It's worth heading over there to take in the full experience, but here are some of the more entertaining topics discussed.
On the campaign by some Texas Tech fans trying to get Leach's former employer to pay him his salary from the 2009 season:
"I've always been flattered and appreciative of the support I had at Texas Tech. We had a great 10 years and I had the opportunity to spend time with a lot of great people there, so I really appreciate it. I saw the letter in the paper and it is pretty accurate. Texas Tech has not paid me for the last season that I worked in 2009, which is hard to imagine."
"The marijuana rule has not been a problem for us. It is illegal on our team and if we find anyone using marijuana, we will dismiss them from the team. With all do respect to those who enjoy marijuana, I believe that it is very counterproductive to having the best focused and most productive football team that I can have. Any of our players or coaches interested in it will have to do it after they finish their time here!"
On if he think ESPN's "College GameDay" will head to Pullman this year:
"The game I am always looking forward to is the next one because they are all exciting and you only get so many opportunities. Yes I think ESPN GameDay will come here. With the direction our program is headed and the new facilities we have built here, it will obviously be a big draw. You can check out our facilities on our Twitter page @wsucougfb. When we were at Texas Tech, we were the only team in history to have ESPN GameDay to come to our place twice and be a part of it three times in one season."
From his book, about Geronimo:
"One story in the book not to be missed would be how the Apaches would hunt ducks. Check it out!"
Favorite pizza topping:
"Canadian bacon, black olives and mushrooms."
On Taco Bell's much-anticipated arrival in Pullman:
"Over the years, I have eaten at a number of Taco Bell's and they are all very similar yet I am excited to eat the new one here in Pullman!
Believe it or not, my order always includes the original bean burrito and the original taco, and then I will venture out on another item or two. I do, however, miss Mongolian Fire, which is the restaurant that used to be there."
That'll soon be reality for those flying out of Salt Lake City on Alaska Airlines thanks to a partnership between the airline and school that will give priority boarding to any Utah fans wearing a Ute jersey or shirt between Aug. 23 and Dec. 1.
It's been a good week for creative marketing concepts coming out of the Pac-12 following word Oregon would use scratch-and-sniff tickets that smell like Carl's Jr. hamburgers.
And as much joy smelling a fast-food burger on a piece of paper might bring, Utah is the clear winner offering something of actual value that, as a bonus, will surely infuriate fans of BYU and Utah State.
Well played, Utah. Well played.
"We are excited about our recent expansion in SLC and recognize the important role the University of Utah plays in the community. We are proud to support this great institution and their fans, students, faculty and alumni," Alaska Airlines announced in a statement.
In addition to the priority boarding, the airline will also offer cheaper fares for road games and for out-of-state fans traveling to Utah home games.
For other Pac-12 fans, there is, apparently, some consolation.
@GuntherKFAN If you wear a Pac12 shirt, we will give you a high five. ;) -John— Alaska Airlines (@AlaskaAir) August 1, 2014
- Ranking the 25 quarterbacks in the Amway Coaches Poll.
- Mark your calendars (for 2016), football fans.
- If you're an Arizona fan and a fantasy football fan, you'll like this bit on Ka'Deem Carey.
- Five reasons to be excited about ASU this season.
- Cal's four most pressing issues heading into camp.
- Colorado is being realistic about this upcoming season.
- Oregon's offensive line breakdown for 2014.
- Some notes from Mike Riley's pre-camp conference call.
- Bonus Oregon/OSU link because you should read this story: Some Ducks and Beavers teamed up off the field to do something great for some real heroes.
- Linebacker A.J. Tarpley is poised for a breakout year.
- Previewing the UCLA running backs.
- A look at USC from its first opponent's perspective.
- Utah is filling its future schedules without Utah State.
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins is picking things up quickly in Tampa.
- The Cougars are looking forward to their trip in Lewiston, Idaho.
Start planning accordingly as the Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip concludes.
Welcome to Week 14.
Friday, Nov. 28
- Arizona State at Arizona
- Stanford at UCLA
- Notre Dame at USC
- Utah at Colorado
- Oregon at Oregon State
- Washington at Washington State
- BYU at California
- Byes: None
Why: We had a partial rivalry week last week with The Big Game and USC-UCLA and part two spills into the final week of the season. Depending on kickoff times, you might be able to swing the Friday-Saturday double. So for the sake of argument, let’s just say we could pull that off.
For the Friday game, it only makes sense to pick Stanford and UCLA. They are regarded as two of the top three teams in the conference and, perhaps like in 2012, we might see these two teams again in the conference title game a week later. There won’t be any lack of star power, either, with some of the top offensive and defensive players in the country squaring off on both sides of the field. Not to mention two of the league’s elite coaches.
As for the rest of the games, well, trying to justify or validate one rivalry over another is a futile practice that the Pac-12 blog does not wish to engage in. You’d be hard-pressed to convince an Arizona fan to take in the Apple Cup instead of the Territorial Cup. So we’re not going to even bother.
We all know Rich Rodriguez has some work to do to gain some ground on Todd Graham, who holds a 2-0 edge in the series since both coaches were hired. The Civil War has been one-sided (though last year’s game was pretty awesome) and the Colorado-Utah series is coming along -- though I’m not sure it’s reached “rivalry” status yet. Of the two nonconference games, Cal-BYU is what it is and USC-Notre Dame comes on the heels of the Trojans showdown with UCLA. Could be a big two-week swing in terms of public perception for Steve Sarkisian.
Of the remaining games, we’re going with the Apple Cup simply because it’s exciting to see a new coach indoctrinated into the rivalry. We all know what happened in Mike Leach’s first season. And the Huskies, of course, returned the favor last year.
This time around you have Chris Petersen at the helm, facing an Air Raid offense that will likely be putting up some big offensive numbers behind Connor Halliday and his cast of receivers. If the Cougars want to build off of the momentum of last season, beating a Petersen-led team would certainly be a good way to establish themselves as major players in the North.
There should be plenty of jockeying for bowl position going on as well. Whether it’s teams like Oregon, UCLA and Stanford fighting for a spot in the conference championship game, or teams like Utah or Washington State looking to become bowl eligible (and everything in between).
This is one of those weeks where you can’t go wrong because of your allegiances to your team. But big picture, Stanford-UCLA should be thrilling and the Apple Cup presents some fascinating storylines.
Hope you’ve enjoyed the road trip. You can review the complete list here.
Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.
Welcome to Week 13.
Saturday, Nov. 22
- Arizona at Utah
- Washington State at Arizona State
- USC at UCLA
- Colorado at Oregon
- Oregon State at Washington
- Stanford at California
- Byes: None
Why: Steve Sarkisian was brought to USC for one sole purpose – to regain the glory of the program. The first step toward that is re-establishing dominance in their backyard. Because for the past two seasons, the Bruins have been the dominant team in the Los Angeles.
It was only three seasons ago (2011), that the Trojans were smacking the Bruins around to the tune of 50-0 – their fifth straight win in the series. But that all changed when Jim Mora and Co. topped the Trojans, 38-28, in Pasadena in 2012 and then marched into the Coliseum and whooped USC, 35-14, last year. The power shift was as blunt as an Anthony Barr blindside sack.
Cue Sarkisian, a top lieutenant of the Pete Carroll era who brought Washington out of obscurity and is now trying to resuscitate a USC program that hasn’t been bad -- but it hasn’t lived up to expectations, either. And there isn't much time for a honeymoon. The expectation is to win -- and beat rivals -- immediately.
By Week 13, Brett Hundley should be in the thick of a Heisman race while the Bruins will likely be trying to wrap up the South Division for the third time in four seasons (yes, USC fans, the Pac-12 blog recognizes the asterisk of 2011, relax). Question is, will USC be trying to do the same?
Nothing would spark this rivalry more than both L.A. schools battling for the South crown. The Trojans should be well-established with their new up-tempo scheme and Nelson Agholor is one of the most dynamic receivers in the country, making his game-within-the-game battle with Fabian Moreau and the UCLA secondary that much more thrilling.
There are plenty of compelling story lines within this game. But none better than the simple fact that an outstanding USC-UCLA rivalry is a good thing for the Pac-12. When both teams in the conference’s largest market are ranked, that’s a good thing. And when both teams are fighting tooth and nail (along with the rest of the conference and country) for the top recruits in Southern California, it ups the ante for everyone.
Right now, UCLA is THE team in Los Angeles. It’s been a while since anyone has said that. Sarkisian, whose hiring was met with a courteous golf clap, could go a long way toward reuniting a fractured fan base with a victory over UCLA. On the flip side, Mora could further carve out his legacy with a three-peat.
You can see the rest of the road trip here.
No. 5: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly
2013 stats: Completed 62.4 percent of his throws for 3,635 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, giving him an adjusted QBR of 74.2, which ranked 24th nationally. He also rushed 173 times for 608 yards and nine touchdowns.
Why he's ranked here: There was some disagreement at the end of last season about who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback. Kelly won the official Pac-12 vote with the coaches, and that means a lot. It also helps that he is the quarterback of the defending South Division champion. Further, you have to love his story. Nothing has been given to Kelly. In the spring of 2012, he was little more than an afterthought, ranking third in the Sun Devils' quarterback competition. You have to be mentally tough to emerge from that sort of deficit. He has earned his spot by fighting like crazy to win the job, to lead his team well and, finally, to become an A-list quarterback worthy of national attention. He has a chance to play his way into a solid spot in the NFL draft too. As for this season, Kelly has a lot coming back on offense and, because of the Sun Devils' questionable defense, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell figures to set him free as a third-year starter.
No. 4: Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
2013 stats: Ekpre-Olomu was second on the Ducks with 84 tackles. He had five tackles for a loss to go with three interceptions and nine passes defended. He also forced a fumble.
Why he's ranked here: Ekpre-Olomu might be the best cornerback in the nation. He earned All-American honors last season and is pretty much a unanimous 2014 preseason All-American. He is not expected to last too far into the first round of the 2015 NFL draft, and truth be told, it was a bit of a surprise he stuck around for another season because he likely would have been a first-round pick last spring. It will be interesting to see if he sees much action on his side of the field this season, considering he is the lone returning starter in the Ducks' secondary. His numbers might not wow you, but opposing coaches will start their Monday meetings by drawing a line down one third of the field and saying, "Ifo is here, so we're throwing over here."
No. 3: UCLA QB Brett Hundley
2013 stats: Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 748 yards and 11 scores.
Why he's ranked here: Kelly-Hundley, Hundley-Kelly -- based on last season, Kelly should nip his buddy from UCLA. But Hundley ends up at No. 3 because of projection. He is simply overbrimming with talent. He's big, strong, smart, charismatic, etc. Outside of Johnny Manziel, no one has more scramble yards in the past two seasons than Hundley (per ESPN Stats & Information). Though there are parts of his game that didn't completely arrive in 2013 -- still more feared as a runner than downfield passer and still takes too many sacks -- those were delays, not cancellations. Hundley also has a stacked supporting cast. The Bruins are the favorite in the Pac-12 South, a preseason top-10 team and a dark horse national title contender. If UCLA surges, Hundley almost certainly will become a top Heisman Trophy candidate.
No. 2: USC DT Leonard Williams
2013 stats: Williams was second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, tied with Devon Kennard for the team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.
Why he's ranked here: Williams, a 2013 first-team ESPN.com All-American, is the consensus pick as the nation's best returning defensive lineman. He could be the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, and he's almost certainly not going to last past the top 10 picks. Former USC coach Ed Orgeron called him the best defensive lineman he's ever coached, and Orgeron's defensive line résumé is deep. Williams has great length and athleticism and surprising power. He is the centerpiece of what might be the Pac-12's best defense. Last season, he was the lone sophomore semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player, and he is likely to be a finalist for just about every award for which he is eligible.
No. 1: Marcus Mariota
2013 stats: Mariota completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 3,665 yards with 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also rushed for 715 yards and nine touchdowns.
Why he's ranked here: Surprise! Bet you didn't see this coming, considering Mariota finished No. 1 on this list in 2012 and 2013. This was the easiest spot to fill on this list, perhaps the only easy spot by the way. Why? Mariota might be the best quarterback and player in the nation. In the 2014 Heisman Trophy race, he is option 1A besides Florida State's Jameis Winston, who won it last year but has significant character issues. Mariota opted to return and get his degree -- yes, he is taking a light class load this fall because he doesn't need any more credits -- and instantly made the Ducks (again) the Pac-12 favorite and a national title contender. The biggest question of the 2013 season was what might have happened if Mariota didn't suffer a knee injury before playing at Stanford. Pre-injury, he had 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions; post-injury, 11 touchdowns and four picks. All nine of his rushing touchdowns came before he partially tore his MCL. Despite that injury, Mariota led an offense that averaged 45.5 points per game last season -- tops in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation -- in a very good defensive conference. While his speed and production as a runner is impossible to ignore, what separates him is his passing ability. He was No. 1 in the Pac-12 in efficiency and No. 1 in the nation in ESPN’s adjusted QBR rating. He set an Oregon single-season record with 4,380 total yards. He also set a Pac-12 record by attempting 353 consecutive passes without an interception. Though character isn't much of a factor on this list -- the Pac-12 is fortunate that it didn't see much of that weigh down the offseason -- Mariota's is difficult to ignore. St. Marcus of Eugene seems likely to be in New York in December.
Rutgers at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Thursday, Aug. 28
- Coach: Kyle Flood (15-11), third season
- 2013 record: 6-7, 3-5 AAC
- Returning starters: nine on offense, seven on defense
- Offensive headliner: running back Paul James. A first-team All-AAC pick after leading the conference with 97.9 rushing yards per game. He rushed for 881 yards in nine games with nine touchdowns, but was held out of four games due to a broke bone in his right leg and was limited during the spring.
- Defensive headliner: Linebacker Steve Longa. Longa received numerous freshman All-American accolades after leading the Scarlet Knights with 123 tackles, starting all 13 games at middle linebacker. He was the team's co-defensive MVP with Marcus Thompson.
- The skinny: Like WSU, Rutgers finished 6-6 in the regular season a year ago, only to drop below .500 with a loss in their bowl game (to Notre Dame). But unlike WSU, the Scarlet Knight had exactly zero impressive wins. None of the teams they beat finished with a winning record as they combined to go 17-54 -- with only 11 of those wins against FBS teams. With as many returners as it has, Rutgers should be better, but that doesn't mean it'll be anymore competitive now that it's moved to the Big Ten.
- Coach: Brian Polian (4-8), second season
- 2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 Mountain West
- Returning starters: seven on offense, nine on defense
- Offensive headliner: Quarterback Cody Fajardo. Fajardo is among the school's all-time leaders in total offense (third), rushing yards (10th), rushing touchdowns (eighth), passing yards (eighth) and passing touchdowns (11th). He's on the watch lists for both the Maxwell Award, given to the nation's best player, and Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's best quarterback.
- Defensive headliner: defensive end Brock Hekking. Hekking was a first-team All-Mountain West selection as a junior in 2013 after recoding nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He's on the Lombardi Award watch list and is a Pac-12 blog candidate for the best hair in college football.
- The skinny: Polian is a bright coach with a good future in front of him, but the Wolf Pack took a big step back in his first year in Reno, finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2007. Mike Leach coached Texas Tech to a 35-19 win at Nevada in 2008 and WSU visited in 2005, a 55-21 win for the Cougs. The last time a Pac-12 team made the trip to Nevada, Colin Kaepernick led the Wolf Pack to a 52-31 win against Cal in 2010.
- Coach: Nigel Burton (18-27), fifth year
- 2013 record: 6-6, 3-5 Big Sky
- Returning starters: seven on offense, four on defense
- Offensive headliner: Receiver Kasey Closs. A one-time walk-on, Closs caught 63 passes for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns last season to rank fourth in the Big Sky in receiving yards per game. Against Cal, Closs caught five passes for 160 yards.
- Defensive headliner: Linebacker Corey Crowder. The Vikings lose their top three tacklers from a year go, which leaves Crowder as the leading returning tackler after he made 59 stops in 2013.
- The skinny: Portland State's trip to Pullman will be the first game of the year at Martin Stadium, which is looking good these days. It'll also be the second Pac-12 game for the Vikings after they open the season at Oregon State. Neither of these games figure to be anything like the close encounter they had in Berkeley against hapless Cal last year, especially considering the the Vikings lose talented running back D.J. Adams and have just four returning starters on defense.
- Arizona is tied for No. 50 in the Amway Coaches Poll.
- If you're a fan of tailgating with a keg at Arizona State, this news will make you sad.
- California is heathy headed into the start of fall camp.
- Colorado picked up a commitment from an Arizona defensive lineman.
- Oregon is No. 4 in the coaches poll.
- Oregon State got four votes in the coaches poll, which ranks the Beavers No. 7 in the Pac-12.
- Stanford receiver commitment J.J. Arcega-Whiteside chats with CardinalSportsReport.com.
- Pac-12 South favorite UCLA is ranked No. 7 in the coaches poll.
- A good read on USC's Max Tuerk learning another new position.
- Here's a preview on Utah's defensive backs.
- Washington debuted at No. 25 in the coaches poll.
- Get to know WSU safety Isaac Dotson.
Oregon, unsurprisingly, leads the way at No. 4, followed by No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 USC, No. 18 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington. Oregon State (four votes) and Arizona (one) also received some love from the coaches.
Defending national champion Florida State is an overwhelming No. 1, receiving 56 of the 62 first-place votes. Oregon was one of four other teams to receive at least one first-place vote, along with No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 9 South Carolina.
With seven teams in the poll, the SEC leads all conferences, but it should also be noted the Pac-12 and SEC both had the same percentage of teams from their respective conferences included.
As a result of the Pac-12’s depth, five of the six most difficult schedules in the country, according to ESPN’s preseason Football Power Index (FPI) belong to teams in the conference: No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Utah, No. 3 Cal, No. 5 Washington State and No. 6 USC.
The way things stand, there are 12 games during the Pac-12 conference schedule that will feature two ranked teams.
Pac-12 coaches Mike Leach, Mike MacIntyre, Chris Petersen, Mike Riley, Rich Rodriguez and Steve Sarkisian are among the voters.
On Wednesday night, the Ducks’ ticket Twitter handle tweeted a photo of a scratch-and-sniff ticket that will be available this fall for season-ticket holders. And what exactly will Oregon football tickets smell like? Carl’s Jr. burgers.
We've added various features to our @WinTheDay season tks over the past 12 yrs ¬ This one is no exception. #GoDucks pic.twitter.com/ilW9Q1Ev9PA few thoughts:
— Oregon Duck Tickets (@OregonDuckTix) July 31, 2014
1. Is making a Ducks ticket smell like cow/beef a little sacrilegious? Or no?
2. It took eight years to go from a foil ticket to a textured ticket but just two years to go from a hologram to a scented ticket? What does that say about science?
3. Where does one possibly go with tickets after venturing into scratch-and-sniff?
What are your thoughts? If your Pac-12 school were to do something similar, what restaurant or company do you think it should (or would) use? Comment on the story or tweet the #4pac here to let us know.
Roses MT @StanfordVoice: Oregon issues football tix that smell like Carls Jr. Let jokes begin about scents for other P12 schools' tix...— Stanford Athletics (@GoStanford) July 31, 2014
When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.
So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?
Will it be:
Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.
Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.
Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.
Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.
Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.
Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.
Welcome to Week 12.
Thursday, Nov. 13
- Washington Huskies at Arizona Wildcats
- Arizona State Sun Devils at Oregon State Beavers
- Utah Utes at Stanford Cardinal
- Byes: Colorado Buffaloes, Oregon Ducks, UCLA Bruins, Washington State Cougars
Why: Only two-thirds of the league is active this week, so rather than force-feeding a game down you’re throat, we’re going to leave you to your own devices and pick the game that is best for you. The Pac-12 blog isn’t copping out by not picking one. But rather all four have their own element of interest that it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong. So Sean Hein, go to Tucson with a clear conscious and enjoy the game.
For starters, you have the Bears visiting the Coliseum. I’m just as curious as everyone else to see what both teams are going to look like this late in the season. Has Cal found its footing with Sonny Dykes and are all of those yards the offenses is gaining translating into points? Or is his seat hotter? And we’re nearing the end of Steve Sarkisian’s first season as USC’s head coach. With a big game against UCLA looming next week, it’s going to be interesting to see exactly where the Trojans are at this late in the game.
The last time Washington went to Tucson, the Huskies got whipped 52-17 behind four Matt Scott touchdown passes. Last year they returned the favor with a win at home -- though it’s safe to say those trips to the desert haven’t treated the Huskies well the last couple of seasons. By this point in the season, chances are these two teams will be jockeying for bowl placement, adding an extra element of excitement for both fan bases.
The same can be said for ASU’s trip to Oregon State. Unless there has been catastrophic setbacks, both of these teams will likely be bowl eligible by this point in the season (or will need this game to become bowl eligible) so any game down the stretch takes a sense of urgency. And when you combine two of the top quarterbacks in the league in Sean Mannion and Taylor Kelly, you have the makings of an exciting offensive showdown.
And finally there is a rematch of one of the biggest upsets in the Pac-12 last season. If Arizona over Oregon was No. 1, then Utah over Stanford was 1A. Yet despite getting that “signature” win they’d been looking for since joining the league, the Utes weren’t able to capitalize on it as they were plagued (again) with quarterback injuries. The Pac-12 blog was extremely impressed with the game plan then-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson cooked up for the Cardinal. It will be interesting to see if Dave Christensen takes a similar tack.
You can see the rest of the road trip here.
10. Oregon C Hroniss Grasu
Why he's ranked here: Grasu is one of three players in the conference -- all from Oregon -- to have been named first-team All-Pac-12 the last two seasons. As a junior in 2013, he was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation's best center, and the undoubted leader of the Ducks' offensive line that blocked for the conference's No. 1 rushing attack. Grasu enters his final year in Eugene having started all 40 games of his career with a chance to leave his mark as one of the Ducks' all-time greats. And as good as Grasu and the line were a year ago, they should be better this year with all five starters back and some talented players behind them who could push for playing time in training camp.
9. Stanford WR Ty Montgomery
2013 stats: Caught 61 passes for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns, and ranked second nationally averaging 30.3 yards per kickoff return.
Why he's ranked here: When Montgomery is on the field for Stanford, he's the team's best player. Whether that's as a receiver or kick returner, he's the one guy who has consistently proved he can change a game on any given snap. There's minimal concern he won't be 100 percent for the start of the season due to an arm injury, but Montgomery said Wednesday he's not limited when it comes to running, catching or lifting weights. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, with just 4 percent body fat, Montgomery certainly didn't look injured. "When he comes back, he might be the most explosive player in college football, and he's going to touch the ball in every single way possible," Stanford coach David Shaw said at Pac-12 media days. It remains to be seen whether we should take Shaw literally and add punt return duties to Montgomery's other responsibilities, but there have been discussion about that as well. When comparing Montgomery as a receiver to the other two receivers listed below, there's really not much separation -- a solid case can be made to have each of them in front of the other.
8. Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong
2013 stats: Caught 75 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year with ASU.
Why he's ranked here: Perhaps no one in the conference made as strong an immediate impact as Strong did last year after arriving at ASU from Pierce College in Los Angeles. He eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in five of his first six games and finished fourth in the Pac-12 with 1,122 receiving yards. The three players who finished ahead of him -- Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff -- are all off to the NFL. Like Montgomery, Strong is physically imposing and at 6-4, 212 pounds makes a dangerous red zone target for quarterback Taylor Kelly. Of the 25 players the Pac-12 blog has deemed the conference's best, Kelly-Strong is the only quarterback-receiver tandem to be included together on the list (you'll see where Kelly lands Friday morning). They're the main reason ASU coach Todd Graham proclaimed at Pac-12 media days that "This will be the best offensive football team that I've ever coached." If Strong makes the kind of jump Cooks made from 2012 to 2013, it shouldn't surprise anyone.
7. USC WR Nelson Agholor
2013 stats: Caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns and also returned kicks (17.5 avg) and punts (19.1 avg)
Why he's ranked here: On a team that featured 2012 Biletnikoff winner Marqise Lee, Agholor was simply the better receiver in 2013 and his value to the Trojans stretched further than that because of how he could impact games as a return man. What Montgomery was to Stanford on kickoff returns, Agholor was for the Trojans on punt returns. He returned two for touchdowns, and his 19.1 average was a new school record and ranked second nationally. With Lee off to the NFL, a second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Agholor figures to see his receiving numbers improve -- even if that means more attention from opposing defenses. Agholor has developed a reputation for being an NFL-caliber route runner and is among the nation's most dangerous receivers after the catch. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Agholor as the No. 3 receiver on his Way-Too-Early Big Board (one spot behind Strong).
6. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion
2013 stats: Threw for a Pac-12 record 4,662 yards with 35 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Why he's ranked here: By the time the NFL draft rolls around, Mannion might just end up being the top quarterback on some teams' boards. He's that talented. With 10,436 career passing yards, Mannion already sits at No. 10 on the conference's all-time passing list and, assuming he stays healthy, should have no problem passing Matt Barkley's record of 12,327. Mannion admits he had a great relationship with former offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf, who left to become the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants, but he has already grown under the tutelage of Langsdorf's replacement, John Garrett. "It has been good to get another perspective, another coach to learn from," Mannion said at Pac-12 media days. "It was tough to see [Langsdorf] go, but I think it'll end up being beneficial." Mannion is also the first Oregon State player to be selected team captain three times. Kiper ranked him as the No. 2 senior NFL quarterback prospect in the country.
Check out the rest of the rankings here: Nos. 25-21, Nos. 20-16, Nos. 16-11
NOTE: For battles with multiple teams, reporters chose reported leaders or best fits.
at Hawaii, Saturday, Aug. 30
- Coach: Norm Chow (4-20), third season
- 2013 record: 1-11, 0-8 Mountain West
- Returning starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
- Offensive headliner: running back Joey Iosefa is featured here, so wide receiver Scott Harding is the next pick. If he played somewhere in the continental United States (or maybe for a better team) Harding would be a much more well-known name. Not only is he a dangerous slot receiver (56 catches for 631 yards last season), but he serves as the Warriors’ punter and punt returner.
- Defensive headliner: defensive lineman Beau Yap. Yap was Hawaii’s lone second-team All-Mountain West selection last season after he made 37 tackles, include 12 for loss. His 5.5 sacks (for a loss of 51 yards) were the most on the team.
- The skinny: Washington’s projected starting quarterback, Cyler Miles, will sit out this game as punishment for his role in a fight following the Super Bowl, but his absence shouldn’t make much of a difference. The Warriors are 0-3 against Pac-12 teams under Chow and started 0-11 last season before winning their season finale against Army. This is the first of three games the Warriors will play against Pac-12 teams with Oregon State and Colorado also lined up.
- Coach: Beau Baldwin (56-22), seventh season
- 2013 record: 12-3, 8-0 Big Sky
- Returning starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
- Offensive headliner: quarterback Vernon Adams. The frontrunner for the Walter Payton Award, given to the FCS player of the year, Adams led FCS in passing efficiency as a sophomore last season and is 20-4 as a starter. Against Oregon State in Corvallis last season, Adams completed 23-of-30 passes for 411 yards, four touchdowns and no picks as EWU shocked the Beavers, 49-46.
- Defensive headliner: linebacker Ronnie Hamlin. Hamlin was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA because a knee injury wiped out two seasons earlier in his career. With Hamlin back, the Eagles have a potential FCS All-American and the leader of their defense.
- The skinny: Eastern Washington isn’t just some run-of-the-mill FCS team. The Eagles are widely expected to compete for a national title and proved last year against Oregon State -- which entered that game ranked No. 25 -- they can get up to play a big-time opponent. It’d be easy to make a case for this game, and not Illinois, being the most likely trip-up game for the Huskies. And while we’re still anticipating a Washington win (and probably by two-plus scores), the game actually carries some intrigue.
Illinois, Saturday, Sept. 13
- Coach: Tim Beckman (6-18), third season
- 2013 record: 4-8, 1-7 Big Ten
- Returning starters: 7 on offense, 8 on defense
- Offensive headliner: quarterback Wes Lunt. Lunt sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, where he opened the 2012 season as the Cowboys’ starter as a true freshman. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Illinois native twice led his high school team to state titles and now is charged with leading a Fighting Illini turnaround.
- Defensive headliner: linebacker Mason Monheim. A fixture at middle linebacker the past two seasons, Monheim is the Illini’s leading returning tackler after registering 97 tackles with 6.5 for loss in 2013.
- The skinny: Illinois doubled its win total over Beckman’s debut season last year, but still dropped seven of its final eight games -- and the win came by four points against Purdue, which didn’t beat a FBS opponent. Keith Price threw for 342 yards and Bishop Sankey ran for what was then a career-best 208 yards in the Huskies’ win over Illinois in Chicago last season, and the Huskies will be heavy favorites when the Illini make the return trip to Seattle.
Georgia State, Saturday, Sept. 20
- Coach: Trent Miles (0-12), second season
- 2013 record: 0-12, 0-7 Sun Belt
- Returning starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
- Offensive headliner: quarterback Ronnie Bell. Bell threw for 2,573 yards last season with 15 touchdowns and three rushing scores. He threw for a season-high 291 yards against Samford.
- Defensive headliner: linebacker Joseph Peterson. An All-Sun Belt honorable mention selection as a sophomore last year, Peterson has been the Panthers’ leading tackler the past two seasons. He finished 2013 with 103 stops, a school record.
- The skinny: Georgia State’s foray into FBS football featured a winless season in the worst conference to lay claim as the worst team in the country. It would have been hard to expect anything different considering the Panthers first fielded a football team in 2010. Miles spent the 2005-07 seasons coaching running backs at UW, which is allowed to schedule four nonconference games because of the trip to Hawaii.