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: 2,678)

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.

The Trojans football program got news of two additions on Monday night, one that will benefit the team immediately for the 2015 season and one that will have to wait a couple years before arriving on campus.

For the more instant impact, it was announced via Twitter that former Oklahoma tight end Taylor McNamara had graduated in three years and was planning to transfer to USC with the ability to play right away as a graduate transfer.

McNamara (6-foot-5, 245) was a four-star recruit and the No. 9 ranked tight end in the nation by ESPN coming out of San Diego (Calif.) Westview in the class of 2012 and he chose the Sooners over offers from USC, UCLA, Ohio State, Florida State and others. His career at Oklahoma ended with one catch for 4 yards, and appearances in 11 games.

The fact that McNamara will be available in the fall for the Trojans is good timing with the uncertain status of expected starter Bryce Dixon, the sophomore who is not with the team this spring due to student conduct issues. USC is currently practicing with only one scholarship tight end in Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick (who missed the 2014 season due to academic suspension) and walk-on Connor Spears.

There will be a pair of freshman tight ends arriving in the fall, Under Armour All-American Tyler Petite and walk-on Caleb Wilson, the son of USC D-line coach Chris Wilson.

USC also received a verbal commitment from class of 2017 running back Stephen Carr from Fontana (Calif.) Summit. Carr (6-foot, 194) was offered a scholarship by the Trojans earlier this month and made it known right away that the USC offer was a big one and there was little surprise when he made the commitment over additional offers from UCLA, Washington and Colorado.

It looks to be a solid year for running backs in the state for 2017 as the Trojans also have offers out to Greg Johnson, Najee Harris and Nathan Tilford.

The Pac-12 received a recruiting boost Monday night, as several members of the Ground Zero 7-on-7 team announced their college intentions and over the course of the day, the conference added five commitments in total. Specifically, the Los Angeles programs were the big winners with the Ground Zero prospects, as UCLA added two pieces to its 2016 class -- in No. 1 inside linebacker Lokeni Toailoa and athlete Demetric Felton -- and USC got on the board for the 2017 class, with running back Stephen Carr.

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With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

Offense and defense are done, so we'll wrap it up with special teams today ... beginning with the South.

Arizona: Kicker Casey Skowron has his ups and downs, but finished with a respectable 71.4 percent field-goal percentage on 28 attempts last season. Skowron's job doesn’t figure to be in jeopardy, but the Wildcats have a pair of freshmen (Ollie Graybar and Josh Pollack) on the roster. Second-team All-Pac-12 punter Drew Riggleman will be back for his third year as the starter. DaVonte' Neal (punt returns) and Tyrell Johnson (kick returns) also return.

Arizona State: Kicker Zane Gonzalez was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s best kicker, and converted on 22 of 27 field-goal attempts. He has two years of eligibility of remaining. Left-footed punter (here is Bill Belichick on why that's significant) Matt Haack will also be back after averaging 43.3 yards per punt last season. The Sun Devils will spend some time during the spring addressing the return game after losing Kyle Middlebrooks and Damarious Randall, who handled punt and kickoff return duties last season.

Colorado: Kicker Will Oliver is gone, which leaves Chris Graham and Diego Gonzalez as the remaining kickers on the roster. Neither has kicked for the Buffs, but Gonzalez does have college experience ... as a punter at Monterrey Tech in Mexico. Recent signee Alex Kinney is the favorite to replace Darragh O'Neill at punter. Kinney was’s No. 13-ranked punter in the Class of 2015. Several players are in the mix to return kicks and punts, namely Shay Fields, Nelson Spruce, and Phillip Lindsay.

UCLA: After an underwhelming sophomore year, Ka'imi Fairbairn became one of the Pac-12’s most consistent kickers in 2015, converting on 18 of 22 attempts. He’s hit 29 straight attempts from 35 yards or fewer. Punter Matt Mengel handled a majority of the Bruins’ punts (59 attempts), and that doesn’t figure to change, but Adam Searl, who punted 11 times during the season, seemingly has a chance to fight for more playing time. Ishmael Adams should again be one of the conference’s most dangerous return men.

USC: After four years of Andre Heidari, USC is looking for a new kicker. That competition is expected to include Alex Wood, Heidari’s backup the past three years, former junior-college transfer Matt Boermeester, and Wyatt Schmidt. Punter Kris Albarado will be USC’s starting punter for the third season, but don’t sleep on quarterback Cody Kessler's ability to pin teams deep as well. The Trojans aren’t short on return options, but it’s hard to foresee many opportunities for anyone not named Adoree' Jackson, who will be of the nation’s most dangerous special-teams weapons.

Utah: 'Automatic' Andy Phillips led the Pac-12 with 23 field goals on 28 attempts and converted 12 of 15 attempts from 40 yards or longer. No one else in the conference made more than six attempts from that distance. Both Phillips and punter Tom Hackett were named first-team All-Pac-12 and will return in 2015. The special teams does figure to take a hit with the departure of Kaelin Clay, who was given first-team all-conference honors as a return man.

LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans return to spring football practice on Tuesday on Cromwell Field, and head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff will continue to teach, evaluate and prepare for the 2015 season. Here are five things Trojans fans can expect to see and not see in the final three weeks of competition.

Trojans fans can expect to see: The competition for a starting spot among the wide receivers (except for sophomore JuJu Smith) should continue to be fast and furious. One of those wide receivers caught in the thick of the competition is junior Darreus Rogers, who is fighting to maintain his visibility as a potential starter as explosive sophomore Steven Mitchell continues to impress and junior JC transfer Isaac Whitney adjusts to big-time college football.

Trojans fans can expect not to see: Any drop-off in productivity from either incumbent senior quarterback and Heisman candidate Cody Kessler or improving sophomore quarterback Max Browne, which works to the benefit of those wide receivers fighting to join Smith as starters.

Trojans fans can expect to see: Reteaching by the Trojans staff in the first week back from spring vacation, much like coaches did last spring. With just nine practice days left, expect the end of this week and all through next week to become more physically intense before winding down for the annual spring game on Saturday, April 11, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Trojans fans can expect not to see: A lot of full 11-on-11 contact scrimmaging. Although the Trojans will have the balance of a huge and talented freshmen class arriving in summer, the Trojans' depth is still tenuous with defensive linemen, tight ends and linebackers. No way is Sark going to push the envelop in the spring and risk injury to a roster that can ill afford any casualties.

Trojans fans can expect to see: More shuffling and experimenting along the offensive line. Pay attention to the movement of sophomore Toa Lobendahn, who is currently the starting left tackle, as junior starting left tackle Chad Wheeler continues to rehab (knee). The question of who will back up all-star senior center Max Tuerk remains fluid; Lobendahn was snapping before spring break. Keep an eye on sophomore Nico Falah, who has been a pleasant surprise at left tackle. The uncertain status of sophomore center/guard Khaliel Rodgers, who was sent home before the before the break for undisclosed reasons, is a potential hiccup.

Trojans fans can expect not to see: Any meaningful development of depth along the defensive line due to injuries and rehabs. Senior Cody Temple has greatly helped at nose tackle in place of senior leader Antwaun Woods, who continue to rehab (chest muscle). The probable starting down three in 2015 -- senior tackles Delvon Simmons and Claude Pelon and NT Woods -- will not be together this spring, so any true development of depth won’t come until those heralded group of talented but inexperienced true freshmen D-liners show up in the summer with the return of redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow (knee) and oft-injured senior Greg Townsend Jr. (foot).

Trojans fans can expect to see: The Trojans' four early entry freshmen continuing to show progress. Offensive tackle Chuma Edoga and inside linebacker Cameron Smith have demonstrated that by the end of spring they could be in the mix for playing time when the Trojans host Arkansas State in the season opener.

Trojans fans can expect not to see: The linebacker situation, both inside and outside, getting settled due to the current foot injury to senior starter Anthony Sarao and the obvious lack of depth. Again, it’s wait and see until the arrival of those ballyhooed freshmen linebackers, although it’s conceivable that one of those freshmen, Osa Masina or Porter Gustin, might find himself at tight end sooner rather than later.

Trojans fans can expect to see: Sarkisian continue to work with four wide receivers due to the lack of depth at tight end. He'll also make more use of the fullback to help with blocking and pass receiving duties.

Trojans fans can expect not to see: The fullback running the ball with any regularity or any significant shakeup in the quarterback pecking order. By the end of spring, the pecking order will be Kessler, Browne, redshirt freshman Jalen Greene, and true freshman Ricky Town.

ESPN Jr. 300 quarterback K.J. Costello announced on Twitter that he will be making his commitment on March 26 at his high school.

With spring practice underway at many Pac-12 destinations, it's time to do our annual position-by-position breakdown.

We've gone through all the defensive position groups and wrap up with linebackers in the South.

Arizona: You may have heard a little something about Scooby Wright III. All he did as a sophomore was have one of the most productive seasons in college football history (163 tackles) on his way to just about every major accolade out there. On the rare occasion Wright didn’t make a tackle, Arizona’s most productive linebacker was Cody Ippolito. He shared time with Derrick Turituri (they were both listed atop the depth chart) and Jake Matthews started on the opposite side. With several other key areas to replace on the defense, the ‘Cats are in good shape here.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils list no fewer than 24 linebackers on their official roster, so expect some shuffling throughout the spring. Their top two returners are Laiu Moeakiola (72 tackles) and Salamo Fiso (83 tackles), both of whom figure to remain key pieces in 2015. Same with D.J. Calhoun, who started the opener last year as a true freshman and was named a freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America. Davon Durant, the nation’s top-rated junior college linebacker in the country, was expected to earn a substantial role, but his status remains in question -- he’s suspended indefinitely -- after he was arrested on allegations of aggravated assault and domestic violence.

Colorado: Above all, the health of Addison Gillam will be essential if Colorado expects to compete in the South. He lost nearly 30 pounds last year due to a combination of injuries and being sick, and it significantly impacted his production. If he’s back up to around 230, he and Kenneth Olugbode give the Buffs a pair of experienced, reliable players in the linebacker corps. New defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt also will coach the linebackers, which is the position group he coached with the San Francisco 49ers the last four seasons. One interesting player to watch is Jaleel Awini, who made the switch from quarterback.

UCLA: Has there been a program in the country with as much star power at linebacker as the Bruins over the past couple of years? If there is, it doesn’t come to mind immediately. Replacing Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks (insert snarky second-team All-Pac-12 comment here) is obviously a difficult task, but Kenny Young drew rave reviews from the coaching staff last year and could be in line for a more significant role. We all know about Myles Jack, but the Bruins need (and will expect) more from Deon Hollins.

USC: Hayes Pullard (95 tackles) was one of the more underappreciated linebackers in the Pac-12 over the past few years and his departure will be sorely missed. Same goes for J.R. Tavai, who was tied for the team lead with seven sacks last year. However, with Su’a Cravens (68 tackles) and Anthony Sarao (74 tackles) returning, the Trojans still are in good shape. Scott Felix started five games last year as the pass-rushing outside linebacker and is in line for more playing time. Lamar Dawson started games over three seasons before sitting out last year due to injury. He’s back and is expected to compete with Michael Hutchins (backed up Pullard and had one start last year) and early enrollee Cameron Smith, the nation’s No. 8-ranked ILB from the Class of 2015.

Utah: As Utah transitions to new defensive coordinator John Pease from the departed Kalani Sitake, linebacker figures to be a position of strength. Three players -- Jared Norris, Gionni Paul and Jason Whittingham -- have combined for 376 career tackles in their careers, and Jason Fanaika (55 tackles in 2014) started at outside linebacker in the Utes’ Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl win. Looking for a reason to go with Utah in the South? This position group is a good place to start.