Here it is:
QB: Marcus Mariota, Oregon: A leading Heisman Trophy candidate and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, he accounted for 40 touchdowns last season, rushing for 715 yards and passing for 3,665. The Ducks' offense led the Pac-12 with 45.5 points per game.
RB: Byron Marshall, Oregon: Marshall is the conference’s only returning 1,000-yard back after rushing for 1,038 yards last season. However, he will face stiff competition in his own backfield from Thomas Tyner and true freshman Royce Freeman.
RB: D.J. Foster, Arizona State: After working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster is now the headliner. That doesn’t mean he still won’t catch passes. The coaching staff loves to split him out in the slot.
WR: Nelson Agholor, USC: He caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns last season and also returned kicks (17.5 avg) and punts (19.1 avg). With Marqise Lee off the NFL, he will be the Trojans’ top offensive target.
WR: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: In his first season with the Sun Devils, Strong burst onto the scene with 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the conference’s best and a future pro.
WR: Ty Montgomery, Stanford: Montgomery’s totals (61 catches, 958 yards, 10 touchdowns) don’t adequately compare him to the country’s other elite receivers. In a run-heavy offense, he was responsible for 32.1 percent of the Cardinal’s receptions, which was the second-most in the Pac-12 behind Colorado’s Paul Richardson (35.3).
TE: Connor Hamlett, Oregon State: After catching 40 balls for 364 yards and five touchdowns, he is widely regarded as the top tight end in a league which has produced some great ones of late. Look for him to be a popular target as Sean Mannion and the Beavers adjust to life without star receiver Brandin Cooks.
OL: Alex Redmond, UCLA: A freshman All-American, he helped an injury riddled Bruins offensive line maintain elite offensive numbers last season, including nearly 40 points per game. Expect a big step forward as a sophomore with a year of seasoning.
OL: Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: A rare four-year starter with 40 starts to his credit, he is a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection. A favorite for the Rimington Trophy, he was the centerpiece of the Pac-12’s No. 1 rushing offense.
OL: Andrus Peat, Stanford: When your head coach is comparing you to Jonathan Ogden, you must be doing something right. If he comes out, Peat will be among those considered to be the first offensive lineman taken in next year’s NFL draft.
OL: Jamil Douglas, Arizona State: A second-team All-Pac-12 selection a year ago, Douglas has started every game over the past two seasons and appeared in every game since 2011.
OL: Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State: Though he has excelled at center the previous two years, the coaching staff might move him around to fill some holes on the line this season. A foot injury might limit his playing time early in the season.
DL: Leonard Williams, USC: An All-American and Bednarik semifinalist last season, Williams returns after leading the Trojans with 13.5 tackles for a loss. He projects to be a top-5 pick in the 2015 NFL draft and is regarded as the top defensive lineman in the country.
DL: Danny Shelton, Washington: Shelton’s frame, 6-foot-2, 339 pounds, and his athleticism make him a potential NFL first-round pick next spring. He had 59 tackles, two sacks and two blocked kicks last season while often facing more than one blocker.
DL: Henry Anderson, Stanford: An All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection a year ago despite battling injuries, Anderson is expected to fill the void left by the departures of Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro.
DL: Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington: He was second in the conference last season with 13 sacks (second most in school history) and seventh with 15.5 tackles for a loss. Also on the Bednarik watch list, he was second-team All-Conference last year after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury.
LB: Myles Jack, UCLA: One of the biggest names in college football, Jack was the conference’s Defensive (and Offensive) Freshman of the Year a year ago. He recovered two fumbles, had two interceptions and recorded 75 tackles, seven for loss.
LB: Hayes Pullard, USC: He has led the Trojans in tackles for two of the past three seasons, including 94 last season with 5.5 tackles coming for a loss. A second-team All-Conference performer in 2013, he is a veteran of 39 starts and a mainstay on what might be the conference’s best defense.
LB: Shaq Thompson, Washington: Like Jack, Thompson has the potential to be among the most versatile players in college football with new coach Chris Petersen also planning to use him on offense. Thompson was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection last year and is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award.
LB: Eric Kendricks, UCLA: No one has more tackles in the Pac-12 over the past three seasons. He doesn’t get the premium tacjle-for-loss or sack stats that some of the lauded outside linebackers in the conference do. But he is as good of a run-stopper as there is in the country.
CB: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon: Perhaps the best cornerback in the country, Ekpre-Olomu has twice been named first-team All-Pac-12. He led the Ducks with 53 unassisted tackles last season, recorded three interceptions and broke up six passes.
CB: Marcus Peters, Washington: A second-team all-conference performer, he tied for third in the conference last season in passes defended (14), had five interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He projects to be a high-round draft pick in 2015.
S: Jordan Richards, Stanford: One of the more unique athletes in the conference, Richards is effective against the run and in coverage. He has started every game over the past two years and recorded 168 tackles and six interceptions over the past three.
S: Su'a Cravens, USC: He earned freshman All-America honors after an outstanding rookie campaign that included 52 stops and four interceptions. Has All-America potential as a sophomore.
K: Andy Phillips, Utah: Phillips was a Lou Groza semifinalist a year ago when he connected on 17 of 20 field-goal attempts. Not bad for a former a competitive alpine skier who had never kicked before walking on in 2012.
P: Tom Hackett, Utah: The All-Pac-12 first-team punter last season, Hacket averaged 43.4 yards per punt and downed 27 of 76 punts inside the 20-yard line.
As we hit the one-week countdown for the start of the Pac-12 season, it never hurts to go back and see where things stand with your head coach.
As the Pac-12 blog wrote a few months back, it’s possible that we might make it through 2014 without a coaching change. Maybe. Since 10 of the 12 teams have changed coaches since the start of the 2011 season, nothing is for certain.
A key determining factor is always how coaches stack up against top competition. And the Wall Street Journal Online released an interesting chart of every coach in the Power 5 (plus Notre Dame) and their record against AP Top 25 teams.
They also had some flattering things to say about Stanford coach David Shaw:
The best winning percentage (.778). Granted, it is a relatively small sample size—Shaw has been a head coach for only three seasons, and he took over a strong program — but 18 ranked opponents in three years is a ton. Urban Meyer has faced seven in two years at Ohio State. (Also, two of Shaw's four losses were in overtime.)
Here’s how the Pac-12 coaches shake out (career/at current school), plus I tossed in what I think was the biggest win. Feel free to tell me where I’m wrong:
- Rich Rodriguez 16-26 and 3-7 (beating No. 5 Oregon in 2013)
- Todd Graham 6-12 and 3-5 (beating No. 14 UCLA in 2013)
- Sonny Dykes 0-9 and 0-5 (N/A)
- Mike MacIntyre 0-10 and 0-3 (N/A)
- Mark Helfrich 2-1 and 2-1 (Beating No. 16 Washington in 2013)
- Mike Riley 13-39 and 13-39 (Beating USC in 2006)
- David Shaw 14-4 and 14-4 (Beating Oregon in 2012)
- Jim Mora 5-5 and 5-5 (Beating USC in 2012)
- Steve Sarkisian 8-10 and 0-0 (Beating USC in 2009)
- Kyle Whittingham 9-13 and 9-13 (Beating No. 4 Alabama in the 2008 season/2009 Sugar Bowl).
- Chris Petersen 8-4 and 0-0 (Beating No. 11 Oklahoma in the 2006 season/2007 Fiesta Bowl).
- Mike Leach 13-38 and 1-7 (Beating No. 1 Texas in 2008).
In digging up some of these old games, I had to go back through and watch some highlights of the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. So, so awesome.
ESPN.com will be releasing its preseason All-America team later today. CBS Sports released its Wednesday. I’m not going to give out any spoilers on ours, but we have more Pac-12 players. And thus, ours is superior, said the Pac-12 writer.
Oregon center Hroniss Grasu is the only Pac-12 player on offense, while the defense has a trio of Pac-12 players in USC defensive end Leonard Williams, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford’s Ty Montgomery is the selection at kick return.
Keep an eye out
The Senior Bowl Watch list is out, and of the 350 players, 40 are from the Pac-12. All of the names you’d expect are on it. You can see the complete list (sortable by school, conference and position) here.
More must-see TV (Take 2)
On Wednesday, we brought you a couple of links with must-see games in the league. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News also popped up his can’t-miss games in the league this year. They are what you’d expect. Stanford, Oregon, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, a dash of USC. However, Wilner opted to list his chronologically, rather than ranking them. Shrewd, Mr. Wilner. Very shrewd indeed.
- An Arizona tight end is happy to have a third chance.
- Interesting story from Doug Haller on why Todd Graham makes his players keep pictures of loved ones in their lockers.
- Sonny Dykes holds his post-practice gaggle.
- A young Colorado running back is hoping to make an impact.
- A nice read from USA Today’s Daniel Uthman on Marcus Mariota and a practice report.
- Some news and notes from Oregon State’s practice.
- 32 minutes of Stanford D-line talk.
- UCLA linebacker Aaron Wallace has worked his way back on to the team.
- The USC coaching staff has been impressed with the play of linebacker Scott Felix.
- The Utes have some depth and speed in the backfield with Troy McCormick.
- Washington and Michigan agreed to a home-and-home starting in 2020.
- A look at some Washington State freshmen who may or may not redshirt.
A fun little story from Chris Foster of the LA Times on a trio of teams experiencing Rose Bowl droughts. The premise is that UCLA has a good shot at the Rose Bowl this year. But they haven’t been there since ’99. But that’s not as long as Cal, Oregon State or Arizona State. Any post that can weave in Frankie Avalon, The Beatles and Bill Clinton is worth five minutes of your time.
Always cool to see walk-on players getting signing their scholarships. Five Sun Devils got theirs yesterday.
And finally, the Bruins had a guest speaker at practice yesterday ... Den-freaking-zel. King Kong ain’t got (horse pucky) on him.
Previews, previews, previews. Lots of them hit the web yesterday. Fox, SI and Athlon all had major Pac-12 pieces.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came from Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel, who picked the Washington Huskies to win the North Division and Oregon to finish third.
Here’s Mandel’s take on the Ducks:
The string of 11- and 12-win seasons can’t go on forever, and despite the return of star quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks’ once-unstoppable offense showed cracks last year following Chip Kelly’s departure. Oregon’s defense may miss retired coordinator Nick Aliotti.
There’s a couple of ways to interpret this. First, Mandel -- a good friend who knows college football as well as anyone in the country -- is brilliant. And when the Huskies are walking away with the North title, he’s going to have a satisfied grin on his face for the entire offseason. Or, he could be wrong. Nothing wrong with putting yourself out there.
The country seems high on the No. 25 Huskies. For the national voters to place them in the Top 25 after losing their starting quarterback, a Doak Walker finalist running back and a Mackey Award winning tight end speaks to how highly Chris Petersen is regarded as a head coach. And maybe, just maybe those East of the Rockies are starting to pay the Pac-12 a little more national respect.
But as the Pac-12 blog is fond of saying (and so is every single coach in America), the final rankings are the only ones that matter. So a tip of the cap to Mandel for by far the boldest prediction of this preseason.
Some other previews:
SI’s Lindsey Schnell has Oregon and UCLA playing in the Pac-12 title game -- a common pick among most media, including the Pac-12 blog -- UCLA’s Myles Jack as the league’s defensive MVP. That’s another fairly bold prediction considering the quality of players like Leonard Williams, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Shaq Thompson, Hau'oli Kikaha and Jack’s teammate, Eric Kendricks. That’s going to be a fun award to keep an eye on throughout the season.
NFL.com’s college football blog pays homage to the quarterback depth in the Pac-12, and Bryan Fischer taps Kevin Hogan as the league’s breakout player in 2014.
A couple different posts have come out over the last two days about must-see games. Let’s put it this way – if you plan on watching Oregon, Stanford or UCLA, you’re covered.
First up, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports has his annual list of the 25 most intriguing games of the 2014 season and five of the 25 involve Pac-12 teams. From his list:
- No. 2 Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6)
- No. 4 UCLA at Texas (Sept. 13)
- No. 7 Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
- No. 14 Oregon at UCLA (Oct. 11)
- No. 17 USC at Stanford (Sept. 6)
Next up is Athlon Sports, which posted 25 must-see games specific to the Pac-12. Here’s their top 5:
- No. 1 Stanford at Oregon
- No. 2 Oregon at UCLA
- No. 3 Michigan State at Oregon
- No. 4 USC at UCLA
- No. 5. Stanford at UCLA
You can see some interesting opinions in terms of placement. But for the most part all of the major games are covered.
Athlon also came out with its rankings of the top 37 players in the Pac-12.
Here’s what their top 10 looks like:
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
- Leonard Williams, DE, USC
- Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
- Ifo-Ekpre Olomu, CB, Oregon
- Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
- Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
- Taylor Kelly, QB, ASU
- Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
- Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
- Jaelen Strong, WR, ASU
The top four are identical to what the Pac-12 blog had for its Top 25 players. Though we lumped a trio of receivers in our 5-10 and gave the nod to Agholor over Strong for his special teams contributions.
Also, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News released his all-conference projections for 2014. Not a lot of surprises, though it’s interesting to see UCLA’s Jordon James get the nod over Oregon’s Byron Marshall.
- An interesting piece on Jesse Scroggins and his offseason car accident.
- Mic’d up sessions are always awesome. Mike Norvell’s is no exception.
- Some updates from Adam Jude on Washington’s position battles in this video with Chris Petersen.
- Oregon’s Arik Armstead has bulked up his body and his mind, writes Aaron Fentress of Comcast Sportsnet.
- A look at Oregon State’s Obum Gwacham’s transition from receiver to defensive end.
- My interview with ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City talking Travis Wilson and Pac-12.
- Some Stanford news and notes.
- A look at the Baers coaching together at Colorado.
One member of the Stanford coaching staff told me he believes center Graham Shuler could be better than both of the guys who preceded him.
And speaking of reunions, these guys are back together. This could get interesting.
Chip Kelly acquires one of his former Oregon standouts, running back Kenjon Barner, for conditional 2015 7th-rd pick pic.twitter.com/o1aVsnT9by— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) August 20, 2014
For most of the offseason (pretty much since Utah’s Travis Wilson was cleared for action), we’ve been working under the assumption that the Pac-12 would have 10 returning starting quarterbacks. Those assumptions were confirmed Monday when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham announced that Wilson held off a late charge from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.
At the very least, this means Utah has some depth at the quarterback spot – something that has haunted the Utes since joining the conference. And Whittingham told reporters after practice that Thompson has “earned the right to play,” meaning we’ll probably see him at some point and in assorted situations. Interpret that how you will.
Here are a few links on Wilson:
- Our blog piece from Kyle Bonagura.
- Dirk Facer’s story from the Deseret News.
- Matthew Piper’s story from the Salt Lake Tribune.
- And some post practice audio courtesy of ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City. (Programming note, I’ll be on with Bill Riley at ESPN 700 around 2:45 PT today to talk Utah and Pac-12 football).
We’ll also be taking a closer look at Wilson later today in our returning starting quarterback series (and I would have gone into scramble mode had Thompson been named the starter).
Surely it’s too soon for a 2015 mock draft, right? After all, the college football season hasn’t started. But if CBS’s Dane Brugler is anywhere near accurate (he himself admits a lot of these are shots in the dark), then the Pac-12 is in for a big season.
His projection has 10 Pac-12 players going in the first round, including five in the top 11. Here’s his list:
- Oregon QB Marcus Mariota No. 1 to Oakland
- USC DL Leonard Williams No. 2 to Minnesota
- UCLA QB Brett Hundley No. 8 to Tampa Bay
- Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu No. 10 to Pittsburgh
- Stanford OT Andrus Peat No. 11 to Detroit
- Washington DB Marcus Peters No. 16 to New York Giants
- Washington LB Shaq Thompson No. 18 to St. Louis
- Oregon DL Arik Armstead No. 23 to Philadelphia (where Chip Kelly will again probably try to make him an offensive tackle)
- ASU WR Jaelen Strong No. 25 to Indianapolis
- Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha No. 26 to Chicago
That would be outstanding for the conference. Here’s a chart I’ve maintained for a few years (just for you, because you’re special), and as you can see, 10 players would be a considerable upgrade from what the league has seen over the last 14 years (though 2003 was a pretty good year).
- 2014 (3): Anthony Barr (UCLA, No. 9 overall); Brandin Cooks (Oregon State, No. 20); Deone Bucannon (Washington State, No. 27);
- 2013 (5): Dion Jordan (Oregon, No. 3 overall); Star Lotulelei (Utah, No. 14); Kyle Long(Oregon, No. 20); Desmond Trufant (Washington, No. 22), Datone Jones (UCLA, No. 26).
- 2012 (4): Andrew Luck (Stanford, No. 1); Matt Kalil (USC, No. 4); David DeCastro (Stanford, No. 24 overall); Nick Perry (USC, No. 28).
- 2011 (3): Jake Locker (Washington, No. 8); Tyron Smith (USC, No. 9); Cameron Jordan (Cal, No. 24)
- 2010 (2): Tyson Alualu (Cal, No. 10); Jahvid Best (Cal, No. 30)
- 2009 (4): Mark Sanchez (USC, No. 5); Brian Cushing (USC, No. 15); Alex Mack (Cal, No. 21); Clay Matthews (USC, No. 26)
- 2008 (6): Sedrick Ellis (USC, No. 7); Keith Rivers (USC, No. 9); Jonathan Stewart(Oregon, No. 13); Sam Baker (USC, No. 21); Antoine Cason (Arizona, No. 27); Lawrence Jackson (USC, No. 28)
- 2007 (1): Marshawn Lynch (Cal, No. 12)
- 2006 (4): Reggie Bush (USC, No. 2); Matt Leinart (USC, No. 10); Haloti Ngata (Oregon, No. 12); Marcedes Lewis (UCLA, No. 28)
- 2005 (3): Mike Williams (USC, No. 10); Aaron Rodgers (Cal, No. 24); Mike Patterson (USC, No. 31)
- 2004 (3): Reggie Williams (Washington, No. 9); Kenechi Udeze (USC, No. 20); Steven Jackson (Oregon State, No. 24)
- 2003 (8): Carson Palmer (USC, No. 1); Terrell Suggs (Arizona State, No. 10); Marcus Trufant (Washington State, No. 11); Troy Polamalu (USC, No. 16); Kyle Boller (Cal, No. 19); Kwame Harris (Stanford, No. 26); Nick Barnett (Oregon State, No. 29); Nnamdi Asomugha (Cal, No. 31)
- 2002 (4, also the first year with 32 picks): Joey Harrington (Oregon, No. 3); Levi Jones (Arizona State, No. 10); Jerramy Stevens (Washington, No. 28); Robert Thomas (UCLA, No. 31)
- 2001 (4): Andre Carter (Cal, No. 7); Adam Archuleta (Arizona State, No. 20); Freddie Mitchell (UCLA, No. 25); Todd Heap (Arizona State, No. 31)
- 2000 (4): Deltha O'Neal (Cal, No. 15); Erik Flowers (Arizona State, No. 26); R.Jay Soward (USC, No. 29); Trung Canidate (Arizona, No. 31).
Speaking of early projections, it doesn’t look good for the Pac-12 as far as reaching the college football playoff this year, according to CBS Bracketologist Jerry Palm, who writes:
In this projection, the Pac-12, which is arguably the second best conference, is excluded. That is based on the thought that the league will beat each other up enough that its champion may be too damaged to get a spot. Obviously, that remains to be seen.
Of course, this story was posted prior to the news that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller might miss the season. This certainly isn’t a time for to celebrate injuries -- even if you are a Michigan fan -- because injuries stink. But we can’t ignore the fact either that the Pac-12 benefits from a weakened Ohio State team. It’s an unfortunate fact. But a fact nonetheless.
Team notes/practice reports
- The Bears are determined to have more balance in their attack, and are committing to establishing a running game, writes Jeff Faraudo of the Bay Area News Group.
- The News Tribune offers up some video interviews with Washington coaches Jimmy Lake (DBs) and Jeff Choate (DL). Both coaches have players mentioned in the above draft first-round draft projections.
- Stanford’s Dallas Lloyd is making the transition from quarterback to safety and some updates on Stanford’s position battles.
- Some news and notes from ASU’s practice.
- A closer look at the battle to backupSean Mannion.
- Some notes from Oregon’s practice.
As far as alternate uniforms go, we’ve seen worse. And the more I look at ASU’s, the more I like them.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s new Cal beat writer, Mike Vernon, takes us inside the life of a running back for six seconds.
Here's UCLA coach Jim Mora's take: "I have great respect for the quarterbacks in this conference. Many of them will go on to have great [NFL] careers, but to me, I don't think it's even close -- I don't think there is another conference that has near the quality of quarterbacks."
There's only one problem: Players such as Shaw's own Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly -- two very good quarterbacks -- get lost in the shuffle.
The league has its headliner in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. And if he's the main show, then UCLA's Brett Hundley is the opening act. He is, after all, the only other Pac-12 QB who's seriously considered a possible Heisman finalist at this point.
After those two, the conversation tends to tighten up, usually turning to the quarterbacks who are a bit different or doing one thing better than anyone else.
So people bring up Oregon State's Sean Mannion, who will likely take Matt Barkley's spot from the top of the Pac-12 career passing board ... midway through the season. They bring up Washington State's Connor Halliday. He's at the center of the Air Raid show and people want to know what it possibly looks like to average 55 pass attempts per game (about 20 more than the league average). Even USC quarterback Cody Kessler gets a little bit of love because of the Steve Sarkisian effect. Trojans fans want to watch that offense and see how it's going to change, and Kessler is at the middle of that moving puzzle.
As the nation turns to the Pac-12, football fans want to know who's best, who's next best and who's different. So Hogan and Kelly -- outside of their own respective fan bases -- are often forgotten.
If Hogan or Kelly were to be dropped into nearly any other conference, they'd be in that "next-best" conversation -- in the Big Ten behind Ohio State's Braxton Miller, in the ACC behind Heisman winner Jameis Winston of Florida State or in the Big 12 behind Baylor's Bryce Petty (though they'd be in quite the debate against Texas Tech's Davis Webb).
In fact, Kelly would've led the Big Ten in passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2013. In that same conference, Hogan would've been the most efficient passer. Kelly would've been tied for second in the SEC for touchdown passes while Hogan would've been tied for second in the Big 12 in the same category.
Still, on the East Coast or down South, there are no discussions about the fact that Hogan is 10-1 against top-25 opponents, or that he has led his team to two league championships. People don't discuss that Kelly led his team to the Pac-12 South championship last year, or that he'll likely finish his Arizona State career with more passing yards than Jake Plummer.
They don't discuss those things because they're too far down the ladder when it comes to the conversation -- and that's not their own fault.
At Pac-12 media days, Kelly told the Pac-12 Networks that he was OK with the fact that he maybe doesn't get as much credit nationally as he deserves.
"I'm comfortable with it," Kelly said. "I like being under the radar. It makes me work harder. I have a chip on my shoulders to outwork all those great quarterbacks in the country."
Like many of those great quarterbacks across the country, Kelly and Hogan will probably have the chance to play on Sundays. But the question that remains is whether their play on Saturdays this year will finally get people to start talking about these two talented quarterbacks.
Got your four teams picked for the inaugural College Football Playoff?
Beware before you turn in your final list, because teams always come out of nowhere. For instance, Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri all finished in the top five of the final polls last season -- and weren't even ranked to start the season.
Conversely, the team starting the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll hasn't finished higher than No. 7 the past four years.
None of us has a crystal ball, but we do have a road map of sorts -- the games that will shape who gets in and who gets left out this season when the selection committee unveils the first football version of the Final Four.
Here are 10 games to mark on your calendar:
LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Aug. 30
Right out of the gate, we get a game between two teams just outside the top 10 in the preseason polls who are talented enough to state their case come selection time for the College Football Playoff. And check out Wisconsin's schedule. If Melvin Gordon and the Badgers can get past the Tigers in the opener, the only other nationally ranked team (in the preseason) they face is Nebraska at home on Nov. 15. They avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State in the regular season.
Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6
Name: Kevin Hogan
2013 passing stats: 180-295-61%-2,630-20-10-72.3 (Raw QBR)- 80.5 (Adj. QBR)
2013 rushing stats: 84-355-2
Career rushing stats: 139-618-4
Hogan on Twitter
What you need to know about Hogan: Hogan was fortunate enough not to be the guy replacing Andrew Luck. Rather, he was the guy who replaced the guy who replaced Andrew Luck. With that came a little less pressure and a little less scrutiny. Despite a 7-2 record to start 2012, the coaching staff felt like they weren't getting enough out of Josh Nunes, who was inconsistent, to say the least, throughout his tenure as the starter. Hogan had a couple of reps throughout the season, but saw his first extended playing time in the ninth game of the season against Colorado before taking the reins against Oregon State. He's started every game since, appearing in 23 over the past two seasons.
Career high point: We don't want to say Hogan peaked too soon, because the Pac-12 blog believes Hogan is in for a solid 2014. But it's hard to top winning at Autzen, as he did in his first career road start in 2012. After replacing the embattled Nunes, Hogan had just one start under his belt -- a home victory against the Beavers -- before heading up to Eugene and knocking off No. 1 Oregon. He rushed for a touchdown and threw for another in the 17-14 overtime win. He's had big wins since -- another win over Oregon in 2013, a Rose Bowl victory in 2012 etc. But that was the game that "launched" him as Stanford's leader.
Career low point: When you read what an opposing coach had to say about Hogan (below), the first game that should pop into your mind is USC in 2013. The Cardinal were coming off a major 26-20 win at home over Oregon and then nine days later Hogan tossed a pair of interceptions with zero touchdowns in the 20-17 loss to the Trojans. He was just 14 of 25 for 127 yards and both picks came in the fourth quarter with the score tied 17-17, including one in the red zone. Sure, there were drops from the receivers. But quarterbacks always take the bulk of the scrutiny. And Hogan's decision-making in that game drew plenty of it.
When he was a recruit: Stanford beat out Rutgers, Vanderbilt and Virginia for Hogan, who committed to the Cardinal during the summer before his senior season. A three-star prospect and the No. 51 quarterback in the country, Hogan was not quite as highly regarded as fellow 2011 Cardinal signee Evan Crower, the nation's No. 38 signal-caller and the quarterback Hogan eventually beat for the starting job at Stanford after Luck's departure. While he hasn't exactly been Luck, the results for Stanford have been positive.
Opposing head coach's take: "He gets a lot of attention for being an efficient quarterback. Which he is. You have to be when you run that system. But he's also a bit of a cowboy sometimes and will go off the reservation probably more than that coaching staff would like. He can improvise, and when it works, it's great. When it doesn't, it's not. I think his ability to keep plays alive with his feet gives you an extra element you have to prepare for. Aside from the traditional power, they'll work in some option and he can make plays with his legs."
What to expect in 2014: What caught the eye of the coaching staff in 2012 was Hogan's ability to run the football. There were designated "Hogan packages" throughout the season leading up to him starting. They like that he can pick up first downs and teams have to account for him as a runner. As a passer, he didn't make the strides the coaches were hoping for in 2013. Part of that had to do with adjusting to a passing attack that was more wide-receiver centric after being spoiled with tight ends. While we expect to see more tight end packages from Stanford this year, Hogan still has a bona fide playmaker in Ty Montgomery. They'd like to see that completion percentage up from 61 percent last year and better decision-making. But the most important number is wins. And when it comes to that, Hogan delivers. He's 16-3 as a starter and 10-1 against ranked teams. If that trend continues, the Cardinal could be in line for a third-straight conference title.
Erik McKinney contributed reporting.
Nearly 90 recruits -- including 10 ESPN 300 prospects -- made commitments to the Pac-12 since the start of June, as the conference recruiting race heated up alongside the weather this summer. Not surpisingly, even with the boon over the past two and a half months, the Pac-12 still lags behind other conferences when it comes to sheer commitment numbers. Many Pac-12 programs have become content to wait until the season, or after the season, to put an emphasis on official visits and commitments. At this point, 35 programs hold commitments from 16 or more recruits, and only one of those -- Arizona -- resides in the Pac-12.
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But on the Pac-12 blog, we’re going to add a twist. Moving forward, I’ll be manning the links in a column format, tossing in some opinion and analysis of stories the Pac-12 community will be talking about. This is a work in progress, so tweet at me with what you’d like to see: quote of the day, tweet of the day, etc. Do you want me to keep the literary and pop culture quotes? Let me know your thoughts.
Without further ado, to the links:
The big news over the weekend was obviously the release of the preseason AP Top 25. Half of the teams in the league are ranked: Oregon (3), UCLA (7), Stanford (11), USC (15), ASU (19) and Washington (25).
The exact same six ended last season ranked: Oregon (9), Stanford (11), UCLA (16), USC (19), ASU (21) and Washington (25).
We all expected Oregon and UCLA to be in the top 10. And with the considerable hype Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley have received, the Pac-12 blog wouldn’t have been shocked if both were top five.
Washington should be pleased to be ranked, considering it lost its starting quarterback, running back and Mackey Award-winning tight end. That ranking is a clear reflection of Chris Petersen’s presence, because a Pac-12 team losing that much offensive firepower usually doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt with voters.
ASU should feel pretty good about being in the top 20 -- especially after the way it closed out last season and the departure of nine starters on defense.
Doug Haller offers an interesting perspective on the Sun Devils:
This marks the first time since 2008 that the Sun Devils have made the preseason poll.
Certainly, nothing stinks about that except ... This isn't always a good thing for the Sun Devils. The last six times they made the AP preseason poll -- a stretch dating to 1998 -- they didn't finish in the final AP Top 25 poll.
The Trojans should also feel pretty good about their spot at No. 15. Voters don’t appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the Steve Sarkisian era. Sounds like a lot of folks are buying in.
And as for the Cardinal, this is just more fodder for head coach David Shaw to play up the nobody-believes-in-us card, which his team often embraces.
- Christian Caple offers some thoughts on Washington’s scrimmage.
- Jeff Faraudo reports Sonny Dykes is feeling pretty good after Cal’s closed scrimmage. Some good player notes included as well.
- Lindsey Thiry quotes USC’s Josh Shaw, who says the Trojans aren’t ready “for a game quite yet.” No need to panic. The Trojans don’t have to play tomorrow. But after they dispatch Fresno State (yeah, we're going out on a limb), they better be ready for Stanford in Week 2. Love that two ranked Pac-12 teams are squaring off that early in the season. And by the way, Shaw looks yoked in the video.
- Tough news for the Buffs, who confirmed over the weekend that safety Jered Bell is done for the year.
- We've been talking about 10 starting quarterbacks coming back. But there seems to be some controversy in Salt Lake City.
- A good piece from Ryan Thorburn on Oregon running back Byron Marshall dedicating the season to his late grandfather.
- Daniel Berk explains how Arizona’s Terris Jones-Grigsby got his name.
- Michael Hiltzik asks if the NCAA really “lost” its antitrust suit.
- Chris Dufresne offers an interesting perspective on what Sark is trying to do offensively.
The Beavers closed out their scrimmage over the weekend with a little slip-and-slide action. Don’t see Mike Riley on the tarp. I’m guessing if there was a double-double at the other end, he’d be sliding.
And finally, for everyone who has been to San Bernardino or covered a UCLA camp, we can all relate to Ryan Kartje.
Fall camp in San Bernardino is officially over, and UCLA beat writers rejoice!— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) August 16, 2014
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.
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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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com 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.
- 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.
- NFL.com 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.
Drive Through: Top Early Games of the Season
7:30 PM ET Idaho State Utah 10:00 PM ET Rutgers Washington State 10:30 PM ET Weber State 19 Arizona State
9:00 PM ET Colorado State Colorado 10:30 PM ET UNLV Arizona
12:00 PM ET 7 UCLA Virginia 3:30 PM ET California Northwestern 4:00 PM ET Portland State Oregon State 4:00 PM ET UC Davis 11 Stanford 7:30 PM ET Fresno State 15 USC 10:30 PM ET 25 Washington Hawaii 10:30 PM ET South Dakota 3 Oregon