Oregon Ducks: NFL

Mailbag: College football unions?

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
6:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag. We're grilling up some steaks and the bar is open.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Please.

To the notes!

Sam from Portland writes: Ted, what's your view on the unionization of the Northwestern football team? Personally, I think the whole issue is junk. As a Pac-12 university graduate, I get insulted every time I hear college athletes say they're slaves and that they don't get anything. I had to pay $24,000 per year for what they get for free: a degree and the attendant costs. Not only that, they get admiration and to do what they love while getting this stuff for free. These athletes point to their hours. Well, I was in the marching band and spent 30 hours a week on that as well as focusing on REAL college courses with real coursework. I didn't get a scholarship. I didn't get the massive admiration. I didn't get the shot at making the NFL. There's no Internet blog with 2.5 authors dedicated to the hard work I put in to my performances. Let's face it: Even at the small schools, the scholarship athletes get a TON more than regular students, and they get it for free. I'm not going to be dense here. I understand that the NCAA is making serious money off the hard work of the athletes, and there is a good argument that they deserve some direct monetary compensation, but the need for a union? Why should these athletes be coddled when the rest of the students pay millions (together, not apiece) just for the chance at getting a small portion of what these athletes get for free?

[+] EnlargeKain Colter, Tim Waters, Leo Gerard
AP Photo/Paul BeatyKain Colter's attempt to unionize the Northwestern football team could be a significant development in how colleges treat scholarship athletes.
Brandon from Seal Beach, Calif., writes: I appreciate the concern and well-being of college athletes, but when did this entitlement idea come into play that they deserve additional compensation? Sure, the NCAA and universities make boat-loads of money off of the athletes posing to be students, but demanding additional compensation is akin to me calling up my CEO and demanding he split the company profits with me. If they don't want to risk injury, don't feel like the scholarship, minimal stipend, and various perks being a Div. I scholar athlete bring about, there is absolutely nothing stopping them from pursuing other avenues. I don't know -- maybe I'm in the minority, but I think this is a slippery slope we're traversing.

Ted Miller: We live in interesting college football times.

The biggest takeaway for me from the Northwestern union and Ed O'Bannon vs. NCAA cases is that college football is going to continue to change in many ways over the next decade. Just as conference realignment and the advent of the College Football Playoff dominated the discussion the past few years, the debate on how we should properly compensate and support college athletes will consume us in the years ahead.

What we have is an asset -- big-time college football -- that is very popular and therefore very valuable. That value, however, has been monetized over the past quarter-century in a way that disproportionately benefits management -- coaches, athletic administrators and the NCAA -- and external businesses -- television, merchandisers, athletic apparel companies, etc. The athletes -- labor! -- have not seen their benefits and compensation increase.

Ergo, we have an argument that is typical across many commercial enterprises in this country. When many folks say they love free markets, what they mean is they love a market that they control, one in which they make the rules, which -- surprise, surprise -- makes it easier for them to make money. When folks say that market forces allow FBS head coaches make $5 million a year, why don't they also nod when market forces motivate a would-be agent to give Reggie Bush's family a house rent-free?

Of course, it's against the rules, rules that -- coincidentally -- were made by and/or benefit the folks who are getting rich off college sports.

Now, I'm not an extremist on this by any means. One of my pet peeves is when fans, athletes or sports writers discount the value of a college scholarship. If you are presently paying for a child to go to college, you know full well that athletes already are well-compensated.

But this does touch on a long-debated solution that I expect to happen in the next couple of years: Athletic scholarships covering the full cost of attendance. While that expense will further separate the haves and the have-nots in college sports, that seems to be an inexorable trend in any event. The programs banking big bucks in the power conferences need to find a way to share their wealth.

A complication? We don't know what this might mean for non-revenue sports. Title IX prevents programs from giving more money to male athletes in revenue sports compared to female athletes. If the cost of scholarships increase across the board, you will see a lot of programs cutting sports, most likely men's non-revenue sports.

There are plenty of other things the NCAA and college athletic departments can do, from lifetime disability coverage for injuries to figuring out creative ways to allow athletes to pocket some of the revenue they are playing a major role in creating. I think Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples does a nice job here of laying things out with the Northwestern-union case and Ed O'Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA.

Now I don't want to ignore the points of Sam and Brandon from above.

Unions? That could get complicated. But, first of all, I'm skeptical that we'll get to a point anytime soon in which college athletes unionize. The cumulative effect here, to me, is going to be forcing the NCAA and the major conferences to institute reforms to placate revenue-producing athletes so they don't continue to pursue legal action.

Sam, the reason college athletes get coddled is they have a highly valuable skill. You mention you were in the band. If you, say, happened to cut two gold records while you were in high school, I'd bet you would have gotten a scholarship to your Pac-12 school. Colleges love really talented folks. Not that you aren't talented. You, after all, read the Pac-12 Blog.

Brandon goes with the "there is absolutely nothing stopping them from pursuing other avenues" argument if they don't like the current system. Actually, when it comes to football, there really isn't another route to the professional ranks. What percentage of NFL players didn't play college football?

Brandon also notes that "demanding additional compensation is akin to me calling up my CEO and demanding he split the company profits with me." Well, if you have leverage and high value, go to your CEO and ask for a raise. That's the free market.

What these college football players are doing at Northwestern is quintessentially American. They are exercising leverage in our social and commercial systems.

I'm proud of them.


Keith from Teutopolis, Ill., writes: Pro days. What's the big deal? I'm confused by all the fawning over Johnny Football's pro day and by the criticisms of Teddy Bridgewater's. Scouts have dozens of hours of real game action to look at. How or why does a QB's draft stock skyrocket or plunge based on an hour of throwing a football in a controlled environment?

Ted Miller: Keith, I wouldn't get bogged down in the gushing.

Most of what you hear from NFL folks this time of year is misdirection. If an NFL scout with a top-10 pick really wants to draft Johnny Manziel, he's probably whispering to a reporter off the record that Manziel has a hitch in his throwing motion that means he'll average 25 interceptions a year before running off to Tahiti with a flamenco dancer.

I was at the Senior Bowl one time listening to a scout gush about a player I had covered who I didn't think much of. When he finished, I went, "Really?"

He took a sip of his beer, grinned and slurred, "Maybe."


Sonoran Coug from the Desert writes: Ted, I want to let you in on some information. Washington State is going to win the Pac-12 North. How? WSU is poised to put up big numbers in 2014; the Pac-12 North lays down nicely for an awakening WSU program. The no 'natty' Diva Squad plays in Pullman this year, Stanford's roster resembles their fan base, and there is a quarterback-less Washington. And while we are on the subject of Washington, ARE YOU KIDDING!! New quarterback, new running back, new offensive and defensive coaching staff. My mouth is watering for apples as I write this. Or are you and Kevin going to fall for the new coach trick again, so shiny, so new? We here in Coug Nation don't dwell on the past. P12 North results 2014: 1. WSU; 2. OSU; 3. Oregon; 4. Stanford; 5. Washington; 6. California.

Ted Miller: The "No 'Natty Diva Squad" is going to be the name of Kevin and my new band. (We're sort of a Men Without Hats/Iron Butterfly fusion with a hip-hop component).

As for the Cougs… well, maybe. Stranger things have happened.

Who saw the Cougars coming in 1997?

I was at the 2000 Apple Cup -- brrr -- when the Washington brutalized Washington State 51-3. The Huskies went on to win the Rose Bowl and the Cougars finished 4-7.

The next year, the Cougs began a run of three consecutive 10-win seasons.

As for next year, the passing game should be strong with senior QB Connor Halliday and a deep crew of receivers. The 2014 schedule also is favorable with just five road games, no UCLA and Oregon, and USC and Washington both coming to Pullman.

But what holds back my Coug optimism is the O-line and secondary. Need to see how that all fits together.

Finally, you well know that we won't fall for the "shiny new coach trick" any more than we would fall for the banana in the tailpipe.

Ohhh… but Chris Petersen is so… shiny!


Blake from Mesa, Ariz., writes: I don't know how you guys can continue to post poll questions. You must know that no matter the topic, the winner is going to be Oregon. As an Oregon fan myself, I find this comical but also annoying. Maybe for the next poll you can state in your post that the winner is Oregon and that the poll is to see who the fans think is No. 2.

Ted Miller: Oregon fans do mobilize for their team, and they do seem to vote for the Ducks whether they actually believe they merit the vote or not.

Yet the Pac-12 blog will continue to maintain its absolute neutrality and allow market forces to prevail without instituting arbitrary regulations.

Lunch links: Remembering Ted Agu

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
2:30
PM ET
Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it's usually something unusual. But now I know why I have always lost women to guys like you. I mean, it's not just the uniform. It's the stories that you tell. So much fun and imagination. (RIP Harold Ramis)

Pac-12's lunch links

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
3:00
PM ET
Now dig where I'm coming from. I'm coming from two gold medals. I'm coming from nine world records in both the two- and four-man events. I'm coming from ten years of intense competition with the best athletes in the world.

Pac-12's lunch links

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
2:30
PM ET
Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only -- if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things -- beautiful things -- that they connect you to some larger beauty?

Mailbag: Saban's evil plot

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
5:30
PM ET
Greetings. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Haggmeez from Cincinnati writes: What are your thoughts on the proposed new 10-second defensive substitution window rules, or what I'm calling "The Oregon Rule." Please explain to me how teams with smaller, faster players can ever expect to beat teams with bigger, stronger players if speed is not a viable weapon. I feel like I'm watching Nick Saban tell Chip Kelly to get off of his lawn in slow motion. Please make it stop. Football needs FEWER esoteric rules instead of more.

[+] EnlargeSaban
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsNick Saban would not win any popularity contests on the West Coast.
0006shy from Los Angeles writes: I just saw the proposed rule change to punish hurry-up offenses. What a joke! What an absolute joke! If the NCAA truly cares about player safety then they should ban games against FCS teams (USC, UCLA and Notre Dame have NEVER played an FCS team.) Nick Saban's five-star athletes pounding Chattanooga players for 60 minutes creates far more serious injuries than a no-huddle offense ever will.

John from Eugene, Ore., writes: Please, reassure us Pac-12 fans that this ridiculous rule change intended to slow down uptempo offenses is not going to pass. Please tell me that just because the rest of the football world seems to worship the ground Nick Saban walks on, that doesn't mean that the NCAA will pass rules that give him exactly what he's whining for? I can't imagine I'm the only person writing in on this. There's no way this proposed change is actually made, is there?

Ted Miller: Don't forget Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. He's as much behind this as Saban.

Further, yes, it is notable that the sudden concern for player safety comes from coaches who don't run uptempo attacks and have been gashed by them over the past few seasons. Hmm.

And, yes, their motives are, at best, 97.6 percent disingenuous. Bielema and Saban, a fantastic football coach who reportedly once ignored and stepped over a convulsing player, and others who support this proposed rule change, are doing so to gain a strategic advantage. Pure and simple.

The diversity of schemes in college football is one of the biggest reasons the sport is so popular. I can tell you without any doubt whatsoever that the sport would not be as popular -- probably not nearly so -- if everyone ran Alabama's or, yes, Stanford's offense.

A fast-paced game not only is fan-friendly, it -- as Haggmeez notes -- gives teams that rely on smaller, faster players a better chance to compete with teams with a gaggle of five-star recruits with NFL measurables.

As uptempo coaches such as Arizona's Rich Rodriguez have noted, if you really are concerned about player safety, make blitzing illegal. That would reduce the number of blow-up shots during game by 30 percent, a number that was arrived at with just as much science as went into this effort to thwart uptempo offenses.

Do I think it will pass? No.

But the NCAA is involved. It's presence tends to inspire stupid and/or disingenuous things to happen.


Andrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: Very happy to see that my top 25 list ran this past week (for the second year in a row, might I add). Obviously, since I kept all the same players on my list as the official Pac-12 Top 25, I didn't have any major problems with it. My question is in regard to the logic behind the order of some of the choices. In your response to my list, you mentioned that most people would probably pick Marcus Mariota first if holding a conference draft, and I tend to agree with that. But in that same scenario, someone like Marqise Lee would certainly be among the top 10 picks too, and I don't think he belongs in the top 25 for this past season. Later, you continue to assert that Will Sutton belongs ahead of Leonard Williams, even though (I assume) you and Kevin were responsible for Williams being named an ESPN first-team All-American. I guess my question is, when does production/accolades overshadow potential/other intangibles (like positional value), and when is it the other way around?

Ted Miller: Don't expect perfect logic. There are a variety of considerations -- many subjective -- that go into our weekly power rankings of teams, as well as our top-25 ranking of players.

It's a blend of factors such as postseason accolades, statistics, NFL prospects, positional value and a player's pure value to his team. Kevin doesn't consider NFL prospects as much as I do, though I think of that consideration as more of my mental draft picking -- as in, who would I pick first? -- when making a tough distinction.

That was my thinking for Mariota over Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey. You could argue that Carey was more accomplished in 2013, but I'd still say that Mariota's numbers plus his overall value, which is augmented by his playing the most important position, give him the edge.

You noted Marqise Lee. Good question. Lee, in terms of talent and potential, certainly is among the top 25 players in the Pac-12. Probably top 10. But you have to take into account what he actually did this season. His numbers, in large part due to poor QB play and injuries, were not very good. So his down numbers get prioritized over his talent, knocking him off this list.

In some ways, my "draft" idea also overlaps with production -- what a guy actually did that past season. And poor production mutes pure talent factors. See also, Thomas, De'Anthony.

Similar reasoning, by the way, also cost Stanford DE Ben Gardner. The coaches still gave him a first-team All-Pac-12 nod, despite his missing the season's final six games because of injury, but we pretty much ruled him out because of that. Not his fault, but that still seems reasonable to me.

As for Sutton and Williams, most would project Williams having a higher NFL upside. He also had slightly better numbers than Sutton this year, though Williams was a defensive end and Sutton a tackle. Yet what kicked Sutton up a notch was the simple fact he -- again -- was named the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. That was slightly surprising, but it also was something that validated the idea that Sutton's numbers were down from 2012 because of blocking schemes that were obsessed with him, an invaluable benefit for a defense.

Are we always 100 percent consistent? No. But we do try.


Jonathan from New York writes: With respect to your concerns about Stanford being able to replace Tyler Gaffney's productivity at the running back position, I wonder if you had any insight into whether Barry Sanders has the potential to have a 1,500-yard season. It's true that Coach Shaw didn't give him enough carries this year to come to any conclusions, and even on the punt return unit he mostly had fair catches. But I don't know whether Sanders had such little playing time because Gaffney was just so dependable and successful, or whether it was because Sanders was not showing much potential in practice. Perhaps you don't know any more than I do, but I'd be curious for your take if you have any thoughts.

Ted Miller: My guess is Stanford won't have a back gain 1,500 yards next year. My guess is it will be more of a committee effort. I also think the Cardinal still will run the ball well, just not in the Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney one-workhorse way.

Of course, in advance of the 2014 season, I expected it to be 60-40 between Gaffney and backup Anthony Wilkerson. Gaffney just played too well to take him out.

As for Sanders, I really have no feeling for how things will play out for him next fall. While it's fun to imagine him being a clone of his father, perhaps the most thrilling ball-carrier in NFL history, it's probably unfair to expect him also to have once-in-a-generation talent.

Sanders will be competing with Remound Wright and Ricky Seale for carries, and I've heard little that suggests one is leaps and bounds superior to the other. They seem to have complementary skill sets, so that suggests they each get touches. As the season progresses, one would expect a more clear pecking order to develop.

This, by the way, is a good review of where the Cardinal stands at running back heading into spring practices.


Mitty from Saint Joe, Calif., writes: Which Pac-12 fan base do you most like to target with passive-aggressive shots? I've only noticed one. Kevin will get the same question because he targets the same fan base.

Ted Miller: Passive-aggressive? Moi?

I've always thought of myself as aggressive-aggressive, though my fuse, thankfully, has grown longer in my fourth decade.

Kevin and I, on occasion, discuss tweaks, insults and rants directed at us in the comment sections or elsewhere, but it takes up less of our time than you might think. We don't hold grudges. We really do try our best to remain as objective and fair as possible with all 12 teams. I've never heard anything from an official representative of a school -- coach, AD, sports information director, etc. -- suggesting we were being unfair or favoring or disfavoring a program. That's a fact we take a lot of pride in.

What I have noticed is that fans of teams that aren't doing well tend to think we are unfair to their team, whether that's about win-loss record or recruiting. The inescapable fact is teams that are winning get more coverage, just as teams that sign highly ranked recruits get more attention on national signing day.

Of course, more coverage for a team probably means more of their fans are showing up on the blog, and fans come in all forms. There clearly has been an "Oregon Effect" since the blog started in 2008. Ducks fans, by my unscientific estimates, seem to be the most active here, expressing both love and hate for your gentle bloggers.

But mostly love. Because it's impossible not to, in the end, love the Pac-12 blog.


GoCougs from Chandler, Ariz., writes: Kevin forgot about one Pac-12 alum's participation in the Super Bowl. Please pass on the love for Steve Gleason.

Ted Miller: Great stuff.

Gleason is an inspiration. An all-time great.

Mailbag: SOS and top-25 grousing

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

By the way, we will be reviewing the top-25 list on Monday, explaining some of our thinking, and looking ahead.

So stay tuned! To the notes!

RidingTheRange from Dallas writes: Thanks for your Top 25 list! I enjoy this every year. However, with Top 25 lists, they always encourage witty banter. And here's my suggestion: Where is Ty Montgomery? If memory serves me correct, the KR/PR from Utah was rated last year. Montgomery was a much more integral part of the Stanford offense (though the offense as a whole was not particularly potent). Any word on where he would actually fall or if there was any debate between the Pac-12 bloggers?

Ted Miller: I suspect the list last year will be more controversial than this year's. Kevin fired off a first draft to me and Kyle a few weeks ago, and that list stuck pretty well with minimal changes. We also knew the handful of players who would be tops among the "HOW CAN YOU LEAVE OFF [PLAYER X]? YOU HAVE LOST ALL CREDIBILITY!"

Utah's Reggie Dunn ended up at No. 25 last year because he returned four kickoffs for touchdowns, which had never been done before. Yes, it was controversial. To me, the worst omission from the list was Desmond Trufant, and we not unfairly took a lot of crud for it. Kevin felt more strongly about Dunn than I did, but I'd also say that setting an NCAA record is pretty darn shiny on a résumé.

Montgomery returned two kicks for touchdowns in 2013 and was the Cardinal's leading receiver, ranking ninth in the Pac-12. You could make a case for him.

But here's what I typically say to folks making the case for another player: Who do you take off our top-25 to make room for Montgomery?

Here's the bottom six:

No. 20: Trevor Reilly, DE/OLB, Utah
No. 21: Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
No. 22: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 23: Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
No. 24: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
No. 25: Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA

That's a pretty strong group to break into.


Bobby from Phoenix writes: Carl Bradford not in the top 25? You guys were very generous to put in Sutton, Grice and Kelly, but I can't imagine a list without Bradford! Rabble rabble rabble!

Ted Miller: Bradford was one of the top guys who got left out, along with several All-Pac-12 defenders, such as Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, Washington defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha, USC LBs Devon Kennard and Hayes Pullard, etc.

I'm surprised more Washington fans aren't griping about leaving out Kikaha, who finished second in the Pac-12 with 13 sacks. We rated him higher than Bradford, who had 8.5 sacks, and I personally found leaving him out one of our toughest calls, in large part because he came back from two knee surgeries this season.

Bradford had a good, but not great, season. In fact, I'm not sure he'd rank better than fifth on the Sun Devils defense this season, behind DT Will Sutton, DB Alden Darby, CB Robert Nelson and LB Chris Young.

Further, with all that talent, I do question why the Sun Devils' defense wasn't better, ranking eighth in the Pac-12 in yards per play -- 5.5 -- and seventh in scoring (26.6 ppg).


Spencer from Orem, Utah, writes: I would argue that Anthony Barr is better than Ka'Deem Carey. I would be interested on your thoughts on why you disagree.

Ted Miller: You could argue that. I'm sure many folks are guessing that Barr is headed to a better NFL career as a perennial All-Pro.

NFL prospects factor more in my judgments than they do with Kevin. To me, it's a safeguard against getting too googly-eyed about statistics. That said, what separates Carey are his numbers. To quote our review:
"[Carey] ranked second in the nation with 157.1 yards per game. He completed his career by topping 100 yards in 16 consecutive games, a Pac-12 record and a streak that hasn't been accomplished by any other back in a decade. He is Arizona’s career rushing leader (4,232 yards) and ranks seventh in Pac-12 history."

Barr had a great season and earned consensus All-American honors, just like Carey. But his best football is in front of him. His numbers -- 10 sacks (No. 3 in the conference) and 20 tackles for a loss (No. 2) -- were good, but not epically good, like Carey's.

Further, I think UCLA's defense wouldn't have collapsed without Barr. If you took Carey away from Arizona, the Wildcats would have lost at least a touchdown from their scoring average of 33.5 and wouldn't have sniffed bowl eligibility.

So that's the distinction.


Undeniable Stanford Homer from East "of" Palo Alto writes: My question is about the top 25 players list for this past season. I understand the issues with rankings vs. grades is same reason why people do rankings over grades -- you get to say 1 player is "better" then another player because of their standing in the rankings. As we all know, the top 10 players are all All-Pac-12 performers, but by ranking them you infer that one is better than the other, causing intrigue and argument (which is both good and bad). What I am wondering is when you compile this list, how do you have eight players better than David Yankey, and five players ahead of Trent Murphy. The former was the best player on the best team on the best unit in the Pac-12 (hard to argue unit but this question is too long for my explanation already, and hard to argue with Morris but he already had one) and the latter is the best defensive player (depends on if you look at qualitative data, the DPOY by coaches vs. quantitative data, statistics). I know you have reasons why you chose players over these two outstanding athletes but i just would like to hear them.

Ted Miller: We rated Yankey at No. 8 as the Pac-12's top offensive lineman, despite his playing guard and not tackle. I don't think guards would make the top 10 many years. But Yankey, a unanimous All-American, is a beast.

That said ... I'm not sure he's better than UCLA OG Xavier Su'a-Filo, who won the the Morris Trophy over Yankey, an award voted on by opposing defensive players. Yankey got more All-American love, but Su'a-Filo, who ranked 12th, was just as beastly. It will be interesting to see who ends up better in the NFL.

So who do you drop from our top seven in order to boost Yankey? That's a pretty salty group.

Murphy is the most interesting case. The Pac-12 blog named Murphy the conference Defensive Player of the Year after the coaches went with Sutton. Why? Murphy ranked second in the nation and first in the Pac-12 with 15 sacks and fourth in the nation and first in the Pac-12 with 23.5 tackles for a loss.

Like Carey, his numbers speak for themselves, as well as his being the best player on the conference's best defense.

So how did he end up rating behind Barr at No. 3? And how do I type this without immediately contradicting my explanation for putting Carey ahead of Barr (epic numbers!)?

We have debated this before, and I've had what some might call controversial takes. I ranked Matt Barkley and Matt Scott higher in 2012 than many might have in large part based on the notion of, "If you were drafting Pac-12 players for your team, what would be the selection order?"

That's not specifically about NFL prospects. It's about who you subjectively view as being the best college player.

While I think Murphy was the most accomplished defensive player in the Pac-12 this year, I also think Barr was the best defensive player. If I were drafting Pac-12 players for the Ted Miller Super Awesome squad, I'd pick Barr before Murphy.

But would I pick Barr before Carey? I'd rate that a toss-up. Ergo, I fall back to Carey's numbers for our ranking order.


Paul from Boise, Idaho, writes: I'm willing to bet nobody would have guessed that at the end of the year, both Marqise Lee and De'Anthony Thomas would be left out of the illustrious Pac-12 postseason top 25. It seems every season a team or a top-tier player plays subpar, either because of injury or an underperforming team. Would the blog care to take a gamble and bet on somebody next year that is in danger of underperforming?

Ted Miller: Injuries are the biggest reason neither Lee nor Thomas made the Top 25, though Thomas was pretty underwhelming much of the year.

There's no way I'd speculate on who might get hurt next fall. That's sort of morbid.

Further, only eight guys will be back next season: 1. Marcus Mariota; 8. Brett Hundley; 10. Leonard Williams; 14. Taylor Kelly; 15. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu; 21. Sean Mannion; 23. Hroniss Grasu; 25. Myles Jack.

Of that list, the most challenged will be Mannion because he loses No. 4 Brandin Cooks.

I expect Mannion's passing numbers to go down in any event because I suspect coach Mike Riley will work a lot harder to be more balanced next fall. The key for Mannion is being more efficient and avoiding the mistakes that littered his season's second half.


Haggmeez from Cincinnati writes: Here we are, just one week before national signing day and the Pac-12 has a whopping 35 combined commits in the ESPN 300. By contrast, Alabama and LSU have a combined 32 ESPN 300 commits just between the two of them (not including the JC 50). I'm not usually one to buy into recruiting rankings at face value, but the disparity is fairly staggering. Do you think that the Pac-12 is going to be able to continue to keep up with the amount of raw physical talent that is being basically channelled into these southern power programs?

Ted Miller: Yes.


Jack from La Quinta, Calif., writes: Ted and Kevin, many thanks for your work in keeping the Pac-12 Blog current and interesting. However, I am still smarting over your season grade of B-plus for Stanford. Stanford won its division, won the Pac-12 championship and was only defeated by four points in the Rose Bowl by the third-ranked team in the country -- certainly no blowout. But they only deserve a B-plus. I think you place too much emphasis on the postseason -- bowl games, a national championship and ranking the Pac-12 against other conferences. The road to a Pac-12 championship should be your primary emphasis. The rest is gravy. Many Oregon players started looking too far ahead, to a national championship instead of next Saturday's game. Look where they ended up. The Rose Bowl on 1/1/14 was not a worthy goal for Oregon. Your thinking plays a part in influencing players, coaches and fans and your current emphasis is not in the best interest of the sport. I certainly would not give Stanford a solid A for their work. They lost two games on their way to the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl. But, this is no less than an A-minus performance -- unless winning the Pac-12 conference championship is no big deal and is only a stepping stone to more worthy goals.

Ted Miller: Is this an example of the grade inflation at Stanford that Cal fans are always telling me about?

You meet expectations, you get a B. You want an A? Exceed expectations.

Stanford has become an elite team -- a Pac-12 and national title contender. It's not graded the same as most other teams. It has a smaller margin for error. 11-3 is a good, but not great, season on The Farm these days. That should feel like good news, by the way.

Stanford and Oregon were co-favorites to win the Pac-12. Both Kevin and I picked Stanford to win the Pac-12. By winning the Pac-12, the Cardinal therefore met expectations. If the Cardinal had won the Rose Bowl, they would have received an A-minus.

What are the knocks on Stanford's season?

It lost to two teams it was better than: Utah and USC. And, in a toss-up matchup with Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, it got solidly beaten.

Good, but not great.

No Pac-12 team received an A this year. An "A" for Stanford and Oregon would have been a final top-five ranking and a BCS bowl win. An "A" for, say, Washington State, would have been eight wins, including the Apple Cup, and a bowl victory.

Just like Stanford, Arizona State also got a B-plus, the highest grade any Pac-12 team received from us this year. If the Sun Devils had won their bowl game, they would have received an A-minus. UCLA also got a B-plus. If it had won the South Division and its bowl game, it would have received an A-minus.

The Pac-12 blog doesn't believe in grade inflation. It is a demanding taskmaster. It believes in high standards.

And awesomeness.


UCLA Fan from Federal Way, Wash., writes: I was just wondering why I haven't seen anyone talk about how after it was all said and done, the four hardest schedules of the year belonged to Pac-12 teams. Including those four, eight Pac-12 teams were ranked in the top 13 for strength of schedule. There was only one SEC team in the top 13. I haven't heard anyone talk about this, and would like to hear your opinion about what this says about the SEC vs. Pac-12 discussion, among other things.

Ted Miller: It shows that the Pac-12 was the deepest conference, top to bottom, in the nation. Not sure anybody really disagrees with that. Further, in a year when the Pac-12 did well overall, it means the nine-game conference schedule significantly boosted strength-of-schedule measures.

If this continues to be a pattern going forward, the Pac-12 should do well in the eyes of the selection committee for the four-team college football playoff, which has said it will put an emphasis on strength of schedule.

Mailbag: Kelly, Sark and the SEC

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

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

To the notes!

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

But you asked about Clemson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a total package of meltdown.




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

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

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

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

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

Erroneous!

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

Pac-12 lunch links

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
2:30
PM ET
This was not Aunt Dahlia, my good and kindly aunt, but my Aunt Agatha, the one who chews broken bottles and kills rats with her teeth.

Mailbag: Is DAT out of position?

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the final -- Miller version! -- mailbag of 2013.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Nick from Phoenix writes: Chip Kelly and Oregon surprised many a few years ago when they flipped DeAnthony Thomas from USC by promising him a chance to play offense and not make him a corner, as USC planned to do. After showing some flashes and putting together a pretty good freshman season, he seems to have plateaued as a player. He's got amazing speed and is a tremendous returner but he's too small to be a starting running back and isn't a true WR. After his freshman season I thought he would be guaranteed to leave school after his junior year. Now I can't imagine him being drafted in the first two rounds in April. He's a player without a position. All of this brings me to my question. Did Oregon do him a disservice by making him an offensive player? Given the athletic ability DAT possesses, he would have made an amazing corner and we could possibly be talking about him as a top 5 pick this year. He would still be able to flourish in the return game (where he is at his best). I really think the Oregon staff blew it with him, just like they blew it with Arik Armstead (letting him be an OK defensive lineman when he has the physical skill set to be a transcendent offensive tackle).

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesAfter a hot start, De'Anthony Thomas missed four games and had his least productive season.
Ted Miller: The starting point for this discussion is what the player wants. And that is a slippery slope in recruiting. Often what is obvious to a plurality of seemingly objective observers is not obvious to the player himself. Or his family. Or "advisors."

The good news here is Oregon and USC both told the truth in recruiting. USC coaches told De'Anthony Thomas they saw him as a cornerback. Some coaches will say whatever they can to get a player, all the while having a plan to make a switch as soon as possible. Oregon, obviously, stuck to its word with both Thomas and Armstead.

I think the issue with Armstead is more clear-cut than Thomas. Armstead is a potential NFL All-Pro at left offensive tackle, based on his skill set, and a CFL player on the D-line, based on his performance as defensive end/tackle thus far. I personally think he is leaving millions of dollars on the table by playing defense. In fact, if he were my son, I would relentlessly hound him to make the switch. I might even touch base with the Oregon coaches on the matter to see what they think, though I'm not sure the guy who replaces the retiring Nick Aliotti will want to give up any more big bodies from his D-line, which will take some big hits heading into 2014 in any event.

As for DAT, you could make a strong case that he's more naturally a corner than an offensive player due to his size. But he'd also be on the small side for an NFL corner, and there's the issue of make-up. Does he have the natural aggressiveness to go mano-a-mano in press coverage against a bigger receiver? Can he attack a 220-pound running back in the open field? DAT might be more naturally suited to avoid rather than seek contact.

The question for DAT with the NFL is fit. A team looking for an offensive weapon who's not built for 20 touches a game could do a lot worse than Thomas. The St. Louis Rams fell in love with speedy but diminutive Tavon Austin and picked him in the first round last spring. He's had a pretty darn good rookie season. He seems like a good comparison to DAT (and not the short but stocky guys, such as Maurice Jones-Drew, who are built like fire hydrants).

There is no question DAT's pure athletic ability will get him drafted, this spring or next, though what round is difficult say. The ultimate answer on his NFL career, however, will come down to durability. How many touches -- and games -- can he give an NFL team? And for how many years?

Alex from Davis, Calif., writes: I have a great play idea for Washington State when they have an 8 point lead, ~ 2 minutes to go in a game and the other team is out of timeouts. It may be too wacky and zany for Mike Leach, though. Here's how it goes: the team lines up in a "victory" formation, takes a knee, lets the play clock go as close to zero as possible and repeats the play two more times. Then they take a delay of game penalty before punting to make the other team go more than 25 yards for the winning score. I know, I know. Way too crazy. It make soooooo much more sense to try and run a QB option play (or run the ball at all when you haven't done it all year) than it does to simply take a knee and run the clock.

Ted Miller: I'm with you, as are most folks. Even some with true football smarts, such as other coaches.

But Mike Leach, an unquestionably smart man, does things his own way. His reply would be the ole "I am what I am," which means not taking a knee there, and that is what got him where he is. He believes in being aggressive.

The thing about Leach is he's not going to go, "My bad. I should have done things differently. You second-guessers are correct!" Not his style.

Further, while there were about 785 different things the Cougars could have done to ensure a victory against Colorado State, Leach would simply note the most basic one would be holding onto the football, which I'm guessing he and his assistants have emphasized and drilled endlessly.

Adam from Dallas writes: After watching USC win the Las Vegas bowl and finish up with 10 wins from this crazy season. Saying it sounds unrealistic, but shouldn't Sark almost be expected to get 10 wins next season? Am I crazy?

[+] EnlargeSarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSteve Sarkisian might get a bit of a pass in his first year, but expectations at USC are always high.
Ted Miller: While I'll need more information to know, Adam, if you are indeed crazy -- such as: Do you have a 6-foot white rabbit as a wingman when you hit the bars? -- I don't think you are off base here.

For one, USC fans tend to start their baseline of preseason expectations at 10 wins and go from there.

First, let's note that USC won 10 games on a 14-game schedule. It's not the same as the 10-2 mark in 2011. Then let's wait until the NFL defection numbers are in. There are some names on the board who could make a big difference if they opted to return next year.

As it stands now, though, USC should be in the thick of a tightly contested South Division. That, in itself, might make a 10-win season difficult. There could be a lot of cannibalism in the South, as well as the conference as a whole.

I see UCLA as the South favorite, if QB Brett Hundley opts to return for his redshirt junior year. I see Arizona State as possibly taking a step back and Arizona taking a step forward, if it gets a satisfactory answer at quarterback. Utah becomes a factor if QB Travis Wilson is given a positive bill of health from his doctors and can play this fall. And Colorado is getting better.

The good news for USC fans, whatever their 2014 expectations, is the program will be made whole in 2015, as NCAA scholarship restrictions expire. At that point, there won't be much margin for error for Steve Sarkisian. The preseason expectations going forward will be Pac-12 title or bust, with a firm belief the Trojans should win a national title before 2020.

Josh from Wichita writes: Great article on my Cats, Ted. I did just want to make one technical correction though. It is actually a 4x4 that has 'family' written on it and not a 2x4. It's 4 inches by 4 inches, but I suppose it can be forgiven. EMAW!

Ted Miller: My bad. Guess folks won't be asking me to do any construction work anytime soon.

Jon from Berkeley writes: Just wanted to share an awesome video my friend Matt recently made about the Pac-12. Hope you like it!

Ted Miller: That is pretty cool.

DuckFam from Camas, Wash., writes: Dear PAC 12 Blog,I am sorry to say this, but you are absolutely right. The emotions you have stirred have caused such outrage that I am compelled to stand up and point out that Pink Ladies have never gotten their accolades, in spite of being the all-around most balanced in their league. This all starts with the fact that Pink Ladies don't have the history and pedigree of playing in an AQ league that the more traditional power-houses, such as Granny Smiths and Red Delicious have played in; a league, BTW, that is heavily favored east of the Rockies. They are practically unheard of down south, but Georgia is already biased anyway- what is their state famous for, again? Next, when you consider the balance of sweet to tart, combined with the fact that the ratio of crunch to crisp easily rivals that of Honeycrisp, and is far tastier than Fujis, I am not sure you can even consider Fujis any further at this point. Now Honeycrisp is certainly at the top of the game most of the time, and I grant you it is great for what it is, but if this is a case to be made with more than just personal taste and opinions, then it is time to turn to the metrics. Pink Ladies are most often in play at 1.49 per pound, and often break the .99-per-pound barrier, as many traditional ones often do, especially when they are at their best around mid-season. But given the qualities that Pink Ladies offer, as stated above, at the same economic metric as Fujis, make them a far better bet than Honeycrisp (which often hit 1.99, even at their best in the season). When compared pound to pound, or dollar to pound, or the newest metric developed by people with far too much time on their hands: the Approximate Pound Per Label Eaten, or APPLE, as it is known in some circles, Pink Ladies take down all comers, every time. Once again, though, being from a different box that doesn't say Fuji or Honeycrisp means little to no consideration, in spite of obvious fact. Proof yet again of the "tastelessness" of the East Coast bias...PS- is it September yet?

Ted Miller: My only hope is the "Great Apple Controversy of 2013" continues into the New Year.
He puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought ... doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps ... means a little bit more!

After a trying second half of the season, Christmas came early for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich when quarterback Marcus Mariota announced Tuesday that he would return for his redshirt junior season instead of entering the NFL draft, in which he almost certainly would have been an early first-round selection.

As a stocking stuffer, two-time first-team All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu also announced he will return. Goducks.com, the school’s athletics website, announced the news for both.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota will return to Oregon next season as a Heisman Trophy favorite.
While the Ducks probably are going to say goodbye to receiver De'Anthony Thomas and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who have yet to announce their intentions, Mariota's decision does make one thing clear: Oregon will be the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2014, the first year of the four-team College Football Playoff.

Mariota, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection for a second consecutive year, will be the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy as he captains an offense that looks like it will welcome back eight starters, a calculation that doesn't include DAT or RB Byron Marshall, the Ducks leading rusher.

While the Ducks' defense will take a few hits, Helfrich's second team appears stacked and ready for a potential bounce-back season. North Division rival Stanford will be replacing a number of key stars on both sides of the ball, including eight players who earned first- or second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Mariota completed 227 of 360 attempts for 3,412 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 582 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He set a Pac-12 record from the end of last season into this year by attempting 353 passes without an interception. He ranks second in the nation in ESPN.com Stats & Information's Total QBR.

Of course, a knee injury suffered against UCLA on Oct. 26 hampered him over the second half of the season, most notably in the Ducks' first loss at Stanford. Still, the Ducks "down" year produced a 10-2 record, a sixth consecutive 10-win season with a bowl game left to play.

Mariota's return means that as many as 10 conference teams could welcome back their 2013 starting quarterback. We still await word from UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion on whether they will enter the NFL draft. The return of Utah's Travis Wilson is up in the air due to health issues.

Only Arizona and Washington started seniors at QB this year.

The dual return of Mariota and Grasu means the brains of the Ducks' offense will be back in 2014. Grasu, perhaps the nation's top center, should have a mastery of the Ducks' offensive line calls, while Mariota figures to own an Andrew Luck-like knowledge of the nuances of the Ducks' offense as a third-year starter.

That's a huge advantage heading into 2014.

Further, their return is a vote of confidence in Helfrich. If one or the other didn't believe in the Ducks' first-year coach, they almost certainly would have moved on.

The only Ducks who might be unhappy with Mariota's decision are backup QBs Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who will be redshirt sophomores next season. They probably expected to be in a hotly contested competition for the starting job this spring. That said, they might benefit from another year of seasoning playing behind a future high NFL draft choice.

Of course, sometimes the celebrated return of a QB doesn't always work out (see: USC's Matt Barkley in 2012). Fans and NFL scouts will expect Mariota to be even better next fall. Comparable numbers might be viewed as a sign of his plateauing.

But that's a potentiality that isn't worth fretting over today.

Oregon fans were frustrated when the program lost two of its final four games and fell out of the national title race. Here's a guess that those frowns just turned upside down.

Heisman voters should reconsider Mariota

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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Marcus MariotaESPN Stats & InfoA look at Oregon QB Marcus Mariota's rushing statistics this season.

Whining is not part of Oregon football. Whining doesn't win the day. Whining is not forward-looking. Whining means you're concerned with outside influences and things beyond your control. None of that jibes with the carefully constructed culture around the Ducks program.

So you won't hear many folks inside the Oregon football offices spout off about the asininity of quarterback Marcus Mariota being counted out of the Heisman Trophy race just because the Ducks lost at Stanford.

The Pac-12 blog, however, is not above whining, though it prefers to see it as vociferously opposing clouded, absurd or biased thinking.

Mariota is the best quarterback in the country. We know this because the numbers say so. He fronts the nation's No. 5 team and an offense that averages 51 points and 580 yards per game.

He has passed for 25 touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception. After throwing three touchdown passes against Utah, he extended his Pac-12 record streak of pass attempts without an interception to 353. The old mark was 216 by USC's Brad Otton from 1994-95, so Mariota hasn't merely broken the record, he has stomped it into oblivion.

He also has rushed for nine touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. So he has accounted for 34 touchdowns despite only being involved in 27 total fourth-quarter plays this year.

Ah, Mariota's rushing. That brings up a big reason Oregon lost to Stanford, as well as another compelling part of his Heisman résumé that is being overlooked: Mariota's toughness.

He has played the past two-and-a-half games with a sprained knee. While Oregon doesn't talk about injuries, it was obvious when Mariota donned a knee brace during the second half of the win over UCLA that something was wrong. The whole nation saw that against Stanford when the Ducks were forced to shelf one of the most productive parts of their offense: The spread option.

In the two games before UCLA -- Washington and Washington State -- Mariota rushed for 155 yards. In the past two games, he has rushed for minus-16 yards. That's a negative number because he's not actually running option plays or even really scrambling, which is why the Ducks have yielded eight sacks in the past three games after surrendering eight in the first seven.

So what has Mariota done on one leg for the past three games? He has completed 68 percent of his passes with six touchdowns, averaging 256 yards passing per game.

Toughness? In spades.

"That's never been a question around here," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "That guy is a warrior."

Of course, Mariota, authentically humble and soft-spoken, doesn't have feelings one way or the other on his Heisman status.

"I have none, to be honest," he said. "Obviously that's other people's opinions and that's something I can't control. I'm just going to continue focusing on getting better and putting this team in good situations. Whatever comes with that comes with that."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesOregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has 25 touchdown passes this season, has not thrown an interception in 353 attempts.
That said, Mariota is not oblivious to the outside world. He did watch USC upset Stanford at a Red Robin restaurant with his family after beating Utah. The Cardinal's loss means the Ducks retook first place in the Pac-12's North Division. If they win at Arizona on Saturday and finish the season with a victory over Oregon State in the Civil War, they will return to the Pac-12 title game after a one-year hiatus. That could provide him with another marquee game, perhaps even on a healthy knee, to showcase his skills.

As for the knee, Mariota doesn't love talking about it, though he acknowledges it has been an issue.

"It is what it is," he said. "As a football player, you play through injuries. You learn to bounce back from adversity."

While he says the knee is getting better -- he might doff the knee brace in Tucson -- he does admit that it concerned his family when he first hurt it. As a likely early first-round NFL draft pick whenever he opts to leave -- this spring or next -- the redshirt sophomore does have an asset to protect.

"Obviously they do have some worry, they do have some concerns. But they support my decision no matter what," Mariota said. "They would have to pull me off the field before I wouldn't play. That's just the way I was raised. When you are part of a group, you do everything you can for that group."

That brings us to a final point about Mariota: Character. We will not waste time assailing the character of other Heisman candidates, we will only point out the utter lack of controversy surrounding Mariota. Further, he's a high-character guy without sanctimony. There is nothing efforted about him.

Helfrich, as the first-year curator of the Ducks inward looking football culture, is not going to rally around an aggressive campaign to get folks to reconsider whether the nation's most outstanding football player should win the Heisman Trophy, but he will say his piece.

"It's unfortunate how we played in the quote-unquote, marquee big game of the year, but a lot of that was not his doing," Helfrich said. "Marcus is phenomenal. All you have to do is look at the tape and watch what he has done throughout his short career. And, obviously, off the field the guy is even better."

That about sums up our effort to vociferously oppose clouded, absurd or biased thinking about who should win the Heisman.

Lokombo leads Oregon LBs

August, 28, 2013
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Just because a position is questionable in the preseason doesn't mean it's not answerable.

Questionable: Oregon is replacing three A-list linebackers. Dion Jordan was first-team All-Pac-12 and the third overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were both second-team All-Pac-12, with Alonso getting picked in the second round of the draft. Clay was cut this week by the Miami Dolphins.

The lone returning starter is Boseko Lokombo, who only ranked 10th on the team in tackles last year.

Answerable: Lokombo, a fantastic all-around athlete, has been a dominant playmaker during preseason practices, and the Ducks have five other linebackers with significant playing experience.

With the first official depth chart out, Tony Washington, as expected, will step in for Jordan at the position listed as defensive end opposite Taylor Hart, though everyone and their grandmother knows the Ducks defense is a base 3-4 and Washington will be an outside linebacker opposite Lokombo.

Juniors Rodney Hardrick and Derrick Malone, who were injured during spring practices, are the starters inside.

The three new guys are hardly green. Washington started twice for Jordan last year and finished with 20 tackles. Malone had one start and finished with 41 tackles, which ranked eighth on the team. Hardick had 11 tackles.

Depth? Backup Tyson Coleman, who can play inside and outside, had 34 tackles last year, and Rahim Cassell had 19. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if the Ducks played nine linebackers against woeful Nicholls State on Saturday.

Still, Lokombo is the one to watch. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound senior could play his way into the early rounds of the NFL draft next spring if his production equals his potential this fall.

"He's a guy who is almost limitless from a potential standpoint," Oregon's first-year coach Mark Helfrich said. "We expect huge things from him. But he needs to be more consistent."

Lokombo had 39 tackles last year, with 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions. Look for the sack numbers, in particular, to go up. Lokombo is powerful -- 500 pound squat -- and fast, though he's more quick than a 40-yard dash guy. He started all 13 games last year and the native of Congo has seen action in 40 since arriving at Oregon from Abbotsford, British Columbia four years ago.

He doesn't seem too worried about the new starters surrounding him.

"Some of them already played a lot last year," he said. "They are ready to take on their roles. It's next man up and that's that."

It also helps that Oregon's defensive line and secondary are both among the best units in the Pac-12, with the secondary widely considered as good as any in the nation.

The Ducks 2012 defense was very good. This one might still be able to match it, even with a question at linebacker.

Said Helfrich, "We have a lot of unproven guys, but a bunch of guys who have played to this point in camp really hard and really well."
2013 may be the season of the quarterback in college football, because a lot of good ones are coming back.

In the SEC, there's Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater, and Clemson offers Tajh Boyd. In the Pac-12, there's UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelley.

But the best one coming back is Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

How so? Well, for one, that was the assignment: Make a case for the best quarterback in your conference being the best in the nation.

But it's not too difficult to make Mariota's case.

As a redshirt freshman, he ranked seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He threw a touchdown pass in every game and one interception in his final seven games. He was named MVP in the Fiesta Bowl after leading a blowout win over Big 12 champion Kansas State, which capped a 12-1 season and a final No. 2 ranking for the Ducks.

He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after leading an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.6 PPG) and fifth in total offense (537.4 YPG). The Ducks scored 11 points per game more than any other Pac-12 team.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Honolulu native is an extremely accurate passer who might be the fastest quarterback in the nation -- see his 86- and 77-yard runs last season. Against USC on the road, he completed 87 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He tied a school record with six touchdown passes against California. He rushed for 135 yards at Arizona State.

Of course, his 2012 numbers aren't mind-blowing. A lot of that isn't his fault. Oregon blew out so many opponents -- average halftime score of 31-9 -- that it didn't require many plays from behind center after the break. For the season, Mariota threw just 24 passes and rushed eight times in the fourth quarter, compared to 227 passes and 71 rushes in the first half.

Manziel, for the sake of comparison, threw 62 passes and rushed 33 times in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater threw 86 passes and rushed 13 times in the fourth.

The good news is folks are probably going to see a lot more of Mariota this season. With running back Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, the Ducks might skew more toward the passing game after being run-centric under Chip Kelly. New coach Mark Helfrich, who was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last year, is expected to throw the ball around more because he has an experienced quarterback and a strong, experienced crew of receivers.

That means more numbers for Mariota as he leads a team in the national title hunt. The potential combination of stats and wins might be enough to get Mariota to New York in December for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

The Pac-12's 2,500-yard passers

May, 28, 2013
5/28/13
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Brett HundleyScott Halleran/Getty ImagesOdds are good that UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley will throw for at least 2,500 yards in 2013.
Last year, we looked at returning 3,000-yard passers, so the headline here shows how the Pac-12 has become more run-based, defensive minded of late.

And, of course, the conference's top two passers, Arizona's Matt Scott and USC's Matt Barkley, are both off to the NFL.

The returning members of the 2.5 K Club are:

  • UCLA's Brett Hundley (3,740 yards, 29 TDs, 11 Ints, No. 4 in passing efficiency)
  • Arizona State's Taylor Kelly (3,039 yards, 29 TDs, 9 Ints, No. 2 in passing efficiency)
  • Washington's Keith Price (2,728 yards, 19 TDs, 13 Ints, No. 8 in passing efficiency)
  • Oregon's Marcus Mariota (2,677 yards, 32 TDs, 6 Ints, No. 1 in passing efficiency)


There's a reason why Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State are highly thought of heading into 2013: Proven production returning behind center. And if Washington can get Price back to top form, the Huskies become a top-25 team.

So how does everyone else stack up? Which teams seem likely to get 2,500 yards passing next fall?

Well, there's lots of "To be determined" intrigue.

TBD, Arizona: B.J. Denker will enter fall camp atop the depth chart, but this one is far from over. If USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, who owns by far the biggest arms on the roster, wins the job, the Wildcats are almost sure to pass for 2,500 yards. Coach Rich Rodriguez, though widely viewed as a spread-option coach, showed last year he's comfortable throwing, so Denker or incoming freshman Anu Solomon also could put up solid passing numbers.

TBD, California: New coach Sonny Dykes likes to throw the rock around. Louisiana Tech averaged 351 yards passing per game last year. So whoever wins the QB job -- we're betting on Zach Kline -- will almost certainly hit the 2,500-yard mark.

TBD, Colorado: The Buffaloes struggled to the throw the ball last year, but new coach Mike MacIntyre might solve that, seeing his San Jose State Spartans passed for 332 yards a game last fall. Connor Wood, the frontrunner to win the job, has the arm to throw the ball around, but it's a matter of putting it all together.

TBD, Oregon State: Sean Mannion nearly made the above list, passing for 2,446 yards and 15 TDs with 13 interceptions last year, ranking fifth in the conference in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards per game with 244.6. But he's still knotted with Cody Vaz in the competition for the starting job. If one guy starts the entire season, he will put up strong passing numbers because Mike Riley teams always do.

Kevin Hogan, Stanford: The Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in passing last year with just 200 yards per game, but part of that was a scheme that played to a rugged defense and Hogan not winning the job until after midseason. Hogan is plenty capable, and his supporting cast is solid. Expect Hogan to at least hit the 2,500-yard mark.

TBD, USC: Whether it's Cody Kessler or Max Wittek, the USC QB will throw for at least 2,500 yards if he maintains his hold on the job. While Lane Kiffin likes balance, there are too many passing game weapons not to attack downfield, starting with All-American receiver Marqise Lee.

Travis Wilson, Utah: The Utes were last in the Pac-12 and 97th in the nation in passing in 2012, but Dennis Erickson is now their co-offensive coordinator. One of the original architects of the spread passing attack, it's highly likely Utah will substantially boost the 190.7 yards passing a game it produced last fall. Wilson is fully capable of throwing for 2,500 yards, and the Utes are solid at the receiver position.

Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday still isn't free-and-clear of redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, but he's a solid frontrunner in the competition. Whoever wins the job, he will put up big numbers in Mike Leach's "Air Raid" system. The Cougars couldn't stick with a QB last year, going back and forth with Halliday and Jeff Tuel, but they still led the Pac-12 with 330.4 yards passing per game. If Halliday starts 12 games, he'll throw for 4,000 yards.

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