Campaign trail: No. 4 Oregon

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
12:30
PM ET
Which teams will make the College Football Playoff? Ultimately, the selection committee will decide. But until then, there will be a lot of campaigning. What should the top four teams in the ESPN power rankings be touting to fans and committee members? Each week during the season, we'll unveil a new campaign poster for a contender, starting today with a look at our top four teams.

NCF Oregon Vote PosterIllustration by Sam Ho

Stanford Cardinal season preview

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
10:30
AM ET
video

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Stanford Cardinal.

2013 record: 11-3, 7-2 in Pac-12; lost to Michigan State 24-20 in the Rose Bowl

Final grade for 2013: A-minus. The Cardinal finished the BCS era as the lone school to appear in BCS bowls the final four years, but would have preferred to have been back-to-back Rose Bowl champions.

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesTy Montgomery caught 61 passes for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Key returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, LT Andrus Peat, WR Ty Montgomery, DE Henry Anderson, LB A.J. Tarpley, S Jordan Richards

Key losses: RB Tyler Gaffney, LG David Yankey, RT Cam Fleming, FB Ryan Hewitt, DE Ben Gardner, LB Shayne Skov, LB Trent Murphy, S Ed Reynolds

Instant impact newcomer: RB Christian McCaffrey

Projected winning percentage (ESPN Stats & Information): .680

Chances to win the conference (ESPN Stats & Information): 6.2 percent

Best-case scenario: 14-0

Worst-case scenario: 7-6

Over-under win total (Bovada): 8.5

Biggest question mark: What kind of impact will losing linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy -- and defensive coordinator Derek Mason -- have on the defense?

Most important game: Nov. 1 at Oregon. Until proved otherwise, this has the appearance of the most important game in the Pac-12.

Upset special: Sept. 27 at Washington. Stanford lost its last game against the Huskies in Seattle and will see a fired-up team looking to break up the Oregon/Stanford stranglehold on the division.

They said it: "It doesn't matter. I don't use it as motivation. I don't get happy or sad about it. It is what it is. I might pick Oregon also. Who knows?" -- Coach David Shaw on Oregon getting picked to win the conference.
The chess-like nature of recruiting forces coaches to look years into the future, both to fill their own roster as well as take advantage of strengths and weaknesses of the upcoming high school classes. Despite the 2014 football season not kicking off for another few weeks, the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting classes are already filling up, which gives us the opportunity to look ahead and name the 2015 recruit who fills the biggest need for each program.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
8:00
AM ET
Gooooooooooood morninggg Vietnam! It's 0600 hours. What does the "O" stand for? O my God, it's early! Speaking of early, let's hear it for that Marty Lee Drywitz. Silky smooth sounds, making me sound like Peggy Lee.

  • Rules are rules -- even if you happen to be a two-way player generating some Heisman buzz. UCLA coach Jim Mora booted Myles Jack from practice Monday morning after the linebacker/running back got into what Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News referred to as a "scuffle with right tackle Caleb Benenoch." It didn't turn out to be anything more than a run-of-the-mill training camp dust-up -- Jack rejoined the team for the afternoon practice.
  • Stanford's already-crowded backfield is getting more competition. Coach David Shaw said Monday that true freshman running back Christian McCaffrey has "shown that he’s ready to play." Quarterback guru George Whitfield had the opportunity to watch practice Monday and shared a favorable impression of McCaffrey, tweeting: "Easily, the most exciting player on #Stanford very talented practice field was Freshman Christian McCaffrey. #killer #WouldBallAnywhere"
  • USA Today's Paul Myerberg does a great job counting down every FBS team from No. 128 to No. 1. On Monday, Arizona checked in ranked at No. 26. And just how deep is the Pac-12 this year? The fact that the Pac-12 blog ranked the Wildcats No. 9 in the conference on Monday should speak to that pretty well.
  • Maybe you saw former WSU kicker Andrew Furney kick a 51-yard field goal to give the Jets a preseason win last week. Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman-Review has a look for what life-after-Furney will be like in Pullman.
  • Oregon suffered a big blow with the loss of left tackle Tyler Johnstone, but with him out, Tyson Alger of the Oregonian addresses where the Ducks will go from here. Spoiler: get to know the name Andre Yruretagoyena (and just because it looks fun to pronounce).
  • Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson is starting to feel more comfortable with his new team, but it doesn't look like he's poised to unseat starter Travis Wilson. Utah QB coach Aaron Roderick told the Deseret News Thompson is at his best on the run, but hasn't been able to showcase that much since he's been off limits to defenders in practice.
STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford Cardinal coach David Shaw hasn't forgotten about a bold proclamation he made on signing day in 2012, when he said the Cardinal's class of offensive linemen "could potentially be one of the best offensive line classes in modern football history."

No big deal, just modern football history. That's all.

And he's not backing down.

"People have reminded me of my comments from that class and I stand by them," Shaw said Monday.

That's a head coach doubling down on a group that is still a little more than two weeks from starting its first game together. It's also a group tasked with replacing four starters that are currently in NFL training camps. Shaw didn't sound the least bit worried by what, on the surface, appears like a daunting task as he rattled off how he views each player's potential.

"[Left tackle] Andrus Peat, arguably the best tackle in America right now, [right tackle] Kyle Murphy is going to be one of the best tackles in America," Shaw said. "[Left guard] Josh Garnett, you're going to be talking about him as one of the best guards in America and you're going to be looking [at] Graham Shuler, [who] will be one of the best centers in America in the next few years.

"And I think [right guard] Johnny Caspers is going to surprise a lot of people because he's the guy in the class that nobody really knows about. Johnny Caspers is playing great right now. So you're looking at a group of guys, in my opinion, that are all NFL players. We're going to have an entire line that is NFL guys."

Although, the line's potential NFL pedigree is not exactly a change from the norm. Of the 10 starters that have departed the offensive line since the 2010 season, eight were either drafted or signed free-agent contracts with NFL teams.

When the group makes its first start together against U.C. Davis on Aug. 30, it'll be about four years in the making and a day Shuler is largely responsible for making possible. When it became apparent, early in the recruiting process, that Stanford had a chance to land several prep All-Americans, he became an extension of the coaching staff as far as recruiting was concerned.

The Nashville, Tennessee native made six trips to Stanford between the summer before his senior year and signing day so he could be there when Stanford was hosting other high-profile players.

"I would see what games Andrus was going to -- I would come out when he was going to be here, " Shuler said. "[Safety] Kodi Whitfiled, Kyle Murphy and Josh [Garnett], I would come out when they were going to be here. I just knew it was important for us all to be around each other and build those relationships."

And now?

"It's going to be hard to find us away from each other off the field," said Shuler, who is rooming with Peat during training camp. "It's a brotherhood unlike any position group."

Shaw said he doesn't remember another offensive line, anywhere, that was ever made up of five members from the same class, and the byproduct of that trait has inherent bonuses.

"There's a lot of times where they walk into the room, including Nick Davidson, all six of them walk in just because they've been hanging out, talking to each other," Shaw said. "With an offensive line, that is a strength because you need that group to operate like a cohesive unit and they already have some commonalities, familiarities, and they get along really well so I think that is an advantage."

While the talent is obvious and the potential will make it tough to temper expectations, no one at Stanford is expecting a fully-polished product once the season begins. Peat noted they've made big improvements from the spring, but "there's still work to do."

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Peat the No. 9 overall prospect for the 2015 NFL draft, which means Peat would have to pull an Andrew Luck (turning down big money to return for his degree), for the group to return intact again next year. Based on Shaw's opinion of the others, he might not be the only one facing a difficult choose.

However, if Peat and Murphy were both to return, Shaw made another prediction: "If they're both back next year, I don't imagine you'll see two better [tackles] on the same team."
Tags:

David Shaw

EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon fans are going to need a pronunciation guide this season because the player with the most difficult name on the team just stepped into one of the its most important roles.

Meet Andre Yruretagoyena. Pronounced: Ear-ooo-yet-a-go-yay-nah (according to offensive coordinator Scott Frost).

Yruretagoyena is the likely candidate to step into Tyler Johnstone's spot at left tackle. Johnstone re-injured his ACL during the Ducks' first session of Monday's two-a-day practice and will have surgery on Friday, as first reported by CSNNW.com.

Through spring practices, when Yruretagoyena was taking many of Johnstone's reps with the first team, coaches praised his improvement. Frost even said he thought it was the redshirt junior's best spring yet. However, it's easy to praise a player who's sitting behind a possible first-team Pac-12 performer.

Now, that backup is going to be relied upon to protect Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota's blindside.

"Andre has come along," Frost said. "I think he was really raw when he got here. He has grown up a lot."

Yruretagoyena has had quite the journey since arriving in Eugene. He came in at 295 pounds, but ended up dropping 40 pounds of bad weight in order to regain that over the past three years. He's now at a healthy 290 pounds (Johnstone is 289, though he has an inch on Yruretagoyena).

And with that healthy weight has come a higher confidence level in himself and his play.

"When he first came in he was one of those guys -- just like any other freshman -- who was lost with the schemes," Mariota said. "But he has really learned and he has really come a long way with that. We're going to have to depend on him this fall."

"I talk to our guys about self-efficacy all the time," Frost added. "Self-efficacy is if you believe you can get the job done or not. That's a higher predictor for success than sometimes athletic ability. And guys that believe they can do it get it done a lot more often than guys who don't. I think you see a lot of freshmen who come in and don't really trust themselves and by the time they get a little bit of experience they do."

Yruretagoyena gained most of his experience last spring, when Johnstone was still rehabbing. He's only appeared in 11 games for the Ducks -- just seven during the 2013 season -- with his most significant experience being 27 snaps in one game (Colorado, Nov. 22, 2013).

But that limited experience is going to have to transfer into top, veteran-like play for a Ducks offensive line that will need strength to bookend the left side. Johnstone started at left tackle for all of Mariota's 26 starts. They'll have to develop a new chemistry fast, with less than three weeks until Oregon opens against South Dakota.

"He's excited to get this opportunity," Mariota said. "It is unfortunate the way it happened but sometimes guys are going to have to step up. And Andre is going to do that for us and we're going to be prepared for that."

Keeping Mariota healthy is the single most important objective this season, and that responsibility is going to fall largely on Yruretagoyena's shoulders.

As the team integrates a new starter on the offensive line, Ducks fans have their own assignment to prepare for the season. Ear-ooo-yet-a-go-yay-nah. Ear-ooo-yet-a-go-yay-nah. Ear-ooo-yet-a-go-yay-nah.

But if that's too hard -- which it seems to be for most of those associated with the program -- just go with what everyone else calls him: Andre Y, left tackle, Mariota's protector, one of the most important Ducks in 2014.

Pac-12 rivalry heat meter

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
6:00
PM ET
A college football rivalry never exactly cools off, at least among the emotionally involved. But rivalries do go through upticks and downticks of relevance, both regionally and nationally.

So which Pac-12 rivalries are heating up, stagnating or cooling as we head into the 2014 season?

USC Trojans-UCLA Bruins

The facts: USC leads the series 46-30-7 and has won 12 of the last 15 games, but the Bruins have won two in a row under Jim Mora, including a 35-14 domination last year.

The meter: Sizzling and rising.

The animosity between the fan bases is always strong, but what makes a rivalry truly heat up is relevance. And substantial stakes. This rivalry is gaining in both areas. USC is one of the preeminent football programs in the nation, even though UCLA fans hate to read that. UCLA is the rising western power under Mora, even though USC fans mock the idea. USC has a new coach in Steve Sarkisian and is moving past NCAA sanctions. UCLA is a top-10 team eyeballing the College Football Playoff. Know what I say? Release the hounds!

Arizona Wildcats-Arizona State Sun Devils

The facts: Arizona leads the series 47-39-1, but Todd Graham has won the last two against Rich Rodriguez, including a 58-21 blowout last year in Tempe. Before that, the visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four -- games that were decided by a total of 15 points.

The meter: Blistering and heating up.

While Oregon-Washington fans provide the most blowback to the Pac-12 blog -- Yakety Yak! Oh, yeah! Yakety Yak -- Arizona and Arizona State fans are a strong No. 2. It used to be the fans hated each other and whined a lot -- "You cover them more... waaaaaa!" -- because both teams were fairly mediocre. But the Sun Devils won the South Division last year and are now 2-0 under Todd Graham against the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez. With both programs trending up in an overall sense, the rivalry is gaining relevance. It also helps that Graham and Rodriguez don't particularly care for each other.

Oregon Ducks-Washington Huskies

The facts: Washington leads the series 58-43-5, but the Ducks have won 10 straight in the series by at least 17 points, including a 45-24 win in Seattle last year.

The meter: Hot but stagnating.

This has long been the most bitter Pac-10/12 rivalry but it has experienced a dramatic power shift to the Ducks. Sorry Huskies, you know it's true. It seems like Oregon fans these days are more worried about winning that darn absent national title than fretting about that team from up North. Now, if Washington and new coach Chris Petersen go into Autzen Stadium and steal one this year... well, that can't happen. Can it? Maybe that possibility needs to be debated.

USC-Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The facts: USC has won nine of the last 12 meetings, but the Fighting Irish has won three of the last four, including a 14-10 win last year. Since 1967, USC has gone 24-20-3 in the series.

The meter: Simmering with many hoping for a boil (particularly TV executives)

As far as national rivalries go, this one is without peer. It's an annual classic that matches two of college football's top powers. Lately, both teams have been nationally relevant, albeit not on an annual basis, and that's the issue. This rivalry is more about national relevance than bitterness. What it needs to heat up is for both teams to be national contenders with the winner in line for the College Football Playoff.

Washington-Washington State Cougars

The facts: Washington leads the series 68-32-6, including a 27-17 victory last year. The Cougars have lost 11 of the last 16 Apple Cups, but are 1-1 under Mike Leach.

The meter: Simmering with lots of potential spice

Have you stopped and pondered just how fun this one might get if Petersen and Mike Leach get their programs' performances to match their respective coaching reputations? For one, in terms of the media, it could be a Don James-Jim Walden deal where Petersen is a "2,000-word underdog" to the loquacious Leach. As it is at present, the Cougars really, really hate the entitled Huskies but the Huskies reserve their most bitter distain for Oregon.

Oregon-Oregon State

The facts: Oregon leads the series 61-46-10 and has won the last six meetings, including a 36-35 thriller in Autzen Stadium last year.

The meter: Warm but in need of another log on the fire

Know what bothers Oregon State fans? When some Ducks fans say they root for the Beavers when the two aren't playing. It probably isn't a statement of emotional fact, but Oregon fans recognize it as the ultimate patronizing gesture. See above with Washington: The Beavers really, really hate the entitled Ducks but the Ducks reserve their most bitter distain for Washington. Now, if the Ducks start to slide a bit and the Beavers push past them in the North Division -- or at least become Oregon's equal again -- this one will immediately boil over, potentially returning to the back-and-forth turf battle it was from 1998-2008, when it was one of the conference's most interesting and meaningful rivalries.

USC-Stanford Cardinal

The facts: In a series that dates back to 1905, USC holds a 59-29-3 lead, but Stanford has won four of the last five meetings. Still, a year after Stanford upset the then-No. 2 Trojans, USC returned the favor by knocking off No. 4 Stanford 20-17 last fall.

The meter: Most rivalries are more about the fans than the players. This one might be more about the players than the fans. These two teams go at each other -- hard. Things really picked up steam with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh mouthing off about Pete Carroll, then backing it up with two wins, including the classic "What's your deal?" game in 2009. Stanford started USC's and Lane Kiffin's downward spiral in 2012, while the Trojans ended the Cardinal's national title hopes in 2013. And I personally enjoy watching the Stanford band drive the Coliseum crowd crazy -- "And now a tribute to a great USC graduate... Joe Francis!"

California Golden Bears-Stanford

The facts: Stanford leads the Big Game rivalry 54-44-10 and has won four in a row, including a 63-13 blowout last year.

The meter: Luke warm until Cal rights itself

The Big Game is a great rivalry with a great history. The problem is getting the two teams to be good at the same time. Cal dominated the rivalry under Jeff Tedford until 2009. Now the Cardinal is fully in control. Second-years Bears coach Sonny Dykes probably could win over the Old Blues by pulling the upset this fall, but that will mean winning as a double-digit underdog.

BYU Cougars-Utah Utes

The facts: Utah leads the series 57-34-4. Utah has won four straight and nine of the last 12 games with the Cougars, including a 20-13 victory last year in Provo.

The meter: Always hot but chilling for two years

Utah has dominated this bitter series of late, most notably since joining the Pac-12, but there will be a two-year hiatus until the Holy War is renewed in 2016. That is unfortunate, as the series hasn't been interrupted since BYU didn't field teams during World War II (1943-45). Further, BYU is presently outside looking in, as it is not a Power Five conference member. It will be interesting to see how things go in the future.

Utah-Colorado Buffaloes

The facts: Colorado leads the series 31-26-3, and this is both teams’ longest series against any Pac-12 team. They played annually from 1903-62 with four exceptions, but then the rivalry went dormant for 49 years before it resumed in 2011 as Pac-12 members. As Pac-12 members, Utah leads 2-1 having won two in a row.

The meter: Tepid while awaiting some seasoning

Sure, this is a bit of an artificial rivalry. They are paired as rivals because they joined the conference together. But as both start to develop their Pac-12 legs, you can count on this rivalry heating up. They will be compared for a long time. Neither wants to be the one not measuring up. And don't forget the "Red Bike Incident."

Oregon's Johnstone out for the season

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
5:15
PM ET
Oregon left tackle Tyler Johnstone will have surgery after re-tearing the ACL in his right knee and will miss the upcoming season, he confirmed to CSNNW.com on Monday.

Johnstone, a three-year starter, suffered the injury during practice last week and will have surgery Friday, he told CSNNW.com.

He had injured the same ACL during the Ducks' Alamo Bowl victory against Texas and had hoped to play in the season opener against South Dakota on Aug. 30.

Oregon has been picked to win not only the Pac-12 North but also the league championship by the media who cover the conference. The Ducks rank consistently in the top five in most preseason polls.
EUGENE, Ore. -- As the Oregon football players filed into the annual media day last week, one thing was visibly clear from the start: One of these things was not like the other ones.

Yes, each player sported his green uniform. And all -- except one -- wore matching green shorts with their number on the thigh.

That one, redshirt senior Johnathan Loyd -- who will play as wide receiver on the 2014 team after exhausting his basketball eligibility at Oregon after last season -- was wearing black Jordan basketball shorts. He got the Nike part right, but the sport part wrong.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Loyd
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesJohnathan Loyd is shifting his focus from basketball to football as he prepares to line up at wide receiver for Oregon.
“It’s a part of me,” Loyd said. “It’s my personality.”

And though he’s not going to be playing any real basketball at all during the season, he’ll certainly still have that basketball part to his play and personality. But the more time he spends playing football, the smaller that part will be.

And he certainly noticed the basketball to football difference between day one of spring ball and day one of fall camp.

“When I came into spring, I was more in basketball mode,” Loyd said. “It’s definitely a different type of pace you have to play at. Because football, you play as hard as you can, then stop, as hard as you can, then stop. Basketball is more constant movement, you have to tempo yourself so you’re not out of control.”

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said he saw that kind of trepidation out of Loyd in the spring.

“The guy had a great attitude in the spring,” Helfrich said. “But you could tell that he hadn’t played football for five years and it’s not like he’s showing up and playing intramural flag football. He’s showing up and playing elite-level, Division-I football. There’s rust. There’s uncertainty, which then makes him slower than he really is in how he plays.”

Loyd said that what he needed to get rid of that rust was just a lot of repetition in order to build the football muscle memory and get rid of the basketball mentality. That point never hit during spring ball, but after two weeks of being thrown to by quarterback Marcus Mariota in the summer, it finally just became instinctual.

“I was able to play football rather than just think about playing football,” Loyd said.

With more free time in the summer, Loyd was able to get more film study in. He and fellow wide receiver Keanon Lowe watched Oregon tape as well as NFL film -- mostly Steve Smith and Wes Welker.

Loyd attributed much of his summer growth to Lowe, who helped remind him to exert total energy on each route because he’d get a break soon. Unlike basketball, there was no turn-around fast break or zone to retreat into. And while that might’ve taken Loyd a bit longer to grow accustomed to, he is used to it now and ready to fight for a spot at wide receiver, a spot he legitimately has a shot to earn some important reps at considering the lack of experience as a whole in the unit.

That’s not too bad for a football player who stills wears his basketball shorts.
Byron Marshall, Thomas TynerScott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall and Thomas Tyner will give the Ducks two potent options at running back this season.
Fall camp is underway but there’s still quite a bit of work that needs to be done. This week, we’ll be outlining a few storylines to keep track of as the month wears down and the opener against South Dakota approaches.

Today, we start off with one of the more heavily discussed topics of the summer: the situation at running back.

The top dogs in the race are Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner. Though, there are names mentioned outside of those two as a possible tempo change throughout the game -- Royce Freeman, Kani Benoit, Tony James. But don’t get too distracted. This is a two-man game right now.

Marshall has the experience factor -- he was the only 1,000-yard rusher on the team last year as he led the Ducks with 168 carries and 14 rushing touchdowns. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said that Marshall’s next step would be “cutting it loose.”

There shouldn’t be any hesitation considering he knows his main competition is coming off strong year-end performances. Last week, Helfrich spoke about how Tyner took more time to grow accustomed to the college game, but Helfrich was happy with the progress he made during the season. Tyner ended up toting the ball 115 times for 711 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. So, there’s definitely a benefit to getting 50 extra carries, but there’s also a benefit with year-end momentum, which Tyner had.

But to think that the Ducks could only have one special running back would be shortsighted, especially considering the obvious lack of experience the Ducks have at wide receiver. Helfrich has made no bones about the fact that the team is looking for whatever offensive formation works best for the Ducks. If that means two running backs, then so be it. And if these two backs are as good as everyone is lauding them to be then two backs could be the way the Ducks go.

“I like that we have two running backs because all the pressure isn’t on either one of them,” left tackle Tyler Johnstone said. “I think they’re just as talented, either one of them. They can platoon. If we have two running backs of their caliber, they’re always going to well rested and they’re always going to be explosive.”

Plenty of teams have had success going with a tandem at running back and experienced success. In 2005, USC used Reggie Bush and LenDale White to amass 3,042 rushing yards. Two seasons later at Arkansas, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones rushed for more than 3,000 yards in a season. This season, Texas could employ something similar with Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown and Georgia may do the same with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

But what none of those teams have is Marcus Mariota.

Throw Mariota into that equation and the Oregon run game gets pretty difficult to stop. Could run game coordinator Steve Greatwood get really creative this season? Absolutely. Could either Tyner or Marshall explode so much during fall camp that they force the hand of the coaching staff into choosing a featured back? Absolutely. It's still early, but it's something to keep track of.

Realistically, this story line won’t play itself out for the public until the Michigan State game. The Ducks aren’t going to give too much away in the season opener, knowing that Mark Dantonio and his staff are going to see that game tape. In 2013, the Spartans finished in the top three nationally for rushing yards per game (86.3), yards per rush (2.84) and rushing touchdowns (8).

So come week two, we’ll get a much better sense of what the Oregon run game will actually look like this fall. If anyone truly believes we’ll know anything much sooner, they’re overreaching. Helfrich is going to keep his cards close to his chest and only show them when he must. And he’s going to need to against the defending Rose Bowl Champions.

Either way, it’s something to keep an eye on this fall camp to see if any hints are dropped regarding what exactly the Duck run game will look like this fall.

Oregon State Beavers season preview

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
10:30
AM ET
video
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC.


Previewing the 2014 season for the Oregon State Beavers:

2013 record: 7-6, 4-5 in Pac-12; beat Boise State 38-23 in Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

Final grade for 2013: C-minus. The Beavers had a dynamic pass-catch combination in Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks but little else. The back-loaded schedule probably made the season feel worse than it was, but a 7-6 finish was a win or two below realistic preseason expectations.

Key returnees: QB Mannion, OL Isaac Seumalo, TE Connor Hamlett, S Ryan Murphy, CB Steven Nelson, DE Dylan Wynn, LB Michael Doctor

Key losses: WR Cooks, DE Scott Crichton, CB Rashaad Reynolds

Instant impact newcomers: DT Jalen Grimble, OT Bobby Keenan

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsOregon State senior Sean Mannion threw for 4,662 yards last season, but he doesn't have Brandin Cooks as his go-to receiver this time around.
Projected winning percentage (ESPN.com Stats & Information): .590

Chances to win the conference (ESPN.com Stats & Information): 0.9 percent

Best-case scenario: 9-3

Worst-case scenario: 6-6

Over-under win total (Bovada): 7

Biggest question mark: How does the offense -- read: Mannion -- adjust to life after Cooks, who was the best receiver in the nation in 2013? Who steps up at receiver, and does the running game get going?

Most important game: Nov. 22 at Washington. The Huskies embarrassed the Beavers in Corvallis last year, and this game might determine the No. 3 spot in the Pac-12 North.

Upset special: Oct. 25 at Stanford. The Cardinal might be looking ahead to their Nov. 1 date at Oregon, and the Beavers played Stanford tough in 2013.

They said it: "There's no doubt about it. I think I actually became a little bit of a victim of it myself early because we were so good throwing the ball for six games." -- Oregon State coach Mike Riley, on whether he passed too much in 2013

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Preseason

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
10:00
AM ET
 

Kyle Bonagura, Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller contributed to these rankings.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
8:00
AM ET
The first week of fall camp has come and gone and if you're not itching for football, then wake up and smell the roses (seriously, though, because the Rose Bowl is less than five months away).

We're going to start doing links a slightly different way. Two notable things: 1. They're in the morning. Which, you've probably already assumed because of the time or because the post is called "morning links." 2. Not every team will be mentioned every single day. So, with that, we're off to embark on a new journey of linkage.
  • You might've forgotten about Washington wide receiver Kendyl Taylor, who redshirted as a sophomore after playing as a freshman. Adam Jude gives you a few reasons why you might want to remember him (plus some notes).
  • In 1999, Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost was on the cover of 989 Sports' video game "NCAA Game Breaker '99." Now, he comments on what the verdict in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust trial means for college players today.
  • Three years as a Colorado football player has meant three different positions for defensive lineman (a former linebacker and fullback) Clay Norgard.
  • USC is following the NFL model and giving off days to players in hopes that it aids in their recovery. This weekend, the Trojans had the first of their four off days before the season opener against Fresno State.
  • Going off the same idea of recovery -- UCLA coach Jim Mora has some of his players wearing GPS trackers so that they can monitor players during practice so the coaches can have a better understanding of when a player needs recovery time or when he can take the field again.
  • Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong says his game has improved everywhere, from his physical strength to his understanding of the offense to his drive.
  • Last week, Athlon released anonymous quotes from Pac-12 coaches discussing other teams in the conference (you can read it here). Utah coach Kyle Whittingham reflects on what was said about the Utes in those comments.
I am he as you are he as you are me.

And this is the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here and following the easy-to-read instructions.

To the notes.

Clarence from Cincinnati writes: Stanford is 4-9 against Oregon since the turn of the millennium. Stanford's superstar, Andrew Luck, was 1-2 against Oregon (with both losses in the years he was runner-up for the Heisman). Those two losses were lost in an Oregon-dominant fashion (2010: 52-31 at Autzen; 2011: 53-30 at Palo Alto). The 2010 loss was especially critical as it was Stanford's only loss that season. Listening to fans and analysts, one would think that Stanford has dominated Oregon for years, when they have just recently figured out the Oregon puzzle. Is Stanford in the midst of dominating Oregon for years to come, or is it just that Stanford is a solid program that has been able to beat a rival two consecutive times? (As a cross-sport comparison, the Los Angeles Clippers hold two consecutive Pacific Division titles.

Ted Miller: Wait. Are you accusing the media of over-hyping an angle instead of taking a more measured perspective? I am SHOCKED! SHOCKED! that you would say such a thing.

SHOCKED!

You probably think I'd drop a completely irrelevant reference to the Washington-Oregon rivalry and how Washington-Oregon is so much COOLER just to get a rise out of folks. Of course, I would never do that, though you well know that Oregon-Washington is SO much COOLER. (I used my best Eric Cartman voice while typing that.)

First of all, 4-9 since 2001 is irrelevant. The present incarnation of Oregon-Stanford starts with Jim Harbaugh vs. Chip Kelly in 2009, a Stanford upset, by the way, that leaves the relevant count at 3-2 Stanford.

Second, call it fair play. We once wrote -- endlessly, from the Stanford perspective -- on Stanford's "Oregon Problem." So after consecutive Stanford victories in the series and resulting Pac-12 North titles, it only seems fair we reverse our position and give Oregon a Stanford problem.

Further, it's the related nature of both "problems" -- the Stanford defense. In the Ducks' wins in 2010 and 2011, they scored 105 points combined. In their losses the past two seasons, they scored 37 points combined. I can't help but feel those numbers are meaningful.

When Luck lost two in a row to Oregon in his prime, the problem was the Ducks' style and speed, not to mention Kelly's "oh no he didn't!" aggressiveness -- recall that audacious onside kick that transformed the 2010 game. The Ducks seemed to have the Cardinal's number, something that David Shaw didn't deny or hide from, which struck me as a smart coaching move.

Enter Derek Mason. There's a reason he's now the head coach at Vanderbilt. He figured out a defensive scheme that contained the Ducks and didn't allow them to dictate the game's tempo. But it wasn't only about some mystical scheme. Much of the squeeze Stanford put on Oregon's offense wasn't terribly complicated. Mason emphasized containment, winning one-on-one battles, tackling in space and then convinced his defense they were the unstoppable force of nature, not the Ducks.

The buy-in in 2012 in Autzen Stadium was tremendous. And stunning. That carried over to 2013, though I am -- sorry, Stanford fans -- one who believes a healthy Marcus Mariota would have made that game much different.

The reality is these are two elite programs whose annual matchup is even more fun because of the contrast of styles, though the idea that Oregon doesn't play physical football is inane.

Do I believe Stanford will dominate Oregon for years to come? No. I picked Oregon to win the Pac-12 this year -- I picked Stanford last year -- and I think the Ducks will take care of business in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 1.


Jim from Los Angeles writes: I'm curious why you repeatedly state that Taylor Kelly was better than Brett Hundley last season? Yes, I realize that ASU won the South, and that Kelly took second-team honors, but Hundley had the better passer rating (153.7-139.6) and total QBR (82.3-74.9). Factor in UCLA's offensive line injuries and that no UCLA receiver was as good as Jaelen Strong and I think Hundley was noticeably better last year.

Ted Miller: Well, the two main reasons you stated: 1. Kelly was named second-team All-Pac-12 over Hundley by the Pac-12 coaches; 2. He outplayed Hundley in their head-to-head matchup in the Rose Bowl, a game that decided the South Division.

While Hundley's efficiency numbers were better, Kelly passed for more yards per game (259.6 vs. 236.2), produced more yards of total offense per game (303.1 vs. 293.8) and was responsible for more touchdowns (37 vs. 35). The Sun Devils also averaged more points per game (39.7 vs. 36.9).

That said, I think I used the word "nipped" more than a few times to describe any distinction between the two. Both had fantastic seasons with comparable numbers.

Further, you might have noticed this: We rated Kelly No. 5 and Hundley No. 3 in our preseason countdown of the Pac-12's top-25 players.

Hundley is a tremendous talent who still was a little raw last year. I think it's fair to rate Kelly's 2013 season as better, just as I think it's fair to project Hundley to do more this fall. And probably in the NFL, though I've also learned not to count Kelly out.


GQ from Los Angeles writes: Ted, you must be a baseball writer also and vote for the Hall of fame. Regardless of what you think about a person, you cannot ignore a person's accomplishments. As bad a person that O.J. Simpson turned out to be, ignoring what he did on the football field makes this conversation a farce. It's like saying Hitler wasn't a great politician. Sports are based on statistics and many sports writers are not qualified to make social judgments. That is not what they were hired to be.

Ted Miller: Wow. Steroids. Alleged murder. Hitler.

I wrote about 400 words on this, then cut it and came up with this briefer conclusion: I am qualified to make the social judgment on this blog that O.J. is out. If you wish to celebrate O.J., start your own blog.


SirTrojan from Camas, Washington, writes: Ted, Please pass this on to Ms. Jennings. Her piece on music choices for Pac-12 coaches was, on the whole, amusing and well thought-out. However I have a major beef with her selection for USC's music. What would happen if Arthur Bartner were to read that column and become inspiried to incorporate "Let It Go" into the band's repertoire? With the penchant the Spirit of Troy has for playing a singular song over and over and over and over and over (you get the clue) I would swear off all allegiance to USC immediately! You see, I have a 2 1/2-year-old girl whose singing makes Rosanne Barr sound like Michael Bublé. Can you guess her favorite song that assaults my ear drums morning, noon and night? This could quickly spiral downward. Please don't let me end up homeless in Fargo, N.D.

Ted Miller: SirTrojan wins the award for note that made me grin this week.

No. 1, I bet your wife would give you a frowny face for writing: "... I have a 2 1/2-year-old girl whose singing makes Rosanne Barr sound like Michael Bublé." The rule I've found with moms and their child's singing is it sounds like an angelic chorus, at least until we dads are officially advised otherwise... and best to get that in writing.

No. 2, I knew my 5-year-old was truly my son when "Let It Go" came on the radio -- briefly -- and he went, "Gaaaaaaa... Dad, I hate this song.... change it. Oh, the horror... the horror..."

(The "Heart of Darkness" reference may be an embellishment on my part.)

Pac-12 lunch links

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
3:00
PM ET
Happy Friday! And a special TGIF switch up for our readers who are always bummed that their schools fall near the end of the alphabet.

SPONSORED HEADLINES