Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has informed teams he will throw Saturday at the National Scouting Combine when his position group takes the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, league sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
The Heisman Trophy winner said Monday that his throwing (right) shoulder, sprained five weeks ago in the first College Football Playoff championship game, was feeling good and that he looked forward to throwing if able.
Mariota accounted for 5,224 total yards and 58 touchdowns in his junior season for the Ducks. He threw for 42 touchdowns against only four interceptions, while rushing for 15 scores. He also caught a touchdown pass.
Doubts still remain about Mariota's ability to transition from the wide-open spread offense the Ducks ran to a pro-style system. He also took the majority of his snaps from the shotgun rather than under center.
Mariota was the overwhelming winner for this year's Heisman Trophy and The Associated Press college football player of the year. The dual-threat player also won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp player of the year, as well as the Davey O'Brien Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, both of which go to the top quarterback.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since our evaluation of high school athletes began in 2006. Within that list are 10 players who forever changed their program and whose impact can be felt even today.
1. Robert Griffin III | Baylor
While Griffin didn't win a Big 12 championship at Baylor, there's little doubt that without his career in Waco, Texas, the Bears would not have won 2013 and 2014 league titles. After earning Big 12 freshman of the year honors in 2008, RG III officially put Baylor back on the map with a 2011 season that saw the Bears enter the Associated Press poll for only the third time in the previous 15 seasons. He led Baylor to a 10-3 record that season and also captured the Heisman Trophy after throwing for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns. Griffin's success helped coach Art Briles attract more high-caliber recruits and made it cool to turn down traditional in-state powers Texas and Texas A&M to play in Waco. He paved the way for the Bears' back-to-back title runs and national championship aspirations in 2015. Folks in Central Texas will also tell you there's no way the Bears' new $250 million riverfront football stadium would have gotten built without Griffin.
Not to be caught off guard, here are five major issues confronting the North Division as spring practices begin.
Here's what we had to say about the South.
1. Oregon post-Mariota: The Ducks are not only replacing their quarterback, they are replacing the best player in program history. Heck, Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, is one of the greatest players in Pac-12 history. Oregon was good before Mariota and will be good after him. Still, he's been behind center for three years, so this is a significant transition. Further, with many suspecting the starting job is Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams' to lose, and he won't arrive until the summer, that means the establishment of a post-spring pecking order won't even approach an endgame. The guy with the most at stake is junior Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup the past two years. He needs to make a strong statement with his play and leadership. If he does, it could give him a meaningful advantage when Adams arrives.
2. QB questions: The Ducks aren't the only North team uncertain at QB. In fact, only California with Jared Goff and Stanford with Kevin Hogan are set 100 percent behind center. Oregon State is replacing Sean Mannion in what figures to be a wide-open competition, one made more wide open by the departure of Mike Riley and arrival of Gary Andersen. While Washington has a returning starter in Cyler Miles, he was inconsistent in 2014 and could face a challenge from K.J. Carta-Samuels and touted true freshman early arrival Jake Browning. At Washington State, Luke Falk did a good job stepping in for an injured Connor Halliday -- he's certainly the front-runner to win the job -- but Mike Leach isn't going to hand him the starting spot by any means.
3. A new sheriff in Corvallis: Riley shocked just about everyone when he bolted for Nebraska after 14 seasons -- including the last 12 -- leading the Beavers. It wasn't an overwhelmingly sad departure, though, as more than a few Beavers fans had grown frustrated with the recent state of the program, particularly when compared to rival Oregon. The hiring of Andersen away from Wisconsin also seemed like a bold move, one that generated plenty of enthusiasm among the boosters. But Andersen will be adopting new schemes on both sides of the ball with a roster full of uncertainty. With a getting-to-know-you phase, spring will be much different in Corvallis this year.
4. Getting defensive: The biggest difference between the Pac-12 North and South divisions heading into spring is defensive turnover and/or questions. The South welcomes back a lot of defensive starters, while the North doesn't. Oregon State has just two defensive starters coming back and Stanford has just four. While Washington has six, it also loses three first-team All-Pac-12 performers in LB Shaq Thompson, OLB/DE Hau'oli Kikaha and DT Danny Shelton. Oregon has seven coming back, but it's rebuilding its secondary and replacing end Arik Armstead. Washington State has nine starters returning but it has a new coordinator in Alex Grinch after Mike Breske was fired. Cal has eight starters coming back, but it played lousy defense in 2014, ranking last in the conference with 39.8 points per game. North defenses figure to get a lot of attention this spring.
5. Year 2 for Chris Petersen: Perhaps the Pac-12's biggest story last spring was the arrival of Petersen, who was lured away from a celebrated run at Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian, who bolted for USC. Petersen inherited a team that looked talented enough to make a run at the North title, or at least make a legitimate challenge to the Oregon-Stanford domination. It didn't come to pass. The Huskies were inconsistent on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense, and finished a lackluster 8-6 after a rotten performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State. The 2015 Huskies have just 12 position-player starters returning, so they will have many depth-chart questions to address this spring. On the plus side, there should be a good deal of familiarity between players and coaches, both in terms of scheme and approach. This looks like a year of transition for the program, but Huskies fans will be looking for signs of growth under Petersen that would suggest good things happening in the future.
That means that some players' campaigns for the 2015 player of the year starts ... now (at least in the Pac-12 Blogosphere).
Marcus Mariota -- even last spring -- was the clear-cut frontrunner for the award. This year, it's not as obvious. There are a few players that stand out, and then there's always the possibility for a dark horse candidate, someone to burst onto the scene out of nowhere.
1. UCLA RB Paul Perkins
Perkins led the conference in rushing yards in 2014 (1,575 rushing yards). His 121.2 rushing yards per game still put him front of Oregon State and Washington State's team rushing totals per game. His 6.3 yards per carry was a Pac-12 best, and with the UCLA offense looking a little different next season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jim Mora relying even more on Perkins to carry the load. Could that be enough to propel him to the top of the Pac-12?
2. USC QB Cody Kessler
Kessler will be right there with Perkins, fighting for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and the player of the year honors. Kessler didn't get as much attention this season as some other QBs in the conference despite leading the Pac-12 in completion percentage (69.7) and finishing second in passing touchdowns (39), but in 2015 he should be the talk of the town, especially considering how many weapons the Trojans will have around Kessler.
3. Arizona LB Scooby Wright III
Wright was the defensive darling of the postseason award circuit in 2014 picking up the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, and many others. He was the 2014 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, which sets him up well for a step up -- player of the year -- in his next season. But the other players on this list are talented and, no surprises here, they're all offensive players and every talented defensive player will tell you how much more they have to do to get the same amount of love as an offensive skill player (every single lineman will say this, too). But with 14 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss in 2014, it's a pretty safe bet to expect more of Two Star Scoob in 2015.
4. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
With another offseason under his belt, Freeman is going to appear even more prepared for the college game (which is kind of a scary thought). He tore apart Pac-12 defenses this season -- 1,113 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns versus conference opponents in 2014. Whoever starts for the Ducks at quarterback is going to have their ups and downs -- that's to be expected of a first-year starter. Expect Oregon to lean more on the run game -- meaning Freeman -- to get its offense going.
The battle for the fourth spot in this poll was highly contested (but due to technology, only five names could be put into this poll which is why the voting is relatively limited). Utah running back Devontae Booker was right there with Freeman, especially when considering what Booker did this season and knowing that 2015 is his last hurrah. He burst onto the Pac-12 scene as a relative unknown and finished second in the conference in rushing yards per game (116.3). Cal quarterback Jared Goff was under serious consideration. When looking at the strides he made between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it's wild to think what he might look like as a junior. Arizona running back Nick Wilson was also in the conversation. Though Freeman was the freshman running back that garnered the most attention in the Pac-12 last season, he wasn't the only one. Wilson -- another year older, another year stronger -- is going to be a force in the conference in 2015, too.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.
With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.
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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is loaded with 14 Pac-12 prospects who didn’t make their respective ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 rankings, so trimming that list to the top five who outperformed their initial rankings and became surprise stars at the college level wasn’t easy. The state of Oregon led the way on this list, but Arizona State and Stanford were also home to a few college stars who didn’t receive the same level of recruiting attention as others.
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2. The NCAA Football Rules Committee recommended that the distance that offensive linemen may go downfield to block on a pass be trimmed from 3 yards to 1 yard, and every defensive coordinator in the Pac-12 yelled, “Halleluyah!” No teams have done a better job of turning that 3 yards into 5 or 7 than Oregon and Arizona. NCAA rules editor Rogers Redding said that officials had a tough time keeping an eye on where the linemen were while seeing when the quarterback released the ball. It will be interesting to see if this change impinges on the offenses, or merely makes it easier for the striped shirts to do their jobs.
3. Charlie Weis didn't win enough at Notre Dame and he went to Kansas, which, if it's not a dead-end job, is certainly a cul de sac, and didn't win at all. He's been getting $2 million a year not to coach Notre Dame since he was fired five years ago. He's still getting $2.5 million from Kansas, where he's no longer the coach. Did he coach himself out of the game? Of course. He could latch on as an assistant, but he told the South Bend Tribune he'd rather go try to do some good somewhere. Good for him -- he has the money and the time to do so. I still believe, all things being equal, Weis would prefer to do his good on the practice field. The Weis I know would rather coach.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Marcus Mariota knows what he has to do at the NFL combine, whether he throws there or not.
"You just have to get one team to love you. That's all that really matters," Mariota said Monday before accepting the Davey O'Brien Award as the nation's top quarterback. "You are interviewing and trying to market yourself to get a job. ... That's what's fun about this process."
Mariota said his throwing (right) shoulder that he sprained in the first College Football Playoff championship game was feeling good. But he won't decide for a few more days about whether to throw later this week in Indianapolis.
"Really, I'm looking forward to throwing if I'm able to do that," he said. "It's going to be a decision that my agent and the team that I have around me will decide when I get closer."
The O'Brien's black-tie awards dinner was held in downtown Fort Worth, about 20 minutes from the stadium where exactly five weeks earlier the Heisman Trophy winner got hurt in Oregon's 42-20 championship loss to Ohio State.
Named in honor of the 1938 Heisman Trophy winner from TCU, the O'Brien is another in an impressive list of awards for Mariota.
In a perfect world, the teams only have to reload, not rebuild. But following this season, there are a lot of shoes that need to be filled due to early departures and expected graduations.
That leaves the question: Will these spots be reloading or rebuilding? Your humble Pac-12 Blog takes a look at some of the biggest shoes that need to be filled entering the 2015 season.
Biggest shoes: OK, did you really want to read another post about who is going to take over the quarterback job and whether it will be Vernon Adams/Jeff Lockie/Morgan Mahalak? Didn't think so. So, in lieu of another Marcus Mariota story, we bring you an amended version of the biggest shoes to fill -- the second-biggest shoes to fill.
That only made us realize that the second-biggest shoes to fill were cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's. With him being out during the postseason, those shoes were already starting to be filled by Chris Seiasy, which brings us to ...
Third-biggest shoes: S Erick Dargan
Dargan was one of the best surprises on this year's Oregon roster. Though he had no serious starting experience coming into the 2014-15 season, he commanded the Ducks secondary like a seasoned veteran. He led the Pac-12 in interceptions with seven (for comparison, the next-best in the conference was three) and led the Ducks in tackles with 95.
Stepping in: Tyree Robinson
Replacing Dargan is going to be no small task, especially since it's not just the tackles and interceptions that need to be made up for. One of Dargan's biggest responsibilities this season was getting the play call from coaches and dispersing it to the defensive backs, so whoever steps into Dargan's shoes will need to be an automatic leader. Robinson was Dargan's primary backup this season, finishing the year with 36 tackles (12th-best on the team) but he has experience at strong safety as well, which will come in handy as he leads this young secondary in 2015. One of the best attributes about Robinson at free safety is his size. At 6-foot-4, he's much taller than most of the recent free safeties in Oregon's defense -- Dargan was 5-foot-11; Avery Patterson was 5-foot-10; John Boyett was 5-foot-10.
In each of the past six years, during the offseason, I have come up with a projected top 10 of the preseason AP poll on my website. I do this by taking several different factors into account:
• Most AP voters usually look at a couple of criteria when they evaluate a team for the upcoming season. First, they look at the number of returning starters the team has coming back, particularly at the offensive skill positions. A team that returns its starting quarterback and a combination of its running backs and wide receivers, for example, is often more highly regarded than a team that loses its starting quarterback but returns its entire offensive line. Similarly, a team that returns most of its starters on offense but loses a lot of its defensive playmakers is usually more highly regarded than a team that returns a majority of its defensive starters but loses its skill-position players on offense.
• Another factor weighed heavily is the performance of the team in its bowl game, which is undoubtedly the lasting image voters carry with them during the offseason. A team coming off a huge bowl win is usually more highly regarded than a team that is coming off a bowl loss, regardless of what its schedule looks like for the upcoming season.
• Also weighed heavily is where the teams finished the previous year. Naturally, teams that finished somewhere in the rankings (top 25) have a much better chance of being preseason top 10 than a team that finished unranked last year.
Using these factors -- and a few others, such as strength of schedule -- I project the preseason AP top 10 every year at the start of February, which in most cases is six months in advance of the poll's release. Now, as you all know, a lot can happen between February and August, including injuries, suspensions and transfers. But over the past six years, I have been very successful using this method, correctly projecting 56 of 60 teams (93.3 percent), including a perfect 10-for-10 again in 2014.
Before I go into the rankings, it is important to make the point that this is NOT my preseason top 10 for next season, but rather what I am projecting the AP top 10 will look like to start the season. If you're familiar with my college football preview magazine, you will know that every year I tend to go out on a limb for a couple of teams in my top 10, and this year will be no different.
Now, let's take a look at this year¹s projected preseason AP top 10 teams.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
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ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. released his second mock draft of 2015 , and after reviewing all-star game film his top 10 has a strong Pac-12 flavor to it. Led by USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams at No. 2, Kiper projects five Pac-12 players to be tabbed among the draft's first 10 selections.
Here is the Pac-12 representation in Kiper's mock draft:
No. 2 Tennessee Titans -- Leonard Williams, DE, USC
No. 6 New York Jets -- Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 7 Chicago Bears -- Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
No. 8 Atlanta Falcons -- Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
No. 10 St. Louis Rams -- Andrus Peat, LT, Stanford
No. 20 Philadelphia Eagles -- Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
A year ago, only three Pac-12 players were drafted in the first round (UCLA's Anthony Barr, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and WSU's Deone Bucannon), and if six were to go this year, it would equal the conference's most since 2008, when USC accounted for four of them (Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Sam Baker and Lawrence Jackson).
The final tally? Forty-three games were decided by eight or fewer points, which is a lot. There were a lot of close games in 2012, and the final number then was 36.
While there's certainly debate among statistically minded analysts about what close wins and losses mean, most poop on the party and call it happenstance that will even out over the years. If your team won a lot of close games last year, it figures to see a drop in that number the next fall as it regresses to the mean. And vice versa.
College football observer and magazine publisher Phil Steele is a big believer that teams that lose a lot of close games one year are headed for a turnaround the next. And vice versa.
So, yeah, it seems like reviewing the "Year of Close" might be worthwhile.
We're defining "close" as a win or loss by eight or fewer points (a one-possession game). We looked at the South Division on Tuesday. Now it's the North.
Record in close games: 3-4
Interpretation: Close games take many forms. The Bears led Northwestern 31-7 before nearly blowing it. They led Arizona 31-13 and did blow it, via a 47-yard Hail Mary that capped a stunning 36-point fourth quarter from the Wildcats. They also snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Colorado and Washington State, couldn't close the deal in an upset bid against UCLA, couldn't complete a huge comeback against USC and got outlasted by BYU in the season finale that cost them a bowl berth. It was a crazy year, indicative of a program that was dramatically improving after an awful 1-11 2013 season. While the Pac-12 blog believes Cal, with 16 position player starters back, could continue a strong upward trend in 2015 -- a notion supported by the information here -- the "Ted Miller" portion of the blog realizes he's not allowed to say nice things about Cal because that only spells doom for the Bears.
Record in close games: 1-1
Interpretation: Oregon doesn't really play close games. Or, at least, when the Ducks win, they tend to blow teams out, even good teams -- see Michigan State, UCLA, Stanford, Utah, Arizona (take 2) and Florida State this past season. Oregon played two close games in 2014, the same number it played in 2013 and 2011 and one more than it did in 2012. It got pretty lucky against Washington State, as a few -- cough, cough -- things went the Ducks way late in the game (any feelings there, Cougs?). The 31-24 loss to Arizona wasn't decided until deep into the fourth quarter. It will be interesting to see if things are any different, post-Marcus Mariota, but the dearth of close Oregon games preceded him. The Ducks are 4-5 in close games since 2010, by the way.
Record in close games: 3-2
Interpretation: The Beavers won close games they should have won by more against Hawaii and Colorado. They lost close games to Utah and Washington State that could have transformed the season. They notched one shocking upset -- 35-27 over then-No. 6 Arizona State -- with an inspired second-half comeback that seemed to come from nowhere. The Beavers lost in double OT to Utah because they couldn't stop RB Devontae Booker. They lost to Washington State because they got sliced and diced by redshirt freshman QB Luke Falk, who was making his first career start. There were plenty of "what ifs?" in both those games, but no more than those from Colorado and Arizona State.
Record in close games: 1-3
Interpretation: Our top candidate for transformative "What if?" games might be Stanford. The Cardinal dominated USC but lost 13-10. It simply blew it at Notre Dame, losing 17-14 on a 23-yard game-winning TD pass on fourth-and-11 in the final minute. It lost a double-overtime slugfest to Utah. And its one close win, 20-13 over Washington, was truly an in-complete-control statistical performance ruined by sloppy play. If you look at how Stanford played over the season's final three games after the loss at Utah, you see a team that came together in an impressive way, most notably in a 31-10 crunching of No. 8 UCLA, which kicked the Bruins out of the Pac-12 title game. There's a pretty good chance you might see the Cardinal reverse that close game record in 2015, which could again put them in North contention.
Record in close games: 2-3
Interpretation: The above number is actually worse than it appears, at least if you think the Huskies shouldn't be playing close games with Hawaii and Eastern Washington, an FCS team. Those are the two close victories. The 20-13 loss to Stanford wasn't actually that close, as the Cardinal dominated but played a sloppy game, though the Huskies failed fake punt in the fourth quarter was the game's most memorable moment. The 30-22 loss to Oklahoma State in the bowl game also wasn't much of a nail biter, as the Huskies rallied after trailing 24-0 in the first half. The 27-26 loss to Arizona, however, was a certifiable heartbreaker. The Huskies had the game won but a late fumble when Chris Petersen opted to hand the ball off instead of taking a knee set up the Wildcats game-winning, 47-yard field goal on the game's last play.
Record in close games: 2-3
Interpretation: The Cougars blew fourth-quarter leads against Rutgers in the season opener, which set the tone for a mostly dreary season. The 38-31 defeat to Oregon was laden with "What ifs?" and a few questionable calls, but the Cougars got the same good fortune in the 28-27 win at Utah. Those two games sort of cancel each other out, particularly when you consider how good the Utes turned out to be. The most crushing -- and meaningful -- loss was to California, a game in which QB Connor Halliday broke the NCAA passing record. The Cougars went down 60-59 when kicker Quentin Breshears missed a 19-yard field goal wide right with 19 seconds. If the Cougs had won, they would have won consecutive quality games and improved to 3-3. Instead, it became the first of four consecutive losses. The lone bright spot of the season's second half was redshirt freshman QB Falk playing brilliantly in his first career start, a 39-32 win at Oregon State.
The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.
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Still, Bobcats coach Rob Ash is disappointed to see Adams transfer from the Big Sky to the Pac-12 and wants Football Championship Subdivision coaches to push to change the rule that allows the dynamic quarterback to play for Oregon next season.
"We're Division I like the other level," Ash said in a telephone interview. "Our guys need to start and finish at the same school. We cannot be perceived as a farm system or Triple-A ballclub or anything like that."
Adams signed a grant-in-aid agreement with Oregon this week, hoping to take advantage of an NCAA rule that allows athletes who have graduated to switch schools and be immediately eligible to play. Most transfers must sit out a season.
The rule was put in place to allow athletes to pursue graduate degrees that were not offered at their schools, but it has turned into college football free agency.
"I'm really opposed to this rule the way it's starting to be manipulated by FBS schools," said Ash, who has never had a losing record in eight seasons at Montana State. "As FCS coaches, we need to lobby now to get this rule changed. It's going to be potentially a very difficult, bad situation for FCS with really good players that we recruit, we develop, being tempted to move on for that fifth and final year."
Programs Most Desperate for a Quarterback
TBD Arkansas State USC TBD Colorado Hawaii TBD Eastern Washington Oregon TBD Weber State Oregon State TBD Washington Boise State TBD Portland State Washington State TBD Grambling State California TBD Stanford Northwestern TBD Virginia UCLA TBD Arizona State Texas A&M