Pac-12: Ryan Mallett

Who gets and stops explosive passing?

February, 25, 2011
Coaches love talking about explosion plays. You want to get a lot of them and give up very few.

We looked at offensive explosion plays -- plays of 20 or more yards -- on Tuesday and defenses that prevented explosion plays on Wednesday. Thursday we looked at explosion plays in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. Today, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of passing numbers.

So here's how the Pac-12 stacked up in 2010 (again, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information). The number to the left is national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in the passing game in 2010.

14. Stanford... 48
18. Arizona... 46
37. Oregon... 43
40. Arizona State... 42
40. Utah... 42
54. Oregon State... 38
61. Washington State... 37
65. USC... 36
80. Colorado... 32
91. Washington... 30
100. California... 28
120. UCLA... 11

No surprise Stanford is on top with quarterback Andrew Luck, but Arizona at No. 2 proves that Nick Foles isn't just a dink-and-dunk passer. Some might use this as further evidence that USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Jake Locker were "overrated."

Oh my, UCLA. Very, very bad.

Some other thoughts.
  • UCLA was dead last in the country, and only Army in 2008 -- six! -- produced fewer explosion plays in the passing game over the past three seasons.
  • To put the awfulness of the Bruins' downfield passing game into perspective: Every conference team more than doubled the number of passing explosion plays the Bruins produced, and Colorado was one play short of having NINE teams at least triple the Bruins.
  • And the blame shouldn't fall on Kevin Prince: In 2009, the Bruins produced 35 explosion plays in the passing game with him as the starter for much of the year.
  • Keep in mind that Oregon got 43 passing plays of 20 or more yards with a first-year starter at quarterback. Even though the Ducks lose their top two receivers, don't be surprised if that number goes up in 2011 in Darron Thomas' junior season.
  • Oh, and anyone remember Jeremiah Masoli? Last year, the Ducks ranked 67th with 36 explosion plays in the passing game.
  • Downfield passing was a clear area of improvement for Foles in 2010. The year before, the Wildcats connected on just 31 passing plays of 20 or more yards.
  • In 2009, California had 48 explosion plays in the passing game, which ranked 18th in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-10. Discuss, Cal fans.
  • In 2008, with Luck redshirting behind Tavita Pritchard, the Cardinal had only 18 explosion plays in the passing game, which ranked 113th in the nation. In Luck's first year as the starter, 2009, that number perked up to 47, which ranked 25th in the nation.
  • Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett has his critics, but over the past two years the Razorbacks produced 123 explosion plays in the passing game. In 2008, they had 45.
  • In 2008, Tulsa had 82 pass plays of 20 or more yards, most over the past three years. In its 14-game schedule, that means the Golden Hurricane averaged just under six such plays per game. Tulsa is also the only program to rank in the top 10 each of the past three years.

But does piling up explosion plays in the passing game correlate to winning? Short answer: Yes. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Hawaii... 80 (10-4)
2. Boise State... 63 (12-1)
3. Arkansas... 62 (10-3)
4. San Diego State... 60 (9-4)
5. Oklahoma... 59 (12-2)
5. Oklahoma State... 59 (11-2)
7. Tulsa... 57 (10-3)
8. Tennessee... 54 (6-7)
9. UAB... 53 (4-8)
10. North Carolina State... 52 (9-4)

That's two losing teams -- though Tennessee was a bowl team -- and eight with at least nine wins and five with 10 or more. Nice mix of AQ and non-AQ teams, too.

Now on to defense, starting with the Pac-12.

The number to the left is national rank. The number to the right is the total number of passing explosion plays yielded in 2010.

6. California... 25
16. Stanford... 29
23. Washington... 31
27. Arizona... 32
27. Colorado... 32
27. Arizona State... 32
41. Oregon...33
41. Washington State... 33
58. UCLA... 36
91. Oregon State... 41
96. Utah... 42
102. USC... 44

Well, USC gave up 30 TD passes, most in the conference by five, so the Trojans in the cellar shouldn't be a surprise. Utah is completely rebuilding its secondary heading into 2011 -- so does that many Utes fans feel better or worse about their standing here? A little surprised Washington did well in this measure. And this is another reason for Cal fans to feel good about defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Some other thoughts:
  • First of all, the difference between No. 23 and No. 41 is two plays, so there should be a little bit of skepticism about writing too much into these numbers.
  • Obviously, the Trojans' young secondary didn't do well digesting Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme in Year 1.
  • USC gave up 30 explosion passing plays in 2009 and just 14 in 2008, which is the lowest total over the past three years by six.
  • Stanford's pass defense was a big question heading into 2010. Why? In 2009, it gave up 44 passing plays of 20 or more yards. So the improvement this past season was dramatic, and probably one of the big reasons the Cardinal defense took a huge step forward.
  • Tip of the cap to Washington State: In 2009, it gave up 47 explosion plays in the passing game, which ranked 110th in the nation. So the improvement in 2010 was dramatic. Of course, the Cougars did give up 29 explosion plays in the running game, which ranked 117th in the nation.
  • Utah gave up 28 explosion passing plays in 2009, so there was fairly significant regression in 2010.
  • No team ranked in the top 10 three consecutive years, though TCU, Florida and Ohio State consistently ranked highly.
  • In 2008, Nevada gave up 70 explosion plays in the passing game. That's 11 more than the second worst total over the past three years. That means Wolf Pack fans had to endure 5.4 big passing plays per game thrown against their defense. Still, Nevada did finish 7-6.

But does limiting passing explosion plays on defense correlate to winning? Short answer: Pretty much. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Pittsburgh... 20 (8-5)
2. LSU.. 21 (11-2)
3. TCU... 22 (13-0)
4. Kent State... 23 (5-7)
5. West Virginia... 24 (9-4)
5. Texas... 24 (5-7)
6. Florida... 25 (8-5)
6. California... 25 (5-7)
6. Nebraska... 25 (10-4)
6. Temple... 25 (8-4)
6. Syracuse... 25 (8-5)
6. Boise State... 25 (13-1)

Only three of these 12 teams posted losing records, and they each went 5-7. That said, four won just eight games, so success in this stat doesn't correlate to elite status. Auburn gave up 44 explosion plays in the pass game and it went 14-0 and won the national championship. Virginia Tech gave up 45 and won the ACC.

Still, here's a guess that most defensive coordinators would rather rank at the top of this list than at the bottom.

Luck, Thomas are Manning finalists

November, 29, 2010
Stanford's Andrew Luck and Oregon's Darron Thomas are among 10 finalists for this year's Manning Award.

The winner will be announced after the bowl games on Jan. 19 and will be honored at a ceremony in New Orleans. The Manning Award was created by the Allstate Sugar Bowl in honor of the college football accomplishments of Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. It is the only quarterback award that takes the candidates’ bowl performances into consideration in its balloting.

The finalists are:
Andy Dalton, TCU
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Andrew Luck, Stanford
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Kellen Moore, Boise State
Cameron Newton, Auburn
Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
Denard Robinson, Michigan
Darron Thomas, Oregon
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

James, Luck are Walter Camp finalists

November, 18, 2010
Oregon running back LaMichael James and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck are two of the "Players to Watch” for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award, the fourth-oldest college football award in the nation.

A list of five finalists will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

The 2010 Walter Camp Player of the Year recipient, who is voted on by the Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches and sports information directors, will be presented live on Dec. 9 during the 6 p.m. edition of ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Here's the complete list.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Da’Quan Bowers, DL, Clemson
Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Nick Fairley, DL, Auburn
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State
Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut

Heisman Predictor: Luck lone Pac-10 player

September, 21, 2010
This week's Heisman Predictor is out, and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck rates fifth.

He's the only Pac-10 player on the list.

Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett is No. 1. Washington QB Jake Locker fell off the list after a career-worst performance against Nebraska.

Ranking the BCS conferences

May, 24, 2010
Ranking the BCS conferences: It's an exercise that guarantees at least one constituency will think you're a genius and another will think you're an idiot.

It's easy to dump the Big East into sixth place: Eight teams, not enough elite teams, not enough depth. After that, the margin of separation between the other five seems thin and wildly subjective.

Of course, SEC adherents will start to fulminate if they are not given a free pass into the top spot. Something about four consecutive national championships (it's an annoying point because it's hard to counter).

But let's look at the 2010 SEC for a moment. Here's a ranking of the SEC quarterbacks. It's basically Ryan Mallett of Arkansas and a bunch of nobodies and question marks. It's fair to say nine teams have serious issues at the position. At the end of the season, when we're talking about dominant SEC defenses, let's remember this cast of "Whos?"

Also, consider this interesting comment from ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper when asked about whether Mallett should be judged differently from other QBs because he plays against "SEC defenses": "First of all, let's dispel this myth that throwing for a bunch of yards and touchdowns in the SEC is somehow a more impressive feat. I wasn't high on Tim Tebow, partly because he threw into massive windows as an SEC quarterback. I was pretty high on JaMarcus Russell as a prospect if he maintained his work ethic, but I said then that he, too, was throwing into massive windows. I don't question that the SEC produces a lot of talent, but the quarterbacks also play a lot of cupcakes, and the depth of the conference is still a matter for debate."


Further, you could make a case that the SEC heading into 2010 is Alabama and Florida and a bunch of maybes. And the Crimson Tide must replace eight starters off their dominant defense, while Florida lost nine guys to the NFL draft. Lots of questions there.

In fact, just for fun. Match the SEC and the Pac-10, but do it from the bottom up. Here's Chris Low's post-spring power rankings. And here's mine for the Pac-10.

Vanderbilt beats Washington State, Arizona State beats Kentucky, UCLA beats Tennessee, Arizona beats Mississippi State, Washington beats Ole Miss, California beats South Carolina, Stanford beats Georgia, Oregon State beats Auburn, Oregon beats LSU and USC beats Arkansas.

Of course, you can't just drop Alabama and Florida, two of the nation's top-three programs (Texas is the third).

Which is why we're still ranking the SEC No. 1.

The larger point is the difference between BCS conferences is marginal, despite the huffing and puffing you hear to the contrary.

When I began reviewing what was coming back in each conference, I considered ranking the Big Ten No. 1 based on the Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin triumvirate, but then it seemed like the Big Ten has less depth than the Pac-10, ACC and Big 12. Then I thought the Big 12 looked good with Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Missouri. Then the ACC looked underrated.

Then I just needed to get on with it.

(By the way, here's a good place to see how many returning starters each team has).

1. SEC: While I have a hunch the SEC won't be on top at season's end, the impressive track record earns the conference the top spot.

2. Big 12: Five legitimate Top 25 teams and respectable at the bottom.

3. Big Ten: Top-heavy, but very good at the top.

4. Pac-10: The apparent lack of a national title contender hurts, but the conference has nine teams that could win at least six games.

5. ACC: The conference has big upside -- it might end up No. 1 at season's end -- but its track record is disappointment (see Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl). The SEC gets the benefit of the doubt. The ACC still has to prove itself.

6. Big East: Only obvious preseason Top 25 team is Pittsburgh. Based on the Sugar Bowl, we're in wait-and-see-mode with a Brian Kelly-less Cincinnati.

Three Pac-10 players are 'heroes' of spring

May, 19, 2010
Bonnie Tyler needed a hero -- she even offered to hold out until the end of the night -- and's Bruce Feldman found her 10 Insider based on spring practice performances.

Three are Pac-10 players: Oregon State quarterback Ryan Katz is No. 3, Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan is No. 7 and UCLA defensive tackle Nate Chandler is No. 8.

Here's what he writes about Katz: "Short of Ryan Mallett, I haven't seen another QB playing in college right now with a stronger arm."

And Jordan: "A towering presence, Jordan is the first guy you notice at an Oregon practice. Not only because of his 6-7 frame, but also because of the stunning quickness and agility he displays."

And Chandler: "... the 6-5, 290-pounder looked very comfortable after having bounced from tight end and offensive line to now defense."

Feldman went on to add that his spring heroes have gotta be strong and gotta be fast and gotta be fresh from the fight.