Pac-12: Colorado Buffaloes

Spring questions: Colorado

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
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Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process of the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced and returning starters need to get better and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we begin a look at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Up next: Colorado. The Buffs, by the way, have already been at it in spring practice for over a week. They started their session earlier than any other Pac-12 program.

1. Will the defensive front seven develop into a more cohesive run-stuffing unit? Colorado surrendered 5.6 yards per carry last season, a full yard more than the conference's second-worst team (Oregon State, 4.6). Opponents routinely gashed the Buffs up front. There's optimism emanating from Boulder, though, that another year of experience will be the salve for this defense. Underclassmen comprised all of the Colorado's primary depth along the defensive line in 2014, so every single spring practice brings further maturation to a developing unit. So far, the Buffs seem excited about their offseason gains, and they have to be thrilled by the return of lineman Samson Kafovalu, who took last season off. Spring is a time to see if the Buffs' strengthening is leading to better flow up front. A lack thereof left plenty of gaping holes for opposing backs to barrel through last season.

2. Is this the beginning of breakthrough Year 3? The third year of Mike MacIntyre's first head-coaching job was the charm. That's when he led San Jose State to a 10-2 record and a Military Bowl championship. His success that season with the Spartans came on the heels of 1-11 and 5-7 seasons, the second of which featured a number of blown double-digit fourth-quarter leads. A closer look at MacIntyre's first two seasons in Boulder reveals similarities to his time at San Jose State: Though Colorado has struggled to win so far, Year 2 saw the Buffs develop enough of a competitive spirit to lose in heartbreaking fashion -- just like that 5-7 San Jose State team. Spring ball means that the third year is officially here, and it will be intriguing to see if the parallels to MacIntyre's first head-coaching foray continue.

3. Will strength and conditioning gains begin translating to the field? Sports performance director Dave Forman and star receiver Nelson Spruce have both lauded Colorado players for impressive gains during the recent winter conditioning stretch. It's now time to find out if those improvements will translate into wins. The Buffs lost two games in double overtime last season -- brutal, to say the least -- so they're looking for that extra boost to push them into the win column and earn the momentum that comes with a dose of success. If Colorado shows more physicality during spring than they have in the past, it will be safe to say that they're on the right track. It's taken some time for this program to rebuild its foundation from the ground up. There's now a strong demand for tangible results in the win column. Bring on the spring litmus test.
Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau posted a record-breaking season in 2014, setting school single-season marks for touchdown passes (28) and yardage (3,200) as well as TD passes in a single game (7). So it's not a stretch to say he had one of the best seasons behind center in Buffaloes history.

Yet Colorado finished 2-10 overall and 0-9 in Pac-12 play, so the program suffered through one of its worst seasons. Holy dialectic opposition!

The Buffs, 4-32 in Pac-12 play since joining the conference in 2011, were a lot closer in 2014. Their conference losses came by an average of two touchdowns instead of the four-plus the previous two seasons. Still, as grounds for a potential end-of-season celebration, that's not terribly ambitious.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesColorado has gone just 4-32 in the Pac-12 since joining the conference, but there are positive signs for quarterback Sefo Liufau and the Buffaloes.
Liufau wasn't blameless either. His 15 interceptions were the most in the Pac-12 -- only seven FBS QBs threw more -- and more than a few were critical. And avoidable. Liufau knows this as much if not more than anyone, and as the QB, he knows he's got to be the guy out front making sure the execution doesn't falter when the screws tighten in the fourth quarter.

“It's just being able to make plays in tight situations," he said. “There were one or two plays, maybe on third down, maybe in the red zone, we could have turned into seven points or at least a field goal. We didn’t do that last year.”

Think of that that third-down drop late in the fourth against UCLA. Or Liufau's fourth-quarter interception against Arizona. Or failing to score any points in the second overtime against California after earning a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. Regrets, the Buffs have a few. But so does every team that's not Ohio State.

After throwing seven interceptions in a four-game span, Liufau didn't start at Oregon, the second to last game of the season, interrupting a run of 17 consecutive starts that began his true freshman year. While it wasn't a straight benching -- he'd suffered a concussion late against Arizona that made him miss practices during an off week -- it seemed pretty evident that coach Mike MacIntyre was at least curious to see what backup Jordan Gehrke could do, particularly when Liufau started the second half and returned to the starting job for the season finale.

“You accept whatever decision the coach makes," Liufau said. “I wasn’t mad. Obviously you’re a little upset because you want to play every game, but it’s over and it’s done with and I think people make more out of it than I do.”

The good news for the Buffaloes is Liufau's top target, receiver Nelson Spruce, is back, and the cast of skill players is promising. Further, the offense may not have to score 40 every game for the Buffs to have a chance because the defense will be far more experienced, and new coordinator Jim Leavitt is widely celebrated for his X's and O's and motivation skills.

It's not too naive to project the Buffs closeness in 2014 translating into a few more wins in 2015, even though the South Division will again be the nation's toughest division. At least, that's the way Liufau and his teammates are seeing things this spring.

"We were close last year and we felt like we could have won more," he said, "but I definitely think we are going to be able to take those close games and put them into Ws next year."
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).

ARIZONA WILDCATS:
Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 41
  • Arizona: 16
  • Texas: 9
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
  • California: 46
  • Arizona: 17
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
  • One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah
CALIFORNIA BEARS:

Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
  • California: 49
  • Texas: 6
  • Three signees: Arizona, Washington
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
  • One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana
COLORADO BUFFALOES:

Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • California: 33
  • Colorado: 14
  • Texas: 8
  • Arizona: 3
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington
OREGON DUCKS:

Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 26
  • Oregon: 5
  • Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
  • One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee
OREGON STATE BEAVERS:

Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • Utah: 6
  • Four signees: California, Florida
  • Two signees: Oregon, Texas
  • One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana
STANFORD CARDINAL:

David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 25
  • Georgia: 7
  • Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
  • Five signees: Utah, Washington
  • Four signees: Louisiana
  • Three signees: North Carolina
  • Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
  • One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.
UCLA BRUINS:

Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 55
  • Texas: 10
  • Arizona: 5
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Delaware
  • One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington
USC TROJANS:

Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 32
  • Texas: 3
  • Two signees: Florida, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
UTAH UTES:

Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 40
  • Utah: 29
  • Texas: 15
  • Florida: 8
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Nevada: 3
  • Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
  • One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York

*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).

WASHINGTON HUSKIES:

Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 28
  • Washington: 14
  • Idaho: 2
  • One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS:

Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
  • California: 57
  • Washington: 14
  • American Samoa: 7
  • Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
  • Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
  • One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah
NOTES/OBSERVATIONS:

There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.

Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.

Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.

North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.

In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).

In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.

USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).

Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.
Colorado is 4-32 in Pac-12 play since joining the conference in 2011. That's obviously not a good record.

In fact, it's so bad that it threatens to derail the case I'm about to make. There's no way that Colorado ranking 55th of 65 Power 5 teams when it comes to head-coaching job desirability is a surprise, right?

If anything, the Buffs' miserable .111 conference win percentage over the past four seasons would suggest that the No. 55 ranking is too high, right?

Nope. That's not the case.

Don't let Colorado's decade from hell -- the Buffs haven't finished with a winning record since 2005 -- fool you: This program offers an enviable job with serious winning potential.

In fact, it's entirely possible that Mike MacIntyre is unlocking the treasure in front of him as we speak. There's a sense of cautious optimism emanating from Colorado, one that stems from the belief that the roster will finally be strong enough in 2015 to make a dent in the Pac-12 standings.

The Buffs believe that they're close to a breakthrough. When it finally and inevitably comes, it shouldn't be viewed as a huge surprise. Rather, the surprise should come courtesy of the Buffs' low spot in the aforementioned job quality rankings.

That's because tremendous success is possible at Colorado. Look no further than the program's 1990 national championship, which capped an 11-1-1 season and came right on the heels of an 11-1 campaign.

Boulder is a beautiful place. It's the idyllic college town, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, offering a harmonious balance of outdoor bliss and a cozy-fun vibe.

Perhaps most important, Boulder doesn't suffer from the isolation issue that hinders fellow beautiful conference location Pullman, Washington. The Buffs' home is only 25 miles away from Denver, and this big city brings fertile recruiting ground with it.

Aging facilities may have hindered the Buffs' effort for some time in the past, but extensive renovations in and around Folsom Field are helping Colorado gain essential traction in the college football arms race. Once the on-field breakthrough finally does come, an enviable thin-air advantage will be on full display: Boulder is 5,430 feet above sea level.

At the moment, though, the Buffs are still clawing their way out of a massive hole, so it's important to repeat that their recent record isn't indicative of future potential. Colorado's freshest history may not be envied around the nation, but the essential tools at the Buffs' disposal certainly are.
Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
There is little question that Colorado hired a good coach when it named Jim Leavitt its defensive coordinator last week. Leavitt studied under Hall of Famer Bill Snyder at Kansas State and then built South Florida from nothing into a nationally ranked team as head coach.

But Leavitt's availability to the Buffaloes, a program struggling to crawl back to respectability, is in large part because of a controversy that stunningly ended his 13-year tenure at South Florida and had some wondering if he'd ever return to the college ranks.

At some point, Leavitt, who spent the past four seasons coaching linebackers for the San Francisco 49ers, will be recruiting for Colorado and an athlete or his father or mother is going to ask him what happened at South Florida in 2009-10, when he was fired with cause, according to the school, after an altercation with a player and subsequent interference in the investigation.

It was an ugly incident, fraught with conflicting accounts. The player in question, Joel Miller, is still bitter about what happened. His father, Paul, told told CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd that the hiring was "terrible," adding that Leavitt "... doesn't belong with any kids."

[+] EnlargeJim Leavitt
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicJim Leavitt built the program at South Florida before being fired after an altercation with a player.
Leavitt wants to put the issue in the past and to talk about his new job, but he also knows that more than a few folks will be uncertain about him.

“In recruiting, if you are going to have to get a player to come [to your school], you are going to have to develop a relationship -- a real relationship," Leavitt said. "There is no player who is going to go to any school without a great relationship, with not only the coach, but with the recruiter. When we spend time about that, I will be very honest about everything.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to be an issue. I don’t see that at all.”

Leavitt, 58, has always steadfastly denied wrongdoing. He essentially won a wrongful termination lawsuit when USF settled with him for $2.75 million. Colorado athletic director Rick George told CBS that Leavitt was thoroughly vetted before was hired.

"We've done our due diligence," George told Dodd, "and feel very confident it was an isolated incident."

Said Leavitt, "The only comment I’ll have on that is I was always honest, never lied, always told the truth. Then it just goes from there. [Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre] is going to do all the background work to hire anybody. He knows me. He knows who I am. I think he knows the credibility I have.”

MacIntyre and Leavitt became acquainted when MacIntyre was San Jose State's coach. They both attended the same church. When Jim Harbaugh and his staff were let go by the 49ers in January, MacIntyre asked Leavitt if he had any interest in replacing Kent Baer as defensive coordinator. After establishing mutual interest, prolonged discussions began. The end game was a three-year contract worth $500,000, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.

“I wanted to coach, bad. I had another year on my contract with the 49ers but I didn’t want to sit out," Leavitt said. "I love coaching so much. My wife said I’d drive her absolutely nuts. I really wanted to get back to college.”

What Leavitt plans to bring to the Buffs, scheme-wise, is unclear. Colorado played a 4-3 last year and Leavitt was a 4-3 guy at South Florida, but 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is a 3-4 adherent, so Leavitt now has a strong taste for odd and even fronts. He also has plenty of experience running a variety of man and zone schemes in his secondary. It does seem as though he's more of a mind to build his scheme around personnel rather than try to adopt his personnel to a scheme.

“To be honest with you, I’m not sure [what defense Colorado will run]," he said. "I haven’t seen even one guy run anywhere. I’ve got to get to know these guys and what they can and cannot do. That will take some time. The biggest thing I’m all about is guys playing with passion, guys playing with great effort. My philosophy is going to flow with what these guys can do.”

The likelihood is what Leavitt decides to do will work much better than what the Buffaloes did the past two years, when they had defenses that ranked among the nation's worst. For one, he's got eight starters back and MacIntyre has recruited some solid young talent. Second, he's considered an A-list defensive mind.

Questions about Leavitt, at least as he begins his tenure in Boulder, won't be about whether or not he can coach football well. It will be about how things ended at South Florida. Pinning down exactly what happened between Leavitt and that player five years ago, not to mention its context and how the investigation was handled, would be difficult. Moreover, we are a people that believe in second chances.

Leavitt is hoping folks see things like he does. He's moved on.

“It never was an issue with me because I always told the truth and always knew what was right," he said. "When you know you’re right, you know you don’t have any issues. I never felt any different in my life. Half of the people believe you, half the people won’t. That’s just the way life is. I never had an issue and that is why I never got bogged down. However other people want to take it, I can’t control that.”
How resilient was your defense in 2014?

Last Thursday, we looked at the teams in the Pac-12 and how well they produced points after turnovers. This was the South Division, and here was the North. Now, we look at the flip side.

It can be frustrating when, after a big defensive stand, the offense coughs it up and gives the ball right back. Time for the defense to take the field again, be it inside their own red zone, the 50 or the opponent’s 1-yard line. (Or if you’re Shaq Thompson, just run it back 100 yards.)

Just like offensive points off of turnovers, there are exceptions. Sometimes a team gets a turnover at the end of the half or a game, so the defense doesn’t have to make a stand. So these numbers aren’t completely cut-and-dried. But rather it’s a measuring stick.

We’ll start with South and look at the North later today. If you’re curious how your team did in 2013, here are the numbers for the South and the numbers for the North.

Arizona

Turnovers committed: 18
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-18 (55 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 53
Games without committing at least one turnover: 3
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 5

Arizona State

Turnovers committed: 13
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 10-13 (76 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 62
Games without committing at least one turnover: 6
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 0

Colorado

Turnovers committed: 21
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 16-21 (76 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 104
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 0

UCLA

Turnovers committed: 16
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 13-16 (81 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 82
Games without committing at least one turnover: 2
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

USC

Turnovers committed: 12
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 6-12 (50 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 42
Games without committing at least one turnover: 5
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 4

Utah

Turnovers committed: 16
Opponent scores vs. opportunities: 9-16 (56 percent)
Total points allowed after turnovers: 55
Games without committing at least one turnover: 4
Games without allowing points after turnovers: 3

Top performances: Nelson Spruce

February, 9, 2015
Feb 9
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We continue our series looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2014. If you feel a little nostalgic, you can check out the top performances from 2013.

Up next: Sprucing up the passing game

Who and against whom: Colorado WR Nelson Spruce was the Buffaloes' go-to guy in a crazy, 59-56 double-overtime loss to California.

The numbers: Spruce caught 19 passes for 179 yards with three touchdowns in the offensive slugfest.

A closer look: This nutty game was an offensive bonanza -- we'll celebrate it that way and ignore the olÚ defenses -- that ended in shocking fashion: A goal-line stand followed by a 34-yard field goal. We've already taken note that both quarterbacks threw seven TD passes, giving Jared Goff lead billing over Sefo Liufau because he won the game, but it wouldn't be right to overlook what Spruce did. His 19 receptions tied the Pac-12 single-game record and it came just a week after Spruce set a Colorado record with 13 catches for 172 yards and a score in a 21-12 win over Hawaii, one of just two Colorado victories in 2014. Spruce went on to earn second-team All-Pac-12 honors and was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award. Spruce's biggest catch was a 25-yard scoring strike in the first overtime that tied the game at 56-56. We won't even mention, Buffs, that first possession of the second OT, that first-and-goal from the 2-yard line and what happened next. We're sure none of you ever think about that one.

Pac-12 morning links

February, 6, 2015
Feb 6
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You're gonna need a bigger boat.

Happy Friday.

Leading off

February 4 is long gone, but don't think that the drama of national signing day has vanished with the date. UCLA is still at the center of some national attention because linebacker Roquan Smith, one of their touted Wednesday commits, hasn't faxed his national letter of intent to Westwood. Smith is reportedly concerned that Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich has been in talks with the Atlanta Falcons, news that leaked shortly after Smith's commitment to UCLA but before his pledge to the Bruins became binding.

Smith may feel fortunate that he's not in the same boat as Ohio State recruit Mike Weber, who found Buckeyes running backs coach Stan Drayton was leaving to the NFL after he was locked into Urban Meyer's program.

In the case of Smith, UCLA, Georgia, Michigan, and Texas A&M are still technically alive in the battle for his services, and the saga will likely stretch into next week.

"[The recruiting period] isn't over until the end of April," Smith's coach said. "So there's no rush."

So in case any Pac-12 recruiting fans thought signing day would present a cut and dry finish to the 2015 cycle, think again. We're going to overtime, and it'll be a while longer before the drama fully subsides and the pre-spring ball vacation is here.

News/notes/team reports
  • Arizona's DaVonte' Neal is changing positions to help a thinned-out Wildcats defense. Read about the switch here.
  • .One of Arizona State's biggest victories this recruiting season came through the signing of defensive tackle prospect Joseph Wicker.
  • Is Cal football trying to mimic how Stanford recruits?
  • Colorado's series with an in-state rival is likely to end after 2020.
  • More signing day aftermath: This piece examines Oregon's slow-and-steady recruiting style.
  • A developing Oregon State trend: Polynesian players. The Beavers just signed eight of them.
  • Offensive lineman Kevin Reihner has exercised a graduate transfer to Penn State, and David Shaw indicated that he's not the only Stanford player who's been mulling his future options.
  • Chronicling UCLA's Jeff Ulbrich/Roquan Smith saga.
  • When it comes to recruiting, Steve Sarkisian has finished strong at USC.
  • Grading Utah's coaches for their 2014 performance while looking ahead to 2015.
  • Chris Petersen believes he has something special at Washington in Jake Browning.
  • Washington State has lost wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons to Oklahoma.
Just for fun

Here's another "my, how times have changed" glimpse at college football, featuring a former USC Heisman Trophy winner.

The turnover battle is the consummate game within the game. You want them. Coaches love them. They can be momentum-swinging game-changers.

However, they can also be wasted drives. Sure, a turnover is nice because you take the ball out of the hands of the opposing offense. But if you can’t turn those turnovers into points, you’re just using clock. And with so many up-tempo offenses in the Pac-12, that’s not always that big of a deal.

Obviously, points off of turnovers aren’t the end-all-be all. Sometimes a turnover can end a game, such was the case with Scooby Wright stripping Marcus Mariota or J.R. Tavai’s strip-sack of Kevin Hogan. No points were scored, yet it decided the outcome. Washington State was one of the best teams in the conference at converting turnovers into points (75 percent). Problem is, the Cougars only forced eight all year.

So don’t take the following stats as cannon. Rather, they are a decent indicator of how your team did in 2014 at turning turnovers into points. We’ll start with the Pac-12 South and hit the North later today. And tomorrow, we’ll flip the script and look at points allowed following a turnover.

If you’re curious, here are last year’s totals so you can see if your team improved or regressed.

Arizona

Turnovers created: 26
Scores vs. opportunities: 18-26 (69 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 110
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 2
Games without points after turnovers: 3

Arizona State

Turnovers created: 27
Scores vs. opportunities: 22-27 (81 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 142
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 4
Games without points after turnovers: 3

Colorado

Turnovers created: 11
Scores vs. opportunities: 4-11 (36 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 20
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 5
Games without points after turnovers: 3

UCLA

Turnovers created: 16
Scores vs. opportunities: 11-16 (68 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 69
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 5
Games without points after turnovers: 3

USC

Turnovers created: 23
Scores vs. opportunities: 12-23 (52 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 83
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 1
Games without points after turnovers: 5

Utah

Turnovers created: 21
Scores vs. opportunities: 16-21 (76 percent)
Total points after turnovers: 84
Games without forcing at least one turnover: 1
Games without points after turnovers: 0
Note: Utah was the only Pac-12 team to score off a turnover in every game in which they forced one.

Pac-12 morning links

February, 5, 2015
Feb 5
9:00
AM ET
The exclusive club of Pac-12 football officially has a couple hundred new members, so today's movie quote relates to that.

The first rule of Pac-12 football is: You do not talk about Pac-12 football.

Actually, that's not true. You are allowed to talk a lot about Pac-12 football. That's what this blog is all about. So, let's discuss morning links in the wake of national signing day.

Leading off

Wednesday marked the end of an arduous selection process for thousands of prospective collegiate student-athletes. They finally had a chance to make their decisions official while fax machines relished the opportunity to be relevant again. Signing day was particularly kind to the L.A. schools -- USC flexed its recruiting muscle to finish with one of the nation's top-rated classes while UCLA made an eye-popping closing surge -- but noteworthy developments populated all corners of the conference.

Perhaps the best way to summarize the day lies in this conference map, which plots the hometown of every single recruit that signed on to play Pac-12 football yesterday. It was a true nationwide operation. A team-by-team look is below.

News/notes/team reports
  • Signing day in Tucson didn't generate much fanfare, but Rich Rodriguez thinks he's inked his kind of guys.
  • There was only one surprise in Arizona State's recruiting class, which ended up looking like a strong haul that included a handful of four-star recruits from the Southern California hotbed.
  • Ryan Gorcey delivers anything and everything related to Cal's signing day right here. The Bears are hoping a handful of additions in the secondary will be able to contribute immediately.
  • Five -- and maybe six -- players in Colorado's 2015 recruiting class are expected to contribute as true freshmen this fall.
  • Five takeaways from Oregon's 2015 recruiting class.
  • Gary Andersen had to scramble to salvage Oregon State's recruiting class after he took over for Mike Riley in December. Here's a final evaluation.
  • Here is Andy Drukarev's detailed account of Stanford's signing day, which came and went without any surprises.
  • Keep an eye on this developing story involving the Atlanta Falcons' interest in UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.
  • The national media thinks that USC and their crosstown rivals were among America's big signing day winners.
  • Tracking Utah's signing day.
  • A live, time-stamped log of how signing day went for Washington.
  • Mike Leach says that his 2015 class is the best of the four he's netted at Washington State.
Just for fun

Snoop Dogg had long been a USC fan, but his son Cordell Broadus signed with UCLA Wednesday, so it appears the rapper has switched allegiances.

Now he wit mora. N so am I. Let's go!!!(<<╚=L

A photo posted by snoopdogg (@snoopdogg) on

Completed class: Colorado Buffaloes

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
7:20
PM ET
Colorado has announced its 2015 class:

Four-stars
Tim Lynott OG -- Regis Jesuit High School, Colorado
Patrick Carr RB -- The Woodlands High School, Texas
Donald Gordon RB -- Millikan High School, California

Three-stars
Steven Montez QB-DT -- Del Valle High School, Texas
Justin Jan WR -- Chandler High School, Arizona
Nick Fisher CB -- Great Oak High School, California
Jordan Carrell DT -- American River, College, California
Dillon Middlemiss OG -- Pomona High School, Colorado
Alex Kinney K -- Rocky Mountain High School, Colorado
Isaiah Oliver WR -- Brophy Prep, Arizona
Afolabi Laguda S -- Butler, Community, College GA
Frank Umu DT -- Heritage High School, Colorado
Blake Robbins DE -- Georgia Military, College SC
N.J. Falo OLB -- Inderkum High School, California
Aaron Haigler OT -- Notre Dame High School, California

Two-stars
Chris Bounds TE-Y -- Chaminade, College Prep, California
Brett Tonz DT -- Centennial High School, Arizona

Ungraded
Lyle Tuiloma DT -- Nanakuli High School, Hawaii
Aaron Baltazar RB -- Southwestern, College, California

Pac-12 morning links

February, 4, 2015
Feb 4
9:00
AM ET
What are you doing?

Self-realization. I was thinking of the immortal words of Socrates, who said, "I drank what?"

Leading off

Today is signing day. Let the hype machine begin. Bring forth the hats, the puppies, the nerd nation glasses and a world of props we haven't thought of yet. Be excited about the four- and five-star players that head to your school. But let our Two-Star Scoobs series remind you that sometimes the most unheralded players can make the biggest impact.

And as Chris Foster notes, it's good to sign high-star players. But it's how they are developed that makes the difference.

We start with the news that linebacker Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah), a five-star recruit by some services (No. 92 in the ESPN 300) committed to USC on Tuesday. You can watch the full announcement -- complete with confetti -- here.

Our Tom Luginbill offered some thoughts on Gustin in this insider piece. Insider But because I'm that great of a guy, here's a little snippet:
Gustin is a spectacular athlete for his size, and the sky is the limit in terms of potential. While we could see him play early as a sub-package pass-rusher or pressure linebacker, he will likely need time to develop the nuances of a position before becoming an every-down player.

The Salt Lake Tribune also has a piece from the announcement.

Lots happening today, so you can tune in to ESPNU from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. for a full day of coverage. Yours truly will be in Long Beach for Iman Marshall's announcement (No. 4 on the ESPN 300) and then heading up to USC. If you don't follow me already on Twitter, click the necessary buttons and hang out for the ride.

Closely watched will be the landing spot of Cordell Broadus, who is eyeing USC, UCLA and ASU. The AP also has a list here of some big-name recruits to keep an eye on.

Also, an interesting piece from USA Today on how much schools are spending on recruiting.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The JFF section of the morning links isn't just for the wacky and the hilarious. It's also for stuff that's just really, really cool. Like this tweet from ASU:

Pac-12 morning links

February, 3, 2015
Feb 3
9:00
AM ET
Listen to me, Hillary. I'm not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist, only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island, who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.

Leading off

On Monday morning, the Utah Utes put their coordinator questions to bed with a series of staff announcements.

The school announced that former defensive line coach John Pease has been lured out of retirement -- again -- by head coach Kyle Whittingham to serve as the team's defensive coordinator. They also promoted Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding to co-offensive coordinators, a role Roderick previously held.

In the statement from the school, it said that Whittingham wouldn't discuss the hires until they hold their signing day news conference on Wednesday. Makes sense ... he's got some stuff to do in the next 24 hours.

Also notable is the title promotion of Dennis Erickson to assistant head coach. He'll continue to work with the running backs.

Here's our news story on the hires and other staff changes. The Salt Lake Tribune has a story here, and some notes from the Deseret News.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

UCLA quarterback Jerry Neuheisel (aka N-E-Heisel) tests the UCLA gymnastics team on their football knowledge. Funny stuff.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
9:00
AM ET

It's the final weekend for official visits before signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 4, and Pac-12 programs are looking to make that final in-person push as they close in on finishing out their classes. We take a look at the top three visit weekends in the conference.

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