USC Trojans: Jon Embree

Final Pac-12 2012 power rankings

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
7:12
AM PT
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
AM PT

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 media day primer

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
6:00
AM PT
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.
ESPN.com's series on FBS coaches continues with this question: Which coach in the Pac-12 provides the biggest bang for the buck?

That's tough to answer for a number of reasons.

  1. There are four new coaches in the Pac-12 this season.
  2. There were two new coaches last season.
  3. USC and Stanford, as private schools, don't provide salary information for their coaches, though USA Today reported that Lane Kiffin made $2.4 million in 2010, way less than had been widely reported.

Two years ago, it would have been easy to say that Oregon State's Mike Riley provided the most bang for the buck. Riley won 36 games from 2006-09 before the Beavers tumbled to consecutive losing seasons. And he did that with a fairly modest salary.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezChip Kelly may be the Pac-12's highest-paid coach, but he's worth the money.
Here are the latest numbers.
Chip Kelly, Oregon, $2.8 million

Lane Kiffin, USC, $2.4 million*

Jim Mora, UCLA, $2.4 million**

Jeff Tedford, California, $2.3 million

Steve Sarkisian, Washington, $2.25 million

Mike Leach, Washington State, $2.25 million

Todd Graham, Arizona State, $2 million

Kyle Whittingham, Utah, $2 million

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona, $1.91 million

Mike Riley, Oregon State, $1,313,471

Jon Embree, Colorado, $725,000
*It's perfectly reasonable to posit that Kiffin made more than this in 2011 and also will in 2012.

**Mora's number is an average of his five-year, $12 million contract. He'll likely make less than this figure this season.

By the way, David Shaw's salary at Stanford has been estimated at $1.75 million. It seems, in any event, that it's too early to rate Shaw and Colorado's Embree as second-year coaches. And it makes no sense to look at the track record of the four new coaches, because the past doesn't mean anything for the new schools, though you could say Arizona got Rodriguez at below market value.

So who provides the most bang for the buck? I have two answers: Whittingham and Kelly.

Why? Well, name the two coaches on the above list who have won BCS bowl games at their present job.

Whittingham is 66-25 (.725) at Utah, including double-digit wins in three of the past four seasons. His worst season in seven years was 7-5 in 2005. After an 0-4 start in Pac-12 play last fall, he rallied his team behind a backup QB who transferred from Nebraska-Omaha, and the Utes nearly won the South Division. Oh, and he's 7-1 in bowl games.

Further, Whittingham has been loyal to Utah. He's had opportunities to leave but he's stuck around.

Kelly is the Pac-12's highest-paid coach by a fairly wide margin. He was guaranteed $2.8 million in 2011 and will make $3.5 million this season, according to USA Today. So why does he rate highly in terms of bang for the buck? Well, there's a 34-6 (.850) record, including a 25-2 mark in Pac-12 games (.926). And there are three consecutive conference titles. And an undefeated regular season in 2010, after which the Ducks fell just short of beating Auburn for the national title. And there's the Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin in January.

Kelly has delivered a super-elite level of performance in his three seasons. If you were to name the nation's best coaches, you wouldn't have to wait long after Nick Saban and Urban Meyer to get to Kelly.

He gets big bucks, yes, but he has delivered unprecedented bang to the Ducks' program.

Any Oregon fans think he's overpaid?

Post-signing day Power Rankings

February, 6, 2012
2/06/12
9:10
AM PT
We like doing Power Rankings at ESPN.com. These are the post-signing day Power Rankings.

If you want to see where your team stood on Jan. 10, go here.

The schedule does not factor into these. This is a projected pecking order based on where a team stands right now.

And if you don't like where your team is in the post-signing day Power Rankings, then I'd suggest whining about it until your team plays better.

1. USC: The Trojans ranked 13th in the final recruiting rankings with just 12 signees. They will be ranked in the preseason top 5, perhaps even No. 1. If things go according to plan, USC will blow a big raspberry at Paul Dee next January.

2. Oregon: The Ducks surprisingly lost QB Darron Thomas to the NFL, but the far more important news is not losing coach Chip Kelly to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A strong recruiting class and another likely top-5 preseason rankings sets the Ducks up nicely to enter the national title chase.

3. Stanford: Stanford signed the best recruiting class in the Pac-12. It was ranked 12th by ESPN Recruiting and much higher by just about every other recruiting service. While the Cardinal have big holes to fill -- most notably behind center -- a glance through the roster suggests those rooting for the program to topple after a grand rise are going to be disappointed.

4. Washington: Much of the recruiting season had been disappointing for the Huskies, particularly losing almost all of the top in-state prospects, including a pair of A-list linemen who would have addressed major needs. But Steve Sarkisian made a series of aggressive moves rebuilding his coaching staff, most notably with the hiring of defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi. That supplies much of the positive momentum here.

5. Utah: The Utes signed a strong recruiting class and welcome back a wealth of starters from a team that won eight games without much production at QB. The promotion of 24-year-old Brian Johnson to offensive coordinator was a surprising move, particularly with fans rooting for a "celebrity" hire. It could prove to be a stroke of genius, but the onus is now on Johnson to make it become so.

6. UCLA: The Bruins are the big climbers from our Jan. 10 power rankings -- moving up from No. 10 -- but that's what happens when new coach Jim Mora punches back at skepticism with an outstanding recruiting class. A team that looked like a "neh" is moving closer to a "maybe."

7. California: Despite all the hand-wringing over the loss of Lupoi and receivers coach Eric Kiesau to Washington, the Bears still signed a top-25 recruiting class that addresses needs. Still, perception matters, and at present, Bears fans seem more worried than optimistic. Nothing, of course, a few wins in a shiny remodeled stadium can't change.

8. Arizona: Rich Rodriguez's recruiting class finished at or near the bottom of the Pac-12, according to most rankings. That said, Rodriguez got his man at defensive coordinator, Jeff Casteel, which is significant because most trace the problems at Michigan to his failure to do so for the Wolverines.

9. Washington State: The Cougars didn't soar in the recruiting rankings just because of the hiring of coach Mike Leach. Still, that doesn't appear to be dampening the enthusiasm in Pullman.

10. Arizona State: New coach Todd Graham did a solid job salvaging the Sun Devils' recruiting class. But the loss of QB Brock Osweiler to the NFL and the NCAA's rejection of receiver T.J. Simpson's bid for a sixth year of eligibility leave the program with plenty of questions on offense. And just as many on defense.

11. Oregon State: The Beavers were victimized by a handful of late recruiting flips that put dents in what was shaping up to be a strong class. And the loss of secondary coach Keith Heyward to Washington also was a blow. On the plus side, the Beavers will see 17 returning starters during spring practices.

12. Colorado: The Buffaloes remain at the bottom because the bottom line is this: They welcome back 13 starters from a team that went 3-10 and ranked last in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Still, coach Jon Embree put together a solid recruiting class, one that could become the foundation of his substantial rebuilding project.

Early 2012 Pac-12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
1:29
PM PT
It's never too early to look ahead, and even if it is, it's not against the law or anything.

And so we have our way-too-early 2012 power rankings.

By the way, schedule does not factor into these. This is a projected pecking order based on where a team stands right now -- Jan. 10, 2012.

And, by the way No. 2, if you don't like where your team is in the way-too-early power rankings, then I'd suggest whining about it until you get to play better.

By the way No. 3, Nos. 1 & 2 were easy. The rest is pretty darn murky, not in small part due to four new coaches.

1. USC: The Trojans welcome back 19 starters from a top-five team, including quarterback Matt Barkley. They beat Oregon in Autzen Stadium on Nov. 19. USC might be the preseason No. 2. Or No. 3.

2. Oregon: The Ducks have a strong mix of talent coming back from a team that won the Rose Bowl, but it's not just about 16 returning starters. If you want a reason to favor the Ducks over the Trojans, it's depth. Oregon welcomes back most of its two-deep. By the way, old Ducks fans probably grin about the idea of their team having better depth than USC.

3. Utah: The Utes welcome back 18 starters, though replacing both offensive tackles will be a huge task this spring. The defense has a chance to be beastly. The key? Utah proved it can win eight games with poor-to-middling quarterback play. But does a healthy Jordan Wynn -- back to late 2009, early 2010 form -- mean 10 wins?

4. Stanford: Many will count out the Cardinal, post-Andrew Luck. The Pac-12 blog will not. The over-under with this team is eight wins. Two gigantic holes on the offensive line and at both safeties are major issues, as is quarterback.

5. Washington: The Huskies welcome back seven starters on both sides of the ball, including up-and-coming quarterback Keith Price. The question is how quickly the defense can improve under Justin Wilcox.

6. California: While Cal only welcomes back 11 starters, there's plenty of intriguing talent on the roster, particularly on defense. Will quarterback Zach Maynard take a step forward? And what about his receivers after Keenan Allen? The pressure is on Jeff Tedford to win inside a renovated Memorial Stadium in 2012. If things come together, he just might do that.

7. Arizona: The Wildcats have more potential than most realize, starting with five returning starters on the offensive line and three defensive starters returning from injury, as well as an experienced quarterback in Matt Scott, who looks like a nice fit for Rich Rodriguez's spread-option offense.

8. Washington State: With 18 starters back, I'll go ahead and type it: New coach Mike Leach will lead the Cougars to a bowl game. And, hopefully, someone tips their cap to former coach Paul Wulff for collecting some solid talent, including two quarterbacks, Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, who appear capable of flinging the rock as Leach likes to, as well as a potential All-American receiver in Marquess Wilson.

9. Oregon State: The Beavers could be a surprise team if all the young players who were inconsistent in 2011 grow up in 2012, starting with true freshman quarterback Sean Mannion. With 17 starters back, experience won't be an issue. But those returning players went 3-9, so it's difficult to project a top-half finish. At least, not at this point.

10. UCLA: New coach Jim Mora doesn't start with an empty cupboard -- 16 starters are back. But the overall talent is dubious and, even more challenging, Mora needs to rebuild a culture. Further, taking the Bruins back to a pro-style offense, if that's the ultimate plan, might be a struggle in Year 1. First question: Is Kevin Prince the quarterback, or does Mora go with talented redshirt freshman Brett Hundley?

11. Arizona State: The Sun Devils tumbled in these rankings when quarterback Brock Osweiler, curiously, opted to enter the NFL draft. With just 10 starters back, a quarterback with no real game experience -- whoever wins the job -- and a challenging locker room, new coach Todd Graham might find the going rough in Year 1.

12. Colorado: The Buffs welcome back 13 starters from a team that went 3-10 and ranked last in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The rebuilding job on offense, in particular, will be significant with the loss of quarterback Tyler Hansen, running back Rodney Stewart and receiver Toney Clemons. The rebuilding job in Boulder won't happen overnight-- or over two seasons -- for second-year coach Jon Embree.

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