Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

Spring practice has begun its roll around the Pac-12, so the table is set for a bevy of position battles that should last the course of the entire offseason. That means it's time to highlight the key fights around the conference.

The quarterback cases

A year after the Pac-12's "year of the quarterback," the conference sees its marquee position enter a state of transition this spring. Plenty of top-flight talent has departed, but an influx of emerging signal-callers has the potential to take at least some sting out of the exodus.

Oregon's saga will generate the most headlines. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota is gone, while electrifying dual-threat talent Vernon Adams has transferred to Eugene, Oregon, from Eastern Washington. Coach Mark Helfrich's succession plan isn't determined yet, though: Jeff Lockie was last season's second-stringer, and he'll have a chance to get a jump on Adams -- who can't enroll until fall -- during spring practice.

Less than an hour up the road, Oregon State is tasked with replacing all-time Pac-12 passing leader Sean Mannion. The Beavers are confronted with a traffic jam of their own at the position, as seven quarterbacks currently pack the roster. Luke Del Rio was Mannion's backup last year, so he's a popular name right about now. Expect plenty of maneuvering as the entire stable adapts to Gary Andersen's new offensive system.

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezCan UCLA's Jerry Neuheisel earn the starting quarterback job over highly touted true freshman Josh Rosen?
Jerry Neuheisel made a memorable start in Brett Hundley's stead against Texas in 2014, but that might have been just a prelude to what's expected to be a fierce offseason quarterback battle at UCLA. Josh Rosen, one of the most highly touted prospects in the nation, has also entered the Westwood fray.

Intrigue extends further into the conference. Luke Falk will likely be Connor Halliday's successor at Washington State, but the fates of incumbents Cyler Miles (Washington) and Travis Wilson (Utah) are far from settled. K.J. Carta-Samuels looks to steal the reins in Seattle. At Utah, Kendal Thompson's challenge of Wilson for the starting job, which raged throughout most of last season, will continue following Thompson's recovery from injury.

The defensive battles up front

Stanford, the Pac-12's best defense three years running, is currently competing to reload a unit that lost eight starters following 2014. The most painful attrition for the Cardinal has happened along the defensive line, where all three of last year's starters are graduating. Coach David Shaw actually wishes he had more competition there, since injuries have reduced Stanford to only three healthy players at the position. But Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas will be back, and the fight to replace Henry Anderson and David Parry will rage on in due time.

Washington, meanwhile, is tasked with replacing six members of a front seven that was stocked with pro talent in 2014: Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha, Shaq Thompson, John Timu, Andrew Hudson, and Evan Hudson. Ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, and ouch -- all of those guys are leaving. That's a tough rash of losses. Brace for a free-for-all of competition in Chris Petersen's second year. Meanwhile, a few hours to the east, two spots are open on Washington State's defensive line.

The offensive trenches

Most of Cal's rising offense returns in 2015, but there's a big battle for Chris Adcock's vacated center position between Matt Cochran and Addison Ooms. Both Arizona schools should see spirited competition among the offensive hogs, too. The Wildcats must fill three holes up front, including center. Carter Wood is the front-runner there, and Cal transfer Freddie Tagaloa throws his name into the tackle ring. He is 6-foot-8, 330 pounds -- that sounds fun.

Arizona State tackles Jamil Douglas and Tyler Sulka are both gone, setting up a critical reloading effort to ensure that Mike Bercovici is well protected next season. Evan Goodman and Billy McGehee seem to be the early leading options, but nothing is a lock at this point.

Colorado has lost both starting offensive guards to graduation, and there are four bodies currently competing for those two spots.

Skill-position central

The running back room always seems to be crowded at USC, and Javorius Allen's departure has set the table for a wide-ranging battle this offseason. Allen was the Trojans' leading rusher, but the next six performers on the ground-yardage list come back in 2015. Justin Davis and Tre Madden are the only two scholarship backs returning, and they'll be joined by a trio of freshmen from Steve Sarkisian's monster 2015 recruiting class -- Ronald Jones II, Dominic Davis and Aca'Cedric Ware.

Of course, the departures of Nelson Agholor and George Farmer have also opened matters up at receiver for USC. Expect plenty of explosive fireworks there: JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson are just two of the exciting names on the Trojans roster.

Spring questions: Oregon Ducks

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
Spring practices end the retrospective glances at the last season and begin the forward-looking process toward the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced, and returning starters need to get better, and youngsters need to step up.

While some teams have more issues than others, every team has specific issues that will be front and center. So we're looking at the main questions each Pac-12 team will address this spring.

Up next: Oregon.

1. What will this quarterback competition look like? By now, everyone knows that Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams is a talented, dual-threat quarterback who basically fits the mold for the Oregon offense (except for the fact he's a smidge short at 5-foot-10). But, unfortunately for Adams, he won’t be able to come to campus until he finishes at EWU, and worse yet, he won’t be working out with the Eagles on campus since they're Oregon’s season opener. Could that put him a beat (or several) behind when it comes to the Ducks? Absolutely. Because while he’s working out on his own, there is going to be a slew of other quarterbacks in Eugene throwing with the Oregon wide receivers, working with the running backs, getting acclimated to the offense line, building relationships with Scott Frost. Which of these guys on campus can emerge as the front-runner? Or at least the front-runner to battle Adams once he arrives on campus? It has been a while since there was a quarterback battle (for the starting job) in Eugene but now, we’ve got one. Jeff Lockie? Morgan Mahalak? Those seem to be the front-runners, but for how long?

2. Who’s going to emerge in the secondary? Oregon defensive backs coach John Neal has his work cut out for him. Not only does he need to replace All-American Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Neal also needs to replace Erick Dargan, who led the Pac-12 in interceptions, and Troy Hill, who played some really strong football for the Ducks last year. Chris Seisay made some strides in making Neal’s job a little less tough last season when he stepped in for Ekpre-Olomu in the postseason, but the right cornerback and free safety positions are still in question. People need to step up and step up soon because the Ducks weren’t in the top pack of Pac-12 pass defenses, and with several good QBs on the Ducks’ schedule in 2015 taking a step back isn’t an option.

3. Is anyone going to challenge Royce Freeman for carries? Freeman beating out Byron Marshall for the running back spot last fall might’ve been the best thing that ever happened in Marshall’s career. Without it, he’s just a good running back. With it, he’s one of the best threats in the Pac-12 when it comes to defensive coordinators trying to know what he’s going to do. Plus, he gets out of this battle for carries that’s now happening between Freeman and Thomas Tyner, who had a great postseason for the Ducks. Add to that incoming freshman Taj Griffin, the nation’s No. 4 running back, and we have, yet again, some serious questions to answer when it comes to the Ducks’ running backs. Griffin might not be able to compete 100 percent yet this spring as he’s still recovering from a knee injury, but expect him to still be a factor in the discussions.
The Oregon defense was on an upward trajectory from the middle of the season to the end until it hit the season finale, struggling mightily against Ohio State in the national title game.

On Wednesday, Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum chatted with the Pac-12 Blog about that performance, as well as the season as a whole and what he's looking for out of his defensive unit this spring.

Warning: Pellum is as lengthy with his responses as he is sartorial with his suit choices.

With the number of ups and downs the Oregon defense had this season, how exactly do you grade the unit?

[+] EnlargeDon Pellum
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/USA TODAY SportsOregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said the Ducks "didn't communicate as well," and "fundamentally, we didn't play well" against Ohio State.
Pellum: The way we evaluate ourselves and our players is that throughout the season the issues or things that we weren't doing well, the problems that came up -- did we come up solutions? The solutions are not just changing calls or changing personnel, some of it may be that there was a period of time early in the season when we weren't tackling well and we were leaving a lot of plays on the field, we were giving up a lot of yards after contact so we created some periods [in practice] where we did more tackling, but it wasn't just your normal tackling drills. We took the film, looked at the tackles we were missing and the leverages that we were missing and created some drills to clean it up. That was kind of our approach throughout the season and I think right about midseason we played better. I think the improved performance was a byproduct of us really continuing to look at ourselves and how we could get better at what we did defensively.

I think overall from that standpoint we grew the defense. It was a new defense, a new staff, some new faces last year. Although the defense from the outside appeared the same, it was coached differently, there was a different emphasis, different stress points and it took us a while to actually get to a point where it was looking like how it was supposed to look. I think we did a pretty good job of that. Could it be better? Absolutely.

Along with tackling, communication was an area where the Ducks struggled this season early on. Did you see the same kind of improvement there?

Pellum: Absolutely. The things that improved the most … [if] we're going from the first game to the end of the season, it was the tackles and the leveraging of people the right way so that your teammate could make tackles and then the overall communication. There were a couple games down the stretch when we gave up a couple big plays and they just lacked communication but the majority of the game, even with us rotating a lot of guys, because of the communication we were successful and we played a lot better.

Not to beleaguer the downfalls of this group but one of those games that lacked communication and tackling was the title game. How many times since you've been back in Eugene have you watched that game film?

Pellum: I've seen it a fair amount of times. [Laughter] Yes, I have seen it a couple times.

They say you're never as good as you think you are, nor are you ever as bad as you think you are. What did that film say about the team -- did that saying hold true?

Pellum: Honestly, we did a lot of good things but they were definitely overshadowed. From midseason right down to the conference championship game and then spilling into the Florida State game we were playing better, we were making strides in different areas. And then in the national championship, we didn't play our best game. We had been working toward it, but we didn't. We didn't communicate as well. The thing we did a poor job of was that we didn't read well, we didn't tackle well, probably could've changed some calls and done some other things. But fundamentally, we didn't play well.

So going forward, you have to replace a lot of faces and you're coming off a rough loss, but you want to have optimism for 2015 -- what's your baseline for this group?

Pellum: We're back to basics the day after the championship game. The first thing from coach [Mark] Helfrich was, ‘We've got to get back in the weight room, we've got to get back into conditioning, we have to get back into our routine.' From a defensive standpoint, our base 3-4 package, we really, really excelled in there. Down the stretch it was very, very good. So, we've identified some things that were very good. … We've got to do a better job in some of the passing situations.

We've got to settle down on the two or three things we're going to do in the third-and-long categories and how we're going to disguise them and then really fine tune those. And then we have to continue to get better with the communication, which is something the kids can do every day. Those are areas. We've got some real good things we've identified. We've already put those on the board and labeled them ‘This is the bread and butter, here it is.' Then we have to go add the dressing on it, what are the other things we want to feature? Last year got us a lot of good and a lot of bad, but it has given us an opportunity to go through a season of what we thought we were going to do and what we thought we liked, and now we can really hone in on what we really like and the other things, move away from.
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

Well, your humble Pac-12 Blog is back. And it's back with those answers (with signees by state).

Rich Rodriguez, four classes -- 98 signees, 11 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 41
  • Arizona: 16
  • Texas: 9
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 5
  • Colorado: 3
  • Two signees: Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia
  • One signee: Canada, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington
Todd Graham, four classes -- 100 signees, seven ESPN 300 members
  • California: 46
  • Arizona: 17
  • Florida: 7
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Three signees: Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas
  • Two signees: Nevada, Washington, Washington D.C.
  • One signee: Canada, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah

Sonny Dykes, three classes -- 71 signees, four ESPN 300 members
  • California: 49
  • Texas: 6
  • Three signees: Arizona, Washington
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Mississippi, Oregon
  • One signee: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana

Mike MacIntyre, three classes -- 66 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • California: 33
  • Colorado: 14
  • Texas: 8
  • Arizona: 3
  • Two signees: Hawaii, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Washington

Mark Helfrich, three classes -- 63 signees, 17 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 26
  • Oregon: 5
  • Four signees: Arizona, Texas, Washington
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Louisiana, Nevada
  • One signee: Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee

Gary Andersen, one class -- 22 signees, no ESPN 300 members
  • Utah: 6
  • Four signees: California, Florida
  • Two signees: Oregon, Texas
  • One signee: American Samoa, Arizona, Hawaii, Louisiana

David Shaw, five classes -- 95 signees, 26 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 25
  • Georgia: 7
  • Six signees: Arizona, Florida, Texas
  • Five signees: Utah, Washington
  • Four signees: Louisiana
  • Three signees: North Carolina
  • Two signees: Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia
  • One signee: Hawaii, Indiana, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington D.C.

Jim Mora, four classes -- 92 signees, 31 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 55
  • Texas: 10
  • Arizona: 5
  • Three signees: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii
  • Two signees: Delaware
  • One signee: Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, Washington

Steve Sarkisian, two classes -- 43 signees, 25 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 32
  • Texas: 3
  • Two signees: Florida, Utah
  • One signee: Georgia, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma

Kyle Whittingham, five classes* -- 108 signees, 0 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 40
  • Utah: 29
  • Texas: 15
  • Florida: 8
  • Louisiana: 6
  • Nevada: 3
  • Two signees: Arizona, Hawaii
  • One signee: Maryland, New Jersey, New York

*This is only counting Whittingham's classes that he recruited into the Pac-12 conference (so, starting with the 2011 signing class since the Utes made it official on June 22, 2010).


Chris Petersen, two classes -- 49 signees, 4 ESPN 300 members
  • California: 28
  • Washington: 14
  • Idaho: 2
  • One signee: Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Wyoming

Mike Leach, four classes -- 102 signees, one ESPN 300 members
  • California: 57
  • Washington: 14
  • American Samoa: 7
  • Three signees: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Texas
  • Two signees: Alabama, Georgia
  • One signee: Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, Oregon, Oklahoma, Utah

There are 20 states from which no current Pac-12 South coach has ever signed a player, and 18 from which no current North coaches have never signed a player. Of those states, 11 are overlapping, meaning that no player from the following states has been signed to a current Pac-12 coach during his tenure as head coach -- Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It's not surprising that no players has been signed from Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska or North Dakota because those are the four least-populated states in the U.S. What is surprising is that only three players have been signed from the state of Alabama -- two to Mike Leach and one to Sonny Dykes.

Long story short: If you're a high school prospect and you want to play in the Pac-12, it doesn't hurt to live in California, Florida or Texas (if you live outside of "Pac-12 territory"). If you're a high school prospect and you live in Wisconsin or West Virginia -- even though some of these coaches have been head coaches in those states, your chances don't look good at all.

Eleven of the 12 programs have signed the most players from the state of California during current coaches' tenures. The only coach who hasn't is Oregon State coach Gary Andersen, but California is tied for second-most on his list.

North coaches have signed -- on average -- three classes per coach while the South coaches have signed -- on average -- four per. While it's really only a difference of one class, it is a difference of 20-30 student athletes per coach, so really the possibility of 120-180 different home states.

In the South the most recruited states outside of California and home states -- as a whole -- are Florida and Texas. Again, this might not be surprising considering how talent-rich both of those states are, but the only Pac-12 South coach who has ever coached in one of those states is Todd Graham (Rice).

In the North, it's a bit more of a mash-up. The states of Arizona and Washington are big for Cal and Oregon. Florida is big for Oregon State and Stanford. Chris Petersen really hasn't had to reach out of California or Washington, much like his in-state foe, Mike Leach. However, Leach also likes to go to American Samoa, where he has signed seven players.

USC has had the most success with the top recruits. Fifty-eight percent of Sarkisian's recruits are ESPN 300 members. After him, the next most "successful" recruiting coaches are Mora (33.7 percent), Shaw (31.6 percent) and Helfrich (27 percent).

Signing top recruits certainly gives teams a boost on the field as evidenced by the teams above and the successes they've had under each coach. But look at Utah. Whittingham hasn't signed a single ESPN 300 player and yet his team was in the hunt for the South title last season. It's the same with Rich Rodriguez: Even though just 7 percent of his players have been ESPN 300 members, he has still had major success on the field for the Wildcats.
The NFL Combine kicks off on Friday.

Here’s a breakdown of which Pac-12 players will be appearing on which days.

FRIDAY, FEB. 20 | Specialists, offensive linemen, tight ends

Offensive linemen:
Tight ends: SATURDAY, FEB. 21 | Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers

Running backs:
Wide receivers: SUNDAY, FEB. 22 | Defensive linemen, linebackers

Defensive linemen:
Linebackers: MONDAY, FEB. 23 | Defensive backs
Signing day has come and gone and with it an entirely new batch of Pac-12 players is joining the conference (269 players, to be exact).

With the Pac-12 gaining more national recognition, it’s no surprise to see the recruiting trends heading further outside of what was typically considered “Pac-12 territory.”

For example, the most heavily recruited area was -- unsurprisingly -- the West Coast and states that are the home to one or more Pac-12 programs. But right after that, the next-biggest target was the South and Southeast: SEC territory. The Pac-12 signed the same number of recruits from Texas as it did Arizona. Louisiana was a big state for the conference as well -- Pac-12 schools signed 13 players from the Bayou State.

Here’s a closer look at where exactly the conference picked up its Class of 2015 talent:

  • One obvious note is the number of players from California -- players from the Golden State account for 48 percent of Pac-12 signees in 2015. That’s not too surprising, considering how large and talent-rich the state is. Of the top 25 players in California, 21 signed with Pac-12 schools. The other four signed with Alabama, Tennessee, Notre Dame and San Jose State.
  • Each Pac-12 program signed at least one player from California in the 2015 class (that’s the only state with which that’s true this season). On average, there are 11 signees from California in each recruiting class this season. Though it’s USC who leads the way with 17 signees from California, Washington State was right on the Trojans’ heels with 16 signees from Cali.
  • The state of Washington showed out pretty well in the conference. While there was only one player from Washington in the ESPN 300, there were 16 signees from the state who landed with Pac-12 programs.
  • The only program to not sign a player from the program’s home state was Oregon. However, there were five players from Oregon that did sign with Pac-12 programs. Those players ended up at Arizona (1), Oregon State (2), Stanford (1) and Washington (1).
  • Players staying home: Arizona and Arizona State signed seven players from Arizona; California, Stanford, UCLA and USC signed 48 players from California; Colorado signed four players from Colorado; Oregon State signed two players from Oregon; Utah signed three players from Utah; and Washington and Wazzu signed a total of nine players from Washington.
  • The most national class (meaning the team that signed the players from the most number of states) was Stanford, which signed players from 13 states. The least national class was USC, which signed players from just six states.

But what about the concentration of top talent in the 2015 class?

Again, unsurprisingly, California leads the way. The Golden State makes up half of the four-star and five-star players in the 2015 Pac-12 class. USC snagged five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, who hails from Long Beach, California, and 33 of the 66 four-stars in the 2015 class are also from California.

But this is where there’s a bit of a changeup. Of the 14 players from Texas that signed in the 2015 class, five (36 percent) are four-star players who landed at Pac-12 programs. After that -- with the exception of three four-star players from Georgia -- the majority of the top talent, again, hails from the traditional Pac-12 region.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Joe Faraoni/ESPN ImagesIt's not often that the Pac-12 pulls top prospects from Connecticut, such as UCLA-bound tight end Chris Clark.

  • Hawaii: 1
  • California: 1

  • California: 33
  • Texas: 5
  • Washington: 4
  • Arizona: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • Utah: 3
  • Two four-star signees: Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oklahoma
  • One four-star signee: South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Connecticut, Hawaii

More notes:

  • Notably, the conference signed a four-star and five-star player from Hawaii. There were only four players in the state that were four- or five-star players. The two players who didn’t sign with a Pac-12 team went to Texas Tech and BYU. Both had Pac-12 offers.
  • The conference also cleaned up -- in regard to snagging the limited top talent out of state -- in Nevada. There were only three four-star players in Nevada and two ended up in the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC). The other player signed with Notre Dame.
  • More impressively, the conference was able to sign one of two four-star players out of Connecticut (TE Chris Clark, UCLA). When considering the distance between Nevada and the Pac-12 and Connecticut and the Pac-12, this is quite a recruiting feat.

As these players get more into the programs and possibly become big Pac-12 contributors, it will only open up these national pipelines more, making the conference’s footprint even bigger.
Not all recruitments are created equal, as some see prospects commit to their dream school early and never waver, while others have more twists and turns than a Formula 1 race. Taking a look through the recently released 2015 Ultimate 300, we spotlight five of the more interesting recruitments in the Pac-12, alphabetically by prospect.

Prep for the 2015 season for a few teams is right around the corner as players begin to hit the field over the next few weeks for the start of spring practices.

That means that some players' campaigns for the 2015 player of the year starts ... now (at least in the Pac-12 Blogosphere).

Marcus Mariota -- even last spring -- was the clear-cut frontrunner for the award. This year, it's not as obvious. There are a few players that stand out, and then there's always the possibility for a dark horse candidate, someone to burst onto the scene out of nowhere.


Who will be the 2015 Pac-12 Player of the Year?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,415)

So, who do you think walks away with next season's player of the year honors?

1. UCLA RB Paul Perkins

Perkins led the conference in rushing yards in 2014 (1,575 rushing yards). His 121.2 rushing yards per game still put him front of Oregon State and Washington State's team rushing totals per game. His 6.3 yards per carry was a Pac-12 best, and with the UCLA offense looking a little different next season, it wouldn't be surprising to see Jim Mora relying even more on Perkins to carry the load. Could that be enough to propel him to the top of the Pac-12?

2. USC QB Cody Kessler

Kessler will be right there with Perkins, fighting for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game and the player of the year honors. Kessler didn't get as much attention this season as some other QBs in the conference despite leading the Pac-12 in completion percentage (69.7) and finishing second in passing touchdowns (39), but in 2015 he should be the talk of the town, especially considering how many weapons the Trojans will have around Kessler.

3. Arizona LB Scooby Wright III

Wright was the defensive darling of the postseason award circuit in 2014 picking up the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, and many others. He was the 2014 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, which sets him up well for a step up -- player of the year -- in his next season. But the other players on this list are talented and, no surprises here, they're all offensive players and every talented defensive player will tell you how much more they have to do to get the same amount of love as an offensive skill player (every single lineman will say this, too). But with 14 sacks and 31 tackles for a loss in 2014, it's a pretty safe bet to expect more of Two Star Scoob in 2015.

4. Oregon RB Royce Freeman

With another offseason under his belt, Freeman is going to appear even more prepared for the college game (which is kind of a scary thought). He tore apart Pac-12 defenses this season -- 1,113 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns versus conference opponents in 2014. Whoever starts for the Ducks at quarterback is going to have their ups and downs -- that's to be expected of a first-year starter. Expect Oregon to lean more on the run game -- meaning Freeman -- to get its offense going.

5. Other

The battle for the fourth spot in this poll was highly contested (but due to technology, only five names could be put into this poll which is why the voting is relatively limited). Utah running back Devontae Booker was right there with Freeman, especially when considering what Booker did this season and knowing that 2015 is his last hurrah. He burst onto the Pac-12 scene as a relative unknown and finished second in the conference in rushing yards per game (116.3). Cal quarterback Jared Goff was under serious consideration. When looking at the strides he made between his freshman and sophomore seasons, it's wild to think what he might look like as a junior. Arizona running back Nick Wilson was also in the conversation. Though Freeman was the freshman running back that garnered the most attention in the Pac-12 last season, he wasn't the only one. Wilson -- another year older, another year stronger -- is going to be a force in the conference in 2015, too.
A quick check of the recently released Ultimate ESPN 300 reveals a strong Pac-12 quarterback presence toward the top of the list. The three conference quarterbacks in the top 25 are tied for the most players at one position from one conference.

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck leads the way for the Pac-12 at No. 9. He’s the No. 2 quarterback on the list and the top-10 player that made the biggest jump from his original ranking, moving all the way from No. 61 in the 2008 class. USC quarterback Matt Barkley checks in at No. 11, one of 15 current or former Trojans on the list. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is in at No. 25, as his Heisman Trophy-winning season resulted in a huge rise from last year, where he was No. 228. Mariota and fellow Heisman winner Johnny Manziel are the only two of the top 36 prospects that were not ranked in the ESPN 150 or 300 of their recruiting class.

With that group firmly established as the top three Pac-12 quarterbacks since ESPN rankings began with the 2006 class, we take a look at the present and future of the conference, with three quarterbacks in each of those groups that could eventually play their way into a future Ultimate ESPN 300.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

The Ultimate ESPN 300 is loaded with 14 Pac-12 prospects who didn’t make their respective ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 rankings, so trimming that list to the top five who outperformed their initial rankings and became surprise stars at the college level wasn’t easy. The state of Oregon led the way on this list, but Arizona State and Stanford were also home to a few college stars who didn’t receive the same level of recruiting attention as others.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Biggest shoes to fill: Oregon

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
Players come and go.

In a perfect world, the teams only have to reload, not rebuild. But following this season, there are a lot of shoes that need to be filled due to early departures and expected graduations.

That leaves the question: Will these spots be reloading or rebuilding? Your humble Pac-12 Blog takes a look at some of the biggest shoes that need to be filled entering the 2015 season.

Oregon Ducks

Biggest shoes: OK, did you really want to read another post about who is going to take over the quarterback job and whether it will be Vernon Adams/Jeff Lockie/Morgan Mahalak? Didn't think so. So, in lieu of another Marcus Mariota story, we bring you an amended version of the biggest shoes to fill -- the second-biggest shoes to fill.

That only made us realize that the second-biggest shoes to fill were cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's. With him being out during the postseason, those shoes were already starting to be filled by Chris Seiasy, which brings us to ...

Third-biggest shoes: S Erick Dargan

Dargan was one of the best surprises on this year's Oregon roster. Though he had no serious starting experience coming into the 2014-15 season, he commanded the Ducks secondary like a seasoned veteran. He led the Pac-12 in interceptions with seven (for comparison, the next-best in the conference was three) and led the Ducks in tackles with 95.

Stepping in: Tyree Robinson

Replacing Dargan is going to be no small task, especially since it's not just the tackles and interceptions that need to be made up for. One of Dargan's biggest responsibilities this season was getting the play call from coaches and dispersing it to the defensive backs, so whoever steps into Dargan's shoes will need to be an automatic leader. Robinson was Dargan's primary backup this season, finishing the year with 36 tackles (12th-best on the team) but he has experience at strong safety as well, which will come in handy as he leads this young secondary in 2015. One of the best attributes about Robinson at free safety is his size. At 6-foot-4, he's much taller than most of the recent free safeties in Oregon's defense -- Dargan was 5-foot-11; Avery Patterson was 5-foot-10; John Boyett was 5-foot-10.

Pac-12 2015 recruiting in review 

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
The Pac-12 landed six top-30 recruiting classes and 47 ESPN 300 prospects as every program brought in potential immediate, impact players capable of making an impression on the 2015 season. Here, we take a look back at the recruiting cycle and signing day, and hand out some superlatives for the 2015 recruiting class.

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Oregon has the unenviable task this offseason of replacing Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. Earlier this week, the Ducks’ quarterback depth -- there are already four quarterbacks on the roster and a fifth who will enroll before the spring season -- got an even bigger boost when Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams announced he’d be transferring to Eugene.

Naturally, this sparked impassioned debate within the Pac-12 Blog, most notably between Ted Miller and Chantel Jennings. The two decided to take their debate public:

Ted Miller: If Chantel were threatening to drown me in a butt of malmsey wine, which she frequently does, if I didn’t announce my favorite to be Oregon’s next quarterback, I would whimper, “Vernon Adams.”

But unlike many folks, I think Adams is far from a certainty, both to win the job and then to be successful. It’s one thing to get juiced to play a one-off game against Oregon State or Washington before going back to a Big Sky schedule. It’s another to open against your former team -- yeah, the Ducks open the 2015 season against Eastern Washington -- and then head to Michigan State, a preseason top-10 team, and then play a nine-game schedule against the nation’s deepest conference.

Adams is talented. He can run. He can throw. He’s a good fit for the Ducks offense. He was overlooked in recruiting because of his height, which might remind folks of celebrated NFL QBs such as Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.


Which quarterback will be Oregon's starter in the season opener?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,632)

Ah, but the magical FBS QB transfer is rarely just that. I think of magical transfer QBs through the years -- Jake Heaps, Tate Forcier, Garrett Gilbert, Mitch Mustain and, Oregon’s own, Jeremiah Masoli, etc. -- and can’t recall much real magic transpiring in the win-loss column. I see hype and hope, but the reality is Wilson going from NC State to Wisconsin and leading the Badgers to the Rose Bowl is the exception, not the standard.

Further, while I keep hearing from folks about how poor-to-middling Oregon’s existing crew of QBs have looked, including Mariota’s 2013 and 2014 backup, Jeff Lockie, I tend to be as skeptical of negative whispers coming from teams with closed practices as I am of hype about magical transfers. I’m skeptical that good QB guys such as coach Mark Helfrich and offensive coordinator Scott Frost don’t feel like they’ve recruited a QB in the previous three seasons who can excel in their system next fall. I think Adams represented an opportunity to deepen the competition and give the Ducks another quality option.

Adams is an intriguing potentiality. He is not a sure thing.

Adams' transfer is a no-lose situation for Oregon. I seriously doubt he’s, say, taking up a scholarship that could have gone to a five-star defensive lineman. The scholarship was open and -- egad! -- so is the Ducks' QB job.

Now let the competition begin, which I believe will be wide-open and legitimate.

Chantel Jennings: Ted, I have to believe that this is some of your “I’m going to pick against what I actually believe” mojo stuff, right? Because there’s no way you’re actually being this na´ve. Though, this whole act is really quite cute, Goldilocks.

By default, I think we have to believe that even without Adams enrolling for the spring season, he’s the front-runner to earn the starting job this fall.

Forget the fact that the Ducks will be taking on his former team in the season-opener (a team that has proven to be quite a difficult foe for Pac-12 teams in the past two seasons) and the advantage that comes with having a former Eastern Washington quarterback command Oregon’s offense. Even if the Ducks were playing their Week 2 opponent (Michigan State) in Week 1, I still believe that Adams would be the guy.

And Ted, as far as your argument about other FCS transfers, I see where you’re coming from. It’s a scary thought to believe in something when it has been proven as the expectation, rather than the rule, as you pointed out with Wilson. But I truly believe Adams can work his way into that “exception” category based on a few facts.

First: Look at what the Ducks are bringing back offensively -- you’ve got the deepest running back group in the nation. The wide receivers are talented. The tight ends are experienced and the offensive line proved this past season that it will take whatever is thrown at it. So what do the Ducks need at the QB spot? Someone who A, knows how to handle the pressure; and B, is athletic enough to keep defenses honest.

Can you point to another quarterback on Oregon’s roster that has both of those qualities?

Bueller? Bueller?

What about even one of those qualities?

OK, maybe two of the current quarterbacks have the athleticism of Adams, but they lack his experience.

Given that point alone, I don’t see how you can’t come over to my side of the argument, Ted.

I don’t think Oregon wants its quarterback to be perfect.

But what Oregon needs is a guy who’s going to take care of the ball. And until you can show me a quarterback that instills that level of confidence on the field (in a spring game, or in garbage minutes), I’m going to firmly plant my flag in the “Adams is the starter by default” camp.

You should really head over this way though, Ted. We’ve got campfires and s’mores.
Short of winning a national title, quarterback Vernon Adams accomplished just about everything he could have hoped for at the FCS level. Twice the Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, and twice the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, his talent far exceeded that of the players he competed with and against.

[+] EnlargeVernon Adams
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesOregon fans are anxious to see how QB Vernon Adams' game will translate to the Pac-12.
If he was a minor league baseball player, he would have been promoted shortly after leading Eastern Washington to a win at Oregon State to open the 2013 season. But that, of course, isn't how it works, and "Big Play V.A." continued to punch well above his weight class in a third straight run to the FCS playoffs in 2014.

Following his announcement this week that he will transfer to Oregon for his final year of eligibility, two obvious questions have been asked: How will his game translate to the Pac-12 level? And what kind of impact will he make for the Ducks?

Adams made a living getting outside the pocket and throwing accurately on the run for the Eagles, and that's something UC Davis coach Ron Gould, an Oregon graduate, said won't change with the bump in competition.

"If you're able to do those things at the FCS level, then you're going to be able to do those things in FBS," Gould said. "The only caveat is getting used to the speed of the game. They're a tad bit faster [on defense], but does he have the arm strength and ability to put the ball where it needs to be? Yes. Does he have the ability to dissect defenses? Yes. That's what he's been doing since his freshman year."

If there are any doubts about his ability to match up athletically against Pac-12 defenses, Gould said Adams' performance in Eastern Washington's 59-52 loss to Washington in September (31-for-46, 475 yards, 7 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) should have cleared that up. Especially considering the Huskies were loaded with NFL talent.

"That's a Pac-12 school that went to a bowl game. Ability is ability," Gould said. "I watched tape of that game, saw him in a phone booth [in the pocket], and this young man got out of it and threw a strike downfield on his way to putting up 52 points. The guy is an incredible athlete. He's special and he makes everyone better."

If not for a relative lack of size, Adams might have started his college career at the FBS level, but at or just below 6 feet, he didn't generate much buzz. Due to his stature -- and the utilization of the graduate-transfer rule -- the inevitable comparisons to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson have come about. Those won't be going away anytime soon, and neither will the occasional mention of Drew Brees to showcase how an undersized quarterback can find seemingly limitless success.

Illinois State coach Brock Spack was the defensive coordinator at Purdue at the end of Brees' career there and led the Redbirds past Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs in December. Spack was careful to make it clear that it's premature to compare Adams to QBs such as Brees and Wilson -- "those type of guys don't come around very often" -- but noted all three have the ability to keep plays alive and make good decisions.

A major part of Illinois State's plan for containing Adams was to keep him in the pocket as much as possible (Adams rushed for minus-8 yards on 6 carries in the game). But even in the pocket, Spack said, Adams is capable of delivering the ball accurately and on time.

"He can do it all in any system," Spack said. "He protects the ball well; he doesn't throw it up for grabs and doesn't throw the ball across his body. The thing you want to see the QB do is throw it in catchable spots, and he does that ... always under control. It's hard to simulate."

Neither coach was willing to say unequivocally that he believes Adams will be the starter at Oregon next season -- without a more intimate knowledge of the rest of Oregon's quarterbacks, it wasn't their place -- but they agreed that if there is an FCS player who could come in and start without the benefit of a spring practice, Adams would be the guy. Regardless, they -- along with the rest of college football world -- are intrigued to see how the experiment works out.
Oregon added to its quarterback arsenal on Monday with the addition of Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams Jr.

Not only does this make the Ducks' season opener against Eastern Washington more interesting, it makes this offseason more interesting as Oregon will have an on-going quarterback battle on its hands.


Which quarterback will be Oregon's starter in the season opener?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,632)

Since it’s always fun to look ahead seven months or so, which quarterback do you think will be Oregon’s starter when the Ducks take the field Sept. 5, 2015?

1. Jeff Lockie

Lockie has spent the most time in Oregon’s system of any QB on this list. During his time in Eugene, Lockie has completed 29-of-41 passes for 264 yards. He has thrown one touchdown and one interception in his 19 appearances. Technically, Lockie has three seasons worth of experience, studying under Marcus Mariota. That has had some kind of an effect on him and how he goes about his business, which should give Ducks fans a bit of faith in the career backup. But can he transition into a full-time starter for Oregon?

2. Morgan Mahalak

Mahalak was a highly touted signee in the 2014 class but redshirted last season, running much of the scout team. At 6-foot-3, he has the kind of size that the Ducks lost in Mariota and has a frame that has already gained 10 pounds since arriving on campus. Mahalak was the No. 9 QB in the 2014 class, and his recruiting analysis says he “has a high ceiling for development. Clear to see why coaches may be excited about him long term.”

3. Vernon Adams Jr.

Adams is the reason why this conversation has heated up so much this week. The reigning FCS National Performer of the Year (named by College Football Performance Awards) has elected to transfer to Oregon, where he’ll be eligible immediately. However, because of conflicting schedules for the schools, Adams won’t be able to get to campus until June, meaning he’ll miss spring football. Will that be too much of a deterrent in his run for the starting spot? He clearly has the most experience of any name on this list. In his three seasons at Eastern Washington he's tallied 10,438 passing yards (110 touchdowns, 31 interceptions) and 1,232 rushing yards.

4. Travis Waller

Could a true freshman come in and get the job done for the Ducks? Maybe. Waller will be on campus in time for spring practices, which certainly gives him a boost. Waller also has a height advantage over a few other competitors (6-foot-3), and at 194 pounds, already has a solid frame.'s RecruitingNation ranked Waller as the No. 8 QB in the 2015 class. His scouting report says, “He is intriguing because he could play in just about any scheme, and his athleticism may be his most undervalued trait. Plays a highly competitive brand of football. ... There is a high ceiling for development here with quality tools to mold.”

5. Taylor Alie or Ty Griffin

Alie and Griffin seem like the two players who might be the furthest out of this competition at this point, though no one knows exactly how far. However, Griffin’s dual-threat talents are attractive when looking for Mariota's replacement and he's certainly the speediest of all five players. But every player on this list has his own negatives so, given a strong enough spring performance, why not one of these two?