Bring it on, Matt Barkley. All in for Andrew Luck. Ain't no one stopping Toby Gerhart. Yeah, we've tapped this dance before. But the last few years the end result has been a lonely solo.
Pac-12 Heisman contenders usually enter the season with considerable hype. And that makes sense given the offensive prowess of the conference. After all, you can eliminate half of the college football population since it's essentially an offensive award. And it stands to reason that the conference known for its innovative offenses and playmakers also produces frontrunners. But lately those frontrunners have been afterthoughts by Black Friday.
No doubt about it, the Pac-12 is in a Heisman drought. The pursuit of a stiff-arm-player has been met by, well, stiff-armed-voters.
The current slump isn't as bad as the 28-year drought from when the award was first given out in 1935 to the time Oregon State's Terry Baker won in 1962. And it's not as long as the 21-year gap between Marcus Allen in '81 and Carson Palmer in 2002 (sorry Pac-12, you don't get to claim Rashaan Salaam in '94).
The last "official" Pac-10/12 player to win the Heisman Trophy was USC quarterback Matt Leinart in 2004, so we're coming up on a decade. There was, of course, the vacated winner of 2005 – Reggie Bush – whose exploits have been wiped from existence.
And so have the trophies.
Bush and USC have returned their cast-bronze mementoes to the Heisman Trust. And a Heisman spokesman was extremely tight-lipped when asked about their location, saying only that they were "locked away in a secure area." No doubt they're being watched over by Tupac and the Knights Templar, along with the location of Atlantis and the alternate ending to The Sopranos that we all really want to believe exists. Don't stop believin'.
According to one report, it's in a storage unit in New York. I imagine it looking something like this ... where it's being examined by ... top men.
If the previous few years fell under the category of "good chance" for the Pac-12 to win a Heisman, then 2014 certainly has to be considered a "great chance." With 10 returning starting quarterbacks bringing national attention to the league, it's two who are taking center stage -- the Oregon Ducks' Marcus Mariota and UCLA Bruins' Brett Hundley.
Both are exciting, dual-threat athletes who are going to put up those monster offensive numbers that Heisman voters gravitate toward. And while the specter of Bush's Heisman season is just that, the national media seems to have come around to the idea the Pac-12 is in the conversation for top conference in college football because of its schedule, its depth and -- above all -- its quarterbacks.
Just as the Pac-12 is a quarterback-driven league, the Heisman has turned into a quarterback-driven award. Every winner since 2000 has been a quarterback except for Mark Ingram in 2009. The spread offense opened up all sorts of possibilities for voters because offensive totals once thought unimaginable are now standard operating production for elite dual-threat quarterbacks. The idea of a player throwing for 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushing for 700-plus yards and 10 touchdowns once boggled voters' imaginations. Now it's expected of a Heisman winner --widening the gap even further between quarterbacks and all other position groups.
Fortunately for the Pac-12, they have a pair of guys who match the profile. Last season, Mariota passed for 3,665 yards and threw 31 touchdowns to four interceptions. Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Mariota rushed for 715 yards and nine scores. Hundley added 748 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground.
It helps too that both players lead teams ranked in the preseason top 10. And both players have high-profile nonconference games early in the season that will draw the eyes of voters East of Lake Tahoe.
Nor does it hurt that both Hundley and Mariota have squeaky clean records, as far as we know. Consider three of the past four winners -- Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton -- all had off-field question marks, be it legal or otherwise. Perhaps character will play into Decision 2014? After all, the word "integrity" appears twice in the Heisman Trust mission statement. From what we've seen from Mariota and Hundley so far, they fit the bill.
Both players have said numerous times over the past eight months that they are prepared for the onslaught of attention that comes with a Heisman contending candidacy. Both passed up being first-round NFL draft selections in 2014 to finish their time at school and end their careers -- both hope -- with a trip to the first College Football Playoff.
And in doing so, one of them might also end the Pac-12's Heisman drought.
Oh. The anticipation.
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To the notes.
Elliot from Oregon writes: Give me your boldest prediction for anything PAC12 related. Don't be shy, Ted.
Ted Miller: Oh, I don't know Elliot. You want me to have an opinion on something and announce it publicly? That sounds pretty scary. What if someone disagrees with me? Or what if you guys start arguing the relative merits of my point and someone gets cross? What if it gets out on Twitter and someone trolls me or writes the dreaded, "Your an idiot" [sic].
Funny you should ask, because we will have Bold Predictions from your entire ESPN.com Pac-12 family -- the #4pac! -- on Tuesday. But I will venture forth with one -- OK three! -- before I blush, effervesce with giggles and canter shyly away.
1. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame (Arizona State, Stanford and USC).
2. No Pac-12 coach will be fired during or after the season.
3. Ted Miller will be wrong.
OK, I realize the third one is pretty out there, but I've got a feeling it finally happens this year. Maybe.
Brett from Portland writes: Team X is playing in the national championship and you get to choose one Pac 12 coach to coach that team. Who do you choose?
Ted Miller: I can't choose Chip Kelly, right?
I had an immediate response: Stanford's David Shaw. He's been there, see three consecutive BCS bowl games, and he's 14-4 against top-25 teams, best winning percentage in the conference.
Then I rifled through the other options, and the Pac-12 has a lot of good ones. Chris Petersen also has BCS bowl game experience. As does Rich Rodriguez, a guy who really knows how to game plan the heck out of teams with better talent. Not unlike Petersen.
Then I thought about Jim Mora, who I'm not sure won't be the first Pac-12 coach to win the College Football Playoff.
Then I thought about coaching staffs as a whole. Does Shaw get a knock because Derek Mason is head coach at Vanderbilt and no longer coordinating the Cardinal defense? I really like Rich Rod and Mora's staffs. And then I went, wait, what about Todd Graham at Arizona State? Has anyone done a better job over the past two seasons than Graham and his staff?
Then I thought Brett and the rest of you might fall asleep while I dithered on this.
So I'm going with Shaw. Track record. Big football brain. Unwavering core beliefs. And, as a very minor consideration, he gets a boost here for being so accommodating and insightful during interviews.
Patrick from Seattle writes: With a senior-led d-line, experienced and talented linebackers, and a lockdown corner in Peters, how good can the Huskies D be?
Ted Miller: You remember the 1985 Chicago Bears? Well, imagine that unit if it also had Lawrence Taylor.
Go run into a brick wall 10 times.
Done? That's what it's going to be like playing against the Huskies this fall.
It's hard not to like the UW front seven. It's got size with 330-pound defensive tackle Danny Shelton and production with end Hau'oli Kikaha, the best returning pass-rusher in the conference. At linebacker, there is experience and high-end athleticism, led by potential first-round draft pick Shaq Thompson.
While the depth is a little questionable, I'd rate that starting crew the best in the Pac-12. Yes, better than Stanford, USC and UCLA.
The secondary is the question. Peters is an A-list cornerback, an All-American candidate, but the other three spots are going to be young and unproven. Not necessarily untalented, mind you -- see youngsters like true freshman Budda Baker and redshirt freshman Jermaine Kelly -- but you don't know about a unit until, well, you know.
Of course, an outstanding front-seven is a great thing to have when you are young in the back half. Leaving youngsters exposed for more than four seconds can be catastrophic in a league as deep at quarterback as the Pac-12. Not sure this crew up front for the Huskies will do that very often, which will make life much easier for the defensive backs.
As big a question as the secondary is new coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who Petersen brought over from Boise State. He's replacing Justin Wilcox, one of the best in the business, a guy who transformed a poor-to-middling unit into one of the best in the Pac-12. Kwiatkowski has lots of new toys to play with, but has never coached against the talent -- player and coaching -- that he will now square off with on a week-to-week basis.
So how good? At the very least, Huskies fans should expect to better last season's strong numbers -- 22.8 points per game; 5.0 yards per play -- which ranked fourth and tied for third in the conference. If that happens, you would have to think the Huskies will be a factor in the North Division race.
Troy from Tacoma writes: Ted, as we sit here a week out from the kickoff of the college football season, and since there are a few Pac-12 games next Thursday, it is safe to say that there won't be a Best Case-Worst Case section for each team. Honestly, reading those was my favorite part of this blog, and really got the blood flowing that the season was near. Just wanted to voice my disappointment with whoever made the decision to discontinue that part of the blog. That's all, have a good final game-less week.
Ted Miller: I truly appreciate all the notes on this, even though it seems a lot of you are angry I -- yes it was my call -- opted to end the series.
As noted before, this was simply a case of a series running its course after four years.
If you are nostalgic, just re-read last year's efforts, and those also include links to previous years.
The Pac-12 has started to make a move up in my toughest conference standings as it placed a conference-record six teams in last year's final top 25. The only thing holding back the conference is winning a national title, which it hasn't done since USC won it all in 2004. However, this year the conference has two legit national title contenders in UCLA and Oregon, while two-time defending champ Stanford and a rising USC squad are right behind them.
Also notable this year for the Pac-12 is QB play, as the conference easily has the strongest group of quarterbacks of any conference in the country. The Pac-12's teams return eight of their top nine QBs in pass efficiency, including five that ranked in the NCAA's Top 30.
Here are my 2014 projected Pac-12 standings and overall records.
1. UCLA BruinsProjected Record: 11-1
Toughest games: Oregon (minus-3), at Washington (minus-3)
UCLA's 17 returning starters are the most in the Pac-12 as the Bruins get back their top four rushers, five of their top six receivers and 10 of their top 14 tacklers -- including their entire secondary -- which I rank sixth best. Not to mention that Brett Hundley is one of the most experienced and talented QBs in the country. I have the Bruins favored in every game; they get Oregon, Stanford and USC at home. But I have them as a TD-or-less favorite in six games and only a field goal favorite against Texas (at AT&T Stadium), at Washington and against Oregon. It is likely they drop one of those games.
We kicked off Thursday’s links column talking about Pac-12 head coaches and how they’ve done against AP Top 25 competition.
Today we’ll take a look at the job security of those coaches, courtesy of CBS’s Dennis Dodd, who released his annual “hot seat” rankings for every coach.
Things are relatively air-conditioned in the Pac-12. But they are heating up for a couple of coaches. Using a 0-5 rating – five essentially being nuclear and zero being a getaway on Hoth – Dodd writes that Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and Cal coach Sonny Dykes have the hottest seats in the Pac-12. First, here’s the rating for all 12 coaches and their rating from the 2013 season (listed second).
- Rich Rodriguez: 1-1
- Todd Graham: 1-0
- Sonny Dykes : 3-0.5
- Mike MacIntyre: 1.5-1.0
- Mark Helfrich: 2.0-1.5
- Mike Riley: 1-1
- David Shaw: 0-0
- Jim Mora: 0.5-0.5
- Steve Sarkisian: 2.5-N/A
- Kyle Whittingham: 3.5-3.0
- Chris Petersen: 0.5-N/A
- Mike Leach: 0.5-1
I don’t disagree with the sentiment on either coach. That said, I don’t think a change will be made with either, either. And here’s why:
Kyle Whittingham has something few coaches can boast: An undefeated season, a No. 2 final ranking and a BCS bowl victory (technically, two). That sort of success not only buys you goodwill, it buys you career longevity.
As noted by Whittingham’s rating, he’s “starting to feel the pressure.” That’s fair. A team like Utah isn’t used to missing bowl games in back-to-back years. But when you look at last season, the Utes are close. They beat Stanford – arguably the greatest regular-season victory in school history – lost to Arizona State by a point, took Oregon State to overtime and lost by a touchdown to UCLA. This is a team that’s close.
That being said, the road schedule is brutal. I think if the Utes start 2-0 (and they should), then the Michigan game will be high noon. Win that one and there’s a good chance the Utes go bowling. Having a quarterback make it through the season without injury couldn't hurt, either.
As for Dykes, let’s not forget he was the one of the most sought-after coaches in the country before the 2013 season. He just happened to run into one of the worst rashes of injuries I’ve seen in my 17 years covering all levels of football, and he had a true freshman quarterback.
Dykes has a proven system. Give it time (and health) to develop.
Who’s No. 1?
The SEC can certainly claim dominance over the BCS era. Not even the most argumentative, devil’s-advocate-loving, stubborn columnist I know – Ted Miller – could argue otherwise. The proof is in the hardware.
But that era has passed. What have you won for me lately? It’s now the College Football Playoff era. And according to Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde, it’s the Pac-12 that will be at the vanguard of the next installment of college football’s highest honor.
Forde rationalizes his thought process with three determining factors:
- The Pac-12 has a deep roster of coaches.
- The Pac-12 has the best quarterbacks.
- The Pac-12 plays a tough schedule.
Check, check and check. No arguments here. Every year, it seems like a Pac-12 coach will make the comment that the league is as good as it’s ever been. And each year it keeps adding quality coaches. If you’ve been following along with our “Better Know a Pac-12 Quarterback” series, then you know how good the league is when it comes to the QBs. And the last couple of days we’ve been linking plenty of lists of must-see Pac-12 games. All of them feature Top 25 matchups, be it in conference or nonleague.
However, I don’t think we’ll ever see a time where Stanford fans are chanting "P-A-C, P-A-C" if the Ducks win a title, or vice versa. Not our style out West.
- How tough/easy is your team's schedule?
- If you're a numbers guy, Athlon Sports offers up some Pac-12 stats.
- What brought Arizona’s Jordan Allen from LSU to the desert?
- Neat story about Taylor Kelly delivering season tickets to a sixth-grade teacher – at school. Some cool pictures here.
- Michael Lowe had to shape up to keep his job.
- Colorado's Ken Crawley has some high expectations.
- Oregon’s Thomas Tyner is feeling the heat from Royce Freeman.
- Click for the mohawk of Dylan Wynn, stay for the Q&A.
- An early look at the Stanford-Washington showdown.
- The impact of Myles Jack.
- Adoree' Jackson is on pace to play offense, defense and special teams. Myles Jack and Shaq Thompson offer fist bump.
- Utah's Dominique Hatfield wants to play offense, defense and special teams. Adoree' Jackson offers fist bump.
- Washington's line is experienced, but is always looking to improve.
- Interesting story out of Pullman that wide receiver Gabe Marks might redshirt this year. Coach Mike Leach has been mum about what's up with Marks -- be it injury or a good ole' fashioned trip to the doghouse. Either way, it's an interesting development for WSU's leading receiver last year.
The football team isn't the only squad going through fall camp. Fight on.
Name: Brett Hundley
Career passing stats: Completed 567 of 848 passes (66.9 percent) to go with 6,816 yards and 52 touchdowns to 20 interceptions. Has a raw QBR of 67.0 and an adjusted QBR of 74.4.
2013 rushing stats: Rushed 160 times for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Career rushing stats: Rushed 320 times for 1,103 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Hundley on Twitter
What you need to know about Hundley: Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel hasn’t been shy about talking up what kind of talent Hundley had when he recruited him. Nor is he shy about his decision to redshirt Hundley in what turned out to be his final season as head coach. As a result, incoming coach Jim Mora benefited greatly and watched Hundley easily separate himself from Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut and Jerry Neuheisel. Hundley has since gone on to start 27 straight games, is an early Heisman candidate and widely regarded as one of the most athletic and explosive players in college football.
Career high point: Should we go with USC in 2012? Or USC in 2013? In either case, Hundley was sensational in both. He has five combined touchdowns (one passing, four rushing) in two games against the Trojans and has completed 70 percent of his throws against the cross-town rivals. And while he’s struggled against Stanford and Oregon (games he and the Bruins need to win to prove they are worthy of their top-10 ranking) he’s brought his A-game both times around against USC.
Career low point: Hundley wasn’t terrible in last season's loss to Arizona State. He threw a couple of touchdowns and completed 60 percent of his passes. But a furious ASU front sacked Hundley nine times and corralled him to a season-low five yards rushing. On top of it, the loss gave the South Division title (which the Bruins had held the previous two seasons) to the Sun Devils.
When he was a recruit: Hundley was the No. 6 overall quarterback in 2011 and the gem of UCLA's recruiting class. The No. 107 prospect in the country, Hundley held offers from programs such as Michigan, Oregon, Stanford, Texas A&M and Washington, among others. He eventually selected the Bruins over the Huskies. There were very few questions as to whether Hundley would become a star at the next level and when his redshirt freshman season coincided with the arrival of head coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, Hundley’s career predictably took off. "He is a spread offense signal-caller that is a huge part of this offense both with his legs and his arm," his ESPN Recruiting Nation profile reads. "Overall, Hundley is a physically imposing athlete that can do it all. He has great upside to become more crisp and fluid in his mechanics, as he is just entering into his second year as a full-time starter. He will become a hot commodity quite quickly."
Opposing head coach’s take: “Similar to Mannion when you look at him. He’s a prototypical NFL quarterback, but with that mobility; with that ability to move in the pocket and out of the pocket. He’s going to be a high-round draft pick because of his size and his athletic ability. He’s a smart kid. He’s an accurate passer. The sky is the limit for him.”
Scouts' take: Even-keeled and mature individual. Dedicated student who is currently pursuing a double major. Loves football and is passionate about it. Strong work ethic and willing to make the sacrifices necessary. First guy in and last guy out of the building. ... Highly competitive. Adequate-to-above-average decision-maker. Still will make some questionable reads at times and force throws into coverage he shouldn’t attempt but in general is not careless with ball security. ... On one hand he is a deceiving athlete with very good size and strength to escape pressure and buy time. Not overly quick and gradually builds to top-end speed as runner. He has better mobility than anticipated on tape and poses enough of a threat to pick up chunk yards if not accounted for as a runner. On the flip side, he still has a lot of room for improvement working the pocket, which is the biggest concern from an evaluation standpoint heading into the 2014 season. Will get finicky when feeling pressure and must show better patience within the pocket. Often vacates pocket too early instead of sliding to open area and getting through progressions. Also has a bad habit of dropping his eyes and looking at the rush when evading pressure and will miss reads as a result.
What to expect in 2014: At this point, it’s about the little details. Hundley spent a couple of weeks during the offseason working out with current and former NFL quarterbacks for the sole purpose of learning what it’s like to play in the league. The hope is that the knowledge gained will transfer to his college game. He’s one of the most dynamic and exciting players in the country. Yet all too often he gets labeled as a running quarterback when he threw for more than 3,000 yards and led all quarterbacks in the Pac-12 in completion percentage. That’s right, Mr. Scramble was the most accurate passer in the league last season. We expect his already stellar touchdown-to-interception ratio to improve while still maintaining his outstanding rushing numbers. The belief is that with some health and experience on the offensive line, Hundley’s sack numbers will also go down (no Pac-12 quarterback has been sacked more than Hundley's 87 times in the past two seasons). Look for Hundley to be in the running for all sorts of postseason awards -- Heisman included -- before hearing his name called in the first round of the 2015 draft.
Erik McKinney and Kevin Weidl contributed to this report.
That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.
Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.
In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.
Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.
Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez: Hungry
Arizona State’s Todd Graham: Character
Cal’s Sonny Dykes: Hungry
Colorado’s Mike MacIntryre: More confident
Oregon’s Mark Helfrich: Redemption
Oregon State’s Mike Riley: Leadership
Stanford’s David Shaw: Underappreciated
UCLA’s Jim Mora: Determined
USC’s Steve Sarkisian: Tough
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham: Warriors
Washington’s Chris Petersen: Unknown
Washington State’s Mike Leach: Improving
Here it is:
QB: Marcus Mariota, Oregon: A leading Heisman Trophy candidate and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, he accounted for 40 touchdowns last season, rushing for 715 yards and passing for 3,665. The Ducks' offense led the Pac-12 with 45.5 points per game.
RB: Byron Marshall, Oregon: Marshall is the conference’s only returning 1,000-yard back after rushing for 1,038 yards last season. However, he will face stiff competition in his own backfield from Thomas Tyner and freshman Royce Freeman.
RB: D.J. Foster, Arizona State: After working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster is now the headliner. That doesn’t mean he won’t still catch passes. The coaching staff loves to split him out in the slot.
WR: Nelson Agholor, USC: He caught 56 passes for 918 yards and six touchdowns last season and also returned kicks (17.5 average) and punts (19.1 average). With Marqise Lee off to the NFL, Agholor will be the Trojans’ top offensive target.
WR: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State: In his first season with the Sun Devils, Strong burst onto the scene with 75 receptions for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns, establishing himself as one of the conference’s best and a future pro.
WR: Ty Montgomery, Stanford: Montgomery’s totals (61 catches, 958 yards, 10 touchdowns) don’t adequately compare him to the country’s other elite receivers. In a run-heavy offense, he was responsible for 32.1 percent of the Cardinal’s receptions, which was second-most in the Pac-12 behind Colorado’s Paul Richardson (35.3).
TE: Connor Hamlett, Oregon State: After catching 40 balls for 364 yards and five touchdowns, he is widely regarded as the top tight end in a league that has produced some great ones of late. Look for him to be a popular target as QB Sean Mannion and the Beavers adjust to life without star receiver Brandin Cooks.
OL: Alex Redmond, UCLA: A freshman All-American last season, he helped an injury-riddled Bruins offensive line maintain elite offensive numbers, including nearly 40 points per game. Expect a big step forward as a sophomore with a year of seasoning.
OL: Hroniss Grasu, Oregon: A rare four-year starter with 40 starts to his credit, he is a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection. A favorite for the Rimington Trophy, he was the centerpiece of the Pac-12’s No. 1 rushing offense.
OL: Andrus Peat, Stanford: When your head coach is comparing you to Jonathan Ogden, you must be doing something right. If Peat comes out, the junior will be in the running to be the first offensive lineman taken in next year’s NFL draft.
OL: Jamil Douglas, Arizona State: A second-team All-Pac-12 selection last year, Douglas has started every game over the past two seasons and appeared in every game during the 2011 season.
OL: Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State: Though he has excelled at center the previous two years, the coaching staff might move him around this season to fill some holes on the line. A foot injury might limit his playing time early in the season.
DL: Leonard Williams, USC: An All-American and Bednarik semifinalist last season, Williams returns after leading the Trojans with 13.5 tackles for loss. He projects to be a top-5 pick in the 2015 NFL draft and is regarded as the top defensive lineman in the country.
DL: Danny Shelton, Washington: Shelton’s frame (6-foot-2, 339 pounds) and his athleticism make him a potential first-round NFL pick next spring. He had 59 tackles, two sacks and two blocked kicks last season while often facing more than one blocker.
DL: Henry Anderson, Stanford: An All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection last year despite battling injuries, Anderson is expected to fill the void left by the departures of Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro.
DL: Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington: He was second in the conference last season with 13 sacks (second-most in school history) and seventh with 15.5 tackles for loss. Also on the Bednarik watch list, he was second-team all-conference last year after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury.
LB: Myles Jack, UCLA: One of the biggest names in college football, Jack was the conference’s Defensive (and Offensive) Freshman of the Year last season. He recovered two fumbles, had two interceptions and recorded 75 tackles, seven for loss.
LB: Hayes Pullard, USC: He has led the Trojans in tackles for two of the past three seasons, including 94 last season with 5.5 tackles for loss. A second-team All-Conference performer in 2013, he is a veteran of 39 starts and a mainstay on what might be the conference’s best defense.
LB: Shaq Thompson, Washington: Like Jack, Thompson has the potential to be among the most versatile players in college football, as new coach Chris Petersen also plans to use Thompson on offense. He was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection last year and is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award.
LB: Eric Kendricks, UCLA: No one has more tackles in the Pac-12 over the past three seasons. He doesn’t get the premium tackles-for-loss stats or sack stats that some of the lauded outside linebackers in the conference get. But he is as good a run-stopper as there is in the country.
CB: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon: Perhaps the best cornerback in the country, Ekpre-Olomu has twice been named first-team All-Pac-12. He led the Ducks with 53 unassisted tackles last season, recorded three interceptions and broke up six passes.
CB: Marcus Peters, Washington: A second-team all-conference performer, he tied for third in the league last season in passes defended (14) and had five interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He projects to be a high draft pick in 2015.
S: Jordan Richards, Stanford: One of the more unique athletes in the conference, Richards is effective against the run and in coverage. He has started every game the past two years and recorded 168 tackles and six interceptions the past three.
S: Su'a Cravens, USC: He earned freshman All-America honors after an outstanding rookie campaign that included 52 stops and four interceptions. Has All-America potential as a sophomore.
K: Andy Phillips, Utah: Phillips was a Lou Groza semifinalist last year when he connected on 17 of 20 field goal attempts. Not bad for a former competitive alpine skier who had never kicked before walking on in 2012.
P: Tom Hackett, Utah: The All-Pac-12 first-team punter last season, Hackett averaged 43.4 yards per punt and downed 27 of 76 punts inside the 20-yard line.
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Got your four teams picked for the inaugural College Football Playoff?
Beware before you turn in your final list, because teams always come out of nowhere. For instance, Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri all finished in the top five of the final polls last season -- and weren't even ranked to start the season.
Conversely, the team starting the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll hasn't finished higher than No. 7 the past four years.
None of us has a crystal ball, but we do have a road map of sorts -- the games that will shape who gets in and who gets left out this season when the selection committee unveils the first football version of the Final Four.
Here are 10 games to mark on your calendar:
LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Aug. 30
Right out of the gate, we get a game between two teams just outside the top 10 in the preseason polls who are talented enough to state their case come selection time for the College Football Playoff. And check out Wisconsin's schedule. If Melvin Gordon and the Badgers can get past the Tigers in the opener, the only other nationally ranked team (in the preseason) they face is Nebraska at home on Nov. 15. They avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State in the regular season.