Oregon Ducks: Mike Leach

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.
Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.
It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.

UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.

Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.

Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.

USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.

Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.

California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.

WE'LL SEE

Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.

It’s only the middle of June, but the familiar sound of the Heisman buzz has already started.

The Pac-12 is no stranger to preseason Heisman buzz. Andrew Luck had it. So did Matt Barkley. Marcus Mariota had it for a while last season. And, along with reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston, Mariota is again in the spotlight.

Earlier this week ESPN.com Insider Phil Steele started looking at potential Heisman candidates for the 2014 season. And Mariota’s name is at the top of his list.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota accounted for more than 4,000 yards last season, even as he was hampered by a knee injury.
Steele made his case for the Oregon quarterback Wednesday when he wrote:
Last year, Mariota became the first Oregon quarterback to top 4,000 yards of total offense (4,380) while accounting for 40 total touchdowns and just four interceptions. He accomplished this despite wearing a knee brace for much of the second half of the season, which limited his mobility. With added rest for the bowl game against Texas, he ran for a season-high 133 yards. Now 100 percent healthy, he has a solid shot to top last year's remarkable statistical totals while leading a Ducks team that figures to play a huge role in the first College Football Playoff.

If you’re an Oregon fan, all of those things have to make you feel awful giddy. But Mariota isn't the only Pac-12 quarterback getting some love. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley should also see his fair share of hype, and he checks in at No. 6 on Steele’s list of top-10 candidates.

Writes Steele:
It is dangerous putting Hundley this low, as I think the Bruins have a great shot at making the College Football Playoff. Last year, despite playing behind a questionable offensive line that allowed 36 sacks, Hundley threw for 3,071 yards, completed 67 percent of his passes, posted a 24-9 TD-INT ratio and became the first UCLA QB to lead the team in rushing (748 yards) since 1964. This year, Hundley has a healthier offensive line and a strong supporting cast with 16 returning starters that not only has Bruins fans thinking Pac-12 title, but also their second Heisman in school history (Gary Beban in 1967).

Steele also looked at the top-15 quarterback units in college football, examining the depth of the position groups. One-third of his teams come from the Pac-12, including UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington State. This should come as no surprise. The conference is as quarterback-heavy as it's been in recent memory -- maybe ever.

Here’s what Steele had to say about the Cougs’ QB depth.
Last year Connor Halliday set Pac-12 single-season records for completions (449), attempts (714) and passing yards (4,597) while leading the Cougars to their first bowl game since 2003. He also tied a NCAA bowl record with six touchdown passes and had a solid 16-5 TD-INT ratio in his last five games. Now in his third year of head coach Mike Leach's pass-happy offense, he could even top last year's outstanding numbers. His backup Tyler Bruggman (PS No. 29) was highly regarded coming out of high school and Lucas Falk had a solid spring.
I would follow you into the mists of Avalon if that's what you mean.
Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else.
I blew out my flip flop,
Stepped on a pop top,
Cut my heel, had to cruise on back home.
But there's booze in the blender,
And soon it will render
That frozen concoction that helps me hang on.

How to make the Pac-12 better

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3
12:00
PM ET
ESPN.com columnists Gene Wojciechowski, Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach provided you guys with 30 things -- 10 apiece -- that they'd like to change about college football.

They had some good ideas. They also gave us an idea: What are some things we'd like to change about the Pac-12?

Chantel Jennings, Kyle Bonagura and Ted Miller chime in with their thoughts.

Chantel Jennings

Alabama meets Oregon … finally: For the last few years everyone has wanted to see the Tide and the Ducks clash. The BCS era never brought it, so how fitting would it be to see a national title game (or at least a semifinal) featuring these two teams? C’mon, let’s settle a few scores in the inaugural College Football Playoff -- SEC vs. Pac-12, Nick Saban vs. Mark Helfrich. There are going to be complaints about the new system, but if it matches up Alabama and Oregon, it’ll have already done something the BCS was never able to do.

A Mike Leach weekly column: He’s certainly one of the most interesting quotes in all of college sports. He’ll give dating advice (someplace casual for dinner to begin, then maybe a drive-in movie theater) or discuss the difference between jeans and slacks at the drop of a hat. But, personally, I’d like to see more Leach-isms. I want a Dear Abby-esque Leach column: Dear Leach, I’m trying to decorate my house and can’t decide the best feng shui. … Dear Leach, I want to propose to my girlfriend but can’t decide how. … Dear Leach, What should I name my child? The possibilities here are endless. It’s not necessarily college-football specific, but I can’t be the only one who thinks this would make the season even more enjoyable.

No more lame nonconference games: I’m new to the Pac-12 and I deeply respect its ability to create tough conference schedules -- nine league games, I see you. But, what I don’t want to see is South Dakota-Oregon, Memphis-UCLA, Weber State-Arizona State or Portland State-Oregon State. Yes, I understand why these games exist, and trust me, it’s a big upgrade from the Big Ten (I’ve already recounted my first college football game as a student, Appalachian State-Michigan). But the football season only gives us 12 regular-season games. Is it too much to ask for all 12 to be great? Is it too much to ask for all of these games to be ones that we want to breakdown and analyze 10 months in advance? We talk about this sport year-round -- give us 12 games worth discussing.

Kyle Bonagura

Revamp the postseason awards: As things sit, the Pac-12 officially gives out the following postseason accolades: Offensive Player of the Year, Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, the Morris Trophy (voted on by offensive and defensive linemen) and Scholar-Athlete of the Year. That’s fine and good, but it’s straightforward and kind of boring. I’d favor an add-on by adopting the Big Ten’s model which names 10 players of the year at different positions -- all of whom are named after two former conference greats. Does this affect anything? Not even a little. But it’s a nice way to honor players of the past and present at the same time.

Address the officiating: One of the most common hashtags on Twitter during Saturdays in the fall is #Pac12refs. And it’s not for complimentary reasons. At its worst, it can imply complete ineptitude. More commonly, it’s the result of a blown call. Missed an obvious face mask penalty? #Pac12refs. Play clock didn’t reset? #Pac12refs. I haven't seen anything tangible that backs up the perception that the conference is officiated worse than the others, but if there is a way the conference can restore faith in its officials, that needs to happen.

Allow alcohol sales in stadiums: I understand the premise of promoting a better atmosphere by keeping alcohol out of games, but is it really going to cause an unmanageable wave of problems if $9 beers are sold inside the gates? If someone of age wants to have a couple beers during a football game, they should have that choice to make. As it is, some fans choose to drink heavier before the game -- knowing they can’t once they’re inside. Others plan accordingly -- stay after a game to see all the empty, smuggled-in bottles of alcohol that are left behind. This will happen eventually. It makes too much sense.

Ted Miller

Standardize media access: There needs to be a standardized way programs and professional media come together, and we're not talking about giving special access to reporters on the athletic department payroll. This actually is a not all that difficult to solve in a way that still allows coaches their coveted game-week secrecy. Spring and preseason practices should be opened to credentialed reporters. If a team wants to close access to fans, that's its call. When the season begins, game-week practices are closed after the first 20 minutes. As for injury information, the Pac-12 office should publish on Thursday afternoon an official report that conforms to the NFL standard. And if coaches outrageously fudge on it, they should get fined.

Get -- cough, cough -- "expenses" under control: Jon Wilner does a good job of breaking down Pac-12 revenues here. What he also gently touches on is Pac-12 expenses: $106 million. That, folks, is outrageous bloat. I've got a crisp $100 bill (it’s actually a 10-spot, but I'm trying to be in Pac-12 character) that says an itemized list of expenses would be embarrassing to the conference, particularly in this age of "student-athletes" wondering about their meager slice of the money pie. While the Larry Scott administration has done a great job making money, it has done a questionable job spending it. Pac-12 administration isn't supposed to be ritzy. It's supposed to be entirely about making and then funneling money back to the institutions it represents.

Summer Pac-12 power rankings

May, 27, 2014
May 27
9:00
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While summer is considered the "offseason," we all know there is no offseason. Every Pac-12 team is either gaining -- or losing -- ground right now due to its focus and effort at getting better, both on a team and individual level.

So how do things stand in advance of teams beginning preseason camp?

Glad you asked (and you can view the final 2013 power rankings here).

1. Oregon: I know. We always rank Oregon here, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the return of QB Marcus Mariota and a veteran offensive line is just too tantalizing. The Ducks look like the Pac-12's best bet for an entrant in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. UCLA: I know. We're dropping the two-time defending Pac-12 champions to No. 3, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the Pac-12 blog keeps reviewing the Bruins' depth chart and contemplating a trip to Vegas ... 20/1 ... hmm.

3. Stanford: The quandary with Stanford: Was the defensive front seven dominant this spring because it's going to again be among the best in the nation (probably)? Or was it because four new starters on the O-line means a step back on offense (maybe)? Two other issues: 1. Replacing D-coordinator Derek Mason; 2. Can QB Kevin Hogan improve enough on short and intermediate throws to take advantage of a strong crew of receivers?

4. USC: The Trojans enter the final season under NCAA scholarship reductions with a starting 22 good enough to win the Pac-12, but depth and health are issues. There is a lot to like on both sides of the ball, though the offensive line probably rates as the most critical question mark.

5. Arizona State: The defending South champions are going to be tough to stop on offense behind QB Taylor Kelly and WR Jaelen Strong, but replacing nine starters -- and just about all its star power -- on defense is not an issue you can write off with a "Hey, we've got lots of great JC transfers coming in."

6. Washington: The return of QB Cyler Miles from suspension provides a big boost and probably means that the Huskies can be a factor in the North race. The secondary is a concern, and that's not a good concern to have in the QB-laden conference this fall. And there is some mystery as to whether there will be growing pains during the transition to Chris Petersen from Steve Sarkisian.

7. Oregon State: We expect the Beavers defense to be better this fall compared to last season, so the big question is how do the 10 guys on offense complement QB Sean Mannion? The O-line -- again -- is a question, and it's not easy to replace the nation's best receiver. Still, we expect the 2014 Beavers to be better than the 2013 version. Perhaps much better.

8. Washington State: If you are looking for a true conference dark horse, it's the Cougars. There are questions on the O-line and on defense, but the passing game should be outstanding with third-year starter Connor Halliday and a deep, talented crew of receivers. Put it this way: What does this team look like if it improves as much in Mike Leach's third year as it did in Year 2?

9. Arizona: The Wildcats are outstanding at receiver, good on the offensive line and solid at safety. There are questions just about everywhere else, and the strange thing is that quarterback might be the least worrisome. Still, to show how we view the Pac-12's depth again this fall, the Wildcats over/under for wins is seven.

10. Utah: The Utes situation seems fairly simple. If the production at quarterback is consistent, this is a bowl team. The best bet is with a healthy Travis Wilson, though it really is about just starting the same guy all 12 games.

11. Colorado: The Buffaloes should take another step forward in Year 2 under Mike MacIntyre, but the real issue is whom can they crawl over to rise in the conference pecking order? With about six or seven projected senior starters this fall, the Buffs might not make a move up until 2015.

12. California: If the bet were to pick who finishes last in the Pac-12 in 2014, Cal or the field, I'd be reluctant to tap Cal. I'd much rather go with the field because I think the Bears were awful in Year 1 under Sonny Dykes because of an epidemic of injuries and a poorly-coached defense. The latter should be solved by the hiring of coordinator Art Kaufman, and I can't foresee the injury situation being nearly as bad.
Meet me on Thames Street, I'll take you out though I'm hardly worth your time;
In the cold you look so fierce, but I'm warm enough, because the tension's like a fire.

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 16, 2014
May 16
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday!

Happy Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Nick from Washington, D.C., writes: Okay So Marcus Mariota is obviously the man in college football. Heisman front-runner, keys to the Oregon offensive castle, clearly an A-list athlete. As an Oregon fan, I have loved the progression from Harrington, Clemens, Masoli, Thomas, and now Mariota. However, as awesome as watching Oregon's continuous progression has been ... I am terrified of the future. With no heralded spread option QBs committing to Oregon, and no real news of Oregon hunting them down, have we become Running Back U of the Pac-12 and no longer the destination of choice for hardcore quasi-under-the-radar quarterbacks? Is Jake Rodrigues really the next in line? If so, should we be worried?

Ted Miller: You are terrified of the future? You should be. Two words: Giant Asteroids.

Run … run! Save yourselves!

Well, Nick -- mind if I call you Chicken Little? -- I would say that, no, you shouldn't be worried.

I recall the panic of 2008: Nate Costa injured! Justin Roper … injured! Who the heck is Jeremiah Masoli?

And then there was the panic of 2010: Masoli gets the boot? Who the heck is Darron Thomas?

And, of course, few saw Mariota coming when he beat out Bryan Bennett, who some fans had been clamoring to replace Thomas.

It does appear that Jake Rodrigues is the favorite to be Mariota's backup this year, and that projects him as the starter in 2015 as a junior. He was a pretty touted recruit, by the way.

As for present recruiting worries, I would only point to what everyone was saying in February 2011: "Who the heck is Marcus Mariota, a two-star recruit and the nation's 123rd best QB?"

Now, stop reading and get out of the way of that GIANT ASTEROID!




John from Dublin, Calif., writes: Regarding scheduling: Ted, you do know the fix is simple, don't you? Just pass a rule that to be included in the playoffs (or any major bowl) you cannot play an FCS team that season, and one-third or more of your nonconference games must be played in the opponents home stadium. Schedules will equalize overnight, or at least within a year or two.

Ted Miller: I hear you. I think the folks promoting the laissez-faire attitude that each conference has a right to schedule as it sees fit are either compromised or naive.

I actually don't care if teams play an FCS team any given year. What I do think is reasonable is to demand teams aspire toward comparable schedules across the Big Five conferences: nine conference games plus an A, B, C plan in nonconference scheduling.

That means play the same number of conference games as everyone else, one other team from a Big Five conference and one other team with a discernible pulse. Then, fine, write yourself in a win over a patsy. A lot of FCS teams need those payout games to survive.

You'd think the home-road differences would even out with Big Five conference teams signing home-and-home series, but that probably isn't likely because teams with 100,000-seat stadiums can offer an alluring payout to teams with smaller stadiums for a single-game series. I suspect we're going to see going forward SEC teams offering big checks to teams like Virginia, Purdue and Kansas to come visit, thereby satisfying the demands -- if not the spirit -- of a plan to upgrade nonconference scheduling.

The present system -- schedule however you want! -- is both illogical and unfair, and the SEC is 100 percent gaming the system for one reason: because it believes it can.

It will be interesting to see how things stack up with the selection committee. If the SEC gets penalized -- as it should -- for its clear effort to make its path to the College Football Playoff easier, then you can expect a quick adjustment.




Tim from Salt Lake City writes: I like the idea of having the Pac-12 championship game in Levi's Stadium but it's not really a neutral site game is it? It's pretty much in Stanford's backyard (yeah, sure, Cal's too, but I don't see them as much of a threat to come out of the North). Is this going to be a permanent thing or is the league looking to rotate this around the region through a bid process?

Ted Miller: My understanding is that the Pac-12 championship game would be based in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara -- it's notable the Pac-12 offices are in the Bay Area -- but nothing is ever set in stone with the conference, considering it's exploring a move from the home-hosted model after just three years.

There are pluses and minuses for keeping a neutral site game in one place. On the plus side, it could establish a new tradition (see the SEC title game in Atlanta) and thereby become logistically easier to operate. One the negative side, it's not a neutral site. Yet Atlanta isn't truly a neutral site, either (Georgia).

My guess is the Pac-12 wouldn't become too fixated on playing the game long term in one stadium if, say, Los Angeles or Phoenix decided to ante up a pile of cash to host the game.

As in most things in college football, this is about revenue -- both present and future. The Pac-12 will follow the money.




Matt from Bellevue, Wash., writes: Teddy ball game. Quick! WSU is killing it right now in recruiting, just got another four-star recruit. This is uncharted territory for the Cougs. I know its early. so give them a little shine before anyone decommits!!!

Ted Miller: Mike Leach and the Cougs are surging, no doubt, with two of five commitments ranked in the ESPN 300. That's a function of folks buying into the future under Leach, as well as shiny new facilities on campus.

The challenge, of course, is getting the letters of intent on signing day. Some of you Cougs might recall that a guy name Bishop Sankey was once a longtime commitment to Washington State.

And, yes, I feel bad for even mentioning that.




Scott from Mound, Minn, writes: You know Ted just when I think you turned a corner you say something ignorant like "any clear-thinking person sees the SEC as the best conference." Maybe it is more of any clear-thinking person realizes that there is no way to really see what conference is the "best." But you work for ESecPN and the SEC is the cash cow so I get why you talking heads would say that. As you so often say Ted, if you repeat a line over and over and shout down other opinions eventually it becomes accepted as truth. Thanks again Ted for demonstrating how biased ESecPN is in their coverage and news reporting. Go back to the South where you belong.

Ted Miller: This is for the Pac-12 blog's SEC friends. See: Pac-12 fans don't like me either.

Scott, I'm not going to even mention the SEC winning seven of the past eight national titles. Or recruiting rankings.

I will only note that the SEC on Thursday led all conferences with 11 first-round picks in the NFL draft, more than twice as many as any other conference.

Of course, that is somewhat disappointing because the SEC had 12 first-round picks last year, when it ended up with 63 draft picks, more than double that of any other conference.

I know the SEC has 14 teams, but the SEC East had more draft picks in 2013 -- 32 -- than any other conference.

Would you describe the NFL business model as being biased toward the SEC?

While the Pac-12 blog often speaks up for Pac-12 causes, it also believes in credibility. This is not a PR instrument. We are not going to be disingenuous or be free and easy with "facts" in order to support a cause.
.
The Pac-12 blog is that way because it wants folks to know that when it takes a position, it does so because it actually believes said position to be true.

So, Scott, it is simply credible to assert that clear-thinking people out there believe the SEC, in general, is the best college football conference.




Chris from Seattle writes: Ted, as a member of the Husky Faithful, I'm a devout reader of the blog. In my day job, I spend my time helping others visualize and understand their data. ESPN recently released the college athletic revenue/expense data, and I found it hard to make sense of. Given the nature of the debate around money in college athletics, I think it's more important than ever to make sure people really understand the data. In an attempt to fix that, I've created an interactive visualization that allows you to pick your conference and teams and see where the money comes from and where it goes. I also added in Director's Cup performance data, so people can see what the outcome of all this money is.

Ted Miller: That is pretty cool. I'm sure many readers will be fascinated.
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.
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division. We've already done offense for the South and North divisions. Wednesday we looked at defenses in the South.

Next up: North Division defensive three-headed monsters.

1. Stanford

LB A.J. Tarpley, DE Henry Anderson, S Jordan Richards

The skinny: The Cardinal lose their top tackler (Shayne Skov) and top sack guy (Trent Murphy). But there are others ready to take control. Tarpley has long been one of the league’s most underappreciated linebackers (93 tackles last season) and Anderson’s return boosts a front seven that should continue to party in the backfield. Richards is solid at one safety spot, though there are some questions about who will play opposite him. The Cardinal still boast the top defense in the league until proven otherwise.

2. Washington

LB Shaq Thompson, DE Hau’oli Kikaha, DB Marcus Peters

The skinny: The Huskies have some losses, like everyone else in the country, but there is plenty of talent coming back for the new coaching staff to work with. That returning production is enough to slot them No. 2. Thompson continues to get better with each season and appears on the verge of a breakout year. Kikaha has not-so-quietly turned into one of the Pac-12’s most feared rushers (13 sacks last season) and Peters is back after making five interceptions last season. They lose some leadership with the departure of Sean Parker and there's some question marks in the secondary. But this should be a salty group in 2014.

3. Oregon

LB Derrick Malone, DE/OLB Tony Washington, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

The skinny: Despite losing Avery Patterson, Brian Jackson and Terrance Mitchell, the secondary still boasts one of the top defensive backs in the country in Ekpre-Olomu. Mitchell led the team with five picks in 2013, but a lot of teams opted not to test Ekpre-Olomu. Malone is back after making 105 tackles, and Rodney Hardrick should be on his heels as top tackler. The linebackers should be a strength. Washington returns after recording 7.5 sacks to go with 12 tackles for a loss. Now, if they could just get off the dang field on third down ...

4. Oregon State

S Tyrequek Zimmerman, DE Dylan Wynn, CB Steven Nelson

The skinny: Zimmerman brings his 104 tackles back from last season and the return of OLB Michael Doctor, the team’s leading tackler in 2012, should be a nice boost. Replacing the production of Scott Crichton and his 7.5 sacks will be difficult. Linebacker D.J. Alexander and Wynn should see their share of time in the backfield. Nelson, a former junior college transfer, had a spectacular first season with the Beavers with a team-high six interceptions (tied with Rashaad Reynolds) and eight breakups.

5. Washington State

LB Darryl Monroe, DT Xavier Cooper, ?

The skinny: Do-all safety Deone Bucannon is gone after leading the team in tackles (114) and interceptions (6). He was an All-American for a reason. Monroe is an obvious choice for tackles, and Cooper is the obvious choice for sacks. But the secondary is wide open. Mike Leach has essentially said all four spots in the secondary are up for grabs. Clouding the issues is the future of cornerback Daquawn Brown, who has legitimate experience but also some legal hurdles to overcome.

6. California

S Michael Lowe, LB Jalen Jefferson, S Avery Sebastian?

The skinny: We all know about the defensive injury issues the Bears had last season, which is why Lowe returns as the leading tackler and tied for the lead in interceptions with one (the Bears only had five all last season). Jefferson returns with the most sacks, and Kyle Kragen appears to be a good fit for the scheme. (Remember when Kameron Jackson had three in one game!) We’ll see how oft-injured but talented Stefan McClure fares at safety. Getting Sebastian back from injury will help in the secondary. The pass rush should be improved with Brennan Scarlett’s return.

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