Pac-12: UCLA Bruins

Pac-12 lunch links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 dwarves. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.

Pac-12 leads leagues in QB starts

April, 23, 2014
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Keeping with our theme of Pac-12 quarterbacks -- and numbers donated to the Pac-12 blog by the Arizona State sports information department -- Jeremy Hawkes and Jordan Parry compiled a list of returning starts behind center by conference. Not surprisingly the Pac-12, with 10 returning starting QBs, is tied with the 14-team Big Ten for the most returning starters, and the Pac-12 leads the nation in total starts.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country.
Hawkes wrote: "The logic we used was based around the quarterback who would be considered the 'primary' quarterback by season's end last season. Quarterbacks who were injured early in the season when they were considered the primary quarterback and return this year are also counted on the list (like David Ash at Texas)."

The Pac-12 not only welcomes back 10 starting QBs, it welcomes back 198 total starts, topped by 31 from Oregon State's Sean Mannion. Seven of the returning Pac-12 QBs have more than one season's worth of starting experience, too.

The Big Ten features 10 returning QBs and a cumulative 158 starts. The 14-team SEC only welcomes back five starting QBs with a combined 68 starts. Ohio State's Braxton Miller has the most career starts among returning quarterbacks with 32.

Further, notes Hawkes, "Also notable is that aside from Miller, Rutgers' Gary Nova (28 starts), Mannion (31), Taylor Kelly (27), Brett Hundley (27) and Marcus Mariota (26) are the four most seasoned QBs among all BCS teams (along with Bo Wallace at 26 starts at Ole Miss)."

Here's the list.

Pac-12 (10)
Sean Mannion, Oregon State: 31
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State: 27
Brett Hundley, UCLA: 27
Marcus Mariota, Oregon: 26
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: 19
Connor Halliday, Washington State: 19
Travis Wilson, Utah: 16
Cody Kessler, USC: 14
Jared Goff, Cal: 12
Sefo Liufau, Colorado: 7
Total: 198 starts

Big Ten (10)
Braxton Miller, Ohio State: 32
Gary Nova, Rutgers: 28
Devin Gardner, Michigan: 21
Joel Stave, Wisconsin: 19
Connor Cook, Michigan State: 13
Jake Rudock, Iowa: 13
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: 12
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana: 8
Danny Etling, Purdue: 8
Mitch Leidner, Minnesota: 4
Total: 158 starts

Big 12 (8)
David Ash, Texas: 21
Bryce Petty, Baylor: 13
Jake Waters, Kansas State: 13
Jake Heaps, Kansas: 9
Sam Richardson, Iowa State: 8
Clint Trickett, West Virginia: 7
Davis Webb, Texas Tech: 6
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: 5
Total: 82 starts

SEC (5)
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: 26
Nick Marshall, Auburn: 14
Brandon Allen, Arkansas: 12
Justin Worley, Tennessee: 10
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: 6
Total: 68 starts

ACC (4)
Anthony Boone, Duke: 15
Jameis Winston, Florida State: 14
David Watford, Virginia: 12
Terrel Hunt, Syracuse: 10
Total: 51 starts

American Athletic (5)
Paxton Lynch, Memphis: 12
John O'Korn, Houston: 11
P.J. Walker, Temple: 7
Mike White, South Florida: 5
Casey Cochran, Connecticut: 4
Total: 39 starts
And I've been up all night, I might sleep all day;
Get your dreams just right, and let them slip away.

Pac-12 recruiting roundup

April, 23, 2014
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It’s been about a month since we last checked in on the recruiting front. The Bears have gotten on the board with two commits in the last week, ASU added a hometown quarterback, UCLA added a third ESPN 300 player, the Trojans picked up a commit from the No. 3 offensive tackle and the Huskies got a commitment from the nation’s No. 4 pocket passer.

Here’s a look at where each school stands in the recruiting game.

Arizona

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Taren Morrison, RB, Mesa, Ariz.; Darick Holmes Jr., RB, Westlake Village, Calif.; Ricky McCoy, TE, Fresno, Calif.; Finton Connolly, DT, Gilbert, Ariz.

Arizona State

2015 commits: 5
Player(s): Morie Evans, WR, Huntsville, Texas; Bryce Perkins, QB, Chandler, Ariz.; Nick Ralston, RB, Argyle, Texas; Tony Nicholson, Ath., Grand Prairie, Texas; Raymond Epps, TE, Yuma, Ariz.

California

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Austin Aaron, WR, Napa, Calif.; Malik Psalms, CB, Chino Hills, Calif.

Colorado

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): T.J. Fehoko, DE, Salt Lake City; N.J. Falo, OLB, Sacramento, Calif.; Dillon Middlemiss, OG, Arvada, Colo.

Oregon

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Zach Okun, OG, Newbury Park, Calif.; Jake Breeland, WR, Mission Viejo, Calif.

Oregon State

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Tyrin Ferguson, OLB, New Orleans; Treshon Broughton, CB, Tustin, Calif.; Kyle Haley, OLB, Anaheim, Calif.

Stanford

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Arrington Farrar, S, College Park, Georgia; Christian Folau, ILB, Salt Lake City; Rex Manu, DT, Mililani, Hawaii.

UCLA

2015 commits: 6
Player(s): Josh Rosen, QB, Bellflower, Calif.; Alize Jones, TE-Y, Las Vegas; Tevita Halalilo, OG, Moreno Valley, Calif.; Jaason Lewis, ATH, Virginia Beach, Va.; Victor Alexander, OLB, Jacksonville, Fla.; Bolu Olorunfunmi, RB, Clovis, Calif.

USC

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Chuma Edoga, OT, Powder Springs, Ga.; Ricky Town, QB (PP), Ventura, Calif.; David Sills, QB (PP), Elkton, Maryland; Taeon Mason, CB, Pasadena, Calif.

Utah

2015 commits: 7
Player(s): Jake Grant, OT, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Tuli Wily-Matagi, ATH, Kahuku, Hawaii; Donzale Roddie, WR, Paramount, Calif.; Chayden Johnston, K, South Jordan, Utah; Brandon Snell, WR, Miami; Corey Butler, WR, Wilmington, Calif.; Zach Lindsay, OT, Kaysville, Utah.

Washington

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Jake Browning, QB, Folsom, Calif.; Trey Adams, OT, Wenatchee, Wash.; Myles Gaskin, RB, Seattle.

Washington State

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Thomas Toki, DT, Mountain View, Calif.; Austin Joyner, RB, Marysville, Wash.
The Pac-12 replaced a third of its coaches prior to the 2012 season. Half of the Pac-12 South changed skippers, with Rich Rodriguez going to Arizona, Todd Graham to ASU and Jim Mora to UCLA. In the North, Mike Leach took things over at Washington State.

Per the hard-working, number-crunching folks at Arizona State, 27 schools changed coaches that year, and six of them have already made additional changes. Here’s a look at the coaching records of those coaches hired between December 2011 and January 2012.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTodd Graham has proven to be one of the best coaching hires made after the 2011 season.
20-6: Fresno State (Tim DeRuyter); Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin)

19-8: UCLA (Jim Mora)

18-9: Arizona State (Todd Graham)

16-9: Toledo (Matt Campbell)

16-10: Arizona (Rich Rodriguez)

15-10: North Carolina (Larry Fedora)

15-11: Rutgers (Kyle Flood); Ole Miss (Hugh Freeze)

13-12: Houston (Tony Levine)

13-13: Pittsburgh (Paul Chryst)

12-14: Colorado State (Jim McElwain)

9-16: Washington State (Mike Leach); Tulane (Curtis Johnson)

7-17: Memphis (Justin Fuente)

7-18: New Mexico (Bob Davie)

6-18: Illinois (Tim Beckman); Akron (Terry Bowden)

4-20: Kansas (Charlie Weis); Hawaii (Norm Chow)

The purpose of the post, coming from ASU, is to show that the Sun Devils believe they hit a home run with the Graham hire, which of course was much maligned at the time. Ironically enough, so was the hire of the guy who ranks one win ahead of Graham, UCLA’s Mora. While Rodriguez and Leach were celebrated hires at their respective schools, Graham and Mora weren’t met with as warm of a reception.

And yet all four have done a fine job in their own right, given their respective situations. Mora has a South Division championship, a bowl win and a pair of victories over rival USC. Graham has a South Division championship, a bowl win, and a pair of victories over rival Arizona. After missing the postseason in 2011, Rodriguez has come in and given the Wildcats back-to-back bowl victories. And after a rocky first year, Leach brought the Cougars to the postseason for the first time in a decade.

So while there are varying degrees of success, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that all four schools found the right guy. Each has excited the fan base -- and donors -- because all four programs have either had facility upgrades or they are on their way.

And while the balance of power still lies with Stanford and Oregon in the North, the trio of coaches in the South have upped the competition level significantly. The UCLA-USC and ASU-Arizona rivalries will always take center stage. But how great have the UCLA-ASU games been the last couple of years?

Because all four hires were so high profile at the time, the coaches will always be measured against each other. But two seasons in, all four schools have to be feeling pretty good about their choice of coaches.
Welcome to the mailbag, where no question is dumb. Except for the dumb ones.

Jaime in Los Angeles writes: Your poll was interesting about anointing a quarterback. Where do you come down?

Kevin Gemmell: If you can, you should, without question. Coaches, however, don’t always have that luxury.

This is an interesting season for Pac-12 quarterbacks because there are potentially 10 starters returning. That’s pretty rare for a conference. But it’s also a relief to 10 coaches who don’t have to deal with Ted texting them at 2 a.m. inquiring who their starting quarterback is going to be. (Now he just texts me).

To have a starting quarterback in place post-spring -- if it’s the right quarterback -- can be a blessing. He’ll lead the way in the weight room. He’ll call his receivers up to go throw for no other reason than he wants to throw. He’ll bond with his guys and they’ll start to respect him off the field.

Now for the two schools that don’t have a starter coming back -- Arizona and Washington -- there is no reason to rush things. During this time, Chris Petersen and Rich Rodriguez will be getting feedback from their strength coaches about how the quarterbacks interact with the other players. Who is stepping up and being a leader? Who do the guys respect? Who do they respond to? It’s not just about the Xs and Os.

So while I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of anointing a quarterback, I also know that if you don’t have one in place you shouldn’t force the issue.




Tim in Salt Lake City writes: Kevin, Which Pac-12 programs do you expect to benefit the most from new rules allowing coaches to work with players over the summer?

Kevin Gemmell: I could give you the “duh” answer, and that’s all of them. Because obviously it’s going to benefit every team. But if you’re looking for the impact on just this upcoming season, I think it’s a huge asset to every team with a young or new quarterback. An Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington, etc.

The rule offers an additional eight hours per week (assuming student-athletes hit certain academic benchmarks) and up to two of those hours can be spent in the film room. That means extra time studying formations, cutups, etc. It gives a Sefo Liufau and Jared Goff extra time to review what they did right and wrong in 2013. And it allows one of Arizona’s 17 quarterbacks to gain that little extra knowledge that might make the difference. It could either be catch-up for Cyler Miles or the difference between starting or sitting on the bench for Jeff Lindquist or Troy Williams.

The physical aspect of it is important, also. It’s a way to make sure guys are sticking with their regimen. And for a team like, say, Colorado, which has dramatically needed to improve its physical strength (and made strides in 2013), it’s another few hours of supervised work.

Since you’re writing from SLC, this will be especially helpful as the Utes adjust to their third offensive coordinator in three years. Even for Travis Wilson (assuming he’s the guy), it’s a similar system in terms of concepts, but with probably just enough tweaks from the previous one that a little extra film time would be beneficial.

There isn’t a coach out there who thinks more time during the summer is a bad thing. If for no other reason than just to remind them to do the right thing when they go out at night. I remember a conversation I had once with Mike Leach about players getting into to trouble in the offseason, but because of limited contact, coaches can’t always babysit. Will this new rule stop players from getting into trouble? No. But maybe it stops one from having one too many pops and creating a ruckus.

This is a good thing developmentally for all parties involved on and off the field.




Ryan in NYC writes: Kevin, saw your interview of the UCLA DC. You looked pretty sharp in that coat and tie. But seriously, aren't you guys getting a little tired of the relentless "happy, happy and more happy" spin coming from the UCLA camp? I mean, isn't it pretty clear that they've assumed this position that they won't say anything negative or even something not deemed positive about their program? I mean come on man. I can understand their energy and focus. They have a chance at a really good year. But everybody has concerns and questions, let's be fair. Finally, I think the way they ended recruiting is a reason why they need to be careful. They did a poor job of managing expectations and fell on their faces. Yes, college football fans are passionate, but we're not stupid. Be frank and candid. We know they have a shot at something special, but nothing is perfect, right? Just an observation, not a question. Peace out.

Kevin Gemmell: I found it interesting, Ryan, that you opted to chime in this week regarding the UCLA coverage. Because since I visited both LA schools last week, there was an equal amount of USC stuff -- yet you’re choosing to focus on UCLA. Fascinating.

First, thanks for the kudos. But as someone kindly mentioned in the comments section, I could stand to drop a couple of pounds. So that was appreciated.

As for the message, I got a lot of the same positive thinking at USC as I did at UCLA. Heck, Steve Sarkisian essentially said USC is historically due for a big run. That seemed pretty positive.

Except for maybe the Week 1 news conferences, you won’t find a time when players and coaches are as optimistic about their programs as they are now. Same goes for fans, who are scanning the schedules right now and checking off perceived wins. This is, of course, a dangerous exercise (see Utah-Stanford/Oregon-Arizona etc.). But it’s fun to do.

Yes, I happen to think UCLA is going to be pretty darn good in 2014. And though we haven’t filled out our preseason ballots yet, I’m strongly considering the Bruins as the No. 1 team in the South.

But you’re right. Every team has questions and concerns. The Bruins still need to figure out what’s going to happen at right tackle. They need to find a way to replace Anthony Barr’s production. They need to settle on the running back situation and see just how much the secondary has grown up from last season.

I have no problem with players and coaches putting a positive spin on their team in April. But if a team is 0-5 in October, then the happy-go-lucky chatter gets a little old.




Cougar Brian in Stumptown writes: Hey Kevin, any word on the status of Gabe Marks and DaQuawn Brown in Pullman? Mum seems to be the word, and both are touching the three pillars of Coach Leach's no-nos. Hope all is well, friend!

Kevin Gemmell: As of right now, both guys are practicing with the team. Leach hasn’t addressed it much, other than when he was asked about Brown during his pre-spring news conference and he offered up this:
We’re going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds. I mean, right now it’s appearing most of what’s come out and been spewed around has been greatly embellished so we’ll just have to see how all that comes out.

Marks was limited for the first couple of practices, but has been full go the rest of the way. Though he didn’t participate in the scrimmage on Saturday. I talked to someone in the know Monday and they said they didn’t think that was because of disciplinary reasons.

My guess is that when the legal side of everything gets worked out in the coming weeks, we’ll have a clearer picture of what punishments await. And don’t forget that Leach has already booted a few guys from the team in his two-and-a-half-year tenure.

Worth noting that, from the folks up there I’ve talked to, Connor Halliday is having a great spring, along with receivers Vince Mayle and Dominique Williams. Mayle has leaned up and is “running around and through people,” according to one person I talked to. So if Marks isn’t able to go, the corps is looking pretty good. And so is the quarterback.

Lunch links: Remembering Tillman

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes... and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out ... into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Ball security in the Pac-12

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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Teams that commit the fewest turnovers generally win more football games. Teams that turn the ball over frequently generally lose more football games. These are fairly safe axioms to live by, because more often than not they hold true.

But not always, especially in the sometimes-backward Pac-12, where the offense is fast and furious and the defense is underrated.

An examination of turnover margin in the league the last three seasons reveals some very interesting results, trends and trend-busters.

Here’s how Pac-12 teams have shaped up the last three seasons:

Some intriguing takeaways (pun intended):
  • Stanford, the two-time defending conference champion, is well known for its hard-nosed defense. Yet in 2013, it had a turnover margin of zero (19 takeaways, 19 turnovers) and the Cardinal are in the lower half of the league the last three seasons in total turnovers generated. Worth noting, however, that Stanford also takes care of the ball better than anyone in the league, with a conference-low 54 turnovers in the last three seasons.
  • Oregon has more takeaways than any team in the conference the last three seasons, including a robust turnover margin of plus-21 for the 2012 season (tops in the league for a single-season over that three-year stretch). Wait a second: Doesn’t Oregon catch flak for not playing defense? Huh. The Ducks are second in the league behind Stanford with just 57 turnovers over the last three seasons.
  • Only Arizona State, Oregon and Washington had a positive turnover margin in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
  • Only California, Colorado and Washington State had a negative turnover margin in all three seasons.
  • Stanford is the only team to have a zero margin in a season during the last three years.
  • ASU is the only team in the league to have at least 30 takeaways in all three seasons.
  • During that three-year stretch, only two teams have created more turnovers than Oregon State. During that same stretch, only two teams have committed more turnovers than Oregon State. So while the Beavers' 83 takeaways look great on paper, the 80 turnovers don’t. Makes sense that in the Beavers' best season, 2012, they had a plus-8 margin with 31 takeaways and 23 turnovers. In its worst, 2011, it was minus-8 with 23 takeaways and 31 turnovers.
  • Washington State has the most total turnovers (86) in the last three years. But Colorado has the worst turnover margin. Worth noting that last season the Buffs cut their margin down to minus-3 from the minus-19 in 2012.
  • USC tied with Colorado in 2012 for most turnovers in the league (34). So despite 71 takeaways the last three seasons, their 69 turnovers gives the Trojans only a plus-2 margin. Worth noting that after back-to-back seaspns of negative turnover margin in 2011 and 2012, USC was on the plus side last season at plus-5.
  • Arizona reached the plus side of the turnover margin last season (plus-4) after back-to-back seasons of negative margin in 2011 and 2012.
  • The most turnovers in a season in the three-year stretch was from Washington State, which had 35 last season.
  • The most takeaways in a season in the three-year stretch was by Oregon, which had 40 in 2012.
  • Washington’s much-maligned defense of 2011 still finished the season with a plus-1 turnover margin. Though during the last two seasons under then-coordinator Justin Wilcox (now with Steve Sarkisian at USC), the Huskies are plus-12.
  • The fewest turnovers in a season in the last three seasons is 16 – both from Washington and UCLA last season. Stanford is the only team in the conference to be in the teens in turnovers all three years.
  • Until last season, Utah had been solid at getting takeaways. It led the Pac-12 in turnovers and turnover margin in 2011 (33 takeaways, plus-10 margin). Even in 2012, the Utes were on the plus side, but failed to make a bowl game. Last year Utah dipped to minus-9.

So as you can see, there is obviously some correlation between turnovers and wins/losses. The three Pac-12 teams that didn’t make the postseason last season -- Cal, Colorado and Utah -- each had negative turnover margins.

But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule that the team that has the most turnovers will lose every game and the team with the most takeaways wins. Stanford is a perfect example of that, winning the league last season with an even margin. You don’t need a lot of takeaways to play great defense, but it doesn’t hurt, either.
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UCLA's biggest recruiting victory in 2013-14 didn't involve a high school player.

ESPN.com's recruiting guru Jeremy Crabtree has a nice story on how USC unsuccessfully tried to hire UCLA's ace recruiter and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm away from Westwood. It begins like this:
UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm was returning from a recruiting trip this past December, when he received a call from new USC coach Steve Sarkisian with an offer that all but included the opportunity to use the Trojans' famed white horse, Traveler, any time he wanted to avoid traffic on the 405. But UCLA coach Jim Mora wasn't about to lose one of his top assistants to the school across town, so he did what any good coach would do. He made an in-home visit and left with a commitment.

Sark's a smart guy. He knows that Klemm is an elite coach and recruiter, and luring him away from a crosstown archrival would make the hiring a double-whammy.

And Mora is a smart guy, too.
"I was out of town recruiting, and I landed and drove right to his house at about 10 at night," Mora said. "I think I stayed until till or 1 or 2, until I was sure USC wasn't going to come by. ... Until he signed that contract, I wasn't leaving. I wasn't going to lose him."

It's an interesting story because it touches a lot of bases -- the recruiting process, a battle between rival coaches -- it's also notable that Sarkisian and Mora are (were?) friends -- and a rising coaching talent and how he became so coveted.

Definitely worth a read, even you're not a Bruin or Trojan.
The biggest theme for the Pac-12 in 2014? Passing, passing, passing.

As you surely know if you frequent the Pac-12 blog -- typically considered the University of Oxford of the Internet -- we've been typing pretty regularly about the returning QB talent in the Pac-12. As in 10 returning starters, a group that includes a handful of national awards candidates.

That alone would support the notion of big passing numbers this coming fall. But there's more!

  • The Pac-12 is extremely deep at receiver.
  • The Pac-12 is questionable at running back.
  • The Pac-12 loses many of its top sack leaders from 2013.
  • The Pac-12 loses many of its top interception leaders from 2013.

Thus the formula: Experienced QBs plus questionable running games plus questionable pass defenses equals big passing numbers.

Of course, that probably means the teams that can run the ball well and play good defense are going to end up leading the conference.

But here are the supporting facts:

Returning rushing leader from 2013: No. 5 Byron Marshall, Oregon (1,038/86.5 yards per game)

2014 challengers: D.J. Foster, Arizona State; Thomas Tyner, Oregon; Jordan James, UCLA; Javorius Allen, USC.

Breakdown: The Pac-12's top four rushers from 2013 are gone and most conference teams are uncertain that the position. In fact, Foster might be the only certain No. 1 option this coming fall.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon State's Sean Mannion is one of 10 returning QBs in the Pac-12 for 2014.
Returning passing leader from 2013: Sean Mannion, Oregon State (4,662/358.6 ypg)

2014 challengers: Marcus Mariota, Oregon; Brett Hundley, UCLA; Taylor Kelly, Arizona State; Connor Halliday, Washington State; Jared Goff, California.

Breakdown: With 10 QBs coming back from 2013 -- a number of whom have national pedigrees -- the Pac-12 is as deep at the position as it has been in recent years. And with Arizona and Washington, the two teams with legitimate QB competitions (assuming Utah's Travis Wilson is given the green light by doctors), the supporting casts around the new QB will be strong. As noted: big passing numbers this fall, across the board.

Returning receiving leader from 2013: Dres Anderson, Utah (1,002/87.7 ypg)

2014 challengers: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State; Nelson Agholor, USC; Chris Harper, California; Ty Montgomery, Stanford.

Breakdown: Despite losing the three most productive pass catches from 2013 -- Brandin Cooks, Paul Richardson and Josh Huff, not to mention Marqise Lee -- the conference is overbrimming with receiving talent. Arizona, California, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State welcome back most of their top guys from 2013, and Arizona State, USC and Utah also are potentially strong at the position.

Returning sacks leader from 2013: Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington (13)

2014 challengers: Tony Washington, Oregon; Kevin Anderson, Stanford; Leonard Williams, USC; Nate Orchard, Utah.

Breakdown: Kikaha and Washington are the only returning guys who ranked among the conference's top-12 in sacks in 2013 (another good sign for conference QBs?). One of the biggest injuries this spring was Utah losing OLB Jacoby Hale.

Returning interceptions leader from 2013: Steven Nelson, Oregon State (6)

Challengers: Marcus Peters, Washington; Greg Henderson, Colorado; Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona; Su'a Cravens, USC; Ishmael Adams, UCLA; Jordan Richards, Stanford; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon.

Breakdown: Only two of the top eight interception leaders is back in 2014 (another good sign for QBs?). A few guys to watch out for: Arizona State's Damarious Randall, Stanford's Alex Carter, UCLA's Fabian Moreau and USC's Josh Shaw.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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You picked a dangerous mall to host a game show in. I hear the Easter bunny was accosted this morning.

Lunch links: Any sleeper teams?

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
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Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring;
Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire.
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LOS ANGELES – UCLA’s much-ballyhooed dual-threat threat Myles Jack -- the first player in league history to win the Pac-12’s defensive and offensive freshman of the year -- has zero carries this spring.

None. Nada. A 230-pound donut of spring offensive production. And the reason is obvious to the man pulling the strings in Westwood.

“He is a defensive player -- period -- who maybe will have some offensive packages,” stressed UCLA coach Jim Mora. “He hasn’t taken a single offensive snap this spring, nor will he. In training camp, either. He plays defense for us. The important thing is to help us maximize his abilities at linebacker. He’s phenomenal on either side of the ball. But in his mind and the reason he came here is to play linebacker. I’m not going to take that away from him. It would hurt our football team.”

In a whirlwind 2013, Jack went from heralded recruit to starting linebacker to overnight social media/SportsCenter sensation. Six carries, 120 yards and one rushing touchdown later against Arizona, the “Jack of all trades” puns were as viral as the common cold.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUCLA's Myles Jack is focusing on defense this spring, but he could have some offensive packages during the fall.
“It was definitely crazy,” Jack said. “My life pretty much changed after that Arizona game. People really knew who I was after that. It was definitely pandemonium in terms of my phone. Guys I hadn’t talked to in a long time were hitting me up. It was wild.”

This spring the UCLA coaching staff has reminded Jack that he is, above all else, a linebacker. They’ve kept him strictly on one side of the ball, but haven’t ruled out that we might see him get some carries when the leaves start to turn. For now, the emphasis is on making him the best linebacker he can be.

And he was pretty good last season, posting the second highest number of tackles in school history for a true freshman with 75. That was enough to earn him second-team All-Pac-12 honors and placement on several freshman All-America teams. He was good, but not great. And he knows it.

Too often last season, Jack would rely on his athleticism rather than trusting in his still-developing technique. He’d guess. When he guessed right, the result would be a tackle for a loss or a highlight play. When he guessed wrong, what could have been a sack turned into a 3-yard gain. He was athletic enough to compensate. But the coaching staff is confident that when he reaches that sweet spot between athleticism and technique, well, look out.

“I’m not even close to where I need to be yet,” Jack said. “In high school I carried the ball and played defensive end. I was in a four-point stance and I’d just run around the other guys. But in the Pac-12, these offensive linemen are big and fast. I need to do a better job with my hands and shedding blocks and reading my keys.”

His collegiate offensive exploits speak for themselves. His 66-yard touchdown run against the Wildcats thrust him into the national spotlight and he ended the season with 267 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He set a UCLA true freshman record with four rushing touchdowns against Washington, and on the other side of the ball, he led the Bruins with 11 passes defended and added a two interceptions with a pick-six in the bowl win over Virginia Tech.

Mora was quick to note that Jack isn’t the only dual-threat the Bruins have on their roster. Last season defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes rushed for a touchdown and had an 18-yard reception. Linebacker Jordan Zumwalt had a 12-yard catch and defensive lineman Cassius Marsh had a 2-yard touchdown reception.

“If they can help us on either side of the ball, we’re going to continue to use them,” Mora said. “We’re going to continue to use Myles on offense and in packages. We’re going to continue to use Eddie Vanderdoes. We’re going to continue to use Kenny Clark. We’re going to find a guy that can replace Cassius. We’ve got guys like Ishmael Adams that we can play on both sides of the ball. But we have to make sure they are full entrenched at one position before we ask them to branch out. Otherwise you hurt their ability to grow.”
What is your team's best quarter? Worst? And what does it mean?

While it's probably a mistake to read too much into how a team does quarter by quarter -- the final score is what counts -- it might provide some tidbits of insight.

The baseline, of course, is this: Good teams are going to win most every quarter and bad teams will lose most every quarter. But what does it mean if your team starts fast or slowly? Or owns the third quarter? Or sputters in the second?

The conventional wisdom is teams that do well in the third are good at making halftime adjustments, but coaches often snort at such talk.

Former Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter once painstakingly walked reporters through the halftime process to help them understand the small window for making significant schematic changes. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly was at his snarky best -- even as he was being flattered -- when asked about "halftime adjustments."

Kelly, however, would admit that the occasional slow start by his offense was due to a feeling out period, where he and his assistants were taking the measure of what a defense was trying to do. That's the nature of football -- punching and counterpunching, reading and reacting.

Still, you probably shouldn't read too much into these numbers. While it's interesting that UCLA and Washington were very good in the third quarter last year while Arizona State -- curiously -- was not, the salient fact is the Sun Devils beat both.

 
  • Arizona, Oregon, UCLA and Washington were the only Pac-12 teams to win every quarter.
  • California was the only Pac-12 team outscored in all four quarters. The Bears gave up 181 points in the first quarter, the worst defensive quarter in the conference.
  • The highest scoring quarter belonged to Arizona State, with 192 points in the second. Washington had 184 points in the third and Oregon 182 points in the first.
  • The best defensive quarter was USC in the first, holding foes to 37 points. Washington yielded 44 in the first and UCLA gave up 44 in the third.
  • Arizona State was dominant in every quarter, other than the third, when it was outscored 109-99.
  • Stanford was dominant in every quarter other than the fourth, which it lost 85-92, suggesting the Cardinal didn't fight for a large margin of victory.
  • Oregon was dominant in all four quarters and, despite that, posted the best fourth-quarter margin of 78 points (137-59), suggesting the Ducks enjoyed producing a large margin of victory.
  • Stanford yielded 60 or fewer points in each of the first three quarters. Oregon did so in the third and fourth (47 points and 59 points). Only three other teams produced even a single quarter with 60 or fewer points: UCLA in the third (44), USC in the first (37) and Washington in the first (44).
  • Colorado was outscored in the first three quarters but won the fourth decisively, 130-70. That suggests Mike McIntyre's team didn't quit.
  • USC won 10 games last year despite being outscored in both the third and fourth quarters. Only Cal and Washington State matched that dubious distinction.
  • Utah was outscored only in the fourth quarter. Oregon State was outscored only in the first.
  • Washington's 119-point margin (184-65) in the third was the largest for any quarter. Oregon's 109-point margin in the first quarter was second (182-73). Arizona State had the largest second-quarter margin at 77 points (192-115).
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

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