This past season saw Marcus Mariota bring the Heisman Trophy back to the Pac-12 for the first time since 2005. Now that the league's top superstar is on his way to the NFL, focus shifts to the possibility of keeping the Heisman in the conference next season. Here's an early look at some Pac-12 candidates who may have a shot to succeed Mariota in 2015.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

He's only a sophomore, yet Wright finished the season leading the nation in tackles (163), tackles for loss (29), and forced fumbles (6). He was the only player who averaged more than two TFL per game (2.07), and second place in that category (Hau'oli Kikaha, also from the Pac-12) was way down at 1.79. Simply put, Wright dominated the stat sheet in 2014, and that's what a defensive player must do to have any shot of contending for college football's grandest individual prize. Wright was the only Pac-12 player besides Mariota to finish in the top 10 of the Heisman balloting. His 17 votes put him on the radar for 2015.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC

Kessler's 2014 season created a true rarity: A statistically impressive USC quarterback flew under the Heisman radar. With the Trojans actually early Vegas favorites in the Pac-12's bid to again send a team to the College Football Playoff, don't expect that to repeat itself in 2015. Kessler threw only five interceptions in 452 attempts (only Mariota's interception rate was better), and he completed 70 percent of his passes in a season that saw USC finish with two consecutive strong offensive performances. Kessler's performance against top-flight competition must improve in 2015, but he'll undoubtedly be in the way-too-early Heisman discussion because of his 2014 numbers.

[+] EnlargeScooby Wright
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsArizona linebacker Scooby Wright was the only Pac-12 player to finish in the top 10 of the Heisman voting besides Marcus Mariota.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Seeing a true freshman succeed is by no means a college football rarity, but Freeman's bruising style of productivity was indeed unusual for a youngster. The 230-pounder is built like a senior, and he ran like one in 2014, becoming the first true freshman 1,000-yard rusher in Ducks history. Freeman led Pac-12 backs with 18 touchdowns -- scoring seems to be a Heisman prerequisite -- and his workload is likely to increase in 2015 when increased experience and Mariota's departure are both taken into account.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Most of the UCLA glory went to Brett Hundley, but he's moving on. That means that Paul Perkins' eye-popping productivity will have more of a chance to shine in 2015. Perkins led the Pac-12 with 1,575 rushing yards this past season, and his average of 6.3 yards per carry was head and shoulders above other runners with at least 200 attempts. Perhaps Perkins' touchdown total hindered his visibility -- he rushed for only nine -- but with Hundley's 10 rushing touchdowns out the door, expect more end zone visits for the running back in 2015.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah

Booker's return to Salt Lake City is a major boost to the Utes' offense moving forward. The team' passing attack was inconsistent at best in 2014, and that made Booker's 1,500-yard season -- second-best in the Pac-12 -- essential to Utah's success. With the quarterback position remaining a question mark entering 2015, Booker is again set to be Kyle Whittingham's offensive centerpiece. Expect more big numbers in the 203-pounder's senior season.

Jared Goff, QB, Cal

It's extremely difficult to enter the Heisman conversation when playing on a team that went 1-11 the year prior. That was Goff's predicament in 2014, when he threw for nearly 4,000 yards and established a solid 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio as the Bears improved to 5-7. Fair or not, that record will still prevent Goff from being a popular preseason award candidate, but it certainly puts him in better position than he was in a year ago. Goff seems primed for another statistical jump, and that makes him an early candidate for some 2015 attention.

D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State

Foster was the only Pac-12 player to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014. His 62 catches were second to only Jaelen Strong in Tempe, and the big receiver's departure to the NFL means that Foster should have more opportunities to score touchdowns in 2014 (he found the end zone 12 times in 2014). Todd Graham retains plenty of explosiveness at ASU: Foster has shown he can light up highlight reels, while Demario Richard averaged 5.7 yards per carry while playing almost all of 2014 as a 17-year old.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

A healthy Anu Solomon may get some Heisman run in Rich Rodriguez's offense next season, but the true freshman Wilson delivered the most impressive 2014, so he's more prominent on our early radar. Wilson actually led all non-kickers in Pac-12 scoring, averaging 7.8 points per game. His power-speed combination fueled a 1,375-yard, 5.8 per carry, 17-touchdown season.

Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford

Hogan is the latest addition to the 2015 Heisman radar, yet it would only be fair to classify him as a long shot at this point. Still, the quarterback's impressive finish to the 2014 season merits at least a mention on this list. Hogan battled considerable adversity this past year: His father passed away in December after a battle with cancer. Hogan delivered sterling performances against UCLA and Maryland to round out the campaign. He passed precisely and rushed effectively in both contests. Stanford returns most of its offensive talent in 2015, so a continuation of that strong finish is possible — especially if explosive youngster Christian McCaffrey continues to emerge as a force to be reckoned with.
We continue our countdown of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 this year. Obviously, this list is subjective and though we spent a lot of time putting it together, there was a fair amount of debate in its creation. If you missed Nos. 21-25, click here.

Without further ado, the next five:

No. 16: USC RB Javorius Allen

Statistics: 276 carries, 1,489 yards (5.4 per carry), 12 touchdowns

Allen finished behind only UCLA's Paul Perkins and Utah's Devontae Booker in the race for the Pac-12 rushing crown. His 41 catches for 458 yards out of the backfield showcased versatility that should be an asset at the next level. In retrospect, Allen's most impressive performance of the season might have come when he racked up 154 yards on 6.7 yards per carry against Stanford's conference-best rush defense. That helped push USC to a huge early-season win, and more tough running in a 205-yard performance at Arizona was also vital in a critical Trojans victory. In all, Allen amassed nine 100-yard rushing performances this season, and he surpassed 100 all-purpose yards in every single game.

No. 17: Oregon OT Jake Fisher

Statistics: Anchored the No. 1-ranked offensive line in country, according to Football Outsiders

Oregon struggled only twice during the regular season, and it wasn't a coincidence that those two games were the ones that Fisher missed due to injury. Our Ivan Maisel even went as far as to suggest that the 6-foot-6, 300-pound left tackle may have been more valuable to the Ducks than Marcus Mariota. In Fisher's two-game absence (unimpressive performances against Washington State and Arizona), Oregon gave up 12 sacks and saw its scoring output dip over two touchdowns below its season average. Following his return, Fisher proved his mettle as a solid NFL prospect. The Ducks allowed six sacks per game without him, and only 1.5 sacks per game with him in the lineup. Fisher was a force in Oregon's course-correcting win at UCLA, and his campaign reached a crescendo in a dominant Rose Bowl manhandling of Florida State.

No. 18: Stanford DL Henry Anderson

Statistics: 65 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 9 QB hits

The 6-6, 290-pound Anderson might have been the most heralded star on Stanford's conference-best defense, but this spot in our countdown serves as acknowledgment of the Cardinal's entire suffocating unit. Anderson delivered a half-season's worth of production in one game against Utah in which he racked up 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, but outside of that, Stanford's remarkable defensive production was a truly balanced, team-wide effort. David Parry -- a 305-pound fire hydrant in the middle -- safety Jordan Richards, cornerback Alex Carter and linebacker A.J. Tarpley are all worthy of praise on this list. Along with Anderson, they formed the bedrock of a defense that led the Pac-12 in nearly every category.

No. 19: USC DB Su'a Cravens

Statistics: 68 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 12 passes defended

After a productive season during which he started at both strong safety and SAM linebacker, Cravens made a legitimate case to be considered the most versatile defender in the Pac-12. Checking in at 225 pounds, Cravens brought a much-needed physical presence to a USC secondary that badly needed it, particularly after losing cornerback Josh Shaw for most of the season. The Trojans' rush defense finished third in the Pac-12, and Cravens' physical support was certainly a major contributor there. He made plenty of plays in the passing game, too: three interceptions, nine breakups and 12 passes defended counts as serious damage -- especially for a player so capable of laying the wood in the box.

No. 20: Cal QB Jared Goff

Statistics: 3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 147.6 rating

For the second straight year, Goff's job at Cal wasn't easy. Though the Bears improved in 2014, he again had to deal with the pressures inflicted by his own team's bad defense. Those can often derail a quarterback and force him into a string of poor decisions, but Goff was undeterred. He demonstrated a strong command of Sonny Dykes' aggressive offense, finishing fifth nationally in passing yards while nearly doubling his 2013 touchdown output. Goff also cut his interception rate while increasing his average per attempt from 6.6 to 7.8 yards. Goff's upward trend should excite Cal fans for his 2015 junior season, which promises even greater aerial productivity from the Bears.

Oregon's biggest challenge in 2015

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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Even with the loss to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T, the Oregon Ducks can lay claim to being a perennial powerhouse. The Ducks have posted 10 or more wins in seven straight seasons, and coach Mark Helfrich's 24-4 record is the best start by a Pac-12 coach in more than 60 years.

As impressive as those achievements are, this program still has to win a national title before it can truly take its place as an elite program.

Losing quarterback Marcus Mariota to the NFL draft will make it harder to reach that goal, but the reality is that Mariota's departure is far from the biggest hurdle the Ducks will face in 2015. Without some significant defensive improvements, this team will be hard pressed to repeat as Pac-12 champion.

Offensive talent won't be an issue

Replacing Mariota, who was arguably the best quarterback in college football history, won't be easy, but the Ducks have a ton of talented players ready to step up.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
9:00
AM ET
I was hiding under your porch because I love you.

Leading off:

Some interesting news out of California.

On Wednesday the governing board of the University of California campuses will meet to discuss a new incentive-pay policy approved by university President Janet Napolitano that will tie together how coaches and athletic directors are evaluated/compensated and the academic achievements of their student-athletes.
The new policy will apply to all coaches of intercollegiate sports and athletic directors going forward, both new hires and those whose contracts are up for renewal. The so-called "gatekeeper clause" establishing a minimum level of team-wide academic performance for coaches to receive any bonus pay will follow a formula the National Collegiate Athletic Association already uses to monitor student athletes.

Cal football coach Sonny Dykes already has a contract that links his bonuses to how his athletes perform in class, but he is the only coach that has that type of a contract. So, it should be interesting to see how this goes over on Wednesday.

News/notes/team reports:
  • Former Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski is excited to return to the state where he played his college ball for the Super Bowl. Fun fact: It'll be the first time Gronk has returned to Arizona to play since his college playing days.
  • Arizona State is getting a lot of interest from a three-star defensive end that looks like he'd be a pretty good Devil-backer. "There's a lot going on there," he told Doug Haller. "They're on the rise."
  • There's some movement in the world of Cal football recruiting. A wide receiver who was committed to Illinois has decommitted and has a visit to Cal planned for next weekend, plus some other offers and info on recruits.
  • Oregon coach Mark Helfrich announced on Monday afternoon that there will be three transfers (at least) away from the program. Helfrich said that it's "just guys looking for an opportunity or a better fit."
  • The Oregonian's Gina Mizell is going through Oregon State's new staff, giving each new member a closer look. On Monday she caught up with running back coach Telly Lockette. This is her sixth piece in the series and the links to her others are on the page as well.
  • Can Stanford actually be an offense-first team in 2015? There's very little turnover on the offensive side of the ball so signs point to "yes they should be able to" but does that mean that yes, they will be able to? Rule of Tree takes a closer look.
  • UCLA's success has been tied to its quarterback's consistency. Over the past three seasons Brett Hundley has been that and more for the Bruins, but, who is the next guy up -- Josh Rosen? Jerry Neuheisel? Asiantii Woulard?
  • A quick look at the five biggest goals for USC football this spring.
  • It was a good news-bad news type of day for the Utes on Monday when it came to their recruiting.
  • NFL analyst Mike Mayock believes that Washington defensive lineman Danny Shelton could be a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft. "When you put the tape on, he's quick. He gets up and down the line of scrimmage and plays forever at 350 pounds," Mayock said of Shelton.
  • Connor Halliday was nominated for the 2015 MTR Western Sports Star of the Year Award. Halliday is up against two Seattle Sounders, a Seattle Mariner, a Seattle Seahawk and Washington football linebacker Shaq Thompson.
Just for fun:

Before Saturday night's Arizona-Utah basketball match up, Wildcat coach Rich Rodriguez gave some love to the students in the form of ... chicken sandwiches. Rich, the form was pretty good. But if you're going to be out there tossing things, you have a pretty decent QB you could use to really get that Chick-fil-A to the students in the higher seats.



Also, according to TMZ, UCLA defensive back Justin Combs -- son of P Diddy -- had a birthday party this weekend and Justin Bieber was in attendance. So, you know, just put that in your back pocket.
So, the Pac-12 Blog is no Miss Cleo.

But even so, we went out on a limb and made 10 fearless predictions at the beginning of the season. Now, we look back on those predictions.

1. A Pac-12 team will win the national championship. We were close. A Pac-12 team got to the national championship game. It didn't deliver quite as much as we thought it might, but it got there. Not a perfect prediction but a nearly correct one. Meanwhile, we're still looking for the person who predicted that a Big Ten team, behind a third-string quarterback, would win the national championship. Bueller? Bueller?

2. A Pac-12 player will win the Heisman Trophy. Got it. Congrats, Marcus Mariota. It was a fun season to watch this special player and he more than deserved this trophy.

3. No Pac-12 coach will be fired at season's end. We got this one, too. Though, like the Ohio State/third-string QB prediction, no one really saw the Mike Riley departure coming. However, Gary Andersen infuses some new blood into this conference that also saw a fair number of coordinator changes. But as far as a coach being fired? The Pac-12 is in the clear. And your humble blog got this one right.

4. Cal and Colorado will be good enough to deliver a major upset this fall. Cal won five games this year. The Bears' wins at Washington State and Oregon State can certainly be put into this category. And the Buffs came close ... so, so close. But no cigar. We'll count half credit for this one.

5. The USC-UCLA game will be a battle of top-10 teams. Not top 10, but top 20. The 19th-ranked Trojans fell to No. 9 UCLA, 38-20.

6. Oregon will cover the spread against Michigan State in Week 2. Yup. Got 'em.

7. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame. The conference went 2-1 against the Irish but as of Oct. 4, 2014, we knew this prediction wouldn't come true because someone (C'mon, Stanford) didn't get stuff done on the road. But Arizona State's 55-31 thumping and USC's 49-14 statement certainly made a 2-1 feel as good as a 2-1 can feel for the Pac-12.

8. Whoever starts at quarterback for Arizona will pass for more than 3,000 yards. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon passed for 3,793 yards, finishing fifth in the league.

9. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan will be the Pac-12's most improved player. This was a whiff. If we're talking about most improved quarterbacks the award would probably go to Cal's Jared Goff. If we're talking most improved player, the field is wide open. We'll have more on that in the next few weeks. But one thing is for sure -- it wasn't Hogan.

10. Six teams will be ranked in the final top 25 at the end of the season. Though it might not have been the six teams we expected to be in the top 25 or the specific order, we did nail this one. The Pac-12 finished with six teams in that top 25 -- Oregon, No. 2; UCLA, No. 10; ASU, No. 12; Arizona, No. 19; USC, No. 20; Utah, No. 21.
Considering we pretty much nailed our fearless predictions for 2014, it seems like it's never too early to get bold with projections for 2015.

Here are five bold -- bold I say! -- predictions for the offseason:

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesCal quarterback Jared Goff flew under the radar in 2014 and is primed for a breakout season.
A South team will win the Pac-12 for the first time: Since the Pac-12 split into divisions in 2011, Oregon and Stanford have split four Pac-12 championships, meaning no team from the South Division has won the conference. That will change in 2015, as the South looks like it will be the roughest division in college football, with five teams likely to start off ranked in the preseason, as they finished the 2014 season. Whoever emerges -- either Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA, USC or Utah (yes, we are leaving our options open) -- will have survived a gauntlet that will give it a steel-hones-steel edge in the title game against Oregon.

Oregon will again finish ranked in the top 10: Oregon will romp to the North crown again in 2015, so don't believe the first prediction writes the Ducks out of national relevance. In fact, when the Ducks lose the Pac-12 title game, we still suspect they will be attractive enough to get invited to a major bowl game. The Ducks' case could be helped greatly by the Pac-12 champ earning another berth in the College Football Playoff.

Two true freshmen will start at quarterback: Considering we pretty much know who will start behind center for Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Stanford, USC and Utah (at least it won't be a freshman), we're obviously opining that two of Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington and Washington State will start a freshman, true or redshirt. Considering the impressive, late-season showing by redshirt freshman Luke Falk for the Cougars, this really comes down to the other four schools. It once was rare for players in their first year of eligibility to sit in the cockpit of an FBS offense, but not any longer. We suspect that will hold true in the Pac-12 in 2015.

California's Goff will be first-team All-Pac-12 QB: While he received little national fanfare while putting up huge passing numbers, Jared Goff was perhaps the conference's most improved player in 2014. He ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in Total QBR, but that also was good enough for 12th in the nation. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, the top two Pac-12 quarterbacks in 2014, are off to the NFL. Enter Goff, who if he sustains his current improvement trajectory should be due for a national breakout in 2015. After throwing 18 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions as a true freshman starter in 2013, Goff threw 35 TD passes vs. seven picks this fall. He has NFL ability and a strong supporting cast coming back, particularly at receiver. While USC's Cody Kessler will top many preseason Heisman Trophy lists, don't be surprised if Goff puts up huge numbers, leads the Bears to a bowl game for the first time since 2011 and nips Kessler for first-team All-Pac-12.

There will be two coaching changes at the end of the season: If not for Oregon State's Mike Riley making a surprising jump to Nebraska, the Pac-12 would have had no coaching changes after the season. That sort of stability is not typical, and we suspect that there will be changes after the 2015 season, either from coaches bolting on their own or getting pushed out the door. You could see a coach or two get a wandering eye for the NFL or an athletic director might decide to make a change, but we're predicting that only 10 of the 12 2015 head coaches will be the same in 2016.
This week we'll be counting down the top 25 players in the Pac-12 this year. Obviously, this list is subjective and though we spent a lot of time putting it together there was definitively a fair amount of debate (specifically with this first list) as to who should and shouldn't make the list or where a certain player should be.

With that, here's Nos. 21-25.

No. 21: Arizona State RB D.J. Foster
Statistics: 194 rushing attempts, 1,081 rushing yards, nine touchdowns

Coming into the season, the question was whether anyone could fill the shoes of running back Marion Grice. Enter Foster. The junior led ASU in rushing and surpassed Grice’s season rushing total from 2013 (996 yards). He converted 52.6 percent of his third-down rushing attempts and displayed some major ball security as he lost just one fumble all season (tied for second among top 10 Pac-12 running backs).

No. 22: UCLA RB Paul Perkins
Statistics: 251 rushing attempts, 1,575 rushing yards, nine touchdowns

Perkins led the Pac-12 in rushing yards per conference game (121.2) and Perkins was second in yards per rush (6.27, with a minimum of 100 carries). Of the Pac-12’s top 10 running backs Perkins led the group in his percentage of rushes that went for at least 10 yards (18.3). Nationally, he almost single-handedly pushed the Bruins into the top 25 for team rushing yardage, even when UCLA’s offense appeared to be far more one-dimensional than some might've anticipated.

No. 23: Oregon RB Royce Freeman
Statistics: 252 rushing attempts, 1,365 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns

The freshman beat out Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall to be the Ducks' starter en route to the first 1,000-yard rushing season for a freshman in Oregon history. His athleticism and sheer power (seriously, he’s built like a truck) demolished opponents as he rushed for 5.51 yards per carry against Pac-12 opponents. In conference play, Freeman converted 46.4 percent of his third-down rushes and 100 percent of his fourth-down rushes. Only 24 of his 202 Pac-12 rushes went for zero or negative yardage.

No. 24: UCLA LB Myles Jack
Statistics: 28 rushing attempts, 113 yards, 3 touchdowns; 88 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 interception, 7 pass breakups, 2 QB hurries

The sophomore followed up his two-way Pac-12 Freshman of the Year accolades with an impressive season that saw him play more on the defensive side of the ball. But despite being more relegated to the defense, he was just as valuable to the Bruins as he was when he was playing both ways. Jack was the team’s second-leading tackler and proved that he can basically cover anyone on the field: tight ends, running backs, wide receivers -- go for it, guys.

No. 25: Colorado WR Nelson Spruce
Statistics: 106 receptions, 1,198 yards, 12 touchdowns

This last spot was kind of difficult to pick but we went with Spruce because, more than any other contender at this spot, he was most connected to the success of his team. Spruce more than doubled the Buffs’ second-leading receiver in receptions, yards and TDs, and his junior year was good enough to make fans fear he might forgo his senior year. Fear not, Buffs, Spruce will be back in 2015, and with another year of chemistry with Sefo Liufau under his belt, he’ll surely rise in these rankings.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
9:00
AM ET
Such a waste of talent. He chose money over power -- in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes.

Frank's coming ...

But Monday's links are here first.

Leading off

If it wasn't for the East-West Shrine game (where both Taylor Kelly and Austin Hill fared well) and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, this past Saturday would have been the first since August without any football.

Sunday was a far more heralded day on the gridiron, as several former Pac-12 players made prominent contributions in both of the NFL's conference championship games. California product Marshawn Lynch powered his way to bragging rights over former Golden Bear Aaron Rodgers in Seattle's win over Green Bay, all while Washington's own Jermaine Kearse scored the game-winning touchdown in Seattle. Stanford alumnus Andrew Luck didn't fare as well in the AFC title game, but Oregon's LeGarrette Blount and Cal's Shane Vereen left that one with Super Bowl tickets in hand.

News/notes/team reports
  • Arizona leveraged basketball success to their football benefit. The Wildcats hosted several of their prized recruits this past weekend, and the visits coincided with the basketball team's resounding 69-51 win over Utah inside the electric McKale Center.
  • According to a Wall Street Journal study, the value of the Arizona State football program on the open market would be $277 million -- good for 27th in the country.
  • The Oregonian's Andrew Greif shadowed Marcus Mariota on his epic awards tour up the East Coast -- a trip which included Disney World and ended with the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City. Here's the full article, including pictures. And here's an early prospectus of life after Mariota in Eugene.
  • In a critical recruiting weekend for new coach Gary Andersen in Corvallis, Oregon State netted the commitment of an under-the-radar safety.
  • You may have already guessed that recruiting was a central theme of the weekend. Stanford also hosted the majority of their 2015 class. Here's a tracker of what went down on the Farm.
  • Their big matchup happened yesterday and Lynch's team got the best of Rodgers' crew in dramatic fashion, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer looked back at their Berkeley past before the NFC championship.
  • Former USC defensive back Josh Shaw is catching up on missed reps, and he recorded an interception in the East-West Shrine game.
  • Given extremely high expectations, a number of big wins, and a trio of disappointing losses, it's tough to judge UCLA's season. This article attempts to peg the 2014 Bruins' place in program history.
  • Six Washington official visitors took recruiting trips to Seattle this weekend.
  • Mike Leach continues to construct his new defensive staff. Washington State hired former Michigan assistant Roy Manning as its outside linebackers coach just days after naming new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
  • As Colorado aims to rise from the Pac-12 cellar, the Buffs' strength and conditioning program under Dave Forman takes center stage in this feature.
  • Here are some terms and details of Kyle Whittingham's four-year contract extension at Utah.
Just for fun

Colorado punter Darragh O'Neill has drawn at least one comparison to Odell Beckham Jr. for his catching ability. OK, the degree of difficulty on O'Neill's snag in the East-West Shrine game didn't quite match Beckham's sensational grab earlier this year, but it is morning link-worthy.

NCF 100 ListIllustration by Mikey BurtonESPN.com is ranking the top 100 college football players of the 2014 season.

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones started just three games in 2014, but he might have made the most important contributions to his team of any player this season.

Except maybe Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

But what about how valuable Melvin Gordon was to Wisconsin? Or Amari Cooper to the Crimson Tide?

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being a stellar contributor, how would you rate those offensive standouts when compared with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III, and Alabama safety Landon Collins?

Don't worry, we figured it out for you -- again.

Heading into the 2014 season, ESPN.com ranked the top 100 players in the country based on their expected contributions for the season. Jones didn't make the cut in August -- go figure -- but Braxton Miller was tied for No. 5.


(Read full post)


Postseason #CFBrank: 1-10

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18
11:32
AM ET

We're wrapping up the 2014 season by ranking the top 100 players in college football, just like we did before the season. As the rankings are announced, you can also find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.

What is #CFBrank?

#CFBrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.

How did we rank the players?

We asked 32 of ESPN's college football writers and editors to rate players on a scale of 0-10 based on their performance during the 2014 season.


(Read full post)


Postseason #CFBrank: 21-30

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18
11:05
AM ET

We're wrapping up the 2014 season by ranking the top 100 players in college football, just like we did before the season. As the rankings are announced, you can also find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.

What is #CFBrank?

#CFBrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.

How did we rank the players?

We asked 32 of ESPN's college football writers and editors to rate players on a scale of 0-10 based on their performance during the 2014 season.


(Read full post)


Postseason #CFBrank: 31-40

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18
10:47
AM ET

We're wrapping up the 2014 season by ranking the top 100 players in college football, just as we did before the season. As the rankings are announced, you also can find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.

What is #CFBrank?

#CFBrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.

How did we rank the players?

We asked 32 of ESPN's college football writers and editors to rate players on a scale of 0-10 based on their performance during the 2014 season.


(Read full post)


QB recruits turned recruiters

January, 17, 2015
Jan 17
6:00
PM ET

When it comes to college football recruiting, there are quarterbacks and then there's everybody else.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Postseason #CFBrank: 51-60

January, 17, 2015
Jan 17
12:41
AM ET

We're wrapping up the 2014 season by ranking the top 100 players in college football, just like we did before the season. As the rankings are announced, you can also find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.

What is #CFBrank?

#CFBrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.

How did we rank the players?

We asked 32 of ESPN's college football writers and editors to rate players on a scale of 0-10 based on their performance during the 2014 season.


(Read full post)


Happy Friday. Or not, seeing that it's the first Friday of the offseason.

Of course, there is no offseason.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Joe Bruin from Los Angeles writes: Can UCLA's season really be called a huge disappointment? A top 10 finish, 5-2 record vs ranked teams and 7-0 away from home against what was a much tougher schedule than expected seems like a decent season, even if it doesn't match the national title hype we got.

Ted Miller: It can be. People say overheated things all the time. My guess is individuals who would describe UCLA's 2014 season as "huge disappointment" are not saying something they actually believe but are looking for a reaction. And we all know that getting a reaction is the raison d'etre for a lot of folks in the punditry and on social media.

Now I am operating here almost entirely on the adjective "huge." As a person who considered the Bruins a darkhorse national-title contender in the preseason, it's factually accurate to say that the Bruins didn't live up to my -- or many others' -- expectations. In fact, seeing they were ranked No. 7 in the preseason and finished 10th, that sentiment can be quantified.

UCLA's season being considered a disappointment of more than moderate burn rests almost entirely on one game: The shocking 31-10 loss to Stanford on the final weekend of the regular season that cost the Bruins the South Division title. If the Bruins had won that game and won the South, things might have felt different, even if they went on to lose to Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

But you can't assess most seasons on one game. It's about the totality of what happened and then placing that into a sober, objective-as-possible perspective of reasonable expectations as well as historical precedent.

Fact: UCLA's No. 10 final ranking is the team's highest since 1998, and that squad lost its final two games. So, yeah, highest final ranking in 16 freaking years is not a "huge disappointment."

Fact: UCLA won 10 games for the ninth time in SCHOOL HISTORY.

Fact: UCLA has now won 10 games in back-to-back seasons for just the third time in school history.

Fact: UCLA went 10-3 against a schedule that featured seven teams that finished the season ranked and saw 10 opponents play in bowl games. Twelve games were against Power 5 conference teams, and the 13th, Memphis, finished 10-3. No team on the Bruins' schedule other than Colorado won fewer than five games, and eight won at least eight games.

Fact: UCLA has won three in a row over USC. To clarify, the Bruins have whipped the Trojans three consecutive years under coach Jim Mora. Let that marinate for a few moments.

Sure, the Bruins often won ugly. The offensive line struggled most of the season. QB Brett Hundley was good but didn't live up to preseason Heisman hype. The talent-laden defense underachieved. Who can forget Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich barking at each other on the sidelines during the Oregon game? And even the bowl win over a good Kansas State team featured a blown lead and some post-game controversy.

It wasn't always a pretty season. But it was a good season -- 16 years! -- that continued to suggest the Bruins are rising under Mora.

But, sure, if someone wants to be hugely disappointed, have at it.

David from Calgary writes: With Mariota off to the draft, UO has to open the chapter on a new QB. While there won't ever be a replacement for the best QB to don the Green & Yellow (And Black, Silver, White, Neon, etc...) who should Helfrich turn to? Should he look for a game manager who can get the ball to the play makers (Freeman, Tyner, Addison, Nelson) or should he try to replicate Mariota as close as possible (Braxton Miller transfer)?

Ted Miller: Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost are going to pick the QB who they think will win the most games. It won't be a "type." It will be the guy who plays the best and best leads the offense.

But I see where you are coming from and I am not trying to patronize the question. It's highly likely whoever wins the job next season will be more of a game manager than Marcus Mariota, but that could also be a function of him being a first-year starter. Mariota was obviously a different QB this season than he was his first season as a starter in 2012.

What is certain is the offense -- assuming everyone gets healthy -- will be loaded. The O-line is better off than many think, and the Ducks are as deep at the skill positions as they have ever been. Lining up with Bralon Addison, Darren Carrington, Charles Nelson and Pharaoh Brown as receiving options will severely stress any defense, particularly when it also has to contend with RBs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner.

As for who will win the job, I have no idea. From what I've gathered among the Ducks, backup Jeff Lockie will get the first snaps of spring practices, but the competition will be wide open.

AKCoug73 from Eagle River, AK writes: And now we know why the Cougs didn't announce the new DC during the holiday season. What's your take on the Grinch? The football Grinch that is...

Ted Miller: Mike Leach announcing on Christmas Day he'd hired Alex Grinch to run his defense was a headline writer's wildest dream.

Word on the street is Grinch has all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile and his brain is full of spiders, but that doesn't matter because he's taking over a defense that could be best described as Stink! Stank Stunk! He also got a glowing recommendation from Cindy Lou Who -- or, as he prefers to be called, "Chip Kelly."

I don't know much about Grinch. At 34, he's young. He was the safeties coach for a good Missouri defense the past three seasons, though the Tigers ranked 39th this season in pass efficiency defense after ranking 43rd the year before. He's also coached at Wyoming and crossed paths with Kelly at New Hampshire.

This from Bud Withers seems to be a pretty good assessment of what Grinch faces:

Grinch has considerable work ahead of him, complicated by the fact three putative starters are no longer on the team. Defensive tackle Xavier Cooper is leaving early for the NFL, linebacker Darryl Monroe is transferring, and cornerback Daquawn Brown was booted from the roster.


This feels like another off-the-radar hire from Leach, just as previous defensive coordinator Mike Breske was. The Cougars have lots of questions heading into 2015, the defense being a chief one. We shall see.

Oregonian in Exile (Belgium) writes: I woke up at 2AM to watch the Ducks take on the Buckeyes, and despite Oregon's loss I'm glad I was able to watch that historical contest. Ohio State was impressive in all aspects -- speed, power, offense, defense, coaching. Lots of respect for that team, with one minor objection. Ohio State is up 15, 1st and goal, less than a minute to play, and no chance of an Oregon comeback. Take a knee, coach.

Ted Miller: I know what you're saying but I don't get too worked up about the Buckeyes running the ball five consecutive times and scoring. If they'd tried to be tricky, that would have been something else.

It's not what I would have done if I were coaching, but Urban Meyer's M.O. is not taking a knee there.

Moreover, I suspect Ohio State, which had been decided underdogs in the two games of the College Football Playoff, probably wanted to make a final, decisive statement. It was up to the Ducks to stop them.

Bryce from San Francisco writes: Ted, objectively I know this game wasn't your fault. You guys do great work at the Pac-12 blog. But please please PLEASE, for the sake of every Oregon fan, never ever predict that Oregon is going to win a big game again. Your jinx is simply too powerful.

Ted Miller: No, it was my fault.

Sorry.

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