Pac-12: Utah Utes

Pac-12 morning links

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
AM ET
If you use more than 5 percent of your brain you don't want to be on earth.

Leading off

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

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

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

Ifo out

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

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

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

9. Andy Phillips game-winning FG vs. UCLA

video

A 29-yard field goal attempt is cake for Andy Phillips. But with the Utes trailing by one point with 37 seconds remaining, this wasn't exactly a stroll in the park.

The three previous plays had only managed 5 yards, all on the ground. It all resulted in a fourth-and-5 and Phillips shining moment. But, as he had done so many times already in the 2014 season (and as he would do so many more times this season), Phillips was cool and collected, nailing the 29-yarder.

Phillips' field goal didn't completely seal the game for the Utes. The Bruins were able to go 36 yards in six plays, setting up Ka'imi Fairbairn to attempt a 50-yard field goal. But it was short and the unranked Utes managed to upset then-No. 8 UCLA in Pasadena.

“I've never understood what the word 'signature win' is, but this is a big win for us on the road,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

8. Jerry Neuheisel putting the Bruins on his back in Texas

When UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley got injured on the second offensive drive for the Bruins, there was certainly a sinking feeling in Arlington. The depth behind Hundley was, well, limited and coach Jim Mora would be turning to sophomore Jerry Neuheisel, who had only attempted 13 passes total during his UCLA career.

But what Neuheisel did was nothing short of spectacular. He led the Bruin offense, completing 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Though, the crowning play -- and one that made him look like a true veteran -- was the game-winning 33-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton. The touchdown and ensuing PAT pulled the Bruins ahead 20-17 and the ensuing defensive series (holding the Longhorns to just 3 yards and a punt) kept No. 12 UCLA in the playoff conversation.

Neuheisel's play was also an early signifier as to how good the quarterback depth was in the Pac-12. Though we'd eventually go on to see Mike Bercovici, Luke Falk and Kendal Thompson/Travis Wilson (pick your starter and your back up), they'd all be referenced back to Neuheisel as he was kind of the starting point for the backup QB conversation after this performance against Texas.

7. Cal touchdowns against Stanford #Pac12refs

Oh, Pac-12 refs. Hell hath no furry like fans scorned. And there were several Pac-12 fan bases scorned this season. But Cal? Oh boy.

The Pac-12 announced on Nov. 25 that the officiating crew for the Stanford-Cal game made two mistakes and it cost the Bears a third-quarter touchdown. The replay crew overturned two touchdowns and the Pac-12 later decided that there was actually not enough evidence to overturn either of those calls.

A release stated that the "replay crew will be held accountable for the errors through the Conference's disciplinary process."

Just a month and a half before these unfortunate errors, NFL referee Tony Corrente resigned as the league's coordinator of football officiating. To say that it wasn't the greatest year for #Pac12refs would be an understatement. Better luck next year (because seriously, it can't get much worse).

Other defining moments:

Pac-12 morning links

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
8:00
AM ET
Because you know I'm all about that bass, 'bout that bass.

Leading off

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

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

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

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

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

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

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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

Pac-12 morning links

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
8:00
AM ET
Bye bye Li'l Sebastian;
Miss you in the saddest fashion.
Bye bye Li'l Sebastian;
You’re 5,000 candles in the wind.

Leading off

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

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

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

Future looks bright

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

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

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

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Good one, Kyle.



Pretty sweet.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
8:00
AM ET
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 ...
Marcus Mariota's Oregon career has included decidedly few interceptions and decidedly little drama. The Ducks' quarterback has been machine-like in his efficiency, providing superb stats but not much suspense.

Suspense should be in short supply Saturday night in New York during the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Mariota and fellow Heisman finalists Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and Amari Cooper of Alabama will sit nervously next to each other as the winner is announced. But deep down, all three know it will be Mariota, who picked up two more honors -- the Maxwell Award and the Davey O'Brien Award -- Thursday at the Home Depot College Football Awards at Disney World.

As a Heisman voter, I'm not allowed to reveal my vote until after the ceremony. But I can make predictions about the voting: it'll be Mariota in a landslide.

The Heisman was a legitimate two-man race entering championship weekend, as Mariota and Gordon both had strong cases. Then Mariota had his typical performance in the Pac-12 championship (313 pass yards, five total touchdowns), while Gordon was bottled up in the Big Ten title game (76 rush yards, no touchdowns).

Pac-12 morning links

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
8:00
AM ET
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
PM ET
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, several Pac-12 players with remaining NCAA eligibility are mulling decisions regarding whether or not to declare for the NFL draft. Here are some of the key decisions awaiting players from the Pac-12 South. This features some football-only evaluations from ESPN scout Steve Muench. Keep in mind that other factors also influence players' choices.

For our earlier look at Pac-12 North players, click here.

QB Brett Hundley, UCLA

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley has a lot of traits that NFL scouts like.
The Bruins' dual-threat quarterback has another year of eligibility remaining, but he has indicated that he'll likely declare for the 2015 NFL draft. The professional scouting community has offered mixed takes on Hundley. His size and athleticism are unquestioned, but his pocket passing presence has been questioned throughout his time in Westwood. A couple weeks ago, Stanford coach David Shaw noted that "it has all come together" for Hundley this season.

Muench's take: "You hear that he drops his eyes when he's under pressure, which is a huge no-no for a quarterback. I personally think that flaw is way overdone and inflated... When you go back and watch tape, you can tell he's often waiting for his receivers to get separation. That being said, he does have to work on his accuracy. If you put him with the right QB coach, he'll be OK; he just has to develop his footwork with regard to accuracy... His upside is big."

WR Jordan Payton, UCLA

The 6-foot-1, 213-pound junior has enjoyed a true breakout season for UCLA, catching 63 passes for 896 yards and seven touchdowns. Scouts have raved about the strength of his hands and his ability to win one-on-one battles. The consensus is that Payton is an intriguing prospect who has the potential to contribute in some capacity when it comes to the NFL.

Muench's take: "When I watched [Payton] run after the catch in the ASU game, I was very impressed. He has good size, particularly strength, for a receiver. He's a big, physical guy that can use his hands to separate. ... He still needs to work on his route running, but there's enough there to be intrigued about what he can do."

WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State

"Aptly named" might be the best way to describe this 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver, who frequented highlight reels with a steady dose of sensational catches in 2014. Strong is a redshirt junior, so he can still return to Tempe for one more season, but scouts generally speak of him as a second-round NFL draft pick, so there's a potentially promising NFL future here. Along with Payton, he led the Pac-12 in reception average among receivers with more than 50 catches (14.2 per catch). Strong's versatile teammate DJ Foster is also a player to watch.

Muench's take: "One thing that's interesting to me about Jaelen Strong: At least once a game, he makes a catch that causes me to say, 'Dear Lord, how did he do that?'... He has the ability to make unbelievable catches. He is a little inconsistent with his ball skills, and I don't know what he's going to run yet. ... But he's another big receiver that does make outstanding, highlight-reel catches."

WR Cayleb Jones, Arizona

This redshirt sophomore transferred to Arizona from Texas before the 2013 season, and he certainly impressed in 2014, racking up 65 catches for 902 yards and nine touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Jones features prototypical NFL size, so his successful campaign certainly grabbed the attention of folks at the next level, who have noted that he uses his size well to shield defenders.

Muench's take: "I put on Austin Hill tape, but the entire time I'm watching it, I'm thinking Cayleb Jones is the one truly jumping out. He's a developing route-runner, but he's good -- it's hard to see a guy his size who can make that crisp out-cut, and he can. ... He's a bigger target, and right now a little bit lean. But he's a good route-runner, he catches the ball well, and he's good enough to stretch the field."

DL Leonard Williams, USC

[+] EnlargeWilliams
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesUSC junior Leonard Williams could be a top-five pick in the 2015 NFL draft, should he declare.
Simply put, Williams is one of the most talented defensive players in the country. At 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds he's a physical beast, and the combination of that and his football instincts will make him a very coveted player whenever he declares for the NFL draft. There's a very good chance that will be coming soon, as some mock drafts have listed the junior as a top-five selection following a disruptive season, even in the face of double teams. Williams says he's still on the fence regarding his decision.

Muench's take: "He's the top prospect on our board overall. Obviously, Marcus Mariota will challenge him for that first overall pick, because he's been outrageous. But Williams can play inside or outside, and he has great hands and speed for a player his size. There's no such thing as a lock, but he's one of the safer picks of this draft just because of how destructive he is. And he's really solid against the run."

RB Javorius Allen, USC

It's odd that a USC running back could fly under the radar, but that was the case with Buck Allen, who tacked on 442 receiving yards onto a rock-solid running resume: 1,337 yards (5.3 per carry) and nine touchdowns. Some analysts have drawn comparisons between the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Allen and former Washington running back Bishop Sankey. Allen has the size-speed combination that's appealing to the NFL; he said he'll base his decision on the draft grade that he receives.

WR Nelson Agholor, USC

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior developed explosive chemistry with Kessler this season, approaching the century mark in receptions (97) for 1,223 yards. He also hauled in 11 touchdowns and continued in his role as a dangerous punt returner, taking two of those kicks for touchdowns. Scouts have indicated that Agholor would fit in perfectly as a No. 3 wide receiver in the NFL. He has yet to announce his 2015 intentions.

Muench's take: " I love his ability to accelerate. He's smooth route-unner in and out of the break. The biggest concern for me is that his ball skills are a bit inconsistent. He doesn't field the ball cleanly all the time... He has some big play ability, but doesn't have a great frame to win one-on-one battles... I see him as a No. 3 slot receiver who can make plays in the NFL, but not as a star on the next level."

QB Cody Kessler, USC

Kessler is in a similar boat as Allen: After an impressive season statistically, he's waiting to hear his draft grade before making a decision regarding 2015. The redshirt junior lit up the scoreboard in several Trojans games this past season. He finished with 36 touchdown passes and four interceptions, becoming the only quarterback in the nation to attempt more than 400 passes while throwing fewer than five interceptions.

Muench's take: "Kessler has had a much better year than last year; he's made a huge jump. That TD-to-INT ratio is outstanding. He's making better decisions and is quicker getting the ball out of his hand. At 6-foot-1, he doesn't have a great frame. There could be a lot of buzz surrounding him heading into next year if he sticks around."

RB Devontae Booker, Utah

Booker was extremely productive in his first season on the field in Salt Lake City. His 1,350 rushing yards were good for second in the Pac-12. His 5-foot-11, 203-pound frame is able to generate some power on top of his solid speed, so "dynamic" is a word that's been used to describe him. He's a junior, but there's been some talk of Booker being a mid-round pick. One NFL scout compared him to Houston Texans running back Arian Foster.

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.

The Arizona Wildcats can thump their chest all they want … at least for now. They are the Pac-12 South champs until proven otherwise. Just like Arizona State was … before Arizona proved otherwise. Just like UCLA was, before ASU proved otherwise.

Being proven otherwise, however, seems to be turning into an annual tradition in the South, which has had three different winners in the last three years. And if you thought the division was crazy in 2014, hang on, because it might plunge itself deeper into capricious insanity in 2015 and beyond.

"It's anybody's guess," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham when asked to handicap the South next season. "But I have to believe it's one of the toughest divisions in all of college football. It was very close this year, obviously. We had a lot of teams lumped up there at the top. Every year is its own entity and set of circumstances. I can't speak to next year. But right now it's anybody's guess."

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriQuarterback Anu Solomon will return in 2015 to Pac-12 South champion Arizona, but the division will be wide open.
The South heads into the postseason with five of its six teams ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25; Arizona (10), UCLA (14), ASU (15), Utah (22) and USC (24). Of course, the North continues to claim the ultimate bragging rights, having won every conference title since the league moved to a divisional format in 2011. This year was no exception with Oregon blasting the ‘Cats in the title game.

But the 2014 season saw a clear power shift within the depth of the conference. For the first time since expansion, the South had a winning record against its northern counterparts, going 15-10.

"The South has definitely resurged," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "Every game against those guys is difficult. Trying to handicap it for next year would be like trying to handicap this year. It's impossible."

Adding to the impossibility is that five of the six teams in the division are likely to return a quarterback with substantial starting experience. Barring any surprise defections, draft declarations or injuries, only UCLA will be without a quarterback with significant time as a starter.

"Once again, that means you are going to see offenses executed extremely well week in and week out," said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team is the only one in the division not ranked in the Top 25. "All the quarterbacks in somehow, someway, have broken records at their school. You're looking at quality players coming back that can score points each Saturday."

Given the Trojans historical success, it seems almost shocking that USC is yet to win a division title. Maybe that changes as the Trojans roster slowly starts to rebuild itself in the post-sanctions era. Maybe not. The trio of previous victors -- all with head coaches who were hired following the 2011 season -- show no indication of slowing down. Plus the Utes are on the rise and Colorado is putting a more competitive product on the field. The Buffs were "in" seven of their nine conference games. Anyone think they are going to be worse next year?

"The thing that can happen is any team in the South can beat any team," MacIntyre said. "I think that's where it's at. We had double-overtime with UCLA and definitely could have won it. We were in there with everyone (in the South) except USC. There's a lot of parity, but there is also high-caliber football."

Meanwhile up North, the divide might be growing. The Ducks will have to find a replacement for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota (oh come on, like it's not going to happen) and we're not exactly sure what we're going to get from the Cardinal. You have to imagine things will be smoother in Year 2 of the Chris Petersen era at Washington, but there will be losses on defense. Shaw pointed to Cal as a team on the rise, but defense will again be a concern. So outside of Oregon, you have to question which North team could do the most damage against the South. Oregon State will have a new coach. Washington State is still rebuilding. The Ducks were the only team up North to be ranked. And even if the Cardinal thump Maryland in their bowl game, the chances of them finishing ranked are slim.

"We've got a lot of guys coming back so I know we'll be in the mix," Shaw said. "But I know this, next year will be as crazy as it was this year. And in the South, I don't know who has the edge. But it's going to be exciting."

That's a safe assumption ... until proven otherwise.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
8:00
AM ET
Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes, really: pressure and time.

Leading off

That sweat on your temples ... that nervousness in your stomach ... that compulsion to clasp all of your fingers together in the shape of an "O" ... that's called playoff fever. And if you cheer for the team in Eugene, Oregon, chances are you've got it.

After months of projections and polls, the first-ever College Football Playoff bracket was announced, and the Oregon Ducks got the No. 2 seed and will play Florida State in a national semifinal at the Rose Bowl.

Here's some reaction: More bowls

video
The Arizona Wildcats headline the rest of the Pac-12 bowl slate with an in-state trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where they'll face Boise State. Here's a quick reaction from Rich Rodriguez in a statement from the school:
"I’m really happy for our players, staff and especially our fans. We have a lot of fans and alumni in Phoenix and hopefully everyone else in Tucson can get up there. It should be nice for the players' families, too, because it is a nice time of the year here in Arizona."

Probably doesn't hurt recruiting in the area, either.

Here’s the complete bowl lineup for the conference.
  • No. 22 Utah vs. Colorado State, Saturday, Dec. 20, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
  • No. 15 Arizona State vs. Duke, Saturday, Dec. 27, 'Devil Bowl (just kidding; it’s the Hyundai Sun Bowl).
  • No. 24 USC vs. Nebraska, Saturday, Dec. 27, National University Holiday Bowl
  • Stanford vs. Maryland, Tuesday, Dec. 30, Foster Farms Bowl
  • No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 20 Boise State, Wednesday, Dec. 31, VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
  • No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State, Thursday, Jan. 1, Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern
  • No. 14 UCLA vs. No. 11 Kansas State, Friday, Jan. 2, Valero Alamo Bowl
  • Washington vs. Oklahoma State, Friday, Jan. 2, TicketCity Cactus Bowl
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Normally, this would be a breakout item, because it's about how the coaches voted in their poll. However, we're putting it in "Just for Fun" because Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was the lone coach not to have Oregon in the top 4. And that's just funny.

Throwback Monday.

 
UTAH UTES (8-4) vs. COLORADO STATE RAMS (10-2)
DEC. 20, 3:30 P.M. ET, SAM BOYD STADIUM, LAS VEGAS (ABC)


UTAH BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Are the Utes the true kings of Los Angeles? Thrilling last-minute wins at UCLA and home to USC suggest they are. Utah looked very much the part of a Pac-12 team, competing for the South Division title (arguably the toughest division in college football) up until the final weeks. Besides topping the L.A. schools, Utah also beat brand-name programs like Stanford and Michigan.

Season lowlights: Many will look to the Kaelin Clay fumble against Oregon. And that would be fair. No one likes being a national punch line. The home loss to Washington State early in the year was shocking, as was kicker “Automatic” Andy Phillips missing an overtime field goal in the loss to ASU. But the Utes will tell you the lowlight was a 42-10 thumping at the hands of Arizona. It knocked them out of South contention and was their worst loss of the year.

Player to watch: Hybrid defensive end Nate Orchard has been one of the most dominating defensive players in the country in 2014. He leads the nation with an average of 1.46 sacks per game and is second nationally with a total of 17.5 on the year. Running backs have felt his wrath, too, as he’s tallied 20 tackles for loss, which ranks third in the Pac-12. But he’s not just a backfield specialist. He averages 6.8 tackles per game and has 81 stops (51 solo) on the season.

Motivation: The Utes missed the postseason the previous two years, but are now back for the 11th time in 14 seasons. Head coach Kyle Whittingham is 7-1 in bowl games, which includes a win as co-head coach in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. So playing in a bowl should be motivation enough. For nine straight weeks the Utes have led the nation in sacks, averaging 4.33 per game. That’s a streak #SackLakeCity would like to extend in the postseason.
-- Kevin Gemmell

vs.
COLORADO STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: This was a breakthrough year for the Rams, and they just lost their head coach, Jim McElwain, to Florida because of it. Colorado State had finished 3-9 in three consecutive seasons prior to McElwain’s arrival, but their win total reached 10 in 2014. The Rams’ offense ranked 13th nationally while averaging 498 yards per game, and that helped fuel a nine-game win streak. A comeback victory at Boston College helped unleash that tear. And a win against in-state rival Colorado to kick off the season is always a big deal in Fort Collins.

Season lowlights: They didn’t know it at the time, but after losing 37-24 to Boise State in Week 2, the Rams were eliminated from title contention in the Mountain Division because the Broncos would only lose one more time the rest of the way. That was a rough setback on the blue turf for Colorado State, as Boise State grabbed a 37-10 lead after three quarters. A 27-24 loss to Air Force in the finale was painful, too. The Rams failed on a fourth-and-short before the Falcons kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired.

Players to watch: Keep an eye on Colorado State’s offensive Big Three. Quarterback Garrett Grayson has been a consistent 300-yard-per-game performer, tossing 32 touchdowns against only six interceptions. That’s helped running back Dee Hart put up some gaudy numbers (6.7 yards per carry, 16 TDs), and it’s gone well with receiver Rashard Higgins’ monster year (89 catches, 1,640 yards, 17 TDs). Higgins leads the nation in receiving yards.

Motivation: It’s always interesting to see how a team responds in bowl season after losing its head coach, and that’ll be the Colorado State question moving forward under interim man Dave Baldwin. This has been an excellent Rams run, and there’s great offensive leadership on this team, so the guess here is that they’ll be pumped up to play.
-- David Lombardi

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

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