Pac-12: Terrelle Pryor

Hope springs in the Pac-12

May, 22, 2013
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The 2013 season will be the final year of the BCS era.

And there was much rejoicing!

So, what have been the Pac-12 highs and lows of this often confounding system? Thanks for asking!

Best

1. USC drubs Oklahoma for the 2004 national title: The 55-19 victory over unbeaten Oklahoma was the most dominant display of the BCS era. It was also the pinnacle of the Trojans' dynasty under Pete Carroll. It's worth noting that future Pac-12 member Utah also whipped Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to finish unbeaten that same year.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesReggie Bush and USC ran away with the 2004 national title.
2. USC wins "real" national title: In 2003, USC was No. 1 in the AP and Coaches polls at season's end. If you had eyes and knew anything about football, it was clear the Trojans were the nation's most-talented team on both sides of the football, a notion that was reinforced the following season. Two teams picked by computers played in New Orleans -- most folks outside of Louisiana don't even remember who -- and that forced the Trojans to settle for three-fourths of a national title after dominating Michigan 28-14.

3. The year of the Northwest: After the 2000 season, three teams from the Northwest finished ranked in the AP top seven. Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and finished third. Oregon State drubbed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished fourth. Oregon beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl to finish seventh.

4. Oregon gets left out but finishes No. 2: One of the grand faux paus of the BCS era was Nebraska playing Miami for the 2001 national title. Nebraska was coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado, but the computers failed to notice, and the Cornhuskers were euthanized by the Hurricanes before halftime. The Ducks would whip that same Colorado team 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl and finish ranked No. 2.

5. Oregon and Stanford both win: The 2012-13 bowl season wasn't good to the Pac-12, but Oregon pounded Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks finished ranked No. 2 and Stanford was seventh. It was just the second time two Pac-10/12 teams won BCS bowl games in the same season.

Worst

1. Just one BCS national title, lots of frustration: No conference has more legitimate gripes with the BCS system than the Pac-12. Multiple seasons saw the conference have teams skipped over, most notably Oregon in 2001 and USC in 2003 and 2008. And ask California fans about how Texas coach Mack Brown gamed the system in 2004, preventing the Bears from playing in the Rose Bowl.

2. USC's three-peat gets Vince Younged: It's difficult to look at Texas's epic 41-38 win over USC as anything but great college football art -- perhaps the all-time greatest game -- but Trojans fans don't feel that way. The loss prevented USC from claiming three consecutive national titles and, of course, a second BCS crown for the Pac-10/12.

3. Oregon falls short versus Auburn: Oregon looked like a great team and Auburn a team with two great players before the BCS title game after the 2010 season. The Ducks chose a bad time to play one of their worst games of the season, but they still nearly prevailed before being undone by a dramatic game-winning drive from the Tigers.

4. Make a field goal, Stanford: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a certain game-winner from 35 yards on the last play of regulation, in the Cardinal's 41-38 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2011 season. Williamson also missed from 43 yards in overtime, which set the Cowboys up for the win. Stanford dominated the game, outgaining the Cowboys 590 yards to 412, with a 243-13 edge in rushing.

5. Ducks drop Rose Bowl: Oregon fell flat in Chip Kelly's first BCS bowl game, with the favored Ducks losing to Ohio State 26-17 in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor had perhaps the best game of his career -- 266 yards passing, 72 rushing -- and the Ducks offense struggled, gaining just 260 yards.

Instant QB impact at Arizona?

January, 29, 2013
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Arizona's biggest question heading into 2013 is at quarterback. Not only are the Wildcats replacing Matt Scott, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was sixth in the nation with 343.8 yards of total offense per game, but the options on hand this spring are decidedly unproven.

There's 2012 backup B.J. Denker, a JC transfer who was a late addition last summer. And there's Jesse Scroggins, another JC transfer who had academic issues at USC after signing in 2010.

Both have some skills. Neither, however, would be considered a sure-thing, particularly when you consider how valuable Scott was in 2012.

It's possible then that coach Rich Rodriguez might consider a third, youthful option, and it turns out that he's received a commitment from a quarterback that Sports Illustrated believes might have an "instant impact": Anu Solomon.

SI ranks Solomon No. 1 among incoming freshmen QBs in terms of potential "instant impact":
Solomon was a four-year starter at Bishop Gorman. Over that span, the Gaels went 57-3 and won four state championships. Solomon passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions throughout his career, and he participated in nationally televised showcases against high school powerhouses from California, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Maryland. He told Rivals.com analyst Dallas Jackson in October, "The coaches have told me that they want me to come in and compete for the starting job."

Arizona fans are rightfully excited about Solomon, who seems like a nice fit for Rodriguez's spread-option offense.

But the Pac-12 blog would like to insert a "Be Careful What You Wish For." The Wildcats might be better off if Solomon ends up redshirting. At the very least, it would be better for Solomon to see spot action rather than take over the starting job.

Why? Well, the history of true freshman QBs is pretty spotty, other than Jamelle Holieway, who won a national championship as a true freshman at Oklahoma in 1985. And, of course, Holieway's best season was his first for the Sooners.

Few true freshmen QBs start from Day 1, and most are forced into action, rather than winning the job outright. Holieway only stepped in due to an injury to Troy Aikman. Same with Peyton Manning at Tennessee. Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and Georgia's Matt Stafford all became the starters when more senior players faltered.

Chad Henne went 9-2 as a true freshman leading Michigan in 2004, but he was surrounded by a lot of talent. We can all agree Robert Griffin III became a spectacular player, but Baylor went 4-7 with him as a true freshman QB.

The best recent example of a true freshman QB in the Pac-12 is USC's Matt Barkley in 2009. He was the first true freshman to start at QB for a top-five team since Michigan's Rick Leach in 1975. That USC team finished 9-4, losing three of its final four regular season games. The Trojans had lost seven games the preceding six seasons. Barkley threw 14 interceptions and 15 TD passes.

We've seen a number of freshmen QBs play really well of late. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, and in the Pac-12 Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley posted outstanding seasons this past fall, with Mariota winning first-team All-Pac-12. And, of course, there's Andrew Luck. He turned out OK.

But they all were redshirt freshmen when they became starters.

It's also notable that a lot of true freshmen QBs, such as Barkley, enroll early and participate in spring practices. That gives them a significant advantage in terms of getting use to the speed and complexity of the college game.

Solomon won't report until fall camp.

Solomon might indeed become a revelation for the Wildcats next fall. He could win the job, play admirably and three years later become an All-American.

But history suggests he won't be immediately ready, and that the best course is patience. It seems like at least a year of seasoning really helps create a tastier quarterback.

Does extra prep time doom Oregon?

December, 28, 2011
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Oregon clearly was in trouble. Its opponent had all summer to prepare for the Ducks gimmicky offense, and we all know what that means. The defense could train its eyes. It could memorize the Ducks' feints and misdirection and personnel groupings. The scheme would become second-nature. Heck, stopping the Ducks' fancypants offense would be easy.

Then Oregon beat New Mexico 72-0 to open the 2010 season, gaining 720 yards.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezOregon's high-powered offense has averaged 17.8 points per game in Chip Kelly's four nonconference losses at the school.
A lot has been made of how teams with extra time to prepare for Oregon's offense seem to gain a significant advantage. And we're going to make something of it, too. But let's first understand something: When you talk about giving a team extra time, it's most likely the "team" part of the formula that is more important than the "extra time."

Oregon has lost six games under Chip Kelly. Only one defeat came against a team that didn't finish ranked in the nation's top five (8-5 Stanford in 2009). Only one came against a team with just one week to prepare (10-2 USC in 2011). But it's the four nonconference losses that are most notable, in large part because the Ducks' offense put up respectable numbers in the two conference defeats.

Those four games include three undefeated teams and 11-2 Ohio State. Auburn beat Oregon for the national title last year. LSU is playing Alabama for the national title on Jan. 9. In 2009, Boise State went 14-0.

So Kelly's explanation for his team's losses reduces each to a fundamental essence that puts the foundational justification for this story at risk.

"The games we lost are because the other team was better than us," he said.

Better on that day would be the way some in the Ducks locker room might phrase it.

Excuses are bad. No one likes to hear a loser making excuses. But let's make them anyway.

  • Boise State 19, Oregon 8: Kelly's head coaching debut was a disaster. The game is best known for Ducks RB LeGarrette Blount's postgame punch. This was the one, truly dominant throttling of Kelly's offense: 152 total yards, including just 31 yards rushing. The Ducks were breaking in four new offensive linemen and it showed. Excuse? Oregon just got whipped in every area, including coaching.
  • Ohio State 26, Oregon 17: This one was most notable for Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor posting the best game of his career, passing for a career-high 266 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 72 yards. On the Ducks side, QB Jeremiah Masoli had his worst game of the season, completing 9-of-20 passes for 81 yards with an interception. And Ducks fans certainly remember the fumbled exchange between Masoli and Blount in the third quarter on second-and-2 on the Buckeyes 18 with Ohio State up 19-17. While much is made of the Ducks always losing the battle up front in these games, the Ducks outrushed Ohio State 179 to 153, averaging 5.4 yards per carry compared to 3.0 for the Buckeyes.
  • Auburn 22, Oregon 19: The Ducks lost on a last-second field goal in the national title game -- there's shame in that? Sure, they didn't score much but they gained 449 yards. In terms of the physical matchup, sure, Oregon couldn't block DT Nick Fairley. The 2010 Lombardi Award winner was pretty good.
  • LSU 40, Oregon 27: The excuse here is the most obvious: What if Oregon didn't lose the turnover battle 4-1, including a fumbled punt that gave LSU a TD? But if you won't entertain the excuses, just look at the facts of the season. How many teams scored 27 points on LSU? That would be none. Next highest totals were 21 and 17 points. The Ducks gained 335 yards. Only West Virginia gained more. Said Kelly, "When it was all said and done, that LSU defense, they are pretty freaking good."

Still, excuses are for losers. If the Ducks' ultimate goal is to rank among the nation's super-elite -- the top five -- it must win these games. It can't average 17.8 points and 95 yards rushing against highly ranked nonconference teams, as it did in these four games.

And if the Ducks go down against Wisconsin on Jan. 2 in the Rose Bowl, they will hear the same sort of chatter. Further, the Badgers believe the extra prep time gives them an advantage against Oregon.

"If you got done with a game on Saturday and you had to get ready for (them), I think it would be a very difficult challenge," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "But the extended prep and the opportunity to kind of slow things down a little bit mentally is going to be great."

Added defensive end Patrick Butrym, "It's such a difficult offense to go against. Honestly, it would be very hard to prepare for them if we only had a week. So I'm glad we have that extra time."

The key for the Ducks is the running game. In all four of the above defeats, the Ducks didn't approach their season average on the ground. That's understandable against good defenses, but the Oregon offense isn't the Oregon offense without an effective rushing attack.

Wisconsin has a good defense -- eighth in the nation in total defense and sixth in scoring -- but it's not as fast as LSU or Auburn and it doesn't have the NFL talent up front Ohio State did. The Badgers rank 46th in the nation against the run, surrendering 138 yards per game.

Kelly also pointed out that the Badgers, despite Big Ten stereotypes, have seen plenty of zone-read running plays and spread passing formations this season. The Ducks' offense won't be completely new.

For Kelly, the formula is simple. He needs to get his speedy playmakers the ball in space. The Ducks need balance. They need to convert on third down. And they need to win battles up front.

Extra prep time spelling doom for Oregon? That's probably part of the equation, but in the end it's just, well, football. Players making plays. Or not.

"It's a quick sound bite," Kelly said of the story that won't die until his team wins a marquee nonconference game.

"The answer is the team that has the best players is going to win the football game."

So are Oregon's players finally better?

Not to be defensive about Oregon, but...

November, 13, 2011
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Dr. Saturday takes a look at Oregon's 53-30 win against Stanford, and makes a great point about how good the Ducks' defense was against Andrew Luck and the Cardinal, even though it gave up 30 points.

Writes Matt Hinton:

It wasn't just Stanford's worst offensive effort of the season: It was arguably the worst in nearly three full seasons with Andrew Luck as starting quarterback. Thirty points points marked the Cardinal's lowest-scoring game in two years; their output in terms of total yards (372), rushing yards (133) and yards per play (4.9) marked new lows in any game Luck has started in his career. The best-protected quarterback in America was sacked three times, a career high, hit a dozen more and forced into three turnovers — yes, another career high.


In other words, Oregon did what SEC folks believe an "SEC defense" would do to Luck and the Cardinal.

Because folks almost always think offense when the Ducks come up -- and not unreasonably -- and then promptly talk about that offense getting contained by elite foes with extra time to prepare, it's notable that the Ducks' defense has distinguished itself on those same big stages when the offense has been deemed to have fallen short. Consider:
  • In last season's national title game, the Ducks held Auburn to 22 points, the Tigers lowest total since the second game of the season. Lower than the Tigers scored against Alabama and LSU, by the way.
  • While LSU's 40 points suggests offensive success in this year's opener, the Tigers only gained 273 yards against the Ducks.
  • Remember how bad the Ducks' offense looked in a 19-8 loss at Boise State to open the 2009 season? Well, guess how many times Boise State has scored just 19 points at home since then? That would be zero times. In fact, the Broncos' only point total lower than 19 since then came in the Fiesta Bowl that season -- a 17-10 win against TCU and its widely celebrated defense.
  • The Ducks' defense could be termed middling in the 26-17 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State after the 2009 season, but let's keep in mind that was the best game mercurial Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor played in his career. And, you might recall, some of his big plays were, er, a bit fortunate.

The point is this. Oregon plays good defense and has for a while.

That said, Ducks fans must know that their program won't get its due credit until Chip Kelly and company win a BCS bowl game. That's just how things go.

Pac-12 links: Thomas ready to lead Ducks

September, 1, 2011
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You've got to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes. Now I think you're going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You're gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it you're gonna do the same for him. That's a team, gentlemen, and either, we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That's football guys, that's all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?

Colorado's visit to OSU no longer imposing

May, 31, 2011
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Ohio State just suffered through the worst Memorial Day in program history. You can read about the details here -- coach Jim Tressel resigning and further grounds for major NCAA sanctions -- but that's not our focus on the Pac-12 blog.

Our focus, of course, is what it means for the Pac-12. And that is two things.

First, briefly, it's a good bet the conference champion will not be facing Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The loss of Tressel and a handful of player suspensions almost certainly will be too much to overcome to win the Big Ten.

Second, Colorado's visit to Columbus on Sept. 24, which once looked like a get-paid-for-a-pounding matchup, now looks winnable.

The Buckeyes, who will be led by interim coach Luke Fickell, at the very least will not have quarterback Terrelle Pryor, leading rusher Daniel "Boom" Herron, No. 2 wide receiver DeVier Posey, All-Big Ten offensive tackle Mike Adams and backup defensive end Solomon Thomas

The Buckeyes already were replacing several key players on defense: end Cameron Heyward, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa. Still, the general feeling was the depth was there to keep winning.

But the plot might thicken, according to a Sports Illustrated report that alleges at least 28 players traded memorabilia or autographs for money and tattoos since 2002. Nine are on the current roster, including two returning starters on the defensive line, tackle John Simon and end Nathan Williams, as well as other players in the mix on the depth chart.

If these players are found to also have violated rules against receiving extra benefits, it's likely they, too, won't play against Colorado. Ohio State probably won't wait for the NCAA to hand out suspensions. It will try to be proactive, falling on its sword with hopes that will soften the eventual penalties.

There's depth, and then there's playing what amounts to a second unit against the Buffaloes, who welcome back 14 starters from a team that went 5-7 and was good enough to beat Georgia and Kansas State.

Colorado's first five games go like this: Hawaii, California, Colorado State, Ohio State and Washington State.

We are not ready to term this a prediction, Buffaloes fans, but it no longer is completely absurd to dream of heading to Stanford on Oct. 8 with a 5-0 record.

Three keys for the BCS title game

January, 10, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Here are three keys for the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

1. Newton down on first contact: A quarterback feels pressure and decides to bolt: Almost every time that happens, a defensive player will have a shot to make a play at or behind the line of scrimmage. You know: You're screaming at your TV screen as the QB shakes a guy, ducks under a guy, or escapes an arm tackle. The Ducks need to make that play as much as possible. Think back to the 2010 Rose Bowl. How many times did Ducks just miss getting Terrelle Pryor down, only to watch him convert a third-down play with a scramble? Cam Newton will make plays with his feet. He will get away. He's too good to be completely muted. But if the Ducks make tackles -- one-on-one, in the open field, in the backfield -- when they have a shot, then that will go a long way to shutting down an offense that is entirely centered around Newton.

2. Scheme, scheme, scheme: Oregon has good players, but it also has s great scheme. Coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti are very good at finding and exploiting weaknesses, and they are also good at finding ways to offset an opponent's strengths. They can keep a team off-balance, and they are good at countering whatever an opponent is doing to scheme against them. So what's Aliotti's plan for keeping a lid on Newton? Blitz a lot? Or don't blitz? Use a spy? Or not? As for the Ducks' offense, they need to first account for the active physical presence of tackle Nick Fairley. What might Kelly have in store for the nation's best defensive lineman? And how many tweaks -- and tricks -- has Kelly added over the past five weeks? Good money is on the Ducks throwing a lot of things at the Tigers that they haven't seen and may not expect.

3. Turnovers, third downs, special teams: Oregon ranks seventh in the nation in turnover margin. Auburn ranks 32nd. The Ducks need to win that battle. Auburn ranks third in the nation in third-down conversions. Oregon ranks ninth in third-down conversion defense. The Ducks need to win that battle. While the kickers are a push, the Ducks are better in the punt game -- both kicking it and receiving it. The Ducks need to assert their superiority on special teams. While big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, it's also the little things that earn a team a national championship.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The talk before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game is almost at an end, but here's a quick preview to tide you over before kickoff.

Our prediction comes later.

Who to watch: Cam Newton vs. the Oregon front seven. This sounds obvious but it has to be. Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the most dominant college football player in years. He accounted for 48 touchdowns. He's 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and runs with great speed and power. Can he consistently break contain against the Ducks and sprint into the open field? If the Ducks have a great day tackling, and if the first Duck doesn't miss Newton, then Oregon wins this game. Oregon knows what it's like to chase a big, fast quarterback after playing Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor in last season's Rose Bowl. Will that knowledge lead to enlightenment?

What to watch: The start and the finish. After a 37-day layoff, it will be interesting to see how sharp -- or rusty -- each team looks. Neither has been dominant in the first half this year, and both are no strangers to slow starts and falling behind early. Both are great at making halftime adjustments. And both are outstanding in the fourth quarter. Which fourth-quarter team gets a lead going into the final frame? Further, while some pundits have said Auburn's offense also likes to play at a fast pace, it's nothing like Oregon's. Just about every team Oregon has faced this year has wilted in the fourth quarter because of the Ducks relentlessness. Check out the Tigers defenders in the fourth quarter -- particularly tackle Nick Fairley -- are their hands on their hips? Are they breathing hard? If they are, and the score is tight at that point, count on the Ducks surging.

Why to watch: Heck, other than it's the national championship game and one of the toughest tickets in college football history? Start with Newton. Whatever you want to say about his off-the-field stuff, he's an outstanding player. And this is almost certainly his last college game. Then there's Fairley. He may end up the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft this spring. Auburn folks think he's going to dominate inside. If he does, the Ducks could be in trouble. For the Ducks, it's about the team, not individuals. Coach Chip Kelly's offense has had more than five weeks to prepare. What might his mad scientist offensive mind come up with? How fast can the Ducks play with all the commercial breaks? Will the Tigers defense wear down? And what about the Oregon defense? It's been overlooked all year. Then, when it gets to the title game, many pundits call them small and overmatched, no matter what the statistics say. Will Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and company make a national statement about Pac-10 defenses? Oh, and there's that, too. A victory over the SEC in the national title game certainly would please every college football fan who is tired of hearing about the conference's dominance. And a loss would further cement the SEC's reputation as the preeminent conference.

Matthews, Harris key Ducks defense

January, 6, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- One is the veteran linebacker with the last name that says "football." The other is the young, boisterous and sometimes spectacular playmaker who earned All-American honors despite not earning a starting job until midseason.

Oregon's senior linebacker Casey Matthews and sophomore cornerback Cliff Harris are different sorts in more ways than one, but they will be two of the key pieces in the Ducks most challenging chess game on defense this season: How do you slow Auburn and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cameron Newton?

[+] EnlargeCasey Matthews
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCasey Matthews will be at the center of an Oregon defense hoping to stop Cam Newton.
Matthews, who earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors after being second-team a year ago, will lead the charge against Auburn's rushing attack in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 10. The Tigers rank fifth in the nation with 287 yards rushing per game.

Harris, who earned All-American recognition as both a corner and return man, will be at the center of a secondary trying to contain Auburn's downfield passing attack. The Tigers lead the nation in passing efficiency.

In both instances, the focus will be on Newton, who is extremely efficient and productive -- 28 touchdowns and six interceptions -- and one of the best running quarterbacks in recent memory -- 1,400 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.

Oh, and Newton is 6-foot-6, 250 pounds.

"He will be very tough to tackle," Matthews said. "He's not your ordinary quarterback. I mean, he's huge. He's got a pretty powerful stiff arm ... he makes a lot of his plays on third and long. If no one is open, he is going to take off and run. We had problems with that last year in the Rose Bowl. That's one thing we knew we had to work on going into this game."

Matthews refers to the career game that Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor produced against the Ducks in the previous year's Rose Bowl. Pryor is 6-foot-6, 233 pounds, so the Ducks know how hard it is to contain a big, fast quarterback who can complete passes downfield. Only Newton is way better.

Oregon hopes its No. 16 run defense will hold down Newton's scrambles -- something it didn't do against Pryor -- and force him to throw into a secondary that ranks sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense, and has grabbed 20 interceptions. Five of those picks went to Harris.

"[Harris] has a great overall game," Auburn receiver Kodi Burns said. "He's just a great talent. He's somebody we're really going to have to deal with."

Matthews is the steady leader with good instincts. He led the Ducks with 73 tackles and is the quarterback of the defense. Harris is more of a wild card. He can grab a pick-six at any moment. Or he can get busted on a double move. He's got impressive skills, but he also can lose focus or freelance, which often draws the ire of coordinator Nick Aliotti and even other Ducks.

"For all the big plays he makes, he will sometimes slip a little bit," Matthews said. "It comes back to the mental discipline, just taking your assignment. Sometimes you will try to make the big play on a double route or stop and go and he will jump it and then [the receiver] will be wide open. But you can't go yelling at people, telling them to do this. You just got to keep them calm and remember how he had his success. He's a great corner. Just around the receiver when the ball is thrown, he has got a chance to pick it. That's the big part about him -- his big-play ability."

Matthews obviously has plenty of help becoming a smart, disciplined player. His brother, Clay, is a star linebacker for the Green Bay Packers. His father, Clay, Jr., played the third most games in NFL history (278) over 19 seasons as a linebacker. His uncle, Bruce, is in the NFL Hall of Fame as an offensive lineman.

But it was his mother, Leslie, whose recent advice most resonated.

"My mom told me I had to be slightly insane with my play," Casey Matthews said. "That is one thing I haven't heard her say ever, but she did tell me that."

As for Harris, he wasn't one of the players brought to the news conference featuring Ducks defenders. Part of that is the belief of Oregon coaches that senior Talmadge Jackson is the Ducks best corner, despite Harris' flashy play. Jackson didn't earn All-American honors, but he did get the first-team All-Pac-10 nod over Harris as voted on by conference coaches.

Jackson has served as a bit of a tutor to Harris, who only became a starter in the season's seventh game.

"I try to help him improve his overall knowledge of the game," Jackson said. "He's a great athlete. He's very smart. And he's willing to work at anything you tell him."

As for Harris' sometimes demonstrative personality or his occasional blown coverage, Jackson said there's a fine line between correcting and browbeating.

"Cliff is a very exciting guy to be around," he said. "You don't want to mess up anybody's personality or try to take anything away from him. You want to let him play his style of football but keep it respectable."

Considering how high-powered the Tigers offense has been this season, if Matthews, Harris and the Ducks keep things respectable, Oregon could end up with the national championship.
You should find the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game terribly offensive. If you love defense. But for folks who celebrate irresistible forces while finding immovable objects dull, this one should be a grand affair.

If both top-ranked Auburn and No. 2 Oregon hit their season averages on Jan. 10, fans will see 92 points and more than 1,000 yards of offense, including 591 yards rushing. The matchup features the Heisman Trophy winner and the nation's most efficient passer: Tigers quarterback Cam Newton. And it features the nation's leading rusher, Oregon's LaMichael James, who is a unanimous All-American and Heisman finalist.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Dave MartinHeisman winner Cam Newton led the nation in passing efficiency.
It features teams that run and pass well. It features teams that don't make a lot of mistakes. It features teams that overwhelm a defense with talent, tempo and creativity.

Finally, the game will showcase two mad scientists of offense who had 37 days without distraction to prepare schematic monstrosities in their underground lairs: Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Muwhahahaha!

The scoreboard should be spinning for a pair of ludicrous speed attacks that had very few off-days this season.

Oh, there are the naysayers. You will get tut-tuts from those who claim "defense wins championships." Some will point out that in previous BCS title games, great offenses have fizzled out.

There's Florida State in 2001, when Chris Weinke & Co. were shut out in a 13-2 defeat to Oklahoma. The Seminoles averaged 549 yards and 42 points per game that year. And there's Oklahoma in 2009, which got stumped by Florida, 24-14. The Sooners averaged 51 points and 548 yards per game that year. Both of those offenses entered the title game being lauded as historically great. Not so much afterwards, though.

And Heisman Trophy winners often go splat in BCS title games, see Weinke, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Troy Smith and Sam Bradford.

Still, the winner of the BCS championship scored more than 30 points in eight of 12 games and more than 40 four times. Potent offenses do show up. Further, in most of the cases when offensive powerhouses have been exposed in the championship game, there's been a reasonable explanation: They faced an elite defense laden with NFL prospects. That is not the case with Auburn and Oregon.

At least that's the perception, one that frustrates Oregon fans. The Ducks rank 12th in the nation in scoring defense, sixth in pass efficiency defense, 16th in run defense and 25th in total defense. So that is pretty darn close to an elite defense, even though the Ducks lack star power. Moreover, Oregon surrendered just 4.53 yards per play, which ranks seventh in the nation and is better than any team the Tigers faced (yes, even Alabama).

The Ducks, however, did face an FCS team and seven FBS offenses ranked 58th in the nation or worse in scoring, including four ranked 96th or worse. They faced only one elite offense in Stanford. The Cardinal scored 31 points and piled up 518 yards, but were shut out in the second half.

[+] EnlargeUSC V. Oregon
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillOregon finished the regular season ranked 25th in total defense.
Auburn ranks 54th in scoring defense, 55th in total defense and 75th in passing efficiency defense. The Tigers, however, are very good against the run, ranking 10th. They faced three offenses ranked in the top 25 in scoring -- Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama -- and those foes scored 34, 43 and 27 points, respectively.

Last season's Rose Bowl might offer ideas for both defenses. For the Tigers, the Buckeyes showed a blueprint for how a physical front seven can stymie the Ducks' running attack with penetration, gap integrity and discipline. (Ducks fans would counter that Ohio State's defense looked great because quarterback Jeremiah Masoli couldn't hit the side of a barn in the passing game that afternoon). For the Ducks' veteran defense, it knows what it's like to play against a big, fast quarterback after seeing Terrelle Pryor post what continues to be the best game of his career.

So there is hope for the defenses, though it's hard to imagine both offenses sputtering and the winning total ending up in the 20s.

Of course, even if the offenses churn up yardage, as expected, that doesn't mean a defense won't win this championship. One of the two defenses is going to get more stops than the other, either through forcing turnovers or winning third down (and fourth, both teams aren't afraid to go for it).

Just don't be surprised if you don't need two hands to count the total number of punts.

Luck, Thomas are Manning finalists

November, 29, 2010
11/29/10
6:48
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Stanford's Andrew Luck and Oregon's Darron Thomas are among 10 finalists for this year's Manning Award.

The winner will be announced after the bowl games on Jan. 19 and will be honored at a ceremony in New Orleans. The Manning Award was created by the Allstate Sugar Bowl in honor of the college football accomplishments of Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. It is the only quarterback award that takes the candidates’ bowl performances into consideration in its balloting.

The finalists are:
Andy Dalton, TCU
Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
Andrew Luck, Stanford
Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
Kellen Moore, Boise State
Cameron Newton, Auburn
Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
Denard Robinson, Michigan
Darron Thomas, Oregon
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State

James, Luck are Walter Camp finalists

November, 18, 2010
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11:36
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Oregon running back LaMichael James and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck are two of the "Players to Watch” for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award, the fourth-oldest college football award in the nation.

A list of five finalists will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

The 2010 Walter Camp Player of the Year recipient, who is voted on by the Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches and sports information directors, will be presented live on Dec. 9 during the 6 p.m. edition of ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Here's the complete list.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Da’Quan Bowers, DL, Clemson
Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Nick Fairley, DL, Auburn
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State
Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut

Is the Heisman Trophy a two-horse race?

November, 15, 2010
11/15/10
1:20
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Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and Oregon running back LaMichael James have been one-two in the Heisman Predictor rankings since the sixth week of the season.

But, as just about everyone knows, Newton's candidacy might -- fair or unfair -- be damaged by his background and the issues that surround his recruitment. So James is, at worst, in very good shape to get invited to the ceremony in New York.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck ranks fourth behind Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Press Coverage: Oregon vs. Auburn

November, 10, 2010
11/10/10
3:00
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It's time for a blogger debate! And it doesn't get much better than when we match the SEC and Pac-10.

Our topic: No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn. Who's better and why?

Both are unbeaten, and if the season ended today, they'd play for the national title.

We've got lots of football left, and probably many more plot twists in the hunt for the national title, but there's no reason we can't engage in a hypothetical, is there?

So the Pac-10 blog -- Ted Miller -- and the SEC blog -- Chris Low -- have decided to meet for some civilized debate on Auburn versus Oregon.

Ted Miller: Chris, since things are so quiet in the sleepy SEC, I think we should spice things up with a Pac-10-SEC blogger debate! It seems like a long time since we last had a debate between our two conferences. How’d that one go? Let’s see I championed Taylor Mays and you celebrated Eric Berry. Wait. Why did I bring that up?

Anyway, our topic is Oregon and Auburn: Who’s better and why.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
John Reed/US PresswireGene Chizik has silenced those critical of his hiring last year but getting Auburn off to a 10-0 start this season.
This is a potential national title game between the No. 1 Ducks and No. 2 Tigers, who are both unbeaten and feature Heisman Trophy candidates leading high-powered offenses.

You get first blood. Tell me about Auburn. It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that Jay Jacobs was getting hounded for hiring Gene Chizik. Guessing that’s died down a wee-bit.

Chris Low: No doubt, Ted. I wonder where that obnoxious guy is now, the one yelling at Jacobs as he was leaving the airport after finalizing the deal with Chizik? Maybe Jacobs knew what he was doing after all. The guy with the 5-19 record at Iowa State has done all right by himself on the Plains. He has a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback and the SEC's leading rusher in Cam Newton, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound freak of nature who runs like Bo Jackson and also has an NFL arm. Keep your eyes, too, on freshman running back Mike Dyer, who they haven't had to lean on much this season, but is oozing with talent and has fresh legs for this stretch run. The Tigers' defensive numbers are nothing to write home about, but they do have the kind of dominant interior defensive lineman, Nick Fairley, who can take over games. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Fairley's the closest thing he's seen to Warren Sapp. Auburn's calling card defensively has been making plays at key times in the fourth quarter. The Tigers have been a serviceable defense through three quarters this season, but they've been a championship-caliber defense in the fourth quarter -- which is why they're 10-0.

So tell me about Oregon?

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireSophomore Darron Thomas was thrust into the starting quarterback job and has performed admirably.
Ted Miller: Speaking of coaches: How about Oregon’s Chip Kelly? How could he possibly expect to top winning the Pac-10 and playing in the Rose Bowl his first season? How about contending for a national title in his second? The Ducks, however, expected to be here when the 2009 season ended because just about everybody was coming back from the Pac-10 champions. That is until a guy you are now familiar with -- quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- got caught up in some off-field issues and eventual got himself booted from the team. That seemingly left a void behind center, but sophomore Darron Thomas has not only filled Masoli’s shoes, he’s gone up a few sizes: He’s 15th in the nation in passing efficiency and 21st in the nation in total yardage. Meanwhile, speedy running back LaMichael James is the top Heisman alternative to your guy, Newton. As for the defense, it’s like the offense: Extremely fast. It ranks 13th in the nation in scoring defense and it has forced 28 turnovers, second-most in the nation. Folks often underestimate the Ducks' defense because it gives up some yards -- it ranks 29th in the nation in total defense -- but that’s because the offense scores so quickly: The nation’s No. 1 offense ranks 115th in the nation in time of possession. But the Ducks only give up 4.45 yards per play. Our factoid of the day is that number would rank No. 1 in ... wait for it ... the SEC!

Obviously, we're talking about two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn.

Chris Low: Ted, I think what separates Auburn is Newton. Nobody has been able to stop him. If you commit to taking away the run, he's proved he can beat people throwing the ball. And if you come after him and/or don't have enough people in the box, he's been magic running the ball. Keep in mind, too, that we're not talking about a 220-pound guy running the ball. We're talking about a 250-pound guy who's physical, tough and doesn't run out of bounds. In the red zone, he's the great equalizer, because he gains 3 yards when he falls forward and has the size and the strength to push the pile. On top of it all, he's always a threat to throw the ball. Similar to Oregon, Auburn doesn't flinch if somebody puts 30-plus points on the board, because the Tigers' mentality is that they're going to score 50. Their offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, will make you defend everything -- reverses, throwback passes, passes to the backs, even passes to Newton. He caught a touchdown pass two weeks ago against Ole Miss. The Tigers also play at a tempo on offense that has opposing defenses gasping for air in the fourth quarter. But when they have to, they can put teams away and finish games by running the ball. They're fourth nationally (one spot ahead of Oregon) this week in rushing offense with an average of 307.2 yards per game. Auburn's top four rushers -- Newton, Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin -- are all averaging at least 6.4 yards per carry. Do the Ducks have any answers for that running game?

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Paul Abell/US PresswireAuburn's Cam Newton is just as dangerous with his arm as he is on his feet.
Ted Miller: That’s what’s so interesting about this as a potential national title game match -- there’s an odd familiarity that both teams will have with each other despite never crossing paths. My guess is Malzahn and Kelly already have studied each other, just in terms of mutual admiration. And both defenses will be familiar with up-tempo, no-huddle, spread-option offenses that can power you and finesse you and throw downfield. Further, the Ducks have played against a number of big, fast, capable quarterbacks with NFL futures: Washington’s Jake Locker, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Stanford’s Andrew Luck. The results have been mixed. Last year, Luck and Pryor got them. Luck beat the Ducks with uncanny downfield accuracy, which is why he’ll go No. 1 in this spring’s NFL draft. Pryor shocked them with the best passing game of his career in the Rose Bowl. Locker missed this year’s game, but he’s never had much luck against Oregon. In general, Oregon has a good run defense: Opponents are averaging 3.38 yards per rush. But the Ducks are undersized. A physical Stanford team had some success, rushing for 177 yards. But one thing about Oregon on both sides of the ball: It is masterful with halftime adjustments. They shutout Stanford, owners of the nation’s No. 5 scoring offense, in the second half, and have given up just 48 points in the second half this year -- just seven in the fourth quarter!

Obviously, two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn if it played Oregon in the national title game. How do you see it going?

Chris Low: Well, if that happens, the first thing we all better make sure we have is a calculator. That and make sure there's no danger of a power surge to the scoreboard. You're right about Oregon. Nobody in the country has been better in the second half. The Ducks' ability to score points in bunches is amazing, but the Tigers are equally adept at going on head-spinning scoring sprees. Just ask Arkansas, which saw Auburn roll up 28 points in the fourth quarter in Xbox-like fashion. I have no doubt that an Auburn-Oregon matchup would be played in the 40s. I think the difference, though, would be Auburn's ability to put the breaks on the track meet and run the football in the fourth quarter, especially with Newton being so good at converting on third down. So I'm going Auburn 45, Oregon 41 in a game that rates up there with the Texas-USC classic to decide the 2005 national title.

Ted Miller: That's clearly something we can all agree on: This likely would be a highly entertaining, offensively driven national title game if these two teams manage to get themselves there. Further, I think, after never getting a USC-SEC title game, folks on both coasts would enjoy an SEC-Pac-10 matchup. No trash-talking there, right? And I do see a clear advantage for Auburn: It has been tested. It's played five games decided by eight points or fewer, and three decided by a field goal. The Ducks closest game? An 11-point win at Arizona State. But that's also why I'd pick Oregon in this one. Oregon beat the No. 6 team in the nation, Stanford, by 21 points. It shut Andrew Luck out in the second half. And I look at all of Auburn's close games: Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky and LSU, and think: None of them would be within 10 points of the Ducks. Maybe LSU, because any game Les Miles touches is surprising. And I think Vegas would agree with me. So if we ended up with an Oregon-Auburn national title game, my guess is the Tigers would go TD for TD with the Ducks in the first half, then the Ducks would pour it on late for a 50-35 win. But I reserve the right to change my mind, particularly because I think the Tigers' toughest test -- Alabama -- is ahead.

Moreover, both teams should be advised: You probably should get to the Jan. 10 date in Glendale before you start trash-talking each other. At least before you use your best stuff.

Heisman Predictor: James No. 4, Luck No. 7

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
2:06
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The ESPN.com Heisman Predictor ranks Oregon running back LaMichael James seventh and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck seventh this week.

James is behind three quarterbacks: Auburn's Cameron Newton, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez.

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