Pac-12: ACC

Happy Friday. With Pac-12 spring practices ending this weekend, the offseason is officially upon us.

Of course, there is no offseason if you follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

James from Washington, D.C., writes: Is there anything Larry Scott can do to force other conferences to adopt a similar schedule as the Pac-12's? It looks like the conference is severely hurting itself with nine conference games and a title game.

0006shy from Los Angeles writes: Ted, Bill Hancock came out and said the selection committee doesn't care whether a team plays eight conference games instead of nine; they just care about overall strength of schedule. Doesn't that mean, once again, the SEC has won the debate before it even really started? It's the beginning of May and the selection committee has already decided that it's fine for the SEC to game the system. What are the other conferences supposed to do? I'd personally like to see them black-ball the SEC so that they're unable to schedule the "mandated" out-of-conference games.

Brian from Colorado writes: Regarding the SEC scheduling brouhaha, I think Pat Haden's advice is appropriate: "Get over it." The SEC will not change of its own accord, because its scheduling format has worked quite well in the BCS era. The future is bright for the SEC because the poll voting will likely not change that rewards SEC teams in the Top 25. The coming year's playoff committee, just like the BCS, will be highly influenced by the rankings -- that is a stark reality. Why would the SEC change? In all likelihood, they will have one guaranteed seed in the playoff and a realistic shot at two seeds -- remember Alabama vs. LSU in the national championship game a few years back? The only way the SEC will change is if they suffer the same risk the rest of the conferences face -- being snubbed by the committee. Until that happens, we can expect the status quo will continue.

[+] Enlarge2009 Alabama
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBecause of the SEC's success nationally, they feel no real pressure to play a nine-game league schedule while others will.
Stephen from Smyrna, Ga., writes: As a Tennessee grad and longtime ticket holder, I couldn't agree more with you. In fact, if a poll were conducted among SEC fans, I dare say the vast majority would also agree that a nine-game conference schedule is a must. It is simply a matter of time before the SEC leadership recognizes this is in their best interest. In the meantime, I can only hope that schools such as mine will schedule the UCLAs and Oklahomas as opposed to the WSUs and Kansas' of the world.

Bobby from Greenville, S.C., writes: I think your article on SEC scheduling is very shortsighted on many points. At one point it is stated that it's not a debate about Big Ten vs. SEC. Well, to that point, I think that exactly proves why the SEC stays at eight games. A little biased here, being a UGA fan. But let's look at it closer. Last year, UGA played how many teams that were ranked in top 15 at the time they played them? Now let's see a Pac-12 or Big Ten team do the same! Now let's add another SEC game, why don't we? Because the SEC IS THE BEST CONFERENCE. Whether too heavy or not, that was still like five or six teams UGA played that were top-15 at the time they played. No thanks -- I'll pass on another league game. Also, stories are very slanted on the SEC not playing quality nonconference opponents. Again, UGA played top-10 Clemson and Georgia Tech last year. I also refuse to lose Auburn as a yearly opponent. So that debate needs to leave forever. Now Alabama or Florida nonconference, I cannot defend. Maybe that needs to be looked at more as far as the ADs are concerned. Thanks for listening.

Ted Miller: As you might guess, we got a lot of response to our discussion about the SEC opting to play only eight conference games instead of nine, as the Pac-12 and Big 12 do and the Big Ten plans to do.

All the fans from nine-game conferences were frustrated to some degree, though often over different issues. Some of the SEC respondents said, "I hear you." Others defended the SEC decision.

First off, if you want to go with the "SEC rules and everyone else stinks!" approach, go away. I understand this day and age that it's fun to troll and to purposely say something that is ridiculous just to get a rise out of people, but this actually is an issue that goes beyond conference quality.

Further, if you're going to say that SEC teams already face a tougher schedule than the Pac-12, know that what you are saying is factually inaccurate. You can still say it, of course. Free country. But you will be saying something that is wrong.

OK. Now that we've covered the fatuous stuff.

What this is really about is simple: The SEC thinks it can get away with making things easier on itself. That's not my opinion. That is a fact. Anyone stating otherwise is either ignorant or disingenuous.

The SEC is not going to change this approach unless it is forced to, or at some point in the future it believes this approach no longer gives it an advantage. Let me give you an example of how the College Football Playoff Selection Committee can make that happen.

[+] EnlargeStanford
David Madison/Getty ImagesStanford would have had a strong argument for inclusion in the playoffs if the new system were in place in 2013. But would the committee have snubbed Alabama to get them that berth?
Say the selection committee is meeting right now. It has selected three of four teams. The fourth selection will be either Alabama or Stanford. In an extraordinary coincidence, Alabama and Stanford each have played the exact same schedule as they did in 2013 with their opponents ending up exactly the same. Weird, huh?
Committee member 1: Alabama has great tradition and it passes the sight test. And it's an SEC team. But was it really? It played just three teams that are presently ranked and it's best win came over No. 16 LSU, which has lost three games. It missed South Carolina, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Florida.

Committee member 2: I know. It's like Alabama was in the SEC in name only last year.

Committee member 3: And then there's Stanford. It went 5-2 against teams that are presently ranked, with its marquee win being over No. 10 Oregon. Yes, it lost two games, but all the metrics suggest it was more difficult to go 11-2 against Stanford's schedule than it was to go 11-1 against Alabama's. Heck, the Cardinal played six road games and Alabama only played four.

Committee member 1: By every objective measure, it should be Stanford. Boy, that eight-game conference schedule is something, isn't it? You get to say you play in the SEC, but by missing five conference teams every season, scheduling quirks sometimes almost make it like playing in the ACC.

Committee member 4: But we're going to get barbecued by all those SEC fans.

Committee member 1: Screw 'em. They need to call their ADs and demand a nine-game conference schedule as well as a more robust nonconference slate.

Committee member 2: Can we at this point all agree that the Pac-12 blog is awesome?

All together: Heck yeah!

This isn't about the quality of the SEC, which every clear-thinking person acknowledges as the best college football conference. It's about aspiring toward an equitable playing field so the selection committee can do its job well.

  • If the Big Five conferences all play a nine-game conference schedule, it provides a broader picture of a conference's actual pecking order. Why? More games against each other, duh.
  • If the Big Five conferences all play a nine-game conference schedule, it makes it easier to compare teams across the country because they played the same schedule: Nine conference games, three nonconference games.
  • If the Big Five conferences all play a nine-game conference schedule, it helps balance the number of home and road games between the conferences.
  • If the Big Five conferences all play a nine-game conference schedule, it's better for the fans because they get to see, say, Alabama and Georgia play more often.

Again, other than Machiavellian self-interest, there is no argument that justifies what the SEC is doing. None.

[And now my mailbag fills with "The Pac-12 stinks!" notes.]


Wat from Parts Unknown writes: Why does the ACC get a pass when discussing the eight-game league schedule? Especially since an ACC team is the defending champs and the overwhelming favorite to repeat? I hate to play this card, but at least getting through the SEC means playing multiple talented, well-coached teams. But as for FSU, they bested their strongest regular season foe 50-14. (That foe's only other regular-season game against a ranked team? 31-17). Even better: their second regular-season-best foe (whom they crushed 45-7) went 10-4 with no victories against the top 40 and a pair of losses to 7-6 teams. So FSU gets to the national title game by beating Clemson, Duke and a bunch of unranked teams (including Nevada, Bethune-Cookman and Idaho out of conference), and it is the SEC that has you concerned with schedule strength? And not only is the ACC consistently a weaker league, but they do not even have the annual out-of-conference power conference foe requirement that the SEC just adopted. So what prevents FSU (or if they slip up, Clemson; or for that matter, longtime pretender Virginia Tech) from staking an annual berth in the four-team playoff? Now my aim is not to ACC-bash. Instead, it is to point out that if the schedule strength issue is not going to be discussed equitably, then it amounts to no more than mere SEC envy.

Ted Miller: Part of it is the ACC hasn't yet decided on the issue. It meets May 13 in Amelia Island, Fla. Of course, the SEC decision gives the ACC a pass to stick with eight games, which I suspect it will do.

The other part of the reason is the SEC is presently the bell cow in college football. It's won seven of the last eight national titles, falling just short of making it eight in a row in January. When the SEC shakes the ice in its glass, the media erupts with reports and analysis for the next month.

Further, there's a general feeling that the ACC, unlike the SEC, won't get the benefit of the doubt. Fair or not, the perception is most years that an 11-1 SEC team will get the nod over an 11-1 team from any other conference. But, again in general, an 11-1 ACC team wouldn't get the nod over an 11-1 team from the Pac-12 or Big 12.

For example, if Oregon or Stanford had gone undefeated last year, I strongly suspect it would have been ranked ahead of Florida State in the BCS standings.


J Dub from Los Angeles writes: Can you please explain to my USC friends that their sanctions have very little, if anything at all, to do with UCLA's resurgence? They can't seem to understand that UCLA plays 12 teams not named USC every year.

Ted Miller: The biggest reason for UCLA's resurgence is Jim Mora, his outstanding coaching staff and QB Brett Hundley, which means Rick Neuheisel deserves at least a tip of the cap.

That said, NCAA sanctions against USC have benefited every Pac-12 team, and most prominently UCLA. With USC down 10 scholarships in each of the past three recruiting classes (plus or minus), that means more talent for everyone else, particularly that coveted Southern California talent.

I can even point to one guy specifically: D-lineman Kylie Fitts. He's at UCLA because USC didn't have space for him.

With USC able to sign a full recruiting class in 2015, it will be interesting going forward to watch these bitter rivals battle to rule LA.


Kai from Bear Territory writes: Team (or teams) you will have marked improvement over last year?

Ted Miller: I guarantee your Cal Bears at least double their 2013 win total. Heck, they might even triple it.

So, Cal would win this question.

I think Colorado will be better next season. I think Oregon State is interesting. Could be a nine-win team. I think Utah returns to the postseason if it starts the same quarterback the entire season.


Chester from Tempe writes: Dear Bert and Ernie, I'm a die-hard University of Arizona fan. I think the media has swooned too much over Todd Graham while not giving enough credit to RichRod. Shock! My reasoning: Graham is a motivator, salesman and leader. I don't see him as a good game coach when all is equal. When the talent was equal on the field, he lost to Notre Dame and twice to Stanford. (I'll argue UCLA was young and hurt and USC was being "Kiffined.") I believe he was handed a roster full of experienced and talented players who lacked discipline. He infused discipline and structure with some good juco players. Texas Tech was the ultimate decider for me; they needed that win to continue the "Happy Days" parade and bandwagon. Instead, Graham and his defense COULD NOT adjust. It was just weird. RichRod took over a dumpster fire of talent. Hindsight being 20-20, Stoops stopped recruiting in 2008-2009. Denker? 210-pound Mike LB's? Who needs defensive linemen? A combination of RichRod and his coaching staff's ability, coupled with Ka'Deem Carey, enabled them to win 16 games in two years. I think that is impressive. I guessed we would go five wins in 2012 and then six wins in 2013. I'll hang up and listen.

Ted Miller: So just because Todd Graham does things a good college coach does -- infusing discipline and structure while recruiting good players -- doesn't mean he's a good coach?

Or you're citing the the Holiday Bowl face-plant as a justification for saying Graham isn't "a good game coach?"

Piffle.

I do agree he inherited more talent that Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, which is part of the reason Graham is 2-0 against Rodriguez and has won 18 games compared to 16 for Rodriguez, though it's also worth noting that the Sun Devils' nonconference schedules have been far more taxing the past two years.

I know this won't satisfy you, Chester, but my -- and most objective observers' -- impression is both teams have good coaches, and we won't know who is better until... oh, let's just say 2017.

Pac-12 leads leagues in QB starts

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
7:00
PM ET
Keeping with our theme of Pac-12 quarterbacks -- and numbers donated to the Pac-12 blog by the Arizona State sports information department -- Jeremy Hawkes and Jordan Parry compiled a list of returning starts behind center by conference. Not surprisingly the Pac-12, with 10 returning starting QBs, is tied with the 14-team Big Ten for the most returning starters, and the Pac-12 leads the nation in total starts.

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

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

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

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

Here's the list.

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

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

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

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

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

American Athletic (5)
Paxton Lynch, Memphis: 12
John O'Korn, Houston: 11
P.J. Walker, Temple: 7
Mike White, South Florida: 5
Casey Cochran, Connecticut: 4
Total: 39 starts
Greetings and happy Friday to ya.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Shane from Red Bluff, Calif., writes: Just curious if you have ever written a story on the diversity of Pac-12 offensive schemes vs. those in the B1G and SEC, and the effect on the stats of conference defenses. It seems to me it would be easier for defenses to appear more elite when facing similar offenses throughout the conference slate, i.e. SEC and B1G. For example, in the Pac-12 there is Oregon, Stanford, Wazzu, USC, Zona and Utah. Offenses as unique and different as those must make for different recruiting/scheming practices for the Pac-12 than other conferences.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 probably has the most offensive diversity, with six teams averaging more than 190 yards rushing and seven teams averaging more than 250 yards passing in 2013.

You have Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, UCLA and Washington playing really, really fast. You have Cal, Oregon State and Washington State throwing the ball all over the place. You have Oregon State, USC and Stanford running pro-style offenses.

Diversity? You have Utah changing offensive coordinators every single season.

But I think the national trend toward up-tempo, spread offenses has touched every conference, even the Big Ten and SEC.

Former Big 12 teams Texas A&M and Missouri have put to bed the notion of SEC big-boy defenses automatically shutting down the up-tempo, spreads hailing from other regions. Auburn twice won the SEC in the past four years and played for two national titles with an up-tempo spread. Florida under Urban Meyer was dominant with a spread-option, and now he's doing the same thing in the Big Ten at Ohio State, with Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska running spreads or using up-tempo, spread elements.

This article does a good job of pointing out how the SEC has changed:
Perhaps no other conference in the land has seen more of a drastic shift in scoring than the SEC, where defense used to be king. In 2005 for instance, only one team (Auburn, 32.2 ppg) averaged over 30 points per game. On the contrary, six teams allowed less than 20 points per game. In 2006, only one team (LSU, 33.7 ppg) averaged more than 30 an outing; eight held their opponents to 20 points or less.

Fast-forward to 2013.

A year ago, the SEC had nine teams that scored 30 or more points per game. Out of those nine, four (Texas A&M, Auburn, Missouri and Ole Miss) are true hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. But unlike the 2005 and 2006 seasons, only Alabama (13.9 ppg) ended last season allowing less than 20 points per game.

And it's not just about spreads. Heck, Georgia averaged 314 yards passing per game last season, making it one of three SEC teams that ranked in the top 25 in passing yards. That top 25 included four Pac-12 teams, two Big 12 teams, two Big Ten teams and two ACC teams.

In total plays, the Pac-12 had five in the top 25, the Big 12 three, SEC three, Big Ten two and ACC three.

But know what I found most fascinating? Yards per play. The SEC had seven teams ranked in the top 25, compared to one for the Pac-12 (Oregon), one for the Big 12, three for the Big Ten and three for the ACC. (It's worth noting Stanford and Washington were tied for 26th).

That means two things: 1. SEC offenses are often highly efficient; 2. SEC defenses are often not highly efficient, despite the popular perception.

It will be interesting to see how the SEC and Pac-12 stack up offensively this coming year. While the Pac-12 welcomes back 10 starting QBs, the SEC welcomes back just five, if you include Florida's Jeff Driskel, and the attrition includes just about all the A-list guys at the traditional powers.

So, with QB play questionable, we may hear a lot of about super-awesome SEC defenses again in 2014.




Lou from Phoenix writes: Ted, with the recent legal trouble of WSU's [DaQuawn Brown], we can only assume he's off the team (violating one of Leach's three pillars of accountability). How does this bode for the Cougs already really, REALLY thin secondary, and do you think we can still be competitive in the Pac-12 North?

Ted Miller: Brown is accused of getting into a fight with a man and a woman at the Washington State campus union, and Cougars coach Mike Leach has long used a one-strike-and-you're-out policy for drugs, stealing and hitting women.

It was, by the way, the Cougars' fourth arrest since the start of February, so the Pullman police are making Leach's offseason long.

Most seem pessimistic about Brown's future with the team, but we should let things play out.

But, yes, cornerback specifically and the secondary in general is a big question for the Cougars, and that's not a good thing in this quarterback-rich conference. Safety Taylor Taliulu is the only returning player with starting experience, and he's no sure-thing. Moreover, Brown was a promising CB who played well as a backup last season and even started four games.

Obviously, this puts pressure on youngsters such as redshirt freshman Charleston White and freshman Marcellus Pippins -- a fortuitous early enrollee -- to grow up quickly. Senior Tracy Clark also might want to finally break through this spring.

Three more freshmen arrive in the fall, and there's always the chance of a position change. A player could move over from safety, where the depth is better, or the Cougs coaches could try to convert a running back or receiver.

Does this doom the season? Absolutely. Best to head to The Coug right now and begin drowning future Saturday sorrows. Kevin is buying!

Or maybe one player doesn't make or break a football team, at least in most cases.

Leach has been recruiting pretty well, so I suspect there are speedy players he can insert at CB who can adequately do the job. Is CB a question? Without question. But that doesn't mean there won't be an inspired answer. I'd rate it 50-50 that Kevin or I will be writing a story in November about how much better the Cougs secondary was than we'd thought it would be in March.

With or without Brown, I didn't envision Washington State challenging the Stanford-Oregon hegemony on the Pac-12 North this fall. But I also think this team is trending up and certainly remains a likely bowl team.




Josh from Koror, The Republic of Palau writes: Living exactly 7,251 miles away from Sun Devil stadium in a small, remote island in the South Pacific doesn't afford much opportunity to watch Sun Devil football. So, thank you for helping me stay in touch with my Alma mater. I've always hoped that you living in Scottsdale would make you a little biased towards the Sun Devils, but unfortunately you do your job right. Nonetheless, how could PITT possibly be one spot ahead of ASU in the best college coach rankings? The determining factor of which school: ASU v. PITT, is the better coaching job was answered by Coach Graham when he bolted PITT for ASU two years ago. That has to count for something, right?

Ted Miller: Yes, it counts for something. The only folks who'd say Pittsburgh is a better job than Arizona State are Panthers fans. And most of them would, at least privately, concede the point.

And, well, a publication making a list that knows exactly what it's doing lining up Pittsburgh, Arizona State and Arizona, one after the other.

I think Athlon did a pretty good job with that list, but it's obviously extremely subjective. With that as a cover, the compilers of the list probably saw another chance to tweak Todd Graham, a coach who still has a negative national reputation, despite his two years of success in Tempe, most notably among folks who either have never talked to him or do so rarely.




Mark from Phoenix writes: Wondering what you think of the following power conference breakdown by best food. Pac-12 - best burritos; SEC - best shrimp; B1G - best pizza; Big 12 - best steak. Any missing, any honorable mentions?

Ted Miller: That's pretty fair. We have to include the ACC, which could alternate with the SEC over shrimp and barbecue.

But, to be real, the Pac-12 would win best food overall by a wide, wide margin.

The Pac-12 would win:
  • Best high-end cuisine.
  • Best Asian -- all categories.
  • Best seafood -- Seattle and San Francisco? Are you kidding me?
  • Best Mexican.
  • Best brew pubs.
  • And most diverse.

One of the great and pleasurable challenges when you cover Pac-12 football is deciding where to eat the Friday night before the game.

Final conference bowl records

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
1:00
PM ET
Neither the SEC and nor the Pac-12, the two best conferences during the regular season, won a BCS bowl game. But they nonetheless led the AQ conferences in bowl record.

The SEC was tops, going 7-3, despite Auburn losing the national title game to Florida State and Alabama losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma.

The Pac-12 was second at 6-3, despite Stanford losing the Rose Bowl to Michigan State.

The ACC went 2-0 in BCS bowl games, but it only finished 5-6 overall. The Big 12 and Big Ten split BCS bowl games, with the Big 12 going 3-3 overall and the Big Ten ranking last among AQ conferences at 2-5.

Of course, a lot of this is matchups. As that the Pac-12 was favored in all nine of its games, that has to factor in how the bowl record is viewed. The Pac-12's only win over a ranked team was USC over No. 20 Fresno State.

Hyundai Sun Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
10:00
AM ET
No. 17 UCLA (9-3) and Virginia Tech (8-4) meet on Tuesday in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Here are a few keys:

Who to watch: Start with UCLA’s dynamic duo at linebacker, senior Anthony Barr and freshman Myles Jack. Barr benefited from turning down a chance at the NFL a year ago, developing into one of the nation’s best at his position. Jack needed no such time. He also played running back for the final four games of the year, rushing for four touchdowns as he earned the Pac-12’s offensive and defensive rookie of the year honors. For Virginia Tech, the best chance to move the football comes through the air, but talented quarterback Logan Thomas must avoid interceptions. He threw 13 this season in 12 games.

What to watch: Virginia Tech is shorthanded without its leading rusher, Trey Edmunds, who suffered a broken leg in the season finale, a 16-6 win over Virginia. The Hokies struggled to run the ball with Edmunds, so what happens without him? On defense, top cornerback Kyle Fuller is likely out with a groin injury for Tech. Fellow corner Antone Exum will sit with an ankle injury. Against a pair of freshmen in coverage, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley could have a big day throwing to Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller.

Why to watch: It’s two name-brand programs in El Paso, but in what direction are these programs headed? The Bruins, under second-year coach Jim Mora, are trending up regardless of the outcome on Tuesday as they seek a 10-win season for the first time since 2005. The Hokies lost three of their final five games this season after struggling to a 7-6 finish a year ago under 27th-year coach Frank Beamer.

Prediction: UCLA 28, Virginia Tech 14. The Hokies don’t have enough firepower to get into a scoring duel with UCLA, so look for the bowl-savvy Beamer to search for a few nontraditional ways to even this matchup. But expect the Bruins and Hundley to shake free in the second half.

Mailbag: Bowl game 'what ifs?'

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

William from Santa Barbara writes: Lets pretend that Oregon got an invite to the BCS, so all of the PAC-12 schools, except Stanford, moved up in the bowl pecking order. Would the PAC still be favored in all of their games? What does this say about the strength of our bowl lineup?

Ted Miller: Oregon would not be favored against Alabama in the All-State Sugar Bowl. More on that in a bit.

But your point is solid. The lineup, after the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio between Stanford and Michigan State, probably would look like this:

  • Arizona State vs. Oklahoma State, Valero Alamo Bowl.
  • UCLA vs. Kansas State, National University Holiday Bowl
  • USC vs. Virginia Tech, Hyundai Sun Bowl
  • Washington vs. Fresno State, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
  • Arizona vs. BYU, Fight Hunger Bowl
  • Washington State vs. Colorado State, Gildan New Mexico Bowl
  • Oregon State vs. Boston College, AdvoCare V100 Bowl

[Edit note: As some readers pointed out -- do'h! on my part -- if Oregon played in the Sugar Bowl, then Oklahoma would play in the Cotton Bowl, knocking the other Big 12 teams down a notch. Ergo, this has been changed.]

That is a favorable slate for the Pac-12, though the Sun Devils would be an underdog to the Cowboys. Other than that, you could make an argument that the Pac-12 still might be favored in every game, as it presently is with its "real" bowl lineup, though BYU might get the edge over Arizona.

That only would be more confirmation of the depth of the Pac-12 in 2013, at least pending the results of the games.

However, it's also fair to point out that two things happened to water down the Pac-12 bowl game opponents: No. 1, the Big 12 and ACC both got two BCS bowl teams. No. 2, the Big 12 and ACC got two BCS bowl teams during a season in which neither conference was terribly deep.




Marc from Albuquerque writes: Am I the only ducks fan out there who is thankful we did not get invited to play Bama in the Sugar Bowl? The way the ducks have played in the past month we would have zero chance to beat Bama. Texas is a much more winnable game and duck fans should be more excited to finish the season with a win than a beat down from the SEC.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kell, Marcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Marcus Mariota makes all the difference for Oregon, which faces Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Ted Miller: I'm sure every Pac-12 team, including Oregon, would have enjoyed the extra $500,000 they would have received had the Ducks, instead of Oklahoma, been picked to play Alabama.

But, as previously noted, I don't think Oregon would beat Alabama, and I base that in large part on the final four games.

That said: At midseason, I would have rated the Ducks' chances against the Crimson Tide at close to 50-50. That was when Oregon was trucking along in dominant fashion. And QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent healthy.

In fact, that is one of the big questions for the bowl season, and would be a huge issue for a hypothetical matchup with Alabama. With just more than a month to rest, would Mariota be back to his midseason form as the nation's best dual threat quarterback?

Mariota at 100 percent probably means Oregon rolls Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl. And it likely would make a matchup with Alabama, at the very least, interesting well into the fourth quarter.




Benvolio from Ashland, Ore., writes: I have a nagging thought on which I'd like your input. My main concern with hiring Sark at 'SC is the development of Keith Price over the past 3 seasons. While he threw less INTs this season than he had in previous ones, I haven't seen much clear improvement in his playing ability. Cody Kessler, on the other hand, got better in nearly every game all season long. Clearly there are too many factors at play to boil everything down to coaching, but regardless it's leaving me a little nervous about the future of our quarterback.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenKeith Price bounced back from a disappointing 2012 season with a strong performance this fall.
Ted Miller: Price threw five interceptions this year after throwing 13 last year. His efficiency rating also went up substantially, both according to the traditional NCAA measure and ESPN Stats & Information's Total QB rating.

I think Steve Sarkisian's recovery job with Price this year was outstanding. Price looked shellshocked in 2012 after a brilliant debut campaign the year before. While he fells short of his 2011 numbers, he definitely bounced back and redeemed himself. I think Price's development is far more a positive than a negative on Sark's resume.

That said, I think Huskies QB coach Marques Tuiasosopo deserves a lot of credit for Price getting his footing again, and he is expected to follow Sarkisian to USC.

There are plenty of things to worry about with USC. But a Sark-Tuiasosopo combination working with Kessler and the Trojans QBs is not high on the list.




Elk from Los Angeles writes: Does UCLA QB Brett Hundleystay another year? This year, biggest dual threat QB is Manziel, next year would have to deal with Winston and Mariota.

Ted Miller: I think Hundley, who has tremendous upside, should return for his redshirt junior season, but that has to be a decision he's fully invested in. The worst thing to do is come back and then spend the next year fretting over whether you made the right call.

Hundley likely would be an early-round draft pick this spring just based on his natural ability. He'd be a project but one with a substantial potential payoff.

I do think he would take a step forward in terms of pocket awareness, mechanics and game management if he came back to UCLA, a team that would be favored to win the South Division with him on board.

He'd also land on more than a few preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists.




Chris from Salt Lake City writes: There are a bunch of Utah fans out of their minds right now, calling for [coach Kyle] Whittingham's head. Do me a favor and explain what happens to Utah football if Dr. Hill gives Whittingham the boot. Utah would have to be the toughest job to hire for in the PAC 12 right?

Ted Miller: Chris, many of your fellow Utah fans don't like Kevin and my oft-repeated calls for patience among Utes fans, though we both understand the impatience.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsKyle Whittingham's Utes appear to have regressed. In truth, their schedule has gotten much tougher.
Utah was a top-25 program as a member of the Mountain West Conference. In the Pac-12, it has yet to post a winning conference record and has slipped from 4-5 in 2011 to 2-7 this year.

As I've noted before, I don't think we'd be having this debate if the Utes had somehow had better luck at quarterback. What if Jordan Wynn had stayed healthy in 2011 and 2012? What if Travis Wilson had this fall?

I know many would retort that there should have been a quality back-up plan. And maybe there should have been. But how many teams in the country wouldn't have slipped substantially if for three consecutive seasons their expected starting QB wasn't able to finish the season?

Further, Utah moved into a Pac-12 that is much better than the Pac-10 the Utes used to be competitive with as a MWC team.

Let me make a point that many Utah fans won't like. Those special Utah teams under Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham? They weren't as great as you think.

Before you get angry as your 2008 self, ask yourself what you thought of Fresno State this year. Your Pac-12 brain dismissed the Bulldogs, didn't it?

Go back to the stunning 31-28 comeback win over Oregon State in 2008 in Rice-Eccles Stadium. That Beavers team, which went 7-2 in Pac-12 play, including a victory over then-No. 1 USC, was good but far from great.

Imagine if the Utes had to play a nine-game schedule of Oregon State-like teams in 2008. Those Beavers lost to Stanford and got pounded by Oregon. They beat Arizona and Arizona State both by two points. No way the 2008 Utes would go unbeaten with a nine-game Pac-10 schedule.

You hated hearing that in 2008, I know. But can you see, from your new Pac-12 perspective, that 2008 tweak's logic now?

I'd wager that the 2013 Utah team with the Travis Wilson who beat BYU and Stanford behind center would be highly competitive with the 2008 Utes.

Utah is not regressing. The competition has progressed. Substantially. TCU is going through the same thing in the Big 12. Do you think Gary Patterson is a bad coach?

Of course, if things don't get better in 2014, Whittingham's seat will heat up. That's the nature of the business.

But catching up in the Pac-12 is not something that happens in one, three or probably even five seasons. It's a process, and obviously not one that is enjoyable to go through.

Pac-12 is most excellent! And left out

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
3:00
PM ET
The Pac-12 is what we thought it was back in August -- as deep and as good as it's been. Probably ever.

Before the season, five Pac-12 teams were ranked. As we head into the final weekend of the regular season, five Pac-12 teams are ranked. Nine Pac-12 teams are bowl-eligible, the most in conference history. That's the same number as the 14-team SEC, which has six ranked teams.

We wrote this on Aug. 26:
The Pac-12 needs to go at least 2-1 against [Notre Dame] and finish the regular season with a 31-6 nonconference record. That would mean going 29-5 in the first four weeks.

Guess what happens if Stanford beats Notre Dame on Saturday? The Pac-12 would go 31-6 in nonconference games, though 1-2 versus Notre Dame, and 22-5 versus FBS teams and 6-3 versus the AQ conferences.

[+] EnlargeStanford Huddle
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford is among the Pac-12's elite teams, as expected. And while the league was as deep as it's ever been, the Pac-12 is expected to only get one BCS berth.
So excellent for the Pac-12. And there was great rejoicing.

And yet, if you're a big-picture Pac-12 observer, the season feels disappointing.

The Pac-12 is not only out of the national title picture, but it won't get a second BCS bowl team for the first time since 2009. That will cost 12 athletic departments about $500,000, money that most expected to get again this year. The Pac-12 has just one top-10 team: No. 8 Stanford. For just the second time since 2000, the Pac-12 could finish the season without a team ranked in the top five. The Cardinal will need to win out in order to climb that high.

Sometimes being deep and good costs you. That's the often counterintuitive reality of college football, where perception rules the day.

Lots of conferences talk about "cannibalism," which means a conference eats up its own with a brutal conference schedule. But it became the reality in the Pac-12 this year while being a myth in other conferences.

Consider the BCS standings. Click the schedules of the teams ranked No. 2 through No. 7, the teams behind Alabama and ahead of Stanford, vying for a spot in the title game. We'll wait here.

Done? Did you notice something? Of course you did.

No. 2 Florida State, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Auburn and No. 7 Oklahoma State each have just one victory over a team that is presently ranked in the BCS standings. No. 5 Missouri and No. 6 Clemson? They have zero wins over currently ranked teams.

Meanwhile, No. 8 Stanford has wins over No. 12 Arizona State, No. 13 Oregon and No. 22 UCLA. Arizona State has wins over No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 23 USC and UCLA. Oregon has a win over UCLA. USC has a win over Stanford.

The Pac-12 grind was like no other conference this year. Utah, for example, was good enough to beat Stanford, Utah State and BYU -- combined record 24-10 -- but enters the final weekend at 1-7 in conference play.

Washington fans were throwing up their hands after consecutive losses to Sanford, Oregon and Arizona State. Of course, those three are each ranked in the top 13. The Huskies' four losses all came to ranked teams.

Washington State is just 6-5 but was good enough to beat USC (which beat Stanford), Arizona (which beat Oregon) and Utah (which beat Stanford). Oh, and the Cougars outgained Auburn 464-394 in a tight, 31-24 road defeat, with the Cougars undone by three turnovers.

Everyone knows what's coming, right? Yep, we're again going to point to the nine-game conference schedule. The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine conference games. The Big Ten has announced it will start playing nine in 2016. The ACC and SEC have both talked about it, but then have hidden behind excuses for not playing nine games.

The ACC and SEC say they don't want to play nine games because of intraconference rivalry games such as Georgia-Georgia Tech, Clemson-South Carolina and Florida State-Florida. Of course, this is pure disingenuousness. At least they could just be honest and admit they are trying their darnedest to make things as easy on themselves as possible.

The thinking in the ACC and SEC, with the new four-team playoff coming, is to wait and see, to really and truly see how important strength of schedule is going to become.

None of this means any Pac-12 team could beat Florida State, a team I believe is very good. And we'll likely get to see what the Pac-12 champ will do against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

In fact, if the Pac-12 flops in its bowl games, there will be plenty of chuckling over this "world's deepest conference" talk. There are no excuses this year, with USC eligible and just one BCS bowl team.

Yet if the four-team playoff began this year, Pac-12 folks can see what's at stake. We don't yet know how much money teams and conferences that earn spots in the playoff will pocket, but it will be north of the $18 million the teams/conferences playing for the final BCS title this year will receive.

If Pac-12 coaches, athletic directors and administrators end up watching as the SEC or ACC pockets an extra, oh, $40 million after placing two teams in the playoff while the Pac-12 gets some nice parting gifts, then perhaps there would be a sense of urgency about making sure that every major conference plays the same number of conference games.

That, above all else, will be the critical issue for the Pac-12 as we make a transition into the playoff era.

Mailbag: Ducks doldrums, post-Stanford

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, post BCS championship game relevance.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Jeff from Portland writes: Ted, Please, help me off the ledge here. How in the world can Oregon gain back national credibility and be seen as something more than just a pretty face that can't perform when it matters most. The team has seen some wonderful moments over the past few years, but it feels like there have been more heartbreaking moments than great ones. Listened to several talking heads who pointed out that this wasn't just a loss but a setback for a program hoping to shed its reputation as a team who couldn't come through against a great defense. Instead, with perhaps the best version yet (on both sides of the ball), the Ducks fell way short. What's next? Can Oregon gain back respect anytime soon?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsOregon has beaten highly ranked opponents before, including No. 5 Kansas State in 2012.
Ted Miller: Well, first of all, the Ducks have won two consecutive BCS bowls, beating a pair of top-10 teams in the process: No. 5 Kansas State, the 2012 Big 12 champion, and No. 10 Wisconsin, the 2011 Big Ten champ. Oregon is 7-6 against top-15 teams since 2009 -- five top-10 wins -- so it has won plenty of big games.

I also think it's fair to ask: Would you rather have the Ducks win more big games but also get upset more often by unranked teams? I understand where your frustration is coming from, but the root cause of it is a flawed belief that there's only one type of successful season: An undefeated one.

Oregon is 8-1 and likely still will be a top-10 team on Monday for crying out loud.

But, yes, there is a foundation for those questioning Oregon: In pretty much every loss since 2009, the Ducks were beaten at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Oh, you can debate specific details of most of those games -- and specific things that went wrong unrelated to the line of scrimmage -- but it's generally true enough that it has become the accepted reality of the college football nation.

Yes, Oregon has lost some credibility as a member of the sport's super-elite, as a national title contender. Just as Stanford was once questioned about its team speed while it was getting blistered by Oregon, now the Ducks are being questioned for their ability to stand up to big, physical (yet still athletic) lines.

How can Oregon regain that credibility? Well, for one, it could beat Stanford next year. In the near-term, it could win the rest of its games, then win a BCS bowl as an at-large team, perhaps the Orange vs. Clemson or the Sugar vs the No. 2 SEC team.

"Wait!" you say, "a No. 2 SEC team?"

The way I see it, if Notre Dame wins the rest of its games and beats Stanford in the season finale, then the Orange Bowl, with the first choice in this year's rotation, would pit the Fighting Irish against the No. 2 ACC team (assuming Florida State is in the national title game). Then the Sugar Bowl could match Oregon with an SEC team.

(Of course, the Sugar Bowl might, in that case, chase the No. 2 Big Ten team, thinking it might sell more hotel rooms, flipping off the nation which would prefer an A-list matchup).

Oh, and there also is the possibility, if Stanford loses at USC, that the Ducks could meet unbeaten Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.


Duckzkila from Portland writes: Ted, do you think Stanford has the blueprint for stopping the Ducks? My thoughts on this is Stanford has less of a blueprint and more the Ducks Number. I say this because Stanford's three wins came in three different manners. The first was a shootout, where Toby Gehardt and Andrew Luck killed us. Last year was and epic defensive performance on Stanford's part. Though some will say last nights was also an epic defensive performance on Stanford's behalf, I disagree. Don't get me wrong they played pretty darn good, they forced 2 turnovers, and harassed Super Mariota into looking like less than average Mariota. Oregon was able to move the ball on them though. The real reason they won was their ability to execute a gameplan, with very little Margin for error. They did what no other team has been able to do to the Ducks, make time of possession matter. My point is there are not very many teams in the country that would have the patience to go Gaffney for 4, Gaffney for 4, Gaffney for 3 all night. I'd wager there are even less teams with the ability to execute like Stanford did. Kudos to Stanford, they became Bizzaro Oregon last night, and through holding the ball for a huge amount of time, and paying the drives off, they put a ton of pressure on Oregon to score on every position, effectively flipping the script- Stanford style. I apologize for the long note, but just as they take away the shoe strings of suicidal inmates, they should probably take away an Oregon's fan access to the internet after soul crushing losses.

Ted Miller: I think much of what you said is correct. I think Stanford whipped Oregon more because of its offensive line than the defensive effort, though both were outstanding.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsStanford's ability to convert third downs with Kevin Hogan and Tyler Gaffney was the difference.
The most telling number to me? Stanford was 14 of 21 on third down, converting seven in a row during their three scoring drives in the first half. When that streak ended, they immediately converted on a fourth and 1 and then converted two more third downs.

The Ducks were only 3 of 10 on third down.

Moreover, Stanford did play an almost perfect game. It won the turnover battle 2-0 and was penalized just twice for 10 yards, compared to 10 for 81 yards for Oregon.

There were so many "what if?" moments for Oregon. What if Marcus Mariota didn't under throw a wide-open Josh Huff on what should have been an easy touchdown in the first quarter? What if De'Anthony Thomas didn't fumble inside Stanford's 5-yard line? What if Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's interception stood?

But you want to know what I thought the game's biggest play was?

With 8:26 in the second quarter, Stanford took over on its 2-yard line after the DAT fumble. On third and 6, it looked like Stanford QB Kevin Hogan was about to fall down on a scramble. Instead, he righted himself, and two Ducks completely whiffed on the tackle short of the first down, allowing Hogan to gain 12 yards.

Instead of giving the ball back to Oregon with good field position, Stanford proceeded to burn the rest of the first half clock with a 21-play drive, kicking a short field goal to go up 17-0 at the break.

It was a simple moment when Hogan executed and the Ducks' defense didn't. It's moments like that that kill dreams of a national title.


Michael from Tempe, Ariz., writes: I know we have yet to see how Taylor Kelly will play tomorrow against Utah, but after last night's horrific performance by Mariota, would you say that TK is closing the gap between them?

Ted Miller: "Horrific" is a tad strong.

Mariota's national perception certainly took a hit last night, though hopefully folks realize he was playing on a bad knee. He probably deserves at least a hat tip for toughness, despite the poor-to-middling performance.

Ultimately the measure between the two in terms of, say, first-team All-Pac-12, will be about the totality of the season. If Arizona State wins out -- particularly if it wins the Pac-12 title game -- Kelly would be in play to eclipse Mariota as the Pac-12's No. 1 QB.

Kelly's numbers are very good. The biggest difference at present is Mariota has zero interceptions and Kelly has eight.


David from Mesa, Ariz., writes: So with Oregon's loss last night, can you help explain how the pac 12 would solve this scenario? ASU wins out, and is 8-1 in conference, Stanford loses to SC next week and finishes 7-2, and Oregon wins out to go 8-1. Obviously the winners of the North and South are Oregon and ASU respectively...but who hosts the game? They didn't play this year.

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon.


Nathan from Phoenix writes: Ted-Don't you think it was low class of Oregon to continue to run out their number 1's and throw the football in the 4th quarter against Stanford when the game was clearly over? I mean I guess they only care about stats, and Stanford got the most important stat of all the Win. Oh, and you can tell Oregon fans I said that.

Ted Miller: Got lots of these from Washington State fans who are still mad at Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti for his ill-advised comments after the Ducks-Cougars game.

I get it. I hear you. Not exactly the same scenario, but I hear you.

I hope you feel better now and we can move on.

Pac-12 solid No. 2 in conference rankings

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
11:00
AM ET
The Pac-12 solidified its No. 2 position in the ESPN Stats & Info’s Conference Power Rankings after a weekend with just four conference games, none involving the top-two teams, Oregon and Stanford.

The Ducks and Cardinal, of course, will play Thursday for the top spot in the Pac-12's North Division.

The No. 1 SEC improved by 0.9 points and the Pac-12 went up 0.8 points. The No. 3. Big 12 fell by 3.7 points and now trails the Pac-12 by 6.1 points. The No. 4 ACC dropped 3.9 points.

That partially explains why most BCS standings gurus believe an undefeated Oregon would eclipse an undefeated Florida State in the final BCS standings, if things come to that.

The big gainer was the Big Ten, which jumped 3.9 points after Michigan State rose six spots in the polls. Still, it's the Pac-12's Rose Bowl partner is a distant fifth, 12.5 points behind the ACC.


Conference power rankings tighten

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
11:00
AM ET
A wild weekend didn't knock the SEC out of the top spot of the ESPN.com conference power rankings, but it did tighten things among the top-four conferences.

The SEC lost 2.9 points, but it still remains almost eight points ahead of the Pac-12, which gained 0.2 points.

The third-place ACC advanced 1.1 points and is 5.3 points behind the Pac-12. But the big mover was the Big 12, up 14.8 points, so that it is now 1.5 points below the ACC.

The conference power rankings equally weighs the rankings from the AP poll and ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country.

From ESPN Stats & Analysis:
The Big 12 gained 14.8 points in the power rankings after its top four teams -- Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State -- all rose in the polls. As a result, the Big 12 jumped to second in the portion of the power rankings that measures the AP Poll.

Similarly, the Pac-12 moved from second to first in the computer portion of the conference power rankings (FPI). The Football Power Index (FPI) is one of ESPN’s new storytelling metrics that measures the relative strength of a team in terms of scoreboard points on roughly a -30 to +30 scale with 0 being average. The average Pac-12 team has an FPI rating of 14.6, meaning they are 14.6 points better than an average FBS team on a neutral field. In comparison, the SEC’s average FPI rating is 12.8.

So the ESPN.com computers actually like the Pac-12 the best!
Due mostly to Stanford's loss at Utah, the Pac-12 lost ground to the SEC in this week's conference rankings, compiled by ESPN Stats & Information.

The rankings will use ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) instead of the BCS computers, as it did last year, but the premise of the rankings remains the same. The AP poll will measure the strength of the top schools in the conference and the FPI will measure the depth of the conference.

The Pac-12 lost 3.5 points while the SEC gained 0.7 points, largely on its strength in the AP poll. The SEC is the first conference to have eight top-25 teams in a single poll.

The SEC now leads the Pac-12 by 10.8 points. The third-place ACC gained 4.7 points and is now just 6.2 points behind the Pac-12.

Notes ESPN Stats & Information:
Losses by Georgia and Florida did not significantly impact the SEC in the conference rankings because they lost to other ranked opponents. Therefore, the points that the Bulldogs and Gators lost in the AP poll were accrued by Missouri and LSU, respectively.

In comparison, fifth-ranked Stanford lost 454 points in the AP poll after its 27-21 loss to unranked Utah. The Utes remained unranked and were able to add only 47 points (in the "others receiving votes" section) for the Pac-12 with their win.


It will be interesting to see how the conference rankings react to the UCLA-Stanford game. Both teams figure to remain ranked even with a loss, but it will be interesting to see how much ground the winner gains and the loser falls.
ESPN Stats & Information is again ranking the FBS conferences, and the SEC -- again! -- leads the nation, with the Pac-12 fairly close behind.

The rankings will use ESPN’s new Football Power Index (FPI) instead of the BCS computers, as it did last year, but the premise of the rankings remains the same. The AP poll will measure the strength of the top schools in the conference and the FPI will measure the depth of the conference.

The Pac-12 is 6.6 points behind the SEC and nearly 15 points ahead of the ACC, which is ranked third.

Here's the chart:



Here's what Stats & Info says about the SEC-Pac-12 battle:
  • The SEC leads the Pac-12 by 6.6 points through six weeks of football. The biggest difference between the top conferences is the strength of the SEC’s top schools.
  • The SEC has six teams ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll, compared to four top-20 teams in the Pac-12.
  • Many would argue that that Pac-12 has the best record in the FBS against non-conference opponents (29-4). However, 23 of their 29 wins came against opponents from non-BCS AQ conferences, including eight wins against FCS opponents.
  • In comparison, the SEC went 32-7 against out-of-conference opponents but played five more games against BCS-AQ conference teams than the Pac-12.
  • The SEC and Pac-12 have split their only two games against each other as Oregon beatTennessee 59-14 and Auburn beat Washington State 31-24.

A couple of notes on that:
  • The SEC has many of its weakest non-conference foes ahead. For example, LSU plays Furman on Oct. 26 and Alabama plays Chattanooga on Nov. 23. The Pac-12 has only three non-conference games ahead, two against Notre Dame and Colorado's game on Oct. 19 with Charleston Southern, a hasty schedule grab to replace the canceled Fresno State game.
  • Second, among those Pac-12 non-AQ wins are Boise State, BYU, Nevada and Utah State. Not exactly Georgia State.
  • Finally, the SEC has 14 teams, so it has more chances to have teams ranked, including at present its new teams, Texas A&M and Missouri, formally of the Big 12. The Pac-12 had five ranked teams last week before Arizona State went belly-up against Notre Dame.

Is the Pac-12 ready for its close-up?

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
9:00
AM ET

Five Pac-12 teams were ranked in the preseason Associated Press poll. The Pac-12/10/8 has never had five teams ranked in the final AP poll, though that would change if new members Colorado and Utah were included in the tabulation.

What that means is the preseason perception of the Pac-12 is strong heading into the 2013 season, perhaps as strong as it has been in a while. The last time as many as four conference teams were ranked in the preseason AP poll was 2006.

Depth? Eight conference teams received votes. National title contenders? Oregon is ranked third and Stanford fourth.

Last year, the general consensus was the SEC was the best conference, and the Pac-12 and Big 12 were candidates for No. 2. This fall, more than a few folks are projecting the Pac-12 as a contender for best conference, though dethroning the SEC, which had six teams in the top 12 of the preseason poll, is as much about ending a streak of seven consecutive national titles as overall strength.

However one views the strength of various conferences, there obviously is a perception that the Pac-12 is on the uptick in 2013.

There are season-specific reasons for this. For one, a lot of starters are coming back, particularly among the better teams.

Pac-12 teams average 16.3 returning starters. The average over the past decade was 14.9. Those 2013 numbers are particularly good at the top. The conference's top seven teams from a preseason perspective -- Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington -- average 16.5 returning starters. For the sake of comparison, the SEC's top six teams (Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina) average 12.3 returning starters.

They say defense wins championships, so it's good that an average of 7.4 defensive starters are back. They also say the game is won in the trenches. Only one conference team, Utah, doesn't welcome back at least three starters on its offensive line. Seven teams welcome back four starters, compared to just two (Arizona and USC) a year ago.

Further, of those top seven teams, six welcome back their starting quarterbacks. Among that group, only USC is replacing its 2012 starter.

Arizona is replacing its starting quarterback, Matt Scott, but it nonetheless was among the teams getting votes in the AP poll. Second-year coach Rich Rodriguez said he thinks the conference has more than five Top-25 teams, and he thinks there's a paper trail behind the conference's improving perception.

[+] EnlargeArizona's Rich Rodriguez
Mark J. Rebilas/US PRESSWIREArizona coach Rich Rodriguez says the Pac-12 is trending toward success, a positive growth unlike any the conference has ever experienced.
"The Pac-12 is deeper now and will be deeper in the next 10 or 15 years than it ever has been," he said. "And that's just because of the money being put into it. You're talking about more money, more facilities and more revenue than any school in our league has ever had. And that's not going backwards."

He then added with a laugh, "I wish it wasn't that way. I wish it was just us. But everybody is kind of moving up."

How much more money are Pac-12 teams taking in? Well, according to the conference's tax filings for 2011-12, the most recent available fiscal year, revenues jumped 58 percent over the previous year to $175.5 million. And that doesn't include the $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and FOX, which started last season and will pay members an average of $20.8 million over the next 12 years.

That money is paying for facilities upgrades across the conference. In fact, every conference team has -- or is planning to -- significantly upgraded facilities, whether that's stadiums, weight rooms or football buildings.

California last year completed the most expensive facility upgrades in college sports history -- total cost of $474 million -- and immediately went from having some of the worst facilities in AQ conference football to having some of the best. Oregon's new football building has been a national sensation, while the renovation of Husky Stadium will put it on the short list of best college football venues. Arizona, USC and Utah have recently opened fancy new football buildings, while Arizona State's stadium remodel plan is, well, out of this world looking.

These facilities, the conventional wisdom goes, will make Pac-12 programs more competitive in recruiting and will provide state-of-the-art support for the athletes already on hand. The Pac-12 has been playing catch-up in the college football arms race, and now it seems it has caught up.

Of course, the Pac-12 continues to have a self-imposed challenge that the SEC, Big Ten and ACC don't face: a nine-game conference schedule. If the Pac-12 played eight conference games, there would be six fewer losses scattered throughout the conference every year, and that would bolster national perception. It particularly would boost perceptions of depth, as more 6-6 teams would be 7-5 and 8-4 teams would be 9-3.

For many Pac-12 coaches, quality depth has been a major factor preventing the conference from playing for more national titles.

"What I like to say about our conference is it's tough every single week," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You don't have a group at the top and a group at the bottom. You're going to play tough games every single week."

It appears that might be even more true in 2013, at least if preseason polls are to be believed.

But there is a singularly most convincing way for the Pac-12 to distinguish itself in front of the nation this season: Win the final BCS National Championship before the four-team playoff begins in 2014.
Larry ScottAP Photo/Jae C. HongLarry Scott criticized the NCAA's recent rulings and called for fans to drop DirecTV.
CULVER CITY, Calif. -- Commissioner Larry Scott came out swinging at Pac-12 media day, giving the NCAA a couple of stiff jabs and DirecTV a haymaker.

Scott showed there was general unity among the commissioners in the big five conferences -- along with the Pac-12, the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC -- that there is widespread impatience with the NCAA, its administration, rules and inefficiency.

"It's clear right now [the NCAA] is at a crossroads," Scott said. "It's time for a new vision."

As for DirecTV, it's all about it not picking up the Pac-12 Network for a second consecutive football season, meaning millions of West Coast subscribers have a choice to make: How important is the Pac-12 Network to them?

"I urge our fans that are intent on not missing their team's games this fall to drop DirecTV and switch to one of the many providers that have it all," Scott said.

Scott and the Pac-12 Network don't seem to be hitting at DirecTV from a position of weakness. The new network turned a profit in its first year of existence and will increase the number of live events this year from 550 to 750.

The Pac-12 set up a website to explain how to drop DirecTV.

As for the NCAA, Scott outlined four "high-priority items":

  • Student-athlete welfare, including health and safety as well as full cost-of-attendance scholarships.
  • On NCAA governance, Scott said, "... it's time to acknowledge that one size does not fit all." Along this line, Scott believes that the the NCAA should lean more on athletic directors and commissioners when administrating college sports and less on college presidents.
  • Scott holds a dim view of NCAA enforcement: "It's fair to say confidence in the enforcement process is at an all-time low."
  • Finally, Scott believes one-and-done in college basketball should be ended.

While Scott's broadside might seem to make NCAA president Mark Emmert's precarious footing even weaker, he was conciliatory in terms of envisioning Emmert being part of the solution.

"I spoke to president Mark Emmert this week," Scott said. "I was delighted to see yesterday that he announced plans to call a summit in January to discuss exactly what that change should look like."

Scott also backed away from some of the recent talk about the big schools breaking away from the NCAA.

"The current discussion we have heard this week," he said, "... is too radical and too narrow at the same time. The answer ... is not to break away but to evolve into something better."

Of course, that push to evolve includes the notion of survival of the fittest, and the implication that the NCAA at present isn't terribly fit.
The Pac-12 blog chatted with commissioner Larry Scott on Thursday, and here's what he had to say before he officially met with the media Friday, kicking off Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles.

It sounds like NCAA reform is a huge topic with all the conference commissioners. What are the chief areas where you think the NCAA needs to change?

Larry Scott: The first thing I would say is it's really not limited to the five big conferences. I know that's what's gotten the most exposure. Honestly, it's been a topic of conversation across most divisions. We all met in early June, 31 commissioners of different conferences, and everyone is talking about NCAA governance and the reform movement under Mark [Emmert] -- what people like about it and what people don't like about it. I think it's fair to say there is a collective sense that everyone would like to see a different governance structure that was not exclusively presidents, who are not involved in athletic day-to-day, making the final decisions on things. People would like to see more flexibility for the high resource schools. Let's say the five big conferences but it might not be limited to them. To have more flexibility to do the things we want to do. We're the ones playing against each other most often. We're the ones bringing in the most resources. Taking care of student-athletes better is something we all want to do. I think there is a collective sense we want to see more aggressive restructuring of enforcement. There are a lot of black eyes for the NCAA in college sports. Those are three things that are concrete that I think we'd all like to see some change on.

There are two things we talk about when we talk about getting athletes some money. There's cost of attendance, which means all of your scholarship athletes in all your sports are going to get a stipend, from crew to football. Then there's the notion of paying the revenue sports athletes -- football is making so much money -- of letting them share in the millions being raked in. That they deserve to be paid something special. Lots of talk about that, but it seems to forget Title IX. Is there a loophole in that where football players can be paid more than other athletes, and where does the Pac-12 stand on that?

LS: From my perspective, we are talking about across the board, all athletes. For those of us advocating for more resources for student-athletes, we're not advocating for it on the basis of their bringing in the money so they deserve it. We're advocating for it on the basis that the schools have the resources to do more to support student-athletes -- academically, health and welfare and financially. All student-athletes. Now, football will disproportionately benefit because you have 85 scholarship athletes. No other sport is anything close. But no one is thinking about this in terms of paying student-athletes for their performance.

It's not a purely business, revenue model …

LS: No. And I think that is a really important distinction of principle there.

[+] EnlargeLarry Scott
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 commissioner Larry Scott believes "we've come to the end of a cycle" in realignment among the big five conferences.
Everyone used to want to ask you about expansion. Now it's the potential breakaway from the NCAA of the major conferences. Is there any momentum behind the idea if the NCAA doesn't get it together in a way that works for you guys, the Pac-12, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC?

LS: No. I think that conversation this past week was way overcooked. I don't think there's any of us approaching this from the perspective of breaking away. I think people are focused on what the end result is that they think we will need, which is about governance reform, more flexibility on policies, improved enforcement scenarios and some other things. I believe from evolution that can still happen as part of the NCAA. Part of the big tent. I don't think it's that complicated.

The USC verdict, there was some grumpiness about how severe it was, how unfair and unjustifiable the NCAA penalties were. Did you feel happy with how things went down with Oregon? Did the NCAA handle that case better and the school was treated fairly?

LS: Looking in the rearview mirror, I still feel USC was treated unfairly. I said it at the time, even though I had only started as commissioner. At the end of the day, I think the Oregon case, as the school said, it was an OK result. Something that they were OK moving on with. I was disappointed it took so long. I was disappointed that for a year and a half they had to operate under a black cloud of accusation and they weren't allowed to explain their side of the story. That in and of itself was a big penalty. For a variety for reasons, some of which I can't discuss, it should have been handled expeditiously. It was not that complicated of a case.

One of the big initiatives you guys announced -- with a certain amount of pride, it seemed to me -- was limiting contact in football practices. Has there been any negative blowback on that from coaches, about whether it might hurt the quality of football on Saturdays? And are there more tangible guidelines now?

LS: That's something we will be announcing [Friday]. You've got to buy your ticket for admission. (Laughs.)

What about the hitting? Football is a violent, collision sport…

LS: Football is a collision sport, sometimes violent. Everyone accepts that, and no one is going to change the nature of football. A lot of our thinking about having a policy that goes further than the NCAA does in terms of limiting contact is coming from our coaches. As we've been talking to our coaches about this for months, it's clear they've already self-imposed restrictions on hitting because they are very mindful of having their players healthy, having their players safe and having longevity. Our coaches are very evolved in their thinking. They've been instrumental in adopting this policy. So there hasn't been pushback.

Officiating reform. Folks are alway going to complain about officiating. You guys have done some things to make it better. But it still doesn't seem Pac-12 officiating is consistent. I hear that from fans but also from coaches. How is that progressing?

LS: I've been around officiating a long time. I don't think perfection is attainable. There will always be mistakes. To answer your question, what I focus on is constant improvement and how do we measure up against other conferences. Based on those two measures -- and this doesn't mean you don't strive to be the best you can be -- but based on those two realistic goals, I think we've made tremendous progress, particularly in football. I think [officiating coordinator] Tony Corrente has come in and done a fantastic job -- restructuring our program, hiring better officials, holding them to a higher standard, having more consistency, using more technology -- across the board. I absolutely think it's improved. The people I talk to nationally that evaluate all the conferences think we are right there with anyone else out there. Do I feel satisfied? No. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied. But I'm a big supporter of Tony and what he is doing.

Ivan Maisel told me you said on his podcast that if the Pac-12 championship game, with the No. 1 seed being the host model, if that has attendance issues like it did at Stanford -- and let's face it, that was a confluence of negative events, with Bay Area rush hour traffic on a Friday that had featured torrential rain -- but if it continues to struggle with attendance, you'd entertain going to a neutral site game. What's your thinking there?

LS: We knew we were creating something new with the conference championship game. And our conference is not like any other conference. We're not a driving conference. We're not the SEC, we're not the Big 12, where you can plunk this game down in a central, neutral site where people can drive to it. Even the Big Ten's got that, though less so now since their recent expansion. I really believe our unique model of the home-hosted championship is the right one for us in terms of getting the best crowds and rewarding the team and their fan base for having the best record. And not having those fans buy another airline ticket and create a choice between going to the championship game or a bowl game. I really believe in my bones this is the right thing for us long term. The first year it felt like a good choice. It was not a great matchup but it was sold out. But last year's game caused me to pause. I still believe we have the best model, but I'd be the first to say that if it's not working over a period of time -- if we have more years like Stanford last year -- I'll be the first to say let's look at a different model. Because we've got people knocking down our door wanting to host a neutral-site championship game, up and down the conference. We've got plenty of options. It's been us resisting, even though there are some advantages -- knowing where it's going to be, being able to plan -- but we're going to give this model some more time before we draw a conclusion.

All quiet on the expansion front. Do you feel like that's done for now across the country?

LS: I do. I think we've run a cycle. All the major conferences have long-term TV deals. All but the SEC have locked up a grant of rights. That means any school that would leave a conference would leave their TV rights behind. That takes away all the financial motivation to leave a conference. That takes away the incentive for a conference to want to acquire a new team. You might see some at the lower levels but I think amongst the big five, we've come to the end of a cycle.

Last question. You knew I would ask it. DirecTV…

LS: I will have more of an update [Friday]. Our folks are in fact going to be speaking to DirecTV again before [media day] so I want to give a real live update tomorrow on that.

So not a definite grumpy no?

LS: We'll talk about that tomorrow.

SPONSORED HEADLINES