The complicating factor with interpreting Michigan’s methods is the mystery man in charge of the search. Interim AD Jim Hackett has a business background, so it’s not as if he regularly has been mingling with the college football bluebloods who descend on Manhattan each holiday season.
That’s why, even with some of the more obvious targets out there -- Jim Harbaugh and Les Miles, among them -- I’m told Hackett could diverge from the perceived plan of “brand-name” college coaches and expand to NFL assistants and off-the-radar college guys.
One such candidate emerged Tuesday afternoon when a report surfaced that Michigan was kicking the tires on Duke coach David Cutcliffe.
That’s the context for this set of rankings. Strictly from a watch-from-the-couch perspective, here’s an attempt at ordering the Pac-12’s bowl games by level of intrigue.
8. Foster Farms Bowl: Stanford (7-5) vs. Maryland (7-5)
Tuesday, Dec. 30, Santa Clara, Calif.
While still in the projecting stage of the bowl season, there were some ASU fans that felt like it would be a slight to the Sun Devils if they weren’t selected by the Foster Farms Bowl, which sits fourth in the selection order. That talk died down once Maryland was officially named Stanford’s opponent. After four trips to BCS bowls for the Cardinal and a mediocre season, this one just doesn’t have much broad appeal.
7. TicketCity Cactus Bowl: Washington (8-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6)
Friday, Jan. 2 , Tempe, Ariz.
Oklahoma State is a perfect reason why teams should never get extra credit for beating a team when it was ranked. In Week 8, the Cowboys were the AP poll’s No. 15 team -- ahead of every Pac-12 school except Oregon -- before a five-game losing streak followed once the level of competition improved. There’s NFL talent on both rosters and Chris Petersen’s first bowl appearance with the Huskies is interesting, but the main reason to watch is to savor the last time Washington’s defensive trio of DT Danny Shelton, OLB/DE Hau'oli Kikaha and LB Shaq Thompson play together (pending the unlikely event they end up on the same NFL team one day).
6. Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: No. 23 Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2)
Saturday, Dec. 20, Las Vegas
There should be a lot of eyes on this one nationally. It starts at 3:30 p.m. ET, on the first Saturday of bowl season and only overlaps with the Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Utah State vs. UTEP) and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Western Michigan vs. Air Force). Plenty of people will want to see the team Jim McElwain parlayed into the Florida gig. From a Pac-12 perspective, Utah’s quarterback play will be a hot topic throughout the offseason and this game will serve as a final data point for that discussion.
5. Hyundai Sun Bowl: No. 15 Arizona State (9-3) vs. Duke (9-3)
Saturday, Dec. 27, El Paso, Texas
Forget Duke pre-2013. Over the past two seasons, the Devils of the blue variety have won 19 games under coach David Cutcliffe, which is equal to that of ASU. Duke’s lack of ranking means nothing as far as how competitive this game will be. After all, the Sun Devils only need to look back to a year ago when as the No. 14 team in the final BCS standings they lost to a 7-5 Texas Tech team, 37-23.
4. National University Holiday Bowl: No. 24 USC (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3)
Saturday, Dec. 27, San Diego, Calif.
From the implausible-a-month-ago file, Mike Riley is the head coach for a storied program facing off against USC in a bowl game. He won’t be in a coaching role for this one, but it’ll be a good chance to see the canvas Riley will be working on as he tries to reach new heights as a coach in the Big Ten. Bonus points for the possibility @FauxPelini will be live-tweeting from his lair in SPECTRE’s headquarters. Take some time to appreciate USC’s Leonard Williams one last time, too, before he becomes a fixture up front for an NFL team
3. VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: No. 10 Arizona (10-3) vs. No. 20 Boise State (11-2)
Wednesday, Dec. 31, Glendale, Ariz.
The old system worked for Boise State and so has this one. This is a far-less desirable matchup than many would have hoped for the Pac-12 South champion -- almost any SEC team would have been significantly more interesting -- but it’s still one of the three Pac-12 bowls between ranked teams. Until getting drubbed by Oregon in the Pac-12 championship, the Wildcats made a habit of playing entertaining games, which falls in line of Boise State's tradition in this bowl.
2. Valero Alamo Bowl: No. 14 UCLA (9-3) vs. No. 11 Kansas State (9-3)
Friday, Jan. 2, San Antonio, Texas
There are metrics that indicate the Big 12 is the best conference in college football. There are people who believe that distinction belongs to the Pac-12. Most feel they both fall below the SEC pecking order of conference strength at No. 2 and No. 3. Whatever your opinion is, it will be tested here as UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley plays his final game for the Bruins. A win against the Wildcats could spring UCLA to a top-10 finish, which wouldn’t be a bad consolation for a team that fell short of its ultimate goals.
1. College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual): No. 2 Oregon (12-1) vs. No. 3 Florida State (13-0)
Thursday, Jan. 1, Pasadena, Calif.
Heisman Trophy winners playing quarterback for opposing teams in a College Football Playoff game? Yes, please. This is the prime example of why the playoff trumps the BCS because this game doesn’t get played in the old era. Does it need further billing? There’s only one potential game in college football that would be more intriguing … and if both Oregon and Alabama win, it will be played on Jan. 12.
Lots of playoff chatter this week, for obvious reasons. And another trend story that's popping up lately is how things would have looked under the old BCS system. It would feature Alabama versus Florida State in the national title game, and the Oregon Ducks, ranked No. 2 by the College Football Playoff Committee, would have had to win the day in a lesser BCS bowl game. So, safe to say, the Pac-12 has benefited from the new four-team system.
Matt Hayes of the Sporting News touches on this in his notebook column, and also hits on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's soon-to-be Heisman Trophy.
Here's a look at how the final rankings played out side-by-side.
And in another Oregon-esque news, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said the Ducks were the toughest opponent he faced all season. Here's what he told the BTN:
Oregon was a great great opponent, great offense, great defense, they had the uptempo offense that was pretty hard to stop. They have a great defense with a great front seven, talented DBs, and playing in Autzen (Stadium) was very difficult as well.
I remember someone saying a few weeks back that Oregon's defense was going to look a lot stronger statistically in the second-half of the season. Who was that ...?
Another major award (It's almost Christmas, I couldn't pass up linking this)
For a conference that supposedly doesn't play a lot of defense, there sure are some big-time defensive awards going around the Pac-12.
First it was Arizona's Scooby Wright III taking home the Bronco Nagurski Award. Tuesday it was UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks being named the winner of the Butkus Award.
If you haven't seen the video yet of him being surprised with the award, you can watch it here. It's as awesome as awesome gets.
Overwhelmed with joy. This is for all my underdogs out there! Thanks family/friends/teammates/coaches/BUTKUS/UCLA pic.twitter.com/jUCuhAtCyB— Eric Kendricks (@EKLA6) December 9, 2014
- Some more thoughts from Rich Rodriguez on the Fiesta Bowl.
- How does Todd Graham stack up against the other coaches hired after the 2011 season?
- A California recruiting update.
- Former Buff Greg Henderson hoping for a shot at the NFL.
- Some facility upgrades are coming to Oregon State. Stay tuned.
- An off-season (and bowl season) question for Stanford.
- Some more on Kendricks winning the Butkus.
- Despite some Twitter rumors, Leonard Williams hasn't made his decision yet.
- Utah's coaches aren't paying attention to the rumors.
- This mock draft has two Huskies in the top 13.
- Former Washington State coach Paul Wulff is reportedly is back on the market.
This will be Oregon's look at the Rose Bowl.
Tuesday saw the explosive quarterback add another honor to his trophy case. The Polynesian College Football Hall of Fame named Mariota, who is of Samoan descent, its first-ever Polynesian College Football Player of the Year. Jesse Sapolu and Ma'a Tanuvasa, the organization's co-founders, made the announcement in Honolulu -- Mariota's hometown.
"We congratulate Marcus on this historic accomplishment," Tanuvasa said. "He is a great role model for our youth and a great source of pride for Polynesians everywhere."
Hawaii's Scott Harding, Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha, Utah's Nate Orchard, and Arizona's Anu Solomon were also finalists.
Mariota's sensational season has put him at the top of the nation's quarterback heap. Among his impressive numbers, this nugget might be the most staggering: Mariota has accounted for 53 total touchdowns (passing and rushing) against only two interceptions.
That's why this week is so busy for him.
Last Friday, Mariota led the Ducks to a 51-13 romp over Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game. Another gaudy statistical performance (300-plus passing yards, two rushing touchdowns) earned him title game MVP honors.
On Monday, Mariota was officially named a Heisman trophy finalist. That means he'll be in New York City this coming Saturday, but not until after a quick stop in Orlando on Thursday for The Home Depot College Football Awards Show, where he's a finalist for the Maxwell Award (player of the year) and the Davey O'Brien Award (best quarterback).
Mariota accepted the award and gave thanks in the video embedded below.
So far, two conference linebackers have added major prestige to their trophy collections. This is only the start, as the biggest news of all is expected to come on the offensive front by the end of the week.
UCLA tackling machine Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation's best collegiate linebacker. There are familiar faces among the players he beat out for that one: Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha and write-in candidate Scooby Wright III.
But Wright, the Pac-12's most dominant all-around statistical defensive force, would not be denied on another prestigious front. The Arizona linebacker -- only a sophomore -- took home the Bronco Nagurski Award, given to the nation's most outstanding defensive player.
In an age of head-turning offense, a number of Pac-12 defenders are posting eye-popping numbers on the defensive side of the ball.
Kendricks and Wright aren't the only ones.
Kikaha leads the nation in sacks (18), while Utah's Nate Orchard topped the field in sacks per game (1.46).
But Wright and Kendricks are the first headliners, and their production has been astonishing. Wright leads the nation with 27 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles -- he's the only player to average over two backfield stops per game. He's also one off the national pace at 153 tackles. Kendricks, meanwhile, has also gobbled up opposing ball carriers. He trails only Wright in the Pac-12 with 135 tackles and has led the conference in that category during two of the past three seasons.
Both players have signature moments to their name -- Wright's forced fumbles set the tone and sealed critical games against ASU and Oregon, respectively, while Kendricks' monster hit on Washington's Cyler Miles was one of the Pac-12's most jarring in 2014.
So defense in the league out West is getting some December love. Oh, and don't worry about that offense, as it won't be lonely for long: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in line to win the Heisman trophy this weekend, and his fan support is unparalleled.
According to school dean Cyndi Valenta, every classroom at Oxford is university-themed and professor Connor Berry’s theme is all about “Win the Day” -- which is Oregon football’s motto.
“Marcus Mariota has a reputation for being a good guy,” Berry said. “And the rules in our classroom are to be a good example, so it seemed perfect. ... The kids had a lot of fun with it.”
So there you have it: That’s how the Quack Attack has made its way into a Southern California classroom. Enjoy the video.
And so if Marcus Mariota had wanted a Heisman campaign, Marcus Mariota would’ve gotten a Heisman campaign.
In 2001 Oregon dropped $250,000 to put a billboard in New York for quarterback Joey Harrington. Though it certainly grew the brand nationally for the program, it didn’t do too much for Harrington, who finished fourth in Heisman voting.
Harrington’s statistics in the 2001 season pale in comparison to Mariota’s in 2014. Harrington completed just 59 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,764 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions.
But Mariota didn’t want 12 billboards or even one. He enjoys taking photos with fans after games, but that’s really the only place he wants his face … other than beneath a helmet on the football field on Saturdays.
“I really didn’t want all that attention,” Mariota said. “I’m glad that they were able to accept that and respect that decision.”
To be a fly on the wall during those discussions would’ve been interesting. Certainly, Phil Knight and other donors put in their two cents, but like so much this season, Mariota made his decision based on his family and secondly himself, and those two entities wanted nothing done. It’s hard to imagine a 21-year-old saying no to a room of billionaires, but that’s likely exactly what happened.
The closest his non-campaign campaign ever came was a hashtag (#SuperMariota) that some used on social media, but never enough that it truly gained traction. Or when 12-year-old Charlie Pape asked about Mariota’s eventual NFL decision in a postgame news conference a few weeks ago, explaining to coach Mark Helfrich that all that kids at his all-boys school had been discussing were “Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota.”
Or maybe when Mariota hit a strikingly similar pose to the Heisman trophy in the Ducks’ 47-19 win over Oregon State in the Civil War rivalry. Mariota accounted for six touchdowns -- four passing, two rushing.
There is some truth to all of these mini-campaigns. If you watch Mariota play long enough, he’ll do something that doesn’t seem humanly possible for a quarterback. He takes off like a running back, stays in the pocket like he has never been sacked (though, ask his very apologetic offensive line and they’ll sheepishly explain that yes, more than once they’ve allowed Pac-12 pass rushers to get through) and throws the ball better than any current dual-threat quarterback.
He is the most dominant player in college football right now … though he’d be the last to say that. And his campaign has happened the only place it should happen -- on the football field.
Though “Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota” seems a bit drastic, he has become such a hero for so many people in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest that saying he’s “worshiped” by many isn’t too far out of the ballpark.
And his play on the field -- whether he’s striking the pose or not -- has been enough to make him the front runner all season. Players have come in and out of the conversation, but every time Mariota was the one who stuck. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott gave Mariota a good run for his money for a few weeks, as did Georgia running back Todd Gurley. But eventually they dropped off. Mariota has not and will not.
There’s something refreshing to Mariota’s boringly spectacular Heisman season. When the craziest thing that happens to the Heisman front runner during the season is a speeding ticket, it’s almost comical.
But of course, even the ticketing officer liked Mariota.
“Mr. Mariota was polite and respectful. He was professional and took the citation appropriately,” the officer told The Oregonian.
As a football fan, there’s nothing to dislike about Mariota. In a time of self-publicity and easy spotlight, he takes the other route. The one where he doesn’t have a Twitter or a website or any campaign outside of his stat line.
As a writer, though, Mariota has been one of the most difficult athletes to cover. At some point the “nice guy plays well” storyline gets played out. It has been written 100 times.
Mariota has given writers nothing new to write about. Which in today’s news cycle, feels like something new to write about.
This is his award to win because he’s the best player in the country, not because it’s a “quarterback award” or anything else. He didn’t need a billboard or a campaign to tell people that. He needed to put his team in position to play 15 games. And he has done just that.
Being proven otherwise, however, seems to be turning into an annual tradition in the South, which has had three different winners in the last three years. And if you thought the division was crazy in 2014, hang on, because it might plunge itself deeper into capricious insanity in 2015 and beyond.
"It's anybody's guess," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham when asked to handicap the South next season. "But I have to believe it's one of the toughest divisions in all of college football. It was very close this year, obviously. We had a lot of teams lumped up there at the top. Every year is its own entity and set of circumstances. I can't speak to next year. But right now it's anybody's guess."
But the 2014 season saw a clear power shift within the depth of the conference. For the first time since expansion, the South had a winning record against its northern counterparts, going 15-10.
"The South has definitely resurged," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "Every game against those guys is difficult. Trying to handicap it for next year would be like trying to handicap this year. It's impossible."
Adding to the impossibility is that five of the six teams in the division are likely to return a quarterback with substantial starting experience. Barring any surprise defections, draft declarations or injuries, only UCLA will be without a quarterback with significant time as a starter.
"Once again, that means you are going to see offenses executed extremely well week in and week out," said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team is the only one in the division not ranked in the Top 25. "All the quarterbacks in somehow, someway, have broken records at their school. You're looking at quality players coming back that can score points each Saturday."
Given the Trojans historical success, it seems almost shocking that USC is yet to win a division title. Maybe that changes as the Trojans roster slowly starts to rebuild itself in the post-sanctions era. Maybe not. The trio of previous victors -- all with head coaches who were hired following the 2011 season -- show no indication of slowing down. Plus the Utes are on the rise and Colorado is putting a more competitive product on the field. The Buffs were "in" seven of their nine conference games. Anyone think they are going to be worse next year?
"The thing that can happen is any team in the South can beat any team," MacIntyre said. "I think that's where it's at. We had double-overtime with UCLA and definitely could have won it. We were in there with everyone (in the South) except USC. There's a lot of parity, but there is also high-caliber football."
Meanwhile up North, the divide might be growing. The Ducks will have to find a replacement for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota (oh come on, like it's not going to happen) and we're not exactly sure what we're going to get from the Cardinal. You have to imagine things will be smoother in Year 2 of the Chris Petersen era at Washington, but there will be losses on defense. Shaw pointed to Cal as a team on the rise, but defense will again be a concern. So outside of Oregon, you have to question which North team could do the most damage against the South. Oregon State will have a new coach. Washington State is still rebuilding. The Ducks were the only team up North to be ranked. And even if the Cardinal thump Maryland in their bowl game, the chances of them finishing ranked are slim.
"We've got a lot of guys coming back so I know we'll be in the mix," Shaw said. "But I know this, next year will be as crazy as it was this year. And in the South, I don't know who has the edge. But it's going to be exciting."
That's a safe assumption ... until proven otherwise.
The Pac-12 North made for an intriguing recruiting weekend for the conference, as it lost a head coach, gained a handful of commitments and hosted the No. 5 prospect in the country. With the regular season finished, a greater emphasis on recruiting will be felt between now and signing day and the Pac-12 wasted little time making things interesting.
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It was another entertaining season in the Pac-12, as Oregon made its mark on the North, while the South was largely determined by two Hail Marys. But while fans got their money’s worth from the action on the field, the happenings on the recruiting trail during the year made an impact as well, marked by big commitments, misses and surprises. Here’s a look at the Pac-12 recruiting superlatives, based on events that took place during the season.
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It wasn’t under the current Boise State staff, but there was a time when Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III thought he would end up playing for the Broncos. He played well at their camp and expected an offer, but was ultimately told he was too slow. Shortly after he got that news, Arizona became the only FBS school to extend an offer, which he quickly accepted.
Two years later, he’s been named the best defensive player in college football and is preparing to play Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Wright’s rapid ascent to college football royalty has been one of the best stories in the Pac-12 this season and added another chapter, as Wright is the Bronko Nagurski Trophy recipient. He is the first winner from the conference since Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs won in 2002. The only other recipient from the Pac-12 was Arizona’s Rob Waldrop, who won the inaugural award in 1993.
Heisman finalists announced
Flourish pic.twitter.com/b4VGpkMy3T— Scooby Wright III (@TwoStarScoob) December 9, 2014
Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon can officially begin preparing to look happy for Marcus Mariota when the Oregon quarterback is named the Heisman Trophy winner. That reaction video gets played for years, guys. Cooper, Gordon and Mariota were officially named finalists for college football’s most prestigious award Monday, but anything but a landslide victory for Mariota would be surprising.
The Pac-12 hasn’t had a Heisman winner since USC’s trio of Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (2004) and Reggie Bush (2005) won the award three times over a four-year period. Oregon has never had a Heisman winner, and the Pacific Northwest has been shutout since Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker won in 1962.
- Arizona is going to the more prestigious bowl game, but is rival Arizona State getting better bowl gifts?
- California should be loaded at receiver again next season.
- Colorado picked up its first commitment from a wide receiver for this year's recruiting class.
- Oregon coaches are triggering bonus money in the playoff.
- The Oregonian is reporting Oregon State has interest in Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin.
- Every now again we all need to be reminded that the Coaches Poll needs to go.
- Andy Drukarev takes a lot at Stanford's tight ends.
- Lots of good information here for UCLA fans considering a trip to San Antonio.
- Nebraska fan support is down leading into the Holiday Bowl against USC.
- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is prepared for multiple quarterbacks to transfer out.
- Here is an Oklahoma perspective on Washington's season.
- Here's some good perspective on Mike Leach and rumors.
Pretty cool way to honor WSU quarterback Connor Halliday.
Here's an online Holiday card from ASU receiver Jaelen Strong
Wright was considered a two-star recruit coming out of high school and said the Wildcats were the only Football Bowl Subdivision school to offer him a scholarship.
The 6-foot-1, 246-pound linebacker used that slight as motivation. He took aim at the rest of the Pac-12, turning in a stellar sophomore season with 89 tackles -- 27 for a loss -- and 14 sacks, helping the Wildcats (No. 10 CFP, No. 12 AP) earn a spot in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl against Boise State.
He became the first underclassman to win the Pac-12 defensive player of the year honor.
He started 12 games as freshman for the Wildcats and had 89 tackles.
To read the rest of this story, click here.
One unsubstantiated rumor can be posted to Twitter and more than 300 retweets later, it is somehow taken as fact. That was the case Sunday night when a Texas-based television reporter gave legs to the idea that Washington State coach Mike Leach would be interested in coaching at Houston.
It never passed the smell test, but weirder things have happened on the coaching carousel, and WSU was forced to address it on Twitter.
WSU officials say no truth to stories linking Mike Leach to Houston.— WSU Cougars (@WSUCougars) December 8, 2014
When asked by ESPN.com if the report should be taken seriously, WSU athletic director Bill Moos replied, "No. Mike Leach is a Coug and mean Washington State Coug! We are focused on recruiting and growing our program." Added WSU sports information director Bill Stevens, "There is absolutely no truth to any rumors linking Mike Leach to another job." As far as denials go, these were strong. And once WSU shot it down, the fun began.
Apparently it's #WSU rumor night on social media. We want to play too! How about "We are starting an underwater laser tag degree" Good?— WSU Pullman (@WSUPullman) December 8, 2014
Yes. Very good.
If that's true, then this would make sense.
And more fictitious #WSURumors continued to roll.
Bill Doba to return to Pullman as new D-Coord. #WSURumors— Ryan Post (@RA_Post) December 8, 2014
Meanwhile, Mike Leach was recruiting in Washington D.C. Here's him with four-star cornerback Marcus Lewis:
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State