entered the postseason with an efficiency rating of 191.6. Baylor's Robert Griffin was No. 1 entering the postseason, but his efficiency rating fell to 189.5 after the Bears beat Washington in the Alamo Bowl. In any event, Wilson appears poised to -- with Griffin -- break the NCAA efficiency record of 186.0 set by Hawaii's Colt Brennan in 2006.
  • Badgers WRs Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis each caught at least 50 passes for over 800 yards this year. TE Jacob Pedersen caught eight touchdown passes.

Bielema, Kelly becoming Rose regulars

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
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Bret Bielma, Chip KellyUS Presswire/AP PhotoEither Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, left, or Oregon's Chip Kelly will win his first BCS bowl game Monday.


LOS ANGELES -- On Saturday morning in a hotel ballroom, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and Oregon coach Chip Kelly will stand together and pose for pictures with the Rose Bowl trophy. It's the kind of staged, sometimes forced, photo op that occurs before every big game.

Stare at this particular picture a bit longer, though. Appreciate the similar traits each man brought to this moment, even though they are in many ways unique. Try to imagine how they'll look in the same pose when they are older. Because this image is likely to be repeated in the future.

Here is Oregon making its second Rose Bowl appearance in three years, and here is Wisconsin back in Pasadena for the second consecutive season. Kelly and Bielema are quickly becoming the faces of the most tradition-laden bowl game, even if they are not exactly cut from a traditional cloth.

One (Kelly) played and coached for more than a decade at the relative outpost of New Hampshire before suddenly emerging as the titan of West Coast football. The other (Bielema) is thoroughly Midwestern -- born in Illinois, played linebacker at Iowa, defensive assistant for the Hawkeyes and Kansas State -- yet knows how to merge new-school fun with old-school, power football.

Kelly is hailed as a genius, the offensive innovator whose forward-thinking, high-speed spread attack plays perfectly to the video-game generation. Bielema's scheme is more brute than scoot but is almost equally as effective. Kelly's Ducks have averaged 43.1 points per game since he became head coach in 2009. In that same time frame, Bielema's Badgers have averaged 39.2.

"What Bret's done with that program, as a coach from the outside you really kind of admire it," Kelly said. "There's a consistency to it. He has a style of offense he plays and a style of defense he plays, and they stick to that. And they're really, really good at it."

Both coaches have achieved a lot at a young age. Kelly is 48, while Bielema turns 42 on Jan. 13.

"I think with his age being a little bit closer to ours, it makes him a lot easier to relate to," Wisconsin linebacker Kevin Claxton said of Bielema. "He knows what we're thinking and going through."

Both men can be described as players' coaches. Kelly handled the very difficult LeGarrette Blount punching controversy in his very first game as head coach with a solid measure of both discipline and compassion for his player. Bielema pumps up rap music at practice and gives his players the freedom to be themselves. Kelly's players buy into his cult of personality. Bielema is more like your favorite uncle.

"He's so outgoing," said quarterback Russell Wilson, whom Bielema recruited as a transfer from NC State over the summer. "He tried to get to know me quickly, like he was my best friend, to be honest with you. But at the same time, he makes you work. He wants to see the best out of you and all his players."

Both men are single in a profession in which being seen as a family man is a good career choice. Bielema is engaged and plans to wed next spring, while Kelly dislikes discussing his private life.

Kelly and Bielema are liked but probably not loved by all their peers. They'll ruffle feathers on occasion with the way their teams continue to pile on the points during blowouts. If you're an opposing team's fan, you'd probably describe them as arrogant. You'd also secretly wish they were your team's coach.

The only real knock on either is a perceived failure to win games. Which is mostly ludicrous, considering that Bielema is 60-18 in six seasons and Kelly is 33-6 in three years at their respective schools. One guy is going to win his first BCS game on Monday night, while the other will have to fight off the "can't win the big one" charge a little harder.

Neither is blessed with an abundance of in-state talent from which to build his program. But Kelly has Phil Knight, those wild uniforms and that offense to attract skill players from around the country. Bielema likes to say his program isn't sexy, but there is no greater destination for an offensive lineman or a running back who wants to earn national honors and go to the NFL. The success of Wilson at quarterback has signaled to other skill players that you can do more at Wisconsin than just grind it out.

Bielema and Kelly are arguably the most successful examples ever of the head-coach-in-waiting practice. That idea is falling out of vogue now, but every school would do it if the transition went as well as it looked in Madison and Eugene. Bielema inherited a Badgers team that won 10 games in Barry Alvarez's final year; Kelly took over after Mike Bellotti won 10 games his last season.

There are subtle differences between the two, of course. Kelly has a heavy hand in play calling on offense, while Bielema delegates more to his assistants (which has helped two coordinators land head-coaching jobs in the past two seasons).

"One of the things I made as a decision early on as a head coach, I wasn't going to be involved in play calling on offense or defense," Bielema said. "I just call the good plays. ... I let guys coordinate and run it, but I'll always have constant feedback on things I like, dislike, and the way I see things unfold during practice."

Bielema is as accessible as any coach at a major program. He's unafraid to open his doors to the media, like when he allowed ESPN to follow Wilson around for a special last summer. Kelly is a little more roped-off, particularly to local reporters. But when he talks, he often gives thought-provoking and colorful answers.

Kelly's reputation has taken a hit with the ongoing NCAA investigation involving recruiting service owner Willie Lyles. Bielema has steered clear of any NCAA issues thus far.

Kelly told reporters on Friday that Bielema couldn't be considered an "up-and-coming" star head coach, because six years is a long time to be in the same job these days. That's true. But these two seem like prime candidates to build a lasting legacy where they are. Bielema enjoys a close relationship with Alvarez, now the Wisconsin athletic director, and has shown no inclination toward leaving Madison. Kelly insisted on placing a $4 million buyout in his contract to ward off potential suitors.

So take a look at the trophy photo again. Or don't. You'll probably have a chance to see it staged again soon.

Hot topic! Oregon's uniforms

December, 29, 2011
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LOS ANGELES -- Oregon's football team is either the nation's best-dressed or the nation's worst-dressed -- depending on your new-school or old-school college football fashion tastes -- but at the very least one can say for sure that no other team's garb is more talked about.

Nike made sure it would be a hot topic during Rose Bowl preparations by revealing this week its latest space-age design, which the Ducks will don in the Rose Bowl on Monday.

The most dramatic addition is the reflective helmet, which suggests Darth Vader. The helmet was different enough to merit a question to Wisconsin's players on Wednesday.

Question: It looks like a big mirror. Have you seen the helmet? If so, are you worried about any reflection?

Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson confessed that he had not seen the helmet. He said he was "sure they're good-looking helmets" but he wasn't really worried about the Ducks helmets and whether he might be able to see his reflection in one.

"Oregon is a great football team," Wilson said. "They have, I guess, the fashion going on where they can wear whatever they want and look pretty good in it. But that's not what the game comes down to."

It's interesting that the Ducks mostly agree. Oregon's players embrace their varied looks, but few seem to spend much time thinking about it. Coach Chip Kelly insists that the uniform combinations be planned out in the preseason so it doesn't become a focus in the locker room.

"That stuff don't matter to us," safety Eddie Pleasant said. "It's nice to have it, but we don't care about that."

Added cornerback Anthony Gildon, "The jersey is cool to have, but it's more something for everybody that's looking in [at the program] than within the team."

Everybody seems to agree the players inside, not the uniforms, win games.

That said, sources who requested anonymity due to the fact they don't exist, said that the Ducks' lime green socks and shoes in last year's national title game against Auburn cost the Ducks four points from the football gods.

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