Way back in mid-November we proclaimed 2014 the "Year of Close" in the Pac-12. At that point -- two weeks remaining in the regular season -- 34 games had been decided by eight or fewer points, which was already more than the 28 from the year before.

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.

California

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.

Oregon

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.

Oregon State

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.

Stanford

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.

Washington

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.

Washington State

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.

Pac-12 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 12, 2015
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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.

Coach questions grad transfer rule

February, 12, 2015
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Vernon Adams. passed for 658 yards and six touchdowns against Montana State the past two seasons, leading Eastern Washington to a victory each time.

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."


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Vernon Adams barred from EWU prep

February, 11, 2015
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Vernon Adams will remain on scholarship at Eastern Washington while he finishes his degree but will not be permitted to work out with the team or use the school's athletic facilities to train leading up to his eventual transfer to Oregon, Eagles coach Beau Baldwin told 700 ESPN in Spokane, Washington.

Adams was aware those would be the circumstances, Baldwin said, before ultimately choosing the Ducks, who host Eastern Washington in the season opener for both teams Sept. 5.

"For the next four months, he can't prep down there with them and he certainly can't be in our weight room or throwing with our guys ... and I talked to him about that," Baldwin said. "I go, 'What's your plan for the next four months? How are you going to prepare for your senior year? I love you to death, but one, you're moving on, and two, you're moving on to who we're playing in Week 1.'"

In a candid, wide-ranging interview, Baldwin appeared torn. He made it clear he wants what's best for Adams, but it was equally evident he took issue with the process and the rule that allows Adams to transfer without sitting out a season once he graduates.

"It's not what the rule is intended for, and when you're Oregon and we've gotten a guy that we recruited when no one else was ... ultimately we feel like, you know what, we were also the ones who developed him from a level where obviously out of high school he wasn't at that level," Baldwin said. "When you're Oregon and over the last three or four years you're not recruiting a number of guys that can fill in when Marcus [Mariota]


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Oregon has the unenviable task this offseason of replacing Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. Earlier this week, the Ducks’ quarterback depth -- there are already four quarterbacks on the roster and a fifth who will enroll before the spring season -- got an even bigger boost when Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams announced he’d be transferring to Eugene.

Naturally, this sparked impassioned debate within the Pac-12 Blog, most notably between Ted Miller and Chantel Jennings. The two decided to take their debate public:

Ted Miller: If Chantel were threatening to drown me in a butt of malmsey wine, which she frequently does, if I didn’t announce my favorite to be Oregon’s next quarterback, I would whimper, “Vernon Adams.”

But unlike many folks, I think Adams is far from a certainty, both to win the job and then to be successful. It’s one thing to get juiced to play a one-off game against Oregon State or Washington before going back to a Big Sky schedule. It’s another to open against your former team -- yeah, the Ducks open the 2015 season against Eastern Washington -- and then head to Michigan State, a preseason top-10 team, and then play a nine-game schedule against the nation’s deepest conference.

Adams is talented. He can run. He can throw. He’s a good fit for the Ducks offense. He was overlooked in recruiting because of his height, which might remind folks of celebrated NFL QBs such as Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.

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Ah, but the magical FBS QB transfer is rarely just that. I think of magical transfer QBs through the years -- Jake Heaps, Tate Forcier, Garrett Gilbert, Mitch Mustain and, Oregon’s own, Jeremiah Masoli, etc. -- and can’t recall much real magic transpiring in the win-loss column. I see hype and hope, but the reality is Wilson going from NC State to Wisconsin and leading the Badgers to the Rose Bowl is the exception, not the standard.

Further, while I keep hearing from folks about how poor-to-middling Oregon’s existing crew of QBs have looked, including Mariota’s 2013 and 2014 backup, Jeff Lockie, I tend to be as skeptical of negative whispers coming from teams with closed practices as I am of hype about magical transfers. I’m skeptical that good QB guys such as coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost don’t feel like they’ve recruited a QB in the previous three seasons who can excel in their system next fall. I think Adams represented an opportunity to deepen the competition and give the Ducks another quality option.

Adams is an intriguing potentiality. He is not a sure thing.

Adams' transfer is a no-lose situation for Oregon. I seriously doubt he’s, say, taking up a scholarship that could have gone to a five-star defensive lineman. The scholarship was open and -- egad! -- so is the Ducks' QB job.

Now let the competition begin, which I believe will be wide-open and legitimate.

Chantel Jennings: Ted, I have to believe that this is some of your “I’m going to pick against what I actually believe” mojo stuff, right? Because there’s no way you’re actually being this na´ve. Though, this whole act is really quite cute, Goldilocks.

By default, I think we have to believe that even without Adams enrolling for the spring season, he’s the front-runner to earn the starting job this fall.

Forget the fact that the Ducks will be taking on his former team in the season-opener (a team that has proven to be quite a difficult foe for Pac-12 teams in the past two seasons) and the advantage that comes with having a former Eastern Washington quarterback command Oregon’s offense. Even if the Ducks were playing their Week 2 opponent (Michigan State) in Week 1, I still believe that Adams would be the guy.

And Ted, as far as your argument about other FCS transfers, I see where you’re coming from. It’s a scary thought to believe in something when it has been proven as the expectation, rather than the rule, as you pointed out with Wilson. But I truly believe Adams can work his way into that “exception” category based on a few facts.

First: Look at what the Ducks are bringing back offensively -- you’ve got the deepest running back group in the nation. The wide receivers are talented. The tight ends are experienced and the offensive line proved this past season that it will take whatever is thrown at it. So what do the Ducks need at the QB spot? Someone who A, knows how to handle the pressure; and B, is athletic enough to keep defenses honest.

Can you point to another quarterback on Oregon’s roster that has both of those qualities?

Bueller? Bueller?

What about even one of those qualities?

OK, maybe two of the current quarterbacks have the athleticism of Adams, but they lack his experience.

Given that point alone, I don’t see how you can’t come over to my side of the argument, Ted.

I don’t think Oregon wants its quarterback to be perfect.

But what Oregon needs is a guy who’s going to take care of the ball. And until you can show me a quarterback that instills that level of confidence on the field (in a spring game, or in garbage minutes), I’m going to firmly plant my flag in the “Adams is the starter by default” camp.

You should really head over this way though, Ted. We’ve got campfires and s’mores.
Short of winning a national title, quarterback Vernon Adams accomplished just about everything he could have hoped for at the FCS level. Twice the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, and twice the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, his talent far exceeded that of the players he competed with and against.

[+] EnlargeVernon Adams
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesOregon fans are anxious to see how QB Vernon Adams' game will translate to the Pac-12.
If he was a minor league baseball player, he would have been promoted shortly after leading Eastern Washington to a win at Oregon State to open the 2013 season. But that, of course, isn't how it works, and "Big Play V.A." continued to punch well above his weight class in a third straight run to the FCS playoffs in 2014.

Following his announcement this week that he will transfer to Oregon for his final year of eligibility, two obvious questions have been asked: How will his game translate to the Pac-12 level? And what kind of impact will he make for the Ducks?

Adams made a living getting outside the pocket and throwing accurately on the run for the Eagles, and that's something UC Davis coach Ron Gould, an Oregon graduate, said won't change with the bump in competition.

"If you're able to do those things at the FCS level, then you're going to be able to do those things in FBS," Gould said. "The only caveat is getting used to the speed of the game. They're a tad bit faster [on defense], but does he have the arm strength and ability to put the ball where it needs to be? Yes. Does he have the ability to dissect defenses? Yes. That's what he's been doing since his freshman year."

If there are any doubts about his ability to match up athletically against Pac-12 defenses, Gould said Adams' performance in Eastern Washington's 59-52 loss to Washington in September (31-for-46, 475 yards, 7 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) should have cleared that up. Especially considering the Huskies were loaded with NFL talent.

"That's a Pac-12 school that went to a bowl game. Ability is ability," Gould said. "I watched tape of that game, saw him in a phone booth [in the pocket], and this young man got out of it and threw a strike downfield on his way to putting up 52 points. The guy is an incredible athlete. He's special and he makes everyone better."

If not for a relative lack of size, Adams might have started his college career at the FBS level, but at or just below 6 feet, he didn't generate much buzz. Due to his stature -- and the utilization of the graduate-transfer rule -- the inevitable comparisons to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson have come about. Those won't be going away anytime soon, and neither will the occasional mention of Drew Brees to showcase how an undersized quarterback can find seemingly limitless success.

Illinois State coach Brock Spack was the defensive coordinator at Purdue at the end of Brees' career there and led the Redbirds past Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in December. Spack was careful to make it clear that it's premature to compare Adams to QBs such as Brees and Wilson -- "those type of guys don't come around very often" -- but noted all three have the ability to keep plays alive and make good decisions.

A major part of Illinois State's plan for containing Adams was to keep him in the pocket as much as possible (Adams rushed for minus-8 yards on 6 carries in the game). But even in the pocket, Spack said, Adams is capable of delivering the ball accurately and on time.

"He can do it all in any system," Spack said. "He protects the ball well; he doesn't throw it up for grabs and doesn't throw the ball across his body. The thing you want to see the QB do is throw it in catchable spots, and he does that ... always under control. It's hard to simulate."

Neither coach was willing to say unequivocally that he believes Adams will be the starter at Oregon next season -- without a more intimate knowledge of the rest of Oregon's quarterbacks, it wasn't their place -- but they agreed that if there is an FCS player who could come in and start without the benefit of a spring practice, Adams would be the guy. Regardless, they -- along with the rest of college football world -- are intrigued to see how the experiment works out.

Ultimate ESPN 300 class rankings

February, 11, 2015
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When looking at the top prospects in the Ultimate ESPN 300, it became clear that a top-10 class doesn't guarantee success on the field. Consistently signing top-rated classes, though, can increase the chances for consistent success.

Below is a look at the 10 programs that assembled the "ultimate" classes from 2006 to 2014. These teams have not only been able to ink highly rated classes, but have also consistently developed top players while winning big. During this span these programs have accounted for eight top-rated classes and six BCS championships, as well as all four participants of the first College Football Playoff.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama has signed seven straight top-three recruiting classes and 2014 marked its third straight top-ranked class. That success on the recruiting trail has helped produce consistent success on the field over this span, including three BCS titles and a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide's recruiting haul during this period included a Heisman Trophy winner in RB Mark Ingram as well as three other finalists in QB AJ McCarron and RB Trent Richardson, who signed in 2009, and most recently WR Amari Cooper from the 2012 class. Alabama's recruiting success also resulted in numerous All-Americans and All-SEC players. While the Tide have consistently recruited well under Nick Saban, their 2008 and 2009 classes were the most impactful. The 2008 class included Ingram, WR Julio Jones and several key defensive players like Marcel Dareus and Dont'a Hightower. McCarron, Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick and outstanding OLs Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker were members of the 2009 class. The 2014 class delivered No. 1 OT Cameron Robinson, who became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Alabama since Andre Smith in 2006.


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Oregon added to its quarterback arsenal on Monday with the addition of Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams Jr.

Not only does this make the Ducks' season opener against Eastern Washington more interesting, it makes this offseason more interesting as Oregon will have an on-going quarterback battle on its hands.

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Since it’s always fun to look ahead seven months or so, which quarterback do you think will be Oregon’s starter when the Ducks take the field Sept. 5, 2015?

1. Jeff Lockie

Lockie has spent the most time in Oregon’s system of any QB on this list. During his time in Eugene, Lockie has completed 29-of-41 passes for 264 yards. He has thrown one touchdown and one interception in his 19 appearances. Technically, Lockie has three seasons worth of experience, studying under Marcus Mariota. That has had some kind of an effect on him and how he goes about his business, which should give Ducks fans a bit of faith in the career backup. But can he transition into a full-time starter for Oregon?

2. Morgan Mahalak

Mahalak was a highly touted signee in the 2014 class but redshirted last season, running much of the scout team. At 6-foot-3, he has the kind of size that the Ducks lost in Mariota and has a frame that has already gained 10 pounds since arriving on campus. Mahalak was the No. 9 QB in the 2014 class, and his ESPN.com recruiting analysis says he “has a high ceiling for development. Clear to see why coaches may be excited about him long term.”

3. Vernon Adams Jr.

Adams is the reason why this conversation has heated up so much this week. The reigning FCS National Performer of the Year (named by College Football Performance Awards) has elected to transfer to Oregon, where he’ll be eligible immediately. However, because of conflicting schedules for the schools, Adams won’t be able to get to campus until June, meaning he’ll miss spring football. Will that be too much of a deterrent in his run for the starting spot? He clearly has the most experience of any name on this list. In his three seasons at Eastern Washington he's tallied 10,438 passing yards (110 touchdowns, 31 interceptions) and 1,232 rushing yards.

4. Travis Waller

Could a true freshman come in and get the job done for the Ducks? Maybe. Waller will be on campus in time for spring practices, which certainly gives him a boost. Waller also has a height advantage over a few other competitors (6-foot-3), and at 194 pounds, already has a solid frame. ESPN.com's RecruitingNation ranked Waller as the No. 8 QB in the 2015 class. His scouting report says, “He is intriguing because he could play in just about any scheme, and his athleticism may be his most undervalued trait. Plays a highly competitive brand of football. ... There is a high ceiling for development here with quality tools to mold.”

5. Taylor Alie or Ty Griffin

Alie and Griffin seem like the two players who might be the furthest out of this competition at this point, though no one knows exactly how far. However, Griffin’s dual-threat talents are attractive when looking for Mariota's replacement and he's certainly the speediest of all five players. But every player on this list has his own negatives so, given a strong enough spring performance, why not one of these two?

Early New Year's Six predictions

February, 10, 2015
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If you'd been asked at this time last year to predict the participants in the inaugural New Year's Six bowl games, like me, you probably wouldn't have included TCU, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Arizona (all unranked in the preseason). Having a Cinderella or two is common, but having four climb that high is unusual.

Another surprise was that the four playoff teams were all preseason front-runners. Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State were all picked to win their respective conferences, and all were ranked in the AP preseason top five. But as I wrote last August, the top four at the end of the regular season usually features a couple of risers from outside the preseason top 10. In other words, if you're going to attempt to pick the next group of New Year's Six teams -- as I'm about to do here -- using last season's blueprint is probably not a good idea. Therefore, I'm utilizing four other reference points as predictors -- quarterback play, recruiting, returning starters and schedule.

Quarterback play

It's no secret that football -- at all levels -- has become more quarterback-driven in recent years. Look no further than the Heisman Trophy, which has been won by a quarterback 13 times in the past 15 seasons. Great quarterback play is almost a prerequisite for being a playoff contender. There are still instances in which a team can manage to be top-10 caliber with average efficiency and production from the QB, but those have become outliers in today's game.

"Defense wins championships" is a saying that has been true for most of the sport's history, but we seem to have reached a point where even the best defenses can't stop a good offense; they can only hope to slow it down.

Because 12 teams will reach the New Year's Six bowls, and 10 or 11 of them figure to come from the selection committee's final top 12, to the right is a look back at the committee's dandy dozen at the end of the regular season and how those teams stacked up statistically in two key areas: Total QBR and opponents' Total QBR.

What this shows is that high-level QB play correlated much more with being a New Year's Six team than did the ability to defend the other team's quarterback well. Nine of those 12 teams were in the nation's top 20 for Total QBR at the end of the regular season, but only four of them ranked in the top 20 for QBR defense (also known as opponents' Total QBR).

This is also true for Boise State, which won the Fiesta Bowl and was the only New Year's Six team not on this list. The Broncos entered the bowl season ranked 18th in Total QBR and 37th in opponents' Total QBR.

So I have my eye on teams that should produce quality quarterback play in 2015. But that's not the only predictor of success.

Recruiting

Oregon is the poster child for why recruiting rankings don't mean everything. Despite not having a signing class ranked any higher than 14th from 2007 to 2014, according to ESPN RecruitingNation, the Ducks have reached the national championship game twice with players from those classes.

But for every Oregon, I can give you three teams like Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State that have had great success on the recruiting trail and seen it translate to on-field results. Having great talent doesn't guarantee championships, but it sure makes them more attainable.

From 2011 to 2014, the best average recruiting class rankings in the nation belonged to the Crimson Tide, Seminoles and Buckeyes. It's no coincidence that they were all part of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Composite recruiting rankings from 2012 to 2015 therefore will be another big part of my analysis. But as important as talent may be, having experienced talent is an even bigger deal.

Returning starters

(Returning starter numbers come from Phil Steele)

I've already mentioned the importance of quarterback play, but having solid players around the quarterback is also worth a lot in college football. Exhibit A: Eight of the past 12 teams to reach the national championship game had a first-year starter at QB, and five of those teams won the title.

In other words, a team doesn't need experience at quarterback to get quality production from that position. Having him surrounded by talented players who know what they're doing can help a new QB through some growing pains.

And while having a lot of starters back on either side of the ball is certainly an asset, I place the most importance on the number that return in the trenches, especially on the offensive line.

Schedule

We often overreact to perception of a schedule prior to a season, because the truth is that some teams on that schedule won't be as good as we thought, and others will be better. Much also depends on when and where you play teams. We think we know a lot, but we don't know nearly as much about the difficulty of a schedule now as we will by mid-October.

That said, having too many games against good teams (or at least teams we expect to be good) is a major hurdle for potential contenders, especially when most of those are on the road, as we saw with Auburn and Kansas State last season.

I'm more likely to downgrade teams with schedules that seem too difficult than I am to elevate teams with schedules that look easy. As I've heard ESPN "College GameDay" host Rece Davis say for about 15 years: "If you're not good enough, a loss will find you." Not to mention, the selection committee's job is to identify the best teams, and that's not necessarily the ones with the fewest losses.

So after much deliberation -- way more than I should've given to a prediction this far ahead of the season -- here's how I combined the four factors, with a little intuition.


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1. The NCAA Football Rules Committee, which begins its annual meeting Tuesday, may take a long look at how to integrate technology into a live game. Texting from press box to sideline, in-game iPads to review opponents, radios in helmets -- you name it, the NCAA doesn't allow it. Big 12 associate commissioner Ed Stewart, one of two FBS members on the 11-man committee, believes that should change. “College football is behind the times as far as what's allowed, whether it's the coaches box or the sidelines,” Stewart said. “I think we need to realize the world has certainly evolved.”

2. Remember the controversy a year ago when the rules committee proposed to disallow snapping the ball in the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock? The lack of discussion going into the meeting indicates that the opponents of the change have won the argument. However, the issue will be discussed, if only because the committee tabled it a year ago. Also, expect the committee to make the addition of an eighth on-field official permanent. Several FBS conferences have liked the results of experimenting with eight-man crews over the last two seasons.

3. Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams has decided he will play his postgraduate year at Oregon. He has to graduate first, which likely means he won't get to Eugene for spring practice. Adams is a unique talent. He threw for 475 yards and seven touchdowns against Washington last fall. He is a slick runner, too. But after spending a lot of time last offseason speculating about how well Jake Coker would transition to Alabama, forgive me for waiting to make sure Adams picks up the Oregon offense before we anoint him the next great Duck quarterback.
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Apologies for paying too much attention to the fine print, but what stuck out about Oregon coach Mark Helfrich receiving a contract extension and substantial raise was this from the news release: "The new agreement ensures an automatic one-year rollover for Helfrich for winning a minimum of 11 games in any one year, with one of those victories in one of the New Year's Six bowl games (consisting of the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose, and Sugar bowls). "

Oh, times have changed in Eugene.

The funny thing is winning 11 games and a New Year's Six bowl is no longer something that will automatically inspire Ducks fans to leap into the air and click their heels together. While many veteran Oregon fans continue to enjoy these glory days with a twinkling eye and a nudge-nudge of "Can you believe it?" others of a bit younger cast have become all-or-nothing freaks. As in: What the heck does a fan have to do to see his team win a national title?

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesMonday's contract extension is an indicator that Mark Helfrich has Oregon pointed in the right direction.
While Helfrich, a lifelong Oregon fan himself, knows the history as well as anyone, he also knows what he inherited from Chip Kelly: a nouveau-riche superpower, one that is wisely managed and backed by super-booster bucks, courtesy of Nike founder Phil Knight. While making $3.5 million next year doesn't rank Helfrich among the super-elite of college football coaches, it does push him into the top 25. The raise and extension also announce on a national, Pac-12 and local level that the powers that be at Oregon, who start with Knight but also include several savvy decision-makers, believe Helfrich can maintain and even eclipse what Oregon has accomplished over the past six years.

By the way, if you know Helfrich more than a little, you probably are imagining him thinking, "I have no idea how to spend that much money."

The deal runs through 2020, at which point Helfrich would be a bargain at $3.8 million. We say bargain because, while this is a major, post-Kelly validation for Helfrich, who is an impressive 24-4 in two seasons, one wonders if he'd still be embraced if the Ducks haven't finished No. 1 over the course of the next six seasons. No way he gets to 2020 at $3.8 million if he's going to still be in Eugene in 2021. The way salaries are going these days, that number might be doubled.

There is no other program like Oregon in the nation right now. Baylor is the only one that has an argument, but not a great one. Every other team that enters the 2015 season with a chance of winning the second College Football Playoff has won a national title. Oregon has not. It has become a contender with unprecedented flash and it has played for two national titles, falling short twice.

Helfrich has been given a prime directive. He knows it. Win a national title. He could win 32 games over the next three years and get fired. He could also, by the way, win 28 and a national title and he'd be about as secure as a big-time college football coach can be.

While this contract is freighted with positive symbolic value for Helfrich, that goes only so far. A major question will linger around him before and perhaps during the 2015 season: Can he win without Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota, the best player in the history of Ducks football?

On the same day the school announced Helfrich's new contract, news broke that Eastern Washington QB Vernon Adams Jr. would transfer to Oregon to play out his final season of eligibility. Ducks fans should feel good about the juxtaposition.

The luring of Adams represents a bold and proactive move with no downside. Either Adams becomes the Ducks' starting QB or he gets beaten out by a guy who's better than someone who torched Pac-12 competition in his two games against it. Adams joining the QB competition only makes Oregon better, and it shows that Helfrich and his staff are being aggressive while eyeballing the future, immediate and otherwise.

That's what separates the guys like Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Urban Meyer, and it's even what former USC coach Pete Carroll made trite poetry about: Always compete ... Win forever.

Helfrich's job is not done. It won't be until he wins a national title, and even that won't automatically make him Oregon's Bobby Bowden. Memories are much shorter these days.

But the powers that be at Oregon told him something very important Monday: "So far, so good."
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After leading Oregon to the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T in his second season as coach, Mark Helfrich has been rewarded with a five-year, $17.5 million contract extension through the 2019-20 season, the school announced Monday.

"Mark has provided tremendous leadership of our football program and the values and character that he insists upon are in line with our mission as an institution," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said in a statement. "The success of our student-athletes on the field and in the classroom will continue with Mark's leadership and we are thrilled that he will stay at home in Oregon for a long time to come."

In the two years since being elevated from offensive coordinator upon Chip Kelly's departure for the NFL, Helfrich, 41, who grew up an Oregon fan, has guided the Ducks to a 24-4 record.

He is guaranteed to earn $3.15 million during the first year of the extension and will earn $3.8 million during the final year of the deal, which runs through Jan. 31, 2020. His previous contract ran through Jan. 19, 2018, but due to the terms of that agreement, it automatically extended another season once Oregon beat Florida State in the College Football Playoff.

He earned a guaranteed salary of $1.8 million under the prior deal, but earned more than $400,000 in incentives -- including $150,000 for appearing in the national championship and $100,000 for winning the Pac-12.

Helfrich's new deal also includes an automatic one-year rollover should the Ducks win at least 11 games, one of which being one of the New Year's Six bowls (Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose or Sugar).

Helfrich would be responsible for a $3 million buyout if he leaves for another coaching job before finishing the second year of the contract. That number drops to $2 million following Year 2 and $1 million following Year 4.

Before joining Kelly's staff at Oregon in 2009, Helfrich was the offensive coordinator at Colorado


(Read full post)


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Two of the best college quarterback battles during this offseason will be happening on the campuses of the two teams that faced off in the national title game -- Ohio State and Oregon.

Though the Buckeyes' Braxton Miller-J.T. Barrett-Cardale Jones saga has gained plenty of attention (and rightfully so), the Ducks' QB battle picked up a bit of steam on Monday when it was announced that Eastern Washington's Vernon Adams would be transferring to Oregon.

But because Adams won't be able to participate in spring practices -- the Ducks will play their spring game on May 2, while Eastern Washington's final day of spring classes isn't until June 12 -- Oregon now has two quarterback battles on its hands:

• To find the top dog among the current quarterbacks on the roster this spring and summer; and

• The top dog vs. Adams competition in the fall.

[+] EnlargeJeff Lockie, Marcus Mariota
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsJeff Lockie (17) has been backing up Marcus Mariota (8) for the past two years.
For the other five quarterbacks on the roster, adding Adams amps up spring practices -- even if one player secures the starting spot in the spring game, the battle has barely begun.

Oregon's offense isn't a plug-and-play scheme, and replacing Marcus Mariota is a task that will be considered a success even if it's only partly accomplished. The fact that Adams has already experienced success at the college level makes him an instant front-runner for the job, and the other five players likely understand that.

From an experience perspective, Adam's biggest competition will be Jeff Lockie, who has been Mariota's backup the past two seasons. In 2014, Lockie attempted just 28 passes.

By comparison, Adams attempted 380 passes this past season. Yes, those passes were attempted at the FCS level, but the experience Adams gained at Eastern Washington -- even if the competition level isn't the same -- is certainly a huge boost in the “Adams for starter” category.

Lockie attempted eight passes against Pac-12 opponents. He completed four of them for a total of 22 yards and no touchdowns. When Adams played Washington this season, he completed 31 of 46 passes for 475 yards and seven touchdowns.

Past Lockie, the Ducks also already have Morgan Mahalak, Ty Griffin and Taylor Alie on campus. The other QB in the 2015 class, Travis Waller, will enroll early in time for spring practices.

Of that group, Mahalak, a freshman, likely will be the other big competitor (Waller, unless he has a ridiculous spring performance, probably will redshirt), but he doesn't have college playing experience.

Though Adams doesn't boast the same kind of dual-threat capabilities of Mariota (and to be fair, no one on this roster does), he has shown that his feet can be a weapon. Adams rushed for only 285 yards last season on 100 carries, but he tallied six rushing touchdowns. The season before, he registered 605 rushing yards.

But even a hint of rushing talent should be enough to keep defenses honest against the Ducks.

It seems pretty likely that Oregon could have two QB battles brewing during the next seven months.

But Adams isn't without shortcomings. First, he can't get to campus until June. That puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to gaining chemistry with receivers. Considering the other four players will be able to gain that this winter and spring (Waller will be there only in the spring), that puts Adams in a bit of a time crunch.

Also, Adams is on the smaller end. At 6-foot, he'll be the shortest QB competing for the job. His height seems to be one of the main reasons why he didn't get a lot of recruiting attention, but he still excelled at the FCS level.

Can he overcome that hump again and excel at the FBS level?

Only time will tell, and that's what Adams has working against him.

But for those who thought Ohio State would have the best quarterback battle brewing heading into the 2015 season, the national runner-up is proving to have a pretty good battle (or two) of its own.

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