Oregon Ducks: NCAA
- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez gives the low-down on his team as it gets ready for spring practices.
- Arizona State makes a hire to boost recruiting.
- More from a Q&A with California coach Sonny Dykes.
- A thorough preview of Colorado heading into spring practices.
- Not surprisingly, Oregon folks think the proposed 10 second rule is "baloney."
- Former QB Lyle Moevao joins a crew of former Oregon State players working as Beavers GAs.
- A look at Stanford's big issues this spring.
- UCLA has announced its spring football dates, so plan accordingly.
- Former USC coach Pete Carroll makes several accurate observations about the travesty that was the NCAA's treatment of the Trojans.
- New Utah offensive coordinator Dave Christensen says he wants competition at QB, whether Travis Wilson is permanently cleared or not.
- Five issues for Washington heading into spring practices.
- A scouting report on former Washington State safety Deone Bucannon. This is about Washington State basketball coach Ken Bone, but I think there are well-expressed sentiments in it that certainly touch how we talk about football coaches.
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To the notes!
Haggmeez from Cincinnati writes: What are your thoughts on the proposed new 10-second defensive substitution window rules, or what I'm calling "The Oregon Rule." Please explain to me how teams with smaller, faster players can ever expect to beat teams with bigger, stronger players if speed is not a viable weapon. I feel like I'm watching Nick Saban tell Chip Kelly to get off of his lawn in slow motion. Please make it stop. Football needs FEWER esoteric rules instead of more.
John from Eugene, Ore., writes: Please, reassure us Pac-12 fans that this ridiculous rule change intended to slow down uptempo offenses is not going to pass. Please tell me that just because the rest of the football world seems to worship the ground Nick Saban walks on, that doesn't mean that the NCAA will pass rules that give him exactly what he's whining for? I can't imagine I'm the only person writing in on this. There's no way this proposed change is actually made, is there?
Ted Miller: Don't forget Arkansas coach Bret Bielema. He's as much behind this as Saban.
Further, yes, it is notable that the sudden concern for player safety comes from coaches who don't run uptempo attacks and have been gashed by them over the past few seasons. Hmm.
And, yes, their motives are, at best, 97.6 percent disingenuous. Bielema and Saban, a fantastic football coach who reportedly once ignored and stepped over a convulsing player, and others who support this proposed rule change, are doing so to gain a strategic advantage. Pure and simple.
The diversity of schemes in college football is one of the biggest reasons the sport is so popular. I can tell you without any doubt whatsoever that the sport would not be as popular -- probably not nearly so -- if everyone ran Alabama's or, yes, Stanford's offense.
A fast-paced game not only is fan-friendly, it -- as Haggmeez notes -- gives teams that rely on smaller, faster players a better chance to compete with teams with a gaggle of five-star recruits with NFL measurables.
As uptempo coaches such as Arizona's Rich Rodriguez have noted, if you really are concerned about player safety, make blitzing illegal. That would reduce the number of blow-up shots during game by 30 percent, a number that was arrived at with just as much science as went into this effort to thwart uptempo offenses.
Do I think it will pass? No.
But the NCAA is involved. It's presence tends to inspire stupid and/or disingenuous things to happen.
Ted Miller: Don't expect perfect logic. There are a variety of considerations -- many subjective -- that go into our weekly power rankings of teams, as well as our top-25 ranking of players.
It's a blend of factors such as postseason accolades, statistics, NFL prospects, positional value and a player's pure value to his team. Kevin doesn't consider NFL prospects as much as I do, though I think of that consideration as more of my mental draft picking -- as in, who would I pick first? -- when making a tough distinction.
That was my thinking for Mariota over Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey. You could argue that Carey was more accomplished in 2013, but I'd still say that Mariota's numbers plus his overall value, which is augmented by his playing the most important position, give him the edge.
You noted Marqise Lee. Good question. Lee, in terms of talent and potential, certainly is among the top 25 players in the Pac-12. Probably top 10. But you have to take into account what he actually did this season. His numbers, in large part due to poor QB play and injuries, were not very good. So his down numbers get prioritized over his talent, knocking him off this list.
In some ways, my "draft" idea also overlaps with production -- what a guy actually did that past season. And poor production mutes pure talent factors. See also, Thomas, De'Anthony.
Similar reasoning, by the way, also cost Stanford DE Ben Gardner. The coaches still gave him a first-team All-Pac-12 nod, despite his missing the season's final six games because of injury, but we pretty much ruled him out because of that. Not his fault, but that still seems reasonable to me.
As for Sutton and Williams, most would project Williams having a higher NFL upside. He also had slightly better numbers than Sutton this year, though Williams was a defensive end and Sutton a tackle. Yet what kicked Sutton up a notch was the simple fact he -- again -- was named the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Year by the coaches. That was slightly surprising, but it also was something that validated the idea that Sutton's numbers were down from 2012 because of blocking schemes that were obsessed with him, an invaluable benefit for a defense.
Are we always 100 percent consistent? No. But we do try.
Ted Miller: My guess is Stanford won't have a back gain 1,500 yards next year. My guess is it will be more of a committee effort. I also think the Cardinal still will run the ball well, just not in the Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney one-workhorse way.
Of course, in advance of the 2014 season, I expected it to be 60-40 between Gaffney and backup Anthony Wilkerson. Gaffney just played too well to take him out.
As for Sanders, I really have no feeling for how things will play out for him next fall. While it's fun to imagine him being a clone of his father, perhaps the most thrilling ball-carrier in NFL history, it's probably unfair to expect him also to have once-in-a-generation talent.
Sanders will be competing with Remound Wright and Ricky Seale for carries, and I've heard little that suggests one is leaps and bounds superior to the other. They seem to have complementary skill sets, so that suggests they each get touches. As the season progresses, one would expect a more clear pecking order to develop.
This, by the way, is a good review of where the Cardinal stands at running back heading into spring practices.
Ted Miller: Passive-aggressive? Moi?
I've always thought of myself as aggressive-aggressive, though my fuse, thankfully, has grown longer in my fourth decade.
Kevin and I, on occasion, discuss tweaks, insults and rants directed at us in the comment sections or elsewhere, but it takes up less of our time than you might think. We don't hold grudges. We really do try our best to remain as objective and fair as possible with all 12 teams. I've never heard anything from an official representative of a school -- coach, AD, sports information director, etc. -- suggesting we were being unfair or favoring or disfavoring a program. That's a fact we take a lot of pride in.
What I have noticed is that fans of teams that aren't doing well tend to think we are unfair to their team, whether that's about win-loss record or recruiting. The inescapable fact is teams that are winning get more coverage, just as teams that sign highly ranked recruits get more attention on national signing day.
Of course, more coverage for a team probably means more of their fans are showing up on the blog, and fans come in all forms. There clearly has been an "Oregon Effect" since the blog started in 2008. Ducks fans, by my unscientific estimates, seem to be the most active here, expressing both love and hate for your gentle bloggers.
But mostly love. Because it's impossible not to, in the end, love the Pac-12 blog.
Ted Miller: Great stuff.
Gleason is an inspiration. An all-time great.
Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It makes trolling SO MUCH EASIER!
To the notes!
(Two exclamation points and we haven't even started! Wait … three!)
Eric from Hollywoodland, Calif., writes: I understand that the Pac-12 won a pretty major NFL draft battle in keeping the marquee QBs (Hundley, Mariota, Mannion and oft unmentioned Kelly), but why is one of the prevailing storylines STILL "SEC SO GOOD. SEC LOSES SO MANY PLAYER EARLY. ONLY SEC CAN RECOVER FROM SUCH LOSS??" Correct me if I'm wrong, but my Pac-12 educated brain tells me that 12 teams losing 25 players (2.083/team) might be even worse than 14 teams losing 28 players (2/team), right?
Ted Miller: Well, the SEC lost 32 players last year and the Pac-12 lost only 10.
And then the NFL draft happened -- 63 SEC draft picks vs. 28 for Pac-12 -- which, by the way, became the grounds for the Pac-12 blog believing the SEC might slide in 2013 while the Pac-12 might rise.
My feeling is the Pac-12 will do well in this year's draft, probably finishing a respectable distance behind the SEC. But it's a pretty clear recent trend that the SEC provides the most talent to the NFL among the major conferences.
However, it's also notable that the Pac-12's 2013 NFL rookie class was pretty darn salty, with former Oregon Ducks LB Kiko Alonso and California WR Keenan Allen being named defensive and offensive Rookies of the Year, and a number of other former conference standouts making a significant mark.
Erik from Portland writes: With [Steve] Sarkisian talking about USC going to an uptempo attack, shouldn't there be concern about whether or not the defense will be able to hold up? Aliotti alternated players constantly to keep them fresh. SC doesn't have the numbers or depth at any position (especially DL and LB) to do that.
Ted Miller: It will be a concern. It's simple math: Uptempo offenses possess the ball for shorter periods of time, which means more plays for your defense. More plays for your defense means more tired players if you aren't regularly shuffling in quality backups. USC doesn't have a lot in the way of quality backups.
One of the more impressive things about USC's defense under Clancy Pendergast this year was it attained some outstanding numbers while pretty much playing only 13 guys regularly.
Will the Trojans be deeper on defense next year? Perhaps, but only slightly so. Bottom line: Because of NCAA scholarship sanctions, USC will have no more than 72 players on scholarship in 2014, which is 13 fewer bodies than other teams are permitted.
But guess what? Sarkisian knows this. And he's a smart guy. I suspect he will pick his moments and not go all-in. I'm fairly certain USC won't be 100 percent no-huddle, uptempo next fall, particularly with a lead. I think his goal will be to control the tempo and find times to get an opposing defense off balance.
Of course, Sarkisian's desire to adopt an uptempo offense at USC is a long-term plan, at least until his philosophy changes considering this was his first year going that way. This is USC's last recruiting class that will be limited. So, starting in 2015, there should be more fresh body reinforcements.
Gee from Seattle writes: Can the SEC or any other conference put three or even four teams in the playoff next year? If so, how did this come about? Shouldn't the system allow for at least three conference champions and perhaps one at large?
Ted Miller: There are no limits on teams per conference in the four-team playoff, nor are there specific requirements for selection. The goal of the selection committee will be to pick the four best teams. Not the most deserving -- the four best.
So, yes, if a consensus from the committee is that three -- or four! -- of the best teams in the nation come from the SEC or any other conference, they will be selected.
But know that the committee also won't be eager to do that. For one, if you pick, say, three SEC teams, there's the possibility of rematches, which the committee will know fans don't like to see -- see the unpopular LSU-Alabama national title game after the 2011 season.
My guess is we're probably going to see plenty of four-team playoffs with two teams from once conference, most likely the SEC, but three will be highly unlikely.
Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: Ted, was wondering about your final top 25 poll. Aren't you getting away from your stance of "strength of schedule should mean something" by putting Clemson so high and ahead of Stanford? Yes, Clemson won their last game against a good Ohio State team and Stanford lost their last game to a better Michigan State team. When you look at the schedules, though, they are worlds apart. Name another ranked team that Clemson beat. There are 0 such wins. Stanford beat six ranked teams. Clemson got beat by double digits in its two losses. Stanford lost their three games by single scores and two were against ranked teams. Do you really think Clemson would win on a neutral field, and if you were on the playoff committee, would you really slot Clemson ahead of Stanford looking at the seasons of both teams?
Ted Miller: I see your point. I do almost always prioritize quality wins.
The combination of a head-to-head win and strength-of-schedule is why I ranked Stanford ahead of Oregon in my final poll, even though this didn't happen in either the AP or coaches poll. The Cardinal had a lot more quality wins than Oregon, including the best one -- the Ducks themselves.
But you asked about Clemson.
Part of my ranking Clemson sixth is pretty simple: My final position on Clemson is it was an elite team in 2013. It was the same justification I used earlier in the year to rank Oregon No. 2, even though the Ducks didn't post a quality victory until winning at Washington on Oct. 12.
Now, I didn't give Clemson the benefit of the doubt much of the season. I had them ranked 13th heading into the bowl games. I jumped them up because I consider the win over Ohio State impressive.
Clemson lost two games by decisive margins, yes, but they were to Florida State, which won the national title, and South Carolina, which finished ranked fourth. Further, I watched the South Carolina game, and it was a lot closer than the deceiving final score. Clemson seemed like the better team, outgaining the Gamecocks, but it lost the turnover battle 6-0.
6-0! I bet Tigers fans were ripping their eyes out watching that.
Further, Clemson beat Georgia while Georgia was still Georgia -- fifth-ranked and an elite team that hadn't yet suffered epidemic injuries. Georgia beat South Carolina the week after losing to Clemson.
Clemson, by the way, has now beaten two top-10 teams in a row in bowl games: LSU in 2012 and Ohio State this year.
(If I had a quibble with my own ballot, in fact, it would be that I ranked Clemson sixth and Oklahoma seventh. At the time I put the ballot together, I considered Oklahoma's losses worse -- Texas and Baylor -- and the Sooners' best win -- Oklahoma State -- was devalued when the Cowboys lost to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. I could go either way on that, because the Sooners beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl was very impressive.)
Kevin from Orange County, Calif., writes: Regarding the Wazzu meltdown in their bowl game, why not mention the Stanford/UCLA game? Around two minutes left in the game, Stanford up 17-10 and inside UCLA 10-yard line and UCLA with no timeouts. ... Instead of going to the knee three straight times and guaranteeing a win, Shaw decides to run and try to score. The only way UCLA has a chance is a Stanford turnover or Stanford scores quickly and gives UCLA enough time to score themselves and get an onside kick (UCLA/Utah situation at the end of game). My point is why is Shaw getting a pass for his stupid play-calling at the end of that game if Wazzu is second-guessed? Only difference seems to be that Stanford won and Wazzu lost.
Ted Miller: You might have guessed this, but the bold and italics for the final sentence were supplied by me.
It is true. When a strategy works, it rarely gets criticized. And when it fails, it does.
Remember Chip Kelly's shocking onside kick early in the second quarter against Stanford in 2010, with the Cardinal leading 21-10? It was a game-changing moment. It was pure genius.
And we would have thought Kelly had lost his mind if Stanford had recovered and then driven for a 28-10 lead. We would have typed, "Just as Oregon seemed to have gained momentum after a terrible start, Kelly tried to get too fancy and he handed the game to Andrew Luck and Stanford. It's clear that Kelly is in over his head as a head coach and is never, ever, ever going to be successful."
Well, the last part was just me pouring it on.
Also, understand that the Pac-12 blog's consternation over the end game wasn't just about clock management. It was about yielding a 22-point lead, playing horrendous fourth-quarter defense and coughing up the ball two times in the final two minutes.
It was a total package of meltdown.
Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Am I a bad person for finding these Chip Kelly quotes hilarious? Do media folk find him condescending, or is there a small amount of joy in getting slammed by a master? I mean, who wouldn't want to get insulted by Don Rickles?
Ted Miller: Some might find him condescending, but my feeling is most reporters enjoyed working with Kelly.
Yes, he could be biting. But typically he was biting when someone asked him either: 1. A stupid question; 2. A question that he didn't want to answer. Asking the latter is often part of the reporter's job, and the truth is a biting answer is more fun than him saying, "No comment."
Further, most of his best quips aren't biting. They're him having fun. News conferences with NFL coaches are typically drab affairs. Any added color is appreciated.
As in, "This team is not going to fall for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick."
It seemed New Orleans stuck a banana in the Eagles' tailpipe.
Scary movie -- Worst loss of the season: Washington headed to Arizona State ranked 20th, with national pollsters being forgiving of consecutive, competitive losses to Stanford and Oregon. A shocking 53-24 beatdown delivered by the Sun Devils, and the Huskies were dumped from the national rankings. The new storyline was a familiar one: Another seven-win season?
Haunted House: Arizona State struggles on the road, but it certainly has horrified visitors to Sun Devil Stadium. Of course, we can start with the, er, unusual finish against Wisconsin. Then there's the dismantling of both USC and Washington. Sure, the Sun Devils looked like a different team -- in a bad way -- while losing at Stanford and to Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but visiting foes often leave Tempe with a haunted look.
Thriller: The most exciting Pac-12 game so far this year is Oregon State's 51-48 overtime win at Utah. The Beavers jumped to a 20-7 lead, but the Utes tied things in regulation with a 21-point fourth quarter, including a 9-yard run from QB Travis Wilson for the tying TD on third-and-goal with 21 seconds left in the game. On the Beavers' side of things, QB Sean Mannion converted two critical fourth-down plays in the fourth and then threw the winning TD pass in overtime to, of course, Brandin Cooks.
Nightmare in Eugene -- Biggest debacle of the season: Tennessee took a 7-0 lead at Oregon, and the folks in orange maybe starting thinking about "SEC!" chants. Then the Ducks scored 59 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter. Oregon fans started chanting "We want Bama."
House of horrors: Horrors? We give you USC. The Trojans fired coach Lane Kiffin as he got off the team bus at LAX after a 62-41 beatdown at Arizona State, and they have suffered through epidemic injuries that are even worse for a team crippled by scholarship reductions. Meanwhile, the program has watched as the NCAA reduced Penn State's sanctions and provided a reprieve for Miami, which overlooked the scandalous doings of now-incarcerated booster Nevin Shapiro while under the leadership of late athletic director Paul Dee, who chaired the Committee of Infractions against USC.
Cursed team: California, losers of 10 consecutive Pac-12 games, might be headed for its worst season since the regrettable Tom Holmoe Era. Start with one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Then move on to a roster decimated by injuries. The Bears have been slow to adjust to new schemes on both sides of the ball, and they presently ranked last in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
- Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey: The Sheriff in "Blazing Saddles"
- California's 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes: The Knack.
- Utah QB Travis Wilson: Thing.
- Arizona State coach Todd Graham: A monchhichi.
- UCLA coach Jim Mora: Dick Tracy
- Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks: Flash.
- Stanford LB Shayne Skov: William Wallace.
- Colorado WR Paul Richardson: Steve Smith
- Washington RB Bishop Sankey: The Pope.
- Former USC coach Lane Kiffin: Nick Saban.
- Washington State coach Mike Leach: Gene Wilder.
- UCLA OLB Anthony Barr: Verb.
- Oregon QB Marcus Mariota: Ed Smith.
- The NCAA Committee on Infractions: Lloyd Christmas & Harry Dunne
- The Pac-12 & DirectTV: The Zax
- Oregon State CB Larry Scott: Larry Scott.
- Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott: Larry Scott.
We point that out because that's about the only thing Oregon isn't doing well right now.
Others are deceptive. Oregon ranks sixth in total defense but is No. 1 in the far more revealing stat of average yards surrendered per play, where they rank eighth in the nation at 4.46 yards. The Ducks are 10th in red-zone offense, but their touchdown percentage in the red zone -- 72.1 percent -- ranks second.
This seems like a team with few, if any, holes. So what are the Ducks' weaknesses?
"I haven't seen any," said California coach Sonny Dyke, whose Bears lost 55-16 at Oregon on Sept. 28. "They are incredibly fast. I think the difference this year is they are throwing the ball so much better. Their receivers are faster, bigger, stronger, more physical, making more plays than in the past."
In the preseason, there were three questions about Oregon: 1. How would Mark Helfrich do stepping in for Chip Kelly? 2. What would be the pecking order at running back and how would De'Anthony Thomas be used? 3. How would the Ducks replace the dynamic linebacking troika of Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay?
Check, check and check.
The 7-0 record, No. 2 ranking in the national polls -- No. 3 in the BCS standings -- and 40-point average margin of victory suggest that Helfrich is doing fairly well. He might be a softer touch than Kelly -- though he's not afraid to tweak a reporter or two -- but he's not taking any mercy on the field.
Running back? The bottom line is the Ducks are No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 332.4 yards per game, 17 yards better than last year's average, and they've done that with DAT missing the last four games with an injury. Backups Byron Marshall and true freshman Thomas Tyner are both averaging 6.7 yards per carry and have combined for 16 touchdowns. Marshall, a sophomore, ranks 19th in the nation with 106.6 yards rushing per game.
Linebacker? Tony Washington, who replaced Jordan, has nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Jordan had 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2012. Derrick Malone leads the Ducks in tackles with 59. And, really, the bottom line is the defensive numbers, including a run defense that ranks 22nd in the nation.
"I think [the Ducks defense is] certainly the best they've been," Dykes said. "The secondary is really, really good. They are good at linebacker and they are pretty active up front."
Of course, Dykes is a first-year Pac-12 coach who hasn't been dealing with Oregon during its rise to consistent top-five team, though he was Arizona's offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009. If we're going to ask whether this version of Oregon might be the best yet, we need to ask someone who's seen them all.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have lost 10 in a row to Oregon, including five defeats during his tenure, let out a big breath when asked if this was the Ducks' best team.
"Hooof," he said. "We've played some pretty good ones. I think the balance they have on offense is probably the best that they've been."
The general consensus is Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' best quarterback during its recent run. He might, in fact, as former Ducks All-American QB Joey Harrington recently volunteered, be the best in program history. Mariota brings a dangerous downfield passing game to a longstanding dominance running the ball. As for the defense, it's very good, though it remains to be seen whether it's as good as the 2010 unit or even the talented crew of 2012 that battled numerous injuries.
Still, every coach who has played the Ducks probably feels there's something he wishes he might have attacked more or tried to exploit.
"I think there is a lot of places," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "There's always a lot of places."
Washington State lost 62-38 at Oregon last weekend, with Leach's Cougars adding two late touchdowns to make the gap less dramatic. Quarterback Connor Halliday set a number of Pac-12 and NCAA passing records in the game -- he completed 58 of 89 passes for 557 yards -- but also threw four interceptions, one of which Terrance Mitchell returned 51 yards for a touchdown.
"Oregon is really fast," Leach said, echoing a common theme. "As you play Oregon, everything they do -- they can reel plays in quicker. They react to everything quicker. Very explosive... Oregon hits you in the mouth when you throw one up."
Of course, speculating on Oregon's seeming lack of weaknesses and its standing among other accomplished Ducks teams is a mostly a meaningless academic exercise when five regular season games remain ahead, including a visit Saturday from No. 12 UCLA. In fact, the next five Pac-12 games (combined opponent record of 26-7) are far tougher than the first four (combined record of 12-16).
Helfrich isn't really biting, either. When asked about areas of concern, he pointed back to the preseason questions and implied the jury is still out at linebacker.
Yet his overriding conclusion sounded very Chip Kelly-ish, while also offering plenty of room to read between the lines.
"I think everything," he said. "In every phase we can get better, starting with me, everything we do."
That's either coachspeak -- we need to get better every day -- or carries a more ominous implication: No weaknesses? Best Oregon team? You haven't seen anything yet.
- One of Arizona's all-time greats was in Tucson and he wants to coach.
- A thorough report from Arizona State's Wednesday practice.
- This thorough report from California's practice reveals who will win the QB job -- Kidding!
- With Paul Richardson back, life should be easier for Colorado's "possession" receivers.
- Avery Patterson's return is big for Oregon's secondary.
- Oregon State expects the running game to take another step forward.
- Previewing Stanford: O-line and QB.
- RB Craig Lee got his academics together, and that might pay off big for UCLA.
- High profile players demand... profiteering! The NCAA has even more ludicrous hypocrisy with Reggie Bush. Just mind blowing.
- Utah RB Kelvin York opens up -- a bit -- about his personal story.
- Steve Sarkisian talks after Washington's practice on Wednesday.
- The defense seemed to win the day at Washington State.
- Jon Wilner hates your team: His AP top-25 ballot.
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.
Cue eerie piano music.
Now substitute the Pac-12 and college football nation for Curtis, the NCAA for Dr. Loomis and the Oregon Duck for Myers.
Cue eerie piano music.
After the NCAA ruled on Oregon's infractions case Wednesday, we now know the Ducks' football program is alive and well, as its penalties were relatively minor and included no postseason ban. That favorable verdict essentially announced the Ducks as national title contenders in 2013 ... again.
For the past two-plus years, Oregon has recruited under a cloud of uncertainty. A-list recruits who followed the news would know that the NCAA was investigating the program, which brought into play the specter of a potential postseason ban and crippling scholarship reductions. Those, a recruit might reason, could make a college career less enjoyable. And if those recruits didn't follow the news and know of that dark cloud over Eugene, other schools competing for the affections of those said recruits would make sure to let them know.
As in a rival recruiter noting: "Hey, I know Oregon is on a roll, but look at how USC fell after the NCAA did its thing. Do you really want to play for a team that's on the slide, one that might not be able to play in bowl games while you are there?"
That was the sort of thing Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens was referring to Wednesday when he talked of Ducks football coaches battling "plenty of negative recruiting" during the 27-month investigation.
Oregon's latest recruiting class from February ranked 26th, fairly low for a team that had finished ranked in the top five three consecutive years. It was 18th the year before and 14th in 2011, the latter class being signed before news of the Willie Lyles inquiry broke.
It's fair to assume that the NCAA ruling might ease some worries among top recruits who were uncertain if they wanted to give Oregon a serious look. And if Oregon rolls this fall under new coach Mark Helfrich, that would ease concerns about the post-Chip Kelly transition.
That latter point is all Oregon can ask for after this NCAA ordeal: to be judged for the program itself and what it does on the field.
The program that Kelly left behind, by the way, looks pretty salty, and we're not going to even mention a new, blingy football operations center that is a further upgrade for already sparkling facilities.
The Ducks, who welcome back 15 starting position players from a team that finished 12-1 and ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Alabama, are laden with star power on both sides of the ball.
On offense, there's quarterback Marcus Mariota, a Heisman Trophy candidate, and running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas, also a Heisman candidate. Three starters are back on the offensive line, and each is an All-Pac-12 candidate. Josh Huff leads a solid crew of receivers, including multitalented tight end Colt Lyerla.
The defensive line is big, athletic and deep. The secondary is among the nation's best, with the elite cornerback tandem of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell.
Questions? Linebacker, kicker and running back depth. And, of course, the coaching transition.
Yet that transition doesn't seem so big when you consider that eight of nine assistants are back from a staff that has been notable for its continuity. Helfrich knows his team and its culture, and he intends to maintain the vast majority of the practices, principles and routines that have become the foundation of a four-year run of 46-7.
Kelly's promotion from offensive coordinator worked out well, just as the promotion of Mike Bellotti from offensive coordinator did before him.
The Oregon juggernaut showed no signs of abating on the field, so many were eager to see the NCAA defenestrate it, a la Dr. Loomis.
But the Duck got up after the NCAA ruling, set its bill into an evil grin and let out an eerie, "Quaaaaack!" And it's a lot quicker than Michael Myers.
And on the 27th month, the NCAA shall speak on Oregon, Chip Kelly and L'Affaire de Willie Lyles.
And those pronouncement will produce... what?
Will the sanctions prove harsher than expected, thereby poleaxing the Ducks off their newfound perch among the nation's elite? Or will the sanctions prove manageable, perhaps causing discomfort but not ending the Ducks' quasi-dynastic run in the Pac-12?
We shall see. Folks in Eugene have been consistently optimistic, and it would rate a surprise if Oregon is hammered. Still, you never know with the NCAA.
The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions (COI) will announce its findings in a teleconference with reporters at 11 a.m. ET. The man who shall describe the Ducks' sanction fate will be Gregory Sankey, associate commissioner of the SEC.
SEC? Uh oh. (Of course, we kid!)
The committee's full report will be released to the media 30 minutes before the teleconference.
Oregon's troubles began in March 2011 when Yahoo! reported the Ducks made payments to dubious Texas-based scouting service operator Willie Lyles, who had close ties to several Ducks recruits, most notably running backs LaMichael James and Lache Seastrunk. Things got murkier when it was discovered that Oregon apparently received very little of value for its $25,000.
Yet the NCAA rules on the use of scouting services at the time were vague enough that Oregon could claim it was operating in a gray area. This became one of the complicating elements as the school attempted to negotiate a summary judgment with the NCAA. That and the fact Lyles had significant relationships with several other schools, schools that had not been hit hard by NCAA sanctions.
Oregon agreed to seven major rules violations, and in October offered to self-impose several penalties, including the loss of three scholarships over three years, recruiting limitations and two years of probation.
The COI, however, rejected the attempt to reach a summary judgment, which forced Oregon officials, including former coach Chip Kelly, to appear before the committee in late April in Dallas.
"We have been informed by the NCAA that the Committee on Infractions report on the University of Oregon will be released tomorrow," the Oregon athletic department wrote in a statement. "Until we have received and reviewed the report we will not comment."
Oregon will have 15 days in which to file an appeal if it is unhappy with the ruling.
As for the severity of the penalties, it's difficult to guess, but Rob Moseley of the Eugene Register-Guard makes a good point here:
In a statement that accompanied the October 2012 summary disposition proposal, the Ducks acknowledged that “errors were made and that we will improve” but also that “our coaches did nothing to intentionally gain unfair advantages.”
The NCAA’s enforcement staff -- essentially the prosecutor, while the Committee on Infractions was judge and jury -- agreed during the summary disposition attempt that “the violations were not intentional in nature.” But it also argued that the Ducks nevertheless had “an obligation to ensure that the activities being engaged in comply with NCAA legislation.”
"Intention" matters, and finding a lack thereof is good for Oregon.
It's also notable that the NCAA enforcement staff didn't yoke Oregon with the dreaded "lack of institutional control" charge, instead going with the less worrisome "failure to monitor."
On the other hand, Oregon may fall under repeat violator status due to a 2004 case that was ruled a major violation after assistant coach Gary Campbell, who is still on staff, had improper conduct in the recruitment of running back J.J. Arrington.
Oregon folks would contend the NCAA taking more than two years to resolve this matter is a penalty in itself, with the glacial pace of an investigation allowing a dark cloud of the unknown to shadow the school for an extended period of time.
That dark cloud of the unknown, however, will be removed Wednesday. Whether it gives way to a tornado of sanctions or sunny skies -- or something in between -- remains to be seen.
Yes, the school is notoriously tardy with releasing information to the media.
The notice, released in response to public-records requests and first reported by The Register-Guard, follows reports that Oregon already met with the NCAA Committee on Infractions (COI) on April 20.
Much of what is included mirrors what was in a summary disposition that Oregon submitted to the NCAA last October. In other words, there's not really any new information here because Oregon wouldn't have had a COI hearing if it hadn't previously received a notice of allegations.
A couple of interesting notes from the Register-Guard:
- The notice released today states that “all of the alleged violations set forth in the document attached to this letter are considered to be potential major violations of NCAA legislation, unless designated as secondary.” None is designated as such; Oregon argued in the summary disposition proposal that violations related to the use of scouting services should not be considered major.
- The notice of allegations does note that Oregon is subject to penalties under repeat-violator rules. The most recent allegations began within five years of the Ducks’ most recent major violation, the J.J. Arrington letter of intent scandal, which was resolved in 2004.
- According to the Dec. 5 letter, Oregon was to submit a response to the notice of allegations by Jan. 4, and was invited to appear Feb. 23 at an initial meeting of the Committee on Infractions at which the UO response would be considered
The NCAA, even more opaque and glacially paced than Oregon, will not comment on ongoing investigations. It is not known when a decision might be announced, but the odds are good the NCAA will rule before the 2013 season.
But, as with all things with the NCAA, you never know.
You can read the Register-Guard story and the document itself here.
The disagreement, however, that prevented Oregon and the NCAA from reaching a summary judgment is this, from The Oregonian:
Oregon and the NCAA, however, reached an impasse late in 2012 while attempting to agree on the severity of one violation concerning the Ducks' $25,000 payment to Texas-based talent scout Willie Lyles. The Ducks believe the impermissible "oral reports" delivered from Lyles constitute a secondary violation; NCAA enforcement officials believe them to be another "major violation."
It makes sense that's at issue, although the Pac-12 blog is of the mind that this impasse was more about the NCAA's committee on infractions (COI), which demanded a hearing, than the NCAA's enforcement staff, which seemed to be in accord with Oregon.
The strength of Oregon's position is the way the NCAA reacted to other recent cases, as well as the gray area with NCAA rules on recruiting services.
The strength of the NCAA's position is that it can do what it wants, then justify it after the fact, such as when former Miami athletic director Paul Dee said about USC's Reggie Bush, "High-profile athletes require high-profile compliance," which he just spun together for reporters because it doesn't exist in the NCAA rulebook.
Still, there is good news for Oregon from these reports, and it might be more important than what led the story:
However, the documents also state NCAA enforcement staff said they had "no finding of lack of institutional control and no finding of unethical conduct," key points when it comes time for punishment to be considered, KATU reported. Oregon is expected to appear before the NCAA's committee on infractions sometime this year.
"Lack of institutional control" and "unethical conduct" are the killers when it comes to penalties. Those quash postseasons and handfuls of scholarships. Of course, these documents are dated, so it's possible, if unlikely, the COI could up the ante.
Further, Oregon's case is probably helped by the program's big news this year: The departure of coach Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Violations connected to Lyles came on Kelly's watch. He's gone. That should soften the eventual blow to some extent.
To show you the university's thinking, it "proposed to self-impose a two-year probation for the football program and a reduction of one scholarship for each of the next three seasons."
It wanted to be whipped by a wet noodle three times.
Yet even if you doubled that -- four years of probation and two scholarships for each of the next three seasons -- you're not talking about a major hit to the program. Signing just 23 and maxing out at 83 scholarships for the next three years won't knock the Ducks out of the nation's top 10.
And Oregon wins.
Yes, the Pac-12 blog is declaring the Oregon athletic department the 2012-13 Pac-12 champions.
We know winter sports -- hoops -- aren't done, and spring sports are just getting started. That doesn't matter, though Oregon looks strong in those, too.
Oregon didn't win the Pac-12 football championship, Stanford did. But the Ducks, like the Cardinal, won a BCS bowl game and finished No. 2 in the nation, ahead of Stanford.
Further, Oregon won the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament and has a Sweet 16 date with top-seeded Louisville on Friday. Stanford got knocked out of the NIT in the second round by Alabama.
For many fans, the discussion of athletic departments ends there with the two revenue sports.
But Oregon has done well across the board, too. While Stanford typically owns the Director's Cup, which gives every sport equal due in its rankings, Oregon presently is No. 1. The Ducks are No. 5 in the Capital One Cup standings, which gives certain sports more weight. Stanford is 13th.
As for the other sports, Oregon has done well and is expected to continue to do so. The Ducks won their fourth straight women's NCAA indoor track and field national title and finished No. 2 in volleyball. They are presently ranked No. 9 in baseball and 10th in softball -- they just, in fact, swept Stanford. The biggest hole in the Ducks' résumé is women's basketball, where they were awful this year.
While the Pac-12 blog supports and enjoys so-called "Olympic sports," the simple fact is any school in the nation would trade three NCAA tiles in other sports for one in football or basketball. Why? Money and prestige. And that's never been more the case than today.
Even if Oregon doesn't advance to the Elite Eight, it's clearly had the best results this season in the Pac-12's two revenue sports. With a strong boost from the supporting sports, it's clear the Ducks will finish the school year as the conference's top athletic program.
But if you guys want to argue about that, don't let us stop you.
During a news conference Wednesday after Chip Kelly suddenly decided to reverse course and take over the Philadelphia Eagles after saying Jan. 7 he would stay in Eugene, Mullens said there will be a full-on coaching search, meaning he will adhere to university policies and procedures as well as a state law that requires him to interview at least one minority candidate.
"We don't have a leader in the clubhouse," he said. "We will be interviewing multiple candidates."
Just don't bet against Helfrich getting the job.
Mullens admitted that he was as shocked as many fans about Kelly's reconsideration of the Eagles. Mullens said Kelly called him at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday to tell him of his change of heart.
"He said, 'I've thought long and hard over the last 10 days and I'm going to take the Eagles opportunity,'" Mullens said. "He said he's always been intrigued by the challenge of the NFL and this was the right time, and he didn't know if there would be another opportunity like this and he felt like he needed to do it."
Mullens said his impression was that Kelly simply had a change of heart since Jan. 7 and that Kelly had not engaged in a second, secret round of negotiations with the Eagles.
Mullens said the "timing was less than ideal," but he wouldn't be rushed into making a hire.
As for the popular idea among Oregon rivals that Kelly is leaving to escape NCAA sanctions, Mullens said, "I don't think that was a factor in his decision."
It was reported in mid-December that Oregon will have a hearing in front of the NCAA committee on infractions, likely this spring, after it failed to obtain a summary disposition from the NCAA for the investigation of the school's use of scout Willie Lyles. The odds that something new happened in that investigation between then and now are close to zero. That inquiry is in the exact same place it was on Jan. 7, when Kelly wanted to stay in Eugene.
Mullens seemed a bit frustrated with how things went down, but obviously Kelly's unprecedented success made the specter of other opportunities luring him away an annual reality for the program.
"Hey, it is what it is. We're here, moving forward," Mullens said. "We're not going to worry about what happened. He made a decision that was best for him. We wish him well. He's been great for Oregon football, and we're moving on."
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.
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.
Chip Kelly was gone, off to the NFL. It was Cleveland. Then Philly. And then he wasn't.
Kelly's second deep NFL flirtation -- recall last winter's "did-he-or-didn't-he?" with Tampa Bay -- ended with him back at Oregon, back atop the Pac-12's present superpower.
Why did Kelly stay? He has yet to comment, which is telling. He feels no need to announce no change, though he is completely aware it's major news. The Pac-12 blog believes, according to no sources whatsoever, that Kelly returned to his cavernous Eugene home Sunday and cranked up the Sinatra and sang along: "I did it myyyyyy waaaaaayyyy!"
Kelly is 46-7 overall at Oregon. He's led his team to four consecutive BCS bowl games, winning the last two. He won 12 games this year by at least 11 points. It's fair to say he's pretty good at leading a football team.
The immediate reaction in some quarters to Kelly's return -- other than surprise from just about everyone -- is that Kelly can't keep doing it like this, both with NFL folks and with Oregon.
Both sides, it is reasoned, will get tired of the fickleness. Does Kelly want to be Oregon's coach? Or does he want to be something else? He must decide!
No, he doesn't. Kelly can do what he wants as long as he keeps winning with panache. When everyone knows you are one of the best living football coaches, you can write your own ticket. Kelly could announce tomorrow that all Oregon fans will be required to change their underwear every half-hour and all underwear will be worn on the outside so Ducks officials can check, and everyone would go, "OK!"
Oregon fans might wish he'd just tell the NFL folks he's not interested, but they get over their frustration when they see he and his staff outcoach a Kansas State team that is as well coached as any in the nation.
NFL teams might get tired of being led on, but they get over that when they see the discipline, focus and offensive magic Kelly produces.
Let me make something clear: Kelly would be successful in the NFL. Of that I have almost no doubt. The analysis you keep hearing about his present systems not working in the NFL is superficial bunk. Kelly's "systems" are all about winning games. Give him Tom Brady, and Kelly would no longer call designed runs for his QB. He'd line up with three fullbacks tomorrow if that helped him win the day.
So know this, too: The NFL will be back. And Kelly is likely to talk to them. At some point, a team might foster an interview that wins Kelly over. But that hasn't happened yet and he, again, remains the Ducks coach.
As a result, Oregon's quiet recruiting season might get a bit louder. Expect some major prospects who were awaiting Kelly's plans to come a-calling.
The other layer to this is the NCAA. One of the potential harrumphs over Kelly leaving would have been expected NCAA sanctions over L'Affair de Willie Lyles. He would have looked like the second-coming of Pete Carroll, who bolted USC ahead of severe penalties.
Some might read into this Kelly's confidence that the sanctions won't be severe, and that's not unreasonable. But it also shows Kelly isn't one to run away from a potential problem. At least, not yet.
Oregon will be ranked in the preseason top five next year. It welcomes back eight starters on offense, including QB Marcus Mariota, a budding Heisman Trophy candidate, and seven on defense. The biggest questions are at linebacker, running back and offensive guard. If the Ducks avoid a postseason ban, they will be national title contenders. Again.
The allure of coaching that team kept Kelly in Eugene. That means nothing for 2014 and beyond. Yes, this could become an annual dance between Kelly and various suitors, one that fans breathlessly follow on Twitter -- "He's gone!" "He's staying!" -- as they learn to mock the term "sources."
It might be emotionally exhausting and generally frustrating for Ducks fans, but this is the annual tax a team pays for having a coach whom everyone else want to lead their team.
Best Pac-12 Position Group in 2014 Class
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35