Oregon Ducks: 3-point stance

1. The disparity of opinion regarding the linemen on the consensus All-America team and what NFL teams thought of them is large. Of the eight offensive and defensive linemen from the All-America team, five were drafted in the fourth round or later. Meanwhile, the two receivers and four defensive backs on the All-American team went in the first 41 picks. It could be that different offenses in colleges call for different skills in line play. But the ability to run and move in space, on offense and defense, is valuable in any scheme.

2. The two best quarterbacks in college football, Jameis Winston of Florida State and Marcus Mariota of Oregon, had best stay healthy. Winston’s backup, Jacob Coker, will play at Alabama. Mariota’s backup, Jake Rodrigues, announced Monday that he will transfer. Mariota got hurt last season, and Winston’s off-field problems are well-documented. And yet the one-play-away mantra of coaches that applies to every other position doesn’t apply at quarterback. What’s different? The demands of the position or the egos of the guys playing it?

3. Now that the ACC athletic directors have voted in favor of keeping the status quo of eight conference games, the circle is complete. The ACC and SEC point to each other and say, but we’re playing them! Yes, four schools are. And Notre Dame will be on five ACC schedules a year. Nine ACC games is doable. Asking fans to pay retail prices for bad opponents -– and with four non-ACC games, there are plenty –- is not right.
1. One of the more interesting stories in college football this fall will be the fate of Oregon senior Johnathan Loyd, who showed up for spring practice to play wide receiver after four seasons playing point guard for the Ducks. Loyd stands all of 5-8, so if he survived a Pac-12 basketball career, he is tough by definition. Loyd has also shown his ability to operate in space. The Eugene Register-Guard reported how Loyd got lit up the first time he caught a punt, which should teach him the wisdom of the fair catch.

2. I found the ranking system announced by the College Football Playoff selection committee last week to be so painstaking that you want to shout, “Get on with it!” The members vote, and the three teams getting the most votes are ranked the highest. And then the committee basically parses three teams at a time until it reaches 25. Why bother? Why not do what the basketball committee does: announce the field and run for the airport? The CFP committee believes this method will be more open. It also might prime the public to accept the legitimacy of the committee’s final poll.

3. On the football field, Jameis Winston performs with a maturity beyond his years. He continues to do the reverse off the field, embarrassing himself, his family, his teammates and his coaches. Winston evaded prosecution for sexual assault because the police botched the investigation. Handed that second chance, he got busted for shoplifting. Winston combines once-a-generation athleticism and magnetism in a way that few people ever have. That doesn’t excuse him from knowing right from wrong. His quick apology last week indicates that he’s aware of society’s rules, at least until the next incident.

3-point stance: Pac-12 QB talent

April, 24, 2014
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1. According to ESPN Insider and Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, it’s a thin year for veteran quarterbacks everywhere but the Pac-12. Listing the top pro prospects for the 2015 NFL draft, Savage, speaking with me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday, started with Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA, then tossed in Sean Mannion of Oregon State. Not to mention the league has Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Cody Kessler of USC.

2. Dabo Swinney is a good man and a stand-up guy. He is proud of his Christianity and believes it can help others as much as it has helped him. As the coach of Clemson, a public university in a religious state, he is preaching to the choir. I’d bet it never occurred to Swinney that he stepped over the line between church and state, perhaps because the line is blurrier in South Carolina than in Madison, Wis., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is based. If the foundation’s complaint makes Swinney realize again that everyone is not Christian, then the foundation’s complaint is a success.

3. The town of State College is crowdsourcing a statue to honor the late Joe Paterno, and it’s wonderful that the planned site is not far from Old Main, the home of the Penn State administration that removed the original Paterno statue from outside of Beaver Stadium in July 2012. What are the university administrators thinking? Do they understand they never should have made the removal of the statue permanent? Do they understand how much they rushed to judgment to vilify Paterno? When will they do their part to restore Paterno’s place of honor in Penn State history? The locals are doing their part.

3-point stance: No help needed

April, 8, 2014
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1. Northwestern has played its hand in the unionization issue beautifully. The university never blamed its student-athletes. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has gone public with his opposition to the union, but has done so with facts and without histrionics. The last thing Northwestern needs is NCAA president Mark Emmert making headlines by calling unionization "grossly inappropriate." Emmert has been an ineffective reformer. He lost a lot of credibility by railroading Penn State before he had the facts. He could best help Northwestern by going on vacation for the rest of April.

2. Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann said it would be great if the Newark Star-Ledger went out of business. Hermann doesn't like what one columnist writes about her. The Star-Ledger last week laid off 167 people in her state. You would think an athletic official who has been accused of verbal abuse in the past would think twice before lashing out. Whatever justification Hermann thought she had to say that, she didn't.

3. I got a tour Monday of the not-quite-one-year-old football building that Phil Knight built for Oregon and I have three words: Oh. Em. Gee. Whatever you heard or read about the spare-no-expense design doesn't do the building justice. Italian leather chairs. German lockers. Brazilian wood floors -- in the weight room. Turkish toilets. (I am leaving a few countries out.) Wall coverings and upholstery of football leather. Hand-painted foosball players. And on. And on. The arms race is over. We have a winner.

1. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson made a compelling case Tuesday for the value of participating in college athletics, echoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. They both said, in so many words, if you want to go pro, go pro; let college athletics be college athletics. I hope the difference is maintained, too. There is room to provide more benefits to college athletes without professionalizing them. But once an employer-employee relationship is established, the rules will change. Whether they can change without rendering college athletics unrecognizable, ay, there’s the rub.

2. Oregon has won 60 consecutive games when leading at the half, the longest streak in the FBS. Oklahoma is second at 42. Both are perennial national contenders with explosive offenses that can quickly make a game one-sided. But here’s the surprise: Kansas State is third on the list at 39 games. In the five seasons since Bill Snyder returned to the sideline, Kansas State (42-22, .656) has been good, but not dominant. Without dominance, I’d guess the streak has a lot to do with Snyder, mental toughness and a lack of mistakes.

3. Speaking of Oklahoma, did you see the Sooners’ April Fool’s tweet that Blake Bell had returned to quarterback? The surprise is that Bell actually finished last season with a higher efficiency rating (132.20) than the player replacing him, freshman Trevor Knight (125.00). What that tells you is how much Knight improved over the course of the year. He shredded Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In the last three games, Knight went 49-of-71 for 547 yards with 2 interceptions and 5 touchdowns for an efficiency of 151.34. That’s why Bell is a tight end.
1. It will be weird to see Larry Johnson wearing scarlet and gray. The last coaching connection to Joe Paterno at Penn State has left for Ohio State. Like Ed Orgeron at USC, Johnson auditioned for the head coaching job, didn’t get it, and refused to stay and work for the guy who did. It’s hard to believe that Johnson would set aside 18 years, but egos can be slow to heal. Penn State will pay a price for his departure. Defensive tackle Thomas Holley of Brooklyn already has decommitted from Penn State for Florida.

2. NCAA President Mark Emmert will deliver his State of the Association address Thursday, and the title of the speech alone speaks to the pomposity that the NCAA needs to reduce. How Emmert survived the mess his administration made of things at Penn State and Miami is beyond belief; his inability to push through the increase in benefits to student-athletes he has championed for three years is another poor grade on his report card. Perhaps his remarks Thursday can begin to turn around a disappointing tenure.

3. The first thing to leap out about the Pac-12 schedule announced last week is how well things set up for Oregon. Three of the Ducks’ toughest opponents -- Michigan State, Washington and Stanford -- come to Eugene; the Pac-12 South teams that Oregon skips are defending division champ Arizona State and USC; and the toughest road games are at UCLA and at Oregon State. The intersectional game against the Spartans in Week 2 will serve as a national stage for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Let the Heisman talk begin.
1. As of last Monday, Florida State had closed the gap between itself and the SEC. As of Tuesday, the gap opened again, with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt leaving the Seminoles for the same job at Georgia. The reason why? S-E-C (Serious Extraordinary Cash): a three-year, $2.55 million deal, about half again as much as Pruitt made in Tallahassee. As they say down there, it’s just bidness, and that’s a huge illustration of the catch-up that Florida State has to play at that level.

2. Two other points re the Pruitt hire: One, the fact that Georgia gave him a three-year deal is a good indication that head coach Mark Richt plans to stay at least that long, a good sign for the Dawgs; two, if Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wants to continue playing the Alabama-style defense, then I don’t know where else he turns other than his defensive ends coach, Sal Sunseri, who has worked for Nick Saban for four seasons, most recently from 2009-11.

3. Given that Oregon has had success promoting from within, it’s no surprise that the Ducks’ longtime linebackers coach, Don Pellum, succeeds Nick Aliotti as defensive coordinator. Pellum has spent 25 years of his 29-year career on the Oregon staff. He is a good teacher, a good communicator, and surely will be the best-dressed defensive coordinator on the West Coast (if not the East). Pellum’s promotion will minimize the disruption at Oregon, which promoted Mark Helfrich to head coach a year ago.

3-point stance: Mariota puts on a show

December, 31, 2013
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1. The Marcus Mariota we saw for two-and-a-half quarters Monday evening before cramps took away his running game is the Oregon quarterback who made it deep into October as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Mariota is a good passer who can improve. Mariota on healthy wheels makes the Duck offense lethal. He and Jameis Winston will get the bulk of the offseason attention. With good reason.

2. The Pac-12 went into the National University Holiday Bowl on Monday night with a 4-1 bowl record, which means the league was a Washington State last-minute meltdown in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl away from a perfect record. You can argue that the matchups favored the Pac-12 teams and you would be correct. But that shouldn’t diminish what an outstanding year the league had. And with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington, the Pac-12 just got tougher.

3. The Seattle Times reports that Petersen asked Marques Tuiasosopo to stay at Washington, where he had been quarterback coach, where he remains the last quarterback to win a Rose Bowl. And Tuiasosopo wants to go with Steve Sarkisian to be USC’s tight ends coach. Maybe Tuiasosopo wants to flesh out his resume and show he will coach anywhere. Maybe Sarkisian knows how to keep a staff together. It wouldn’t be a long-term blow to Petersen. But it underlines the change that has come to U-Dub.

3-point stance: Cheers to Aliotti

December, 30, 2013
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1. College football will be a lot duller Tuesday because Nick Aliotti will have coached his last game as the Oregon defensive coordinator. Aliotti has done a terrific job under Rich Brooks, Mike Bellotti, Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich. Last spring, newly a grandfather, Aliotti sounded like a guy who could live without the game. “Football doesn’t define me. It’s what I do for a living,” Aliotti said. “I just happen to be a football coach. Do you know what I’m saying? I don’t need people to interview me. To be honest with you, I’d be perfectly happy to be on the golf course, just being with my wife and my kids.”

2. The difference between a winning season and a losing season? It will be hard to find one snap more important in any bowl than Syracuse freshman Brisly Estime's 70-yard punt return to the Minnesota 14. Estime’s return with 2:00 to play set up the Orange’s winning touchdown in a thrilling 21-17 victory in the Texas Bowl. The Golden Gophers dominated the fourth quarter to that point, fighting back from a 14-3 deficit to take the lead. The best part? It was only Estime’s fourth punt return this season.

3. Miami had a 6-0 record and a No. 7 ranking when the NCAA announced in October that the Hurricanes’ sanctions would include no more bowl bans. Without that NCAA sword hanging above the Canes, they could realize their ambitions, right? Not with this defense. Miami lost four of its last six games, bookending 27-point losses to Florida State and Louisville around 18-point losses to Virginia Tech and Duke. Al Golden can now recruit without having to worry about what the NCAA will do. He needs to.

3-point stance: Blame it on geography

December, 9, 2013
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1. Oregon finished 10th in the final BCS standings, the fifth consecutive year in which the Ducks finished the regular season in the top 10. But Oregon’s streak of BCS bowl invitations stopped at four. The reason? Bad geographical luck. This year, the Tostitos Fiesta had the last pick among the BCS bowls. The Discover Orange took No. 12 Clemson from the ACC, the Orange’s host conference. The Allstate Sugar took No. 11 Oklahoma, a lot closer to New Orleans than Eugene is. If the Fiesta had an earlier pick, No. 15 UCF would be playing closer to home instead of Arizona.

2. College football is played by young men who are faster and bigger than any who have come before them. It is coached by men who have more information at their fingertips than has ever been available. And yet, if nothing else, the 2013 season proved that college football has never been more unpredictable. Auburn, Missouri and Duke were all picked to finished fifth or lower in their divisions. Baylor was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12. I can’t explain it, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

3. My three favorite bowls other than the BCS Championship Game: a) the Rose Bowl -- No. 4 Michigan State and No. 5 Stanford play similar throwback styles. Fedoras welcome; b) the AT&T Cotton -- No. 8 Missouri (highest-ranked non-BCS bowl team) and No. 13 Oklahoma State features two explosive offenses and two physical defenses; c) AdvoCare V100 Bowl -- the tailbacks at Arizona and Boston College, Ka’Deem Carey and Andre Williams, respectively, combined to rush for 3,818 yards and 34 touchdowns.

3-point stance: Oregon's trap game?

November, 18, 2013
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1. In the 11th game of last season, Oregon lost to Stanford, 17-14, in overtime. In the 11th game in 2011, Oregon lost to USC, 38-35. In the 11th game in 2009, Oregon held on to win at Arizona, 44-41, in three overtimes. I’m not smart enough to figure that out. Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost told me that in April. The coaches didn’t have a reason, other than fatigue or overconfidence. But they are aware of it. If Oregon looks flat at Arizona this week, it won’t be from falling into the same trap.

2. Alabama and Florida State are guaranteed nothing in the BCS. But the gulf between the No. 2 Seminoles and No. 3 Buckeyes indicates that there won’t be any drama about who goes to Pasadena as long as the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles win out. Given that Alabama still must play No. 6 Auburn, and then, with a win, either No. 8 Missouri or No. 11 South Carolina, we may yet witness a huge public debate about the Buckeyes and No. 4 Baylor. As of now, that debate is for entertainment purposes only.

3. Here’s one thing the BCS standings might have gotten right: as Coaches By the Numbers tweeted Sunday, only three teams are 5-0 this season against teams with winning records. They are No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State. You can argue that their opponents don’t play anyone, hence their records. But if it were that easy to beat that many teams with records over .500, more than three teams would have done so.

3-point stance: BCS shakeout begins

November, 8, 2013
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1. For two months, Baylor's point-a-minute-plus offense begged the question of quality of opponent. November arrived, and the Bears answered that question with authority. The 41-12 defeat of No. 10 Oklahoma should allow Baylor to slip into Oregon's chair in the BCS debate. The Sooners, meanwhile, have a question to answer. Where are they going to find a quarterback?

2. In preparing for Oregon, Stanford head coach David Shaw watched the Cardinal's last five games against them. The lack of turnover in their coaching staff makes it worth his time, Shaw said. "Just looking at things that they changed, things that we changed, things that maybe worked before, or things that didn't work before that we don't need to try again," Shaw said. Anyone else that Shaw delves that deep into history? "For nobody except these guys."

3. The convincing nature of No. 6 Baylor's victory, and that undefeated record, makes it conceivable the Bears will leapfrog the No. 5 Cardinal in the BCS ratings Sunday. Stanford solidified its position as the top one-loss team. And, of course No. 2 Florida State and No. 4 Ohio State will benefit from the Ducks' loss. The BCS race is only starting to get interesting. All the handwringing about a surplus of undefeated teams is a waste of energy. There are five Saturdays left.

3-point stance: Losing parallels

November, 7, 2013
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1. History provides parallels of sort to the possible demise of No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon in their big games this week. No. 2 Oregon, with a quarterback who was the Heisman favorite, lost on the road in November 2007. But that was at Arizona, not Stanford, and quarterback Dennis Dixon had a torn ACL when the game began (the knee gave out in the first half). The last time the No. 1 Crimson Tide was a two-time defending national champion, 1980, the Tide made it into November with ranking intact before losing an SEC game, 6-3. But that was at Mississippi State, not home against LSU.

2. A Georgia Tech fan on my chat Wednesday asked if the Yellow Jackets had hit a ceiling with Paul Johnson and his option offense. Georgia Tech is 6-3 as it prepares to play No. 7 Clemson. But no one wants to play an option team -- ever. A week after Pitt lost to Georgia Tech, 21-10, and Notre Dame edged Navy and its option, 38-34, the Panthers and Fighting Irish play. The first thing Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said at his press conference Tuesday? “I know for both teams, we're excited about getting away from the option offense that we have both seen over the last couple of weeks.” Exactly.

3. One of the most intriguing stories this month will be whether Duke -- yes, Duke -- can win the ACC Coastal. The Blue Devils are 6-2, 2-2 in the league, and with their victory over Virginia Tech, in the thick of the division race. A year ago, Duke started the season 6-2 – and finished 6-7. Unlike last year, the Blue Devils enjoyed an off week before they hit November. “It gave us time to talk about what lies in front of us,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Everybody’s aware on this team of what happened a year ago. We didn’t win. We had all the losses, but it’s easy to forget that we played good football in November.”

3-point stance: Fresno State lurking

November, 4, 2013
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1. It’s not smart to delve deeply into BCS what-ifs. The season has five remaining weeks -- a full third of the schedule. Besides, the top of the BCS standings will sort itself out. It has every year since the FBS went to a 12-game schedule. But the race at the other end of the BCS is worth keeping an eye on. Fresno State has reached No. 16, the minimum threshold a BCS buster needs to secure a bid as long as it’s ahead of an AQ champion. Louisville and UCF of the American are No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.

2. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Oregon turn their heads toward their biggest conference nemeses. Nick Saban is only 4-3 against No. 13 LSU while since taking over as coach of Alabama. He’s 72-10 against everyone else. No. 5 Stanford is the only team to beat Chip Kelly’s Ducks twice in his four seasons. Last season’s 17-14 overtime loss cost Oregon a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Suffice to say it left a mark. Expect coach Mark Helfrich to have something in his game plan this week. The Ducks kept it pretty vanilla last year, and it cost them.

3. When Michigan State defeated Michigan four consecutive times from 2008-11, it didn’t quite feel as if the Spartans owned the rivalry. This wasn’t the real Michigan -- coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t fit the Wolverine mold. Michigan State took advantage of Michigan, but so did a lot of teams. That’s not the case any longer. Michigan has its own (Brady Hoke) running the program. He is in Year Three. Yet Michigan State just beat Michigan 29-6, the Spartans’ biggest margin in their 5-1 run against the Wolverines. The rivalry belongs to Sparty as securely as it did in the mid-1960s run of Duffy Daugherty.

3-point stance: Florida State is back

October, 21, 2013
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1. We are fooled easily in the excitement of the moment. Yet Florida State so dominated at Clemson that the 51-14 victory will be one of the seminal moments of the season. It will mark the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston in prime time, literally and otherwise. As good as Winston played, the Florida State defense played better. The Seminoles are back, and what better time? The university that dumped Hall of Fame head coach Bobby Bowden four years ago will honor him this Saturday.

2. The one complaint against the makeup of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee that has merit is that West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, at age 53, is the youngest member. It makes sense that the commissioners wanted gravitas on the committee, and with the presence of members such as Tom Osborne, Mike Tranghese and Pat Haden, they have it. But they made room for a woman and a retired sportswriter. However hard they searched for a member under 40, they should have looked again.

3. The old protocols are butting heads with the new spread offenses, and everyone is groping for the right way to act. Should the offense throw when it’s way ahead? Baylor is averaging 64.7 points per game, and judging by the Bears’ No. 8 ranking, no one is holding that against them. Should the offense throw if it’s way behind? Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti ripped Washington State head coach Mike Leach for throwing 89 times, then apologized last night. No one knows what the rules should be any more.

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