Pac-12: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Looking back at some teams the current group of Pac-12 coaches have led during their respective head-coaching careers turns up an impressive list. All 12 have coached a team to a bowl appearance, 10 have finished a season with double-digit wins and eight have had teams appear in the AP top 10.

Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.

Here are some notable takeaways:

  • Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
  • Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
  • Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
  • Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
  • Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
  • Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
  • Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
  • Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
We're not going attempt to rank them ourselves, but here they are in reverse order based on each team's final AP ranking:

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian parlayed his successful 2013 season into the head-coaching job at USC.
No. 11 Steve Sarkisian, Washington, 2013

Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team:
The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.

No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013

Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008

Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team:
The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.

No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team:
The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceDavid Shaw's best team at Stanford didn't win the Pac-12 title.
No. 5 Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2013

Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.

No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.

No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.

No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at Kyle.Bonagura@espn.com.

Season wrap: Arizona State

January, 15, 2014
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Arizona State had a good season that had a bad ending.

The Sun Devils finished 10-4 against one of the nation's toughest schedules and won the Pac-12 South Division in coach Todd Graham's second year. They finished ranked 21st in the nation. They beat four teams that ended up nationally ranked. They beat archrival Arizona for a second consecutive season. They were effective on both sides of the ball.

But, golly, that was a horrible performance against what should have been an outmanned Texas Tech team in the National University Holiday Bowl. That shocking 37-23 whipping reminded the Sun Devils that they haven't not yet arrived.

You can read our graded review of Arizona State here.

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Taylor Kelly took a step forward as a junior to become one of the nation's best quarterbacks. He completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,635 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed for 608 yards and nine scores. He ranked 25th in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR measure of a quarterback. There's certainly room for him to get better in 2014, but he skillfully guided an offense that ranked among the Pac-12 and national leaders in 2013.

Defensive MVP: While defensive tackle Will Sutton's numbers were not as spectacular in 2013 as 2012, he still was one of the nation's dominant defensive players. That's why he won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year again this year. He finished with 48 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and four passes defended. He was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press.

Best moment: The Sun Devils’ 58-21 stomping of rival Arizona surely warmed the hearts of Arizona State fans everywhere. The Sun Devils dominated from bell-to-bell, leading 30-7 at the half, as Graham improved to 2-0 against Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, with whom he doesn't share a warm relationship. Retaining the Territorial Cup also gave the Sun Devils a seventh win in a row and 10th of the season. Further, the victory earned the Sun Devils home-field advantage for the Pac-12 title game, though, of course, that didn't end up mattering.

Worst moment: The Holiday Bowl was just awful, far more embarrassing than the two losses to Stanford or even the curiously uninspired performance against Notre Dame. The defense looked helpless, allowing Texas Tech freshman Davis Webb to pass for 410 yards and four touchdowns, while the offense was sloppy and out of sync against a mediocre-to-poor defense. The coaching wasn't that great either, something that was acknowledged by Graham after the game. A prime example of that would be the horrible clock management at the end of the first half which probably cost the Sun Devils a touchdown.

Pac-12 bowl season? A gentleman's C

January, 3, 2014
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The Pac-12 went 6-3 in its bowl games. On Dec. 9, the Pac-12 blog noted, "Anything less than 6-3 would be a major disappointment."

So the Pac-12 didn't notch a "major disappointment" this bowl season. And there was much rejoicing. Yay.

Sure, conference teams were favored in all nine games, but you can't win them all, right? A .667 winning percentage is solid by just about any measure. The super-awesome SEC is just 5-2 with a couple of tough games remaining.

SportsNation

How would you grade the Pac-12's postseason?

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    4%
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Discuss (Total votes: 4,913)

Why then am I so underwhelmed?

Short answer: It should have been better. Our Pac-12 bowl season grade? A gentleman's "C."

Part of the problem was the matchups, which were unusually forgiving. USC's blowout win over No. 20 Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl was the only win over a ranked team, mostly because the only other ranked team the Pac-12 played this bowl season was Stanford against No. 4 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO, a 24-20 Spartans victory.

Another part of the problem was how things went down.

While Washington State fans seem split on whether the Pac-12 blog is allowed to call the Cougars' monumental double-dog-derp against Colorado State by the term that everyone immediately thought of (don't worry, we won't type "Couged it"), that was a quintessential example of a team forcibly yanking defeat from the jaws of victory.

Then there was Arizona State against Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. For whatever reason, the Sun Devils simply didn't show up. We apologize for seeming to not give Texas Tech credit for a great win, but the Red Raiders need to understand the Sun Devils they played looked nothing like the Sun Devils of 2013. That game was utterly shocking, at both a player and coaching level. Todd Graham was right to take the blame afterward. His team wasn't ready to play.

That game reminded me of a coach who once told me that having a senior-laden team can become a mixed blessing for a bowl game. Sometimes, senior leadership provides focus to a locker room. And, sometimes, seeing that the seniors won't be accountable to the coaching staff and their teammates the following fall, they lose interest and start looking ahead to their own futures. My guess is the latter happened with Arizona State.

Stanford? It hardly played a perfect game, but the Rose Bowl was simply a good, hard-fought matchup that Michigan State took from Stanford, instead of the Cardinal giving it to the Spartans. The result served more as a validation of the Big Ten champs than a reduction of Stanford's national status.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Wilkerson
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony Wilkerson and Stanford didn't slip up too badly in the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State.
That take mostly rings true for the Pac-12's bowl season. Going 6-3 won't represent a retreat; it won't cause a negative national re-evaluation of the strength of the conference. For one, if Auburn loses to Florida State in the national title game, no conference will post a dominant bowl season. Big 12 champion Baylor losing to Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Alabama losing to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl showed that bowl-season nuttiness can affect even the heaviest of favorites.

So kudos to USC, Oregon State, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and UCLA for taking care of business in their bowl games.

USC and Washington won despite coaching turmoil. The Ducks showed what a healthy Marcus Mariota looked like and gave defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti a great farewell with a dominant performance on that side of the ball. Oregon State, Arizona and UCLA brought their A-games and dominated.

My general feeling is the carryover to 2014 will be at least four and probably five teams ranked in the preseason: Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC and maybe Arizona State.

The Pac-12 bowl season was only OK. It could have been worse; it could have been better.

That's nothing to aspire toward, but at least the conference won't have to spend the offseason wringing its hands over its national status as we head toward the first season of a four-team College Football Playoff.

National University Holiday Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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Arizona State (10-3) and Texas Tech (7-5) square off Monday night in San Diego in the National University Holiday Bowl at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Here’s a quick preview:

What to watch: There is a good chance, a very good chance actually, that this game could turn into a track meet. The Sun Devils average 41 points per game -- 10th in the country -- and Texas Tech isn’t too shabby offensively either, averaging almost 36 points per game. Which defense is going to step up and make a play? Arizona State seems the more likely option of the two. Texas Tech gives up 31.2 points per game while the Sun Devils only give up 25.8. The Sun Devils also have a plus-14 turnover margin with 21 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 54.7 percent of their passes against ASU.

Who to watch: The big question is who will start at quarterback for Texas Tech -- Davis Webb or Michael Brewer. This all came about after Baker Mayfield, in a strange turn of events, announced after the season that he was transferring. There's also a chance we could see both QBs. For the Sun Devils, it looks doubtful that Marion Grice will play, meaning the bulk of the running work falls on D.J. Foster. Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton is an All-American and the Pac-12’s two-time defensive player of the year. Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro is also an All-American with more than 1,200 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

Why to watch: The Holiday Bowl is traditionally one of the more exciting games of the postseason. Since its inception in 1978, 17 of the 35 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, and 20 of the games were decided in the final four minutes. This is also the last year that it will keep ties with the Big 12. Next year one of the top tier teams from the Big Ten will be paired against the Pac-12.

Prediction: Arizona State 42, Texas Tech 24.

Special teams carry the day for Stanford

October, 8, 2013
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Stephen Lam/Getty ImagesTy Montgomery returning the opening kickoff 99 yards for a score vs Washington Saturday.
Week 6 featured several exciting games. Georgia needed overtime and a fumble in the end zone to beat Tennessee, Ohio State came back from a 10-point second-half deficit to defeat Northwestern, and Jameis Winston continued his brilliance in his first game against a ranked opponent.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information looks back on Week 6 and ahead to this weekend’s matchup between Oregon and Washington.

We first look at how Stanford's special teams were the difference in its three-point win against Washington.

The Cardinal posted a +15.3 special teams EPA (expected points added is the contribution of each unit to team’s net points in a game) Saturday, the highest for any team in a game this season.

They returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and made their only field goal attempt. Additionally, Ben Rhyne punted six times for a career-high net average of 42 yards.

As a result, the Huskies’ average drive start was their own-23 yardline, almost 15 yards farther than the Cardinal’s average drive start. It was Washington’s worst starting field position differential of the season.

With a -2 and a -10.2 offensive and defensive EPA, respectively, Stanford would have lost to Washington by about 12 points if the Cardinal had an “average” special teams unit.

Best Individual Performances
Bryce Petty (97.1 Total QBR) has now posted a Total QBR of at least 90 in each of Baylor's first four games. Petty threw for 342 yards in the first half against West Virginia, as Baylor scored an FBS-high 56 points before halftime for the second time this season.

AJ McCarron (97.0 Total QBR) matched his career high with four touchdowns against Georgia State, all coming in the first half. McCarron only had one incompletion on 16 passes and led the Crimson Tide to touchdowns on all five of the drives that he quarterbacked.

Derek Carr (97.0 Total QBR) threw for 390 yards in the first half against Idaho, the most passing yards in a half by an FBS quarterback during the last two seasons. Carr threw five touchdowns, extending his FBS-leading streak of 25 games with a touchdown pass.

Connor Shaw (96.2 Total QBR) posted a Total QBR of at least 90 for the first time this season, despite playing with a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the UCF game the previous week. Shaw completed 17-of-20 (85 percent) passes against Kentucky, his third-highest completion percentage in 25 career starts.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 6, click here.

Best Team Performances
Offense: Baylor. In a 73-42 rout of West Virginia, the Bears added 40.6 expected points on offense, which means if Baylor had an average offense, it would have actually lost by almost 10 points.

The Bears’ output was the most offensive expected points added in a single game against any FBS opponent this season. Baylor now holds the top two offensive EPA performance against an FBS opponent this season.

Defense: Texas Tech. The Red Raiders defense added 31.3 expected points on defense in a 38-point victory over Kansas. Texas Tech forced four fumbles (three lost), sacked the Jayhawks four times and held them to 3-for-16 on third downs.

Looking ahead to Week 7
Oregon is traveling north to face Washington. In addition to hosting the Ducks, the Huskies will also host College GameDay.

Oregon, primarily known for its offense, has added the most expected points on defense among FBS schools (99.7). Opposing quarterbacks have a Total QBR of 23.3 against the Ducks this season, sixth lowest in the FBS.

Washington quarterback Keith Price has a Total QBR of 73.5 this season, up from 40.9 in 2012. Price will look to continue his improvement against an Oregon team that held him to a career-worst 10.1 Total QBR last season.

In the next week, ESPN Stats & Information will be releasing two new team ratings: the Championship Drive Rating and the Football Power Index (FPI). You will find an explanation of these ratings here.

The Championship Drive Rating will attempt to answer the question, “which teams deserve to be in the playoff based on what they have accomplished this season?” by focusing more on their résumé than who would win head-to-head.

The Football Power Index looks to answer the question, “if two teams were to meet at a neutral site, who has the advantage?” This metric is based on all facets of the team and adjusting it for the strength of its opponents.
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Notes please.

Tyler from Phoenix, Ariz., writes: I know you and Kevin are pretty high on ASU for 2013. But honestly, that schedule packs a wallop! Far too often there have been ASU teams that stumble in the beginning of the season, lose confidence, and proceed to lose winnable games late in the season. Am I crazy to think that they make take a step forward as a team, but take a step back in the win-loss column?

Ted Miller: You are crazy as a loon.

Yet you also are correct about the schedule. After FCS Sacramento State, the Sun Devils' next four games are tough: Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, which will feel like a road game.

I expect Arizona State to go 2-2 in that stretch. I like its chances at home against a Wisconsin team breaking in a new coach and against the Trojans. I think the chances are dim at Stanford. Notre Dame will be favored, perhaps by more than a touchdown, but I also think the Sun Devils, if they play well, have a good shot to upset the Irish.

So 3-1 is far from inconceivable. Neither is 1-3, by the way.

Obviously, the Pac-12 games are most important, and beating USC would make a statement in the South Division. As for losing confidence early, that will be the measure of Year 2 under coach Todd Graham. Recall that the Sun Devils bounced back well this year after losing four in a row to win their final three games, including a comeback win at rival Arizona.

We've heard a lot of about a culture change in the program, and we've seen a lot of evidence that has taken place. What the Sun Devils did last year was mostly win the games they were supposed to (Missouri being the exception) and lose against ranked teams. The next step is to beat quality opponents.

The tough start simply means we'll get a good early measure of the Sun Devils: Are they a top-25 team with a chance to win the South? Or are they a middle-of-the-pack team?

My feeling right now is the former. But we shall see.




Josh from College Station, Texas, writes: Greetings from SEC country. I have an expansion related question. Big surprise, right? It seems that, of the five major conferences (SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, B1G, and ACC...heck I'll even throw the MWC in there) the Pac-12 has the fewest options available for expansion, if the need were ever to arise. If college football makes a move for larger conferences, where does the Pac-12 turn to increase its size? Before the Grant of Rights occurred, the Big 12 was ripe for the picking, but now I'm not so sure. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Ted Miller: I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that College Station, Texas, is now "SEC country." But if Josh can do it, I should too.

You are correct. If we are to assume the Big 12 is again solid -- and it's probably not safe to assume anything, though the Big 12 seems stable at present -- then there are aren't any appealing, regional options for the Pac-12.

Now, this is when everyone goes, "What about School X?"

The answer is "No. It is not appealing." I don't want to get involved in typing why a list of schools on the West Coast are not appealing because that seems an unnecessary way to insult a variety of fine institutions.

As a catch-all: Outside of the Big 12, there aren't any schools out there that would bring strong, new markets to the conference, and that is what expansion is all about: eyeballs. Eyeballs mean more TV revenue. TV revenue makes expansion go round-and-round.

In September 2011, before the SEC and Big Ten made bold, expansionist moves, the Pac-12 could have added Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. It would have become the Pac-16 and the nation's most powerful athletic conference, but commissioner Larry Scott, acting on behalf of the Pac-12 presidents, turned down the opportunity.

I believed that was a mistake then and I do so even more now, and I think Scott agrees with me, though he can't publicly admit it.

Most longtime college football observers who have paid attention to the nuances of the expansionist trends believe there will be further contraction in the future as we move forward with a playoff format. The have-programs and have-conferences will continue to consolidate their forces. Consider the weakened states of the Big East and ACC, AQ conferences in the BCS system, as the Big Ten and SEC have flexed their muscles.

I do think there is reason for the Pac-12 to be nervous.

That said, Scott has long seemed to have a pretty good grip on the national landscape. He's a creative thinker. If trends continue in their present fashion, I suspect he's got a Plan B.




Derrick from Omaha, Neb., writes: Do you have any info on John Boyett? Could he get a medical redshirt? Is he turning pro? If so what is his draft stock?

Ted Miller: The Oregon safety is not seeking a medical redshirt year. He's entering the NFL draft this spring.

He pretty much moved back to Napa, Calif., his hometown, after his knee injury, handling his own surgery (both both patellar tendons), rehab and affairs.

As for his draft prospects, it's hard to say. He's not big -- 5-foot-10, 205 pounds -- and doesn't have great speed. He does, however, have great football instincts and a lot of "want-to." His numbers as a starter since his true freshman season were sensational.

I think he'll have a pro career, if healthy, at least as a special-teams ace.

The biggest thing he needs to do is run a good 40-yard dash for NFL scouts and prove his knees are back to 100 percent. If he shows he's healthy, my guess is he'll get picked in the late rounds of the draft.




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: All-Knowing Ted, In your article about UCLA landing two elite safeties, you mentioned that strong recruiting classes may help UCLA "challenge USC for PAC-12 supremacy." How is this supposed to occur if USC is nowhere near the top? Even if USC surprises us with a much stronger season next year (very iffy with a new QB), they would be, at most, the third-best team in the conference.

Ted Miller: A great way to get your note published is to call me "All-Knowing Ted."

As to your question, Derek, I was referring to recruiting rankings Insider. USC, ranked eighth in the nation, is tops in the Pac-12 at present but UCLA, at 12th and up nine spots after a big week, seems to be closing strong as the Trojans struggle a bit with decommitments.

To me, it would be a pretty big deal if UCLA's recruiting class eclipses USC's, even with the Trojans class limited by sanctions, particularly after how well the Trojans' recruiting season started.




Dave from Cocoa Beach, Fla., writes: I'm a slacker! I missed your review of Utah, do have a link to it so I can catch up? Need all I can get here is gatorville (they even get more local coverage than FSU!).

Ted Miller: Dave, I'm sure everyone feels sorry for you living in Cocoa Beach. Poor, poor Dave. Sitting on the beach with his laptop, checking his IBM stock, listening to the ocean lap against the white sands -- "Now where is the cabana girl with my pina colada? How can I be expected to endure WITHOUT MY PINA COLADA AND MY UTAH SEASON REVIEW!"

Dave, here's the Utah season review. And here's a link for everyone who might wish to peruse all the Pac-12 season reviews.

Pac-12 will review Wilson allegations

November, 12, 2012
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Washington State and the Pac-12 will both review allegations made by former Washington State star receiver Marquess Wilson that first-year coach Mike Leach and his staff were abusive to players.

The school announced that Wilson was suspended last week amid reports that he left a challenging conditioning workout on Nov. 4, the Sunday after the Cougars lost to Utah.

On Saturday, Wilson released a statement that said he had left the team, and that Leach and his staff have "preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us," and that included physical abuse.

On Sunday, Washington State president Elson S. Floyd released a statement:
After consultation with WSU Athletic Director Bill Moos, I have asked our athletic department to fully review recent allegations raised concerning the football program and report their findings and conclusions as soon as possible. Simultaneously, I have asked the Pac-12 to independently do the same. Together, both reports should get to the bottom of the matter.

Leach was out of coaching two years before being hired by Washington State. He spent 10 seasons as Texas Tech’s coach but was fired in 2009 for insubordination.

It is unclear what Wilson's plans are. He entered the season as an All-American candidate but seemed to have problems with Leach almost immediately. Even though he led the team with 52 receptions for 813 yards this season, Leach had demoted him from the starting lineup.

The Cougars entered the season with bowl hopes, but they are 2-8 and have lost seven in a row.

Suffice it to say, this was not what Moos hoped for when he hired Leach amid much local and national fanfare.
While the news at Pac-12 media day was scant, your Pac-12 bloggers did come away with an opinion or two. So the question behind today's Take 2 is which team near the bottom of the preseason poll did we leave media day feeling better about than before.

Ted Miller: While I think a team many are underestimating is UCLA, the team at Pac-12 media day that made me go, "Hmm… maybe?" was Oregon State.

Why? A couple of reasons. For one, a slide like this has happened with Mike Riley before. When he returned to Corvallis in 2002 after his ill-fated tenure with the San Diego Chargers, he went 8-5, 7-5 and 5-6. Folks wondered if the program was going to revert back to its dismal run of 28 consecutive losing seasons. Only Riley and the Beavers would go on to win 36 games over the next four seasons.

Further, there's second-year starting QB Sean Mannion, who was OK last year, but wasn't terribly efficient with 18 interceptions and 16 TDs. That sort of feels to me like Sean Canfield throwing 15 picks against just nine TDs in 2007. Two years later, after watching Lyle Moevao mature into a solid QB in 2008, Canfield earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors. And recall the difference in Matt Moore in 2005 -- bad QB, kind of a jerk -- and 2006 -- good QB who grew up and went to the NFL.

Quarterbacks under Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have dramatically improved their second year in the Beavers offense. The unfortunate exception to this rule, of course, is the guy Mannion displaced last fall, Ryan Katz.

But there's more!

Mannion has a strong crew of receivers and tight ends/H-backs. He just needs a running game to keep the opposing defense honest. I actually think there's enough talent in the backfield to make a "running back by committee" approach work. And the offensive line should improve because, well, it can't do much worse than last year.

But there's more!

What about that defense? It stood out to me at media day that Riley talked about the improved conditioning of sophomore defensive ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn. Those two have a chance to be a heck of a tandem. I like the Beavers back seven, which is sneaky good at linebacker and has cornerback Jordan Poyer, a top NFL prospect. The question is can the Beavers cover up an obvious weakness at tackle? Tag that with a firm "maybe."

The key stretch in the schedule runs from Sept. 22 to Oct. 13 when the Beavers play at UCLA, at Arizona, Washington State and at BYU. Those are four winnable games, but the Beavers have to be road warriors. The bad news is they've won just one true road game over the past two seasons.

Of course, that win was at a good Arizona team, when Katz seemed like he was on the cusp of breaking out -- only WR James Rodgers blew out his knee that night. Little has gone the Beavers way since then.

Call this a hunch that the Beavers will trend up in 2012. They might not get to eight wins, but I expect them to return to the postseason.

Kevin Gemmell: That's not a bad call. But it's the team the Beavers are staring up at in the preseason poll -- Washington State -- that leaves me questioning if there is room for one more in that indecipherable vacuum of second-tier North teams.

Like you, I think UCLA could be dangerous, because the athletes are in place and where Noel Mazzone goes, big offensive numbers usually follow. It seems like they just need a swift kick to the butt-pad to get them going. Jim Mora seems like the guy with the right set of feet.

But until we see what Mora can do at the college level, I'm sticking with the Cougars, because we know what Mike Leach and his teams are capable of.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I've been dropping WSU in occasionally as a team to watch in the North. And while I'm still not quite ready to elevate them in with those second-tier teams -- Cal, Stanford and Washington (in alphabetical order as not to offend) -- I'm a lot closer now than I was when the week started.

I walked away from media day convinced that Leach was not only the right hire, but that his impact is going to be immediate.

Most impressive was the demeanor and focus of quarterback Jeff Tuel. He carried himself with a quiet confidence and poise that stood out to me. I'm not going to compare being up on the stage to quarterbacking a football team -- but let's face it -- sitting up there in front of 100-plus reporters can be daunting. Tuel was loose -- and even cracked wise a couple of times. He carried himself like a mature, veteran, big-time quarterback. That's what you want to see.

The Cougars are going to score points, lots of them. And Tuel is going to put up numbers, big ones. Plus, there is depth at the position. Should Tuel suffer another injury -- he only appeared in three games last year -- Connor Halliday is waiting in the wings. I can think of a few teams that wouldn't mind having Halliday as a failsafe.

And I don't think the conference is fully prepared for what Leach and Co. are going to unleash each week. In his 10 years at Texas Tech his teams went to 10 bowl games. In 2000, his first year, he re-wrote virtually every Texas Tech passing record -- and then proceeded to re-break them for the next nine years. In his final two seasons his teams won 19 games. Washington State has won nine in the past four.

I'm predicting a 4-0 start (at BYU, Eastern Washington, at UNLV, Colorado). This team should make the postseason and if everything comes together with some haste, seven or eight wins is a very realistic possibility.

Pac-12: A look at Year 1

June, 29, 2012
6/29/12
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On Sunday, the Pac-12 will celebrate its first birthday. If you forgot to get the conference a gift, just send a check my way. I'll make sure Larry Scott gets it. Promise.

A year ago, Utah and Colorado held celebrations on campus as they officially transitioned into a new conference. Colorado moved from the prairies and tumbleweeds of the Big 12 into a more like-minded conference with big cities, snow-capped mountains and beaches. Utah took a step up from a non-AQ conference, the Mountain West, to an AQ one, meaning it could blow raspberries at programs with whom it once shared a common gripe. It's fun to sip single-malt inside the penthouse, eh Utes? And easy to forget the little people.

As for the Pac-10 members, there was some ambivalence. The 10-member symmetry was gone. There were scheduling sacrifices. But a $3 billion TV deal mostly kept the grousing in check.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUtah and coach Kyle Whittingham made a fairly smooth transition to the Pac-12 Conference.
So how do we feel after one year with two new members, 12 teams, North and South Divisions, and a conference championship game?

If there is a groundswell of unhappiness, the Pac-12 blog isn't hearing it. And it's not like you guys are shy about complaining. Moreover, here's a guess that when the new TV deal kicks in this fall, as well as the debut of the Pac-12 Networks, and every freaking football game is on TV, folks are going to find themselves thinking, "This is pretty cool."

What about the new members? Well, it's hard to imagine that you found Salt Lake City and Boulder lacking as new road trip destinations. Two great towns, two strong stadium experiences.

As for football, the Utes darn near won the South Division, getting shockingly cut down at home by those Buffaloes in the season finale, which perhaps will provide a nice boost for efforts to make that a rivalry. They also won the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech, one of just two Pac-12 victories in a seven-game bowl season. Utah should again be in the South mix this fall, as well as a threat to push into the Top 25.

Colorado? The Buffs, lacking team speed, struggled. And they probably will again this season. But this is a program with a split national title, six Big 8/12 conference titles, a Heisman Trophy winner and a Fiesta Bowl berth in 2001. The Buffs will rise again.

And here's hoping you Buffs and Utes enjoyed your new digs.

As far as the new format -- divisions and a championship game -- it could have been awesome but mostly stunk. That's because, with true South Division champ USC ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions, a middling and overmatched UCLA squad became a sacrificial cub for Oregon in the conference title game. Still, the game management was solid. There was nothing lacking other than a compelling matchup. And it's too early to pass judgment on the No. 1 seed hosting format.

Expect the title game this season to be far more compelling. In fact, it's a good bet it will have national title implications.

There were other changes, most notably four new coaches who commanded big salaries. The SEC-ness of the salaries -- though not completely there yet -- is due in large part to the TV money. It's also nice that Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora and Mike Leach are nationally recognizable names. It doesn't hurt, either, that some of them are controversial. You know what they say about publicity -- even the bad is good.

That TV money also is paying for facilities upgrades across the conference. It seems as though just about every program is either finishing up, in the midst of or planning new buildings and renovations that will make their programs more appealing and up-to-date. (Let's not dwell on these millions going toward sports instead of academics -- no one likes a party pooper.)

Let's not romanticize things too much. The Pac-10 became the Pac-12 to make more money. Hard to say that mission wasn't accomplished. Yet things move quickly in college football these days. As we saw with the gamesmanship this offseason with discussions about a new postseason format and rumblings of further conference expansion/contraction, there are plenty of competing interests out there. Pac-12 leadership needs to remain vigilant and nimble. It might not be time to get too comfortable. Being proactive seems like a better strategy than being reactive. The conference might, in fact, rue the day it opted to not bring Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech aboard.

Further, as we eyeball the future, let's have no illusions about what needs to happen next: Winning.

It's certainly nice that the Pac-12 does well in the Director's Cup standings, and that the conference continues to pile up national titles in nonrevenue sports, but football is the engine inside the college sports machine. The Pac-12 needs to win football national titles. It needs to produce multiple elite teams annually. It needs to scatter itself evenly throughout the Top 25. It needs to win bowl games.

Oregon and Stanford rose impressively as USC faltered. Now the Trojans appear back in the mix. Can all three be top-10 threats on a regular basis? Maybe. Is anybody else ready to make a move?

Amid massive change across the college football landscape, Year 1 of the Pac-12 certainly feels like a success. And promising for the future.

So, happy birthday. Now, back to work.
ESPN Insider Travis Haney looks at programs with untapped potential that could break through  into the nation's elite over the next few years, and he taps Arizona as a Pac-12 school that could move up in the national pecking order.

Writes Haney:
The Wildcats have been close in the past, just missing the Rose Bowl in 1993 and 1998. The commitment seems strong, with a $72 million football facility set for completion in 2013. "That sends a message right there," new coach Rich Rodriguez said this week. Coming from Michigan, Rodriguez added that he sees favorable weather as a strong selling point for the school, which will draw from recruiting-rich areas such as Phoenix and Southern California.

Haney leads his story with TCU, a program that appears poised to move up from non-AQ giant killer to just being one of the giants as it joins the Big 12.

As for the Wildcats, you probably could put a number of Pac-12 teams into that category, particularly the ones with new coaches.
  • Arizona State has long been burdened with the title of "sleeping giant." Is Todd Graham going to awake the Sun Devils?
  • UCLA has been successful before and there is no reason the Bruins can't surge under new coach Jim Mora. It wasn't too long ago when the Bruins, in fact, dominated their rivalry with then-faltering USC.
  • Mike Leach is just one of those coaches who gets more from less -- see what he did with Texas Tech. And Washington State has proved it can win in the Pac-12 -- see two Rose Bowl berths since 1997 and three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001 to 2003. If Mike Price can do it, Mike Leach can do it.

Further, Washington is a team that seems to be putting it together -- A-list coaching staff plus good recruiting plus upgraded facilities. It certainly feels like the Huskies are close to challenging Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12 North.

And here's one that might seem strange: California.

While many Cal fans are frustrated with a present plateau of mediocrity under Jeff Tedford, it's not ridiculous to wonder what Tedford might get done now that he's been given long -- long! -- promised facilities upgrades. If the recent uptick in recruiting continues -- yes, even without Tosh Lupoi -- then the Bears could quickly get into the North mix.
SEC and Big 12 folks have been tweaking the Big Ten and Pac-12's love of the Rose Bowl of late. That made me grin because the primary motivation for those tweaks was jealousy.

Don't buy that assessment? Well, then what do you make of this: The SEC and Big 12 champions, starting in 2014 after the current BCS contract expires and we presumably adopt a four-team playoff, will meet annually in a prime time New Year's Day "bowl" game.

[+] EnlargeMike Silve
Darrell Walker/Icon SMICommissioner Mike Slive and the SEC have a bowl agreement with the Big 12 that is nearly identical to the Rose Bowl model used by the Big Ten and Pac-12.

Unless, of course, the SEC and/or Big 12 champions are selected for the four-team playoff, which one is almost certain to be and both are likely to be.

But, if one or both is selected for the playoff, then, just like the Rose Bowl, a No. 2 team from both or either conference will be selected.

So the SEC and Big 12 have adopted the Rose Bowl model in its entirety. Other than the fact that they can't play in the Rose Bowl stadium as the sun goes down over the San Gabriel Mountains.

The location has not been set. The Sugar Bowl (SEC) and Fiesta Bowl (Big 12) already have a dog in this fight, but expect bids to come from Jerry Jones and his deluxe Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as well as a play from Atlanta.

By the way, the Rose Bowl jealousy stuff is mostly good-natured ribbing while I'm gaping at another sudden shift in college football's tectonic plates.

Folks, this stuff is amazing, and there's a stunning plot twist seemingly on a weekly basis -- Florida State to the Big 12? Notre Dame back in play?

The main take-away: This is a step closer to four power conferences, with the ACC and Big East finding their footing suddenly precarious.

And, if you want to worry, Pac-12 fans, it looks like the SEC and Big 12 are being far more aggressive -- read: expansionist -- as college football remakes itself. Keep in mind that the Pac-12 could have ended the Big 12 last September and become the first 16-team super-conference if Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech had made a jump.

Pac-12 presidents might end up regretting their decision not to expand -- and giving Oklahoma, in particular, the shaft. Newly enriched by a mega-TV deal, they might have lost track of the big picture while they were counting their money.

Commissioner Larry Scott has long held that further consolidation at the top of college football was inevitable. This is another example of him proving right, though this time without a blockbuster deal for Pac-12 folks to celebrate.

This latest news is a reason to get nervous. Or to just marvel at how quickly the game has changed.
PHOENIX -- The first reaction was shock: Junior Seau dead at just 43, his death ruled a suicide. Quickly came grief: An all-time USC and NFL great, a good guy known for his accessibility and philanthropy away from the field who didn't want to live anymore.

Then shortly thereafter: Anger. Another football player dead before his time. Surely head injuries -- concussions -- were to blame. Surely the game is to blame. These three stages have been repeated too often of late, and their repetition threatens our love affair with a sport that obsesses our country like no other.

We can't make you feel any better about Seau. That's a still-resonating tragedy. We can only note it's premature to arrive at any overriding conclusions as to why he did the unthinkable.

[+] EnlargeJunior Seau
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireSpecialists are trying to determine whether Junior Seau's suicide could be related to the growing link between football and concussions.
But we might be able to make you feel a little bit better about football.

The takeaway from a timely Fiesta Bowl Summit panel Thursday, "Sports-Related Concussions: Facts, Fallacies and New Frontiers," was twofold: 1. The NCAA and NFL, after the media forced them to pay attention, have been working hard to get their arms around the issue; 2. It's not unreasonable to believe they can.

Of course, there always will be head injuries in contact sports, and repeated head trauma can lead to long-term health problems. This knowledge isn't new. Doctors were aware of boxers becoming punch drunk -- dementia pugilistica -- in the 1920s.

Understanding concussions and how best to prevent and then treat them, however, isn't easy. As Dr. Margot Putukian, one of four panelists at the Arizona Biltmore, said, concussions are "a moving target." Each one is different, and each person is different. They are not anything like a torn ACL.

Yet there has been recent research progress that is particularly meaningful for football. Said Dr. Michael McCrea, "The news is promising."

McCrea's research found that 28 percent of athletes suffering a concussion no longer show symptoms from their injury after 24 hours. Sixty percent are asymptomatic after a week to 10 days. So nearly 90 percent of athletes passed tests that showed their symptoms were gone inside of 10 days. But that's not the good news. Passing tests that show symptoms are gone doesn't mean the brain has fully healed -- achieved full clinical recovery.

The good news is this: Those numbers, it turns out, do indeed run roughly parallel to a full clinical recovery. Using a multi-dimensional approach -- symptoms tests as well as MRI -- for assessing the recovery process can, McCrea said, "take the guesswork out of concussion management."

These numbers should make it easier to convince athletes who are eager to get back on the field and coaches who want them there to be patient. Simply, coming back too early greatly increases the risk of another concussion, and a second concussion almost always requires a far longer recovery time. Waiting the full seven to 10 days -- and missing a game -- greatly reduces the risk of re-injury, McCrea said. Ergo, there are now specific numbers that show it's better for athlete and team not to rush things.

But the issues with concussions extend beyond understanding them, treating them and even preventing them. Every institution needs well-drilled standards and procedures for dealing with them: A concussion management plan. And coaches and training staff need to know them and know them well. Putukian asked a rhetorical question that all parents of athletes should be asking coaches (non-rhetorically): "What medical personnel do you have there, and what do you do in case of emergency?"

How many layers of procedure are involved here? Lots. Here's one you probably didn't think of: Academic accommodation. A player who suffered a concussion on Saturday might have issues taking a test the following Wednesday.

There was a consensus among the four doctors about how the NFL and NCAA can continue to improve their approach to concussions.

  • Education: Players and coaches need to understand how serious head injuries are, and the potentially harmful long-term consequences for returning to play too soon. This could include, for example, coaches deciding to limit contact during practices.
  • Equipment: There are no helmets that prevent concussions, and there won't ever be. That doesn't mean some helmets aren't better than others. Virginia Tech has devised a respected helmet ratings system, and the Riddell 360, Rawlings Quantum Plus and Riddell Revolution Speed all achieved five-star ratings.
  • Rules changes: Obviously, an emphasis on stopping head-to-head collisions has been front-and-center. A lot of attention also is being paid to when concussions are most likely to happen in a football game -- on special teams, in the open field and for specific positions.
  • Culture change: This might be one of the most difficult to enact -- see the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. Football is a physical game. That's why it's fun to play and to watch. But there needs to be a recognition that brutality for brutality's sake, a zeal for hurting opponents, can have horrific ramifications after the cartoonish strut and taunt end.

Coaches seem to be taking this issue seriously. Among those who attended the concussion summit, which was presided over by NCAA president Mark Emmert, were Stanford's David Shaw, Wisconsin's Brett Bielema and Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville. When it was over, UTEP coach Mike Price stood up to say it was the best talk on the subject he'd heard.

This was a sad week for football. A few folks are seriously raising the question of whether college football should be banned. Seau's death made it less easy to scoff derisively at such talk.

Concussions are a serious problem in football. The first step toward solving a problem is recognizing it. The concussion panel this week suggested that football now might be taking a second and perhaps third step.

WSU's Lintz: From Russia with hope

April, 19, 2012
4/19/12
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Sometimes football players come from unexpected places.

Washington State's Andrei Lintz grew up frolicking outside his mom's office: The Catherine Palace, the Rococo summer residence of the tsars just outside of St. Petersburg -- yes, the Russian one, not the one in Florida.

"I remember walking around there. That was my place to hang out," Lintz said. "It was a cool backyard compared to Pullman, where you've got hills and five minutes out of town and you're in the middle of nowhere."

Lintz moved to the U.S. when he was 6. He grew up playing soccer and didn't play football until his freshman year of high school. But he did enough at Meridian High in Bellingham, Wash., to earn a scholarship to Washington State, where he was part of former coach Paul Wulff's first recruiting class.

The next four years weren't much fun. Though the Cougars steadily, if slowly, improved, Wulff was fired last winter after going 9-40 overall and 4-32 in conference play.

"It was heartbreaking from a personal standpoint -- these were the coaches who believed in you, trusted in you," Lintz said. "It is a business and that's the ultimate reality. If you don't win at the Division I level, you're going to get fired."

[+] EnlargeWashington State's Mike Leach
AP Photo/Dean HareTight ends typically don't excel in Washington State coach Mike Leach's system. That could change in 2012.
Then athletic director Bill Moos tapped former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach as Wulff's replacement, which generated plenty of positive buzz in Pullman.

Unless you played tight end, as Lintz did. His initial thought was he might disappear as a fifth-year senior in a spread offense. Heck, Leach didn't even have a tight ends coach.

"I had no idea what was in store for me," Lintz said. "I was pretty worried. I watched [Texas Tech] highlights and they very rarely had a tight end on the field. It was all four-wides and the receivers were small, quick guys."

Ah, but sometimes football players come from unexpected places. Or 6-foot-5, 252-pound tight ends become inside receivers.

Some might see the move as a gimmick. Clearly talented sophomore tight end Aaron Dunn wasn't impressed with his prospects. He quickly transferred after Leach's hire.

But Lintz was a revelation this spring, arguably the Cougs' most consistent receiver. In the final two scrimmages, he caught 12 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Leach's "Air Raid" offense neglect a guy with a tight end's body? Well, last year as the No. 1 tight end, Lintz made just seven catches for 96 yards and one touchdown -- all season.

If you are looking for a breakout player next fall, a guy who could give opposing defenses fits and make them think they are trying to cover the second-coming of former Stanford tight end -- and potential first-round NFL draft pick -- Coby Fleener, look no further than Lintz. He's not as fast as Fleener -- not nearly so -- but he's plenty athletic. And he's capable of playing a jack-of-all-trades role -- receiver, tight end and H-back.

In other words, he's another guy who can help force a defense to do what Leach wants to force it to do: account for the entire field.

But will that be enough to get the Cougs to the postseason for the first time since 2003? Lintz said what has distinguished Leach's first spring, which ends with Saturday's spring game, was a sense of urgency.

"It's almost cutthroat," he said. "It's all go, go, go, now, now, now. We can't be the welcome mat of the Pac-12 anymore."

Lintz likely meant "doormat," but his point is clear. He might hail from Russia, but he's fully aware that the Cougars head into 2012 with an eight-year bowl drought, longest in the Pac-12.
Mike Leach is not afraid of the weather in Pullman, Wash., which could be a bit nippy -- and perhaps snowy -- for the first day of Washington State's spring practices on Thursday.

Heck, it's not like his first spring practice leading the Cougars could be more inclement than his first leading Texas Tech in 2000.

Cold? Snow? Not as bad as hail.

"It's flying off their helmets like popcorn," Leach said recalling his first practice in Lubbock.

[+] EnlargeWashington State's Mike Leach
AP Photo/Dean HareTight ends typically don't excel in Washington State coach Mike Leach's system. That could change in 2012.
Or do you know what happens when a hard rain meets a dust storm?

"A couple of times a year there, it rains mud," he said.

Leach the raconteur took control of his chat with reporters Wednesday afternoon and was, as usual, highly entertaining. But getting specifics from him about what he sees with his personnel wasn't part of the plan, and it led to briefer answers. Of course, that makes sense because Leach isn't sure what he's got as he installs his "Air Raid" offense and a 3-4 defense.

Evaluation is obviously a top priority, but Leach used the terms "precise" and "efficient" repeatedly.

Or, as he said, "Getting as good as we possibly can at practicing."

The first order of business is finding a quarterback. Leach said reps will be split 50-50, at least during the early-going, between Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday. When asked if Halliday, who suffered a lacerated liver against Utah on Nov. 19, was ready to practice full-go, Leach said, "I assume."

Leach said the top two priorities for his QBs will be decision-making and accuracy. "Those two you really can't compromise on," he said. Quick feet also help, particularly for a team that has some questions on the offensive line.

Leach pointed out that he didn't pursue a JC QB because he's pretty satisfied with what he's seen on tape of Tuel and Halliday. "It's not like you're starting from zero," he said.

He seemed intrigued by his talent at receiver, noting that the crew was taller than what he typically had at Texas Tech. And, yes, he's been impressed by Marquess Wilson.

"What I like about him is he always wants the ball," he said.

On the other side of the ball, it will be interesting to see how things develop, particularly if the Cougars want to make new coordinator's Mike Breske’s 3-4 alignment their base scheme. After dismissing both C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi from the team -- both returning starters -- there's a decided lack of depth at linebacker. Count on there being some position shuffling, both from the backhalf and the line. Leach, in particular, seemed intrigued with Travis Long, who has started the previous three years at end. The 6-foot-4, 256-pound senior might be athletic enough to play an outside linebacker spot.

"He can do a lot of things," Leach said. "Moving him around as a player is pretty tempting."

It's obvious there will be a lot going on this spring in Pullman, so the often-challenging weather is not a chief concern. Getting guys into the right spot is.

Said Leach, "There isn't anybody who's not being evaluated."
It's a rare moment when Mike Leach is asked a question about quarterbacking and he doesn't know the answer.

Ask him who was the best he ever worked with and he'll rattle off four or five names. Ask him about the origins of his philosophy and he'll go into detail about the wishbone roots and his days as a student at BYU. Ask him what he looks for in a quarterback and he'll hammer on how accuracy and decision-making are the primary characteristics.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
AP Photo/Dean HareMike Leach will lead a Washington State offense that finished ninth nationally in passing in 2011.
But ask him about the current quarterback competition at Washington State, and suddenly he's grasping for a response.

"I wish I could answer that," Leach said. "I know that question might be rolling around some other people's heads. But trust me, it's not rolling around in their head as much as it's been mine ... I'll be able to answer that better after about three days out there."

As the Cougars head into spring football next month with their new head coach, all eyes will be on the competition between veteran Jeff Tuel and upstart Connor Halliday. The winner of the job is destined for big numbers and a sore arm. No quarterback in the history of NCAA football attempted more passes in a season than B.J. Symons when Leach was his coach at Texas Tech. No player threw more times over a two- and three-year period than Graham Harrell when he played for Leach. Look at the NCAA record book for passing and it's littered with Texas Tech quarterbacks from their time with Leach.

Now Leach is bringing his style to Washington State -- a team that ranked ninth nationally in passing offense last season. Tuel and Halliday each enter the spring coming off of significant injuries. Tuel suffered a broken clavicle in the season opener last year and saw action in just two other games. Halliday appeared in four games before suffering a lacerated liver in a gutty loss to Utah.

"We'll split the reps with both of them," said Leach, whose job title also includes offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "They both throw pretty good balls. Connor is pretty accurate. Jeff has real good feet and Connor's aren't bad. They are both tall guys. I'm excited to work with both of them."

And if you are a quarterback, it's hard not to be excited about the prospect of learning from Leach. It might come as a surprise to hear that Leach's offense grew out of the run-oriented wishbone. But when he breaks it down to the simplest form, it makes perfect sense.

"I know it sounds strange that it came from the wishbone and everybody says we're different because they run and we throw," Leach said. "Well, we're not that different. Both of our offenses value, first and foremost, distribution. Making sure all of our skill positions touch the ball. You want to attack space. The wishbone does a pretty good job at that."

And so do Leach's offenses -- which more often than not ranked first nationally in the pass during his time at Texas Tech. You need guys to haul it in, but it all starts with the quarterback.

"When I evaluate a quarterback, I look at if he makes good decisions and if he's accurate," Leach said. "And I don't compromise those two things, no matter what. I won't recruit a guy unless he can do those two things. That's the very minimum. And I think too often people do compromise those.

"I think it's very difficult-to-impossible to take a guy that is not accurate and make him accurate. You can improve accuracy, but you can't take a guy -- at least that I've seen -- take a guy who is not accurate and make him accurate. People say 'this guy is big and fast and all you have to do is work on his accuracy.' I say 'good luck,' because I don't see that happening."

While the schematic concepts of Leach's style derive from the wishbone, his philosophical approach to the game was borne out of his time as a student at BYU -- an era he calls the Golden Age of BYU football under LaVell Edwards' pass-happy offense.

"That was the single biggest influence," Leach said. " ... It was a great time to be there and it had a big influence on me. I've always credited LaVell and his group for having a major impact on me. He's what inspires a lot of us to coach and you hope you can stack up on some level with him when you finish your body of work. Very few people ever have. He's one of the bench marks and role models for all coaches."

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