Happy Friday. Are you all March Mad? Or did you pick UCLA, Georgia State and UAB in your bracket?

But of course you did. You read the Pac-12 blog.

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To the notes!


Greeny from Boston writes: You guys keep saying six Pac-12 teams are going to be ranked or should be ranked. give me a "buy/sell" on each team, just for argument's sake.

Ted Miller: You don't name the six teams, but I'm going to assume you refer to: Oregon, USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Utah. My guess is at least five of those six start off ranked in the preseason polls. I'd also practically guarantee one of those six wins the conference and/or becomes the Pac-12's top College Football Playoff candidate.

So buy/sell?

Oregon

Buy: The Ducks might have the most dynamic collection of skill players in the country. Check that. They do have the most dynamic collection of skill players. And there's that recent track record, too.

Sell: While Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams might be the second coming of Saint Mariota, we tend to raise a skeptical eye in the Pac-12 when a team is uncertain at quarterback, not to mention replacing the best one in program history. And the defense has some questions.

USC

Buy: Topped by QB Cody Kessler, there's an impressive array of returning starters, both skill players and linemen. Hard not to like a team with five talented starting offensive linemen coming back.

Sell: Losing Leonard Williams is a big hit for the defense, and there are still depth concerns connected to now-completed NCAA sanctions. And, yes, there's some skepticism about whether Steve Sarkisian can build and maintain a team consistent enough to win championships.

UCLA

Buy: Just look at the depth chart. The Bruins have 18 starters coming back from a 10-3 team. That's the most returning starters in the conference and sixth-most in the nation.

Sell: Not only has UCLA lost Brett Hundley, a three-year starter at QB, the contenders to replace him inspire more questions -- at this point, at least -- than answers. Do you go with the hyped-but-green true freshman in Josh Rosen or the scrappy-but-less-physically-talented veteran in Jerry Neuheisel?

Arizona State

Buy: With nine returning starters, the defense should be much better, and quarterback Mike Bercovici provides an easy -- and better throwing -- answer behind center.

Sell: The defense should be better, but is it championship-level in terms of talent on all three levels? And while Bercovici might have a good arm, he doesn't have the strong group of receivers from 2014, a cautionary note made worse by the season-ending knee injury to wide receiver Cameron Smith this spring.

Arizona

Buy: Experience at QB, a 1,000-yard rusher, quality depth at receiver and the nation's best defensive player in Scooby Wright. What's not to like?

Sell: The offensive line takes three big hits and the defense remains questionable around Wright, particularly the secondary, which is replacing three multiyear starters.

Utah

Buy: Four offensive linemen return to make life easy for running back Devontae Booker, a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, and the defense has nice talent coming back on all three levels. Oh, and the specialists, kicker Andy Phillips and punter Tom Hackett, were first-team All-Pac-12 last year.

Sell: There continues to be uncertainty at QB, even though Travis Wilson is vying to become a rare four-year starter, and the coaching upheaval that led to two new coordinators and a soured relationship between coach Kyle Whittingham and AD Chris Hill isn't easy to write off.

What conclusions can we draw from these superficial bits of analysis? Just words on a page, my friends. Those that prove true next December, we'll reproduce with Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" playing in the background. And those that prove false we'll hope you forget.


"Cordial Duck" from Carson City, Nevada, writes: Reading the defensive position breakdowns reminded me to ask: It seemed Washington's defense last year -- if there were truly three All-American defenders -- should have provided the Huskies with at least two more wins. I think any college defense with that level of talent should simply overwhelm about half the teams they play, then provide the stops to split the rest. Was this a case of good individual stats, but the teamwork wasn't there?

Ted Miller: Hmm... not sure Huskies would agree there are too many "Cordial Ducks" out there.

I do think the Huskies' defense should have been better in 2014. It shouldn't have yielded 52 points to Eastern Washington -- hey, Oregon! -- or 44 to UCLA or 30 to Oklahoma State. And I do think the Huskies should have won 10 games, just based on how they lost at home to Arizona and the faceplant they did against an inferior Oklahoma State team in the bowl game. I would imagine coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski doesn't feel like it was his best season, though keep in mind it was his first in the Pac-12.

Yet I have three counter-arguments: 1. The numbers actually were pretty darn good; 2. The secondary was really, really young and vulnerable, particularly after the dismissal of cornerback Marcus Peters; 3. The offense didn't provide much help.

As for the numbers, the Huskies ranked third in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, second in run defense, fourth in third-down defense and second in the nation in sacks. The notable weak number was pass-efficiency defense, but that speaks to No. 2, as the entire secondary was freshmen and sophomores, most of whom had no Pac-12 experience, in a year when the conference was flush with A-list quarterbacks.

As for the offense, Husky fans can pick their favorite adjectives.

Further, a defense that has a couple of superstars sometimes suffers from, "He'll Save Us Syndrome," and that might have hit the Huskies on occasion. I can't quantify or even point to specific instances -- any help here, Huskies? -- but it's possible the other eight guys, at times, waited on Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha or Shaq Thompson to make a play instead of applying their 100-percent focused intensity on doing their jobs.


Dimond Mike from Oakland writes: I think the blog has given Jared Goff plenty of love, but as a fan who has seen the real deal (Aaron Rodgers) and poseur (Kyle Boller), Jared Goff is a no-doubt-about-it starting NFL QB in years to come. He'll have the numbers to back it up, so shouldn't that get him on more national radars, or is it solely about getting 10-plus wins?

Ted Miller: Are you starting the "Dimond Mike Says So!" campaign in advance of the season in anticipation of following up with the "Dimond Mike Told You So!" bacchanalia?

I think: 1. Goff has a future as an NFL starter; 2. He will put up big numbers next fall as a junior and position himself to be a first-day NFL draft pick.

If NFL prospects are what you are referring to when you say "national radar," those are already there. If you are talking about All-American honors and other sorts of college football trophies, he has to put up big numbers for a Cal team that's winning.

The Bears might not need to become national contenders for Goff to get attention for major awards, but I doubt a 7-5 season would help him at the ballot box. Just the way these things work in college.


Addison from Washington, D.C., writes: I've enjoyed your spring breakdowns by position. Who do you think is going to be the offensive and defensive players of the year next season?

Ted Miller: Kevin already took on this question in his mailbag, but why should he have all the fun?

Offensively, I think USC QB Cody Kessler is the front-runner, though I've got a jones to go with Utah's Booker.

Defensively, you start with defending champion Wright, who has the sort of makeup to be motivated by those who wonder what the heck he could do for an encore. You also have to mention UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, USC linebacker Su'a Cravens or Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner.

But you want to know whom I believe is the darkhorse Heisman candidate no one is talking about? USC defensive back/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson. If he gets consistent reps on both sides of the ball, not to mention as a return man, he could become a human-highlight film, apologies to Dominique Wilkins.

With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

Here's a look at North Division linebackers.

California: The Bears have three talented players in Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson and Jalen Jefferson, but for 2015 to be a success, consistency will have to improve. As Cal took its lumps defensively over the past two seasons, there was a feeling of “Well, at least those players are getting experience that will help down the line.” That time is now. Jefferson will be a senior, while Nickerson and Barton will be juniors. Youth is no longer an excuse. Devantae Downs showed promise late last year and will push Nickerson inside.

Oregon: The Ducks will miss Derrick Malone and Tony Washington, but return an experienced group led by fifth-year seniors Joe Walker (81 tackles), Rodney Hardrick (75 tackles) and Tyson Coleman (44 tackles). Christian French, another fifth-year senior, also is in line for a bigger role too with Washington’s departure.

Oregon State: The Beavers lose three of their top five tacklers with the departures of D.J. Alexander (70 tackles), Michael Doctor (69 tackles) and Jabral Johnson (63). Outside of Rommel Mageo (23 tackles), there aren’t many known commodities coming back. Darrell Songy gets mentioned frequently as a possible starter after missing the 2014 season due to suspension. Kyle Haley, Bright Ugwoegbu and Caleb Saulo also should factor in to the competition on some level.

Stanford: Four-year starter ILB A.J. Tarpley and OLB James Vaughters, who also contributed on defense for four years, will be tough to replace, but the Cardinal have several promising young linebackers who should be ready to go. ILB Blake Martinez (team leader with 102 tackles) and OLB Kevin Anderson (52 tackles) are the two starters who return. Peter Kalambayi should slide right in to Vaughters’ role and become be the team’s most dangerous pass rusher after finishing with 6.5 sacks last year in limited playing time. Kevin Palma and Noor Davis figure to get the first crack at the playing time freed up by Tarpley’s graduation.

Washington: All the Huskies need to do is replace All-American inside linebacker Shaq Thompson, the nation’s sack leader in OLB/DE Hau’oli Kikaha and the team’s leading tackler, John Timu. No problem, right? OLB Travis Feeney is the most talented of the returners, while Cory Littleton and Keishawn Bierria also have solid experience. Scott Lawyer played in 10 games a year ago and will get first crack at inside linebacker.

Washington State: New defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, who comes over from Missouri, will keep the Cougars in a 3-4 base, but until the spring game it will be tough to get a read on how the defense will look. Jeremiah Allison and Kache Palacio both are coming off good seasons and Peyton Puelluer has the natural ability to develop into a good Pac-12 linebacker. Roy Manning also joined the staff to coach outside linebackers.

With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

Here's a look at North Division defensive lines.

California: If things fall into place, the Bears should be much improved up front, despite the loss of Brennan Scarlett to transfer. (We won't say where.) Of course, that depends on young guys stepping forward after being forced into action last year and some newcomers living up to high expectations, starting with JC transfer DeVante Wilson, a former USC signee and potential replacement for Scarlett, and tackle James Looney, a transfer from Wake Forest. If Looney proves stout, he should form a nice tandem with the capable Mustafa Jalil inside. The return of Kyle Kragen and development of sophomores Noah Westerfield and Tony Mekari also should bolster the end position, which is critical because the Bears' pass rush last year was anemic and exposed a weak secondary.

Oregon: The Ducks' D-line took a couple of hits with end Arik Armstead entering the NFL draft a year early and top DE/NT backup Sam Kamp opting to retire. The good news is end DeForest Buckner, the Ducks' best and most productive lineman in 2014, is back, as is solid NT Alex Balducci. The expectation is Tui Talia, who had 18 tackles last year, will replace Armstead opposite Buckner. The second unit features T.J. Daniel and Henry Mondeaux at the ends and Austin Maloata inside. Of course, more than a few folks will be curious about how quickly touted recruit Canton Kaumatule, an end who will participate in spring practices, adjusts to the college game.

Oregon State: The Beavers are rebuilding their defense after losing nine starters, including three of four on the D-line, as well as two top backups. So new coordinator Kalani Sitake, late of Utah, has a mostly blank slate with which to work. End Jaswha James is the lone returning starter, but there are other players with experience, including ends Luke Hollingsworth and Lavonte Barnett and tackle Jalen Grimble. Senior tackle Kyle Peko, who missed last year with academic issues, is practicing this spring with the hopes of being eligible in the fall. If available, he's a likely starter. Ali'i Robins also is a possibility inside, as is Devan Filipe.

Stanford: Stanford lost all three 2014 starters, including workhorses Henry Anderson and David Parry, so this is a complete rebuilding job of one of the Pac-12's best units. Further, injuries have clouded things this spring, with only three healthy bodies available for full-contact work, a crew that included Harrison Phillips, Nate Lohn and Jordan Watkins. The hope is Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas will return from injuries, and Cal transfer Brennan Scarlett should immediately be in the mix, if he can stay healthy. Still, the Cardinal are as questionable along the D-line as they have been in a long time.

Washington: No team in the nation lost more from its front seven than Washington, a crew that included two All-Americans on the D-line in nose tackle Danny Shelton and end/OLB Hau'oli Kikaha. Also gone are Andrew and Evan Hudson, so the Huskies will feature three new starters in 2015, none of whom had more than 13 tackles last year. On the plus side, the Huskies almost certainly will rotate more players than they did in 2014 because those guys were too good to take off the field. NT Elijah Qualls and DE Joe Mathis both saw action last year and are likely starters, while Taniela Tupou was Evan Hudson's backup at defensive tackle. Jarett Finau, Damion Turpin and true sophomore Will Dissly figure to be in the rotation, and a crew of youngsters -- Shane Bowman, Greg Gaines, Jaylen Johnson and Vita Vea -- could challenge the upperclassmen for playing time.

Washington State: The Cougars will again run a 3-4 under new coordinator Alex Grinch, though that often simplifies what might turn out to be a quirky scheme. We also know Grinch won't be working with the Cougs' two best D-linemen in 2014, tackle Xavier Cooper, who is expected to be an NFL draft pick this spring, and Toni Pole. Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao split four sacks among them, and LB Ivan McLennan, who had 4.5 sacks, might offer a pass-rushing option on the line. Expect JC transfer Jeremiah Mitchell to be in the mix at end. Daniel Ekuale and Robert Barber were backups last year, but they only combined for 14 tackles. In the youngster category are Kingston Fernandez, Ngalu Tapa and Hercules Mata'afa, a name that is a lot of fun to say.

Pac-12 morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
10:00
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Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin.

video

Recruiting reporter Erik McKinney joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to break down the deep West Region wide receiver class in 2016.
Despite being only a sophomore in high school, Jack Anderson has already developed into one of the top offensive linemen in Texas and could easily become the top line target in the nation for the 2017 class.

Pac-12 morning links

March, 18, 2015
Mar 18
10:00
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May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.

Call me old fashioned, but I'm a "show me" kind of guy.

I picked Stanford to win the Pac-12 in 2013 because I wanted Oregon to "show me" it could win in its first year without Chip Kelly. It didn't.

I picked Oregon to win in 2014 because I wanted Stanford to "show me" it could win without one of its bell cow running backs. It didn't.

I picked USC to beat the Bruins in 2012, because I needed to see the Bruins "show me" that they'd put the 50-0 beat down behind them and could move forward in the Jim Mora era. They did.

And so on and so on. It's not a perfect system. But it's the most logical one I have to operate with. I rarely pick on hype. Last time I did, Washington State was getting spanked at BYU in Mike Leach's debut (it remains my most shameful hour since joining ESPN).

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCody Kessler passed for 3,826 yards with 39 touchdowns and five interceptions for USC last season. But how did he do against ranked teams?

While on vacation last week I stumbled across Ted Miller's column asking whether 2015 is the Year of the South in the conference? and felt the urge to weigh in.

Obviously -- especially in the league where anything can happen "after dark" -- there are a few South teams that have a chance. But until one of them can show me, I'm not buying it yet.

Is the South deeper? Sure. But that's not the issue. The question is whether a South team is poised to rise up and take the title from Oregon or Stanford (a team I have a feeling is going to bounce back pretty strong in 2015).

Ted references Mark Schlabach's Way-Too-Early Top 25, in which USC starts the year ranked at No. 3. On the surface, it sort of makes sense, I guess. They do, after all, have Cody Kessler coming back. And I get that there are some young and electrifying players on the Trojans roster, plus a few more coming in.

My concern with Kessler -- who I've spent some one-on-one time with -- is that he has to "show me" he can do it against ranked teams. His numbers in 2014 were impressive, for sure. The 39-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio immediately jumps out.

But take a closer look. Against unranked teams, he completed 70 percent of his throws, averaged more than 336 passing yards per game and had a ratio of 33 touchdowns with two picks. Against four ranked teams, he drops below 200 passing yards on average and he has just four touchdowns to three interceptions. Twenty-two of his touchdown passes came against Colorado, Washington State, Cal and Notre Dame – teams that ranked 114th, 122nd, 116th and 84th, respectively, in pass efficiency defense.

Before I buy into the Trojans, I need them to show me they can also do it against upper-tier teams. Because as of March 17, I'm not yet a believer.

Before you start horn-tooting, UCLA fans, let's not forget you have to overcome the loss of a quarterback who accounted for 32 of your 44 offensive touchdowns (including a team-high 10 rushing and 22 passing). And you're still 0-for-Stanford/Oregon in the Jim Mora era.

Arizona, the defending South champion, has offensive line concerns and a quarterback looking to win back the confidence of his coaches. Utah might have one of the best ground attacks in the conference, but the Utes are breaking in another offensive coordinator (must be March). Not sure what to make of ASU yet.

And I know the counter argument is coming: "Buh … buh … Gemmell … what about Oregon having to replace Marcus Mariota. Don't they have to 'show you' they can win without him?"

Of course. But for all the passing efficiency that Mariota brought -- and it was substantial -- Oregon is still a run-first offense. It's why the Ducks have led the league in rushing offense the last four seasons. And last time I checked, there are still a few Seabiscuits in that stable.

Stanford is an intriguing team. Few squads finished the year as strongly as the Cardinal did -- when they finally found their offensive footing.

If you want to argue whether the South is the stronger division, I'll listen. Then I'll agree. Because I think it is top to bottom. But will the South champ, which no doubt will have run a brutal gauntlet just to get to the conference title game, actually win the whole thing? Think it'll have to show me first. Let the mailbag rage commence in 3 ... 2... 1...

We continue our position previews but with the defense, it's a little bit harder to completely categorize each team uniformly so we're going with three groups -- defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs.

Yesterday we examined the South's status in the secondary. Today, we're moving on to the North.

Spring position breakdown: Pac-12 North defensive backs, Part I

Cal: At safety, the Bears lost Michael Lowe (graduation) and Avery Sebastian (transfer) and the two main returning options -- Stefan McClure and Griffin Piatt are both spending this spring rehabbing. Not exactly the best situation for a team that desperately needs to build depth in its secondary. But, if there's a silver lining to all of this, it's this: having that many sidelined players certainly opens up a ton of reps at safety for converted quarterback Luke Rubenzer and Cameron Walker. Walker is back at safety after having started eight games at strong safety as a freshman before moving to cornerback last season. Both he and Rubenzer will need to get acclimated/re-acclimated and now, there are plenty of reps to do just that. But, through practices so far, JUCO transfer Derron Brown is looking like he'll be able to make a smooth transition to the FBS level and possibly overtake any of the guys we've already named.

At cornerback the Bears are in much better shape. Cedric Dozier and Darius White Jr. both return, as do Darius Allensworth, Caleb Coleman and A.J. Greathouse. So even with Walker moving back over to safety, they're still in pretty good shape at CB. Though the secondary as a whole will feature a few new faces in 2015, it looks like they're making the right steps to move forward, too. After all, after giving up an FBS-worst 4,406 passing yards (and that's without a bowl game) it'd be hard to take a step backwards.

Oregon: The Ducks secondary will be going through some major transition this spring. It loses cornerbacks Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill and Dior Mathis, as well as safety Erick Dargan, who led the Pac-12 in interceptions a season ago. But safety Tyree Robinson got some good experience there last season (finished with 36 tackles) and will work to solidify himself as the starter for the fall alongside the only returning starter in he secondary, safety Reggie Daniels. A season ago, Daniels finished as the team's third-leading tackler and though there are certainly strides to be made on the field for him, a lot of this spring will be about him filling a leadership void in the secondary. Chris Seisay stepped in for the injured Ekpre-Olomu in the postseason and because of that experience, defensive coordinator Don Pellum considers Seisay to be battle tested. At the corner spot opposite Seisay there will be some interesting competition between Arrion Springs, Mattrell McGraw and early enrollee Ugo Amadi.

Oregon State: First, the good news: One of the two cornerback starters from a season ago is in the Oregon State secondary. Bad news: The Beavers are going through a complete defensive coaching change and need to find players who can not only start, but also several others who can rotate in to Kalani Sitake's defense. Returning starter Larry Scott has the lead at one corner, but nothing is in sharpie yet so expect him to be pushed by the other top three cornerbacks on the Beavers' spring roster -- Dashon Hunt, Dwayne Williams and Charles Okonkwo -- as OSU looks for the top two guys. At safety, it'll be 100-percent turnover and there are only four scholarship safeties on the roster this spring -- Justin Strong, Cyril Noland-Lewis, Brandon Arnold and Adam Soesman. Strong and Noland-Lewis are the obvious frontrunners due to the fact that they've actually been on the field, but with minutes dangling in front of some younger players, don't discount how much someone can step up. But, this is a position to watch this spring as quarterback Tanner Sanders could join the competition. He's not in the running for the QB job so it'd make sense for him to look at a position shift and safety would make sense considering he was actually recruited as a safety by some schools. Will he play here for the Beavers? Maybe.

Mariota: No. 1 'not a huge thing'

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
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video

Marcus Mariota may or may not be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' target with the first pick of the 2015 NFL draft, and that's just fine with the Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon.

"Being the first pick, to me, it's not a huge thing," Mariota told the Bucs' team website Monday during his visit to Tampa. "I'd love to play for the Bucs. With that being said, if you find the team that wants you, that's going to be the right team. I look forward to marketing myself and finding that team."

Mariota was in Tampa to visit with Bucs general manager Jason Licht ahead of the draft, which will be held April 30 to May 2 in Chicago. Licht attended Mariota's pro day on March 12.

"This is an opportunity to kind of show how much you know mentally," Mariota told the website about his visit. "It's going to be one of those times where you get to talk about football. I've been looking forward to it."

The Bucs likely will take a quarterback with the first pick, and several draft experts, including ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, have forecast that Jameis Winston will be Tampa Bay's selection.


(Read full post)


While it might not be as deep as other cities in the Midlands, Wichita has a great reputation with recruiters, producing top prospects such as Kamerion Wimbley, Arthur Brown and Bryce Brown since 2000. Next on the list is likely to be defensive end Xavier Kelly.

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ARLINGTON, Texas – The Nike Opening Dallas Regional produced more invites to The Opening in one stop, 13, than any ever. When taking a look at the uber-talented roster in the days leading up to Sunday’s marquee event, that came without surprise when 40 members of the ESPN Junior 300 come together to compete on the same field.

Here is a look at some of the sights and sounds from the regional that brought out the best from Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Minnesota in addition to the Lone Star State.


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Pac-12 morning links

March, 16, 2015
Mar 16
7:00
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She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
video
The Arizona Wildcats rolled over the Oregon Ducks thanks to a dominating first half, cruising to a 80-52 victory in the Pac-12 championship game on Saturday night. It marked the Wildcats' first Pac-12 tournament title in 13 years and clinched an NCAA tournament berth.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the Mailbag, pre-March Madness edition.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!


Grant from Seattle writes: What do you make of Cyler Miles' leave of absence? A precursor to his leaving the program? And to me, it seems like Chris Petersen didn't handle this very well, given Troy Williams ' departure as well. Is that fair & accurate?

Ted Miller: It seems safe to say that Miles is questionable-to-doubtful to be Washington's quarterback in 2015.

This from Adam Jude:
As things stand, Miles does not plan to play for the Huskies during the 2015 season, but he is keeping his options open, a source with knowledge of Miles’ plans told The Seattle Times.

Even if Miles' up-and-down career at Washington -- both on and off the field -- isn't over, he figured to face a stiff challenge in spring practices and preseason camp for the Huskies' starting job. While Miles did some good things in 2014 after being suspended for his first spring practice with new coach Chris Petersen, it became pretty clear that his upside as a playmaker is limited, though it might be unfair to dismiss the rising junior thusly because he was a first-year starter working with a new system.

What this means is the Huskies' quarteback next fall will either be junior Jeff Lindquist, who has some experience but hasn't done much with his game action, or redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels or true freshman Jake Browning, a touted recruit.

This, by the way, doesn't feel like a disaster for the Huskies. Based on heavy roster losses, 2015 looks like a transition year for Petersen and his team. I'm not ruling out a successful season -- however you define it -- before we even get past spring practices, but the roster attrition from an 8-6 team is significant enough to say the Huskies don't look like a Top-25 squad.

The point is going young at quarterback might have a payoff in, say, 2016 and beyond.

As for how Petersen handled this, I see no fault with him. Williams' transfer was his choice. It appears that Miles is dealing with personal issues, as the news release emphasized this was not a suspension or disciplinary issue.

It's fair to say there are some growing pains for the Huskies under Petersen. His approach is different than former coach Steve Sarkisian. That means installing his culture isn't something that happens seamlessly and in one season. While Huskies fans might have been hoping that Petersen would wave a magic wand and immediately create a Pac-12 contender to unseat their good friends from Eugene, Oregon, it's become clear the process is going to be a bit more complicated. More like making sausage than making magic.


Larry from Chino Hills, California, writes: Can Jim Mora get UCLA over the hump and win the big games to get to the playoff? Everyone but Hundley back on offense and defense returns 90 percent too ...can't beat Stanford or Oregon. Is this the year?

Ted Miller: Yes to the first question. Maybe to that one you tagged on at the end.

Is there some movement out there to make me out as Jim Mora's Boswell? It seems like we consider Mora just about every mailbag, whether it's his postgame handshake after the Alamo Bowl or some wondering if the Bruins had a disappointing season in 2014.

Again, in 1998, UCLA went 10-2 and lost the Rose Bowl to Wisconsin. The Bruins won 10 games again in just one season -- 2005 -- between then and when Mora was hired in 2012. UCLA had eight nonwinning seasons under three coaches during that span.

Mora has gotten UCLA over the hump already by winning 29 games in three seasons. UCLA's "hump" wasn't becoming a national-title contender in Mora's third season. UCLA becoming a national-title contender would be a modern-day plateau for a program that owns one national championship all-time (1954).

As for the Bruins earning a spot in the College Football Playoff this fall, let's first see how things go at quarterback, really the Bruins' only big question heading into 2015. At present, I'd rate Oregon and USC slightly ahead of the Bruins as playoff contenders, but not by much.


Oscar from Irwindale, California, writes: Being a USC fan, I can say that since the 2010 season it's been a roller-coaster ride. In large part because of the NCAA sanctions on the team, but we can now put that behind us and officialy start clean. Reggie Bush is viewed by many USC fans as the culprit for the team's punishment, but it seems like the recruits or the current young players -- Adoree' Jackson, for example -- idolize him and obviously wants to follow his footsteps for what he did on the field, not off. My question is will Reggie ever be part of USC like Matt Leinart is, or is this a bridge that burned along time ago and will never get repaired? There's no denying what Reggie did for USC, but I think it's time we let go of the past. Fight On!

Ted Miller: If you want my long-form take on this, read this.

As for whether Bush and USC can be reconciled, that seems unlikely in the near future, or at least as long as the NCAA holds sway in Power 5 football. Bush was "permanently disassociated" from USC, per NCAA sanctions, so his coming back to USC would require an OK from the NCAA.


Lachlan from Los Angeles writes: Is this the year we see Cal become an elite member of the Pac-12, or will their defense continue to hold them back?

Ted Miller: "Elite" might not be the right term. Cal, keep in mind, went 1-11 in 2013, so the baseline 2015 goal in my eyes is a winning record and a bowl game.

And, yes, Cal's defense figures to hold the Bears back. The Bears should have an offense good enough to win a Pac-12 North title, but the defense would have to improve dramatically to attain merely mediocre status statistically. It gave up 40 points per game and 42 touchdown passes last year, numbers that cause a sportswriter to double-check himself with a "really?"

You can't win the Pac-12 without a defense that ranks in the top half of the league. In fact, the teams that have dominated the conference in the past decade-plus -- USC, Oregon and Stanford -- typically had defenses that ranked in the top 25 nationally.


Roger from The Woodlands, Texas, writes: Ted, I followed your tweet to the Oregon Register-Guard article about the university potentially taxing the athletic department. After reading the article and posted comments, two of the impressions I came away with: 1) liberal ideology of tax the wealthy (but that's not for the Pac-12 Blog to discuss) and 2) the college sports arms race is amplifying the feeling many have that the athletes are not a proper representation of the university and student body as a whole.Do the faculty and "regular" students feel the athletes even deserve to be there? I'd be curious to see a chart comparing respective graduation rates of each football team, men's basketball team and entire subset of athletes to the entire university. That would be one quick, fact-based way (although I'm sure there are other more elaborate measures) to see if the athletes are truly part of the student body. I suspect negative feelings in some cases are warranted.

Ted Miller: Not sure how we equate a university's academic side wanting a larger portion of athletic department revenue to taxing the rich. The university preceded the football team. The football team is a part of the university. The football team wouldn't exist without the university.

A rough analogy would be a 12-year-old child actor getting $10 million to star in a movie but not wanting to share that money with his parents, though he still wants to live under their roof and have his needs taken care of.

As for comparing student-athletes to regular students, it's complicated. Even with graduation rates.

Based on available numbers, athletes typically graduate at a slightly higher rate than regular students, and the numbers have been improving nationwide. That holds true at Oregon, too.

Yet there's a lot of comparing apples to roses here. For the most part, once a young person arrives at most colleges -- athlete or not -- he or she can figure out a way to graduate as long as they show up to class and complete assignments. It's easy to avoid academic rigor that requires a significant intellectual investment simply to pass.

It's no secret that many athletes tend to take, er, "forgiving" majors. Even when they don't want to, some academic advisers push them away from classes and majors that might conflict with football. Or prove too demanding. When you read through a media guide and 25 football players are "criminal justice" majors, you should raise a skeptical eyebrow.

On the other hand, when you see an athlete not only seeking a legit major -- economics! English! history! business! pre-med! -- band doing well, you should know those folks are achieving much more than a regular student because they are thriving academically while holding down what amounts to a full-time job.


Tony from Chandler, Arizona, writes: If you could be a fly on the wall for a conversation between any two sports personalities, who would they be? I'm thinking a private conversation between Mike Leach and Bill Walton would be fascinating and mostly incomprehensible, or maybe fascinatingly incomprehensible.

Ted Miller: That's a good one.

What about Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch? Or Chip Kelly and Bill Belichick? Or Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods?

Oh, what about Sherman and Floyd Mayweather?

All that said, if you could get Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy together for a couple of hours and let me listen, I'd die a happy man.

By the way, who's joining me on my campaign to get one or the other the Nobel Prize for Literature?

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