Mailbag: P-I? P-U!

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
6:30
PM ET
Mi mailbag es su mailbag. Follow me on Twitter.

Several questions coming in about the missed pass interference call in the WSU-Oregon game -- Matt, Chris, MJ, etc. -- I hear you guys. So I’ll give a blanket answer to start things off.

I appreciate the frustration of a missed call, especially when you are on the losing side. You scramble for a reason your team lost and you want to be able to blame someone or something. Officials are usually a pretty easy target.

That said, it was a blown call all the way. But is it part of some greater “Oregon conspiracy,” as some have suggested? I’ll lean toward no, but I can’t say with 100 percent certainty. Because I had to drive my son to daycare during the weekly meeting I have with Ted Miller, Larry Scott and The Legion of Doom where we discuss which team gets the hose that week.

Washington State ran 80 offensive plays Saturday night. The Cougars scored four touchdowns and kicked one field goal. Subtract the non-call and that leaves about 74 opportunities to make something happen other than what resulted. That could be making one additional block to spring a receiver, or connecting on one of the 19 other incompletions that could have altered the outcome of the game. WSU boasts an offense it believes can score on every play. If that’s the case, 74 times it failed.

That the non-call occurred late in the game brings extra focus and attention to it. If it had happened on Washington State’s opening drive, when the Cougars gained nine yards on three plays and punted, would there be this much uproar? I’m guessing no.

There’s the old adage that you never want the officials to determine the outcome of a game. Here’s the flip side: don’t leave yourself in that position.

I don’t want to take anything away from a gutty Washington State effort. Because I thought it played well enough to win. Nor am I defending Oregon. Simply saying that one play rarely determines the outcome of a game. And this one play in particular didn’t, either. It was one among 74 others that could have influenced the outcome.


Victor in Eugene writes: It seems to me that after the Ducks beat Michigan State a few weeks ago everyone was claiming the Ducks as the most complete team of the season. Then after the Washington State game everyone flipped to say Oregon doesn't look like a playoff team yet. They still have the most impressive win of the season of any team. The Cougars did almost everything they needed to have the upset, which I think give more credit to the preparation by Washington State rather than a knock on Oregon. Acknowledging the O-line setbacks, and typical media blowing-things-out-of-proportion, is there any legitimate reasons to doubt Oregon's potential for the season?

Kevin Gemmell: I don’t think it’s blowing things out of proportion when we say there are offensive line issues and then the Ducks go and give up seven sacks. Just the opposite, in fact. That’s calling a spade a spade.

And the offensive line is absolutely a legitimate reason to be concerned. You can’t just “acknowledge” it and then dismiss it. That’s like acknowledging that there’s no gas in your car, but then asking is there any legitimate reason it won’t start?

I agree that WSU gets a ton of credit for the game it played. I was extremely impressed with the Cougs and every other coach in the league should be too.

But if you’re looking for other reasons beyond the offensive line, you need only look at the brutality that is a Pac-12 schedule. After the bye, Oregon hosts Arizona, a team that can probably keep up with the Ducks score for score. Then it’s at UCLA, vs. Washington, at Cal and home to Stanford. Utah, Colorado and Oregon State aren’t going to be easy outs either.

Oregon is brimming with potential. And I still think they are one of the top four teams in the country. But every win is going to have to be earned. And the offensive line woes are going to make it that much tougher. Whoever comes through as the Pac-12 champ -- be it Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, ASU, etc. -- they will have gone through a wringer harder than any other team in the country.


Chris is Oakland writes: What do your inside sources and connections tell you about how successful Mike Bercovici will be running the Sun Devil offense? Any insight on this guy would be appreciated. #4pac

Kevin Gemmell: For using the #4pac hashtag, I humbly request that you bump this.

I think we’re going to see a different style of ASU offense. Obviously, you can’t re-write an entire offensive playbook. As good as Mike Norvell is, I don’t see a complete overhaul. But we won’t see a lot of the designed runs that we saw from Taylor Kelly, a very underrated athlete.

Bercovici will likely spend more time in the pocket, using his strong arm down the field to find Jaelen Strong and probably D.J. Foster who has motioned into the slot. The screen game isn’t likely to change and the offensive line is solid. So the QB runs are the only things I think will be different. And we’ll likely see a few more shots down the field.

How successful Bercovici is depends on what kind of a pass rush the Bruins can get. If he’s got time to sit back and launch, he’ll likely be successful. If the Bruins can get in his face and disrupt his timing, he’ll likely have trouble extending plays or scrambling the way Kelly does.

Or I’m totally wrong and he’ll rush for 112 yards and three touchdowns.

The Miracle at Michigan: 20 years later

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
3:52
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video
Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam says the game meant more to him than winning the Heisman. Michigan assistant Greg Mattison says it still feels as if it all happened 10 minutes ago.

Twenty years ago today, the No. 7 Colorado Buffaloes shocked the nation -- and the Big House -- when they rallied from a 12-point deficit with less than three minutes left to beat the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines on a last-second, 64-yard Hail Mary. The college football world will forever remember the play as the Miracle at Michigan.

Wolverines players were beside themselves. Linebacker Jarrett Irons says he never thought they would lose the game. Defensive back Chuck Winters says one Michigan assistant just “went off” on players in the locker room and had to be pulled away.

No one thought the play was possible. Buffaloes quarterback Kordell Stewart evaded a three-man rush and then hurled the ball nearly 70 yards, before one wideout tipped it and wideout Michael Westbrook pulled it in.

Those interviewed say they’ve never experienced anything else quite like that in their lives. Said ABC sports commentator Keith Jackson: “It’s part of your soul the rest of your life.”

Click here to read the oral history of the Miracle at Michigan, from the time before the catch to the actual catch, immediate aftermath and long-term impact.
Pete Carroll won't be at USC on Saturday when he will be one of 16 former Trojans inducted into the university's Hall of Fame class, but it's not too difficult to wax nostalgic imagining his name again reverberating in the Coliseum where he helped establish a college football dynasty. It also will be impossible not to recall that he bolted shortly before NCAA sanctions sent a wrecking ball through the program he constructed.

That program is 37-18 (.673) in the four-plus seasons since he left, which isn't bad for many teams, particularly when operating with scholarship reductions. But this is USC, and Carroll went 97-19 (.836) in nine years. He won seven consecutive Pac-10 titles and two national championships. The program he led to 34 consecutive victories during a remarkable span of dominance, however, is coming off an enfeebled effort at Boston College. While those NCAA sanctions will no longer yoke the program going forward, they are still being painfully felt, see a scant 61 scholarship players available Saturday against Oregon State.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll
AP Photo/Michael ConroyLove him or hate him, former Trojans coach Pete Carroll will be inducted into USC's Hall of Fame.
The distance between the program 10 years ago and now seems vast. Can that distance again be traversed? The Pac-12 at present is much deeper than the Pac-10 he ruled. The effort at BC also had some wondering if his top acolyte, Steve Sarkisian, owns even an approximate resurrective power, though it might be worth recalling Carroll went 6-6 and lost to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl his first season.

USC fans are going to cheer for Carroll in absentia on Saturday, as well they should. But for some there will be a tangle of competing feelings, which are aggravated by the uncertain present and future of the program.

Very few fame narratives are straight lines in our culture. While college football isn't Hollywood or national politics in terms of a Pavlovian response to scandal, you can't name too many coaches who posted careers without well-reported embarrassments, particularly over the past two decades when media coverage expanded exponentially. At least, not too many successful ones.

While the totality of their work on the field and general consensus about their overall character often wins out over the longterm for their lasting public perception, a legitimate evaluation can't ignore the ugly events that happened under their watch. So it is with Carroll.

He took over a foundering national power that went 19-18 over the three seasons before he arrived and built a dynasty. He went 6-1 in BCS bowl games. The Trojans also were crushed by NCAA sanctions for extra benefits Reggie Bush and his parents received when Carroll was head coach. More than a few outsiders, as well as a few insiders, believe Carroll dashed for the Seattle Seahawks in 2009 after spurning previous NFL entreaties because he wanted to get out while the getting was good.

There were other reasons that might have motivated him to leave, other than the NCAA. It shouldn't be omitted that Carroll bolted after his worst season since 2001, his first at USC. The Trojans had lost three of their final six games in 2009, including the humiliating 55-21 "What's your deal?" defeat to Jim Harbaugh and Stanford. His last game was an Emerald Bowl victory over Boston College -- no irony intended -- and the Trojans finished 9-4 overall.

There were whispers that his magic was gone, a not entirely unpopular take with opposing coaches. Carroll had started to miss on some recruits, and others who had sign ended up becoming highly rated busts.

Carroll has repeatedly and adamantly denied he left because he was worried about the direction at USC or impending NCAA sanctions. In fact, this summer he told the Los Angeles Times that he wouldn't have left the Trojans, even for a five-year contract worth about $35 million and near total control over personnel decisions, if he'd known how severe the sanctions would be.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Matt SaylesPete Carroll's No. 11 USC Trojans lost their third game of the season to Jim Harbaugh and his 25th-ranked Stanford Cardinal on Nov. 14, 2009.
"Had we known that that was imminent ... I would never have been able to leave under those circumstances," he told The Times. "When I look back now, I would have stayed there to do what we needed to do to resolve the problem."

That's an eyebrow-raising assertion that can't be measured for factuality, so you can choose to believe it or not. While there are many, many coaches more predisposed to spout bull manure than Carroll, he has always been media savvy and is not above a little gamesmanship during interviews. He knows saying that might score him some points with USC fans. It is, however, just words.

Of course, what he produced on the field is his truest measure, at least for how we, the observing class, evaluate his professional output. His hiring in December 2000 was widely mocked as bumbling athletic director Mike Garrett settling for his fourth choice. A lot of pundits wondered if his "Win Forever!" shtick would work in the NFL, where he'd previously failed, when the Seahawks gave him a big and blank check. He's proven two sets of naysayers wrong, joining Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer as the only coaches to win a Super Bowl and a college national championship.

He's even won the PR battle with the NCAA. The overwhelming consensus now is the 2010 sanctions against USC were unfair, even borderline corrupt. That ruling, in fact, might even be viewed as a Point A for the NCAA's recent decline into a feckless body that can neither govern effectively nor enforce rules. With Ohio State, North Carolina, Miami and Penn State seemingly being far worse transgressors of rules and decorum in recent years than USC under Carroll -- Head coaches lying! Academic fraud! A booster running amuck! A child molester on staff! -- the Bush ruling has become more of a negative reflection on the NCAA than Carroll.

In 2000, Carroll was a coaching afterthought. Nearly 14 years later, he's persevered into rarefied air, where he merits consideration for greatness.

USC fans are going to cheer when Carroll's name is announced and remember him fondly on Saturday, as well they should. It's also probably time for the conflicted to untangle their feelings about the man.

ASU, UCLA battle on field, on the trail 

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
11:30
AM ET
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils are doing everything they can to ensure a significant home field advantage on Thursday night when the UCLA Bruins come to town. They should, based on the past several years when it comes to recruiting, it’s the Bruins who have made themselves right at home in the Grand Canyon State.

You have to go all the way back to the 2008 class to find a year in which the Sun Devils signed the state’s top prospect out of high school. UCLA landed the top Arizona recruit in the 2013 class and comes to the desert this year featuring an offensive backfield comprised of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Paul Perkins -- two former Arizona prep standouts who made the decision to leave the state.

Just as Graham is leading the charge for Arizona State fans to “Blackout the Bruins” on Thursday night, he’s made a conscientious effort to block them -- and any other out-of-state program -- out on the Arizona recruiting trail as well.

Key matchup: ASU pass rush vs UCLA line

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
9:54
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Icon SMIJim Mora (left) needs to find a way to stop Todd Graham's (right) blitzing scheme.
Since the Pac-12 was created in 2011, the winner of the UCLA vs Arizona State game has represented the Pac-12 South in the conference title game in every year.

Last season, UCLA allowed a season-high nine sacks and was outrushed by 72 yards in its loss to Arizona State. The nine sacks were the most the Bruins have allowed in any game in the last 10 seasons and are tied for the most for any team in the last two years.

With uncertainty at the quarterback position for both teams, the game may again come down to line-of-scrimmage control, particularly when UCLA has the ball.

In the past couple of seasons, the Sun Devils have boasted one of the best pass rushes in the nation, while the Bruins’ offensive line has struggled to protect its quarterback and run the football.

Arizona State pass rush
Since Todd Graham took over as head coach in 2012, Arizona State ranks second in the FBS behind Stanford with 99 sacks. Much of that success has come when sending added pressure.

Arizona State has blitzed on 43 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks since the start of the 2012 season, the second-highest rate among Power Five schools (Syracuse). The Sun Devils have the most sacks (54) and the highest sack percentage (12 percent) when bringing added pressure among Power Five teams during that span.

Last season Arizona State blitzed on 16 of Brett Hundley's 40 dropbacks (40 percent) and recorded seven of its nine sacks when sending added pressure.

The Sun Devils have continued to be more successful when sending added pressure this season; they are allowing almost five yards less per dropback and a completion percentage below 50 percent when blitzing compared with when they don’t blitz.

UCLA Offensive Line
Since taking over as the starting quarterback in 2012, Hundley has been sacked 97 times, 24 more than any other FBS quarterback. Hundley has been sacked 14 times in the two matchups against Arizona State, including nine times in his last matchup.

Moreover, Hundley has been knocked down 148 times since the beginning of last season. No other active Power Five quarterback has been knocked down in this period more than 124 times.

The Bruins’ offensive line has struggled to manage opponents’ blitzes this season, ranking second-to-last in the Pac-12 in yards per play (5.4) and allowing the most sacks (seven) when opponents send five or more pass rushers.

The Bruins have also struggled to create holes for ball carriers. They have averaged 1.6 yards before contact per rush this season, second worst in the Pac-12 to pass-heavy Washington State and almost a yard less than last season.

Although UCLA is favored by more than a field goal on the road, if the Bruins cannot protect their quarterback or find space to run it could be a long night in Tempe.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
8:00
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I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you.

Leading off

Depth chart Wednesday is upon us. There are two byes this week -- Arizona and Oregon -- so we'll wait until next week to update theirs. But here they are for the other nine teams (remember, UCLA doesn't do a depth chart). As always, I've added some notes and thoughts after.
Some notes: Heisman check in

Heismanpundit.com released its latest straw poll. And while others from the Pac-12 have faded, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has strengthened his spot as the front-runner.

Here's the latest results from the weekly poll, which includes 10 Heisman voters.
  1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 24 (6)
  2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama — 12 (2)
  3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia — 9 (2)
  4. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M — 4
  5. (tie) Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska — 3
    Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State — 3
  6. 7. (tie) Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina — 2
    Taysom Hill, QB, BYU — 2
    James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh — 1

Mariota also has a comfortable lead in the ESPN.com poll. So far this season, he has accounted for 16 touchdowns (13 passing) and he's completing 74 percent of his throws with zero interceptions.

However, he wasn't the only quarterback who stood out Saturday night. One Heisman voter makes a case for Connor Halliday's consideration.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Locker room videos are always awesome. This one is no exception.



Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.



Funny.

UCLA coach Jim Mora said he's going to "push it as far out as you can" before making a decision on whether quarterback Brett Hundley will start Thursday night against Arizona State in Tempe.

Hundley injured his left (non-throwing) elbow in UCLA's 20-17 win over Texas on Sept. 13. The Bruins had a bye last week and Mora has been tight-lipped about the status of the All-America candidate.

Sometimes it goes right up to kickoff before you make that decision," Mora told reporters after practice on Tuesday. "In the NFL you have to declare a guy inactive or active, at this level you don't. We just take it as far as we can and make the best decision for the player first, and the team second."

Mora said Hundley has practiced, but has been limited.

Through three games, Hundley is completing 70.4 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and an interception. He's also rushed for 74 yards and a score. Jerry Neuheisel replaced Hundley against Texas to lead the Bruins to a dramatic fourth-quarter victory, throwing two touchdowns on 23 of 30 passing.

The winner of the last two showdowns between ASU and UCLA has gone on to win the Pac-12 South Division, with ASU winning last year in Los Angeles and UCLA winning at ASU in 2012.

"It's not like anyone is trying to pull anything over on Todd Graham, because you're not going to pull anything over on Todd Graham," Mora said. "They are preparing for UCLA. They are preparing for schemes and plays and tendencies. I'm sure they are assuming that Brett is going to play. That's what I'd be doing. And I'm nowhere near the coach that Todd Graham is. They'll be ready regardless."

Mora is right. Graham is expecting Hundley to play.

"If Brett Hundley didn't play, it would totally shock me," Graham said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference. "But that makes it easier for us. You better prepare for the best one. Not taking anything away from the backup quarterback, but Brett has some skills that are really, really special.

"People are going to run their offense pretty much. But what he does is he adds so much to it when the plays don't work. His ability to extend plays, pull the ball down, throw the ball 70 yards downfield, across the field on his back foot, if he doesn't play, that makes things better for us. ... He's going to play. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to play."

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 5

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
6:00
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Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

No. 11 UCLA (3-0) at No. 15 Arizona State (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
  • UCLA is scoring on 28.2 percent of its drives, while ASU is allowing points on just 20.9 percent of its drives. Conversely, the Sun Devils are scoring on 52.4 percent of their drives and UCLA is allowing points 27.5 percent of the time.
  • Turnover margin so far this year: Arizona State plus-5; UCLA minus-1.
  • ASU RB D.J. Foster is the only running back in the country averaging more than 9 yards per carry (9.44 ypc) with at least 50 rushing attempts.
  • ASU's Jaelen Strong and UCLA's Jordan Payton are two of the most relied-upon receivers on the Pac-12. Strong has accounted for 37.8 percent of ASU's receptions and Payton 30.8 percent for UCLA.
  • Since coaches Todd Graham (ASU) and Jim Mora (UCLA) took over in 2011, the Bruins are 10-10 on the road and ASU is 17-5 at home.
Colorado (2-2) at California (2-1, 0-1)
  • Cal's Sonny Dykes and Colorado's Mike MacIntyre have coached against each other every season since 2010 when Dykes was at Louisiana Tech and MacIntyre at San Jose State. Dykes won the first two games, but MacIntyre has taken the last two.
  • Colorado WR Nelson Spruce ranks No. 3 in the country in reception (37) and has not dropped a pass.
  • First-half scoring margins: Cal plus-77, CU plus-7. Second-half scoring margins: Cal minus-33, CU minus-23.
  • Cal QB Jared Goff ranks No. 8 nationally in QBR.
  • The Bears have lost 15 consecutive games in Pac-12 play ... and opened as an 11.5-point favorite.
No. 16 Stanford (2-1, 0-1) at Washington (4-0)
  • Something's got to give: Washington is averaging 41.2 points per game; Stanford is allowing just 4.3 points per game.
  • Stanford WR Ty Montgomery has 22 catches on 24 targets, which is the best catch percentage (91.7) in the country among receivers with at least 20 targets.
  • Washington leads the conference in fumbles recovered on defense (5); Stanford's offense has lost the most in the conference (also 5).
  • Since David Shaw became the head coach in 2011, Stanford has only lost its first road game of the season once ... at Washington in 2012.
  • Since 2010, Stanford (.842) and UW coach Chris Petersen's previous program, Boise State (.833), are two of the five winningest programs in the country.
Washington State (1-3) at Utah (3-0)
  • Four WSU receivers (Isiah Myers, Vince Mayle, Dom Williams and River Cracraft) rank in the top seven in the Pac-12 in receiving yards.
  • Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with three return touchdowns (1 kickoff, 2 punt). Vanderbilt's Darrius Sims has two kickoff-return touchdowns, but has eight more attempts than Clay, who has just two total.
  • WSU QB Connor Halliday leads the nation with 1,901 yards passing (475.3 yards per game) ... Utah is allowing 210. yards passing per game.
  • Utah's points margin per game ranks No. 5 nationally (and first in the Pac-12) at plus-30.0 per game.
  • Utah leads the all-time series vs. WSU, 7-6.
Oregon State (3-0) at No. 18 USC (2-1, 1-0)
  • USC has won 33 of the last 37 vs Oregon State.
  • Offensive points per game: USC 32.0, OSU 31.7.
  • Oregon State take the most time per play in the conference: 29.9 seconds on average. USC averages 23.9, which is tied with Cal for third-most.
  • Both USC and Oregon State have had 40 offensive drives, and both have punted 14 times.
  • Through three games last year, Oregon State was averaging 46.3 pass attempts a game. This year, that number has dropped to 37.7.
Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
As Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion inches closer to becoming the Pac-12's all-time leading passer, it looks like he might need a couple of more completions to get there than originally thought.

A "book-keeping" error on the part of the league, as reported by The Oregonian, shows that current all-time leader Matt Barkley actually has 12,327 career passing yards, not the 12,274 yards he was believed to have at the end of his career with USC.

It's only a difference of 53 yards, which could equate to one deep ball or a few bubble screens and slants. Either way, Mannion, who has 11,339 yards, now needs 988 more passing yards to set the all-time record after throwing for 275 yards in a win last week over San Diego State.

Through three games, Mannion is averaging 301 passing yards per game, which ranks third in the Pac-12 and 17th nationally. He's completing 67.3 percent of his throws, with four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.

Heading into Saturday's game at USC, Mannion is third on the Pac-12's all-time passing list behind Carson Palmer (11,818).

Pac-12 QB Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
2:00
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The Pac-12 typically has great quarterbacks and good depth at the position, but the 2014 season is particularly stacked behind center. With a few All-American candidates and early NFL draft picks, it’s almost difficult to keep up with who’s doing what to which secondary.

No worries. We’ve got you covered. Each week, we will provide you a top-five ranking of the Pac-12 QBs.

Now, it won’t always be a 1 to 5 ranking according to the expected pecking order at season’s end or NFL draft lists. It will react heavily to the preceding week. And we’ll try to spread some love.



Honorable mention: Travis Wilson, Utah: Statistically, Wilson didn’t blow anybody away at Michigan (14-of-20, 172 yards), but that’s because he didn’t play the entire game. An ugly, neck-contorting fall in the second quarter made viewers grimace, but Wilson returned to lead a critical Utes’ touchdown drive in the third quarter. His gutsiness alone deserves mention, but the efficiency of Utah’s offense after Wilson’s return to the lineup is what really stood out Saturday.

Inactive Week 4: Kevin Hogan, Stanford; Cody Kessler, USC; Taylor Kelly, ASU; Brett Hundley/Jerry Neuheisel, UCLA

To see last week’s rankings, click here.

College football's top 10 QBs

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
1:39
PM ET
video
Week 4 provided yet another reminder of the wonderful uncertainty and unpredictability of the college game.

And suffice to say, the drama tends to center on the guys taking the snaps. Shortcomings at quarterback have leveled the playing field among Power 5 and Group of 5 programs, and several breakout performers on under-the-radar teams have emerged to steal the spotlight.

So as we pass the season's one-quarter mark, my updated list of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football will reflect all of the upheaval, from the emergence of Kenny "Trill" Hill to the unfortunate decisions of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

While current productivity remains at the forefront of my thought process when compiling this list, each passer's NFL projection is equally important.

With that in mind ... Seeeet. Hut.

For the full list, click here Insider or become an Insider today.
videoHistory might look back on the 2011 season and call it The Great Pac Purge. In a matter of weeks, a third of the league's coaches were out of a job.

Mike Stoops didn't even make it through Arizona's season. Rick Neuheisel didn't coach UCLA's bowl game. Dennis Erickson was fired prior to the Las Vegas Bowl, but coached the Sun Devils in a loss to Boise State. And Paul Wulff was dismissed after winning just nine games at Washington State in four years.

Then came the hires. Two big names and two “huhs?”

Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach, cast outs from their previous jobs at Michigan and Texas Tech, respectively, were considered home run hires for Arizona and Washington State. They were offensive innovators whose unique schemes would mesh perfectly with the offensive reputation of the conference.

Todd Graham at Arizona State and Jim Mora at UCLA were met with more of a hesitant golf clap than the raucous applause of the other two. Alright, let's be honest. The Graham hire drew groans and the Mora hire was perceived as borderline baffling. One was a program hopper and the other, with almost zero college coaching experience, was supposed to recruit Los Angeles? Against USC?

But as Winston Churchill said, history is written by the victors. And from the ashes of those firings came an influx of coaching talent that upped the ante for the rest of the league. And all four programs are in better shape than they were following the 2011 season. Of course, some are in better shape than others.

Per ESPN Stats and Information, there are 21 active FBS coaches who started at their school prior to the start of the 2012 season. Six of those coaches have at least 20 wins so far. Three of them are from the Pac-12 -- Mora, Graham and Rodriguez.



Two of those coaches will square off this week in a game that has been the tipping point in the South Division race the last two seasons. Arizona State hosts UCLA Thursday night in a blossoming rivalry.

Mora and the Bruins got the better of the Sun Devils two years ago in Tempe when Brett Hundley orchestrated a game-winning field goal drive. Last year ASU jumped out to big lead at the half and then held off a late charge to lock up the South.

You could make the argument that South was wide open after 2011 with USC still feeling the impact of sanctions, Utah still adjusting to life in the Pac-12 and Colorado trying to climb out of the basement. The timing was perfect for one or two of the new coaches to establish their foothold.

In the North, Leach hasn't enjoyed as much success as the other three. But his 10 wins already surpasses the nine that Wulff had during his four-year stretch. And the Cougars went to a bowl game last season -- something they hadn't done in a decade. You need only watch the scare WSU put into No. 2 Oregon Saturday night to see what type of a team the Cougars can be under Leach.

While the 2012 coaching class infused an already good coaching corps, it's worth noting that all four had quarterbacks already recruited or ready to go. In an age where three years is the new standard by which coaches are measured, that's a colossal advantage. But that's not to say this group can't recruit, having brought in talent like Myles Jack, Jaelen Strong, Vince Mayle and Anu Solomon.

However, they aren't without criticism -- particularly when it comes to signature wins. Leach is just 1-7 against AP Top 25 teams, with WSU's landmark victory being a 10-7 win at USC last year (though most will say the 2012 Apple Cup qualifies as landmark). Rodriguez is 3-7 against Top 25 competition, though last year's Oregon beat down stands out as signature. Graham is 4-5, but more importantly, 2-0 in the Territorial Cup. Mora has the best record at 5-5 and has beaten USC twice, though he's 0-3 against Stanford and 0-1 against Oregon.

None of the four are going anywhere soon unless it's by choice. They all have spearheaded programs for new or upgraded facilities (some of which are already in place) and each coach is already on his second contract.

That Washington State fans are groaning over the slow start, wanting everything to be Leachy-keen, shows that his presence has elevated the expectation level. Graham and Mora already have a South title and Rodriguez produces some of the most exciting offensive football in the country. See the Mary, Hill.

The 2012 class of coaches raised the national perception of the league, and also the stakes. The Pac-12 is as deep as it's ever been, the roster of coaches from top to bottom is at its peak and, as Oregon learned, there are no easy outs. Their presences makes their teams, and every team in the league, that much better.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
10:00
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video 
It was a strong weekend for Pac-12 recruiting, as the conference added two potential impact commitments and several programs hosted important visit weekends. While Utah and Washington emerged as obvious winners, UCLA extended an interesting 2016 offer and both California and Washington State looked to take steps forward with recruits.


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Planning for success: Utah Utes

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Through their first three games, the Utah Utes are clicking in all three phases. But it’s the last phase in particular -- special teams -- that have people thinking that maybe the Utes can make some noise in the Pac-12 South.

As Utah heads into conference play this week -- opening its fourth season as a Pac-12 team with a home date against Washington State -- it ranks among the nation’s best in several special teams categories. Kicker Andy Phillips, punter Tom Hackett and return man Kaelin Clay have all been outstanding through the first three games, as have the units that block and/or tackle for them.

First, the numbers:
  • As a team, Utah leads the nation in net punting. Opposing teams have returned 15 punts a total of 4 yards, giving the Utes a 46.67 net average. Hackett is third nationally with an average of 48.3 yards per punt.
  • In the return game, Clay is seventh in the country, averaging 23.8 yards per punt return in six attempts. Let’s not forget about his two touchdowns, either. Utah ranks second nationally in kickoff return with an average of 33.5 yards plus one touchdown (by Clay).
  • And Phillips is 5-of-6 on field goal attempts with a long of 50 yards.

Now, these aren’t sexy stats. Net yards per return doesn’t get the blood pumping the way touchdown passes or sacks do. But they win football games. Consider that 19 of Utah’s 26 points in Michigan came by way of special teams -- four field goals from Phillips and Clay’s 66-yard punt return.

"All three phases started kicking in,” said Utah wide receiver Dres Anderson on Utah’s win. “Our defense was doing great all game. Kaelin did great along with the punt return team. In the third quarter, the offense got everything going, and we started getting first downs. When you start getting first downs, everything starts to roll after that."

With the Michigan win the Utes improved their nonconference record to 11-1 since joining the Pac-12. Only Arizona, Oregon and Stanford (with one nonconference game remaining this season) can claim that kind of success.

Now the Utes will look to improve their Pac-12 record -- which stands in contrast to their nonconference showing at an unimpressive 9-18 (yes, quarterback injuries, we know, we know).

After WSU, the Utes go on the road for three of their next four with trips to UCLA, Oregon State and ASU with a home date against USC tucked in between.

“I think we're winning games because everyone has each other's back and everybody knows where they need to be,” said linebacker Jared Norris. “If somebody is out of place, then you have your brother that is going to make up for you. Home or away, I don't think it will matter this season. It's all about the trust we have in each other."

If the Utes can keep up all three phases, they are going to be a tough beat -- regardless of the venue.
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Utah Utes

Pac-12 morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
8:00
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Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Leading off

The Eliminator is a cruel mistress. And this past weekend she claimed another victim. Add the California Bears to the "Better Luck Next Year" category after Arizona's dramatic come-from-behind victory on Saturday in Tucson.

Here's what Mark Schlabach had to say about the Bears:
If Clemson blowing a late lead is "Clemsoning," what in the world do you call what the Bears did at Arizona on Saturday night? Cal blew a 31-13 lead in the fourth quarter, giving up 19 points in the final 3:30. The Bears surrendered a 47-yard Hail Mary on the final play of a 49-45 loss.

Obviously, the playoff hopes of the Pac-12 didn't rest on Cal. While the Pac-12 blog likes what it sees from the Bears, let's get to a bowl game first before we start talking playoffs. That leaves the league with five teams under the "still in contention" category: Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Utah and Washington are all "on the fence."

Speaking of playoffs, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports weighed in with his weekly four-team projection and still has the Ducks as one of the top four teams.

What's on tap?

Athlon Sports projects the top five college football games this week, and two of their five are in the Pac-12. UCLA's trip to Arizona State -- rife with QB injury intrigue -- tops their list. And with good reason. The winner of the UCLA-ASU game has gone on to win the South Division the last two years.

They are also eyeballing the Stanford-Washington showdown. Here's why:
One of these teams has to start looking like a Pac-12 North contender, right? Stanford has been inept in the red zone, and Washington is letting bad teams hang around.

This should be an interesting matchup because both teams have struggled with consistency. Normally Stanford is the master of clean, efficient play. And when another team plays inconsistently, the Cardinal pounce. But neither team has really played up to its potential yet. The Pac-12 blog is confident they've both just been saving it for this game.

News/notes/team reports
  • Cal's blunders were Arizona's gain.
  • The Sun Devils are expecting to see Brett Hundley.
  • Some grades for Cal's game against Arizona.
  • Slowly but surely, the Buffs are making progress on offense.
  • Devon Allen emerging as a big-play threat for Oregon.
  • When Victor Bolden went down, other OSU receivers stepped up.
  • "Grades" for Stanford's bye week.
  • Tough break for the Bruins, who lose Randall Goforth for the season.
  • Adoree' Jackson narrows his focus during the bye.
  • Some new faces have been big contributors for Utah.
  • The roundup from Chris Petersen's Monday meeting with the media.
  • Some grades from WSU's game against Oregon.
Just for fun

Not necessarily fun, just gnarly.

 

So far, I'd say so:

 

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