Pac-12 spring storylines

5 Comments

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.

Purdue vs. Indiana means Big Ten guaranteed to have eight bowl teams

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
2 Comments

At the conclusion of Saturday’s schedule, the Big Ten had seven teams that had already clinched their bowl eligibility for the 2017 season. Though no new bowl tickets were punched on Saturday, Purdue’s upset win at Iowa and Indiana’s home rout of Rutgers assured the Big Ten of getting to eight bowl-eligible teams this season.

Purdue will host Indiana this week in one of the more important games in the rivalry in recent years as the winner will become bowl-eligible this season. That would be great news for the Big Ten, a sit would essentially guarantee the conference will manage to fill all of their partnered bowl spots for this season, although that could come up just short if one of the conference’s teams reaches the College Football Playoff. With Wisconsin still undefeated and Ohio State being discussed as a possible long shot to reach the playoff, this remains a realistic scenario. In addition to the Badgers and Buckeyes, the Big Ten also has bowl-eligible teams in Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Northwestern, and Iowa.

Here’s a look at the Big Ten’s bowl partners for the 2017 season, not including the Rose Bowl as it is being used as a College Football Playoff semifinal this year;

  • Orange Bowl: The highest-ranked team available from the Big Ten, SEC, or Notre Dame will play a team from the ACC. Wisconsin or Penn State would appear to be in line for a possible invite.
  • Outback Bowl: Vs. SEC
  • Holiday Bowl: Vs. Pac-12
  • TaxSlayer Bowl or Music City Bowl: The ACC and Big Ten split these bowl games, with each taking on a team from the SEC
  • Pinstripe Bowl: Vs. ACC
  • Foster Farms Bowl: Vs. Pac-12
  • Quick Lane Bowl: Vs. ACC
  • Heart of Dallas Bowl: Vs. Big 12

Because the Purdue vs. Indiana game must produce a six-win team, the Big Ten looks to be in great shape to fill out its bowl lineup. The only setback would be not being able to send any additional teams to other bowl games to fill in a spot where needed, unless five-win teams end up coming into play.

Minnesota is the only other five-win team on the Big Ten map right now with a chance to break through to a bowl game, but that may require beating Wisconsin for the first time since 2003 this week in order to hit the six-win requirement. Minnesota has reached a bowl game with five wins before, and it could still be in play under that scenario.

SEC West, Pac-12 North divisions on the line after Thanksgiving

AP Photo/Butch Dill
Leave a comment

After a relatively lackluster weekend of college football, a mix of rivalry games and division races crossing the finish line will be among the many highlights this week. The most notable of those races will be the SEC West and the Pac-12 North, as they will play a role in the greater College Football Playoff picture to various degrees. Throw in the possible Big 12 championship game scenarios and we have some good stuff to look forward to this week.

The ACC and Big Ten championship games are already locked in. Clemson will face Miami and the ACC hopes each will avoid an upset this weekend in order to keep this a potential matchup of top four teams at worst. Wisconsin and Ohio State are set to square off in Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship, and that game also figures to play a key role in the College Football Playoff picture.

USC clinched the Pac-12 South and now gets a bye week to prepare for the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Trojans will face either Stanford or Washington State. That opponent will be determined by the Apple Cup between Washington State and Washington. If the Cougars win, they will play USC in the Pac-12 championship game. If Washington State loses to Washington, then it will be Bryce Love and Stanford going against Sam Darnold and the Trojans.

The Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn will determine the SEC West Division champion, with the winner advancing to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game to face East Division champion Georgia.

The Big 12 championship game is also still to be determined. Oklahoma will play either TCU or Iowa State, although it is most likely to be the Horned Frogs who will face the Sooners. Iowa State would need a win and TCU to lose to Baylor in addition to a combination of two losses from Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State. If TCU beats Baylor, TCU will be in.

The Group of Five puzzle still has a few pieces to figure out as well. Fresno State and Boise State must still learn where their Mountain West Conference championship game will be played. Memphis will play the winner of this week’s UCF vs. USF game, with the location to be determined. Conference USA has FAU vs. North Texas ready to go, but the MAC will have both divisions settled this week. Akron will clinch the East with a win on Tuesday, otherwise, the door will be open for Ohio to grab the division on Friday with a win. Toledo will clinch the West with a win or an NIU loss, while NIU can clinch the division with a win and a Toledo loss.

While it does not play a conference championship game this season, the Sun Belt Conference crown is also up for grabs. Troy, Arkansas State, Georgia State, and Appalachian State are all 5-1 in conference play going into this week, leaving the door open for an interesting conference championship situation. Troy will play at Arkansas State, so the winner of that game will finish in no worse than a tie for first place. Georgia State has two games remaining, including this week’s game against Appalachian State. Again, the winner here will be in a tie for first place. Georgia State and Arkansas State do not play this season, so the two could finish with a true split conference championship. Troy and Appalachian State also do not play, presenting another potential scenario for a true split conference championship. But if Troy and Georgia State end the season with the same conference record, then Troy would own the head-to-head tiebreaker for bragging rights. Let’s just get through this week first and then re-evaluate the Sun Belt championship picture with one week of games still to play.

Got all that?

UCLA relieves Jim Mora of head coach duties effective immediately

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
8 Comments

UCLA has announced it has relieved head coach Jim Mora of his coaching duties effective immediately. Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch will take over as the team’s interim coach for the remainder of the season.

“Making a coaching change is never easy, but it’s an especially difficult decision when you know that a coach has given his all to our University,” UCLA athletics director Dan Guerrero in a released statement. “Jim helped reestablish our football program, and was instrumental in so many ways in moving the program forward. While his first four seasons at UCLA were very successful, the past two seasons have not met expectations. We thank Jim and his family for his service to our school and his unquestionable commitment to our student-athletes.”

Mora was in his sixth season as the head coach of the Bruins and it was largely a run that had some promise at times but never fully took advantage of a division that included a USC program held back by NCAA sanctions. Mora coached UCLA to two 10-win seasons in 2013 and 2014 and has seen his win totals hit 8, 4 and 5 wins in the three seasons since. What makes the Mora legacy so frustrating is he had talent to work with. Among solid recruiting classes during his time at UCLA, Mora coached two NFL quarterbacks in Brett Hundley and Josh Rosen as well as one of the top defensive players in recent years (Myles Jack) still failed to deliver a Pac-12 championship. Mora was 46-30 as UCLA’s head coach, but the trends were heading in the wrong direction at a time when crosstown rival USC continues to be rising, thus increasing the pressure for UCLA to keep up.

UCLA’s loss on Saturday night to the Trojans dropped UCLA to 5-6 on the season, leaving the Bruins in need of a win this week against Cal in order to become bowl eligible (without hoping for vacancies needing to be filled by 5-win teams). USC will play for the Pac-12 championship a year after going winning the Rose Bowl in the stadium UCLA calls home.

The UCLA job is one that should be expected to draw some interesting names to the rumor mill. Among them could end up being Chip Kelly, who doesn’t feel like a great fit in the SEC and has past success in the Pac-12 while at Oregon. UCLA’s release confirms the school will begin a national search for a new head coach.

AP Top 25 stands firm with few modifications; TCU back in top 10

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
3 Comments

Like the coaches poll, the AP Top 25 saw few changes to its look this week after a fairly straight-forward weekend of college football for the nation’s top-ranked teams. No. 1 Alabama remains the clear favorite among the AP voters, with 58 first-place votes to stay ahead of the field.

The top nine teams remain unchanged from last week with Miami falling in at second behind Alabama, with Oklahoma, Clemson, Wisconsin, Auburn, Georgia, Ohio State, and Notre Dame next in line. No. 10 TCU is the newest member of the top 10 in the AP poll after moving up one spot this week, followed by USC and Penn State with similar moves up. All three were bumped up after former No. 10 Oklahoma State fell to No. 18 this week following a home loss to Kansas State. No. 13 UCF, No. 14 Washington State, No. 15 Washington, No. 16 Mississippi State, and No. 17 Memphis all moved up a spot at the expense of the drop by the Cowboys.

Three new teams appear in the top 25 this week at the bottom of the poll. No. 23 Northwestern, No. 24 Virginia Tech, and No. 25 Boise State fill out this week’s poll.

Here is this week’s AP Top 25:

  1. Alabama (58 first-place votes)
  2. Miami (3)
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Clemson
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Auburn
  7. Georgia
  8. Ohio State
  9. Notre Dame
  10. TCU
  11. USC
  12. Penn State
  13. UCF
  14. Washington State
  15. Washington
  16. Mississippi State
  17. Memphis
  18. Oklahoma State
  19. LSU
  20. Stanford
  21. Michigan State
  22. USF
  23. Northwestern
  24. Virginia Tech
  25. Boise State