Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

This past season, Stanford's offensive productivity tumbled to its lowest levels since the pre-Andrew Luck era, but there's a sense of optimism coming from the program that 2015 can be a big one for the Cardinal.

At face value, those two components seem to be incompatible, especially since there's very little room for an infusion of fresh talent, as the Cardinal return almost all pieces of the very same offense that struggled throughout most of 2014.

But this evaluation -- and the outlook for next season -- is more complex than that. A lack of talent isn't the real issue; this particular Stanford situation is more about the team's ability to properly maximize its productivity, something that eventually happened last season after the Cardinal had lost five games.

Quarterback Kevin Hogan salvaged his season with three strong closing performances against California, UCLA, and Maryland. The journey was likely more difficult than anyone on the outside realized: Hogan's father had been suffering from illness throughout the course of the season and passed away in early December.

Stanford's successful final act might not convince the naysayers -- only five teams nationally surrendered more points than Cal, while UCLA and Maryland also didn't feature true defensive juggernauts -- but it represented a massive turnaround from the team's struggles during the first 10 games of the season.

Stanford had struggled to adapt to their lack of a power running back, but the staff finally achieved rushing success with smaller -- yet more explosive -- weapons. In the closing run, true freshman Christian McCaffrey enjoyed at least five field-stretching plays per game (12 against UCLA), and Remound Wright shouldered the load near the goal line to address a red-zone efficiency problem, scoring nine of his 11 touchdowns in the final three games.

With the running game revived, Hogan was able to rediscover success off playaction. His stellar 16-for-19, 234-yard performance against the Bruins sparked a 180-degree reversal of narrative entering the offseason: Stanford's offense could survive without a 220-plus pound power back, after all.

Now, it must be noted that the 31-10 pummeling of UCLA was the only game in which Stanford's offense enjoyed real success against a top-25 team. Their scoring output that afternoon was 21 points above their season average in regulation against ranked opponents. Conventional wisdom warns us to be wary of a potential one-game fluke, but the offense's success was built on a stable foundation that can be replicated in the future.

Proof of that lies in the ground attack: The Cardinal amassed over 200 yards rushing in the last three games after not reaching that threshold a single time throughout the first 10. For a run-first offense, that helps generate balanced, methodical success.

Moving forward, it's about being consistently efficient.

The Cardinal still boast a powerful line capable of dominating at the point of attack to go along with versatile weapons that can create match-up headaches on the outside. It's about properly utilizing that talent, and a confident Hogan gives Stanford a chance to do that.

Here's an early, pre-spring practice, position-by-position look at likely starters and key pieces for the Cardinal offense next season:

Quarterback
Starter: Kevin Hogan
Reserves: Keller Chryst, Ryan Burns, Evan Crower

Outlook: David Shaw has all but indicated that Hogan will be Stanford's starter in his fifth year on campus. The coach has frequently praised Crower, last season's second-stringer, for his command of the playbook, but one would expect Chryst, a highly regarded redshirt freshman, to emerge as the primary backup. One interesting question here: Will Shaw insert Chryst into the lineup in an occasional package role? That's how Hogan got his feet wet in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDevon Cajuste
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsDevon Cajuste will be the focal point of Stanford's passing game after a fast finish to 2014.
Backfield
RB: Remound Wright/Barry Sanders
ATH: Christian McCaffrey, Kelsey Young
FB: Patrick Skov, Daniel Marx

Outlook: Wright might only weigh about 200 pounds, but he did serious damage in short-yardage situations at the end of 2014. There's solid mix-and-match potential here with McCaffrey's explosiveness, Sanders' elusiveness, and Young's pure speed, but Stanford can't get carried away with a by-committee approach. As the end of last season showed, McCaffrey needs to get touches for this offense to thrive -- a lot of them.

Receivers
X WR: Devon Cajuste
Z WR: Michael Rector/Francis Owusu
Y TE: Austin Hooper
F TE: Eric Cotton/Greg Taboada

Outlook: Stanford loses Ty Montgomery, one of the Pac-12's most dangerous weapons. But the Cardinal excelled without him in the final three games, a testament to the match-up nightmare Cajuste (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) presents in conjunction with Rector's speed. The tight end position emerged late, too, and should make its full return for Stanford next season: Don't forget that Dalton Schultz, the nation's top tight end prospect in the 2014 class, will likely break into the mix, too.

Offensive line
LT: Kyle Murphy
LG: Joshua Garnett
C: Graham Shuler
RG: Johnny Caspers
RT: Casey Tucker

Outlook: Andrus Peat is gone, and Stanford will plug another former five-star recruit (Tucker) into his spot. Murphy's versatility might encourage Mike Bloomgren to shift him to Peat's old spot on the left side (protecting Hogan's blindside), and Tucker would grab the right tackle spot in that case -- but that's just a guess heading into spring practice.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
9:00
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You've gotta ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Call it, Friendo.

Two quotes today... because Happy Friday.

Leading off

In case you suffer from football withdrawals at any point this weekend, take solace in the fact that plenty of elite college talent will be suiting up for the Reese's Senior Bowl this Saturday. The Pac-12 is sending an entire gaggle of representatives to this game. Most will be representing the North team, but UCLA's Anthony Jefferson and Owamagbe Odighizuwa will play for the South.

There'll be a nasty collection of defensive line talent on the North team: Think Danny Shelton, Henry Anderson, Hau'oli Kikaha, and Nate Orchard -- all on the same unit. Seeing that group play together should create a fun dynamic for avid Pac-12 fans who have watched those players terrorize quarterbacks over the past few seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion may have a chance to throw to receivers from Stanford (Ty Montgomery) and Washington State (Vince Mayle).

Other Pac-12 representatives: Hayes Pullard and Josh Shaw (USC), Eric Rowe (Utah), Damarious Randle and Jamil Douglas (ASU)

This one will feature plenty of hustle, as it's the final live game opportunity for these seniors to raise their NFL Draft stock.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun
Did you know Ronnie Lott played basketball at USC? That guy needs to be on the football team. Sign him up!

It’s been a sensational three-year run for the Stanford defense, and 2014 brought yet another imposing push forward. The unit, arguably the program's best ever 2012 and very good again in 2013, actually improved this past season. In the end, the departures of Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner, Shayne Skov, Ed Reynolds, and Josh Mauro -- all of which generated significant doubt prior to the season -- didn't slow down defensive coordinator Lance Anderson's freight train as it powered full steam ahead.

Stanford led the Pac-12 by sizable margins in every single noteworthy defensive category. The unit surrendered a measly 4.2 yards per play, a full yard better than the second-best defense in the conference. The 16.4 points per game that the team yielded: over a full touchdown better than the league runner-up.

Simply put, the Cardinal posted certifiably eye-popping numbers on the defensive end in 2014, and a brief look at this production doesn't seem to reconcile with the team's five losses. The defense delivered a championship-caliber campaign, but for most of the season, Stanford's offense and special teams didn't hold up their ends of the bargain.

This reality surprised many. Given the aforementioned loss of star power entering 2014, a popular preseason notion centered around the idea that the Stanford offense would have to up its productivity to pick up the slack for the team's projected looming defensive decay. That theory, of course, ended up falling flat on its face: The defense statistically improved -- so there was no slack to pick up -- and that actually saved Stanford from a truly precipitous fall, because the offense took sizable steps backward.

Moving forward to 2015, the Cardinal defense must replace eight starters. That conjures the money question: Is history repeating itself? When it comes to Stanford's future outlook, that familiar "the offense is going to have carry the weight" theory is resurfacing. There's a prevailing thought that the Cardinal defense will finally slip under the weight of turnover.

But since Anderson's unit so deftly shook off the losses of Murphy, Skov & Co. -- some of the best players in program history -- it might be time to entertain the notion that Stanford has become a defensive factory, a program that's discovered the elusive combination of right-fit recruiting and schematic effectiveness that unlocks consistency on the field even through turnover.

That notion -- we'll call it the "system defense theory" -- will be put to the test in 2015. Here's an early position-by-position look at how the puzzle pieces may come together for Stanford's defense. Remember that this is a very early look at projected starters and that spring practice should help add some clarity to the currently murky situation.

Defensive line
DE: Luke Kaumatule/Solomon Thomas
NT: Aziz Shittu/Harrison Phillips/Alex Yazdi
DE: Nate Lohn/Jordan Watkins

Outlook: For those who contend that Stanford's defense will suffer a drop-off in 2015, this is the position group that provides the most ammunition. The defensive line has been the foundational pillar of the Cardinal's dominant 3-4 defense, and this is the first time in several years that the program has had to replace all three starters up front. Six-foot-6 end Henry Anderson was one of the best players in the Pac-12, and nose tackle David Parry's block-gobbling 305-pound man strength was the centerpiece of the Stanford defense. When Parry and backup Aziz Shittu were both hurt this past season, the Cardinal's weakness showed: 255-pound true freshman Harrison Phillips was forced into action at the nose, and that 50-pound downgrade sent shockwaves throughout the defense.

The ability of sports performance director Shannon Turley to develop Parry's replacement may be Stanford's most critical battle this offseason: The early favorite to start here is the versatile Shittu, but it may be a by-committee effort. The Cardinal need the 6-foot-7, 276-pound Kaumatule to seize his potential in 2015.

Linebackers
OLB Kevin Anderson
ILB Blake Martinez
ILB Kevin Palma/Noor Davis
OLB Peter Kalambayi

Outlook: A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters are gone, but Stanford has recruited and developed the linebacker position extremely well. Vaughters' graduation means more time for Kalambayi, one of the most talented speed rushers in the Pac-12. Anderson has also developed into a force. Plenty of developing talents should have a shot to earn valuable playing time in the linebacker corps -- remember the names of Mike Tyler, Bobby Okereke and Joey Alfieri.

Secondary
CB Wayne Lyons
FS Zach Hoffpauir
SS Kodi Whitfield/Dallas Lloyd
CB Ronnie Harris/Terrence Alexander

Outlook: Given Alex Carter's early departure at the opposite corner position, Lyons' return for a fifth year was a big boost. His versatility allows him to slide over and provide a physical nickelback presence, an essential tool of the Stanford defense. Replacing strong safety Jordan Richards will be a major challenge. The Cardinal signed many talented defensive backs in their 2013 recruiting class. That batch will have had a year of development under their belts by 2015, so keep an eye out for names like Alexander, Brandon Simmons, Denzel Franklin, Alijah Holder, and Alameen Murphy. This is a critical "bridge" year for Duane Akina's unit, which has a very fair share of potential firepower.
Strength of schedule is an important part of the College Football Playoff selection process, and cross-league battles are a fun way to gauge the strength of each conference. Here's a look at the 2015 nonconference slate of the Pac-12 North. A look at the Pac-12 South's agenda is coming later today.

September 5
Eastern Washington at Oregon
Weber State at Oregon State
Washington at Boise State
Portland State at Washington State
Grambling State at California
Stanford at Northwestern

Weekend take: Don't forget the 2014 game in which Eastern Washington rolled up 52 points and 475 passing yards at Husky Stadium. The Eagles start their campaign at Autzen Stadium in 2015, so a reloading Oregon team must be sharp right out of bed -- they won't be kicking off their next season with the traditional cupcake gimme.

Chris Petersen's return to Boise supplies an early marquee nonconference battle. Washington's visit will be the Broncos' first game since their Fiesta Bowl victory over Arizona, so this is an early opportunity for the Pac-12 to exact some revenge for that defeat. It's tough to play on the blue turf, though, and the Huskies are confronted with enormous questions entering next season. Can they replace loads of star power on the defensive end, or can they find the offensive productivity to mask those big losses? The season opener will mark a trial by fire for Petersen's crew in his second year at the helm.

Stanford's trip to Northwestern pits two of the top academically performing programs in college football against each other. The Wildcats lead the nation with a 97 percent graduation rate, while the Cardinal aren't far behind at a stellar 93 percent. On the field, Stanford looks to have the definite edge, but this game is certainly a much bigger challenge than their 2014 opener against UC Davis.

September 12
Oregon at Michigan State
Oregon State at Michigan
Sacramento State at Washington
Washington State at Rutgers
San Diego State at California
Central Florida at Stanford

Weekend take: The action heats up in Week Two, as the Pac-12 North faces only one FCS opponent (Sacramento State). A trip to East Lansing promises to be an early sink-or-swim test for new Oregon quarterback Jeff Lockie. The Ducks must find their footing fast if they aspire to return to the College Football Playoff next season. Coincidentally, both schools from the Beaver State will play in Michigan on the same day. New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will make his home debut against new Oregon State coach Gary Andersen in Ann Arbor. That promises to be a potential tone-setting game for two programs looking to get up off the mat under new regimes.

Washington State will have its chance for revenge against Rutgers following a heartbreaking loss in Seattle this past year, while Stanford kicks off a rather exotic home-and-home with Central Florida. The Knights are in the midst of a very successful stretch, so that could be a hard-hitting match-up against a Stanford team harboring high hopes entering 2015.

September 19
Georgia State at Oregon
San Jose State at Oregon State
Utah State at Washington
Wyoming at Washington State
California at Texas

Weekend take: As league play approaches, the North's nonconference slate in the season's third week isn't quite as illustrious as the Saturday prior. But there's still some sizzle here: Cal's visit to Texas will certainly remind Bears' fans of their 2004 BCS nightmare, when the Longhorns jumped their team in the final regular season rankings. This shut the Bears out of their best Rose Bowl chance in decades, and one can bet that this game means a little something extra to the program because of that whole episode. This also happens to be a critical game for Sonny Dykes' team, which will be gunning for bowl eligibility under its third-year coach.

In other action, Washington shouldn't sleep on Utah State -- the Aggies have been on a successful run of their own over the past few seasons.

November 28
Notre Dame at Stanford

Weekend take: This one is obviously very far away, but if Stanford proves it can maintain systematic defensive success while carrying over its late-season offensive spark into 2015, it may mean a whole heck of a lot. The Cardinal and the Irish have delivered dramatic finishes in two of the past three seasons, and Stanford will again be looking for revenge here. It should be noted that David Shaw's club has a strong 2015 nonconference schedule -- this clash with Notre Dame caps off a slate that also includes Northwestern and Central Florida.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 22, 2015
Jan 22
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Leading off:

The NCAA is investigating 20 colleges, according to Brad Wolverton of the The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wolverton reports that 18 of the cases are with Division I programs, so Pac-12 fans should certainly pay attention. Even if it's not affecting one of your programs it might be affecting a program that you're playing in 2015.
The cases are at various stages, from preliminary inquiry to awaiting a hearing with the Division I Committee on Infractions, and they involve a variety of missteps, including allegations that players received impermissible assistance from professors, academic advisers, or people outside of an athletic department.
News/notes/team reports:
Just for fun:

Pac-12.com did a fun #ExplainThe90s theme today on Twitter and the results are quite entertaining. Anytime there's a 90's throwback, the Pac-12 Blog is there, so we're all about this.

The debate has already begun swirling in regard to Pac-12 play in 2015. So writers Chantel Jennings and David Lombardi sat down to debate what team is the early frontrunner in both the North and South Divisions of the Pac-12.

They started with the North…

Lombardi: Stanford’s offense didn’t click until the very end of the 2014 season, and that cost them. But when it finally came together against UCLA, the Cardinal looked like a 10-plus win team. With most of the offensive pieces returning, expect the Stanford attack to carry its late success over into next season. Sure, there’ll probably be some drop-off on the defensive end -- eight starters depart -- but since the Cardinal actually improved defensively this season after losing a ton of talent, who says Lance Anderson’s system can’t reload again?

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesWith Kevin Hogan and a bunch of contributors returning, Stanford might have the offensive firepower to cruise to a Pac-12 North title.
Jennings: I'm totally with you David, I think the Cardinal are going to be very strong next season and will look and play better than they did in 2014. It's just so crazy, though, because I feel like the Pac-12 North in 2015 is going to be like the Pac-12 South in 2014. It's such an open race and cases can be made for many different teams. A lot of people think Oregon will be a strong challenger again, but I'm not sold on the Ducks yet. Jeff Lockie hasn't looked like a confident QB to me yet and even with so many weapons around him, if there isn't a confident QB running that offense it's not going to be very efficient. Plus, the defense loses a ton of starters and that defensive performance against Ohio State gives me very little to go on for what that group will look like next season. I think Gary Andersen could get a good thing going at Oregon State. I covered Luke Del Rio when he was a high schooler and he impressed me then, so I think he could do big things with the Beavers. Heck, if California makes as big of a jump from 2014 to 2015 as it did from 2013 to 2014, who's to say the Golden Bears couldn't be a dark horse? And with a new defensive coordinator and with what Luke Falk showed at the end of the 2014 season, could Washington State make a push? Honestly, is there any team in the North that doesn't have a shot?

Lombardi: I see that you’re taking the prudent approach, Chantel, but I’m going to go out on a limb and take the foolish one: I think that Stanford is in a good position to emerge as a clear winner. I know, I should have learned my lesson from the minefield that was the Pac-12 South this past season. Given the post-Marcus Mariota uncertainty at Oregon, there's a chance that the North will follow suit and lose any semblance of order this next season.

But at the end of the day, I still think that the Ducks and the Cardinal are a cut above the rest of the division. Andersen will need time at Oregon State, Cal still needs to prove that it can play competent defense, Washington is losing considerable star power on defense, and Washington State is in a similar boat as the Bears.

Until I see tangible on-field proof from those programs, Stanford and Oregon are the two frontrunners in my book. You mentioned most of the questions facing the Ducks, but I think the loss of Jake Fisher is particularly huge: They gave up an average of six sacks per game when he didn’t play in 2014. The Ducks must reload quickly, because I think the schedule really lines up in Stanford’s favor. Aside from missing Arizona State and Utah, the Cardinal get Oregon at home.

Jennings: That's all fair. But remember when we started this season and Brett Hundley and UCLA were the favorite in the South? After that it was USC... Arizona State... and then Arizona. This is the #Pac12AfterDark. No one even considered Utah as anything other than an afterthought. Yes, maybe Stanford is a cut above the rest, but this is the conference gave us multiple Hail Marys, this is the conference that gave us insanity after everyone on the East Coast thought it was safe to go to bed. Maybe Stanford is going to be the most talented team in the Pac-12 North next season, but I'm not sure if that's enough to really make me buy them as the eventual representative in the Pac-12 championship game. I think we're going to have a crazy, crazy season, which makes me want to go with a dark horse candidate.

Lombardi: I just have to see to believe, Chantel, and I haven’t seen any convincing signs of life from the rest of the Pac-12 North in a long, long time. In fact, Oregon and Stanford have combined to go 39-1 against the other four Pac-12 North teams this decade (I’m including 2010 in that tally). The only blemish on that record is Stanford’s 2012 loss to Washington. That’s staggering, and for me it’s convincing: The Cardinal and Ducks own this division until proven otherwise.

Jennings: And I think there’s a solid shot that in 2015 “otherwise” could occur.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
9:00
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People should know when they're conquered.

Would you, Quintus? Would I?

Leading off

Ah, late January is here. The college campaign is over, and the final, disheartening end to the American extravaganza that is football season looms. It's a time that evokes nostalgia, but it's certainly not a time to break from gridiron thoughts. The annual chance to flip the page and start reading the next chapter in advance has arrived. Jon Wilner comes through with one of the early looks, offering his prediction of the 2015 Pac-12 all-conference team in The Mercury News. Meanwhile, our friends at Pacific Takes have surveyed the field and taken the team-wide approach, releasing their way-too-early Pac-12 power rankings for 2015.

As your read, coaches are feverishly blazing the recruiting trail, paying some final visits before National Signing Day on February 4. Spring ball comes after that, and that'll be followed summer conditioning, a little time off, and then training camp. We may just now be winding down, but don't blink -- college football season will be back in a flash. Here's the latest news from the 365-day cycle that keeps churning on:

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

This has already made rounds on social media, but former Arizona star Rob Gronkowski deserves acknowledgment on the Pac-12 blog for this, too. Seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation for the current scandal surrounding the Patriots.

Season review: Stanford

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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Our 2014 season Pac-12 team-by-team grades continue. If you want to check out last season's reviews, click here.

Stanford Cardinal

Offense: Looking at Stanford through the prism of performance in relation to potential, it's clear that the offense underperformed throughout most of 2014. Even despite a hot three-game finish, the Cardinal finished second to last in Pac-12 scoring offense (27.2 points per game), marking their worst showing in that regard since 2008 -- the pre-Andrew Luck era.

For the first time since Jim Harbaugh's arrival in 2007, Stanford didn't feature a bona fide 220-plus pound power back, and the offense sputtered as a result. It took longer than expected for the Cardinal's highly-touted talent along the offensive line to jell, and quarterback Kevin Hogan struggled under increased burden to throw the ball. By the time Stanford successfully adapted to its new-look personnel -- true freshman Christian McCaffrey helped the team achieve necessary running success in a nimbler, more explosive way than years prior -- the team was already saddled with five losses. Stanford's hot finish bodes well for next year (and spares them a failing grade), but as far as 2014 is concerned, the unit's late improvement simply affirmed the disappointing notion that the offense languished for most of the season and likely cost the team a trio of wins. Grade: D

Defense: In a season following the graduations of Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Ed Reynolds, Ben Gardner, and Josh Mauro, many doubted the Stanford defense's ability to remain atop the Pac-12. But despite that loss of star power, the unit actually posted significant improvement in all relevant statistical categories this season. Stanford allowed 16.4 points per game, 4.2 yards per play, 3.1 yards per rush, and 5.4 yards per pass attempt -- all figures that were far and away the best in the Pac-12.

So score one for first-year defensive coordinator Lance Anderson, who has another huge challenge on his plate now: Stanford loses eight starters entering 2015. The system, though, flexed its muscles this past season, and that gives hope for continued sturdiness. This was a true team-wide effort: Though anchors David Parry, Henry Anderson, James Vaughters, A.J. Tarpley, Jordan Richards, and Alex Carter all registered fine years, the story should be focused on how the Cardinal defense meshed as a whole. Grade: A

Special teams: This wasn't a banner year for Stanford's special teams unit, which dropped to No. 79 in Football Outsiders' FEI ratings just one season after finishing ranked second nationally behind only Alabama. Kicker Jordan Williamson missed seven field goals during his shaky campaign, though his kickoffs remained powerful. But kickoff efficiency is the only metric in which Stanford remained ranked in the FEI's top 25. Despite a Ty Montgomery punt return touchdown in the season opener, they tumbled everywhere else -- including a drop from first to 70th in kickoff return efficiency. Grade: C-

Overall: The big picture is relatively simple here: An underperforming offense and disappointing special teams unit held back Stanford's elite defense. All facets finished strong to bring the Cardinal to 8-5, but that's more of beacon of hope for 2015 than a grade inflater for 2014. Grade: C

Other Pac-12 reviews:

Washington State

Washington
This past season saw Marcus Mariota bring the Heisman Trophy back to the Pac-12 for the first time since 2005. Now that the league's top superstar is on his way to the NFL, focus shifts to the possibility of keeping the Heisman in the conference next season. Here's an early look at some Pac-12 candidates who may have a shot to succeed Mariota in 2015.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

He's only a sophomore, yet Wright finished the season leading the nation in tackles (163), tackles for loss (29), and forced fumbles (6). He was the only player who averaged more than two TFL per game (2.07), and second place in that category (Hau'oli Kikaha, also from the Pac-12) was way down at 1.79. Simply put, Wright dominated the stat sheet in 2014, and that's what a defensive player must do to have any shot of contending for college football's grandest individual prize. Wright was the only Pac-12 player besides Mariota to finish in the top 10 of the Heisman balloting. His 17 votes put him on the radar for 2015.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC

Kessler's 2014 season created a true rarity: A statistically impressive USC quarterback flew under the Heisman radar. With the Trojans actually early Vegas favorites in the Pac-12's bid to again send a team to the College Football Playoff, don't expect that to repeat itself in 2015. Kessler threw only five interceptions in 452 attempts (only Mariota's interception rate was better), and he completed 70 percent of his passes in a season that saw USC finish with two consecutive strong offensive performances. Kessler's performance against top-flight competition must improve in 2015, but he'll undoubtedly be in the way-too-early Heisman discussion because of his 2014 numbers.

[+] EnlargeScooby Wright
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsArizona linebacker Scooby Wright was the only Pac-12 player to finish in the top 10 of the Heisman voting besides Marcus Mariota.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Seeing a true freshman succeed is by no means a college football rarity, but Freeman's bruising style of productivity was indeed unusual for a youngster. The 230-pounder is built like a senior, and he ran like one in 2014, becoming the first true freshman 1,000-yard rusher in Ducks history. Freeman led Pac-12 backs with 18 touchdowns -- scoring seems to be a Heisman prerequisite -- and his workload is likely to increase in 2015 when increased experience and Mariota's departure are both taken into account.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Most of the UCLA glory went to Brett Hundley, but he's moving on. That means that Paul Perkins' eye-popping productivity will have more of a chance to shine in 2015. Perkins led the Pac-12 with 1,575 rushing yards this past season, and his average of 6.3 yards per carry was head and shoulders above other runners with at least 200 attempts. Perhaps Perkins' touchdown total hindered his visibility -- he rushed for only nine -- but with Hundley's 10 rushing touchdowns out the door, expect more end zone visits for the running back in 2015.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah

Booker's return to Salt Lake City is a major boost to the Utes' offense moving forward. The team' passing attack was inconsistent at best in 2014, and that made Booker's 1,500-yard season -- second-best in the Pac-12 -- essential to Utah's success. With the quarterback position remaining a question mark entering 2015, Booker is again set to be Kyle Whittingham's offensive centerpiece. Expect more big numbers in the 203-pounder's senior season.

Jared Goff, QB, Cal

It's extremely difficult to enter the Heisman conversation when playing on a team that went 1-11 the year prior. That was Goff's predicament in 2014, when he threw for nearly 4,000 yards and established a solid 5:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio as the Bears improved to 5-7. Fair or not, that record will still prevent Goff from being a popular preseason award candidate, but it certainly puts him in better position than he was in a year ago. Goff seems primed for another statistical jump, and that makes him an early candidate for some 2015 attention.

D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State

Foster was the only Pac-12 player to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014. His 62 catches were second to only Jaelen Strong in Tempe, and the big receiver's departure to the NFL means that Foster should have more opportunities to score touchdowns in 2014 (he found the end zone 12 times in 2014). Todd Graham retains plenty of explosiveness at ASU: Foster has shown he can light up highlight reels, while Demario Richard averaged 5.7 yards per carry while playing almost all of 2014 as a 17-year old.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

A healthy Anu Solomon may get some Heisman run in Rich Rodriguez's offense next season, but the true freshman Wilson delivered the most impressive 2014, so he's more prominent on our early radar. Wilson actually led all non-kickers in Pac-12 scoring, averaging 7.8 points per game. His power-speed combination fueled a 1,375-yard, 5.8 per carry, 17-touchdown season.

Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford

Hogan is the latest addition to the 2015 Heisman radar, yet it would only be fair to classify him as a long shot at this point. Still, the quarterback's impressive finish to the 2014 season merits at least a mention on this list. Hogan battled considerable adversity this past year: His father passed away in December after a battle with cancer. Hogan delivered sterling performances against UCLA and Maryland to round out the campaign. He passed precisely and rushed effectively in both contests. Stanford returns most of its offensive talent in 2015, so a continuation of that strong finish is possible — especially if explosive youngster Christian McCaffrey continues to emerge as a force to be reckoned with.
We continue our countdown of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 this year. Obviously, this list is subjective and though we spent a lot of time putting it together, there was a fair amount of debate in its creation. If you missed Nos. 21-25, click here.

Without further ado, the next five:

No. 16: USC RB Javorius Allen

Statistics: 276 carries, 1,489 yards (5.4 per carry), 12 touchdowns

Allen finished behind only UCLA's Paul Perkins and Utah's Devontae Booker in the race for the Pac-12 rushing crown. His 41 catches for 458 yards out of the backfield showcased versatility that should be an asset at the next level. In retrospect, Allen's most impressive performance of the season might have come when he racked up 154 yards on 6.7 yards per carry against Stanford's conference-best rush defense. That helped push USC to a huge early-season win, and more tough running in a 205-yard performance at Arizona was also vital in a critical Trojans victory. In all, Allen amassed nine 100-yard rushing performances this season, and he surpassed 100 all-purpose yards in every single game.

No. 17: Oregon OT Jake Fisher

Statistics: Anchored the No. 1-ranked offensive line in country, according to Football Outsiders

Oregon struggled only twice during the regular season, and it wasn't a coincidence that those two games were the ones that Fisher missed due to injury. Our Ivan Maisel even went as far as to suggest that the 6-foot-6, 300-pound left tackle may have been more valuable to the Ducks than Marcus Mariota. In Fisher's two-game absence (unimpressive performances against Washington State and Arizona), Oregon gave up 12 sacks and saw its scoring output dip over two touchdowns below its season average. Following his return, Fisher proved his mettle as a solid NFL prospect. The Ducks allowed six sacks per game without him, and only 1.5 sacks per game with him in the lineup. Fisher was a force in Oregon's course-correcting win at UCLA, and his campaign reached a crescendo in a dominant Rose Bowl manhandling of Florida State.

No. 18: Stanford DL Henry Anderson

Statistics: 65 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 2 pass breakups, 9 QB hits

The 6-6, 290-pound Anderson might have been the most heralded star on Stanford's conference-best defense, but this spot in our countdown serves as acknowledgment of the Cardinal's entire suffocating unit. Anderson delivered a half-season's worth of production in one game against Utah in which he racked up 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, but outside of that, Stanford's remarkable defensive production was a truly balanced, team-wide effort. David Parry -- a 305-pound fire hydrant in the middle -- safety Jordan Richards, cornerback Alex Carter and linebacker A.J. Tarpley are all worthy of praise on this list. Along with Anderson, they formed the bedrock of a defense that led the Pac-12 in nearly every category.

No. 19: USC DB Su'a Cravens

Statistics: 68 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 12 passes defended

After a productive season during which he started at both strong safety and SAM linebacker, Cravens made a legitimate case to be considered the most versatile defender in the Pac-12. Checking in at 225 pounds, Cravens brought a much-needed physical presence to a USC secondary that badly needed it, particularly after losing cornerback Josh Shaw for most of the season. The Trojans' rush defense finished third in the Pac-12, and Cravens' physical support was certainly a major contributor there. He made plenty of plays in the passing game, too: three interceptions, nine breakups and 12 passes defended counts as serious damage -- especially for a player so capable of laying the wood in the box.

No. 20: Cal QB Jared Goff

Statistics: 3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 147.6 rating

For the second straight year, Goff's job at Cal wasn't easy. Though the Bears improved in 2014, he again had to deal with the pressures inflicted by his own team's bad defense. Those can often derail a quarterback and force him into a string of poor decisions, but Goff was undeterred. He demonstrated a strong command of Sonny Dykes' aggressive offense, finishing fifth nationally in passing yards while nearly doubling his 2013 touchdown output. Goff also cut his interception rate while increasing his average per attempt from 6.6 to 7.8 yards. Goff's upward trend should excite Cal fans for his 2015 junior season, which promises even greater aerial productivity from the Bears.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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video
This past weekend was the first time since the middle of December that recruits and coaches could meet face to face and Pac-12 programs took advantage, as dozens of prospects took official visits to conference programs. With signing day rapidly approaching, recruiting fans got a sense of what the next two weeks could be like, as there were plenty of news and notes since Friday.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
9:00
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I was hiding under your porch because I love you.

Leading off:

Some interesting news out of California.

On Wednesday the governing board of the University of California campuses will meet to discuss a new incentive-pay policy approved by university President Janet Napolitano that will tie together how coaches and athletic directors are evaluated/compensated and the academic achievements of their student-athletes.
The new policy will apply to all coaches of intercollegiate sports and athletic directors going forward, both new hires and those whose contracts are up for renewal. The so-called "gatekeeper clause" establishing a minimum level of team-wide academic performance for coaches to receive any bonus pay will follow a formula the National Collegiate Athletic Association already uses to monitor student athletes.

Cal football coach Sonny Dykes already has a contract that links his bonuses to how his athletes perform in class, but he is the only coach that has that type of a contract. So, it should be interesting to see how this goes over on Wednesday.

News/notes/team reports:
  • Former Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski is excited to return to the state where he played his college ball for the Super Bowl. Fun fact: It'll be the first time Gronk has returned to Arizona to play since his college playing days.
  • Arizona State is getting a lot of interest from a three-star defensive end that looks like he'd be a pretty good Devil-backer. "There's a lot going on there," he told Doug Haller. "They're on the rise."
  • There's some movement in the world of Cal football recruiting. A wide receiver who was committed to Illinois has decommitted and has a visit to Cal planned for next weekend, plus some other offers and info on recruits.
  • Oregon coach Mark Helfrich announced on Monday afternoon that there will be three transfers (at least) away from the program. Helfrich said that it's "just guys looking for an opportunity or a better fit."
  • The Oregonian's Gina Mizell is going through Oregon State's new staff, giving each new member a closer look. On Monday she caught up with running back coach Telly Lockette. This is her sixth piece in the series and the links to her others are on the page as well.
  • Can Stanford actually be an offense-first team in 2015? There's very little turnover on the offensive side of the ball so signs point to "yes they should be able to" but does that mean that yes, they will be able to? Rule of Tree takes a closer look.
  • UCLA's success has been tied to its quarterback's consistency. Over the past three seasons Brett Hundley has been that and more for the Bruins, but, who is the next guy up -- Josh Rosen? Jerry Neuheisel? Asiantii Woulard?
  • A quick look at the five biggest goals for USC football this spring.
  • It was a good news-bad news type of day for the Utes on Monday when it came to their recruiting.
  • NFL analyst Mike Mayock believes that Washington defensive lineman Danny Shelton could be a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft. "When you put the tape on, he's quick. He gets up and down the line of scrimmage and plays forever at 350 pounds," Mayock said of Shelton.
  • Connor Halliday was nominated for the 2015 MTR Western Sports Star of the Year Award. Halliday is up against two Seattle Sounders, a Seattle Mariner, a Seattle Seahawk and Washington football linebacker Shaq Thompson.
Just for fun:

Before Saturday night's Arizona-Utah basketball match up, Wildcat coach Rich Rodriguez gave some love to the students in the form of ... chicken sandwiches. Rich, the form was pretty good. But if you're going to be out there tossing things, you have a pretty decent QB you could use to really get that Chick-fil-A to the students in the higher seats.



Also, according to TMZ, UCLA defensive back Justin Combs -- son of P Diddy -- had a birthday party this weekend and Justin Bieber was in attendance. So, you know, just put that in your back pocket.
So, the Pac-12 Blog is no Miss Cleo.

But even so, we went out on a limb and made 10 fearless predictions at the beginning of the season. Now, we look back on those predictions.

1. A Pac-12 team will win the national championship. We were close. A Pac-12 team got to the national championship game. It didn't deliver quite as much as we thought it might, but it got there. Not a perfect prediction but a nearly correct one. Meanwhile, we're still looking for the person who predicted that a Big Ten team, behind a third-string quarterback, would win the national championship. Bueller? Bueller?

2. A Pac-12 player will win the Heisman Trophy. Got it. Congrats, Marcus Mariota. It was a fun season to watch this special player and he more than deserved this trophy.

3. No Pac-12 coach will be fired at season's end. We got this one, too. Though, like the Ohio State/third-string QB prediction, no one really saw the Mike Riley departure coming. However, Gary Andersen infuses some new blood into this conference that also saw a fair number of coordinator changes. But as far as a coach being fired? The Pac-12 is in the clear. And your humble blog got this one right.

4. Cal and Colorado will be good enough to deliver a major upset this fall. Cal won five games this year. The Bears' wins at Washington State and Oregon State can certainly be put into this category. And the Buffs came close ... so, so close. But no cigar. We'll count half credit for this one.

5. The USC-UCLA game will be a battle of top-10 teams. Not top 10, but top 20. The 19th-ranked Trojans fell to No. 9 UCLA, 38-20.

6. Oregon will cover the spread against Michigan State in Week 2. Yup. Got 'em.

7. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame. The conference went 2-1 against the Irish but as of Oct. 4, 2014, we knew this prediction wouldn't come true because someone (C'mon, Stanford) didn't get stuff done on the road. But Arizona State's 55-31 thumping and USC's 49-14 statement certainly made a 2-1 feel as good as a 2-1 can feel for the Pac-12.

8. Whoever starts at quarterback for Arizona will pass for more than 3,000 yards. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon passed for 3,793 yards, finishing fifth in the league.

9. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan will be the Pac-12's most improved player. This was a whiff. If we're talking about most improved quarterbacks the award would probably go to Cal's Jared Goff. If we're talking most improved player, the field is wide open. We'll have more on that in the next few weeks. But one thing is for sure -- it wasn't Hogan.

10. Six teams will be ranked in the final top 25 at the end of the season. Though it might not have been the six teams we expected to be in the top 25 or the specific order, we did nail this one. The Pac-12 finished with six teams in that top 25 -- Oregon, No. 2; UCLA, No. 10; ASU, No. 12; Arizona, No. 19; USC, No. 20; Utah, No. 21.

Pac-12 morning links

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
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Such a waste of talent. He chose money over power -- in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes.

Frank's coming ...

But Monday's links are here first.

Leading off

If it wasn't for the East-West Shrine game (where both Taylor Kelly and Austin Hill fared well) and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, this past Saturday would have been the first since August without any football.

Sunday was a far more heralded day on the gridiron, as several former Pac-12 players made prominent contributions in both of the NFL's conference championship games. California product Marshawn Lynch powered his way to bragging rights over former Golden Bear Aaron Rodgers in Seattle's win over Green Bay, all while Washington's own Jermaine Kearse scored the game-winning touchdown in Seattle. Stanford alumnus Andrew Luck didn't fare as well in the AFC title game, but Oregon's LeGarrette Blount and Cal's Shane Vereen left that one with Super Bowl tickets in hand.

News/notes/team reports
  • Arizona leveraged basketball success to their football benefit. The Wildcats hosted several of their prized recruits this past weekend, and the visits coincided with the basketball team's resounding 69-51 win over Utah inside the electric McKale Center.
  • According to a Wall Street Journal study, the value of the Arizona State football program on the open market would be $277 million -- good for 27th in the country.
  • The Oregonian's Andrew Greif shadowed Marcus Mariota on his epic awards tour up the East Coast -- a trip which included Disney World and ended with the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City. Here's the full article, including pictures. And here's an early prospectus of life after Mariota in Eugene.
  • In a critical recruiting weekend for new coach Gary Andersen in Corvallis, Oregon State netted the commitment of an under-the-radar safety.
  • You may have already guessed that recruiting was a central theme of the weekend. Stanford also hosted the majority of their 2015 class. Here's a tracker of what went down on the Farm.
  • Their big matchup happened yesterday and Lynch's team got the best of Rodgers' crew in dramatic fashion, but the Seattle Post-Intelligencer looked back at their Berkeley past before the NFC championship.
  • Former USC defensive back Josh Shaw is catching up on missed reps, and he recorded an interception in the East-West Shrine game.
  • Given extremely high expectations, a number of big wins, and a trio of disappointing losses, it's tough to judge UCLA's season. This article attempts to peg the 2014 Bruins' place in program history.
  • Six Washington official visitors took recruiting trips to Seattle this weekend.
  • Mike Leach continues to construct his new defensive staff. Washington State hired former Michigan assistant Roy Manning as its outside linebackers coach just days after naming new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
  • As Colorado aims to rise from the Pac-12 cellar, the Buffs' strength and conditioning program under Dave Forman takes center stage in this feature.
  • Here are some terms and details of Kyle Whittingham's four-year contract extension at Utah.
Just for fun

Colorado punter Darragh O'Neill has drawn at least one comparison to Odell Beckham Jr. for his catching ability. OK, the degree of difficulty on O'Neill's snag in the East-West Shrine game didn't quite match Beckham's sensational grab earlier this year, but it is morning link-worthy.

Best of the visits: Pac-12

January, 18, 2015
Jan 18
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The first weekend back from the recruiting dead period saw dozens of prospects taking official visits to Pac-12 campuses. While programs such as Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, USC, Washington and Washington State all put together solid weekends, no program’s recruits (and parents) were better about documenting the events than Stanford’s, where Big Visit Weekend seemed to go over extremely well with everybody in attendance.

Here is a look through the eyes of recruits on social media at this weekend’s Pac-12 recruiting visits.

Big visit weekend at Stanford

Everything is better when you start off with dessert, and defensive tackle Ross Donelly probably agrees with that sentiment after being welcomed to his visit by two Stanford cupcakes.


From there, the visit got a little more interesting for the recruits. The parents of offensive line commits Brian Chaffin and Nick Wilson snapped shots of their sons hitting the road.


Later, Chaffin summed up the first day of the visit, while fellow commit Mustafa Branch provided some visual proof.


Stanford also made sure to introduce prospects to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has become a recruiting staple for the Cardinal. After his cupcakes, Donelly, a four-star uncommitted prospect, made sure to snap a quick photo.


Of course, no official visit anywhere would be complete without the gear, shown here by defensive tackle commit Wes Annan ...


Or the bling, worn here by ESPN 300 running back target Bryce Love.


And at least one Stanford commit received some especially good news during the trip, as wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside announced.


And Nick Wilson’s father provided one final look at the committed prospects who took their official visits to Stanford over the weekend.

Utah lands another juco prospect

The Utes had several intriguing visitors on campus for official visits and came away with another junior college wide receiver commitment, bringing their total to three juco receivers in this class. Deniko Carter made the call during this visit, and he joins Kyle Fulks and Brandon Snell.

Arizona’s final push

There aren’t many spots left in Arizona’s recruiting class, but the Wildcats are hoping they can finish things off with a couple of teammates in three-star outside linebacker Arthur McGinnis and wide receiver Darrell Clark.

Trojans host stars

USC was scheduled to have nearly every one of its commitments on hand this weekend, as five early enrollees are already there and 10 commitments were taking official visits. But three huge uncommitted prospects were slated to be in attendance as well, in defensive tackle Rasheem Green, inside linebacker John Houston and athlete Porter Gustin. Here is Green, along with defensive line coach Chris Wilson and his son, Caleb Wilson.

Visitors to Oregon State

Oregon State coaches have been furiously trying to rebuild the Beavers class after several formerly committed prospects flipped following the departure of Mike Riley. This weekend, Oregon State welcomed a number of visitors, including some position help in the secondary, in cornerback Jay Irvine and safety Treston Decoud.

Future Dawgs

Washington had several official visitors on campus, including wide receiver commit Andre Baccellia and tight end Ricky McCoy, who apparently hit it off with big-time Washington target Benning Potoa’e, who is down to the Huskies and UCLA, and will likely make his decision shortly following this trip.

UCLA looks at 2016

The Bruins had a number of 2016 prospects on campus, as UCLA coaches look to get a head start on next year’s class while finishing this one off strong. One of those in attendance was Camilo Eifler, an outside linebacker who already holds Pac-12 offers from Cal, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington.

ASU’s sweet finish

It only makes sense to bookend this post with dessert, and uncommitted safety Kareem Orr provided a shot of his welcome gift from Arizona State. The Sun Devils will need to fend off Clemson, Oklahoma and others to land Orr, but they hope he is part of what could be a huge finish to this class for Arizona State.

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