Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio - Wisconsin v Oregon

Pac-12 spring storylines

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For the past three seasons, Oregon has become accustomed to being the top dog — or, duck — in the Pac-12 with two Rose Bowl berths and a BCS championship appearance. Heading into 2012, can Oregon make it four conference titles in a row?

After all, change is in the air for Pac-12 teams, from saying hello to new coaches to goodbye to some of the best players in college football. But some familiarity returns, too. USC is once again feeling preseason love and could be back to contending for national titles after finishing a two-year bowl ban.

It all starts sometime. Here’s what storylines we’re watching in the Pac-12 this spring:

Can the Quack Attack fly without missing a beat?
Oregon executes the “next guy in” philosophy as good as any program in the country. So the fact that running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas left for the NFL is less worrisome than some of the other off-the-field distractions the Ducks have had since their Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. Coach Chip Kelly reportedly nearly left for the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Bucsor maybe not — and the NCAA’s investigation into UO’s recruiting practices took another step forward last week with the “proposed findings of violations.”  The good news is that Kelly does a phenomenal job at keeping his players focused on the task at hand. Spring practice is going to look a little different for the Ducks without James and Thomas, but the players asked to fill the void should be able to do so in a business-as-usual way.

Stanford, you got some replacin’ to do, too 
Yes, Stanford has to replace quarterback Andrew Luck. That’s going to be a point of emphasis with all Cardinal coverage until the first snap of the season is taken. But coach David Shaw has more gaps to fill than the one Luck is leaving behind. Stanford loses two outstanding lineman in Jonathan Martin and David DeCastroas well as a senior-laden receiving group. That’s not even counting the three starters from the team’s secondary that will be replaced, including all-conference safety Delano Howell. 2012 will only be Shaw’s second season as head coach, but it has more of an intrigue than Shaw’s first year where he was handed the keys to a football team littered with All-American and All-Pac-12 players.

New coaches, ahoy!
Four Pac-12 teams will be breaking in new coaches this spring: Arizona (Rich Rodriguez), Arizona State (Todd Graham), UCLA (Jim Mora) and Washington State (Mike Leach). Rodriguez and Graham will have plenty to talk about when they meet for the Territorial Cup this year. Both have Big East ties, with Graham coaching under Rodrguez for two seasons at West Virginia. Leach and Mora join the Pac-12 after getting fired from their previous jobs following the 2009 season. Spring practices for these four programs should be a lot of fun as most of the new coaches are known for airing it out on offense.

Return of Troy?
USC became the media’s sexy pick to win the Pac-12, and maybe a BCS championship, next season when quarterback Matt Barkley announced he would be coming back for his senior year. Receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are back, too. But the biggest question for the Trojans is depth. Scholarship reductions as a result of NCAA sanctions mean USC will have to make the most of the talent available and USC only signed 12 players this past signing day. Simply put, there is no room for error. The effects of the depth chart belt-tightening may not be felt right away, but health and production will start to be a top priority for USC this spring.

Last spring for Jeff Tedford?
A 7-6 season and Holiday Bowl loss to Texas has fans in Berkeley a little restless with Cal coach Jeff Tedford. The Golden Bears haven’t won 10 games or at least a share of the Pac-12 title since 2006 when they defeated Texas A&M in the, you guessed it, Holiday Bowl. And it’s not as though Cal doesn’t have talent — the Bears have always had plenty — but when Washington scooped up ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi last month, it cost Tedford’s program some top-notch recruits. Going into spring, Tedford is going to have questions, fairly or not, about his job security. Sept. 1’s kickoff against Nevada probably can’t come soon enough for the 11th-year coach.

Nick Saban’s dad ‘would’ve kicked me out of the house’ if he quit team

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide questions two flags on the field after a punt return touchdown against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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In Nick Saban‘s official response to quarterback Blake Barnett‘s abrupt departure from Alabama, the head coach described the program as “disappointed” in the impending transfer.

Unofficially? The Nicktator appears to be somewhat agitated by not only the move itself but the overall transfer climate in the sport.

Shortly after releasing the statement on Barnett, Saban appeared on his weekly radio show. While the quarterback’s name wasn’t specifically mentioned, it wasn’t hard to crack the code Saban was using in dropping pearls of wisdom from the lessons his West Virginia-born father had taught him.

From al.com‘s transcription of the interview:

It’s one of those things where I think the culture has changed a little bit,” Saban said. “I think there’s a certain pride people have in competition. There’s certain things that I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through. I think if I would have come home and told my dad that I was going to quit the team, I think he would have kicked me out of the house. I don’t think I’d have a place to stay.

“My dad used to always say ‘The grass is always greener on top of the septic tank,'” Saban said. “So it always looks better someplace else. So you think, instead of facing your fears and really overcoming adversity and making yourself better through the competition, you go someplace else thinking it will be better there. But until you face your fears, you’re always going to have some of those issues or problems.

Exactly what Saban’s father would’ve thought of his son leaving the Miami Dolphins after just two years and his first losing season as a head coach to make the move to Alabama is unknown.

No determination yet for ‘appropriate discipline’ of arrested ‘Bama LB

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 15: The flag girls of the Alabama Crimson Tide marching band perform before the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 15, 2008 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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An off-field incident involving one of his Alabama football players has drawn a public response from Nick Saban.

Very early Thursday morning, Tim Williams was arrested university police officers and charged with carrying a pistol without a permit. Williams and another unidentified male were sitting in the linebackers’ vehicle in a Publix parking lot when an officer who approached the vehicle smelled marijuana. A search revealed said marijuana, which the other man, who was seated in the driver’s seat, claimed; a gun was also found, which Williams claimed.

However, Williams could not produce a permit, leading to the misdemeanor charge.

In a statement, Saban said that “[t]his kind of behavior is not condoned in our program.” That said, the head coach was not ready to say one way or the other what if any punitive measures the senior may face.

“This kind of behavior is not condoned in our program,” the coach’s statement began. “We are currently in the process of reviewing all of the information. Once we have a complete understanding of the situation, we will determine what we need to do in terms of the appropriate discipline.”

Entering the 2016 season, Williams was viewed by many as a potential, or even likely, first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. He has just 1.5 sacks in four games this season after totaling 10.5 in 15 games in 2015.

Josh Sweat should be good to go for FSU vs. UNC

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 24: Josh Sweat #9 of the Florida State Seminoles runs with a first half interception against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Derwin James is still at least a couple of weeks or so away from returning from his injury, but Florida State will likely get a talented defensive player back on the field this weekend anyway.

When asked Thursday if defensive end Josh Sweat will be available for the North Carolina game this weekend, Jimbo Fisher responded, “oh yeah.” Sweat sustained a meniscus injury in practice leading up to the Louisville game in Week 3 and, after it limited him in that contest, underwent surgery to repair the damage shortly thereafter.

At the time, the prognosis for a return was 1-2 weeks. Sweat missed the win over USF last weekend, but could see the field this weekend as he’s practiced the past couple of days.

“Healing really well, looks great” Fisher said in quotes distributed by the team. “We’ll see [Friday] morning, but [the knee] looks great.”

Sweat started nine of 13 games as a true freshman last season, and started the first two games in 2016 before the knee issue surfaced.

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.