Oregon Ducks: Kyle Whittingham

While some like to gleefully dance around a raging bonfire in nothing but a loincloth with the heads of college football coaches on pitchforks, the Pac-12 blog is less demonstrative. And more empathetic.

It believes there is no glee in seeing someone fired, even if said coach is snarky, unavailable or arrogant. Let he who is not sometimes snarky, unavailable or arrogant cast the first stone! (Pac-12 blog starts sheepishly whistling.)

That's why the Pac-12 blog cringes every year when it acts as a reluctant prophet of doom by putting a thermometer to each conference coaches' stool and announcing a temperature. It gives us no pleasure to tell the coach to slide over a bit so we can scramble some eggs and rustle up some bacon (thick cut) on a portion of his seat.

Ah, but there is good news in 2014. The Pac-12 coaching stools range from comfortably chilled to slightly warm to the touch. There are no Will Muschamps, Mike Londons or Dana Holgorsens in the Pac-12 this year.

So while there's always going to be someone stuck at No. 12 when Pac-12 teams are ranked, there's good reason to believe the conference just might get through a season without a coaching change -- at least not one created by a boot and a slamming door.

1. David Shaw, Stanford: Shaw has won consecutive Pac-12 titles. He inherited a good thing from Jim Harbaugh and made it better. He's a Stanford graduate and he loves raising his family among family in Palo Alto. While many view him as a future NFL coach -- and you never say never in coaching -- he's the most likely guy on this list to be in the same place a decade from now.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJim Mora is 19-8 in two seasons at UCLA.
2. Jim Mora, UCLA: In just two seasons, Mora has built the Bruins into a Pac-12 and national contender. He has considerable positive momentum on the field and in recruiting. The most likely scenario for departure is him leaving on his own accord. UCLA can avoid that by continuing to invest in the football program -- read: coaching salaries and facilities upgrades.

3. Todd Graham, Arizona State: Mora and Graham are really 2A and 2B, as they have both turned so-called "sleeping giants" into potentially awakening giants. While some still believe Graham could eventually have a wandering eye, every indication -- including this -- is he is setting up for the long term in Tempe.

4. Chris Petersen, Washington: Petersen is not only secure because he's in his first season with the Huskies, he's also secure because he's Chris Petersen, who's widely regarded as an elite coach. Of course, if he's a 7-5 or 6-6 Chris Petersen in December, then the Sark II jokes will begin.

5. Mike Leach, Washington State: While Leach isn't great at avoiding controversy -- he feels no need to place a filter between his brain and mouth -- his team took a big step forward last year. Further, he seems like a great fit in Pullman and with Coug fans, who enjoy his quirkiness. Finally, he's got a good and supportive AD in Bill Moos, who has tirelessly worked to improve the facilities around the program.

6. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona: Rodriguez has done a good job his first two years in Tucson, winning more than a few games he shouldn't have, as well as grabbing a pair of bowl victories. What knocks him down here is Graham's success in Tempe and Graham's 2-0 record in the Territorial Cup. Rich Rod can't afford for that to become a long-term trend.

7. Mike Riley, Oregon State: The notion that Riley could be terminated feels unlikely, but there is a faction of Beavers fans that is dissatisfied with the program, in large part because of Oregon's rise to national prominence. If those folks would write the athletic department a $68 million check, they'd have more legitimacy and a better chance of getting an audience with AD Bob De Carolis.

8. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado: MacIntyre's early returns are solid. Colorado improved in myriad ways last year. He seems like a good fit. But the Buffaloes are just 1-8 in conference games the past two seasons. You'd suspect fans are ready to show some patience, but a coach is never secure until he starts winning conference games.

9. Steve Sarkisian, USC: How can Sarkisian be all the way down here in his first year? For one, it's because his hiring wasn't overwhelmingly greeted with celebratory cheers. But it's also that USC fans have a small window for satisfaction: Pac-12 championships and national titles. You even can win a bunch of the former and not be loved if you're not competing for the latter.

10. Mark Helfrich, Oregon: Helfrich has some of the same issues as Sark, though he's in his second year leading a nouveau riche program as opposed to an old-school power. He won 11 games and was in the national title picture much of 2013 but some Ducks fans only know him for Not Being Chip Kelly. The Ducks are again Pac-12 favorites and top national title contenders. If they lose more than one regular-season game, though, some fans might become disgruntled. Not saying it's right, but it would happen.

11. Kyle Whittingham, Utah: Whittingham is the starting line on this list for where there's actually some real warmth, but he also has a strong track record with his program and a legitimate excuse: It ain't easy moving up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Still, Utes fans are eager to gain some traction in the South Division. Whittingham should be safe with a return to the postseason, but a third consecutive losing record could tighten the screws considerably.

12. Sonny Dykes, California: Dykes is only in his second season, which typically would mean he's safe. The conventional wisdom is a coach needs at least three and preferably five years to be fairly evaluated. But college football has become far less patient with losing -- even academic bastions like Berkeley -- and Cal has spent a bunch of cash for fancy facilities upgrades. The expectation here is Dykes will be back in 2015 if his team wins three or four games and shows improvement in terms of soundness and consistent focus. But he can't afford another feckless 1-11 season.

Links: ASU's big recruiting day

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
2:30
PM ET
I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was break me
Yeah, you wreck me.
The Pac-12 coaches chatted about spring practices with reporters Thursday afternoon. The biggest news was Stanford coach David Shaw laying into the SEC for continuing to play eight conference games instead of nine, but there were some other worthy notes.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw, along with Oregon State's Mike Riley, was critical of the SEC's decision to stick with the 8-game conference schedule.
Here are a few.

  • Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said it's possible he'll use a receiver, where the Wildcats are deep, as a cornerback, where they are not. He also offered no further insight on what his pecking order might be at quarterback.
  • Arizona State coach Todd Graham said S Jordan Simone, a Washington State transfer, had a great spring. "He's been a blessing for us -- tremendous passion," Graham said. "One of the things that surprised me is how fast he was." Graham said he's in the mix to be the starting "bandit" safety. There was an "Or" between him and Marcus Ball on the post-spring depth chart.
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, California coach Sonny Dykes mentioned CB Darius Allensworth, LB Ray Davison and safety Griffin Piatt. He also lauded his redshirt freshmen offensive linemen as well as WR transfer Trevor Davis.
  • Colorado Mike MacIntyre said that defensive linemen Samson Kafovalu and Justin Solis, who missed spring due to academics, are on track to rejoin the team this summer, pending exams.
  • Oregon took a bit hit when receiver Bralon Addison suffered a knee injury, but coach Mark Helfrich noted that a pair of redshirt freshman receivers, Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, have "both shown flashes of what we thought they were in recruiting." On defense, he took note of defensive back Tyree Robinson.
  • While Oregon State coach Mike Riley is typically mild-mannered in his opinions, he does share Shaw's strong view that the SEC is gaming the system by playing one fewer conference game in the regular season. He said, "I don't think it's right. There's got to be some equity here."
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, Stanford coach David Shaw said outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi. "He had a great spring game, great spring session completely," Shaw said. "He's shown speed and size and on top of all that has shown a great understand of what to do."
  • When asked about young standouts this spring, UCLA coach Jim Mora cited defensive lineman Eli Ankou, offensive tackles Poasi Moala and Kenny Lacy and receiver Eldridge Massington.
  • USC coach Steve Sarkisian said frosh offensive linemen Damien Mama and Viane Talamaivao will play in the interior at guard or center and not at tackle, where the Trojans are more questionable. He also lauded redshirt freshman CB Chris Hawkins.
  • It appears that Utah's moving of Marcus Sanders-Willams from running back to linebacker is permanent. Said Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, "We're only a couple of weeks into the evaluation process of it but it looks like a natural move for Marcus. He's got a lot of basic instincts."
  • Washington coach Chris Petersen said he had no update on the status of suspended QB Cyler Miles. He said the QB competition remained wide open. When asked about redshirt freshmen who performed well this spring, he cited RB Lavon Coleman, CB Jermaine Kelly, LB Keishawn Bierria and QB Troy Williams.
  • When asked to name a redshirt freshman that stood out this spring, Washington State coach Mike Leach mentioned right offensive tackle Cole Madison and a pair of defensive linemen, Daniel Ekuale and Emmitt Su'a-Kalio. He also lauded the play of CB Daquawn Brown.
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.

Mailbag: Awaiting Bielema apology

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

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know: Coach.

Rather, apologize, hush and then coach.

 




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 




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

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

Let's kick nonconference games to the curb.

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

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

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

Dude!

 




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Ten? Really?

 




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

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

Typing that just made me depressed. Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

You will not starve. Or lose weight.

 




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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Stars don't always align

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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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.

Pac-12 lunch links

December, 26, 2013
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Here comes the letdown, Christmas is over;
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.

Pac-12 lunch links: Cooks is top WR

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
2:30
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Happy Friday.

Pac-12's lunch links

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
2:30
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This wasn't the person he'd thought he was, or would have chosen to be if he'd been free to choose, but there was something comforting and liberating about being an actual definite someone, rather than a collection of contradictory potential someones.
What's the greatest chapter in your book? Are there pages where it hurts to look?
What's the one regret you can't work through? You got it baby, mine would be you.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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Taking stock of Week 13 in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: Arizona played with near-perfect execution in all three phases while upending No. 5 Oregon 42-16. While the lead to that game was the Ducks' listless effort, the Wildcats deserve plenty of credit for getting after Oregon and closing the deal with authority. The win certainly thickened the plot for the Territorial Cup on Saturday against the Wildcats good buddies in Tempe.

[+] EnlargeSamajie Grant
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesReceiver Samajie Grant (three catches, 38 yards) and the Wildcats jumped all over Oregon early and routed the Ducks.
Best game: Arizona State looked like it was going to blow out UCLA. Then it looked like it was going to choke in the second half. Yet the Sun Devils pulled themselves together just in time and kept the Bruins out of the end zone on their final two possessions in a 38-33 victory. The Sun Devils are a Territorial Cup win away from playing host to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, which could yield the program's first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season.

Biggest play: UCLA faced a third-and-6 from the Arizona State 7-yard line with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, but QB Brett Hundley was sacked by Sun Devils LB Chris Young for a loss of 13 yards. Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, who beat Arizona State with a last-second field goal a year ago, then missed the 38-yard attempt that would have closed the gap to two points.

Offensive standout: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 206 yards and four TDs on 48 carries in the Wildcats' upset win over Oregon. It was his 14th consecutive 100-yard-plus rushing game, an active streak that now is tied for longest by an FBS player over the past 10 seasons (Jerome Harrison, 2004-05). His 48 carries is a new school record and the most so far this season by any FBS running back. He had just two negative yards. He became Arizona's career rushing leader with 3,913 yards, eclipsing Trung Canidate (1996-99). He also set a new school record for career touchdowns with 49, surpassing Art Luppino (1953-56).

Offensive standout II: Stanford WR Ty Montgomery scored five touchdowns in the Cardinal's blowout Big Game win over California. He rushed 31 yards for a score and had TD receptions of 50, 12, 72 and nine yards. He finished with five catches for 160 yards.

Defensive standout: Arizona State LB Chris Young had three sacks and a game-high 13 tackles (12 solo) in the Sun Devils' win at UCLA. The sacks cost the Bruins 27 yards, and two of them came on the Bruins' final two desperation possessions in the fourth quarter.

Defensive standout II: Washington CB Marcus Peters had six tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Huskies' blowout win at Oregon State.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Harry How/Getty ImagesArizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly was 20-of-27 for 225 yards and a touchdown in the Sun Devils' win over UCLA.
Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons was 2-of-2 on field goals with a long of 44 yards against Oregon State. He also was 9-of-9 on PATs and had three of his four punts killed inside the Beavers 20-yard line.

Smiley face: The state of Arizona: Both the Wildcats and Sun Devils posted impressive wins on Saturday, thereby making the Territorial Cup as meaningful as it has been in years.

Frowny face: The state of Oregon: Both the Ducks and Beavers posted embarrassing performances on Saturday, thereby making the Civil War the least meaningful it has been in years.

Thought of the week: It's great that the Pac-12 is deep. It's great to have nine bowl-eligible teams. But the most important take-away from the conference's late-season swoon in the national picture is this: THE NINE-GAME CONFERENCE SCHEDULE. If the SEC and ACC refuse to play nine conference games, the Pac-12 must -- absolutely must -- revert to an eight-game schedule as we move forward with the four-team playoff. It's simply not fair that on a weekend of major Pac-12 match-ups, most SEC teams are giving themselves a week off with cupcake foes.

Questions for the week: Will rivalry week produce any upset thunderclaps? If USC beats UCLA, that's a thunderclap because it would make Orgeron a frontrunner to become the Trojans' next permanent coach. If Arizona beats Arizona State, that's a thunderclap because the Wildcats would show they are certainly not yielding state dominance to the surging Sun Devils, who would have a much better shot at the Rose Bowl at home in the Pac-12 title game rather than at Stanford. If Washington State beats Washington, that's a thunderclap because Huskies fans might run out of patiences with Steve Sarkisian. If Oregon State beats Oregon, that's a thunderclap because Ducks fans would seriously start to question first-year coach Mark Helfrich. If Colorado beats Utah, that's a thunderclap because the Buffaloes would eclipse the Utes in the Pac-12 pecking order and make Kyle Whittingham's seat hot. And if Notre Dame beats Stanford, that's a thunderclap because the Fighting Irish would be crowned Pac-12 champions by the court of public opinion after also beating ASU and USC.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
9:00
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If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

Click here for last week's Power Rankings.

1. Stanford: It seems in some ways just that Stanford now eclipses Oregon in the Pac-12 North based on the teams' head-to-head result. The Cardinal, by the way, could do the conference a favor by beating Notre Dame on Saturday. Otherwise the Fighting Irish, with wins over Stanford, Arizona State and USC, could claim their own Pac-12 title.

2. Arizona State: You can't undersell what Todd Graham has done in Tempe. If the Sun Devils beat rival Arizona on Saturday, they will play host to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. So there are considerable stakes outside of pride. And we know how well the Sun Devils play at home. The result earlier this season at Stanford might be meaningless.

3. Oregon: It has been a long time since the Ducks weren't Nos. 1 or 2 in the Power Rankings. After getting blown out at Arizona, coach Mark Helfrich said there needed to be some "inward" looking inside the locker room. Can the Ducks regain their mojo? The Civil War against Oregon State will be a pretty grumpy affair, without substantial external stakes for either team for the first time in a long time.

4. USC: The Trojans, as expected, improved to 6-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron after whipping Colorado. Yet, much of the present goodwill would be surrendered with a second consecutive loss to UCLA. If Orgeron delivers a victory, however, his candidacy to become the next head coach takes on substantial legitimacy.

5. UCLA: Losing at home to Arizona State hurt, but the Bruins know exactly how to turn their frowns upside down: Beat USC. That also would boost their bowl options, of course.

6. Washington: While there has been a lot of hyperventilating about Steve Sarkisian and the inconsistent Huskies, the ultimate story will be written over the next two games, starting with Friday's Apple Cup. If Washington beats Washington State and then wins a bowl game, it will finish 9-4, and that would represent a strong step forward after three consecutive 7-6 seasons. On the downside, anything less would cap a disappointing season, and certainly wouldn't cool Sarkisian's coaching seat.

7. Arizona: While Arizona's friends up North have taken a solid lead in the battle of second-year head coaches between Rich Rodriguez and Graham, the Wildcats can take back a lot with an upset win in Tempe. Not only would they boost their bowl prospects and make Rich Rod 1-1 versus Graham, they'd force the Sun Devils to travel to Stanford for the Pac-12 title game, which would substantially reduce their Rose Bowl chances.

8. Washington State: The Cougars are bowl eligible, but they could become bowl eligible with a bang -- as well as positively giddy -- with a second consecutive upset win over the hated Huskies in Seattle. An added consolation would be seeing Sarkisian's seat heat up substantially and seeing a potential shift in the balance of power in the state.

9. Oregon State: That was a dreadful performance against Washington. The worst I've personally witness from the Beavers. Coach Mike Riley is a class act and a heck of a guy, but he needs to answer for that. It wasn't about losing to the Huskies. It was about how it went down at home, with a listless, uninterested effort.

10. Utah: While there are legitimate excuses for how Utah's season has gone, the loss at Washington State, even without QB Travis Wilson, delivered a resounding thud to Year 3 in the Pac-12. The Utes are 1-7 in conference play. A loss at home to Colorado on Saturday would make coach Kyle Whittingham's seat hot heading into 2014.

11. Colorado: While the Buffaloes were brought back down to Earth after getting pounded by USC, they showed admirable fight in the second half. Concluding the season with a road win over Utah would bode well for the future. And it would mean the Buffs finish 10th in the Pac-12 Power Rankings, not 11th.

12. California: The best news for the Bears is the season is over. Little went right in Sonny Dykes' first season, and he took the blame upon himself after the blowout Big Game defeat to Stanford. There is plenty of justifiable fan frustration. Dykes' first question is his staff, particularly on defense. He probably needs to make some changes. And then he needs to look at his roster and decide who cares about winning and who doesn't.

Ducks try to get back on track vs. Utah

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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The words “bounce back” and “Oregon” don’t often share the same sentence -- unless, of course, it’s referring to a team that’s recovering from one of Oregon’s 55-point shellackings.

But rarely are we talking about the Ducks themselves needing to bounce back. Oregon has dropped all of five games in the last four seasons. They haven’t lost back-to-back games since the collapse at the end of the 2007 season. Seldom is there a day they aren’t winning.

[+] EnlargeStanford crushes Oregon's Marcus Mariota
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe Ducks are looking to get back on track offensively after rushing for only 62 yards against Stanford.
And yet here they are, again, on the outside of the BCS standings looking in following a loss to Stanford. Once again, the Cardinal attacked Oregon right at the heart of what it is all about. Stanford stifled the running game, kept the Oregon defense on the field for more than 42 minutes and out-physicaled the Ducks up and down the field.

After watching the game field, there was plenty to lament for coach Mark Helfrich.

“From an offensive side of the ball, schematically, there was a lot of stuff there,” Helfrich said. “In a game when there aren’t many snaps or many possessions and we have three red zone turnovers, miss a couple of throws, drop a couple of balls, slip a couple of times, everything is magnified. Defensively we have to figure out a way to get off the field. They did a good job of running a goal-line, four-minute offense and pounding us.

“From a coaching standpoint, you’re looking at what we coulda, woulda, shoulda done differently from that aspect, win or lose. We’ve done a good job of evaluating what happened and moving on, just as we would after a win.”

The team trying to give the Ducks their second straight loss for the first time in six years is Utah -- the only team to beat Stanford. Since that win, however, the Utes have gone on a three-game slide and have yet to win outside the state of Utah.

Having lost a tight 20-19 game to Arizona State, the team at the top of the South Division, and beating Stanford, the team at the top of the North Division, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said there is a level of discouragement as his team struggles for bowl eligibility.

“Frustrating is a fair word,” Whittingham said. “We have been in several close ball games. I think six have been decided by one touchdown or less. We have to figure out how to pull off more of those tight ones. The positive is we’ve been able to stand toe-to-toe with the best teams in the Pac-12. But nobody cares about being close. You need to get some wins.”

The Utes are continuing to find their footing as a team in a major BCS conference. Case in point, Oregon is the fourth ranked team Utah is facing this season. This is the first time ever Utah has played four ranked teams in a single season. This is also the first time Oregon and Utah meet as conference foes.

“It seems like I say this every week,” Whittingham said. “It’s like a broken record. There is a lot of talent in this league and Oregon is right up there ... bottom line is you are what and who your record says you are and right now we’re not good enough. We’re continuing to try and find answers.”

Oregon looks to answer some questions about the offense -- which rushed for just 62 yards against the Cardinal. Like Stanford, Utah boasts a strong pass rush. The Utes are tops in the nation with an average of 3.67 sacks per game. Schematically, Utah poses a different attack than Stanford, but Helfrich sees the parallels.

“They both wear red and white jerseys and have a block letter logo,” Helfrich joked. “They play hard. Their scheme is different. But they are big, they are physical and they tackle well. So in that regard they are very similar ... we don’t need any other motivation other than those guys beat Stanford.”

Both quarterbacks, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Utah’s Travis Wilson, have sustained some injuries over the last few weeks. Mariota’s reported knee injury was a question in the Stanford game. Wilson returned from a hand injury last week -- though Whittingham said the offensive line protection was so poor that he wasn’t able to get a fair evaluation. He said the Utes might “shuffle the deck” to fix the leaky offensive line.

For the Ducks, it’s a matter of re-focusing. And Helfrich is confident his team will do that.

“I think our leadership showed immediately after our last game in the locker room and has continued through practice,” he said. “Those guys have done a nice job of that and our coaches have done a nice job of turning the page.”

Planning for success: Oregon

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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When the transitive property starts getting thrown around in sports, ridiculousness can ensue.

Eastern Washington beat Oregon State, which beat Utah. Therefore, the mighty Eagles would beat Utah, so it says. Now, maybe that's true, maybe it isn't, but the elementary logic used to reach that conclusion is by no means definitive.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsKyle Whittingham brings a struggling team to Eugene this weekend, but a Utah win over Stanford is all Oregon needs to know to take the Utes seriously.
Taking it further: Utah beat Stanford, which beat Oregon. Therefore?

Therefore nothing, really, except: "I guess psychologically that could be a little bit of a positive," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Tuesday in advance of Saturday's trip to Autzen Stadium to play No. 6 Oregon.

Utah's 27-21 win over Stanford last month gives credibility to a team that might not have it otherwise. For Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, that game overshadows the fact that it is the Utes' only conference win.

"We need to know nothing more than they beat Stanford and did a great job in that game," Helfrich said.

Since then, Utah has dropped three straight, matching the second-longest losing streak in Whittingham's tenure.

"We've been able to stand toe to toe with the best teams in the Pac-12, but nobody cares about being close," Whittingham said. "Obviously Stanford was a big win, but we've struggled a little bit since then."

A date with Oregon doesn't figure to help right the ship, especially as the Ducks look to bounce back following their crushing loss to Stanford last week. Oregon hasn't lost consecutive games during a season since 2007, when Chip Kelly was in his first year as the school's offensive coordinator. In the two previous seasons, Oregon has responded to its three losses with wins by an average of 33.7 points.

Other than the extra prep time due to last week's Thursday game, Helfrich said it's been business as usual in Eugene.

"Just like in a win, you evaluate, hey why did this work? Why did this not work?" he said. "Maybe it was luck, maybe it was scheme, maybe it was our execution? How can we coach this better?"

The only major change Helfrich made public was the fact that the platoon at kicker between senior Alejandro Maldonado and true freshman Matt Wogan is over. Wogan handled all the place-kicking duties against Stanford and will continue to do so moving forward.

Wogan connected on his only field-goal attempt of the season, a 38-yarder against Tennessee, and has been good on 30-of-31 extra points. Maldonado was 3-for-5 on field goals and 29-of-30 on extra points but admitted publicly he's struggled with confidence.

“It comes down to nothing more, nothing less, than we think [Wogan] gives us the best chance to make a kick," Helfrich said. “He’s done a better job."

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