Pac-12: USC Trojans

Pac-12 bowl season: Most to prove

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
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Bowl season for Pac-12 contenders begins this Saturday with Utah's clash against Colorado State. How much does each conference team have to prove during this postseason opportunity? Here's our list.

1. Oregon

Every year, one of the big questions out West revolves around the Ducks' chances of finally grabbing that national championship. Oregon boasts Superman this year, and it's almost certainly Marcus Mariota's last campaign in Eugene. Though their defense suffered a major blow with the loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks have their man under center. They can't take this chance to win it all for granted: A playoff appearance is a golden opportunity for this powerful Oregon program to prove that it can finally bring home college football's ultimate hardware. Florida State, the defending champs, await in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual.

2. UCLA

This, likely Brett Hundley's final season in Westwood, was supposed to be year the Bruins surged from "good" to "elite." But they slipped too often, and the timing of their last fall -- a 31-10 finale loss at the hands of Stanford -- couldn't have been worse. Now, the narrative has shifted back to the old "they can't win the big one" theme, and that's the exact perception UCLA wanted to avoid. They have a chance to make a cleansing statement versus a good Kansas State squad, also 9-3, in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

3. Utah

The season started magically for the Utes -- aside from that 28-27 road bump at home against Washington State, of course. But after kicking 2014 off at 6-1, Utah dropped three of their last five games. They narrowly squeaked by Pac-12 bottom feeder Colorado to close the regular season, so it's fair to say that Kyle Whittingham's club stumbled to the finish line. An 8-4 record is nothing to scoff at, but the Utes could use a good stomping of Mountain West opponent Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. It would go a long way toward maintaining that "we've arrived as a force in the Pac-12" tone over the offseason.

4. ASU

The Sun Devils' season trajectory had some similarities with Utah's, though ASU lost one fewer game late in the season. Still, they were a one-loss team until a rough November knocked them out of the conference race. A Hyundai Sun Bowl date against fellow 9-3 competitor Duke has become ASU's consolation price, and that is quite the step down from the Rose Bowl aspirations Todd Graham's club harbored followings its November 8 win against Notre Dame. So it's important for the Sun Devils to reverse trajectory heading into the offseason, and they would also like to prove that they are better in December than last season's 37-23 Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech.

5. Arizona

The Wildcats were peaking at the right time ---- Oh wait, there was red-hot Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, and there were 24 yards of total offense for Arizona in the first half. Suddenly, Rich Rodriguez's club wasn't peaking at the right time. But the Wildcats can take solace in the fact that the Ducks have the ability to make good teams look foolish. They can also comfort themselves knowing that this VIZIO Fiesta Bowl is a prime chance to deliver a positive closing statement against a 10-2 Boise State team that loves that big stadium in Glendale.

6. USC

Steve Sarkisian really needed that blowout victory over Notre Dame in the finale to dump the "seven win" moniker that online trolls gleefully tossed around following the Trojans' loss to UCLA. Sark got the powerful performance he was looking for, so he's 8-4 heading into a National University Holiday Bowl matchup against Nebraska. Sure, a postseason win would be nice for the Trojans, but they are lower on this list because there is not all that much for them left to prove this season. Regardless of whether they win or lose on December 27, we know who USC is: a very talented, somewhat flawed, and ultimately thin team that's excited about getting a clean slate in 2015.

7. Stanford

There is very little the Cardinal can prove in their Foster Farms Bowl clash with Maryland on Dec. 30. Stanford capped a disappointing 7-5 regular season with a resounding 31-10 thumping of UCLA, and that performance made it very clear the Cardinal had underperformed in their games leading up to the finale. Now, David Shaw's team is a two-touchdown favorite against the Terrapins in a game 20 minutes away from campus, so there is really no chance to prove anything more than what the Cardinal already accomplished against the Bruins -- even in the case of a lopsided victory.

8. Washington

The Huskies managed eight wins in the first year of the Chris Petersen era, and they fought through some turmoil, too. The team delivered a strong finish following the dismissal of star cornerback Marcus Peters. So, the season has served as a solid foundation for Petersen to work with as he tries to assert himself in Seattle moving forward. It's hard to see the result of the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against 6-6 Oklahoma State swinging the vibe too far in either direction.

Top sleeper recruits: Pac-12 

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
1:30
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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.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
AM ET
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
video

A flurry of commitments and decommitments has led to considerable movement in the latest class rankings update. Several top-10 programs added ESPN 300 prospects, including Tennessee, which picked up top-10 ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. The Vols already have a class that features a talented group of defensive linemen, and have now added a big, powerful inside linebacker that can develop into a tough downhill run-stopper. Butch Jones now has Tennessee in contention for a second-straight top-five finish.

Outside the top 10, USC landed a verbal from in-state tight end Tyler Petite, a tall, lengthy prospect with the size, speed and leaping ability to potentially create mismatches as a receiving target at the position. After landing the former Duke commit, USC's class features eight ESPN 300 prospects.

Ole Miss also saw a move up in the rankings with a pair of additions. The Rebels landed ESPN Junior College 50 QB Chad Kelly, a player who is physically gifted enough to be a strong candidate to replace QB Bo Wallace, a one-time junior college transfer himself. Ole Miss, who not sits at No. 17, also landed ESPN 300 OT Michael Howard. He is a lean OL prospect that needs to fill out, but is an athletic and tenacious player and with development could end up being a real strong pick-up out of Florida for the Rebels.

Inside the rankings

Coach Art Briles has had two very distinct luxuries when it comes to recruiting in today's complicated landscape -- recruiting in the shadows and recruiting without pressure. Both are actually in many ways, one in the same. As Briles has built this program, he's been able to do it his way without public pressure or booster interference because early on, nobody thought it could be done and nobody cared.

This staff was able to go after who they wanted, on their own timetable and without much scrutiny. In today's recruiting world, that's a huge luxury. Players like Levi Norwood, Antwan Goodley or Tevin Reese, who was a late qualifier, were all bypassed by other Power 5 programs, but nobody even noticed Baylor signed them or griped, "who are these guys" on signing day.

As a result, prospects like these were brought along at a normal pace and developed properly by the coaching staff. Redshirting the bulk of the classes for the first few years has also been huge for the Bears. The challenge going forward will be dealing with increased program exposure and expectation level which almost always brings with it increased recruiting scrutiny from boosters and fans alike. But the Bears don??t need to change a thing.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
8:00
AM ET
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."
Has this been the greatest season in Pac-12 history? The jury is still out on that front, as the league's bowl slate remains 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 -- usually unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while impacting its eccentric, memorable course.

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

No. 12 -- Shaq Thompson scoring a 99-yard fumble return TD against Cal

video

With the Washington Huskies backed up into the end zone on second-and-goal and with the score tied at 0, linebacker Shaq Thompson -- who had made his original verbal commitment to Cal -- made one of his loudest plays of the Pac-12 season against what was then the second-highest scoring offense in the nation.

As Cal quarterback Jared Goff attempted to go over the top, the ball came loose and Thompson took off, returning the ball the length of the field, outrunning a few Bears en route.

It gave Washington the early lead (the Huskies would go on to win 31-7) and the game would end up being Chris Petersen’s first conference win at Washington, after having given up a 20-13 decision to Stanford two weekends before. It also rewrote the history books for UW as the program’s longest fumble return TD -- the previous was 77 yards, which was set by Jim Noe in 1953.

No. 11 -- Washington Coug’n it against Arizona

Yep, sorry, UW, but you definitely pulled a Wazzu and Coug’d it like the best of ‘em with that late game performance against Arizona.

The Huskies had a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter at then-No. 14 Arizona when everything fell apart. Seriously, everything. Washington had four drives. This is how they played out:

1. Three plays, 9 yards, punt.
2. Three plays, -5 yards, punt.
3. Four plays, 2 yards, punt.
4. Seven plays, 25 yards, lost fumble.

Not exactly offensive efficiency. Not even in the same zipcode as it.

The Husky defense -- though not exactly stout as it gave up 504 yards of total offense that game -- did give Washington a chance at the end. Freshman defensive back Sidney Jones intercepted Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon at the 17-yard line with about four and a half minutes remaining. Certainly that could’ve been enough time for UW to pull something together. Or in reality, just don’t mess up. Hold the ball long enough, make enough movement and walk this thing out.

But on the ensuing drive, running back Deontae Cooper fumbled and lost the ball and the Husky defense allowed the Wildcats to get into field goal range. Casey Skowron nailed the 47 yarder to give Arizona its eighth win of the season. The following week, the Wildcats moved from No. 15 to No. 11 in the College Football Playoff committee rankings.

The complete breakdown from Washington sparked something in the Huskies as they finished out the season with two more wins, combining to beat Oregon State and Washington State 68-26.

No. 10 -- Arizona missed field goal vs. USC

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Oh, the South Division race. We knew you’d be good early on. So much #Pac12AfterDark.

With USC leading by two with 17 seconds remaining, Casey Skowron lined up for a 36-yard field goal attempt. Steve Sarkisian called a timeout to ice the kicker. He had done so earlier and Claude Pelon had blocked Skowron’s kick. What works once could work twice, right?

It was pretty evident that Skowron’s kick was wide right from the moment it left his foot. But even so, he tried to get a roughing the kicker call to no avail. The Trojans held on for their fourth win of the season while also handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season.

There are so many moving parts throughout the entirety of a season, but had Skowron made this field goal, there’s a chance that the Pac-12 South race wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did. If USC had another loss under its belt instead of Arizona, the Wildcats would’ve been in the driver’s seat most of the way, leaving that late-season drama out.

But, for the sake of #Paction and #Pac12AfterDark, let’s just say we’re glad that everything always seemed to go down to the wire. Including this game. Including this season.

Other defining moments:

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
10:00
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It was a busy weekend in the Pac-12, with commitments, offers, visits and awards touching nearly every team in the conference, including Stanford, USC and Washington reeling in big commitments and UCLA hosting impact prospects. Here is a look at some of the more impactful events of the past few days, as well as a glimpse of what this week could hold in the Pac-12.


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Pac-12 morning links

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
8:00
AM ET
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.

Has this been the greatest season in Pac-12 history? The jury is still out on that front, as the league's bowl slate remains 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 -- usually unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while impacting its eccentric, memorable course.

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

No. 15 -- Mannion sets conference passing record

video


Oregon State's season -- and Mike Riley's tenure in Corvallis -- ended in a 5-7 disappointment. That means senior quarterback Sean Mannion has reached the end of his prolific collegiate journey. But the Beaver certainly didn't exit with a whimper. Aside from setting every single career passing mark in the Oregon State record books, Mannion also etched his name into conference history. With a 15-yard fourth quarter pass to Connor Hamlett on Nov. 1 against California, Mannion surpassed USC's Matt Barkley to become the top passer in Pac-12 history.

This individual accomplishment did not alter the wild conference race in any way, but it did provide a powerful symbol of just how much talent the league has amassed in its meteoric rise, particularly at the quarterback position. Heading into 2014, there was a heavy dose of hype regarding what was anticipated to be Year of the Signal-caller in the Pac-12. Between Marcus Mariota's Heisman exploits, Connor Halliday's absurd statistical production, and the fine campaigns of players such as Brett Hundley, Cody Kessler, and Jared Goff, there was plenty to enjoy in the 2014 aerial show. Mannion is the one who grabbed the lasting career mark.

Of course, Mannion's record likely won't last forever -- Goff may have a great shot to break it if he sticks around Berkeley for a full four years -- but it was a testament to a steady, accurate, and poised Pac-12 passer in a season that featured a true gold mine of talent at the position.

No. 14 -- Wazzu missed field goal against Cal ruins Halliday's record night

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It seemed as if Halliday couldn't catch a break over the course of his tragic Washington State career, but he kept fighting until he could fight no more, and that valiant effort left him with a place in the national record book. Halliday's injury-riddled career in Pullman included a game played with a lacerated liver and finished with a gruesome leg break this season against USC. The misfortune that may best encapsulate his tough luck, though, came on Oct. 4 against Cal.

In a dizzyingly precise passing display, Halliday shredded the Bears' defense to the tune of an NCAA single-game record 734 yards. He completed 49 of his 70 passes and tossed six touchdowns without a single interception. With the Cougars trailing 60-59 as time wound down, Halliday even led his team on a 68-yard drive to the California 2-yard line. With only 19 seconds remained, Washington State was an extra point-length field goal away from winning on Halliday's historic night.

But kicker Quentin Breshears missed the 19-yard attempt, and Halliday looked on in dazed, losing disbelief on the night during which he had made history. Football can be a cruel sport, and Halliday got a particularly vicious dose of it. This was a truly stunning dichotomy. Halliday was the victim of one of the Pac-12's 2014 Twilight Zone finishes -- one that featured a mind-numbing seizure of defeat from the jaws of victory.

No. 13 -- USC stuffs Stanford

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Stanford entered 2014 having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, but it didn't take long for alarms to sound on the Farm. The first disturbing exhibit of offensive decay came in Week 2, when a short-handed USC defense delivered a bend-but-don't-break performance for the ages. The Cardinal reached scoring territory (at least the Trojans' 35-yard line) on all nine of their possessions, but managed to score only 10 total points throughout all of those chances. USC won the game 13-10, delivering a psychological gut punch that Stanford's offense never fully recovered from. The Cardinal's 119th-place national finish in red zone efficiency was a primary culprit in their tumble to 7-5, and this was the game that set them firmly on that disappointing course.

The slide's seminal moment might have arrived late in the third quarter on Sept. 6. Stanford led 10-7, and they faced a fourth-and-one from the USC 3-yard line. In the championship years of the past, this is where the Cardinal had always brutally asserted their control of the proceedings.

Not this time.

Without Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, or Tyler Gaffney to hand off to, Kevin Hogan fed true freshman Daniel Marx the ball, and USC stuffed him short of the first down marker behind an excellent torpedo play from Su'a Cravens. The tables had turned: The Cardinal were not the bullies up front they used to be. They could no longer stomp on their opposition the old-fashioned way, and the resulting Pac-12 power shift was in full effect.
Oregon's Marcus Mariota won the Pac-12's first Heisman Trophy since 2005, and he did so in historically dominant fashion. A record 95.16 percent of voters listed Mariota on their Heisman ballots, and heading into Saturday's presentation, there wasn't much of a question that the Duck would take home college football's most hallowed hardware.

Though he still has a year of college eligibility remaining, Mariota will almost certainly declare for the 2015 NFL draft, so the Pac-12 will have to look elsewhere to repeat the Heisman feat. Here are some early 2015 candidates. Key word here is "early," as we have yet to finish 2014 and some of the players below are still deciding if they will be back next year. Keep that in mind as we quickly imagine the potential future.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

Aside from Mariota, the only Pac-12 player to finish in the top 10 of Heisman balloting was this dominant desert stud. Wright earned four second-place votes and 13 third-place votes, and it would be tough to argue with either of those evaluations based on his absurd 2014 production. Wright's numbers in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles were all either at or near the top of the nation; he was the only player who averaged over two TFL per game, and that race wasn't remotely close. It's clear that Arizona has an absolute machine working the middle of its defense. Yes, the Heisman Trophy has a clear bias toward the offensive side of the football, but Wright was awesome enough to earn 17 votes at linebacker -- as a sophomore.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

This 230-pound bruiser did his best to give new meaning to the term "true freshman" in 2014. Aside from displaying remarkable vision, Freeman physically pounded opposing defenses like a battle-hardened senior. He supplied Oregon's rushing attack with an irreplaceable dose of physicality. The first-year statistical returns are as eye-popping as they were pad-popping: 1,299 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 16 touchdowns. With Mariota almost certainly moving on, the Ducks' offense may center more on this young tank in 2015, and that focus could thrust Freeman into Heisman contention.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC

Kessler was the only quarterback in the nation to attempt over 400 passes and throw fewer than five interceptions in 2014. In the not-so-distant past, those kinds of numbers would automatically thrust a USC quarterback into the midst of the Heisman Trophy discussion. Kessler, however, flew under the radar throughout the entire campaign. If he decides to return to USC for his senior season, expect him to generate a big amount of preseason hype. Related note: Running back Javorius Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor also have eligibility remaining. If those two are back in Troy next year, include them as possible big-time award candidates too.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Statistically, 2014 was an excellent campaign for this Bruin, who is a redshirt sophomore. He led the Pac-12 in rushing, racking up 1,378 yards on a league-best 6.0 yards per carry. Perkins will have to score more touchdowns to generate more Heisman hype. He found pay dirt only nine times this season, but 2015 will likely present an opportunity to enter the end zone more often, as touchdown machine Brett Hundley has indicated that he will likely be moving on to the NFL. That means that Perkins may become the centerpiece of UCLA's offense. More touches, more glory.

Jared Goff, QB, California

Goff's statistical output was impressive in 2014 (3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), but any hype surrounding him was quickly extinguished by memories of the Bears' nightmarish 2013 campaign (1-11). Cal improved to 5-7 this season, but it still failed to earn a postseason berth. Given the upward trajectory of Sonny Dykes' program, that likely won't be the case in 2015. There's a strong chance that Goff will be the quarterback of a winning team. If he continues to post gaudy numbers under that scenario (also likely), this talented gunslinger will arrive on the radar for major postseason awards. Don't sleep on him.

D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State

If wide receiver Jaelen Strong returns to ASU for his final year of eligibility, keep an eye out for him. But that seems unlikely, so the top Sun Devil to watch will probably be the versatile Foster, who was the only Pac-12 player to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014. Foster's 59 catches were second to only Strong in Tempe, and his explosiveness makes him a prime sizzle candidate if he decides to stay in school for one more season. Side note: Don't forget freshman running back Demario Richard, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a 17-year-old this season.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

If you enjoy watching impressive freshman running backs, Wilson is a good player to follow. He delivered an awfully dynamic inaugural campaign in Rich Rodriguez's system, delivering 5.9 yards per carry and more than 100 ground yards per game. Wilson's 15 rushing touchdowns were second among Pac-12 running backs, so second-year improvement would absolutely make him a contender for some major hardware in 2014.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
8:00
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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
Dec 14
1:00
PM ET
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
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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
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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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