Pac-12: Willie Tuitama
That sounded like a ton of fun, so here's a look at the Pac-12 results. For seasoning, I added a best/worst category against Top 25 teams, which is very subjective and, as always, open to debate.
Since 2008 the Pac-12 is 52-105 against Top 25 teams. Utah and Colorado records prior to 2011 are not factored in, but we'll still look at them in the team-by-team breakdown.
Oregon carries the flag for the conference with a robust .705 winning percentage while Washington State has a Blutarsky.
Here's how the entire conference shapes up:
Record vs. Top 25: 12-5 (.705)
Best win: The Stanford victories in consecutive years put the Cardinal back in their place (and last year, signified the clear leader in the North), but the 45-38 win over No. 10 Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year was a breakthrough for the program. It put an end to the "can they win the big one" questions and was critical for the legitimacy of the league. Oregon to the rest of the conference: You're welcome.
Toughest loss: The Boise State loss in 2009 was a stinger. But anytime you lose in the National Championship game to the No. 1 team -- and the way it went down in those obscure final two minutes -- it's tough. That loss brought about some of the questions the Ducks were able to answer with the Rose Bowl win.
Record vs. Top 25: 9-5 (.642)
Best win: The 35-3 win over Ohio State in 2008 stands out. But the victory at No. 4 Oregon last year bloodies the water for this year's much-anticipated showdown.
Worst loss: Also from last year, the triple-overtime loss to No. 6 Stanford shouldn't have ended the way it did. Maybe Stanford still would have won -- but that game was too epic to end on a fumble.
Record vs. Top 25: 7-6 (.538)
Best win: The '09 win over Oregon stands out because the Ducks were a Top 10 team on a seven-game winning streak. Toby Gerhart ran wild -- picking up 223 yards and three scores. It was really Stanford's declaration that they'd arrived in the conference under Jim Harbaugh.
Worst loss: Many will think it's the Fiesta Bowl last year because the wound is still fresh and the manner in which it went down. But losing the Big Game 34-28 to No. 25 Cal in 2009 -- especially after notching back-to-back wins over Oregon and No. 9 USC -- is simply deflating. If the Oregon game was a declaration of arrival, the Cal game was a reminder of how deep the conference can be.
Record vs. Top 25: 4-5 (.444)
Best win: The 2008 Sugar Bowl. Big, bad 'Bama gets bounced by a tiny little non-AQ, leaving most West of the Mississippi with a great-big smile.
Worst loss: An overtime loss hurts. An overtime loss to a rival hurts more. An overtime loss when the opposing quarterback gives you a verbal smack down following the loss is just brutal. The 2009 Holy War loss to No. 19 BYU will always sting.
Record vs. Top 25: 4-10 (.285)
Best win: Willie Tuitama was simply prolific in carving up No. 16 BYU in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, throwing for 325 yards, two touchdowns and running for another in a 31-21 win. It was Arizona's first bowl win in a decade.
Worst loss: The double-overtime loss to Oregon in 2009 was tough, but the 33-0 beat down by No. 22 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl that same year was a real stinker.
Record vs. Top 25: 5-15 (.250)
Best win: Jacquizz Rodgers busted out 186 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a 27-21 stunner of No. 1 USC in 2008. Doesn't get much sweeter than an unranked knocking off a No. 1. Though the 3-0 win over No. 20 Pitt. in the 2008 Sun Bowl gets a tip of the cap simply for the novelty.
Worst loss: The Beavers were shutout 38-0 by No. 6 Stanford in '10. That came a week after a 36-7 win over No. 20 USC. Talk about highs and lows.
Record vs. Top 25: 5-15 (.250)
Best win: Because of the record the previous year and because it was Steve Sarkisian against Pete Carroll, the 16-13 stunner over No. 3 USC in 2009 is one worth re-living over and over if you're a Washington fan. Erik Folk was so clutch.
Worst loss: Anything from 2008 will do.
Record vs. Top 25: 4-12 (.250)
Best win: Maybe No. 7 Texas was looking ahead to the showdown with Oklahoma. Oh well, don't turn the ball over four times in the first 30 minutes. Great performance from Johnathan Franklin in the 34-12 win in 2010.
Worst loss: Toss up between the 35-0 loss to No. 25 Stanford at home in 2010 or the 59-0 loss to No. 18 BYU in 2008. Both were brutal -- but the BYU one probably stung more since the Bruins had clipped No. 18 Tennessee in overtime just 12 days earlier in the season opener.
Record vs. Top 25: 3-10 (.230)
Best win: What's bad for the Cardinal is generally good for the Bears. The 2009 Big Game win at No. 17 Stanford was extra tasty -- especially when a late Andrew Luck interception in the red zone sealed the deal. Shane Vereen was on fire with 193 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.
Worst loss: The No. 6 Cardinal reclaimed the axe the following year with a 48-14 thrashing in Berkeley. Stepfan Taylor produced three touchdowns and Luck produced a Stanford fan's dream highlight with his forearm deflection of Sean Cattouse.
Record vs. Top 25: 3-11 (.214)
Best win: The USC and Missouri wins last year were pretty big, but there is nothing sweeter than beating a rival, in double-overtime, on the road, when they are ranked and you aren't. That was the case in 2010 with a 30-29 win over No. 23 Arizona. James Brooks will always be remembered for blocking an extra point near the end of regulation to force overtime. And then blocking a second extra point -- seriously -- to lock up the win. As bizarre as it was magnificent for the Sun Devils.
Worst loss: The loss to No. 7 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl last year was completely uninspired and capped a horrific end to the season. The Sun Devils went into a tailspin and Todd Graham has to pull them out.
Record vs. Top 25: 2-12
Best win: In his first career start in 2009, Tyler Hansen threw for 175 yards, a touchdown and ran for another to spark an upset win over No. 17 Kansas. That was Colorado's last win against a Top 25 team. The Buffs are 0-7 since.
Worst loss: Back in the day before they joined the Pac-12, Colorado had a little rivalry with a midwest school named Nebraska. The No. 15 Cornhuskers sent Colorado into the Pac-12 with an ugly 45-17 loss in 2010.
Record vs. Top 25: 0-12
Best win: You have to think the streak ends under Mike Leach -- and sooner rather than later.
Worst loss: Tragically, there are so many choices. But we'll go with the 69-0 to No. 6 USC in 2008 because at the time, WSU was riding the nation's second-longest streak without being shutout (280 games). That came to an end in a very embarrassing fashion. While Mark Sanchez threw for five touchdowns, the Cougars managed just 116 yards of total offense.
All times are ET.
Arizona (2-7, 1-6) at Colorado (1-9, 0-6) 2:30 p.m. FCS: Is Colorado going to win a Pac-12 game? This might be its best chance, considering its final two games are on the road, where the Buffaloes never win. The Buffs lead the series 12-1, but the Wildcats won the last game 24-21 in 1986. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles needs 84 yards of total offense to break Willie Tuitama's school record of 8,727 set from 2005-08. Last week against USC, Buffs running back Rodney Stewart set a new school record for all-purpose yards (4,466), passing his offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy.
Washington (6-3, 4-2) at USC (7-2, 4-2) 3:45 p.m. FX: USC leads the series 49-28-4, but Washington has won the last two, including a 32-31 win last year. Huskies quarterback Keith Price needs four touchdown passes to eclipse the school record of 28 thrown by Cody Pickett in 2002. USC has blocked six kicks this year. Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley threw a school record six touchdown passes in the win over Colorado, and he leads the conference with 28 touchdown passes.
Oregon State (2-7, 2-4) at California (5-4, 2-4) 6:30 p.m. CSNBA: California leads the series 33-30-0, but Oregon State won last year 35-7. After posting their first losing season under coach Jeff Tedford, the Bears need one win to become bowl eligible. The Beavers are already assured a second consecutive losing season. Oregon State's redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion has thrown for 200 or more yards in eight consecutive games, most for the program since Derek Anderson went 13 in a row in 2003. Cal receiver Keenan Allen took nine games to reach 1,000 yards receiving, the fastest of any receiver in school history. Cal is ranked 19th in the nation in total defense.
UCLA (5-4, 4-2) at Utah (5-4, 2-4) 6:30 p.m. KJZZ: The winner becomes bowl eligible. UCLA leads the series 8-1 but Utah won the last meeting, 44-6 in 2007. The Utes have been to a bowl game the last eight seasons, and they are 7-1 in those games. Utes running back John White is the 11th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing. He had his fifth 100-yard rushing game against Arizona. The Utes are 5-0 when he rushes for 100 yards. The Bruins are ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (186.4 yards per game).
No. 7 Oregon (8-1, 6-0) at No. 4 Stanford (9-0, 7-0) 8 p.m. ABC: It looked like the Pac-12 game of the year in the preseason and it turned out to be exactly that. Stanford leads the series 44-29-1, but Oregon won 52-31 last year. Oregon running back LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing with 151.57 yards per game. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck ranks fifth in passing efficiency. Both were Heisman Trophy finalists last year. The Ducks have won 18 consecutive conference games. Stanford has won 17 games in a row, the nation's longest winning streak. This is the Cardinal's first 9-0 start since 1951. Stanford leads the nation in red zone efficiency. It's perfect at 52 of 52. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 with 29 sacks, or 3.22 per game. Stanford has yielded the fewest sacks in the conference, just four, which is tied for fewest in the nation.
Arizona State (6-3, 4-2) at Washington State (3-6, 1-5) 10:30 p.m. Versus: Arizona State leads the series 23-12-2, and the Sun Devils won 42-0 last year. After a 3-1 start, the Cougars have lost five in a row. Sun Devils running back Cameron Marshall leads the Pac-12 with 13 touchdowns. Sun Devils defensive tackle Bo Moos is the son of Washington State AD Bill Moos. Cougars wideout Marquess Wilson needs 26 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving this year, which will make him just the second wideout in school history to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (Jason Hill, 2004-05). Cougs kicker Andrew Furney is one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award.
In 1985, the Seattle Seahawks used their 10th-round selection -- the 277th overall pick in the NFL draft -- to select Arizona quarterback John Connor. Connor would later save the world from evil computers and indestructible robots that looked not unlike the former governor of California, so we should give him a break for not making much of a mark in the pro ranks.
In 1972, six years before the Wildcats joined the Pac-8, the Buffalo Bills used their first pick... of the 16th round (391st overall)... on Arizona quarterback Brian Linstrom. In 1962, quarterback Eddie Wilson went to the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick of the second round, 24th overall.
And so ends our history lesson entitled, "The NFL draft and Arizona Quarterbacks."
"I grew up going to college football games and I wanted to play college football. I'm in a wonderful place because I'm living my dream right now," he said. "I know there is money and fame or whatever, but I love where I'm at. I love the University of Arizona. The most important thing right now is to focus on that. I think too many people get caught up in the, 'NFL this, NFL that,' and they don't focus on where they are now, the present moment. The most precious time you have is right now in the present. I don't want to think about a year down the road."
In the present time, Foles is headed into the 2011 season -- spring practices ended over the weekend -- on the cusp of becoming the best quarterback in program history, even if he doesn't break all of Willie Tuitama's records. After all, Tuitama, a four-year starter, wasn't drafted and didn't get invited to an NFL training camp. As for those records, Foles needs 3,478 yards passing to eclipse Tuitama's career record of 9,211 yards. Considering the talent Foles has surrounding him at receiver, it's possible that he could break Tuitama's single-season passing record (3,683 yards) and even reach his career TD mark (67; Foles has 39 touchdowns in two years as a starter).
Of course, stats aren't the only thing that matters. The Wildcats split the job between Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins in 1998, and their middling numbers were nonetheless good enough to front a 12-1 team that finished ranked No. 4 in the nation.
The Wildcats don't look at first glance like a team that could go 12-1. All five starters must be replaced on the offensive line, while the defense loses premier pass-rushing ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, both of whom figure to be drafted. Further, the Wildcats are presently riding a five-game losing streak that took the shine off a 7-1 start in the 2010 season.
For Arizona to be a factor in the Pac-12 South's first season, Foles needs to be out front posting big numbers.
"He's grown a lot each year. I think you'll see a more polished player," coach Mike Stoops said. "He's going to be an elite player at the next level if he can continue to grow."
Foles, who missed two games last season with a dislocated knee cap, said he sees plenty of room for improvement when he watches game tape. While he completed a strong 67 percent of his passes, his 2:1 TD to interceptions ratio -- 20 TDs, 10 picks -- won't blow anyone away. Foles also was streaky. He seemed to often break out of lulls while running the two-minute offense in high-pressure situations -- see clutch drives produced in wins over Iowa and California and in a heart-breaking loss to Arizona State.
So while Foles talks about improving his recognition skills, his knowledge of opposing defenses and building consistency, he also finds a less cerebral area in which to improve.
"When I just play the game and don't think as much, and let it just come to me, that's when I play my best," he said. "When I'm trying to over-analyze a play or I am thinking too much, I play mechanically and that's just not where I'm good."
Stoops and Foles have talked about another area in which Foles needs to focus: Leadership. As a quarterback who could receive All-American consideration, Foles is the centerpiece of the Wildcats. Everyone in the locker room will turn to him this fall.
"I wish at times he showed more emotion," Stoops said. "But you don't want that to be forced. That has to be natural. Nick has to pick and choose. He should know when those times are."
Said Foles, "There's a time and place to be loud and emotional but I also think it comes with knowing your teammates. The most important thing with anything you do is being natural. There will be times when I need to be vocal, but it has to come naturally. When it doesn't come naturally, it's just doesn't feel right."
In other words, leaderships is complicated. Consider: In the Wildcats 34-27 win over Iowa, Foles led by being loose and saying just enough to make his team confident.
"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said after that game. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."
Foles said he talked to his parents about potentially entering this spring's draft, but also said he told them in advance that he wanted to return. By returning, he almost guaranteed that -- barring injury -- he will become the greatest quarterback in school history.
Ah, but that's all history and the future and destination talk. Foles is more focused on the present, on the process.
"I'll watch film and go, 'Man, I've got a lot to work on,'" he said. "But that's exciting to me. I love working on that stuff. It's a continual process."
- Nick Booth didn't get many touches at Arizona, but he's still got an NFL dream. So does former QB Willie Tuitama.
- For this California recruiting assistant, it's not just about football. More on two high-profile guys joining Cal's support staff.
- Judgment on Oregon coach Chip Kelly might be best reserved for how his team functions in the future. Here's a thorough account of the cases of Jeremiah Masoli and LaMichael James. Hey, look! A story on Ducks football: Previewing the D-line.
- Is Oregon State looking for a tall receiver? Despite the loss of three starters, including two linebackers, the Beavers are still in good shape.
- Football saved former UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price.
- John Baxter might be new USC coach Lane Kiffin's best hire. More USC players to watch this spring.
- Former Washington defensive end Daniel Te'o-Nesheim will get a shot in the NFL.
- Previewing Washington State's safeties heading into spring practices.
After the "Immaculate Deflection/Interception/Deception" decided the Arizona-Washington game, my first thought was "Wow."
Then I realized we shouldn't be surprised.
It might be one of the great secrets in college football that the Arizona-Washington series has produced as many wild, weird, meaningful and controversial finishes as any with which I'm familiar.
1992: End of an Era
Top-ranked Washington, riding a 22-game winning streak and seeking its second consecutive national championship, is stunned -- first by quarterback Billy Joe Hobert's suspension after he admitted accepting a $50,000 loan from an Idaho businessman -- and then by Arizona, 16-3.
The extraordinary Don James Era would ingloriously and controversially end three games later -- after the Huskies lost the Rose Bowl to Michigan -- amid NCAA and Pac-10 investigations into the Hobert affair and recruiting violations.
The program went to six Rose Bowls and one Orange Bowl in 18 seasons under James.
It's been to one Rose Bowl since he "retired" 17 years ago.
1998: The Leap by the Lake.
Arizona quarterback Ortege Jenkins, in a desperation scramble with the clock ticking down its final seconds, met three Washington defenders at the 2-yard line.
Jenkins leaped toward them, flipped over them and landed on his feet in the endzone, which gave Arizona a 31-28 victory.
It became one of the great all-time highlight-reel plays.
The Wildcats would lose the next weekend at home against UCLA, 52-28, which would be their only defeat in the greatest season in school history.
Arizona beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl and finished 12-1 and ranked No. 4 in the country.
Washington fired Jim Lambright at the end of the season.
1999: The Drive
Washington produced one of the best drives in team history, going 80 yards in 17 plays -- knocking 9:13 off the clock in the process -- on its way to a 33-25 victory over the homestanding Wildcats, who began the season ranked No. 4 but ended up a disappointing 6-6.
A wild, post-game celebration breaks on the field out among Huskies players, coaches and fans. Roses are handed out. A fan produces a sign, "Rose Bowl Bound."
All the Huskies had to do to win their first Pac-10 championship since 1992 was beat a horrible, injury-ravaged UCLA squad and a horrible Washington State team.
Washington lost 23-20 in overtime at UCLA, inspiring more than a few snide comments about the premature post-game celebration.
Stanford went to the Rose Bowl.
2000: 22 points for Curtis Williams
A week after Washington safety Curtis Williams suffered a spinal cord injury at Stanford that would render him a quadriplegic -- and eventually kill him -- the then-seventh-ranked Huskies overcame a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit with a 22-point scoring barrage.
Running back Willie Hurst, a forgotten man much of the season, posted a pair of highlight-reel TD runs, and quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo scored the winning points from two yards out with 1:10 left.
Washington went on to win the Rose Bowl and finished ranked third in the country.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
For a time, it seemed like Nick Foles merely would be Arizona's shaggy-haired, back-up quarterback who looked a bit like Tom Petty. Or is it Dave Grohl?
But Foles, a Michigan State transfer, is no longer free falling or living like a refugee. Heck, after he completed 25 of 34 passes -- 73.5 percent -- for 254 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Wildcats 37-32 win at Oregon State, some Arizona fans might be singing, "There goes my hero... he's [not] ordinary!"
"I thought he played awfully well," coach Mike Stoops said.
Certainly not too shabby for a sophomore making his first career start on the road against a defense that thrives on pressure (though the Beavers at present are struggling to create their typical pressure).
The knock on Foles was he lacked mobility. Fellow sophomore Matt Scott won the job coming out of preseason camp in large part because his athleticism added an intriguing dimension to the Wildcats spread offense, particularly after four years of big-armed but slow-footed Willie Tuitama.
Foles, despite being a prototypical 6-foot-5, 235-pound, drop-back passer, isn't that slow, however, and he showed good pocket presence against the Beavers, who failed to sack him.
But it was the production in the passing game that has made Foles the clear-cut starter. The Wildcats entered the Oregon State game averaging just 167 yards passing in their first three games. They also ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in scoring with just 23.3 ppg.
It's likely the Beavers didn't expect so much precision from the Wildcats previously wobbly air attack. Count Oregon State coach Mike Riley among those impressed with Foles' debut.
"I thought he was poised," Riley said. "He handled things well and I also thought he threw the ball quickly -- a nice release. He was impressive."
That's the rub. Playing quarterback is about more than just a good arm or athletic ability. Scott seemed rattled under pressure the preceding week at Iowa. Foles kept his cool at Oregon State.
"The thing you like about Nick is he never gets real up or real down," Stoops said. "He kind of stays even. That's good. He's got kind of that [Oklahoma's] Sam Bradford mentality. He's just very cool. He's not a real excitable guy. He has great poise and great knowledge and great confidence in what he's doing. I think the other players like that. He's a pretty cerebral person all the time. That's a good quality. But he's still a good leader."
Yes, Stoops just compared Foles to the Sooners' 2008 Heisman Trophy winner and future first-round NFL draft pick.
Don't think Stoops, however, is going all hyperbolic about Foles and the now 3-1 Wildcats as they head into their bye week.
"It's just one game," he said. "I don't think anyone is jumping up and down and beating their chest."
The bye couldn't come at a better time. Arizona is banged up, with an injury list that includes running back Nic Grigsby and defensive end Brooks Reed as well as two starting offensive linemen. The Wildcats offense already has lost two starters for the season: tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Bug Wright.
Stoops seems confident that most will return to practices next week and will be ready to play at Washington.
As for Foles, it looks like he'll stick around and never be a monkey wrench.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.
- What went wrong for Arizona at Iowa? The offense, which needs to move past season-ending surgery for tight end Rob Gronkowski. Whatever happened to former QB Willie Tuitama?
- What we learned from Arizona State as it looks forward to Georgia. There are plenty of things to like about the Sun Devils.
- What does USC's loss mean for California? Receiver Nyan Boateng is out four to six weeks with a fractured foot.
- Setting up Oregon's showdown with No. 6 California. Are the Ducks more about defense now? The passing game must improve.
- Sean Canfield remains Oregon State's starting quarterback, but Lyle Moevao may be healthy enough to play. Some injury notes.
- Stanford's report card.
- The Price was right for UCLA -- the cornerback, not the DT. Some Bruins recruiting notes. The Bruins are off this week, but they will be healthy and the suspended players will be back for the visit to Stanford on Oct. 3.
- USC coach Pete Carroll defended the play-calling of new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates. The Trojans report card isn't good.
- Washington's big win over USC has the Huskies back in the national rankings. Bob Condotta summarizes some thoughts from Steve Sarkisian.
- Maybe Washington State can loosen up because it has a win under its belt.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes has transformed the Arizona offense since coach Mike Stoops hired him away from Texas Tech in 2007.
But the Wildcats began 2009 with questions on offense due to the departure of quarterback Willie Tuitama -- a three-plus year starter -- receiver Mike Thomas and offensive tackle Eben Britton.
Matt Scott won the quarterback competition over fellow sophomore Nick Foles, but it was close and Foles is still in the picture.
|Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE|
|Arizona hasn't asked quarterback Matt Scott to pass downfield much so far this season.|
The Wildcats opened with two efficient victories, but the offense played conservatively, leaning on a running attack that is averaging a stout 306 yards per contest and a stout defense.
But a visit to Iowa will pose a far tougher test on Saturday. It's unlikely the Wildcats can just line up and run right at the Hawkeyes.
Seemed like a good time to check in with Dykes and see where things stand.
Tell me how things are going at quarterback, starting with Matt Scott?
Sonny Dykes: He's made good progress so far. It's kind of been weird because we had a lead early in both games and have been pretty content to try to hold onto the ball and run it and try not to put too much on those guys right now. So he's done a good job doing that. We're completing a pretty high percentage of our throws. We haven't gotten the ball down the field a ton yet but we really haven't had to. So he's done a good job of executing what we've done. We've got to continue to improve our downfield passing game. But part of that has been we've had some guys injured and been a little bit slower than I would like to all get on the same page. Not having [tight end Rob] Gronkowski hurts us a bunch as far as getting it down the field. And Chris Gronkowski has been banged up. It's just been kind of slow to all come together.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Mike Stoops is fit and relaxed and just a bit irritated.
All three speak to him being in a far better place as he enters his sixth season as Arizona's coach.
Fit? The former All-American safety at Iowa looks like he could suit up again. If the Pac-10 title were decided in a bar room brawl, Stoops might be your guy. The avid runner has been hitting the weight during the off-season and he is not above suggesting that a reporter might want to do the same.
Relaxed? Instead of getting his butt burned by the hot seat upon which he sat last year, he led the Wildcats to an impressive victory in their first bowl game since 1998.
Irritated? He's just a bit piqued at his Wildcats being picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10.
(The Pac-10 blog is on record, by the way, believing he has a point.)
His Wildcats were picked behind UCLA and Arizona State, teams they beat by identical 31-10 counts in 2008.
Arizona, which won eight games last year, has 14 starters back, UCLA 17 and Arizona State 15. The Sun Devils and Bruins combined for nine wins. Each will feature a quarterback making his first start this season.
Beyond that, the Wildcats largest margin of defeat was 10 points (Oregon). They lost two games by a combined three points
So why the diss?
"I don't know," Stoops said. "This is our best team."
Really? Stoops must replace quarterback Willie Tuitama, practically a four-year starter, receiver Mike Thomas, offensive tackle Eben Britton and four defensive starters.
The only player on his team someone in, say, Des Moines, Iowa might have heard of is tight end Rob Gronkowski.
So why is Stoops certain his team is being underrated?
"Our greatest strength is we don't have any really big weaknesses," he said. "We don't have any really big holes... We're pretty strong across the board."
In a conference with two fancypants secondaries getting national attention -- USC and California -- Stoops believes he's got a match.
In a conference where everybody is touting their linebackers, Stoops believes his three are as athletic as any troika in the conference -- and junior middle linebacker Vuna Tuihalamaka looks like a potential star.
He thinks defensive end Brooks Reed is underrated, despite recording eight sacks last year. He likes the rest of his D-line, which is returns intact and is deeper than it was a year ago.
He's fired up about his three tailbacks. Things are good at receiver. He gushes about his offensive line.
"I'm really pleased with our ability to play physically and protect," he said.
And if the quarterback doesn't, as Stoops said, "Go crazy," this team should meet or exceed last year's performance.
It might seem that Stoops is mustering a motivational angle, and not just for his team.
Stoops clearly likes maintaining an edge. While no one relishes job insecurity, last year provided him an obvious one.
"Things were defined last year -- that almost made it easier, if that makes sense," he said. "We knew we had to win. They gave us ample time. We knew we were close. Clearing that mental obstacle for our team was huge."
Making the next step as a program won't be easy. As hard as it is to go from three to eight wins, it's not any easier to go from eight to 10.
"Until you do it, you are always going to wonder [if you can]," he said.
It's still a work in progress in Tucson. Stoops wants his team to play loose and confident but also be able to set its collective jaw during the waning moments of close games so they don't slip away.
Eighth-place? It seems like Stoops believes his team is a play or two away from finishing in the top-third of the Pac-10.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
What's our preseason projection for the Pac-10? Probably not many shocks here. This mirrors my vote in the Pac-10 media poll.
1. USC: The Trojans are No. 1 until somebody knocks them off the mountain. With nine starters back on offense, including what might be the nation's best offensive line, there will be plenty of help for the new quarterback. And do you really think USC's defense won't be elite again in 2009? Come on.
2. California: The Bears have 17 starters back from a team that went 9-4 in 2009, including a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jahvid Best. The secondary will be one of the nation's best and the defensive line is as good as any in the Pac-10. Replacing three of four linebackers doesn't seem to be causing much stress in Berkeley. The only issue is how much the passing game improves. If it improves significantly, this is a potential BCS bowl team.
3. Oregon: Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and running back LeGarrette Blount give the Ducks a strong one-two punch on offense and an athletic corps of linebackers and cornerback Walter Thurmond and end Will Tukuafu will lead the defense. Both lines are questions that, if answered, could push the Ducks to the top of the conference.
4. Oregon State: Rebuild or reload? The Beavers have transitioned to the latter category, which is why most are overlooking a defense that needs to replace eight starters, including the entire secondary, and an offensive line that must replace three first-rate starters. There are two veteran quarterbacks in Lyle Moevao and Sean Canfield and the explosive Rodgers brothers -- James and Jacquizz -- leading the offense, while tackle Stephen Paea and linebacker Keaton Kristick lead the defense.
5. Arizona: Losing three offensive mainstays -- quarterback Willie Tuitama, receiver Mike Thomas and tackle Eben Britton --- hurts, but the Wildcats should be even better on defense in 2009, and the general feeling is the offense will be solid whether Matt Scott or Nick Foles wins the job. For one, tight end Rob Gronkowski is the best target in the Pac-10.
6. Stanford: The Cardinal have lots of guys back -- 17 -- from a team that fell just short of bowl eligibility in 2008. They also have seven home games after playing just five a year ago. The key is passing -- on offense and defense. Redshirt freshman Andrew Luck is supposed to be the answer for the offense, while an injection of young talent should improve the athleticism in the secondary.
7. UCLA: The Bruins have two big questions: quarterback and offensive line. The defense should be good, led by tackle Brian Price, linebacker Reggie Carter and cornerback Alterraun Verner -- all three are All-American candidates -- but it won't matter if the running game remains anemic. One big reasons for optimism: five offensive players are again available who would have started last year but were out for various reasons back: running back Christian Ramirez, tight end Logan Paulsen, center Kai Maiava, fullback Trevor Theriot and tackle Sean Sheller.
8. Arizona State: Not unlike UCLA, Arizona State has questions at quarterback and on the offensive line while the defense looks solid. Senior Danny Sullivan played well in the spring and looks to be the favorite at quarterback, while new faces could key dramatic improvement on the offensive line. If things fall into place, the Sun Devils could win eight or nine games, but it's hard to project that until the offensive line proves itself.
9. Washington: The good news is the Huskies could be the most-improved team in the conference. Of course, it's hard to regress from an 0-12 season. Moreover, Washington could play much better and still have little to show for it because the nonconfernce schedule features LSU and Notre Dame. Still, the return of 18 starters, as well as quarterback Jake Locker and linebacker E.J. Savannah, suggests the Huskies won't be anyone's patsy this fall.
10. Washington State: The biggest hope for the Cougars lies in a potentially improved running game that could keep a defense that is thin on talent on all three levels off the field. That didn't happen last year -- see an offense that ranked 118th in the country that surrendered 38 turnovers, tied for most in the nation. But there's experience on the offensive line and James Montgomery and Dwight Tardy give the Cougars a pair of solid backs. If either Marshall Lobbestael or Kevin Lopina provides adequate quarterback play, Washington State might surprise some folks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Thirty-nine points separated No. 1 USC and No. 2 California in the Pac-10 media poll.
Cal's lead over Oregon was 27 points. Oregon's over Oregon State, 34.
No. 9 Washington trailed No. 8 Arizona by a whopping 68 points.
While Arizona fans -- and players and coaches -- might be miffed that their Wildcats ended up No. 8 after finishing fifth a year ago, the margin between the Wildcats and No. 5 Arizona State was just 13 points.
If you forgot, the tally looked like this:
- USC (28)... 316
- California (3)... 277
- Oregon (1)... 250
- Oregon State... 216
- Arizona State... 155
- Stanford... 150
- UCLA... 145
- Arizona... 142
- Washington... 74
- Washington State... 35
Arizona was my No. 5.
(In a side note, it was interesting at media day listening to the coaches of the mid-level teams. Arizona coach Mike Stoops, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson and Stanford's Jim Harbaugh each sold their team as being better than the experts were projecting. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel seemed notably -- and curiously -- modest about his team's chances, humbly asking the football spirits for six wins. That gets a "hmmm.")
I only pulled back at the last moment from adding the Wildcats to my preseason Top 25. I thought it might be a good idea to watch them carry a 2-0 record to Iowa on Sept. 19 before I committed to a national ranking. This is a team, however, with top-25 potential.
"I feel this is our best overall team from one to 85," Stoops said.
"I think our lack of respect in this conference is built around our ability to replace a very quality player in [quarterback] Willie Tuitama," Stoops said.
I agree. But I think that conventional thinking is wrong. Tuitama re-wrote the Wildcats' passing record book, but the most remarkable thing about the Wildcats' passing record book is the stunning lack of recognizable names. Tom Tunnicliffe? Moreover, there is this: Tuitama wasn't invited to the NFL combine, nor was he drafted, nor has he signed an NFL contract.
All due respect to Tuitama, who tossed 67 career touchdowns passes, but he was just one piece of the Wildcats' offensive success the past two seasons. And he probably wasn't the most important one (Rob Gronkowski? Mike Thomas? Eben Britton? Coordinator Sonny Dykes?).
He's certainly replaceable. Whether that ends up being Matt Scott or Nick Foles. Before the 2008 season, there were big questions about the Wildcats' defense. That no-name unit ended up third in the Pac-10 in both scoring and total defense. And it welcomes back seven guys.
"Defensively, we have never been stronger -- this is the best 11 that we've ever put on the field," Stoops said.
Added safety Cam Nelson: "We're going to play the usual Coach Stoops type of defense -- hard-nosed with a lot of no-name guys who are going to come out and play as hard as they can."
While Arizona and its fans seemed happy with eight wins and a bowl victory last year, the Wildcats left a lot of football on the field. Their largest margin of defeat was 10 points (Oregon). They lost two games by a combined three points.
Stoops has made Arizona competitive again. The next step is learning how to finish games.
Here's a guess that next step is taken in 2009.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
The first of 10 quick updates on offseason Pac-10 goings on.
Arizona in a sentence
- Things are a lot more upbeat in Tucson after Arizona played in -- and won -- its first bowl game since 1998, but it seems as though some pundits believe key departures might cause the Wildcats to regress in 2009.
The big issue
- With the departure of four-year starter Willie Tuitama, the quarterback competition is tight between Matt Scott and Nick Foles. That will be the story of the preseason, while how the eventual winner performs could be the story of the season itself.
Quick hit news
- Defensive tackle Kaniela Tuipulotu, who dropped on the depth chart during spring practices, opted to transfer to Hawaii.
- As of today, coach Mike Stoops hasn't decided how he will handle incoming freshman cornerback Ryan Milus' decision to drop football in favor of track, which he wants to pursue at another school. Milus has asked for a release from his letter of intent. Stoops could grant it with or without conditions.
- Twenty of the 21 members of Arizona's recruiting class are already on campus. The only missing member is defensive tackle Sione Tuihalamaka, but coaches are optimistic he will be eligible.
- After a successful visit last year, Arizona will return to Fort Huachuca for fall camp, this time for an extended five-day stay, Aug. 12 to Aug. 17.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Couple more interesting things from my conversation with Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes...
So who takes the first snaps?
"We'll rotate them and make sure they get as many reps as they can with the starters so we can get a good evaluation on them," Dykes said. "But honestly, they came out of spring pretty even. I think when we went back and looked at the [film] cut-ups, I think it was a little bit more even than we thought it was. The big thing is we want to try to find one. I've always been a believer in the old adage that if you've got two [quarterbacks] that means you really don't have one. But this situation is making me see things a little bit differently."
The question was restated: Is Scott at least slightly ahead because most beat writer accounts said he was?
"I don't think so. I think it depends on who you talk to," Dyke said. "I think the dimension that separates [Scott] a little bit is his ability to run. But he's 195 pounds. If he runs it 15-20 times a game, he's not going to last very long."
Dykes added: "For me, the real important time for quarterbacks is the summer, to see how hard those guys work and how much film they watch and how they develop in the summer. That's when guys always seem to make a big move."
Dykes also seemed aware that most preseason prognostications have the Wildcats slipping back in the Pac-10 pecking order after losing offensive tackle Eben Britton, receiver Mike Thomas and quarterback Willie Tuitama.
He seemed confident that the wouldn't be the case.
"I don't think people realize how much good young depth we have on our offensive line," he said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Tenth in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.
Don't be surprised if ... Pac-10 quarterback play is significantly better in 2009.
How could that possibly be?
The two highest rated passers from 2008, USC's Mark Sanchez (No. 6 in the nation) and Arizona's Willie Tuitama (No. 22) are gone.
|Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE|
|Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli will lead an improved group of Pac-10 quarterbacks this season.|
Remember the glory days?
In 2002, seven Pac-10 quarterbacks were rated between No. 5 and No. 43. Six averaged more than 254 yards passing per game, with two, Washington's Cody Pickett and USC's Carson Palmer, averaging over 300 yards per game.
In 2008? Zippo. Sanchez led the way with 247 yards per game.
Moreover, eight teams will be starting a different quarterback than the guy who opened last season as the starter. And those two teams starting the same guy, California and Washington, didn't start the same guy all season, though for very different reasons.
Finally, five teams will turn to a quarterback with zero starting experience.
So, again: How could anyone forecast improvement?
Well, it's legitimate to expect seven teams to improve their quarterback play in 2009, and the three teams trending downward have valid reasons for optimism.
And, yes, a significant part of the rationale in many cases is: "It couldn't get any worse, right?"
Let's walk through it.
And yet... Matt Scott and Nick Foles look fairly good this spring, but the real reason not to bet against the Wildcats is offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes.
Arizona State: Down.
And yet... Rudy Carpenter had a mostly miserable 2008 in large part due to poor offensive line play. If the Sun Devils improve up front, Danny Sullivan should provide little drop-off from Carpenter's pedestrian numbers.
The assumption is Kevin Riley will be better with experience. And let's not forget the same goes for a corps of receivers, talented but completely green in 2008, that returns intact.
Masoli was the best quarterback in the Pac-10 over the final quarter of the season. If he improves, he could end up first-team All-Pac-10... and maybe more.
Sure, Andrew Luck is a redshirt freshman, but he has as much natural ability as a passer as anyone in the conference. Beyond that, the Cardinal passing game couldn't get much worse than 2008. And having experienced senior Tavita Pritchard as a backup can only be a good thing.
This situation is much like Stanford. Kevin Craft battled last year, but setting a school record with 20 interceptions almost guarantees this year will be better with redshirt freshman Kevin Prince.
And yet... A new quarterback and a new coordinator, so there are questions, but with nine starters back on offense, including a potentially dominating offensive line, it's hard to imagine the Trojans will get bad quarterback play for the first time since 2001.
If Jake Locker stays healthy, the Huskies won't be anyone's patsy this fall. He looked good transitioning from a spread to a pro-style scheme this spring, and he's got a solid, experienced crew of receivers back. He might make a move for All-Conference honors.
Washington State: Up.
Washington State produced some of the nation's worst quarterback play last year. Little to no experience. New system. Injuries. Not a lot of talent. There will be less newness this go-around, and Marshall Lobbestael won't be the wide-eyed freshman he was in 2008. And, honestly, things can't possibly be worse, right?
The Pac-10 still won't revert to its previous and long-held status as the farm system for future NFL quarterbacks this fall.
The expectation here, however, is that 2008, one of the worst seasons in conference history at the position, was an embarrassing blip and not a new trend.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
First in a series of Pac-10 thoughts that might come from unusual angles.
|Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRE|
|Sonny Dykes' offense averaged 36.6 points and 402.4 yards per game in 2008.|
Don't be surprised if...
Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes becomes a hot head coaching candidate when the Wildcats new starting quarterback posts surprisingly strong numbers this fall.
Dykes, 39, has completely transformed the Wildcats offense.
In 2006, the year before he moved to Tucson from Texas Tech, Arizona averaged 16.6 points and 252.8 yards per game. Yes, those are horrible numbers. In 2007, Dykes' offense rewrote the program's offensive record book, and in 2008 they did it again, averaging 36.6 points and 402.4 yards per game.
Yes, that's a stunning transformation.
Dykes is widely considered an outstanding recruiter. His final season at Texas Tech he won the All-American Football Foundation's Mike Campbell Top Assistant Award.
He learned passing offense from Hal Mumme and Mike Leach. And last year he proved he could create balance, see 504 rushes and 412 passes.
As for his coaching genes, he's the son of Texas Tech coaching legend Spike Dykes.
The key, however, is this season. While the NFL's lack of interest in former quarterback Willie Tuitama tends to suggest Dykes deserves even more credit for the offensive transformation of the past two seasons, his proving he can develop a guy from scratch -- either Matt Scott or Nick Foles -- will raise more eyebrows among programs looking for a new leader.
In other words, if the Wildcats again rank in the top half of the Pac-10 in most offensive categories on their way to a second consecutive bowl game, Dykes might not be long for Tucson.