Pac-12: Tyler Hansen

Over on the Big 12 blog, David Ubben decided to go through all the teams in the conference and see how they've done against the Top 25 since 2008.

That sounded like a ton of fun, so here's a look at the Pac-12 results. For seasoning, I added a best/worst category against Top 25 teams, which is very subjective and, as always, open to debate.

Since 2008 the Pac-12 is 52-105 against Top 25 teams. Utah and Colorado records prior to 2011 are not factored in, but we'll still look at them in the team-by-team breakdown.

Oregon carries the flag for the conference with a robust .705 winning percentage while Washington State has a Blutarsky.

Here's how the entire conference shapes up:

Oregon

Record vs. Top 25: 12-5 (.705)

Best win: The Stanford victories in consecutive years put the Cardinal back in their place (and last year, signified the clear leader in the North), but the 45-38 win over No. 10 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year was a breakthrough for the program. It put an end to the "can they win the big one" questions and was critical for the legitimacy of the league. Oregon to the rest of the conference: You're welcome.

Toughest loss: The Boise State loss in 2009 was a stinger. But anytime you lose in the National Championship game to the No. 1 team -- and the way it went down in those obscure final two minutes -- it's tough. That loss brought about some of the questions the Ducks were able to answer with the Rose Bowl win.

USC

Record vs. Top 25: 9-5 (.642)

Best win: The 35-3 win over Ohio State in 2008 stands out. But the victory at No. 4 Oregon last year bloodies the water for this year's much-anticipated showdown.

Worst loss: Also from last year, the triple-overtime loss to No. 6 Stanford shouldn't have ended the way it did. Maybe Stanford still would have won -- but that game was too epic to end on a fumble.

Stanford

Record vs. Top 25: 7-6 (.538)

Best win: The '09 win over Oregon stands out because the Ducks were a Top 10 team on a seven-game winning streak. Toby Gerhart ran wild -- picking up 223 yards and three scores. It was really Stanford's declaration that they'd arrived in the conference under Jim Harbaugh.

Worst loss: Many will think it's the Fiesta Bowl last year because the wound is still fresh and the manner in which it went down. But losing the Big Game 34-28 to No. 25 Cal in 2009 -- especially after notching back-to-back wins over Oregon and No. 9 USC -- is simply deflating. If the Oregon game was a declaration of arrival, the Cal game was a reminder of how deep the conference can be.

Utah

Record vs. Top 25: 4-5 (.444)

Best win: The 2008 Sugar Bowl. Big, bad 'Bama gets bounced by a tiny little non-AQ, leaving most West of the Mississippi with a great-big smile.

Worst loss: An overtime loss hurts. An overtime loss to a rival hurts more. An overtime loss when the opposing quarterback gives you a verbal smack down following the loss is just brutal. The 2009 Holy War loss to No. 19 BYU will always sting.

Arizona

Record vs. Top 25: 4-10 (.285)

Best win: Willie Tuitama was simply prolific in carving up No. 16 BYU in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, throwing for 325 yards, two touchdowns and running for another in a 31-21 win. It was Arizona's first bowl win in a decade.

Worst loss: The double-overtime loss to Oregon in 2009 was tough, but the 33-0 beat down by No. 22 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl that same year was a real stinker.

Oregon State

Record vs. Top 25: 5-15 (.250)

Best win: Jacquizz Rodgers busted out 186 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a 27-21 stunner of No. 1 USC in 2008. Doesn't get much sweeter than an unranked knocking off a No. 1. Though the 3-0 win over No. 20 Pitt. in the 2008 Sun Bowl gets a tip of the cap simply for the novelty.

Worst loss: The Beavers were shutout 38-0 by No. 6 Stanford in '10. That came a week after a 36-7 win over No. 20 USC. Talk about highs and lows.

Washington

Record vs. Top 25: 5-15 (.250)

Best win: Because of the record the previous year and because it was Steve Sarkisian against Pete Carroll, the 16-13 stunner over No. 3 USC in 2009 is one worth re-living over and over if you're a Washington fan. Erik Folk was so clutch.

Worst loss: Anything from 2008 will do.

UCLA

Record vs. Top 25: 4-12 (.250)

Best win: Maybe No. 7 Texas was looking ahead to the showdown with Oklahoma. Oh well, don't turn the ball over four times in the first 30 minutes. Great performance from Johnathan Franklin in the 34-12 win in 2010.

Worst loss: Toss up between the 35-0 loss to No. 25 Stanford at home in 2010 or the 59-0 loss to No. 18 BYU in 2008. Both were brutal -- but the BYU one probably stung more since the Bruins had clipped No. 18 Tennessee in overtime just 12 days earlier in the season opener.

Cal

Record vs. Top 25: 3-10 (.230)

Best win: What's bad for the Cardinal is generally good for the Bears. The 2009 Big Game win at No. 17 Stanford was extra tasty -- especially when a late Andrew Luck interception in the red zone sealed the deal. Shane Vereen was on fire with 193 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.

Worst loss: The No. 6 Cardinal reclaimed the axe the following year with a 48-14 thrashing in Berkeley. Stepfan Taylor produced three touchdowns and Luck produced a Stanford fan's dream highlight with his forearm deflection of Sean Cattouse.

Arizona State

Record vs. Top 25: 3-11 (.214)

Best win: The USC and Missouri wins last year were pretty big, but there is nothing sweeter than beating a rival, in double-overtime, on the road, when they are ranked and you aren't. That was the case in 2010 with a 30-29 win over No. 23 Arizona. James Brooks will always be remembered for blocking an extra point near the end of regulation to force overtime. And then blocking a second extra point -- seriously -- to lock up the win. As bizarre as it was magnificent for the Sun Devils.

Worst loss: The loss to No. 7 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl last year was completely uninspired and capped a horrific end to the season. The Sun Devils went into a tailspin and Todd Graham has to pull them out.

Colorado

Record vs. Top 25: 2-12

Best win: In his first career start in 2009, Tyler Hansen threw for 175 yards, a touchdown and ran for another to spark an upset win over No. 17 Kansas. That was Colorado's last win against a Top 25 team. The Buffs are 0-7 since.

Worst loss: Back in the day before they joined the Pac-12, Colorado had a little rivalry with a midwest school named Nebraska. The No. 15 Cornhuskers sent Colorado into the Pac-12 with an ugly 45-17 loss in 2010.

Washington State

Record vs. Top 25: 0-12

Best win: You have to think the streak ends under Mike Leach -- and sooner rather than later.

Worst loss: Tragically, there are so many choices. But we'll go with the 69-0 to No. 6 USC in 2008 because at the time, WSU was riding the nation's second-longest streak without being shutout (280 games). That came to an end in a very embarrassing fashion. While Mark Sanchez threw for five touchdowns, the Cougars managed just 116 yards of total offense.
The folks at Athlon Sports raised an intersting question regarding Oregon: Which hurts more, the loss of running back LaMichael James or quarterback Darron Thomas?

They had a few of their writers weigh in with their opinions and the consensus seems to be the loss of Thomas hurts more. Here's a few snippits:
Writes Braden Gall: While the quarterback position hasn't been difficult to fill for Chip Kelly, either, replacing Thomas will most assuredly be more complicated. First, Barner and Thomas have loads of experience and talent, while Thomas replacements Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota have a combined one career start and 46 career pass attempts (all from Bennett).

Writes Steven Lassan: Even though LaMichael James was a special player, I think Darron Thomas is a bigger loss for the Ducks. Good skill players are never easy to replace, but finding a new starting quarterback always provides for more headaches for coaching staffs.

Writes Mark Ross: Darron Thomas, hands down. Yes Chip Kelly lost a 5,000-yard rusher in James, but the Ducks' backfield cupboard is anything but bare. First there's Kenjon Barner, a senior who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards himself last season and for his career is averaging better than six yards per carry.

Writes Patrick Snow: James has the bigger name and was drafted by into the NFL, but I think Oregon will miss Thomas more in 2012. It simply comes down to the fact that the Ducks have multiple weapons who can make big plays running the ball, but the quarterback position remains a question.

It's a fair question, and 9.9 out of 10 times I'll always pick replacing a quarterback as more important than a running back. For example, Arizona and Colorado are the only other two schools besides Oregon to lose their top passer and top rusher from last season. Replacing Nick Foles is more important in Arizona than replacing Keola Antolin, just as replacing Tyler Hansen in Colorado is more important than replacing Rodney Stewart.

But in the case of Oregon -- as many have pointed out -- both Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota are probably better athletes and all-around quarterbacks than Thomas was. As Gall notes in his submission, replacing quarterbacks hasn't been a problem for Kelly. Why will it be this time around?

I'm a big Barner and De'Anthony Thomas fan and think both will be great this season. But James was a special player -- an 1,800 yard guy (don't forget the time he missed with the horrific elbow injury) -- who was constantly underrated nationally because of his size, but outperformed nonetheless. So many times teams tried to clog the middle and force James to the outside. And so many times he ran right through the tackles, spitting out the other side for a big gain.

Oregon is obviously talented enough to absorb both losses. But maybe I'm just not as concerned with Bennett and Mariota as others seem to be. James was a unique player who had the toughness to back up his speed, and in my mind that's not easily replaced. I think it also says something about how respected he was in the conference that Jim Harbaugh drafted him in the second round.

The Pac-12's 3,000-yard passers

May, 30, 2012
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Taking a cue from the guys at the Big Ten blog, who recently looked at the potential 3,000-yard passers in that conference in 2012, I thought it would be worth a look at the Pac-12 group.

For the B1g boys, 3,000 yards might seem like a bench mark. In the Pac-12, it's more common, given the brand of football played in the league and seemingly never-ending parade of amazing throwers and catchers who grace the Pac-12 each year. Heck, the conference had two 4,000-yard passers on 2011 in Nick Foles and Brock Osweiler.

But those two are gone -- and so are their head coaches, coordinators and offensive schemes.

Here are the members of the 3K club last season:

  • Foles, Arizona, 4,329
  • Osweiler, Arizona State, 4,036
  • Matt Barkley, USC, 3,528 (returning)
  • Andrew Luck, Stanford, 3,517
  • Sean Mannion, Oregon State, 3,328 (returning)
  • Keith Price, Washington, 3,063 (returning)
[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC's Matt Barkley seems like a sure bet to throw for 3,000-plus yards this coming season.
Now let's look at the conference quarterbacks in 2012 and see who has the best chance of cracking the 3K mark.

Matt Scott, Arizona: Rich Rodriguez's spread option is primarily run-first, and I couldn't find a 3,000-yard passer to his credit as a head coach. The closest anyone got was Denard Robinson, who hit 2,570 in 2010. History says probably not.

TBD, Arizona State: Another up-tempo, run-first offense -- though Todd Graham has had more success in the air. G.J. Kinne hit 3,650 passing yards for Tulsa in 2010, but that was also his second year in the system. With a workhorse running back like Cameron Marshall, a deep running back corps and a green quarterback, 3K seems unlikely.

Zach Maynard, Cal: Just 10 more yards. Just one more little swing pass or one broken tackle and Maynard would have joined the 3K club after throwing for 2,990 yards last season. All indications are that he had a good spring, and he looks more comfortable in the offense. Plus, he's got one of the best receivers in the country in Keenan Allen. Maynard should get there.

TBD, Colorado: Tyler Hansen ( who is now gone) almost got there last season, throwing for 2,883 yards even though his leading receiver in catches was running back Rodney Stewart (who is now gone). Toney Clemons (who is now gone) led in yards, and Paul Richardson (who is out for the season with a knee injury) was second. The odds are slim that Connor Wood or Nick Hirschman will improve off Hansen's numbers with so much turnover.

TBD, Oregon: Does it really matter? Darron Thomas knocked on the door last season with 2,761 yards. But establishing the pass isn't exactly priority No. 1 for the Ducks. Whoever wins the job will have the benefit of De'Anthony Thomas, who can turn 5-yard passes into 50-yard completions. But with the Ducks carrying a 62-38 run-pass percentage last season, it's unlikely they'll stray from that formula, which means it's unlikely a new quarterback will reach 3K.

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: One of six quarterbacks in the conference last season to break 3K, Mannion threw for 3,328 yards in his debut campaign. Vows from coach Mike Riley to re-commit to the running game should actually enhance Mannion's numbers. And with receivers like Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks on the outside, there is no reason to think he won't top 3,000 again.

TBD, Stanford: Despite a run-first, pro-style attack, Luck still threw for 3,517 yards. The Cardinal were 55-45 in their run-pass ratio last season, and a lot of Luck's aerial success came from his ability to successfully sell play-action and distribute the ball among many position groups. But the top three receivers (Griff Whalen, Chris Owusu and tight end Coby Fleener) are gone, and you can't bank on the new quarterback being as efficient as Luck. Expect a healthy dose of running back Stepfan Taylor, meaning Luck's replacement probably won't break 3K.

TBD, UCLA: The Bruins joined Utah last season as the only teams that did not have a passer ranked in the top 10 in passing yards in the conference. That will change this season with new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone -- the architect of Osweiler's 4K season. The ball will be in the air a lot more than it was in the pistol offense. But seeing as there is so much uncertainty still -- and we could see multiple quarterbacks this season -- it's too tough to call. If one guy starts the entire season, I could see it.

Matt Barkley, USC: Yes, yes, 3,000 times, yes.

Jordan Wynn, Utah: I'd say it's 50-50 for Wynn at this point. The Utes have a very good running back in John White, and coach Kyle Whittingham likes the control game. But Wynn did toss 2,334 yards in 2010 in 10 games. If DeVonte Christopher has the big season many are predicting, and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson dials up the aggressiveness, I could see it happening. As always, unfortunately, every conversation regarding Wynn has to be stipulated with an "if he stays healthy" until he proves otherwise.

Keith Price, Washington: Had it not been for a career-high 438 passing yards against Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, Price would have come up way short of the 3K club. But he's in. And without Chris Polk to lean on, we could see Price's passing numbers go up. Prior to the bowl game, he only had one 300-yard game. He has a good chance to repeat as a 3,000-yard passer, but it's not a lock.

Jeff Tuel, Washington State: Mike Leach hasn't named him the starter, but, come on. He lit it up in the spring, and showed to be a quick study in learning the new offense. With a deep and talented crop of wide receivers -- headlined by Marquess Wilson -- and an offense that throws three out of every four times, Tuel should easily clear 3K.
Tequila in his heartbeat; his veins burned gasoline
It kept his motor runnin'; but he never kept it clean
David BakhitiariJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOffensive tackle David Bakhtiari has high expectations for the Buffaloes this season.
Receiver Paul Richardson is Colorado's best player. He's got Pac-12 speed, which the Buffaloes were sorely lacking in 2011. Coach Jon Embree's chief task in recruiting is to get more Paul Richardsons -- speedy guys for both sides of the ball.

But the rebuilding project in Boulder is going to require just as much David Bakhtiari as Paul Richardson. Bakhtiari, the Buffs' left offensive tackle, earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2011 as a sophomore, the only Colorado player to get an All-Conference nod.

He's a want-to guy. A guy who talks about chemistry and a sense of urgency. A guy willing to lead. A guy who seems slightly bothered -- politely so, of course -- when a reporter notes the Buffs' significant holes heading into 2012.

Why should folks believe Colorado can improve on a 3-10 finish despite losing its top passer, top rusher and top-two receivers (Richardson missed four games due to injury)?

"There is definitely a sense of urgency that I can see from last year's team to this year's team," Bakhtiari said. "People are moving around with a purpose. They are buying into our common goal, which is a bowl game. We've decided we are tired of going home in December and watching all these games."

Bakhtiari has been impressed with QB Connor Wood, the Texas transfer who has the inside track to replace Tyler Hansen. He raves about RB Tony Jones, who will step in for Rodney Stewart. Stewart only led the Buffs in rushing four consecutive years and now ranks second on the school's all-time rushing list. And a healthy Richardson is the obvious choice to replace the receptions that departed with Stewart (45) and Toney Clemons (43).

But if the Buffs are going to improve, they are going to need to score more than 19.8 points per game, a total that ranked last in the Pac-12 in 2011. That starts with Bakhtiari and the O-line, which is replacing guards Ethan Adkins and Ryan Miller.

Offensive line coach Steve Marshall, speaking to B.G. Brooks, called Bakhtiari "probably was our most productive player (in 2011) game in and game out." He'll be protecting Wood's blindside as well as leading the charge for a rushing offense that needs to do better than 3.5 yards per carry and 109 yards per game.

Like most Colorado players, Bakhtiari was recruited by Dan Hawkins, a far softer touch than the demanding, straight-talking Embree. (Said Bakhtiari, "Embree is a little more, 'I want production and I'm going to get it.'"). Unquestionably, there was an adjustment to the change in styles in 2011. There was a lot less nurturing and a lot more barking at practices. And Embree isn't afraid to publicly question his players commitment to winning.

But there were hints of accord late last season between coaching staff and locker room. After a 1-9 start, the Buffs won two of their final three games, including a shocking and impressive 17-14 win at Utah, which knocked the Utes out of the Pac-12 title game.

"Guys are now understanding what these coaches want and how they want it to be," Bakhtiari said. "Last year, we were kind of chickens with our heads cut off."

That's a start. It's probably going to take a few more Richardsons and Bakhtiaris to get the Buffs into Pac-12 South Division contention. But that's a start.

Who has brains coming back?

April, 3, 2012
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Recognition is so important for an offense. Think Andrew Luck -- or Peyton Manning -- wildly gesticulating at the line of scrimmage.

Or, for that matter, Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas doing the same thing.

That was something that stuck with me after I chatted with Oregon sophomore center Hroniss Grasu a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about how he improved at making line calls during the 2011 season, but he went out of his way to note how good Thomas was at helping out, at identifying last-second changes a defense made that perhaps hinted at its ill intentions.

The point: Centers and quarterbacks are the brains of an offense. The center typically makes the calls at the line of scrimmage that make sure everyone is accounted for. And quarterbacks communicate to both the skill players and the line about checks and audibles.

The QB and center work in tandem. They need to be in sync. And having smart, experienced signal-callers and centers is a big deal for an offense. It means an offense can go to the line with more options, and it can check into the right option more often than not. That breeds confidence, both among players and with their coaches.

So which Pac-12 teams are experienced at QB and center? Who has both back, one back or neither?

Thanks for asking.

Arizona: Center
Skinny
: While Nick Foles was the Wildcats' quarterback last year, Matt Scott has started five games, so the offense is not in inexperienced hands. Senior center Kyle Quinn did a solid job in 2011, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. On the downside, the Wildcats are installing a new offense with coach Rich Rodriguez, so past experience isn't as helpful.

Arizona State: Neither
Skinny:
QB Brock Osweiler is gone as is center Garth Gerhart. Kody Koebensky likely takes over at center, while the quarterback competition continues to be wide-open. Of course, the Sun Devils are installing a new offense under new coach Todd Graham, so being green isn't as much of an issue.

California: Both
Skinny
: QB Zach Maynard should be much more in control as a second-year starter. While center Dominic Galas is back, he's sitting out spring due to a shoulder injury, and it appears he will switch over to guard. Galas, some of you Bears fans might recall, did have some issues with shotgun snaps last year. Chris Adcock or Mark Brazinski could end up winning the job.

Colorado: Center
Skinny
: Tyler Hansen is almost certainly going to be replaced at quarterback by Texas transfer Connor Wood, a sophomore with no game experience. It should help Wood, however, to have junior Gus Handler back making the line calls. Daniel Munyer, who's slated to start at guard, also has starting experience at center.

Oregon: Center
Skinny: Center
Grasu's first start as a redshirt freshman was against LSU's beastly defensive front. That was a baptism by fire, but he consistently improved throughout the season. QB Bryan Bennett has some experience, including one start, but he will be challenged this spring by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

Oregon State: QB
Skinny
: Sean Mannion is back at QB, but center Grant Johnson is gone. The frontrunner to win that job is sophomore Roman Sapolu. The Beavers have injury issues on the line this spring, and that likely will slow down the unit's -- and Sapolu's -- development.

Stanford: Center
Skinny
: You might have heard that Andrew Luck is gone. Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes look like the favorites to replace him, but neither has significant experience. Senior Sam Schwartzstein did a fine job stepping into Chase Beeler's shoes in 2011, but life was, naturally, easier with Luck at QB. More will fall on Schwartzstein in 2012.

UCLA: QB
Skinny
: The Bruins have two quarterbacks with significant starting experience back: Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. But redshirt freshman Brett Hundley might end up winning the job. All three are learning a new offense this spring under new coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Sophomore Jacob Brendel -- or perhaps junior Greg Capella, who mostly started at guard last year -- are the frontrunners to replace Kai Maiava at center.

USC: Both
Skinny
: You've maybe heard of Trojans QB Matt Barkley and his receivers, Robert Woods/Marqise Lee, being the best pass-catch trio in the nation. Well, Barkley and senior center Khaled Holmes are the perhaps the best QB-center combination in the nation. Holmes was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, and he's probably the best center in the conference.

Utah: Both
Skinny
: Junior Jordan Wynn, a three-year starter, only needs to stay healthy for the Utes to get at least solid QB play. Center Tevita Stevens is solid, but he will be breaking in a pair of new OTs.

Washington: Both
Skinny
: Junior QB Keith Price was a revelation last year as a first-year starter, far eclipsing the production of his celebrated predecessor, Jake Locker. Senior center Drew Schaefer is a 30-game starter. So this is a strong combo for the Huskies.

Washington State: Both
Skinny
: Jeff Tuel feels like a decided frontrunner to retain his starting job at QB, while junior Matt Goetz returns at center. A junior-college transfer in 2011, he started the final nine games of 2011. A year of seasoning -- and in the weight room -- should help Goetz in 2012.

Biggest shoes to fill: Colorado

March, 23, 2012
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Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Big shoes: Quarterback Tyler Hansen

Coach Jon Embree called the quarterback position battle the No. 1 priority for the Buffaloes this spring and going into fall. That's good enough for us. Colorado isn't lacking holes to fill, so you might as well start at the top. Hansen didn't have great numbers by Pac-12 standards. His 56.1 completion percentage was last among conference quarterbacks, and his 20-to-11 touchdown to interception ratio and 2,883 yards were pedestrian in a league where half of the quarterbacks throw for 3,000-plus yards. But numbers aside, he was gutty, reliable and absorbed every one of the 82 sacks he suffered in a four-year career. He was a leader. And that's not easily replaced.

Stepping in: Connor Wood, Nick Hirschman, Stevie Joe Dorman or John Schrock

The quarterback competition, which was supposed to heat up this spring between Wood, a Texas transfer, and Hirschman, last year's backup, got put on ice after Hirschman suffered another broken bone in his foot. That means Wood has the entire spring to impress the coaching staff and work pretty much exclusively with the first team. Embree said the competition will resume when Hirschman returns in the summer, and the job is not Wood's by any means. Dorman and Schrock, are a pair of dark horse candidates that will also benefit from Hirschman missing spring, but both are expected to split reps with the second team.

The rest of the "Big Shoes" series can be found here.

Buffs notes: QB Hirschman out for spring

March, 7, 2012
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Colorado has released its pre-spring depth chart, but the biggest news is the announcement that QB Nick Hirschman will be out with a foot injury.

That means Hirschman won't be able to compete with Connor Wood, a Texas transfer, for the starting job. Hirschman was recovering from offseason foot surgery when he hurt his other foot.

From a press release: "[Hirschman] broke the exact same metatarsal bone in his other foot over the weekend (he was walking and just stepped on it wrong, he was not in any athletic activity or conditioning); he flew home to California today where he will have surgery later in the week."

Hirschman started one game last season -- against Arizona State -- but there is strong sentiment that Wood is the frontrunner to replace Tyler Hansen.

Colorado holds its first practice Saturday.

Some more notes:

Lunch links: Hansen hangs with Tebow

February, 22, 2012
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Success at sports is the province of the almost empty head.

Pac-12 lunch links: It's track season

February, 13, 2012
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I'm Kevin Nealon, and that's news to me.

Top performances 2011: Buffaloes shine

January, 30, 2012
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We're looking at the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2011.

Up first: The Buff Duo.

Who & against whom? Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen and receiver Paul Richardson vs. California on Sept. 10.

The numbers: Richardson caught 11 passes for a school-record 284 yards and two TDs, and Hansen passed for a school record 474 yards and three scores and no interceptions in a 36-33 overtime loss to California.

A closer look: It takes a lot for a losing performance to earn a top performance nod, but setting a pair of major offensive school records is a lot. Richardson's total was the top receiving performance in the conference this season, and Hansen's passing yardage total ranked third. The pair helped the Buffaloes rally from a 10-point second-half deficit to force overtime. Further, these numbers were compiled by a bad offense against a good defense. The Buffs ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense and 12th in scoring, while the Bears ranked first in total defense, fourth in scoring and No. 1 in pass efficiency defense. Hansen's 474 yards passing was 15 percent of the Buffs' total passing yards in 2011. While it was a so-close-but-yet-so-far ending for Colorado, that doesn't subtract from a scintillating performance.

Season grade: Colorado

January, 13, 2012
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The 2011 season is over. That means report cards are due.

Up next: Colorado

Offense: The Buffaloes ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (19.8 points per game) and 11th in total offense (346.3 yards per game). They ranked ninth in rushing (108.7 ypg) and 12th in passing efficiency. Three times the Buffs didn't reach double digits. So not much went right this season on offense, despite having a veteran QB in Tyler Hansen, a proven rusher in Rodney Stewart and a nice combo at receiver in Paul Richardson and Toney Clemons. The offensive line was surprisingly poor: The Buffs gained 3.5 yards per rush and yielded 31 sacks, which ranked ninth in the conference. The worrisome thing is the unit looks like it will be rebuilding in 2012 with just four starters back.

Grade: F

Defense: Colorado ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (36.5 ppg) and 11th in total defense (439.3 ypg). It was bad against the run and pass, ranking last in pass efficiency defense. It forced 15 turnovers, fewest in the conference. It was last in the conference in red zone defense, with opponents scoring TDs on 45 of 60 red zone trips. Injuries were an issue, most notably LB Douglas Rippy blowing out his knee at Washington on Oct. 15. There is good news, however. Seven starters will be back in 2012, and there's some intriguing youth that should take a step forward.

Grade: D-

Overall: Look at those grades. Bad, huh? But guess what? The Buffaloes, who played a 13-game, no-bye schedule that was among the toughest in the country, were statistically worse than their season actually was. No, going 3-10 is not good by any measure. And the numbers are hard to spin -- 109th in the nation in scoring offense and defense. But Colorado won two of its last three games, including an impressive effort in a win at Utah that ended a 24-game losing streak outside the state. The question is can coach Jon Embree parlay that small bit of success into offseason momentum, both in recruiting and offseason workouts? And can that then carry over into a strong spring session that inspires some confidence within the program?

Grade: D

Early 2012 Pac-12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
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It's never too early to look ahead, and even if it is, it's not against the law or anything.

And so we have our way-too-early 2012 power rankings.

By the way, schedule does not factor into these. This is a projected pecking order based on where a team stands right now -- Jan. 10, 2012.

And, by the way No. 2, if you don't like where your team is in the way-too-early power rankings, then I'd suggest whining about it until you get to play better.

By the way No. 3, Nos. 1 & 2 were easy. The rest is pretty darn murky, not in small part due to four new coaches.

1. USC: The Trojans welcome back 19 starters from a top-five team, including quarterback Matt Barkley. They beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 19. USC might be the preseason No. 2. Or No. 3.

2. Oregon: The Ducks have a strong mix of talent coming back from a team that won the Rose Bowl, but it's not just about 16 returning starters. If you want a reason to favor the Ducks over the Trojans, it's depth. Oregon welcomes back most of its two-deep. By the way, old Ducks fans probably grin about the idea of their team having better depth than USC.

3. Utah: The Utes welcome back 18 starters, though replacing both offensive tackles will be a huge task this spring. The defense has a chance to be beastly. The key? Utah proved it can win eight games with poor-to-middling quarterback play. But does a healthy Jordan Wynn -- back to late 2009, early 2010 form -- mean 10 wins?

4. Stanford: Many will count out the Cardinal, post-Andrew Luck. The Pac-12 blog will not. The over-under with this team is eight wins. Two gigantic holes on the offensive line and at both safeties are major issues, as is quarterback.

5. Washington: The Huskies welcome back seven starters on both sides of the ball, including up-and-coming quarterback Keith Price. The question is how quickly the defense can improve under Justin Wilcox.

6. California: While Cal only welcomes back 11 starters, there's plenty of intriguing talent on the roster, particularly on defense. Will quarterback Zach Maynard take a step forward? And what about his receivers after Keenan Allen? The pressure is on Jeff Tedford to win inside a renovated Memorial Stadium in 2012. If things come together, he just might do that.

7. Arizona: The Wildcats have more potential than most realize, starting with five returning starters on the offensive line and three defensive starters returning from injury, as well as an experienced quarterback in Matt Scott, who looks like a nice fit for Rich Rodriguez's spread-option offense.

8. Washington State: With 18 starters back, I'll go ahead and type it: New coach Mike Leach will lead the Cougars to a bowl game. And, hopefully, someone tips their cap to former coach Paul Wulff for collecting some solid talent, including two quarterbacks, Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, who appear capable of flinging the rock as Leach likes to, as well as a potential All-American receiver in Marquess Wilson.

9. Oregon State: The Beavers could be a surprise team if all the young players who were inconsistent in 2011 grow up in 2012, starting with true freshman quarterback Sean Mannion. With 17 starters back, experience won't be an issue. But those returning players went 3-9, so it's difficult to project a top-half finish. At least, not at this point.

10. UCLA: New coach Jim Mora doesn't start with an empty cupboard -- 16 starters are back. But the overall talent is dubious and, even more challenging, Mora needs to rebuild a culture. Further, taking the Bruins back to a pro-style offense, if that's the ultimate plan, might be a struggle in Year 1. First question: Is Kevin Prince the quarterback, or does Mora go with talented redshirt freshman Brett Hundley?

11. Arizona State: The Sun Devils tumbled in these rankings when quarterback Brock Osweiler, curiously, opted to enter the NFL draft. With just 10 starters back, a quarterback with no real game experience -- whoever wins the job -- and a challenging locker room, new coach Todd Graham might find the going rough in Year 1.

12. Colorado: The Buffs welcome back 13 starters from a team that went 3-10 and ranked last in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The rebuilding job on offense, in particular, will be significant with the loss of quarterback Tyler Hansen, running back Rodney Stewart and receiver Toney Clemons. The rebuilding job in Boulder won't happen overnight-- or over two seasons -- for second-year coach Jon Embree.

Returning starters in 2012

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
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Do you believe in the primacy of returning starters for determining preseason pecking order? Well, if so, you'll enjoy this effort from College Football Matrix, which has broken down returning starers by conference for all FBS teams.

While measuring returning starters is an inexact science -- the common way is at least five starts the previous season -- the list is revealing. And it suggests that the SEC and Big 12, the two best conferences in 2011, will again thrive in 2012.

Big 12 teams average 17 returning starters, tops in the nation. The SEC averages 16.7. The Pac-12 is last among AQ conferences with just 13.8.

The Big 12, big on offense, has the most coming back on offense: 7.9. And the SEC, big on defense, has 7.6 coming back on defense.

The good news is nine of 12 Pac-12 quarterbacks are coming back, including USC's Matt Barkley, though that number falls to eight if Arizona State's Brock Osweiler opts to enter the NFL draft a year early.

Be forewarned: There is some imprecision on this list. It says Colorado's quarterback is returning; Tyler Hansen is not. And it lists Washington State as having just seven returning starters; by my count, the Cougars welcome back 18. So that was a miscalculation. I went through every Pac-12 team, and you could quibble the numbers a handful of times, so the numbers aren't absolute.

Here's my tally (* means quarterback coming back). It averages out to 14.8 starters returning for the conference. Keep in mind it doesn't including returning starters who were hurt this season, such as Arizona State linebacker Brandon Magee, and does include players who still might announce for the NFL draft, such as Osweiler, Oregon running back LaMichael James.

Arizona (12)
Offense: 6
Defense: 6
specialists: 0

Arizona State (11*)
Offense: 5
Defense: 4
specialists: 2

California (11*)
Offense: 6
Defense: 5
specialists: 0

Colorado (13)
Offense: 4
Defense: 7
specialists: 2

Oregon (16*)
Offense: 7
Defense: 7
specialists: 2

Oregon State (17*)
Offense: 8
Defense: 8
specialists: 1

Stanford (12)
Offense: 5
Defense: 6
specialists: 1

UCLA (16*)
Offense: 8
Defense: 7
specialists: 1

USC (19*)
Offense: 9
Defense: 8
specialists: 2

Utah (18*)
Offense: 9
Defense: 7
specialists: 2

Washington (14*)
Offense: 7
Defense: 7
specialists: 0

Washington State (18*)
Offense: 8
Defense: 9
specialists: 1

Bruins-Buffs is a bad, interesting matchup

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
5:55
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Colorado's visit to UCLA is one of the more interesting games you'll see between teams that are 2-9 and 5-5, respectively.

First off, Buffaloes coach Jon Embree is UCLA receiver Taylor Embree's father. As the elder Embree told the L.A. Times, "This will be bragging rights for eternity."

Then there's this: Embree and UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel have known each other for a long time. "I stayed with the Embrees when I first moved to Colorado," Neuheisel said of his time as a Buffaloes assistant coach in 1994.

Colorado is riding a 22-game road losing skid, but Embree and his quarterback, Tyler Hansen, came very close to guaranteeing victory after the Buffs picked up their first Pac-12 win last weekend against Arizona.

If they are right, that won't be good for Neuheisel. It could get him fired. As you might have heard, he's on a very hot seat.

Ah, but even if the Bruins lose and fall to 5-6, they won't be eliminated from the Pac-12 South Division race. Heck, if UCLA, Arizona State and Utah all lose their final two games, the Bruins would go to the Pac-12 championship game at 5-7 but not be eligible for a bowl game. Even if they won the conference championship with a monumental upset, they'd need a special waiver from the NCAA to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl, which would be horrifying in the conference offices.

Adam Maya of the Orange County Register even noted that going to the Pac-12 championship game might not be a good thing for the Bruins and Neuheisel. How through the looking glass is this logic:

Since UCLA is most likely to go 1-1 during the next two weeks (at home against Colorado, at USC) and finish 6-6, its best-case scenario would be for ASU or Utah to go 2-0 and win the division. That would keep the Bruins out of the Pac-12 title game and protect their bowl eligibility.


Funny thing is, the logic is sound. At 6-7 and losers of the Pac-12 championship game, the Bruins still would require a waiver from the NCAA to play in a bowl game, one that the NCAA likely wouldn't grant if there were winning teams not getting bowl invitations.

So there's a lot going on in and around this poor-to-middling matchup that likely will be watched by a half-full Rose Bowl.

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