Pac-12: Utah Utes

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
2:30
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Happy Friday!

Five Pac-12 players to root for

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
There is no shortage of players who will excite on the field in the Pac-12 this season, but it's not all about on-field performance. Whether it's for their off-field contributions or their on-field demeanor, here are five guys worth rooting for even if they don't play for your team.

Taylor Kelly, quarterback, Arizona State: Quick, who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback last season -- UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Arizona State’s Kelly? Outside the Pac-12, the assumption would probably be Hundley, and that would be wrong. Kelly quietly led ASU to the best regular-season record in the Pac-12 last season and has a likely NFL future. His time in Tempe hasn’t been one big party, either. The Master’s candidate volunteers at local schools two days a week and is heavily involved in the Scholar Baller leadership and outreach program, for which he teaches high school students about leadership and character among other things. Kelly is also an accomplished drag racer, but that passion is currently on hold at the request of ASU coach Todd Graham. As a result of his vast car knowledge, Kelly has turned into the de facto mechanic for the ASU football team.

[+] EnlargeMariota
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsWhen Marcus Mariota isn't piling up big stats on the field, he can usually be found studying somewhere.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon: After passing up a good shot at being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to return to school, Mariota has all the makings of a Heisman Trophy favorite. And he won’t come with much controversy. If Andrew Luck set the standard for unassuming superstar quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Mariota isn’t far behind. He’s quiet, he’s polite, he’s humble and while pursuing a degree in General Science, he has developed a reputation as one of the most studious athletes on campus. For those looking for reasons to root against him, as an individual, it will be hard to justify.

Toni Pole, defensive tackle, Washington State: When Pole intercepted a Keith Price pass in overtime and nearly returned it for a touchdown in the 2012 Apple Cup, he created a memory Washington State fans will remember for a long time. For many, that is not the only lasting impression he has produced. Pole is a frequent volunteer in the Pullman community, and his philantrophic efforts have included helping to put on “Butch’s Bash,” a holiday party for local kids. He makes trips to the local senior center where he plays games with the residents and is musically inclined. When the Cougars are on the road, he can be found playing the piano in hotel lobbies and has sang the National Anthem at women’s basketball games.

Ty Montgomery, receiver, Stanford: Stanford coach David Shaw has said Montgomery has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but after big junior year with the Cardinal, Montgomery didn’t even consider a pre-graduation jump to Sunday football. He didn’t even ask for an evaluation from the NFL or for a draft-round projection, which is common for draft-eligible players. He chose Stanford largely for academic reasons and chose to stay for the same. As soft-spoken as they come, Montgomery has already been named to the Maxwell and Hornung Award watch lists and is one of the more dynamic kick returners in the country.

Stefan McClure, cornerback, Cal: After a solid true freshman season in 2011, McClure appeared on his way to a great career for Cal. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but it’s not for a lack of talent. He sat out the 2012 season rehabbing a torn ACL, then suffered another torn ACL five games into last season. If there is anyone who could use some good vibes coming his way, it’s McClure.
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year’s rankings here.

Up next: Cornerbacks. Considering the talent pool of quarterbacks in the Pac-12, each team’s secondary is going to be tested more and more this season. Teams are really (read: really, really, really) going to want to be good here in 2014.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is back, and considering how much opponents want to throw (though, who knows how much they will actually throw at him), he’s looking at what could be a really, really impressive final season. Through the spring, fellow senior Dior Mathis emerged as the other starter, though Troy Hill could make this an intriguing position battle to watch. Backing up these guys will be Chris Seisay, junior college transfer Dominique Harrison and Stephen Amoako. Elite talent and excellent depth make this one of the best position groups for the Ducks.

Stanford: The Cardinal have a new defensive backs coach in Duane Akina. In his 13 years with Texas he developed two Thorpe Award winners and 14 all-conference defensive backs, and he inherits a stocked pantry at Stanford. Alex Carter -- who sat out this spring -- and Wayne Lyons are both very, very good players who will anchor the secondary. Ronnie Harris will play the outside when Lyons shifts over to cover the slot.

UCLA: Last year at this time, UCLA’s cornerbacks were in the “we’ll see” category. Well, we saw. We liked. The Bruins return Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams and Anthony Jefferson -- they combined for 201 tackles, six interceptions and 11 pass breakups in 2013. With an offseason to gel as a unit, mature and condition, expect those numbers to grow. If need be, Randall Goforth could play some cornerback, and early enrollee Adarius Pickett and 2014 signee Jaleel Wadood (younger brother of Arizona State cornerback Rashad Wadood) could also contribute.

GOOD SHAPE

Oregon State: Steven Nelson has one of the cornerback spots locked down. He recorded 62 tackles, six interceptions and eight pass breakups last season. Opposite him, Larry Scott and Dashon Hunt are vying for the starting spot. Scott has more game experience but spent half of the spring on the sideline nursing a hamstring injury, giving Hunt more and more reps as the spring season went on. And considering these guys go up against quarterback Sean Mannion every day in practice, their learning curves are going to be expedited.

Washington: In Marcus Peters (55 tackles, five interceptions, 14 PBR in 2013) the Huskies have a very, very good cornerback on their hands. Opposing quarterbacks probably aren’t going to throw at him a ton, which brings the second starter into question. The starter opposite Peters will be the one put in bigger situations (at least until he proves himself as a lockdown cornerback. If he doesn’t, the passes will keep coming). Redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly and former Alabama transfer Travell Dixon had the first shot at the job in spring ball, and the Huskies will get four freshman cornerbacks in the fall to add to that group. It is a young group, but expect Peters -- who we think could be one of the best defensive backs in the Pac-12 this season -- to pull along whoever plays the opposite spot.

Colorado: Senior Greg Henderson is the most experienced defensive player returning to the Buffs this season, and his history of steadily improving through his Colorado career is a good sign that this season will be his best. On the other side, Colorado is still going through a position battle with junior college transfer Ahkello Witherspoon (who had an interception three pass breakups in the spring game) and Kenneth Crawley (who played in 11 of 12 games last season for the Buffs). Chidobe Awuzie also returns, making cornerback one of Colorado's deepest positions.

WE’LL SEE

USC: A coaching change and a lot of questions about players made this a hard decision between Good Shape and We'll See. With the pure talent the Trojans have, it will be surprising if this is not a productive group, but that potential doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Kevon Seymour has one starting spot. He ended last season on a high note and played well in the spring, but has had a very up-and-down career. Can he sustain this recent production? We’ll see. Opposite Seymour, there is a battle brewing between Josh Shaw, Chris Hawkins and possibly Adoree' Jackson. This might be the group with the most upside and the most downside (basically, the most unknowns) of any cornerback corps in the conference.

Arizona: Earlier this spring, head coach Rich Rodriguez said he wasn’t as excited about his secondary’s depth as he wanted to be. Considering the Wildcats play with a five defensive back system, that is not great. But, they have Jonathan McKnight to anchor one side. He started all 13 games for the Wildcats last season and led the team with eight pass breakups. The other side is still a question mark as the team tries to replace Shaquille Richardson.

Utah: Expect to see a lot of nickel from the Utes as they prepare for life-after-Trevor-Reilly. Eric Rowe -- the team’s third-leading tackler in 2013 -- is back and has secured one of the starting spots. He is the fastest defensive back on the team (4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) but the other starter remains a question. Utah likes sophomore Reginald Porter (10 tackles in 2013) and senior Davion Orphey (eight starts, 33 tackles in 2013) but they could see competition from incoming players like Travonne Hobbs and Casey Hughes.

Arizona State: ASU lost both cornerback starters in Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson following the 2013 season. Nelson accounted for 57 tackles, six interceptions and six pass breakups, and Irabor tallied 54 tackles, three interceptions and five pass breakups. Their backups -- Lloyd Carrington and Rashad Wadood -- finished the spring atop the depth chart. Those two combined for just 32 tackles in 2013. There is always the argument that these two will step right into their mentors’ shoes as they have had time to learn, but the verdict is still out on how effective these two will be.

Washington State: The Cougars have taken major steps forward under head coach Mike Leach. At some point the cornerbacks need to follow suit (especially considering what they face in practice every single day). The Washington State secondary is in a major rebuilding period after losing cornerbacks Nolan Washington and Damante Horton. The only player with any kind of experience is Daquawn Brown, but beyond him it could be a lot of youth in the secondary.

Cal: The Bears have new defensive backs coach Greg Burns, who helped USC win national titles in 2003 and 2004 (in those two seasons the Trojans gave up just 239 passing yards per game) so there is certainly not a lack of talent and experience on the coaching end. But on the field, it’s a different matter. Cameron Walker -- who had to play safety last season because of injuries -- will return to cornerback and start alongside Stefan McClure. Both have experience at safety, which should help the defense be more dynamic, but again, that alone doesn’t necessarily propel the group into good or great shape this season.

Other position reviews:
As much talk as there has been (including here at the Pac-12 blog) about how good the offenses in the conference will be this season, Thursday's release of the watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, given to the nation's best defensive player, and Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best interior lineman, shows the Pac-12 measures up well against other conferences in defensive talent, too.

The Pac-12 led all conferences with 18 players on the Nagurski list, edging out the SEC (16), Big 12 (13), ACC (12) and Big Ten (10). For the Outland Trophy, which includes a mix of defensive and offensive players, the Pac-12 ranked second with 11 players behind the SEC (19).

Stanford's Henry Anderson, USC's Leonard Williams and Washington's Danny Shelton are on both.

Here are the Pac-12 players that were included:

Nagurski (defensive player)
Outland Trophy
Other watch lists

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
2:30
PM ET
I would rather learn what it feels like to burn than feel nothing at all.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
2:30
PM ET
It's the remix to ignition.
We're continuing our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this. We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see, because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

Up next: Defensive end. And as we said before, this is a difficult position to stagger when teams vary their scheme between 3-4 and 4-3 looks.

GREAT SHAPE

USC: Would we start with anyone other than Leonard Williams? Of course not. He was the only sophomore on the All-Pac-12 defensive team last season and he's out for a monstrous junior year, too. He recorded 13.5 tackles for a loss last season (including six sacks) and with the added depth on the D-line, he'll be an even bigger force this year. When Williams is out, look for Delvon Simmons to get in on the attack. Simmons, a Texas Tech transfer, has added 20 pounds since his sophomore year with the Red Raiders (in that season he tallied 27 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss).

Washington: The Huskies will field the nation's top-returning sack leader, Hau'oli Kikaha. On the UW website, he's now referred to as an outside linebacker, but for the sake of this post, we're going to still refer to him as a defensive end because chances are that his responsibilities are going to be largely the same. Evan Hudson and Joe Mathis will also be names to know, but the headliner at DE -- undoubtedly -- for the Huskies will be Kikaha.

Oregon: The Ducks have DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. Those two are a talented pair that really came out this spring. Buckner has the most experience of the defensive ends and Armstead, who was a dual sport athlete (basketball) until last season, is now focused solely on football -- which showed. Plus, there's good depth behind those two with T.J. Daniel, junior college transfer Tui Talia and Stetzon Bair.

Stanford: Between Henry Anderson, who could be one of the best defensive linemen in the conference, and Blake Lueders, the Cardinal are in a very good place. Add to that group players like Luke Kaumatule -- the converted tight end -- and Aziz Shittu -- who can play tackle or end -- and Stanford should be talented up front yet again in 2014.

GOOD SHAPE

UCLA: Between Owamagbe Odighizuwa (who's still flying under some folks' radars) and Eddie Vanderdoes the Bruins have two pretty good-looking bookends on their defensive line. Vanderdoes sat out during the spring because of a broken foot, but should be up and available come fall. Ellis McCarthy is a bit of a tweener, but he and Kylie Fitts should be able to contribute.

Utah: Nate Orchard, who has 23 starts under his belt, is back for the Utes and will anchor one side of the line. Opposite Orchard is either going to be Jason Fanaika, the Utah State transfer, or Hunter Dimick. Orchard is going to be a force, and we have a feeling he's going to bring along whoever is opposite himself. The Utes have a good thing going here.

Oregon State: The Beavers are in solid shape with Dylan Wynn on one side and the other side still up for grabs in a pretty interesting position battle between Jaswha James, Lavonte Barnett and Titus Failauga. James will most likely snag the starting spot officially by the fall, but the competition is good for all involved. Oregon State also built in more depth here this spring when Obum Gwacham moved from receiver to defensive end (incredible position switch but a tremendous athlete and jumper), so he should also provide a few interesting rotations.

WE'LL SEE

Arizona: The Wildcats lost Sione Tuihalamaka and only return Reggie Gilbert (34 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss) and Dan Pettinato (10 tackles). However, they got an offseason boost from the addition of LSU transfer Jordan Allen, who will be able to play immediately for Arizona. He only registered 16 tackles and two sacks last season while losing his starting job, but he'll bring experience and depth to the Wildcats' defensive ends. These three guys present a pretty intriguing position group, but there are still too many unknowns.

Washington State: Xavier Cooper is moving inside to tackle, leaving the end spots up for grabs. Toni Pole and Destiny Vaeao will fit on the outside with Robert Barber and Lyman Faoliu taking some reps as well. There's just not enough experience or production (with too much of a history of not being consistently strong up front) to say this is anything other than a group that has lots of unproven potential.

Arizona State: During spring season the Sun Devils lined up in a bit more 4-3 than we've seen in the past. This move puts Mo Latu and Chans Cox at the end positions. Marcus Hardison played a bit inside but finished the spring season as the No. 1 DE on ASU's depth chart, with junior college transfer Edmond Boateng as his backup. It seems as though the Sun Devils might show a few different looks this season, which makes the differentiation between whether a player is an end vs. tackle vs. whatever a bit more difficult. Overall there are too many questions lingering here.

California: With new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, the Bear defensive line is going to be experimenting in 2014 with a new version of the 4-3 this season -- the Miami 4-3 -- which leaves a few question marks until it's truly implemented into game situations. However, there's good talent and decent depth at the end positions for Cal. Brennan Scarlett, who missed last season with a broken hand, will be anchoring one end and will be backed up by Todd Barr and Antione Davis. On the other side, there's a position battle brewing between Kyle Kragen, Puka Lopa and junior college transfer Jonathan Johnson.

Colorado: Replacing Chidera Uzo-Diribe is no small task for the Buffs and though senior Juda Parker returns (28 tackles) it seems like the other end position will be filled by a redshirt freshman -- Derek McCartney. And if that doesn't work out, true freshman Michael Mathewes could become a contributor (or at least a fixture in the rotation) for the Buffs. Youth isn't always a bad thing, but when it's filling in the spot of a player like Uzo-Diribe, a guy who played the most snaps on the Colorado defensive line in 2013, it's not great.

OTHER POSITION REVIEWS:
It's here! It's here! The start of watch list season!

This morning, the National College Football Awards Association rolled out its first two watch lists and -- no surprise -- several Pac-12 players were named to both the Bednarik Award watch list (given to the nation's best defensive player) and the Maxwell Award watch list (the nation's best offensive player).

Of the 76 players on the Maxwell Award watch list, 16 hail from the Pac-12. Arizona State, Oregon and USC lead the way with three players a piece on that list but again -- no surprises here -- the quarterbacks ruled the day for the conference as seven Pac-12 quarterbacks were listed. Five wide receivers got nods and four running backs made the list (including both of the Ducks' top guys).

MAXWELL AWARD WATCH LIST

Of the 76 players on the Bednarik Award watch list, 13 are from the Pac-12. Stanford landed four guys while USC and Washington notched three apiece. Like the offense, almost half of the conference's recognition was in one position group (the linebackers), but there's still a good spread of recognition among the rest of the Pac-12 position groups -- three defensive linemen, six linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties.

BEDNARIK AWARD WATCH LIST

For a full list of the watch listers, click here. The lists will continue rolling out over the next two weeks so keep your eyes peeled. Don't get too distraught if you don't see your favorite player's name. It's early and there's still plenty of time for change. All of these lists are in pencil (like, a digital pencil) so don't panic yet.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
2:30
PM ET
So hold on to the ones who really care. In the end they'll be the only ones there. When you get old and start losing hair, can you tell me who will still care? Can you tell me who will still care? Mmmmmmmmm bop.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

But first, you now have a full bag of Twitter handles that are required reading.

You have mine here. You have Kevin Gemmell's brand spanking new 140-character depot.

And you have our veteran Tweeters and new Pac-12 blog insiders, Chantel Jennings -- here -- and Kyle Bonagura -- here.

That is 560 characters that nine out of 10 doctors recommend -- and this is the 10th doctor.

To the notes!


Nick from Sacramento writes: If Sonny Dykes wins 5 games this season, with a new AD, think he sees season 3?

Ted Miller: Short answer: Yes.

I also think that if he wins four or even three games and the Bears are far more competitive on both sides of the ball than they were in 2013, he deserves a third season, unless things go haywire off the field. While Dykes didn't inherit an entirely empty cupboard from Jeff Tedford, there were certainly issues, and then the Bears' injury woes last season were among the worst I've witnessed -- UCLA fans, you could equate it to your 1999 season, when Bob Toledo was practically walking around campus asking guys to suit up.

Dykes hasn't been perfect. Most notably his hiring of Andy Buh as defensive coordinator didn't work out. But he also deserves credit for making a handful of changes on his staff this offseason, including the hiring of Art Kaufman to run his defense.

Of course, when a football coach of a struggling team sees the athletic director who hired him depart, he knows he is losing an important administrative relationship. ADs and the coaches they hire in revenue sports are tied at the hip. When one suffers, so does the other. In this case, with Sandy Barbour leaving, Dykes is now less secure than he was last week. And it's notable that we rated him as the least secure Pac-12 coach even before this news.

The question now turns to the sort of AD Cal has in mind to replace Barbour. There are plenty of athletic director types out there. Some move deliberately. Some are more impulsive. I've been told by more than a few savvy ADs that it's important to hire your own football coach because you would rather be judged by what you have done than what your predecessor did.

Yet, as with most things in college football, there is an easy solution: Winning.

If Dykes goes 4-8 this season and gets back to the postseason in 2015 with quarterback Jared Goff as a third-year starter -- and his team is academically and behaviorally sound -- I suspect we'll see him around for a while.


Tom from Seattle writes: Saw your QB blog about the PAC-12 and the comments on Utah's QB Travis Wilson -- "When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. "Are we talking about the same Travis Wilson that is the 11th ranked PAC-12 QB in conference play two years running and leads the world in INT's? Still love your blogs, though!

Ted Miller: Yes.

First, Wilson, despite playing with an injury for three games, ended up grading out fairly well, ranking 47th in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR. Sure, that is only ninth in the Pac-12, but in the conference of quarterbacks, it's important to keep a national perspective when we are evaluating what might constitute a "solid performer."

Second, see if you notice anything in these numbers. Can you guess when Wilson got hurt? What you see is a pretty good quarterback through six games and the bottom falling out during the next three conference games. Again, "when healthy Wilson has been a solid performer..." When he was bad last season, he wasn't healthy (other than the UCLA disaster).

What about that "good upside" part? Well, let's not forget that Wilson was a true sophomore last season. He was thrust into service prematurely in 2012 and played fairly well considering the circumstances. When the Utes were 4-2 after beating Stanford, he looked like a guy who could lead the Utes into the South Division race.

For comparison's sake, consider that Oregon State's Sean Mannion had a 127.1 rating with 18 interceptions as a redshirt freshman starter. Wilson finished with a 129.7 rating last season.

But thanks for loving the blogs. Most awesome people do.


Paul from Albany, Ore., writes: Losing Brandin Cooks is going to be very difficult on the Oregon State offense and this fact has been pointed out numerous times. What has not been pointed out is that this same dialogue was stated the prior year when Markus Wheaton was lost to the NFL. Yes Cooks had a better year last than Wheaton did one earlier. But why has so little been written about the common denominator in both seasons -- Sean Mannion?? He is returning and yet all you folks write about is the losses he has sustained. How about digging into the idea that maybe he is a key factor in helping these receivers achieve their lofty status?

Ted Miller: Well, after passing for 10,436 yards and 68 touchdowns in three seasons, Mannion certainly merits a tip of the cap. And he has improved each year, which is a good thing.

I'd also contend he gets plenty of credit. For one, we ranked him fourth among Pac-12 quarterbacks, which is saying something when all four qualify as All-American candidates. And NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. knows who he is, ranking him the nation's No. 2 senior quarterback Insider.

But this will be a revealing year for Mannion. For one, he's a senior. This is his last chance to make a statement as a college quarterback and as an NFL prospect. Second, for the first time, he doesn't have a proven, NFL prospect at receiver.

NFL scouts are presently wondering if Wheaton and Cooks made Mannion look good. If Mannion is a more efficient player this season with a less stellar supporting cast in the passing game and, yes, wins a couple of big games, his stock will rise both when it comes to college kudos and NFL love.


Wayne from Mesa, Ariz., writes: A few weeks ago, the PAC-12 announced a new start time window for football: 11:00am. A few stories circulated the announcement, but I have not seen anything since. Has there been much feedback regarding this start time? From my standpoint, while it provides needed content for that time slot on the PAC-12 Network, it's way too early for the fans, especially in a region where we are used to late afternoon and night games.

Ted Miller: We did a poll and 58 percent of 5,391 respondents were positive about the 11 a.m. window.

I generally agree with that result. While 11 a.m. isn't ideal, it's better than having four games kickoff at 7:30 p.m. PT. A lot of Pac-12 fans have been complaining about a surfeit of late kickoffs. This is a response to that complaint. My guess is those who will now complain about the early kickoff will be fewer in numbers.

It's important to note a few things about the 11 a.m. window.

Wayne, I notice you are from Arizona. If you are a fan of Arizona or Arizona State, you won't have to worry about an 11 a.m. kickoff, at least not until late October. The Pac-12 has no interest in fans melting into puddles in their seats.

It's also unlikely the 11 a.m. kick will be the day's marquee game. That still will almost always fall into primetime windows, be that on ET or PT.

I suspect the 11 a.m. kickoff will mean more TV eyeballs for what might seem like middling games. While some folks are worried about competing with SEC or Big Ten games at 2 p.m., I don't see that as an issue. Some viewers will tune in because they care more about the Pac-12. Some will tune in because they like to watch more than one game at once. Those who don't care about the Pac-12 wouldn't watch with any kickoff time.

Some don't like the 11 a.m. kickoff because it means waking up early to drive to the stadium, and it cuts into tailgating time. But I'm not sure if these party-hardy folks are looking at the big picture.

First, there will be some encouragement for fans to arrive Friday evening. That only means more fun. Then, on Saturday, you get the 8 a.m. bloody mary at the stadium with eggs and bacon and country ham from this guy. Yummy. Then you have a postgame tailgate and time for a dinner and -- potentially -- a nice evening to tool around the old college digs.

The socially creative among you will be emailing me at season's end telling me the 11 a.m. kickoff rocked.


Emily from Los Angeles writes: You want a heartbreaking loss? What about the 3OT game between USC and Stanford?

Ted Miller: You mean a game that featured big names, ranked teams, controversy, late heroics and three overtimes could be heartbreaking?

I was there. Really entertaining, strange game. Hated how it ended, though. Not in terms of who won, but that it was about a sloppy and unfortunate turnover rather than a dramatic play.


Trevor from Portland writes: We got an article about Pac-12 heartbreakers, and it left out the biggest heartbreaker of the decade. Cam Newton fumbled, he wasn't down by forward progress. Cliff Harris was in. Michael Dyer was down. I'm still not over it.

Ted Miller: I was there for that one, too.

The Ducks were so close to a national title. It was the only time I can recall that Chip Kelly expressed regret about his game plan and some in-game decisions, as that sort of navel gazing wasn't his thing.

That is the thing about close games. They are a thrill to win and excruciating to lose. They also are why we love sports. While we love the winning, there is also a masochistic side to us that enjoys the social aspects of wallowing in misery among friends.

(Thousands of fans from various, struggling Pac-12 outposts immediately go, "Who... us?")
It was reported this week that LeBron James will exercise his early termination option with the Miami Heat and become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

So what does this minor sports factoid have to do with the Pac-12? Everything, of course, as the world is best seen through a Pac-12 prism.

While most reporters are focused on James' potential homecoming to Cleveland or forming a new superstar triumvirate in a major media market, your Pac-12 blog attached itself to a perfectly implausible notion: Which Pac-12 football team would be the best fit for James to take his talents?

You know you were thinking the same thing. Oh, yes you were.

Kevin Gemmell: When Ted first pitched me this idea for a Take 2, my initial thought was, what team couldn’t use a 6-foot-8, 250-pound athlete who is loyal and clutch in the fourth quarter. Then I remembered he was talking about LeBron James.

Zing!

I kid, your Grace.

So this is obviously for kicks. The man who launched a thousand recruits saying they’re going to “take their talents” on national signing day could be on the move again.

So which Pac-12 school would be the best fit for his highness? Well, let’s look at this strictly from a football perspective. Arizona and ASU are already silly with wide receivers. I don’t think he has the right makeup to be a fullback in the Stanford offense. Oregon’s Nike ties create an interesting incentive. The glamour of Los Angeles is also an interesting draw for either USC or UCLA.

But I’m going to go off the beaten path and say when you have a 6-8 tight end/receiver (I’m just assuming this will be much like his basketball career and he’ll strictly play offense), you pair him with a 6-7 quarterback. And with the news that Utah’s Travis Wilson has been medically cleared to play in 2014, this feels like a no-brainer.

For starters, the Utes are spreading things out even more under new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. When things spread out, in theory, that creates single coverage. And while I like the safeties in this conference, I know they’d be hard-pressed to cover someone of James’ stature.

Next, the Utes have a pretty good-looking trio of running backs who are all going to get some work. That means grinding out some yards (yes, LeBron, you might have to block a little) and that means some good red-zone opportunities. That’s really where the King could make the greatest difference. Stick him in the corner of the end zone and let Wilson chuck fades and jump balls all day long.

And after a well-played game at Rice-Eccles, he can kick back and watch the Jazz.

This seems like a no-brainer. I feel like LeBron-to-Utah analysis would have dominated the sports world yesterday and today if only Luis Suarez hadn’t stolen the news cycle.

Ted Miller: Like most of you, my first thought was Washington State. LeBron James plus Mike Leach would equal endless awesome. They'd bond over their mutual hero, Geronimo. But having hung with James' posse countless times in South Beach, I can tell you that he's developed an affection for warm weather.

So the answer is obvious: UCLA.

For one, the ensuing celebratory musical theater after the announcement performed by coach Jim Mora and offense coordinator Noel Mazzone would be priceless. Imagine combining Monty Python, "Gladiator" and the "Britney/Brittany" episode from "Glee" into a two-man arrhythmic song-and-dance routine. Yes, it would be that good.

Without a doubt, James would play both ways. He'd become an A-list target for QB Brett Hundley, particularly in the red zone, and he could double as a spot pass rusher, replacing the perimeter athleticism of Anthony Barr. A spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff would be a certainty.

Further, James would offer a big boost for Hundley's Heisman Trophy candidacy, both in terms of on-field numbers and off-field soundbites. Here's a guess that James would appreciate being the No. 2 star on his team for once, too.

Let's not forget the What's-In-It-For-Me angle. There are plenty of reasons for LeBron to relocate to Westwood.

For one, after the inevitable easing of certain NCAA rules, he could moonlight with a team some call "The Los Angeles Lakers." While football would be the priority, he could take some heat off Kobe and Company in their battle with that that other LA hoops squad that has ownership issues.

Finally, picking UCLA goes against the grain. Many hearing that James was headed to LA seeking more coverage from the Pac-12 blog would immediately assume he would join USC, the Pac-12's longtime preeminent power. But opting to become a Bruin, thereby shifting the balance of power in LA, would mean he could establish his own preeminence.

You know, after Hundley.
There was a general feeling of cautious optimism when Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was cleared for non-contact participation this past spring. Pretty obvious reason for that. Just a few months before, the general feeling was his career was over because of a pre-existing medical condition that was discovered only after he suffered a concussion against Arizona State.

That pre-existing condition diagnosed in November was termed an injury to an intracranial artery. While the Pac-12 blog isn't a doctor, I think we can all agree that just sounds bad. When team physician David Petron felt he needed to tell Utes fans at the time, "We do not believe it is life-threatening," well, it was fairly obvious the issue was different than a torn something or other.

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
AP Photo/Rick BowmerTravis Wilson helped lead the Utes to an upset win against Stanford last season.
So it rates as more than just your run of the mill positive team news that Wilson has been fully cleared by doctors to rejoin the Utes. Whether you root for Utah or not, you have to feel good that a young man will get to resume playing a game he loves. Not too far in the background is the revelation that said intracranial artery has remained stable, which has to be reassuring for Wilson and his family, whatever happened with football.

Yet after we raise our glass to what is important in the grand scheme, we then can get reductive again: Football. What does this mean for the Utes?

For one, it means the Utah offense gets a two-year starter back, a guy who at his best looks like a legitimate Pac-12 quarterback. Recall that last season, after a dreadful game against UCLA, Wilson helped lead the Utes to an upset win against Stanford. At that point in mid-October, Utah was 4-2, those two losses coming in overtime to Oregon State and, despite six interceptions, by seven points to the Bruins, the eventual South Division champion. Though six interceptions put a dent in Wilson's overall numbers, it is notable that his efficiency rating at the time was just four points lower than Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who ended up second-team All-Pac-12.

When healthy, Wilson has looked like a guy who can make the Utes a legitimate threat in the South Division.

Of course, our using the word "healthy" to describe a Utah quarterback has sent Utes fans scrambling to knock on wood, rub their rabbit's feet or burn incense in front of their Jobu shrine. The last time a Utah quarterback made it through a season without injury was in 2008.

So ... what happened in 2008? Anyone recall? Utah fans might want to remind dismissive Pac-12 fans about that.

Our feeling is that if Wilson is healthy for 12 regular-season games, Utah will return to the postseason this fall.

Wilson's return, however, is not without intrigue. Just a few paragraphs down in the news release from the school announcing Wilson's clean bill of health, it said, Wilson "will enter fall camp No. 1 on the depth chart, although he must beat out five other scholarship QBs to regain his starting job."

Hmm.

It is also curious that those five quarterbacks were listed in a news release about Wilson's medical clearance:
Battling Wilson for the starting job when fall camp opens on Aug. 4 will be Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson, redshirt freshman Conner Manning and junior Adam Schulz, along with redshirt freshman Brandon Cox and true freshman Donovan Isom.

Here is a guess that Thompson is the chief reason Utah is conspicuously writing Wilson's name in pencil as the No. 1 quarterback. Though Thompson is mostly an idea -- he did very little for the Sooners -- new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen clearly thinks Thompson has a shot to unseat Wilson. The institutional position -- via news release, no less -- is that this is an earnest competition, and Wilson's present lead is mostly about seniority. With pressure increasing on coach Kyle Whittingham to get Utah back to its winning ways, seniority only means you get the first piece of pizza on Day 1 of preseason camp. Little else.

If Thompson comes in and is decisively better than Wilson, then fine, that is how competitive sports work. You compete and sometimes you lose a competition and get relegated to second string. If Thompson beats out Wilson, then Utes fans should assume before the opener that he is pretty good. In that scenario, they also should feel pretty good about finally having a backup quarterback -- Wilson -- who inspires confidence.

But if the competition is close, things could be testy. There is the whole New Guy vs. Veteran deal, for one. More than a few players probably will feel loyal to Wilson. That could divide the locker room. And what if Thompson wins the job but struggles early in the season? How long before Christensen and Whittingham give him the hook, creating a quarterback controversy?

The same, by the way, could be written about Wilson starting slowly.

I know: We are negatively speculating on a day when the news is supposed to be good. Yes, we are Debbie Downers. But Utah's news release brought this up first, not the pure-as-the-driven-snow Pac-12 blog.

This, of course, is ultimately not a day for Utah hand-wringing. It is a day of good news for the quarterback position, and those have hardly been plentiful since the Utes joined the Pac-12.

The love of competition, after all, is probably why Wilson started playing football. Being medically cleared means he can resume that bit of grittiness that makes sports rewarding.
All players are equal, but some players are more equal than others. That's the basis of our Most Important Players series.

First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Marcus Mariota is Oregon's most important player.

And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too. USC’s Leonard Williams might be the best defensive lineman in the nation, but is he the Trojans' most important player considering the talent and depth on their D-line?

Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on them living up to expectations. Or their absence.

[+] EnlargeKenneth Scott
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsUtah receiver Kenneth Scott missed the 2013 season with an ankle injury.
Utah: WR Kenneth Scott

2013 production: Injured himself in the first game of 2013. During the 2012 season, he recorded three touchdowns and 360 yards on 32 catches.

Why Scott is so important: OK, so hear me out. Earlier this week I wrote about how wide receiver Dres Anderson is positioning himself to have a huge senior season and how he and quarterback Travis Wilson could become one of the most dangerous QB-WR combos in the Pac-12.

There’s one caveat. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said that for any of that to happen, another wide receiver needs to emerge, taking some of the focus off Anderson. This is why Scott is so important -- yes, dare I even say, the most important player. He was the first wide receiver that Whittingham brought up after mentioning how important those “other” receivers would be to Anderson and Wilson’s success.

Obviously, the running game also needs to be strong in order to open up the passing game. But it seems as though junior RB Bubba Poole has a handle on the rushing attack and will make sure to hit the holes well enough that the passing lanes should be there for Wilson. So, the biggest question mark then returns to Scott: Can he do enough on the field so that teams aren’t able to run double coverage on Anderson on every down? Can he draw the attention away and make plays of his own? Can his production make Wilson-Anderson happen?

Much of the offense seems to be heavily riding on that Wilson-Anderson production (assuming Wilson is able to play this fall). But that equation is riding on whether another guy steps up. So, the key to the key is the key/most important player, no?

Other Most Important Players:

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 19, 2014
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2:30
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Ain't no party like an S Club party.
Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong. Marcus Mariota and Devon Allen. Sean Mannion and Victor Bolden. Brett Hundley and Devin Fuller (or Jordan Payton, or Devin Lucien). Connor Halliday and ... every receiver.

Yes, 2014 is going to see a ton of Pac-12 quarterback-wide receiver combos that could put up some major numbers and turn some heads.

[+] EnlargeDres Anderson
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIDres Anderson is looking for consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
And right in that group -- and really, near the front of it -- could be Utah, with junior Travis Wilson and fifth-year senior Dres Anderson.

Anderson earned Pac-12 honorable mention last year after recording seven touchdowns and 1,002 yards on 53 catches. He’s the conference’s top returning receiver (83.5 yards per game) and was 11th in the FBS in yards per catch (18.9).

Assuming Wilson checks out symptom-free from the concussion that cost him his 2014 season, these two will still need some time going into this season to really position themselves for major yardage.

“This is [Wilson’s] third year throwing to Dres,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They seem to have good chemistry. … We need him and Dres to continue to be productive.”

From a conditioning perspective, Anderson has done everything the coaches asked of him during the offseason. Whittingham said Anderson seems faster than last year, which is good considering he’s also up about five pounds from 2013.

But on the field, the biggest key to Anderson’s production will be for another younger receiver to step up, make big plays and prevent teams from double-covering Anderson.

Currently at the top of that list, according to Whittingham, is junior Kenneth Scott, sophomore Dominique Hatfield and senior Kaelin Clay.

Scott missed last season after going down with a season-ending injury in the Utes' first game. Hatfield got a bit of experience in Scott’s absence. He played in 11 games and recorded four catches for 84 yards. And Clay, a transfer from Mount San Antonio College, led his conference last year with 16 touchdowns and 995 yards (he was second in his conference in receptions with 52).

So, assuming one -- or more -- of those three players can draw some attention away from Anderson, the redshirt senior is poised to really have a big season.

He could have an even bigger season in his final year for Utah than his father, Willie “Flipper” Anderson, did in his final year at UCLA. Flipper, like Dres, had a great quarterback (Troy Aikman), and they connected for more than 900 yards and six touchdowns.

Whittingham’s father actually coached Flipper in the NFL, after the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in 1988.

“When we were recruiting Dres and I found out he was Flipper’s son I thought, ‘Hey, this guy comes from good stock, we’ve got to make sure to get this guy in our program,’ ” Whittingham said.

And now the younger Anderson is poised to show some Flipper-like flare.

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