Pac-12: Arizona Wildcats

Happy Friday!
USC coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starting quarterback this week, though he noted that Kessler will have to continue to defend the position against competition from redshirt freshman Max Browne during fall camp.

It wasn't a big surprise. After all, Kessler was the 2013 starter and acquitted himself fairly well, particularly over the second half of the season with Clay Helton calling plays instead of deposed coach Lane Kiffin.

Still, Sarkisian is following in the philosophical footsteps of his mentor, Pete Carroll, who believed it was best to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring practices.

As we've noted a few times, Carroll called this "anointing." He believed that by anointing a starting quarterback in the spring, that allowed the QB to carry authority into the offseason. Teammates would recognize the crown on his head, as they might not if two or more candidates officially remained on even footing.

The anointing ended intrigue. It ended media speculation players would read. It ended an offseason rivalry that might split players into bailiwicks, based on personal preferences both on and off the field.

So Sarkisian has his way of doing it.

Then there's most other coaches. They prefer keeping their cards close to their chests. They like the intrigue. They like the prolonged competition. They want to measure offseason work and mental toughness. Who gets better from April to August? Who seems to take control of the locker room or huddle on his own, without the anointing from a coach?

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Is it better to announce a starting quarterback after spring practices or wait until the end of fall camp?

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Discuss (Total votes: 735)

So we have the two true QB competitions in the Pac-12 this spring: Arizona and Washington, where neither Rich Rodriguez nor Chris Petersen is likely to give us a firm idea of their starter until perhaps as late as the week before the season opener.

Of course, there's not 100 percent purity of approach here. If Kessler hadn't outplayed Browne, Sarkisian almost certainly wouldn't have made an announcement. And if Rodriguez or Petersen were sitting on an Andrew Luck-type talent right now, they probably would go ahead and pull the trigger and announce him as the No. 1 guy.

Fact is, the present consensus is neither Arizona nor Washington has any clear pecking order. The Wildcats have four guys who didn't separate themselves this spring, and the Huskies still have to see where the suspended Cyler Miles, the 2013 backup, fits into their plans.

Yet there is a clear philosophical difference here.

So what do you think? Is it better to anoint a starting QB after spring practices in order to give him a leadership role over the summer, or is it better to wait as long as possible to foster uncertainty and, therefore, continued competition?

Video: Arizona LB Scooby Wright

April, 16, 2014
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Arizona LB Scooby Wright talks about being a true freshman starter in 2013, the Wildcats' QB competition and who's stepping up on defense.

Competition abounds at Arizona

April, 15, 2014
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez declared his third round of spring practices with the Wildcats a success after the spring game on Saturday, even though he was unable -- or unwilling -- to provide much insight into how things stood among his major position competitions, most notably quarterback.

What most moved him was the how, not the who. The Wildcats are now doing things the way Rodriguez wants, whether that's how they practice or how they condition.

"Some of our staff watched film of the first practice of our first spring and the first practice of this spring, and just watching guys running to the ball, they said the difference was night and day," he said. "It's amazing the difference in just two springs, how much faster we are practicing."

The other good pieces of news is there were no major injuries. That can't be discounted -- just ask Oregon (WR Bralon Addison) and Utah (LB Jacoby Hale).

As for what fans and media want -- a depth chart and a clear pecking order at every position -- Rodriguez isn't a believer in that. He likes prolonging competitions, pretty much until the week before the season opener. He said as much about his quarterback competition among Jesse Scroggins, Anu Solomon, Connor Brewer and Jerrard Randall.

So where do things stand at other hotspots such as running back, nose guard, cornerback, offensive guard and linebacker?

Running back: In the race to replace Ka'Deem Carey, Jared Baker was out with an injury, the NCAA waylaid early-enrollee Jonathan Haden, and redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green didn't distinguish themselves. Rodriguez did say that senior Terris Jones-Grigsby had a good spring and "will play." Incoming freshman Nick Wilson joins the fray in the fall, and it's almost certain at least one of the receivers -- such as Davonte' Neal -- will see time in the backfield. Said Rodriguez, "It's a whole slew of guys who will get sorted out in August."

Noseguard: Rodriguez said sophomore Dwight Melvin "had a pretty good spring." He said he also likes Luca Bruno and walk-on Parker Zellers. None of that undersized troika, however, tips the scales at more than 280 pounds. There's also Boise State transfer Jeff Worthy, Kirifi Taula and JC transfer Jerod Cody, though Rodriguez didn't mention them when asked about the position.

Cornerback: It appears Devin Holiday leads the battle to replace Shaquille Richardson opposite Jonathan McKnight. Rodriguez said he had "a pretty solid spring." But Rodriguez admitted depth at corner is an issue, and that wasn't helped by the abrupt, post-spring departure of sophomore backup Derek Babiash.

Offensive guard: Four starters are back on the offensive line, and the lone void at right guard is a battle between junior Lene Maiava and redshirt freshman Jacob Alsadek. Rodriguez called it "a coin flip."

Linebacker: Despite the loss of stalwarts Jake Fischer and Marquis Flowers, the Wildcats seem pretty happy with what they have back at linebacker, topped by sophomore Scooby Wright. There's redshirt freshmen DeAndrew Miller and Jake Matthews, sophomore Derrick Turituri, junior Keoni Bush-Loo and senior Hank Hobson. Moreover, the incoming recruiting class is strong at LB, with another youngster possible to follow in Wright's footsteps as a true freshman starter/contributor.

Video: Arizona WR Austin Hill

April, 15, 2014
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Arizona wide receiver Austin Hill talks to Ted Miller about spring practices, coming back from injury and the Wildcats' QB competition.

Video: Arizona WR Cayleb Jones

April, 14, 2014
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Texas transfer Cayleb Jones talks about spring practice, the Wildcats' QB competition and what he brings to the deep corps of receivers.
I remember the stupid things, the mood rings, the bracelets and the beads, the nickels and dimes, yours and mine. Did you cash in all your dreams?
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- It became clear this spring that senior Jesse Scroggins, a transfer from USC, is going to be Arizona's starting quarterback this fall.

Check that. Scroggins is still too inconsistent, see a bad interception in the spring game on Saturday. True Wildcats insiders know that coach Rich Rodriguez wants a guy who's smart and takes care of the football. That's clearly Texas transfer Connor Brewer, who makes up for a lack of arm strength with passing accuracy and good instincts.

Yawn. We've been talking to people who know people. It's impossible to ignore Jerrard Randall's upside. The LSU transfer has the biggest arm, despite a quirky throwing motion, and the quickness to run the spread-option.

OK, folks. We weren't going to say anything but we hate when misinformation gets out there on some message board. The real scuttlebutt concerns not merely an evaluation of the Wildcats' 15 spring practices but also a savvy projecting forward. The light has started to flicker for redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, and when it goes completely on, he's the guy who will be under center on Aug. 29 against UNLV.

[+] EnlargeJesse Scroggins
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY SportsUSC transfer Jesse Scroggins is one of four who are in the running for Arizona's starting QB job.
It might feel like we are being flip with this, but this is fairly close to the reality in Tucson right now. Everybody has an opinion on Arizona's difficult-to-read four-man quarterback competition, and even folks who have watched many of the closed practices have different takes. One told the Pac-12 blog he likes Brewer. Another said Scroggins had pushed slightly ahead. Another suggested the best bet was a combination of Scroggins and Randall.

While it's a good bet that Rodriguez and his QB coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith have developed some idea of a pecking order this spring, you also get the feeling that even their takes have some fluidity.

“I’m not being coy," Rodriguez said after the spring game, seeming just a bit coy. "But I wanna see what they do in August and throughout the whole summer.”

What makes this competition so intriguing is whoever ends up winning the job is probably going to end up putting up A-list numbers, perhaps even breaking into the All-Pac-12 conversation with established stars such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion.

Ridiculous? Not when you consider what Rodriguez and Smith have done with their past two first-year starters in Matt Scott and B.J. Denker, both of whom put up notable dual-threat numbers. And not when you consider the offensive supporting cast, particularly what might be the deepest crew of receivers in the country.

How deep? The Wildcats go at least eight-deep at the position, with their second four being comparable to many teams' starting four. How deep? One observer wondered whether Nate Phillips would fall into the top four. Phillips was only a freshman All-American last season, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. How deep? It's likely a number of the receivers will see time at running back and even get looks in the secondary, an area where the Wildcats are far less capable.

"We have a good problem to have a wideout right now," Smith said. "We'd like to roll four out there, run them, run them, run them. And then roll four more out there and not miss a beat. That's kind of where they are at right now."

I'm not being coy. But I wanna see what they do in August and throughout the whole summer.

-- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, on his QB competition
Not only are six of the top seven receivers back from last season, but the Wildcats also welcome the return of Austin Hill, who put up huge numbers and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012 before missing last season with a knee injury. Further, two transfers, DaVonte' Neal (Notre Dame) and Cayleb Jones (Texas) are big-time talents -- the Nos. 8- and 147-rated players in the nation in the 2012 recruiting class, according to ESPN.com -- who are likely to earn starting spots. Both scored impressive touchdowns in the spring game.

While the Wildcats are replacing All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey, and that competition also continues to be wide open, there doesn't seem to be nearly as much intrigue there. Arizona's veteran offensive line is almost certain to make at least one of the backs a 1,000-yard rusher, though it appears there will be a far more committee approach than with Carey.

In terms of analyzing the general tenor of spring practices, there are some hints at what the coaches are thinking at QB. Scroggins, Solomon and Brewer -- coming out in that order in the spring game -- each worked with the first-team offense, while Randall saw action with the 2s.

Scroggins, as a senior, had the most to lose this spring. Therefore, his generally encouraging performance -- far more focused and efficient than he was last year while not putting up much of a challenge to Denker -- means he probably made up the most ground.

"He's gotten better," Rodriguez said. "We were really concerned whether Jesse could execute what we want from a mental and physical standpoint. That's the bottom line for all the guys. We had doubts coming into the spring. He erased some of them. Not all of them. But because he's gotten more comfortable with our plays and what it requires to execute them he's put himself in the mix."

Both Smith and Rodriguez also said it won't count against Scroggins that he's the only senior, though his winning the job would mean a fourth consecutive season with a first-year starter in 2015.

[+] EnlargeNate Phillips
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesNate Phillips, who led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs in 2013, is part of a deep group of receivers.
Brewer, a redshirt sophomore, almost seems comparable to Denker, though he's not as capable a runner. He had the best numbers in the spring game, completing 8 of 12 passes for 71 yards and two TDs.

"Connor is a smart guy," Rodriguez said. "He's got a little bit of experience. He understands football. He's a competitive guy. But he's going to have -- I don't want to say be perfect -- but he has to execute because he's not going to be able to outrun or out-throw someone. But he does have some skills. He's helped himself this spring."

With Solomon, a redshirt freshman, there are undeniable flashes, but it's also clear Rodriguez and Smith are challenging his intensity, focus and dedication. They believe he coasted during his redshirt season, and both talk about him needing to reach "another level."

"Sometimes he fools us," Rodriguez said. "He knows more than we think he knows with the system, but he hasn't taken the next step."

Randall is the wild card. The other three QBs were in Tucson last fall. He's the only complete newbie to the offense. He's also pretty raw. But when he does something like, oh, casually flick the ball 70-plus yards, it's difficult to not raise an eyebrow.

"He's got an unbelievable arm, sometimes too strong," Rodriguez said. "He's got great quickness and can run. He's really done a good job. We've kind of forced-fed him. His head has probably been spinning in every practice. But the development he's made in 15 practices has been really good. Even though he's behind the other guys mentally, I think physically he makes up for it. He's going to be in the mix."

None of the quarterbacks were made available to the media after the spring game, and it's pretty clear the coaches and Arizona's sports information staff have done a thorough job of schooling players on not revealing a personal preference or hinting at a perceived pecking order. The furthest any would go was Hill admitting that he wished he knew the pecking order so he could prioritize whom he threw with over the summer.

So no clarity behind center. The Wildcats' deep and talented crew of receivers heads into the offseason, not unlike an orchestra awaiting a conductor.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on on the Metaphysician Network.

To the notes!

Matt from Beaverton, Ore., writes: I'm sure by now you've read the news about the Ducks losing Bralon Addison this season due to an ACL tear. He looked to take a huge step in becoming a focal point of the Ducks offense with Huff graduating. Do you think Oregon returns to running the ball far more frequently, or are there players you think will step up to fill the void? I'm curious how Jonathan Lloyd (senior point guard for the basketball team) pans out as a return specialist/WR.

[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Ducks are not devoid of offensive talent, but replacing Bralon Addison will be difficult.
Ted Miller: Losing Addison is a big blow for two reasons. First, he's an intriguing talent who was expected to become QB Marcus Mariota's No. 1 target this fall, an important distinction considering Mariota is a Heisman Trophy contender. Second, the Ducks are now as green at receiver as any team in the Pac-12. They will be without their top four receivers from 2013.

What's left? There's veteran Keanon Lowe, a good leader and a tough blocker, but he only caught 18 passes last year. In terms of wideouts, the next most productive returning receiver is sophomore Chance Allen, who caught five passes.

Of course, there's young talent. A top-five team with Oregon's offensive name brand isn't going to be devoid of guys who could immediately step in and shine, but how that pecking order develops is a mystery. Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt freshman Darren Carrington and the mercurial B.J. Kelley are possibilities.

Lloyd? It's fun to speculate, but being a great athlete doesn't mean you'll be a good receiver. That gets a firm "We shall see."

As for compensating in the passing game, the Ducks are strong at tight end, so you probably will see more from those guys. They also, as you note, could lean more on the running game, as Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have the potential to be a 2,500-plus-yard tandem.

One of the Ducks mottos is "next man in" and losing Addison hardly knocks the Ducks out of the Pac-12 and national title race. But if you made a list of the top-five most important Ducks in 2014 a week ago, he would have been on it.

 




Ray from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Recognizing that football is a big moneymaker for college athletic departments, conferences and networks, I'm curious as to whether we've already seen the peak of this sport. Between unionization of athletes and issues with concussions and the incidence of brain damage in former players, it seems like there are some issues ahead. Can educational institutions continue to feature a sport that has apparent long term consequences to the players and cash the checks without some lifetime responsibility to those students? 18-22 year olds always think they are immortal, but the faculty and administrators should know that a significant percentage of the kids have potential for injury and brain damage. Perhaps not as bad as what the Roman gladiators had, but still substantial enough that some court cases could change the financial equation. Do you think you'll need to bone up on badminton or soccer rules as an alternative sport for the Pac-12 blog at some point?

Ted Miller: This is a time of change in college football on many levels, and those changes aren't independent of each other.

We've reached critical mass with the flowing revenue and big-money salaries, where the relative deprivation between athlete and coach/administrator is impossible to ignore. We've also reached a point where we need to take strong steps to address player safety and long-term health issues. Most folks around the game see this, even if they don't agree on all the next steps.

The good news is this: Crisis often breeds progress.

As for your question, "Has college football peaked?" Maybe. But that's not my impression.

Ultimately, I don't think college football is going anywhere. Too many people love it and care about it to not figure out ways to improve things.

And the notion of no Pac-12 blog surely will motivate them all to come up with changes we all can believe in.

 




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: So recently it was announced that the student government at the University of Utah was proposing changes to the fight song "Utah Man" because they felt it was sexist and offensive to some people. I would love to know what someone who is not a die-hard Ute thinks about the whole situation ...

Ted Miller: It's funny how trivial things such as this are often highly controversial, emotional and political. My guess is the folks who most loudly claim they are aggrieved probably have never and will never even sing the song.

Still, my first response? Why not change it to "Utah Fan." What is lost? Fact is plenty of Utah fans are women. The assertion that "man" is an inclusion term is disingenuous.

Don't think so? Your momma is a man. See.

The story included Utah social work professor Joanne Yaffe observing, "I don’t think I’m being hyper-PC, I’m just thinking about not really being included in the song."

I agree. Perfectly reasonable observation. And reason to make a change.

Yet she then unfortunately added, "I think that the U can feel like a very isolating, unwelcoming place, and maybe this song is part of that."

Sigh. That's just gobbledygook. And disingenuous whining is a good way to lose a sympathetic audience.

If I were in charge at Utah, I'd change it to "Utah Fan."

And you folks know I'm up to snuff and never bluff.

Video: Arizona OT Mickey Baucus

April, 11, 2014
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Ted Miller talks with Arizona offensive tackle Mickey Baucus about spring practices and the Wildcats' quarterback competition.
And I said "What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?" … Well, that's the one thing we've got.

Pac-12's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
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If I owned the Twins, I wouldn't even show up here. I'd just hire a bunch of scientists to do my homework. I mean, if you're rich you don't have to be smart. That's the whole beauty of this country.

The ball is tipped and there you are. You're running for your life. You're a shooting star.
Happy Friday!
I saw the sign and it opened up my mind.

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