Quarterbacks are committing earlier and earlier in the recruiting process. With 16 of the 27 signal-callers in the ESPN Junior 300 already having given verbal pledges, there is increased pressure to get a top quarterback in the fold early. While some programs are set in 2016 or for the future at the vital position, several programs face the task of having to sign a potential difference maker at the position in the 2016 class.
Here are five programs that must sign a difference maker in 2016, and some of those are well on the way.
But it’s what’s closest for us for football action, and the Pac-12 has a few very, very exciting games on the docket in 2015. Now, for the sake of this vote (as our technology only allows five options) we’ve taken Notre Dame games off the table. Sorry, Irish, maybe next time.
So, which nonconference, non-Notre Dame match up do you find most intriguing in the 2015 season?
1. Utah vs. Michigan | Thursday, Sept. 3
Devin Gardner), top receiver (Devin Funchess) and top defensive player (Jake Ryan) from the 2014 season. Utah has had a few significant losses as well -- Nate Orchard, Kaelin Clay and Dres Anderson ... just to name a few.
2. Cal at Texas | Saturday, Sept. 19
The Bears shocked many (well, not me, I was the only one to pick that upset) when they went on the road last season in Week 1 and beat Northwestern, 31-24. But going on the road to Texas is an entirely different beast. Can Jared Goff lead Cal to victory in front of 100K in Week 3 this season? Cal is a perfect example of how much a program can grow between the first and second year under a new head coach. The Longhorns had their own struggles under Charlie Strong last year -- player dismissals, injuries, etc. -- but they still managed to make a bowl game. Plus, let’s add a bit of history to this game. Cal fans will still remember the 2005 Rose Bowl -- one that Texas got into (with politicking from former Texas coach Mack Brown) instead of Cal, even though the Bears led the Longhorns in the final regular season BCS poll that season.
3. Oregon at Michigan State | Saturday, Sept. 12
This was one of the most talked about matchups of the 2014 season and expect the same to be true for 2015. This year, it’s going to be a little bit different. The headlining quarterback? Not the Duck, but the Spartan -- soon-to-be-senior Connor Cook, who led the Big Ten in passing yards per game (247.2) last season. He’ll be matched up against a largely revamped Oregon secondary, which will feature mostly new (and young) faces. On the other side of the ball, this will be the first chance fans get to see Royce Freeman -- with another college offseason under his belt -- perform against an FBS-level defense (though, it will be a non-Pat Narduzzi defense, which should be noted). And what quarterback will Oregon field for this game? Still up in the air. But whoever it is should get ready for whatever Mark Dantonio is going to throw at him. Because even though Narduzzi is gone, Dantonio is going to want to use this game as a statement game for the MSU defense and specifically, its pass rush.
4. Oregon State at Michigan | Saturday, Sept. 12
Nothing like a former Big Ten coach taking his first road trip of his Pac-12 head coaching career … back to Big Ten country. And, there’s nothing like a former Pac-12 coach leading a Big Ten team against a former Big Ten coach leading a Pac-12 team. Follow? It’s a bit dizzying. Gary Andersen was more recently in the opposite conference, but he isn’t too familiar with Michigan. During his two seasons at Wisconsin, the Badgers and Wolverines never met on the field. But with the statement an underrated Utah team made at Michigan in Week 4 last season, could we see a bit of déjà vu in the Big House in Week 2 this year? Jim Harbaugh begins his Michigan tenure with two Pac-12 teams -- we’ll see how much either team tests or bests his Wolverines.
5. Washington at Boise State | Saturday, Sept. 5
SO. MANY. HOMECOMINGS. Next up: Chris Petersen gets the chance to go back to Boise State and that beautiful blue field to avoid what he did to so many Power 5 teams when he was at Boise State. The Broncos are coming off a solid season, 12-2 in its first year of the non-Petersen era. And Pac-12 teams might remember that No. 20 Boise State took down No. 10 Arizona in the Vizio Fiesta Bowl, 38-30. (And Arizona took down Washington, 27-26, six weeks earlier -- we know how our Pac-12 Blog readers love the law of transitive property…) But how much different will Washington look in Year 2 under Petersen? There’s certainly a lot to replace -- Shaq Thompson, Hau’oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton -- and that’s only the defensive side of the ball. But, can this offseason be a strong enough one for the Huskies that they come out full force in the first weekend of the season and avoid a defeat against a historically strong giant slayer? We’ll see.
At Day 2 of the NFL combine's on-field activities, quarterbacks, receivers and running backs were on display. Here's how those from the Pac-12 fared:
Marcus Mariota, Oregon: Since 2006, only five quarterbacks have run a faster 40 time than Mariota's 4.52: Reggie McNeal 4.35 (Texas A&M, 2006); Robert Griffin III 4.41 (Baylor, 2012); Marcus Vick 4.42 (Virginia Tech, 2006); Brad Smith 4.46 (Missouri, 2006); Tyrod Taylor 4.51 (Virginia Tech, 2011). It was in no way surprising that Mariota's other numbers measured up well, but probably more important, he drew good reviews as a passer.
40-yard dash: 4.52 seconds (1 of 13)
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches (t-3 of 13)
Broad jump: 121 inches (3 of 13)
Brett Hundley, UCLA: Hundley might be the most interesting prospect among the group simply because he was asked to a lot of different things in college and is tough to project where he'll go in the draft. He confirmed he's one of the best athletes among quarterbacks.
Marcus Mariota's unofficial 40-time, 4.52, is the fastest by a QB since Robert Griffin III ran a 4.41 in 2012 pic.twitter.com/kNsR92YF3T— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) February 21, 2015
40-yard dash: 4.63 seconds (5 of 13)
Vertical jump: 36.0 inches (t-3 of 13)
Broad jump: 120 inches (5 of 13)
Sean Mannion, Oregon State: USA Track and Field won't be calling anytime soon, but Mannion's lack of speed isn't a new revelation. As a pocket passer, he showed what he needed to by delivering accurate, catchable balls.
So much Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota talk. But don't sleep on UCLA's Brett Hundley, whom Browns would have considered in top 10 last year.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 21, 2015
40-yard dash: 5.14 seconds (13 of 13)
Vertical jump: 31.0 inches (9 of 13)
Broad jump: 105 inches (10 of 13)
Bryan Bennett, Southeastern Louisiana (transferred from Oregon): Bennett might have been talked about as one of the draft's best quarterbacks if not for a certain Hawaiian's decision to attend Oregon. After two years in the FCS, he's a relative unknown, but the combine showed he matches up favorably from a physical standpoint.
After Mariota and Winston the race for the third QB in #NFLDraft is being won (today) by Sean Mannion— Joel Klatt (@joelklatt) February 21, 2015
40-yard dash: 4.81 seconds (7 of 13)
Vertical jump: 37.0 (2 of 13)
Broad jump: 125.0 inches (1 of 13)
Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday met with teams, but is still not ready to workout as he continues to rehab from the broken ankle that ended his senior season prematurely.
Based on pure workout arm, Bryan Bennett has been most impressive today.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 21, 2015
Nelson Agholor, USC: Agholor tested well, but suffered a minor setback with a dislocated finger that ended his day early.
40-yard dash: 4.42 seconds (t-7 of 39)
Bench press: 12 (t-20 of 30)
Vertical jump: n/a Broad jump: n/a
Dres Anderson, Utah: Not fully recovered from a season-ending knee injury, Anderson met with teams and participated in the bench press.
Dreams come true .. And God is good ! =O— Deacon Moss (@NelsonAgh15) February 21, 2015
40-yard dash: n/a
Bench press: 13 (t-14 of 30)
Vertical jump: n/a
Broad jump: n/a
Kaelin Clay, Utah: Put simply, it was a rough day for Clay. As a guy who figures to have a shot to make a team as a potential return specialist, the raw numbers might be more important than for others. However, after watching how dangerous he is all year, I'm comfortable saying he's more athletic than the numbers indicate.
40-yard dash: 4.51 seconds (t-20 of 39)
Bench press: 10 (t-25 of 30)
Vertical jump: 33.0 inches (t-32 of 38)
Broad jump: 113 inches (36 of 38)
Vince Mayle, Washington State: Mayle is at risk of being labeled a system receiver after testing well below average -- at least compared to the other receivers -- in Indy. After a quiet Senior Bowl, Mayle hasn't helped his stock after a brilliant senior year.
A 40 time doesn't defy you as a player disappointed but it'll get better y'all see what I do on the field— Kaelin Clay (@CALiboy4) February 21, 2015
40-yard dash: 4.67 (37 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 35.5 inches (t-22 of 38)
Broad jump: 117 inches (30 of 38)
Ty Montgomery, Stanford: As was the case during the season, Montgomery's hands were called into question during the combine.
Disappointing 40 times for Wash St WR Vince Mayle. Raw, physical guy who needed a better showing than a 4.67 40— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) February 21, 2015
40-yard dash: 4.55 seconds (t-26 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 40.5 inches (6 of 38)
Broad jump: 121 inches (t-17 of 38)
Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: If we were handing out a Pac-12 blog award for the day's best performance, it would go to Strong. After measuring in at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, his 4.44-second 40 and 42-inch vertical jump make him a rare combination of size and athleticism. Which is basically a confirmation of everything Arizona State fans have known for awhile.
4.58 is an awful time for Ty Montgomery. Dude is plummeting after the season— John Middlekauff (@JohnMiddlekauff) February 21, 2015
40-yard dash: 4.44 (t-13 of 39)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 42.o inches (2 of 38)
Broad jump: 123 inches (9 of 38)
ASU WR Jaelen Strong making 1st Rd case. 42" VJ is outstanding. 4.44 40 (unofficial) is surprising. He showed elite ball skill on 2014 tape— Todd McShay (@McShay13) February 21, 2015
Buck Allen, USC: Good speed for a running back, but was tied for the fewest reps on the bench press.
40-yard dash: 4.53 (t-6 of 31)
Bench press: 11 (t-29 of 30)
Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who each promised to do the full workout at this year's NFL scouting combine, kept their word Saturday as both quarterbacks went through the paces at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In what will be a constant exercise in comparison shopping until the NFL draft April 30, the best quarterback prospects in this year's class proved they were well prepared for the big stage.
Throwing in the orchestrated drills of the combine to an unfamiliar group of wide receivers, with all dealing with the adrenaline of the moment, often can be a difficult thing for all involved.
But both Winston and Mariota each showed an easy throwing motion and deep-ball accuracy, and competed well in the drills.
Winston's work was given particular attention since concerns arose over some weakness in his throwing shoulder during the extensive medical exam players receive at the combine. In addition to the usual assessment by every team's medical staff that all players at the combine receive, Winston was also sent for an MRI on his shoulder.
Some scouts wondered Friday night whether Winston would still throw, given a player who had his throwing shoulder examined as extensively as he did would likely experience some soreness. But the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner threw as scheduled.
Winston said Friday that he was not concerned about the attention being paid to his shoulder.
"I had an MRI, just like everyone else," the former Florida State star said. "I've been playing football for, since I was 4 years old, and my shoulder has been fine."
Of the top quarterback prospects, only Colorado State's Garrett Grayson
Six Pac-12 players were expected to participate in the NFL combine's first day of on-field activities. Here's how they fared:
OG Jamil Douglas, Arizona State: Nothing popped out about Douglas' day, but he did turn in an impressive 10-yard split in his 40-yard dash -- which is actually more applicable for a lineman.
40-yard dash: 5.25 seconds (21 of 40)
Bench press: 28 reps (t-10 of 37)
Vertical jump: 29 inches (t-19 of 38)
Broad jump: 99 inches (t-21 of 36)
3 cone drill: 7.99 seconds (19 of 37)
20-yard shuttle: n/a
OT Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher had the most notable day of the Pac-12 contingent, coming in with the fastest times in the 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle and second-best marks in the 40-yard dash and vertical jump.
40-yard dash: 5.01 seconds (2 of 40)
Bench press: 25 reps (t-20 of 37)
Vertical jump: 32.5 inches (t-2 of 38)
Broad jump: n/a
3 cone drill: 7.25 seconds (1 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.33 seconds (1 of 37)
OT Andrus Peat, Stanford: Peat elected not participate in the bench press and was good enough in the other events. There wasn't anything about his day that should alter any preconceived notions about him.
40-yard dash: 5.18 second (12 of 40)
Bench press: n/a
Vertical jump: 31 inches (t-8 of 38)
Broad jump: 105 inches (13 of 36)
3 cone drill: 8.01 (21 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.62 (t-10 of 37)
OG Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah: Poutasi's decision to declare for the draft was surprising and he didn't help his cause with a below-average performance Friday. Other than in the bench press, he ranked near the bottom in nearly every category.
40-yard dash: 5.32 seconds (24 of 40)
Bench press: 26 reps (t-13 of 37)
Vertical jump: 26.5 inches (t-29 of 38)
Broad jump: 95 inches (32 of 36)
3 cone drill: 8.09 seconds (t-24 of 32)
20-yard shuttle: 4.89 (33 of 37)
C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: Considered one of the draft's top center prospects, Grasu was at the combine but did not participate in on-field drills.
Randall Telfer, USC: Telfer only participated in the bench press (20 reps).
Or this. (The Miller Family is eating al fresco this evening!)
Follow me on Twitter and you might get some pictures.
To the notes!
Tom from Lancaster, California, writes: Rival fans and trolls everywhere were convinced that Jim Mora, Todd Graham, and Rich Rodriguez would bolt to greener pastures if they attained any success at their respective schools. All three have a perception to outsiders of being a bit of "mercenaries." Barring anything off-the-field, each is going to complete their fourth season in 2015. Are they at the point of being able to be forgiven by fans if they can land an A+ job?
Ted Miller: Those three certainly have contributed significantly to the Pac-12's South Division becoming the toughest division in college football, apologies to the SEC West, which was exposed as overrated during the bowl season.
Oh, it's just a small troll. Relax.
If all three stay put, those programs will consistently remain in the top 25 and gain even more national traction -- perhaps as College Football Playoff contenders. I also get a kick out of the divergent personalities of all three, though they each share an obsessive competitiveness that might make them seem nutty to the average Joe. Next time I'm among this troika, I'm going to toss a penny into the air and go, "Oh, no, the magic recruiting penny is loose!" and then watch them lose all decorum and go wide-eyed loony as they dive and brawl to recover the slightest potential advantage against the others.
The South should continue to be great fun.
I do, however, pause at the term "mercenary." That word gets thrown around a lot about coaches, typically when one party feels wounded because a coach bolted for a better-status and better-paying job. "What about loyalty!" the abandoned whine, thinking only about themselves.
If Mora, Rodriguez or Graham get offered a job they want more than their present jobs -- whether due to money, opportunity, prestige or location -- they should take it. That, my friends, is America.
When the Florida job opened this past season I was worried, most specifically, about Rodriguez. I actually pulled out the big rhetorical guns when I told Rodriguez that if he left for Gainesville he likely wouldn't get to see me that much anymore. That clearly had an impact. And, fortunately, the folks at Florida weren't smart enough to pursue him.
Funny thing is that there's more evidence that they aren't particularly mercenary -- at least not more than any sane person.
Rodriguez turned down Alabama and Arkansas -- among others -- while at West Virginia. His eventual departure to Michigan was as much about his battles with West Virginia administrators than any mercenary tendencies. He bolted for many reasons, including the allure of coaching Michigan, but my impression is money didn't top the list -- especially when you consider the buyout at West Virginia that he left behind.
While Graham has a reputation as a climber, the mostly maudlin and often disingenuous reactions to his leaving Pittsburgh for Arizona State almost always left out that he didn't get a notable raise. He got a better job with a better program in a better conference in a better area to live.
The "mercenary" term actually was hauled out to bite Graham because he'd used it a few weeks before he uprooted to describe some of his assistants who left Pittsburgh to join Rodriguez at Arizona. Graham has insisted his words were taken out of context.
As for Mora, he rebuffed Texas. While there are lots of Texas writers who say this didn't happen, their sources on this are a bunch of Texas boosters and administrators who don't want folks to write about Mora rebuffing Texas. What I've gathered is that if Mora really wanted to leave UCLA for Texas, he could have.
Does this mean this threesome is set for life or even a decade hence in their present jobs? Heck no. In fact, I'd be surprised if all three last more than three or four more seasons. Stability in coaching is extremely rare -- just 14 FBS coaches have been in their current job for 10 or more years.
Does this mean they should be forgiven if they do decide to pack their bags for another job?
Jon from Tumalo, Oregon, writes: Ted, will you please explain the difference between a player signing a National Letter of Intent (NLI) and a player receiving a Grant In Aid (GIA) without signing an NLI?
Ted Miller: A national letter of intent, at present, a binding contract between player and team for one year. Signing Grant In Aid scholarship papers is a promise from the school to the player but is non-binding for the player. In fact, he could sign scholarship papers with several schools and then make his ultimate decision by showing up to preseason camp at one school or another.
If I were advising an elite recruit, I'd tell him not to sign a NLI, just on principle. It's not required. The only downside of not signing a NLI is you'd still be recruitable, which could be potentially annoying for the athlete.
We previously linked this Mitch Sherman article. Andy Staples picked up the topic here.
The only way a player can get out of a NLI is if the NCAA or the school grants a release, which is a bureaucratic nightmare. Meanwhile, the school can revoke the scholarship because of academic or behavioral issues.
All this said, the game is changing. Power 5 conferences are shortly going to make scholarships cover full cost of attendance, and many schools and conferences are now guaranteeing multi-year scholarships, instead of the one-year renewables that worked against the players' interests.
Simply put, if a player signs scholarship papers and shows up to preseason camp, that qualifies him for a guaranteed scholarship.
Kevin from San Jose writes: Ted, You conveniently left out some context in your mailbag answer about the EWU / Vernon Adams issue. EWU PLAYS OREGON NEXT SEASON! I certainly would't let Adams train at the school facilities with former teammates ... prepping for the game. Heck, he already knows the playbook. But, Baldwin is behaving poorly?
Ted Miller: If I can recall, my focus was exclusively on the transfer itself and the quotes suggesting sour grapes from Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin and Montana State coach Rob Ash about FCS to FBS transfers.
Not only does it make perfect sense for Baldwin to give Vernon Adams Jr. a full-on divorce from the Eagles after Adams announced he was headed to Oregon, it would have be insane if he didn't for the very reason you mention.
To be clear: You do not let a player from your season-opening opponent hang out with your team and use your facilities.
So, no, I don't believe that represented poor behavior.
Jared Goff from Buzzerkely writes: What will it take for me to be 1) a Heisman candidate? 2) The Heisman winner?
Ted Miller: If Jared Goff puts up numbers that match what he did last year and California starts 3-0 after a win at Texas, Goff will start to make Heisman Watch lists.
The Golden Bears then start the Pac-12 schedule at Washington and against Washington State. Those games are far from gimmes -- no conference game is -- but the Bears have the potential for a 5-0 start and the national ranking that comes with that.
If Cal is 5-0 and Goff has big passing numbers, he would be an official Heisman candidate.
As for winning it? Well, he'd have to: 1. Be spectacular and 2. Cal would at least need to be ranked in the top 15 or so, which means winning nine or 10 regular-season games.
I see Goff as a future NFL QB, and that future might begin with the 2016 NFL draft. While some might view this question as presumptuous -- or just plain nutty -- Goff has the talent to become an elite QB. If Cal improves significantly on defense in 2015, the Bears could be a dark-horse contender in the North Division.
So what I'm saying is there is a chance.
Here’s a breakdown of which Pac-12 players will be appearing on which days.
FRIDAY, FEB. 20 | Specialists, offensive linemen, tight ends
- OG Jamil Douglas, Arizona State
- OT Jake Fisher, Oregon
- C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
- OT Andrus Peat, Stanford
- OG Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
- Randall Telfer, USC
- Connor Halliday, Washington State
- Brett Hundley, UCLA
- Sean Mannion, Oregon State
- Marcus Mariota, Oregon
- Buck Allen, USC
- Nelson Agholor, USC
- Dres Anderson, Utah
- Kaelin Clay, Utah
- Vince Mayle, Washington State
- Ty Montgomery, Stanford
- Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
- DE Henry Anderson, Stanford
- DT Arik Armstead, Oregon
- DT Xavier Cooper, Washington State
- DE Obum Gwacham, Oregon State
- DE Marcus Hardison, Arizona State
- DT Ellis McCarthy, UCLA
- DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
- DE Nate Orchard, Utah
- NT David Parry, Stanford
- NT Danny Shelton, Washington
- ILB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
- OLB Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington
- ILB Hayes Pullard, USC
- OLB J.R. Tavai, USC
- OLB Shaq Thompson, Washington
- OLB Tony Washington, Oregon
The readers were pretty split among players (and as of 5:30 p.m. PT Wednesday) as USC QB Cody Kessler and "Someone else" tied for first with 30 percent of the votes. In second was Oregon running back Royce Freeman (22 percent); he was followed by UCLA's Paul Perkins (11 percent) and Arizona's Scooby Wright (7 percent).
Ted Miller: The good news is the Pac-12 crowns an offensive and defensive player of the year, so each side of the ball gets its due. But what if we're trying to predict who will be the conference's true MVP -- like Oregon QB Marcus Mariota clearly was this year?
Kessler ended up 11th in the nation and second in the Pac-12 in Total QBR last year after throwing for 39 touchdowns with just five interceptions. While it's true he feasted on the bad teams and often struggled against the good teams, he showed plenty of development as a second-year starter. I expect him to take another step forward in 2015 and become one of the nation's elite QBs.
Players who earn awards often say they see their individual recognition as something shared by their team. That will be the case with Kessler. He's going to have an experienced offensive line in front of him and plenty of young playmakers around him, even after losing RB Javorius Allen and WR Nelson Agholor. The Trojans' offense, which averaged 36 points per game in 2014, is going to take a step forward next fall, and the predominant credit will go to Kessler.
It doesn't hurt either that USC looks like a Pac-12 and national title contender.
Chantel Jennings: That's totally fair, Ted. And yes, normally the best player on the best team is given the award ... except when there's someone who's so undeniably better than everyone else.
Like ... Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright.
May I remind you that in 2014 he was awarded the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation's best defensive player. The NATION'S best defensive player. Unless that offensive Pac-12 player is winning the Heisman (for example, this season), there's no reason why Wright isn't far and away the best player in the league.
His Two-Star-Scoob status is going to put another chip on his shoulders and I think he's going to make big strides this offseason, being an even bigger force in 2015. Wright led the league in tackles this past year, I'm guessing he leads the nation next season.
Typically, offensive skill players win these awards more than the defensive, blue-collar workhorses. But I'm in Wright's camp.
I went to the University of Michigan which is the only school in the country that has had a primarily defensive player win the Heisman (Charles Woodson). So it has been done. Defensive players have thrown their hats in the ring and walked out the winner. If Wright plays better than he did this year I don't see a single offensive player in the league who deserves the honor more than him.
Kyle Bonagura: I'm with you guys in that the MVP generally goes to the best player on the best team -- and probably should -- but that train of thought doesn't take me to Southern California, Ted. My final destination is Eugene, where Oregon's Royce Freeman is primed for an All-American season and the Ducks stand as my pick to repeat as conference champs.
As a general rule, I don't read much into the hype of any true freshman making a significant impact from Day 1. Especially running backs, who all look like future stars as a function of highlight tapes being the only way to develop somewhat of a first-hand opinion. Freeman wasn't an exception. I saw him run around, over and through hapless high school tacklers in clips, but wasn't quite ready to buy into him having a key role for the Ducks as others (correctly) predicted.
While I started the season firmly in the let's-see-him-play-a-few-games camp, it took about a game and a half (probably less) before I was ready to offer him up to the Oakland Raiders as the first pick in the 2017 NFL draft. An overreaction, absolutely. But not that much of an overreaction because from a pure talent perspective, I think he's the most naturally-gifted skill player in the Pac-12.
After he ran for 1,365 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, I'm having a hard time forecasting anything less than 1,500 and 20 in 2015. The big caveat here, of course, is Thomas Tyner. The Ducks' other back with star potential could conceivably earn more carries (see: College Football Playoff), but just about every coach will tell you a player usually makes his biggest jump from his first year to second year on campus -- which bodes well for Freeman.
That's what my gut tells me, however, I reserve the right to change my mind as early as tomorrow. I'm just going to have to accept I'm a flip-flopper like that.
With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”
For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.
Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:
- California: 128
- Washington: 16
- Utah: 15
- Arizona: 14
- Texas: 14
- Louisiana: 13
- Florida: 9
- Georgia: 8
- Hawaii: 8
- Oregon: 5
- Colorado: 4
- Three signees: American Samoa, Maryland, South Carolina, Tennessee
- Two signees: Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma
- One signee: Alabama: Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia, Wyoming, Washington D.C., Canada
- Zero signees: Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin.
- One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
- Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
- The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
- The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
- Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
- The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.
But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?
Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.
But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.
- Hawaii: 1
- California: 1
- California: 33
- Texas: 5
- Washington: 4
- Arizona: 3
- Georgia: 3
- Utah: 3
- Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
- One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii
- Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
- The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
- More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.
As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
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Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has informed teams he will throw Saturday at the National Scouting Combine when his position group takes the field at Lucas Oil Stadium, league sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
The Heisman Trophy winner said Monday that his throwing (right) shoulder, sprained five weeks ago in the first College Football Playoff championship game, was feeling good and that he looked forward to throwing if able.
Mariota accounted for 5,224 total yards and 58 touchdowns in his junior season for the Ducks. He threw for 42 touchdowns against only four interceptions, while rushing for 15 scores. He also caught a touchdown pass.
Doubts still remain about Mariota's ability to transition from the wide-open spread offense the Ducks ran to a pro-style system. He also took the majority of his snaps from the shotgun rather than under center.
Mariota was the overwhelming winner for this year's Heisman Trophy and The Associated Press college football player of the year. The dual-threat player also won the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp player of the year, as well as the Davey O'Brien Award and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, both of which go to the top quarterback.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since our evaluation of high school athletes began in 2006. Within that list are 10 players who forever changed their program and whose impact can be felt even today.
1. Robert Griffin III | Baylor
While Griffin didn't win a Big 12 championship at Baylor, there's little doubt that without his career in Waco, Texas, the Bears would not have won 2013 and 2014 league titles. After earning Big 12 freshman of the year honors in 2008, RG III officially put Baylor back on the map with a 2011 season that saw the Bears enter the Associated Press poll for only the third time in the previous 15 seasons. He led Baylor to a 10-3 record that season and also captured the Heisman Trophy after throwing for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns. Griffin's success helped coach Art Briles attract more high-caliber recruits and made it cool to turn down traditional in-state powers Texas and Texas A&M to play in Waco. He paved the way for the Bears' back-to-back title runs and national championship aspirations in 2015. Folks in Central Texas will also tell you there's no way the Bears' new $250 million riverfront football stadium would have gotten built without Griffin.
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Not to be caught off guard, here are five major issues confronting the North Division as spring practices begin.
Here's what we had to say about the South.
1. Oregon post-Mariota: The Ducks are not only replacing their quarterback, they are replacing the best player in program history. Heck, Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner, is one of the greatest players in Pac-12 history. Oregon was good before Mariota and will be good after him. Still, he's been behind center for three years, so this is a significant transition. Further, with many suspecting the starting job is Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams' to lose, and he won't arrive until the summer, that means the establishment of a post-spring pecking order won't even approach an endgame. The guy with the most at stake is junior Jeff Lockie, Mariota's backup the past two years. He needs to make a strong statement with his play and leadership. If he does, it could give him a meaningful advantage when Adams arrives.
2. QB questions: The Ducks aren't the only North team uncertain at QB. In fact, only California with Jared Goff and Stanford with Kevin Hogan are set 100 percent behind center. Oregon State is replacing Sean Mannion in what figures to be a wide-open competition, one made more wide open by the departure of Mike Riley and arrival of Gary Andersen. While Washington has a returning starter in Cyler Miles, he was inconsistent in 2014 and could face a challenge from K.J. Carta-Samuels and touted true freshman early arrival Jake Browning. At Washington State, Luke Falk did a good job stepping in for an injured Connor Halliday -- he's certainly the front-runner to win the job -- but Mike Leach isn't going to hand him the starting spot by any means.
3. A new sheriff in Corvallis: Riley shocked just about everyone when he bolted for Nebraska after 14 seasons -- including the last 12 -- leading the Beavers. It wasn't an overwhelmingly sad departure, though, as more than a few Beavers fans had grown frustrated with the recent state of the program, particularly when compared to rival Oregon. The hiring of Andersen away from Wisconsin also seemed like a bold move, one that generated plenty of enthusiasm among the boosters. But Andersen will be adopting new schemes on both sides of the ball with a roster full of uncertainty. With a getting-to-know-you phase, spring will be much different in Corvallis this year.
4. Getting defensive: The biggest difference between the Pac-12 North and South divisions heading into spring is defensive turnover and/or questions. The South welcomes back a lot of defensive starters, while the North doesn't. Oregon State has just two defensive starters coming back and Stanford has just four. While Washington has six, it also loses three first-team All-Pac-12 performers in LB Shaq Thompson, OLB/DE Hau'oli Kikaha and DT Danny Shelton. Oregon has seven coming back, but it's rebuilding its secondary and replacing end Arik Armstead. Washington State has nine starters returning but it has a new coordinator in Alex Grinch after Mike Breske was fired. Cal has eight starters coming back, but it played lousy defense in 2014, ranking last in the conference with 39.8 points per game. North defenses figure to get a lot of attention this spring.
5. Year 2 for Chris Petersen: Perhaps the Pac-12's biggest story last spring was the arrival of Petersen, who was lured away from a celebrated run at Boise State to replace Steve Sarkisian, who bolted for USC. Petersen inherited a team that looked talented enough to make a run at the North title, or at least make a legitimate challenge to the Oregon-Stanford domination. It didn't come to pass. The Huskies were inconsistent on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense, and finished a lackluster 8-6 after a rotten performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against Oklahoma State. The 2015 Huskies have just 12 position-player starters returning, so they will have many depth-chart questions to address this spring. On the plus side, there should be a good deal of familiarity between players and coaches, both in terms of scheme and approach. This looks like a year of transition for the program, but Huskies fans will be looking for signs of growth under Petersen that would suggest good things happening in the future.
That means that some players' campaigns for the 2015 player of the year starts ... now (at least in the Pac-12 Blogosphere).
Marcus Mariota -- even last spring -- was the clear-cut frontrunner for the award. This year, it's not as obvious. There are a few players that stand out, and then there's always the possibility for a dark horse candidate, someone to burst onto the scene out of nowhere.
1. UCLA RB Paul Perkins
Perkins led the conference in rushing yards in 2014 (1,575 rushing yards). His 121.2 rushing yards per game still put him front of Oregon State and Washington State's team rushing totals per game. His 6.3 yards per carry was a Pac-12 best, and with the UCLA offense looking a little different next season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jim Mora relying even more on Perkins to carry the load. Could that be enough to propel him to the top of the Pac-12?
2. USC QB Cody Kessler
Kessler will be right there with Perkins, fighting for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and the player of the year honors. Kessler didn't get as much attention this season as some other QBs in the conference despite leading the Pac-12 in completion percentage (69.7) and finishing second in passing touchdowns (39), but in 2015 he should be the talk of the town, especially considering how many weapons the Trojans will have around Kessler.
3. Arizona LB Scooby Wright III
Wright was the defensive darling of the postseason award circuit in 2014 picking up the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, and many others. He was the 2014 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, which sets him up well for a step up -- player of the year -- in his next season. But the other players on this list are talented and, no surprises here, they're all offensive players and every talented defensive player will tell you how much more they have to do to get the same amount of love as an offensive skill player (every single lineman will say this, too). But with 14 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss in 2014, it's a pretty safe bet to expect more of Two Star Scoob in 2015.
4. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
With another offseason under his belt, Freeman is going to appear even more prepared for the college game (which is kind of a scary thought). He tore apart Pac-12 defenses this season -- 1,113 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns versus conference opponents in 2014. Whoever starts for the Ducks at quarterback is going to have their ups and downs -- that's to be expected of a first-year starter. Expect Oregon to lean more on the run game -- meaning Freeman -- to get its offense going.
The battle for the fourth spot in this poll was highly contested (but due to technology, only five names could be put into this poll which is why the voting is relatively limited). Utah running back Devontae Booker was right there with Freeman, especially when considering what Booker did this season and knowing that 2015 is his last hurrah. He burst onto the Pac-12 scene as a relative unknown and finished second in the conference in rushing yards per game (116.3). Cal quarterback Jared Goff was under serious consideration. When looking at the strides he made between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it's wild to think what he might look like as a junior. Arizona running back Nick Wilson was also in the conversation. Though Freeman was the freshman running back that garnered the most attention in the Pac-12 last season, he wasn't the only one. Wilson -- another year older, another year stronger -- is going to be a force in the conference in 2015, too.
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.
With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.
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Programs Most Desperate for a Quarterback
TBD Arkansas State USC TBD Colorado Hawaii TBD Eastern Washington Oregon TBD Washington Boise State TBD Portland State Washington State TBD Grambling State California TBD Stanford Northwestern TBD Virginia UCLA TBD Arizona State Texas A&M