Here's UCLA coach Jim Mora's take: "I have great respect for the quarterbacks in this conference. Many of them will go on to have great [NFL] careers, but to me, I don't think it's even close -- I don't think there is another conference that has near the quality of quarterbacks."
There's only one problem: Players such as Shaw's own Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly -- two very good quarterbacks -- get lost in the shuffle.
The league has its headliner in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. And if he's the main show, then UCLA's Brett Hundley is the opening act. He is, after all, the only other Pac-12 QB who's seriously considered a possible Heisman finalist at this point.
After those two, the conversation tends to tighten up, usually turning to the quarterbacks who are a bit different or doing one thing better than anyone else.
So people bring up Oregon State's Sean Mannion, who will likely take Matt Barkley's spot from the top of the Pac-12 career passing board ... midway through the season. They bring up Washington State's Connor Halliday. He's at the center of the Air Raid show and people want to know what it possibly looks like to average 55 pass attempts per game (about 20 more than the league average). Even USC quarterback Cody Kessler gets a little bit of love because of the Steve Sarkisian effect. Trojans fans want to watch that offense and see how it's going to change, and Kessler is at the middle of that moving puzzle.
As the nation turns to the Pac-12, football fans want to know who's best, who's next best and who's different. So Hogan and Kelly -- outside of their own respective fan bases -- are often forgotten.
If Hogan or Kelly were to be dropped into nearly any other conference, they'd be in that "next-best" conversation -- in the Big Ten behind Ohio State's Braxton Miller, in the ACC behind Heisman winner Jameis Winston of Florida State or in the Big 12 behind Baylor's Bryce Petty (though they'd be in quite the debate against Texas Tech's Davis Webb).
In fact, Kelly would've led the Big Ten in passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2013. In that same conference, Hogan would've been the most efficient passer. Kelly would've been tied for second in the SEC for touchdown passes while Hogan would've been tied for second in the Big 12 in the same category.
Still, on the East Coast or down South, there are no discussions about the fact that Hogan is 10-1 against top-25 opponents, or that he has led his team to two league championships. People don't discuss that Kelly led his team to the Pac-12 South championship last year, or that he'll likely finish his Arizona State career with more passing yards than Jake Plummer.
They don't discuss those things because they're too far down the ladder when it comes to the conversation -- and that's not their own fault.
At Pac-12 media days, Kelly told the Pac-12 Networks that he was OK with the fact that he maybe doesn't get as much credit nationally as he deserves.
"I'm comfortable with it," Kelly said. "I like being under the radar. It makes me work harder. I have a chip on my shoulders to outwork all those great quarterbacks in the country."
Like many of those great quarterbacks across the country, Kelly and Hogan will probably have the chance to play on Sundays. But the question that remains is whether their play on Saturdays this year will finally get people to start talking about these two talented quarterbacks.
And that idea is exciting a few Oregon Ducks defensive backs.
"I'm ready to play against all the best people," cornerback Dior Mathis said.
And yes, every college football player says that, but not every one actually gets to play against the best.
The Pac-12 cornerbacks, however, do.
With 10 returning starting quarterbacks in the Pac-12, cornerbacks are going to be tested by experienced, talented signal-callers.
Last season the Pac-12 passed more frequently than any other Power Five conference. On average, each Pac-12 quarterback attempted 386 passes through the season. That works to be just a bit more than 32 passes per game. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday's numbers do skew the average a bit. But if even if we exclude Halliday, the average Pac-12 signal-caller still threw about 30 passes.
Compared across the other four power conferences, that's quite the jump. The Big Ten led the rest of the power conferences with each quarterback averaging 309 passes through the season.
That means that per game, Pac-12 defensive backs will get about 11 more chances at a pass than a Big 12 defensive back. It works out to be nine more opportunities than DBs in the SEC and ACC and about six more chances for Big Ten DBs.
But Oregon isn't getting cocky just because there are more opportunities. All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu knows that all 10 of those returning starters have gotten better than they were last season when he collected three interceptions and six pass break ups.
"Playing in the Pac-12 you pretty much know you're going to play against some pretty good quarterbacks," Ekpre-Olomu said. "But at the same time, you play against the same guys for three years. Just like they improve, we improve."
But the one advantage that Ekpre-Olomu and Mathis have over other cornerbacks, across the conference and country, is that they face Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota every single day in practice.
There might not be better practice for facing a Halliday or Sean Mannion or Taylor Kelly or Kevin Hogan, than going against Mariota.
"Going against him every day and seeing how he progresses and seeing his accuracy when he throws to receivers, going against him, it's cool," Mathis said of Mariota. "You get the best quarterback in the country, in my opinion. [We're] going against him every single day. It's doing nothing but making us better."
"Going against Marcus you have to be smart and you have to be on your toes really," Ekpre-Olomu added. "To get a ball thrown at you, especially playing against somebody like that, you have to outsmart the quarterback."
And if Ekpre-Olomu and Mathis can find a way to outsmart Mariota, the Duck defense might be taking a huge step forward when it plays teams with quarterbacks-not-named Mariota.
Got your four teams picked for the inaugural College Football Playoff?
Beware before you turn in your final list, because teams always come out of nowhere. For instance, Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri all finished in the top five of the final polls last season -- and weren't even ranked to start the season.
Conversely, the team starting the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll hasn't finished higher than No. 7 the past four years.
None of us has a crystal ball, but we do have a road map of sorts -- the games that will shape who gets in and who gets left out this season when the selection committee unveils the first football version of the Final Four.
Here are 10 games to mark on your calendar:
LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Aug. 30
Right out of the gate, we get a game between two teams just outside the top 10 in the preseason polls who are talented enough to state their case come selection time for the College Football Playoff. And check out Wisconsin's schedule. If Melvin Gordon and the Badgers can get past the Tigers in the opener, the only other nationally ranked team (in the preseason) they face is Nebraska at home on Nov. 15. They avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State in the regular season.
Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6
Nearly 90 recruits -- including 10 ESPN 300 prospects -- made commitments to the Pac-12 since the start of June, as the conference recruiting race heated up alongside the weather this summer. Not surpisingly, even with the boon over the past two and a half months, the Pac-12 still lags behind other conferences when it comes to sheer commitment numbers. Many Pac-12 programs have become content to wait until the season, or after the season, to put an emphasis on official visits and commitments. At this point, 35 programs hold commitments from 16 or more recruits, and only one of those -- Arizona -- resides in the Pac-12.
But on the Pac-12 blog, we’re going to add a twist. Moving forward, I’ll be manning the links in a column format, tossing in some opinion and analysis of stories the Pac-12 community will be talking about. This is a work in progress, so tweet at me with what you’d like to see: quote of the day, tweet of the day, etc. Do you want me to keep the literary and pop culture quotes? Let me know your thoughts.
Without further ado, to the links:
The big news over the weekend was obviously the release of the preseason AP Top 25. Half of the teams in the league are ranked: Oregon (3), UCLA (7), Stanford (11), USC (15), ASU (19) and Washington (25).
The exact same six ended last season ranked: Oregon (9), Stanford (11), UCLA (16), USC (19), ASU (21) and Washington (25).
We all expected Oregon and UCLA to be in the top 10. And with the considerable hype Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley have received, the Pac-12 blog wouldn’t have been shocked if both were top five.
Washington should be pleased to be ranked, considering it lost its starting quarterback, running back and Mackey Award-winning tight end. That ranking is a clear reflection of Chris Petersen’s presence, because a Pac-12 team losing that much offensive firepower usually doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt with voters.
ASU should feel pretty good about being in the top 20 -- especially after the way it closed out last season and the departure of nine starters on defense.
Doug Haller offers an interesting perspective on the Sun Devils:
This marks the first time since 2008 that the Sun Devils have made the preseason poll.
Certainly, nothing stinks about that except ... This isn't always a good thing for the Sun Devils. The last six times they made the AP preseason poll -- a stretch dating to 1998 -- they didn't finish in the final AP Top 25 poll.
The Trojans should also feel pretty good about their spot at No. 15. Voters don’t appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the Steve Sarkisian era. Sounds like a lot of folks are buying in.
And as for the Cardinal, this is just more fodder for head coach David Shaw to play up the nobody-believes-in-us card, which his team often embraces.
- Christian Caple offers some thoughts on Washington’s scrimmage.
- Jeff Faraudo reports Sonny Dykes is feeling pretty good after Cal’s closed scrimmage. Some good player notes included as well.
- Lindsey Thiry quotes USC’s Josh Shaw, who says the Trojans aren’t ready “for a game quite yet.” No need to panic. The Trojans don’t have to play tomorrow. But after they dispatch Fresno State (yeah, we're going out on a limb), they better be ready for Stanford in Week 2. Love that two ranked Pac-12 teams are squaring off that early in the season. And by the way, Shaw looks yoked in the video.
- Tough news for the Buffs, who confirmed over the weekend that safety Jered Bell is done for the year.
- We've been talking about 10 starting quarterbacks coming back. But there seems to be some controversy in Salt Lake City.
- A good piece from Ryan Thorburn on Oregon running back Byron Marshall dedicating the season to his late grandfather.
- Daniel Berk explains how Arizona’s Terris Jones-Grigsby got his name.
- Michael Hiltzik asks if the NCAA really “lost” its antitrust suit.
- Chris Dufresne offers an interesting perspective on what Sark is trying to do offensively.
The Beavers closed out their scrimmage over the weekend with a little slip-and-slide action. Don’t see Mike Riley on the tarp. I’m guessing if there was a double-double at the other end, he’d be sliding.
And finally, for everyone who has been to San Bernardino or covered a UCLA camp, we can all relate to Ryan Kartje.
Fall camp in San Bernardino is officially over, and UCLA beat writers rejoice!— Ryan Kartje (@Ryan_Kartje) August 16, 2014
This one’s for you, Auburn fan who thinks the national runner-up should be higher than sixth in the Associated Press preseason poll, released Sunday afternoon. And it’s for you, Ohio State fan, to defend the chronically criticized Big Ten, the only Power Five league without a team in the top four of either the AP or USA Today coaches' preseason poll.
Don’t worry, Baylor fan, we didn’t forget you. If you want to climb to the top of beautiful new McLane Stadium and scream about why your Bears should be higher than No. 10 in both polls, go right ahead. Maybe you can hear the same outcries from fans of No. 19 Arizona State, No. 20 Kansas State or No. 24 Missouri, the defending SEC East champ excluded from the coaches' poll while barely squeaking into the AP.
Speaking of the SEC, no other conference had more teams (eight) in the preseason AP poll. So what’s the complaint? There could have been more. Meanwhile, the league that ended the SEC’s run of national titles, the ACC, placed just three teams -- No. 1 Florida State, No. 16 Clemson and No. 23 North Carolina -- in the AP rankings. Duke fans, grumble away.
Preseason polls serve a therapeutic purpose. They allow us to vent, to argue, to compare, to exclaim, to protest and, most important, to fill time before the games begin later this month. They are part of the American sports fan experience, and you should enjoy them.
Yet for the first time, the polls will have little to no bearing on shaping college football’s national championship race. And that’s a great thing too.
If Tom Osborne, Condoleezza Rice and Jeff Long were relentlessly refreshing Twitter at 2 p.m. ET Sunday, the time the AP poll was released, we have a problem. If Oliver Luck, Tyrone Willingham and Archie Manning furiously began calculating the Top 25 breakdown by conference, this might not work out. If Mike Tranghese, Barry Alvarez and Pat Haden immediately noticed how similar the AP and coaches' preseason polls are -- teams ranked 7 to 17 are identical, and only two teams, Missouri and Texas, made just one of the polls -- the playoff selection process could go very wrong.
The 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee shouldn’t care about these rankings. They shouldn’t spend one nanosecond analyzing them. They shouldn’t read this or any other media report about what the polls suggest about this team or that conference. Here’s hoping they spent Sunday fishing, golfing or anything other than poll watching.
This is about you, not them. So go ahead and wonder if a Wisconsin team with a largely revamped roster is rated way too high -- No. 14 in both polls -- and why Iowa, which loses far less than the Badgers off a vastly improved team, failed to make either preseason poll. Ask which set of voters correctly has the order of “O” teams -- Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State. Argue whether teams with new quarterbacks (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Clemson, Texas A&M) are too high or too low.
Notre Dame’s inclusion at No. 17 will set off fireworks, but remember the AP votes took place before Friday’s announcement that four starters, including star cornerback KeiVarae Russell, have been held out pending an academic investigation into potential misconduct.
There’s little debate at the top, as defending champion Florida State, led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, received 57 of the 60 first-place votes in the AP poll. Alabama, which will have a new quarterback but returns arguably the nation’s most talented roster, is solidly in second position. It’s very close for No. 3 between Oregon, which could have the nation’s best player (Marcus Mariota), and Oklahoma, which stunned Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl and eyes the next step.
Although the SEC has three teams among the top nine and five in the top 13, the Pac-12 enters the season projected as the nation’s No. 2 conference. The quarterback-stacked league has three teams in the top 11 and five in the top 19.
Few would be shocked if the inaugural playoff reveals a field similar to the top of the preseason rankings. We could see four teams from four conferences, as both polls show, or multiple teams from a league like the SEC or Pac-12. Perhaps a team outside the preseason top 10 rises up, like Georgia, Arizona State or Nebraska. While zero teams from Group of Five conferences appear in the AP poll, don’t write off UCF, the reigning Fiesta Bowl champion.
Talking season might be over, but debate season is in full swing, at least until the real season begins. So tell the world what you think of the polls. Just don’t expect the committee members to listen.
The Seminoles will start the season No. 1 for the sixth time -- the first since 1999 when they became the first team to hold the top spot for the entire season.
Florida State received 57 of 60 first-place votes Sunday from the media panel. No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Oklahoma each received one first-place vote. Ohio State is No. 5 and Auburn is No. 6.
Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner last season as a redshirt freshman, led Florida State to a 34-31 victory against Auburn in the last BCS national championship game.
This season the Bowl Championship Series is being replaced by the College Football Playoff. A selection committee will pick the top four teams in the country for two national semifinals.
The rest of the top 10 is UCLA
The Ducks received one first-place vote and were followed by No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 USC, No. 19 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington.
This is the fourth year in a row year the Ducks have been ranked in the preseason top five and seventh straight year they've appeared in the preseason AP poll.
The same six teams were also ranked in the USA Today Coaches Poll, in nearly the same places. The only differences being Oregon is one spot higher in the AP poll and Arizona State is one spot lower.
The College Football Playoff committee, responsible for selecting the four teams to play in this year's inaugural playoff, will release its first top-25 rankings Oct. 28 on ESPN.
You can follow me on Twitter here.
To the notes!
Spencer from Indianapolis writes: The media has said more then once that you can't judge Utah until its 4th season in the pac 12. Beacuse of recruits, Money, ect. With that being said where should Where should Utah finish this year to say they belong 4 years into the Pac 12. And some will say 6 and 6 is a good season with how they have finished the past 2 years. But i want to know 4 years ago where the Utes should be finishing this year.
Ted Miller: If we're going to dabble in the "Does Utah Belong?" question, we should ask the same of Colorado, California and Washington State, which have worse Pac-12 records over the past three seasons since the Utes joined the conference. Probably Arizona, too, as it's won one more Pac-12 game during that span than the Utes.
My point is that Utah belongs. It hasn't cracked the top half of the Pac-12 in three seasons, but that can be said for a lot of conference teams.
Of course, there has been a worrisome downward trend, going from 4-5 in 2011 to 3-6 in 2012 to 2-7 last fall, which is sort of the reverse of Arizona as the Wildcats have gained ground under Rich Rodriguez.
If I were a Utah fan, I'd look simply for improvement. A team that can go 4-5 in this league, as the Utes did in 2011 when the going was a bit easier, is going to be pretty darn good. If a 3-6 finish in the Pac-12 includes a perfect nonconference mark, which would mean a win at Michigan, I'd also rate that as a pretty strong showing.
In other words, if Utah earns bowl eligibility in 2014, I'd rate it as a successful season.
Steve from Menlo Park, California, writes: Ted, over the last 5 years, Stanford is 6-0 against UCLA. Yet you still put UCLA ahead of Stanford in your power rankings.
Ted Miller: We are just evil like that.
In our defense, we are not alone. The Coaches Poll and ESPN.com power rankings also had UCLA ahead of Stanford. Our guess is the AP poll will do the same.
Why? Many, including your humble #4pac (the witty hashtags we're going to use for our crew this year), believe UCLA is going to take a step forward and Stanford a step back this season. That said, many might be wrong on one or both counts. That happens.
One quick and under-noted observation: UCLA plays host to Stanford on the final weekend of the regular season -- Nov. 28, a Friday night no less. I am prepared to call that an intriguing season finale that might have a few eyes on it from across the nation.
Nick from Seattle writes: Is Thomas Duarte a WR or TE? ESPN has him listed as a WR. I run a PAC12 fantasy league and I need to know what position he is. Sounds like he is a TE.
Ted Miller: He is officially listed as a receiver, and UCLA doesn't list anyone as a tight end. Of course, he's 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- I recall thinking he looks bigger than that -- so he could easily be mistaken for a tight end. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone calls him his "Y" receiver, which is mostly where he dumps his big, tight end looking receivers.
All that said, he earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a true freshman and was listed as a tight end by the conference. So go figure.
As for a fantasy league, Duarte is a guy whose numbers should bounce up nicely this year. He might be the Bruins best red zone option.
Paul from San Carlos, California, writes: Indulge a pet peeve: Those who downgrade a team in rankings for having a tough schedule. Rankings should be solely about which team is better. Which team has the easiest path to a good record should play no role.
Ted Miller: Fair point. So do we need a distinction?
Are we making predictions with rankings? If so, then schedule plays a role. If you were looking for a reason to worry about UCLA, schedule would be a good place to start. Conversely then, I'd rate Iowa a top-15 team.
Or are we ranking teams only based on how good we believe they are? If so, that methodology shouldn't consider the schedule ahead, arduous or easy.
That said, most folks who do top-25 rankings based on their perception of how good a team is and what it has accomplished wouldn't take their list to Vegas and use it religiously. Sometimes a team "deserves" a ranking, even if you wouldn't bet your hard earned money that it would beat a team you rank a few notches lower.
Ed from Los Angeles writes: Ted - I see that the Lunchtime Links daily feature is coming much less frequently these days. I find that it is informative because it usually has a link to every team in the PAC-12. Please consider restoring it in the future.
Ted Miller: Our links feature will continue to appear five days a week, only we've moved it to the morning hours -- 8 am ET, 5 am PT, specifically.
We also aren't going to be as assiduous about getting a link for every team.
If you want to blame someone for that, it's on folks who don't support their local newspapers. There just aren't as many professional beat writers as there used to be. With daily newspapers going out of business or charging for subscriptions, and other sources not reliably providing professional material, it's often too difficult to produce a link for every team, every day.
Jeremy from Scottsdale, Arizona, writes: I demand to know who the masterminds are at ESPN that created these college football Power Rankings. Somehow, Arizona State is ranked 5th in the PAC-12 Power Rankings ahead of Washington in the 6th spot. At the same time, Washington is ranked 20th in the overall college football top 25 Power Ranking and Arizona State is nowhere to be found? I freely admit that I'm not a genius, but how is this possible?
Ted Miller: Easy answer.
The ESPN.com top-25 was produced by 13 people, none of whom participated in the compiling of the Pac-12 power rankings. So you have two different crews producing two different types or rankings.
Eric from Petaluma, California, writes: Ted, the position of many an Oregon State fan is a little more nuanced than you claim in your recent article regarding the OSU UO rivalry, though I'm confident with more than a small paragraph allowed per team what you would have said was something like this:I am fine with Duck fans rooting for OSU, as long as it is genuine. I do the same and generally root for the Ducks. What is irksome is when duck fans in one breath call Oregon State the much more patronizing "little brother" and then say "I root for OSU when they are not playing Oregon, I don't understand why you can't do the same" in the next, and in a tone that is ripe with moral indignation. As soon as one insults with patronizing language that translates to "I am better than you because my football team is better", one loses the moral high ground all together, and resentment is justified. Therefore, while I don't mind rooting for Ducks, I don't blame my fellow beavers for not doing so, nor should any other reasonable person.
Ted Miller: I could see Eric sitting at a conference table with a gaggle of other Oregon State fans, each of them sitting opposite an Oregon fan. He makes this point, and then Greg from Hillsboro, Oregon, and his Ducks cohorts go, "Oh, I never understood your feelings on this. So sorry."
Then everybody hugs it out and agrees their rivals will be their second favorite team. They sing "Kumbaya" and "Lean on me," and then go out for dinner at Beast in Portland.
Kris from Seattle writes: When is the best/case worst case coming out! Those are great!
Ted Miller: Thanks for your thoughts but, unfortunately, as previously noted, that series has been retired.
You can read last year's versions here for the sake of nostalgia.
On Monday, we looked at the running backs and who might emerge at that position, and today we're moving on to receivers. If the problem at running back is one of abundance -- a problem that most coaches welcome with open arms -- then the one at wide receiver is quite the opposite. The coaches say there's a lot of talent in the room, but it's untested, unproven talent. Which, until it's proven this season is really just a bunch of words.
But one of those guys -- or preferably for the Ducks, many guys -- needs to step up, and step up fast, because the Ducks' season (as well as quarterback Marcus Mariota and any Heisman hopes he might have) completely rest on that.
On Monday, Mariota pointed out Keanon Lowe (referring to him as a "proven veteran" despite the fact that he only caught 18 passes last season), Darren Carrington, Devon Allen and Chance Allen as receivers that have stood out to him through fall camp.
"They've all made a lot of plays," Mariota said. "Now we just have to get these guys lined up in the right positions, lined up in the right formations and get our offense rolling."
Lubick is convinced the offense will roll. He's quick to admit how young his group is, but he also believes it's one of the deepest.
"Last year we played four guys because four guys were ready to play and then there was a big drop off," Lubick said. "This year, we feel pretty good. … If we played tomorrow, we would be able to play seven, eight guys."
Here's a closer look at some of those eight guys. Keep track of them as this depth chart works its way out.
2013 statistics: 18 catches, 233 yards, 3 touchdowns
What Lubick says: "The thing that he does such a great job of -- through example that other guys are starting to do -- is the way he prepares. No one out-prepares that guy. And what I mean by that, any situation he's in, he's going to do the best that he can and if he's in the meeting room, he's going to sit in the front row and take notes. He's going to pay attention to every single word. He's going to know the spots. He's always going to be early. He's going to be the first in every drill so he can get extra reps. Our young guys see that and they're trying to do the same thing."
2013 statistics: redshirted
What Lubick says: "Devon's attitude has been awesome. He was a guy who had tremendous success on the track that everyone knows about, but he never used that as an excuse to get out of anything that we required of him in spring football. And in spring football, we required everything out of him. He balanced track and football unbelievably. … Very mentally tough. He's one of those guys, never count him out from doing anything because he's always proving he can do it. And if you challenge him -- intellectually or physically -- he always rises to the occasion."
2013 statistics: 5 catches, 98 yards, 1 touchdown
What Lubick says: "Allen has gotten a lot better. Another guy that the one thing he's really lacking is experience. He did a great job in the offseason conditioning himself. He's a very smart football player. He has taken a lot of reps, even though he hasn't had a lot of game reps, he has taken a lot of reps in the practice field and that shows. He's in the right place at the right time, which is very important for a receiver."
2013 statistics: redshirted
What Lubick says: "He has put a tremendous amount of time in off the field. All of our guys are here in the summertime, but we also give them breaks. He decided to not even go home on those breaks we do give them, because he wanted to stay here and get better. It's very important to do well. He's his own worst critic. He takes this very serious. … If there's a weakness, he wants to know what it is and he's going to do his best to improve it. He doesn't want to avoid it."
2013 statistics: DNP
What Lubick says: "It's a hard situation when you haven't played football for four years. … His effort is unbelievable. He has put a lot of time in on his own to catch up to speed. In the spring, he was kind of thinking through things which when you think you can't play fast. Now he knows what he's doing and he's playing a lot faster."
Other storylines to keep track of:
I went to college at the University of Michigan, which is about 40 minutes (depending on whether you drive the speed limit or not) from its in-state rival, Michigan State. For the most part, it really was one of those “throw the records out the window” kinds of game and the football -- and insults -- flew.
These in-state rivalries just have a special hold over the state, whether it creates divides in high school, families, relationships, whatever.
Just looking at some of these in-state rivalries on the Pac-12 slate make me really excited for my first year of covering West Coast football. Which brings me to the poll question: Which of these five in-state, in-conference rivalry games is going to have the best finish this season?
What game is going to come down to the final drive? What game is going to have that highlight play in the waning moments? Which two teams will provide us with a fourth-and-2 on your own 28-yard line with second ticking down on the clock in the fourth quarter, Hail Mary kind of game? The kind of stuff you tell your grandkids about. The kind of stuff your grandkids will tell their grandkids about.
Details: Friday, Nov. 28 @ Arizona
2013 finish: ASU 58, Arizona 21
Visiting teams have had decent success in the rivalry (at least better than some others) but could this finally be the season that -- behind their fans -- that the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez finally takes down Todd Graham?
Details: Saturday, Nov. 29 @ Oregon State
2013 finish: Oregon 36, Oregon State 35
The Civil War in Corvallis. Will Sean Mannion cap off his final year for the Beavers in an exciting fashion or will Marcus Mariota march through the season in a furious, Heisman-like fashion?
Details: Saturday, Nov. 22 @ UCLA
2013 finish: UCLA 35, USC 14
The bright lights of Hollywood will shine on a brand new coach facing off on opposing grounds against a team that has found its recent success and a pre-season top-10 ranking.
Details: Saturday, Nov. 29 @ Washington State
2013 finish: Washington 27, Washington State 17
The Apple Cup isn’t exactly the fiercest of names for a rivalry (sorry, guys), but this could really be an interesting match up. Mike Leach's against first-year coach Chris Petersen. Can Petersen and his Huskies handle the air raid?
Details: Saturday, Sept. 6 @ Stanford
2013 finish: USC 20, Stanford 17
So, I know this isn't a drive (unless you’re super ambitious), but it’s an old and lovely in-state rivalry that I’m psyched to see. Unlike most rivalry games, we’ll get this one very early in the season, but could Week 2 provide one of the best rivalry finishes this season in Pac-12 football?
What he doesn't have is Heisman trophy. And what does history have to say about that?
For starters, he's a quarterback, which means history is on his side. Twelve of the last 13 winners were signal callers (with the only non-quarterback being Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009).
And again, history clings to Mariota (at least in the Mariota-Jameis Winston debate) when considering the fact that only one player has won the Heisman twice, Ohio State running back Archie Griffin (1974 and '75).
The injury bug caught Mariota last year, hampering the Ducks' season. And though he has stayed healthy so far this year the bug seems to be hovering just close enough to him to still have an effect. First it was wide receiver Bralon Addison, who tore his ACL during the first week of spring camp. Then it was left tackle Tyler Johnstone, who tore his ACL during the first week of fall camp. Losing a top receiver and the left tackle who has protected a quarterback's blind side for the past 26 games isn't exactly favorable.
But again, history says that a bit of adversity during a Heisman season is a good thing.
Quarterbacks Winston, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M's and Cam Newton of Auburn -- three of the last four winners -- were first-year starters. They really hadn't built any kind of chemistry with any of their players (plus, the Aggies were going through the Mike Sherman-to-Kevin Sumlin transition).
Those three didn't have tremendous experience with their batch of players during their Heisman seasons, but what they did have -- and what Mariota lacks -- is experience at wide receiver.
Winston's top three receivers last season were also in the top five for Seminoles receivers in 2012. Manziel got the No. 1 and No. 3 receivers from the 2011 team in his 2012 arsenal. When Robert Griffin III won the Heisman in 2011 (he's the only multi-year starter of the last four Heisman winners), four of the top five receivers from the previous season were back for the Baylor attack. And Newton had three of the top five 2009 receivers during his 2010 Heisman campaign.
That means that -- on average -- each of the last four Heisman-winning quarterbacks returned three of their teams' top five receivers from the previous season.
Mariota has just one -- Keanon Lowe, who caught 18 passes in 2013.
More importantly, for each of those four quarterbacks, their team's top receiver from the previous season returned to the team for that QB's Heisman year -- Winston had Rashad Greene, Manziel had Ryan Swope, Griffin had Kendall Wright and Newton had Darvin Adams.
Mariota isn't just missing his top receiver from 2013. He lacks his No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 receivers.
Inexperience isn't a death sentence for Heisman campaigns. But it's not necessarily welcomed, especially when Mariota's main competition for the Heisman this year, Winston, again welcomes back his top receiver in Greene.
Where the footing seems to be a bit more in Mariota's favor -- against Winston and history -- is in the run game. Including Mariota, the Ducks return four of their top five rushers from last season. Of the last four Heisman winners, no guy has had as much returning help as Mariota will get in the backfield.
In fact, of the Winston-Manziel-Griffin-Newton batch, none had their top rusher from the previous season return in their Heisman season. Mariota returns his No. 1 and No. 2 -- Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner.
Last year, Winston had two of the top-five 2012 rushers on board for 2013 (Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr.). Manziel also had just two of the team's top five rushers from the previous season in his rushing attack -- Ben Malena and Christine Michael. Griffin had two of his top five rushers from the previous season, while Newton had three.
Could the experience and talent in the Oregon run game be enough to make up for the lack of experience in the pass game? Is that enough to help Mariota take the Heisman? It's possible. If the rushing attack is as good as the Ducks believe it can be, then teams are going to have to put more guys in the box in order to really corral the ground game, leaving opportunities for the young receivers downfield. Maybe most coaches wouldn't want to throw at a redshirt freshman or sophomore. But if it's a one-on-one against a defensive back and the ball is coming from the pin-pointedly accurate hands of Mariota, doesn't that swing the scales a bit?
History is split, but history doesn't decide. Mariota has anywhere between 12 and 15 games to make his own case and write his name in history books outside of the Pac-12.
Though I didn't cover the conference when Kelly was a coach, in my few months on the West Coast I've quickly learned that people fall into two categories when it comes to Kelly. One: They love to love him. Two: They love to hate him.
One of the things he was known for while he was at the helm of the Ducks were his "Chipisms." They became so famous that it warranted its own Twitter. It hasn't been updated recently, but it's worth a scroll when you have a few minutes. You might even remember a piece that ESPN.com's Ted Miller wrote a few years ago, "The Wit and Wisdom of Chip Kelly," in which he outlines some of his personal favorite Chipisms.
And if you think the NFL has changed the man, you're wrong. As my grandma always says, you can take the Chip out of the Pac-12 but not the chip out of the Chip.
In the most recent ESPN The Magazine, writer Seth Wickersham takes a look at the eight lessons that running back LeSean McCoy had to learn when he joined the Eagles. Pac-12 fans will recognize pieces of these in Kelly's former Oregon ways.
A few of my favorite lessons that McCoy had to learn:
- He spins horse crap into touchdowns
- He keeps shady slim
- He causes cramps
If that doesn't make you want to read the story, then I don't know what will.
Winston is the reigning Heisman winner and if he were to win it again, the Florida State quarterback would join Ohio State’s Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner. In 2013, he threw for 4,057 yards and completed 66.9 percent of his passes. He had 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Mariota -- who was slowed by a knee injury during the Pac-12 season -- finished the 2013 season with 3,665 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes en route to picking up his second consecutive All-Pac-12 honor.
Jared Shanker and Chantel Jennings discussed a few key points to see where different advantages fall in regard to this debate.
Offensive line: Florida State
Shanker: Among the positions we’re looking at, the gap may be widest at offensive line. Florida State’s offensive line consists of five seniors, all with starting experience. Combined, they have more than 100 career starts. Cameron Erving is one of the best left tackles in the country, and right guard Tre’ Jackson could be the first guard taken in the NFL draft next spring. The Ducks might have center Hroniss Grasu, but overall, the Oregon offensive line can’t compete with the Seminoles’ O-line. Right, Chantel?
Jennings: A week ago, I might have fought you a little harder on this, but now that Tyler Johnstone is out for the season with an ACL injury, I’d say you’re completely right. Andre Yruretagoyena will replace the 26-game starter Johnstone … but Yruretagoyena has never started a game at Oregon. Grasu is the headliner of the bunch, but outside of his conference-leading 40 starts, the other three combine for just 41 total. Advantage definitely goes to Winston’s offensive front.
Running backs: Oregon
Jennings: Mariota returns his top two running threats from 2013 and, from everything Oregon coach Mark Helfrich is saying, these two are even better than numbers last year. Both Byron Marshall and Tyner averaged 6.2 yards per carry, and Marshall led the team overall with 1,038 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. Tyner rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns. Take those two and add Mariota -- who accounted for 715 yards and nine rushing touchdowns -- and you have a three-headed monster that might be the best backfield in college football.
Shanker: Agree that the edge has to go to Oregon here. The Florida State coaching staff is high on senior running back Karlos Williams, but he was a safety entering the 2013 season and has taken very few carries during the meaningful portions of games. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and had very strong numbers last season as the No. 3 running back, but we’ll see how he fares this season as “The Guy.” This could be a much closer debate by the end of the season depending on the progress of Williams and his backups Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender.
Wide receivers: Florida State, but it’s close
Shanker: This is a tough one as both quarterbacks have some question marks on the outside. Rashad Greene is a potential All-American, but who is going to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw’s production -- nearly 2,000 receiving yards combined. There is certainly talent at receiver, especially in the freshman class. Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were top-10 receivers nationally coming out of high school, but Rudolph’s foot has been slow to heal from offseason surgery. Jesus “Bobo” Wilson is indefinitely suspended, and Isaiah Jones could be an academic casualty. The positive here is that the attention Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary will draw should facilitate the emergence of a legitimate No. 2 receiver.
Jennings: If the coaches at Oregon are to be believed in what they’re saying at this point in fall camp, then this is one of the deepest groups of wide receivers in recent memory. Now, it’s untested talent, so it’s still just potential. But the fact that wide receivers coach Matt Lubick thinks -- that if the Ducks played today -- that they could go with eight different receivers, that’s pretty impressive. Even if half of those guys pan out, it’s still pretty good. But in this case one proven guy is greater than eight unproven guys -- though veteran Keanon Lowe returns -- he was fifth on the team last year with 18 receptions.
Schedule: Florida State, and it’s not close
Shanker: Certainly the schedule is tougher, and 2014 won’t be a cakewalk, but the Seminoles do not have three teams in the top 11 of the USA Today Coaches Poll on their schedule. Oregon does. And two of those teams, Michigan State and Stanford, are among the best teams defensively. Florida State does have to face Clemson, which could be vastly improved on defense, but the Seminoles hung 50 on the Tigers on the road in 2013. Oklahoma State is rebuilding, and Notre Dame has potential with Everett Golson back, but it would not be a shock if both teams finish the season unranked. The Florida defense should be very good again this season, but it might not matter if their offense cannot alleviate any of the pressure. That’s exactly what happened when Florida and Florida State played last season.
Jennings: The Ducks take off in Week 2 against Michigan State and don’t slow from there. In Week 4 they’ll travel to Pullman, Wash. to take on Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, which is always a headache for defensive coordinators. They have Arizona, Stanford and Washington at home. They have UCLA and Oregon State on the road. I’d like to see FSU play half of that schedule and see what their record is. If a player’s team needs to be perfect -- or nearly perfect -- then Winston has a much, much better shot at that with Florida State's schedule.
Jennings: People know Mariota because he's a darn good player. In his career for the Ducks, he has never made a misstep. The only people who don’t like Mariota are the fans of the teams that play against him. And even then, I would bet if he showed up at a dinner party or wanted to date someone’s daughter, he’d be welcomed in no problem. He has already graduated. His teammates love him. His coaches talk about him as if he's their golden child. Even other quarterbacks in the conference like him.
Shanker: It’s no secret Winston is not well-liked outside of Tallahassee for the most part, as David Hale pointed out earlier this week. Considered affable in September, Winston was considered arrogant and above the law two months later. The sexual assault investigation, coupled with the seafood heist, has brought a lot of notoriety to Winston. On the field, the expectations will be higher for Winston this season. As the returning Heisman winner, Winston is going to be held to a higher standard. It’s unlikely he repeats his 4,000-yard, 40-touchdown season in 2014, and if Winston gives voters any reason to not vote for him, there will be more than a few who won't.
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