Pac-12: USC Trojans
Here's the slate.
Sat., Dec. 21 Gildan New Mexico Bowl : Albuquerque, N.M. (University Stadium)
WASHINGTON STATE (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, ESPN
Sat., Dec. 21 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Las Vegas, Nev. (Sam Boyd Stadium)
USC (9-4) vs. Fresno State (11-1), 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, ABC
Tues., Dec. 24 Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)
OREGON STATE (6-6) vs. Boise State (8-4), 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, ESPN
Fri., Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl : San Francisco (AT&T Park)
WASHINGTON (8-4) vs. BYU (8-4), 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
Mon., Dec. 30 Valero Alamo Bowl : San Antonio, Texas (Alamodome)
OREGON (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET/3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN
Mon., Dec. 30 National University Holiday Bowl: San Diego, Calif. (Qualcomm Stadium)
ARIZONA STATE (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), 10:15 p.m. ET/7:15 p.m. PT, ESPN
Tues., Dec. 31 AdvoCare V100 Bowl: Shreveport, La. (Independence Stadium)
ARIZONA (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5), 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT, ESPN
Tues., Dec. 31 Hyundai Sun Bowl: El Paso, Texas (Sun Bowl)
UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, CBS
Wed., Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio: Pasadena, Calif. (Rose Bowl)
STANFORD (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1), 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT, ESPN
USC Trojans (9-4) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (11-1)
Dec. 21, 3:30 p.m. ET, Las Vegas (ABC)
USC TROJANS BREAKDOWN
It's fair to say that probably no team in the nation dealt with more drama than USC this year. How many teams can say they've had four head coaches since August?
At that point, many saw Orgeron as a serious candidate to take over the job full time. But his chances were doused when the Trojans were whipped 35-14 at home against archrival UCLA. When Haden told Orgeron he wouldn't get the job, he promptly resigned, and offensive coordinator Clay Helton will lead the Trojans in their bowl game.
On Dec. 2, news broke that Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, a former USC assistant under Pete Carroll, would be the Trojans’ next coach.
This was a far better team after Kiffin's termination, in large part because the offense got better with Helton calling plays instead of Kiffin. A unit that managed just seven points in a home loss to Washington State with Kiffin calling plays averaged 30 points per game during its 6-2 stretch under Orgeron.
The biggest win was a 20-17 takedown of then-No. 4 Stanford. But the Trojans’ biggest strength is defense. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast's unit ranked among the nation's top 25 in scoring, total and rushing defense.
FRESNO STATE BULLDOGS BREAKDOWN
The story with the Bulldogs was offense, and the leader of that offense was one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Derek Carr, who led the nation with 405.5 yards passing per game, 39 yards more than anyone else. Carr threw for 4,866 yards and 48 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
The Bulldogs still have something to prove in their bowl game because their pillow-soft scheduled was ridiculed most of the year. It featured an overtime win over Rutgers to open the season and victories over Boise State and Utah State that secured the conference crown. In terms of quality foes, that was about it.
- Arizona will stock up with some junior college signees.
- Winning has redeemed Arizona State coach Todd Graham.
- More on California's field naming rights.
- Colorado is hitting the local recruiting trail.
- An update on former Oregon TE Colt Lyerla.
- Oregon State has facility upgrade plans.
- RB Tyler Gaffney rates among Stanford's best.
- UCLA has received plenty of good news this week, and this tidbit is pretty darn big.
- New USC coach Steve Sarkisian will continue to call offensive plays, but not by himself.
- We take a moment to remind everyone that Utah DB Eric Rowe is smart, despite an oversight that left him off the Pac-12's All-Academic team.
- Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins tells students about the dangers of drinking and driving.
- A quick Washington State practice report.
- Jon Wilner lays out his Pac-12 bowl projections.
Here are the top five storylines that Pac-12 recruiting fans should be watching for during the week of practices and the game, which is set for 4 p.m. ET on Jan. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will be televised on ESPN.
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There was some good news for the Pac-12 in the updated class rankings released on Wednesday as Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon all moved up. The Wildcats maintained their grip on the top class in the conference and now sit at No. 18 overall. The Sun Devils jumped two places -- from No. 24 to No. 22 -- largely on the strength of a commitment from four-star running back Demario Richard (Palmdale, Calif./Palmdale), and in doing so, leapt Stanford for the No. 2 spot in the Pac-12. The Cardinal slid two spots, down to No. 25 overall, while Oregon remains the fourth conference team among the top 40, up to places to No. 30 overall. Here's a look at the conference's rankings.
Trending up: In the 2013 class, Arizona State didn't sign and enroll a single four-star high school prospect. With Richard's commitment on Monday, the Sun Devils now have eight in their 2014 class. While Richard is the first commitment since mid-November, Arizona State's on-field performance has recruits buzzing about the future of the Sun Devils and with a win this weekend, coach Todd Graham will have an opportunity to close out this class in a big way.
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Having fallen in love with the tradition at USC, however, on top of a desire to play close to home, Kessler ultimately opted to become a Trojan.
It’s a decision that Kessler – who has passed for over 2,600 yards this season as USC’s starting signal caller – doesn’t regret one bit.
But now, with the arrival of Sarkisian as the Trojans’ new head coach, the two are together. That fact wasn’t lost on either of them as they came face-to-face after an introductory team meeting held Monday night.
“It was kind of funny,” Kessler said following Sarkisian’s press conference on Tuesday. “The first time that I saw him yesterday after the meeting he just kind of laughed and said, ‘Here we are now.’”
Before compiling a record of 34-29 at Washington, Sarkisian was known as a quarterback guru who blossomed as a Trojans assistant, playing a major part in the development of Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez.
“Coach Sark is a quarterback guy,” Kessler said. “When you have a guy that has that experience, and knows what he’s doing, and has a resume that’s second to none when it comes to getting guys to the NFL, you’re very excited about it.”
Still, like most of his teammates, Kessler’s excitement has been tempered by a heavy heart that has come with the departure of Ed Orgeron. Taking over as USC’s interim coach following the dismissal of Lane Kiffin, the boisterous Louisiana native guided the Trojans to victory in six of the team’s final eight games. More than that, he fostered an atmosphere marked by enthusiasm and energy that helped unify the team.
Not surprisingly, when Kessler and his teammates were informed by Orgeron on Monday that he had resigned to pursue other head coaching opportunities following Sarkisian’s hire, they were overcome with emotion, with many players being brought to tears.
“It was crazy,” Kessler said. “Guys were freaking out and it was just unreal. And that’s something you expect when that happens. When you lose someone that you care about so much.”
But in his first crucial move as head coach of the Trojans, Sarkisian would some calm during his first team meeting.
“For Coach Sark to walk in and face this thing head on and attack it right away like he did, and settle everyone down, was awesome,” Kessler said. “The way he addressed the team, he was just real. He told us, ‘this is home for me. It may seem like I abandoned my team when I left Washington, but this is home. This is where I’ve always wanted to be. This is where I started out, and we’re going to do great things.’”
“One thing he told us is that we’re going to have to condition a lot more, and we’re going to start running a lot more in practice,” Kessler said. “But when you can go all four quarters and not slow down, teams are going to be slower, they’re going to be breathing hard, they’re going to need to substitute and they won’t be able to.”
Looking past that obvious difference, Kessler says that Sarkisian’s offense actually shares some traits with the Trojans’ current system -- something that could speed up the transition.
“I watched a little when we watched other teams’ defenses against Washington, they had a lot of the same concepts, but I was talking to him yesterday after the meeting and he told me that there’s a lot of different verbiage,” Kessler said. “It’s kind of shortened down because there’s no huddle [and] you don’t have time to call long plays, but he says it’s the same concepts. Maybe different formations and stuff like that, but it’s the same schemes that he’s taken from Coach [Pete] Carroll and from this offense, and he’s kind of put his own stuff into it.”
Kessler has little time to dive into his future with Sarkisian as the QB will have to prepare for the Trojans’ yet-to-be-determined bowl game and help the Trojans remain focused after a roller coaster week.
And beyond that, with Sarkisian at the helm, he believes that brighter days most certainly lie ahead.
“Coach Sark is our coach now and I’m so grateful for that,” Kessler said. “I really feel like this team is going in the right direction.”
Several junior college prospects made immediate impacts in the Pac-12 this season, including Jaelen Strong at Arizona State, Steven Nelson at Oregon State and Vince Mayle at Washington State. The 2014 crop of junior college standouts will undoubtedly reveal a number of instant-impact players in the conference. Looking at the ESPN JC 50, five prospects stand out as important targets for conference teams.
1. DT Alfonso Hampton (Chula Vista, Calif./Southwestern College): The No. 10 overall prospect and No. 3 defensive tackle is only just tapping into his potential, as this is only his second year playing football. Hampton won't be a mid-year enrollee, so a number of schools are waiting to offer until they are sure that he will be academically ready to leave next spring. Arizona State, Oregon and USC have expressed interest and it wouldn't be surprising to see that interest turn to offers in the coming weeks.
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In 2010, USC athletic director Mike Garrett, attempting to maintain the glory days of the Pete Carroll era, hired Carroll's former co-offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, a head coach of moderate success, to return to Troy.
Four seasons later, replace Garrett with Pat Haden and Kiffin with Steve Sarkisian of Washington, and you have what took place at Deja VuSC on Monday.
There are a few key differences between Sarkisian and his close friend Kiffin. Sarkisian has the people skills that Kiffin lacked, a critical element of Kiffin's downfall. Sarkisian knows how to deal with the Los Angeles media and won't make unnecessary problems for himself the way Kiffin did. Kiffin loved the chess match of X's and O's. Sarkisian, as a better communicator, is known as a good teacher.
By bringing Sarkisian back to USC, Haden is attempting to maintain the connection to the last decade, when the Trojans won consecutive national championships (and played for a third) under Carroll and his band of bright, young assistants.
But Haden also is bringing to mind the desert that Alabama wandered through after the death of Bear Bryant, when the university prized bloodline over performance. It worked well with Gene Stallings, less well with Ray Perkins, and not so well with Mike DuBose and Mike Shula. In selecting Sarkisian, Haden also took the coach who has enjoyed less success than another prominent candidate, Chris Petersen of Boise State.
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More from ESPN.com on USC hiring Sarkisian:
Arash Markazi: Sarkisian hire not a "home run"
Mark Saxon: Sarkisian's to-do list
Travis Haney: How soon can Sarkisian succeed at USC?
The USC Trojans once again will dip into the past, as former Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian accepted an offer to take over the same position at USC, according to ESPN's Joe Schad. Sarkisian was an assistant coach with the Trojans from 2001-03, and then again from 2005-08.
Born in Torrance, Calif., and having attended West Torrance High School and El Camino Junior College, Sarkisian is very familiar with Southern California, and he recruited it well for both USC and Washington. Now, coming back home, the thought from coaches and recruits alike is that he will hit the ground running on the recruiting trail.
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UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.
The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.
Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State
First team offense
QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)
First team defense
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)
First team specialists
PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC
Second team offense
QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford
Second team defense
DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State
Second team specialists
PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA
RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection
Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.
Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.
California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.
Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.
Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.
Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.
Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.
UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.
USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.
Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.
Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.
Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;
Some notes on the teams:
By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.
By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.
Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.
Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.
All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.
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"We own this town!" he yelled. "We own this town!"
It was a statement loud enough for the USC Trojans to hear down the hall in their silent locker room and loud enough, Mora hopes, for every recruit in the country to hear.
The "Bruin Revolution" that Jim Mora ushered in two years ago morphed into something real and tangible Saturday night at the Coliseum after UCLA's 35-14 win over USC.
"When you win two in a row in this town, things start to change," Mora said. "This is going help us in recruiting. If I'm a high school player, I want to play at UCLA right now. I don't know if that's legal. Is that legal to say?"
It has been so long since a UCLA coach could say that with a straight face that it was understandable for Mora to ask if he could say it.
For the first time since 1997, UCLA beat USC at the Coliseum, and for the first time since 1998, the Bruins won consecutive games in the rivalry. Before Mora came to UCLA, the Bruins had beaten the Trojans only once since 1999. Since he took over, he hasn't lost to them.
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LOS ANGELES -- Two years a monopoly does not make. But let’s just say UCLA is off of lowly Baltic Avenue and working its way toward Mora, err, Marvin Gardens.
We of course pay playful homage to the disastrous UCLA marketing campaign of a half-decade ago declaring that USC’s monopoly on Los Angeles football was over. Perhaps it didn’t fail. Maybe it was just ahead of its time.
For the second consecutive year, the Bruins posted a double-digit victory over their crosstown rival. Saturday night, they did it at the Coliseum, Traveler’s stomping grounds, for the first time since 1997. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley rushed for a pair of touchdowns in the 35-14 win. Inch by inch, yard by yard, the Bruins are blanketing this angelic city in blue.
“You get into the old ‘We own this town' stuff. We've got it right now, but we have to play them in 12 months, so it’s temporary,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora. “I’ll tell you what -- it’s nice to have it now for two years in a row. It tells you what’s going on at UCLA. It’s an exciting time at UCLA. It’s an exciting time to be a UCLA Bruin. You want to play for a fun, tough, hard-nosed football team that can go and win games everywhere, come to UCLA.”
"You win two in a row in this town, things start to change,” Mora said. “That’s going to help us in recruiting. If I’m a high school player, I want to play at UCLA right now.”
Case in point: two-way threat Myles Jack, who has splashed onto the national stage over the past month for his exploits on both sides of the ball. As a running back, he scored another short-yardage touchdown Saturday night, his seventh of the season. As a linebacker, he added three tackles and recovered a fumble. It’s wins like this that Mora promised Jack during the recruiting process, and a major reason why he opted to come to UCLA.
“I saw the first year with them beating ’SC, beating Nebraska, going to the Pac-12 championship,” Jack said. “When they were recruiting me, everything [Mora] said, he backed it up with numbers. They won big games. They went to the Pac-12 championship. They went to the Holiday Bowl. I saw the change and I wanted to be a part of that.
“If they are telling [recruits] the same thing they are telling me, it’s true. They aren’t lying. Everything they told me came true. They told me I could come in and compete for a spot, and came in and won the spot. They told me we were going to win big games. We beat ’SC, we were going to do big things, beat Nebraska. And we’ve done it. Coach is a man of his word and his track record proves it.”
In the other locker room, the coaching situation is questionable, at best. Interim coach Ed Orgeron had been on a stellar 6-1 run since taking over for the fired Lane Kiffin. But Saturday night, his team had no answers for its rival -- specifically Hundley, who was 18-of-27 for 208 yards passing to go with 80 yards and two scores on the ground. Protection issues also plagued the Trojans and quarterback Cody Kessler, who was sacked six times, including two each by Anthony Barr and Cassius Marsh.
USC’s loss adds another wrinkle to its coaching search.
“I will take it one day at a time,” said Orgeron, who hasn’t made it a secret that he wants the job. “Right now I am hurting for these guys and our coaches. Tomorrow will be a new day, the sun will shine and we are going to get up and get after it again. We are going to look at film and correct it.”
Since the start of the 1990s, the USC-UCLA rivalry has been defined by streaks. UCLA won eight straight from 1991-98. The Trojans then went on to win 12 of the next 13 (two were vacated, but come on). As far as the rest of the country is concerned, this rivalry doesn’t have the same bite as, say, an Iron Bowl or Ohio State-Michigan. No one opted to boycott the letter “U” in the week leading up to the game. The CLA-SC showdown just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
But it means plenty in a recruiting-rich environment like Southern California. And plenty to a city that’s thirsty for football but doesn’t have an NFL team.
“What a great night for L.A. to have competitive teams going at it like that,” Mora said. “I’m so proud of our kids, our young men for the way they fight and the way they come back every week; their resilience and their toughness. There is something growing there that is pretty special. And to come in here on a Saturday night like this and get a win, it tells you where this program is headed.”
Three wins, or even four, in a row might not make it a monopoly. But every victory brings Mora and the Bruins one step closer to Boardwalk.
So head on over to Campus Connection at 8 ET and follow the action along with several of our reporters, including Kevin Gemmell, Arash Markazi and Mark Saxon from the Coliseum. Post your comments and questions and we’ll include as many of them as possible.