Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Official visits are beginning in earnest in the Pac-12, as several conference programs will host impact weekends. Despite no Pac-12 games in California this weekend, a handful of potential impact visitors will hit the campuses of several conference programs, as schools that don't always carry the recruiting banner for the Pac-12 have a chance to take center stage this weekend.

Latest Dish: Five things I learned

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Sure, No. 5 Auburn greatly benefited from No. 20 Kansas State’s red zone miscues and three missed field goals in Thursday night's 20-14 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But give the Tigers some credit for making plays when it mattered most, especially on defense.

Auburn limited the Wildcats to only 40 rushing yards on 30 carries (1.3 yards per carry) and surrendered only one run longer than 10 yards to KSU tailback Charles Jones, who came into the game averaging 6 yards per attempt. Also, Auburn only allowed two passes of more than 15 yards, and held quarterback Jake Waters to minus-7 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

Auburn might not yet have a championship-caliber defense, but it is certainly making strides under second-year coordinator Ellis Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Seminoles are used to getting off to a fast start in games when Jameis Winston is under center.
2. No. 1 FSU is used to starting fast with quarterback Jameis Winston on the field. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Seminoles had a halftime lead of at least seven points in 15 of the previous 16 games Winston started at FSU. The only team that stayed within six points of the Seminoles in the first half was Auburn, which had an 11-point halftime lead in last season’s BCS National Championship. FSU rallied for a 34-31 victory in the second half to claim the school’s third national title.

We’ll see if No. 22 Clemson can keep it close in Saturday night’s ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. Winston is suspended from playing in the first half after making vulgar comments in the FSU student union Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire is expected to make his first career start. Maguire hasn't started a game since November 2011, when he was a senior at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey.

3. Although hindsight is 20/20, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo accepted blame for not having tailback Todd Gurley more involved in the offense when the Bulldogs faced first-and-goal at South Carolina’s 4-yard line in the closing minutes of last week’s 38-35 loss. UGA attempted a play-action pass on first-and-goal, and quarterback Hutson Mason was penalized for intentional grounding. After two more plays, the Bulldogs missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the score, and the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock.

Bobo's first-down call was an aggressive one, and it can certainly be argued that he should have put the ball in the hands of Gurley, who might be the country's best running back. But if the play-action pass had worked, we'd be talking about how brilliant Bobo's call was. And, of course, if Bobo had called for Mason to hand the ball to Gurley on four straight plays and the Bulldogs didn't score, we'd be talking about how vanilla and uncreative his play calling was.

4. West Virginia's defense surrendered 447 yards of offense in last week’s 40-37 win at Maryland, but Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said 188 yards came on three plays. Quarterback C.J. Brown threw a 77-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and had a 75-yard scoring run of his own. The Mountaineers didn't give up a touchdown after Brown’s long run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half (the Terps kicked a field goal and scored on a long punt return in the fourth quarter).

West Virginia will need a similar defensive effort if it’s going to upset No. 4 Oklahoma in Morgantown on Saturday night. Last season, the Sooners defeated the Mountaineers 16-7, their fewest points total during the previous two seasons.

5. Oregon’s recent dominance over Washington State is making it one of the most lopsided conference series in the country. The No. 2 Ducks have won seven straight games over the Cougars heading into Saturday night’s game in Pullman, averaging 52.4 points per game with an average margin of victory of 32.1 points. Ouch.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

This is the final weekend of "mostly" nonconference play. Starting next week, it's a full slate of Pac-12-only games. So say your hellos and goodbyes to the Michigans, Hawaiis and Georgia States of the world this weekend. There are still three dates with Notre Dame and Cal's season finale against BYU. But for the rest of the league, we wrap up the non-league games this weekend.

The nonconference schedule always makes for some interesting picks. The Pac-12 blog unleashed its picks on the world yesterday morning. Not a ton of discrepancy, other than a 4-1 decision on the Utah-Michigan game. Besides that one game, the rest of the Pac-12 blog is in agreement.

Here are what others from across the country are picking for Week 4.
  • The folks at CBS make their picks on some of the national games, including an across-the-board-selection of Oregon in Pullman.
  • Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman Review was pretty good last week straight up, not so much if you're betting pennies. His picks this week.
  • Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News weighs in with his picks here.
  • Athlon Sports offers up their Pac-12 predictions here.
  • Christian Caple of the News Tribune lays out his picks.

(I'm noticing a lot of folks went 7-1 last week ... hmmm, USC...)

Big Board update

When the first two names are called at the 2015 NFL draft, there's a good chance they will both be from the Pac-12. So says ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., who updated his Big Board. It's an Insider piece, but I'll tell you the new big board is silly with Pac-12 players. Eight players from the league are in his top 25 -- including three in the top 10.



News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

Jim Mora mum on status of Brett Hundley

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
6:36
PM ET
video

UCLA head coach Jim Mora refused to provide an update on the condition of Brett Hundley's injury. Kevin Gemmell has the latest on the Bruins' quarterback.

A 6-Pac of questions for Week 4

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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Nick Wilson, Marcus Mariota, Travis WilsonAP Photo, AP Photo, Icon SportswireArizona, Oregon and Utah are among the Pac-12's featured teams Week 4.
Is Cal ready to carry its success into conference play?

KyleBonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Short answer: yes. But with the understanding that success at Cal won't be defined the same way as it is other places -- at least not yet. This week's trip to Arizona could be the most telling game of the season, because the Bears are still largely an unknown due of the caliber of their first two opponents. Even if Cal keeps it close, that should constitute as success and would set the stage for winnable games the next two weeks vs. Colorado and at Washington State. After that, the schedule is brutal, but things appear to be headed in the right direction in Berkeley.

David Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Cal is a significantly improved football team -- new coordinator Art Kaufman has at least contained the defensive dumpster fire, many of last season's injuries have healed, and Jared Goff is no longer a freshman. However, I do need to see the Bears deliver in Pac-12 play before I buy some of their stock. Their lone FBS win, against, Northwestern isn't overly impressive at this point, so I don't expect a win on the road against efficient Anu Solomon (over 10 yards per attempt last week) and Arizona quite yet. I do see Cal beating Colorado at home next week leading into another winnable road game at Washington State, though. So I do think the Bears are ready for a couple droplets of conference success this year -- just not this Saturday.

What kind of chances are you giving Utah in the Big House?

Bonagura: It would be easy to write off Utah's first two wins because of who they came against -- FCS Idaho State and reeling Fresno State -- but even taking into account who they were playing, the Utes were still awfully impressive to watch. New offensive coordinator Dave Christensen's system is a perfect fit for their personnel, and the defense is right up there with Stanford in terms of its physicality. Michigan, on the other hand, hasn't done anything to inspire confidence in Brady Hoke's third (and final?) season at Michigan. Expecting a close one, but like Utah on the road.

Lombardi: I'm sure some Utah fans were salivating about this coming opportunity after seeing the score of Notre Dame's beatdown against Michigan in Week 2 (31-0). That final, though, is deceptive: The Wolverines actually out-gained the Irish 289-280. Four turnovers doomed Michigan, but it's safe to assume their defense is much stronger than the porous units Idaho State and Fresno State threw at the Utes (in fact, the Wolverines are allowing only 2.6 yards per rush and 4.1 yards per play). That being said, Utah is playing with confidence in both its running and passing games. If they can hold up along the trenches, a win is certainly within reach.

What needs to happen for Washington State to give Oregon trouble?

Bonagura: Some sort of external force would help, like, say, the Sports Illustrated cover jinx? Oregon was on the cover in 2003 -- "Rich, Cool and 4-0" -- before a game with Washington State and the Cougars went to Autzen Stadium and won 55-16. Of course, that was a really good Wazzu team, and to predict anything similar seems foolish.

Lombardi: Turnovers, turnovers, and more Oregon turnovers. This is a brutal matchup for the Cougars because they don't run the ball, so they are the least capable Pac-12 team of implementing the "Stanford formula" of ball control to beat the Ducks. Since Mike Leach tries to move the ball exclusively through the air, Connor Halliday will need to turn in the most efficient performance of his career, and it's going to need to feature a perfect combination of short and deep throws to keep an explosive Ducks' secondary off-balance. Oh, and did I mention that Wazzu will need turnovers?

What is the most interesting game of the weekend?

Bonagura: Cal-Arizona, no doubt. Conference game, Cal is on the rise, Arizona is 3-0, but had two close ones the past two weeks. Lots of reasons to be intrigued by this one -- and there just aren't that many other good games this week.

Lombardi: I think it has to be Cal-Arizona. Last year's version was actually one of the Bears' few close contests -- they lost 33-28 to the Wildcats at home. That makes one believe they can at least give the Wildcats a run for it on Saturday. But this one is on the road, so it should provide us with a good Cal litmus test, because it doesn't look like Northwestern is any good.

What running back will run for the most yards this week?

Bonagura: Arizona true freshman Nick Wilson has averaged 149.7 yards a game to start his career. No reason to believe he won't continue to produce against Cal.

Lombardi: Oregon's Royce Freeman is a bruiser, and a speedy one at that. I think he's a complete back, and think he's going to go off in the Palouse.

What must Oregon State do early to avoid needing a Houdini act to escape against San Diego State this time?

Bonagura: Two keys for Oregon State: cut down on penalties and score touchdowns in the red zone. The Beavers have been the most penalized team in the country (13.0 per game) so far and have the Pac-12's lowest red-zone touchdown percentage (39.5). Rectify those two situations issues and they will be fine.

Lombardi: Last season, the Beavers trailed 27-14 before outscoring the Aztecs 20-3 in the fourth quarter to eek out the victory. The game was actually tied 14-14 after the first quarter, but San Diego State owned the second and third quarters 13-0. Football is a game of adjustments and counter-adjustments, and it clearly took Mike Riley's staff a little too much time to counter-adjust last year. Steven Nelson's pick-six ended up saving the day for Oregon State, but the Beavers must maintain offensive efficiency into the middle of the game this time around.
Travis WilsonRuss Isabella/USA TODAY SportsTravis Wilson's is one of five Pac-12 quarterbacks who have not thrown an interception this season.

The old saying goes that you don't really know what you have until it's gone. And for Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, that time came last season.

During the Arizona State game on Nov. 9, Wilson took a bad hit. It wasn't until the following day that Wilson started feeling sick and dizzy, displaying concussion-like symptoms. That Monday, he took a concussion test and failed, prompting a CT scan of Wilson's head the next day.

"I didn't think it was any big deal," Wilson said. "I just thought it was just a concussion and maybe I'd have to sit out a week. I didn't think it was anything more than that."

The scan revealed an enlarged intracranial artery that had calcified.

Wilson's parents flew in from San Clemente, California. But even with the family there, the doctors really weren't able to give them very much information because it wasn't available. They didn't know when the injury had occurred. There wasn't much information regarding young people with this type of injury. They didn't know if football had played a part in it. They didn't know if he'd ever be able to play again.

"It was difficult," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But football was a distant second in our minds as far as making sure that he was going to be healthy for the duration of his life and not have something like this have an impact on his quality of life. That was the main concern."

The decision was made to have Wilson sit out for three months -- with his only activity being running and lifting -- and do another CT scan to see if anything changed when football was taken out of the equation. He would act as a glorified student-coach for the Utes, helping back up Adam Schulz.

"All I could really do was try to coach," Wilson said. "It was tough not being able to play. I felt sick to my stomach not being able to play. It didn't feel right just standing on the sidelines and not being able to do anything."

In February, the scan revealed no changes and the doctors said that Wilson could return to football with no-contact. Pending another scan in June, he'd be able to return for good.

He went through spring ball without contact, glad to be playing a non-contact form of football. And when his June results still showed no change, Wilson was able to get back into full football form.

"I was very grateful," Wilson said. "I got a second opportunity to play this game."

"When the potential was there for him to never play again, I think he realized how much he loved it," Whittingham said.

Wilson has wasted no time in making his mark with the Utes, who are 2-0 going into a huge matchup with Michigan on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Wilson has the second highest passer efficiency rating in the country this season and is averaging 11.7 yards per attempt. He's also one of five Pac-12 quarterbacks who has yet to throw an interception this season.

Though the Big House and the Wolverines offer a different test than one he has seen in his career, he knows that the Wilson that steps on the field now is far different than the one that stepped on the field before.

"I'm definitely playing more calm," Wilson said. "I'm just really happy with the overall success [of the team]. I think we'll continue to get better as well."

Kickoff Live: Week 4 (1 ET)

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
10:35
AM ET
ESPN.com reporters Ted Miller, Edward Aschoff and Heather Dinich join host Chantel Jennings to discuss the latest on Jameis Winston and preview the weekend slate of games.

Pac-12 Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
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The Pac-12 reporters weigh in on this week's games:


Why Utah will win: Utah’s road woes -- and the fact that the Utes have won only one game outside the state in the past two years -- give me pause. What doesn’t give me pause is the way the offense has been clicking through the first two games. Travis Wilson has completed 63.2 percent of his throws, with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Devontae Booker has been as advertised and, along with Bubba Poole and Troy McCormick, the Utes have a balanced ground attack that complements their talented receivers. With a third-down completion percentage of 51.6, the Utes have been moving the ball well. Defensive end Nate Orchard (2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss) has been phenomenal so far. And if this game comes down to kicking, there is no player in the country I’d trust more than “automatic” Andy Phillips. The fact that the Utes are coming off a bye doesn’t hurt, either. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Michigan will win: Michigan isn't as bad as Utah fans might hope it is. Four turnovers were primarily responsible for the Wolverines' 31-0 loss at Notre Dame, a game in which they actually outgained the Irish 289-280. Michigan's defense plays at a different level than overmatched opening opponents Idaho State and Fresno State: They've allowed only 2.6 yards per rush and 4.1 yards per play. This is a new challenge for Utah and it comes on the road, where the Utes have gone a measly 2-9 in the past two seasons. That being said, Wilson is leading a confident Utes offense that is enjoying success in both the running and passing phases of the game. I think Utah has enough weapons to break its four-game road losing streak in the Big House, but I need to see it happen before I truly believe. Look for the Wolverines to win a close one. -- David Lombardi


Why Arizona will win: Through two games, Cal obviously has proved it’s on the right track. To this point, the Bears are without question the most improved team in the conference -- and maybe the country. The fact that rational people can come up with solid reasoning for why Cal will win speaks volumes. I’m just not there yet. Arizona’s offense presents a set of challenges the Bears haven’t yet proved they are capable of stopping. Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon took a big step last week against Nevada, from an accuracy standpoint, though running back Nick Wilson continues to impress. Arizona wins, but it’s a much more intriguing game than it figured to be just four weeks ago. -- Kyle Bonagura


Why Oregon will win: Marcus Mariota was too much for Michigan State's defense to handle, and putting Washington State's defense in the same category as the Spartans' defense is just not really possible right now. The Heisman Trophy front-runner is going to do what he does, meaning he's going to pick apart a young Cougars secondary, and Oregon's three-headed monster at running back will keep pounding Wazzu's front seven. The Cougars will be able to put points on the board, considering how many big plays the Ducks' defense has given up this season already and how much Connor Halliday throws the ball, but expect a result pretty similar to the Ducks' previous three games. A big victory with second- and third-string guys playing the final quarter. -- Chantel Jennings

More consensus picks: Colorado over Hawaii; Oregon State over San Diego State; Washington over Georgia State.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
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I see you have learned to work the Google on the internet machine.

Leading off

The two highest-ranked teams in the Pac-12 -- Oregon and UCLA -- have had some issues along the offensive line three weeks into the season. The Ducks have suffered injuries that have forced some younger or less experienced players into action. The Bruins haven't done a great job protecting their quarterbacks. If either hopes to advance to the College Football Playoff, they are going to have to figure things out up front. That's the premise of Steve Lassen's piece for Athlon Sports, which examines the offensive lines of both schools so far.

Lassen on Oregon:
Will Oregon’s offensive line woes derail the offense against Washington State or Arizona? Probably not, but a thin offensive line could create more pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota.

And on UCLA:
The stats from the first three games suggest the offensive line is improving. But what type of impact could a long-term injury to [Malcolm] Bunche hold for this group? And assuming Bunche does return to full strength, can this unit jell and continue to improve after a sluggish start to the season?

UCLA is off this week while Oregon travels to Washington State for its first Pac-12 game of the season. The Bruins will head to Tempe on the 25th to square off with ASU.

Utes & Cats

In his mailbag this week, Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports hit on a question about Arizona and Utah and their place in the South Division. Here's an excerpt about the Utes:
This year, with [Travis] Wilson back and currently the nation’s No. 2-rated passer, the Utes have clobbered their first two foes, but they were Idaho State and Fresno State. Michigan has certainly proven beatable. If Utah can pull it off on the road, then I’d reevaluate their place in that division.

Mandel says, given the state of the division (injuries to Taylor Kelly, a shaky start for UCLA, USC's loss), the Utes might be a good sleeper team to sneak up and steal the division. He doesn't see Arizona as a team ready to make that leap yet. On the field, it won't get settled until the Wildcats make the trip to Salt Lake City on Nov. 22. Might be an intriguing showdown for a couple of teams either looking to reach bowl eligibility or improve their place in the pecking order.

My guess is if Utah wins this weekend, they'll be added to this list.



News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you're a fan of "The Office," this is for you. If you're a fan of Stanford athletics, this is for you. If you're a fan of both, this might be the greatest thing in the world. And if you're a fan of neither, move along. Nothing to see here.

Want to see what the Ducks saw before their Wyoming game? Warning: The following video might make you want to go workout.

Mailbag: WSU's defensive woes

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
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Welcome to the mailbag, where all questions are answered except the meaning of life. I’m keeping that one to myself.

Cougar Brian in Scappoose, Oregon, writes: With the probable loss to Oregon this week, we're staring at 1-3 in Pullman, and once we're past the two most winnable games on our schedule following that in Cal and Utah, it's hard to see a W again this season. Given how things are going, at what point do you see the seat under Mike Leach and his staff, especially defensive coordinator Mike Breske, heating up?

Kevin Gemmell: For Leach, there might be a slight, warm tingling sensation, but that’s about it. He’s already received an extension and he’s locked in. And I know WSU fans tend to take the pint-glass-half-empty approach to their team. But let’s not forget: It’s only his third season and he’s taken you to a bowl game. Things are better, relatively speaking.

What makes this start to the season so frustrating is that there was momentum coming out of 2013. Despite the bowl loss, the Cougars were moving in a good direction. Heck, you won at the Coliseum … with defense!

I like Breske. I like his schemes. The Pac-12 blog isn’t in the business of speculating about hot seats – because for as much as we know, we don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes.

The defense didn’t play great against Rutgers, but it played well enough to win. And had it not been for a special-teams gaffe, Washington State probably would have. Against Nevada, a Connor Halliday interception gave Nevada a short field on its first score and the offense only produced one touchdown. It was a team loss.

Keep in mind when Breske & Co. came in, they were installing an entirely new defensive scheme. It takes time to recruit the genetics to fit that system. This coaching staff hasn’t even been through a full recruiting cycle.

I’m inclined to give this group another full season after this one – assuming things don’t get markedly worse on either side of the ball. But I don’t have fans or boosters to answer to.

 




James in Alameda, California, writes: (Question edited for length) Multiple outlets are reporting different recovery times for Taylor Kelly’s injury. Any chance we'll know the truth about the injury or do you think ASU will just continue to say Kelly's status is "uncertain" until he actually returns?

Kevin Gemmell: Having talked with sources at ASU, I can only relay what I know. And what I know is that he will miss the UCLA game (barring an amazing recovery), and anything beyond that is up in the air. It depends how quickly his body heals. How much physical therapy is required? Did he drink a lot of milk as a kid? Some guys are more resilient than others. There is no blanket statement that can be made about an individual’s broken bone. Only generalities.

The UCLA game is the first of three straight games against teams currently ranked in the AP top 20, followed by No. 17 USC and No. 16 Stanford. There’s a chance Washington will also be ranked by their Oct. 25 meeting. There's never a good time for an injured quarterback. But some stretches are worse than others. This is a bad one.

But remember, a lot of the Arizona State faithful were banking on Mike Bercovici to win the starting job when Todd Graham came in. And the Sun Devils do have the league’s leading rusher in D.J. Foster. All is not lost if Kelly can’t play for several games. But his accuracy and running ability certainly gave the ASU offense a little something extra.

 




JJ in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: Lady and gentlemen, in your respective opinion, do the Ducks have a chance to make it to the playoff with the injuries at tackle? Asking a LOT for a true freshman at right tackle and a walk-on at left tackle to hold up for the entire season. At this rate, Puddles might have to line up at tackle. Thanks for the great blog.

Kevin Gemmell: This is one of those crystal-ball questions to which the best answer is time will tell.

For all we know, Tyrell Crosby and Matt Pierson might be the next coming of Jonathan Ogden and Dan Dierdorf. Or they could simply be placeholders until others return from injury. I don’t know. Of course it’s a lot to ask. But I’m guessing they wouldn’t be wearing one of 783,360 possible uniform combinations for Oregon if they didn’t have the talent.

You obviously look ahead to some of the games against A-list defensive lines, such as UCLA and Stanford, and wonder. But those guys also have a couple of games to get acclimated.

A lot needs to happen for a team to win a conference. You have to stay healthy. But no one ever really does, so you need to have depth. And you need a little luck. A lot of that is unpredictable. But, for what it’s worth, I think Oregon is still in the best position of any Pac-12 team to reach the playoffs.

#4Pac: Most impressive defensive player?

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
7:15
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Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're identifying the best defensive player through the first three weeks of the season.

[+] EnlargeDanny Shelton
Larry Placido/Icon SMIWashington nose tackle Danny Shelton is clearing up doubts over his production and consistency.
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: In the preseason, there was plenty of chatter about Washington NT Danny Shelton, mostly centered around if and when he'd be taken in the first round of the NFL draft this spring. The question with Shelton has never been talent or potential. It's been consistency and production. Was he just a big guy who gobbled up blockers, which is important for any interior lineman? Or was he something more, such as a guy who gobbled up blockers but also was a disruptive force -- as in unblockable? There's also the question of whether he'd take a few plays off here and there. Based on the early returns, let's just say the 339 pounder has NFL scouts and defensive coordinators salivating. Shelton not only leads the Pac-12 in sacks with six and tackles for a loss with 7.5, he also leads the Huskies' defense in tackles, period, with 27. Has a 3-4 NT ever led his team in tackles? We're going to say no without even fact-checking that assertion, at least not at the FBS level. It probably won't hold, but the mere fact that's where the numbers are after three games bodes well not only for the Huskies defense, it also figures to make Shelton a lot of money this spring when everyone wants to hand his name to Roger Goodell.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Is there a defensive player in the conference that can do more than Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson? Over his first two seasons, he proved to be one of the nation's best linebackers, but some still believe he would make for an even better safety. Against Illinois last week, Thompson scored on a 36-yard interception return and a 52-yard fumble return to become the first player in college football with multiple defensive touchdowns this year. The performance earned him Walter Camp national defensive player of the week honors and came after a 15-tackle game against Eastern Washington the week prior in which he recorded a sack a forced fumble. Thompson is the Huskies' only player to have recorded a sack, interception, pass breakup, and both forced and received a fumble. We're talking defense here, but it seems appropriate to point out he also has six carries for 82 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, which stands as the Huskies' longest run of the year.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: No defensive player in the Pac-12 has been more productive over the last three seasons than UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. And he's picked up where he left off last year and the year before that. Kendricks leads the Pac-12 with 37 tackles through three games, including a league-high 21 solo stops. He's averaging 12.3 stops per game -- a full tackle more than Arizona's Scooby Wright (11 per game) -- and more than two tackles per game over every other Pac-12 defender. If the name of the game is production, then Kendricks absolutely qualifies as the most impressive. And it's not just about making tackles, he also has an interception returned for a touchdown and he forced a fumble that led to a defensive score. Both of those happened on the road at Virginia, and as a result he was named the national defensive player of the week for Week 1. On a team loaded with talented playmakers -- some of whom get more buzz than Kendricks -- he's not only been the most complete and impressive player on the Bruins, but also the Pac-12. Excited to see what he does Sept. 25 with the trip to Arizona State against the Sun Devils and D.J. Foster, who leads the league with 170 rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu isn't putting up big numbers because opposing QBs aren't throwing his way. His one interception this season tells all you need to know about his play-making skills.
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is going to have a pretty short highlight reel this season -- because he's that good. Opposing quarterbacks would rather learn what it feels like to be sacked by four members of Oregon's pass rush than to throw at Ekpre-Olomu. And so, through three games, the senior has only tallied 11 tackles and one interception. But my goodness, the one interception displayed everything you need to know about Ekpre-Olomu and his play-making abilities. He showed his awareness, change of direction, speed, jumping abilities, body control and athleticism in that one play. I can't think of another play in the Pac-12 this season in which all of those abilities were displayed so well. I'm expecting a handful more plays similar to this, maybe even something more impressive. But the most impressive part of his play -- and the part that speaks to why he is the best defensive player in the Pac-12 -- is the fact that we're not seeing a ton of him. Because QBs want nothing to do with No. 14.
On the surface, Arizona's schedule over the first third of the season is notably weak. The Wildcats whipped overmatched UNLV, just as they did last year, outlasted UTSA, another team that prefers to go by its initials, and survived a fourth-quarter challenge from Nevada. Up next is a visit from California, which went 1-11 last year.

If your audience were patient, you could attempt to explain how that schedule was reasonably solid. UNLV was a bowl team last year, UTSA is the nation's most experienced team and Nevada was coming off a win over Washington State. Cal? It's already won at Northwestern and has looked nothing like the easy out it was in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsThe Arizona defense will have to pressure Cal's Jared Goff -- who has 510 passing yards and 7 touchdowns in two games this season.
You could also make an esoteric argument that Arizona deserves some respect for negotiating a schedule of teams that is good enough to beat you but not good enough in terms of pedigree to naturally captivate the focus of a crew of 18 to 23-year-old players.

But who has time to listen to that?

In other words, Arizona is aiming to become the least glamorous 4-0 team in the nation this weekend. There's only a remote shot the Wildcats will earn a top-25 ranking with a victory. A loss? They'd immediately be voted off Relevancy Island by the unforgiving college football cognoscenti.

A year ago, Arizona also started 3-0 against an ostensibly -- OK, an actually -- weak nonconference schedule. It then got bricked at Washington and lost at USC. Thereafter they never really became a major factor in the South Division race.

Most observers, Pac-12 or otherwise, are taking a wait-and-see approach with the Wildcats. We'll see when they visit Oregon on Oct. 5, a week that will feature the Ducks denying any revenge angle for the shocking whipping they took in Tucson a year ago. We'll see when USC comes to town on Oct. 11 and during back-to-back road games at Washington State and UCLA.

So it probably won't be until the end of October that we will have an idea if Rich Rodriguez is going to produce something special in his third season in Tucson. Yet it's also worth nothing the Wildcats are seemingly in a better spot, at least offensively, than they were a year ago.

Freshman running back Nick Wilson has so far produced Ka'Deem Carey-like numbers (149.7 yards per game; 6.8 ypc). Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency with a rating that is more than 45 points higher than B.J. Denker's number after three 2013 starts. While the points are slightly down after three games -- 39.7 ppg versus 43.7 -- the total yards and yards per play are way up.

Rodriguez can be pretty stingy with compliments, but he's tipped his cap to Wilson and Solomon, noting that Wilson is “way advanced mentally” and Solomon is “harder on himself than we would be." If you know Rich Rod, that is the highest of praise. For one, it's difficult to imagine any QB being harder on himself than Rodriguez, who is perennially the bad cop for offensive coordinator Rod Smith.

The jury, however, is out on the Wildcats defense. They dominated the early schedule a year ago -- 8.7 ppg through three games -- and ended up as the Pac-12's most improved unit last year. That included turning in a Stanford-like performance against the Ducks offense.

The defense, with some notable losses from the 2013 unit, has struggled against the pass so far this year -- yielding a 64.6 completion rate -- and in the redzone, where foes have scored touchdowns on seven of 11 drives inside the 25-yard line. Nevada quarterbackCody Fajardo completed 29 of 39 passes for 321 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Arizona's 35-28 win last weekend.

"Defensively, we didn’t do a good job getting off blocks, and we blew a couple coverages which was uncharacteristic of us," Rodriguez said. "That allowed them to control the ball and limit our possessions. We have to get better defensively."

He then added, “No question we’ve got to shore things up in a hurry because we’ve got some great throwing teams [in Pac-12], including one coming in this weekend.”

Cal has a passing attack that can give any defense some trouble, particularly if quarterback Jared Goff gets time to throw. Seeing that the Wildcats don't have a dominant pass-rusher, it's likely they will have to use a variety of blitzes to disrupt Goff, whose so far been on point as a true sophomore. That is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that the Bears likely are anticipating.

Cal will land in Tucson with a lot of confidence. The Bears view last year as an unfortunate alignment of the football planets, one that created an injury-plagued disastrous anomaly. Even then, they played Arizona tough a year ago, using a late touchdown to only lose at home by five points, their closest conference game.

We don't yet know a lot about Arizona. Cal's visit might prove to be a more revealing matchup that it appeared to be in the preseason.
With any story of any length, there are always going to be anecdotes or asides that just don’t make the final cut. When that story is one about Mike Leach, typically, you could write a novel -- or six -- with all the things that didn’t really fit into the arc of the story.

So, here’s one of those tales that just didn’t make the final draft of the narrative of the Mike Leach story that's on the site on Wednesday.

Leach’s staff meetings feel more like Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a come-as-you-are function with people showing up in socks or sweats or with half of their dinners (literally, inside receivers coach Dave Yost came with a mixing bowl full of salad), which isn’t surprising considering Leach is running the show.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jose Mandojana for ESPNOf course this is the look of a guy you'd want to coach with.
Because so many of his staff members are guys who’ve played for him or coached with him at previous stops the conversation wavers and at times goes completely off topic. Apparently, they once debated the best college town eateries (this included Leach drawing a map of the United States on the white board and different guys going state by state as they discussed the best BBQ in one town and the best beer in another), and they also debated food chains that have the greatest discrepancy among their food. If you’re wondering, Leach believes it’s Pizza Hut, and don’t get him started on it.

However, the man who spends the most amount of time one on one with Leach is one who actually didn’t play for or coach with Leach at any of his previous stops.

During the season that Leach was out of coaching, Eric Mele, Washington State's offensive quality control assistant, was the special teams coordinator and running backs coach at Wingate University.

Out of the blue one day, he starting trying to find Leach’s Key West address on Google and somehow he stumbled across it.

“It was just, ‘Hey man, sucks you’re out of coaching. When you get back into it, I’d love to get a chance to talk to you,’” Mele remembered.

He had included his phone number but didn’t really think he’d hear from Leach.

A few weeks later Mele attended a coaches clinic at Oregon and during one of the sessions his phone rang. It was an unknown number but it read: “Lubbock, Texas.” He ran out of the session and to the hallway, waiting and hoping for a voicemail. Leach’s voicemail was brief, “Eric? Mike Leach.”

Mele called him back and Leach said that if Mele were ever in Key West, he should let Leach know and they could meet up.

“I literally just booked a trip for two weeks later and told him I’d be in Florida, that kind of thing,” Mele said.

He flew down and met up with Leach, who invited him back in a couple weeks when other coaches -- including Hal Mumme -- would be in town fishing. Again, Mele visited Key West.

When Leach was announced as Washington State’s coach in November 2011, Mele realized this was his chance to get on the staff. Without an invitation, he booked a flight to Pullman for Leach’s introductory news conference and figured he’d pull a, “Hey, I’m in Pullman too, imagine that, want to grab a beer?” Unfortunately, when Mele texted Leach the morning after the news conference, Leach informed him that he had already returned to Key West but that if Mele were going to be in Key West again, he should let Leach know.

Again, Mele said he would just happen to be there in a few days.

“My wife is at home with our three kids and I’m scraping up pennies to pay for the flight to get out here,” Mele said.

He rerouted his trip and flew to Key West.

“At that point he kind of understood I wasn’t going away,” Mele said.

A few weeks later, Leach flew Mele to Pullman and offered him the job. Mele called his wife, who was pregnant with their fourth daughter at the time. It would be a quick move and a lot of transition for their young family, not to mention he’d be taking a pay cut for the job. But, he and his wife, Melissa, knew it was the right time and the right move for their young family and his career.

“The chance to work for him,” Mele said. “You’ve gotta do it.”
BERKELEY, Calif. -- When it came time to pick a senior quote in high school, Cal quarterback Jared Goff settled on a famous one from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

"You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Ben Margot/AP PhotoJared Goff and the California Bears take on the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday in a game of unbeatens.
How's that for foreshadowing?

Barely into the second season of his college career, Goff has already lived both sides.

"Last year was terrible, there was people saying everything about us,” Goff said. "You try not to read it, but it comes across your [Facebook] news feed every once in awhile, and then this year it's almost the opposite."

With wins against Northwestern and Sacramento State, the Bears' 2-0 start has brought about a renewed sense of enthusiasm to a fan base that grew apathetic during a disastrous 2013 season. Goff said he's already noticed more students wearing Cal gear and he can't stray too far from his apartment near Memorial Stadium before noticing the changes winning has bred.

"Every single day there's a traffic sign near my place and it says 'Go Bears,'" Goff said. "That wouldn't have happened last year."

Goff admits he "loves seeing all that," but as Wooden taught him and coach Sonny Dykes has reinforced, there's an important caveat that comes with the positive vibes.

“[They] literally mean nothing," Goff said.

To better avoid the outside noise, Goff took a page out of former Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers' book when he pledged to stay away from Twitter during the season.

It's an approach Dykes can appreciate because as immeasurably frustrating as the Bears' 1-11 record was in his debut season, he never lost faith in the process. And the ability to block out any unnecessary distractions plays a big role in that.

"[Last year] everybody on campus, media stuff, everything was remarkably negative -- and justifiably so -- but [the players] didn't need to listen to that," Dykes said. "When we get the thing rolling, they don't need to listen to everybody telling them how great they are, either, because nothing has changed.

"People's ability to ignore stuff that doesn't matter and focus on what does matter, I think, makes a huge difference with how successful somebody is. It's nice for people to tell you you're not stupid and you're not a bad player, all that stuff, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter."

It's also important to keep things in perspective. Wins against Northwestern, which lost to Northern Illinois the following week, and FCS Sacramento State, which prepared for Cal with a win against Incarnate Word, don't exactly combine to form an enviable resume. The important byproducts of those wins are a small sense of validation and improved confidence, but beyond that Cal still has a long way to go.

And until the Bears prove they can consistently compete with Pac-12 teams -- beginning Saturday at Arizona -- a healthy level of skepticism is appropriate.

"We're not by any means hanging on to the Northwestern win or the Sac State win, but it's good to see us working hard in the offseason, doing everything right, going to class, and then seeing it pay off with the wins," said Goff, who ranks ninth in the country with a QBR rating of 90.1. "I think it makes the whole team's morale go higher, just seeing everything work the way it's supposed to work."

Offense was never going to be a major issue. When Dykes left Louisiana Tech for Berkeley, he and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin had just engineered the highest scoring offense in the country. Given time, there was no reason to believe it wouldn't pick up steam at Cal.

Defense was a different story. It was a question mark when Dykes was hired, but reality (45.9 points allowed per game) redefined any worst-cast scenarios floating about. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh had to go, and Dykes was led to Art Kaufman, whose history of quickly turning around porous defenses presented at least some reason for optimism.

For linebacker Jalen Jefferson, it was apparent early on in spring practice that things could be better when he noticed something strange.

"We were actually stopping the offense," he said. "And that's hard to do with the style they have and what they do."

Jefferson credits Kaufman's basic approach for allowing the defense to play faster.

"We still run a 4-3, but there aren't many adjustments," said Jefferson, who leads the Bears with 17 tackles. "We line up, play our gap and fly to the ball. That's what we needed. [Kaufman's] a great guy ... mellow. He gets on us when needs to and he trusts us, so we trust him."

Again, the competition level and small sample size need to be taken into account, but the early defensive returns are positive. Cal ranks third in the Pac-12 in total defense (328 yards per game), third in scoring defense (19.0 ppg) and is tied for the best turnover margin (plus-5).

Arizona (3-0) will provide an otherworldly kind of challenge. The Wildcats have averaged a conference-best 582.7 yards per game over their first three games, including a school-record 787 yards of offense in Week 1 against UNLV. True freshman running back Nick Wilson is fourth in the country with 449 yards rushing and quarterback Anu Solomon has thrown for 934 yards over his first three career starts.

"We're pretty anxious to see what we're capable of," Jefferson said.

He's not the only one.
When Oregon wide receivers coach and passing coordinator Matt Lubick said earlier this fall that he could see the Ducks using six to eight receivers, people might've thought he was crazy.

With Bralon Addison going down and just one true veteran wide receiver returning -- Keanon Lowe -- the Ducks' wide receivers were anything but experienced. And to expect six to eight guys to step up would be crazy, right?

No. It would've been an underestimation.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Chris Bernacchi/AP ImagesByron Marshall has rushed 19 times for 179 yards and a touchdown this season. He's also caught 12 passes for 190 yards and two scores.
Through three games 13 different players have caught passes for Oregon. Wide receivers Lowe, Devon Allen, Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford have stepped up in big ways, but even past that group, there's clearly serious depth for Lubick to look to in the pass game.

Against South Dakota, the Ducks came out blazing with 11 different players catching passes. But the big surprise was that running back Byron Marshall acted as more of a slot guy as he hauled in a game-high eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Against Michigan State, seven players tallied receptions. Redshirt freshman Devon Allen recorded two touchdowns and 110 yards on three catches, though two other players caught three passes as well (Lowe and Marshall).

And against Wyoming, again, 11 players caught passes. This time it was tight end Pharaoh Brown who led the way with four catches for 46 yards.

It's not completely absurd to have that many guys catch passes in these early-season games, especially considering how many of them are blowouts. According to ESPN Stats & Info, already this season, there have been 38 games in which a Power 5 team had at least 10 players catch a pass.

But, it should give Mariota and the team faith that the Ducks are building to the conference season on a very strong foundation of capable receivers.

“We don't have a favorite [receiver],” Lubick said. “We have six or seven favorites.”

Carrington, Allen, Lowe and Stanford have all amassed at least 100 receiving yards already this season. But the wild card that is going to make the Duck offense very hard to plan for this season is Marshall.

The Ducks are using Marshall in a different way than they did last season and his numbers are sky rocketing. After three games, his two receiving touchdowns and 190 yards on 12 receptions is already more impressive than his full season of pass catching from last year (13 catches, 155 yards, 0 touchdowns). His rushing numbers are a bit lower, but with the emergence of Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman, that's to be expected. In 2014 he has carried the ball 19 times for 179 yards and one score. At this point last season he had carried the ball 29 times for 196 yards and two scores.

But Marshall's presence on the field forces defensive coordinators to be a bit more on their toes.

“As a defensive coordinator, he'll keep you guessing,” Lubick said. “He gives us flexibility. It messes with [opponents'] personnel groupings. He could play the whole game at wide out. He could also play the whole game at tailback.”

Moving forward the Ducks' pass game is likely to get more exciting. With how young Marshall, Allen, Carrington and Stanford are, their learning curves are going to pick up with each game.

Lubick saw how much progress these young players made this spring and summer with Marcus Mariota, but he also knows “there's nothing better than game reps and experience.”

The next chance to show off their passing game is Saturday against Washington State, a team that has an impressive passing game of their own. But the Cougars struggles come on defense. Already this season they've allowed 11 passes of 20 yards or more and they've given up 11.2 yards per completion.

It should be a good opportunity for Lubick's six or seven favorites to step up.

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