Stanford Football: David Shaw

While some like to gleefully dance around a raging bonfire in nothing but a loincloth with the heads of college football coaches on pitchforks, the Pac-12 blog is less demonstrative. And more empathetic.

It believes there is no glee in seeing someone fired, even if said coach is snarky, unavailable or arrogant. Let he who is not sometimes snarky, unavailable or arrogant cast the first stone! (Pac-12 blog starts sheepishly whistling.)

That's why the Pac-12 blog cringes every year when it acts as a reluctant prophet of doom by putting a thermometer to each conference coaches' stool and announcing a temperature. It gives us no pleasure to tell the coach to slide over a bit so we can scramble some eggs and rustle up some bacon (thick cut) on a portion of his seat.

Ah, but there is good news in 2014. The Pac-12 coaching stools range from comfortably chilled to slightly warm to the touch. There are no Will Muschamps, Mike Londons or Dana Holgorsens in the Pac-12 this year.

So while there's always going to be someone stuck at No. 12 when Pac-12 teams are ranked, there's good reason to believe the conference just might get through a season without a coaching change -- at least not one created by a boot and a slamming door.

1. David Shaw, Stanford: Shaw has won consecutive Pac-12 titles. He inherited a good thing from Jim Harbaugh and made it better. He's a Stanford graduate and he loves raising his family among family in Palo Alto. While many view him as a future NFL coach -- and you never say never in coaching -- he's the most likely guy on this list to be in the same place a decade from now.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora is 19-8 in two seasons at UCLA.
2. Jim Mora, UCLA: In just two seasons, Mora has built the Bruins into a Pac-12 and national contender. He has considerable positive momentum on the field and in recruiting. The most likely scenario for departure is him leaving on his own accord. UCLA can avoid that by continuing to invest in the football program -- read: coaching salaries and facilities upgrades.

3. Todd Graham, Arizona State: Mora and Graham are really 2A and 2B, as they have both turned so-called "sleeping giants" into potentially awakening giants. While some still believe Graham could eventually have a wandering eye, every indication -- including this -- is he is setting up for the long term in Tempe.

4. Chris Petersen, Washington: Petersen is not only secure because he's in his first season with the Huskies, he's also secure because he's Chris Petersen, who's widely regarded as an elite coach. Of course, if he's a 7-5 or 6-6 Chris Petersen in December, then the Sark II jokes will begin.

5. Mike Leach, Washington State: While Leach isn't great at avoiding controversy -- he feels no need to place a filter between his brain and mouth -- his team took a big step forward last year. Further, he seems like a great fit in Pullman and with Coug fans, who enjoy his quirkiness. Finally, he's got a good and supportive AD in Bill Moos, who has tirelessly worked to improve the facilities around the program.

6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: Rodriguez has done a good job his first two years in Tucson, winning more than a few games he shouldn't have, as well as grabbing a pair of bowl victories. What knocks him down here is Graham's success in Tempe and Graham's 2-0 record in the Territorial Cup. Rich Rod can't afford for that to become a long-term trend.

7. Mike Riley, Oregon State: The notion that Riley could be terminated feels unlikely, but there is a faction of Beavers fans that is dissatisfied with the program, in large part because of Oregon's rise to national prominence. If those folks would write the athletic department a $68 million check, they'd have more legitimacy and a better chance of getting an audience with AD Bob De Carolis.

8. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado: MacIntyre's early returns are solid. Colorado improved in myriad ways last year. He seems like a good fit. But the Buffaloes are just 1-8 in conference games the past two seasons. You'd suspect fans are ready to show some patience, but a coach is never secure until he starts winning conference games.

9. Steve Sarkisian, USC: How can Sarkisian be all the way down here in his first year? For one, it's because his hiring wasn't overwhelmingly greeted with celebratory cheers. But it's also that USC fans have a small window for satisfaction: Pac-12 championships and national titles. You even can win a bunch of the former and not be loved if you're not competing for the latter.

10. Mark Helfrich, Oregon: Helfrich has some of the same issues as Sark, though he's in his second year leading a nouveau riche program as opposed to an old-school power. He won 11 games and was in the national title picture much of 2013 but some Ducks fans only know him for Not Being Chip Kelly. The Ducks are again Pac-12 favorites and top national title contenders. If they lose more than one regular-season game, though, some fans might become disgruntled. Not saying it's right, but it would happen.

11. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Whittingham is the starting line on this list for where there's actually some real warmth, but he also has a strong track record with his program and a legitimate excuse: It ain't easy moving up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Still, Utes fans are eager to gain some traction in the South Division. Whittingham should be safe with a return to the postseason, but a third consecutive losing record could tighten the screws considerably.

12. Sonny Dykes, California: Dykes is only in his second season, which typically would mean he's safe. The conventional wisdom is a coach needs at least three and preferably five years to be fairly evaluated. But college football has become far less patient with losing -- even academic bastions like Berkeley -- and Cal has spent a bunch of cash for fancy facilities upgrades. The expectation here is Dykes will be back in 2015 if his team wins three or four games and shows improvement in terms of soundness and consistent focus. But he can't afford another feckless 1-11 season.
Over on the SEC blog, Alex Scarborough decided to take a look at some heartbreakers in the SEC in recent years in honor of the U.S. soccer team’s heartbreaking finish on Sunday.

The Pac-12 is no stranger to last-minute agonies. They might not have fancy names like “The Kick-6” or "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare." But whether it’s nonconference or in-conference, the last few years have provided Pac-12 fans with plenty of tears in their tea (or tears of joy, depending on which colors you wear).

Here are a few in that last few years that come to mind.

[+] EnlargeKivon Cartwright, Tanner Hedstrom, Theron West, Joe Dahl
AP Photo/Matt YorkA second-half New Mexico Bowl collapse, where it squandered a 22-point lead to Colorado State, ended Washington State's 2013 season with a thud.
Misery in New Mexico: Colorado State was down by eight points with less than two minutes left in last year's New Mexico Bowl. But they were able to capitalize on a pair of late fumbles from Washington State as the Rams went on to erase a one-time 35-13 deficit. Lost was a sensational six-touchdown, 410-yard effort from Connor Halliday. Remembered is a meltdown so inconceivable, the Pac-12 blog still can’t fully comprehend it.

Busted in South Bend: Did he or didn’t he? Stanford fans will swear up and down that Stepfan Taylor crossed the goal line with a second effort. Notre Dame fans are convinced the play was dead and the Fighting Irish had stopped Taylor on fourth down in overtime, sealing a 20-13 victory. The review judge agreed with the Irish. If it’s any consolation, the Cardinal went on to win eight straight games and the Rose Bowl. But that one was a stinger.

Apples and apples: Washington State has been on the good side of a few close Apple Cups. Therefore, by definition, Washington has been on the bad side. There was the 2012 game where Washington let an 18-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter. And, of course, the famed 2008 "Crapple Cup", where winless Washington fell 16-13 in overtime to 1-11 Washington State.

Masoli mastery: Oh ‘Zona Zoo ... you were so ready to storm the field in 2009. Then Jeremiah Masoli hit Ed Dickson on an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left to tie the game at 31-31 before his 1-yard touchdown locked up a 44-41 win in double overtime. Cheers for the Ducks, heartbreak for the Wildcats.

Another Ducking: This one was as slow burn. After California pulled to within 15-13 against the Ducks in 2010, the hurry-up Oregon offense slowed down. The Ducks went on a grinding 18-play, 65-yard drive that even David Shaw would have to fist bump. It lasted 9 minutes and 25 seconds to run out the clock and prevent the Golden Bears -- who put forth a stellar defensive effort -- from ever getting the ball back.

Double Ducked: Oregon wasn’t on the cheery end of all the close games in the last few years. Field goal misses in 2011 and 2012 put Oregon on the sour side of a couple close games. In 2011, it was a missed 37-yard field goal at home against USC that would have tied the game at 38-38 as time expired. The kicking game cost the Ducks again in 2012 at home against Stanford, where a missed 41-yard field goal set up Jordan Williamson’s 37-yard game winner for a 17-14 Cardinal win.

Territorial blues: We can’t mention close games without bringing up the 2010 Territorial Cup. First, Arizona State's James Brooks blocked a PAT that would have given Arizona a 21-20 edge with 27 seconds left in the game. Instead, the game went to two overtimes. And with ASU leading 30-23, David Douglas scored on a 9-yard run for 'Zona. But the PAT was blocked again, by Brooks, again, giving the Sun Devils a 30-29 victory.

Seattle thriller: I can’t think of a single instance of the Pac-12 blog second-guessing a coach’s decision to go for two and end a game. This isn’t one of them. It’s gutsy. So first, I say bravo to Mike Riley. That said, a failed 2-point attempt was the difference in Washington’s 35-34 2OT win in 2010. As it turns out, the Beavers would go on to lose four of their next six and miss the postseason. Washington would finish with seven wins and advance to the Holiday Bowl.

There are more. Of course there are more. There are always more. And I'm sure you'll remind us of them. Ted would love to hear your thoughts.

Links: ASU's big recruiting day

June, 24, 2014
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I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was break me
Yeah, you wreck me.
video
As it becomes more and more apparent that some form of an early signing period has a good chance to work its way into college football, it’s time to caution against unintended consequences.

On the surface, an early period -- whether it's before the season, shortly after Thanksgiving, or at some other point -- has been billed as an opportunity for high school seniors to end their recruiting process so they can move on with their senior years. No more phone calls, no more text messages, no more distractions. And for some of these kids, it’ll work out just like that.

Just don’t confuse the notion that because it’ll help make the recruiting process better for some, that it’ll have that effect on a majority. That’s unfounded.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw believes that an early signing period would create more problems than solutions for both players and programs.
Stanford coach David Shaw has been one of the most outspoken coaches in the country against implementing an early signing period for various reasons, but he’s particularly wary of how it’ll change recruiting practices.

"The reasoning behind it is really bad," he said. "I think we should let these young men take as much time as they need without coaches forcing them, because that’s what will happen. College coaches will be pressuring these guys to sign early, and I think that’s wrong."

The rebuttal to this concept seems to be something along the lines of "you can’t force a kid to sign."

For the four- and five-star recruits of the world -- the ones whose recruitments are more heavily publicized -- this is probably true. The player, in this case, holds the upper hand, and coaches will always be more willing to invest more time to land potential stars.

It won’t work that way for the less-heralded recruits, though. They’ll instantly become susceptible to conditional offers -- a program might extend an offer good only through the first signing day. Even if a recruit isn’t ready to make the final call, he could feel compelled to sign anyway out of fear he could miss out on what will ultimately be his best, or only, opportunity.

Not all programs will operate that way, but enough will to change the recruiting game.

The bottom-line result here is that more kids will inherently wind up at places that might not be the best fit. And because of that, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which it doesn’t lead to more transfers. Speculating on how widespread these potential pitfalls would be is nearly impossible to do, but they certainly need to be taken into account before the NCAA moves forward on the issue.

What also needs to get ironed out is how strictly the NCAA will enforce those early letters of intent.

The way Shaw sees it, those kids that get pressured into signing before they’re ready won’t ultimately be held to those commitments if they change their minds down the road.

"There will still be guys that sign in that early signing period that will want to change. Whether it’s because of a coaching change or something else happens," he said. "They’re going to want to change, and [the NCAA] is going to let them out of it."

If that’s the case, then what’s the point?

Shaw’s words have always rung sincere, but it should also be noted that a change to the current system would likely affect Stanford more negatively than other schools because of the emphasis the school places on its academic admission standards. Often times, even with some of the most high-profile recruits, the football coaching staff doesn’t get the green light from the admissions office on specific kids until days before the February signing day.

Those in the Stanford football program aren’t confident that process would change with an earlier signing day, and most hold the opinion that it shouldn’t have to.

Then again, this is the NCAA we’re talking about. Why would academics play a role?
It has been 296 days since the Stanford football team opened fall camp to begin preparations for the 2013 season. If that day marks the official start to an athlete’s season then Zach Hoffpauir has been in season for 296 days.

For Hoffpauir, the conclusion of the Rose Bowl meant the beginning of baseball season. One of four Pac-12 athletes to play both sports, he immediately shifted gears and begun preparations for what turned out to be a very successful sophomore season for the safety turned outfielder.

[+] EnlargeHoffpauir
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerStanford OF Zach Hoffpauir, who will battle for a starting safety spot this fall, is a big reason why the Cardinal advanced to the Super Regional.
And thanks to a walk-off home run from freshman Tommy Edman on Monday against Indiana, the Cardinal, who were the No. 3 seed in the four-team Indiana regional, advanced to this weekend’s Super Regional at Vanderbilt. Hoffpauir was 5-for-19 in the series including a 3-for-5 performance with a home run and a triple in a 10-7 win against Indiana on Sunday.

Balancing the academic workload at Stanford with both sports is a challenge, but he’s in a unique position in that both head coaches -- David Shaw (football) and Mark Marquess (baseball) -- were multi-sport athletes as students at Stanford. Shaw made brief cameos with the track and basketball teams in addition to his role as a wide receiver in football, while Marquess also pulled off the football-baseball double.

“When your coaches are supportive of [playing both], it relieves a lot of pressure,” said Hoffpauir, who ranks second on the Cardinal with a .332 batting average and seven home runs. “It’s nice to have both coaches that have done it too, so they know where I’m coming from.”

When Hoffpauir went through the recruiting process, he sought out a place that would not only allow him to play both sports but provide an environment conducive to being successful in both. Stanford stood out immediately. John Elway in the 1980s, Toby Gerhart a few years back and, most recently, Tyler Gaffney are a few notable examples of how it has worked in the past.

“Stanford was really only program [recruiting me] that had repeated success of two-sports athletes,” Hoffpauir said. “Was I just being told I could do both or is there evidence that it had worked in the past? It was a big part of why I chose Stanford.”

All three of those players had professional baseball opportunities -- Elway and Gaffney both played minor-league baseball before returning to football -- and if things play out the way Hoffpauir hopes, he will too. He’ll be draft eligible after next baseball season, and if the price is right, he said he’d be open to going the Gaffney route and leaving for the minor leagues.

Like Gaffney, Hoffpauir didn’t redshirt during his true freshman football season, which would allow him to step away from football for a season -- essentially redshirting his senior year -- then return to the football team the following year if he’s not sold baseball is the correct permanent fit.

“Things worked out pretty well for Gaffney,” Hoffpauir said.

Gaffney was selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft after rushing for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns upon his return.

Projecting how Hoffpauir’s chances at a career in professional football factor into that equation are difficult. Through two seasons, he’s been a special-teams mainstay, but has sat behind Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards on the depth chart at safety. With Reynolds off to the NFL, Hoffpauir is one of four players who will compete to start alongside Richards next season.

The Cardinal moved receiver Kodi Whitfield and quarterback Dallas Lloyd to safety before spring practice to bolster the competition that also includes Kyle Olugbode. Hoffpauir knows he missed out on important reps that could theoretically play a role in who starts, but he isn’t overly concerned by it.

“Yeah, you want to be out there, but I came here and wanted to play both,” he said. “You really earn your spot in fall camp. Once you get to fall camp, whoever is going to make the plays is going to play the position.”

When he had time, Hoffpauir would still sit in on meetings with the football team during the spring and has a specific workout regimen designed to allow him to bulk up but remain flexible.

When Hoffpauir officially returns to football, there will be a new position coach to waiting for him. Duane Akina was hired to replace Derek Mason, who coincidently left for the Vanderbilt job, as the secondary coach following Stanford's first session of spring practice.
Much of the talk this summer has been about scheduling, whether it be FCS teams, number of conference games, or scheduling a conference game and then counting it as a nonconference game.

But the Pac-12, as usual, will play some pretty tough schedules, and Ted Miller and Chantel Jennings are discussing which team they think has the hardest road through the league in 2014.

Chantel Jennings: I’m going with Oregon State. I certainly don’t envy Mike Riley. Yes, he has a weapon in Sean Mannion, but Mannion is going to have some pretty big tests throughout the season as he searches for his new safety blanket with Brandin Cooks down in New Orleans.

For starters, the Beavers begin their Pac-12 season with a trip to Los Angeles to play USC. Steve Sarkisian hasn’t been there long at all but if his record at Washington against Oregon State is any indicator (a very convincing win last season, 3-2 in five years), it’s going to be a tough one.

After that opening, the road gets smoother. Really, from Oct. 4 through the middle of November Oregon State has a pretty favorable schedule, with the major exception of a trip to Stanford on Oct. 25. I’d take the Beavers at home against Utah, Cal and Washington State and a road trip to Colorado shouldn’t be too terrible for Mannion and Riley.

But the last part of the Beavers schedule just gets brutal. And by brutal I mean uphill both ways without shoes on broken glass.

Yes, the Arizona State and Oregon games are at home, but those games are going to be tough. And a road trip to Washington sandwiched in the middle could be very bad as well. Early in the year, a visit to Seattle might not be that terrible but I’d imagine that by the end of November, Chris Petersen is going to have the Huskies clicking on all cylinders and that isn’t the friendliest of stadiums.

The Beavers should be bowl eligible by then (and if they’re not, Oregon State might not be seeing the postseason in 2014), but ending the season with that kind of a three-game stretch -- and a very possible three-game skid -- is rough.

Ted Miller: Stanford played the nation's fourth-toughest schedule last year, though it ranked only fourth in the Pac-12, and the Cardinal's 2014 slate is even tougher, at least from a preseason perspective.

For one, Stanford plays six road games, including five in conference play after having five at home in 2013. Five of those games -- Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA -- will be against teams likely inhabiting the preseason top 25. Oregon and UCLA are top-10 teams.

Then there are the Pac-12 misses: Arizona and Colorado. The Wildcats again look like a bowl team and the Buffaloes are improving, but Stanford's competition in the North Division have far more advantageous misses. Oregon, to note the Cardinal's chief rival, misses Arizona State and USC.

Speaking of USC, the Trojans visit in Week 2, sandwiched between Stanford's only easy games -- UC Davis and Army. After a bye, Stanford then travels to Seattle and Notre Dame on consecutive weekends. The season concludes with road games at rival California and UCLA, the South favorite.

This schedule is unrelenting. It's the best reason to favor Oregon in the North Division.

But if the Cardinal finishes 11-1 or even 10-2 and then win the Pac-12 championship game, you'd have to think they will be squarely in the hunt for a berth in the College Football Playoff.

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 23, 2014
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Happy Friday!
 

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 13, 2014
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How is it that the ultimate prize in the most macho sport invented is a piece of jewelry?

Video: Stanford coach David Shaw

May, 8, 2014
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video

Stanford coach David Shaw talks about Pac-12 meetings and spring practices.
Happy Friday!

The Pac-12 entered spring practices with more clarity and quality at quarterback than any conference in the nation by a wide margin. It exits with even more clarity at the position.

With new USC coach Steve Sarkisian announcing that Cody Kessler retained his starting job, and Utah's Travis Wilson's apparently successful return from a career-threatening medical condition (an intracranial artery injury diagnosed in November), the Pac-12 welcomes back 10 returning starters heading into the fall, with a handful -- such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion -- who are candidates for All-America honors and national awards.

Further, it became clear this spring that the Pac-12 is overflowing with quality receivers, with several teams combining depth, talent and experience at the position. So things figure to be pass happy in the fall.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC junior defensive lineman Leonard Williams is one of the few Pac-12 defensive stars returning this season.
But what about defense? After all, they say, defense wins championships, and Woody Hayes told us, "Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad," an optimistic take that leaves out the quarterback sack.

While conference teams average 6.4 returning starters on defense, and just three -- Arizona State (3), Oregon (5) and Utah (5) -- welcome back fewer than six starters on that side of the ball, the loss of star power is notable.

Just two first-team All-Pac-12 defenders return in 2014: USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Only four from the second team return.

Washington defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha and Oregon outside linebacker Tony Washington are the only returning defenders who ranked among the conference's top 12 in sacks last season. The same is true in the secondary: Only two of the top eight interception leaders are back in 2014.

So, without marquee guys chasing them or trying to steal their passes, life seems good at quarterback heading into the offseason. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, few teams seem to be fretting their situation on the mean side of the ball.

Take Stanford, owner of the Pac-12's best defense in 2013. While the Cardinal appeared more settled on offense than defense entering spring practices, the defense mostly ruled when the ball was snapped.

"No question," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "If you look at our defensive front, it's a bunch of fourth-year and fifth-year seniors ... we've got a lot of guys coming back who've played a lot of football for us."

While Stanford lost some big names, such as linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, it also welcomes back a strong foundation of seven returning starters and experienced backups. Shaw noted that Aziz Shittu is only non-fourth- or fifth-year guy in the mix for playing time in the front seven. He lauded defensive end Henry Anderson, an athletic 6-foot-6, 295 pounder, this spring as a potential breakout star this season, with an NFL future.

Over at Oregon, the Ducks are not only replacing two of three defensive linemen and three starters in the secondary, they also are breaking in a new defensive coordinator, as Don Pellum moved up from linebackers coach to replace the retiring Nick Aliotti.

Yet even when matched against Mariota and a potent and experienced Ducks offense, the defense held its own.

"I think we've had a great give and take as far as who's had the upper hand," Ducks coach Mark Helfrich said. "Marcus is obviously a difference-maker and a special guy. Defensively, we're building where we need to be. It was good give and take overall."

In the South Division, UCLA and USC both look strong on defense despite losing some marquee players. Both welcome back eight starters from accomplished units. Defending champion Arizona State lost almost all of its star power, but Sun Devils coach Todd Graham was almost defiant all spring about his expectations for his defense.

Of course, he's also counting on a number of newcomers playing key roles, which often is a matter of keeping the ole fingers crossed.

“People come here to play defense, that’s what we’re known for," he said. "We’re known for defense, so I don’t expect anything less than last year.”

While there might be some defensive questions among the teams thought to be competing for division championships, the defenses that finished on the bottom in 2013 could be much improved.

Oregon State, Colorado and California, the Nos. 9, 11 and 12 scoring defenses last season, each welcome back eight starters. The Golden Bears and Beavers, in particular, could dramatically improve if injury woes from 2013 reverse themselves.

"I think our team is tougher and better conditioned and our players are in a much better place than they were last year," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "I think that's something players noticed. We have some experience coming back. It's the second year in the system. So, yeah, I think everybody feels like we're a lot better football team than we were a year ago."

It seems certain that Pac-12 offenses will again be high-flying and potent in 2014. But the conference teams that have earned BCS bowl berths the past decade or so also have played good defense. As we exit spring and head into the offseason, there is hope -- but not nearly as much certainty -- there.

Stanford spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
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What we learned about the two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal in spring practice.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Defense is ahead of the offense. That shouldn’t be taken as a slight against the offense, either. Stanford’s defense is loaded back to front and set the tone for most of the spring. Replacing defensive coordinator Derek Mason, linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, defensive ends Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro and safety Ed Reynolds is daunting, but not reason for panic.

2. Henry Anderson is a potential All-American. He has flown under the radar at times, but Anderson will be among the best defensive ends in the country next season. The fifth-year senior has the size (6-foot-6, 295 pounds) and skill to alter opposing gameplans.

3. Kevin Hogan is ready to lead. With a 10-1 career mark against Top 25 opponents, it’d be easy to argue he arrived ready to lead, but there’s now no question that he's a leader. With a talented group of receivers coming back, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if his passing numbers make a big jump this season.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who will win the starting jobs on defense? One safety spot and one inside linebacker spot appear to be the biggest question marks going into the summer. Kodi Whitfield still figures to have a good shot at starting next to Jordan Richards at safety after converting from receiver, but Dallas Lloyd, Kyle Olugbode and Zach Hoffpauir will factor in. At linebacker, Blake Martinez and Joe Hemschoot are the frontrunners to replace Skov.

2. How will the young offensive line come together? Left tackle Andrus Peat is the only full-time starter back, but it’s a unit that won’t be light on talent. The other four players, like Peat, were from the lauded Class of 2012 and need time to gel. There was little rotation among the first team during spring practice as Stanford tries to ready the group. There won’t be much time either, with USC on the schedule in Week 2.

3. Will running-back-by-committee last? Coach David Shaw predicted a committee approach in 2013, but Tyler Gaffney forced his hand and took the lion’s share of the carries. This time, with four players close in skill level, the Cardinal will probably stick with it longer, which will jeopardize the school's six-year streak with a 1,000-yard back.

One way-too-early prediction:

Kelsey Young will lead the team in carries. He arrived at Stanford as a running back, switched to receiver and is now back at his natural position. He and Barry Sanders appeared to be the most dangerous of the backs with the ball in their hands, but they need to improve in pass protection. If Young proves to be a capable blocker, he’ll see the most snaps.
The Pac-12 coaches chatted about spring practices with reporters Thursday afternoon. The biggest news was Stanford coach David Shaw laying into the SEC for continuing to play eight conference games instead of nine, but there were some other worthy notes.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw, along with Oregon State's Mike Riley, was critical of the SEC's decision to stick with the 8-game conference schedule.
Here are a few.

  • Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said it's possible he'll use a receiver, where the Wildcats are deep, as a cornerback, where they are not. He also offered no further insight on what his pecking order might be at quarterback.
  • Arizona State coach Todd Graham said S Jordan Simone, a Washington State transfer, had a great spring. "He's been a blessing for us -- tremendous passion," Graham said. "One of the things that surprised me is how fast he was." Graham said he's in the mix to be the starting "bandit" safety. There was an "Or" between him and Marcus Ball on the post-spring depth chart.
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, California coach Sonny Dykes mentioned CB Darius Allensworth, LB Ray Davison and safety Griffin Piatt. He also lauded his redshirt freshmen offensive linemen as well as WR transfer Trevor Davis.
  • Colorado Mike MacIntyre said that defensive linemen Samson Kafovalu and Justin Solis, who missed spring due to academics, are on track to rejoin the team this summer, pending exams.
  • Oregon took a bit hit when receiver Bralon Addison suffered a knee injury, but coach Mark Helfrich noted that a pair of redshirt freshman receivers, Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, have "both shown flashes of what we thought they were in recruiting." On defense, he took note of defensive back Tyree Robinson.
  • While Oregon State coach Mike Riley is typically mild-mannered in his opinions, he does share Shaw's strong view that the SEC is gaming the system by playing one fewer conference game in the regular season. He said, "I don't think it's right. There's got to be some equity here."
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, Stanford coach David Shaw said outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi. "He had a great spring game, great spring session completely," Shaw said. "He's shown speed and size and on top of all that has shown a great understand of what to do."
  • When asked about young standouts this spring, UCLA coach Jim Mora cited defensive lineman Eli Ankou, offensive tackles Poasi Moala and Kenny Lacy and receiver Eldridge Massington.
  • USC coach Steve Sarkisian said frosh offensive linemen Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao will play in the interior at guard or center and not at tackle, where the Trojans are more questionable. He also lauded redshirt freshman CB Chris Hawkins.
  • It appears that Utah's moving of Marcus Sanders-Willams from running back to linebacker is permanent. Said Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, "We're only a couple of weeks into the evaluation process of it but it looks like a natural move for Marcus. He's got a lot of basic instincts."
  • Washington coach Chris Petersen said he had no update on the status of suspended QB Cyler Miles. He said the QB competition remained wide open. When asked about redshirt freshmen who performed well this spring, he cited RB Lavon Coleman, CB Jermaine Kelly, LB Keishawn Bierria and QB Troy Williams.
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, Washington State coach Mike Leach mentioned right offensive tackle Cole Madison and a pair of defensive linemen, Daniel Ekuale and Emmitt Su'a-Kalio. He also lauded the play of CB Daquawn Brown.
The first round of spring games in the Pac-12 kicks off Saturday with Colorado, Arizona and Stanford. All three games are free to the public. Here’s a primer on what you need to know.

Arizona

Where: Arizona Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)


What to watch: The Wildcats are in the hunt for a new quarterback to replace B.J. Denker and a new running back to replace Ka'Deem Carey. Rich Rodriguez hasn’t said much on the quarterback front, with Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer, Jesse Scroggins, Jerrard Randall and Nick Isham. Per Rodriguez, “one through five is pretty much bunched up.” You read that right --- one through five! How those reps all get divided will be very telling if Rodriguez is leaning one way. Or you could just crush some tea leaves and check the planetary alignment. Because right now, those make as much sense as any guesswork. One note about returning wide receiver Austin Hill, a 2012 Biletnikoff Award semifinalist who missed all of last season with a knee injury: “He won’t play a whole lot,” Rodriguez said. “He played a lot in spring. We will give him a couple series. He is a proven veteran and we know what we have in him. He’s slowly getting his confidence back. He’s 100 percent, but there’s a transition period in getting your confidence back.” … There will also be a celebrity/alumni flag football game kicking off at 11:15 a.m.

Colorado

Where: Folsom Field
Kickoff: Noon MST
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: Obviously, there is going to be a lot of attention at wide receiver to see who steps in for the departed Paul Richardson. The Buffs are eyeballing a rotation/committee of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, Bryce Bobo and Elijah Dunston. There is no Richardson out there. So, as Colorado wide receivers coach Troy Walters recently said: “We’re going to have to do it collectively … if we get two or three guys to do with P-Rich did, then we’ll be in good shape.” Richardson caught 83 passes for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. On the other side of the ball, guarding those receivers has been an interesting power struggle. The Buffs look set at their two starting cornerback spots with Greg Henderson and Kenneth Crawley. But developing depth has sparked a pretty good competition with Chidobe Awuzie and juco transfer Ahkello Witherspoon. (Colorado is quickly making a push to contend for the Pac-12 blog’s all-scrabble team.) … After the game, Colorado will host a Healthy Kids Day. Children can go through fitness stations with athletes from all of Colorado’s sports programs and get a free T-shirt.

Stanford

Where: Stanford Stadium
Kickoff: 1 p.m. PST (fan activities begin at 12:15)
TV: Pac-12 Network (replays throughout the week)

What to watch: How will the running back carries be divided? With Remound Wright suspended for the second half of spring practice, that opens the door for Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders and Ricky Seale to get some extra work. The Cardinal are trying to replace Tyler Gaffney, who carried 330 times for 1,709 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. Recall a year earlier, they were trying to replace Stepfan Taylor and his 322 carries, 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns. The Cardinal have used bell cows the last couple of seasons, though head coach David Shaw told the Pac-12 blog he’d prefer to have multiple guys working in a committee – similar to the stable of the 2011 group. Keep an eye on the offensive line as well. All five projected starters are from the much-heralded 2012 recruiting class. … All players will be available after the game to sign autographs.
This is my mailbag. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Cory in Phoenix writes: Kevin, on Athlon's coaches rating it seemed that much of the ratings for new coaches are based on the talent in place before they arrived. Is Todd Graham really a better coach than Rich Rod or is Jim Mora really better than Mike Leach? So my question, if you were the AD of Generic University, a hypothetical university in the Pac-12 that finished 6-6 (i.e., this is an average team with average talent), and could steal one Pac-12 coach to rebuild your program, which coach do you hire to lead your program to the Rose Bowl?

Kevin Gemmell: I get this question a lot in chats. And if I were running the show for the Generic U Fighting Millers, I would probably select David Shaw as my head coach for one very simple reason: We believe the same thing philosophically.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkIf you prefer a power game and a 3-4 defense, then your outlook is rosy with David Shaw.
I grew up in the Bay Area in the heyday of Joe Montana and Steve Young to Jerry Rice. I grew up watching Tom Rathman block for Roger Craig and Bar None Floyd blocking for Ricky Watters. I believe in the West Coast offense. So does Shaw.

I’ve been a beat writer for football teams that have run the spread and the option and the pro style. And the pro style is what I would run if I were a coach. Because I believe that a strong, power-based rushing attack wears teams downs over a 60-minute game; that 3-yard carries in the first quarter become 6-yard carries in the fourth. The ability to run power up and down the field is demoralizing to an opposition. It’s not just X's and O's. It’s a mentality.

Defensively, I believe in the 3-4, especially in the Pac-12, where talented edge rushers are invaluable and perimeter speed is critical.

Of course, that’s what makes this such a fun debate. Say what you want about Utah’s offensive inefficiencies the last few years, Kyle Whittingham can coach up an even front as well as any coach in the country. If I were running a 4-3, I’d snag Whittingham in a heartbeat. If I wanted uptempo, I’d tap Mark Helfrich. If I wanted to raid, I’d go with Mike Leach.

You get where I’m going with this. It’s a question of personal preference. It has less to do with the man and more of what the man believes and whether that’s simpatico with what you believe.


Gerry in Elko, Nevada writes: This isn't really a question, but rather giving praise to the blog. Year after year I hear Oregon State "fans" calling for the firing of Mike Riley because Oregon State doesn't achieve the same success that Oregon does. You all at the blog always seem to praise him for the job he has done for OSU. Anyway, I just got done reading the Athlon Coaches list and [Chris] Petersen at No. 2 sounds a bit high, but I'm OK with that. I expect him to drop a bit because I don't see him having much success in Year 1. The list for the most part is sound in my opinion, though. Keep up the good work!

Kevin Gemmell: Thanks for the kind words, Gerry. I had a great talk with Rick Neuheisel a couple of months back about Mike Riley and one of the things he said was that “Corvallis isn’t getting any closer to the best athletes.” And yet Riley has recruited a quarterback who is on pace to become the league’s all-time leading passer and a receiver who was last year’s Biletnikoff winner. That ain’t bad. Anyone question whether he’s still got “it?” I might be biased (oh wait, I am) because I’ve known Riley since I was covering the Chargers pre-Y2K. But the guy is one of the most respected coaches in the country for a reason. And I hope OSU fans will always appreciate what he has done for that program.

As for Petersen, as I noted in the piece, my first thought as well was that he was a bit high on the list for having never coached in the conference. But when you look at his resume, it’s as strong as anyone else and a good reminder for just how deep the roster of coaches is in this conference.

Consider the current Pac-12 coaches who have won BCS bowl games:

  • Petersen: 2 (2006 Fiesta, 2009 Fiesta)
  • Whittingham: 2 (2004 Fiesta, 2008 Sugar)
  • Rich Rodriguez: 2 (2005 Sugar, 2007 Fiesta)
  • Shaw: 1 (2012 Rose)

Others have won as coordinators or assistants. You can argue that Leach got hosed out of a BCS bowl game at Texas Tech in 2008 (and he’d agree with you). Ask Bob Stoops if he thinks Petersen is a good coach.

As someone who covers the conference, I talk to a lot of folks about other folks. Comes with the job. And so far I’ve yet to hear someone say anything other than glowing about Petersen and what he brings. Oh yeah, don't forget about that whole two-time national coach of the year thing.

Now, will that translate to a playoff berth in Year 1? Probably not. But the guy has a proven system, and I think the rest of the Pac-12 coaches realize that while it was tough before to go to Seattle, it’s about to get a lot tougher.


Justin in Denver writes: What is the deal with Stanford not showing interest in ESPN No. 1-rated QB Josh Rosen? It appears he wanted to go there and then decided on UCLA because Stanford was giving him no love. Does Stanford feel they have too many quarterbacks or did Rosen simply want to know too early from a school that takes its time? Any chance Stanford lures him out of his commitment?

Kevin Gemmell: There is so much insider baseball that goes on with recruiting that, honest answer, I have no clue what happened. Coaches aren’t allowed to talk about players they are recruiting, so we’re only getting one side of the story. Here’s what we got from Erik McKinney’s story when Rosen committed to UCLA last month.
While Rosen began his recruitment as a strong lean to Stanford, Cal actually emerged as the team to beat for a moment after Rosen's relationship with the Cardinal faded due to him not receiving an offer. But a poor season by the Golden Bears allowed UCLA to jump into the picture.

In the interest of giving you the best answer possible, I talked to McKinney this morning. Essentially Stanford looked at Rosen and Ricky Town and opted to offer a scholarship to Town (who has since committed to USC). Simple as that. One seemed like a good fit for the school. Another didn’t.

Just because a recruiting service (yes, even ours) ranks a quarterback as the No. 1 guy, that doesn’t mean he’s right for your program. And sure, you’d like to have a quarterback in every class. But Stanford brought in Ryan Burns two years ago and Keller Chryst last year, so it’s not like the cupboards are completely empty.

And let’s also remember this very important point. It’s only April! A lot can happen between now and next February. Stanford could decide to offer Rosen after all and he might swing back. UCLA could win the national championship and Rosen could be the Bruins QB of the future. Jim Mora, Steve Sarkisian and David Shaw might all quit the business and form a middle-aged boy band called West Coast Pro $tyle (their first single, "TempOh," is gonna be huge). A lot can change between now and signing day -- especially when we’re talking about fickle teens. So while it’s nice to have feathers in your cap in April. It’s better to put ink to quill in February.


TNT in Los Angeles writes: WSU QB recruiting. I would have thought it would be easier to get a quality QB to commit to the Cougs, considering Leach's air-raid system being so stat friendly. We were on two four-star guys and one committed to UW and the other then went to BSU. People are trying to write it off as no problem. When Jake Browning committed to UW, they said we would rather have Brett Rypien. When Rypien committed to BSU, they said he was afraid of the depth we have. Is any of that true?

Kevin Gemmell: Again, because coaches can’t talk about it, we’ll never really know the whole story.

As for depth, after incumbent Connor Halliday, you’ve got a pair of redshirt freshmen in Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk. And Peyton Bender is set to arrive in the fall. Then you’ve got a few other quarterbacks behind them jockeying for a seat at the table. Bruggman and Bender were both rated as top-30 pocket passers nationally. I would think Leach could work with that.

Nick Nordi of All Coug’d Up had a good summary on the QB situation this morning which you can check out here. His take: Don’t stress about it. I tend to agree.

And I’ll go back to what I said in the previous mailbag. It’s April, folks. Suppose Washington State goes 9-4 with a bowl in win in Las Vegas or San Diego? That would make a lot of QBs think twice about their commitments. Let’s not stress too much about commitments in the spring. As with most things in life, it matters how you finish.

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