WeAreSC Roundtable

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

Give your thoughts on the release of NCAA emails in the Todd McNair case

Garry Paskwietz: You knew there had to be some damning words in the NCAA emails when a judge had said they were “malicious” and showed an “ill will and hatred” toward former USC running backs coach Todd McNair.

Even with that knowledge, I was still surprised by the blatant tone and words that I read when the emails were finally released. To think that the prejudicial and biased statements were made by people who were involved in the investigative process of the USC sanctions is hard to fathom, especially for Trojan fans who watched over the last several years as appeal after appeal fell short and the USC program suffered through some of the harshest penalties ever handed out.

I think it's going to be very interesting to see where things go from here. There are still more NCAA emails that are likely to be released, and there was a joint statement today from USC and athletic director Pat Haden which talked about waiting to review all of the unsealed documents before determining any further appropriate action. This is not a small potential development as USC has played a conciliatory role in dealing with the NCAA since receiving the sanctions, and Haden has taken heat from many Trojan fans because of that stance. Things could be changing, however, as part of Haden's statement today contained his most pointed words yet on the issue when he said, "I think these documents are cause for concern about the NCAA's own institutional controls. It should be concerning to all schools that the NCAA didn't appear to follow its own rules."

Johnny Curren: When initially learning that the NCAA emails would be released, I automatically expected them to reveal what they ultimately did -- that the NCAA committee had a clear agenda to hammer the USC football program and that they overstepped their boundaries in doing so.

Still, the tone of vengeance, and the flat-out absurdity of some of the statements were truly astounding, particularly coming from a group given the task of reaching a “fair” decision. Rodney Uphoff's comments really stood out to me, particularly his comparison of the Reggie Bush case to the Oklahoma City bombing trial. What's even more shocking is that Uphoff wasn't even a voting member of the infractions committee, and that his negative statements to those on the board were a clear violation of NCAA protocol.

Perhaps most striking of all, however, were the comments by Britton Banowsky -- an actual member of the infractions committee -- in discussing Todd McNair:

"It is challenging for me to make the finding when there is no allegation that he personally was involved in any rules violations, or even had any specific knowledge of any."

Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that it's too little, too late. The sanctions are over, and the NCAA got what they wanted. But I would still like to see Max Nikias and Pat Haden respond aggressively, not just in terms of what they say, but also through their actions. For a program and a fanbase that has had a dark cloud hanging above it for so long, it's what everybody needs.

Greg Katz: Honestly, there wasn't much in terms of shock value for me, and it only confirmed what most had already ascertained. The NCAA was on a mission not to just punish USC for the misdeeds of the Reggie Bush fiasco but an attempt to send the Trojans football program back into the Stone Age. The emails only serve as concrete evidence that it was indeed a cardinal and gold witch hunt full of rage and zealous determination of epic proportions, involving members of the NCAA that were part of the whole process.

Now that being said, USC isn't innocent either in how they handled the whole sordid affair. The lesson here is to try and work with the NCAA, no matter how crooked and dysfunctional they are, and come to some sort of outcome that isn't so draconian. Other universities watched how USC handled their battles with the NCAA and quickly learned from the Trojans how not to antagonize the NCAA.

However, at the bottom of all this -- first and foremost -- is that Reggie Bush's family gave the NCAA an extraordinary opening and hurt USC undeniably. The NCAA then outrageously went over the top and broke its own rules to destroy the Trojans football program, and the University didn't exactly cooperate in a conciliatory manner.

The question now is what, if anything, is USC going to do about all this after reading the emails? If it were up to me, I'd aggressively go after the NCAA through the courts and make them plea bargain a settlement.

LOS ANGLES -- A day after court documents were unsealed to reveal an apparent bias toward USC by the NCAA, quarterback Cody Kessler could only shrug it off. He saw first-hand what the NCAA sanctions did to the Trojans, but his interest in the subject remains almost nonexistent.

And why wouldn’t it?

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesCody Kessler said he has learned to ignore the outside distractions and just focus on his goals.

Nothing that came from the documents related to former USC assistant coach Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the NCAA will have any bearing on the current team. It’s not like the NCAA will pay a penance in the form of extra scholarships to USC named after Reggie Bush. No, this is all just more ambient noise at a place where they’ve had practice tuning it out.

“A lot of people over the years said it. ‘This isn’t fair. This isn’t fair,’” Kessler said in reference to the NCAA sanctions. “And people were always mad about it. But the way we approached it was that it is what it is. It happened. It’s in the past now. I think we’re better from it and ultimately we learned from it.”

To what degrees those lessons will play a role in football-related matters is tough to quantify, but USC will take any advantage it can as its looks to replace defensive lineman Leonard Williams, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor among several others in pursuit of a College Football Playoff berth and a national title.

Anything that doesn't factor into those goals is treated with the appropriate amount of attention. Usually none.

"We had enough guys that have been here for a while and have dealt with a lot," Kessler said. "Anything that gets thrown at us, we'll be ready for."

At the halfway point of spring practice, Kessler remains happy with his call not to join Williams, Allen and Agoholor in pursuit of an NFL career. More than a passing thought went into the decision after he threw 3,826 yards and tied the school record with 39 touchdowns passes last season. But after after talking it through with his family and meeting with coach Steve Sarkisian, it became obvious which path he preferred.

“When I made up my mind, I texted Coach Sark and told him I couldn’t leave without winning a national title with him,” Kessler said.

So despite signing arguably the best recruiting class in the country, it was Kessler’s pledge that will have by far the greatest impact on whether the Trojans can navigates their way back to the top.

“I felt the same way [about him],” Sarksian said. “That’s why you should come back. Guys make decisions to stay or to go, and at the end of the day the college experience is so unique and if you feel like you have a chance to win a championships you should try to do it because once you leave, that’s it. You don’t get another opportunity to do it.

“I think we both feel like we have a chance to do that. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I think we understand we’re capable of it.”

Dominating Florida is always critical for Florida State, but another secret to the Seminoles' success is doing well in Virginia, and highly-coveted corner Levonta Taylor could be the Noles' next big get from the state.


LOS ANGELES -- Documents filed by the NCAA that revealed private communications among committee members related to the investigation of USC's football program "are cause for concern about the NCAA's own institutional control," Trojans athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement released Wednesday evening.

Almost 500 pages of documents, which include emails, interview transcripts, phone records and other communication, were part of a filing Tuesday in former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair's defamation lawsuit against the NCAA in the Second District of the California Court of Appeal.

"These recent documents confirm what we've believed all along, that we were treated unfairly in this investigation and its penalties," Haden said.

The NCAA had fought to keep the documents sealed, arguing, according to the Los Angeles Times, "that not doing so would hinder future investigations by the organization." The court rejected the argument.

The documents were obtained by the Times.

The NCAA responded Friday to Haden and USC, saying, "These publicly filed documents illustrate how the Committee on Infractions underwent thorough deliberations consistent with the policies and procedures governing the infractions process," according to a statement obtained by the Times.

(Read full post)

Happy mailbag Wednesday. Follow me here on Twitter.

To the notes!

Greeny in Boston writes: You guys keep saying six Pac-12 teams are going to be ranked or should be ranked. Give me a "buy/sell" on each team, just for arguments sake.

Kevin Gemmell: Sure! Buy/sells are fun this time of year because it’s pure speculation at this point. I actually think it should be seven. Others among us might disagree. But here are some quick thoughts on the seven I believe should be ranked (or will be ranked at some point throughout the season):

  • Arizona: A lot of talent coming back on offense. But we need to see how quickly the offensive line comes together.
  • Arizona State: Smooth quarterback transition and a defense that surged at times last year. Might be my dark horse for the South. Still thinking about that one.
  • Oregon: A perennial contender that should again have the strongest rushing attack in the conference. The quarterback question is the obvious selling point.
  • Stanford: Finished the year as strong as any team in the country. Another dark horse team I’m considering. But the depth at defensive line -- for the first time in a long time -- is the selling point.
  • UCLA: Should be one of the better defenses nationally and the Bruins return the league’s leading rusher from last year. Same selling point as Oregon -- what happens at quarterback?
  • USC: On paper, this is a top-10 team. But as I wrote last week, the Trojans struggled against some of the top-tier teams. That provides enough pause before completely buying in.
  • Utah: Really good defense. Really good special teams. Really good running back. Is this the year we see some consistent quarterback play?

You'll notice that five of these teams are in the South, which again will beat itself up en route to the Pac-12 title game. It's likely not all seven will be ranked at the same time. But at some point during the year, my guess is that all seven will appear in the Top 25.

Dimond Mike in Oakland writes: I think the blog has given Jared Goff plenty of love, but as a fan who has seen the real deal (Aaron Rodgers) and poseur (Kyle Boller), Jared Goff is a no doubt about it starting NFL QB in years to come. He'll have the numbers to back it up, so shouldn't that get him on more national radars, or is it solely about getting 10+ wins?

Kevin Gemmell: Depends on what kind of national radar you’re looking for. If we’re talking Heisman, then yes, 10-plus wins would certainly help. There were four quarterbacks who threw more touchdowns than Goff last season -- and one of them won the Heisman. But that’s also because he ran for 15 on top of his 42 passing. Goff had zero rushing touchdowns.

Unfortunately, the en vogue Heisman candidate does more than just throw touchdowns. He’s a dual-threat guy who is praised or criticized for his team’s success. And when you play for the team that ranked 120th in scoring defense in 2014, well, you do the math.

Remember Colby Cameron? He was Sonny Dykes’ quarterback his last year at Louisiana Tech. He tossed 31 touchdowns to just five interceptions and completed 68.8 percent of his throws for 4,147 yards. Pretty darn good numbers. I believe he plays in Japan now. It’s unfortunate, but quarterbacks in throw-heavy systems get labeled as “system” quarterbacks. Well, guess what: Every single quarterback is a “system” quarterback. Marcus Mariota was a system quarterback. Andrew Luck was a system quarterback. It’s a dumb label. Tangent ...

As to his NFL future, I’m not a scout. But a lot of scouts and coaches I’ve talked to seem to think he’s a budding star. I’ve seen him make all the throws he has to make at the next level. But as always, a lot of it depends on where he goes, how much time he sits or is forced to play. Who is his coach/position coach/coordinator, etc. I think he’ll end up getting drafted. But a lot of his success will come down to where he lands.

Al in Tempe, Ariz. writes: I liked the Travis Haney story on coaching bargains. But do we still have to keep referring to Graham as a program hopper?

Kevin Gemmell: Let me first thank you for being an Insider. With your subscription, Ted can keep the air conditioning on for another week.

I’m not sure the stigma will ever leave him. Which is wildly unfair given the commitment he’s made at ASU. He owns a home. He’s donated half a mill to improving facilities. He also won a Pac-12 South title and is 2-1 in bowl games.

In Travis’ defense, he did say “all jokes aside,” meaning he wasn’t going to make one. But still, the fact that the national media still goes there when thinking about Todd Graham is unfair at this point. While he left Pitt under bad circumstances, he’s also owned it a 1,000 times over, calling it a mistake to go there in the first place. And let’s be honest, do you really want a coach who doesn’t want to be there?

Per the good folks at Arizona State, here’s a list of all the coaches from that hiring class. You’ll note that 11 have already moved on or been dismissed.

2011 coaching hires

  • Urban Meyer, Ohio State (38-3)
  • Jim Mora, UCLA (29-11)
  • Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M (28-11)
  • Todd Graham, Arizona State (28-12)
  • Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State (26-14)
  • Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (26-14)
  • Matt Campbell, Toledo (25-13)
  • Hugh Freeze, Mississippi (24-15)
  • Kyle Flood, Rutgers (23-16)
  • Larry Fedora, North Carolina (21-17)
  • Justin Fuente, Memphis (17-20)
  • Curtis Johnson, Tulane (12-25)
  • Tim Beckman, Illinois (12-25)
  • Mike Leach, Washington State (12-25)
  • Terry Bowden, Akron (11-25)
  • Bob Davie, New Mexico (11-26)
  • Norm Chow, Hawaii (8-29)

Coaching changes (11): Arkansas (John L. Smith), Arkansas State (Gus Malzahn), Colorado State (Jim McElwain), FAU (Carl Pellini), Houston (Tony Levin), Kansas (Charlie Weis), UMASS (Charley Molnar), Penn State (Bill O’Brien), Pitt (Paul Chryst), Southern Miss (Ellis Johnson), UAB (Garrick McGee)

Graham isn’t going anywhere. And even if he does … he gave ASU three good years and a lot of wins (and counting). Can anyone really complain at this point?

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and a leader in interceptions.

We tackled offensive trios for the North and the South on Tuesday. This morning, we looked at the defensive situation in the Pac-12 North, which looks to be a rebuilding adventure across the board. Here's a glimpse at the Pac-12 South, which looks like it may be in better shape than the North. There also seems to be some defensive parity across the board in this division, so keep that in mind when considering these rankings. There's no clear standout.

1. Utah

LB Jared Norris, DL Hunter Dimick, LB Gionni Paul

The skinny: The Utes will certainly miss Nate Orchard's beastly productivity (18.5 sacks, 21 TFL), but this strong defensive machine looks to keep on churning. Norris led last year's team with 116 tackles -- the next most productive player after Orchard accumulated only 61. Utah will turn to Dimick (10 sacks, 14.5 TFL) to pick up some pass-rush slack, while Paul's four interceptions paced the roster in 2014.

2. Arizona

LB Scooby Wright, S William Parks, CB Cam Denson

The skinny: To begin, let's establish that Scooby Wright alone delivers the statistical output of an entire three-headed monster: 163 tackles, 19 TFL, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2014. It's remarkable to realize that Parks' 81 tackles -- second most of Arizona's returners -- were less than half of Wright's total last year. The safety did also contribute two interceptions, as did Denson at cornerback. With Jared Tevis and Tra'Mayne Bondurant both gone, the secondary must pick up slack to round out the Wildcats' new three-headed monster.

3. Arizona State

S Jordan Simone, LB Salamo Fiso, CB Kweishi Brown

The skinny: The Sun Devils are coming off a topsy-turvy season on defense, but the bet here is that Todd Graham's maturing unit will show much more consistency in 2015. Simone has gone from walk-on to ASU's leading returning tackler and critical defensive glue. Fiso will likely have to improve upon his 11 tackles for loss from last season to help this unit overcome the pass rush loss of Marcus Hardison. Brown brings back three interceptions.

4. USC

LB Anthony Sarao, LB Su'a Cravens, CB Adoree' Jackson

The skinny: Though leading tacklers Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard are gone, plenty of exciting talent remains at USC. Sarao, now a senior, is the leading returning tackler on a balanced defense. Cravens is a true Swiss Army knife -- he's effective both in the secondary and at linebacker, evidenced by the fact he led the Trojans in both tackles for loss (17) and interceptions (3) last season. Jackson is still looking for his first career pick, but we're betting that comes soon, as his playmaking ability is not in question.


LB Myles Jack, LB Deon Hollins, CB Ishmael Adams

The skinny: This troika is tasked with filling the shoes of Eric Kendricks, perhaps the nation's most dependable tackling machine (145 last season). Jack is the unit's leading returner (87 stops in 2014), while Hollins led the Bruins with nine sacks as a sophomore. UCLA should benefit from the experience that Adams brings at cornerback. Remember that he housed two interceptions last year, and both returns were electrifying.

6. Colorado

LB Kenneth Olugbode, DL Derek McCartney, S Tedric Thompson

The skinny: The Buffs seem confident that they'll make major improvements to their atrocious run defense in 2015. That'll require a unit-wide effort originating from the front seven. But trio above represents an integral core of statistical production. Olugbode is Colorado's leading returning tackler, McCartney paced last year's team with 4.5 sacks, and Thompson recorded all three of the Buffs' interceptions in 2014.

With spring ball at USC back under way after a week-long hiatus, here's a quick look at some of the players who have missed either all, or a portion of the practice sessions this month due to injury, and where they look to be in terms of their recovery today.

DL Kenny Bigelow – RS Sophomore

Bigelow, who tore the ACL in his right knee last summer, has been limited during practices, but he is looking good these days. The big defensive lineman is down from his listed weight of 310 pounds to under 290. He is likely to be held out of contact drills through the remainder of the spring, but the good news is he should be ready to go all-out once fall camp opens. Bigelow has been spotted spending most of his time at defensive end during the walk-through periods.

WR Ajene Harris – Sophomore

Harris was having a solid spring before tweaking his hamstring the Thursday before the Trojans went on their break, and he hasn't returned to full-action since. He did participate in some early warm-up drills on Tuesday, but he's had hamstring issues in the past, so he's not likely to be rushed back into action.

RB Tre Madden – RS Senior

Madden, who missed last season due to a toe injury that required surgery, has been limited during workouts, but he's performed well in the 7-on-7 and individual periods. At the beginning of the spring he said he hoped to participate in contact drills at some point following the team's return from spring break, but he revealed on Tuesday he will now likely continue to be limited throughout the remainder of the spring as a precautionary measure.

RE/OLB Jabari Ruffin – RS Junior

Ruffin has been limited to doing conditioning work on the sideline this spring as he continues to recover from the ACL injury that he suffered last August. He's bulked up close to 250 pounds, so if he's able to keep his speed he'll be an intriguing player to watch come fall camp -- likely at rush end, where he's been lining up during walk-through periods, and where he will compete with Scott Felix among others.

ILB Anthony Sarao – RS Senior

Sarao has been declared out for the spring due to a foot injury. Sarkisian described the ailment as a small crack, and he said Sarao could probably play on it but that the staff wants to make sure he's healthy for next season. A veteran senior with 21 starts under his belt, he figures to be an important piece of the puzzle for the Trojans' defense at his Will linebacker spot in 2015. Michael Hutchings and Olajuwon Tucker have taken reps there during the spring in his place.

DL Greg Townsend Jr. – RS Senior

Injuries have slowed Townsend throughout much of his career, and that trend has continued on into this spring as he hasn't taken part in anything more than conditioning work on the sideline due to a foot injury. A veteran performer who has shown promise in short bursts, he has the potential to be a crucial part of the rotation at one of the defensive end spots in 2015, but for that to happen he'll need to stay healthy.

OL Chad Wheeler – RS Junior

Having suffered a torn ACL in his right knee last October, Wheeler is still in the rehab phase of his recovery and has been sidelined throughout the spring, although he is working with strength and conditioning trainers each day during practice. In Wheeler's absence, Toa Lobendahn has been lining up as the starting left tackle, just as he did over the last half of the 2014 campaign. Having injured his knee mid-way through the fall, it will be interesting to see if Wheeler can make a full recovery in time to take part in any portion of fall camp.

NT Antwaun Woods – RS Senior

Woods tore his pectoral muscle during bowl game practices last December, and then underwent surgery to repair the injury. Out for the spring, but expected to be ready to go in the fall, he too, has been working with trainers each day. With Woods out, Cody Temple has been taking reps with the No. 1 defense at nose tackle this spring.

Pac-12 morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

And the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln!

So, how's your bracket looking? Of course you picked Georgia State over Baylor and UAB over Iowa State. I'm sure you had Villanova going down to N.C. State and Virginia falling to Michigan State because you are just so smart.

Upsets are the joyous agitation of March Madness. Yet smashed brackets are such an accepted part of the NCAA basketball tournament that they are almost a cliche -- the ole "Bracket Busters!" We might not see them coming but we always know they will.

In college football, we don't see huge upsets coming. So they are much different than in tournament hoops. Not saying they're better, just more "You've got to be kidding."

Which leads us to today's topic: Biggest Pac-12 upsets since the turn of the century.

Note: This isn't of all time. So no Oregon State over Washington in 1985 or Stanford over Notre Dame in 1990 or Arizona State over Nebraska in 1996. We also require Pac-12/10 membership, so Utah over Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, though we surely have adopted it when debating relative conference strength (cough, cough), doesn't count, nor does Colorado over Oklahoma in 2007.

Further, because we're not looking to spread misery, we're not bringing up upset non-conference losses. So, Oregon State, we won't even mention that game against Sacramento State in 2010.

10. Washington 29, No. 3 Washington State 26, 2002: There were so many subplots and plot twists to this one, the most controversial of Apple Cups, that it's impossible to succinctly encapsulate here. This is a great review of just how nutty this high-stakes game was. It started with the Cougars as national title contenders -- yes, you read that correctly -- and ended after three overtimes and four-plus hours and a borderline call with a hail of bottles hurled to the field by the outraged Martin Stadium crowd. It was Rick Neuheisel's last great moment at Washington and Mike Price's last regular season game at Washington State. It also was the last Apple Cup that featured two winning teams until 2013.

9. Stanford 20, Washington 3, 2006: Fair to say that from 2003-2008, Washington suffered its worst six-season stretch in program history. This game just nipped the 27-23 loss at Arizona in 2003 for the Huskies' most bumbling, humiliating upset defeat. Washington was a 15 point favorite in Tucson, where the Wildcats were riding a 13-game Pac-10 home losing streak, but the Huskies, despite being unranked, were an eye-popping 18.5-point favorite against this Walt Harris-coached Stanford team, which appeared to be on its way to becoming the Pac-10's first 0-12 squad. The Cardinal, which ended a program-worst 11-game losing streak with this win, would score only 127 points all season, and this was one of just two games in which they eclipsed 17 points. Defense? Ranked 113th in the country, yet it dominated the listless Huskies. Stanford finished 1-11 with losses to San Jose State and Navy. Though the Huskies only went 5-7, and this game capped a six-game losing streak, there's a difference between middling and historically bad, see the point spread.

8. Stanford 49. No. 5 Oregon 42, 2001: If Oregon had not imploded in the fourth quarter of this game -- it led 42-28 -- the Ducks would have finished unbeaten and played Miami for the BCS national title. Heck, Joey Harrington might have won the Heisman Trophy. As it was, Stanford turned one of two blocked punts and an interception by Harrington into touchdowns. The Ducks even squandered a huge break, as they led 42-41 with 5:32 left when they blocked a PAT. But on third-and-1 from the Oregon 30, Harrington was hit by safety Tank Williams and the ball was picked off. Stanford then drove for the winning points. The loss ended the Ducks' nation-best 23-game home win streak.

7. Oregon State 31, No. 2 California 28, 2007: Who can forget Kevin Riley's ill-fated -- and ill-thought -- scramble and previously imperturbable coach Jeff Tedford hurling his clipboard to the turf? The Bears, favored by 14, were on the cusp of rising to No. 1 in the nation for the first time in 56 years, but it was not to be. With the ball on the Beavers' 12-yard line with 14 seconds left, Riley couldn't find an open receiver and he tried to run for the end zone, gaining only 2 yards, and the clock ran out before the field goal team could get on the field. This became the first of three consecutive defeats as the Bears crumbled, losing six of their next seven. Though Cal won nine games the next season, you could make a case the Bears never recovered from this loss during Tedford's once-promising tenure.

6. Arizona 42, No. 5 Oregon 16, 2013: This was perhaps the Ducks' worst performance during their sustained rise to the nation's super-elite. It was a four-quarter butt-kicking from a better prepared, hungrier team. Oregon, an 18.5-point favorite, trailed 28-9 at the half and never made a substantial run. Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 206 yards, and Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota threw two interceptions, his first since the 2012 season. What was clear after this game, which was infelicitously preceded by the Ducks trash-talking the Rose Bowl, was Arizona was going to be in big, big trouble when it visited Autzen Stadium in 2014.

T5. Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24, 2014: There was simply no way Arizona was going to beat the Ducks twice in a row, right? Not only did Oregon have a three-year starter at quarterback in Heisman Trophy candidate Mariota, the Wildcats only countered with redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, who would be making his first road Pac-12 start in the conference's toughest venue. That is why Oregon was favored by 21.5 points. But Oregon made key mistakes -- including a costly, controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the fourth quarter -- and Arizona made key plays on defense in the season's major upset. This time, however, Oregon recovered from a disappointing loss, whipped the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship game and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff.

T5. Washington 16, No. 3 USC 13, 2009: There was a lot to this one, other than it being a 19-point underdog winning. For one, the Huskies had gone winless the previous season. For another, this was a meeting between new Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian and his mentor, Pete Carroll. The game served as a "Hello World" moment for Washington quarterback Jake Locker, as the Huskies had only ended a 15-game losing streak the week before against FBS bottom-feeder Idaho. It's often forgotten that Matt Barkley sat out with an injury, and backup Aaron Corp was overmatched. The Trojans passed for just 110 yards, which is the fewest by a USC team in the Carroll era. Speaking of "eras," this also was the first loss of the season for a Trojans program headed for a decline, including the departure of Carroll to the Seattle Seahawks in the offseason. Hey, who is USC's coach now?

4. No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 2 Oregon 14, 2012: Yes, this was a battle of ranked teams, but don't superimpose the perspective of the Stanford teams that would give the Ducks high-powered offense trouble. Recall that Oregon, an 18-point favorite, had whipped Stanford and Andrew Luck the previous two seasons, so what chance did the Cardinal have in Autzen Stadium with newbie Kevin Hogan behind center? Yet, after the Ducks missed a field goal to open overtime, much-malinged kicker Jordan Williamson hit a 37-yard boot for the victory. Still, the big winner was the Cardinal defense. The Ducks had scored at least 42 points in 13 consecutive games, but they were stymied by Derek Mason's crew.

3. Oregon State 27, No. 1 USC 21, 2008: Sure, Oregon State had upset USC in Corvallis before -- their last meeting in Reser Stadium, in fact -- but this was a much better crew than the 2006 Trojans. The Beavers, 25-point underdogs, rolled behind 186 yards and two TDs from Jacquizz Rodgers in their first win against a top-ranked team in 41 years. USC would go on to finish 12-1, stomping Penn State in the Rose Bowl. It was probably the best team in the nation that season -- it was unquestionably the most talented -- but Oregon State proved that once a giant killer, always a giant killer. What is sometimes forgotten about this game, particularly outside the West Coast, is this was a good Oregon State team. It finished 9-4 and ranked 18th.

2. UCLA 13, No. 2 USC 9, 2006: There are two things here. One, this loss by the Trojans, favored by 11.5 points, knocked them out of their third consecutive BCS title game on the season's final weekend, so it was a big one. Two, this loss by the Trojans came via UCLA, their hated and, at the time, marginalized rival, one that had lost seven consecutive games in the series, including 66-19 the year before. The Bruins would finish 7-6 while USC ended up 11-2, won the Rose Bowl and finished ranked No. 4, but it's debatable which fan based ended up more happy.

1. Stanford 24, No. 2 USC 23, 2007: Simply, this is the biggest upset in college football history, at least if you use the 41-point spread. In 2007, Jim Harbaugh's first season, Stanford was bad. It went 1-11 the previous season and would finish 2007 4-8. The previous weekend, it lost to Arizona State 41-3 to fall to 1-3. Further, starting quarterback T.C. Ostrander, was out due to illness and backup Tavita Prichard was making his first career start. Prichard didn't put up good numbers, but he converted a fourth-and-20 play with a pass to Richard Sherman -- yeah, that Richard Sherman -- and then threw the game-winning TD pass on fourth-and-goal from the 10-yard line to Mark Bradford. The defeated ended USC's 35-game home winning streak. USC was undone by John David Booty, who was ill-advisedly playing with a broken finger, throwing four interceptions, including on the Trojans' desperate final possession.

You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! -- opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

We're breaking it down by division. We tackled the offensive three-headed monsters from the North earlier today. Now it's time to move on to the Pac-12 South, which features plenty of firepower and plenty of question marks.

1. Arizona

QB Anu Solomon, RB Nick Wilson, WR Cayleb Jones

The skinny: Perhaps the most remarkable part of the Wildcats' surge to the top of the treacherous Pac-12 South was their youth at the skill positions. Solomon led the offense as a redshirt freshman, Wilson bowled over defenders as a true freshman, and Jones led the team in receiving as a sophomore. That entire nucleus returns in 2015, and it looks like more quality depth could be layering the receiving corps -- Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey, Nate Phillips, and DaVonte' Neal come to mind. But the main point remains: Arizona returns a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver, and a developing quarterback who handled his inaugural campaign well. That's a three-headed monster that can flex its muscles in 2015.

2. ASU

QB Mike Bercovici, RB Demario Richard, slot receiver D.J. Foster

The skinny: There should be plenty of offensive confidence oozing out of the desert come fall. Bercovici showed plenty of dependability last season, so Todd Graham isn't waking up in cold sweats because of Taylor Kelly's graduation. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils are confident enough in Richard's running abilities to move versatile weapon Foster to the slot. Richard racked up 478 yards on 5.7 yards per carry as a 17-year old, while Foster already caught 62 passes while also serving as the primary running back last year. With Jaelen Strong's 1,165 receiving yards gone, Foster's position shift makes sense, and ASU has gunpowder in all three of its offensive cannons.

3. USC

QB Cody Kessler, RB Justin Davis/Tre Madden, WR JuJu Smith

The skinny: Kessler will be in the early Heisman Trophy discussion thanks to the gaudy numbers he posted in 2014 (39 touchdowns, five interceptions), but the Trojans do have to replace his two most influential sidekicks. Running back Javorius Allen (1,489 yards) and receiver Nelson Agholor (104 catches, 1,313 yards) are both taking lavish production with them to the NFL draft. Sure, the Trojans have been recruiting well enough to power through those losses, but doing so won't be a cakewalk. Davis and Madden are expected to share backfield duties (there are promising true freshmen coming, too), while Smith returns 54 catches. There's work to do at USC to make this troika as effective as it was last year, but the cupboard certainly isn't bare -- it's brimming with potential.


QB ?, RB Paul Perkins, WR Jordan Payton

The skinny: Brett Hundley is gone from this mix, but the Bruins can take solace in the fact they return the Pac-12's rushing champion. Perkins' 1,575 yards on 6.3 yards per carry led all conference backs last year, and there will be big weight on the junior's shoulders as a new quarterback takes over. Jerry Neuheisel or Josh Rosen must develop rapport with Payton, who emerged as Hundley's favorite target in 2014. That'll be the key in ensuring that Perkins again enjoys running room in 2015.

5. Colorado

QB Sefo Liufau, RB Christian Powell, WR Nelson Spruce

The skinny: This is an intriguing trio for a Colorado program that's eager to turn a bevy of heartbreaking losses into 2015 wins. A hemorrhaging run defense might have been the primary culprit in the Buffs 1-11 finish last year, but Liufau's conference-worst 15 interceptions also cannot be overlooked. If he does a better job avoiding these mistakes, Spruce and an improving run game should be ready to roll. Spruce's 106 catches led the Pac-12 in 2014, while Colorado's rushing efficiency has bettered from 3.1 yards per carry in 2012 to 4.1 last year. Powell, a 230-pound bruiser, led a committee of backs at 5.3 yards per carry.

6. Utah

QB Travis Wilson/Kendal Thompson, RB Devontae Booker, WR Kenneth Scott

The skinny: The Utes have Booker, a 1,512-yard name that'll be tossed around in early Heisman discussions, but there has to be significant worry beyond his position. For one, both prospective quarterbacks struggled throwing the ball last season, and their road doesn't look to be getting any smoother. With Kaelin Clay, Dres Anderson, and Westlee Tonga gone, the Utes are losing two of their top three receivers and their most productive tight end. Scott is the leading returning target while prized junior college transfer Deniko Carter will be counted on to produce immediately. There's potential there, but at this point, questions outweigh answers. Booker is the workhorse with a hefty load on his shoulders.

Just over a year ago, I took a look at each Pac-12 head coach's career and ordered their best individual seasons as decided by each team's final spot in the AP poll. At the time, it seemed like a pretty impressive list.

This year's updated version takes it to another level after four Pac-12 coaches -- Steve Sarkisian, Todd Graham, Jim Mora and Mark Helfrich -- fielded the best teams of their head-coaching careers in 2014. That's not including Gary Andersen, whose most recent Wisconsin team was his best ever, and finished ranked higher than any Oregon State team during Mike Riley's 14-year, two-stint tenure.


Which coach had the best team?






Discuss (Total votes: 2,708)

In reverse order, here is the updated list. Remember, for consistency and simplicity's sake, each coach's best season is defined by its final ranking in the AP poll.

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)

Final AP rank: unranked

Highest AP rank: 19

Bowl result: no bowl

The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

No. 11 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)

Final AP rank: 21

Highest AP rank: 21

Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
2014 Pac-12 rank:

The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 10 Steve Sarkisian, USC, 2014

Sarkisian's record: 9-4 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)

Final AP rank: 20

Highest AP rank: 9

Bowl result: Beat Nebraska 45-42 in the National University Holiday Bowl.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsIn his first season at USC, coach Steve Sarkisian led the Trojans to a 9-4 overall record.

The team: Sarkisian was at No. 11 last year with his 2013 Washington team that finished No. 25, but moves up a spot after his debut season in Los Angeles. It was an underwhelming season by USC's standards, but quarterback Cody Kessler's emergence and an impressive collection of young talent gave the impression the program is trending in the right direction. High point: beating No. 13 Stanford in Week 2 to end the Cardinal's FBS-best 17-game home winning streak. Low point: A 38-20 loss to UCLA to fall out of the Pac-12 South race.

No. 9 Gary Andersen, Wisconsin, 2014

Andersen's record: 10-3 (7-1, first in Big Ten West)

Final AP rank: 13

Highest AP rank: 11

Bowl result: Lost to eventual national champion Ohio State 59-0 in conference championship; beat Auburn 34-31 in Outback Bowl (Andersen did not coach)

The team: In Andersen's second year in Madison after leaving Utah State, the Badgers began the year ranked No. 14 in the AP poll. They dropped their opener in painful fashion against LSU, but a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season had Wisconsin in the College Football Playoff picture. High point: Melvin Gordon set the FBS single-game record with 408 yards rushing against Nebraska (only to see it broken the next week). Low point: The Badgers were no-shows against Ohio State and five days later Andersen was announced as Mike Riley's replacement at Oregon State.

No. 7 (tied) Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2014

Graham's record: 10-3 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)

Final AP rank: 12

Highest AP rank: 7

Bowl result: Beat Duke 36-31 in the Hyundai Sun Bowl

The team: After an 8-1 start, Arizona State had a clear path the College Football Playoff, but a surprising loss to Oregon State ended any fantasies the Sun Devils were harboring concerning a national title. They remained in position to win the Pac-12 South, but a loss to Arizona in the Territorial Cup prevented an opportunity to play Oregon for the conference title. High point: ASU rose to No. 7 after its blowout-turned-collapse-turned-rout of Notre Dame. Low point: See, Territorial Cup.

No. 7 (tied) Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)

Final AP rank: 12

Highest AP rank: 2

Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl

The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

No. 6 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2014

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, tied for second in Pac-12 South)

Final AP rank: 10

Highest AP rank: 7

Bowl result: Beat Kansas State 40-35 in Valero Alamo Bowl

The team:
Brett Hundley returned to UCLA for his third year as the starter despite being projected to be one of the earliest quarterbacks off the board in the NFL draft. A trendy national-title pick, UCLA's season lost steam after a 4-2 start, but it remained in the thick of the Pac-12 South race until losing to Stanford in the regular-season finale. Again using the final AP poll as a gauge, it was UCLA's third consecutive season of improvement under Mora.

No. 5 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)

Final AP rank: 7

Highest AP rank: 3

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Tony AvelarStanford coach David Shaw's 2011 team, which was led by QB Andrew Luck, finished 11-2 overall.

Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State, 41-38 OT, in Fiesta Bowl

The team: Andrew Luck's final team did not win the Pac-12 or the Rose Bowl, but it should still go down as a better team than its 2013 counterpart, which won both and also finished ranked No. 7. With the understanding that winning the 2012 Pac-12 title doesn't necessarily mean the same team would have done it in 2011, look at the two teams. Kevin Hogan was great that year, but in a hypothetical game between those Stanford teams, is anyone picking against the version with Luck? Shaw's first team made the program's second of four-straight trips to a BCS bowl where it came this close to beating a very good Oklahoma State team in the Fiesta Bowl.

No. 4 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champions)

Final AP rank: 5

Highest AP rank: 5

Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl

The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 3 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)

Final AP rank: 4

Highest AP rank: 4

Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl

The team: Washington's second-year coach has one of the best resumes in college football. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now its head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, serves in the same capacity at USC.

No. 1 (tied) Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2014

Helfrich's record: 13-2 (8-1, Pac-12 champions)

Final AP rank: 2

Highest AP rank: 2

Bowl result: Beat Florida State, ranked No. 1 by the AP poll and No. 3 by playoff selection committee, in first College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl; lost to Ohio State 42-20 in the championship

The team: Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy, the Ducks won the most competitive Pac-12 in years (ever?) and ended Jameis Winston's career with a loss that would have humbled many others. All that stood between the Ducks and their first national title was Ohio State, which left no doubt in the championship to leave Oregon on the doorstep of history. Among Pac-12 coaches, only Utah assistant head coach Dennis Erickson also knows what it's like to be the head coach of a Heisman winner (Shaw gets an asterisk for 2011).

No. 1 (tied) Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)

Final AP rank: 2

Highest AP rank: 2

Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl

The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Pac-12 morning links

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24

You talkin' to me?

Colorado has finished their spring game, so we're in a slight Pac-12 practice lull while basketball is in the spotlight. But the avalanche of 11 other spring games is creeping closer. Here are some links from around the conference:

The UCLA Bruins certainly had a productive Monday on the trail. Jim Mora Jr. and staff picked up a pair of commitments, including a second ESPN Junior 300 prospect in inside linebacker Lokeni Toailoa to go with prior verbal and No. 57-ranked Breland Brandt.

Significance of impact: The battle for Los Angeles and Southern California is a fierce one, and seemingly always an uphill battle for UCLA vs. arch rival USC. That’s why Monday was a huge for the Bruins, as creating early momentum and sustaining said momentum is huge in holding off out-of-state programs such as Oregon, Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State. Toailoa combines with recent pledge Krystopher Barnes to give the Bruins a terrific pair of inside linebacker prospects.

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