Oregon Ducks: Brett Hundley
Arizona: Drew Riggleman is back after handling all of the punting responsibilities last season. He averaged 40.1 yards per kick, pinned 18 inside the 20 and had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards. He ranked eighth in the conference -- though the difference between first (Utah’s Tom Hackett) and Riggleman was an average of 3.4 yards.
Arizona State: Punting was one of ASU’s biggest issues last season. Matt Haack started to come on strong at the end of the season and will likely challenge Alex Garoutte, who averaged 38.8 yards per kick last season. Should Haack win the job, Garoutte is always an option with his rollout style. Quarterback Taylor Kelly has also been known to offer the occasional boot. He punted six times last season, once for 50-plus, and had three downed inside the 20.
California: Cole Leininger is back after a very solid season for the Golden Bears, where he was tied for second in the conference with an average of 42.9 yards per kick. Cal has four punters on the roster in addition to Leininger. And while he’s mostly unchallenged, there are plenty of backup options.
Colorado: Third-team all-conference punter Darragh O'Neill returns and was a midseason Ray Guy candidate last season. He averaged 40.5 yards per punt last year and pinned 22 inside the 20.
Oregon: Alejandro Maldonado handled the punting duties last season and made a couple of appearances as a kicker before the job went to Matt Wogan. Expect Wogan to handle all kicking responsibilities, though some walk-ons will also get looks.
Oregon State: Keith Kostol is back as a third-year starter. He finished last season tied for fifth in the conference with an average of 40.5 yards per punt. He also put 23 kicks inside the 20.
Stanford: Ben Rhyne returns to handle the punting duties for the Cardinal. He was one of the best in the conference last season with an average of 42.9 yards per kick -- just half a yard behind Hackett. He had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards and put 15 inside the 20.
UCLA: Sean Covington is back after having a very solid season, where he posted an average of 42.6 yards per punt. Do-it-all quarterback Brett Hundley punted once last season, but it’s safe to assume that Convington’s job is secure.
USC: Kris Albarado didn’t post an impressive yards-per-punt average (37.1), but he was very good at pinning opponents, with 27 kicks inside the 20. And of his 64 kicks, almost half were fair-caught.
Utah: Hackett was last season's first-team all-conference punter, so expect some preseason All-American hype for him. As noted earlier, he led the conference with an average of 43.4 yards per punt and buried 27 kicks inside the 20.
Washington: Travis Coons pulled double-duty last season. In addition to nailing 15 of 16 field goal attempts, he also averaged 40.4 yards per punt and had eight kicks of 50-plus yards to go with 23 inside the 20. Korey Durkee did some punting in 2012 before Coons won the job, so he’ll get the first look in 2014. Newcomer Tristan Vizcaino could also get looks at kicker and/or punter.
Washington State: Wes Concepcion was the starter in the final two games as punter last season. With Mike Bowlin gone, he should be the favorite to handle punting duties full time. Concepcion punted 12 times last season for an average of 36.2 yards. Eight of those 12 were fair catches and three were inside the 20.
Ted Miller: Spring practice is the official transition from taking stock of the 2013 season, including recruiting, to looking ahead to next fall. The 2013 season was all about top-to-bottom depth for the Pac-12 -- and the lack of an elite national-title contender. That might be the case again in 2014, but if the conference is going to be nationally relevant in Year 1 of the four-team College Football Playoff, I think it will be because of the depth and quality of the quarterbacks.
If Travis Wilson is cleared to play at Utah, 10 Pac-12 teams welcome back their 2013 starters, and many of these guys are All-American candidates, most notably Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion.
What most interests you this spring with the Pac-12?
Kyle Bonagura: As a result of the continuity at quarterback, offenses should be in line for a collective step forward. How far could be determined by how quickly the conference's seven new defensive coordinators acclimate to -- and perform at -- their new jobs.
We won't get a great read on how that process is going during the spring, but it'll be interesting to see in what ways defenses evolve moving forward.
For Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA, the change will be minimal. Todd Graham will remain heavily involved in how ASU plays defense, and the other three promoted staff members will use the framework and schemes already in place. USC might have a new staff, but considering coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox were in the conference last season, it should be an easy transition.
I'm more interested to see how things play out at California and Washington.
Washington is set up for success with the much-anticipated arrival of longtime Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who brought his defensive coordinator for the past four seasons, Pete Kwiatkowski. They have a talented front seven to work with and a favorable early schedule that will allow the staff to iron out any kinks: at Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State.
Art Kaufman's job taking over the Cal defense won't be as easy. The Golden Bears should be in better shape than last season from a health and experience standpoint -- the latter partially a result of 2013's injury woes -- but there's a lot of ground to cover between where they were and being competitive.
Ted Miller: One team that had coaching continuity at both coordinator spots is Arizona, and I think the Wildcats are setting up to be a dark horse in the Pac-12 South, though I do see UCLA as a strong favorite at this point. The intrigue with Arizona, though, is at quarterback. It seems like the most wide-open competition in the conference.
If Cyler Miles gets back in Petersen's good graces, he's got a significant lead for the Washington QB vacancy. At USC, I think that Cody Kessler is likely to retain his starting job over touted redshirt freshman Max Browne. Kessler steadily improved as a difficult season went on, and he still has his 2013 offensive coordinator/position coach in Clay Helton. At Utah, a healthy Wilson starts for the Utes.
But Arizona has four guys with a legitimate shot at winning the starting QB job this fall: Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Connor Brewer and junior Jerrard Randall. Solomon was one of the jewels of the 2013 recruiting class, while the other three are transfers from A-list programs -- Scroggins from USC, Brewer from Texas and Randall from LSU.
The first big question will be whether Rich Rodriguez narrows the field at the end of spring practices. How much does he want to establish a clear pecking order? You'd think at least one of these guys is going to be relegated to fourth place because there are only so many practice reps to go around.
The good news is the guy who wins the job is going to have an outstanding crew of receivers. He won't have running back Ka'Deem Carey lining up as a security blanket behind him, but Rodriguez's offenses almost always run the ball well. The Wildcats will average more than 200 yards rushing again next season, I feel confident saying that.
The million-dollar question -- the difference between competing for the South title and winning eight games again -- is how efficient the guy behind center is.
Any position battles particularly intrigue you this spring?
Kyle Bonagura: Like you, I'm really intrigued to see how the quarterback competition at Arizona progresses. That's a lot of pressure for the three guys who already transferred from big-time programs. All of them clearly want to play, and it makes you wonder if one of them will end up at an FCS school before the season starts.
The most high-profile battle outside of quarterback has to be at Stanford, where four guys are competing to replace Tyler Gaffney at running back. I was out at the Cardinal's first open practice of the spring last week -- and will be out there again on Saturday -- and what stood out immediately was how balanced the reps were. If Remound Wright, Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders and Kelsey Young didn't have equal reps with the first team, it was close.
However it plays out, it's unlikely Stanford will feature one back like it has the past six years with Gaffney, Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart.
Wright probably holds a slight edge in terms of the overall package -- largely because of his capabilities in pass protection -- but there are more similarities than differences in comparing each guy. A lot of people ask about Sanders because of his famous father (my favorite football player as a kid), but the reality with him is that expectations were probably too high when he arrived. His name and recruiting profile are to blame, and the coaching staff isn't going to force his development.
Young, who switched back to running back from receiver, might be the most dangerous with the ball in his hands and Seale, a fifth-year senior, might have the best grasp of the offense.
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.
- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez has become a must-follow on Twitter.
- Arizona State has scheduled a home-and-home series with BYU.
- No, California coach Sonny Dykes doesn't like the NCAA's proposed rule changes either.
- Comparing Colorado's Paul Richardson and Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis as NFL draft prospects.
- Oregon's 2012 recruiting class turned out to be pretty darn strong.
- More reports that John Garrett will be named Oregon State's offensive coordinator shortly.
- It appears that former Stanford OT Jonathan Martin has been vindicated by the NFL and that Richie Incognito needs to crawl back under his rock.
- QB Brett Hundley is great, but what about UCLA's other skill players?
- Former USC OLB Morgan Breslin is chaffed he got snubbed by the NFL combine. Guess silence (to reporters) isn't so golden.
- Some thoughts on Utah's restructured offensive coaching staff.
- A consideration of the re-emergence of Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha.
- Washington State is losing a running back to UTEP.
Peter writes: With regards to Pac-12 guys in the Super Bowl, I think you missed Sione Fua, Stanford. DT for the Broncos. Got picked up in November after getting cut by Carolina. I don't think he played Sunday, but I believe he was active.
Kevin Gemmell: The article stipulated that there are other players on the rosters who aren't mentioned because they were inactive. Fua was inactive, per the final stat book.
We’re not privy to the coaches’ voting process. From what I understand, it takes place in the bowels of the Pac-12 headquarters and the coaches sit in conclave for days coming up with the list. When they finally do, white smoke is released so the whole world knows that the all-conference team is complete. Here’s what it looks like.
Sutton was a consensus All-American, and everyone ahead of him was either a consensus All-American, a unanimous All-American, a finalist for a national award or the winner of a national award. There are two other defensive players ahead of him. Trent Murphy led the Pac-12 with 15 sacks. Barr was third in the league with 10. Sutton wasn’t in the top 20. Murphy and Barr were first and second, respectively, in tackles for a loss. Murphy had 23.5, Barr had 20. Sutton was 12th with 13.5.
Sutton’s role was different in 2013 than it was in 2012. He put on the extra weight and was asked to be more of a double-team eater than the backfield wrecking ball that he was last year. And his drop-off in stats were a reflection of that.
Further, the ASU defense had 12 fewer sacks in 2013 than it did in 2012 (52 vs. 40) and the scoring defense went up from 24.3 points per game in 2012 to 26.6 points per game in 2013.
Sutton is an outstanding player and was the best defensive lineman in the league. And he was ranked accordingly. But all six players in front him, in the opinion of the Pac-12 blog, deserved to be ahead of him.
Yes, we use the all-conference teams, as voted on by the coaches, as a gauge. But if we went with that, Sutton or Carey would be either No. 1 or No. 2 (interchangeable) and Mariota would be No. 3. and Jack would be in the top 10 for winning offensive and defense freshman of the year.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins was second-team all-conference, but won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.
No list is ever going to be perfect, especially when you have two strong-willed reporters butting heads on a couple of things. But it’s pretty tough to complain when the players ahead of Sutton consist of two Doak Walker finalists, the Biletnikoff winner, one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and two outside linebackers who put up monster stats.
Kevin Gemmell: That is a fine question, Ken. And I did not have the answer to it. So I submitted it to the good folks at UCLA’s sports information department for clarification last night and Steve Rourke, SID extraordinaire, came back with this:
Ball played in one game in 1984 before getting injured and was a redshirt frosh in 1985 season.
So I guess the clarification required was redshirt vs. true. I bow to your historical knowledge of UCLA football and appreciate the question.
Kevin Gemmell: Couldn’t agree more. And that is often the problem with making lists like this. How do you gauge an offensive lineman vs. a 20-touchdown running back? How do you grade a lockdown cornerback who doesn’t get the stats because teams don’t throw at him vs. an outside linebacker who has more tangible numbers?
As Ted and I have always said in the past when making this list, we tend to favor quarterbacks. As we wrote in our Take 2 this morning, I think that came back to bite us in the tush a little bit this year with Marcus Mariota over Ka'Deem Carey.
But these lists are obviously subjective. That’s why we give you guys the opportunity to make your own lists. Hope you’ll put one together.
But we can all agree on your last point. There are indeed some amazing players in the Pac-12.
Kevin Gemmell: My question to you is this: How is Goff going to develop into a very good quarterback if he’s sitting on the bench?
Sonny Dykes obviously isn’t afraid to start a true freshman quarterback. So I don’t think we can completely rule out the possibility of Rubenzer pressing Goff.
At the same time, you threw that true freshman into the fire last year and you’ve got to give him an opportunity to prove himself. He already set a Cal passing record with 3,508 passing yards in a season. I think you have to give Goff a good, healthy chunk of the season to show some progress when it comes to finding points. Because you’re right. For as much as the Bears were able to move the ball, they were last in the league in scoring offense (23 points per game). Let’s not also forget that they were last in scoring defense as well (45.9 points per game), so the problems weren’t just on the offensive side of the ball.
There are a lot of issues that need to get fixed with Cal. It might not specifically be the quarterback. But rather quarterback efficiency and seeing if Goff can take the next step. If he hasn’t by midseason -- or if he completely regresses during spring and fall camp -- then we might see another youngster step up.
Kevin Gemmell: I think Kelly being the second-team guy had as much to do with the Sun Devils winning the South and posting the best overall record in the conference as much as anything.
Our reasoning for putting Hundley ahead was multifold. First, he had better overall numbers in the stats that matter. He had a higher completion percentage, fewer interceptions, he took fewer sacks (granted, Kelly played in one more game) and had a higher QBR, both raw and adjusted. Hundley’s raw QBR was 77.6 vs. Kelly’s 61.5. When you factor adjusted QBR, Hundley’s was 84.8 to Kelly’s 74.3. Hundley’s adjusted QBR puts him seventh nationally; Kelly is 24th.
Kelly had more total touchdowns with 37 (28 passing, nine rushing) to Hundley’s 35 (24 passing, 11 rushing). Hundley rushed for 140 more yards in one fewer game.
Both are outstanding quarterbacks, but I think you could argue that Kelly had a stronger supporting cast with Jaelen Strong and Marion Grice at his disposal. Hundley didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver or a running back who scored 20 times.
When we added all of that up and took it all into consideration, we believed Hundley should be the higher ranked of the two.
Kevin Gemmell: I do know how Oregon fans are. They are like every other fan base that cares passionately about their team and its players. But like every other fan base, they are (usually) capable of accepting reality.
And the reality is Thomas, while spectacular when healthy and playing within his niche, didn’t have the kind of season that warrants being on the top 25. And you know what? I haven’t received a single complaint from an Oregon fan. Because they recognize that his limited performance this year didn’t warrant it.
So bravo, Oregon fans. You just went up a notch in my book. Ted, however, I believe, still hates your team.
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To the notes!
Jeff from Portland writes: I think it was one of Kevin's chats where someone asked him who the best quarterback in the conference was, and he said it was basically a toss up between Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. How do you see it heading into next year? Obviously Hundley has all the potential in the world, but he seemed to be a little more inconsistent than Mariota, and it speaks to Marcus' incredible ability than when his legs were taken away his passing got even better. He's faster, more reliable through the air and has an arm that isn't that far behind, if at all, in terms of strength. Given what we saw in 2013, Mariota has to hold the slight edge at this point, right?
Now, you could argue that Mariota has had a better supporting cast. And you could point out that Mariota has had a far more experienced offensive line in front of him. I think that would be correct on both counts. Still, I do think Mariota is ahead of Hundley at present.
That said, I think Hundley is pretty much equal to Mariota in terms of pure talent and upside. My expectations is that in 2014 the gap between them will narrow.
The good news is if everything goes to preseason expectations, which it rarely does, we might see them play twice -- once in the regular season and once in the Pac-12 title game. That should help us pick a first-team All-Pac-12 QB, as well as the conference's top Heisman Trophy candidate.
And who might go first in the 2015 NFL draft.
Mark from Chapel Hill, NC writes: Heather Dinich's article on ACC "taking on non-conference powers" -- please defend the honor of the Pac by pointing out that the ACC has 14 teams and plays eight conference games, compared to 12 and nine (with six Pac teams ranked in ESPN's way too early poll, that is hugely important!) so any reasonable evaluation has to adjust for this!
Ted Miller: Oh, I'm not sure I want to talk any trash to Dinich. Not only did her conference win the national title, Dinich is rumored to be a ninja when not relentlessly covering the ACC. At least that's what Chris Low is always telling me.
Well, you are correct. The ACC has 14 teams and plays eight conference games. And, yes, the Pac-12 has 12 teams and plays nine conference games. That, as I have written many times, gives the ACC (and SEC) a built-in advantage over the Pac-12 in that it guarantees the Pac-12 will have six defeats that that ACC can avoid by scheduling a soft nonconference foe. An ACC (or SEC) team can schedule its way to four wins, which means a 2-6 conference record would still make it bowl eligible.
But I think Dinich's point is a valid one: The ACC is ramping up its nonconference scheduling. Take Florida State, the defending national champions. The Seminoles are playing Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida next year. Assuming the Gators get over their 2013 face plant, that's a pretty demanding slate (The Citadel is the fourth foe).
Further, the ACC now has a special relationship with Notre Dame, not unlike USC and Stanford. The Fighting Irish will also face North Carolina (Oct. 11),Syracuse (Sept. 27) and Louisville (Nov. 22), which officially joins the ACC's Atlantic Division on July 1.
Of course, the Pac-12 has been scheduling tough nonconference games for years while also playing a nine-game conference schedule. I think that's the future for every AQ conference in our new system with a four-team College Football Playoff. It's just a matter of time until the ACC as well as the SEC are pushed down that road.
Michael from Las Vegas writes: In ESPN "lunch Links" column -- when you click on the UofW site it takes you to the Seattle Times newspaper and they ask you to buy a subscription for approximately $4 a week before you can read the article.
Ted Miller: This is a new trend in the newspaper business. Papers that have long been free on the Internet are now trying to make money on their product.
It's called capitalism. It can be an annoyance -- what once was free now costs money -- but you have a choice to pay for information or look elsewhere for it.
Ben from Washington, D.C., writes: I know WSU isn't as flashy as, say, Utah and Colorado, but Deone Buchanon is kind of a big star. Really appreciate how you included him for those of us WSU fans. Thanks man.
Ted Miller: You're welcome. We try hard to get things correct, such as not calling Washington State safety Deone “Bucannon” an "early entry" seeing that he was a senior this season.
Oh, wait. Were you being sarcastic after not reading the headline of the story where it says "early entry"?
Eddie from Glendale, Ariz., writes: You should write about how well Pac-12 players did with NFL postseason honors.
Ted Miller: OK.
Offense (first and second team)
FB Marcel Reece (Washington) Oakland
OT Tyron Smith (USC) Dalls
C Ryan Kalil (USC) Carolina
C Alex Mack (California) Cleveland
Defense (first and second team)
DT Jurrell Casey (USC) Tennessee
LB Vontaze Burfict (Arizona State) Cincinnati
CB Richard Sherman (Stanford) Seattle
CB Alterraun Verner (UCLA) Tennessee
S Eric Weddle (Utah) San Diego
S Jairus Byrd (Oregon) Buffalo
S T.J. Ward (Oregon) Cleveland
P Johnny Hekker (Oregon State) St. Louis
And here are the Pac-12 players selected to the Pro Bowl (note: The Pro Bowl is different this year, as it features teams "drafted" by Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders).
QB Alex Smith (Utah) Kansas City
TE Tony Gonzalez (California) Atlanta
OT Tyron Smith (USC) Dallas
OT Jordan Gross (Utah) Carolina
C Ryan Kalil (USC) Carolina
DE Cameron Jordan (California) New Orleans
LB Vontaze Burfict (Arizona State) Cincinnati
CB Alterraun Verner (UCLA) Tennessee
S Jairus Byrd (Oregon) Buffalo
P Johnny Hekker (Oregon State) St. Louis
QB Andrew Luck (Stanford) Indianapolis
QB Nick Foles (Arizona) Philadelphia
WR DeSean Jackson (Cal) Philadelphia
TE Jordan Cameron (USC) Cleveland
FB Marcel Reece (Washington) Oakland
OG Kyle Long (Oregon) Chicago
C Alex Mack (Cal) Cleveland
LB Terrell Suggs (Arizona State) Baltimore
S Eric Weddle (Utah) Kansas City
S T.J. Ward (Oregon) Cleveland
ST Matthew Slater (UCLA) New England
And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.
That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.
But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.
Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.
In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.
The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.
Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).
But a lot more is gone than is coming back.
That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.
The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.
After the bowls, would anyone have voted for Jordan Lynch over Mariota or Andre Williams over Carey? Doubtful.
Here's a look at the Pac-12's top five Heisman Trophy candidates in 2014:
Mariota shouldn't just be considered the front-runner from the Pac-12, he should be considered the favorite to win the award, period.
Yes, Florida State's Jameis Winston will still be around, but if he were to repeat as the Heisman winner, the Multiple Heisman Club would double in size. History isn't on his side.
Statistically, Mariota has been among the country's best quarterbacks in each of the past two seasons, which bodes well for his candidacy. Plus, Oregon will begin the season as the Pac-12 favorite and a national title contender.
There's nothing to question about Mariota's talent, as his decision to stay at Oregon for another season might have prevented him from becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. However, spurning the NFL for another year in college didn't help the Heisman chances of the past two Pac-12 quarterbacks who made a similar decision (See: Luck, Andrew and Barkley, Matt).
2. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Mariota wasn't the only Pac-12 quarterback who might have turned down the opportunity to be the first quarterback drafted -- Hundley fits that description, too. And when he decided to return to UCLA, the Bruins instantly became the favorites in the Pac-12 South.
If the Bruins, who finished ranked No. 16 last season, take a step forward next season, it'll likely be because of a big year from Hundley.
The schedule sets up well for Hundley, too. The Bruins have an East Coast game (at Virginia) to open the season, play Texas in Arlington, Texas, Oregon at home and finish the regular season with back-to-back home games against USC and Stanford. That's exposure.
3. Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA
In just five games, Jack made quite the impression running the ball. Take his stats and extrapolate them over a 13-game season and he would have finished with 694 yards and 18 touchdowns. That touchdown total would have equaled that of Heisman finalist Andre Williams.
Those would be pretty good numbers for a running back, but for a linebacker? Defense is where Jack belongs despite being named both the conference's Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year.
It might seem strange on the surface, but it's unlikely Bruins coach Jim Mora wants Jack to be a serious Heisman candidate. What it'll mean is that UCLA hasn't found a better option at running back, which is ideally what it'll do between now and its season opener.
How good was Kelly this year? Good enough for the coaches in the conference to vote him ahead of Hundley and Sean Mannion onto the All-Pac-12 second team.
He threw for 3,635 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while guiding one of the nation's highest-scoring offenses. The Sun Devils finished No. 11 in the country, averaging 39.7 points per game.
Like Mariota and Hundley, Kelly gets it done with his legs, too. He rushed for 608 yards and the same amount of touchdowns as Johnny Manziel (9). We know how the Heisman voters love their dual-threat quarterbacks.
5. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
Mannion will enter the 2014 season as the nation's active leader in passing yards (10,436) and will be in position to shatter Barkley's career conference record (12,327).
When the Beavers sat at 6-1, Mannion was firmly in the Heisman race, but a five-game losing streak took the wind out of those sails. He still set the Pac-12 single-season passing record (4,662) and was rated high enough to earn a third-round grade from NFL scouts.
Losing Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks will be tough to compensate for -- although the same was said about losing Markus Wheaton going into last season -- and winning counts. If the Beavers improve it'll likely be due to a better running game, which could hurt Mannion statistically.
We're taking a look at the best and worst of the Pac-12 bowl season.
Best player, offense: UCLA QB Brett Hundley accounted for four touchdowns in the Bruins' 42-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. He rushed for 161 yards on 10 carries -- 16.1 yards per run -- with two touchdowns and he also completed 16 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two scores. He did all that against one of the nation's best defenses in a winning effort.
Best player, special teams: Washington's John Ross had a 103-yard kickoff return in the Huskies win over BYU.
Best game: While Stanford lost the Rose Bowl 24-20 to Michigan State, it wasn't decided until the waning moments of the fourth quarter after the Cardinal failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 play on its 34-yard line. It was a well-played, entertaining game between two defensive powers that delivered plenty of exciting moments, even if the Pac-12 ended up losing.
Worst game: In the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Washington State blew a 22-point lead against Colorado State in one of the most epic meltdowns in Pac-12 bowl history. The Cougars led by 15 with three minutes left but gifted the Rams the game, 48-45, with terrible defense, incomprehensible clock management and two fumbles. The first fumble came immediately after the Cougars had been saved from a fumble by instant replay. The second came on the ensuing kickoff to set up the game-winning field goal.
Worst game runner-up: Arizona State's 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl was shocking because the Sun Devils came in nationally ranked and surging, while the Red Raiders had lost five in a row to conclude the regular season. The Sun Devils were flat on both sides of the ball, and coach Todd Graham rightly blamed himself for his team looking unprepared. His defense gave up 403 yards passing and four TDs to a freshman QB, while his offense was sloppy and out of sync. And the clock management to end the first half rivaled the Cougars at the end of the New Mexico Bowl.
Best play: On second-and-6 from the UCLA 14-yard line, Hundley dropped back to pass, but then decided to run up the middle. It was a good decision. He scampered to his left, then back to his right and, skillfully using great downfield blocks, he went 86 yards for a touchdowns. It was the longest touchdown run in UCLA bowl game history as well as the longest of Hundley's career.
Worst play: With Colorado State out of time outs, Washington State had the ball and an eight-point lead. There was1:55 left in the game, and Washington State faced a second-and-10 from its 31-yard line. There were 20 seconds left on the play clock when the ball was snapped and the Cougars handed to Jeremiah Laufasa for his first carry of the New Mexico Bowl. He fumbled and Colorado State recovered. The Rams then drove for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. And you know what happened next. The worst part about that sequence, however, is that all the Cougars had to do to win the game was assume victory formation and take a knee. You could blame the players for fumbling, but the ultimate blame falls on coach Mike Leach, who scoffed at clock management questions after the game. Mike, this was a simple math problem you got wrong. This isn't a subjective issue. There was a right and wrong strategy, and the Washington State head coach chose the wrong one.
Best stat(s) II: In Nick Aliotti's last game as Oregon's defensive coordinator, the Ducks held Texas to seven points, 13 first downs and 236 total yards. The Ducks defense even outscored the Longhorns in the 30-7 victory with a pair of pick-6s.
Worst stat: Stanford had just 11 first downs against Michigan State. They produced just 71 yards rushing on 27 carries over the final three quarters.
Crazy stat: It was difficult to decide where to place Washington State QB Connor Halliday's performance against Colorado State. The numbers overall are incredible: 37-of-58 for 410 yards with six touchdowns -- to six different receiver! -- with one interception. But his team lost and the Rams have a bad defense. Further, he threw five of the TDs in the first half and was not particularly on target in the second half. And then there was the end game. Still, six touchdown passes tied West Virginia's Geno Smith and Iowa's Chuck Long for an NCAA bowl record. That's something worthy of note.
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: In the AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Boston College, Carey rushed for 169 yards on 27 carries and two scores, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. He decisively outplayed Boston College RB Andre Williams, who won the Doak Walker Award and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
RB D.J. Foster, Arizona State: Despite being banged up, Foster rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries -- 6.6 yards per carry -- in the Sun Devils' 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. He also caught five passes for 23 yards.
WR Marqise Lee, USC: In his career finale, Lee caught seven passes for 118 yards with two touchdowns in USC's win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
WR Nate Phillips, Arizona: Phillips, a true freshman, caught nine passes for 193 yards in the Wildcats' win over Boston College.
WR Josh Huff, Oregon: Huff caught five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in Oregon's 30-7 win over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA: Su'a-Filo led the Bruins' offensive line against a tough Virginia Tech defense. UCLA rushed for 197 yards against a top-10 rushing defense and yielded only two sacks.
OL Abe Markowitz, USC: The sixth-year walk-on stepped in at center for an injured Marcus Martin -- the Trojans' best offensive lineman this season -- and played well in the 45-20 win over Fresno State. The Trojans yielded only one sack and rushed for 154 yards. He was named the "Offensive Outperformer of the Game" by his coaches.
OL Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher led a strong effort from the Ducks' offensive line in the win over Texas. Oregon rushed for 216 yards and yielded only two sacks. Fisher did a good job against Texas' top defender, end Jackson Jeffcoat.
OL Micah Hatchie, Washington: Hatchie, the Huskies' left tackle, was the biggest reason BYU didn't record a sack in the Fight Hunger Bowl, a 31-16 Huskies victory. Washington also rushed for 190 yards.
OL Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State: Seumalo led perhaps the Beavers O-line's best effort of the season. Oregon State rushed for 195 yards and yielded no sacks.
K Travis Coons, Washington: Coons made a 45-yard field goal against BYU -- the longest Pac-12 postseason field goal -- and was good on all four of his PATs.
DL Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Crichton had three tackles for a loss, a sack, a forced fumble and pass breakup in the win over Boise State.
DL Taylor Hart, Oregon: Hart had a game-high 11 tackles, with half a sack and a forced fumble in the Ducks' win over Texas.
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington: Kikaha had nine tackles with three sacks and a forced fumble in the Huskies' win over BYU.
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov had nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble in Stanford's 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
LB Jake Fischer, Arizona: Fischer had a game-high 14 tackles in the Wildcats' win over Boston College. He also had a sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Arizona held Williams to only 75 yards on 26 carries.
LB John Timu, Washington: Timu had a game-high 14 tackles, a sack and an interception in the Huskies' win over BYU.
LB Jabral Johnson, Oregon State: Johnson had a game-high 12 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry in the Beavers' win over Boise State.
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State: Reynolds had 10 tackles and returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the Beavers' win over Boise State. The fumble returns went for 70 and 3 yards.
DB Avery Patterson, Oregon: Patterson had nine tackles and returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the win over Texas.
DB Josh Shaw, USC: Shaw held Fresno State receiver Davante Adams to nine receptions for 73 yards in the Trojans' win over the Bulldogs. He finished with six tackles and had an interception in the end zone.
DB Anthony Jefferson, UCLA: Jefferson had seven tackles, shared a tackle for a loss and had a pass breakup in the Bruins' win over Virginia Tech. The Hokies completed only 15 of 36 throws for 176 yards.
P Ben Rhyne, Stanford: With five punts, Rhyne averaged 49.8 yards per boot in the Rose Bowl.
Three major pieces are out today -- including one from our very own Ted Miller -- who looks at some of the questions that will sear on our brains until kickoff 2014.
One major point Ted brings up is the return of so many big-name quarterbacks -- specifically how loaded it is in the Pac-12.
Nine starters from 2013 are returning in 2014 -- headlined by potential first-round draft choices Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA. But also back are Taylor Kelly (ASU), Jared Goff (Cal), Sefo Liufau (Colorado), Sean Mannion (Oregon State), Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Cody Kessler (USC) and Connor Halliday (Washington State). We still need to see what the long-term diagnosis is for Utah's Travis Wilson.
Don’t be shocked if a few quarterback competitions “open up,” maybe at Stanford, USC or Washington State. But don’t be shocked, either, if experience wins out.
Adam Rittenberg also takes a look at some players to watch in 2014 -- including Mariota, Hundley and UCLA’s Myles Jack. Digging a little deeper in the conference, there are some extremely bright defensive stars to keep an eye on, including USC’s Addison Gillam and Arizona’s Scooby Wright. Washington’s Shaq Thompson could also emerge as a candidate for defensive player of the year.
Finally, Mark Schlabach offers up some bold predictions for 2014. Notable here is that he predicts an SEC team won’t win a national championship, and that Jameis Winston will win a second consecutive Heisman Trophy. Though Mariota and Hundley should be right up there in terms of preseason hype. Recall, the preseason favorite hasn’t fared well the last few years. Andrew Luck gave way to Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley stumbled to Johnny Manziel and Mariota slipped to Winston.
The next seven months should provide plenty of fodder.
- Expect Arizona RB to shortly announce he'll enter the NFL draft.
- More reflections on Arizona State's Holiday Bowl debacle.
- California gets a commitment from a D-lineman.
- A look at former Colorado WR Paul Richardson's NFL prospects.
- Oregon picks up a commitment from a linebacker.
- Oregon State is still waiting on whether QB Sean Mannion will return or enter the NFL draft.
- A look at the Stanford offense in 2014.
- UCLA picks up a commitment from a running back. More on QB Brett Hundley's decision to return to UCLA rather than enter the draft.
- USC flips a cornerback who was committed to UCLA.
- Former Utah QB Alex Smith talks about the stunning end to the Kansas City Chiefs season.
- A look at Washington's 2014 schedule, at least without dates for conference games.
- Do you want to spend the night with Washington State Cougar football? Of course you do.
While the return of UCLA QB Brett Hundley for his redshirt junior season was the weekend's big news, an early-entry to the NFL draft talent drain is hitting the Pac-12 hard.
While a number of big-name players have not yet formally announced their intensions -- such as Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford OG David Yankey, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Arizona State LB Carl Bradford and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion -- already 17 players have announced they will give up their remaining eligibility to turn professional.
The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.
There has been good news at quarterback. Hundley joins Oregon's Marcus Mariota as pretty significant surprises that they opted to return to school, and that means the 2014 class of Pac-12 quarterbacks will be without peer in the nation by a wide margin.
Here's the early-entry list so far:
Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon*
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
*Lyerla was kicked off the team at Oregon in October.
Here comes the meltdown, there goes the cheer.
But before we have a breakdown, let us remember;
The light of the world is still here.
- B.J. Denker matured plenty during this season.
- Chris Young has had a season beyond expectation.
- A closer look at a new Cal transfer.
- Breaking down Colorado's recruiting class thus far.
- Ducks arrive in Texas with plenty of motivation.
- Questions linger for OSU after bowl win.
- What's Stanford's formula for beating Michigan State?
- A breakdown of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
- A review of USC's defense in 2013.
- Kyle Whittingham's latest hire is his biggest gamble yet.
- Athlon offers its Fight Hunger prediction.
- Also from Athlon, Washington State is a team to watch in the rankings next year.
ESPN 300 Ranking Motivates Byron Cowart
TBD Weber State Arizona State TBD Idaho State Utah TBD Rutgers Washington State
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