Pac-12: Texas A&M Aggies

Pac-12 problem: Losing expansion?

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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Over the past five or so years, the Power Five conferences started playing expansion roulette. Although the ultimate wisdom of these moves can be measured only over the long term, the short-term results can be judged.

That judgment? Things worked out well for the SEC and Big Ten. Not so much for the Pac-12 and Big 12.

The Big Ten added Nebraska three seasons ago to give it 12 teams. The Cornhuskers, despite not satisfying their demanding fans, have gone 17-7 in league play and won 28 games overall.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau and Tenny Palepoi
AP Photo/Rick BowmerColorado and Utah have a dismal 13-41 combined record in league play since joining the Pac-12.
The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Each has posted double-digit wins and high national rankings as an SEC member, and their two-year conference marks essentially match what they did in their last two years in the Big 12.

The Big 12 replaced those two with TCU and West Virginia, teams that had won BCS bowl games as members of the Mountain West and Big East conferences, respectively. Yet neither has posted a winning record in Big 12 play, and both regressed to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference last year.

The Pac-12? It raided the Big 12 for Colorado, which went 5-7 and 2-6 in 2010, and the Mountain West for Utah, which went 10-3, 7-1 that year. Neither has matched its 2010 records in the Pac-12 nor posted a winning record in conference play. The Buffaloes have gone a meager 4-23 against Pac-12 foes, while the Utes have gone from 4-5 to 3-6 to 2-7 in conference games.

Nebraska has been to three consecutive New Year's Day bowls, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl last year, while Texas A&M has won a Heisman Trophy and two bowl games. Like the Aggies, Missouri has won a Cotton Bowl against the Big 12. Both have produced top-five rankings over the past two years.

The lone badge of postseason honor for the Pac-12 newbies? Utah's victory over Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl. To the Utes' credit, they have gone 9-1 in games outside the Pac-12 over the past three seasons, including 3-0 versus their bitter rival BYU.

Although the Pac-12 has surged after realignment in terms of national perception, gaining ground on the SEC, and the Big Ten has stagnated by comparison, that's had nothing to do with expansion. While Pac-12 folks aren't going to whine about the fruits of expansion -- Exhibit A being a $3 billion TV deal -- or even grouse about poor-to-middling results from the new members, it's fair to say the short-term gain in terms of assets on Saturdays has been slight.

As assets, Colorado and Utah don't attract national eyeballs at present as they would if they were winning 10 games and were nationally ranked. The Utes' nail-biter with Arizona State in November was an interesting game, but it would have been featured prominently in highlight shows that night if it were a battle of ranked teams eyeballing the South Division title.

That said, other Pac-12 coaches might enjoy not having two more teams threatening to play at a Top 25 -- or better -- level. The conference, even with the Utes and Buffs slumping, is deeper than it's ever been. In fact, if both were playing at a high level, the conference's chances to put two teams in BCS bowl games, as it did in two of the previous three years, would have been reduced, costing each team about $1 million since 2011. That holds true looking forward to a potential berth -- or berths -- in the College Football Playoff.

Depth is good. It's fun to celebrate top-to-bottom quality. But it also makes it more difficult to go 12-0 or 11-1 in the regular season, records typically required for national title contention.

Still, the Pac-12 is better served by Utah and Colorado improving. The conference certainly would like the Denver and Salt Lake City markets to turn their attention to college football in large numbers.

Not to conclude with an outlandish assertion here, but here's a guess that the folks most eager for the Buffs and Utes to help the Pac-12 feel good about its expansion choices are the fans, administrators, players and coaches associated with both programs.
The Manning Award is going all sabermetric, with an assist from ESPN Stats & Information's new Total Quarterback Rating (QBR).

The award announced its 30-man watch list on Thursday, basing the list on the top 30 returning quarterbacks according to the QBR.

The list includes four Pac-12 quarterbacks: Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion

The winner will still be selected by a voting panel, which includes national media and each of the Mannings, after the bowls.

Total QBR measures a quarterback’s contributions to scoring on each play (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, and penalties) accounting for game context (down, distance, yard line, time remaining, and score) and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale where 50 is average.

“Total QBR uses all of a quarterback’s plays and accounts for the context of the game and quality of the defenses faced,” ESPN Stats & Information Sr. Director Jeff Bennett said in a statement. “We are excited to bring a more complete rating system to the fans to allow for fairer comparisons of quarterbacks who play in different types of systems and face various levels of competition. We’re pleased that a national award like the Manning Award has seen the value of our new Total QBR for college.”

The Pac-12 blog chatted with Bennett last week, and he had some numbers that would interest Pac-12 fans.

First, Mariota ranked second in the nation in QBR behind only Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, the Heisman Trophy winner.

Second, recall the controversy over the Pac-12 blog ranking former Arizona quarterback Matt Scott No. 4 in our postseason top-25 players list?

Consider it no longer a controversy. Consider the Pac-12 blog correct and the Scott critics incorrect.

Scott ranked second in the Pac-12 and ninth in the nation in QBR. Case closed.

Winning!

The same could be said over the controversy over Matt Barkley at No. 14, though perhaps not as strongly. He ranked third in the Pac-12 and 23rd in the nation in QBR.

So you can now retract all those bad things you said about the Pac-12 blog. And it was Kevin's fault we didn't include Desmond Trufant.

Oh, and here's the Manning Watch List.

2013 may be the season of the quarterback in college football, because a lot of good ones are coming back.

In the SEC, there's Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater, and Clemson offers Tajh Boyd. In the Pac-12, there's UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelley.

But the best one coming back is Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

How so? Well, for one, that was the assignment: Make a case for the best quarterback in your conference being the best in the nation.

But it's not too difficult to make Mariota's case.

As a redshirt freshman, he ranked seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He threw a touchdown pass in every game and one interception in his final seven games. He was named MVP in the Fiesta Bowl after leading a blowout win over Big 12 champion Kansas State, which capped a 12-1 season and a final No. 2 ranking for the Ducks.

He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after leading an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.6 PPG) and fifth in total offense (537.4 YPG). The Ducks scored 11 points per game more than any other Pac-12 team.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Honolulu native is an extremely accurate passer who might be the fastest quarterback in the nation -- see his 86- and 77-yard runs last season. Against USC on the road, he completed 87 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He tied a school record with six touchdown passes against California. He rushed for 135 yards at Arizona State.

Of course, his 2012 numbers aren't mind-blowing. A lot of that isn't his fault. Oregon blew out so many opponents -- average halftime score of 31-9 -- that it didn't require many plays from behind center after the break. For the season, Mariota threw just 24 passes and rushed eight times in the fourth quarter, compared to 227 passes and 71 rushes in the first half.

Manziel, for the sake of comparison, threw 62 passes and rushed 33 times in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater threw 86 passes and rushed 13 times in the fourth.

The good news is folks are probably going to see a lot more of Mariota this season. With running back Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, the Ducks might skew more toward the passing game after being run-centric under Chip Kelly. New coach Mark Helfrich, who was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last year, is expected to throw the ball around more because he has an experienced quarterback and a strong, experienced crew of receivers.

That means more numbers for Mariota as he leads a team in the national title hunt. The potential combination of stats and wins might be enough to get Mariota to New York in December for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
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Mailbag!

Twitter!

Notes!

Osu_beavs1987 from Corvallis, Ore., writes: You and Kevin have been promoting the QB battle at OSU which is understandable since Riley refuses to say who the starting QB will be and neither QB really had a remarkable spring. The whole time I have been an avid supporter that Sean Mannion will be starting QB in the fall. With Mannion being voted team captain does this make him a favorite for the job in your mind? Knowing he has the teams support should boost his confidence, and I'm betting he works hard because he doesn't want to let his team down either.

Ted Miller: Being tapped captain is one element in Mannion's favor, but keep in mind he was team captain in 2012 when he lost his starting job.

Perhaps players decisively favor Mannion over Cody Vaz. But some political sorts in the locker room might have wondered if it would have been more controversial -- and potentially divisive -- to take the job away from Mannion and hand it to Vaz. That would have been a stronger statement in terms of the players taking sides.

I'm a slight lean toward Mannion for three reasons. He's a junior and Vaz is a senior. Tie goes to the younger guy. He's got better upside due to his height (6-foot-5 versus 6-foot-1) and better arm strength. I saw Mannion at his best during a win at Arizona -- 433 yards, three touchdowns, no picks -- last year, and it was one of the best performances a Pac-12 quarterback turned in last fall.

But none of that means anything. Coach Mike Riley and his staff are going to play the guy they think gives them the best chance to win. That guy is likely to be the one who plays best in fall camp.

I think the best case is one of them decisively wins the job and keeps the job. The worry is the Beavers offense will again on a quarterback carousel, with Mannion and Vaz going round and round as the starter.

(Read full post)

Last year, the chant of "We're No. 2! We're No. 2!" was heard in both Pac-12 and Big 12 country.

That other conference, however much it makes folks grumble, gets to be No. 1 until somebody dethrones it. But the debate among Pac-12 and Big 12 fans for second place was a spirited one.

The Big 12 just clipped the Pac-12 in the ESPN.com Stats & Info power rankings by 0.6 points after going 2-1 versus the Pac-12 in bowl game, with Baylor whipping UCLA in the Holiday Bowl and Texas outlasting Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl.

Of course, Oregon, the Pac-12 North runner-up behind Stanford, blew out Kansas State, the Big 12 champion, in the Fiesta Bowl, and Arizona beat Oklahoma State in the regular season -- by 21 points -- to even the conferences' overall mark at 2-2. So even then there was some wiggle room.

The Pac-12 went 4-4 overall in bowl games, winning two BCS bowls, while the Big 12 went 4-5, losing its only BCS bowl. Both conferences finished with three Top 25 teams, but the Pac-12 had two teams in the top-seven compared to no top-10 teams for the Big 12.

Like we said: It was close. And highly subjective to judge.

This is all prelude to the new Pac-12 bowl agreements, which haven't yet been officially announced but we can strongly conjecture upon.

What the Big 12 could always counter in bowl matchups with the Pac-12 is a lower seed. The past three Alamo Bowls matched the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Pac-12 team against the No. 2 non-BCS bowl team from the Big 12. The Holiday Bowl featured the No. 2 Pac-12 team against the No. 4 team from the Big 12.

(There's even a Pac-12 counter to this, with the Pac-12 sending two teams to BCS bowl games the past three years and the Big 12 sending just one during the same span, which thereby evening out the seeds).

Guess what, though? Since the Pac-12 signed on with the Alamo Bowl, the Big 12 is 3-0 against it. Baylor beat Washington in 2012 and Oklahoma State crushed Arizona in 2011.

The new bowl contracts likely will match the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Rose Bowl Pac-12 team vs. the No. 1 non-playoff/non-Sugar Bowl Big 12 team.

Previously, the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team played in the Cotton Bowl, which is now part of the College Football Playoff. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has already commented on the change for his conference.

What does that upgrade mean for the Pac-12?

Well, if we go by teams that played in the Cotton Bowl that means UCLA would have played No. 11 Oklahoma, Washington would have played No. 11 Kansas State and Arizona would have played No. 18 Texas A&M.

Now, these trades aren't exact and aren't always better because bowls have their own selection politics. For example, No. 16 Oklahoma State was ranked higher than Texas A&M in 2011 but the Cotton Bowl preferred a Texas-based team.

Still, this means the bowl competition for the Pac-12 is moving up. It will be a test worth watching.

And the No. 1 non-BCS bowl Big 12 team might like getting out of the Cotton Bowl rotation. The Big 12 has lost nine of the past 10 Cotton Bowls to the SEC, and the lone victory was No. 7 Missouri over No. 25 Arkansas in 2008. Of course, the Tigers are now in the SEC.

By the way, the Big 12 and Pac-12 also appear headed to a matchup in the Buffalo Wild Wings in Sun Devil Stadium -- the Big 12 likely will be replaced by the Big Ten in the Holiday Bowl -- so the conferences will matchup at the top as well as measure each other's depth.

While both conferences would like to move up to No. 1, neither wants to yield the perception of being at least No. 2. The Alamo Bowl will provide a nice annual measuring stick for the two conferences.

Quarterback Kyle Allen (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain) has picked Texas A&M over UCLA, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, and his reasons why won't make any Pac-12 coaches or fans happy.

Allen wanted to play in the SEC.

"That played a big part," Allen said. "If you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best. A lot of quarterbacks come out of the Pac-12 and Big 12, where they throw the ball around, but they don't play against as good of defenses. A&M does the same thing those programs do on offense but they do it against the best defenses in the country. My dream is to someday become an NFL quarterback, and I want the best training and the best preparation for that. That's in the SEC."

Allen obviously views himself as stepping in for quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Allen, the No. 2 quarterback in the West behind Keller Chryst of Palo Alto, Calif., is the seventh of the West's top-30 players to commit, and just three of those committed players are staying in the Pac-12.

So far. As we know, oral commitments are non-binding and guys can change their minds.

What we might be seeing, however, is seven consecutive national titles cementing in young athletes' minds the supremacy of the SEC. Understand that the average 18-year-old probably doesn't remember the epic USC-Texas national title game following the 2005 season. For this year's crew of young prospects, the SEC has been atop college football since they stopped watching "Yo Gabba Gabba!" on television.

Five or so years ago, there also was constant chatter about SEC supremacy, but it was mostly just fan talk. Pete Carroll and Mack Brown would smirk at it. Now it's a concrete aspect of the recruiting scene that other conferences must specifically address.

A good way to do that would be for a team from a conference outside the SEC to win the title this fall.

Paging Stanford and Oregon. Heck, even Ohio State.

Oregon-Texas A&M not off ... yet

May, 31, 2013
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It appears that Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman got ahead of himself on terminating contracted football games, at least with Oregon.

Oregon sources went out of their way Friday to say that, at least on their end, the 2018-19 series is still on with the Aggies. Texas A&M later confirmed that to USA Today's George Schroeder.

Hyman more than likely stated his intent to the Houston Chronicle, an intention that has yet to become reality. But Oregon, which has been jilted by Kansas State and Georgia in recent years, apparently is awaiting the particulars, perhaps with a frowny face.

As for the USC series with Texas A&M for 2015-16, it appears to be off.

Texas A&M drops USC, Oregon

May, 31, 2013
5/31/13
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When Texas A&M was a member of the Big 12, it scheduled home-and-home series with USC and Oregon. The USC series was scheduled for 2015-16. The Oregon series was set for 2018-19.

"When you combine USC and Oregon with the nonconference games we have planned with Arkansas, SMU and the others in the coming seasons, I think our future football schedules will be challenging and highly entertaining," then Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne said at the time.

Looked like nice matchups and a good trip for fans. Great opportunity for the Pac-12 to go 4-0 against a quality foe.

Now that Texas A&M is a member of the SEC, those series are dead.

Which stinks.

Was cowardice -- known as savvy scheduling in some parts -- to blame? Perhaps, but it sounds like things have been pretty complicated from a logistical side for A&M.

From the Houston Chronicle:
Those games are no longer part of A&M's plans, [A&M AD Eric] Hyman said, because "having switched from the Big 12 to the SEC, we've had to scrub our whole schedule - throw it almost out. Going forward, we've had conversations with people, but we really can't be contractually (obligated) until the conference says you've got the green light."

Slive said this week, moving forward, he intends for SEC schools to first receive their league game dates and then schedule non-conference contests around those.

"When we know what we've got and we know where the holes are and what we have to work with," Hyman said in regard to when scheduling can be tackled.

Further, USC has stepped back from its once aggressive scheduling. It's next major nonconference foe, other than the annual matchup with Notre Dame, is Texas in 2017-18. Oregon has a home-and-home set up with Michigan State for 2014-15.
Happy Friday.

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To the notes!

Fred from Portland writes: Your comments, re Barlkley, tho probably true, are disapointing. Theoretically, at least, the purpose of college is to gain an education. Your article implies that a good college athelete should go pro at the earliest possible opportunity. In truth, I can't argue with that, but it does imply that the concept of a student athlete, at least in terms of Football and Basketball, is a complete farce. I have long believed that "one and done" has seriously damaged College BB, and now, rather than trying to soften that, you are extending the concept to FB. I believe that athletes who accept college scholarships should be required to stay for 3 years. Incidentally, I believe that Barkley is a superlative qb and in time, his decision to stay, will become merely a footnote.

Ted Miller: Did you know that Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Paul Allen entered the High Tech draft before their college eligibility was over?

Fred, let's say you are still in college. And a theater major.
Trey Parker & Matt Stone: Fred, we have a new Broadway musical, "Springtime for Cartman." We want you to star, but we need you now. We'll pay you $1 million and you can live at The Carlyle on us.

Fred: Sorry guys, I can't. I have Spanish in at 8 a.m. tomorrow and my fraternity formal is next weekend.

College is cool. For many, it's the best. It's a first taste of freedom without being free in the worrisome, "I've to pay my bills" sort of way. There's also a potential payoff if you care about your brain and being able to carry on an intelligent conversation at cocktail parties ("The 400 Blows? Oh, you mean, "Les quatre cents coups." Yes, it's wonderful, but my favorite Truffaut film is 'Jules et Jim.'").

It's a good time to learn stuff from smart people that you may or may not use in the real world. The social part of college can be pretty tasty, too.

But the less romantic side of college is career preparation. Most people want a degree because it will lead to a better career. Many athletes go to college to major in football or basketball. The majority of them will realize pretty early on that they need a fall-back plan that will be bolstered by a college diploma.

Let's not forget that the number of football and basketball players that leave early is fairly small. For football, where athletes are required to stay in school three years, a record 73 players entered the 2013 draft early. But that's out of more than 10,000 guys playing FBS college football.

Further, this year's draft had more cautionary tales than Barkley. Only 50 of those early-entries were drafted, leaving 23 probably wishing they had a Spanish class in the morning.

We are only talking about a small handful of NFL prospects leaving their books behind. And they will have ample opportunities to go back and finish their degrees.

My general position on this is pretty simple: If you can join the 1 percent before you turn 25, you should make your move.

And that's whether you play football, write computer code or act.




Daniel from Bend, Ore., writes: Why does it seem like there is such little national talk about Marcus Mariota? His numbers are comparable to Johnny Manziel, while Mariota was pulled from many games at the halftime. Is the quick scoring success of Oregon hurting his chances of being in the national spotlight?

Ted Miller: What do you want? A May Day parade? A graphic novel that will be turned into a blockbuster movie before the season begins?

(There is a rumor than Mariota will play himself in the next "Avengers" movie).

Should we make Monday a special day for our nation to pause and talk about Mariota in order to assuage Daniel's concerns?

Have you seen any list of top 2013 Heisman Trophy candidates that doesn't include Mariota?

He's No. 5 on this one. No. 7 on this one. He's among five listed here. He made the Heisman Pundit's list. Here's another.

The reason Manziel is getting so much hype is... he won the Heisman last year.

Yes, it does hurt Mariota that he wasn't needed to be statistically impressive in very many fourth quarters last year. And, no, Mariota's numbers were't comparable to Manziel's. Manziel led the nation with 393.5 yards of offense per game. Mariota was 43rd with 263.8.

As for his chances, I'd rate them pretty darn good. If Mariota even incrementally improves his 2012 numbers and the Ducks are national title contenders, he at least will be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.




Jimbo from Seattle writes: Very surprised no shout out to Bob Condotta leaving Husky Beat at the Seattle Times after over 15 years covering the Dawgs!

Ted Miller: Jimbo isn't following the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

For shame.

Bob has long been among the very best college football beat writers in the nation. So now he'll shortly become one of the best NFL beat writers in the nation.

But I'm pouting. His blog made it very easy to find a Huskies link for the Pac-12 blog, even during those dark days of June.




Sam from Nashville writes: Please note that "evaluative" is NOT an English word. The proper word to use is "Evaluation"

Ted Miller: Please note that you are wrong.
The 2013 NFL draft was terrible for the Pac-12. It was worse than any draft since 2000.

Well, other than 2012, when the draft looked a lot like the one last weekend, with 28 players also picked. The conference had 28 players picked in 2010, but that was a 10-team conference.

In short, the last two years haven't been good for the conference in terms of NFL love, and that matters in terms of national perception of how good the conference really is. Perception matters, both within our subjective systems for measuring college football teams against each other and for how recruits perceive conferences and teams.

Meanwhile, there's the SEC, which over the weekend probably posted the greatest numbers for a college conference in NFL draft history, with 63 selections, including 32 in the first three rounds. Even when you break it down by per team numbers, the SEC's 4.5 picks per team far outstrips the Pac-12's 2.33 players per team.

This is not old news, folks. The SEC hasn't long dominated the NFL draft, as some might try to convince you. The Pac-10, in fact, had decisively better per team numbers in 2008 (3.4 vs. 2.92) and was also better in 2009 (3.2 vs. 3.1).

Even last year, the SEC wasn't that far ahead of the rest of the FBS conferences. Remember the woeful Big Ten, much maligned for its terrible 2013 draft numbers? It had 41 players drafted in 2012, just one fewer than the SEC.

The SEC did have a huge 2010 draft with 49 players selected (4.1 per team), so the present momentum isn't entirely new. It's just the "Wow" factor this go-around seems more substantial as a pattern. And meaningful.

Yet this long lead-in, which might have glazed over some eyeballs, isn't about looking back. It's about looking ahead, with both hope and concern for the Pac-12 and, really, the rest of college football.

You might have heard this: The SEC has won seven consecutive BCS national titles. That makes it reasonable to view the conference as a favorite to make it eight in a row before we jump into a four-team playoff in 2014. And many believe the SEC will then dominate that playoff.

I feel I'm being optimistic for the other AQ conferences when I respond, "Maybe."

So I asked myself a question while being agog over the SEC draft numbers: That should come with a noticeable talent drain, correct? I know SEC recruiting also rates highly, but losing 4.5 NFL draftable players per team, with much of that coming from the perennial powers, has to have an impact.

Right?

Well, in terms of 2013 returning starters, the Pac-12 stacks up well with the SEC. While returning starters numbers are a bit fluid (and often overrated), my review has the SEC averaging 14.6 returning starters compared to 16.3 for the Pac-12.

But that's not the Pac-12's entry point.

It's this:
  • The SEC's top-six teams (Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina) average 12.3 returning starters.
  • The Pac-12's top-six teams (Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington) average 16.5 returning starters.

So the Pac-12, generally regarded as the No. 2 AQ conference during the rise of the SEC, stacks up nicely.

Further, the Pac-12 looks like it will do far better in the 2014 NFL draft, though schools aren't eager to consider the potential early departures of players such as Oregon QB Marcus Mariota or Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

While SEC commissioner Mike Slive and SEC fans surely wouldn't agree, it would be good for college football for another conference to win the national title in 2013. It would send us into the College Football Playoff not fretting that the sport was becoming a handful of minor leagues surrounding the SEC.

At least not as much.

But just imagine if the SEC wins another title and then produces another draft of 60-plus players, a decidedly better total than everyone else. Yikes.

A few years ago, there were cracks in the "SEC rules!" argument. There were grounds for debate and ready-made ripostes. Now? Not so much.

As already noted more than a few times, the Pac-12 stacks up nicely for 2013. While "now or never" sounds a bit dramatic, it's not unreasonable to fear that if it's not now, it could feel closer to never -- or at least exceedingly rare -- as we begin the College Football Playoff.

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, as a redshirt freshman, made his first career road start against No. 2 Oregon in Autzen Stadium, the most inhospitable venue in the Pac-12. Entering the game, the Ducks had won 13 games in a row overall, the nation's longest winning streak, and they had won 26 of their past 27 games at home.

With Andrew Luck playing quarterback the two previous years, Stanford teams that would finished ranked in the top-10 had suffered blowout defeats against the Ducks.

So when Hogan led Stanford to a 17-14 win -- of course, with a strong assist from a superlative defensive performance -- it seemed liked a time for celebration and euphoria. If there ever was a moment for a young player to whoop and holler and then wear a Cheshire cat grin in front of the media, this was it.

Yet here was Hogan sitting at the postgame interview table looking... bored? No, that implies some degree of rudeness. Sedated? No, that implies something unnatural. Poised? Yes, but that also implies something more practiced than how Hogan appeared as he provided brief and humble answers to questions in his signature monotone.

Sleepy? Hmm. That feels, perhaps unexpectedly, accurate. Let's combine poised and sleepy and say Hogan was "sloised."

Hogan would go 5-0 as the Cardinal starter after taking over the sputtering offense at midseason, with his final victory giving Stanford its first Rose Bowl win since 1972. His play was steady and efficient, but rarely flamboyant. Sort of like the young man himself.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesQuarterback Kevin Hogan ran for 263 yards and two TDs last season, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
When you ask Hogan's teammates about him, about whether he lets his hair down when the cameras aren't around or has a secret dark side, you're met with an amused grin.

Said linebacker Shayne Skov, a demonstrative sort, "You don't get much out of him much of the time."

Other than winning, which is nice. Oh, and Stanford is widely viewed as a top 2013 national title contender because many expect Hogan to give the Cardinal a lot more in 2013.

The 2012 season was largely the "Year of the Young QB" in the Pac-12, with first-year starters such as Hogan, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and UCLA's Brett Hundley turning in outstanding debut seasons. The 2013 campaign projects as something different. What will these guys do for their encore?

The most interesting one might be Hogan, 2.0. While Mariota, Kelly and Hundley put up big numbers in high-powered, up-tempo offenses last fall, Hogan was mostly a game-manager for the Cardinal's physical, run-first attack.

Yet with a year of seasoning, you'd expect Hogan would be champing at the bit to showcase his passing skills.

Hogan doesn't do champing at the bit.

"I'd love to hand it off every time again if that's what gets us first downs and touchdowns," he said. "Whatever they need. I like winning. Whatever it takes to get that."

Good answer. But Stanford is no longer trying to win 10 games or end up in the top-10. Coach David Shaw admits he's thought about the program making the proverbial next step from conference champion to national champion. That requires eliminating the one or two losses that speckled the Cardinal's previous three seasons, which it's worth noting is the best run in school history.

That means Hogan becomes capable of taking a game into his own hands when things are slightly off on either side of the ball. That means in those close games where two or three critical plays go horribly wrong, Hogan steps up and takes corrective action with two or three plays he creates from the ether.

"The big thing for Kevin is taking the next step as far as knowledge and understanding," Shaw said. "He's going to work hard. He's very selfless. He's very team-oriented. We're to the point now where we can give him more to do, more things in the passing game, more things to handle at the line of scrimmage."

Stanford likely will remain a run-first team in 2013, in large part because it might have the nation's best offensive line. But with questions at tight end and improvement at receiver, there's a good reason Hogan said his primary focus this spring is getting better at throwing the deep ball. The Cardinal running game will be that much better if opposing secondaries are fretting about getting beat over the top, thereby limiting their leaning into run support.

Another aspect of Hogan's game worth watching: His running. He rushed for 263 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and not exclusively on scrambles. The 6-foot-4, 225 pounder is agile and not easy to bring down, and the Cardinal isn't afraid of throwing a few designed quarterback runs at a defense.

"His athleticism is our bailout," Shaw said. "His ability to run changes defenses."

The 2013 season will feel different for Hogan and Stanford. For the team, it will face a season rated as a top title contender by just about every pundit with few legitimate doubters. Each of the previous three seasons, that was not entirely the case. As in: How can they possibly replace Toby Gerhart!? Jim Harbaugh!? Luck!?

And the spotlight will burn much brighter on the understated Hogan.

That might not test his innate poise, but it could prove grating and distracting.

"There's going to be a higher amount of pressure on him, but he needs to just embrace it," Skov said. "Expectations are going to rise. But he's more than capable. So embrace the higher demands and pressure. I'm sure he's going to deliver. He did it time and time again last year, and he's only going to get better."

One thing working in Hogan's favor is the type of school Stanford is. As Luck often noted, Stanford's student body isn't the sort to go gaga over a quarterback. Luck, in fact, barely created a stir when he hung around this spring. Johnny Manziel might be forced to take on-line classes at Texas A&M to avoid to paparazzi, but that won't be the case for Hogan. He said his budding star turn in 2012 didn't earn him a fan club on campus that he's noticed.

"I wouldn't say it's changed too much," he said. "That's one of the things about this school. There's so much going on and there are so many people doing great things that people congratulate you after winning games, but they treat you like any other student. That's one of the nice things about being here. Being able to stay myself."

Hogan, Shaw and the Stanford players talk mostly about winning the Pac-12 and getting back to the Rose Bowl. They say that's something they can control with their play on the field. The national title game is something that includes outside forces, such as the final year of the BCS computations.

So Hogan said repeatedly it's all about getting back to Pasadena. Next question: "You do know the national title game is in Pasadena, too, right?

Sloised Hogan, "Yes."

Chip Kelly isn't terribly big. He's not notably loud, either. Nor is he typically expansive. Who he is, however, is -- was! -- the presence most often cited as transforming Oregon's football program from good to great. So his absence from the Ducks' first spring practice Tuesday was impossible to ignore.

Yet it's a tribute to the culture Kelly sought to create that it appears his players did a pretty darn good job of doing just that. Mostly.

"At first, a lot of the guys were talking about it," quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's a little different. But by the end of practice, it was good. Kind of the same. Once we got rolling, it was the same old game of football."

New coach Mark Helfrich, who was promoted from offensive coordinator, admitted to reporters that his first practice sans Kelly was "weird, at points." But Oregon moves too fast to stop for navel-gazing. It's "next man in" when a player or coach leaves or goes down, and so it will be for the beginning of the Helfrich era.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAs a redshirt freshman, Marcus Mariota quarterbacked high-flying Oregon to a No. 2 final ranking.
Without a doubt, the transition from Kelly to Helfrich is the point A of the Ducks' 2013 story. There's no question about point B, either: Mariota.

Somewhat lost in the regional shuffle of the Kelly-to-the-NFL talk and the national hullabaloo over Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel's brilliant Heisman Trophy season was Mariota's extraordinary performance as the Ducks' redshirt freshman starter.

Mariota was in the cockpit for a team that finished ranked No. 2 in the nation after whipping Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. He piloted an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.5 points per game) and was fifth in total offense (537.4 yards per game).

Individually, he ranked first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. In the Conference of Quarterbacks, he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after completing 68.5 percent of his throws for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He also got better as the year went along, despite the competition being decidedly tougher. As Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard pointed out, "[Mariota] had 11 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 152.74 rating in the first month of the season, and 21 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 171.10 rating after that."

That efficiency number would have ranked third in the nation. Further, keep in mind that Oregon's tendency to stomp opponents into submission by halftime meant Mariota was either on the bench or handing off during most fourth quarters.

While Mariota isn't the only reason many see the Ducks as national title contenders again in 2013, despite Kelly's departure, he is the biggest. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Honolulu native is a seemingly unflappable player who combines A-list speed with notable passing accuracy.

There is little Mariota didn't do well in 2012, so the idea of him improving can foster many pleasant thoughts among Ducks fans. And there are areas in which he can improve. Mariota said his offseason focus has been footwork. New offensive coordinator Scott Frost, promoted from receivers coach, believes Mariota's established strengths can become even stronger.

"I think we can clean some things up and be even more efficient," Frost said. "There are some things we want to tweak to help him have more of an opportunity to impact the game. We wouldn't trade him for anybody. We think he can do some amazing things and win a lot of games. We're going to feature him as much as we can."

With the Ducks welcoming back their entire cast of receivers and being questionable at running back, it's almost certain Mariota will throw more next season. That will mean more opportunities for him to put up big numbers. If he hangs up impressive stats while the Ducks continue to roll up wins, Mariota will gain the esteem of Heisman Trophy voters.

Mariota, the Fiesta Bowl MVP, isn't a guy who seeks out the spotlight, but he also doesn't seem to be afraid of it.

"My parents raised me to handle whatever comes at you," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Then he added, "I'm really looking forward to spring practices."

That sounds very Chip Kelly. Or maybe we now should say that it sounds very Oregon.

Video: Teams set to jump to elite level

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
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Michele Steele and Ivan Maisel go over a trio of teams ready to make the jump to Alabama's heights.

Youth movement at QB expanding?

March, 14, 2013
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If someone had asked me before spring practices began who California's starting quarterback would be in 2013, I would have quickly said with my all-knowing look: "Zach Kline."

If that someone had gently protested with a "But what about..." I would have interrupted with another all-knowing look, "No. It will be Zach Kline."

Unfortunately, that would have been the same all-knowing look I gave while asserting USC's national championship prospects before the 2012 season. It might be wise for me to mothball that all-knowing look, and I just want to add that my wife and children owe Lane Kiffin and the 2012 Trojans an eternal debt of gratitude.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireThe success of young QB's like Stanford's Kevin Hogan is no longer a rarity in college football.
Kline might well end up the Bears' starting quarterback, but that's not what this is about. It's about Cal's quarterback battle looking like it's going to be a showdown between Kline, a redshirt freshman, and true freshman Jared Goff, who opted to graduate early from high school, skip all the riotous things high school seniors do during their final spring frolic and begin the serious business of Pac-12 football.

A redshirt freshman is the "veteran." A true freshman is the challenger.

There are two notable things about the Conference of Quarterbacks this spring: 1. There's an impressive crew of talented and already accomplished ones returning; 2. Youth now rules a position where that very quality was nearly a disqualifying negative not too long ago.

California is not the only school that might tap a true freshman. Arizona has Anu Solomon coming in this fall, and the look on both coach Rich Rodriguez's and co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith's faces when talking about him suggest his candidacy is legitimate.

"If the kid is good enough and he can handle it," Smith said." Some kids transition better than others. Anu is a kid who was a four-year starter in high school. That doesn't mean anything for college, but at least he's been in the mode when he's the new kid on the block competing with older kids and he performed well. He was 56-4 as a starter. The kid is a winner. He knows how to move the football and win."

That is not too far from the case Pete Carroll made in 2008 when he opted to go with true freshman Matt Barkley, only Carroll went all Pete Carroll-y and made Barkley into some metaphysical quarterbacking beast, citing Malcolm Gladwell and labeling Barkley an "outlier."

Still, that was a precursor to the new reality.

A redshirt freshman, Texas A&M's Johnny "Football" Manziel, won the Heisman Trophy, and a redshirt freshman, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, was first-team All-Pac-12, over seniors Barkley and Arizona's Matt Scott. Stanford's season transformed when it handed its offense to redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. Utah started a true freshman, Travis Wilson, a few games into the season. Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley led a UCLA resurgence.

Further, USC again has an early-arriving true freshman who is a legitimate candidate to win the starting job in Max Browne. More than a few folks believe the front-runner to win the job at Colorado is redshirt freshman Shane Dillon.

We might not be at the end of 2013's youth movement. While Washington and Washington State both welcome back veteran quarterbacks in Keith Price and Connor Halliday, there is a sense they both could be threatened by, yes, true and redshirt freshmen challengers.

The only Pac-12 teams certain to start upperclassmen at quarterback: Arizona State with junior Taylor Kelly, and Oregon State with junior Sean Mannion or senior Cody Vaz.

This youth movement doesn't include a sacrifice of quality and high-prospects. It's not primarily about a failure of the older guys. Does any conference offer a better array of returning quarterbacks than Mariota, Kelly, Hundley and Hogan? The answer is no.

There are many explanations for this youth movement. First of all, quarterbacks are better prepared in high school. They get private coaching, go to summer camps, play 7-on-7 in the offseason, etc. In high school, they don't just show up in August for two-a-days and draw plays in the dirt anymore.

Further, a player's recognition of and respect for the natural pecking order has been reduced, as has patience. If a touted guy loses out in a quarterback competition, he seems more likely to transfer now in search of playing time. A couple of coaches also have told me it's more difficult to recruit the position when a team has an entrenched, underclass starter. That then means the junior and sophomore quarterbacks on the roster might not be as good as the younger players who sign only when the starter is a junior or senior.

Or the job will be vacant, as is the case with Browne at USC.

Yet just because a guy starts as a freshman doesn't mean the death of the upperclassman quarterback. In fact, it should in most cases increase its likelihood of occurring.

The logic is simple: If a guy is good enough to start as a freshman and plays well, then you can project forward two or three years of improvement and future success. The most important position on the field is locked down and secure and worry-free. A good thing.

It doesn't always work out like that -- see Price at Washington this past season. Or the Barkley of 2011 versus the lesser version in 2012.

That noted, it's not unreasonable to hold high hopes. Know that just about every Oregon fan has projected improvement for Mariota over the next two years, though he could enter the NFL draft as a third-year player after this season. Even moderate improvement sets him up as an All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate. Same could be said for Hogan, Hundley and Kelly, by the way.

The youth movement at quarterback is a substantial shift in thinking. An experienced, veteran quarterback used to be the first preseason measure of a team. Now all a team needs to be highly esteemed is a returning starter, even if that's just a sophomore.

It's getting to the point, in fact, that youth at quarterback will be weighted less as a potential problem by prognosticators.

At least, it's possible that the next time someone frets a lack of experience at quarterback being a problem, I'll resurrect my all-knowing look and say, "No, it's not!"

California's quarterback battle begins

February, 28, 2013
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Five guys are hurling balls inside Memorial Stadium, each getting plenty of chances to impress new California coach Sonny Dykes. But the Bears don full pads on Friday, which means a winnowing process at quarterback will begin in earnest.

Dykes said he wants to narrow the competition as quickly as possible, eliminating two or three guys by the end of spring. Perhaps even one will emerge and be anointed. That would make things easy.

[+] EnlargeAllan Bridgford
AP Photo/Rob HoltAllan Bridgford has the most starting experience at Cal.
"The thing you want to do is give everybody an opportunity," Dykes said. "You want to make sure everybody has enough of a chance to show what they can and can't do. After that, you've got to start being more careful with who you're giving more reps to."

The initial impressions from Allan Bridgford, Zach Kline, Austin Hinder, Kyle Boehm and Jared Goff? Dykes' up-tempo, spread offense is easier to learn than the pro style offense Cal ran under Jeff Tedford. Bridgford termed it "very simple."

And the pace in practice is much quicker.

"Last year, I felt like I was standing around for 30 minutes before I'd be up again," Bridgford said. "I'd have to get warmed up. Now we're bang, bang, bang with each getting their reps. It's good."

Bridgford is the senior with game experience, though not all of it good. Kline is the touted redshirt freshmen many fans were clamoring for last year. Goff is the touted true freshman who has arrived early to enter the fray. Hinder, a junior, and Boehm, a sophomore, are two former touted recruits looking for new life under Dykes after failing to make a mark under Tedford.

There's been plenty of "touted" with Cal quarterbacks over the past few years, but little in the way of game day excellence and consistency. A big reason Dykes is sitting in the big office in Berkeley is because he's viewed as an offensive innovator who's good with quarterbacks. You know, like Tedford was once viewed.

Goff is the wildcard. USC started Matt Barkley as a true freshman, and the success of redshirt freshmen quarterbacks last year -- Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, to name two -- probably makes it less nerve-racking for a coach to go young behind center.

Still, there's a huge difference between "true" and "redshirt" for a freshman.

"Goff's got talent," Dykes said. "There were times he looked like a kid who ought to be going to the prom. And other times when he looked like a Division I quarterback."

There are more than a few observers who believe Kline has the inside track. With practices now open -- they were locked down under Tedford -- those observers can arrive at more educated opinions. At this early juncture, it's probably too early to provide much of a stagger, and the quarterbacks themselves are offering no inside information.

Said Kline, "All these guys are studs. I have no idea. I'm just trying to compete."

Kline, who has rethought the "I play guitar for Guns & Roses look," called the offensive transition "smooth." That's not surprising, of course. He's not likely to say, "This new offense is horrible." But he was willing to gently contrast his newfound enthusiasm to what preceded it.

"It wasn't that we weren't hard workers before," he said. "We were hard workers. It just wasn't clicking, you know what I mean?"

The Pac-12 blog suspects many Cal fans know exactly what you mean, Zach.

As for the competition, Kline sees it this way: "It's going to be a huge battle. It's going to be an interesting spring."

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