Pac-12: Tennessee Volunteers

Mariota dynamic in Oregon blowout win

September, 14, 2013

EUGENE, Ore. -- Tennessee led 7-0, and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was just 2-for-8 throwing the ball. Uh-oh. Ducks are in trouble, and Mariota's early-season accuracy issues might be a long-term problem.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesWith a career-high 456 passing yards, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota might have vaulted into the Heisman race.
Then ... KABOOM! Oregon went all Oregon on the Volunteers because Mariota went all Mariota.

The Ducks scored the next 59 points and rolled to an easy 59-14 victory because Mariota completely befuddled the Vols defense, completing 23 of 33 throws for a career-high 456 yards with four touchdowns. He also rushed for a score.

Those sorts of numbers supporting the nation's No. 2 team clearly put the "H-word" in play. As in Heisman Trophy. Obviously, Mariota has to be excited about such talk.

"Not really," he said. "That's individual accolades, and that's something we don't talk about around here. That's outside noise to me."

That could sound like canned talk, PR-smart, faux humility. Perhaps, but in that case, Mariota would need to be a heck of an actor, because his humility seems like an authentic response, his standard gear. Oregon folks who repeatedly praise it, in fact, sometimes want Mariota to adopt a little bit more swagger as the guy fronting the nation's best offense.

Oregon had 658 yards through three quarters, and the bench was cleared with four minutes remaining in the third. That's the most an SEC team has allowed through three quarters over the past 10 seasons. The Vols’ 45-point margin of defeat was their worst since 1910, a 48-0 loss to Mississippi A&M.

“I think they are very deserving of where they’re ranked," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. "I think they’re very well deserving of all the accolades that they’ve received. They have tremendous, tremendous skill. Anytime you have a quarterback who can throw the ball and run the football, you’re always a gap short, you’re always a man short."

While the Ducks defense deserves more than just a tip of the cap, as it also was in complete control, Mariota is rapidly evolving into a super-elite player, an All-American and Heisman candidate and potentially the best quarterback in program history.

"Marcus is a stud," first-year head coach Mark Helfrich said. "I wouldn't trade that guy for anything."

The truth is the accuracy concerns were probably a bit overblown (who ... me?). While Mariota was completing just over 50 percent of his throws over the first two games, the bigger issue was drops. They were an issue during the start against the Vols, but once Mariota and his receivers synced up, the scoreboard spun like a Vegas slot machine.

"I guess we can complete a pass again," Helfrich quipped. "I haven't even looked at the numbers."

The numbers Helfrich would look at are glowing: the first 400-yard passing game for a Ducks QB since Kellen Clemens in 2005 and the third-most in school history. "I'll take that," Helfrich said.

Mariota had 350 yards passing at the break, so he easily could have pushed into ludicrous territory if the Vols had kept things closer. He also extended his string of throwing at least one touchdown pass to 16 games, which is third-best among active quarterbacks.

Of course, it wasn't just Mariota. The Ducks rushed for 216 yards -- pedestrian by their standards -- and two players eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark. Josh Huff had six catches for 125 yards, including a 54-yard TD, and true freshman tight end Johnny Mundt hauled in five passes for 121 yards.

Mundt? He got so many touches because starter Colt Lyerla, who's battled the dropsies, did not play. Asked after the game why Lyerla was held out, Helfrich said, "Circumstances." He then assumed his best Chip Kelly stance when he assured the media that was a specific, one-word description.

While Mariota and Oregon's explosiveness will stock the highlight reel from this game, it's worth noting that Oregon owned both lines of scrimmage against an SEC team, one that was supposed to have one of the nation's best offensive lines.

“I thought Oregon did a great job at the line of scrimmage," Jones said. "We pride ourselves on being a physical, blue-collar football team and I thought they won the line of scrimmage battle, and that can’t happen.”

The preseason question was how would Oregon look under Helfrich after Kelly bolted for the NFL? After a 3-0 start where the Ducks outscored opponents 184-27, the answer appears to be, "Exactly like they did under Kelly."

While all that might be true, it’s Mariota who has taken a step forward. That should worry the teams on the Ducks schedule.

Oh, and some not on the schedule as of yet -- as it was the Oregon fans chanting, when this contest was no longer in doubt, "We want Bama!"

Oregon wants style points vs. Tennessee

September, 14, 2013
EUGENE, Ore. -- Folks across the country want to know what Oregon's high-powered offense would look like against an "SEC defense," a term that makes folks wretch on the West Coast. Well, they get to see that today in Autzen Stadium as the Ducks face Tennessee, a holder of one of those SEC national titles during the BCS era.

Of course, this isn't Tennessee circa 1998. That was three coaches and a lot of dispiriting losses ago for a proud program that is trying to right itself under new coach Butch Jones, who was at Cincinnati last year.

Tennessee has gone 28-34 since 2008. That's the worst five-year stretch for the program in the modern era.

Still, the Volunteers are not devoid of talent, particularly on the offensive line, which is among the nation's best units. The Vols welcome back four of five starters from 2012 and all four are good. Junior left tackle Antonio Richardson, most particularly, is a beast.

The matchup with the Oregon defensive front is where this game turns.

An oddly tenacious stereotype is that Oregon is small and quick on defense. Er, no. The Ducks are big and athletic. In fact, Oregon's defensive front is as big as any in the country. The two-deep on the defensive line features seven players 6-foot-4 or taller, including three taller than 6-foot-7. The interior tackles go 314, 299, 297 and 296.

Unlike a lot of schools, by the way, Oregon uses accurate heights and weights.

But the question on Oregon's defense is not the line, which is talented and deep. It's at linebacker. There are three new starters. They have played pretty well thus far, but the Vols will offer up the best blocking unit they will face until the visit to Stanford on Nov. 7.

That said, the Vols don't have a lot of skill players. Quarterback Justin Worley isn't terribly mobile, so he's lucky to have a great line in front of him. He'll need a consistent running game because he's not going to light up one of the nation's best secondaries, particularly on the road. He passed for 104 and 142 yards in the first two games, albeit against lesser competition.

On the other side of the ball, it will be interesting to see if quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Oregon passing game take a step forward. The early results have been mixed, with the typically accurate and efficient sophomore missing some passes in the first two games.

Tennessee has switched back to a 4-3 from a 3-4, which is the reverse of what most coaches do when facing a bunch of uptempo, spread offenses like Oregon's. Of course, the Vols are thinking SEC play, not Pac-12. But that might be an issue here in Autzen.

Finally, there's perception. Oregon is a national title contender, one that is favored by four touchdowns. If Oregon takes care of business and wins by that much or more, then mission accomplished. Style points matter in these intersectional games between AQ conferences.

But if the Vols make a game of it and at least keep things close, there will be more than a few chortles down South about SEC superiority -- as in, "The Duckies can't even whip one of our bottom-feeders."

Pac-12 predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
Both Ted and Kevin went 9-1 last week, both missing on picking USC to beat Washington State.

For the year, Kevin is 18-2 and Ted is a miserable 17-3.


Kevin Gemmell: The Cardinal thrive on efficiency, and they were very efficient in their season opener. Army is hardly the test San Jose State was. It makes its living by running the ball, averaging 329 yards on the ground through the first two weeks. Guess which team loves for teams to run at them? … Stanford 38, Army 7.

Ted Miller: Army is not going to win this football game, but on a week when we remember 9/11, let's tip our cap to those guys. I'm sure they'll compete hard and make sure Stanford comes back west knowing it played a football game. … Stanford 35, Army 10.


Gemmell: The Buffs probably lose this one. It was a nice couple of games. They got a little momentum, doubled their win total from last season and generated a little excitement early in the rebuilding process. Fresno State has some weapons. Then again, as Ben Bradlee famously said during the Watergate investigation: “[Bleep] it, let’s stand by the boys.” … Colorado 31, Fresno State 28.

Miller: Colorado has already shown it's a better football team than it was in 2012. Better will make this one closer than last season -- way closer. But Fresno State might be the nation's best non-AQ team. … Fresno State 38, Colorado 30.


Gemmell: Had he taken the Colorado job, Butch Jones would have had to wait two more weeks to get blown out by the Ducks. At least now he gets it out of the way sooner. Look for those little mistakes Oregon had last week to disappear as the Ducks return home. … Oregon 48, Tennessee 17.

Miller: There is a level of intrigue for this game based on the Volunteers having a great offensive line and the Ducks being somewhat questionable at linebacker. Is that enough to keep it close? Probably not. … Oregon 44, Tennessee 20.


Gemmell: The Buckeyes showed some depth against San Diego State last week when Braxton Miller went down. That doesn’t bode well for a Cal defense that is rife with injuries right now. The Bears can put up points. No one is disputing that. Stopping people is the bigger priority right now. … Ohio State 38, Cal 27.

Miller: The Buckeyes are going to pile up rushing yards, whether Miller plays or not. So can the Bears pile up passing yards to match them, score for score? Maybe for a little while, but not for four quarters. … Ohio State 40, California 21.


Gemmell: Welcome to the desert, where the temperature at kickoff is expected to be a toasty 102 degrees. But it won’t be the heat that burns the Badgers. It will be ASU’s precision efficiency, which is amplified when Taylor Kelly plays at home. In eight career home games, he has 19 TDs to three INTs and is completing 74.2 percent of his throws. … Arizona State 35, Wisconsin 24.

Miller: But it's a dry heat! My question is whether the Sun Devils defense will be able to stand up to the relentless power-rushing attack of the Badgers. My guess is both teams will be pretty darn worn out by the end of the game. Kevin thinks the UCLA-Nebraska game was the toughest pick this week. This was it for me. … Arizona State 24, Wisconsin 23.


Gemmell: Two weeks ago, I said I would pencil this in as an Oregon State win. Pencils have erasers. The Beavers have all sorts of issues on defense, and the Utes are playing with a confidence we’ve rarely seen since they joined the league. I think Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks have a big day, but I think Travis Wilson & Co. have a bigger day. … Utah 31, Oregon State 27.

Miller: This feels like a HUGE game for both teams. As in, neither will accomplish its goals this season if it loses. I like the matchup with a more mature Travis Wilson against the injury-riddled Beavers defense, but I also think Mannion and Cooks have an edge versus the Utes' questionable secondary. The edge for the Utes is playing at home. … Utah 38, Oregon State 35.


Gemmell: The Wildcats still haven’t put it all together. But, once again, their schedule allows for tweaking and growing. Ka'Deem Carey's return was as spectacular as expected, and the defense continues to show signs of improvement. I suspect we’ll learn more about the Wildcats when they open league play on Sept. 28 against Washington. For now, they’ll continue to tweak their way to another win. … Arizona 42, UTSA 21.

Miller: I'm with Kevin. I'm ready to see Arizona get tested. The Wildcats' big goal in this game is fleshing out a passing attack that has been poor to middling in the first two games. … Arizona 48, UTSA 17.


Gemmell: A whole week for Cody Kessler to take the first-team snaps might do wonders. But, for now, if the Trojans do win, it will continue to be on the coattails of the defense, which has been outstanding, and that’s getting lost in all of this quarterback mess. … USC 31, Boston College 17.

Miller: Forget Lane Kiffin for a moment. What about the players? Do they have pride? Or are they ready to wave a white flag on their season and their head coach? I think we'll see USC bounce back, but I'm far from certain of it. … USC 24, Boston College 17.


Gemmell: The worst thing in the world would be an emotional letdown. Don’t see it happening. The offense gets back on track this week and the defense continues to improve in Year 2 under Mike Breske. The Air Raid should be in full effect this week. … Washington State 48, Southern Utah 10.

Miller: Washington State is going to win this game, but the Cougars need to get their offense back in sync. That means enough running game to keep a defense honest and more than 300 passing yards. We'll see both on Saturday. … Washington State 51, Southern Utah 13.


Gemmell: By far the toughest game to pick this week. It all comes down to which defense can better contain the other’s quarterback. I think the bye week was a good thing for the Bruins, though this week will certainly be emotionally trying with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale. They have on film what they did right and wrong versus a mobile quarterback from the Nevada game. I think they put that film to good use. …UCLA 36, Nebraska 31.

Miller: Both teams have good offenses, but I think the UCLA defense is better. Further, I like Brett Hundley to take control in the fourth quarter and Anthony Barr to make some game-changing plays against Taylor Martinez. … UCLA 40, Nebraska 31.


Gemmell: This is the next big test for the Huskies: Can they be as productive on the road? They come off the bye week healthy and rested, and the return of Austin Seferian-Jenkins gives Keith Price another outstanding weapon. Looking for the Huskies to take a big step forward. … Washington 35, Illinois 24.

Miller: If the Huskies play like they did against Boise State, they will roll. I expect them to. I also expect Seferian-Jenkins to have a big game, both catching the ball and blocking for Bishop Sankey against a middling defense. … Washington 41, Illinois 20.

The Pac-12 will establish its national identity on Saturday. Simple as that.

Every Pac-12 team plays. No byes this week, my friends. There's one conference game, Oregon State at Utah, that is critical to both teams. Eight of the nonconference foes are unbeaten at 2-0. Six of those teams are from AQ conferences, including four matchups with the Big Ten. Three are against ranked teams. Fresno State, which is visiting Colorado, is the equivalent of 28th in the AP poll. Three Pac-12 teams are underdogs.

Three teams are traveling across multiple times zones. Six teams will be televised on either ABC, ESPN, Fox or Fox Sports 1.

It's a big weekend, folks. It's "measuring stick"weekend.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesJim Mora Jr. leads the Bruins into Lincoln, Neb., in a big game for the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.
Sure, Stanford (Army), Washington State (Southern Utah) and Arizona (UTSA) aren't playing marquee matchups. But nine other Pac-12 teams can make a resonating, national statements about the trajectory of their seasons if they win on Saturday.

The underdogs are Colorado, California, which plays host to No. 4 Ohio State, and UCLA, which visits No. 23 Nebraska.

Colorado is looking to redeem itself for a white-flag performance at Fresno in 2012, a humiliating 69-14 defeat that wasn't even as close as the final score indicates, seeing that it was 35-0 after one quarter. If the Buffs pull the upset, it would establish the Pac-12 as a patsy-less conference with no easy outs.

Cal nearly won at Ohio State a year ago, more than physically matching the Buckeyes, who would go undefeated. That game, in fact, is probably why there's a lot of skepticism -- cough, cough -- about how good the Buckeyes actually are. The good news is Cal is at home. The bad news is the Bears nearly lost there a week ago to Portland State, an FCS team.

Perhaps the most meaningful game for the conference is the Bruins-Cornhuskers matchup, mostly because both teams are ranked. Last year, UCLA prevailed as an underdog, 36-30, in Week 2, and that victory immediately gave the Bruins and new coach Jim Mora national legitimacy and presaged a turnaround season in Westwood. The Bruins also are dealing with the shocking death of receiver Nick Pasquale, who was hit by a car over the weekend.

A victory by the 16th-ranked Bruins could push them close to the nation's top 10 and set them up for a 5-0 start before getting the most arduous road double in the country this fall: at Stanford, at Oregon on back-to-back weekends starting Oct. 19.

UCLA's South Division rival, unranked Arizona State, is favored by 5 points over No. 20 Wisconsin, which is interesting. While many still seem to question second-year coach Todd Graham's crew, Vegas apparently does not. But lines only mean so much. The one thing missing from the Sun Devils strong 2012 campaign was a victory over an A-list foe. The burly Badgers are an A-list foe.

Speaking of favorites, Oregon is giving 27 points to an SEC team, Tennessee. That's a pretty substantial sign of respect. But, of course, it also establishes an expectation. If the Ducks win, say, 28-17, there will be more than a few smirks in SEC country and among some media folks who fawn on the conference. Style, which Oregon typically has in abundance, matters in this one.

Washington has struggled on the road of late, going 3-10 away from Seattle the past two seasons. Further, Illinois (2-0) might be better than expected; so it's not about style points for the Huskies. It's just about winning and maintaining the positive momentum the program ignited with the opening win over Boise State. Of course, an impressive victory could push the Huskies into the nation's top 15.

USC could use some style -- any at all on offense. The visit from Boston College looked like a walk-over for the Trojans in the preseason, but now it feels like a must-win for coach Lane Kiffin. It's difficult to imagine USC's season turning around after a 1-2 start, which could doom Kiffin.

Then there's Oregon State's visit to Utah. In the preseason, the Beavers looked like a decided favorite for this one, but then they lost their opener to Eastern Washington. Meanwhile, the Utes have surged, getting surprisingly good play from true sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson. An Oregon State win likely would restore confidence and make the Eastern Washington loss look more flukish. A Utah victory would make the Utes look like a bowl team and inspire an edit of preseason expectations.

Finally, there's the three teams playing lesser foes. We have three words for each of you: Don't blow it.

If the Pac-12 wins eight of these 10 nonconference games, it would substantially boost the major preseason storyline for the conference: The Pac-12 is as deep in quality as it has been in years and is in the running for the mythical title of nation's best conference.

But if it wins just five or six games, the measuring stick would be broken in half. The perception of the conference would sink, and there would be little chance to salvage it. At least until the bowl season.

Quick look at Week 3 Pac-12 games

September, 9, 2013
Here's a quick look at Week 3 in the conference. All games are on Saturday and times are ET.

No. 16 UCLA (1-0) at No. 23 Nebraska (2-0), noon, ABC: Series tied at 6-6. UCLA won 36-30 last year in the Rose Bowl. With 4,014 career passing yards, sophomore QB Brett Hundley needs 74 yards to move into UCLA’s top-10 list, passing former Bruin and 1967 Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban (4,087 yards). In the season-opener, Hundley connected with 10 different receivers. In last year’s win over Nebraska, the Bruins had 653 yards in total offense (344 rush/309 pass).

No. 5 Stanford (1-0) at Army (1-1), noon, CBS Sports Network: Series is tied 5-5. Army won the last meeting 17-13 in 1979. Stanford senior FS Ed Reynolds had a game-high 12 tackles (9 solo) to go with an interception in Stanford’s 34-13 victory over San Jose State. His interception extended Stanford’s streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 25, the longest streak in the nation. Stanford’s current streak of being in the top five of the AP poll for three consecutive ranking periods is one week shy of the school’s best of four weeks achieved during the 1940 season.

Fresno State (2-0) at Colorado (2-0), 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Colorado leads the series 4-2, but Fresno State stomped the Buffaloes, 69-14, last year. In that game, Colorado was outgained 665 yards to 278. The Bulldogs rolled up 288 yards rushing. It was 35-0 after the first quarter, and it was 55-7 at the half. So, yeah, the Buffs should be motivated. Junior WR Paul Richardson grabbed 10 receptions for 208 yards in the season opener, then tallied 11 receptions for 209 yards in the win over Central Arkansas. It’s the first time in Pac-12 history that a receiver has posted back-to-back games of 200 or more yards receiving. The Buffs are looking to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008.

Boston College (2-0) at USC (1-1), 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network: USC leads the series 3-0. The Trojans last beat BC 24-13 in the 2009 Emerald Bowl. The Washington State pass defense held USC to 54 yards on 11 completions (4.9 ypc), while limiting All-American Marqise Lee to 27 yards on seven catches. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin named Cody Kessler the starting QB on Monday. The Trojan defense is playing well. It held Washington State to 7 yards rushing and now leads the nation in rushing defense (allowing 15.0 ypg) as well as sacks with 11 (5.5 per game)

Tennessee (2-0) at No. 2 Oregon (2-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN: Oregon leads the series 1-0. It won 48-13 at Tennessee in 2010. In that game, the Ducks trailed 13-3 before scoring the final 45 points. Through two games, the Ducks have posted five 100-yard rushing performances -- two by De'Anthony Thomas, two by Marcus Mariota and one by Byron Marshall. Mariota is the first Oregon QB to rush for 100 or more yards in back-to-back games. Eight of Oregon’s nine scoring drives last week against Virginia were accomplished in under two minutes. That’s 17 of 19 scoring drives this season in less than two minutes (the other two drives were 2:11 and 3:08).

No. 19 Washington (1-0) at Illinois (2-0), 6 p.m., Big Ten Network: Washington leads the series 5-4. The Huskies won the last meeting 52-14 in Champaign. Illinois beat Washington in the 1964 Rose Bowl. The Huskies have now appeared in back-to-back AP polls for the first time since the 2003 season. Senior QB Keith Price has 56 TD passes in his career, most in school history, and ranks 25th all-time in the Pac-12. Junior RB Bishop Sankey has rushed for 100 or more yards in five of the last six games. He’s gained 368 yards over his last two games.

Southern Utah (2-0) at Washington State (1-1), 6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting between the two programs. With its 10-7 win over Southern Cal, Washington State snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans. It was the Cougars' first win in The Coliseum since 2000. WSU leads the Pac-12, and is sixth in the FBS, allowing just 72.8 passing yards per game.

No. 4 Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1), 7 p.m., Fox: Ohio State leads the series 6-1, including a 35-28 win last year in Columbus. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff has thrown for 930 yards in two games. His two-game total is just eight yards shy of the Pac-12 record two-game total of 938 yards set by former Cal Bear Pat Barnes in 1996. Barnes posted 435 yards vs. UCLA, then followed with a school-record 503 yards vs. Arizona. The last time Cal hosted a nonconference foe ranked among the top five was No. 4 Nebraska in 1998 (lost, 24-3).

Oregon State (1-1, 0-0) at Utah (2-0, 0-0), 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Oregon State leads the series 9-6-1, including a 21-7 win in Corvallis last year. Oregon State's junior QB Sean Mannion threw for 372 yards and four TDs in the win over Hawaii. It was fifth time he’s thrown for 350 or more yards in a game, while it was the sixth time he’s tossed three or more TD passes in a game. The Utes set a school mark for points in a quarter with 35 in the second of the 70-7 win over Weber State. This is the second time in school history Utah has amassed 100 points in the first two games (1973; 29-22 loss at Texas Tech, 82-6 win vs. UTEP). Sophomore QB Travis Wilson has connected on 31-of-47 for 566 yards and 5 TDs this season. His 202.2 passing efficiency rating ranks eighth in the FBS and second in the Pac-12.

UTSA (1-1) at Arizona (2-0), 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting. After serving a one-game suspension and missing the first quarter, junior RB Ka'Deem Carey rushed 171 rushing yards on 16 carries (10.7 ypc) and 2 TDs, including a 56-yard TD run on his first carry of the season. Carey has 31 rushing TDs, second on the school’s career list. (UA record is 44 by Art Lupino, 1953-56). Junior S Tra'Mayne Bondurant added his FBS-leading third interception of the season with a pick he returned 52 yards for a TD, his second return this season for a score.

No. 20 Wisconsin (2-0) at Arizona State (1-0), 10:30 p.m., ESPN: Arizona State leads 2-1, but the Badgers won a 20-19 thriller in 2010. Arizona State is 8-0 vs. the Big Ten at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils committed just one penalty for 5 yards in their season-opening win over Sacramento State. ASU led the Pac-12 last season with just 55 penalties (4.2 per game) for 454 yards (34.9 ypg). Junior QB Taylor Kelly completed 23 of 31 passes for 300 yards and a career high-tying five TDs in the blowout win over Sacramento State. He has a streak of 102 straight pass attempts without an interception dating back to last year, which currently stands fourth nationally. His touchdown passes of 16, 41, 24, 33 and 26 yards, all went to five different receivers. Dating back to the final three games of the 2013 season, Kelly has gone 76-of-102 (.745) with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions on 1,005 yards.

Oregon season preview

August, 15, 2013
We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Oregon Ducks.


Coach: Mark Helfrich (first year)

2012 record: 12-1 (8-1 Pac-12 North)

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsWith a year of experience, the Ducks' offense could see more passing from Marcus Mariota.
Key losses: RB Kenjon Barner, OLB Dion Jordan; LB Kiko Alonso, LB Michael Clay

Key returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, C Hroniss Grasu, TE Colt Lyerla, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, DE Taylor Hart

Newcomer to watch: It's a good bet that freshman Matt Wogan will be Oregon's kicker this year. Wonder what might have happened if the Ducks had made field goals against USC in 2011 and Stanford in 2012?

Biggest games in 2013: The game of the year, as it has been of late in the Pac-12, is the Oregon-Stanford showdown. This year it's a Thursday night affair at Stanford on Nov. 7. The visit to remodeled Husky Stadium on Oct. 12 also is noteworthy as the Ducks don't want to stop dominating Washington. And, of course, with Oregon State back in the national picture, the season-ending Civil War with the Beavers should be meaningful. As far as nonconference games, the Ducks need to be impressive against Tennessee in Week 3 to keep SEC critics at bay.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: There aren't many, but linebacker is a big one. It's not that there aren't potentially good players ready to step in, but replacing a troika like Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay isn't easy. The inside spots, in particular, seem to be up in the air thus far during preseason camp. Oh, by the way, it's also worth noting that Mr. Win the Day, Chip Kelly, is now coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, so first-time head coach Mark Helfrich is a question until he proves otherwise.

Forecast: Oregon is again loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and poised for a Pac-12 and national title run.

That starts on offense with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was brilliant as a redshirt freshman starter in 2012, ranking seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He's a top Heisman Trophy candidate, as is his best weapon, running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas.

All of the Ducks' top pass-catchers are back, so you might see the ball in the air more this season. Mariota has a live and accurate arm, and he's got a good pair of tackles protecting his flanks. Expect tight end Colt Lyerla to have a bigger role this fall. Both guard spots will feature new starters. Center Hroniss Grasu was first-team All-Pac-12 a year ago and is an All-American candidate.

While linebacker is a question, the defensive line and secondary are not. It's not just about the starters either. It's about outstanding depth. The Ducks' twos would start a lot of places. The line welcomes back just about the entire 2012 two-deep, a group that played well in 2012, despite numerous injuries. Expect true sophomores DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead to make significant jumps in production. The secondary? That crew, led by All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, might be the best unit in the nation.

The schedule is favorable. A visit to Virginia and home match with Tennessee give the Ducks a chance to make statements against what should be overmatched foes from other AQ conferences. There are seven home games and well-positioned bye weekends on Sept. 21 and Nov. 2, which is the weekend before the visit to Stanford.

The Ducks have finished ranked in the top five for three consecutive seasons. Their reasonable goal this fall is the spot at the very top.




Mailbag: Measuring-stick games

July, 19, 2013
Greetings. It's Friday and this is the mailbag.

No... stop. Oh, you guys are great. Well, thank you for applauding.

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To ... the ... NOTES!

Costi from Phoenix writes: Ted, I'm pretty sure you're the only sports writer I've heard talk about the fact that Arizona could be sneaky good because of their weak non-conference. However since the first three games will probably be wins for the Wildcats, which subsequent game is likely to be the "measuring-stick" for how good Arizona really is? My initial thought is Washington because they might be most comparable; but then isn't USC the Pac-12's measuring stick most season? Or should I dash any hopes of the cats competing with those teams and use Utah as a measuring stick for whether or not we're any good?Also on a related note I eagerly await your best case/worst case series. When should I start looking for that?

Ted Miller: Paging Chip Kelly! Costi, don't you know "Every game is a Super Bowl?"

But I know what you are saying: At what point will Arizona be revealed as what it is?

I'd say Washington. A road win in renovated Husky Stadium would give the Wildcats a 4-0 start and tons of confidence as they head into a bye before visiting USC, a game that could announce them as South Division contenders.

On the other hand, you could go more general: If Arizona splits its road games with Washington and USC, it will position itself for a successful season.

Of course, no season is made by one win. Many teams have recorded a seeming "measuring-stick" win, only to crash and burn with an upset defeat the following week. And then the whole season might go to hell.

I do like your thinking here, though. So what about the other 11 Pac-12 teams? What's their measuring-stick game? (Note: Not most important game).
  • Arizona State: USC on Sept. 28. Amid the Sun Devils' brutal start, this game is critical for South Division positioning.
  • California: Northwestern on Aug. 31. Nothing beats a good first impression, Sonny Dykes.
  • Colorado: Colorado State on Aug. 31. That first impression might matter even more for Mike MacIntyre, considering the Rams bested the Buffs last year.
  • Oregon: Tennessee on Sept. 14. Whipping an SEC team would look good. Style points matter in this one.
  • Oregon State: Stanford on Oct. 26. The Cardinal comes to Corvallis: Are the Beavers going to challenge for the North title?
  • Stanford: Arizona State on Sept. 21. First quality foe. Can make a national statement with impressive showing.
  • UCLA: At Nebraska on Sept. 14. Could the Bruins sweep the home-and-home? If so, could be 5-0 heading to Stanford on Oct. 19.
  • USC: At Arizona State on Sept. 28. A 5-0 start and marquee division win would silence the Lane Kiffin critics.
  • Utah: Oregon State on Sept. 14. Take down the nationally-ranked Beavers at home and earn Pac-12 respect.
  • Washington: Boise State on Aug. 31. Need to open renovated Husky Stadium with an A-list win.
  • Washington State: At California Oct. 5. This is the game where the Cougars could push themselves out of the North basement.

Dan from Denver writes: Hey Ted, You list Stanford under "we'll see" in your preview of PAC-12 tight ends. TE has been a key position of strength for the Cardinal during their recent run of success. Supposing they suffer a significant drop in TE production, can they hope to have another BCS Bowl season? Would other positions pick up the slack?

Ted Miller: Yes to your first question. I think Stanford is a legitimate national title contender.

To your second, I think a maturing Kevin Hogan and an improved corps of receivers will create a more balanced passing game that will support what, I suspect, will be another strong rushing attack, even with the departure of Stepfan Taylor.

That potentially dominant offensive line will help either way.

Further, Stanford's tight end play probably will be at least solid. Luke Kaumatule and Davis Dudchock are not chopped liver, even if they've not yet contributed. And, for obvious reasons, Stanford has recruited the position well.

Sundevil2112 from Chicago writes: The ASU page still has Garrett Marino listed as a verbal commit for 2013 and rivals doesn't even have him listed as a part of the recruiting class. Is he still coming to the program or has something happened (ineligibility, change of heart, etc.)?Thanks!

Ted Miller: The general plan seems to be that Marino, a defensive end from Mission Viejo, Calif., will grayshirt -- report after the 2013 season -- but the details haven't been completely ironed out, according to an athletic department spokesperson.

Nick from Woods Cross, Utah writes: Ted,As a recent graduate from The University of Utah (Thanks to the PAC-12 for letting me say I graduated from a prestigious PAC-12 school), I find myself constantly updating ESPN and the PAC-12 blog during work. Even now as I write this, I am currently finding any article or update I can about PAC-12 teams. Am I suffering from some sort of school withdrawal? Is the real world hitting and I am resisting? Would it be wrong for me to dress up as Luigi in The MUSS for football games? Thanks for the help and guidance!

Ted Miller: Nick, you are not only acting like a responsible adult, you are clearing a path for greatness and riches.

The most dedicated Pac-12 blog readers know what I'm talking about. Here are some testimonials.
  • "Hey, I didn't know I had a rich uncle in Topeka who just left me $3.2 million! Thanks Pac-12 blog!"
  • "Blackjack? Again? This is toooo easy! Thanks Pac-12 blog!"
  • "You're from Pappy Van Winkle? Lifetime supply? Sure. That will make the tailgate even better! Thanks Pac-12 blog!"
  • "And so, in conclusion, this pill that I invented in my basement while watching a replay of last year's Stanford-Oregon game allows you to eat as much as you want and never get fat. [Aside: Thanks Pac-12 blog!]"

And Luigi sounds like a perfectly reasonable costume for games this fall.
UCLA receiver Shaquelle Evans and a couple of teammates enjoyed watching his fellow Bruins win the NCAA baseball national title over Mississippi State this week.

"It's always good seeing your school do something great," he said. "We watched them dominate. They basically made Mississippi State submit. That's how we teach football -- to make our opponents submit."

The Pac-12 blog will submit that life is pretty darn good these days in sunny Westwood. Not only did the school win its 109th national title -- first in baseball -- it also is cuddling up every night with the Victory Bell after beating arch-rival USC 38-28 last fall, ending a five-game losing streak in the series.

[+] EnlargeShaquelle Evans and Josh Evans
Richard Mackson/US PresswireAfter running past USC last season, Shaq Evans and the Bruins are looking to maintain their momentum.
The Bruins, who went on to win the Pac-12's South Division, are again relevant in football. Toss in a pair of strong recruiting classes under second-year coach Jim Mora, not to mention an epically disappointing season across town at Heritage Hall, and it's not difficult to see why there's plenty of optimism around the program.

That starts with the win over USC, particularly when you consider where the programs stood at the end of 2011. USC beat the Bruins 50-0 and finished 10-2. Just about everyone projected the Trojans as 2012 national title contenders. Meanwhile, the Bruins were mocked for playing in a bowl game with a losing record and a fired coach. The hiring of Mora was not immediately embraced by a skeptical fan base who were dreaming of Kevin Sumlin.

Beating the Trojans -- the telling image being linebacker Anthony Barr's monstrous fourth-quarter sack of Matt Barkley -- transformed an enduring dynamic, with the Trojans strutting and the Bruins simmering with jealousy.

"It means the world," Evans said. "After 50-0, man, I didn't know if I wanted to be here any more. But after beating them, it was a great feeling. We knew if we beat them, the floodgates open for this program. You could tell with recruiting, people leaving them to come to us. It changes our program around. And it's going to keep going forward."

Still, the Bruins have flashed potential before, only to stumble back into an inconsistent pattern.

Former coach Rick Neuheisel notched a 27-24 upset over Tennessee in 2008, his first game as the Bruins coach. They lost their next game 59-zip at BYU. A 3-0 start in 2009 yielded to a five-game losing streak. The Bruins posted a physically dominant blowout win at Texas in 2010 but lost two weeks later 35-7 to a California team that would finish 5-7, the first of three consecutive losses.

Up and down. Up and down. Which always ends up, at season's end, feeling mostly down because it invites, "What could have been?" navel gazing.

Evans, a fifth-year senior, is well-aware of this. Even last year, there were some bafflingly disappointing performances -- a 43-17 loss at Cal and the faceplant against Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

"The buzz around campus is good but we are not satisfied with what we did last year," he said. "9-5 is obviously an upgrade from 6-8, but we felt like we should have gone 12-2. This year, we're trying to go 14-0."

Evans will be a key piece if the Bruins are going to approach such high aspirations. He quietly posted a strong season last year, catching 60 passes for 877 yards with a stout 14.6 yards per catch. But in a conference laden with so much talent at receiver, that only ranked 11th (62.6 yards per game).

Further, Evans knows exactly where he fell short statistically, "Touchdowns!" he said before the question was finished.

Evans caught just three, in large part because tight end Joseph Fauria was the go-to guy in the red zone.

"I understood last year that if you've got a guy who is 6-foot-8 and you're in the red zone, he's going to be your primary target," Evans said.

Evans knows this is the year -- his final year before the NFL draft -- in which he needs to show his stuff. And with the departure of Fauria and running back Johnathan Franklin, as well as the expected maturation of quarterback Brett Hundley, Evans should be in position to become a 1,000-yard receiver.

And that likely would include more opportunities to peacock in the end zone (within the parameters of NCAA no-fun rules, of course).

For both Hundley and Evans, that's about refining their respective games. Evans mentions blocking and route running for himself, and accuracy, decision-making and command of the offense for Hundley.

After all, it's an obsessive focus and daily attention to details that will prevent the program from being inconsistent.

"I really believe we are past that," Evans said.

The test of that will be who ends up atop the South Division at season's end. And who owns the Victory Bell.
We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Remember all that sanction talk back in June? Sooooo two-and-a-half months ago. Welcome to Week 3.

Saturday, Sept. 14
  • Stanford at Army
  • Fresno State at Colorado
  • Tennessee at Oregon
  • Ohio State at California
  • Wisconsin at Arizona State
  • Oregon State at Utah
  • UTSA at Arizona
  • Boston College at USC
  • Southern Utah at Washington State
  • UCLA at Nebraska
  • Washington vs. Illinois (at Soldier Field)
My choice: UCLA at Nebraska

Why: This is a week where allegiances are truly divided -- because Week 3 provides a really good slate of games. There will be griping. Feelings will be hurt. Such is the cruel mistress that is the Pac-12 Blog Ultimate Road Trip.

We have a league game with Oregon State traveling to Rice-Eccles. We've got potentially the No. 1 team in the country in Ohio State coming into Berkeley. We've got an SEC team coming to Autzen and three other Pac-12/Big Ten games. Plus -- and Stanford should have smooth sailing at Army -- I always enjoy watching the service academies play. If you've never been to a game at West Point and stood in silence when they play the alma mater, it should be on your bucket list. But not this year. Not this week. Too many other good games.

This week we go beyond the borders of the Pac-12 states. In a rematch of one of the more exciting games of last season, the Bruins return the trip to Nebraska after topping the then-No. 16 Huskers 36-30 last year in Week 2 at the Rose Bowl.

More than Brett Hundley's coming-out party against tougher competition (and his home debut, where he threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns), it was UCLA sending a message that things were going to change in the Jim Mora era. The Bruins made big plays on offense when they had to and made the stops -- especially in the second half -- when needed. Datone Jones was beastly.

After a 24-24 tie at intermission, the Bruins held Taylor Martinez to 11 rushing yards following a first half in which he ran for 101. UCLA limited Nebraska to 76 rushing yards in the second half after allowing 184 in the first.

This year's matchup could prove to be equally exciting. It features a much more seasoned Hundley clashing with Martinez -- so quarterback productivity will certainly be an interesting sidebar in this rematch. Both teams return experienced lines and key players on defense.

Assuming the Bruins show up and aren't overwhelmed by the environment, this should be the week's most exciting game.

However, if you want to make a case for Arizona State-Wisconsin (a game I think ASU wins -- especially at home), it would be tough to argue. If you want to make a case for road-tripping to Chicago -- a heck of a city -- I wouldn't complain. If you want to argue for watching Oregon blow up a bottom-tier SEC team and all the schadenfreude that comes with that ... by all means. Those who want to see Cal-Ohio State (though the Bears will probably be fairly heavy home dogs), I could see that. Even Oregon State-Utah, a league game that was probably closer than last year's 21-7 would indicate, is of interest.

This week, you can follow our road trip, or simply follow your gut, because there aren't many bad choices.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.


Nicholls State University, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Charlie Stubbs (6-27), fourth year
  • 2012 record: 1-10, 0-7 Southland
  • Returning starters: nine offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Marcus Washington, an all-league honorable mention pick last year, led the team in rushing with 598 yards and rushed for six touchdowns. He averaged 76.5 all-purpose yards per game last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Chris Bermond finished second on the team last year with 64 tackles (36 solo) and posted two tackles for a loss with a pair of pass breakups.
  • The skinny: Assuming there are no acts of God, we'll see NSU in the season opener this year. It has a lot of players returning, but anyone who saw it against Oregon State last year saw the talent differential between the Southland squad and an upper-tier Pac-12 team. And we're going to go out on a limb and call Oregon upper tier.
at Virginia, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Mike London (16-21), fourth year
  • 2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 ACC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Tailback Kevin Parks returns after leading Virginia with 734 rushing yards and five touchdowns last year. He also caught 24 balls for 189 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Jake Snyder was tops among the team's defensive linemen with 44 stops last year and second with 2.5 sacks.
  • The skinny: Virginia is looking for a new quarterback after the departure of both Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims. It also lost leading tackler Steve Greer (122 tackles), so there are some holes to fill on both sides of the ball. The Cavaliers have been up and down in London's tenure, going 4-8 in Year 1, 8-5 in Year 2 and then 4-8 last year.
Tennessee, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Butch Jones, first year
  • 2012 record: 5-7, 1-7 SEC
  • Returning starters: five offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: The Volunteers lost a lot on offense from last year, but running back Rajion Neal returns as the rushing leader after posting 708 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker A.J. Johnson, who was second-team All-SEC last season, returns after posting 138 stops last year -- tops on the team -- to go with 8.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
  • The skinny: A lot of UT's all-league offensive players from last year are gone, including tight end Mychal Rivera and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Also gone is quarterback Tyler Bray. That said, the Vols do have a fairly experienced offensive line, headlined by tackle Antonio Richardson. This is Tennessee's return trip from the 2010 matchup, which Oregon won 48-13.
Thoughts: Over/under on the amount of minutes Marcus Mariota will play in all three games? Ninety minutes? No real threats here and Oregon's starters should be well rested heading into conference play on Sept. 28 when they host Cal. Nicholls State University has been an under-performing FCS squad, Virginia is rebuilding with new offensive and defensive coordinators and Tennessee is starting anew with Jones (once thought to be the next head coach at Colorado). This provides a nice cushion for the Ducks as they transition to game day under new head coach Mark Helfrich. Anything less than a 3-0 start is almost unimaginable.

You can see the rest of the series here.

Returning offensive line starts

June, 11, 2013
If experience at the line of scrimmage matters to an offense -- and who doesn't think that? -- then Oregon State, USC, Stanford and Washington fans should be excited, while California and Utah fans should be worried.

Phil Steele has calculated returning offensive line starts for every FBS team, and six Pac-12 teams rank in the top 50.

Oregon State leads the way with players with a combined 90 starts back on its line.

The Beavers' 2012 Alamo Bowl opponent Texas, which didn't make that Oregon State line look terribly good, at least in terms of pass blocking, is No. 1 with 124 returning starts.

Oregon nonconference foe Tennessee is No. 2 with 123.

Cal and Utah rank 117th in the nation with just 28 returning starts.

Of course, starts don't win push guys over -- talent and skill does. Oregon ranks only 77th with only 55 starts coming back, but its three returning starters -- tackles Tyler Johnstone and Jake Fischer and center Hroniss Grasu -- are outstanding.

While quarterback competitions are typically front-and-center during Pac-12 spring practices, there are always other interesting spring storylines.

Here are two.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Harry How/Getty ImagesUSC coach Lane Kiffin enters the spring with several new assistants, a new defensive scheme, and uncertainty at quarterback.
Ted Miller: It was a horrible, no-good, rotten, very bad 2012 season for USC coach Lane Kiffin. And the 2012-13 offseason has been no picnic either. Some Trojans fans wanted Kiffin fired. Just about all were frustrated. Justifiably so, by the way.

Lane: Welcome to spring, the season for rebirth! Time to turn the page. Or, perhaps, pick up an entirely new book.

At the very least, the situation at USC is interesting. One of the nation's premier programs is front-and-center for many of the wrong reasons, but there is enough talent on hand for Kiffin to turn things around and shut up his critics.

Interesting plot lines? Kiffin will be breaking in four new assistant coaches, including a pair of new coordinators, his defense will be transitioning from a 4-3 base to a 3-4, and he's looking for a new quarterback for the first time in his tenure.

There's a lot going on. Lots of questions. Lots of doubt, too. Yet negative momentum isn't irreversible.

What if the Trojans have an exceptional spring?

What if Clancy Pendergast shakes things up and, suddenly, the defensive guys are playing hard and fast in a sound scheme they understand? And what if the offense, nonetheless, makes plenty of plays because the quarterbacks are sharp and the line is manning up? What if the fitness level of the Trojans improves? What if offensive tackle Aundrey Walker breaks through, realizing his future NFL contract will be based on performance, not measurables? What if Devon Kennard proves a perfect fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, as we believe he is? What if guys like Marqise Lee, Hayes Pullard, Silas Redd, Dion Bailey and Kevin Graf step up as leaders? What if receivers George Farmer and Victor Blackwell decide they don't want to be left in the dust behind Lee and Nelson Agholor? What if running back Tre Madden says, "Hey, remember me?"

What if Kiffin simultaneously refocuses and relaxes? What if he uses his capable brain to be smart, not a smart aleck, to be creative, not sneaky? What if he realizes the media is not an enemy, but just a bunch of folks trying to do their job whom he should humor with vague though sometimes amusing answers?

There are a lot of "What ifs?" with USC and Kiffin. It's not difficult, by the way, to talk yourself into believing a bounce-back is entirely possible.

That's what is interesting. Kiffin 2.0 was 2010 and 2011, when he seemed to find his rhythm as a coach after controversial stints with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers. Kiffin 3.0, was 2012, a complete face-plant.

This spring presents us with Kiffin 4.0. It could prove to be the most important transition of his career as a head coach.

And that is interesting.

Kevin Gemmell: Besides quarterback battles -- which I think are always the most exciting position battles there are -- I'm most curious to see how the running back battle is going to play out at Stanford.

When you look at a Stanford squad that is very heavy on upperclassmen -- on both sides of the ball -- you have to wonder if all of the pieces are in place for Stanford to make a legitimate run at the national championship.

I wasn't sure before, but with the addition of Tyler Gaffney to the running back corps, I'm warming up to the idea that the Cardinal could challenge any team in the country for a BCS championship -- if they can get out of their own conference (or division for that matter) -- which anyone will tell you is no easy task.

It's no surprise that Stanford's primary offensive weapon is the quarterback. Not because of what he does with his arm -- but because of what he does when he goes under center -- checking out of bad plays and putting the offense in the best possible play against the defense shown. This allows running backs to flourish. Andrew Luck was phenomenal at it. Kevin Hogan should get better.

So, when Hogan turns to handoff on power right or power left, who is going to be the primary ball carrier? Anthony Wilkerson has shown bursts and outstanding top-end speed. But injuries have slowed him, and playing behind Stepfan Taylor the past few years didn't allow him to really break out following his strong true freshman season. Gaffney is a rock and hard to bring down. He's the kind of guy who could carry the ball 10 times for 4.5 yards a pop.

Barry Sanders is an interesting X-factor. He obviously was a high-profile recruit because of his name -- but beyond that, he's supposedly a pretty darn good back. Maybe he ends up winning the job and can be a 15-carry type of guy.

Then you have Ricky Seale, a shifty runner with great vision who has been trapped at the bottom of the depth chart, but continues to receive praise from David Shaw. Remound Wright and hybrid Kelsey Young are also in the mix.

Whoever is Shaw's go-to back, he'll have the benefit of running behind an outstanding offensive line that is only going to get better with David Yankey -- an All-American and last year's Morris Trophy winner -- moving back to his natural position at guard. And Shaw has said he plans to keep Ryan Hewitt at fullback -- giving the running backs a cadre of blockers that rivals any other in the country.

By season's end, this could be your national championship team. The question is, which back will carry it there?

Arizona State loses two top recruits

February, 6, 2013
Arizona State lost a quarterback to Tennessee and a receiver to Nebraska on signing day.

The big hit was ESPN 300 QB Joshua Dobbs, who signed with Tennessee. The highly rated dual-threat player passed for 3,625 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushed for 419 yards and 10 touchdowns at Alpharetta (Ga.) High School.

Unless the Sun Devils uncover a quarterback after signing day, they will have not signed QB in two years. Dobbs seemed like an ideal fit for the Sun Devils up-tempo offense.

The other loss was four-star athlete Tre'vell Dixon (Baldwin, La./West St. Mary). Just this week he had flipped from Nebraska to Arizona State, but he ultimately gave the Cornhuskers his signature.

Lunch links: Beavers' QB battle continues

December, 12, 2012
The Grinch hated Christmas -- the whole Christmas season. Now, please don't ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn't screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all ... may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

Colorado taps Mike MacIntyre

December, 10, 2012

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 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.