Pac-12: Utah Utes

Ranking the Pac-12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:25
AM ET
Our task today is a subjective one: Rank the head-coaching jobs in the Pac-12. Note: jobs, not individual coaches.

For me, this is like ranking my children. I love them all equally, however different they might be.

Let's take a gander at it.

1. USC: USC is arguably the nation's preeminent football program in terms of national and conference titles, award winners, All-Americans and NFL Hall of Famers. It's a big-stadium team, and its new football building is pretty freaking cool. Moreover, while there are great national programs with comparable -- or perhaps even superior -- traditions such as Alabama or Notre Dame, USC is in Los Angeles, which is infinitely cooler than Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and South Bend, Indiana.

2. Oregon: The Ducks rank No. 2 based on their steady rise to national prominence, as well as a seven-year run that ranks the program among the super-elite. Oh, and their facilities are sparkly.

3. UCLA: Nos. 1 and 2 are pretty obvious here. After that, things get pretty bunched up, but UCLA emerges in the coveted No. 3 spot because of its recent success under coach Jim Mora, which includes three consecutive wins over the Trojans. While the Rose Bowl is off campus, it's still the Rose Bowl, and its recent renovation gave it a considerable upgrade. It also appears that the school is finally investing in the program -- see a new football building on the way -- so it can debunk the notion it's a basketball school (the basketball team also is contributing to that cause). Further, Southern California's A-list prep talent means the Bruins can sustain success under the right coach -- read: Mora.

4. Arizona State: Todd Graham appears to have awoken a program that has long been termed a "sleeping giant." The school is in the process of upgrading Sun Devil Stadium, which is long overdue. There is also potential to continue to upgrade recruiting with a nice combination of location, weather and admission standards.

5. Washington: Obviously, we feel the Washington job has room to move up, as the program has just about everything, other than a recent run of success, to help it. There was a temptation to put Washington higher just because of the magisterial renovation of Husky Stadium.

6. Stanford: Ah, the subjectivity of this list. The Cardinal sit here in the middle of the pack in large part because of academic standards that most coaches would feel are highly unfavorable. David Shaw, a Stanford graduate, doesn't feel that way and has found ways to make it a recruiting benefit instead of a bane. Still, when a program can't even consider most of the ESPN 300 due to academics, that's a challenge for a coach.

7. California: While Berkeley is arguably the nation's best state university, it has been able to get "special admits" to the football program through the years, which was particularly a boon to former coach Jeff Tedford. It appears things are a bit tougher for third-year coach Sonny Dykes. Still, there's good talent available in Northern California and the facilities are A-list. No reason the Golden Bears can't regain the traction they once had under Tedford.

8. Arizona: Arizona has upgraded its facilities and is on an uptick under Rich Rodriguez. Still, most view Arizona as a basketball-first school, and the historical success of both programs supports that perception. Of course, if Rodriguez gets the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl for the first time and eclipses rival Arizona State on the field on a consistent basis, Arizona would move up.

9. Utah: The teams from here and down on this list find themselves hit for at least one of two reasons: (1) stadium size/attendance; (2) winning. Utah is on the uptick on the latter, which is why it ranks ahead of the others. It has also experienced the most recent national relevance, though not as a member of the Pac-12.

10. Oregon State: The Beavers typically found a way to win under Mike Riley, but the program -- other than a charmed 2000 season under Dennis Erickson -- has not been able to take substantial and consistent steps toward national relevance. We do take note that when Riley bolted for Nebraska, the Beavers were able to impressively lure Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin. If Andersen makes Oregon State a nine- or 10-win team, the Beavers will move up.

11. Colorado: Though its time in the Pac-12 has been miserable, Colorado has solid tradition -- highlighted by a split national championship in 1990 -- and Boulder, Colorado, is among the nation's very best college towns. That said, the facilities and administrative commitment have lagged behind other programs in college football's arms race. The losing is an issue as well.

12. Washington State: The Cougars have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997 -- how many other programs can say that? So it's a fact that the right coach can win at Washington State. Still, when the wins aren't coming, it becomes relevant to note the size of Martin Stadium and the isolation of Pullman, Washington. As noted by alumnus Kyle Bonagura, Washington State is the Pac-12's most challenging job.

Biggest shoes to fill: Utah Utes

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
3:30
PM ET
Players come and go.

In a perfect world, the teams only have to reload, not rebuild. But following this season, there are a lot of shoes that need to be filled because of early departures and expected graduations.

That leaves the question: Will these spots be reloading or rebuilding? Your humble Pac-12 Blog takes a look at some of the biggest shoes that need to be filled entering the 2015 season.

Utah Utes

Biggest shoes: DE Nate Orchard

The impact Orchard had for the Utah defense is almost impossible to quantify. Sure, we can point to his FBS-best 1.42 sacks per game (18.5 total) in 2014 or his 38.5 tackles for loss in his four-year career (second-most in school history), but that's really only the beginning. Those numbers don't take into account the double-teams he commanded, the impact he had on opposing play calling or what he meant to the Utes from a leadership standpoint. For a team that won games because of its defense, no one had a greater impact than Orchard and while there were other very talented players, it's really not close. Offensive linemen in the Pac-12 agreed, voting him to the Morris Award as the conference's best defensive lineman. And among the players he beat out were Leonard Williams, a potential No. 1 overall pick; Danny Shelton, a potential first-round pick; and Hau'oli Kikaha, who led the nation in sacks (19).

Stepping in: DE Hunter Dimick & Jason Fanaika

Neither player is coming from the depths of the unknown -- they both had good seasons in 2014 -- but both will be counted on to play more significant roles next season. If you combine Fanaika and Dimick and look at them as a single position -- bear with me -- their combined production in the defensive end spot opposite Orchard is impressive. Tackles - Fanaika/Dimick 107, Orchard 84; tackles for loss - Fanaika/Dimick 24, Orchard 21; sacks - Fanaika/Dimick 15, Orchard 18.5. It's not even close to a perfect way to project their production for next year, but it's good enough to illustrate that defensive end doesn't figure to be a big issue for the Utes next season.
Colorado gets an early -- and chilly? -- start to spring practices Monday, leading the Pac-12 out of the gate.

Not to be caught off guard, here are five major issues confronting the North Division as spring practices begin.

Here's what we had to say about the South.

1. Oregon post-Mariota: The Ducks are not only replacing their quarterback, they are replacing the best player in program history. Heck, Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, is one of the greatest players in Pac-12 history. Oregon was good before Mariota and will be good after him. Still, he's been behind center for three years, so this is a significant transition. Further, with many suspecting the starting job is Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams' to lose, and he won't arrive until the summer, that means the establishment of a post-spring pecking order won't even approach an endgame. The guy with the most at stake is junior Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup the past two years. He needs to make a strong statement with his play and leadership. If he does, it could give him a meaningful advantage when Adams arrives.

2. QB questions: The Ducks aren't the only North team uncertain at QB. In fact, only California with Jared Goff and Stanford with Kevin Hogan are set 100 percent behind center. Oregon State is replacing Sean Mannion in what figures to be a wide-open competition, one made more wide open by the departure of Mike Riley and arrival of Gary Andersen. While Washington has a returning starter in Cyler Miles, he was inconsistent in 2014 and could face a challenge from K.J. Carta-Samuels and touted true freshman early arrival Jake Browning. At Washington State, Luke Falk did a good job stepping in for an injured Connor Halliday -- he's certainly the front-runner to win the job -- but Mike Leach isn't going to hand him the starting spot by any means.

3. A new sheriff in Corvallis: Riley shocked just about everyone when he bolted for Nebraska after 14 seasons -- including the last 12 -- leading the Beavers. It wasn't an overwhelmingly sad departure, though, as more than a few Beavers fans had grown frustrated with the recent state of the program, particularly when compared to rival Oregon. The hiring of Andersen away from Wisconsin also seemed like a bold move, one that generated plenty of enthusiasm among the boosters. But Andersen will be adopting new schemes on both sides of the ball with a roster full of uncertainty. With a getting-to-know-you phase, spring will be much different in Corvallis this year.

4. Getting defensive: The biggest difference between the Pac-12 North and South divisions heading into spring is defensive turnover and/or questions. The South welcomes back a lot of defensive starters, while the North doesn't. Oregon State has just two defensive starters coming back and Stanford has just four. While Washington has six, it also loses three first-team All-Pac-12 performers in LB Shaq Thompson, OLB/DE Hau'oli Kikaha and DT Danny Shelton. Oregon has seven coming back, but it's rebuilding its secondary and replacing end Arik Armstead. Washington State has nine starters returning but it has a new coordinator in Alex Grinch after Mike Breske was fired. Cal has eight starters coming back, but it played lousy defense in 2014, ranking last in the conference with 39.8 points per game. North defenses figure to get a lot of attention this spring.

5. Year 2 for Chris Petersen: Perhaps the Pac-12's biggest story last spring was the arrival of Petersen, who was lured away from a celebrated run at Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian, who bolted for USC. Petersen inherited a team that looked talented enough to make a run at the North title, or at least make a legitimate challenge to the Oregon-Stanford domination. It didn't come to pass. The Huskies were inconsistent on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense, and finished a lackluster 8-6 after a rotten performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State. The 2015 Huskies have just 12 position-player starters returning, so they will have many depth-chart questions to address this spring. On the plus side, there should be a good deal of familiarity between players and coaches, both in terms of scheme and approach. This looks like a year of transition for the program, but Huskies fans will be looking for signs of growth under Petersen that would suggest good things happening in the future.
Colorado gets an early -- and chilly? -- start to spring practices Monday, leading the Pac-12 out of the gate.

Not to be caught off guard, here are five major issues confronting the South Division as spring practices begin.

1. Quarterback questions: UCLA has a wide-open quarterback competition to replace Brett Hundley, though many seem to think it's touted true freshman Josh Rosen's job to lose. While that's the only truly wide-open spring competition in the South, other teams have QB issues. With Kendal Thompson missing Utah's spring session due to injury, Travis Wilson, owner of a curious trajectory as a budding four-year starter, gets a chance to make another statement to the realigned offensive coaches. At Arizona State and Colorado, there's little doubt who the No. 1 QBs are, but Mike Bercovici and Sefo Liufau could greatly benefit from asserting themselves as unquestioned leaders. At USC and Arizona, Cody Kessler wants to look like a true Heisman Trophy candidate and Anu Solomon wants to take a positive step toward becoming an All-Conference guy, one that moves away from how he played late in the 2014 season.

2. Getting coordinated: Colorado and UCLA have -- or will have in the Bruins' case -- new defensive coordinators. The Buffaloes under Jim Leavitt will be trying to develop from terrible to decent. The Bruins, under TBD, and with perhaps the best returning talent in the conference will be trying to make the move from solid to good. Utah promoted from within on offense and brought John Pease out of retirement on defense. That means no scheme changes so the adjustment should be minimal, though re-establishing a practice rhythm will be critical for a team that is good enough to win the South but had a tumultuous athletic director-head coach soap opera after the season ended.

3. USC hype: Yes, we in the media are again buzzing about the Trojans' prospects in advance of the season. We see 15 returning starters from a 9-4 team, including Kessler behind center, as well as a recruiting class that some ranked No. 1 in the nation, and we imagine Steve Sarkisian's second year being something big. Ergo, expect a top-5 or, at worst, top-10 preseason ranking. Of course, we all remember what happened the last time USC was hyped in the preseason: The Trojans started No. 1 in 2012 -- "Unfinished business!" said Matt Barkley -- and completely flopped, finishing 7-6 after getting blown out in the Sun Bowl by Georgia Tech. As much as anything, Sarkisian's job this spring and in the preseason is to cultivate the hunger and lock down the players' focus. It was pretty clear the 2012 crew was a ghastly brew of entitled and overrated. Sarkisian's job is to make sure this crew contains neither insidious ingredient.

4. Big holes: Spring is, chiefly, about filling holes in the depth chart through competition, and there are some pretty big ones in the South. USC needs to replace RB Javorius Allen, WR Nelson Agholor and DE Leonard Williams, a troika of first-team All-Pac-12 performers. Arizona State is replacing its best offensive player, WR Jaelen Strong, best lineman, Jamil Douglas, and best defensive player, safety Damarious Randall. Arizona needs two new offensive tackles and has big questions in its secondary and D-line. Utah must replace highly productive defensive end Nate Orchard. Colorado simply needs to get better everywhere. And, of course, UCLA appears to have just about everything potentially answered other than QB, which always rates a big hole in the Pac-12.

5. Staying healthy: Want to know if your team had at least a moderately successful spring session? If it gets through it with no major injuries. Particularly in the South, where five teams could be ranked in the preseason, any small advantage -- or disadvantage -- could change the pecking order. So while coaches want to implement their schemes and take a measure of their players, both young and veteran, they most want to see all scholarship players get through 15 spring practices without any special attention in the training room.

Mailbag: Adams transfer controversy?

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
6:15
PM ET
Happy Friday. This is the mailbag. Or is it?

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Caruso from Stamford, Conn., writes: I'm dumbfounded by the FCS coaches response to Vernon Adams transferring. The immediate "we don't want to be a farm league for the FBS" statements, are completely unwarranted.

Ted Miller: This is a controversy that isn't even a controversy. Actually, FCS folks acting like it's controversial are the ones behaving poorly.

Rob Ash of Montana State grouses FCS programs "cannot be perceived as a farm system or Triple-A ball club." Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin whines, "It's not what the rule is intended for."

[+] EnlargeVernon Adams
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesVernon Adams is seeking brighter opportunities after obtaining his undergraduate degree from Eastern Washington? The nerve!
Yeah it is. It's EXACTLY what the rule was intended for. It's about giving student-athletes -- WHO HAVE ALREADY OBTAINED AN UNDERGRADUATE DEGREE -- a chance to pursue better opportunities.

Instead of playing it safe as a fifth-year senior at Eastern Washington, Vernon Adams is taking a chance -- betting on himself, in fact -- that he can play with the big boys. He's chasing his dream, making a high-risk, high-reward move that might just propel him into the NFL.

Dude ... can I get a cheer for 'Merica! 'Cause, this is what it's all about. The freedom to bet on yourself.

Know what Ash and Baldwin are concerned about? Their self-interest. They are, counterproductively I think, saying their FCS program should be protected from a player having the freedom -- AFTER HE HAS GRADUATED -- to make a choice for himself. They want their players to face more restrictions and regulations. Why? Because restrictions on players makes their lives easier.

Baldwin and Eastern Washington officials blew it by playing the sour grapes card. Just imagine if Baldwin had gone this route:
Reporter: Coach, what do you think about Vernon Adams transferring to Oregon?

Baldwin: How could I not be anything but happy for this young man who has done so much for this program? I'll be rooting for him like crazy. I take a lot of pride in the fact that a guy who was overlooked by the Pac-12 is now coveted by he Pac-12's best team. I think that speaks well not only of Adams but of our program, our a ability to find and develop talent. Not only that, we also helped him earn his college degree. Know what? When I go out recruiting this spring, Adams will be Exhibit A for what we've built here at Eastern Washington.

Adams is practically an advertisement for Eastern Washington football, folks.

The idea this resembles free agency is silly. FCS teams becoming minor leagues? How many FCS players: 1. Are good enough to be offered an FBS scholarship for one year of service; 2. AND have earned an undergraduate degree with a year of eligibility remaining?

And, if FCS programs start producing those sorts of players on a regular basis, then they are fulfilling their mission as a university, creating true student-athletes who go off into the world to seek out better opportunities.

Nate from Salt Lake City writes: Utah is coming off of what was by far their best season since joining the Pac-12, with key playmakers such as Booker, Wilson, Thompson, Scott, and Dimick coming back. Should fans expect a step forward, a step back, or a fifth place finish in the South Division for a fourth straight season?

Ted Miller: When you look at what Utah has coming back -- 16 starters and the nation's best combo of specialists -- from a team that went 9-4 and was in the thick of the South Division race in 2014, it's not difficult to project a step forward, no matter that the South should again be brutally deep.

Yet the behind-the-scenes soap opera with coach Kyle Whittingham and AD Chris Hill is troubling, as it seemed to be a contributing factor to considerable staff turnover -- the loss of defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake being a particularly tough blow -- which was addressed mostly by internal promotions that seemed like temporary moves.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Ralph Freso/Getty ImagesBehind-the-scenes drama between Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill could undermine a promising returning lineup.
The Utes could be headed for fifth place in the South again, particularly if they don't -- broken record alert -- get better production at QB. Of course, fifth place could again mean nine wins and a final national ranking. They also could win the division. Or slip a bit if the coach-AD conflict and/or coaching turnover prove a distraction.

The good news? Utah is probably going to be an interesting team, no matter how things go.

Bryce from San Francisco writes: I know you guys will agree with me on this, but can you please attempt to explain why every NFL team is apparently terrified to pick a talented, accurate QB with character and leadership like Marcus Mariota? Instead, they want to go with the guy with accuracy issues and character issues, because ...? I mean, I kind of understand their thought process since last season the character guy with accuracy in college (Bridgewater) got outplayed by players with less accuracy and more controversy (Bortles & Manziel), so NFL scouts clearly know what they're doing. I'm obviously cool with Mariota going to the Eagles, but the teams ahead of them in the draft have to be insane to let that happen, right?!

Ted Miller: Thing with the NFL draft is you really don't know what everyone is thinking, and the folks who are talking are often ill-informed or interested in misdirection. Keep in mind there is little benefit for a scout or GM to show his cards to the media or otherwise. So when you here "whispers" about Mariota being a system QB, it may just be a predictable regurgitating of an obvious potential criticism.

[+] EnlargeMariota
AP Photo/Brandon WadeIf Marcus Mariota takes care of business at his pro day, the "whispers" from so-called experts about him being a system quarterback will die down.
Know what? If Mariota turns in an impeccable pro day, making all the throws, showcase a strong and accurate arm, some of this "system" talk will simmer down.

Now, to be honest, if a fortune teller could promise me that Florida State's Jameis Winston will never again get into any type of off-field trouble, I'm not sure I wouldn't pick him over Mariota. Winston is a great talent, a guy who's repeatedly demonstrated grace under pressure (in a game), and seems to have no holes in his resume on the football talent side of things.

But I don't have that fortune teller, so I'd take Mariota.

My guess is more than a few GMs agree with me.

Raj from Bear Territory writes: What are your thoughts on Ulbrich leaving UCLA, (especially the timing)? Seems pretty shady to wait until LOI's are faxed in to depart. If anything, this just points out another flaw in how few restrictions are put on coaches going between programs while players have a multitude of restrictions. Feels only fair that players should be released from LOI/can transfer if coaches leave.

Robert from New York writes: With the Roquan Smith/Jeff Ulbrich situation, I'm curious to hear your take on the ethics of recruits signing binding NLIs, and coaches recruiting players and then taking other jobs. I can't blame Ulbrich for taking another job. He never seemed comfortable as a DC and probably wanted to get back to the NFL. Also, recruits shouldn't be so naive as to think that coaching changes couldn't happen. What's the balance that needs to be found, and do you think anyone did anything wrong here?

Ted Miller: What we really need are more rules. And outrage! Yes, I am outraged! The deception! The horror!

My thoughts, to begin, are good for Jeff Ulbrich. If he thinks his new job is better than his old job then how can you begrudge him?

As has been said many times before, a young man should commit to a school, not a position coach. He needs to be a big boy and understand this is a business and everyone is climbing. Or trying to.

Was UCLA trying to hide Ulbrich's imminent departure? Did Smith feel deceived? Maybe to the first and apparently to the second. None of that bothers me because I've covered college football a long time and I'd go insane if I took too much issue with every case of conniving and angle-working that goes on. That is how it goes. If Georgia fans -- or other Pac-12 fans for that matter -- are seeking some high ethical ground here ... well ... come on. Your coach would trip his mother from behind to score a top recruit.

Not saying it's right. But on the list of recruiting stories that make me want to take a long, hot shower, a simple hand wash will do here.

And, just as I'm not fan of acting like big-time recruits are a bunch of wan, innocent of the wide-world, Oliver Twist types being manipulated by dastardly coaches, I also think Smith's ultimate decision to sign scholarship papers instead of a letter of intent is smart.

If you are a big-time prospect, that's the way to go. It leaves your options open and doesn't tie you down -- read Mitch Sherman here for more. That option isn't available for a more middle-of-the-road guy who's thrilled when he gets his first Pac-12 or SEC or whatever offer. The NLI protects that sort of young man, just as it makes life easier for the football program.
Who needs Hallmark when we have Kaelin Clay?

The former Utah receiver, who is currently preparing for the NFL combine, took to Twitter with a hilarious Valentine's Day card suggestion, poking fun at his costly gaffe against Oregon during the 2014 season in which he celebrated just a little bit too early.


Your move, Longfellow Deeds.

In case you just moved back from a remote destination without contact to the outside world, here's the full replay of the now infamous play.

video

Top performances: Nick Wilson

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
10:00
AM ET
We conclude our series looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2014. If you feel a little nostalgic, you can check out the top performances from 2013.

Up next: Frosh shows up in Nick of time

Who and against whom: Arizona true freshman running back Nick Wilson slices and dices a typically stout Utah defense in a 42-10 road victory.

The numbers: Wilson rushed for a career-high 218 yards on 20 carries -- 10.9 yards per rush -- with three touchdowns.

A closer look: If you recall this game, you know that final score is deceiving. Yes, Arizona entered the fourth quarter leading 21-10, but the Wildcats lost starting quarterback Anu Solomon to injury at halftime, and Utah was driving to start the fourth quarter. But the Utes botched a snap at the Wildcats 28 and opted to punt instead of trying a long field goal in the rainy conditions, and Wilson took over. He went 75 yards for a touchdown on a third-and-2 play. He then went 19 yards for another touchdown after the Wildcats picked off Utes quarterback Travis Wilson. In a three minute span in the fourth quarter, Wilson rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns on six carries, almost single-handedly taking over the game. It was the most rushing yards ever for a Wildcats freshman, and it keyed a critical victory in their run to the Pac-12's South Division crown. It was Wilson’s third-straight 100-yard game and it made him the first Arizona freshman to rush for over 1,000 yards in a single season.
Way back in mid-November we proclaimed 2014 the "Year of Close" in the Pac-12. At that point -- two weeks remaining in the regular season -- 34 games had been decided by eight or fewer points, which was already more than the 28 from the year before.

The final tally? Forty-three games were decided by eight or fewer points, which is a lot. There were a lot of close games in 2012, and the final number then was 36.

While there's certainly debate among statistically minded analysts about what close wins and losses mean, most poop on the party and call it happenstance that will even out over the years. If your team won a lot of close games last year, it figures to see a drop in that number the next fall as it regresses to the mean. And vice versa.

College football observer and magazine publisher Phil Steele is a big believer that teams that lose a lot of close games one year are headed for a turnaround the next. And vice versa.

So, yeah, it seems like reviewing the "Year of Close" might be worthwhile.

We're defining "close" as a win or loss by eight or fewer points (a one-possession game). We looked at the South Division on Tuesday. Now it's the North.

California

Record in close games: 3-4

Interpretation: Close games take many forms. The Bears led Northwestern 31-7 before nearly blowing it. They led Arizona 31-13 and did blow it, via a 47-yard Hail Mary that capped a stunning 36-point fourth quarter from the Wildcats. They also snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Colorado and Washington State, couldn't close the deal in an upset bid against UCLA, couldn't complete a huge comeback against USC and got outlasted by BYU in the season finale that cost them a bowl berth. It was a crazy year, indicative of a program that was dramatically improving after an awful 1-11 2013 season. While the Pac-12 blog believes Cal, with 16 position player starters back, could continue a strong upward trend in 2015 -- a notion supported by the information here -- the "Ted Miller" portion of the blog realizes he's not allowed to say nice things about Cal because that only spells doom for the Bears.

Oregon

Record in close games: 1-1

Interpretation: Oregon doesn't really play close games. Or, at least, when the Ducks win, they tend to blow teams out, even good teams -- see Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Arizona (take 2) and Florida State this past season. Oregon played two close games in 2014, the same number it played in 2013 and 2011 and one more than it did in 2012. It got pretty lucky against Washington State, as a few -- cough, cough -- things went the Ducks way late in the game (any feelings there, Cougs?). The 31-24 loss to Arizona wasn't decided until deep into the fourth quarter. It will be interesting to see if things are any different, post-Marcus Mariota, but the dearth of close Oregon games preceded him. The Ducks are 4-5 in close games since 2010, by the way.

Oregon State

Record in close games: 3-2

Interpretation: The Beavers won close games they should have won by more against Hawaii and Colorado. They lost close games to Utah and Washington State that could have transformed the season. They notched one shocking upset -- 35-27 over then-No. 6 Arizona State -- with an inspired second-half comeback that seemed to come from nowhere. The Beavers lost in double OT to Utah because they couldn't stop RB Devontae Booker. They lost to Washington State because they got sliced and diced by redshirt freshman QB Luke Falk, who was making his first career start. There were plenty of "what ifs?" in both those games, but no more than those from Colorado and Arizona State.

Stanford

Record in close games: 1-3

Interpretation: Our top candidate for transformative "What if?" games might be Stanford. The Cardinal dominated USC but lost 13-10. It simply blew it at Notre Dame, losing 17-14 on a 23-yard game-winning TD pass on fourth-and-11 in the final minute. It lost a double-overtime slugfest to Utah. And its one close win, 20-13 over Washington, was truly an in-complete-control statistical performance ruined by sloppy play. If you look at how Stanford played over the season's final three games after the loss at Utah, you see a team that came together in an impressive way, most notably in a 31-10 crunching of No. 8 UCLA, which kicked the Bruins out of the Pac-12 title game. There's a pretty good chance you might see the Cardinal reverse that close game record in 2015, which could again put them in North contention.

Washington

Record in close games: 2-3

Interpretation: The above number is actually worse than it appears, at least if you think the Huskies shouldn't be playing close games with Hawaii and Eastern Washington, an FCS team. Those are the two close victories. The 20-13 loss to Stanford wasn't actually that close, as the Cardinal dominated but played a sloppy game, though the Huskies failed fake punt in the fourth quarter was the game's most memorable moment. The 30-22 loss to Oklahoma State in the bowl game also wasn't much of a nail biter, as the Huskies rallied after trailing 24-0 in the first half. The 27-26 loss to Arizona, however, was a certifiable heartbreaker. The Huskies had the game won but a late fumble when Chris Petersen opted to hand the ball off instead of taking a knee set up the Wildcats game-winning, 47-yard field goal on the game's last play.

Washington State

Record in close games: 2-3

Interpretation: The Cougars blew fourth-quarter leads against Rutgers in the season opener, which set the tone for a mostly dreary season. The 38-31 defeat to Oregon was laden with "What ifs?" and a few questionable calls, but the Cougars got the same good fortune in the 28-27 win at Utah. Those two games sort of cancel each other out, particularly when you consider how good the Utes turned out to be. The most crushing -- and meaningful -- loss was to California, a game in which QB Connor Halliday broke the NCAA passing record. The Cougars went down 60-59 when kicker Quentin Breshears missed a 19-yard field goal wide right with 19 seconds. If the Cougs had won, they would have won consecutive quality games and improved to 3-3. Instead, it became the first of four consecutive losses. The lone bright spot of the season's second half was redshirt freshman QB Falk playing brilliantly in his first career start, a 39-32 win at Oregon State.
Way back in mid-November we proclaimed 2014 the "Year of Close" in the Pac-12. At that point -- two weeks remaining in the regular season -- 34 games had been decided by eight or fewer points, which was already more than the 28 from the year before.

The final tally? Forty-three games were decided by eight or fewer points, which is a lot. There were a lot of close games in 2012, and the final number then was 36.

While there's certainly debate among statistically-minded analysts about what close wins and losses mean, most poop on the party and call it happenstance that will even out over the years. If your team won a lot of close games last year, it figures to see a drop in that number the next fall as it regresses to the mean. And vice versa.

College football observer and magazine publisher Phil Steele is a big believer that teams that lose a lot of close games one year are headed for a turnaround the next. And vice versa.

So, yeah, it seems like reviewing the "Year of Close" might be worthwhile.

We're defining "close" as a win or loss by eight or fewer points (a one-possession game). And we're starting with the South Division.

Arizona

Record in close games: 6-2

Interpretation: Not all close games are created equal. The Wildcats beat California and Washington on the final play of the game, and lost to USC on what amounted to the final play. There's no question that the Wildcats had a charmed season, though, and Steele in the preseason noted Arizona as a team that had a net two close losses in 2013, so it was due for a bump in the positive direction in 2014. On the negative side of that, Steele's research also found that 81 percent of teams that have a net four close wins are weaker or the same the next season. Of course, Steele had the Wildcats' good friends in Tempe, Arizona State, due for a tumble in 2014 after being net two with close wins in 2013, and that didn't happen. It's also possible that having QB Anu Solomon with a year of experience after his redshirt freshman season will yield a more consistent four-quarter performance. While stat-minded folks smirk at things like poise and experience, there is something to be said for the Wildcats' 13 returning starters who will understand what big fourth-quarter moments feel like.

Arizona State

Record in close games: 3-2

Interpretation: The Sun Devils beat USC on a "Hail Mary" -- or perhaps a "Jael Mary" to WR Jaelen Strong -- and benefitted from Utah's first-team All-Pac-12 kicker missing a field goal in overtime. Their offense faltered and cost them potential rallies against Oregon State and Arizona, but they held tough in a bowl win over Duke. Those fourth-quarter offensive failures are most notable because they came over the final three weeks of the regular season and cost the Sun Devils the South Division. You, by the way, will begin to notice a common theme among every South team. Things very easily could have spun in myriad other directions, if just a play here or a play there had been different. Heck, if Arizona State had found a way to come back at Oregon State, it would have entered the College Football Playoff discussion.

Colorado

Record in close games: 1-4

Interpretation: As previously noted, teams that lose a lot of close games one year tend to become less fortune's fool the next season. So Colorado, which lost a pair of double-overtime games this fall, is due. More than due. I mean, Colorado is really, really due for some good fortune. Take the UCLA game. The Bruins squandered a 17-point fourth-quarter lead as the Buffs surged, showing resolve. Wonder how things might have felt in Westwood if the Bruins had gone down in Boulder? Such an upset could have been transformative for Colorado. Take the double-OT loss to Cal, which didn't have much meaning in the conference race. The Buffaloes nearly took that one on the road, with both teams throwing seven touchdown passes, but all of the sudden imploded on the goal line. According to Steele, teams that suffered a net three close losses have a 79.6 chance of being better or the same the next year. While the South again will be a brutal slog, particularly for a team just trying to become competitive again, that is reasonably substantial grounds for hope.

UCLA

Record in close games: 6-1

Interpretation: Talk about a team that found ways to win in 2014. It's also interesting that the Bruins' best wins weren't that close: Arizona State (62-27), Arizona (17-7), Washington (44-30) and USC (38-20), and you could make a case that the bowl win over Kansas State was only kind of fluky close. Of course, two of their three defeats weren't close, either: Oregon (42-30, and not even that close) and Stanford (31-10). It would be reasonable to wonder if the Bruins often played down to the competition and then scrapped and clawed through tough fourth quarters to win. Guessing that's something Jim Mora and his staff are pondering this offseason. As for this fall, statistical analysis supports a potential regression -- 81 percent chance -- and that number might seem more worrisome because clutch QB Brett Hundley is off to the NFL.

USC

Record in close games: 4-3

Interpretation: When USC lost a close one, it didn't mess around, a big reason so many fans weren't happy with coach Steve Sarkisian's first season -- at least until national signing day. There was the uninspired effort and abortive comeback at Boston College. There was the Hail Mary loss to Arizona State, in which the Trojans yakked up a nine-point lead in the final three minutes via a pair of long passes. There was the Trojans yielding a game-winning TD pass to Utah with eight seconds remaining. Still, they did win some close ones against quality foes (Stanford, Arizona and Nebraska). Many are projecting USC as a 2015 national title contender. While there was no statistical outlying in 2014, particularly based on how things went in the Pac-12 in 2014, it's likely the Trojans will have to learn to win close games -- or get some good fortune -- to win the South and become a national contender.

Utah

Record in close games: 5-2

Interpretation: The Utes suffered a stinging defeat in their first Pac-12 game, blowing a 17-point halftime lead and dropping what would have been a game-winning TD pass in a 28-27 loss to Washington State, but they ended up smiling after close games more often than not. After going down to the Cougars, they gutted out a 30-28 win at then-No. 8 UCLA, the first of three consecutive victories by six or fewer points. They got some of their own medicine via unexpected kicking woes at Arizona State, 19-16 -- suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Sun Devils for a second consecutive year -- then beat Stanford, 20-17, in double overtime. They then struggled mightily before prevailing, 38-34, at, er, arch-rival Colorado. Utah playing close games shouldn't be much of a surprise because it leaned on its running game and defense and was inconsistent at best passing the ball. Steele's previously noted analysis points to a potential slip in 2015, but the Utes probably feel good about welcoming back 16 starting position players as well as their first-team All-Pac-12 kicker and punter.
Happy Friday After Signing Day.

Hope you feel signed, sealed and delivered and certain your position coach isn't headed out of town.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Matt from Sunnyvale, California, writes: I'm sure most questions this week will be recruiting-focused, but how about some of the recent DC hires by Wazzu, Utah and Colorado? I must say the Wazzu and Utah hires may fly under the radar as more of an unknown. But the Buffs actually investing in a "name" coach for DC was a nice surprise. There's always more to a name, but a big-time hire can only help excite the fan base. What do you expect Jim Leavitt to bring to the Buffs?

Ted Miller: Colorado, without question, made the most inspired hire, tapping Jim Leavitt to run its defense.

Leavitt had a successful head-coaching tenure building South Florida from the ground up, so he's experienced first-hand taking a program from Point A to Point Win. Yes, things ended badly, but that smirch is probably why Mike MacIntyre was able to land an A-list coach.

Leavitt was Bill Snyder's defensive coordinator at Kansas State from 1990-95, so there's even more significant experience taking a program from Point A to Point Win. And Snyder, a Hall of Famer, is a heck of a guy to learn from. Leavitt's four years with the San Francisco 49ers working for Jim Harbaugh also seems like valuable experience.

This appears to be a huge upgrade from Kent Baer, who was encouraged to break camp in Boulder and head to UNLV. I got a $1 that says the Buffs will be substantially better on defense next fall. Maybe not certifiably good, but better.

As for Utah's and Washington State's, they went in much different directions, from Colorado and from each other.

Washington State coach Mike Leach tapped Alex Grinch to coordinate his defense. Leach went young and promising, as Grinch is 34, and he's never coordinated a defense before. But his work with the secondary at Missouri was impressive. He takes over a defense that was bad last year and has a lot of questions heading into 2015.

We shall see.

As for Utah, it went, well, old and known. Coach Kyle Whittingham promoted 67-year-old Dennis Erickson to assistant head coach and handed over co-offensive coordinator duties to Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding, who were already on staff. Roderick was the Utes co-offensive coordinator in 2010, weathered a demotion and now has a second chance.

As for the defense, Whittingham lured John Pease, 71, out of retirement -- for a second time! -- to run the Utes defense.

Those are all good, proven coaches, but there is little question this is a stop-gap solution after things got a little fractious with coaching attrition and behind-the-scenes politics at Utah this winter. Got another $1 that says the Utes coaching lineup is different in 2016, though this is a great opportunity for Roderick and Harding to distinguish themselves and stop the eight-year flip-flopping on offense.

What's interesting about Utah -- as opposed to Colorado and Washington State -- is it appears talented enough to make a run in the South Division next fall. There's good talent returning on both sides of the ball, though competing for the division title almost certainly will require clarity at QB.


Peter from Tempe writes: We've been seeing some hype around Mike Bercovici and, by all accounts, he has the starting position locked down for next year. I wouldn't say I'm questioning the decision, but as a skeptic on most matters, how optimistic can the Sun Devils be with Bercovici behind center? He definitely played well as a starter this season, but that was three games. Is that enough to be confident? Where do you place him in your way-too-early QB rankings?

Ted Miller: I'd rate Arizona State and Mike Bercovici fifth in my Way-Too-Early QB rankings, behind USC, Cal, Stanford and Arizona, though he'd fall into the "Experienced but Questions Remain" bunch that includes Colorado's Sefo Liufau, Utah's Travis Wilson, Washington's Cyler Miles and Washington State's Luke Falk.

Bercovici has an A-list arm that will open up the Sun Devils down-field passing options, which in some ways compensates for his lackluster running ability. As a fifth-year senior who started key games last year, he brings plenty of experience and knowledge to the offense.

Is he perfect? No. He sometimes thinks his arm can overcome a well-positioned DB. It can't. He's going to need to learn some patience. Good thing his offensive coordinator/QBs coach Mike Norvell is among the best in the business.

Let's just say this: Sun Devils fans should worry more about their young defense maturing than what's coming back behind center, and neither of those issues should keep you up at night.


Kevin from San Jose writes: I'm sorry, I'm not getting enough USC, UCLA, Oregon and ASU blog articles. Thanks for rarely posting anything on the team that I am interested in gives me another reason to phase this site out. Yes, I'm being sarcastic. Go Dawgs!

Ted Miller: So the issue is we are writing too much about the Pac-12 frontrunners heading into 2015 who also landed the Pac-12's best recruiting classes on national signing day?

Assuming you are grousing about Washington -- the "Go Dawgs!" being a small clue -- what major news item did you want to read about? Coach Chris Petersen calling signing day "anticlimactic"? Or the Seattle Times calling signing day "drama free."

The reason you saw a lot of signing day coverage of USC, UCLA and Arizona State is all three scored major commitments on ... wait for it... signing day. USC might have signed the nation's best class, which is sort of a big deal around these parts.

Oregon? It didn't have any huge signing day news, but the Ducks keep getting themselves ranked in the nation's top 5 and playing for national titles and all that stuff that tends to attract some news coverage, even when nothing of note happens.

Funny thing: UCLA and Arizona State fans used to send in notes like this. Wonder why they don't any more?

We grade each Pac-12 recruiting class here. Washington got a "B":
Chris Petersen's first full class at Washington came together nicely, led by ESPN 300 quarterback Jake Browning and running back Austin Joyner. Offensive line was a key position in 2015 and the Huskies added a pair of four-star tackles in Trey Adams and Henry Roberts. At receiver, Isaiah Renfro and Andre Baccellia are future targets. On defense, linebacker was also a must-fill position, and three-stars D.J. Beavers and Ben Burr-Kirven, along with Kyler Manu, were key grabs.

Sounds pretty positive.

But if Washington fans want their team to get as much coverage nationally as the Pac-12's leading teams, the Huskies need to do something they once did on an annual basis: Be a Pac-12 leader.
USC is back at or near the top of the recruiting rankings, depending on which service you favor, signing a top-five class for the first time since 2011. UCLA wasn't too far behind Wednesday, its 11th-rated class being its highest in the ESPN.com RecruitingNation rankings since it finished 10th in 2011. The Bruins also can wink at their friends from Heritage Hall while holding up three fingers, though we have no idea what that could possibly mean.

Oregon? The Ducks, winners of four of the last six Pac-12/10 crowns, finished 15th, their highest ranking by ESPN.com since they were 14th in 2011, their only other top-15 ranking from the last 10 years.

Those were the consensus top-three recruiting classes in the conference, and those programs are likely to be projected as the top three teams in the Pac-12 in 2015, though that assertion might make Stanford and three other South Division squads a bit grumpy.

Bottom line of recruiting rankings: While they are far from a science, they are meaningful and reflect the competitive reality of FBS football. The last four national champions had a four-year average recruiting ranking in the top six. Each of the last nine national champions signed a top-10 class the year before winning.

[+] EnlargeJohn Houston
Chris Williams/Icon SportswireLinebacker John Houston was one of USC's prized recruits signing on Wednesday, helping USC to No. 3 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings.
Oregon could have broken those rules by winning its final game in 2010 or 2014. But it didn't.

The day after signing day always feels like a moment of existential reflection. What does it all mean? Does it, in fact, mean much of anything? Where do things really stand? Is it decidedly different today than it was a week or two months ago?

For those in a hurry, the most honest answers we can give you to those four questions are: 1. Heck if we know; 2. Probably; 3. See No. 1; 4. Maybe, but not terribly so.

The most obvious takeaway is that USC, no longer yoked with NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, is on the cusp of returning to its super-elite recruiting perch. Since the turn of the millennium, the Trojans have been the Pac-12's only true threat for a top-five recruiting class, at least with any regularity. It's unusual, in fact, for any other conference program to have a class among the top 10.

That immediately feeds into the next USC question: Can second-year coach Steve Sarkisian capitalize on elite recruiting the way Pete Carroll did from 2001-09? Lots of folks, -- USC fans and rivals -- are doubting him, which stands in stark contrast to the 100-percent embrace of Carroll's hiring and his 6-6 first season that was capped with a Las Vegas Bowl loss to a non-AQ team whose name escapes me.

Wait. We may be screwing up our history. Anyway...

Conventional wisdom with USC apparently rising would be that other top Pac-12 teams will fall. After all, the Trojans are going forward with a full slate of 25 scholarships, instead of the 15 of the previous three classes. That alters the recruiting dynamic -- a leak of 30 scholarships mostly distributed throughout the conference the previous three seasons has been filled. Was it a coincidence that the conference developed unprecedented depth with the Trojans in NCAA purgatory?

Yet there were UCLA and Oregon and much of the rest of the Pac-12 showing well on signing day, with seven teams finishing in the top 40 of the recruiting rankings, the best recruiting haul for the conference since 2012. A USC surge was not accompanied by a notable retreat, starting with the Bruins and Ducks.

While Arizona and Arizona State fans are at this moment noting they won the last two South Division crowns -- a rare moment of the Sun Devils and Wildcats being in accord! -- that's really not the core issue here. Anything USC does is immediately brought into comparison with its L.A. rival, and Jim Mora and his Bruins held tough in recruiting while owning a decided recent upper hand on the field. Though UCLA again figures to be looking up at the Trojans in the 2015 preseason rankings, a reasonable case could be made that shouldn't happen based on the football side of football.

In fact, I get this case stated to me every single time I chat with Pac-12 blog bud Kevin Gemmell. As in, "Kevin, what are you going to order to eat?" "Oh, I'd like an order of UCLA ranked ahead of USC with a side of why is everyone so high on Cody Kessler when he hasn't played well in big games?"

Still, USC will be the most physically talented team in the Pac-12 next fall. That, at least in our model of projection, makes the Trojans the conference's most immediate threat to insinuate themselves into the national picture, which means they threaten the Ducks' status as the Pac-12's top team. While Stanford won consecutive conference titles in 2012 and 2013, the Ducks are the only conference team to play for a national title since 2005, when one might recall a certain other Pac-12 program falling just short of all-time dynastic brilliance.

Ultimately, the big picture is what demands the most eyeballs and ensuing cogitation, at least from the national perspective of our College Football Playoff: Which Pac-12 team is most likely to secure one of four CFP spots in 2015? And which team is most likely to keep doing it going forward?

Again, the most obvious takeaway from national signing day is that USC, no longer yoked with NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, is on the cusp of returning to its super-elite perch.

But takeaways from signing day are pure speculation. There's a lot of urp-less coaching Sarkisian must do in order to concretize USC's return to national relevance.

Know what isn't pure speculation? USC playing Oregon and UCLA on back-to-back Saturdays -- Nov. 21 and 28 -- in 2015. That's a scheduling fact.

Wonder what the stakes might be?
Following in the lead of our friends with the Big Ten Blog, it seemed reasonable in advance of signing day to see how the 2014 first-team All-Pac-12 players rated as recruits.

Turns out our ESPN Recruiting folks mostly hit on Pac-12 players: 11 of the 23 first-team position players were four- or five-star recruits. All the rest -- save one -- were at least three-star recruits.

But, cough, cough, that two-star recruit was fairly notable. As was the second-lowest rated guy.

Here's how things stack up. Number in parenthesis is the players number grade on a scale to 100.

Five-star recruits (1)

OL Andrus Peat, Stanford (85)

Four-star recruits (10)

Offense

WR Nelson Agholor, USC (82)

OL Max Tuerk, USC (81)

WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State (82)

TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon (77)

Defense

DB Su'a Cravens, USC (89)

LB Shaq Thompson, Washington (84)

DT Leonard Williams, USC (82)

CB Ishmael Adams, UCLA (80)

DB Jordan Richards, Stanford (80)

CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon (79)

Three-star recruits (11)

Offense

RB Javorius Allen, USC (80)

OL Jake Fisher, Oregon (77)

OL Jamil Douglas, Arizona State (77)

RB Devontae Booker, Utah (76)

OL Hroniss Grasu, Oregon (75)

Defense

DB Damarious Randall, Arizona State (78)

DT Danny Shelton, Washington (78)

LB Hau'oli Kikaha, Washingotn (78)

DE Nate Orchard, Utah (77)

DE Henry Anderson, Stanford (75)

LB Scooby Wright, Arizona (73)

Two-star recruits (1)

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon (71)

So the two lowest-rated guys were the most decorated offensive and defensive players in the nation this season. In fact, you could make the argument, which happens pretty frequently on the West Coast, that defensive players out West are often rated too low -- see four 2014 All-Americans who only merited three stars as recruits.

Still, as much as we've pointed out the players who flew under the recruiting radar only to become stars -- such as our Two-star Scoobs -- the fact is just about every player who was a certified star in the Pac-12 this season was on the recruiting radar.

So, yeah, recruiting rankings that come out this week will have plenty of validity.

It just won't be scientific certainty.
Happy Friday. Hope your Super Bowl party is a most righteous affair.

Follow me on Twitter. Please.

To the notes!

David from Calgary, Alberta writes: By now, most Oregon fans will have heard the fact that UO has offered a scholarship to Vernon Adams from EWU. To me, this doesn't look like the coaching staff at UO has a lot of confidence in the QBs that are currently there and have been in the system. Lockie and Alie have taken snaps with the UO offense, and Mahalak and Griffen have red shirted and been in the system. If Adams does end up going to UO, he has stated that he won't join the team until after a summer internship is up in August. Why would anyone want to take a 1 year "place-holder" who will have essentially 3 weeks to learn the play book and jell with the offense before the season opener, when you have guys who have been in the system for at least a year, and don't have as far to go?

Ted Miller: I would encourage Oregon fans to not overthink this, as it's pretty simple.

Marcus Mariota is off to the NFL. The Ducks' quarterback spot is open for competition in 2015.

Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost are going to play the quarterback who gives the Ducks their best chance to win next year. If they have an available scholarship for a quarterback who might be that guy, then it behooves them to invite him to become a Duck, whether that's Adams, Ohio State's Braxton Miller or Kal-El, a raw, underrated prospect from Smallville High School who can really fly.

This is an interesting opportunity for Adams to step out from obscurity and perhaps show the nation just how good he is. This is an interesting opportunity for Oregon to get a guy who fits the Ducks' offense and has experience carving up Pac-12 defenses. It also would allow the Ducks another year to develop its crew of promising but young quarterbacks.

(Quick Adams note, per ESPN Stats & Information: In two starts against Pac-12 foes, he’s been responsible for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions with a 97.2 Total QBR. In 2013, he led Eastern Washington to an upset over No. 25 Oregon State, and last season he threw for seven touchdowns against Washington, the most the Huskies have ever allowed in a game).

You might wonder how the rest of the Ducks quarterbacks might react. That's easy. Their reaction should be, "Good. This makes us better. Another quality guy in the competition will help me leave no doubt with my teammates and coaches when I win the starting job and make this my offense. I want my backup to be the best available guy."

Nothing is guaranteed. Adams getting a scholarship doesn't make him the starter. He still has to win the job.

As for that internship, I'm skeptical. If Adams becomes a Duck, my money is on him showing up in Eugene as soon as possible. I'm guessing whoever enlisted Adams for an internship would understand.


Donovan from St. George, Utah writes: Why can't Utah keep an offensive coordinator for more than one season?

Ted Miller: You mean eight offensive coordinators in eight seasons is unusual?

Every departure has its own nuances. Andy Ludwig, who spent four seasons with the Utes, left for California after the 2008 season, and Norm Chow became Hawaii's head coach in 2012. You could say those departures were because of promotions.

The transition from Dave Schramm (2009) to Schramm and Aaron Roderick (2010) was head coach Kyle Whittingham trying to promote from within, and bringing in Chow in 2011 was getting a big name from without. Promoting Brian Johnson in 2012 also was an inside move that seemed both risky and inspired because of Johnson's lack of experience, and bringing in Dennis Erickson in 2013 felt a lot like the call to Chow -- a vacillation back toward a big-name veteran after an inside promotion.

Replacing Erickson with Dave Christensen last season felt like Whittingham jumping on an opportunity to get a respected offensive coach he also knew personally. At the time, it merited a raised eyebrow, but it also seemed like Whittingham might have gotten his man -- finally! -- a guy who knows the type of spread offense Whittingham wanted.

Nope. I think Kurt Kragthorpe reasonably reads the tea leaves here:
Christensen is eager enough to move that he's disregarding his 25-year friendship with Whittingham and abandoning Kendal Thompson and Jason Thompson, the quarterbacks whom he persuaded to transfer to Utah. His decision supports the theory that Christensen and Whittingham couldn't agree about the QB staffing this season. Travis Wilson twice was benched in favor of Kendal Thompson, who then missed the last four games with a knee injury.

As a reporter, Whittingham has always been great to work with -- accessible, insightful, straight-forward -- but there is pretty significant evidence that he's not always easy to work for. By the way, a lot of good coaches are difficult bosses. That whole accountability and demanding the best all the time thing.

What's clear is that Whittingham isn't afraid of change, and even in a year when the Utes broke through in the Pac-12, he's not satisfied. He would probably be a lot easier to work for if his offense averaged 35 points -- or more! -- a game.

It will be interesting to see who Whittingham hires. Despite Utah posting a quality season after two down years, there seems to be plenty of soap opera going on in Salt Lake between Whittingham and AD Chris Hill. Taking another step forward on all fronts in 2015, including retaining an offensive coordinator for more than one season, would certainly help settle things down.


Marcus from Canaan, Connecticut, writes: It's become increasingly clear to me that the ducks will never win a national title until they start landing 5 star recruits on a regular basis. Being that they have been the preeminent program on the west coast for the last decade or so, why are they still losing the majority of those battles to schools like USC?

Ted Miller: Got $1 that says Marcus wasn't an Oregon fan in the 1980s.

Oregon is never going to win the majority of its battles for 5-star prospects over USC/UCLA. Never. So get over it.

Why? Primarily, it's an issue of location. The vast majority of 5-star prospects on the West Coast play high school football near USC/UCLA. Further, the Trojans have the huge advantage of being perhaps the preeminent college football program in the nation, winning 11 national titles while producing the most NFL first-round draft picks and NFL Hall of Famers.

Oregon lost the 2010 national title game to Auburn on a last-second field goal. It whipped unbeaten defending national champion Florida State by 39 points in the first College Football Playoff semifinal. It beat Wisconsin in the 2012 Rose Bowl and Kansas State in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. Oregon has won at least 10 games and finished ranked in the top-11 for seven consecutive years. It has finished ranked in the top five in four of the past five years.

Oregon just needs to keep doing what it's been doing for the past six or seven years, which is trying to ... well ... win the freaking day. That probably includes a steady, but incremental, improvement in the quality of recruits.

But becoming obsessed with 5-star recruits is the worst thing the Ducks could do. It is the path to failure.


Thomas from Charleston, North Carolina, writes: It seems very strange that Colorado has been without a Defensive Coordinator for nearly a month. Some speculation has been that head coach MacIntyre may take over these duties for the 2015 season. Do you think that is a possibility? Has that ever been handled this way at other programs before? Love to get your thoughts on the situation.

Ted Miller: Even if MacIntyre takes over the defensive play-calling, he's going to hire a defensive coordinator. His doing so, of course, would reduce the number of interested A-list candidates because most coordinators want that control.

And, yes, I understand your frustration and impatience. If MacIntyre could have quickly engineered a high-impact hire, it might have given recruiting a bump, not to mentioned energized fans.

Word is MacIntyre made runs at a couple of guys but couldn't close the deal. With signing day closing in, he might have decided to regroup and refocus, which would explain a dearth of rumors on the post. He also might be waiting for a few more NFL dominoes to fall after the Super Bowl.

The good news is that the next coordinator is probably going to be better than the undistinguished Kent Baer, who has led more mediocre-to-bad defenses than good ones. His departure to UNLV, one suspects, didn't evoke tears from MacIntyre. The Buffs took a step back defensively this fall, despite better, more mature talent. With nine returning starters, Colorado has a chance to be much better in 2015, whoever the coordinator is.


Brian from Denver writes: An under-recognized reason for Stanford's disappointing season, in my opinion, was the tough road schedule. In 2015, though, we get UCLA, Arizona, Notre Dame, Cal and Oregon at home. Does the improved home-away balance outweigh 2015's brutal strength of schedule? I love that we play 9 conference games, insist on playing both LA schools every year, and play 3 legitimate nonconference foes -- there are no dud games this year! -- but should the schedule make me more optimistic or pessimistic overall?

Ted Miller: Well, Stanford's schedule will be among the nation's toughest in 2015, period. It plays three quality nonconference foes -- at Northwestern, UCF and Notre Dame -- which is even an uptick from past years. Though it helps to get Oregon at home, the Cardinal also is at USC in Week 3.

That said, it certainly is an advantage to play seven home games and do a 5-4 home-road split in Pac-12 play. Last season, the schedule was 6-6 home-road and 4-5 in conference play.

So be optimistic.


Tom from Seattle writes: [This is funny].

Ted Miller: Yes. That is funny.

A.A. Ron Rodgers!

Pac-12 morning links

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
9:00
AM ET
Booked a ticket for tomorrow in Tempe
3 a.m., doing cartwheels down the hallway

Leading off:

Jack Follman over at Pacific Takes broke down the rosters of this weekend's Super Bowl teams to find out where the Seahawks and Patriots are finding their talent. His findings are very College Football Playoff-y. Here's the breakdown, by Power Five conference: 1. Big Ten, 26; 2. Pac-12, 25; 3. SEC, 22; 4. ACC, 13; 5. Big 12, 9. In all, 11 Pac-12 teams were represented, with Washington State being the lone exception. The full list of players, broken down by team, can be found at the link.

Here are a few other Super Bowl-related items as they relate to the Pac-12: News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun:

Two groups of alums from USC's School of Cinematic Arts are finalists in Doritos’ “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, which has been pared down to 10 finalists. The winner, chosen by an Internet vote, will have their 30-second commercial shown during the Super Bowl and earn a $1 million prize. You can vote here.

Here are the commercials from USC's two groups:

Middle Seat

Lemonade Stand

Top 2014 performances: Nate Orchard

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
5:00
PM ET
We continue our series looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2014. If you feel a little nostalgic, you can check out the top performances from 2013.

Up next: Brett Hundley is the fruit of this Orchard

Who and against whom: Utah defensive end Nate Orchard turned in his "Hello, World" performance in the Utes' 30-28 upset win at No. 8 UCLA.

The numbers: Orchard tied a school record with four sacks and recorded a career-high 11 tackles in the Utes' victory.

A closer look: Orchard would go on to win the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive end and earn All-American honors and the Utes would end up nationally ranked, but neither party was much of a known quantity coming into this game, particularly after Utah lost at home to Washington State the previous weekend. Yet Orchard was the most dominating player on the field -- his 11 tackles (eight solo) also registering as a co-game-high with UCLA's inside LB Eric Kendricks. Two of his sacks came in the fourth quarter and helped the Utes hold the Bruins to three consecutive three-and-outs. His 8-yard sack on third down stopped the first drive of the quarter and his 6-yard sack on first down in the third series of the quarter was the first of three consecutive sacks for the Utes. The performance earned Orchard Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors and moved him into the national lead in sacks per game, a distinction he would retain at season's end. Said fellow defensive end Hunter Dimick after the game, "The dude is just a freak athlete."

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