Pac-12: San Jose State Spartans

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.
Considering its long history of Polynesian influence, it should come as no surprise that the Pac-12 led the way with 15 players named to the preseason watch list for the inaugural Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

Headlining the list is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, USC safety Su'a Cravens, Oregon State center Isaac Seumalo, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha and BYU linebacker Alani Fua.

The award was established by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class of members in January. That group of seven included Kurt Gouveia (BYU), Olin Kreutz (Washington), Kevin Mawae (LSU), Junior Seau (USC), Jack Thompson (Washington State), Herman Wedemeyer (Saint Mary's College) and Ken Niumatalolo (Navy/Hawaii).

The full breakdown of players on the watch list by conference is as follows: Pac-12 (15), Mountain West (12), Independents (4), American Athletic (1), Big 12 (1) and Sun Belt (1).

Here is the complete list (34 total):
Five finalists will be announced on Nov. 20 with the winner set to be named on Dec. 9.
Looking back at some teams the current group of Pac-12 coaches have led during their respective head-coaching careers turns up an impressive list. All 12 have coached a team to a bowl appearance, 10 have finished a season with double-digit wins and eight have had teams appear in the AP top 10.

Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.

Here are some notable takeaways:

  • Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
  • Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
  • Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
  • Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
  • Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
  • Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
  • Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
  • Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
We're not going attempt to rank them ourselves, but here they are in reverse order based on each team's final AP ranking:

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian parlayed his successful 2013 season into the head-coaching job at USC.
No. 11 Steve Sarkisian, Washington, 2013

Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team:
The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.

No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013

Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008

Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team:
The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.

No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team:
The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceDavid Shaw's best team at Stanford didn't win the Pac-12 title.
No. 5 Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2013

Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.

No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.

No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.

No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at Kyle.Bonagura@espn.com.

Q&A: Stanford's Kevin Danser

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
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Stanford kicks off its season tomorrow night against San Jose State, and offensive lineman Kevin Danser couldn’t be more ready to start his fifth year. Danser, a 6-6, 295-pound guard who prepped at nearby Bellarmine, took some time to chat with the Pac-12 blog about the regional rivalry with the Spartans, the expectations for the Cardinal in 2013 and what the perfect offensive lineman would look like if he got to play Dr. Frankenstein.

The San Jose State game obviously isn’t as big of a rivalry as Cal, but being from the Bay Area, do you get the sense that a rivalry exists?

Kevin Danser: Of course. The San Jose State coach (Ron Caragher) is actually a former Bellarmine Bell, so we have that connection. There are a lot of local guys on the team. It’s huge bragging rights as well. You want to beat every team in the Bay Area and this is a great game to kick it off. My brother played for San Jose State so there are also some in-house bragging rights.

Last year, there was so much talk about who is going to replace Andrew Luck, seemingly lost in that shuffle was the fact that you had to replace David DeCastro. Not easy. Did you feel that pressure and what was it like being the guy that had to follow David?

KD: Obviously he was probably the best offensive lineman to ever come through this program. I never felt too much pressure. I came in and did my job. Listened to the coaches, they know what’s best. I just came in everyday and put my blue collar shirt on, put my tunnel worker’s hat on and came to work. I never really felt the pressure.

The line is obviously highly regarded -- some say it might be the best in the country. What are the goals you guys have set for yourselves on the line?

KD: Our goal is to be the best offensive line in the country. We want zero sacks. We want at least four yards per every carry. And convert every situation, every third down. We have high expectations for the line. We like to say we’re the forefront of the offense. It starts up front with us. We start it all off.

2011 was a fairly hyped year. A lot of that had to do with Luck coming back. This year you guys have a lot of expectations as well. How similar or different does this year feel going into the season versus 2011?

KD: I like to say every year is a little different. Obviously that year we had a ton of talent with Andrew, David, Moose (Jonathan Martin), great receivers, great running backs like S.T. (Stepfan Taylor). This year also comes with expectations. Through our training camp, we’ve talked about that and we feel OK about the expectations.

You’re going into your fifth year so you've really seen the evolution of this program. What’s it been like to be a part of that and how have you seen the program change in the last half decade?

KD: It’s been unbelievable watching it change. The thing that sets us apart is competition. Every day you are out there competing. Whether it’s competing for your job against Josh Garnett or competing against a defense that is one of the best in the country. No job, no spot is guaranteed. And that’s what’s really helped this program grow.

You’re majoring in biomechanical engineering. If you were biomechanically engineering the perfect offensive lineman, would he look like David Yankey?

KD: I don’t want to throw Yank under the bus, but if I were biomechanically engineering the perfect offensive lineman he’d look like David DeCastro. That guy was a true specimen. He truly was a student of the game as well. The way he studied it and the way he approached it was unbelievable. In all aspects, he was one of the best linemen I’ve ever seen. But Yankey is up there. I don’t want to sell him short. He’s very good as well. He’s not a guy to sleep on.

You were mentioned for the center job and then David Shaw said you were too good at guard and Khalil Wilkes ends up winning it. What does he bring that Chase (Beeler) and Sam (Schwartzstein) had. What’s the common thread between Stanford centers?

KD: The biggest thing is the experience he brings to the table. He played in 14 games last year. He knows the offense really well. He’s a natural fit. Everyone feels good having him in there. We felt like Khalil brings to the party what we’re looking for and he is of the mold of Chase Beeler or Sam Schwartzstein. We feel good about the way he communicates with us.

Finish this sentence for me. In 2013, Stanford football will be ….?

KD: In 2013, Stanford football will have an epic year.

Quick look at Week 2 Pac-12 games

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
7:15
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Here's a quick look at Week 1 in the conference. All times are ET.

Thursday

Sacramento State (0-1) at Arizona State (0-0), 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network: First meeting. Sacramento State lost its opener 24-0 to San Jose State. Of course, Sacramento State beat Oregon State in the 2011 season-opener, so Arizona State should not take this game lightly.

Saturday

Weber State (1-0) at Utah (1-0), 2 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Utah leads the series 3-0. The last meeting was a 37-21 win in 2008. Weber State opened with a 50-40 win over Stephen F. Austin. The Utes beat Utah State.

No. 3 Oregon (1-0) at Virginia (1-0) 3:30 p.m. ABC/ESPN: First meeting. Virginia beat BYU 19-16 in its opener, a game that featured a two-hour rain delay. The Cougars outgained the Cavaliers 362 yards to 223. Three Ducks eclipsed 100 yards rushing in the opener against Nicholls State: QB Marcus Mariota, RB De'Anthony Thomas and RB Byron Marshall. Since 2000, the Pac-12 is 26-23 when playing in the Eastern time zone. The Ducks are 3-0 during that span, beating Michigan (2007), Purdue (2008) and Tennessee (2010).

Portland State (1-0) at California (0-1) 5 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Cal leads the series 1-0, beating the Vikings 42-16 in 2006. Portland State beat Eastern Oregon 57-17 in its opener. In his first career start against Northwestern, Cal QB Jared Goff set a freshman record with 445 yards passing, the second-best overall total in school history behind 503 yards from Pat Barnes vs. Arizona in 1996, a four-overtime game.

Hawaii (0-1) at Oregon State (0-1) 8 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Oregon State leads the series 5-3, with the Beavers winning the last meeting 45-7 in 2008. The Rainbow Warriors opened with a loss to USC. The Beavers, of course, lost to FCS Eastern Washington. The preseason story for Oregon State was the quarterback competition, but perhaps it should have been the defense, which got run over by the Eagles. QB Sean Mannion completed 37 of 43 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns, while WR Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 196 yards and two scores.

Central Arkansas (1-0) at Colorado (1-0) 8 p.m. Pac-12 Network: First meeting. Central Arkansas beat Incarnate Word 58-7 on Saturday. Word! The Buffaloes snapped an eight-game losing streak with their win over Colorado State on Sunday. QB Connor Wood completed 33 of 46 passes for 400 yards and three TDs against the Rams. His interception-free game with 46 attempts was the second best in Buffs history.

Arizona (1-0) at UNLV (0-1) 10:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network: Arizona leads the series 1-0, winning 38-21 in 2001. UNLV opened with a 51-23 loss at Minnesota. That was the 23rd loss in a row on the road for the Rebels, but the Wildcats are coming to Sam Boyd Stadium. The Rebels actually outgained Minnesota 419 yards to 320 and rushed for a strong 193 yards. All-American RB Ka'Deem Carey, who was suspended for the season-opener against Northern Arizona, is expected to make his season debut.

Washington State (0-1) at No. 24 USC (1-0) 10:30 p.m. FoxSports 1: The first Pac-12 game of the season! USC leads the series 58-8-4, but the teams haven't played since a 50-16 USC win in 2010. The big question is how things will stack up at quarterback for the Trojans, who will start and how much both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will play. Connor Halliday is the Cougars quarterback, and he passed for 344 yards at Auburn, but he also threw three costly interceptions. Now back in Pac-12 play, he will be facing a much more physical, athletic and talented defense than Auburn this week. He can't afford similar mistakes, or coach Mike Leach might give Austin Apodaca a look.

San Jose State (1-0) at No. 4 Stanford (0-0) 11 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Stanford leads the Bay Area series -- now the Bill Walsh Legacy Game -- 51-14-1, but the Spartans gave the Cardinal trouble last year before falling 20-17. Of course, at the time we didn't know San Jose State would finish 11-2 and send coach Mike MacIntyre off to Colorado. The Spartans are now coached by Ron Caragher, who was hired away from San Diego, where he followed Jim Harbaugh. Spartans QB David Fales was the nation's most accurate passer last year. The Spartans opened with a 24-0 win over Sacramento State. No. 4 is Stanford's highest preseason ranking in history. The Cardinal has been ranked 45 consecutive weeks dating back to Sept. 5, 2010. That is the school's longest continuous ranking in the polls. Stanford owns a nine-game home winning streak, longest in the Pac-12.

Nonconference primer: Stanford

June, 27, 2013
6/27/13
7:00
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We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Stanford

San Jose State, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Ron Caragher, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 5-1 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback David Fales returns as the FBS's most accurate quarterback from 2012. Last year he completed 72.5 percent of his throws while tossing 33 touchdowns and 4,193 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive tackle Travis Raciti returns after earning All-WAC honors last season. He posted 13 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.
  • The skinny: Mike MacIntyre revitalized the struggling program and in three years had them at double-digit wins. Now Caragher shepherds them into the Mountain West Conference. Stanford has dominated the Bill Walsh Legacy Game -- though the Spartans gave them quite the scare last season. The Fales-to-Noel Grigsby connection could end up being one of the most dangerous in the country and should not be taken lightly.
at Army, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Rich Ellerson (17-32) fifth season
  • 2012 record: 2-10, Independent
  • Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Raymond Maples is just the third Army player in school history to post consecutive 1,000 yard seasons after rushing for 1,215 yards and two touchdowns last year, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive back Geoffrey Bacon returns after leading Army with 136 tackles last year -- which was fifth nationally in tackles per game at 11.3. This year he's moving from linebacker to the secondary.
  • The skinny: Despite the record, Army still had the No. 1 rushing attack in the country last year, averaging almost 370 yards on the ground per game. Match that against a Stanford front seven that was fifth nationally against the run and second in tackles for a loss and there should be plenty of helmet paint being traded.
Notre Dame, Nov. 30
  • Coach: Brian Kelly, (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1, Independent
  • Offensive headliner: We talked about left tackle Zack Martin in the ASU nonconference primer. He'll be clearing the way for George Atkinson III, who averaged 7.1 yards per carry last year and scored five touchdowns on 361 rushing yards.
  • Defensive headliner: We mentioned Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix in the ASU article. Nix is phenomenal at stopping the run, which is worth noting again, given what the Cardinal will want to do on offense.
  • The skinny: Stanford head coach David Shaw pointed to the Notre Dame game last year -- and its highly-controversial ending -- as a turning point for the Cardinal's run to the Rose Bowl. This one is the season finale for both teams so it's possible that it could have national-championship implications for both squads.
Thoughts: A fairly challenging nonconference slate. Remember after the season opener last year, we were all wondering what was wrong with Stanford? Turns out San Jose State was pretty darn good. Shaw told us, we didn't listen. Considering who the Spartans have coming back, chances are they'll be good again. Interestingly enough, Caragher replaced Jim Harbaugh and Shaw at USD after the duo left for Stanford, so there's your Kevin Bacon moment for this game. Army doesn't pose much of a threat on the field and, of course, the Notre Dame game was one of the most controversial matchups in all of college football last season. The Cardinal are legitimate BCS championship contenders. Should they top San Jose State -- which should be considered a quality win, or at least, not a cupcake win -- it points them in the right direction heading into a difficult Pac-12 slate. Should they escape that unscathed, a home date with the Irish could determine Stanford's postseason placement. And for a team looking to add a fourth-straight BCS game, nay the BCS game, only 3-0 will do.
We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 2.

Thursday, Sept. 5
  • Sacramento State at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 7
  • Weber State at Utah
  • Oregon at Virginia
  • Portland State at California
  • Hawaii at Oregon State
  • Central Arkansas at Colorado
  • Arizona at UNLV
  • Washington State at USC
  • San Jose State at Stanford
My choice: Washington State at USC

Why: Anyone else still recovering from last week's excitement? Fourth-and-1 with 35 seconds left and down by a touchdown, Boise State calls a QB sneak at the Washington 40-yard line to keep a drive alive. After a controversial spot, there is a replay and it's called back. Oh, sweet irony! Washington's defense holds, turnover on downs, Huskies win 24-17 and have a week to relax before heading to Soldier Field.

As for Week 2, Pac-12 play is upon us. Yeah, it happens that fast. The first Pac-12 conference game of the year features Washington State -- still giddy after Connor Halliday and Gabe Marks connected for four touchdowns in the surprisingly easy road win over Auburn -- traveling to a 1-0 and well-tanned USC team. (The Cougars owe me a makeup for my BYU pick last year. Don't let me down.)

The Trojans haven't lost to the Cougars at home since 2000. And it's a safe bet that USC will probably be double-digit favorites in this game. But it's also the first time USC will be facing the Cougars in the Mike Leach era -- and the Pac-12 blog is expecting some improvement out of Washington State in 2013. Recall that while USC ranked third in pass defense last year, they were middle of the road in pass efficiency defense, allowing 20 touchdowns in the air while quarterbacks completed 60.4 percent of their throws against the Trojans. Not horrible numbers, but not lockdown, either.

Looking at the rest of the Week 2 lineup, there isn't a lot of intrigue with four FCS teams on the docket. Then again, the league has lost to an FCS team two straight years -- so nothing can be taken for granted. San Jose State/Stanford was tight last year, and as it turned out, the Spartans were a pretty darn good team under one Mike MacIntyre -- and the dangerous connection of quarterback David Fales to receiver Noel Grigsby is intact. But MacIntyre is gone, Ron Carragher is in (along with former Washington assistant Jimmie Dougherty as offensive coordinator) so we'll have to see if the Spartans can keep things rolling post-Mac.

Still, we're road tripping to L.A. since it's the first Pac-12 conference game of the year and we're banking on Sacramento State's two-game win streak against the league to end in Tempe. Plus, USC's choice of quarterback is going to be an intriguing storyline to follow all season. And, if anything, I hear the Transformers 3-D ride at Universal Studios is supposed to be pretty sweet.
Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre skillfully sidestepped the question like a quarterback feeling the pressure from the backside -- which seems ironic -- since the team he inherits gave up 50 sacks last season.

Asked to compare the rebuilding project at Colorado to the one he undertook at San Jose State -- where he took a dreadful Spartans' program and turned it into an 11-win team in 2012 -- MacIntyre gave a pretty stock answer.

"I think they're both big challenges," he said. "Every school has a little bit different intricacies and a little different history. A little bit different pressure, so to speak. And I think that San Jose State was a wonderful place and we were able to do really well there and they'll keep doing well. Colorado is a phenomenal place that has had great history and it's our job to get it back to that. I think they are similar in ways, but there are different intricacies at both schools."

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley"I saw that as spring went along how our attitude changed from just grudgingly doing practice and meetings to enjoying practice and meetings," new Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said.
In other words, San Jose State was bad when I got there. Now it's not. Colorado is bad now. Hopefully in three years it won't be.

MacIntyre's Spartans won just one game in 2010 -- his first year as a head coach. But they improved to 5-7 in 2011 to 10-2 in 2012 under his guidance (note, MacIntyre didn't coach their bowl game, which they won, giving them 11 wins).

The statistical improvements were almost as dramatic as the overall record. Before he got there, the Spartans ranked 115th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring offense, 109th in total defense, 109th in scoring defense, 80th in sacks and 103rd in tackles for a loss. By the time he left last year, San Jose State was a top 30 program in all those categories, including sixth nationally in sacks.

That's empirical evidence of a system that works on both sides of the ball. Remember back in the season opener of 2012? Everyone wanted to know what the heck was wrong with Stanford. After all, they only beat lowly San Jose State 20-17. Meanwhile the Stanford coaches were screaming at anyone who would listen that San Jose State was a good team. Turns out they were right.

SJSU's '09 numbers should sound familiar to Colorado fans, because they are strikingly similar. Last year Colorado was 116th in total offense, 117th in scoring offense, 117th in total defense, 120th in scoring defense, 87th in sacks and 60th in tackles for a loss.

Colorado fans are, naturally, cautiously optimistic. MacIntyre's first go-around as a head coach was outstanding. But with that optimism comes a need for patience -- something that wasn't granted to MacIntyre's predecessor, Jon Embree.

MacIntyre's first spring at Colorado was less about Xs and Os and more about finding out what's left in the cupboard. And he noted that from a personnel standpoint, things didn't look particularly crisp early in the process of transitioning to the pistol.

"The first part of it looked ugly, the first few practices and the first scrimmage and all of the different concepts that we're doing on offense and defense," he said. "We didn't put everything in, of course. You have to take it in stages. But I feel like at the end of the spring that we had understood the concepts that we wanted to get in and the kids felt comfortable with them on both sides of the ball and we started to see improvement.

"Then you're able to start coaching all the little fundamentals and intricacies that make the whole thing work. That's what we're in the process of doing. Hopefully they won't forget it all this summer and be able to do it when we crank it up back in August."

Like every team, the Buffs have on-going position battles and more than a little tweaking is needed to improve on last year's 1-11 season. But the new coach hinted at maybe the most important progress of all -- that his players are starting to enjoy football again. Something they probably weren't doing while being outscored, on average, 46-18 in 2012.

"I saw that as spring went along how our attitude changed from just grudgingly doing practice and meetings to enjoying practice and meetings and having fun with it," MacIntyre said. "I think if you don't have a passion for what you're doing, you don't have a chance to be successful. I think we built that building block this spring to have a little bit of a passion about what our kids are doing.

"I think we definitely have some players that can make plays. They've been improving daily. I feel good about the team. It's all relative until you get out there in a Pac-12 football game and see exactly where you stack up. But I feel that we do have some talent and that we need to utilize it correctly and make the most of it."
Nothing so represents the bravado of football than a team running out of the stadium tunnel to a pregame eruption of cheers or -- on the road -- boos and catcalls. It's a moment of machismo and chest pounding, as two groups of young men attempt to exude confidence and swagger under a scoreboard reading 0-0.

So just imagine what it was like for Colorado over the final third of the 2012 season.

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Brennan LinsleyCoach Mike MacIntyre has re-built programs before, and Colorado proves to be no different in 2013.
The Buffaloes would sprint onto the field ... and ... and ... be a punchline (Worst FBS team in the nation!). It was impossible for them not to know this. They'd take the field and know they were terrible and about to get pushed around.

Not exactly why an athlete dedicates so much time and sweat to an enterprise.

The Buffs ranked 120th -- last -- in the nation in scoring defense in 2012. They were 117th in scoring offense. They "led" the nation with a negative-28.17 scoring differential, despite playing four games decided by a touchdown or less, one of which was a loss to FSC Sacramento State.

This is the mess new coach Mike MacIntyre inherited. It will not fix itself overnight.

"It's a process -- daily," he said. "It's not waving a magic wand. It's an all-the-time thing."

Part of the reason MacIntyre was hired after Jon Embree was controversially fired after just two seasons -- albeit miserable ones -- is that he's coached a team wallowing in the mire before. He took over a San Jose State squad that went 2-10 in 2009 and, well, he went 1-12 in 2010.

But then he went 5-7. This past fall, the Spartans were one of the season's feel-good stories, going 11-2 and winning a bowl game, while only losing to Stanford and Utah State.

He has a blueprint for how to rebuild a program, though obviously he's in the Pac-12 now, where there won't be as many Texas-San Antonios, Texas States and New Mexico States propping up the win-loss record.

It starts with small goals -- weight lifting totals, body fat percentages and running times. Then it moves onto the field, as it will when spring practices start on March 7. The Buffs have a lot of questions, a lot to work on and a few supporters who believe much good is going to happen in 2013.

Ah, but that's where MacIntyre's blueprint comes in. He's going to bang a relentless drum of positivity, while trying to push a team to reach his expectations.

Positive, mind you, isn't soft. Nor is it easy. MacIntyre wants to convince his players that focus, intensity, attention to detail and the daily exhaustion their pursuit demands are a sweet nectar worth seeking at every moment. Or something like that.

"I think it's positive and firm at the same time," he said. "Some people think when you say, 'Positive,' that you're saying that we're just going to look at everything and be happy and everything is going to be OK. It's positive and firm. And what I mean by firm is if you're supposed to do it a certain way, you do it that way. You don't demean them. You keep pushing them. And all the sudden the light goes on."

While there are questions all over the field, including a lack of overall team speed and massive issues with the defensive front seven, quarterback will be front-and-center for most fans. MacIntyre will bring in a new pistol offense for what figures to be a wide-open competition.

Spring practices will be wrapped around spring break, so it basically works out to two sessions. MacIntyre said the first session will be basic in terms of implementing his offense. He wants to see what each of his six QBs has to offer. They will be evaluated during the break, and the coaches will make a depth chart, with the intention of narrowing the race to three candidates.

"Then we're going to let them compete the last half of spring," he said.

And the true freshman Sefo Liufau arrives in the fall to perhaps thicken the plot.

As for the rest of the team, MacIntyre makes no secret that he's a bit of a mad scientist in terms of evaluations. He'll see a guy playing receiver and say, "tight end." He'll see a tight end and go "offensive tackle." Or he'll switch defensive backs to receiver. And vice versa. He likes to move guys around, particularly when the switch improves the athleticism at the new position. For example, he already plans to move junior D.D. Goodson from running back to receiver this spring.

But, really, the new Xs and Os and present talent aren't going to make things easy. As MacIntyre said, there's no magic wand on hand. While a new coach typically brings an uptick in enthusiasm for a program, the reality is the nattering nabobs of negativism aren't going to say or write many nice things about the Buffs this offseason. MacIntyre's biggest challenge is rebuilding his team's confidence and psyche.

"We can let the outside affect us," he said. "But that's hard because they get bombarded when things aren't going as well."

The offseason question will be how much legitimate belief can MacIntyre instill in his players in advance of Colorado running out of the tunnel on Aug. 31 against a Colorado State team that established for the Buffs a pitiful trajectory for the 2012 season.

CU's MacIntyre gets Coach of Year honors

January, 17, 2013
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If Colorado fans want some validation for the hiring of Mike MacIntyre, here's some: He has been honored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes as the winner of the Grant Teaff National Coach of the Year Award.

MacIntyre led San Jose State to its first 10-win season in a quarter century and a final No. 24 ranking this fall before being hired to replace Jon Embree on Dec. 10.

Including a Military Bowl victory in which MacIntyre did not coach but in which future Colorado defensive coordinator Kent Baer did on an interim basis, the Spartans made a 10-game improvement in a two-year span in going from 1-12 to 11-2. The losses came to Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion Stanford, 20-17, in the season opener, and to WAC champ Utah State.

That sort of turnaround is why MacIntyre was hired in Boulder.

“I am honored and humbled to receive this award,” MacIntyre said in a statement. “It represents a great man and the values I try to uphold. The team and staff at SJSU deserve a lot of credit for this award.”

Also from the statement:
In San Jose State’s first 10-win season since 1987, MacIntyre’s Spartans averaged 42.3 points per game during the regular season, including seven games in which they scored at least 35 points. SJSU’s defense also ranked among the national leaders in several statistical categories. Sixteen Spartans earned All-WAC honors and 36 school and conference records either were tied or broken.

“Mike MacIntyre took over a San Jose State program in disarray and turned it around,” former FCA executive director and longtime college football coach Dal Shealy said. “He hired a group of fellow Christians to join his coaching staff and, not only built a winner, but really got a lot of people in that community on board. Through the years, he’s been one of FCA’s greatest supporters.”

MacIntyre was presented the award at the American Football Coaches Association convention in Nashville earlier this month. Named in honor of former Baylor coach, AFCA executive director and member of the FCA Board of Trustees Grant Teaff, the Coach of the Year Award presented by FCA recognizes a football coach who exemplifies Christian principles and who is involved in FCA. The award is also based on the success and performance of the coach’s team that season. Previous winners include Mike London, last year’s recipient at the University of Virginia, Tommy Bowden, Jerry Kill, Tommy Tuberville, Sylvester Croom and Phil Jones.

Colorado taps Mike MacIntyre

December, 10, 2012
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It might be a blessing in disguise that Butch Jones spurned Colorado last week and then emerged at Tennessee.

Colorado has hired San Jose State coach Mike MacIntyre, sources told ESPN.com on Monday, and that feels like a better fit.

MacIntyre, 47, transformed a moribund program into a 10-2 bowl team this season, one that is ranked 24th in the BCS standings.

After San Jose State went 2-10 in 2009, MacIntyre took over and went 1-10 his first season. The Spartans jumped to 5-7 in 2011 and now will play in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Washington, D.C.

So MacIntyre won't be surprised by what he is getting into. Colorado hasn't posted a winning record since 2005. It has won three or fewer games four times since 2006.

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Tony AvelarCan Mike MacIntyre bring smiles to Colorado's struggling football program?
Terms of MacIntyre's contract were not available. Last week, Colorado offered Jones, then the coach at Cincinnati, a five-year deal worth $13.5 million, according to multiple reports. MacIntyre's deal figures to be less than that.

MacIntyre will replace Jon Embree, who was fired after going 4-21 in two seasons.

MacIntyre was born in Miami, the son of a coach, George MacIntyre, who was Vanderbilt's head coach from 1979-85. He's also a defensive guy whose specialty is the secondary. From 2003-07, he coached defensive backs in the NFL (Dallas and New York Jets). NFL experience gives a guy credibility on the recruiting trail. He was Duke's defensive coordinator for two years before coming to San Jose State.

This is a great profile from Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News of MacIntyre. It's notable how MacIntyre turned his focus to conditioning and recruiting.
MacIntrye, meanwhile, organized a plan to have he or one of his assistant coaches meet and personally shake the hand of every single high school football coach in California. MacIntyre also organized "traveling San Jose State camps" at high school fields in San Diego, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Ontario and Sacramento. They were one-day clinics that cost $40 for players to attend -- but also served as evaluation sessions. The high school coaches were encouraged to send along any player they thought had college potential.

"California is like four states in one," MacIntyre said. "It was a way for us to spread the word about San Jose State. If we sign 20 players in a recruiting season, at least 17 or 20 of them have been at our camps."

The new recruiting effort, plus the conditioning ramp-up, made the Spartans far more competitive in 2011. MacIntyre was also able to keep his coaching staff stable. Although San Jose State finished with a 5-7 record, late season victories over Navy and Fresno State created momentum moving forward.

San Jose State's two losses came to Pac-12 champion Stanford, 20-17, and 20th-ranked Utah State, 49-27. It finished the season with strong wins over BYU and Louisiana Tech.

California just hired now former Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes.

MacIntrye not only has experience as a head coach, he has the right experience that matches Colorado's needs.

He knows what a desperate program looks like. It doesn't frighten him. And based on what he did at San Jose State, he just might have the cure.

 

Shaw, rightfully, sticking with Nunes

October, 1, 2012
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No, Stanford head coach David Shaw is not going to replace quarterback Josh Nunes this week. No, I don’t think he should. So stop jerking your knee before you tear an ACL.

Nunes had a bad game Thursday night against the Washington Huskies. He made some bad decisions. He made more than a few bad throws. Call me crazy, but Nunes almost looked like -- oh, I don’t know -- like a first-year starter making his first career road start in an NFL stadium well known for its levels of tympanic torture. No, we shouldn’t take any of that into account. That would make far too much sense. Please, resume your knee jerking.

Asked immediately after the game if he was going to make a quarterback change, Shaw looked perturbed that the issue was even raised and responded in the negative without hesitation. By Friday afternoon he had digested a rather indigestible performance by the offense and offered this:

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
Joe Nicholson/US PresswireDavid Shaw will not be replacing Josh Nunes at quarterback, despite the loss against Washington.
“The bottom line is that Josh is four games into his career,” Shaw said. “Every week he does a little bit better, culminating with the USC win where he played outstanding in the second half … You can’t put Josh in the Hall of Fame after the USC game. And you can’t beat him up too much after the Washington game.”

It’s ironic in a twisted and masochistic sort of way. Many of the Stanford fans who are so eagerly calling for Brett Nottingham are falling prey to the same mistakes that a lot of Heisman voters made last year when they dismissed the exploits of Andrew Luck as commonplace. One of the biggest knocks on Luck last year was that he didn’t have many “Heisman moments.” But as I noted in a column in December, Luck had about 10 Heisman moments a game -- they just didn’t fit the traditional definition.

Luck was so gifted and special that after three years of watching him carve with a surgeon’s precision, a mathematician’s calculation and an impressionist’s beauty, Stanford fans have become desensitized to some very important facts; being a quarterback is hard; reading defenses is hard; converting third downs is hard.

And when your offensive line misses assignments, as they did Thursday, and when your receivers drop catchable balls, as they did Thursday, the difficulty level of the position gets raised exponentially.

Remember, Nunes beat out Nottingham for a reason. And it wasn't a snap decision, either. Nottingham had months to win the gig. But he didn't. Nunes did -- and he's 3-1 as a starter against a 4-1 San Jose State team, a 4-1 Duke team, a 3-1 USC team and a 3-1 Washington team.

This in no way justifies Nunes' performance. But nor should the mistakes of others be counted as checks against him.

"Some of them were tough catches, but that’s what we have to do," Shaw said. "We have to make tough catches. That’s part of the game. To sit around and ask the quarterback to be perfect is wrong. Yes, some of them were on Josh. Some of them were on the guys supposed to be catching the ball. But at the same time, as an offense, we didn’t get into an offensive rhythm that we normally get into. Give them some credit because they played extremely well."

Good point. Let's not forget to compliment Washington and the game plan it put on the field. It was a good one. The Huskies took Stepfan Taylor out of the game and pressured Nunes into some quick throws and two sacks. He didn't just have a bad game. Washington made him have a bad game. A well-deserved tip of the cap to the Washington defense.

But I can also think of about seven balls, approximately 150 yards and a possible touchdown that was left on the field from drops or mistakes that shouldn't be attributed to Nunes.

And did anyone else notice Nunes on the sideline after Washington went ahead on the Kasen Williams touchdown? The way he was going up and down the sideline smacking guys on the helmet and trying to fire them up. Looked an awful lot like another Stanford quarterback following a pick-six at USC last year. There wasn't any pouting, sunken shoulders or beleaguered body language. Nunes believed Stanford could win the game and he believed he could drive them. It doesn't count on the scoreboard -- but it should count for something.

If the Cardinal drop their next two games (home to Arizona, at Notre Dame) and look as offensively flaccid as they did last Thursday, then it might be time to open up the discussion. But for now, Nunes is the starter, regardless of whether you are on board.

Take 2: Trojans vs. Cardinal

September, 14, 2012
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Pretty straight forward this week. The first Pac-12 Conference game features two ranked teams with a fun recent history. Make your case:

Ted Miller: Stanford has two chief keys against USC on Saturday. It must run the ball well. And it must contain USC's passing attack. The reason the Trojans are going to win this football game -- and end a three-game losing streak in the series -- is Stanford won't be able to do either consistently.

Against San Jose State and Duke, the Cardinal averaged 3.7 yards per rush. I know this is a risky thing to type, but you guys know I'm not afraid to write bold things: USC's defense has more talent than San Jose State and Duke. No, really.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee, Robert Woods
Shelly Castellano/Icon SMIMarqise Lee and Robert Woods (2) are as good a receiving tandem as Stanford coach David Shaw says he's seen.
If Stanford's offensive line can't get a push against San Jose State and Duke, it will not do so against the Trojans. Which means new starting quarterback Josh Nunes will be forced to throw into a very good secondary, one that already has four interceptions.

Nunes throwing a lot is what USC wants. Stanford is still lacking at receiver, so the Trojans' back half will have a significant athletic advantage. And it doesn't hurt that Nunes and not old what's-his-name will be delivering the ball.

Speaking of athleticism at receiver ... hey, USC! Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. And tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. Those are four superior athletes, all of whom made plays last year against the Cardinal.

Quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns in last year's triple-overtime classic, and Stanford is replacing three starters from its secondary. Barkley's numbers will be big on Saturday.

Against San Jose State and Duke, Stanford grabbed four interceptions and surrendered just one touchdown pass. That's the good news. The bad news is a 67.3 percent completion rate and 290 yards passing per game. And just five sacks seems modest for a team with such a salty, talented front seven.

While Stanford's scheme is about stopping the run first and foremost, which it has done very well in the first two games, it might have to change its approach against the Trojans. More nickel and dime looks will mean the Cardinal will be forced from their comfort zone. And that could open up the Trojans' running game.

A balanced USC is a scary thought, with Barkley & Co. ready to pull the trigger on a deep fade route when they see one-on-one coverage.

Then there's this: What about a close game? USC is capable of winning this one going away, but that's not what I foresee. I expect the game to be won in the fourth quarter.

Stanford has won consecutive nail-biters against the Trojans. It's difficult to not attribute that ability to win the fourth quarter to having an advantage at quarterback. That advantage now belongs to USC by a wide margin. And that will be the difference.

Kevin Gemmell: A good debater can come at a problem from all sides. But since ESPN wouldn't hire one just for a Take 2, and since Ted went first, I guess I'll take a swing at making the case for Stanford. We both picked the Trojans to win, but détente makes for poor debate.

Stanford coach David Shaw knows how to attack the Trojans. When Shaw was coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers with the Baltimore Ravens, you know who the defensive coordinators were? Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan. You don't think he picked up a couple of tips on how to call plays against a sophisticated, Rex Ryan defense? The past five meetings, when Shaw was either offensive coordinator or head coach, Stanford has increased its total offensive yards in every game against the Trojans. As a playcaller, Shaw is 4-1 and averages 413 total yards and 39 points per game against USC.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStanford is 4-1 against the Trojans with David Shaw calling the offensive plays.
On paper, this game should be a double-digit win for the Trojans. Even Shaw said he has never seen a pair of wide receivers like Woods and Lee on the same team in the modern football era.

But there are intangible factors at play. The Cardinal have to be -- at least a little bit -- in the heads of Trojans players given the circumstances of the last few meetings. It's not a matter of USC "owing" one to Stanford from a tight game the previous year. The Trojans owe the Cardinal three, and there are only so many times you can go to the "we-owe-them-one" well. At some point, that becomes a mental hurdle.

The world expects USC to win this game. But here's a little worm that might be wiggling into a few Trojans' brains.

What if they don't?

What if Stanford takes a 14-0 lead? What if there's a pick-six or a special-teams touchdown that swings momentum and it all starts to fall apart? It probably will take something out of the ordinary -- a special teams touchdown, a crucial turnover or a trick play (anyone know if Nunes can catch?) to swing the tide. But the Cardinal lead the conference in turnover margin at plus-5. They've allowed fewer red-zone touchdowns than any team in the Pac-12 (except Oregon State, which has played one game). USC's defense is allowing teams to convert third downs at an alarming 45.5 percent. It's one thing to give up yards and allow completions. But the longer Stanford's offense stays on the field, the less time the Trojans' touted troika is playing.

Stanford's defense, which looked sluggish in the opener, was much livelier and motivated when Shayne Skov returned to the lineup last week. Expect the same emotional boost when Ryan Hewitt returns to the offense. Barring any setbacks on his ankle, he's expected to play. And his presence opens up a lot for Stanford: stronger run blocking, more receiver options, more diversity in offensive personnel groupings and formations.

Anyone who remembers last year's Stanford-Oregon game knows the Cardinal buckled under the weight of expectation. Every victory was another ton of bricks they carried leading up to that moment. This game has similar implications, sans the bricks. All of the pressure is on the Cardinal & Gold, not the Cardinal.
Cal folk and Stanford folk don't really like being lumped together. Unless the words "Big" and "Game" accompany the two schools in the same sentence, folks from either side of San Francisco Bay would just as soon they not be mentioned together, thank you very much.

This week, however, the Bay Area's two Pac-12 teams find themselves in strikingly similar positions:

  • Both teams performed well below expectation in Week 1.
  • Both teams have very winnable games in Week 2.
  • Both teams have season-defining showdowns in Week 3.

Translation: There ain't much time to get your stuff together.

There is one massive difference that shouldn't be overlooked. Stanford was a winner in Week 1, surviving San Jose State 20-17. Cal can say no such thing, falling to Nevada 31-24. But when we take that very important factoid out of the equation, we're left with a couple of teams -- thought to be toward the top of the Pac-12's North division hierarchy -- scrambling to patch holes on Sept. 8 before crucial contests on Sept. 15.

Both teams had issues on defense -- a perceived strength in 2012 for each program. Cal, in particular, had few answers for Nevada and its pistol offense, yielding 220 yards on the ground, including 145 and three touchdowns from running back Stefphon Jefferson and 97 yards and a score from quarterback Cody Fajardo.

[+] EnlargeStefphon Jefferson
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStefphon Jefferson (25) and Nevada ran all over Cal in its opener on the way to 31-24 victory.
Nevada had 15 offensive drives in the game. Of those 15, five consisted of nine plays or more, four consumed at least four minutes and Nevada's first touchdown came on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 6 minutes, 13 seconds of clock. Cal's defense allowed the Wolf Pack to convert 11 of 20 third downs -- a point that doesn't sit well with Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who said third-down defense was what frustrated him the most.

"It seemed like last week, what could have gone wrong did," Tedford said. "They did a nice job executing, you have to give them credit. But we couldn't get off the field on third down. They put long drives together."

Across the bay at Stanford, third downs were also an issue -- at least for the offense -- which converted just 2 of 13 chances (15 percent). For a little perspective, last season the Cardinal converted 53 percent.

After taking the opening kickoff 81 yards on 13 plays (6 minutes, 32 seconds) for a touchdown, the Cardinal failed to put a drive together that lasted more than eight plays. Of their 11 offensive drives (not counting the final drive that ended in victory formation), Stanford had four three-and-out drives. For a little more perspective, Stanford had 16 three-and-out drives all of last season.

"The best I can say is there was some dissatisfaction with the way that we played," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "San Jose State played us extremely tough and extremely well. But at the same time, we didn't play up to our capabilities and the positive is we were able to gut out a win and get some stops on defense in the fourth quarter. Those were positives and we ended the game with an interception. But at the same time, we were dissatisfied with our execution."

Both teams are at home in Week 2, with Stanford hosting Duke and Cal hosting FCS Southern Utah of the Big Sky Conference. And just to be clear ...

"We're in no position to overlook anyone after losing last week," said Tedford.

Still, next week is looming. Stanford will play host to USC -- which was ranked No. 1 to start the season -- and Cal travels to Ohio State. Both games have tremendous implications for the rest of the season. For Stanford, it's a chance to silence critics who say the Cardinal will fall back to mediocrity now that Andrew Luck is gone. For Cal, it's a significant out-of-conference game that could bolster the league's national reputation.

Fajardo scorched Cal on zone-read runs. Imagine what Braxton Miller will do if the Bears don't tighten up. San Jose State's David Fales threw for 217 yards on 24 of 35 passing against the Cardinal. Matt Barkley and his wide receivers will be far more formidable.

In other words, if each school performs the way it did in Week 1, Sept. 15 could be a very long day.

Execution weak link in Stanford escape

September, 1, 2012
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PALO ALTO, Calif. -- What a difference a year can make.

Nearly a year removed from a 54-point drubbing of San Jose State, Stanford rang in the post Andrew Luck era with a thud. The Cardinal needed a 20-yard field goal from Jordan Williamson early in the fourth quarter to provide the difference in a 20-17 victory.

The smiles and laughter that followed last year’s 57-3 season-opening win against the Spartans were replaced by straight faces and looks of concern.

Running back and potential Heisman Trophy candidate Stepfan Taylor said the team needs to work on its communication. Coach David Shaw said the poor play was due to a lack of execution. Whatever it was, it won’t be good enough when the Cardinal entertain better opponents -- certainly not No. 1-ranked USC in two weeks.

[+] EnlargeBlake Jurich
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStanford's defense couldn't quite keep a lid on San Jose State, which trailed just 17-10 after this Blake Jurich touchdown early in the third quarter.
With Luck and offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin off to the NFL, the supposed strength of the team was its defensive front.

That wasn’t the case Friday as the Cardinal struggled to get pressure on San Jose State quarterback David Fales, who completed 24 of 35 passes for 216 yards.

“(They didn’t play) up to their capability, flat-out,” Shaw said. “I told them flat-out after the game, they are much better than the execution that was out there. Those guys shouldn’t stay blocked. It’s one thing to get blocked, it’s another thing to stay blocked.”

The team’s best pass-rusher was nickelback Usua Amanam, who recorded a pair of sacks and four tackles for loss.

Usually that designation would belong to outside linebacker Chase Thomas, who considered a jump to the NFL but returned for his fifth year on the Farm. San Jose State keyed in on Thomas, who finished with five tackles and half a sack. He did, however, provide the biggest hit of Fales on the night, but it came after he’d already got rid of the ball.

Next week against Duke, the front seven should benefit from the return of potential All-American linebacker Shayne Skov. Skov, who missed most of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, served a one-game suspension Friday for a February drunk-driving arrest.

“(Skov’s) experience is going to be huge,” Shaw said. “Getting him back will give us four guys on the inside that can play.”

Skov is expected to start alongside sophomore James Vaughters, who displaced last year’s leading tackler, Jarek Lancaster, as a starting inside linebacker. Vaughters made five tackles in his starting debut, but has some cleaning up to do, Shaw said.

While expectations are high for the front seven, the same can be said for the Cardinal running game which, early on, looked like the same unit that helped the team qualify for BCS bowl games in each of the past two seasons.

Behind Taylor and its power running game, Stanford scored touchdowns on its first two possessions. By halftime, the Cardinal led 17-3 and had 118 yards on the ground with 86 from Taylor.

The second half was a different story.

After averaging 5.6 yards per carry before halftime, Stanford ran for just 37 yards on 20 carries the rest of the game.

What happened?

“That’s what I want to know,” Shaw said. “Next question.”

Taylor pointed to a lack of communication that comes with breaking in several new offensive linemen in the first game of the year, and while Shaw agreed, he wasn’t ready to make any excuses.

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
Kyle Terada/US PresswireJosh Nunes was 16-for-26 for 125 yards and a touchdown in his starting debut.
“They made some adjustments, which always happens,” Shaw said. “We made some adjustments after that. And, honestly, we made a lot of mistakes. We need to make sure we step it up a notch, but at the same time, when we run a play against a defense and it’s successful, and we run the same play against the same defense and it’s not successful, we’ll look to see why.”

Taylor finished with 116 yards on 26 carries.

While Luck had autonomy at the line of scrimmage last year, his replacement, Josh Nunes, isn’t quite there yet. The redshirt junior was solid in the first start of his career, but wasn’t asked to do a whole lot.

“It was everything I dreamed,” Nunes said. “I wasn’t nervous at all.
It was nice being back on the field again.”

Nunes completed 16 of 26 passes for 125 yards and found Drew Terrell on an 11-yard first-quarter touchdown, the first of his career.

“He played extremely well and was very poised under pressure,” Shaw said. “San Jose State gave a few looks we had not seen and Josh handled it all very, very well. He showed great leadership for our team out there and we look forward to having him do so throughout the season.”

Nunes knows he won’t be Luck, but realizes there will be comparisons.

In Luck’s first start as a redshirt freshman, he was 11 of 23 for 193 yards and a score in a 39-13 win at Washington State.

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