Pac-12 Notes – January

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January 29th

New Pac-12 coaches having mixed recruiting results

Colorado faces six new head coaches in 2012, four from the Pac-12.

Buff fans are very familiar with a new coaching staff having to scramble to put together a recruiting Class, having lived through it just a year ago.

So, as Signing Day approaches, how are the new Pac-12 coaches doing?

Jim Mora, Jr. – UCLA

While Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Mike Leach at Washington State were sexier hires, no one is doing as well as Mora in putting together a top recruiting Class.

When Mora was hired in early December, the Bruins had their fare share of commitments, with 12 verbals. Included on that list were two four-star players … but there were also five two-star prospects.

Since his hire, Mora and his coaching staff have been the talk of the recruiting world, with UCLA picking up one top-flight star after another. The Class is now up to 25, and Mora has added no player lower than three-stars, with three four-star and one five-star player giving their commitments to the Bruins.

With just a few days to go before Siginng Day, UCLA has the No. 18 Class in the nation, right behind rivals Cal (at No. 16) and USC (No. 17), and just ahead of Oregon (at No. 19). Scout is even more impressed with Mora’s Class, rating it the No. 10 Class in the nation, tops in the Pac-12.

Heady stuff for Bruin fans … Rick Neuheisel’s last recruiting Class was ranked 45th.

Rich Rodriguez – Arizona

When Mike Stoops was fired mid-season by Arizona, he was already well on his way to filling his recruiting Class. There have been some defections, but ten of Stoops’ verbal commits have stayed with the Wildcats. Of those, two were four-star players (including offensive lineman Kyle Kelley, coveted by the Buffs).

Rodriguez was a “splash” hire, with head coaching jobs at West Virginia and Michigan on his resume.

Has Rodriguez made a “splash” in recruiting?

Not really. Of the nine commits since Rodriguez was hired, none are higher than three stars, with two two-star players and an unrated player (wide receiver Clive Georges, with offers from Florida Atlantic and Western Michigan) added on Sunday.

Arizona has the 44th-ranked Class in the nation to date, with most of the “points” from the Class racked up by Mike Stoops recruits. Scout gives Arizona even less love, ranking the Wildcats’ Class 63rd in the nation; last in the Pac-12.

Mike Leach – Washington State

Former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach took over for deposed Washington State head coach Paul Wulff on November 30th.

At the time, Washington State had ten verbal commitments, including a four-star offensive lineman, Alex Mitchell, from Portland. The remainder of the verbal commitments were mostly two-star recruits (six in all).

And what has the mad scientist been able to put together in Pullman?

Not much.

Since his hiring, Leach has added 13 recruits, with one being a four-star wide receiver (Vincent Marks, from Venice, California – another Buff recruit). The remainder are mostly three-star prospects, with two two-star players and an unrated player (a defensive end from Pago Pago who had no other scholarship offers).

Interestingly enough, Leach has not added a quarterback to his list of recruits. The only quarterback who has given a verbal commitment to Washington State so far is Austin Apodaca, a two-star prospect from Longmont, Colorado, who gave his verbal commitment to Washington State last June.

Washington State’s Class does not crack the Top 50 in the Rivals rankings, with a No. 60 (11th in the Pac-12) mark from Scout.

Todd Graham – Arizona State

After a protracted – and messy – hiring process, Arizona State hired Pitt head coach Todd Graham to replace Dennis Erickson.

Before he left, Erickson had put together much of the recruiting Class, with 13 verbal commitments, including two junior college players. The list of recruits was mainly filled with three-star players, with one four-star recruit (offensive lineman Evan Goodman), and three two-star recruits.

Graham has pretty much continued what Erickson started. Of Graham’s eight recruits, one is a four-star player (athlete D.J. Foster), but five others (including two junior college players) are two-star prospects.

At present, Arizona State is tied with Washington for the 42nd-best Class in the nation. Scout, meanwhile, puts Arizona State at No. 46, 10th in the Pac-12.

Jim McElwain – Colorado State

Whether Steve Fairchild saw the writing on the wall, or CSU’s recruits did, there was little activity in recruiting in Ft. Collins before Jim McElwain was hired. Only three recruits – a three-star linebacker, a two-star linebacker, and a two-star kicker – had given Colorado State their verbal commitments by the time Fairchild was fired.

McElwain was also hampered by the reality that he was busy at his old job – offensive coordinator at Alabama – until after the BCS national championship game.

And since then?

Colorado State has acquired the verbal commitments from only eight more players (11 total as of Sunday), and, of the eight, none were accorded three stars. In fact, according to Rivals, four of the eight remain unrated.

Needless to say, Colorado State’s recruiting Class remains outside the Rivals top 50. As for Scout, the Rams come in at No. 113 (out of 120 teams nationally), last in the Mountain West Conference.

Tim DeRuyter – Fresno State

It’s always hard to be the guy who replaces “the guy”.

Fresno State hired Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter to replace 17-year head coach Pat Hill. The news of Hill’s firing was something of a surprise, despite the overall decline in the program over the past few seasons.

Still, it shouldn’t have been that hard.

Fresno State had no verbal commitments when Hill was fired, and have picked up only nine since DeRuyter came to Fresno. Of the nine, only two have been given a three-star rating.

Rivals, of course, does not have Fresno State on its radar, but Scout, which does rank all 120 Division 1-A teams, has the Bulldogs coming in at No. 111 – two spots ahead of Colorado State.

January 25th

Oregon recruiting – no impact from Kelly’s trist with Tampa Bay?

Bring in the spin doctors.

You would think that the flirtation Oregon head coach Chip Kelly had with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have potential recruits thinking twice about committing to play for Oregon.

The impact of Kelly’s almost-departure on the 2012 signing class is probably minimal, said ESPN recruiting analyst Jeremy Crabtree. But in the long run, Crabtree said, the Ducks could be dealing with this for a while.

“It went from a story to a non-story in 24 hours, so it limits potential damage in the short term,” Crabtree said. “But in the long term, yeah, he’ll be sitting in living rooms with recruits and parents and that question will be brought up. He’ll have to address it.”

It’s also possible, Crabtree said, that opposing coaches will try to use this against Kelly in recruiting.

“Hey, all is fair in love, war and recruiting,” Crabtree said. “Sometimes coaches are not afraid to go negative and we’re talking about 17- and 18-year-olds whose emotions can be swung by the statement of an adult.”

It looks like the Ducks have lost at least one commit from the 2012 class, though it’s unclear what, if any, influence Kelly’s flirtation with the NFL had on the situation.

Jeremy Castro, a defensive end from Murrieta, Calif., on Sunday de-committed from Oregon and instead committed to UCLA, where he visited over the weekend.

Castro is a four-star prospect, and rated the No. 17 defensive end in the country by Rivals.com.

January 23rd

Chip Kelly staying at Oregon

After a brief flirtation with the NFL, Oregon head coach is staying in Eugene.  

“His heart is with college football and Oregon and he’s no longer being considered,” Mark Dominik, Tampa Bay’s general manager said Monday, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Kelly and the Bucs had been deep in the process of finishing a deal Sunday night.

Kelly, who secretly interviewed with the Buccaneers last week, had been intrigued by the challenge of coaching at the highest level and not having to deal with parents and the NCAA oversights that are inherent to coaching in college, according to ESPN.

January 20th

Mister Jones returns to Colorado … State

Remember Mister Jones?

Mister Jones, from Littleton, Colorado, was a four-star running back prospect from the recruiting Class of 2010. He was considered by Rivals to be the 28th-best running back prospect in the nation.

Jones was also, for about six months in 2009, a Colorado commit.

Here is a look back at my writeup on Mister Jones in December, 2009:

“The recruiting class discussion (for the recruiting Class of 2010) began – and may end – with Mister Jones. The 6’2″, 200 pound prospect from Littleton, Colorado, committed to play for the Buffs back in June. Jones runs a 4.5 40, and is considered a four-star prospect. Jones indicated that he wanted to stay close to home and his ailing mother, who is battling cancer.

“Sounds great. There’s only one problem … Well, two numbers actually – three and nine.

“Colorado’s failure to improve in the win column (in 2009) has had an effect on recruits, and Mister Jones is no exception. After the Buffs opened with losses to Colorado State and Toledo, Jones indicated that he would take a look at other schools. Oregon, Michigan, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado State entered the picture. Jones took his official visit to Boulder during the Missouri game, after the announcement that Dan Hawkins is staying for the 2010 season, sounded more ‘solid’ than he did in September. ‘I’m still committed to CU,’ Jones told BuffStampede.com after the Nebraska game. ‘All around it is a perfect school for me and it is close to home.’

Then, on Sunday, December 13 (2009), Mister Jones changed his mind – again. ‘I committed to Texas A&M today,’ Jones told BuffStampede.com. ‘I had to call Colorado and tell them that I’m de-committing. I felt it was right to let them know.’ What about his solid commitment to Colorado, and wanting to stay close to home? ‘I’ve been thinking about it and I want to go out-of-state. I thought Texas A&M would be a better fit for me.’ Jones has cancelled other official visits, and now considers himself to be a ‘solid’ commit to the Aggies.”

Jones did sign with Texas A&M, while Colorado signed two other running backs named Jones as part of the 2010 recruiting Class of 2010 – Tony Jones and Trea Jones.

Fast forward two years …

Mister Jones red-shirted at Texas A&M in 2010, and did not play in 2011. Jones left College Station in September, after a widely reported incident in which Jones was caught smoking marijuana in the team hotel room before the opener against SMU.

Now, Jones is a CSU Ram.

In announcing his transfer, Jones posted a picture on Facebook of new CSU coach Jim McElwain and athletic director Jack Graham, and wrote, “The two men that gave me a second chance it’s official im a ram.”

If I understand the math, Jones would have to sit out the 2012 season (his sophomore season), and then would have two seasons of eligibility in Ft. Collins, 2013 and 2014.

Marcus Houston, Part II?

January 18th

Washington takes Kiesau as well

The purging of the Cal coaching staff continues …

Former CU offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau is now also the former wide receivers coach at Cal.

In continuing the last-minute (in terms of the 2012 recruiting class) pillaging of the Bears’ coaching staff, Cal confirmed Kiesau’s departure with a short statement from coach Jeff Tedford and athletic director Sandy Barbour. It has been reported that Kiesau will be the Huskies’ offensive coordinator but it seems likely that head coach Steve Sarkisian will continue to call plays, as he did with former coordinator, Doug Nussmeier, who is leaving for Alabama.

Kiesau is the fifth new coach Sarkisian has hired this offseason. In addition to him and Lupoi, Sarkisian hired Justin Wilcox (defensive coordinator) and Peter Sirmon (linebackers) away from Tennessee and Keith Heyward (secondary) away from Oregon State.

What has become clear: Washington is willing to pay big money to stock a staff around Sarkisian. When the numbers are published, it’s possible that Washington could have the highest paid coaching staff in the conference in 2012, though USC doesn’t release salary information. It’s certainly clear that Cal couldn’t keep up, even though both schools will rake in big money from the Pac-12′s new TV contract. Simple fact: Washington is a wealthier athletic department.

January 17th

Pac-12 television money by season

As usual, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News is the source for information about the upcoming Pac-12 Networks. In his latest article, Wilner notes that the Pac-12 Networks are still very much a work in progress, and details may not be known for months.

What we do know:

- Executives from the PacNetworkss are in the process of visiting the 12 campuses to assess the infrastructure — which stadiums, arenas, fields and gyms are properly wired for broadcasts and which need upgrades.

- That within Designated Market Areas — for example: Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Salt Lake City, etc. — the PacNetworks will be shown on basic cable by the league’s four partners (Comcast, Bright House, Time Warner and Cox).

- Outside the DMAs but within the league’s footprint — for example: Sacramento, Medford, Walla Walla — the PacNets will be shown on digital cable. (In many places, digital cable and basic cable are the same thing.)

- The conference will almost certainly sign a distribution agreement with either DISH or DirecTV before the PacNetworks launch … but perhaps not both.

Wilner also speculated as to the value of the first-year payout to the conference from the new ESPN/Fox contract - $185 million – with an escalator clause which will call for a jump of approximately 4% per year.

That would make for the following annual payouts:

1st year: $185,000,000 (or about $15.4 million per team in the Pac-12)
2nd year: $192,400,000
3rd year: 200,096,000
4th year: 208,099, 840
5th year: 216,423,833 (now were up to $18 million per team per year)
6th year: 225,080,786
7th year: 234,084,017
8th year: 243,447,377
9th year: 253,185,272
10th year: 263,312,682 (now almost $22 million per team per year)
11th year: 273,845,189
12th year: 284,798,996 (almost $24 million per team per year)

You may notice that those payouts add up to less than the well-reported total of $3 billion — about $220,000,000 less, in fact. It’s possible that the total package isn’t worth exactly $3 billion … or that there’s some kind of lump-sum payment on the front or back end of the deal.

Bear in mind, this does not include revenue from the Pac-12 Networks (which, as you will recall, Larry Scott included as a very strong partner in the ESPN/Fox contracts, with premium football games and most of the men’s college basketball games reserved for the Pac-12 Networks).

Gentlemen, start your calculators!

January 16th

Cal defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi joins staff at Washington

While the timing – two weeks before Signing Day – would have raised eyebrows regardless, the move of defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi from Cal to Washington has caused quite a stir.

The reason?

Lupoi is considered one of the best recruiters in the nation.

Lupoi, 30, was the youngest coach on ESPN.com’s list of top 25 recruiters in 2011 and the youngest football assistant in the Pac-10 last year.

Why is Lupoi considered such a great recruiter?

“The kids understand when they talk to him, how much he cares about this place,” said running backs coach Ron Gould last spring. “Kids want to be around that kind of passion. You look in his eyes, and you see this guy has no quit. Listen to him for 30 seconds, and you feel his heart beat.”

Lupoi has helped Cal put together one of the best recruiting classes of 2012, with two five-star recruits and eight four-star recruits on their commitment list. Many of the top Cal recruits, including both five star recruits (defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy and defensive back Shaq Thompson) were Lupoi contacts. UPDATE: It didn’t even take 24 hours for Lupoi’s defection to take root. Defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy, a longtime Cal commit, changed his commitment to UCLA on Monday night.

Several four star recruits of Lupoi, including wide receiver Jordan Payton and linebacker Michael Barton, had been targeted by Colorado coaches prior to their commitments to Cal.

Will Lupoi’s defection, basically on the eve of Signing Day, make Cal recruits wary of signing with the Bears? Will Washington target – and get – some of Lupoi’s recruits? Will some of Cal’s verbal commitments take a look at other schools between now and February 1st?

Hard to say. But it would be safe to assume that some Cal commits are getting contacts today which they probably hadn’t planned upon receiving …

Meanwhile, Washington loses a coach of its own …

ESPN is reporting that Alabama has hired former Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier for the same position, a source with knowledge of the coaching search confirmed. Nussmeier, 42, has worked as Washington’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Steve Sarkisian since 2009. The Huskies ranked 25th nationally in scoring (33.4 points per game) and 38th in total offense (409.9 yards per game) in 2011.

Nussmeier was considered instrumental in the development of quarterback Jake Locker, and NFL first-round pick in 2011, as well as sophomore Keith Price, who ranked 13th in quarterback rating (157.9) and seventh in touchdown passes (29) in 2011.

Nussmeier is respected in the recruiting world. He helped reel in top 25 recruiting classes to Washington in 2010 and 2011, according to ESPN’s team rankings.

Nussmeier replaces Jim McElwain, who left to become coach at Colorado State after four seasons with the Tide.

January 14th

Darron Thomas an unlikely addition to the NFL draft list

Oregon junior quarterback Darron Thomas announced Saturday that he will forgo his senior season to enter the 2012 NFL Draft. “I came to this decision on behalf of myself and my family,” Thomas said in a prepared statement released by Oregon. “I have a dream of playing in the NFL and I’m going to pursue those dreams.”

The announcement comes as something as a surprise, because Thomas, while an effective quarterack in Oregon’s offense, is not highly thought of as an NFL-caliber quarterback. NFLDraftScout.com rated him as the 12th best quarterback prospect for the 2013 draft class. (No rankings for 2012 have been updated to include Thomas just yet).

While the loss of Thomas might appear initially to be a blow to the Ducks, there is some speculation that Thomas might not have held onto his job in Eugene, even if he had returned. Sophomore Bryan Bennett will become the leading candidate for the starting position, challenged by red-shirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

Thomas’ announcement brings to ten the number of Pac-12 players who have declared for the NFL draft. The deadline for eligible underclassmen to declare for the draft is Sunday, January 15th.

Those players who CU will not have to face next fall include:

Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon

LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Brock Osweiller, QB, Arizona State

Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State

David DeCastro, OG, Stanford

Matt Kalil, OT, USC

Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

Nick Perry, DE, USC

Chris Polk, RB, Washington

January 11th

When 15 isn’t 15, and 75 isn’t 75

Now you count them, now you don’t.

According to penalties imposed upon USC, the Trojans are limited to 15 scholarships the next three seasons, and can only have 75 scholarship players on the team.

At last count, USC had 68 scholarship players on board, with a recruiting class of 12.

If you believe 68+12=80, however, you just aren’t paying attention.

How will USC get around the sanctions?

The way around the 15 player limit on scholarships, at least the Class of 2012, is to sign junior college players or have players grey-shirt (like offensive lineman Alex Kelley did for the Buffs this fall). In that instance, USC can have players who sign before February 1st count against the Class of 2011, when the Trojans were still entitled to sign 25 players.

A look at the USC 2012 commitment list shows that the Trojans have already signed four junior college players, so the commitment list for February 1st isn’t 12, it’s actually eight.

Still, the Trojans are adding more bodies to a scholarship base of 68, so the number – if nothing else changes between now and Signing Day – would still leave USC with a roster of 80 players.

Foul, you say!

Well, not really. The remaining members of the Class of 2012 who do not enroll early have only signed a Letter of Intent. Their scholarship doesn’t kick in until the fall. Then, and only then, will the Trojans have to be down to 75 players.

Which means that some players, currently on scholarship, will have to go.

Several players, running back Amir Carlisle (heading to Notre Dame) and Brice Butler (San Diego State), have already left. Several others, including wide receiver Kyle Prater and offensive lineman Armond Armstead, are also expected to transfer. USC will part ways – either on good terms or bad – with another half dozen or so players between now and August. If academics doesn’t force a few out, the coaches might have to make some tough decisions.

So, is this saying that the sanctions will not have an impact on USC?

Not at all.

It will just take time.

This fall, USC will play with 75. Injuries at key positions (see CU, cornerback, 2011) could cripple the Trojans.

Futhermore, on Signing Day, 2013 (and 2014, for that matter), USC will no longer have the luxury of signing any “look back” junior college prospects or grey-shirt holdovers.

USC will still have an elite team. The Trojans would be my pick to win the Pac-12 in 2012.

Still, the sanctions will hurt, if for no other reason than ten prospects per year, for the next three years, will sign somewhere other than with USC. Some, if not most, of those players will sign with teams which will play against USC, further leveling the playing field.

There will be a noticeable impact … it just won’t come on Februay 1, 2012.

(For a good story on the USC sanction math, including links to players who have left USC, and who may still leave the program, here is an article from the Orange County Register)

January 10th

Last poll of 2011; first poll of 2012

Remember the Big Two and the Little Six?

For many years, the Big Eight was looked upon as the Big Two – Oklahoma and Nebraska – and the Little Six – everybody else. In fact, in the 36 seasons of the Big Eight (1960-95), only Colorado, with three outright titles (1961, 1989, 1990) and two shared titles (1976, 1991), even came close to breaking the Sooner/Cornhusker logjam (only Missouri, amongst the other teams, had as many as two titles – one outright, one shared – and both of those were in the 1960′s).

It was Oklahoma’s and Nebraska’s world, and the Little Six were just allowed to play in it.

Fast forward to 2011.

The first season for the new Pac-12 is now in the books.

Big Three and Little Nine, anyone?

After the BCS title game, the final polls were taken, and the Pac-12 was well represented up top, with three teams in the top seven in the nation. Oregon finished the year ranked 4th. USC, not a part of the coaches’ poll as a result of NCAA sanctions, still came in at No. 6 in the Associated Press poll, followed closely by Stanford at No. 7.

After that? Crickets.

Not only did no other Pac-12 team receive a ranking, no other Pac-12 was good enough to be amongst the “others receiving votes”.

The Have’s and the Have Not’s.

And, if another “way too early” preseason poll is to be believed, the status quo will hold in 2012.

In an ESPN article, Mark Schlabach rates USC as his No. 2 team for 2012. Oregon is not far behind, at No. 4. The Andrew Luck-less Stanford Cardinal slip to No. 17 in this poll, but remain the only other team deemed worthy of mention.

So, what other Pac-12 team is ready to step up and join the national rankings?

Utah doesn’t leave the state for any of its non-conference games in 2012, with the toughest game being a home contest against BYU. The Utes – as was the case in 2011 – avoid Stanford and Oregon, and do get USC at home. With 18 starters returning, if Utah is going to make a case for being an upper echelon team in the Pac-12, 2012 will be the season.

Washington was a trendy pick for the next school to challenge the Big Three, at least until the Alamo Bowl. In losing to Baylor, 67-56, the Huskies surrendered as many touchdowns as Alabama did all season. Let’s try that one on again for size … Baylor, in four quarters, scored as many touchdowns against Washington as the Crimson Tide defense gave up in 13 games.

Cal and Arizona State always seem to be in the conversation about rising teams, but are perennial disappointments.

Arizona, UCLA and Washington State made good hires with their new head coaches, but time will tell. The Wildcats were 4-8 in 2011, the Bruins 6-8, and the Cougars 4-8. Not the stuff of a top 25 team, at least not yet.

Oregon State? The Beavers are still trying to figure out a way to adopt Phil Knight as one of its own.

Which leaves the Colorado Buffs.

No, the Buffs are not going from 3-10 to the Top 25 in one season. The pieces are not yet in place, but they are getting there.

So, for now, it will have to be the Big Three and the Little Nine. What is encouraging for the Buff Nation, though, is that there is not a great deal of distance between where CU is now, and No. 4 on the list.

Dare to dream.

January 9th

UCLA – Enforcing rules … or clearing room?

Jim Mora, Jr, the new head coach at UCLA, is taking charge … or taking inventory.

It may just be a coincidence, but there are several facts which just might have a connection to one another.

Fact 1: UCLA had only 17 seniors this past season, and had 16 verbal commitments when Jim Mora was hired on December 10th;

Fact 2: UCLA has received verbal commitments from six additional players since Mora was hired, raising the commitment total to 23;

Fact 3: Those numbers don’t add up; and

Fact 4: Three players – none of whom were major contributors – were dismissed from the team Monday for unspecified violations of team rules and academic shortcomings.

Tight end Raymond Nelson and defensive lineman Wesley Flowers for a violation of team rules while defensive back Randall Carroll was dismissed for failing to meet academic requirements, the school announced Monday after new coach Jim Mora met with the team for the first time.

“At UCLA, we have a high set of standards that we expect every student-athlete to adhere to,” Mora said in a statement issued by the school. “Unfortunately, these three gentlemen choose not to do so.”

Looking at the situation with black-and-gold colored glasses, there is potential good and bad to be seen from Mora’s actions.

The positive – Mora’s “no-nonsense” approach may be heralded in the short run, but will it take with a team used to playing at “Camp Rick”? While the three dismissed players may not have been the most popular players on the team, here’s guessing that they did have friends … friends who won’t much appreciate being treated as faceless uniforms.

The negative – Mora has assembled some well-respected recruiters to work for him, and since his hire, Mora has obtained commitments from several high profile recruits, including four-star cornerback Marcus Rios and junior college offensive lineman Alexandru Ceachir, both coveted by the CU coaching staff. Mora might be able, with time, to assemble a UCLA team capable of becoming relevant in short order.

If nothing else, it is interesting. Here’s betting that the CU coaching staff is looking through the list of commits given to UCLA prior to Mora’s hire, as well as other uncommitted players who were serious about UCLA, thinking that the Buffs’ chances on these players has just been enhanced.

January 8th

Pac-12 schedules – Notes on 2012

After taking a longer look at the CU schedule for 2012, here are some additional thoughts …

- Colorado does not have to face a team coming off of a bye week in 2012. Three times in 2011, the Buffs, who had no break in a 13-game campaign, had to play a team which had an extra week to prepare. That won’t happen in 2012 (unless you count Arizona State. Both the Buffs and the Sun Devils are taking off Saturday, October 6th, in anticipation of the game in Boulder on Thursday, October 11th). So CU will at least have a more level playing field in 2012;

- Five of CU’s first six opponents will be teams with new head coaches. Colorado State, Fresno State, Washington State, UCLA, and Arizona State will all have new men wearing the headset on the sidelines in 2012;

- v. CSU – September 1st – As is almost always the case, the Rams get to use the entire month of August to prepare for the Buffs (only once in the past 30 years has CU lost to CSU when the game was not the first game of the season, and that was in the ill-fated 2006 Dan Hawkins debut year). While the Buffs are taking on the Sacramento State Hornets in week two, the CSU Rams will also be facing a 1-AA school. The thing is, CSU will be taking on North Dakota State. The Rams might have to pay attention to the Bison, who won their first FCS national championship this season;

- v. Sacramento State – September 8th – -  The only team in the first half of the Buffs’ 2012 calendar which will not have a new head coach is Sacramento State, led by Marshall Sperbeck, entering his sixth season. At Sacramento State, Sperback is 24-32, including a 4-7 mark in 2011 (though the Hornets did upset Oregon State in Corvallis this past season);

- at Fresno State – September 15th – Fresno State, the Buffs’ third and final non-conference opponent, also play a Big Sky team, Weber State, early in the season. After taking on the Wildcats, though, Fresno State will travel to Eugene to face Oregon before heading home to challenge the Buffs. After playing CU, Fresno State is back on the road to face a Tulsa team which went 8-5 in 2011, including a 24-21 loss to BYU in the Armed Forces Bowl. For new FSU head coach Tim DeRuyter, the home games against Weber State and Colorado might look to be the best bets for September victories;

- at Washington State – September 22nd – Washington State had some momentum heading into the Pac-12 opener in Boulder last fall, coming in with a 2-1 non-conference record. That might be the case in 2012 as well, when CU plays in Pullman for the first time (the other two “road” games against WSU in CU history were played in Spokane and Seattle). Heading into the Pac-12 opener this fall, Washington State plays at BYU (not easy), at home against Eastern Washington (easy), then on the road agaisnt UNLV (easy). While UNLV can be decent at home, the Rebels were 2-10 in 2011, including a 59-7 loss to Washington State. Look for “Leach Mania” to be in full swing when CU heads off to play Washington State on September 22nd;

- v. UCLA – September 29th – In Colorado’s Pac-12 home opener, the Buffs take on UCLA. The Bruins new head coach, Jim Mora, has hired some good recruiters, but there will be questions about how quickly he can revive the program (witness the bowl loss to a hordid Illinois team). UCLA opens against Rice (4-8 last season) before heading home for three games in the Rose Bowl. First up: Nebraska; followed by Houston and Oregon State. The Bruins might be good in the near future, but they might also be 1-3 coming to Boulder to close out the September calendar;

- v. Arizona State – October 11th – Arizona State ended the 2011 season on a five game losing streak, ending 6-7 after a Las Vegas Bowl blowout loss (56-24) to Boise State. After opening the 2012 season with a laugher against Northern Arizona (this just figured out: Pac-12 teams like to play Big Sky teams about as much as Nebraska and Kansas State liked to play Sun Belt directional schools) the Sun Devils have four games which are all question marks. Arizona State could be 5-0 coming to Boulder for a nationally televised ESPN Thursday night game … or 1-4. The Sun Devils play four 2011 bowl teams in succession – Illinois; at Missouri; Utah; and Cal – before playing Colorado. You could make an argument for Arizona State winning all four games … or losing all four (my guess: ASU will be a 2-3 team when it plays Colorado);

- at USC – October 20th – Hope here is that the Buffs have stock-piled some early season victories, as the USC game begins a three-game gauntlet which will likely resemble the scores of late October, 2011. The CU/USC game will represent the only home game for the Trojans in a four game stretch, as, after a bye week to end September, USC will face Utah and Washington on the road before playing Colorado.

- at Oregon – October 27th – The Buffs may as well stay on the west coast after playing in Los Angeles, as the next game is in Eugene against the Ducks. Oregon may have lost out on a chance at playing in the BCS title game by agreeing to play LSU in the 2011 season opener. That mistake won’t be repeated in 2012, as it would be a major upset if Oregon is not undefeated and ranked in the top five in the nation when Colorado comes to town. The toughest non-conference game might be against the same Fresno State Bulldogs the Buffs will play, and even that game is at home. The other non-conference games are also both at home, against the Red Wolves and the Golden Eagles. Not sure of the opponents? They would be Arkansas State and Tennessee Tech. The only factor which might keep the CU/Oregon game from being a complete rout is that the Pac-12 Game of the Year – Oregon at USC – will be played the following weekend in Los Angeles – so the Ducks might pull back in the second half to keep stars from getting unnecessary injuries.

- v. Stanford – November 3rd – It just doesn’t get any easier for the Buffs, as Colorado plays a third straight team which finished in the top ten in 2011. At least the final game in the three game run is at home. The Cardinal get two of its rivalry games – Notre Dame and Cal – out of the way in October, so by the time the Buffs face Stanford, the Cardinal will be in a ho-hum stretch bracketed by games against Washington State and Oregon State. Perhaps the USC/Oregon game will be scheduled at the same time, so that the Stanford players will be scoreboard watching, instead of paying attention to the Buffs …

- at Arizona – November 10th – There was a great deal of buzz associated with the hire of Rich Rodriguez as the new Arizona head coach. Still, the Wildcats finished the 2011 season with a 4-8 record, and has some work to do. The non-conference schedule includes two probable victories (Toledo and South Carolina State, both at home) and a probable loss (Oklahoma State). Arizona opens Pac-12 play with its first road game of the season against Oregon, and will have also played Stanford (on the road) and USC and Washington (at home) before facing Colorado. The CU game is sandwiched between road games against UCLA and Utah, so there will be no great excitement surrounding this game in Tucson. Unlike the games against the other five new head coaches on the 2012 schedule, though, which are all played early, the Buffs will have a pretty good idea of how Rich Rodriguez has fared in his first year by the time this game rolls around.

- v. Washington – November 17th – Colorado in 2011 finished with two road games; in 2012 the Buffs get two home games to finish out the regular season. The Huskies will be a known quantity by the time they get to Boulder in mid-November, as Washington has the challenge of playing four top ten teams this fall, including a road game against LSU in September. After a bye week in late September, the Huskies face the same three-team march as Colorado – Stanford; at Oregon; USC. By the time Washington lands in Denver, the Huskies will be done with their home schedule, with only the Apple Cup game at Washington State left on the calendar.

- v. Utah – November 23rd – Utah once again avoids both Stanford and Oregon in 2012 (though there is some consolation that that break in the schedule won’t happen again until 2019-2020). The non-conference schedule includes a rout of Northern Colorado to open the season, followed by games against in-state rivals BYU and Utah State. The same weekend Colorado hosts Washington, Utah will also be at home, playing Arizona. Both teams will have the six day week to prepare, but that is going to be the norm for the foreseeable future.

 Overall … The 2012 season can be divided into four quarters. There is no question that the schedule is more manageable than the one the Buffs faced in 2011. There is also no question that expectations will be raised. Anything less than a 3-0 start to open the season will put bowl hopes in jeopardy. If the Buffs stumble against in any of the games against CSU, Sacramento State or Fresno State, then the second quarter of the season will decide the Buffs’ fate. A 2-1 run in the first quarter will require a 2-1 run in the second quarter – at Washington State; UCLA; Arizona State.

If Colorado can reach the midway point no worse than 4-2, a bowl is still available, but a 5-1 record would be much preferred, as the Buffs will be heavy underdogs in the third quarter, with games against USC, Oregon, and Stanford. If the Buffs hit the midway mark at 3-3 or worse, a bowl bid is likley out of the question.

Assuming the Buffs can emerge from the three loss stretch in the third quarter without significant injuries (or bruised psyches), the fourth quarter could be interesting. You could make an argument for Colorado defeating all three teams – at Arizona; Washington; Utah – or a case for losing to all three teams. Arizona is an unknown, but Washington and Utah were both bowl teams in 2011.

Earliest of early predictions (subject to much revision after Signing Day, Spring practice, and fall practices) … 5-7. Better, but this is still a team which finished with a 3-10 record in 2011, and loses most of its star power in the offense. If a quarterback (Connor Wood?) makes a splash, the prediction could be revised upward, but if the Buffs can’t find a star at quarterback, a replacement for Rodney Stewart, and a partner for Paul Richardson at wide receiver, it could be another long year …

January 4th

Colorado releases 2012 schedule

It took awhile, but now we finally know how the Buffs’ 2012 scheudule will unfold …

Sept. 1 – vs. Colorado State

Sept. 8 – SACRAMENTO STATE

Sept. 15 — at Fresno State

Sept. 22 – at Washington State*

Sept. 29 — UCLA*

Oct. 11 — ARIZONA STATE* (Thu.)

Oct. 20 — at Southern Cal*

Oct. 27 — at Oregon*

Nov. 3 — STANFORD*

Nov. 10 – at Arizona*

Nov. 17 — WASHINGTON*

Nov. 23 – UTAH* (Fri.)

First reactions …

1)  The Buffs had better start off 3-0.  This, as we have known for some time, will be a precursor for a bowl berth in December. With the lack of depth on the Buffs heading into 2012, especially in the skill positions on offense and along the defensive line, coupled with the five bowl teams on the schedule from league play, a fast start is the only option;

2) The great unknowns. We knew that six teams on the Buffs’ schedule in 2012 would have new head coaches. What we didn’t know until now is that CU would face five of them in the first six weeks of the season. Other than the game against Sacramento State, the Buffs will square off against a new head coach each week through mid-October. This could be considered a positive or a negative. On the positive side, the Buffs will get to take on these new teams before they will have had much chance to gel under their new coaches’ systems. The negative – there won’t be much film on these new formed teams, so Colorado will be more susceptible to new schemes and formations;

3) Splitting up the bye week. With the Thursday night game against Arizona State, the Buffs will have extra time to prepare for both Arizona State and USC. Extra time might not help with finding a great game plan for the Trojans, but the extra time to prepare for the Sun Devils, at home, in a nationally televised game, can’t hurt.

4) Sheild the children’s eyes … for the late October, early November gauntlet of USC, Oregon, and Stanford. All three will finish 2011 in the top ten, and all three will likely be there at the start of 2012. It will be one of those stretches where the Buff Nation may just have to grin and bear it, and hope that ther are not a significant number of injuries, as the Buffs get ready for …

5) The big finish. Even with all of the turmoil of the past few seasons, the Buffs have been able to finish stong in November, finishing with 2-1 records both years. With a road game at Arizona, followed by home games against Washington and Utah, the Buffs should be in position to be competitive in each of those games. Hopefully, a bowl bid will also be at stake, providing even more motivation for the CU players to finish strong.

January 2nd

Washington’s top running back opts for NFL

We knew that Washington would be a question mark on defense in 2012, with a team ranked 94th in total defense and 99th in scoring defense before giving up 777 yards and 67 points to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.

But the Huskies appeared set on offense, with quarterback Keith Price returning, along with 1,488 yard rusher Chris Polk returning.

Not so much anymore.

Polk, the second-leading rusher in school history, is heading for the NFL.

“I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life,” Polk said in a prepared statement. “I may not be the biggest or the fastest but I will do whatever it takes to win.”

Polk rushed for 4,049 yards on 799 carries over 40 games at Washington. He ends his college career just 57 yards shy of Napoleon Kaufman’s school rushing record. He ran for 1,113 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and 1,415 yards in 2010.

“Chris had a terrific career at Washington and deserves the opportunity to move on to the next level,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said in a prepared statement. “We wish him nothing but the best in what I’m sure will be a great professional career.”

Washington scoops up two Tennessee assistants

In the wake of firing of defensive coordinator Nick Holt, linebackers coach Mike Cox and safeties coach Jeff Mills, Washington acted quickly to find replacements.

Tennessee is losing two key members of its defensive coaching staff, as coordinator Justin Wilcox and linebackers coach Peter Sirmon have agreed to join Steve Sarkisian’s staff at Washington.

Wilcox and Sirmon were teammates at Oregon, and Wilcox was the defensive coordinator at Boise State for four seasons before joining coach Derek Dooley at Tennessee two years ago.

Wilcox, 35, has been a hot commodity since his red-hot run at Boise State. He was wooed by Texas last season, but elected to stay at Tennessee.

Sirmon, a Wenatchee, Wash., native, played seven seasons with the Tennessee Titans as a linebacker. He spent the 2009 season as a graduate assistant at Oregon before coming to Tennessee in 2010 as a grad assistant working under Wilcox. In addition to being one of the Vols’ top assistant coaches, Sirmon also was one of the program’s best recruiters.

13 Responses to “Pac-12 Notes – January”

  1. Stuart, the new regulation does sound too good to be true. your take on the alternatives are most intriuging and represent a much better set of options relative to the current arrangements. along with the csu’s poor attendance and their joke of a network, this new rule gives the buffs more leverage to end the series outright, or at least to change the terms in our favor. (it would be interesting to know the nature and extent of the out-clauses in the current contract, wouldn’t it.) would seem to be in csu’s interest to go along with some of the modifications you mention rather than lose the series?

    thanks again to larry scott.
    .

  2. Stuart, good luck with the second phase of the hip changeout. You seem to be taking all of that very well, much better than i could. heal quickly!

  3. J Rifas

    Here’s my question about the Pac-12 Network: will those of us with Verizon FiOS be able to get PTN? I haven’t seen this provider mentioned.

  4. Chuck

    Any idea about Ewing Simmons, the DE out of California who had such a “great” time?

  5. Rob Thompson

    Washington can have Eric Kiesau, he singlehandedly destroyed CU’s offense.

  6. Greg

    Ask Nick Sherry about opting out of scholarships.

  7. Dennis

    Will Sumlin and other top tier candidates wait for the Texas job opening? I believe Mac Brown will retire when he coaches in Texas’ bowl game. Based on the last two years, Texas has lost it under Brown. Even Hawk could coach a team to a barely .500 record with a roster loaded with 4 and 5 star prospects.

  8. Rob Thompson

    I cannot speak for everybody but as for myself I will say that I feel much more comfortable about the near and distant future of Colorado Football under the direction of Jon Embree and his staff than I ever did when Hawk was new. I knew that Hawk was a one pump chump from the first time that I saw him on 9news with Minnie Me at his side. I will say that I was really frustrated after getting pumped by UCLA but I am committed to this staff. I don’t even put a clock on Embree and his boys to win unlike the dimwit wannbe sportswriters(With the exception of Stuart Whitehair and Kyle Ringo.)

    It’s going to take more than four years to rebuild this program into the fortress it was when mac left. If you remember it actually took from 84-89 before things really got rolling. I also think that it will take more than the coaching staff to rebuild this program into a national powerhouse. It is going to take a commitment from the suits and the sportswriters to sell this program to the media and fanbase. How many times did you hear Colorado written about or mentioned on ESPN this year? If the Denver Post and Daily Camera sportswriters cannot even support the local sports teams then get them the hell out of here. Confidence in the CU program comes from reading about it for most armchair QB’s.

    Embree does need to win, that is what sell’s T-shirts and tickets but I am not willing to see this guy run out of town if things begin to look better in a couple of years. If Embree gets shown the door in a few years, then, we start all over again from the ground up. The thought of that alone wants me to see Embree have every opportunity and resource to bring Colorado back to the top.

    Jon and EB deserve all of the patience in the world for what they are doing. I am Embo’s biggest critic but at the same time I am still their biggest fan. I have a good feeling about these guys. My gut tells me Embree is not another Dan Hawkins. Beating a team on the road showed me that this guy takes disgruntled fans seriously. Now, about that bowl game in 2012 Embo?

  9. Adam

    Last week – before getting shellacked by USC – Neuheisel stated that UCLA had closed the gap on its cross-town neighbors did he not? Now, after getting the boot he channels his inner Jimmy Malone from The Untouchables to talk about how slanted the playing field is in SC’s favor? Interesting – although in fairness to him – his post-termination comments might have been what he felt all along but he did not see any reason to voice them aloud and bite the hand that was feeding him.

  10. Joey

    Stuart,

    Maybe you could clear this up for me. I guess the question I have is how much is this going to cost me, the fan, to watch a CU game? Is this going to be a pay-per-view setup or will it be as easy as flipping over to one of the PAC-12 channels to watch games?

    • Stuart

      Good question, Joey,

      The first and second tier football games will be on ABC/ESPN and/or Fox, so if you have basic cable, those games will be included. As for the third tier games, they will be available, but you may have to get them through a “Pac-12 Network” package similar to the Big Ten Network, or off of any number of internet opportunities (Larry Scott envisions you watching Pac-12 games on your computer, phone, and Ipad). It will just depend on what medium you choose.

      Short answer, it will cost a little more to watch every CU game starting in 2012, but you will be able to watch every game. The irony of the 2011 season – even with only one win, Colorado has been on regional or national television every week – for only the second time (1995) in school history. That will now become the norm.

  11. Jim Armitage

    Stuart,
    Love your site and commentary. It is the first place I go for CU info each day. As a ’78 grad of Boulder, and someone who grew up in Boulder in elementary and middle school, I love the historical perspective you lend as well. My family of four is now living in Thailand going on four years. We get back to Boulder in the summer, but have missed attending the games tremendously. I have a great picture from the Great Wall in China my kids want to send you, complete with CU garb. Where should I send it?
    Regards from Asia. Go Buffs, Jim Armitage

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