USC Trojans: Jeff Tedford

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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

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

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

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

To the notes!


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

Ted Miller: Short answer: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ted Miller: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12's lunch links

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
11:30
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This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end.

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
11:30
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And when they've given you their all some stagger and fall;
After all it's not easy, banging your heart against some mad buggers' wall.

Final Pac-12 2012 power rankings

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
7:12
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These are the final 2012 power rankings.

If you don't like where you finished in the power rankings, you should have played better.

See the pre-bowl-season power rankings here.

1. Stanford: Oregon received a higher final national ranking, and you could make a decent challenge in favor of the Ducks. They didn't get upset by Washington, didn't play a lot of close games and beat a top-five team in the Fiesta Bowl. But, on Nov. 17, the Cardinal went to Eugene and took care of business. Stanford is the Pac-12 champion, and Oregon is not. Ergo, Stanford sits atop the power rankings. And 2013 looks pretty darn good, too.

2. Oregon: The cherry on the top of another special season for Oregon is the return of coach Chip Kelly. And we're of the mind that, if not for the slip against Stanford, Oregon would be sitting atop college football this morning after a fine evening of frolic in South Florida. The Ducks and Stanford will be national title contenders again in 2013. And guess which two teams are going to top the first 2013 power rankings?

3. Oregon State: The loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl was baffling. The Beavers were a superior team that seemed to be looking for ways to lose in the fourth quarter. The quarterback carousel needs to be resolved. But the Beavers still won nine games, and their 6-3 conference record overcomes UCLA because of a head-to-head win on the road. Nice bounce back after consecutive losing seasons.

4. UCLA: Yes, the Bruins flopped in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl against Baylor, but it's impossible not to see Year 1 under Jim Mora as a success, made even more notable by USC's flop. Like last season, the Bruins won the South Division, but this time they earned it.

5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils won their final three games for the first time since 1978. That's how you go into an offseason with optimism. We hear a lot about "culture change" from programs with new coaches. The Sun Devils' culture change under Todd Graham was made manifest by what happened on the field.

6. Arizona: The Wildcats did better than expected in Year 1 under Rich Rodriguez, and the season would have been a complete success if not for what happened against that team from up north. That loss hurts, but quality wins over Oklahoma State, USC and Washington, as well as an overtime game with Stanford, show this team competed better than in recent years.

7. Washington: The Huskies finishing 7-6 against a brutal schedule probably was close to preseason expectations. But the two-game losing streak to end the season, which included a dreadful meltdown in the Apple Cup to Washington State, quashed the momentum a four-game winning steak from Oct. 27 to Nov. 17 had built. Perhaps that will make the Huskies hungrier in 2013, when they have a nice array of talent returning.

8. USC: The Trojans' season was a complete disaster. USC started out at No. 1 but turned in a white flag performance while losing a sixth game in the Hyundai Sun Bowl to a middling Georgia Tech team. The Trojans were eclipsed by rivals UCLA and Notre Dame while wasting the much-ballyhooed return of QB Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin will be sitting on one of the nation's hottest seats in 2013. We've been over this a few times.

9. Utah: The Utes' move up in class from the Mountain West Conference is proving tougher than some imagined. Utah missed out on playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2002, and there were issues on both sides of the ball. The Utes need an upgrade in talent and overall depth, sure, but consistent quarterback play would be a good place to start. Therein lies hope with promising freshman Travis Wilson.

10. California: A dreadful 3-9 finish ended Jeff Tedford's tenure in Berkeley after 11 seasons. In early October, after consecutive wins over UCLA and Washington State, it seemed as though the Bears might be poised for a rally. Alas, they lost their final five games, including a horrid performance in a 62-14 drubbing at Oregon State. Sonny Dykes has enough returning talent to produce significant improvement in the fall.

11. Washington State: New coach Mike Leach's season was bad on the field and off, but it ended on a notable uptick with an Apple Cup win over Washington that included a comeback from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit. Still, 3-9 took a bite out of the enthusiasm Leach's hiring initially generated.

12. Colorado: A horrid 1-11 finish that was capped by a controversial firing of Jon Embree after just two seasons. The Buffaloes are probably the worst AQ conference team over the past two seasons, and that is the considerable mess new coach Mike MacIntyre was hired to clean up. Of course, MacIntyre put together an impressive turnaround at San Jose State, so he looks like a good choice to bring the Buffs back to respectability.

2012 Pac-12 regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
9:00
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The Pac-12 -- again -- produced national title contenders but not a team playing for the crystal football when the final bell rang. Further, for the first time since 2008, the conference didn't provide a Heisman Trophy finalist.

A short summary of the regular season: It was pretty good but could have been better. But it was definitely surprising.

Better? If things had fallen the right way, seven Pac-12 teams could have been ranked in the final regular-season poll. USC began the season as a national title contender only to yield that spot to Oregon. Then Stanford ended the Ducks' hopes on Nov. 17 with a 17-14 overtime win in Autzen Stadium.

So the conference streak without a football national championship extends to eight seasons.

Surprising? UCLA won the South Division over rival USC, and Stanford beat out Oregon in the North by virtue of the aforementioned win in Eugene. Neither was tapped in the preseason as the conference champion by any of the 123 media members who voted.

Surprising? USC quarterback Matt Barkley topped just about every preseason Heisman Trophy list. He didn't even make first- or second-team All-Pac-12.

Surprising? Three of the four new coaches turned in strong seasons. Start with Jim Mora, who led the Bruins to the Pac-12 championship game and a national ranking. And, a year after USC beat UCLA 50-0, the Bruins prevailed, 38-28.

Sorry for bringing that up, USC.

Both Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State's Todd Graham finished 7-5, though Graham handed Rodriguez his fifth defeat in the Territorial Cup.

Sorry for bringing that up, Wildcats.

The new coach who was expected to make the most noise -- with both his mouth and his team -- was only 1-for-2, and it wasn't Mike Leach's team doing the talking. His Cougars finished 3-9 and recorded just one conference victory. Of course, that lone Pac-12 win was over Washington.

Sorry for bringing that up, Huskies.

The good news is a record eight bowl teams, including a third consecutive season with two BCS bowl berths, which means an extra $6.1 million for the conference to split up.

The bad news is two more coach firings: Jeff Tedford at California after 11 seasons and Jon Embree at Colorado after just two. That means half the teams in the Pac-12 will have changed coaches over the past two years.

Further, USC's disappointing season lands Lane Kiffin on the 2013 hot seat, the only Pac-12 coach who will be stuck with that designation heading into 2013.

What about some highlights? Well, here you go.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton, Corbin Berkstresser
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonArizona State's Will Sutton averaged almost a sack per game this season, including one at Missouri.
Offensive MVP, Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Not only is he the most dominant wide receiver in the country, he might also be the most dominant player. Heisman voters say otherwise, but we in the Pac-12 know just how dominant he can be. His record-setting season should be more than enough to earn him the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver. And if he has matching numbers on a nine-win USC team, he's in New York this week.

Defensive MVP, Will Sutton, Arizona State: The numbers alone paint a pretty good picture of just how dominant the speed-rushing defensive tackle was. He led the conference in tackles for a loss per game and averaged almost a sack per game. He was a wrecking ball -- the kind of player offensive coordinators design their game plan around.

Newcomer of the year, Marcus Mariota, Oregon: In a year in which redshirt freshmen quarterbacks became all the rage, Mariota stood out with his efficiency as a passer, his athleticism as a runner and the speed with which he commanded Oregon's offense. His presence assures Oregon will continue to be one of the best offensive teams in the country in the coming years.

Biggest surprise: A school not named USC or Oregon is going to the Rose Bowl. In fact, neither team played in the Pac-12 championship game -- which many thought was as foregone conclusion before a single ball had been hiked. Stanford and UCLA were surprises -- but they also earned it.

Biggest disappointment: USC's once-promising season first got hijacked at Stanford. And from then on the Trojans were swimming in concrete shoes. After starting the season No. 1 in the AP poll, the Trojans became the first such team since 1964 to end the year out of the Top 25. The contrarian opinion Kevin Gemmell offered up back in March came to fruition. And it was a complete disaster. And, yes, even worse than Ted Miller's "Worst Case." And that's pretty bad.

Best game: Depends on where your tastes lie. If you like defense, then it was Stanford's performance at Oregon, where they held the Ducks to fewer than 200 yards rushing and won in overtime. Jordan Williamson's 37-yard kick sent shock waves throughout college football. If you like offense, you have to look to the Nov. 3 shootout between Oregon and USC. The stakes weren't as high as we all thought a few months ago, but some of the league's premier offensive players showed up as the teams combined for 113 points, 68 first downs and 1,145 yards of total offense.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 11

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
9:00
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If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

See last week's power rankings here.

1. Oregon: It wasn't perfect, at least on defense, but that was a resounding statement at USC. There are some injury issues, particularly on defense, but this team is coming together as perhaps the best of the Chip Kelly era. Wondering what type of opponent the Ducks will face at California: A motivated one or one that will serve as a doormat?

2. Oregon State: A nice bounce-back win over Arizona State. The Beavers have overcome a quarterback change and injuries. This team just keeps finding ways to get it done. The winner at Stanford on Saturday becomes a legitimate threat to Oregon in the North Division.

3. Stanford: So does Kevin Hogan step in at QB and make the Stanford offense formidable again? Maybe. But it's not wise to take too much away from stomping Colorado. Oregon State will offer a true defensive challenge.

4. UCLA: Just like Kevin and I predicted: The Bruins dominated Arizona. The offensive effort was outstanding but unsurprising. The defense shutting down the potent Wildcats' offense was most notable. But the Bruins can't overlook a visit to Washington State. That's what the "old" Bruins might have done.

5. USC: The Trojans' resilience is going to be tested, starting with a visit from Arizona State. USC could win out, go to the Pac-12 title game and still earn a shot at the Rose Bowl. Or they could fold and finish a season that began with national title hopes with five consecutive defeats.

6. Arizona: Wow ... the Wildcats took a horrible beating at UCLA. Some of that was a USC hangover. But a lot of that was the Bruins asserting themselves in the South Division pecking order. A visit from Colorado should supply that sixth victory and bowl eligibility.

7. Washington: The Huskies were sloppy at Cal, but sloppy with a W is OK. If they can handle a visit from Utah on Saturday, they will get a sixth victory and bowl eligibility.

8. Arizona State: The Sun Devils have lost three in a row after the schedule toughened up. The good news is they showed some fight at Oregon State. It's a battle of two wounded teams at USC on Saturday.

9. Utah: The Utes are making another late charge. At 4-5, they need to win two of three to earn bowl eligibility. They still play Colorado, so that means they need to win at Washington on Saturday or beat Arizona when it visits on Nov. 17.

10. California: Cal and Jeff Tedford are beaten up. And here comes Oregon. Maybe the Ducks will be flat after the big win over USC?

11. Washington State: A run of 10 bowl games in 10 seasons as a head coach ends for Mike Leach, and things don't seem to be going well in the Cougars' locker room. A hot UCLA team is coming to town. How about a good snow storm for the visitors from sunny SoCal?

12. Colorado: The Buffs just need the season to end. A visit to Arizona doesn't figure to go well for perhaps the nation's worst defense.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 10

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
8:45
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If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

See last week's power rankings here.

This feels like an odd one.

1. Oregon: The Ducks showed seemingly effortless brilliance in a dominant victory over Colorado, but it wasn't a good weekend for the Ducks. They don't want the distance between themselves and everyone else to appear this vast. They want the conference to look strong, top to bottom. Losses by USC and Oregon State dinged the Ducks' BCS standing in terms of potential strength of schedule ratings down the road. And Kansas State and Notre Dame both posted impressive wins.

2. Oregon State: Picking the No. 2 team here wasn't easy. Stanford was considered, but the Cardinal barely slipped by Washington State at home. And the Beavers still have only one loss. The power rankings looks more at the short term, but the big picture keeps the Beavers here. By a thread. It feels like the visit from Arizona State will be a tester, particularly when there are now quarterback questions.

3. Stanford: The Cardinal muddled through a win against Washington State. They very well may muddle through a visit to Colorado on Saturday. The visit from Oregon State on Nov. 10 will begin a home stretch that will reveal just who Stanford is in 2012 (at Oregon on Nov. 17, at UCLA on Nov. 24).

4. Arizona: Matt Scott and Rich Rodriguez are making beautiful music together, but somebody needs to tip their cap to Wildcats defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. He's put together an opportunistic defense that just finds a way to do well with some questionable parts. Sure, USC had huge numbers. But the Wildcats also got stops that proved critical.

5. USC: The idea that the Trojans would fall into the middle of the Pac-12 power rankings never occurred to the Pac-12 blog in the preseason. What's notable is the sloppiness: turnovers and penalties. Sure, other teams have penalties. But the Trojans seem to get lots of penalties of choice -- personal fouls, taunting, lining up wrong.

6. Washington: There are two Huskies teams. The one that plays at home is worthy of a national ranking. The one that plays on the road is worthy of mockery. The next step for coach Steve Sarkisian is to make the Huskies into a team that plays like it's at home even when it's not. Up next is a Friday visit to flagging California.

7. UCLA: The win at Arizona State -- a clutch comeback one, no less -- feels like a potential corner-turner for the Bruins. Recall the horrid performance at California? That brought up some old UCLA bugaboos about road games. This win canceled those out nicely. Let's ask it ... maybe Jim Mora is the guy to actually end the football monopoly in L.A. Of course, the visit from Arizona on Saturday will provide a huge measuring stick in the South Division. The Bruins control their own destiny. If they win out, they go to the Pac-12 title game.

8. Arizona State: The schedule is getting tougher, and the Sun Devils are taking some hits. There was plenty of good to take away from the 45-43 loss to UCLA, but not so much on the defensive side of the ball. The Sun Devils could quickly right things if they can win at Oregon State.

9. Utah: Hard to say whether the blowout win over California was about the Utes finding their mojo after another 0-4 Pac-12 start -- just like last year -- or whether it was just a Cal team waving the white flag on its season. Maybe a little of both. But if the Utes can hold serve at home against Washington State, they will need to win just two of their final three to become bowl eligible. And one of those games is with Colorado.

10. Washington State: The Cougars were close at Stanford, but isn't being close what we sorta celebrated last year? The good news is how much better the defense is playing. The bad news is ... 10 sacks surrendered. And you got to see just how tough QB Jeff Tuel is. Getting hit that much and still playing well, passing for 401 yards and two touchdowns with no help from a running game.

11. California: Hey, Cal? Are you quitting on yourselves and coach Jeff Tedford? The performance at Utah suggests so.

12. Colorado: There is some good news. There are only four more games this season.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
9:00
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Taking stock of the eighth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Oregon fumbled on its first possession at Arizona State and immediately yielded a touchdown. Ah, here's that road test we were talking about! Then the Ducks opened up a can of whup-butt and throttled the Sun Devils in one of the most dominating halves of football this season. Sure, the final was only 43-21. But it was 43-7 at the break, which allowed the Ducks to rest many of their starters much of the second half. Some test.

Best game: There were no close games this week, but Oregon State's 21-7 win over Utah certainly provided some tension for Beavers fans. With the Oregon State offense muted in Week 2 with backup QB Cody Vaz, the defense won the day, forcing four turnovers. Yes, it was a two-touchdown win, but things were in doubt well into the fourth quarter.

(Read full post)

Pac-12 second-half preview

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
9:15
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The major preseason stories in the Pac-12 were four new coaches, the return of Matt Barkley, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate, and USC and Oregon apparently headed for a showdown with national-championship implications on Nov. 3.

The major midseason stories are a little different.

USC and Oregon could still be an epic clash, just not as epic because USC already has lost. Also, Barkley's middling numbers for an offense that hasn't been consistently in sync have diminished the national perception of the Trojans. The Ducks are now the Pac-12 team at the center of the national discussion.

As for the four new coaches, three have gotten off to great-to-solid starts in year one. But how will they finish? And will Mike Leach get Washington State on track?

Will Arizona State maintain its fast start, or are the Sun Devils headed for a tough dose of reality as the schedule firms up, starting with Oregon on Thursday?

Speaking of fast starts: Oregon State. The Beavers have surged, and coach Mike Riley has moved from the hot seat to the throne of a national-coach-of-the-year candidate. Oregon and Oregon State are the only two unbeaten teams in the conference, so it's not inconceivable that the Civil War could be for the North Division crown, a spot in the Pac-12 title game and, perhaps, a chance to play for the national title.

It could become the season's true epic clash.

As for hot-seat talk, as distasteful as it is, nearly all of such focus will be on California coach Jeff Tedford. The Bears have won two in a row after a 1-4 start, but it remains in the air whether this team can be consistent enough to earn a bowl berth. A losing record wouldn't be good for Tedford.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireWith Taylor Kelly back at quarterback, Arizona State could be doing a lot of celebrating in 2013.
Finally, in terms of individual awards, it will be interesting to see if any Pac-12 player emerges as a true Heisman Trophy contender. Might Barkley turn it up during the second half? Will Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas start to fill up "SportsCenter" with highlights? Is there a potential dark-horse candidate?

Ultimately, midseason reviews don't mean much. Teams and players can reverse course -- positively or negatively -- at any moment.

But what it is fair to say is there are plenty of rich plot lines heading into the season's second half, even if those were not the stories that advanced the season.

Bold prediction: The conference will fill all seven of its bowl obligations, plus one. Oregon is already in; Oregon State, Arizona State, USC and UCLA are all one win from being bowl-eligible. If you follow the Sunday zaniness that is our weekly bowl projections, you know your bloggers project Oregon to the national championship, which opens up one more spot. We see Stanford and Washington bowling. That's seven right there. The eighth spot is up for grabs, with Arizona and Cal the likely candidates. Cal could get to .500 this week, then would need two more wins with Utah, Washington, Oregon and Oregon State remaining. If Arizona takes care of Colorado and Utah in the second half, that leaves it looking for one more win over from among Washington, USC, UCLA and Arizona State.

Looking forward to: The race in the Pac-12 South. Once thought to be gift-wrapped for the Trojans, the recent inconsistent play of USC opens up the possibility of someone else as the South's representative in the title game. The Trojans are still the favorite, but Arizona State and UCLA aren't going to make it easy. Both of UCLA's losses have come to North Division teams, USC's loss was to Stanford and ASU's was out of conference. It's more wide-open than we ever could have imagined in August.

Top five games (by date, not importance):

Oct. 18, Oregon at Arizona State: Time to find out if the Sun Devils are for real. They have the conference's No. 1 scoring defense facing Oregon's top-ranked scoring offense. The Sun Devils rank second in scoring. Both teams are getting phenomenal quarterback play and both like to work fast.

Oct. 27, UCLA at Arizona State: This is a pivotal game in the aforementioned race for the South Division title. It features two explosive offenses and two of the league's brightest young quarterbacks. Some pretty good players from both defenses as well.

Nov. 3, Oregon at USC: This is still the big one. An Oregon win gives the Ducks some much-needed national credibility, while a USC victory puts the Trojans back in the BCS championship hunt. Might be a last-gasp Heisman run for Thomas and/or Barkley.

Nov. 17, USC at UCLA: A new chapter in this historic rivalry begins with Jim Mora at the helm for the Bruins. He has made them a player in the Pac-12 South, and lest we forget, coordinator Noel Mazzone's offense put up 43 points on USC last year when he was with ASU. This one could decide the South champion.

Nov. 24, Oregon at Oregon State: The stakes could be stratospheric -- as in national championship implications for both schools. If the Ducks take care of business Nov. 3 and Oregon State can navigate a second-half schedule that includes Stanford and ASU, then all of Oregon will show up for what could conceivably be the Pac-12 game of the year.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
7:00
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What did we learn in Week 7? Read on.

Arizona State will be Oregon's toughest test: Sure, the Sun Devils haven't played anyone, much less anyone nearly the equal of second-ranked Oregon. But the way the Sun Devils have looked against that schedule suggests strongly that they will be able to challenge the Ducks, particularly playing at home. Arizona State's defense is aggressive and gets good penetration, while the high-tempo offense has nice balance, and Taylor Kelly is playing better than any quarterback in the conference, including Ducks counterpart Marcus Mariota. And there is the issue of Mariota struggling in his only road start this season.

[+] EnlargeCody Vaz
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireCody Vaz (14) proved he was a more-than-capable replacement at QB for Oregon State.
Oregon State can maintain with QB Cody Vaz: Vaz, a redshirt junior making his first start since high school, completed 20 of 32 passes for 332 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Beavers' 42-24 victory at BYU. That was pretty much the equal of what Sean Mannion, out with a knee injury, has done this year. Actually, Vaz's efficiency mark (180.6) would rank No. 1 in the Pac-12. Further, the Beavers were able to run the ball fairly well against the nation's No. 1 run defense, while the defense grabbed three interceptions. The Beavers are 5-0 for the first time since 1939. The magic continues.

Home Stanford, good. Road Stanford, bad: The Stanford Cardinal are a completely different team when you get them away from the friendly confines of Stanford Stadium. In two road games this year, they have failed to score an offensive touchdown (the two they've had have come from the defense, one against Washington, one against Notre Dame). Quarterback Josh Nunes has struggled away from home. In his two road games, he's a combined 30-of-62 (48 percent) for 295 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. His teammates have dropped 11 balls on the road (five against Washington, six against Notre Dame). Stanford is on the road again next week for the Big Game against a Cal team that has won two straight.

USC just isn't going to be as pretty as expected: USC quarterback Matt Barkley, the preseason Heisman Trophy front-runner, completed 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards in the 24-14 win over Washington. He threw a touchdown pass. He threw a pick. It was his third game with fewer than 200 yards passing this year. His numbers aren't terrible, but they seem more like something he'd have done four years ago when he was the freshman starter for the nation's premier college football program, which never started true freshmen at QB. Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee have fallen well short of high expectations, and maybe it's time to let those go. The preseason expectations for this team aren't being met. Still, the Trojans are 5-1. They are still in the national title hunt, if on the outside. It's just that the Trojans looked like a team that would make you gasp over the playmaking in the preseason. Hasn't been the case. This is a team that is conservative, often sloppy and good on defense. You know: SEC-ish.

California, Tedford aren't dead: With a 31-17 victory over Washington State, California improved to 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play. Is that a good record? No. But the Bears have won two in a row and will host Stanford on Saturday in an unusual midseason Big Game. Cal needs three wins to earn bowl eligibility, and the remaining schedule is far from easy. Coach Jeff Tedford remains on the hot seat, and it's difficult to imagine a losing record will leave folks in Berkeley happy. So the pressure remains. But two weeks ago, Cal seemed dead. Now it's off life support. If it can trip a Stanford squad coming off a dispiriting loss at Notre Dame, the hope may blossom into genuine opportunity.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 8, 2012
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Taking stock of the sixth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Just as the hot seat talk for California coach Jeff Tedford was starting to crescendo, the Bears pulled out an impressive 43-17 win over No. 25 UCLA. The Bears played tough on both sides of the ball, and QB Zach Maynard overcame an early interception to post perhaps his best career game, accounting for five TDs -- four throwing, one running. The defense forced six turnovers and pressured UCLA QB Brett Hundley most of the evening. Cal needed a win, and it got it.

Best game: There were nine lead changes in the first three quarters of Arizona's visit to Stanford, as neither defense could get a stop. But when the Wildcats jumped up 48-34 with nine minutes left in the game, it didn't appear we'd get an 11th change. But Stanford rallied around QB Josh Nunes and forced overtime. At that point, the Cardinal defense stepped up, forcing a turnover, and RB Stepfan Taylor's 21-yard TD run provided the winning points at 54-48.

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireStanford QB Josh Nunes talks with coach David Shaw during a timeout against Arizona on Saturday.
Biggest play: Down seven with 1:21 left and facing a fourth-and-9 at the Arizona 20-yard line, Nunes found Zach Ertz over the middle for 17 yards to the 3-yard line. Nunes went the final 3 yards for the tying touchdown that got Stanford to OT.

Offensive standout: Nine days after a loss at Washington had some fans calling for him to be benched, Nunes' clutch performance against Arizona might end up being more resonant than his struggles versus the Huskies. He overcame a slow start and accounted for five Stanford touchdowns, completing 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards and two scores while also rushing for 33 yards on seven carries and three touchdowns.

Defensive standout: What's it with all these three-interception games? Oregon State CB Jordan Poyer grabbed three picks against Washington State, while Cal's Kameron Jackson did the same against UCLA. Both also had four tackles. Earlier in the year, UCLA CB Sheldon Price had three picks against Houston.

Special teams standout: Stanford's Daniel Zychlinski averaged 54.3 yards on four punts in the Cardinal's overtime win over Arizona with a long of 59 yards.

Smiley face: The Pac-12's top four teams: Oregon, USC, Oregon State and Stanford each found different ways to win. Oregon rolled over rival Washington 52-21, looking like a dominant, national title contender along the way. USC overcame a horrible start that left it in a 14-0 hole two minutes into its visit to Utah. Oregon State was sloppy and inefficient on offense but was bailed out by its defense against Washington State. And Stanford, as already mentioned, overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Arizona in overtime. One of the signs of a good conference is when its ranked teams just get it done, even if they aren't clicking.

Frowny face: Mike Leach was supposed to bring a high-powered passing offense to Washington State, and the Cougars were supposed to have the QB-WR combinations to make it potent. But it hasn't played out that way. The Cougars were held to two field goals in a 19-6 loss to Oregon State. They finished with a measly 227 total yards with five turnovers, including four interceptions. Neither Connor Halliday nor Jeff Tuel is playing well, and the receivers have been making too many drops. The Cougs are 98th in the nation in scoring with 21.8 points per game.

Thought of the week: Notre Dame, which Stanford visits on Saturday, is 5-0 and ranked seventh. The Fighting Irish appear to be finally emerging from a long period of malaise, and that's good for the Pac-12. The past few years, Stanford's and USC's annual whipping of the Irish meant little to the national audience. But a ranked Notre Dame team provides an opportunity for Stanford and USC to post wins that do raise eyebrows nationally, as well as raise the perception of the conference. Of course, Stanford and USC have to win those games for Notre Dame's return to relevance to be a positive one.

Questions for the week: The Pac-12 features four teams ranked from Nos. 2 through 17: No. 2 Oregon, No. 10 Oregon State, No. 11 USC and No. 17 Stanford. While any of those four teams could fall apart and out of the rankings, they do appear to comprise a top third of the conference so far. But who might rise from the Pac-12 and become a fifth ranked team, or at least the fifth team in the Pac-12 pecking order? The conference isn't lacking candidates. You'd have to rank Arizona State and Washington as the top two. The Sun Devils are playing well, while the Huskies already have a win over Stanford. Then there's UCLA, Arizona and Utah. And, perhaps, a resurgent California, which just beat UCLA. Will a nine-win team emerge from that group? Or will we end up with a lot of 7-5, 6-6 and 5-7?

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 5

October, 1, 2012
10/01/12
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Taking stock of the fifth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Arizona State has been operating under the radar, in large part because it has posted good wins as it climbed to 4-1, but not one that distinguished it nationally. Still, the 27-17 victory over California had an impressive solidity to it, with the Sun Devils making critical plays on both sides of the ball. Further, you can't forget you can no longer type that ASU hasn't won in Berkeley since 1997, as I did 457 times this past week.

Best game: Oregon State's 38-35 win at Arizona wasn't over until the final minute. It featured six second-half lead changes and 1,158 yards of offense. It featured a lot of gumption from both teams, too. Probably the most entertaining game so far this year. Of course, if you subscribe to DirectTV, you didn't see it. Sorry.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireBeavers quarterback Sean Mannion had a stellar game against Arizona on Saturday.
Biggest play: In a game dominated by the offenses, it was a defensive play that gave the Beavers the prize at Arizona. With less than a minute left, Arizona had a first down on its 42, needing a field goal to force overtime and a TD to win. A minute is plenty of time for the Wildcats' fast-paced offense, which had gashed the Beavers throughout the second half. But Beavers cornerback Rashaad Reynolds jumped in front of a Matt Scott pass and grabbed the game-clinching interception.

Offensive standout: Oregon State QB Sean Mannion completed 29 of 45 throws for a career-high 433 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against the Wildcats. It was the fifth most passing yards in school history. Further, on the game-winning drive, he was 6-for-6 for 52 yards with a 9-yard TD pass to Connor Hamlett.

Defensive standout: UCLA's Damien Holmes moved from defensive end to inside linebacker this year. Then, when Jordan Zumwalt got hurt, he moved to outside linebacker against Colorado. All he did was record seven solo tackles -- five coming for a loss -- with three sacks in UCLA's 42-14 win.

Special teams standout: Washington State true freshman Teondray Caldwell had eight kick returns for 220 yards against Oregon, including a 92-yard effort that set up a Cougars TD. It was the second most kickoff return yards in a single game in school history.

Smiley face: The way Week 5 played out helped the conference end up with six teams ranked in the AP poll. Now-No. 23 Washington's win against Stanford was impressive enough for voters to forget the debacle at LSU. No. 25 UCLA, which shouldn't have been voted out in the first place, bounced back from its loss to Oregon State by winning in an appropriately dominant fashion at Colorado. UCLA joined No. 2 Oregon, No. 13 USC, No. 14 Oregon State and No. 18 Stanford. It's been a long time since the conference earned this much respect for its depth.

Frowny face: With its loss to Arizona State, California fell to 1-4 and 0-2. It was the second defeat so far in newly remodeled Memorial Stadium. The Bears' bowl hopes are feeling increasingly unlikely. QB Zach Maynard doesn't look improved as a second-year starter. The offensive line is getting pushed round. Even the defense has been spotty at times. Things are not going well for coach Jeff Tedford, who will only hear the grousing increase if his team can't find a way to avoid a losing season.

Thought of the week: Conference of quarterbacks? Only one Pac-12 QB, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, at No. 16, ranks in the top 25 in the nation in passing efficiency. Meanwhile, seven conference teams rank among the top 25 in sacks per game: No. 5 Arizona State (4.2 sacks per game), No. 6 USC (4.0), No. 10 UCLA (3.4), No. 13 teams Washington State and Oregon (3.2) and No. 25 teams Stanford and Utah (2.75).

Questions for the week: Will the Pac-12 start eating itself up or will the final regular-season rankings still feature five or six teams? How many teams are capable of winning nine or 10 games? There are some interesting misses of note: USC and Oregon State, Arizona State and Stanford, Oregon and UCLA, Washington and either Arizona State or UCLA. When good teams don't play, it makes it easier for multiple teams to remain in the rankings. That's a secret you learn from conferences with eight-game conference schedules.

Barkley, Maynard are seeking positives

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
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Matt Barkley/Zach MaynardKyle Terada/US PresswireUSC's Matt Barkley and Cal's Zach Maynard are both aiming to get back to winning on Saturday.
California's visit to USC on Saturday features two quarterbacks looking for redemption. Bears QB Zach Maynard wants to redeem himself for a three-interception performance in last season's 30-9 loss to the Trojans.

And Trojans QB Matt Barkley? He's looking to redeem a more recent performance.

You might have heard: The then-No. 2 Trojans went down 21-14 at Stanford last weekend, with Barkley throwing a pair of interceptions and no touchdown passes while getting sacked four times.

You could make a case it was the worst performance of his career, but he had a lot of help. Or, rather, little of it. His offensive line was overwhelmed by the Cardinal, so he had no support from a running game and little time to pass. A Stanford defender seemed to be in his face just about every play.

"No matter how great the quarterback is, that will affect you," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.

You also might be able to at least partially excuse Maynard for his woeful performance against the Trojans last year. Cal rushed for just 35 yards -- 1.3 yards per carry -- amid a flurry of five total turnovers.

And Maynard is not the same QB he was last year. In fact, at sixth in the Pac-12, he ranks just one spot behind Barkley in pass efficiency at present.

"I think he feels the speed of the game a little bit better," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said when asked about how Maynard is different this season. "I think he manages the game better."

USC has won eight straight against California, the Bears last winning a triple-overtime classic in 2003. They haven't won in Los Angeles since 2000. And just about all of those games were much like last year: Blowouts.

There is pressure on Tedford as the Bears try to avoid a 1-3 start. Many fans in Berkeley are frustrated with the recent mediocre turn of the program. And there is pressure on Kiffin as he tries to right a team that a week ago was viewed as the top potential foil for the SEC to win a seventh consecutive national title. Kiffin showed his stress this week when he stomped out of a post-practice news conference, apparently peeved over an innocuous question.

Health -- the improving variety -- is notable for each. It appears the Trojans will get back starting center Khaled Holmes, who sat out the Stanford loss with an ankle injury. Cal certainly should benefit from the potential return of right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, tight end Richard Rodgers and defensive end Mustafa Jalil.

While Cal's recent history in this rivalry, particularly on the road, isn't good, the Trojans shouldn't feel safe by any stretch. The Bears showed they can go toe-to-toe on the road with an A-list foe at Ohio State last weekend, a game that included a breakout performance from speedy RB Brendan Bigelow. Further, the Bears have a tough front seven, particularly if Jalil is indeed ready to go.

If it's close, it will be interesting to see how things might stack up at kicker. USC's Alex Wood, the Trojans' backup, has yet to be allowed to attempt a field goal, while Cal's Vincenzo D'Amato missed all three of his attempts last weekend.

Cal's Maynard is a lot better than before

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
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LOS ANGELES -- After USC beat Cal 30-9 last year in San Francisco, former Trojans linebacker Chris Galippo memorably said that Bears quarterback Zach Maynard "just telegraphed the heck out of his passes" while throwing three interceptions and playing generally poor football.

Well, he's not telegraphing them anymore.

Maynard, a left-handed senior, has demonstrated significant improvement through three games this season, completing 67 percent of his passes as compared to 57 percent last year and improving his quarterback rating roughly 20 percent. He has thrown only two picks in 90 attempts after throwing those three in just 43 attempts against the Trojans last year.

USC linebacker Dion Bailey, who had two of those picks in 2011 in a breakout game, said this week that Maynard is no longer the easy-to-read signal-caller he once was.

"He's a completely different quarterback," Bailey said Wednesday after reviewing tape from Cal's nonconference games. "He's more composed, seems like he's got a year more mature, a year better in his accuracy and decision-making."

Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who recruited Maynard out of Buffalo after he started there in 2009, has been similarly impressed. Maynard did nearly lead the Bears to a road victory over Ohio State last weekend and completed 70 percent of his passes in the process, with only one interception in 37 attempts.

"He's really grown," Tedford said on a conference call Tuesday. "Last year, early in the year, we struggled a little bit with just management of the game and turning the football over and speed of the game."

Tedford said Maynard started to improve in the latter half of last season -- his final two regular-season games were his top two of the year. And he has carried that over into 2012.

He'll need to carry it over to the Coliseum on Saturday for Cal to upset USC, who are once again heavy favorites despite losing to Stanford last week.

"He just continues to grow each week and I think he's more comfortable with the offense, comfortable with the speed of the game and protecting the football," Tedford said of Maynard. "He needs to continue to do that against a very athletic, tough USC defense."

Pac-12 media day primer

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
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Kevin and I are getting ready for Pac-12 media day next week. So should you. Here's a primer.

(You can see the complete list of attendees here).

Dates: July 24

Location: Universal Studios in Los Angeles

Big names in attendance: Besides four new coaches, USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, California wide receiver Keenan Allen, Washington quarterback Keith Price and Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas.

Big names not in attendance: There are plenty of stars who won't be on hand, but it's hard to argue with the players attending.

So what can we expect?
  • Teams at the top will tamp down expectations. Teams at the bottom will bemoan a lack of respect and insist they don't give a flip about so-called pundits.
  • Every team will claim an outstanding offseason, perhaps even calling workout attendance "the best ever." There's a good chance many will be exaggerating.
  • Four new coaches will get their biggest formal introduction to Pac-12 reporters: Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State's Todd Graham, UCLA's Jim Mora and Washington State's Mike Leach. They will be impressed by how awesome we are.
  • Barkley will be asked about opting not to enter the NFL draft. The Pac-12 blog challenges him to figure out a way to answer the question in a surprising way.
  • Oregon coach Chip Kelly will be snarky, no matter how awesome we reporters are.
  • Subjects likely to come up: USC wide receiver Robert Woods' ankle, Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn's shoulders, Matt Scott running Rich Rodriguez's spread-option, the status of Arizona State defensive end Junior Onyeali, USC's depth questions and Kenjon Barner replacing LaMichael James. How much can Cal quarterback Zach Maynard and Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion improve from Year 1 to Year 2? What's the quarterback pecking order at Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford and UCLA? Other issues include whether Utah running back John White IV prefers to be known as "Juan Blanco" or "The Wolfman," Tosh Lupoi's departure from Cal to Washington and Leach's affinity for Pirates.
  • Graham will be asked about his controversial departure from Pittsburgh for the 10,000th time, and the reporter who does so will win a set of steak knives (there's a reason reporters ask the same question over and over).
  • California coach Jeff Tedford and Oregon State coach Mike Riley will be asked if they feel pressure or feel like they are on the hot seat. Both will say no one puts more pressure on them than themselves and that there is always pressure.
  • Leach will go off on a lengthy tangent that has nothing to do with anything but likely will be interesting and amusing.
  • Stanford coach David Shaw and his players will be asked about life after Andrew Luck.
  • The UCLA contingent will be asked about USC.
  • "Teeth" Price will smile. A lot.
  • Lane Kiffin will say nothing controversial. And some of us will miss the old Kiffin.
  • Someone during post-interview small talk will say, "Man, Star Lotulelei... that dude is big."
  • The coaches will each be asked 47 times about the four-team college football playoff that will start in 2014.
  • Here's a guess that at some point someone asks about Joe Paterno.
  • Oregon and USC will be nearly unanimous choices to win the North and South Divisions, respectively, but somebody will vote differently just to be quirky.

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