The USC Trojans are currently sitting in the No. 17 spot in the ESPN Class of 2015 rankings with 12 verbal commits, including six members of the ESPN 300. With this being the first full signing class of the post-sanction era for the Trojans, Steve Sarkisian and his staff are not even halfway to the 25-man limit they can sign.

Here is a position-by-position look at who has given a verbal commit, how many scholarships the Trojans may use for each position, and what the outlook is for each spot.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
2:30
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Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
The running back position for the Trojans this year would appear to be one of the strengths of the team. Not only is there a trio of proven backs available in Buck Allen, Tre Madden and Justin Davis, but there are also a pair of big fullbacks capable of carrying the ball in Soma Vainuku and Jahleel Pinner.

As fall camp approaches, however, there will be a couple additions to the group that bring the unique element of speed. D.J. Morgan is returning from a knee injury that has limited his on-field work over the summer, while Anthony Brown is transferring over from the cornerback position for his final year of eligibility. There's a deep logjam ahead of them on the depth chart but the fact that they bring speed to the table could be a big factor in their favor.

It's well known that Steve Sarkisian will be bringing the up-tempo style to the USC offense this year and he is promising a run-first attack, one that will rely heavily on the explosive abilities of his skill players. At the very least, there could be a role for Morgan or Brown as change-of-pace backs late in the game, to provide that spark of fresh legs when the defense is tiring. Or there is always a chance they earn bigger roles or contribute on special teams. Regardless, the situation gives Sarkisian even more options with which to design his game plan to take advantage of their speed.

Morgan was a youth group world champion in the hurdles during high school and, after redshirting due to a knee injury suffered during the playoffs of his senior year, showed enough promise early in his USC career to start the first two games of his redshirt freshman year. Fumbling issues eventually landed him in Lane Kiffin's doghouse, and another knee injury in fall camp last year cost him the 2013 season. Morgan has 83 carries for 364 yards and a touchdown in his Trojan career.

Brown ran for 1,681 yards as a senior in high school (8.5 average per carry) so he has shown ability with the ball in his hands. He came to USC as a corner and had six career starts, including a promising stint as a redshirt freshman when he was inserted into the lineup due to an injury to Torin Harris, but a broken ankle against Cal kept him out the remainder of the season and he never really got back in the groove of the corner rotation.

This isn't the first time Brown has brought up the issue of moving to running back, it's something that was discussed after the 2012 season as well. With a deep group of young talent at corner for the Trojans, Brown decided it was worth another shot and this time the move will be made.

Our Pac-12 media poll ballots

July, 21, 2014
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Every year, the Pac-12 polls media members on how they predict the season will turn out. Sometimes there is a pretty strong consensus. Sometimes there is not. The Pac-12 blog expects there to be strong unanimity this go-around, as our four ballots suggest.

All four of us picked Oregon and UCLA to win their respective divisions. All of us picked Oregon as the Pac-12 champion. Kevin's and Ted's ballots are exactly the same, which might be a good thing for Ted, considering that Kevin's 2013 ballot correctly predicted the finish of all 12 teams.

By the way, Kevin has never, ever, ever brought that up since the end of the 2013 season, notwithstanding his voicemail celebrating that fact, his copywriting "Mr. Pac-12 Perfect Predictor" and the giant billboards he erected in all Pac-12 towns and cities. To quote Uriah Heep, Kevin remains "the 'umblest person going."

For those believing the Pac-12 blog merely goes with the flow, recall that the 2013 Pac-12 media poll picked Oregon and UCLA as the division winners, while Kevin and Ted went with Stanford and Arizona State.

(Insert smug look).

There are some differences here between your Old Men and the New Blood, most notably the bottom two finishers in the South. There also are some differences in the placement of Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North, and USC and Arizona State in the South.

Here's Ted Miller's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Kevin Gemmell's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Chantel Jenning's (You can follow her on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. ASU
3. USC
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon

And here's Kyle Bonagura (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon
USC now holds commitments from a pair of ESPN 300 quarterbacks following Sam Darnold's decision. Read on to see what traits Darnold brings to the Trojans' future positional battle under center:


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Mailbag: Alabama scheduling

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:00
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Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).

That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.

Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.

You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.

What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.

Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.

Mickey: That was easy.

Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?

Mickey: They was hand-picked!

Rocky Balboa: Setups?

Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!

Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.

My prediction for the game? Pain.




Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?

Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.

First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.

You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.

Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.

As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.

There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.




Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)

Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.

The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.

Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.




Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?

Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.

If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.

Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.

And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.




Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.

Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.
USC Trojans coach coach Steve Sarkisian added yet another solid recruiting piece to his 2015 class after San Clemente quarterback Sam Darnold committed to USC on Friday.


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LOS ANGELES -- USC fourth-year junior quarterback Cody Kessler made the trek to Thibodaux, Louisiana, last weekend to take part in the Manning Passing Academy, where he not only served as a camp counselor to the throng of high school players in attendance, but also to interact with and compete against a host of other top-notch college quarterbacks, including Florida State's Jameis Winston, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion among others.

"It was a great experience," said Kessler, who started all 14 games for the Trojans in 2013. "There were a lot of other great quarterbacks there which was really cool -- You know, getting to throw against guys from across the country."

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertUSC QB Cody Kessler (not pictured) got pointers from Peyton Manning himself at the Manning Passing Academy.
And it's safe to say that Kessler, who completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions last season, more than held his own. In the main event of the camp, the Air-It-Out Challenge on Saturday night, Kessler advanced all the way to the semifinals. Mannion eventually won the competition.

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Pac-12 lunch links

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
2:30
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Happy Friday.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 5.

Thursday, Sept. 25
  • UCLA at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 27
  • Oregon State at USC
  • Colorado at California
  • Washington State at Utah
  • Stanford at Washington
  • Byes: Arizona, Oregon
My choice: UCLA at Arizona State and Stanford at Washington

Why: For the first time this year, we have a full set of just conference games. And that’s exciting, because there are some good ones. And because of the Thursday-Saturday scheduling, we’ve got ourselves a 2-fer.

Oregon State at USC is going to be fun with Manning Academy quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler squaring off. Colorado at Cal is intriguing for power ranking purposes, as is Washington State at Utah.

But on the first leg of our two-game Week 5 trip, we’re making our first stop in Tempe to see the game that has essentially determined the Pac-12 South division the last couple of years. And it might be the swing game again this season.

The Sun Devils are the defending South champs after taking it from UCLA, which won the division in 2012. The Bruins are the likely favorites this year and looking to take it back.

And the last two meetings have been thrillers. In 2012, it was Taylor Kelly who drove the Sun Devils 56 yards in six plays to give ASU a 43-42 edge with 1:33 left to play. Then Brett Hundley returned the favor, moving UCLA 60 yards in 12 plays to set up Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 33-yard field goal that lifted the Bruins to a 45-43 win as time expired.

Last year, with the Bruins trailing 38-33 and 3:21 left, Hundley wasn’t able to duplicate the magic as the Sun Devils defense stifled him on the final drive. Of course, that was after ASU had built up a 35-13 lead at halftime and almost gave it up in the second half. But a win is a win.

When the preseason media poll is revealed next week, chances are UCLA will be picked to win the South, most likely followed by USC and then ASU. The Sun Devils aren’t going to give up their crown without a fight.

And speaking of critical intra-division games, we’re going to hop on a flight Friday morning up to Seattle, grab dinner at El Gaucho, and then watch Washington host the Cardinal on Saturday. (Or you could drive it … 1,428 miles from stadium to stadium).

Recent history isn’t always great precedent, but given how the last two games have gone, this one could be equally thrilling. The 2012 showdown at the CLink was one of the most deafening games I’ve ever covered -- pro or college. And it was the game that launched Bishop Sankey from backup-turned-starter into a bona fide playmaker.

And of course there were the controversies of last year’s game -- the allegations of fake injuries, a critical replay, Austin Seferian-Jenkins' dropped pass on third down, Ty Montgomery’s monster returns etc. And though Washington’s coaching staff has changed, this meeting has turned into a stellar North matchup the last couple of seasons and worthy of a spot on the road trip.

You can catch the rest of the road trip here.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:30
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Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
It's possible that your team's backup quarterback will be completely irrelevant this season. It's also possible he will become your team's most important player.

Just like the vice president isn't that important until he is, so is the backup quarterback. He could rescue or ruin your season.

So how do Pac-12 teams stand at backup quarterback? Let's take a look. We started with the South Division on Wednesday. Today, it's the North.

(Obviously, if your team hasn't yet named a starting quarterback, this is a bit of an either/or exercise.)

California: With Zach Kline leaving the program, which further established sophomore Jared Goff as the starter, Austin Hinder is the backup. He's a senior with limited experience.

Oregon: The battle behind Marcus Mariota didn't produce decisive results this spring, but Jake Rodrigues' decision to transfer established sophomore Jeff Lockie as the heavy favorite to be the backup. He was ahead of Rodrigues last year, though Rodrigues was a bigger physical talent. Morgan Mahalak is a touted incoming freshman, and the competition figures to be heated to replace Mariota in 2015.

Oregon State: With Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio -- he was a walk-on for the Crimson Tide, not a touted recruit -- immediately eligible, he will join the battle between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt to back up Sean Mannion, a senior. Obviously, the winner becomes the front-runner to win the starting job in 2015. None of the three has played in a college game.

Stanford: Evan Crower, a redshirt junior, was Kevin Hogan's backup last season and might be the favorite to hold onto that perch behind the third-year starter again this fall. That said, redshirt freshman Ryan Burns and incoming freshman Keller Chryst are both touted recruits. Crower completed 10 of 15 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown last year.

Washington: If sophomore Cyler Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse and becomes the starter -- he certainly looked the part in limited work last year, which included a winning effort in a start at Oregon State -- then the battle to back him up is between sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams. They were the only two quarterbacks throwing passes during spring drills, but neither asserted himself.

Washington State: The Cougars backup QB situation has gone from good to worrisome since the end of the 2013 season. First, Austin Apodaca opted to transfer, probably because he heard footsteps from redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman. Then Bruggman also bolted, perhaps because he didn't like getting outplayed by walk-on Luke Falk during spring practices. As it is, the Cougs would prefer for Connor Halliday to stay healthy.

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