DANVILLE, Calif. -- As he stood outside a movie theater in an affluent East Bay Area suburb on Sunday, Landrin Kelly fought back tears.

He's used to it now. Ten years have not completely quelled the pain he was left with following the murder of his son, Terrance, just days before he was set to begin a promising college football career at Oregon. No amount of time will.

A couple hundred others also gathered at the theater to see an early screening of "When The Game Stands Tall," a movie that chronicles the story of Terrance's death and the ensuing impact it had on the famed football program at Concord's De La Salle High. Based on the book by author Neil Hayes, the movie is set to hit theaters nationwide on Friday.

[+] EnlargeKelly
Courtesy of the Terrance Kelly Youth FoundationTerrence Kelly was killed in August of 2004, just days before leaving for the University of Oregon.
For Landrin, the emotions were bittersweet.

"I've been to a lot of events [that remember Terrance]," he said. "The exciting part is that the story is being told of my son."

Violence is a harsh reality in the crime-riddled city of Richmond, just north of Oakland, where the Kelly family called home. It was a main factor in the decision to send Terrance to De La Salle, a private Catholic school 25 miles to the east. Known nationally as a football power, De La Salle provided a safe haven for Kelly and the opportunity to play for legendary coach Bob Ladouceur.

"We wanted to get him out of Richmond," Landrin said.

During his four years at De La Salle, Kelly blossomed into a good student, a team leader and one of the best football prospects in the country. A running back and linebacker for the Spartans, Scout.com ranked Kelly as the No. 16 safety in the country -- one spot ahead of current Washington Redskins and two-time Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson.

Ask those around the De La Salle community how good Kelly was, and they'll tell you -- like his high school teammates Maurice Jones-Drew and T.J. Ward -- there was little doubt he was destined for a career in the NFL.

Oregon was the first school to offer Kelly a scholarship, but the entire Pac-10 followed suit. He ultimately committed to the Ducks -- over UCLA and Cal -- based largely on the relationship he developed with defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, whose brother, Joe, was on Ladouceur's staff.

In his personal statement, as part of his admissions application at Oregon, Kelly reflected on what life was like growing up in Richmond and his plans for the future:
Many people imagine the life of a teenager as being carefree and simple, but that in not the case in the city I live in. While growing up in Richmond, California there has been a lot of distractions. For example, the murder rate of young African Americans in the city is very high, drugs are rampant in the community, not very many of the youth in the community understand the importance of an education, much less if they live or die. Many youth place more importance on being in a gang than an education. A large number of the youth don't even graduate from high school. They either dropout, go to jail, or unfortunately get murdered. Something as simple as sitting down doing your homework can be a challenge. While trying to study I have often had to contend with hearing gunshots, ambulance or police cars racing up and down the streets. The library is just a shelter for the homeless and a baby-sitter for young children waiting until their parents get off work.

Through all of this I have established high expectations and standards for myself. I am determined not to end up like many of my peers. I have a strong sense of purpose and direction for my life. I am motivated to strive to be the best person I can be, with the understanding that a solid education can lead to self-improvement as well as, social and economic empowerment.

De La Salle teammates Cameron Colvin, Jackie Bates and Willie Glasper also signed with Oregon, in no small part because of Kelly. Ward eventually walked on the following year.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Kelly
Jeff Chiu/AP PhotoBrother Christopher Brady, principal at De La Salle High School, adjusts a makeshift memorial for Terrance Kelly in this 2004 photo.
"T.K. was the guy that held them all together," said Ladouceur, who is portrayed brilliantly in the movie by Jim Caviezel. "When that happened to him, it took a real motivation out of their lives. They were like the four musketeers and for them to all of a sudden have to go up there minus one, was really, really hard."

The impact Kelly's death had at Oregon was nearly as substantial as it was at home.

"[Aliotti] didn't believe it when I called him and told him somebody killed my baby," Landrin Kelly said. "He didn't believe it. I had to say, 'No, for real Nick.' I was crying. I had to give the phone to my wife because I was so heart broken."

After Terrance's passing, the bond between his family and the Oregon program continued to strengthen. At his funeral in Richmond, part of which is depicted during an emotional scene in the film, Aliotti delivered the eulogy and he went on to keep a picture of Terrance on his desk until his recent retirement.

In 2007, in what would have been Kelly's senior year, Oregon invited Landrin, and his grandson, on to the field to take part in the Senior Day ceremony. He proudly showed off a No. 32 jersey that day and continues to make at least one trip to Eugene a year to watch the Ducks.

In memory of his son, Landrin, along with the help of several others, operates the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation. The foundation exists to provide community outreach for children between the ages of 5 and 17, and aims to inspire kids to become responsible and productive adults in the community. The non-profit organization provides several programs and scholarships for youth in Richmond.

Darren Pratcher was 15-years-old when he shot Kelly four times as sat in his car outside a house in Richmond, waiting to pick up his stepbrother to give him a ride home. The killing came in retaliation for a perceived slight during a pick-up basketball game, which is also depicted in the film.

Pratcher was prosecuted as an adult, and after five days of deliberations in October 2006, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder and weapon enhancements. He was later sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
Editor's note: Beginning Aug. 3, we're counting down the days until the college football season with a look at the 25 most interesting people in the sport.

The Pac-12 is blessed with an abundance of returning starting quarterbacks in 2014. With 10 starters coming back, many are wondering if the league is on pace for its best quarterback year ever. This week the Pac-12 blog will give you a snapshot of all 10.

Name: Travis Wilson

School: Utah

Grade: Junior

2013 passing stats: Completed 133 of 237 attempts for a 56.1 completion percentage and 1,827 yards. Threw 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions with a raw QBR of 41.3 and an adjusted QBR of 56.1.

Career passing stats: Completed 261 of 441 attempts for a 59.2 completion percentage and 3,138 yards. Threw 23 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with a raw QBR of 41.7 and an adjusted QBR of 52.0.

2013 rushing stats: Rushed 81 times for 386 yards and five touchdowns.

Career rushing stats: Rushed 145 times for 426 yards and nine touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
Steve Conner/Icon SportswireTravis Wilson spurned much of the Pac-12 when he picked Utah.
What you need to know about Wilson: He started the final seven games of the 2012 season a true freshman, leading the Utes to a 3-4 record during that stretch, and was the only Utah quarterback to appear in all 12 games. But 2013 was derailed by assorted injuries before suffering a season-ending concussion against Arizona State in November. A scan after that concussion revealed a pre-existing trauma to an intracranial artery. He was cleared to practice (non-contact) in the spring and now is full go. At 6-foot-7, 240 pounds, he’s an imposing figure. But he can run too, making him that much more difficult to prepare for. And in the event football doesn’t work out, he could find a gig in the next 300 movie. (Dang!)

Career high point: Wilson took a knee as the clocked ticked down, and despite an injury to his throwing hand, he was still able to flash a “U” toward the MUSS as they stormed the field following Utah’s 27-21 win over No. 5 Stanford last year. Wilson completed 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also added eight rushes for 35 yards. And while Utah’s season spiraled following the game, it’s still considered one of the greatest regular season victories in school history and a reminder to the league that the Utes can’t be taken lightly. Wilson was all guts in that game.

Career low point: Rewind seven days from the career high point. The Utes could have pulled off an upset a week earlier with UCLA in town. But Wilson tossed six interceptions, including his last one in the final minute inside the UCLA 15. Now, for those who remember the game, all six weren’t Wilson’s fault. There were tips and bad routes by his receivers. But in the annals of college football, it's remembered as a six-pick game. He did throw a pair of touchdowns, but was just 22 of 44 passing in what goes down as a statistical nightmare. But he obviously has a short memory since the Utes knocked off Stanford a week later.

When he was a recruit: The Utes made a statement with their first recruiting class as members of the Pac-12, walking into California and coming away with a commitment from Wilson, who also held offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA and Washington. Wilson targeted the Utes early and cited the depth chart as one of the reasons he committed to Utah, but despite his terrific size -- listed at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds as a high school senior -- it wasn't anything close to a slam dunk that the nation's No. 39 quarterback would step into the starting role midway through his true freshman season, despite some high praise in his ESPNRecruiting Nation profile. "Reminds us of Zach Mettenberger only Wilson is a much better athlete. Has a great feel in the pocket. Will rarely panic or take off too early. Flashes the arm strength to drive the ball down field. … Overall accuracy is sound and he can really get into a rhythm and get hot."

Opposing head coach’s take: "Thankfully he’ll come back and he’s healthy. I’m excited for him. He’s in that Sean Mannion mold to a certain degree. If he can play the way he did against Stanford last year on a consistent basis, you’re going to be talking about him as one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, not just the conference."

What to expect in 2014: If Wilson can stay healthy -- and hold off a fall charge from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson -- he has all of the physical tools to be a very successful quarterback. Working against him is the fact he’s adjusting to his third offensive coordinator in as many years. It was Brian Johnson in 2012, a combination of Dennis Erickson and Johnson in 2013 and now Dave Christensen in 2014. Though Christensen told the Pac-12 blog in January that his offense has a lot of crossover from what the Utes have been doing the last couple of seasons. He already has familiarity and chemistry with his receivers -- including Biletnikoff watch list receiver Dres Anderson. The Utes are looking to dispatch a three-headed rushing attack that could help take some of the pressure off Wilson. The completion percentage has to rise and the picks have to drop. That’s a given. But he was forced into action early and responded fairly well. He’s won big games and lost some close ones. The potential is there for him to be the front man Utah has been lacking since joining the league.

Erik McKinney contributed reporting.
The Pac-12 is blessed with an abundance of returning starting quarterbacks in 2014. With 10 starters coming back, many are wondering if the league is on pace for its best quarterback year ever. This week the Pac-12 blog will give you a snapshot of all 10.

Name: Connor Halliday

School: Washington State

Grade: Senior

2013 passing stats: Completed 449 of 714 pass attempts for a 62.9 completion percentage and 4,597 yards. Threw 34 touchdowns to 22 interceptions with a raw QBR of 47.8 and an adjusted QBR of 58.2.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
Jesse Beals/Icon SportswireFollowing three seasons in the same offense, Connor Halliday appears primed to lead the Cougars in 2014.
Career passing stats: Completed 660 of 1,108 pass attempts for a 59.6 completion percentage and 7,435 yards. Has thrown 58 touchdowns and 39 interceptions. Has a raw QBR of 43.7 and an adjusted QBR of 51.9.

2013 rushing stats: 50 rushing attempts for minus-177 yards and zero touchdowns.

Career rushing stats: 83 rushing attempts for minus-361 yards and zero touchdowns.

Halliday on Twitter

What you need to know about Halliday: His legend started when he played through a lacerated liver against Utah in 2011. It hiccupped when he played quarterback roulette with Jeff Tuel in 2012. And while he was far from perfect in 2013, he showed that he's more than capable of leading Mike Leach's Air Raid offense. His 4,597 passing yards were a WSU single-season record and the second most in league history. His 34 touchdowns matched Ryan Leaf (1997) and he had nine multi-touchdown games. He's tough, he's a leader (voted a team captain for all 13 games) and he's got a ton of experience.

Career high point: A six touchdown performance in a losing effort? Nah, Halliday will tell you (and he has) that being named the offensive MVP of the New Mexico Bowl last year doesn't mean squat since the Cougars lost to Colorado State 48-45. However, he was sharp in WSU's 49-37 win against Utah, which gave the Cougs that critical sixth win to make them bowl eligible for the first time since 2006 and eventually sent them to a bowl game for the first time in a decade. Halliday threw for 488 yards and four touchdowns without an interception -- his only game last year without at least one pick.

Career low point: A six touchdown performance in a losing effort? Oh wait, we covered that one already. His three interceptions against Auburn in the season opener last year (to just one touchdown) wasn't exactly a standout performance. In fact, the Cougars were in position to tie the game in the fourth quarter with less than five minutes to play when Halliday was intercepted in the red zone. Granted, going to SEC country to open the season is tough. But think of how the entire college football landscape would have been different if not for an interception or two.

When he was a recruit: Halliday didn't move the needle much when it came to Washington State's 2010 recruiting class, as the 6-foot-4 quarterback was ranked No. 168 in the country at his position and was the lowest-ranked member of the class. But there was some considerable excitement surrounding Halliday's potential when Drew Bledsoe comparisons were thrown around. "Connor has a big upside," then-head coach Paul Wulff said. "Connor has the intangibles in the passing game, he is very competitive, and he has a bright future at Washington State and could play early in his career." Halliday also received offers from Eastern Washington, Hawaii, Idaho and Montana, but the decision to commit to the in-state Cougars was an easy one for him, as well as one that would play out well when Mike Leach took over as head coach. The first lines of Halliday's ESPN Recruiting Nation scouting report reads like a manual for the quarterback position on Leach's Air Raid offense: "Halliday is a pocket passer in the shotgun spread offense and is an efficient player in the short and intermediate passing game. He is a touch and timing passer with good rhythm and displays solid overall accuracy."

Opposing head coach's take: "He still has work to do to a certain degree. But any given day he can throw for 350 and five touchdowns. Any given time he can be player of the week in the conference because he can hurt you. The scheme does help to a certain degree. But the bottom line is he'll stand in there and he took a lot of hits in a lot of games. But he always pulls himself back up and gets back at it on the next play."

What to expect in 2014: Numbers. Lots of big, beautiful, eye-popping, scoreboard-light-bulb-draining numbers. This is what Leach has been waiting for -- a quarterback who has experience in his system that he's been grooming for a couple of years. Halliday knows the scheme inside and out. And he's got the talent around him to put up jaw-dropping statistics. With all of that said, there is still work to do. His completion percentage is still too low for Leach's liking (62.9 last year) and, as previously mentioned, he only had one game last season where he didn't throw an interception. Six times he had multi-interception games. It's worth noting, however, that in his final five games, his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 16-5, so the potential for improvement is there. Above all else, Leach values accuracy and decision-making. But then again, what coach doesn't when talking about his quarterback. If Halliday can clean things up, he and the Cougars will light up scoreboards.

Erik McKinney contributed reporting.
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC 

Previewing the 2014 season for the Washington State Cougars:

2013 record: 6-7, 4-5 Pac-12, lost to Colorado State in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, 48-45

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonSenior QB Connor Halliday will lead the Cougars this season, starting off Aug. 28 against Rutgers.
Final grade for 2013: B

Key returnees: QB Connor Halliday, WR Gabe Marks, WR Vince Mayle, WR River Cracraft, DL Xavier Cooper

Key losses: S Deone Bucannon, OLB Justin Sagote, C Elliott Bosch, OL John Fullington, K Andrew Furney

Projected win percentage (ESPN.com Stats & Information): .425

Chances to win the conference (ESPN.com Stats & Information): 0.1 percent

Instant impact newcomer: CB Marcellus Pippins

Most important game: Saturday, Nov. 29 vs. Washington

Biggest question mark: The offense will put up numbers because of Mike Leach, but can the defense make big stops ... or at least enough stops?

Best-case scenario: 8-4

Worst-case scenario: 4-8 with just one conference win

Over-under win total (Bovada): 5.5

Upset special: Saturday, Sept. 20 vs. Oregon. The Ducks have to come into Pullman, Washington, and it's just early enough in the season that if Marcus Mariota hasn't gained enough chemistry with his young receivers, the Cougars could put a notch on the Ducks' record.

They said it: On whether Leach would rather bear hunt with Washington coach Chris Petersen or Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: “What I'm thinking is we get a large bag and we stick in Coach Petersen, Coach Whittingham, and we shake that bag up really high and really hard. That will be a tough guy to walk out of the bag, I think.”
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:


It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.


For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
When Michigan State Spartans athletic director Mark Hollis first told football coach Mark Dantonio about his plan to schedule a home-and-home series with the Oregon Ducks, Dantonio did not wrestle his boss to the ground, scream obscenities or start updating his résumé.

As Hollis recalls, Dantonio simply smirked, shrugged his shoulders and said, "Why not?"

The reasons not to schedule Oregon -- especially at eardrum-splitting Autzen Stadium, where the Spartans go in Week 2 -- of course include the Ducks' tornadic offense, their dominance at home (92-17 since 1997) and the Big Ten's historic struggles in Pac-12 country. So why would Michigan State saddle itself with such a challenging matchup so early in the season?

"I've never really said, 'Oh, no, I don’t want to play those guys,'" Dantonio told ESPN.com. "I just feel like, if you're going to be a champion, you have to be willing to take on all comers."

[+] EnlargeMark Hollis
AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State athletic director Mark Hollis has upgraded the football schedule with the College Football Playoff in mind, beginning this season with a road game at Oregon.
The Spartans arrived in the ranks of the elite in January by beating Pac-12 champ Stanford in the Rose Bowl, capping a 12-1 season. Now they get a chance to prove they can stay there with another trip to the West Coast on Sept. 6. This early-season showdown of conference heavyweights -- Oregon is ranked No. 4 in the ESPN preseason power rankings; Michigan State is No. 7 -- carries key implications for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

"If we play well in that game, it can definitely bounce us up to the four-team playoff," Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun said.

The playoff was exactly what Hollis had in mind when he added Oregon to the schedule in March 2012. He also signed future home-and-home deals around the same time with Miami (Fla.) and Alabama, the latter of which has since been canceled. Hollis said arranging the Oregon series was made easier by his close relationship with Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens; the two became friendly when Mullens was at Kentucky and the Spartans and Wildcats put together a basketball series.

"We don't want to be stupid in our scheduling, but at the same time, we were anticipating the playoff system and anticipating the strength-of-schedule [component]," Hollis told ESPN.com. "As we were having these conversations, it seemed right, it fit right. They're a top-five program, and with us coming off a Rose Bowl championship, kind of by freak of luck this turned into a pretty nice game."

(The fact that both schools are Nike-sponsored and wear green doesn't hurt, either. "It's always nice to see Phil [Knight]," Hollis joked, "even though I'm sure he'll be on the other sideline.")

Michigan State sees little downside to the game. Even if the Spartans lose in Eugene, as long as they are reasonably competitive, they would have plenty of time to rebound and still win a Big Ten title. They recall last year, when they lost at Notre Dame but went on to capture their final 10 games and finish No. 3 in the polls.

"It’s not an end-all either way," Dantonio said. "It’s going to be a measuring stick for us -- where are we at, what do we have to do, who are we? It will give us a little more of a sense of identity early in season."

The on-field matchup itself is incredibly intriguing.

Oregon, with its fast-paced, no-huddle spread offense, leads the nation in scoring the past four seasons combined at 47 points per game. In that same time span, Michigan State's ferocious defense ranks fourth in the FBS in points allowed and third in yards allowed. The Spartans finished No. 2 in total defense in 2013; the Ducks were No. 2 in total offense.

Michigan State has fielded a top-10 defense in each of the past three years, but it is replacing six key starters from last year's unit.

"This should give us an early indication of how things can go for us, if our team is tight-knit or if we have loose ends," Calhoun said. "It will be nice to see how they play and see if we match up with them."

The wise guys say it will be difficult, as Michigan State opened as nearly a two-touchdown underdog in the betting lines. That's not much respect for a defending Rose Bowl champ.

"We’re used to it," Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said. "We were underdogs last year against Ohio State and against Stanford. So we're used to playing with a chip on our shoulders, and we're not going to let that affect us."

Regardless of the outcome, the game should provide significant national buzz for the Spartans, as well as heavy local interest. Hollis said the school received more than 8,000 requests for its 3,000-ticket allotment to the game. Oregon's return visit to East Lansing on Sept. 12, 2015, will be a scalper's dream.

"For the general fan, it's one of those games that, no matter who you cheer for, this is one you want to watch," Hollis said.

Dantonio will make sure his team doesn't put too much focus on this one game, as Michigan State must first deal with its opener on Aug. 29 against Jacksonville State, not to mention the 10 regular-season contests after Oregon. But it's impossible to ignore the magnitude of what awaits in Week 2.

"It's been in the back of our minds all offseason," Cook said. "If we win, it will be a statement game that can turn a lot of heads, and it could put us on the way to a national championship."

Pac-12 morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
I ain't got a dime but what I got is mine. I ain't rich, but Lord I'm free.

Leading off

For most of the offseason (pretty much since Utah’s Travis Wilson was cleared for action), we’ve been working under the assumption that the Pac-12 would have 10 returning starting quarterbacks. Those assumptions were confirmed Monday when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham announced that Wilson held off a late charge from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

At the very least, this means Utah has some depth at the quarterback spot – something that has haunted the Utes since joining the conference. And Whittingham told reporters after practice that Thompson has “earned the right to play,” meaning we’ll probably see him at some point and in assorted situations. Interpret that how you will.

Here are a few links on Wilson:
We’ll also be taking a closer look at Wilson later today in our returning starting quarterback series (and I would have gone into scramble mode had Thompson been named the starter).

Getting drafty?

Surely it’s too soon for a 2015 mock draft, right? After all, the college football season hasn’t started. But if CBS’s Dane Brugler is anywhere near accurate (he himself admits a lot of these are shots in the dark), then the Pac-12 is in for a big season.

His projection has 10 Pac-12 players going in the first round, including five in the top 11. Here’s his list:
That would be outstanding for the conference. Here’s a chart I’ve maintained for a few years (just for you, because you’re special), and as you can see, 10 players would be a considerable upgrade from what the league has seen over the last 14 years (though 2003 was a pretty good year). Out of the playoff?

Speaking of early projections, it doesn’t look good for the Pac-12 as far as reaching the college football playoff this year, according to CBS Bracketologist Jerry Palm, who writes:
In this projection, the Pac-12, which is arguably the second best conference, is excluded. That is based on the thought that the league will beat each other up enough that its champion may be too damaged to get a spot. Obviously, that remains to be seen.

Of course, this story was posted prior to the news that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller might miss the season. This certainly isn’t a time for to celebrate injuries -- even if you are a Michigan fan -- because injuries stink. But we can’t ignore the fact either that the Pac-12 benefits from a weakened Ohio State team. It’s an unfortunate fact. But a fact nonetheless.

Team notes/practice reports
Getting social with media

As far as alternate uniforms go, we’ve seen worse. And the more I look at ASU’s, the more I like them.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s new Cal beat writer, Mike Vernon, takes us inside the life of a running back for six seconds.

Thanks to Arizona State, college football finally has "anthracite" uniforms.

That's the official color, along with copper, of the Sun Devils' new alternate uniforms that were unveiled Monday. The Pac-12 blog doesn't fancy itself a place for fashion advice, but ASU's new look has to be considered one of the best alternate options in the country -- specifically the new helmet.

[+] EnlargeASU Uniform
Courtesy of ASUArizona State's new uniform combination pays tribute to a longtime state industry.
In the release for the uniforms, ASU took a not-so-subtle swipe at its in-state rival to the south, noting the Sun Devils "became the first school in Arizona in 2012 to use its team uniforms to honor the state’s long history as a top copper-producing state." Arizona added copper to its uniforms last season.

“We wanted to pay homage to this great state while keeping the team’s look consistent," coach Todd Graham said. "We are one of the top few teams in the nation with as many looks and combinations as we have, and this plays an important role in building a national fanbase and molding Arizona State University into a household name.”

Let's be honest, though. Uniforms are for the players and, perhaps more importantly, the players they are trying to recruit as noted by quarterback Taylor Kelly.

“As players, we love to look like one of a kind on the field," he said. "Uniforms are important because they have a huge impact on recruiting and our fan base, and this new looks is awesome and very unique in a number of ways, especially the gray and copper chrome facemask.”

The new helmet is the 10th in the past three seasons and the team now has four jerseys and five pairs of pants to pick from. No word yet on when they'll first wear the new look.
The eyes of the nation have finally turned west, where the cream of the crop in signal callers has risen to the top. The quarterback depth in the Pac-12 is second to none, and everyone is talking about it.

Here's UCLA coach Jim Mora's take: "I have great respect for the quarterbacks in this conference. Many of them will go on to have great [NFL] careers, but to me, I don't think it's even close -- I don't think there is another conference that has near the quality of quarterbacks."

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsArizona State's Taylor Kelly likes being under the radar in a Pac-12 rich with quarterback talent.
Stanford's David Shaw also weighed in: "[I've] never seen anything like this where you have multiple guys in our conference that you could say could be the No. 1 pick overall in the draft. You have multiple guys in the conference that could be All-Americans and could lead the nation in quarterback rating or lead the nation in yards and yards per attempt in touchdown passes, and that could be any of five or six guys that could do this that this year."

There's only one problem: Players such as Shaw's own Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly -- two very good quarterbacks -- get lost in the shuffle.

The league has its headliner in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. And if he's the main show, then UCLA's Brett Hundley is the opening act. He is, after all, the only other Pac-12 QB who's seriously considered a possible Heisman finalist at this point.

After those two, the conversation tends to tighten up, usually turning to the quarterbacks who are a bit different or doing one thing better than anyone else.

So people bring up Oregon State's Sean Mannion, who will likely take Matt Barkley's spot from the top of the Pac-12 career passing board ... midway through the season. They bring up Washington State's Connor Halliday. He's at the center of the Air Raid show and people want to know what it possibly looks like to average 55 pass attempts per game (about 20 more than the league average). Even USC quarterback Cody Kessler gets a little bit of love because of the Steve Sarkisian effect. Trojans fans want to watch that offense and see how it's going to change, and Kessler is at the middle of that moving puzzle.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Tommy LaPorte/Icon SportswireStanford's Kevin Hogan, who has an impressive mark against ranked teams, would be among the leaders in passing efficiency in most any conference.
Suddenly, Kelly and Hogan -- statistically, the third- and fourth-best QB's in the Pac-12 in 2013 (based on an adjusted QBR) -- are back to No. 6 and No. 7 in the conversation. And how many actually get that far in the conversation? Few.

As the nation turns to the Pac-12, football fans want to know who's best, who's next best and who's different. So Hogan and Kelly -- outside of their own respective fan bases -- are often forgotten.

If Hogan or Kelly were to be dropped into nearly any other conference, they'd be in that "next-best" conversation -- in the Big Ten behind Ohio State's Braxton Miller, in the ACC behind Heisman winner Jameis Winston of Florida State or in the Big 12 behind Baylor's Bryce Petty (though they'd be in quite the debate against Texas Tech's Davis Webb).

In fact, Kelly would've led the Big Ten in passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2013. In that same conference, Hogan would've been the most efficient passer. Kelly would've been tied for second in the SEC for touchdown passes while Hogan would've been tied for second in the Big 12 in the same category.

Still, on the East Coast or down South, there are no discussions about the fact that Hogan is 10-1 against top-25 opponents, or that he has led his team to two league championships. People don't discuss that Kelly led his team to the Pac-12 South championship last year, or that he'll likely finish his Arizona State career with more passing yards than Jake Plummer.

They don't discuss those things because they're too far down the ladder when it comes to the conversation -- and that's not their own fault.

At Pac-12 media days, Kelly told the Pac-12 Networks that he was OK with the fact that he maybe doesn't get as much credit nationally as he deserves.

"I'm comfortable with it," Kelly said. "I like being under the radar. It makes me work harder. I have a chip on my shoulders to outwork all those great quarterbacks in the country."

Like many of those great quarterbacks across the country, Kelly and Hogan will probably have the chance to play on Sundays. But the question that remains is whether their play on Saturdays this year will finally get people to start talking about these two talented quarterbacks.
[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesCornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu says practicing against Marcus Mariota lets him prepare for all the other experienced Pac-12 quarterbacks.
EUGENE, Ore. -- If the Pac-12 is a quarterback league this season, then it must also be regarded -- at least a bit -- as a league for opportunistic cornerbacks. Given the depth of talent at quarterback, there will be plenty of chances for cornerbacks to make big plays against bigger names.

And that idea is exciting a few Oregon Ducks defensive backs.

"I'm ready to play against all the best people," cornerback Dior Mathis said.

And yes, every college football player says that, but not every one actually gets to play against the best.

The Pac-12 cornerbacks, however, do.

With 10 returning starting quarterbacks in the Pac-12, cornerbacks are going to be tested by experienced, talented signal-callers.

Last season the Pac-12 passed more frequently than any other Power Five conference. On average, each Pac-12 quarterback attempted 386 passes through the season. That works to be just a bit more than 32 passes per game. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday's numbers do skew the average a bit. But if even if we exclude Halliday, the average Pac-12 signal-caller still threw about 30 passes.

Compared across the other four power conferences, that's quite the jump. The Big Ten led the rest of the power conferences with each quarterback averaging 309 passes through the season.

That means that per game, Pac-12 defensive backs will get about 11 more chances at a pass than a Big 12 defensive back. It works out to be nine more opportunities than DBs in the SEC and ACC and about six more chances for Big Ten DBs.

But Oregon isn't getting cocky just because there are more opportunities. All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu knows that all 10 of those returning starters have gotten better than they were last season when he collected three interceptions and six pass break ups.

"Playing in the Pac-12 you pretty much know you're going to play against some pretty good quarterbacks," Ekpre-Olomu said. "But at the same time, you play against the same guys for three years. Just like they improve, we improve."

But the one advantage that Ekpre-Olomu and Mathis have over other cornerbacks, across the conference and country, is that they face Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota every single day in practice.

There might not be better practice for facing a Halliday or Sean Mannion or Taylor Kelly or Kevin Hogan, than going against Mariota.

"Going against him every day and seeing how he progresses and seeing his accuracy when he throws to receivers, going against him, it's cool," Mathis said of Mariota. "You get the best quarterback in the country, in my opinion. [We're] going against him every single day. It's doing nothing but making us better."

"Going against Marcus you have to be smart and you have to be on your toes really," Ekpre-Olomu added. "To get a ball thrown at you, especially playing against somebody like that, you have to outsmart the quarterback."

And if Ekpre-Olomu and Mathis can find a way to outsmart Mariota, the Duck defense might be taking a huge step forward when it plays teams with quarterbacks-not-named Mariota.

Better know a QB: Kevin Hogan

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
The Pac-12 is blessed with an abundance of returning starting quarterbacks in 2014. With 10 starters coming back, many are wondering if the league is on pace for its best quarterback year ever. This week the Pac-12 blog will give you a snapshot of all 10.

Name: Kevin Hogan

School: Stanford

Grade: Senior

2013 passing stats: 180-295-61%-2,630-20-10-72.3 (Raw QBR)- 80.5 (Adj. QBR)

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Tommy LaPorte/Icon SportswireStanford's Kevin Hogan, who has an impressive mark against ranked teams, would be among the leaders in passing efficiency in most any conference.
Career passing stats: 289-447-64.7%-3,726-29-13-70.6 (Raw QBR)-79.8 (Adj. QBR)

2013 rushing stats: 84-355-2

Career rushing stats: 139-618-4

Hogan on Twitter

What you need to know about Hogan: Hogan was fortunate enough not to be the guy replacing Andrew Luck. Rather, he was the guy who replaced the guy who replaced Andrew Luck. With that came a little less pressure and a little less scrutiny. Despite a 7-2 record to start 2012, the coaching staff felt like they weren't getting enough out of Josh Nunes, who was inconsistent, to say the least, throughout his tenure as the starter. Hogan had a couple of reps throughout the season, but saw his first extended playing time in the ninth game of the season against Colorado before taking the reins against Oregon State. He's started every game since, appearing in 23 over the past two seasons.

Career high point: We don't want to say Hogan peaked too soon, because the Pac-12 blog believes Hogan is in for a solid 2014. But it's hard to top winning at Autzen, as he did in his first career road start in 2012. After replacing the embattled Nunes, Hogan had just one start under his belt -- a home victory against the Beavers -- before heading up to Eugene and knocking off No. 1 Oregon. He rushed for a touchdown and threw for another in the 17-14 overtime win. He's had big wins since -- another win over Oregon in 2013, a Rose Bowl victory in 2012 etc. But that was the game that "launched" him as Stanford's leader.

Career low point: When you read what an opposing coach had to say about Hogan (below), the first game that should pop into your mind is USC in 2013. The Cardinal were coming off a major 26-20 win at home over Oregon and then nine days later Hogan tossed a pair of interceptions with zero touchdowns in the 20-17 loss to the Trojans. He was just 14 of 25 for 127 yards and both picks came in the fourth quarter with the score tied 17-17, including one in the red zone. Sure, there were drops from the receivers. But quarterbacks always take the bulk of the scrutiny. And Hogan's decision-making in that game drew plenty of it.

When he was a recruit: Stanford beat out Rutgers, Vanderbilt and Virginia for Hogan, who committed to the Cardinal during the summer before his senior season. A three-star prospect and the No. 51 quarterback in the country, Hogan was not quite as highly regarded as fellow 2011 Cardinal signee Evan Crower, the nation's No. 38 signal-caller and the quarterback Hogan eventually beat for the starting job at Stanford after Luck's departure. While he hasn't exactly been Luck, the results for Stanford have been positive.

Opposing head coach's take: "He gets a lot of attention for being an efficient quarterback. Which he is. You have to be when you run that system. But he's also a bit of a cowboy sometimes and will go off the reservation probably more than that coaching staff would like. He can improvise, and when it works, it's great. When it doesn't, it's not. I think his ability to keep plays alive with his feet gives you an extra element you have to prepare for. Aside from the traditional power, they'll work in some option and he can make plays with his legs."

What to expect in 2014: What caught the eye of the coaching staff in 2012 was Hogan's ability to run the football. There were designated "Hogan packages" throughout the season leading up to him starting. They like that he can pick up first downs and teams have to account for him as a runner. As a passer, he didn't make the strides the coaches were hoping for in 2013. Part of that had to do with adjusting to a passing attack that was more wide-receiver centric after being spoiled with tight ends. While we expect to see more tight end packages from Stanford this year, Hogan still has a bona fide playmaker in Ty Montgomery. They'd like to see that completion percentage up from 61 percent last year and better decision-making. But the most important number is wins. And when it comes to that, Hogan delivers. He's 16-3 as a starter and 10-1 against ranked teams. If that trend continues, the Cardinal could be in line for a third-straight conference title.

Erik McKinney contributed reporting.
The Pac-12 is blessed with an abundance of returning starting quarterbacks in 2014. With 10 starters coming back, many are wondering if the league is on pace for its best quarterback year ever. This week the Pac-12 blog will give you a snapshot of all 10.

Name: Taylor Kelly

School: Arizona State

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTaylor Kelly's skill set meshes well with what offensive coordinator Mike Norvell likes to do on offense.
Grade: Senior

2013 passing stats: 302-of-484, 62.4 percent, 3,635 yards, 28 TDs, 12 INTs, 64.1 (Raw QBR), 74.9 (Adj. QBR)

Career passing stats: 547-of-847, 64.6 percent, 6,705 yards, 57 TDs, 21 INTs, 63.9 (Raw QBR), 72.6 (Adj. QBR)

2013 rushing stats: 173 carries, 608 yards, 9 TDs

Career rushing stats: 308 carries, 1,148 yards, 10 TDs

Kelly on Twitter

What you need to know about Kelly: Buried at third on the depth chart when Todd Graham arrived on campus, Kelly surprised many when he played his way into the starting lineup after a phenomenal 2012 spring session, outperforming Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici. The move was met with raised eyebrows, but has turned out to be a major boost for the program as Kelly emerged into one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. He’s the perfect fit for what offensive coordinator Mike Norvell likes to run. He can dink and dunk with the best of them, but his touch and accuracy were on display in 2013 when he and receiver Jaelen Strong (also returning) perfected the back-shoulder pass which has become a staple of the offense. Don’t forget, it was Kelly who was second-team all-conference last year, not Brett Hundley or Sean Mannion.

Career high point: Kelly was the model of efficiency in ASU’s 38-33 win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl last season, completing 20 of 27 passes for 225 yards and one touchdown. He also led the Sun Devils with 99 rushing yards (on 22 carries) and a score as ASU locked up the South Division with the victory. The win also avenged a loss the year before in Tempe. While Kelly has had better statistical games, this one carried the Sun Devils to the South title and had the most gravitas in the Pac-12 power rankings.

Career low point: If you're only as good as your last game, Kelly will be the first to say he's got a lot of work to do. In last year's Holiday Bowl -- a 37-23 loss to Texas Tech -- Kelly completed just 16 of 29 passes with no touchdowns and an interception. Though he did rush for 135 yards and a touchdown, it was the worst game of his career in terms of pass efficiency. The heavily favored Sun Devils looked sluggish on offense and Kelly shouldered a lot of that blame. There were a lot of circumstances to consider: Texas Tech had been hearing for two weeks that they would get slaughtered, there might have been a hangover from the Pac-12 title game, etc. Whatever. The Sun Devils were bad.

When he was a recruit: Despite being named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Idaho during his senior season, Kelly was something of an afterthought in the 2010 recruiting class. A 6-foot-2, 175-pound dual-threat quarterback out of Eagle High School, Kelly received an offer from Nevada -- his only offer throughout much of the recruiting process -- and committed to the Wolf Pack during the summer before his senior season. That's likely where he'd be now, had Pete Thomas not pulled away from his commitment to Arizona State and pledged to Colorado State, forcing the Sun Devils to scramble for a quarterback late in the game. Kelly took an official visit to Arizona State in mid-January and committed to the Sun Devils immediately after. The fit was perfect for Kelly, who fashioned himself after Jake Plummer, another former Idaho prep standout who just happened to become a star quarterback at Arizona State.

Opposing head coach's take: "He's a bit of a magician. He throws it well enough. He runs it well enough. He's not the biggest guy, but he can stand in the pocket and make big time throws. He can escape the pocket and make throws on the run. He might be as good as anyone in our conference as far as throwing the ball on the run as he escapes the pocket. But you also have to account for him as a runner ... he's one of those guys that you better account for because he can hurt you."

What to expect in 2014: More of the same, if not better. His completion percentage dropped from 67.1 in 2012 to 62.4 in 2013, but he also threw the ball more and was asked to do more. Also, he rushed for nine touchdowns last year compared to just one in 2012. With a lot of returning talent around him, Kelly has an opportunity to leave as one of ASU’s greatest quarterbacks. But his greatest asset will be his experience. He has started 27 games (tied with UCLA's Brett Hundley for most starts) and has an even firmer grasp of Norvell’s scheme. Norvell is one of the hottest assistants in the country right now, and he knows how to get the most out of Kelly in the air and on the ground.

Erik McKinney contributed reporting.
In a move that has been assumed for a long time, Utah officially named junior quarterback Travis Wilson as the team's starting quarterback. Wilson beat out Oklahoma-transfer Kendal Thompson for the job.

Over the past two seasons, Wilson started 16 games for the Utes including nine last season before a concussion ended his season prematurely. During the diagnosis for the concussion, the team's medical staff discovered a pre-existing head trauma condition that, at the time, was considered career-threatening.

In February, Wilson announced he would return for the 2014 season, but was limited to non-contact activities during spring practice while doctors continued to monitor his condition. In June, he received full medical clearance and resumed all football-related activities.

Throughout fall camp, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has been adamant it was an open competition between Wilson and Thompson, although few actually believed Thompson would win the job. Thompson, who was immediately eligible after graduating from Oklahoma in the spring, made the decision to transfer while Wilson's status was still in limbo.

In two seasons with the Utes, Wilson has passed for 3,138 yards and 23 touchdowns. He led the team to a 4-2 start last season, including a win against then undefeated and No. 5-ranked Stanford.

Utah also announced there are three starting jobs on defense that are still up for grabs: defensive end (Jason Fanaika and Hunter Dimick), nose tackle (Sese Ianu, Clint Shepard and Lowell Lotulelei) and linebacker (Uaea Masina and Pita Taumoepenu).

Washington Huskies season preview

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18

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Previewing the 2014 season for the Washington Huskies.

2013 record: 9-4, 5-4 Pac-12; beat BYU 31-16 in Fight Hunger Bowl.

Final grade for 2013: B. Steve Sarkisian took over a team that went 0-12 in 2008, and it won nine games the season he left. That rates as a strong turnaround. On the downside, the 5-4 record in Pac-12 play matched only the previous three seasons, although only Oregon, Stanford, USC and Washington can claim four consecutive winning conference records.

Key returnees: LT Micah Hatchie, WR Jaydon Mickens, LB Shaq Thompson, DE Hau'oli Kikaha, DT Danny Shelton, CB Marcus Peters.

[+] EnlargeShaq Thompson
Jesse Beals/Icon SMI Shaq Thompson was the second-leading tackler for the Huskies last season.
Key losses: RB Bishop Sankey, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, QB Keith Price, S Sean Parker.

Projected winning percentage (ESPN.com Stats & Information): 0.607

Chances to win the conference (ESPN.com Stats & Information): 0.7 percent

Instant impact newcomers: S Budda Baker, CB Naijiel Hale, DL Will Dissly.

Most important game: Versus Stanford on Sept. 27. Talk about a big Pac-12 North opener for both teams, as well as a great introduction to the conference for Chris Petersen. The Huskies should be 4-0 at this point and ranked at least near the top 15. If the Cardinal is also unbeaten -- they play USC on Sept. 6 -- this could be a game of national importance. At the very least, the Huskies could announce their candidacy in the North Division with a win.

Biggest question mark: While most eyes are on quarterback and running back, the Huskies' secondary is going to be young around Peters, a top NFL prospect. A questionable secondary is worrisome in a conference that is deep at QB and receiver.

Best case scenario: 11-2

Worst case scenario: 6-7.

Over-under win total (Bovada): 9

Upset special: Nov. 15 at Arizona. The Huskies could be cruising along, feeling all nationally ranked and everything when they make a trip to Tucson. Ask Oregon how that can be a trap. Further, the Wildcats have so much depth at receiver, they could exploit a young secondary, even 11 games into the season.

They said it: "Loved the place I was at without question. Could have stayed there a long time and been happy. But I felt it had to do with growing and stretching myself a little bit, and the opportunity at Washington, being the special place that I thought it was. But it's really hard to kind of tell you why. It's kind of a gut feeling." -- Chris Petersen on why he finally left Boise State for Washington.
Nearly 90 recruits -- including 10 ESPN 300 prospects -- made commitments to the Pac-12 since the start of June, as the conference recruiting race heated up alongside the weather this summer. Not surpisingly, even with the boon over the past two and a half months, the Pac-12 still lags behind other conferences when it comes to sheer commitment numbers. Many Pac-12 programs have become content to wait until the season, or after the season, to put an emphasis on official visits and commitments. At this point, 35 programs hold commitments from 16 or more recruits, and only one of those -- Arizona -- resides in the Pac-12.