Pac-12: Colorado Buffaloes

(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”
The talk of Pac-12 town this season is the quarterbacks. Yes, yes, we know.

But don’t forget the talent the league has at running back, too. The run game, after all, is what opens up the passing lanes for the signal-callers.

The 1,000-yard mark has acted as a benchmark for backs for years, so, how many Pac-12 rushers (for fun, let's include QBs) will hit the mark in 2014?

SportsNation

How many 1,000-yard rushers will the Pac-12 have in 2014?

  •  
    11%
  •  
    26%
  •  
    28%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,340)

In 2013 there were four 1,000-yard rushers: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (1,885), Washington’s Bishop Sankey (1,869), Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney (1,709) and Oregon’s Byron Marshall (1,038). Only one of those guys, Marshall, returns in 2014, and even he is listed in a three-way battle for the starting RB spot at Oregon with Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman.

In 2012 and 2010 there were six 1,000-yard rushers, and in 2011 there were seven. So what exactly will 2014 bring us?

Oregon has its three-headed monster (in addition to quarterback Marcus Mariota, who rushed for 715 yards last season). Will one or two emerge and become 1,000-yard backs? Or will they split carries, gain major yardage together and not have a single guy hit that mark? Could go either way.

USC has Buck Allen and Justin Davis and Tre Madden. ASU has D.J. Foster. Utah has Bubba Poole. Could Stanford’s Barry Sanders follow in his dad’s footsteps? Or will it be Kelsey Young who steals the show at Stanford? UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley accounted for 748 rushing yards last season. Could he add a few more long runs and hit the mark? What about one of his backs, such as Jordon James or Paul Perkins?

Colorado is pretty deep, Washington has options, and Oregon State says its run game is much improved.

With all those guys, how many 1,000-yard rushers will we actually see? History says it can range greatly. But what say you?

Pac-12 problem: Losing expansion?

August, 22, 2014
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Over the past five or so years, the Power Five conferences started playing expansion roulette. Although the ultimate wisdom of these moves can be measured only over the long term, the short-term results can be judged.

That judgment? Things worked out well for the SEC and Big Ten. Not so much for the Pac-12 and Big 12.

The Big Ten added Nebraska three seasons ago to give it 12 teams. The Cornhuskers, despite not satisfying their demanding fans, have gone 17-7 in league play and won 28 games overall.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau and Tenny Palepoi
AP Photo/Rick BowmerColorado and Utah have a dismal 13-41 combined record in league play since joining the Pac-12.
The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Each has posted double-digit wins and high national rankings as an SEC member, and their two-year conference marks essentially match what they did in their last two years in the Big 12.

The Big 12 replaced those two with TCU and West Virginia, teams that had won BCS bowl games as members of the Mountain West and Big East conferences, respectively. Yet neither has posted a winning record in Big 12 play, and both regressed to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference last year.

The Pac-12? It raided the Big 12 for Colorado, which went 5-7 and 2-6 in 2010, and the Mountain West for Utah, which went 10-3, 7-1 that year. Neither has matched its 2010 records in the Pac-12 nor posted a winning record in conference play. The Buffaloes have gone a meager 4-23 against Pac-12 foes, while the Utes have gone from 4-5 to 3-6 to 2-7 in conference games.

Nebraska has been to three consecutive New Year's Day bowls, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl last year, while Texas A&M has won a Heisman Trophy and two bowl games. Like the Aggies, Missouri has won a Cotton Bowl against the Big 12. Both have produced top-five rankings over the past two years.

The lone badge of postseason honor for the Pac-12 newbies? Utah's victory over Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl. To the Utes' credit, they have gone 9-1 in games outside the Pac-12 over the past three seasons, including 3-0 versus their bitter rival BYU.

Although the Pac-12 has surged after realignment in terms of national perception, gaining ground on the SEC, and the Big Ten has stagnated by comparison, that's had nothing to do with expansion. While Pac-12 folks aren't going to whine about the fruits of expansion -- Exhibit A being a $3 billion TV deal -- or even grouse about poor-to-middling results from the new members, it's fair to say the short-term gain in terms of assets on Saturdays has been slight.

As assets, Colorado and Utah don't attract national eyeballs at present as they would if they were winning 10 games and were nationally ranked. The Utes' nail-biter with Arizona State in November was an interesting game, but it would have been featured prominently in highlight shows that night if it were a battle of ranked teams eyeballing the South Division title.

That said, other Pac-12 coaches might enjoy not having two more teams threatening to play at a Top 25 -- or better -- level. The conference, even with the Utes and Buffs slumping, is deeper than it's ever been. In fact, if both were playing at a high level, the conference's chances to put two teams in BCS bowl games, as it did in two of the previous three years, would have been reduced, costing each team about $1 million since 2011. That holds true looking forward to a potential berth -- or berths -- in the College Football Playoff.

Depth is good. It's fun to celebrate top-to-bottom quality. But it also makes it more difficult to go 12-0 or 11-1 in the regular season, records typically required for national title contention.

Still, the Pac-12 is better served by Utah and Colorado improving. The conference certainly would like the Denver and Salt Lake City markets to turn their attention to college football in large numbers.

Not to conclude with an outlandish assertion here, but here's a guess that the folks most eager for the Buffs and Utes to help the Pac-12 feel good about its expansion choices are the fans, administrators, players and coaches associated with both programs.
As you might have heard, the Pac-12 has a bit of depth at quarterback this year. Actually, a ridiculous amount. Maybe the most in college football history.

The chances are slim, but there’s a foreseeable scenario in which the conference could feature two Heisman Trophy finalists (Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota), the nation’s leader in touchdown passes (Sean Mannion), the nation’s passing yardage leader (Connor Halliday) and send two others to the NFL next season (Taylor Kelly and Kevin Hogan).

That’s before factoring in USC’s Cody Kessler, whom Bovada installed at 75-to-1 to win the Heisman, and Utah’s Travis Wilson, who has a chance to become one of the best comeback stories in recent memory.

With all that talent, Cal’s Jared Goff and Colorado’s Sefo Liufau are, for the most part, flying comfortably below the radar. However, if things progress the way the pair of sophomores -- both of whom started as true freshmen -- are expecting, that will soon change.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThrown into the fire as a true freshman, Cal's Jared Goff is poised for a breakthrough.
It was at about this time a year ago that Goff was named the starter, but he and Liufau were still getting comfortable with their teammates, learning new offenses and unsure of the road ahead.

"Fall camp was a little overwhelming," Liufau said. "It was hard to grasp the whole offense and decipher what defenses were doing, call out the protections, run the correct play, use all the signals. Things were going too fast for me to comprehend."

And now?

"Night and day," he said. "Everything has slowed down."

For Goff, the difference is equally palpable.

"Last year, I was more focused on bigger things, the basics," he said, "and now I can go into more detailed stuff and make more intricate reads."

Getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman quarterback ranks up there with the more difficult tasks in college football, but because they were also playing for first-year coaches in systems that were foreign to their teammates, the learning curve was even tougher. Goff didn’t have the luxury of a soft opening, either, facing four ranked teams in his first six starts.

All things considered, Goff’s freshman season — from an individual standpoint — went about as well as one could have hoped. He completed 320 of 531 passes (60.3 percent) for 3,508 yards and 18 touchdowns. Of the 16 quarterbacks at the FBS level that attempted at least 430 passes, only five had fewer interceptions than Goff’s 10.

After a summer in which he spent at least three days a week running 7-on-7 drills with the Golden Bears' impressive collection of receivers, Goff's development has been obvious during Cal practices.

"His ability to be on the same page with the receivers has really improved," coach Sonny Dykes said. "He's a lot more poised, a lot more confident. He's stronger. The ball is coming out quicker and he's a lot more decisive."

Unlike Goff, Liufau was eased into the job last season. He sat for the first four games and came off the bench against Arizona State in the fifth before taking the reins against Charleston Southern and keeping them the rest of the year. He completed 149 of 251 passes (59.4 percent) for 1,779 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The numbers won't blow anyone away, but it was enough of a foundation for Colorado fans to be confident they had a guy with a bright future.

However, that was with talented receiver Paul Richardson. The Seattle Seahawks' second-round pick averaged 6.9 catches for nearly 98 yards with Liufau entrenched as the starter and was as reliable a security blanket as there was in college football.

Without him, there's reasons for skepticism, but Liufau doesn't seem worried.

"I see big strides from numerous players and the team overall," he said. "I think we can win every game. It sounds crazy to people, but if we execute the way we have in fall camp, it’s definitely possible."
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: Sefo Liufau (pronounced seff-0h loo-fow)

School: Colorado Buffaloes

Grade: Sophomore

2013 passing stats: Completed 149 of 251 passes (59.4 percent) for 1,779 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. He had a raw QBR of 44.8 and an adjusted QBR of 54.4.

Career passing stats: Same as above.

2013 rushing stats: Rushed 40 times for 43 yards and zero touchdowns.

Career rushing stats: Same as above.

Liufau on Twitter

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesSefo Liufau will need to be more consistent in his second season at Colorado.
What you need to know about Liufau: When the Buffs saw their nonconference game against Fresno State canceled because of flooding in Boulder last year, it opened up the schedule for another FCS team in Charleston Southern. That's when head coach Mike MacIntyre shrewdly pulled the trigger and inserted Liufau into the starting lineup -- though he'd seen extended action the previous game against ASU. The move gave the freshman a bit of confidence as he went 14-of-20 for 198 yards and a touchdown. The Liufau era was officially underway. Jordan Gehrke played well enough in the spring to keep Liufau on his toes during fall camp -- though as the only Buffs quarterback with any game experience, Liufau is the guy unless he plays himself out of the starting spot.

Career high point: Besides the Charleston Southern win, Liufau's only other victory as a starter came in a 41-24 victory over Cal. He was impressive, completing 23 of 36 passes for 364 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. In the process, the Buffs snapped a 14-game skid against conference opponents. Liufau is young, and the Buffs coaching staff hope he's got many more career high points to come.

Career low point: Like the career high point, he doesn't have many games to work with. But the 59-7 loss to Washington last year was a pretty rough game all around. Liufau completed just 12 of 22 passes with a touchdown and two interceptions. One of his interceptions was a pick-six on the first drive of the second half, and the second one came on the very next drive. He was pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of Connor Wood.

When he was a recruit: Colorado was Liufau's only offer, but that doesn't truly tell the story of his recruitment, as the former four-star quarterback received plenty of interest from some of the Pac-12's top programs, including Oregon, Stanford and UCLA. While it was something of an up-and-down season for Liufau once he took over as a starter in the seventh game of the season, that didn't come as much of a shock, due to his status as a first-year player and looking back to his ESPN RecruitingNation scouting report. There are the ups: "He is an imposing player who, when in rhythm, can really get hot and make every throw on the field." The downs: "His release mechanics show promise, but are not always consistent. He can look smooth on one throw and quirky on the next." And what makes him exciting for the future at Colorado: "Liufau is raw fundamentally and has some street ball characteristics when things break down, but there are tools to mold and he has upside as a result."

Opposing head coach's take: “Very athletic. Strong player. He's got a great future. We have to see what he does without that big No. 6 there as a security blanket (receiver Paul Richardson). If they can put some pieces around him, he could be a strong leader for that program. But he's still young. He's got a lot of developing to do.”

What to expect in 2014: Liufau is a work in progress. But there were flashes in 2013 of what he's capable of. As our opposing head coach said, seeing what he can do without the benefit of Richardson will be interesting. Of Liufau's 149 completions last season, 52 were made by Richardson. And 5 of his 12 touchdown passes were caught by “big No. 6.” He's already been voted a season-long team captain by his teammates. So his teammates have faith in him. He's got three starting offensive linemen returning to protect him and there's a potentially strong running game behind him. No one is tapping Liufau for all-conference just yet. But the playing experience he gained last season should pay dividends as the Buffs move into a much more difficult schedule (remember, no FCS teams this year). First mental test comes in Week 1 against rival Colorado State. Matching last year's win total (which included two wins over FCS teams) would be considered a step forward for the program and Liufau could cement himself as the Colorado starter for the next couple of years.

Erik McKinney contributed reporting.
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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.

Pac-12 commit update

August, 13, 2014
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It's been a while (or, "a minute" as the kids say these days) since we've looked at where each school stands with its commits in the 2015 classes. But, since we're in the midst of fall camp and recruits are going to be on campus for practices and games, it seems like a perfect time to look at the numbers before the games kick off in a few weeks.

Vamos.

ARIZONA

Commits: 22 | ESPN 300 commits: 1

OT Keenan Walker (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral); OG Cody Creason (Folsom, Calif./Folsom); RB Orlando Bradford (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist Academy); WR Cedric Peterson (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde); OT Harper Sherman (New Westminster, BC, Can./New Westminster Secondary); CB Anthony Mariscal (Bakersfield, Calif./Liberty); CB Samuel Morrison (Washington, DC/Gonzaga College); ATH Antonio Parks (Reserve, La./East Saint John); ILB Kendrick Jackson (Haynesville, La./Haynesville); OG Alex Kosinski (Larkspur, Calif./Redwood); DE Kendal Franklin (New Orleans, Warren Easton); RB Darick Holmes Jr. (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park); DT Finton Connolly (Gilbert, Ariz./Campo Verde); TE Ricky McCoy (Fresno, Calif./Bullard); TE Jamie Nunley (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta); ATH Brion Anduze (Silverdale, Wash./Central Kitsap); S Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (Tucson, Ariz./Tucson); OG Nathan Eldrige (Anthem, Ariz./Boulder Creek); RB Dami Ayoola (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Arizona Western College); S Paul Magloire (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western College); RB Kendall Williams (North Little Rock, Ark./Butte College); Dane Cruikshank (Chino Hills, Calif./Citrus College)

ARIZONA STATE

Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 1

QB Brady White (Newhall, Calif./William S. Hart); ATH Morie Evans (Huntsville, Tex./Huntsville); ATH Tony Nicholson (Grand Prairie, Tex./South Grand Prairie); QB Bryce Perkins (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler); OT Mason Walter (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral); TE Tommy Hudson (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty); ATH Alfred Smith (Destrehan, Calif./Destrehan); OG Cade Cote (Gilbert, Ariz./Williams Field); OT Steve Miller (Gilbert, Ariz./Gilbert); OLB Malik Lawal (Murrieta, Calif./Chaparral); RB Nick Ralston (Argyle, Tex./Argyle); TE Raymond Epps (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western College)

CALIFORNIA

Commits: 10 | ESPN 300 commits: 0

QB Ross Bowers (Bothell, Wash./Bothell); WR Greyson Bankhead (Corona, Calif./Centennial); CB Malik Psalms (Chino Hills, Calif./Ayala); RB Lonny Powell (Sacramento, Calif./Sacramento); OG Ryan Gibson (Bay Saint Louis, Miss./Saint Stanislaus); OT Johnny Capra (Auburn, Calif./Placer); WR Austin Aaron (Napa, Calif./Napa); DT Luc Bequette (Little Rock, Ark./Catholic High School For Boys); TE Zeandae Johnson (Fresno, Calif./Central); DE Trevor Howard (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian)

COLORADO

Commits: 8 | ESPN 300 commits: 1

OG Tim Lynott (Aurora, Col./Regis Jesuit); QB Steven Montez (Del Valle, Tex./Del Valle); DE T.J. Fehoko (Salt Lake City/Cottonwood); OG Dillon Middlemiss (Arvada, Col./Pomona); K Alex Kinney (Fort Collins, Col./Rocky Mountain); OLB N.J. Falo (Sacramento, Calif./Inderkum); DT Brett Tonz (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial); WR Josiah Blandin (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach City College)

OREGON

Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 4

WR Alex Ofodile (Columbia, Mo./Rock Bridge); RB Taj Griffin (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern); QB Travis Waller (Anaheim, Calif./Servite); OG Zach Okun (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park); OT Jake Hanson (Eureka, Calif./Eureka); WR Jake Breeland (Mission Viejo, Calif./Trabuco Hills); S P.J. Locke (Beaumont, Tex./Central); OT Shane Lemieux (Yakima, Wash./West Valley); OT Brady Aiello (Lafayette, Calif./Acalanes); CB Jihree Stewart (Corona, Calif./Centennial); OT Calvin Throckmorton (Bellevue, Wash./Newport); S Dylan Kane (Honolulu/Kamehameha Schools)

OREGON STATE

Commits: 11 | ESPN 300 commits: 0

TE Matt Pistone (Yuma, Ariz./Yuma Catholic); OG Beau Hott (Plano, Tex./Plano Senior); S Solomon Matautia (Ewa Beach, Hi./Campbell); QB James Pensyl (Land O'Lakes, Fla./Land O. Lakes); OLB Tyrin Ferguson (New Orleans/Edna Karr); S Omar Hicks-Onu (Carrollton, Tex./Hebron); OG Miki Fifita (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy); DE Hunter Mattox (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon); OG Jacob Jimenez (Pflugerville, Tex./Pflugerville); OLB Angelo Garbutt (Carrollton, Tex./Hebron); CB Treshon Broughton (Tustin, Calif./Los Angeles Harbor College)

STANFORD

Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 3

OG Nick Wilson (Milton, Ga./Milton); S Arrington Farrar (College Park, Ga./Woodward Academy); C Brian Chaffin (Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Christian); ILB Christian Folau (Salt Lake City/East); WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Roebuck, SC/Dorman); K Jake Bailey (Solana Beach, Calif./Santa Fe Christian); DT Rex Manu (Mililani, Hi./Mililani); ILB Reagan Williams (Jackson, Ohio/Jackson); OLB Casey Toohill (San Diego, Calif./Cathedral Catholic)

UCLA

Commits: 14 | ESPN 300 commits: 5

QB Josh Rosen (Bellflower, Calif./Saint John Bosco); TE Alize Jones (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman); OG Fred Ulu-Perry Jr. (Honolulu/Saint Louis); OT Andre James (Herriman, Utah/Herriman); OG Tevita Halalilo (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde); WR L.J. Reed (Elk Grove, Calif./Cosumnes Oaks); DT Bryce English (DeSoto, Tex./DeSoto); ATH Stephen Johnson (San Leandro, Calif./San Leandro); CB Will Lockett (Manvel, Tex./Manvel); ILB Victor Alexander (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian Academy); RB T.J. Simmons (Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland Christian); DE Rick Wade (Rancho Sant Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic); RB Bolu Olorunfunmi (Clovis, Calif./Clovis North); OLB Josh Woods (Upland, Calif./Upland)

USC

Commits: 15 | ESPN 300 commits: 7

OT Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern); QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente); QB Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./Saint Bonaventure); DT Jacob Daniel (Fresno, Calif./Clovis North); WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast); ATH Isaiah Langley (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill); ILB Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay); WR Desean Holmes (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany); DT Noah Jefferson (Las Vegas/Liberty); RB Aca'Cedric Ware (Cedar Hill, Tex./Cedar Hill); CB Taeon Mason (Pasadena, Calif./John Muir); OT Clayton Johnston (Anaheim, Calif./Servite); DE Christian Rector (Los Angeles/Loyola); OT Roy Hemsley (Los Angeles/Windward); WR De'Quan Hampton (Compton, Calif./Long Beach City College)

UTAH

Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 0

WR Donzale Roddie (Paramount, Calif./Paramount); OT Jake Grant (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon); WR Justice Murphy (Vancouver, Wash./Evergreen); K Chayden Johnston (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham); ATH Tuli Wily-Matagi (Kahuku, Hi./Kahuku); WR George Wilson (Tustin, Calif./Tustin); QB Michael Jacquet III (Beaumont, Tex./Central); OLB Cody Barton (Salt Lake City/Brighton); OT Zach Lindsay (Kaysville, Utah/Snow College)

WASHINGTON

Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 1

QB Jake Browning (Folsom, Calif./Folsom); OT Trey Adams (Wenatchee, Wash./Wenatchee); WR Isaiah Renfro (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon); WR Andre Baccellia (Westlake Village, Calif./Westlake); RB Myles Gaskin (Seattle/O'Dea); TE Michaeal Neal (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Etiwanda); OT Jared Hilbers (Beaverton, Ore./Beaverton); CB Jordan Miller (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside); LS A.J. Carty (Anaheim, Calif./Servite)

WASHINGTON STATE

Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 2

DT Thomas Toki (Mountain View, Calif./Saint Francis); RB Austin Joyner (Marysville, Wash./Marysville-Pilchuck); CB Darrien Molton (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral); WR Deontay Burnett (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra); RB James Williams (Burbank, Calif./Burbank); S Kameron Powell (Upland, Calif./Upland); QB Tyler Hilinski (Upland, Calif./Upland); S Dominic Davis (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany); K Matt Abramo (Petaluma, Calif./Casa Grande); OG Cedric Bigge-Duren (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside); OG Noah Myers (Walnut Creek, Calif./Las Lomas); ILB Aaron Porter (Norwalk, Calif./Cerritos College)

Notes:
  • These classes are already beginning to fill up pretty well, some better than others (cough, Arizona). And looking forward, the coaches are getting in early on some younger guys, too. Throughout the conference there are already three 2016 commits and two 2017 commits. The three 2016 commits are running back Trevor Speights (Arizona), safety Brady Breeze (Oregon) and athlete Daelin Hayes (USC). The 2017 commits are defensive end Loren Mundy (Arizona State) and quarterback Tathan Martell (Washington).
  • So far, there are five special team commits in the Pac-12, keeping with the national trend of placing higher importance on special teams players. Stanford, Utah, Colorado and Washington State have all picked up commitments from kickers while Washington has a verbal from a long snapper.
  • The conference has 11 commits who are within the top five nationally in their respective position groups. UCLA leads the way with three top-5 commits (Rosen - No. 1 QB, Jones - No. 1 TE-Y, Ulu-Perry Jr. - No. 4 OG). Behind the Bruins are USC (Edoga - No. 3 OT, Darnold - No. 3 QB-PP), Oregon (Ofodile - No. 5 WR, Griffin - No. 4 RB) and Stanford (Chaffin - No. 3 C, Bailey - No. 4 K) with two apiece. Arizona has Walker, the No. 4 OT, and Washington has Browning, the No. 5 QB-PP.
  • There are 10 juco players already committed to Pac-12 schools. Arizona, which leads the league with 22 commits, has four verbal commitments from junior college players. There are six other schools with commitments from junior college players -- Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington State.
  • Stanford is doing a tremendous job recruiting nationally. Its nine commitments hail from seven different states ranging from Georgia to Ohio to California to Hawaii. But Arizona is doing the best internationally with a commit from British Columbia.
  • Early front runner for best name in the Pac-12 is UCLA running back Bolu Olorunfunmi. C'mon Olo-RUN-FUN-mi. He's going to have so much FUN being a RUNning back. And writers (and editors who write headlines) are going to have a lot of fun, too.
In anticipation of the college football season, Grantland is previewing each power conference and today Holly Anderson made a stop in Pac-12 territory and took a look around at the "wild, wild West Coast."

Anderson says that Oregon is the spotlight team for many reasons, one of which is the schedule the Ducks face in 2014.
"Please adjust all perceptions of the concept to account for the Ducks’ position within the maelstrom of the Pac-12, particularly as residents of the Hydra-headed North division. This team gets Michigan State in Week 2; plays Arizona and UCLA out of the South; and operates in a division containing defending Pac-12 champ Stanford, can’t-be-discounted peskiness enthusiasts Oregon State and Washington State, and a looming legitimate threat in Washington. The very least the Ducks have to manage just to maintain respectability in this league is, in itself, a big damn deal."

She also analyzes a few different story lines, mentions a few notable players and touches on some other categories -- toastiest coach, breakout stars, must-watch games and outlandish predictions.

It's worth checking out. To read the full preview, click here.
The chess-like nature of recruiting forces coaches to look years into the future, both to fill their own roster as well as take advantage of strengths and weaknesses of the upcoming high school classes. Despite the 2014 football season not kicking off for another few weeks, the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting classes are already filling up, which gives us the opportunity to look ahead and name the 2015 recruit who fills the biggest need for each program.


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Pac-12 rivalry heat meter

August, 11, 2014
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A college football rivalry never exactly cools off, at least among the emotionally involved. But rivalries do go through upticks and downticks of relevance, both regionally and nationally.

So which Pac-12 rivalries are heating up, stagnating or cooling as we head into the 2014 season?

USC Trojans-UCLA Bruins

The facts: USC leads the series 46-30-7 and has won 12 of the last 15 games, but the Bruins have won two in a row under Jim Mora, including a 35-14 domination last year.

The meter: Sizzling and rising.

The animosity between the fan bases is always strong, but what makes a rivalry truly heat up is relevance. And substantial stakes. This rivalry is gaining in both areas. USC is one of the preeminent football programs in the nation, even though UCLA fans hate to read that. UCLA is the rising western power under Mora, even though USC fans mock the idea. USC has a new coach in Steve Sarkisian and is moving past NCAA sanctions. UCLA is a top-10 team eyeballing the College Football Playoff. Know what I say? Release the hounds!

Arizona Wildcats-Arizona State Sun Devils

The facts: Arizona leads the series 47-39-1, but Todd Graham has won the last two against Rich Rodriguez, including a 58-21 blowout last year in Tempe. Before that, the visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four -- games that were decided by a total of 15 points.

The meter: Blistering and heating up.

While Oregon-Washington fans provide the most blowback to the Pac-12 blog -- Yakety Yak! Oh, yeah! Yakety Yak -- Arizona and Arizona State fans are a strong No. 2. It used to be the fans hated each other and whined a lot -- "You cover them more... waaaaaa!" -- because both teams were fairly mediocre. But the Sun Devils won the South Division last year and are now 2-0 under Todd Graham against the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez. With both programs trending up in an overall sense, the rivalry is gaining relevance. It also helps that Graham and Rodriguez don't particularly care for each other.

Oregon Ducks-Washington Huskies

The facts: Washington leads the series 58-43-5, but the Ducks have won 10 straight in the series by at least 17 points, including a 45-24 win in Seattle last year.

The meter: Hot but stagnating.

This has long been the most bitter Pac-10/12 rivalry but it has experienced a dramatic power shift to the Ducks. Sorry Huskies, you know it's true. It seems like Oregon fans these days are more worried about winning that darn absent national title than fretting about that team from up North. Now, if Washington and new coach Chris Petersen go into Autzen Stadium and steal one this year... well, that can't happen. Can it? Maybe that possibility needs to be debated.

USC-Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The facts: USC has won nine of the last 12 meetings, but the Fighting Irish has won three of the last four, including a 14-10 win last year. Since 1967, USC has gone 24-20-3 in the series.

The meter: Simmering with many hoping for a boil (particularly TV executives)

As far as national rivalries go, this one is without peer. It's an annual classic that matches two of college football's top powers. Lately, both teams have been nationally relevant, albeit not on an annual basis, and that's the issue. This rivalry is more about national relevance than bitterness. What it needs to heat up is for both teams to be national contenders with the winner in line for the College Football Playoff.

Washington-Washington State Cougars

The facts: Washington leads the series 68-32-6, including a 27-17 victory last year. The Cougars have lost 11 of the last 16 Apple Cups, but are 1-1 under Mike Leach.

The meter: Simmering with lots of potential spice

Have you stopped and pondered just how fun this one might get if Petersen and Mike Leach get their programs' performances to match their respective coaching reputations? For one, in terms of the media, it could be a Don James-Jim Walden deal where Petersen is a "2,000-word underdog" to the loquacious Leach. As it is at present, the Cougars really, really hate the entitled Huskies but the Huskies reserve their most bitter distain for Oregon.

Oregon-Oregon State

The facts: Oregon leads the series 61-46-10 and has won the last six meetings, including a 36-35 thriller in Autzen Stadium last year.

The meter: Warm but in need of another log on the fire

Know what bothers Oregon State fans? When some Ducks fans say they root for the Beavers when the two aren't playing. It probably isn't a statement of emotional fact, but Oregon fans recognize it as the ultimate patronizing gesture. See above with Washington: The Beavers really, really hate the entitled Ducks but the Ducks reserve their most bitter distain for Washington. Now, if the Ducks start to slide a bit and the Beavers push past them in the North Division -- or at least become Oregon's equal again -- this one will immediately boil over, potentially returning to the back-and-forth turf battle it was from 1998-2008, when it was one of the conference's most interesting and meaningful rivalries.

USC-Stanford Cardinal

The facts: In a series that dates back to 1905, USC holds a 59-29-3 lead, but Stanford has won four of the last five meetings. Still, a year after Stanford upset the then-No. 2 Trojans, USC returned the favor by knocking off No. 4 Stanford 20-17 last fall.

The meter: Most rivalries are more about the fans than the players. This one might be more about the players than the fans. These two teams go at each other -- hard. Things really picked up steam with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh mouthing off about Pete Carroll, then backing it up with two wins, including the classic "What's your deal?" game in 2009. Stanford started USC's and Lane Kiffin's downward spiral in 2012, while the Trojans ended the Cardinal's national title hopes in 2013. And I personally enjoy watching the Stanford band drive the Coliseum crowd crazy -- "And now a tribute to a great USC graduate... Joe Francis!"

California Golden Bears-Stanford

The facts: Stanford leads the Big Game rivalry 54-44-10 and has won four in a row, including a 63-13 blowout last year.

The meter: Luke warm until Cal rights itself

The Big Game is a great rivalry with a great history. The problem is getting the two teams to be good at the same time. Cal dominated the rivalry under Jeff Tedford until 2009. Now the Cardinal is fully in control. Second-years Bears coach Sonny Dykes probably could win over the Old Blues by pulling the upset this fall, but that will mean winning as a double-digit underdog.

BYU Cougars-Utah Utes

The facts: Utah leads the series 57-34-4. Utah has won four straight and nine of the last 12 games with the Cougars, including a 20-13 victory last year in Provo.

The meter: Always hot but chilling for two years

Utah has dominated this bitter series of late, most notably since joining the Pac-12, but there will be a two-year hiatus until the Holy War is renewed in 2016. That is unfortunate, as the series hasn't been interrupted since BYU didn't field teams during World War II (1943-45). Further, BYU is presently outside looking in, as it is not a Power Five conference member. It will be interesting to see how things go in the future.

Utah-Colorado Buffaloes

The facts: Colorado leads the series 31-26-3, and this is both teams’ longest series against any Pac-12 team. They played annually from 1903-62 with four exceptions, but then the rivalry went dormant for 49 years before it resumed in 2011 as Pac-12 members. As Pac-12 members, Utah leads 2-1 having won two in a row.

The meter: Tepid while awaiting some seasoning

Sure, this is a bit of an artificial rivalry. They are paired as rivals because they joined the conference together. But as both start to develop their Pac-12 legs, you can count on this rivalry heating up. They will be compared for a long time. Neither wants to be the one not measuring up. And don't forget the "Red Bike Incident."

Pac-12 morning links

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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The first week of fall camp has come and gone and if you're not itching for football, then wake up and smell the roses (seriously, though, because the Rose Bowl is less than five months away).

We're going to start doing links a slightly different way. Two notable things: 1. They're in the morning. Which, you've probably already assumed because of the time or because the post is called "morning links." 2. Not every team will be mentioned every single day. So, with that, we're off to embark on a new journey of linkage.
  • You might've forgotten about Washington wide receiver Kendyl Taylor, who redshirted as a sophomore after playing as a freshman. Adam Jude gives you a few reasons why you might want to remember him (plus some notes).
  • In 1999, Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost was on the cover of 989 Sports' video game "NCAA Game Breaker '99." Now, he comments on what the verdict in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust trial means for college players today.
  • Three years as a Colorado football player has meant three different positions for defensive lineman (a former linebacker and fullback) Clay Norgard.
  • USC is following the NFL model and giving off days to players in hopes that it aids in their recovery. This weekend, the Trojans had the first of their four off days before the season opener against Fresno State.
  • Going off the same idea of recovery -- UCLA coach Jim Mora has some of his players wearing GPS trackers so that they can monitor players during practice so the coaches can have a better understanding of when a player needs recovery time or when he can take the field again.
  • Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong says his game has improved everywhere, from his physical strength to his understanding of the offense to his drive.
  • Last week, Athlon released anonymous quotes from Pac-12 coaches discussing other teams in the conference (you can read it here). Utah coach Kyle Whittingham reflects on what was said about the Utes in those comments.

Pac-12 lunch links

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
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Happy Friday! And a special TGIF switch up for our readers who are always bummed that their schools fall near the end of the alphabet.
Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre dropped 55 pounds of chub during the offseason. Buffaloes defensive end Derek McCartney has put on 25 pounds of muscle since he signed in 2012.

Trimming the fat and building the muscle. That's two ways programs rebuild.

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Rick BowmerMike MacIntyre lost 55 pounds in the offseason, and the slimmed-down Colorado coach is hoping for less in the loss column in 2014.
Another way is remembering the difficult path to past glory in hopes of rekindling it. McCartney's last name surely will help Buffaloes fans do that. His grandfather, Bill McCartney, once led the program on its greatest run -- a split national title in 1990 and three Big 8 titles.

First-year athletic director Rick George was McCartney's football operations director a quarter century ago. He remembers the glory days. He's also become informed on how and why the Buffaloes have fallen behind in the present. He and MacIntyre have been paired to restore a football program that hasn't produced a winning season since 2005.

"You've got "Mc 1" [McCartney] and "Mac 2" [MacIntyre]," George said. "You see a lot of similarities."

MacIntyre took baby steps in that direction on the field last season, leading the Buffs to a 4-8 finish after things bottomed out at 1-11 in 2012 under Jon Embree, a former player for McCartney who lasted only two seasons. George is handling the infrastructure. The school began the first phase of $156 million facilities project this spring -- the estimated cost bounced up $13 million this month -- while George has been relentlessly roaming the fundraising circuit, hitting up boosters for "north of" the $47 million figure he announced in June. That's an unprecedented total for a fanbase not known for its generosity.

"I think it's because there's a plan and a vision that they can invest in," George said. "Our base is really rallying around the direction we are heading."

Upward mobility, however, won't be easy to obtain in the rugged Pac-12 and the suddenly deep South Division. Colorado is playing catch-up with talent and facilities while other teams in the conference appear to be simultaneously advancing in both areas. It's more than a question of improving, which MacIntyre's depth chart suggests is highly likely this fall. It's about identifying whom the Buffaloes can step over to advance out of the basement.

"We'll move up eventually," MacIntyre said. "I hope it's this year. But we'll keep moving up."

A decisive step forward would be two more wins compared to 2013, which would earn bowl eligibility. That would require two more Pac-12 victories, as the Buffs were 3-0 in their nonconference slate last year and only beat woeful California in Pac-12 play. Colorado faces the Golden Bears, who also should be much improved, on the road in week five, and host Utah in the season finale. The other seven Pac-12 games are against teams that finished with winning records last season, five of whom are ranked in the preseason coaches poll. Gaining ground won't be easy.

Meanwhile, patience with rebuilding isn't what it used to be. McCartney survived a 1-10 regression his third season in 1984, but MacIntyre, despite getting his contract extended through 2018 in February, probably can't afford too many perceived backward steps. It will be about wins and losses, and there will be little sympathy afforded to a "the Pac-12 is just too hard!" sentiment.

The Buffaloes were far more competitive in 2013 than they were in 2012, and the roster has matured despite the loss of a handful of key players. Fifteen starters and 50 lettermen are back, including sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau.

"I think we'll be improved everywhere," MacIntyre said. "Now we just have to get a lot of those games into the fourth quarter and win them in the fourth quarter."

For motivational purposes, MacIntyre has made up black bracelets with the word "Uncommon" inscribed in gold on them. He wants his players to aspire to more than common things, on and off the field. On the more practical side, he's eyeballing third down and the red zone on both sides of the ball as critical areas that need to improve.

Colorado ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in third-down conversion percentage on offense last season and was eighth on defense. In the red zone, the Buffs' offense converted 32 trips -- fewest in the conference -- into just 14 touchdowns, by far the worst percentage in the conference. With red-zone defense, opponents scored touchdowns on 43 of 64 drives, putting the Buffs in a near-dead heat with Cal for the worst percentage in the league. It didn't help that those 64 drives inside the 20-yard line were 13 more than any other team yielded.

One or two plays per game on third down and in the red zone can make a huge difference.

Emotions and stat analysis will only go so far, though. MacIntyre needs talent, as in bigger, faster players. For one, he needs to stop the flow of the best high school players out of state. Just two of the state's nine players in the 2013-14 recruiting class rated with three or more stars signed with Colorado, and neither of them ranked among the top six. He also has to re-establish a foothold in California and take his shots at Texas when it makes sense, just as McCartney did when he built an NFL pipeline.

The new facilities should help recruiting, but winning with new facilities is the only way to ensure a steady flow of talent.

MacIntyre's health kick started because of personal adversity. During the 2013 season, he moved his aging parents, who live in Nashville, into a nursing home. His father, George, who won the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award at Vanderbilt in 1982, suffers from multiple sclerosis. The 49-year-old son then took a personal inventory, which included a 3 a.m. reckoning with a mirror.

"I just kind of had an experience that I'd better get my act together," he said.

It was a quick and dramatic transformation, particularly for those who hadn't seen MacIntyre since the 2013 season. He is hoping for the same with his program this fall.

"All of a sudden," he said, "you'll get a win you weren't supposed to get. Then the next thing happens and the next thing happens..."
The talk of the conference this offseason has been the Pac-12 quarterbacks, as it should be. The league is stacked with talented and experienced signal-callers. But the question is: What are they all going to do in 2014?

In 2013, the Pac-12 had 10 quarterbacks who threw for at least 2,500 yards, including five who threw for at least 3,500 yards and two who threw for at least 4,500 yards.

SportsNation

How many 3,500-yard passers will the Pac-12 have this season?

  •  
    20%
  •  
    31%
  •  
    27%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,317)

Compared to other conferences, that’s just ridiculous. There wasn’t a single quarterback in the other power conferences who threw for more than 4,500 yards. The Pac-12 boasted both Sean Mannion (4,662 yards) and Connor Halliday (4,597 yards).

And the 10 Pac-12 QBs who passed for more than 2,500 yards -- how did that stack up nationally? The Big Ten, SEC and ACC had five quarterbacks each who threw for at least 2,500 yards. And when looking at 3,500-yard passers, the Pac-12 had more QBs accomplish that feat (five) than the other four power conferences combined (four).

The Pac-12 is loaded with these great quarterbacks in 2014, including 10 returning starters, eight of whom threw for 2,500 yards or more in 2013. So, how much better are they going to be this year than they were last season? Are we going to see a major jump in passing yardage? Or with so many top receivers gone, will some of the numbers stagnate?

Given those musings, we bring the poll question for the week: How many 3,500-yard passers will the Pac-12 have in 2014? How confident are you in the top one-third -- one-half, two-thirds -- of the conference?

To give you an idea statistically, here are the 10 returners along with their passing yardage from 2013 as well as some of their top expected receiver targets for 2014.

1. Sean Mannion (4,662 yards) -- Victor Bolden, Richard Mullaney, Malik Gilmore
2. Connor Halliday (4,597 yards) -- Gabe Marks, Vince Mayle, Kristoff Williams
3. Marcus Mariota (3,665 yards) -- Keanon Lowe, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford
4. Taylor Kelly (3,635 yards) -- Jaelen Strong, Ellis Jefferson
5. Jared Goff (3,508 yards) -- Bryce Treggs, Chris Harper, Kenny Lawler
6. Brett Hundley (3,071 yards) -- Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton, Devin Lucien
7. Cody Kessler (2,968 yards) -- Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers
8. Kevin Hogan (2,630 yards) -- Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector
9. Travis Wilson (1,827 yards) -- Dres Anderson, Kenneth Scott
10. Sefo Liufau (1,179 yards) -- Nelson Spruce, D.D. Goodson, Tyler McCulloch

So will we see a similar repeat, with five passers throwing for at least 3,500 yards? Or will the conference QBs make an even-bigger step forward? Let us know what you think.

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Colorado Buffaloes.

2013 record: 4-8, 2-7 Pac-12

Final grade for 2013: C

[+] EnlargeAddison Gillam
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsAddison Gillam led the Pac-12 in tackles per game last season (8.9).
Key returnees: LB Addison Gillam, QB Sefo Liufau, RB Christian Powell, RB Michael Adkins, DL Juda Parker, WR Nelson Spruce

Key losses: WR Paul Richardson, LB Derrick Webb

Instant impact newcomers: WR Shay Fields, TE Hayden Jones, S Evan White, DE Michael Mathewes

Projected winning percentage (ESPN.com Stats & Information): .362

Chances to win the conference (ESPN.com Stats & Information): 0.0 percent

Most important game: at California, Sept. 27

Biggest question mark: Can Liufau make the strides as a sophomore that will help this team be more competitive by his senior season? (Because, yes, this year for the Buffaloes is more about the future than anything.)

Best-case scenario: 5-7

Worst-case scenario: 1-11

Over/under win total (Bovada): 4

Upset special: Taking down Oregon State at home in early October. It’d be a stretch, but with the Beavers coming off a game at USC the weekend before, there’s a chance the stars could align and the Buffs could walk away with a huge home win.

They said it: “Last year I think in the SEC, Auburn won three games the year before and Missouri won five games, and nobody in the world picked them to be in the championship game and they were . . . But we'll move up eventually. I hope it's this year. But we'll keep moving up. We'll do it. I think it's all a process of building it. I think you see it all the time. Every year you see some people move up and work at it, and people come out of the woodwork, so to speak.” -- coach Mike MacIntyre

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