In this week's poll, ESPN.com's Pac-12 blog asked readers about Mark Schlabach's Way Too Early Top 25. Or rather, about the teams that weren't mentioned on that list but have a good chance to be on the final top 25 of the 2015-16 season.

Of the responses, Stanford and Utah got the most votes, which worked out well because David Lombardi felt pretty strongly that Stanford would make the final top 25 next season while Chantel Jennings believed that the Utes would do the same.

They debate ...

Lombardi: Immediately following Utah's double overtime win at Stanford on November 15, my answer would have been different. But it's tough to bet against Stanford after seeing the way the Cardinal rampaged through the end of the season. Prior to 2014, Stanford had posted four consecutive campaigns filled with elite-level, BCS bowl success, and that's earned them the benefit of the doubt coming off a Jekyll-and-Hyde season: History tells us to trust the good Stanford team we saw over the season's final three games more than the wildly inconsistent one that played the front nine.

Of course, the reloading challenges currently facing the Cardinal are unique to the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era. For the first time, the program must replace the entirety of its starting defensive line -- long considered the bedrock of what has become a top-shelf 3-4 unit. The injury-plagued situation at Stanford practice is currently very frightening, as three relatively inexperienced defensive linemen are being forced to stick through entire sessions without any substitutes at the position.

But the Cardinal still have six months to find their footing, and that allows time for two important developments to take root: Injured defensive linemen can heal and the team's respected defensive coaching staff can develop a slew of talented players to pick up the slack on that side of the ball. Stanford has recruited defensive backs very well the past two years, and the bet here is that Duane Akina can make that talented unit shine by fall. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Lance Anderson earned credibility in 2014, and recent results suggest he can ensure that Stanford's defense doesn't fall off a cliff.

That much should be adequate for the Cardinal, who return almost all of an offense that surged to finish 2014. Kevin Hogan is an experienced quarterback who overcame the passing of his father last season. He has the tools at his disposal to make Stanford's attack consistently productive, and that'll be enough to stabilize this team into Top 25 territory -- even if it does ultimately field a weaker defense.

Jennings: The Utes certainly have their work cut out for them, don't get me wrong. I don't think this is going to be a cakewalk for Kyle Whittingham & Co., but like last season I think the Utes will grind their way into the Top 25 come season's end.

Last season, six four-loss teams (including Utah) made it into the final AP poll of the season. Even one five-loss team (Auburn) made it in. What those seven teams all had in common were two things: 1. Most -- if not all -- of their losses either came on the road or were against a ranked opponent. 2. With the exception of Louisville, every team had at least one win (in some cases as many as three wins) versus ranked opponents.

Utah's doesn't exactly have the kindest schedule for an FBS team this year but they'll just look at that as opportunities to pick up signature wins. If the Utes can pick up some big W's against a few of their many top opponents, then maybe even a four- or five-loss Utah can make it into the final AP poll.

Heck, the Utes have three opportunities before October to pick up big wins in games versus Michigan, Utah State and Oregon.

Now, I don't think the Utes are just going to demolish several teams. But, I think they have a grinding work ethic that's going to help them in close games. The Utes' average margin of victory in conference games last season was 3.6 -- they know how to play (and how to win) in close games.

With running back Devontae Booker taking on an even bigger role, Kenneth Scott becoming a better receiving threat (with the help of players like Kenric Young and Deniko Carter) and Travis Wilson manning the operation (yep, I've called it) I think the offense will be in good hands … or at least more consistent hands than it was last season.

Defensively, I think Hunter Dimick is going to take on a much bigger role without Nate Orchard. With an intact linebacker corps the pass rush has a potential to be just as potent as last season. The secondary needs to shore itself up a bit, but I think they're in pretty good shape, too.

Plus, they've got Andy Phillips and Tom Hackett -- field goals and field position will be no worry for Whittingham.

Do I think Utah will be perfect? No. But, I do think a four-loss Utah team that picked up a few ranked wins along the way could sneak into the Top 25.
Kevin HoganStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan wants to carry the momentum of Stanford's strong finish last season into 2015.
In the summer of 2011, current Stanford center Graham Shuler, then a senior in high school, visited campus. He played some pick-up basketball with future football teammates.

The Cardinal's new crop of freshmen had just moved into their dorms, and Shuler remembers one of the newcomers -- still relatively anonymous at that point -- soar high off the court.

"He grabbed a rebound, and he just took off," the lineman said. "It seemed like it took him only two strides to cross the court, and he took off again from the free throw line to put in a finger roll over everybody. It was like -- 'Yo! Who in the world was that?'"

It was Kevin Hogan, Stanford's future starting quarterback.

At the time, Andrew Luck's senior 2011 flurry was just preparing for takeoff, so it would be over a year before the outside football world discovered Hogan. But Shuler's introduction came early, and he remembers it vividly to this day as a precursor to the wild ride that has followed.

A chance to establish consistency
Hogan, entering his fifth season on the Farm, is one of Stanford's elder statesmen now. The instinctual, gritty athleticism that Shuler first saw several years ago on the basketball court has served the quarterback well throughout his college football career. But Hogan has also struggled at times, and it's this inconsistency that has made him somewhat of an enigma.

Moving forward, Stanford wants to enjoy a full year of the excellent play that Hogan delivered over the final three games of 2014. During that stretch, the Cardinal offense found its groove. Hogan posted a 222.4 quarterback rating in Stanford's 31-10 road manhandling of UCLA.

"We found a good rhythm and I want to carry that forward," Hogan says. "We saw how good we could be."

If the good times do indeed roll on, Hogan's athleticism may prove to be the key to unlocking his comfort zone. That approach was effective when the quarterback did considerable damage with his legs over the final three games of the season en route to efficient passing performances. (Hogan averaged over 6.5 yards per rush in all three of those contests after surpassing 5 yards per rush only once in Stanford's first 10 games.)

"It's just like anyone: A receiver would like to catch a hitch before a 50-yard go route," Hogan explained in December. "You want to get into a rhythm with your bread and butter plays.... I'm the same way. If I can roll out or do a QB run, I'd like to get that first hit and first play out of the way. You feel like you're in the game. I appreciate those plays when they're called early, and I try to lobby for them."

One can almost sense an affinity for contact in Hogan's words, and recognizing his nose for the gritty side of the game may be the ticket to consistently unleashing his strengths. It's no coincidence that a smile creeps across receiver Devon Cajuste's face when he's asked about Hogan's demeanor in the huddle.

"Even though I can't see what's happening when I'm running a route, I always know when something happened in the backfield," Cajuste says. "Because Hogan's super excited in the huddle after he gets hit."

Cajuste points to another aspect of Hogan's skill set that differentiates him from many quarterbacks, one that led directly to a touchdown run against Oregon State in 2014.

"He actually reads blocks [when he's scrambling], and we appreciate that as wide receivers, " Cajuste grins. "Because he never goes left when the block is set up for the right."

Highs, lows, and the future

Hogan's mercurial Stanford career has taken him through both tragedy and triumph. The high came early on: After replacing Josh Nunes as the Cardinal's starting quarterback in 2012, Hogan was the quarterback of Stanford's first Rose Bowl championship team since 1972.

But if the 2012 rip through Autzen Stadium and Pasadena represented Hogan's peak, 2014 marked the valley. This was the aforementioned 2014 season of erratic play, the one during which his father, Jerry, succumbed to cancer.

"I can't imagine going through something like that," Shuler says. "But Kevin's a rock, and one thing that amazes is how well he carries the legacy of his dad."

Just three weeks after Jerry's passing, Hogan earned MVP honors in Stanford's 45-21 victory over Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl. He acknowledged his father after that performance. The success provided the Cardinal staff with firm reassurance that Hogan would be able maintain a consistently high level of play moving forward into 2015.

"Those last three games [of 2014], that's probably the best football that he's ever played," Stanford coach David Shaw says. "Kevin's in a good place now. He's smooth, confident, relaxed, and accurate."

When he reflects on the progress he's made as a quarterback since his freshman year, Hogan feels that he's on solid ground, too.

"My decision-making is a lot sharper and quicker," he says. "I can get through my reads more quickly. I understand defensive structure and scheme, which allows me to play faster while staying comfortable at the same time."

Quarterbacks coach Tavita Pritchard says that Hogan "has used [his late 2014 success] as some ground to stand on when he's talking to the offense," and Shuler senses this, too.

"Kevin will be one of the first people to tell you that he is more reserved, but this year, when practice is having trouble getting going, the voice you hear is his," Shuler says. "And that's really cool, because in years past, Kevin would say a couple things, but not this much. I think he feels a sense of ownership for this group of guys, more so than in the past."

As a starting quarterback during a golden era in Stanford football history, Hogan's name won't soon be forgotten around the program. But his final 2015 hurrah represents an opportunity to tack on an exclamation point of great significance -- one that can boost NFL dreams and an already-storied college legacy.

"Our goal is to pick up the script where we left off last year," Hogan says.

And to finish the larger script, the one that started on that basketball court back in 2011, in fitting style.
The Pac-12 lost several top players after the 2014 season and with spring practice starting (or, at some places, having already started) the work in replacing some of those guys has already begun.

We took a look at six teams that have the most work to do (because, we couldn’t stick to five for this list. Sorry to our readers who expect series like this to be identical … and also to defensive coordinators across the league: You’ve got your work cut out for you this spring and next fall).

DEFENSE

Arizona: At least they’ve still got Scooby Wright, right? That’s probably what a lot of Wildcats fans are going to be saying this offseason as Arizona attempts to replace so many contributors on the defensive side of the ball. The Wildcats will need to replace three of their top five tacklers -- Jared Tevis, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant -- in addition to Dan Pettinato and Jonathan McKnight, who both registered at least 45 tackles last season.

Oregon State: Let’s just say that it’s far easier to note the players who actually return to the Beavers rather than their departures. So, Gary Andersen, in his first season, will welcome back 2014 starters Jaswha James and Larry Scott. That’s it. He has nine other starters to replace, including the top six tacklers from 2014. Of the 12 players to register at least 25 tackles last season, only three weren't seniors. Need we go on? Didn’t think so.

Stanford: The Cardinal are in a similar boat to the Beavers in which they lose way more than they retain while also losing guys at every level of the defense. Up front, coach David Shaw needs to find replacements for Henry Anderson, David Parry and Blake Lueders. In the middle, he’ll need guys to step into the shoes of Kevin Anderson, James Vaughters and A.J. Tarpley. In the secondary, they lose Alex Carter, Jordan Richards and Wayne Lyons. The Cardinal led the conference a year ago in total defense (282.4 yards per game), but with this kind of turnover hitting that mark again seems far off. But really, is anyone wishing they were a defensive coordinator at Oregon State or Stanford right now? Bueller?

Washington: A season ago, the Huskies were second in the league in rushing defense (121.9 yards per game) and now they need to replace six players from their front seven, including the entire defensive line. Can Washington really take a step forward in Year 2 under Chris Petersen without Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton aggravating every single Pac-12 quarterback and Shaq Thompson and John Timu creating big plays every other play? The good news is that the Huskies retain all four starters from the secondary so the group that was the youngest a year ago will now be the oldest. But, for anyone who watched the third-worst Pac-12 pass defense in 2014, that might not really sound like good new

USC: The Trojans lose four of their six top tacklers. Hayes Pullard, Gerald Bowman and J.R. Tavai all used up their eligibility while Leonard Williams opted to head to the NFL a bit early. Losing half of those guys would be rough for a defense that finished fifth in the league a season ago, but to lose every single one of them (they accounted for 315 tackles including 31 tackles for loss and 15 sacks) is really rough for a team that has such high expectations for the 2015 season. But Trojans fans can take Arizona’s approach: At least you still have Su'a Cravens and Anthony Sarao, right?

UCLA: The Bruins lose three of their top four tacklers from the 2014 season, including Butkus Award winner Eric Kendricks. Between Kendricks, Anthony Jefferson and Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA will need to make up for 282 tackles including 26 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. In a few games this season the Bruins defense made up for its offense when it was slow (or, not scoring at all -- hello, Virginia) and many of the reasons for this defense being so productive are no longer on the roster.

Honorable mention:

Oregon: The Ducks defense was a hard thing to diagnose last season. In certain games, it was opportunistic and aggressive and tackled extremely well. And in others, it was the exact opposite. Oregon will lose several key players off that up-and-down defense from a season ago. Arik Armstead left early for the NFL and linebackers Tony Washington and Derrick Malone are gone. Defensive back coach John Neal has his work cut out for him in a secondary that lost starters Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Troy Hill and Erick Dargan. Due to injuries and rotations, several guys got reps for Oregon and with a core group of linebackers returning, there seems to be a bit less work to do in Eugene than some other Pac-12 cities.

Utah: The Utes will undoubtedly miss Nate Orchard and his ability to get to quarterbacks, as well as starters Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen out of the secondary. But Utah also has three of its top six tacklers returning, including its leading tackler (linebacker Jared Norris). Plus, Hunter Dimick is primed for a big season a year after recording 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.

Redshirting is not a popular term among the nation's top football prospects, but a quick look at the recent Heisman Trophy winners shows the importance of that extra year of development. The list below may not include the next Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel, but we feel these players, once prominent recruits in the 2014 class, are in position to make big debuts in the 2015 college football season.

1. Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) -- A youth movement is going to be underway on the perimeter for Alabama this fall and while 2014 classmate Tony Brown saw some time last year, Humphrey will be joining the fray in 2015. Humphrey fits the physical dimensions coach Nick Saban wants at corner. The former five-star is big, can run and is savvy when it comes to playing different schemes.

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

The quarterback cases

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

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

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

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

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

The defensive battles up front

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

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

The offensive trenches

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

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

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

Skill-position central

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

Of course, the departures of Nelson Agholor and George Farmer have also opened matters up at receiver for USC. Expect plenty of explosive fireworks there: JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson are just two of the exciting names on the Trojans roster.
In February, Mark Schlabach released his "Way Too Early Top 25," which was his best guess at what the preseason top 25 will look like when released.

His list was graced by five Pac-12 teams:
SportsNation

Which of these teams has the best shot to finish the 2015-16 season in the top 25?

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    31%
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    14%
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    39%
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    16%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,781)

But that left us wondering about which team could be a surprise team this year in the Pac-12. Last February there were five teams in his 2014 version of the Way Too Early Top 25. And at the end of this season, in the College Football Playoff Ranking year-end poll there were six, but they didn't completely overlap. On Schlabach's list he had Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, USC, and Washington. At season's end Stanford and Washington were nowhere to be found, but a resurgence in the Pac-12 South led Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah to find a way onto the final top 25 of the season.

These things happen. Players have big seasons, and a team that no one was talking about could be a Cinderella in 2015. So, outside of the five teams Schlabach has listed (next week we'll get to which team on that list won't finish in the top 25), which underdog team has the best shot to finish next season in the top 25?

1. Stanford

This is a new spot for the Cardinal, which isn't accustomed to being unranked. Maybe that will create a chip on the shoulders of its players. Stanford finished last season much better than it started, and though there are some key players who need to be replaced, maybe that momentum will carry over. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. For a team that played in four-consecutive BCS bowls leading up to the first season of the College Football Playoff, there are a lot of maybes.

2. Washington

Could Year 2 be the year Chris Petersen turns his Huskies into the team so many hoped it would be in Year 1? Washington will have its work cut out for it -- replacing six members of the defensive front seven and four offensive linemen. Though turnover in the trenches is rarely a recipe for success, Washington expects to take strides in Petersen's second season. What better stride than a step into the top 25?

3. Utah

No one was talking about Utah a year ago at this time, yet, as the season came to a close the Utes found themselves in a fight for the South championship. Not too shabby, Kyle Whittingham. Can he do it again? Yes, Utah will need to find replacements for Nate Orchard (no small task), and Kaelin Clay and Westlee Tonga (the No. 1 and No. 3 receivers from a last season), but it returns talent in Devontae Booker, Travis Wilson, Kenneth Scott, and Kendal Thompson (who the Utes hope will return from injury this summer).

4. Other

It still seems like a bit of a stretch to think Colorado, Oregon State, Cal, or Wazzu could jump into that group. But, we wanted to give you guys the option of voting for them if you really, truly believe it's a possibility. Because, you know, #Pac12AfterDark.
Spring practices end the retrospective glances of last season and begin the forward-looking process toward the next fall. Departed players need to be replaced, and returning starters need to get better, and youngsters need to step up.

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

Up next: Stanford.

1. Can the team address its scary defensive line situation? Stanford players warmed up with their position groups during this past Saturday’s open practice. Smatterings of about 10 players each gathered for drills in various areas of the field. One corner, though, was sparsely populated -- and noticeably so. Only three bodies warmed up with Stanford’s defensive line group.

The (sort of) good news: The Cardinal run a 3-4, so they have just enough healthy defensive linemen to practice without forcing a coach to step in as a placeholder (that would be rather dangerous). The bad news: That trench is the most physically strenuous position on the football field, and the combination of departures and injuries has decimated Stanford to the point where they have literally no depth there beyond the starting three. Harrison Phillips, Nate Lohn, and Jordan Watkins -- three relatively untested players -- must carry the load without substitute relief for the time being.


Stanford is counting on Aziz Shittu and Solomon Thomas to return from their injuries as quickly as possible. The Cardinal must also work for rapid development from their healthy players, because the shoes of Henry Anderson and David Parry are massive ones to fill. In that regard, this spring presents an enormous reloading challenge up front.

2. Which young defensive backs will emerge? Stanford has also had a large exodus of talent from its secondary. Jordan Richards is graduating, Wayne Lyons is transferring, and Alex Carter is leaving early for the NFL draft. Even Zach Hoffpauir may be gone by the time the 2015 season comes along, as he’s seriously considering turning pro in baseball. Ronnie Harris is the Cardinal’s most experienced returning defensive back, and he’s currently hurt, so the entire position group is one big, fat unresolved question mark at the moment.

Stanford is thankful that they’ve signed two straight recruiting classes that have been exceptionally strong at defensive back. It seems that those hauls may come in handy during the current pinch. Terrence Alexander appears to be the leading young candidate at cornerback, but there’s plenty of other unproven talent looking to gain position in this wild spring horse race. Taijuan Thomas played well at nickel back in Saturday’s open practice, while the likes of Brandon Simmons, Alijah Holder, Alameen Murphy, and Denzel Franklin will have opportunities to make their moves as well. Time is of the essence, because veteran offensive converts Dallas Lloyd and Kodi Whitfield look to be in good position to contribute. Touted freshman prospects Frank Buncom IV, Ben Edwards, and Quenton Meeks are slated to arrive on campus this summer, so even more fresh faces are expected to crowd Duane Akina’s room soon.

3. Can the offense develop into a unit that sustains success over the long haul? Stanford has carried over confidence from the offensive success that it saw to close 2014. Since Ty Montgomery was already hurt then, the unit has lost only two starters from that impressive stretch: left tackle Andrus Peat and fullback Lee Ward. The hope is that minimal turnover helps foster greater consistency on this side of the football. So far in spring, the offense looks well-equipped to succeed, as Christian McCaffrey has added strength to complement his explosive presence. If Kevin Hogan can continue to efficiently distribute the football to the Cardinal’s four gigantic tight ends while making some plays with his legs, Stanford’s attack can be effective next season. This spring is all about establishing stability in that regard.
Many of the West region’s best seven-on-seven teams were in Las Vegas over the weekend, joined by a few additional national squads for the Pylon Elite Las Vegas 7v7. When the dust settled, Ground Zero, a team made up of California’s Inland Empire prospects, took home the trophy after beating 702 Elite, which featured Las Vegas Bishop Gorman standouts.


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Spring has sprung, which means every team can show you hope in a handful of grass -- real or artificial.

Some Pac-12 teams have already started, such as Colorado and Stanford, and others begin this week, such as Arizona, Oregon State and USC. Others start later.

But it feels like the right time to take a look at 10 burning issues in the conference. Please keep your hands clear of this post, as it is sizzling hot.

1. Life after Marcus Mariota at Oregon: You might recall Oregon's quarterback over the past three years was a pretty fair player. But Mariota is off to the NFL, where he's sure to get blinged up, buy four Bentleys and start giving everyone alternating left-right cheek air kisses. That leaves the Ducks with a vacancy behind center. While many -- including a few of my esteemed Pac-12 blog associates -- believe Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams is almost certain to take over when he arrives in the fall, you all know I am an inveterate party pooper, so I'm skeptical the transition to an FCS QB, albeit a very good one, will be all rainbows and puppy dogs. So what happens this spring, pre-Adams, should have a high degree of relevance for the ensuing fall competition. That means Jeff Lockie and Morgan Mahalak or someone else has an opportunity to throw down the gauntlet and stake a strong claim to the job.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
Susan Ragan/USA TODAY SportsOregon State's Gary Andersen is the only new head coach in the Pac-12.
2. Gary Andersen takes over at Oregon State: Mike Riley started the 2014 season as the dean of Pac-12 coaches. Stanford coach David Shaw went so far as to call him the Godfather, which showed Shaw was once a reader of the Pac-12 blog's "Best case-worst case" stories. Riley, however, will begin the 2015 season at Nebraska, a stunning development that is, well, still a bit stunning. Enter Andersen, who's hiring away from Big Ten power Wisconsin was almost as much of a stunner. That means the Beavers, the only Pac-12 team to change head coaches, will be installing new systems on both sides of the ball, as well as getting to know a new coaching staff. Andersen certainly will want to get past the "Hello, my name is..." phase as quickly as possible.

3. USC returns returns to national relevance? The first issue here is whether this deserved a question mark or a period, because the Trojans are fairly certain to begin the 2015 season ranked in the top 10. That means they start the season nationally relevant, period. The question mark, though, concerns whether they can sustain that elevation as they move beyond crippling NCAA sanctions with an impressive roster and improving depth. One might recall it wasn't too long ago when the program's "Unfinished Business" campaign flopped. Second-year coach Steve Sarkisian will be under not inconsiderable pressure to make sure he doesn't suffer through a Lane Kiffin redo.

4. UCLA replaces Brett Hundley: UCLA has 18 starters and a number of other contributors coming back from a team that won 10 games last season and finished ranked 10th. That makes you wonder if perhaps the wrong L.A. team is getting hyped. Ah, but the Bruins are replacing Hundley, a three-year starter who is on the short list of best QBs in program history. While it seems like more than a few folks -- NFL sorts, mostly -- are picking apart Hundley's game of late, what should stand out is how often he delivered for the Bruins, including a troika of wins over That Team From Downtown. Further, this is an interesting battle between a scrappy veteran with a familiar last name in junior Jerry Neuheisel, and a brash, touted true freshman in Josh Rosen, who entered school early with the anticipation of taking over for Hundley. It will be interesting to see if any pecking order develops this spring or if coaches drop an "or" between them on the depth chart. Oh, wait. UCLA is the only Pac-12 that doesn't publish a depth chart. Never mind.

5. Oregon State replaces Sean Mannion: Mannion and the Beavers didn't have a great 2014, but you don't say goodbye to a four-year starter with 83 career touchdown passes lightly and without some sense of transition, particularly when there's also a new coaching staff on hand. Things appear to be wide open between Luke Del Rio -- Mannion's backup -- Brent VanderVeen, Kyle Kempt, Marcus McMaryion, Nick Mitchell, etc. (There are seven QBs on the roster.) It seems reasonable to believe Andersen will want to winnow that list down to around three guys by the end of spring.

6. Washington's no-name defense{ The Huskies say goodbye to six defensive starters, including three -- linebackers Shaq Thompson and Hau'oli Kikaha and defensive tackle Danny Shelton -- who were first-team All-Pac-12 and earned All-American honors. All three are expected to be early picks in the NFL draft, so the talent drain is legitimate, not just a system thing. The only returning defender who earned any type of postseason recognition is true sophomore safety Budda Baker, who was honorable mention All-Pac-12 and has huge upside. That's a good start, but it's unlikely the Huskies will be able to replace these mainstays' production with typical depth-chart promotions. If the Huskies' defense is going to equal or, perhaps, exceed its 2014 numbers, it's going to have to play better as a team, which will be a key test of the second-year coaching staff led by coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski.

7. Getting coordinated: Oregon State had the only coaching change at the top, which included new coordinators on both sides of the ball, but four other teams have changed defensive coordinators and Utah replaced both coordinators, who both bolted for other jobs. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham went the familiar face route, promoting Aaron Roderick from within on offense to replace Dave Christensen, now at Texas A&M, and bringing John Pease out of retirement to replace longtime defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who joined Andersen at Oregon State. Colorado pushed aside defensive coordinator Kent Baer, who left for UNLV, and hired former South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt, a major coup for the Buffs. UCLA replaced Jeff Ulbrich, who departed for a job with the Atlanta Falcons, with former Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who was at West Virginia in 2014. Washington State fired Mike Breske and replaced him with Alex Grinch, a defensive backs coach at Missouri last year. That's a pretty significant amount of turnover on one side of the ball, which will make life more interesting for the conference's offensive minds, particularly early in the season.

8. Stanford rebuilds defense: Speaking of defense, the conference's best unit over the past five years is replacing seven starters, including all of its D-linemen and three of four starters in the secondary. Further, a number of injuries, most notably to D-lineman Aziz Shittu and cornerback Ronnie Harris, will muddy the waters this spring. While it seems unlikely the bottom will fall out for the Cardinal -- there's plenty of promising youngsters on hand -- it's difficult to believe this won't be a transitional season on the mean side of the ball.

9. California dreaming? Cal has 17 starters back, second most in the conference and among the most in the nation, from a team that seemed to turn a corner in 2014 in Year 2 under Sonny Dykes. That crew includes quarterback Jared Goff, an NFL prospect who could make a star turn this fall if the Bears start to win. The offense, which averaged 38 points per game last season, should be good. The question is defense. That unit improved its points surrendered total by nearly a TD from 2013 to 2014, but that still ended up ranked last in the Pac-12 at 39.8 points per game. The Bears might be good enough to become bowl eligible with a defense that is only slightly better. But if they want to take a decisive step forward in the North Division, they need to at least find a way to be mediocre on defense.

10. Next-step QBs: Last season, the Pac-12 featured a glittering group of returning starting quarterbacks led by Mariota, Hundley, Mannion and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly. This year, seven teams welcome back established QBs, but the list is far less scintillating, while a couple other teams have decided front-runners at the position, most notably Mike Bercovici at Arizona State. USC's Cody Kessler leads the bunch, but he has to show he can win big games. Goff is a candidate for all-conference honors, and Stanford's Kevin Hogan finished strong last season after muddling through the first three-fourths of the season. Arizona's Anu Solomon and Colorado's Sefo Liufau are trying to take the proverbial next step, while Utah's Travis Wilson wants to show he should be a four-year starter this spring with Kendal Thompson out with an injury. Washington's returning starter, Cyler Miles, figures to face a tough challenge this spring to retain his job, while Washington State's Luke Falk wants to build on the mostly solid job he did after replacing Connor Halliday.
The first Stanford open spring practice is in the books, and it's possible to make two broad opening observations:

  • Stanford can be very good offensively in 2015 if Kevin Hogan continues the solid quarterback play that he finished 2014 with.

  • Success on the defensive side of the ball is a massive question mark, as it appears a daunting number of dominoes must fall between now and September for the Cardinal to maintain high-level efficiency on that side of the football.

Stanford will spend the next six months grinding to make the necessary variables break in its favor. Health will be key -- the roster is lacking on that front at the moment -- and successful player development will be essential. Here's why, viewed in the context of Saturday's first public look at the squad:

Decimated defensive line

To this point, Stanford has somehow, someway overcome a rash of bad breaks along the defensive line.

Let's take a quick trip down memory lane:

[+] EnlargeAziz Shittu
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezStanford is looking for healthy bodies this spring. DE Aziz Shittu is out due to an injury that ended his 2014 season.
 Henry Anderson, David Parry, and Ben Gardner all fought through serious injuries in 2013. Ikenna Nwafor, the projected nose tackle of the future, was forced to medically retire due to a foot injury suffered in that same year. Meanwhile, Lance Callihan and Anthony Hayes never developed into significant contributors, making it more difficult to alleviate the strain inflicted by the injuries.

The aforementioned players are all out of the program now, but a perfect storm of gut punches persists. Aziz Shittu, Stanford's most experienced player at the position, will miss all of spring ball because of the serious injury that ended his 2014 season. Luke Kaumatule appears to be a better fit at outside linebacker. To make matters even worse, hot young prospect Solomon Thomas is now in a walking boot after jamming his toe this week. He'll miss the first session of spring practice. Dependable walk-on Alex Yazdi still has a year of eligibility remaining, but he recently decided to focus on his career outside of football, so even the "Iranian Meatball" isn't around any longer to provide much-needed depth.

The end result is frightening.

It likely has coach David Shaw thankful that the season opener is six months -- and not six weeks -- away: The Cardinal had only three defensive linemen suited up Saturday. Harrison Phillips, Nate Lohn, and Jordan Watkins (all lighter and less experienced compared to the rugged veterans Stanford had featured in this trench the past several seasons) took every single snap at practice.

That's a virtual death sentence at college football's most physically strenuous position, where depth is a prerequisite for effectiveness.

"It's very, very difficult for three guys to make it through an entire practice [without backups]," Shaw said. "They didn't bat an eyelash. They didn't back off. They were battling all through practice."

The trio earned hearty applause for their perseverance from Stanford's post-practice huddle, but that did little to address grave concerns up front. Increased health, depth and strength must come for the Cardinal this offseason if the program intends to overcome troubles along the defensive line as effectively as it has the past two seasons.

It's tough to bet against the Stanford defense after witnessing it deliver sturdy reloading efforts in recent seasons. But this is shaping up to be the most unnerving offseason test yet for defensive coordinator Lance Anderson and line coach Randy Hart.

Big runs galore

Stanford's offense, in particular its ground game, is the direct spring beneficiary of the team's depleted defensive front. Coaches say Christian McCaffrey has added strength to run more frequently between the tackles, and he certainly looks the part. Along with Barry Sanders, McCaffrey ripped off a number of big runs Saturday.

The Stanford offense features an enviable combination of explosiveness (see McCaffrey and Michael Rector) and size (see receiver Devon Cajuste and four powerful tight ends). Shaw noted that the offensive line, which lost only one starter this offseason, is far ahead of where it was at this point last year.

The power Cardinal have a powerful arsenal offensively, and they're counting on Hogan to deliver consistent play to glue it all together. For the first time since Andrew Luck roamed campus, in fact, Stanford appears to have fewer spring questions on offense than they do on the defensive side.

Assorted notes

  • Quarterback coach Tavita Pritchard said that backups Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst have not yet mastered the playbook. He did note that their athleticism and size (both appear fully physically developed) has impressed the Cardinal. Shaw hinted that a leader for the second-string spot probably won't emerge until August.

  • Nick Davidson, fresh off a stint with Stanford's basketball team, earned first team snaps at right tackle. Dave Bright played right guard next to him, while Johnny Caspers manned second-team center duties with Jesse Burkett out (illness). Caspers is expected to be in the thick of the right guard competition, as is Brendon Austin, who did not participate in practice.

  • Conrad Ukropina showed improved height on his kicks during the field-goal session.
Last week your humble Pac-12 Blog broke down the 2015 Pac-12 recruiting class and where those players came from. But those kinds of numbers always prompt more questions like: OK, this is one class, what about the last two classes? The last three? What about every class that each Pac-12 coach has signed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WASHINGTON HUSKIES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ranking the Pac-12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:25
AM ET
Our task today is a subjective one: Rank the head-coaching jobs in the Pac-12. Note: jobs, not individual coaches.

For me, this is like ranking my children. I love them all equally, however different they might be.

Let's take a gander at it.

1. USC: USC is arguably the nation's preeminent football program in terms of national and conference titles, award winners, All-Americans and NFL Hall of Famers. It's a big-stadium team, and its new football building is pretty freaking cool. Moreover, while there are great national programs with comparable -- or perhaps even superior -- traditions such as Alabama or Notre Dame, USC is in Los Angeles, which is infinitely cooler than Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and South Bend, Indiana.

2. Oregon: The Ducks rank No. 2 based on their steady rise to national prominence, as well as a seven-year run that ranks the program among the super-elite. Oh, and their facilities are sparkly.

3. UCLA: Nos. 1 and 2 are pretty obvious here. After that, things get pretty bunched up, but UCLA emerges in the coveted No. 3 spot because of its recent success under coach Jim Mora, which includes three consecutive wins over the Trojans. While the Rose Bowl is off campus, it's still the Rose Bowl, and its recent renovation gave it a considerable upgrade. It also appears that the school is finally investing in the program -- see a new football building on the way -- so it can debunk the notion it's a basketball school (the basketball team also is contributing to that cause). Further, Southern California's A-list prep talent means the Bruins can sustain success under the right coach -- read: Mora.

4. Arizona State: Todd Graham appears to have awoken a program that has long been termed a "sleeping giant." The school is in the process of upgrading Sun Devil Stadium, which is long overdue. There is also potential to continue to upgrade recruiting with a nice combination of location, weather and admission standards.

5. Washington: Obviously, we feel the Washington job has room to move up, as the program has just about everything, other than a recent run of success, to help it. There was a temptation to put Washington higher just because of the magisterial renovation of Husky Stadium.

6. Stanford: Ah, the subjectivity of this list. The Cardinal sit here in the middle of the pack in large part because of academic standards that most coaches would feel are highly unfavorable. David Shaw, a Stanford graduate, doesn't feel that way and has found ways to make it a recruiting benefit instead of a bane. Still, when a program can't even consider most of the ESPN 300 due to academics, that's a challenge for a coach.

7. California: While Berkeley is arguably the nation's best state university, it has been able to get "special admits" to the football program through the years, which was particularly a boon to former coach Jeff Tedford. It appears things are a bit tougher for third-year coach Sonny Dykes. Still, there's good talent available in Northern California and the facilities are A-list. No reason the Golden Bears can't regain the traction they once had under Tedford.

8. Arizona: Arizona has upgraded its facilities and is on an uptick under Rich Rodriguez. Still, most view Arizona as a basketball-first school, and the historical success of both programs supports that perception. Of course, if Rodriguez gets the Wildcats to the Rose Bowl for the first time and eclipses rival Arizona State on the field on a consistent basis, Arizona would move up.

9. Utah: The teams from here and down on this list find themselves hit for at least one of two reasons: (1) stadium size/attendance; (2) winning. Utah is on the uptick on the latter, which is why it ranks ahead of the others. It has also experienced the most recent national relevance, though not as a member of the Pac-12.

10. Oregon State: The Beavers typically found a way to win under Mike Riley, but the program -- other than a charmed 2000 season under Dennis Erickson -- has not been able to take substantial and consistent steps toward national relevance. We do take note that when Riley bolted for Nebraska, the Beavers were able to impressively lure Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin. If Andersen makes Oregon State a nine- or 10-win team, the Beavers will move up.

11. Colorado: Though its time in the Pac-12 has been miserable, Colorado has solid tradition -- highlighted by a split national championship in 1990 -- and Boulder, Colorado, is among the nation's very best college towns. That said, the facilities and administrative commitment have lagged behind other programs in college football's arms race. The losing is an issue as well.

12. Washington State: The Cougars have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997 -- how many other programs can say that? So it's a fact that the right coach can win at Washington State. Still, when the wins aren't coming, it becomes relevant to note the size of Martin Stadium and the isolation of Pullman, Washington. As noted by alumnus Kyle Bonagura, Washington State is the Pac-12's most challenging job.
Stanford will have to overcome a myriad of questions if it is to prove that 2014's five-loss campaign was just a temporary tumble from college football's elite. But on the first day of 2015 spring practice, David Shaw embraced the skepticism coming his program's way.

"I love it," he said. "There's a hunger now. As much as we try not to worry about what other people say about us, it's nice when people talk about our conference and don't talk about us. Our guys get a little upset. I think that's great."

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Barry Sanders
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsQB Kevin Hogan and RB Barry Sanders return to lead the Stanford offense.
The Cardinal enjoyed an offensive resurgence to end 2014, but there are questions about their attack's ability to sustain that success for an entire season. Meanwhile, the core of Stanford's vaunted defense has been completely gutted. Shaw's club must replace all three starting defensive linemen from last season.

Winter training, which took place over the course of the past two months, was the first step in the Cardinal's reloading effort. Players say that sports performance coordinator Shannon Turley refined the program this year, and the changes helped infuse a fresh sense of accountability following disappointment in 2014.

"No one can half-ass a rep," quarterback Kevin Hogan said.

Monday's practice practice was Stanford's first chance to work out under full supervision of the coaching staff. While workout strain had been the dominant theme of January and the first half of February, the complete football package has now returned to the forefront. Shaw indicated that he was pleased with Stanford's communication on the first non-padded day of practice.

"There's a lot to compete for," he said. 'There'll be a lot of questions people have about us, and our guys are eager to answer those."

Here are some early returns:

The questions to answer

  • Stanford is dealing with a smattering of injuries and absences in spring practice, and those further complicate the challenges facing the Cardinal. Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu and cornerback Ronnie Harris, the two most experienced members of their respective position groups, will both miss spring practice due to injury. That sets the table for potentially wild competition in the trenches and in the secondary this spring: It'll be a free-for-all of unproven players battling for playing time at those positions. Shaw noted that Luke Kaumatule will shift between outside linebacker and defensive end (in nickel situations), movement that could be a fitting illustration of what is -- at this point -- an unsettled defense. "We have talented young defensive linemen that we're excited to see play," Shaw said. "But they've got a lot to learn."

  • Running back Remound Wright will miss the first half of spring practice because of a disciplinary issue, leaving Stanford with only two scholarship backs -- Christian McCaffrey and Barry Sanders -- at the moment. Shaw said that fullbacks Pat Skov (when he returns from injury) and Daniel Marx will receive single-back carries, which seems indicative of Stanford's hunger for a power runner.

  • Hogan is clearly Stanford's man at quarterback, but Shaw said that both Keller Chryst and Ryan Burns will receive first team chances as they compete for the backup job.

College football's top 24 jobs

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
2:11
PM ET

We've reached the final day of our project ranking each of the 65 college football jobs at the Power 5 level.

The central question to file away: If every Power 5 job came open tomorrow, which would be the most desirable? On the other side, which would be least appealing? (And everything in between.)

So who's it going to be? Which program will be deemed our No. 1 gig? Alabama? Texas? USC? Another school?

Though every coach weighs things differently -- that's why it's such a subjective, hot-button topic for debate -- the criteria are roughly the same.

The list includes factors such as location, administrative stability, support from those bosses, facilities, recruiting base, path to conference titles/playoff, sense of tradition, fervor of fan base, too much fervor from a fan base, etc.

We hope and believe we have provided an intelligent and accurate overview of the jobs in college football, from worst to best. We've also received feedback from various coaches and industry sources to help shape these rankings.

Previous rankings: The bottom of the barrel | The middle of the road

Tier 4: The Not-quites

Established brands in their respective leagues -- but is there a certain ceiling that will stop these programs from reaching the top shelf?

24. Wisconsin
Just a couple of months ago, this job might have been a tick or two higher. But Gary Andersen bolting for Oregon State -- the No. 50 program on this list -- shined a light on potential administrative woes in Madison. Andersen complained that assistants were not being paid market value and that an unnecessary admission standard was hampering his ability to get in even marginal academic risks. "We have no speed," Andersen told me in late November. "Our fastest players are walk-ons -- and Melvin Gordon. Thank God for Melvin Gordon." His successor, Paul Chryst, was at Wisconsin previously as an assistant, so he surely understands the pluses and minuses of being the Badgers' head man. He's not entering as blindly as Andersen, coming from Utah State, had. Could the situation be better? Probably. Is it as dire as Andersen made it seem? No, probably not. Look at the teams Wisconsin is being asked to compete against in the Big Ten West. Do Iowa or Nebraska have an inherent competitive advantage, really? Even last season, despite all the "adversity," Wisconsin still won the division. (Thank God for Melvin Gordon?)

The program has a solid reputation nationally, built up for years thanks in large part to the work of former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez. There were some questions about whether Alvarez's larger-than-life presence was part of the reason for Andersen's departure, but Andersen told me point-blank in November that Alvarez had been a good boss. Camp Randall Stadium is one of the better home environments in the Big Ten. Now nearly 100 years old, it has held up well; a $100 million project completed in 2005 has helped keep it modern. The coaches' and players' facilities have seen some upgrades in recent years. Last but not least: Madison is one of the better college towns in the country, so long as it's warm. If the administration proves to be a bit more flexible, understanding that it needs to keep with the times in college football, this could easily move back toward being a top-15 job.


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College football's vast middle

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
12:36
PM ET
Monday, we started our journey ranking each of the 65 Power 5 jobs. Today's installment includes college football's middle tier.

The central question to file away: If every Power 5 job came open tomorrow, which would be the most desirable? On the other side, which would be least appealing? (And everything in between.)

Though each coach sees things differently -- that's why it's such a subjective, hot-button topic for debate -- the criteria is roughly the same.

The list includes location, administrative stability, support from those bosses, facilities, recruiting base, path to conference titles/playoff, sense of tradition, fervor of fan base, too much fervor from a fan base ...

We hope and believe we have provided an intelligent and accurate overview of the jobs in college football, from worst to best.

To see the bottom rung of college football, click here.

Tier 7: The Underdogs

Some spunky, competitive programs the past decade or so, despite resource and location deficiencies compared to their peers.

47. Utah
Our perceptions have been shaped in part because of the recent squabbles between coach Kyle Whittingham and the school's administration, and they're worth noting, but stop to think about how far Utah has come in a short period of time. Urban Meyer's 22-2 record from 2003-04 had a great deal to do with Utah's vault into college football consciousness, even as a non-AQ at the time. The eventual move to the Pac-12 was vitally important for remaining relevant in the College Football Playoff era, but the jump has led to some of the growing pains you're now seeing. The administration might not have fully grasped what it was going to take to compete on the highest level. The athletic department's budget is in the bottom third of the league. Will the school adjust? If not, Whittingham will be gone (he nearly was already) and Utah will remain near the bottom of the conference.


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Stanford coach David Shaw joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss the Cardinal's 2015 recruiting class and its top positional needs heading into the spring.
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