Oregon Ducks: Alabama Crimson Tide

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.

3-point stance: Oregon's trap game?

November, 18, 2013
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1. In the 11th game of last season, Oregon lost to Stanford, 17-14, in overtime. In the 11th game in 2011, Oregon lost to USC, 38-35. In the 11th game in 2009, Oregon held on to win at Arizona, 44-41, in three overtimes. I’m not smart enough to figure that out. Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost told me that in April. The coaches didn’t have a reason, other than fatigue or overconfidence. But they are aware of it. If Oregon looks flat at Arizona this week, it won’t be from falling into the same trap.

2. Alabama and Florida State are guaranteed nothing in the BCS. But the gulf between the No. 2 Seminoles and No. 3 Buckeyes indicates that there won’t be any drama about who goes to Pasadena as long as the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles win out. Given that Alabama still must play No. 6 Auburn, and then, with a win, either No. 8 Missouri or No. 11 South Carolina, we may yet witness a huge public debate about the Buckeyes and No. 4 Baylor. As of now, that debate is for entertainment purposes only.

3. Here’s one thing the BCS standings might have gotten right: as Coaches By the Numbers tweeted Sunday, only three teams are 5-0 this season against teams with winning records. They are No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State. You can argue that their opponents don’t play anyone, hence their records. But if it were that easy to beat that many teams with records over .500, more than three teams would have done so.

3-point stance: Fresno State lurking

November, 4, 2013
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1. It’s not smart to delve deeply into BCS what-ifs. The season has five remaining weeks -- a full third of the schedule. Besides, the top of the BCS standings will sort itself out. It has every year since the FBS went to a 12-game schedule. But the race at the other end of the BCS is worth keeping an eye on. Fresno State has reached No. 16, the minimum threshold a BCS buster needs to secure a bid as long as it’s ahead of an AQ champion. Louisville and UCF of the American are No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.

2. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Oregon turn their heads toward their biggest conference nemeses. Nick Saban is only 4-3 against No. 13 LSU while since taking over as coach of Alabama. He’s 72-10 against everyone else. No. 5 Stanford is the only team to beat Chip Kelly’s Ducks twice in his four seasons. Last season’s 17-14 overtime loss cost Oregon a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Suffice to say it left a mark. Expect coach Mark Helfrich to have something in his game plan this week. The Ducks kept it pretty vanilla last year, and it cost them.

3. When Michigan State defeated Michigan four consecutive times from 2008-11, it didn’t quite feel as if the Spartans owned the rivalry. This wasn’t the real Michigan -- coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t fit the Wolverine mold. Michigan State took advantage of Michigan, but so did a lot of teams. That’s not the case any longer. Michigan has its own (Brady Hoke) running the program. He is in Year Three. Yet Michigan State just beat Michigan 29-6, the Spartans’ biggest margin in their 5-1 run against the Wolverines. The rivalry belongs to Sparty as securely as it did in the mid-1960s run of Duffy Daugherty.

Mailbag: Are Oregon fans the worst?

November, 1, 2013
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Happy Friday -- hey, there's a game tonight!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Dave from Neverland writes: On Tuesday, John Canzano posted a letter he had purportedly received from a former Ducks player. This player outlined the abhorrent fan behavior he observed while sitting in the stands. There have been countless other stories about the wretched behavior of Ducks fans, not just at Autzen, but also other stadiums they visit. An article a few years back by one of your competitor websites surveyed fans and the survey concluded that Oregon fans are generally perceived as being the worst in the conference, by far. Reading the comments of the Canzano blog post, the fan comments seemed to substantiate the article. My question: Is the perception about Oregon fans aligned with reality? Are Oregon fans truly as awful as they are made out to be, or are we just hated because we win?

Ted Miller: I was asked about this in my Thursday chat, and my chief response was to deride the anonymity of the letter writer.

I stand by that. If you're going to attack something, you need to have the courage to step up and identify yourself. That, by the way, is not a slight on Canzano for posting the letter, only on its writer.

[+] EnlargeOregon fans
AP Photo/Don RyanAre Oregon fans worse than the rest of the Pac-12?
Are Oregon fans "truly as awful as they are made out to be or are we just hated because we win?"

The short answer is no, Ducks fans are not uniquely awful. At least, I find such a sociological oddity difficult to believe. That said, I am not an expert on this: As a sportswriter, I have not sat in the stands of a college football game since the early 1990s.

Oregon is going through an unprecedented run of winning. That inspires gloating. Lots of it. And plenty of entitlement, too. The stadium is packed and the program is rich. Rivals are jealous, and therefore easy and frequent targets -- in the stands or anywhere else. And, suddenly, a two-loss season sounds like a disaster and everyone is a football expert.

Even without siting in the stands, I have personally witnessed reprehensible fan behavior at just about every Pac-12 venue. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote about the near-riot in Martin Stadium after the controversial 2002 Apple Cup and some Washington State fans took exception, often by trying to rewrite the facts of what happened. So I know how things might be for Canzano now.

There are all sorts of fans and each of those sorts roots for every team. Some love cheering and bonding with family and friends. Some find comfort in wide-eyed zealotry, the my-team-right-or-wrong adherence that defies all reasonable counterargument.

As I've previously noted, there are two foundations for fandom: Those who derive most of their joy from rooting for something. And those who most enjoy rooting against something. The first group is looking for something with which to align themselves. The second group is looking for a villain.

Yes, the loudest voices in the Pac-12 blog comment section are typically the latter. And, yes, those often are the sort of fans who can ruin the game-day experience of even folks wearing the same colors.

My belief is that if Washington or Oregon State started winning at the same rate Oregon has for the past four-plus years, its fans would act the same, or at least be perceived to act the same.

Yet there is a clear takeaway from this that is a positive. Reasonable people should have the guts to stand up to bad fan behavior. Don't be a passive onlooker. If someone is acting like a jerk, you should: 1. Calmly and with a minimum amount of confrontation, tell him/her to settle down; 2. Get security.

And Oregon itself should remain as vigilant as possible when it comes to making sure that reasonable standards of behavior are enforced.


Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: There have been quite a few articles this week about "The Eye Test", and which two teams would be most deserving in a three or four-team race. For the sake of this question, let's assume that Oregon, Florida State and Alabama win out.Florida State seems to be getting quite a bit of hype relative to Oregon. Florida State certainly has history behind its program, including a national title, but has been off and on in the last few years. Many voters won't budge on Alabama (with the exception of the intelligent, educated few, such as those that blog for the Pac-12), the rationale being that until someone knocks them off, they deserve to be No. 1. So it seems that many pundits love Florida State THIS YEAR, right NOW, rather than taking the longer view. My question, then, is this: Should not the same logic apply to Oregon? Oregon has been ranked No. 2 much more frequently than Florida State, including last year's final rankings, and has certainly been more consistent. Six losses in four years, and never an NC State kind of upset. The Pac-12 is a tougher conference than the ACC. Why, then, is Oregon not the obvious choice as No. 2, the way Alabama seems to be the obvious choice as No. 1? Is it Oregon's supposed lack of pedigree, or is it the dreaded East Coast Bias?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

The "eye-test" debate, while always inspiring strong feelings across the country, is irrelevant the first weekend of November. Five weeks remain in the regular season, and Alabama, Florida State and Oregon will each need to then win their conference championship games to remain in the national title hunt.

Every year, we speculate on apocalyptic visions of, say, four unbeaten teams from AQ conferences -- who goes to the title game! And then at least two of those teams lose.

Let's at least wait until we reach late November before beginning the earnest lobbying for prioritizing the specific subjective distinction that favors your team.

Further, Oregon fans, while there's a lot of noise out there, the general consensus from long-time observers of the BCS process, is that if Oregon wins out, it will at least end up No. 2 in the final BCS standings. It could, in fact, end up No. 1 if the SEC continues to cannibalize itself.

The Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC, and it's unlikely voting patterns in the coaches and Harris polls will dramatically change if the present course is maintained.


Sad Cougar fan from Bellevue, Wash.,writes: Ted, real talk for a minute. After over a decade of misery, all Coug fans pointed to Leach as our hope. But after yet another Wulff-like performance from the team last night. They were outcoached in every phase of the game. Was our hope foolish? In today's NCAA,and today's Pac-12, do we honestly EVER have a shot at being relevant again? The glory years were a perfect storm. UW was bad, Oregon wasn't Oregon yet. Stanford wasn't Stanford yet, USC was just getting started. Honestly. We're never going to be good ever again are we? I am slipping into "mariners mindset?" Get excited for opening day, then stop caring by June.

Ted Miller: No question that was a dreadful performance against Arizona State. And it's been a bad three-week conference run since a 4-2 start inspired optimism.

However, yes, Washington State has a shot at being relevant again. In fact, I'm certain it eventually happen, whether that's about next year or seven years from now. How many programs have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997? It's simply a matter of getting the right players and the right coach together.

Sure, the euphoria after hiring Mike Leach has waned considerably. The mistake with that probably was believing he brought with him some magical elixir that immediately made the program bowl-eligible and then, shortly thereafter, Rose Bowl worthy.

Further, while most of us saw Leach inheriting an intriguing roster from Paul Wulff, he didn't share that view. Leach definitely has his own ideas about how to run a program and the sort of players he wants, in terms of both athletic ability and mental makeup. That he decided to mostly erase what was there and then re-draw from scratch his own plan is making the growing pains last longer. And be more painful.

This is only Year 2 with Leach. Feel free to feel bad. But don't panic yet.


Devin from Keizer, Ore., writes: What would it take for OSU to make it to the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the championship game?

Ted Miller: First, the Beavers need to win out -- other than the Civil War -- and finish 9-3 and earn at least a No. 14 ranking in the final BCS poll. That might require strong finishes from the remaining foes -- USC, Arizona State and Washington -- in order to boost the human and computer rankings.

Then there's the question of Stanford and the South Division contenders.

Stanford, at 10-2 with a win over Oregon State, would almost certainly be ranked higher. Even though the Cardinal played in the Rose Bowl last year, the bowl committee would go with Stanford. This is how the Pac-12 blog is presently projecting things. So Oregon State needs the Cardinal to lose again, at least a third game. Maybe a fourth.

As for the South teams, the Beavers could give themselves the edge over Arizona State with a head-to-head win. They don't play UCLA, so they should be rooting for the Sun Devils to beat the Bruins. The South champion also would pick up a loss in the Pac-12 title game, which would boost the Beavers.

A lot of things would have to fall into place. But Oregon State should start with a simple plan: Keep winning.


John from Dublin, Calif., writes: This week, everybody at ESPN has been making a big deal about how the Trojans have not fared well of late in Corvallis, and it's true. However, all these pundits seem to forget the Trojans' record vs. the Beavers in L.A.. Eisenhower was president the last time Oregon State won in the Coliseum. Why can't you guys give equal time to the Trojans' streak?

Ted Miller: I think the biggest reason is the game tonight is going to be played in Corvallis, not the Coliseum, which makes factoids about Oregon State-USC games played in the Coliseum less relevant.

But I promise that next year, we will note that Oregon State has not won at USC since 1960.


Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Eleanor Catton, author of the Luminaries, won the Man Booker prize at the age of 28. Are you excited for her, or sad for Jim Crace and Colm Toibin? Also: please tell Puddles that I can't take another heartbreak.

Ted Miller: Funny story. Went to buy "The Luminaries" the other day, at which point I discovered it was 828 pages. That, my friends, is an offseason read.

Good for Catton, though she might want to rethink lecturing the world about how she should be received.

If she really cares about unfairness, she should consider championing the great American male writers who have been unjustifiably slighted by the Swedish Academy when it awards the Nobel Prize to lesser-lights on an annual basis, most notably Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo.

And Puddles, after he stopped writing letters to Canzano, has been alerted.

BCS: Oregon No. 3 in first BCS standings

October, 20, 2013
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While Oregon is ranked second in both polls that count in the BCS standings, Florida State's win over Clemson on Saturday helped the Seminoles jump the Ducks for the second spot based on the strength of their computer ranking.

Panic in Eugene! East Coast bias! Kill the BCS!

Relax. Everything will sort itself out. This is the first BCS standings. We've got seven more versions ahead, the final one being the only one that counts.

Overall, Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State is No. 4 and Missouri is No. 5. Stanford, at No. 6, is the top one-loss team.

Oregon is ranked fourth by the computers while FSU is No. 1. Alabama is No. 2 with the computers and Missouri is No. 3.

Should Oregon fans panic? No. The toughest part of the Ducks' schedule is ahead. If Oregon wins out, it will be in good shape. Its schedule going forward is much more arduous than the Seminoles', who have already played their marquee game.

Oregon is just .0028 behind FSU, and it plays consecutive games over the next two weekends against teams presently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings, including No. 12 UCLA on Saturday. The Ducks also have the Civil War ahead against Oregon State, which is ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings.

Again, the "gee whiz" observation of the evening: Lots of football left.

The key is winning out, not fretting the BCS standings with six weeks remaining in the regular season and then conference championship games. Every season, folks start ranting and raving about their team getting screwed, and then their team loses and their issues become moot.

So, just win, baby.

Mailbag: Pac-12 North vs. SEC West

October, 4, 2013
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Any chance every game this weekend can be as interesting as UCLA-Utah?

Welcome to the mailbag. If your life needs just a tad more "oomph," follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's loaded with oomph, as well as many vitamins and minerals.

To the notes!

Daniel from Pullman, Wash., writes: Ted-Last Saturday morning I was listening to ESPN Radio and they were debating the match-ups of the Pac-12 North and the SEC West (on neutral fields). I believe their match-ups were Al vs. OR, LSU vs. Stanford, Tex AM vs WA, Ole Miss vs OSU, Auburn vs. WSU, and Miss St or Ark vs Cal. One voted these match-ups 4-2 in favor of the SEC, and the other scored it 3-3. (Note: I think both picked LSU over Stanford.) How would you see these match-ups playing out?

Ted Miller: The first challenge is matching the seven-team SEC West versus the six-team Pac-12 North. To make things easy, goodbye Arkansas.

Further, we don't really know how each division ultimately will stack up. Our speculation is only slightly educated here, as any would be not even halfway through season.

So start with Oregon-Alabama. This is a potential national title game. There are two ways to look at it. Is this a regular season game with just one week to prepare? I'd give a slight edge to Oregon with that. If it was a national title game, with three weeks to prepare, I'd give the Crimson Tide an edge. For this exercise, we'll go with the Ducks.

I'd pick Stanford over LSU. Just like I'd pick Stanford over Georgia, which just beat LSU. Suspect that Stanford would consistently outflank the Tigers with sophisticated schemes. A few years ago, LSU's team speed would have been an issue. No longer.

I'd take Texas A&M over Washington in a barnburner. I'd take a healthy Oregon State -- as in the Beavers after their off week -- over Ole Miss. The Rebels wouldn't be able to handle Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks.

Auburn beat Washington State 31-24 on its home field, but the Cougars outgained the Tigers 464 to 394. In a neutral field rematch, I'd go with the Cougs.

Cal would be able to outscore Mississippi State, though I'd feel better with that one if the Bears didn't have so many injuries on defense.

So there you go: 5-1 Pac-12 North.

End of discussion! Right?


Andrew from Phoenix writes: Ted,Why all the volatility in Arizona State's perception? The last 3 weeks the media and PAC fans have gone from "they're ready for the national stage" to "looks like they're not that good" back to "this team can do some damage." The consensus outside of the biggest ASU homers and UA trolls was ASU would be about 8-4, just in or just out of the Top 25, and needing an upset @UCLA to win the South. I have seen nothing on the field this season that should change that. Bottom line is they demolished a poor team, handily beat (with some blemishes) a mediocre team, played a toe-to-toe in a toss up with a good team, and got their mistakes shredded by an elite team. Why so much drama?

Ted Miller: It's Kevin. He's the man behind the curtain pulling all these levers that make people crazed with drama.

I don't feel like much has changed about the perception of Arizona State, at least among those who esteemed the Sun Devils in the preseason. This is a good team, probably a top-25 team, one that is moving up in the Pac-12 and national pecking order but is not yet on the Oregon/Stanford level. And, yes, it looks like the best challenger for UCLA in the South Division, particularly after USC imploded.

But there is a logical reason for the volatility: The Sun Devils' schedule. How many teams have played three tough, AQ-conference opponents in their first four games? And with such a variety of results.

Wisconsin, 32-30 win: Controversial ending yes, but the game showed the Sun Devils are top-25 caliber.

Stanford, 42-28 loss: The Sun Devils might be a top-25 team, but they've got a ways to go to move toward the top-10.

USC, 62-41 win: An impressive offensive showing against a previously outstanding defense. More positive evidence that the program is taking steps forward under Todd Graham.


Guess what? There will be more drama on Saturday. A win over Notre Dame will provide another uptick. And a loss will add some skepticism, as well as a second fall from the national polls.


Kevin from Reno, Nevada writes: Why is Ohio State ranked ahead of Stanford? After watching ASU play Wisconsin and then Stanford, it was clear that Stanford is on an entirely different level of physicality and talent than Wisconsin. That same Wisconsin team almost beat Ohio State on the road. Also, Cal was completely over-matched against Oregon, but competed almost respectably against Ohio State. Stanford may be better than Oregon this year.

Ted Miller: At least we'll get an answer with Oregon-Stanford on Nov. 7.

But I hear you. Obviously your Pac-12 bloggers agree with you. I'd comfortably pick Stanford over Ohio State, and I suspect a lot of folks would, too. While it's dangerous to use the transitive property in college football, your point about Wisconsin is at least partially valid.

I suspect the reason most folks who are voting Ohio State ahead of Stanford are doing so is because they did so in the preseason, and the Buckeyes have yet to lose.


Andrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: Now that Lane Kiffin is out the door, we've started to hear all the names of potential candidates: Kevin Sumlin (my personal favorite), Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher, Steve Sarkisian, Chris Petersen, etc. One name that I haven't really seen included in any of these hypothetical lists is Alabama DC Kirby Smart. Do you think he will be considered by Pat Haden and the USC braintrust? He seems to be on track to eventually be a head coach, and his credentials are very impressive for a young coach. The two problems I see are that he 1) has resisted overtures in the past, possibly because he is in line to follow Saban at 'Bama and 2) is devoid of any head coaching experience. What do you think of Smart as a candidate for the Trojans?

Ted Miller: There certainly are worse choices.

The other knock, fair or unfair, on Smart is that Saban is the ultimate brains behind the Crimson Tide's defense. Still, working under Saban for an extended period of time should overcome that as a downside. He knows Saban's "Process," which is like learning about the stock market from Warren Buffett.

My impression is Smart is shortly going to get an opportunity in the ACC or SEC. He's a child of the South and probably wants to stay down there.

In fact, if you are looking for a darkhorse candidate for USC, what about Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier? He calls Alabama's plays, has time learning from Saban and knows the Pac-12, as he was Steve Sarkisian's offensive coordinator at Washington before heading to the SEC. He also has Big Ten and NFL experience.

While USC is surely going after a big-time name with head coaching experience, many, many great hires have been first-time head coaches, such as John McKay, Bob Stoops, Chris Petersen and Chip Kelly.


Saul from Los Angeles writes: I get it, you hate your former home up there in Seattle. Why you instantly think the Washington head coach job sucks is beyond me and Wilcox would rather go to USC to be an assistant coach when he could be a head coach. You are insufferable.

Ted Miller: Every week, there are angry notes in the mailbag that make me go, "Huh?" I get that when you write about college football, you will make folks mad. Just part of the job. But what always baffles me is when I get an interpretation of one of my positions that is untethered to any actual position I can ever recall taking.

Saul isn't the only one. It appears many Alabama fans believed this story on USC's coaching search implied Pat Haden might hire Nick Saban. That conclusion apparently was based on my typing, "What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?"

I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out what got Saul's feathers raised. Apparently it is this from my chat Thursday:
Ryan (Baja): Hypothetical: Sark goes to USC. Question: What happens to Justin Wilcox?

Ted Miller: THAT is a big question. I was, in fact, thinking about that today. I'd think Washington would give him a hard look. It's just a matter of time before he's a head coach. It might, in fact, be a matter of just a couple of months. He'll have options, including one to follow Sark to LA and get a big raise.

To be clear: I think Washington would seriously consider Wilcox if Sarkisian left for USC and I'm SURE Wilcox would take the job.

If there is an implication my chat comment that Wilcox would rather be offensive coordinator at USC than head coach at Washington, then I humbly apologize. He would not. What I wanted to suggest is that if Wilcox was offered a head coaching job for a non-AQ program, he still might opt to follow Sarkisian to USC and wait for an AQ job. Such as, you know, a place like Washington.

The big hypothetical here is Sarkisian going to USC. It's possible, by the way, that Sark would say no to USC again, just as he did when it went after him before hiring Lane Kiffin.

And, if it needs to be clarified, there is not a person who has ever talked to me about Seattle who doesn't know how much I love that town.

Coaches poll: Oregon preseason No. 3

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
12:19
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Oregon and Stanford lead the Pac-12 North Division heading into the preseason, and that's good enough to be ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, in the USA Today coaches' poll released Thursday.

Two-time defending champion Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State, which went unbeaten last season but was ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, is No. 2.

As for the rest of the Pac-12, UCLA is 21st, USC 24th and Oregon State 25th.

No, North Carolina wasn't ranked.

Arizona State was the equivalent of 32nd. Arizona and Washington also received votes.

The SEC led all conferences with six ranked teams, five of which were in the top 10. The Pac-12 and Big Ten had five each.

The six Pac-12 coaches among the 62 voting in the poll this year are Arizona State's Todd Graham, Oregon's Mark Helfrich, Washington State's Mike Leach, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Utah's Kyle Whittingham.
Are two Pac-12 teams the closest programs in the nation to winning their first national title?

That's what Athlon Sports asserted after it noted that "The last time a team won a national championship for the first time in program history was 1996 when Florida defeated Florida State in the Sugar Bowl."

Those two teams? Not too hard to guess: Oregon is No. 1 and Stanford is No. 2 on the list.

This is its take on Oregon:
A dormant program before Rich Brooks took Oregon to the Rose Bowl in 1994, Oregon has been knocking on the door for its first national title, losing 22-19 to Auburn in the BCS Championship Game in 2010. Auburn’s fortunate call on a run by Michael Dyer in the fourth quarter wasn’t the only time luck went against the Ducks. Oregon was ranked second in the AP and coaches’ polls after the 2001 regular season, but the BCS' computer average and strength of schedule components put No. 2 Nebraska into the Rose Bowl for the title against Miami. The 2007 team was ranked as high No. 2 in the BCS standings until quarterback Dennis Dixon suffered a torn ACL. Each coach since Brooks has kept Oregon in the national title conversation. That bodes well first year-coach Mark Helfrich, who has a title contender in 2013. Especially with minimal sanctions from the NCAA in the Willie Lyles case, the infrastructure is strong for Oregon to win its first title.

And Stanford:
The thought of Stanford competing for a national championship would have been far-fetched before 2010. Even Ty Willingham’s Rose Bowl team in 1999 finished the regular season 8-3. Few programs have changed their spot in the college football world as dramatically as Stanford in the last five years. David Shaw signed a top-10 recruiting class in 2012 and followed that with a quality-not-quantity 12-man class in 2013. Jim Harbaugh and Shaw proved Stanford can compete for titles despite stringent academic standards.

Athlon had South Carolina No. 3, and it mentions California as a team of note (keep in mind these have to be teams that have never won a national title).

If you were projecting a likely 2013 national title game, it probably would be Alabama-Ohio State. Both are good teams that play favorable schedules that are conducive to going undefeated.

If you were to offer a next guess, it would be the winner of the Oregon-Stanford game on Nov. 7.
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.
On Jan. 4, Oregon, fresh off its second consecutive BCS bowl victory, was at an all-time high. Then, while riding that wave of emotion, it watched Chip Kelly transformed into Hamlet -- "To go or not to go, that is the question..."

Kelly was certain to leave for the NFL before he wasn't. And then -- poof -- he was gone, off to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. Hey, a guy can change his mind.

If Kelly had stayed, the big spring and fall question for the Ducks was what do they need to do to make the proverbial next step. Seeing that they had finished ranked No. 2 in 2012 and played for a national title in 2010, the singular step that needed to be taken was winning a national championship.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Bruce SchwartzmanEven with Chip Kelly's departure, the Oregon Ducks are still in pretty good shape with talented starting quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Kelly knew this and thought about it a lot, though that's not the sort of thing he'd admit. While Kelly always preached laser-like focus on the task at hand, let's just say that he didn't turn away from a TV set when Alabama was playing. He knew the team -- and the conference -- that needed to be overcome.

Now, with Kelly cracking wise at reporters on the East Coast, the question becomes slightly less ambitious and more general for the Ducks, who open spring practices on April 2: Can new coach Mark Helfrich & Co. sustain what Kelly built?

Of course, anybody who has paid more than passing attention to the Ducks of recent vintages knows exactly the three-word phrase that will meet all such inquiries: Next man in.

The program is -- wisely, most believe -- following a formula that has worked before. Rich Brooks begat Mike Bellotti, who begat Kelly, who begat Helfrich. That pattern would seem to position well new offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who was elevated from receivers coach. Bellotti, Kelly and Helfrich each was the Ducks' offensive coordinator when he was promoted to the corner office.

Still Frost, who knew how things would fall if Kelly bolted, felt an ambivalence during Kelly's NFL flirtation and eventual elopement.

"It was just an interesting ride," Frost said. "I think all of us were a little bit torn on the whole thing. We've had such a great amount of success here that part of us didn't want to see anything change. We wanted to keep it status quo and see how long we could do this thing. Everybody loved Chip and how the program was running. But at the same time, change is inevitable, and it's given me and some other guys more opportunity and responsibility."

The hand Helfrich and Frost inherited is pretty darn strong. The Ducks have 16 starters returning from a 12-1 team, including eight from an offense that ranked second in the nation -- first among AQ conference teams -- with 49.5 points per game. Topping that list of returning starters is quarterback Marcus Mariota, a short-list Heisman Trophy candidate.

Still, it's not unreasonable to think some players might be shaken at Kelly's departure. After all, he had a pretty big personality.

"During our time here, we've lost players people didn't think we could replace and our message has always been it's the next man up. Do the job," Frost said. "It would have been hypocritical of us not to treat [Kelly leaving] the same way. We're approaching it the same way we ask the players to approach it when we lose a key piece. Step up, do your job and go forward 100 miles an hour."

Along that very line, Helfrich and Frost well know that one of their chief tasks is sustaining the culture around the program. While the coaches need to be themselves and not try to ape Kelly, it does help that Kelly took only one full-time assistant with him to Philly -- D-line coach Jerry Azzinaro. There's plenty of continuity, both in terms of scheme and the day-to-day operation, procedures and philosophies of the program.

"The culture is already built," Frost said. "It isn't like we have to start from the bottom. We're excited about that. We'd be fools to try to change much at all because of the success we've had."

The same goes for Frost now coaching quarterbacks. It's long been a position of strength for the Ducks, and Mariota might be the most talented player the Ducks have ever had at the position, at least since Joey Harrington, circa Y2K. There was little Mariota didn't do well in 2012, when he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a redshirt freshman, ranking seventh in the nation in passing efficiency.

"I think we can clean some things up and be even more efficient," Frost said. "There are some things we want to tweak to help him have more of an opportunity to impact the game. We wouldn't trade him for anybody. We think he can do some amazing things and win a lot of games. We're going to feature him as much as we can."

The Ducks' offense under Frost won't change, but it will evolve. For one, there's good reason to believe Oregon will throw more in 2013, with Mariota and his entire cast of receivers back.

And, as good as the offense was last fall, it did have a bad game -- a 17-14 home loss to Stanford.

"I give Stanford credit," Frost said. "That game kept us out of the national championship game. There's always room to fix things and get better."

Oregon's improvement on defense -- a combination of scheme and talent -- has bolstered it as a national contender. The question that looms among Oregon skeptics is whether the Ducks' offense can roll up big numbers against a big, fast and well-prepared defense. Like Stanford. Like Alabama.

To find out, the Ducks first need to solve Stanford, a team they'd taken to the cleaners the previous two years.

The word in Eugene, post-Kelly, Spring I? Change is good. Of course, there are plenty of things many are going to miss with Kelly no longer around.

Offered Frost: "I could make some sarcastic remarks to you if you want me to."
Chip Kelly is not one to do things the conventional way, even leaving Oregon for the Philadelphia Eagles. He plays football by a different tempo and he lives by a different tempo. When you think he will zig, he zags. And he has a flair for the dramatic.

The big news on Jan. 7 was that Kelly had turned down his NFL suitors, including the Eagles. He didn't feel the need to comment then, which might be telling as to his reversal of course that would send shock waves across the Pac-12 and college football less than 10 days later.

Kelly went for the double shocker. It was shocking to learn he had decided to stay at Oregon after a flurry of interviews following a Fiesta Bowl victory over Kansas State. And now, three weeks before national signing day, it's shocking that ESPN's Chris Mortensen broke the news of his departure to the Eagles.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Ducks offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, the heir apparent to Chip Kelly, doesn't have head-coaching experience.
Every indication is that offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich will be promoted to replace Kelly after the school negotiates some bureaucratic hiring hoops, as Oregon has a state law requiring public universities to interview at least one minority candidate for head-coaching positions. That was the word a year ago when Kelly nearly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and USA Today has already reported the passing of the torch to Helfrich in the event of Kelly's departure.

Kelly was 46-7 over four seasons at Oregon, leading the Ducks on their most successful run in program history. The Ducks have played in four consecutive BCS bowl games, winning the past two, including their first Rose Bowl victory since 1917. Oregon has finished ranked in the top five for three consecutive seasons.

Kelly doesn't owe any more to Oregon. That success is enough. Fans shouldn't feel bitter or betrayed. Sure, the NCAA may shortly impose sanctions on the program over Kelly's involvement with street agent Willie Lyles. That is a black mark. But it's unlikely those penalties will be harsh enough to erase the brilliance that came before.

For Kelly, 49, this is an opportunity to test his considerable football acumen at the highest level. While he is known for his innovative, up-tempo, spread-option style of offense, know that Kelly is all about winning. He will adapt to his personnel and the differences in the NFL game. He won't, say, have his $18 million quarterback running the option 15 times a game.

And if things don't work out in the NFL, Kelly will have his pick of college jobs. It will be like Nick Saban's ill-fated tour in Miami. There's little risk for him in taking his NFL shot.

As for Oregon, there will be questions. While Helfrich will bring system and program continuity and should be able to retain a significant number of Ducks assistant coaches, including defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, he's not Kelly, nor does he have head-coaching experience.

Helfrich has been a quarterback coach at Boise State, Arizona State and Colorado -- he was the Buffs' offensive coordinator, too -- before Kelly hired him in 2009.

"He's really smart, really intelligent," Kelly said at Fiesta Bowl media day when asked why he made Helfrich his first offensive coordinator. "He brought a different perspective to our staff, because he had a different background. He wasn't a spread guy. I wanted to bring someone in who wasn't going to tell us what we already knew."

When asked what advice he'd give to Helfrich if he became a head coach, Kelly said he'd give him the same advice former Oregon coach Rich Brooks gave Mike Bellotti and Bellotti gave him: "Be yourself. You can't be someone else."

While Helfrich has a lighter touch -- more of a polished, people person -- than Kelly, that could mean little on the field and in the locker room. The question will be whether he can command the same respect and dedication that Kelly did. Can he maintain the Ducks' "Win the day" culture that was as efficient and productive as any in the country?

After the Fiesta Bowl win, Oregon's players were asked about Kelly potentially leaving and Helfrich taking over. They seemed uniformly confident that Helfrich would be up to the task.

"Expect the same," All-American running back Kenjon Barner said. "Nothing will change."

Said offensive lineman Kyle Long, who is expected to be an early-round NFL draft choice this spring: "Seamless transition. [Kelly and Helfrich are] cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."

Kelly certainly left his successor a strong hand. The Ducks welcome back 15 position-player starters next fall, including star redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota. When the 2012 season ended, the Ducks were widely viewed as a top-five team in 2013, perhaps as high as No. 2 behind two-time defending national champion Alabama.

While it's nice to have a good team coming back, Kelly's successor also will inherit high expectations. Ducks fans are no longer satisfied with a top-25 team that plays in a nice bowl game. They expect Pac-12 championships. They expect to compete for national titles. And more than one loss is a disappointment.

If the 2013 Ducks go 10-3, a record that was outstanding before Kelly arrived, there will be immediate grumbling.

While Oregon fans are probably wringing their hands with worry, fans of 11 other Pac-12 teams are elated, most particularly those at Oregon State and Washington, the Ducks' most bitter rivals. Kelly had built a juggernaut, even if it was toppled atop the conference this fall by Stanford. Now there is an opportunity to change the balance of power in both the Pac-12 North Division and the Northwest.

When it was reported that Kelly was returning to Oregon nine days ago (Kelly had not talked about it), college football retained its West Coast equilibrium. There seemed to be renewed clarity, at least in the short term.

His departure leaves an uncertain void. While many believe Helfrich can capably fill that void, the uncertainty will remain until toe meets leather and the Ducks continue to produce the fancy-pants, winning product that Kelly brought to Eugene.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Oregon Ducks donned new T-shirts after their 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Totitos Fiesta Bowl. "Won the Day" those shirts said, obviously playing off the program's mantra under Chip Kelly: Win the day.

Oregon certainly did that against the Wildcats.

Both teams ran 70 plays. Oregon gained 385 yards. Kansas State 283. Kansas State led the nation in turnover margin this year, but it lost that battle to the Ducks 2-0. The Wildcats had the second-fewest penalty yards per game in the nation this season, but they had seven flags for 57 yards versus five for 33 for the Ducks. The Wildcats were widely viewed as the nation's best on special teams this season, but they yielded a 94-yard return on the opening kickoff to De'Anthony Thomas and missed a field goal while the Ducks were 2-for-2.

Senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein was outplayed by Ducks redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

So Oregon won the day -- night, actually -- but the use of the past tense hints at something else, of a mission accomplished and completed. That has an ominous suggestion for Oregon fans. That feeling, of course, arises from the fact that Kelly is about to interview with at least three NFL teams, according to various reports, and many believe this was his last game at Oregon.

He and Oregon won the day and now he will move on.

Kelly fought off questions about his NFL aspirations during the weeks leading up to the game, saying his entire focus was on the Fiesta Bowl. He opened up a bit after the victory, noting that he will talk to his agent David Dunn on Thursday night or Friday morning to get an update on where things stand.

"I was getting my hair cut on Wednesday and saw my name on the bottom of ESPN, which I thought was funny because I haven't talked to anyone," he said. "I'll sit down and talk with Dave. I've said I'll always listen. That's what I'll do. ... I'll listen and we'll see."

Kelly is expected to interview with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. It's possible we'll know Kelly's plans by the end of the weekend.

Ducks fans chanted "Four more years!" at the end of the game. Kelly's four years atop the program -- two Rose Bowls, a national title game and a Fiesta Bowl -- have been the most successful in program history by a wide margin. The Ducks are headed for their third consecutive top-five ranking and figure to be top-five in the 2013 preseason, whoever their coach is.

The postgame interviews focused less on the Ducks' dominant performance in all phases and more on Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who is expected to replace Kelly should he leave.

Oregon players paid tribute to both.

"[Kelly] means everything," said running back Kenjon Barner, who gained 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. "Without him, I wouldn't be the running back that I am. Sitting with him in meeting rooms is a lot different than sitting in any other meeting room that I've ever been in because it's not just about football, it's about life. He teaches you life lessons as a man, so he means a lot to me."

But Barner also added that Helfrich is ready to take over.

"If that does happen, expect the same," he said. "Nothing will change."

Said offensive lineman Kyle Long: "Seamless transition. They're cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."

Said Helfrich about potentially becoming the Ducks coach: "We'll cross that bridge. ... Whatever happens, happens."

Helfrich coaches the Ducks quarterbacks, and his star pupil had another great game. Mariota, who won game MVP honors, completed 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 62 yards and a score.

"He's a great young player," said Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, an All-America. "He has a bright future."

Both these teams suffered their only regular-season loss on Nov. 17. The Ducks lost in overtime to Stanford, which won the Rose Bowl. Alabama also has one loss, but it's playing unbeaten No. 1 Notre Dame for the national title. Kelly was asked where he thought his team ranked.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't have a vote. I don't want a vote. This is my favorite team, so I vote us No. 1."

As for whether he's about to leave his favorite team, Kelly left few clues. He called his oncoming interviews a "fact-finding mission."

"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be," he said.

He's not the only one.

A program and an enraptured fan base is holding its collective breath. They are hoping Kelly will be winning more days for years to come.

Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.

2015 ATH Hayward receiving interest 

December, 14, 2012
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Class of 2015 athlete Jaylin Hayward (Tallahassee, Fla./Godby) might be just a sophomore, but the talented prospect is already receiving heavy interest from the in-state programs.

The 5-foot-9, 165-pound athlete, who totaled three receptions for 35 yards in Godby's 21-20 state championship victory over Immokalee (Fla.) Immokalee on Friday, said he is receiving heavy interest from several top programs.

"I'm hearing a lot from Alabama, Florida State, Florida, Miami and hopefully Oregon soon, but I'm not sure," Hayward said. "I have offers from Kentucky, FSU, Miami and Florida already."

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