Pac-12: Colorado Buffaloes

Another wild week in Pac-12 

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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The Pac-12 and the West region are capable of producing some wild weeks during the lead-up to signing day, with so many prospects in the area waiting until that day to make their commitment and rivals going after so many of the same prospects.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

All week we've been bringing you the All-America honors as they rolled in.

In total, 14 Pac-12 players were named to a first-team All-America squad. Of those 14, Marcus Mariota, Scooby Wright and Hau'oli Kikaha were unanimous selections. Two other players -- Tom Hackett and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- were consensus selections appearing on at least three of the five recognized teams.

This is the eighth straight year the Pac-12 has had a unanimous selection and the first time since 2005 it's had three in one year (Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Maurice Drew). The five recognized teams are the American Football Coaches Association, the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

Here's the final tally among the big five:

Offense
  • QB, Marcus Mariota, Oregon, Jr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
  • OL, Jake Fisher, Oregon, Sr., FWAA
  • OL, Hroniss Grasu, Oregon, Sr., SN
  • OL, Andrus Peat, Stanford, Jr., SN
  • AP, Shaq Thompson, Washington, Jr., AP
Defense
  • DL, Nate Orchard, Utah, Sr., FWAA-WC
  • DL, Danny Shelton, Washington, Jr., AP-SN
  • DL, Leonard Williams, USC, Jr., AFCA
  • LB, Eric Kendricks, UCLA, Sr., SN
  • LB, Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington, Sr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
  • LB, Scooby Wright III, Arizona, So., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
  • DB, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon, Sr., AFCA-AP-WC (consensus)
  • P, Tom Hackett, Utah, Jr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-WC (consensus)
  • PR, Kaelin Clay, Utah, Sr., SN
Game of the year?

Just before the start of bowl season, the folks at Athlon Sports wanted to look back at the chaos that was the 2014 Pac-12 regular season. We've been running our pivotal plays series all week, so be sure to check that out. But Athlon looked at the top 15 games of the season. Here's their top five.
  1. Oct 2: Arizona 31, Oregon 24
  2. Oct. 4: Arizona State 38, USC 34
  3. Sept. 6: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
  4. Oct. 25: Utah 24, USC 21
  5. Oct. 4: Utah 30, UCLA 28

You'll note that three of their five are from Week 6. We noted last week in our Roadtrip Revisited post that every game that week was unbelievable. If you click the link, they actually rate 30 games. Fairly surprised the Cal-WSU game (also in Week 6) didn't make the top 10. To each their own.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Really great read from our friend Max Olson on the Big 12 blog about the recruitment of linebacker Malik Jefferson. Some interesting UCLA notes in there.
Welcome to the mailbag, where the holiday cheer never stops.

Tyler in Palo Alto writes: When do the bowl predictions come out? Any upsets on the horizon?

Kevin Gemmell: The Pac-12 blog will reveal its bowl game predictions with a 90-minute extravaganza show airing on The Ocho on Friday morning. Ted will spend 45 minutes screaming incoherently about Pitt while Chantel holds her FauxPelini face the entire time. Kyle, David and I will discuss the Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston storyline for about a minute, followed by another 40 minutes on Johnny Manziel and the SEC dominance. We'll close with a roundtable discussion rehashing the Ka'Deem Carey vs. Bishop Sankey debate and why Desmond Trufant wasn't on the 2012 postseason Top 25 list. It’s going to be a blast.

But in all seriousness, the picks come out Friday morning. No problem telling you I’m going full-blown homer. Of course, the league won’t go 8-0. That would be too much to expect. The conference is favored in seven of its eight games, with UCLA the only underdog right now. So if you're going with my picks, then I'm picking the Bruins in an "upset" win.

Someone will slip up. They always do. But on paper, I think the league has a chance to sweep. They say bowl games are about motivation. I see strong motivation for all eight teams in the league.


Mark in Portland writes: If Mariota leads the Ducks to their first ever championship, will he be considered one of the greatest CFB players ever? His stats are up there with the best ever, and he is the first player ever to throw for 30 TD's or more in his freshmen, sophomore and junior seasons. And winning the first ever CFB playoff would be huge and be remembered decades from now.

Kevin Gemmell: I think winning the Heisman automatically puts you in the conversation of one of the greatest college football players ever, doesn’t it? By default, you’re already considered the best player in the game for that year.

But in terms of legacy, Mariota has certainly done some special things that make him part of the discussion. As you note, winning the first ever national championship of the playoff era would resonate. Being the first-ever Oregon player to win the Heisman and the first from the region since Oregon State's Terry Baker in 1962 will also stick with folks -- at least on the West Coast.

But even without a national championship, I think what he will best be remembered for are his ball-security numbers. That he has accounted for 53 touchdowns while turning it over just five times is remarkable. Right now, his personal TD-to-turnover margin is plus-48. Only Tim Tebow in 2007 had a better one in the past decade. And chances are Mariota will break that record, too, if he takes care of the ball in the next (two?) game(s).

You also have to look at the fact that of his 372 passes this season, only two have been intercepted. If that percentage holds, it will break the single-season FBS record of quarterbacks with a minimum of 350 attempts.

I think with the numbers and the Heisman, he’s already worked his way into the discussion. Adding a national championship (assuming he has a pair of monster games) would, in my mind, solidify him in the top dozen or so. Time will have to do the rest of the work.


Shonti in Miami writes: Realistically, how does Oregon match up with Florida State in the Rose Bowl? FSU fans seem to be really confident, and although they played many very close games this year, the team has a lot of talent. I'm concerned Oregon's offense could struggle against FSU's athletic defensive line and big defensive backs.

Kevin Gemmell: Much has been written this season about Oregon improving its size across the line. And I think the Ducks use the tempo to their advantage.

Keep in mind, too, that the Ducks have a big back in Royce Freeman who can pound when necessary, but he also has the speed and athleticism to hit the corners. My guess is Oregon’s pace will counter-balance any size issues. Besides, it’s not like Oregon hasn’t seen big or athletic defensive lines this season (Stanford, Washington, Utah etc...).

Also, I wrote this week about Oregon’s success at turning turnovers into points. I think that is going to be a huge factor, since Florida State turns the ball over quite a bit.

Turnovers are one thing. But if you don’t do anything with them and end up punting the ball back, they aren’t much good. Oregon has been especially good at making their turnovers count. That they have scored 120 points off turnovers ... nearly 20 percent of their total points ... is huge.

If both teams stick to their trends -- FSU not taking care of the ball and Oregon capitalizing on turnovers -- I think the Ducks match up very well.

However, the news that broke yesterday that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is out with a knee injury isn't what you want to hear heading into the postseason. He's got two interceptions and nine breakups this season, and he will certainly be missed. But I think Oregon's secondary is seasoned enough now that it will be able to marginally compensate. I don't think it's a game-changing loss, but it's certainly noteworthy.
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today's question: Which non-bowl eligible Pac-12 team could most use extra December practice time?

Kevin Gemmell / @kevin_gemmell: This one feels like a no-brainer to me. The “worst” team in the league could always use the most work and time to improve. You’ll note the quotations around worst because their record says they are the worst. But ask Cal, or Oregon State or UCLA or Utah if they are the worst team in the conference. All of those teams survived the Buffs by fewer than seven points, and in the case of Cal and UCLA, needed double-overtime to get it done.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Mike MacIntyre interview this year that doesn’t include at least one reference to “us being one of the youngest teams in the country.” Youth improves with practice and experience. And an extra set of practices for one of the youngest teams in college football sure would have been nice.

Remember how the first half of the UCLA game ended? The chaotic scramble that produced no points and left MacIntyre with his face in his hands. He took the blame, but I’m sure a few extra practices and some two-minute work couldn’t hurt.

Colorado looks like a team on the verge of breaking through -- or at least getting to .500 ball. The Buffs were far more competitive, but still didn’t get the results in the standings. They’ll be better next year than they were this year. But they also need the extra work more than the other three.

Ted Miller / @TedMillerRK: Washington State lost six of its final seven games, an odd victory over Oregon State acting as an anomaly cruelly hinting at what might have been amid a dreary season of massive disappointment. And, after that streak began with a 60-59 loss to California, which featured a bumbling finish by both players and coaches, those five other defeats came by an average of 23 points. It wasn’t like the Cougs were close. By season’s end, you could say they were as far away from something good as they had been since Mike Leach’s angst-filled first season in 2012.

[+] EnlargeWashington State's Luke Falk
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesExtra practice time would have been valuable for freshman QB Luke Falk and an offense the Cougars will lean heavily on in 2015.
You also could believe Leach and his team needed a break from each other, not more practices together, as the general theme of Leach’s late-season remarks blamed an enduring loser’s mentality haunting his program. Accurate observation or not, Leach’s lack of a filter is starting to wear on some Coug fans.

So there’s a worrisome malaise seemingly creeping around Pullman, one that could be aggravated by time off. That’s why bowl practices -- or any practices -- would have given Leach and his team leaders a chance to show returning players a new script before guys got fat and happy this winter. While some teams want extra practices to capitalize on positive momentum, Leach needs bowl practices to reverse a downward trend that surprisingly took over his third season.

ChantelJennings / @ChantelJennings: There are only four Pac-12 teams that didn’t make bowls so I supposed it’d make the most sense -- be the most fair -- if I went with Oregon State, but I really don’t think the extra practice would’ve served the Beavers best. So, I’m going to double up on Ted’s pick and go with Washington State.

Any time you have a young quarterback, any extra time in the system -- the real system, not the player-run offseason system -- is going to be highly beneficial. We saw how much Luke Falk grew in the final four games of the season. With the bowl game, he would’ve only gotten one more game, but he would’ve gotten two weeks worth of practice which is so, so valuable for a young signal-caller and an offense.

Yes, this is kind of disregarding the Wazzu defense, which some fans would say is par for the course with Leach. However, maybe Mike Breske would’ve stayed through the bowl, maybe not. Who knows? But I’m picking Washington State for the offense alone. I don’t see this team winning games with its defense any time soon. Yes, it’s an improving group but as long as Leach is coach, this is going to be a team that wins because it outscores its opponents. Give Falk and his boys another two weeks and the Cougars are one step closer to that goal and the possibility of bowl eligibility next season.

David Lombardi / @LombardiESPN: Of all the non-bowl eligible Pac-12 teams, I think it's fair to say that 5-7 Cal was the best. In fact, they did beat each of the other three losing squads -- though the wins against Washington State and Colorado both came in the narrowest fashion possible. But the original point remains: Of the teams on the onside looking in, the Bears were the closest to punching their ticket, and that's why I think they could most use that extra push of additional practices. The work would be enough to push them over the top in 2015.

Two major flaws hindered Cal this season: The Bears were again bad defensively (they allowed a conference-worst 39.8 points per game) and they were the Pac-12's most penalized team (82.2 yards per game). The whole penalty problem screams, "we need more practice!" right? And when it comes to that leaky defense, it's clear there was improvement from the 2013 version (Cal surrendered 45 points per game that year), but even more is needed. Give Jared Goff and those receivers just a little more to work with, and the wins will start piling up. So Sonny Dykes' crew certainly could have made great use of a little additional refinement time.
Has this been the greatest season in Pac-12 history? The jury is still out on that front, as bowl games remain to be played, and Oregon is tasked with carrying the conference flag into a playoff battle with the nation's big boys. But after a captivating regular season, the conference is undoubtedly in strong position entering this final foray.

The 2014 ride -- typically 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 making an impact on its eccentric, memorable course.

We'll be counting down in increments of three throughout this week. Here's the third installment:

6. Cal’s stand against Colorado in double overtime

video

It was one of those “never-say-die” games when it came to Cal and Colorado earlier this year. Jared Goff and Sefo Liufau threw for seven touchdowns each. EACH. How many conferences even have seven touchdown passes in one game? There were 1,200-plus yards, which is either incredibly impressive or unimpressive, depending on whether you’re a fan of offense or defense.

But regardless, this game clearly wasn’t going to be decided in regulation, so, we got some free football.

Cal struck first in the first OT. After the Colorado defense had come up with two stops for no gain on first and second down, Goff found Bryce Treggs for a 25-yard TD. Liufau responded by finding Nelson Spruce on the Buffs’ first down, pulling Colorado even. But then the Buffs kind of stalled. They were able to get two first downs to start the second OT, but when the game was on the line and Colorado was -- almost literally -- on the goal line, the Cal defense came up with its biggest stop of the year. Liufau was tackled on fourth-and-goal for a loss of three yards by Jalen Jefferson and Michael Lowe.

Cal kicked a field goal to win. It was Cal’s first conference win of the year and the Bears’ first since Oct. 13, 2012. Though the Bears only went on to win two more games and fell short of becoming bowl-eligible, it was a good statement moment and statement win for a team that’s clearly on the rise.

5. Marcus Mariota flip vs. Michigan State

Earlier last week, Pac-12 Blog readers voted this play as Mariota’s “Heisman Moment,” which was pretty telling about a few different things. First of all, it’s not a scoring play. In fact, for Mariota’s standards, it was pretty darn near basic. There are no flips, no spins, no hurdles, no nothing. It’s Mariota getting out of the pocket, making things happen and then getting the ball -- at the perfect time -- to someone else who can make more things happen.

Essentially, your typical Mariota.

The play came when the Ducks needed it most. The Spartans had scored 20 unanswered points and Oregon trailed 27-18 in the third quarter on Sept. 6. The Ducks faced a third-and-long following a sack, and everyone knew that MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was going to bring pressure again, and he did. But Mariota was able to avoid sack attempts from Darien Harris, Riley Bullough and Ed Davis before making his way toward his left and sending a shovel pass in the direction of Royce Freeman.

Freeman picked up the first down and more (17 yards) and the Ducks were able to score on that drive, pulling within two of the Spartans, before cruising through the fourth quarter and winning 46-27.

4. The fumble heard round the Pac-12

video

And we move from one of Mariota’s best plays to one of his worst, thanks to eventual Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner Scooby Wright.

With the No. 2 Ducks trailing by seven at home to unranked Arizona with just over two minutes remaining in the game, Mariota took the snap on a first-and-10 at the 35-yard line. Oregon needed to score on this drive in order to keep itself alive on Oct. 2, but then the unthinkable happened.

Wright seemingly came out of nowhere, stripped Mariota and recovered the fumble.

The play was one of a handful that really sealed the upset victory for the Wildcats. It was the Ducks’ only blemish on their schedule and it certainly created some questions for the playoff committee (at least at that point in the season) regarding Oregon. As the conference season played on and the Wildcats earned more respect, and eventually a spot in the Pac-12 game, the loss became less questionable, though a loss nonetheless.

Mariota and Oregon were able to avenge the fumble in the Pac-12 championship game, but it certainly was one of those very, very rare moments this season in which the unflappable and unstoppable Mariota looked human.

Other impact plays:

Top sleeper recruits: Pac-12 

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
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Five-star and ESPN 300 prospects create the most buzz, but with more than a hundred FBS programs competing for talent, it takes more than just those top-rated prospects to have success. Rosters are built largely with prospects who enter college with little fanfare, but their development and contributions are key. Every year we see prospects who flew under the radar but developed into some of their conference's top players.

Throughout our evaluations, we come across many players who show promise and are great additions based on their upside for development and/or scheme fit.

Here are five commitments in the Pac-12 that we believe are unheralded, but great additions worth keeping an eye on.


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Pac-12 morning links

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
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If you use more than 5 percent of your brain you don't want to be on earth.

Leading off

Another day, another round of All-America teams. Three more to catch you up on. You should know the names by now.

First up is The Sporting News:
  • First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon; Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford; Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon;
  • First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington; Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona; Hau’oli Kikaha, LB Washington; Erick Kendricks, LB, UCLA.
  • First-team special teams: KR Kaelin Clay, Utah.
  • Second-team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
  • Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah; Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon;
  • Special teams: Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
Next up is the AFCA FBS All-America team:
  • First-team offense: Mariota
  • First-team defense: Leonard Williams, DL, USC; Wright; Kikaha; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon.
  • Specialists: Hackett
And here's the Football Writers Association of America All-America team:
  • First-team offense: Mariota, Jake Fisher, OL, Oregon
  • First-team defense: Orchard, Kikaha, Wright III,
  • Specialists: Hackett
  • Second-team defense: Williams, Kendricks

The Sporting News also named Mariota its player of the year.

Ifo out

No doubt, you've heard the news that Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, whose name appears on some All-America lists above, is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. It's not an apocalyptic blow to the Ducks. But you don't want to be facing Winston down one of your best defenders, either.

Here's some reaction: News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

A couple of ASU alums are already benefiting from the new Adidas deal. All together now ... awwwwwww

Pac-12 morning links

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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Because you know I'm all about that bass, 'bout that bass.

Leading off

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.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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."
Eight Pac-12 teams are bowling, but four are home for the holidays with losing records. Here's a look at their seasons and a take on their futures.

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.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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Bye bye Li'l Sebastian;
Miss you in the saddest fashion.
Bye bye Li'l Sebastian;
You’re 5,000 candles in the wind.

Leading off

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.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Good one, Kyle.



Pretty sweet.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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As you know Robbie's shining moment this year was when he set a school record for cursing in an eighth grade English class.

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.
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.

Back page of The Oregonian's special section on Marcus Mariota. Classy move from the Beavers.

A photo posted by Karly Imus (@karlyimus) on

Other awards:

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.



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 ...

Best of the visits: Pac-12

December, 14, 2014
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The final weekend before the month-long dead period saw a number of official visitors on Pac-12 campuses. Here is a look at those trips through the eyes of the recruits on social media.

Hollywood in Westwood

UCLA hosted ESPN 300 prospect Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal from Texas, and the Lone Star State prospects were introduced to life in Los Angeles via an encounter with actress Kerry Washington. While McNeal tweeted about the meeting, Jefferson, the nation's No. 35 recruit, snapped a picture of his mother meeting the actress.
The visitors to UCLA were also treated to a basketball game at Pauley Pavilion, from where McNeal delivered this tweet. The Bruins have made their presence felt in Texas the past few years and grabbing commitments from these two would send a significant message about head coach Jim Mora's recruiting momentum.

UCLA also hosted wide receiver commit L.J. Reed on his official visit. Cal's big weekend

From the looks of the photo tweeted by Cal quarterback Ross Bowers, the Golden Bears hosted at least nine official visitors this weekend. The Golden Bears have 15 commitments with room for several more. Bowers was joined on the trip by juco defensive end and Washington State commit DeVante Wilson, Duke commit and dual-threat quarterback DePriest Turner and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, among others. Utes host local linebacker

It's a big year for talent in Utah and the Utes look like they'll miss out on the three big ESPN 300 prospect in state -- Andre James, Osa Masina and Porter Gustin. After losing a commitment from four-star offensive tackle Branden Bowen, it'll be important for Utah to land several in-state prospects, as they have just one commitment from any of the top-10 prospects in Utah.

This past weekend, the Utes hosted linebacker Christian Folau -- a former Stanford commit -- and are among the top three programs for him. Trojans chasing Ross

USC gained a significant commitment from ESPN 300 tight end Tyler Petite on Friday, then hosted a trio of recruits over the weekend, including ESPN 300 athlete Ykili Ross. Capable of playing cornerback or safety, Ross looks to be a primary target for USC head coach Steve Sarkisian down the stretch. The Trojans also brought in athletic director Pat Haden during the trip. Buffs bring in commits

After an impressive showing last weekend that eventually netted two commitments, Colorado posted another big weekend, with a number of verbal commitments making the trip. ESPN 300 lineman Timmy Lynott is the most important commitment in Colorado's class, and was on hand. The Buffs also received an official visit from four-star running back Donald Gordon, who appeared to very much enjoy the trip.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

December, 12, 2014
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It's the last opportunity for college coaches to host official visitors before the month-long dead period begins Monday, and Pac-12 campuses will be full of top prospects this weekend. Virtually every Pac-12 program is hosting an important weekend, with ESPN 300 prospects scheduled to visit at least four schools in the conference.


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Pac-12 morning links

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

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
Coordinators on the move?

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.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Throw-back Friday. This guys' man cave is cooler than yours.

Mailbag: Next year's POYs?

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
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Welcome to mailbag. There's juice in the refrigerator. Follow me here on Twitter.

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.

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