Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Pac-12 morning links

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
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And I have one of those very loud, stupid laughs. I mean if I ever sat behind myself in a movie or something, I'd probably lean over and tell myself to please shut up.

Leading off

Previews, previews, previews. Lots of them hit the web yesterday. Fox, SI and Athlon all had major Pac-12 pieces.

Perhaps the biggest surprise came from Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel, who picked the Washington Huskies to win the North Division and Oregon to finish third.

Here’s Mandel’s take on the Ducks:
The string of 11- and 12-win seasons can’t go on forever, and despite the return of star quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ once-unstoppable offense showed cracks last year following Chip Kelly’s departure. Oregon’s defense may miss retired coordinator Nick Aliotti.

There’s a couple of ways to interpret this. First, Mandel -- a good friend who knows college football as well as anyone in the country -- is brilliant. And when the Huskies are walking away with the North title, he’s going to have a satisfied grin on his face for the entire offseason. Or, he could be wrong. Nothing wrong with putting yourself out there.

The country seems high on the No. 25 Huskies. For the national voters to place them in the Top 25 after losing their starting quarterback, a Doak Walker finalist running back and a Mackey Award winning tight end speaks to how highly Chris Petersen is regarded as a head coach. And maybe, just maybe those East of the Rockies are starting to pay the Pac-12 a little more national respect.

But as the Pac-12 blog is fond of saying (and so is every single coach in America), the final rankings are the only ones that matter. So a tip of the cap to Mandel for by far the boldest prediction of this preseason.

Some other previews:

SI’s Lindsey Schnell has Oregon and UCLA playing in the Pac-12 title game -- a common pick among most media, including the Pac-12 blog -- UCLA’s Myles Jack as the league’s defensive MVP. That’s another fairly bold prediction considering the quality of players like Leonard Williams, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Shaq Thompson, Hau'oli Kikaha and Jack’s teammate, Eric Kendricks. That’s going to be a fun award to keep an eye on throughout the season.

NFL.com’s college football blog pays homage to the quarterback depth in the Pac-12, and Bryan Fischer taps Kevin Hogan as the league’s breakout player in 2014.

Schedule accordingly

A couple different posts have come out over the last two days about must-see games. Let’s put it this way – if you plan on watching Oregon, Stanford or UCLA, you’re covered.

First up, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports has his annual list of the 25 most intriguing games of the 2014 season and five of the 25 involve Pac-12 teams. From his list:
  • No. 2 Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)
  • No. 4 UCLA at Texas (Sept. 13)
  • No. 7 Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
  • No. 14 Oregon at UCLA (Oct. 11)
  • No. 17 USC at Stanford (Sept. 6)

Next up is Athlon Sports, which posted 25 must-see games specific to the Pac-12. Here’s their top 5:
  • No. 1 Stanford at Oregon
  • No. 2 Oregon at UCLA
  • No. 3 Michigan State at Oregon
  • No. 4 USC at UCLA
  • No. 5. Stanford at UCLA

You can see some interesting opinions in terms of placement. But for the most part all of the major games are covered.

Rank’em

Athlon also came out with its rankings of the top 37 players in the Pac-12.

Here’s what their top 10 looks like:
  1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
  2. Leonard Williams, DE, USC
  3. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
  4. Ifo-Ekpre Olomu, CB, Oregon
  5. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
  6. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
  7. Taylor Kelly, QB, ASU
  8. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
  9. Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
  10. Jaelen Strong, WR, ASU

The top four are identical to what the Pac-12 blog had for its Top 25 players. Though we lumped a trio of receivers in our 5-10 and gave the nod to Agholor over Strong for his special teams contributions.

Also, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News released his all-conference projections for 2014. Not a lot of surprises, though it’s interesting to see UCLA’s Jordon James get the nod over Oregon’s Byron Marshall.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

One member of the Stanford coaching staff told me he believes center Graham Shuler could be better than both of the guys who preceded him.

 

And speaking of reunions, these guys are back together. This could get interesting.

 

Pac-12 morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
8:00
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I ain't got a dime but what I got is mine. I ain't rich, but Lord I'm free.

Leading off

For most of the offseason (pretty much since Utah’s Travis Wilson was cleared for action), we’ve been working under the assumption that the Pac-12 would have 10 returning starting quarterbacks. Those assumptions were confirmed Monday when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham announced that Wilson held off a late charge from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

At the very least, this means Utah has some depth at the quarterback spot – something that has haunted the Utes since joining the conference. And Whittingham told reporters after practice that Thompson has “earned the right to play,” meaning we’ll probably see him at some point and in assorted situations. Interpret that how you will.

Here are a few links on Wilson:
We’ll also be taking a closer look at Wilson later today in our returning starting quarterback series (and I would have gone into scramble mode had Thompson been named the starter).

Getting drafty?

Surely it’s too soon for a 2015 mock draft, right? After all, the college football season hasn’t started. But if CBS’s Dane Brugler is anywhere near accurate (he himself admits a lot of these are shots in the dark), then the Pac-12 is in for a big season.

His projection has 10 Pac-12 players going in the first round, including five in the top 11. Here’s his list:
That would be outstanding for the conference. Here’s a chart I’ve maintained for a few years (just for you, because you’re special), and as you can see, 10 players would be a considerable upgrade from what the league has seen over the last 14 years (though 2003 was a pretty good year). Out of the playoff?

Speaking of early projections, it doesn’t look good for the Pac-12 as far as reaching the college football playoff this year, according to CBS Bracketologist Jerry Palm, who writes:
In this projection, the Pac-12, which is arguably the second best conference, is excluded. That is based on the thought that the league will beat each other up enough that its champion may be too damaged to get a spot. Obviously, that remains to be seen.

Of course, this story was posted prior to the news that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller might miss the season. This certainly isn’t a time for to celebrate injuries -- even if you are a Michigan fan -- because injuries stink. But we can’t ignore the fact either that the Pac-12 benefits from a weakened Ohio State team. It’s an unfortunate fact. But a fact nonetheless.

Team notes/practice reports
Getting social with media

As far as alternate uniforms go, we’ve seen worse. And the more I look at ASU’s, the more I like them.



The San Francisco Chronicle’s new Cal beat writer, Mike Vernon, takes us inside the life of a running back for six seconds.

Better know a QB: Kevin Hogan

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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The Pac-12 is blessed with an abundance of returning starting quarterbacks in 2014. With 10 starters coming back, many are wondering if the league is on pace for its best quarterback year ever. This week the Pac-12 blog will give you a snapshot of all 10.

Name: Kevin Hogan

School: Stanford

Grade: Senior

2013 passing stats: 180-295-61%-2,630-20-10-72.3 (Raw QBR)- 80.5 (Adj. QBR)

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Tommy LaPorte/Icon SportswireStanford's Kevin Hogan, who has an impressive mark against ranked teams, would be among the leaders in passing efficiency in most any conference.
Career passing stats: 289-447-64.7%-3,726-29-13-70.6 (Raw QBR)-79.8 (Adj. QBR)

2013 rushing stats: 84-355-2

Career rushing stats: 139-618-4

Hogan on Twitter

What you need to know about Hogan: Hogan was fortunate enough not to be the guy replacing Andrew Luck. Rather, he was the guy who replaced the guy who replaced Andrew Luck. With that came a little less pressure and a little less scrutiny. Despite a 7-2 record to start 2012, the coaching staff felt like they weren't getting enough out of Josh Nunes, who was inconsistent, to say the least, throughout his tenure as the starter. Hogan had a couple of reps throughout the season, but saw his first extended playing time in the ninth game of the season against Colorado before taking the reins against Oregon State. He's started every game since, appearing in 23 over the past two seasons.

Career high point: We don't want to say Hogan peaked too soon, because the Pac-12 blog believes Hogan is in for a solid 2014. But it's hard to top winning at Autzen, as he did in his first career road start in 2012. After replacing the embattled Nunes, Hogan had just one start under his belt -- a home victory against the Beavers -- before heading up to Eugene and knocking off No. 1 Oregon. He rushed for a touchdown and threw for another in the 17-14 overtime win. He's had big wins since -- another win over Oregon in 2013, a Rose Bowl victory in 2012 etc. But that was the game that "launched" him as Stanford's leader.

Career low point: When you read what an opposing coach had to say about Hogan (below), the first game that should pop into your mind is USC in 2013. The Cardinal were coming off a major 26-20 win at home over Oregon and then nine days later Hogan tossed a pair of interceptions with zero touchdowns in the 20-17 loss to the Trojans. He was just 14 of 25 for 127 yards and both picks came in the fourth quarter with the score tied 17-17, including one in the red zone. Sure, there were drops from the receivers. But quarterbacks always take the bulk of the scrutiny. And Hogan's decision-making in that game drew plenty of it.

When he was a recruit: Stanford beat out Rutgers, Vanderbilt and Virginia for Hogan, who committed to the Cardinal during the summer before his senior season. A three-star prospect and the No. 51 quarterback in the country, Hogan was not quite as highly regarded as fellow 2011 Cardinal signee Evan Crower, the nation's No. 38 signal-caller and the quarterback Hogan eventually beat for the starting job at Stanford after Luck's departure. While he hasn't exactly been Luck, the results for Stanford have been positive.

Opposing head coach's take: "He gets a lot of attention for being an efficient quarterback. Which he is. You have to be when you run that system. But he's also a bit of a cowboy sometimes and will go off the reservation probably more than that coaching staff would like. He can improvise, and when it works, it's great. When it doesn't, it's not. I think his ability to keep plays alive with his feet gives you an extra element you have to prepare for. Aside from the traditional power, they'll work in some option and he can make plays with his legs."

What to expect in 2014: What caught the eye of the coaching staff in 2012 was Hogan's ability to run the football. There were designated "Hogan packages" throughout the season leading up to him starting. They like that he can pick up first downs and teams have to account for him as a runner. As a passer, he didn't make the strides the coaches were hoping for in 2013. Part of that had to do with adjusting to a passing attack that was more wide-receiver centric after being spoiled with tight ends. While we expect to see more tight end packages from Stanford this year, Hogan still has a bona fide playmaker in Ty Montgomery. They'd like to see that completion percentage up from 61 percent last year and better decision-making. But the most important number is wins. And when it comes to that, Hogan delivers. He's 16-3 as a starter and 10-1 against ranked teams. If that trend continues, the Cardinal could be in line for a third-straight conference title.

Erik McKinney contributed reporting.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Good morning. You might have noticed a little change in the way we’ve been doing links the last couple of weeks. Ted gave you a quick heads up in his mailbag last week that things would be changing. From here on out, they’ll be right there waiting for you when you wake up in the morning.

But on the Pac-12 blog, we’re going to add a twist. Moving forward, I’ll be manning the links in a column format, tossing in some opinion and analysis of stories the Pac-12 community will be talking about. This is a work in progress, so tweet at me with what you’d like to see: quote of the day, tweet of the day, etc. Do you want me to keep the literary and pop culture quotes? Let me know your thoughts.

Without further ado, to the links:

Leading off

The big news over the weekend was obviously the release of the preseason AP Top 25. Half of the teams in the league are ranked: Oregon (3), UCLA (7), Stanford (11), USC (15), ASU (19) and Washington (25).

The exact same six ended last season ranked: Oregon (9), Stanford (11), UCLA (16), USC (19), ASU (21) and Washington (25).

We all expected Oregon and UCLA to be in the top 10. And with the considerable hype Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley have received, the Pac-12 blog wouldn’t have been shocked if both were top five.

Washington should be pleased to be ranked, considering it lost its starting quarterback, running back and Mackey Award-winning tight end. That ranking is a clear reflection of Chris Petersen’s presence, because a Pac-12 team losing that much offensive firepower usually doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt with voters.

ASU should feel pretty good about being in the top 20 -- especially after the way it closed out last season and the departure of nine starters on defense.

Doug Haller offers an interesting perspective on the Sun Devils:
This marks the first time since 2008 that the Sun Devils have made the preseason poll.

Certainly, nothing stinks about that except ... This isn't always a good thing for the Sun Devils. The last six times they made the AP preseason poll -- a stretch dating to 1998 -- they didn't finish in the final AP Top 25 poll.

The Trojans should also feel pretty good about their spot at No. 15. Voters don’t appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the Steve Sarkisian era. Sounds like a lot of folks are buying in.

And as for the Cardinal, this is just more fodder for head coach David Shaw to play up the nobody-believes-in-us card, which his team often embraces.

Practice reports
  • Christian Caple offers some thoughts on Washington’s scrimmage.
  • Jeff Faraudo reports Sonny Dykes is feeling pretty good after Cal’s closed scrimmage. Some good player notes included as well.
  • Lindsey Thiry quotes USC’s Josh Shaw, who says the Trojans aren’t ready “for a game quite yet.” No need to panic. The Trojans don’t have to play tomorrow. But after they dispatch Fresno State (yeah, we're going out on a limb), they better be ready for Stanford in Week 2. Love that two ranked Pac-12 teams are squaring off that early in the season. And by the way, Shaw looks yoked in the video.
  • Tough news for the Buffs, who confirmed over the weekend that safety Jered Bell is done for the year.
  • We've been talking about 10 starting quarterbacks coming back. But there seems to be some controversy in Salt Lake City.
Nice/interesting reads
A little fun

The Beavers closed out their scrimmage over the weekend with a little slip-and-slide action. Don’t see Mike Riley on the tarp. I’m guessing if there was a double-double at the other end, he’d be sliding.

And finally, for everyone who has been to San Bernardino or covered a UCLA camp, we can all relate to Ryan Kartje.

 
Six Pac-12 teams, led by Oregon at No. 3, were ranked in the preseason AP poll released Sunday.

The Ducks received one first-place vote and were followed by No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 USC, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington.

This is the fourth year in a row year the Ducks have been ranked in the preseason top five and seventh straight year they've appeared in the preseason AP poll.

The same six teams were also ranked in the USA Today Coaches Poll, in nearly the same places. The only differences being Oregon is one spot higher in the AP poll and Arizona State is one spot lower.

The College Football Playoff committee, responsible for selecting the four teams to play in this year's inaugural playoff, will release its first top-25 rankings Oct. 28 on ESPN.
The only thing the Pac-12 has to fear in the new era of the College Football Playoff is itself. Oh, and other conferences gaming the infant system.

Whatever negative perceptions formerly were held about the Pac-12 -- finesse, pass-first, defense-optional league with half-full stadiums -- are mostly dead. Though there always will be trolling mouth-breathers with tired insults, Pac-12 folks now can show up to the verbal brawl with facts and numbers and game scores and commence to deliver a dose of frenzied verbal MMA that leaves said trolls whimpering for mercy.

OK, perhaps that's going overboard. But the Pac-12 deserves credit for two things: (1) Its rating as the nation's No. 2 conference (2) Making things tougher on itself than any other conference.

The overwhelming national consensus is the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC. As ESPN Stats & Information noted in January, "Overall, the Pac-12 finished with six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and five teams ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's Football Power Index. As a result of its strength in the computers, the Pac-12 was the clear No. 2 conference in the Power Rankings."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsThe Pac-12's $3 billion broadcasting deal with ESPN and Fox has been followed by an influx of big-name coaches like Arizona's Rich Rodriguez.
It wasn't just ESPN. Jeff Sagarin ranked the Pac-12 No. 2 in 2013. Phil Steele ranked the Pac-12 the No. 2 conference in 2012 and 2013, and also projected it as No. 2 in 2014. Athlon Sports did the same. In fact, if there is a conference rating system that ranked the Pac-12 anything different in 2013 and projects a lower rating this fall, we haven't seen it.

Another vote in the Pac-12's favor comes from an unquestionably unbiased -- cough, cough -- constituency: Pac-12 coaches.

"[The SEC] should claim themselves as the best league in the country because they've earned it," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "But to go through the Pac-12 and win a national championship may be the most difficult thing to do because of our schedule."

Ah, that's the worrisome rub. No other conference rides the scheduling tricycle like the Pac-12: 1. Challenging nonconference slate; 2. Nine-game conference schedule; 3. Conference championship game.

While some conferences have improved their nonconference scheduling, they don't play nine conference games. The Big 12 does play nine conference games, but it doesn't play a championship game. Pac-12 coaches aren't shy about noting that a conference team, in almost all cases, will have to play at least 11 quality games -- one tough nonconference foe, nine conference games and the Pac-12 title game -- to earn a spot in the CFP. No other conference can claim that.

There is a big reason the other conferences can't: They don't want to.

"Fair or unfair, whatever the words you want to use, we play a nine-game schedule and a conference championship game and other conferences don't on purpose," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "There is obviously a reason for that."

That's the big issue for the Pac-12 heading into the season. There is no longer a worry about respect or the perception of the Pac-12. Rather, it's about how unscathed a conference champ can hope to be against such a demanding schedule, and whether the committee will stick to its stated insistence that strength of schedule will be paramount. When a conference plays eight of the nation's 13 toughest schedules, as the Pac-12 did in 2013, the challenge to go unbeaten or even to lose just one game is far greater.

Of course, this issue won't be solved today, or even in the next couple months. The ultimate answers will be delivered in January when four semifinalists are picked and seeded.

So then, how did the Pac-12 gain ground in the perception battle -- one that has the conference starting with six teams ranked in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, including three in the top 11 with two others receiving votes?

The easy answer: money. The $3 billion broadcasting deal with ESPN and Fox was a game-changer. That money has flowed into facilities improvements and more aggressive investments in coaching -- head coaches and assistants. A concomitant influx of A-list coaches, most notably Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora and Chris Petersen, has boosted the conference's Q-rating. Those coaches also have been able to hire and -- critically -- retain key assistants with competitive salaries, such as Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell ($700,000), UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm ($650,000), Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave'a ($275,000) and USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (north of the $800,000 he made at Washington), among others.

No team has had a better, and perhaps more unfortunate, seat while watching the Pac-12 improve than Utah. The Utes joined the conference in 2011 as a program that had posted two unbeaten seasons and won two BCS bowl games as a member of the respected Mountain West Conference. Though they went a solid 4-5 in conference play in 2011, they slipped to 3-6 in 2012 and 2-7 in 2013, with lineups that might have been better than the 2011 squad.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Eric GayOregon's Marcus Mariota is part of an impressive group of returning QBs in the Pac-12 this season.
"The thing that has been very apparent with the Pac-12 in 2011 when we entered, is the Pac-12 now is far superior from top to bottom," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The progress this conference has made in the last few years is phenomenal."

What separates the Pac-12 this season -- and could make it a legitimate threat for the No. 1 conference -- is behind center. Not only does the conference welcome back 10 starting quarterbacks, a majority of those are NFL prospects.

"I've never seen anything like this," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You have multiple guys that you could say could be the No. 1 pick overall in the draft. You have multiple guys in the conference that could be All-Americans and lead the nation in quarterback rating or lead the nation in passing."

The most notable quarterbacks are Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley, Heisman Trophy candidates blinking brightly on NFL radars who lead teams favored to win their respective divisions. Hundley will get an early showcase game against Texas, and Mariota and the Ducks play host to Michigan State, the Big Ten favorite, in Week 2. And the Ducks and Bruins could meet each other twice this season.

But they also must contend with Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Oregon State's Sean Mannion, USC's Cody Kessler, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Washington State's Connor Halliday, Utah's Travis Wilson, California's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau, each capable of posting a spectacular individual performance that could spawn an upset.

The Pac-12 is plenty hyped heading into the 2014 season. There is no perception problem. There might, however, end up being a reality problem. If the Pac-12 champion ends up with two losses, and the selection committee has a handful of Power Five conference teams with one or fewer defeats, the Pac-12 could get a respectful tip of the cap but end up out of luck in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
8:00
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Answer. That you are here -- that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Best Pac-12 stadium entrances

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
5:00
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video
If you are a college football fan, you love your team and you love the moment it runs onto the field inside your beloved stadium. It's a moment filled with frenzy, excitement and hope. It's the only moment of the game when you are absolutely guaranteed something worthy to cheer for.

And, unfortunately, you are not qualified to objectively judge how cool your team's entrance is. Sorry. You are biased.

We are not. We are stone-cold objective. We are eggheaded employers of pure science. We used advance analytics, HUGE super-computers and a Zeus' personal "Super-Awesome Thinking Cap" to make the following list of best stadium entrances in the Pac-12.

But feel free to disagree.

6. UCLA: The improved quality of play under Jim Mora has made the Rose Bowl again a true home-field advantage, but what caught our eye about the Bruins is the new entrance videos. The roaring contest with Oski was particularly amusing.

5. Washington: Husky Stadium has always been one of college football's great atmospheres, and the renovation of the stadium was nothing short of spectacular. Further, the place is very, very loud. You've got a downhill tunnel, the siren going off and a crowd going nuts. Great entrance.

4. Arizona State: The Sun Devils put on the best set piece of anyone, starting with Sparky beaming down from the sun, swaggering through Phoenix with a dust storm behind him and then stomping the opposing team's bus. The team then takes the field with plenty of pyrotechnic support. It helps that quality play under Todd Graham has helped fill the stadium up before kickoff.

3. Oregon: While it lacks size, Autzen Stadium is the most consistently intense venue in the Pac-12. With Oregon moving from nouveau riche to established national power, the Duck mascot riding a motorcycle ahead of the Ducks running onto the field is on the cusp of earning its "Iconic Image" credential, college football section.

2. USC: The Trojans are the Pac-12's clear leader in pageantry, a program whose traditions are readily identifiable across the country. From the band and music to Traveler, to Tommy Trojan stabbing the field, USC's pregame traditions are part of the historical tapestry of the game itself. And when the Trojans emerge from their downhill tunnel onto the field of the Coliseum, it's pretty darn cool.

1. Colorado: Look, I know Colorado has been down since joining the Pac-12, but it's possible its entrance at Folsom Field is the best entrance in all of college football. Why? Why! If you asked that question it's because you haven't seen the Buffaloes' entrance. Colorado tops this list because the team runs out behind a real, live 1,300 pound -- plus or minus -- Buffalo that can reach speeds of 25 mph. Not only is it awesome to watch, there's always just a little bit of the ole potential NASCAR wreck to it. Ralphie often has a mind of her own, and more than a few folks have ended up on the turf -- including her handlers -- while she made her mad dash. Ask Fox reporter Jim Knox (search for it on YouTube). Here's an official look.
I am he as you are he as you are me.

And this is the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here and following the easy-to-read instructions.

To the notes.

Clarence from Cincinnati writes: Stanford is 4-9 against Oregon since the turn of the millennium. Stanford's superstar, Andrew Luck, was 1-2 against Oregon (with both losses in the years he was runner-up for the Heisman). Those two losses were lost in an Oregon-dominant fashion (2010: 52-31 at Autzen; 2011: 53-30 at Palo Alto). The 2010 loss was especially critical as it was Stanford's only loss that season. Listening to fans and analysts, one would think that Stanford has dominated Oregon for years, when they have just recently figured out the Oregon puzzle. Is Stanford in the midst of dominating Oregon for years to come, or is it just that Stanford is a solid program that has been able to beat a rival two consecutive times? (As a cross-sport comparison, the Los Angeles Clippers hold two consecutive Pacific Division titles.

Ted Miller: Wait. Are you accusing the media of over-hyping an angle instead of taking a more measured perspective? I am SHOCKED! SHOCKED! that you would say such a thing.

SHOCKED!

You probably think I'd drop a completely irrelevant reference to the Washington-Oregon rivalry and how Washington-Oregon is so much COOLER just to get a rise out of folks. Of course, I would never do that, though you well know that Oregon-Washington is SO much COOLER. (I used my best Eric Cartman voice while typing that.)

First of all, 4-9 since 2001 is irrelevant. The present incarnation of Oregon-Stanford starts with Jim Harbaugh vs. Chip Kelly in 2009, a Stanford upset, by the way, that leaves the relevant count at 3-2 Stanford.

Second, call it fair play. We once wrote -- endlessly, from the Stanford perspective -- on Stanford's "Oregon Problem." So after consecutive Stanford victories in the series and resulting Pac-12 North titles, it only seems fair we reverse our position and give Oregon a Stanford problem.

Further, it's the related nature of both "problems" -- the Stanford defense. In the Ducks' wins in 2010 and 2011, they scored 105 points combined. In their losses the past two seasons, they scored 37 points combined. I can't help but feel those numbers are meaningful.

When Luck lost two in a row to Oregon in his prime, the problem was the Ducks' style and speed, not to mention Kelly's "oh no he didn't!" aggressiveness -- recall that audacious onside kick that transformed the 2010 game. The Ducks seemed to have the Cardinal's number, something that David Shaw didn't deny or hide from, which struck me as a smart coaching move.

Enter Derek Mason. There's a reason he's now the head coach at Vanderbilt. He figured out a defensive scheme that contained the Ducks and didn't allow them to dictate the game's tempo. But it wasn't only about some mystical scheme. Much of the squeeze Stanford put on Oregon's offense wasn't terribly complicated. Mason emphasized containment, winning one-on-one battles, tackling in space and then convinced his defense they were the unstoppable force of nature, not the Ducks.

The buy-in in 2012 in Autzen Stadium was tremendous. And stunning. That carried over to 2013, though I am -- sorry, Stanford fans -- one who believes a healthy Marcus Mariota would have made that game much different.

The reality is these are two elite programs whose annual matchup is even more fun because of the contrast of styles, though the idea that Oregon doesn't play physical football is inane.

Do I believe Stanford will dominate Oregon for years to come? No. I picked Oregon to win the Pac-12 this year -- I picked Stanford last year -- and I think the Ducks will take care of business in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 1.


Jim from Los Angeles writes: I'm curious why you repeatedly state that Taylor Kelly was better than Brett Hundley last season? Yes, I realize that ASU won the South, and that Kelly took second-team honors, but Hundley had the better passer rating (153.7-139.6) and total QBR (82.3-74.9). Factor in UCLA's offensive line injuries and that no UCLA receiver was as good as Jaelen Strong and I think Hundley was noticeably better last year.

Ted Miller: Well, the two main reasons you stated: 1. Kelly was named second-team All-Pac-12 over Hundley by the Pac-12 coaches; 2. He outplayed Hundley in their head-to-head matchup in the Rose Bowl, a game that decided the South Division.

While Hundley's efficiency numbers were better, Kelly passed for more yards per game (259.6 vs. 236.2), produced more yards of total offense per game (303.1 vs. 293.8) and was responsible for more touchdowns (37 vs. 35). The Sun Devils also averaged more points per game (39.7 vs. 36.9).

That said, I think I used the word "nipped" more than a few times to describe any distinction between the two. Both had fantastic seasons with comparable numbers.

Further, you might have noticed this: We rated Kelly No. 5 and Hundley No. 3 in our preseason countdown of the Pac-12's top-25 players.

Hundley is a tremendous talent who still was a little raw last year. I think it's fair to rate Kelly's 2013 season as better, just as I think it's fair to project Hundley to do more this fall. And probably in the NFL, though I've also learned not to count Kelly out.


GQ from Los Angeles writes: Ted, you must be a baseball writer also and vote for the Hall of fame. Regardless of what you think about a person, you cannot ignore a person's accomplishments. As bad a person that O.J. Simpson turned out to be, ignoring what he did on the football field makes this conversation a farce. It's like saying Hitler wasn't a great politician. Sports are based on statistics and many sports writers are not qualified to make social judgments. That is not what they were hired to be.

Ted Miller: Wow. Steroids. Alleged murder. Hitler.

I wrote about 400 words on this, then cut it and came up with this briefer conclusion: I am qualified to make the social judgment on this blog that O.J. is out. If you wish to celebrate O.J., start your own blog.


SirTrojan from Camas, Washington, writes: Ted, Please pass this on to Ms. Jennings. Her piece on music choices for Pac-12 coaches was, on the whole, amusing and well thought-out. However I have a major beef with her selection for USC's music. What would happen if Arthur Bartner were to read that column and become inspiried to incorporate "Let It Go" into the band's repertoire? With the penchant the Spirit of Troy has for playing a singular song over and over and over and over and over (you get the clue) I would swear off all allegiance to USC immediately! You see, I have a 2 1/2-year-old girl whose singing makes Rosanne Barr sound like Michael Bublé. Can you guess her favorite song that assaults my ear drums morning, noon and night? This could quickly spiral downward. Please don't let me end up homeless in Fargo, N.D.

Ted Miller: SirTrojan wins the award for note that made me grin this week.

No. 1, I bet your wife would give you a frowny face for writing: "... I have a 2 1/2-year-old girl whose singing makes Rosanne Barr sound like Michael Bublé." The rule I've found with moms and their child's singing is it sounds like an angelic chorus, at least until we dads are officially advised otherwise... and best to get that in writing.

No. 2, I knew my 5-year-old was truly my son when "Let It Go" came on the radio -- briefly -- and he went, "Gaaaaaaa... Dad, I hate this song.... change it. Oh, the horror... the horror..."

(The "Heart of Darkness" reference may be an embellishment on my part.)
Somewhere on a playground -- probably in Texas -- there are kids arguing about whose father was the better football player.

"My dad was better than your dad."

"No, my dad was obviously better than your dad. If Coach woulda put him in in the fourth quarter, he would've been a state champion. No doubt. No doubt in my mind."

Barry J. Sanders was never one of those kids, but if he was the argument would have ended pretty quickly: "1988."

ESPN.com readers voted this week and determined it was that year in which Sanders' father, the elder Barry Sanders, turned in the best season in college football history. There were plenty of good options to choose from -- including Vince Young's 2005 season at Texas, which was the other finalist -- but the whole time there was only one common-sense choice.

Pops isn't one to talk much publicly about that season -- it's just not his style. But with his son, who is now fighting for playing time in a crowded Stanford backfield, he's surely spoken at length about the year Dad won the Heisman Trophy, right?

“Not directly, no,” the younger Sanders said this week.

Of course, that doesn't mean he hasn't gone out and done his own research. He's watched plenty of highlight tapes and read up on it as best he could.

When asked what he knows about that season, Sanders was quick to rattle off his father's accomplishments, one after the next.

"I know that he broke or set 38 NCAA records that year," Sanders said with pride. "And he had something like 2,600 yards, not including the bowl game and almost 2,900 and 40-plus touchdowns including that bowl game.

"Incomparable year to any other running back in the history of the game."

And there was really no need to limit it to just running backs.

Sanders said the football discussions he has with his father, a College and Pro Football Hall of Famer, are more about how he should have fun playing the game. They talk about competing and about what he learned from his experiences.

Coincidentally, 1988 also was the final year of a four-year stretch in which Willie Shaw, the father of Stanford coach David Shaw, was on the coaching staff for the Detroit Lions. The following year, the Lions made Sanders the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft and Shaw moved on to Stanford, where he was named the Cardinal's defensive coordinator.
By all accounts, the group of running backs at Stanford is a close-knit group, which is why the next few weeks will an interesting social experiment of sorts on The Farm.

[+] EnlargeKelsey Young
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsKelsey Young's performance this spring makes him Stanford's de facto starter at running back, but the best pass protector will likely get more minutes.
Four players -- Kelsey Young, Barry J. Sanders, Remound Wright and Ricky Seale -- are all seeking the same thing: to replace Tyler Gaffney, who is off to the NFL after rushing for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns last year.

"We're all great friends. We love each other," Sanders said. "We're all hard on each other to hold each other accountable. It's fun to come out and compete against your best friends."

But, yes, it is a competition.

"Just by [human nature] you want to be that guy that is headlining everything, so that pushes you to focus and work even harder so that you can potentially be that role," Young said. "That mindset really helps."

Realistically, as much as they all may want to be the guy, the Cardinal seems destined to employ a running-back-by-committee this year. Yes, that was storyline a year ago at this time, but none of the four guys involved now have the physical stature of Gaffney or Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart before him. All four stand around 5-foot-9 and hover near 200 pounds.

"It just makes you cautious of even thinking you can put 350, 375 carries on a 195-pound running back," coach David Shaw said. "Tyler Gaffney was of the size [6-foot, 220 pounds] that he could handle the pounding every week and come back ready the next. It's hard to say you ask a guy without the same size to go through that."

According to offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, Young enters camp as the de facto starter based on his production in the spring, but there's not much separation. Young's role has changed significantly from a year ago when he also played receiver and was used primarily on jet sweeps. On 28 carries over the past two seasons, he's rushed for 270 yards (9.6 ypc) and three touchdowns.

The biggest obstacle to a bulk of playing time for Young, probably the fastest among the group, is developing as a pass protector -- a key skill in Stanford's scheme. He said he's spent a lot of time watching film of Gaffney and Gerhart to help with that and was noticeably more defined physically on Stanford's first day of camp this week.

"The gauntlet is out there because whoever is our best pass-blocker is going to get more playing time," Shaw said.

After the first session of spring practice, that guy was Wright, but he was suspended for the second session for an undisclosed disciplinary reason and that punishment has carried into fall camp. Shaw said he expects Wright to re-join the team in a little over a week10774202
and seemingly implied he had a lot of ground to make up after being away.

Sanders showed glimpses of the type of player he can be in minimal opportunities last year, but -- along with Young -- seems destined for a much more significant role. As a prep star at Heritage Hall in Oklahoma, he was the No. 9-ranked high school running back in the country and has waited patiently for an opportunity for playing time he likely would have received immediately at other places in the country.


"You come in and basically see what's going on a respond accordingly," Sanders said. "[Taylor] had that phonomenal year my freshman year and then Gaff came back [from playing minor league baseball] and that changed some things."

Seale is the only senior of the group, and based on how he's been used compared to the other three in the past -- he has just 30 carries over the past three years -- it's hard to see him surpassing any of the others. They'll likely have plays or packages in which Seale is featured more prominently, but because there's little incentive to develop him for the future he'll have to really breakout in camp or early in the year.

Pac-12 lunch links

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
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Children need encouragement. So if a kid gets an answer right, tell him it was a lucky guess. That way, he develops a good, lucky feeling.

Top 10 Pac-12 seasons

August, 7, 2014
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ESPN.com has been looking at the greatest seasons in college football history this week -- overall and by team.

Today, we look at the 10 greatest seasons in Pac-12 history. And, yes, we made the overall success of a player's team part of our evaluation.

Feel free to disagree.

(Note: It was a management decision to exclude great Utah and Colorado seasons that occurred outside of the conference. So no Rashaan Salaam nor Alex Smith).

1. Marcus Allen, USC (1981): He was the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards, piling up 2,342 yards in 12 games. Finished with 2,683 yards of total offense and 23 TDs. He won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

2. Matt Leinart, USC (2004): The Heisman Trophy winner as a junior, he became just the third QB in three decades to lead his team to back-to-back national titles. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,322 yards with 33 TDs and six interceptions.

3. Jim Plunkett, Stanford (1970): Stanford's only Heisman winner, he piled up 3,189 yards of total offense and was responsible for 22 touchdowns. He led the Cardinal to the Pac-8 title and an unset of No. 2 Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

4. Charles White, USC (1979): White led the Trojans to a Rose Bowl victory and No. 2 final ranking on his way to the Heisman Trophy. He led the nation with an average of 194.1 yards per game, finishing with 2,050 yards and 19 TDs.

5. Terry Baker, Oregon State (1962): He won the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award, passing for 1,738 yards and 15 touchdowns, and producing 2,261 yards of total offense. His 24 total TDs led the nation. The Beavers won their final seven games, finished 9-2 and won the Liberty Bowl.

6. Reggie Bush, USC (2005): While his name is shrouded in controversy and his 2005 Heisman Trophy was officially taken away, you can't take away what he did on the field, which included nearly leading USC to a third consecutive national title. He led the nation with 222.3 all-purpose yards per game and ranked fourth in the nation with 133.85 yards rushing per game, which included a stunning 8.7 yards per carry.

7. Gary Beban, UCLA (1967): UCLA's only Heisman winner, he piled up 1,586 yards of total offense and 19 touchdowns. The only downside is he went 1-2-1, including losing to USC, in his final four games.

8. Ryan Leaf, Washington State (1997): Forget for a moment his NFL flop and post-football shenanigans, he was brilliant in 1997, leading the Cougars to their first Rose Bowl in 67 years. He passed for 3,968 yards and was responsible for a whopping 40 TDs. Finished third in Heisman voting.

9. Steve Emtman, Washington (1991): He was the centerpiece of one of the greatest Pac-10/12 teams of all time, a Huskies crew that dominated foes on its way to a 12-0 record and a split national title with Miami. He won the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy and was the Pac-10 defensive POY. The consensus All-American finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman, leading a defense that yielded 9.58 points per game.

10. Terrell Suggs, Arizona State (2002): Suggs set an NCAA record with 24 sacks on his way to becoming a unanimous All-American, Bronko Nagurski Award winner, Lombardi Award winner and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. He also had 31 1/2 tackles for a loss and six forced fumbles. The downside is the Sun Devils went 8-6 and weren't terribly good on defense as a whole.

Pac-12 lunch links

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
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The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. It's really not my fault.

Pac-12's lunch links

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
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“There are no chainsaws in New York! You need to go to Long Island, or New Jersey. You don't wanna go to New Jersey.”

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