Headed to the City of Angels

April, 19, 2011
Or is that "City of Angles"?

I'm headed to Los Angeles to check in on the Bruins and Trojans.

I'll split the next three days between them. I'm going to UCLA practice tonight and USC practice Thursday morning. On Wednesday, each will get to soak in the thrills and chills that are always a part of a Pac-12 blog visit.

Will be checking in with the usual suspects -- Rick Neuheisel, Lane Kiffin, Matt Barkley, Jennifer Aniston, etc. -- as well as chatting with the Bruins' two new coordinators, Mike Johnson and Joe Tresey.

Should be interesting.

Foles focuses on present, not NFL

April, 19, 2011
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Before we engage our topic -- Arizona quarterback Nick Foles -- let's pause for a moment and consider the Wildcats' NFL history at Foles' position. It will only require the briefest of pauses, however, so don't worry about your eyes glazing over.

In 1985, the Seattle Seahawks used their 10th-round selection -- the 277th overall pick in the NFL draft -- to select Arizona quarterback John Connor. Connor would later save the world from evil computers and indestructible robots that looked not unlike the former governor of California, so we should give him a break for not making much of a mark in the pro ranks.

In 1972, six years before the Wildcats joined the Pac-8, the Buffalo Bills used their first pick... of the 16th round (391st overall)... on Arizona quarterback Brian Linstrom. In 1962, quarterback Eddie Wilson went to the Detroit Lions with the 10th pick of the second round, 24th overall.

And so ends our history lesson entitled, "The NFL draft and Arizona Quarterbacks."

[+] EnlargeArizona's Nick Foles
Chris Morrison/US PRESSWIRE"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said of quarterback Nick Foles following a dramatic win over Iowa. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."
If Foles were in this class, he'd probably yawn. He's not much into history, even though he could have made it for the Wildcats if he'd opted to enter the draft instead of returning for his senior season. Heck, he's not much into the future either because he says -- convincingly, by the way -- that he's not thinking about the NFL.

"I grew up going to college football games and I wanted to play college football. I'm in a wonderful place because I'm living my dream right now," he said. "I know there is money and fame or whatever, but I love where I'm at. I love the University of Arizona. The most important thing right now is to focus on that. I think too many people get caught up in the, 'NFL this, NFL that,' and they don't focus on where they are now, the present moment. The most precious time you have is right now in the present. I don't want to think about a year down the road."

In the present time, Foles is headed into the 2011 season -- spring practices ended over the weekend -- on the cusp of becoming the best quarterback in program history, even if he doesn't break all of Willie Tuitama's records. After all, Tuitama, a four-year starter, wasn't drafted and didn't get invited to an NFL training camp. As for those records, Foles needs 3,478 yards passing to eclipse Tuitama's career record of 9,211 yards. Considering the talent Foles has surrounding him at receiver, it's possible that he could break Tuitama's single-season passing record (3,683 yards) and even reach his career TD mark (67; Foles has 39 touchdowns in two years as a starter).

Of course, stats aren't the only thing that matters. The Wildcats split the job between Keith Smith and Ortege Jenkins in 1998, and their middling numbers were nonetheless good enough to front a 12-1 team that finished ranked No. 4 in the nation.

The Wildcats don't look at first glance like a team that could go 12-1. All five starters must be replaced on the offensive line, while the defense loses premier pass-rushing ends Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore, both of whom figure to be drafted. Further, the Wildcats are presently riding a five-game losing streak that took the shine off a 7-1 start in the 2010 season.

For Arizona to be a factor in the Pac-12 South's first season, Foles needs to be out front posting big numbers.

"He's grown a lot each year. I think you'll see a more polished player," coach Mike Stoops said. "He's going to be an elite player at the next level if he can continue to grow."

Foles, who missed two games last season with a dislocated knee cap, said he sees plenty of room for improvement when he watches game tape. While he completed a strong 67 percent of his passes, his 2:1 TD to interceptions ratio -- 20 TDs, 10 picks -- won't blow anyone away. Foles also was streaky. He seemed to often break out of lulls while running the two-minute offense in high-pressure situations -- see clutch drives produced in wins over Iowa and California and in a heart-breaking loss to Arizona State.

So while Foles talks about improving his recognition skills, his knowledge of opposing defenses and building consistency, he also finds a less cerebral area in which to improve.

"When I just play the game and don't think as much, and let it just come to me, that's when I play my best," he said. "When I'm trying to over-analyze a play or I am thinking too much, I play mechanically and that's just not where I'm good."

Stoops and Foles have talked about another area in which Foles needs to focus: Leadership. As a quarterback who could receive All-American consideration, Foles is the centerpiece of the Wildcats. Everyone in the locker room will turn to him this fall.

"I wish at times he showed more emotion," Stoops said. "But you don't want that to be forced. That has to be natural. Nick has to pick and choose. He should know when those times are."

Said Foles, "There's a time and place to be loud and emotional but I also think it comes with knowing your teammates. The most important thing with anything you do is being natural. There will be times when I need to be vocal, but it has to come naturally. When it doesn't come naturally, it's just doesn't feel right."

In other words, leaderships is complicated. Consider: In the Wildcats 34-27 win over Iowa, Foles led by being loose and saying just enough to make his team confident.

"Nothing rattles him," offensive tackle Adam Grant said after that game. "I've seen guys with fear in their eyes on the field. He was completely calm."

Foles said he talked to his parents about potentially entering this spring's draft, but also said he told them in advance that he wanted to return. By returning, he almost guaranteed that -- barring injury -- he will become the greatest quarterback in school history.

Ah, but that's all history and the future and destination talk. Foles is more focused on the present, on the process.

"I'll watch film and go, 'Man, I've got a lot to work on,'" he said. "But that's exciting to me. I love working on that stuff. It's a continual process."

ASU picks up sixth commitment

April, 19, 2011
Arizona State's 2012 recruiting class is taking shape early.

The Sun Devils added a sixth commitment Monday when it received word from defensive back Oliver Johnson of Taft HS (Woodland Hills, Calif.)/Missouri Western/Pierce CC, Calif.

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Johnson, who redshirted his freshman season at Missouri Western, also considered Oregon and Utah.

You can see all six commitments here.

Kelly's 'Win the day' spreads back East

April, 19, 2011
Oregon coach Chip Kelly brought "Win the Day" to Eugene. School brass even created a trademarked insignia for Kelly's coaching credo.

Even rivals have to admit one thing: It works. These three words completely encompass what an athlete should try to do. Fair to say it's been motivational gold for the Ducks.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so consider new Temple High School head football coach and athletic director Mike Spradlin, who has adopted "Win the day" back East.

Spradlin to the Temple Daily Telegram:
"Our message to the kids is, 'Win the day,'" said the 56-year-old Spradlin, who came to Temple after a strong five-year run at Abilene Cooper. "Number one is 'Count on me' and number two is 'Win the day.' It's a life thing. One thing I'm all about is that you have to love your work."

Spradlin certainly could do worse than copy Kelly's cultural transformation at Oregon.

Good article on that here.

Video: Arizona's Mike Stoops

April, 19, 2011

Ted Miller talks with the head coach about the upcoming season.

Nice graphic here from The Stanford Daily, which shows how BCS bowl teams made out financially.

Stanford says it broke even -- though the private school refuses to release official financial data -- in the Orange Bowl, while Oregon took a $312,437 loss from its appearance in the BCS national title game.

Auburn won the national championship by beating the Ducks, but it also lost nearly twice as much ($614,106).

Of course, no team got fleeced worse than Connecticut, which got smacked with a $1,757,998 deficit, in large part due to unsold tickets.

Ohio State was the big winner, pocketing $288,876 after expenses.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Nick Foles and Seth Littrell almost sound sympathetic. The Arizona quarterback and offensive coordinator realize that it's not easy for a secondary to match up with one Juron Criner. So it figures to be even more taxing to matchup with two.

[+] EnlargeDan Bucker
Chris Morrison/US PresswireArizona has high expectations for receiver Dan Buckner, a transfer from the Texas Longhorns who sat out last season.
Criner, the Pac-10's best receiver in 2010, is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. Texas transfer Dan Buckner is 6-4, 220. He caught 45 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns in 2009 and ranked as the Longhorns' No. 3 receiver as a true sophomore.

Gifted with size and speed, both will present matchup problems. Secondaries that would prefer to double-cover Criner might find that Buckner has the ability to punish them for taking that approach.

"He's a hard matchup, I would think, for a lot of corners," Littrell said. "He's definitely a deep threat. If people want to play tight coverage on him, he's a matchup problem. If people want to matchup with Juron and try to bracket Juron, you're going to leave someone one-on-one. So pick your poison. If a team wants [to double Criner], I'm fine with that."

Then, when you toss in the Wildcats' other receivers -- David Douglas, David Roberts and Richard Morrison -- well, suffice it to say that more than a few defensive coordinators will be stressed in advance of facing the Wildcats' passing attack.

"We've got a great receiving corps. We don't have just one guy. We have several guys," Foles said. "If I were teams, I'd still try to bracket [Criner]. They probably will try to make us beat them elsewhere. But [bracketing Criner] is going to be tough to do with the receivers we have."

Buckner is the wild card. Though his performance fell off over the final half of the 2009 season, keep in mind that he was good enough to be a contributor to a team that played for the national title. He's not your typical transfer who arrives with only message-board fanfare and then turns out to be one of those "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane" sorts.

Of course, there's a backstory. Buckner is in Tucson -- he sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules -- because he got into trouble at Texas. He was arrested in College Station, Texas in January of 2010 on charges of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest. The Arizona Daily Star, citing police reports, said Buckner "was visiting a female acquaintance in College Station, Texas, when a dispute broke out. Officers arrived on the scene, but couldn’t get him to leave."

"I got into some trouble and made some bad decisions like a lot of people do. I needed a change. I needed to get out of there," Buckner said. "I think it was a blessing in disguise. I feel like it humbled me. I've seen things in life that I may not have seen."

Buckner, described as "goofy" by Foles, doesn't seem like a bad seed. He's bright, outgoing and quick with a joke.

Still, Foles said meshing Buckner into what was already one of the nation's best receiving groups is still a work in progress.

"We're still working to get on the same page," Foles said.

When asked about complementing Criner, Buckner is quick to take on the role of No. 2: "Juron is getting me open," he said.

As for the transition from Texas and the Big 12 to Arizona and the Pac-12, Buckner, a native of Allen, Texas, seems to feel right at home.

"I like the West Coast," he said. "It's sunny and pretty and there are palm trees. It's a change, and at that point in my life I just needed a change."

Video: Arizona OC Seth Littrell

April, 18, 2011

Ted Miller talks with Arizona offensive coordinator Seth Littrell.

Oregon sign holder arrested

April, 18, 2011
Oregon reserve quarterback Dustin Haines has been suspended from the team after he was charged with resisting arrest early Saturday morning at a party in Eugene.

According to The Oregonian, "police say Haines became hostile and scuffled with officers. He was charged with with excessive noise, interfering with a police officer and resisting arrest."

The 6-foot-3, 204-pound sophomore is best known for holding up the odd signs Oregon often uses to call plays.

There's probably a joke there, but when are young folks going to learn that the only successful response to police -- no matter the circumstances -- is "Yes, sir/ma'am-No, sir/ma'am."

Pac-12 lunch links: New talent on both Beavers lines

April, 18, 2011
Wanna know why I carry this tape recorder? To tape things. See, I'm an idea man, Chuck. I got ideas coming at me all day... I couldn't even fight 'em off if I wanted. Wait a second... hold the phone! Hold the phone! Idea to eliminate garbage. Edible paper. You eat it, it's gone! You eat it, it's outta there! No more garbage!

Former NFL executive to run title game

April, 18, 2011
Longtime NFL executive Jim Steeg has been hired by the Pac-10 "as a consultant to help plan and execute the inaugural Pac-12 Football Championship game," the conference announced today.

The news release says Steeg "built the Super Bowl into the world’s premier sporting event and managed all special events for the NFL, including championship games, the Pro Bowl and the Draft."

So it would seem commissioner Larry Scott continues to aggressively court top talent -- and make major changes -- as the conference moves into a new era.

The Pac-10, which officially becomes the Pac-12 on July 1, will host its first-ever football championship game at the home stadium of the team with the best overall conference record. The game is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 3, 2011 at 3:30 p.m. ET. Steeg will serve as the Director of the Pac-12 Football Championship Game.

Steeg spent 35 years with the NFL, including 26 in charge of special events, where he grew the Super Bowl from a championship football game to a week-long extravaganza featuring signature events, including The NFL Experience. Steeg served as COO of the San Diego Chargers from 2004-2010. He left the Chargers in March of 2010.

You can read the rest of the news release here.

What's the Pac-12 NFL presence?

April, 18, 2011
The NFL draft starts on April 28th, and ESPN Magazine compiled a list of NFL players by conference: So how does the Pac-12 rate?

The Pac-10 presently has 215 NFL players. The top producers of NFL talent, at present, are:

USC ... 39
California ... 33
Oregon ... 25
Oregon State ... 22
Arizona State ... 21
UCLA ... 19

USC finished fifth overall, with Miami No. 1 with 45 players, LSU second with 44 and Texas and Ohio State tied with 42.

This might be a surprise: Cal has more NFL players than Auburn (27), Alabama (26), Florida State (31), Penn State (29), Oklahoma (30) and Notre Dame (27).

So how do the new members, Colorado and Utah rate?

Utah ... 21
Colorado ... 16

The SEC led all conferences with 308 players. If you added in Utah and Colorado to the old Pac-10, the Pac-12 would rate third overall with 252 players. The Big Ten has 285 (with Nebraska) and the ACC has 278.

Video: Arizona's Trace Biskin

April, 18, 2011

Ted Miller talks to the Wildcats' guard about the upcoming season.

Reviewing spring scrimmages and games

April, 17, 2011
Arizona, Utah and Washington State concluded spring practices Saturday with spring games, while a number of other teams scrimmaged. Here's a roundup.

Mailbag: Arizona's receivers aren't the best!

April, 15, 2011
Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the many who asked: I have no idea when the NCAA will rule on USC's appeal. On Saturday, it will be 12 weeks since USC met with the appeals mmittee. I thought it might happen this week. If it doesn't happen next week, the term "absurd" will start to apply.

The notes.

Chris from Seattle writes: You've been calling Arizona's group of receivers "the best in the conference." I'd like to submit that, it's far less clear than you are painting it. The way I see it, UW is equally as deep at receiver. Kearse and Aguilar are two returning seniors who merit pre-season all-conference mention and Kearse is potentially a first teamer and all-american. From there, James Johnson (stellar freshman year who is returning to form), Kevin Davis (really turning it on this spring), DiAndre Campbell (great hands and big plays this spring), and Cody Bruns (another returning senior) are all in the mix for the third spot. But, let's not forget that Kasen Williams (the Parade All-America player of the year - if you have forgotten) will be showing up in the fall. I'd say that group would go toe-to-toe with UA's group any day! Sure, UA has a better QB at the moment, but if we're talking about talent at the receiver position, I think you haven't done your homework and I'd appreciate it if you stop matter-of-factly stating they are the best in the conference. In your UA spring review, you said, "the conference's deepest, most talented crew of receivers." I call BULL! Prove me wrong!

Ted Miller: OK, I'll prove you wrong, you, you, Bull Caller!

Washington has good receivers, but the Huskies don't match up with the Wildcats.

So let's do our homework!

You note Jermaine Kearse (63 receptions, second-team All-Pac-10) and Devin Aguilar. Aguilar caught 28 passes last season. Every one else you mention is a "maybe." Why do I type that? Here are the official stats. Johnson caught one pass last year. Bruns? Seven.

And, really, Kearse has plenty of room to improve -- see dropped passes, see struggles versus physical cornerbacks.

Down in Tucson, you have the best receiver in the Pac-12: Juron Criner (82 receptions, first-team All-Pac-10).

Then you have David Douglas (52 receptions), David Roberts (45), Terrence Miller (29) and Richard Morrison (19). Oh, and you also have Texas transfer Dan Buckner, who caught 44 passes for 445 yards and four touchdowns in 2009 for the Longhorns.

I'd even counter that Arizona's "maybes" are every bit the match of Washington's: redshirt freshmen Tyler Slavin, Austin Hill, and speedster Garic Wharton.

JJ from McCall, Idaho writes: Looking at returning running backs, it's amazing to see USC in 10th position. What happened to all those 5 star recruits?

Ted Miller: USC isn't exactly hurting at running back. In fact, off the top of my head, I'd rate the Trojans fourth in the Pac-12 at the position behind Oregon, Washington and Stanford.

First, let's recall the Trojans averaged 190 yards rushing per game in 2010. That ranked third in the conference.

Second, Marc Tyler, who rushed for 913 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry, is back. Yes, he's injury prone, but not so injury prone that he didn't nearly crack the 1,000-yard mark in 2010.

And there is plenty of young talent, starting with Dillon Baxter and D.J. Morgan. Further, the Pac-12 blog has always thought that if Curtis McNeal, academically ineligible in 2010, got touches, he'd make plays.

Matt from Salt Lake City writes: With the Utah Utes bringing in a new O and with [quarterback Jordan Wynn] out of the spring how far behind is Wynn and do you think he can get the new O going and be ready for the fall?

Ted Miller: No matter how much of a "glass half-full guy" you are, it's not ideal for Wynn to be sitting out spring practices after undergoing shoulder surgery. A full spring practice with new offensive coordinator Norm Chow and pro style offense would have been valuable.

But there are a couple of things that work in Wynn and Utah's favor here. For one, Wynn is only a few weeks from full-go throwing again, so he'll have a full summer to work with his receivers and backs and get a general feel for the playbook.

Second, Wynn told me he played a pro style offense in high school, so this shouldn't be an overwhelming transformation. He actually called it a "better fit" than the Utes old spread-option. Third, Chow was most taken with Wynn's intelligence, noting that Wynn seems to be picking things up quickly in meetings and film sessions. Said Chow, "Just sitting in meetings with him, it's extremely obvious he's very bright. To me the key element for a quarterback is you've got to be smart. He gets it all."

Further, Wynn is a one-and-a-half-year starter. He's a veteran who knows game speed. That should help him digest things during fall camp.

Again, not ideal. But far from a cause for panic.

If Utah fans are looking for something to worry about -- and what fan isn't? -- backup quarterback might be a good place to release a harrumph or two. It doesn't seem like either Tyler Shreve or Griff Robles have figured things out.

Thomas from San Francisco writes: Cal fans are a bit up in arms about a quote from Jeff Tedford in your latest article, and I was hoping for some clarification. Specifically, this quote: "I have it back in focus now, not to worry about the external things," he said. "That one year [2009] we went [8-5] and it felt like we went [5-8], it felt like people were real irritable about that. I was irritable, too. About their reaction to [8-5]. Now, I'm just back to focusing on what it takes to get us back on the upward trend again." You bracketed "2009" and "8-5" which means he didn't actually say those terms, but you interpreted him to be referring to 2009 and 8-5. Is it possible he was referring to going 8-4 in 2005? Or something else? It is concerning because it sounds like Tedford is happy with 8-5, which he should not be (especially because there were a handful of blowout losses in those 5 losses, which you note in the story). Is there any way you can post the full Q&A? Or at least enough to get the context of what he was saying? Or simply why you interpreted him to be referring to 2009/8-5?

Ted Miller: You are an observant reader. Oh, you Cal fans!

What Tedford said was a little confusing to me at the time also. The recording is gone, but, to paraphrase, he said "a couple of years ago" in the context of this quote but said "8-3" as the record, as well as the 3-8 reverse. Obviously, there is no 8-3 season, though he could have been referring to finishing the 2005 regular season 8-3 and then winning the Las Vegas Bowl over BYU.

So I did make an assumption based on a couple of things: He said "couple of years ago," which suggested two to me. And I remembered very little carping after the 2005 season, seeing that was the first season after Aaron Rodgers (Joe Ayoob!), though Bears fans feel free to correct me.

Either way, to me, the gist is the same: In the past, he allowed fan reaction to irritate him after an eight-win season. He's now trying to ignore fan reaction after a five-win season because he's got plenty of other things to think -- and get irritated -- about.

I've never had the feeling that Tedford would be happy with 8-5. I do think that he was a bit surprised how quickly Cal fans became bored with winning seasons.

Todd from Mission Viejo, Calif., writes: Regarding the Pac-12 media deal, should I be worried about the Pac-12 signing a long-term deal (say 15 years)? Yes, it would provide stability, but if the college sports media market continues to grow, could the media rights become undervalued for the final part of its contract. Would it not be better to sign a medium length media deal, then renegotiate to reflect the new value of the media property?

Ted Miller: Larry "Let's make a deal!" Scott is seeking a 10-year deal worth $220 million, according to multiple reports, including the Wall Street Journal, which I think got the number from the myriad great articles Jon Wilner has been doing on the behind-the-scenes machinations.

If there is a downside to a 10-year, $220 million deal, I don't know what it is. Other than it's not a 10-year $230 million deal, with the extra $10 million going to the Pac-12 blog, which of course would buy a yacht and throw a righteous party for you loyal readers.

Miriam from Stanford, Calif., writes: In addition to reading the stories on the blog, I often go to your lunch links to find interesting news items about Stanford and other teams. I know that you don't always include a link for every team every day, but I've noticed a lot of times when you seem to have a story for every team except Stanford (see 4/6/11, 4/12/11). Is it really that much harder to find news stories about Stanford than about the other teams in the conference? Or is it just my selection bias coming into play, only noticing when my team is the one missing?

Ted Miller: Yes, it is that much harder to find stories on Stanford football, and it annoys me, too. I even groused about this to Wyndam Makowsky of The Stanford Daily, noting that the Daily's enlightened policy of covering all of Stanford's 14,524 sports teams vexed me when, really, people only care about football.

Some teams get so much local coverage, it's often difficult to figure out which articles to post and which to exclude. That's not the case with Stanford, in large part because Bay Area newspapers have significantly rolled back their staff numbers.

Every weekday morning I go through a series of websites -- newspapers, responsible fan blogs, even the official website -- that offer Stanford coverage. If you don't see a Stanford link at lunch, it's because I couldn't find a story.

Same thing goes for every Pac-12 team.

Daniel from Eugene, Ore., writes: You probably already know this is out there, but I thought it'd be nice if you could post this. Really a quality podcast all about the Ducks.

Ted Miller: Wow, you put the bad boys of podcasting, Ty and Dan of "Solid Verbal," on the same wavelength with The One They Call "Rob Moseley" and you've got the makings of an epic Guy Ritchie shoot-em-up.