Tag Archives: Pac-12 Conference

Questions Remain Despite Arizona State Beating California

To predict how an Arizona State football season will end up you might want to call a psychic into your house. The moment you think the team is good, they disappoint. When they actually fly under the radar they end up being a quality team. What do we have in Tempe?

What the Sun Devils are is still a mystery to me. Entering their game with the California Golden Bears, the Sun Devils were 3-0 and looking for more. That’s right, the Sun Devils had not been beaten yet.

Getting to 3-0 had not come easy for the Sun Devils, but by no means does this mean that the Devils are a lock for a post-season bowl game. This Sun Devil team is a “bend, but don’t break” type of team. With a legit quarterback in Davis Webb for California, the defense had its challenge right in front of it.

Defense wins games right? Right now, I would settle for a Sun Devil defense making a stop or two.

The Sun Devil defense had to make stops against California. Sonny Dykes has that Chip Kelly quality with running plays at the speed of light, but does not have Kelly’s flare. With that in mind, it was imperative that the Devils defense kept up with the California offense.

On California’s second possession of the night, it exposed the middle of the Sun Devil defense, which has been a problem. Davis Webb torched the defense and got the Bears up 7-0.

This game had the feel of the Sun Devil and Texas Tech game, but sometimes the feel of the game doesn’t happen for a while.

It wasn’t exactly like the Texas Tech game, but both teams tried to put the hurt on each other. California’s Davis Webb is a bona fide pro prospect with how he can throw the ball. I was immensely impressed with how he tossed it around the field. He had 234 yards of passing in the first half and his team was up 24-10.

Arizona State didn’t look interested in the first half and it showed. California seemed like it had control of the game, but looks can be deceiving.

It’s always amazing how the flow of a game can change with a couple of stops on defense, yet the game still up in the air. Stopping the air attack from the Golden Bears was the key to any success the Sun Devils would have on Saturday night.

By the end of the third quarter, the Sun Devils had fought their way back to within one possession.

Arizona State showed its critics that it had some fight, however it still had a hill to climb.

The fourth quarter is where the rubber hits the road in a close game. Unfortunately for the California Golden Bears, they were the ones who got run over.

With defensive stops, interceptions, and Manny Wilkins making some key passes, the Sun Devils turned a sluggish start into a Sun Devil monsoon at the end.

The Sun Devil defense does have holes in it, but it made the plays down the stretch. Don’t get me wrong, they still gave up 41 points, which something that has to be solved. However, they were a big part of this 51-41 win over California.

Say what you want about Arizona State. It is 4-0 heading into its games with the USC Trojans and then the UCLA Bruins. This game was a confidence boost for the Sun Devils. They have to figure out how to be more consistent on defense and not as sluggish to start games. They fix those two things and who knows what happens.

Well, the psychic might. Forks Up, Sun Devil fans.

Email Mike at [email protected] or follow Mike on Twitter @pigskinopinion

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The Stanford Cardinal is the Big Dog in the Pac-12

We are beginning conference play in college football now. In the Pac-12, the Stanford Cardinal is showing why it’s their conference to lose.

They are still my top team in the Pac-12, by far. They have already used their bye week in week two. That extra time allowed them to get ready for USC. The extra time gained was put to good use. Stanford made the Trojans look like a team that didn’t know what they were doing on the field.

Christian McCaffrey is up to his usual game day highlights. I don’t think there is a defense in the Pac-12, or the country, that can shut this guy down. McCaffrey had 265 all-purpose yards against the Trojans, but it could have been much more. Having stats like those is becoming the norm for him. Coming into the Pac-12 season, head coach David Shaw was adamant about using his star player in different ways, but didn’t want to overuse him.

“We plan to get Christian the ball whenever and however we can. We have many sets that we plan to use to utilize his talents,” Coach Shaw said at the Pac-12 Media Days.

Shaw is becoming a master at getting his star player the ball. He’s used him in the backfield, slot, out on the perimeter, punt return, and kick-off return. If he could play defense, Coach Shaw would use McCaffrey there as well.

Players of Christian McCaffrey’s caliber don’t come along very often, but when they do they are fun to watch.  Going into his sophomore season I talked about him as a potential play-maker for the Cardinal. However, nobody foresaw the type of play-maker he has become. He has exceeded all expectations set forth by his coaches and it has allowed Stanford to reach heights only dreamed of before.

However, football is not a one-man show. Behind every great team is a great coach.

The other part of the equation for Stanford has been head coach David Shaw. Coach Shaw has a vision for his program and he doesn’t waver from it. He goes after players that fit that vision, but doesn’t stray from the vision he has.

“If a player doesn’t fit the culture we have at Stanford. He’s not for us,” Shaw said recently.

In my opinion, David Shaw is the best coach in the Pac-12 and possibly the entire country. Sorry, Alabama fans.

Shaw has shown that he is flexible in his offensive and defensive schemes. He’s not afraid to be different from the rest of the Pac-12 Conference. While Stanford is known for its physical play and pound the ball type of offense, it has shown that running some tempo offense is not out of its repertoire.

“Most people don’t know about the speed we have on this team. It’s an overlooked facet of our team. We have people that can flat out fly down the field. We would be crazy not to take advantage of the speed we have,” Shaw said.

Coach Shaw has a monster growing in Palo Alto, so he will continue to feed the beast at Stanford to make them the class of the West Coast.

Rumors swirl every year that he might leave for the NFL. He isn’t going anywhere, so keep wishing NFL fans. Stanford is full of intelligent people and to let David Shaw escape campus would be the worst move the school could make.

With the coaching ability of David Shaw and the playmaking ability of Christian McCaffrey it is little wonder why the Stanford Cardinal is the big dog of the Pac-12 Conference.

 

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China is a Bad Match for the Pac-12

The recent business pulled from North Carolina due to a transgender law on the books brought up a question about the Pac-12. If the social justice warriors are so upset about the law in North Carolina, what about the Pac-12 doing business with China?

People get behind things that fit their own personal narrative about what is right and wrong. However, when it comes to China people see business and money, not social justice.

If you follow world politics, you know that China is one of the biggest human rights violators. China is a communist country for those of you that conveniently forget that. They also provide a ton of business for the United States. Thus, the crux of the question with China.

The Pac-12 is no different from any other entity, it is looking to expand its brand in this new global economy. While I am all for the Pac-12 expanding its brand and making money,  doing it in China is a bad idea.

I have many questions about this expansion of brand.

What is the end game of these dealings in China? How much is the league spending on this Asian adventure? Do the human rights violations mean anything to anybody?

It is something that does confuse me.

Larry Scott calls this branding expansion a Global Initiative.

“It’s about international brand building, engagement and relationship development. Asia is globally significant to us,” Scott said.

Last year, when the Washington Huskies and the Texas Longhorns had a basketball game in China, the importance of China was clearly shown by university presidents.

David Pershing, the University of Utah President went with the Pac-12 contingent to China for that basketball game. His team wasn’t even involved in the game.

Why would Pershing come along? University presidents see a population that could possibly attend and spend money at their school. Once again, the bottom line is what they see.  They don’t see what the Chinese government does to its citizens.

I understand the attraction of China. It’s a market with a billion people, but it is a market that is suppressed by the government.

Doing business in China means doing business with the Chinese government. The same government that squashed a pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989. People stood in front of tanks, sacrificed their lives, and the lives of their families by taking a stand against their government.

One of the things that the Pac-12 prides itself on is being transparent in its business dealings. Well, excuse me if I don’t buy the transparency part when you crawl into bed with the Chinese.

The conference spent approximately $726,000 on these Global Initiatives in China. Shouldn’t this amount of money be put towards fighting human rights violations in China?

If you want a true Global Initiative, that would be a good one to start for the Pac-12.

I think the conference presidents would benefit more from that with their students, instead of spending that money on athletics.

The Pac-12 Conference should be about what is good for the whole, not just itself. By telling China thanks, but no thanks, you tell other businesses that human rights are more important. Money takes a back seat to what benefits society.

While we throw our monetary condemnation on North Carolina for having a ridiculous law, we need to have the same reaction when we go over to China to do business. If Chinese officials want the business of the Pac-12, they need to show that they are serious about being fair to their own citizens.

However, that won’t happen. Money is what college athletics is about and that will not change anytime soon.

The Chinese will continue to do what they do and the Pac-12 will continue to turn a blind eye to human rights in China.

 

E-mail Mike Wilson at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

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Jim Mora Isn’t Afraid of the Challenge at College Station and that’s Refreshing to Hear

Being able to talk to coaches during game week is something that many media types enjoy because of possible story lines being made. It can also very mundane because all you get is “coach speak”. Coaches are going to let you know what they want you to know and dodge any tough question. With that being said, the Pac-12 had their weekly conference call on Tuesday.

The coaches were talking in general terms, but there were a couple coaches that were not afraid of being up front about things. Hearing that confidence was like getting a nice, cool breeze on your face in the summer.

What was said during this conference call?

Let’s start with the biggest name in the conference. USC.

The USC Trojans have the most difficult schedule in the country. They are lining up against National Champion Alabama. Head coach Clay Helton is very familiar with the OC of the Crimson Tide Lane Kiffin and what he likes to do. According to Helton, he certainly is trying to use what he knows about Kiffin against him.

“Every team has tendencies. You try and find tendencies by groupings and personnel groupings. Lane has things he likes in short yardage, on the goal line, and between the 20’s. I’m looking forward to the chess match.” Helton said.

Through all the questions on Kiffin, Clay Helton let nothing but compliments fly out over the phone. No surprise there. Helton and Kiffin worked together. Lane Kiffin gave Clay Helton his shot at coaching at USC, so expecting anything but praise from Helton would be a surprise.

Washington head coach Chris Peterson has a team that is receiving a lot of hype was excited about getting the season started. I was expecting him to deflect the hype.

“We have talked about the hype. They know that we have to prove it on the field. We were only 7-6 last season and now we are supposed to be some great team. The players know the hype means nothing unless we show it on the field.”

With Peterson and his Husky squad fully taking on the hype, knowing it’s there, but realizing it means nothing is refreshing to see. There is talent on the Huskies, but they absolutely have to show it on the field. The number 14 ranking they got by the AP was too high in my opinion. That ranking was based on pure speculation that the talent they have takes the next step.

Prove me wrong Washington. I’d love to see a return of the Dawgs.

UCLA comes in as the favorite in the south division. Jim Mora is looking forward to the game with Texas A&M.

“Our young men love to compete. We are getting that opportunity on Saturday. An SEC environment, a chance to compete is what our guys are after. We want to take advantage of that.” Mora mentioned.

Mora’s Bruins do not want to back down from anybody this year. They know the target is on their back.  He is certainly putting it out there that his Bruins are not afraid about getting a tough first game.

If people think the Bruins will be bothered by the noise at College Station, think again. Dealing with noise is nothing new for UCLA.

“Oregon, Arizona, and Washington all have some of the best stadiums in terms of crowd noise, so College Station won’t be anything new for us.” Mora explained.

“The players know that College Station is going to be loud, but we practice with noise to try and help with communication.” Mora said.

Mora is doing his part to make sure his team is ready for the challenge of an SEC team.

Coaches don’t let anything out of the bag on a game week and hearing them talk about their upcoming games that was evident.

However, I liked how both Chris Peterson of Washington and Jim Mora of UCLA were straightforward in their answers about the season. They both had a matter-of-fact tone in their voices.

Dodging questions about your opponent or not saying what you think about your chances in a particular game is pretty stupid. Don’t be afraid of bulletin board material.

Putting up bulletin board material up for the other team is overrated to me. Fans and media make too much about that. Peterson and Mora sound like they expect to win and really are not afraid to say so. I like it when coaches show the confidence in their team. A little bravado doesn’t hurt anybody.

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The 2016 Pac-12 Champion Will Be One of These Two Teams Not Named USC

Winning the Pac-12 Conference in football is a difficult thing to accomplish. The conference is known for being one that eat its own, and this year won’t be any different. The question that gets asked this time of year is who will be playing for the Pac-12 Championship?

Stanford and UCLA will be the two teams left standing at the end of the season.

Why?

Stanford

Stanford returns to the title game after winning the Pac-12 title in 2015. Under head coach David Shaw, the Cardinal has won conference titles, gone to three Rose Bowl’s, and was very close to squeezing into college football playoff. The experience of this success will be something for Stanford to rely on in 2016. Experience counts for something in football and Stanford has experience in spades.

Christian McCaffrey will have something to say about the Cardinal getting to the title game. McCaffrey is coming off a season that was one for the record books, but he will be will looking to show that 2015 was not a fluke.

Coach David Shaw has one plan.

“We will get Christian the ball as much as humanly possible. We would be crazy to think otherwise.” Shaw explained at the Pac-12 Media Days in July.

The other part of Stanford that I believe will help them return to the Pac-12 title game is their ability to line up and smash teams. The Pac-12 is a finesse conference, so having the ability to line up and act like an SEC team is advantageous for them.

Stanford is replacing a couple of players on the offensive line, but they have shown that they can find big, tough guys for the offensive line and it works.

Being in the Pac-12 North will be tough on Stanford. They have to play at Oregon, at Washington, and Washington State at home. Nothing easy there. Plus they have to travel to Notre Dame, so that’ll be another challenge.

However, when it’s all said and done, the Stanford Cardinal will be the representative from the North Division.

UCLA

The Bruins come into this season as one of the teams that has a returning quarterback, and at this level that means a hell of a lot.

Josh Rosen is becoming a household name, and if he leads the Bruins to a conference championship he becomes a nationwide name. Rosen is the biggest key to the Bruins chances in the Pac-12 South.

Josh Rosen is easily the most talented Bruin, but he’s not the only talent on the offensive side of the ball for the Bruins.

Rosen has a talented trio of running backs that will provide much-needed punch to the offense. Keep your eye on Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks, and Bolu Olorunfunmi. There is plenty of speed between the three of those players to create problems for the opposing team.

UCLA will be the winners in the South because of Rosen and the ability of the offensive line to protect him. There are some new faces on the line, but Texas transfer Jake Raulerson joins the Bruins this season to solidify the o-line.

The schedule for the Bruins is one that works well for them. They avoid Oregon and Washington, but have to face Stanford, USC, Utah, and Arizona at home. Three those four teams are South division teams, so those wins are crucial.

UCLA has the talent, schedule, and quarterback to get them to the Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford.

Pac-12 Champion

Stanford wins the conference title again with Christian McCaffrey as the best all-around player in the country, a tough offensive line, and the best coach in the Pac-12 in David Shaw. I trust what Coach Shaw is doing with his program. Shaw’s results speak for themselves. UCLA is talented and has the best quarterback in the conference with Josh Rosen. However, Stanford just has more experience, toughness, and talent right now than UCLA. Stanford beats UCLA 45-21.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

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Brady White can Energize the Arizona State Fan Base

The Arizona State Sun Devils are in the exact opposite position that they found themselves in at this point last season. In 2015 the Devils had an established quarterback ready to go, but with three weeks to go before the 2016 opener against Northern Arizona University they have yet to name their starting quarterback.

New offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has to make a decision quickly, in my honest opinion. The sooner the offense can get used to a voice in the huddle and leader on the field, the better it’ll be for the Sun Devils.

There are three candidates that Lindsey has to choose from. They are sophomore Manny Wilkins, true freshman Brady White, and sophomore Bryce Perkins. However, with Perkins dealing with an injury, Lindsey’s choice is only between Wilkins and White.

With one of his choices being a true freshman, the coaching staff might be willing to have a go at the two-quarterback system if either player doesn’t separate themselves in fall camp. Going with a two-quarterback system is a recipe for disaster.

If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback, because part of football is building consistency within the team. By possibly changing quarterbacks every other series, the consistency is lost for an offense that needs to establish itself as quickly as possible.

True freshman Brady White is the best option for the coaching staff to go with.

White is one of the most highly recruited players to ever don a Sun Devil uniform, and head coach Todd Graham has every reason to be impressed with the albeit young quarterback.

As Graham explained at media day, “He’s confident, mature, and highly intelligent. You don’t have to remind him about what needs to be done with every play.”

For only being 18 years of age, this is high praise coming for Graham. White is also a highly competitive player who’s not going to take a back seat to anybody on the field. When I asked him what could separate him from the other quarterbacks, he was very matter-of-fact.

“I have that next level quarterback mentality. I am confident in my abilities and I want to succeed on this level.” White said.

This is the self-confidence that is needed on this Sun Devil team and it’s something that White learned from watching last year’s starter, Mike Bercovici.

“He (Bercovici) never doubted himself even when things were not going well for him or the team. He had full confidence in what he was doing. I want to be like that.” White said during the ASU media day.

White will commit mistakes like all freshmen quarterbacks tend to do, but if the coaches are committed to letting him learn from those freshman moments, the team and White will benefit in long run.  Arizona State needs a jump start to the program and a way to keep the fan base interested and a young, confident quarterback is exactly the type of player who can energize the fan base.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

The Washington Huskies’ Bark is Worse than its Bite

Hype can be a dangerous thing for any football team. It can motivate a team to loftier goals or it can do just the opposite. Hype causes expectations to get raised by the media, fans, and players. The 2016 Pac-12 Conference team that is receiving hype is the Washington Huskies. Have the Huskies done something to deserve the hype? Can they live up to the hype or will they wilt under this new pressure?

I don’t think the hype is warranted for the Huskies.

First of all, the Huskies have not beaten a team of consequence in the Pac-12. Beat an Oregon, a UCLA, Stanford, and I’ll buy into the hype that a lot of people want to throw upon Washington. The program has lost 12 straight to the Ducks and with the game being in Eugene this year, that streak doesn’t appear to be ending. Stanford is favored to win the conference, so that’ll be a game in which getting a win will be tough. UCLA has probably the best quarterback in the conference and that’ll make defeating the Bruins that much harder.

The Huskies did beat USC last season, but beating the drama filled Trojans last season isn’t saying much.

Here’s why I don’t trust the Huskies and all this hype. In one possession games last season, they were 1-3, with the lone win being over USC. However, when you take into account the six other top-50 programs that were on the schedule they were a dismal 0-6. Washington was competitive in those games, but being competitive is one thing, while actually winning those games is something totally different.

Win those games this year and I’ll climb on board the Husky train. Until then, I don’t think so.

The hype has surrounded their young quarterback Jake Browning, but putting this pressure on Browning can actually work against his development. If things start going south for him it could get ugly. Young quarterbacks start forcing things into tight windows on their throws and doing things that they are not ready to do. Browning is good, but being ready to lead can be a difficult thing for any quarterback. He needs to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump for Washington to make believers out of more than their fans.

Do the Huskies have some nice pieces? Absolutely, but these pieces don’t warrant Pac-12 Championship talk. At least not yet.

Having seen them in person against Arizona State last season I certainly saw the potential with the team. Washington was as athletic as anybody, but their youth was evident. Turnovers and penalties helped destroy what would have been a nice road win.  The good, young skill players that they have still needed some seasoning.

Chris Peterson spoke of this breakthrough moniker at the Pac-12 football Media Days. He compared the hype surrounding his team to the new Pokemon game that is taking over everyone’s phone.

“We’re amused-that’s probably the best word-that we continually get better every single week with doing nothing. We have as much hype as the new Pokemon game that nobody knows anything about, but thinks is really cool.” Peterson said.

Peterson has a point. The Huskies are coming off a season where the record was only 7-6. He seems a bit befuddled about why his team is getting this love.

“We want to get out there, and get better, and we want to get a chance to go prove that we’re getting better.” Coach Peterson explained at the Pac-12 Media Days.

At the end of the day, the Huskies have a tough road ahead of them in the Pac-12 North division. They have to battle two of their biggest rivals in Oregon and Washington State. The Huskies also have to contend with Stanford as well. Washington has to beat two out of these three teams to legitimately have a shot at the division crown.

The Washington Huskies may be the hyped Pac-12 team going into the season, but don’t expect the hype to be fulfilled.

 

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Pac-12 Football Media Days

A media day can be an interesting thing to attend or it can digress into a couple days of coach and player speak. Coaches know what they want the media to know and the players have been told what to focus on in their interviews. This was certainly the case here in Hollywood, California for the Pac-12 Football Media Days.

State of the Conference

The Pac-12 Media Days in Hollywood began with a “state of the conference” speech from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. Will Scott get hammered on the conference’s television contract, Directv, or nine-game schedule?

Not really.

Larry Scott discussed, with pride, the amount of athletes going to the Rio Olympics from the conference. He also was boastful about the new venture with Twitter which will expand their streaming capabilities and give fans of the Pac-12 something new to use when looking for highlights of their favorite Pac-12 team. There will also be more technology streaming with Facebook Live and putting all 12 conference teams on a conference YouTube channel. It’s obvious that they are taking to technology advances and trying to use it to their advantage to bring in more Pac-12 fans.

With Silicon Valley being physically in the lay of the conference, the Pac-12 should be doing what it is doing with technology. It’s an absolute no-brainer for the conference and for their fans.

Once Larry Scott was finished it was onto the run of coaches for this first day of Pac-12 Football Media Days.

Arizona Wildcats

Rich Rodriguez was in the leadoff position and was still in vacation mode when he took the microphone.

“I’d rather still be on vacation for another week than be here. Let’s get this rolling,” Rodriguez quipped.

One of the focuses for Arizona is to keep quarterback Anu Solomon healthy and to get more consistency from him. When asked, Rich Rodriguez agreed.

“Anu is getting better but we need more consistency from him and we are also going to put more responsibility on him this season,” Rodriquez stated.

California Golden Bears

Next up was California head coach Sonny Dykes.

Dykes seemed most pleased with his players raising their grades on the APR of the team than anything. Which, in and of itself, is a great thing to hear from a major college football coach these days.

Dykes mentioned that they have to overcome losing the talented Jared Goff. He mentioned that quarterback position is still open and will continue to be through the first week or two of camp. His staff will make a decision on the position around then.

It might have been kind of tough for Sonny Dykes to follow a gregarious guy in Rich Rodriguez and be the guy before Clayton Helton of USC.

USC Trojans

Clay Helton took to the microphone and it seemed like all of the media was upon him. It was like sharks circling their prey.

One thing you get real quick about Helton is that when you listen to him speak, you get a sense that he wants to be on the field playing. I certainly would want to be a young player at USC playing for him.

Being a part of USC means you have to come to work every day because of the amount of talent that is seeping from the program.

“You come to USC to compete. We play in a playoff system world. You’re building your resume when you come to USC.” Helton said.

When asked about the pressures of being at USC, he simply said he will gladly take it.

“If you don’t want the pressure, don’t take the job,” Helton told the hordes of reporters surrounding him.

Like many other conference schools, he is dealing with a quarterback issue between Max Browne and Sam Darnold. According to Helton, it’s a very open competition right now and won’t be decided until the last couple weeks of fall camp.

Oregon Ducks

“Win the day” is the saying at Oregon, but can they win the conference? Can they win their division? Many people believe its Stanford’s conference this year, yet head coach Mark Helfrich doesn’t seem to care.

“We have to worry about watching enough film to have a good practice and game. We don’t worry about rankings. It’s not our focus,” Helfrich explained.

The Ducks have a quarterback battle going on as well. Helfrich still calls it an open competition, however, I still think it’ll be Dakota Prukop winning the starting position.

Washington State Cougars

Mike Leach is probably the most entertaining coach of this day. Usually the coach has some opening remarks for the assembled media, but not Leach.

“If you know me at all, you know I don’t do opening remarks. Let’s get this thing rolling,” Leach said.

He is just a guy who speaks his mind, whether or not the media or fans like it. He doesn’t care.

Leach has quarterback Luke Falk coming back and when asked about what he needs to see out of Falk this year, the answer was simple.

“Consistency. He’s not a guy that has a glaring weakness anywhere, but consistency is needed,” Leach said.

The Cougars will be challenging everybody this year and could even be considered a dark horse in the division. With a talented quarterback and guys at the skill positions who are threats, Leach could lead this team to something special.

Utah Utes

Kyle Whittingham of Utah was the last to appear on the media stage. He lost Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker to graduation and the NFL, so those positions are a concern.

“We got to get the quarterback position question resolved. It’ll be an open competition entering fall camp,” Whittingham explained.

Whittingham likes how his team has gradually got better every year they have been in the Pac-12 and he doesn’t expect that to change.

I don’t expect that to change either. If ever there was guy to weather a big change in his football program, it is certainly Kyle Whittingham.

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Pac-12 Links: Arizona, California, and USC Quarterback Issues

The USC Trojans typically get a ton of love from writers, whether it’s actually deserved or not. The Arizona Wildcats get dismissed quickly until they prove they deserve different. And, the California Golden Bears are not even in the discussion unless they have a number one draft pick at quarterback. What do all three of these teams have to do to get into and to stay in the discussion for a bowl or conference title for 2016? Let’s take a look.

Arizona

This program won the Pac-12 South division in 2014, but took a dive last season. A big part of that dive last year was due to injuries to key players like Anu Solomon and Scooby Wright.

Arizona is one of those football programs that takes a backseat to their basketball program. They have won in the past, but not to the level that would create a buzz every time a new season is on the horizon. How do they get back to what they were in 2014?

Somehow, someway, the Wildcats coaching staff has to come up with a way to keep Anu Solomon off of his back. Do they venture away from the read-option and try develop Solomon as a better pocket passer? I would.

I know the read-option is the fashionable kind of offense, and there are aspects of it that I like, but if you want to have a solid quarterback, you have to develop his pocket presence. I’m not convinced he knows how to break down a defense at the line of scrimmage yet and he’s going to be a true junior this season. This will be something I’ll be watching this year.

A player to watch in case Anu Solomon gets injured: Brandon Dawkins.

Dawkins is a big -framed player who has a big arm which means he can throw the deep ball. The deep ball is something that Solomon can’t do, so if he struggles, look for Dawkins to come in and lead the offense.

California

In the post-Jared Goff era, questions abound in Berkley. Who is going to lead the offense? One of the possibilities is Davis Webb, the Texas Tech transfer. Webb originally transferred from Colorado, but when head coach Sonny Dykes came calling, Webb changed his mind and enrolled at California.

With Webb on the roster what does this mean? Does Webb automatically take over the offense and become the starter? Possibly, but nothing is guaranteed in college football. Does it mean that Sonny Dykes already has a starter in mind and will have Webb as their capable backup? Again, possibly.

My thought is that Dykes will go with the proven commodity in Webb. Having played in the wide-open offense of Texas Tech, the transition to Sonny Dykes open offense should not be much of problem. Anytime you switch schools and have to learn a new offense, growing pains will occur.

Part of me says that this is Sonny Dykes trying to figure out who is going to give him the best chance of winning games in 2016. Webb may be that guy and if he doesn’t take advantage of Webb’s game experience then he may not have the chance to figure it out next season.

USC

In the City of Angels, the question about who will play quarterback is at the top of everybody’s list.

Clay Helton may not have a bigger question in his first full year as the head coach of USC. What are his choices?

Coach Helton has a choice between junior Max Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. Browne is the presumptive nominee to take over the quarterback position for the Trojans, but did not separate himself from the Darnold during spring ball.

Both quarterbacks have the “look” of what coaches want. Max Browne is 6’5”, 220lb, and supposedly has a great arm. Sam Darnold is 6’4”, 215lbs, with a good, accurate arm and has something that Browne doesn’t. Darnold has mobility to help extend plays and put additional pressure on defenses.

Who gets the starting Trojan quarterback job?

Max Browne will. I don’t think Clay Helton will put a redshirt freshman under center against Alabama. Helton doesn’t want to possibly ruin a young player’s confidence by having him destroyed by the Crimson Tide defensive line. Now, I am not saying that Max Browne won’t be spending a lot of time on his back, but he has a bit more maturity so the coaching staff may be counting on that to mean something in the early part of the year.

Final Thoughts

I have said over and over that this is a transitional year for the Pac-12 because of the turnover at the quarterback position. Out of the three schools discussed here, Arizona is the only school with a returning quarterback, but he has questions about his health. California and USC are looking for replacements for their NFL-bound former quarterbacks. What will happen is anybody’s guess, but if the coaching staffs are worth their salaries they will figure these questions out.

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The Face of the Pac-12: Christian McCaffrey or Josh Rosen?

When you think of your favorite conferences or teams in this country you usually associate a player with said conference or team. Many people like to call it “The Face of the Franchise.” It got me thinking about how that saying applies to football in the Pac-12 Conference? Who is the face of the Pac-12, Josh Rosen or Christian McCaffrey?

At first glance, you might say Christian McCaffrey due to his finishing second in the 2015 Heisman Trophy voting and the highlight reel he created in his record-setting season last year.

If you believe Josh Rosen is the face of the Pac-12 then you are probably thinking long-term because he’s only going to be a true sophomore in 2016. He plays in the entertainment capital of the world and the amount of publicity you can get when you’re good in Los Angeles is unparalleled. Rosen has created his own highlight reel as a true freshman, but is it on the same level as McCaffrey’s?

What about Heisman Trophy possibilities for 2016?

Both of these players have a shot at winning the Heisman Trophy, but to different degrees.

Let’s start with Josh Rosen.

Rosen was the number one quarterback coming out of high school in 2014 and won the starting quarterback position at UCLA. Hcertainly proved to be worth the risk of starting a true freshman at, arguably, the most important position on a football team. The success of Rosen last season should have head coach Jim Mora excited about the prospect of an even better season in 2016.

The Bruins were 4-0 out of the gate last season, and while they did fade a little bit toward the end of the season, it was quite apparent that Rosen was going to leave his imprint on the Pac-12 by the time he’s done.

Here’s the imprint he’s made so far.

Josh Rosen threw for 3,669 yards, 23 touchdowns, had a quarterback rating of 134, and earned First Team Freshman All-American honors.

He also showed that he had a big arm that is accurate downfield and the ability to break down opposing defenses. Here is the other aspect that will have Rosen’s name in the Heisman talk: He takes care of the ball. He had a streak of 245 consecutive passes without an interception last season.

For writers who are asleep by the time Rosen is on the field, that consecutive pass statistic will be something they latch onto when they look at whether or not Rosen should be a legitimate Heisman candidate.

To me, Rosen is a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Every Heisman winner has “Heisman moments/highlights” and Rosen will have to have those in 2016 to even have a shot at it.

Christian McCaffrey, like Rosen, comes into the 2016 season with impressive stats and a highlight reel that is second to none in college football.

Unlike Rosen, however, McCaffrey already is placed at the top of many Heisman Trophy voters’ lists.

What McCaffrey did in 2015 was nothing short of a phenomenal. He should have won the Heisman, period. He’s the most versatile player in the conference and you could make the argument that he is the most complete player in the country. Sorry Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State fans, if he were on your team you would believe the same thing as all of us on the West Coast.

To provide some context for why Christian McCaffrey is getting all this love, let me remind you of his statistics.

McCaffrey had 3,496 all-purpose yards (NCAA record), 2,019 rushing, 6.0 yards per carry, 645 yards receiving, 13 total touchdowns, and 832 yards on kick returns/punt returns. If there was ever a drop the mic moment for a player, this would be it.

What are the odds he gets the Heisman this season? Well, if you ask Vegas odds-makers, Christian McCaffrey is in third place with 6-1 odds. Good odds, but to win the Heisman he is going to have to show that he can replicate what he did last season. Does that mean he’ll do it? Not at all.

He’s not sneaking up on people like he did last season. Pac-12 defenses will be focusing in on him and scheming their defenses to stop him. Plus, there will be a new quarterback for the Cardinal. That will put even more pressure on McCaffrey to perform at a high level.

At the end of the day when you take a look at both Josh Rosen and Christian McCaffrey and try to figure out who is the face of the Pac-12 you go with Christian McCaffrey. People know of Josh Rosen, but I don’t think they look at him as appointment television just yet. He doesn’t yet have the highlights that Christian McCaffrey has.

When you make fans stand up every time you touch the ball, you have captured something with them.

Stanford is going to be on the t.v. quite a bit this season and it’s going to be because of one person: Christian McCaffrey, the face of the Pac-12 Conference.

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