USC Trojans: USC Trojans

LOS ANGELES -- They are the last of a dying breed, a true gridiron prep graduation. Once they were the unofficial gridiron transition from high school to college, a seminal moment in a young athlete’s life and the community in which he grew up.

Chances are great that a majority of those that are participating in The Opening, an invitation-only get-together of the nation’s elite high school football players, will never participate in them once they have concluded their prep career.

“They” and “them” refer to summer high school all-star football games for graduated seniors -- once an integral part of the summer fun. With the smell of BBQ in the air and footballs being tossed from one end of the parking lot to the other, the games had their own niche on the summer calendar.

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- It was a full day of on-field work as the linemen put on pads and the skill players were divided into teams for the start of 7-on-7 pool play.

Here's a rundown of some of the USC recruits in action:

  • WR Christian Kirk: I would say Kirk was as good as any player I saw today who wasn't named Calvin Ridley. Kirk had multiple touchdowns during the day from the slot, including a pair down the middle where he simply split the defense and outran everybody to the end zone. The common speculation among the recruiting media is that this one is a USC-Texas A&M recruiting battle, and whoever lands Kirk is getting a good one.

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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The first day of The Opening was highlighted by a commitment for the Trojans from Isaiah Langley (Pleasanton, California/Foothill), the No. 7-rated athlete in the ESPN 300 rankings. Langley (6-foot, 164 pounds) is a versatile receiver/corner who will focus on the defensive side of the ball for the Trojans. With good height and long arms to go along with solid coverage skills, Langley is the latest example of USC coach Steve Sarkisian's efforts to upgrade the cornerback spot.

"I'm a lockdown corner," Langley said. "I can bring some kind of physicality, but for the most part I'm a coverage guy."


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LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. -- Nineteen of the nation's top quarterbacks landed in northwest Oregon on Saturday afternoon, a day before the annual Elite 11 quarterback competition begins. While eyes will be focused on several storylines during the event -- including having the top six dual-threat quarterbacks in the country on hand -- attention on Saturday turned to the few uncommitted quarterbacks in attendance, including Sam Darnold, Torrance Gibson and Deondre Francois.


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Five things for USC fans to watch for at The Opening:

[+] EnlargeRicky Town
Tom Hauck for Student SportsUSC commit Ricky Town is looking to erase any doubts that he belongs among the elite QBs in his class.
1. Quarterbacks: There will be a lot of eyes on both Ricky Town and Sam Darnold at this event, but for very different reasons. Town is the USC verbal, the one who Steve Sarkisian focused on right away when he got the job, but Town’s star has fallen a little bit in the recruiting world this spring. That may not mean anything in the long run but perception is important at an event like this and you know that Town would love nothing more than to come out and put on a performance that removes any doubt that he belongs among the elite quarterbacks in the country. Darnold recently received a USC offer after a spring that saw him go from unranked player (missed most of junior year due to injury) to one of the hottest names on the camp circuit. There would be no better way to justify the recent hype than a strong showing in this setting.

2. Outside linebackers: The big names on the USC wish list will be there, from John Houston Jr. to Osa Masina and Porter Gustin. All three have offers, although it's unclear which position Gustin will eventually play at the college level. Houston and Masina both seem tailor-made for the outside linebacker spot with tall, lean frames and long arms. It will be a great chance to see them in action together and, to top it off, Ben Humphreys will also be in attendance and he’s attracted a lot of attention from SC coaches so far, but no offer yet.

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LOS ANGELES -- In recent weeks, so much attention has been paid to the anniversary of the infamous O.J. Simpson car chase and the ensuing “Trial of the Century” that one might forget No. 32 was once one of the greatest USC Trojans.

Despite Simpson’s post-football legal problems, there is a part of me that can’t forget the excitement and charisma he once brought to Los Angeles as USC’s star tailback from 1967-68.

Maybe it’s not right to glorify Simpson’s USC accomplishments, but if you lived during that time period, it’s not hard to recall the excitement the City College of San Francisco transfer brought to John McKay’s Tailback U.


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WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
10:10
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting some USC football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
Now that USC's entire incoming freshman class has had an opportunity to get their feet wet in the team's summer workouts, here's a player-by-player look at how those new arrivals have looked so far, and where they're fitting in.

OL Chris Brown
6-foot-5, 295 pounds
High school: Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola
Lining up as a reserve at right and left tackle, Brown has been at virtually every workout. Having some expected struggles in the one-on-one drills against the veteran defensive linemen initially, he's made strides over the last two weeks. This past Monday he had perhaps his best practice session, drawing cheers from his offensive line-mates when he delivered a fantastic punch move that caught Scott Starr by surprise and knocked him back on his heels.

TE Bryce Dixon
6-4, 240
High school: Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure
A big target at tight end, Dixon has been working hard with Randall Telfer and Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick to learn the ins and outs of the offense, and it's paid off as he's come on during the last few workouts, hauling in a number of passes. Still fairly lean, it will be interesting to see how he fares in terms of blocking when the pads come on in August.

RE Malik Dorton
6-2, 250
High school: Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
Another consistent attendee at the workouts, Dorton has been taking reps at the rush-end spot behind Starr and J.R. Tavai. He's shown off some nice pass-rush moves already, and he had a big day on Monday when he came up with his first interception of the summer.

WR Ajene Harris
5-11, 180
High school: Los Angeles (Calif.) Crenshaw
Primarily a quarterback and defensive back on the high school level, Harris has been making a name for himself at receiver. Possessing sure hands, he's been surprisingly steady at the spot, providing more than enough evidence to suggest that he can be a valuable contributor -- perhaps sooner than most expected.

[+] EnlargeAdoree Jackson
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsAdoree' Jackson's play has stood out at both cornerback and wide receiver.
WR/CB Adoree' Jackson
5-11, 185
High school: Gardena (Calif.) Serra
No player arrived on campus with more hype, and to Jackson's credit, he's lived up to every ounce of it so far. Spending the first few workouts at cornerback, he's been playing at wide receiver as of late, and he's shined at both spots. A unique athlete with outstanding football instincts, he certainly has the look of an instant impact performer at either position, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him get reps at both spots in the fall. Jackson came up with an outstanding 60-yard touchdown reception this past Monday where he outleaped Ryan Dillard for a Cody Kessler pass.

WR/CB Rahshead Johnson
5-11, 175
High school: Long Beach (Calif.) Cabrillo
Like Jackson, Johnson has seen time at both cornerback and receiver. He's another excellent athlete with plenty of speed, and it will be interesting see which side of the ball he ultimately ends up on.

CB Jonathan Lockett
5-11, 175
High school: Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei
Lockett has been the surprise of this group so far. He's only been at two workouts, but he was the arguable star of both of those sessions. He came up with an interception in each practice, and also broke up a number of passes. Strong in coverage, with a nose for the ball, he's certainly someone worth keeping an eye on.

OL Damien Mama
6-5, 370
High school: Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
A mammoth-sized lineman, Mama has been taking reps at left guard, where he's performed more like a veteran than a green newcomer. Remarkably nimble for how big he is, he's more than held his own during the one-on-one sessions. The big question with Mama is whether or not he'll be able to keep up with the frenetic pace of the offense when fall camp begins. If he's able to do that, however, look out.

LB Uchenna Nwosu
6-3, 210
High school: Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne
After spending his first few initial workouts at inside linebacker, the versatile Nwosu saw some time on the outside in the team's most recent practice session. A former high school safety, he's shown a knack for being around the ball when he's dropped back in coverage.


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Pac-12 lunch links

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
2:30
PM PT
So hold on to the ones who really care. In the end they'll be the only ones there. When you get old and start losing hair, can you tell me who will still care? Can you tell me who will still care? Mmmmmmmmm bop.
Oregon and UCLA are generally the preseason picks as the Pac-12's best candidates for the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff, which also indicates they are the favorites to win their divisions and play for the Pac-12 championship.

That doesn't mean they are a sure-thing. Far from it. In fact, Phil Steele, who likes both Oregon and UCLA, says folks should watch out for USC. He rates the Trojans as one of the potential surprise teams of 2014.
The Trojans are one of just five teams in the country that have each of their positional units (QB, RB, etc.) rank in my top 40. Scholarship limitations have really limited them as of late, but they have some depth at key positions. There is no disputing a talent like defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The Trojans also have my No. 6 defensive line in the country, No. 5 linebackers and No. 3 defensive backs, giving them my No. 2 overall defense

ESPN.com's Insider also takes a look at several Pac-12 teams playoff chances here, including Washington, Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Stanford.

Still, the Ducks are the preseason Pac-12 front runners. Their chances of making the playoff are rated at 48 percent by Brian Fremeau with a projected record of 11-1.

ESPN analyst Brock Huard presents a detailed look at Oregon here. What he likes about Oregon isn't not surprising: QB Marcus Mariota, a favorable schedule and the Ducks recent track record.

He does, however, see some issues, starting with the Ducks front seven on defense. He writes:
... while Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner have each seen plenty of snaps, they must both make significant strides to be the forces at the point of attack that BCS champs have wielded over the last decade.

That's entirely fair, though the defense looks a lot stronger and experienced at linebacker than it did a year ago. It's also notable the Ducks are rebuilding their secondary after you get past the return of All-American CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.

Huard also notes that the injury to No. 1 WR Bralon Addison hurts, making the Ducks typical offensive explosiveness a question.

Finally, he points out that navigating the Pac-12 schedule -- not to mention a nonconference matchup with Big Ten favorite Michigan State -- will be rugged and challenging on a week-to-week basis, even with pair of favorable misses (USC and Arizona State).

Bottom line: Oregon is 57-9 over the past five years, a span during which their being in the national title hunt has been the standard not the exception.

Barring anything exceptional in 2014, the Ducks should again be in the thick of things.
The honors keep coming for three former Pac-12 football players now with NFL teams.

Stanford's Trent Murphy, USC's Devon Kennard and Washington State's Deone Bucannon were all named Pac-12 Tom Hansen Conference Medal winners Monday, an honor that takes into account athletic and academic performance and leadership. Each school in the conference honors one male and one female student-athlete.

Murphy, a team captain, graduated with a degree in science, technology and society before being drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by the Washington Redskins. The outside linebacker led the nation with 15 sacks and was a consensus All-American.

Kennard was a second-team All-Academic team selection in the conference as he worked on a master's degree in communication management. He was selected by the New York Giants in the fifth round.

Bucannon was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round after standout career for WSU in which he finished fourth on the school's all-time tackle list and third in interceptions. He majored in criminal justice.

Here is the full list of winners:

Arizona: Lawi Lalang (XC/track and field); Margo Geer (swimming and diving)
Arizona State: Cory Hahn (baseball); Stephanie Preach (volleyball)
California: Brandon Hagy (golf); Alicia Asturias (gymnastics)
Colorado: Andreas Haug (skiing); Shalaya Kipp, (XC and track and field)
Oregon: Robin Cambier (tennis); Laura Roesler (track and field)
Oregon State: Josh Smith (soccer); Jenna Richardson (soccer)
Stanford: Murphy; Chiney Ogwumike (basketball)
UCLA: Joe Sofia (soccer); Anna Senko (swimming and diving)
USC: Kennard; Natalie Hagglund (volleyball)
Utah: Ben Tasevac (tennis); Mary Beth Lofgren (gymnastics)
Washington: Sam Dommer (rowing); Kaitlin Inglesby (softball)
Washington State: Bucannon; Micaela Castain (soccer)

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
11:30
AM PT
Ancient Greece was the beginning of Western civilization. You see in Greece, they didn't have professional sports or Wheaties boxes, so the athletes competed for another reason. Anybody?

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The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 7-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition among the best of the best, The Opening is the perfect chance for recruits in the Class of 2015 to make big jumps and shine on the national stage.

Here are five prospects with the most to gain at the prestigious event:


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USC recruiting shakeup at QB

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
5:00
AM PT
After weeks of speculation and rumors, there was a defined shift in the Trojans' recruiting focus at the quarterback position for the Class of 2015 this past weekend when it was reported that Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy's David Sills had officially decommitted from USC, and head coach Steve Sarkisian had followed that up by extending an offer to Sam Darnold of San Clemente (Calif.).

[+] EnlargeSam Darnold
Tom Hauck for Student SportsSam Darnold, the No. 5 ranked pocket-passer in the ESPN 300, recently received a USC offer.
The news that Sills, who was one of two quarterbacks locked up for the Trojans along with Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure's Ricky Town, had decided to break ties with USC didn't exactly come as a surprise. Former Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin made national headlines when he extended an offer to Sills in February of 2010 -- when he was in seventh grade. After immediately committing, the young signal-caller developed a strong rapport with Kiffin and his staff, making it a routine to visit the campus each spring.

Once Kiffin was let go in September of 2013, however, and Sarkisian came in as his replacement following the season, Sills' fate with the Trojans looks to have been sealed. Even though Sills unofficially visited the USC campus recently and offensive coordinator Clay Helton watched Sills work out in Maryland during the May evaluation period, the 6-foot-3 passer never developed the kind of relationship with the new coaching staff that he had with the prior regime.

And with Sarkisian quickly securing a verbal commitment from Town in late January, along with talk abounding that the Trojans were looking closely at other quarterback prospects as well, the writing seemed to be on the wall.

While Sills' departure wasn't a revelation, USC's targeting of Darnold is to a certain extent. Anaheim (Calif.) Servite's Travis Waller -- the No. 6 ranked dual-threat quarterback -- has been a hot name this summer, and someone whom the Trojans staff was known to have been evaluating as of late. Standing 6-foot-3 and 188 pounds, he's expected to announce his commitment to a school on Tuesday, with Oregon, Notre Dame, Northwestern and Ohio State looking like the primary contenders. The Trojans are not among the schools that have extended an offer his way, however, and Waller opted to forgo an opportunity to perform in front of the USC staff last week at the Rising Stars Camp.

That appears to be one factor that played a role in Darnold -- who attended USC's 7-on-7 Camp, and was said to have shined -- ultimately landing an offer. And there is certainly plenty more to like about the 6-foot-4, 209-pound passer. Selected to participate in the 2014 Elite 11 Finals in early July along with Town and Waller, he's the No. 89 ranked prospect overall in the ESPN 300, and he's the No. 5 ranked pocket-passer. And despite that label, Darnold is a fantastic all-around athlete who can also do quite a bit of damage on the ground. As a junior he was only able to play in two-and-a-half games for San Clemente due to a broken foot, but he still put up solid numbers, completing 63 percent of his passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, while also rushing for 322 yards (9.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Also a standout basketball player, he would appear to be a perfect fit in USC's new up-tempo offensive attack.

But the Trojans aren't alone in their pursuit of the SoCal passer. Like Waller, Darnold's stock has risen dramatically this offseason, and he currently holds over 10 offers, including one from Oregon that he received after one of their prime targets, Corona (Calif.) Santiago's Blake Barnett, recently committed to Alabama. Darnold was actually on an unofficial visit to the Ducks' campus when he got word of the USC offer. As a childhood Trojans fan who resides in a region of Southern California known for producing USC quarterbacks, it's safe to say that it has shaken things up for Darnold in a big way.

Also considering Utah and Northwestern among others, Darnold is expected to announce a decision at some point in the very near future, and if he ultimately chooses to commit to the Trojans, expect Sarkisian & Co. to shut down recruiting at the QB spot for the Class of 2015 for good. But if he opts to go elsewhere, it will be interesting to see what direction the staff goes next.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

But first, you now have a full bag of Twitter handles that are required reading.

You have mine here. You have Kevin Gemmell's brand spanking new 140-character depot.

And you have our veteran Tweeters and new Pac-12 blog insiders, Chantel Jennings -- here -- and Kyle Bonagura -- here.

That is 560 characters that nine out of 10 doctors recommend -- and this is the 10th doctor.

To the notes!


Nick from Sacramento writes: If Sonny Dykes wins 5 games this season, with a new AD, think he sees season 3?

Ted Miller: Short answer: Yes.

I also think that if he wins four or even three games and the Bears are far more competitive on both sides of the ball than they were in 2013, he deserves a third season, unless things go haywire off the field. While Dykes didn't inherit an entirely empty cupboard from Jeff Tedford, there were certainly issues, and then the Bears' injury woes last season were among the worst I've witnessed -- UCLA fans, you could equate it to your 1999 season, when Bob Toledo was practically walking around campus asking guys to suit up.

Dykes hasn't been perfect. Most notably his hiring of Andy Buh as defensive coordinator didn't work out. But he also deserves credit for making a handful of changes on his staff this offseason, including the hiring of Art Kaufman to run his defense.

Of course, when a football coach of a struggling team sees the athletic director who hired him depart, he knows he is losing an important administrative relationship. ADs and the coaches they hire in revenue sports are tied at the hip. When one suffers, so does the other. In this case, with Sandy Barbour leaving, Dykes is now less secure than he was last week. And it's notable that we rated him as the least secure Pac-12 coach even before this news.

The question now turns to the sort of AD Cal has in mind to replace Barbour. There are plenty of athletic director types out there. Some move deliberately. Some are more impulsive. I've been told by more than a few savvy ADs that it's important to hire your own football coach because you would rather be judged by what you have done than what your predecessor did.

Yet, as with most things in college football, there is an easy solution: Winning.

If Dykes goes 4-8 this season and gets back to the postseason in 2015 with quarterback Jared Goff as a third-year starter -- and his team is academically and behaviorally sound -- I suspect we'll see him around for a while.


Tom from Seattle writes: Saw your QB blog about the PAC-12 and the comments on Utah's QB Travis Wilson -- "When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. "Are we talking about the same Travis Wilson that is the 11th ranked PAC-12 QB in conference play two years running and leads the world in INT's? Still love your blogs, though!

Ted Miller: Yes.

First, Wilson, despite playing with an injury for three games, ended up grading out fairly well, ranking 47th in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR. Sure, that is only ninth in the Pac-12, but in the conference of quarterbacks, it's important to keep a national perspective when we are evaluating what might constitute a "solid performer."

Second, see if you notice anything in these numbers. Can you guess when Wilson got hurt? What you see is a pretty good quarterback through six games and the bottom falling out during the next three conference games. Again, "when healthy Wilson has been a solid performer..." When he was bad last season, he wasn't healthy (other than the UCLA disaster).

What about that "good upside" part? Well, let's not forget that Wilson was a true sophomore last season. He was thrust into service prematurely in 2012 and played fairly well considering the circumstances. When the Utes were 4-2 after beating Stanford, he looked like a guy who could lead the Utes into the South Division race.

For comparison's sake, consider that Oregon State's Sean Mannion had a 127.1 rating with 18 interceptions as a redshirt freshman starter. Wilson finished with a 129.7 rating last season.

But thanks for loving the blogs. Most awesome people do.


Paul from Albany, Ore., writes: Losing Brandin Cooks is going to be very difficult on the Oregon State offense and this fact has been pointed out numerous times. What has not been pointed out is that this same dialogue was stated the prior year when Markus Wheaton was lost to the NFL. Yes Cooks had a better year last than Wheaton did one earlier. But why has so little been written about the common denominator in both seasons -- Sean Mannion?? He is returning and yet all you folks write about is the losses he has sustained. How about digging into the idea that maybe he is a key factor in helping these receivers achieve their lofty status?

Ted Miller: Well, after passing for 10,436 yards and 68 touchdowns in three seasons, Mannion certainly merits a tip of the cap. And he has improved each year, which is a good thing.

I'd also contend he gets plenty of credit. For one, we ranked him fourth among Pac-12 quarterbacks, which is saying something when all four qualify as All-American candidates. And NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. knows who he is, ranking him the nation's No. 2 senior quarterback Insider.

But this will be a revealing year for Mannion. For one, he's a senior. This is his last chance to make a statement as a college quarterback and as an NFL prospect. Second, for the first time, he doesn't have a proven, NFL prospect at receiver.

NFL scouts are presently wondering if Wheaton and Cooks made Mannion look good. If Mannion is a more efficient player this season with a less stellar supporting cast in the passing game and, yes, wins a couple of big games, his stock will rise both when it comes to college kudos and NFL love.


Wayne from Mesa, Ariz., writes: A few weeks ago, the PAC-12 announced a new start time window for football: 11:00am. A few stories circulated the announcement, but I have not seen anything since. Has there been much feedback regarding this start time? From my standpoint, while it provides needed content for that time slot on the PAC-12 Network, it's way too early for the fans, especially in a region where we are used to late afternoon and night games.

Ted Miller: We did a poll and 58 percent of 5,391 respondents were positive about the 11 a.m. window.

I generally agree with that result. While 11 a.m. isn't ideal, it's better than having four games kickoff at 7:30 p.m. PT. A lot of Pac-12 fans have been complaining about a surfeit of late kickoffs. This is a response to that complaint. My guess is those who will now complain about the early kickoff will be fewer in numbers.

It's important to note a few things about the 11 a.m. window.

Wayne, I notice you are from Arizona. If you are a fan of Arizona or Arizona State, you won't have to worry about an 11 a.m. kickoff, at least not until late October. The Pac-12 has no interest in fans melting into puddles in their seats.

It's also unlikely the 11 a.m. kick will be the day's marquee game. That still will almost always fall into primetime windows, be that on ET or PT.

I suspect the 11 a.m. kickoff will mean more TV eyeballs for what might seem like middling games. While some folks are worried about competing with SEC or Big Ten games at 2 p.m., I don't see that as an issue. Some viewers will tune in because they care more about the Pac-12. Some will tune in because they like to watch more than one game at once. Those who don't care about the Pac-12 wouldn't watch with any kickoff time.

Some don't like the 11 a.m. kickoff because it means waking up early to drive to the stadium, and it cuts into tailgating time. But I'm not sure if these party-hardy folks are looking at the big picture.

First, there will be some encouragement for fans to arrive Friday evening. That only means more fun. Then, on Saturday, you get the 8 a.m. bloody mary at the stadium with eggs and bacon and country ham from this guy. Yummy. Then you have a postgame tailgate and time for a dinner and -- potentially -- a nice evening to tool around the old college digs.

The socially creative among you will be emailing me at season's end telling me the 11 a.m. kickoff rocked.


Emily from Los Angeles writes: You want a heartbreaking loss? What about the 3OT game between USC and Stanford?

Ted Miller: You mean a game that featured big names, ranked teams, controversy, late heroics and three overtimes could be heartbreaking?

I was there. Really entertaining, strange game. Hated how it ended, though. Not in terms of who won, but that it was about a sloppy and unfortunate turnover rather than a dramatic play.


Trevor from Portland writes: We got an article about Pac-12 heartbreakers, and it left out the biggest heartbreaker of the decade. Cam Newton fumbled, he wasn't down by forward progress. Cliff Harris was in. Michael Dyer was down. I'm still not over it.

Ted Miller: I was there for that one, too.

The Ducks were so close to a national title. It was the only time I can recall that Chip Kelly expressed regret about his game plan and some in-game decisions, as that sort of navel gazing wasn't his thing.

That is the thing about close games. They are a thrill to win and excruciating to lose. They also are why we love sports. While we love the winning, there is also a masochistic side to us that enjoys the social aspects of wallowing in misery among friends.

(Thousands of fans from various, struggling Pac-12 outposts immediately go, "Who... us?")

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