Oregon Ducks: Texas Longhorns

Last week the Pac-12 blog discussed some dream nonconference matchups that we’d like to see someday. But the Pac-12 blog is firmly rooted in reality, none of this dream stuff (unless we feel like writing about it). So, let’s talk real-world, actually-happening, nonconference matchups.

So Kevin Gemmell and Chantel Jennings will take to that topic this week.

What nonconference match up are you most looking forward to in 2014?

Chantel Jennings: Easy. Has to be Michigan State-Oregon in Week 2. I grew up in Big Ten territory and before moving west this spring to cover the Pac-12, the Midwest was the only place I had ever lived. I attended the University of Michigan and saw my fair share of interesting (read: meh) nonconference games during my four years there. As a freshman, my first game was Michigan-Appalachian State. For those who don’t remember, the Wolverines lost -- that was my introduction as a student to Wolverines football. As a result, I sold my ticket for the following weekend to Oregon-Michigan (the Wolverines lost that one, too). Despite that, I’m a big fan of the historical relevance of Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups, and having closely covered the Spartans last season, I’m very excited to see what these two teams bring to the table.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota isn’t going to have to face the vaunted "No Fly Zone" of the Spartans defense next season, but there’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball for Michigan State and there are few coordinators who are better than Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi. Plus, reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Shilique Calhoun will have Mariota’s number. On the flip side, reigning Rose Bowl Offensive MVP Connor Cook is going to have to face the Oregon defense, which is no easy task. Cook lost his top receiver, but running back Jeremy Langford is back for the Spartans.

And as a side note: Michigan State has one of the best tweeters in the country in punter Mike Sadler (he’s also a tremendous punter). Between his ability to regularly get responses from Arby’s and Faux Pelini (the fake Twitter account for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini) and his wit, Sadler has one of the better athlete Twitter timelines that I’ve seen. With the Spartans playing the Ducks, there will be plenty of pre-game fodder for Sadler, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

Kevin Gemmell: It’s a good thing you found your way West, Chantel. The Pac-12 neeehhhvvveeerrr loses to FCS teams (cough, cough).

Your pick makes sense -- not only because you’re the Oregon writer, but because that is going to be the marquee nonconference game in the Pac-12 this season. Oregon wants a seat at the playoff table, and Michigan State’s Rose Bowl win is still fresh in a lot of minds. A win will definitely strengthen Oregon’s national profile.

But I think the same can be said for UCLA, which faces Texas Sept. 13 in Arlington, Texas. Granted, the Longhorns are a former super-power transitioning from Mack Brown to Charlie Strong. But Strong’s presence gives Texas a renewed sense of national credibility, and a victory would open some eyes of folks still straddling the Bruins’ fence. Despite its recent shortcomings, Texas is still a name program.

Like Oregon, UCLA is a team expecting big things in 2014. That makes their Oct. 11 showdown at the Rose Bowl awfully interesting.

But before the Bruins get there, they have the Texas matchup, followed by a bye week, and then a Thursday night showdown with defending South champ Arizona State in Tempe. A win over Texas gives the Bruins a ton of momentum heading into a game that has essentially decided the South Division the last two seasons. A loss could send them tumbling down the rankings and stunt any forward progress heading into league play.

The Pac-12 is traditionally ambitious with its nonconference scheduling. There are three showdowns with Notre Dame this season -- ASU, USC and Stanford -- and that always makes for entertaining football. I think Utah at Michigan has some intrigue -- given Kyle Whittingham’s success over Brady Hoke when their teams sparred in the Mountain West. I also think it’s interesting that for the second straight season, a Pac-12 team will face its bowl opponent from the previous year in the season opener (Washington-Boise State in 2013, USC-Fresno State in 2014).

But in terms of games that could boost the national standing of the conference, it probably doesn’t get bigger than Michigan State-Oregon and UCLA-Texas.
MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Nike SPARQ combines have grown with each passing year, and on Saturday there was a record turnout. If the 1,993 prospects who attended weren't impressive enough, the performances by several top prospects who came to compete certainly left spectators turning heads.

Here is a rundown of some of the event's top performers.
  • ESPN Junior 300 running back Taj Griffin posted one of the top SPARQ scores of the day. Griffin checked in at 5-foot-10, 174-pounds, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.35 shuttle, had a 46-inch vertical leap and a 36-foot power ball toss for a combined score of 124.29. On the recruiting front, Oregon, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and Tennessee continue to stand out the most.

  • No. 3 junior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga posted an impressive score of 94.65. After measuring at 6-4 and weighing 276 pounds, Edoga ripped off a 5.01 40-yard dash, a terrific 4.69 shuttle and had a 33.8-inch vertical jump and 37-foot power ball throw. Following his impressive effort, he said his top four schools in order are Tennessee, Southern California, Georgia and Stanford with a decision likely on May 25, his birthday. The big news might have been that he currently prefers the Volunteers, but his mother is in the corner of the Bulldogs and Cardinal.
  • No. 252 prospect C.J. Sanders made the trip and did not disappoint. He checked in at 5-9 and 176 pounds, ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, had a blazing 4.09 shuttle run, leaped 36.5 inches and tossed the power ball 41 feet. On the recruiting front, USC, Notre Dame and Georgia are the latest to offer, joining Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He visited USC last week, and lists Reggie Bush as his childhood idol. Sanders is the son of former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders. His mom played basketball at Michigan. He reports his family favors Duke and USC early on with a decision slated for the summer.
  • Class of 2016 prospect Ben Cleveland is already considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, and the 6-7, 317-pounder showed why Saturday. He clocked a very impressive 5.22 40-yard dash and 4.87 shuttle, and had a 25.8-inch vertical leap and 41.5-foot power ball throw for a score of 99.78. He has offers from Georgia, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Texas with Alabama expected in the near future. He made an unofficial visit to Clemson two weeks ago.
  • Class of 2015 running back Jaylen Burgess posted a 118.44. The 5-10, 214-pounder ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and a 4.38 shuttle, and had a 36.7-inch vertical leap and 42.5 power ball throw. He is receiving interest from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Duke and a number of other ACC schools. Duke and Tennessee are the coaching staffs Burgess talks to the most. He posted more than 1,500 all-purpose yards as a junior.
  • Class of 2016 linebacker and defensive end Charles Wiley checked in at 6-3, 203 pounds. He clocked a 4.68 40-yard dash and 4.45 shuttle, and also leaped 35 inches and threw the power ball 34.5 feet. He has an early offer from Virginia Tech.
  • Class of 2015 athlete Jeremiah Mercer is flying completely under the recruiting radar. While he had to sit out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, he made his mark Saturday posting a score of 97.47. The 5-11, 163-pound running back and wide receiver ripped off a 4.48 40-yard dash and 4.18 shuttle, and added a 36.2-vertical leap and 31-foot power ball toss. He is receiving interest from Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and lists Florida State as his dream school.
  • Class of 2016 inside linebacker Tyler Reed posted a very impressive score of 104.91. After measuring 6-2, 234 pounds, Reed ran a 4.96 40-yard dash and 4.59 shuttle, and had a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 41-foot power ball throw. He recorded 130 tackles as a sophomore.
  • Class of 2015 running back Eric Montgomery posted a 115.47, one of the day’s top scores. The tailback checked in at 5-11, 185 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 4.19 shuttle, and jumped 36 inches and threw the power ball 38 feet. On the recruiting front, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, among others, are showing interest.

The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.

On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.

Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban, Urban Meyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Nick Saban have faced off for SEC titles, but their current teams, Ohio State and Alabama, have played only three times in history.
1. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Alabama’s Nick Saban and OSU’s Urban Meyer dominated the SEC when Meyer was coaching at Florida, combining to win five BCS national championships from 2006 to 2012.

When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.

Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.

2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.

The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.

With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.

3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.

Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.

We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.

4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.

The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.

We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.

5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.

The 10 most memorable BCS moments

January, 13, 2014
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With the door closed on the 16-year reign of the BCS, we dove into the 72 BCS bowl games to find the 10 most memorable moments of the BCS era.

10. Utah’s hook-and-ladder: The first team ever dubbed a “BCS Buster” was the Urban Meyer-coached and Alex Smith-led Utah Utes in 2004. In the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Utah led Pittsburgh 28-7 late in the third quarter and lined up at the Panthers’ 18-yard line. Smith swung it left to Steven Savoy, who lateraled to Paris Warren, who ran it in for the score as the Utes completed a 12-0 season.

9. Peerless Price down the sideline: Tennessee led Florida State 14-9 with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl with the first BCS Championship on the line. UT quarterback Tee Martin found Price down the right sideline, and Price took it the distance for a 79-yard score. Price had 199 receiving yards for the winning Vols, the most ever in the BCS title game.

8. Ginn’s costly return: Ohio State received the opening kickoff from Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship game, and Ted Ginn Jr. wasted no time in getting the game’s first score on a 93-yard return. What will always be remembered, however, is that Ginn suffered a foot injury on the ensuing celebration and was out for the rest of the Buckeyes’ 41-14 loss.

7. Warrick's juggling score: Though the championship of the 1999 season was marked by Virginia Tech freshman QB Michael Vick, it was Florida State’s Peter Warrick who was named the most outstanding player. He had a punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and his juggling catch on a 43-yard score midway through the fourth served as the dagger.

6. Vince Young, Part I: Facing Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl, Young was responsible for all five Texas touchdowns in a 38-37 win. Though he had runs of 60, 23 and 20 yards, the most impressive was a 10-yard run in which Young escaped the tackle of Michigan lineman Pat Massey before scampering to the right pylon.

5. Dyer isn’t down: Tied at 19 with Oregon with just more than two minutes remaining in the 2011 BCS Championship Game, Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared to be tackled for a short gain at the Auburn 45-yard line. Having rolled over the defender, Dyer was never ruled down, and ended up gaining 37 yards on the play before he was taken down at the Oregon 23-yard line. Auburn would win on a field goal as time expired.

[+] EnlargeBoise
Steve Grayson/WireImageIan Johnson's two-point conversion run in overtime propelled Boise State over heavily-favored Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
4. Winston to Benjamin: Trailing Auburn 31-27 in the final BCS Championship Game, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston drove the Noles 78 yards in less than a minute to the Auburn 2-yard line. Receiving the snap with 17 seconds left in a wild fourth quarter, Winston threw a perfect pass to Kelvin Benjamin, who brought it down for the game-winning score to complete an undefeated season.

3. Was it pass interference? Some will remember Maurice Clarett’s game-saving strip of Sean Taylor, but the lasting legacy of the game is the dubious pass interference call in overtime. Miami led 24-17 and Ohio State faced fourth-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Glenn Sharpe was called for pass interference, giving the Buckeyes new life in a game they would win 31-24.

2. Boise State’s trick plays: In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State trailed heavily favored Oklahoma 35-28 with 18 seconds left and facing fourth-and-18 from the 50-yard line. Jared Zabransky completed a pass to Drisan James just short of the first down, but he lateraled it to Jerard Rabb, who took it the rest of the way for the tying touchdown. In overtime, down 42-35 on fourth down, wide receiver Vinny Perretta completed a 3-yard pass to Derek Schouman for a touchdown. Chris Petersen elected to go for two, and Zabransky faked a throw to his right before handing it behind his back to Ian Johnson on the Statue of Liberty play for the winning two-point conversion. Johnson would propose to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader, on the sideline after the game.

1. Vince Young, Part II: After a Longhorns touchdown and key fourth-down stop, undefeated Texas trailed undefeated USC 38-33 with 26 seconds remaining and faced fourth-and-5 from the 9-yard line, with the 2005 BCS championship on the line. Vince Young dropped back to pass but saw nobody open, and immediately sprinted for the right pylon for the title-winning score in the marquee game of the BCS era.
A few years ago, my wires got crossed even more than normal and I somehow ended up believing a homestanding but underdog Washington team just might beat Oregon. So I picked the Huskies to upset their hated rivals. It was a bad pick, and an Oregon person let me know about it -- profanely and vociferously -- immediately after the Ducks' blowout win.

It was Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

At the moment, I was shocked and, yes, a bit hurt. I thought I had a great relationship with Aliotti and I had no idea he'd even be aware of, much less give two flips about, my weekly Pac-12 picks.

Oh, but he did. And that's an important part of Nick Aliotti you need to know. Behind the avuncular public face, he's a fiery competitor who is motivated by folks doubting him and his players.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti spent 24 years on the Oregon coaching staff, including 17 as defensive coordinator.
We've chatted -- professionally and casually -- perhaps 20 times since then, and more than a few times he brought up that moment and apologized for it again and again, and then went on to great lengths to flatter the Pac-12 blog and make it blush.

"You've always been great to me," he'd say. "And I appreciate what you do."

That's an important part of Aliotti you need to know. He's a genuinely good fellow. Gracious. Funny. Self-effacing. And I don't know if I know anyone, particularly among members of the Fourth Estate, who'd say differently.

He also is a heck of a defensive coach, which is why more than a few folks are probably surprised that he has chosen to hang it up at just age 59, announcing his retirement Friday effective after the Ducks' date with Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30.

He has been a fixture at Oregon under four coaches -- 24 years total, 17 as defensive coordinator. He had a brief run in the NFL when Rich Brooks was with the St. Louis Rams, and he spent a year at UCLA getting scapegoated by Bob Toledo, which was such bad form from Toledo that his career swirled into the muck shortly thereafter, his having irrevocably broken his positive karmic balance.

While the Ducks have been known more for their offense during their rise to the nation's elite, Aliotti consistently put together defenses that ranked highly in the Pac-12 and nation, particularly when you went beyond obvious statistics -- such as yards per game -- and used more advanced metrics that accounted for the Ducks offense having no interest in time of possession.

Aliotti will be missed, as a coach and a personality.

"Nick's contributions to the football program at the University of Oregon cannot be overstated," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said in a statement. "His dedication to the success of this program will certainly leave a lasting impression that is hard to measure. I want to thank him for his loyalty and efforts to help make Oregon football what it is today, and wish him and his wife, Kathy, a long and happy retirement."

The first question, of course, even before we ponder the future of the Ducks defense, is whether Aliotti will stay retired. That competitive fire might enjoy a break, but after he watches the 2014 season, you'd have to wonder if his coaching jones might return. Heck, a smaller program might even want to shake his tree a bit and see if he'd be interested in one thing he's missed out on in his career: A head coaching job.

I'd rate Aliotti's potential return a definite maybe. He certainly won't be off the coaching radar when a year from now someone needs a coordinator.

[+] EnlargeClancy Pendergast
Joe Andras/WeAreSC.comClancy Pendergast transformed USC's defense in one season with a system similar to Oregon's 3-4.
As for what's next for Oregon, two names were all over the Twitterverse this afternoon: Justin Wilcox, a former Oregon player, and Clancy Pendergast, who transformed USC's defense this fall.

Wilcox, as reported by CBS's Bruce Feldman, is shortly expected to follow Steve Sarkisian from Washington to USC. He also is one of the nation's highest paid assistant coaches, making more than double the $370,000 Aliotti made this fall. Aliotti, by the way, is the Ducks' highest paid assistant coach.

As for Pendergast, he'd be a great hire, wouldn't cost $800,000 a year and he's available because of Wilcox's expected arrival in Los Angeles. He knows the Pac-12, having coached the past four years at California and USC, and that can't be discounted when you consider the diversity of offenses in the conference.

ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported Pendergast might be eyeballing an NFL job, but one suspects he is looking only for the best situation -- and perhaps some stability. Considering Oregon ran a hybrid 3-4 under Aliotti, and Pendergast ran the same sort of thing at Cal and USC, calling it a 5-2, the transition would be smooth.

If Helfrich and Pendergast haven't already chatted, that's a call the Ducks first-year coach should seriously consider making. Nothing like hiring a guy who's almost a sure-thing.

Of course, neither of those guys would hold court during a postgame media briefing like Aliotti. His winding, often lengthy, stream of consciousness answers that often ended up having little to do with the original question made postgame stories on the Ducks defense far more colorful.

And reporters were talking to him because his defense, though typically overshadowed by the Ducks prolific offense, was more often than not among the best coached units in the Pac-12.

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
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!

3-point stance: Oregon’s road test

October, 10, 2013
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1. Oregon plays its first ranked opponent this season when it goes to play its biggest out-of-state rival, No. 16 Washington. Duck quarterback Marcus Mariota is in the middle of setting a school record, having thrown 202 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to the 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford. Here’s a streak that may end Saturday: Mariota has yet to throw a pass in the fourth quarter in five games this season.

2. The story broke Thursday that Tennessee and Virginia Tech will play in 2016 somewhere within the 160,000-seat Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s safe to say that the game will set the modern attendance record, which Michigan raised to 115,109 earlier this season when Notre Dame made its last scheduled Big House appearance. However, the all-time record remains the estimated 120,000 who jammed into Soldier Field in Chicago for the first Notre Dame-USC game in the Midwest. The Irish won, 7-6, in 1927.

3. A lot of Texas fans date the beginning of the Longhorns’ woes to Colt McCoy’s shoulder injury early in 2009 BCS Championship Game. Austin native Garrett Gilbert replaced McCoy and acquitted himself well for a true freshman in that setting. But Gilbert proved prone to the big mistake, and he transferred last season to SMU. Last Saturday, Gilbert completed 45-of-70 passes for 484 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in the three-overtime loss to Rutgers. That’s the type of game everyone thought was in him.

3-point stance: Life after UConn

October, 1, 2013
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1. George DeLeone hired Paul Pasqualoni as an assistant coach at Southern Connecticut State in 1976, and the two have coached together for most of the seasons since, from Division III to FBS to the NFL. When UConn fired Pasqualoni on Monday after two-plus seasons as head coach, the school fired DeLeone, the associate head coach and offensive line coach, too. The Huskies are 0-4, scoring 18 points and gaining 272.5 yards of total offense per game. Pasqualoni has a solid record (151-94-1, .616) in 22 years as a head coach. Something tells me he and DeLeone aren’t done coaching -- together -- just yet.

2. Oregon has won its last 15 road conference games, the longest such FBS winning streak. The Ducks have won their last game at every Pac-12 opponent save Utah (in 2003, when Utes were in MWC. Does that count?) Alabama has won nine straight road SEC games. Stanford and Texas A&M each have won their last five road conference games. The Cardinal lost to Washington in 2012 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. However, with the victory at that stadium Saturday over Washington State, Stanford has won its last game at every opposing venue in the Pac-12.


3. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds will announce today that he is retiring next August after 32 years. All Dodds, a former track coach, has done is transform Texas into the premier sports program in the nation. It took him three coaching hires to find Mack Brown, but 150 wins and one BCS championship in 16 seasons indicate Dodds got that one right. It’s a measure of the resources and the expectations that Dodds has raised that fans wonder why the Longhorns don’t dominate every sport in which they compete.

Mailbag: Graham contract; Angry Badgers!

September, 20, 2013
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Welcome to the week 4 mailbag. It will be done in sanskrit.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's this new Internet thing that just might work out.

To the notes!

Scott from Norfolk, Va., writes: Todd Graham really does seem like a great fit at ASU and he really did seem to bring about a very positive and much-needed cultural overhaul to the program. That said, doesn't his contract extension and raise seem a little premature? He's great so far, but "so far" is only 15 games, in which he's 10-5. Dennis Erickson was 12-3 in his first 15 games. I have to imaging this increases Graham's buyout (though I haven't seen direct mention of it, perhaps you can inform us as to whether that's true?), so isn't ASU unnecessarily limiting its options down the road here? Or am I overreacting and this is par for the course (and it's only fair that if coaches are now getting fired after two years they should also get raises on the same time scale)?

Ted Miller: I see this as a renewal of vows, Arizona State and Graham making it clear to everyone they are happy -- at present -- with each other (and let's also note the same can be said for AD Steve Patterson, whose contract was also extended).

Of course, we all know college contracts often end up getting broken, one way or another. A coach can leave for a big-money job, at which point the new school often picks up the buyout tab, or boosters can get so worked up about a surprising downturn that the school decides to eat the contract and move on. And, yes, sometimes extensions bite a school in the butt -- see Colorado with Dan Hawkins and Iowa with Kirk Ferentz, two coaches who got big-money extensions that proved too expensive to buy out when things went south.

This new contract isn't a big risk for either party. Graham's current contract runs through 2016, this new one runs through 2018. He wasn't given a 10-year deal that could expose Arizona State should the Sun Devils start losing two years from now. As for Graham, his buyout of $1.5 million isn't terribly big. Chip Kelly's buyout at Oregon was $3.5 million.

Another interesting detail, though, is Graham is forbidden from taking a Pac-12 job through the life of the former contract. If I were a Pac-12 AD, I 'd always try to get that written into a head coach's contract. It's a good way to protect program secrets. Not saying any Pac-12 program would ever have any.

But, yes, if Texas wanted to hire Graham, it could easily handle the buyout, even though this extension is intended to prevent Graham's name from getting aggressively thrown into the rumor mill.

Why now? Well, you might have noticed the rumor mill already is starting to grind. From the ASU perspective, just about everything Graham has done thus far with the Sun Devils has been positive, and that's not just about winning.

Kevin, as you know, spent a lot of time with Graham and his staff last week. I think the picture he paints is of a highly functioning coaching staff with a strong, driven, organized leader running the show.

I know media members aren't allowed to write nice things about Graham. Kevin's and my problem is we actually have spent enough time with him to actually know what we are talking -- and writing -- about.




Sam from Sammamish, Wash., writes: I am noticing some chippiness of late between long-time conference allies, the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. Here is a link to a story about Sark thinking on the fly about where to practice on Friday prior to the game in Chicago. What the story neglects to mention is Northwestern University decided to deny UW access to its practice fields less than 24 hours prior to arrival because it would give their Big Ten brethren Illinois an unfair disadvantage. Add this questionable gesture or lack thereof to the Wisconsin/ASU officiating debacle and methinks there may be some outright animosity building up?

Ted Miller: The Rose Bowl conferences are business partners, but that doesn't mean they aren't rivals who desperately want to win and claim superiority. That sometimes involves gamesmanship, which is what it appears Northwestern did in this instance.

Here's what coach Steve Sarkisian said on the matter:
“It’s an unfortunate situation. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of love lost right now between the Big Ten and Pac-12 right now, quite honestly, especially after the Arizona State-Wisconsin game. So it is what it is. Pat Fitzgerald and I exchanged some comments, and we’re fine. I don’t know where it’s going to go from a conference level. It was unfortunate, but in the end, I think it was a positive. It just kept lending to, there’s no distractions for us on this team. If we have to walk through the streets of Chicago to a park in downtown Chicago with a light pole in the middle of the field to practice, we’ll do it. And our guys didn’t skip a beat. It actually worked out really well for us. It’s not a big deal for us anymore. We’ve moved on.”

Oh, well. I've got a really high regard for Fitzgerald, so he gets a pass from me. Sark and Huskies fans might feel differently.

The bottom line is Washington beat Illinois 34-24 and the Pac-12 is 3-2 versus the Big Ten. So pffft to our friends from the Midwest.




Bill from Portland writes: What are the odds of USC and Texas meeting in the Holiday Bowl, and if they did, would those be some of the hottest hot seats in college football? P.S. How crazy is it that in the same year it is a good possibility that USC, Texas and Nebraska may be looking for new coaches at the same time?

Ted Miller: Those certainly are some A-list jobs that might open up by season's end. Suffice it to say, there's already plenty of chatter about how those potential openings might go.

It's certainly not that long of a shot that the Trojans and Longhorns could play in the Holiday Bowl -- or the Alamo Bowl for that matter -- for the first time since their epic national title game after the 2005 season, albeit in far different circumstances. Of course, both teams will need to climb a bit in their respective conference's pecking order to make it happen, particularly 1-2 Texas.

That said, I'm not sure either team would embrace the idea, though both would like an invitation to a quality bowl game. After all, the theme of most advance stories would be: Look how the mighty have fallen!




Lee from Ripon, Wisconsin writes: You are so incredibly stupid it is beyond belief. To compare a judgment call (pass interference) with a failure of the game officials to call a play by the rules defies basic logic. Of course basic logic is obviously beyond you. But when you make statements that are factually incorrect, you really display your stupidity. The Pac-12 is the only major conference that uses officials from its league for home nonconference games. The other conferences have the game officials in essence travel with the visiting team. The game officials that worked the ASU at Wisconsin game in 2010 were from the Pac-12. The referee was the same individual who worked the Ohio State at Cal game Saturday night. It was NOT a Big Ten official who missed the pass interference call that you are basing your fallacious argument on; it was a Pac-12 official. If you weren't so fricking lazy you would have checked this out prior to making a factually incorrect statement; it is called research. I will be sending this email to the president of ESPN and suggest that they fire your sorry butt. An individual too fricking lazy to do basic research and as a result base an "argument" (what you stated doesn't meet the definition of a sound argument, but obviously the explanation of what qualifies as a sound argument is way beyond your severely limited mental capacity) isn't qualified to be a sports reporter. You aren't even qualified to be a dog catcher, or a member of the Bush cabinet. Hell, you aren't even qualified to be a Pac-12 football game official.

Ted Miller: Thank you for your interest in the Pac-12 blog. We value your input. Please press one for customer service, two for new accounts ...

Lee, you are correct. I am stupid and lazy. That has never been so clear until this week when many Wisconsin fans showed up to help become smarter-er. But, to be honest, your world of Badger sophistication frightens and confuses me. I read "factually incorrect" and I want to bury my face into my blankie. I read "fricking lazy" and "research" and I want to know, "Where did these highfalutin concepts get created... The Kollege Klub?"

But there is one thing I do know.

That referee Bill LeMonnier led a Big Ten crew on Sept. 18, 2010 inside Camp Randall Stadium for Arizona State's visit to Wisconsin.

I guess I'm just lucky my computer is connected to the Internet-S.




Don from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: Ted --Please pass this on to Kevin -- seems every time I try and click on "send email to Kevin" it displays your smiling face. Is this part of your evil scheme?I wanted to commend Kevin on his very fine profile of Todd Graham. It was well written, informative and unflinching. As a Stanford fan, and Stanford having not played ASU since 2010, I had kind of lost track of the program (although certainly the Graham hire made news). So with the game coming up this week, it was time to get into Graham and the program a bit, and Kevin's piece filled out everything very nicely. Pac-12 blog rocks!

Ted Miller: I have many evil schemes. This is not one of them, though now I'm sort of wishing it were. A guy can never have too many evil schemes, right?

Yet just two seconds ago, I was gazing at Kevin's Clooney-esque mug.

Did you click here? There are two places to send your Pac-12 mail, one to me and one to Kevin.

Typically, if you are angry and want to insult us, those notes should go to Kevin. If you want to write how great the Pac-12 blog is, those notes go to me.




Jesse from Portland writes: I know of your long gripe with the word, "Natty." However, an Oregon player first invented that word. And since it has gone global in it's usage, though originating in Oregon, we claim that word. If you actually took the time to visit every single sports forum and blog, you would quickly see that this word is used by every single fan nationally describing the NCG. It has become a universal word and has so for three years now. Get with the times. You are getting old. The only people who hate that word are Oregon haters, cause they know a Duck invented it. And because it was first invented by a Oregon player, we are NOT going to to stop using that word, not now, not ever! We are the only Pac-12 team to go to a Natty in the last eight years. And we are projected to make another one this year. So we have every right to use that word. So Natty, Natty, Natty, wish you were at the Natty. Natty is here to stay. Both now, forever and into all time. It is a Oregon thing, going to a Natty. And unless you are a Duck, you just cannot understand. You Natty old reporters ... don't like the Natty? Well ... go Duck yourself then. Natty times are here to stay!

Ted Miller: (A sigh ... and then a slow clap ... everyone in the coffee shop slowly stands and joins in).

3-point stance: Limits on loyalty

September, 9, 2013
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1. Loyalty is an admirable quality. Loyalty to a fault will get you in trouble. In Manny Diaz’s first two seasons as defensive coordinator at Texas, the Longhorns lost games by the score of 55-17, 48-24, 48-45, and 63-21. They won one, 56-50. Texas head coach Mack Brown stuck with Diaz. On Saturday night, the Longhorns lost at BYU, 40-21, allowing 550 rushing yards. Brown fired Diaz on Sunday. If that solves the Longhorns’ issues, Brown will be fine. But by sticking with Diaz, Brown used up a lot of goodwill.

2. That said, USC athletic director Pat Haden is not in the same predicament as Brown. When Haden gave Trojans coach Lane Kiffin a preseason vote of confidence, he well may have meant it. It was interpreted, however, as campaign rhetoric, something Haden had to say. Haden didn’t hire Kiffin, so he doesn’t own him -- yet. USC’s 10-7 loss at home to Washington State on Saturday night puts Kiffin in a deep hole. He can still dig out. But he needs a quarterback, not a shovel.

3. Oregon freshman tailback Thomas Tyner made his collegiate debut Saturday. The high school All-American rushed four times for 51 yards, including touchdowns of 3 and 31 yards, in the mop-up fourth quarter of the Ducks’ 59-10 victory at Virginia. “I’ve wanted to play for the Ducks for the majority of my childhood,” Tyner said, wearing a permagrin. “My first carry being a touchdown, everything just lights up inside of you. Words can’t even explain how exciting it is. Today has been awesome.”

Final Pac-12 2012 power rankings

January, 8, 2013
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These are the final 2012 power rankings.

If you don't like where you finished in the power rankings, you should have played better.

See the pre-bowl-season power rankings here.

1. Stanford: Oregon received a higher final national ranking, and you could make a decent challenge in favor of the Ducks. They didn't get upset by Washington, didn't play a lot of close games and beat a top-five team in the Fiesta Bowl. But, on Nov. 17, the Cardinal went to Eugene and took care of business. Stanford is the Pac-12 champion, and Oregon is not. Ergo, Stanford sits atop the power rankings. And 2013 looks pretty darn good, too.

2. Oregon: The cherry on the top of another special season for Oregon is the return of coach Chip Kelly. And we're of the mind that, if not for the slip against Stanford, Oregon would be sitting atop college football this morning after a fine evening of frolic in South Florida. The Ducks and Stanford will be national title contenders again in 2013. And guess which two teams are going to top the first 2013 power rankings?

3. Oregon State: The loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl was baffling. The Beavers were a superior team that seemed to be looking for ways to lose in the fourth quarter. The quarterback carousel needs to be resolved. But the Beavers still won nine games, and their 6-3 conference record overcomes UCLA because of a head-to-head win on the road. Nice bounce back after consecutive losing seasons.

4. UCLA: Yes, the Bruins flopped in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl against Baylor, but it's impossible not to see Year 1 under Jim Mora as a success, made even more notable by USC's flop. Like last season, the Bruins won the South Division, but this time they earned it.

5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils won their final three games for the first time since 1978. That's how you go into an offseason with optimism. We hear a lot about "culture change" from programs with new coaches. The Sun Devils' culture change under Todd Graham was made manifest by what happened on the field.

6. Arizona: The Wildcats did better than expected in Year 1 under Rich Rodriguez, and the season would have been a complete success if not for what happened against that team from up north. That loss hurts, but quality wins over Oklahoma State, USC and Washington, as well as an overtime game with Stanford, show this team competed better than in recent years.

7. Washington: The Huskies finishing 7-6 against a brutal schedule probably was close to preseason expectations. But the two-game losing streak to end the season, which included a dreadful meltdown in the Apple Cup to Washington State, quashed the momentum a four-game winning steak from Oct. 27 to Nov. 17 had built. Perhaps that will make the Huskies hungrier in 2013, when they have a nice array of talent returning.

8. USC: The Trojans' season was a complete disaster. USC started out at No. 1 but turned in a white flag performance while losing a sixth game in the Hyundai Sun Bowl to a middling Georgia Tech team. The Trojans were eclipsed by rivals UCLA and Notre Dame while wasting the much-ballyhooed return of QB Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin will be sitting on one of the nation's hottest seats in 2013. We've been over this a few times.

9. Utah: The Utes' move up in class from the Mountain West Conference is proving tougher than some imagined. Utah missed out on playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2002, and there were issues on both sides of the ball. The Utes need an upgrade in talent and overall depth, sure, but consistent quarterback play would be a good place to start. Therein lies hope with promising freshman Travis Wilson.

10. California: A dreadful 3-9 finish ended Jeff Tedford's tenure in Berkeley after 11 seasons. In early October, after consecutive wins over UCLA and Washington State, it seemed as though the Bears might be poised for a rally. Alas, they lost their final five games, including a horrid performance in a 62-14 drubbing at Oregon State. Sonny Dykes has enough returning talent to produce significant improvement in the fall.

11. Washington State: New coach Mike Leach's season was bad on the field and off, but it ended on a notable uptick with an Apple Cup win over Washington that included a comeback from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit. Still, 3-9 took a bite out of the enthusiasm Leach's hiring initially generated.

12. Colorado: A horrid 1-11 finish that was capped by a controversial firing of Jon Embree after just two seasons. The Buffaloes are probably the worst AQ conference team over the past two seasons, and that is the considerable mess new coach Mike MacIntyre was hired to clean up. Of course, MacIntyre put together an impressive turnaround at San Jose State, so he looks like a good choice to bring the Buffs back to respectability.

Smythe talks Stanford, visit plans 

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
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HOUSTON -- The decision to decommit from Texas wasn't an easy one for Belton (Texas) High School tight end Durham Smythe. But for him, it was the right decision.

Now, as the weeks pass and national signing day approaches, Smythe is weighing all the options in front of him. He has plenty, but he's still in the process of trying to decide where he'll take his remaining official visits. After checking in for the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl -- set for Sunday at Reliant Stadium -- on Wednesday, he discussed all that has been going on since he made his decision.

"The week that I decommitted it was pretty crazy because the dead period was about to start at that point, so toward the end of that week, a lot of coaches and a lot of schools tried to get in contact with me to schedule home visits and stuff like that," Smythe said. "Over the dead period I've been in contact with coaches once a week on Facebook and stuff like that. It's been busy and right now I'm just in a period where I'm evaluating things and I'm trying to pick a couple favorites so I can take official visits there and have a base to compare."

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