That does mean five teams will feature new starters next fall, though that doesn't necessarily mean there will be five wide-open competitions. For example, senior Mike Bercovici is probably more locked into Arizona State's starting job than a couple of returning starters. His potential is a big reason the Sun Devils will be counted among the conference favorites next fall.
"I see [playing this season] as a big learning experience," Bercovici said. "Being here for four seasons and, in my fourth season, I finally get to see the field as a backup. I always wanted to prove to my teammates that I’ve been prepared."
He added, "Some of the success I had this year and some of the mistakes I made are all going to help me move on to the 2015 season."
Utah and Washington both welcome back returning starters in Travis Wilson and Cyler Miles, but there figures to be some intrigue this upcoming spring and fall as they try to hold onto their jobs, with Wilson most notably embroiled in a on-going, two-season competition with Kendal Thompson.
Like Bercovici, Washington State's Luke Falk gained valuable experience this season when he replaced an injured Connor Halliday, and he is a heavy favorite to win the Cougars starting job. Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA appear to have wide-open competitions, with the Bruins featuring touted incoming freshman Josh Rosen taking on an incumbent field led by Jerry Neuheisel this spring.
Bercovici was in a tight competition with Kelly heading into the 2012 season, but Kelly won the job and went on to become one of the most successful quarterbacks in program history. That could have sown the seeds of a rivalry between the two, or Bercovici could have transferred. Instead, he and Kelly became close friends.
That is why Bercovici had mixed feelings when he replaced a struggling Kelly in the Territorial Cup loss to Arizona.
"It was definitely tough to see him come off the field as a senior and for myself to come in, but we didn’t really have time to think about that during the game," he said. "Some times you have bad days when things aren’t going your way. It just sucks I couldn’t lead us to victory in that fourth quarter."
That said, he sees the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Duke on Dec. 27 as being "Taylor's game."
"This is the last time he’ll be in a Sun Devils uniform," he said. "I know he’s going to go out with a bang.”
After that, though, Bercovici will be eager to fill the ensuing vacancy behind center for a Sun Devils team expected to be in the South Division and national mix.
"This team knows this is my job moving forward," he said.
Here is how the Pac-12 sets up at quarterback for 2015, pending any unexpected NFL early entries.
2015 RETURNING STARTERS
Arizona: Anu Solomon
The skinny: Though Solomon was impressive as a redshirt freshman first-year starter, he wasn't terribly efficient, ranking 61st in the nation in Total QBR and 55th in standard passing efficiency. So there is plenty of room to get better. The good news is 1,000-yard rusher Nick Wilson will be back, as will a strong crew of receivers. The offensive line has some notable holes.
California: Jared Goff
The skinny: He threw for 331 yards per game with 35 TD passes and just seven interceptions as a true sophomore. If you are looking for a player who could breakout as a national name next fall, Goff might be your man. He has an NFL future. He also has a strong supporting cast coming back on offense -- nine returning starters -- including a deep and talented group of receivers.
Colorado: Sefo Liufau
The skinny: He passed for a school-record 28 touchdowns, but also led the Pac-12 with 15 interceptions and was briefly benched late in the season. That said, the true sophomore has talent and will likely improve as a third-year starter as the young players around him grow up. It also would help him and the Buffs if receiver Nelson Spruce returns for his senior year instead of entering the draft.
Stanford: Kevin Hogan
The skinny: Hogan ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in QBR, despite being a third-year starter with a strong group of experienced receivers. Though the Cardinal running game and offensive line was a disappointment, there were plenty of times when Hogan was inconsistent in terms of both throwing and decision-making. What Stanford wants is for Hogan to return for his senior year and play like he did against California and UCLA for an entire season. Coach David Shaw said Hogan, who was dealing with tough family situation during the season, would be the starter if he returned and wouldn't face a challenge from touted freshman Keller Chryst.
USC: Cody Kessler
The skinny: If he opts to return for his senior season, Kessler will be an All-American candidate after throwing for 36 TDs with just four interceptions and ranking sixth in the nation in QBR. If there is one criticism of Kessler, it is that he feasted on inferior foes, but didn't turn in an A-list performance against ranked teams, most notably an ineffective showing against UCLA. He should greatly benefit from the maturation of a number of young but talented players forced into action this fall, most notably on the offensive line.
Utah: Travis Wilson
The skinny: This might be the Pac-12's most interesting quarterback situation. Wilson is set to become a four-year starter, but he also might not return to the Utes for his final season. That's because coaches might want to go with Kendal Thompson, who briefly replaced Wilson in the starting lineup before getting hurt. If that's the case, Wilson can transfer with no penalty, because he is set to graduate in 2015. Utah looks like it's going to be stacked on both sides of the ball next fall -- 16 other position-player starters are set to return -- but quarterback remains the issue, as it has since Utah joined the Pac-12.
Washington: Cyler Miles
The skinny: Miles also could face a challenge for his starting spot, though the rising junior also flashed ability at times while doing a good job of protecting the football -- see just three interceptions -- and played better the second half of the season. And who might provide a legitimate challenge, as no other quarterback on the roster appears capable of unseating him. It will be interesting to see how quickly touted incoming freshman Jake Browning picks things up this spring.
Arizona State: Mike Bercovici, Sr; Manny Wilkins, RFr; Coltin Gerhart, RFr.; Brady White, Fr.; Bryce Perkins, Fr.
The skinny: Bercovici is more certain here than a couple of the conference's returning starters. He gained valuable experience this season replacing an injured Kelly, throwing 12 TDs with four interceptions, and flashed plenty of potential, including A-list arm strength. Though the Sun Devils have stocked up on young quarterbacks, including a pair of touted incoming freshmen, Bercovici is almost a certainty here.
Oregon: Jeff Lockie, Jr.; Ty Griffin, RSo.; Taylor Alie, RSo.; Morgan Mahalak, RFr., Travis Waller, Fr
The skinny: Lockie was Mariota's backup this season and has thrown 30 passes in his career -- one TD! -- which means he will have more experience than Mariota did when he took over as a redshirt freshman. It also was a strong indicator of a pecking order when Jake Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs opted to transfer after spring practices, as they were both behind Lockie. Both Alie and Mahalak, however, have skills, and Waller is expect to be around this spring to join the fray. And perhaps there will be a wild-card transfer?
Oregon State: Luke Del Rio, So.; Brent VanderVeen, Jr., Nick Mitchell, RFr.; Marcus McMaryion, RFr., Kyle Kempt, RSo.
The skinny: This one is wide open. Not only is there no clear leader, but you also have a new coaching staff under Gary Andersen with new schemes. VanderVeen started the season as Sean Mannion's backup, but Del Rio took over that spot about three game into the season. He threw 18 passes in mop-up duty, making him the only Beavers quarterback with any game experience. Might Andersen try to lure away Austin Kafentzis, a four-star quarterack from Sandy, Utah, from his commitment to Wisconsin, where Kafentzis originally planned to enroll early to play for Andersen? And what about James Pensyl, a 6-foot-7 hurler from Land O'Lakes, Florida, who committed to Mike Riley?
UCLA: Jerry Neuheisel, Jr., Asiantii Woulard, RSo.; Mike Fafaul, RJr., Aaron Sharp, RFr., Josh Rosen, Fr.
The skinny: Neuheisel was Brett Hundley's backup this season, and came off the bench to lead the Bruins past Texas. He is a capable, charismatic guy who probably relishes the idea of being counted out by many due to the arrival of Rosen. Rosen, however, is the guy many will be watching. Perhaps the best quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, he will participate in spring practices when he can immediately put himself into the mix.
Washington State: Luke Falk, RSo.; Peyton Bender, RFr.; Tyler Hilinski, Fr.
The skinny: Falk started fast then faded a bit after coming off the bench to replace the injured Connor Halliday, but he is the overwhelming favorite here. In four games, he threw for 1,859 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with six of those picks coming in his last two games. Still, he didn't look like a walk-on. He looked like an A-list redshirt freshman suddenly thrust into action who was struggling against good teams. Coach Mike Leach won't make it seem like Falk is locked in during spring practice, but it's his job to lose.
*Listed year in school is for 2015
2. One of the biggest reasons for Mark Richt’s enduring success at Georgia apparently is leaving for Colorado State. Mike Bobo has been on Richt’s staff for all 14 of his seasons in Athens, the last eight as offensive coordinator. In the last three season, Georgia has averaged at least 36 points and 450 yards per game. Colorado State had good success the last time it hired an SEC offensive coordinator. But Jim McElwain came from Alabama with a western pedigree. Bobo, 40, played at Georgia and has worked there for all but one year of his coaching career. It’s a gamble, but Bobo has credentials worth gambling on.
3. No offense to my colleague Adam Schefter, who covers the NFL like white on rice. But a story that Stanford head coach David Shaw is not interested in coaching in the NFL is only news if you’re in the NFL. It’s like a story reporting that Bill Belichick is not interested in coaching at Michigan. Shaw has repeatedly made it clear that he is emotionally invested in Stanford. Getting out the message is a problem that’s not unique to Shaw -- ask Bob Stoops how many times he has dealt with questions about leaving Oklahoma. So Schefter’s story is one that may be written again next year.
"It would be a lie to say this season hasn't been disappointing," he said. "But we can only get better and move forward from here."
That's the workmanlike tone coming from the Stanford quarterback leading up the Dec. 30 Foster Farms Bowl against Maryland, the Cardinal's last chance to add some more positivity onto the end of their topsy-turvy 7-5 campaign. The peaks and valleys of this 2014 ride have been pronounced, perhaps none more so than Stanford's last time out, a 31-10 whooping over No. 8 UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
"Kevin has the ability to play at the next level," coach David Shaw said. 'That UCLA game showed his ceiling."
And that's exactly where Stanford's quandary moving forward begins. After all, there were times this year when it looked like the Cardinal would be better suited moving on to another quarterback in 2015. Hogan's performances against Notre Dame (4.4 yards per attempt) and Utah (3.9 yards per attempt) were two glaring examples. Blame for Stanford's red zone woes (119th in the nation) often fell on offensive playcalling, but since that wasn't an issue when a guru like Luck was under center, Hogan took his share of heat for those shortcomings, too.
But then came the quarterback's recent torrid finish, one that saw Stanford's rushing attack finally regain at least a semblance of the consistency that Hogan had enjoyed throughout his first two years under center. And that success on the ground provided a backbone that helped No. 8 return to his comfort zone.
"Anytime you have success, you want to build on it," Hogan said. "We feel that we've gotten into a rhythm and groove with our schemes. We feel comfortable now."
And it's this comfort that's posing a triple Stanford question mark moving forward. The range of possibilities are as broad as Stanford's season was inconsistent. Will Hogan return to start under center in his fifth-year senior season? Or will the Cardinal, concerned by that earlier inconsistency, look to upgrade at quarterback in 2015? And according to Shaw, the third head of this confusing beast seems to be back on the table following Hogan's sizzling finale: Will Hogan test NFL waters following this season?
"I haven't made a decision," Hogan said. "But it's a process, and I'm going to make sure it's well thought-out for my best interest and the best interest of my family."
Amidst all the possibilities, Shaw says that he expects Hogan to be back at Stanford next year (though he "wouldn't be shocked" if he made a run at the next level), despite the NFL potential that he sees in his quarterback.
"The big thing is for him to play [the way he did against UCLA] the whole season," Shaw said. "Hopefully, he comes back and does that next year."
That thought indicates that Hogan is the current favorite to start under center for Stanford in 2015. Current back-up Evan Crower -- whose play Shaw has praised this December -- also has one year of eligibility remaining, while touted youngsters Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns are both considered future options to man the ship.
And if that Hogan-Stanford partnership does last into its fourth season, Shaw has indicated that his team will work to accentuate the quarterback's strengths that shone so brightly in that sparkling UCLA performance. The first opportunity to do so will come against the Terrapins at Levi's Stadium.
"We're going to stick with what's working," Shaw said. "Kevin needs to play fast."
Hogan's calling card is his athleticism and nose for the football, and he said that an early integration of some physical play helps him lock into the type of rhythm that was on display at UCLA, when perfect early accuracy led him complete 12 straight passes out of the gate.
"It's just like anyone: A receiver would like to catch a hitch before a 50-yard go route," Hogan said. "You want to get into a rhythm with your bread and butter plays.... I'm the same way. If I can roll out or do a QB run, I'd like to get that first hit and first play out of the way. You feel like you're in the game. I appreciate those plays when they're called early, and I try to lobby for them."
So Hogan and Shaw both feel that they've discovered the ingredient to consistency, and they have one more chance to see if it can cook a delicious meal before having to deliver definitive answers regarding Stanford's offensive complexion moving forward. The grandeur of Pasadena on Jan. 1 won't be the stage this time, but it'll be an opportunity to clear up a confusing future nonetheless.
"It's disappointing not playing in a game like the Rose Bowl," Hogan said. "But it's still football nonetheless."
It's football indeed -- and an opportunity for Stanford to lay that first critical 2015 foundation.
Konrad Reuland, No. 46 in 2006 class
Reuland was a nationally recruited tight end out of Mission Viejo High (Calif.). He picked Notre Dame over Colorado, Stanford and UCLA in November 2005, and was part of a Fighting Irish class that included Eric Olsen, Sam Young and a number of others.
Reuland saw action in seven games for Notre Dame as a true freshman followed by three games as a sophomore before transferring to Stanford.
The 2008 season was a transfer year for Reuland, but he would return to the field in 2009 as a fourth-year junior making three starts. He appeared in all 13 games for the Cardinal, catching six passes for 142 yards.
Reuland’s fifth and final season at the collegiate level would prove to be his best. He played in 13 games with six starts as a senior, catching 21 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown.
Reuland went undrafted in 2011, but signed a free-agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers. He’s currently in his fourth season in the NFL.
Honorable mention: Curtis Grant, No. 46 in 2011 class, and Chris Jones, No. 46 in 2013 class. Grant headed to Ohio State out of Virginia in 2011 and has been a solid starter at inside linebacker the past two seasons making 109 tackles, including nine for loss. Jones is a promising player for Mississippi State with high NFL draft potential after the 2015 or 2016 season.
Any NFL team hoping to make a major run at Stanford head coach David Shaw will, in all probability, come away disappointed, sources tell ESPN.
Despite being viewed as perhaps the top coaching candidate in the college ranks, Shaw has told people he plans to remain at Stanford, where he loves working with student-athletes and wants to continue coaching, according to sources.
Shaw is highly regarded in NFL circles, where he is viewed as one of the most coveted candidates in the country due to his credentials.
But those who know the 42-year-old Shaw now believe he will not leave Stanford, no matter how much the NFL wants him.
Shaw has gone 41-12 in four seasons at Stanford, coaching the Cardinal to two Rose Bowl appearances during that stretch.
The Cardinal went 7-5 this season -- their worst record under Shaw -- and will play Maryland in the Fosters Farms Bowl on Dec. 30.
On the eve of bowl season, with 39 games on tap, involving 76 teams in 24 days, one word makes a world of difference.
It is the X factor of bowl season, the wild card at the wildest time of year, often the key to victory in December and January and the cause for coaches to worry.
For the four teams in the first College Football Playoff, motivation this month is at an all-time high. The job at Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon and Florida State involves staying grounded -- to avoid overloading on motivation.
But for those other 72 teams, what provides the fuel for multiple weeks of practice, mixed with final exams and a deviation from the routine? As the bowl lineup has grown, so, too, have coaches' skills at pushing the right buttons with players at this time of year.
The destination may not always be sunny; the matchups not always the most attractive; the reward not the most glamorous. With the first five games, though, set for Saturday -- it starts at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN as Nevada and Louisiana-Lafayette meet in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl -- you'll struggle to find a coach or player willing to admit that motivation is a concern.
The postseason archives, littered with upsets and unusual occurrences, support the belief that it matters.
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Why Utah wins: This has tended to be a letdown game for Pac-12 teams in recent years -- the league has lost four of the past five games in the Las Vegas Bowl. But Utah won't be lacking for motivation after returning to the postseason after a two-year absence and Colorado State, despite its strong season, will be a little deflated following Jim McElwain's departure for Florida. -- Chantel Jennings
Why Colorado State wins: Yes, the Rams lost their coach to Florida, but they’re still running on the energy of a 10-2 season and a prolific offense. Receiver Rashard Higgins leads the nation with 17 touchdown catches and Utah is not playing its best ball of the season. I think that’s the difference-maker here. -- David Lombardi
Hyundai Sun Bowl
Why Arizona State wins: Good quarterback. Good running back. Outstanding wide receiver and a defense that gets after it on the blitz more than any team in the country. The “attacking-hybrid” defense will leave the other Devils feeling blue. -- Kevin Gemmell
National University Holiday Bowl
Why Nebraska wins: It would be a fitting start to Mike Riley's tenure at Nebraska, wouldn't it? Although the former Oregon State coach won't be guiding his new team from the sideline, expect the Cornhuskers to make an impression with a victory over a Pac-12 foe. -- Chantel Jennings
Why USC wins: USC is a more talented, athletic team than Nebraska and would win this game without extenuating circumstances, but the acrimonious departure of Bo Pelini figures to leave some Cornhuskers indifferently motivated. Further, the Trojans, whose biggest issue is depth, almost certainly benefited more from a few weeks of off-time to heal various bumps and bruises. -- Ted Miller
Foster Farms Bowl
Why Stanford wins: Defense didn’t win a championship for the Cardinal. But it can win a bowl game against a Maryland team that averages fewer than 30 points per game and only averages 130.4 yards per game on the ground. -- Kevin Gemmell
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
Why Boise State wins: It’s the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos don’t lose these games. In all seriousness, though, Boise State has ripped off eight straight wins. They’re peaking right now, and Arizona had some wind taken of their sails against Oregon. -- David Lombardi
Why Arizona wins: It's a statement game for Arizona -- and the Pac-12 -- so don't expect the Wildcats to take their opponent lightly. It's been too fine a season for Arizona to end with a blowout loss to Oregon and a defeat at the hands of Boise State. Expect to see some fireworks from the Wildcats' young playmakers on offense as well as trophy-laden linebacker Scooby Wright. -- Chantel Jennings
Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual
Why Oregon wins: Forget the Heisman versus Heisman storyline. The Ducks take care of the football, plain and simple. Florida State has danced with defeat several times, but other teams have let them off the hook. If they Ducks can force turnovers, they are one of the best teams in the country at making opponents pay. -- Kevin Gemmell
Why Florida State wins: Florida State is getting healthy during the break before this game, while Oregon lost All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to a knee injury. That’s a big problem when a team is preparing for Seminoles wide receiver Rashad Greene and quarterback Jameis Winston. Yet it’s Oregon’s greatest strength and Florida State's seeming weakness that will be the difference. The Ducks pretty much dominated every game they won this year. Florida State pretty much didn’t dominate anyone, playing down to foes for three-plus quarters and making their fans squirm in the waning moments. That mental toughness in the fourth quarter will pay off in this one because Oregon won’t dominate the Seminoles, and a tight final frame is when Florida State thrives. -- Ted Miller
Valero Alamo Bowl
Why Kansas State wins: This one starts with motivation, and we’re betting Kansas State has more. UCLA started out in the preseason top 10 and envisioned itself winning the Pac-12 and playing in the College Football Playoff. It’s not unreasonable to suspect the surprising and dispiriting blowout loss to Stanford during the final weekend of the season, which gave Arizona the Pac-12’s South Division crown, will come with an extended hangover. While both offenses have good quarterbacks and explosive playmakers, the Wildcats have been more consistent on defense this year. That will be the difference. -- Ted Miller
Why UCLA wins: I'm taking the opposite side of the argument when it comes to motivation. Bowl games are all about motivation, yes, and the Bruins, with a chip on their shoulder, have a chance to end the season on a high note. Brett Hundley’s finger is healthy and when he’s at his best, there aren’t many teams in the country that can stop him. Plus the Bruins are underdogs. That’s a role they haven’t played much this year, but seem to relish. -- Kevin Gemmell
TicketCity Cactus Bowl
Why Washington wins: The Huskies began to develop a semblance of offensive consistency toward the end of the season, and that makes them a capable all-around team. That certainly should be enough to beat a 6-6 Oklahoma State team that is nothing spectacular this season. -- David Lombardi
All week we've been bringing you the All-America honors as they rolled in.
In total, 14 Pac-12 players were named to a first-team All-America squad. Of those 14, Marcus Mariota, Scooby Wright and Hau'oli Kikaha were unanimous selections. Two other players -- Tom Hackett and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- were consensus selections appearing on at least three of the five recognized teams.
This is the eighth straight year the Pac-12 has had a unanimous selection and the first time since 2005 it's had three in one year (Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Maurice Drew). The five recognized teams are the American Football Coaches Association, the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
Here's the final tally among the big five:
- QB, Marcus Mariota, Oregon, Jr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
- OL, Jake Fisher, Oregon, Sr., FWAA
- OL, Hroniss Grasu, Oregon, Sr., SN
- OL, Andrus Peat, Stanford, Jr., SN
- AP, Shaq Thompson, Washington, Jr., AP
- DL, Nate Orchard, Utah, Sr., FWAA-WC
- DL, Danny Shelton, Washington, Jr., AP-SN
- DL, Leonard Williams, USC, Jr., AFCA
- LB, Eric Kendricks, UCLA, Sr., SN
- LB, Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington, Sr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
- LB, Scooby Wright III, Arizona, So., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
- DB, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon, Sr., AFCA-AP-WC (consensus)
- P, Tom Hackett, Utah, Jr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-WC (consensus)
- PR, Kaelin Clay, Utah, Sr., SN
Just before the start of bowl season, the folks at Athlon Sports wanted to look back at the chaos that was the 2014 Pac-12 regular season. We've been running our pivotal plays series all week, so be sure to check that out. But Athlon looked at the top 15 games of the season. Here's their top five.
- Oct 2: Arizona 31, Oregon 24
- Oct. 4: Arizona State 38, USC 34
- Sept. 6: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
- Oct. 25: Utah 24, USC 21
- Oct. 4: Utah 30, UCLA 28
You'll note that three of their five are from Week 6. We noted last week in our Roadtrip Revisited post that every game that week was unbelievable. If you click the link, they actually rate 30 games. Fairly surprised the Cal-WSU game (also in Week 6) didn't make the top 10. To each their own.
- A look at the three JC players who signed with Arizona.
- ASU signed a touted JC tight end.
- Former Cal quarterback Zach Kline will head to Indiana State.
- The Buffs are looking to JCs to boost their defense.
- Florida State doesn't feel like an underdog.
- The Beavers lost a TE commit to Boise State.
- Stanford has some familiarity with Maryland's offense.
- What does UCLA's roster look like in 2015?
- What a JC receiver had to say about his commitment to USC.
- Hackett more concerned about CSU than his accolades.
- Another commitment for the Huskies, plus an updated list of their commits.
- Jacob Thorpe updates WSU's DC search in his chat.
Really great read from our friend Max Olson on the Big 12 blog about the recruitment of linebacker Malik Jefferson. Some interesting UCLA notes in there.
Every year, one of the big questions out West revolves around the Ducks' chances of finally grabbing that national championship. Oregon boasts Superman this year, and it's almost certainly Marcus Mariota's last campaign in Eugene. Though their defense suffered a major blow with the loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks have their man under center. They can't take this chance to win it all for granted: A playoff appearance is a golden opportunity for this powerful Oregon program to prove that it can finally bring home college football's ultimate hardware. Florida State, the defending champs, await in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual.
This, likely Brett Hundley's final season in Westwood, was supposed to be year the Bruins surged from "good" to "elite." But they slipped too often, and the timing of their last fall -- a 31-10 finale loss at the hands of Stanford -- couldn't have been worse. Now, the narrative has shifted back to the old "they can't win the big one" theme, and that's the exact perception UCLA wanted to avoid. They have a chance to make a cleansing statement versus a good Kansas State squad, also 9-3, in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The season started magically for the Utes -- aside from that 28-27 road bump at home against Washington State, of course. But after kicking 2014 off at 6-1, Utah dropped three of their last five games. They narrowly squeaked by Pac-12 bottom feeder Colorado to close the regular season, so it's fair to say that Kyle Whittingham's club stumbled to the finish line. An 8-4 record is nothing to scoff at, but the Utes could use a good stomping of Mountain West opponent Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. It would go a long way toward maintaining that "we've arrived as a force in the Pac-12" tone over the offseason.
The Sun Devils' season trajectory had some similarities with Utah's, though ASU lost one fewer game late in the season. Still, they were a one-loss team until a rough November knocked them out of the conference race. A Hyundai Sun Bowl date against fellow 9-3 competitor Duke has become ASU's consolation price, and that is quite the step down from the Rose Bowl aspirations Todd Graham's club harbored followings its November 8 win against Notre Dame. So it's important for the Sun Devils to reverse trajectory heading into the offseason, and they would also like to prove that they are better in December than last season's 37-23 Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech.
The Wildcats were peaking at the right time ---- Oh wait, there was red-hot Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, and there were 24 yards of total offense for Arizona in the first half. Suddenly, Rich Rodriguez's club wasn't peaking at the right time. But the Wildcats can take solace in the fact that the Ducks have the ability to make good teams look foolish. They can also comfort themselves knowing that this VIZIO Fiesta Bowl is a prime chance to deliver a positive closing statement against a 10-2 Boise State team that loves that big stadium in Glendale.
Steve Sarkisian really needed that blowout victory over Notre Dame in the finale to dump the "seven win" moniker that online trolls gleefully tossed around following the Trojans' loss to UCLA. Sark got the powerful performance he was looking for, so he's 8-4 heading into a National University Holiday Bowl matchup against Nebraska. Sure, a postseason win would be nice for the Trojans, but they are lower on this list because there is not all that much for them left to prove this season. Regardless of whether they win or lose on December 27, we know who USC is: a very talented, somewhat flawed, and ultimately thin team that's excited about getting a clean slate in 2015.
There is very little the Cardinal can prove in their Foster Farms Bowl clash with Maryland on Dec. 30. Stanford capped a disappointing 7-5 regular season with a resounding 31-10 thumping of UCLA, and that performance made it very clear the Cardinal had underperformed in their games leading up to the finale. Now, David Shaw's team is a two-touchdown favorite against the Terrapins in a game 20 minutes away from campus, so there is really no chance to prove anything more than what the Cardinal already accomplished against the Bruins -- even in the case of a lopsided victory.
The Huskies managed eight wins in the first year of the Chris Petersen era, and they fought through some turmoil, too. The team delivered a strong finish following the dismissal of star cornerback Marcus Peters. So, the season has served as a solid foundation for Petersen to work with as he tries to assert himself in Seattle moving forward. It's hard to see the result of the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against 6-6 Oklahoma State swinging the vibe too far in either direction.
Another day, another round of All-America teams. Three more to catch you up on. You should know the names by now.
First up is The Sporting News:
- First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon; Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford; Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon;
- First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington; Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona; Hau’oli Kikaha, LB Washington; Erick Kendricks, LB, UCLA.
- First-team special teams: KR Kaelin Clay, Utah.
- Second-team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
- Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah; Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon;
- Special teams: Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
- First-team offense: Mariota
- First-team defense: Leonard Williams, DL, USC; Wright; Kikaha; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon.
- Specialists: Hackett
- First-team offense: Mariota, Jake Fisher, OL, Oregon
- First-team defense: Orchard, Kikaha, Wright III,
- Specialists: Hackett
- Second-team defense: Williams, Kendricks
The Sporting News also named Mariota its player of the year.
No doubt, you've heard the news that Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, whose name appears on some All-America lists above, is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. It's not an apocalyptic blow to the Ducks. But you don't want to be facing Winston down one of your best defenders, either.
Here's some reaction:
- Our own Ted Miller weighs in here.
- Add Ekpre-Olomu to a long list of injured Oregon players.
- The injury leaves Oregon's secondary in flux.
- Aaron Fentress has some thoughts on where the Ducks go from here.
- New Arizona safety Paul Magloire is looking forward to getting his career started.
- ASU will now be an Adidas school (more below in the JFF section).
- Do the Bears have the best receivers in the country?
- Colorado punter Darragh O'Neill will play in the East-West Shrine game.
- OC John Garrett won't be retained by Gary Andersen.
- A look at Stanford's roundabout trip to Levi's.
- UCLA running back Paul Perkins has a low-key approach to things.
- Antwaun Woods won't be available for USC's bowl game.
- Will the Las Vegas Bowl be the last we see of Travis Wilson?
- Kikaha becomes Washington's sixth unanimous All-American.
- A look at WSU's two new JUCO players.
A couple of ASU alums are already benefiting from the new Adidas deal.
But when it comes to Stanford, there's a deeper layer of uncertainty here that piques the interest: In what direction is David Shaw's program heading?
On that front, a critical variable remains in limbo and data points from opposite ends of the spectrum conflict with each other.
But then came the eyebrow-raising 31-10 road romp at UCLA to end the season, a finish that may suggest that the winds on the Farm are blowing in a completely different direction.
"We knew we had that potential all season long," receiver Michael Rector said. "We wish it would have been a little earlier in the season when we all clicked. Better late than never, I guess."
Not late would have been better, of course.
But here the Cardinal are, churning through December bowl practices, focusing on their team's next step with an unusual mixed feeling of disappointment and shining optimism. Dispiriting seasons capped off by statement successes tend to produce such conflicting emotions.
But bowl preparation is a valuable opportunity to build for the future, and Stanford is utilizing it enthusiastically: Veteran lineman Josh Garnett voluntarily stayed after practice earlier this week to share his tricks of trade with some of the Cardinal's green linemen.
"This time is about getting the young guys ready," Garnett said. "It helps me when I can teach someone, because that means I have to master it."
The zeal and gusto of a group once known for its "Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind" -- think the Jim Harbaugh era, which is seeing its final players finish their Stanford careers this month -- isn't dead yet. Garnett and his fellow offensive linemen, criticized for soft play at critical junctures of this season, admit they were frustrated by their play in 2014. They delivered a throwback manhandling performance their last time out, and that appears to have at least temporarily given the Cardinal a second wind.
"It had gotten to the point where we had to stop talking about being the best offensive line and actually put it on tape," Garnett said. "We had to start moving people again. We had to get back to that David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin, Cam Fleming, and David Yankey era of Stanford football. They taught us, and we have to teach it to the younger guys."
Of course, it's too early to tell if Stanford has permanently rediscovered the blue collar, chip-on-the-shoulder mentality that had fueled their extraordinary run of BCS success earlier this decade. For all that we know right now, the UCLA success might have just marked a one-game resurgence. But there's hope for the future now that the offense has finally flexed its muscles.
"All the units got better individually, and then we put it all together collectively," Rector said. "Our quarterback might have played the best game of his career."
Ah yes, quarterback -- if Stanford hopes to sustain its offensive success moving forward, that's likely the most important variable of all. Kevin Hogan delivered a sparkling 16-for-19, 234-yard performance in that UCLA win, setting up a fascinating future decision for Shaw at this crossroads.
Hogan struggled in parts of this season, leading many observers to wonder whether or not he’d be the Cardinal’s starting quarterback again in 2015, his fifth-year senior campaign. Touted prospects Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns are waiting in the wings. But Hogan's sensational performance to close the regular season prompted Shaw to hint that a run at the NFL is not out of the cards for Hogan yet. If the coach does indeed feel so strongly about his quarterback’s potential, one would think Hogan would be the favorite to start again at Stanford next season.
"I expect him to come back [next year]," Shaw said. "But I wouldn't be shocked if he left because I think he has the ability to play at the next level. I think that last game showed what his capabilities are. That's where his ceiling is. And if he plays like that for any stretch of time, I'm excited about him at the next level."
That's the confusion of this 2014 Stanford season, encapsulated in one quote. It's tough to know what to make of a quarterback -- and a team -- when their play over the course of a season resembles Dr. Jekyll on one end of the spectrum and Mr. Hyde on the other. But the uncertainty emanating from the Cardinal's play makes their next moves particularly intriguing -- even if their final game destination this season isn't as prestigious as in years past.
Yet there also were some very good players who got just about no recognition and should have. That's why we're creating an "All-Underrated" team.
The idea was to spotlight players, mostly upperclassmen, who didn't make the first- or second-All-Pac-12 teams from the coaches or from ESPN.com.
Funny thing is, this team was also pretty darn difficult to make. There was lots of star value in the Pac-12 this season, and lots of good players who got lost in the shadows of those stars.
RB: Daniel Lasco, Jr., California: Ranked sixth in conference with 92.9 yards per game, finishing the season with 1,115 yards and 12 TDs, which ranked third among conference running backs.
RB: Byron Marshall, Jr., Oregon: After leading the Ducks in rushing last season, Marshall did most of his work as a receiver this year, but we're putting him here because this is his natural position. He led the Ducks with 61 receptions for 814 yards with five touchdowns while also rushing for 383 yards and a TD, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
WR: Austin Hill, Sr., Arizona: Hill wasn't the super-productive guy he was in 2012 before his knee injury, but he was a clutch and critical contributor to the Wildcats high-powered offense. He ranked second on the team with 45 receptions for 605 yards with four touchdowns. He also showed versatility as a tight end and demonstrated a willingness to block.
WR: Isiah Myers, Sr., Washington State: Finished second on the Cougars with 78 catches, and his 972 receiving yards were fifth-most in the Pac-12. His 12 touchdown catches tied for the Pac-12 lead and tied for the second-most in WSU history. He posted three 100-yard games and finished his career sixth in WSU history with 164 receptions and tied for fourth with 19 career touchdowns.
WR: Jordan Payton, Jr., UCLA: He led the Bruins with 63 receptions (8th on all-time UCLA single-season list) and 896 yards (10th) with seven touchdowns. His 14.2 yards per catch tied for second in the Pac-12.
OL: Joe Dahl, Jr., Washington State: The left tackle allowed just one sack in WSU’s Pac-12 record 771 pass attempts and earned the team’s “Bone” Award (given to the team’s best offensive lineman following each game) a team-best six times. He has started all 25 games he has been at WSU, starting 12 at left guard before moving to left tackle in the New Mexico Bowl last year.
OL: Josh Mitchell, Jr., Oregon State: He stepped in for injured All-American candidate Isaac Seumalo and became the leader of the Beavers offensive line, the one constant for a unit that used six different combinations.
OL: Vi Teofilo, Jr., Arizona State: A physical blocker who got better as the season wore on, he earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors from the coaches.
OL: Hamani Stevens, Sr., Oregon: Slid over from left guard to center when All-American Hroniss Grasu went down and did a solid job. Was the only Ducks linemen to start every game this season.
OL: Daniel Munyer, Sr., Colorado: The Buffaloes best O-lineman -- the Buffs yielded the second-fewest sacks in the Pac-12 -- he graded out at 90.9 percent this season with a team-best 51 knockdowns.
DL Andrew Hudson, Sr., Washington: Hudson ranked fourth in the Pac-12 with 11.5 sacks, and his 0.88 sacks per game ranked 13th in the nation. Finished fourth on the Huskies with 71 tackles, including 14.5 for a loss, with three forced fumbles.
DL David Parry, Sr., Stanford: A force in the middle of Stanford's dominant defense, he had 30 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks. He also had six QB hurries.
LB: Jared Norris, Jr., Utah: Led the Utes and was fourth in the conference in total tackles (108) and tackles per game (9.0). His 10.0 TFL is tied for 10th. He also had four sacks.
LB: Blake Martinez, Jr., Stanford: More than a few folks think Martinez manned the middle of the Stanford defense this fall better than Shayne Skov did the previous few seasons. He led the Cardinal with 96 tackles and had six tackles for a loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles.
LB: J.R. Tavai, Sr., USC: Despite missing two games with a knee injury, he led the Trojans with seven sacks. Also had 47 tackles, including 12 for losses, with two deflections, a fumble recovery and a team-best three forced fumbles. Won USC’s Chris Carlisle Courage Award.
LB Michael Doctor, Sr., Oregon State: Doctor returned from an ankle injury that killed his 2013 season and finished with 62 tackles (third on the team). He also tied for the team lead with three interceptions, including a pick-6 off Taylor Kelly in the Beavers' upset of Arizona State. Doctor also had two forced fumbles and a recovery.
S: Jordan Simone, Jr., Arizona State: Former walk-on finished second on the Sun Devils with 90 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss, and a sack. He also had two interceptions and a forced fumble.
S: Jared Tevis, Sr., Arizona: While he got lost amid the deserved hoopla for LB Scooby Wright III, Tevis, a former walk-on, finished second on the Wildcats with 119 tackles, including nine for loss, with four sacks and two interceptions. Most of that production came in the second half of the season.
CB: Alex Carter, Jr., Stanford: Carter didn't have a lot of numbers -- 39 tackles, one interception, one forced fumble -- but there are a lot of observers who might rate him right up with Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu as an NFL prospect.
CB: Eric Rowe, Sr., Utah: Third in the Pac-11 in passes defended per game (1.18). Tied for fourth in total passes defended (13). Looks like he could be the next NFL cornerback out of Utah.
K: Cameron Van Winkle, So., Washington: Led the Pac-12 in field goal percentage after connecting on 20 of 23 kicks -- 87 percent -- with a long of 51.
P: Darragh O'Neill, Sr., Colorado: Had a 44.1 average, which ranked third in the conference, and had 27 punts inside the 20 -- second in the Pac-12 -- including 14 inside the 15. 66.7 percent of his punts (65) were not returned.
The 2014 ride -- usually unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while impacting its eccentric, memorable course.
We'll be counting down in increments of three throughout this entire week. Here's the third installment:
9. Andy Phillips game-winning FG vs. UCLA
A 29-yard field goal attempt is cake for Andy Phillips. But with the Utes trailing by one point with 37 seconds remaining, this wasn't exactly a stroll in the park.
The three previous plays had only managed 5 yards, all on the ground. It all resulted in a fourth-and-5 and Phillips shining moment. But, as he had done so many times already in the 2014 season (and as he would do so many more times this season), Phillips was cool and collected, nailing the 29-yarder.
Phillips' field goal didn't completely seal the game for the Utes. The Bruins were able to go 36 yards in six plays, setting up Ka'imi Fairbairn to attempt a 50-yard field goal. But it was short and the unranked Utes managed to upset then-No. 8 UCLA in Pasadena.
“I've never understood what the word 'signature win' is, but this is a big win for us on the road,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
8. Jerry Neuheisel putting the Bruins on his back in Texas
When UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley got injured on the second offensive drive for the Bruins, there was certainly a sinking feeling in Arlington. The depth behind Hundley was, well, limited and coach Jim Mora would be turning to sophomore Jerry Neuheisel, who had only attempted 13 passes total during his UCLA career.
But what Neuheisel did was nothing short of spectacular. He led the Bruin offense, completing 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Though, the crowning play -- and one that made him look like a true veteran -- was the game-winning 33-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton. The touchdown and ensuing PAT pulled the Bruins ahead 20-17 and the ensuing defensive series (holding the Longhorns to just 3 yards and a punt) kept No. 12 UCLA in the playoff conversation.
Neuheisel's play was also an early signifier as to how good the quarterback depth was in the Pac-12. Though we'd eventually go on to see Mike Bercovici, Luke Falk and Kendal Thompson/Travis Wilson (pick your starter and your back up), they'd all be referenced back to Neuheisel as he was kind of the starting point for the backup QB conversation after this performance against Texas.
7. Cal touchdowns against Stanford #Pac12refs
Oh, Pac-12 refs. Hell hath no furry like fans scorned. And there were several Pac-12 fan bases scorned this season. But Cal? Oh boy.
The Pac-12 announced on Nov. 25 that the officiating crew for the Stanford-Cal game made two mistakes and it cost the Bears a third-quarter touchdown. The replay crew overturned two touchdowns and the Pac-12 later decided that there was actually not enough evidence to overturn either of those calls.
A release stated that the "replay crew will be held accountable for the errors through the Conference's disciplinary process."
Just a month and a half before these unfortunate errors, NFL referee Tony Corrente resigned as the league's coordinator of football officiating. To say that it wasn't the greatest year for #Pac12refs would be an understatement. Better luck next year (because seriously, it can't get much worse).
Other defining moments:
A few more All-America teams were announced Tuesday, and the usual Pac-12 suspects continue to rake in the honors. Here's the latest breakdown.
First up is the Associated Press All-America team.
- First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, Shaq Thompson, AP, Washington.
- First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington, Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona, Hau’oli Kikaha, LB, Washington, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon, Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
- Second-team offense: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford, Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
- Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah, Leonard Williams, DT, USC, Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
- Third-team offense: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon, Nelson Agholor, WR, USC.
- Third-team defense: Su’a Cravens, S, USC.
Next up is the Sports Illustrated All-America team.
- First-team offense: Mariota, Grasu, Peat.
- First-team defense: Orchard, Wright III, Thompson, Kendricks, Ekpre-Olomu.
- Second team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
- Second team defense: Williams, Kikaha
- Second team special teams: Hackett
Here's the Fox Sports All-America team.
- First-team offense: Mariota
- First-team defense: Williams, Wright III, Kikaha, Ekpre-Olomu,
- First-team special teams: Hackett, Kaelin Clay, KR, Utah
- Second-team offense: Agholor
- Second-team defense: Orchard, Shelton, Thompson, Kendricks
Also, USA Today put together its Freshman All-America team. Included on that list from the Pac-12 are:
- Offense: Toa Lobendahn, OL, USC, Jacob Alsadek, OL, Arizona
- Defense: Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah, Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC, Budda Baker, S, Washington.
Finally, Bruce Feldman of Fox breaks down the most impressive freshmen. Jackson and Baker are on his list.
- The '89 Fiesta Bowl is not a fun topic for Arizona assistants.
- ASU's playmakers need time with their NFL decision.
- Some more Cal recruiting updates.
- The Buffs picked up a JC defensive back commitment.
- Oregon is easing into Florida State prep.
- Gary Andersen hit the airwaves yesterday.
- Austin Hooper trying to re-establish the tight end at Stanford.
- Some video highlights of a UCLA TE commit.
- USC officially turns its attention to Nebraska.
- Utah's role is reversed now that it's a P0wer 5 program.
- The Huskies landed their fourth commit in the past three days.
- Tis the season for prep highlight clips. Here's a WSU commit.
In case you missed it (and it would have been pretty hard to miss it if you follow Pac-12 football), here's the full presentation of Marcus Mariota reading the Top 10 on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
Shaw Plans To Remain At Stanford
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Cincinnati 17 Virginia Tech 33 Final 15 Arizona State 36 Duke 31 Final Miami (FL) 21 South Carolina 24 Final/OT Boston College 30 Penn State 31 Final Nebraska 42 24 USC 45
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State