Oregon Ducks: David Shaw

Athlon Sports is big on lists. And we’re big on bringing you their lists because, well, it's the offseason, and it’s fun.

One annual list in particular always seems to get folks all hot and bothered, and that’s their annual ranking of the Pac-12 coaches.

Before people go all crazy on Twitter, remember, THIS IS NOT A PAC-12 BLOG LIST. We are simply sharing it because we think it’s interesting. Your thoughts are always welcomed in the mailbag.

Here’s the 2014 list that Steven Lassan put together:

  1. David Shaw, Stanford
  2. Chris Petersen, Washington
  3. Todd Graham, Arizona State
  4. Mike Riley, Oregon State
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State
  6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  7. Jim Mora, UCLA
  8. Steve Sarkisian, USC
  9. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado
  10. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
  11. Mark Helfrich, Oregon
  12. Sonny Dykes, California

Some thoughts:
    [+] EnlargeRodriguez/Graham
    AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez (right) is ranked sixth on the Pac-12 coaching list by Athlon.

  • I went back to their 2013 and 2012 rankings and noticed a few interesting moves. Rich Rodriguez was No. 3 last year and is No. 6 this year. I find that interesting since he won the same amount of games last season as in 2012 (8-5), scored a signature win last season by topping No. 5 Oregon and did it without his 2012 quarterback. Granted, Arizona had a light nonconference schedule last fall, but does that warrant being dropped a quarter of the way down?
  • Two years ago, Shaw was No. 9 on their list, despite being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2011. Last year, he bounced up to No. 1 and is in the top spot again. For having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, I see no problem with him being No. 1 again.
  • My first thought was that Petersen was way too high, considering he has never coached a single game in the conference. Then I pushed that silliness out of my mind. He has coached against this conference, going 5-2 during his stint with Boise (not counting games against Utah when it was in the Mountain West or the bowl loss to Oregon State last season when he wasn’t the head coach). Plus, he’s a two-time national coach of the year. That’s a better résumé than anyone else in the league. I’ll buy him at No. 2.
  • My biggest gripe with the list is Mora at No. 7. He was No. 11 on the 2012 list and No. 8 on the 2013 list. All he has done is go 19-8, win the South title one of those two years and beat USC twice. Doesn’t that get you a statue on campus? He has bolstered the national reputation of the program and was given a nice contract extension for his work. I would slot him in either the No. 3 or No. 4 spot with Todd Graham. Both have nearly identical résumés so far. Both are 2-0 against their rival. Both have won the Pac-12 South. They have split their head-to-head games with each winning once on the road. Both have had one blowout bowl win and one bad bowl loss. The only reason I’d probably put Graham ahead is that he was named coach of the year. But Mora belongs in the upper third.
  • Sarkisian is interesting. People are quick to rip his hire at USC, but recall the coaching job he did at Washington when he first got there. He turned a winless team into a pretty good program. Petersen is coming into a much more advantageous position than when Sark first got there. How that translates to USC remains to be seen.
  • Helfrich was No. 12 in 2013. For winning 11 games in 2013, he gets that big boost all the way up to No. 11. I get the sentiment -- that the Ducks were “supposed” to go to the BCS title game last season. He can’t control an injury to his quarterback. Don’t be shocked if he’s in the top five when Athlon releases its 2015 list.
  • Whittingham has stumbled from the No. 4 spot he occupied in 2012. Like Helfrich, he can’t control the unfortunate rash of injuries that have plagued his quarterbacks since coming into the league. I know this, there aren’t many defensive-minded coaches I’d take over Whittingham.
  • Riley continues to be in the upper half of the list. Which is completely fair. He’s done more in that setting than most people could. Oregon State fans seem to clamor annually about what’s on the other side of the fence. When the day comes that Riley does step down (and I have to imagine it will be on his own terms), those complaining about change will miss him.

You get the idea. Lists are hard to put together, because everyone has a bias and an opinion. I think MacIntyre has done some great things at Colorado, and I think Washington State’s progress under Leach has been outstanding. As for Dykes, well, let’s give it another year and see what he can do with a healthy roster.

So we once again salute Athlon for making the list. Even if we don’t always agree with it.
Looking back at some teams the current group of Pac-12 coaches have led during their respective head-coaching careers turns up an impressive list. All 12 have coached a team to a bowl appearance, 10 have finished a season with double-digit wins and eight have had teams appear in the AP top 10.

Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.

Here are some notable takeaways:

  • Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
  • Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
  • Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
  • Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
  • Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
  • Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
  • Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
  • Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
We're not going attempt to rank them ourselves, but here they are in reverse order based on each team's final AP ranking:

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian parlayed his successful 2013 season into the head-coaching job at USC.
No. 11 Steve Sarkisian, Washington, 2013

Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team:
The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.

No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013

Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008

Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team:
The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.

No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team:
The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceDavid Shaw's best team at Stanford didn't win the Pac-12 title.
No. 5 Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2013

Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.

No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.

No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.

No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at Kyle.Bonagura@espn.com.

Coordinator changes: Pac-12 North

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
5:30
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So far, only three Pac-12 teams retained their 2013 offensive and defensive coordinators: Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.

Here's a look at who's in, who's out and what it means, starting in the North Division:

California

Out: Defensive coordinator Andy Buh, who will be reassigned as a position coach, probably linebackers, if he remains in Berkeley. Coach Sonny Dykes also fired defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks and defensive backs coach Randy Stewart.

In: Art Kaufman, whose defense at Cincinnati ranked ninth in the nation last season.

Thoughts: Kaufman, 55, takes over perhaps the worst defense in Cal history, a unit that was injury-ravaged but also was often unsound and seemingly uninspired, allowing an eye-popping 46 points per game in 2013. The good news: If the injury issues resolve themselves with the healthy return of talented players such as defensive end Brennan Scarlett, safety Avery Sebastian, defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil and cornerback Stefan McClure, the improvement could be dramatic. Dykes also hired Greg Burns to coach the secondary. He was at USC from 2002-05 and Arizona State from 2008 -11. He spent last season at UMass.

Oregon

Out: Longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti retired.

In: Don Pellum was promoted from linebackers coach.

Thoughts: The promotion of the 51-year-0ld Pellum stuck with the "Oregon Way" of promoting from within, though there was mutual interest between coach Mark Helfrich and former USC coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Pellum won't have to rework much with the Ducks' hybrid 3-4 scheme. As noted here, since 2009, "the Ducks have finished no lower than third in the Pac-12 in yards-per-play allowed. That includes leading the conference in 2009, 2010 and, yes, 2013, when the Ducks finished seventh nationally by that metric." The Ducks did falter a few times last season, most notably against Stanford, Arizona and Oregon State, and often had trouble against physical running games as well as on third down. Helfrich did make a quasi-outside hire when he brought in Erik Chinander to take over the Ducks' outside linebackers, which Aliotti coached. Chinander, 34, is a former Oregon graduate assistant who worked under Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles last season.

Oregon State

Out: Offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf left to become the quarterbacks coach for the New York Giants.

In: John Garrett, who was the wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season. He was on the staff of the Dallas Cowboys from 2007-12, where his brother Jason Garrett is the head coach.

Thoughts: Garrett, who last coached in college at Virginia from 2004-06, shows that coach Mike Riley remains married to a pro-style scheme. Garrett will also coach quarterbacks and tight ends, but it has not yet been determined who will call plays -- Riley has done so for the past two seasons. Garrett and Riley have known each other since 1991, when Garrett played receiver for Riley's San Antonio Riders of the World Football League. The good news for Garrett is the Beavers are strong at QB (Sean Mannion) and deep at tight end. The bigger questions are making the running game more consistent and replacing WR Brandin Cooks' production.

Stanford

Out: Defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who became the head coach at Vanderbilt.

In: Lance Anderson was promoted from outside linebackers coach, a position he will continue to coach.

Thoughts: Another promotion from within that will ensure the Pac-12's best defense has schematic continuity. Anderson has been at Stanford for seven seasons. He coached DTs from 2007-09. He was also the recruiting coordinator from 2007-11. The Cardinal also hired Peter Hansen as inside linebackers coach. He replaces David Kotulski, who was named Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator under Mason. That was another move that maintains continuity, as Hansen spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons at Stanford as a defensive assistant before following Vic Fangio and Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.

Washington

Out: Steve Sarkisian brought most of his staff from Washington to USC, including defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, but not offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau, who was not retained by new Huskies coach Chris Petersen

In: Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski

Thoughts: Smith, the overachieving former Oregon State QB, is a real up-and-comer. Petersen trusts him enough to give him play-calling duties, even though he was not the offensive coordinator last year at Boise State. He'll also coach quarterbacks, so he'll play a central role in determining who wins the starting job this fall. Before joining Petersen at Boise State, Smith spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Montana. Kwiatkowski spent the previous four seasons coordinating the Boise State defense. He was the defensive line coach before being elevated to defensive coordinator in 2010, when he replaced Wilcox. The Broncos led the Western Athletic and Mountain West Conferences in total defense and scoring defense in each of his first three seasons and were third and second, respectively, in 2013.

Washington State

No change: Head coach Mike Leach is his own offensive coordinator and Mike Breske is back to coordinate the Cougars defense, which was disappointing in 2013, slightly lagging behind its 2012 numbers.

Mailbag: Stars don't always align

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
5:30
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Last mailbag from me for a couple of weeks. If you've been saving up some really irritating and insulting questions, be sure to send them here.

Chris in Tempe, Ariz., writes: Great piece on the coaching carousel! My thought is that, of course it won't. Unfortunately for the coaches, football (all sports, in fact) IS a zero-sum game. There are winners and losers. And losers can no longer be tolerated. Thirty years ago, before big TV deals, coaches had the luxury of time. When you have the pressure of a multi-million dollar athletics budget riding, mostly, on your team's success: Time = money. Translated: Win now or else. While [Sonny] Dykes or Mac [Mike MacIntryre] might need five years to really implement a plan for success, they won't get it. They'll get three years (probably), but if they aren't hitting .500 AND staying competitive (in particular with their rivals), Year 4 is a crap shoot at best. They need to show success each and every year, and if they don't, they're going to get canned. And even if those coaches do win, that means some other coach lost to those teams. Unthinkable! Cue the hot-seat music for them. The zero-sum world is a tough one. Keep up the great work, and enjoy your "offseason."

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Eric RisbergIt was a rough first season for Sonny Dykes, but he'll get at least a couple more to try to right the ship at Cal.
Kevin Gemmell: Thanks, Chris. There was a lot more from my conversations with Rick Neuheisel and Mike Riley that didn’t make the final product. But that’s why we have the mailbag, so I can get deeper into it.

Both guys agree that five years – minimum – is about how long a coach should be given the opportunity to turn a program around. Neuheisel hit on the most important point. That being the quarterback spot and the fact that you really only have one shot with a quarterback. If you swing and miss, or if he gets injured, there goes your coaching tenure with that school.

We (Neuheisel and myself) also talked about Riley, Sonny Dykes and Kyle Whittingham. We didn’t talk as much about Mike MacIntyre because there was some solid progress in Year 1.

With Whittingham, Neuheisel took the same philosophy as the Pac-12 blog, in that his program needs time to adjust to all the ins and outs of playing in a major conference. I’m on record as saying that I believe a full recruiting cycle – five years in the league – is a good gauge. And given how many times the Utes have changed offensive coordinators, it’s obvious Whittingham is trying to find the pieces to make it all work. He’s being proactive. But the quarterback situation has been so unbelievably unfortunate that it’s tough to get some traction.

With Dykes, it wasn’t all quarterback. Jared Goff did pretty well for a true freshman, all things considered. But it’s obvious he needs seasoning. There were just so many problems with that team, from offense to defense to special teams, that you can’t really lay it all on one aspect of the game.

And with Riley, well, he was on the hot seat after a 3-9 2011 only to storm back to a 9-4 2012. As Neuheisel said, “Last time I checked, they haven’t moved Corvallis any closer to the good players. If I were betting, I’d bet on Riley.” I would, too.

The name of the game is time. You have to show some immediate progress in order to get more time (like Mike Leach, David Shaw, Todd Graham, Jim Mora, who have all signed extensions). I think MacIntyre has done that. I think Whittingham still has time before his seat gets toasty and I think Dykes will get a couple of years to put things together. Riley isn’t going anywhere.

So for the immediate future, unless a coach leaves on his own, I think we’re going to see this lineup of head coaches for at least a couple of seasons. That’s a good thing. Because this is a very, very sharp group.


SDZald in San Diego writes: Nice breakdown on recruits to the Pac-12 by state. Can you enlighten us a bit more by breaking down the recruits from California into northern and southern regions?

Kevin Gemmell: When I read this request, I was reminded of when Ace Rothstein demanded an equal number of blueberries be placed in every muffin. And the baker’s response: “Do you know how long that’s going to take?”

It took a good few hours to break them all down by state. And going back through and determining which part of the state would probably take longer since there would be some Google-mapping involved.

However, here’s a compromise. I’ll likely do that post again next season. Now that I know to look for it, I’ll go through NorCal. Vs. SoCal while I’m actually doing the research the first time around. Deal?

I spent 18 years living in NorCal and the last 15 in SoCal (plus a few scattered states for four years) and the two halves are very much like two different states.

I’d wager a significant majority comes from SoCal (if we set the marker at, say, Bakersfield). Though there are a few Fresnos in there as well.


Chris in NorCal writes: I'm wondering how many other Stanford targets weren't able to gain admission to the university? It's typically a small number because the football program doesn't spend time recruiting players that they don't think will meet the admission standards.

Kevin Gemmell: Stanford doesn’t release the names of players who weren’t admitted. Consider it sort of an amateur-athlete professional-courtesy.

David Shaw did say, however, that there were only “about 80” high school seniors who could have qualified and been accepted. So if you buy that, it makes their recruiting haul all the more impressive.

As one of the few true national recruiters, Stanford has to comb the country to find the right type of guys. Shaw told me once that oftentimes they’ll try to identify position groups and recruit accordingly. For example, if there is a really good year for offensive linemen, they’ll identify that group, find which ones could be academically eligible, and go after that group like crazy and then adjust as needed to fit that group.

As it stands, there are only so many 4.4 wide receivers available (that’s GPA and 40 time). When you look at Stanford’s fraction of the pie, it’s pretty miniscule.

As for how many didn’t make it in, we’ll never really know unless the players come out and say so.


Andy in Lebanon, Ore. writes: Ted and Kevin! Everyone "says" they know better than to focus so hard on these star ratings. But every year signing day rolls around and everyone acts like they will solely determine the next four years anyway.Give me a 3-star LaMichael James or Kenjon Barner over 5-star RB Lache Seastrunk, who will whine and leave. Give me a 3-star Jeff Maehl over 4- and 5-star Devon Blackmon and Tacoi Sumler. Give me a 3-star David Paulson over a 5-star basket case like Colt Lyerla. Give me a 3-star Kyle Long. Hroniss Grasu. Terrance Mitchell. Michael Clay. And most of all, give a gangly 3-star QB from Hawaii named Marcus Mariota. Understand, at this point in the game, using these star ratings is the only thing we have to go on and in a long offseason, you are going to go on it. Not every 5-star is useless like Seastrunk and not every 3-star shatters QB records. But it just seems so silly to me that people are focusing so hard on the rating and not on if a program got the guys it really wants.

Kevin Gemmell: Stars are essentially predictions. And … this just in … sometimes predictions are wrong! I was just getting into the San Diego media scene when there was a hot debate over Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. A few years later I was covering a can’t-miss prep superstar named Dillon Baxter.

Sometimes you swing and miss.

Every year around this time, I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a head coach a few years ago (it was off the record, so names will not be used to protect the innocent). He and I were actually just discussing this again a few weeks ago.

He was recruiting a two-star player who hadn’t received an offer yet. Then a major West Coast school, for kicks, let’s say USC, made him an offer. The next day he jumped to four stars on the recruiting boards. The coach snarkily asked me, “how the hell did he get so good overnight?”

The point is, the star system is what it is – a system. And human systems are flawed. Yes, it’s nice to have a good recruiting class with a bunch of four-star guys and the occasional five-star. But it’s the teams that develop two- and three-star players into all-conference guys (you cited Marcus Mariota, Ben Gardner is another that comes to mind and there are countless others) that truly make the biggest impact.

Stars are nice. But the name of the game is player development.


Bryce in San Francisco writes: Would you please expand your post about Pac-12 alumni in the Super Bowl to include a conference breakdown? Given the number of key contributors coming from the Pac-12, I wonder if there might be a chance for major bragging rights.

Kevin Gemmell: Found this, which should help break it down. By my count, there were only 16 who were active according to the final gamebook. But given the way the Pac-12 players performed – and the winning coach is a Pac-12 alumnus – I’d say a little chest thumping is in order.


Joe Bruin in Westwood writes: Hey Kev, do you have an Instagram or a Twitter I could follow you at?

Kevin Gemmell: No Instagram, but Ted and I share the Pac-12 blog’s Twitter account. You can follow here. 56K and growing. That’s right, @mileycyrus, we're coming for you. Coming like a wrecking ball.

Mailbag: Kelly, Sark and the SEC

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday. This is the Mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It makes trolling SO MUCH EASIER!

To the notes!

(Two exclamation points and we haven't even started! Wait … three!)

Eric from Hollywoodland, Calif., writes: I understand that the Pac-12 won a pretty major NFL draft battle in keeping the marquee QBs (Hundley, Mariota, Mannion and oft unmentioned Kelly), but why is one of the prevailing storylines STILL "SEC SO GOOD. SEC LOSES SO MANY PLAYER EARLY. ONLY SEC CAN RECOVER FROM SUCH LOSS??" Correct me if I'm wrong, but my Pac-12 educated brain tells me that 12 teams losing 25 players (2.083/team) might be even worse than 14 teams losing 28 players (2/team), right?

Ted Miller: Well, the SEC lost 32 players last year and the Pac-12 lost only 10.

And then the NFL draft happened -- 63 SEC draft picks vs. 28 for Pac-12 -- which, by the way, became the grounds for the Pac-12 blog believing the SEC might slide in 2013 while the Pac-12 might rise.

My feeling is the Pac-12 will do well in this year's draft, probably finishing a respectable distance behind the SEC. But it's a pretty clear recent trend that the SEC provides the most talent to the NFL among the major conferences.

However, it's also notable that the Pac-12's 2013 NFL rookie class was pretty darn salty, with former Oregon Ducks LB Kiko Alonso and California WR Keenan Allen being named defensive and offensive Rookies of the Year, and a number of other former conference standouts making a significant mark.




Erik from Portland writes: With [Steve] Sarkisian talking about USC going to an uptempo attack, shouldn't there be concern about whether or not the defense will be able to hold up? Aliotti alternated players constantly to keep them fresh. SC doesn't have the numbers or depth at any position (especially DL and LB) to do that.

Ted Miller: It will be a concern. It's simple math: Uptempo offenses possess the ball for shorter periods of time, which means more plays for your defense. More plays for your defense means more tired players if you aren't regularly shuffling in quality backups. USC doesn't have a lot in the way of quality backups.

One of the more impressive things about USC's defense under Clancy Pendergast this year was it attained some outstanding numbers while pretty much playing only 13 guys regularly.

Will the Trojans be deeper on defense next year? Perhaps, but only slightly so. Bottom line: Because of NCAA scholarship sanctions, USC will have no more than 72 players on scholarship in 2014, which is 13 fewer bodies than other teams are permitted.

But guess what? Sarkisian knows this. And he's a smart guy. I suspect he will pick his moments and not go all-in. I'm fairly certain USC won't be 100 percent no-huddle, uptempo next fall, particularly with a lead. I think his goal will be to control the tempo and find times to get an opposing defense off balance.

Of course, Sarkisian's desire to adopt an uptempo offense at USC is a long-term plan, at least until his philosophy changes considering this was his first year going that way. This is USC's last recruiting class that will be limited. So, starting in 2015, there should be more fresh body reinforcements.




Gee from Seattle writes: Can the SEC or any other conference put three or even four teams in the playoff next year? If so, how did this come about? Shouldn't the system allow for at least three conference champions and perhaps one at large?

Ted Miller: There are no limits on teams per conference in the four-team playoff, nor are there specific requirements for selection. The goal of the selection committee will be to pick the four best teams. Not the most deserving -- the four best.

So, yes, if a consensus from the committee is that three -- or four! -- of the best teams in the nation come from the SEC or any other conference, they will be selected.

But know that the committee also won't be eager to do that. For one, if you pick, say, three SEC teams, there's the possibility of rematches, which the committee will know fans don't like to see -- see the unpopular LSU-Alabama national title game after the 2011 season.

My guess is we're probably going to see plenty of four-team playoffs with two teams from once conference, most likely the SEC, but three will be highly unlikely.




Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: Ted, was wondering about your final top 25 poll. Aren't you getting away from your stance of "strength of schedule should mean something" by putting Clemson so high and ahead of Stanford? Yes, Clemson won their last game against a good Ohio State team and Stanford lost their last game to a better Michigan State team. When you look at the schedules, though, they are worlds apart. Name another ranked team that Clemson beat. There are 0 such wins. Stanford beat six ranked teams. Clemson got beat by double digits in its two losses. Stanford lost their three games by single scores and two were against ranked teams. Do you really think Clemson would win on a neutral field, and if you were on the playoff committee, would you really slot Clemson ahead of Stanford looking at the seasons of both teams?

Ted Miller: I see your point. I do almost always prioritize quality wins.

The combination of a head-to-head win and strength-of-schedule is why I ranked Stanford ahead of Oregon in my final poll, even though this didn't happen in either the AP or coaches poll. The Cardinal had a lot more quality wins than Oregon, including the best one -- the Ducks themselves.

But you asked about Clemson.

Part of my ranking Clemson sixth is pretty simple: My final position on Clemson is it was an elite team in 2013. It was the same justification I used earlier in the year to rank Oregon No. 2, even though the Ducks didn't post a quality victory until winning at Washington on Oct. 12.

Now, I didn't give Clemson the benefit of the doubt much of the season. I had them ranked 13th heading into the bowl games. I jumped them up because I consider the win over Ohio State impressive.

Clemson lost two games by decisive margins, yes, but they were to Florida State, which won the national title, and South Carolina, which finished ranked fourth. Further, I watched the South Carolina game, and it was a lot closer than the deceiving final score. Clemson seemed like the better team, outgaining the Gamecocks, but it lost the turnover battle 6-0.

6-0! I bet Tigers fans were ripping their eyes out watching that.

Further, Clemson beat Georgia while Georgia was still Georgia -- fifth-ranked and an elite team that hadn't yet suffered epidemic injuries. Georgia beat South Carolina the week after losing to Clemson.

Clemson, by the way, has now beaten two top-10 teams in a row in bowl games: LSU in 2012 and Ohio State this year.

(If I had a quibble with my own ballot, in fact, it would be that I ranked Clemson sixth and Oklahoma seventh. At the time I put the ballot together, I considered Oklahoma's losses worse -- Texas and Baylor -- and the Sooners' best win -- Oklahoma State -- was devalued when the Cowboys lost to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. I could go either way on that, because the Sooners beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl was very impressive.)




Kevin from Orange County, Calif., writes: Regarding the Wazzu meltdown in their bowl game, why not mention the Stanford/UCLA game? Around two minutes left in the game, Stanford up 17-10 and inside UCLA 10-yard line and UCLA with no timeouts. ... Instead of going to the knee three straight times and guaranteeing a win, Shaw decides to run and try to score. The only way UCLA has a chance is a Stanford turnover or Stanford scores quickly and gives UCLA enough time to score themselves and get an onside kick (UCLA/Utah situation at the end of game). My point is why is Shaw getting a pass for his stupid play-calling at the end of that game if Wazzu is second-guessed? Only difference seems to be that Stanford won and Wazzu lost.

Ted Miller: You might have guessed this, but the bold and italics for the final sentence were supplied by me.

It is true. When a strategy works, it rarely gets criticized. And when it fails, it does.

Remember Chip Kelly's shocking onside kick early in the second quarter against Stanford in 2010, with the Cardinal leading 21-10? It was a game-changing moment. It was pure genius.

And we would have thought Kelly had lost his mind if Stanford had recovered and then driven for a 28-10 lead. We would have typed, "Just as Oregon seemed to have gained momentum after a terrible start, Kelly tried to get too fancy and he handed the game to Andrew Luck and Stanford. It's clear that Kelly is in over his head as a head coach and is never, ever, ever going to be successful."

Well, the last part was just me pouring it on.

Also, understand that the Pac-12 blog's consternation over the end game wasn't just about clock management. It was about yielding a 22-point lead, playing horrendous fourth-quarter defense and coughing up the ball two times in the final two minutes.

It was a total package of meltdown.




Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Am I a bad person for finding these Chip Kelly quotes hilarious? Do media folk find him condescending, or is there a small amount of joy in getting slammed by a master? I mean, who wouldn't want to get insulted by Don Rickles?

Ted Miller: Some might find him condescending, but my feeling is most reporters enjoyed working with Kelly.

Yes, he could be biting. But typically he was biting when someone asked him either: 1. A stupid question; 2. A question that he didn't want to answer. Asking the latter is often part of the reporter's job, and the truth is a biting answer is more fun than him saying, "No comment."

Further, most of his best quips aren't biting. They're him having fun. News conferences with NFL coaches are typically drab affairs. Any added color is appreciated.

As in, "This team is not going to fall for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick."

Erroneous!

It seemed New Orleans stuck a banana in the Eagles' tailpipe.

Pac-12's lunch links

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
2:30
PM ET
A huge earthquake happens, who do they rescue first? They'll rescue Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me. If there's room, you guys will come.
He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought ... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps ... means a little bit more!

Lunch links: Kline to Oregon State

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
2:30
PM ET
Hail to the chief he's the one we all say hail to. We all say hail cause he keeps himself so clean. He's got the power. That's why he's in the shower.

Pac-12 lunch links

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
2:30
PM ET
I know Darth Vader's really got you annoyed;
But remember, if you kill him, then you'll be unemployed;
Oh, my Yoda, yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda.
I've heard another rumor, that you were bitten by a king cobra?

Yeah, I was. But after five days of agonizing pain, the cobra died.

Lunch links: Shaw counters critics

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
2:30
PM ET
You all know exactly who I am. Say my name.
Mail+bag= fun, fun, fun.

Many questions from many people: (My team) has a bowl scenario that involves (this team) (that team) (the other team) and if (the other team) beats (that team) and (my team) wins out, what will happen?

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDavid Shaw and Stanford could be on the outside looking in when it comes to BCS bowl games.
Kevin Gemmell: Lots, and lots of these types of questions. First and foremost is the Stanford to a BCS game question. Stanford’s chances aren’t shot by any means. If they close out the year with two losses, they’ll still be ranked in the top 10.

The question is, will there be a spot available to them? You have to worry about an NIU or Fresno State taking an at-large spot away from a BCS conference team – which isn’t to say they didn’t earn it, that’s just the reality of the system.

I think a Stanford team with two losses and a strong resume would be appealing. The only problem is both of those losses came against unranked teams. They were on the road, which eases the pain a little – but they are unranked nevertheless.

But the Cardinal put themselves in the position David Shaw didn’t want to be in – someone else deciding their fate for them. If they sneak into one of the BCS bowls, it would be a nice boost for the conference. If not, the Alamo is always pretty this time of year.

As for all of the other scenarios, let’s just wait and see how everything plays out. Three weeks ago we were convinced Oregon was going to the national championship game. Two weeks ago we were confident there were going to be two BCS bowl teams with Stanford and Oregon. Last week we had written USC out of the South.

Crazy things have been known to happen around Thanksgiving. We’ll see if this year follows suit.

Anonymous Husky fan writes: Husky fan here... I'm fully disappointed with this season and will consider it a failure even if we win our next two games and bowl game to finish 9-4. That's not good enough.

Kevin Gemmell: That’s fair. Though I think eight regular season wins and a potential ninth win in a bowl game would be considered a step forward for the program. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have high hopes. Because you should.

I felt coming into the season that Washington was anywhere from an eight- to 10-win team. They could have gotten to 10 wins if some of those 50-50 road games went their way. As it stands, they lost a pair of those to Arizona State and UCLA. Two very good teams, mind you.

Essentially they have won the games they are supposed to win, lost the games we figured they’d lose, and went 0-for-2 on a couple of the toss ups. Ted and I both tabbed Washington as the No. 3 team in the North. The next two weeks will go a long way toward finalizing that pecking order.

As for your final sentence – not good enough – I guess the question is what is good enough? 10 wins? A conference championship? A national championship? All of those things would be fan-diddly-tastic, but as Oregon and Stanford will tell you, that’s all kinds of tough to accomplish when you play in the Pac-12 and play a nine-game conference schedule.

I’m not saying this season has been a massive success for the Huskies. That ending is yet to be written. But if they close the year with nine wins, I don’t think you can call it a failure.

Jeremy in Seattle writes: Hi kev, do you happen to know if the bowls will be crowded this year? Is it possible a 6-6 Pac 12 team, whether it be Arizona, Utah, Oregon state, Washington state, Colorado, or, god forbid, Washington, not get to a bowl?

Kevin Gemmell: The bowls are almost always crowded. There are plenty of teams capable of six wins.

I think we first need to see what happens with the BCS. A second BCS team pulls everyone up one spot, which is obviously beneficial for the bottom of the conference.

By my count, there are 66 bowl eligible teams heading into this week for 70 spots. However, all of those teams you mentioned have the simple fact that they are in the Pac-12 going for them. Bowl organizers that are looking for replacement teams are going to look favorably on major conference teams – especially major conference teams that travel well.

By the way, you can see where Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards are projecting teams.

For the Utahs and Washington States of the world, my best advice involves a cart and a horse. Get there first, then worry about where there actually is.

00006shy in Los Angeles writes: kevin, on the day of kiffin's firing, i was excited about the opportunity to get a "big name" coach. today, i think we should keep coach o. and it looks like more and more usc fans are starting to agree. at this point, if haden doesn't hire coach o, how big a name does he need to get in order to avoid a revolt? will anything less than snatching gruden or returning vince lombardi from the dead cut it?

Kevin Gemmell: Let’s see how they finish out the year before throwing a contract Ed Orgeron’s way. Will you be singing the same tune if they stumble at Colorado and/or get smacked down by UCLA?

I think Pat Haden has played this perfectly. He said from the beginning he’s going to give the job its due diligence and not going to rush to any decisions.

The more Orgeron wins, the more he pads his resume. But he also makes the program that much more attractive should an NFLer swoop in and take the gig. Six weeks ago, it was a USC team in shambles. Now it’s a top 25 program that chops down trees and can win in the clutch. In establishing his own credentials for the job, Orgeron may have piqued the interest of bigger names on the fence about taking over a sub.-500 team that smelled like Traveler’s backside.

I absolutely think Orgeron should continue to be considered for the job. We know he can recruit nationally. And right now it’s a heck of a story. These guys will eat glass for him, so long as they get cookies, burgers and shakes afterwards. They are playing inspired defense and efficient offense. From a selfish, media standpoint, I love talking to the guy, so I hope he stays in the running.

But I wouldn’t stamp it yet, and Haden shouldn’t either. Let’s see how these next two weeks play out. But if he doesn’t get the job, whoever the new guy is, his first order of business should be locking Orgeron in for a very long time.

The CEO at the McKay Center writes: Kevin, should I clear a spot on my mantel for the "Pac 12 Coach of the Year" trophy?

Kevin Gemmell: Interesting. Very, very interesting. He’s undefeated against the Pac-12. If they close the year 7-0 against the Pac-12 with Orgeron as the head coach – which includes wins over ranked Stanford and UCLA, maybe? It honestly hadn’t crossed my mind until you brought it up. I just didn’t think about it because five games were already in the books.

Let’s think about this for a second. Obvious choices: Mark Helfrich, Todd Graham or Jim Mora. Helfrich has the Stanford loss, but his team has the best chance of going on to win the conference. I think if Graham goes on to win the South and is competitive in the title game, or wins the conference, he should be a lock. Same for Mora, who I believe has done phenomenal work considering the off-the-field tragedy his team has had to deal with.

I think David Shaw’s streak of two in a row comes to an end with losses to unranked teams.

But, sure, why not Ed? I don’t have a vote. But I’d think long and hard about that one.

ESPN Commentator, Head in the Clouds: Hello, fellow ESPN employee! Did you see Myles Jack on Friday! I did and it was a spiritual experience. He's like the second coming of Jesus combined with Bo Jackson! He's the best player ever! I mean, his 59 yards SHATTERED the NCAA record for rushing in a game, and his TD runs of 8, 1, 1, and 2 yards represent the BEST running work of any player since the invention of the forward pass. The football season is no longer important as we have seen the effort for the ages. Nothing any player, especially, Manziel, Mariota, or Winston has put up this year compares the Jack's Quintuple Heisman-worthy performance! Jack for President, 2016!

Kevin Gemmell: I don’t want to speculate who sent in this particular email. But I think I have an idea based on the language, tone etc. After two and a half years, I’ve learned a little something about you guys.

I get your point. Yes, I did see the game Friday night from a bar in Columbia, South Carolina. Strangely enough, I was the only one watching.

No, I don’t think Myles Jack should be getting Heisman buzz. But yes, I do believe the excitement level is warranted.

In the last two weeks he’s turned in two of the most spectacular iron man performances in recent memory. From a pure athleticism standpoint, it’s remarkably impressive.

He’s now tied for second on the team with rushing touchdowns with five and among Bruins with at least 17 carries, he leads the team with 9.4 yards per rush.

And he’s a pretty freaking good linebacker to boot. I get that the commentary might have seemed over the top. But at the same time, dude, did you see the game?

Nick in LaLaLand writes: Hello again Kevin! I hope your stay in SEC country was filled with biscuits and gravy, polite Southern folk, and fun football. A couple of weeks ago i wrote about Pac-12 refs and how many times obvious calls seem to be missed, inexplicably. You responded with a valid point: the speed of the game in the conference can make it difficult for refs to keep up sometimes. One call at the USC-Stanford game the other night though seemed like a no brainer, and the speed of the game is no excuse in this case. The phantom first down call--what gives? It's a moot point now, but this isn't the first time, in general, I’ve seen this in football. Is the end of the chain the first down or does the ball have to completely go past the pole? But goodness heck of a game. Glad this is a mailbag and not an answering machine since I have no voice!

Kevin Gemmell: My time at USC was awesome. (Yes, they made me call it USC, while referring to our USC as Southern Cal). Great people. Great hospitality. Chicken-fried everything. I even tried fried gator (it's like a chicken and calamari consummated their union in a vat of boiling oil). We’ll be stringing together all sorts of fun experiences from our trips abroad in the next few weeks, so keep an eye on the blogs.

I DVR’d all the Pac-12 games and have spent the last 24 hours playing catchup. I have no explanation for the first-down measurement. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

 

Mailbag: Mariota's Heisman chances?

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.

First of all, a big thank you to all Kansas State fans who contributed ideas for my "flip" visit to Manhattan, Kan. My mailbag overfloweth with perspective and suggestions. Dinner at CoCo Bolos last night was solid, as was breakfast at The Chef. If you see me in "Aggieville" tonight, don't hesitate to say "hello."

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Ian from Salt Lake City: Why has Marcus Mariota dropped nigh completely from the Heisman radar? I understand the loss to Stanford and playing poorly is a huge portion of that, but it seems to me that people, especially the media (not you or Kevin obviously), have fallen in love so much with Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel that they brush aside Mariota like a fly. Both Mariota and Manziel lost games to their biggest competition, Mariota is putting up pretty comparable numbers to Winston with less interceptions, and Mariota is a proven winner, so why no, relatively speaking, love?

Ted Miller: There are three types of overreaction in college football. There's media overreaction, there's fan overreaction and, third, there's fan overreaction to media overreaction.

Do you define "dropped completely from the Heisman Trophy radar" as falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in media polls? Or also here. Do you define Mariota getting brushed aside "like a fly" after he posts his worst game of the season in a loss that knocks his team -- apparently -- out of the national title hunt?

Have I fallen in love with Jameis Winston? Yes. I'm man enough to admit that I am in love with Winston. I swoon at his stratospheric potential. I love the way he taken a program known for its NFL talent and mercurial performances and made it the nation's most consistently dominating team. Clemson's overwhelming performance against a very good Georgia Tech team on Thursday reminded us just how impressive the Seminoles' win in Death Valley was.

That said, if Mariota plays appreciably better than Winston and Manziel over the final three games, he still might win the Heisman. At the very least, the sophomore will get invited to New York for the ceremony.

There was an understandable and justifiable demotion of Mariota in every Heisman poll after the Ducks offense sputtered against Stanford. Three big performances, however, will background that. And if Stanford loses to USC, three big performances likely would give him another shot in the Pac-12 title game.

Those games will give him space to be evaluated over the totality of the season. They will also his toughness, which I think is being overlooked or played down after the Stanford game, to shine. Mariota should be saluted for even being out there because he was clearly playing on one good leg, and Stanford realized early on that he was not going to be a factor on designed runs or even scrambles.

By the way, Mariota still is the nation's No. 1 rated QB and has yet to throw an interception. (Throwing that in, Ian, to quell some media overreaction so your fan overreaction to media overreaction might re-react toward a more realistic place).




Paul from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Ted I am a very loyal Oregon Duck fan and was very disappointed with our loss at Stanford. That being said I think a few different bounces of the ball and the end could have played out differently. Regardless, true champions find a way to deal with adversity and we, the Ducks, did not adapt and overcome. My comment/question is this. I agree Stanford has a good team but I think there overall offensive balance is questionable. The ground game is awesome but there passing attack is average at best and tends to be liability. If Stanford gets put behind in a game and has to abandon their ground and pound game plan, they struggle, which is what happened against Utah. I believe in a game against a team that can play with them physically that Stanford will have issues due to their lack of a decent passing attack.

Ted Miller: I hear you. In fact, I think both Kevin and I have questioned Stanford at times about its middling passing game, which has shown flashes but not advanced as much this season as we anticipated it would in August. The Cardinal ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing offense with just 183 yards per game.

And yet.

Even though Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is not putting up big numbers, he ranks 17th in ESPN Stats & Information's total quarterback rating. Hogan is running the Cardinal offense efficiently, even if he only ranks fifth in the conference by the old school pass efficiency measure.

Coach David Shaw has said he would never throw if he knew he'd gain four yards every run. The Cardinal is averaging 4.8 yards per run.

Hogan has thrown well at times, and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranks third in the conference. He's accounted for 15 touchdowns -- 13 passing -- and protects the football.

And there's always this annoying tidbit: Shaw is 31-5. His Stone Age, antiquated, hopelessly conservative, 1970s football has Stanford winning 86 percent of his games.

Is Stanford the sort of team that makes a 14-point deficit look like nothing? No. Did Utah mute the Cardinal for three quarters? Yes, though I think the Utes success on offense was a bigger story in that game.

Could a team like, say, Alabama thwart Stanford because it is as big and physical as the Cardinal? Maybe.

One of the things I really wanted to see this season was for them to try.




Tony Jones from Chandler, Ariz. writes: Ted, I've been keeping an eye on the Jeff Sagarin rankings the last couple of weeks, waiting for verbal pitchforks to be hurled from Sun Devils fans ranting about how ASU is barely getting a sniff in the AP (21st), USA Today (22nd) and BCS (19th) polls while hanging out in the Top 10 in Sagarin's metrics (currently 9th). So when I saw your piece discussing the Championship Drive Ratings and Football Power Index, I was curious to see where ASU ranked. The Sun Devils rank higher in both the CDR (6th) and FPI (7th) than in Sagarin's wizardry. I'm an Arizona alum, so it makes little difference to me, but should ASU fans be Michael Crowing about where they are in the BCS and going all in with their disrespect cards? BTW, I think it's also interesting that the Wildcats are ranked 24th by Sagarin and 28th in the FPI, but are 44th in the CDR. Much bigger disparity than the Sun Devils.

Ted Miller: Kevin has Arizona State 18th and I have them 19th. And both of us have noticed how the Sun Devils rank higher with the computers, most notably the Championship Drive Rating, ESPN Stats & Information's complex metric that measures a team's resume.

But I also know why the Sun Devils are being held back due to purely human reasons.

No. 1: The controversial ending against Wisconsin. No. 2: The loss to Notre Dame.

Those are not "bad" losses. But those two results tie the Sun Devils to the wagons of the Badgers and Fighting Irish, and both provide drag.

The officiating implosion at the end of Arizona State's win over the Badgers means voters don't feel comfortable elevating the Sun Devils decisively over the Badgers, who in fact rank ahead of ASU in both polls. Voters feel further justified doing so because the Sun Devils lost to the Fighting Irish, who are presently unranked after losing to Pittsburgh.

This is a case of Arizona State's marquee win -- Wisconsin -- not earning them the poll respect it typically would, and that is understandable to a certain degree. The Badgers feel like they might miss out on an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game because of that loss, one that they put an asterisk beside.

Yet, as I typically think when reading questions like this: Just keep winning. If the Sun Devils win the rest of their regular season games, including a Nov. 23 date at UCLA, they would jump into the top 10. And if they win the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl, they might finish in the top-five.




Ron from Maricopa, Ariz., writes: This article I believe is incorrect. Colorado received a waiver for playing two FCS games and theoretically they can go to a bowl if they win out. Two games are doable: Cal and Utah. USC is probably too much. But Buffs should be motivated this week for at least the possibility of a bowl.

Ted Miller: Correct. If Colorado wins its final three games -- California, USC and at Utah -- it will become bowl eligible.

And that certainly would be an amazing accomplishment for the Buffaloes in their first season under Mike MacIntyre.




Kevin from Oklahoma City writes: I know there is still plenty of season left and lots can change but out of curiosity if ASU were to win out and Stanford suffers an upset somewhere along the way, allowing Oregon to take the north...who would host the title game? Would Oregon get to host based on overall record?

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon. (Answer is the same from last week!)
STANFORD, Calif. – For obvious reasons, there was no talk of titles -- national, Pac-12 or otherwise -- from the Oregon side following Stanford’s 26-20 victory over the Ducks Thursday night.

That Stanford won isn’t/shouldn’t be considered shocking. That Oregon was scoreless through three quarters might be. That the Ducks stormed back for 20 points in the fourth quarter in only an eight-minute span makes perfect sense.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMarcus Mariota had a rough night against Stanford as rumors swirled about a possible knee injury.
And the Pac-12 has again dragged itself into November chaos. That's par for the course.

Heading into Thursday night’s showdown, the No. 3 Ducks represented the Pac-12’s best chance for a national championship. A victory over No. 5 Stanford would have almost guaranteed they’d jump Florida State in the BCS standings and put them back in the No. 2 spot. From there, it was as simple case of winning out and advancing to the title game.

But for the second year in a row, the Ducks' BCS title hopes were severely wounded at the hands of a Stanford defense that was dominant on the line of scrimmage and an offense that jack-hammered its way up and down the field.

“Any loss is disappointing,” said Oregon first-year coach Mark Helfrich. “Where we’ve put ourselves and where our players have put ourselves, it’s obviously magnified. … We don’t hold the cards anymore, but we never hold the cards. We have to come back, prepare and get ready for whoever is next.”

And next is Utah -- the team that could ultimately go down as the fly in the Pac-12’s title ointment after it knocked off Stanford in Salt Lake City last month.

The Cardinal seized control of the Pac-12 North. With victories over USC and California, the Cardinals would again represent the North Division in the Pac-12 championship game. Their regular-season finale against Notre Dame also takes on a greater importance when considering the BCS landscape.

The Cardinal still need some help if they hope to get into one of the top two spots in the BCS rankings. Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State are all undefeated. And the chances of a one-loss team -- even one with a résumé as impressive as Stanford’s -- making that kind of jump seems improbable. There is obviously much football to be played. But for now, 2013 projects to play out much like 2012. If the Cardinal win out, they’ll likely go to another Rose Bowl and a one-loss Oregon team should find its way into a BCS game as an at-large team.

But that’s a lot of ifs.

“You know, it’s November. It’s November,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “We talked as a team about [how] it’s time to play our best football. No one has seen our best football, and that’s including us. Tonight was about three and three quarters of it, and that’s what we talk about. We can’t be satisfied. We can’t be satisfied with how we finished the game. I’m not happy about it one bit. We can’t be satisfied with one win. We’ve got to win in November. We’ve got a tough game next week against an outstanding USC team that’s playing great and we’ve got to be ready to roll.”

For the Ducks, there is plenty to lament in a game accented by turnovers and missed opportunities. Twice Oregon advanced inside the Stanford 5-yard line and twice they were turned away. Both failures led to 96-yard scoring drives by the Cardinal.

And then there was the issue of Marcus Mariota’s injured knee. Reports started to circulate just before kickoff that he had a sprained MCL, and the coach and quarterback tip-toed around the issue during the postgame non-festivities.

“It is what it is,” Mariota said. “It’s a little banged up, but it’s nothing too extraordinary. We’re just going to take it and get healthy and I’ll be ready next week.”

Asked if he thought Mariota’s knee was bothering him, Helfrich said: “I don’t know. Everybody’s banged up this time of the year.”

Still, the Cardinal defense kept Byron Marshall and De’Anthony Thomas bottled up. The Ducks managed just 62 rushing yards and were 3 of 10 on third-down conversions.

“We don’t concede points,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, who made 10 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles. “People can write what they want to and say what they want. But what counts is the guys that take that field. Eleven guys on offense take the field and 11 guys on defense. What happens between the lines is dictated by us. That’s the only thing we can control and that’s how we play.”

In the national picture, Oregon’s loss feels more significant than Stanford’s win because it takes another undefeated team off the board. But in the Stanford locker room, where things were far more festive, this victory sends a message that Stanford’s sustained success is not by coincidence.

“It’s huge,” said running back Tyler Gaffney, who rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown on a school-record 45 carries. “I think the whole nation knows, and us especially, that this is a play-in game for the Pac-12 North. To be able to win the Pac-12 championship, you have to go through Oregon or you have to go through us. That is the mentality.”

Gaffney grinds Stanford to victory

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Much like his performance Thursday night against Oregon, Tyler Gaffney's decision to give up baseball and return to Stanford came in small, grinding increments.

In the midst of his first season as a minor league baseball player, one year removed from the Stanford football team, Gaffney would watch the Cardinal play and miss it a little bit. Then he'd watch another game and miss it a little bit more. By the time the Rose Bowl came around, his mind was made up. He was giving up baseball and returning to play running back for the Cardinal.

Thursday night's performance paralleled his decision -- slow and deliberate. He'd carry the ball for a little bit. And then a little bit more. And when all the numbers were added up, Gaffney had carried a school-record 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in Stanford's 26-20 win over Oregon. His long was 16. His short was minus-1, one time.

With the victory, the No. 5 Cardinal (8-1, 6-1) seized control of the Pac-12 North and kept their national championship hopes alive while severely wounding No. 3 Oregon's (8-1, 5-1).

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTyler Gaffney watched Stanford beat Oregon last season. Thursday, he carried the load.
Gaffney was in attendance for his former team's 17-14 overtime win over the Ducks last season. It wasn't a tipping point, but it pushed him one step closer to coming back to football. And with every yard gained against the Ducks on Thursday night, it reaffirmed his choice.

"It was definitely a progressive decision," said Gaffney, who now has 13 rushing touchdowns on the year. "I did it for myself and what was best for me from a school standpoint and a football standpoint. Every game contributed a little bit. It didn't come down to one game. It was everything I'd seen, and what I wanted to do."

Thursday night, Stanford was the benefactor of that decision.

"We rode him like Secretariat," said Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren. "At one point, I got on the head set and asked, 'Is this child abuse?' I asked him if he was doing OK when he got close to 40 carries, and he said he wanted to keep going."

Added Stanford coach David Shaw: "Forty-five carries -- I don't want to do that to anybody. We might have taken a year off his life tonight. But it's what our guys needed, and he rose to the challenge."

The entire team did as the Cardinal snapped Oregon's streak of 18 straight road wins. With the win, the Cardinal improve to 12-1 at home against ranked teams since 2009 -- the lone loss coming to Oregon in 2011.

Per ESPN Stats & Information, 47 of Gaffney's yards came after contact, meaning he was taking some folks with him. As a team, Stanford had more rushing yards after contact (86) than Oregon had for the game (62).

"It was a grinder," Gaffney said. "We made the holes. Oregon is really good at filing in with their safeties and their backside backers. It came down to lowering the shoulders and hope for the best."

Their best was a second straight win over Oregon, 274 rushing yards on 66 attempts, 42 minutes and 34 seconds of possession and 14 of 21 third-down conversions.

"They did a great job of just grinding it, and grinding it and grinding it and getting a bunch of short, third-down conversions," said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.

With the Cardinal looking to fill the void of the graduated Stepfan Taylor, the school's all-time leading rusher, the running back job looked up for grabs following the 2012 season. And then Shaw got a text from Gaffney after the Rose Bowl that asked, "Hey coach, can we talk?"

"I knew exactly what that meant," Shaw said. "We had a home stretch toward the end of the year, including the Pac-12 championship game, where he was done with baseball and he was just around. We teased him about coming back. I honestly thought he'd give baseball two years, and then he'd be coming back next year."

Since his return, Gaffney has scored at least one touchdown in eight of Stanford's nine games. With the defense pitching a shutout through the first 50 minutes, the responsibility fell on Gaffney to muscle first downs (he averaged 3.5 yards per carry) and play the possession game. The Cardinal strung together a pair of 96-yard scoring drives -- including a 20-play, 96-yard drive to close out the first half that ate up 8:26 of clock and ended with one of Jordan Williamson's four field goals.

"We knew we were going to grind, and we knew we were going to grind with Tyler," Bloomgren said. "Did we think it was going to be 45 carries? No. You never expect that. But he's the type of guy that can handle it. So we just gave it to him and let him loose."

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