Pac-12: Ryan Leaf

Top 10 Pac-12 seasons

August, 7, 2014
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ESPN.com has been looking at the greatest seasons in college football history this week -- overall and by team.

Today, we look at the 10 greatest seasons in Pac-12 history. And, yes, we made the overall success of a player's team part of our evaluation.

Feel free to disagree.

(Note: It was a management decision to exclude great Utah and Colorado seasons that occurred outside of the conference. So no Rashaan Salaam nor Alex Smith).

1. Marcus Allen, USC (1981): He was the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, piling up 2,342 yards in 12 games. Finished with 2,683 yards of total offense and 23 TDs. He won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

2. Matt Leinart, USC (2004): The Heisman Trophy winner as a junior, he became just the third QB in three decades to lead his team to back-to-back national titles. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,322 yards with 33 TDs and six interceptions.

3. Jim Plunkett, Stanford (1970): Stanford's only Heisman winner, he piled up 3,189 yards of total offense and was responsible for 22 touchdowns. He led the Cardinal to the Pac-8 title and an unset of No. 2 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

4. Charles White, USC (1979): White led the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory and No. 2 final ranking on his way to the Heisman Trophy. He led the nation with an average of 194.1 yards per game, finishing with 2,050 yards and 19 TDs.

5. Terry Baker, Oregon State (1962): He won the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award, passing for 1,738 yards and 15 touchdowns, and producing 2,261 yards of total offense. His 24 total TDs led the nation. The Beavers won their final seven games, finished 9-2 and won the Liberty Bowl.

6. Reggie Bush, USC (2005): While his name is shrouded in controversy and his 2005 Heisman Trophy was officially taken away, you can't take away what he did on the field, which included nearly leading USC to a third consecutive national title. He led the nation with 222.3 all-purpose yards per game and ranked fourth in the nation with 133.85 yards rushing per game, which included a stunning 8.7 yards per carry.

7. Gary Beban, UCLA (1967): UCLA's only Heisman winner, he piled up 1,586 yards of total offense and 19 touchdowns. The only downside is he went 1-2-1, including losing to USC, in his final four games.

8. Ryan Leaf, Washington State (1997): Forget for a moment his NFL flop and post-football shenanigans, he was brilliant in 1997, leading the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl in 67 years. He passed for 3,968 yards and was responsible for a whopping 40 TDs. Finished third in Heisman voting.

9. Steve Emtman, Washington (1991): He was the centerpiece of one of the greatest Pac-10/12 teams of all time, a Huskies crew that dominated foes on its way to a 12-0 record and a split national title with Miami. He won the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy and was the Pac-10 defensive POY. The consensus All-American finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman, leading a defense that yielded 9.58 points per game.

10. Terrell Suggs, Arizona State (2002): Suggs set an NCAA record with 24 sacks on his way to becoming a unanimous All-American, Bronko Nagurski Award winner, Lombardi Award winner and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. He also had 31 1/2 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles. The downside is the Sun Devils went 8-6 and weren't terribly good on defense as a whole.

Best case-worst case: Washington State

July, 31, 2013
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This is the second in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

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

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

Up next: Washington State

Mike Leach exits the Holland-Terrell Library at Washington State with professor Buddy Levy, his co-author for a book about Geronimo. It's 11:50 p.m. Leach takes a left on Wilson and another left on Stadium Way. An early fall chill is in the air. Martin Stadium rises in front of Leach.

Leach pauses and looks toward the field. He hears the faint sound of drums and wooden flutes. He shakes his head. He's not sure if the music is only in his mind, but it grows louder as he nears the stadium. He follows the sounds past the 11-foot, bronze Cougar and walks through the main gate.

The field is full of Cougars. Not animals. The fan kind. Draped in crimson, they are dancing in perfect unison. The music reaches a frantic crescendo. And then stops. All the fans look up at Leach. They are very serious, other than Coug-A-Sutra, who is jumping around going, "Mike Leach! Mike Leach! I know him!"

A man appears.

"Mike, how are you? Name's GoyaaBé," the apparition says walking up from behind Leach. "But you can call me Geronimo. I have some concerns about chapter nine, but we can talk about that later. This here is Wovoka. Your fans are doing their own version of the 'Ghost Dance'."

Leach, who exchanges a fist bump with Geronimo and Wovoka, doesn't seem surprised in the least to be talking to spirits of Native American heroes.

"They are summoning Cougars legends, the ancestors who led this football program to great glory," Leach says. "Makes sense. There's Lone Star Dietz! And Mel Hein! That must be Ryan Leaf before he lost his way."

"It is time for the Cougar spirit to rise again," Geronimo intones. "You must take your team on a vision quest. Your 'Air Raid' must be as one with the Palouse. You and the land are one. And, Mike, one more thing..."

"Yes," says Leach.

"It must be fun," Geronimo says with a mischievous grin and coy eyebrow raise.

Auburn fans pretty much knew the game with Washington State was going to be screwy when Nova, Auburn's six-year-old golden eagle, lands on Leach's shoulder before the opening kickoff, the two seeming to engage in a lengthy conversation, one that ends with Leach cracking up and the new fast friends appearing to trade cell numbers.

Cougs win 31-20.

After a 27-24 loss at USC, Washington State thrashes Southern Utah and Idaho. Following QB Connor Halliday's 10th TD pass, the Martin Stadium PA system clicks on some music that captures Coug fans fancy.

"Halliday... celebrate! It would be so nice... Halliday!"

"Guys, I really think Madonna is singing, 'Holiday,' not 'Halliday,'" Halliday says to a disbelieving media contingent. "But she did call me the other day, so I can ask her when we go out to Rico's on Tuesday. She might be moving to Pullman."

Washington State loses to Stanford 24-21, whips California 30-17 and upsets No. 10 Oregon State 27-24. The Cougs first appearance in the AP poll since 2006 though is short-lived after a 45-24 loss at Oregon.

"The thing with us is we have to be at our best every play to beat a team like Oregon," Leach says. "That didn't happen today, but the guys played hard and fought until the end. We never lost our edge, and I like that. That's different than last year. These guys believed until the final whistle, and I like what I saw in the locker room afterwards. Darryl Monroe got up and asked everybody to think only about what they can do to get better during our off week."

Ten inches of snow and 17 degree weather greets No. 15 Arizona State. A pleasant breeze -- a Coug phrasing -- brings the chill to negative numbers. Washington State dumps its friends from the desert 28-20.

Wins at Arizona and over Utah push the Cougars to 8-3 on the season. Up next: A trip to 7-4 Washington. The winner likely will earn a Holiday Bowl berth.

Leach gathers his players at the team hotel before the bus to fancy, renovated Husky Stadium.

"Hemingway's 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' is one of the greatest short stories ever written," Leach says. "I'm not going to talk to you about the story, though. Here's the epigraph before the story begins: 'Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,336 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai 'Ngaje Ngai,' the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.'"

Leach pauses. "Critics have debated this epigraph for decades. But I know its meaning. Not only that. I feel it in my bones," he says.

"Perseverance," safety Deone Bucannon says.

"The heroism of the act isn't about reaching the summit but about seeking it," receiver Gabe Marks says.

Announcer: Well, it all comes down to this. The Huskies have a fourth and goal on the Washington State 1-yard line with 22 seconds left. Cougars lead 28-24.

Leach to his gathered defense: "Man, is this not the greatest thing? Enjoy this! Dreams are made of this. Unleash your barbaric yawp on these guys!"

The Huskies later express bafflement about the Cougars dancing around, yawping and yelling about Kilimanjaro after Bishop Sankey is stopped inches short of the goal line.

Washington State beats No. 13 Texas 31-10 in the Holiday Bowl to finish 10-3 and ranked 15th.

"Geronimo" By Mike Leach and Buddy Levy spends eight weeks atop the New York Times Best-Sellers list.

The Kraken awakes in Lake Washington, apparently grumpy and hungry, and eats fancy new Husky Stadium in one bite.

"Yummy!" says the Kraken.

"No, I didn't release the Kraken," Leach says. "... as far as you know.

"But I cannot speak for Geronimo."

Worst case

It was deja vu all over again.

It was supposed to be different in year two under Mike Leach, just as it was supposed to be different in year one. But a 38-17 opening loss at Auburn felt just as demoralizing as what happened at BYU the year before.

"We've still got those hangdog expressions on the sidelines," Leach says. "We still don't look like winners, guys who can handle adversity."

USC pounds the Cougars 45-13, but they get on the winning track with wins over Southern Utah and Idaho. Yet that's the end of winning in 2013, as the schedule toughens up, with no patsies over the final eight games.

The biggest indignity is the 50-10 shellacking from No. 10 Washington in the Apple Cup, with Steve Sarkisian leaving his starters in for the entire third quarter.

"I'm sorry," Sarkisian says, laughing to reporters. "But we've got to get ready for the Rose Bowl and I wanted our guys to get as much football in before they take a month-long break. And, well, I've heard a lot of about the Cougars 18-point fourth-quarter comeback last year. Who's to say they couldn't have come back from 30 down?"

Leach is asked if the Cougars resemble the same "empty corpses" and "zombies" he compared them to in 2012.

"No," he says. "I've seen several zombie movies since then, and zombies are much better football players than our guys."

He's then asked if the Cougs 2-10 finish is better than their 3-9 mark from a year before.

“Football seasons are funny things,” Leach says. “They’re very satisfying ultimately, but then there’s a point where it gets kind of tedious and you get tired of the same stuff over and over. … Football seasons almost go a little beyond even the confines of, say, a marriage. You coach a season, that’s there forever in the record book. There’s no divorcing a football season.

"Though I'd like to do just that to my two years here in Pullman."

Leach decides to resign and concentrate on writing and saying interesting things at cocktail parties.

"I know things didn't work out like we planned with Coach Leach -- and we wish him well on his latest work, 'A Breathtaking Work of Staggering Genius: The Pac-12 Blog Story' -- but I think we've got the right guy coming in now," athletic director Bill Moos says at a news conference.

"Ladies and gentlemen, your next Washington State head coach... Nick Holt!"

Washington wins the Rose Bowl.

Seattle Times headline: "Every Washington State fans found unresponsive and in fetal position."
Happy Friday.

Pac-12 lunch links: Why Mora is at UCLA

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
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What you did was very spiteful, but it was also very brave and very honest and I respect you for doing that. But the content of what you said has made me hate you. So there's a layer of respect, admittedly, for your truthfulness, but it's peppered with hate. Hateful respect.

Ryan Leaf calls Mike Riley an 'idiot'

February, 6, 2012
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We all love redemption stories, yes? It's satisfying when a jerk redeems himself by: 1. Admitting he was a jerk; 2. Ceasing to act like a jerk.

Unfortunately, former Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf's redemption from being a jerk, for which he is seeking attention, is incomplete.

We know this because Leaf called Oregon State coach Mike Riley "an idiot" this past week as he tried to drum up publicity for his new book.

Said Leaf: “I know the Chargers made mistakes, but I made a bunch of mistakes myself, and I’ve got to take responsibility for that. I mean, Mike Riley is an idiot, but I can’t do anything to change that. He wasn’t supposed to be a head coach in the NFL. Why was he there?”

No. 1: I know Riley is not an idiot. I've never heard Riley's intelligence called into question by anyone. And, by the way, I was there when he was about to get fired by San Diego.

No. 2: Leaf's intelligence — intellectual as well as emotional — has been called into question by just about everyone who has known him throughout his life, even by those who defended him, such as former Washington State coach Mike Price.

Leaf is not qualified to call someone an idiot. The life he has led, from an NFL bust, to blaming everyone but himself for being a bust, to pleading guilty to felony drug charges, to calling a truly nice guy an idiot, shows that his bulb continues to burn dimly. Saying such a thing so publicly only makes Leaf look crass and petty and juvenile.

Leaf told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune that he wants to pursue a career as a motivational speaker, particularly working with young people.

“I don’t want anyone to ever feel how I felt,” Leaf said. “I was just miserable. I wasn’t happy with who I was.”

So, Ryan, if Riley cared about your opinion, how do you think he'd feel about being called "an idiot"?

The problem with redemption is the person seeking it actually needs to be redeemed, and not just trying to get some attention so he can sell some books and maybe pick up an easy paycheck for a speaking engagement.

Pac-12 lunch links: Leaf has brain surgery

June, 1, 2011
6/01/11
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"Tsk, tsk," I said, not moving at all. "Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You're the second guy I've met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail."

Links: Recalling Ryan Leaf on draft day

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
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Happy Friday.

Pac-12 lunch links: Character not an issue for CU's Smith

April, 25, 2011
4/25/11
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Got money, and you know it
Take it out your pocket and show it
Then throw it like
This a way (uh huh)
That a way (uh huh)

Pac-10 lunch links: Ducks not typical national power

December, 21, 2010
12/21/10
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"If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"

Don't be surprised if... California

July, 27, 2010
7/27/10
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Fourth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles (you can see California's 2009 prediction here).

Don't be surprised if ... California quarterback Kevin Riley, after an inconsistent career, turns in a solid senior season.

[+] EnlargeKevin Riley
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonKevin Riley struggled in the regular-season finale against Washington, above, and in the bowl against Utah.
Watching Riley during the Bears listless loss to Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl made my head hurt, but the good news is it made me forget about stabbing my eyes out while watching him in the regular-season finale at Washington.

My overriding thought as Cal's extraordinarily disappointing 2009 season thudded to an end: No way Riley can start at quarterback in 2010. No way.

But Riley will start at QB in 2010. And my feeling for what Bears fans can expect from him has changed, and not just because Riley is a stand-up guy and an often amusing interview.

Let's put it this way: Think of yourself at this time last year. If I had written that Sean Canfield would be the first-team All-Pac-10 QB in 2009, you would have flown to Scottsdale and beaten me over the head with a stick. Canfield's resume last summer included: 1. 15 interceptions vs. nine TD passes in 2007; 2. A junior year as a backup with shoulder issues.

Then: Poof! Senior break through.

Former USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy in 2002 after a stellar season. The year before, he threw 13 TD passes and 12 interceptions.

Oregon fans were writing sonnets about Dennis Dixon before he got hurt in 2007. And so was I. Guy was unstoppable. And he became that way despite throwing nine interceptions and just two TD passes in the final six games of 2006.

Before USC's run, it was almost a prerequisite to have experience at QB if a team wanted to compete for the Pac-10 championship. Just look at the conference champions and the first-team All-Pac-10 QBs starting in 2002 and going back: Palmer and Jason Gesser, Joey Harrington, Marques Tuiasosopo, Todd Husak, Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf (albeit a junior who finished with 24 career starts), Jake Plummer, etc.

Sure, Riley completed just 46 percent of his passes and was sacked 18 times in Cal's five losses last year. But the Bears offensive line and receiving corps should be better in 2010 because -- just like Riley -- they are more experienced.

Is Riley going to win first-team All-Pac-10 QB? Probably not in a conference with Jake Locker, Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Nick Foles.

But the expectation here is that Riley will turn in solid numbers this fall.

Pac-10 lunch links: The new and improved Ryan Leaf

May, 14, 2010
5/14/10
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Happy Friday.

Ryan Leaf opens up on NFL failure, personal struggles

April, 15, 2010
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Ryan Leaf, the former Washington State great and NFL bust, has been through a lot since he led the Cougars to the Rose Bowl following the 1997 season.

Last year, you might recall, he was arrested for trying to bring prescription painkillers into the U.S.

On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to seven counts of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and one count of delivery of a simulated controlled substance, but avoided jail time in a plea deal that fined him $20,000 and put him on probation for 10 years.

At the time, he released a lengthy statement that operated as a public apology. It was probably the most mature act the 33-year-old has made.

He later sounded even more honest and grounded in an interview with Ian Furness of KJR in Seattle.

This is what he said about the end of his NFL career:
Well I stayed quiet for so long. I just thought if I stayed quiet it would just go away. And contrary to what people believe, I loved this game since I was 4 years old and for me to walk away from it at 26 years old was probably the hardest thing I had to do in my life. People don’t understand that. They think it was just easy or something. I had never failed at football and that was going to be the problem in the pros. The Chargers were told, and I was tested, and they said mentally he’s just not ready yet to fail. We had a great game plan going in to be successful and win, but when we lost, I had never lost and I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t handle it well. I had never lost at anything and when we started to fail, I proceeded to act like I always had and that was to be defensive and protect myself the only way I knew how. And that was to be as defensive and as strong as possible and do everything myself. And that just doesn’t work at that level. You just can’t. You need help, you need people around you, and I totally failed at that part. I just wasn’t ready to fail and I didn’t know how to do it. It makes you grow up in a hurry. My wrist was done in four years and I couldn’t compete at the level that I could anymore. But I was just so beat up. I was tired of being beat up by everybody that I just wanted to run and hide from it, because I wasn’t going to be able to compete at the level I needed to compete at, and I was just tired of being beat up. I hope people understand that it was very, very hard for me to walk away...

Leaf touches a lot of bases in the interview. The link includes text and audio. Worth a look (or listen).

Pac-10 lunch links: Bush will be deposed

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
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Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the west. Now you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Pac-10 lunch links: Ryan Leaf speaks

January, 29, 2010
1/29/10
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Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around -- nobody big, I mean -- except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff -- I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye, and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy.

Pac-10 lunch links: Oregon wanted OSU QB Pryor

December, 10, 2009
12/10/09
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External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.
  • Arizona coach Mike Stoops will match wits with Nebraska's Bo Pelini in the Holiday Bowl, but they are good buddies.
  • Before California focuses on the postseason, it will focus on finals.
  • Oregon coach Chip Kelly recruited Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, but he's happy with his guy, Jeremiah Masoli. Kelly said he loves the Rose Bowl.
  • Oregon State will have its hands full with Quarterback U. Paul Buker answers all of your -- and his -- pressing questions about the State of the Beavers.
  • What did Toby Gerhart say about the Heisman Trophy and other things?
  • A countdown of five moments that changed USC's season. Here's No. 3.
  • A completely objective Jim Moore reiterates his strong belief that Washington quarterback Jake Locker should enter the NFL draft.
  • It appears former Washington State great Ryan Leaf will get a plea bargain.

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