The debate has already begun swirling in regard to Pac-12 play in 2015. So writers Chantel Jennings and David Lombardi sat down to debate what team is the early frontrunner in both the North and South Divisions of the Pac-12.

They started with the North…

Lombardi: Stanford’s offense didn’t click until the very end of the 2014 season, and that cost them. But when it finally came together against UCLA, the Cardinal looked like a 10-plus win team. With most of the offensive pieces returning, expect the Stanford attack to carry its late success over into next season. Sure, there’ll probably be some drop-off on the defensive end -- eight starters depart -- but since the Cardinal actually improved defensively this season after losing a ton of talent, who says Lance Anderson’s system can’t reload again?

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesWith Kevin Hogan and a bunch of contributors returning, Stanford might have the offensive firepower to cruise to a Pac-12 North title.
Jennings: I'm totally with you David, I think the Cardinal are going to be very strong next season and will look and play better than they did in 2014. It's just so crazy, though, because I feel like the Pac-12 North in 2015 is going to be like the Pac-12 South in 2014. It's such an open race and cases can be made for many different teams. A lot of people think Oregon will be a strong challenger again, but I'm not sold on the Ducks yet. Jeff Lockie hasn't looked like a confident QB to me yet and even with so many weapons around him, if there isn't a confident QB running that offense it's not going to be very efficient. Plus, the defense loses a ton of starters and that defensive performance against Ohio State gives me very little to go on for what that group will look like next season. I think Gary Andersen could get a good thing going at Oregon State. I covered Luke Del Rio when he was a high schooler and he impressed me then, so I think he could do big things with the Beavers. Heck, if California makes as big of a jump from 2014 to 2015 as it did from 2013 to 2014, who's to say the Golden Bears couldn't be a dark horse? And with a new defensive coordinator and with what Luke Falk showed at the end of the 2014 season, could Washington State make a push? Honestly, is there any team in the North that doesn't have a shot?

Lombardi: I see that you’re taking the prudent approach, Chantel, but I’m going to go out on a limb and take the foolish one: I think that Stanford is in a good position to emerge as a clear winner. I know, I should have learned my lesson from the minefield that was the Pac-12 South this past season. Given the post-Marcus Mariota uncertainty at Oregon, there's a chance that the North will follow suit and lose any semblance of order this next season.

But at the end of the day, I still think that the Ducks and the Cardinal are a cut above the rest of the division. Andersen will need time at Oregon State, Cal still needs to prove that it can play competent defense, Washington is losing considerable star power on defense, and Washington State is in a similar boat as the Bears.

Until I see tangible on-field proof from those programs, Stanford and Oregon are the two frontrunners in my book. You mentioned most of the questions facing the Ducks, but I think the loss of Jake Fisher is particularly huge: They gave up an average of six sacks per game when he didn’t play in 2014. The Ducks must reload quickly, because I think the schedule really lines up in Stanford’s favor. Aside from missing Arizona State and Utah, the Cardinal get Oregon at home.

Jennings: That's all fair. But remember when we started this season and Brett Hundley and UCLA were the favorite in the South? After that it was USC... Arizona State... and then Arizona. This is the #Pac12AfterDark. No one even considered Utah as anything other than an afterthought. Yes, maybe Stanford is a cut above the rest, but this is the conference gave us multiple Hail Marys, this is the conference that gave us insanity after everyone on the East Coast thought it was safe to go to bed. Maybe Stanford is going to be the most talented team in the Pac-12 North next season, but I'm not sure if that's enough to really make me buy them as the eventual representative in the Pac-12 championship game. I think we're going to have a crazy, crazy season, which makes me want to go with a dark horse candidate.

Lombardi: I just have to see to believe, Chantel, and I haven’t seen any convincing signs of life from the rest of the Pac-12 North in a long, long time. In fact, Oregon and Stanford have combined to go 39-1 against the other four Pac-12 North teams this decade (I’m including 2010 in that tally). The only blemish on that record is Stanford’s 2012 loss to Washington. That’s staggering, and for me it’s convincing: The Cardinal and Ducks own this division until proven otherwise.

Jennings: And I think there’s a solid shot that in 2015 “otherwise” could occur.

Class rankings: Jan. 21 update

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National Signing Day is rapidly approaching and commitments, decommitments and flips continue to spark movement throughout the class rankings.

Alabama continues to maintain control of the top spot, but another longtime top-five fixture has managed to make a move into to the top-three. Clemson has assembled a class defined by an excellent group of offensive and defensive linemen, but heading down the home stretch the Tigers added a key commitment from a perimeter prospect -- ESPN300 CB Mark Fields II. The four-star defender gives the Tigers an instinctive, athletic and versatile secondary player.

Notre Dame recently was able to flip longtime UCLA verbal Alize Jones, and the addition of the No. 1 TE helped the Fighting Irish to move into the top 10. The four-star can give Notre Dame's passing attack a playmaking threat and is a confident pass-catcher with good speed and outstanding body control.

Back-to-back SEC East champion Missouri continues to build a quality class and was the big mover jumping up to No. 26. The Tigers added a trio of good three-star prospects led by Johnathon Johnson, an athlete that lacks ideal measureables but demonstrates playmaking ability.



To read the full class rankings, click here.

Recruit breakdown: DT Rasheem Green 

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video What he brings: ESPN 300 No. 41 overall Rasheem Green is a physical, athletic defensive tackle prospect with the tools to be a well-rounded and disruptive player in the trenches at the college level. He possesses very good size, with a frame that can continue to be developed and support more good mass. An explosive player, he can use his size and strength to take on and at times overpower blockers. The four-star prospect also moves well for his size and can be effective on the move when utilized on slants and twists, and with his agility and motor he can be a factor along the line of scrimmage. Green suffered a knee injury late in his senior season that could hinder his initial impact in college, but in the big picture and with a healthy return, this is a versatile, tough and talented D-line prospect.

In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Vontaze Burfict, No. 16 in 2009 class

Burfict
Coming out of Centennial High in Corona, California, Burfict seemed destined to head to USC for the majority of his recruitment before switching to Arizona State on national signing day, due in large part to two teammates also signing to play at ASU. Burfict was the headliner of a Sun Devils class that included little-known quarterback Brock Osweiler.

Burfict was expected to be an impact player, and he played in 12 games as a freshman, starting nine. In 2009, the vicious inside linebacker totaled 69 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks, earning Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year along with several Freshman All-American honors.

As a sophomore, Burfict made a team-leading 90 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss and was named the Pac-10 Defensive Most Valuable Player and earned several All-America honors despite then-head coach Dennis Erickson benching Burfict at times for questionable persona- foul penalties. He played in every game for Arizona State, starting all but one.

The 2011 season was Burfict’s best despite lower tackle numbers. In 12 starts he made 69 tackles, seven tackles for loss, five sacks and one interception, again earning all conference and All-America honors.

Burfict decided to forgo his final season of eligibility and entered the 2012 NFL draft. He left ASU with 228 career-tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

Burfict went from a likely high draft choice to undrafted in the 2012 draft because of off-field issues and concerns. He then signed a free agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, where he has become one of the top defensive players in the NFL. He was selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl, but missed most of 2014 with a knee injury.

Honorable mention: The No. 16 ranking has been a winner through the years. Several players ranked No. 16 have gone on to play in the NFL including 2013 first round pick Dee Milliner, 2014 fourth-round pick De’Anthony Thomas and 2011 sixth-round pick Tyrod Taylor. The No. 16 player in the 2012 class, Shaq Thompson, is a projected first-round pick in the 2015 draft, and Class of 2014 quarterback DeShaun Watson appears to have a bright future at Clemson and beyond.

Season review: USC

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
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Our 2014 season Pac-12 team-by-team grades continue. If you want to check out last season's reviews, click here.

USC Trojans

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
AP Images/Kevin ReeceCody Kessler moved into the top tier of college QBs in 2014 with 39 TD passes and just five interceptions.
Offense: The Trojans ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 35.8 points per game and fifth with 6.0 yards per play. QB Cody Kessler has an impressive second year as a starter -- his first under head coach and play-caller Steve Sarkisian -- ranking second in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation in passing efficiency. The Trojans were efficient in the red zone and ranked third in the conference with a 46.6 percent conversion rate on third down. On a down note, the rushing offense averaged just 4.0 yards per carry, which ranked 10th in the Pac-12, and the line gave up too many sacks. Of course, both of those could be written off to starting three freshmen on the O-line. While the numbers were certainly above average, there also is no doubt the Trojans' offense stagnated at times, often at critical times. It's notable USC was outscored 86-72 in the fourth quarter -- only Colorado scored fewer in the final frame this season. Grade: B-

Defense: While there seems to be a perception that the USC defense was bad in 2014, that perception isn't supported statistically for the most part. The Trojans ranked fifth in the conference in scoring defense (25.2 points per game, which is 0.4 points more than No. 3 Washington) and tied for third in yards per play yielded (5.3). They were second in pass efficiency defense and third in yards per rush (3.8). They were No. 1 in third down conversions, No. 1 in the red zone and No. 1 in interceptions. The defense did give up too many rushing touchdowns (20) and record too few sacks (33). The substantive issue is when things went bad they were awful. The defense seemed completely unprepared for Boston College's spread-option, which was baffling, and it seemed helpless yielding late leads to Arizona State -- cover a freaking Hail Mary, would ya! -- and Utah. It simply got pushed around against rival UCLA. The easy and not unreasonable explanation is the Trojans were hurt by depth issues due to scholarship reductions. Still, USC doesn't get graded on the curve. Grade: C+

Special teams: USC ranked 10th in punting but connected on 9 of 11 field goals. While its overall return numbers were middling, it got two TDs from both its punt return and kick return teams, courtesy of Nelson Agholor and Adoree' Jackson. According to ESPN.com's Stats & Information, USC ranked 36th in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 in special teams efficiency. Grade: B-.

Overall: USC went 9-4, beat Nebraska in its bowl game and finished ranked 20th. That is a good year for, oh, about 110 programs in the nation. But this is USC, and that means Sarkisian's first year received poor reviews from more than a few folks. It wasn't as much about the losses as how they came about. In terms of physical talent, Boston College isn't even in USC's class. Yet the Eagles humiliated the Trojans with 452 yards rushing. The Trojans led Arizona State by nine with three minutes left but collapsed. After dominating the Utah offense, the defense yielded a 73-yard game-winning touchdown drive. And the limp effort while losing a third consecutive game to UCLA was simply embarrassing. While it wasn't a bad year -- like, say, the 2012 flop -- it wasn't a year that earned Sarkisian a warm embrace from USC fans eager to return to national relevance. Grade: C+.

Other Pac-12 reviews

Washington State

Washington

Stanford

Utah
The Pac-12's South Division went 15-10 against the North in 2014, the first season since expansion in 2011 that the South bested the North. Of course, Oregon still won the conference crown -- in dominant fashion over Arizona, in fact -- so the South still has never won the Pac-12 title.

Perhaps the dominant Pac-12 theme heading into 2015 will be how that figures to change next December. After going a feckless 9-17 against the North in 2011, the steadily improving South is now clearly the superior division. With five ranked teams at season's end, the South was much deeper than the North in 2014, though Oregon maintained the Ducks/Stanford domination of the conference as a whole for another season.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Harry How/Getty ImagesCody Kessler and USC should be on the rise in 2015, which in turn should help keep the Pac-12 South on the rise.
Yet Stanford slipped in 2014, and it welcomes back just three starters from its dominant defense next fall. Oregon has a nice collection of players returning in 2015 -- it still figures to be the highest-ranked Pac-12 team in the preseason -- but it's also replacing the greatest player in school history in Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.

The South's advantage heading into 2015 can be further quantified by who's coming back. For one, the South welcomes back 93 starting position players compared to 76 for the North. That's an average of 15.5 per South team compared to 12.7 for the North.

That difference is most notable on defense. South teams welcome back an average of 7.83 players on defense, while North teams welcome back only 5.17. While Stanford, Oregon and Washington were the top three teams in scoring defense in 2014, the only South team that didn't rank in the top eight was Colorado. Further, UCLA, USC and Utah each welcome back eight starters from defenses that ranked in the top four in yards per play.

On offense, the differences aren't as definitive. The South will welcome back 46 starters compared to 45 for the North, but the South is far more set at quarterback. Four of six South teams have a high degree of certainty at quarterback heading into 2015, while UCLA is the only team with a "Who the heck knows?" QB competition. Though Utah is uncertain between Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson, both have starting experience.

In the North, only California and Stanford are certain at QB. Oregon and Oregon State will be holding wide-open competitions beginning this spring, while Washington and Washington State have returning QBs with starting experience -- Cyler Miles and Luke Falk -- who are far from certain to win the job.

Experience on the offensive line is often vital, and the South also has an advantage there with 22 O-line starters returning compared to 21 from the North (and that includes Oregon offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone, who sat out this past season with a knee injury).

What about star power? Five of the six returning first-team All-Pac-12 players hail from the South, while seven of the 11 second-team members are from the South. Heck, all four first- and second-team specialists are from the South as well.

Finally, 2015 will be the first season of Pac-12 play in which USC isn't yoked with any sort of NCAA sanctions. You might recall the Trojans won the South in 2011 and beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium in the regular season but didn't get a rematch in the title game because they were ineligible for the postseason. While USC won't be at a full 85 scholarships next fall, it has the potential to be as deep as it has been since expansion. It's difficult to believe the Trojans at full strength won't be a factor in the South, Pac-12 and nationally going forward.

Of course, the six-team South is arguably deeper than the 10-team conference USC dominated from 2002-2008 under Pete Carroll, with UCLA and coach Jim Mora, in fact, providing plenty of competition just a few miles down the road -- see three consecutive Bruins wins in the rivalry, as well as consecutive 10-win seasons.

When the conference first expanded, the initial impression was the South would be stronger. In fact, before going with a North-South split, there was significant discussion about splitting up rival teams in different divisions. Yet, for three seasons, the North proved its naysayers wrong.

Now the South appears to be cycling up. If the present trend continues through the 2015 season, it's possible we'll be asking a year from now how long that shifting balance of power will last. Or if it won't become a long-term advance.

Coaches pick out young players to watch 

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A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy each of the past five years and 13 of the past 14 seasons. However, judging by feedback from coaches during and after the 2014 season, 2015 could very well be the "Year of the Running Back."

Seven Power 5 freshmen running backs surpassed 1,000 yards in '14 -- Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (1,713 yards), Georgia’s Nick Chubb (1,547), Arizona’s Nick Wilson (1,375), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (1,365), Northwestern’s Justin Jackson (1,187), LSU’s Leonard Fournette (1,034) and FSU’s Dalvin Cook (1,008).

Any one of those players could certainly find another gear and make a run at the 2015 Heisman. But the belief among coaches I’ve spoken with the past few weeks is that the best running back -- and player -- in 2015 will be Ohio State rising junior Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 yards this season).

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott racked up nearly 700 yards in three postseason games.
Coaches were raving about him at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention, and that was before he bulldozed Oregon for 246 yards and four touchdowns in the College Football Playoff National Championship.


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We continue our countdown of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 this year. Obviously, this list is subjective, and though we spent a lot of time putting it together, there was a fair amount of debate in its creation.

In case you missed the first two installments, check out Nos. 21-25 here and 16-20 here.

Now, onto the next group ...

No. 11: USC QB Cody Kessler
Statistics: 315-of-452, 3,826 passing yards, 39 passing touchdowns, five interceptions

The junior led the conference with a 69.7 percent completion rate and finished with the second-best adjusted QBR in the Pac-12 (79.4). He went nearly throw-for-throw with QB Marcus Mariota on TD-to-INT ratio during the 2014 year (Mariota finished with three more passing touchdowns and one fewer interception with one extra game). Kessler was also the most clutch QB in the Pac-12, at least according to his third-down completion rate, which led the league (47.6 percent). After leading USC to a 45-42 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, Kessler decided to return to his senior year, which made the Trojans an early favorite in the Pac-12 South.

No. 12: Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
Statistics: 63 tackles, one tackle for loss, two interceptions, nine pass breakups

Ekpre-Olomu’s stat line might not be the most impressive thing anyone has every seen, but unfortunately there isn’t a statistic that counts the number of times quarterbacks throw away from a certain side of the field because a certain player is there. In that statistic, Ekpre-Olomu -- a Jim Thorpe Award finalist -- probably would’ve led the Pac-12. To understand his athleticism as a DB one needs to look no further than his one-handed interception of Connor Cook during the Ducks’ thumping of Michigan State in week 2 of the 2014 season. If that wasn’t a warning sign to signal-callers, we’re not sure what is. Ekpre-Olomu suffered a season-ending leg injury during prep for the Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual, which cut his senior year short. But even so, it was a very, very impressive campaign.

No. 13: USC WR Nelson Agholor
Statistics: 104 receptions, 1,313 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns

Agholor finished second in the conference in receiving yards and caught 76.5 percent of the passes thrown his way -- an improvement from 62.2 percent his sophomore season. Agholor tallied five 100-yard receiving games, including two 200-yard receiving games (wins over Washington State and Cal) and was one of just three Pac-12 receivers to catch more than 100 passes this season. He kept the Trojans' offense moving, as 63 of his 104 catches registered a first down or touchdown, which means USC has a huge hole to fill in 2015. Like the No. 14 and 15 players on this list, Agholor decided to pass up his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

No. 14: Stanford OL Andrus Peat

The All-American offensive tackle was a rock for Stanford this season. The Cardinal averaged just 388.6 yards per game this season, but with Peat protecting Kevin Hogan’s blindside, Stanford allowed a conference-low 23 sacks in 2014. Even though the Stanford season might not have been as successful as some had hoped, it can be easily agreed upon that without Peat on the offensive line, the Cardinal would’ve had a hard time doing even what they did this year.

No. 15: Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong
Statistics: 82 receptions, 1,165 receiving yards, 10 touchdowns

Strong made some pretty huge plays for the Sun Devils this season, including that one handed snag against Notre Dame and the Jael Mary to give ASU the win over USC. But his all-around contributions were a huge reason Arizona State picked up 10 wins this season, including a bowl win. Strong had five 100-yard receiving games this season and, at 14.21 yards per reception, was second in the conference in yards per catch (among receivers who caught at least 50 passes). Note: He was only .03 yards per catch behind conference leader Jordan Payton. His rangy body and athleticism made him a nightmare for opposing defensive backs. Certainly, there are a few Pac-12 DBs who were happy to see Strong declare for the NFL draft.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 21, 2015
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People should know when they're conquered.

Would you, Quintus? Would I?

Leading off

Ah, late January is here. The college campaign is over, and the final, disheartening end to the American extravaganza that is football season looms. It's a time that evokes nostalgia, but it's certainly not a time to break from gridiron thoughts. The annual chance to flip the page and start reading the next chapter in advance has arrived. Jon Wilner comes through with one of the early looks, offering his prediction of the 2015 Pac-12 all-conference team in The Mercury News. Meanwhile, our friends at Pacific Takes have surveyed the field and taken the team-wide approach, releasing their way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings for 2015.

As your read, coaches are feverishly blazing the recruiting trail, paying some final visits before National Signing Day on February 4. Spring ball comes after that, and that'll be followed summer conditioning, a little time off, and then training camp. We may just now be winding down, but don't blink -- college football season will be back in a flash. Here's the latest news from the 365-day cycle that keeps churning on:

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

This has already made rounds on social media, but former Arizona star Rob Gronkowski deserves acknowledgment on the Pac-12 blog for this, too. Seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation for the current scandal surrounding the Patriots.

Tuesday was a busy day on the recruiting trail with head coaches and assistants earning frequent flyer miles with national signing day only 15 days away. The headliner on Tuesday was No. 2-ranked Terry Beckner Jr. and a visit from Florida State.


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ESPN 300 receiver Van Jefferson is no longer committed to Georgia and the news was definitely disappointing for the Dawgs. So who’s in the driver’s seat now for the one of the best receivers in the country?


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Season review: Utah

January, 20, 2015
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Our 2014 season Pac-12 team-by-team grades continue. If you want to check out last season's reviews, click here.

Utah Utes

Offense: The Utes ranked eighth in scoring in the Pac-12 and tied for last with 5.3 yards per play, not to mention they couldn't get themselves set at quarterback. Again. While Utah fans are understandably grumpy about Dave Christensen departing to Texas A&M, meaning the Utes will have an eighth different offensive coordinator in eight years this fall, Christensen didn't really distinguish himself. The good news was the running game managed to average 4.4 yards per rush, which tied for third in the conference, despite a passing game that scared no one. So, yeah, when considering the return of four O-linemen and running back Devontae Booker in 2015, Utes fans should leap into the air and click their heels together three times. Grade: C

Defense: The Utes ranked fourth in the conference in scoring defense (24.9 ppg) and tied for third in yards per play yielded (5.3), so it was another season of strong defense in Salt Lake. Further, Utah ranked No. 1 in sacks (55) and No. 3 on third down. And you can bet coach Kyle Whittingham was thrilled about improved turnover production -- 21 in 2014 compared to 16 in 2013. Nate Orchard won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's best defensive end and earned All-America recognition. On the downside, coordinator Kalani Sitake bolted to Oregon State, but that doesn't count against what the Utes defense accomplished this past fall. Grade: B+

Special teams: We could go on and on about kicker Andy Phillips and punter Tom Hackett, both first-team All-Pac-12, or the fact that the Utes rank among the conference leaders in just about every other special-teams area of coverage and returns, but we won't. Simply, the Utes were by a wide margin the best Pac-12 team when it came to special teams and among the very best in the nation. Grade: A+

Overall: Utah's fourth year of Pac-12 play was its best. It posted its first winning record in conference play in a season when the South Division was the toughest division in the nation. It finished 9-4, won a bowl game and finished ranked No. 21 in the AP poll after posting consecutive losing seasons. It beat Michigan, USC and UCLA. It showed resilience in the fourth quarter. It overcame issues on offense. While the post-bowl, behind-the-scenes soap opera between Whittingham and AD Chris Hill was a bit of a downer, it can't subtract from what happened on the field, which certainly exceeded expectations. Grade: A-

Other Pac-12 reviews

Washington State

Washington

Stanford
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One of a dozen prospects set to announce his decision on national signing day (Feb. 4) on ESPN is four-star outside linebacker Roquan Smith. The No. 29-ranked overall prospect in the ESPN 300 began the process by considering more than 40 offers but told RecruitingNation Tuesday afternoon that just three remain.


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EUGENE, Ore. -- On Monday afternoon, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich met with a group of reporters to reflect a bit on the 2014 season and look forward to 2015. It was only about 30 minutes, but he managed to touch on several topics such as recruiting, the title game and quarterbacks next season.

Here's what you need to know:

Transfers: Helfrich announced three definite transfers -- redshirt sophomore cornerback Stephen Amoako, junior defensive back Dominique Harrison and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Chance Allen. Helfrich said it's "guys looking for an opportunity or a better fit." He also mentioned that there are a few others who might transfer, so don't be surprised if there's a bit more attrition.

Quarterbacks: To take a transfer quarterback or to not take a transfer quarterback, that is the question. According to Helfrich, the answer is: It depends. Helfrich did say that the staff receives "permission to contact" papers a few times a week from guys at different positions, and certainly a few of those have been from interested signal-callers. With the lack of experience at quarterback, it doesn't seem like it would be ridiculous to take an experienced transfer, but you never know.

"We're going to exhaust every path to find the right guy, the right fit, but we certainly believe in who's on campus and what's to come," Helfrich said.

Here's whom they have on campus:
    [+] EnlargeJeff Lockie
    AP Photo/Eric GayMark Helfrich said redshirt sophomore Jeff Lockie should expect to enter the spring as Oregon's starting quarterback.
  • Jeff Lockie, redshirt sophomore: Lockie completed 21 of 28 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown this season. However, in his limited playing time, he hasn't looked like the most confident player on the field, which in the Ducks' offense the quarterback needs to be. Asked if Lockie was in the lead for the starting spot coming into the spring, Helfrich said that Lockie should definitely be looking at it that way.
  • Taylor Alie, redshirt freshman: Is there a chance? Yes. But he doesn't seem to be in that front pack -- if there is a pack.
  • Ty Griffin, redshirt freshman: Asked about Griffin and Morgan Mahalak, Helfrich said that they were "guys I think did an average to above average job of staying dialed in" through this season. That's not exactly glowing praise for someone who is expected to step in and light the world on fire.
  • Morgan Mahalak, freshman: See above.
  • Travis Waller, incoming freshman: Waller has offers from all over the country, and at 6-foot-3, he has a frame that can add weight and be really good in this offense. But can he be really good as a true freshman? Signs point to a redshirt, but never say never.
Coaching staff: Helfrich said he anticipates the full coaching staff returning. The only rumblings right now would probably be in regard to wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Matt Lubick, who denied a report that he would be taking the same job at Florida last week. However, with Helfrich's typical news conference savvy, he didn't give a hard "no" on this, so in the chance that there are changes, he certainly didn't completely deny this.

Drug testing: Helfrich is always a good coach to ask about big-picture topics in the sport. He has a pulse on what's going on and is usually good at expressing those thoughts. He was asked about the possibility of the NCAA moving away from marijuana testing, which is pertinent to his team considering the reports that Darren Carrington's suspension in the title game was due to a positive test. Helfrich said he agrees with it "probably not for the reasons that you think." I'm just going to post the full quote because he's pretty concise and smart on this topic:
"If something is illegal, it should be illegal all the time. We played against a couple of guys throughout the year that are arrested for something, and then they play the next week. ... If you pay a player in Week 2, that's illegal. If you pay a player in Week 16, that's illegal. If you pay a player in recruiting, that's illegal. If something's illegal, it should always be illegal. You should always have a, quote, unquote, equal measure of punishment. I think there's some imbalance certainly there. At the same time, we need to continue to educate our guys on making great decisions."
Early signing period: Helfrich was also good with this. He said if this were to happen, given how everything falls into place, it could be very good or very bad for the Ducks. If an early signing period also means an ability to give official visits (with parents) earlier, that's good for Oregon because it can get recruits on campus who can't easily drive or get to Eugene. However, if an earlier signing period comes without that opportunity, then it would be tougher for the Ducks to recruit just because it is so hard to get to Eugene. Helfrich elaborated:
"Given our location, we don't have a bunch of guys driving for unofficial visits, and that's the biggest disadvantage for us. If you're sitting in a major metropolitan area or talent-rich state or whatever may be the case, a lot of those guys can drive back and forth or get to campus much more easily. And what I would like to see is to have the ability to pay for those guys to come to camp, have that be an official visit in June, have a three-week window in June when we can pay for those guys to come. Ideally we'd love to be able to pay for one or more parent, as basketball has started to do. I think that would be equitable. If it's an early signing period and we can't do that, then that hinders our ability to give those guys as high a percentage as possible to come to campus."

Season review: Stanford

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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Our 2014 season Pac-12 team-by-team grades continue. If you want to check out last season's reviews, click here.

Stanford Cardinal

Offense: Looking at Stanford through the prism of performance in relation to potential, it's clear that the offense underperformed throughout most of 2014. Even despite a hot three-game finish, the Cardinal finished second to last in Pac-12 scoring offense (27.2 points per game), marking their worst showing in that regard since 2008 -- the pre-Andrew Luck era.

For the first time since Jim Harbaugh's arrival in 2007, Stanford didn't feature a bona fide 220-plus pound power back, and the offense sputtered as a result. It took longer than expected for the Cardinal's highly-touted talent along the offensive line to jell, and quarterback Kevin Hogan struggled under increased burden to throw the ball. By the time Stanford successfully adapted to its new-look personnel -- true freshman Christian McCaffrey helped the team achieve necessary running success in a nimbler, more explosive way than years prior -- the team was already saddled with five losses. Stanford's hot finish bodes well for next year (and spares them a failing grade), but as far as 2014 is concerned, the unit's late improvement simply affirmed the disappointing notion that the offense languished for most of the season and likely cost the team a trio of wins. Grade: D

Defense: In a season following the graduations of Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Ed Reynolds, Ben Gardner, and Josh Mauro, many doubted the Stanford defense's ability to remain atop the Pac-12. But despite that loss of star power, the unit actually posted significant improvement in all relevant statistical categories this season. Stanford allowed 16.4 points per game, 4.2 yards per play, 3.1 yards per rush, and 5.4 yards per pass attempt -- all figures that were far and away the best in the Pac-12.

So score one for first-year defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, who has another huge challenge on his plate now: Stanford loses eight starters entering 2015. The system, though, flexed its muscles this past season, and that gives hope for continued sturdiness. This was a true team-wide effort: Though anchors David Parry, Henry Anderson, James Vaughters, A.J. Tarpley, Jordan Richards, and Alex Carter all registered fine years, the story should be focused on how the Cardinal defense meshed as a whole. Grade: A

Special teams: This wasn't a banner year for Stanford's special teams unit, which dropped to No. 79 in Football Outsiders' FEI ratings just one season after finishing ranked second nationally behind only Alabama. Kicker Jordan Williamson missed seven field goals during his shaky campaign, though his kickoffs remained powerful. But kickoff efficiency is the only metric in which Stanford remained ranked in the FEI's top 25. Despite a Ty Montgomery punt return touchdown in the season opener, they tumbled everywhere else -- including a drop from first to 70th in kickoff return efficiency. Grade: C-

Overall: The big picture is relatively simple here: An underperforming offense and disappointing special teams unit held back Stanford's elite defense. All facets finished strong to bring the Cardinal to 8-5, but that's more of beacon of hope for 2015 than a grade inflater for 2014. Grade: C

Other Pac-12 reviews:

Washington State

Washington

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