Pac-12: Utah Utes

Top 2014 performances: Nate Orchard

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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We continue our series looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2014. If you feel a little nostalgic, you can check out the top performances from 2013.

Up next: Brett Hundley is the fruit of this Orchard

Who and against whom: Utah defensive end Nate Orchard turned in his "Hello, World" performance in the Utes' 30-28 upset win at No. 8 UCLA.

The numbers: Orchard tied a school record with four sacks and recorded a career-high 11 tackles in the Utes' victory.

A closer look: Orchard would go on to win the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive end and earn All-American honors and the Utes would end up nationally ranked, but neither party was much of a known quantity coming into this game, particularly after Utah lost at home to Washington State the previous weekend. Yet Orchard was the most dominating player on the field -- his 11 tackles (eight solo) also registering as a co-game-high with UCLA's inside LB Eric Kendricks. Two of his sacks came in the fourth quarter and helped the Utes hold the Bruins to three consecutive three-and-outs. His 8-yard sack on third down stopped the first drive of the quarter and his 6-yard sack on first down in the third series of the quarter was the first of three consecutive sacks for the Utes. The performance earned Orchard Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week honors and moved him into the national lead in sacks per game, a distinction he would retain at season's end. Said fellow defensive end Hunter Dimick after the game, "The dude is just a freak athlete."

Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns

January, 26, 2015
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Here's a look at how programs in the Pac-12 are faring on the recruiting trail heading into national signing day on Feb. 4.

Arizona

Commitments: 28

ESPN 300 commitments: 1

Who they have: The Wildcats hit it big with their top two commitments in ESPN 300 offensive tackle Keenan Walker and ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Anthony Fotu. Arizona also will add four-star tackle Cody Creason, three-star tackle Harper Sherman and three-star guards Alex Kosinski and Nathan Eldrige to the offensive line. There are a number of skill players on both sides of the ball, including running backs Orlando Bradford and Darick Holmes Jr., cornerbacks Shun Brown, Anthony Mariscal, Samuel Morrison and Dane Cruikshank, wide receiver Cedric Peterson and athletes Antonio Parks and Brion Anduze.

Who they want: There aren't many spots left in this class for the Wildcats, but there are a few important names left on the board. The wide receiver spot could see another addition with Jaylinn Hawkins, though rival Arizona State will put up a fight there. Arizona also will look to continue its run of success in Louisiana, as teammates Arthur McGinnis and Darrell Clark (New Orleans/Warren Easton) are two of the top prospects left for the Wildcats, as well as teammates of Arizona commit Kendal Franklin.



To read the rest of our Pac-12 recruiting class breakdowns, click here Insider.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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And in the morning, I'm making' waffles.

Leading off:

The 2015 Senior Bowl has come and gone, and there were plenty of great showings from Pac-12 players. Here's a brief compilation of some of the content you can find regarding the event:
  • CBSSports' Senior Bowl stock report of 10 players who looked good -- one Beaver shows up on this list and it's not the one you're thinking of ...
  • FOX Sports made a list of guys who helped their NFL draft stock the most. On this listing you've got a Husky and a Ute (these are probably the ones you're thinking of).
  • Sports Illustrated had some similar praise to that of FOX Sports. SI's Chris Burke writes that "[Danny] Shelton's showing for the North team solidified his status as a likely first-round pick."
  • The Atlanta Journal Constitution put together a photo gallery of the weekend.
  • Former Wazzu receiver Vince Mayle does a video interview for the Senior Bowl.
  • Former UCLA defensive lineman Owamagbe Odighizuwa also did a video interview at the Senior Bowl.
  • Catching up with Sean Mannion following the Senior Bowl.
  • Henry Anderson wrote six "diary" entries from AL.com during Senior Bowl week. You can check all of them out right here.
  • Nate Orchard picked up some MOP honors at the Senior Bowl.
News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun:

There was some #Pac12Trolling happening Sunday as former Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton decided to comment on Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong's autograph session. Always nice to see a few (fun) shots taken between teammates when it comes to this kind of stuff.

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Also, if anyone has a chance, check out Sutton's photo at the top of his Twitter page. It's pretty fantastic. Especially if you're a fan of The Lion King ...

Best of the visits: Pac-12

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
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It was another big weekend for visits in the Pac-12, as programs are looking to line up strong finishes in the run up to signing day on Feb. 4.

Bruins looking to close with Clark

UCLA and Michigan are in a neck-and-neck battle for ESPN 300 tight end Chris Clark. And after visiting the Wolverines two weekends ago, Clark was in Los Angeles this weekend.


The Bruins also received some help from former UCLA and current Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis.


Clark would be a significant addition for either program, and the Bruins are hoping they can sway him into becoming the lone true tight end on the roster and a potential immediate-impact player.

UCLA also hosted LSU offensive line commit Maea Teuhema. The nation's No. 71 overall prospect has been committed to the Tigers since February, but the Bruins are looking to make the nation's No. 2 offensive guard part of their strong finish in the state of Texas.


And although not from Texas -- but close enough -- ESPN 300 offensive guard Josh Wariboko could also be part of a massive closing stretch for UCLA. The No. 105 overall prospect was in Los Angeles for the B2G West Coast Bowl over the weekend and had an opportunity to spend time with UCLA commits Colin Samuel and Bolu Olorunfunmi.

Sun Devils host two standouts

Arizona State hosted ESPN 300 defenders Rasheem Green and Porter Gustin this weekend, and the Sun Devils look to be in competition with USC for both prospects.


While Arizona State hasn't been discussed much in terms of top classes during this recruiting cycle, Todd Graham's program has an opportunity to close in a big way with some impact prospects still on the board. And speaking of impact, Green had an opportunity during his visit to meet an NFL superstar who can make an impact with any recruit (regardless of the typo in his last name).

Oregon State's big weekend

The new Oregon State coaches hit the ground running when they took over the program after Mike Riley took much of his staff with him to Nebraska. Gary Andersen's staff has reshaped much of the recruiting class and added a big one recently when they were able to flip defensive end Keivonnis Davis from his Syracuse commitment. Davis was on his official visit this weekend and took some time to get to know the Oregon State mascot.


Oregon State is also in on fellow defensive end Simi Moala, who holds offers from Miami, Utah and Washington State. At 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, Moala is an intriguing prospect along the defensive line.

Cal hopes to catch another

The Golden Bears have done well at the wide receiver spot in this class, but head coach Sonny Dykes obviously feels there can't be enough talent at that position on his roster. High three-star Texas receiver A.D. Miller took an official visit to Cal over the weekend and had a simple question for Golden Bears fans.

Utes host commit

Part of Oregon State's recent run on the recruiting trail has come at the expense of Utah, as former Ute assistant coaches made their way to Corvallis and were able to flip two commitments in the process. But Utah still holds a strong class, especially with the recent flip of former Cal commit Johnny Capra. The offensive tackle makes four nice additions at that position for the Utes, including three-star Arizona prospect Nick Carman, who took his official visit to Utah over the weekend.

Daily Social Roundup: CeCe Jefferson stays busy 

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
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Thursday saw activity on social media throughout the country, with coaches on the road, schools collecting commitments and No. 9 overall prospect CeCe Jefferson receiving a visit from one of his finalists.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
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You've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Call it, Friendo.

Two quotes today... because Happy Friday.

Leading off

In case you suffer from football withdrawals at any point this weekend, take solace in the fact that plenty of elite college talent will be suiting up for the Reese's Senior Bowl this Saturday. The Pac-12 is sending an entire gaggle of representatives to this game. Most will be representing the North team, but UCLA's Anthony Jefferson and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will play for the South.

There'll be a nasty collection of defensive line talent on the North team: Think Danny Shelton, Henry Anderson, Hau'oli Kikaha, and Nate Orchard -- all on the same unit. Seeing that group play together should create a fun dynamic for avid Pac-12 fans who have watched those players terrorize quarterbacks over the past few seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion may have a chance to throw to receivers from Stanford (Ty Montgomery) and Washington State (Vince Mayle).

Other Pac-12 representatives: Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw (USC), Eric Rowe (Utah), Damarious Randle and Jamil Douglas (ASU)

This one will feature plenty of hustle, as it's the final live game opportunity for these seniors to raise their NFL Draft stock.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun
Did you know Ronnie Lott played basketball at USC? That guy needs to be on the football team. Sign him up!

Earlier today, we took an early peek at the 2015 Pac-12 North nonconference slate. There's some intrigue in the agenda for the Pac-12 South, too. Here's the breakdown:

September 3-5
UTSA at Arizona
Michigan at Utah
Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (NRG Stadium, Houston)
Arkansas State at USC
Virginia at UCLA
Colorado at Hawaii

Weekend take: There's some early action to salivate over here. Jim Harbaugh will make his Michigan coaching debut on a Thursday night at Utah. It's hard not to love that: The Utes have developed into the same type of physical team that Harbaugh molded at Stanford and likely intends to create in Ann Arbor. Plus, that Rice-Eccles Stadium atmosphere is electric. Now just imagine it at night in front of a football-starved crowd against a traditional college football power. Yum.

With a maturing defense and plenty of experienced, explosive pieces returning on the offensive end, there's a feeling that ASU can do some more damage in 2015. They'll have an early chance to prove that on the massive stage that is Houston's Reliant Stadium against Texas A&M. A Pac-12-SEC matchup is a relative rarity. Think of the last one we had at a gigantic "neutral" site: Oregon-LSU in 2011. This game won't generate the same massive level of hype as that one did, but it's sure to drum up its share of buzz.

The UTSA-Arizona and Virginia-UCLA matchups have a key connecting thread: Those two opponents made the Wildcats and the Bruins sweat last year. There's not a single gimme on this opening weekend slate for the Pac-12 South.

September 12
Arizona at Nevada
Cal Poly at Arizona State
Idaho at USC
UCLA at UNLV
UMass at Colorado
Utah State at Utah

Weekend take: Nevada pushed Arizona deep into their meeting this past season, and that was in Tucson. The Wildcats must be wary entering Reno -- elevation can make for an unpleasant playing experience. Otherwise, the most notable Week 2 nonconference game for the Pac-12 South is the battle of the Beehive State: Utah State has seen plenty of success over the past few seasons, and they'll take their shot at the Utes very seriously. In-state rivalries are fun.

Outside of that, there's not much intrigue here. UCLA fans will get to make the weekend trip up I-15 through the desert to Las Vegas, though. There's some fun in the schedule for the Bruins there.

September 19
Northern Arizona at Arizona
New Mexico at Arizona State
BYU at UCLA
Colorado vs. Colorado State (Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium, Denver)
Utah at Fresno State

Weekend take: They might have tried to purge this from their memory, but there are certainly some UCLA fans who remember the last time the Bruins played BYU. The year was 2008, and the Cougars walloped UCLA 59-0. Any player connections from that shellacking are long gone by now, but BYU's visit to the Rose Bowl will be a key early-season game for both programs. Taysom Hill should be back under center for the Cougars while the Bruins will be adapting to life after Brett Hundley.

Following a winless Pac-12 campaign, Mike MacIntyre faces a massive season in Boulder, and it would behoove the Buffs to win the Rocky Mountain Showdown this time around. The game against Colorado State is played at a neutral site in Denver and promises to be an important early tone-setter for both programs.

Meanwhile, Utah has assembled quite the satisfying nonconference slate. The Utes follow those aforementioned exciting match-ups against Michigan and Utah State with a road trip to Fresno State that shouldn't be taken likely. The Bulldogs are known to circle the wagons and put up vicious fights against Power 5 opponents in their home fortress, so Kyle Whittingham's team will be tested.

September 26
Nicholls State at Colorado

Weekend take: It would be disingenuous to pretend that this game is intriguing. Colorado finished winless in Pac-12 play last season while Nicholls State ended 0-12.

October 17
USC at Notre Dame

Weekend take: Now we're talking. The Trojans embarrassed Notre Dame 49-14 to close the 2014 regular season. That sets up a revenge factor here -- though motivation should never be an issue in this storied rivalry. Both teams harbor high hopes for 2015, so this mid-October tilt is showing plenty of promise.
We continue our countdown of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 this year. Obviously, this list is subjective, and though we spent a lot of time putting it together, there was a fair amount of debate in its creation.

In case you missed the first three installments, check out Nos. 21-25 here, 16-20 here, and 11-15 here.

Now, on to the next batch ...

No. 6: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha

Statistics: 25 tackles for loss (139 TFL yards), 19 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles

To contextualize the sheer amount of damage Kikaha inflicted on opposing offenses this season, imagine the length of a football field -- plus 40 yards. The Washington senior led the nation with a staggering 139 tackle for loss yards, and he also edged Utah's Nate Orchard for the national lead in sacks (19, though Kikaha played in one more game). The 6-foot-3, 246-pound senior was a speed-rushing force of nature in Seattle throughout his collegiate career, one in which he successfully fought back from two ACL tears. He was consistent, too: Kikaha registered at least a half-sack in all but one of Washington's games this season.

No. 7: Washington DT Danny Shelton

Statistics: 93 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 3 QB hits, 5 fumble recoveries

Kikaha -- and other 2014 Washington defensive stalwarts such as Shaq Thompson -- are quick to credit a large part of their statistical success to the disruptive force that Shelton generated inside. First off, this guy checks in at 6-2, 342 pounds, and he can move. That's obviously a rare combination, and it's the reason Shelton is dominating at Senior Bowl practices. But unlike most good defensive tackles who occupy double-teams without lighting up the stat sheet, Shelton went the extra mile: He racked up statistical productivity, too. This season saw 93 tackles, 16.5 TFL and nine sacks -- all absurd numbers for a tackle.

No. 8: UCLA QB Brett Hundley

Statistics: 3,155 passing yards, 69.1 percent completion rate, 22 TD passes, 5 INT, 871 rushing yards, 10 TD

Hundley showed the type of improvement NFL teams wanted to see out of him in 2014. He became more accurate (he upped his completion rate to 69.1 percent from 66.8 in 2013), and he cut his interception tally down to only five. In short, Hundley did a better job avoiding mistakes despite feeling significant pressure throughout the season -- the Bruins surrendered 40 sacks, the 113th-worst protection performance in the nation. Hundley showcased his dual-threat explosiveness throughout the year, and he saved a stellar performance for hated rival USC, throwing for 326 yards and three TDs. Hundley finished 3-0 in his career against the Trojans. In Westwood, that's a huge deal.

No. 9: Utah RB Devontae Booker

Statistics: 1,512 yards, 5.2 per carry, 306 receiving yards, 12 TD

In the regular season, Booker rushed for 759 yards after contact, 187 more than any other Pac-12 player. That statistic alone is enough to demonstrate Booker's value as a runner who has brought an impressive speed-power combination to the Salt Lake City backfield. Booker finished second in the Pac-12 rushing rankings behind only UCLA's Paul Perkins with 1,512 yards. Booker also registered 306 receiving yards as the centerpiece of Utah's offense. Booker's performance was made more impressive by the fact that defenses could frequently key on him since Utah's passing attack was so inconsistent. His return next year is critical news for Kyle Whittingham's team.

No. 10: UCLA LB Eric Kendricks

Statistics: 149 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 3 INT, 5 passes defended

Kendricks led the nation twice in solo tackles over the course of his UCLA career, and one of those campaigns came in 2014, his final go-round in Westwood. This guy was a tackling machine throughout his time in Bruin blue, so it's fitting that he was the only player in the nation to eclipse the century mark in solo tackles this past season. The other statistical inventory here might be even more impressive: When Kendricks led the nation with 150 tackles in 2012, he recorded the highest tally of any UCLA player since 1978. Given his consistently excellent productivity from the second level, it's no surprise that Kendricks leaves college as the Bruins' all-time leading tackler. He also has the Butkus Award in hand. Well deserved.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
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Leading off:

The NCAA is investigating 20 colleges, according to Brad Wolverton of the The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wolverton reports that 18 of the cases are with Division I programs, so Pac-12 fans should certainly pay attention. Even if it's not affecting one of your programs it might be affecting a program that you're playing in 2015.
The cases are at various stages, from preliminary inquiry to awaiting a hearing with the Division I Committee on Infractions, and they involve a variety of missteps, including allegations that players received impermissible assistance from professors, academic advisers, or people outside of an athletic department.
News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun:

Pac-12.com did a fun #ExplainThe90s theme today on Twitter and the results are quite entertaining. Anytime there's a 90's throwback, the Pac-12 Blog is there, so we're all about this.

Earlier today, we offered up our thoughts on who truly had a chance to grab that Pac-12 North crown in 2015. Now, we're moving on to the South.

David Lombardi (@LombardiESPN): I'm changing gears here. My take on 2015 Pac-12 South is similar to the one you had on the North, Chantel: I think this division will again feature a wide-open race. It was a minefield in 2014, and nothing suggests that'll change next season. Arizona, the defending champion, was young, and they retain integral pieces on both sides of the ball. USC is the early Vegas favorite -- it's impossible to discount that stockpile of talent. We can expect more of the same rugged play from Utah, and Devontae Booker's return makes them truly dangerous again. Meanwhile, Todd Graham's young defense will have matured at ASU, and UCLA has recruited well enough to ensure they won't be an easy out in the post-Brett Hundley era. The only true outsider in the South is Colorado, and even they're supposed to be better. Let the reign of chaos continue.

[+] EnlargeDevontae Booker
George Frey/Getty ImagesUtah's Devontae Booker should keep the Pac-12 South from turning into a two-horse race.
Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings): I think it's a two-dog race between Arizona and USC. Both return a lot of talent, but if I must choose between the two I think I'm going to go with USC because you've got a more experienced quarterback running the show. I think Anu Solomon is going to make big strides between Year 1 and Year 2, but I think Cody Kessler is going to have a fire lit under him by all the young QB talent and show up. Plus, I think running back Justin Davis and wide receiver JuJu Smith will have breakout years. Defensively, there's a lot to replace as well, but I think it'll be more reloading than rebuilding and in Steve Sarkisian's second year, I think big things will happen.

Lombardi: No argument on the Arizona and USC fronts here, but I don't see the Pac-12 South turning into a simple two-team race. ASU, in particular, has developed a track record of consistent success, and I think there's every reason to believe that Todd Graham will again have them in the thick of the action. The boom-or-bust cycle of the Sun Devils' defense added up to an unremarkable 2014 on that side of the ball, but I think Graham will develop that aggressive defense into a much more stable unit next season. Plus, ASU isn't sinking at quarterback post-Taylor Kelly: Mike Bercovici is more than capable, and he'll have firepower named DJ Foster and Demario Richard at his side. The Devils aren't dead.

It doesn't end there, either: It may turn out that Utah and UCLA are both a quarterback short of being championship material, but as long as Booker and Paul Perkins (the Pac-12's two leading running backs in 2014) are along to complement talented defenses in Salt Lake City and Westwood, those two teams can do plenty of damage in the South. That'll leave us with another mess on our hands.

Jennings: I agree, ASU is going to be a player. But you've got to look at these schedules, specifically the road schedules, of the first two teams I mentioned ... USC has a relatively soft road schedule which would certainly aid them in getting to the Pac-12 title game. They have ASU early on the road. And I agree with you on the Graham front that he'll be able to develop that defense into something more consistent, but developing takes time. Could they be consistent by Sept. 26? Eh. I'll hedge my bets the other way. Their other road trips are at Notre Dame, at Cal, at Colorado and at Oregon. Playing at Autzen will probably be the toughest one of that group but again, I'll take a Cody Kessler on the road over whatever first-year starter the Ducks have. Arizona's road schedule is far tougher -- at Nevada, at Stanford, at Washington, at USC, at Arizona State. USC definitely has the easier path.

Lombardi: As the nuttiness of 2014 showed us, home-field advantage may no longer pack the punch it once did in the Pac-12. Visiting teams actually finished the season with a 33-21 record in league games, and I think that jarring stat just adds another reason to expect anything but smooth sailing in the Pac-12 South. Yes, some teams may be slightly better equipped than others to navigate the treacherous landscape and some teams may have easier roads through the maze. But at the end of the day, it looks like an overwhelming amount of thorns and land mines remain on the path to glory in that division. I certainly wouldn't bet on a winner based on what we know now in terms of talent or schedule.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
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People should know when they're conquered.

Would you, Quintus? Would I?

Leading off

Ah, late January is here. The college campaign is over, and the final, disheartening end to the American extravaganza that is football season looms. It's a time that evokes nostalgia, but it's certainly not a time to break from gridiron thoughts. The annual chance to flip the page and start reading the next chapter in advance has arrived. Jon Wilner comes through with one of the early looks, offering his prediction of the 2015 Pac-12 all-conference team in The Mercury News. Meanwhile, our friends at Pacific Takes have surveyed the field and taken the team-wide approach, releasing their way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings for 2015.

As your read, coaches are feverishly blazing the recruiting trail, paying some final visits before National Signing Day on February 4. Spring ball comes after that, and that'll be followed summer conditioning, a little time off, and then training camp. We may just now be winding down, but don't blink -- college football season will be back in a flash. Here's the latest news from the 365-day cycle that keeps churning on:

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

This has already made rounds on social media, but former Arizona star Rob Gronkowski deserves acknowledgment on the Pac-12 blog for this, too. Seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation for the current scandal surrounding the Patriots.

Season review: Utah

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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Our 2014 season Pac-12 team-by-team grades continue. If you want to check out last season's reviews, click here.

Utah Utes

Offense: The Utes ranked eighth in scoring in the Pac-12 and tied for last with 5.3 yards per play, not to mention they couldn't get themselves set at quarterback. Again. While Utah fans are understandably grumpy about Dave Christensen departing to Texas A&M, meaning the Utes will have an eighth different offensive coordinator in eight years this fall, Christensen didn't really distinguish himself. The good news was the running game managed to average 4.4 yards per rush, which tied for third in the conference, despite a passing game that scared no one. So, yeah, when considering the return of four O-linemen and running back Devontae Booker in 2015, Utes fans should leap into the air and click their heels together three times. Grade: C

Defense: The Utes ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense (24.9 ppg) and tied for third in yards per play yielded (5.3), so it was another season of strong defense in Salt Lake. Further, Utah ranked No. 1 in sacks (55) and No. 3 on third down. And you can bet coach Kyle Whittingham was thrilled about improved turnover production -- 21 in 2014 compared to 16 in 2013. Nate Orchard won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive end and earned All-America recognition. On the downside, coordinator Kalani Sitake bolted to Oregon State, but that doesn't count against what the Utes defense accomplished this past fall. Grade: B+

Special teams: We could go on and on about kicker Andy Phillips and punter Tom Hackett, both first-team All-Pac-12, or the fact that the Utes rank among the conference leaders in just about every other special-teams area of coverage and returns, but we won't. Simply, the Utes were by a wide margin the best Pac-12 team when it came to special teams and among the very best in the nation. Grade: A+

Overall: Utah's fourth year of Pac-12 play was its best. It posted its first winning record in conference play in a season when the South Division was the toughest division in the nation. It finished 9-4, won a bowl game and finished ranked No. 21 in the AP poll after posting consecutive losing seasons. It beat Michigan, USC and UCLA. It showed resilience in the fourth quarter. It overcame issues on offense. While the post-bowl, behind-the-scenes soap opera between Whittingham and AD Chris Hill was a bit of a downer, it can't subtract from what happened on the field, which certainly exceeded expectations. Grade: A-

Other Pac-12 reviews

Washington State

Washington

Stanford
This past season saw Marcus Mariota bring the Heisman Trophy back to the Pac-12 for the first time since 2005. Now that the league's top superstar is on his way to the NFL, focus shifts to the possibility of keeping the Heisman in the conference next season. Here's an early look at some Pac-12 candidates who may have a shot to succeed Mariota in 2015.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

He's only a sophomore, yet Wright finished the season leading the nation in tackles (163), tackles for loss (29), and forced fumbles (6). He was the only player who averaged more than two TFL per game (2.07), and second place in that category (Hau'oli Kikaha, also from the Pac-12) was way down at 1.79. Simply put, Wright dominated the stat sheet in 2014, and that's what a defensive player must do to have any shot of contending for college football's grandest individual prize. Wright was the only Pac-12 player besides Mariota to finish in the top 10 of the Heisman balloting. His 17 votes put him on the radar for 2015.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC

Kessler's 2014 season created a true rarity: A statistically impressive USC quarterback flew under the Heisman radar. With the Trojans actually early Vegas favorites in the Pac-12's bid to again send a team to the College Football Playoff, don't expect that to repeat itself in 2015. Kessler threw only five interceptions in 452 attempts (only Mariota's interception rate was better), and he completed 70 percent of his passes in a season that saw USC finish with two consecutive strong offensive performances. Kessler's performance against top-flight competition must improve in 2015, but he'll undoubtedly be in the way-too-early Heisman discussion because of his 2014 numbers.

[+] EnlargeScooby Wright
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsArizona linebacker Scooby Wright was the only Pac-12 player to finish in the top 10 of the Heisman voting besides Marcus Mariota.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Seeing a true freshman succeed is by no means a college football rarity, but Freeman's bruising style of productivity was indeed unusual for a youngster. The 230-pounder is built like a senior, and he ran like one in 2014, becoming the first true freshman 1,000-yard rusher in Ducks history. Freeman led Pac-12 backs with 18 touchdowns -- scoring seems to be a Heisman prerequisite -- and his workload is likely to increase in 2015 when increased experience and Mariota's departure are both taken into account.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Most of the UCLA glory went to Brett Hundley, but he's moving on. That means that Paul Perkins' eye-popping productivity will have more of a chance to shine in 2015. Perkins led the Pac-12 with 1,575 rushing yards this past season, and his average of 6.3 yards per carry was head and shoulders above other runners with at least 200 attempts. Perhaps Perkins' touchdown total hindered his visibility -- he rushed for only nine -- but with Hundley's 10 rushing touchdowns out the door, expect more end zone visits for the running back in 2015.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah

Booker's return to Salt Lake City is a major boost to the Utes' offense moving forward. The team' passing attack was inconsistent at best in 2014, and that made Booker's 1,500-yard season -- second-best in the Pac-12 -- essential to Utah's success. With the quarterback position remaining a question mark entering 2015, Booker is again set to be Kyle Whittingham's offensive centerpiece. Expect more big numbers in the 203-pounder's senior season.

Jared Goff, QB, Cal

It's extremely difficult to enter the Heisman conversation when playing on a team that went 1-11 the year prior. That was Goff's predicament in 2014, when he threw for nearly 4,000 yards and established a solid 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio as the Bears improved to 5-7. Fair or not, that record will still prevent Goff from being a popular preseason award candidate, but it certainly puts him in better position than he was in a year ago. Goff seems primed for another statistical jump, and that makes him an early candidate for some 2015 attention.

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

Foster was the only Pac-12 player to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014. His 62 catches were second to only Jaelen Strong in Tempe, and the big receiver's departure to the NFL means that Foster should have more opportunities to score touchdowns in 2014 (he found the end zone 12 times in 2014). Todd Graham retains plenty of explosiveness at ASU: Foster has shown he can light up highlight reels, while Demario Richard averaged 5.7 yards per carry while playing almost all of 2014 as a 17-year old.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

A healthy Anu Solomon may get some Heisman run in Rich Rodriguez's offense next season, but the true freshman Wilson delivered the most impressive 2014, so he's more prominent on our early radar. Wilson actually led all non-kickers in Pac-12 scoring, averaging 7.8 points per game. His power-speed combination fueled a 1,375-yard, 5.8 per carry, 17-touchdown season.

Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford

Hogan is the latest addition to the 2015 Heisman radar, yet it would only be fair to classify him as a long shot at this point. Still, the quarterback's impressive finish to the 2014 season merits at least a mention on this list. Hogan battled considerable adversity this past year: His father passed away in December after a battle with cancer. Hogan delivered sterling performances against UCLA and Maryland to round out the campaign. He passed precisely and rushed effectively in both contests. Stanford returns most of its offensive talent in 2015, so a continuation of that strong finish is possible — especially if explosive youngster Christian McCaffrey continues to emerge as a force to be reckoned with.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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This past weekend was the first time since the middle of December that recruits and coaches could meet face to face and Pac-12 programs took advantage, as dozens of prospects took official visits to conference programs. With signing day rapidly approaching, recruiting fans got a sense of what the next two weeks could be like, as there were plenty of news and notes since Friday.


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Pac-12 morning links

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
9:00
AM ET
I was hiding under your porch because I love you.

Leading off:

Some interesting news out of California.

On Wednesday the governing board of the University of California campuses will meet to discuss a new incentive-pay policy approved by university President Janet Napolitano that will tie together how coaches and athletic directors are evaluated/compensated and the academic achievements of their student-athletes.
The new policy will apply to all coaches of intercollegiate sports and athletic directors going forward, both new hires and those whose contracts are up for renewal. The so-called "gatekeeper clause" establishing a minimum level of team-wide academic performance for coaches to receive any bonus pay will follow a formula the National Collegiate Athletic Association already uses to monitor student athletes.

Cal football coach Sonny Dykes already has a contract that links his bonuses to how his athletes perform in class, but he is the only coach that has that type of a contract. So, it should be interesting to see how this goes over on Wednesday.

News/notes/team reports:
  • Former Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski is excited to return to the state where he played his college ball for the Super Bowl. Fun fact: It'll be the first time Gronk has returned to Arizona to play since his college playing days.
  • Arizona State is getting a lot of interest from a three-star defensive end that looks like he'd be a pretty good Devil-backer. "There's a lot going on there," he told Doug Haller. "They're on the rise."
  • There's some movement in the world of Cal football recruiting. A wide receiver who was committed to Illinois has decommitted and has a visit to Cal planned for next weekend, plus some other offers and info on recruits.
  • Oregon coach Mark Helfrich announced on Monday afternoon that there will be three transfers (at least) away from the program. Helfrich said that it's "just guys looking for an opportunity or a better fit."
  • The Oregonian's Gina Mizell is going through Oregon State's new staff, giving each new member a closer look. On Monday she caught up with running back coach Telly Lockette. This is her sixth piece in the series and the links to her others are on the page as well.
  • Can Stanford actually be an offense-first team in 2015? There's very little turnover on the offensive side of the ball so signs point to "yes they should be able to" but does that mean that yes, they will be able to? Rule of Tree takes a closer look.
  • UCLA's success has been tied to its quarterback's consistency. Over the past three seasons Brett Hundley has been that and more for the Bruins, but, who is the next guy up -- Josh Rosen? Jerry Neuheisel? Asiantii Woulard?
  • A quick look at the five biggest goals for USC football this spring.
  • It was a good news-bad news type of day for the Utes on Monday when it came to their recruiting.
  • NFL analyst Mike Mayock believes that Washington defensive lineman Danny Shelton could be a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft. "When you put the tape on, he's quick. He gets up and down the line of scrimmage and plays forever at 350 pounds," Mayock said of Shelton.
  • Connor Halliday was nominated for the 2015 MTR Western Sports Star of the Year Award. Halliday is up against two Seattle Sounders, a Seattle Mariner, a Seattle Seahawk and Washington football linebacker Shaq Thompson.
Just for fun:

Before Saturday night's Arizona-Utah basketball match up, Wildcat coach Rich Rodriguez gave some love to the students in the form of ... chicken sandwiches. Rich, the form was pretty good. But if you're going to be out there tossing things, you have a pretty decent QB you could use to really get that Chick-fil-A to the students in the higher seats.



Also, according to TMZ, UCLA defensive back Justin Combs -- son of P Diddy -- had a birthday party this weekend and Justin Bieber was in attendance. So, you know, just put that in your back pocket.

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