Media Days takeaways: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:57
PM ET
Some thoughts, observations and musings about Day 1 of Pac-12 media days from the Pac-12 blog's Kevin Gemmell, Kyle Bonagura and Chantel Jennings.

Biggest football-centric takeaway?

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsRich Rodriguez said on Wednesday that he hasn't determined who will start at QB for Arizona this fall.
Kevin Gemmell: Arizona still doesn’t have a quarterback. Not that that’s shocking. We knew it was going to take awhile for Rich Rodriguez to find the right guy to run things in 2014. But with a really talented stable of wide receivers ready to break out and get all freaky on secondaries, you’d think he’d be at least a little bit closer to whittling down his pecking order. You’d be wrong: “Even if I knew who the starter was, I wouldn’t tell you all. Why would I tell you and tell our opponents? I really don’t know who not just No. 1 is, but I don’t know who No. 1, 2 or 3 is.” Maybe it’s a lot of coachspeak and he knows exactly what the offense will look like. Maybe he really doesn’t know. Feel like we’ve been here before …

Chantel Jennings: I knew there was a high interest in USC this year, but I guess I didn’t realize how high. The reporter crowd around Steve Sarkisian was about three times as large as for any other coach who attended today (including Mark Helfrich, whose team is the favorite for the Pac-12 title). Obviously, it’s USC and by nature, people will care. But with the program being back on track, a new coach, some exciting players and a new offensive scheme, the Trojans are going to be in a complete pressure cooker. Quarterback Cody Kessler talked about how last year -- and the amount of change and adversity they faced -- will help them this season. Yes, certainly the whole “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” argument is valid. But how much stronger is USC? And are the Trojans strong enough to put up a fight in the South? Are they strong enough to handle the growing pains under a first-year coach? Are they strong enough to handle the increasingly high expectations of the public?

Kyle Bonagura: When it comes to quarterback play, believe the hype. And while, by nature, these types of events exist almost primarily to generate hype, everyone seemed to be in agreement that the quarterbacks have a chance to be considered one of the best conference groups in college football history. That’s not hyperbole, either. There have been comparable years if you take a look at the top five or six, maybe, but to have 10 returning quarterbacks — and so many decorated players among that group — might be unmatched.

Biggest nonfootball takeaway

Gemmell: Oregon and Washington fans might not like this, but the chances their bitter rivalry will grow frostier are slim. When asked about his relationship with new Washington coach Chris Petersen, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich offered this: “My relationship with Pete will be great forever. I’m going to hate him on certain days and some days he’ll hate me, whether it’s recruiting or on game day. But the guy is a lifelong friend of mine and that won’t change. I know that’s going to make both of our fan bases very unhappy.” But it’s oh-so bromantic.

Jennings: The event today had a few different activities set up for the players, including a game of corn hole (for you non-Midwesterners, you’ll know this as "the game with the angled boards with holes in them that you try to get bean bags in"). I, myself, am a connoisseur of the sport and will challenge anyone. However, I wasn’t too impressed with some of the guys and coaches playing today. Especially some of the QBs. You can throw a football 60 yards, but you can't toss a bean bag 20 feet? C’mon.

Bonagura: The conference’s new buzzword is “innovation.” Commissioner Larry Scott used it nine times in his lengthy opening remarks to begin the day and seems focused on using the conference’s home near Silicon Valley to help aid the use of technology in as many ways as possible. He specifically referred to a partnership with AT&T, Sporting Innovations and Stanford that includes the development of an app that will supposedly make more information — videos, stats, etc. — more accessible to fans while in attendance. I’ll take a wait-and-see approach on how innovative this innovation ends up being, but long term it’s not a bad thing.

Best quote of the day

Gemmell: Had a nice little chat with WSU linebacker Darryl Monroe about the fallout from the bowl game and what he thinks when he hears someone use the expression, "Coug’d it": “For me, Coug’d should mean you just went out there and dominated. I don’t understand where this impression of 'Coug’d it' means you did something in a negative light. Maybe the Urban Dictionary should think about rewriting that definition to 'Coug’d it means completely dominated your opponent.'”

Jennings: Can we just insert Mike Leach’s news conference transcript here? (Follow up: Can we just give Mike Leach a reality TV show?) But really, to give you the full experience … I walked up to the media scrum midway through Leach’s news conference. This is the exact moment I walked in. Enjoy.

“The gnats rarely got too hot, I guess. And then finally this one high school coach, as I'm recruiting there, he says, 'Try this.' Now I have big, old fat lips, so it didn't work very good. But he could fire up a little pucker, kind of blow the gnats off, then they had Skin So Soft [lotion], which is big. And I don't know what that is, but evidently gnats don't like it. They rub that all over [their faces]. But it looked kind of oily, you know? What I think is the gnats don't care about it, but it probably puts a little sheet of oil on there so it's harder to bite you. You don't feel the bite. That's just one guy's theory. I'm sure I'm wrong.”

Bonagura: “We've got a brand-new facility that's great, but everybody's got new stuff. Oregon changes it out like Porta-Potties. Like every four or five years like we need a new this, and they go do it.” -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez on the facilities arms race in the conference

A couple of things to address here: (1) He’s right. As a whole, the conference has done a great job upgrading its facilities across the board. It’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how each construction project has helped each individual school — mainly from a recruiting standpoint — because it’s about keeping up with the Joneses as much as anything. (2) Who knew RichRod had a working knowledge of Porta-Potty lifespans?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota, a topflight NFL prospect, said he isn't sure if he will turn pro after this season.
Best lie of the day

Jennings: Marcus Mariota said he hasn’t made his mind up on whether or not he’d leave for the NFL after this season. Now, I will say that this is a hard case because it’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If he came in and said, “Yep, no matter what happens, I’m out,” then he’d be criticized. So I’m not necessarily criticizing him for this -- he’s saying what he needed to say and that’s the right thing to do. But the moment it came out of his mouth, all the reporters silently went, “Riiiiiiiiiiiight.”

Bonagura: Agree wholeheartedly with Jennings. When asked if this will be his final year at Oregon, Mariota simply replied: “I’m not sure.” He sounded sincere, too, but it’s tough to envision a scenario in which he’s not beginning training camp with an NFL team at this time next year. Seeing one of the best talents in college football pass up potentially becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft back-to-back seasons doesn’t happen.

Gemmell: Have to agree with my colleagues. It was nice for Mariota to say there is a chance he could come back for another season. And everyone in emerald land just got all giddy at the prospect of maybe seeing Mariota rocking the "O" beyond 2014. But I think we all know it ain't going to happen. He took out an insurance policy for a reason. Enjoy him while you can for now, Oregon fans. Because he's as good as gone.

Which player made a good impression on you?

Gemmell: I’ve long been a fan of Connor Halliday’s play. Is he reckless sometimes? Sure. Does he throw too many interceptions? Yeah. But I also like a guy who will throw a pick and then on the next drive make the exact same throw for a 60-yard touchdown. I like the moxie. And I thought that confidence came through during his podium session. He fielded all of the questions about turnovers and bowl games and still had time to crack wise about his head coach. You need poise to play for Mike Leach. And Halliday showed me a little of that today.

Jennings: Utah WR Dres Anderson isn’t a guy who has had a ton of media training or been in too many situations in which he’s crowded by the media. But even so, he handled it very gracefully. He was energetic, funny and engaging without seeming disingenuous (which some players do when they’re so over-the-top). He told anecdotes without needed to be asked, “OK, do you have any examples of that?” by reporters. He was a player who it seemed was really just having a bunch of good conversations with strangers.

Bonagura: Cal quarterback Jared Goff was in a tough spot last year getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman on a historically bad team, but you wouldn’t have known that based on his demeanor today. Goff was polished, personable and said all the things you’d want your team’s starting quarterback to say. If there were any doubts about how well he’d evolve into a leadership role, there shouldn’t be. With 10 returning starters at the position, Goff might fly under the radar in the conference, but he’s as talented a young quarterback as there is in the country and has a chance to compete statistically with the nation’s best.

And of course, no recap would be right without a series of Leach tweets:

StanfordDavid Madison/Getty ImagesDavid Shaw and the defending Pac-12 champion Cardinal face a brutal schedule in 2014.
As we count down 50 days until the start of the 2014 college football season, ESPN Insider Travis Haney is answering at least one big question a day until South Carolina and Texas A&M’s kickoff Aug. 28.

Heisman contenders, breakout freshmen, conference winners -- it will all be covered as part of Insider’s Ultimate Season Preview.

Today’s question: Is this the year that Stanford finally takes a step backward?

After four consecutive BCS bowl appearances and back-to-back Pac-12 titles, your first instinct is to say no -- or at least that you’ll believe it when you see it. But I checked in with a resident expert at ESPN Radio, “College GameDay” producer “Stanford” Steve Coughlin, and he thinks there will be some regression for the Cardinal in 2014.

It’s due to the schedule more than anything, he said.

Media days are here: Day 1

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
8:00
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Welcome to Day 1 of Pac-12 media days! The Pac-12 blog will be updating you throughout the day on all of the fun happenings, tidbits and tweet-worthy sound bites -- and probably a few that aren’t tweet-worthy, but we will tweet them anyway.

Here is the schedule of events for today (all times PT):
Thursday's schedule: Who are those guys?

Salem, Oregon, was in the news after Baylor coach Art Briles made a suggestion that people at Dairy Queens in Salem have now heard of quarterback Bryce Petty, whom Briles is peddling for the Heisman. Jake Trotter broke it down, along with an Instagram video from Petty, who boasted that Baylor has the most explosive offense in the country.

He’s right, by the way. The Bears scored 52.4 points per game last season, and Oregon was fourth nationally with 45.5.

Our own Chantel Jennings took a swing at calling Dairy Queens in Waco to see if they knew who Marcus Mariota was. She went oh-fer.

Perhaps it is the wrong venue. Besides Mariota, the Pac-12 has another Heisman hopeful quarterback in UCLA's Brett Hundley. And we most closely associate Southern California with In-N-Out. So the Pac-12 blog called the In-N-Out in Waco to see if anyone had heard of Hundley. Oh wait, there isn’t one. SoCal 1, Waco 0. (But one is coming soon to Killeen!)

No doubt Mariota and Hundley will be asked about the Heisman, and wacky media days questions are the norm. We are just wondering if Mariota or Hundley will send an Instagram or tweet back to Waco. Your move, fellas.

Stiff-arm predictions

Speaking of the Heisman, Athlon released its list of 10 Pac-12 players who should get consideration. Five on their list (Mariota, Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion and Connor Halliday) will be in attendance at media days.

Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson is the lone defensive player on the list, but the story also includes five defensive players who should be in the mix but won’t be. One of them is UCLA’s Myles Jack. Don't get us wrong. We love Jack. But as the Pac-12 blog has already noted, we know who the real leader of the UCLA defense is.

Rock the vote

One of the big storylines today will be the release of the preseason prediction. Pac-12 media members are invited to cast their vote on what they think will happen at the end of the season. You can see how the #4Pac voted. (Yeah, that is what we're calling ourselves now. Thoughts?)

A few more ballots from other media members:
A lot of folks are thinking we’re going to see Oregon-UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game. The Pac-12 blog agrees.

Graham confident

Anyone want to take a guess at the over/under for times Todd Graham is asked about his defense at media days? Probably the same number of times Rich Rodriguez will be asked about quarterbacks.

But just because the Sun Devils lose nine starters on that side of the ball doesn’t mean Graham isn’t confident, as he tells Doug Haller.

The Sun Devils ranked seventh in the conference last season in scoring defense, yielding 26.6 points per game.

National view

Finally, Tim Sullivan of the (Louisville) Courier-Journal offered some thoughts on the impact of paying college athletes, in light of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby’s comments Monday. Looking forward to what Larry Scott has to say on the subject.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: ESPN.com conducted a survey of the top 300 2015 football recruits, and throughout the week it's been exploring the results. This includes a look at how recruits are open to playing with gay teammates and how they would support unionization, stipends and an expanded College Football Playoff.

So which schools scored with recruits for the best food, top facilities, greatest campus atmosphere and coolest uniforms?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team’s nonconference opponents in 2014. (Note, we'll take a break from the series for a couple of days to focus on media days coverage. We'll pick up with UCLA on Friday).

STANFORD

UC Davis Aggies, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Ron Gould (5-7), second year
  • 2013 record: 5-7, 5-3, Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Eight offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Gabe Manzanares was the Big Sky newcomer of the year season, rushing for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also earned third-team all-conference honors along the way.
  • Defensive headliner: An all-conference honorable mention last season, linebacker Steven Pitts posted 74 stops, including a team high 11.5 tackles for a loss. He also had four sacks to go with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • The skinny: Cal fans might recall Gould from his days with the Bears, where he helped develop, among others, Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. The Aggies return four of five starters on the offensive line and a talented running back in Manzanares. The defensive line needs to be rebuilt and they have to replace quarterback Randy Wright. Expect Davis to rely heavily on the run game.
Army Black Knights, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Jeff Monken, first season
  • 2013 record:3-9, Independent
  • Returning starters: 10 offense, 16 defense (that’s not a typo, that’s what they list).
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Terry Baggett led the team with 141 carries for 1,113 yards and eight touchdowns last year, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and 92.8 yards per game.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive lineman Mike Ugenyi led all of Army’s defensive linemen last year with 39 stops, including 6.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
  • The skinny: Despite the coaching change, the Knights will continue to run the triple-option. Monken tallied a 38-16 record when he was at Georgia Southern and advanced to the FCS semifinals three times before helping the team transition into the Sun Belt Conference and FBS play. Army didn’t exactly give Stanford trouble last year. But it wasn’t a walk-over for the Cardinal, either.
At Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Saturday, Oct. 4
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (37-14), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 9-4, Independent
  • Returning starters: Five offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Center Nick Martin, recently added to the Rimington watch list for the nation’s best center, missed spring ball recovering from a knee injury last season. But when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the country.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell returns after posting 51 tackles last year, including 1.5 for a loss. He had one interception and led the team with nine passes defended while also recovering a fumble.
  • The skinny: This will be the first of three games between Pac-12 schools and Notre Dame, who face Arizona State and USC in November. The last time these teams played in South Bend, well, you remember. It was a controversial ending that kept the Irish undefeated. But it also fueled the Cardinal’s Rose Bowl run. No doubt, David Shaw & Co. haven’t forgotten.
Thoughts: The Cardinal have an unusual layout to the first half of their season. They open with a nonconference game and then have a conference game in between the other two for the first six games. They have the Trojans in between Davis and Army and a trip to Seattle in between Army and the visit to Notre Dame. Stanford has some of its toughest games on the road this season -- including trips to Tempe, Eugene and Pasadena, and factoring in a trip to South Bend isn't easy. It’s also probably frustrating for local fans to see the Bill Walsh Legacy game with San Jose State put on hiatus. And hopefully the schools can come to an agreement to bring that game back. But for now, the Cardinal should be able to handle Davis and Army. The Aggies probably won’t provide a very good proxy for the Trojans, so Stanford had best be ready to work in Week 2. The Notre Dame game is just a fun rivalry that will likely feature two ranked teams. There are two wins here for sure, and more than likely a third if the Cardinal can shake off the South Bend demons from 2012.
Pac-12 media days start Wednesday at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California, and your entire Pac-12 gang -- we're going by either #4pac or #pac4, we haven't decided yet -- will be there soaking in the evasive and clichéd quotes while plumbing for revealing and interesting nuggets to share with you.

There are plenty of topics to cover, from the perhaps unprecedented quality and experience at quarterback, to two new coaches who have familiar faces, to the new four-team College Football Playoff.

Arizona, California, USC, Oregon, Washington State and Utah will appear on Wednesday, while Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Colorado follow up on Thursday. You can see the players on hand and the schedule here. This is the first time the Pac-12 has spread out its preseason media event over two days.

The preseason media poll will be released Wednesday, and the Pac-12 blog is going out on no limb guaranteeing you that Oregon will be picked to win the North and UCLA will be picked to win the South.

As a public service, we've provided you with a cheat sheet so you can contemplate the world as a reporter might. Below are questions for each of the conference's 12 teams that are sure to be asked, less warm-and-fuzzy questions that should be asked, and idle bits of whimsy that the Pac-12 blog wishes would be part of the proceedings.

(Unless otherwise noted, the questions are intended for the head coach.)

Arizona Wildcats, coach Rich Rodriguez
What will be asked: Can you give us an idea of your pecking order at quarterback?
What should be asked: What did Wildcats fans say to you this summer about being 0-2 against Arizona State?
Whimsical interlude: If Todd Graham and Donald Sterling were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?

Arizona State Sun Devils, coach Todd Graham
What will be asked: Who will step up on your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: You turn 50 in December: Do you expect to retire as the Sun Devils' coach?
Whimsical interlude: If Rich Rodriguez and Justin Bieber were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?

California Golden Bears, coach Sonny Dykes
What will be asked: What's your team's attitude after going 1-11 in your first season?
What should be asked: What are specific mistakes you made last season that contributed to your team's struggles?
Whimsical interlude: Compare and contrast your hometowns of Big Spring and Lubbock, Texas, to Berkeley.

Colorado Buffaloes, coach Mike MacIntyre
What will be asked: Is your team ready to take the next step in the Pac-12?
What should be asked: What is your program's chief deficiency, and how are you addressing that in recruiting?
Whimsical interlude: Just thinking out loud here, but -- Ralphie, are you certain she has no remaining eligibility?

Oregon Ducks, coach Mark Helfrich
What will be asked: How will quarterback Marcus Mariota be better this season than last?
What should be asked: What were some of the challenges and transitional pains you've learned from after replacing a larger-than-life coach in Chip Kelly?
Whimsical interlude: Marcus, here are five loaves and two fishes. There are a lot of hungry reporters here. So, you know, do your thing.

Oregon State Beavers, coach Mike Riley
What will be asked: How does the offense change without wide receiver Brandin Cooks?
What should be asked: Is it possible for the Beavers to catch up to Oregon without the kind of support the Ducks get from Nike founder Phil Knight?
Whimsical interlude: Sean Mannion, please re-create for us the worst temper tantrum you've ever seen Coach Riley throw.

Stanford Cardinal, coach David Shaw
What will be asked: Who will step up to lead your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: The media have again picked Oregon, the two-time defending Pac-12 North champions, to eclipse you. Is that a slight to your program, and if not, how do you interpret it?
Whimsical interlude: Jordan Richards, you are a public policy major. Please compare and contrast the deontological perspectives of Kant, Mill and Rawls.

UCLA Bruins, coach Jim Mora
What will be asked: How do you manage all the hype and high expectations that surround your team and quarterback Brett Hundley?
What should be asked: What do you need from the UCLA administration to maintain and build on your present advantage in your rivalry with USC?
Whimsical interlude: Jim, what does your dad think of the new college football PLAYOFFS?

USC Trojans, coach Steve Sarkisian
What will be asked: How will your up-tempo offense work while you have depth issues due to scholarship limitations?
What should be asked: What mistakes did you make at Washington that you'll avoid at USC?
Whimsical interlude: Steve, what would be the most interesting revelation if you, Pete Carroll, Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin went out for drinks?

Utah Utes, coach Kyle Whittingham
What will be asked: Explain how your quarterback situation sets up with Travis Wilson and transfer Kendal Thompson and how each fits in new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense.
What should be asked: Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?
Whimsical interlude: You've had six offensive coordinators in six years. Please match each with one of Snow White's seven dwarfs, assuming that this stupid question automatically makes you Grumpy.

Washington Huskies, coach Chris Petersen
What will be asked: What was it about Washington that lured you away from Boise State?
What should be asked: What did quarterback Cyler Miles tell you about his role in two separate fights that occurred after the Super Bowl?
Whimsical interlude: OT Ben Riva: You are the only offensive lineman here. There are eight quarterbacks, three receivers and a bunch of defensive guys. First, what's the worst prima donna behavior you have witnessed? And second, is this pretty much an offensive lineman's seventh level of hell?

Washington State Cougars, coach Mike Leach
What will be asked: With a veteran quarterback and a deep corps of receivers, what are your expectations for your offense this fall?
What should be asked: Did your job get more difficult or easier with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington?
Whimsical interlude: Connor Halliday and Darryl Monroe: Here is a 10-question quiz on your coach's book about Geronimo, which I'm sure you've read. You have two minutes. Go!

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
2:30
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Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Our Pac-12 media poll ballots

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
1:00
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Every year, the Pac-12 polls media members on how they predict the season will turn out. Sometimes there is a pretty strong consensus. Sometimes there is not. The Pac-12 blog expects there to be strong unanimity this go-around, as our four ballots suggest.

All four of us picked Oregon and UCLA to win their respective divisions. All of us picked Oregon as the Pac-12 champion. Kevin's and Ted's ballots are exactly the same, which might be a good thing for Ted, considering that Kevin's 2013 ballot correctly predicted the finish of all 12 teams.

By the way, Kevin has never, ever, ever brought that up since the end of the 2013 season, notwithstanding his voicemail celebrating that fact, his copywriting "Mr. Pac-12 Perfect Predictor" and the giant billboards he erected in all Pac-12 towns and cities. To quote Uriah Heep, Kevin remains "the 'umblest person going."

For those believing the Pac-12 blog merely goes with the flow, recall that the 2013 Pac-12 media poll picked Oregon and UCLA as the division winners, while Kevin and Ted went with Stanford and Arizona State.

(Insert smug look).

There are some differences here between your Old Men and the New Blood, most notably the bottom two finishers in the South. There also are some differences in the placement of Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North, and USC and Arizona State in the South.

Here's Ted Miller's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Kevin Gemmell's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Chantel Jenning's (You can follow her on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. ASU
3. USC
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon

And here's Kyle Bonagura (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Georgia fans have had to watch rivals Auburn and Alabama crow after recruiting victory after recruiting victory the past few months, but Bulldog fans got a chance to thump their chest some after landing two of the nation’s best 2016 prospects Saturday after its Dawg Night camp. But will those commitments stay true for the long haul? Plus, Penn State’s James Franklin remains hot on the recruiting trial.


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Mailbag: Alabama scheduling

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
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Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).

That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.

Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.

You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.

What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.

Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.

Mickey: That was easy.

Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?

Mickey: They was hand-picked!

Rocky Balboa: Setups?

Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!

Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.

My prediction for the game? Pain.




Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?

Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.

First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.

You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.

Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.

As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.

There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.




Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)

Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.

The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.

Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.




Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?

Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.

If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.

Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.

And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.




Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.

Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 5.

Thursday, Sept. 25
  • UCLA at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 27
  • Oregon State at USC
  • Colorado at California
  • Washington State at Utah
  • Stanford at Washington
  • Byes: Arizona, Oregon
My choice: UCLA at Arizona State and Stanford at Washington

Why: For the first time this year, we have a full set of just conference games. And that’s exciting, because there are some good ones. And because of the Thursday-Saturday scheduling, we’ve got ourselves a 2-fer.

Oregon State at USC is going to be fun with Manning Academy quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler squaring off. Colorado at Cal is intriguing for power ranking purposes, as is Washington State at Utah.

But on the first leg of our two-game Week 5 trip, we’re making our first stop in Tempe to see the game that has essentially determined the Pac-12 South division the last couple of years. And it might be the swing game again this season.

The Sun Devils are the defending South champs after taking it from UCLA, which won the division in 2012. The Bruins are the likely favorites this year and looking to take it back.

And the last two meetings have been thrillers. In 2012, it was Taylor Kelly who drove the Sun Devils 56 yards in six plays to give ASU a 43-42 edge with 1:33 left to play. Then Brett Hundley returned the favor, moving UCLA 60 yards in 12 plays to set up Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 33-yard field goal that lifted the Bruins to a 45-43 win as time expired.

Last year, with the Bruins trailing 38-33 and 3:21 left, Hundley wasn’t able to duplicate the magic as the Sun Devils defense stifled him on the final drive. Of course, that was after ASU had built up a 35-13 lead at halftime and almost gave it up in the second half. But a win is a win.

When the preseason media poll is revealed next week, chances are UCLA will be picked to win the South, most likely followed by USC and then ASU. The Sun Devils aren’t going to give up their crown without a fight.

And speaking of critical intra-division games, we’re going to hop on a flight Friday morning up to Seattle, grab dinner at El Gaucho, and then watch Washington host the Cardinal on Saturday. (Or you could drive it … 1,428 miles from stadium to stadium).

Recent history isn’t always great precedent, but given how the last two games have gone, this one could be equally thrilling. The 2012 showdown at the CLink was one of the most deafening games I’ve ever covered -- pro or college. And it was the game that launched Bishop Sankey from backup-turned-starter into a bona fide playmaker.

And of course there were the controversies of last year’s game -- the allegations of fake injuries, a critical replay, Austin Seferian-Jenkins' dropped pass on third down, Ty Montgomery’s monster returns etc. And though Washington’s coaching staff has changed, this meeting has turned into a stellar North matchup the last couple of seasons and worthy of a spot on the road trip.

You can catch the rest of the road trip here.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:30
PM ET
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
It's possible that your team's backup quarterback will be completely irrelevant this season. It's also possible he will become your team's most important player.

Just like the vice president isn't that important until he is, so is the backup quarterback. He could rescue or ruin your season.

So how do Pac-12 teams stand at backup quarterback? Let's take a look. We started with the South Division on Wednesday. Today, it's the North.

(Obviously, if your team hasn't yet named a starting quarterback, this is a bit of an either/or exercise.)

California: With Zach Kline leaving the program, which further established sophomore Jared Goff as the starter, Austin Hinder is the backup. He's a senior with limited experience.

Oregon: The battle behind Marcus Mariota didn't produce decisive results this spring, but Jake Rodrigues' decision to transfer established sophomore Jeff Lockie as the heavy favorite to be the backup. He was ahead of Rodrigues last year, though Rodrigues was a bigger physical talent. Morgan Mahalak is a touted incoming freshman, and the competition figures to be heated to replace Mariota in 2015.

Oregon State: With Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio -- he was a walk-on for the Crimson Tide, not a touted recruit -- immediately eligible, he will join the battle between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt to back up Sean Mannion, a senior. Obviously, the winner becomes the front-runner to win the starting job in 2015. None of the three has played in a college game.

Stanford: Evan Crower, a redshirt junior, was Kevin Hogan's backup last season and might be the favorite to hold onto that perch behind the third-year starter again this fall. That said, redshirt freshman Ryan Burns and incoming freshman Keller Chryst are both touted recruits. Crower completed 10 of 15 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown last year.

Washington: If sophomore Cyler Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse and becomes the starter -- he certainly looked the part in limited work last year, which included a winning effort in a start at Oregon State -- then the battle to back him up is between sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams. They were the only two quarterbacks throwing passes during spring drills, but neither asserted himself.

Washington State: The Cougars backup QB situation has gone from good to worrisome since the end of the 2013 season. First, Austin Apodaca opted to transfer, probably because he heard footsteps from redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman. Then Bruggman also bolted, perhaps because he didn't like getting outplayed by walk-on Luke Falk during spring practices. As it is, the Cougs would prefer for Connor Halliday to stay healthy.
It's possible that your team's backup quarterback will be completely irrelevant this season. It's also possible he will become your team's most important player.

Just like the vice president isn't that important until he is, so is the backup QB. He could rescue or ruin your season.

So how do Pac-12 teams stand at backup QB? Let's take a look, starting with the South Division.

(Obviously, if your team hasn't yet named a starting QB, this is a bit of an either-or exercise).

Arizona: The above disclaimer was written for the Wildcats, who have a wide-open competition heading into fall camp between four guys: senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Anu Solomon, junior Jerrard Randall and sophomore Connor Brewer. The good news is all four flashed capability during spring practices, so there's little worry on Rich Rodriguez's staff whether he can find at least two guys with whom he can win. Further, the backup situation sets up things for next year (if Scroggins prevails, and he's a slight frontrunner, then it will be competition-on again).

Arizona State: Starter Taylor Kelly is one of the nation's best returning QBs. His big-armed backup, Mike Bercovici, is likely one of the nation's best backup QBs. While Kelly is the clear starter, there isn't a Sun Devil player or coach who'd panic if Bercovici were forced into action. During spring practices, he looked like a co-starter, though he's not the runner Kelly is. The redshirt junior could have transferred searching for playing time when he lost out to Kelly in 2012, but he'll get his shot in 2015 while owning a strong knowledge of Mike Norvell's offense.

Colorado: When you asked coach Mike MacIntyre to list things that pleased him this past spring, he was quick to note how Jordan Gehrke played, establishing himself as Sefo Liufau's backup. That's good because, due to attrition, backup QB was a big concern entering spring practices. No QB on the roster besides Liufau, a true sophomore, has taken a snap in an FBS game.

UCLA: The Bruins have very few questions, but backup QB is one of them. That is a significant concern for two reasons: 1. The drop-off from Brett Hundley appears steep; 2. Hundley likes to run, which puts him at greater risk for injury (Hundley needs to remember to slide -- just because he's built like a linebacker doesn't mean he needs to try to run over one). The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Some obscure QB recruit has committed, but he won't be around until 2015.

USC: New coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starter during spring practices, but there's no question redshirt freshman Max Browne is talented. While he's seen no game action, he's got an NFL arm and flashed a nice touch during spring practices. It's probably good the Trojans have a clear pecking order. And it's good they have a guy like Brown waiting in the wings.

Utah: Whether you're a bird in the hand person -- Travis Wilson is healthy, experienced and ready to rock a third year as a starter! -- or a two-in-the-bush sort -- Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson was once a touted recruit! -- Utes fans surely are breathing easier about their QB situation. If Thompson -- or Conner Manning or Adam Schulz -- is good enough to beat out Wilson, then that means the Utes should be solid at QB this fall.

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