Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Pac-12 lunch links

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday! Happy August! Football happens this month.
Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.

SportsNation

Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?

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    40%
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    23%
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    10%
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    6%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,609)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.
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 12.

Thursday, Nov. 13
Saturday, Nov. 15
My choice: Free pass

Why: Only two-thirds of the league is active this week, so rather than force-feeding a game down you’re throat, we’re going to leave you to your own devices and pick the game that is best for you. The Pac-12 blog isn’t copping out by not picking one. But rather all four have their own element of interest that it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong. So Sean Hein, go to Tucson with a clear conscious and enjoy the game.

For starters, you have the Bears visiting the Coliseum. I’m just as curious as everyone else to see what both teams are going to look like this late in the season. Has Cal found its footing with Sonny Dykes and are all of those yards the offenses is gaining translating into points? Or is his seat hotter? And we’re nearing the end of Steve Sarkisian’s first season as USC’s head coach. With a big game against UCLA looming next week, it’s going to be interesting to see exactly where the Trojans are at this late in the game.

The last time Washington went to Tucson, the Huskies got whipped 52-17 behind four Matt Scott touchdown passes. Last year they returned the favor with a win at home -- though it’s safe to say those trips to the desert haven’t treated the Huskies well the last couple of seasons. By this point in the season, chances are these two teams will be jockeying for bowl placement, adding an extra element of excitement for both fan bases.

The same can be said for ASU’s trip to Oregon State. Unless there has been catastrophic setbacks, both of these teams will likely be bowl eligible by this point in the season (or will need this game to become bowl eligible) so any game down the stretch takes a sense of urgency. And when you combine two of the top quarterbacks in the league in Sean Mannion and Taylor Kelly, you have the makings of an exciting offensive showdown.

And finally there is a rematch of one of the biggest upsets in the Pac-12 last season. If Arizona over Oregon was No. 1, then Utah over Stanford was 1A. Yet despite getting that “signature” win they’d been looking for since joining the league, the Utes weren’t able to capitalize on it as they were plagued (again) with quarterback injuries. The Pac-12 blog was extremely impressed with the game plan then-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson cooked up for the Cardinal. It will be interesting to see if Dave Christensen takes a similar tack.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.

Best cross-conference recruiting battles 

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
8:25
AM ET
Some recruits get attention from all over the country. Whether it’s their prowess or proximity to multiple teams, top prospects will have schools from multiple conferences pursuing them. ESPN.com’s conference recruiting reporters look at five players in the recently updated ESPN 300 who have different conferences after them and have recruiting battles that could carry throughout the fall.

NOTE: For battles with multiple teams, reporters chose reported leaders or best fits.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
2:30
PM ET
There's a place up ahead and I'm goin'. Just as fast as my feet can fly. Come away, come away if you're goin'. Leave the sinkin' ship behind.
video
While one recruit will never truly make or break a recruiting class, some come closer than others. Every Pac-12 program has a must-get recruit in mind, whether it's a national standout whose commitment would rock the recruiting landscape, a star at a position where that program simply cannot miss, or a local prospect who can't be allowed to leave the area.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

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

No. 20: Washington DT Danny Shelton

2013 stats: Started all 13 games, made a career-high 59 tackles, recorded a pair of sacks and blocked two kicks.

Why he's ranked here: The first of four Washington defensive players who will appear during the countdown, Shelton -- who is listed at 6-foot-2, 339 pounds -- is as imposing a defensive lineman as can be found in the country. An All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection a year ago, he enters his senior year with 115 career tackles and is an elite defender against the run.

Shelton has started the past 28 games for the Huskies, including a stretch last year in which he played through a left shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. If Washington takes the next step under new coach Chris Petersen, Shelton will likely be a main reason. Looking down the road, he has the potential to be one of the first defensive tackles selected in the 2015 NFL draft and has also twice been named first-team Academic All-Pac-12.

No. 19: Oregon State OL Isaac Seumalo

2013 stats: Integral part of the offensive line that blocked for QB Sean Mannion as he set the Pac-12 single-season record with 4,662 yards passing.

Why he's ranked here: From the day Seumalo stepped foot onto the Corvallis, Oregon, campus, he has been one of the Beavers’ best players. He didn’t redshirt in 2012, has started all 25 games he’s played in and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection a year ago playing predominately at center. He’s already been named to the preseason watch lists for the Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award. Where Seumalo winds up on the line this year -- he started a pair of games at right tackle last year -- is still to be determined and will likely have as much to do with the development around him as anything else.

At Pac-12 media days last week, Oregon State coach Mike Riley said he’s thinking of pairing Seumalo with Sean Harlow at the two guard positions. “I'd like that picture physically inside against all the interior guys that we see in there,” Riley said. It could take some time before that situation gets ironed out because Seumalo is still recovering from a foot injury he suffered during the Hawaii Bowl that kept him out of spring practice. Riley doesn’t anticipate the injury will keep him out during the regular season, but didn’t rule out the possibility he could sit the first week against Portland State.

18. Washington CB Marcus Peters

2013 stats: Recorded 55 tackles, 5 interceptions, defended 14 passes and recovered 2 fumbles.

Why he's ranked here: Along with USC defensive end Leonard Williams (first team), Peters (second) was one of two defensive players to receive first- or second-team All-Pac-12 honors as a sophomore last season. His five interceptions (tied for fifth) and 14 passes defended (tied for first) were among the best numbers in the conference. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Peters the Huskies’ most important player on defense this season as the lone returning starter in the secondary. For new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, Peters will ideally serve as a measure of consistency while the rest of the secondary takes shape early in the season.

Peters has the attention of NFL scouts, too. Among underclassmen, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Peters as the No. 2 corner in the country Insider and currently has him as the No. 19 player on the Way-Too-Early 2015 Big Board Insider. Peters has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

17. Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha

2013 stats: Among the conference leaders with 13 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.

Why he's ranked here: What Shelton means to the Huskies on the interior, Kikaha means to the pass rush. In 13 games a year ago, Kikaha recorded 13 sacks to rank second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford's Trent Murphy, who led the nation with 15. Not only did his sack total rank second in the conference last year, but it fell just 1.5 sacks shy of Jason Chorak’s single-season school record from 1996.

Kikaha finished last season on a high note when he was named defensive MVP of the Fight Hunger Bowl after he registered three sacks, nine tackles and a forced fumble in Washington’s win against BYU. With an inexperienced secondary playing behind him, Kikaha’s role as a pass-rusher will be even more important this year, especially considering the level of quarterback play expected across the conference.

16. Stanford S Jordan Richards

2013 stats: Recorded 69 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and defended 3 passes.

Why he's ranked here: The top-ranked safety in the conference (at this point Richards is still a more proven commodity than USC's Su'a Cravens), Richards will be an All-American candidate playing in what has the potential to be one of Stanford’s best secondaries in years. Even playing next to Ed Reynolds last season, who left early for the NFL and was drafted by Philadelphia in the fifth round, Richards proved to be the most consistent player in the Cardinal’s secondary. He’s fast enough to stay with players in coverage and strong enough to step into the box and help against the run.

Richards is currently on the watch lists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Award and was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection the past two seasons. With Reynolds gone, Richards will see extended playing time next to a different safety for the first time in his Stanford career. As things sit, Kyle Olugbode, Zach Hoffpauir and Kodi Whitfield figure to be the top three candidates for that role and none of them has much experience -- or in Whitfield’s case, no experience as a safety in college football.

The countdown

25-21: 25. Stanford DE Henry Anderson; 24. Utah WR Dres Anderson; 23. USC S Su'a Cravens; 22. Oregon RB Byron Marshall; 21. Arizona WR Austin Hill
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
PM ET
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.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team’s nonconference opponents in 2014. (Note, we'll take a break from the series for a couple of days to focus on media days coverage. We'll pick up with UCLA on Friday).

STANFORD

UC Davis Aggies, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Ron Gould (5-7), second year
  • 2013 record: 5-7, 5-3, Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Eight offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Gabe Manzanares was the Big Sky newcomer of the year season, rushing for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also earned third-team all-conference honors along the way.
  • Defensive headliner: An all-conference honorable mention last season, linebacker Steven Pitts posted 74 stops, including a team high 11.5 tackles for a loss. He also had four sacks to go with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • The skinny: Cal fans might recall Gould from his days with the Bears, where he helped develop, among others, Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. The Aggies return four of five starters on the offensive line and a talented running back in Manzanares. The defensive line needs to be rebuilt and they have to replace quarterback Randy Wright. Expect Davis to rely heavily on the run game.
Army Black Knights, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Jeff Monken, first season
  • 2013 record:3-9, Independent
  • Returning starters: 10 offense, 16 defense (that’s not a typo, that’s what they list).
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Terry Baggett led the team with 141 carries for 1,113 yards and eight touchdowns last year, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and 92.8 yards per game.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive lineman Mike Ugenyi led all of Army’s defensive linemen last year with 39 stops, including 6.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
  • The skinny: Despite the coaching change, the Knights will continue to run the triple-option. Monken tallied a 38-16 record when he was at Georgia Southern and advanced to the FCS semifinals three times before helping the team transition into the Sun Belt Conference and FBS play. Army didn’t exactly give Stanford trouble last year. But it wasn’t a walk-over for the Cardinal, either.
At Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Saturday, Oct. 4
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (37-14), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 9-4, Independent
  • Returning starters: Five offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Center Nick Martin, recently added to the Rimington watch list for the nation’s best center, missed spring ball recovering from a knee injury last season. But when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the country.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell returns after posting 51 tackles last year, including 1.5 for a loss. He had one interception and led the team with nine passes defended while also recovering a fumble.
  • The skinny: This will be the first of three games between Pac-12 schools and Notre Dame, who face Arizona State and USC in November. The last time these teams played in South Bend, well, you remember. It was a controversial ending that kept the Irish undefeated. But it also fueled the Cardinal’s Rose Bowl run. No doubt, David Shaw & Co. haven’t forgotten.
Thoughts: The Cardinal have an unusual layout to the first half of their season. They open with a nonconference game and then have a conference game in between the other two for the first six games. They have the Trojans in between Davis and Army and a trip to Seattle in between Army and the visit to Notre Dame. Stanford has some of its toughest games on the road this season -- including trips to Tempe, Eugene and Pasadena, and factoring in a trip to South Bend isn't easy. It’s also probably frustrating for local fans to see the Bill Walsh Legacy game with San Jose State put on hiatus. And hopefully the schools can come to an agreement to bring that game back. But for now, the Cardinal should be able to handle Davis and Army. The Aggies probably won’t provide a very good proxy for the Trojans, so Stanford had best be ready to work in Week 2. The Notre Dame game is just a fun rivalry that will likely feature two ranked teams. There are two wins here for sure, and more than likely a third if the Cardinal can shake off the South Bend demons from 2012.
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.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 11, 2014
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