Six Pac-12 teams, led by Oregon at No. 3, were ranked in the preseason AP poll released Sunday.

The Ducks received one first-place vote and were followed by No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 USC, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington.

This is the fourth year in a row year the Ducks have been ranked in the preseason top five and seventh straight year they've appeared in the preseason AP poll.

The same six teams were also ranked in the USA Today Coaches Poll, in nearly the same places. The only differences being Oregon is one spot higher in the AP poll and Arizona State is one spot lower.

The College Football Playoff committee, responsible for selecting the four teams to play in this year's inaugural playoff, will release its first top-25 rankings Oct. 28 on ESPN.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Spencer from Indianapolis writes: The media has said more then once that you can't judge Utah until its 4th season in the pac 12. Beacuse of recruits, Money, ect. With that being said where should Where should Utah finish this year to say they belong 4 years into the Pac 12. And some will say 6 and 6 is a good season with how they have finished the past 2 years. But i want to know 4 years ago where the Utes should be finishing this year.

Ted Miller: If we're going to dabble in the "Does Utah Belong?" question, we should ask the same of Colorado, California and Washington State, which have worse Pac-12 records over the past three seasons since the Utes joined the conference. Probably Arizona, too, as it's won one more Pac-12 game during that span than the Utes.

My point is that Utah belongs. It hasn't cracked the top half of the Pac-12 in three seasons, but that can be said for a lot of conference teams.

Of course, there has been a worrisome downward trend, going from 4-5 in 2011 to 3-6 in 2012 to 2-7 last fall, which is sort of the reverse of Arizona as the Wildcats have gained ground under Rich Rodriguez.

If I were a Utah fan, I'd look simply for improvement. A team that can go 4-5 in this league, as the Utes did in 2011 when the going was a bit easier, is going to be pretty darn good. If a 3-6 finish in the Pac-12 includes a perfect nonconference mark, which would mean a win at Michigan, I'd also rate that as a pretty strong showing.

In other words, if Utah earns bowl eligibility in 2014, I'd rate it as a successful season.

Steve from Menlo Park, California, writes: Ted, over the last 5 years, Stanford is 6-0 against UCLA. Yet you still put UCLA ahead of Stanford in your power rankings.

Ted Miller: We are just evil like that.

In our defense, we are not alone. The Coaches Poll and power rankings also had UCLA ahead of Stanford. Our guess is the AP poll will do the same.

Why? Many, including your humble #4pac (the witty hashtags we're going to use for our crew this year), believe UCLA is going to take a step forward and Stanford a step back this season. That said, many might be wrong on one or both counts. That happens.

One quick and under-noted observation: UCLA plays host to Stanford on the final weekend of the regular season -- Nov. 28, a Friday night no less. I am prepared to call that an intriguing season finale that might have a few eyes on it from across the nation.

Nick from Seattle writes: Is Thomas Duarte a WR or TE? ESPN has him listed as a WR. I run a PAC12 fantasy league and I need to know what position he is. Sounds like he is a TE.

Ted Miller: He is officially listed as a receiver, and UCLA doesn't list anyone as a tight end. Of course, he's 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- I recall thinking he looks bigger than that -- so he could easily be mistaken for a tight end. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone calls him his "Y" receiver, which is mostly where he dumps his big, tight end looking receivers.

All that said, he earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a true freshman and was listed as a tight end by the conference. So go figure.

As for a fantasy league, Duarte is a guy whose numbers should bounce up nicely this year. He might be the Bruins best red zone option.

Paul from San Carlos, California, writes: Indulge a pet peeve: Those who downgrade a team in rankings for having a tough schedule. Rankings should be solely about which team is better. Which team has the easiest path to a good record should play no role.

Ted Miller: Fair point. So do we need a distinction?

Are we making predictions with rankings? If so, then schedule plays a role. If you were looking for a reason to worry about UCLA, schedule would be a good place to start. Conversely then, I'd rate Iowa a top-15 team.

Or are we ranking teams only based on how good we believe they are? If so, that methodology shouldn't consider the schedule ahead, arduous or easy.

That said, most folks who do top-25 rankings based on their perception of how good a team is and what it has accomplished wouldn't take their list to Vegas and use it religiously. Sometimes a team "deserves" a ranking, even if you wouldn't bet your hard earned money that it would beat a team you rank a few notches lower.

Ed from Los Angeles writes: Ted - I see that the Lunchtime Links daily feature is coming much less frequently these days. I find that it is informative because it usually has a link to every team in the PAC-12. Please consider restoring it in the future.

Ted Miller: Our links feature will continue to appear five days a week, only we've moved it to the morning hours -- 8 am ET, 5 am PT, specifically.

We also aren't going to be as assiduous about getting a link for every team.

If you want to blame someone for that, it's on folks who don't support their local newspapers. There just aren't as many professional beat writers as there used to be. With daily newspapers going out of business or charging for subscriptions, and other sources not reliably providing professional material, it's often too difficult to produce a link for every team, every day.

Jeremy from Scottsdale, Arizona, writes: I demand to know who the masterminds are at ESPN that created these college football Power Rankings. Somehow, Arizona State is ranked 5th in the PAC-12 Power Rankings ahead of Washington in the 6th spot. At the same time, Washington is ranked 20th in the overall college football top 25 Power Ranking and Arizona State is nowhere to be found? I freely admit that I'm not a genius, but how is this possible?

Ted Miller: Easy answer.

The top-25 was produced by 13 people, none of whom participated in the compiling of the Pac-12 power rankings. So you have two different crews producing two different types or rankings.

Eric from Petaluma, California, writes: Ted, the position of many an Oregon State fan is a little more nuanced than you claim in your recent article regarding the OSU UO rivalry, though I'm confident with more than a small paragraph allowed per team what you would have said was something like this:I am fine with Duck fans rooting for OSU, as long as it is genuine. I do the same and generally root for the Ducks. What is irksome is when duck fans in one breath call Oregon State the much more patronizing "little brother" and then say "I root for OSU when they are not playing Oregon, I don't understand why you can't do the same" in the next, and in a tone that is ripe with moral indignation. As soon as one insults with patronizing language that translates to "I am better than you because my football team is better", one loses the moral high ground all together, and resentment is justified. Therefore, while I don't mind rooting for Ducks, I don't blame my fellow beavers for not doing so, nor should any other reasonable person.

Ted Miller: I could see Eric sitting at a conference table with a gaggle of other Oregon State fans, each of them sitting opposite an Oregon fan. He makes this point, and then Greg from Hillsboro, Oregon, and his Ducks cohorts go, "Oh, I never understood your feelings on this. So sorry."

Then everybody hugs it out and agrees their rivals will be their second favorite team. They sing "Kumbaya" and "Lean on me," and then go out for dinner at Beast in Portland.

Kris from Seattle writes: When is the best/case worst case coming out! Those are great!

Ted Miller: Thanks for your thoughts but, unfortunately, as previously noted, that series has been retired.

You can read last year's versions here for the sake of nostalgia.


TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is mad. And by mad, we mean in both senses of the word -- angry and crazed. He was vexed when practice began Wednesday and he was volcanic when it ended. With each, er, colorful verbal explosion, the collective shoulders of reporters a football field or so away from the closed practice slumped just a little bit more.

There would be no affable exchange of pleasantries about his quarterback competition or any breezy banter on sundry topics that typically are covered during a post-practice media session. While many coaches' calculated fits of pique during practices are pure motivational theater -- and there was some comic element to Rodriguez's stomping around like vintage Earl Weaver hounding an umpire -- there is no question his cataclysmic frustration is genuine. He expects more from his players than they are giving him and he can't stand it that they are not responding to his challenge.

"I'm allowed to be mad," he harrumphed to reporters. "It's my right."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports"You have no chance to win unless you get good quarterback play. You can't win a championship," Rich Rodriguez said. "I don't think you can have a winning season unless your quarterback play is pretty good."
He was then asked -- carefully, softly -- if this was just one bad practice among many great days of growth during preseason camp.

"I ain't seen enough growth anywhere. Nowhere," he groused.

So, yeah, don't expect much of a revelation about the Wildcats' quarterback competition, which officially remains a wide-open race between four guys, though most observers see redshirt freshman Anu Solomon as the leader at present. That conclusion is based on Solomon getting the most reps with the first-team offense. Senior Jesse Scroggins, the consensus leader after spring practices, missed a lot of offseason work because of injuries suffered after a automobile accident. Jerrard Randall, the most physically talented of the four, continues to struggle with the mental side of the Wildcats' scheme, while Connor Brewer is steady but brings the least to the table athletically.

Rodriguez is on edge because the winnowing is coming. Must come. With a scrimmage Saturday, he and offensive coordinator Rod Smith both said they want to narrow the field heading into next week. That means tightening the screws in practice, and that process often means delivering an earful and seeing how the recipient of said verbal projectiles reacts. As Rich Rod often says: He wants his guys to become comfortable being uncomfortable.

"I've never been one to treat [a quarterback] with kid gloves," he said a few hours before said practice. "I don't worry about their confidence. Hell, I'm worried about my confidence."

Rodriguez has an interesting team, one that has some holes but also has enough returning talent to become a factor in the Pac-12's South Division -- if it gets solid play behind center. With a deep and talented crew of receivers and one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines, the guy who ends up winning the job will have a lot to work with.

Rodriguez knows why reporters are obsessed with his quarterback competition. For one, the Pac-12 has 10 returning starters at quarterback and Cyler Miles is the front-runner at Washington, so Rodriguez's situation is the most wide-open and intriguing. He also doesn't resist the notion that fans and media should be obsessed because he readily admits you can't compete in the Pac-12 without a good QB.

"You have no chance to win unless you get good quarterback play. You can't win a championship," he said. "I don't think you can have a winning season unless your quarterback play is pretty good."

Solomon's apparent rise, though not yet decisive, comes with a notable advantage over Scroggins: It would mean that for the first time in Tucson, Rodriguez and Smith would have a returning starter for the following season (when Solomon becomes a redshirt sophomore). That's not a present concern, Smith said, but he acknowledges the future benefit.

Rodriguez's and Smith's track record with first-year starters at Arizona so far has been outstanding. Matt Scott, the 2012 starter, earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and is playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. B.J. Denker might have been the conference's most improved player from Week 1 to the end of the 2013 season, transforming from a liability to a QB who outplayed Oregon's Marcus Mariota in the Wildcats' upset victory over the Ducks.

Solomon was a touted recruit after a spectacular career at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. His team went 57-3 and won four state titles with Solomon as a four-year starter. He passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns with just 17 interceptions. Yet he seemed overwhelmed as a true freshman, and his naturally mellow demeanor sometimes didn't mesh with the high-strung Rodriguez, who wants his QB to be a take-charge sort. Solomon also had a tendency to mix a few forehead-slapping plays into practices.

"He's not making as many of those ‘oh no' moments. He's been more steady," Smith said. "He's made some progress. He's starting to get comfortable with what we are doing. He's more in control now. He's trying to be more vocal -- that's what he wasn't doing in the spring. He's got some talent. He can make some plays. He can do some things with his mind and arm."

While Solomon was made available to the media for the first time this week, that was the exception for the QBs. It's also clear that Wildcats players have been well-schooled on keeping their evaluations of the QB competition to themselves.

Rodriguez rated the odds as pretty good that he'll play more than one guy early in the season, though he won't pull a starter who's playing well. It also wouldn't be surprising if Randall, an LSU transfer who has two years of eligibility remaining, gets a package of plays because his talent has intrigued coaches.

If Rodriguez's mood doesn't improve, it's also possible we won't know his mind until just before UNLV visits on Aug. 29. Such a thought actually make him grin, though. He recalls how his hiring was announced by athletic director Greg Byrne.

"I might pull a Greg Byrne and tweet it two hours before kickoff," he said.

Utah Utes season preview

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC 

Previewing the 2014 season for the Utah Utes:

2013 record: 5-7, 2-7 Pac-12

Final grade for 2013: C-minus

Key returnees: QB Travis Wilson, WR Dres Anderson, WR Kenneth Scott, RB Bubba Poole, DL Nate Orchard, DB Eric Rowe.

Key losses: LB Trevor Reilly, DT Tenny Palepoi, S Michael Walker, WR Sean Fitzgerald, RB Kelvin York.

[+] EnlargeDres Anderson
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsDres Anderson returns as a key contributor at receiver for Utah, which hopes to keep quarterback Travis Wilson in one piece throughout the season.
Projected win percentage ( Stats & Information): .421

Chances to win the conference ( Stats & Information): 0.2 percent

Instant impact newcomer: ATH Tavarius Williams

Most important game: Sept. 27 versus Washington State

Biggest question mark: Utah hasn't had the same QB start and finish the season since 2008. Can Wilson do it this season for the Utes?

Best-case scenario for 2014: 7-5 with a home upset and a bowl bid

Worst-case scenario for 2014: 5-7 with a ton of close, heartbreaking losses

Over-under win total (Bovada): 4.5

Upset special: The Oregon Ducks visit Utah on Nov. 8. If Orchard can disrupt Marcus Mariota and the Ducks' OL like he did against Stanford last year, maybe the Utes can get a similar result.

They said it: "Well, we're not used to not playing bowl games. We were close last year. Nobody cares about being close. ... So it's very important for us to get back on track and play ourselves into a bowl game." -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

Pac-12 morning links

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
Because, she's your lobster. ... You can actually see old lobster couples walkin' around their tank, you know, holding claws.
  • Rich Rodriguez says that the NCAA's rule regarding walk-on scholarships is ridiculous. Rodriguez, who began his college football career as a walk on, doesn't like how scholarships for first- and second-year walk ons count against those individual classes' numbers while third- or fourth-year walk ons only count against the 85 scholarship total.
  • is ranking the top 20 players in college football. UCLA QB Brett Hundley landed at lucky No. 13. Two other Pac-12 players have also made the list -- UCLA linebacker Myles Jack (at No. 16) and Stanford offensive lineman Andrus Peat (at No. 15).
  • Sports Illustrated put USC at No. 17 in its preseason poll. Check out their season preview here.
  • Blood work + football performance results? Can that really tell you anything? At Colorado they think there's a link.
  • Kevin Hogan is the quarterback that most Stanford fans are best acquainted with, but it's never too early to start thinking about who might come next. Here's a nice feature on freshman QB Keller Chryst who has athletic roots all over the country -- from Wyoming to Wisconsin to Pennsylvania.
  • Oregon State will be opening its 2018 season against Ohio State. The Beavers play at Michigan in Week 2 of 2015, so as a Big Ten graduate, I approve this message. As far as the 2018 game, that means that any freshman on this year's team that redshirts and plays for four years of eligibility will be on the team when the Beavers travel to The Horseshoe.
  • Some Vegas odds on several teams and games for all you who have some jangle in your pockets.

Gavin Newsom wants reform at Cal

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
In a pair of letters sent this week to the heads of the University of California and California State University systems, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed concern in how he thinks academics are not being prioritized to the correct standard in athletic programs throughout the state.

To change this, Newsom believes contracts for every athletic director at the universities in both systems should "stipulate aggressive benchmarks for improvement in graduation and academic progress rates of face termination, period."

In a letter addressed to Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system, which includes Cal, UCLA and six other NCAA-affiliated schools, Newsom cited the poor graduation success rate of the Golden Bears football team -- 48 percent in 2012, and 44 percent in '13 - as examples that show change is needed.

"We have some of the lowest graduation rates in all of college sports and we're talking arguably the finest public university in the world, not just the United States, and it's a disgrace," Newsom said.

Fresno State and Sacramento State, which are part of the CSU system, and Cal are all in the process of finding new athletic directors, which is where Newsom believes reform can begin.

To read the rest of this story, click here.
Earlier this week, Ted took a look around the conference and ranked which Pac-12 rivalries are heating up, cooling down or doing anything between those two extremes. There were a few specific rivalries that really interested me -- the in-state rivalries.

I went to college at the University of Michigan, which is about 40 minutes (depending on whether you drive the speed limit or not) from its in-state rival, Michigan State. For the most part, it really was one of those “throw the records out the window” kinds of game and the football -- and insults -- flew.


Which in-state Pac-12 rivalry game will have the best finish in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 8,073)

There’s something about these in-state rivalries that just really create such a cool atmosphere. Any time a rivalry game can be a drive, instead of a flight, there’s a better chance the stadium is more split. I love that -- a team taking over their rival’s turf. And sometimes it’s even better when the home fans really have owned their own stadium and the visitors come in fighting like David against Goliath. Either way, they’re awesome.

These in-state rivalries just have a special hold over the state, whether it creates divides in high school, families, relationships, whatever.

Just looking at some of these in-state rivalries on the Pac-12 slate make me really excited for my first year of covering West Coast football. Which brings me to the poll question: Which of these five in-state, in-conference rivalry games is going to have the best finish this season?

What game is going to come down to the final drive? What game is going to have that highlight play in the waning moments? Which two teams will provide us with a fourth-and-2 on your own 28-yard line with second ticking down on the clock in the fourth quarter, Hail Mary kind of game? The kind of stuff you tell your grandkids about. The kind of stuff your grandkids will tell their grandkids about.

Details: Friday, Nov. 28 @ Arizona
2013 finish: ASU 58, Arizona 21
Visiting teams have had decent success in the rivalry (at least better than some others) but could this finally be the season that -- behind their fans -- that the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez finally takes down Todd Graham?

Details: Saturday, Nov. 29 @ Oregon State
2013 finish: Oregon 36, Oregon State 35
The Civil War in Corvallis. Will Sean Mannion cap off his final year for the Beavers in an exciting fashion or will Marcus Mariota march through the season in a furious, Heisman-like fashion?

Details: Saturday, Nov. 22 @ UCLA
2013 finish: UCLA 35, USC 14
The bright lights of Hollywood will shine on a brand new coach facing off on opposing grounds against a team that has found its recent success and a pre-season top-10 ranking.

Details: Saturday, Nov. 29 @ Washington State
2013 finish: Washington 27, Washington State 17
The Apple Cup isn’t exactly the fiercest of names for a rivalry (sorry, guys), but this could really be an interesting match up. Mike Leach's against first-year coach Chris Petersen. Can Petersen and his Huskies handle the air raid?

Details: Saturday, Sept. 6 @ Stanford
2013 finish: USC 20, Stanford 17
So, I know this isn't a drive (unless you’re super ambitious), but it’s an old and lovely in-state rivalry that I’m psyched to see. Unlike most rivalry games, we’ll get this one very early in the season, but could Week 2 provide one of the best rivalry finishes this season in Pac-12 football?
Without a doubt, redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Mariota has cemented himself in the Oregon football history books. He holds the school records for most rushing yards by a quarterback and the best completion percentage. The two-time All-Pac 12 selection will likely own the total touchdowns, touchdown passes and total offense records by the end of this season.

What he doesn't have is Heisman trophy. And what does history have to say about that?

For starters, he's a quarterback, which means history is on his side. Twelve of the last 13 winners were signal callers (with the only non-quarterback being Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009).

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP ImagesOregon's running game this season could tip the Heisman scales in QB Marcus Mariota's favor.
History also likes the fact that he's a redshirt junior. Nine of the last 10 Heisman winners were non-seniors (Ohio State senior Troy Smith won it in 2006).

And again, history clings to Mariota (at least in the Mariota-Jameis Winston debate) when considering the fact that only one player has won the Heisman twice, Ohio State running back Archie Griffin (1974 and '75).

The injury bug caught Mariota last year, hampering the Ducks' season. And though he has stayed healthy so far this year the bug seems to be hovering just close enough to him to still have an effect. First it was wide receiver Bralon Addison, who tore his ACL during the first week of spring camp. Then it was left tackle Tyler Johnstone, who tore his ACL during the first week of fall camp. Losing a top receiver and the left tackle who has protected a quarterback's blind side for the past 26 games isn't exactly favorable.

But again, history says that a bit of adversity during a Heisman season is a good thing.

Quarterbacks Winston, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M's and Cam Newton of Auburn -- three of the last four winners -- were first-year starters. They really hadn't built any kind of chemistry with any of their players (plus, the Aggies were going through the Mike Sherman-to-Kevin Sumlin transition).

Those three didn't have tremendous experience with their batch of players during their Heisman seasons, but what they did have -- and what Mariota lacks -- is experience at wide receiver.

Winston's top three receivers last season were also in the top five for Seminoles receivers in 2012. Manziel got the No. 1 and No. 3 receivers from the 2011 team in his 2012 arsenal. When Robert Griffin III won the Heisman in 2011 (he's the only multi-year starter of the last four Heisman winners), four of the top five receivers from the previous season were back for the Baylor attack. And Newton had three of the top five 2009 receivers during his 2010 Heisman campaign.

That means that -- on average -- each of the last four Heisman-winning quarterbacks returned three of their teams' top five receivers from the previous season.

Mariota has just one -- Keanon Lowe, who caught 18 passes in 2013.

More importantly, for each of those four quarterbacks, their team's top receiver from the previous season returned to the team for that QB's Heisman year -- Winston had Rashad Greene, Manziel had Ryan Swope, Griffin had Kendall Wright and Newton had Darvin Adams.

Mariota isn't just missing his top receiver from 2013. He lacks his No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 receivers.

Inexperience isn't a death sentence for Heisman campaigns. But it's not necessarily welcomed, especially when Mariota's main competition for the Heisman this year, Winston, again welcomes back his top receiver in Greene.

Where the footing seems to be a bit more in Mariota's favor -- against Winston and history -- is in the run game. Including Mariota, the Ducks return four of their top five rushers from last season. Of the last four Heisman winners, no guy has had as much returning help as Mariota will get in the backfield.

In fact, of the Winston-Manziel-Griffin-Newton batch, none had their top rusher from the previous season return in their Heisman season. Mariota returns his No. 1 and No. 2 -- Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.

Last year, Winston had two of the top-five 2012 rushers on board for 2013 (Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.). Manziel also had just two of the team's top five rushers from the previous season in his rushing attack -- Ben Malena and Christine Michael. Griffin had two of his top five rushers from the previous season, while Newton had three.

Could the experience and talent in the Oregon run game be enough to make up for the lack of experience in the pass game? Is that enough to help Mariota take the Heisman? It's possible. If the rushing attack is as good as the Ducks believe it can be, then teams are going to have to put more guys in the box in order to really corral the ground game, leaving opportunities for the young receivers downfield. Maybe most coaches wouldn't want to throw at a redshirt freshman or sophomore. But if it's a one-on-one against a defensive back and the ball is coming from the pin-pointedly accurate hands of Mariota, doesn't that swing the scales a bit?

History is split, but history doesn't decide. Mariota has anywhere between 12 and 15 games to make his own case and write his name in history books outside of the Pac-12.
The college football season is quickly approaching. And for those of you who haven't stepped back from that, you should know that the NFL season is quickly approaching as well.

And you should check out some of the NFL coverage every once in a while because you'll see some of your favorite former Pac-12 players and coaches hanging out. One of those guys is Eagles coach and former Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Though I didn't cover the conference when Kelly was a coach, in my few months on the West Coast I've quickly learned that people fall into two categories when it comes to Kelly. One: They love to love him. Two: They love to hate him.

One of the things he was known for while he was at the helm of the Ducks were his "Chipisms." They became so famous that it warranted its own Twitter. It hasn't been updated recently, but it's worth a scroll when you have a few minutes. You might even remember a piece that's Ted Miller wrote a few years ago, "The Wit and Wisdom of Chip Kelly," in which he outlines some of his personal favorite Chipisms.

And if you think the NFL has changed the man, you're wrong. As my grandma always says, you can take the Chip out of the Pac-12 but not the chip out of the Chip.

In the most recent ESPN The Magazine, writer Seth Wickersham takes a look at the eight lessons that running back LeSean McCoy had to learn when he joined the Eagles. Pac-12 fans will recognize pieces of these in Kelly's former Oregon ways.

A few of my favorite lessons that McCoy had to learn:
  • He spins horse crap into touchdowns
  • He keeps shady slim
  • He causes cramps

If that doesn't make you want to read the story, then I don't know what will.
USC athletic director Pat Haden and Stanford professor Condoleezza Rice, both members of the College Football Playoff selection committee, have been recused from voting for their respective schools, the committee announced Thursday.

Seven other members of the 13-member selection committee will be barred from voting or discussing schools they are affiliated with. They will, however, be permitted to answer factual questions relating to their respective schools.

Former Stanford, Washington and Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham was not recused. Willingham recently served as a volunteer assistant coach with the Stanford women's golf team, but has not done so the past two seasons.

When the selection committee was named last year, Stanford coach David Shaw spoke to both Willingham's and Rice's objectivity and character.

"No offense to either one of those, [but] if I was going to pack the jury, I wouldn't pick them because they're going to be unbelievably unbiased," Shaw said. "I would love to have some biased people on there, but those are two people that I don't think you can question their integrity. They're going to do and fight for what they believe is right."

Rice and Willingham aren't the only two with Stanford ties. West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck has a daughter attending Stanford, and his two older children are former Stanford student-athletes and graduates. Luck is permitted to discuss and vote on Stanford, but not West Virginia.

The committee will be responsible for ranking 25 teams throughout the season and is ultimately responsible for selecting the four teams to take part in the first College Football Playoff in addition to the six bowl games on New Year's Day. The committee met for three days this week in Colorado Springs, but won't convene again in person until Oct. 27-28. From there, they will meet every Monday and Tuesday for the rest of the year.

The first rankings for the playoff will be revealed Oct. 28 on ESPN.

USC Trojans season preview

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
video» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the USC Trojans:

2013 record: 10-4, 6-3 Pac-12; beat Fresno State 45-20 in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Final grade for 2013:: B-minus. That might seem high for a season in which the Trojans lost to Notre Dame and UCLA and fired their head coach, but the Trojans showed mental toughness instead of imploding, winning 10 games, a bowl game and achieving a final top-25 ranking.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesCan Leonard Williams and the Trojans' defense beat ASU and Arizona in back-to-back weeks in 2014?
Key returnees: WR Nelson Agholor, QB Cody Kessler, RB Javorius Allen, DT Leonard Williams, LB Hayes Pullard, CB Josh Shaw.

Key losses: WR Marqise Lee, C Marcus Martin, OLB Devon Kennard.

Projected win percentage ( Stats & Information): 0.711

Chances to win the conference ( Stats & Information):: 10.8 percent

Instant impact newcomers: OG Toa Lobendahn, WR/DB Adoree Jackson, WR JuJu Smith, DT Delvon Simmons.

Most important game: Nov. 22 at UCLA. The Bruins have won two in a row in the series. New coach Steve Sarkisian could endear himself to fans by ending that streak.

Biggest question mark: Depth. If the Trojans trot out their best 22, they can play with anyone. But they are still working with substantial depth issues due to the residual effects of NCAA sanctions. Two major injuries on defense, season-enders for OLB Jabari Ruffin and talented DT Kenny Bigelow, already have put a damper on preseason camp.

Best-case scenario for 2014: 11-1

Worst-case scenario for 2014: 7-5

Over-under win total (Bovada): 9

Upset special: Oct. 11 at Arizona. The Trojans are going to want a piece of Arizona State on Oct. 4, as the Sun Devils humiliated them in Tempe a year ago. That might leave them emotionally spent before a tough trip to Tucson.

They said it: "I don't look at the stat box. I look at who won. Most of the time, if you look at who won, I can tell you how the quarterback played." -- USC QB Cody Kessler on whether he compares his numbers with the other Pac-12 QBs.
Our earliest indicators of Heisman Trophy voting say that it might come down to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

Winston is the reigning Heisman winner and if he were to win it again, the Florida State quarterback would join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner. In 2013, he threw for 4,057 yards and completed 66.9 percent of his passes. He had 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Mariota -- who was slowed by a knee injury during the Pac-12 season -- finished the 2013 season with 3,665 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes en route to picking up his second consecutive All-Pac-12 honor.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston had a storybook redshirt freshman season on the field, winning the Heisman Trophy and the national championship.
But they’ve grown and matured. Their teams are a bit different than they were last season and the biggest question at this point is: Which player is the early favorite to win the Heisman in the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff?

Jared Shanker and Chantel Jennings discussed a few key points to see where different advantages fall in regard to this debate.

Offensive line: Florida State

Shanker: Among the positions we’re looking at, the gap may be widest at offensive line. Florida State’s offensive line consists of five seniors, all with starting experience. Combined, they have more than 100 career starts. Cameron Erving is one of the best left tackles in the country, and right guard Tre’ Jackson could be the first guard taken in the NFL draft next spring. The Ducks might have center Hroniss Grasu, but overall, the Oregon offensive line can’t compete with the Seminoles’ O-line. Right, Chantel?

Jennings: A week ago, I might have fought you a little harder on this, but now that Tyler Johnstone is out for the season with an ACL injury, I’d say you’re completely right. Andre Yruretagoyena will replace the 26-game starter Johnstone … but Yruretagoyena has never started a game at Oregon. Grasu is the headliner of the bunch, but outside of his conference-leading 40 starts, the other three combine for just 41 total. Advantage definitely goes to Winston’s offensive front.

Running backs: Oregon

Jennings: Mariota returns his top two running threats from 2013 and, from everything Oregon coach Mark Helfrich is saying, these two are even better than numbers last year. Both Byron Marshall and Tyner averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and Marshall led the team overall with 1,038 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Tyner rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Take those two and add Mariota -- who accounted for 715 yards and nine rushing touchdowns -- and you have a three-headed monster that might be the best backfield in college football.

Shanker: Agree that the edge has to go to Oregon here. The Florida State coaching staff is high on senior running back Karlos Williams, but he was a safety entering the 2013 season and has taken very few carries during the meaningful portions of games. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and had very strong numbers last season as the No. 3 running back, but we’ll see how he fares this season as “The Guy.” This could be a much closer debate by the end of the season depending on the progress of Williams and his backups Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender.

Wide receivers: Florida State, but it’s close

Shanker: This is a tough one as both quarterbacks have some question marks on the outside. Rashad Greene is a potential All-American, but who is going to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw’s production -- nearly 2,000 receiving yards combined. There is certainly talent at receiver, especially in the freshman class. Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were top-10 receivers nationally coming out of high school, but Rudolph’s foot has been slow to heal from offseason surgery. Jesus “Bobo” Wilson is indefinitely suspended, and Isaiah Jones could be an academic casualty. The positive here is that the attention Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary will draw should facilitate the emergence of a legitimate No. 2 receiver.

Jennings: If the coaches at Oregon are to be believed in what they’re saying at this point in fall camp, then this is one of the deepest groups of wide receivers in recent memory. Now, it’s untested talent, so it’s still just potential. But the fact that wide receivers coach Matt Lubick thinks -- that if the Ducks played today -- that they could go with eight different receivers, that’s pretty impressive. Even if half of those guys pan out, it’s still pretty good. But in this case one proven guy is greater than eight unproven guys -- though veteran Keanon Lowe returns -- he was fifth on the team last year with 18 receptions.

Schedule: Florida State, and it’s not close

Shanker: Certainly the schedule is tougher, and 2014 won’t be a cakewalk, but the Seminoles do not have three teams in the top 11 of the USA Today Coaches Poll on their schedule. Oregon does. And two of those teams, Michigan State and Stanford, are among the best teams defensively. Florida State does have to face Clemson, which could be vastly improved on defense, but the Seminoles hung 50 on the Tigers on the road in 2013. Oklahoma State is rebuilding, and Notre Dame has potential with Everett Golson back, but it would not be a shock if both teams finish the season unranked. The Florida defense should be very good again this season, but it might not matter if their offense cannot alleviate any of the pressure. That’s exactly what happened when Florida and Florida State played last season.

Jennings: The Ducks take off in Week 2 against Michigan State and don’t slow from there. In Week 4 they’ll travel to Pullman, Wash. to take on Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, which is always a headache for defensive coordinators. They have Arizona, Stanford and Washington at home. They have UCLA and Oregon State on the road. I’d like to see FSU play half of that schedule and see what their record is. If a player’s team needs to be perfect -- or nearly perfect -- then Winston has a much, much better shot at that with Florida State's schedule.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota's reputation is practically unblemished nationally.
National perception: Mariota

Jennings: People know Mariota because he's a darn good player. In his career for the Ducks, he has never made a misstep. The only people who don’t like Mariota are the fans of the teams that play against him. And even then, I would bet if he showed up at a dinner party or wanted to date someone’s daughter, he’d be welcomed in no problem. He has already graduated. His teammates love him. His coaches talk about him as if he's their golden child. Even other quarterbacks in the conference like him.

Shanker: It’s no secret Winston is not well-liked outside of Tallahassee for the most part, as David Hale pointed out earlier this week. Considered affable in September, Winston was considered arrogant and above the law two months later. The sexual assault investigation, coupled with the seafood heist, has brought a lot of notoriety to Winston. On the field, the expectations will be higher for Winston this season. As the returning Heisman winner, Winston is going to be held to a higher standard. It’s unlikely he repeats his 4,000-yard, 40-touchdown season in 2014, and if Winston gives voters any reason to not vote for him, there will be more than a few who won't.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
I have an idea, why don't you give me your home number and I'll call you back later?

ASU lineman comes out publicly

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
Arizona State offensive lineman Edward "Chip" Sarafin told Compete Magazine -- a Tempe, Arizona-based LGBT publication -- in its most recent issue that he is gay.

Like former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, Sarafin came out to his team before going public.

"It was really personal to me and it benefited my peace of mind greatly," Sarafin told Compete Magazine of coming out to his teammates.

Sarafin becomes the first current Division I college football player to publicly announce he is gay.

To read the rest of this story, click here.
EUGENE, Ore. -- With practices at Oregon closed, most of what is known -- outside of the locker room -- is speculation.

This is what is known: Marcus Mariota is the quarterback. The wide receivers are a flurry of youth. There are options at tight end and they'll likely be more involved in the pass game, but still, nothing extreme. And the offensive line is pretty much set, despite a recent shake up.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards for the Ducks in 2013.
And the biggest "battle" remaining, might not even be a true battle depending on what coaches decide to do. Because between Mariota's mobility and running backs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, the Ducks have a pretty loaded backfield.

Could Oregon use both and employ a tandem system? Could one emerge as a featured back? Would they split carries nearly equal to keep legs and bodies fresh?

All those possibilities have their pros and cons, and the answer to those questions likely won't surface until Oregon takes the field against Michigan State in Week 2 (assuming there's no real reason to show their playbook in Week 1).

What's obvious is that the coaches and team feel very confident in both players. Center Hroniss Grasu made a pretty bold claim at Oregon media day when he said, "It's nice and comforting to know that what we have in the backfield is probably the best backfield in college football."

Then, left tackle Tyler Johnstone -- who tore his ACL on Monday and will be out for the season -- disagreed, saying that it's not just probably the best, but that it is the best backfield in America.

"I think it's kind of crazy if you don't look at it like that," he said. "What other teams have that many weapons in that small area of the field?"

He's right. Not many teams have that many weapons in that small of an area. A Heisman hopeful plus two possible 1,000-yard rushers isn't exactly an unwanted problem.

So, what else is definitely known?

Both guys -- according to those around them -- have improved on their mistakes from last season.

Tyner -- who drew praise from fans when they saw him destroy a defensive back in the Ducks' spring game -- carried the ball 115 times for 711 yards and had nine rushing touchdowns in 2013.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has been pretty open about the fact it took Tyner a while to acclimate himself to the college game. He said that with players there are the guys who come in and go full speed before they realize they need to slow down and learn, and then there are the guys who stay slower and need confidence before they can really have their best performances.

And Tyner? He's in the second camp.

"Last year I wasn't as comfortable as I am this year," Tyner said. "When I was on the field, I thought a lot. This year I'm a lot more comfortable with the offense and how to play and so everything right now is just natural."

Marshall, who led the Ducks with 168 carries, 1,038 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, has been searching for consistency this offseason. Last season his numbers fluctuated -- 2.1 yards per rush during one early-season game, 9.1 yards per rush in the middle of the Pac-12 schedule, 3.3 yards per carry in the season close against Texas.

[+] EnlargeThomas Tyner
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon RB Thomas Tyner has high expectations for himself and the Ducks' 2014 season.
"I think part of that with Byron is conditioning, part of that is confidence, part of that is total overall scope of the system and just cutting it loose," Helfrich said. "But that only comes again with great preparation and he's another guy who can practice a little bit better."

Neither low confidence nor inconsistency is something a coach wants in his top player (or for that matter, any player). Helfrich has harped on when someone does something a second, third or fourth time, they should be better than they were before. Given that reasoning, these issues should be behind them.

Both guys are coming into this season with high expectations. Both guys have great potential at Oregon.

But, outside of that, little is known. Yes, it sounds as though they've laid the foundation for an aggressive rushing attack, but is it enough for -- as Johnstone said -- the best in the country?

Give it a few weeks and the answer will have a chance to reveal itself against one of the best run defenses in the country. At that point we'll see if their play backs up others' words.