Pac-12: SMU Mustangs
Of Lee, he writes:
Projected by many to play safety for the Trojans, Lee outshined his former high school teammate, five-star WR recruit George Farmer, from the moment both arrived at USC. By the end of the 2011 season, Lee may have even surpassed star Robert Woods. (Lee caught 39 passes for 609 yards and six TDs in USC's final four games of the season.) Lee's athleticism had Lane Kiffin saying the rising sophomore could leave the school as the program's best receiver ever. This spring, the 6-1, 200-pound Lee moonlighted as a long jumper on the USC track team where he had Trojans coaches raving there, too, after leaping 24-4. Lee said he's found that the jumping training has helped hone his body control and anticipation as a receiver, which means he may be ready to take another leap as a football player this fall.
In the original post, I missed Colorado DT Eric Richter. Writes Feldman:
The 6-3, 315-pound Californian only got in action for seven plays last fall for the Buffs, but it's not for a lack of strength. When CU players were tested this offseason on the bench press, Richter banged out 51 reps at 225, 10 more reps than he did a year ago. "He doesn't need a cheerleader, he doesn't need a audience," says CU strength coach Malcolm Blacken, "he just needs a lot of weight on the bar to get motivated. A strength coach's dream -- a real living and breathing Frankenstein!"
Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas and Arizona State's Rashad Ross -- both on the short list of college football's fastest player, along with USC's Farmer -- were named honorable mention.
It has nothing to do with the Pac-12, but his No. 1 guy, SMU's Margus Hunt, has a fascinating backstory.
Mora has hired SMU offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Adrian Klemm as its new offensive line coach and run game coordinator and Arizona State wide receivers coach Steve Broussard as the Bruins running backs coach, Jon Gold of the LA Daily News reported. And, also from Gold, here's why these are good hires.
These are two top recruiters with considerable experience in Southern California. Further, Klemm, one would think, might provide some access to Texas, if the Bruins opt to cast a wider recruiting net.
And please allow your humble Pac-12 blogger interject here.
Because of UCLA's high academic standards, Mora might be wise to look at UCLA as being closer to Stanford than to USC in terms of recruiting strategy, and therefore become a more active national recruiter. Say like into the Southeast and Texas, as Stanford has done --a certain QB you may have heard of.
Gold notes this from Klemm's bio: "Klemm was drafted in the second round of the 2000 draft by the New England Patriots, and played in the NFL for five seasons. He began coaching in 2008 and quickly moved up the ranks, ultimately being named Rivals.com's top non-BCS recruiter in 2010."
As for Broussard, he was widely regarded as a key player for the recent uptick in ASU recruiting. A former Washington State and eight-year NFL running back, he knows the lay of the West Coast recruiting landscape and can also talk to young athletes specifically about playing on Sundays.
Further, it appears that Sun Devils offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is in play for UCLA, as well as a couple of other schools.
One knock against Mora was his lack of college coaching experience. It appears with his early hires, he's surrounding himself with assistants who can compensate for that.
When you toss in UCLA, it appears we have two Pac-12 coaching searches that are picking up a sense of urgency -- amid apparently feckless navel gazing -- as the fan bases show signs of justifiable frustration.
Before we go on, here's some perspective: Both fan bases should save their outrage. Hey, it's the season to be joyful! The endgame, not the process, ultimately matters. Save your ultimate reaction -- positive or negative -- for after your new coach introduces himself for the first time.
Of course, premature reaction is part of why Arizona State is here, uncomfortably in the news over process not results. There was a considerable amount of spin coming out of the Jones debacle Wednesday, but what is clear is that Jones wanted the job, thought he had the job but Arizona State backed away extremely late in the process, with money -- Jones' hefty buyout at SMU -- and negative booster and fan reaction certainly playing significant roles.
It seems there's a lot of push-pull within the Sun Devils coaching search. Lots of voices speaking but not one clearly above all others.
It's time to pause for a lesson, one that I've learned from watching scores of coaching searches.
No. 1: Search firms are useless. They are a waste of money. And they often have agendas.
No. 2: A search committee should be comprised of one person making the decision. Typically, that's a strong athletic director.
Collaboration is overrated. A one-person search committee arrives at a coaching search already with a good idea of what it is looking for. It talks to other smart people -- in some cases lots of them -- but only in order to get information that informs its conception of what it wants in a coach.
Let me give you two examples, apologies if Sun Devils fans who won't like hearing this: Arizona's Greg Byrne and Washington State's Bill Moos.
Byrne made a decisive decision to fire Mike Stoops on Oct. 9, but he already had a plan and a list of coaches he liked. He then talked to a lot of folks. He made a couple of runs at people. He got his man, Rich Rodriguez, at a discount. Now everybody is telling him how smart he is, which I gather he's enjoying.
Moos had a plan before he needed it. He visited Mike Leach in Key West before he was certain he was going to fire Paul Wulff. And, a day after firing Wulff, which did indeed feel like a sad day for the Cougars, he transformed the spirits of a fan base with a great hire. Optimism in Pullman is just short of those Jason Gesser years.
Folks: Search committee of one. End of story.
The key thing for every school, of course, is having someone who can successfully execute as a search committee of one.
It appears advanced discussions between the school and Jones hit a snag that might not be un-snaggable. Writes Grant Haller of the Arizona Republic: "A source confirmed that both parties were in the process of finalizing the contract's final details when ASU President Michael Crow ended the discussion."
Haller also reported there were "no plan to talk again anytime soon."
It's fair to say the initial reaction to the hiring of Jones was decidedly mixed. Such talk may have come from Sun Devils boosters with access to important ears at Arizona State.
So the coach search in Tempe continues.
While the Twitter-sphere has already moved into the analysis phase, Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic reported that a final deal has not yet been signed: "According to sources, both sides are working to iron out final details. As of 11:30 a.m. (MT), ASU had not scheduled a news conference announcing Jones' hire."
Jones, 58, a run-and-shoot specialist, has rebuilt two losing college programs into bowl teams: Hawaii and SMU. He led Hawaii to the Sugar Bowl in 2007. He also was an NFL coach with the San Diego Chargers and Atlanta Falcons.
This season, SMU went 7-5 overall and 5-3 in Conference USA. The Mustangs will play Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass bowl on Jan. 7.
Here's some skinny.
At UCLA, ESPN LA's Peter Yoon reported that interim head coach Mike Johnson would like to be considered for the job. Here's his update on other candidates:
UCLA has been turned down by Boise State coach Chris Petersen, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions, and eliminated Houston coach Kevin Sumlin as a candidate after meeting with him on Saturday, according to a source. Al Golden of Miami is considered the next top target, though Golden recently signed a four-year contract extension at Miami.
There's some chatter out there about former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks coach Jim Mora, Jr. My take: That would be a good hire. While things went badly for Mora in Seattle, let's recall that he was the first choice to replace Tyrone Willingham at Washington. He's a charismatic guy with an NFL sensibility that would translate well at UCLA. Recall that the last time a team in LA hired a charismatic guy with an NFL sensibility who had folks scratching their heads turned out OK.
Here's Jon Gold's take in the LA Daily News.
Sources have said that UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who met with Sumlin in Houston on Saturday, is essentially rebooting the search and at this point, there are no clear-cut favorites. Miami head coach Al Golden, whom Guerrero interviewed for the job during the post-Karl Dorrell vacancy, is among the candidates, along with SMU head coach June Jones. Sources indicated on Saturday that there was minimal interest in former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti.
UCLA has been the sort of job that more than a few folks thought might lure Bellotti back into coaching. But it doesn't seem, at least at this point, that he's high on the Bruins' list.
Meanwhile, at Arizona State, it appears that Sumlin might not be completely out of the picture, but that SMU coach June Jones' name is front-and-center at present. Still, there are plenty of other names in the rumor swirl. Writes Doug Haller:
Arizona State officials on Saturday met with SMU coach June Jones for more than three hours in Texas.
A report surfaced Sunday that ASU was in position to announce Jones' hire shortly after the university learned of its bowl destination. That wasn't true. According to a source, the Jones push slowed Sunday night. That doesn't mean it's over, but it could be an indication that ASU is having second thoughts.
Sources confirmed Sunday that Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora is still in the mix. Baylor coach Art Briles has emerged as a candidate.
I continue to hear ASU likes Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
Also, despite reports that ASU has backed off Sumlin, he still could be in play, especially if Texas A&M goes another direction in its quest to replace fired coach Mike Sherman.
In other words, neither coach search has moved -- at least according to reports -- decisively in one direction.
So stay tuned.
That is again the case in 2011. The conference boasts Stanford’s Andrew Luck, USC’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Nick Foles, who each could become first-round NFL draft picks next spring. Then there’s Oregon’s Darron Thomas, who beat out Barkley and Foles for second-team All-Conference honors in 2010, and talented youngsters such as Washington State’s Jeff Tuel, Oregon State’s Ryan Katz and Utah’s Jordan Wynn.
Oh, but across the country in Conference USA, there’s a crew of quarterbacks that offers something that bests the Pac-12 signal-callers: huge numbers. Four Conference USA passers threw for more than 3,000 yards; just two did in the old Pac-10. Also, three threw 31 or more touchdown passes versus just one in the Pac-10 -- Luck with 32.
So while the Pac-12 may think of itself as the conference of quarterbacks, Conference USA might be able to counter as the conference of passers.
Sounds like a blog debate! Bring on Andrea Adelson!
Ted Miller: Andrea, you have me and many of my Pac-12 blog readers at a loss. You know all about the Pac-12 quarterbacks because they are on TV all the time.
While most are familiar with Keenum’s eye-popping numbers for the Cougars, some of these other names draw blanks. Educate our poorly informed West Coast brains, please!
Andrea Adelson: Yes, Ted, there is a reason C-USA has a Wild, Wild West Division. It is there you will find some of the most prolific passers in the nation -- Keenum, G.J. Kinne of Tulsa, and Kyle Padron of SMU.
Keenum was just picked as the C-USA preseason offensive player of the year for obvious reasons. Your Pac-12 brethren only got a small glimpse of what he could do last season against UCLA -- the game in which he tore his ACL and was lost for the season. Keenum got a sixth season and has a slew of NCAA records he is chasing down -- total offense, passing yards, touchdowns, pass attempts and completions. He is in an offensive system that suits his strengths, and he really came onto the scene in 2008 under a certain coach named Dana Holgorsen.
With Keenum out last season, Kinne picked up the torch and was named C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. Kinne actually began his career at Texas before transferring to the Golden Hurricane. Last season he truly blossomed, but he is a different style quarterback than Keenum and Padron. Kinne can run -- he led the team in passing (3,650 yards) and rushing (561). It should come as no surprise that Padron is a gunslinger -- he plays for June Jones after all. And Jones is a master of the run 'n' shoot. But there are quarterbacks in the East who aren't slouches, either. Dominique Davis transferred from Boston College to East Carolina and flourished last season, leading the nation in passing. Austin Davis, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation can run and pass, too. We all know the Big 12 is known for its passers, but C-USA equaled that conference with three players ranked in the top 11 in the nation in yards passing with Davis, Padron and Kinne. The Pac-12 might have the most "quarterback ready" players, but C-USA has guys who know how to put the ball in the air, that is for sure. And who doesn't love offensive fireworks?
So how do you see your guys' NFL prospects stacking up?
Andrea Adelson: None of these guys are first-round prospects, but that does not make them any less impressive as college quarterbacks. All of them are going to carry the "system quarterback" label with them when their careers end. Keenum already gets that when his name comes up in Heisman chatter. Interestingly, he is after the NCAA career passing mark of Timmy Chang -- coached at Hawaii by June Jones. And Jones has a guy in Padron who can sling it, too. Davis is in a system that Ruffin McNeill picked up from his "Air Raid" days at Texas Tech -- a school that has produced prolific passers such as Graham Harrell and Kliff Kingsbury but nobody who tore it up in the NFL. If you want to rank them as college quarterbacks, then Keenum deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best playing today. He is, after all, one of only two players in Division I history to have thrown for over 5,000 yards more than once.
Ted Miller: That’s the rub, I think, Andrea. While the Pac-12 prides itself on producing NFL quarterbacks, I think we can all appreciate guys who produce thrilling performances in the college game, the game by the way we love most, apologies to the NFL.
So as excited as I am to see Luck this year -- and others -- I also am eager to see what a healthy Keenum does in Round 2 with UCLA. And perhaps we on the West Coast need to branch out a bit in our quarterback appreciation and catch a few Conference USA games this season.
We do, you know, like our passing out West.
The award will be "voted on by a blue ribbon panel of experts that will form the award’s board of directors," and will be announced at the end of the regular season.
“Eric and I were able to complement each other on the field in such a way that together we formed a much more potent weapon than even our individual talents would have suggested,” James said in the release. “We have remained life-long friends, and each season we have always had fun talking about the great tandems that were making an imprint on the game that season. We decided someone should recognize these great combinations, and that really became the genesis of the Pony Express Award.”
Said Dickerson: “You usually talk about football in terms of offensive and defensive units and the individual standouts on either side of the ball. But if you look at those units, usually there are a couple of guys who stick out and really form a very tough matchup. The most obvious would be a great quarterback and a standout receiver. In Craig and mine’s case, it was two great running backs. On defense, it might be a pair of great safeties. These are the types of tandems we will be looking at.”
The 48 tandems on the "Watch List" include seven from the Pac-12, including two from both Stanford and Washington.
Stanford: QB Andrew Luck, WR Chris Owusu, TE Coby Fleener
Stanford: OT Jonathan Martin, OG David DeCastro
Arizona: QB Nick Foles, WR Juron Criner
Oregon: QB Darron Thomas, RB LaMichael James, RB Kenjon Barner
USC: QB Matt Barkley, WR Robert Woods
Washington: DT Alameda Ta'amu, LB Cort Dennison
Wasington: RB Chris Polk, WR Jermaine Kearse
Some that might have been worth adding:
Arizona State: LB Vontaze Burfict, DE Junior Onyeali
California: LB Mychal Kendricks, S Sean Cattouse
Colorado: RB Rodney Stewart, WR Paul Richardson
Oregon: CB Cliff Harris, S John Boyett
Stanford: LB Shayne Skov, S Delano Howell
Washington State: QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson
So it might be worthwhile to revisit each.
Next up is Washington State, which finished 2-10.
Best Case: 5-7.
What was right: A little. The Cougars did beat Montana State. They did lose to SMU, USC, Oregon, Arizona, Stanford and California. They were more competitive than the previous two seasons. Washington did show up at the Apple Cup at 5-6, needing a win to earn its first bowl berth since 2002. This scenario feels a bit closer to what might actually happen this fall.
What was wrong: Well, there's a big difference in two wins and five. The Cougars lost badly at Oklahoma State in the opener (the Cowboys turned out to be much better than most folks anticipated). They got overwhelmed in the fourth quarter by UCLA. The 42-0 loss at Arizona State was the low point of the season. Oregon State was the Cougars' only Pac-10 victory. The Apple Cup was tight, but the Huskies prevailed in a high-scoring affair.
Worst case: 1-11, coach Paul Wulff resigns under pressure.
What was right: A lot. The Cougars were far better in 2010 than the previous two seasons, but they still won just two games, and one was over Montana State, as projected. The "surprisingly competitive" game with Oregon State turned out to be a win. While the Apple Cup wasn't really about Washington quarterback Jake Locker, the Huskies did win because of a marquee individual performance -- Chris Polk rushing for 284 yards -- and earn a berth in the Holiday Bowl. As for Wulff, the Cougars' improvement earned him another season, but AD Bill Moos has made it clear that just being competitive in 2011 won't be enough.
What was wrong: Not much. The Cougars beat Oregon State. Wulff survived to coach into 2011. Locker didn't get an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Conclusion: While the "worst case" more closely approximates what actually happened, if you are a Cougars optimist you saw enough in 2010 to make you hopeful. The season didn't feel like a "worst case" because the Cougars showed marked improvement and actually put players on the field who looked like they had the potential to play on Sundays in the future. Still, the question entering 2011 is would this "best case" be enough for Wulff to keep his job into Year 5?
Record: 1-5, 0-3 Pac-10
Washington State has lived up to low expectations. In the preseason, the Cougars were a unanimous pick to finish last in the Pac-10. And at midseason the likelihood of that happening appears even more certain.
Over the past two weekends against UCLA and then Oregon, however, the Cougars played competitive games into the second half. Sure, they ended up losing both by decisive margins. But the most reasonable hope in the preseason was a competitive team that showed improvement in a deep Pac-10. That seems to be happen in coach Paul Wulff's third season in Pullman.
Things didn't start off great at Oklahoma State, where they lost 65-17 and gave up 544 yards. That was the start of a trend. The defense was expected to be vastly improved. So far that hasn't been the case.
The Cougars grabbed their only win over Montana State in week two, but it required a late comeback to beat an FCS team. There was a fairly competitive loss at SMU, but things hit a low point when the Cougs were battered 50-16 at home by USC in front of mostly empty stands.
That's when "Wulff on the hotseat" gained momentum. And it's also where the Cougars seemed to find a little more fight. They were tied with UCLA heading into the fourth quarter and had a chance to close within six points of then-No. 3 Oregon if not for an interception on the Ducks 12-yard line.
While 14- and 20-point losses don't sound very good, they suggest that the Cougars margins of defeat might get even tighter in the season's second half. Heck, they might even win a game.
And competitiveness might be enough to keep Wulff in Pullman for a fourth season.
Offensive MVP: Jeff Tuel was thrown into the fire as a true freshman, but he's shown clear advancement as a sophomore. He's completing 58 percent of his passes and averaging 246.3 yards passing per game with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. It's worth noting that his pass efficiency rating is higher than the slightly more famous QB at rival Washington, a guy by the name of Jake Locker.
Defensive MVP: A defense that gives up 43 points per game doesn't really have an MVP, but linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis leads the Cougars with 40 tackles. He also has four tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and five passes defended.
Of course, the problem for Paul Wulff and the Cougars is descriptions of success require words. Often a lot that are carefully arranged. Most fans only want numbers and a letter: What's the score and did we get the "W"?
"I know everyone looks at winning only," Wulff said. "And I do think that's very important. But we've got to take steps."
The performance at UCLA was a step forward: It was the first time the Cougars had held a second-half lead against a Pac-10 team in two-plus seasons under Wulff. (The Cougars lone conference win in 20 tries came in 2008 in overtime against Washington, which finished 0-12).
Is there a W ahead for the Cougars? It's hard to point to a game in which they will not be significant underdogs. And if there are no more wins than the one over Montana State, an FCS program, can Wulff survive into a fourth season with a 1-26 mark in Pac-10 play?
While Wulff is aware of and not unsympathetic to fan frustration, he believes he has support -- and understanding -- in the right places, starting with new Washington State athletic director Bill Moos.
"Bill Moos understands," Wulff said. "He's built football programs in the past. He understands there's a process to it and you got to understand where you begin. Are you improving from where you began? I know we've improved tremendously from where this started."
Signs of progress: The Cougars offense is now respectable, averaging 21 points and 339 yards per game. Last year, it averaged 12 points and 249 yards (both totals ranked 119th in the nation). Sophomore QB Jeff Tuel is sixth in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. Promising true freshman receiver Marquess Wilson is third in the conference with 91.6 yards receiving per game.
On the downside: The defense, thought in the preseason to likely show significant improvement, is giving up huge numbers and ranks among the nation's worst in nearly every major statistical category.
The Cougs lost 11 games by an average of 29 points last year. They've lost four by an average of 27.8 points so far in 2010. Under Wulff, the Cougars have four total wins -- two against FBS teams -- and have not posted a final score in which their losing margin was less than 13 points.
The Cougars are playing a lot of young players, but 17 of the starting position players listed on their most recent depth chart are juniors or seniors (that's out of 23).
"We've come a long, long ways," Wulff said. "I know people are trying to put measuring sticks on wins and losses. I understand that. But we cannot get from A to Z by jumping over all the other letters. We've got to take our steps."
Moos and Wulff have a solid relationship, but those steps need to come faster to satisfy a fan base that has turned from frustrated to apathetic, see thousands of empty seats for USC's visit on Sept. 25.
The Cougars, however, are still playing hard for Wulff. After blowout losses to Oklahoma State and USC, they played competitively into the second half against SMU and UCLA. That's not a lot, but it's something. Only it must also lead to something else. And soon. Otherwise, speculation about Wulff's hot seat will only get hotter.
"That's part of the process of growing a team, in building a program," Wulff said. "You got yourself in certain situations, and we finally did that [against UCLA], in terms of being in the game in the fourth quarter. Now the next step is how you respond in those situations."
What better place than here, what better time than now?
- Special teams played a big role in Arizona's win against Iowa. The Wildcats fought through adversity multiple times.
- A look back at Arizona's performance at Wisconsin.
- What to make of California falling short at Nevada? An interesting breakdown of a Cal defensive breakdown (and a bad no-call).
- Oregon turns its attention to Arizona State.
- The Louisville aftermath for Oregon State and looking forward to Boise State. Some Oregon State notes.
- Stanford is sticking to a backfield-by-committee approach.
- UCLA bounced back nicely vs. Houston, but Texas on the road is a whole other beast. Grading the Bruins.
- USC isn't going to change its starting tailback. Grading the Trojans.
- With outside expectations diminished, Washington tries to bounce back.
- A look back at SMU before Washington State turns its attention to USC. A big-picture look after three games.
The last win against an FBS foe? SMU last year.
It was a competitive game until the Mustangs scored 21 unanswered points in the second half. It was also statistically competitive: The Cougars were outgained 420 yards to 350 and didn't turn the ball over.
Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel was solid, completing 18 of 33 for 284 yards with two TD passes and no interceptions.
And, yes, I'm looking for positives, knowing full well that they won't be much consolation to WSU fans.
Is there a win on the Cougars schedule? Maybe. Are there more than one? That doesn't feel like a safe bet.
But the Cougars looked better in Game 2 than Game 1, and they looked better in Game 3 than Game 2.
So there are baby steps of progress.
Does that help?
Nebraska 28, Washington 14: The story here is Jake Locker, only not in a positive way. Locker is 2-for-10 for 20 yards with an interception at halftime. The Cornhuskers have outgained the Huskies 245 to 123. The Huskies' defense looks overwhelmed.
USC 13, Minnesota 7: No different than USC's first two games. The Trojans look like the superior team, but they are just sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Trojans have five penalties for 42 yards. Minnesota? Zero for zero.
Wisconsin 13, Arizona State 10: Wisconsin is the passing team, the Sun Devils the running team. Who knew? Late touchdown gives Badgers the lead, and a 95-yard kickoff return proves worthless because Kyle Middlebrooks was tackled at the 1-yard line as time expired. Still, the Sun Devils have been impressive. But can they keep it up in the second half?
Washington State 14, SMU 14: The Cougars are putting up a competitive performance. Do they have enough to grab an upset? And if not, is being competitive enough to push this team forward in a positive way? And is it enough for the Cougs fans?
Here's where we are after one quarter.
Washington State 7, SMU 7: An encouraging first quarter for the Cougars in terms of confidence. They now know they can play with the Mustangs.
USC 7, Minnesota 7: More of the same from USC. Impressive moments. Stupid, unfocused moments.
Nebraska 14, Washington 7: Ugly start for the Huskies, but going 80 yards for a TD against the Cornhuskers defense is impressive.
Arizona State 7, Wisconsin 3: And that includes a missed 25-yard field goal from Thomas Weber. Impressive first for Sun Devils, who looked good on both sides of the ball.