Lunch links: Remembering Ted Agu

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
2:30
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Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it's usually something unusual. But now I know why I have always lost women to guys like you. I mean, it's not just the uniform. It's the stories that you tell. So much fun and imagination. (RIP Harold Ramis)
The first day of spring practice is more than a month away, but it’s never too early to take a look at what Oregon must do this spring to be a championship contender in the fall.

We’ll be doing different countdowns looking at players, position groups and position battles over the next month, and we’re starting this week with the five position groups that need to improve the most. Monday, we examined the offensive line. We jump over to the other side of the ball on Tuesday to see how the defensive backs must improve in 2014.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Don RyanErick Dargan was productive in a backup role at safety in 2013.
No. 4: Safety

2013 review: The defense was solid in 2013. It gave up 370 yards per game (No. 37 in the country, No. 3 in the Pac-12). And, like the 2012 defense, the 2013 defense was one that kept opponents to about three touchdowns a game -- the Ducks held teams to 20.5 points per game (No. 13 in the nation, No. 2 in the Pac-12). This past season the Ducks returned a talented and experienced secondary that recorded Pac-12 bests in passing yards allowed per game (205) and yards per attempt (5.5). The Ducks tallied 17 interceptions to their 15 allowed passing touchdowns, while leading the nation in pass completions that gained 10-plus yards (34.3 percent). The national average was 46.5 percent; the closest Pac 12 team was Stanford (38.1 percent).

Why they must improve: Oregon needs replacements at both safety spots this spring as it lost both Avery Patterson and Brian Jackson to graduation. Patterson finished as the No. 3 tackler on the team in 2013 with 80 stops. He recorded three interceptions, six pass breakups and nine passes defended. Jackson tallied 71 total tackles, three pass breakups and three passes defended. Going into the spring, it looks as though Issac Dixon (10 tackles) and Erick Dargan (24 tackles, four pass breakups, five passes defended) will be the front runners for the jobs. While their experience last season will help them, they’ll need to make major strides so the defense can continue to be elite. Tyree Robinson is another name that could figure in to the equation. He redshirted last season but was one of Oregon’s top recruits in the 2013 class (was classified as a wide receiver by ESPN.com). So between Dixon and Dargan, they’ll have some experience at safety, and the competition provided by Robinson and a few other younger players should push along the development of everyone.

The countdown:

Pac-12 at NFL combine: Monday recap

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
12:00
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Anthony Barr or Khalil Mack? It appears that analysts at the NFL combine are favoring Mack over Barr, the former UCLA star OLB.

To start off, ESPN's John Clayton compared Barr with Mack, a hot and rising OLB prospect out of Buffalo:
The outside linebacker race is compelling: Some people believe Khalil Mack of Buffalo could be in consideration for the top pick in the draft. Though he did everything Monday to enhance those thoughts, Mack has a challenger -- Anthony Barr from UCLA. Watching them compete is like watching Team USA play Russia in Olympic hockey. They might have to go to a shootout to determine the winner. Their 40-yard dashes were nearly identical. In handheld times, each clocked at 4.66 in his first run. On the second run with handheld times, Barr did a 4.63 and Mack was at 4.62. Once the electric times were sorted out, Mack had a slight edge with a 4.65 to Barr's 4.66. Barr is 6-4 7/8 and 255 pounds. Mack is 6-2 5/8, 251. Watching these two compete for the top outside linebacker spot should be a blast.
[+] EnlargeBarr
Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesUCLA's Anthony Barr had a decent combine, but Buffalo's Khalil Mack might be passing him on some teams' boards at OLB.
Comparing these two is going to continue until one is picked ahead of the other in the draft. Another take:
UCLA's Anthony Barr and Buffalo's Khalil Mack didn't give each other a whole lot of breathing room Monday as they continued their competition to be the first outside linebacker selected in the draft, but Mack finished on top in all but one drill. Mack barely edged Barr in the 40 (4.65 to 4.66) and 20-yard shuttle (4.18 to 4.19). Mack prevailed again in the vertical jump (40 to 34.5) and broad jump (10 feet, 8 inches to 9 feet, 11 inches). Barr narrowly topped Mack in the cone drill (6.82 to 7.08). It's a close battle, but one Mack is winning.

Todd McShay isn't as impressed with Barr:
Barr once again proved that he’s really fast and a really good athlete, running a 4.66 40 and faring really well in the short shuttle and three-cone drills. Both of his jumps, which measure lower-half explosiveness, were middle of the pack, which is consistent with what we see on tape of him. We haven’t seen a lot of explosiveness or finishing ability from him.

In fact, at this point, folks seem to be favoring Mack over Barr, including Mike Maycock:
UCLA's Anthony Barr is Mayock's No. 3 linebacker, but Mayock doesn't think Barr is a top-10 pick. While Barr is a good pass rusher, Mayock said that "when he doesn't win with speed," he has issues. Mayock also said Barr also is best against the run as a chaser: "He's not real strong at the point of attack."

Mayock called Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton "a poor man's Chris Long." Crichton is Mayock's No. 4 end.

Arizona State DT Will Sutton apparently didn't have a great combine, as he was listed as one of Monday's "losers" here.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: To his credit, Sutton acknowledged that he has been battling a weight problem since the beginning of the regular season, something that negatively affected his performance. After dominating the Pac-12 as a junior with his explosive first-step quickness and burst, Sutton looked sluggish and lethargic as an interior defender this past season. Additionally, he failed to deliver the kinds of disruptive plays that earned him respect as an elite defender in 2012. Sutton has dropped some of the extra weight, but he still clocked one of the slowest 40 times of the combine (5.36). While defensive tackles aren't expected to blaze the track, the fact that he finished near the bottom of the pack will spark questions about his speed and quickness. Now, Sutton did show quick feet and adequate body control running through bag drills, but the sloppy body build and marginal workout measurements (28.5-inch vertical jump, 8-3 broad jump and 7.93-second three-cone drill) make it hard to build a case for him as an early-round selection.
You can check out what players did at the combine here.

And here are the results from the Pac-12 DLs and LBs in the 40 and bench press:

LB
Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA: 4.66/15
Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State: 4.76/23
Khairi Fortt, LB, California: 4.70/30
Devon Kennard, OLB, USC: 4.70/23
Boseko Lokombo, OLB, Oregon: 4.66/NA
Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford: 4.86/19
Trevor Reilly, OLB, Utah: NA/26
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford: NA
Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA: 4.76/NA

DL
Deandre Coleman, DT, California: NA/24
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State: 4.84/24
Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon: NA/21
Cassius Marsh, DE, UCLA: 4.89/14
Josh Mauro, DT, Stanford: 5.21/21
Tenny Palepoi, DT, Utah: 5.1/31
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: 5.36/24
George Uko, DT, USC: 4.99/18

Spring position breakdown: QBs

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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Spring has sprung in the Pac-12, with Stanford starting spring practices this week and several schools following suit next week.

Ergo, we break down where teams stand with each position group, starting with quarterbacks.

Arizona: The Wildcats probably have the most wide-open QB competition, with four guys having a legitimate chance to replace the departed B.J. Denker. Three are transfers from big-time programs: senior Jesse Scroggins (USC), sophomore Connor Brewer (Texas) and junior Jerrard Randall (LSU). The fourth, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, was one of the biggest stars in the 2013 recruiting class. Don't expect much to be settled by the end of spring, though coach Rich Rodriguez might at least allude to some sort of pecking order. Or a top three.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are strong at QB with senior Taylor Kelly, a third-year starter who has put up big numbers the past two seasons, and junior Mike Bercovici, a big-armed backup -- perhaps, in fact, the best backup in the Pac-12. That's why Michael Eubank opted to transfer to Samford in Birmingham, Ala. It will be interesting to see which of the youngsters on the roster emerge as a No.3, a guy who might challenge Bercovici in 2015.

California: It seems unlikely that sophomore Jared Goff will be unseated, particularly after Zach Kline opted to transfer. Goff was uneven last season -- his entire team was -- but flashed plenty of potential. He and a talented crew of receivers should get better this spring. The big question might be whether anyone challenges senior Austin Hinder for the backup job.

Colorado: Sophomore Sefo Liufau is solid as the returning starter. He took some lumps last season but also flashed plenty of promise -- as both a player and leader. After him, there's junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke, a redshirt sophomore, the likely backup. Depth is a problem, at least this spring. As the Boulder Daily Camera noted, "Five quarterbacks have left the CU program either to transfer to other schools or give up the sport entirely since the start of spring football last year. A sixth completed his eligibility last season." That's why the Buffs added walk-on Trent Sessions to the roster. He worked with the equipment staff last year.

Oregon: The Ducks probably feel pretty good about their third-year starter, junior Marcus Mariota, a leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate who would have been a first-round pick if he'd entered the 2014 NFL draft. The competition for the backup spot, however, will be interesting because Mariota is almost certain to enter the NFL draft after the season. Sophomores Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues are 2A and 2B, with Lockie first off the bench as the backup in 2013, but Rodrigues the more physically talented player as a runner and passer.

Oregon State: Like their friends to the south, Oregon State is fortunate its 2013 starter, Sean Mannion, decided to return instead of entering the NFL draft. Mannion's chief focus will be finding some receivers to replace the production of the departed Brandin Cooks. The battle for the backup job also will be interesting between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt. Of course, their battle might not resolve things much for 2015, with incoming Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio joining the fray after sitting out a season.

Stanford: It seems unlikely that two-year starter Kevin Hogan will be challenged for the starting job this spring, even though he had some ups and downs in 2013, but there is no lack of talent battling for the backup job. Junior Evan Crower was the backup in 2013, but redshirt freshman Ryan Burns is a big-time talent. As is incoming freshman Keller Chryst, who officially will arrive in the fall but, as a Palo Alto resident, figures to hang around spring practices.

UCLA: Heading into his third season running the offense, Brett Hundley gives the Bruins one of the best starting quarterbacks in the nation. He's a proven dual threat and leader who will be refining his game this spring and building chemistry with his receivers. After him, however, things are a bit iffy, in large part because of the 2013 preseason transfer of T.J. Millweard to Kansas. The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Of course, there is another QB out there some UCLA fans might be thinking about.

USC: The returning starter facing the most formidable challenge to his starting job this spring is probably Cody Kessler, even though Kessler played well in the second half of the 2013 season. With the transfer of Max Wittek, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, at the very least, sets up to be a high-quality backup next season. But plenty of folks think Browne has a legitimate shot to unseat Kessler, particularly with new coach Steve Sarkisian taking over.

Utah: There's still no final word on the long-term health issue that might end QB Travis Wilson's career, and anything decisive might not come for weeks. If Wilson gets cleared, the good bet is on him returning to the starting job. If not, a spring competition will begin between Adam Schulz, who stepped in when Wilson went down, and redshirt freshmen Conner Manning and Brandon Cox. In the fall, dual-threat QB Donovan Isom arrives.

Washington: Keith Price, a three-year starter, is gone, but the Huskies seemed fairly set at QB with sophomore backup Cyler Miles appearing plenty capable of stepping into the cockpit this spring. In limited action last season, Miles completed 61 percent of his throws for 418 yards with four TDs and two picks, and he also showed good mobility, rushing for 200 yards. The pecking order at least seemed set, that is, until Miles got into some off-field trouble that threatens his status for spring practice and perhaps beyond. If Miles is still suspended, that means opportunity comes knocking for sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams to make an impression.

Washington State: Connor Halliday will be a senior, three-year starter and the Cougars' top leader in the third season running Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense. He figures to put up huge numbers this fall with a strong crew of receivers. His 2013 backup, sophomore Austin Apodaca, opted to transfer, perhaps believing that redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman had the inside track to the starting job in 2015. Depth is a bit of a question, with the No. 3 this fall likely being true freshman Peyton Bender.

Spring has sprung in the Pac-12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
5:30
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Today marks the Vernal Equinox in the world of Pac-12 football. Yes, it's officially the start of spring football.

Stanford, which was last seen on the football field just last month in the Rose Bowl, kicks things off for the conference with Arizona and Washington joining the fray next week. For Pac-12 purposes, the spring season runs until May 3, when the Oregon schools hold their spring games.

The Cardinal's approach to spring practice is a bit unique when compared with the other 11 in the conference. First, the school doesn't allow early enrollees, so outside of any potential on-campus walk-ons, there aren't any new players to add to the mix. It's a university policy, not a football one, but coach David Shaw has spoken at length about how he's in agreement with the stance.

Shaw said the Stanford curriculum isn't designed for freshmen to have staggered starts to their academic careers and believes it's good for incoming players to keep any spring commitments they have at their high schools.

After two weeks of practice, the Cardinal will take a break before the second session begins later in March. By the time the spring game is played on April 12, Stanford will have had the longest start-to-finish spring schedule in the conference.

Conversely, Washington State coach Mike Leach, like most coaches in the conference, doesn't like to break things up.

WSU starts is spring practice on March 27 and will go regularly until its spring game in Spokane on April 26. Leach is of the opinion that if spring practice is broken up, players can lose focus and need time to re-acclimate after any potential breaks.

Full list of spring practice start dates in the Pac-12

A few quick story lines to pay attention to:
  • Two schools break in new coaches: USC (Steve Sarkisian) and Washington (Chris Petersen).
  • Oregon has its first new defensive coordinator -- Don Pellum -- in 17 years.
  • Oregon State has its first new offensive coordinator -- John Garrett -- since 2005.
  • USC will have an intriguing quarterback competition between Max Brown and Cody Kessler.
  • How will Arizona and Washington replace running backs Ka'Deem Carey and Bishop Sankey?
  • Stanford has a tough task replacing Ben Gardner, Josh Mauro, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and Ed Reynolds on defense, along with defensive coordinator Derek Mason.

Pac-12's lunch links

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
2:30
PM ET
In four years of high school I would never race anyone again. Not even to the end of the block to catch a bus. And so the legend grew. Everyone wanted me to race. They begged me. The track coach called my parents. Pleading. Telling them it was a sin to waste my god-given talent. But I answered him in the same way I answered everyone: I chose not to run.
The first day of spring practice is more than a month away, but it’s never too early to take a look at what Oregon must do this spring to be a championship contender in the fall.

We’ll be doing different countdowns looking at players, position groups and position battles over the next month, and we’re starting this week with the five position groups that need to improve the most. The first group is one that experienced quite a bit of success last season but will need to continue to make major strides.

No. 5: The offensive line

[+] EnlargeTyler Johnstone
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsTyler Johnstone will miss Oregon's spring practices after knee surgery.
2013 review: The Ducks averaged 274 rushing yards per game (No. 9 nationally, No. 1 in the Pac-12) and 6.3 yards per rush (No. 5 nationally, No. 1 in the Pac-12). The line protected quarterback Marcus Mariota pretty well, and the redshirt junior was a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award and the Walter Camp Football Foundation Player of the Year. He led the conference in fewest interceptions (four), touchdown percentage (8 percent) and yards per completion (14.96). However, the offense underachieved in Oregon’s two losses last season, and much of that blame can be put on the offensive line. The Ducks rushed for 76 fewer yards than their season average against Arizona and 212 yards fewer than their season average against Stanford.

Why they must improve: The line returns five starters from its last few games, so there is a baseline of chemistry there. However, they’ll spend the spring without left tackle Tyler Johnstone as he recovers from knee surgery. Stepping in for him will likely be Andre Yruretagoyena, who played in three games last season as a backup guard. He’ll be tasked with protecting Mariota’s blind side through the spring and, depending on Johnstone’s recovery, possibly a bit in the fall. Oregon will have pull it together quickly in 2014, as the Ducks will face a very tough Michigan State defense in the second week of the season. If the offensive line isn’t stout by Week 2, the Ducks could pick up an early season loss that could be enough to keep them out of the playoffs. Last season, the Rose Bowl champion Spartans gave up just 86 rushing yards per game (No. 2 in the nation) and 2.8 yards per rush (No. 3 in the nation). Up front, they have the reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year in Shilique Calhoun. Usually an offensive line has time to jell in September games and put the pieces together, but the Ducks won’t get that luxury as Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will come to Autzen Stadium with a game plan to attack any tiny deficit he sees in the Ducks' offensive line.

Pac-12 results from the NFL combine

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
11:00
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Raise your hand if you thought Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney would run a faster 40-yard dash than Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas at the NFL combine.

Put your hand down, liar.

Granted, it was still only by a hundredth of a second -- Gaffney ran 4.49 and Thomas 4.50 -- but, still, Thomas built his reputation on speed, while Gaffney's was more on toughness and vision. It ranked as one of the surprise performances among Pac-12 players over the weekend at the NFL combine.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
AP Photo/Michael ConroyWashington running back Bishop Sankey made a move up draft boards with his performance at the NFL combine.
Sunday proved to be a great day for Washington running back Bishop Sankey, who might have jumped Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey on some draft boards, according to ESPN's John Clayton.

From Clayton's story:
There may not be a running back who could entice a team to use a first-round pick, but the backs who ran Sunday looked great. Bishop Sankey of Washington may have entered the combine as the No. 3 halfback, but his stock probably rose with a 4.49 40 time along with a good show of lifting strength. Tre Mason of Auburn displayed second-round numbers with his 4.5. Both backs might have jumped ahead of Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona, who had a 4.70.

Sankey ranked No. 2 among running backs with 26 reps on the bench press and his 40-time was tied for No. 9.

Another one of the weekend's big winners was Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks, who turned in the fastest 40 among receivers. His time of 4.33 was second to only to Kent State running back Dri Archer, who ran a 4.26.

Cooks, who set Pac-12 single-season records with 128 catches and 1,730 receiving yards this year, also turned in the fastest time registered in the 60-yard shuttle (10.72) at the combine since at least 2006. During that same time period, he's tied for the fastest time in the 20-yard shuttle (3.81) with Tennessee cornerback Jason Allen from 2006.

Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the John Mackey Award winner, has a stress fracture in his foot that is expected to need six to eight weeks to recover, according to a report from the Tacoma News Tribune. Due to the injury, Seferian-Jenkins was able to participate only in the bench press. He put up 20 reps, which ranked tied for No. 10 among the 15 tight ends who participated.

See the complete list of Pac-12 invitees.

Here are the Saturday and Sunday results from the Pac-12 players in the 40 and bench press:

Running back

Gaffney, Stanford: 4.49/did not lift
Sankey, Washington: 4.49/26 reps
Thomas, Oregon: 4.50/8 reps
Carey, Arizona: 4.70/19 reps
Silas Redd, USC: 4.70/18 reps
Ryan Hewitt, Stanford (fullback): 4.87/did not lift
Marion Grice, Arizona State: Did not participate
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (transferred from Oregon): 4.51/15 reps

Wide receiver

Cooks, Oregon State: 4.33/16 reps
Paul Richardson, Colorado: 4.40/did not lift
Shaquelle Evans, UCLA: 4.51/13 reps
Josh Huff, Oregon: 4.51/14 reps
Marqise Lee, USC: 4.52/did not lift

Offensive line

Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA: 5.04/25 reps
Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford: 5.28/26 reps
David Yankey, OG, Stanford: 5.48/22 reps
Marcus Martin, C, USC: did not run/23 reps

Tight end

Colt Lyerla, formerly of Oregon: 4.61/16 reps
Anthony Denham, Utah: 4.77/did not lift
Jake Murphy, Utah: 4.79/24 reps
Richard Rodgers, TE, California: 4.87/16 reps
Seferian-Jenkins, Washington: did not run/20 reps
Xavier Grimble, USC: did not run or lift

Quarterback

No Pac-12 quarterbacks are at the combine, which is a rarity. The conference has sent at least one every year since at least 1999, which was as far back as we could go to find combine rosters.

Offseason spotlight: Oregon

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
9:00
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We're taking a look at a player from each Pac-12 team who could step into the spotlight in 2014.

Spotlight: TEs Pharaoh Brown, Jr. (6-6, 241); Evan Baylis, R-So. (6-6, 235); Johnny Mundt, So. (6-4, 232)

2013 summary: This tight end troika combined for 30 receptions for 475 yards and five touchdowns.

[+] EnlargePharaoh Brown
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesPharaoh Brown, who had 10 receptions for 123 yards in 2013, hopes to get more involved in the Oregon offense in the fall.
The skinny: Quick: Which Pac-12 team probably has the most talent at tight end heading into 2014? Stanford? Nope. USC? Nope. Oregon State? Well, maybe. The Beavers are pretty stacked at the position, too. But Oregon, which has long had good tight ends -- future NFL players, in fact -- laboring mostly in obscurity, has a dynamic threesome that coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost need to more fully integrate into their offense this spring and fall. All three of these guys are big and athletic. Note the yards per catch: 12.3 for Brown, 17.8 for Baylis and 17.6 for Mundt. Brown started five of the last nine games after missing the first three games with an injury, finishing with 10 catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns. His injury provided the opportunity for Mundt to turn in one of the true "what the heck?" performances of 2013, when the freshman caught five passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns in his starting debut against Tennessee, though his best moment might have been a vicious and effective stiff arm to an SEC defender. He didn't, however, keep up the pace, finishing with 16 receptions for 281 yards and three TDs. Baylis might have been playing the best of the three at season's end, though he finished with just four receptions for 71 yards. QB Marcus Mariota's top two passing targets next fall are sure to be receivers Bralon Addison and Keanon Lowe, but there is no reason the tight end position can't boost the Ducks' offensive diversity with 50 or 60 receptions, not to mention help in the running game in two-tight end sets. Who says you can't use Stanford's "jumbo" formation in an up-tempo offense?

Previous spotlights

Mailbag: Awaiting Bielema apology

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
5:30
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Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBret Bielema should focus on coaching instead of trying to push rules that suit his style.
Mike from Portland writes: Brett Bielema. Horrible human being without shame? Or unscrupulous opportunist who has the hubris to bend the rules of the game to fit his coaching style?

Ted Miller: "Horrible human being" is way too strong, but Bielema should be ashamed of himself, even after he tried -- and failed -- to explain himself more fully here.

First off, his "Death certificates" answer was simultaneously crass and groundless, a terrible combination. If you are going to offend people, you sure as heck should be tethered to some defensible reality.

That Bielema seemingly connected the tragic death of California's Ted Agu during a team workout with the need to slow down up-tempo offenses during games is nonsensical. And ugly.

Considering not a single defensive player -- I can't even believe I'm typing this -- has died of exhaustion due to playing against an up-tempo offense, we can only assume Bielema was making an illogical connection to Agu just for shock affect. It's mind-blowing.

Bielema should apologize, no question. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long also should yank Bielema into his office and tell him, "Bret, you went 3-9 last year and were winless in SEC play. This program hasn't been winless in conference play since 1942. Stop talking and start coaching."

There is exactly zero concern for player health among the coaches who want to slow down up-tempo offenses. Zero. It's 100 percent a con game designed to thwart a style of play that is giving these coaches trouble.

Consider this quote from Bielema:
"If one of those players is on the field for me, and I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game," Bielema said. "And he raises his hand to stop the game, and I can't do it. What am I supposed to do?

"What are we supposed to do when we have a player who tells us he's injured?"

Well, if a player is injured, he's injured. The game stops. Always has, always will. So that is not an issue.

In fact, fake injuries are the actual issue, when defenders play-act an injury in order to stop the game and then are required to sit out only one play before returning. That's the rule that should be changed. For the sake of player safety, a player who falls to the ground injured should have to sit out the rest of the series. You know: To make sure he's safe.

What Bielema is actually talking about is what if his 320-pound defensive tackle who typically dominates is a little winded and is no longer effective? He wants us to feel sorry for his exhausted, pork-and-potato-stuffed player.

Well, coach, get your fat guys in shape or make other schematic adjustments. Hey, how about forcing a three-and-out? That would help, wouldn't it? Your players won't get tired if they make third-down stops. Ask Stanford. The Cardinal defenders looked fresh, happy and healthy after they dismantled Oregon's up-tempo offense for a second consecutive season in November.

You know: Coach.

Rather, apologize, hush and then coach.

 




Jake from North Salt Lake City writes: What's the outside perception of Utah? Because right now it's terribly negative around here about the future. People are assuming this is [Kyle Whittingham’s] last year and there's not a lot of momentum. Pretty gloomy around here. I personally feel we are closer than it feels and have just had some bad luck. When you lack quality depth injuries are magnified. So are we closer than it feels or are we doomed?

Ted Miller: You're doomed. All is lost. Go read some Sylvia Plath or Samuel Beckett. Or go listen to some Radiohead.

Wait. You, Jake, do retain some optimism. Good.

My first thought is, as I've written before, Utah fans might want to slow down on pushing Kyle Whittingham out the door. He's a good coach with a proven track record. Many Utah fans probably had an overly optimistic expectations for the ease of transition to Pac-12 play.

For comparison's sake, consider the travails of TCU, another former Mountain West power that moved up to an AQ conference. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson was once viewed as a super-elite coach, but his team went 2-7 in the Big 12 last year, a down one for the conference.

What we're learning is Utah and TCU as MWC powers were able to beat quality AQ teams on any given day -- even in BCS bowl games (TCU over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Utah over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl) -- but it's not so easy to play, say, Stanford, Arizona, USC, Arizona State and Oregon over a stretch of six weeks.

Has Whittingham been flawless? No. His revolving door at offensive coordinator hasn't been a good thing, and the Utes lack of depth at quarterback has bitten them in the rear the past three seasons.

I don't really think you can get a good measure of Utah in the Pac-12 until it's gone through a full recruiting cycle in the conference -- four or five years of telling recruits they will be playing in the Pac-12.

As for next year, the Utes have a lot of questions, starting with the long-term health of QB Travis Wilson. It won't be easy to gain ground in an improved and deep South Division. It seems reasonable to hope for bowl eligibility, but it's also difficult to imagine a roof any higher than seven or eight wins.

While that might feel like doom and gloom to Utes fans right now, to me, it's more a matter of measured, realistic patience.

 




Pac-12 Fan from Reno, Nev., writes: You and Kevin keep fawning all over Arizona's "most improved defense," but apparently refuse to acknowledge that the "astounding" improvement was courtesy of one of the weakest non-conference schedules in college football. Of course they improved, their best non-conference opponent was ... UNLV? I think it is far more telling to look at how the defense performed against WSU (at home), UCLA (at home) and the beatdown administered by a mediocre ASU. Stinky. C'mon Ted, keep it real dude.

Ted Miller: Dude! I will keep it real for you.

Let's kick nonconference games to the curb.

In 2012 Pac-12 games, Arizona yielded 520 yards per game, which ranked last in the conference. In 2013 Pac-12 games, Arizona gave up 439.9 yards per game, which ranked eighth.

In 2012 Pac-12 games, Arizona yielded 6.32 yards per play, which ranked 11th in the conference. In 2013 Pac-12 games, Arizona gave up 5.59 yards per play, which ranked seventh in the conference.

In 2012 Pac-12 games, Arizona yielded 39.6 points per game, which ranked 11th in the conference. In 2013 Pac-12 games, Arizona gave up 30.0 points per game, which ranked seventh in the conference.

Dude!

 




Haggmeez from Cincinnati writes: I've been seeing a really interesting mixture of predictions for Oregon in 2014. Vegas seems to think Oregon has a 7 to 1 chance to play for a title, while ESPN's Will Harris seems to think that Oregon's ship has sailed and will finish the season unranked. What is your prediction for Oregon's 2014 and why?

Ted Miller: Here's Harris' take on Oregon:
Oregon still has supporters at the betting window, but the Ducks are no longer a contender. This coaching staff is unlikely ever to win even a division crown, and our bet is that this team ends the season unranked. The Pac-12 North is still the stronger division, but Stanford and Washington will be the league's top powers for the next few years and the biggest challenge from the Pac-12 South may eventually come from Arizona. The whole league is improving rapidly, and Oregon won't be regaining its dominant status any time soon.

Harris also thinks the Big Ten is the No. 2 conference behind the SEC.

[Inserts pause into mailbag answer for readers to recover their poise].

Everybody has opinions. That I think Harris' is, well, a little quirky here doesn't in any way suggest he doesn't have a right to it.

As for me, Oregon is a decided favorite in the North Division, in large part because of the return of QB Marcus Mariota. Stanford, the two-time defending North champion, takes significant hits on both sides of the ball. There's no way you can count the Cardinal out, but the Ducks will be the consensus pick in the North by writers who cover the Pac-12.

Washington has uncertainty at QB and a new coach. I expect there to be a bit of an adjustment period. And both Stanford and Washington visit Autzen Stadium in 2014.

Oregon ends the season unranked? I doubt that's Harris' real "bet." That feels like he wants some attention from Oregon fans.

Oregon will end the 2014 season ranked. That's a 94.9 percent lock. Cut it out. Hang it on your wall. It's more likely to snow here in Scottsdale this month than for the Ducks to finish the 2014 season unranked.

If anyone would like to "bet" me that -- for entertainment purposes only, of course -- I'd be glad to.

The Big Ten? Really?

 




Rob from Seattle writes: I recall you have a particular affinity for NoLa cuisine but a Google search does not turn up any recommendations of yours. I am going for a wedding in April and the wife and I are budgeting for one irresponsibly great meal. If price is no object, where would you eat in New Orleans? Appreciations in advance and enjoy the Chris Petersen era!

Ted Miller: My wife and I got married in New Orleans and we spent a lot of time there while we were dating, but I've only been back there a handful times since I moved to the West Coast in 1999, and just once since Katrina.

Typing that just made me depressed. Sigh.

The great thing about New Orleans food is the quality of old and new, high and low. You will get nearly as much pleasure out of breakfast near the quarter and a Po-boy on Bourbon street as a highfaluting dinner at one of the highly rated restaurants.

When my wife and I were dating, we ate at Palace Cafe on Canal -- brunch, lunch and dinner -- typically at least once during our visits. It just always felt very New Orleans-y. It's a Brennan's restaurant, the grand old family of New Orleans.

There are a lot of new-school, post-Katrina restaurants that have received national acclaim. You can find those after spending some time on Google. Also, you might want to check out Bravo's Top Chef's most recent season. It was set in New Orleans, and featured plenty of local color.

I always tell people you have to eat at Commander's Palace at least once. It's a special place. And where Emeril Lagasse became Emeril Lagasse.

Also strong entries for the old school list: Antoine's, Galatoires and Arnaud's.

You will not starve. Or lose weight.

 




Tanner from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: One of the bright spots in my day today was seeing a link on Twitter to an article written by ESPN's Pac-12 blog about the "Top five Pac-12 student sections." I didn't even necessarily want to read the article, I just knew I had send a message of congratulations. Just bravo. Just yes. Oh, and of course I ended up reading the article. ASU should be number 1 for all these excellent reasons: heck who cares. Over 1,000 Facebook shares in several hours (more than previous "15 articles combined) was all I needed. I love it. You guys always produce great work, and I NEED the occasional silly article like this (from excellent writers who have never sat in any of the referenced student sections) to make me smile. Thanks again for the great work. I can't stop typing because I can't stop smiling. But really, Arizona State should be No. 1. Just trust me.

Ted Miller: The very idea that we would do a post just to stir things up! Tanner, I'm hurt.

As for the ASU fan section: You might be right. There's always next year, right?

(It's always fun to get notes from fans who seem to "get" the Pac-12 blog and its humble raison d'etre).

Pac-12 lunch links

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
2:30
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Happy Friday!

Poll: Best Pac-12 student sections

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
11:00
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On Monday, the Pac-12 blog ranked student sections. It was, well, a bit controversial, mostly because the No. 1 student section -- Arizona -- was featured in a story about … sagging attendance. A nice photo of a near-empty Arizona student section came with the story.

Hmmph.

SportsNation

Which Pac-12 football team has the best student section?

  •  
    11%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    27%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    28%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,021)

Well, here's your chance to be just like the Pac-12 blog and rank the Pac-12 student sections. Isn't that special?

Unfortunately, our poll tool on the blog doesn't allow for 12 choices. So if you don't like our top four, you can always go with "other."

You might say: But I've never sat in any other student section than my own team's. Hey, that didn't stop the Pac-12 blog from ranking student sections -- why should that stop you?

Your choices?

First there's our pick, Arizona, which, despite the story, has over the past several years had a consistently strong and vocal student section. I've covered several games there -- most notably against Oregon in 2009, Iowa in 2010 and Oklahoma State in 2012 -- when the place was going bonkers.

Then there's the Wildcats top rival, Arizona State. For some reason, it seemed Sun Devils fans were most unhappy with Arizona getting the nod. No idea why.

Oregon has the loudest and most consistently overflowing stadium in the Pac-12, and its students are not known for making Emily Post proud during games. So the Ducks are a viable option, even if their student section is relatively smaller.

Finally, there's the MUSS at Utah. The Utes don't play in the biggest stadium, but the MUSS is pretty darn good at making opponents miserable.

What about the other eight teams? Feel free to vote for "other" and state your case in the comments section, or in my mailbox, if you feel so motivated.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Ohio State has made quarterback recruiting a major priority under Urban Meyer and it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon; and it’s a good year for talent in the Pacific Northwest, especially in Washington. Will that translate to good classes for Washington and Washington State?

Lunch links: Agu memorial Monday

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
2:30
PM ET
There were further tens of millions of young Americans who didn't have money but were nonetheless chasing the Perfect Cool. And meanwhile the sad truth was that not everyone could be extraordinary, not everyone could be extremely cool; because whom would this leave to be ordinary? Who would perform the thankless work of being comparatively uncool?

Pac-12 spring practice dates

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
9:00
AM ET
Stanford kicks off the start to spring practices in the Pac-12 when it holds its first session on Monday. The rest will start shortly thereafter and run until Oregon and Oregon State play their spring games on May 3.

Here is the complete list of dates:

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30