Pac-12: Washington Huskies

Mailbag: Worst case scenarios

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
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My weekly mailbag returns! We're keeping them tighter this season, so I'll only hit two or three questions per mailbag. But that doesn't mean we still can't have a little fun (see question No. 1)

And feel free to follow me on Twitter.

To the Notes!

Costi in Phoenix writes: While a lot of optimism always inevitably floats around at the beginning of the season (which I love of course). I want the pessimistic side of your analysis as well. I want to know what team or teams do you think is most likely to underwhelm, fall well short of expectations, or simply just surprise people with how thin or bad they are? I mean sure the bears and buffs are most likely to be the worst teams at the end of the season, but everyone expects that. Which Pac 12 team projected to contend is most likely to fall well short of expectations?

Kevin Gemmell: That's no fun! This is the one time of year when everyone is undefeated. Why would you possibly want me to take that away from them?

This is going to sound like a blanket statement ... and it is ... because it's true. Every team in the Pac-12 is capable of exceeding or falling short of expectations. Too much happens over the course of a season -- including a nine-game conference schedule -- for us to sit here in Week 1 and say something is definitively going to happen.

But since Costi in Phoenix wants to be Buzz Killington, I guess we'll go through a quick worst-case scenario for every team in the league. (While paying homage to Ted Miller).

Arizona: Anu Solomon is just mediocre and the Wildcats play quarterback roulette throughout the year, giving them another six or seven win season. And they lose to ASU. Taylor Kelly wins the Heisman. Arizona loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.

ASU: The defense never quite catches up to the offense. The Sun Devils score a lot of points, but they give up a lot also. They hit a four game losing streak against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington and lose at home to Notre Dame. And they lose to Arizona. They go to a bowl game, but it's a step backwards from last season. Anu Solomon wins the Heisman. RichRod hires Mike Norvell as his offensive coordinator.

Cal: They play like 2013 Cal. Kevin Hogan wins the Heisman.

Colorado: They play like 2012 Colorado. Travis Wilson wins the Heisman.

Oregon: The Ducks lose to Stanford, Washington and Oregon State. The defense and offensive line takes guff for not being physical enough. Sean Mannion wins the Heisman. Oregon loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.

Oregon State: The run game the Beavers so badly want to establish never really gets off the ground. Sean Mannion breaks the conference passing record, but that's overshadowed by a 6-6 finish. Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman and Oregon State loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.

Stanford: The critics are finally right and the Cardinal take a step backwards. No one really emerges as a reliable running back and the Cardinal fall to Oregon, Washington and UCLA to close out 9-3. Jared Goff wins the Heisman. David Shaw leaves for the NFL. Stanford loses to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

UCLA: The Bruins can't answer the hype, falling to Oregon, Stanford and USC. Brett Hundley finishes fifth in the Heisman race, with the award going to Cody Kessler. Nick Saban attends Steve Sarkisian's coaching clinic on up-tempo offenses, proclaiming it all the rage. The Bruins lose to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

USC: An early loss to Stanford sets the tone for an eight-win season, which includes losses to UCLA, Notre Dame and ASU. Brett Hundley wins the Heisman and the national championship. A bad year in the SEC leaves an opening for one of their bowl games, and Alabama beats the Trojans in the Belk Bowl. USC's defense has no answer for the onslaught of bubble screens.

Utah: The Utes miss the postseason for the third straight year -- the seventh pivotal loss coming in the finale to Colorado -- and the heat is officially on Kyle Whittingham. BYU advances to the College Football Playoff.

Washington: The Huskies flip through several quarterbacks trying to find the right combination. And despite a top-notch defense, the offense just can't score enough points. It's another seven-win season with losses to Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State Washington State and ASU. Marcus Mariota and Connor Halliday split the Heisman.

Washington State: After taking a step forward last year and qualifying for a bowl game, the Cougars are unable to reach the postseason, following several tough losses -- including Washington in the Apple Cup. Cyler Miles wins the Heisman. Mike Leach decides to adopt the triple-option.

Craig in Independence, Oregon, writes: Do you think Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota will be NFL quarterback(s)? Both seem to have the physical make-up of one but are they NFL material?

Kevin Gemmell: Barring any disastrous injuries or off-field incidents this season, both will be drafted -- maybe both in the first round. And if you've been reading any 2015 draft material, Mariota is likely a top five pick.

Let's start with Mannion. As many coaches have told me over the last few months, he's the prototypical NFL quarterback in terms of size and frame. That he knows a pro-style system and can work under center is only going to benefit him as he adjusts to the next level.

The big knock on Mannion is that he doesn't fit the new mold of the uber-athletic dual-threat quarterback. That's not his game. And while some NFL GMs are enamored by this, there are still plenty out there who believe in the 3-5-7-step drop and poise in the pocket. Mannion has that. He delivers a deep ball as well as anyone in the conference. He's accurate and his decision-making improved a lot last season. Expecting to see major gains there in 2014.

Mannion probably won't be taken in the top 10. But if he goes late in the first or second round, and has a year or two to sit, he could end up making an NFL GM look very, very smart in three or four years.

As for Mariota, he's the do-everything kind of guy. His athleticism alone makes him a high draft pick. He's built for any system, which is what makes him so appealing.

So to answer your question, yes, both are NFL material.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
8:00
AM ET
Well, I'm not crazy about the plutonium or nicotine, but it is very nice to see Bart eating his vegetables.

Leading off

If the first day of Week 1 is any indication of how the season will go, it's going to be an odd season.

The big story in the Pac-12, well, the country, was the peculiar circumstances surrounding USC cornerback Josh Shaw. News broke early in the day that the story of how he originally injured his ankles -- leaping from a balcony and rescuing his nephew from a pool -- might be exaggerated, or possibly fabricated.

Here are some of the latest stories (as of late Tuesday night).
The story was fantastical when it was true. If it's false, it's even more bizarre. Plenty of hearsay and conjecture still floating around for anyone to put all of the pieces together yet. Be sure to follow ESPNLA's Arash Markazi for the latest.

More predictions

Yesterday was also prediction day. The Pac-12 blog came out with 10 bold predictions for the conference (I did three of them, if you can guess which three, I'll give you a "you're awesome" shout out on Twitter), and Fox Sports had its own set of predictions for college football -- three of their 10 involved the Pac-12 in one form or another.

One of them is that Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday will attempt 100 passes in a game. It's bold, but it might not be that crazy. Recall last year he hit 89 pass attempts against Oregon. Last year the Cougars averaged 58.1 pass attempts per game -- so take that for what it's worth.

However, Halliday does own most of the school's single-game pass attempt records. (Here's a little something I pulled from the WSU media guide).
  • 89 Connor Halliday Oregon 10/19/13
  • 67 Connor Halliday California 10/5/13
  • 66 Drew Bledsoe Montana 9/5/92
  • 65 Connor Halliday Auburn 8/31/13
  • 62 Connor Halliday Utah 11/23/13
  • 60 Connor Halliday Colorado 9/22/12
  • 60 Connor Halliday Oregon 9/29/12
  • 59 Alex Brink Oregon State 10/28/05
  • 59 Jeff Tuel Stanford 10/27/12
  • 59 Connor Halliday Washington 10/29/13

Thoughts? Does he get to 100? I know CougarBrian will be anxious to weigh in.

Going, going, gone

Of all the preseason teams you'd like to see your favorite players on, this is not one of them. Athlon released its "All Gone" team, which picks the best players by position who are gone for the year.

Three Pac-12 players made the list. Proceed with caution ... and possibly some tissues if you're the emotional type.

Best of the best

NFL.com released its top 20 players in college football, and six from the Pac-12 are on the list (a much better list than the previous one).

It's the usual suspects:
As always, take lists with the grainy salt in which they are intended. I've seen plenty that have Hundley as a top 10 or top five player. Others have Mariota at No. 1. The good news is games start this week, and we can start putting some production to the lists.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

An Oregon season hype video. I love these.

Click here, and productivity across the state of Oregon will instantly drop by 96 percent.

As the Huskies prepare for their season opener at Hawaii, the Pac-12 blog has no qualms saying it is officially jealous of Seattle Times writer Adam Jude. Cheers.

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
8:00
AM ET
At first, I thought prohibition was a good thing. People were drinking more and having a lot more fun. Without beer, prohibition doesn't work!

Leading off

Ahhhh, the honeymoon phase. It’s that first year when a new head coach adjusts to his new surroundings (or in the case of Mark Helfrich, a new office). There is joy and excitement leading up to that first game.

And then reality hits. That joy and excitement turns to second-guessing and not-so-subtle whispers about whether this is the right guy.

The Pac-12 has a trio of second-year coaches: the aforementioned Helfrich, Sonny Dykes at Cal and Mike MacIntyre at Colorado. And Athlon Sports decided to take a look at the expectations for all of the second-year coaches in college football.

Here are their thoughts on Colorado:
But as the 2014 season approaches, it’s easy to see why Colorado is probably a year away from contending for a bowl. The Buffaloes catch Oregon and Washington in crossover play with the North and must replace standout receiver Paul Richardson. Sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau is promising, and the depth on defense is getting better. An upset or two wouldn’t be a surprise in Pac-12 games. However, a 4-8 final record with a more competitive team in conference action is very likely for MacIntyre.

The key word is in the final sentence: competitive. Two of the Buffs wins were against FCS teams last season (one of which was scheduled, the other one was a result of the disastrous flooding and cancelation of the Fresno State game). This year there are no FCS teams on the schedule, so while he Buffs will likely still hover in the 3-4 win range, those would be considered of a greater quality. And while the Pac-12 blog is yet to meet a coach who can stomach morale victories, there is something to be said for being more competitive. And we too expect the Buffs to be a tougher team in 2014.

For Helfrich, it’s business as usual. We all knew, and I’m sure he did too, that he would be judged by a different jury than MacIntyre or Dykes. All he did was win 11 games, win a bowl game and do it with a quarterback limping through the second half of the season. There’s no question the Ducks are primed for a serious run. But if that run doesn’t end in a playoff berth, is this season a bust? Curious to hear your thoughts. Tweet them at me.

As for Dykes, we’ve spent months rehashing all of the problems Cal went through last year, from the system changes to the youth to the onslaught of injuries. The tide will turn once (if?) the Bears start winning some games.

Who’s all sneaky?

CBS’s Jeremy Fowler took a look at 10 teams that could be “sneaky contenders” in 2014. Among his 10 are Arizona State and Washington.

His thoughts on the Sun Devils:
Arizona State wins 10 games and is still considered the fifth- or sixth-best team Pac-12 team on national scale. Well, don't be confused if the Sun Devils mess around and win the Pac-12 South for a second straight year. If Todd Graham gets a young defense ready, the potent offense will handle the rest.

Definitely not ready to count out the Sun Devils. We know about the losses to the defense – nine starters gone – but we also know how good that offense can be this year. If the offense can out-sprint some teams early in the season and give the defense time to get its footing, the Sun Devils will certainly be in the hunt for the South title. The timing of that UCLA game in Week 4 is very interesting.

Getting deep

Monday was depth chart day. Months of speculation has all been settled with one piece of paper. Unless you see an "or" in between players. Then the debate rages.

Because the Pac-12 blog likes you so much, we dug up all the depth charts that were available online. Some weren't. We'll try to update throughout the day. On the air

Your Pac-12 reporters have been making the rounds on multiple platforms. Here are a couple of links. News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The entire Oregon cheer squad takes the ice bucket challenge.

Washington's Psalm Wooching is cooler than you.



And finally, if you want to learn how to Haka, Arizona has you covered.

Chris Petersen's first game-week news conference for the Washington Huskies on Monday was unremarkable, which was imminently predictable and the way he wanted it. His predecessor, Steve Sarkisian, now at USC, was effusive and quotable, sometimes even revealing. Petersen aspires toward affably dry. He's not going to open up about his sentiments as he makes what is a potentially momentous transition into the big leagues.

He didn't provide any deep thoughts about what it might feel like to take the field at Hawaii on Saturday leading Washington instead of Boise State, where he experienced incredible success and became a fixture, a nationally respected figure, a two-time national coach of the year celebrated for getting less talented players to consistently beat college football's big boys.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenChris Petersen said coaching in the spotlight of the Pac-12 won't change his demeanor.
Yes, he is excited, as he has been for every season opener he's experienced. No, he's not looking back nostalgically over how far he's come, nor looking forward eagerly to where he might go. One suspects he doesn't pour out his emotional thoughts and concerns into a diary every night before going to bed.

The angst-inducing competition of the Pac-12? Sparkling, overflowing Husky Stadium? Big-time pressure? The ever-present shadow of Don James, his one and only benchmark? Whatever. To Petersen, it's football and nothing more, his version of Nick Saban's mighty "The Process."

A momentous transition? Baah. You ask Petersen if this present moment is special or big for him, he swats the idea aside.

"No bigger than any other year," he said. "They are all big. Like I told you guys way back when I first started coaching in front of 300 fans, I had the same exact feelings. It doesn’t change. You’re competitive. You want to do your best for your guys. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re on, where you’re at. My focus never changes on that.”

That sort of thinking comes out of the many business and leadership books and articles Petersen has digested through the years: Simplify the task at hand to what it truly is and ignore all that is extraneous. Media and fans may overlay seasons and games with epic meaning but that's just frosting on a cake. Petersen only sees a football team he's preparing for a football game and when he's done Saturday it will be the same thing the next week. And so on.

Yet I will 100 percent guarantee you that Petersen's brain has considered the notion of personal legacy. While he's resistant to it -- particularly talking about it -- and probably good at blocking out such thinking as something that is detrimental to his moment-to-moment and day-to-day mental process, he knows that there's a historical ledger kept on college coaches.

He knows that if he wins big at Washington, he'll become a Hall of Fame coach, a guy who is remembered. A statue guy. A bronze bust guy. Like James.

Again, he's not dwelling on that, but it undoubtedly was part of his contemplation when he started chatting with Washington AD Scott Woodward about replacing Sarkisian. If Petersen wasn't interested in challenging himself, in advancing himself, in aspiring toward something he couldn't do at Boise State, he wouldn't have taken the job. Petersen accepted a brighter spotlight, which he hates, to have a chance to win it all.

There is nothing wrong with ambition, and Huskies fans should be giddy that Petersen, while probably not as flushed with it as Saban or Urban Meyer, is now accommodating his own. For the proverbial "next step" at Washington is all about championships, Pac-12 and otherwise. The way things have gone of late in this conference, you win the first, the national stuff will take care of itself.

Sarkisian took an 0-12 team and made it a top-25 team that finished 9-4. So for a team to improve on 9-4, it posts double-digit wins, right? It goes from No. 25 to No. 15. Or higher. And so on.

That next step for Petersen means eclipsing Oregon and Stanford in the North Division. Then it means winning the Pac-12. At that point, eyeballs will be firmly affixed to something like what happened in 1991. Yeah, the whole thing. It's not unrealistic. It's happened before, and Petersen arrives as a guy with an impeccable coaching resume, better even that what James had when he went west from Kent State.

Petersen isn't going to go 92-12 over the next eight seasons and match his Boise State record, but the reasonable expectation is he will build Washington into a Pac-12 power. Again.

And if he falls short, if the Huskies don't advance in the North, don't move up in the top 25? That, too, would be reflect upon his coaching legacy, which would end up good but not great.

So call it an overly dramatic media play if you want, but Petersen at Washington is momentous. It's about a very good coach measuring himself for greatness. It will be interesting to see if he ends up with that statue.

Who cares if Pac-12 opens quietly?

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
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A week from now, there's certain to be at least some fretful handwringing, but for at least three more days, every Pac-12 team remains undefeated, flushed with hope and imaging an entitled grabbing all of its 2014 goals.

While the FBS season officially kicks off on Wednesday with Abilene Christian at Georgia State, things truly get rolling on Thursday. The A-list national game is Texas A&M's visit to South Carolina -- the Post Johnny Football Era begins with a whipping from Coach Spurrier -- and the Pac-12 features three matchups, though only one of notable quality with Rutgers playing Washington State in Seattle at CenturyLink Field.

In less scintillating action -- but action, nonetheless -- Idaho State visits Utah and Arizona State plays host to Weber State.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillHeisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley and UCLA travel to Virginia -- 2-10 last season -- on college football's opening weekend, and other Pac-12 matchups aren't nearly as interesting.
And so it begins, the 2014 season, our first with a new four-team College Football Playoff, a highly-promising campaign for the Pac-12, at least based on preseason expectations. The conference features six teams ranked in the preseason polls, including three teams in the top 11, which makes Oregon, UCLA and Stanford playoff contenders. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota and Bruins QB Brett Hundley are both top Heisman Trophy contenders.

In three consecutive evenings of college football -- yes, there are even two games on Friday night -- every Pac-12 team plays. No lame first-week byes here. The marquee matchup? Well, hmm... if it's not the aforementioned showcase of Mike Leach's Cougs and Rutgers, a newly minted Big Ten team, then perhaps its No. 7 UCLA's visit to Virginia or California's redemption tour beginning at Northwestern.

Don't form too many overriding judgments about those two seeming mismatches. Virginia, though coming off a 2-10 season, is not devoid of talent and experience, see 17 returning starters. The Bruins will be making a long trip and are laden with considerable preseason hype, both as a team and with Sports Illustrated cover boy Hundley. It's possible they might press a bit, at least early, before settling down.

As for the Bears, don't write them off. Though Cal lost to the Wildcats 44-30 last year in Berkeley, the game was tied in fourth quarter, with Northwestern benefiting from two pick-sixes off deflected passes. Further, it's been a fairly tumultuous offseason for Northwestern.

Suffice it to say the Pac-12 is not afraid of the road. With Washington visiting Hawaii, that makes five conference teams opening away from their home stadium, as Colorado plays Colorado State on Friday in Denver.

The Huskies visit to Hawaii is interesting because it will be the debut of coach Chris Petersen, who has jumped from the mid-majors at Boise State and the Mountain West to arguably the nation's toughest conference. Another level of intrigue in that game is QB Jeff Lindquist. He was named the Huskies starter last week, but it remains to be seen if that is only because Cyler Miles is yoked with a one-game suspension. Is Miles actually the guy? And what if Lindquist is lights-out against the Warriors? The broader issue for the Huskies is who starts at home on Sept. 6 against Eastern Washington.

Wait. Did someone mention Sept. 6? Ah, yes, well that is the day when the Pac-12 slate really heats up. It features: 1. The Pac-12's nonconference game of the year (Michigan State at Oregon); 2. A big-time conference matchup between USC and homestanding Stanford.

Yet, we can't get ahead of ourselves, so we apologize for whetting your appetite with those two gourmet football entrées. As you well know, we play one game at a time in the Pac-12 blog. Each game is a Super Bowl unto itself.

Heck, first new USC coach Steve Sarkisian needs to make his own debut after moving south from Seattle, a homecoming of sorts for a guy who ran Pete Caroll's offense during the Trojans recent dynastic run. USC plays host Saturday to Fresno State, the very team the Trojans whipped in the Las Vegas Bowl, only now without QB Derek Carr and WR Davante Adams.

Finally, Arizona will be featuring a new starting QB against UNLV on Friday night. Rich Rodriguez, as of this typing, hasn't named who that will be, and it's possible that the opener against the Rebels will showcase more than one guy and a permanent arrangement might be a few weeks coming. We shall see.

It's not the best slate of opening week games from a Pac-12 perspective. It only will be slightly revealing. At least, that's the hope, as more than one defeat could feel deflating. Cal is the only underdog.

But it's college football. It's what we've been waiting for since Florida State slipped Auburn on Jan. 6.

And I've got a feeling it's going to be a special season for your team.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
8:00
AM ET
Why bats, Master Wayne?

Bats frighten me. It’s time my enemies shared my dread.

Leading off

We had a taste of college football this weekend with Eastern Washington (which travels to Washington on Sept. 6) knocking off Sam Houston 56-35. Former WSU receiver Blair Bomber caught a pair of touchdowns, and former UCLA safety Tevin McDonald had an interception.

But with college football comes the return of College GameDay. And with the first College GameDay comes predictions.

Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard all picked UCLA to win the Pac-12, and Corso and Howard tapped the Bruins as 2014 national champions.

And in other predictions news, Herbstreit is down on the Ducks and neither he nor David Pollack think Oregon will make the College Football Playoff.

Here’s the video of those two and Scott Van Pelt debating Stanford.

video Players in the news

If you follow the Pac-12, then you haven’t forgotten about Austin Hill. But the rest of the country might have. After having one of the best receiving seasons in school history, Hill returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL he suffered in the spring. He chatted with Daniel Berk about his return.

You can see the complete Q&A here.

In unhappy player news ... one Washington player has been dismissed and another suspended for violating team rules.

Freshman safety Lavon Washington is the third player coach Chris Petersen has bumped since he was hired in December after Steve Sarkisian departed for USC. Backup tight end Derrick Brown has also been suspended indefinitely for a situation unrelated to Washington's.

Petersen’s first few months on the job have been overshadowed by off-the-field incidents. Quarterback Cyler Miles is suspended for the season opener and wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow transferred out after both were tied to a post-Super Bowl assault incident. Miles wasn’t charged, and Stringfellow pled guilty to three misdemeanors.

Jeff Lindquist will get the start for the Huskies against Hawaii. After that, we’ll see if Miles plays his way back into the job.

If you’re a Washington fan, it’s frustrating. But you also have to respect the hardline approach Petersen is taking.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Welcome to game week.

Pac-12 vs. SEC: coaching pedigree

August, 23, 2014
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It's widely accepted that the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC among the Power Five conferences. ESPN The Magazine wondered whether the Pac-12 could narrow that gap in 2014 by examining how the two conferences stack up according to four factors, conveyed through an infographic: quarterback play, defensive line, recruiting and coaching.

Last up: which league has the better coaching pedigree? From The Mag:
This offseason, Nick Saban campaigned in vain for a rule to slow up-tempo offenses. Seems that the fast pace popularized in the Pac-12 prevents certain defensive-minded coaches from subbing at will. In 2013, eight Pac-12 teams averaged fewer than 25 ticks per play, compared with four SEC squads. An influx of innovative coaches has made the Pac-12 more competitive across the board, and Chris Petersen's move to Washington will only heat things up more. As it stands, when it comes to titles, no one holds a candle to Saban and Les Miles (five combined). As Huard says: "It's like old guard vs. new startup." Advantage: Push. See you in January.


Pac-12 vs. SEC: recruiting edge

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
7:33
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It's widely accepted that the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC among the Power Five conferences. ESPN The Magazine wondered whether the Pac-12 could narrow that gap in 2014 by examining how the two conferences stack up according to four factors, conveyed through an infographic: quarterback play, defensive line, recruiting and coaching.

Next up is a recruiting comparison. From The Mag:

Pac-12 vs. SEC: defensive line play

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
6:26
PM ET
It's widely accepted that the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC among the Power Five conferences. ESPN The Magazine wondered whether the Pac-12 could narrow that gap in 2014 by examining how the two conferences stack up according to four factors, conveyed through an infographic: quarterback play, defensive line, recruiting and coaching.

Next up is a defensive line comparison. From The Mag:

What the SEC lacks through the air, it makes up in the trenches. "The difference between these two conferences is what the SEC can do up front," Huard says. "They have the 6-4, 315-pound linemen everyone else craves." Yes, Pac-12 teams get to QBs -- last season they had 366 sacks, nine more than the SEC -- but, Luginbill says, they're not built to overwhelm at the line. That relative dearth isn't for lack of trying but lack of resources. Since 2010, 106 ESPN 150 and 300 DL preps have come from SEC states. Pac-12 country: 23. "I'd argue USC's Leonard Williams is the best Pac-12 lineman," Luginbill says. "Know where he's from?" Florida. Advantage: SEC.

Pac-12 vs. SEC: quarterback play

August, 23, 2014
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It's widely accepted that the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC among the Power Five conferences. ESPN The Magazine wondered whether the Pac-12 could narrow that gap in 2014 by examining how the two conferences stack up according to four factors, conveyed through an infographic: quarterback play, defensive line, recruiting and coaching.

First up is a quarterback comparison. From The Mag:

If ever there was a year for the Pac-12 to sneak past the SEC, it's 2014: A&M loses a Heisman-winning QB (Johnny Manziel), Alabama a two-time titlist (AJ McCarron) and Georgia its all-time leader in passing yards and TDs (Aaron Murray). "Compare them apples to apples and the Pac-12 is what the SEC was a year ago -- with even more upside," Huard says. "It's mass productivity across the board." ASU's Taylor Kelly (4,243 total yards in one year), OSU's Sean Mannion (400 completions) and WSU's Connor Halliday (five games with four-plus TDs in '13) prove there are stars beyond Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford). Advantage: Pac-12.

Welcome to the last football-less Friday mailbag of the year.

Oh. The anticipation.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Elliot from Oregon writes: Give me your boldest prediction for anything PAC12 related. Don't be shy, Ted.

Ted Miller: Oh, I don't know Elliot. You want me to have an opinion on something and announce it publicly? That sounds pretty scary. What if someone disagrees with me? Or what if you guys start arguing the relative merits of my point and someone gets cross? What if it gets out on Twitter and someone trolls me or writes the dreaded, "Your an idiot" [sic].

Funny you should ask, because we will have Bold Predictions from your entire ESPN.com Pac-12 family -- the #4pac! -- on Tuesday. But I will venture forth with one -- OK three! -- before I blush, effervesce with giggles and canter shyly away.

1. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame (Arizona State, Stanford and USC).

2. No Pac-12 coach will be fired during or after the season.

3. Ted Miller will be wrong.

OK, I realize the third one is pretty out there, but I've got a feeling it finally happens this year. Maybe.




Brett from Portland writes: Team X is playing in the national championship and you get to choose one Pac 12 coach to coach that team. Who do you choose?

Ted Miller: I can't choose Chip Kelly, right?

I had an immediate response: Stanford's David Shaw. He's been there, see three consecutive BCS bowl games, and he's 14-4 against top-25 teams, best winning percentage in the conference.

Then I rifled through the other options, and the Pac-12 has a lot of good ones. Chris Petersen also has BCS bowl game experience. As does Rich Rodriguez, a guy who really knows how to game plan the heck out of teams with better talent. Not unlike Petersen.

Then I thought about Jim Mora, who I'm not sure won't be the first Pac-12 coach to win the College Football Playoff.

Then I thought about coaching staffs as a whole. Does Shaw get a knock because Derek Mason is head coach at Vanderbilt and no longer coordinating the Cardinal defense? I really like Rich Rod and Mora's staffs. And then I went, wait, what about Todd Graham at Arizona State? Has anyone done a better job over the past two seasons than Graham and his staff?

Then I thought Brett and the rest of you might fall asleep while I dithered on this.

So I'm going with Shaw. Track record. Big football brain. Unwavering core beliefs. And, as a very minor consideration, he gets a boost here for being so accommodating and insightful during interviews.




Patrick from Seattle writes: With a senior-led d-line, experienced and talented linebackers, and a lockdown corner in Peters, how good can the Huskies D be?

Ted Miller: You remember the 1985 Chicago Bears? Well, imagine that unit if it also had Lawrence Taylor.

Go run into a brick wall 10 times.

Done? That's what it's going to be like playing against the Huskies this fall.

It's hard not to like the UW front seven. It's got size with 330-pound defensive tackle Danny Shelton and production with end Hau'oli Kikaha, the best returning pass-rusher in the conference. At linebacker, there is experience and high-end athleticism, led by potential first-round draft pick Shaq Thompson.

While the depth is a little questionable, I'd rate that starting crew the best in the Pac-12. Yes, better than Stanford, USC and UCLA.

The secondary is the question. Peters is an A-list cornerback, an All-American candidate, but the other three spots are going to be young and unproven. Not necessarily untalented, mind you -- see youngsters like true freshman Budda Baker and redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly -- but you don't know about a unit until, well, you know.

Of course, an outstanding front-seven is a great thing to have when you are young in the back half. Leaving youngsters exposed for more than four seconds can be catastrophic in a league as deep at quarterback as the Pac-12. Not sure this crew up front for the Huskies will do that very often, which will make life much easier for the defensive backs.

As big a question as the secondary is new coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who Petersen brought over from Boise State. He's replacing Justin Wilcox, one of the best in the business, a guy who transformed a poor-to-middling unit into one of the best in the Pac-12. Kwiatkowski has lots of new toys to play with, but has never coached against the talent -- player and coaching -- that he will now square off with on a week-to-week basis.

So how good? At the very least, Huskies fans should expect to better last season's strong numbers -- 22.8 points per game; 5.0 yards per play -- which ranked fourth and tied for third in the conference. If that happens, you would have to think the Huskies will be a factor in the North Division race.




Troy from Tacoma writes: Ted, as we sit here a week out from the kickoff of the college football season, and since there are a few Pac-12 games next Thursday, it is safe to say that there won't be a Best Case-Worst Case section for each team. Honestly, reading those was my favorite part of this blog, and really got the blood flowing that the season was near. Just wanted to voice my disappointment with whoever made the decision to discontinue that part of the blog. That's all, have a good final game-less week.

Ted Miller: I truly appreciate all the notes on this, even though it seems a lot of you are angry I -- yes it was my call -- opted to end the series.

As noted before, this was simply a case of a series running its course after four years.

If you are nostalgic, just re-read last year's efforts, and those also include links to previous years.
The Pac-12 blog has spent the week highlighting the league's incredible depth at the quarterback position. The future looks pretty bright, too.

The West region is stocked with quarterback talent in the 2015 class. Ten ESPN 300 quarterbacks reside there, in addition to four other four-star quarterbacks. That's enough talent to stock the Pac-12 for years to come. How is the league faring at that position in the 2015 class?

Final analysis

Biggest gets: Darnold, Rosen, Town, Browning, Waller, White
Biggest misses: Zach Gentry, Barnett, Jones, Lewerke

Holding onto six of the 10 ESPN 300 quarterbacks is a significant number, especially when it’s taken into account that the four schools that earned commitments from the other ESPN 300 prospects -- Alabama, Florida, Michigan State and Texas -- aren't exactly recruiting lightweights. While there are undoubtedly some Pac-12 programs still looking to take advantage of the fact that recruiting can be fluid all the way until signing day, the majority of teams are likely content with the way things have played out thus far.

Ultimately, the conference has done well, given the level of local talent at such an important position.

Pac-12's perfect passing storm

August, 22, 2014
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Athletes often refuse to play along with media storylines, or they simply are oblivious to them. That's not the case with the Pac-12's stellar 2014 crop of quarterbacks. They get it. They know they are good and you are interested. They are perfectly aware that 10 of them are returning starters, and a handful of them are expected to be early NFL draft picks this spring.

For the most part, they know each other. Many crossed paths in recruiting. Others sought each other out after games. Seven of them bonded at the Manning Passing Academy in Tbibodaux, Louisiana, this summer. There's a reasonable degree of believability when they insist they all like each other.

“It’s kind of a brother deal," said Washington State's Connor Halliday, one of seven Pac-12 quarterbacks who threw at least 20 touchdown passes a year ago. "We’re all representing the conference.”

That collegial connectedness means Halliday is perfectly willing to map out the NFL prospects of the crew, even if he opts to leave himself out -- Oregon State's Sean Mannion, he says, is the most NFL-ready, while Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley have the most upside. That chumminess means -- cover your eyes, USC and UCLA fans -- Hundley and Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler feel free to talk about how cool the other is.

The preseason scuttlebutt is the Pac-12 will follow up perhaps its best season in terms of top-to-bottom quality depth with a 2014 encore that should be even better. There's legitimacy to the belief that the Pac-12 might eclipse the SEC this fall as the nation's best conference, and that seeming apostasy begins behind center, where the SEC doesn't have a bona fide proven passer.

The Pac-12? Five returning QBs passed for more than 3,500 yards in 2013. If you give Kessler 32 more yards and Stanford's Kevin Hogan 370, then you have eight who passed for 3,000. Mariota, Hundley and Mannion are potential first-round NFL draft picks. Hogan is a three-year starter who's started in two Rose Bowls. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, some forget, was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2013 and led his team past Hundley and UCLA in the South Division. Halliday had 34 touchdown passes in 2013, while California's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau were true freshman starters. Before he got hurt, Utah's Travis Wilson was good enough to lead an upset of Stanford.

Seems pretty odd to mention the USC quarterback last, but there you have it: Kessler surged late in the season and should thrive under new coach Steve Sarkisian's up-tempo scheme.

The sum is quarterback depth that has everyone gushing, including Pac-12 coaches.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Charles Baus/CSMUSC's Cody Kessler threw for 2,968 yards in 2013, a robust total that only ranked seventh in a stacked league for quarterbacks, the Pac-12.
"Oh, I don't think there is a conference that is even close in terms of the quality of quarterbacks," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.

Said Washington's Chris Petersen, who, like Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, doesn't have a returning starter at quarterback: “There’s not a crop like this coming back in the country. It’s scary when you don’t have one of those returning guys. Every week, you’re going to have to face one of them.”

The question bouncing around before the season is whether it's the best quarterback class, well, ever, and not just for the Pac-12. Maybe, maybe not.

The Pac-10 was pretty impressive in 2004: USC's Matt Leinart, California's Aaron Rodgers, Arizona State's Andrew Walter, UCLA's Drew Olson, Oregon's Kellen Clemens, Oregon State's Derek Anderson, Washington State's Alex Brink and Stanford's Trent Edwards. If you wanted, you also could throw in Utah's Alex Smith, though he was still in the Mountain West Conference at the time. A handful of those guys are still in the NFL, with Rodgers in the discussion as the best quarterback in the league.

Outside of the Pac-12, there's the Big 12 in 2008: Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy, Baylor's Robert Griffin III, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Kansas' Todd Reesing and Kansas State's Josh Freeman.

Ultimately, a judgment will be best delivered at season's end, and things rarely go as projected in the preseason. Injuries are, unfortunately, often an issue, and the pecking order could change. Don't be shocked, for example, if the estimations of Hogan, Kessler, Halliday and Goff go way up this fall.

The obvious leader is Mariota, probably the Heisman Trophy co-favorite with Florida State's Jameis Winston, the 2013 winner. While Mariota's return for his redshirt junior season was a bit of a surprise, how he's conducted himself during the preseason is not. He's not going to get in trouble off the field and he's not a look-at-me guy on it.

“He cares more about practice rep 13 in period 12 in 7-on-7 than anyone I’ve ever been around," coach Mark Helfrich said. "That carries over to every single guy in our program.”

But Mariota doesn't top everyone's list. Washington State linebacker Darryl Monroe favors Mannion, who won the Elite 11 Counselor's Challenge this summer after leading the conference with 4,662 yards and 37 TD passes last year.

“He’s a true NFL quarterback," Monroe said. “He has one of the best arms I’ve played against. Or seen in person.”

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
AP PhotoAside from a Nov. 15 date against Arizona, Washington coach Chris Petersen will likely face a returning starter at quarterback in every one of the Huskies' Pac-12 games.
Monroe, the boisterous contrarian, ranked Kelly No. 2.

“He ran that offense like a point guard," Monroe said.

Obviously, the expectation is that these 10 returning starters will combine talent and experience and put up huge numbers. As important as the position is, however, a good quarterback can't do it alone. He's got to have some places to deliver the ball. The good news for these guys is most have a strong supporting cast. While Mariota and Mannion have questions at receiver, that position is strong and deep throughout the conference.

Nine teams have at least three starting offensive linemen back, and five have four or more. Oregon is the only team without at least one of its top two receivers back. It's also notable that more than a few teams have questions in the secondary.

It could be a year when preseason hype meets big passing numbers. But stats are not what football is all about, either.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to winning games," Kessler said. “I don’t look at the stat box. I look at who won. Most of the time, if you look at who won, I can tell you how the quarterback played.”

That's the truth: Winning is the ultimate measure of a quarterback. More than a few Pac-12 quarterbacks through the years have put up big numbers but haven't led their teams to championships, conference or national. It's likely that the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback this fall, a guy who should be in line for a variety of national awards and All-America honors, will be sitting atop the final standings.

As for the celebration of Pac-12 quarterbacks in 2014, some ambivalence does follow the fawning. While there is a sense of genial community when discussing the depth at the position, most coaches would rather have their guy be talented and experienced and everyone else to be searching for answers behind center.

Said Stanford coach David Shaw, “I can’t wait for some of these guys to get out of our conference, which I thought a couple of them would last year.”

Pac-12 morning links

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

We kicked off Thursday’s links column talking about Pac-12 head coaches and how they’ve done against AP Top 25 competition.

Today we’ll take a look at the job security of those coaches, courtesy of CBS’s Dennis Dodd, who released his annual “hot seat” rankings for every coach.

Things are relatively air-conditioned in the Pac-12. But they are heating up for a couple of coaches. Using a 0-5 rating – five essentially being nuclear and zero being a getaway on Hoth – Dodd writes that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and Cal coach Sonny Dykes have the hottest seats in the Pac-12. First, here’s the rating for all 12 coaches and their rating from the 2013 season (listed second).
[+] Enlarge Kyle Whittingham
George Frey/Getty ImagesKyle Whittingham seems to have the Utes close to a breakthrough after two tough, 5-7 seasons.

  • Rich Rodriguez: 1-1
  • Todd Graham: 1-0
  • Sonny Dykes : 3-0.5
  • Mike MacIntyre: 1.5-1.0
  • Mark Helfrich: 2.0-1.5
  • Mike Riley: 1-1
  • David Shaw: 0-0
  • Jim Mora: 0.5-0.5
  • Steve Sarkisian: 2.5-N/A
  • Kyle Whittingham: 3.5-3.0
  • Chris Petersen: 0.5-N/A
  • Mike Leach: 0.5-1

I don’t disagree with the sentiment on either coach. That said, I don’t think a change will be made with either, either. And here’s why:

Kyle Whittingham has something few coaches can boast: An undefeated season, a No. 2 final ranking and a BCS bowl victory (technically, two). That sort of success not only buys you goodwill, it buys you career longevity.

As noted by Whittingham’s rating, he’s “starting to feel the pressure.” That’s fair. A team like Utah isn’t used to missing bowl games in back-to-back years. But when you look at last season, the Utes are close. They beat Stanford – arguably the greatest regular-season victory in school history – lost to Arizona State by a point, took Oregon State to overtime and lost by a touchdown to UCLA. This is a team that’s close.

That being said, the road schedule is brutal. I think if the Utes start 2-0 (and they should), then the Michigan game will be high noon. Win that one and there’s a good chance the Utes go bowling. Having a quarterback make it through the season without injury couldn't hurt, either.

As for Dykes, let’s not forget he was the one of the most sought-after coaches in the country before the 2013 season. He just happened to run into one of the worst rashes of injuries I’ve seen in my 17 years covering all levels of football, and he had a true freshman quarterback.

Dykes has a proven system. Give it time (and health) to develop.

Who’s No. 1?

The SEC can certainly claim dominance over the BCS era. Not even the most argumentative, devil’s-advocate-loving, stubborn columnist I know – Ted Miller – could argue otherwise. The proof is in the hardware.

But that era has passed. What have you won for me lately? It’s now the College Football Playoff era. And according to Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde, it’s the Pac-12 that will be at the vanguard of the next installment of college football’s highest honor.

Forde rationalizes his thought process with three determining factors:

  1. The Pac-12 has a deep roster of coaches.
  2. The Pac-12 has the best quarterbacks.
  3. The Pac-12 plays a tough schedule.

Check, check and check. No arguments here. Every year, it seems like a Pac-12 coach will make the comment that the league is as good as it’s ever been. And each year it keeps adding quality coaches. If you’ve been following along with our “Better Know a Pac-12 Quarterback” series, then you know how good the league is when it comes to the QBs. And the last couple of days we’ve been linking plenty of lists of must-see Pac-12 games. All of them feature Top 25 matchups, be it in conference or nonleague.

However, I don’t think we’ll ever see a time where Stanford fans are chanting "P-A-C, P-A-C" if the Ducks win a title, or vice versa. Not our style out West.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

The football team isn't the only squad going through fall camp. Fight on.

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