Our earliest indicators of Heisman Trophy voting say that it might come down to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

Winston is the reigning Heisman winner and if he were to win it again, the Florida State quarterback would join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner. In 2013, he threw for 4,057 yards and completed 66.9 percent of his passes. He had 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Mariota -- who was slowed by a knee injury during the Pac-12 season -- finished the 2013 season with 3,665 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes en route to picking up his second consecutive All-Pac-12 honor.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston had a storybook redshirt freshman season on the field, winning the Heisman Trophy and the national championship.
But they’ve grown and matured. Their teams are a bit different than they were last season and the biggest question at this point is: Which player is the early favorite to win the Heisman in the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff?

Jared Shanker and Chantel Jennings discussed a few key points to see where different advantages fall in regard to this debate.

Offensive line: Florida State

Shanker: Among the positions we’re looking at, the gap may be widest at offensive line. Florida State’s offensive line consists of five seniors, all with starting experience. Combined, they have more than 100 career starts. Cameron Erving is one of the best left tackles in the country, and right guard Tre’ Jackson could be the first guard taken in the NFL draft next spring. The Ducks might have center Hroniss Grasu, but overall, the Oregon offensive line can’t compete with the Seminoles’ O-line. Right, Chantel?

Jennings: A week ago, I might have fought you a little harder on this, but now that Tyler Johnstone is out for the season with an ACL injury, I’d say you’re completely right. Andre Yruretagoyena will replace the 26-game starter Johnstone … but Yruretagoyena has never started a game at Oregon. Grasu is the headliner of the bunch, but outside of his conference-leading 40 starts, the other three combine for just 41 total. Advantage definitely goes to Winston’s offensive front.

Running backs: Oregon

Jennings: Mariota returns his top two running threats from 2013 and, from everything Oregon coach Mark Helfrich is saying, these two are even better than numbers last year. Both Byron Marshall and Tyner averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and Marshall led the team overall with 1,038 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Tyner rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Take those two and add Mariota -- who accounted for 715 yards and nine rushing touchdowns -- and you have a three-headed monster that might be the best backfield in college football.

Shanker: Agree that the edge has to go to Oregon here. The Florida State coaching staff is high on senior running back Karlos Williams, but he was a safety entering the 2013 season and has taken very few carries during the meaningful portions of games. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and had very strong numbers last season as the No. 3 running back, but we’ll see how he fares this season as “The Guy.” This could be a much closer debate by the end of the season depending on the progress of Williams and his backups Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender.

Wide receivers: Florida State, but it’s close

Shanker: This is a tough one as both quarterbacks have some question marks on the outside. Rashad Greene is a potential All-American, but who is going to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw’s production -- nearly 2,000 receiving yards combined. There is certainly talent at receiver, especially in the freshman class. Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were top-10 receivers nationally coming out of high school, but Rudolph’s foot has been slow to heal from offseason surgery. Jesus “Bobo” Wilson is indefinitely suspended, and Isaiah Jones could be an academic casualty. The positive here is that the attention Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary will draw should facilitate the emergence of a legitimate No. 2 receiver.

Jennings: If the coaches at Oregon are to be believed in what they’re saying at this point in fall camp, then this is one of the deepest groups of wide receivers in recent memory. Now, it’s untested talent, so it’s still just potential. But the fact that wide receivers coach Matt Lubick thinks -- that if the Ducks played today -- that they could go with eight different receivers, that’s pretty impressive. Even if half of those guys pan out, it’s still pretty good. But in this case one proven guy is greater than eight unproven guys -- though veteran Keanon Lowe returns -- he was fifth on the team last year with 18 receptions.

Schedule: Florida State, and it’s not close

Shanker: Certainly the schedule is tougher, and 2014 won’t be a cakewalk, but the Seminoles do not have three teams in the top 11 of the USA Today Coaches Poll on their schedule. Oregon does. And two of those teams, Michigan State and Stanford, are among the best teams defensively. Florida State does have to face Clemson, which could be vastly improved on defense, but the Seminoles hung 50 on the Tigers on the road in 2013. Oklahoma State is rebuilding, and Notre Dame has potential with Everett Golson back, but it would not be a shock if both teams finish the season unranked. The Florida defense should be very good again this season, but it might not matter if their offense cannot alleviate any of the pressure. That’s exactly what happened when Florida and Florida State played last season.

Jennings: The Ducks take off in Week 2 against Michigan State and don’t slow from there. In Week 4 they’ll travel to Pullman, Wash. to take on Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, which is always a headache for defensive coordinators. They have Arizona, Stanford and Washington at home. They have UCLA and Oregon State on the road. I’d like to see FSU play half of that schedule and see what their record is. If a player’s team needs to be perfect -- or nearly perfect -- then Winston has a much, much better shot at that with Florida State's schedule.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota's reputation is practically unblemished nationally.
National perception: Mariota

Jennings: People know Mariota because he's a darn good player. In his career for the Ducks, he has never made a misstep. The only people who don’t like Mariota are the fans of the teams that play against him. And even then, I would bet if he showed up at a dinner party or wanted to date someone’s daughter, he’d be welcomed in no problem. He has already graduated. His teammates love him. His coaches talk about him as if he's their golden child. Even other quarterbacks in the conference like him.

Shanker: It’s no secret Winston is not well-liked outside of Tallahassee for the most part, as David Hale pointed out earlier this week. Considered affable in September, Winston was considered arrogant and above the law two months later. The sexual assault investigation, coupled with the seafood heist, has brought a lot of notoriety to Winston. On the field, the expectations will be higher for Winston this season. As the returning Heisman winner, Winston is going to be held to a higher standard. It’s unlikely he repeats his 4,000-yard, 40-touchdown season in 2014, and if Winston gives voters any reason to not vote for him, there will be more than a few who won't.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
8:00
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I have an idea, why don't you give me your home number and I'll call you back later?

ASU lineman comes out publicly

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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Arizona State offensive lineman Edward "Chip" Sarafin told Compete Magazine -- a Tempe, Arizona-based LGBT publication -- in its most recent issue that he is gay.

Like former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, Sarafin came out to his team before going public.

"It was really personal to me and it benefited my peace of mind greatly," Sarafin told Compete Magazine of coming out to his teammates.

Sarafin becomes the first current Division I college football player to publicly announce he is gay.

To read the rest of this story, click here.
EUGENE, Ore. -- With practices at Oregon closed, most of what is known -- outside of the locker room -- is speculation.

This is what is known: Marcus Mariota is the quarterback. The wide receivers are a flurry of youth. There are options at tight end and they'll likely be more involved in the pass game, but still, nothing extreme. And the offensive line is pretty much set, despite a recent shake up.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards for the Ducks in 2013.
And the biggest "battle" remaining, might not even be a true battle depending on what coaches decide to do. Because between Mariota's mobility and running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, the Ducks have a pretty loaded backfield.

Could Oregon use both and employ a tandem system? Could one emerge as a featured back? Would they split carries nearly equal to keep legs and bodies fresh?

All those possibilities have their pros and cons, and the answer to those questions likely won't surface until Oregon takes the field against Michigan State in Week 2 (assuming there's no real reason to show their playbook in Week 1).

What's obvious is that the coaches and team feel very confident in both players. Center Hroniss Grasu made a pretty bold claim at Oregon media day when he said, "It's nice and comforting to know that what we have in the backfield is probably the best backfield in college football."

Then, left tackle Tyler Johnstone -- who tore his ACL on Monday and will be out for the season -- disagreed, saying that it's not just probably the best, but that it is the best backfield in America.

"I think it's kind of crazy if you don't look at it like that," he said. "What other teams have that many weapons in that small area of the field?"

He's right. Not many teams have that many weapons in that small of an area. A Heisman hopeful plus two possible 1,000-yard rushers isn't exactly an unwanted problem.

So, what else is definitely known?

Both guys -- according to those around them -- have improved on their mistakes from last season.

Tyner -- who drew praise from fans when they saw him destroy a defensive back in the Ducks' spring game -- carried the ball 115 times for 711 yards and had nine rushing touchdowns in 2013.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has been pretty open about the fact it took Tyner a while to acclimate himself to the college game. He said that with players there are the guys who come in and go full speed before they realize they need to slow down and learn, and then there are the guys who stay slower and need confidence before they can really have their best performances.

And Tyner? He's in the second camp.

"Last year I wasn't as comfortable as I am this year," Tyner said. "When I was on the field, I thought a lot. This year I'm a lot more comfortable with the offense and how to play and so everything right now is just natural."

Marshall, who led the Ducks with 168 carries, 1,038 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, has been searching for consistency this offseason. Last season his numbers fluctuated -- 2.1 yards per rush during one early-season game, 9.1 yards per rush in the middle of the Pac-12 schedule, 3.3 yards per carry in the season close against Texas.

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon RB Thomas Tyner has high expectations for himself and the Ducks' 2014 season.
"I think part of that with Byron is conditioning, part of that is confidence, part of that is total overall scope of the system and just cutting it loose," Helfrich said. "But that only comes again with great preparation and he's another guy who can practice a little bit better."

Neither low confidence nor inconsistency is something a coach wants in his top player (or for that matter, any player). Helfrich has harped on when someone does something a second, third or fourth time, they should be better than they were before. Given that reasoning, these issues should be behind them.

Both guys are coming into this season with high expectations. Both guys have great potential at Oregon.

But, outside of that, little is known. Yes, it sounds as though they've laid the foundation for an aggressive rushing attack, but is it enough for -- as Johnstone said -- the best in the country?

Give it a few weeks and the answer will have a chance to reveal itself against one of the best run defenses in the country. At that point we'll see if their play backs up others' words.

Pac-12 commit update

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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It's been a while (or, "a minute" as the kids say these days) since we've looked at where each school stands with its commits in the 2015 classes. But, since we're in the midst of fall camp and recruits are going to be on campus for practices and games, it seems like a perfect time to look at the numbers before the games kick off in a few weeks.

Vamos.

ARIZONA

Commits: 22 | ESPN 300 commits: 1

OT Keenan Walker (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral); OG Cody Creason (Folsom, Calif./Folsom); RB Orlando Bradford (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist Academy); WR Cedric Peterson (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde); OT Harper Sherman (New Westminster, BC, Can./New Westminster Secondary); CB Anthony Mariscal (Bakersfield, Calif./Liberty); CB Samuel Morrison (Washington, DC/Gonzaga College); ATH Antonio Parks (Reserve, La./East Saint John); ILB Kendrick Jackson (Haynesville, La./Haynesville); OG Alex Kosinski (Larkspur, Calif./Redwood); DE Kendal Franklin (New Orleans, Warren Easton); RB Darick Holmes Jr. (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park); DT Finton Connolly (Gilbert, Ariz./Campo Verde); TE Ricky McCoy (Fresno, Calif./Bullard); TE Jamie Nunley (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta); ATH Brion Anduze (Silverdale, Wash./Central Kitsap); S Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (Tucson, Ariz./Tucson); OG Nathan Eldrige (Anthem, Ariz./Boulder Creek); RB Dami Ayoola (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Arizona Western College); S Paul Magloire (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western College); RB Kendall Williams (North Little Rock, Ark./Butte College); Dane Cruikshank (Chino Hills, Calif./Citrus College)

ARIZONA STATE

Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 1

QB Brady White (Newhall, Calif./William S. Hart); ATH Morie Evans (Huntsville, Tex./Huntsville); ATH Tony Nicholson (Grand Prairie, Tex./South Grand Prairie); QB Bryce Perkins (Chandler, Ariz./Chandler); OT Mason Walter (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral); TE Tommy Hudson (San Jose, Calif./Archbishop Mitty); ATH Alfred Smith (Destrehan, Calif./Destrehan); OG Cade Cote (Gilbert, Ariz./Williams Field); OT Steve Miller (Gilbert, Ariz./Gilbert); OLB Malik Lawal (Murrieta, Calif./Chaparral); RB Nick Ralston (Argyle, Tex./Argyle); TE Raymond Epps (Yuma, Ariz./Arizona Western College)

CALIFORNIA

Commits: 10 | ESPN 300 commits: 0

QB Ross Bowers (Bothell, Wash./Bothell); WR Greyson Bankhead (Corona, Calif./Centennial); CB Malik Psalms (Chino Hills, Calif./Ayala); RB Lonny Powell (Sacramento, Calif./Sacramento); OG Ryan Gibson (Bay Saint Louis, Miss./Saint Stanislaus); OT Johnny Capra (Auburn, Calif./Placer); WR Austin Aaron (Napa, Calif./Napa); DT Luc Bequette (Little Rock, Ark./Catholic High School For Boys); TE Zeandae Johnson (Fresno, Calif./Central); DE Trevor Howard (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian)

COLORADO

Commits: 8 | ESPN 300 commits: 1

OG Tim Lynott (Aurora, Col./Regis Jesuit); QB Steven Montez (Del Valle, Tex./Del Valle); DE T.J. Fehoko (Salt Lake City/Cottonwood); OG Dillon Middlemiss (Arvada, Col./Pomona); K Alex Kinney (Fort Collins, Col./Rocky Mountain); OLB N.J. Falo (Sacramento, Calif./Inderkum); DT Brett Tonz (Peoria, Ariz./Centennial); WR Josiah Blandin (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach City College)

OREGON

Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 4

WR Alex Ofodile (Columbia, Mo./Rock Bridge); RB Taj Griffin (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern); QB Travis Waller (Anaheim, Calif./Servite); OG Zach Okun (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park); OT Jake Hanson (Eureka, Calif./Eureka); WR Jake Breeland (Mission Viejo, Calif./Trabuco Hills); S P.J. Locke (Beaumont, Tex./Central); OT Shane Lemieux (Yakima, Wash./West Valley); OT Brady Aiello (Lafayette, Calif./Acalanes); CB Jihree Stewart (Corona, Calif./Centennial); OT Calvin Throckmorton (Bellevue, Wash./Newport); S Dylan Kane (Honolulu/Kamehameha Schools)

OREGON STATE

Commits: 11 | ESPN 300 commits: 0

TE Matt Pistone (Yuma, Ariz./Yuma Catholic); OG Beau Hott (Plano, Tex./Plano Senior); S Solomon Matautia (Ewa Beach, Hi./Campbell); QB James Pensyl (Land O'Lakes, Fla./Land O. Lakes); OLB Tyrin Ferguson (New Orleans/Edna Karr); S Omar Hicks-Onu (Carrollton, Tex./Hebron); OG Miki Fifita (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy); DE Hunter Mattox (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon); OG Jacob Jimenez (Pflugerville, Tex./Pflugerville); OLB Angelo Garbutt (Carrollton, Tex./Hebron); CB Treshon Broughton (Tustin, Calif./Los Angeles Harbor College)

STANFORD

Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 3

OG Nick Wilson (Milton, Ga./Milton); S Arrington Farrar (College Park, Ga./Woodward Academy); C Brian Chaffin (Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Christian); ILB Christian Folau (Salt Lake City/East); WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Roebuck, SC/Dorman); K Jake Bailey (Solana Beach, Calif./Santa Fe Christian); DT Rex Manu (Mililani, Hi./Mililani); ILB Reagan Williams (Jackson, Ohio/Jackson); OLB Casey Toohill (San Diego, Calif./Cathedral Catholic)

UCLA

Commits: 14 | ESPN 300 commits: 5

QB Josh Rosen (Bellflower, Calif./Saint John Bosco); TE Alize Jones (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman); OG Fred Ulu-Perry Jr. (Honolulu/Saint Louis); OT Andre James (Herriman, Utah/Herriman); OG Tevita Halalilo (Moreno Valley, Calif./Rancho Verde); WR L.J. Reed (Elk Grove, Calif./Cosumnes Oaks); DT Bryce English (DeSoto, Tex./DeSoto); ATH Stephen Johnson (San Leandro, Calif./San Leandro); CB Will Lockett (Manvel, Tex./Manvel); ILB Victor Alexander (Jacksonville, Fla./Trinity Christian Academy); RB T.J. Simmons (Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland Christian); DE Rick Wade (Rancho Sant Margarita, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic); RB Bolu Olorunfunmi (Clovis, Calif./Clovis North); OLB Josh Woods (Upland, Calif./Upland)

USC

Commits: 15 | ESPN 300 commits: 7

OT Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Ga./McEachern); QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente); QB Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./Saint Bonaventure); DT Jacob Daniel (Fresno, Calif./Clovis North); WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast); ATH Isaiah Langley (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill); ILB Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay); WR Desean Holmes (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany); DT Noah Jefferson (Las Vegas/Liberty); RB Aca'Cedric Ware (Cedar Hill, Tex./Cedar Hill); CB Taeon Mason (Pasadena, Calif./John Muir); OT Clayton Johnston (Anaheim, Calif./Servite); DE Christian Rector (Los Angeles/Loyola); OT Roy Hemsley (Los Angeles/Windward); WR De'Quan Hampton (Compton, Calif./Long Beach City College)

UTAH

Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 0

WR Donzale Roddie (Paramount, Calif./Paramount); OT Jake Grant (Scottsdale, Ariz./Horizon); WR Justice Murphy (Vancouver, Wash./Evergreen); K Chayden Johnston (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham); ATH Tuli Wily-Matagi (Kahuku, Hi./Kahuku); WR George Wilson (Tustin, Calif./Tustin); QB Michael Jacquet III (Beaumont, Tex./Central); OLB Cody Barton (Salt Lake City/Brighton); OT Zach Lindsay (Kaysville, Utah/Snow College)

WASHINGTON

Commits: 9 | ESPN 300 commits: 1

QB Jake Browning (Folsom, Calif./Folsom); OT Trey Adams (Wenatchee, Wash./Wenatchee); WR Isaiah Renfro (Chatsworth, Calif./Sierra Canyon); WR Andre Baccellia (Westlake Village, Calif./Westlake); RB Myles Gaskin (Seattle/O'Dea); TE Michaeal Neal (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif./Etiwanda); OT Jared Hilbers (Beaverton, Ore./Beaverton); CB Jordan Miller (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside); LS A.J. Carty (Anaheim, Calif./Servite)

WASHINGTON STATE

Commits: 12 | ESPN 300 commits: 2

DT Thomas Toki (Mountain View, Calif./Saint Francis); RB Austin Joyner (Marysville, Wash./Marysville-Pilchuck); CB Darrien Molton (Temecula, Calif./Chaparral); WR Deontay Burnett (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra); RB James Williams (Burbank, Calif./Burbank); S Kameron Powell (Upland, Calif./Upland); QB Tyler Hilinski (Upland, Calif./Upland); S Dominic Davis (Mission Hills, Calif./Bishop Alemany); K Matt Abramo (Petaluma, Calif./Casa Grande); OG Cedric Bigge-Duren (Oceanside, Calif./Oceanside); OG Noah Myers (Walnut Creek, Calif./Las Lomas); ILB Aaron Porter (Norwalk, Calif./Cerritos College)

Notes:
  • These classes are already beginning to fill up pretty well, some better than others (cough, Arizona). And looking forward, the coaches are getting in early on some younger guys, too. Throughout the conference there are already three 2016 commits and two 2017 commits. The three 2016 commits are running back Trevor Speights (Arizona), safety Brady Breeze (Oregon) and athlete Daelin Hayes (USC). The 2017 commits are defensive end Loren Mundy (Arizona State) and quarterback Tathan Martell (Washington).
  • So far, there are five special team commits in the Pac-12, keeping with the national trend of placing higher importance on special teams players. Stanford, Utah, Colorado and Washington State have all picked up commitments from kickers while Washington has a verbal from a long snapper.
  • The conference has 11 commits who are within the top five nationally in their respective position groups. UCLA leads the way with three top-5 commits (Rosen - No. 1 QB, Jones - No. 1 TE-Y, Ulu-Perry Jr. - No. 4 OG). Behind the Bruins are USC (Edoga - No. 3 OT, Darnold - No. 3 QB-PP), Oregon (Ofodile - No. 5 WR, Griffin - No. 4 RB) and Stanford (Chaffin - No. 3 C, Bailey - No. 4 K) with two apiece. Arizona has Walker, the No. 4 OT, and Washington has Browning, the No. 5 QB-PP.
  • There are 10 juco players already committed to Pac-12 schools. Arizona, which leads the league with 22 commits, has four verbal commitments from junior college players. There are six other schools with commitments from junior college players -- Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington State.
  • Stanford is doing a tremendous job recruiting nationally. Its nine commitments hail from seven different states ranging from Georgia to Ohio to California to Hawaii. But Arizona is doing the best internationally with a commit from British Columbia.
  • Early front runner for best name in the Pac-12 is UCLA running back Bolu Olorunfunmi. C'mon Olo-RUN-FUN-mi. He's going to have so much FUN being a RUNning back. And writers (and editors who write headlines) are going to have a lot of fun, too.

UCLA Bruins season preview

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
10:30
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC 

Previewing the 2014 season for the UCLA Bruins.

2013 record: 10-3, 6-3 in Pac-12; Beat Virginia Tech 42-12 in Hyundai Sun Bowl.

Final grade for 2013: B-plus. UCLA finished ranked No. 16 in the country and won five of its last six games, including a second-straight win against USC to build momentum into this year.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBrett Hundley passed for 3,071 yards and rushed for another 748 with 35 combined TDs last season.
Key returnees: QB Brett Hundley, LB/RB Myles Jack, LB Eric Kendricks, OL Jake Brendel, WR Devin Fuller, DL Ellis McCarthy, DB Fabian Moreau, OL Alex Redmond, DL Eddie Vanderdoes, DB Randall Goforth.

Key losses: OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, LB Anthony Barr, LB Jordan Zumwalt, DL Cassius Marsh, WR Shaq Evans.

Instant impact newcomer: LB Kenny Young, RB Adarius Pickett.

Projected winning percentage (ESPN Stats & Information): .734

Chances to win the conference (ESPN Stats & Information): 20.2 percent

Best-case scenario: 15-0

Worst-case scenario: 8-5

Over-under win total (Bovada): 9.5

Biggest question mark: Running back. It was a patchwork effort to replace Jonathan Franklin last season with Jack, Paul Perkins and Jordon James all mixing in. This year, UCLA will aim for more certainty at the position.

Most important game: Oct. 11 versus Oregon. The Bruins get the Ducks at home in what could be a preview of the Pac-12 title game later in the year at Levi's Stadium.

Upset special: ASU fans might not call it an upset if the Sun Devils beat the Bruins in Tempe on Sept. 25, but everyone else would. If there's a chance UCLA could trip up before Oregon, that's the best bet.

They said it: "I never was going to leave UCLA. [Athletic director] Dan Guerrero went out on a limb when he hired me. Let's not kid anybody. I wasn't the most popular hire in the history of college sports, I can promise you that." -- UCLA coach Jim Mora
The only thing the Pac-12 has to fear in the new era of the College Football Playoff is itself. Oh, and other conferences gaming the infant system.

Whatever negative perceptions formerly were held about the Pac-12 -- finesse, pass-first, defense-optional league with half-full stadiums -- are mostly dead. Though there always will be trolling mouth-breathers with tired insults, Pac-12 folks now can show up to the verbal brawl with facts and numbers and game scores and commence to deliver a dose of frenzied verbal MMA that leaves said trolls whimpering for mercy.

OK, perhaps that's going overboard. But the Pac-12 deserves credit for two things: (1) Its rating as the nation's No. 2 conference (2) Making things tougher on itself than any other conference.

The overwhelming national consensus is the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC. As ESPN Stats & Information noted in January, "Overall, the Pac-12 finished with six teams ranked in the AP Top 25 and five teams ranked in the top 10 of ESPN's Football Power Index. As a result of its strength in the computers, the Pac-12 was the clear No. 2 conference in the Power Rankings."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsThe Pac-12's $3 billion broadcasting deal with ESPN and Fox has been followed by an influx of big-name coaches like Arizona's Rich Rodriguez.
It wasn't just ESPN. Jeff Sagarin ranked the Pac-12 No. 2 in 2013. Phil Steele ranked the Pac-12 the No. 2 conference in 2012 and 2013, and also projected it as No. 2 in 2014. Athlon Sports did the same. In fact, if there is a conference rating system that ranked the Pac-12 anything different in 2013 and projects a lower rating this fall, we haven't seen it.

Another vote in the Pac-12's favor comes from an unquestionably unbiased -- cough, cough -- constituency: Pac-12 coaches.

"[The SEC] should claim themselves as the best league in the country because they've earned it," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "But to go through the Pac-12 and win a national championship may be the most difficult thing to do because of our schedule."

Ah, that's the worrisome rub. No other conference rides the scheduling tricycle like the Pac-12: 1. Challenging nonconference slate; 2. Nine-game conference schedule; 3. Conference championship game.

While some conferences have improved their nonconference scheduling, they don't play nine conference games. The Big 12 does play nine conference games, but it doesn't play a championship game. Pac-12 coaches aren't shy about noting that a conference team, in almost all cases, will have to play at least 11 quality games -- one tough nonconference foe, nine conference games and the Pac-12 title game -- to earn a spot in the CFP. No other conference can claim that.

There is a big reason the other conferences can't: They don't want to.

"Fair or unfair, whatever the words you want to use, we play a nine-game schedule and a conference championship game and other conferences don't on purpose," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "There is obviously a reason for that."

That's the big issue for the Pac-12 heading into the season. There is no longer a worry about respect or the perception of the Pac-12. Rather, it's about how unscathed a conference champ can hope to be against such a demanding schedule, and whether the committee will stick to its stated insistence that strength of schedule will be paramount. When a conference plays eight of the nation's 13 toughest schedules, as the Pac-12 did in 2013, the challenge to go unbeaten or even to lose just one game is far greater.

Of course, this issue won't be solved today, or even in the next couple months. The ultimate answers will be delivered in January when four semifinalists are picked and seeded.

So then, how did the Pac-12 gain ground in the perception battle -- one that has the conference starting with six teams ranked in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, including three in the top 11 with two others receiving votes?

The easy answer: money. The $3 billion broadcasting deal with ESPN and Fox was a game-changer. That money has flowed into facilities improvements and more aggressive investments in coaching -- head coaches and assistants. A concomitant influx of A-list coaches, most notably Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, Jim Mora and Chris Petersen, has boosted the conference's Q-rating. Those coaches also have been able to hire and -- critically -- retain key assistants with competitive salaries, such as Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell ($700,000), UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm ($650,000), Washington State defensive line coach Joe Salave'a ($275,000) and USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox (north of the $800,000 he made at Washington), among others.

No team has had a better, and perhaps more unfortunate, seat while watching the Pac-12 improve than Utah. The Utes joined the conference in 2011 as a program that had posted two unbeaten seasons and won two BCS bowl games as a member of the respected Mountain West Conference. Though they went a solid 4-5 in conference play in 2011, they slipped to 3-6 in 2012 and 2-7 in 2013, with lineups that might have been better than the 2011 squad.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Eric GayOregon's Marcus Mariota is part of an impressive group of returning QBs in the Pac-12 this season.
"The thing that has been very apparent with the Pac-12 in 2011 when we entered, is the Pac-12 now is far superior from top to bottom," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The progress this conference has made in the last few years is phenomenal."

What separates the Pac-12 this season -- and could make it a legitimate threat for the No. 1 conference -- is behind center. Not only does the conference welcome back 10 starting quarterbacks, a majority of those are NFL prospects.

"I've never seen anything like this," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "You have multiple guys that you could say could be the No. 1 pick overall in the draft. You have multiple guys in the conference that could be All-Americans and lead the nation in quarterback rating or lead the nation in passing."

The most notable quarterbacks are Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley, Heisman Trophy candidates blinking brightly on NFL radars who lead teams favored to win their respective divisions. Hundley will get an early showcase game against Texas, and Mariota and the Ducks play host to Michigan State, the Big Ten favorite, in Week 2. And the Ducks and Bruins could meet each other twice this season.

But they also must contend with Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Oregon State's Sean Mannion, USC's Cody Kessler, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, Washington State's Connor Halliday, Utah's Travis Wilson, California's Jared Goff and Colorado's Sefo Liufau, each capable of posting a spectacular individual performance that could spawn an upset.

The Pac-12 is plenty hyped heading into the 2014 season. There is no perception problem. There might, however, end up being a reality problem. If the Pac-12 champion ends up with two losses, and the selection committee has a handful of Power Five conference teams with one or fewer defeats, the Pac-12 could get a respectful tip of the cap but end up out of luck in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
8:00
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Answer. That you are here -- that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

UCLA's Lucien hits head in practice

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
10:23
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SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -- UCLA receiver Devin Lucien left practice in an ambulance after injuring his head.

Bruins coach Jim Mora was visibly concerned about Lucien after Tuesday's afternoon practice at training camp in San Bernardino.

Lucien is an athletic junior known for acrobatic catches in practices and games. Mora believes Lucien was injured when he hit his head on the ground while making a catch.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Pac-12 NFL training camp update

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
10:00
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Before NFL teams trim their rosters down to 53 players, plus whoever remains on the practice squads, we thought it would be interesting to see how players from Pac-12 schools are dispersed around the league.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Smith
Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY SportsSuper Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, a USC product, is one of 16 Pac-12 players on the Seattle Seahawks roster.
Here's a closer look at the Pac-12 alumni in NFL training camps:

  • There are 338 players from Pac-12 teams in NFL training camps, which represents about 11.6 percent of the players currently on NFL rosters.
  • Of those 338 players, 78 are rookies.
  • Total number of players in NFL training camps, by school: USC 55, Oregon 41, California 37, Stanford 36, Utah 30, Arizona State 28, UCLA 27, Oregon State 22, Arizona 20, Washington 18, Colorado 14, Washington State 10
  • Total number of rookies in NFL training camps, by school: Arizona State 11, Stanford 11, USC 10, Oregon 7, Utah 7, UCLA 7, Oregon State 6, Cal 5, Washington 5, Arizona 4, Washington State 3, Colorado 2
  • Players with three years experience or less: Stanford 26, USC 26, Oregon 24, ASU 22, Cal 20, UCLA 20, Utah 17, Washington 12, Arizona 11, Oregon State 11, Colorado 7, WSU 6
  • Offensive players 175; defensive players 149; specialists (K/P/LS): 14
  • Chip Kelly might be gone, but he has not forgotten his conference roots. The former Oregon coach's roster in Philadelphia includes 21 former Pac-12 players -- easily the most of any NFL team. Of those 21, eight are from Oregon.
  • Former USC coach Pete Carroll has 16 Pac-12 players in camp, but just four are from USC (LB Mike Morgan, LB Malcolm Smith, TE Anthony McCoy, S Dion Bailey). The Super Bowl champions also currently have three Pac-12 rookies (Colorado WR Paul Richardson, Washington WR Kevin Smith, UCLA DL Cassius Marsh).
  • The 49ers, coached by former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, have 12 Pac-12 players, but Harbaugh does not have final say on the team's roster. Among those 12 are former Stanford stars, LB Shayne Skov, LB Chase Thomas and OT Jonathan Martin. In addition to Skov, the 49ers have three other Pac-12 rookies in camp: USC TE Kevin Greene, USC C Marcus Martin and Oregon State OL Michael Philipp
  • Teams with least amount of Pac-12 players: Rams 3, Jets 6, Chiefs 6, Ravens 6, Bills 7, Cowboys 7, Falcons 7, Lions 7
  • Teams with most Pac-12 Pac-12 players: Eagles 21, Chargers 16, Seahawks 16, Dolphins 15, Panthers 14, Raiders 14
  • Three NFL head coaches attended Pac-12 schools: Carolina's Ron Rivera (Cal); San Diego's Mike McCoy (Utah) and St. Louis' Jeff Fisher (USC)

We'll revamp this post once NFL rosters are set in early September.

By the Numbers

Arizona
Total: 20
Offensive players: 9
Defensive players: 10
K/P/LS: 1
Rookies: 4 -- RB Ka'Deem Carey (Bears); LB Marquis Flowers (Bengals); TE Terrence Miller (Patriots); DB Shaquille Richardson (Steelers)

Arizona State
Total: 28
Offensive players: 16
Defensive players: 12
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 11 -- DL Will Sutton (Bears); DB Robert Nelson (Browns); WR Kevin Ozier (Cardinals); RB Marion Grice (Chargers); DB Alden Darby (Chargers); DL Gannon Conway (Colts); DL Davon Coleman (Cowboys); OL Evan Finkenberg (Dolphins); LB Carl Bradford (Packers); WR Rashad Ross (Redskins); LB Chris Young (Texans)

Cal
Total: 37
Offensive players: 18
Defensive players: 15
K/P/LS: 4
Rookies: 5 -- DB Kameron Jackson (Colts); LB Chris McCain (Dolphins); DL Deandre Coleman (Jaguars); TE Richard Rodgers (Packers); LB Khairi Fortt (Saints)

Colorado
Total: 14
Offensive players: 7
Defensive players: 5
K/P/LS: 2
Rookies: 2 -- Chidera Uzo-Diribe (Saints); WR Paul Richardson (Seahawks)

Oregon
Total: 41
Offensive players: 24
Defensive players: 17
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 7 -- RB De'Anthony Thomas (Chiefs); DB Terrance Mitchell (Cowboys); DL Taylor Hart (Eagles); DL Wade Keliikipi (Eagles); WR Josh Huff (Eagles); DL Ricky Havili-Heimuli (Jaguars); TE Colt Lyerla (Packers)

Oregon State
Total: 22
Offensive players: 11
Defensive players: 10
K/P/LS: 1
Rookies: 6 -- WR Brandin Cooks (Saints); WR Micah Hatfield (Chargers); DL Scott Crichton (Vikings); OL Michael Philipp (49ers); OL Josh Andrews (Eagles); DB Rashaad Reynolds (Jaguars);

Stanford
Total: 36
Offensive players: 23
Defensive players: 13
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 11 -- LB Shayne Skov (49ers); FB Ryan Hewitt (Bengals); OL Khalil Wilkes (Chargers); DL Ben Gardner (Cowboys); DB Ed Reynolds (Eagles); OL Cameron Fleming (Patriots); RB Tyler Gaffney (Patriots); LB Trent Murphy (Redskins); DL Josh Mauro (Steelers); OL Kevin Danser (Titans); OL David Yankey (Vikings)

UCLA
Total: 27
Offensive players: 13
Defensive players: 10
K/P/LS: 4
Rookies: 7 -- DB Brandon Sermons (Cardinals); RB Damien Thigpen (Cardinals); WR Shaq Evans (Jets); DL Cassius Marsh (Seahawks); LB Jordan Zumwalt (Steelers); Xavier Su'a-Filo (Texans); LB Anthony Barr (Vikings)

USC
Total: 55
Offensive players: 27
Defensive players: 28
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 10 -- OL Marcus Martin (49ers); TE Kevin Greene (49ers); DB Demetrius Wright (Dolphins); OL Kevin Graf (Eagles); LB Devon Kennard (Giants); TE Xavier Grimble (Giants); WR Marqise Lee (Jaguars); RB Silas Redd (Redskins); DL George Uko (Saints); DB Dion Bailey (Seahawks)

Utah
Total: 30
Offensive players: 13
Defensive players: 17
K/P/LS: 0
Rookies: 7 -- DL Tenny Palepoi (Chargers); LB Trevor Reilly (Jets); L.T. Tuipulotu (Patriots); DB Keith McGill (Raiders); FB Karl Williams (Raiders); TE Jake Murphy (Raiders); TE Anthony Denham (Texans)

Washington
Total: 18
Offensive players: 9
Defensive players: 8
K/P/LS: 1
Rookies: 5 -- TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Buccaneers); DB Greg Ducre (Chargers); WR Kevin Smith (Seahawks); K Travis Coons (Titans); RB Bishop Sankey (Titans)

Washington State
Total: 10
Offensive players: 5
Defensive players: 4
K/P/LS: 1
Rookies: 3 -- DB Deone Bucannon (Cardinals); K Andrew Furney (Jets); OL John Fullington (Packers)

*Roster information taken from each NFL team's official online roster on Aug. 12. This includes those suspended, on injured-reserve and the PUP/NFI lists. Does not include players who retired during training camp or have been waived.

Send any corrections to Kyle.Bonagura@ESPN.com (it's a lot of data to sift through)
In anticipation of the college football season, Grantland is previewing each power conference and today Holly Anderson made a stop in Pac-12 territory and took a look around at the "wild, wild West Coast."

Anderson says that Oregon is the spotlight team for many reasons, one of which is the schedule the Ducks face in 2014.
"Please adjust all perceptions of the concept to account for the Ducks’ position within the maelstrom of the Pac-12, particularly as residents of the Hydra-headed North division. This team gets Michigan State in Week 2; plays Arizona and UCLA out of the South; and operates in a division containing defending Pac-12 champ Stanford, can’t-be-discounted peskiness enthusiasts Oregon State and Washington State, and a looming legitimate threat in Washington. The very least the Ducks have to manage just to maintain respectability in this league is, in itself, a big damn deal."

She also analyzes a few different story lines, mentions a few notable players and touches on some other categories -- toastiest coach, breakout stars, must-watch games and outlandish predictions.

It's worth checking out. To read the full preview, click here.
Stanford head coach David Shaw announced Mike Bloomgren as the Cardinal's offensive line coach and running game coordinator in late February 2011. Nearly one year later, two more significant announcements involving Bloomgren would rock the Cardinal coaching offices -- perhaps literally.

Best Pac-12 stadium entrances

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
5:00
PM ET

If you are a college football fan, you love your team and you love the moment it runs onto the field inside your beloved stadium. It's a moment filled with frenzy, excitement and hope. It's the only moment of the game when you are absolutely guaranteed something worthy to cheer for.

And, unfortunately, you are not qualified to objectively judge how cool your team's entrance is. Sorry. You are biased.

We are not. We are stone-cold objective. We are eggheaded employers of pure science. We used advance analytics, HUGE super-computers and a Zeus' personal "Super-Awesome Thinking Cap" to make the following list of best stadium entrances in the Pac-12.

But feel free to disagree.

6. UCLA: The improved quality of play under Jim Mora has made the Rose Bowl again a true home-field advantage, but what caught our eye about the Bruins is the new entrance videos. The roaring contest with Oski was particularly amusing.

5. Washington: Husky Stadium has always been one of college football's great atmospheres, and the renovation of the stadium was nothing short of spectacular. Further, the place is very, very loud. You've got a downhill tunnel, the siren going off and a crowd going nuts. Great entrance.

4. Arizona State: The Sun Devils put on the best set piece of anyone, starting with Sparky beaming down from the sun, swaggering through Phoenix with a dust storm behind him and then stomping the opposing team's bus. The team then takes the field with plenty of pyrotechnic support. It helps that quality play under Todd Graham has helped fill the stadium up before kickoff.

3. Oregon: While it lacks size, Autzen Stadium is the most consistently intense venue in the Pac-12. With Oregon moving from nouveau riche to established national power, the Duck mascot riding a motorcycle ahead of the Ducks running onto the field is on the cusp of earning its "Iconic Image" credential, college football section.

2. USC: The Trojans are the Pac-12's clear leader in pageantry, a program whose traditions are readily identifiable across the country. From the band and music to Traveler, to Tommy Trojan stabbing the field, USC's pregame traditions are part of the historical tapestry of the game itself. And when the Trojans emerge from their downhill tunnel onto the field of the Coliseum, it's pretty darn cool.

1. Colorado: Look, I know Colorado has been down since joining the Pac-12, but it's possible its entrance at Folsom Field is the best entrance in all of college football. Why? Why! If you asked that question it's because you haven't seen the Buffaloes' entrance. Colorado tops this list because the team runs out behind a real, live 1,300 pound -- plus or minus -- Buffalo that can reach speeds of 25 mph. Not only is it awesome to watch, there's always just a little bit of the ole potential NASCAR wreck to it. Ralphie often has a mind of her own, and more than a few folks have ended up on the turf -- including her handlers -- while she made her mad dash. Ask Fox reporter Jim Knox (search for it on YouTube). Here's an official look.

Video: Brett Hundley confident in his game

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
4:05
PM ET
video 
UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley talks about the upcoming season, why he is the best quarterback in college football and takes part in the Danny Kanell garbage can challenge.

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

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