The first Stanford open spring practice is in the books, and it's possible to make two broad opening observations:

  • Stanford can be very good offensively in 2015 if Kevin Hogan continues the solid quarterback play that he finished 2014 with.

  • Success on the defensive side of the ball is a massive question mark, as it appears a daunting number of dominoes must fall between now and September for the Cardinal to maintain high-level efficiency on that side of the football.

Stanford will spend the next six months grinding to make the necessary variables break in its favor. Health will be key -- the roster is lacking on that front at the moment -- and successful player development will be essential. Here's why, viewed in the context of Saturday's first public look at the squad:

Decimated defensive line

To this point, Stanford has somehow, someway overcome a rash of bad breaks along the defensive line.

Let's take a quick trip down memory lane:

[+] EnlargeAziz Shittu
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezStanford is looking for healthy bodies this spring. DE Aziz Shittu is out due to an injury that ended his 2014 season.
 Henry Anderson, David Parry, and Ben Gardner all fought through serious injuries in 2013. Ikenna Nwafor, the projected nose tackle of the future, was forced to medically retire due to a foot injury suffered in that same year. Meanwhile, Lance Callihan and Anthony Hayes never developed into significant contributors, making it more difficult to alleviate the strain inflicted by the injuries.

The aforementioned players are all out of the program now, but a perfect storm of gut punches persists. Aziz Shittu, Stanford's most experienced player at the position, will miss all of spring ball because of the serious injury that ended his 2014 season. Luke Kaumatule appears to be a better fit at outside linebacker. To make matters even worse, hot young prospect Solomon Thomas is now in a walking boot after jamming his toe this week. He'll miss the first session of spring practice. Dependable walk-on Alex Yazdi still has a year of eligibility remaining, but he recently decided to focus on his career outside of football, so even the "Iranian Meatball" isn't around any longer to provide much-needed depth.

The end result is frightening.

It likely has coach David Shaw thankful that the season opener is six months -- and not six weeks -- away: The Cardinal had only three defensive linemen suited up Saturday. Harrison Phillips, Nate Lohn, and Jordan Watkins (all lighter and less experienced compared to the rugged veterans Stanford had featured in this trench the past several seasons) took every single snap at practice.

That's a virtual death sentence at college football's most physically strenuous position, where depth is a prerequisite for effectiveness.

"It's very, very difficult for three guys to make it through an entire practice [without backups]," Shaw said. "They didn't bat an eyelash. They didn't back off. They were battling all through practice."

The trio earned hearty applause for their perseverance from Stanford's post-practice huddle, but that did little to address grave concerns up front. Increased health, depth and strength must come for the Cardinal this offseason if the program intends to overcome troubles along the defensive line as effectively as it has the past two seasons.

It's tough to bet against the Stanford defense after witnessing it deliver sturdy reloading efforts in recent seasons. But this is shaping up to be the most unnerving offseason test yet for defensive coordinator Lance Anderson and line coach Randy Hart.

Big runs galore

Stanford's offense, in particular its ground game, is the direct spring beneficiary of the team's depleted defensive front. Coaches say Christian McCaffrey has added strength to run more frequently between the tackles, and he certainly looks the part. Along with Barry Sanders, McCaffrey ripped off a number of big runs Saturday.

The Stanford offense features an enviable combination of explosiveness (see McCaffrey and Michael Rector) and size (see receiver Devon Cajuste and four powerful tight ends). Shaw noted that the offensive line, which lost only one starter this offseason, is far ahead of where it was at this point last year.

The power Cardinal have a powerful arsenal offensively, and they're counting on Hogan to deliver consistent play to glue it all together. For the first time since Andrew Luck roamed campus, in fact, Stanford appears to have fewer spring questions on offense than they do on the defensive side.

Assorted notes

  • Quarterback coach Tavita Pritchard said that backups Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst have not yet mastered the playbook. He did note that their athleticism and size (both appear fully physically developed) has impressed the Cardinal. Shaw hinted that a leader for the second-string spot probably won't emerge until August.

  • Nick Davidson, fresh off a stint with Stanford's basketball team, earned first team snaps at right tackle. Dave Bright played right guard next to him, while Johnny Caspers manned second-team center duties with Jesse Burkett out (illness). Caspers is expected to be in the thick of the right guard competition, as is Brendon Austin, who did not participate in practice.

  • Conrad Ukropina showed improved height on his kicks during the field-goal session.
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).

ARIZONA WILDCATS:
Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 41
  • Arizona: 16
  • Texas: 9
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS:
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
  • California: 46
  • Arizona: 17
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
  • One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah
CALIFORNIA BEARS:

Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
  • California: 49
  • Texas: 6
  • Three signees: Arizona, Washington
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
  • One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana
COLORADO BUFFALOES:

Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • California: 33
  • Colorado: 14
  • Texas: 8
  • Arizona: 3
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington
OREGON DUCKS:

Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 26
  • Oregon: 5
  • Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
  • One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee
OREGON STATE BEAVERS:

Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • Utah: 6
  • Four signees: California, Florida
  • Two signees: Oregon, Texas
  • One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana
STANFORD CARDINAL:

David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 25
  • Georgia: 7
  • Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
  • Five signees: Utah, Washington
  • Four signees: Louisiana
  • Three signees: North Carolina
  • Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
  • One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.
UCLA BRUINS:

Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 55
  • Texas: 10
  • Arizona: 5
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Delaware
  • One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington
USC TROJANS:

Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 32
  • Texas: 3
  • Two signees: Florida, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma
UTAH UTES:

Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 40
  • Utah: 29
  • Texas: 15
  • Florida: 8
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Nevada: 3
  • Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
  • One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York

*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).

WASHINGTON HUSKIES:

Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 28
  • Washington: 14
  • Idaho: 2
  • One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS:

Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
  • California: 57
  • Washington: 14
  • American Samoa: 7
  • Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
  • Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
  • One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah
NOTES/OBSERVATIONS:

There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.

Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.

Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.

North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.

In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).

In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.

USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).

Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.

Ranking the Pac-12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:25
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Our task today is a subjective one: Rank the head-coaching jobs in the Pac-12. Note: jobs, not individual coaches.

For me, this is like ranking my children. I love them all equally, however different they might be.

Let's take a gander at it.

1. USC: USC is arguably the nation's preeminent football program in terms of national and conference titles, award winners, All-Americans and NFL Hall of Famers. It's a big-stadium team, and its new football building is pretty freaking cool. Moreover, while there are great national programs with comparable -- or perhaps even superior -- traditions such as Alabama or Notre Dame, USC is in Los Angeles, which is infinitely cooler than Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and South Bend, Indiana.

2. Oregon: The Ducks rank No. 2 based on their steady rise to national prominence, as well as a seven-year run that ranks the program among the super-elite. Oh, and their facilities are sparkly.

3. UCLA: Nos. 1 and 2 are pretty obvious here. After that, things get pretty bunched up, but UCLA emerges in the coveted No. 3 spot because of its recent success under coach Jim Mora, which includes three consecutive wins over the Trojans. While the Rose Bowl is off campus, it's still the Rose Bowl, and its recent renovation gave it a considerable upgrade. It also appears that the school is finally investing in the program -- see a new football building on the way -- so it can debunk the notion it's a basketball school (the basketball team also is contributing to that cause). Further, Southern California's A-list prep talent means the Bruins can sustain success under the right coach -- read: Mora.

4. Arizona State: Todd Graham appears to have awoken a program that has long been termed a "sleeping giant." The school is in the process of upgrading Sun Devil Stadium, which is long overdue. There is also potential to continue to upgrade recruiting with a nice combination of location, weather and admission standards.

5. Washington: Obviously, we feel the Washington job has room to move up, as the program has just about everything, other than a recent run of success, to help it. There was a temptation to put Washington higher just because of the magisterial renovation of Husky Stadium.

6. Stanford: Ah, the subjectivity of this list. The Cardinal sit here in the middle of the pack in large part because of academic standards that most coaches would feel are highly unfavorable. David Shaw, a Stanford graduate, doesn't feel that way and has found ways to make it a recruiting benefit instead of a bane. Still, when a program can't even consider most of the ESPN 300 due to academics, that's a challenge for a coach.

7. California: While Berkeley is arguably the nation's best state university, it has been able to get "special admits" to the football program through the years, which was particularly a boon to former coach Jeff Tedford. It appears things are a bit tougher for third-year coach Sonny Dykes. Still, there's good talent available in Northern California and the facilities are A-list. No reason the Golden Bears can't regain the traction they once had under Tedford.

8. Arizona: Arizona has upgraded its facilities and is on an uptick under Rich Rodriguez. Still, most view Arizona as a basketball-first school, and the historical success of both programs supports that perception. Of course, if Rodriguez gets the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl for the first time and eclipses rival Arizona State on the field on a consistent basis, Arizona would move up.

9. Utah: The teams from here and down on this list find themselves hit for at least one of two reasons: (1) stadium size/attendance; (2) winning. Utah is on the uptick on the latter, which is why it ranks ahead of the others. It has also experienced the most recent national relevance, though not as a member of the Pac-12.

10. Oregon State: The Beavers typically found a way to win under Mike Riley, but the program -- other than a charmed 2000 season under Dennis Erickson -- has not been able to take substantial and consistent steps toward national relevance. We do take note that when Riley bolted for Nebraska, the Beavers were able to impressively lure Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin. If Andersen makes Oregon State a nine- or 10-win team, the Beavers will move up.

11. Colorado: Though its time in the Pac-12 has been miserable, Colorado has solid tradition -- highlighted by a split national championship in 1990 -- and Boulder, Colorado, is among the nation's very best college towns. That said, the facilities and administrative commitment have lagged behind other programs in college football's arms race. The losing is an issue as well.

12. Washington State: The Cougars have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997 -- how many other programs can say that? So it's a fact that the right coach can win at Washington State. Still, when the wins aren't coming, it becomes relevant to note the size of Martin Stadium and the isolation of Pullman, Washington. As noted by alumnus Kyle Bonagura, Washington State is the Pac-12's most challenging job.
Stanford will have to overcome a myriad of questions if it is to prove that 2014's five-loss campaign was just a temporary tumble from college football's elite. But on the first day of 2015 spring practice, David Shaw embraced the skepticism coming his program's way.

"I love it," he said. "There's a hunger now. As much as we try not to worry about what other people say about us, it's nice when people talk about our conference and don't talk about us. Our guys get a little upset. I think that's great."

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Barry Sanders
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsQB Kevin Hogan and RB Barry Sanders return to lead the Stanford offense.
The Cardinal enjoyed an offensive resurgence to end 2014, but there are questions about their attack's ability to sustain that success for an entire season. Meanwhile, the core of Stanford's vaunted defense has been completely gutted. Shaw's club must replace all three starting defensive linemen from last season.

Winter training, which took place over the course of the past two months, was the first step in the Cardinal's reloading effort. Players say that sports performance coordinator Shannon Turley refined the program this year, and the changes helped infuse a fresh sense of accountability following disappointment in 2014.

"No one can half-ass a rep," quarterback Kevin Hogan said.

Monday's practice practice was Stanford's first chance to work out under full supervision of the coaching staff. While workout strain had been the dominant theme of January and the first half of February, the complete football package has now returned to the forefront. Shaw indicated that he was pleased with Stanford's communication on the first non-padded day of practice.

"There's a lot to compete for," he said. 'There'll be a lot of questions people have about us, and our guys are eager to answer those."

Here are some early returns:

The questions to answer

  • Stanford is dealing with a smattering of injuries and absences in spring practice, and those further complicate the challenges facing the Cardinal. Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu and cornerback Ronnie Harris, the two most experienced members of their respective position groups, will both miss spring practice due to injury. That sets the table for potentially wild competition in the trenches and in the secondary this spring: It'll be a free-for-all of unproven players battling for playing time at those positions. Shaw noted that Luke Kaumatule will shift between outside linebacker and defensive end (in nickel situations), movement that could be a fitting illustration of what is -- at this point -- an unsettled defense. "We have talented young defensive linemen that we're excited to see play," Shaw said. "But they've got a lot to learn."

  • Running back Remound Wright will miss the first half of spring practice because of a disciplinary issue, leaving Stanford with only two scholarship backs -- Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders -- at the moment. Shaw said that fullbacks Pat Skov (when he returns from injury) and Daniel Marx will receive single-back carries, which seems indicative of Stanford's hunger for a power runner.

  • Hogan is clearly Stanford's man at quarterback, but Shaw said that both Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns will receive first team chances as they compete for the backup job.

College football's top 24 jobs

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
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We've reached the final day of our project ranking each of the 65 college football jobs at the Power 5 level.

The central question to file away: If every Power 5 job came open tomorrow, which would be the most desirable? On the other side, which would be least appealing? (And everything in between.)

So who's it going to be? Which program will be deemed our No. 1 gig? Alabama? Texas? USC? Another school?

Though every coach weighs things differently -- that's why it's such a subjective, hot-button topic for debate -- the criteria are roughly the same.

The list includes factors such as location, administrative stability, support from those bosses, facilities, recruiting base, path to conference titles/playoff, sense of tradition, fervor of fan base, too much fervor from a fan base, etc.

We hope and believe we have provided an intelligent and accurate overview of the jobs in college football, from worst to best. We've also received feedback from various coaches and industry sources to help shape these rankings.

Previous rankings: The bottom of the barrel | The middle of the road

Tier 4: The Not-quites

Established brands in their respective leagues -- but is there a certain ceiling that will stop these programs from reaching the top shelf?

24. Wisconsin
Just a couple of months ago, this job might have been a tick or two higher. But Gary Andersen bolting for Oregon State -- the No. 50 program on this list -- shined a light on potential administrative woes in Madison. Andersen complained that assistants were not being paid market value and that an unnecessary admission standard was hampering his ability to get in even marginal academic risks. "We have no speed," Andersen told me in late November. "Our fastest players are walk-ons -- and Melvin Gordon. Thank God for Melvin Gordon." His successor, Paul Chryst, was at Wisconsin previously as an assistant, so he surely understands the pluses and minuses of being the Badgers' head man. He's not entering as blindly as Andersen, coming from Utah State, had. Could the situation be better? Probably. Is it as dire as Andersen made it seem? No, probably not. Look at the teams Wisconsin is being asked to compete against in the Big Ten West. Do Iowa or Nebraska have an inherent competitive advantage, really? Even last season, despite all the "adversity," Wisconsin still won the division. (Thank God for Melvin Gordon?)

The program has a solid reputation nationally, built up for years thanks in large part to the work of former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez. There were some questions about whether Alvarez's larger-than-life presence was part of the reason for Andersen's departure, but Andersen told me point-blank in November that Alvarez had been a good boss. Camp Randall Stadium is one of the better home environments in the Big Ten. Now nearly 100 years old, it has held up well; a $100 million project completed in 2005 has helped keep it modern. The coaches' and players' facilities have seen some upgrades in recent years. Last but not least: Madison is one of the better college towns in the country, so long as it's warm. If the administration proves to be a bit more flexible, understanding that it needs to keep with the times in college football, this could easily move back toward being a top-15 job.

College football's vast middle

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
12:36
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Monday, we started our journey ranking each of the 65 Power 5 jobs. Today's installment includes college football's middle tier.

The central question to file away: If every Power 5 job came open tomorrow, which would be the most desirable? On the other side, which would be least appealing? (And everything in between.)

Though each coach sees things differently -- that's why it's such a subjective, hot-button topic for debate -- the criteria is roughly the same.

The list includes location, administrative stability, support from those bosses, facilities, recruiting base, path to conference titles/playoff, sense of tradition, fervor of fan base, too much fervor from a fan base ...

We hope and believe we have provided an intelligent and accurate overview of the jobs in college football, from worst to best.

To see the bottom rung of college football, click here.

Tier 7: The Underdogs

Some spunky, competitive programs the past decade or so, despite resource and location deficiencies compared to their peers.

47. Utah
Our perceptions have been shaped in part because of the recent squabbles between coach Kyle Whittingham and the school's administration, and they're worth noting, but stop to think about how far Utah has come in a short period of time. Urban Meyer's 22-2 record from 2003-04 had a great deal to do with Utah's vault into college football consciousness, even as a non-AQ at the time. The eventual move to the Pac-12 was vitally important for remaining relevant in the College Football Playoff era, but the jump has led to some of the growing pains you're now seeing. The administration might not have fully grasped what it was going to take to compete on the highest level. The athletic department's budget is in the bottom third of the league. Will the school adjust? If not, Whittingham will be gone (he nearly was already) and Utah will remain near the bottom of the conference.


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Stanford opens 2015 spring practice today looking to sustain strong 2014 offensive momentum while reloading a defense that is losing several key starters. The Cardinal's spring will be divided into two sessions: This first one runs until March 7, and the second kicks off March 30 and wraps up with the April 11 spring game at Stanford Stadium.

Here are five developments to keep an eye on over the next six weeks:

Competition along the defensive line

Stanford has been forced to replace significant pieces in each of David Shaw's years at the helm, but this offseason the team must rebuild the entire defensive line. This trench is considered the foundation of what has been the Pac-12's stingiest defense the past three years, and it's losing all three starters.

[+] EnlargeHarrison Phillips
Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY SportsStanford needs a big contribution from Harrison Phillips, right, as it retools its defense for 2015.
The battle to replace Henry Anderson, David Parry, and Blake Lueders is on. Veterans Aziz Shittu and Luke Kaumatule must solidify prominent spots, or logic says Stanford is in deep trouble. They are expected to fight young talents Harrison Phillips and Solomon Thomas, who are expected to mature into stalwarts. The development of the defensive line will be intriguing, especially since Stanford's roster no longer features a prototypical block-gobbling nose tackle. It creates a question mark that can't be ignored.

Rotation in the secondary

Though assistant Randy Hart appears to have his hands full with the defensive line, secondary coach Duane Akina finds himself in a similar situation. Stanford has recruited notably well at this position over the past two cycles, so it appears Akina has ammunition to work with. Still, the Cardinal must replace strong safety Jordan Richards (an integral defensive captain) and both starting cornerbacks -- Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons.

Spring practice provides a first chance to assess Stanford's shifting plan at cornerback -- where will fifth-year man Ronnie Harris fit in relative to younger blue chip talents like Terrence Alexander? -- nickel back, and safety. Zach Hoffpauir will be a key piece of the puzzle at the latter two positions, but he is playing baseball for the Cardinal, so several underclassmen should have a chance to move up the pecking order in the coming weeks.

Cohesiveness of the offense

While the defense reloads, Stanford's offense returns largely intact. The Cardinal surged on this side of the ball to end the 2014 season, so spring marks a chance for quarterback Kevin Hogan and Co. to maintain the cohesiveness and efficiency they finished with. Stanford's offense has struggled mightily during spring practice ever since Andrew Luck graduated. With the defense in the midst of such a daunting reloading effort, this can be the offense's chance to finally turn the tables. Finding consistent spring confidence is important for a group that took so long to establish an effective rhythm in 2014.

Progress at tight end

After several consecutive banner seasons, Stanford's threat at tight end disappeared completely in 2013. Its return began in 2014 when the young crop of Austin Hooper, Eric Cotton, and Greg Taboada hit the field. The trio developed increasing comfort last season, and expectations have taken full flight as they enter their third year in the program. Stanford is certainly hoping to re-establish an elite size-speed threat at the position beyond those three, and spring will serve as a gauge of progress on that front -- especially since many are hopeful that sophomore Dalton Schultz can make this crew a four-headed monster.

Balance in the backfield

Kelsey Young is no longer on Stanford's roster and is expected to transfer, so a crowded Cardinal backfield has one less body competing for touches. Shaw's distribution of carries figures to be a key factor in the 2015 season, and the prolific rise of youngster Christian McCaffrey promises to make the development of the position a fascinating watch. Remound Wright exploded at the goal line to close 2014. His coexistence with McCaffrey and Barry Sanders will continue to be an important variable.
Congratulations consumers of Pac-12 football, you now know what you already knew you knew: Marcus Mariota is fast.

At Day 2 of the NFL combine's on-field activities, quarterbacks, receivers and running backs were on display. Here's how those from the Pac-12 fared:

Quarterbacks

Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Since 2006, only five quarterbacks have run a faster 40 time than Mariota's 4.52: Reggie McNeal 4.35 (Texas A&M, 2006); Robert Griffin III 4.41 (Baylor, 2012); Marcus Vick 4.42 (Virginia Tech, 2006); Brad Smith 4.46 (Missouri, 2006); Tyrod Taylor 4.51 (Virginia Tech, 2011). It was in no way surprising that Mariota's other numbers measured up well, but probably more important, he drew good reviews as a passer.

40-yard dash: 4.52 seconds (1 of 13)
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches (t-3 of 13)
Broad jump: 121 inches (3 of 13)

Brett Hundley, UCLA: Hundley might be the most interesting prospect among the group simply because he was asked to a lot of different things in college and is tough to project where he'll go in the draft. He confirmed he's one of the best athletes among quarterbacks.

40-yard dash: 4.63 seconds (5 of 13)
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches (t-3 of 13)
Broad jump: 120 inches (5 of 13)

Sean Mannion, Oregon State: USA Track and Field won't be calling anytime soon, but Mannion's lack of speed isn't a new revelation. As a pocket passer, he showed what he needed to by delivering accurate, catchable balls.

40-yard dash: 5.14 seconds (13 of 13)
Vertical jump: 31.0 inches (9 of 13)
Broad jump: 105 inches (10 of 13)

Bryan Bennett, Southeastern Louisiana (transferred from Oregon): Bennett might have been talked about as one of the draft's best quarterbacks if not for a certain Hawaiian's decision to attend Oregon. After two years in the FCS, he's a relative unknown, but the combine showed he matches up favorably from a physical standpoint.

40-yard dash: 4.81 seconds (7 of 13)
Vertical jump: 37.0 (2 of 13)
Broad jump: 125.0 inches (1 of 13)

Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday met with teams, but is still not ready to workout as he continues to rehab from the broken ankle that ended his senior season prematurely.

Wide receivers

Nelson Agholor, USC: Agholor tested well, but suffered a minor setback with a dislocated finger that ended his day early.

40-yard dash: 4.42 seconds (t-7 of 39)
Bench press: 12 (t-20 of 30)
Vertical jump: n/a Broad jump: n/a


Dres Anderson, Utah: Not fully recovered from a season-ending knee injury, Anderson met with teams and participated in the bench press.

40-yard dash: n/a
Bench press: 13 (t-14 of 30)
Vertical jump: n/a
Broad jump: n/a

Kaelin Clay, Utah: Put simply, it was a rough day for Clay. As a guy who figures to have a shot to make a team as a potential return specialist, the raw numbers might be more important than for others. However, after watching how dangerous he is all year, I'm comfortable saying he's more athletic than the numbers indicate.

40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds (t-20 of 39)
Bench press: 10 (t-25 of 30)
Vertical jump: 33.0 inches (t-32 of 38)
Broad jump: 113 inches (36 of 38)

Vince Mayle, Washington State: Mayle is at risk of being labeled a system receiver after testing well below average -- at least compared to the other receivers -- in Indy. After a quiet Senior Bowl, Mayle hasn't helped his stock after a brilliant senior year.

40-yard dash: 4.67 (37 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 35.5 inches (t-22 of 38)
Broad jump: 117 inches (30 of 38)

Ty Montgomery, Stanford: As was the case during the season, Montgomery's hands were called into question during the combine.

40-yard dash: 4.55 seconds (t-26 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 40.5 inches (6 of 38)
Broad jump: 121 inches (t-17 of 38)

Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: If we were handing out a Pac-12 blog award for the day's best performance, it would go to Strong. After measuring in at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, his 4.44-second 40 and 42-inch vertical jump make him a rare combination of size and athleticism. Which is basically a confirmation of everything Arizona State fans have known for awhile.

40-yard dash: 4.44 (t-13 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 42.o inches (2 of 38)
Broad jump: 123 inches (9 of 38)

Running back

Buck Allen, USC: Good speed for a running back, but was tied for the fewest reps on the bench press.

40-yard dash: 4.53 (t-6 of 31)
Bench press: 11 (t-29 of 30)

Pac-12 at the combine -- Friday recap

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
10:30
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A large chunk of my day was spent watching large human beings run 40 yards in spandex. I'd call the whole exercise pointless, but that would require me to come to grips with the fact that I woke up earlier than I would have otherwise to watch something that is pointless and I'm just not ready for that.

Six Pac-12 players were expected to participate in the NFL combine's first day of on-field activities. Here's how they fared:

Offensive linemen

OG Jamil Douglas, Arizona State: Nothing popped out about Douglas' day, but he did turn in an impressive 10-yard split in his 40-yard dash -- which is actually more applicable for a lineman.

40-yard dash: 5.25 seconds (21 of 40)
Bench press: 28 reps (t-10 of 37)
Vertical jump: 29 inches (t-19 of 38)
Broad jump: 99 inches (t-21 of 36)
3 cone drill: 7.99 seconds (19 of 37)
20-yard shuttle: n/a

OT Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher had the most notable day of the Pac-12 contingent, coming in with the fastest times in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle and second-best marks in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump.

40-yard dash: 5.01 seconds (2 of 40)
Bench press: 25 reps (t-20 of 37)
Vertical jump: 32.5 inches (t-2 of 38)
Broad jump: n/a
3 cone drill: 7.25 seconds (1 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.33 seconds (1 of 37)

OT Andrus Peat, Stanford: Peat elected not participate in the bench press and was good enough in the other events. There wasn't anything about his day that should alter any preconceived notions about him.

40-yard dash: 5.18 second (12 of 40)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 31 inches (t-8 of 38)
Broad jump: 105 inches (13 of 36)
3 cone drill: 8.01 (21 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.62 (t-10 of 37)

OG Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah: Poutasi's decision to declare for the draft was surprising and he didn't help his cause with a below-average performance Friday. Other than in the bench press, he ranked near the bottom in nearly every category.

40-yard dash: 5.32 seconds (24 of 40)
Bench press: 26 reps (t-13 of 37)
Vertical jump: 26.5 inches (t-29 of 38)
Broad jump: 95 inches (32 of 36)
3 cone drill: 8.09 seconds (t-24 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.89 (33 of 37)

C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: Considered one of the draft's top center prospects, Grasu was at the combine but did not participate in on-field drills.

Tight End

Randall Telfer, USC: Telfer only participated in the bench press (20 reps).

The NFL Combine kicks off on Friday.

Here’s a breakdown of which Pac-12 players will be appearing on which days.

FRIDAY, FEB. 20 | Specialists, offensive linemen, tight ends

Offensive linemen:
Tight ends: SATURDAY, FEB. 21 | Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Quarterbacks:
Running backs:
Wide receivers: SUNDAY, FEB. 22 | Defensive linemen, linebackers

Defensive linemen:
Linebackers: MONDAY, FEB. 23 | Defensive backs
Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
Observations:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.
Five-stars:

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1
Four-stars:

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
Stanford defensive lineman Henry Anderson had a decorated career for the Cardinal and since the college football season ended he has been very busy preparing for the NFL scouting combine. The Pac-12 Blog caught up with Anderson, who signed with CAA and has been training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

How has post-Stanford life been for you?

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsFormer Stanford defensive end Henry Anderson says training for the combine has been very different than going through college practices.
Anderson: Usually we get a couple of weeks to just rest and recover from the season before we get started with offseason workouts and all of that. This year I took a couple days, spent New Year's up in Lake Tahoe and then I came straight to IMG and got going. It has been pretty crazy, they've packed a bunch of stuff into each day, trying to get us ready for all of the things we're going to be doing at the combine. They're trying to mentally prepare us and get us in the mindset of being an NFL player, so it has been a busy past couple months, but definitely very useful experience.

You knew that because the combine fell in February that your schedule would be more tightly packed, but were you/your body prepared for that grind?

Anderson: It still came so quick. It did kind of hit me that you're jumping right back into training. You're pretty much trying to be a track athlete right when the season is over. It's a little weird just because that season is such a long grind and you kind of want some time to just relax and take a little time off, but you've got to get right back into it, training for the combine. The first couple weeks of training took a little getting used to but the experience has been great.

What has training looked like for you?

Anderson: They obviously train us for the 40-yard dash, the shuttles, the jumps and all that stuff -- the physical testing. But they've also done a really good job preparing us for the interviews, just getting mentally prepared for all that type of stuff and have us dominate that portion of the combine as well. And nutrition, we meet each week about nutrition as well. We've got nutritionists with us all the time. It's definitely a lot different from what I did at Stanford just because we're basically training to be sprinters rather than be football players. And Stanford was all about trying to be the best football player we could be. The weightlifting program was a little different.

You underwent a huge physical transformation from your freshman to redshirt senior seasons at Stanford. What has the transformation for a football player to a sprinter looked like for you?

Anderson: I have gotten leaner, dropped body fat, but I've stayed the same weight. It's weird because we'll probably never train like this again. You're never training to run a 40-yard dash. At Stanford, it was kind of an unorthodox strength and conditioning program we had there. It wasn't about how much you could bench, how much you could squat, how fast you could run. Everything was centered around just being a good football player. We weren't about benching heavy and all that kind of stuff. A lot of our work there dealt with just functional strength and being a good athlete. So, coming here and transitioning into benching as many reps at 225 as you can and trying to sprint as fast as you can, it has been a lot different.

What about the off-the-field training and life? Has anything funny happened with that?

Anderson: During interview training they've had some funny questions. They've told us some questions that some previous players had gotten in interviews. They said sometimes a scout or someone will walk up to you with some random object and list as many things as possible that you can do with that random object. We were all laughing about that because we didn't have any idea what that had to do with anything.

We went bowling one time and there were some guys who weren't too good at bowling, so that was pretty funny.

OK, name some names...

Anderson: First, Jon Feliciano [U of Miami offensive lineman] was a stud at bowling, I think he had his own ball and his own towel to polish the ball and everything. He was really good. And then, Patrick Miller [Auburn offensive lineman] was a pretty bad bowler. Watching Xzavier Dickson [Alabama linebacker] bowl was pretty funny as well.

You leave for the combine on Thursday morning and will work out on Sunday, what are your feelings on finally getting to Indianapolis?

Anderson: It's pretty cool. As a kid I never even dreamt of being able to play in the NFL so having an opportunity like this is something I truly cherish. Hopefully I go in there and make a good impression on all the teams and all the coaches that are there.

The program-changing recruits

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
4:10
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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since our evaluation of high school athletes began in 2006. Within that list are 10 players who forever changed their program and whose impact can be felt even today.

1. Robert Griffin IIIBaylor
While Griffin didn't win a Big 12 championship at Baylor, there's little doubt that without his career in Waco, Texas, the Bears would not have won 2013 and 2014 league titles. After earning Big 12 freshman of the year honors in 2008, RG III officially put Baylor back on the map with a 2011 season that saw the Bears enter the Associated Press poll for only the third time in the previous 15 seasons. He led Baylor to a 10-3 record that season and also captured the Heisman Trophy after throwing for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns. Griffin's success helped coach Art Briles attract more high-caliber recruits and made it cool to turn down traditional in-state powers Texas and Texas A&M to play in Waco. He paved the way for the Bears' back-to-back title runs and national championship aspirations in 2015. Folks in Central Texas will also tell you there's no way the Bears' new $250 million riverfront football stadium would have gotten built without Griffin.


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A quick check of the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300 reveals a strong Pac-12 quarterback presence toward the top of the list. The three conference quarterbacks in the top 25 are tied for the most players at one position from one conference.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.

With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.


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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is loaded with 14 Pac-12 prospects who didn’t make their respective ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 rankings, so trimming that list to the top five who outperformed their initial rankings and became surprise stars at the college level wasn’t easy. The state of Oregon led the way on this list, but Arizona State and Stanford were also home to a few college stars who didn’t receive the same level of recruiting attention as others.


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Stanford coach David Shaw joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss the Cardinal's 2015 recruiting class and its top positional needs heading into the spring.
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