Pac-12: Oregon State Beavers
It started with a rumor and a casual conversation. There were search firms and lists, but there were also back channels, innuendo and a lot of "this guy talked to that guy who heard this..." going on.
That's how the process of expediting Gary Andersen from Wisconsin to Oregon State began.
"A lot of it, we figured, was probably rumors," said Oregon State athletic director Bob De Carolis. "But you talk to people and you hear things. Maybe things aren't as rosy as they should be. A lot of it was probably rumors, but you follow up on it to make sure if there is some truth to it."
But in a matter of days, rumors became facts, facts became introductions and introductions led to Andersen being named Oregon State's new head coach less than a week after Mike Riley's jolting departure to Nebraska.
"It wasn't in my back pocket, that was for sure," De Carolis said with a chuckle. "That's a bit of urban myth. I think what you do at our level, you watch people over time and you keep people in the back of your mind. You never know. We didn't think with Coach Riley's situation that anything was imminent. We weren't thinking that way. But once we got an inkling that something was happening, we went into attack mode."
Within two days, De Carolis had what he called a "robust" list of candidates -- names that were acquired through various channels. Some contacted De Carolis through their agents. Others called on their own. Some OSU reached out to. He looked at Power 5 coaches, Group of 5 coaches, FCS coaches and out-of-work coaches working in assorted media.
"You'd be surprised to hear the people that might be willing to have a conversation," De Carolis said.
But the name he kept hearing through those casual conversations was Andersen's.
"On that Saturday, his name popped up and our interest popped up when we heard that might be a possibility," De Carolis said. "We got connected with his representatives to make sure it was accurate and we scheduled a face-to-face for Tuesday [Dec. 9]."
De Carolis said a total of five candidates were interviewed for the job, and overtures toward Andersen were made following the Big Ten championship game. By Sunday, the parties had connected and by the following Tuesday, De Carolis and Andersen agreed to a deal in principle. The next day, Andersen was introduced as OSU's 28th head coach.
"It was all such a whirlwind," Andersen says. "You know how these things go. They reached out, agents talked and that whole process. Things rolled very, very quickly."
Just as Riley's departure was a college football bombshell, Andersen's hire was also met with dropped jaws.
"I get it. I understand it," Andersen said. "We won nine games and 10 games and got to two Jan. 1st bowl games. We had tremendous success on the field and I was lucky to be part of it. I get the fact that 'why would you do that?' But what I don't understand is the perception of why you'd leave Wisconsin and the Big Ten for Oregon State and the Pac-12. I have a tremendous amount of respect for both conferences and both programs. Oregon State and Wisconsin matchup and are very comparable. That's my opinion."
Now Andersen takes over a program that is home for the holidays in a league that is surging. Their rivals are in the Rose Bowl, one game away from going to the national championship and the balance of power in the league is in a state of flux. Priority No. 1, he said, will be focusing on the roster that's in place.
"You break everything down with your team first," Andersen said. "I don't think you can worry about what you're fighting. You have to put yourself in a position to get your roster put together. ...You want to run your style. The style we want to move into. Look at us at Wisconsin, we were only able to do that to a certain point because where we were. We had the best running back in the country [Melvin Gordon] so we just put the ball in his hands. We're not the smartest coaches in the world, but we're not the dumbest either."
With facility upgrades coming, De Carolis said he believes Andersen is walking into a pretty good situation.
"There's this misnomer that we don't have resources," De Carolis said. "We've got resources ... the good news going forward is Coach Andersen is taking a situation that's not exactly broken. A lot of things we're going to do here will hopefully help him take it to the next level."
A few more All-America teams were announced Tuesday, and the usual Pac-12 suspects continue to rake in the honors. Here's the latest breakdown.
First up is the Associated Press All-America team.
- First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, Shaq Thompson, AP, Washington.
- First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington, Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona, Hau’oli Kikaha, LB, Washington, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon, Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
- Second-team offense: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford, Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
- Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah, Leonard Williams, DT, USC, Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
- Third-team offense: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon, Nelson Agholor, WR, USC.
- Third-team defense: Su’a Cravens, S, USC.
Next up is the Sports Illustrated All-America team.
- First-team offense: Mariota, Grasu, Peat.
- First-team defense: Orchard, Wright III, Thompson, Kendricks, Ekpre-Olomu.
- Second team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
- Second team defense: Williams, Kikaha
- Second team special teams: Hackett
Here's the Fox Sports All-America team.
- First-team offense: Mariota
- First-team defense: Williams, Wright III, Kikaha, Ekpre-Olomu,
- First-team special teams: Hackett, Kaelin Clay, KR, Utah
- Second-team offense: Agholor
- Second-team defense: Orchard, Shelton, Thompson, Kendricks
Also, USA Today put together its Freshman All-America team. Included on that list from the Pac-12 are:
- Offense: Toa Lobendahn, OL, USC, Jacob Alsadek, OL, Arizona
- Defense: Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah, Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC, Budda Baker, S, Washington.
Finally, Bruce Feldman of Fox breaks down the most impressive freshmen. Jackson and Baker are on his list.
- The '89 Fiesta Bowl is not a fun topic for Arizona assistants.
- ASU's playmakers need time with their NFL decision.
- Some more Cal recruiting updates.
- The Buffs picked up a JC defensive back commitment.
- Oregon is easing into Florida State prep.
- Gary Andersen hit the airwaves yesterday.
- Austin Hooper trying to re-establish the tight end at Stanford.
- Some video highlights of a UCLA TE commit.
- USC officially turns its attention to Nebraska.
- Utah's role is reversed now that it's a P0wer 5 program.
- The Huskies landed their fourth commit in the past three days.
- Tis the season for prep highlight clips. Here's a WSU commit.
In case you missed it (and it would have been pretty hard to miss it if you follow Pac-12 football), here's the full presentation of Marcus Mariota reading the Top 10 on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
California (5-7, 3-6 Pac-12)
The good: The Golden Bears improved from their dreadful 1-11 mark in 2013 to 5-7 in 2014, and they continued the successful development of an explosive offense. The Cal attack finished the season second to only Oregon in the Pac-12, averaging 38.2 points per game. Quarterback Jared Goff (35 touchdowns, seven interceptions) took the next step, and there's plenty of reason to believe he'll be even better his junior year. Emerging running back Daniel Lasco (1,115 yards, 5.3 yards per carry) is a big part of the puzzle: Cal now has a truly dangerous, multifaceted offense.
The bad: Yes, the Bears' defense improved, but the final tally was still horrendous. Cal surrendered a conference-worst 39.8 points and 511 yards per game -- more than 50 yards worse than the Pac-12's 11th-place defense. That being said, the "eye test" certainly confirmed Cal made strides under new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. There's just so much work still left to do, and it starts with tackling. The Bears were also the most penalized team in the Pac-12.
2015 outlook: Cal has a legitimate shot to break through in Sonny Dykes' third season there. Goff will be a junior, and he'll likely return his trio of talented veteran receivers (Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs and Kenny Lawler). Lasco will be a senior, so the offense will be armed and ready to go. Meanwhile, the only possible trajectory for the defense is up.
Oregon State (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12)
The good: Sean Mannion became the Pac-12's all-time passing leader, surpassing Matt Barkley's mark late in the season. The Beavers avoided what would have been a completely disastrous seven-game losing streak to finish the season by stunning Arizona State at home. Mannion played well in that game, but Oregon State gained initial separation because of dual 100-yard rushing performances from Storm Woods and Terron Ward. With Mannion and Ward graduating, Woods will likely be asked to shoulder a heavy offensive load in his senior season.
The bad: Without explosive receiver Brandin Cooks, the Oregon State attack lost its bite. The Beavers finished ranked last (tied with Stanford) in the Pac-12 at 25.7 points per game. After a strong start, the defense also slipped to ninth in the conference (31.6 points per game). Given that stalling statistical performance, it's not hard to see why Oregon State lost six of last seven games and missed out on bowl eligibility.
2015 outlook: It's a new era in Corvallis. Gary Andersen has taken Mike Riley's place as head coach, and the Pac-12 will watch with keen interest to see exactly how the Beavers evolve. Andersen hasn't delved all too specifically into what type of offense he wants to install at Oregon State, but he will have to find a way to replace Mannion, the school record holder in every passing category. Luke Del Rio is the early favorite to start at quarterback next season. The rest is up in the air until more data points can be gathered.
Washington State (3-9, 2-7 Pac-12)
The good: To be bluntly honest, there wasn't much of it in Pullman this season. The Cougars never recovered from losses to Rutgers and Nevada to begin the year, and they later lost senior quarterback Connor Halliday in horrific fashion. If there's any silver lining to this disappointing season, it's the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Luke Falk. He led Wazzu to a road win over Oregon State with 471 passing yards while completing 72 percent of his throws in that game.
The bad: Early on, it appeared Washington State might have turned a corner defensively -- particularly with its pass rush. The Cougars harassed future Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota to the tune of seven sacks in a close loss to Oregon and held sturdy the following week in a 28-27 upset win at Utah. Matters then quickly deteriorated. The Cougars surrendered 60 points at home to Cal and lost despite the fact that Halliday threw for an NCAA-record 734 yards. Wazzu dropped six of its final seven after that devastating loss, which was sealed by a missed 19-yard field goal in crunch time.
2015 outlook: With Halliday gone, Mike Leach will run his offense through Falk. The youngster obviously has talent, but the Cougars must keep him clean to avoid a disappointing 2014 repeat. Leading receiver Vince Mayle will be gone, but productive target River Cracraft will be back. At the end of the day, defense may be the critical variable here: Washington State gave up 38.6 points per game. To give themselves a legitimate chance at a winning season, the Cougars will need to cut that number by at least a touchdown.
Colorado (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12)
The good: The goose egg in their conference record doesn't show this, but the Buffs made competitive strides in the Pac-12 this season. Colorado lost four Pac-12 games that were decided by five points or fewer. They dropped two of those contests in double overtime. Quarterback Sefo Liufau was productive, but he must cut down on his interception rate -- he threw 15 picks this season. His favorite target, Nelson Spruce, finished tied with Mayle for the Pac-12 lead with 106 catches.
The bad: Statistically, Colorado still found itself in the Pac-12 cellar in some key metrics by a relatively massive margin. The Buffs surrendered 6.5 yards per play on defense, worse than even Cal. They allowed 5.6 yards per rush, a full yard worse than 11th-place Oregon State. That number is an indication that Colorado just couldn't yet physically win the necessary battles up front against conference foes.
2015 outlook: It appears Mike MacIntyre has this train rolling in the right direction, and he returns Spruce next season. The Liufau-led offense, then, should pack some punch. Offseason strengthening will be of paramount importance for the Colorado defense, which must stiffen up against the run. If the Buffs can improve there, they'll turn some of 2014's close losses into 2015 wins.
It was a busy weekend in the Pac-12, with commitments, offers, visits and awards touching nearly every team in the conference, including Stanford, USC and Washington reeling in big commitments and UCLA hosting impact prospects. Here is a look at some of the more impactful events of the past few days, as well as a glimpse of what this week could hold in the Pac-12.
Miss you in the saddest fashion.
Bye bye Li'l Sebastian;
You’re 5,000 candles in the wind.
Where they heck have you all been on the weekends? We've been at games. What's your excuse?
According to a report by Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, attendance has been down in college football across the country. And the Pac-12 is no exception, experiencing a 2-percent drop across the board. Solomon breaks it down by conference. Here's what he had to say about the Pac-12.
Crowds dropped 2 percent to 52,758 and they are down 10 percent since peaking in 2007. Pac-12 attendance leader UCLA ranked 19th nationally. Only four of 12 conference schools had an increase: UCLA, Arizona, Utah and Washington State. A couple of schools' decreases were very minor.
Solomon has attendance numbers for all FBS schools on a chart. It's worth a look to see who is trending up and down.
Future looks bright
At ESPN, we love lists. And we know you love them too. That makes the end of the year like, well, like Christmas. Here's another list for you -- the ESPN.com True Freshman All-America team.
A trio of frosh from the Pac-12 are on the team -- including Oregon running back Royce Freeman:
Freeman started the season by beating out both junior Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner for the starting running back spot at Oregon. He finished the regular season by leading the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns (16) and racking up 1,299 rushing yards, becoming the first Oregon freshman to have a 1,000-yard-rushing season.
Also on the list were USC offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn and USC's Adoree' Jackson.
- Taking a year off worked out pretty well for Rich Rodriguez.
- Former Sun Devil Marion Grice closing in on his degree. In case you've forgotten his backstory, here's a story from 2013.
- Daniel Lasco is your team MVP, along with some other California team awards.
- The costs are rising for Colorado's facility upgrade.
- Marcus Mariota's teammates are sharing in the Heisman joy.
- Gary Andersen will retain Oregon State receivers coach Brent Brennan.
- An early look at Stanford-Maryland.
- Some more on Eric Kendricks and the Lott Award.
- Some USC practice and injury notes.
- Las Vegas is familiar territory for some Utes.
- Some Washington news and notes.
- What grade would you give the Mike Leach era?
Good one, Kyle.
#Pac12refs have been entrusted with Alabama vs. Ohio State. What could go wrong?— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) December 15, 2014
The 2014 ride -- usually unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while impacting its eccentric, memorable course.
We'll be counting down in increments of three throughout this entire week. Here's the first installment:
No. 15 -- Mannion sets conference passing record
Oregon State's season -- and Mike Riley's tenure in Corvallis -- ended in a 5-7 disappointment. That means senior quarterback Sean Mannion has reached the end of his prolific collegiate journey. But the Beaver certainly didn't exit with a whimper. Aside from setting every single career passing mark in the Oregon State record books, Mannion also etched his name into conference history. With a 15-yard fourth quarter pass to Connor Hamlett on Nov. 1 against California, Mannion surpassed USC's Matt Barkley to become the top passer in Pac-12 history.
This individual accomplishment did not alter the wild conference race in any way, but it did provide a powerful symbol of just how much talent the league has amassed in its meteoric rise, particularly at the quarterback position. Heading into 2014, there was a heavy dose of hype regarding what was anticipated to be Year of the Signal-caller in the Pac-12. Between Marcus Mariota's Heisman exploits, Connor Halliday's absurd statistical production, and the fine campaigns of players such as Brett Hundley, Cody Kessler, and Jared Goff, there was plenty to enjoy in the 2014 aerial show. Mannion is the one who grabbed the lasting career mark.
Of course, Mannion's record likely won't last forever -- Goff may have a great shot to break it if he sticks around Berkeley for a full four years -- but it was a testament to a steady, accurate, and poised Pac-12 passer in a season that featured a true gold mine of talent at the position.
No. 14 -- Wazzu missed field goal against Cal ruins Halliday's record night
It seemed as if Halliday couldn't catch a break over the course of his tragic Washington State career, but he kept fighting until he could fight no more, and that valiant effort left him with a place in the national record book. Halliday's injury-riddled career in Pullman included a game played with a lacerated liver and finished with a gruesome leg break this season against USC. The misfortune that may best encapsulate his tough luck, though, came on Oct. 4 against Cal.
In a dizzyingly precise passing display, Halliday shredded the Bears' defense to the tune of an NCAA single-game record 734 yards. He completed 49 of his 70 passes and tossed six touchdowns without a single interception. With the Cougars trailing 60-59 as time wound down, Halliday even led his team on a 68-yard drive to the California 2-yard line. With only 19 seconds remained, Washington State was an extra point-length field goal away from winning on Halliday's historic night.
But kicker Quentin Breshears missed the 19-yard attempt, and Halliday looked on in dazed, losing disbelief on the night during which he had made history. Football can be a cruel sport, and Halliday got a particularly vicious dose of it. This was a truly stunning dichotomy. Halliday was the victim of one of the Pac-12's 2014 Twilight Zone finishes -- one that featured a mind-numbing seizure of defeat from the jaws of victory.
No. 13 -- USC stuffs Stanford
Stanford entered 2014 having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, but it didn't take long for alarms to sound on the Farm. The first disturbing exhibit of offensive decay came in Week 2, when a short-handed USC defense delivered a bend-but-don't-break performance for the ages. The Cardinal reached scoring territory (at least the Trojans' 35-yard line) on all nine of their possessions, but managed to score only 10 total points throughout all of those chances. USC won the game 13-10, delivering a psychological gut punch that Stanford's offense never fully recovered from. The Cardinal's 119th-place national finish in red zone efficiency was a primary culprit in their tumble to 7-5, and this was the game that set them firmly on that disappointing course.
The slide's seminal moment might have arrived late in the third quarter on Sept. 6. Stanford led 10-7, and they faced a fourth-and-one from the USC 3-yard line. In the championship years of the past, this is where the Cardinal had always brutally asserted their control of the proceedings.
Not this time.
Without Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, or Tyler Gaffney to hand off to, Kevin Hogan fed true freshman Daniel Marx the ball, and USC stuffed him short of the first down marker behind an excellent torpedo play from Su'a Cravens. The tables had turned: The Cardinal were not the bullies up front they used to be. They could no longer stomp on their opposition the old-fashioned way, and the resulting Pac-12 power shift was in full effect.
Let's get the week started off right. I'm guessing it was a tough weekend for a lot of people. After all, it was our first weekend without Pac-12 football in months. Don't worry, it's coming back soon enough. But, at least there was really good news for the Pac-12 this weekend. Let's start with a Mr. Marcus Mariota who won the Heisman this past Saturday.
First, let's give some major props to this MahaloMarcus.com video because it's very much worth your time and you can view it right here. It has some classic 8-year-old Mariota footage meshed with some current footage, some emotional music and quotes from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and the gang. Well done to the edit staff. Well done to Mariota for all these plays.
If four minutes of Mariota on video isn't enough for you ... well, lucky you, everyone and their mother reacted to this news, so we'll give you a breakdown of some writer's reactions.
- From Sports Illustrated: Zac Ellis with the words and Andy Staples with the video.
- From The New York Times: Tim Rohan takes a look at Mariota's relationship with his Hawaiian roots.
- From USA Today: George Schroeder writes that Mariota's Heisman can be traced back to Joey Harrington's campaign.
- From Rolling Stone: Michael Weinreb asks if Mariota can break the Heisman curse.
- From The Oregonian: If you missed Mariota's speech you can check the whole thing out right here; Jason Quick hopes that Mariota the man is remembered as much as Mariota the player; John Canzano, who has covered Mariota his entire career, wrote that the Heisman and Mariota go hand in hand.
The state of Oregon just doubled down. And the ghosts of this state's football programs just doubled over. Anyone who has regularly seen Mariota operate the heavy machinery that is the Ducks' offense this season knows he's the best player in America, but it really is something to see the rest of the country see it, too.
And finally, props to Oregon State for recognizing Mariota as well. The Beavers bought a full page ad in The Oregonian's special section for Mariota.
It wasn't just Mariota who picked up a big award this weekend. UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Lott IMPACT Trophy. Kendricks follows in the footsteps of Anthony Barr, who won the award last year. Jack Wang wrote that Kendricks is the latest in what could be a long line of linebacker lineage at UCLA.
And look at how cordial everyone was about Kendricks' win. But would you assume anything else? Never. Especially not from the Lott IMPACT guys.
Congratulations to UCLA's Eric Kendricks, winner of the 2014 @LottIMPACTrophy— UW Football (@UW_Football) December 15, 2014
Also, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson won the Hornung Award, given to college football's most versatile athlete. The Pac-12 Blog agrees.
All right. Here's a quick rundown ...
- Some bold Fiesta Bowl predictions.
- D.J. Foster isn't sure what he's doing after this season.
- Cal picked up two big commitments this weekend.
- Buffzone.com has a nice feature on former Colorado running back and 1994 Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam.
- In non-Mariota news, but still Oregon news ... FSU is switching its focus to the Ducks.
- Gary Andersen is exactly what Oregon State needs.
- Tom FitzGerald reflects on Jerry Hogan, the late father of Stanford QB Kevin Hogan.
- Video from Jim Mora's Friday media conference.
- A tight end switched his commitment from Duke to USC.
- A look at what Utah players will be getting as bowl gifts.
- Jaydon Mickens almost played at Oklahoma State, the Huskies' bowl opponent.
- Washington State picked up a LB commitment.
Suspense should be in short supply Saturday night in New York during the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Mariota and fellow Heisman finalists Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Amari Cooper of Alabama will sit nervously next to each other as the winner is announced. But deep down, all three know it will be Mariota, who picked up two more honors -- the Maxwell Award and the Davey O'Brien Award -- Thursday at the Home Depot College Football Awards at Disney World.
As a Heisman voter, I'm not allowed to reveal my vote until after the ceremony. But I can make predictions about the voting: it'll be Mariota in a landslide.
The Heisman was a legitimate two-man race entering championship weekend, as Mariota and Gordon both had strong cases. Then Mariota had his typical performance in the Pac-12 championship (313 pass yards, five total touchdowns), while Gordon was bottled up in the Big Ten title game (76 rush yards, no touchdowns).
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Awards, awards and more awards. It was a huge night for the Pac-12 and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota at the Home Depot College Football Awards.
Mariota, who is also expected to claim the Heisman on Saturday, took home the Maxwell Awards (nation's outstanding player), the Davey O'Brien (national QB) and the Walter Camp player of the year.
Scooby Wright added to his trophy case by collecting the Bednarik Award (national defensive player of the year) and Utah punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award (given annually to the college football mate who makes the best bacon references ... just kidding, it's for top punter).
Here's how the Pac-12 shapes up in award season so far:
- Maxwell Award: Marcus Mariota
- Walter Camp Award: Marcus Mariota
- Davey O'Brien Award: Marcus Mariota
- Johnny Unitas Golden Arm: Marcus Mariota
- Chuck Bednarik Award: Scooby Wright
- Bronko Nagurski Award: Scooby Wright
- Dick Butkus Award: Eric Kendricks
- Ray Guy Award: Tom Hackett
- Ted Hendricks Award: Nate Orchard
As the coaching carousel continues to spin, a pair of Pac-12 assistants have been rumored for the head coaching job at Tulsa, though only one looks to be in the mix. Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is believed to be in the running, while Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost isn't on the list anymore. From the Tulsa World:
Another source said Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s candidacy has ramped up over the past two days. Norvell, 33, is in his third year at Arizona State, where he started in 2012 at $320,000 a year and now, according to USA Today, makes $900,000 annually plus bonuses. He was a graduate assistant and receivers coach under Todd Graham at Tulsa.
Per the report, Frost interviewed for the job.
- Scooby Wright enjoying the ride.
- Doug Haller hands out his own ASU football awards.
- An update on some players already committed to Cal.
- The Buffs picked up a wide receiver commit earlier this week.
- The awards circuit has been surreal for Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Mariota.
- Mike Riley's decision to leave was "gut-wrenching."
- Missed this one last week, but some final regular season grades for Stanford.
- Brett Hundley's finger is "fine" as he prepares for his final UCLA game.
- A USC-Nebraska fact of the day.
- Some more on Hackett's award.
- Hau'oli Kikaha getting used to the awards circuit.
- Some good WSU football stuff from Jacob Thorpe's chat.
Bowl Games are set. Check out the match-ups! pic.twitter.com/aIXxRc5HvC— Stephen Gironda (@SteveGironda) December 11, 2014
Jeremy in Boulder writes: Who will be the offensive and defensive players of the year in the league next season?
Kevin Gemmell: Uh, off the top of my head? Let's assume Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley jump to the NFL (I think that's safe).
Offensively, since this is a quarterback-driven game, you have to look at the QBs. The top returner (assuming he doesn't jump to the NFL) would be USC's Cody Kessler. He had fantastic numbers this year and a USC quarterback almost always has talented weapons around him to bolster the numbers. How about Jared Goff or Mike Bercovici with a full season? Anu Solomon? But I think you have to consider Royce Freeman and Nick Wilson as potential candidates. Same for Devontae Booker and Paul Perkins. One thing for sure, is there is never a lack of offensive talent in the conference. (And I know I'm not even mentioning about seven or eight guys).
Defensively, you have to start with the defending champ, Scooby Wright. But you have to think Myles Jack will be in that mix. Hunter Dimick, Blake Martinez and Su'a Cravens all come to mind. Budda Baker is a rising star. Kenny Clark had a great season. We know what a healthy Addison Gillam can do. A lot of big-time players to consider on that side of the ball also (and yes, a bunch I'm also not mentioning).
I think offense is probably more wide open than defense -- especially if Wright continues on the war path he started in 2014.
A couple of questions … one from Chris in New York and another from Ryan in New York, about UCLA “winning” the 2011 South Division title because USC was ineligible. It's in reference to this column.
Kevin Gemmell: It's always dicey as a reporter when you're talking about games that were actually played, but because of sanctions didn't count toward titles and/or were vacated. There is a time to dance around it and a time to tell it like it is.
In Tuesday's column, there is no way to dance around it. USC is not recognized as having won a division title. It's black and white. Is it bunk? Yeah, of course. The Trojans had a 7-2 conference record and UCLA was next in line at 5-4. And the icing was a 50-0 pasting to close out the year. But for the purposes of accuracy, it has to be acknowledged that it doesn't count. Sorry if that's a tough pill to swallow. But that's how it is.
Does that mean every time we write about division titles, we should remind everyone that USC was ineligible? I think the readers of the Pac-12 blog are savvy enough to know the situation (they wouldn't have brought it up in the mailbag or on Twitter if they didn't). All it does is harvest sour grapes like it did for my Trojan duo from New York (did you guys get together over pastrami sandwiches and craft your letters together?)
It's bad memories for both parties. For USC, it's a reminder of overly-harsh sanctions that denied the Trojans a spot in the first-ever Pac-12 championship game. For UCLA, it's a reminder of just how awful that year closed -- the loss to the Trojans, the beat down from Oregon in the title game and then losing to Illinois in the Interim Coach Bowl.
USC knows the score. UCLA knows the score. Heck, we all know the score. But this is how it stands in the record books, and thus has to be acknowledged that way.
Drex in Los Angels writes: Has a Heisman winner ever faced another Heisman winner in a college game? If Mariota wins, will the Rose Bowl be the first time?
Kevin Gemmell: Actually, it will be the fourth time, per the outstanding folks at ESPN Stats & Info.
The previous meetings were Tim Tebow (Florida) vs. Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) in 2008; Jason White (Oklahoma) vs. Matt Leinart (USC) in 2004 and Doak Walker (SMU) vs. Leon Hart (Notre Dame) in 1949.
Tebow, Leinart and Hart all won their games and the national championship in the process.
JT in Boston writes: I'm sure you will get thousands of these but, can we put the Pac South over the North to rest now. Stanford destroyed UCLA, Oregon destroyed AZ. South has yet to win a Pac12 championship. Go Ducks! Go North!
Kevin Gemmell: I think we can put it to rest. At least for this year. But it's not the way you're thinking.
It's a matter of perspective. Is the North the best because it has the best team? That seems to be your take. But I look at it from a perspective of quality and depth. And by my measurements, the South was significantly better than the North in 2014.
For starters, five of the six teams in the South are ranked compared to just one ranked team in the North. And the South had the better overall record at 15-10 against the North. That in itself is proof enough, in my mind, that the South was the stronger of the two divisions.
If you want to make the case that it begins and ends with the conference title, then there's nothing that can be said to dispute that. The North clearly wins the “scoreboard” argument. But in terms of overall quality and depth, the South was clearly the tougher of the two divisions.
Our pick: Colorado State vs. Colorado
Result: Coach Jim McElwain’s road to Gainesville started with a 31-17 thumping of the Rams’ in-state rival.
In retrospect: UCLA and Washington State provided high drama against Virginia and Rutgers, respectively. But Cal’s 31-24 win against Northwestern would have been the better call.
Our pick: Michigan State at Oregon
Result: The Ducks flipped a 27-18 deficit into a 46-27 smackdown. (Still not sure how Ifo Ekpre-Olomu actually made that interception).
In retrospect: USC-Stanford had plenty of drama. But considering where the Ducks ended up, I think we made the right call on this one.
Result:: Jerry Neuheisel gets carried off the field!
In retrospect: A great win for the Bruins, and a great story with Neuheisel throwing the game-winner. What? You wanted USC-Boston College?
Our pick: Utah at Michigan
Result: Is it actually over? Or still in rain delay?
In retrospect: The Hill-freaking-Mary happened and #Pac12AfterDark was born. Sorry Utes. Good win, but Arizona-Cal would have been the better pick.
Our pick(s): UCLA at Arizona State/Stanford and Washington
Result(s): An ugly 62-27 blowout win for the Bruins, and a 20-13 win for the Cardinal.
In retrospect: WSU at Utah turned into quite the exciting game. But who would have tapped Colorado at Cal going into double-overtime followed by a Cal goal-line stand. A trip to Berkeley would have been worth your while this week.
Our pick(s): Arizona at Oregon/ASU at USC
Result(s): The Wildcats hand the Ducks their only loss of the season and Scooby Wright III becomes a national name. And then a little something called the Jael Mary.
In retrospect: An unbelievable weekend! Perhaps the greatest weekend for one league in the history of college football. You had the two aforementioned games, Notre Dame’s last-minute win against Stanford, a shootout between Cal and WSU in Pullman, a last-minute slugfest between Utah and UCLA at the Rose Bowl, and Oregon State escapes in Boulder with Mike MacIntyre chasing the officials off the field! I rarely use the word epic. But this week qualified.
Our pick: Oregon at UCLA
Result: A dud. Oregon rolled to a 42-30 win, but the game wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
In retrospect: USC at Arizona had all the #Pac12AfterDark craziness we had come to expect. A comeback, an onside kick, a missed last-minute field goal. Plenty of drama in what turned out to be the most exciting game of the week.
Our pick: Stanford at Arizona State
Result: The Sun Devils got their vengeance with a 26-10 victory.
In retrospect: UCLA at Cal was all about drama, and Utah at Oregon State went into double-overtime. Either of those would have been the better choice.
Our pick: Arizona at Washington State
Result: The 'Cats cruised to a 59-37 win -- their highest offensive output of the season.
In retrospect: Travis Wilson leading a game-winning drive and a last-minute touchdown against USC? Sign us up. Utes complete the LA sweep.
Our pick: Stanford at Oregon
Result: The Ducks’ Stanford problem evaporated in the wake of a 45-16 win.
In retrospect: We don’t regret the pick. History was on our side. But Utah-ASU in overtime was by far the more entertaining game.
Our pick: Notre Dame at Arizona State
Result: Speaking of picks, Everett Golson anyone? The Sun Devils intercepted Golson four times en route to a 55-31 win.
In retrospect: Pretty slow week. You had the infamous Kaelin Clay fumble that swung the momentum to Oregon. And Luke Falk won his first start against Oregon State. We’ll give it to the Cougs this week over 1) overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit and 2) holding a fourth-quarter lead.
Our pick: Free pass
Result: ASU stumbled against Oregon State, Utah topped Stanford in OT, Washington fumbled one away against Arizona and USC (mostly) handled Cal.
In retrospect: This was redemption weekend for Casey Skowron, who hit the game-winning field goal against Washington, and Clay for his OT touchdown against the Cardinal.
Our pick: USC at UCLA
Result: UCLA moved to 3-0 against USC in the Jim Mora era as the Trojans forgot to show up in a 38-20 loss.
In retrospect: This was one of the few weekends of the season without much drama. So we’ll just say we got it right with this pick ... even though no pick was really "right."
Our pick(s): Stanford at UCLA/Washington at Washington State
Result(s): The Cardinal thwarted UCLA’s South Division hopes and Chris Petersen picked up his first Apple Cup win.
In retrospect: OK, we didn’t know the Territorial Cup was going to decide the South. Our bad. We'll try to do better next year.
Oregon State has its coach. And while many thought that perhaps a younger coach might take the job -- with the concern that Oregon State would be a stepping-stone job -- it turned out to be the exact opposite. New head coach Gary Andersen used a head coaching job at Wisconsin to catapult himself into the Pac-12. Not a bad strategy.
Here's some stories and reaction from across the Pacific Northwest:
John Canzano of the Oregonian says Andersen is going to bring some toughness to the program. Something it desperately needed. Writes Canzano:
It's Andersen's turn in the warm seat. He comes here after playing for a Big 10 Championship, and posting a 10-win season at Wisconsin. He comes after being blasted 59-0 by Ohio State. He comes, presumably, with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who spent three seasons at Oregon. He also brings a defensive mentality, and toughness.
- Here's our news story on the hiring.
- Here's the AP story.
- Ted Miller had a reaction. As Ted Miller tends to do.
- The Oregonian crew has a video reaction.
- Some getting-to-know-you facts on Andersen.
- Coachingsearch.com has this story, which is more of a Wisconsin reaction.
- And in case you were wondering, ESPN worked up a chart on all of the movement in the FBS head coaching ranks so far this year.
Oregon State players also had some reactions on social media.
Well that was quick. Excited for the new change— Jordan Villamin (@villythebeaver) December 10, 2014
Great move OSU, excited for the future! #GoBeavs— Luke Del Rio (@Ldelrio12) December 10, 2014
Be excited for our future beaver nation !!— Garrett Owens" (@GarrettOwens16) December 11, 2014
Welcome to beaver nation Coach Andersen! #GoBeavs— Dockery (@RahmelDockery) December 10, 2014
Great day to be a Beaver. #GA— Grant Bays (@GrantBays) December 10, 2014
Not surprising, a couple of high-profile Wisconsin running backs also had an opinion.
WOW !!!— Gordon | 25" | A01 (@Melvingordon25) December 10, 2014
More Scooby Snacks
@Melvingordon25 bro..... Unreal— Montee Ball (@ballrb28) December 10, 2014
Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright can add another one to his trophy case. The sophomore took home the Lombardi Award and spoke with ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli about the honor and a couple of his favorite plays this season.
TG: What’s it been like being honored so much this season?
SW: It’s just been a great ride. I’m just having fun with it. none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for my teammates and coaches. I’m only a representative of the University of Arizona football program. This hardware, whatever you call it, I’m just excited to bring it back home to my teammates.
TG: Favorite play this season?
SW: I’ll give you my two favorite plays. Probably when I sack-stripped [Marcus] Mariota or ASU one of the first drives of the game, I stripped it, scooped it up and scored early in the first quarter.
TG: How much does being under-recruited fuel you?
SW: It definitely fuels me. times I don’t feel like working out and times you don’t feel like doing stuff. You always have to prove doubters wrong. People said I wasn’t going to be an impact player in the Pac-12, I even had some college coaches tell me to go look at Division II schools. It’s always … fueled me … My only Division 1 offer was from Arizona. I’m just enjoying it.
- ASU-Duke could be a fantastic Sun Bowl.
- Cal added San Jose State to its schedule.
- Colorado's AD sees the football team making progress.
- Will there be a Heisman jinx for Mariota? (slide show)
- Mike Riley has already flipped one OSU recruit to Nebraska.
- Some Stanford players on Athlon's all-conference team.
- How do UCLA's assistants stack up financially against the rest of the conference/country?
- Chris Hawkins is open to a permanent move to safety.
- Wright isn't the only one collecting defensive awards. Nate Orchard snagged one too.
- Should Shaq Thompson have gotten some Heisman love?
- A former Coug weighs in (unfavorably) on the state of the program.
Less than a week later, those same Oregon State commits were blindsided yet again, but this time the news was far more positive. The Beavers announced former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen would be taking over in Corvallis.
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Over the past few years, when the frustrations of a vocal segment of Oregon State fans would crescendo after a poor performance, and they would demand the defenestration of long-time good guy coach Mike Riley, more than a few Beavers fans as well as media types would question the exit strategy. As in: Who's going to come to Corvallis and do a better job? And if said coach is found, is he going to stick around?
Wisconsin's Gary Andersen is a pretty darn good answer. And, just like Riley bolting for Nebraska, no one saw this one coming.
Anderson is no sure thing. He has some notable warts on his résumé and hasn't won much of anything, other than a 2012 WAC title at Utah State before that football conference went under. But he's also won 30 games over the last three years and he's bolting a Big Ten power for Oregon State after just two years. So he wants to come to Corvallis and lead the Beavers, post-Riley. He wants to leave a state where he's the lead dog playing in an 80,000-seat stadium and, instead, square off as an underdog against a rich state rival that has become a national power.
Well, everybody wins other than Wisconsin, which has now seen its past two coaches bolt for jobs that didn't seem like promotions. After leading the Badgers to three consecutive Big Ten titles, Bret Bielema actively, though quietly, sold himself to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long before leaving after the 2012 season. Anderson went 19-7 in two seasons with Wisconsin, winning the Big Ten's West Division this year, but he obviously didn't view Madison as a destination job.
Why would Andersen leave? Maybe he prefers the West Coast. Maybe he's concerned about the long-term power of the Big Ten compared to the Pac-12. Maybe he thinks Urban Meyer and Ohio State are on the cusp of Big Ten domination. Maybe he doesn't like Wisconsin's demanding academic standards. Maybe he thinks Wisconsin is cheap when it comes to anteing up salaries for assistant coaches.
Maybe he'll answer that question during a news conference Friday in Corvallis, though my guess is he's not going to be too forthright when it comes to kicking dirt on a program he left in the lurch.
Andersen has a long history as a Utah assistant coach and is good friends with Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham. He's a defensive specialist, and his coordinator at Wisconsin, Dave Aranda, is highly respected. That's good because the Beavers will be rebuilding their defense in 2015. His offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, Andy Ludwig, however, has a mixed-bag history in the Pac-12, having coached at California, Oregon and Utah.
As for the warts on his résumé we previously referred to, you can start with his last game -- a 59-zip loss to Ohio State. That was such an atrocious showing there were conspiracy theories afterward that the Badgers threw the game so the Buckeyes could get into the College Football Playoff and boost the Big Ten. That's about as ridiculous as saying Pac-12 officials conspired to give Arizona State a victory over Andersen and the Badgers in 2013 through comedically bad late-game decisions.
The Badgers also blew a 17-point third-quarter lead at LSU to open the season and lost to a Northwestern team that fell to California and went 5-7 overall. In 2013, with a BCS bowl berth in sight, the Badgers were upset by Penn State on the season's final weekend.
That said, Andersen is the sort of respected hire that will generate some much-needed energy and optimism into the Beavers' program. It also helps that the athletic department announced a $42 million makeover of the Valley Football Center not long before word of Andersen's hiring broke. Ah, Pac-12 money doing its thing, boosting facilities and the top-to-bottom quality of conference coaching staffs.
Of course, Andersen has got to find a way to quickly close the Civil War gap. He's got to figure out a way to be more competitive with the Ducks. While Beavers fans probably won't expect a berth in the CFP in the next three years, they probably will demand a victory over Oregon in that span.
Still, after a period of stagnation under Riley and then the uncertainty of "Who's next?" Oregon State appears to be emerging into a hopeful place. For a team sitting home during the postseason as its rival eyeballs a national championship, that's about the best a fan base can expect.
The complicating factor with interpreting Michigan’s methods is the mystery man in charge of the search. Interim AD Jim Hackett has a business background, so it’s not as if he regularly has been mingling with the college football bluebloods who descend on Manhattan each holiday season.
That’s why, even with some of the more obvious targets out there -- Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, among them -- I’m told Hackett could diverge from the perceived plan of “brand-name” college coaches and expand to NFL assistants and off-the-radar college guys.
One such candidate emerged Tuesday afternoon when a report surfaced that Michigan was kicking the tires on Duke coach David Cutcliffe.
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12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
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