To the notes!
TrojanDaddy from Los Angeles writes: Ted, thought I was over USC's NCAA debacle, but now this [Todd] McNair stuff is killing me. Always thought we got [cheated], now we know it. Awaiting your take.
Ted Miller: I've talked about the release of NCAA documents, including private communications among committee members and NCAA staffers related to the investigation of USC's football program and former assistant Todd McNair, here and here.
If you want to review some of my past USC-NCAA oeuvre, see here and here and here and here. There are others, such as my take before the whole disaster was set in motion by a horribly unfair NCAA ruling.
First, a couple of declarative statements.
- Yes, these emails are as bad as they seem, betraying a compromised, unprofessional and unfair process, including aggressive involvement from folks who weren't supposed to be involved at all, according to the NCAA's own official procedures.
- What's more mind-blowing is there are still more documents, approximately 200 pages, according to the Los Angeles Times, which the NCAA continues to hide from public view. So the evidence against the NCAA, we can only assume, will only get worse.
- It's difficult to believe, no matter how long the NCAA tries to hide behind legal maneuvers, that McNair won't eventually get paid, likely through a substantial settlement instead of a jury trial.
What does this mean for USC? Will it sue the NCAA? Will there be an unprecedented "mea culpa" from the organization? (You can find its initial response here.) Can USC get some sort of retroactive relief, even a special dispensation that allows it to add scholarship players to get to the maximum of 85 as quickly as possible?
I honestly have no idea how that next chapter might turn out, but the scuttlebutt is USC is exploring its options, which might eventually placate in some way Trojans fans who believed the school has been too passive in accepting the NCAA's harsh treatment.
As for where things stand from a legal perspective with McNair's case, this is the best thing I've read, as it was written by someone with an actual law degree.
Now, three important names have been noted in news reports: Rodney Uphoff, Roscoe Howard and Shep Cooper. What you need to know about them is they were not voting members of the committee of infractions chaired by Paul Dee charged with ruling on USC's case. They were not supposed to participate in the deliberations.
First, understand this process. The committee on infractions (COI) is supposed to operate independently of NCAA administrators. The COI is, according to the NCAA's own language, "... comprised of individuals serving as volunteers from NCAA member institutions and conferences and individuals from the general public who have legal training."
So, by definition, Uphoff and Cooper are not part of the COI process of deliberation and voting.
Start with Uphoff. He was the NCAA coordinator of appeals. He was in the room in an official capacity so he could be knowledgeable about the investigation and ruling in the event of an appeal. Not only did he have no voting rights, his job by definition was to suspend judgment -- as much as humanly possible -- so the institution in question could get a fair appeal of its ruling.
So, yeah, it's a massive ethical breach that he wrote to COI members that "USC has responded to its problems by bringing in Lane Kiffin. They need a wakeup call that doing things the wrong way will have serious consequences. In light of all of the problems at USC, a failure to send a serious message in this case undercuts efforts to help clean up NCAA sports."
Cooper's official title is "Director NCAA Infractions Committees," but that doesn't accurately describe his job. He's a liaison for the committee. His role is designed to be administrative, to assist the committee. His job pretty specifically doesn't include volunteering to the COI that McNair is "a lying morally bankrupt criminal, in my view, and a hypocrite of the highest order."
Then there's Howard. He was the author of a four-page -- single-spaced! -- tirade against USC and McNair, which is interesting because he officially was attending the meetings only as an observer so he could serve on a future COI. He was supposed to be learning, not teaching. He was not supposed to volunteer that “McNair should have all inferences negatively inferred against him."
Howard also wrote: "I don't think this committee should be chained to a (enforcement) staff that has seemed to have fallen short with this investigation or an Institution that has no intention of having us find out what actually happened here."
Think about that assertion. Howard is essentially saying the COI shouldn't be troubled by the lack of substantial evidence. Seriously, read it again.
Just think, we are headed into the 10th anniversary of Reggie Bush's final season and we are still talking about this raging trash fire -- Bush and his family, by the way, were certainly culpable -- of a case. Blows my mind.
Sam from Phoenix writes: Do you have any insight into ASU's defensive plan for the year? I get so frustrated watching them send seven guys after the quarterback only to give up a big play. Sure, it's nice to get more turnovers and sacks, but I don't think my blood pressure is low enough to deal with another season of Todd Graham's "all-or-nothing" overaggressive defense.
Ted Miller: Ah, a football question! Sweet!
And yet isn't it funny that you typically hear rants about "read-and-react" defenses or vituperations against the three-man rush, yet now we have Sam being unhappy with Todd Graham's "all-or-nothing" aggressiveness. Go figure.
The goal for every defense is to be able to get pressure with four guys, and Graham's is no exception. In 2013, with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford, that was possible. In 2014, the Sun Devils didn't have a dominant pass-rusher or any defensive lineman, for that matter, who demanded a double-team. I'm not sold that they have one for 2015, either, particularly after the suspension of junior-college transfer Davon Durant, who was supposed to fill that Bradford-like role at the "Devil" linebacker spot.
Graham is as aware as anybody that a jailbreak pass rush is high-risk, high-reward. He took note of his defense giving up big plays last year during his pre-spring sit-down with reporters. He doesn't like it any more than you, though he really likes sacks and tackles for a loss, a staple of his aggressive scheme.
My guess is having nine starters returning instead of three, as he did in 2014, will solve some issues, as experience is always better than inexperience. Guys will be smarter and more physically prepared. I feel certain that the Sun Devils will be better on defense this fall.
Alex from Sweet 16 vs. Duke in Houston writes: Give me a buy/sell on Travis Wilson being the starting QB at Utah this fall.
Ted Miller: Buy.
I'm a happy-endings guy. I love Wilson's resilience and I think he'll have his best year as a fourth-year starter leading a team that has a shot to win the rugged South Division.
Oregon is about to get rolling in spring practices Tuesday, so here's a video from The Oregonian to whet your appetite.
Of course, there is some player attrition, as there always is, including two more reserves opting to leave the program.
While some guys are leaving, others are just arriving, some of whom seem poised to fight for playing time. The Oregonian has six here, including coveted defensive line recruit Canton Kaumatule.
The Ducks secondary is rebuilding, so here's a preview of what's ahead.
As for competitions, many don't see one at running back after the season freshman Royce Freeman had. But the folks at FishDuck believe counting out Thomas Tyner might be a mistake.
Washington and Fresno State announced they will play at Husky Stadium in Seattle in 2017.
The game, which will be played on Sept. 16, is set to be the third, and final, nonconference game of the year for Washington. The Huskies will begin the season at Rutgers on Sept. 2, before hosting FCS Montana on Sept. 9. Fresno State has made three prior visits to Husky Stadium (1979, 2004, 2006), with a win sandwiched between two losses.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Huskies coach Chris Petersen will be in his fourth year at the school. In Year 4 at Boise State, Petersen led the Broncos to a 14-0 record, including a win over previously unbeaten TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
Arizona, Oregon State and USC are the remaining Pac-12 schools with an open date in 2017.
Here are the rest of the Pac-12's nonconference games in 2017, from fbsschedules.com.
- Arizona: Houston, at UTEP
- Arizona State: New Mexico State, San Diego State, at Texas Tech
- Cal: at North Carolina; Weber State; Ole Miss
- Colorado: Colorado State (in Denver); at San Jose State; Northern Coloradop
- Oregon: Southern Utah; Nebraska; at Wyoming
- Oregon State: Minnesota, Nevada
- Stanford: at Rice, at Virginia, Notre Dame
- UCLA: Texas A&M, Hawaii, at Memphis
- USC: Western Michigan, Texas
- Utah: North Dakota, at BYU, San Jose State
- Washington: atRutgers, Montana, Fresno State
- Washington State: Nevada, Boise State, Montana State (all home games)
Cal begins its second spring session on Wednesday, with its spring game set for April 18. Rising senior wide receiver Bryce Treggs took a few minutes out of his spring break (he stayed home and worked out) to chat with the Pac-12 blog about his quarterback, his future and his place in a deep and talented wide receiver stable. Last year he was tied for second on the team with 52 catches for 634 yards and six touchdowns.
A lot of guys coming back who can catch the ball. Where do you see yourself fitting into that rotation?
Bryce Treggs: I definitely see myself as a guy that’s going to stand out, to break out this year. This will be my fourth year starting and I’m definitely looking to have a big year. And hopefully be one of those top guys who can do whatever it takes to help my team win.
What motivated you to come back for your senior year?
BT: I’m a big academic guy. I graduate in the fall. Everything times out perfectly because I can come back to school, finish my last season, graduate and then go to train wherever and not have to worry about coming back and getting my degree (in legal studies).
You guys were so close to getting to a bowl game but lost your last three. Any hangover from how the year ended?
BT: Not really. It was more a hunger. We wanted to get back on the field because we were hungry to get better and make sure that we can get to a bowl game this year. I wouldn’t say there was a hangover at all.
What’s the pulse of the team heading into the second spring session?
BT: It’s very optimistic. All the guys are really excited. The offense is clicking well. That’s all that we can control right now, so ... all we’re going to worry about is getting better and being the best offense we can be.
From a personal standpoint, what are some of your goals, numbers or otherwise?
BT: I’m just trying to be the best receiver I can be, regardless of what my role is on the team, whether that’s a big role or a small role. It probably won’t be a small role. I feel like I’m going to have to be a deep threat for our team. We have different guys that do a lot of things really well. Stephen Anderson is a big possession and third-down guy. He always finds his way to the sticks. Kenny Lawler is a go-long guy. I feel like I can be a guy that stretches the field and goes deep for us.
What are you looking for out of quarterback Jared Goff in his third year as a starter?
BT: I just want to see him grow as much as he did from Year 1 to Year 2, because last year I think he made great strides. I don’t want him to level out. I want him to keep getting better. I want to see that same jump that he made last year.
I just got a mailbag question about Jared and why he doesn’t get more national attention. Any thoughts?
BT: We haven’t won enough games. You look around the country, name one notable quarterback that has a losing record and you probably won’t find many. That’s what it comes down to. We haven’t won enough games.
Finish this sentence for me. In 2015, Cal football will be …?
BT: Cal football will be back.
LOS ANGELES -- Under the 90-degree heat of a Southern California afternoon last week, USC receivers cycled through routes against man coverage. Usually that would mean at least some one-on-one time against phenom Adoree' Jackson, but on this day the receivers were in luck -- Jackson was wearing a cardinal jersey, running with the offense.
That reprieve has come every other practice throughout the spring as Jackson readies for a more prominent offensive role next season. Like he was as a true freshman, Jackson figures to be primarily a corner -- where he has first-round talent -- but the plan is to up his workload on the other side to take advantage of what he can do with the ball in his hands.
"Whether it's defense, offense -- we fight over him every day," USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton said. "I've been fortunate enough to be around here and in other years it's, 'There's Robert Woods, there's Marqise Lee, there's Nelson Agholor.' Who is the next superstar? This guy is. He's an ultra-special talent and I don't care if it's wideout, running back, corner. He's just really special."
Before Jackson arrived on campus last summer, it wasn't obvious where he would play, but coach Steve Sarkisian said Jackson's preference was corner -- a position of need -- so that's where his career began. And after being named the Pac-12's Defensive Freshman of the Year and honored by just about every freshman All-America team, it's clear the choice was justified. His presence alone had a tendency to affect play calling and decision-making. A rare quality for any player, even more so for a player as young as Jackson.
"He's one of those guys in practice where [quarterback Cody Kessler] sees, 'OK, Adoree' is over there, I better work the other side,'" Helton said.
With his responsibilities at corner taking priority last season, Jackson wasn't allotted much time to learn the nuances of the USC offense. So despite possessing all the natural ability, his opportunities on offense were limited during the regular season in which he finished with seven catches for 65 yards and two touchdown receptions. However, with a full complement of practices leading up to the National University Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, the staff was able to further integrate Jackson as a receiver.
The results were intriguing. In addition to his 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- capped with a salute to Reggie Bush in the form of a flip into the end zone -- Jackson caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown that demonstrated why he's expected to be one of the most exciting players in college football for at least the next two years.
"Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath because he can take it 80 [yards]," Helton said. "He's such an offensive weapon that I'm glad we're allowed to borrow him at times."
His exploits aren't limited to football, either. In fact, if Jackson had his way, he wouldn't be practicing with the football team at all this spring. He said he would rather devote the season to track and field, where he participates in the long jump and sprints, but has come to a compromise.
"I did talk to [the coaches] about doing track in the spring and they said I could,” Jackson said. "But [coach Sarkisian] said he wanted me out there to learn everything that we're doing new. So I listened to him and am doing the new stuff. My preference would be to go out here and run track and compete and try to be an All-American in another sport."
In the Trojan Invitational on March 21, Jackson anchored the 4x100-meter relay team to a first-place finish with an NCAA-leading time of 39.74, won the long jump (24 feet, 4.25 inches) and helped the 4x400-meter relay team to a second-place finish. He will be part of the USC contingent at the Florida Relays in Gainesville later this week.
"I don't know if [track] helps physically for football, but mentally to go out there and focus and compete is a good thing," USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward said. "He's going against really, really good athletes that don't play football and just do that. It's a testament to the type of athlete he is and his abilities. Some people just have it.
"That's the kind of guy we like. We want somebody that wants to be great. You have to have that competitive edge and that winning attitude to be relentless toward your goals."
Because of the NCAA's restrictions on the amount of hours an athlete is allowed to practice each week, Jackson's time with the track team is limited. He said he picks a day -- usually Monday, Wednesday or Friday -- based on which one allows him to maximize his time with the track team the best. It may seem overwhelming, but for Jackson it's all he knows.
Here are the top spring developments in the Pac-12 (Kyle Bonagura and David Lombardi contributed as noted below):
1. Starting quarterbacks out for the spring
The conference lost many of its best quarterbacks after last season to early entry or graduation, but this spring it lost a couple more. Washington’s Cyler Miles decided to take a voluntary leave of absence from Huskies football this spring for personal reasons, according to the university. It was stressed that Miles, who missed last spring due to a disciplinary suspension, chose to take this leave on his own and that it had nothing to do with school or team rules. He remains enrolled at Washington, but his absence on the football field is opening up reps for a handful of untested quarterbacks.
Utah’s Kendal Thompson, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Utes’ loss to Oregon, hasn’t been cleared for contact this spring, so the main focus for him is timing with receivers, footwork and technique. He’s still technically competing for the starting job, but with Travis Wilson finishing out last season and being the top guy this spring, it seems Wilson is inching closer to cementing the spot. At this point, every inch matters, and any player who can take even a small step forward would be welcomed as a starter just for the sake of consistency for the offense.
2. Oregon gets boost at QB
Speaking of quarterbacks, Oregon got a major boost this spring when Vernon Adams Jr. announced his transfer from Eastern Washington. The dual-threat quarterback has thrived at the FCS level for the Eagles, and with the departure of Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, there are certainly FBS shoes that need to be filled in Eugene. Adams won’t be able to enroll at the school until this summer due to Eastern Washington’s academic schedule and because the Ducks open next season with EWU, so Adams has been forced to work out on his own this spring until he arrives at Oregon. He’s certainly the most experienced (from a game perspective) quarterback the Ducks have on their roster, and his abilities with his arm and his feet make him an intriguing prospect as Oregon maneuvers through life after Mariota.
3. USC’s first spring sans sanctions
As USC becomes whole again, the Trojans will be infused with an impressive collection of talented players -- arguably the most in the country. Of their recent signing class, ranked No. 3 in the country by ESPN.com, five players enrolled in time for spring practice; receiver Isaac Whitney, a junior college transfer, and linebacker Cameron Smith are the most likely candidates to make an impact in 2015. The others -- QB Ricky Town, OT Chuma Edoga and OL Roy Hemsley -- have the talent to play right away, but have a longer climb up the depth chart. With RB Buck Allen off to the NFL, USC has a good starting place with Justin Davis, but also expect Tre Madden back to go along with a diverse trio of freshmen added in the signing class. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton said all three -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware -- likely will factor into the Trojans’ plans in 2015. Jones was the top-ranked back in the Class of 2015 and is the most complete of the group, but Davis’ speed and Ware’s power should give USC the ability to vary its looks. -- Kyle Bonagura
4. Cal’s loss is Stanford’s gain
For the past three seasons, sturdy line play has anchored Stanford’s conference-best defense. But graduation -- the Cardinal lost all three 2014 starters up front -- and a rash of injuries made the once-mighty unit look awfully fragile early in spring. At one point, only three defensive linemen dressed for practice, leaving the team literally devoid of depth at the position. The trio was forced to huff and puff throughout the entire session without any relief, and the defense leaked big runs as a result.
Two weeks ago, former Cal defensive end Brennan Scarlett announced his intentions to cross the Bay Bridge and enroll at Stanford as a graduate transfer. Assuming Scarlett is able to stay healthy (he's coming off an ACL tear that derailed his 2014 season), this transfer gives the Cardinal's starved defensive line a significant boost. With Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas also expected back from injury soon, the unit's prospects suddenly look manageable. This is still expected to be a major rebuilding year for the Stanford defense -- eight starters have departed -- but Scarlett's addition gives coordinator Lance Anderson a much-needed veteran presence at a critical position. A transfer between the archrivals also provides a potentially juicy 2015 storyline. -- David Lombardi
5. Cameron Smith undergoes surgery, is out for 2015 season
After Cameron Smith sat out the latter part of last season with knee pain, the Arizona State staff hoped rest would be the answer to his recovery. But early in spring practices, coach Todd Graham announced that Smith had undergone surgery and would be lost not only for the spring but also for the 2015 season. It was a huge blow to the Sun Devils, who were already trying to replace the Pac-12’s fourth-leading receiver, Jaelen Strong. D.J. Foster’s move to wide receiver figures to help alleviate some of that, but for Arizona State to lose its No. 3 receiver from a year ago and its best downfield threat for next season certainly is a major development for the Sun Devils and for the South Division/conference as a whole.
6. Rich Rodriguez loves him some Arizona basketball
Did any Pac-12 football coach have as much hoops fun as Rodriguez this year? The Pac-12 Blog thinks not.
If he wasn’t tossing chicken sandwiches to students attending Wildcats basketball games, he was sitting courtside at the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament.
— Pacific Takes (@PacificTakes) January 21, 2015
7. Oregon State makes offensive moves
When Gary Andersen was hired at Oregon State, it was obvious that the Beavers would look pretty different as they moved on from the Mike Riley era. But how different? And how quickly? And who would step into QB Sean Mannion’s shoes?
Andersen told the Pac-12 Blog in February that he wanted the Oregon State offense to be “wide open” and that “there will be carryover, but I would say it will be limited.”
In early March, he took one big step in that direction as he cut Oregon State’s quarterback competition from the seven QBs on the spring roster to just three. No surprises here: It’s the three signal-callers who are also the most talented with their feet -- Luke Del Rio, Nick Mitchell and Seth Collins. The latter two are the better runners of the trio, though all three are considerably more mobile than Mannion. The move is an early indicator of how different the Beavs will look come fall with a new offense, new staff and new quarterback.
It's probably not surprising the hullabaloo last week over the NCAA's dubious conduct during its judging of USC's football program didn't escape current Trojans.
USC players told the LA Times that they were aware of the reaction that was ignited last week when inflammatory emails and memos written by members of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions were unsealed in the Todd McNair defamation lawsuit against the NCAA. But, hey, what can they do other than try to get better at football?
"Turns out maybe we didn't deserve as much punishment as we got," linebacker Su'a Cravens told the Times.
As for the football part of football, USC's do-everything athlete, Adorre Jackson, is trying to keep on track because, of course, he's running track as well as going both ways.
And here are some observations from Week 3 of spring practices.
A couple of SEC schools have announced new future series in recent days, including Texas A&M, which has added a home-and-home series with Colorado in 2020 and 2021.
The former Big 12 mates will play at Texas A&M in 2020 and most likely at Colorado in 2021, although the game might also be staged in Denver.
In case you missed it, Vanderbilt and Stanford also announced a four-game series this week. Vanderbilt will host in 2021 and 2025 and Stanford will host in 2024 and 2027.
Vandy coach Derek Mason was a Stanford assistant before accepting his current position in Nashville.
USC continued spring practice in scorching 91-degree weather Thursday, and optimism continued to emanate from the Trojan camp. For weeks, the national media has focused primarily on USC's stockpile of skill position talent, but Damien Mama -- who has shed nearly 40 pounds -- spoke about the offensive line's chance to be special in 2015.
USC is also excited about incoming tight end Taylor McNamara, who is transferring from Oklahoma to fortify a thin position group. One current member is walk-on Connor Spears, whose interesting story is documented here.
Much USC press has been focused on off-field issues this week. This Bruce Feldman podcast contends that the NCAA completely botched the Todd McNair case, leaving the Trojans holding the short end of the stick. Former coach Pete Carroll reacted to the recently released documents in the case, while athletic director Pat Haden penned some strong words in response to the unsealing.
Stanford players are currently off until the beginning of the second spring session next Monday, but the program has enjoyed a pair of key developments this week.
On Wednesday, Stanford announced home-and-home series with Vanderbilt and TCU. The Cardinal have never played the Commodores or hosted an SEC opponent at Stanford Stadium. They'll travel to Nashville in 2021 and 2015, while Vanderbilt flies to the Bay Area in 2024 and 2027.
On Thursday, prized recruit K.J. Costello -- ESPN's top rated 2016 quarterback from the state of California -- chose the Cardinal over USC and Michigan. This was a critical victory for David Shaw for a number of reasons. Stanford hungered for a quarterback after not signing one in 2015, and their win for Costello also packed some symbolic punch: Both of Costello's parents went to USC, and former Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh is now at Michigan. It's looking as if Stanford's recruiting appeal has overcome 2014's five-loss season.
Harbaugh, by the way, hasn't been shy in discussing how he wants to duplicate his model of success at Stanford at Michigan.
We're in the midst of the NCAA tournament, that time of the year when upset wins (and losses, depending on one's perspective) define the month's sporting calendar. To mark the occasion, Ted Miller ranked the top 10 Pac-12 football bracket busters since the turn of the century.
Stanford's 24-23 shocker at USC was technically the biggest upset of them all -- the Cardinal were 41-point underdogs -- but which surprise was the most memorable?
Kevin Gemmell: No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 2 Oregon 14, 2012
Of the “Pac-12” era, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more memorable upset than Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win over Oregon in Eugene in 2012.
You had the Zach Ertz touchdown catch (or non-catch … talk amongst yourselves). You had a Stanford team adjusting to life after Andrew Luck and Kevin Hogan making his first career road start and just his second start overall. You had an Oregon team that had scored at least 42 points in 13 consecutive games. You had Jordan Williamson’s Fiesta Bowl redemption and you had a Stanford defense that was downright brilliant.
Oh, did we mention that Oregon was ranked No. 1 in the country (coaches' poll)?
Stanford’s win busted the two-team BCS bracket wide open. And depending which lines you looked at, Oregon was favored by as many as 21.5 with an over-under of 64.5. The Cardinal couldn’t beat the Ducks the year before … at home … with Luck! … so why on earth would they do it on the road with a green quarterback?
Not only was the outcome surprising, but the way the game played out was equally unexpected. The previous three years, the winner had scored at least 50 points and the loser at least 30. In 2009, Stanford won 51-42. The next two years, Oregon won 52-31 and 53-30, respectively. The 2012 edition rewrote the playbook for how teams attacked Oregon.
Everything about that game was thrilling. And Oregon fans are probably still left wondering what would have been if De'Anthony Thomas had just thrown a block?
Ted Miller: Washington 29, No. 3 Washington State 26, 2002
I covered four of our top-10 upsets but for a myriad of reasons none left a bigger impression than Washington’s shocking 29-26 victory over third-ranked Washington State in the 2002 Apple Cup.
First of all, 2002 was an interesting year. For one, check out the preseason AP poll. Colorado is No. 7, Washington is No. 9 and Washington State is No. 11. Oregon and USC are Nos. 15 and 20. Yeah, that seems a bit weird. The Huskies imploded at Michigan in the season opener, tearing defeat from the jaws of victory, and never really recovered. Washington State bounced back from a loss at Ohio State to roll through the Pac-10, the signature victory over USC punctuated by a sliding Drew Dunning after he kicked the game-winning field goal. You might recall the Pete Carroll era at USC picked up after that.
Oh, and the Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price eras ended at Washington and Washington State after this season for very different reasons, though both would end up in a sort of coaching purgatory by the beginning of 2003.
As for the game, it was a remarkable back-and-forth affair, with a talented Huskies team finally playing to its potential against a Washington State team that was obviously much better. Yet you could feel Martin Stadium gasp with worry when Cougars QB Jason Gesser got hurt. If Gesser didn’t get hurt, the Cougs would have coasted home, but if wishes were fishes then cows would fly.
While the game was exciting for all four-plus hours, which included three overtimes, the ending and aftermath was most remarkable (here’s my column from after the game). It was decided by a controversial call that required referee Gordon Riese to explain himself on the field. That didn’t go well. Cougars fans started pelting the field with bottles and anything else they could get their hands on. It was an ugly scene.
That said, I still talk about this game with Huskies and Cougars alike. Everyone who witnessed has a take on it. Some Cougs tell me they still aren’t over it. And Huskies know that their program pretty much fell into an extended spiral down the toilet after this season. Their next winning campaign didn't come until 2010.
Chantel Jennings: Arizona 31, No. 2 Oregon 24, 2014
This was a pretty easy choice for me for two reasons.
First, it’s the only upset on the list that I saw in person. And let’s be honest: As great as it is to watch games from the comfort of your living room with friends, it doesn’t come close to being able to see the thing in real life.
Second, it was the second straight year this happened. It’s like the old “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" adage. Only it’s “Upset a team once, it’s surprising; upset a team in back-to-back years, and it doesn’t seem like much of an upset anymore.”
Would we even be having a debate like this if any of the other upsets had happened twice in a row? Can you imagine the chaos that would’ve broken loose if Stanford had beaten USC again in 2008? (Instead, the Cardinal lost by 22.) Or, what if the Beavers came back in 2009 and beat up on the then-fourth-ranked Trojans again? (They almost did, only losing by six.)
Hands down, those would be memorable, right? Because there’s something so great about that moment in which an upset or a second upset spurns a rivalry and the game is never the same. Every junior on Oregon’s roster this season is going to be telling the freshmen and sophomores about how they’ve never beaten the Wildcats in the regular season. Every senior is going to be telling the underclassmen how they want to leave Eugene without the stigma of allowing Arizona to be a stumbling block in the regular season. The difference between avenging a loss and making the same “mistake” twice is something that never leaves these players.
If Oregon had come back and smacked Arizona last year during the regular season, that wouldn’t be the case.
David Lombardi: Stanford 24, No. 2 USC 23, 2007
This was my first foray to the Coliseum, and it happened to feature the largest point spread (41) ever overcome in college football history.
I spoke with only one optimistic Stanford supporter before the game, and that happened to be Jim Harbaugh's fiancée (now wife), Sarah.
The USC dynasty was flying high -- the Trojans still had two more Rose Bowl championships on the way, including one later that season. It seemed as if Stanford hadn't advanced past its 1-11 nadir the year prior. In fact, a week before their trip to Los Angeles, the Cardinal had been blown out 41-3 at home by Arizona State. To further stretch out a long injury list, starting quarterback T.C. Ostrander had suffered a seizure during the week. So Stanford threw skinny sophomore backup Tavita Pritchard to the lions of the Coliseum for his first career start.
Just a few months earlier, Harbaugh had already verbally chest-bumped Pete Carroll, who was then the bully on the Pac-10 block. "We bow to no man, we bow to no program here at Stanford University," the Cardinal's new coach had said to conclude a war of words between the two men, which began when Harbaugh publicly speculated on Carroll's future at USC.
In short, all context suggested that the Trojans would administer a beatdown to put Harbaugh and his overmatched squad in its place.
At halftime, though, USC only led 9-0, and the crowd booed the home team off the field after Stanford had stuffed a fourth-down attempt at the goal line. That was the first in a series of dominoes that fell the Cardinal's way.
Every single break proved instrumental in the upset. Trojan quarterback John David Booty, who remained in the game despite breaking his finger, threw four critical interceptions. Richard Sherman (yes, that Richard Sherman, still a wide receiver playing for Harbaugh and not Carroll back then) converted a do-or-die fourth-and-20 by a millimeter or two.
That set the table for the decisive fourth-and-goal fade, in which Pritchard found Mark Bradford -- whose father had recently passed away -- for the score that pushed Stanford to a 24-23 victory. The Cardinal had sucked the air out of the Coliseum in a shocker that might have cost USC a national title shot in 2007 and ignited the Harbaugh-Carroll rivalry.
If 2014 was the Pac-12's year of the quarterback, then 2015 -- at least its spring -- will focus largely on their replacements. Obviously, the Oregon and UCLA quarterback situations will be closely monitored and draw national scrutiny. Oregon State is replacing the league's all-time leading passer. Even with Travis Wilson getting the snaps at Utah, there's a dusting of potential drama come fall when Kendal Thompson is expected to return.
But perhaps the most intriguing quarterback competition might taking place in Pullman, Washington, where the Cougars have to replace record-setting quarterback Connor Halliday. Washington State opens spring ball Thursday with the quarterback spot on a lot of people's minds. Not just because quarterback is the most important position on the field -- but because Mike Leach-coached quarterbacks are likely destined for big numbers.
Halliday's career -- cut short by a gruesome ankle/leg injury in a loss to USC in November -- was checkered with moments of individual brilliance but a lack of team success. He finished his career with a school record 11,304 passing yards (fourth most in league history) and 90 passing touchdowns, which is third all-time in the conference.
The natural assumption is that the guy who replaced him -- Luke Falk -- would be the frontrunner for the starting gig. But addressing the media Wednesday, Leach made it very clear that Falk and redshirt freshmen Peyton Bender would square off – and the competition is likely to carry well into fall camp.
"As far as making decisions, if they don't separate themselves, it's kind of a Catch-22," Leach said. "If they don't separate themselves that means you've got two quarterbacks that are incredibly competitive. If one does separate himself, it allows you to put some extra reps into the guy that's starting to take hold of the thing.
"… But you want to develop enough skills in spring so when they go into the offseason they continue to refine their skills and continue to work. And then you go into camp and you do the same thing. You split the reps and then see who separates themselves that time around too. I've had where a guy had the lead coming out of spring and then in fall, you do the same thing, and the guy who was behind in spring took charge in the fall."
In other words, don't expect any announcements before May.
Still, that didn't stop Leach from heaping on the praise when it came to Falk. As a redshirt freshman, Falk completed 64.2 percent of his throws and tossed 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions for 1,859 yards after he replaced Halliday. That includes one game of mop-up duty against Portland State and the final four games where Halliday was injured.
"The composure and presence he had when he stepped out there -- and it was very sudden when Connor broke his ankle -- he stepped out there and I mean after three plays, he looked like he belonged there," Leach said. "His steady mental makeup I think is something that I think the team grew from as well. Mentally, to not make too much out of it, which is a huge temptation to a freshman, I think the discipline that he had and exhibited in that fashion was the most impressive I've seen out of a freshman."
Leach described Bender as having a "real electric arm," and added that he's looking forward to seeing what freshman Tyler Hilinski can do.
"They've done some good things," Leach said of Bender and Hilinski. "They are going to be a lot of reps for them and they will get a chance to really showcase their talents … Luke and Peyton will split [first-team reps] and we'll see who separates themselves."
Andrew Greif from The Oregonian takes a look at six players to watch when the Ducks take the field for spring practices. The emphasis is on newcomers and those who haven't yet been in the spotlight in Eugene.
The real intrigue, he warns, likely won't come until the spring game on May 2nd. That's when we'll see quarterbacks Morgan Mahalak and Ty Griffin in semi-official action, which may offer a better idea as to where each stands in the Ducks QB competition.
LOS ANGLES -- A day after court documents were unsealed to reveal an apparent bias toward USC by the NCAA, quarterback Cody Kessler could only shrug it off. He saw first-hand what the NCAA sanctions did to the Trojans, but his interest in the subject remains almost nonexistent.
And why wouldn’t it?
Nothing that came from the documents related to former USC assistant coach Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the NCAA will have any bearing on the current team. It’s not like the NCAA will pay a penance in the form of extra scholarships to USC named after Reggie Bush. No, this is all just more ambient noise at a place where they’ve had practice tuning it out.
“A lot of people over the years said it. ‘This isn’t fair. This isn’t fair,’” Kessler said in reference to the NCAA sanctions. “And people were always mad about it. But the way we approached it was that it is what it is. It happened. It’s in the past now. I think we’re better from it and ultimately we learned from it.”
To what degrees those lessons will play a role in football-related matters is tough to quantify, but USC will take any advantage it can as its looks to replace defensive lineman Leonard Williams, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor among several others in pursuit of a College Football Playoff berth and a national title.
Anything that doesn't factor into those goals is treated with the appropriate amount of attention. Usually none.
"We had enough guys that have been here for a while and have dealt with a lot," Kessler said. "Anything that gets thrown at us, we'll be ready for."
At the halfway point of spring practice, Kessler remains happy with his call not to join Williams, Allen and Agoholor in pursuit of an NFL career. More than a passing thought went into the decision after he threw 3,826 yards and tied the school record with 39 touchdowns passes last season. But after after talking it through with his family and meeting with coach Steve Sarkisian, it became obvious which path he preferred.
“When I made up my mind, I texted Coach Sark and told him I couldn’t leave without winning a national title with him,” Kessler said.
So despite signing arguably the best recruiting class in the country, it was Kessler’s pledge that will have by far the greatest impact on whether the Trojans can navigates their way back to the top.
“I felt the same way [about him],” Sarksian said. “That’s why you should come back. Guys make decisions to stay or to go, and at the end of the day the college experience is so unique and if you feel like you have a chance to win a championships you should try to do it because once you leave, that’s it. You don’t get another opportunity to do it.
“I think we both feel like we have a chance to do that. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I think we understand we’re capable of it.”