Pac-12: USC Trojans
USC, which had the conference's highest-ranked recruiting class in 2014, played the most freshmen (11) and Oregon State played none. Those 75 players accounted for seven starts (on offense or defense) and eight touchdowns. The total number of players will undoubtedly grow in the next few weeks.
Here's a breakdown of all 75, by school (*-denotes players who started):
- CB Cam Denson
- OL Layth Friekh
- RB Jonathan Haden
- WR Tyrell Johnson
- RB Nick Wilson -- 7 carries, 104 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch, 6 yards
- TE Trevor Wood
- DT Tashon Smallwood*
- LB D.J. Calhoun* -- 5 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup
- CB Chad Adams -- 1 tackle
- RB Kalen Ballage -- 12 carries, 36 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch, 6 yards
- TE Brendan Landman
- CB Armand Perry -- 3 tackles, blocked a punt
- RB Demario Richard -- 6 carries, 24 yards; 1 catch, 22 yards
- LB Christian Sam
- CB DeAndre Scott
- LB Hamilton Anoa’i
- LB Devante Downs -- 2 tackles
- RB Vic Enwere -- 4 carries, 14 yards
- RB Patrick Laird
- WR Matt Rockett
- QB Luke Rubenzer -- Led Cal in both carries (11) and rushing yards (48)
- RB Tre Watson -- 6 carries, 18 yards; 1 catch, 1 yard
- DE Noah Westerfield
- LS Tanner Carew -- 1 tackle
- OL Tyrell Crosby
- RB Royce Freeman -- 10 carries, team-high 2 rushing touchdowns; 1 catch, 11 yards
- LB Justin Hollins
- DL Austin Maloata -- 4 tackles, 1 pass breakup
- DL Henry Mondeaux
- WR Charles Nelson -- 1 catch, 8 yards; returned 1 punt 50 yards for a touchdown
- K Aidan Schneider -- handled kickoffs/PATs; no FG attempts
- CB Arrion Springs -- 2 tackles
- LB Jimmie Swain -- 2 tackles
- CB Terrence Alexander
- RB Christian McCaffrey -- 52-yard touchdown reception; 1 carry, 10 yards; 3 tackles
- FB Daniel Marx
- OL Casey Tucker
- OL Najee Toran*
- DL Matt Dickerson
- WR Mossi Johnson
- DL Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
- DB Jaleel Wadood -- 3 tackles
- LB Zach Whitley -- 1 tackle
- LB Kenny Young -- 4 tackles
- OG Toa Lobendahn*
- OG Damien Mama*
- TE Bryce Dixon -- 1 catch, 22 yards, 1 touchdown
- WR Ajene Harris -- 1 catch, 8 yards
- WR/CB Adoree' Jackson -- 3 catches, 36 yards, 1 touchdown: 1 punt return, 10 yards; 1 tackle
- CB Jonathan Lockett
- LB Uchenna Nwosu -- 2 tackles
- WR/S JuJu Smith -- 4 catches for team-high 123 yards; 1 carry, 1 yard
- DB John Plattenburg
- C Viane Talamaivao
- LB Olajuwon Tucker -- 1 tackle
- Christian Drews
- DE Wallace Gonzalez
- CB Boobie Hobbs -- 1 punt return, 6 yards
- DT Lowell Lotulelei -- 3 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
- Nick Mika
- OG Logan Stott
- CB Monte Seabrook
- CB Tavaris Williams -- 2 tackles
- S Marcus Williams -- 6 tackles
- WR Kenric Young
- DB Budda Baker* -- 7 tackles, 1 pass breakup
- DB Darren Gardenhire
- DB Naijiel Hale
- WR Brayden Lenius
- K Tristan Vizcaino -- Handled kickoffs only, 1 tackle
Malik Lovette commits to Oregon
Lovette’s head coach, Kurt Bruich, offered his congratulations to his star athlete, who committed to Oregon while on an official visit. The commitment didn't come as much of a shock, and Oregon continues to stockpile talent in the offensive backfield, as Lovette teams with fellow ESPN 300 running back Taj Griffin to give the Ducks a potent duo.
Congrats to @MalikLovette for verbally committing to the University of Oregon! He's going to be a great Duck! The kid can fly!— Kurt Bruich (@CoachBruich) August 31, 2014
2016 talent takes in big USC win
KJ Costello and ESPN 300 wide receiver Tyler Vaughns are pictured above, and there was plenty more junior talent in attendance. Cornerback C.J. Polland, athlete Brandon Burton and linebackers Darrian Franklin and Blake Walls were a few other 2016 ESPN 300 prospects in attendance.
Trojans make solid first impression under Sarkisian
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LOS ANGELES -- While most USC players tried to change the subject when the names of Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown were brought up after Saturday's 52-13 victory over Fresno State, starting safety Su'a Cravens admitted he was thinking of both seniors and how their final seasons could have been different if they had handled their situations another way.
“I know [Brown] probably regrets saying what he said,” Cravens said of the running back who quit the team Aug. 21 and later called coach Steve Sarkisian "racist" in social-media posts since deleted. “It’s unfortunate. I know Sark personally, and Sark is a great coach, and there’s no way shape or form it's true what [Brown] said. I think he was just upset with the situation. If he could rethink that whole thing, he wouldn’t have said it. It’s the frustration of being in your senior year and really not playing. A.B. is my friend, and it’s unfortunate what he said.”
“[Shaw] apologized publicly to the coaching staff and to the entire football team and administration," Cravens added. "We all know what kind of guy Josh is, and he doesn't need to apologize to us for us to know that he’s sorry for what he did.”
What exactly happened with Shaw continues to be a mystery to most outside of the team -- the cornerback has been suspended after he admitted to lying about how he suffered a pair of ankle sprains -- and as much as Cravens would like to see the one-time defensive captain return, he understands that’s out of his hands.
“We got to see what happens legally, and if Coach Sark lets him back onto the team,” Cravens said. “We don’t know what happened. I’m sure if some guys did know what happened, they wouldn’t say because they might have to be witnesses in a courtroom. I don’t know. As far as I see it, he fabricated his story, and that’s all I know.”
(Pause again, for laughter)
(Pause, again, still for more laughter)
UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?
“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”
And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).
It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.
“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”
Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.
“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”
That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?
- Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
- The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
- The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
- UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
- The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.
Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?
“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”
The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.
“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”
Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.
“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”
So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.
And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”
Yet with all due respect, the Pac-12 plays five games versus overmatched FCS foes and is double-digit favorites in four other games. The only underdog is California, which visits Northwestern.
Ah, but that second Saturday. That, my friends, is a biggie. Not entirely across the conference, but two games will attract beaucoup Pac-12 and national eyeballs and are decidedly meaningful in terms of setting up the first season of the College Football Playoff.
It's an intriguing matchup, too: Celebrated offense versus celebrated defense, with the Ducks, led by preseason Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota, facing Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who might be the best in the business.
Meanwhile, No. 11 Stanford plays host to No. 15 USC. The Trojans used to feast on the Cardinal. Now this is a bitter and highly competitive rivalry. What makes this game fun is the rivalry is as much player-based as fan based. That bitterness ignited between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh -- "What's your deal?" -- and has maintained its burn over the past few years, with the teams exchanging major upsets the past two seasons.
It also won't cool things down, at least in terms of perception, that new Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford coach David Shaw were at public loggerheads last year over the Cardinal allegedly faking injuries in a tight victory over Sark's Washington team. While it might be responsible to note that Shaw and Sarkisian seem to get along well and chat amiably at coaching functions, that would de-sensationalize an angle the Pac-12 blog would prefer to jump up and down and point at next week.
It also has been established, though less publicly, that more than a few Stanford players were extremely unhappy with Sarkisian's accusation, most notably DE Ben Gardner, whose NFL career has already been waylaid by the shoulder issue that hampered him against the Huskies.
We also must add that the irreverent Stanford band surely is already clicking its collective heels over the possibilities the "Josh Shaw Tall Tale of Heroism" offers for a halftime snark.
Even if you cast aside the emotions, this is a big Pac-12 game. The winner figures to establish itself as a top-10 team and national contender. While they occupy different divisions, one will end up 0-1 in conference play and the other will be 1-0. In what figure to be tight races in both divisions, that one-game swing could prove critical.
A USC victory would be a significant event in the South Division. The Trojans don't play Oregon, as UCLA does. Arizona State doesn't, either. The Bruins and the Sun Devils both play Stanford. The Sun Devils visit USC. In other words, in terms of schedule strength among the contenders, a USC win over Stanford might change the perception of the South race.
Of course, from a coach's perspective we are getting ahead of ourselves. USC plays host to Fresno State on Saturday. While the Bulldogs don't look like the formidable foe the Trojans whipped in the Las Vegas Bowl a year ago, they certainly have a pulse. Stanford plays UC Davis and Oregon plays South Dakota. Both will roll, though some Davis folks have pointed out the Aggies upset the Cardinal in 2005, one of the notable moments of Walt Harris' coaching tenure.
As you well know, sports teams play one game at a time.
"We approach this game, literally, exactly like every other one," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of South Dakota and, by extension, Michigan State. "To do anything else would be a conflict of our process, disrespectful to our opponent and to the game."
While Helfrich and Shaw admit that they spent plenty of time this offseason reviewing Michigan State and USC/Washington film knowing about their big dates in Week 2, the nature of football is routine, and routine dictates you prepare for each game the same way.
Dangers of looking ahead this week? Unlikely. For one, it's the first game of the season. The opportunity to play a real game in front of a crowd after a long preseason camp is a reward in itself. Don't expect players to be blasÚ and unfocused.
And there are stakes for players in game one, no matter how undecorated the foe is, according to Shaw.
"We have a lot of guys still competing for things, for who's going to get more playing time," he said. "I'd feel bad for the guy who shows a sign of not focusing on the task at hand. He's going to meet with a not very happy Coach Shaw."
But don’t forget the talent the league has at running back, too. The run game, after all, is what opens up the passing lanes for the signal-callers.
The 1,000-yard mark has acted as a benchmark for backs for years, so, how many Pac-12 rushers (for fun, let's include QBs) will hit the mark in 2014?
Byron Marshall (1,038). Only one of those guys, Marshall, returns in 2014, and even he is listed in a three-way battle for the starting RB spot at Oregon with Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman.
In 2012 and 2010 there were six 1,000-yard rushers, and in 2011 there were seven. So what exactly will 2014 bring us?
Oregon has its three-headed monster (in addition to quarterback Marcus Mariota, who rushed for 715 yards last season). Will one or two emerge and become 1,000-yard backs? Or will they split carries, gain major yardage together and not have a single guy hit that mark? Could go either way.
USC has Buck Allen and Justin Davis and Tre Madden. ASU has D.J. Foster. Utah has Bubba Poole. Could Stanford’s Barry Sanders follow in his dad’s footsteps? Or will it be Kelsey Young who steals the show at Stanford? UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley accounted for 748 rushing yards last season. Could he add a few more long runs and hit the mark? What about one of his backs, such as Jordon James or Paul Perkins?
Colorado is pretty deep, Washington has options, and Oregon State says its run game is much improved.
With all those guys, how many 1,000-yard rushers will we actually see? History says it can range greatly. But what say you?
Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.
- Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
- Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
- Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
- Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
- USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
- Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
- D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
- Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
- The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
- Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.
"Many teams wonder what this SC thing is about -- why have we been so successful these past years," he said. "We came out there and showed them. They're Ohio State and that means something. But we prepare so well that we just do what we do."
There was a time under Pete Carroll when USC pretty much won games when they got off the bus. They simply looked a whole lot better -- bigger, faster, more confident -- than anyone else in college football. Reporters and fans would encircle the Trojans' open scrimmages, particularly during Competition Tuesdays, and marvel at the talent level and intensity.
New USC coach Steve Sarkisian was Carroll's top offensive assistant for much of that run from 2002 to '08 before heading off to Washington. He missed the 2004 BCS national title season while spending an unhappy year with the Oakland Raiders, as well as the start of the program's decline in 2009, a 9-4 finish after the Trojans had lost just nine games in the previous seven seasons. Then Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks.
So Sarkisian knows what things were like during the Trojans' most recent dynastic run. He was there for its creation. A Southern California native, he knows the area, the program's traditions and how quickly expectations can become stratospheric. He knows what he is taking over. And getting himself into.
He knows USC is one of the most powerful brands in college sports, one whose name and logo have impact in South Florida, Ohio and Texas, as well as in its home territory.
"When you have that SC interlock on your chest and you walk into a school [to recruit], whether it's in Southern California or anywhere else, this talks about 11 national championships, six Heisman Trophies, more NFL draft picks, more All-Americans, more All-Pros, more Hall of Famers than any other school," Sarkisian said. "So it's a powerful brand."
Sarkisian also knows timing. He knows it's better not to be the "man after the man," as his friend Lane Kiffin was with Carroll. Sarkisian was Carroll's personal preference to replace him, and then-athletic director Mike Garrett made a play for Sarkisian before offering the job to Kiffin. Sarkisian was then heading into his second season at Washington and felt it wouldn't be the right time to bail out on the Huskies.
Oh, and he also knew NCAA sanctions were on the horizon, though there was little indication at the time that they would be as severe as they ended up being.
Good timing? As of June, USC is no longer yoked with those sanctions that included the loss of 30 scholarships over three years. After signing a highly rated class in February, despite limits, Sarkisian could have the Trojans at around 80 scholarship players next fall, according to ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz, not far below the limit of 85, and substantially better than the numbers that have made depth the team's most worrisome issue since 2010. The Trojans presently rank 14th in the nation and first in the Pac-12 in the ESPN.com recruiting rankings.
Timing? Even during Carroll's run, USC's facilities were second-rate. No longer. After putting $120 million toward new and renovated buildings, including the 110,000-square foot John McKay Center, USC matches up with the most elite teams.
Timing? Sarkisian inherits 18 returning starters from a team that won 10 games in 2013. The Trojans should be contenders in the South Division this fall, emerging from so-called crippling sanctions in pretty good shape after averaging "only" 8.8 wins per season from 2009 through last year.
Of course, his timing isn't that perfect. He's got a UCLA problem that Carroll didn't have to contend with. The Bruins are surging under Jim Mora and are hardly quaking at the prospect of USC again being whole. It's notable that Sarkisian and Mora have long had a cordial relationship, though that might be difficult to sustain going forward.
"I think [hiring Sarkisian] has given them a shot of energy that I wish they didn't get," Mora quipped at Pac-12 media days. "I have great respect for Sark, and I like him as a person and as a coach. I just know he's going to make my job harder."
While USC can again sign a full recruiting class of 25, which should make the going tougher for all 11 other Pac-12 teams, there's also some undercurrent of smugness within the conference from coaches and fans that Sarkisian hasn't truly earned a job like USC and that he isn't much different from Kiffin. His critics dubbed him "Seven-Win Steve" after he led Washington to three consecutive 7-6 seasons, a rut that had some Huskies fans putting him on the hot seat heading into the 2013 season.
The Huskies improved to 9-4 last season, finishing with a Top 25 ranking for the first time since 2001. Some also seemed to forget that Sarkisian inherited a team that went 0-12 in 2008. While there's been an odd effort to rewrite the history of how down the program was back then, it was outscored 463-159 that season and hadn't posted a winning record since 2002. Washington went 1-10 in 2004 and 2-9 in 2005. Further, majestic Husky Stadium was falling apart.
Chris Petersen has inherited a team from Sarkisian that's played in four consecutive bowl games, is ranked in the preseason, and is playing in a beautifully renovated stadium.
Sarkisian isn't necessarily bringing back Carroll's "Win Forever" rhetoric and culture. For one, he runs an up-tempo offense, not Carroll's pro style, and a 3-4 hybrid defense, not Carroll's 4-3. That could be seen as part of Sarkisian's maturation, of finding his own way. When Sarkisian took the Washington job after the 2009 Rose Bowl, Carroll actually told him that he needed to be his own man, not mimic Carroll.
"His final words to me walking out was, 'Go be you, because when adversity strikes, the real you is going to come out anyway,'" Sarkisian said.
For USC fans, adversity has already struck and stuck hard. Sarkisian's charge is to make sure those adverse days are done. Adversity going forward is losing more than two Pac-12 games.
Or is that losing more than one game, period?
Nearly 90 recruits -- including 10 ESPN 300 prospects -- made commitments to the Pac-12 since the start of June, as the conference recruiting race heated up alongside the weather this summer. Not surpisingly, even with the boon over the past two and a half months, the Pac-12 still lags behind other conferences when it comes to sheer commitment numbers. Many Pac-12 programs have become content to wait until the season, or after the season, to put an emphasis on official visits and commitments. At this point, 35 programs hold commitments from 16 or more recruits, and only one of those -- Arizona -- resides in the Pac-12.
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I went to college at the University of Michigan, which is about 40 minutes (depending on whether you drive the speed limit or not) from its in-state rival, Michigan State. For the most part, it really was one of those “throw the records out the window” kinds of game and the football -- and insults -- flew.
These in-state rivalries just have a special hold over the state, whether it creates divides in high school, families, relationships, whatever.
Just looking at some of these in-state rivalries on the Pac-12 slate make me really excited for my first year of covering West Coast football. Which brings me to the poll question: Which of these five in-state, in-conference rivalry games is going to have the best finish this season?
What game is going to come down to the final drive? What game is going to have that highlight play in the waning moments? Which two teams will provide us with a fourth-and-2 on your own 28-yard line with second ticking down on the clock in the fourth quarter, Hail Mary kind of game? The kind of stuff you tell your grandkids about. The kind of stuff your grandkids will tell their grandkids about.
Details: Friday, Nov. 28 @ Arizona
2013 finish: ASU 58, Arizona 21
Visiting teams have had decent success in the rivalry (at least better than some others) but could this finally be the season that -- behind their fans -- that the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez finally takes down Todd Graham?
Details: Saturday, Nov. 29 @ Oregon State
2013 finish: Oregon 36, Oregon State 35
The Civil War in Corvallis. Will Sean Mannion cap off his final year for the Beavers in an exciting fashion or will Marcus Mariota march through the season in a furious, Heisman-like fashion?
Details: Saturday, Nov. 22 @ UCLA
2013 finish: UCLA 35, USC 14
The bright lights of Hollywood will shine on a brand new coach facing off on opposing grounds against a team that has found its recent success and a pre-season top-10 ranking.
Details: Saturday, Nov. 29 @ Washington State
2013 finish: Washington 27, Washington State 17
The Apple Cup isn’t exactly the fiercest of names for a rivalry (sorry, guys), but this could really be an interesting match up. Mike Leach's against first-year coach Chris Petersen. Can Petersen and his Huskies handle the air raid?
Details: Saturday, Sept. 6 @ Stanford
2013 finish: USC 20, Stanford 17
So, I know this isn't a drive (unless you’re super ambitious), but it’s an old and lovely in-state rivalry that I’m psyched to see. Unlike most rivalry games, we’ll get this one very early in the season, but could Week 2 provide one of the best rivalry finishes this season in Pac-12 football?
Previewing the 2014 season for the USC Trojans:
2013 record: 10-4, 6-3 Pac-12; beat Fresno State 45-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Final grade for 2013:: B-minus. That might seem high for a season in which the Trojans lost to Notre Dame and UCLA and fired their head coach, but the Trojans showed mental toughness instead of imploding, winning 10 games, a bowl game and achieving a final top-25 ranking.
Key losses: WR Marqise Lee, C Marcus Martin, OLB Devon Kennard.
Projected win percentage (ESPN.com Stats & Information): 0.711
Chances to win the conference (ESPN.com Stats & Information):: 10.8 percent
Instant impact newcomers: OG Toa Lobendahn, WR/DB Adoree Jackson, WR JuJu Smith, DT Delvon Simmons.
Most important game: Nov. 22 at UCLA. The Bruins have won two in a row in the series. New coach Steve Sarkisian could endear himself to fans by ending that streak.
Biggest question mark: Depth. If the Trojans trot out their best 22, they can play with anyone. But they are still working with substantial depth issues due to the residual effects of NCAA sanctions. Two major injuries on defense, season-enders for OLB Jabari Ruffin and talented DT Kenny Bigelow, already have put a damper on preseason camp.
Best-case scenario for 2014: 11-1
Worst-case scenario for 2014: 7-5
Over-under win total (Bovada): 9
Upset special: Oct. 11 at Arizona. The Trojans are going to want a piece of Arizona State on Oct. 4, as the Sun Devils humiliated them in Tempe a year ago. That might leave them emotionally spent before a tough trip to Tucson.
They said it: "I don't look at the stat box. I look at who won. Most of the time, if you look at who won, I can tell you how the quarterback played." -- USC QB Cody Kessler on whether he compares his numbers with the other Pac-12 QBs.
Commits: 22 | ESPN 300 commits: 1
OT Keenan Walker (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral); OG Cody Creason (Folsom, Calif./Folsom); RB Orlando Bradford (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist Academy); WR Cedric Peterson (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde); OT Harper Sherman (New Westminster, BC, Can./New Westminster Secondary); CB Anthony Mariscal (Bakersfield, Calif./Liberty); CB Samuel Morrison (Washington, DC/Gonzaga College); ATH Antonio Parks (Reserve, La./East Saint John); ILB Kendrick Jackson (Haynesville, La./Haynesville); OG Alex Kosinski (Larkspur, Calif./Redwood); DE Kendal Franklin (New Orleans, Warren Easton); RB Darick Holmes Jr. (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park); DT Finton Connolly (Gilbert, Ariz./Campo Verde); TE Ricky McCoy (Fresno, Calif./Bullard); TE Jamie Nunley (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta); ATH Brion Anduze (Silverdale, Wash./Central Kitsap); S Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (Tucson, Ariz./Tucson); OG Nathan Eldrige (Anthem, Ariz./Boulder Creek); RB Dami Ayoola (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Arizona Western College); S Paul Magloire (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western College); RB Kendall Williams (North Little Rock, Ark./Butte College); Dane Cruikshank (Chino Hills, Calif./Citrus College)
Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 1
QB Brady White (Newhall, Calif./William S. Hart); ATH Morie Evans (Huntsville, Tex./Huntsville); ATH Tony Nicholson (Grand Prairie, Tex./South Grand Prairie); QB Bryce Perkins (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler); OT Mason Walter (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral); TE Tommy Hudson (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty); ATH Alfred Smith (Destrehan, Calif./Destrehan); OG Cade Cote (Gilbert, Ariz./Williams Field); OT Steve Miller (Gilbert, Ariz./Gilbert); OLB Malik Lawal (Murrieta, Calif./Chaparral); RB Nick Ralston (Argyle, Tex./Argyle); TE Raymond Epps (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western College)
Commits: 10 | ESPN 300 commits: 0
QB Ross Bowers (Bothell, Wash./Bothell); WR Greyson Bankhead (Corona, Calif./Centennial); CB Malik Psalms (Chino Hills, Calif./Ayala); RB Lonny Powell (Sacramento, Calif./Sacramento); OG Ryan Gibson (Bay Saint Louis, Miss./Saint Stanislaus); OT Johnny Capra (Auburn, Calif./Placer); WR Austin Aaron (Napa, Calif./Napa); DT Luc Bequette (Little Rock, Ark./Catholic High School For Boys); TE Zeandae Johnson (Fresno, Calif./Central); DE Trevor Howard (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian)
Commits: 8 | ESPN 300 commits: 1
OG Tim Lynott (Aurora, Col./Regis Jesuit); QB Steven Montez (Del Valle, Tex./Del Valle); DE T.J. Fehoko (Salt Lake City/Cottonwood); OG Dillon Middlemiss (Arvada, Col./Pomona); K Alex Kinney (Fort Collins, Col./Rocky Mountain); OLB N.J. Falo (Sacramento, Calif./Inderkum); DT Brett Tonz (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial); WR Josiah Blandin (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach City College)
Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 4
WR Alex Ofodile (Columbia, Mo./Rock Bridge); RB Taj Griffin (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern); QB Travis Waller (Anaheim, Calif./Servite); OG Zach Okun (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park); OT Jake Hanson (Eureka, Calif./Eureka); WR Jake Breeland (Mission Viejo, Calif./Trabuco Hills); S P.J. Locke (Beaumont, Tex./Central); OT Shane Lemieux (Yakima, Wash./West Valley); OT Brady Aiello (Lafayette, Calif./Acalanes); CB Jihree Stewart (Corona, Calif./Centennial); OT Calvin Throckmorton (Bellevue, Wash./Newport); S Dylan Kane (Honolulu/Kamehameha Schools)
Commits: 11 | ESPN 300 commits: 0
TE Matt Pistone (Yuma, Ariz./Yuma Catholic); OG Beau Hott (Plano, Tex./Plano Senior); S Solomon Matautia (Ewa Beach, Hi./Campbell); QB James Pensyl (Land O'Lakes, Fla./Land O. Lakes); OLB Tyrin Ferguson (New Orleans/Edna Karr); S Omar Hicks-Onu (Carrollton, Tex./Hebron); OG Miki Fifita (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy); DE Hunter Mattox (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon); OG Jacob Jimenez (Pflugerville, Tex./Pflugerville); OLB Angelo Garbutt (Carrollton, Tex./Hebron); CB Treshon Broughton (Tustin, Calif./Los Angeles Harbor College)
Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 3
OG Nick Wilson (Milton, Ga./Milton); S Arrington Farrar (College Park, Ga./Woodward Academy); C Brian Chaffin (Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Christian); ILB Christian Folau (Salt Lake City/East); WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Roebuck, SC/Dorman); K Jake Bailey (Solana Beach, Calif./Santa Fe Christian); DT Rex Manu (Mililani, Hi./Mililani); ILB Reagan Williams (Jackson, Ohio/Jackson); OLB Casey Toohill (San Diego, Calif./Cathedral Catholic)
Commits: 14 | ESPN 300 commits: 5
QB Josh Rosen (Bellflower, Calif./Saint John Bosco); TE Alize Jones (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman); OG Fred Ulu-Perry Jr. (Honolulu/Saint Louis); OT Andre James (Herriman, Utah/Herriman); OG Tevita Halalilo (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde); WR L.J. Reed (Elk Grove, Calif./Cosumnes Oaks); DT Bryce English (DeSoto, Tex./DeSoto); ATH Stephen Johnson (San Leandro, Calif./San Leandro); CB Will Lockett (Manvel, Tex./Manvel); ILB Victor Alexander (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian Academy); RB T.J. Simmons (Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland Christian); DE Rick Wade (Rancho Sant Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic); RB Bolu Olorunfunmi (Clovis, Calif./Clovis North); OLB Josh Woods (Upland, Calif./Upland)
Commits: 15 | ESPN 300 commits: 7
OT Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern); QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente); QB Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./Saint Bonaventure); DT Jacob Daniel (Fresno, Calif./Clovis North); WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast); ATH Isaiah Langley (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill); ILB Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay); WR Desean Holmes (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany); DT Noah Jefferson (Las Vegas/Liberty); RB Aca'Cedric Ware (Cedar Hill, Tex./Cedar Hill); CB Taeon Mason (Pasadena, Calif./John Muir); OT Clayton Johnston (Anaheim, Calif./Servite); DE Christian Rector (Los Angeles/Loyola); OT Roy Hemsley (Los Angeles/Windward); WR De'Quan Hampton (Compton, Calif./Long Beach City College)
Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 0
WR Donzale Roddie (Paramount, Calif./Paramount); OT Jake Grant (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon); WR Justice Murphy (Vancouver, Wash./Evergreen); K Chayden Johnston (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham); ATH Tuli Wily-Matagi (Kahuku, Hi./Kahuku); WR George Wilson (Tustin, Calif./Tustin); QB Michael Jacquet III (Beaumont, Tex./Central); OLB Cody Barton (Salt Lake City/Brighton); OT Zach Lindsay (Kaysville, Utah/Snow College)
Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 1
QB Jake Browning (Folsom, Calif./Folsom); OT Trey Adams (Wenatchee, Wash./Wenatchee); WR Isaiah Renfro (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon); WR Andre Baccellia (Westlake Village, Calif./Westlake); RB Myles Gaskin (Seattle/O'Dea); TE Michaeal Neal (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Etiwanda); OT Jared Hilbers (Beaverton, Ore./Beaverton); CB Jordan Miller (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside); LS A.J. Carty (Anaheim, Calif./Servite)
Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 2
DT Thomas Toki (Mountain View, Calif./Saint Francis); RB Austin Joyner (Marysville, Wash./Marysville-Pilchuck); CB Darrien Molton (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral); WR Deontay Burnett (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra); RB James Williams (Burbank, Calif./Burbank); S Kameron Powell (Upland, Calif./Upland); QB Tyler Hilinski (Upland, Calif./Upland); S Dominic Davis (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany); K Matt Abramo (Petaluma, Calif./Casa Grande); OG Cedric Bigge-Duren (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside); OG Noah Myers (Walnut Creek, Calif./Las Lomas); ILB Aaron Porter (Norwalk, Calif./Cerritos College)
- These classes are already beginning to fill up pretty well, some better than others (cough, Arizona). And looking forward, the coaches are getting in early on some younger guys, too. Throughout the conference there are already three 2016 commits and two 2017 commits. The three 2016 commits are running back Trevor Speights (Arizona), safety Brady Breeze (Oregon) and athlete Daelin Hayes (USC). The 2017 commits are defensive end Loren Mundy (Arizona State) and quarterback Tathan Martell (Washington).
- So far, there are five special team commits in the Pac-12, keeping with the national trend of placing higher importance on special teams players. Stanford, Utah, Colorado and Washington State have all picked up commitments from kickers while Washington has a verbal from a long snapper.
- The conference has 11 commits who are within the top five nationally in their respective position groups. UCLA leads the way with three top-5 commits (Rosen - No. 1 QB, Jones - No. 1 TE-Y, Ulu-Perry Jr. - No. 4 OG). Behind the Bruins are USC (Edoga - No. 3 OT, Darnold - No. 3 QB-PP), Oregon (Ofodile - No. 5 WR, Griffin - No. 4 RB) and Stanford (Chaffin - No. 3 C, Bailey - No. 4 K) with two apiece. Arizona has Walker, the No. 4 OT, and Washington has Browning, the No. 5 QB-PP.
- There are 10 juco players already committed to Pac-12 schools. Arizona, which leads the league with 22 commits, has four verbal commitments from junior college players. There are six other schools with commitments from junior college players -- Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington State.
- Stanford is doing a tremendous job recruiting nationally. Its nine commitments hail from seven different states ranging from Georgia to Ohio to California to Hawaii. But Arizona is doing the best internationally with a commit from British Columbia.
- Early front runner for best name in the Pac-12 is UCLA running back Bolu Olorunfunmi. C'mon Olo-RUN-FUN-mi. He's going to have so much FUN being a RUNning back. And writers (and editors who write headlines) are going to have a lot of fun, too.
Anderson says that Oregon is the spotlight team for many reasons, one of which is the schedule the Ducks face in 2014.
"Please adjust all perceptions of the concept to account for the Ducks’ position within the maelstrom of the Pac-12, particularly as residents of the Hydra-headed North division. This team gets Michigan State in Week 2; plays Arizona and UCLA out of the South; and operates in a division containing defending Pac-12 champ Stanford, can’t-be-discounted peskiness enthusiasts Oregon State and Washington State, and a looming legitimate threat in Washington. The very least the Ducks have to manage just to maintain respectability in this league is, in itself, a big damn deal."
She also analyzes a few different story lines, mentions a few notable players and touches on some other categories -- toastiest coach, breakout stars, must-watch games and outlandish predictions.
It's worth checking out. To read the full preview, click here.
3:00 PM ET Colorado Massachusetts 3:00 PM ET Fresno State Utah 3:00 PM ET Sacramento State California 3:05 PM ET Eastern Washington 25 Washington 3:30 PM ET 15 USC 11 Stanford 6:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 3 Oregon 7:00 PM ET 19 Arizona State New Mexico 10:00 PM ET Memphis 7 UCLA 10:30 PM ET Oregon State Hawaii