Tag Archives: Rich Rodriguez

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 Coaching Hot Seats for the 2016 Season

The Pac-12 football schedule is a brutal one for it’s coaches. The conference schedule doesn’t really allow for any team to take a “week off” in terms of preparation because any team can be any team on any given Saturday. Besides the bye weeks, there are no weeks off for coaches and their teams due to the great competition.

The toll this competition takes on coaches is immense. It creates a precarious job situation for them because the pressure to win is always present. With that said, what are the Pac-12 coaching hot seats for 2016. Let’s take a look.

Rich Rodriguez

How close was Coach Rodriguez to leaving the University of Arizona last winter? I would say pretty close. The job offer from South Carolina was real and was for about $1.3 million more than he makes from the Wildcats. So, why would the seat be hot for him?

Well, he is coming off a year in which his program underperformed. Arizona won the Pac-12 South division in 2014, with a little help from UCLA, but wasn’t even close to winning the division in 2015.

Injuries to Anu Solomon and Scooby Wright III hindered the team for a good portion of the season. Not having a ton of experience on their second string hindered what the Wildcats could do on the field. It didn’t happen for the Wildcats.

That speaks to his recruiting job at Arizona. Rodriguez isn’t exactly getting the results out of the guys he has recruited to Arizona. Can he turn this trend around? It remains to be seen and I have my doubts due to my belief that his heart is at Arizona for the long-term.

I don’t think his seat his hot. It’s more of a warm seat than anything, but he certainly has something to prove in 2016.

Rodriguez has to show the fans that there is something to be excited about when they come to watch the Wildcats. There isn’t any excitement around the program coming into next year and that can be a very difficult thing to change, especially in the Pac-12.

I’m not sure if he senses this, but if he is already sniffing around at other jobs, another sub-par season at Arizona just may seal his fate with Wildcat Nation.

Todd Graham

Arizona State is bit of an enigma to many people because it should be a school that is easy to recruit to due to its great weather and shall we say, pretty people. However, one thing has severely lacked in the last 20 years or so: consistent winning. Winning does cure many ills with a program and ASU just has not had it.

Todd Graham comes in with his no nonsense discipline and changes the culture of the program after Dennis Erickson nearly left it in shambles. With a sub-par season in 2015, the Sun Devil faithful are looking at the program with a bit of skepticism. The Sun Devils ended last season with a thud by getting beat by West Virginia in the  Cactus Bowl held in Phoenix.  They were beat in their own backyard. It was not a good look for the program and it put them at 6-7 for the year.

The fans and administration want a return to what the program was trending toward at the end of 2014. The Sun Devils ended that year 10-3, and a bowl game win over a much-improved Duke program had Arizona State fans thinking that a possible playoff berth was in order.

Nope. It all came crashing down last year.

Graham has to right the ship to keep the heat off of him and his revamped staff. There were many changes to his staff last season and he has to get his staff all on the same page with what their goals will be, or 2016 could be even worse for the Sun Devil program.

Mark Helfrich

Is the run of winning big over for the Ducks? Many people are asking that question about mighty Oregon and they are turning their eyes right at Mark Helfrich.

The home-state guy who took over the program from Chip Kelly has certainly had some success. His Ducks made the first ever College Football Playoff. He had a Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariota. I believe he is a good coach, but he’s no Chip Kelly.

For as much hate as Chip Kelly took from the Oregon faithful over his lack of kissing the fans’ backsides, he did what no other coach has been able to do at Oregon. Win and win big. He developed players, especially quarterbacks, and that is something people are starting to question about Helfrich.

For two straight years, the Ducks have gone fishing into the lower division school pond to get their starting quarterback. Last year it was Vernon Adams. This year it’s Dakota Prukop.

Is Helfrich going to be able to maintain the level of expectations at Oregon by doing this? I don’t think so.

Oregon Duck fans are a fickle bunch and when things appear to be headed down they get real impatient with the coaches. They will voice displeasure loudly and repeatedly in any forum they can use.

Helfrich’s seat is not boiling hot, but it is certainly toasty.

With last season’s bowl game disaster against TCU still fresh in everybody’s mind, Coach Helfrich has to have his Ducks come out of the gate like gangbusters in 2016 and have some very dominating wins. Otherwise, his toasty seat becomes hot.

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Pac-12 Links: Tough Quarterback Decisions

Moving into the month of July, the curiosity factor with fans about their particular team gets a bit ramped up. Fans start looking forward to the start of camp.  Fall camp hasn’t started at all, but in the Pac-12 Conference there are a bunch of teams that still have lingering questions about their personnel. Let’s take a look at a few of those teams.

Arizona

Down in Tucson head coach Rich Rodriguez has to figure out how to keep his mobile quarterback, Anu Solomon, injury free. Much of last season for Solomon was spent on the sideline which left Arizona with an inexperienced threat under center.

Does Rodriguez adjust the playbook and not call plays that will put Solomon in harm’s way? It might be something that he’ll want to consider to keep his quarterback healthy. A healthy Anu Solomon gives the Wildcats a better chance at winning. Another 7-6 year is not going to cut it at Arizona. They want a winner yesterday.

During spring practice, Coach Rodriguez said he wanted back-up quarterback Brandon Dawkins to push Anu Solomon. However, Dawkins could push his way to the starting position. Dawkins is a big-armed, quick quarterback and showed some signs of brilliance against Arizona State in the season finale. He also could have a higher ceiling than Anu Solomon.

It’s going to be interesting in Tucson come fall camp. Don’t sleep on Brandon Dawkins.

Arizona State

This is a critical year for the Sun Devils and head coach Todd Graham. They are coming off a disappointing season in which they were picked to finish fairly high in the rankings and by a certain ESPN commentator to go to the playoff. We all know how that turned out. What do we know?

We know that questions about the quarterback situation are still not resolved. Coach Graham has not named a starter and likely will not until they are well into fall camp. Manny Wilkins and Bryce Perkins still seem the likely front runners to land the starting role, but it’s anybody’s guess. Sun Devil fans are simply hoping for a quick decision once camp gets rolling.

There had been talk of using the two-quarterback system, but that is something that should be steered away from. If you have two quarterbacks playing, you have no quarterback. Roles should be defined with the players, so here’s to hoping that Graham and new OC Chip Lindsey decide on somebody quickly.

Oregon State

What can you say about the program at Oregon State? Not much. Head coach Gary Andersen struggled to a 2-10 record in his first year. When Mike Riley left for Nebraska, he didn’t leave much in the cupboard for Andersen. What does Coach Andersen have to look forward to going into fall camp?

Coach Andersen is going to need at least another year to turn this rebuild around in Corvallis. He still has an extremely young team, but he does have something that he didn’t have in his first year. He has an experienced quarterback. Beaver fans are letting out a collective sigh of relief with that fact.

Darell Garretson is now the guy for the Beavers. He’s not a huge runner, but he is by far the most experienced quarterback on the roster. With that said, Garretson needs to stay healthy for Oregon State to have any chance at improving its win-loss record from 2015.

Garretson will have to get in sync with his two threats on the outside in Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin to create any kind of offensive efficiency for the Beavers. Bolden is the speed guy being only 5’9, 185lbs, but has good speed to give defenses some fits. Villamin is the size on the outside at 6’5”, 230lbs. Garretson will also have a huge tight end as well in Caleb Smith who is 6’6”, 265lbs. He certainly will be Garretson’s security blanket when things break down on offense.

All in all, it’s going to be another thin year in Corvallis, so Beaver fans, like myself, will have to temper their expectations for 2016.

Stanford

In this political season, Stanford would be considered the presumptive nominee to win the Pac-12 Conference in 2016. Why?

Head coach David Shaw and running back Christian McCaffrey are the solid pillars on the Cardinal team for this upcoming season. With all the good feeling that Coach Shaw has built up over the course of his reign over the Stanford program he does have some concerns for 2016.

As with many other Pac-12 schools he has to find a new field general at the quarterback position. With Kevin Hogan taking his talents to the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL the need to find another quarterback is glaring. Who is the heir apparent?

Most people have thought it will be Keller Chryst, with Ryan Burns being the back-up. That is basically the same thought now, but Burns showed that he has gained more confidence in his abilities. The spring game was a bit of an eye-opener for coaches in what they saw out of both of these quarterbacks.

Coach Shaw said both players did some very good things and did some not so good things, but one thing was apparent. Ryan Burns is going to push Keller Chryst for the starting position.

I believe that this race will eventually go to Chryst, but it will come down to the final week of practice. All eyes will be on this position battle and it will certainly be interesting to watch who wins out.

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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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Pac-12 Links: Players to Watch for in 2016

Every season there are a handful of players to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 and this year is no different. The following list is of players that I believe will have a great impact on how their particular team does during the 2016 season. The difference between teams winning and losing will be directly related to how these particular players perform during the season, so let’s take a look.

Royce Freeman

The Rolls Royce for the Oregon Ducks has certainly made his impression upon the Pac-12 Conference in his short career, but can he handle the load of the offense until Dakota Prukop feels like he has control of things with the fast-break Oregon offense?

Freeman is a freight train out of the backfield at 5’11”, 230lbs and is one of those running backs that loves contact. He does not run out of bounds, he lowers his shoulder to get those extra tough yards. During the past two seasons he has run for 3,201 yards on 535 carries and it begs the question what he can do to improve upon those gaudy stats?

“I don’t know, rush for 2,000 yards, score 30 touchdowns. He’s more seasoned. We expect big things from him.” Said Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell.

Freeman is trying to keep himself out of the limelight, but that will be virtually impossible to do based on his past success. Freeman is one of those players that I would certainly pay to see live because of the way he plays the game. He’s a team player and more worried about getting the win than getting personal statistics.

In a game with Arizona State last season, he only had 15 carries and finished with 112 yards rushing, but it was attitude after the triple overtime win that tells you all you need to know about him.

“I was just more focused on pass protection and things like that. It’s cool. We have other people that can go out and make plays.” Said Freeman after the Sun Devil game.

Keep your eye on this player, he deserves some of the Heisman talk that he is getting and his approach to the game says more about him as a player than his actual stats do.

Daryl Garretson

The Oregon State Beavers are looking to pick themselves up off the mat after a dismal two-win season in 2015. Last season the Beavers had a young, athletic, inexperienced quarterback at the helm.

This year?

They have Daryl Garretson, a junior transfer student from Utah State who takes over the Oregon State offense. The offense will look pretty familiar to him since he played for Beaver offensive coordinator, Kevin McGiven, at Utah State.

What does Garretson bring to the table?

He will bring a starter’s mentality to the huddle for the Beavers. By this I mean, he knows the offense, can check out of a play and get to a better one, he has confidence because he has started in college before, and he brings a certain amount of swag to the team that was lacking last season.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Beavers are winning the Pac-12 North or anything, but this does mean that they should be in more games in 2016 than they ever were in 2015. Watch for Garretson to bring a more competitive vibe to the Beavers and hopefully that translates to more wins for Oregon State.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a player that people forget about in the Pac-12 because of recent injuries, but he can change the fortunes of the Arizona Wildcats.

Wilson has rushed 2,100 yards on 369 carries so far in his short career at Arizona. In his freshman year he took the Pac-12 by storm, rushing for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. Last season he was slowed down by the injury bug and only managed 725 yards.

Unfortunately for Nick Wilson he has gained the reputation of a player that is not all that durable. Whether that is a fair label or not is up for discussion with many people. It’s something that will dog Wilson until he shows he can stay healthy for entire season or more.

How will the coaching staff use Wilson this year? That is the million dollar question.

If you take a look at his first two years you will see the coaching staff did over-use Wilson in terms of how much of the offense he was responsible for from the running back position.

During his freshman year, he was carrying the ball approximately 64% of the time which is not too crazy considering he is the number one running back for the Wildcats. However, when you look a little deeper you will see that in the final six games, Wilson’s usage as a running back jumped up to 84%. That is over-using a good running back and that is putting too much mileage on young legs.

If he was an Alabama running back, this would be about normal for how Coach Saban abuses his running backs, but to keep a running back healthy and viable in the Pac-12 you can’t do that.

If Wilson stays healthy, and the coaching staff figures out how to use him so they maximize his talent, then the Wildcats can have a more successful season in 2016.

Jake Browning

Jake who? That is what many of you are thinking I am sure, but keep this name in your head. Jake Browning is a talented young quarterback who has Washington Husky fans thinking big things in 2016.

The fans may be thinking big, but it’s what head coach Chris Peterson saw during the spring practices that has him thinking positive thoughts about Browning.

I think Jake has done a nice job of taking the next step. I think he has improved, it’s all subtle stuff. It’s his pocket presence, it’s his stride-point accuracy, the ball coming out a little quicker.” Peterson said in an interview with a Seattle radio station.

As a true freshman in 2015 Browning came on the scene and ended up with 2,995 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and led the Huskies to a victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Southern Mississippi.

Browning brings a tough attitude to the huddle, mobility, and an arm that threatens the secondary of just about any team. That tough, perfectionist attitude of his has certainly been seen by his teammates.

“The guy hates losing. The only thing on his mind is winning.” Said Coleman Shelton, an offensive lineman for Washington.

Jake Browning is a player who wants to improve every year and when he doesn’t live up to his expectations he takes it very personally. In a game against Arizona State last season, the Huskies totally collapsed and gave the Sun Devils a win. More importantly, it was Browning who gave the win away to Arizona State with three fourth-quarter interceptions. Browning gave a simple response to all the questions being asked of him in the post-game press conference.

“I gotta improve.” Browning said after the Sun Devil game.

When the 2016 season gets rolling for the Huskies look for Browning to put the team on his back and put the improvements he has made during the spring together to help the Huskies make a run at the Pac-12 North title. Watch out Oregon, the Huskies may have just turned the corner and they are setting their eyes on you.

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

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Pac-12 Links: South Division Questions for the Summer

The Pac-12 South division is widely considered one of the toughest in the country. It has had some pretty good teams in the past couple of seasons, but are there any real great teams in this division? Not as far as I can see. The South division does have three returning quarterbacks to help their teams possibly get to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but not the College Football Playoff. Even after spring practice there are lingering questions about teams in the Pac-12 South. Let’s take a look at what some of those questions might be.

Arizona

Down in Tucson, can Rich Rodriguez have an offensive line that will be able to keep Anu Solomon healthy and off of his back? Will Solomon be able to develop into a Marcus Mariota type of quarterback that he was thought to be a couple seasons ago? Right now, Anu Solomon’s only concern should be learning to stay away from the injury bug. Whether it’s been knee/leg injuries or concussions, Solomon has to keep himself in the lineup or the season will be a tough road for the Wildcats.

Defense wins championships, right? Well, for the Wildcats, the defense is getting a major overhaul this upcoming season. New DC Marcel Yates is rearranging the defense for the Wildcats. He ran a 4-2-5 defense at Boise State and has head coach Rich Rodriguez willing to stray from his 3-3-5 defense. What will we see during the season?  The Wildcats only had two practices that were open to media, so for right now you have to think that it’ll be some hybrid between the two defenses.

Arizona has to improve its protection so that Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson can stay healthy. In my opinion, Wilson is the player to watch for the Wildcats. Keep your eye on him.

Utah

When you lose Devontae Booker and Travis Wilson in the same year, things may not be looking good for your team. Last year Utah was my sleeper pick to win the division and get to the conference championship game. It was looking good until the injury bug hit the team, especially stud running back Devontae Booker. Once he went down, the season went with him.

Replacing Travis Wilson will be something the Utes have to do. Do the Utes know who the new quarterback will be? That is something that is still up in the air in Salt Lake. Head coach Kyle Whittingham has stated that the quarterback race is still a “dead heat”.

One of the interesting facts about this race is that one of the big contenders for the job, junior transfer Troy Williams, was held out of spring practices and the spring game for an injury. In the meantime, junior Brandon Cox and freshman Tyler Huntley were getting all the reps, but couldn’t separate themselves to take the quarterback job.

Replacing Devontae Booker won’t be as complicated because they already had a player in waiting to be the main back. His name Joe Williams. When Booker went down with a season ending knee injury Williams was there to take over.

“It was sad when Devontae went down. It just made me the next man up and I just did what I had to do.” Williams said during spring practice.

Let’s hope he keeps that next man up mentality because the Utes need him to be the next man for them.

Colorado

What can be said with the Colorado football program? We all know the narrative about how the program has not had any success since joining the Pac-12 Conference. Is this the year they have some sort of breakthrough?

The thought process coming out of Boulder is that this is the year for the Buffaloes. Am I going to drink that Koo-Aid? Not until they show me that they can get it done. For me, getting it done is simply getting to the six-win level, so they can potentially get to a lower-tier bowl.

What will determine the Buffs success in 2016?

One of the items that will is the play of starting quarterback Sefo Liufau and if he can come back from his injury. Liufau has a lisfranc injury which is an injury to his foot, always a difficult thing for any athlete to come back from. As good fortune would have it, he was seen up and throwing on the sidelines during the Colorado spring game.

Not having an experienced quarterback on your team can be a recipe for disaster. Colorado absolutely needs its starter to be ready to go by the season opener.

USC

Clay Helton is looking for his team to be drama-free in 2016. Good luck with that Coach Helton. You are in control of one of the premier college football programs in this country and the program is centered in the entertainment capital of the world. Good luck.

With that said, there will always be some sort of drama surrounding any football program and USC is no different, but there are different types of drama. I’m sure Helton is referring to drama that is on the level of what they have had with Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. That kind of drama is something I would not wish on any coach.

So far, the only drama that is coming out of USC is who they will have to replace Cody Kessler who has to spend his rookie year in the NFL in Cleveland.

What are the options for Coach Helton and his staff?

For now, the option is Max Browne, who getting the opportunity in his junior year after sitting behind Cody Kessler since he arrived on campus as National Player of the Year in high school. He may have all the talent in the world, but he still has not taken a snap in a meaningful game. His meaningful game is coming soon for him. He will be taking the snaps as the Trojans open up against national champion Alabama.

Nothing like being thrown to the wolves right out of the gate.

Having JuJu Smith-Schuster on the outside will help Browne. JuJu is arguably the best receiver in the country heading into 2016 and if he can produce at the level he has then he will take a bunch of pressure off of his quarterback. The connection between Max Browne and JuJu will be something to watch as the season gets going.

The question on the defensive line will be something that people will be concentrating on as we get closer to the Alabama game. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has to figure out how his D-line will get pressure on its opponents. Otherwise, he will find himself in the unemployment line. Doing that will be tough considering what he has to work with at USC.

The defensive line is extremely inexperienced this year with no returning starters and the only player that was penciled in as a starter, Kenny Bigelow, went down with a season-ending knee injury during spring practice, so that further complicates things for Pendergast.

Does USC overcome this youth movement and the toughest schedule in the country to make 2016 a winning season? Time will tell, but my feeling is that if the Trojans get to eight wins that would be considered a victory unto itself.

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Is It Possible to Repair a Ruptured Recruiting System?

Recruiting high school kids to play college football has always been a maddening, vile, cut-throat business. I use the word “business”, intentionally, as people often throw the word around, loosely, when attempting to justify an action or transaction, that blurs the boundaries of integrity.

How many times have you, or I, heard some say, “Well, it’s business.” Or they might pronounce the word “bidness”, as if its mispronunciation somehow lightens their burden of responsibility. It could be that they’re not overly astute in grammatical matters. Whatever, if an action or transaction is less than savory, then it “ain’t” right.

To hell with ethics and grammar, right? We’re doing “bidness.” And folks, recruiting is big “bidness.”

So, what in the world can be done to sanitize the, too often, seamier side of recruiting?

Andy Staples, senior writer at Sports Illustrated, spoke to a few coaches from four conferences who were meeting in Phoenix, a few days ago, about the matter.

I am of the opinion that some of what these coaches had to say, when weighing in on the ins and outs of recruiting, makes good sense. Much of it, probably, makes too much sense considering the logic-defying decisions that have, sometimes, made their way forth from NCAA and conference gatherings.

The satellite camp hot potato now has a temporary “solution.” It will, undoubtedly be tweaked and re-tweaked in the months and years to come. Will sanity or insanity prevail? Most likely it will be a little of both. There are coaches, like Patterson and Rodriguez who appear to be moving in the direction of a fair and enlightened approach to all of this madness.

Did I just use the terms fair and enlightened in discussing college football recruiting? Is that even a remote possibility? It could be if coaches truly have the very best interests of the “student-athlete” in mind, and not pushing the envelope, living in gray areas, getting an edge and, sometimes, but sadly, winning at all costs.

Back to Patterson and Rodriguez. The TCU coach has thoughtful, rational ideas like rules that propose a specific number of days that coaches could work camps that take place on their own campuses or in another location.

Rodriguez comes with a solution that is far more radical and I find it a swimmingly good one. Eliminate National Signing Day! Say what?

When one begins to milk sacred cows and the baggage that they udder, one is treading in treacherous territory.

Now people, consider that we gone from one such cow, which was the antiquated bowl system that patriarchs such as Paul “Bear” Bryant and Bob Devaney, to name a couple, often dominated, to the BCS to the College Football Playoff.

It can happen.

But here’s the rub, the Almighty Dollar. And with “In God We Trust” remaining proudly emblazoned on said dollar, it reigns supreme. It is in Ben Franklin that we trust and if anyone tells you any differently, they are deluded.

Follow the money. That’s what makes this world, and the world of college football, go round.

The bottom line is the bottom line.

Cars, houses, prostitutes, meals, bag men, and hundred-dollar handshakes. These things, and other dubious practices, to whatever degree, have been a part of college football recruiting for as long as there has been college football recruiting.

Then you come back to ridiculous coaches salaries, massive stadiums to fill, and ticket prices that continue to spiral out of control.

Houston, we have a problem.

I, for one, have more questions than answers about all of this, and there are answers.

But…

Who is willing to sit down and, honestly and evenhandedly, make the hard decisions that could provide some relief to a system that is, often, bloated, bigoted, and blind?

Is it possible?

Pac-12 Links: The Conference of Quarterback Battles

Once again it’s time to see what is happening in the Conference of Champions with its football teams. There are plenty of things happening with these Pac-12 teams with spring ball, quarterback issues, and not having satellite camps, which to me is just ridiculous. Who cares where these kids practice or where these recruits get to be seen. Anyway, let’s get into the Pac-12.

In Tucson, head coach Rich Rodriguez has to answer to questions about his ability to get his team back to winning the South division. He can get a little irritated when questioned about it, but he says it’ll turn around in 2016.

“We got more questions now than in our first year.” Said Rodriguez heading into spring practices.

He absolutely does. He has a returning quarterback in Anu Solomon, but is Solomon going to be healthy enough to endure the season?

At Arizona State, Todd Graham is looking for a new quarterback after Mike Bercovici graduated. He has to decide between three guys, but in reality to me it’s down to two. I believe the job is between Manny Wilkins and Bryce Perkins. What do I know though? Based on what I have seen at practice, those are the two that I would be looking at to lead the team in 2016. Coach Graham and new OC Chip Lindsey have a big decision because the Sun Devils can not have another season like last year or an up and down year from the quarterback position again.

What’s happening for California right now? Quarterback/safety Luke Rubenzer asked to be permanently placed at safety after seeing he was falling behind in the race to replace Jared Goff at quarterback. It was matter of seeing the writing on the wall for Rubenzer who came to Berkeley from Saguaro High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. According to head coach Sonny Dykes, Rubenzer is whatever he can to help the team in the long run, but it’s also a good move for Rubenzer because projected starting safety Damariay Drew will be undergoing knee surgery in about two weeks.

Colorado wants to break through in 2016 and has more talent than it’s had in recent years, but is it enough to spring ahead of teams like ASU, Arizona, or even Utah? I know they are trying to build something in Colorado, but can it be done in the Pac-12 South? With coach MacIntyre now having a full recruiting cycle in his fourth year, fans want some results and that includes just not being competitive. Everything in football starts up front and the inexperience on the O-line is something to be addressed by the staff. Time to work that out in spring ball.

Oregon is just happy to have all their quarterbacks on campus at this point. In the long run that will only benefit the high flying Duck offense. People may think there will be questions at the quarterback position, but they are not bringing in Dakota Prukop, a graduate transfer, to sit on the bench. What it calls into question for me is their ability to develop young quarterbacks. At some point they will have to develop some young quarterback, so there is a bit more stability over a longer period of time for the Duck offense.

Meanwhile down on The Farm at Stanford, things are getting a little testy with head coach David Shaw or I should say that people are getting a little testy with Shaw’s comments about the recent ban on satellite camps and his veiled reference to SEC academics or lack of academics. To me, coach Shaw is spot on with what he is saying. He’s not hiding that the facts back him up. Stanford graduates 90 percent of its football players, while the SEC doesn’t even come close to that. Vanderbilt graduates 70 percent of its players and that leads the SEC. While these SEC fans get all bent out of shape about this, Shaw just sits behind the data. Don’t back down coach Shaw, you are right.

At USC, there is an intense quarterback situation brewing and it may not be over for the Trojans. The competition has boiled down to two guys. Max Browne, who was thought by many to slide into the spot left by Cody Kessler, has been pushed by redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. As a result of this competition, head coach Clay Helton has yet to name a starter which leads many to believe that this quarterback job may be open through fall camp. This is an important decision for Helton because this may set the table for the next few years for the program and the sooner a starter is named, the sooner the offense can get in rhythm for the Alabama game at the beginning of next season.

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

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Pac-12 Football: DIRECTV, Media Bias, and Taking Control of Your Own Conference

I grew up on Pac-12 athletics, graduated from a Pac-12 school, and now write about the Pac-12 Conference. I am unapologetically a Pac-12 guy. I root for the teams in the conference and root for some a bit more than others, but in general I want the Conference of Champions to be what everybody is talking about. Does that always happen? Not at all. Do I see the good and bad in the conference? Absolutely. Do I pick Pac-12 teams to win their games? No doubt and I make no apologies for that. I want the best for the Pac-12 period. End of story. However, what needs to happen in this great conference to make it better? A few things.

When I was younger, the Pac-12 (Pac-10 at the time) on television was a very regional conference as were many other conferences. The Pac-12 didn’t have the television deal it has now, so exposure was fairly limited to the West. We knew that the only teams that were getting national play were USC, UCLA, and Washington, but the reason for that was they were the recognizable brands from the conference because of the winning traditions they had produced as a school in football. When the Rose Bowl game was on, we knew that the Trojans, Bruins, or Huskies were probably going to be in the game because they were the dominant figures in the conference. Things have changed.

With the creation of the Pac-12 Network, the conference has a much more national brand to it. More people can see their teams play in football than having to wait to see if their team makes a national broadcast, the games are streamed on-line, or they can keep up with the scores on a minute by minute update on different phone or computer apps. Getting the game highlights, information, or scores is just not an issue anymore. If it is, then you might just be living in a cave. However, not all of us can enjoy the Conference of Champions anytime we want and it is immensely frustrating.

If you subscribe to DIRECTV you know what I am talking about. I am one of those unfortunate people that does not get the Pac-12 Network because of the ongoing dispute between the Pac-12 and the satellite provider.

There was a glimmer of hope that something might be changed with the DIRECTV being bought by AT&T because of AT&T’s connection with the conference, but, alas, no such luck. Here is what sticks in my craw.

For a conference to be so concerned with increasing their national exposure they seem to be dragging their feet when it comes to actually doing that. Not having the estimated 3-5 million more viewers with conference football games is obviously not a positive for the conference and puts them at a severe disadvantage with other Power 5 Conferences like the Big Ten or SEC. Don’t get me wrong, those are great conferences in their own right, but I don’t really care how Northwestern, Michigan State, Mississippi State, or even Alabama does on a weekly basis. I care about how Oregon, Stanford, USC, and, yes, Oregon State look on any given Saturday. Pac-12 fans with DIRECTV are in the dark and somehow, someway, this needs to be resolved.

I want to take both parties into a room, get them seated, make sure they are comfortable, and then lock the door until they reach a deal that benefits both sides, but mostly gets the football games to the fans and increases television revenue for the conference. Get it figured out Pac-12 and DIRECTV.

Even without the DIRECTV exposure, the starting times for these football games have been an issue with coaches, players and fans alike. Being a guy who attends plenty of Arizona State Sun Devil games as a media member, the start times are atrocious. In the past few years, there have been starting times of 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m., and even a 8:30 p.m. starting time thrown in there for good measure. I like college football as much as the next guy, but why so late? It doesn’t make sense at all. Don’t tell me it’s for greater exposure.

Half of the country is asleep by the time these games start and even if the people on the East Coast are awake, they are not watching Pac-12 football. Just about guarantee you that. College football is fairly regional thing with fans. Unless there is some type of personal connection with a school in a different conference than the one they root for, they won’t watch it. Not that they hate the conference, but it doesn’t interest them. People in the SEC don’t care about what is happening out West, just like West coast fans don’t really care what happens in the Big Ten, Big 12, or SEC. It’s not where their allegiance lies. Many Pac-12 coaches have complained in the past year about the number of night games they have had to play.

Last season, UCLA, had to play on Thursday night in back to back weeks. Needless to say, head coach Jim Mora was not pleased.

“This is a complete injustice to our young men.” Mora said at news conference.

Rich Rodriguez, head coach of the Arizona Wildcats was even more upfront about a late starting time for his own Wildcats when they were to play at Washington starting at 8 p.m. Pacific time.

“I just don’t understand how this happens,” quipped Rodriguez, “At some point the conference has to have the ability to step in and say, ‘Hey, give this team one afternoon road game.’”

Stanford head coach, David Shaw, even chimed in on the issue.

“Sunday is the players’ day off, and it’s tough sometimes, getting back to their dorms at 3 or 4 in the morning from a road trip.” Shaw said.

Something has to be done because this is not fair to these players. I know people will say that this is one of prices they pay for playing big time college football, but less these same people forget, they also have school to contend with. These same players have papers to write, classes to attend, study groups to go to, tests and quizzes to pass, and any other number of things a student-athlete needs to do on a daily basis. It’s not fair to the coaches as well. Family time for coaches is affected, relationships can be affected by not spending time at home, and the coaches just need their rest too.

Pac-12 Commissioner, Larry Scott, has shown some empathy towards his football coaches and players, but has offered no solutions into what can done to solve this issue.

“I’m sympathetic to his concerns, but in some instances, there are things we can do about it and in this case there’s really nothing we can do. Our athletic directors and presidents and conference office agreed to give a certain amount of flexibility to broadcast partners to pick games and have nighttime broadcast windows. In exchange, we have blockbuster TV deals that have been incredibly beneficial to our schools and student-athletes from a resource and exposure perspective, and the trade-off is worth it.” Scott said during the football season.

In other words, deal with it coaches, players, and fans. The money is too good to turn down, so we will let the television networks dictate when we play our games. That is essentially what Larry Scott has told the Pac-12 and it’s fans.

When looked at on the whole, the Pac-12 is a great conference. Is it the greatest conference in the country right now in football? Probably not, but it is certainly towards the top. Most observers put it right behind the SEC in terms of football. Objectively, I would tend to agree with that assessment. The SEC has the hardware to show its number one in football. The Pac-12 is getting there with talent at the coaching level and at the player level, but now it’s a matter of putting it together to where the conference gets into the playoff system and wins the title a few times. People respect winning and it doesn’t matter if those people are fans or in the media. The Pac-12 hasn’t won anything in football since the glory run of USC in the mid-2000’s. The media does notice these things and will tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the conferences or teams that have won something of consequence multiple times in the past. The Pac-12 simply hasn’t done that.

The Pac-12 does battle some bias in the media at some level. People who think otherwise are just kidding themselves, but some of the issue is that the East Coast media have gone to bed by the time we get our football games rolling out here in the West. What people in the East tend to see are SportsCenter highlights and not the whole game filled with its own nuances. However, this is something that will always be there for West Coast teams simply because they are in the West. Can’t fault people for where they live, but the media back East have to take it upon themselves to watch games or at the very least tape some games to watch when they are awake, so that they can give an honest assessment of the teams out in the Pac-12.

At the end of the day, what can the Pac-12 improve upon? The issue with DIRECTV would be a good place to start for many people and then taking back a little control from the television networks with late starting times would be where I headed next. I know money rules all in college athletics, but it would be nice if the coaches, players, and the fans were taken into consideration at some point in this whole process of growing the college football game in the Pac-12.

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

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Pac-12 Links: What’s Happening in the Pac-12

Being a fan and writer of Pac-12 football there are so many things that are happening on a daily basis that it is beneficial to keep you, the fans, informed on what is happening around the Conference of Champions. Here you go Pac-12 fans….

Down in Tucson… Samajie Grant is looking to take a great leadership role.

At Arizona State, they are looking for a bounce back year in 2016. Can they figure out the quarterback situation and how will the new OC do in his first season at a Power 5 school?

California has to replace Jared Goff. What does this mean for the offense?

Can out Colorado finally break out of the basement of the Pac-12 South in 2016? The talent is better than it has been, but…

Is Dakota Prukop the real deal for Ducks? Will he have a more productive year than Vernon Adams? The Duck fans are just happy he is already on campus.

In Corvallis, hope springs eternal for the Beavers as they look to improve upon Gary Andersen’s initial season with Oregon State.

Christian McCaffrey has Stanford poised for another run at the conference title and Rose Bowl. Can they make a deeper run into the CFB Playoff?

At UCLA, sophomore quarterback, Josh Rosen returns to lead the Bruin attack. Does he have anybody to help him out? Can the offensive line protect him?

Coaching changes, new quarterback, and same old USC football expectations. Do the Trojans live up to them or is it a rebuild year at USC?

Kyle Whittingham doesn’t want to look at this season as a rebuild. He did lose some good offensive firepower at running back, but there is optimism at Utah.

Washington is one of the Pac-12 teams with a returning starting quarterback. Good for Huskies right? Does Chris Peterson finally have the Dawgs going in the right direction?

Mike Leach is coming off his best season as the Cougars head coach. What does he have as an encore for Cougar fans in 2016? Hopefully something similar for them as well as himself.

All Pac-12 teams are in the middle of their spring football practices, so any injuries that happen could obviously change the fortunes of any of these teams. The Pac-12 has many questions going into 2016, quarterback is one of the big ones. Can they get a team back into the college football playoff? It’s only spring time, so time will only tell the story for the Pac-12.

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