Heart of the City: Stanford

June, 20, 2011
We are taking a look at FBS programs located in major cities alongside NFL franchises.

School: Stanford
Location: Stanford, Calif.
Enrollment: 15,000
Bowl appearances: 15
NFL first-round picks: 13
Losing seasons: 33
10-win seasons: 3
Source: ESPN Stats & Info (Note: College numbers date back to 1936, the first year of the AP poll. NFL numbers date back to 1970.)

The good: Stanford is the most elite academic institution in the nation playing football at the FBS level. It's located in an area of the country where the median home price is $1.4 million. Its provost is a former Secretary of State. And word is Condoleezza Rice is a huge football fan.

So if elite is a good thing, Stanford has plenty of it.

The football history is probably better than you think. Stanford won the 1926 national championship. It's won or shared 12 conference titles in six different decades, the most recent coming in 1999. Quarterback Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy in 1970.

The present is pretty darn good, too. Stanford, after a 2006 renovation, plays in one of the best stadiums in the conference. It is the only Pac-12 team to win a BCS bowl game over the past two seasons. It finished ranked fourth in the nation after whipping Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. It's produced two Heisman Trophy finalists over the past two years, running back Toby Gerhart and quarterback Andrew Luck. And Luck is the preseason Heisman favorite this fall after he opted to finish his degree instead of becoming the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick this spring.

The bad: The big present question about Stanford is how the departure of coach Jim Harbaugh to the nearby San Francisco 49ers is going to affect the program he rebuilt. There's plenty of pressure on David Shaw to maintain the Cardinal's 2010 breakthrough, particularly with Luck back.

While it's difficult to call it a "bad," Stanford has far more rigorous academic requirements for athletes than just about every other program in the nation (even if there have been some recent admittance accommodations). The football coaches can look at only a small handful of truly elite athletes a year, and that makes consistent winning more difficult.

But winning inside a beautiful stadium hasn't been an absolute panacea, either. The Cardinal averaged only 40,042 in attendance last year, which ranked 11th among Pac-12 teams. Also, that was 80.1 percent of capacity, which ranked ninth in the conference. The biggest reason cited for this muted response is that Stanford is a national university with a small -- 6,887 -- undergraduate population. But Stanford did regularly attract 70,000-80,000 fans in the 1970s and 1980s.

It's possible that many in the area -- alumni and local fans -- turned away when the product went into a slide during the Buddy Teevens-Walt Harris eras from 2002 to 2006 and have been slow to return during the rapid rise. If Stanford becomes a consistent winner under Shaw, the fans might start showing up.

Heart of the City: California

June, 20, 2011
We are taking a look at FBS programs located in major cities alongside NFL franchises.

School: California
Location: Berkeley, Calif.
Enrollment: 36,000
Bowl appearances: 17
NFL first-round picks: 23
Losing seasons: 35
10-win seasons: 7
Source: ESPN Stats & Info (Note: College numbers date back to 1936, the first year of the AP poll. NFL numbers date back to 1970.)

The good: Great school, and the Bay Area is a great place to be.

California, the nation's highest rated public university, is close to not only San Francisco and Oakland but also San Jose and Silicon Valley, the high-tech capital of the U.S.

Cal was once a West Coast football power, winning national championships in 1920 and 1922. It won or shared 12 Pacific Coast Conference championships from 1918 to 1958. It won 103 games in 10 seasons -- 1947 to 1958 -- under Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf. There was a lengthy downturn, yes, but under Jeff Tedford, the program had played in seven consecutive bowl games -- going 5-2 in those games -- before finishing with its first losing record since 2001 this past fall.

Memorial Stadium, perched above San Francisco Bay and nestled into Strawberry Canyon, is one of the most scenic venues in the country. It also features one of the top home crowds in the Pac-12. The school is in the process of major facilities improvements: a major stadium renovation project that should be completed before the 2012 season and the construction of a new Student-Athlete High Performance Center.

Further, recruiting in Northern California is underrated. There's a reason Cal has produced eight NFL first-round draft picks under Tedford.

The bad: Cal fans are Cal fans, but there's a lot to do in the Bay Area. Pro sports? Heck, there are two NFL and two Major League Baseball teams.

Moreover, the program fell into a swoon after Waldorf departed. Of the 11 coaches since him and previous to Tedford, only Mike White and Bruce Snyder would leave with winning records. The venerable Marv Levy went 8-29-3. In 2001, Tom Holmoe's final season, the Bears' average attendance was 33,443 -- just under 50 percent of capacity.

Tedford brought the fans back. Even during a down 2010, the Bears averaged 57,873 fans, but that's down from 64,019 in 2004. The Old Blues are no longer satisfied with merely solid to good. They want a Rose Bowl, where the program hasn't been since 1958.

Heart of the City: Arizona State

June, 20, 2011
We are taking a look at FBS programs located in major cities alongside NFL franchises.

School: Arizona State
Location: Tempe, Ariz.
Enrollment: 70,000
Bowl appearances: 20
NFL first-round picks: 20
Losing seasons: 12
10-win seasons: 11

Source: ESPN Stats & Info (Note: College numbers date back to 1936, the first year of the AP poll. NFL numbers date back to 1970.)

The good: Have you been in Tempe in December? That's a pretty darn good place to start: the weather. Sure, it ain't too pleasant in July, but, hey, school's out.

The Sun Devils have posted several good runs through the years, the best being the Frank Kush era from 1958 to 1979. From 1970 to 1975, the Sun Devils under Kush finished ranked in the top-10 four times and 13th another. They finished ranked second in 1975. They finished fourth in 1986 and 1996.

Arizona State is the nation's largest university, so the student population is huge. If the program won consistently, it's not hard to imagine a 71,000-seat Sun Devil Stadium filling up.

Sun Devils football was a big show well before the arrival of the Arizona Cardinals in 1988. In fact, the Cardinals were Sun Devil Stadium guests for 18 years, before they moved to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

The bad: Arizona State has long been considered a "sleeping giant," and more than a few folks have asked why the program hasn't consistently won since the end of the Kush era.

Arizona high school football hasn't traditionally been terribly strong, but it's vastly improved over the past 10 to 20 years and now the state regularly produces a solid number of FBS-level prospects.

Still, many of those prospects leave the state, perhaps because ASU has never consistently filled Sun Devil Stadium. The program averaged more than 70,000 fans in 1987-88 but hasn't hit that number since then, despite huge population increases. Even during an undefeated regular season in 1996, the stadium averaged 63,884. ASU's average attendance of 47,943 last fall was at 65 percent capacity, the lowest percentage in the Pac-12.

Professional sports really aren't the problem. While the Sun Devils have their rabid supporters -- like every program -- they haven't been able to fully tap into local fan passion in a major metropolitan area.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 17, 2011
You can miss Ted, but not your links ...

Schedule analysis: Utah

June, 17, 2011
We're reviewing each Pac-12 team's schedule, now focusing on the South Division.

Up next: Utah

Breakdown: six home (five conference games), six road (four conference games)

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 1 Montana State (9-3)
Sept. 17 at BYU (7-6)
Oct. 15 at Pittsburgh (8-5)

South Division games

Sept. 10 at USC
Oct. 8 Arizona State
Nov. 5 at Arizona
Nov. 12 UCLA
Nov. 25 Colorado

Crossover games

Oct. 1 Washington
Oct. 22 at California
Oct. 29 Oregon State
Nov. 19 at Washington State

Conference misses


Key stretch: There's a general curiosity about Utah in the Pac-12. The Utes are a proven program, but that doesn't change the feeling that the grind of an AQ conference schedule will be a considerable challenge. We'll find out fairly quickly if they are up to that challenge in 2011, starting with a visit to USC the second weekend of the season and concluding with a home game with Arizona State on Oct. 8. At this point, the Sun Devils and the Trojans look like the best two South Division teams. Or is that the Utes? Also during that early stretch: A home game with Washington and a visit to traditional rival BYU that might feel a bit strange considering both programs' new circumstances (not to mention the timing of the game).

Trap game: The obvious one is the visit to Washington State on Nov. 19. It will be the Utes' eighth consecutive game without a weekend off, and the grind of a Pac-12 slate -- as well as two tough nonconference games -- might get to them. The visit to Pittsburgh the weekend after playing host to Arizona State could be pretty dangerous, too.

Sure thing: Little is certain with this schedule -- we just don't know Utah as a Pac-12 team -- other than the Utes heading to USC with a 1-0 record.

Analysis: While this is certainly not an easy schedule, the conference misses are the big story: No Oregon, no Stanford. The Ducks and Cardinal will start the year ranked in the top-10 and most see them as an either-or to win the first Pac-12 championship. That means a team that plays both, if we play the odds, should get two losses, while a team that plays neither gets a two-loss reprieve. Moreover, five home conference games should further help the Utes in the South standings, and the second half of the schedule is as forgiving as any in the conference. Welcome to the Pac-12, Utah! The timing of the bye is good -- Sept. 24 -- in that it will allow Utah to regroup after playing what figures to be a pair of emotional road games backk-to-back: at USC (first-ever Pac-12 game) and at BYU (a bitter rival). That said, nine consecutive weeks without a bye isn't easy. Still, this schedule sets up for the Utes to be in the South mix immediately, particularly if they reach November and are still contending.

Video: Cliff Harris suspension

June, 16, 2011

Eugene Register-Guard's Rob Moseley and Mark May discuss the suspension of Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 16, 2011
I'm filling in for Ted today while he's on vacation. Question: When you live in Scottsdale, like Ted does, where do you go on vacation? Scranton?
This is about Cliff Harris and his bright idea to drive 118 mph at 4:30 a.m. last Sunday. But first, two stories.

Went to my annual doctor's checkup a couple of weeks back. The nurse and I were looking at a cool new Mustang through the window while she took my blood pressure. She casually told me a friend of hers had driven his Mustang at 150 mph on the 101 in the wee hours of the morning, just to see what would happen. She said the car handled the speed well. And my blood pressure was good.

[+] EnlargeCliff Harris
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireCliff Harris, who was clocked driving 118 mph Sunday, has had speeding and license-related issues before.
In other words, driving fast on an empty stretch of highway is not the worst thing anyone has ever done, though Harris' doing so with a suspended license, well, we'll get back to that in a second.

Second story: When I used to write about baseball, I remember having an interesting conversation with a personnel guy who talked about durability as a critical, measurable skill. Lots of guys had skills, but would they show up every day and play? It wasn't only about staying healthy. It was about being ready to play every day with an optimum level of fitness and focus. This is not a revolutionary notion, but it's worth noting that showing up and doing what you are supposed to do is perhaps even more important than being a spectacular talent who regularly does spectacular things.

Let's also bracket off for a moment whether Harris' use of the rental car in question with two other football players might raise some eyebrows with the NCAA and that pesky extra benefits rule (Rob Moseley does a nice job here of suggesting that the Ducks might be OK.)

Harris lacks durability. His team can't count on him to play. He's now suspended for the LSU game, a marquee season-opener that is expected to be a statement game for the winner. It could have been a statement game for Harris. It still will be, only in a bad way.

I wasn't in the car with Harris, nor were you. But it's easy to imagine a range of reasons Harris might have chosen to drive 118.

  • He was in a hurry.
  • He did it to impress -- or perhaps scare -- his passengers.
  • Someone double-dog dared him to do it.

There is no space in any these possible scenarios, however, for Harris' behavior to be judged anything other than forehead-slappingly stupid.

More than a few Oregon fans were unhappy when the Pac-12 blog ranked Harris only No. 22 on our ranking of the best players in the Pac-10 in February, and some of the irritation was augmented by our then rating Ducks cornerback Talmadge Jackson No. 20.

Many Oregon fans love Harris big-play ability both as a corner and as a punt returner. They didn't care that Pac-10 coaches named Jackson first-team All-Pac-10 and Harris second-team. They didn't care that Oregon coach Chip Kelly said this at the national championship game: "Obviously Talmadge is our best player in the secondary."

They didn't care that defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said this at midseason.
Fans love CB Cliff Harris. He's made so many big plays. Why is he not a starter?

NA: That's a tough question. I'll answer it the best I can. He's not a starter now because he needs to learn to go hard and do the things we ask him to do all the time. I think he'll get there. That comes across as negative and I don't really like that. But he's getting much closer to conforming to what we want. He's a really good kid and he really cares. He's getting closer to having a knowledge of what we want and conforming to what he needs to do.

If we can assume that Aliotti wants to play his best players so the Ducks can play their best defense, why was he reluctant to start Harris? If you watched Harris highlights on YouTube, you would think Aliotti was cracked.

But if you watched cut-ups from the Ducks' film room where Harris was out of position, loafing or getting pushed around, you might understand Aliotti's reservations.

Further, there's maturity. How does Harris carry himself on and off the field? Kelly and Aliotti are supremely chaffed at Harris for gunning a rental car at 118 mph. But they aren't shocked by it. This is notable from Oregon's statement on Harris' indefinite suspension: "... sanctions imposed upon Harris were based upon the information currently available surrounding more than just a single event, and were independent of any legal rulings or potential violation of NCAA rules that have yet to be determined."

More than a "single event."

Harris, despite four punt returns for touchdowns and six interceptions in 2010, has yet to arrive, on and off the field, as a player and as an adult.

Harris has great talent and special instincts. He could enter the NFL draft early after the 2011 season and get picked in the first round.

And he just as easily could blow it. Plenty of examples of that, by the way.

Harris might want to think twice the next time Aliotti asks him to play within the Ducks' defensive scheme. Or when a buddy double-dog dares him to do something he knows he shouldn't.

The NFL takes note of both of those situations, Cliff.

Podcast: USC's Matt Barkley

June, 15, 2011
USC quarterback Matt Barkley talks about handling the program being on probation and how the team uses it as motivation. Barkley says the perceptions of Lane Kiffin shape how people judge the coach and that he has learned a lot about play calling from Kiffin.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 15, 2011
Greetings from Big Ten country. Happy to fill in for Ted during his vacay.

Video: Darron Thomas, Oregon motivated

June, 15, 2011

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas talks about learning from the BCS title-game loss and whether college players should be paid.

Schedule analysis: USC

June, 15, 2011
We're reviewing each Pac-12 team's schedule, now focusing on the South Division.

Up next: USC

Breakdown: seven home (five conference games), five road (four conference games)

Nonconference opponents (with 2010 records)

Sept. 3 Minnesota (3-9)
Sept. 17 Syracuse (8-5)
Oct. 22 at Notre Dame (8-5)

South Division games

Sept. 10 Utah
Sept. 24 at Arizona State
Oct. 1 Arizona
Nov. 4 at Colorado
Nov. 26 UCLA

Crossover games

Oct. 13 at California
Oct. 29 Stanford
Nov. 12 Washington
Nov. 19 at Oregon

Conference misses

Oregon State
Washington State

Key stretch: It's difficult to rate a "key stretch" for a team that is ineligible for the postseason, but if you look at last season you see the Trojans faltered late, losing two of their final three games. A strong finish in 2011 would send USC into the offseason on a high note, with the postseason back in play in 2012. After playing at California on Thursday, Oct. 13, the Trojans have extra time to prepare for a visit to Notre Dame, which is the first of six consecutive weeks of games, a run that include a pair of likely high ranked foes -- Stanford and Oregon -- as well as a grudge match with Washington (the Huskies have won two in a row versus the Trojans) and rival UCLA. Those games will be the measuring stick of the 2011 season.

Trap game: In the midst of that "key stretch," is a Friday night game at Colorado. What happened a year ago at night in Corvallis?

Sure thing: As usual, USC doesn't play any patsies -- all opponents are AQ programs. But it's a good bet that the home opener versus the Golden Gophers is going to end up in the 'W' column.

Analysis: This is a typically tough USC schedule, though it (again) lacks the marquee nonconference foe of past seasons. Notre Dame is expected to be a top-25 team, so that visit to South Bend won't be easy. The bye on Oct. 8 is followed by a Thursday game, so the break won't be as long as usual. Seven home games is good, particularly spending the first three weeks at home. The crossover schedule is not: Playing Oregon and Stanford; missing Oregon State (Beavers aren't as tough on the Trojans in LA) and Washington State. The home finale against UCLA probably will have significant say in the Bruins bowl prospects as well as coach Rick Neuheisel's future. The Trojans and coach Lane Kiffin can't afford to take a step back after finishing 8-5 in 2010. But are there eight or nine wins on this schedule?

Podcast: Oregon QB Darron Thomas

June, 14, 2011
Ivan Maisel talks to Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas about overcoming the loss in the BCS Championship, his new teammates and the upcoming season for the Ducks.

Pac-12 links

June, 14, 2011
Just stopping by to toss a few Pac-12 links your way while Ted is lounging in the Caribbean:
SportsNation and EA Sports want to hear from you. The subject: best NCAA football traditions.

Colorado fans and Michigan fans know exactly what I'm talking about.

Two of the most exciting entrances in college football take place on fall Saturdays at Folsom Field and at Michigan Stadium. Everyone in Bolder knows when Ralphie's coming as Colorado's massive mascot leads the team onto the field at the start of each half. The tradition began in 1934 after Colorado selected Buffaloes as its team nickname, although there was no official mascot until 1957. The first Ralphie began appearing at Colorado games in 1966.

When Michigan takes the field at the Big House, all players and coaches make sure to jump and touch the "Go Blue" banner displayed at midfield. The tradition started in 1962 and remains one of the best spectacles in college sports.

Ralphie vs. The Blue Banner. It's time to cast your vote on which tradition you think is best. Be sure to catch SportsNation this afternoon on ESPN2 to see the results. The winning tradition advances through the bracket and the school with the nation's top tradition will receive hundreds of copies of EA's "NCAA Football 12."