USC Trojans: NFL
"I think everyone had big goals -- we all had national championship aspirations," said Shaw, a regular contributor for the Gators as a redshirt freshman in 2011. "But that didn't come true. In the middle of the season when we saw that going down the drain, we were like, 'OK, let's just win one game at at time and see where that takes us.'"
While QB Matt Barkley and coach Lane Kiffin took most of the blame, the mediocre play of a talented but underperforming defense can't be overlooked. And it wasn't. Kiffin gently led his father, Monte, a legend among NFL defensive coaches, out the door.
In came Clancy Pendergast, whose 3-4 scheme at California has morphed into a 5-2 for the Trojans. The early returns in spring were strong, and the early returns in preseason camp might be even stronger. Devon Kennard, back after missing 2012 with a torn pec, and Morgan Breslin look like a dynamic pair of outside linebackers, while Leonard Williams and George Uko are an A-list tandem at defensive end.
If fact, the Trojans' entire front seven looks stout, even with some iffy depth. The question is the secondary.
Check that. With Shaw moving from corner and Dion Bailey moving from linebacker to their more natural safety positions, the Trojans have added experience to a position deep with intriguing though young talent.
"I love it in this defense," Shaw said. "You're pretty much a general back there. You have to know what everyone else is doing. You have to be able to cover and come down into the box. You have to do it all."
So safety looks good. Cornerback? It's the big question on defense, and that likely won't completely work itself out until the final days of preseason camp, though the position is hardly bereft of talent.
Of course, the defense looked pretty good on paper last year, too. While looking back -- endlessly -- at 2012 due to media curiosity is not the No. 1 fun thing to do for the Trojans, it is part of the inevitable process of beginning to look ahead. It's about correcting mistakes and avoiding mental and emotional pratfalls that upended a season that began with such promise.
Shaw doesn't point a finger at Monte Kiffin. He points it at the players.
"I don't know if you can pinpoint one thing that went wrong," Shaw said. "Sometimes we just didn't come to play as a defense. Sometimes we had the right call in. You'd go into film and you'd see it was us as players not executing. It was the players more than anything."
That said, Shaw likes Pendergast's new scheme, in large part because it seems more conducive toward countering the diverse offensive schemes in the Pac-12, where one week you play a power offense such as Stanford and then square off with myriad versions of an up-tempo spread.
"The biggest difference is we are able to do so much more," Shaw said. "Last year, we only had a few calls. This year, we have so many different types we can call."
The chief call Shaw and USC wants to make, of course, is one that will silence those still tittering about the 2012 faceplant.
And, of course, the conference's top two passers, Arizona's Matt Scott and USC's Matt Barkley, are both off to the NFL.
The returning members of the 2.5 K Club are:
- UCLA's Brett Hundley (3,740 yards, 29 TDs, 11 Ints, No. 4 in passing efficiency)
- Arizona State's Taylor Kelly (3,039 yards, 29 TDs, 9 Ints, No. 2 in passing efficiency)
- Washington's Keith Price (2,728 yards, 19 TDs, 13 Ints, No. 8 in passing efficiency)
- Oregon's Marcus Mariota (2,677 yards, 32 TDs, 6 Ints, No. 1 in passing efficiency)
There's a reason why Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State are highly thought of heading into 2013: Proven production returning behind center. And if Washington can get Price back to top form, the Huskies become a top-25 team.
So how does everyone else stack up? Which teams seem likely to get 2,500 yards passing next fall?
Well, there's lots of "To be determined" intrigue.
TBD, Arizona: B.J. Denker will enter fall camp atop the depth chart, but this one is far from over. If USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, who owns by far the biggest arms on the roster, wins the job, the Wildcats are almost sure to pass for 2,500 yards. Coach Rich Rodriguez, though widely viewed as a spread-option coach, showed last year he's comfortable throwing, so Denker or incoming freshman Anu Solomon also could put up solid passing numbers.
TBD, California: New coach Sonny Dykes likes to throw the rock around. Louisiana Tech averaged 351 yards passing per game last year. So whoever wins the QB job -- we're betting on Zach Kline -- will almost certainly hit the 2,500-yard mark.
TBD, Colorado: The Buffaloes struggled to the throw the ball last year, but new coach Mike MacIntyre might solve that, seeing his San Jose State Spartans passed for 332 yards a game last fall. Connor Wood, the frontrunner to win the job, has the arm to throw the ball around, but it's a matter of putting it all together.
TBD, Oregon State: Sean Mannion nearly made the above list, passing for 2,446 yards and 15 TDs with 13 interceptions last year, ranking fifth in the conference in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards per game with 244.6. But he's still knotted with Cody Vaz in the competition for the starting job. If one guy starts the entire season, he will put up strong passing numbers because Mike Riley teams always do.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: The Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in passing last year with just 200 yards per game, but part of that was a scheme that played to a rugged defense and Hogan not winning the job until after midseason. Hogan is plenty capable, and his supporting cast is solid. Expect Hogan to at least hit the 2,500-yard mark.
TBD, USC: Whether it's Cody Kessler or Max Wittek, the USC QB will throw for at least 2,500 yards if he maintains his hold on the job. While Lane Kiffin likes balance, there are too many passing game weapons not to attack downfield, starting with All-American receiver Marqise Lee.
Travis Wilson, Utah: The Utes were last in the Pac-12 and 97th in the nation in passing in 2012, but Dennis Erickson is now their co-offensive coordinator. One of the original architects of the spread passing attack, it's highly likely Utah will substantially boost the 190.7 yards passing a game it produced last fall. Wilson is fully capable of throwing for 2,500 yards, and the Utes are solid at the receiver position.
Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday still isn't free-and-clear of redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, but he's a solid frontrunner in the competition. Whoever wins the job, he will put up big numbers in Mike Leach's "Air Raid" system. The Cougars couldn't stick with a QB last year, going back and forth with Halliday and Jeff Tuel, but they still led the Pac-12 with 330.4 yards passing per game. If Halliday starts 12 games, he'll throw for 4,000 yards.
Barkley didn't have a great season in 2012, but his season was better than about 90 percent of the quarterbacks in the nation. And he's still going to be an early round NFL draft pick.
Former Washington quarterback and current ESPN analyst Brock Huard picks up this very subject:
While there are plenty of reasons for the Trojans' fall, including depth and injury issues and defensive gaffes and meltdowns, Barkley can't make excuses. So I'll make them for him, and explain why I think that after his pro day workout at USC on Wednesday, NFL teams will begin to agree with what I already believe to be the case: that Barkley should be the first quarterback selected in this year's draft.
Huard takes the measure of Barkley in five ways: Throws downfield, third-down passing, red zone productivity, movement passing and durability and availability.
First, Huard points out that Barkley was: 1. A better downfield passer than Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III; and, 2. Better on third down in 2012 than in 2011.
Red zone? How about this: "... over the last two seasons Barkley's 42 touchdown passes on 116 attempts in the red zone speak loudly to the signal-caller's vast experience and productivity in that part of the field. Over that same stretch, Barkley was intercepted and sacked just three times."
Movement passing? Barkley's numbers outside the pocket and against blitzes are outstanding.
As for durability, Huard notes Barkley started "47 of 51 games over his four years in Los Angeles."
Finally, Huard alludes to strong intangibles. Barkley has seen a lot as a four-year starter in the premier job in college football, and he's a good leader.
The take-away is simple: While USC had an epically disappointing 2012 season, and much of the blame for that -- fair or unfair -- fell on Barkley, it's still possible he ends up becoming a first-round NFL draft pick this spring.
Monte Kiffin, 72, resigned in December and was hired a month later to be the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. Before joining Lane at Tennessee four years ago, Monte Kiffin was credited with creating some of the best defenses in NFL history while with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
USC hired former Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, hoping his schemes have better success than Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defenses against spread and multiple-look offenses.
“When you come to this conference now, you see things you don’t see in the NFL. That’s not an easy thing to do,” Lane Kiffin said. “If you’ve gone 25 straight years of playing this certain scheme, now all of a sudden you play someone totally different, those rules and things suddenly don’t necessarily transfer over.”
Lane also said his father never could quite adjust to the NCAA rule limiting players’ contact with coaches to 20 hours.
“He’s an old-school coach now. He sleeps in the office. He doesn’t understand what a vacation means,” Lane Kiffin said. “He needs more time with the players because there are so many little rules in his defense to teach the guy. I don’t think we played really fast on defense, and that’s because we were thinking too much.”
Well, what's immediately next is the Trojans looking up at UCLA in the Pac-12 pecking order and Notre Dame in the national one. How 'ya like them apples, 'SC?
UCLA is the likely pick to repeat as Pac-12 South Division champions in 2013. They've got the QB in Brett Hundley and lots of talent coming back on both sides of the ball. And they have a decisively better coaching staff than USC, at least if we are allowed to extrapolate on the evidence we repeatedly saw on the football field this year.
A year ago, while UCLA and Notre Dame were seemingly floundering, it appeared the Trojan colossus was again rising under coach Lane Kiffin, whose bad reputation was undergoing a generous reevaluation. Yet the stratospheric expectations inspired by a 10-2 2011 season have yielded to desperation and recrimination just a year later.
The big 2013 story for USC? Kiffin's hotseat.
While USC under Kiffin certainly no longer has a buy rating, it might be premature to sell all your shares.
For one, the team coming back in 2013 certainly won't be untalented, including 17 returning position player starters (though a few with remaining eligibility might opt to enter the NFL draft). QB Max Wittek hinted against Notre Dame that the transition to him from Matt Barkley might not be too bad. He has a wicked strong arm that could make beautiful music with receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, if Woods opts to return for his senior season.
Further, you'd think the Trojans would be plenty motivated. They were the biggest punchline in college football this year. Yeah, bigger than woeful teams like Colorado. They were historically bad as a team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason. They were beaten soundly by archrivals whom they whipped just a year ago.
It might be easier for Kiffin to get his guys focused and motivated when everyone is taking shots at them instead of celebrating their potential awesomeness. The Trojans should be plenty angry heading into 2013. They chiefly should be angry at themselves, but here's a guess that the preseason talk -- regionally and nationally -- will give them plenty of names for an enemies list.
But before we look ahead to USC as angry underdog playing the "us against the world" card in 2013, there needs to be some rigorous backward looking evaluation of what went wrong this fall.
In this column , Steve Bisheff did an outstanding job of breaking down the difficult decisions ahead for Kiffin. We're about to second much of what he said.
First off, Kiffin needs to hire two new coordinators, which means he must dump two guys by the name of Kiffin: Himself on offense and his dad, Monte Kiffin, on defense.
Monte Kiffin is one of the all-time great defensive minds. His legacy is assured. But his work has been middling-to-poor at USC. He's gotten less from USC's talent than he should have.
If Lane Kiffin needs a role model for tough decisions, he could look to his buddy Steve Sarkisian at Washington, who dumped Nick Holt as defensive coordinator last year. Holt, Kiffin and Sarkisian go way back, but Holt was doing a lousy job. That was made even clearer this fall when new coordinator Justin Wilcox produced substantial improvement with arguable less to work with than Holt had in 2011.
Then, if Kiffin feels guilty about terminating his father, he can take out his ill will toward the responsible party by firing himself. It's not just that Kiffin didn't do a good job calling plays this year -- and he didn't -- it's that he neglected other aspects of his team that, as a head coach and CEO, he should have been on top of.
Oregon's Chip Kelly can micromanage his team and call an outstanding game. Kiffin can't. That's been made clear.
There's also this: USC has the resources to hire just about anyone Kiffin wants. He could pay both coordinators $1 million. If they are worried about job security due to Kiffin's hot seat, Kiffin could give them multiyear contracts. That alone would perk up the ears of just about anyone in the country, including top NFL guys.
Remember that list of candidates we made up for the head coaching vacancy at California? Kiffin probably could get a lot of those "hot" coordinators to come work for him.
With good coordinators, the Trojans are a nine- or 10-win team next year. With no changes, the good money would be on there being no Kiffins inside Heritage Hall in 2014.
Kiffin's survival also depends on more than Xs and Os, though.
As Bisheff covered at length, Kiffin often overthinks things, and this often leads to substanceless gestures, such as not allowing teams to do Friday night walkthroughs at the Coliseum, or trying to fool woeful Colorado with players switching jerseys.
Kiffin needs to learn that the USC head coach doesn't need to outsmart his opponents, much less use gamesmanship against them. He simply needs to put a disciplined, focused product on the field with a sound plan. Talent then takes over.
If there are competing simple and complicated ideas for something at USC, about 99.9 percent of the time, the simple one would work best.
What's next for USC? Well, if you are looking three-to-five-years down the road, I'd expect the program to again be in the Pac-12 and national title hunt on a consistent basis.
USC is not going to blow up and go all Paul Hackett Era again. Athletic director Pat Haden is too smart to let that happen.
The question is simply who will be fronting the program: Kiffin or someone else.
If Kiffin clings to the status quo, it will be someone else.
Is Oregon-USC about a passing of the guard?
The one absolute history teaches us is there will be change. Nothing lasts forever. Empires fall. In ancient times, no one could conceive a world without Roman domination. Look at Italy now.
USC has 11 national championships. Oregon has none. And it wasn't too long ago that USC under Pete Carroll made a dynastic run that terrorized college football. From 2002 to 2008, USC was college football's pre-eminent power, the lone program that made the SEC quake in fear.
But there is a distinct sense that Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks are headed to the Coliseum on Saturday to grab the Pac-12 sword from Tommy Trojan and take it back to Eugene.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. In the preseason, the overwhelming consensus was USC was ready to reclaim its place atop college football. The Trojans, emerging from a two-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA, welcomed back 19 starters from a team that went 10-2 and won at Oregon. They looked like a potentially all-time great team on offense, with a talented defense playing a strong supporting role.
Meanwhile, Oregon was replacing six offensive starters, including a two-year starter at quarterback in Darron Thomas and its all-time leading rusher, LaMichael James. The defense looked stout, but there were plenty of questions. It seemed premature, despite three consecutive Pac-12 titles, to call the Ducks a "reload, not rebuild" outfit.
Oregon has been a well-oiled machine. It has rolled over everyone like an army of steamrollers and sat its starters for large portions of the second half. Sure, the schedule hasn't featured any A-list foes. But Arizona, Arizona State and Washington are a combined 14-10 with wins over Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon State and USC, and the Ducks beat them by a combined count of 144-42.
USC has flashed brilliance at times on both sides of the ball this season, but that only serves to provide a stark contrast for the moments of inexplicable mediocrity and sloppiness. The Trojans are 120th -- last! -- in the nation in penalties and penalty yards per game. And last by a fairly wide margin.
Quarterback Matt Barkley has thrown eight interceptions. He threw seven all of last year.
And to cut to the chase, USC already has two losses, to Stanford and Arizona, that have thrown a blanket of "Neh" over what was supposed to be not only the Pac-12 game of the year, but also perhaps the national game of the year.
So it's fair to ask what it might mean -- big picture -- if Oregon prevails and then goes on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title: Are the Ducks poised to displace USC atop the conference for the long term?
USC fans would rightly counter, "Well, how about the Ducks win a national title first?" That's fair.
Oregon fans probably would admit there's a reasonable -- and nagging -- qualifier here also: "As long as coach Chip Kelly stays in Eugene."
While Oregon probably wouldn't tumble into mediocrity if Kelly bolted for the NFL -- the program is too rich and too Nike'd -- this run of dominance feels like its foundation is built on Kelly's cult of "Win the Day" personality.
But the Pac-12 blog, just like Kelly quashing an interesting question, won't deal in hypotheticals.
So then, if the Ducks roll over the Trojans on Saturday by multiple touchdowns -- an unthinkable idea in the preseason -- and go on to win a fourth consecutive Pac-12 title, that feels like it could be a resonating statement.
Further, USC has two more years of scholarship sanctions. It can sign no more than 15 players for the next two recruiting classes (though there's some backwards-looking wiggle room coach Lane Kiffin has skillfully exploited) and can't exceed more than 75 players on scholarship, instead of the standard 85. All along, the point has been repeatedly made that USC will be most taxed by sanctions over the next two to three years.
Meanwhile, a glance at Oregon's roster, led by redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota, and sophomore fancypants De'Anthony Thomas, suggests the Ducks aren't going anywhere. This is almost certainly a preseason top-five team in 2013.
It seems like a potential old-school to new-school transition is at hand. From a program with iconic uniforms and pageantry that is immediately recognizable to college football fans across the country, to a program that changes uniforms every week and isn't afraid to wear lime-green socks.
Of course, the reality is USC won't go easily into the night. It has too much tradition. And let's not forget this: Location, location, location. USC's presence in Southern California's recruiting hotbed means the potential for program greatness is built-in.
And maybe USC pulls the shocker on Saturday and gets to smirk back at all the doubters.
Yet if Oregon takes care of business as most now expect, something might very well change. When someone asks, "Tell me about the Pac-12?" The new response will be, "Well, of course, there's Oregon first. You know about them, right?"
Barkley was brilliant, and Scott was just very good. Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions against Colorado. It was the most efficient performance in the country this season and the most efficient in the history of the Pac-12. He now has 102 career TD passes, a Pac-12 record.
Yet it felt familiar. USC is always big news, even when it's not winning championships. And Barkley is the most famous college quarterback in the country, even if he's not going to win the Heisman Trophy.
Scott? His outstanding numbers and quick adoption of new coach Rich Rodriguez's offense resonates only regionally, if at all.
That might change. These two seniors meet Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., with Barkley, a four-year starter, trying to lead the Trojans back into the national title picture, which means not overlooking Scott and the Wildcats because of their Nov. 3 date with Oregon.
These two did meet once before. Let's hope this one is as fun as the first time: Oct. 4, 2007. That's when Barkley, a junior at top-ranked Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., and already highly celebrated, and Scott, a senior at No. 2 Centennial High of Corona, clashed in front of roughly 10,000 fans in the Santa Ana Bowl.
"The fans definitely got their money's worth," Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson told reporters after the game. "That was some show."
Scott passed for 176 yards and rushed for 178. Barkley was 21 of 31 for 364 yards and two touchdowns. The Centennial defense featured Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee, Shelly Lyons and Will Sutton, who all signed with Arizona State. In a joint interview in 2011, the Pac-12 blog asked Burfict, Magee and Lyons about this game, and they all became a bit grumpy. It's fairly well-known that Barkley and Burfict are not exactly close.
Barkley was a five-star prospect in 2008, the nation's highest-rated quarterback. He signed with USC, which was on a dynastic run atop the then-Pac-10, with a 6-1 record in BCS bowl games over the previous seven years and two national titles.
So what does Rodriguez think of Barkley?
"He's obviously been one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Pac-12," he said. "He's likely to be the first pick in the NFL draft. We're facing one of the all-time greats and also a tremendous leader."
Scott, a year ahead of Barkley, was a three-star prospect who picked Arizona over California, Boise State and Utah. The Wildcats went 5-7 in 2007, their ninth consecutive non-winning season. He beat out Nick Foles for the starting spot in 2009 but lost the job to Foles three games into the season. When Foles was hurt in 2010, Scott came off the bench and played well, but he opted to redshirt in 2011 so he could finally inherit the keys to the offense as a fifth-year senior.
When asked about Scott, USC coach Lane Kiffin's first word is "Wow."
"He's a phenomenal player," Kiffin said. "I didn't realize he is as fast as he is -- accurate, arm strength. He's playing great, doing an unbelievable job with the system."
So there's plenty of admiration for both quarterbacks.
Scott said he and Barkley know each other from football camps and recruiting and get along well, but, yes, it would be meaningful to best Barkley on Saturday.
"They are the No. 9-ranked team, so it's going to mean a lot more," Scott said. "It's a big stage. A great quarterback is coming in here. It would mean a lot to outplay him."
If Take 2 is anything like Take 1, this one figures to be pretty interesting.
QB Carson Palmer: 32-46, 297 yards, 1 touchdown
QB Matt Leinart: no stats
TE David Ausberry: 1 catch, 12 yards
OL Alex Parsons: started at center
New York Jets
QB Mark Sanchez: 19-27, 266 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception
RB Joe McKnight: 1 carry, 3 yards
WR Patrick Turner: no stats
DL Everson Griffen: no stats
OL Matt Kalil: started at left tackle
FB Rhett Ellison: 1 tackle
LB Kaluka Maiava: 5 tackles
DL Frostee Rucker: 1 tackle
TE Jordan Cameron: no stats
DT Jurrell Casey: 1 tackle
WR Damian Williams: 5 catches, 33 yards
DT DaJohn Harris: no stats
FB Stanley Havili: no stats
TE Anthony McCoy: no stats
LB Mike Morgan: no stats
LB Malcolm Smith: 1 tackle
LB Brian Cushing: 6 tackles, 1 interception
DT Shaun Cody: 2 tackles
LB Rey Maualuga: 3 tackles
DB Taylor Mays: 3 tackles
New Orleans Saints
OL Charles Brown: no stats
DL Sedrick Ellis: 2 tackles
OL Winston Justice: no stats
DL Fili Moala: no stats
New York Giants
LB Keith Rivers: 5 tackles
Green Bay Packers
LB Clay Matthews: 2 tackles, 2.5 sacks
LB Nick Perry: 6 tackles
OL Ryan Kalil: started at center
OL Jeff Byers: no stats
DB Troy Polamalu: 5 tackles
OL Sam Baker: no stats
TE Fred Davis: 2 catches, 38 yards
St. Louis Rams
WR Steve Smith: 1 catch, 16 yards
RB Reggie Bush: 14 carries, 69 yards; 6 catches, 46 yards
Kansas City Chiefs
QB Matt Cassel: 21-33, 258 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions; 4 rush, 20 yards and 1 touchdown
San Diego Chargers
CB Shareece Wright: 1 tackle
OL Tyron Smith: started at left tackle
DL Lawrence Jackson: no stats
Surely you heard the big news today. Kevin Gemmell, who is supposed to be sharing the Pac-12 blog with me going forward, has committed to Oregon -- for the class of 2017, reportedly because joining the Ducks seemed like a cool way to celebrate his 40th birthday.
And that paragraph is only slightly more fantastical and fatuous and phony than this recent uptick in middle schoolers committing to big-time programs.
The latest is this: Rising eighth grade quarterback Tate Martell of San Diego has "committed" to Washington.
And by "committed," we mean an exchange took place with all the depth and meaning of a pronouncement of affection from a Kardashian.
This really has nothing to do with a recent trend in recruiting. It has to do with a recent trend of attention grabs and a belief in the awesomeness of any sort of publicity.
Martell might end up at Washington. And he might end up at Eastern Washington. Or he might end up playing baseball. Or deciding he prefers theater. Or he may join the circus. Nothing he does in football this year matters. And, really, nothing he does until his junior season of high school matters.
The only way he gets a scholarship to play football at Washington is if he proves to be good enough when he is a mature high school player. And, along the way, he might decide he'd rather play for Michigan, Texas, Oregon State or Florida.
My point: Nothing in the universe of college football changed today. Martell is no closer to a football scholarship to Washington than he was yesterday, nor is he bound in any way to go to Washington.
I wrote the same when David Sills committed to USC as a 13-year-old in 2010. Utterly meaningless. I continue to believe the odds are remote that Sills will ever play quarterback at USC.
So why does this happen? The best answer is also the worst: Why not? Just because a gesture is meaningless doesn't mean it won't produce a momentary media tempest in a teapot.
The other answer is this: Steve Clarkson, prep quarterbacks guru, loves publicity. And he's the common denominator here. From the ESPN.com story:
While the early commitment certainly caught most of the college football world off guard, Clarkson said plenty of thought went into it from Martell and his family. The 14-year-old is close with Sills, who made a commitment to USC as he was entering the eighth grade.
"The family followed that situation," Clarkson said. "He's seen how that unfolded. But that's kind of the trend. The landscape has changed."
No, it hasn't. It matters not a whit what these guys look like now.
While many folks slap their foreheads over 13- and 14-year-olds "committing" to big-time college sports teams, there also are a number of, er, highly involved daddies and mommies who are looking at their cherished little sprout as he toss a Nerf ball around the living room thinking, "I got to get me some Steve Clarkson!"
From Mitch Sherman's story:
According to Clarkson, it's the wave of the future. Athletes are more specialized today, often spending three times as many hours per year on football than the players of a generation ago. They ought to be ready to make such decisions much earlier, he said.
"The next time a sixth- or seventh-grader commits," Clarkson said, "you've already been doused with the frozen water, so the shock is gone."
Clarkson said programs like his, which identify and groom quarterbacks barely into their teens, are growing in prominence as high school football loses some of its power in recruiting.
Let me tell you something without an iota of doubt: No, this is not the wave of the future. An annual blip? Sure. A trickle? OK. No wave here, though. Mostly because it makes no sense to conduct business this way. For one, so much can change in five years. For example, one of the reasons Martell liked Washington was that former quarterback Jake Locker was his favorite player. Well, what happens is Locker never pans out in the NFL? Will that thinking still hold for Martell?
So, you say, what do Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian get out of this? Ah, glad you asked. For one, they have nothing to lose. But recruiting is a spiderweb of intrigue. The public looks at one spot getting touched and don't take note of more notable vibrations elsewhere.
Kiffin, you might already have deduced, is crazy-smart like a fox in recruiting.
Guess who Sills just happens to be teammates and good buddies with? Kenny Bigelow, the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country, who is committed to USC for the 2013 class, and Khaliel Rodgers, a four-star offensive guard who also is committed to USC in 2013. Now those are two meaningful commitments.
How connected are these three guys? When Red Lion Christian Academy in Bear, Del., decided to to become more of a school with a football team that a football team with a school, all three transferred to Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy.
Some might counter that Kiffin didn't know about these two in 2010 when Sills committed. Fine. My response: Kiffin is crazy-smart like a fox in recruiting. Funny how this is working out so well for him, eh?
Yes, recruiting is out of control. It has been for some time. But the next wave isn't 13-year-olds committing. Something irrelevant can be quirky or even interesting and inspire some media rubbernecking, but it ultimately will fail to hold sway in a high-stakes game based on a real-live bottom line.
Armstead -- who was forced to sit out his final season for the Trojans due to medical issues -- was not selected in the NFL draft in April. Rather than wait for an opportunity as a free agent when NFL camps open in July, Armstead has accepted an offer from the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.
The Canadian league opens play later this month, and Armstead already has taken part in early practices. If he can prove himself on the field with the Argos -– both in terms of performance and health -– it will go a long way toward earning a potential shot at the NFL.
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As part of “College Football Live’s” 100 Days Till Kickoff countdown, here’s a look at the top 10 players in the Pac-12.
This list, by the way, may or may not match the Pac-12 blog's preseason top 25, which will be posted later in the summer.
1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC: Best QB in the nation. Would have been a top-10 pick in this past NFL draft. Could go No. 1 overall in 2013. He completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,528 yards, with 39 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2011.
2. De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon: Thomas is one of the nation's most explosive players and a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He rushed for 595 yards and seven TDs in 2011, averaging 10.8 yards per carry. He caught 46 passes for 605 yards and nine TDs. He averaged 27.3 yards per kick return with two TDs.
3. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah: Lotulelei may be the nation's best defensive tackle. He likely will be an early first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best D-lineman, he had 44 total tackles, with nine coming for a loss. He had 1.5 sacks, a pass break-up, forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
4. Robert Woods, WR, USC: Woods, first-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, earned first-team All-American honors from the AP, The Sporting News and was second-team with Walter Camp. He caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards with 15 TDs in 2011.
5. Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Lee might share All-American honors with Woods this season. He stepped up late in 2011 when Woods was hurt, catching seven of his 11 TD passes over the final five games and hauling in 21 passes for 411 yards in the final two -- wins over Oregon and UCLA. For the season, he caught 73 passes for 1,143 yards with 11 touchdowns. He also averaged 28.5 yards on 10 kickoff returns, with an 88-yard TD.
6. Keith Price, QB, Washington: As a first-year, sophomore starter, Price passed for 3,063 yards with 33 touchdown passes, with those numbers ranking second and first all-time for the Huskies. His 66.9 completion percentage and 161.09 passing efficiency rating were both school records.
7. Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford: Thomas was first-team All-Pac-12 and an All-American for The Sporting News in 2011. He had 52 total tackles and led the Pac-12 with 17.5 tackles for a loss, three more than anyone else. He was also second in the conference with 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.
8. Keenan Allen, WR, California: Allen earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after ranking second in the Pac-12 in receiving yards. His 103.3 receiving yards per game ranked 10th in the nation and third in the conference. He caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards with six touchdowns and averaged 13.7 yards per reception in 2011.
9. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: Wilson earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2011 and is an All-American candidate in 2012. He ranked first in the Pac-12 and sixth in the nation with 115.7 yards receiving per game. His 12 touchdown receptions ranked second in the conference. His 16.9 yards per catch ranked third. He caught 82 passes for 1,388 yards with 12 touchdowns.
10. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon: Barner was the nation's best backup running back in 2011 behind LaMichael James. He ranked eighth in the Pac-12 in rushing at 78.2 yards per game. He rushed for 939 yards and 11 TDs in 2011 and caught 17 passes with three other TDs. He has rushed for 1,856 yards and 20 TDs in his career.
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.
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.
The Trojans welcome back their top rusher, top three receivers, four starting offensive lineman and a guy by the name of Matt Barkley.
The Trojans looked like a preseason top-10 team a month ago. They looked like the preseason Pac-12 South Division favorites. But when Barkley announced Thursday, "I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player," it sent a shockwave across the college football landscape.
Remember that little girl staring at the TV snow in "Poltergeist"? All together now: "They're baaaaack!"
Barkley makes USC a national title contender. Barkley makes things around Heritage Hall feel like it's 2002-2008 all over again. Barkley means Trojans fans can stop thinking about the injustice it suffered when the NCAA whacked it with severe sanctions and start dreaming of BCS bowls again.
Just FYI: Miami on Jan. 7, 2013. What happened the last time the Trojans played in South Florida with big stakes?
Ah, the Oregon fans have just arrived. To borrow a phrase: Not so fast, my friend.
The Ducks are the three-time defending Pac-12 champions. They've got a whole bunch of key guys coming back in 2012, too. They, too, are a certain top-10 team, perhaps top-five. They will be the overwhelming favorites to win the North Division.
Both have highly favorable schedules. USC's nonconference schedule: Hawaii (with head coach Norm Chow!), at Syracuse and Notre Dame. Oregon's is, well, pitiful: Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech.
Oh, then there is this little date for both in LA next year. The Pac-12 schedules aren't official yet, but the conference confirmed to the Pac-12 blog that USC and Oregon will play in the Coliseum next fall. That regular-season game, not hard to project as a matchup of top-five teams, very likely could lead to a rematch in the Pac-12 title game, which could be a gateway to the national title game for the winner.
Ducks and Trojans: Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.
Meanwhile, Barkley, by passing up a chance to be a top-10 NFL draft pick as Matt Leinart and Andrew Luck did before him, immediately established himself as the leading 2012 Heisman Trophy candidate. His status as front-runner is only slightly less firm than Luck's was last year when he announced a shocking return.
And that point -- thump -- should provide a speed bump of moderation for our foray into admittedly hysterical hyperbole about Barkley and USC. Just about every time you try to write a college football season's story before it plays out, you end up being wrong.
Preseason predictions can be completely off: Oklahoma was the consensus preseason No. 1 this year. Or they can be slightly off: Luck and the overwhelming Heisman favorite in August. Or they can fall just short in the end: USC as the best team in college football history in 2005.
Or, then again, sometimes they are spot-on: USC in 2004 was preseason No. 1 as well as the postseason national champion.
Still, while grand scenarios are merely reasonably conceived potential endings for something that is a year away and laden with unforeseen variables, there is no downside on this day for USC. In fact, it spiderwebs positives throughout the program, from making the future at QB more secure, to bolstering the present recruiting effort, to getting USC fans excited and reinvested again, ready to fill up the Coliseum next fall.
By the way, USC folks aren't the only ones smiling. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is grinning ear-to-ear. He sees another bright, articulate Heisman Trophy candidate who conducts himself with class acting as the face of the conference, as Luck did this past fall. He sees two big ticket national title contenders in 2012, just as the conference's new TV contract kicks in. He's got broadcast partners -- ESPN and Fox -- as well as a new Pac-12 Network that are going to be thrilled that the conference's ratings-driving bell cow is back under the klieg lights in LA.
Toss in four new, high-profile coaches, and there are plenty of sexy story lines for the Pac-12 in 2012.
The week started with USC fans slapping their foreheads over Ohio State's middling NCAA sanctions for severe infractions. It was a frustrating reminder of the seeming cosmic forces that conspired to end the USC dynasty, including Pete Carroll skipping town back to the NFL.
But the week ends with an early Christmas gift for USC. Matt Barkley telling it, "I am staying because I want to finish what I started."
Yes, college football fans across the country pricked up their ears Thursday and thought, "Drat. I hear those darn "Tribute To Troy" drums again."
Next year? Not so certain.
Of course, if USC quarterback Matt Barkley opts to return for his senior year, he'll instantly become the favorite. But who's betting he'll return? James also could return, but that seems unlikely. The same could be said for Washington running back Chris Polk.
USC receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee? Washington quarterback Keith Price? Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler? Cal wide receiver Keenan Allen? Washington State wide receiver Marquess Wilson? Utah running back John White?
My take: Woods and Oregon's multipurpose threat De'Anthony Thomas are the Pac-12's top candidates, as of today.
But this uncertainty is not just a Pac-12 thing. As the venerable Heisman Pundit points out, it should be a wide open race nationally. It's quite possible that the preseason list of Heisman candidates won't include the eventual winner (and, really, who had Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in their Heisman pool in August?).
The race for the 2012 Heisman appears to be wide open, especially assuming you can cross the following names off this year’s top 10 in the voting list due to either early entry into the NFL draft or expiration of eligibility:
1. Robert Griffin III
2. Andrew Luck
3. Trent Richardson
4. Montee Ball
5. Tyrann Mathieu
6. Matt Barkley
7. Case Keenum
8. Kellen Moore
9. Russell Wilson
10. LaMichael James
Whereas this past season had five of the top six finishers in the Heisman race returning, it’s very likely that nine of 10 from this season will not return (something that hasn’t happened since 2005). That means the race for the 2012 Heisman is likely to be wide open, with no real front runner in place.
And HP is not a believer in Mathieu coming back and winning next fall.
He does, however, make his own list, which includes Thomas but not Woods. He also includes USC running back Curtis McNeal.
On Thomas: "An electric will o’ the wisp who can score on the ground, in the air or by returning kicks and punts. Should be the star of yet another fine Oregon team."
On McNeal: "The USC running back position is a favorite of Heisman voters. McNeal averaged 120 yards per game and nearly 7 yards per carry in his last six games, which could point to an even bigger season in 2012."
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson likely starts out the 2012 season as the favorite, which probably means he won't win -- see Luck. After that, everyone is just going to list returning offensive players who had good numbers in 2011.