Pac-12: San Francisco 49ers

Levi's StadiumAP Photo/Tony AvelarThe San Francisco 49ers are working to bring several high-profile events to Levi's Stadium.
If things work out the way the San Francisco 49ers are hoping, Friday’s game at Levi’s Stadium between Cal and Oregon will be the first of many college football games to take place at the new venue.

Levi’s will also host the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 5 and the San Francisco Bowl on Dec. 30, but a few years down the line the lineup could potentially include an early season, neutral-site game and the College Football Playoff championship. At least that’s the goal.

The College Football Playoff championship sites are set through the 2016 season, but when the request for proposal process begins for the three games after that, the 49ers plan to participate, according to the team’s director of business operations, Chris Giles.

"Myself and the leadership over at the playoff group have had multiple discussions," Giles said. "I think we can make a very compelling case that the national championship should be at Levi’s Stadium."

Located about an hour south of San Francisco in Santa Clara, the stadium is to host Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 NFL season, WrestleMania in February 2015, and is actively pursuing other high-profile events, including international soccer matches and concerts, to fill the rest of the calendar.

"The intention all the way to completion [of construction] was to make the venue a 365-day-a-year venue," 49ers chief revenue officer Ethan Casson said. "We absolutely wanted the focal point to be on our football team and the 49ers, but we just believe a venue like this with what we are doing specific to technology, green and fan experience, it would be phenomenal to program this building with high-profile events above and beyond the NFL games. That’s where college football has really resonated."

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who is on the Board of Managers for the College Football Playoff, said part of the criteria for the championship game is to rotate it among several sites and the West region "will get its fair share of games." This year’s game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, followed by University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, next season and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, after that.

"All the fan amenities really do distinguish Levi’s as a special place to play," Scott said. "It’s a new venue that a lot of people will want to see. Media, sponsors, alumni of our schools ... it’s a big attraction, and undoubtedly it would be highly successful in the championship game mix."

Scott was impressed enough with the venue’s offerings to ditch the conference’s home-hosting model for the Pac-12 championship game and move it to Santa Clara for at least three seasons.

For Giles, who worked closely with Scott at the Pac-12 before going to work for the 49ers, the pairing between Levi’s and the Pac-12 seemed like a natural fit.

"The game is worthy of being played on the biggest stage, and now it is. It’s not just another home game," he said. "It allows us to build a festival atmosphere. Having run that game for the Pac-12 before coming here, it’s very difficult to do things that are typically associated with a game of that magnitude from a fan-engagement and auxiliary events standpoint."

The Pac-12 had operations teams on site for at least two 49ers games this season, and Scott said it will have a large contingent present on Friday. He said they also expect feedback from both Cal and Oregon to be helpful for the game’s planning process.

An announcement of a title partner for the San Francisco Bowl, which was known as the Fight Hunger Bowl last year, is expected to be made in the next couple weeks, according to Casson.

Casson, who has worked closely with the San Francisco Bowl Game Association to find a title sponsor, said the bowl’s move from AT&T Park in San Francisco, where the game has been played since 2002, and its new pairing with the Big Ten has helped drum up significant interest. He said there were about six companies that seriously looked into the title partnership and either made a bid or wanted to.

The bowl will get the fourth pick among Pac-12 teams -- after the Rose/Playoff Group, Alamo and Holiday Bowls -- and at least five different Big Ten teams will play in the game over a six-year period.

The 49ers are also interested in developing an early season series -- comparable to the Cowboys Classic in Arlington -- that would ideally create an intriguing nonconference game early in the year, but it’s unclear what the timetable is for that to become a reality.

"I’m talking with [athletic directors] on a weekly basis, and lot of what we’re talking about is 2019, 2020, 2021," Giles said.

Because of how far in advance teams schedule nonconference games, Giles said it’s easier -- at least for now -- to have a team relocate one of its home games to the stadium. That was the case for Cal-Oregon, which came about after discussions to bring this year’s Big Game between Cal and Stanford broke down late last August.

Giles said potential home games at Levi’s aren’t limited to the Bay Area’s three FBS schools -- Cal, Stanford and San Jose State -- but he wouldn’t pursue a home-game relocation from a school that wasn’t a "reasonable driving distance from the stadium."

That presumably leaves Fresno State, which is about 150 miles away, as another option. The Bulldogs played Cal at the 49ers' previous home, Candlestick Park, in 2011.

PHOENIX -- The overriding message coming out of Pac-12 meetings is that major changes in college football governance are now inevitable, even if the details and long-term consequences of those changes remain unclear.

The Big Five conferences will meet in August and almost certainly obtain a new autonomy level within the NCAA structure. At that point, major rules changes, including those that significantly bolster the support and benefits provided to athletes, will start to be formulated. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott intimated that things could move fairly quickly thereafter, so his message to conference coaches and athletic directors was basically to buckle up.

"Quickly is a relative concept, but deadlines are good," Scott said. "I think if we get the autonomy that we've asked for, the commissioners will be setting out a very aggressive timetable to put proposals out ... I expect we'll have a very intensive process over the next four months -- September through December -- where practitioners from our campuses are working on different agendas, including those with a deadline of January, specific proposals that can be voted upon by the 65 schools [in the Big Five]."

So "quickly" might mean?

"The goal is to implement whatever changes we're going to implement for the 2015-16 year," Scott said.

Chief among those would be cost of attendance scholarships, which could vary significantly by team and conference. Scott, however, noted that doesn't create a massive change of direction and complication because the pure value of tuition scholarships also vary by team and conference.

What does need to be implemented to prevent any fudging is a clear formula that all 65 schools apply to calculate the new value of their cost of attendance scholarships.

"I don't think it will that big of a deal, but there will be issues to work through in terms of a common method of determining the full cost," Scott said.

There is a significant degree of consensus within the Big Five conferences for adopting the cost of attendance scholarships, and it appears there is unanimity within the Pac-12.

"These are a lot of things that are going to be costly for us but I think are necessary and in line with what I believe we should be doing for our student-athletes," said Washington State athletic director Bill Moos, echoing other conference ADs.

While Scott was unwilling to admit that the Northwestern football union challenge and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA were driving the oncoming changes, he did concede the legal challenges to the NCAA governance structure and the publicity surrounding them weren't too far from administrators' minds.

"Is it some of these external challenges driving it? I would say no. There's been a recognition for some time [about these issues]," Scott said. "But I'd say external pressures bring a helpful focus and helpful push to get these things done."

[+] EnlargeLevi's Stadium
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLevi's Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers, could be the new home of the Pac-12 championship game as well.
As for the other major item on the Pac-12 agenda, it was more based on the West Coast: The location of the 2014 Pac-12 championship game. There were earnest discussions over the two days about changing it from a game hosted by the conference's top team to a neutral site, specifically the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara, California.

While the potential move was an intriguing idea, it also isn't a done deal.

"I think there was a lot of positive feeling about it," Scott said. "Some objected. There are some pros and cons."

Said Moos: "Personally, I think [Levi's Stadium] is the way to go."

Said USC athletic director Pat Haden: "I think the current model has actually worked pretty well, the home host. I know the CEOs are debating that and discussing that. I don't think any decision has been made. Quite honestly, at USC, we don't mind the home-host model because we think we've got a chance of hosting."

Shrugged Washington's Scott Woodward: "I'm ambivalent. I trust the league and what they want to do. I have no problem one way or the other."

If the title game is going to be played in the new 49ers stadium on Dec. 5, a decision almost certainly would be announced in June, when the Pac-12 presidents meet.

"If we are going to make the move, it wouldn't be later than that," Scott said.

So it appears that the summer, once a quiet time for college football news, will be anything but that this year.

Stanford and Shaw: A good marriage

December, 19, 2012
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Second-year head coach David Shaw has repeatedly said he views Stanford as his destination job. After he signed what was termed a "long-term contract extension" Wednesday, perhaps more folks will believe him.

Of course, Stanford didn't provide any details about just what "long-term" means, or about how much Shaw is being paid, because it is a private school that likes keeping secrets. If it were a 10-year deal worth, say, $30 million we could conclude both parties -- Shaw and institution -- are fully invested in each other.

But even without the details, this feels like a reasonably solid gesture of mutual affection.

Shaw played for Stanford. He loves the place. He's also a family guy who's living in a great place to raise one (if you can afford it). He's got a good thing going, both on the field and with recruiting.

On the field? Stanford finished 11-2, won the Pac-12 title and is preparing for its first Rose Bowl in 13 years. It's won 11 games for the third consecutive season, which it has never done before. Stanford is one of just four teams from AQ conferences to win 34 or more games over the last three seasons, joining Oregon (35), LSU (34) and Alabama (34) in an exclusive club, though Stanford's SAT averages are a bit higher than that troika.

The Cardinal’s .872 winning percentage since 2010 is tied for third-best among FBS teams during that stretch.

Not too shabby, which is why Shaw, the two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year, is a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award.

When Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers after the 2010 season, some wondered if Shaw could maintain the Cardinal's unexpected rise in the Pac-12. Whereas Harbaugh was edgy and eccentric, Shaw was polished and articulate. And, perhaps, some might have fretted, a bit too mellow.

Yep, Shaw is a smooth dude. But he's 4-2 against USC, Notre Dame and Oregon and playing in another BCS bowl game with a team that appears to have a bright future.

Again, not too shabby.

We will humbly offer up a suggestion to both Shaw and Stanford, though we suspect Shaw is well ahead of us here: Take care of the Cardinal's nine assistant coaches. These guys deserve raises, too.

We've repeatedly lauded defensive coordinator Derek Mason and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Both are strong head coaching candidates. But the entire staff, from veterans such as defensive line coach Randy Hart to youngsters like running backs coach Mike Sanford, have participated in creating an outstanding team culture.

And by "team culture," what we really mean is a team that is on the cusp of a third consecutive final top-10 ranking.

 

Mason builds defensive power at Stanford

November, 28, 2012
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Stanford's defensive performance against Oregon on Nov. 17 was a thing of beauty.

In a 17-14 overtime victory, the Cardinal held the Ducks 157.6 yards below their season average, 127 yards below their season rushing average and, most important, 40.5 points below their season scoring average.

The Cardinal was disruptive. It didn't let Oregon's speed get around the edges. It controlled and filled gaps. It forced the zone-blocking Ducks' offensive line backwards. It tackled well, not allowing yards after contact or catch. It didn't let up for 60 minutes, as so many seemingly strong defensive performances against Oregon tend to. And when Oregon busted its one explosion play on the evening, backup safety Devon Carrington made sure it was a 77-yard Marcus Mariota run to the Stanford 15-yard line and not a 92-yard TD scamper that might have changed the game.

[+] EnlargeDerek Mason
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinStanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason is a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach.
The man behind that defense is Stanford coordinator Derek Mason, a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach, and a guy whose name is bouncing around as a budding head coaching candidate.

What was the secret to the Cardinal solving the Ducks?

"We worked extremely hard at making sure we were going to be who we were," Mason said.

That's not as simple as it sounds, particularly against the Ducks, but it's something the Stanford players cited after the game as well.

"We took a greater focus on ourselves this time," linebacker Shayne Skov said after the Oregon game. "We didn't try to make too many adaptations to our own system. We were going to do what we do."

Yet what Stanford does has changed through the years. Significantly.

In 2009 -- Jim Harbaugh's third season -- the Cardinal was a plodding unit that ran a 4-3 and gave up 27 points a game. Enter Vic Fangio, who installed a 3-4. That same year, Mason took over the Cardinal secondary.

When Harbaugh and Fangio bolted for the San Francisco 49ers, new coach David Shaw handed the defense to Mason, who shared coordinator duties in 2011 with Jason Tarver, who is now running the Oakland Raiders' defense.

Let's just say Stanford's defense now looks sort of like its own thing, Mason's thing.

Explained Mason, "It's sort of morphed into something that is a little more …" Mason didn't finish the thought -- he started talking about defending spread offenses -- but we will: Funky, unorthodox, flexible. And effective.

Stanford's defense is talented, particularly its front seven, where a handful of guys have a chance to play on Sundays. It's notoriously physical, certainly the Pac-12's most smashmouth unit. And it's sound and disciplined. It doesn't blow a lot of assignments. That's very Stanford-y.

Yet Mason also hasn't been afraid to show some "what the heck is that?" looks to an offense, looks that seem to befuddle even experienced quarterbacks such as USC's Matt Barkley.

The results is this: Stanford is No. 1 in the nation in run defense (71.3 yards per game), sacks (4.42 yards per game) and tackles for a loss (9.25 yards per game). It's also 11th in the nation in scoring defense (16.92 ppg), despite playing a number of the nation's best offenses, something that can't be said for a number of other highly rated defenses. It's eighth in third down defense (29.53 percent).

"It's a containment run defense predicated on making offenses left handed and earning the right to rush the passer," Mason said.

In other words, the Cardinal stops the run, sacks your quarterback and gets off the field.

That's what happened last weekend against UCLA in Stanford's 35-17 win. The Cardinal held the Bruins to 73 yards rushing and recorded seven sacks and nine tackles for a loss.

It was textbook Stanford, which has held eight of 12 opponents below 100 yards rushing this season.

Yet Mason isn't completely believing what he saw in Game 1 with the Bruins. He said he thinks Game 2 on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game will feature a lot more offensive wrinkles from UCLA coordinator Noel Mazzone.

"There are some things they didn't show," Mason said. "It was obvious. I see it as a totally different game."

Mason specifically cited the quarterback run. Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley has rushed for 282 yards and eight TDs this season. His legs are weapons, and the Bruins didn't showcase them last weekend.

While UCLA and Stanford's potential first Rose Bowl since after the 1999 season are the immediate motivations and goals, Mason is aware that his name is bouncing around as a potential head coach. While it's clearly a future goal, he doesn't seem to be in too much of a hurry to race out of Palo Alto in order to chase the first opportunity that comes his way.

"I'm so in love with what is happening here with our players," he said. "I truly believe I am where I'm supposed to be."

Mason seems to like things on the Farm, where he's been growing a West Coast defensive power.


LOS ANGELES -- Oregon turned in a singular, historic offensive performance against USC in the Ducks' 62-51 victory on Saturday in front of 93,607 fans in the Coliseum. No team has ever gained 730 yards or scored 62 points on the Trojans.

That's in 120 years of football. Heck, it's 107 yards more than Notre Dame piled up in 1946 in setting the mark that lasted 66 years.

The man at the center of this Ducks feeding frenzy is an unassuming guy who just earned his emphatic "hello world" moment: Running back Kenjon Barner. And by "hello world," we mean, "Here's your ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony."

Said one observer, "I think that he's the best player -- that's singular, not plural. I think he deserves the Heisman. He should be right up there with everyone else. He's been doing it day in and day out. If they weren't beating people so bad, he'd probably have 2,000 yards right now. He's great."

That observer would be LaMichael James, a former Ducks running back and Heisman finalist himself, and he was reacting to Barner shattering James' team single-game rushing record of 288 yards, set last year against Arizona. Shattering? Barner rushed for 321 yards and five touchdowns against a Trojans' run defense that entered the game ranked 29th in the country, giving up 123 yards per game. That defense gave up just six rushing touchdowns in its previous eight games.

Barner and James, now with the San Francisco 49ers, just happen to be best buddies who talk frequently.

"I'm happy that he broke that record," James said. "Anytime your best friend can break your record, it means more. It's like, 'Man, my record got broken. But Kenjon broke it, so it's OK.'"

Barner entered the game ranked 10th in the nation in rushing. He now has 1,295 yards on the ground, and his 143.88 yards per game would have ranked second last week. He now averages 7.23 yards per carry and has scored 19 touchdowns, numbers that will rank among the very best in the nation this week.

With a potential injury to Collin Klein, Kansas State's multi-talented field general, it's possible Barner could even become a threat for the Heisman front-runner position.

Barner, who also caught two passes for 26 yards, including a 12-yard reception that converted a key third down in the fourth quarter, would hardly rate as euphoric after the game. He didn't seem too surprised with the way his and the Ducks offense's evening went.

"I've said it before and I'll keep saying it. People doubt, I don't," he said. "I know what I'm capable of. I know what this team is capable of."

Barner had 169 yards at halftime and 250 yards entering the fourth quarter. Of his 38 carries, he lost yardage on only one.

And, yes, he'd like to get Heisman consideration.

"It would absolutely be meaningful," he said. "Who doesn't want to get invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony?"

Barner's touchdown runs covered 27, 5, 9, 5 and 22 yards. He sliced the Trojans from the outside and diced them inside. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound senior simply couldn't be stopped.

"He's a warrior -- he's had an unbelievable impact on our team," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's the one leader of [the offense] and he's really embraced that role and our guys follow him. Not only does he talk about it, but he lives it. It's the same way in practice.'

And Barner is a true believer in the Tao of Chip Kelly. Ask him about big-picture questions, the kind of query that Kelly knocks away with a smirk, and he doesn't even sniff the bait.

Such as: Did he and the Ducks make a statement by running all over the Trojans?

"There is no statement to be made," he said. "We just come out and play football. If you come out playing with a mindset of your having to make a statement, you're not focused on the task at hand."

At 9-0, and on the cusp of moving up in the BCS standings, Oregon again looks like a national title contender. While Barner won't look past the next weekend, or attempt to sell his team to national pollsters and pundits, he will make clear what he thinks of the 2012 Ducks.

Said Barner, "I feel like we're the best team in the country on any night."

Maybe. It's becoming increasingly clear that the Ducks might be -- again -- the best offensive team in the country. And that Barner may be the best offensive player.

Mailbag: Tedford in Cal's big picture

October, 5, 2012
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Happy Friday.

This is the mailbag. If you were looking for a nice fried egg sandwich, you will not find it here.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Ken from Berkeley, Calif., writes: If you look back at the fifty years before Tedford, Cal had about 14 winning seasons. This is through eleven other coaches and who knows how many academic administrations. To what extent are the demands/challenges of coaching at Cal different than other places? At Ohio St., for example, fans kept asking isn't Berkeley just a liberal place full of radicals. Hasn't Coach Tedford uniquely succeeded in providing competitive football at despite the challenges more than any other Cal coach in 50 years? Do some Cal fans have an illusion of what the past 50 years were like and how that a jerk coach like some have would not be acceptable as a role model?

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. It's a point that factors into the thinking of the decision-makers/power brokers at California.

No one denies what Tedford has done for Cal. Even, I'd hope, his fiercest critics. He is, in many ways, a victim of his own success. In 2001, regularly posting winning records and going to bowl games sounded thrilling in Berkeley. By 2006, folks had refocused on Rose Bowls and 10-win seasons.

Tedford won despite facilities that were among the worst in the Pac-12. Heck, worst among AQ conference programs. He's also represented the program with class.

But this is a tough business. And a big business. Tedford's success was the linchpin for the massive facilities upgrades, including the $330 million renovation of Memorial Stadium. Now there is concern about whether the product inside the remodeled stadium is up to the task of paying for it.

Tedford's success changing the perception of Cal football, the new facilities, the changing landscape of college football and the Pac-12's moving into the sport's fast lane has changed the dynamic. This isn't 2001. The judgment on Tedford operates almost entirely over the past two-plus years, which haven't gone well.

Further working against Tedford are the types of losses, many of the blowout variety, as well as a good number of upsets against teams that were viewed as inferior. Meanwhile, Cal has become one of the biggest pipelines to the NFL. That suggests talent isn't the issue.

At 1-4 so far this season, with a 13-17 record -- 7-13 in Pac-12 play -- since going 8-5 in 2009, it is legitimate to question the direction of the program under Tedford. And to ask if he can reverse it.

The parallel thought is: If not Tedford, then who? And how? If the decision is made to go into another direction, then folks making that decision need to have a solid map for what comes next and how they plan to pay for it.

There also is this: The season is not over. The Bears have flashed enough potential this year to maintain hope for a turnaround, even though the schedule ahead remains daunting. A win over UCLA on Saturday could be the touchstone for a rally.

Ken, it's good to hear some measured, big-picture perspective. My feeling is you are not alone in supporting Tedford. I'd suggest that you make your feelings known to athletic director Sandy Barbour, whom I'm guessing is not enjoying this situation in the least.




Engineer Mike from WinterthurSwitzerland writes: We've already talked about how 9 conference games gives the PAC-12 some extra guaranteed losses. However, I'm starting to suspect that the real advantage the SEC has comes from the fact that the easy non-conference schedule is so EARLY. When everybody else is seeing drops after a week of unbeatens matched up against one another, you're actually providing yourself great early access to the polls. Never mind that some of those currently ranked won't be there at the end of the season. They're there now, and used as a stepstool for whoever wins this week. Once established, teams are hard to bring back down. I see a matchup of two 5-0 teams that really should have little more value than the first game of the year for either, and yet they both sit in the top 6. Thought?

Ted Miller: There is no disadvantage to playing eight conference games. None. Other than your fan experience, and SEC teams have no trouble for the most part selling 90,000 tickets even when the opponent is a directional school.

I hear your point about creating a lot of 3-0 and 4-0 teams based on weak opponents. That makes it easier for teams to produce winning records and earn bowl eligibility. It also makes it easier to get ranked.

But, in terms of placement on the schedule, what typically happens with four nonconference games is at least one is scheduled for later in the season. That, too, offers major benefits. It's like adding a glorified bye week or scrimmage at some point in the season when it helps to rest your starters.

For example, on the Nov. 17 weekend Oregon plays host to Stanford and USC and UCLA square off, Alabama takes on Western Carolina and Georgia plays Georgia Southern. The two frontrunners in their respective divisions get a nice weekend to get their legs back under them.

We hear a lot about the grind of the SEC schedule, but a lot of times it pays to go, "Really, let's see that schedule." That's even more true now if the SEC doesn't move to a 9-game schedule, despite growing by two teams to 14. Conference misses will become a HUGE deal in that league. Think back to 2011, when LSU, Alabama and Arkansas were the best teams in the conference. Imagine the good fortune of an East team not playing any of the three. You know: Like SEC East champ Georgia didn't.

The hope, of course, is that going forward in 2014 under our new four-team playoff, a selection committee will essentially disqualify teams that refused to play tough nonconference games and not allow them to hide behind the specious, "Our conference is already tough enough!"




Pep from Stanford, Calif., writes: I'm a little perplexed how my Stanford offense got so terrible, so quickly. Last week, we scored 6 offensive points (both field goals) against the same team we scored 65 against last year.I know we're trying to replace The Best Quarterback Since Peyton Manning, but seriously, do we not have a single guy on the roster who's capable of completing a simple slant route? Or a 5 yard screen pass for crying out loud!Any advice?

Ted Miller: My first thought is that you're forgetting this offense didn't just lose Andrew Luck. If OG David DeCastro and OT Jonathan Martin were still on the line, the Cardinal probably could have won against the Huskies without throwing a pass. And if they'd had to throw every once and a while, TE Coby Fleener probably could have helped.

My second is to wonder how things might have been different if Josh Nunes hadn't suffered at least four drops against Washington. It's tough making your first career start on the road. Tougher when your teammates are letting you down.

My third: Nunes had a bad game. Most QBs have those every once and a while. You might recall a certain USC QB looking terrible in a recent game you might be familiar with as a Stanford fan.

Folks are quick to make broad pronouncements about one game. I mean, I still can't believe how in over his head Chip Kelly is! Didn't you see how Boise State stomped him in 2009!

If Nunes is who his coaches think he is, he'll learn from his mistakes and get better. I suspect he might look pretty good Saturday against a questionable Arizona defense.




David Fertal from Calgary, Alberta, writes: Hey Ted, Now that we're 1/2 way through the season, which team has the highest rated defense in the conference? Being a Duck fan, I'm actually a touch worried about our pesky neighbors in Black & Orange... (They who shall not be named)

Ted Miller: Too early to make a final call. We've just started the conference slate, and not all nonconference schedules were created equal.

Here are the notable numbers from my "Stat Attack!" post this week (number to left is national ranking).

Scoring defense

14. Arizona State, 13.6 points per game

21. Stanford, 15.25 ppg

Total defense

10. Arizona State, 276.2 yards per game

21. Washington, 315.0 ypg

24. Stanord, 316.5

Rushing defense

3. Stanford, 65 yards per game

9. Oregon State, 83 ypg

24. Oregon, 110.6

Pass efficiency defense

7. Arizona State

18. Stanford

20. Washington

23. USC

24. Oregon

Third-down defense (percentage)

2. Oregon State, 20.5 %

4. Stanford, 24.62

5. Oregon, 24.69

13. UCLA, 28.21

Sacks

5. Arizona State, 4.2 per game

6. USC, 4.0

10. UCLA, 3.4

13. Oregon, 3.2

13. Washington State, 3.2

25. Stanford, 2.75

25. Utah, (2.75)

Arizona State, which has played a solid schedule, leads the conference in scoring, total and pass efficiency defense as well as sacks.

So, to this point, I'd rate the Sun Devils No. 1, which no one saw coming.

But Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, USC and UCLA remain in the picture. Heck, even Washington does, based on its early numbers.




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: In your chat yesterday, you mentioned Cal perhaps going with a cheap up-and-coming coach, presumably because of the cost to fire Tedford. Do you think WSU going with coach Wulff for 3 years was a good thing? At 600 grand a year, it allowed them to save up a little for the two mil a year that Coach Leach costs, right? Although, Wulff is an example of not all up-and-comers working out. And the ones that do usually aren't up and comers for long, kinda by definition. Chip Kelly was an OC for what, maybe two years before his first and only head coaching job? How many hot names are out there besides Wilcox and anyone that works at Alabama?

Ted Miller: I don't think you go cheap just to save money. At the time of Wulff's hiring at Washington State, he was a former Cougar player who'd done a good job at Eastern Washington. It seemed like a roll of the dice that either would prove to be a perfect fit or one that fizzled in obscurity. I personally thought it was an inspired decision at the time.

I'm not going to make this specific to Cal, but my theory is the best coaching hires are accomplished, veteran coordinators who have the charisma to front a program or an accomplished coach at a nontraditional power. And, if I'm the guy doing the hiring, I'd ask any candidate to tell me who would be on his staff, which is darn near as important as the head coach. Maybe even more so.

Folks were skeptical about UCLA hiring Jim Mora. Then he hired a great crew of assistants and the scuttlebutt changed.

There are only a handful of programs that can make a splashy hire, such as Ohio State getting Urban Meyer or Alabama getting Nick Saban. The circumstances of Arizona hiring Rich Rodriguez and Washington State getting Mike Leach were fairly unique. It's rare two coaches with their pedigrees are available.

Everyone else is best off doing their homework instead of trying to grab a big name. That means having a meeting with the powers that be and hashing out the qualities everyone wants. Then the decision-making should be handed off to one person, typically the athletic director. The more folks playing a role in the search, the less like it will be successful.

Further, the one thing I can say with absolute certainty: It's a waste of money hiring a coach search firm. They offer little and charge a lot.

Last year, I banged a drum for Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, who was hired by Pittsburgh to replace Todd Graham.

This year? Here are some guys worth a look, listed merely in the order in which I thought of them:
  • Head coaches: Charlie Strong, Louisville; Art Briles, Baylor; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech; Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky; Gary Anderson, Utah State; Butch Jones, Cincinnati.
  • Coordinators: Kirby Smart, Alabama; Chad Morris, Clemson; Mark Helfrich, Oregon; Justin Wilcox, Washington; Noel Mazzone, UCLA; Todd Monken, Oklahoma State; Brent Venables, Clemson; Manny Diaz, Texas; Lorenzo Ward, South Carolina; Kalani Sitake, Utah; Pep Hamilton, Stanford; Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State.
And, of course, there's always the NFL. Plenty of great coaches there, many of whom have extensive college experience, such as San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, one of the most creative offensive guys out there.





UODucky Tempe, Ariz., writes: Ted, good fellow, have you or Kevin been reading the discussion boards this week on the UW vs. UO articles [and here] ? If so, have you noticed how civil the discussions have been (notwithstanding 55USC's valiant attempts to stir the pot). Further, does such civility, in light of the apparent attempt by the articles to start a throw-down, frustrate our gallant Pac-12 bloggers?

Ted Miller: Kevin and I both have one, two-pronged purpose: To entertain and inform. If your joy comes from trash talking -- us or other readers -- fine. If you enjoy civility, that's great, too.

The important thing is that you are here, saving lives, making the world safe for democracy and ensuring every puppy finds a loving home.

And, really, "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!"

Pac-12 lunch links: Woods dons ankle brace

June, 29, 2012
6/29/12
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Happy Friday.

Pac-12 teams left in the lurch

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

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

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

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

But two departures really stand out.

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

He is the Dawgfather.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shaw reaches high expectations

December, 26, 2011
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Stanford coach David Shaw is one of two first-year coaches playing in BCS bowl games. ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel points out that he and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen join a small group of coaches who have led teams to BCS bowls: Only 31 of the 120 active FBS head coaches have done so.

Both took very different paths, though both are connected by a name we are choosing -- it hurts soooo much -- not to use in a pun here: Luck.

Holgorsen got his job because of West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck. Shaw won 11 games and will play Holgorsen's old team, Oklahoma State, in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 in large part because of Luck's son, Andrew.

Shaw's transition was seamless, while Holgorsen's was not. But both faced challenges. Shaw's most notable obstacle was the highest expectations in the history of Stanford football.
The apparent seamlessness of the transition from Jim Harbaugh to Shaw can be seen in how the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award didn't name Shaw one of its 10 finalists. He was expected to win and he did. Yet Shaw didn't exactly climb on the back of his extraordinary quarterback. He had to replace four assistant coaches. He had to learn how to negotiate the difference in running a meeting room and running a team.

The adjustment for both former offensive coordinators was taking a job that was less about X's and O's and more about being a CEO of a company that generates millions. No more long hours analyzing film in isolation.
Early on, Shaw said, he would call his wife Kori and tell her he was walking out the door. "And I live 10 minutes away from here. About half an hour later, she'll [call]. 'Are you coming home or not?' I have to pass by six offices on my way out the door. Invariably four of those six wants an answer to a question."

Shaw laughed. "I've learned not to call my wife until I actually get to my car," he said.

Shaw won Pac-12 coach of the year, and just about every early indication -- including the insider scuttlebutt -- is positive about the way he handled Year 1. But the reality is the measure of Shaw will be taken post-Luck. This year he shares credit with the best college QB of a generation and Harbaugh, who rebuilt the program and created an effective locker room culture before bolting for the San Francisco 49ers.

Expectations will be lower on the Farm in 2012. But not for everyone, apparently.
Getting to a BCS bowl will provide Shaw and Holgorsen some career insurance. But there are no guarantees. Of the five previous first-year coaches who reached a BCS bowl, two were fired within five years of the bowl. Next season, without Luck at quarterback, no one will expect Stanford to have a third consecutive 11-1 regular season.

Except Shaw.

"We're not having lower expectations," he said.

While you were on vacation... USC

August, 15, 2011
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The ninth of 12 quick updates on offseason Pac-12 goings on.

USC in a sentence
  • The Trojans won't be eligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, so the big question is how consistently motivated a team that is talented enough to win 10 games this season will be.
The big issue
  • USC is loaded at the skill positions, with quarterback Matt Barkley leading a young but talented supporting cast, but the season likely swings on the play of the offensive line and linebackers, positions that are both questionable and thin.
Quick hit news
  • Starting defensive tackle Armond Armstead, who missed spring practices due to an undisclosed medical condition, still hasn't been cleared to play but he told reporters he expect to be cleared before the season starts.
  • Starting running back Marc Tyler is on indefinite suspension -- he definitely will sit out the season opener. He was suspended after saying stupid things to a TMZ reporter with a video camera, but his status is even more precarious because he is awaiting a ruling from the school's disciplinary committee on a pair of alcohol-related incidents from last year.
  • Coach Lane Kiffin said over the weekend that junior Curtis McNeal, who was academically ineligible last season, leads the tailback competition.
  • USC's backup quarterback, redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins, is out indefinitely after suffering a thumb injury. True freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek are competing to be Barkley's backup.
  • USC has only one new assistant coach: receivers coach Ted Gilmore. He replaced John Morton, who left for the San Francisco 49ers.
  • While the Trojans have 13 starters back, only 39 players on the roster saw action in 2010. 70 players on the 109-man roster have never played a down of college football. Only 14 Trojans have started at least 10 games.
  • For the first time since 2000, USC plays seven home games, including the first three in the Coliseum.
  • There are 35 scholarship players now practicing who didn't participate in spring drills: 23 new recruits and 12 returning players who were out because of injuries. The Trojans presently have 79 scholarship players. They can only sign 15 players this recruiting season because of NCAA sanctions and can have no more than 75 total scholarship players in 2012.
  • USC outscored foes in each of the first three quarters last season but was outscored 118-72 in the fourth quarter.
  • USC is in the process of constructing the $70 million John McKay Center, a 110,000-square foot building that will house the football offices, an academic center, weight room, athletic training room and digital media production.

New Pac-12 coaches

August, 11, 2011
8/11/11
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A quick look at the two new coaches in the Pac-12: Colorado's Jon Embree and Stanford's David Shaw.

Embree and Shaw share some similarities. Both are first-time head coaches. Both played for the program they now coach. Both coached in the NFL. Both say they want to retire in their present job instead of climbing the coaching ladder. And, yes, both are black, the fourth and fifth black head football coaches in conference -- Pac-8 to Pac-10 to Pac-12 -- history.

Here's a quick look at the new guys.

Jon Embree, Colorado

Replaces? Dan Hawkins, who never posted a winning season in five years in Boulder.

Where was Embree last year? He was the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins.

What's he bring to the table that's different? Embree is a hardnosed old school coach -- Hawkins was decidedly new school -- who is from the area and played for Colorado under the revered Bill McCartney. He's spent 10 of his 18 seasons in coaching at Colorado, working from 1993-2002 as a Buffs assistant under three different head coaches: Bill McCartney (1993-94), Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002). He has repeatedly said that Colorado is his dream job, not a stepping stone. His singular focus is restoring a program that was once a national power.

What else? Embree, 45, is the first black head football coach at Colorado and the fourth black head coach in Pac-12 history (Stanford's Dennis Green (1989-91), Stanford's Tyrone Willingham (1995-2001), UCLA's Karl Dorrell (2003-07) and Willingham at Washington (2004-08). Shaw became the fifth in January)... Embree earned a communications degree from Colorado in 1988... He was a member of McCartney's first recruiting class... In 1984, he earned first-team All-Big 8 honors and set school single-season records for receptions (51) and receiving yards (680)... He was a sixth-round selection by the Los Angeles Rams in 1987. He played two seasons with the Rams before suffering a career-ending elbow injury in 1989 while a member of the Seattle Seahawks... His original plan after the NFL was to get into TV news, but he took a job as a volunteer assistant with McCartney and was immediately bitten by the coaching bug... He is married to the former Natalyn Grubb and they have three children, a daughter and two sons. Eldest son Taylor, is a receiver at UCLA, while Connor is a receiver at UNLV.

David Shaw, Stanford

Replaces: Jim Harbaugh, who rebuilt the program into a national power before being hired away by the San Francisco 49ers.

Where was Shaw last year: He was Stanford's offensive coordinator.

What's he bring to the table that's different: Where Harbaugh was boisterous, often eccentric and sometimes prickly, Shaw is mellow, polished and accommodating. That said, he's repeatedly insisted that doesn't mean the competitive fire doesn't burn just as hot. He certainly knows Stanford. His father coached there and he's a 1984 graduate. He returned to Stanford in 2007 when Harbaugh arrived -- they were together at San Diego -- so he's seen the Cardinal renaissance firsthand. And, just like Embree, he says that Stanford is his destination job and that he's not looking to move on or up in the coaching profession.

What else? Shaw is the fifth Stanford alum to become head football coach, joining Charles Fickert (1901), Carl Clemans (1902), Chuck Taylor (1951-57) and Paul Wiggin (1980-83)... He was a member of Stanford's 1991 Aloha Bowl team coached by Dennis Green that finished 8-4. He was also on the Cardinal's 1992 Blockbuster Bowl-winning squad coached by Bill Walsh that went 10-3. He finished his Stanford career with 57 receptions for 664 yards and five touchdowns... He started his coaching career in 1995 at Western Washington. He's also coached for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens... He's coached quarterbacks, receivers and running backs in his career... Shaw's offense ranked ninth in the nation in scoring last fall (40.3 ppg) and it amassed a school-record 6,142 yards, averaging a notably balanced 213.8 on the ground and 258.7 yards through the air... His father, Willie, had two separate coaching stints at Stanford (1974-76; 1989-91) during his 33-year coaching career, which was mostly spent in the NFL... His bachelor's degree from Stanford is in sociology... He was born in San Diego. He and his wife Kori have three children, Keegan, Carter and Gavin.

Former ASU player rips Erickson

June, 27, 2011
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Former Arizona State receiver Kerry Taylor is no fan of Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson.

Arizona State blog "House of Sparky" posted these comments from Taylor's Twitter account:
    [+] EnlargeDennis Erickson
    Kyle Terada/US PresswireFormer receiver Kerry Taylor tweeted that coach Dennis Erickson "is NOT the right man for the job."

  • Just did an interview about the problems of ASU football and why Dennis Erickson is NOT the right man for the job.
  • I want ASU to win Pac12 Championships, all us ASU fans do. But in order for that to happen we need a new Head Coach. That's all I'm saying.

That interview was with Tim Ring of Channel 3 in Phoenix. Ring, the station's sports director, has his own Twitter account and he tweeted this in regards to Taylor's interview:

  • A lot of people are asking about the Kerry Taylor interview. This will NOT air on Ch 3 tonight. Coach Erickson will get time to respond.
  • The interview will be properly vetted with both sides getting a fair chance to have their say. The piece tentatively will air NEXT Sunday.

These tweets were re-tweeted by Taylor, by the way.

I emailed Ring and he confirmed the interview. The original purpose of his story, he noted, was to talk to Kerry Taylor's brother Kendyl Taylor, who has committed to Washington: "I went over to talk to Kendyl about his commitment to UW and afterwards Kerry sat down and opened up about his experience under Dennis Erickson at ASU," Ring wrote.

Ring also wrote that no broadcast date has been set for the interview.

An Arizona State spokesman refused comment to the Pac-12 blog.

Taylor is not some scrub. He led the Sun Devils with 54 receptions for 699 yards and three touchdowns last year -- both numbers ranked in the top-10 in the Pac-10 -- and was honorable mention all-conference. Further, he is son of former 10-year NFL veteran Keith Taylor and the nephew of former San Francisco 49er John Taylor, so he should know how the media works.

In other words, Taylor wanted to take his position public, not only by doing a TV interview -- one that was supposed to be about his brother -- but also by tweeting about it before it aired.

How should Arizona State fans take this? Well, it's probably worth waiting on the broadcast of the interview before passing judgement.

Nonetheless, Taylor has made his sentiments clear already. That doesn't mean he's right. He's got his opinion, but unless a handful of players -- current or former -- join him on the record, then it's just one man's opinion.

Pending some dramatic revelations, this is most likely a proverbial tempest in a teapot -- in Tempe, no less.

The Erickson situation at Arizona State is fairly simple: The Sun Devils are widely viewed as the favorites in the Pac-12 South. If they win the division, then Taylor's comments will be forgotten. At present, it's notable that Arizona State is doing well in recruiting, with 12 commitments and top-25 class at this early juncture. There are hints at positive momentum within the program.

But if the Sun Devils flop and stay home for a fourth consecutive postseason, it's unlikely Erickson will return for his sixth year in 2012.

And that won't be because of a couple of Tweets.

Pac-12 lunch links: Oregon and the Heisman

June, 7, 2011
6/07/11
2:30
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He learned that the world is like an enormous spider web and if you touch it, however lightly, at any point, the vibration ripples to the remotest perimeter and the drowsy spider feels the tingle and is drowsy no more but springs out to fling the gossamer coils about you who have touched the web and then inject the black, numbing poison under your hide.

Hope & concern: Stanford

May, 19, 2011
5/19/11
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Every team has hope heading into the offseason. And every team has concerns.

Ergo, we're going to run through the conference and look at the chief matters -- on the up and downside -- for each Pac-12 team.

Next up:

Stanford

Biggest reason for hope: The QB is pretty good, but he's not the only star.

Andrew Luck, we all love him. Sure top pick of the 2011 NFL draft, instead, returns to school to get his degree and enjoy, you know, the best years of his life before everybody is nipping at him, wanting a piece of the action. Best QB in the nation, for sure. Heisman Trophy frontrunner. A threat running or passing. Holes in his game? We give up. But Stanford isn't a top-10 team just because it has a great QB. How did John Elway's career go on the Farm? The Cardinal also have two first-team All-Pac-10 linemen back, a deep backfield, the best collection of tight ends in the nation, a sure-fire first-team All-Pac-12 linebacker and a couple of likely all-conference defensive backs. The Cardinal might work its way into the national title hunt because it's not a one-star constellation.

Biggest reason for concern: Who brings the weekly dose of crazy?

The most obvious question for the Cardinal is its defensive line, which lost two of three starters and is low on star-power. But, really, what most Stanford fans are worried about is that intense, eccentric and ruthlessly competitive coach Jim Harbaurgh is now up the road with the San Francisco 49ers. Stanford fans mostly liked the promotion of former offensive coordinator David Shaw, but he's a sharp, polished, Stanford graduate. He ain't nuts. The question is: Might that be a problem? Didn't it seem as though Harbaugh's often manic personality and obsession with an unyielding, hard-nosed brand of football were uniquely motivating forces for a program with a decidedly white-collar image? Shaw is a smart guy, so he's repeatedly emphasized that the Cardinal culture will not change. We shall see.
It's been a year of big stories in the Pac-12, starting with expansion and continuing with Oregon falling just short of the program's first national title.

The biggest story this spring? Again, it didn't happen on the field. It happened in the boardroom: It was announced on Wednesday that the conference had signed the richest TV contract in college sports history, one that will pay the conference an average of $250 million annually over the next 12 years.

That monumental announcement came after all the spring games had been played. But what happened on the field?

" Three schools entered spring practices with intrigue at quarterback, and only one emerged with few answers: UCLA, where a battle remains among Kevin Prince, who missed spring practice with a knee injury, Richard Brehaut and true freshman Brett Hundley.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireWashington's Keith Price beat out Nick Montana for the starting quarterback job this spring.
There's no such indecision at Washington, which went so far as to announce Keith Price as its No. 1 quarterback over Nick Montana. California provided no such announcement, but Zach Maynard emerged as a clear leader over Brock Mansion and Allan Bridgford.

Oregon and Stanford have no such quarterback issues, and they began spring practices as the clear leaders in the conference based on what they did last season and what they have coming back. Both figure to be ranked in the national preseason top 10, perhaps in the top five. Both will play next fall in the conference's North Division, which means at least one can't play for the Pac-12 championship.

"Everybody on the West Coast knows that you have to beat Oregon if you want to do anything out here," Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck said.

" Big questions for Oregon and Stanford: The Ducks have issues on their offensive line, the Cardinal on their defensive line.

" Luck is playing for the only new coach in the old Pac-10. David Shaw replaces Jim Harbaugh, who bolted for the San Francisco 49ers. One session of spring practices won't be enough to reveal the big-picture meaning of that transition, particularly with Shaw continuing to hold closed practices.

"There will be subtle differences," Shaw said. "But the biggest thing is the mentality is not going to change. We played with an attitude, a mentality, a certain amount of toughness and physicality. That's not going to change. Coach Harbaugh and I are different personalities. But when it comes down to it, we are ball coaches who believe in tough, hard-nosed, physical football. We believe that's what's going to win and what Stanford football should be known for."

" As for the two new teams, Colorado and Utah, the Buffaloes fired Dan Hawkins and hired Jon Embree, who led a physically demanding spring session intended to show his players that a new sheriff was in town. But the transition from the Big 12 to the Pac-12 doesn't figure to be too dramatic, other than giving fans much better road trips. Over in Salt Lake City, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham considered the transition from the non-automatic-qualifying Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12, which will be an interesting measuring stick in the fall.

"The week-in and week-out level of competition is ratcheted up," Whittingham said. "There are some excellent football teams in the Mountain West Conference -- TCU last year. Not to downplay or disrespect anything that's going on in the Mountain West, but we're convinced the weekly challenges will be much more difficult than they have been in years past for us."

" A big change at Utah? The arrival of offensive coordinator Norm Chow after he fell out of favor at UCLA. But that didn't yield much fruit for the Utes this spring, in large part because quarterback Jordan Wynn was sidelined with a shoulder injury.

" Injuries were an issue on many campuses. USC, for one, was missing 12 players from its two-deep depth chart for all or some of the spring. Still, the Trojans might have lucked out. Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA saw injuries to their potential starting players that will jeopardize all or at least a portion of their 2011 seasons. The Beavers, for example, don't know whether receiver James Rodgers will be able to play after a serious knee injury last fall.

" On the noninjury, off-the-field side: Oregon's potential starting middle linebacker, Kiko Alonso, who was projected to replace Casey Matthews, was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested the day after the spring game. It's his second suspension in as many seasons.

Ultimately, every team heads into the offseason with the same hopeful mindset.

Said Luck, "The mindset is still very, very hungry. The price never decreases in football."

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