Pac-12: West Virginia Mountaineers

Looking back at some teams the current group of Pac-12 coaches have led during their respective head-coaching careers turns up an impressive list. All 12 have coached a team to a bowl appearance, 10 have finished a season with double-digit wins and eight have had teams appear in the AP top 10.

Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.

Here are some notable takeaways:

  • Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
  • Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
  • Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
  • Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
  • Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
  • Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
  • Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
  • Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
We're not going attempt to rank them ourselves, but here they are in reverse order based on each team's final AP ranking:

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian parlayed his successful 2013 season into the head-coaching job at USC.
No. 11 Steve Sarkisian, Washington, 2013

Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team:
The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.

No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013

Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008

Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team:
The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.

No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team:
The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceDavid Shaw's best team at Stanford didn't win the Pac-12 title.
No. 5 Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2013

Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.

No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.

No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.

No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at Kyle.Bonagura@espn.com.

Dykes replaces Tedford at California

December, 5, 2012
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California has hired Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, an offensive specialist, to replace Jeff Tedford as the Bears head football coach.

Why is the 43-year-old with a 22-15 record coaching in Ruston, La., a good hire in Berkeley?

For one, offense.

Louisiana Tech's offense ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring this season with 51.5 points per game. And it wasn't just about passing. Most intriguing is the solid balance, as the Bulldogs rushed for 227.2 yards per game, which ranked 18th in the nation. They also ranked 18th in the nation in passing efficiency while yielding just eight sacks.

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Seth PerlmanSonny Dykes went 22-15 in three seasons as coach of Louisiana Tech.
Dykes, who replaced recently fired Tennessee coach Derek Dooley at Louisiana Tech, is the former offensive coordinator at Texas Tech -- co-coordinator with now-West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen -- and Arizona, where he was largely responsible for the development of former Wildcats QB Nick Foles, now with the Philadelphia Eages. He learned offense from Hal Mumme and Mike Leach and is the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, so he's grown up around the business.

In 2006, the year before he arrived at Arizona, the Wildcats ranked 115th in the nation in total offense and 105th in scoring offense. In 2008, the Wildcats ranked 16th in scoring and 33rd in total offense.

Dykes was the 2011 WAC coach of the year and led the Bulldogs to a 9-3 finish this season, which included road wins over Illinois and Virginia. The Bulldogs also almost knocked off Texas A&M before losing 59-57.

Dykes is known as a good recruiter with a good eye for talent. He also is socially smooth, so he should be able to negotiate those demands at Berkeley, which isn't the typical environment for a coach who expects football to be first at all moments.

Any questions? Well, defense. The Bulldogs were horrible at it this year. They were much better a year ago. The first big question will be who Dykes hires as his defensive coordinator.

Still, Cal appears to have grabbed a rising star, a molder of quarterbacks, one who knows the West Coast but also has knowledge of other areas, including Texas and the Southeast.

He steps into a good situation. Cal has a newly remodeled stadium and upgraded facilities that are the match of any Pac-12 team. It has a good Bay Area recruiting base, and a brand name that allows for a national reach.

Dykes needs to know, however, that Bears fans, despite being pretty darn bright, have become demanding. Fans started to grumble about Tedford not when he posted his first losing season in 2010 but in 2008 and 2009 when he won 17 games. Seven or eight wins a season won't create much enthusiasm. (And Dykes won't have the services of standout receiver Keenan Allen, who announced Wednesday that he will enter the NFL draft).

Of course, if Dykes leads the Bears to their first Rose Bowl since 1959, they will immediately build a statue of him outside of Memorial Stadium.

Graham, Rodriguez face first desert duel

November, 23, 2012
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Todd Graham and Rich RodriguezUS Presswire, AP PhotoFirst-year coaches Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez face off Friday in the Territorial Cup.
There are two coaching approaches these days when it comes to preparing for rivalry games.

The new school -- Chip Kelly school, really -- preaches that every game is important and that rivalry games are only hyped up for fans, not about coaches and players.

The old school -- the Woody Hayes school -- preaches that a great season is ruined by a loss to a rival and a bad season is transformed by a victory.itroial
It seems appropriate then that the Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State, which the Pac-12 blog believes is one of the nation's most underrated in terms or pure bitterness, would feature two first-year coaches that represent these opposing approaches.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is new school.

“We prepare for every game with the same focus and intensity, and we’ll be doing the same against Arizona State," he said. "After I got hired, I heard about the rivalry from all the fans and alumni during the offseason. We’re really just treating this game like any other game, but of course, there will be a lot more attention because of the rivalry.”

Arizona State coach Todd Graham is old school.

“It is the biggest game of the year, every year," he said. "It is about Arizona State University winning the Territorial Cup. That’s it.”

Part of Graham's approach can be traced his his friendship/mentorship with Sun Devils legend Frank Kush, whose name is probably in the many dictionaries next to the term "old school."

"[Kush] has let me know, just like everybody else, that you can be 11-0 and if you don’t win this game, you have had an unsuccessful season," Graham said. "This is what college football is all about, rivalry games. Nothing has more passion than this one. I know, hands down, that to our fan base -- to the Sun Devil Nation -- that this means the most to them and we are working hard to represent them.”

Further, there's history between Rodriguez and Graham. They coached against each other in the 1993 NAIA national championship game, and Graham briefly worked for Rodriguez at West Virginia.

There is no public evidence that these guys detest each other. But the Pac-12 blog feels comfortable telling you their relationship isn't exactly warm, and that isn't exclusively based on their fans really, really not liking each other.

Each was asked about the other this week. Here are their responses from the official news conference transcripts.
Rodriguez: “We saw each other at a couple events up in Phoenix. I don’t have a whole lot of interaction with a lot of people other than the people who I work with every day. It is just the way that the coaching profession is. I hired him at West Virginia because I knew him from the recruiting trail. We were also starting something new at West Virginia, and he did a good job. After two years, he moved on and started to become a head coach shortly after that.”

Graham: “We knew each other from competing against each other in 1993 when we played for the National Championship, when he coached at Glenville State and I was at East Central. I also worked there [at West Virginia] for a brief time, but that is it.”

Doesn't sound like they will go camping together anytime soon, eh?

It would be fair to say that the Sun Devils are much better on defense than the Wildcats, but the Wildcats offense has often appeared unstoppable, other than a lost trip to Eugene, Ore. Arizona's Matt Scott is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, while running back Ka'Deem Carey is trying to win the national rushing title.

Graham has no problem praising Carey.

"He is as good as there is," he said. "He is, no question, the guy you have to stop and it is a tall order to do that. Not many people have even come close."

Of course, Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly & Co. have been pretty darn good this year averaging 36 points a game. The Wildcats defense gives up 33.6 points and 488 yards per game. So this one might be a high-scoring affair.

Just another game? Well, that's very new school, but don't expect it to feel like that tonight in Tucson.

Awards finalists announced

November, 19, 2012
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The finalists for college football's national awards have been named and five from the Pac-12 are up for postseason honors.

Running backs Kenjon Barner (Oregon) and Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) are finalists for the Doak Walker Award for the nation's best running back along with Wisconsin's Montee Ball.

Franklin (1,441 yards) and Barner (1,426 yards) rank fifth and sixth respectively in the country in rushing yards. Barner is second nationally in yards per carry (6.48) among players with at least 200 carries. He has 19 rushing touchdowns and Franklin has 10.

USC wide receiver Marqise Lee is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top wide receiver. He's joined by West Virginia's Stedman Bailey and Baylor's Terrance Williams as finalists.

Lee leads the nation with 107 receptions and 1,605 yards. He has 14 receiving touchdowns.

Tight ends Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) and Zach Ertz (Stanford) are up for the Mackey Award along with Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert.

Ertz and Seferian-Jenkins have almost identical numbers. Both have 58 catches, Seferian-Jenkins has 753 yards and five touchdowns to Ertz's 747 yards and six touchdowns.

You can see the complete list of finalists for all of the awards here.

The awards will be given out during the Home Depot College Football Awards Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m ET on ESPN. A nomination special will air on Nov. 20 at 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 15, 2012
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Taking stock of the seventh week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Lose starting QB Sean Mannion to a knee injury? No problem for Oregon State. Backup Cody Vaz, making his first career start, was exceptional, and the defense was opportunistic as the Beavers rolled 42-24 at BYU. Oregon State is 5-0 for the first time since 1939. So, yeah, this is big.

Best game: However you want to view the ending -- and the accurate way is Stanford got screwed by the Pac-12 officials! -- Stanford's 20-13 overtime loss at Notre Dame was great theater. Two good defenses, two struggling offenses, physical football and every point counted. And the rain provided a nice backdrop.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesStepfan Taylor was unable to find the end zone on the final play of the game.
Biggest play: Four of them actually: Four straight-ahead, overtime runs from Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor that didn't -- at least clearly and without a doubt to everyone -- get into the end zone. When Stanford gets a first-and-goal on the 4-yard line, you typically like its chances.

Offensive standout: Vaz completed 20-of-32 for 332 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the 42-24 victory at BYU. The efficiency rating on those numbers -- 180.6 -- would rate only slightly below West Virginia's Geno Smith for No. 1 in the nation. And the Cougars entered the game with one of the nation's best defenses.

Defensive standout: Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy is one of the Pac-12's most underrated players. He rolled up a team-high 10 tackles at Notre Dame, with 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He also had three quarterback hurries.

Special-teams standout: Know a good way to crush the hopes and dreams of an underdog? Return the third-quarter kickoff 100 yards for a TD. That is what Arizona State's Rashad Ross did to Colorado after the Buffaloes had rallied late in the second quarter to make it a 3-point game at halftime in Boulder. Ross' dash was the first -- and loudest -- of 31 unanswered second-half points from Arizona State in a 51-17 win.

Smiley face: Hey, how about a weekend with no chokes, with the favorites coming out on top, as well as Oregon State, a highly ranked underdog? Arizona State, UCLA, USC and California each took care of business as favorites, while the Beavers overcame the loss of their starting QB in a road date with a solid BYU team. If Stanford had prevailed instead of falling in overtime at Notre Dame, it would have been an exceptional weekend for the conference. Oregon, at 6-0, is already bowl eligible and Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and USC have five wins. At this point in the season, some of those six- and seven-win teams of past years are positioned to win eight, nine or even 10 games.

Frowny face: Stanford had a chance to make a big statement at Notre Dame but it fell just short. While the officiating got the publicity, the Cardinal are going to look at that game tape and slap their collective forehead many, many times. Lots of miscues, mistakes and missed opportunities.

Thought of the week: Maybe we need to give USC a break. Coach Lane Kiffin has decided to win ugly, so be it. Run the ball, play to his defense, etc. Fine. QB Matt Barkley is 30th in the nation in passing efficiency? USC is 48th in scoring offense? Sure, it's surprising. Sure, it doesn't fit our preseason image of the Trojans. Sure, it seems like this team isn't nearly as dominant as many projected. Still, USC is ranked ninth in the coaches' poll and, at 5-1 overall, is in good position in both the Pac-12 and perhaps even nationally. If the Trojans don't lose again, it won't matter if it was pretty.

Questions for the week: Is there a Heisman Trophy candidate in the Pac-12 this year? It appears that Barkley's candidacy is over. If a guy is going to emerge, it might happen Thursday in Tempe. Oregon's one-two punch of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas will be on display against a good Sun Devils defense. And what happens if ASU QB Taylor Kelly, presently third in the nation in passing efficiency, is lights out?
Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.)

Yes, the college football punditry and peanut gallery can sound like a broken record. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 and ranked seventh, and almost every sign suggests legitimacy, but, well, we've been down this road before. And not only with Notre Dame. It wasn't too long ago that everyone was blowing kisses at Florida State -- the Seminoles are finally back -- before it became a national punch line or cautionary tale, however you wish to view a loss at NC State.

Notre Dame plays host to No. 17 Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal might present the Irish their toughest test yet. Stanford, after all, beat USC. Whipped the once-No. 2 Trojans at the line of scrimmage, no less.

Of course, Stanford also wilted against Washington, making a Huskies defense that would get decimated by Oregon look stout.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
George Nkitin/AP PhotoStepfan Taylor and Stanford can perhaps clear the national title picture a bit by toppling undefeated Notre Dame.
The gist here is there is still a lot of fog over the college football season. We all say stuff, perhaps even with a feigned certainty -- Alabama is unbeatable! -- but we don't really know. The season remains rife with variables and plot twists, even with the first BCS standings being released Sunday.

There are 14 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions). Some teams mostly feel -- fairly or unfairly -- like curiosities: three in the Big East (Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers), Ohio, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State and Mississippi State. Others own undeniable heft: Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State and, yes, Notre Dame.

Odd that this weekend's Red River Rivalry feels so far off the radar, although both Texas and Oklahoma could play roles in winnowing the contenders and pretenders. The Sooners still have dates with Notre Dame and West Virginia, while the Longhorns conclude the season against Kansas State.

The "what ifs" are rampant. Such as: What if Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon all finish undefeated; who then plays for the title? Or switch out Oregon with West Virginia or Kansas State. There are the multiple unbeaten quandaries, and then there are all the best of the once-beaten comparisons, such as: Can USC get back into the national title hunt?

Again, so many variables in our penultimate season yoked by the lovely BCS system. It's difficult to predict how pollsters will react. And don't even start with the computers. With strength of schedule, it's not just what your team has accomplished, but what all its foes did. And all its foes' foes. Etc., etc.

What's also interesting is that the march toward clarity isn't always linear. At any moment, a couple of upsets can put a boot print in our consensus expectations. For example, what might have happened last season if LSU had been nipped in the SEC title game?

The good news is a page will turn next week. If Kansas State and West Virginia both survive tricky road games this weekend -- the Wildcats are at Iowa State, and the Mountaineers are at Texas Tech -- they meet in Morgantown on Oct. 20, so one of the Big 12's two unbeatens will fall.

Same goes for the SEC East. If No. 3 South Carolina manages to win at No. 9 LSU on Saturday, a visit to No. 4 Florida on Oct. 20 seems like the Rubicon for the division. Only one unbeaten will remain in the division, just as only one unbeaten -- Alabama or Mississippi State -- can emerge from the West.

And, if everyone then holds serve, we could have an epic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the SEC title game.

But, alas, that's getting ahead of ourselves.

We started with the notion that Stanford will provide a nice test for Notre Dame's legitimacy. The Cardinal, after all, are riding a three-game winning streak in the series.

But we know past success doesn't guarantee future results. Just look at your 401K. Or the Fighting Irish's storied history.

Is Notre Dame for real? Heck, is anyone for real?

It's probably best to turn to one of history's great college football pundits at times like this. As Socrates once noted when his preseason picks imploded, "I know one thing, that I know nothing."

Or, more charitably, at least very little.

Any Heisman hope in Pac-12?

October, 10, 2012
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It appears the Heisman Trophy is Geno Smith's to lose. And for good reason. The West Virginia quarterback's numbers are, well, insane.

He's thrown 24 touchdown passes with zero interceptions. He's completing 81 percent of his throws. His efficiency rating is over 200.

Yowza.

Perhaps he and the Mountaineers fall apart. Don't bet on, though. And pondering that is not why we are here.

Our issue is this: Are any Pac-12 players going to be invited to New York for the ceremony. As in: Just getting nominated is an honor.

According to ESPN.com's Heisman Tracker, four Pac-12 players are still getting attention for the bronze statue, at least as a court to surround Smith when he grasps the trophy.

Oregon's do-everything offensive weapon, De'Anthony Thomas, hasn't done much of late but he's fourth in the voting. His teammate, RB Kenjon Barner, is eighth. USC QB Matt Barkley, the preseason favorite, is not completely forgotten in fifth place. And Barkely's top target, receiver Marqise Lee, is 11th.

It seems like a good bet that at least one of these guys will be in New York for the ceremony.

And it seems like a good bet the guy who does the best on Nov. 3 when Oregon visits USC will be that guy.

 

 
ESPN's Brad Edwards, a numbers guru, provides a nice preview of what the BCS standings would look like if they were released this week, instead of next Sunday.

His conclusion? He writes, "[It] feels like the national title hunt is already down to just three conferences and Notre Dame."

That's the Pac-12, SEC and Big 12 plus the Fighting Irish, who play Stanford on Saturday and USC on Nov. 24.

He projects that if the national title game were played tomorrow, it would be Alabama vs. Oregon.

He also projected that Oregon State would rank ninth, USC 11th and Stanford 12th in the standings.

Oregon fans surely will like the sound of that.

The question then would be if Oregon wins out and stands as the 13-0 Pac-12 champion on Nov. 30, are the Ducks certain to be in the title game?

Maybe. Perhaps even probably. But maybe not, too. Writes Edwards:
The Mountaineers or Irish probably would have a computer edge on the Ducks, so they can't be counted out of the race, but they'll need style points to close that poll gap.

So, Oregon fans, assuming the SEC is going to put its champion in the title game, you probably should root for Notre Dame to lose, and it would boost your standing if that happened to Pac-12 teams, by the way.

And, as cool as Geno Smith is, you might want the Mountaineers to slip, too.
The Stats & Info gang is once again doing its weekly conference power rankings. And the Big 12 has the early bragging rights, followed by the SEC and then the Pac-12.

The power rankings use a formula that equally weights the rankings from the AP poll and a combination of the available BCS computer rankings. The Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 all rank first, second and third, respectively, in the AP poll and computer rankings.

You can see the complete Stats & Info story here.

As Sharon Katz points out in the article, it's early. And while the Big 12 is 15-2 against teams outside the conference, its teams have only faced three AQ opponents.

Writes Katz:
It should be no surprise that the Pac-12 is in third place after going 6-1 against AQ opponents on Saturday, including four wins by double digits. Pac-12 teams upset three ranked opponents at home (No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 16 Nebraska and No. 18 Oklahoma State) on Saturday and are 17-6 overall in games outside the conference.

The Big 12 has five ranked teams in Oklahoma (5), West Virginia (9), Texas (14), TCU (16) and Kansas State (21). The Pac-12 has five ranked teams in USC (2), Oregon (4), Stanford (21), UCLA (22) and Arizona (24).

The one major difference? The Big 12 is yet to play a ranked opponent. The Pac-12 played four of them in Week 2.

So what do we take from this? Not a whole lot. Especially two weeks into the season. The Pac-12 has faced significantly stiffer competition as a conference and come out ahead in most of those games.

More USC, Matt Barkley plaudits

August, 28, 2012
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USC is ranked No. 1 in the Grantland Rice Super 16 Preseason Poll, which is voted on by members of the Football Writers Association of America.

Oregon is fifth. LSU is second, Alabama third and Oklahoma fourth.

Trojans QB Matt Barkley is officially the leading preseason candidate -- shocker, I know -- for the Heisman Trophy after capturing 9 of 11 first-place votes in the Heismanpundit/CBSSports.com Heisman Straw Poll.

The poll is a weekly survey of actual Heisman voters from across the country. Barkley was on 10 of 11 ballots, which means somebody decided to be quirky and cute with their vote instead of taking it seriously.

Barkley had 29 points. Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball, who placed fourth in last year's Heisman vote, was second with 12 points, West Virginia senior quarterback Geno Smith was third with six points, while Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson was fourth with five points.

Senior quarterbacks EJ Manuel of Florida State and Collin Klein of Kansas State each received a first-place vote to pull into a tie with Oregon sophomore running back De'Anthony Thomas for fifth place. Manuel and Klein were the only players besides Barkley to merit a first-place vote from the panel.
RodriguezChris Coduto/Icon SMICoaches around the country have implemented parts of Rich Rodriguez's hurry-up spread offense.
Here's an interesting story from Andrea Adelson about "copycat coaches." It's interesting not only because it's a good topic but also, for our purposes, because its central figure is new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, arguably the father of the modern day, run-first spread-option attack.

Andrea sent over the Q&A she did with Rodriguez, which we're going to publish in its entirety. It includes lots of background on Rodriguez and his innovative offense, which has been copied by a lot of folks -- yes, including that guy up in Eugene.

Thanks to Andrea for doing all the legwork and writing a nice story.

When was the first time you had coaches asking for pointers on your offense?

Rich Rodriguez: When we went to Tulane, the second year we had a good year, with Shaun King. Then you had some games on TV, and that was the first time after that season that a lot of coaches started coming and visiting and calling. We beat BYU in a bowl game, and Lavell [Edwards] was the head coach, Norm Chow the offensive coordinator. So after the game, they said, ‘Would you come over and talk some football with us? I’m thinking are you kidding me? This is Norm Chow and Lavell Edwards, the passing gurus. I said I’ll do it on one condition. You have to give me some of your information, too. You have to teach me what you’re doing. Norm and I have been friends since that time. It was a great trip.

What was your connection with Tommy Bowden at Tulane?

RR: At Glenville, I went to the Bowden Passing Academy and I always talked football. Tommy had taken an interest in what we were doing. We never worked together when he called me to be offensive coordinator. It was really flattering. I asked, ‘Will you let me run my offense?’ He said sure. Tommy was the first big name, big coach, who took an interest in what we were doing. When we went to Tulane, there were a few folks. At Clemson, we saw a few more. Then at West Virginia, it wasn’t as good the first year we were there, but after that it took off again. I can remember Urban [Meyer], when he first got the Bowling Green job, we were at a coaches convention hospitality bar. He told me, ‘I’d like to run some of your offense.’ So he sent his whole staff for a week, we traded some ideas and so we always traded ideas. The Oklahoma guys, Bob Stoops and I became friends. They would come to our place or we’d go to Oklahoma and spend the week. After the Sugar Bowl year in the 2005 season, we had a whole bunch more. Some 30 different staffs come in, Penn State, Ohio State some non-traditional non-spread coaching staffs. I said maybe I am being too open, but I thought it was a great opportunity for us to learn, too. To pick their brains.

(Read full post)

Phil Steele released his latest poll projections yesterday and there are some interesting postseason destinations for Pac-12 teams.

First, here's a look at his projections:
  • Washington (Pac-12 No. 7) vs. Air Force (MWC No. 4) in the New Mexico Bowl
  • Utah (Pac-12 No. 5) vs. Boise State (MWC No. 1) in the Maaco Bowl
  • UCLA (Pac-12 No. 3) vs. Kansas State (Big 12 No. 5) in the Holiday Bowl
  • Cal (Pac-12 No. 6) vs. Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
  • Stanford (Pac-12 No. 2) vs. West Virginia (Big 12 No. 3) in the Alamo Bowl
  • Oregon State (Pac-12 No. 4) vs. NC State (ACC No. 4) in the Sun Bowl
  • USC (BCS Pac-12 No. 1) vs. Wisconsin (BCS Big 10 No. 1) in the Rose Bowl
  • Oregon (BCS at-large) vs. USF (BCS ACC No. 1) in the Orange Bowl

Some quick thoughts:
  • I agree that Oregon and USC will both be in BCS games -- though I think one of them is going to end up in the national championship game. I don't know which one, but I'm pretty confident one of them will be there.
  • Some pretty lofty projections for Oregon State and UCLA. I don't have any issue with projecting either them to the postseason, but I think their predicted finishes are too high. The Beavers still have significant holes on the offensive line. And though there is promise of an improved running game, I'm going to have to see it before even considering them in the same class as Utah, Cal and Washington. Likewise for the Bruins -- who need to figure out who is going to be their quarterback before we anoint them to a mid-level bowl game.
  • Washington, Stanford, Cal and Utah are tough to predict because they could all land anywhere between the two and five hole. Washington to the New Mexico Bowl though is a head-scratcher. I'd likely reserve that spot for Oregon State, UCLA or even Washington State -- who I would say is probably more bowl ready than either the Bruins or the Beavers.
  • Guessing USF (a Big East team) ends up in the Orange Bowl since Florida State (an ACC team) is tabbed for the national championship? However that math worked out, if it actually comes to fruition that Oregon plays USF, the Ducks will make last year's Orange Bowl (West Virginia 70, Clemson 33) look like a nail biter.
But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical;
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable, clinical, intellectual, cynical.

Pac-12's 1,000-yard rushers

June, 6, 2012
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Last week we brought you our predictions for the Pac-12's 3,000-yard passers in 2012. And judging from the comments, it seems like at least 10 quarterbacks are going to hit the 3K mark.

Are folks just as optimistic about the running backs reaching 1,000 yards?

First, let's take a look at last year's 1K rushers:
So that's five of the seven coming back. Let's break it down by team.

[+] EnlargeKaDeem Carey
AP Photo/Don RyanArizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is likely to get more carries in Rich Rodriguez's offensive system.
Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: The Wildcats ran the ball the second fewest of any Pac-12 team last season (331 attempts), but Carey still managed 425 yards on 91 carries. Arizona will run the ball significantly more under Rich Rodriguez -- who usually has one of the top rushing offenses in the nation. His running backs had more success at West Virginia than at Michigan, where QB Denard Robinson sucked up most of the yards. Carey will be close and it might come down to whether Arizona plays a 13th game.

Cameron Marshall, Arizona State: He did it in a pass-first system on an injured ankle. Now he's in a run-first system and healthy. Do the math. Marshall should flourish in a downhill system. The Sun Devils have deep group behind him -- maybe the deepest in the conference -- but I can't imagine anyone cutting into his carries too deeply that it hinders his ability to get back to 1K.

Isi Sofele, Cal: There are mumblings that Cal might move to more of a committee approach and Sofele might not get the same number of carries as last year (252). Even so, he'll still probably be chairman of that committee and will have ample opportunity to reach 1,000 yards again. He'll get there.

Tony Jones, Colorado: The Buffs' offensive line might be their strongest offensive asset with standouts like tackle David Bakhtiari and center Gus Handler. That bodes well for Jones, who showed he can be very explosive backing up Rodney Stewart last year. But the Buffs spent a lot of time playing catch-up last season and couldn't commit to the run as much as Jon Embree probably would have liked (401 attempts). If they can't develop a downfield threat, Jones is going to see a lot of eight-in-the-box.

Kenjon Barner, Oregon: He was knocking on the door last year with 939 -- and that was behind LaMichael James and his 1,805 yards. Barner will see more carries than his 152 last season, though he'll still have to split carries with De'Anthony Thomas and the Ducks' new quarterback. Still, no one in the conference runs the ball more than Oregon so Barner shouldn't have any trouble getting there.

Committee, Oregon State: We know Oregon State wants to run the ball more. The Beavers were dead last in the conference last season in attempts (318) and rushing yards (1,043) and there are still issues on the offensive line that need to be sorted out. Several players are expected to contribute -- but chances are one individual won't get over 1,000 yards.

Stepfan Taylor, Stanford: The Cardinal have a committee approach, but even so, Taylor has gone over 1,000 yards in back-to-back years. The loss of guard David DeCastro hurts a bit, but the Cardinal are dedicated to the run and Taylor is a fantastic back. Shouldn't have any trouble three-peating.

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA: The new system at UCLA will be pass-oriented. But Franklin (976 yards last year) won't be completely ignored. Just look at Marshall's numbers from ASU when Noel Mazzone was running the show and you can see that running backs are still a big part of the attack. And the Bruins might run a little more until the new quarterback finds his way in the system. He'll be close.

Curtis McNeal, USC: He just cracked the club by five yards last season. This year he'll have the benefit of a 13th -- maybe even a 14th -- game to get there. Can't imagine many teams will stack the box and dare Matt Barkley to beat them with his arm. McNeal should clear 1K easily.

John White, Utah: No back carried the ball more in the conference and only three players in FBS football had more rushing attempts. There's no reason to think the Utes won't take that same approach. White is an explosive back who is a proven workhorse. If Utah can get the passing game going, it will open up more for White who could probably match his yards total with fewer carries.

Committee, Washington: Chris Polk was a special running back -- the kind of guy who could run for speed and run for power. He's gone and there are questions on the offensive line where there weren't last year. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will probably headline the committee and Washington's balanced approach (52-48 run-pass ratio last year) will allow for plenty of opportunities for both. They should easily combine, but unless one steps up as an 18-20 carry-per-game back, it's unlikely an individual will reach 1K.

Committee, Washington State: The pie for carries is already small considering the offense. Then you have Rickey Galvin (1A), Carl Winston (1B) and Marcus Mason (1C) cutting into the pie even more to nibble on whatever slices are left. Running backs in Mike Leach's world are better used in the passing game on swings and screens in this offense. So don't expect a 1K rusher.

Ranking coaches, Nos. 1 to 124

May, 10, 2012
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Kyle WhittinghamBoyd Ivey/Icon SMIUtah's Kyle Whittingham is 6-1 in bowl games, including a Sugar Bowl win over Nick Saban.
Again, we love lists. We love rankings.

The Sporting News goes all out with its latest: Ranking all FBS coaches from Nos. 1 to 124. From No. 1 Nick Saban -- no argument -- to UMass' Charley Molnar in last place.

How does the Pac-12 rate? Oregon's Chip Kelly rates No. 6 overall and first in the conference -- no argument -- and 11 of the 12 rank among the top 75. Colorado's Jon Embree is rated No. 106, but, of course, that's entirely based on him being a first-time head coach in just his second year taking over a major rebuilding project.

The Pac-12 coaches go like this:

6. Chip Kelly, Oregon
17. Mike Leach, Washington State
20. Lane Kiffin, USC
21. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
30. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
32. David Shaw, Stanford
39. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
55. Mike Riley, Oregon State
57. Jeff Tedford, California
68. Jim Mora, UCLA
75. Todd Graham, Arizona State
106. Jon Embree, Colorado.

Kevin and I ranked the Pac-12 coaches a few weeks back -- you can see our lists here.

Such lists are, obviously, subjective and highly fluid. You can bet any such ranking of coaches will look substantially different in mid-January. So I'm not going to quibble much with TSN's list, even if I did slap my forehead a few times.

Not too much.

Whittingham and Rodriguez are too low.

For one, it's cloudy how BYU's Bronco Mendenhall, ranked 15th, is ahead of Whittingham. They have nearly identical records in seven years and Whittingham is 4-3 against Mendenhall. He also has a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama -- and Saban -- and is 6-1 in bowl games. And, er, did anyone at TSN see last year's Holy War in Provo?

As for Rodriguez, too much is made of his Michigan tenure, a mismatch from the beginning where everything was stacked against him. And it's not only his success at West Virginia, which included four Big East titles and two Coach of the Year awards, that should push him into the top 25. It's also what he did at Glenville State -- practically (re)inventing the spread option offense -- and as the offensive coordinator at Tulane and Clemson.

As for the Pac-12 in general, TSN notes its average ranking of coaches is 43.8, which ranks third behind the Big 12 (27.2) and SEC (43.8).

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