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ESPN 300 prospect Taj Griffin committed to Oregon on Thursday night, and he could continue the Ducks' recent tradition of explosive running back talent. Read on to see Tom Luginbill's take on the news:


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Sometimes perception can top reality in recruiting.

No. 8 running back Taj Griffin announced Thursday night he committed to Oregon over a final group of Clemson, Florida State, Georgia and USC. The pickup was significant for the Ducks, and Oregon assistants Gary Campbell and Scott Frost should be commended for their ability to swoop into the Southeast and snag the nation’s No. 89 player and Georgia’s 14th-best prospect. For the Ducks, this recruiting victory is about as big as it gets. Griffin is a perfect fit for the Oregon spread offense.



What will likely cause the most discussion among fans, however, is the perception that Georgia lost another quality in-state recruit to a Pac-12 program.

Technically, it’s true.


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Meaningful early Pac-12 odds

April, 24, 2014
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So what is the early verdict on the 2014 college football season from those who take more than a casual interest in such things -- as in the Vegas sorts? Glad you asked.

We checked out some early "odds" and ends from a Pac-12 perspective.

First week betting lines (obviously not all games are included).

UNLV at Arizona (-25.5)

Colorado State (pick 'em) at Colorado (in Denver)

Washington (-21.5) at Hawaii

Odds to win 2014-2015 BCS National Championship (from 5 Dimes, unless otherwise noted)

Arizona 100-1
Arizona State 75-1
California 500-1 (Bovada)
Colorado NA
Oregon 49-4
Oregon State 300-1
Stanford 41-1
UCLA 26-1
USC 50-1
Utah 500-1
Washington 75-1
Washington State 300-1

Odds to win the Heisman Trophy from Bovada (23 total players were listed)

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: 5-1 (No. 2 overall behind 2013 winner Jameis Winston: 5-2)
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: 14-1
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: 28-1
Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: 28-1
Myles Jack, LB-RB, UCLA: 33-1

Poll: Top spring storyline

April, 24, 2014
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There hasn’t been a shortage of intriguing storylines this spring in the Pac-12. Then again, there usually aren’t. From quarterback battles to disciplinary issues, the 2014 spring has given us plenty to talk about. But which one stands out as the biggest storyline? That’s today’s Pac-12 blog poll question.

What’s the biggest storyline in the Pac-12 this spring?

Your options:

SportsNation

What is the biggest storyline in the Pac-12 this spring?

  •  
    46%
  •  
    18%
  •  
    18%
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    12%
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    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,207)

Bralon Addison injury: The Ducks lost one of their top receiving threats when Addison tore his ACL in spring practice. There are options for the Ducks, who are never wanting for offensive talent. But Addison seemed poised to build off an outstanding 2013 after catching 61 balls for 890 yards and seven touchdowns -- not to mention his prowess as a return man. This is the third-straight spring a marquee receiver has gone down (Paul Richardson, 2012; Austin Hill, 2013).

USC quarterback: Cody Kessler is USC’s starting quarterback, for now. New coach Steve Sarkisian announced before the spring game that the incumbent had continued to distance himself from challengers Max Browne and Jalen Greene. It wasn’t a total shock -- given Kessler’s year of experience and the fact that he came on strong in the second half last fall. But USC quarterbacks will always garner national attention.

Quarterback questions marks: While 10 Pac-12 coaches have the luxury of having their QB in place already, two schools are still looking for their starter. Arizona has a host of quarterbacks to choose from. And spring has brought little clarity to the situation. At Washington, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams split the snaps, but we won’t know much until Cyler Miles returns from his suspension.

ASU’s defense: Every team has to replace a few key players, but the Arizona State Sun Devils essentially have to replace its entire starting defense. With nine starters gone from last season’s defense gone -- including two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year Will Sutton -- the competition level was upped to see who is going to step in.

Stanford's RBs: Being a starting running back at Stanford means big production. The Cardinal have had a 1,000-yard rusher every year since 2008, so whoever replaces Tyler Gaffney is probably in for a big season. Though coach David Shaw told the Pac-12 blog earlier this month he’d prefer to have a committee approach, a natural No. 1 will likely emerge. Who that is, however, remains a question.

Pac-12 lunch links

April, 24, 2014
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7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 dwarves. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.
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The life of any coach is a balancing act in which he tries to push his players and give them as much information as possible while trying to figure out where each individual, and the position group as a whole, can exist and perform at its best.

But that's what makes the spring so great. There really is no balancing act.

For Oregon secondary coach John Neal, it’s simply teach, teach, teach and ... teach. And the result is that with more than a week left in the spring season, the Ducks' secondary has installed its portion of the defense.

“It’s not detailed perfectly or anything like that, but there’s a pretty good understanding of what we want,” Neal said. “Now we can work from there, and all we have to do now is scale back from what we have.”

[+] EnlargeRajion Neal
Steve Conner/Icon SMISenior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is seasoned, but the rest of the Oregon secondary is lacking in experience.
The Ducks won’t scale back until a few weeks before their season opener on Aug. 30 against South Dakota. But the fact that there’s at least a baseline of everything Neal wanted to get through this spring -- with time to spare -- is pretty impressive for a group that doesn’t have a ton of game experience.

Neal said he does feel like he has a group of veteran guys who’ve been good leaders for the secondary in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan, Troy Hill and Dior Mathis.

Ekpre-Olomu is the most experienced of that group (84 tackles and three interceptions in 2013), but Neal said that Dargan has also had a very good spring, saying that the redshirt senior “could play any position -- he could play defensive tackle. He knows the defense that well.”

But even with that experience, there are still a lot of reps to be had by new players. Between last season’s three departing seniors, the Ducks will need to replace a lot of production. Terrance Mitchell, Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson combined for 210 tackles, eight interceptions and 16 pass break-ups in 2013.

But Neal is confident that there’s talent in the Ducks defensive back meeting room to fill the void left by graduating seniors.

He pointed out that redshirt sophomore Reggie Daniels, redshirt freshman Juwaan Williams and junior college transfer Dominique Harrison as guys who’ve made big strides through the spring. Neal said he has been impressed with how they have “done a lot of good things in terms of how much work they’ve had to learn.”

For Neal, this is one of the most fun and most stressful times of the year. It’s fun because the pressure is lower, and that allows the coaches to continue installing -- even when everything isn’t perfect. But that lack of perfection leaves Neal wondering how much he’ll need to scale back in August.

In general, the feeling is pretty positive in Eugene. The Ducks believe that even though the secondary lost several key components in a unit that led the nation in defending passes of 10-plus yards, they will be able to be just as talented this fall with a mix of older players and younger blood.

“I feel pretty good about it at this point,” Neal said. “We’ve installed a lot of defense for four or five guys having not played a lot of football here. ... It’s not great. It’s not perfect. There are still a lot of details, but at least we’re getting it in.”

3-point stance: Pac-12 QB talent

April, 24, 2014
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1. According to ESPN Insider and Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, it’s a thin year for veteran quarterbacks everywhere but the Pac-12. Listing the top pro prospects for the 2015 NFL draft, Savage, speaking with me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday, started with Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA, then tossed in Sean Mannion of Oregon State. Not to mention the league has Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Cody Kessler of USC.

2. Dabo Swinney is a good man and a stand-up guy. He is proud of his Christianity and believes it can help others as much as it has helped him. As the coach of Clemson, a public university in a religious state, he is preaching to the choir. I’d bet it never occurred to Swinney that he stepped over the line between church and state, perhaps because the line is blurrier in South Carolina than in Madison, Wis., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is based. If the foundation’s complaint makes Swinney realize again that everyone is not Christian, then the foundation’s complaint is a success.

3. The town of State College is crowdsourcing a statue to honor the late Joe Paterno, and it’s wonderful that the planned site is not far from Old Main, the home of the Penn State administration that removed the original Paterno statue from outside of Beaver Stadium in July 2012. What are the university administrators thinking? Do they understand they never should have made the removal of the statue permanent? Do they understand how much they rushed to judgment to vilify Paterno? When will they do their part to restore Paterno’s place of honor in Penn State history? The locals are doing their part.

Pac-12 leads leagues in QB starts

April, 23, 2014
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Keeping with our theme of Pac-12 quarterbacks -- and numbers donated to the Pac-12 blog by the Arizona State sports information department -- Jeremy Hawkes and Jordan Parry compiled a list of returning starts behind center by conference. Not surprisingly the Pac-12, with 10 returning starting QBs, is tied with the 14-team Big Ten for the most returning starters, and the Pac-12 leads the nation in total starts.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the country.
Hawkes wrote: "The logic we used was based around the quarterback who would be considered the 'primary' quarterback by season's end last season. Quarterbacks who were injured early in the season when they were considered the primary quarterback and return this year are also counted on the list (like David Ash at Texas)."

The Pac-12 not only welcomes back 10 starting QBs, it welcomes back 198 total starts, topped by 31 from Oregon State's Sean Mannion. Seven of the returning Pac-12 QBs have more than one season's worth of starting experience, too.

The Big Ten features 10 returning QBs and a cumulative 158 starts. The 14-team SEC only welcomes back five starting QBs with a combined 68 starts. Ohio State's Braxton Miller has the most career starts among returning quarterbacks with 32.

Further, notes Hawkes, "Also notable is that aside from Miller, Rutgers' Gary Nova (28 starts), Mannion (31), Taylor Kelly (27), Brett Hundley (27) and Marcus Mariota (26) are the four most seasoned QBs among all BCS teams (along with Bo Wallace at 26 starts at Ole Miss)."

Here's the list.

Pac-12 (10)
Sean Mannion, Oregon State: 31
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State: 27
Brett Hundley, UCLA: 27
Marcus Mariota, Oregon: 26
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: 19
Connor Halliday, Washington State: 19
Travis Wilson, Utah: 16
Cody Kessler, USC: 14
Jared Goff, Cal: 12
Sefo Liufau, Colorado: 7
Total: 198 starts

Big Ten (10)
Braxton Miller, Ohio State: 32
Gary Nova, Rutgers: 28
Devin Gardner, Michigan: 21
Joel Stave, Wisconsin: 19
Connor Cook, Michigan State: 13
Jake Rudock, Iowa: 13
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: 12
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana: 8
Danny Etling, Purdue: 8
Mitch Leidner, Minnesota: 4
Total: 158 starts

Big 12 (8)
David Ash, Texas: 21
Bryce Petty, Baylor: 13
Jake Waters, Kansas State: 13
Jake Heaps, Kansas: 9
Sam Richardson, Iowa State: 8
Clint Trickett, West Virginia: 7
Davis Webb, Texas Tech: 6
Trevor Knight, Oklahoma: 5
Total: 82 starts

SEC (5)
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss: 26
Nick Marshall, Auburn: 14
Brandon Allen, Arkansas: 12
Justin Worley, Tennessee: 10
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: 6
Total: 68 starts

ACC (4)
Anthony Boone, Duke: 15
Jameis Winston, Florida State: 14
David Watford, Virginia: 12
Terrel Hunt, Syracuse: 10
Total: 51 starts

American Athletic (5)
Paxton Lynch, Memphis: 12
John O'Korn, Houston: 11
P.J. Walker, Temple: 7
Mike White, South Florida: 5
Casey Cochran, Connecticut: 4
Total: 39 starts
And I've been up all night, I might sleep all day;
Get your dreams just right, and let them slip away.
It’s pretty surprising to hear redshirt freshman wide receiver Devon Allen say that he’s only organized when it comes to keeping his room clean.

Because for any person, let alone a teenager, to be able to balance two varsity sports at Oregon, a full class load and still find time to be a normal college kid, it seems there must be a secretary or at least a color-coordinated day planner behind the scenes.

But he has none of that.

[+] EnlargeDevon Allen
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriOregon WR Devon Allen -- a two-sport star who juggles football and track -- could make a big impact this fall.
At this point, it’s all routine. The football schedule during the spring doesn’t change at all, so it has practically become muscle memory to be when and where he needs to be for coach Mark Helfrich. But Allen does admit that his academic advisors and track coaches text him regularly to check in on when he plans to do study table, tutoring or track workouts.

None of that changes the fact that he seems to be handling an overwhelming amount of activities incredibly well for someone his age. Take last week for example just when looking at his athletic schedule:
    Monday: Football practice. Interviews. Treatment. Meetings.

    Tuesday: Fourteen repetitions of a 100-meter dash at 13-second pace. Cardio. Endurance training. Treatment.

    Wednesday: Football. Treatment. Meetings.

    Thursday: Hurdle drills. Treatment.

    Friday: Football practice. Oregon Relays -- 400-meter hurdles (which he won).

    Saturday: Oregon Relays -- 100-meter dash (which he won) and 110-meter hurdles (which he also won).

Ask Allen to describe that six-day stretch and what word does he come up with?

“Tame.”

He has been on this grind with both sports since the winter. He said that he thinks he’s getting stronger in both sports and as long as that’s happening, there’s no reason to stop.

“I think my body is starting to get used to it,” Allen said. “I’m getting able to recover a bit quicker. Our athletic trainers do a great job to help me do whatever I need to do to stay healthy.”

And the trainers have been incredibly important as he has gone through quite the transformation in just one year in Eugene.

When Allen enrolled at Oregon, he was coming off an injury that kept him from training too much the previous spring and summer season for track. Because of that, he came in at 205 pounds. Neither the football coaches nor the track coaches were too happy with Allen at that weight.

In fall football camp, he couldn’t move around nearly as well as he knew he could so after last season Allen went on a diet that helped him drop to 190 pounds, which helped him play -- and run -- at a much leaner weight.

He’s seeing the dividends pay off as he’s becoming a target for quarterback Marcus Mariota this spring. With Bralon Addison out, there will certainly be receptions to take and with how much Allen’s name has been brought up this spring season, there’s no reason to think he won’t be fighting for a top spot in the receiver rotation next fall.

But as the clock ticks down on his remaining football practices, Allen isn’t feeling any kind of relief. He said for the month following the spring game on May 3, he’ll enjoy having a less busy schedule, but by June, he’ll be itching to get back out on the field with his coaches and teammates in full pads.

Allen said that no one on the football team ever complains about being sore or having so many commitments, but they often ask him how he does what they do, considering he basically does it twice.

“It’s funny,” Allen said. “They say, ‘I don’t know how you do this.’”

But there’s nothing funny about that. Because the truth is, no one really knows how he’s able to do it.

Pac-12 recruiting roundup

April, 23, 2014
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It’s been about a month since we last checked in on the recruiting front. The Bears have gotten on the board with two commits in the last week, ASU added a hometown quarterback, UCLA added a third ESPN 300 player, the Trojans picked up a commit from the No. 3 offensive tackle and the Huskies got a commitment from the nation’s No. 4 pocket passer.

Here’s a look at where each school stands in the recruiting game.

Arizona

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Taren Morrison, RB, Mesa, Ariz.; Darick Holmes Jr., RB, Westlake Village, Calif.; Ricky McCoy, TE, Fresno, Calif.; Finton Connolly, DT, Gilbert, Ariz.

Arizona State

2015 commits: 5
Player(s): Morie Evans, WR, Huntsville, Texas; Bryce Perkins, QB, Chandler, Ariz.; Nick Ralston, RB, Argyle, Texas; Tony Nicholson, Ath., Grand Prairie, Texas; Raymond Epps, TE, Yuma, Ariz.

California

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Austin Aaron, WR, Napa, Calif.; Malik Psalms, CB, Chino Hills, Calif.

Colorado

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): T.J. Fehoko, DE, Salt Lake City; N.J. Falo, OLB, Sacramento, Calif.; Dillon Middlemiss, OG, Arvada, Colo.

Oregon

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Zach Okun, OG, Newbury Park, Calif.; Jake Breeland, WR, Mission Viejo, Calif.

Oregon State

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Tyrin Ferguson, OLB, New Orleans; Treshon Broughton, CB, Tustin, Calif.; Kyle Haley, OLB, Anaheim, Calif.

Stanford

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Arrington Farrar, S, College Park, Georgia; Christian Folau, ILB, Salt Lake City; Rex Manu, DT, Mililani, Hawaii.

UCLA

2015 commits: 6
Player(s): Josh Rosen, QB, Bellflower, Calif.; Alize Jones, TE-Y, Las Vegas; Tevita Halalilo, OG, Moreno Valley, Calif.; Jaason Lewis, ATH, Virginia Beach, Va.; Victor Alexander, OLB, Jacksonville, Fla.; Bolu Olorunfunmi, RB, Clovis, Calif.

USC

2015 commits: 4
Player(s): Chuma Edoga, OT, Powder Springs, Ga.; Ricky Town, QB (PP), Ventura, Calif.; David Sills, QB (PP), Elkton, Maryland; Taeon Mason, CB, Pasadena, Calif.

Utah

2015 commits: 7
Player(s): Jake Grant, OT, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Tuli Wily-Matagi, ATH, Kahuku, Hawaii; Donzale Roddie, WR, Paramount, Calif.; Chayden Johnston, K, South Jordan, Utah; Brandon Snell, WR, Miami; Corey Butler, WR, Wilmington, Calif.; Zach Lindsay, OT, Kaysville, Utah.

Washington

2015 commits: 3
Player(s): Jake Browning, QB, Folsom, Calif.; Trey Adams, OT, Wenatchee, Wash.; Myles Gaskin, RB, Seattle.

Washington State

2015 commits: 2
Player(s): Thomas Toki, DT, Mountain View, Calif.; Austin Joyner, RB, Marysville, Wash.

Lunch links: Remembering Tillman

April, 22, 2014
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There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes... and then after about 15 minutes, you're spit out ... into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Ball security in the Pac-12

April, 22, 2014
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Teams that commit the fewest turnovers generally win more football games. Teams that turn the ball over frequently generally lose more football games. These are fairly safe axioms to live by, because more often than not they hold true.

But not always, especially in the sometimes-backward Pac-12, where the offense is fast and furious and the defense is underrated.

An examination of turnover margin in the league the last three seasons reveals some very interesting results, trends and trend-busters.

Here’s how Pac-12 teams have shaped up the last three seasons:

Some intriguing takeaways (pun intended):
  • Stanford, the two-time defending conference champion, is well known for its hard-nosed defense. Yet in 2013, it had a turnover margin of zero (19 takeaways, 19 turnovers) and the Cardinal are in the lower half of the league the last three seasons in total turnovers generated. Worth noting, however, that Stanford also takes care of the ball better than anyone in the league, with a conference-low 54 turnovers in the last three seasons.
  • Oregon has more takeaways than any team in the conference the last three seasons, including a robust turnover margin of plus-21 for the 2012 season (tops in the league for a single-season over that three-year stretch). Wait a second: Doesn’t Oregon catch flak for not playing defense? Huh. The Ducks are second in the league behind Stanford with just 57 turnovers over the last three seasons.
  • Only Arizona State, Oregon and Washington had a positive turnover margin in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
  • Only California, Colorado and Washington State had a negative turnover margin in all three seasons.
  • Stanford is the only team to have a zero margin in a season during the last three years.
  • ASU is the only team in the league to have at least 30 takeaways in all three seasons.
  • During that three-year stretch, only two teams have created more turnovers than Oregon State. During that same stretch, only two teams have committed more turnovers than Oregon State. So while the Beavers' 83 takeaways look great on paper, the 80 turnovers don’t. Makes sense that in the Beavers' best season, 2012, they had a plus-8 margin with 31 takeaways and 23 turnovers. In its worst, 2011, it was minus-8 with 23 takeaways and 31 turnovers.
  • Washington State has the most total turnovers (86) in the last three years. But Colorado has the worst turnover margin. Worth noting that last season the Buffs cut their margin down to minus-3 from the minus-19 in 2012.
  • USC tied with Colorado in 2012 for most turnovers in the league (34). So despite 71 takeaways the last three seasons, their 69 turnovers gives the Trojans only a plus-2 margin. Worth noting that after back-to-back seaspns of negative turnover margin in 2011 and 2012, USC was on the plus side last season at plus-5.
  • Arizona reached the plus side of the turnover margin last season (plus-4) after back-to-back seasons of negative margin in 2011 and 2012.
  • The most turnovers in a season in the three-year stretch was from Washington State, which had 35 last season.
  • The most takeaways in a season in the three-year stretch was by Oregon, which had 40 in 2012.
  • Washington’s much-maligned defense of 2011 still finished the season with a plus-1 turnover margin. Though during the last two seasons under then-coordinator Justin Wilcox (now with Steve Sarkisian at USC), the Huskies are plus-12.
  • The fewest turnovers in a season in the last three seasons is 16 – both from Washington and UCLA last season. Stanford is the only team in the conference to be in the teens in turnovers all three years.
  • Until last season, Utah had been solid at getting takeaways. It led the Pac-12 in turnovers and turnover margin in 2011 (33 takeaways, plus-10 margin). Even in 2012, the Utes were on the plus side, but failed to make a bowl game. Last year Utah dipped to minus-9.

So as you can see, there is obviously some correlation between turnovers and wins/losses. The three Pac-12 teams that didn’t make the postseason last season -- Cal, Colorado and Utah -- each had negative turnover margins.

But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule that the team that has the most turnovers will lose every game and the team with the most takeaways wins. Stanford is a perfect example of that, winning the league last season with an even margin. You don’t need a lot of takeaways to play great defense, but it doesn’t hurt, either.

Video: Oregon center Hroniss Grasu

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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video
Chantel Jennings speaks with Oregon center Hroniss Grasu about the Ducks' offensive line, how he has grown as a leader and young players who have stepped up on the line this spring.
Though two of the top quarterbacks in the country are committed to Pac-12 schools, in terms of numbers at this point in the 2015 recruiting cycle, the conference doesn't stack up to the rest of the power conferences.

And while fans of the various Pac-12 programs might be ready to hit the panic button, there's no such worry behind the scenes.


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ESPN 300 Ranking Motivates Byron Cowart
After a recent rise into the top 10 overall, defensive end Byron Cowart of Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss recruiting and the new ESPN 300.Tags: Byron Cowart, Armwood, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Matt Schick
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