Pac-12: Washington Huskies

Welcome to the mailbag, where the holiday cheer never stops.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

However, the news that broke yesterday that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is out with a knee injury isn't what you want to hear heading into the postseason. He's got two interceptions and nine breakups this season, and he will certainly be missed. But I think Oregon's secondary is seasoned enough now that it will be able to marginally compensate. I don't think it's a game-changing loss, but it's certainly noteworthy.

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.

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

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

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

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

Ifo out

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

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

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

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

A few more All-America teams were announced Tuesday, and the usual Pac-12 suspects continue to rake in the honors. Here's the latest breakdown.

First up is the Associated Press All-America team.
  • First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, Shaq Thompson, AP, Washington.
  • First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington, Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona, Hau’oli Kikaha, LB, Washington, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon, Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
  • Second-team offense: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford, Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
  • Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah, Leonard Williams, DT, USC, Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
  • Third-team offense: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon, Nelson Agholor, WR, USC.
  • Third-team defense: Su’a Cravens, S, USC.

Next up is the Sports Illustrated All-America team.
  • First-team offense: Mariota, Grasu, Peat.
  • First-team defense: Orchard, Wright III, Thompson, Kendricks, Ekpre-Olomu.
  • Second team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
  • Second team defense: Williams, Kikaha
  • Second team special teams: Hackett

Here's the Fox Sports All-America team.
  • First-team offense: Mariota
  • First-team defense: Williams, Wright III, Kikaha, Ekpre-Olomu,
  • First-team special teams: Hackett, Kaelin Clay, KR, Utah
  • Second-team offense: Agholor
  • Second-team defense: Orchard, Shelton, Thompson, Kendricks

Also, USA Today put together its Freshman All-America team. Included on that list from the Pac-12 are:
  • Offense: Toa Lobendahn, OL, USC, Jacob Alsadek, OL, Arizona
  • Defense: Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah, Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC, Budda Baker, S, Washington.

Finally, Bruce Feldman of Fox breaks down the most impressive freshmen. Jackson and Baker are on his list.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

In case you missed it (and it would have been pretty hard to miss it if you follow Pac-12 football), here's the full presentation of Marcus Mariota reading the Top 10 on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
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

video

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
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video
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.

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

Where they heck have you all been on the weekends? We've been at games. What's your excuse?

According to a report by Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, attendance has been down in college football across the country. And the Pac-12 is no exception, experiencing a 2-percent drop across the board. Solomon breaks it down by conference. Here's what he had to say about the Pac-12.
Crowds dropped 2 percent to 52,758 and they are down 10 percent since peaking in 2007. Pac-12 attendance leader UCLA ranked 19th nationally. Only four of 12 conference schools had an increase: UCLA, Arizona, Utah and Washington State. A couple of schools' decreases were very minor.

Solomon has attendance numbers for all FBS schools on a chart. It's worth a look to see who is trending up and down.

Future looks bright

At ESPN, we love lists. And we know you love them too. That makes the end of the year like, well, like Christmas. Here's another list for you -- the ESPN.com True Freshman All-America team.

A trio of frosh from the Pac-12 are on the team -- including Oregon running back Royce Freeman:
Freeman started the season by beating out both junior Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner for the starting running back spot at Oregon. He finished the regular season by leading the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns (16) and racking up 1,299 rushing yards, becoming the first Oregon freshman to have a 1,000-yard-rushing season.

Also on the list were USC offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn and USC's Adoree' Jackson.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Good one, Kyle.



Pretty sweet.

David Shaw and Chris PetersenUSA TODAY SportsDavid Shaw, left and Chris Petersen must make strides offensively to keep pace with Oregon.
Outside of Eugene, the Pac-12 North suffered through a 2014 campaign riddled with disappointment. Stanford and Washington, the Ducks' two biggest challengers in the division, turned out to not really be challengers at all; they finished three and four games off Oregon's pace, respectively, and both were blasted out of Autzen Stadium.

Though the Huskies haven't beaten the Ducks in more than a decade, Stanford had enjoyed plenty of recent success against Oregon, so 2014 represented a landmark shift in the Pac-12 North landscape. Mark Helfrich's program is now clearly alone in the driver's seat, and though bowl season is a chance for the Ducks to again chase a coveted national championship, the runners-up are using this month for an entirely different purpose.

If the Pac-12 North is to become interesting again, Stanford and Washington must leverage their extra string of bowl practices into something that enables them to close the wide gap between Oregon and the rest of this division. Interestingly, both programs face similar challenges: Their glaring deficiencies reside on offense, but defense -- a strength for both programs this season -- is also a looming question mark, as player departures will soon significantly affect that side of the ball in Palo Alto and Seattle.

David Shaw (Stanford) and Chris Petersen (Washington) have a chance to lay the groundwork of positive change this December, while Sonny Dykes (California), Mike Leach (Washington State), and newcomer Gary Andersen (Oregon State) don't have the same opportunity. Stanford faces Maryland in its bowl game on December 30, and Washington squares off with Oklahoma State on January 2. Cal, Oregon State, and Washington State -- who failed to reach bowl eligibility -- will be tasked with clawing their way out of losing seasons without the benefit of any supplementary training.

For Stanford, priority No. 1 in this stretch involves -- at the very least -- developing a coherent offensive vision for what happens beyond this 2014 season. The Cardinal finished this past campaign ranked dead last in the Pac-12, averaging only 25.7 points per game, and the entire season seemed centered on befuddled vacillation between the power running identity of the past and an inadequately defined pass-centric offense of the future. Stanford never seemed to develop a clear offensive identity against a legitimate defense until its final game of the season, a 31-10 romp over UCLA.

Kevin Hogan finally looked comfortable in that game, and his future on the Farm (he still has one more year of eligibility remaining) is likely the central question confronting Shaw moving forward: Will Stanford gamble on getting a season's worth of UCLA-like performances from Hogan in 2015 (he finished a spectacular 16-for-19 in that game after struggling for much of 2014), or will they turn the page to one of their touted young prospects -- most likely Keller Chryst -- moving forward?

The decision there might not come now, but one can be sure that this December is giving Shaw the opportunity to conduct a critically important, thorough evaluation of his offense on all levels after a season of struggle.

On that note, Washington is in a similar boat. The Huskies averaged only 5.4. yards per play in 2014, third-worst in the Pac-12. Petersen is entering his second year in Seattle, so his hand-picked talent obviously hasn't had a chance to emerge, but the Dawgs must scramble now to get more productivity from their offense in 2014. Quarterback Cyler Miles did a good job avoiding interceptions while posting improving explosiveness numbers, but Washington will certainly need him to generate more fireworks to contend in 2015. The quest to improve that begins now, especially since the road will only get more difficult for the Huskies after the bowl game (they will be losing a handful of starting offensive linemen).

Speaking of departures, both Stanford and Washington will absorb plenty on the defensive end. The likes of David Parry, Henry Anderson, and Jordan Richards -- just to name a few -- will leave the Cardinal's conference-best unit after the season. And national sack leader Hau'oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton, John Timu, and likely Shaq Thompson will depart the Washington program. Both Shaw and Petersen will soon be staring at massive defensive voids. That means one thing: The chance for younger players to emerge begins now.

So, while Oregon loads its canons for the high-stakes spectacle at the Rose Bowl on January 1, Stanford and Washington will already be feverishly working toward laying the groundwork necessary to challenge the Ducks in 2015. There is seemingly no respite in this furious college football cycle. The Cardinal and Huskies are readying for bowl matchups that have nowhere near the prestige of the Ducks' clash with Florida State, but the work leading up to them is every bit as important in relation to the next Pac-12 North race, which has already silently begun.

Pac-12 morning links

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

Let's get the week started off right. I'm guessing it was a tough weekend for a lot of people. After all, it was our first weekend without Pac-12 football in months. Don't worry, it's coming back soon enough. But, at least there was really good news for the Pac-12 this weekend. Let's start with a Mr. Marcus Mariota who won the Heisman this past Saturday.

First, let's give some major props to this MahaloMarcus.com video because it's very much worth your time and you can view it right here. It has some classic 8-year-old Mariota footage meshed with some current footage, some emotional music and quotes from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and the gang. Well done to the edit staff. Well done to Mariota for all these plays.

If four minutes of Mariota on video isn't enough for you ... well, lucky you, everyone and their mother reacted to this news, so we'll give you a breakdown of some writer's reactions.
The state of Oregon just doubled down. And the ghosts of this state's football programs just doubled over. Anyone who has regularly seen Mariota operate the heavy machinery that is the Ducks' offense this season knows he's the best player in America, but it really is something to see the rest of the country see it, too.

And finally, props to Oregon State for recognizing Mariota as well. The Beavers bought a full page ad in The Oregonian's special section for Mariota.

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

A photo posted by Karly Imus (@karlyimus) on

Other awards:

It wasn't just Mariota who picked up a big award this weekend. UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Lott IMPACT Trophy. Kendricks follows in the footsteps of Anthony Barr, who won the award last year. Jack Wang wrote that Kendricks is the latest in what could be a long line of linebacker lineage at UCLA.

And look at how cordial everyone was about Kendricks' win. But would you assume anything else? Never. Especially not from the Lott IMPACT guys.



Also, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson won the Hornung Award, given to college football's most versatile athlete. The Pac-12 Blog agrees.

All right. Here's a quick rundown ...

Pac-12 morning links

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

Awards, awards and more awards. It was a huge night for the Pac-12 and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota at the Home Depot College Football Awards.

Mariota, who is also expected to claim the Heisman on Saturday, took home the Maxwell Awards (nation's outstanding player), the Davey O'Brien (national QB) and the Walter Camp player of the year.

Scooby Wright added to his trophy case by collecting the Bednarik Award (national defensive player of the year) and Utah punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award (given annually to the college football mate who makes the best bacon references ... just kidding, it's for top punter).

Here's how the Pac-12 shapes up in award season so far:
  • Maxwell Award: Marcus Mariota
  • Walter Camp Award: Marcus Mariota
  • Davey O'Brien Award: Marcus Mariota
  • Johnny Unitas Golden Arm: Marcus Mariota
  • Chuck Bednarik Award: Scooby Wright
  • Bronko Nagurski Award: Scooby Wright
  • Dick Butkus Award: Eric Kendricks
  • Ray Guy Award: Tom Hackett
  • Ted Hendricks Award: Nate Orchard
Coordinators on the move?

As the coaching carousel continues to spin, a pair of Pac-12 assistants have been rumored for the head coaching job at Tulsa, though only one looks to be in the mix. Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell is believed to be in the running, while Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost isn't on the list anymore. From the Tulsa World:
Another source said Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell’s candidacy has ramped up over the past two days. Norvell, 33, is in his third year at Arizona State, where he started in 2012 at $320,000 a year and now, according to USA Today, makes $900,000 annually plus bonuses. He was a graduate assistant and receivers coach under Todd Graham at Tulsa.

Per the report, Frost interviewed for the job.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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

Mailbag: Next year's POYs?

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
5:00
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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.
As is common every summer, we throw together the Pac-12 Ultimate Road Trip series to get you through the dog days. It also gave me something to do while Ted was on his book tour about Arizona foliage: Me, Myself and Cacti. The "Road Trip Revisited" has been a popular post the past couple of years, so let’s take a journey back to what we thought would be good in August compared to the awesomeness that was 2014.

Week 1

Our pick: Colorado State vs. Colorado
Result: Coach Jim McElwain’s road to Gainesville started with a 31-17 thumping of the Rams’ in-state rival.
In retrospect: UCLA and Washington State provided high drama against Virginia and Rutgers, respectively. But Cal’s 31-24 win against Northwestern would have been the better call.

Week 2

Our pick: Michigan State at Oregon
Result: The Ducks flipped a 27-18 deficit into a 46-27 smackdown. (Still not sure how Ifo Ekpre-Olomu actually made that interception).
In retrospect: USC-Stanford had plenty of drama. But considering where the Ducks ended up, I think we made the right call on this one.

Week 3

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel got a hero's exit after leading No. 12 UCLA to a come-from-behind 20-17 victory against Texas.
Our pick: UCLA vs. Texas
Result:: Jerry Neuheisel gets carried off the field!
In retrospect: A great win for the Bruins, and a great story with Neuheisel throwing the game-winner. What? You wanted USC-Boston College?

Week 4

Our pick: Utah at Michigan
Result: Is it actually over? Or still in rain delay?
In retrospect: The Hill-freaking-Mary happened and #Pac12AfterDark was born. Sorry Utes. Good win, but Arizona-Cal would have been the better pick.

Week 5

Our pick(s): UCLA at Arizona State/Stanford and Washington
Result(s): An ugly 62-27 blowout win for the Bruins, and a 20-13 win for the Cardinal.
In retrospect: WSU at Utah turned into quite the exciting game. But who would have tapped Colorado at Cal going into double-overtime followed by a Cal goal-line stand. A trip to Berkeley would have been worth your while this week.

Week 6

Our pick(s): Arizona at Oregon/ASU at USC
Result(s): The Wildcats hand the Ducks their only loss of the season and Scooby Wright III becomes a national name. And then a little something called the Jael Mary.
In retrospect: An unbelievable weekend! Perhaps the greatest weekend for one league in the history of college football. You had the two aforementioned games, Notre Dame’s last-minute win against Stanford, a shootout between Cal and WSU in Pullman, a last-minute slugfest between Utah and UCLA at the Rose Bowl, and Oregon State escapes in Boulder with Mike MacIntyre chasing the officials off the field! I rarely use the word epic. But this week qualified.

Week 7

Our pick: Oregon at UCLA
Result: A dud. Oregon rolled to a 42-30 win, but the game wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
In retrospect: USC at Arizona had all the #Pac12AfterDark craziness we had come to expect. A comeback, an onside kick, a missed last-minute field goal. Plenty of drama in what turned out to be the most exciting game of the week.

Week 8

Our pick: Stanford at Arizona State
Result: The Sun Devils got their vengeance with a 26-10 victory.
In retrospect: UCLA at Cal was all about drama, and Utah at Oregon State went into double-overtime. Either of those would have been the better choice.

Week 9

Our pick: Arizona at Washington State
Result: The 'Cats cruised to a 59-37 win -- their highest offensive output of the season.
In retrospect: Travis Wilson leading a game-winning drive and a last-minute touchdown against USC? Sign us up. Utes complete the LA sweep.

Week 10

Our pick: Stanford at Oregon
Result: The Ducks’ Stanford problem evaporated in the wake of a 45-16 win.
In retrospect: We don’t regret the pick. History was on our side. But Utah-ASU in overtime was by far the more entertaining game.

Week 11

Our pick: Notre Dame at Arizona State
Result: Speaking of picks, Everett Golson anyone? The Sun Devils intercepted Golson four times en route to a 55-31 win.
In retrospect: Pretty slow week. You had the infamous Kaelin Clay fumble that swung the momentum to Oregon. And Luke Falk won his first start against Oregon State. We’ll give it to the Cougs this week over 1) overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit and 2) holding a fourth-quarter lead.

Week 12

Our pick: Free pass
Result: ASU stumbled against Oregon State, Utah topped Stanford in OT, Washington fumbled one away against Arizona and USC (mostly) handled Cal.
In retrospect: This was redemption weekend for Casey Skowron, who hit the game-winning field goal against Washington, and Clay for his OT touchdown against the Cardinal.

Week 13

Our pick: USC at UCLA
Result: UCLA moved to 3-0 against USC in the Jim Mora era as the Trojans forgot to show up in a 38-20 loss.
In retrospect: This was one of the few weekends of the season without much drama. So we’ll just say we got it right with this pick ... even though no pick was really "right."

Week 14

Our pick(s): Stanford at UCLA/Washington at Washington State
Result(s): The Cardinal thwarted UCLA’s South Division hopes and Chris Petersen picked up his first Apple Cup win.
In retrospect: OK, we didn’t know the Territorial Cup was going to decide the South. Our bad. We'll try to do better next year.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
8:00
AM ET
We're not going to Moscow. It's Czechoslovakia. It's like going into Wisconsin.

Leading off

Oregon State has its coach. And while many thought that perhaps a younger coach might take the job -- with the concern that Oregon State would be a stepping-stone job -- it turned out to be the exact opposite. New head coach Gary Andersen used a head coaching job at Wisconsin to catapult himself into the Pac-12. Not a bad strategy.

Here's some stories and reaction from across the Pacific Northwest:

John Canzano of the Oregonian says Andersen is going to bring some toughness to the program. Something it desperately needed. Writes Canzano:
It's Andersen's turn in the warm seat. He comes here after playing for a Big 10 Championship, and posting a 10-win season at Wisconsin. He comes after being blasted 59-0 by Ohio State. He comes, presumably, with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who spent three seasons at Oregon. He also brings a defensive mentality, and toughness.

Oregon State players also had some reactions on social media.



Not surprising, a couple of high-profile Wisconsin running backs also had an opinion.

More Scooby Snacks

Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright can add another one to his trophy case. The sophomore took home the Lombardi Award and spoke with ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli about the honor and a couple of his favorite plays this season.

TG: What’s it been like being honored so much this season?

SW: It’s just been a great ride. I’m just having fun with it. none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for my teammates and coaches. I’m only a representative of the University of Arizona football program. This hardware, whatever you call it, I’m just excited to bring it back home to my teammates.

TG: Favorite play this season?

SW: I’ll give you my two favorite plays. Probably when I sack-stripped [Marcus] Mariota or ASU one of the first drives of the game, I stripped it, scooped it up and scored early in the first quarter.

TG: How much does being under-recruited fuel you?

SW: It definitely fuels me. times I don’t feel like working out and times you don’t feel like doing stuff. You always have to prove doubters wrong. People said I wasn’t going to be an impact player in the Pac-12, I even had some college coaches tell me to go look at Division II schools. It’s always … fueled me … My only Division 1 offer was from Arizona. I’m just enjoying it.

News/notes/team reports
With the regular season over, a number of Pac-12 players with remaining NCAA eligibility are mulling over decisions regarding whether to declare for the NFL draft. Here are some of the key decisions awaiting players from the Pac-12 North. This features some football-only evaluations from ESPN scout Steve Muench. Keep in mind that other factors also influence players' decisions.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a redshirt junior, is obviously the most prominent member of the pack with remaining eligibility, but there's a virtually unanimous consensus on his abilities: He's a top-flight NFL prospect. So here's a look around the rest of the division.

DL Arik Armstead, Oregon

It's easy to understand why the junior is seen as a valuable asset among NFL scouts: Armstead checks in at 6-foot-8, 290 pounds. That's a massive frame oozing with potential, one that could theoretically succeed along the offensive line, too. Armstead, though, has chosen to specialize in work along the defensive front, and he has worked with an Oregon front seven that's peaking at the right time with the College Football Playoff approaching. He leads the Ducks with six quarterback hits, and rumor is that he's planning to declare for the draft.

Muench's take: "Armstead is a very good defensive end/defensive tackle. He's a long, athletic kid who can develop into a pretty good defensive end at the next level. If he comes out, he'll probably go in the first two rounds just because of that frame. It's tough to find a guy who's that big who also carries his frame that well. He's athletic."

DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon

Buckner's intimidating facemask is not his only scary feature. Like Armstead, this guy is massive, as in 6-7, 290. He enjoyed a productive 2014, too, leading Oregon defensive linemen with 69 tackles and the entire team with 12 tackles for loss. Buckner's performance in the Pac-12 championship game was particularly impressive, as he led the Ducks' effort in stonewalling Arizona to the tune of 25 total yards in the first half. He might not be a household name yet, but there've been rumblings from the scouting community that Buckner could be selected in the top two rounds if he declares.

LB/RB Shaq Thompson, Washington

Thompson might be the Pac-12's most interesting draft-eligible player simply because of his versatility. He enjoyed a highlight reel year at Washington, scoring four defensive touchdowns from his original linebacker position before adding 456 yards (7.5 per carry) and two touchdowns from running back. While most experts have tabbed the 6-1, 228-pound Thompson as a defensive contributor at the next level, some think the junior has an offensive future as well.

Muench's take: "Some people are looking at him as a running back, and that's interesting to me, because he does have the size to play there. But if you're looking at defense, I think that's where he fits best, even though he'd be on the smaller side for an NFL linebacker. That's where he's most natural. The NFL needs linebackers who can match up with running backs and athletic guys coming out of the backfield, and I think Shaq Thompson can do that. Working in the phone booth is not his strength, but as a weakside linebacker, I think he won't have to come off the field. He's an athletic, rangy guy who I can see going in the high second round."

WR Devon Cajuste, Stanford

The Cardinal's passing game suffered in 2014, but Cajuste remains an intriguing prospect who has flown under the radar. Academically, he's a senior, but a redshirt year in 2011 gives him 2015 eligibility at Stanford if he chooses to use it. The 6-4, 230-pound Cajuste first earned playing time in David Shaw's offense because his large frame made him an excellent blocker outside. He then started making big catches in 2013. Stanford's staff insists that he's one of the faster players on the team, and if that speed shows up on the stopwatch, more NFL heads will turn.

Muench's take: "The size is so intriguing… I like him, I think he's a big-bodied guy who catches the ball well. I don't think he'll be a second-round pick; he'll be a day three, middle-round guy. He's a matc-up problem for smaller safeties. And if he comes out and runs a 4.5, that's going to be really good for him. If he comes out and runs a 4.4, that will be amazing for him."

LT Andrus Peat, Stanford

The 6-7, 316-pound junior, son of former NFL offensive lineman Todd Peat, has long been projected as a future high-round draft pick. He was the nation's top offensive line prospect coming out of high school in 2012, and his professional pedigree meshes perfectly with his elite size. There has been a report circulating saying Peat is strongly considering returning to Stanford for his senior year, but the big tackle says he hasn't made his decision.

Muench's take: "I hope he does come back. He was one of my favorite prospects coming into this year. He has a chance to be a really good right tackle in the NFL for a long time. But I just haven't seen the development this year. He was a top 20 kind of guy coming into this season. The biggest concern for me is his balance: He's lunging a lot and is occasionally off-balance. Guys will take advantage of that at the next level. For me, I think it's in his best interest to work on staying back on his heels more. For a guy who's so dominant with his physical ability, I'd also like to see more aggressiveness from him."

WR Chris Harper, California

A scout has called this 5-11, 175-pound junior a "poor man's DeSean Jackson." He has succeeded in Sonny Dykes' system with talented quarterback Jared Goff. This season, Harper grabbed 52 passes for 634 yards and six touchdowns. He posted remarkably similar numbers to his counterparts Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs (both also finished with more than 50 catches), and a series of tweets indicated that the entire trio will likely be back in 2015.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
8:00
AM ET
You feel like Marky Mark looks.

Leading off

Lots of playoff chatter this week, for obvious reasons. And another trend story that's popping up lately is how things would have looked under the old BCS system. It would feature Alabama versus Florida State in the national title game, and the Oregon Ducks, ranked No. 2 by the College Football Playoff Committee, would have had to win the day in a lesser BCS bowl game. So, safe to say, the Pac-12 has benefited from the new four-team system.

Matt Hayes of the Sporting News touches on this in his notebook column, and also hits on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's soon-to-be Heisman Trophy.

Here's a look at how the final rankings played out side-by-side.



And in another Oregon-esque news, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said the Ducks were the toughest opponent he faced all season. Here's what he told the BTN:
Oregon was a great great opponent, great offense, great defense, they had the uptempo offense that was pretty hard to stop. They have a great defense with a great front seven, talented DBs, and playing in Autzen (Stadium) was very difficult as well.

I remember someone saying a few weeks back that Oregon's defense was going to look a lot stronger statistically in the second-half of the season. Who was that ...?

Another major award (It's almost Christmas, I couldn't pass up linking this)

For a conference that supposedly doesn't play a lot of defense, there sure are some big-time defensive awards going around the Pac-12.

First it was Arizona's Scooby Wright III taking home the Bronco Nagurski Award. Tuesday it was UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks being named the winner of the Butkus Award.

If you haven't seen the video yet of him being surprised with the award, you can watch it here. It's as awesome as awesome gets.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

This will be Oregon's look at the Rose Bowl.

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