Pac-12: Todd Graham

Coordinator changes: Pac-12 South

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
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So far, only three Pac-12 teams retained their 2013 offensive and defensive coordinators: Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.

Here's a look at who's in, who's out and what it means in the South Division. You can review the North Division here.

Arizona Wildcats

No change: Rich Rodriguez has proven coordinators on both sides of the ball, with the offensive humming under co-coordinators Calvin Magee and Rod Smith and the 2013 defense being the Pac-12's most improved unit under Jeff Casteel.

Arizona State Sun Devils

Out: Cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Joe Lorig left for Utah State, which allowed coach Todd Graham to rejigger his defensive coaching staff. Paul Randolph, a co-defensive coordinator the past two seasons, will serve as senior associate head coach and defensive ends coach.

In: Keith Patterson left West Virginia to co-coordinate the defense with Chris Ball. Patterson will coach linebackers and be the Sun Devils' defensive special teams coach. Ball will continue to serve as the safeties and defensive passing game coach.

Thoughts: A lot of these moves emerged from Graham's concern about special teams, as well as his wish to reunite with an old friend. He and Patterson, according to the press release announcing the hiring, "have a professional and personal relationship that goes back to East Central University where they were college roommates." That same press release noted that "Patterson will oversee the defense, but Graham will be heavily involved in the planning." Graham also will have a "major" role with the special teams coaching and will assist Ball with the cornerbacks. It was also announced that Chip Long, the Sun Devils tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, will become the offensive special teams coach. As for Patterson's track record, it was a lot better at Pittsburgh than at West Virginia, where the Mountaineers allowed 33.3 and 38.0 points per game over the past two seasons.

Colorado Buffaloes

No change: Colorado's second-year coach Mike MacIntyre retained both defensive coordinator Kent Baer and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren. Compared to 2012, the Buffaloes scored 7.6 more points per game and allowed 7.8 points fewer per game last season. The overall numbers weren't good, but it was clearly a step in the right direction on both sides of the ball.

UCLA Bruins

Out: Defensive coordinator Lou Spanos left to become the LBs coach for the Tennessee Titans

In: Jeff Ulbrich was promoted from LBs coach and special teams coordinator.

Thoughts: Ulbrich has coached perhaps the Bruins most improved position over the past two years -- linebackers -- and he deserves credit for players like Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt, Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks developing into stars. He also ensures the Bruins improved defense retains schematic continuity. Named the 2013 FootballScoop Special Teams Coordinator of the Year, Ulbrich has guided the Bruins special teams unit to one of the top rankings in the country in each of the last two seasons. Ulbrich also won't have to work too hard to have credibility with his players as he was a LB San Francisco 49ers from 2000-2009.

USC Trojans

Out: Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast

In: Justin Wilcox, who followed new Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC

Thoughts: Sarkisian decided to retain USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton, though like his predecessor, Lane Kiffin, Sarkisian will call offensive plays. Pendergast did a great job last year with his hybrid 3-4, which he termed a 5-2. Wilcox is widely seen as one of the nation's top defensive coordinators and a future head coaching candidate. His scheme won't be too much different than what the Trojans ran last year, though the Huskies officially ran a 4-3.

Utah Utes

Out: Co-offensive coordinators Dennis Erickson and Brian Johnson were demoted to running backs and quarterbacks coaches, respectively. Johnson then left Utah to become Mississippi State's quarterbacks coach.

In: Former Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen was hired to be the Utes’ single offensive coordinator

Thoughts: Will Christensen bring the Utes offense stability? He's their sixth different play caller in six years. The good news is he's highly regarded, getting hired at Wyoming because of the work he did with Missouri's offense. Johnson's departure probably helps reduce the feeling that there are too many cooks in the kitchen, seeing that he, Erickson and Aaron Roderick, now the Utes QBs coach after coaching receivers since 2005, have each been in the coordinator carousel at Utah. Head coach Kyle Whittingham also hired former Purdue All-American Taylor Stubblefield to coach receivers. Christensen, an offensive line specialist, will oversee tight ends.

Poll: Top defense in 2014?

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
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The shuffling of defensive coordinators appears to be over. We think. And as previously noted, all five of the top scoring defenses in the Pac-12 last year have seen changes at the top of the defensive coaching hierarchy. Three of the hires were internal promotions and two were coordinators who stayed with their head coach while switching schools.

This is how the top five scoring defenses played out last year:
  1. Stanford (19.0 points per game)
  2. Oregon (20.5)
  3. USC (21.2)
  4. Washington (22.8)
  5. UCLA (23.2)

Who got the better end of the deal? Sounds like a poll question for you to ponder all weekend long.

Which team will lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2014?

Your options:

SportsNation

Which team will lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense in 2014?

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    17%
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    30%
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    25%
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    11%
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    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,124)

Stanford: Derek Mason departed to become head coach at Vanderbilt and Lance Anderson was promoted from within. The Cardinal lose some marquee players but have others such as safety Jordan Richards and linebacker A.J. Tarpley returning.

Oregon: Out is longtime coordinator Nick Aliotti, who retired. In is longtime position coach Don Pellum. The Ducks lose some talent but return standout cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who gives the Ducks' secondary instant credibility.

USC: Clancy Pendergast was not retained by new head coach Steve Sarkisian. So Justin Wilcox is in after working his magic at Washington. The Trojans lost a lot of players to the draft, but a couple key players are back and there is a pretty good crop of young, talented players.

Washington: New head coach Chris Petersen brought his guy, Pete Kwiatkowski, with him from Boise State. The Huskies made tremendous strides in two seasons under Wilcox and have some pretty solid personnel returning.

Other: UCLA's Lou Spanos returned to the NFL and Jeff Ulbrich was promoted from within. Head coach Jim Mora will still oversee a lot of the defense. Though impact players like Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh are gone, the Bruins have plenty of talent coming back. ... Arizona was sixth in the conference last year and made huge strides from 2012 to 2013. Can it keep the momentum going? ... Arizona State (seventh) also shuffled its defensive staff around with the hiring of Keith Patterson, though Todd Graham will still be heavily involved in the defense. ... Utah (eighth) is just two seasons removed from leading the conference in scoring defense. Can the Utes get back to the top?

Mailbag: Stars don't always align

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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Last mailbag from me for a couple of weeks. If you've been saving up some really irritating and insulting questions, be sure to send them here.

Chris in Tempe, Ariz., writes: Great piece on the coaching carousel! My thought is that, of course it won't. Unfortunately for the coaches, football (all sports, in fact) IS a zero-sum game. There are winners and losers. And losers can no longer be tolerated. Thirty years ago, before big TV deals, coaches had the luxury of time. When you have the pressure of a multi-million dollar athletics budget riding, mostly, on your team's success: Time = money. Translated: Win now or else. While [Sonny] Dykes or Mac [Mike MacIntryre] might need five years to really implement a plan for success, they won't get it. They'll get three years (probably), but if they aren't hitting .500 AND staying competitive (in particular with their rivals), Year 4 is a crap shoot at best. They need to show success each and every year, and if they don't, they're going to get canned. And even if those coaches do win, that means some other coach lost to those teams. Unthinkable! Cue the hot-seat music for them. The zero-sum world is a tough one. Keep up the great work, and enjoy your "offseason."

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Eric RisbergIt was a rough first season for Sonny Dykes, but he'll get at least a couple more to try to right the ship at Cal.
Kevin Gemmell: Thanks, Chris. There was a lot more from my conversations with Rick Neuheisel and Mike Riley that didn’t make the final product. But that’s why we have the mailbag, so I can get deeper into it.

Both guys agree that five years – minimum – is about how long a coach should be given the opportunity to turn a program around. Neuheisel hit on the most important point. That being the quarterback spot and the fact that you really only have one shot with a quarterback. If you swing and miss, or if he gets injured, there goes your coaching tenure with that school.

We (Neuheisel and myself) also talked about Riley, Sonny Dykes and Kyle Whittingham. We didn’t talk as much about Mike MacIntyre because there was some solid progress in Year 1.

With Whittingham, Neuheisel took the same philosophy as the Pac-12 blog, in that his program needs time to adjust to all the ins and outs of playing in a major conference. I’m on record as saying that I believe a full recruiting cycle – five years in the league – is a good gauge. And given how many times the Utes have changed offensive coordinators, it’s obvious Whittingham is trying to find the pieces to make it all work. He’s being proactive. But the quarterback situation has been so unbelievably unfortunate that it’s tough to get some traction.

With Dykes, it wasn’t all quarterback. Jared Goff did pretty well for a true freshman, all things considered. But it’s obvious he needs seasoning. There were just so many problems with that team, from offense to defense to special teams, that you can’t really lay it all on one aspect of the game.

And with Riley, well, he was on the hot seat after a 3-9 2011 only to storm back to a 9-4 2012. As Neuheisel said, “Last time I checked, they haven’t moved Corvallis any closer to the good players. If I were betting, I’d bet on Riley.” I would, too.

The name of the game is time. You have to show some immediate progress in order to get more time (like Mike Leach, David Shaw, Todd Graham, Jim Mora, who have all signed extensions). I think MacIntyre has done that. I think Whittingham still has time before his seat gets toasty and I think Dykes will get a couple of years to put things together. Riley isn’t going anywhere.

So for the immediate future, unless a coach leaves on his own, I think we’re going to see this lineup of head coaches for at least a couple of seasons. That’s a good thing. Because this is a very, very sharp group.


SDZald in San Diego writes: Nice breakdown on recruits to the Pac-12 by state. Can you enlighten us a bit more by breaking down the recruits from California into northern and southern regions?

Kevin Gemmell: When I read this request, I was reminded of when Ace Rothstein demanded an equal number of blueberries be placed in every muffin. And the baker’s response: “Do you know how long that’s going to take?”

It took a good few hours to break them all down by state. And going back through and determining which part of the state would probably take longer since there would be some Google-mapping involved.

However, here’s a compromise. I’ll likely do that post again next season. Now that I know to look for it, I’ll go through NorCal. Vs. SoCal while I’m actually doing the research the first time around. Deal?

I spent 18 years living in NorCal and the last 15 in SoCal (plus a few scattered states for four years) and the two halves are very much like two different states.

I’d wager a significant majority comes from SoCal (if we set the marker at, say, Bakersfield). Though there are a few Fresnos in there as well.


Chris in NorCal writes: I'm wondering how many other Stanford targets weren't able to gain admission to the university? It's typically a small number because the football program doesn't spend time recruiting players that they don't think will meet the admission standards.

Kevin Gemmell: Stanford doesn’t release the names of players who weren’t admitted. Consider it sort of an amateur-athlete professional-courtesy.

David Shaw did say, however, that there were only “about 80” high school seniors who could have qualified and been accepted. So if you buy that, it makes their recruiting haul all the more impressive.

As one of the few true national recruiters, Stanford has to comb the country to find the right type of guys. Shaw told me once that oftentimes they’ll try to identify position groups and recruit accordingly. For example, if there is a really good year for offensive linemen, they’ll identify that group, find which ones could be academically eligible, and go after that group like crazy and then adjust as needed to fit that group.

As it stands, there are only so many 4.4 wide receivers available (that’s GPA and 40 time). When you look at Stanford’s fraction of the pie, it’s pretty miniscule.

As for how many didn’t make it in, we’ll never really know unless the players come out and say so.


Andy in Lebanon, Ore. writes: Ted and Kevin! Everyone "says" they know better than to focus so hard on these star ratings. But every year signing day rolls around and everyone acts like they will solely determine the next four years anyway.Give me a 3-star LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner over 5-star RB Lache Seastrunk, who will whine and leave. Give me a 3-star Jeff Maehl over 4- and 5-star Devon Blackmon and Tacoi Sumler. Give me a 3-star David Paulson over a 5-star basket case like Colt Lyerla. Give me a 3-star Kyle Long. Hroniss Grasu. Terrance Mitchell. Michael Clay. And most of all, give a gangly 3-star QB from Hawaii named Marcus Mariota. Understand, at this point in the game, using these star ratings is the only thing we have to go on and in a long offseason, you are going to go on it. Not every 5-star is useless like Seastrunk and not every 3-star shatters QB records. But it just seems so silly to me that people are focusing so hard on the rating and not on if a program got the guys it really wants.

Kevin Gemmell: Stars are essentially predictions. And … this just in … sometimes predictions are wrong! I was just getting into the San Diego media scene when there was a hot debate over Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. A few years later I was covering a can’t-miss prep superstar named Dillon Baxter.

Sometimes you swing and miss.

Every year around this time, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a head coach a few years ago (it was off the record, so names will not be used to protect the innocent). He and I were actually just discussing this again a few weeks ago.

He was recruiting a two-star player who hadn’t received an offer yet. Then a major West Coast school, for kicks, let’s say USC, made him an offer. The next day he jumped to four stars on the recruiting boards. The coach snarkily asked me, “how the hell did he get so good overnight?”

The point is, the star system is what it is – a system. And human systems are flawed. Yes, it’s nice to have a good recruiting class with a bunch of four-star guys and the occasional five-star. But it’s the teams that develop two- and three-star players into all-conference guys (you cited Marcus Mariota, Ben Gardner is another that comes to mind and there are countless others) that truly make the biggest impact.

Stars are nice. But the name of the game is player development.


Bryce in San Francisco writes: Would you please expand your post about Pac-12 alumni in the Super Bowl to include a conference breakdown? Given the number of key contributors coming from the Pac-12, I wonder if there might be a chance for major bragging rights.

Kevin Gemmell: Found this, which should help break it down. By my count, there were only 16 who were active according to the final gamebook. But given the way the Pac-12 players performed – and the winning coach is a Pac-12 alumnus – I’d say a little chest thumping is in order.


Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: Hey Kev, do you have an Instagram or a Twitter I could follow you at?

Kevin Gemmell: No Instagram, but Ted and I share the Pac-12 blog’s Twitter account. You can follow here. 56K and growing. That’s right, @mileycyrus, we're coming for you. Coming like a wrecking ball.
Prior to joining the Arizona State coaching staff last week, Keith Patterson’s credentials included stops at Tulsa, Pitt and West Virginia. He has coached in eight bowl games and, having previously worked with coach Todd Graham, has an intimate knowledge of Graham’s schemes and philosophies.

Those are all great little factoids to include when pumping out a press release. But all you really need to know about Patterson is this: Graham trusts him.

That's saying a lot. Because when it comes to defense, Graham can be a bit of a, well, there’s no right way sugar-coat it. He’s a control freak. The defense is his baby. Defensive meetings wouldn’t start until Graham got into the room. And when the defense falters -- and it did a few times last season -- he sits in front of that microphone and shoulders all of the blame.

But Patterson is a dear friend and Graham’s former college roommate. There is a trust there that goes beyond hours and hours in a film room.

[+] EnlargeKeith Patterson
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsArizona State's hire of Keith Patterson as defensive coordinator allows Todd Graham to branch out his responsibilities.
So the fact that Graham is relinquishing even a hummingbird’s beak of control is an intriguing development, because it will allow him to take on more of a CEO role and oversee the entire team. And it allows him to put some focus on one area in particular -- special teams. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Graham will still be heavily involved in the defensive planning. Which is to say instead of being 100 percent involved like he was before, he’ll be about 98.3 percent involved now. Just so we’re clear, Graham is still going to call the defense. But he wants another set of trusted eyes coaching the linebackers and looking at the bigger picture.

When you look at the makeup of ASU’s defensive staff, it’s hard not to be impressed. Chris Ball will still serve as co-defensive coordinator along with Patterson and the ever-watchful eye of Graham. Paul Randolph, formerly co-defensive coordinator, will still work with the defensive ends. Jackie Shipp’s contributions as defensive line coach have been invaluable. Patterson will work with the linebackers while Graham and Ball will work with the secondary.

That’s three coordinators, a head coach and a longtime NFL player/Oklahoma assistant -- not too shabby.

It makes for a very intriguing defensive year for the Sun Devils, who will experience a massive talent drain on that side of the ball with nine of 11 starters having moved on. With youth and depth issues, it might take a season or two for this new defensive staff to show just how good it really is. Rather than judging progress strictly with Xs and Os in 2014, player development will likely take center stage.

Perhaps the most important element of this hire, however, is the re-shuffling of the special teams coaching staff. Aside from freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez, ASU’s special teams were pretty abysmal in 2013. The Sun Devils were last in the league in punting and middling in the return game. This new coaching hierarchy addresses that, at least that's what Graham hopes.

Patterson will assume the role as defensive special teams coach while Chip Long will handle offensive special teams. Graham is also going to play a “major” role in special teams, which is something he wouldn’t be able to do if he was running the defense all on his own. With the departure of special team’s coordinator Joe Lorig, who moved to Utah State to be the linebackers coach, the Sun Devils have a chance to make major strides in the weakest aspect of their game last season.

Unprompted, Graham made a point to single out poor special teams play in his opening statement after the loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.

“We have a lot of things to work on on special teams, that will be dealt with immediately and that will be something I take a personal interest in,” Graham said. “That has killed our team. We've lost three ballgames this year because of that.”

The Patterson hiring allows Graham to do just that -- if Graham is willing to relinquish the defense, even just a little bit.
Welcome to the mailbag. This is a safe place that allows the free expression of ideas. Let your power animal run wild, just please clean up after it.

Couple of questions about the departure of Oregon State offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf (Eric and Benny, questions received) mainly inquiring as to the direction of the offense, what it means for Sean Mannion and how this impacts the team this close to recruiting.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsWill Oregon State QB Sean Mannion miss coach Danny Langsdorf, who is heading to the NFL? Sure, but it shouldn't affect his production.
Kevin Gemmell: First, I’m not sure what this does for Mannion. I’m hoping to get him on the phone sometime in the next couple of days to chat about it. We’re working on that. I do know that Mannion specifically cited Langsdorf as a reason for him coming back another year. He wasn’t the only reason, but he was important enough for the QB to make note of it.

As for what it means for the direction of the offense. Not too much, I don’t think. Mike Riley has basically been the offensive coordinator the last couple of seasons anyway, calling all of the plays. And you can’t argue with OSU’s offensive production the last couple of seasons. It’s the defense that cost it some games in 2013. You could probably make a case that Brandin Cooks leaving might have the bigger impact than Langsdorf. After all, Biletnikoff winners don’t come around all that often.

Possible replacements? The trend -- at least among the league’s departed defensive coordinators -- has been to keep it in-house. And if that’s the case, maybe wide receivers coach Brent Brennan gets a long look. In three years in Corvallis he’s helped develop, among others, Cooks, Markus Wheaton and James Rodgers. Offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh is another interesting name. He’s been around nine years and is extremely well respected. Just floating that one for kicks. I have no idea if he’s interested.

As for recruiting, I talked to someone in the know at Oregon State who said Riley isn’t too concerned about it right now. Is it possible that they lose a commit over this? Maybe. But no doubt Riley has already reached out or made visits to all of Langsdorf’s targets and assured them that the buck stops with him offensively.

So the takeaway is this -- Langsdorf was a very good position coach. That’s why he’s been offered a position to keep doing it at the next level. But it’s hard not imagine Riley isn’t still going to be the primary play-caller, regardless of who gets the OC gig. And with Mannion back for another season, the Beavers should be pretty potent again if they can find some receivers (paging Victor Bolden?) and get the running game going.

Michael in Phoenix writes: It has been thoroughly discussed how ASU is losing 9-starters on defense. While this is disconcerting, ASU also welcomes back most of its explosive offense. Not going to ask you to predict next season’s outcome just yet, but what would you characterize as a successful season in Year 3 under CTG? 8 wins? 9 wins? 10? (It goes without saying a win over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named down south is mandatory).

Kevin Gemmell: Offense is nice. But as your coach is fond of saying -- defense wins, wait for it … championships. OK, so Todd Graham isn’t the first guy to come up with that one. But I know he believes in it. And I know he makes his living on that side of the football. And when you look at all of the talent they are losing -- combined with a lack of experienced depth -- then the Sun Devils are probably going to have to win some track meets.

And that’s OK. As you pointed out, they are pretty loaded offensively. Losing Marion Grice and his 20 touchdowns is obviously a hit. But Taylor Kelly returns at quarterback and we got glimpses of what D.J. Foster is capable of as the No. 1 back. What we saw in those glimpses was inconsistency. At times, brilliant and electric. Other times, he looked like a young back. Which is expected. There are also some depth issues across the offensive line that will have to be addressed.

But when you look at the potential of the passing attack, it’s pretty scary. Combine Kelly with returning Jaelen Strong and the addition of Eric Lauderdale, that’s going to be a potent air strike. Lauderdale is one of the top JC wide receivers in the country. Graham hit a home run when he brought in Strong, also a JC transfer, last season. He’s done it again with the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Lauderdale, who runs in the 4.4 range. He picked the Sun Devils over Florida, Oregon, Nebraska, Texas Tech and Washington, to name a few.

So yes, I expect the offense to be really good. It’s going to have to be. But given what Graham has accomplished in his first two seasons, I think folks would be disappointed with anything less than eight wins. But a hat trick against the Wildcats will go a long way, even if they don’t repeat as South champs.

Scott in Concord writes: Did you know that when the Pac-12 lunch links post a link to the Seattle Times, it asks the reader for a subscription to view the article? I am pretty sure ESPN has subscriptions to these links, but I think people should haven't to pay for subscriptions for links posted from your site. Thanks.

Kevin Gemmell: Ted touched on this in his mailbag last week. This is the way newspapers are trending. Having spent the bulk of my career coming home with ink on my fingers, I can tell you that it’s an industry that is struggling to find a viable business model for making money on the Web.

Just for kicks, you should watch this. It’s scary interesting.

As for the alternative, it’s tough to find a link for every school each day -- especially in the offseason. The other option is that the school doesn’t get a link for that day. Would you guys prefer that? Let us know. But we try very hard to make sure every school is linked. We’ll obviously continue to look for free options. But if a non-pay option isn’t available, you have free will to do what you want. You can either pay for the information, or not. The market will decide if there is enough demand to pay for content. We’re just putting it out there.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Reilly, Shayn Reilly
AP Photo/Rick BowmerThings are looking up for Trevor Reilly and his daughter, Shayn, who has been battling cancer.
FG in Seattle writes: You made Trevor Reilly from Utah your No. 20 pick on your postseason list of Top 25 conference players. You point out he played through a torn ACL in 2012. Per the Pac 12 channel, he played this entire season with his 11-month-old daughter going through chemotherapy for a renal cancer and was due to be done in December if all went well. Is there some type of public update on this story? If there is, and it's good news, a lot of Pac 12 fans outside of Utah would like to hear it. Thanks.

Kevin Gemmell: The last public report I saw about this was last month following the Utah-Colorado game. And the news appears to be very good.

I’ve known Trevor since he was a sophomore at Valley Center High School and covered him through his prep days into the Mountain West and finally through the Pac-12. That’s one of my favorite parts of the job is seeing these guys as high school players going on to have great college careers and then into the professional ranks. I’m thrilled for him and his family.

Trev on the West Coast writes: Read the article about the ACC stepping up its scheduling for the upcoming year, however I can't help but notice with its eight-game conference schedule, each team only averages 9.35 big boy teams (ACC/BIG12/B1G/PAC12/SEC/ND/BYU). So I checked each conference to see the stats: BIG12 -- 10.1; PAC 12 -- 10; ACC -- 9.35; B1G -- 9.14; SEC -- 8.88. My question is when will the polls actually stop ranking teams for good records against weak OCCs and actually make you beat people before you get ranked? On a side note, if you are curious how big a difference there is between nine and eight conference games, use the NCAA game and swap the PAC and SEC and watch how in 2-3 years the number of ranked teams each year is flopped.

Kevin Gemmell: What you have to understand is that “the polls” aren’t one single, entity. They consist of dozens of voters. And each of those voters has their own value system that they apply to factors like strength of schedule, overall record, good wins vs. good losses, etc.

You can see it when Ted and I do our weekly rankings. He and I differ quite a bit on certain things. I tend to not punish teams as much for losing to good teams on the road. Ted, however, clearly lets his time in the South bias his views to the point where it gets nauseating. I jest, of course.

The polls are a human system. And with human systems come flaws. At least they are perceived as flaws because you don’t agree with the way someone is voting. They think their vote is perfect.

My good friend Jon Wilner is one of the more renegade voters out there. And he and I have had many, many discussions about how he votes. I don’t always agree with him. But I also know he’s not just throwing darts. He takes it very seriously. I’ve seen him after games furiously scribbling out his Top 25 in his notepad, and his voting system works for him.

Regional bias comes into play -- as well as what we see with our own eyes. Trying to make sense of it all can make you go koo-koo bananas.

Cougy the Coug in Spokane, Wash. writes: Great job leaving Deone Bucannon off of your departing players list. He was only an All-American!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kevin Gemmell: Thank you for your interest in the Pac-12 blog’s reading comprehension seminar and your gratuitous use of exclamation points. I’m afraid this is the advanced course. Ted already covered remedial reading last week. Your submission is appreciated.

Pac-12 Top 25 for 2013: No. 11

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
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Our countdown of the Pac-12’s Top 25 players from the 2013 season continues.

You can review our 2013 preseason Top 25 here.

No. 11: Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State

2013 numbers: With an average of 10.9 points per game, Grice led the Pac-12 in scoring average. And had it not been for an injury that kept him out of the final couple of games, there’s a good chance he would have led the league in total touchdowns. As it stands, he crossed the goal line 20 times in 2013 -- 14 times rushing and six more receiving. He rushed for 996 yards and also caught 50 balls for 438 yards.

Preseason ranking: No. 24

Making the case for Grice: A day or so after Grice hauled in a one-handed catch during ASU’s 53-24 win over Washington, head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell asked each other, “Who does he remind you of?” Neither had an answer. Because Grice brought a very unique skill set that was a perfect fit for what the Sun Devils wanted to do offensively. He’s not the fastest runner, but he has a way of sliding off tackles and, of course, finding the end zone. Whether it was picking up 15 yards in the red zone, selling his role in the option or bringing in the aforementioned one-handed catch, Grice was a do-it-all back. He was named second-team all-conference and led all running backs nationally with six touchdown receptions. And perhaps his greatest stat, the one all coaches hold most sacred, is that he tied nationally for first with zero fumbles lost.

The countdown:
No. 12: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
No. 13: Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
No. 14: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 15: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 16: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
No. 17: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
No. 18: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 19: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 20: Trevor Reilly, DE/OLB, Utah
No. 21: Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
No. 22: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 23: Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
No. 24: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
No. 25: Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA
Tired of searching for Richard Sherman memes? Me, neither. But take a break anyway and enjoy the mailbag.

Jack in Boulder, Colo. writes: Pretty harsh with some of your grades, weren’t you?

Kevin Gemmell: I don’t think so. Did anyone in the league deserve an A? No national champions. No BCS bowl game victories. I didn’t do the Stanford review, that one was all Ted. But I thought a B-plus was fair, considering how the season ended and the fact that the Cardinal did lose to an unranked team that didn’t make the postseason along the way. I did do the Oregon review and thought a B was also a fair grade -- considering what the expectations were for the Ducks in 2013 compared to how they finished.

[+] EnlargeStanford
David Madison/Getty ImagesStanford won the Pac-12 and went to the Rose Bowl, but didn't deserve an A.
Arizona State gets the same grade as Stanford because it won its division and had the best overall record in the Pac-12. No small accomplishment.

Outside of that, who deserves a better grade than they received? Some people thought Arizona’s B was a little too generous, given the schedule they played (see the question below, by the way). But they knocked off Oregon, won their bowl game and made huge strides defensively.

Others have said Cal’s F grade was too harsh. But I’m of the opinion that if you don’t beat an FBS team, that’s a fail.

Oregon State’s C-minus feels right, considering what the expectations were.

UCLA’s B-plus was fair from Ted and my B-minus for USC was pretty reflective of the ups and downs of the season.

I thought Ted’s C-minus for Utah was probably generous, but upsetting Stanford warrants something in the average range.

The Washington schools both got Bs because the Cougs exceeded expectations and the Huskies got over the seven-win hump and won their bowl game.

As always, happy to hear arguments in favor for or against changing grades.


Pac-12 Fan in Reno writes: C'mon, Kevin. Arizona at No. 25 in your final poll? It is now becoming apparent that you have some repressed "feelings" for [RichRod] and Arizona. How can you put AU at No. 25 after the way they were so thoroughly humiliated at the hands of relatively pedestrian ASU (No. 20)? AU beat Oregon and ... whom exactly? Their wins came over the likes of UNLV and UTSA. Wow. Impressive. AU will win 8-9 games again next year because they play a bunch of [weak teams]. You really need to admit your bias/obsession and try to move past it. You are better than this.

Kevin Gemmell: Consider the alternative. Who would you put at No. 25? Washington is there in the AP poll at No. 25, but I had the Huskies higher because I thought they finished strong and deserved a higher ranking.

So let’s look at the options, including all of the teams that finished in the final AP rankings or received votes.

Vanderbilt? The Commodores beat an injury-depleted No. 15 Georgia, but the rest of their schedule sets up much like Arizona with sub-.500 competition.

Nebraska? Its signature win was also over No. 22 Georgia. (And yes, Ryan in New York, I know you are going to chime in about UCLA’s win over Nebraska, but you still won’t convince me that wasn’t an amazing win for the Bruins given all that had happened).

Fresno State? Played one ranked team all year (USC) and got blasted by them in the bowl game.

Northern Illinois? Zero ranked teams on the schedule.

North Dakota State? I’ll actually listen to that argument.

Texas Tech? Never beat a top-10 team.

Georgia? See above.

Iowa? Never beat a ranked team.

Ole Miss? It beat LSU, but won just three games in conference. Thank goodness for the eight-game conference schedule. (I can already feel a retort coming on from Chris Low.)

Kansas State? The Wildcats beat a reeling No. 25 Texas Tech team, but had no other victories over ranked opponents.

That brings us to Arizona. It only beat one ranked team all season. But of all the teams listed above, it was the highest-ranked team in No. 5 Oregon.

There are no repressed feelings. But all things being equal -- and I think you can make a case that all of these teams I’ve just listed pretty much being equal -- I’m going to go with the one that showed the greatest improvement on defense from 2012 to 2013 and has one of the country’s most dynamic playmakers. And Arizona beat a team from a BCS conference in its bowl game.

The Wildcats played in “arguably” the toughest, deepest league in college football, had a comparable record and had the best win of all those teams listed above. On a neutral field, I’ll put the Arizona team that played against Boston College against any one of those teams.


Henry in San Juan Capistrano writes: Your colleague Chris Low stated today that the three "marquee" QB's in the P-12 are Hundley, Marcus and Mannion when we all know that it's Kelly, not Mannion, that rounds out that group. Can you set him straight, Kev? You would be doing all P-12 fans a huge favor.

Kevin Gemmell: Can’t it be both? Mannion had the superior passing numbers, a better completion percentage with 1,000 more passing yards and nine more passing touchdowns. He also finished with a higher raw QBR.

Kelly had fewer interceptions and a higher adjusted QBR. He also rushed for 608 yards and had nine rushing touchdowns while Mannion had minus-223 yards rushing and zero rushing touchdowns.

So when push comes to shove, they had an equal amount of total touchdowns accounted for. Mannion had more turnovers (including seven fumbles).

Both quarterbacks are asked to do very different things. Mannion is a pure drop-back passer. That’s not to say that Kelly can’t chuck it. He was fifth in the league 3,635 passing yards and third in passing touchdowns. But he has more zone-read responsibilities than Mannion does.

When Mannion isn’t going through one of his interception spells, he can be one of the top pure passers in college football, but he has his moments of inefficiency. And Kelly, too, has the occasional bad game, when things aren’t clicking. But both are very good at what they are asked to do.


Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Excellent article on the Pac-12 defenses. But how could you forget perhaps the nation's best interior defensive lineman next year -- Lenny Williams -- when discussing the best defenders in the Pac?

Kevin Gemmell: *Slaps head with palm and shouts “D’oh!”* Yep, Williams is up there as well. Was thinking of younger guys, but he absolutely should be a preseason All-American.

The point of the column wasn’t to say that there are no good defensive players coming back. There are. USC has some. UCLA has some. Stanford and Oregon have some. Pretty much every school has a player or two who is going to get some looks on a preseason all-conference squad.

But given the amount of talented defensive players across the conference that are leaving, combined with coordinators from the top five defensive schools in the conference in 2013, I felt it warranted a column. UCLA fans got after me on Twitter, reminding me of all the young talent the Bruins have coming back. And I agree with all of it. I expect UCLA to be strong defensively. But stronger without Anthony Barr and Jordan Zumwalt? We’ll have to see.

But from a league-wide perspective, the Pac-12 loses a bunch of veteran defenders. When you combine that with the offensive firepower coming back, it makes for an intriguing 2014.


Bob in Menlo Park writes: Kevin, I read your Todd Graham question. I thought I read on the Pac-12 Blog that [athletic director Steve] Patterson signed an agreement with Arizona State not to poach personnel when he went to Texas. Enjoyed your writing and the blog.

Kevin Gemmell: As a matter of fact, you did read that on the blog. Here’s the link.

It’s obviously moot with Charlie Strong landing the job at Texas. If Patterson really wanted Todd Graham, I’m sure there would have been a way to make it work. As Ted points in his piece from November, there isn’t much that can’t be fixed with motivation and money. Contracts can be torn up in lieu of checks.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. But if Graham continues at this current pace -- winning division championships and posting outstanding conference records, he’s going to start getting phone calls. What’s an acceptable time frame for a coach to move on? Three years? Five? Seven?

This is going to be an interesting year for Graham. He’s losing a ton of defensive stars and he spends the majority of his time on that side of the football. It’s not unreasonable to think the Sun Devils might take a step back defensively in 2014, but if they can come close to matching some of their 2013 defensive production after that kind of a talent drain, we’ll know just how good of a coach Graham really is.


Bryce in San Franciso writes: I'm happy to see Kyle Bonagura getting on board with the lunch link quotes. I don't see an inbox for him, so hoping you can pass this note along.

Kevin Gemmell: I’ll let him know. He started strong with a quote from “The Sandlot.” When it comes to the lunch links quotes, we try to have fun with them … but sometimes they can be a bit obscure. Last year, on the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, I posted a stanza from “The Mighty K.C.” a one-hit wonder song by For Squirrels from 1995. Didn’t think anyone would get the reference, and they didn’t. On the day Ray Bradbury died, Ted quoted “Fahrenheit 451.” Sometimes, it’s just a movie or song or book that’s stuck in my head. They aren’t always gems, but we try to make it fun.
I got a question. If you guys know so much about women, how come you're here at like the Gas 'n' Sip on a Saturday night completely alone drinking beers with no women anywhere?

Final Pac-12 Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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If you don't like where you ended up in the Power Rankings, you should have played better.

Click here for Week 15's Power Rankings. Note that these rankings reflect the totality of the season.

1. Stanford (11-3, 7-2): Oregon finished higher in the final polls, but Stanford is the Pac-12 champion. And everyone out West remembers what happened Nov. 7.

2. Oregon (11-2, 7-2): The Ducks spent most of the season as a national title contender, but the regular season ended with a thud. The bowl victory over Texas was nice, and when you think about it, 11-2 and a final No. 9 ranking is, well, not too bad for Mark Helfrich's debut season.

3. Arizona State (10-4, 8-1): If the Sun Devils had taken care of business in the National University Holiday Bowl and grabbed an 11th win, this would have been a special season. As it turned out, it was merely a very good one.

4. UCLA (10-3, 6-3): The Bruins fell short of the South Division title because of a loss to Arizona State, but a 10-3 finish with a final No. 16 ranking tells the ultimate story: UCLA is trending up. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, there also was that second consecutive victory over USC for coach Jim Mora. Did anyone forget? Anyone? Bueller?

5. USC (10-4, 6-3): The Trojans had two seasons: the miserable start under Lane Kiffin and the strong second half under interim coaches Ed Orgeron and, in the bowl game, Clay Helton. Going 10-4 and finishing ranked 19th, particularly under the trying circumstances, is about the best that could have been hoped. Other than losses to UCLA and Notre Dame. That part could have been better.

6. Washington (9-4, 5-4): After three consecutive 7-6 seasons, the Huskies broke through in 2013, finishing 9-4 and ranked 25th. Credit goes to Steve Sarkisian for turning around a program that went winless the year before he arrived. He leaves behind a team with plenty of potential for new coach Chris Petersen.

7. Arizona (8-5, 4-5): The Wildcats had an interesting season. In part, their eight wins were because of a pillow-soft nonconference schedule that was a guaranteed 3-0 start. But they also beat Oregon and won a bowl game, dominating Boston College on both sides of the ball. On the downside is a second consecutive defeat to their friends in Tempe.

8. Oregon State (7-6, 4-5): The Beavers started horribly with a loss to Eastern Washington then rolled off six consecutive wins. Then, with the schedule ramping up considerably, they lost five in a row to finish the regular season. The strong performance in the Hawaii Bowl against Boise State took some of the sting out of the losing streak. But only some.

9. Washington State (6-7, 4-5): If the Cougars had won their bowl game, they would have been seventh here. Losing to Colorado State is bad under any circumstances, but the way the Cougs wilted at the end was horrid and should operate as fuel to motivate the team this offseason. Still, despite losing their final two games and finishing with a losing record, getting back to a bowl game was a big deal in the second season under Mike Leach.

10. Utah (5-7, 2-7): A second consecutive losing season is not what Utes fans have come to expect, even with a red-letter win over Stanford. Further, they are 5-13 in Pac-12 play in the past two seasons. There were major injury issues, most notably to QB Travis Wilson, but Utah can't be happy with its early performance in the conference. On the plus side, beating BYU and Utah State means state rivals don't have much room to rib the Utes.

11. Colorado (4-8, 1-8): There wasn't anywhere to go but up for Colorado after going 1-11 in 2012, and the Buffaloes went up this season under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre. They were still mostly outclassed in Pac-12 play, but there were signs of taking a step forward. The question now becomes, can they move up in the South Division?

12. California (1-11, 0-9): It was perhaps the most miserable season in Cal history in the first year under Sonny Dykes. The injuries were so epidemic it almost became comical -- almost -- but the effort and execution from the healthy players wasn't so hot either. The Bears need to show improvement next fall or the going could be tough for Dykes.

Season wrap: Arizona State

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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Arizona State had a good season that had a bad ending.

The Sun Devils finished 10-4 against one of the nation's toughest schedules and won the Pac-12 South Division in coach Todd Graham's second year. They finished ranked 21st in the nation. They beat four teams that ended up nationally ranked. They beat archrival Arizona for a second consecutive season. They were effective on both sides of the ball.

But, golly, that was a horrible performance against what should have been an outmanned Texas Tech team in the National University Holiday Bowl. That shocking 37-23 whipping reminded the Sun Devils that they haven't not yet arrived.

You can read our graded review of Arizona State here.

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Taylor Kelly took a step forward as a junior to become one of the nation's best quarterbacks. He completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,635 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed for 608 yards and nine scores. He ranked 25th in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR measure of a quarterback. There's certainly room for him to get better in 2014, but he skillfully guided an offense that ranked among the Pac-12 and national leaders in 2013.

Defensive MVP: While defensive tackle Will Sutton's numbers were not as spectacular in 2013 as 2012, he still was one of the nation's dominant defensive players. That's why he won Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year again this year. He finished with 48 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks and four passes defended. He was named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press.

Best moment: The Sun Devils’ 58-21 stomping of rival Arizona surely warmed the hearts of Arizona State fans everywhere. The Sun Devils dominated from bell-to-bell, leading 30-7 at the half, as Graham improved to 2-0 against Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, with whom he doesn't share a warm relationship. Retaining the Territorial Cup also gave the Sun Devils a seventh win in a row and 10th of the season. Further, the victory earned the Sun Devils home-field advantage for the Pac-12 title game, though, of course, that didn't end up mattering.

Worst moment: The Holiday Bowl was just awful, far more embarrassing than the two losses to Stanford or even the curiously uninspired performance against Notre Dame. The defense looked helpless, allowing Texas Tech freshman Davis Webb to pass for 410 yards and four touchdowns, while the offense was sloppy and out of sync against a mediocre-to-poor defense. The coaching wasn't that great either, something that was acknowledged by Graham after the game. A prime example of that would be the horrible clock management at the end of the first half which probably cost the Sun Devils a touchdown.
Welcome to the mailbag, which nine out of 10 dentists agree has no bearing on your oral health.

Bobby in Phoenix writes: Mark May said the following yesterday: "I heard through the grapevine, not publicly, but privately, Todd Graham was lobbying like heck to get the Texas job," May told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports now on 98.7 FM Tuesday. "Chew on that one, Arizona State Sun Devils fans." I heard it from not one, but two of our reporters at ESPN, that he was lobbying to get that job. It was another one of his 'dream jobs.' Any comments? My thought would be that if not one, but TWO ESPN reporters knew about this they would... umm.... report it? When will his Pitt bias stop seeping through everything he says and Todd Graham and ASU?

Kevin Gemmell: I didn’t hear May’s comments or the interview, so I can only go off of what you said. But there is certainly a gut reaction when the rest of the country hears the name Todd Graham, they instantly think villain.

You know what’s funny is when Brady Hoke left San Diego State after two seasons, he did the exact same thing -- he sent a text blast to the players and that was that. He got on a plane and never returned to San Diego. He was lauded as a hero and treated like Caesar returning from Germania when he got to Ann Arbor. No one cared about how he left SDSU.

But this one stuck with Graham and probably will stick with him for a long time. It’s fascinating how perception and public opinion shapes who we celebrate and who we demonize.

I got to spend a lot of time with Graham this season -- including four days behind the scenes. I was given complete access to everything -- player meetings, coaches meetings, I sat with Graham, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and the quarterbacks at the team dinner and was with the coaches for their final huddle 10 minutes before kickoff of the Wisconsin game. (I even went out the Tillman Tunnel with the team, and I can tell you that was one of the greatest moments of my career). In my time with Graham, I learned he’s the exact same guy behind closed doors as he is in front of a microphone. I really doubt he’s going to put on a four-day show -- and maintain it -- for little ole’ me. If he did, give him the Academy Award.

Is it possible he could jump ship sometime soon? Of course. The guy can coach. That’s why he keeps getting hired. And he hires great coaches to coach alongside him (Gus Malzahn, Chad Morris, Mike Norvell, etc.).

He’s always going to have the Pitt stigma that follows him. Maybe it’s deserved. Maybe it’s time to let it go. Either way, I like his style. I like his schemes. And l like his accountability. After the Holiday Bowl, he put it all on himself. That’s what a coach is supposed to do.

I’ve been lied to plenty by coaches. That comes with asking questions they don’t want to answer. But I’ve also had coaches be totally honest and stand by their word. My gut tells me Graham likes the spot he’s in and he likes the support he’s getting from the administration.


Wayne in Mesa, Ariz. writes: Why was the Pac-12 Championship Game for 2014 moved back to a Friday night? I can understand TV ratings a bit, although the 2013 game had a great Saturday evening time slot. As for attendance, the Saturday date allows for better attendance and more time for the buzz to build up -- as the incredible atmosphere in and around Sun Devil Stadium this past fall would attest!

Kevin Gemmell: Go to your living room. On your coffee table, you’ll probably see a black, rectangular object with many different buttons. Push the one that says “power” and a talking picture box will come to life, projecting real life sounds and images.

Do not be scared or attempt to interact with these moving pictures. They can’t see or hear you.

FOX has the Pac-12 championship game this year, as well as the Big Ten title game the next day. So, yes, it’s TV driven.

I think there is something to be said about being the first game of championship weekend. You get the national audience (at least those who choose to stay up) all to yourself. But from a fan perspective -- especially those attending the game -- it can be a hassle. You have to deal with work and traffic and chances are it won’t be a full stadium -- which never bodes well for the conference.


John in New York writes: USC-UCLA, Stanford-USC, Oregon-Washington, Oregon-Oregon State, Arizona-Arizona State. I'd be really interested to know how you'd rank these particular rivalries, from top to bottom?

Kevin Gemmell: Ranking rivalry games is a fairly futile exercise, because rivalries will always mean more to the folks who have a vested interest in the outcome. Try convincing an Arizona fan that the Apple Cup is more important than the Territorial Cup.

Case in point, I grew up in the Bay Area under the umbrella of the Cal-Stanford rivalry. And though I didn’t attend either school, I consider it one of the greatest rivalries there is because that’s what my personal experience is. Just as I think Will Clark is the greatest baseball player ever and it’s a shame that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.

But I also understand, given the way the Stanford-USC rivalry has played out over the last half decade, that game certainly qualifies as a rivalry. Same for Oregon-Washington and the budding UCLA-Arizona State rivalry.

I know folks are trying to make a rivalry out of the Utah-Colorado matchup. That makes sense, considering both joined the league at the same time. But rivalries aren’t artificially created. They just happen. Colorado fans will always have a bitterness for Nebraska, just as Utah fans will always consider BYU their rival.

The only reason to rank rivalries is to stir the pot and drum up some artificial controversy to give folks a reason to troll and flame.

Which is why Arizona-Arizona State is the best rivalry of all time and always will be. Discuss.


Michigan Trojan in Ann Arbor, Mich. writes: Kevin and Ted … Though I hope they get drafted and have successful NFL careers, I am a little puzzled by the early exits of Xavier Grimble, Dion Bailey, George Uko, and especially Marcus Martin (and possibly Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw) at USC. Marqise Lee is a sure-fire 1st round pick so I cannot argue with his leaving. But the others, especially guys like Grimble and Martin, were poised to have big years, with lots of exposure that could have made them locks in the second or third round, or possibly surprise first round picks. I know some of them were redshirts, and will technically have their degree in May, but if the NFL is their first stop in terms of profession, why not maximize your potential? Most of these guys will be fourth-round picks at best, and probably have to fight to make a practice squad if they go undrafted. Do you think some of this has to do with what Sarkisian is trying to do at USC, in terms of revamping the defense, and bringing in different position coaches? I also have heard that guys were impressed by the somewhat unexpected success of early-entry guys like undrafted Nickell Robey at the next level. The exodus probably sets SC football back a few wins next year, but again, as individuals, I hope they succeed beyond expectations at the next level.

Kevin Gemmell: It’s obviously different for every guy, so there is no one magic bullet answer. Sometimes it has to do with money. Sometimes it has to do with a coaching change. And sometimes guys simply don’t want to be in school anymore.

I do think USC players are a special exception. The college experience probably hasn’t been a great one for them when you look at the ups and downs of the program the last few years. Most of these guys came in when the sanctions were announced or right in the middle of them. They had bowl bans. They had a disastrous 2012. They saw three different head coaches in 2013.

Can you really blame some of them for wanting to get out and make a little money?

Robey is a fine example of a guy who went undrafted, but had a huge year for the Bills. If I’m his friend and former teammate, that gives both hope and false hope. There’s the thought that if I don’t get drafted, I can still do what Robey did. But for every Robey, there are dozens of other guys who find themselves either on practice squads or boning up on their “ehs?” in the Canadian League. And yes, there is at least one player from a Pac-12 school on every CFL roster, except Montreal (I checked).

I do think a new coaching staff probably had something to do with it as well as the fact that Clancy Pendergast isn’t coming back. For those defensive guys, it would be their third coordinator in the last two years. That’s frustrating. So, and I’m just speculating here, in their eyes if they have to adjust to a new coaching staff, they might as well get paid in the process.


Ryan in Palo Alto, Calif. writes: More math: You wrote: "So the likelihood of the Pac-12 winning all nine games -- even though it was favored in all nine -- seemed highly unlikely. "Actually probability alone (and not underdog motivation or favorite complacency) makes your statement true. Assume for sake of argument, the Vegas line said each Pac-12 team had an 80 percent chance to win. (Of course, different lines for each team and I have no idea what line corresponds to an 80 percent win chance, but useful thought experiment). The chances of all nine teams winning still comes out to only about 13.4 percent.

Kevin Gemmell: This is why Pac-12 blog readers are the life of all social gatherings.

Will Arizona State take a step back?

January, 14, 2014
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It flew a little under the radar on Monday that Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford entered the NFL draft because a pair of Pac-12 All-Americans -- Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey and Stanford OG David Yankey -- also announced they'd be going pro.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsWith the loss of key defensive starters, Arizona State may have to rely on QB Taylor Kelly and its offense to carry the load in 2014.
But Bradford's departure, though far from unexpected, is a big deal for the defending South Division champions, who now must replace nine starters and three key backups from its strong 2013 defense.

In fact, the Sun Devils will have only two of their top 11 tacklers, safety Damarious Randall and linebacker Salamo Fiso, back in 2014. The other returning starter is nose tackle Jaxon Hood.

Further, when we say "nine starters" we pretty much mean the 2013 defense's nine best players: Bradford, DT Will Sutton, S Alden Darby, LB Chris Young, CB Robert Nelson, DE Gannon Conway, CB Osahon Irabor, DE Davon Coleman and LB Anthony Jones.

Tackles, sacks, interceptions -- just about all the production from Todd Graham's aggressive, blitz-happy defense will be gone next fall.

While we are relentlessly raining on Arizona State's parade -- hey, want to talk about the Holiday Bowl? -- we'll also point out that the offense won't go unscathed, as it loses five starters, including two offensive linemen, tight end Chris Coyle and RB Marion Grice.

Here's the part, however, where we type "… and yet."

While the defense almost certainly will take a step back, and might require some scheme tweaks to fit the inexperienced personnel, the Sun Devils should have the firepower on offense to pile up points in high-scoring offensive slugfests, starting with QB Taylor Kelly and WR Jaelen Strong probably being the top returning pass-catch combination in the Pac-12.

Versatile RB D.J. Foster is a more than adequate replacement for Grice, while the offensive line should be solid, led by Jamil Douglas, who seems ready for his star turn.

As for the defense, it will be time for several promising young players to step up, such as linebackers Chans Cox, Carlos Mendoza and Viliami Latu and defensive lineman Corey Smith, cornerback Lloyd Carrington and safety Viliami Moeakiola.

Further, the development of defensive end Marcus Hardison could be critical. Graham expected the touted JC transfer to have a big impact this past fall but as often happens when touted JC players arrive, he wasn't ready for the demands of Pac-12 football -- in practice or games. That said, he showed improved gumption over the latter part of the season and certainly has the physical skills to be an impact player on the line.

UCLA, which also loses some key guys from its defense but has a lot of playmakers coming back on both sides of the ball, is the clear favorite in the Pac-12 South heading into 2014. USC will be a bit of a mystery in Year 1 under Steve Sarkisian. It lost some key players but has plenty of talent, though little depth, coming back. Arizona is looking for a new quarterback and running back, but it also could be in the mix.

Where do the defending champions fit in? Hard to say. Next fall will be a good test of the recruiting for which Graham has been generally receiving good reviews. The good money is on the Sun Devils finding a way to thrust themselves into the mix, even with a completely rebuilt defense. It helps that the schedule starts out gently -- Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado -- before a a brutal four-game gauntlet -- UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington -- that likely will determine the ultimate trajectory of the season.

Don't count the Sun Devils out, only you probably should expect a few more high-scoring shootouts in Tempe next fall.

Pac-12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
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Today we put a bow on the 2013 season (almost -- a few more review posts are coming up, and then probably a few more after that). But today across the blogosphere, we’re categorizing some of the top moments and individuals from the Pac-12 season. These are set in stone and in no way open to argument or interpretation.

Best coach: Arizona State's Todd Graham was voted as the league’s coach of the year by his peers. And it’s hard to argue with that, given the fact that the Sun Devils had the best league record and won their division. But you can’t discount the job of the L.A. coaches (interim or otherwise). Ed Orgeron did a phenomenal job in relief at USC before Steve Sarkisian was hired, and Jim Mora shepherded his team through a difficult time early.

Best player, offense: Ka’Deem Carey was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year. And the Pac-12 blog agrees. Certainly, cases can be made for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was on the Heisman Trophy track before being derailed by a knee injury. And there is the debate between Carey and Washington running back Bishop Sankey, which will rage until the end of days.

Best player, defense: The coaches went with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. And there’s nothing wrong with that selection. But cases certainly can be made for outside linebackers Trent Murphy (Stanford) and Anthony Barr (UCLA).

Best moment: Lots of them. Shocking upsets (see below) and stellar individual performances dusted the landscape of the 2013 Pac-12 season. But in terms of moments that were seared into our memories, it’s tough not to think about UCLA’s come-from-behind win at Nebraska way back on Sept. 14, following the death of Nick Pasquale. Specifically, Anthony Jefferson recovering a red zone fumble and then sprinting off the field to give the ball to Mora, followed by a big hug. It was as authentic and genuine a moment as you’ll find in sports.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's Kodi Whitfield had a highlight touchdown grab against UCLA.
Biggest upset: Take your pick between Utah topping Stanford or Arizona topping Oregon. Both were road losses for the favorites and both shook up the national and league landscape. Granted, Utah’s win over Stanford came earlier in the season, and early-season losses are easier to rebound from. Oregon’s loss to Arizona came at the end and cost the Ducks all kinds of postseason possibilities.

Best workhorse performance: It’s a tie between Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Carey -- both of whom put in the work in their teams’ victories over Oregon. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries; Gaffney carried 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown.

Best play: One of the most subjective categories, for sure, but Kodi Whitfield’s one-handed touchdown catch against UCLA was nothing short of spectacular. He elevated between two Bruins defenders and backhanded the ball out of the air for a 30-yard touchdown. Something about UCLA-Stanford brings out the one-handed catches. Recall in 2011, Andrew Luck hauled in a one-handed catch against the Bruins, and a few plays later, Coby Fleener snagged a one-handed dart from Luck for a touchdown.

Best performance, offense: Again, wildly subjective. Take your pick from Ty Montgomery’s five-touchdown day against Cal, Marion Grice’s four touchdowns against USC or Wisconsin, or Myles Jack’s four touchdowns against Washington. Brandin Cooks had a pretty nice day against Cal with his 232 receiving yards. There were games with seven touchdown tosses from Mariota and Taylor Kelly. Connor Halliday’s losing effort against Colorado State was spectacular. In terms of impact, it’s hard not to go back to Carey’s effort against Oregon.

Best performance, defense: As in every other category here, plenty to go around. But think way back to Washington State’s win over USC. Damante Horton had a 70-yard interception return that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. Then, after Andrew Furney’s 41-yard field goal put the Cougars ahead 10-7 with 3:15 left in the game, Horton picked off Max Wittek, which allowed WSU to run out the clock.

Season review: Arizona State

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
12:00
PM ET
We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with Arizona State.

Offense: With 63 total touchdowns and an average of 39.7 points per game, the Sun Devils were one of the most explosive offenses in the country. They eclipsed at least 50 points in half of their games and were very balanced, ranking in the top half of the league in rushing and passing offense. A lot of that has to do with quarterback Taylor Kelly, who really came into his own in his second season as a starter. His numbers weren’t as great as 2012, but from a leadership and control standpoint, you could see him making this “his team.” His adjusted QBR was seven points higher than last season -- which speaks volumes because the schedule in 2013 was much tougher than in 2012. Chris Coyle was the league’s first-team all-conference tight end and Kelly, Marion Grice and Jaelen Strong all earned second-team honors. And offensive coordinator Mike Norvell was one of the most sought-after assistants in college football. The name of the game is scoring points and the Sun Devils were 11th nationally and second only to the Ducks in the Pac-12. Grade: A

Defense: The one area the Sun Devils really wanted to improve in 2013 was their rushing defense. And they did. After allowing 182.8 yards per game in 2012, they cut the yards allowed to 137.6. But they allowed more points per game and had fewer sacks and fewer tackles for a loss per game than in 2012. The change in scoring defense wasn’t dramatic, they went from 24.3 ppg in 2012 to 26.6 ppg in 2013. But it was still right in the middle of the national average. Where they did excel, however, was in the turnover department. ASU boasted a plus-15 turnover ratio, including a league-high 21 interceptions. They were aggressive and opportunistic, landing three players on the first-team all-league squad (Will Sutton, Alden Darby, Robert Nelson) and three more on the second team (Carl Bradford, Chris Young and Osahon Irabor). Plus Sutton was the league’s defensive player of the year for the second straight season. Head coach Todd Graham personally oversees the defense and in some aspects there was legitimate improvement. In others, minor setbacks. But not enough to really ding them for a pretty good year. Grade: B

Special teams: Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez was a very solid 83.3 percent on his field goals, converting 25 of 30 kicks -- including 4 of 6 from beyond 40 yards. The punt team was a mess and the Sun Devils were last in the league in net punting. They didn’t return any punts or kickoffs for touchdowns and they allowed one kick off returned for a score -- in the bowl game against Texas Tech. They were middle of the road in terms of coverage, though Grice was one of the better kick returners in the league with an average of 24.1. But Gonzalez was really the strength and Graham went out of his way to note that special teams are an area of concern moving forward. Grade: C-

Overall: The loss to Texas Tech -- particularly the way the Sun Devils lost -- naturally leaves a sour taste on what should otherwise be viewed as a very good season. The Sun Devils started the year outside of the top 25 and finished 21st. They did win 10 games, won their division and had the best record in Pac-12 league play. If you’re able to look beyond the disappointment of the bowl game, it was a very strong season given the schedule they played. Graham, rightfully, shouldered all of the blame for the Holiday debacle. But he was also named the league’s coach of the year for the job he did. Perhaps the Sun Devils didn’t achieve their full potential. But they didn’t collapse down the stretch, either, and they proved they deserved to be a top 25 team. Grade: B+

Pac-12 bowl season? A gentleman's C

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
12:00
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The Pac-12 went 6-3 in its bowl games. On Dec. 9, the Pac-12 blog noted, "Anything less than 6-3 would be a major disappointment."

So the Pac-12 didn't notch a "major disappointment" this bowl season. And there was much rejoicing. Yay.

Sure, conference teams were favored in all nine games, but you can't win them all, right? A .667 winning percentage is solid by just about any measure. The super-awesome SEC is just 5-2 with a couple of tough games remaining.

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How would you grade the Pac-12's postseason?

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Why then am I so underwhelmed?

Short answer: It should have been better. Our Pac-12 bowl season grade? A gentleman's "C."

Part of the problem was the matchups, which were unusually forgiving. USC's blowout win over No. 20 Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl was the only win over a ranked team, mostly because the only other ranked team the Pac-12 played this bowl season was Stanford against No. 4 Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO, a 24-20 Spartans victory.

Another part of the problem was how things went down.

While Washington State fans seem split on whether the Pac-12 blog is allowed to call the Cougars' monumental double-dog-derp against Colorado State by the term that everyone immediately thought of (don't worry, we won't type "Couged it"), that was a quintessential example of a team forcibly yanking defeat from the jaws of victory.

Then there was Arizona State against Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl. For whatever reason, the Sun Devils simply didn't show up. We apologize for seeming to not give Texas Tech credit for a great win, but the Red Raiders need to understand the Sun Devils they played looked nothing like the Sun Devils of 2013. That game was utterly shocking, at both a player and coaching level. Todd Graham was right to take the blame afterward. His team wasn't ready to play.

That game reminded me of a coach who once told me that having a senior-laden team can become a mixed blessing for a bowl game. Sometimes, senior leadership provides focus to a locker room. And, sometimes, seeing that the seniors won't be accountable to the coaching staff and their teammates the following fall, they lose interest and start looking ahead to their own futures. My guess is the latter happened with Arizona State.

Stanford? It hardly played a perfect game, but the Rose Bowl was simply a good, hard-fought matchup that Michigan State took from Stanford, instead of the Cardinal giving it to the Spartans. The result served more as a validation of the Big Ten champs than a reduction of Stanford's national status.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Wilkerson
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesAnthony Wilkerson and Stanford didn't slip up too badly in the Rose Bowl loss to Michigan State.
That take mostly rings true for the Pac-12's bowl season. Going 6-3 won't represent a retreat; it won't cause a negative national re-evaluation of the strength of the conference. For one, if Auburn loses to Florida State in the national title game, no conference will post a dominant bowl season. Big 12 champion Baylor losing to Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and Alabama losing to Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl showed that bowl-season nuttiness can affect even the heaviest of favorites.

So kudos to USC, Oregon State, Washington, Oregon, Arizona and UCLA for taking care of business in their bowl games.

USC and Washington won despite coaching turmoil. The Ducks showed what a healthy Marcus Mariota looked like and gave defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti a great farewell with a dominant performance on that side of the ball. Oregon State, Arizona and UCLA brought their A-games and dominated.

My general feeling is the carryover to 2014 will be at least four and probably five teams ranked in the preseason: Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC and maybe Arizona State.

The Pac-12 bowl season was only OK. It could have been worse; it could have been better.

That's nothing to aspire toward, but at least the conference won't have to spend the offseason wringing its hands over its national status as we head toward the first season of a four-team College Football Playoff.

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