The NFL draft is drawing near, so that means more mock drafts -- as in Mel Kiper and Todd McShay mock drafts, take five.

As far as the Pac-12 goes in the first round, both Kiper and McShay are not only in agreement the Pac-12 won't have much impact, they also agree on how that impact will look.

Kiper's mock draft has Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks as the first conference player off the board at No. 18 to the New York Jets. He writes:
I had Cooks slotted here previously and am not changing it on this update. He's an exceptional athlete, both quick and fast, with the ability to eat up space, then run past defenders and also outmaneuver them underneath. That makes him precisely the kind of matchup the Jets need to add to the passing game. If Mike Vick ends up starting, Cooks is the kind of option they would love to have because of his ability to create space. I know New York could go elsewhere here and count on the option of a good pass-catcher later on, but unless there's a cornerback they love at this spot, I like this fit.

Guess what? McShay has Cooks also leading the Pac-12 in the same spot.

In fact, both Kiper and McShay project just three Pac-12 players getting selected in the first round and each in the same spot. They both have USC WR Marqise Lee going 23rd to the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers taking UCLA OLB Anthony Barr at No. 25.

Writes McShay on Barr:
The Chiefs could look to trade back here to get back the second-rounder they used to acquire Alex Smith last year. But if they stay here, a wide receiver makes sense given that it is one of the biggest needs on the roster. Lee doesn't have the timed speed of some of the other receivers in this class, and he had some issues with drops in 2013, but he has excellent fluidity as a route-runner and is faster on the field than his 40 time would indicate.

While the Pac-12 apparently doesn't have that much first-round talent, it will get hit hard in the next two rounds, at least according to Kiper's list of his top-100 players, which includes 15 from the conference.
Florida has Florida State. Georgia has Georgia Tech. Kentucky has Louisville. And, of course, South Carolina has Clemson.

When it comes to the new SEC scheduling format starting in 2016, those four schools are already on board. Their annual rivalry games fulfill the league’s forthcoming requirement for a yearly nonconference game against an ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 school.

But for the rest of the teams around the league, there’s a void.

Sure, they can go year to year and rotate in nonconference opponents. But where’s the fun in that? Let’s create some new rivalries, and in the case of some programs, reignite old ones.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops and Nick Saban
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertThe spectacular salaries of college football coaches such as Bob Stoops, left, and Nick Saban are generated mostly by the labor of unpaid workers.
Alabama-Oklahoma: If FSU wasn’t already taken, the Noles would have been a perfect fit. The physical and philosophical proximity between programs is obvious. But looking elsewhere, Oklahoma might be a fun matchup. The Sugar Bowl has already created tons of tension on both sides with Sooners coaches delighting in calling out Nick Saban and the SEC.

Arkansas-Baylor: Call it a throwback to the old Southwest Conference. Arkansas, which didn’t join the SEC until 1992, has played more games against Baylor (69) than any school in its current conference. On top of that, the differences between Bret Bielema’s physical style and Art Briles’ free-flowing offensive scheme would be a joy to watch.

Auburn-Oregon: Recent history and playing styles dictates this matchup. Not only do we get a rematch of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, but it pits offenses that live to go fast. Maybe it could be a two-hand touch game in which whoever reaches 100 points first wins.

LSU-Notre Dame: We couldn’t make a list of nonconference matchups and leave Notre Dame off, could we? Pitting the Golden Domers against an SEC program would be appointment viewing. Make that program LSU and the opposing coach Les Miles, and television networks will scratch each other's eyes out to get the game.

Mississippi State-Texas Tech: The Bulldogs have shied away from high profile nonconference games in the past, loading up on the likes of Memphis, UAB and South Alabama. Well, it’s time to infuse a little spice into the schedule. Kliff Kingsbury is too cool to keep out of the SEC. His Red Raiders would be a good matchup with Mississippi State, which faced Texas Tech seven times from 1953-70.

Missouri-Kansas: Does this one really need to be explained? The Border War should have never gone away in the first place. Now is the perfect opportunity to save face and bring back a rivalry that goes all the way back to 1891.

Ole Miss-Miami: We’ve got to get ‘The U’ involved. Miami and Ole Miss have already played a few times in their history, with the Rebs holding a 2-1 series lead. But bigger than that, it would get the SEC back into South Florida on a permanent basis because Miami and Florida don’t have the common sense to do that already.

Tennessee-North Carolina: Even if most people don’t remember it, there’s history there. Tennessee and UNC have played 29 times, with the Vols holding a 20-8-1 advantage. Plus, even if your memory is short, you should recall the double overtime Music City Bowl from 2010 between the schools. If they can re-create that just once, it would make the rivalry worth it.

Texas A&M-Texas: See Missouri-Kansas. Don’t let conference affiliations ruin great rivalries. Texas A&M-Texas should have never been shelved in the first place. And while the UT administration might not see a reason to bring it back -- nor Texas A&M's leadership, for that matter -- surely both fan bases do.

Vanderbilt-Duke:Call it a private school showdown. The proximity is reasonable, the fan bases similar, and the rivalry could easily extend to the hard court. Plus, have you seen Derek Mason’s nonconference schedule this year? It needs help.

Video: Oregon DL Arik Armstead

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
9:00
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video
Chantel Jennings talks with Oregon defensive lineman Arik Armstead about the growth of Oregon's defensive line, being a leader and the Ducks' upcoming spring game.
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu might be the most talented defensive back at Oregon right now, yet he might not have the most important role for the Ducks this season.

It’s quite possible that fifth-year senior free safety Erick Dargan will prove to be the most valuable commodity the Ducks employ this spring and next fall, as it’s his duty to get the secondary aligned.

[+] EnlargeErick Dargan
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIIt's up to senior safety Erick Dargan to make sure the defense is on the same page.
“It’s up to me to get the corners lined up in drops, or whatever I need to do because I’m in the middle,” Dargan said. “I know what I’m doing. I understand the defense.”

While it’s a joint process between Dargan, Ekpre-Olomu and the linebackers to recognize the formation, it’s Dargan who first gets the call from the sideline and then communicates it to the rest of the players.

And that ability to communicate is what coach Mark Helfrich said is the key to the Oregon’s defensive success.

“I think the biggest thing that happens on a defense is how guys communicate and how confidently they communicate,” Helfrich said. “Just taking away that level of uncertainty, that couple seconds of uncertainty which is the difference between recognizing a formation, recognizing a situation, communicating to someone who has never been in that position before.”

Because this duty now falls on Dargan’s shoulders, he said he spent even more time in the offseason looking over the nuances of every defensive position and asking more questions of secondary coach John Neal and defensive coordinator Don Pellum.

That has paid off, as the coaches have recognized the difference between having Dargan in at free safety and not having Dargan in at free safety.

“If you have Erick in there all the time, he talks all the time and he gets everybody lined up,” Neal said. “So I said, ‘OK, Reggie [Daniels] and Tyree [Robinson] are going together, let’s see how much talking you guys do together,’ and it’s a pretty significant change when you take your real vocal players out and put the less vocal guys in.”

Dargan said being vocal comes easily to him, especially after having spent so much time in the secondary meeting room and learning from the players who played the position before him such as Avery Patterson and John Boyett.

He knows that it’s his job to get everyone on the same page because as Helfrich pointed out: “Even if everyone is on the same wrong page, you can survive.”

Another big part of this spring, and this job for Dargan, has been taking younger guys under his wing and helping move their games forward. Dargan said he’s learned in past seasons “there’s no telling what could happen in the season and who will need to play.”

Because of that, he said that he has made it a point of emphasis to help players such as Robinson, Daniels and Juwaan Williams become more vocal and more involved in the defense so if they did have to step in, there wouldn’t be as much of a gap there for the rest of the defense.

So while this might be Ekpre-Olomu’s defense, and he might be the best player on it, it’s also important to remember that the All-American doesn’t always have the most important role.
CLIFTON, Va. -- Five-star defensive tackle Tim Settle, No. 10 in the ESPN 300, will not be making an early commitment, that much has been known from the start. What is also known about Settle is that he intends to go through the entire process and take all five of his official visits.

What wasn’t known is that Settle has started to think about what schools will make the cut.

“I’m going to trim it down in August to 14,” said Settle, who earned an invitation to The Opening Saturday after a stellar performance at the Nike Football Training Camp at Centreville High School in Clifton, Va. “The reason I’m going to trim it down in August is two-a-days and getting ready for the season. I don’t want a lot of pressure on me. I just want to play and have fun my senior season.

Mailbag: Next big Pac-12 thing?

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
5:45
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Happy Friday. Welcome to the Mailbag.

Following the Pac-12 blog on Twitter is the equivalent of eating a perfectly cooked bone-in ribeye, only with the caloric burn of a P90X workout.

To the notes.

Bellingham Duck from Bellingham, Wash., writes: I remember as kid sitting on my back porch listening to my Ducks get blown out by perennial powerhouse Oklahoma 62-7. I dreamed of what it what it would be like to ever be that good. Too ashamed to ask God to intervene, I accepted what seemed to be our fate. What Pac-12 program that is currently down is most unlikely but still destined to reach the top and stay a while?

Ted Miller: This question interested me because of my initial reaction: I see reasons for optimism for EVERY SINGLE PAC-12 TEAM.

That reaction made me grumpy. That much optimism doesn't sit well with me. The Pac-12 blog is not "Oprah." We aren't about uplifting folks. We aren't about fairy tales and happy endings. We are about being realistic. Objective. We want to tell it like it is. We're like Marlo Stanfield in "The Wire" whispering with understated but ineluctable menace, "You want it to be one way… but it's the other way."

And we are not embarrassed to admit we enjoy a bit of snark.

Yet here's what I see with the Pac-12 heading into the 2014 season: Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Washington look like potential top-25 teams to me. Oregon State, Arizona, Washington State and Utah look like teams that could be dark horses if a couple of things fall into place and they stay healthy. And California and Colorado look like they will be much better in 2014 than they were last season.

The biggest potential backward step? Arizona State, because it's rebuilding its defense. But I see the Sun Devils as a team that could win nine games, so we're not talking about a tumble.

But none of this answers your question.

Part of that nonanswer is only Utah, Colorado and California could qualify as "down" after the 2013 season. Everyone else seemed to be maintaining a solid status or trending up.

So if you are asking me which program among those three should most decisively reverse course in the next five years, I'd go with Cal, mostly because of its recently -- and dramatically -- upgraded facilities and recruiting base.

If you're asking me which Pac-12 team is on the midst of making a major leap as a program, I'd go with UCLA in the South Division -- as long the Bruins retain Jim Mora -- and Washington in the North.

I also think the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry is going to get very interesting if both retain their present coaching staffs.


Brandon from Seattle writes: This isn't a new topic and relates more to my recent discovery of cfbstats.com (and my loss of productivity). I'm a die-hard Coug fan and after looking into some rushing statistics, I've got a small bone to pick with college football analysts. The last two seasons, much has been made about WSU's ineffectiveness running the football. This viewpoint comes around because of two archaic "truths" of college football: 1. Balance means a team is 50-50 rushing and passing; and 2. Sacks are counted as rush attempts. Without getting into why I believe those "truths" are archaic, I'll just state my point that WSU's rushing game isn't nearly as bad as it's made out to be. In fact, if you look just at rushes by running backs, WSU ranks sixth in yards per attempt at 4.97. That's better than Stanford at 4.96 and UCLA at 4.72. I?m definitely not downplaying those teams' abilities to run the ball, but instead I'd like to bring to light the fact that WSU's O-line and running backs are significantly more efficient in the run game than what we're led to believe by many media members. Just food for thought and a hope that analysts might eventually take a deeper dive than rushing and passing totals.

Ted Miller: This gets a yes and no.

Yes, Washington State was better running the ball than its paltry 53.4 yards per game suggests. Each of its top four running backs averaged 4.5 yards per carry or better. The poor rushing stats were mostly due to a lack of attempts and, as you note, losing 244 yards on 32 sacks. Further, as coach Mike Leach often points out, his short passing game using running backs isn't much different than handing off.

Yet, just as you've gone inside the numbers, you also can go a bit deeper.

Two stats stand out: Third-down conversions and red-zone offense. Both tend to be better for teams with reliable running games.

The Cougars ranked seventh in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions and 10th in red-zone offense. They were eighth in red-zone TD percentage (though it's a curiosity that said TD percentage was better than both Arizona State and Stanford, two good running teams).

Most notable: The Cougars turned the ball over in the red zone a conference-worst seven times. Hard to believe part of that isn't about the challenge of throwing the ball in a compressed space when defenses aren't worried about the run.

All this said, it's really about results. The Cougars ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in scoring last year -- ninth in conference games -- and finished 6-7. If they finished in the top three in scoring and won eight or more games, nobody would care about the rushing statistics.


Mitch from Tucson writes: Hey Ted, longtime reader, first-time writer. What was your reasoning for leaving Austin Hill off the "2014 challengers" list? If I remember correctly, that guy was pretty good. ... Maybe even All-American good: "The sophomore looked like a potential All-American in 2013 after catching 81 passes for 1,364 yards -- 16.8 yards per reception -- with 11 touchdowns. " - Ted Miller

Ted Miller: Considering the receiving depth in the Pac-12 next year, if I listed all the potential challengers to lead the Pac-12 in receiving yards, there would be 20 names.

There are two reasons I left out Hill. First, he's coming back from a knee injury that killed his 2013 season and he wasn't 100 percent himself this spring. I want to see how he reacts when the lights come on and the games are for real. I do suspect we're going to see a guy who is even better than he was in 2012.

But the biggest reason is this: Arizona is as deep as any team in the country at receiver. It's much deeper than it was in 2012, when Hill put up huge numbers, and 2013, when Hill was out. I could see multiple 1,000-yard receivers for Arizona -- or four guys with over 800 yards -- but not one guy with, say, 1,500 yards.

Also, based on how Texas transfer Cayleb Jones looked this spring, he might actually be the favorite to lead the Wildcats in receiving yards.


Kurt from Corvallis writes: Naming the starting QB? Simple: When the coach knows, he announces.

Ted Miller: Maybe for some, but plenty of coaches subscribe to the notion that they want to prolong the competition as long as possible.

For example, it was pretty obvious that B.J. Denker was going to be Arizona's starting quarterback early in fall camp last year, but Rich Rodriguez opted not to announce it until the week of the first game. Why? He didn't want Denker to become comfortable. He told me specifically that he wanted to cultivate as much mental toughness as possible in Denker because he knew Denker's lackluster arm would not be widely celebrated among the Wildcats' fan base and there would be growing pains. As there were -- see his game at Washington.

Chip Kelly also wasn't a big fan of showing his cards early. Think about what we know about Marcus Mariota now. But he wasn't revealed as the Ducks starter as a freshman until after 22 fall camp practices, one week before the opener.

Again, some coaches like to anoint a QB as soon as possible in order to allow him to take up a defined leadership role. Others like to wait as long as possible, believing a lengthy, stressful competition creates mental toughness.


Matt from Carrollton, Texas, writes: Hi, Ted. I'm a longtime fan of USC and the Pac-12 blog, which means it would take something I consider especially momentous to write in (given that I value Kevin and your opinions so much). Anyways, I also happen to be an avid NCAA football gamer on Xbox 360 (read in: nerd), and I hit a milestone this past weekend with a resounding 252-0 win as USC over Wazzu (the first game in my 21st Dynasty season, and first over 250 points). I figured I'd send you this in the hopes that it warrants some space on your next mailbag, especially since it probably took me roughly 340-plus hours of gameplay to accomplish this. P.S.: Before you ask, those 340 hours took place over the course of the past 21 months, and yes, this was on "freshman" difficulty, but in my defense I do play only six-minute quarters and use an accelerated play clock. That's gotta count for something right?

Ted Miller: The Nobel committee has been alerted.

Now, Matt, please go read a book.
Happy Friday!
video

In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton discusses prospects who could commit in May and breaks down the momentum building at Penn State.

Video: Oregon WR Keanon Lowe

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
9:00
AM ET

Chantel Jennings speaks with Oregon's Keanon Lowe about the team's wide receivers, how they'll step up in Bralon Addison's absence and how they're approaching the spring game.
video
ESPN 300 prospect Taj Griffin committed to Oregon on Thursday night, and he could continue the Ducks' recent tradition of explosive running back talent. Read on to see Tom Luginbill's take on the news:


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Sometimes perception can top reality in recruiting.

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



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

Technically, it’s true.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Meaningful early Pac-12 odds

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

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

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

UNLV at Arizona (-25.5)

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

Washington (-21.5) at Hawaii

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

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

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

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

Poll: Top spring storyline

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
5:30
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There hasn’t been a shortage of intriguing storylines this spring in the Pac-12. Then again, there usually aren’t. From quarterback battles to disciplinary issues, the 2014 spring has given us plenty to talk about. But which one stands out as the biggest storyline? That’s today’s Pac-12 blog poll question.

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

Your options:

SportsNation

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

  •  
    43%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    17%
  •  
    14%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,677)

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 lunch links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
2:30
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7's the key number here. Think about it. 7-Elevens. 7 dwarves. 7, man, that's the number. 7 chipmunks twirlin' on a branch, eatin' lots of sunflowers on my uncle's ranch. You know that old children's tale from the sea. It's like you're dreamin' about Gorgonzola cheese when it's clearly Brie time, baby. Step into my office.

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