Pac-12: USC Trojans

Our list of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 continues.

15. UCLA LB Eric Kendricks

2013 stats: 106 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble

Why he's ranked here: In his time at UCLA, Kendricks has gone from an outstanding defensive scout team member to being a crucial element to one of the best linebacking groups in the conference (and maybe the country). In his redshirt senior season, we are expecting big things. And we aren't the only ones. UCLA coach Jim Mora sees big things happening for Kendricks. At Pac-12 media days last week he spent quite a bit of time complimenting Kendricks. First, on his leadership, saying, "He's kind of a glue guy. Without even saying a lot, he's kind of that guy that everyone wants to orbit around." Second, Mora complimented Kendricks' personality, explaining that if his daughter married Kendricks, he would be perfectly OK with that. Third, he said Kendricks had great hair.

We can't guarantee all of that (though, if there's a Pac-12 award for best hair, he'd have to be a semifinalist, right?) but the first fact seems pretty valid. Kendricks' leadership is going to be huge for the Bruins this season, and when a player is given that kind of a role by his coaches, and looked up to by his teammates, a lot of times that results in very big numbers on the field. Will he record double-digit tackles in games? There is a good chance. In 2012, he averaged 10.6 per game and in 2013 (ailed by injuries) he averaged 8.8. But he's just the first of two Bruins linebackers in this grouping on our countdown. Running backs, take note ...

14. Washington LB/RB Shaq Thompson

2013 stats: 78 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception

Why he's ranked here: Thompson was second on Washington last season in tackles, but he's going to take on a bigger role this season as he begins his journey as a two-way player (perhaps he can ask No. 13 a few questions about that role). At Pac-12 media days, coach Chris Petersen addressed this and said, "We don't want to water him down and make him less of a defensive player. So I think there is a fine balance there and we'll continue to work through that." What exactly that fine balance is, we'll see. But there are certainly reps to be had at running back as the Huskies attempt to replace the production of Bishop Sankey. And Thompson could be a guy who contributes there. With the ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball for Washington, Thompson -- who wasn't talked about too much even a year ago -- cracked the top 15 players in the conference in 2014.

13. UCLA LB Myles Jack

2013 stats: 75 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions; 38 carries, 267 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns

Why he's ranked here: So, with Thompson taking on a larger role on both sides of the ball, Jack is scaling back a bit. He was the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, but this season, look for him to be much more a defensive player. Jack has athleticism pouring out of him, and with more of a focus on defense, and the discipline that brings, he could be scary, scary good this season -- so good he is the second-highest ranked linebacker on this list (not bad for a sophomore).

Though Mora didn't have quite the flowery sentiments about Jack as he did Kendricks (no hair or dating his daughter comments), he did say that if anyone were to ask UCLA players who the hardest-working Bruin was, that they would all say Jack or quarterback Brett Hundley. That is what the fans should care about. With someone who has his talent and athleticism, the fact that he is still the hardest-working player on the team means something. And that is going to show on the field this season. Could he lead the Pac-12 in tackles? Maybe. Could he and his top-25 counterpart Kendricks be an absolute nightmare to face this season? We think definitely.

12. USC LB Hayes Pullard

2013 stats: 94 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1 interception

Why he's ranked here: For two of the past three seasons, Pullard has led the Trojans in tackles. Chances are that this could be Year 3 for him in that category. He is going to have serious competition for best linebacker in the conference (cough, cough, Nos. 15-13), but with 39 starts and 282 tackles under his belt, we're pretty sure Pullard is going to make the most of his senior year. At Pac-12 media days, USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he thought the strength of his team was in its front seven, and at the middle of that front seven for the Trojans this season is going to be Pullard. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior should crack 100 tackles this season, and we wouldn't be too surprised if at least 10 of those are for a loss.

11. Stanford OT Andrus Peat

Why he's ranked here: At Pac-12 media days last week, Stanford coach David Shaw told NFL.com that he thought Peat was second to just one offensive tackle he has ever been around -- 11-time NFL Pro Bowler John Odgen. That is pretty high praise. Peat is the highest offensive tackle and second-highest offensive lineman on our list. Assuming nothing goes insanely wrong, he will be an easy all-conference pick at the end of the season and possibly a semifinalist or finalist for the Outland Trophy. At 6-7, 316 pounds, he's going to be pretty tough to move. We're certainly looking forward to a few potential matchups with top defensive linemen (one, whose name will pop up later on in this list ...) as Peat looks to prove himself as the most feared tackle in the Pac-12. At this point in time, he has our vote. We'll see how the season shakes out.

Check out the rest of the rankings here: No. 25-21, No. 20-16
In advance of media day last week, we told you what questions Pac-12 coaches would be asked and what they should be asked. Well, that sort of tied us in to asking those "should" questions.

So we did, at least some variety of the suggested inquiries, And here's what we got, starting with the South Division.

Arizona

How often at booster events this summer did you hear about being 0-2 versus Arizona State?

Rich Rodriguez: Oh, I hear about it everytime from somebody. They're like, “When are you going to beat ASU?” [I say] “When we're better than them.” That's the truth. When we are better than them, we will beat them. Because the chances of them playing poorly and giving us the game, that ain't going to happen. We played awful [this year but] two years ago we had our opportunites and screwed up in the fourth quarter. I don't worry about it. People say, ‘I think you should talk about your rivalry every day' and all that. Hell, I'm trying to get a first down against UNLV right now. I don't list goals. Is it important to us? Is it the most important game we play? Yes. Is it something I'm thinking about today? No.

Arizona State

You seem really comfortable at Arizona State. I know coaches don't think too far ahead, but is it possible that you could retire at Arizona State? Is that something you have considered?

Todd Graham: For me and our coaches, we are building it for the long haul. The kind of program that year in and year out is competing for championships. I absolultely love the community. I love living there. I've paid my house off. Absolutely. I'd love to have half the success [former ASU coach Frank Kush] had and have my name by his. I am thoroughly committed. I think we have a chance to build something special. Our goal, with Ray Anderson our athletic director and [ASU president Michael] Dr. Crow is to be a top-five program in the nation that wins and wins in the right way. Yes, I could see that. I'm very comfortable.

Colorado

What do you guys most need to improve?

Mike MacIntyre: Wow. I think we can improve in a lot of areas. Specifically on the football field, we need to play better on third downs. That's not got to be unbelievable. You've just got to improve three or four percent from what you were last year. You get two more first downs per game and all of the sudden you're in a drive, going into the red zone, getting into the end zone. One more time per game. Two more times per game. A field goal. That's a big, drastic change. It changes momentum. There are little things. Red zone is an emphasis we have, third-down areas, we have. We need to definitely improve in those areas.

UCLA

You've talked about your partnership with the administration at UCLA. What are some top things on the checklist that you need to improve the program, facilities-wise, logistical things that will make it easier for you to do your job?

Jim Mora: With facilities, we've moved down that path. That's happening. That's a given. There's no coming back from that. I meet with the architechs every couple of weeks. It's going to be an amazing, amazing facility. Really, just the continued support. Being able to keep coaches. Being able to provide the best environment for our student athletes to have success. We already have great academic support, so being able to continue down that path. I don't think we are lacking a whole lot at all. Once that facility is built, there will be no excuses. There are no excuses.

USC

What are some of the lessons you learned as a first-time head coach at Washington that you are applying at USC?

Steve Sarkisian: Patience. Patience. Patience. Having patience with your players. Having patience with recruits. Having patience with coaches. Really taking time and not having knee-jerk reactions to things. Of really being patient with everybody involved in the program. It's something that has shifted in me. That's the first piece. The second piece is when I first got to my last job it was: Wins, wins, wins. It took a year or two to understand the whole responsibility of being a head coach. Of developing our players in the classroom, community, as people, forging those relationships with them. To be the best developmental coach I could be as much as it was to win as many games as I could win. This time around, I'm a lot more aware of that. And quite honestly it probably have a better relationship with my players (at USC) than I had early on at Washington. I feel very connected to this team. Our staff is very connected to these players. To me, that goes a long way.

Utah

Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?

Kyle Whittingham: I think some of the fans may have and some may not have. I can't give you an answer for that. I can tell you the fan support we've had has been phenomenal. Our season ticket renewal was 98 percent, which is where it has been the last four or five years. So the fans are excited about us being in the Pac-12 and are anxious to go to the games. [What the expectations were] as far as going to the Pac-12, I can't answer that. I know we had high aspirations. I think everybody has high aspirations regardless of the situation. We certainly are a better team this year than we were when we went into the Pac-12. The issue is how much better relative to how the league's gotten.

Whittingham earlier said this about the transition to the Pac-12 from the Mountain West: "The transition to the Pac-12 has been as expected. I don't think anything caught us by surprise. I can tell you what is very apparent is the Pac-12 now is far superior from top to bottom [than it was in 2011]. The progress this conference has made in the last three years is phenomenal. We've put ourselves in position where we're arguably among the top two conferences in the nation."

Nonconference primer: USC

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
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We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

USC Trojans

Fresno State, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Tim DeRuyter (20-6), third season
  • 2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 MWC
  • Returning starters: five offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: running back Josh Quezada. He rushed for 807 yards last year. With the QB spot in question (and possibly going with a more mobile QB), the RB spot is going to be even more important this season. Quezada also has pretty good hands -- he caught 51 passes last year for 290 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: free safety Derron Smith, who was pegged as the Mountain West's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He has 14 career interceptions, which is the most of any active FBS player entering the 2014 season. In 2013 Smith recorded 87 tackles, four sacks and seven picks.
  • The skinny: It's pretty rare that two teams ever play each other twice in a row, but USC and Fresno State will have that chance. The two faced off in last season's finale -- the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, in which USC ran away with a 45-20 victory -- and they'll kick off the 2014 season together as well. But there's one very big difference between the team that put up 20 on USC and the team that'll take the field on Aug. 30 -- Fresno State doesn't know who its QB will be. They need to replace Derek Carr (5,082 yards, 50 TDs) and though they have options (junior Brian Burrell and Duke transfer Brandon Connette, among others), it's not looking great. Especially since they'll be welcomed to the post-BCS era by Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense.
At Boston College, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Steve Addazio (7-6), second season
  • 2013 record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC
  • Returning starters: 4 offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Florida QB transfer Tyler Murphy, who finished the spring season as the Eagles' top QB. At Florida, he started six games and completed 112 of 185 passes. Also worth noting that the only Boston College player to be on any of the Preseason All-ACC teams was center Andy Gallik, so he gets honorable mention here.
  • Defensive headliner: linebacker Steven Daniels. He was third on the team in tackles last season (88) and recorded 6.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
  • The skinny: The Eagles are coming off one of the most surprising seasons in college football, but Boston College was a much different team with 2013 Doak Walker Award winner Andre Williams. The Eagles aren't going to be able to replace Williams with just one guy, so they'll likely go for a back by committee approach, but the truth is that it probably won't be able to do too much against the USC front (especially considering BC's offensive line lost both tackles).
Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 29
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (37-15), fifth season
  • 2013 record: 9-4
  • Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
  • Offensive headliner: quarterback Everett Golson. Golson was suspended from Notre Dame last year, but was readmitted to the school and reinstated to the football program following the 2013 season. Golson quarterbacked the Irish through the 2012 season and into the 2013 BCS title game, in which he completed 21 passes for 270 yards (but also threw just one touchdown to his one interception). He's mobile enough that defensive fronts are going to need to be honest and has a good enough arm that he'll be able to stretch the field.
  • Defensive headliner: linebacker Jaylon Smith. As a true freshman, Smith finished third on the team in tackles (67), including 6.5 tackles for a loss (second only to second round NFL draft pick, Stephon Tuitt). He'll be back and wreaking havoc all over the field for the Fighting Irish.
  • The skinny: This is a huge game every season and this season will be no different. Both USC and Notre Dame are in the early conversations for teams that could be in the mix for the inaugural College Football Playoff. And with this being the season finale for both teams, it could be a big statement for whichever teams walks away the winner.
ESPN writers and analysts put together a ranking of the top 100 football players nationwide. The #CFBrank reflects how certain players are seen on a national level as writers who cover every conference participated in the vote. But, at the Pac-12 blog, we decided to break it down further and rank our top 25 Pac-12 players. The #4pac put together this list and will be counting down our top 25 guys this week. But make sure you pay close attention -- we know that how players are viewed nationally aren't quite how they're viewed in the conference, so our top 25 doesn't necessarily follow the same pecking order as the 20 conference players who ended up on the nation's top 100 list.

Now, on to the list. Drum roll, please.

No. 25: Stanford DE Henry Anderson

2013 Stats: 19 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks

Why he’s ranked here: For as much as we keep talking about how this season is "The Year of the Pac-12 Quarterbacks," it also could prove to be the year for pass-rushers to really prove themselves, and Anderson is in that spot. Players such as Anderson will have ample opportunity to get to first- and second-round NFL draft picks every single weekend, which will undoubtedly help their own draft stock. He has flown under the radar a bit throughout his career, but we think he's on track for a huge senior season. He finished with three sacks in 2013, but with pass-rushers such as Trent Murphy (23.5 TFL, 15 sacks) gone, the Cardinal will be looking for someone else to step up in the scheme. That will likely be Anderson.

At Pac-12 media days last week, Stanford coach David Shaw said that he thinks defensive coordinators "will have their hands full all year accounting for the combination of these schemes and [how] they're intricate and difficult and different." But Shaw's defensive coordinator, Lance Anderson, will have a much easier time of it with his 6-foot-6, 295 pound pass-rusher up front. Yes, Stanford will have to face UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and USC, but Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler will have to face Anderson.

No. 24: Utah WR Dres Anderson

2013 Stats: 53 catches, 1,002 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns, 8 carries, 30 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown

Why he’s ranked here: Last year, Anderson became just the seventh Ute to ever have a 1,000-yard receiving season. This year, he'll likely put up much bigger numbers. Assuming quarterback Travis Wilson -- who was medically cleared recently -- is truly back and ready to go, Anderson is going to be a guy who will be able to stretch defenses and test players in one-on-one situations. He's the son of former NFL receiver Willie "Flipper" Anderson (who was on the Los Angeles Rams when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's father was a coach for the Rams as well, so Whittingham has known about the Anderson pedigree even before Dres was born).

Anderson is the conference's returning leading receiver (at 87.7 yards/game). Last year, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff all impressed and gained national recognition. Could this be the year for Anderson to do so? Wilson is a returning starter, though not one that's usually mentioned in the top group of the Pac-12 QBs, but a great receiver can make his signal-caller very, very good. We have a feeling that Anderson could be a player that raises that level for Wilson.

No. 23: USC S Su'a Cravens

2013 Stats: 52 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 4 interceptions, 1 pass break up, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Why he’s ranked here: Cravens earned a starting spot in the USC secondary as a freshman last season after enrolling early. He's one of just two sophomores to make this list (we're guessing you know who the other one is). Cravens recorded four interceptions in 2013 and finished eighth on the team in total tackles, and even with that kind of a year he has admitted that he allowed the crowds to get to him and that he was nervous at times. That's not surprising for a freshman, but if last year was Cravens being affected by fans and stadiums, what could a 2014 version look like in which he's older, more mature and not affected by the bright lights? That's what puts him at No. 23 on this list. He was already named to watch lists for the Jim Thorpe Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award. He's on track to having an excellent career at USC, but his next step will be having a stellar, consistent sophomore season. And we have a feeling he's on his way to that.

No. 22: Oregon RB Byron Marshall

2013 Stats: 168 carries, 1,038 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 catches, 155 receiving yards

Why he’s ranked here: Marshall was the Ducks' leading rusher in 2013 and is back and looking at an even bigger season in 2014. With Marcus Mariota back, defenses are going to have to be cautious up front because of the mobile threat he provides. Even if defenses are able to stop Mariota's feet, they're still going to need to worry about Marshall and his feet. In fact, defenses are going to have to worry about the whole gamut of Duck rushers. Mariota averaged 7.4 yards per carry last year while Marshall and running back Thomas Tyner (who is putting up a fight for the starting spot in Eugene) both averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Past those two, offensive coordinator Scott Frost is still high on several other players in the running backs' meeting room. But if Marshall can build on his experience, he could be the lead back for the Ducks in what could be a very, very big season for them.

No. 21: Arizona WR Austin Hill

2013 Stats: DNP ... 2012 stats: 81 catches, 1,364 yards, 11 touchdowns

Why he’s ranked here: In 2012, Hill was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist after putting up 11 touchdowns and 1,364 yards -- good enough for second-best in the Pac-12 -- as a sophomore. But he sat out last season as he rehabbed a torn ACL and had to spend the year on the couch, watching the Wildcats lose five games, including three by a touchdown or less. "Missing a season after coming off a good season, it was really rough," Hill told the Pac-12 Networks at Pac-12 media days. "But, I made it through." And now that he's on the other side, and after an impressive spring season, he's looking to have a huge impact on Arizona football in 2014. One thing that could keep him from that is the fact that Arizona is once again in a quarterback quandary and Hill doesn't know exactly who the ball will be coming from. At Pac-12 media days he said he was working to build chemistry with every QB that comes through, but that he's hoping one begins to really separate himself as the season inches closer, so that he can work to just get on the same page with that guy. If he is able to find that relationship, there's a good chance we see a bigger, better version of the 2012 Austin Hill.
Over the past few weeks, ESPN writers and analysts sat down to rank the top 100 football players in the country based on their own predictions of the kind of contribution -- both quantitatively and qualitatively -- they’d make to their team in this upcoming season.

We perused about 460 different players who hailed from each position group and conference across the country and ranked those players on a scale of 0-10. If we thought a player would be a “stellar contributor,” we ranked him somewhere in the 8-10 range.

A “solid contributor” earned a 4-7 ranking and a “contributor” (meaning, he’ll certainly contribute but not to the level of the others who were listed on the voting sheet) was given a 0-3. Their averages were found and then ranked and we were left with the top 100 players.

Twenty players from the Pac-12 made their way on to the list, including two players in the top 10 (both of which are from the same team -- can you guess whom?). This week, we’ll be counting down those 100 players. Keep your eyes here as we begin our march toward the 2014 season.

Media Days takeaways: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
7:45
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Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 2 of media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

Gemmell: I think it's pretty notable that Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery -- a guy on the Biletnikoff watch list and a guy coach David Shaw called one of the most explosive players in college football -- probably won't play in Week 1. Shaw identified it as an "arm" injury for Montgomery, who didn't participate in spring ball. Shaw said it's likely they will take it slow for fall camp and might keep him out of Week 1. Translation: "We're playing UC Davis and should be fine without him." Because a week later they play USC. And they will need him for that game.

Jennings: There were plenty of good nuggets that came out of Day 2, but I was particularly interested to hear that UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, the reigning Offensive/Defensive Freshman of the Year, put on 15 pounds of muscle during this offseason. That's a lot of weight for a kid who already hit (and ran) pretty darn well. It'll be interesting to see how a bigger and stronger Jack does in Year 2 with Jim Mora and the Bruins.

Bonagura: For a media day, it was actually pretty quiet. The big news was clearly Washington coach Chris Petersen's decision to suspend projected starting quarterback Cyler Miles for the Huskies' opener against Hawaii, but even that will have little impact on the season. No one is expecting that to be much of a game regardless of who's under center for Washington. If anything, the move could end up helping the Huskies from a football standpoint because they'll get much-needed game experience for whoever ends up being the backup and give Miles extra time to digest the new coaching staff's system after missing every practice and meeting during spring ball.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway?

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesHow long does Todd Graham have to stay in Tempe for rumors about a departure to subside?
Gemmell: Todd Graham caught a lot of flak -- I mean A LOT of flak -- when he jumped from Pitt to Arizona State. He had a reputation as a program hopper always looking for the best opportunity. When most jobs became available, Graham was always rumored (usually unsubstantiated) as wanting to move on. Well, he's not, and he addressed that Thursday. Coming into his third year (a longer tenure than five other Pac-12 coaches, mind you) he says he's committed to ASU for the "long haul" and could see himself retiring in Tempe. His house is paid off, he's got pretty good continuity with his staff and he's winning. Sounds like the makings of a long and happy relationship. But if he does leave on his own, is three years fair? Five? Time to let the "Todd Graham is gonna jump ship" storyline go.

Jennings: Cue the campfire and Kumbaya, please. Everyone is becoming bff's.

Not only is this year going to hold one of the deepest crops of quarterbacks in a single conference ever, this could also be one of the closer groups of quarterbacks ever. So many of these guys attended the Manning Passing Academy together -- Sean Mannion and Brett Hundley roomed together at the camp. And through the two media days, there just seemed to be so much bromance. You've got the guys in other conferences who say, "Yeah, he's a good player and I respect him" but it felt like this group genuinely could become fraternity brothers or something. Sure, they're going to take the field and try to destroy each other's teams, but I also feel like -- if given the chance -- most of them would sit down for a dinner together the next day.

Bonagura: UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is ready for the spotlight. And maybe he's been ready, but it's going to be brighter this year. This was my first chance seeing Hundley handle a throng of media attention, in person, and he came off like a seasoned pro. Other players were similarly impressive, but with the festivities being held in Southern California, Hundley drew the most attention and it didn't faze him. Forget the fact that he's one of the most exciting players to watch in the country, there are plenty of reasons why he's an easy player to root for.

Best quote of the day?

Gemmell: I asked Colorado defensive end Juda Parker, of the 10 returning quarterbacks which one does he most want to sack. He responded with this gem: "The one I WILL sack is Oregon's Marcus Mariota. He's my classmate and we went to high school together. I'm looking forward to it. I'll probably give him an extra nudge and say, ‘We'll talk about this after the game.'"

Jennings: I was walking by a group of men when one of them announced, "That's why you don't raise raccoons." I should've stopped and completely put myself into the conversation because, let's be serious, this could've been one of the most interesting points of the day. But I was on a mission and decided to find coffee that it was easier to just input my own thoughts as to why they were talking about that. I'd like to imagine it was something like, "We need to achieve world peace and ... that's why you don't raise raccoons."

However, I would also like to imagine that at one point in time Mike Leach attempted to raise a raccoon.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora's not budging from UCLA if he has any say in it.
Bonagura: UCLA coach Jim Mora was asked about his commitment to the school and after a long-winded answer, he finished with: "I'm staying there until they kick me out. That might be tomorrow, who knows. I've been kicked out before. But I'm staying until they kick me out."

Going to go out on a limb and say UCLA is not going to fire Jim Mora tomorrow. So modest, Jim.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I've known Stanford safety Jordan Richards for a while. We've talked a lot and done several videos together over the years. And I'm always impressed with his poise and confidence. I love how much he loves football. A lot of defensive players I talked to over the last couple of days admitted they have a tough road ahead with all of the offensive talent in the league. Richards shrugs it off and says it's the quarterbacks who have to prove themselves worthy of all the praise. I like that.

Jennings: I'm going to give some major props to Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan here. One reporter asked Hogan about Mariota and Hogan went on a diatribe about how great of a person and player Mariota is. I'd imagine there are a lot of players out there who get sick of their same-position guys being talked about constantly (and having questions pitched to them about said guys), but Hogan couldn't say enough good things about Mariota. And yes, that says plenty about Mariota, but I think it says even more about the type of person Hogan is.

Bonagura: Relative to the rest of the players who were brought to Hollywood over the past two days, Juda Parker was one of the players I knew the least about. About 30 seconds into a chat with him, it became clear he's headed for big things. Time will tell if that's in professional football -- he's got a chance -- or in something else, but he expressed how important it was to develop skills during his time at Colorado that'll help both on the football field and "in a cubicle." It was obviously more detailed than that, but let's just say he served as an impressive ambassador for Colorado.

Cornhole was one of the activities available for the players and coaches at Pac-12 media days. If you could pick a threesome to play corn hole with, who would you pick and why?

Gemmell: Isn't this one obvious? Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler. Leave the coaches out of it. Stick with the three of the four most accurate quarterbacks in the Pac-12 from last year. Hundley led the conference with a 66.8 completion percentage. Mannion was second with 66.3 and Kessler was fourth at 65.4 (Keith Price was third at 66.2). The name of the game is accuracy. I want the guys who aren't going to miss.

Jennings: I'd pick Hundley as my teammate, because he and Eric Kendricks swept their competition -- 7-0, according to the leaderboard -- and I'm going to assume that the Heisman-contending QB was a big part of that. And for the competition, I'm going to pick Steve Sarkisian and Mark Helfrich -- the two coaches that are likely going to battle Hundley the most for the top spot in the south division and the championship game. Overall, there'd be plenty of real rivalry happening and I love some good trash talk (which I'm hoping there'd be some of). Plus, if we lost, I'd convince Hundley to just walk around throwing footballs at people and saying it was because he's the Campus Enforcer.

Bonagura: For my teammate, I'm choosing Sean Mannion. If his 68 career touchdown passes aren't reason enough, I'm putting a lot of stock in his recent victory in the Air-It-Out Challenge at the Manning Passing Academy. That event showcased his accuracy against several of the nation's best quarterbacks including USC's Cody Kessler and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, both of whom were also in Hollywood this week. As for who we're playing against, I want Mike Leach on my side of the pit (is it a cornhole pit?) purely for entertainment value and Sonny Dykes on the other to provide a reunion for the close friends.

Media Days are here: Day 2

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
8:00
AM ET
We're halfway through Pac-12 media days, which continue Thursday at the Studios at Paramount in Hollywood. Here's a look at who is on tap for Day 2:

Thursday's schedule: Leading off


The big "news" of the day was that Oregon was picked to win the Pac-12 conference in 2014. Predictions aren't always solid -- unless they come from the Pac-12 blog.

Still, it's noteworthy that 24 of 39 writers (including the #pac) all picked the Ducks to win -- especially since Stanford is the two-time defending champ. The Cardinal will be up Thursday, so no doubt coach David Shaw will be asked for a reaction.

More Levi's games?

During the Stanford nonconference primer, the Pac-12 blog lamented the fact the Cardinal and San Jose State put the Bill Walsh Legacy game on hold. Now it looks like talks have started again.

According to Jimmy Durkin of the San Jose Mercury News, initial conversations have started to reboot the game. Here's what San Jose State coach Ron Caragher had to say:

"There's some fringe talk about it," Caragher said. "Has anything been finalized? Not necessarily. But I think it'd be great."

The Pac-12 and Mountain West are already heavy scheduling partners. But for Bay Area fans, this game holds some special significance. Would be nice to see it up and running again.

Healthy and happy birthday

Cal safety Stefan McClure, oft injured in his career with the Bears, tells Sportswatch.com he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make his move from cornerback to safety. (He also plugs his birthday).

Cal obviously suffered through a bumpy 2013. A lot of that had to do with injuries on defense. So a healthy McClure is welcome news for the Bears.

Oregon storylines

Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sportsnet broke down his big three major storylines of media days. His thoughts:
  1. Oregon picked first
  2. Marcus Mariota in high demand
  3. Derrick Malone making improvements
Strike a pose

Just because the Cardinal weren't on the podium Wednesday, doesn't mean they (and the other five teams) didn't have media days responsibilities. You can see Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan doing his best Blue Steel here:

 
Landing spot for Bruggman

Former Washington State quarterback Tyler Bruggman is going to land at Louisville, according to InsidetheVille.com.

In case you missed it a week ago, Ted Miller broke down what that means for the Cougs.

Enjoy Day 2! We'll be tweeting again all day.

Pac-12 media days live: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
11:00
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Pac-12 media days kick off in Los Angeles Wednesday. Keep this page open beginning at noon ET/9 a.m. PT as ESPN.com reporters bring you the latest from the day's proceedings. Scheduled to appear Wednesday are players and coaches from Arizona Wildcats, California Golden Bears, USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Washington State Cougars and Utah Utes, as well as commissioner Larry Scott.
 

Our Pac-12 media poll ballots

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
1:00
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Every year, the Pac-12 polls media members on how they predict the season will turn out. Sometimes there is a pretty strong consensus. Sometimes there is not. The Pac-12 blog expects there to be strong unanimity this go-around, as our four ballots suggest.

All four of us picked Oregon and UCLA to win their respective divisions. All of us picked Oregon as the Pac-12 champion. Kevin's and Ted's ballots are exactly the same, which might be a good thing for Ted, considering that Kevin's 2013 ballot correctly predicted the finish of all 12 teams.

By the way, Kevin has never, ever, ever brought that up since the end of the 2013 season, notwithstanding his voicemail celebrating that fact, his copywriting "Mr. Pac-12 Perfect Predictor" and the giant billboards he erected in all Pac-12 towns and cities. To quote Uriah Heep, Kevin remains "the 'umblest person going."

For those believing the Pac-12 blog merely goes with the flow, recall that the 2013 Pac-12 media poll picked Oregon and UCLA as the division winners, while Kevin and Ted went with Stanford and Arizona State.

(Insert smug look).

There are some differences here between your Old Men and the New Blood, most notably the bottom two finishers in the South. There also are some differences in the placement of Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North, and USC and Arizona State in the South.

Here's Ted Miller's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Kevin Gemmell's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Chantel Jenning's (You can follow her on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. ASU
3. USC
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon

And here's Kyle Bonagura (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon
video 
You want controversy? You want regional bias? You BCS-raised, college football young'uns don't know squat. Consider Exhibit A: USC and Alabama in 1978.

USC went to Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sept. 23, 1978, and whipped the top-ranked Crimson Tide 24-14 in front of 77,313 fans who didn't appreciate West Coast cool rolling over their southern-fried team like an army of deranged surfers.

The technical term for that in college football parlance is a "head-to-head victory." That the win was accomplished on the road provided it even more gravity as an objective and seemingly insurmountable measure of two teams. Ergo, when the season ended with both USC and Alabama winning New Year's Day bowl games following one-loss seasons, it was obvious who should be ranked No. 1. That would be the Trojans, of course.

[+] EnlargeSam Cunningham
University of Southern California/Getty ImagesUSC fullback Sam Cunningham turned in a big performance in the Trojans' 1970 victory over the Crimson Tide.
Au contraire. The Associated Press poll voted the Crimson Tide No. 1 after they nipped regular-season No. 1 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. USC had to settle for the UPI -- coaches' poll -- national title after beating No. 5 Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

Even today, if you throw this Apple of Discord onto a bar table between Tide and Trojans adherents over 50, spittle will fly, veins will bulge, and the unique righteous indignation of college football fans will thunder forth like water over Niagara Falls.

That just begins the story of USC-Alabama, which might have the most storied seven-game all-time series in college football history. Or is that Alabama-USC?

So if we are overbrimming with joy at the prospect of the Crimson Tide and Trojans opening the 2016 season in the eighth annual Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in a Labor Day weekend, neutral-site game, please forgive us.

This, my friends, is what we've all been craving. If this is the luscious fruit brought forth by the new College Football Playoff demanding more challenging scheduling, then let's give the sport's powers-that-be a collective fist bump. They have, rightfully, been taking a lot of grief lately, most notably in the courts. If we can, for a moment at least, block off consideration of the monstrosity of the cash flow certain to gush from this one. Let's instead awash ourselves in the anticipation of the game itself.

Alabama and USC are without question two of college football's preeminent powers. They might be college football's two preeminent powers. They have combined for 26 national championships (11 by USC, 15 by Alabama), 66 bowl victories (32 USC, 34 Alabama), seven Heisman Trophy winners (6 USC, one Alabama), 272 first-team All-Americans (161 USC, 111 Alabama), 797 NFL draftees (483 USC, 314 Alabama), 52 College Football Hall of Fame players (31 USC, 21 Alabama) and such legendary coaches as USC's Howard Jones, John McKay, John Robinson and Pete Carroll and Alabama's Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Bear Bryant and current head coach Nick Saban.

Whew. While Notre Dame and Michigan fans are jumping up and down, waving their arms, this matchup is about as special as it gets, particularly when you project forward that both are likely to be top-10 teams to start 2016.

As for the series itself, Alabama leads 5-2. The Tide's biggest wins came in the 1946 Rose Bowl and in the Coliseum in 1971 and 1977, a decade in which both teams were dominating their respective regions. USC's other victory, a 42-21 blowout in 1970 in Birmingham, is often credited with pushing forward the integration of college football in the South, as the Trojans' African-American players, particularly fullback Sam Cunningham, tailback Clarence Davis and quarterback Jimmy Jones, turned in big performances. That game has been the subject of many stories and documentary films.

When those iconic helmets are standing opposite each other, there might be a few goose bumps from the old-timers that prove contagious to those who don't recall much from the pre-BCS age.

As for the present, the plot is also pretty thick. For one, the SEC and Pac-12 are the top two conferences in college football, and there's little reason to believe that will change much over the next three seasons. This game, therefore, could operate as a season-long measuring stick for both leagues. CFP committee members might be willing to apply the transitive property if they should be forced to make distinctions between Pac-12 and SEC teams that didn't play -- as in, "Well, UCLA beat USC and USC beat Alabama and LSU lost to Alabama, so UCLA should eclipse LSU."

Finally, there's the Lane Kiffin angle. Kiffin, you might have heard, was fired five games into the 2013 season as USC's head coach. He is now Alabama's offensive coordinator, a pairing with Saban that seems, well, interesting. Kiffin might be somewhere else in 2016, but it certainly would be a notable sidebar to the game if he is not.

By the way, Saban will be 65 in 2016. He might not be atop the Crimson Tide when this game rolls around.

Hmm. Lane Kiffin, Lane Kiffin. Hmm.

Ah, there is a lot to ponder with this one. Plenty of topics that will percolate. And ferment. Perhaps it's good we have two full seasons between now and this showdown to hone our hyperbole.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 3

Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Wyoming at Oregon
  • Illinois at Washington
  • Army at Stanford
  • Portland State at Washington State
  • USC at Boston College
  • UCLA vs. Texas (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
  • Arizona State at Colorado
  • Nevada at Arizona
  • Byes: Cal, Oregon State, Utah
My choice: UCLA vs. Texas

Why: What an incredible Week 2 that was. Oregon made a national statement with its convincing win against Michigan State and I can’t believe Stanford-USC ended in another last-minute field goal! That had to be one happy team from the state of California.

For Week 3, let’s take a step out of our comfort zone and travel to a place not normally frequented by the Pac-12 faithful during the regular season -- Texas.

Let’s be honest. Texas isn’t what it used to be. The Longhorns are trying to get back there under new head coach Charlie Strong. But it might take a while.

However, the Texas brand still carries a ton of name value. And a win against the Longhorns at a neutral site (only by name), would be a huge boost for a UCLA program trying to make a splash on the national stage. The Bruins will likely be a top 10 team to start the season. And barring an unbelievable mishap at Virginia or home against Memphis, they will be a team the playoff committee is keeping an eye on when this game rolls around.

From an individual standpoint, this game could also be a big boost for quarterback Brett Hundley and his Heisman candidacy. Voters were already eyeing Marcus Mariota and his five-touchdown performance against Michigan State last week (three in the air, two on the ground). They aren’t going to care much what Hundley does against Virginia or Memphis. But if he goes into Texas and has a huge game, that will definitely give him a boost.

There are also, of course, the rumors that circulated about UCLA head coach Jim Mora when the Texas job became available. Whether those were substantiated or legitimate are irrelevant. They were out there -- and that adds an element of intriguing to this game.

This is a game UCLA should win, thus making it a must-win. If the Bruins want to go to where they hope they will, they have to win this game convincingly. If they do, they will get the benefit of beating a brand-name team, even if the Longhorns are currently re-branding.

Nevada at Arizona has some intrigue because it’s a rematch of the thrilling 2012 New Mexico Bowl. And Illinois’ trip to Washington is another Pac-12-Big Ten showdown. But as far as national interest goes, UCLA-Texas is the game to see this week.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.
The watchlist roll out continues this week with the announcement of the Rotary Lombardi preseason list.

Of the 123 players on the list, 15 are from the Pac-12 representing six schools.

Eligibility for the Lombardi Award includes offensive or defensive “down” linemen or linebackers “who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage.”

Here are the Pac-12 players.
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Pac-12 programs hold commitments from 13 prospects who participated in Nike's The Opening this week, including four quarterbacks who finished in the final Elite 11 quarterback ranking and two offensive linemen who were named to the Final Five on that side of the ball. Though the conference will undoubtedly finish with commitments from many more of the recruits in attendance, we take a look at how the 13 commitments fared over the four days.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday!
Today, we finish our preseason position reviews.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Safety. Teams in each category are listed in alphabetical order.

GREAT

Arizona: Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis return with a combined 78 starts. On Thursday, Tevis, a former walk-on, was named to the Bronko Nagurski watch list for the nation's best defensive player. Safety is a clear strength for the Wildcats.

Oregon State: Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman both begin Year 3 as starters. Combined, they have 345 career tackles and neither has missed a game the past two years. Murphy was an all-conference honorable mention selection last year.

UCLA: Between Randall Goforth, Anthony Jefferson and Tahaan Goodman, the Bruins are loaded with talent at safety. Both Goforth and Jefferson were named all-conference honorable mention last season, but Goodman has the potential to be the best of the group. Tyler Foreman, a well-regarded recruit, will be coming off his redshirt.

USC: Despite losing Dion Bailey early to the NFL, USC still has the potential to have one of the best safety combinations the conference. Su'a Cravens might have been the best freshman safety in the country last season. Who he'll play next to remains a bit of a question, but if it's Josh Shaw -- who is proven at both safety positions -- or someone else, possibly Leon McQuay III, USC will be in great shape.

GOOD

Arizona State: One of only two returning starters for the Sun Devils on defense is safety Damarious Randall, which, by default, will rise expectations for his performance. The competition for the other starting spot still needs to run its course, but many expect Marcus Ball, who missed last season with an injury, to win the job.

Stanford: Jordan Richards is a potential All-American at strong safety, but the spot opposite him remains the biggest question mark on the Stanford defense. The vacancy, created by Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL, resulted in the coaching staff moving a pair of offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and receiver Kodi Whitfield to safety. Those two will compete with Zach Hoffpauir, who spent the spring playing baseball, and Kyle Olugbode.

WE'LL SEE

California: Much like the case at linebacker, the Bears return several players that have started games, but based on the defense's performance last year, it's hard to generate much optimism. The best thing going for the group is the return of Avery Sebastian, who was a starter before going down with an Achilles tear in the first half of the first game last year (at which point he already had 10 tackles and a pick). He'll likely line up next to Michael Lowe.

Colorado: Jered Bell is back, but the Buffs need to replace Parker Orms, who was a fixture in the starting lineup the last two seasons. Tedric Thompson, Marques Mosley and Terrel Smith have all started games in the past and they'll compete with Ryan Moeller, who is coming off his redshirt.

Oregon: Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson ran out of eligibility which makes safety one of question marks facing Oregon headed into 2014. Pencil in Erick Dargan, a fifth-year senior that has contributed throughout his career, at one spot, but the other isn't as clear. Issac Dixon is probably the favorite, but Tyree Robinson should push him.

Utah: After three years of starting at safety, Eric Rowe split his time between corner and safety in the spring and will likely wind up playing more cornerback. That move leaves the safety spot a little hazy. Tevin Carter, who started his career as a receiver at Cal, went to a junior college and sat out last season due to academic issues, is expected to have one spot. Brian Blechen, who missed last season with an injury, should have the other. Although, Blechen could play linebacker, which would likely result in Charles Henderson at safety.

Washington: The Huskies don't return either starting safety, but have a large group of talented players vying for playing time. It's probably too early to make safe predictions on who will start, but Brandon Beaver, Trevor Walker, Kevin King and Thomas Vincent are all in the mix. UW also signed three safeties to its most recent recruiting class.

Washington State: If you were to name the individual player who meant more to his team's defense than any other last season, Deone Bucannon might have been that pick. Without him, the Cougars have a likely pair of starters in Isaac Dotson, a former quarterback, and Taylor Taliulu, who lost his starting job late last year.

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