Mailbag: Sark vs. Petersen

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
7:00
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag. I'm feeling the madness. And the because the Pac-12 blog readers are so awesome, they've started up another bracket challenge. I'm in.

To the notes!

D.J. in Berkeley writes: Hey Kevin, I grew up in B1G country, so I'm still a little new to the Pac-12. How does inter-divisional conference scheduling work? Is it like the model that the B1G has used the last few years where each team has protected crossover games and rotating crossover games? I love the annual trips down to LA to play UCLA or USC; I'm just not sure why we play two Pac-12 South teams every year.

Kevin Gemmell: With the nine-game conference schedule, the way it shakes out is you play all five teams in your division, four cross-division games and then three nonconference games.

With the exception of the four California schools, it works on a two-year rotating basis. For example, Utah didn’t play Stanford or Oregon its first two years in the conference. Last year, both teams were back on the rotation and they’ll rotate through all the other schools in the North Division every two years.

The California schools have an agreement to play each other every year -- so Stanford and Cal will always play UCLA and USC.

If the league were to go to an eight-game conference schedule, it would drop one of the cross-division games and only play three. Many are in favor of this since the league guts itself on an annual basis (see the final weeks of last season: Stanford beating Oregon, USC beating Stanford, Arizona beating Oregon). When you play nine conference games, wackiness will ensue.

Personally, I still like the nine-game schedule. It means something when you win the Pac-12. Yes, it’s killed the national perception of the league the last few years. But it makes for some exciting scenarios.


Amanda in Los Angeles writes: Thanks for the live chat with Cody Kessler! What do you think is going to happen at quarterback?

Kevin Gemmell: Very interesting question. And one that has some national significance. Obviously, Kessler’s experience is a huge plus for him. And the fact that Steve Sarkisian has retained Clay Helton is also significant. Kessler, on more than one occasion, went out of his way to talk about how strong his relationship is with Helton and you could see a notable increase in Kessler’s efficiency once Helton started calling the plays.

Then again, Sark was a big Max Browne fan when he was at Samammish, Wash., and recruited him pretty hard to the Huskies. I would guess right now it’s about 60-40 in favor of Kessler. Browne is going to have to show that he can run Sark’s offense with greater efficiency than Kessler. The fact that it’s a newish style, complete with the uptempo element, levels the playing field a bit.

Either way, I wouldn’t expect anything to become official in the spring.


Eric in Terrebonne, Ore., writes: Captain Doctor (it's like having two first names, but with titles …) gets another season for the Beavs, which is great news. With all the depth and talent at LB, will the Beavs have the best corps of linebackers in the conference? Will the LBs be good enough to help improve the run defense?

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, it’s hard not to think of the “Spies Like Us” scene. And yes, it’s great news.

The Pac-12 blog has been a Michael Doctor fan for quite some time. The first time he really stood out to me was in the second game of the 2012 season against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. He posted a team-high eight solo tackles (nine total) and I saw him chase down Brett Hundley on a critical third-and-6 in the fourth quarter that forced a UCLA field goal rather than giving the Bruins a first down.

As noted in the story, Oregon State’s defense had a rough go of things last year -- which was disappointing, considering how strong of a unit it was in 2012, so the fact that he’s been granted a fifth year bodes very well for the Beavers this season.

Do they have the best linebackers in the league? That might be a bit much. UCLA’s is pretty good, as is Stanford’s, USC’s and Washington’s. But Oregon State certainly is deep. The only upside to injuries is that they allow younger players to step in and get some experience. When the injured player comes back, it creates depth at the position. Remember in 2011, when Shayne Skov was lost for the year, A.J. Tarpley was one of the players who stepped in. He returns as one of the top linebackers in the league this year and was a major reason why the Cardinal had all of that depth at linebacker the last few years.

No one wants injuries to happen, obviously. But in this scenario, with Doctor returning, it might work out OK for the Beavers, who gave up a whopping 190.3 yards per game on the ground last season. Only Colorado was worse, allowing 208.5 yards per game. Measure that against the 2012 squad, which was third in the league at 129.5 yards per game. Doctor’s presence should significantly help the Beavers improve in that area.


Andy in Seattle writes: I’m pretty shocked with the results of your Sark/Petersen poll. Why aren’t more Washington fans expecting more out of him?

Kevin Gemmell: Honestly, I’m a little surprised also. Then again, I’m not. Does that make sense?

My first thought is that all the pressure is always going to be on Steve Sarkisian, no matter what, because he’s the head coach at USC. And with that comes an elevated level of expectation.

Then again, Chris Petersen is perceived to be a “home run” hire. What happens if Washington goes 7-6? How quickly will the Washington faithful question the hire? What happens if they only win eight games in 2015? Will Petersen be given enough time to do things his way?

My thought is yes. If it were USC, I think the timetable for success is accelerated dramatically. Washington fans are hungry for their team to take the next step. But I also think they are realistic enough to understand the challenges that Petersen faces in his first couple of seasons -- specifically, rebuilding the offense and plugging some holes.

Sarkisian, on the other hand, isn’t going to get much wiggle room. USC has plenty of athletes. It always does. And the expectation is that the Trojans should compete for the Pac-12 South title every season and win it every of couple -- if not every year.

When I was up at USC last week, I had an interesting discussion with someone who will not be named. They told me the worst thing to ever happen to Lane Kiffin was going 10-2 in 2011. If they only win, say, eight games that year, then all of the pressure and expectations that came crumbling down in 2012 wouldn't have been a factor. Fans would have been more understanding, chalked another eight-win season up to the sanctions, and Kiffin would likely still have his job.

But that goes to show how much tougher things are at USC. So, coming full circle, I guess I’m not too surprised with the poll results.


Kevin in Palo Alto writes: Kevin, lots of new names and faces on the blog. What's that all about?

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, the Pac-12 blog is undergoing a bit of a face-lift. You have already welcomed Kyle Bonagura with open arms, and soon you’ll be welcoming Chantel Jennings. Kyle will serve as our Stanford reporter in the Bay Area and Chantel, formerly of the B1G blog covering Michigan, will be the point person for Oregon. Ted and I are still the Pac-12 reporters, but both of them will pitch in on the blog.

This will also allow Ted and I time to finish our screenplay: “Good Will Blogging.” It’s about a janitor at a to-be-determined Pac-12 blog school who sneaks into the student newspaper at night and writes all of the articles. We’re hoping to get into Sundance by 2031.

Give the duo the same warm reception you gave me when I joined on in 2011. More voices means a better blog.
It’s not Vegas, baby. But Manhattan Beach will do.

Actor Vince Vaughn has purchased former USC coach Lane Kiffin’s Manhattan Beach house for $6.5 million, according to the L.A. Times.

The 7,308-square-foot-property is a Craftsman-style home that was built in 2002. (Full disclosure, I didn’t know what craftsman style was. I had to look it up). The six-bedroom, seven-bathroom house sits on a half-acre lot and has a swimming pool/spa, outdoor kitchen and guesthouse.

Kiffin was fired five games into the 2013 season and has since been hired as the offensive coordinator at Alabama. He was 28-15 in three-plus seasons with the Trojans, including a 10-2 record in 2011. Chances are, Kiffin didn’t get to spend much time enjoying the spoils and amenities of the property. He regularly spent his nights sleeping in his office. So far, it sounds like he's doing well in Tuscaloosa.

No word yet on whether Vaughn will be installing a regulation dodgeball court. But I think we can all agree that would be so money.
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

It's that spring break time of year, and college seniors across the country are enjoying a "last hurrah," so to speak. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is no different.

Well, he's actually completely different.

Instead of hitting the beach with some buddies and making like Dionysus, he jetted on March 9 to San Diego to "work on my craft" with QB guru George Whitfield and several other college quarterbacks.

"I felt like it's my last hurrah, in the sense of my football senior year," Kelly said.

Also on hand in San Diego for a week of quarterback two-a-days were Baylor's Bryce Petty, North Carolina's Marquise Williams, Virginia's David Watford and Texas signee Jerrod Heard. Johnny Manziel and Logan Thomas were hanging around getting ready for their pro days and the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeKelly
AP Photo/Rick BowmerTaylor Kelly is staying busy, getting ready for his senior season as Arizona State quarterback.
But wait ... there's more. Kelly drove back to Tempe, Ariz., on Saturday only to fly back to California at 7 a.m. Sunday to film a segment with Rick Neuheisel and the Pac-12 Network. He returned to ASU that evening at 6 p.m. so he could make an 8 p.m. team meeting in advance of spring practices, which begin Tuesday. He had a 5:45 a.m. workout on Monday morning, by the way.

Busy, yes. But worth it, Kelly said.

"I learned a lot," he said.

Two springs ago -- and 57 touchdowns and 6,705 passing yards ago -- it would have been difficult to imagine Kelly being in such demand. He was the consensus pick to finish third behind Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank in the Sun Devils QB competition to replace Brock Osweiler. Instead, he's a budding three-year starter, with Bercovici his big-armed backup. Eubank transferred to Samford after the 2013 season.

Kelly has played himself onto NFL radars and could improve his standing with a strong senior season. While few saw that coming in the spring of 2012, Kelly said his self-belief never wavered.

"With my competitive nature, I've always thought I could [play in the NFL]," he said. "I wanted to be that great quarterback, to lead a team to championships. That's who I've been my whole life. I never had any doubts in myself or my ability to be the starting quarterback three years ago."

Kelly is just the second Sun Devils quarterback to have thrown for more than 3,000 yards in consecutive seasons in school history. He set a school record for completion percentage (67.1 percent) and moved into the top five in seven school-record lists, including passing yards, passing yards per game, completions, attempts, total offense, yards per game and points responsible for.

Of course, if he wants to be remembered in Tempe like Jake Plummer, he's got to get the Sun Devils back to the Rose Bowl. Or the College Football Playoff.

Kelly said he's focused this spring on improving his efficiency and reducing interceptions and sacks. While he's put up big numbers as a dual threat, he also only ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency last year. He's thrown 21 interceptions in the past two years, including 12 in 2013. He's been sacked 79 times (ouch!). One of the surprising Pac-12 stats from 2013: The Sun Devils yielded a conference-worst 41 sacks (2.93 per game) -- five more than anyone else, though that was in 14 games -- despite having a mobile QB in Kelly and a good offensive line.

"Sometimes when I'd feel pressure, I'd release the pocket, and that's really hard on our offensive line," Kelly said.

Proving he can make plays under duress will answer a lot of NFL questions. It also would boost the Sun Devils' chances to repeat as South Division champions.

Another spring question for Arizona State is who Kelly will target. Receiver Jaelen Strong is back and likely will become an All-American candidate, but the next leading returning wideout is sophomore Cameron Smith, who caught just eight passes in 2013.

Kelly doesn't seem too worried, however. He named De'Marieya Nelson -- tight end Chris Coyle's 2013 backup -- touted juco transfer Eric Lauderdale, 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman Ellis Jefferson and walk-on Fred Gammage as players who should step up this spring.

What is clear is that Kelly is the undisputed leader of the Sun Devils, a role that he's set to embrace despite a laid-back nature.

"I'm just going to be myself," he said. "If I need to speak up and say something, I feel a lot of the guys respect me enough that they are going to listen to what I say."

Arizona State is almost certain to fall behind UCLA in the Pac-12 South pecking order among preseason publications. Further, Kelly, not unlike Oregon State's Sean Mannion, falls in behind Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley in terms of Pac-12 and national quarterback Q-rating.

That doesn't figure to worry Kelly. He's been counted out before. It's pretty clear that he's not going to be outworked as he prepares for his last hurrah.


Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void.

Biggest shoes: Defensive lineman Will Sutton

Duh. He was the two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year, aptly named for former ASU linebacker Pat Tillman. Many debated whether Sutton was playing at his proper weight in 2013 after putting on about 25 pounds. As a result, his numbers declined from what they were in 2012. But he also garnered plenty of attention from offensive coordinators and as a result was still voted as the top defensive player in the conference in 2013. His first-step was wickedly fast, and on a defense loaded with seniors and veterans last season, he was the glue that kept it all together in the locker room and in the huddle.

Stepping in: TBD, but there are options.

Sutton is one of nine defensive starters who are gone from last season's squad. But D-line is a big deal to Todd Graham, who believes in stopping the run first and foremost. Senior Marcus Hardison will get an extended look after appearing in 13 games last season and posting five tackles, a sack and a tackle for a loss. Dalvon Stuckey will be in the mix as will Demetrius Cherry, formerly a defensive end who missed last season but is up to about 300 pounds and could fill in at nose tackle. JC transfer Edmond Boateng will be in spring ball and has three years of eligibility.

Pac-12 recruiting roundup

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
7:00
PM ET
We’re more than a month into the next recruiting season. Where the heck have you been?

Our recruiting team keeps you up to date with the On the Trail blog. But sometimes a quick snapshot of where your team stands is easier to digest. So in the interest of making things very simple, here’s how things are looking early on for 2015. All listed players are per ESPN.com’s Recruiting Nation.

Also, be sure to check out the ESPN Junior 300 . You'll see a few have already committed to Pac-12 schools.

Arizona

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): Finton Connolly, DT, Gilbert, Ariz.

Arizona State

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Morie Evans, WR, Huntsville, Texas; Nick Ralston, RB, Argyle, Texas

California

2015 commits: 0

Colorado

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): N.J. Falo, OLB, Sacramento, Calif.

Oregon

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): Zach Okun, OG, Newbury Park, Calif.

Oregon State

2015 commits: 0

Stanford

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Arrington Farrar, S, College Park, Georgia; Christian Folau, ILB, Salt Lake City, Utah.

UCLA

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Alize Jones, TE-Y, Las Vegas; Jaason Lewis, Ath, Virginia Beach, Va.; Victor Alexander, OLB, Jacksonville, Fla.; Bolu Olorunfunmi, RB, Clovis, Calif.

USC

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Ricky Town, QB (PP), Ventura, Calif.; David Sills, QB (PP), Elkton, Maryland; Tae’n Mason, CB, Pasadena, Calif.

Utah

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Alfred Smith, WR, Destrehan, La.; Tuli Wily-Matagi, Ath, Kahuku, Hawaii; Corey Butler, WR, Wilmington, Calif.; Zach Lindsay, OT, Kaysville, Utah.

Washington

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Trey Adams, OT, Wenatchee, Wash.; Myles Gaskin, RB, Seattle.

Washington State

2015 commits: 1
Player(s): Thomas Toki, DT, Mountain View, Calif.

Riley talks about Garrett hire

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
5:30
PM ET
Oregon State coach Mike Riley hired John Garrett away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to run his offense a month ago because he felt Garrett was a good fit for very specific parameters he envisioned for his next coordinator. Riley had an accomplished senior quarterback in Sean Mannion and a longstanding pro-style system and he wanted someone to ensure continuity, not an overhaul to player and scheme.

While most coordinators want to call plays and implement their personal systems and terminology, Garrett is not in Corvallis for that. In fact, you could say he has more to learn this spring than his six returning starters.

"Basically, I said it's your job to learn what we do and make it better," Riley said in an interview on Oregon State's official website.

Riley has called plays for the past two years after taking the duties away from Danny Langsdorf, who was hired in January as the New York Giants quarterbacks coach. While there's been no official statement from Riley about who will call plays in 2014, the good money is on Riley retaining those duties.

Riley praised Garrett, whose title includes QBs and tight ends coach, as a teacher -- a "well-versed technician" -- and he emphasized that he'll have latitude to tweak the scheme and make suggestions. In fact, he expects it. He said Garrett will have "total freedom to be honest."

Garrett last coached in college at Virginia from 2004-06. Riley said a mutual friend got him and Garrett together, and it doesn't appear that any other candidate got a very long look at the job.

Garrett's chief task this spring will be finding Mannion some help. For one, the Beavers need to replace the production of receiver Brandin Cooks in the passing game. But perhaps more important is healing a running game that has been struggling for going on five years.

The good news for Mannion is he's getting a new tutor with plenty of NFL knowledge while not having to learn a new system as a senior.

It will be interesting to see exactly where the "tweaks" come on offense under Garrett, and whether they help the Beavers crawl back into at least the middle of the Pac-12 in rushing.

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
2:30
PM ET
We used to be number 10, now we're permanent one;
In the battle lost my finger, Mic became my arm.
The year 2013 wasn’t exactly what you’d call a banner one for the Oregon State Beavers defensively. While the offense accumulated jaw-dropping numbers, the defense had one too many palm-to-forehead moments.

Injuries played a part in that, and none was bigger than losing linebacker Michael Doctor for the year in the second game of the season to an ankle injury. Doctor was the team’s leading tackler in 2012 with 83 stops. And in his two appearances last season he had seven tackles, 2.5 for a loss, and two sacks. He was tied for third on the team in sacks after playing in only two games. Stretch those numbers out over a 13-game season and you have a potential all-conference candidate.

[+] EnlargeMichael Doctor
Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY SportsHaving Michael Doctor return from injury will help an Oregon State defense that struggled in 2013.
Losing his production, coupled with his leadership, was a massive blow to a defense that fell short of expectations. In fact, what made the 2013 defense so disappointing was that the Beavers were outstanding defensively in 2012. Their 20.6 points allowed per game was the second lowest average in school history for a 13-game season and was good for 22nd nationally. It’s one of the reasons they started 2013 ranked No. 25.

Of course, that all came crashing down in the wake of a 49-46 loss to FCS Eastern Washington in the season opener -- the school’s second loss to an FCS team in three years. The 49 points allowed was the second highest total in a year where OSU yielded a disappointing 31.4 points per game.

Last week Doctor was granted a fifth year by way of a medical hardship for the 2013 season by the Pac-12 conference. There are a few criteria he had to meet, per the NCAA, to get a medical hardship. But the big one is the fact that he didn’t play in at least four of the first six games and then missed the remainder of the season. As expected, Doctor was thrilled with the news.

“I’m very excited to have another year,” Doctor said in a statement from the school. “Last year was bittersweet for me. I had a chance to learn from a coaching perspective and ... grow and I think from all of this it will make me a smarter player.”

Doctor will join the team when it starts spring ball. The Beavers are also hoping that linebacker D.J. Alexander will be available for spring after undergoing neck surgery in December. A source close to the program says Alexander is expected to participate, though it’s likely head coach Mike Riley will hold him back some. That makes Doctor’s return that much more significant for a Beavers defense looking to plug some holes on the defensive line and secondary.

A little veteran leadership never hurts, either, in a position group that should be considerably strong.

“From a football standpoint, I’m very excited to have Michael back; he solidifies our outside linebacker depth,” Riley said. “From a personal standpoint, Michael has meant a great deal to this team not only on the field, but off as a captain and a true leader. Having No. 40 back in the lineup is a huge plus for the defense.”

Biggest shoes to fill: Arizona

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
9:00
AM ET
Starters in, starters out. That's college football. Players' eligibility expires and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

In alphabetical order, we will survey each Pac-12 team’s most notable void.

Biggest shoes: Running back Ka'Deem Carey

Carey was the nation's best running back in 2013. A two-time consensus All-American and the Pac-12's Offensive Player of the Year, he rushed for 1,885 yards and scored 19 touchdowns last fall. He ranked second in the nation with 157.1 yards per game. He completed his career by topping 100 yards in 16 consecutive games, a Pac-12 record and a streak that hasn't been accomplished by any other back in a decade. He is Arizona’s career rushing leader (4,232 yards) and ranks seventh in Pac-12 history. He owns or shares 26 Arizona single-game, season and career records. He's a physical, instinctive runner who also was a good receiver (he caught 26 passes for 173 yards and a score) and capable blocker in pass protection.

Stepping in: Probably a committee of three or so guys

Not only do the Wildcats lose Carey, they lose his capable backup Daniel Jenkins, who rushed for 411 yards last year. The one returning RB with game experience, Jared Baker, tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. Moreover, true freshman Jonathan Haden, who had enrolled early so he could participate in spring practices, still hasn't joined the competition because of an NCAA Clearinghouse issue. So far the spring battle has been between redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier, Zach Green and senior Terris Jones-Grigsby. True freshman Nick Wilson will enter the fray in August. Further, what has become clear is coach Rich Rodriguez isn't afraid to tap into his deep, speedy crew of receivers for help running the ball. Expect both Davonte' Neal and T.J. Johnson to get looks in the backfield as well as out wide.

Greetings and happy Friday to ya.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Shane from Red Bluff, Calif., writes: Just curious if you have ever written a story on the diversity of Pac-12 offensive schemes vs. those in the B1G and SEC, and the effect on the stats of conference defenses. It seems to me it would be easier for defenses to appear more elite when facing similar offenses throughout the conference slate, i.e. SEC and B1G. For example, in the Pac-12 there is Oregon, Stanford, Wazzu, USC, Zona and Utah. Offenses as unique and different as those must make for different recruiting/scheming practices for the Pac-12 than other conferences.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 probably has the most offensive diversity, with six teams averaging more than 190 yards rushing and seven teams averaging more than 250 yards passing in 2013.

You have Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, UCLA and Washington playing really, really fast. You have Cal, Oregon State and Washington State throwing the ball all over the place. You have Oregon State, USC and Stanford running pro-style offenses.

Diversity? You have Utah changing offensive coordinators every single season.

But I think the national trend toward up-tempo, spread offenses has touched every conference, even the Big Ten and SEC.

Former Big 12 teams Texas A&M and Missouri have put to bed the notion of SEC big-boy defenses automatically shutting down the up-tempo, spreads hailing from other regions. Auburn twice won the SEC in the past four years and played for two national titles with an up-tempo spread. Florida under Urban Meyer was dominant with a spread-option, and now he's doing the same thing in the Big Ten at Ohio State, with Northwestern, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska running spreads or using up-tempo, spread elements.

This article does a good job of pointing out how the SEC has changed:
Perhaps no other conference in the land has seen more of a drastic shift in scoring than the SEC, where defense used to be king. In 2005 for instance, only one team (Auburn, 32.2 ppg) averaged over 30 points per game. On the contrary, six teams allowed less than 20 points per game. In 2006, only one team (LSU, 33.7 ppg) averaged more than 30 an outing; eight held their opponents to 20 points or less.

Fast-forward to 2013.

A year ago, the SEC had nine teams that scored 30 or more points per game. Out of those nine, four (Texas A&M, Auburn, Missouri and Ole Miss) are true hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. But unlike the 2005 and 2006 seasons, only Alabama (13.9 ppg) ended last season allowing less than 20 points per game.

And it's not just about spreads. Heck, Georgia averaged 314 yards passing per game last season, making it one of three SEC teams that ranked in the top 25 in passing yards. That top 25 included four Pac-12 teams, two Big 12 teams, two Big Ten teams and two ACC teams.

In total plays, the Pac-12 had five in the top 25, the Big 12 three, SEC three, Big Ten two and ACC three.

But know what I found most fascinating? Yards per play. The SEC had seven teams ranked in the top 25, compared to one for the Pac-12 (Oregon), one for the Big 12, three for the Big Ten and three for the ACC. (It's worth noting Stanford and Washington were tied for 26th).

That means two things: 1. SEC offenses are often highly efficient; 2. SEC defenses are often not highly efficient, despite the popular perception.

It will be interesting to see how the SEC and Pac-12 stack up offensively this coming year. While the Pac-12 welcomes back 10 starting QBs, the SEC welcomes back just five, if you include Florida's Jeff Driskel, and the attrition includes just about all the A-list guys at the traditional powers.

So, with QB play questionable, we may hear a lot of about super-awesome SEC defenses again in 2014.




Lou from Phoenix writes: Ted, with the recent legal trouble of WSU's [DaQuawn Brown], we can only assume he's off the team (violating one of Leach's three pillars of accountability). How does this bode for the Cougs already really, REALLY thin secondary, and do you think we can still be competitive in the Pac-12 North?

Ted Miller: Brown is accused of getting into a fight with a man and a woman at the Washington State campus union, and Cougars coach Mike Leach has long used a one-strike-and-you're-out policy for drugs, stealing and hitting women.

It was, by the way, the Cougars' fourth arrest since the start of February, so the Pullman police are making Leach's offseason long.

Most seem pessimistic about Brown's future with the team, but we should let things play out.

But, yes, cornerback specifically and the secondary in general is a big question for the Cougars, and that's not a good thing in this quarterback-rich conference. Safety Taylor Taliulu is the only returning player with starting experience, and he's no sure-thing. Moreover, Brown was a promising CB who played well as a backup last season and even started four games.

Obviously, this puts pressure on youngsters such as redshirt freshman Charleston White and freshman Marcellus Pippins -- a fortuitous early enrollee -- to grow up quickly. Senior Tracy Clark also might want to finally break through this spring.

Three more freshmen arrive in the fall, and there's always the chance of a position change. A player could move over from safety, where the depth is better, or the Cougs coaches could try to convert a running back or receiver.

Does this doom the season? Absolutely. Best to head to The Coug right now and begin drowning future Saturday sorrows. Kevin is buying!

Or maybe one player doesn't make or break a football team, at least in most cases.

Leach has been recruiting pretty well, so I suspect there are speedy players he can insert at CB who can adequately do the job. Is CB a question? Without question. But that doesn't mean there won't be an inspired answer. I'd rate it 50-50 that Kevin or I will be writing a story in November about how much better the Cougs secondary was than we'd thought it would be in March.

With or without Brown, I didn't envision Washington State challenging the Stanford-Oregon hegemony on the Pac-12 North this fall. But I also think this team is trending up and certainly remains a likely bowl team.




Josh from Koror, The Republic of Palau writes: Living exactly 7,251 miles away from Sun Devil stadium in a small, remote island in the South Pacific doesn't afford much opportunity to watch Sun Devil football. So, thank you for helping me stay in touch with my Alma mater. I've always hoped that you living in Scottsdale would make you a little biased towards the Sun Devils, but unfortunately you do your job right. Nonetheless, how could PITT possibly be one spot ahead of ASU in the best college coach rankings? The determining factor of which school: ASU v. PITT, is the better coaching job was answered by Coach Graham when he bolted PITT for ASU two years ago. That has to count for something, right?

Ted Miller: Yes, it counts for something. The only folks who'd say Pittsburgh is a better job than Arizona State are Panthers fans. And most of them would, at least privately, concede the point.

And, well, a publication making a list that knows exactly what it's doing lining up Pittsburgh, Arizona State and Arizona, one after the other.

I think Athlon did a pretty good job with that list, but it's obviously extremely subjective. With that as a cover, the compilers of the list probably saw another chance to tweak Todd Graham, a coach who still has a negative national reputation, despite his two years of success in Tempe, most notably among folks who either have never talked to him or do so rarely.




Mark from Phoenix writes: Wondering what you think of the following power conference breakdown by best food. Pac-12 - best burritos; SEC - best shrimp; B1G - best pizza; Big 12 - best steak. Any missing, any honorable mentions?

Ted Miller: That's pretty fair. We have to include the ACC, which could alternate with the SEC over shrimp and barbecue.

But, to be real, the Pac-12 would win best food overall by a wide, wide margin.

The Pac-12 would win:
  • Best high-end cuisine.
  • Best Asian -- all categories.
  • Best seafood -- Seattle and San Francisco? Are you kidding me?
  • Best Mexican.
  • Best brew pubs.
  • And most diverse.

One of the great and pleasurable challenges when you cover Pac-12 football is deciding where to eat the Friday night before the game.

Lunch links: The Doctor is back

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday!
This week the Pac-12 blog had an opportunity to chat with new USC coach Steve Sarkisian and new Washington coach Chris Petersen, the man who replaced Sark in Seattle.

SportsNation

Which new head coach has the most pressure heading into the 2014 season?

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Discuss (Total votes: 6,482)

Both schools present a different set of challenges and varying degrees of pressure and expectation. But which coach has the most pressure on him? Sarkisian’s and Petersen’s coaching careers from here on out will be closely intertwined, especially because Petersen was considered a candidate for the vacant USC job before withdrawing his name.

This has all the makings of a great Take 2. And maybe your Pac-12 reporters will tackle that one sooner rather than later. But for now, we thought we’d put it to a vote. Which head coach, Petersen or Sarkisian, has more pressure heading into the 2014 season?

Petersen: He comes to Seattle with a gleaming résumé. The name value alone means folks are expecting Petersen to do great things almost immediately. Whenever a big-time coaching job opened up, Petersen’s name was at the top of the list. But he chose Seattle because he felt the timing and the situation were right. But for all of the hype and expectation surrounding his hire, the simple fact remains that he has to replace quarterback Keith Price, who was the smiling backbone of the program; a Doak Walker finalist running back in Bishop Sankey; and the 2013 John Mackey Award winner in tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. There is some good talent at Washington, but that trio isn’t easily replaced. Sark did a good job pulling the program from the cellar, but many are expecting Petersen to get this team into the 10-win neighborhood.

Sarkisian: It’s USC -- one of the most desirable coaching jobs in the country. And with that comes nearly unparalleled scrutiny. Sarkisian took an important first step toward winning some credibility when he locked down an A-list recruiting class. But there are still those concerned that Sark isn’t the home-run hire befitting a season-long coaching search. Winning would change that, but a slow start would only amplify it. Not only does he have to prove he’s the right guy for the job, but he has to win back a fan base that’s grown weary of losing to Notre Dame and UCLA in consecutive seasons. The Trojans will soon be off sanctions, which should help in recruiting. However, if he doesn’t win right away, you have to question whether he'll be given enough time to fully implement his vision.

LB Gillam, Buffs eye improvement

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
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When Addison Gillam started for Colorado in its 2013 opener against Colorado State, he became just the second true freshman in program history to start at inside linebacker.

Things didn't start off great, though.

"It took a few plays to get used to it," he said. "I got my helmet knocked off and had to go off the field. That's when I was like, 'Oh, it's just football.'"

[+] EnlargeAddison Gilliam
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiLB Addison Gilliam (44) led Colorado with 107 tackles and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a true freshman last season.
He'd go on to record a team-high 14 tackles in his debut, with two coming for a loss and a quarterback sack. Among his tackles were two key fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter of a 41-27 victory that ended an eight-game losing streak for the program.

The victory and Gillam's performance served an important purpose: They provided hope among a beleaguered fan base for the future. After winning four games over the previous two seasons and earning the unofficial designation as "Worst Major Conference Team" in 2012, the Buffaloes looked ready to take a step forward toward respectability.

Gillam would go on to lead the Buffs with 107 tackles, including 9.5 coming for a loss. He had three sacks, an interception and six pass breakups and earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. He looked like a budding star on a defense that dramatically improved from the year before, even if a 4-8 record doesn't qualify as a cause for celebration.

While the Buffaloes ranked at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 in most defensive statistics, they surrendered nearly eight fewer points and 20 fewer yards per game compared to 2012 in a conference that was better offensively in 2013. They gave up one fewer yard per play -- 6.1 yards per play compared to an eye-popping 7.1 in 2012 -- and one yard fewer per rush (4.9 vs. 5.9).

The hope among Colorado adherents, of course, is that the upward trend will continue, that promising young players like Gillam will lead the Buffs out of the morass.

With spring practices underway, Gillam sees reasons for optimism.

"We're so much further ahead than last year," he said. "Last year, we were learning a new defense. That really shows. A lot of people are showing more effort. Last year, people weren't running to the ball. This year, we're having fun out there, making plays. Everybody is cheering each other on."

Gillam signed with San Jose State and MacIntyre in 2012 and grayshirted after he had surgery on both shoulders. When MacIntyre was hired at Colorado, he followed him to Boulder, back-dooring a scholarship to a Pac-12 school when none previously had been forthcoming. Fair to say the other 11 Pac-12 schools whiffed badly on Gillam, a rangy, 6-foot-3, 225 pounder from Palo Cedro, Calif., with a knack for finding the ball.

Gillam said the attraction to MacIntyre had more to do with "the off-field stuff."

"He wants you to be more than a football player," he said.

In the spring of 2013, Gillam brought his high-motor self to a team that had been indifferently sputtering along. Some Buffs were angry about former coach Jon Embree's controversial firing after just two seasons. It's fair to say that some players weren't terribly motivated.

"The team wasn't as cohesive," Gillam said. "There were a lot of fights, [guys] were unfriendly to each other."

He admits that his quickly pushing to the top of the depth chart by the end of his first spring surprised him. When he watches film of himself from 2013, he likes his consistent effort and fight. He thinks he needs to be quicker with his reads and improve in pass coverage. He'd also like to be around 240 pounds in fall camp.

While Gillam sees improved trust and effort on the team, things aren't yet where they need to be.

"There are still some guys, like on every team, that don't want to," he said.

The MacIntyre and the Buffs turnaround effort will progress much more quickly if more guys develop a want-to like Gillam.
The 2014 NFL draft doesn't kick off until May. That gives us plenty of extra time for speculation and guesswork.

Helping fuel that guesswork are the newest posts from Mel Kiper, who released his Mock Draft 3.0 Insider, and Todd McShay, who posted his updated list Insider of the top 32 NFL prospects.

Three Pac-12 players appear on each list.

UCLA’s Anthony Barr checks in as the highest-projected player from the Pac-12 to be drafted. Kiper has the outside linebacker at No. 11 going to the Tennessee Titans.

Per Kiper:
Barr has seen his stock slip some, but he put together a good pro day, and gives the Titans another pass-rusher aside from Derrick Morgan. In general, drafting the best possible player supersedes need unless the value lines up with need pretty well, but this is a spot where the needs are multiple and I can just see the team taking the best player. Barr can provide an early impact.
Wide receivers Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) and Marqise Lee (USC) are the other two Pac-12 players projected to be drafted in the first round.

In terms of ranking the prospects, McShay has Lee as the top-ranked player from the Pac-12 at No. 18, followed by Cooks at No. 22 and Barr at No. 23.

Here’s McShay’s take on Lee:
Lee didn't run a great 40 time at the combine (4.52 seconds), but he shows very good speed and explosiveness on tape, and is a big-play weapon after the catch and as a vertical route-runner. He had too many drops in 2013, but showed good ball skills during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

The conference has had at least one player drafted in the first round every year since 1967 -- and it looks like that trend will continue. Since 2000, 55 players from the league have been drafted in the first round.

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