Pac-12: Sam Bradford

Matt Barkley's plan usually works out

March, 6, 2012
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US PresswireQuarterback Matt Barkley smiles at the end of USC's 50-0 win over UCLA last season.


Other quarterbacks have chosen to stay in school when they stood to be prominent NFL Draft picks, as quarterback Matt Barkley has done at USC.

Let's take a statistical snapshot of recent examples to forego the NFL Draft for one more year in the college ranks.

Peyton Manning, Tennessee
Manning still ended up as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft after returning to Tennessee for his senior season in 1997.

The Vols won the SEC Championship, beating Auburn, 30-29 before losing to Nebraska, 42-17 in the Orange Bowl. They finished No. 7 in the final AP poll.

Matt Leinart, USC

After winning a national title as a junior, Leinart returned for a memorable campaign in 2005, but one that floundered on a couple fronts.

A year after winning the Heisman Trophy, Leinart finished third in the balloting. His Trojans fell short of a second straight undefeated season and national championship, losing to Texas and quarterback Vince Young in a classic game.

Leinart ended up being selected 10th by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2006 NFL Draft and has not yet flourished at the level he did in college.

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

After winning the Heisman Trophy and losing the national championship game to a Tim Tebow-led Florida team, Bradford returned for his junior year at Oklahoma. It did not go as planned.
Bradford suffered a shoulder injury in the Sooners first game of the season, then re-injured his shoulder upon returning to face Texas.

Bradford sat out the remainder of the season, then declared for the NFL Draft. He was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 1 pick, and he has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in two NFL seasons.

Andrew Luck, Stanford
Luck tested his luck by staying in school for his senior season in 2011, and the decision worked out well.

The Cardinal went 11-2 in Luck’s senior season, finishing No. 7 in the national rankings after a 41-38 loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Luck is expected to be taken No. 1 in this year’s NFL Draft.

Luck in no hurry for NFL, real world

January, 6, 2011
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First off, apologies to all the Stanford folks who e-mailed, Tweeted or otherwise reached out with this thought: Quarterback Andrew Luck wants to come back to Stanford next year.

Lots of you did, and I sort of shrugged and discounted that talk. So my bad. Luck announced he's coming back in 2011 and not entering the NFL draft, and Stanford, the Pac-12 and all of college football are better for it.

It's always nice when your cynical attitude proves wrong.

"I am committed to earning my degree in architectural design from Stanford University and am on track to accomplish this at the completion of the spring quarter of 2012," Luck said in a statement, which felt entirely authentic to me.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Andrew Luck
Steve Mitchell/US PRESSWIREAndrew Luck and Stanford fans will have more reasons to rejoice in 2011 following the Orange Bowl MVP's announcement that he will return to The Farm.
There is no ulterior motive here. Luck has told everyone who would listen that he loves college. He's never seemed obsessed with the NFL, even if he would have been the No. 1 overall pick. And he comes from an affluent background: He didn't need the NFL right now, like so many young men who decided to leave college early do.

But enough of the pleasantries. What does this mean?

Well, the remote chance of this formula -- Luck + coach Jim Harbaugh = Pac-12 championship? -- remains, though reports are coming out that suggest such hope is extremely thin.

But even if Harbaugh bolts for the NFL, as expected, Stanford today became a leading Pac-12 contender and potential preseason top-10 team. Luck also becomes the leading Heisman Trophy candidate.

Luck led Stanford to a 12-1 finish this season and a likely top-five rating in the final rankings, which the program hasn't produced since 1940. Luck passed for 3,338 yards this year with 32 touchdowns. He completed 71 percent of his passes with just eight interceptions. He also rushed for 453 yards. He passed for 287 yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinal's 40-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl.

He's a program changer: He makes everyone around him better.

That said: Stanford's depth chart takes some hits. Even some unanticipated ones: Defensive end/linebacker Thomas Keiser quietly followed the thunderous news about Luck with an announcement that he will enter this spring's NFL draft.

That means the Cardinal lose five starters on defense and seven on offense. And they're looking for a new kicker. There will be many questions this spring, questions that likely will be faced by a new head coach.

Still, Luck makes the Cardinal a legitimate threat to Oregon in the inaugural season of the Pac-12 North. Good recruiting under Harbaugh means Luck will have a solid supporting cast on both sides of the ball.

The potential downside: What if Luck pulls a Jake Locker?

Locker warmed everyone's hearts with his decision to return to Washington for his senior season, despite the likelihood he, too, would have been an high first-round -- even No. 1 overall -- NFL pick in the spring of 2010. Then his senior season was a mostly a flop, at least in terms of improving his NFL stock.

But Locker's prospects were based on upside and physical talent. Luck has already proven he's got all the NFL tools right now, particularly accuracy.

Nor does Luck's decision compare to Matt Leinart in 2005. Though it didn't get a lot of attention at the time, Leinart was scheduled for elbow surgery after the season, so he would have missed the combine and workouts.

And Luck is a different talent than Leinart or Locker. You hate to call a guy "can't miss," but Luck certainly feels that way. If he blows out his knee in the second game -- knock on wood -- he'd still be the top pick in 2012 (see Sam Bradford).

And if he plays all 12 games, it's hard to imagine him regressing to any significant extent.

But there we go again: Talking about the NFL. This decision wasn't about that.

This is about a young man taking a measured look around and saying: Life is good. It's good to be young. It's good to be the QB at Stanford. The real world can wait.
You should find the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game terribly offensive. If you love defense. But for folks who celebrate irresistible forces while finding immovable objects dull, this one should be a grand affair.

If both top-ranked Auburn and No. 2 Oregon hit their season averages on Jan. 10, fans will see 92 points and more than 1,000 yards of offense, including 591 yards rushing. The matchup features the Heisman Trophy winner and the nation's most efficient passer: Tigers quarterback Cam Newton. And it features the nation's leading rusher, Oregon's LaMichael James, who is a unanimous All-American and Heisman finalist.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Dave MartinHeisman winner Cam Newton led the nation in passing efficiency.
It features teams that run and pass well. It features teams that don't make a lot of mistakes. It features teams that overwhelm a defense with talent, tempo and creativity.

Finally, the game will showcase two mad scientists of offense who had 37 days without distraction to prepare schematic monstrosities in their underground lairs: Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Muwhahahaha!

The scoreboard should be spinning for a pair of ludicrous speed attacks that had very few off-days this season.

Oh, there are the naysayers. You will get tut-tuts from those who claim "defense wins championships." Some will point out that in previous BCS title games, great offenses have fizzled out.

There's Florida State in 2001, when Chris Weinke & Co. were shut out in a 13-2 defeat to Oklahoma. The Seminoles averaged 549 yards and 42 points per game that year. And there's Oklahoma in 2009, which got stumped by Florida, 24-14. The Sooners averaged 51 points and 548 yards per game that year. Both of those offenses entered the title game being lauded as historically great. Not so much afterwards, though.

And Heisman Trophy winners often go splat in BCS title games, see Weinke, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Troy Smith and Sam Bradford.

Still, the winner of the BCS championship scored more than 30 points in eight of 12 games and more than 40 four times. Potent offenses do show up. Further, in most of the cases when offensive powerhouses have been exposed in the championship game, there's been a reasonable explanation: They faced an elite defense laden with NFL prospects. That is not the case with Auburn and Oregon.

At least that's the perception, one that frustrates Oregon fans. The Ducks rank 12th in the nation in scoring defense, sixth in pass efficiency defense, 16th in run defense and 25th in total defense. So that is pretty darn close to an elite defense, even though the Ducks lack star power. Moreover, Oregon surrendered just 4.53 yards per play, which ranks seventh in the nation and is better than any team the Tigers faced (yes, even Alabama).

The Ducks, however, did face an FCS team and seven FBS offenses ranked 58th in the nation or worse in scoring, including four ranked 96th or worse. They faced only one elite offense in Stanford. The Cardinal scored 31 points and piled up 518 yards, but were shut out in the second half.

[+] EnlargeUSC V. Oregon
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillOregon finished the regular season ranked 25th in total defense.
Auburn ranks 54th in scoring defense, 55th in total defense and 75th in passing efficiency defense. The Tigers, however, are very good against the run, ranking 10th. They faced three offenses ranked in the top 25 in scoring -- Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama -- and those foes scored 34, 43 and 27 points, respectively.

Last season's Rose Bowl might offer ideas for both defenses. For the Tigers, the Buckeyes showed a blueprint for how a physical front seven can stymie the Ducks' running attack with penetration, gap integrity and discipline. (Ducks fans would counter that Ohio State's defense looked great because quarterback Jeremiah Masoli couldn't hit the side of a barn in the passing game that afternoon). For the Ducks' veteran defense, it knows what it's like to play against a big, fast quarterback after seeing Terrelle Pryor post what continues to be the best game of his career.

So there is hope for the defenses, though it's hard to imagine both offenses sputtering and the winning total ending up in the 20s.

Of course, even if the offenses churn up yardage, as expected, that doesn't mean a defense won't win this championship. One of the two defenses is going to get more stops than the other, either through forcing turnovers or winning third down (and fourth, both teams aren't afraid to go for it).

Just don't be surprised if you don't need two hands to count the total number of punts.

Locker, Luck could lead 2011 draft class

April, 27, 2010
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Stanford fans probably have no interest in watching quarterback Andrew Luck compete with Washington's Jake Locker for the top spot in the 2011 NFL draft, but it might play out exactly that way.

Todd McShay ranked Luck and Locker Nos. 1 and 2 in his list of top-10 2011 NFL prospects.

Locker likely would have been a high first-round draft pick this go-around but he opted to return for his senior season. Luck, as a third-year sophomore, is eligible to declare for the draft after the 2010 season, but folks on the Farm surely would prefer he emulate Locker and former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and not rush things.

Chatted with Luck about the NFL last week. He's a bright young man, so he wasn't going to flop his cards on the table, consider this exchange:

Are you able to block out the NFL speculation, or are you at least curious about the draft gurus already talking about you?

AL: I honestly try to block it out as much as possible. I don't think about it. It's a long way off for me. If I do start thinking about it, I know I'll get myself in trouble.

You know people mention that you, as a third-year player, could conceivably leave for the draft after this season?

AL: I honestly haven't thought about it. My only priority right now is next season and hopefully winning the national championship.

As for the rest of the Pac-10, which produced only two first-round picks last weekend, the conference figures to have a better showing. Along with Locker and Luck, early first-round projections include Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea and UCLA safety Rahim Moore.

Cal's Alualu surprise 10th pick in NFL draft

April, 23, 2010
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Here's a prediction: California defensive end Tyson Alualu is going to surprise some folks and end up a top-10 NFL draft pick.

Little late on that one, eh?

Alualu was the first Pac-10 player drafted Thursday night -- which was projected by no one -- going 10th overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Bears teammate Jahvid Best was the only other conference player selected on Day 1. Best went to the Detroit Lions with the 30th pick.

Round 2 begins today at 6 p.m. ET. Expect the second round to include a number of Pac-10 players, including those who slipped during recent weeks, such as USC safety Taylor Mays and UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price.

Alualu is the highest Cal selection since Andre Carter was taken seventh overall by San Francisco in 2001. He is the Bears’ ninth top-10 pick in the draft’s history. And his selection was rated the "biggest reach" of the first day by Todd McShay.

Wrote McShay, "Jacksonville used the 10th overall pick to take California DT Tyson Alualu, who we feel is a good player but is only the No. 35 overall on our board. Top-10 money is pretty rich for a player like Alualu, especially when pass-rushers like Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul would have offered much more value at that point."

Another notable pick is the Seattle Seahawks' selection of safety Earl Thomas at No. 14. That means former USC coach Pete Carroll wanted a safety but didn't want Mays.

Ouch.

Got to admit: I thought at least one team would jump on Mays just because of his athleticism, much like it took only one team to make Tim Tebow a No. 1 pick (Denver).

Another observation: Former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford going No. 1 overall is a good thing for college football. It shows players who want to come back for their senior season that even a major injury won't automatically ruin your draft prospects.

Of course, Mays right now is probably questioning his decision to return, considering he likely would have been a top-15 pick in 2009.

Opening the mailbag: Might Luck bolt for NFL after 2010 season?

April, 9, 2010
4/09/10
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Hustling to post from my airplane seat.

Kory from San Mateo, Calif., writes: What are the chances that Andrew Luck leaves for the NFL after this 2010 season?

Ted Miller: That will be an interesting call for the redshirt sophomore.

Mel Kiper thinks he could be a top-10 or even top-five pick in the 2011 draft. (Kiper already has projected Washington's Jake Locker as the "etched in stone" No. 1 overall pick.)

On the other hand, Luck is an extremely bright guy from a family that is financially secure and he is attending one of the nation's finest institutions. Like Matt Leinart, Sam Bradford and Locker, he might not be in that much of a hurry to start adult life. My guess is it's not such a bad thing being the quarterback at Stanford, particularly with the program being on the rise.

As a junior in 2011, Luck could be in position to be a serious Heisman Trophy candidate and then the top-overall pick in the 2012 draft. As he reviews his decision next winter, he'll also likely take note how a season-ending injury didn't exactly send Bradford spiraling down in the estimation of NFL scouts and draft experts.

In other words, I don't know what Luck will do, and my guess is he is far from certain himself.


Brett from New York writes: What are you hearing out of UCLA regarding Morrell Presley? He came in last year with a lot of hype but didn't seem to make much of impact. Do they plan on using him as a tight end or wr?

Ted Miller: Presley is listed third at tight end behind Cory Harkey and Joseph Fauria and is expected to see significant action this season. Those two guys are 262 and 259 pounds respectively, while Presley only carries 220 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame. That suggests that Presley, mostly a receiver last year, will be a hybrid sort of tight end/H-back. For example, not the sort who takes the field on a double-tight, third-and-1 play but, rather, is a guy coaches want to get the ball in space and be a weapon in the red zone.

Presley is clearly a bust because he didn't do amazing things as a true freshman.

Kidding, of course. Give him time. There's little to suggest that Presley won't become a dynamic player as he matures.


Carlos from Burbank, Calif., writes: Regarding USC's competition at MLB between Devon Kennard and Chris Galippo, do you think USC's defense would be better (and tougher) if USC kept Galippo in the middle and lined up Kennard on the strong-side?

Ted Miller: This is one of the most interesting competitions in the Pac-10 this spring. I'm going to visit USC on Thursday, so I'll get a better idea then where this one stands.

I have two feelings here: 1. USC coaches want to push Galippo to get better; 2. Kennard will see plenty of action -- somewhere -- this fall. He's too good to sit.

Are you asking me if it would be better to have both Galippo and Kennard in the lineup and drop strong-side backer Michael Morgan? Don't know. It appears that Galippo must fend off Kennard before Morgan has to face a similar challenge.


Kevin from San Jose writes: Do you mind putting more stuff up about Stanford... It seems like half the time the lunch links don't have any Stanford stuff.

Ted Miller: I try hard to find Stanford links. The problem is it doesn't appear that any newspaper, including the Stanford student paper, consistently covers the team.

The only consistent source is Dave Fowkes' Examiner sight, and I'd rather use him a secondary guy because he's -- obviously -- a Stanford fan.

Please, understand the nature of the lunch links post. It's entirely dependent on what stories are posted that day by reputable Web sites. I spend way more time on a daily basis searching for stuff from the teams that don't get much coverage than the ones that do -- such as USC, Washington and the Oregon schools.

Stanford fans, if you want more coverage, call your local papers and ask for it. Tell them the Pac-10 blog sent ya!

And, oh by the way, Cal fans: Your team is the only one in the conference with closed practices. That's my guess why there's been such a dearth of stories this spring.


Will from Eugene, Ore., writes: Recently a we had a bracket pool for the NCAA tournament, and one of the prizes was an Oregon visor, similar to the one Chip Kelly is known for wearing. The guy who won it requested that Chip Kelly sign it and then sell the visor and donate 100% of the proceeds to the Children's Brittle Bone Foundation (cbbf.org). This came about because one of the guys on our blog (addictedtoquack.com) recently had a child with the disease who was given a very small chance of survival, but he not only is surviving, he's thriving and went home a couple weeks ago. Here is the link to the story about that child. Chip Kelly was nice enough to not only sign it, but he also included a football (which he signed too) for us to include in the auction for the charity.

Ted Miller: Good show by Kelly. Doesn't surprise me a bit, though.

Will from Eugene also included a link for a charity auction that I couldn't make work. Perhaps our friends at ATQ can post it so it's accessible through the above link?


Ryan from Atherton, Calif., writes: How are you liking your new computer? Is it true that once you go Mac, you never go back?

Ted Miller: I loved the Mac when I bought it. But the nature of my job -- including a fast-paced trip to the Northwest three days after buying a new laptop -- didn't allow me to show the necessary patience to learn how to use it.

I've been using PCs my entire adult life and, at 40, it's hard to teach an old dog to close a web page from the left side.

So, with a degree of regret, I traded in the Mac for a Toshiba.

By the way, the Geek Squad was great. Some of you took shots at them in the comments section. I'd give them high marks for customer service and helpfulness.

Pac-10 bowl season: Yuck

January, 1, 2010
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PASADENA, Calif. -- So how did the Pac-10 do this bowl season?

Did we mention the Pac-10 went 5-0 last year?

[+] EnlargeDejected Oregon
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesThe Pac-10 finished 2-5 in this year's bowl season following Oregon's loss to Ohio State.
Yeah, what about this year?

Pac-10 went 4-2 in 2007.

This year!

Er, the Pac-10 blog went 5-2 in its bowl picks.

No, the Pac-10 football teams.

Er. OK, the Pac-10 went 2-5 in the 2009 bowl season, its best win coming against 8-4, unranked Boston College.

One word: Bad.

The worst game? Arizona got stomped 33-zip by Nebraska.

Oregon State's 44-20 loss to BYU in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl wasn't terribly impressive, either, nor was California's 37-27 defeat to Utah in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, which made the Mountain West 2-0 in the post-season vs. the Pac-10.

Oregon, the Pac-10 champion, got decisively handled by Ohio State, 26-17, in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

Stanford gets a pass. It lost 31-27 to Oklahoma in the Brut Sun Bowl, but it didn't have quarterback Andrew Luck, who was out with a broken finger. How can a team hope to win without its star quarterback? What's that Sooners fans? Oh, Sam Bradford. Yeah. Good point.

Ah, but kudos to USC for taking the Emerald Bowl 24-13 over Boston College. And you too UCLA, for holding powerful Temple to 41 yards in the second half of a 30-21 win in the EagleBank Bowl.

How about those LA teams!

Yes, Pac-10 fans, you will take your knocks in the marketplace of trash talk. Accept it. The bowl season certainly put a footprint onto most of the talk about the conference being the best -- or at least the deepest -- in the nation this year.

But take heart. Lots of good players are coming back next year, including eight starting quarterbacks. The Pac-10 will be even deeper in 2010.

Maybe it will show a pulse next bowl season.

So just wait until next year.

Report: Stanford QB Luck doubtful for Sun Bowl

December, 7, 2009
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Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck had surgery on a finger in his right, throwing hand and won't start the Sun Bowl against Oklahoma, the Stanford Daily -- the student newspaper -- reported and ESPN.com confirmed.

Coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn't rule him out of the Dec. 31 game in El Paso, Tex.

"He's going to be out of practice at least two to three weeks," Harbaugh told the Pac-10 blog Monday. "He's not ruled out of the game, but based on what we know right now, he won't start. We'll have to see how his finger heals and see what his availability is for the game. It will be a game-week decision."

Luck's backup is senior Tavita Pritchard, who has started 19 games in his career but was eclipsed by Luck during spring practices.

Obviously, a huge blow to Stanford's chances.

The Sooners now likely will gang up on the line of scrimmage to stop Toby Gerhart and dare Pritchard to beat them with the passing game. A defense couldn't do that with the talented Luck running the Cardinal offense.

Of course, it was Pritchard who engineered the stunning victory at USC in 2007.

"This team doesn't make excuses," Harbaugh said. "There's injuries in football."

The Cardinal already lost linebacker Clinton Snyder, defensive end Erik Lorig, offensive tackles Matt Kopa and Allen Smith and defensive tackle Brian Bulcke to injuries this season.

Of course, Oklahoma knows all about losing star players to injuries. It's played without All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham the entire season and quarterback Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, most of the year.

Brut Sun Bowl

December, 6, 2009
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Stanford (8-4) vs. Oklahoma (7-5)
Dec. 31, 2 p.m. (CBS)

Don’t be fooled by Oklahoma’s 7-5 record. This is an elite team, see its 27-0 whipping of Oklahoma State in the season-finale.

It’s just difficult -- and deflating -- when a team loses its consensus All-American quarterback and tight end for the season, as the Sooners did with Sam Bradford and Jermaine Gresham.

This should be another interesting strength-on-strength matchup, pitting Stanford’s power running attack with Toby Gerhart vs. Oklahoma’s outstanding run defense, which ranks seventh in the nation.

Stanford will have to be particularly wary of end Jeremy Beal and tackle Gerald McCoy. Those two have combined for 32.5 tackles for a loss and 16 sacks.

Balance will be the key for Stanford. Quarterback Andrew Luck can’t let the Sooners gang up on Gerhart.

The Sooners have been inconsistent on offense, but Stanford has been uneven on defense. Quarterback Landry Jones, after a slow start, has flashed potential and the Sooners offensive line features All-American Trent Williams. They average 31 points and 419 yards per game, so Oklahoma probably will expect to move the ball on a defense that gives up 26 points and 397 yards per game.

There’s another sidenote: Desire.

Stanford will be thrilled to play in the Sun Bowl. It hasn’t played in a bowl game since 2001. Oklahoma? Hard to say. The Sooners are accustomed to BCS bowls -- they played Florida for the national title last year -- so they might not be thrilled by a trip to the Sun Bowl. Or maybe they will want to make a statement for next year.

Opening the mailbag: Will Best enter the draft or come back?

November, 13, 2009
11/13/09
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Happy Friday!

To your notes.

Marshall from College Station, Texas, writes: I'm confused by the thought process that a possible two, three, or four loss season is suddenly the end of USC's dynasty. The Trojans start a freshman QB, are suffering numerous injuries as you pointed out, and have replaced most of their defense this year. Florida in '07 comes to mind as this season just being an uncharacteristic bump in the road for SC. Their success/failure this year would be readily welcome in here in College Station.

Ted Miller: I knew I'd get some completely reasonable "What the heck are you talking about?" mail in reaction to this story. I had hoped that the final sentence might suggest that I didn't believe one so-called "down" season spelled the end of USC's relevancy.

I was sort of working an angle, you know?

The general gist isn't invalid, though. A third loss would end USC's run of: 1. Pac-10 championships (or co-championships); 2. Its run of BCS bowl berths; 3. And its run of top-four final rankings.

Heck, the Trojans hadn't lost more than two games in a season since 2001. So this would be a major bump in the road for a program with such high standards.

That said, USC probably starts the 2010 season ranked in the preseason top 10. The Trojans aren't going anywhere. And maybe a humbling season will actually re-energize the program.


Erik Duncan, Orlando, Fla., writes: I'm a huge Ducks fan, but I'm getting nervous as all get-out as we come down the stretch. That game in Palo Alto showed our future opponents how they can beat us -- pound the run, and throw in a couple misdirection plays, Oregon-style.My question: Come Dec. 6 a likely scenario is a three-way tie atop the Pac-10, with each team (UO, USC, OSU) all having beat each other (like the 2008 Big-12). If that's the case, who gets the trip to Pasadena?

Ted Miller: I may need a ruling on this. Did you just write in a Ducks loss in the Civil War?

Some of your constituents might get their feathers ruffled.

The Rose Bowl tiebreaker is described here.

There are still variables in your scenario, such as who finishes fourth and what that team did against Oregon, USC and Oregon State. Record against the next-highest team is the next step in the tiebreaking procedure among those tied for first.

In your scenario, if it's Arizona in fourth, Oregon would go to the Rose Bowl. Oregon State would be eliminated because it lost to Arizona and, in your scenario, USC and Oregon would have beaten the Wildcats. Then, back to head-to-head, Oregon eclipses USC.

But if its Stanford in fourth, USC would go. Oregon would get eliminated because it lost to Stanford. Then Oregon State would go down because it lost to USC.

You know, it's a great pick-up line in bars -- approach someone with a fascinating Pac-10 tiebreaker scenario.


Graham from Scotland writes: Last week most people refused to rank Oregon above Boise State because of the head-to-head outcome at the beginning of the season. This week there didn't seem to be such scruples, as USC is still ranked above Oregon, despite a devastating loss to Oregon. In the debate between Boise State and Oregon there was plenty of argument for strength of schedule, but the schedules for Oregon and USC are very similar (I would argue). What do you think?

Ted Miller: I hear you. Got a bunch of notes like yours.

The cases are not exactly parallel because a second loss is part of the picture with USC and Oregon, but still, it was odd that Oregon could be ranked lower than a team that two weeks before it beat by 27 points. Not to mention that Oregon's overall body of work is also pretty strong.

The way I try to get people to understand rankings is to encourage them to do a Top-25 poll themselves, week to week. It can be an infuriating process. (The hardest part is not the top, by the way, but ranking 20-25. I wrote myself a note before I flew to LA -- "Don't forget Rutgers!" That's my high-tech way of remembering an under-appreciated team that fell off my radar).

You try to rank teams based on what they've done this season. But you always run into the: Yeah, but if they played tomorrow, I'd pick No. 20 over team No. 8 any day, any season."

And then there's the "what have you done lately?" which, I guess, is what happened to Oregon -- weak, I know.

As I've said before, it's a beauty contest. And we all know beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

But if the Ducks and Trojans win out, I'd be shocked if this isn't corrected in the polls.


Nick from the Bay Area writes: Do you think Jahvid's injury helps or hurts his chances of declaring for the NFL draft?reasons why:- see Sam Bradford reasons why not:- have a monster year and move into top 10.

Ted Miller: The best case for Jahvid Best is he returns for his senior year, plays 13 games, including a bowl game, and piles up huge numbers and never misses a down. If he did that, he's get picked in the first round in 2011.

That's his best-case because NFL folks are most concerned about his durability. Can he be an every-down back? Or is he just another fragile speed guy?

That being his best-case is also a reason for him not to come back. The shelf life of an NFL running back isn't long. Few play more than five years and only a handful are effective past age 30. (I still rue a column I wrote a few years back saying that the Seahawks should re-sign Shaun Alexander because he was special. Dumb, dumb, dumb).

Best's speed and big-play ability are so tantalizing, he would be an early-round pick this spring. And Best might want to start getting paid as soon as possible.

After the season, Best should get an NFL evaluation. He should talk to people he trusts. If an agent or a person who works for an agent gives him advice, he should know that person is self-interested and probably disingenuous.

In the end, he should do one thing: Best should do what is best for him.


Shawn from San Jose, Calif., writes: I am really impressed with the way Mike Stoops has his Arizona Wildcats playing on both sides of the football. I think everyone is looking forward to the game against Oregon on the 21st in Tucson. What are your thoughts on this game and will you be there?

Ted Miller: The Wildcats best not look past California this weekend. I talked to a really smart football person who told me he thought the Bears might play spoiler.

Stoops is on a short list of Pac-10 coach of the year candidates. He'll win if the Wildcats earn their first Rose Bowl berth.

It took me a while to come around to Stoops. When he started, I made fun of him. Lots of sportswriters did.

But then I found out something interesting: Within the coaching profession, he's highly respected. He's a much better coach than he was when he started. He's mellowed out. He's learned some of the nuances of the job. He's hired a good staff (hello, Sonny Dykes, here's my offense!). He's built a program that looks like it has some staying power.

My thoughts on the Oregon-Arizona matchup? You'll have to tune in next week. The Pac-10 blog only writes about one game at a time, even when it's giving 110 percent.

As for me, if Oregon and Arizona hold serve this weekend, I'll be there.


Kris from Murfreesboro, Tenn. writes: I know that college football thrives on rivalries, including rivalries between conferences, but I actually find the latter to be rather irritating which is why your comment about the SEC struggling against the Pac-10 motivated me. I certainly can't say that you're wrong. Since 2001, the Pac-10 is 9-7 against the SEC. However, I can dispute what that record actually means. Of those 16 games, 8 involved either LSU or USC, and they have not played each other. That leaves us with a grand total of 8 games over a span of 8 years with the Pac-10 being ahead 5-3. Surely, you do not think that this small sample size provides any truly meaningful data. We're not comparing two teams that play every year. We're comparing conferences that have a combined 22 teams, some never even considering playing each other. You never explicitly stated that the Pac-10 is superior to the SEC, but the implication is there. I understand doing so since you are writing primarily for Pac-10 fans. However, such writing makes one sound more like a political pundit than a sports writer. I'm not writing this to argue that the SEC is superior to the Pac-10. I actually enjoy watching Pac-10 football and have long dealt with criticism from others in SEC country for saying that USC would have obliterated Auburn in 04 as they did Oklahoma. No, it is as I said before. I find these conference rivalries to be irritating, and, just once, I would like to see a writer not fan the flames. Of course, if you really feel the need to do so, you can always remind people that the SEC is 7-14 against the lowly Big East since 2001.

Ted Miller: Kris thanks for the note. I, too, get tired of the conference rivalry debate. I just wish we could respect and love one another.

7-14 vs. the Big East! That can't possibly be true.


Matt from Portland writes: Every week, you have to pick a winner & loser for each game. With 12 games a per season, per team, that's a lot of "losers" to pick. The majority of your readers would consider themselves diehard fans, meaning you likely upset the majority of readers at some point in the season by picking against their team. Since many readers aren't shy about questioning your intelligence, motives, sexual orientation, species, etc... How do you stay objective and not let the criticism get to you. Do you ever want to just snap and say "Dude, its a game, and your team sucks. Deal with it?" Do you drink heavily? I'm just curious how you deal with stress.

Ted Miller: Wait ... some readers question my species? Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty.

Stress? I write haikus about flowers. Bikram yoga, too.

And martinis.

Opening the mailbag: Oregon, Boise & Boise, Oregon

November, 6, 2009
11/06/09
5:53
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Lots and lots of mail on the Oregon vs. Boise State debate. Not sure how to handle this in the mailbag because it's a complicated issue that can be stated simply: head-to-head vs. body of work.

Not sure if you guys will be entertained by repeating that endlessly.

Or maybe you will be?

To the notes.

James from Springfield, Ore., writes: It's funny how many pollsters find it so difficult or downright impossible to rank Oregon over BSU because of the win in week one. John Hunt of the Oregonian polled some of the AP voters and at least 16 said they would not vote OR over BSU. Wanna guess how many voted UW over USC in week 4 when they had the same record? ZERO. 14 voted OK over BYU in week 2 (BYU 1-0 with win over OK, OK 0-1). Nine voted Cal over OR in week 5 despite the 42-3 beat down & a higher SOS

Jim from Cascade, Idaho writes: I sure hope that your vote at the end of the season to rank the Oregon Ducks ahead of the Boise State Broncos doesn't count for anything. You represent the Pac 10 and of course you want a Pac 10 team ahead of a lowly mid major. That is the problem of this BCS discussion that dominates the media to such foolishness. If the six major conferences had to share their money and prestige with someone else then pretty soon the mid majors could recruit equally. Besides when nothing else makes sense then follow the money. That is exactly why the majors won't share and pay the media to keep it that way. You act like a proper sheep.

Jon from Los Angeles writes: Is Boise State totally WAC? Sure, the Oregon win looks good now, but is there any chance one impressive victory against a great team on a bad night atones for twelve weeks of beating up on virtual DII teams? What's the debate?

Rob from Boise writes: Of course you will back OR in the polls, you are a blogger for the P10. But I question your mental and physical fortitude, because I doubt (strictly from your posturing during that v-blog) that you have ever been pitted against something hard, tough, or perceived better than you. Please don't take this as an ego boost, because if there were nothing to whom you have been physically challenged to then why the hell are you a writer for E(SEC)PN? Face to face matters most in sports, thats why we need a playoff. Have fun in your basement or study or wherever you videoed that, real men will be out on the field or in the arena. It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worth cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat. -Theodore Roosevelt - words you should take to heart Mr. Miller

Moreno from Suthelrin, Ore, writes: Oregon over Boise in the rankings no doubt. Must be nice to only have to train for ONE REAL SCHOOL all off season. then take the rest of the season off. Oregon proves week after week that they're the best. Boise sneaks past schools that my community college could beat.

Jason Mayer from "The Left Coast" writes: When the college football season is finished and Florida, Texas, and Alabama are all undefeated only two teams can play in the big game. How will this be decided, by looking at their body of work. Why, because they have not played any games head to head. You are crazy to think that body of work could ever trump head to head. Body of work is needed if there is no head to head. I would whole hardily agree that Oregon's body of work is light years ahead of Boise State, but it still doesn't trump head to head. Oregon had their chance to be the dominate team on the football field, not only this year but last year and they lost head to head both times. There is no justifying that away, can't be done without having your head in the sand.

Ted Miller: Hey, I did a video clip about this.

Funny thing: This is as much a debate among media sorts as among fans. I was among the gaggle of sportswriters arguing this very topic as we left Autzen Stadium. We were fairly animated.

It almost feels like we should make another distinction.

If it comes down between Oregon and Boise State for a national championship berth or, perhaps, an at-large BCS berth, maybe the Broncos should have the edge.

I think, in fact, that the Broncos non-AQ status helps them here. Say Arkansas lost on the road to a Big Ten team to open the season, then decisively beat Alabama, Florida and LSU and finished 11-1, while that Big Ten team went unbeaten, without playing, say, Penn State or Ohio State. My guess is Arkansas would get a lot of voter sympathy based on their body of work and voter doubts about the Big Ten.

There wouldn't be this sense of BCS systemic unfairness that is the subtext of much of the emotion here.

But beyond the BCS positioning, and only in the context of the national rankings, maybe Oregon should have the edge.

Why? Well, body of work.

And there's this: If you can't honestly say, "I think Boise State would beat Oregon tomorrow on a neutral field" then you are admitting that the body-of-work argument carries some heft.

Both arguments are compelling. In the end, if I have to choose one, I go with body of work.


Mike from Portland writes: Hey Ted! I read your blog every day! One thing I haven't seen you post about is the Pac 10's strength of schedule in hard numbers. Yeah everyone can debate that endlessly, but according the hard facts, aka Sagarin, 9 of the Pac 10 teams rank in the top 20 of his strength of schedule. NINE! And many of those teams are looking pretty good and are doing well with pollsters. I think the pollsters need to be more aware of the hard facts SOS.

Ted Miller: If you wish to see the Pac-10 love from the computers, feel free to go here, or particularly here.

The Pac-10 seems to have joined the SEC in the discussion of best conference this season. But keep in mind we've got lots of football left and then the bowl games. We shall see how things shake out.


Bentley from Bend, Ore., writes: I am a life-long Trojan fan, and I was at the game last weekend. I am definitely disappointed and crushed, but that is not what I want to ask you about. I want to know why the Pac-10 is getting absolutely no love in terms of players being recognized for the Heisman? I don't get it. The race seems wide open this year with Bradford going down and both McCoy and Tebow not performing like Heisman worthy players. What about James? He didn't even get many touches until the third game of the year and he is still almost at 1,000 yards. He has games of 118, 152 (twice), 154, and 184. He averages 7.0 yards a carry! No one is talking about this guy for Heisman? WHY!?!? Or what about JacQuizz Rodgers? He is more than a runner and almost has 1300 all purpose yards already. He averages more yards a game (162) receiving and rushing then Ingram does. Both JacQuizz Rodgers and LaMichael James are more impressive then Ingram in my mind. Why does the media not even talk about this?

Ted Miller: Dude, I've been so ringing the Jacquizz Rodgers bell!

And what if Jeremiah Masoli keeps Oregon rolling? Or what if Toby Gerhart rushes for 180 yards and two touchdowns Saturday and leads Stanford over the Ducks?

The race is still wide open.

For Rodgers, he needs the Beavers to start rolling and return to the national rankings. So does Gerhart.

Name recognition is critical. And it's hard to get that when playing for an unranked team.


Chris from South Korea writes: Do you think it's good for a team like WSU to travel to San Antonio for recruiting and/or a decent paycheck or does a bad defeat hurt their cause?

Ted Miller: The money, particularly for Washington State, which has some financial issues, is critical.

I'm not sure if it will help much in Texas recruiting, though there are Cougars from Texas.

What would help is winning the game. Losing in San Antonio probably does no more damage that losing in Martin Stadium. And judging from struggling attendance figures and frustrated fans, the Cougars may have enjoyed the trip more than a home game.


Vib from Fremont, Calif., writes: Wilner's post on Oregon-Stanford is really just creating hype for a game that will be interesting for only 15-20 minutes. The Stanford defense will be confused with the Ducks misdirection all day. They are running Kelly's offense at a very high level. I don't think the Stanford offense is very good. They just had a relatively easy early schedule. The Ducks defense will do enough and Masoli/James will run past the stumped Cardinal.

Ted Miller: You know Wilner used to routinely whip Anderson Silva? He's won the sportswriter UFC championships, like, 50 times. May want to be careful calling anything he writes "hype."

Because you know we media sorts hate the assertion that we'd ever "hype" something.

I liked his arguments. Thought they were interesting. Still think Oregon's going to win. But if Stanford pulls the upset, we may refer back to his list.


Chris from Parts Unknown writes: Cool article from USC ranking pac-10 away locker rooms.

Ted Miller: That is a cool article. And I'm not surprised about first and last.


Chris from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: Hey Ted, I really enjoy the blog. I have a question as to why Oregon has to make a recommendation to the Pac-10 about Blount. I thought it was the Univ. of Oregon that suspended him, not the Pac-10. If that's correct, why now does the Pac-10 have a say in this?

Ted Miller: The Pac-10 has final say both going in and going out.


Ryan Heredia from Cheney, Wash., writes: Hey Mr. Miller. I am doing a college paper on whether or not there should be a playoff system in college football. I was just wondering what your take is?

Ted Miller: Cheney! Funny story. Got caught in speed trap in Cheney while heading to Seattle Seahawks practice. Officer clocked me at 55 ... on an exit ramp. I was about 100 yards from highway where the speed limit was 75.

My thoughts on a playoff.

I think a playoff would be great. I don't think it will happen anytime soon because the folks who make these decisions don't want a playoff.

And, you know, college football doesn't exactly stink right now.


Derick from Portland writes: With University of Oregon doing so well the last few years (well until QB injuries occurred that is). What is the chance that we will pull in top defensive recruits and wide receivers? We haven't had a decent receiver since James Finley/Demetrius Williams and its been our biggest weakness offensively. Does Oregon stand much of a chance to land big names in this recruiting class?

Ted Miller: Oregon is about to finish in the top-10 for a second-consecutive season. Seems to me the Ducks should stick with their present recruiting strategy.

But this happens a lot with a fanbase. A team surges, and fans want to win in recruiting also. They want to compete with USC, Texas and Florida for guys!

I get notes like this from Oregon State fans, and I just feel such talk is nuts.

I don't get the feeling that Oregon is that bad off at receiver, based on my observations watching the Ducks gain 613 yards against one of the most talented defenses in the nation.


Aaron from Chicago writes: With all the injury issues USC has been having at RB, why isn't Marc Tyler getting playing time? Wasn't he the best RB in America in high school? Was his leg injury so bad that he just isn't the same back, or is there something below the surface that is affecting his playing time?

Ted Miller: It's below the surface... of his toe. He suffered a season-ending toe injury that required surgery.

I've got a feeling Tyler will be a factor next year, though.


Jacob from Beaverton, Ore., writes: My name is Jacob, a freshman at the University of Oregon, and I just had some questions about how you became a sports journalist/ESPN blogger (I think that is how you would classify your profession? yes/no?). I am an avid college football fan and having a profession in this sort of field would definitely interest me.Currently, I have not yet declared a major. I have always enjoyed history and political science, but there really isn't anything to do with those kind of majors in the economy today other than teaching, which doesn't appeal to me at all. This has sparked my initiative to find other career pathways which interest me, and lets be honest, who doesn't like sports!?So on to the questions:What did you major in at the University of Richmond? Did that major play any role in your current career?What do you recommend I major in to pursue a career similar to yours?Is sports journalism even a realistic career to pursue? How did you become one?

Ted Miller: My career advice is to have as much fun as you possibly can before you turn 25. At some point, you need to hang out in Amsterdam. And Barcelona. Then think about your career.

I was an English major. I wanted to be an English professor. And write a few novels and move to Barcelona. And Amsterdam.

Plans change.

I started at a small paper. Then moved to a bigger one. And so-on.

As for what I do for ESPN.com: You can do the same thing right now. Just start writing a blog. Write for the school paper. Try to string for the local newspaper. Gather your clips. Try to get an internship.

It's not rocket science.

It's much, much harder and more important.


DuckVader from "Still Floating" writes: Okie Dokies Mr. Ted Miller. I think it's time to give Oregon's Defense some nifty little catch phrase name so we can keep promoting how amazing we are (Knock on Wood for the love of god). We might need it if we win out (see Texas national title game campaign). I'm thinking, call us the Carbon Curtain... yea? you like?PS Solid work with the new videos. My only comment would be loosen up a bit on them, maybe don't treat them like your a news caster. Your a hip, witty, blogger; so go with that! Be a silly son of a B, people dig that!

Ted Miller: Me silly? Bollocks!

As for a nickname for the Ducks defense, we might want to give it one more week, post-Toby Gerhart.

But you Duck fans out there should feel free to offer suggestions. I will then steal the best one and claim I invented it.

By the way, Duck Vader, do you know my boss, Darth Duffey? I think you Sith Lords run in the same circles.

Arizona QB Foles is shaggy but also poised

September, 30, 2009
9/30/09
3:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


For a time, it seemed like Nick Foles merely would be Arizona's shaggy-haired, back-up quarterback who looked a bit like Tom Petty. Or is it Dave Grohl?

But Foles, a Michigan State transfer, is no longer free falling or living like a refugee. Heck, after he completed 25 of 34 passes -- 73.5 percent -- for 254 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Wildcats 37-32 win at Oregon State, some Arizona fans might be singing, "There goes my hero... he's [not] ordinary!"

Yuck yuck.

"I thought he played awfully well," coach Mike Stoops said.

Certainly not too shabby for a sophomore making his first career start on the road against a defense that thrives on pressure (though the Beavers at present are struggling to create their typical pressure).

The knock on Foles was he lacked mobility. Fellow sophomore Matt Scott won the job coming out of preseason camp in large part because his athleticism added an intriguing dimension to the Wildcats spread offense, particularly after four years of big-armed but slow-footed Willie Tuitama.

Foles, despite being a prototypical 6-foot-5, 235-pound, drop-back passer, isn't that slow, however, and he showed good pocket presence against the Beavers, who failed to sack him.

But it was the production in the passing game that has made Foles the clear-cut starter. The Wildcats entered the Oregon State game averaging just 167 yards passing in their first three games. They also ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring with just 23.3 ppg.

It's likely the Beavers didn't expect so much precision from the Wildcats previously wobbly air attack. Count Oregon State coach Mike Riley among those impressed with Foles' debut.

"I thought he was poised," Riley said. "He handled things well and I also thought he threw the ball quickly -- a nice release. He was impressive."

That's the rub. Playing quarterback is about more than just a good arm or athletic ability. Scott seemed rattled under pressure the preceding week at Iowa. Foles kept his cool at Oregon State.

"The thing you like about Nick is he never gets real up or real down," Stoops said. "He kind of stays even. That's good. He's got kind of that [Oklahoma's] Sam Bradford mentality. He's just very cool. He's not a real excitable guy. He has great poise and great knowledge and great confidence in what he's doing. I think the other players like that. He's a pretty cerebral person all the time. That's a good quality. But he's still a good leader."

Yes, Stoops just compared Foles to the Sooners' 2008 Heisman Trophy winner and future first-round NFL draft pick.

Don't think Stoops, however, is going all hyperbolic about Foles and the now 3-1 Wildcats as they head into their bye week.

"It's just one game," he said. "I don't think anyone is jumping up and down and beating their chest."

The bye couldn't come at a better time. Arizona is banged up, with an injury list that includes running back Nic Grigsby and defensive end Brooks Reed as well as two starting offensive linemen. The Wildcats offense already has lost two starters for the season: tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Bug Wright.

Stoops seems confident that most will return to practices next week and will be ready to play at Washington.

As for Foles, it looks like he'll stick around and never be a monkey wrench.

Carroll calls Locker 'the best'

September, 22, 2009
9/22/09
10:18
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers is one of a kind. When he shows up in the interview room, coaches and athletes start to sweat and look for the exit -- even a guy who often enjoys verbal duels, such as USC coach Pete Carroll.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
If Jake Locker keeps this pace up, he could become a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Simer's column about Carroll, USC and the disappearance of No. 3 QB Mitch Mustain is interesting in itself.

But this quote from Carroll about Washington quarterback Jake Locker caught my eye:

"That's the best quarterback we've played in nine years here," Carroll said when told Washington has beaten only Idaho and USC the last two years. " Jake Locker has ridiculous talent, and had he remained healthy last year, Tyrone [Willingham] would still be coaching there."

Er, Vince Young? Aaron Rodgers? Dennis Dixon?

Still, Carroll doesn't sling around such high praise for opposing players after a game that often.

Locker is presently 20th in the nation in total offense with 288 yards per game. He's thrown more passes this year -- 105 [Edit note: This total was changed from 63, the number of completions Locker has] -- than any other Pac-10 quarterback but he has only one interception with five touchdowns.

Carroll's quote and the early numbers raise a question.

If Washington, a team that just two over weeks ago was riding a 15-game losing streak, keeps winning, and Locker keeps putting up impressive numbers, how much longer until he becomes a Heisman Trophy candidate?

There's also been chatter of late that Locker might be playing his way into being a high pick in the 2010 NFL draft. Chris Mortensen tweeted that Locker and Sam Bradford are in a "real competition" to be the No. 1 quarterback in next year's draft.

If he opts to return for his senior year, he'd almost certainly be among the top-five preseason candidates for the 2010 Heisman Trophy.

A year ago vs. Stanford, Locker busted up his thumb, which ended his season, and he thereafter watched as his already-fired coach and the Huskies go on a college football version of the Bataan Death March. He was miserable.

Now, with a date at Stanford on Saturday, he's a high-profile baseball prospect under contract with the L.A. Angels and he's being touted as an elite NFL prospect.

And the Huskies are nationally ranked.

Sometimes life gives you lemons. And then it hands you a plate of shrimp and oysters to go with the lemons.

What we learned in the Pac-10

September, 20, 2009
9/20/09
10:41
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


What did we learn from Week 2 of Pac-10 action?

1. Washington is nobody's patsy: A corpse was rolled out of Husky Stadium on Saturday evening. It was Sucky Husky, who went 12-47 from 2004 until 2008. He's been on life support since Steve Sarkisian was hired and injected him with enthusiasm and hope, which proved deadly for Sucky Husky, who finally succumbed when Erik Folk's short field goal gave Washington a 16-13 victory over No. 3 USC. Suffice it to say, the funeral will be sparsely attended. Washington once was the top alternative to USC in the Pac-10. It was once a program that groused about playing in the Sun Bowl. In a few years, it feels certain that Husky fans will once again grouse about playing in the Sun Bowl.

2. USC is vulnerable. Seriously. Well, maybe: Let's pause for a moment and be fair to USC. The Trojans, who lost at Washington were missing their starting quarterback, their two-time All-American free safety, their starting cornerback, their starting defensive end, their starting wide receiver and their nickelback. Still, this is USC; the Trojans are just supposed to plug-and-play. After the game, coach Pete Carroll talked about turnovers and penalties and pointed a finger at himself. The Trojans haven't looked this beatable since 2001. Oh, but don't be too hasty throwing a handful of dirt on them. Let's wait for them to lose a second Pac-10 game before we completely write them off. But feel free to practice saying this, "USC has accepted an invitation to the Holiday Bowl."

3. Jahvid Best is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate: It's not just that Best scored five TDs and eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the seventh consecutive time in the Bears' 35-21 win at Minnesota. It's that Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford is hurt and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow haven't looked very good. Moreover, McCoy plays a weak schedule that won't help his cause, and -- fair or unfair -- there's a certain amount of "Tebow exhaustion" among the masses. Cal folks, by the way, might want to loosen the reins on Best. Best has a personality, but it seems like someone sent him the "Tyrone Willingham's Interview Techniques" DVD.

4. Did you write off Oregon? Not smart: After the Boise State debacle, Ducks fans seemed to panic, and Duck haters seemed ready to predict the certain demise of the Chip Kelly era after just one game. Those of us -- yeah, I'm taking credit for it -- who said, "Er, one game" and preached patience probably feel like gloating. But we won't because gloating is, well, often a lot of fun. It's not that Oregon doesn't have issues. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's continued struggles is chief among them. And this might not be a 10-win team. But the idea that the program was on the cusp of spinning into the morass was absurd. And I'm still not selling my Masoli stock.

5. The Pac-10 is 9 1/2-teams deep: Look at the Pac-10, top-to-bottom. It's fair to say now that nine teams presently are threats to win at least six games and earn bowl eligibility. And, heck, Washington State just beat a 2-0 SMU team, never mind the final statistics. Last week, it looked like the Cougs were the only automatic out, but now even they have shown signs of life. While the apparent depth is a good thing, it also suggests that going undefeated -- or even losing just once -- will be a heck of a task. Don't be surprised if we end up with co-Pac-10 champs who both own two conference defeats.

Best case-worst case: California

August, 12, 2009
8/12/09
12:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Ninth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-10 teams, starting at the bottom and working up from my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.

Up next: California

Best case

Last year, California running back Jahvid Best blew a technicolor pizza on national television at Maryland. This year, he made the Terrapins nauseous.

In a tour de force performance that announced his Heisman Trophy candidacy like a bolt of lightning, Best rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 105 yards and a score -- most of which came on a 58-yard touchdown off a screen -- in a 44-10 victory.

Best produced touchdown runs of 55 and 68 yards but sat out the second half of a blowout victory over Eastern Washington.

The Bears overcame a shaky start at Minnesota and rolled in the second half for a 30-17 win.

That set up a marquee showdown for the No. 8 Bears at No. 5 Oregon with ESPN's College GameDay on location in Eugene.

Lee Corso donned the Duckhead. Kirk Herbstreit tapped the Bears.

"It's fair to say the winner of this game will send a player to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony," Chris Fowler said about Best and Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

The Bears led 17-10 at the half, a 76-yard run from Best being the difference.

With 3:05 left, the Bears led 24-20. From the Oregon 47, Cal quarterback Kevin Riley did a play-action fake to Best and launched a bomb.

But Ducks safety T.J. Ward didn't bite on the fake, and he out-leapt Marvin Jones for the interception.

Masoli drove the Ducks to Cal's 32, but faced a fourth-and-8 with 0:55 remaining.

Masoli set up to pass, but Bears end Cameron Jordan was on him. Masoli stiff-armed Jordan, and started to backpedal. Jordan was joined by Mike Mohamed in pursuit of Masoli, who reversed the field and started directing receivers downfield.

There was room to run. Masoli tucked and made a break, but just short of the line of scrimmage, he stopped and lobbed the ball into the corner of the endzone.

Tight end Ed Dickson leapt, but the ball was tipped away by safety Brett Johnson.

And onto the turf.

Autzen went silent.

"California might be the best team in the nation," Herbstreit said after the game.

"See you next week in Berkeley," Fowler concluded.

No. 2 USC vs. No. 4 California. Big. Perhaps the biggest game in Cal history.

"People have contemplated the origin and evolution of the universe since before the time of Aristotle," said George Smoot, Cal physics professor and Nobel Prize winner. "Very recently, the era of speculation has given way to a time of science. The advance of knowledge and of scientific ingenuity means that at long last, we can actually test our theories. But no body will be testing anything Saturday because the Bears are going to stomp 'SC. Go Bears! Whoooo! How 'bout another margarita!"

One piece of good news that emerged from the day as a sidebar was that Memorial Stadium, awaiting a major seismic retrofitting, proved it could withstand a minor earthquake.

We know that because the rumble inside Strawberry Canyon probably could have be heard across the Bay in San Francisco when Best went 75 yards for a touchdown on the Bears first possession, having outraced Trojans safety Taylor Mays the final 35 yards.

On the biggest stage, Best and Riley and an inspired defense pushed the Trojans around in a 40-17 victory, the worst loss of the Pete Carroll era.

Cal rose to No. 2 in the rankings. Texas coach Mack Brown complained. According to an ESPN.com poll, 78 percent of the college football nation believed he should quit whining.

When Texas' Colt McCoy and Oklahoma Sam Bradford combined for six interceptions in a 10-7 Sooners victory on Oct. 17, the door opens for the Bears.

"It's the matchup everyone wants to see," Fowler says. "Florida vs. Cal, Tim Tebow vs. Jahvid Best. SEC vs. Pac-10. It's freaking beautiful."

The Bears rolled through their next seven games by an average of 24 points. The offense ranked third in the nation with 41 points per game, the defense fifth with 13 ppg.

On a technicality, however, Cal didn't play in its first Rose Bowl since 1959.

"While disappointed we're not playing in the Rose Bowl, it is some consolation to play for the national title in the Rose Bowl Stadium against a fine team like Florida," Cal coach Jeff Tedford sighs.

Best, already called the best player in the nation by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, won the Heisman.

During a pre-BCS title game press conference, a reporter asked Best whether he won the Heisman because folks were tired of hearing and reading about Tebow.

"I hope not," Best says. "Because that would mean people are really stupid. Tim Tebow is the greatest college football player in history. And he's a great person. And I use the term 'great' in its true sense, not as a casual compliment. Why would people get tired of hearing about a guy who does so much good? A guy who remains humble despite all the accolades? I don't care if you don't subscribe to his religion. I don't care if you don't like Florida. I certainly don't like Florida this week. But the idea that people are tired of hearing about such an outstanding person bothers me and it should bother you. It's the worst type of cynicism."

Florida nipped Cal 43-42 in triple-overtime when Gators linebacker Brandon Spikes tipped away a Riley pass on a 2-point conversion.

Worst case

California opened 2-0 with wins over Maryland and Eastern Washington, but a team that wanted to contend for championships had to win on the road.

And Cal still didn't prove that it can, which became clear when the Bears fell at Minnesota, 28-24, the program's fifth consecutive road defeat.

That, of course, didn't bode well for a visit to Oregon. This time the Bears were sharp to start, but Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli led a fourth-quarter rally and the Ducks prevailed, 27-24.

A home loss the following weekend to USC left a season that started with such promise on the brink of disaster. Coach Jeff Tedford announced he was benching quarterback Kevin Riley in favor of Brock Mansion.

While the passing offense continued to struggle, running back Jahvid Best and a tough defense led the Bears on a five-game winning streak.

But Best hurt his shoulder in the overtime win over Arizona, meaning he missed the Big Game vs. Stanford.

In the second overtime of the Big Game, needing a field goal to tie, Stanford called a flea flicker, and quarterback Andrew Luck found Richard Sherman, who was uncovered, for the game-winner.

Stanford improved to 9-3 and earned a berth in the Holiday Bow
l.

Cal slipped Washington in the season-finale and headed to the Sun Bowl.

The Bears whipped Notre Dame 38-10.

The following day, Best, Jordan, Mohamed and cornerback Darian Hagan announced they will forgo their senior seasons and enter the NFL draft a year early.

And Tedford was named the Oakland Raiders head coach.

Cal hired John Mackovic.

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