- Rich Rod hopes his Arizona QBs are ready for fall camp, and other notes.
- Do you agree or disagree with Las Vegas' odds for the Sun Devils?
- A pretty in-depth preview of the California offense.
- Breaking down the Colorado running backs.
- An early preview of Oregon-Washington State.
- More on Obum Gwacham's transition from WR to DE at Oregon State.
- One writer said the biggest standout in Redskins camp has been Trent Murphy.
- Previewing UCLA's offensive line.
- Bonus UCLA link: Photos, story on the water main break near Pauley Pavilion.
- Could Boston College be a trap game for USC?
- Previewing Utah's linebackers.
- UW is ready to begin the Chris Petersen era.
- Weights and heights of WSU freshmen don't match up with what they said during their recruitments.
- Money + athletics + academics? Forbes takes a look.
- The Pac-12 is definitely back as the conference of QBs.
Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.
Welcome to Week 11.
Saturday, Nov. 8
- Colorado at Arizona
- Notre Dame at Arizona State
- UCLA at Washington
- Oregon at Utah
- Washington State at Oregon State
- Byes: California, Stanford, USC
Why: I’m really, really intrigued by UCLA at Washington for a few reasons. And it was a tough call between that game vs. the Domers in the Desert. There was all sorts of innuendo flying around when Steve Sarkisian left Washington. And at the center of those rumors was UCLA coach Jim Mora, who has plenty of ties to Seattle and was thought to have been contacted about the vacancy. Whether it happened officially or through back channels is still fodder for debate. But we know a couple of days later UCLA announced an extension for Mora. You do the math.
But the Notre Dame-ASU game has some intrigue of its own. For starters, that was a game last season (played in Arlington) that the Sun Devils lament. I’ve talked a few times with Sun Devils’ coaches and players and they frequently point to that game as the one that got away. So there is a bit of a revenge element.
Second, there was the whole controversy about Notre Dame trying to pull out of its trip to Tempe and the Sun Devils essentially telling the Fighting Irish to stick a fork in it, you’re coming. (You could probably come up with several other creative uses for ‘fork’ on your own).
This is what then-Athletic Director Steve Patterson told the Arizona Republic:
“The school didn’t have the courtesy to have the athletic director call the athletic director at ASU to discuss it. They had their PR guy call (ASU Associate Athletic Director) Mark Brand to give us a message on Friday afternoon while everybody was out of town at the Final Four.
“At least in the little Catholic town I grew up in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, the good nuns wouldn’t have thought that was a very appropriate way to honor your word.”
Shots fired, indeed.
This will be the second of three games between Notre Dame and the Pac-12. The Irish host Stanford on Oct. 4 and wrap the season Nov. 29 at USC. You might recall the Irish have had some success against the league lately. They went 2-0 in 2012, topping Stanford at home in overtime and USC on the road. And then last year season went 2-1, beating ASU on neutral footing, USC at home and falling only to Stanford.
Here’s the thing about ASU. We don’t know yet what the defense is going to look like, but we have a pretty good idea of how explosive the Sun Devils can be on offense. If that defense comes together quickly, there is a good chance the Sun Devils could be a top-20 team. Which means this game could have significant ramifications for the national perception of the league.
You can check out the rest of the road trip here.
While one recruit will never truly make or break a recruiting class, some come closer than others. Every Pac-12 program has a must-get recruit in mind, whether it's a national standout whose commitment would rock the recruiting landscape, a star at a position where that program simply cannot miss, or a local prospect who can't be allowed to leave the area.
15. UCLA LB Eric Kendricks
2013 stats: 106 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
Why he's ranked here: In his time at UCLA, Kendricks has gone from an outstanding defensive scout team member to being a crucial element to one of the best linebacking groups in the conference (and maybe the country). In his redshirt senior season, we are expecting big things. And we aren't the only ones. UCLA coach Jim Mora sees big things happening for Kendricks. At Pac-12 media days last week he spent quite a bit of time complimenting Kendricks. First, on his leadership, saying, "He's kind of a glue guy. Without even saying a lot, he's kind of that guy that everyone wants to orbit around." Second, Mora complimented Kendricks' personality, explaining that if his daughter married Kendricks, he would be perfectly OK with that. Third, he said Kendricks had great hair.
We can't guarantee all of that (though, if there's a Pac-12 award for best hair, he'd have to be a semifinalist, right?) but the first fact seems pretty valid. Kendricks' leadership is going to be huge for the Bruins this season, and when a player is given that kind of a role by his coaches, and looked up to by his teammates, a lot of times that results in very big numbers on the field. Will he record double-digit tackles in games? There is a good chance. In 2012, he averaged 10.6 per game and in 2013 (ailed by injuries) he averaged 8.8. But he's just the first of two Bruins linebackers in this grouping on our countdown. Running backs, take note ...
14. Washington LB/RB Shaq Thompson
2013 stats: 78 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception
Why he's ranked here: Thompson was second on Washington last season in tackles, but he's going to take on a bigger role this season as he begins his journey as a two-way player (perhaps he can ask No. 13 a few questions about that role). At Pac-12 media days, coach Chris Petersen addressed this and said, "We don't want to water him down and make him less of a defensive player. So I think there is a fine balance there and we'll continue to work through that." What exactly that fine balance is, we'll see. But there are certainly reps to be had at running back as the Huskies attempt to replace the production of Bishop Sankey. And Thompson could be a guy who contributes there. With the ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball for Washington, Thompson -- who wasn't talked about too much even a year ago -- cracked the top 15 players in the conference in 2014.
13. UCLA LB Myles Jack
2013 stats: 75 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 interceptions; 38 carries, 267 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns
Why he's ranked here: So, with Thompson taking on a larger role on both sides of the ball, Jack is scaling back a bit. He was the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, but this season, look for him to be much more a defensive player. Jack has athleticism pouring out of him, and with more of a focus on defense, and the discipline that brings, he could be scary, scary good this season -- so good he is the second-highest ranked linebacker on this list (not bad for a sophomore).
Though Mora didn't have quite the flowery sentiments about Jack as he did Kendricks (no hair or dating his daughter comments), he did say that if anyone were to ask UCLA players who the hardest-working Bruin was, that they would all say Jack or quarterback Brett Hundley. That is what the fans should care about. With someone who has his talent and athleticism, the fact that he is still the hardest-working player on the team means something. And that is going to show on the field this season. Could he lead the Pac-12 in tackles? Maybe. Could he and his top-25 counterpart Kendricks be an absolute nightmare to face this season? We think definitely.
12. USC LB Hayes Pullard
2013 stats: 94 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 1 interception
Why he's ranked here: For two of the past three seasons, Pullard has led the Trojans in tackles. Chances are that this could be Year 3 for him in that category. He is going to have serious competition for best linebacker in the conference (cough, cough, Nos. 15-13), but with 39 starts and 282 tackles under his belt, we're pretty sure Pullard is going to make the most of his senior year. At Pac-12 media days, USC coach Steve Sarkisian said he thought the strength of his team was in its front seven, and at the middle of that front seven for the Trojans this season is going to be Pullard. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound senior should crack 100 tackles this season, and we wouldn't be too surprised if at least 10 of those are for a loss.
11. Stanford OT Andrus Peat
Why he's ranked here: At Pac-12 media days last week, Stanford coach David Shaw told NFL.com that he thought Peat was second to just one offensive tackle he has ever been around -- 11-time NFL Pro Bowler John Odgen. That is pretty high praise. Peat is the highest offensive tackle and second-highest offensive lineman on our list. Assuming nothing goes insanely wrong, he will be an easy all-conference pick at the end of the season and possibly a semifinalist or finalist for the Outland Trophy. At 6-7, 316 pounds, he's going to be pretty tough to move. We're certainly looking forward to a few potential matchups with top defensive linemen (one, whose name will pop up later on in this list ...) as Peat looks to prove himself as the most feared tackle in the Pac-12. At this point in time, he has our vote. We'll see how the season shakes out.
Check out the rest of the rankings here: No. 25-21, No. 20-16
Who will have the biggest camp impact? (offense/defense)
Garry Paskwietz: Steve Sarkisian says this will be a physical run-first offense and that should mean plenty of opportunities for Buck Allen to establish himself early as a critical piece of the system. The reigning Trojans MVP is in great shape and appears ready for that kind of role. On defense, Leonard Williams may be the most talented and Hayes Pullard is the most productive -- but in terms of impact, I'm going to go with Su'a Cravens. His athleticism should allow for him to make a lot of plays.
Greg Katz: Cody Kessler on offense. The Trojans' offense may have more explosive players, but the system doesn't work unless Kessler works, and he has been relentless in not only learning Sark's no-huddle, fast-paced offense but executing it and teaching others. Williams on defense. Teammates of the "Big Cat" know he played with pain in his shoulder last season and was never 100 percent. In the summer, however, it was darn scary just how must quicker and intense he was during voluntary workouts.
What will be the best position battle?
Paskwietz: The Trojans enter camp with no clear-cut starter at left guard and as many as four candidates for the job. The one veteran in the mix is Jordan Simmons, but he is coming off knee surgery last fall. The other three possibilities are all true freshmen in Toa Lobendahn, Viane Talamaivao and Damien Mama. All are extremely talented, but all will be taking part in their first fall camp practices as Trojans, though Lobendahn did participate in spring drills.
Curren: I'm tempted to say the battle at Sam linebacker between Jabari Ruffin and Quinton Powell, but after seeing J.R. Tavai shine throughout the summer workouts, I'll go with the competition between he and Scott Starr at rush end. Both performers are excellent athletes who play physical and fast to the ball off the edge, and I look forward to watching them bring out the best in each other in fall camp.
Katz: Because of the importance of both offensive guard positions, one would have to lump this as a critical unit position battle. Whether starting senior right guard Aundrey Walker, coming off an ankle injury, and Simmons, coming off of a knee injury, at left guard can be physically in shape and hold up to the pace of the offense remains in question. What isn't in question are the true freshmen O-liners such as Lobendahn, who is a well advanced talent despite his inexperience.
Who will be the surprise player of camp?
Paskwietz: It's hard to call Adoree' Jackson a surprise player in anything when you consider he was the highest-rated recruit in this USC class. The surprise will come, however, in just how good he will be from the word go. And I'm not talking just at one spot, he will make a case for playing time on offense, defense and special teams.
Curren: I really liked what I saw out of Leon McQuay III, both in the spring as well as this past summer. He's going to really open some eyes in his role as the starting free safety. Having bulked up considerably since his freshman season, he's also played with a new level of confidence over the past six months.
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So we did, at least some variety of the suggested inquiries, And here's what we got, finishing with the North Division.
Are there things you view as mistakes, things that you would do differently in retrospect from last year?
Sonny Dykes: Oh, sure. There are always things you’d do differently. When we were on that winning streak at Louisiana Tech, there were things I would have done differently. That’s part of coaching. You are always self-evaluating. When you don’t have success, you tend to listen to that self-evaluation more than you would if you were winning. The biggest mistake I made as a coach was probably my last year at Louisiana Tech. We were 9-1 and I think we were 16th in the country and we were really tired. We were worn out. I probably should have given our guys a day off just to get away for a day. But we had won 16 out of 17 and you talk yourself out of it because what we had been doing had been successful. So if I had to do that over again I’d do it differently. A lot of stuff last year.
Can you give me an example?
Dykes: I don’t want to say. I have a bunch of notebooks I’ll give you one of these days.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned about being a head coach last year?
Mark Helfrich: I don’t know if there was any one in particular, but there were thousands. It’s something like, as a player, you don’t think you’ve ever made it, thinking I don’t have to improve anymore. Certainly as a coach it’s the same way. There are so many things that go into it that you deal with that you couldn’t have prepared for. Not even if you talked about it. From that standpoint, I know what we stand for. I know what our program stands for. Working for that and toward that every day, good things will happen.
Chip Kelly told me the advice he gave you and the best advice any coach could give is to be yourself. Do you think you’ll be able to be more yourself this year compared to last year?
Helfrich: 17 percent more (laughs). I think the product of being around each other, the players, the coaches, the culture, things like that, certainly. The comfort of doing it the second time. Hopefully, if it’s more comfortable, it’s better. That’s certainly the angle I’m going for.
Your fans really want to keep up with Oregon. How difficult is it for Oregon State to keep up when Oregon has a booster [Nike founder Phil Knight] who pays $68 million dollars for a new football building. How can Oregon State keep up when it doesn’t have a similar situation?
Mike Riley: I think we just have to keep fighting like crazy to improve what we do. [Oregon] is the team that’s been the best team in the league over the last five years. That’s a general statement that’s probably right. They just happen to be in our state, which is obviously difficult. But we’ve still got to fight every way we can to beat them on the field. That’s our job. The other part, to give them credit, is this league has taken jumps because of things Oregon has done. It started back when Pete Carroll was at USC. They started their run of national-caliber play and everybody had to step it up or you would get left in the dust. They set the standard. Everybody had to rise up. Oregon has done that. They’ve done that football-wise. They’ve done it facility-wise. Everybody has to push to do that. We take care of the football part of it. We have to do everything we can to beat them. One of your goals is always to beat your rival and win the championship and we haven’t done that in a while.
How much does money play a role? What could you guys do if someone said, "Mike, here’s $68 million. Do what you need to do."
Riley: (laughs) I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say. There’s no doubt it’s helpful in a university setting to have money to build facilities. There’s no doubt that is helpful from a marketing standpoint nationally. No doubt about that. But the other part is we can continue to try to do what we can to match some of that. But, to me, once that is said and done, we’ve got to get to the football. We’ve got to do a great job with evaluating players and making sure we do a great job at Oregon State. We’ve got to win games. We’ve got to be on top of recruiting, right on top of football and on top of any other way we can grow our university, grow our football program. We have to continue to fight. We can’t sit and worry about what other people have.
You’ve won the Pac-12 two years in a row and beaten Oregon two years in a row: How do you feel about not being picked No. 1?
David Shaw: I don’t think we’ve ever been picked No. 1. It’s par for the course. I don’t really look at those things at all. They don’t affect me one way or the other. I don’t get motivated by them. You could pick us last and I still wouldn’t be upset by it. What matters is what happens when you start playing games. Hopefully we will win more than we lose and hopefully we will find a way to be towards the top of the conference.
Do you even shake your head and say, "Really? What does it take?"
Shaw: I would be shocked if someone picked us over Oregon, to be honest. I don’t mind it one bit. They’ve got a lot of guys coming back as we do. My assertion, which I said last year, which I hold to this year, is they have the best quarterback in the nation in Marcus Mariota. I think he was the best quarterback in the nation last year also. There is nothing like him in college football. I don’t mind that at all. The bottom line is you’ve got to play the games. We’re going to have to go up to Autzen Stadium in a tough environment and they’ll be gunning for us. That’s going to be a tough game to win. But we’ll give it a shot.Washington
What did QB Cyler Miles tell you about the incident [his altercation after the Super Bowl]? Was there anything that was presented incorrectly in the media?
Chris Petersen: I don’t know what was presented in the media. I just know he made a mistake. He owned up to it. He did everything right as we’ve moved forward. He’s going to get a second chance.
Did he have to sell you a little bit? When you heard about it, it was pretty odd. Were you angry about it?
Petersen: I would say the fact that he didn’t have one day in spring football or one meeting probably sent a pretty strong message to him. But throughout that process, moving forward, he’ll get everything corrected. So we’re just hoping ... and I think he will. I think he will be a better person, a better teammate, a better everything for going through it. Guys make mistakes. Most important thing is to do right moving forward.
Does Washington hiring Chris Petersen change the dynamic of the rivalry with Washington and Washington State?
Mike Leach: I don’t think so. No disrespect to him, but that thing has been amped up for a long time. It would be hard to ramp it up any more. I don’t think I had anything to do with amping it up either. I think it’s been at a high level and it’s been a meaningful game to both schools for a long time. Both schools have quality players and quality staffs. I think it will be an exciting one this year. The last two games have been real exciting.
Idaho State, Thursday, Aug. 28
- Coach: Mike Kramer (6-28), fourth season
- 2013 record: 3-9, 1-7 Big Sky
- Returning starters: nine offense, seven defense
- Offensive headliner: quarterback Justin Arias. The ISU coaching staff named Arias the team’s offensive player of the year last year after he threw for 3,547 yards with 24 touchdown passes.
- Defensive headliner: defensive lineman Austin Graves. Graves ranked fourth on the team with 64 tackles, but registered an impressive 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He was named the team’s defensive player of the year by his teammates and was an honorable mention all-conference pick.
- The skinny: There is the occasional FCS opponent that can generate some genuine intrigue when pitted against a Pac-12 team (see: Eastern Washington). Idaho State isn’t one of them. Kramer is a well-respected coach in the Big Sky and has done a great job with the Bengals’ academic pursuits and has built a respectable offense, but that hasn’t translated to results in the win column. Against FBS opponents over the last four years (Washington, Nebraska, Air Force, Washington State, Utah State, Georgia and BYU twice), the Bengals are 0-8 and have been outscored 450-89.
- Coach: Tim DeRuyter (20-6), third season
- 2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 MWC
- Returning starters: five offense, eight defense
- Offensive headliner: receiver Josh Harper. How’s this for a stat: In 2013, Harper combined with Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse to become just the fifth trio in FBS history to all have 1,000-plus receiving yards on the same team. With Adams and Burse off to the NFL, Harper takes center stage and was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list. He was tied for eighth in the nation with 13 touchdown receptions last season.
- Defensive headliner: free safety Derron Smith was featured here, so linebacker Karl Mickelsen is next up. He led the Bulldogs in tackles last season (97) and was an All-Mountain West honorable mention pick. Against Boise State, Mickelsen made 16 tackles — Fresno State’s highest single-game total in five years.
- The skinny: The schedule lines up well for the Utes as they get a tune-up in the opener against Idaho State, which should allow new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen to get his feet wet before a visit from Fresno State. On the other hand, the Bulldogs won’t have that same luxury with a game at USC preceding their trip to Salt Lake City. Without record-setting quarterback Derek Carr, Adams and Burse, it will be interesting to see what the natural evolution process looks like for the Bulldogs' offense.
- Coach: Brady Hoke (26-13), fourth season
- 2013 record: 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten
- Returning starters: seven offense, nine defense
- Offensive headliner: quarterback Devin Gardner. Gardner enters his second full season as the Wolverines’ starter after briefly converting to receiver in 2012. Results were mixed last year as he threw for 2,960 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
- Defensive headliner: cornerback Blake Countess. Countess was selected first-team All-Big Ten by the media and second team by the coaches after he tied for the Big Ten lead with six interceptions. He made 46 tackles and returned a pick for a touchdown.
- The skinny: Utah’s season-opening win in 2008 against Rich Rodriguez-coached Michigan at the Big House will long be remembered as one of the program’s best moments. It set the stage for the Utes' undefeated season and, perhaps, played a role in the home-and-home series that returns to Salt Lake City next year. Both schools saw their 2013 seasons get off to relatively good starts before things became unhinged late. A Utah win would be a good coup for the Pac-12 as it tries to measure up favorably against other conferences.
- Arizona's 2016 recruiting class takes a big but not unexpected hit.
- A review of Arizona State's defensive backfield.
- Some analysis of California's latest depth chart.
- What the heck did Kyle Ringo say?! Read his Colorado chat transcript here.
- Is Devon Allen too fast for Oregon?
- A juco LB will get an early jump on his Oregon State career.
- Among the national contenders, Stanford might have the toughest schedule (and, yes, Utah, that is notable for you, too).
- A UCLA preview from a Utah perspective.
- USC picks up a running back commitment.
- A former Utah player gives back to the Utes.
- Previewing the Washington defensive line.
- Five things to know about Washington State RB Marcus Mason.
Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.
Welcome to Week 10.
Saturday, Nov. 1
- Arizona at UCLA
- Utah at Arizona State
- USC at Washington State
- Washington at Colorado
- Stanford at Oregon
- California at Oregon State
- Byes: None
Why: Yes, Arizona at UCLA might be compelling. Yes, USC at Washington State is a rematch of last year’s shocking Coug win. No, neither are even close to the national attention Stanford’s trip to Autzen Stadium will receive.
This has blossomed into the game of the year in the Pac-12 the past three seasons and the results have justified the hype.
Then again, the curtain has already fallen on the Cardinal. Why bother showing up, Stanford? The Ducks, led by Marcus Mariota, have all but been anointed Pac-12 champs.
Ah, but isn’t this when Stanford is at its best? David Shaw works the us-versus-the-world angle better than any coach in the conference. He loves nothing more than to be told his team can’t do something. That’s what has made this rivalry so great. And I’m sure it’s what has made Stanford’s back-to-back conference titles that much more rewarding.
The 2012 showdown in Autzen is when this series took a decidedly different turn. Consider that the previous three games had been high-scoring affairs, with the winner scoring at least 50 points and the loser scoring at least 30. But 2012, and Stanford’s 17-14 win, changed all of that. And then a year later, the Cardinal nearly duplicated the defensive effort with a 26-20 victory in Palo Alto.
Stanford changed the tempo and the personality of this rivalry the past two years – in effect – changing the rules and thus the dynamic. It’s up to the Ducks to change them back if they hope to rid themselves of their Stanford problem.
Is the winner guaranteed the conference title? Of course not. We saw what happened last year when Stanford had the edge after beating Oregon, only to lose to USC, only to watch Oregon lose to Arizona. And then there is still the conference championship game to worry about.
Nothing is promised in this league.
But the winner certainly has a leg up in the quest for a conference crown and will surely receive a nice little bump in the national rankings. There is a strong possibility both teams could be ranked in the top 10 when this game rolls around, so the College Football Playoff selection committee will be very interested in this outcome.
So hunker down for this one. Because if recent history is any indication, this will/should be one of the best games in the all of college football in 2014.
You can see the rest of the road trip here.
While things can and will change between now and signing day, the updated ESPN 300 rankings at the close of the summer period show 24 Pac-12 commitments and provide a number of discussion topics relating to the present and future of Pac-12 recruiting for the 2015 class.
Here are five things to know in the Pac-12:
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No. 20: Washington DT Danny Shelton
2013 stats: Started all 13 games, made a career-high 59 tackles, recorded a pair of sacks and blocked two kicks.
Why he's ranked here: The first of four Washington defensive players who will appear during the countdown, Shelton -- who is listed at 6-foot-2, 339 pounds -- is as imposing a defensive lineman as can be found in the country. An All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection a year ago, he enters his senior year with 115 career tackles and is an elite defender against the run.
Shelton has started the past 28 games for the Huskies, including a stretch last year in which he played through a left shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. If Washington takes the next step under new coach Chris Petersen, Shelton will likely be a main reason. Looking down the road, he has the potential to be one of the first defensive tackles selected in the 2015 NFL draft and has also twice been named first-team Academic All-Pac-12.
No. 19: Oregon State OL Isaac Seumalo
2013 stats: Integral part of the offensive line that blocked for QB Sean Mannion as he set the Pac-12 single-season record with 4,662 yards passing.
Why he's ranked here: From the day Seumalo stepped foot onto the Corvallis, Oregon, campus, he has been one of the Beavers’ best players. He didn’t redshirt in 2012, has started all 25 games he’s played in and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection a year ago playing predominately at center. He’s already been named to the preseason watch lists for the Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award. Where Seumalo winds up on the line this year -- he started a pair of games at right tackle last year -- is still to be determined and will likely have as much to do with the development around him as anything else.
At Pac-12 media days last week, Oregon State coach Mike Riley said he’s thinking of pairing Seumalo with Sean Harlow at the two guard positions. “I'd like that picture physically inside against all the interior guys that we see in there,” Riley said. It could take some time before that situation gets ironed out because Seumalo is still recovering from a foot injury he suffered during the Hawaii Bowl that kept him out of spring practice. Riley doesn’t anticipate the injury will keep him out during the regular season, but didn’t rule out the possibility he could sit the first week against Portland State.
18. Washington CB Marcus Peters
2013 stats: Recorded 55 tackles, 5 interceptions, defended 14 passes and recovered 2 fumbles.
Why he's ranked here: Along with USC defensive end Leonard Williams (first team), Peters (second) was one of two defensive players to receive first- or second-team All-Pac-12 honors as a sophomore last season. His five interceptions (tied for fifth) and 14 passes defended (tied for first) were among the best numbers in the conference. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call Peters the Huskies’ most important player on defense this season as the lone returning starter in the secondary. For new defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, Peters will ideally serve as a measure of consistency while the rest of the secondary takes shape early in the season.
Peters has the attention of NFL scouts, too. Among underclassmen, ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Peters as the No. 2 corner in the country and currently has him as the No. 19 player on the Way-Too-Early 2015 Big Board . Peters has two seasons of eligibility remaining.
17. Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha
2013 stats: Among the conference leaders with 13 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss.
Why he's ranked here: What Shelton means to the Huskies on the interior, Kikaha means to the pass rush. In 13 games a year ago, Kikaha recorded 13 sacks to rank second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford's Trent Murphy, who led the nation with 15. Not only did his sack total rank second in the conference last year, but it fell just 1.5 sacks shy of Jason Chorak’s single-season school record from 1996.
Kikaha finished last season on a high note when he was named defensive MVP of the Fight Hunger Bowl after he registered three sacks, nine tackles and a forced fumble in Washington’s win against BYU. With an inexperienced secondary playing behind him, Kikaha’s role as a pass-rusher will be even more important this year, especially considering the level of quarterback play expected across the conference.
16. Stanford S Jordan Richards
2013 stats: Recorded 69 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions and defended 3 passes.
Why he's ranked here: The top-ranked safety in the conference (at this point Richards is still a more proven commodity than USC's Su'a Cravens), Richards will be an All-American candidate playing in what has the potential to be one of Stanford’s best secondaries in years. Even playing next to Ed Reynolds last season, who left early for the NFL and was drafted by Philadelphia in the fifth round, Richards proved to be the most consistent player in the Cardinal’s secondary. He’s fast enough to stay with players in coverage and strong enough to step into the box and help against the run.
Richards is currently on the watch lists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Award and was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention selection the past two seasons. With Reynolds gone, Richards will see extended playing time next to a different safety for the first time in his Stanford career. As things sit, Kyle Olugbode, Zach Hoffpauir and Kodi Whitfield figure to be the top three candidates for that role and none of them has much experience -- or in Whitfield’s case, no experience as a safety in college football.
25-21: 25. Stanford DE Henry Anderson; 24. Utah WR Dres Anderson; 23. USC S Su'a Cravens; 22. Oregon RB Byron Marshall; 21. Arizona WR Austin Hill
So we did, at least some variety of the suggested inquiries, And here's what we got, starting with the South Division.
How often at booster events this summer did you hear about being 0-2 versus Arizona State?
Rich Rodriguez: Oh, I hear about it everytime from somebody. They're like, “When are you going to beat ASU?” [I say] “When we're better than them.” That's the truth. When we are better than them, we will beat them. Because the chances of them playing poorly and giving us the game, that ain't going to happen. We played awful [this year but] two years ago we had our opportunites and screwed up in the fourth quarter. I don't worry about it. People say, ‘I think you should talk about your rivalry every day' and all that. Hell, I'm trying to get a first down against UNLV right now. I don't list goals. Is it important to us? Is it the most important game we play? Yes. Is it something I'm thinking about today? No.
You seem really comfortable at Arizona State. I know coaches don't think too far ahead, but is it possible that you could retire at Arizona State? Is that something you have considered?
Todd Graham: For me and our coaches, we are building it for the long haul. The kind of program that year in and year out is competing for championships. I absolultely love the community. I love living there. I've paid my house off. Absolutely. I'd love to have half the success [former ASU coach Frank Kush] had and have my name by his. I am thoroughly committed. I think we have a chance to build something special. Our goal, with Ray Anderson our athletic director and [ASU president Michael] Dr. Crow is to be a top-five program in the nation that wins and wins in the right way. Yes, I could see that. I'm very comfortable.
What do you guys most need to improve?
Mike MacIntyre: Wow. I think we can improve in a lot of areas. Specifically on the football field, we need to play better on third downs. That's not got to be unbelievable. You've just got to improve three or four percent from what you were last year. You get two more first downs per game and all of the sudden you're in a drive, going into the red zone, getting into the end zone. One more time per game. Two more times per game. A field goal. That's a big, drastic change. It changes momentum. There are little things. Red zone is an emphasis we have, third-down areas, we have. We need to definitely improve in those areas.
You've talked about your partnership with the administration at UCLA. What are some top things on the checklist that you need to improve the program, facilities-wise, logistical things that will make it easier for you to do your job?
Jim Mora: With facilities, we've moved down that path. That's happening. That's a given. There's no coming back from that. I meet with the architechs every couple of weeks. It's going to be an amazing, amazing facility. Really, just the continued support. Being able to keep coaches. Being able to provide the best environment for our student athletes to have success. We already have great academic support, so being able to continue down that path. I don't think we are lacking a whole lot at all. Once that facility is built, there will be no excuses. There are no excuses.
What are some of the lessons you learned as a first-time head coach at Washington that you are applying at USC?
Steve Sarkisian: Patience. Patience. Patience. Having patience with your players. Having patience with recruits. Having patience with coaches. Really taking time and not having knee-jerk reactions to things. Of really being patient with everybody involved in the program. It's something that has shifted in me. That's the first piece. The second piece is when I first got to my last job it was: Wins, wins, wins. It took a year or two to understand the whole responsibility of being a head coach. Of developing our players in the classroom, community, as people, forging those relationships with them. To be the best developmental coach I could be as much as it was to win as many games as I could win. This time around, I'm a lot more aware of that. And quite honestly it probably have a better relationship with my players (at USC) than I had early on at Washington. I feel very connected to this team. Our staff is very connected to these players. To me, that goes a long way.
Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?
Kyle Whittingham: I think some of the fans may have and some may not have. I can't give you an answer for that. I can tell you the fan support we've had has been phenomenal. Our season ticket renewal was 98 percent, which is where it has been the last four or five years. So the fans are excited about us being in the Pac-12 and are anxious to go to the games. [What the expectations were] as far as going to the Pac-12, I can't answer that. I know we had high aspirations. I think everybody has high aspirations regardless of the situation. We certainly are a better team this year than we were when we went into the Pac-12. The issue is how much better relative to how the league's gotten.
Whittingham earlier said this about the transition to the Pac-12 from the Mountain West: "The transition to the Pac-12 has been as expected. I don't think anything caught us by surprise. I can tell you what is very apparent is the Pac-12 now is far superior from top to bottom [than it was in 2011]. The progress this conference has made in the last three years is phenomenal. We've put ourselves in position where we're arguably among the top two conferences in the nation."
Fresno State, Saturday, Aug. 30
- Coach: Tim DeRuyter (20-6), third season
- 2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 MWC
- Returning starters: five offense, eight defense
- Offensive headliner: running back Josh Quezada. He rushed for 807 yards last year. With the QB spot in question (and possibly going with a more mobile QB), the RB spot is going to be even more important this season. Quezada also has pretty good hands -- he caught 51 passes last year for 290 yards.
- Defensive headliner: free safety Derron Smith, who was pegged as the Mountain West's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He has 14 career interceptions, which is the most of any active FBS player entering the 2014 season. In 2013 Smith recorded 87 tackles, four sacks and seven picks.
- The skinny: It's pretty rare that two teams ever play each other twice in a row, but USC and Fresno State will have that chance. The two faced off in last season's finale -- the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, in which USC ran away with a 45-20 victory -- and they'll kick off the 2014 season together as well. But there's one very big difference between the team that put up 20 on USC and the team that'll take the field on Aug. 30 -- Fresno State doesn't know who its QB will be. They need to replace Derek Carr (5,082 yards, 50 TDs) and though they have options (junior Brian Burrell and Duke transfer Brandon Connette, among others), it's not looking great. Especially since they'll be welcomed to the post-BCS era by Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense.
- Coach: Steve Addazio (7-6), second season
- 2013 record: 7-6, 4-4 ACC
- Returning starters: 4 offense, six defense
- Offensive headliner: Florida QB transfer Tyler Murphy, who finished the spring season as the Eagles' top QB. At Florida, he started six games and completed 112 of 185 passes. Also worth noting that the only Boston College player to be on any of the Preseason All-ACC teams was center Andy Gallik, so he gets honorable mention here.
- Defensive headliner: linebacker Steven Daniels. He was third on the team in tackles last season (88) and recorded 6.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
- The skinny: The Eagles are coming off one of the most surprising seasons in college football, but Boston College was a much different team with 2013 Doak Walker Award winner Andre Williams. The Eagles aren't going to be able to replace Williams with just one guy, so they'll likely go for a back by committee approach, but the truth is that it probably won't be able to do too much against the USC front (especially considering BC's offensive line lost both tackles).
- Coach: Brian Kelly (37-15), fifth season
- 2013 record: 9-4
- Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
- Offensive headliner: quarterback Everett Golson. Golson was suspended from Notre Dame last year, but was readmitted to the school and reinstated to the football program following the 2013 season. Golson quarterbacked the Irish through the 2012 season and into the 2013 BCS title game, in which he completed 21 passes for 270 yards (but also threw just one touchdown to his one interception). He's mobile enough that defensive fronts are going to need to be honest and has a good enough arm that he'll be able to stretch the field.
- Defensive headliner: linebacker Jaylon Smith. As a true freshman, Smith finished third on the team in tackles (67), including 6.5 tackles for a loss (second only to second round NFL draft pick, Stephon Tuitt). He'll be back and wreaking havoc all over the field for the Fighting Irish.
- The skinny: This is a huge game every season and this season will be no different. Both USC and Notre Dame are in the early conversations for teams that could be in the mix for the inaugural College Football Playoff. And with this being the season finale for both teams, it could be a big statement for whichever teams walks away the winner.
- Arizona picked up a commitment from offensive lineman Cody Creason.
- Arizona State comes in at No. 47 in USA Today's countdown.
- One Pennsylvania newspaper on Penn State's decision to hire former Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour: "It's just a bizarre hire. A major head-scratcher in so many ways."
- Colorado is getting stronger, healthier under Mike MacIntyre's watch.
- Oregon loses the athletic department's sports nutritionist to the Green Bay Packers.
- Oregon State's 16 returning starters is reason for optimism.
- Several Stanford players have spent the summer in impressive internships in the Bay Area.
- UCLA punter Sean Covington is no longer with the program.
- Conquest Chronicles takes a look at USC's group of receivers.
- Utah's receivers are also outlined by the Deseret News.
- Previewing the secondary at Washington.
- Here's a game-by-game analysis of Washington State's schedule.
Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.
Welcome to Week 9.
Friday, Oct. 24
- Oregon at California
- Arizona at Washington State
- Arizona State at Washington
- USC at Utah
- UCLA at Colorado
- Oregon State at Stanford
- Byes: None
Why: It’s Pullman in late October, the jewel of Eastern Washington. Duh, why wouldn’t you want to be there?
We’ve seen some pretty good defensive battles so far during the first eight weeks of the road trip. But now it’s time to let loose and watch a little offense. And what better matchup than seeing two of the most innovative offensive minds in the country squaring off.
This will be the second time these two coaches have met -- and Round 1 went to Mike Leach and Co. with a surprisingly low scoring 24-17 win last year in Tucson. Connor Halliday threw for 319 yards and a pair of scores as the Cougs erased a 14-10 halftime deficit and made chumps out of the Pac-12 blog.
What’s going to happen this time around? Both squads boast a thrilling cast of wide receivers. But the quarterback edge, at least for now, goes to Halliday and the Cougars for the simple reason that we still don’t know who Arizona’s quarterback is going to be. Of course, by Week 9, Rich Rodriguez’s guy might be putting up monster numbers, given the talent he’ll be throwing to and the style of offense. But for now, we just don’t know.
And if there were ever a pair of coaches who were simpatico in their thinking -- especially in their responses to proposed “slow down” measures -- it’s Leach and Rodriguez.
Arizona State at Washington is intriguing, because it was, by far, the Huskies’ worst game of the season last year. Oregon State and Stanford were tight the last time the two met on the Farm. And there’s nothing wrong with doing a Bay Area two-fer by hitting Oregon-Cal the night before at the new Levi Stadium. That in itself is a compelling draw.
But for actual game value, this one might turn out to be the most thrilling, high scoring game of the week with plenty of fireworks. Or the Pac-12 blog could look like chumps again when the Utes shock the Trojans at Rice-Eccles. We're big enough to admit when we've been wrong before.