USC Trojans: Alabama Crimson Tide

MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Nike SPARQ combines have grown with each passing year, and on Saturday there was a record turnout. If the 1,993 prospects who attended weren't impressive enough, the performances by several top prospects who came to compete certainly left spectators turning heads.

Here is a rundown of some of the event's top performers.
  • ESPN Junior 300 running back Taj Griffin posted one of the top SPARQ scores of the day. Griffin checked in at 5-foot-10, 174-pounds, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.35 shuttle, had a 46-inch vertical leap and a 36-foot power ball toss for a combined score of 124.29. On the recruiting front, Oregon, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and Tennessee continue to stand out the most.

  • No. 3 junior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga posted an impressive score of 94.65. After measuring at 6-4 and weighing 276 pounds, Edoga ripped off a 5.01 40-yard dash, a terrific 4.69 shuttle and had a 33.8-inch vertical jump and 37-foot power ball throw. Following his impressive effort, he said his top four schools in order are Tennessee, Southern California, Georgia and Stanford with a decision likely on May 25, his birthday. The big news might have been that he currently prefers the Volunteers, but his mother is in the corner of the Bulldogs and Cardinal.
  • No. 252 prospect C.J. Sanders made the trip and did not disappoint. He checked in at 5-9 and 176 pounds, ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, had a blazing 4.09 shuttle run, leaped 36.5 inches and tossed the power ball 41 feet. On the recruiting front, USC, Notre Dame and Georgia are the latest to offer, joining Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He visited USC last week, and lists Reggie Bush as his childhood idol. Sanders is the son of former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders. His mom played basketball at Michigan. He reports his family favors Duke and USC early on with a decision slated for the summer.
  • Class of 2016 prospect Ben Cleveland is already considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, and the 6-7, 317-pounder showed why Saturday. He clocked a very impressive 5.22 40-yard dash and 4.87 shuttle, and had a 25.8-inch vertical leap and 41.5-foot power ball throw for a score of 99.78. He has offers from Georgia, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Texas with Alabama expected in the near future. He made an unofficial visit to Clemson two weeks ago.
  • Class of 2015 running back Jaylen Burgess posted a 118.44. The 5-10, 214-pounder ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and a 4.38 shuttle, and had a 36.7-inch vertical leap and 42.5 power ball throw. He is receiving interest from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Duke and a number of other ACC schools. Duke and Tennessee are the coaching staffs Burgess talks to the most. He posted more than 1,500 all-purpose yards as a junior.
  • Class of 2016 linebacker and defensive end Charles Wiley checked in at 6-3, 203 pounds. He clocked a 4.68 40-yard dash and 4.45 shuttle, and also leaped 35 inches and threw the power ball 34.5 feet. He has an early offer from Virginia Tech.
  • Class of 2015 athlete Jeremiah Mercer is flying completely under the recruiting radar. While he had to sit out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, he made his mark Saturday posting a score of 97.47. The 5-11, 163-pound running back and wide receiver ripped off a 4.48 40-yard dash and 4.18 shuttle, and added a 36.2-vertical leap and 31-foot power ball toss. He is receiving interest from Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and lists Florida State as his dream school.
  • Class of 2016 inside linebacker Tyler Reed posted a very impressive score of 104.91. After measuring 6-2, 234 pounds, Reed ran a 4.96 40-yard dash and 4.59 shuttle, and had a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 41-foot power ball throw. He recorded 130 tackles as a sophomore.
  • Class of 2015 running back Eric Montgomery posted a 115.47, one of the day’s top scores. The tailback checked in at 5-11, 185 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 4.19 shuttle, and jumped 36 inches and threw the power ball 38 feet. On the recruiting front, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, among others, are showing interest.

The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.

On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.

Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban, Urban Meyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Nick Saban have faced off for SEC titles, but their current teams, Ohio State and Alabama, have played only three times in history.
1. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Alabama’s Nick Saban and OSU’s Urban Meyer dominated the SEC when Meyer was coaching at Florida, combining to win five BCS national championships from 2006 to 2012.

When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.

Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.

2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.

The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.

With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.

3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.

Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.

We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.

4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.

The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.

We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.

5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.

CB Tony Brown suffers shoulder injury

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
1:00
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cornerback Tony Brown, No. 11 in the ESPN 300 and the No. 2 prospect in Texas, suffered an injury to his left shoulder on Tuesday and likely will not play in the Under Armour All-America Game.

Brown, of Beaumont Ozen High School, was hurt while reaching to defend a pass in a non-contact coverage drill. He received medical attention at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and was transported from the practice facility by cart, his head buried in his hands and his arm in a sling.

The 6-foot, 196-pound Brown, rated as the No. 4 cornerback nationally, is scheduled to announce his college decision during the 4 p.m. telecast of the Under Armour Game Thursday on ESPN.

Brown made official recruiting visits to Ohio State, Alabama, Texas, USC and LSU.

He graduated from high school early in order to enroll in January at his college of choice. Brown is an elite sprinter and plans to compete in football and track and field in college.

Mailbag: Are Oregon fans the worst?

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
5:30
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Happy Friday -- hey, there's a game tonight!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Dave from Neverland writes: On Tuesday, John Canzano posted a letter he had purportedly received from a former Ducks player. This player outlined the abhorrent fan behavior he observed while sitting in the stands. There have been countless other stories about the wretched behavior of Ducks fans, not just at Autzen, but also other stadiums they visit. An article a few years back by one of your competitor websites surveyed fans and the survey concluded that Oregon fans are generally perceived as being the worst in the conference, by far. Reading the comments of the Canzano blog post, the fan comments seemed to substantiate the article. My question: Is the perception about Oregon fans aligned with reality? Are Oregon fans truly as awful as they are made out to be, or are we just hated because we win?

Ted Miller: I was asked about this in my Thursday chat, and my chief response was to deride the anonymity of the letter writer.

I stand by that. If you're going to attack something, you need to have the courage to step up and identify yourself. That, by the way, is not a slight on Canzano for posting the letter, only on its writer.

[+] EnlargeOregon fans
AP Photo/Don RyanAre Oregon fans worse than the rest of the Pac-12?
Are Oregon fans "truly as awful as they are made out to be or are we just hated because we win?"

The short answer is no, Ducks fans are not uniquely awful. At least, I find such a sociological oddity difficult to believe. That said, I am not an expert on this: As a sportswriter, I have not sat in the stands of a college football game since the early 1990s.

Oregon is going through an unprecedented run of winning. That inspires gloating. Lots of it. And plenty of entitlement, too. The stadium is packed and the program is rich. Rivals are jealous, and therefore easy and frequent targets -- in the stands or anywhere else. And, suddenly, a two-loss season sounds like a disaster and everyone is a football expert.

Even without siting in the stands, I have personally witnessed reprehensible fan behavior at just about every Pac-12 venue. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote about the near-riot in Martin Stadium after the controversial 2002 Apple Cup and some Washington State fans took exception, often by trying to rewrite the facts of what happened. So I know how things might be for Canzano now.

There are all sorts of fans and each of those sorts roots for every team. Some love cheering and bonding with family and friends. Some find comfort in wide-eyed zealotry, the my-team-right-or-wrong adherence that defies all reasonable counterargument.

As I've previously noted, there are two foundations for fandom: Those who derive most of their joy from rooting for something. And those who most enjoy rooting against something. The first group is looking for something with which to align themselves. The second group is looking for a villain.

Yes, the loudest voices in the Pac-12 blog comment section are typically the latter. And, yes, those often are the sort of fans who can ruin the game-day experience of even folks wearing the same colors.

My belief is that if Washington or Oregon State started winning at the same rate Oregon has for the past four-plus years, its fans would act the same, or at least be perceived to act the same.

Yet there is a clear takeaway from this that is a positive. Reasonable people should have the guts to stand up to bad fan behavior. Don't be a passive onlooker. If someone is acting like a jerk, you should: 1. Calmly and with a minimum amount of confrontation, tell him/her to settle down; 2. Get security.

And Oregon itself should remain as vigilant as possible when it comes to making sure that reasonable standards of behavior are enforced.


Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: There have been quite a few articles this week about "The Eye Test", and which two teams would be most deserving in a three or four-team race. For the sake of this question, let's assume that Oregon, Florida State and Alabama win out.Florida State seems to be getting quite a bit of hype relative to Oregon. Florida State certainly has history behind its program, including a national title, but has been off and on in the last few years. Many voters won't budge on Alabama (with the exception of the intelligent, educated few, such as those that blog for the Pac-12), the rationale being that until someone knocks them off, they deserve to be No. 1. So it seems that many pundits love Florida State THIS YEAR, right NOW, rather than taking the longer view. My question, then, is this: Should not the same logic apply to Oregon? Oregon has been ranked No. 2 much more frequently than Florida State, including last year's final rankings, and has certainly been more consistent. Six losses in four years, and never an NC State kind of upset. The Pac-12 is a tougher conference than the ACC. Why, then, is Oregon not the obvious choice as No. 2, the way Alabama seems to be the obvious choice as No. 1? Is it Oregon's supposed lack of pedigree, or is it the dreaded East Coast Bias?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

The "eye-test" debate, while always inspiring strong feelings across the country, is irrelevant the first weekend of November. Five weeks remain in the regular season, and Alabama, Florida State and Oregon will each need to then win their conference championship games to remain in the national title hunt.

Every year, we speculate on apocalyptic visions of, say, four unbeaten teams from AQ conferences -- who goes to the title game! And then at least two of those teams lose.

Let's at least wait until we reach late November before beginning the earnest lobbying for prioritizing the specific subjective distinction that favors your team.

Further, Oregon fans, while there's a lot of noise out there, the general consensus from long-time observers of the BCS process, is that if Oregon wins out, it will at least end up No. 2 in the final BCS standings. It could, in fact, end up No. 1 if the SEC continues to cannibalize itself.

The Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC, and it's unlikely voting patterns in the coaches and Harris polls will dramatically change if the present course is maintained.


Sad Cougar fan from Bellevue, Wash.,writes: Ted, real talk for a minute. After over a decade of misery, all Coug fans pointed to Leach as our hope. But after yet another Wulff-like performance from the team last night. They were outcoached in every phase of the game. Was our hope foolish? In today's NCAA,and today's Pac-12, do we honestly EVER have a shot at being relevant again? The glory years were a perfect storm. UW was bad, Oregon wasn't Oregon yet. Stanford wasn't Stanford yet, USC was just getting started. Honestly. We're never going to be good ever again are we? I am slipping into "mariners mindset?" Get excited for opening day, then stop caring by June.

Ted Miller: No question that was a dreadful performance against Arizona State. And it's been a bad three-week conference run since a 4-2 start inspired optimism.

However, yes, Washington State has a shot at being relevant again. In fact, I'm certain it eventually happen, whether that's about next year or seven years from now. How many programs have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997? It's simply a matter of getting the right players and the right coach together.

Sure, the euphoria after hiring Mike Leach has waned considerably. The mistake with that probably was believing he brought with him some magical elixir that immediately made the program bowl-eligible and then, shortly thereafter, Rose Bowl worthy.

Further, while most of us saw Leach inheriting an intriguing roster from Paul Wulff, he didn't share that view. Leach definitely has his own ideas about how to run a program and the sort of players he wants, in terms of both athletic ability and mental makeup. That he decided to mostly erase what was there and then re-draw from scratch his own plan is making the growing pains last longer. And be more painful.

This is only Year 2 with Leach. Feel free to feel bad. But don't panic yet.


Devin from Keizer, Ore., writes: What would it take for OSU to make it to the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the championship game?

Ted Miller: First, the Beavers need to win out -- other than the Civil War -- and finish 9-3 and earn at least a No. 14 ranking in the final BCS poll. That might require strong finishes from the remaining foes -- USC, Arizona State and Washington -- in order to boost the human and computer rankings.

Then there's the question of Stanford and the South Division contenders.

Stanford, at 10-2 with a win over Oregon State, would almost certainly be ranked higher. Even though the Cardinal played in the Rose Bowl last year, the bowl committee would go with Stanford. This is how the Pac-12 blog is presently projecting things. So Oregon State needs the Cardinal to lose again, at least a third game. Maybe a fourth.

As for the South teams, the Beavers could give themselves the edge over Arizona State with a head-to-head win. They don't play UCLA, so they should be rooting for the Sun Devils to beat the Bruins. The South champion also would pick up a loss in the Pac-12 title game, which would boost the Beavers.

A lot of things would have to fall into place. But Oregon State should start with a simple plan: Keep winning.


John from Dublin, Calif., writes: This week, everybody at ESPN has been making a big deal about how the Trojans have not fared well of late in Corvallis, and it's true. However, all these pundits seem to forget the Trojans' record vs. the Beavers in L.A.. Eisenhower was president the last time Oregon State won in the Coliseum. Why can't you guys give equal time to the Trojans' streak?

Ted Miller: I think the biggest reason is the game tonight is going to be played in Corvallis, not the Coliseum, which makes factoids about Oregon State-USC games played in the Coliseum less relevant.

But I promise that next year, we will note that Oregon State has not won at USC since 1960.


Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Eleanor Catton, author of the Luminaries, won the Man Booker prize at the age of 28. Are you excited for her, or sad for Jim Crace and Colm Toibin? Also: please tell Puddles that I can't take another heartbreak.

Ted Miller: Funny story. Went to buy "The Luminaries" the other day, at which point I discovered it was 828 pages. That, my friends, is an offseason read.

Good for Catton, though she might want to rethink lecturing the world about how she should be received.

If she really cares about unfairness, she should consider championing the great American male writers who have been unjustifiably slighted by the Swedish Academy when it awards the Nobel Prize to lesser-lights on an annual basis, most notably Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo.

And Puddles, after he stopped writing letters to Canzano, has been alerted.

Mailbag: Pac-12 North vs. SEC West

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
5:02
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Any chance every game this weekend can be as interesting as UCLA-Utah?

Welcome to the mailbag. If your life needs just a tad more "oomph," follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's loaded with oomph, as well as many vitamins and minerals.

To the notes!

Daniel from Pullman, Wash., writes: Ted-Last Saturday morning I was listening to ESPN Radio and they were debating the match-ups of the Pac-12 North and the SEC West (on neutral fields). I believe their match-ups were Al vs. OR, LSU vs. Stanford, Tex AM vs WA, Ole Miss vs OSU, Auburn vs. WSU, and Miss St or Ark vs Cal. One voted these match-ups 4-2 in favor of the SEC, and the other scored it 3-3. (Note: I think both picked LSU over Stanford.) How would you see these match-ups playing out?

Ted Miller: The first challenge is matching the seven-team SEC West versus the six-team Pac-12 North. To make things easy, goodbye Arkansas.

Further, we don't really know how each division ultimately will stack up. Our speculation is only slightly educated here, as any would be not even halfway through season.

So start with Oregon-Alabama. This is a potential national title game. There are two ways to look at it. Is this a regular season game with just one week to prepare? I'd give a slight edge to Oregon with that. If it was a national title game, with three weeks to prepare, I'd give the Crimson Tide an edge. For this exercise, we'll go with the Ducks.

I'd pick Stanford over LSU. Just like I'd pick Stanford over Georgia, which just beat LSU. Suspect that Stanford would consistently outflank the Tigers with sophisticated schemes. A few years ago, LSU's team speed would have been an issue. No longer.

I'd take Texas A&M over Washington in a barnburner. I'd take a healthy Oregon State -- as in the Beavers after their off week -- over Ole Miss. The Rebels wouldn't be able to handle Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks.

Auburn beat Washington State 31-24 on its home field, but the Cougars outgained the Tigers 464 to 394. In a neutral field rematch, I'd go with the Cougs.

Cal would be able to outscore Mississippi State, though I'd feel better with that one if the Bears didn't have so many injuries on defense.

So there you go: 5-1 Pac-12 North.

End of discussion! Right?


Andrew from Phoenix writes: Ted,Why all the volatility in Arizona State's perception? The last 3 weeks the media and PAC fans have gone from "they're ready for the national stage" to "looks like they're not that good" back to "this team can do some damage." The consensus outside of the biggest ASU homers and UA trolls was ASU would be about 8-4, just in or just out of the Top 25, and needing an upset @UCLA to win the South. I have seen nothing on the field this season that should change that. Bottom line is they demolished a poor team, handily beat (with some blemishes) a mediocre team, played a toe-to-toe in a toss up with a good team, and got their mistakes shredded by an elite team. Why so much drama?

Ted Miller: It's Kevin. He's the man behind the curtain pulling all these levers that make people crazed with drama.

I don't feel like much has changed about the perception of Arizona State, at least among those who esteemed the Sun Devils in the preseason. This is a good team, probably a top-25 team, one that is moving up in the Pac-12 and national pecking order but is not yet on the Oregon/Stanford level. And, yes, it looks like the best challenger for UCLA in the South Division, particularly after USC imploded.

But there is a logical reason for the volatility: The Sun Devils' schedule. How many teams have played three tough, AQ-conference opponents in their first four games? And with such a variety of results.

Wisconsin, 32-30 win: Controversial ending yes, but the game showed the Sun Devils are top-25 caliber.

Stanford, 42-28 loss: The Sun Devils might be a top-25 team, but they've got a ways to go to move toward the top-10.

USC, 62-41 win: An impressive offensive showing against a previously outstanding defense. More positive evidence that the program is taking steps forward under Todd Graham.


Guess what? There will be more drama on Saturday. A win over Notre Dame will provide another uptick. And a loss will add some skepticism, as well as a second fall from the national polls.


Kevin from Reno, Nevada writes: Why is Ohio State ranked ahead of Stanford? After watching ASU play Wisconsin and then Stanford, it was clear that Stanford is on an entirely different level of physicality and talent than Wisconsin. That same Wisconsin team almost beat Ohio State on the road. Also, Cal was completely over-matched against Oregon, but competed almost respectably against Ohio State. Stanford may be better than Oregon this year.

Ted Miller: At least we'll get an answer with Oregon-Stanford on Nov. 7.

But I hear you. Obviously your Pac-12 bloggers agree with you. I'd comfortably pick Stanford over Ohio State, and I suspect a lot of folks would, too. While it's dangerous to use the transitive property in college football, your point about Wisconsin is at least partially valid.

I suspect the reason most folks who are voting Ohio State ahead of Stanford are doing so is because they did so in the preseason, and the Buckeyes have yet to lose.


Andrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: Now that Lane Kiffin is out the door, we've started to hear all the names of potential candidates: Kevin Sumlin (my personal favorite), Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher, Steve Sarkisian, Chris Petersen, etc. One name that I haven't really seen included in any of these hypothetical lists is Alabama DC Kirby Smart. Do you think he will be considered by Pat Haden and the USC braintrust? He seems to be on track to eventually be a head coach, and his credentials are very impressive for a young coach. The two problems I see are that he 1) has resisted overtures in the past, possibly because he is in line to follow Saban at 'Bama and 2) is devoid of any head coaching experience. What do you think of Smart as a candidate for the Trojans?

Ted Miller: There certainly are worse choices.

The other knock, fair or unfair, on Smart is that Saban is the ultimate brains behind the Crimson Tide's defense. Still, working under Saban for an extended period of time should overcome that as a downside. He knows Saban's "Process," which is like learning about the stock market from Warren Buffett.

My impression is Smart is shortly going to get an opportunity in the ACC or SEC. He's a child of the South and probably wants to stay down there.

In fact, if you are looking for a darkhorse candidate for USC, what about Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier? He calls Alabama's plays, has time learning from Saban and knows the Pac-12, as he was Steve Sarkisian's offensive coordinator at Washington before heading to the SEC. He also has Big Ten and NFL experience.

While USC is surely going after a big-time name with head coaching experience, many, many great hires have been first-time head coaches, such as John McKay, Bob Stoops, Chris Petersen and Chip Kelly.


Saul from Los Angeles writes: I get it, you hate your former home up there in Seattle. Why you instantly think the Washington head coach job sucks is beyond me and Wilcox would rather go to USC to be an assistant coach when he could be a head coach. You are insufferable.

Ted Miller: Every week, there are angry notes in the mailbag that make me go, "Huh?" I get that when you write about college football, you will make folks mad. Just part of the job. But what always baffles me is when I get an interpretation of one of my positions that is untethered to any actual position I can ever recall taking.

Saul isn't the only one. It appears many Alabama fans believed this story on USC's coaching search implied Pat Haden might hire Nick Saban. That conclusion apparently was based on my typing, "What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?"

I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out what got Saul's feathers raised. Apparently it is this from my chat Thursday:
Ryan (Baja): Hypothetical: Sark goes to USC. Question: What happens to Justin Wilcox?

Ted Miller: THAT is a big question. I was, in fact, thinking about that today. I'd think Washington would give him a hard look. It's just a matter of time before he's a head coach. It might, in fact, be a matter of just a couple of months. He'll have options, including one to follow Sark to LA and get a big raise.

To be clear: I think Washington would seriously consider Wilcox if Sarkisian left for USC and I'm SURE Wilcox would take the job.

If there is an implication my chat comment that Wilcox would rather be offensive coordinator at USC than head coach at Washington, then I humbly apologize. He would not. What I wanted to suggest is that if Wilcox was offered a head coaching job for a non-AQ program, he still might opt to follow Sarkisian to USC and wait for an AQ job. Such as, you know, a place like Washington.

The big hypothetical here is Sarkisian going to USC. It's possible, by the way, that Sark would say no to USC again, just as he did when it went after him before hiring Lane Kiffin.

And, if it needs to be clarified, there is not a person who has ever talked to me about Seattle who doesn't know how much I love that town.

Coaches poll: USC preseason No. 24

August, 1, 2013
8/01/13
12:18
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Oregon and Stanford lead the Pac-12 North Division heading into the preseason, and that's good enough to be ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, in the USA Today coaches' poll released Thursday.

Two-time defending champion Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State, which went unbeaten last season but was ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, is No. 2.

As for the rest of the Pac-12, UCLA is 21st, USC 24th and Oregon State 25th.

No, North Carolina wasn't ranked.

Arizona State was the equivalent of 32nd. Arizona and Washington also received votes.

The SEC led all conferences with six ranked teams, five of which were in the top 10. The Pac-12 and Big Ten had five each.

The six Pac-12 coaches among the 62 voting in the poll this year are Arizona State's Todd Graham, Oregon's Mark Helfrich, Washington State's Mike Leach, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Utah's Kyle Whittingham.

Will the 'good' USC show up?

November, 3, 2012
11/03/12
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LOS ANGELES -- In August, the thought was USC-Oregon and LSU-Alabama would give the college football nation an epic Nov. 3 weekend featuring a simultaneous matchup of four unbeaten, top-five teams in college football's two best conferences. It didn't quite work out like that.

Alabama and Oregon held serve, and LSU is fifth in the BCS rankings, the top-ranked one-loss team. But USC has flopped, losing a pair of games and often playing sloppy and inconsistent football.

USC is last in the nation in penalties, and it gave away five turnovers in a loss at Arizona last weekend. That's not what anyone expected from a team that welcomed back 19 starters from a 10-2 team.

"Everybody is really disappointed in Saturday," USC quarterback Matt Barkley said this week. "There were so many times when we could win the game, and we really screwed up time and time again."

And yet, Barkley adds, there is still plenty for the Trojans to play for. While the national title is no longer in play, the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl are respectable consolation prizes.

Barkley and the Trojans, if they play smart, efficient football, have the talent to beat the Ducks. Heck, they have the talent to beat anyone.

The question is whether it all comes together this evening.

On the other side of the football, is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a redshirt freshman. He's passed every test this season with flying colors, mostly because no team has really tested the Ducks, who have yet to play a game with any second-half intrigue. It's fair to wonder how he might react in front of 94,000 fans in the fourth quarter of a tight game.

After playing a soft early schedule, Oregon hopes to announce itself as a full-on national title contender, the best team to play Alabama or the eventual SEC champion. USC, which dumped the Ducks' national title hopes a year ago, is playing the role of spoiler, trying to position itself for the South Division title.

That would mean a spot in the Pac-12 title game, and perhaps in a rematch against Oregon, with the Rose Bowl on the line.

While this game no longer lusters, it certainly will be revealing. Or unmasking.
Nick Aliotti, a native of Walnut Creek, Calif., a graduate of Pittsburg High School, a former freshman MVP at running back for UC Davis, arrived at Oregon as a graduate assistant in 1978 under Rich Brooks. The Ducks celebrated his arrival by going 1-10.

After a 4-7 season the next year, Oregon State coach Joe Avezzano hired him to coach running backs. In 1984, he was the offensive coordinator at Chico State. The Ducks went 6-5 that year.

Funny how things turn out. Back then, there was little to suggest Aliotti would become a defensive coach, or that he would circle back to Oregon, or that there would be any reason to go back to Eugene. After all, if Aliotti wanted to climb the coaching ladder, didn't he want to go to a place where you had a chance to win?

Yet here he is, now close enough to an Oregon lifer that we're going to call him that, a guy who has been a firsthand witness to a program rising from nothing to respectability to legitimate goodness. And then to the cusp of greatness.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireWhile Oregon's offense gets all the hype, Nick Aliotti's defense has also shined this season.
"I'll tell you how it feels for me personally," Aliotti said. "It feels fantastic."

And anyone who knows Aliotti, 58, will guess that there was a prelude to that quote -- "It's not about me" -- and a postlude -- "It's really, really special" -- as well as some entertaining parentheticals along the way.

Yet this season includes something new: respect.

Aliotti has been a good defensive coordinator for a long time, although his defenses often were outmanned. During the Ducks' rise under Chip Kelly, Oregon has played better defense than most folks realized, but it often required observers to look behind the numbers. And who has time for that?

Yet before this season began, more than a few pundits, including folks on the benighted East Coast, took a look at the Ducks' depth chart and noted that there were some salty characters on the mean side of the ball. The Ducks had some size to go along with their speed. There were some 300-pounders inside and there was, as coaches say, "great length" across the board, with seven of the top nine defensive linemen over 6-foot-4. And four over 6-6.

They passed the sight test.

What about the football part of football? Glad you asked. ESPN's numbers guy, Brad Edwards, took a closer look at the Oregon defense this week, noting that if you go beyond some superficial numbers that don't look impressive, you can make a case that the Ducks are playing defense on par with the finest teams in the country.

He took a measure of the Oregon defense only when an opponent was within 28 points, noting, "Using only statistics from when the score is within 28 points allows us to evaluate how teams perform when the starters are on the field and playing with maximum intensity."

What did he find? First, he found the Ducks have allowed 19 touchdowns this season -- one a pick-six against the offense -- but only seven were given up when the game margin was within 28 points.

Then he entered that into his Bat Computer.

Here's what he found. The Ducks ranked third in the nation, behind only Alabama and Notre Dame, in points per drive at 0.89. The Ducks allow just 4.03 yards per play, which ranks fourth in the nation. The Oregon defense leads the nation in red zone TD percentage at 22 percent, or four TDs allowed in 18 drives. Finally, on third-down conversion defense, the Ducks rank second, trailing only Oregon State, with a 24.7 percent success rate.

Not bad, eh?

Aliotti's defense, however, will face a major test on a big stage Saturday when it visits USC. Although the Trojans' offense has been surprisingly inconsistent this season, it still has all the main players from the squad that turned in a scintillating performance a year ago while ending the Ducks' 21-game Autzen Stadium winning streak with a 38-35 victory.

"Those great receivers and the quarterback were able to have their way with us last year," Aliotti said. "They beat our defense last year with their offense."

Matt Barkley completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards with four touchdowns as the Trojans rolled up 462 yards. Marqise Lee, then a true freshman, caught eight passes for 187 yards and a score. Aliotti, by the way, was perhaps more upset about the Trojans' 139 rushing yards than the passing numbers.

Barkley is a four-year starter who has seen just about every defense. He's not easy to fool. But that doesn't mean Aliotti isn't going to try.

"The best I can answer is we're going to do a little bit of all of it," he said.

And Aliotti has a lot of tricks in his bag. When you talk to opposing offensive coaches, it's clear the Ducks' defense has evolved in the past few years. Calling it "multiple" doesn't do it justice. You could almost call it "nonstandard." Aliotti will give a general idea of the evolution, but he doesn't want even that to appear in print.

USC coach Lane Kiffin coached the Trojans' offense under Pete Carroll from 2001 to '06. He sees dramatic changes.

"You see no similarities," he said. "You'd think it was a different staff. Obviously it's not; they've been there forever. I don't know what changed, but they are very different. They are very multiple. They change fronts. They disguise things very well."

Aliotti has played a lot of chess games with opposing offenses since he returned to Oregon for good in 1999. Shutting down Barkley and the Trojans on Saturday would help him further secure his grandmaster bona fides this fall.

Can USC climb back into national title contention?

October, 16, 2012
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With the release of the first edition of the BCS standings, we ask what's on the minds of the most diehard USC fans: Can the Trojans climb back into the national championship picture?

The answer is, it's possible . . . if they win out.

If the Trojans win their remaining seven games, they could still be one of the top two teams in the BCS standings come December and in Miami come January. They sit at No. 10 right now, without yet having played a team the computers or pollsters consider elite, and coming down the stretch the Trojans could play three games against teams in the current BCS top 10.

They have upcoming regular-season matchups with Oregon and Notre Dame and could potentially square off in a Pac-12 championship game with either Oregon a second time or Oregon State (if the Beavers beat the Ducks in the Civil War). If they won each of those games they would jump at least those three teams -- No. 3 Oregon, No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 8 Oregon State.

They wouldn't be a lock for the No. 2 spot, of course (Oregon, Notre Dame and OSU would need to continue their winning ways and Kansas State would need to lose), but four of the remaining teams in the current top 10 -- Alabama, Florida, LSU and South Carolina -- play in the same conference (SEC), so further attrition seems likely. And a 12-1 USC team that began the year as the preseason AP No. 1, lost its only game in mid-September, and finished strong against quality opponents would seem to have a resume strong enough to compete with any other one-loss teams, even ones from the SEC.

So it's possible. If they win out.

But is it a lock? No.

First, they need help. Kansas State has yet to lose a game and has already beaten its toughest opponent -- No. 9-ranked Oklahoma. Jumping them would be unlikely were they to remain undefeated.

Second, they need to get better. The Trojans have demonstrated significant deficiencies through the first six games of the season -- including a 57th-ranked offense and the highest penalty average among all FBS teams – that would make beating a team like Oregon twice a seriously tall order.

In order to win out, in order to have any hope of beating teams like Oregon, Notre Dame and Oregon State, USC will have to show real improvement in both areas and continue to perform at a very high level on defense.

It’s possible they can do that. And the end of the season gets very intriguing if they pull it off. But don’t hold your breath. Not yet. Let them beat Oregon (at least once) first.


2014 LB Kain Daub opening things up? 

October, 10, 2012
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- ESPN Watch List inside linebacker Kain Daub (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) will likely be one of the top linebackers in the country next year. After the 6-foot-3, 227-pound athlete committed to LSU on July 14, he shut down his recruitment. But now he is thinking about opening things back up.

"My LSU commit is still pretty solid, but I think I'm going to open up the doors up again," Daub said. "Anything could happen, there could be a coaching change and I just want something to fall back on and not just close all doors just because I committed to LSU."

[+] EnlargeKain Daub
Courtesy of Jeff Barlis, GatorNationLinebacker Kain Daub could be one of the top defensive prospects in the class of 2014.
Daub recently transferred from Ponte Vedra (Fla.) Nease to Sandalwood High School and is now playing alongside Alabama defensive end commit DeMarcus Walker. Daub, who has more than 15 offers, said Walker continually tries to get him to switch to Alabama.
Oregon remained No. 2 behind Alabama, but Oregon State moved up to No. 10 in the latest AP poll.

USC is 11th and Stanford is 17th.

Last week, the Pac-12 had six ranked teams, but No. 23 Washington lost to the Ducks 52-21 and No. 25 UCLA was upset by California 43-17.

Arizona State, which plays host to Oregon on Oct. 18, and Washington both received votes, tying for 31st. Arizona also received votes.

South Carolina moved up to No. 3 behind the Ducks, ahead of No. 4 Florida. Those SEC East rivals play on Oct. 20th.

West Virginia is No. 5, Kansas State No. 6 and Notre Dame is No. 7. Kansas State visits West Virginia on Oct. 20, which looks like an excellent day for college football.

Stanford visits Notre Dame on Saturday. The Fighting Irish are at USC on Nov. 24.

Can USC get off the canvas?

September, 17, 2012
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BarkleyBob Stanton/Icon SMIMatt Barkley and the Trojans must now look to rebound after being upset by Stanford.
The good news is there's no longer a need to regurgitate comparisons between USC in 2012 and USC in 2005. In 2005, the Trojans beat Stanford by 30. In 2012, the Cardinal forced a fourth-quarter tap out.

The 2005 team went undefeated in the regular season and lost an epic clash with Texas for the national title. The 2012 team got pushed around in Game 3.

While USC's turnovers and penalties were notable at Stanford, they were only foot-notable. The primary narrative was how USC got whipped on both lines, most obviously in the fourth quarter when the screws tightened. Stanford asserted itself and the Trojans wilted.

There are many ways to lose, and some losses are easier to rationalize. Last year, Oregon opened with a loss to LSU. Sure, there was a false narrative -- LSU dominated those gimmicky Ducks! -- but the true narrative was Oregon played sloppily and LSU did not. You can rationalize a sloppy loss because you can envision corrected mistakes and better ball security.

It's more difficult to rationalize USC's loss to Stanford. Yes, the absence of center Khaled Holmes, maybe the best offensive lineman in the conference, was significant. Still, if you came to the game with no preconceptions, you'd be hard-pressed to imagine how the Trojans might reverse the scoreboard in a rematch.

But the purpose here is not to read the entrails of the Trojans' 21-14 defeat that knocked them from No. 2 to No. 13. It's to consider the present and to speculate on the future for USC in 2012.

The present is a test of the Trojans' heart and backbone. It starts with the leadership of Lane Kiffin and his coaching staff, then trickles down to quarterback Matt Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald, the guys who came back as seniors to take care of "unfinished business."

The point A after the loss, however, was a USC failure. The Trojans' postgame despondency, particularly Barkley's, was perfectly understandable. It was normal. But exceptional people, the sorts who are supposed to lead great teams, don't do despondency. They don't do feel sorry for yourself.

Don't hate me for going here, but this is what you do.

Yeah, I pulled out Tim Tebow's news conference speech after Florida's embarrassing 31-30 home loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 27, 2008. While I know Tebow is a Rorschach test in this country, what can't be denied is his ability to inspire those who compete beside him, who wear the same uniform.

My expectation is Barkley, after regaining his composure, will deliver a similar message to his teammates. The message is this: We will get back to work. We will rededicate. We will fight with everything we have to get everything we can from this season. And if we do this, good things will happen.

(Read full post)


Robert Nkemdiche committed to Clemson, but that didn't slow down his recruiting. Kipp Adams talks with the nation’s top recruit about his recruitment since committing to Clemson, and his goals for the 2012 season.

USC No. 3, Oregon 5 in coaches' poll

August, 2, 2012
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USC wasn't eligible for the coaches' poll in 2011 due to NCAA sanctions, but it will start 2012 almost at the top.

The Trojans are ranked third, behind No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, the two SEC teams that played for the BCS national title last season.

The vote at the top was tight. USC, with 19, and Alabama, with 20, actually got more No. 1 votes than LSU (18). That should be your first warning of the "What the heck" nature of the poll. LSU, which welcomes back 15 starters from a 13-1 team and upgraded at quarterback with Zach Mettenberger, seems like a clear No. 1 to the Pac-12 blog.

LSU, with 1,403 points, was just ahead of Alabama, at 1,399. USC got 1,388.

It's a little surprising that USC isn't No. 2. Alabama only has 11 position players returning, including just five from last season's outstanding defense. But coaches tend to tip their caps to defending champs, and it's not unlikely that each of the seven SEC coaches in the poll -- the Pac-12 had six -- voted the SEC teams one-two. I also have a hunch a Pac-12 coach -- or two -- didn't vote USC either No. 1 or 2.

And, of course, the coaches poll, though it is unfortunately included in the BCS standings, is the least respected of all polls due to its regional biases, obvious conflicts of interest, lack of transparency and the simple fact that few coaches pay attention to teams they don't play. Oh, and many of the coaches hand off their votes to sports information directors.

Oregon comes in at No. 5, 18 points behind No. 4 Oklahoma. Stanford is 18th, just ahead of the Oklahoma State team that nipped the Cardinal in the Fiesta Bowl.

And that's it for the Pac-12 in the top-25. Washington came in at No. 26 and Utah at 32nd, based on the "others receiving votes" tally.

The SEC led all conferences with seven ranked teams. The Big 12 had six, including new members West Virginia and TCU. The Big Ten had four, the ACC three.

It's also evident that the voters ran out of steam in the top 25. Florida, Notre Dame and Auburn combined for 16 losses in 2011, but were ranked Nos. 23, 24 and 25, respectively.

As we noted, "What the heck!"

Here are the coaches who voted, per USA Today, including the six Pac-12 coaches, who are bolded:
The USA TODAY Board of Coaches is made up of 59 head coaches at Bowl Subdivision schools. All are members of the American Football Coaches Association. The board for the 2012 season: David Bailiff, Rice; Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech; Tim Beckman, Illinois; Bret Bielema, Wisconsin; Terry Bowden, Akron; Art Briles, Baylor; Troy Calhoun, Air Force; Matt Campbell, Toledo; Gene Chizik, Auburn; Dave Christensen, Wyoming; Mark Dantonio, Michigan State; Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State; Dave Doeren, Northern Illinois; Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech; Jimbo Fisher, Florida State; Kyle Flood, Rutgers; James Franklin, Vanderbilt; Al Golden, Miami (Fla.); Jim Grobe, Wake Forest; Darrell Hazell, Kent State; Brady Hoke, Michigan; Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia; Skip Holtz, South Florida; Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette; Curtis Johnson, Tulane; Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss; Butch Jones, Cincinnati; Brian Kelly, Notre Dame; Lane Kiffin, Southern California; Mike Leach, Washington State; Pete Lembo, Ball State; Tony Levine, Houston; Mike London, Virginia; Rocky Long, San Diego State; Dan McCarney, North Texas; Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State; Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina; Gus Malzahn, Arkansas State; Bronco Mendenhall, BYU; Les Miles, LSU; George O'Leary, Central Florida; Paul Pasqualoni, Connecticut; Bo Pelini, Nebraska; Chris Petersen, Boise State; Joker Phillips, Kentucky; Paul Rhoads, Iowa State; Mark Richt, Georgia; Mike Riley, Oregon State; Rich Rodriguez, Arizona; Nick Saban, Alabama; Steve Sarkisian, Washington; Frank Solich, Ohio; Steve Spurrier, South Carolina; Rick Stockstill, Middle Tennessee; Bob Stoops, Oklahoma; Dabo Swinney, Clemson; Jeff Tedford, California; Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech; Kevin Wilson, Indiana.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Five-star cornerback prospect Vernon Hargreaves III (Tampa, Fla./Wharton) won defensive MVP of the IMG Madden 7-on-7 National Championship tournament on Sunday after Team Tampa beat Max Ex Blue 28-17 to win the tournament.

[+] EnlargeCornerback prospect Vernon Hargreaves III
Derek Tyson/ESPN.comVernon Hargreaves is the No. 1 cornerback in the nation and the No. 4 overall player in the ESPN 150.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound athlete had several interceptions over the course of the two-day tournament, including one against Michigan quarterback commit Shane Morris in the championship game.

As for recruiting, the talented corner who has more than 50 scholarship offers said three schools are starting to stand out to him.

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