Season review: Oregon

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
5:30
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We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with Oregon.

[+] EnlargeMariota
Soobum Im/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Marcus Mariota made a huge difference for the Oregon offense.
Offense: Things were going pretty well there, for a while. The Ducks stormed out of the gates and scored at least 50 points in their first five games and in six of their first seven. Then Marcus Mariota quietly, partially, tore his MCL and Oregon’s offensive decline was evident. They went from scoring an average of 57.5 points per game in the first seven to 31.3 over the final six. Still, they averaged more than 45 points per game, which was fourth nationally, and they were a top-10 rushing team and a top-25 passing team. All in all, the Ducks were again one of the most dominant offensive teams in the country. Obviously, as Mariota goes, so go the Ducks. In the first seven games, pre-injury, he was completing 62 percent of his throws with 19 touchdowns, zero interceptions and an adjusted QBR of 95.3. He also had nine rushing touchdowns. Post-injury, his completion percentage actually went up to 64 percent because he wasn’t running, but that also means he had zero rushing touchdowns, 12 passing touchdowns, four interceptions and an adjusted QBR of 79.9 percent. Still, he finished as the national leader in adjusted QBR, Byron Marshall was a 1,000-yard rusher and Josh Huff and Bralon Addison were a vicious receiving duo. Aside from a couple of games, the Ducks offense was explosive and potent. Grade: A

Defense: Stanford and Arizona used similar tactics in their wins over the Ducks. Run, rinse, repeat. Tyler Gaffney carried the ball 45 times and Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu were as advertised, combining for eight interceptions and Derrick Malone posted a team-high 105 tackles with two interceptions. Avery Patterson also pitched in three picks as the Ducks were plus-seven in turnover margin. But the lingering problem all year was third-down defense, where the Ducks allowed teams to convert better than 40 percent of the time -- which was 10th in the conference. In the games when things got tight, the defense wasn’t able to get off the field. Grade: B

Special teams: The kicking game is always an, ahem, adventure, when it comes to the Ducks. But this year things were a little more consistent. Matt Wogan was a solid 7 of 9 and Alejandro Maldonado was 3 of 5. Though neither converted a kick beyond 40 yards (Wogan attempted only one and missed, Maldonado didn’t attempt any). Plus, there were three missed PATs on the year (Wogan missed two, Maldonado one). Maldonado was solid at punting and the kick return and coverage teams were steady. Addison returned two punts for touchdowns and De’Anthony Thomas returned one kick for a score. Grade: B+

Overall: Again, we base a lot of these grades on what the expectation was versus where the team finished. And despite an 11-win season, the Ducks, once thought to be a national championship contender, failed to meet those expectations. In fact, they failed to make it to a BCS bowl game. The loss to Stanford was viewed as disappointing -- but certainly not shocking. The loss to Arizona was head-scratching. And from a public relations standpoint, the Ducks didn’t have a great year. Still, they did win their bowl game and finished ranked in the top 10. There’s something to be said for that. And we’re in no way calling Mark Helfrich’s first year as coach a bust. He won a bowl game in his first year – which Chip Kelly never did -- and probably learned a few lessons along the way. When you have a title-game-or-bust mentality, every loss is heart-wrenching. But we also understand that injuries can impact a team -- especially injuries to a Heisman-contending quarterback. Grade: B.
Actually, Peter, I wanted to tell you, I was listening to Sarah's iPod the other day, and amidst the interminable dross that's on that thing, I found one track that I quite liked. So I checked what it was, and it was actually one of yours, and it kind of reminded me of a dark, gothic Neil Diamond. It's great.

We're chatting!

January, 9, 2014
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As an assistant coach and head coach at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, Raul Lara has seen more than his share of talented football players. Willie McGinest, DeSean Jackson, Marcedes Lewis, Winston Justice, Jurrell Casey, Manuel Wright, Darnell Bing, Samie Parker, Kareem Kelly and Derrick Jones have all passed through the halls as Jackrabbits during Lara's tenure.

It's probably fitting that in Lara's final season as head coach of the Jackrabbits, he was able to go out with a player who has the potential to turn into the best that Poly has ever produced.

John Smith's game is as diverse and electric as his name isn't. Though, that was taken care of rather quickly, as Smith became JuJu at an early age -- a nickname bestowed upon him by his aunt after John John refused to take.

Now, Smith has accomplished enough at the high school level that JuJu has made its way into the lexicon of virtually every football fan in Southern California. And now college football fans are hoping that JuJu finds his way onto their school's roster this fall. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound athlete is the nation's No. 38 prospect overall and its No. 3 prospect in the athlete category, holding offers from Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and just about every school in between.

"JuJu is a special guy," Lara said. "I've coached a lot of guys who are in the NFL now, but he's unique. He's a true athlete. He could play receiver or defensive back. He could play linebacker; he did play running back for me. He played some tight end for me. And everywhere he plays, he excels."

Lara credits Smith's combination of size, speed and football instincts for his ability to succeed at a number of positions. But that success might also stem from a less obvious place.

[+] EnlargeJuJu Smith
Blair Angulo for ESPNElite athleticism and a background in rugby made the transition to safety a seamless one for ESPN 300 prospect John "JuJu" Smith.
Growing up, Smith took part in Pop Warner football, but he also played rugby thanks to his Polynesian background. In fact, rugby -- as well as a strict adherence to church every Sunday -- kept Smith off the camp circuit and 7-on-7 fields in each offseason until he finally made an appearance this past spring following a junior season that established Smith as one of the top prospects in the country.

It wasn't until the fifth game of the season that Smith began taking reps in the defensive backfield. He was stuck behind three future Pac-12 receivers as a sophomore and was contributing only on offense on team that started his junior year 1-3. That's when Lara stepped in to make significant changes on both sides of the ball, not the least of which was letting Smith give safety a shot.

"He fell in love with it," Lara said of Smith playing defense. "It was kind of like rugby, where he could freelance and roam around a lot. He wasn't locked down like at wide receiver, where if he's asked to run a curl, he has to run a curl. At defensive back, as long as he lined up right, he had a lot of freedom. When we made the change and he played it more and more, he fell in love with it. It just naturally suited him because of all the training with rugby."

Smith grew to the point where, though he was recruited for both sides of the ball by virtually every school that offered him, he felt more comfortable at safety and believed that was what suited him best for the long term. Smith was one of the offensive stars in an early season win over Corona (Calif.) Centennial, a significant upset. Smith shone at tailback and even as a Wildcat quarterback, but it was his safety play that stood out to opposing coach Matt Logan.

"He was just so effective defensively against us," said Logan, who became another coach to marvel at Smith's versatility. "I knew he was a great athlete and knew what a great player he was on defense, but I was a little surprised how effective he was on offense and their utilization of him on offense.

"I think he has great potential to maybe reach the NFL because he can play multiple spots. That's what makes him so attractive."

But it's also what Smith does outside the lines that makes him such a prized recruit.

One of seven children -- he has five younger siblings -- Smith took it upon himself to grow up at an early age, chipping in with chores and babysitting duties as well as anything else that would support the family. Smith's teammate, Iman Marshall -- a similarly prized recruit in the 2015 class -- said the added responsibilities at home or pressure of dealing with the recruiting process never sent Smith off course.

"He can be a goofy guy off the field, always cracking jokes and smiling," Marshall said. "His aura is very positive and he knows how to bring a great attitude. I love him as a person... He really separated his football life from his personal life. He understood the balance and kept that away from the team. We really, as a team, didn't get to see him worry about his personal problems."

Marshall said he hopes to emulate much of what Smith shared with the Poly team this season.

"Playing alongside him, I saw how he took on that leadership -- not through words but through actions," Marshall said. "His high motor, playing with a sense of urgency each and every play. That's what I learned from him. He loves the game. I see it every time I line up with him -- I see how passionate he is."

And for the program that lands Smith, who has taken official visits to Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon and will visit USC officially on Jan. 17, it will be easy to see where that passion comes from -- provided there are enough tickets to go around at home games.

"His family cheering section runs about 50 people at least -- probably much bigger than that," Lara said of a group that regularly brought #TeamJuJu signs and made themselves heard from opening kick to final snap. "You know they're there because they are loud and cheering a lot. He's got a big family."

Pac-12 all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
9:00
AM ET
Who were the Pac-12 standouts this bowl season? Here are our picks.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley finished the season with a strong performance in the Bruins' bowl win.
QB Brett Hundley, UCLA: Hundley accounted for four touchdowns in the Bruins' 42-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. He rushed for 161 yards on 10 carries -- 16.1 yards per run -- with two touchdowns and he also completed 16 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two scores. Other QBs had nice games, but Hundley put up big numbers against an outstanding defense.

RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: In the AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Boston College, Carey rushed for 169 yards on 27 carries and two scores, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. He decisively outplayed Boston College RB Andre Williams, who won the Doak Walker Award and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

RB D.J. Foster, Arizona State: Despite being banged up, Foster rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries -- 6.6 yards per carry -- in the Sun Devils' 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. He also caught five passes for 23 yards.

WR Marqise Lee, USC: In his career finale, Lee caught seven passes for 118 yards with two touchdowns in USC's win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

WR Nate Phillips, Arizona: Phillips, a true freshman, caught nine passes for 193 yards in the Wildcats' win over Boston College.

WR Josh Huff, Oregon: Huff caught five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in Oregon's 30-7 win over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA: Su'a-Filo led the Bruins' offensive line against a tough Virginia Tech defense. UCLA rushed for 197 yards against a top-10 rushing defense and yielded only two sacks.

OL Abe Markowitz, USC: The sixth-year walk-on stepped in at center for an injured Marcus Martin -- the Trojans' best offensive lineman this season -- and played well in the 45-20 win over Fresno State. The Trojans yielded only one sack and rushed for 154 yards. He was named the "Offensive Outperformer of the Game" by his coaches.

OL Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher led a strong effort from the Ducks' offensive line in the win over Texas. Oregon rushed for 216 yards and yielded only two sacks. Fisher did a good job against Texas' top defender, end Jackson Jeffcoat.

OL Micah Hatchie, Washington: Hatchie, the Huskies' left tackle, was the biggest reason BYU didn't record a sack in the Fight Hunger Bowl, a 31-16 Huskies victory. Washington also rushed for 190 yards.

OL Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State: Seumalo led perhaps the Beavers O-line's best effort of the season. Oregon State rushed for 195 yards and yielded no sacks.

K Travis Coons, Washington: Coons made a 45-yard field goal against BYU -- the longest Pac-12 postseason field goal -- and was good on all four of his PATs.

DEFENSE

DL Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Crichton had three tackles for a loss, a sack, a forced fumble and pass breakup in the win over Boise State.

DL Taylor Hart, Oregon: Hart had a game-high 11 tackles, with half a sack and a forced fumble in the Ducks' win over Texas.

DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington: Kikaha had nine tackles with three sacks and a forced fumble in the Huskies' win over BYU.

LB Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov had nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble in Stanford's 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

LB Jake Fischer, Arizona: Fischer had a game-high 14 tackles in the Wildcats' win over Boston College. He also had a sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Arizona held Williams to only 75 yards on 26 carries.

LB John Timu, Washington: Timu had a game-high 14 tackles, a sack and an interception in the Huskies' win over BYU.

LB Jabral Johnson, Oregon State: Johnson had a game-high 12 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry in the Beavers' win over Boise State.

DB Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State: Reynolds had 10 tackles and returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the Beavers' win over Boise State. The fumble returns went for 70 and 3 yards.

DB Avery Patterson, Oregon: Patterson had nine tackles and returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the win over Texas.

DB Josh Shaw, USC: Shaw held Fresno State receiver Davante Adams to nine receptions for 73 yards in the Trojans' win over the Bulldogs. He finished with six tackles and had an interception in the end zone.

DB Anthony Jefferson, UCLA: Jefferson had seven tackles, shared a tackle for a loss and had a pass breakup in the Bruins' win over Virginia Tech. The Hokies completed only 15 of 36 throws for 176 yards.

P Ben Rhyne, Stanford: With five punts, Rhyne averaged 49.8 yards per boot in the Rose Bowl.

2014 Pac-12 schedule released

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
7:00
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The Pac-12 released its 2014 schedule on Wednesday and there are plenty of intriguing matchups early and late in the year. First, the game that everyone is going to want to mark down is Nov. 1 when Stanford travels to Oregon.

There, now that we got that out of the way, Week 2 should provide some interesting matchups with USC traveling to Stanford and Rose Bowl champion Michigan State going to Eugene. UCLA meets Texas in Arlington in Week 3 and then travels to ASU 12 days later in a showdown that will have massive Pac-12 South implications. The Bruins also close with USC and Stanford in consecutive weeks at home.

The rematch of the Pac-12 title game takes place in Week 7 when the Cardinal travel to Arizona State.

In total, the league will square off with the Big Ten five times, face Notre Dame three times -- including the controversial meeting with ASU in Tempe on Nov. 8 -- and see 13 nonconference foes who played in bowl games.

Here's how the schedule shapes up.

Thurs., Aug 28

Weber State at ARIZONA STATE
Idaho State at UTAH
Rutgers at WASHINGTON STATE (1)

Sat., Aug 30

UNLV at ARIZONA
Fresno State at USC
UCLA at Virginia
COLORADO vs. Colorado State (2)
South Dakota at OREGON
Portland State at OREGON STATE
WASHINGTON at Hawai’i
CALIFORNIA at Northwestern
UC Davis at STANFORD

Sat., Sept. 6

ARIZONA at Texas-San Antonio
ARIZONA STATE at New Mexico
USC at STANFORD
Memphis at UCLA
COLORADO at UMass (3)
Fresno State at UTAH
Michigan State at OREGON
OREGON STATE at Hawai’i
Eastern Washington at WASHINGTON
WASHINGTON STATE at Nevada
Sacramento State at CALIFORNIA

Sat., Sept. 13

Nevada at ARIZONA
ARIZONA STATE at COLORADO
USC at Boston College
UCLA vs. Texas (4)
Wyoming at OREGON
Illinois at WASHINGTON
Portland State at WASHINGTON STATE
Army at STANFORD

Sat., Sept. 20

CALIFORNIA at ARIZONA
Hawai’i at COLORADO
UTAH at Michigan
OREGON at WASHINGTON STATE
San Diego State at OREGON STATE
Georgia State at WASHINGTON

Thurs., Sept. 25

UCLA at ARIZONA STATE

Sat., Sept. 27

OREGON STATE at USC
COLORADO at CALIFORNIA
WASHINGTON STATE at UTAH
STANFORD at WASHINGTON

Thurs., Oct. 2

ARIZONA at OREGON

Sat., Oct. 4

ARIZONA STATE at USC
UTAH at UCLA
OREGON STATE at COLORADO
CALIFORNIA at WASHINGTON STATE
STANFORD at Notre Dame

Fri., Oct. 10

WASHINGTON STATE at STANFORD

Sat., Oct. 11

USC at ARIZONA
OREGON at UCLA
WASHINGTON at CALIFORNIA

Thurs., Oct. 16

UTAH at OREGON STATE

Sat., Oct. 18

STANFORD at ARIZONA STATE
COLORADO at USC
UCLA at CALIFORNIA
WASHINGTON at OREGON

Fri., Oct. 24

OREGON at CALIFORNIA (5)

Sat., Oct. 25

ARIZONA at WASHINGTON STATE
ARIZONA STATE at WASHINGTON
USC at UTAH
OREGON STATE at STANFORD
UCLA at COLORADO

Sat., Nov. 1

ARIZONA at UCLA
UTAH at ARIZONA STATE
USC at WASHINGTON STATE
WASHINGTON at COLORADO
STANFORD at OREGON
CALIFORNIA at OREGON STATE

Sat., Nov. 8

COLORADO at ARIZONA
Notre Dame at ARIZONA STATE
UCLA at WASHINGTON
OREGON at UTAH
WASHINGTON STATE at OREGON STATE

Thurs., Nov. 13

CALIFORNIA at USC

Sat., Nov. 15

WASHINGTON at ARIZONA
ARIZONA STATE at OREGON STATE
UTAH at STANFORD

Sat., Nov. 22

ARIZONA at UTAH
WASHINGTON STATE at ARIZONA STATE
USC at UCLA
COLORADO AT OREGON
OREGON STATE AT WASHINGTON
STANFORD at CALIFORNIA

Fri., Nov. 28

ARIZONA STATE at ARIZONA
STANFORD at UCLA

Sat., Nov. 29

Notre Dame at USC
UTAH at COLORADO
OREGON at OREGON STATE
WASHINGTON at WASHINGTON STATE
BYU at CALIFORNIA

Fri., Dec. 5

Pac-12 Football Championship Game (FOX)

(1) CenturyLink Field, Seattle, Wash.

(2) Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo.

(3) Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.

(4) AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

(5) Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

What lies ahead in 2014?

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
4:00
PM ET
It’s never too early to start looking ahead to what’s in store for next year’s college football season. Per usual, we’ve got you covered.

Three major pieces are out today -- including one from our very own Ted Miller -- who looks at some of the questions that will sear on our brains until kickoff 2014.

One major point Ted brings up is the return of so many big-name quarterbacks -- specifically how loaded it is in the Pac-12.

Nine starters from 2013 are returning in 2014 -- headlined by potential first-round draft choices Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA. But also back are Taylor Kelly (ASU), Jared Goff (Cal), Sefo Liufau (Colorado), Sean Mannion (Oregon State), Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Cody Kessler (USC) and Connor Halliday (Washington State). We still need to see what the long-term diagnosis is for Utah's Travis Wilson.

Don’t be shocked if a few quarterback competitions “open up,” maybe at Stanford, USC or Washington State. But don’t be shocked, either, if experience wins out.

Adam Rittenberg also takes a look at some players to watch in 2014 -- including Mariota, Hundley and UCLA’s Myles Jack. Digging a little deeper in the conference, there are some extremely bright defensive stars to keep an eye on, including USC’s Addison Gillam and Arizona’s Scooby Wright. Washington’s Shaq Thompson could also emerge as a candidate for defensive player of the year.

Finally, Mark Schlabach offers up some bold predictions for 2014. Notable here is that he predicts an SEC team won’t win a national championship, and that Jameis Winston will win a second consecutive Heisman Trophy. Though Mariota and Hundley should be right up there in terms of preseason hype. Recall, the preseason favorite hasn’t fared well the last few years. Andrew Luck gave way to Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley stumbled to Johnny Manziel and Mariota slipped to Winston.

The next seven months should provide plenty of fodder.
Just give me all of the bacon and eggs you have. Wait, wait. I worry what you just heard was give me a lot of bacon and eggs. What I said was give me all of the bacon and eggs you have. Do you understand?
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Half of the Pac-12 remains among the top 40 recruiting classes in the newly-released ESPN recruiting rankings. In order, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, USC, Stanford and UCLA represent the conference after a big week on the recruiting trail for virtually all of those programs.

Trending up: Just about the entire Pac-12 gets a mention here, as Arizona State, Oregon, USC and UCLA all moved up in the team rankings. While Arizona still sits at No. 15, the Wildcats added two very important pieces in No. 15 overall prospect Jalen Tabor (Washington, D.C./Friendship Collegiate Academy) and ESPN offensive tackle Jordan Poland (La Jolla, Calif./La Jolla Country Day). Arizona State moved from No. 18 to No. 17, while Oregon jumped from No. 27 to No. 25 and USC moved from No. 31 to No. 27. Stanford held at No. 28, while UCLA used several commitments to climb one spot from No. 34 to No. 33 overall. Other Pac-12 programs, including Cal, Washington and Washington State, added recent commitments as well.

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The West region still has a chance to greatly impact the Pac-12, as five of the top six recruits in the region remain uncommitted. And while a few Pac-12 classes still have a ways to go and others are looking for the finishing touches, there is still a most important commit for each program still out there. Here, we take a look at the one "must-have" recruit for each conference program.


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Many felt it was only a matter of time for Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren).

No Mack Brown? Not the biggest blow, but a blow nonetheless. No position coach, however? Big problem -- the last straw, even.

With new head coach Charlie Strong set to bring in members of his own staff, defensive tackles coach Bo Davis opted to accept a position coaching defensive linemen at USC. No Davis at Texas next season was enough to force Lealaimatafao, a four-star defensive tackle and U.S. Army All-American, to officially decommit on Tuesday and explore his other options.


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Pac-12's lunch links

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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PM ET
A huge earthquake happens, who do they rescue first? They'll rescue Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me. If there's room, you guys will come.

Final conference bowl records

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
1:00
PM ET
Neither the SEC and nor the Pac-12, the two best conferences during the regular season, won a BCS bowl game. But they nonetheless led the AQ conferences in bowl record.

The SEC was tops, going 7-3, despite Auburn losing the national title game to Florida State and Alabama losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma.

The Pac-12 was second at 6-3, despite Stanford losing the Rose Bowl to Michigan State.

The ACC went 2-0 in BCS bowl games, but it only finished 5-6 overall. The Big 12 and Big Ten split BCS bowl games, with the Big 12 going 3-3 overall and the Big Ten ranking last among AQ conferences at 2-5.

Of course, a lot of this is matchups. As that the Pac-12 was favored in all nine of its games, that has to factor in how the bowl record is viewed. The Pac-12's only win over a ranked team was USC over No. 20 Fresno State.

Six Pac-12 teams in final AP poll

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
10:30
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For the first time since 2009, the Pac-12 didn't finish a football season with a top-five team. But, for the first time ever, it finished with six teams ranked in the final AP poll.

Oregon finished ranked ninth in both the AP and coaches polls to lead the conference. Stanford, which beat Oregon but lost the Rose Bowl, finished 11th in the AP poll and tied for 10th with Ohio State in the coaches' poll.

UCLA and USC finished 16th and 19th in both polls. Arizona State was 21st in the AP poll and 20th with the coaches. Washington finished 25th in the AP poll and was the top team receiving votes in the coaches' poll, the equivalent of 26th.

Arizona received votes in both polls.

So the preseason story of Pac-12 depth held true to the end, but the conference also didn't seem to have a truly elite team.

Michigan State, which beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, finished third behind No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn.

As for projecting ahead, Mark Schlabach ranked six Pac-12 teams in his Way-Too-Early-Top-25 that was published Tuesday.

He has Oregon No. 3, Stanford No. 4, UCLA No. 7, USC No. 14, Washington No. 19 and Arizona State No. 22.

Mannion, Ekpre-Olomu coming back

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
7:15
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It was a good day for the Oregon schools, as Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion and Oregon's All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu announced Monday that they would return for their senior seasons and not enter the NFL draft.

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmo/USA TODAY SportsIfo Ekpre-Olomu decided to stay at Oregon saying he wants to improve as a player and also wants to finish his degree. "Football is only one phase of who I am; my degree will be forever," he said.
Both decisions might rate as a slight surprise. Most NFL draft projections slotted Ekpre-Olomu in the first round this spring, and Mannion received a third-round grade from the NFL. He, in fact, might have gone higher due to two higher rated Pac-12 QBs also opting to return -- Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley -- thereby diminishing a mediocre quarterback class for the draft.

Mannion ranked second in the nation this past season with 358.6 yards passing per game. He threw 37 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions.

Ekpre-Olomu, a two-time All-Pac-12 pick and a first-team All-American for ESPN.com, ranked second for the Ducks with 84 tackles and he added three interceptions.

In perhaps a surprising twist, Ekpre-Olomu, who has started 27 consecutive games, decided to stay while fellow cornerback Terrance Mitchell opted to enter the NFL draft a year early, joining Ducks running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas in doing so. Ekpre-Olomu is the only member of the Ducks touted secondary returning in 2014.

“The two main factors related to my decision to return were my continued progression as a person and a player, and I felt Oregon was my best option to achieve those goals and improve my situation for next year,” Ekpre-Olomu told the school's official website.

“I should be able to finish my degree by next fall, possibly by the end of the summer. Football is only one phase of who I am; my degree will be forever. Secondly was my ability to make an impact and become a top [draft] pick, and I felt staying one more year would only help me.”

For Mannion, he will be without receiver Brandin Cooks, who won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver. Cooks and defensive end Scott Crichton are two Beavers who entered the draft a year early.

For Mannion, he wants to help his team and himself. He feels he could use 2014 to move up significantly among NFL evaluators.

"That was something I asked about -- how much good I could do if I have another good year?" he said.

Mannion had a late-season slide in which he threw 12 of his 15 interceptions in the final five games. In 2012, he also tended to throw interceptions in bunches -- he threw 11 of his 13 interceptions in three games.

At present, the Pac-12 has lost 17 players to early draft entry. It still awaits word from Stanford OG David Yankey, Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey and Arizona State LB Carl Bradford, with Yankey and Carey considered highly likely to leave.

The deadline to declare in Jan. 15.







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