Pac-12: USC Trojans
All week we've been bringing you the All-America honors as they rolled in.
In total, 14 Pac-12 players were named to a first-team All-America squad. Of those 14, Marcus Mariota, Scooby Wright and Hau'oli Kikaha were unanimous selections. Two other players -- Tom Hackett and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- were consensus selections appearing on at least three of the five recognized teams.
This is the eighth straight year the Pac-12 has had a unanimous selection and the first time since 2005 it's had three in one year (Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Maurice Drew). The five recognized teams are the American Football Coaches Association, the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
Here's the final tally among the big five:
- QB, Marcus Mariota, Oregon, Jr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
- OL, Jake Fisher, Oregon, Sr., FWAA
- OL, Hroniss Grasu, Oregon, Sr., SN
- OL, Andrus Peat, Stanford, Jr., SN
- AP, Shaq Thompson, Washington, Jr., AP
- DL, Nate Orchard, Utah, Sr., FWAA-WC
- DL, Danny Shelton, Washington, Jr., AP-SN
- DL, Leonard Williams, USC, Jr., AFCA
- LB, Eric Kendricks, UCLA, Sr., SN
- LB, Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington, Sr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
- LB, Scooby Wright III, Arizona, So., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
- DB, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon, Sr., AFCA-AP-WC (consensus)
- P, Tom Hackett, Utah, Jr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-WC (consensus)
- PR, Kaelin Clay, Utah, Sr., SN
Just before the start of bowl season, the folks at Athlon Sports wanted to look back at the chaos that was the 2014 Pac-12 regular season. We've been running our pivotal plays series all week, so be sure to check that out. But Athlon looked at the top 15 games of the season. Here's their top five.
- Oct 2: Arizona 31, Oregon 24
- Oct. 4: Arizona State 38, USC 34
- Sept. 6: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
- Oct. 25: Utah 24, USC 21
- Oct. 4: Utah 30, UCLA 28
You'll note that three of their five are from Week 6. We noted last week in our Roadtrip Revisited post that every game that week was unbelievable. If you click the link, they actually rate 30 games. Fairly surprised the Cal-WSU game (also in Week 6) didn't make the top 10. To each their own.
- A look at the three JC players who signed with Arizona.
- ASU signed a touted JC tight end.
- Former Cal quarterback Zach Kline will head to Indiana State.
- The Buffs are looking to JCs to boost their defense.
- Florida State doesn't feel like an underdog.
- The Beavers lost a TE commit to Boise State.
- Stanford has some familiarity with Maryland's offense.
- What does UCLA's roster look like in 2015?
- What a JC receiver had to say about his commitment to USC.
- Hackett more concerned about CSU than his accolades.
- Another commitment for the Huskies, plus an updated list of their commits.
- Jacob Thorpe updates WSU's DC search in his chat.
Really great read from our friend Max Olson on the Big 12 blog about the recruitment of linebacker Malik Jefferson. Some interesting UCLA notes in there.
Tyler in Palo Alto writes: When do the bowl predictions come out? Any upsets on the horizon?
Kevin Gemmell: The Pac-12 blog will reveal its bowl game predictions with a 90-minute extravaganza show airing on The Ocho on Friday morning. Ted will spend 45 minutes screaming incoherently about Pitt while Chantel holds her FauxPelini face the entire time. Kyle, David and I will discuss the Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston storyline for about a minute, followed by another 40 minutes on Johnny Manziel and the SEC dominance. We'll close with a roundtable discussion rehashing the Ka'Deem Carey vs. Bishop Sankey debate and why Desmond Trufant wasn't on the 2012 postseason Top 25 list. It’s going to be a blast.
But in all seriousness, the picks come out Friday morning. No problem telling you I’m going full-blown homer. Of course, the league won’t go 8-0. That would be too much to expect. The conference is favored in seven of its eight games, with UCLA the only underdog right now. So if you're going with my picks, then I'm picking the Bruins in an "upset" win.
Someone will slip up. They always do. But on paper, I think the league has a chance to sweep. They say bowl games are about motivation. I see strong motivation for all eight teams in the league.
Mark in Portland writes: If Mariota leads the Ducks to their first ever championship, will he be considered one of the greatest CFB players ever? His stats are up there with the best ever, and he is the first player ever to throw for 30 TD's or more in his freshmen, sophomore and junior seasons. And winning the first ever CFB playoff would be huge and be remembered decades from now.
Kevin Gemmell: I think winning the Heisman automatically puts you in the conversation of one of the greatest college football players ever, doesn’t it? By default, you’re already considered the best player in the game for that year.
But in terms of legacy, Mariota has certainly done some special things that make him part of the discussion. As you note, winning the first ever national championship of the playoff era would resonate. Being the first-ever Oregon player to win the Heisman and the first from the region since Oregon State's Terry Baker in 1962 will also stick with folks -- at least on the West Coast.
But even without a national championship, I think what he will best be remembered for are his ball-security numbers. That he has accounted for 53 touchdowns while turning it over just five times is remarkable. Right now, his personal TD-to-turnover margin is plus-48. Only Tim Tebow in 2007 had a better one in the past decade. And chances are Mariota will break that record, too, if he takes care of the ball in the next (two?) game(s).
You also have to look at the fact that of his 372 passes this season, only two have been intercepted. If that percentage holds, it will break the single-season FBS record of quarterbacks with a minimum of 350 attempts.
I think with the numbers and the Heisman, he’s already worked his way into the discussion. Adding a national championship (assuming he has a pair of monster games) would, in my mind, solidify him in the top dozen or so. Time will have to do the rest of the work.
Shonti in Miami writes: Realistically, how does Oregon match up with Florida State in the Rose Bowl? FSU fans seem to be really confident, and although they played many very close games this year, the team has a lot of talent. I'm concerned Oregon's offense could struggle against FSU's athletic defensive line and big defensive backs.
Kevin Gemmell: Much has been written this season about Oregon improving its size across the line. And I think the Ducks use the tempo to their advantage.
Keep in mind, too, that the Ducks have a big back in Royce Freeman who can pound when necessary, but he also has the speed and athleticism to hit the corners. My guess is Oregon’s pace will counter-balance any size issues. Besides, it’s not like Oregon hasn’t seen big or athletic defensive lines this season (Stanford, Washington, Utah etc...).
Also, I wrote this week about Oregon’s success at turning turnovers into points. I think that is going to be a huge factor, since Florida State turns the ball over quite a bit.
Turnovers are one thing. But if you don’t do anything with them and end up punting the ball back, they aren’t much good. Oregon has been especially good at making their turnovers count. That they have scored 120 points off turnovers ... nearly 20 percent of their total points ... is huge.
If both teams stick to their trends -- FSU not taking care of the ball and Oregon capitalizing on turnovers -- I think the Ducks match up very well.
However, the news that broke yesterday that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is out with a knee injury isn't what you want to hear heading into the postseason. He's got two interceptions and nine breakups this season, and he will certainly be missed. But I think Oregon's secondary is seasoned enough now that it will be able to marginally compensate. I don't think it's a game-changing loss, but it's certainly noteworthy.
Every year, one of the big questions out West revolves around the Ducks' chances of finally grabbing that national championship. Oregon boasts Superman this year, and it's almost certainly Marcus Mariota's last campaign in Eugene. Though their defense suffered a major blow with the loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks have their man under center. They can't take this chance to win it all for granted: A playoff appearance is a golden opportunity for this powerful Oregon program to prove that it can finally bring home college football's ultimate hardware. Florida State, the defending champs, await in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual.
This, likely Brett Hundley's final season in Westwood, was supposed to be year the Bruins surged from "good" to "elite." But they slipped too often, and the timing of their last fall -- a 31-10 finale loss at the hands of Stanford -- couldn't have been worse. Now, the narrative has shifted back to the old "they can't win the big one" theme, and that's the exact perception UCLA wanted to avoid. They have a chance to make a cleansing statement versus a good Kansas State squad, also 9-3, in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The season started magically for the Utes -- aside from that 28-27 road bump at home against Washington State, of course. But after kicking 2014 off at 6-1, Utah dropped three of their last five games. They narrowly squeaked by Pac-12 bottom feeder Colorado to close the regular season, so it's fair to say that Kyle Whittingham's club stumbled to the finish line. An 8-4 record is nothing to scoff at, but the Utes could use a good stomping of Mountain West opponent Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. It would go a long way toward maintaining that "we've arrived as a force in the Pac-12" tone over the offseason.
The Sun Devils' season trajectory had some similarities with Utah's, though ASU lost one fewer game late in the season. Still, they were a one-loss team until a rough November knocked them out of the conference race. A Hyundai Sun Bowl date against fellow 9-3 competitor Duke has become ASU's consolation price, and that is quite the step down from the Rose Bowl aspirations Todd Graham's club harbored followings its November 8 win against Notre Dame. So it's important for the Sun Devils to reverse trajectory heading into the offseason, and they would also like to prove that they are better in December than last season's 37-23 Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech.
The Wildcats were peaking at the right time ---- Oh wait, there was red-hot Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, and there were 24 yards of total offense for Arizona in the first half. Suddenly, Rich Rodriguez's club wasn't peaking at the right time. But the Wildcats can take solace in the fact that the Ducks have the ability to make good teams look foolish. They can also comfort themselves knowing that this VIZIO Fiesta Bowl is a prime chance to deliver a positive closing statement against a 10-2 Boise State team that loves that big stadium in Glendale.
Steve Sarkisian really needed that blowout victory over Notre Dame in the finale to dump the "seven win" moniker that online trolls gleefully tossed around following the Trojans' loss to UCLA. Sark got the powerful performance he was looking for, so he's 8-4 heading into a National University Holiday Bowl matchup against Nebraska. Sure, a postseason win would be nice for the Trojans, but they are lower on this list because there is not all that much for them left to prove this season. Regardless of whether they win or lose on December 27, we know who USC is: a very talented, somewhat flawed, and ultimately thin team that's excited about getting a clean slate in 2015.
There is very little the Cardinal can prove in their Foster Farms Bowl clash with Maryland on Dec. 30. Stanford capped a disappointing 7-5 regular season with a resounding 31-10 thumping of UCLA, and that performance made it very clear the Cardinal had underperformed in their games leading up to the finale. Now, David Shaw's team is a two-touchdown favorite against the Terrapins in a game 20 minutes away from campus, so there is really no chance to prove anything more than what the Cardinal already accomplished against the Bruins -- even in the case of a lopsided victory.
The Huskies managed eight wins in the first year of the Chris Petersen era, and they fought through some turmoil, too. The team delivered a strong finish following the dismissal of star cornerback Marcus Peters. So, the season has served as a solid foundation for Petersen to work with as he tries to assert himself in Seattle moving forward. It's hard to see the result of the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against 6-6 Oklahoma State swinging the vibe too far in either direction.
Throughout our evaluations, we come across many players who show promise and are great additions based on their upside for development and/or scheme fit.
Here are five commitments in the Pac-12 that we believe are unheralded, but great additions worth keeping an eye on.
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Another day, another round of All-America teams. Three more to catch you up on. You should know the names by now.
First up is The Sporting News:
- First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon; Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford; Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon;
- First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington; Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona; Hau’oli Kikaha, LB Washington; Erick Kendricks, LB, UCLA.
- First-team special teams: KR Kaelin Clay, Utah.
- Second-team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
- Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah; Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon;
- Special teams: Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
- First-team offense: Mariota
- First-team defense: Leonard Williams, DL, USC; Wright; Kikaha; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon.
- Specialists: Hackett
- First-team offense: Mariota, Jake Fisher, OL, Oregon
- First-team defense: Orchard, Kikaha, Wright III,
- Specialists: Hackett
- Second-team defense: Williams, Kendricks
The Sporting News also named Mariota its player of the year.
No doubt, you've heard the news that Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, whose name appears on some All-America lists above, is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. It's not an apocalyptic blow to the Ducks. But you don't want to be facing Winston down one of your best defenders, either.
Here's some reaction:
- Our own Ted Miller weighs in here.
- Add Ekpre-Olomu to a long list of injured Oregon players.
- The injury leaves Oregon's secondary in flux.
- Aaron Fentress has some thoughts on where the Ducks go from here.
- New Arizona safety Paul Magloire is looking forward to getting his career started.
- ASU will now be an Adidas school (more below in the JFF section).
- Do the Bears have the best receivers in the country?
- Colorado punter Darragh O'Neill will play in the East-West Shrine game.
- OC John Garrett won't be retained by Gary Andersen.
- A look at Stanford's roundabout trip to Levi's.
- UCLA running back Paul Perkins has a low-key approach to things.
- Antwaun Woods won't be available for USC's bowl game.
- Will the Las Vegas Bowl be the last we see of Travis Wilson?
- Kikaha becomes Washington's sixth unanimous All-American.
- A look at WSU's two new JUCO players.
A couple of ASU alums are already benefiting from the new Adidas deal.
A flurry of commitments and decommitments has led to considerable movement in the latest class rankings update. Several top-10 programs added ESPN 300 prospects, including Tennessee, which picked up top-10 ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. The Vols already have a class that features a talented group of defensive linemen, and have now added a big, powerful inside linebacker that can develop into a tough downhill run-stopper. Butch Jones now has Tennessee in contention for a second-straight top-five finish.
Outside the top 10, USC landed a verbal from in-state tight end Tyler Petite, a tall, lengthy prospect with the size, speed and leaping ability to potentially create mismatches as a receiving target at the position. After landing the former Duke commit, USC's class features eight ESPN 300 prospects.
Ole Miss also saw a move up in the rankings with a pair of additions. The Rebels landed ESPN Junior College 50 QB Chad Kelly, a player who is physically gifted enough to be a strong candidate to replace QB Bo Wallace, a one-time junior college transfer himself. Ole Miss, who not sits at No. 17, also landed ESPN 300 OT Michael Howard. He is a lean OL prospect that needs to fill out, but is an athletic and tenacious player and with development could end up being a real strong pick-up out of Florida for the Rebels.
Inside the rankings
Coach Art Briles has had two very distinct luxuries when it comes to recruiting in today's complicated landscape -- recruiting in the shadows and recruiting without pressure. Both are actually in many ways, one in the same. As Briles has built this program, he's been able to do it his way without public pressure or booster interference because early on, nobody thought it could be done and nobody cared.
This staff was able to go after who they wanted, on their own timetable and without much scrutiny. In today's recruiting world, that's a huge luxury. Players like Levi Norwood, Antwan Goodley or Tevin Reese, who was a late qualifier, were all bypassed by other Power 5 programs, but nobody even noticed Baylor signed them or griped, "who are these guys" on signing day.
As a result, prospects like these were brought along at a normal pace and developed properly by the coaching staff. Redshirting the bulk of the classes for the first few years has also been huge for the Bears. The challenge going forward will be dealing with increased program exposure and expectation level which almost always brings with it increased recruiting scrutiny from boosters and fans alike. But the Bears don??t need to change a thing.
To see the full class rankings, click here.
A few more All-America teams were announced Tuesday, and the usual Pac-12 suspects continue to rake in the honors. Here's the latest breakdown.
First up is the Associated Press All-America team.
- First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon, Shaq Thompson, AP, Washington.
- First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington, Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona, Hau’oli Kikaha, LB, Washington, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon, Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
- Second-team offense: Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford, Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
- Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah, Leonard Williams, DT, USC, Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
- Third-team offense: Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon, Nelson Agholor, WR, USC.
- Third-team defense: Su’a Cravens, S, USC.
Next up is the Sports Illustrated All-America team.
- First-team offense: Mariota, Grasu, Peat.
- First-team defense: Orchard, Wright III, Thompson, Kendricks, Ekpre-Olomu.
- Second team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
- Second team defense: Williams, Kikaha
- Second team special teams: Hackett
Here's the Fox Sports All-America team.
- First-team offense: Mariota
- First-team defense: Williams, Wright III, Kikaha, Ekpre-Olomu,
- First-team special teams: Hackett, Kaelin Clay, KR, Utah
- Second-team offense: Agholor
- Second-team defense: Orchard, Shelton, Thompson, Kendricks
Also, USA Today put together its Freshman All-America team. Included on that list from the Pac-12 are:
- Offense: Toa Lobendahn, OL, USC, Jacob Alsadek, OL, Arizona
- Defense: Lowell Lotulelei, DL, Utah, Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC, Budda Baker, S, Washington.
Finally, Bruce Feldman of Fox breaks down the most impressive freshmen. Jackson and Baker are on his list.
- The '89 Fiesta Bowl is not a fun topic for Arizona assistants.
- ASU's playmakers need time with their NFL decision.
- Some more Cal recruiting updates.
- The Buffs picked up a JC defensive back commitment.
- Oregon is easing into Florida State prep.
- Gary Andersen hit the airwaves yesterday.
- Austin Hooper trying to re-establish the tight end at Stanford.
- Some video highlights of a UCLA TE commit.
- USC officially turns its attention to Nebraska.
- Utah's role is reversed now that it's a P0wer 5 program.
- The Huskies landed their fourth commit in the past three days.
- Tis the season for prep highlight clips. Here's a WSU commit.
In case you missed it (and it would have been pretty hard to miss it if you follow Pac-12 football), here's the full presentation of Marcus Mariota reading the Top 10 on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
The 2014 ride -- usually unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while impacting its eccentric, memorable course.
We'll be counting down in increments of three throughout this entire week. Here's the second installment:
No. 12 -- Shaq Thompson scoring a 99-yard fumble return TD against Cal
With the Washington Huskies backed up into the end zone on second-and-goal and with the score tied at 0, linebacker Shaq Thompson -- who had made his original verbal commitment to Cal -- made one of his loudest plays of the Pac-12 season against what was then the second-highest scoring offense in the nation.
As Cal quarterback Jared Goff attempted to go over the top, the ball came loose and Thompson took off, returning the ball the length of the field, outrunning a few Bears en route.
It gave Washington the early lead (the Huskies would go on to win 31-7) and the game would end up being Chris Petersen’s first conference win at Washington, after having given up a 20-13 decision to Stanford two weekends before. It also rewrote the history books for UW as the program’s longest fumble return TD -- the previous was 77 yards, which was set by Jim Noe in 1953.
No. 11 -- Washington Coug’n it against Arizona
Yep, sorry, UW, but you definitely pulled a Wazzu and Coug’d it like the best of ‘em with that late game performance against Arizona.
The Huskies had a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter at then-No. 14 Arizona when everything fell apart. Seriously, everything. Washington had four drives. This is how they played out:
1. Three plays, 9 yards, punt.
2. Three plays, -5 yards, punt.
3. Four plays, 2 yards, punt.
4. Seven plays, 25 yards, lost fumble.
Not exactly offensive efficiency. Not even in the same zipcode as it.
The Husky defense -- though not exactly stout as it gave up 504 yards of total offense that game -- did give Washington a chance at the end. Freshman defensive back Sidney Jones intercepted Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon at the 17-yard line with about four and a half minutes remaining. Certainly that could’ve been enough time for UW to pull something together. Or in reality, just don’t mess up. Hold the ball long enough, make enough movement and walk this thing out.
But on the ensuing drive, running back Deontae Cooper fumbled and lost the ball and the Husky defense allowed the Wildcats to get into field goal range. Casey Skowron nailed the 47 yarder to give Arizona its eighth win of the season. The following week, the Wildcats moved from No. 15 to No. 11 in the College Football Playoff committee rankings.
The complete breakdown from Washington sparked something in the Huskies as they finished out the season with two more wins, combining to beat Oregon State and Washington State 68-26.
No. 10 -- Arizona missed field goal vs. USC
Oh, the South Division race. We knew you’d be good early on. So much #Pac12AfterDark.
With USC leading by two with 17 seconds remaining, Casey Skowron lined up for a 36-yard field goal attempt. Steve Sarkisian called a timeout to ice the kicker. He had done so earlier and Claude Pelon had blocked Skowron’s kick. What works once could work twice, right?
It was pretty evident that Skowron’s kick was wide right from the moment it left his foot. But even so, he tried to get a roughing the kicker call to no avail. The Trojans held on for their fourth win of the season while also handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
There are so many moving parts throughout the entirety of a season, but had Skowron made this field goal, there’s a chance that the Pac-12 South race wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did. If USC had another loss under its belt instead of Arizona, the Wildcats would’ve been in the driver’s seat most of the way, leaving that late-season drama out.
But, for the sake of #Paction and #Pac12AfterDark, let’s just say we’re glad that everything always seemed to go down to the wire. Including this game. Including this season.
Other defining moments:
- From Monday: No. 15-No. 12
It was a busy weekend in the Pac-12, with commitments, offers, visits and awards touching nearly every team in the conference, including Stanford, USC and Washington reeling in big commitments and UCLA hosting impact prospects. Here is a look at some of the more impactful events of the past few days, as well as a glimpse of what this week could hold in the Pac-12.
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Miss you in the saddest fashion.
Bye bye Li'l Sebastian;
You’re 5,000 candles in the wind.
Where they heck have you all been on the weekends? We've been at games. What's your excuse?
According to a report by Jon Solomon of CBS Sports, attendance has been down in college football across the country. And the Pac-12 is no exception, experiencing a 2-percent drop across the board. Solomon breaks it down by conference. Here's what he had to say about the Pac-12.
Crowds dropped 2 percent to 52,758 and they are down 10 percent since peaking in 2007. Pac-12 attendance leader UCLA ranked 19th nationally. Only four of 12 conference schools had an increase: UCLA, Arizona, Utah and Washington State. A couple of schools' decreases were very minor.
Solomon has attendance numbers for all FBS schools on a chart. It's worth a look to see who is trending up and down.
Future looks bright
At ESPN, we love lists. And we know you love them too. That makes the end of the year like, well, like Christmas. Here's another list for you -- the ESPN.com True Freshman All-America team.
A trio of frosh from the Pac-12 are on the team -- including Oregon running back Royce Freeman:
Freeman started the season by beating out both junior Byron Marshall and sophomore Thomas Tyner for the starting running back spot at Oregon. He finished the regular season by leading the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns (16) and racking up 1,299 rushing yards, becoming the first Oregon freshman to have a 1,000-yard-rushing season.
Also on the list were USC offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn and USC's Adoree' Jackson.
- Taking a year off worked out pretty well for Rich Rodriguez.
- Former Sun Devil Marion Grice closing in on his degree. In case you've forgotten his backstory, here's a story from 2013.
- Daniel Lasco is your team MVP, along with some other California team awards.
- The costs are rising for Colorado's facility upgrade.
- Marcus Mariota's teammates are sharing in the Heisman joy.
- Gary Andersen will retain Oregon State receivers coach Brent Brennan.
- An early look at Stanford-Maryland.
- Some more on Eric Kendricks and the Lott Award.
- Some USC practice and injury notes.
- Las Vegas is familiar territory for some Utes.
- Some Washington news and notes.
- What grade would you give the Mike Leach era?
Good one, Kyle.
#Pac12refs have been entrusted with Alabama vs. Ohio State. What could go wrong?— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) December 15, 2014
The 2014 ride -- usually unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while impacting its eccentric, memorable course.
We'll be counting down in increments of three throughout this entire week. Here's the first installment:
No. 15 -- Mannion sets conference passing record
Oregon State's season -- and Mike Riley's tenure in Corvallis -- ended in a 5-7 disappointment. That means senior quarterback Sean Mannion has reached the end of his prolific collegiate journey. But the Beaver certainly didn't exit with a whimper. Aside from setting every single career passing mark in the Oregon State record books, Mannion also etched his name into conference history. With a 15-yard fourth quarter pass to Connor Hamlett on Nov. 1 against California, Mannion surpassed USC's Matt Barkley to become the top passer in Pac-12 history.
This individual accomplishment did not alter the wild conference race in any way, but it did provide a powerful symbol of just how much talent the league has amassed in its meteoric rise, particularly at the quarterback position. Heading into 2014, there was a heavy dose of hype regarding what was anticipated to be Year of the Signal-caller in the Pac-12. Between Marcus Mariota's Heisman exploits, Connor Halliday's absurd statistical production, and the fine campaigns of players such as Brett Hundley, Cody Kessler, and Jared Goff, there was plenty to enjoy in the 2014 aerial show. Mannion is the one who grabbed the lasting career mark.
Of course, Mannion's record likely won't last forever -- Goff may have a great shot to break it if he sticks around Berkeley for a full four years -- but it was a testament to a steady, accurate, and poised Pac-12 passer in a season that featured a true gold mine of talent at the position.
No. 14 -- Wazzu missed field goal against Cal ruins Halliday's record night
It seemed as if Halliday couldn't catch a break over the course of his tragic Washington State career, but he kept fighting until he could fight no more, and that valiant effort left him with a place in the national record book. Halliday's injury-riddled career in Pullman included a game played with a lacerated liver and finished with a gruesome leg break this season against USC. The misfortune that may best encapsulate his tough luck, though, came on Oct. 4 against Cal.
In a dizzyingly precise passing display, Halliday shredded the Bears' defense to the tune of an NCAA single-game record 734 yards. He completed 49 of his 70 passes and tossed six touchdowns without a single interception. With the Cougars trailing 60-59 as time wound down, Halliday even led his team on a 68-yard drive to the California 2-yard line. With only 19 seconds remained, Washington State was an extra point-length field goal away from winning on Halliday's historic night.
But kicker Quentin Breshears missed the 19-yard attempt, and Halliday looked on in dazed, losing disbelief on the night during which he had made history. Football can be a cruel sport, and Halliday got a particularly vicious dose of it. This was a truly stunning dichotomy. Halliday was the victim of one of the Pac-12's 2014 Twilight Zone finishes -- one that featured a mind-numbing seizure of defeat from the jaws of victory.
No. 13 -- USC stuffs Stanford
Stanford entered 2014 having won back-to-back Pac-12 titles, but it didn't take long for alarms to sound on the Farm. The first disturbing exhibit of offensive decay came in Week 2, when a short-handed USC defense delivered a bend-but-don't-break performance for the ages. The Cardinal reached scoring territory (at least the Trojans' 35-yard line) on all nine of their possessions, but managed to score only 10 total points throughout all of those chances. USC won the game 13-10, delivering a psychological gut punch that Stanford's offense never fully recovered from. The Cardinal's 119th-place national finish in red zone efficiency was a primary culprit in their tumble to 7-5, and this was the game that set them firmly on that disappointing course.
The slide's seminal moment might have arrived late in the third quarter on Sept. 6. Stanford led 10-7, and they faced a fourth-and-one from the USC 3-yard line. In the championship years of the past, this is where the Cardinal had always brutally asserted their control of the proceedings.
Not this time.
Without Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor, or Tyler Gaffney to hand off to, Kevin Hogan fed true freshman Daniel Marx the ball, and USC stuffed him short of the first down marker behind an excellent torpedo play from Su'a Cravens. The tables had turned: The Cardinal were not the bullies up front they used to be. They could no longer stomp on their opposition the old-fashioned way, and the resulting Pac-12 power shift was in full effect.
Though he still has a year of college eligibility remaining, Mariota will almost certainly declare for the 2015 NFL draft, so the Pac-12 will have to look elsewhere to repeat the Heisman feat. Here are some early 2015 candidates. Key word here is "early," as we have yet to finish 2014 and some of the players below are still deciding if they will be back next year. Keep that in mind as we quickly imagine the potential future.
Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Aside from Mariota, the only Pac-12 player to finish in the top 10 of Heisman balloting was this dominant desert stud. Wright earned four second-place votes and 13 third-place votes, and it would be tough to argue with either of those evaluations based on his absurd 2014 production. Wright's numbers in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles were all either at or near the top of the nation; he was the only player who averaged over two TFL per game, and that race wasn't remotely close. It's clear that Arizona has an absolute machine working the middle of its defense. Yes, the Heisman Trophy has a clear bias toward the offensive side of the football, but Wright was awesome enough to earn 17 votes at linebacker -- as a sophomore.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
This 230-pound bruiser did his best to give new meaning to the term "true freshman" in 2014. Aside from displaying remarkable vision, Freeman physically pounded opposing defenses like a battle-hardened senior. He supplied Oregon's rushing attack with an irreplaceable dose of physicality. The first-year statistical returns are as eye-popping as they were pad-popping: 1,299 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 16 touchdowns. With Mariota almost certainly moving on, the Ducks' offense may center more on this young tank in 2015, and that focus could thrust Freeman into Heisman contention.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC
Kessler was the only quarterback in the nation to attempt over 400 passes and throw fewer than five interceptions in 2014. In the not-so-distant past, those kinds of numbers would automatically thrust a USC quarterback into the midst of the Heisman Trophy discussion. Kessler, however, flew under the radar throughout the entire campaign. If he decides to return to USC for his senior season, expect him to generate a big amount of preseason hype. Related note: Running back Javorius Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor also have eligibility remaining. If those two are back in Troy next year, include them as possible big-time award candidates too.
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Statistically, 2014 was an excellent campaign for this Bruin, who is a redshirt sophomore. He led the Pac-12 in rushing, racking up 1,378 yards on a league-best 6.0 yards per carry. Perkins will have to score more touchdowns to generate more Heisman hype. He found pay dirt only nine times this season, but 2015 will likely present an opportunity to enter the end zone more often, as touchdown machine Brett Hundley has indicated that he will likely be moving on to the NFL. That means that Perkins may become the centerpiece of UCLA's offense. More touches, more glory.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Goff's statistical output was impressive in 2014 (3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), but any hype surrounding him was quickly extinguished by memories of the Bears' nightmarish 2013 campaign (1-11). Cal improved to 5-7 this season, but it still failed to earn a postseason berth. Given the upward trajectory of Sonny Dykes' program, that likely won't be the case in 2015. There's a strong chance that Goff will be the quarterback of a winning team. If he continues to post gaudy numbers under that scenario (also likely), this talented gunslinger will arrive on the radar for major postseason awards. Don't sleep on him.
D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State
If wide receiver Jaelen Strong returns to ASU for his final year of eligibility, keep an eye out for him. But that seems unlikely, so the top Sun Devil to watch will probably be the versatile Foster, who was the only Pac-12 player to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014. Foster's 59 catches were second to only Strong in Tempe, and his explosiveness makes him a prime sizzle candidate if he decides to stay in school for one more season. Side note: Don't forget freshman running back Demario Richard, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a 17-year-old this season.
Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona
If you enjoy watching impressive freshman running backs, Wilson is a good player to follow. He delivered an awfully dynamic inaugural campaign in Rich Rodriguez's system, delivering 5.9 yards per carry and more than 100 ground yards per game. Wilson's 15 rushing touchdowns were second among Pac-12 running backs, so second-year improvement would absolutely make him a contender for some major hardware in 2014.
Let's get the week started off right. I'm guessing it was a tough weekend for a lot of people. After all, it was our first weekend without Pac-12 football in months. Don't worry, it's coming back soon enough. But, at least there was really good news for the Pac-12 this weekend. Let's start with a Mr. Marcus Mariota who won the Heisman this past Saturday.
First, let's give some major props to this MahaloMarcus.com video because it's very much worth your time and you can view it right here. It has some classic 8-year-old Mariota footage meshed with some current footage, some emotional music and quotes from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and the gang. Well done to the edit staff. Well done to Mariota for all these plays.
If four minutes of Mariota on video isn't enough for you ... well, lucky you, everyone and their mother reacted to this news, so we'll give you a breakdown of some writer's reactions.
- From Sports Illustrated: Zac Ellis with the words and Andy Staples with the video.
- From The New York Times: Tim Rohan takes a look at Mariota's relationship with his Hawaiian roots.
- From USA Today: George Schroeder writes that Mariota's Heisman can be traced back to Joey Harrington's campaign.
- From Rolling Stone: Michael Weinreb asks if Mariota can break the Heisman curse.
- From The Oregonian: If you missed Mariota's speech you can check the whole thing out right here; Jason Quick hopes that Mariota the man is remembered as much as Mariota the player; John Canzano, who has covered Mariota his entire career, wrote that the Heisman and Mariota go hand in hand.
The state of Oregon just doubled down. And the ghosts of this state's football programs just doubled over. Anyone who has regularly seen Mariota operate the heavy machinery that is the Ducks' offense this season knows he's the best player in America, but it really is something to see the rest of the country see it, too.
And finally, props to Oregon State for recognizing Mariota as well. The Beavers bought a full page ad in The Oregonian's special section for Mariota.
It wasn't just Mariota who picked up a big award this weekend. UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Lott IMPACT Trophy. Kendricks follows in the footsteps of Anthony Barr, who won the award last year. Jack Wang wrote that Kendricks is the latest in what could be a long line of linebacker lineage at UCLA.
And look at how cordial everyone was about Kendricks' win. But would you assume anything else? Never. Especially not from the Lott IMPACT guys.
Congratulations to UCLA's Eric Kendricks, winner of the 2014 @LottIMPACTrophy— UW Football (@UW_Football) December 15, 2014
Also, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson won the Hornung Award, given to college football's most versatile athlete. The Pac-12 Blog agrees.
All right. Here's a quick rundown ...
- Some bold Fiesta Bowl predictions.
- D.J. Foster isn't sure what he's doing after this season.
- Cal picked up two big commitments this weekend.
- Buffzone.com has a nice feature on former Colorado running back and 1994 Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam.
- In non-Mariota news, but still Oregon news ... FSU is switching its focus to the Ducks.
- Gary Andersen is exactly what Oregon State needs.
- Tom FitzGerald reflects on Jerry Hogan, the late father of Stanford QB Kevin Hogan.
- Video from Jim Mora's Friday media conference.
- A tight end switched his commitment from Duke to USC.
- A look at what Utah players will be getting as bowl gifts.
- Jaydon Mickens almost played at Oklahoma State, the Huskies' bowl opponent.
- Washington State picked up a LB commitment.
Hollywood in Westwood
UCLA hosted ESPN 300 prospect Malik Jefferson and four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal from Texas, and the Lone Star State prospects were introduced to life in Los Angeles via an encounter with actress Kerry Washington. While McNeal tweeted about the meeting, Jefferson, the nation's No. 35 recruit, snapped a picture of his mother meeting the actress.
UCLA also hosted wide receiver commit L.J. Reed on his official visit.
From the looks of the photo tweeted by Cal quarterback Ross Bowers, the Golden Bears hosted at least nine official visitors this weekend. The Golden Bears have 15 commitments with room for several more. Bowers was joined on the trip by juco defensive end and Washington State commit DeVante Wilson, Duke commit and dual-threat quarterback DePriest Turner and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe, among others.
It's a big year for talent in Utah and the Utes look like they'll miss out on the three big ESPN 300 prospect in state -- Andre James, Osa Masina and Porter Gustin. After losing a commitment from four-star offensive tackle Branden Bowen, it'll be important for Utah to land several in-state prospects, as they have just one commitment from any of the top-10 prospects in Utah.
This past weekend, the Utes hosted linebacker Christian Folau -- a former Stanford commit -- and are among the top three programs for him.
USC gained a significant commitment from ESPN 300 tight end Tyler Petite on Friday, then hosted a trio of recruits over the weekend, including ESPN 300 athlete Ykili Ross. Capable of playing cornerback or safety, Ross looks to be a primary target for USC head coach Steve Sarkisian down the stretch. The Trojans also brought in athletic director Pat Haden during the trip.
Buffs bring in commits
Chilling with the big dog pic.twitter.com/QGIUGeX8pJ— BIGBOSSYK (@TheRealYK_7) December 14, 2014
After an impressive showing last weekend that eventually netted two commitments, Colorado posted another big weekend, with a number of verbal commitments making the trip. ESPN 300 lineman Timmy Lynott is the most important commitment in Colorado's class, and was on hand.
The Buffs also received an official visit from four-star running back Donald Gordon, who appeared to very much enjoy the trip.
Official visit to CU this weekend. ???? pic.twitter.com/R14JhbTuE2— Timmy Lynott (@TL56TIM) December 12, 2014
Pic from earlier ???? pic.twitter.com/HvrZMcBAdv— AG23 (@yeah_donald) December 14, 2014
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
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12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
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