USC cornerback Josh Shaw will be sidelined indefinitely after a heroic act left the fifth-year senior with a pair of high ankle sprains.

Just hours after being voted a team captain on Saturday, Shaw was attending a family function when he saw his 7-year-old nephew, who does not know how to swim, struggling in a nearby pool. Instinctively, Shaw jumped from a second-floor balcony onto concrete below and crawled into the pool where he was able to help his nephew to safety, according to a release from the school.

After getting his nephew to safety, Shaw made his way to a ladder and pulled himself from the water.

"I would do it again for whatever kid it was, it did not have to be my nephew," Shaw said. "My ankles really hurt, but I am lucky to be surrounded by the best trainers and doctors in the world. I am taking my rehab one day at a time, and I hope to be back on the field as soon as possible."

Shaw was expected to be a major part of the Trojans secondary after starting all 14 games in 2013.

"That was a heroic act by Josh, putting his personal safety aside. But that's the kind of person he is," USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. "It is unfortunate that he'll be sidelined for a while and we will miss his leadership and play, but I know he'll be working hard to get back on the field as soon as possible."

USC opens the year against Fresno State on Saturday.
The Arizona Wildcats have their quarterback. At least for snap No. 1. After that, well, we'll see.

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez named redshirt freshman Anu Solomon his starting quarterback for Friday night's season-opener against UNLV, temporarily putting to rest all the questions about who would replace B.J. Denker.

Rodriquez's announcement, however, came with a caveat.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images"Anu Solomon will be the starter Friday night," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "That doesn't mean that he plays the whole game and that he will be the starter the rest of the season."
"Anu Solomon will be the starter Friday night," Rodriguez said Monday at his first weekly news conference of the season. "That doesn't mean that he plays the whole game and that he will be the starter the rest of the season. But I also don't want any quarterback to ever go in thinking as soon as I make a mistake I'm coming out."

Take that for what it's worth. Last season there was also chatter that multiple Arizona quarterbacks would see time early in the season. Yet Denker ended up attempting 381 of Arizona's 383 passes 2013.

Which led Rodriguez to this: "I'm confident that Anu will play well, and he will be the starter as long as he plays well and we win."

Solomon bested a trio of transfers -- USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, LSU transfer Jerrard Randall and Texas transfer Connor Brewer -- for the starting gig. This represents the first time that a Rodriguez high school recruit has been the starting quarterback. Matt Scott was a holdover from the Mike Stoops era and Denker was a JC transfer.

The Wildcats open 2014 with three of their first four at home -- all against unranked teams. Which means Solomon, who becomes the first Arizona freshman to start since 2005, will benefit from not having to face A-list teams early on. But he doesn't have much time to get comfortable, because Arizona's next four feature a trip to Oregon, a home date with USC and then back-to-back road games at Washington State and UCLA.

"The coaches, and myself particularly, felt that he was playing the best out of all four quarterbacks," Rodriguez said. "I think he's got a good feel for the game and I want to make it clear it's not like he did this thing and these other guys didn't. I just think he did more things better on a consistent basis for him to start."

That might not sound like a ringing endorsement, but for Rodriguez, it's good enough. Keep in mind that while the Wildcats have to replace All-America running back Ka'Deem Carey, they also have one of the deepest wide receiving groups in the country. Headlined by 2012 Biletnikoff semifinalist Austin Hill (who missed all of 2013 with a knee injury), the rotation of pass-catchers is impressive. He also has one of the more experienced offensive lines in the conference protecting him.

And through Rodriguez' system and coaching, Denker threw for 2,516 yards (61 percent) and rushed for 949 and 13 touchdowns.

By picking youth, Rodriguez might finally be able to shape and groom a quarterback for this season and beyond. Something he hasn't been able to do yet in Tucson. The hope is that through experience and seasoning, Solomon could be pretty darn good. But all the Wildcats really need is for him to be good enough for now.
EUGENE, Ore. -- It can be tricky to make too many assumptions during fall camp, especially when all the practices happen behind closed doors.

One coach’s thoughts might be to ramp up the attention for a less-prominent guy, someone who has shown flashes but likely won’t get consistent playing time during the season. With the media unable to see anything, it has to go off the coach’s word, so why not give some pub to a guy who won’t get it later?

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
AP Photo/Eric GayCan Royce Freeman go from starring in high school last season to starting at Oregon?
And other coaches might downplay a younger, less-experienced player. Why put the limelight on him before he even takes one significant snap as a college player? Could that harm his overall development if he gets too big of a head?

But if depth charts are to be believed, then Oregon running back Royce Freeman is in neither of those categories. All fall the freshman was talked up by players and coaches, and on Monday, the Ducks’ depth chart backed that up. He’s listed in a three-way battle for the top running back position for the Ducks, alongside sophomore Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall.

“We don’t plan on redshirting anybody -- every guy we bring in here we’re preparing to be a starter,” Oregon running back coach Gary Campbell said. “And he came in with that attitude.”

Marshall rushed for 1,000 yards last season. Tyner was right there, improving consistently through the season and finishing with 711 yards.

And Freeman? Well, he rushed for 2,824 yards and 41 touchdowns … but it was against high school competition.

Try searching for Freeman on Google. The first handful of links go to recruiting profiles. The images that pop up of Freeman are him in his red and white Imperial High School (Calif.) Tigers uniform.

Even in the past when the Ducks have had abundant talent in the backfield, they’ve listed it out as a first, second and third string. In 2011, on Oregon’s fall camp depth chart, La’Michael James was listed as the top back, Kenjon Barner was next and De’Anthony Thomas came in third.

And that’s exactly how the season played out. James led the way with 1,805 yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. Barner finished second with 939 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, and Thomas concluded the season with 595 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns.

Last year, Thomas was listed as the first-string back, Marshall was listed as second and Tyner was third. It played out that way as well.

Now, just five days from the Ducks’ season opener against South Dakota, the Ducks have a freshman, sophomore and junior all on an even playing field. The word “or” is acting as the public equalizer of all three.

The one starting Saturday will be the one who’s practicing best and from there on out, game production will weigh more heavily. Campbell said the players can tell who’s making progress and who’s not, so presumably the practices this week are going to be heated for the backs.

He said all three players are pretty similar but that Marshall has the advantage of experience, Tyner has the advantage of speed and Freeman has the advantage of strength.

Put all three of those together and the Ducks would have the best singular running back in the nation by far. Instead, they have a three-headed monster.

Is that a good problem to have?

“It’s a great one,” Campbell said.

The depth chart has backed up the fall talk. Now, it’s the waiting game until Saturday to see if the on-field play backs up the depth chart, and if this freshman -- who has been the talk of the town -- is as good as we’ve heard and seen (on paper).

“We never are sure what we’re going to get with our freshmen until they get here,” Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost said. “You can look great in high school but if you don’t come in mature it just takes longer for you to pick it up. … You never know what you’re going to get with freshmen, but you can tell the guys who can do it almost from day one because they come in in-shape with the right attitude and they start learning right away.”

Could Freeman be that guy? Saturday will reveal at least some of the answer.

CFL Extra: Bold prediction for USC

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
5:15
PM ET
video

Danny Kanell and Joey Galloway offer up a bold prediction for both the Pac-12 and ACC for the upcoming season.

Who cares if Pac-12 opens quietly?

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
10:00
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A week from now, there's certain to be at least some fretful handwringing, but for at least three more days, every Pac-12 team remains undefeated, flushed with hope and imaging an entitled grabbing all of its 2014 goals.

While the FBS season officially kicks off on Wednesday with Abilene Christian at Georgia State, things truly get rolling on Thursday. The A-list national game is Texas A&M's visit to South Carolina -- the Post Johnny Football Era begins with a whipping from Coach Spurrier -- and the Pac-12 features three matchups, though only one of notable quality with Rutgers playing Washington State in Seattle at CenturyLink Field.

In less scintillating action -- but action, nonetheless -- Idaho State visits Utah and Arizona State plays host to Weber State.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillHeisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley and UCLA travel to Virginia -- 2-10 last season -- on college football's opening weekend, and other Pac-12 matchups aren't nearly as interesting.
And so it begins, the 2014 season, our first with a new four-team College Football Playoff, a highly-promising campaign for the Pac-12, at least based on preseason expectations. The conference features six teams ranked in the preseason polls, including three teams in the top 11, which makes Oregon, UCLA and Stanford playoff contenders. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota and Bruins QB Brett Hundley are both top Heisman Trophy contenders.

In three consecutive evenings of college football -- yes, there are even two games on Friday night -- every Pac-12 team plays. No lame first-week byes here. The marquee matchup? Well, hmm... if it's not the aforementioned showcase of Mike Leach's Cougs and Rutgers, a newly minted Big Ten team, then perhaps its No. 7 UCLA's visit to Virginia or California's redemption tour beginning at Northwestern.

Don't form too many overriding judgments about those two seeming mismatches. Virginia, though coming off a 2-10 season, is not devoid of talent and experience, see 17 returning starters. The Bruins will be making a long trip and are laden with considerable preseason hype, both as a team and with Sports Illustrated cover boy Hundley. It's possible they might press a bit, at least early, before settling down.

As for the Bears, don't write them off. Though Cal lost to the Wildcats 44-30 last year in Berkeley, the game was tied in fourth quarter, with Northwestern benefiting from two pick-sixes off deflected passes. Further, it's been a fairly tumultuous offseason for Northwestern.

Suffice it to say the Pac-12 is not afraid of the road. With Washington visiting Hawaii, that makes five conference teams opening away from their home stadium, as Colorado plays Colorado State on Friday in Denver.

The Huskies visit to Hawaii is interesting because it will be the debut of coach Chris Petersen, who has jumped from the mid-majors at Boise State and the Mountain West to arguably the nation's toughest conference. Another level of intrigue in that game is QB Jeff Lindquist. He was named the Huskies starter last week, but it remains to be seen if that is only because Cyler Miles is yoked with a one-game suspension. Is Miles actually the guy? And what if Lindquist is lights-out against the Warriors? The broader issue for the Huskies is who starts at home on Sept. 6 against Eastern Washington.

Wait. Did someone mention Sept. 6? Ah, yes, well that is the day when the Pac-12 slate really heats up. It features: 1. The Pac-12's nonconference game of the year (Michigan State at Oregon); 2. A big-time conference matchup between USC and homestanding Stanford.

Yet, we can't get ahead of ourselves, so we apologize for whetting your appetite with those two gourmet football entrées. As you well know, we play one game at a time in the Pac-12 blog. Each game is a Super Bowl unto itself.

Heck, first new USC coach Steve Sarkisian needs to make his own debut after moving south from Seattle, a homecoming of sorts for a guy who ran Pete Caroll's offense during the Trojans recent dynastic run. USC plays host Saturday to Fresno State, the very team the Trojans whipped in the Las Vegas Bowl, only now without QB Derek Carr and WR Davante Adams.

Finally, Arizona will be featuring a new starting QB against UNLV on Friday night. Rich Rodriguez, as of this typing, hasn't named who that will be, and it's possible that the opener against the Rebels will showcase more than one guy and a permanent arrangement might be a few weeks coming. We shall see.

It's not the best slate of opening week games from a Pac-12 perspective. It only will be slightly revealing. At least, that's the hope, as more than one defeat could feel deflating. Cal is the only underdog.

But it's college football. It's what we've been waiting for since Florida State slipped Auburn on Jan. 6.

And I've got a feeling it's going to be a special season for your team.
Braxton Miller, Marcus Mariota and Jameis WinstonGetty ImagesSchools sell multiple jerseys with the numbers of Braxton Miller, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller missing the season could hit the school, retailers and Nike in the wallet.

Only four players in all of college football are more merchandised than Miller, according to jersey options matched to the most marketable players that are being sold on official school website stores.

Oregon is selling 25 different jerseys, counting colors and sizes, of No. 8, quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Michigan offers 17 different versions, in blue and white, in infant, youth, toddler, women's and men's cut, of No. 98, worn by its quarterback Devin Gardner.

Notre Dame has 15 different jerseys of its quarterback Everett Golson, who wears No. 5.

The University of Alabama website features 10 different jersey choices of No. 4, the same number worn by its star running back T.J. Yeldon.

Ohio State's official store is selling seven versions of Miller's No. 5.

That's even more jersey options (six) than Florida State fans have of No. 5 to choose from, the number worn by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

The NCAA and its schools have long contended that numbers don't necessarily correspond to current players, but common sense, as proven by all the cases above, suggests otherwise.

While players one day might be able to realize a percentage of the business from their jersey sales, the recent O'Bannon ruling did not include commentary on this area.

It's not known how many No. 5 Ohio State jerseys have been produced for this season, but Miller's absence will be the biggest hit to the college jersey marketplace in two years. In August 2012, LSU safety Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed from the team weeks before Baton Rouge retailers got their shipment of No. 7 jerseys. The number is finally fashionable again thanks to it being given to Leonard Fournette, the nation's top running back recruit.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
8:00
AM ET
Why bats, Master Wayne?

Bats frighten me. It’s time my enemies shared my dread.

Leading off

We had a taste of college football this weekend with Eastern Washington (which travels to Washington on Sept. 6) knocking off Sam Houston 56-35. Former WSU receiver Blair Bomber caught a pair of touchdowns, and former UCLA safety Tevin McDonald had an interception.

But with college football comes the return of College GameDay. And with the first College GameDay comes predictions.

Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard all picked UCLA to win the Pac-12, and Corso and Howard tapped the Bruins as 2014 national champions.

And in other predictions news, Herbstreit is down on the Ducks and neither he nor David Pollack think Oregon will make the College Football Playoff.

Here’s the video of those two and Scott Van Pelt debating Stanford.

video Players in the news

If you follow the Pac-12, then you haven’t forgotten about Austin Hill. But the rest of the country might have. After having one of the best receiving seasons in school history, Hill returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL he suffered in the spring. He chatted with Daniel Berk about his return.

You can see the complete Q&A here.

In unhappy player news ... one Washington player has been dismissed and another suspended for violating team rules.

Freshman safety Lavon Washington is the third player coach Chris Petersen has bumped since he was hired in December after Steve Sarkisian departed for USC. Backup tight end Derrick Brown has also been suspended indefinitely for a situation unrelated to Washington's.

Petersen’s first few months on the job have been overshadowed by off-the-field incidents. Quarterback Cyler Miles is suspended for the season opener and wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow transferred out after both were tied to a post-Super Bowl assault incident. Miles wasn’t charged, and Stringfellow pled guilty to three misdemeanors.

Jeff Lindquist will get the start for the Huskies against Hawaii. After that, we’ll see if Miles plays his way back into the job.

If you’re a Washington fan, it’s frustrating. But you also have to respect the hardline approach Petersen is taking.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Welcome to game week.

Pac-12 questions entering opening week

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
9:33
PM ET
video
ESPN Pac-12 reporter Ted Miller joins Zubin Mehenti to discuss expectations at UCLA and the biggest weakness for Oregon.

Pac-12 vs. SEC: coaching pedigree

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
8:35
PM ET
It's widely accepted that the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC among the Power Five conferences. ESPN The Magazine wondered whether the Pac-12 could narrow that gap in 2014 by examining how the two conferences stack up according to four factors, conveyed through an infographic: quarterback play, defensive line, recruiting and coaching.

Last up: which league has the better coaching pedigree? From The Mag:
This offseason, Nick Saban campaigned in vain for a rule to slow up-tempo offenses. Seems that the fast pace popularized in the Pac-12 prevents certain defensive-minded coaches from subbing at will. In 2013, eight Pac-12 teams averaged fewer than 25 ticks per play, compared with four SEC squads. An influx of innovative coaches has made the Pac-12 more competitive across the board, and Chris Petersen's move to Washington will only heat things up more. As it stands, when it comes to titles, no one holds a candle to Saban and Les Miles (five combined). As Huard says: "It's like old guard vs. new startup." Advantage: Push. See you in January.


Pac-12 vs. SEC: recruiting edge

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
7:33
PM ET
It's widely accepted that the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC among the Power Five conferences. ESPN The Magazine wondered whether the Pac-12 could narrow that gap in 2014 by examining how the two conferences stack up according to four factors, conveyed through an infographic: quarterback play, defensive line, recruiting and coaching.

Next up is a recruiting comparison. From The Mag:

Pac-12 vs. SEC: defensive line play

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
6:26
PM ET
It's widely accepted that the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC among the Power Five conferences. ESPN The Magazine wondered whether the Pac-12 could narrow that gap in 2014 by examining how the two conferences stack up according to four factors, conveyed through an infographic: quarterback play, defensive line, recruiting and coaching.

Next up is a defensive line comparison. From The Mag:

What the SEC lacks through the air, it makes up in the trenches. "The difference between these two conferences is what the SEC can do up front," Huard says. "They have the 6-4, 315-pound linemen everyone else craves." Yes, Pac-12 teams get to QBs -- last season they had 366 sacks, nine more than the SEC -- but, Luginbill says, they're not built to overwhelm at the line. That relative dearth isn't for lack of trying but lack of resources. Since 2010, 106 ESPN 150 and 300 DL preps have come from SEC states. Pac-12 country: 23. "I'd argue USC's Leonard Williams is the best Pac-12 lineman," Luginbill says. "Know where he's from?" Florida. Advantage: SEC.

Pac-12 vs. SEC: quarterback play

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
5:20
PM ET
It's widely accepted that the Pac-12 ranks second to the SEC among the Power Five conferences. ESPN The Magazine wondered whether the Pac-12 could narrow that gap in 2014 by examining how the two conferences stack up according to four factors, conveyed through an infographic: quarterback play, defensive line, recruiting and coaching.

First up is a quarterback comparison. From The Mag:

If ever there was a year for the Pac-12 to sneak past the SEC, it's 2014: A&M loses a Heisman-winning QB (Johnny Manziel), Alabama a two-time titlist (AJ McCarron) and Georgia its all-time leader in passing yards and TDs (Aaron Murray). "Compare them apples to apples and the Pac-12 is what the SEC was a year ago -- with even more upside," Huard says. "It's mass productivity across the board." ASU's Taylor Kelly (4,243 total yards in one year), OSU's Sean Mannion (400 completions) and WSU's Connor Halliday (five games with four-plus TDs in '13) prove there are stars beyond Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Brett Hundley (UCLA) and Kevin Hogan (Stanford). Advantage: Pac-12.

After a recent practice, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked if the team will continue to trot out the packages featuring extra offensive linemen, which has become a Stanford staple the past few years.

He let out a quick laugh before answering, “There would be a lot of people around here really upset with me if we didn’t.”

For the Cardinal, there is no turning back now. As a team that huddles, with a quarterback primarily working under center, winding down the play clock and running through — not around — its opposition, Stanford has an identity it stands by with pride. While other teams spread things out and speed up, the Cardinal are perfectly content countering that by going the opposite direction.

On their way to a second straight Pac-12 title last season, the Cardinal averaged the fewest plays per game in the Pac-12 (63.9) and lined up with at least one extra offensive lineman — and many times two — more than 40 percent of the time. It’s a philosophy the coaching staff believes pays dividends on Saturdays, and when recruiting elite high school linemen.

“I’d say, yes, it helped, and we're going to try to keep selling the fact that we are a pretty good offensive line and we can put people in the NFL,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, who also coaches the O-line. “The other thing that we sell, is that we play six, seven, eight, nine [offensive linemen] at the same time. Not in one game, on the same play, and nobody else in the nation can say that.”

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw embraces being different on offense, and it helps in recruiting elite offensive linemen.
There’s no arguing that spread and up-tempo offenses have proven successful at all levels of football. For most teams, in fact, it’s probably the prudent way to go. In the Pac-12, a longtime breeding ground for offensive innovation, a minimum of 10 teams will rely heavily on spread or tempo concepts this season.

“It does put a lot of pressure on defensive teams, defensive coordinators because you're going to have to prepare for a variety of different things as the season goes on,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “So that is kind of the world that we're living in right now. The spread offense you'll see from Coach [Mike] Leach at Washington State is different from the spread they're running down at Arizona State and, of course, what they're doing at Oregon. Everybody's got their own little deal that is different.”

That begs the question: As more teams go the spread/tempo route, will it become easier to stop?

History says yes -- football is cyclical in nature -- but to what degree? Only time will tell.

As defensive schemes have started to adapt to what's going on offensively, so have recruiting priorities. The defensive personnel needed against Oregon, Arizona and now USC under Steve Sarkisian, for example, is different than when playing against Stanford. Because of that, and the sheer amount of teams in college football operating with the newer offensive principles, fewer teams, in theory, will be as equipped to play teams such as Stanford or Alabama.

That's not why the Cardinal have chosen this course, but it's certainly a byproduct the team is happy to accept.

“I could relate it to back in the day when I coached defense in the Canadian Football League, and there were only nine teams in the league,” Riley said. “But we were the only team in the league that ran the 3-4 defense. So we were the odd preparation for everybody else in the league when we played them, and I love that about that.”

It's not all positive, though. For Stanford's offensive coaches, film study has become somewhat an exercise in futility. There's only so much they can learn about an opposing defense while watching it against offenses that in no way resemble their own -- and with Lane Kiffin's departure, it will become even tougher. The past few years, USC has been the team that most closely resembled Stanford. They weren't clones by any means, but there were enough shared formations and philosophies that Stanford coaches felt that by watching defenses playing against USC, they could gain some insight into what they might do against the Cardinal.

With a deep group of receivers and a third-year starting quarterback in Kevin Hogan, Stanford will likely rely more on the pass this season than the last two seasons -- those types of changes are only natural -- but Stanford has its blueprint, for the past and future.
Hundley/MariotaUSA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley and Marcus Mariota are the Pac-12's best contenders for the 2014 Heisman Trophy.
Not only does late August bring a crush of previews, predictions and all-angles analysis of games that have yet to be played, it also means it's time for the requisite "Pac-12 player-to-be-named is the Heisman frontrunner" column.

Bring it on, Matt Barkley. All in for Andrew Luck. Ain't no one stopping Toby Gerhart. Yeah, we've tapped this dance before. But the last few years, the end result has been a lonely solo.

Pac-12 Heisman contenders usually enter the season with considerable hype. And that makes sense given the offensive prowess of the conference. After all, you can eliminate half of the college football population since it's essentially an offensive award. And it stands to reason that the conference known for its innovative offenses and playmakers also produces frontrunners. But lately those frontrunners have been afterthoughts by Black Friday.

No doubt about it, the Pac-12 is in a Heisman drought. The pursuit of a stiff-arm-player has been met by, well, stiff-armed-voters.

The current slump isn't as bad as the 27-year drought from when the award was first given out in 1935 to the time Oregon State's Terry Baker won in 1962. And it's not as long as the 21-year gap between Marcus Allen in '81 and Carson Palmer in 2002 (sorry Pac-12, you don't get to claim Rashaan Salaam in '94).

The last "official" Pac-10/12 player to win the Heisman Trophy was USC quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004, so we're coming up on a decade. There was, of course, the vacated winner of 2005 – Reggie Bush – whose exploits have been wiped from existence.

And so have the trophies.

Bush and USC have returned their cast-bronze mementoes to the Heisman Trust. And a Heisman spokesman was extremely tight-lipped when asked about their location, saying only that they were "locked away in a secure area." No doubt they're being watched over by Tupac and the Knights Templar, along with the location of Atlantis and the alternate ending to "The Sopranos" that we all really want to believe exists. Don't stop believin'.

According to one report, it's in a storage unit in New York. I imagine it looking something like this ... where it's being examined by ... top men.

If the previous few years fell under the category of "good chance" for the Pac-12 to win a Heisman, then 2014 certainly has to be considered a "great chance." With 10 returning starting quarterbacks bringing national attention to the league, it's two who are taking center stage -- the Oregon Ducks' Marcus Mariota and UCLA Bruins' Brett Hundley.

Both are exciting, dual-threat athletes who are going to put up those monster offensive numbers that Heisman voters gravitate toward. And while the specter of Bush's Heisman season is just that, the national media seems to have come around to the idea the Pac-12 is in the conversation for top conference in college football because of its schedule, its depth and -- above all -- its quarterbacks.

Just as the Pac-12 is a quarterback-driven league, the Heisman has turned into a quarterback-driven award. Every winner since 2000 has been a quarterback except for Mark Ingram in 2009. The spread offense opened up all sorts of possibilities for voters because offensive totals once thought unimaginable are now standard operating production for elite dual-threat quarterbacks. The idea of a player throwing for 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushing for 700-plus yards and 10 touchdowns once boggled voters' imaginations. Now it's expected of a Heisman winner -- widening the gap even further between quarterbacks and all other position groups.

Fortunately for the Pac-12, they have a pair of guys who match the profile. Last season, Mariota passed for 3,665 yards and threw 31 touchdowns to four interceptions. Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Mariota rushed for 715 yards and nine scores. Hundley added 748 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.

It helps, too, that both players lead teams ranked in the preseason top 10. And both players have high-profile nonconference games early in the season that will draw the eyes of voters East of Lake Tahoe.

Nor does it hurt that both Hundley and Mariota have squeaky clean records, as far as we know. Consider three of the past four winners -- Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton -- all had off-field question marks, be it legal or otherwise. Perhaps character will play into Decision 2014? After all, the word "integrity" appears twice in the Heisman Trust mission statement. From what we've seen from Mariota and Hundley so far, they fit the bill.

Both players have said numerous times over the past eight months that they are prepared for the onslaught of attention that comes with a Heisman-contending candidacy. Both passed up being first-round NFL draft selections in 2014 to finish their time at school and end their careers -- both hope -- with a trip to the first College Football Playoff.

And in doing so, one of them might also end the Pac-12's Heisman drought.
Welcome to the last football-less Friday mailbag of the year.

Oh. The anticipation.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Elliot from Oregon writes: Give me your boldest prediction for anything PAC12 related. Don't be shy, Ted.

Ted Miller: Oh, I don't know Elliot. You want me to have an opinion on something and announce it publicly? That sounds pretty scary. What if someone disagrees with me? Or what if you guys start arguing the relative merits of my point and someone gets cross? What if it gets out on Twitter and someone trolls me or writes the dreaded, "Your an idiot" [sic].

Funny you should ask, because we will have Bold Predictions from your entire ESPN.com Pac-12 family -- the #4pac! -- on Tuesday. But I will venture forth with one -- OK three! -- before I blush, effervesce with giggles and canter shyly away.

1. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame (Arizona State, Stanford and USC).

2. No Pac-12 coach will be fired during or after the season.

3. Ted Miller will be wrong.

OK, I realize the third one is pretty out there, but I've got a feeling it finally happens this year. Maybe.




Brett from Portland writes: Team X is playing in the national championship and you get to choose one Pac 12 coach to coach that team. Who do you choose?

Ted Miller: I can't choose Chip Kelly, right?

I had an immediate response: Stanford's David Shaw. He's been there, see three consecutive BCS bowl games, and he's 14-4 against top-25 teams, best winning percentage in the conference.

Then I rifled through the other options, and the Pac-12 has a lot of good ones. Chris Petersen also has BCS bowl game experience. As does Rich Rodriguez, a guy who really knows how to game plan the heck out of teams with better talent. Not unlike Petersen.

Then I thought about Jim Mora, who I'm not sure won't be the first Pac-12 coach to win the College Football Playoff.

Then I thought about coaching staffs as a whole. Does Shaw get a knock because Derek Mason is head coach at Vanderbilt and no longer coordinating the Cardinal defense? I really like Rich Rod and Mora's staffs. And then I went, wait, what about Todd Graham at Arizona State? Has anyone done a better job over the past two seasons than Graham and his staff?

Then I thought Brett and the rest of you might fall asleep while I dithered on this.

So I'm going with Shaw. Track record. Big football brain. Unwavering core beliefs. And, as a very minor consideration, he gets a boost here for being so accommodating and insightful during interviews.




Patrick from Seattle writes: With a senior-led d-line, experienced and talented linebackers, and a lockdown corner in Peters, how good can the Huskies D be?

Ted Miller: You remember the 1985 Chicago Bears? Well, imagine that unit if it also had Lawrence Taylor.

Go run into a brick wall 10 times.

Done? That's what it's going to be like playing against the Huskies this fall.

It's hard not to like the UW front seven. It's got size with 330-pound defensive tackle Danny Shelton and production with end Hau'oli Kikaha, the best returning pass-rusher in the conference. At linebacker, there is experience and high-end athleticism, led by potential first-round draft pick Shaq Thompson.

While the depth is a little questionable, I'd rate that starting crew the best in the Pac-12. Yes, better than Stanford, USC and UCLA.

The secondary is the question. Peters is an A-list cornerback, an All-American candidate, but the other three spots are going to be young and unproven. Not necessarily untalented, mind you -- see youngsters like true freshman Budda Baker and redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly -- but you don't know about a unit until, well, you know.

Of course, an outstanding front-seven is a great thing to have when you are young in the back half. Leaving youngsters exposed for more than four seconds can be catastrophic in a league as deep at quarterback as the Pac-12. Not sure this crew up front for the Huskies will do that very often, which will make life much easier for the defensive backs.

As big a question as the secondary is new coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who Petersen brought over from Boise State. He's replacing Justin Wilcox, one of the best in the business, a guy who transformed a poor-to-middling unit into one of the best in the Pac-12. Kwiatkowski has lots of new toys to play with, but has never coached against the talent -- player and coaching -- that he will now square off with on a week-to-week basis.

So how good? At the very least, Huskies fans should expect to better last season's strong numbers -- 22.8 points per game; 5.0 yards per play -- which ranked fourth and tied for third in the conference. If that happens, you would have to think the Huskies will be a factor in the North Division race.




Troy from Tacoma writes: Ted, as we sit here a week out from the kickoff of the college football season, and since there are a few Pac-12 games next Thursday, it is safe to say that there won't be a Best Case-Worst Case section for each team. Honestly, reading those was my favorite part of this blog, and really got the blood flowing that the season was near. Just wanted to voice my disappointment with whoever made the decision to discontinue that part of the blog. That's all, have a good final game-less week.

Ted Miller: I truly appreciate all the notes on this, even though it seems a lot of you are angry I -- yes it was my call -- opted to end the series.

As noted before, this was simply a case of a series running its course after four years.

If you are nostalgic, just re-read last year's efforts, and those also include links to previous years.

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