April 24th

Former Colorado coach near the top of the “hot seat” candidates this fall

Colorado fans can be pleased to be off of at least one chart for a change – the “coaches in the ‘hot seat’ chart”. With the Dan Hawkins’ era finally a part of CU lore, new head coach Jon Embree will enjoy a honeymoon period of at least two, and perhaps three, seasons.

Meanwhile, former Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel is atop many of those lists this spring. In three seasons at his alma mater, Neuheisel’s UCLA Bruins have posted records of 4-8, 7-6, and 4-8. The 2010 team lost six of its final seven games, with back-to-back wins over No. 23 Houston and No. 7 Texas in non-conference play a distant memory.

Neuheisel knows that this is his year to produce. “I don’t feel it. I’m sure it’s there,” said Neuheisel of the extra pressure to win this season. “I don’t go up there and sit in (the athletic director’s) office every day, but I don’t feel it.”

His actions, if not his words, though, seem to indicate Neuheisel does feel the heat. He has replaced five of his coaches, including both coordinators (remember how it took over a month for Neuheisel to find a new defensive coordinator?). To focus the attention – and pressure – more upon himself, Neuheisel has taken over as the Bruins’ quarterback coach. “I’m putting it on me. I don’t want it on anybody else’s shoulders,” said Neuheisel. “It’s been hard for me to watch that position coached by somebody else (that would be Norm Chow, who coached three quarterbacks to Heisman trophies before parting ways with Neuheisel and landing back at Utah) … but it’s what I do. It’s what I enjoy doing. I’m excited about the challenge.”

It’s not as if Neuheisel has much to work with. A story by ESPN blogger Ted Miller, entitled “No savior yet for UCLA at quarterback“, started off with, “The savior is going to prom next week”, suggesting that it may fall to true freshman Brett Hundley to lead the Bruin offense this fall.

Then there is the division of duties. UCLA ran a pistol offense last year. The move worked well for the rushing attack (UCLA was 32nd in the nation in 2010), but was a disaster for the passing game (where UCLA finished 116th out of 120 teams). Now Neuheisel has brought in Mike Johnson – who has no experience with the pistol – to be the offensive coordinator, while also hiring Jim Mastro to be the running backs coach. Mastro comes to UCLA from Nevada, where the pistol has been perfected. “It’s defined,” said Johnson of the roles of the offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and running backs coach. “My job as offensive coordinator is not to come up with all the ideas. It’s to be the leader of the group.”

UCLA opens the 2011 schedule with a road game against Houston before returning home to face San Jose State and Texas. Both Houston and Texas will have revenge on their minds, as both were ranked when the Bruins upset them last fall. In Pac-12 play, UCLA avoids having to play Oregon, but faces tough road games against Stanford, Utah, and USC. The Bruins will host Colorado in the final home game of the season on November 19th.

Can Neuheisel produce a winning record and save his job? Neuheisel isn’t worried about his future. “If it were to happen, that they were to replace me, I’m confident I would find another job,” said Neuheisel. “It wouldn’t be the end of the world … But I’m adamantly wanting to be here, because this is my school, and I believe we’re closing in on where we want to go.”

Where have we heard that one before …

Other 2011 Colorado opponents with coaches on the “hot seat” …

UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel comes in at No. 4 on the list of potential firings at CoachesHotSeat.com.

First on the list of coaches believed to be close to firing is Washington State’s head coach Paul Wulff. In three seasons with the Cougars, Wulff has posted records of 2-11, 1-11, and 2-10. For a time in December, it was thought that the firing of Wulff – and the hiring of former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti, but Wulff was given a reprieve. Barring a significant improvement in 2011, however, Wulff will be gone this December.

No. 6 on the hot seat list is Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. The listing, of course, has nothing to do with Tressel’s ten-year record with the Buckeyes of 106-22. Instead, it has everything to do with Tressel knowing that he had players who had violated NCAA rules by receiving improper benefits, then lying about his knowledge for nine months (so his players could remain eligible). Jim Tressel has voluntarily agreed to sit out coaching along the sidelines during the first five weeks of the 2011 season (including the Colorado game), but that is a self-imposed sanction. The NCAA isn’t done with Tressel … yet.

A surprise at No. 8 on the hot seat list is Jeff Tedford at Cal. All Tedford had done for the Bears is post a 72-42 record in nine seasons in Berkeley, but, in the “what have you done for me lately” world of college athletics, last season’s 5-7 record – coupled with the rise of rival Stanford into the top ten nationally – has made things uncomfortable for Tedford.

Coming in at No. 16 on the list is Steve Fairchild at Colorado State. In three seasons with the Rams, Fairchild has posted records of 7-6, 3-9, and 3-9. After a promising start to his career in Ft. Collins, including a bowl win over Fresno State in 2008, Fairchild and his Rams have fallen upon hard times. Colorado State lost its last nine games in 2009 after a 3-0 start, and limped home with losses in five of its last six games last year, including year-end embarrassing losses to BYU (49-10) and Wyoming (44-0).

The No. 22 entry on the hotseat list is Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. Erickson is a mediocre 25-24 in four seasons with the Sun Devils, including six straight losses to end a 4-8 campaign in 2009. Two big wins to end the 2010 season, including a win over rival (and 23rd-ranked) Arizona, gave Erickson another year. With almost all of his team returning for 2011, Arizona State is expected to compete for the first Pac-12 South title. Anything short of that, and Erickson may not be with the Sun Devils in 2012.

The final Colorado 2011 opponent with their coach on the hot seat is USC, whose coach, Lane Kiffin, comes in at No. 25 in the rankings. Kiffin posted an 8-5 record in his first season with the Trojans, coming to Los Angeles after a one-year stint (7-6) with Tennessee. NCAA sanctions aside, Kiffin has not exactly endeared himself to the Trojan Nation, so unacceptable loss totals – like the five losses in 2010 – will not long be tolerated.

It will be interesting to see how the 2011 season plays out. Not to wish anyone ill, but … it is nice to see fans of other teams have to struggle with their coaching staff for a change …

April 21st

Eric Richter fourth strongest player in NCAA

Junior Eric Richter, who moved from the offensive line to the defensive line this spring, is considered by ESPN to be the 4th-strongest player in the NCAA.

According to ESPN, Richter, “a transfer from Saddleback College in California, wowed his new CU teammates when he arrived one day in the weight room last year and benched 500 pounds for three reps, according to Buffs receiver Scotty McKnight. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound former defensive lineman can bench press 405 pounds for sets of 6-to-8, reports new CU strength coach Malcolm Blacken, who adds that Richter also did 41 reps of 225 last month.”

Arizona loses three to ACL injuries

Colorado fans had to go without a Spring game due to numerous injuries along the defensive line.

And should be thankful.

The Buffs had a myriad of minor injuries during spring practices, but most were just that, minor. There were no season-ending injuries sustained, and every player (if you don’t count wide receiver Will Jefferson and offensive lineman Maxwell Tuioti-Mariner, whose injuries will keep them from returning to football), should be available for the fall.

That will not be the case in Tucson, where three players suffered ACL injuries.

The latest was starting linebacker Jake Fischer, who tore his ACL during the Spring game. Fischer was fourth on the Wildcats in tackles in 2010, with 58 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for loss, and two sacks. It’s also a blow to a thin linebacker corps, because top backups R.J. Young and Trevor Erno left the team in the offseason. Starters Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls return. Coaches say a trio of incoming freshmen — Rob Hankins, Hank Hobson and Domonique Petties — will have to be ready to play.

Arizona also lost starting safety Adam Hall and backup tailback Greg Nwoko to ACL injuries this spring. Last season, Nwoko had 57 rushes for 270 yards and three touchdowns, while Hall was just behind Fischer on the team with tackles, finishing fifth on the team with 54 tackles. Hall also two interceptions last fall.

April 19th

Deals being made … but not with the Pac-12

Partnerships are being formed, alliances are being made, and checkbooks are being opened.

But not for the Pac-12 … yet.

The NHL, one of the few remaining big fish out there to be had in the media’s rush to obtain broadcast rights, will be staying with NBC and Versus for the next ten years. The NHL had drawn interest from ESPN, Turner and Fox Sports, but decided to stay with its partner for the past six years.

“When we looked at the entire package and the relationship, it was clear we were going to stay with the incumbent,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “But it’s nice to go out and find you’re pretty.”

The package, which will run for ten seasons, will bring in about $200 million to the league, which far exceeds the $75 million or so the league was paying under the existing contract.

What does the NBC/NHL contract mean to Colorado and the Pac-12?

It’s not totally unexpected, and really doesn’t change the playing field all that much. In a perfect world, ESPN or Turner would have obtained the rights to the NHL, which would have made NBC/Comcast all the more desperate to sign on with the Pac-12. NBC/Comcast, seen as the main competitor for the Pac-12 contract with Fox Sports, now has a contract – and programming – in its back pocket. Will NBC/Comcast be satisfied with a seasonal sport which rarely registers in the national consciousness? Probably not.

But they may be just a little less willing to break the bank to get the Pac-12.

Meanwhile … back at the Mother ship …

ESPN, according to SportsBusinessJournal, is looking to extend its contracts for football and basketball with the Big East. The current contract doesn’t expire until the end of the 2013 football season, but ESPN is looking to lock up its longtime partner into a long-term contract.

The current contract with ESPN nets the Big East $36 million per year, almost an insult under the current climate. The new deal is reportedly going to be in the $110-$130 million range. Significantly higher, but also significantly less than what the Pac-12 would be looking for.

What does the ESPN/Big East contract talk mean to Colorado and the Pac-12?

Does ESPN”s willingness to extend its contract with the Big East mean that ABC/ESPN is not interested in the Pac-12? No more than was the case before. With a significant inventory of college football games already under contract with the Big Ten, the Big 12, and the ACC, ESPN was not likely to be a primary bidder for the Pac-12, anyway. If ESPN does participate in the new Pac-12 contract, it will likely only be to purchase a certain number of games from the winner of the Fox/Comcast battle.

Should the ESPN/Big East contract projections – $110 – $130 million per year – mean that the speculation that the Pac-12 contract may go as high as $220 million per year is out of line? Probably not. Remember, football is the fuel which drives the television bus (remember that from last summer, Jayhawk fans?). The Big East, while a power in basketball, is a secondary power in football. There are large media markets targeted by the league, with hopes that the addition of TCU will bring in fans from the Southwest, but the Big East is not as powerful a draw as the Pac-12. (Quick test: Name the football teams in the Big East. Go ahead, I’ll wait …. Now name the teams in the Big Ten or SEC …. A lot easeir, isn’t it?

Television exectuives think so, too.

April 18th

Going bowling not a money maker

The Stanford Daily published an article listing how BCS teams did financially on their bowl trips.

Sometimes its not so great to be the king.

Stanford, which had to travel cross-country to play in the Orange Bowl, broke even on its trip. “I would say, roughly, at the end of the day, with all things being considered, we’ll break even,” said Brian Talbot, chief financial officer for Stanford athletics. “We broke even at worst.”

The Pac-10 pools bowl revenue from all of its teams, and distributes it to schools to cover bowl-related expenses, chiefly travel and tickets (the Pac-12 will have the same rules). Stanford paid for transportation, lodging and meals for the team, the band, and University administrators. The University also had to pay for 7,500 of the 17,500 allotted tickets it did not sell.

The report looked at nine schools which qualified for BCS bowls last season. On the top end of the scale, Ohio State fared the best, netting over $288,000.00. Fellow Big Ten school Wisconsin, which also travels well, took home over $79,000.00. Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Stanford finished in the black, while Oregon (-$312,437.00), Virginia Tech (-$421,046.00), Auburn (-$614,000.00) and Connecticut (-$1,757,998.00) lost money on their trips. (The tenth BCS bowl participant, TCU, is a private institution, and is not required to disclose its bowl financial records).

Of course, the other 118 schools in Division 1-A would love to take the financial hit and trade places with Oregon and Auburn and play for the national championship. “We know the numbers that the Pac-10 gets as a payout; we know what it costs us,” said Talbot. “What’s a lot tougher is quantifying the ancillary benefits; how many more ticket sales we’re going to get this year than last year because we went to the Orange Bowl, how many more donations are we going to get this year because we went to the Orange Bowl, how much better is our recruiting going to be because we went to the Orange Bowl.”

Sizing up the Pac-10 bowl participants, 2010

The BCS pays out $21.2 million to each of the six automatic qualifying conferences, plus another $6 million if a conference if the conference qualifies a second team (which is why there is always a celebration in league offices when a second team from the conference earns a BCS bowl bid). With both Oregon and Stanford qualifying for BCS bowls, the Pac-10 received $27.2 million from the BCS.

The Pac-10 also received funds from the Holiday Bowl and Alamo Bowl, which invited Washington and Arizona, respectively. “Those revenues all come into one pot, minus the expenses from each, and then the rest is distributed among all 10 institutions,” said Kirk Reynolds, vice president for public affairs for the Pac-10. “Stanford would have gotten, because they played in a BCS game, $1.4 million plus change, and then travel expenses for 600 people.” Part of the payout from the Pac-10 was used to help defray the cost of Stanford’s unsold 7,500 Orange Bowl tickets.

Overall, Arizona lost $274,932 on its trip to the Alamo Bowl, while Washington came out slightly ahead on its Holiday Bowl trip, with a $3,796 profit. The difference? Again, it was unsold tickets. The Wildcats were forced to cover $552,375 in unsold tickets, while the Huskies only had to eat $102,130 in ticket losses.

Colorado is known for not traveling well. However, with the Rose Bowl, the Alamo Bowl (San Antonio), the Holiday Bowl (San Diego), the Sun Bowl (El Paso), the Las Vegas Bowl and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (San Francisco) as possibilities, there are now more Colorado fans closer to Buff bowl destinations … not to mention the novelty of traveling as a representative of the Pac-12.

It’s time to make a bowl game … and make some travel plans.

 

April 15th

“There is upward pressure in the value of college sports rights”

The next few weeks could be very interesting – and very lucrative – for the University of Colorado.

While most experts are still betting that Fox Sports will become the first Pac-12 television partner, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Comcast, which controls NBCUniversal, is making a “big push” for the Pac-12’s television rights.

Steve Burke, the new CEO of NBCU, is “interested in building a more viable competitor to Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN.” The problem for Mr. Burke is that there is little sports inventory out there for which Comcast might place a bid. Other than the Pac-12, the Big East is the only major conference with college football media rights available before 2016 (when the Big 12’s contract with ABC/ESPN expires).

As a result, Comcast has three sporting contracts options to pursue – the NHL, the Olympics … and the Pac-12.

Versus/NBC currently has the contract with the NHL, with the league currently receiving $77.5 million per year from Versus. ESPN and Turner might also be bidding. Fox is reportedly not interested in the NHL (which could mean that the league is holding onto cash in order to pay for its Pac-12 bid – not a bad thing).

Every Olympics this century have been shown on NBC, and it is likely that NBCU will make a bid for the next set of Olympics, with the International Olympic Committee hopes to award in June. The problem for Burke and Comcast/NBC is losing money on the Olympics (the 2010 Vancouver games lost $223 million despite being in a decent time zone – as compared to Syndey or even London, the site of the 2012 Summer Games). Keeping the Games is important to NBC, but a two-week show every two years is not exactly going to allow the network to dominate sports programming … and the Games come with red ink attached.

College football, meanwhile, is a cash-cow for cable networks who can raise their fees for having the extra programming. As Jon Wilmer of the San Jose Mercury News put it: “Let’s say, as a very basic example, that the ($90 million) Big 12 deal allows Fox to charge $.10 more per subscriber for FX. Multiply 100 cable households (oops: 100 MILLION cable households) x $.10 fee increase x 12 months … and you have $120,000,000 in additional annual revenue.” So, for every dime added to every cable bill which carries FX, Fox Sports can generate an extra $120 million. Simply put, sports programming, with its “carriage fees” available with cable contracts, is where the smart money is going. College football has never been more popular.

And the Pac-12 contract is the only game in town for the next four years …

Fox Sports Network president Randy Freer, at the press conference announcing the network’s contract with the Big 12 (see below), had some great quotes:

College football provides a place “advertisers can count on for a mass audience”;

College sports “is undervalued compared to other content in the marketplace”; and

College sports in general and college football in particular have “a great deal of value going forward”.

It’s a great time to be a Buff. The $170 million hoped for annual contract (to avoid having to pay USC and UCLA a surcharge of $2 million apiece) seems all but assured. Last week, the number $220 million annually was put out as a projection – and no one laughed. Now the Big 12, which is ten teams and has restrictions on what Texas and Oklahoma content can be shown, has signed a $90 million per year contract just for the cable rights. And they negotiated their contract through Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, not exactly a commissioner held in high esteem by Colorado fans.

The Pac-12 just happens to have Larry Scott as its commissioner. Scott has been just this side of brillant in his first two years as the league’s head man.

Could it be?? Deficit spending a thing of the past for the Colorado athletic department … ??

April 13th

Big 12 announces television deal with Fox Sports

The Big 12 has announced a 13-year agreement with Fox Sports Media for exclusive cable rights to 40 football games per season.

The new pact, which takes affect in 2012, grants Fox Sports the exclusive cable rights for a minimum of 40 regular season games – double the number under its current agreement. There will be options for three Thursday games, one Labor Day Sunday game, and one Thanksgiving Friday contest each season. Most of the games will be shown on FSN, with several other games on FX. Fox also has a similar exclusive contract for a minimum of 40 Olympic sports events, including Conference championship events and up to 25 women’s basketball games. The contract is reportedly for $90 million per season – over four times what the league was receiving previously from Fox Sports. The new agreement guarantees that every Big 12 home game will now be televised, with Fox picking up what ABC and ESPN pass on.

The current ABC/ESPN contract provides for: 18 football games per season, 95 men’s basketball games per season (including the conference championship), and six women’s basketball games per season. This agreement, which has precedence over the Fox Sports agreement with the 10-team league, still has four years left to run.

What does this mean for the Pac-12’s negotiations?

“When you look at the transition that we’re all going through in this video world, sports is one of the only things that drives the adaptation of technology,” said Fox president Randy Freer. “Sports rights are still somewhat manageable as it relates to your ability to put content out digitally. I think we’re all making a bet on the future, where we believe that college sports and sports in general is one of the leading rights generating large audiences in a way that advertisers can connect with. … That’s what you’re seeing drive up college sports’ cost to the values where they are today.”

It could be a very lucrative summer for the University of Colorado and its Pac-12 partners …

Arizona State’s turn to unveil new uniforms

Washington State will not be the only team wearing new uniforms this fall. Arizona State has introduced not only new uniforms, but a new logo. Gone is “Sparky” the devil which has adorned the Arizona State helmet since 1980, replaced by a flaming trident. Here are some pictures of the new uniforms.

Fear not, Sparky fans. The devil will remain as a mascot, and will remain as a small sticker on the back of the Sun Devils’ helmets.

Ryan Walters settling in

Former Colorado Buffalo safety Ryan Walters is entering his first season as an assistant coach … as the secondary coach at the University of Arizona.

The 25-year old Walters is trying to use his youth to his advantage. “It definitely helps,” Walters told the Arizona Daily Star in an article published Tuesday. “My last year playing was the 2008-09 season, so I understand what it takes to be a student athlete. I definitely think it helps as far as relating to the players, and knowing what to expect.”

Walters followed his former coach, Greg Brown, to Arizona as a graduate assistant. When Brown returned to Colorado in December, Duane Akina was tabbed to replace Brown as secondary coach. In January, though, Akina opted to return to Texas, leaving the job open, and Walters was promoted from within.

“I was planning on staying (when Akina was hired),” said Walters. “I was looking forward to learning from him. He was one of the best DB coaches out there. When he then left, he told me, ‘Hey, I think you’re ready for this job’. That was good to hear. I had only spent about a month with the guy. For him to say that and wish me well was pretty humbling.”

Walters will lead his secondary into Boulder to face his former team on November 12th.

 

April 12th

Washington State unveils new uniforms

The Washington State Cougars will have a new look this fall, with their new uniforms unveiled on Monday night.

Judge for yourself … here are the new WSU uniforms.

Personally, I can live with the red and gray combination, sort of a knockoff of the Ohio State uniform … but the gray-on-gray? Yikes!

Not to be out-done, Arizona State is set to unveil its new uniforms and logo (the rumor is that the devil has been removed from the logo; it will just be a trident) on April 12th.

Stay tuned.

April 11th

Pac-12 Notes

UCLA – former Buff injured

Former Colorado Buffalo center Kai Maiava re-injured his ankle during practice last Thursday. Maiava, who transferred from Colorado to UCLA two years ago, missed all of last season with a broken ankle. He re-injured the same ankle last week. “As soon as it happened, I felt the aches and pains coming,” said Maiava. “There was some throbbing in the front and back of the ankle.”

Fortunately for Maiava, this injury was not as serious, and the senior center is expected back at practice this week.

In a not-totally unrelated story … During a scrimmage on Saturday, the UCLA defense, which allowed 200 or more yards rushing in eight games last season, had a great day. The UCLA defense had 18 tackles for loss, including nine sacks. “This is the best scrimmage we have had here, ever,” said Bruin safety Tony Dye. “This is the most fun I have ever had on this field.”

Imagine if that had happened this past Saturday in Boulder … 18 tackles for loss, and nine sacks?

Would Buff fans be singing the praises of the defense … or be scared to death for the health and well-being of their quarterback this fall?

USC – Wide receiver goes AWOL

Sophomore wide receiver Markeith Ambles was absent from practice this past Saturday, and his whereabouts is unknown. “He wasn’t here this morning,” said USC head coach Lane Kiffin. “It went on as normal, so we’ll figure it out.”

Ambles, 19, was punished earlier in the week for arriving late to a mandatory team weightlifting session, and was not allowed to practice on Thursday. Last season, Ambles was suspended in October, and, shortly after his reinstatement two weeks later, left the team in November and went home to Atlanta for several weeks. He then met with Kiffin over Christmas break and re-joined the team in mid-January.

It doesn’t sound like Ambles will be a Trojan for much longer …

Oregon – Wide receiver injured

Sophomore Josh Huff was taken off the field at practice last Friday after suffering a serious knee injury.

Huff was not contacted on a long pass, when he fell down and grabbed his knee with both hands. He was unable to put any weight on his left leg when he left the field.

In 2010, Huff caught 19 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 12 times for 214 yards and two more touchdowns. Huff was also the Ducks leading kick returner, with 23 returns for a 24.7 yard average.

 

 

April 8th

Larry Scott targeting Pacific Rim

The latest installment from Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News talks about how Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott is already looking past the negotiations for the domestic market.

The Pac-12 will be a global network.

A planned media company will oversee the league’s broadcasting and digital/mobile rights which could expand the network into China, Japan, South Korea, India, and beyond. The new company will have to partner up with the Pac-12’s domestic partner (an “in” for Fox Sports – Fox already has existing relationships with cable operators in the Pacific rim). There might not be a great deal of money for the league – at least initially – but the move will certainly expand the league’s presence, with a potential windfall on the marketing and sponsorship fronts.

Other tidbits from the Wilner article …

– While most analysts believe that the Pac-12 negotiations will come down to a bidding war between Comcast and Fox, “multiple industry sources” believe ESPN and Turner will “poke around and come to the table.” For those hoping to generate the most $$$ for the league, one source said “Game theory of negotiations says you’ll get the best price if there are at least three serious bidders.”

– Another source said, “The next holy grail for (Turner) is college football”.

– It is likely that any new contract the league signs will have a contingency for future expansion (see comments section, below).

– While the new number we’re all waiting to hear – $220 million per year – is not guaranteed, even a contract for $190 million would more than triple the league’s current income.

April 5th

Arizona State loses top cornerback

Omar Bolden could have turned pro this spring, but instead chose to come back to play for Arizona State for his senior season. Unfortunately for the senior cornerback, Bolden’s senior season will not take place as he imagined.

On Saturday, Bolden tore the ACL in his knee. Depending on the recovery route taken by Bolden and his doctors, he could be out for all of the 2011 season. In the best scenario, he might be ready for the second half of his senior campaign, but that looks unlikely.

In 2010, Bolden was a unanimous pick as an All-Pac-10 performer. Bolden had three interceptions on the season, including one which he returned 66 yards for a touchdown against USC. Bolden had 57 tackles on the year, including 37 unassisted tackles. As a kick returner, Bolden returned 11 kickoffs for 321 yards, taking one back for a touchdown against Wisconsin.

Simpson also lost … The Sun Devils also lost wide receiver T.J. Simpson to a similar injury during Saturday’s practice. Simpson, who would have been a senior this fall, had 29 catches for 481 yards in 2010. Simpson’s yardage total was second on the team to departed senior Kerry Taylor, who had 54 catches for 699 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.

News also bad for Wildcats

On Wednesday, Arizona also got some bad news, as junior Adam Hall suffered a torn ACL to his right knee during practice. Hall, a projected starter at free safety, finished fifth on the team in tackles in 2010, and intercepted two passes. “Adam was a big player for us; he came up and made some great plays,” said Robert Golden, who will now have to move from cornerback to safety to fill Hall’s position. “I know I have to step up and make plays he was making.”

The defensive secondary was already going to be in rebuilding mode, as two starters from last season, safety Joe Perkins and cornerback Marcus Benjamin, have graduated. With Golden moving from cornerback to safety, Arizona will be looking to train three new starters in the defensive backfield for next fall.

Cal quarterback race far from settled

Cal head coach Jeff Tedford has issues.

First, his team is on the move … literally. With renovations to Memorial Stadium ongoing, the Bears have had to move their practices. The team was to utilize a temporary practice facility on Witter Rugby Field, but there have been problems with the facilities. In all, Cal expects to use six different sites to conduct its 15 allowed spring practices.

And it will take more than 15 practices to decide on a quarterback for 2011.

While Colorado seems to be settling in with senior Tyler Hansen at quarterback, Cal has to replace Kevin Riley, a three-year starter. Tedford isn’t expected to name a replacement this spring. Rather, it is hoped that he can narrow the race down to a final three.

Brock Mansion, Beau Sweeney, Zach Maynard, Allan Bridgeford and Austin Hinder are all vying for the position. Senior Brock Mansion would be the early favorite, as Mansion stepped in as starter for the final five games of the season after Riley was injured. In those final five games, though, the Bears went 1-4, turning a 4-3 start into a 5-7 finish.

The  other name which may be familiar to many Buff fans is that of Austin Hinder. The 23rd-ranked quarterback from the Class of 2010, Hinder, from Steamboat Springs, was a recruit many Buff fans were hoping would come to Boulder. Now, along with four others, Hinder will be trying to make the first cut in the quarterback race in Berkeley.

 

April 1st

CSU coaches try a different tack

The last two seasons, Colorado State has finished with a 3-9 record, with a nine-game losing streak to end the 2009 season, and humbling 49-10 (to BYU) and 44-0 (to Wyoming) losses to end the 2010 campaign.

Now in his fourth season, Steve Fairchild knows his job is on the line.

So, what are the Rams doing this spring practice?

Having fun.

Twelve players who make up the players’ council told their head coach that steps needed to be taken to make the game more fun, and Fairchild has complied. Music blares from loudspeakers during the warmups, and Thursday’s practice included a pass-protection contest matching the second-team offensive line against the second-team defensive line.

“It feels totally different out here,” said junior defensive end C.J. James. “The coach is giving us a little more liberty as far as letting us have some music out there … It feels like something special’s about to happen.”

“We didn’t come to this level to play football so it could be a job,” said junior defensive end Broderick Sargent. “We came to play a sport. It’s a game, so we want to have fun while we’re playing … That’s definitely a major, major point this year – to always have fun, down or up.

“It doesn’t matter.”

Compare …

In a Sports Illustrated on-line story, new Colorado head coach Jon Embree was noted for screaming at his players at the very first drill of spring practice …

Whether building a team or coaching it, Embree competes relentlessly in everything he does. He tells a story of pushing his teenage daughter, Hannah, to be more ruthless in her tennis game. “I tell her there comes a time when you have to have this mindset when you go out there,” he said. “You have to put your throat on the other girl’s throat. You can’t let her breathe.

“I say something like that, and then my wife tells me, ‘You know, not everybody’s like you. Not everyone wants to be like that all the time.’ But I guess that’s just who I am. No matter what it is, I just like winning.”

Lately, that kind of intensity has been lacking in Boulder. “Under the coach we had before, it had gotten to the point where, for some reason or another, losing became acceptable,” said senior safety Anthony Perkins, referring to former coach Dan Hawkins, who went 16-33 in his four years at Colorado. “In players’ minds, it was just accepted that we were going to lose games. We’d get up for certain games, and then we’d have down weeks where we weren’t giving it everything. That was the culture. That was the norm.”

Embree has made it clear he won’t tolerate that kind of attitude. “From day one, he let us know that the standards were going to be raised,” Perkins said. “His first speech let us know that he expected more than what we had given.”

As he screamed his way through the first day of drills, Embree acted as a sort of benevolent sadist, forcing sprint after sprint. At one point he organized the team into lines for 20-yard group sprints. He called the drill “Perfect 12s,” representing the team’s move to the Pac-12 conference. As each group ran, Embree and his staff counted the reps. If any player walked across the finish line, the sprint didn’t count. If any player put his hands on his knees afterward, the sprint didn’t count. If any player didn’t go as hard as he could, failed to strive for Embree’s definition of “perfection,” the sprint didn’t count.

The Buffs needed 12 perfect sprints to complete the drill. It took them 56 tries.

“That’s when I knew,” senior quarterback Tyler Hansen said, “this guy is not joking around. He’s going to get us back to where we need to be.”

Okay, Buff fans, the choice appears clear … Which style of spring practices do you think will be more effective? Colorado State’s “You’re just playing a game”, or Colorado’s “This guy’s not joking around”?

Yeah, me too.

Injuries continue to pile up at UCLA

And they’re not even in pads yet …

Offensive tackle Jeff Baca, expected to be a starter this fall, was carted off the field after suffering an ankle injury. It was only the second day of spring practice for UCLA, so the Bruins have yet to even don pads, but Baca was injured during an 11-on-11 drill when another player landed on his ankle.

Baca started all 13 games in 2009, but was academically ineligible last season.

In all, UCLA has eight players who are out for spring practices with injury, with four others, including quarterback Kevin Prince, limited in their participation. Prince is recovering from off-season knee surgery, and, at best, may be allowed to participate in drills in which he is not required to run laterally.

Injuries have become such a story at UCLA that head coach Rick Neuheisel was reduced to saying “we’ll keep our fingers crossed” three times after Thursday’s practice.

UPDATE: Baca had surgery on his left ankle Thursday night, and will be out indefinitely. 

Baca’s injury is the latest setback in a long line of them for UCLA’s offensive line. Last season, Baca and center Kai Maiava (formerly a Colorado Buff) were slated to start but missed the season — Baca because of the aforementioned academic issues and Maiava because of a broken ankle. Expected starter Xavier Su’a-Filo left for a two-year Mormon mission before last season. Starters Sheller and Mike Harris were both suspended for a game.

And so it goes in Westwood …

Arizona thin at linebacker

The Arizona Wildcats are down to five linebackers on their roster after two backups, sophomore R.J. Young and freshman Trevor Erno, left the team.

“Yeah, we’re thin (at linebacker),” acknowledged Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. (For comparison’s sake, Colorado is showing seven scholarship players at linebacker this spring – not counting Tyler Ahles and Evan Harrington, who moved over to fullback –  with three walk-ons, including Embree favorite David Goldberg).

The Wildcats do return three starters at linebacker, but the backups are a red-shirt freshman and a walk-on senior. Three true freshmen will be added to the lineup this fall. “All three of those young guys will have to come in and play.”

Stoops was not overly concerned about the lack of depth at linebacker, noting that his secondary was two-deep in the nickel package.

In a Pac-12 where many of the teams run some form of the spread offense, nickel backs are more important than linebackers.

However, if the Wildcats were to run up against a running team, say on November 12th, in Boulder …

March 31st

April 1st marks opening day for television negotiations

Jon Wilner, who writes for the San Jose Mercury, has been the most up-to-date on keeping tabs on the future television deals which the Pac-12 might be making this spring. In his latest blog entry, Wilner discusses why April 1st is a big day for Pac-12 fans.

And, no, not because it’s April Fool’s Day.

On March 31st, the exclusive window for Fox to negotiate a new television contract elapses, and it is no surprise that the deadline has come and gone all-but unnoticed. The Pac-12 has no reason to worry about the end of the negotiating window, as the league is very interested in seeing wants to get the best offer possible, while Fox wants to see what networks will be its competition.

Wilner calls the Pac-12 package available “unprecedented”, as, for the first time, the league is taking control of all of the media rights. Previously, if a game was not picked up for broadcast, it was left to the schools to sell those rights to local media outlets. When the schools could not find a local partner, the game went untelevised, and potential revenue was lost. Now, as the Pac-12 teams have all signed on to be part of a package deal, there is significant inventory – some 2,700 events in all – to be included in a television package.

Plus, as Wilner points out, the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten are currently under long-term contracts, so the Pac-12 is the only option for a broadcast network looking to expand its college footprint.

Handicapping the contenders …

Fox Sports – the leader out of the gate, and, for now at least, the likely favorite to win the competition. Fox has recently purchased the Pac-12 and Big Ten championship games, and has signed onto a $90 million deal with the diluted Big 12 (even without the Texas Network and the soon-to-be Oklahoma Network). Fox also has the channels in place (like FX) and has the backing (and dollars) from Cablevision.

ESPN – the favorite of most fans, and likely most coaches and players. ESPN already has a number of commitments in place, and the Pacific time zone hurts the Pac-12’s chances for a big score from the “mother ship”. However, ESPN could partner up with another network (Turner Sports?) to create a package so that ESPN would still retain rights to Saturday night games from the Pac-12. Turner Sports, which worked with CBS during the NCAA basketball tournament, has been described as being “as hungry as anyone” when it comes to wanting to expand more into college football.

Comcast – the largest cable operator in the country … and one of the most unpopular. Comcast has merged with NBC, and has the money, the production experience, and the infrastructure to make a significant bid for the Pac-12’s services. Comcast may want to become a major player in college sports, and use the Pac-12 as a vehicle to make its mark.

It’s going to be an interesting spring … and perhaps summer … of negotiations.

While most Buff fans would likely rather see their team on ESPN, the smart money still appears to be on Fox.

Stay tuned …

 

March 30th

ESPN’s Ted Miller visits Boulder

Moving to the Pac-12 has also moved the Buffs from Big 12 blogger David Ubben to Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. To date, Miller has been fair to the Buffs, acknowledging that the 52-7 beatdown put on Colorado by Cal last season colored his early opinions. Since then, though, I believe Miller’s reporting has been fairly even-handed when it comes to the Buff Nation.

Miller has been making the rounds of the Pac-12’s spring practices, and has been in Boulder the past few days. Miller’s blog has provided some insights into practices normally closed to the public and the media, as well as interviews of some of the players.

Some of Miller’s observations will ring true to Buff fans …

Tyler Hansen is in the lead to remain the starter at quarterback. “He didn’t have a great practice (Tuesday),” wrote Miller, “but even then his command and presence stood out. Red-shirt freshman Nick Hirschman seem to lead in the battle with JC transfer Brent Burnette for the backup job.”

– Miller liked the looks of two defensive players, senior defensive tackle Conrad Obi and junior linebacker Doug Rippy. “Both pass the eyeball test, and, more important, both have been consistently making plays. Obi, in particular, is intriguing: Athletic 310-pound defensive tackles are really, really nice to have.”

– The Colorado rushing game is faring better than the passing game, but at least Colorado has one star amongst the wideouts, sophomore Paul Richardson. “UCLA fans probably won’t want to watch Colorado’s offense this year,” wrote Miller. “Sophomore Paul Richardson … appears poised for a breakout season. He’s clearly the Buffaloes best receiver.”

In an interview with head coach Jon Embree, Miller was able to get some good quotes:

– On the Buffs’ overall talent: “We can’t just sit back. I’m an honest person. We are not good enough to just line up and say we’re going to beat you. From a talent standpoint, we’re not at that elite level yet.”

– On the race for starting quarterback: “I’d say the edge with Hansen right now is that Tyler is just a little more decisive with what to do, and just his command in the huddle,” allowing, though, “Nick Hirschman is starting to figure things out. The light is starting to go on.”

On the overall lack of talent in the skill positions: “These freshman coming in are going to have a great chance. If you are a high school skill guy, at running back and receiver, you will have a great opportunity to play early here.”

Players singled out by Embree for praise in the first half of spring practice included senior Ryan Deehan and sophomore DaVaughn Thornton at tight end; defensive tackle Conrad Obi, displacing starter Will Pericak with the No. 1 defense (“Now he’s starting to compete,” Embree said of Pericak. “He needed a fire lit under him”); defensive linemen Curtis Cunningham, Kirk Poston, Josh Hartigan, and Chidera Uzo-Diribe (“I think he’s going to be a really good player,” said Embree of Uzo-Diribe. “Good power. Great first step. Explosive.”); and inside linebackers Jon Major and Doug Rippy. As for the secondary, Embree only had faint praise for the defensive backs, noting that Terrel Smith “has finally shown up”, and that cornerback Jered Bell had at least been consistent at cornerback.

March 28th

Weak link?

No one is going to be accused of taking Oregon lightly this season. The Ducks were just a play or two away from earning their first national championship in January, and there will be more than a few national publications this summer which will predict that Oregon is a favorit to return to the BCS title game again in 2011.

Still, there may be a weak link for Oregon … the offensive line.

For starters, there won’t be five returning starters, as there was in 2010. Jordan Holmes, the center and leader, has graduated. Also gone are Bo Thran, C.E. Kaiser, and Holmes’ backup at center, Max Forer. The unit also lost some depth since past season, as red-shirt freshmen Jamaal Burrell (heart) and Nick Rowland (leg) were forced to quit the game due to medical concerns.

Two seniors will be back at tackle, Darrion Weems (who started six games in 2010) and Mark Asper, but the interior of the line will be manned by players who are either underclassmen or inexperienced juniors.

Not much for opponents of the Ducks – who were first in the nation in total offense (530 yards per game) and scoring offense (47 points per game) – to hang their hats upon …

… but it’s a start.

Huskies need a new quarterback

Colorado and Washington have one issue in common this spring … who will be the starting quarterback come September?

The Buffs do have a senior starter returning in Tyler Hansen, but whether he will remain at the helm in the new offene remains at issue.

The Huskies, meanwhile, enter the post-Jake Locker era this fall. Locker was a four-year starter, so his replacement will be the main question for Steve Sarkisian and his staff. Sophomore Keith Price has more experience, but red-shirt freshman Nick Montana has the name. Washington may wait until August to name Locker’s successor.

Other issues in Seattle this spring …

– Both outside linebackers – Mason Foster (a likely NFL draft pick) and Victor Aiyewa – have to be replaced;

– Five offensive lineman return who have at least some starting experience. Can the Huskies, who have run through a number of players along the line in Sarkisian’s two seasons, settle on a starting five?

– There is also the concern of whether the Huskies can stay out off the police blotter. Running back Johri Ferguson was arrested for resisting arrest and marijuana possession, and has been suspended. Meanwhile, wide receiver Jordan Polk was booted from the team after being arrested for domestic violence.

The battle for the starting job at quarterback will produce most of the headlines in Seattle this spring. But star quarterback Jake Locker was a senior last year, and his presence resulted in a disappointing 7-6 season (the re-match victory over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl notwithstanding).

As a result, it is clear that there is more for Husky fans to keep an eye on than just the race for starter behind center.

March 24th

Colorado State defensive line “going to be a strength”

Whistling past the graveyard … ?

Colorado State head coach Steve Fairchild is entering his fourth season as the head coach in Ft. Collins. After an encouraging start – a 7-6 record and a win over Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl – hard times have hit the Rams. Colorado State slipped to 3-9 in 2009, losing the last nine games of the season. In 2010, it was a repeat, with a 3-9 campaign finished off with a three game losing streak and an embarassing 44-0 whitewash by Wyoming (a Cowboy team which entered the game with a 2-9 record and a six game losing streak of its own).

As a result of the past two seasons – and a 13-24 overall record – Steve Fairchild needs to produce on the field in 2010 … or be left looking for a new job.

With that in mind, it is no surprise that Fairchild is opening spring practices on an upbeat tone. “There’s no question we’re a better football team, lining up Day One from an experience standpoint, probably a depth standpoint,” said Fairchild. “But we’re not out of the woods.”

Colorado State gave up 423.8 yards per game last season (96th in the nation), and gave up 34.7 points per game (104th). The rushing defense ranked 102nd in the nation, and loses three senior – Guy Miller, Ty Whittier, and Cory Macon – yet Fairchild believes that the defensive line can be a strength of the team. “I’d like to come out of spring ball thinking our defensive line is going to be a strength for us,” said Fairchild. “We’ve got a lot of bodies who look like they’re ready to contribute.”

But let’s take a moment to look at the Colorado State depth chart.

Along the front line, the Rams are showing defensive ends weighing 241 and 237. The defensive tackles are a robust 274 and 300 pounds. Colorado State gets even lighter at the linebacker position, where the three players listed at the top of the depth chart at each position check in at 207, 231, and 215 pounds.

Now, let’s compare that to the potential starting offensive line for Colorado … five players ranging from senior Ryan Miller (6’8″, 310-pounds) down to the “baby” of the group, sophomore David Bakhtiari (6’4″, 285-pounds).

Anyone else like the odds of 310-pound Ryan Miller taking on a 237-pound defensive end?

Last year Colorado had their way with Colorado State, running up a 24-3 final score. This year, new head coach Jon Embree wants this year’s Buffs to be even more physical.

Could get ugly … in fact, while I am not prone to making optimistic predictions, it would be a fairly objective statement to say that, with the possible exception of Washington State, the Rams are perhaps the easiest game on the Colorado schedule.

And then there is this … Other than the ignoble 2006 season, when the Buffs lost to Montana State in the opener on their way to a 2-10 season, Colorado has not lost to Colorado State to the Rams when the game was played after the first game of the season since the series was renewed in 1983. Put another way, Colorado is 7-1 against Coloraado State when the Rams are not allowed to spend all of August preparing for their game-of-the-year.

March 22nd

Neuheisel at it again

Colorado and UCLA won’t meet on the field until November, but, by then fourth-year head coach Rick Neuheisel’s job may be on the line.

After posting records of 4-8, 7-6, and 4-8 – at a time when cross-town rival USC is having issues of its own – 2011 is a make or break season for Neuheisel. He changed both coordinators, first with a messy divorce from offensive coordinator Norm Chow (who landed at Utah), then a prolonged two-month search for a new defensive coordinator.

This week, Neuheisel replaced special teams coach Frank Gansz Jr. (son of former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Frank Gansz) with Angus McClure.

For those of you unfamiliar with Angus McClure, here is his resume: From 1997-2003, McClure was the offensive line coach for Division 1-AA Sacramento State. For two seasons (2004-05), McClure was on the staff of Bill Callahan at Nebraska (ahh, the glory years in Lincoln!), before serving as the offensive line coach at the University of Buffalo in 2006. In 2007, McClure moved on to UCLA, where he spent one year as the offensive line coach for Karl Dorrell.  

That’s it.

For the past three seasons, McClure has been UCLA’s on-campus recruiting coordinator. McClure has handled official and unofficial visits for recruits, and tracked recruiting paperwork. “(McClure) has been a valuable member of the staff, and I know he is anxious to return to coaching,” said Neuheisel. “This will be a smooth transition, and I expect our special teams to flourish under his guidance.”

So, a special teams coach who has never been a special teams coach before, a coach who hasn’t been on the field for the past three seasons, taking over in mid-March.

Imagine all the high fives the UCLA fans are doing in Westwood tonight over this catch!

USC injury issues getting worse

While Colorado has been lucky during the first week of practice, with no new significant injuries. The injury problems at USC, however, continue to mount.

The Trojans are already looking at a diminished roster due to NCAA sanctions, but now head coach Lane Kiffin has to deal with a roster which is 20 players short due to injuries. “It’s just a very unusual amount of off-season surgeries and injuries, unfortunately,” said Kiffin. The offensive and defensive lines, as well as the linebacker corps, have been particularly hard hit.

The offensive line, which has lost three starters (to the NFL, one to a family business), is of particular concern. Starting guard Khaled Holmes, along with potential starters Kevin Graf and Abe Markowitz, have not been cleared to practice. “There will be a real lack of depth on the offensive line this spring because of injuries, so that will make for some very interesting practice formats,” Kiffin said in USC’s official spring prospectus, released last week. “We’ll get some help here in the fall when the newcomers come in and, if we can help hasten their development, they’ll have a chance to contribute immediately.”

Along the defensive line, four players will not be available, including Armond Armstead, who was taken to the hospital last week for undisclosed medical issues. The lack of offensive and defensive lineman will force the Trojans to spend much of the spring in 7-on-7 drills instead of full squad scimmages.

Then, on the first day of spring practice … USC starting running back Marc Tyler pulled his right hamstring. Tyler, who rushed for a team-high 913 yards and ten total touchdowns last fall, will be out for an extended period of time. Tyler, a red-shirt senior, has been limited by injuries in the past. He missed games in 2008 because of a hip injury, and missed almost the entire 2009 season with a toe sprain which required surgery.

Behind Tyler are sophomore Dillon Baxter, red-shirt freshman D.J. Morgan, and junior Curtis McNeal, who was academically ineligible last season. Baxter, the only one of the three to see the field in 2010, had 59 carries for 252 yards and one touchdown.

Okay, not quite time for a pity party for the Trojans.

Perhaps in November … ?

 

March 19th

Washington dismisses one player; suspends another

Wide receiver Jordan Polk has been dismissed from the Washington Husky football team, head coach Steve Sarkisian announced on Friday. Polk has been arrested and charged with domestic violence related to an incident in which Polk cause property damage at the residence of a former girlfriend.

Polk had seven catches for 94 yards last season, and was expected to compete for at least a backup role this fall.

Meanwhile, running back Johri Ferguson remains indefinitely suspended from the team due to his legal issues earlier this month. Sarkisian said there’s a chance he returns to the team later and that no definite decision on his long-term future with the team has been made. “I’m still assessing the situation of the case and how it is being handled in the courts, so I’m not going to rush to judgment on this thing. Let it play out on that end of it and then make a decision after that.”

As reported in the March 7th update of  the Colorado Daily: Johri Ferguson was arrested for resisting arrest and possession of marijuana. Ferguson, 21, was The Seattle Times State Player of the Year as a senior at O’Dea High in 2007 as a running back and safety. He played safety for the Huskies as a true freshman in 2008, then moved to tailback as a sophomore in 2009, appearing in nine games. He played in just one game last season, the opener against Brigham Young, before suffering a hip injury that held him out the rest of the season.

Here is an injury list for the Washington Huskies for this year’s spring practice.

 

March 17th

Oregon investigation likely to continue for some time

Those looking for the NCAA to take a swing at the Oregon Ducks should probably sit back and enjoy spring practices.

This could take awhile.

“It’s a very involved process,” Michael Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has represented universities and coaches in NCAA investigations, told the Oregonian, noting that the investigation of Reggie Bush and USC took four years to conclude.

The NCAA is looking into whether a $25,000 payment made by Oregon to “street agent” Willie Lyles improperly led to prospect Lache Seastrunk. “Just because the school made a payment to a person representing a recruiting service, it doesn’t mean that person is a street agent,” said Buckner. “If I own the Michael Buckner Recruiting Agency, and Oregon pays me $25,000, and it just so happens that I’m close to a prospect and his family, and the prospect signs with Oregon, it doesn’t mean I steered him to Oregon.

“The NCAA is going to have to find a lot of other information and connect a lot of dots.”

The NCAA has requested from Oregon all of the documentation surrounding Lyles’ $25,000 recruiting package, as have several media outlets. To date, those requests have gone unfulfilled.

Even if Oregon fails to produce sufficient documentation as to its relationship with Lyles, “that would just be one piece of evidence,” said Buckner. “The NCAA has to have more than one bit of evidence. That’s why this process takes so long, and why at times the general public doesn’t understand.”

So, sit back and have some patience. This is far from over.

March 15th

Utah in search of an entirely new secondary

There will be no pity parties in Salt Lake City for the University of Colorado over the Buffs’ losing both corners to the NFL.

Utah’s spring practice is underway, and the search for an entirely new secondary has begun.

All four starters must be replaced, as two have graduated, one has switched positions (to linebacker), and one has left early for the NFL. “It’s tough to say where we are at in the secondary,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “We feel we have some good athletes back there. There’s not a lot of experience, but that’s what spring ball is for.”

Overall, though, the defense has had the better of it in the first week of spring practice. “We did some good things on defense, and we had some guys making plays,” said Whittingham. “But on offense, we have a long way to go” (putting the emphasis on “long“).

Utah will be without starting quarterback Jordan Wynn this spring, who is out due to injury. According to the story in the Deseret News, Utah receivers made several drops, and the quarterbacks missed their targets on a regular basis.

Sounds as if Jon Embree’s quote about the first few CU practices – “We can run, but we can’t throw worth a dang” – would apply to Utah as well.

Injuries an issue for USC this spring

USC doesn’t open spring practices until March 22nd, but already injuries are taking their toll.

According to an articie in the Orange County Register, no fewer than twelve players who are either projected starters or likely contributors are expected to be out or have their practices limited this spring.

On the list are eight defensive players, but the real concern for the Trojans is along the offensive line. Three starters, as well as a part-time starter, must be replaced from last year’s team. Now three of the potential replacements will not be available, leaving USC with exactly one starter from last season who will be on the practice fields this spring.

Anyone remember a few years back, when Colorado could not conduct a regular spring game, because there were not two full units of offensive linemen available?

It could happen this spring in Los Angeles – and this is before any of the NCAA scholarship penalties kick in.

Side Note: USC had its day in court with the NCAA 7 1/2 weeks ago, contesting the two-year bowl ban and scholarship penalties imposed. At the time, the NCAA indicated that it would be “four to eight weeks” before a decision was announced as to the USC appeal. Translation: We could be hearing from the NCAA any day now …

March 14th

Pac-12 not “investigating” Oregon … yet

The Pac-12 is looking into the $28,000 the University of Oregon paid two recruiting services, but don’t call it an “investigation”.

“There’s some preliminary fact finding going on, is the way I’d describe it,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. “That’s not something that’s even an investigation yet.”

When asked about the issue of having two of its most visible programs – USC and Oregon – under investigation when the league is negotiating new television contracts, Scott was blunt. “There’s plenty of issues out there affecting almost every major program,” said Scott. “It’s par for the course these days.

March 12th

Oregon State hurting in key positions

The Oregon State Beavers colors are black and orange.

This spring, however, the color scheme has been more black and blue.

Starting quarterback Ryan Katz is still rehabilitating a broken bone in his throwing hand, and could miss spring practices. Slotback Jordan Bishop, who figured to be a top receiver this fall, sprained his ankle in January, and is still having difficulties recovering. And star wide receiver/kick returner James Rodgers, who has been out of action since suffering a serious knee injury against Arizona October 9th, has had a second procedure on his knee, and has no timetable for a return to action.

There has been some speculation that Rodgers, who is taking on-line course while re-habbing in Texas, might not return to the school. Such speculation, according to Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, “is absolutely false. There’s (rumors) out there that aren’t true.”  Still, even a willing Rodgers might not be of much help to the Beavers. “The second surgery was delayed a number of weeks, which was disappointing, and I think made James very anxious,” said Riley. “I don’t want to assume anything yet. All I know is, James is trying to be ready for the season.”

As for Oregon State’s starting quarterback, Ryan Katz, is slowly – very slowly – recovering from a broken bone in his throwing hand. “I don’t think he will (have to) sit out the whole spring,” said Riley. “It’s not the end of the world (if Katz can’t go in the spring), but I’d rather have him out there.”

Slotback Jordan Bishop, though, will likely miss all of spring ball due to his ankle issues. “I want to make sure he’s 100 percent healed before he plays football again,” said Riley.

March 10th

Pac-12 looking for more television exposure

There will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it may take a few more months to make the journey.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott says that he is “laser-focused” on negotiating a new television contract for the new league. “We’re determined to get a lot more national exposure for basketball and football than what we’ve been getting,” said Scott.

“There’s a sense that the Pac-10 has fallen behind. We’re fifth among the BCS conferences right now in TV revenue, and that’s not satisfactory to our leadership,” said Scott. “We’ve fallen behind in terms of national exposure as well as revenues.”

Scott is also determined to create a “Pac-12 Network”, and has been working with Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency to develop the network. “We’re determined to get broader exposure four our Olympic sports and women’s sports, which the Pac-10 excels at, and we’re determined to get every football game and basketball game on the air and not have any of those games dark,” he said.

Brings a smile to my face every time I read a story about this guy …

March 7th

Washington State and Utah the first to open spring practices

Washington State opened spring practices on Monday, with Utah set to follow suit on Tuesday.

As is the case with Colorado, the Cougars and the Utes have their own set of questions to answer over the next 15 practices.

Utah

“We’ve got a lot to get accomplished”, said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve got to get everyone up to speed, establish a depth chart, and get a good idea what our pecking order will be.” All practices at Utah will be open to the public, culminating in a Spring game, scheduled for April 16th.

According to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the most pressing questions for Utah this spring are:

1) What will the offense look like under new offensive coordinator Norm Chow (formerly of UCLA)? According to Whittingham, Utah and Colorado have many of the same goals. “We’re going to be a lot more under center, do a lot more in the downhill running game,” said Whittingham. “We’ll have some play-action-pass element off the run game, and some different route structures (Chow) is bringing.”;

2) Who will the quarterback be? Starter Jordan Wynn (can’t wait to hear that name for the next three seasons, Buff fans? Thanks, Dan) is out for the spring, so there will be a battle between Griff Robles and Tyler Shreve  to see which of the two will battle Wynn for the starting job come August;

3) Who will be the starting running back? Utah loses Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide, while another Asiata, Shawn, has left the program (Matt  is a relative of the Buffs’ new offensive lineman, Paulay Asiata). The new starter will likely either be a junior college transfer, John White, or true freshman Harvey Langi (coveted by the Buffs);

4) Will a former running back work out at cornerback? Lucky Radley, who had the most snaps with the scout team at running back last fall, has been moved to cornerback, where the Utes lose starters Brandon Burton and Lamar Chapman; and

5) What will be the strength of the defense? The linebacking unit will be the strength, with freshman standout Brian Blechen moving from safety to linebacker.

Washington State

Coming off of a 2-10 season, and a second-consecutive last place finish in the Pac-10, almost every job is up for grabs in Pullman.

“The depth chart, at this point, really means nothing. I’ve got to be honest,” embattled Washington State head coach Paul Wulff told the Kitsap Sun. “Just because someone started a year ago on a 2-10 team doesn’t make ’em a starter going into 2011. They’ve all got to get better.”

One of the few starters likely to hold onto his job is junior quarterback Jeff Tuel. In 2010, Tuel completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,780 yards and 18 touchdowns.

With his quarterback set, Wulff will turn his attentions to finding starters along the offensive and defensive lines, at linebacker, and at running back. Last year’s leading rusher, James Montgomery (only 478 yards), is eligible for a medical hardship year, but did not apply for a sixth year of eligibility. Rickey Galvin, who suffered a broken arm on his first collegiate carry last fall, is a leading candidate for the starting job.

The secondary has all four starters back, but that is not necessarily good news. Last season, Washington State ranked 104th in pass defense, 118th in total defense, and 110th in scoring defense last season.

Wulff will get a first look at seven junior college transfers, seeking an immediate infusion of success to a team which needs to be successful if Wulff is to return for a fifth season as head coach.

One reason for hope? Washington State is in position to get off to a fast start in 2011. The Cougars open with 1-AA Idaho State (1-10 in 2010, with its only win over NAIA doormat Montana-Western), and UNLV (2-10 in 2010, with the Rebels only wins over Wyoming and New Mexico).

After starting with Idaho State and UNLV, Washington State travels to San Diego State. The Cougars then get a bye week before traveling to Boulder to face the Buffs. Washington State may very well have a better record heading into Pac-12 play than will the Buffs …

11 Replies to “Spring Practice – Pac-12 Notes”

    1. Interesting stuff, though I think it would have gotten more traction if the Utah AG had gotten his act together before last summer. Now BYU is an independent and Utah is part of the evil empire BCS.

      Hope the AG position is appointed and not elected …

  1. $220 million! Wow! Thank you Mike Bohn for getting us out of the Big TX, errr 12 and into the land of milk and honey. Stuart, I agree with you that there will be more of the 16 team conferences in the near future. Television will dictate when and how many. Hopefully, they cap these conferences at 16 teams and don’t get any bigger and become “super” conferences. Then again, television will have the final say on that as well.

  2. ps
    Do you think this deal would put a lid on further pac 12 expansion? if they sign a long term contract wouldnt that slice the pie up further and make expansion undesirable?

    1. Great question, “Fluffy”.

      I wouldn’t rule out future expansion, either of the Pac-12 or other conferences (there may be four 16-team conferences before we’re done). I would be willing to bet that there is, deep within the fine print of these contracts, language about a landscape change which would give the parties the right to alter or amend their agreement to include new teams (and the door would swing both ways. I’m sure that in the ESPN contract with Texas that there is language stating that if Texas is put on probation or has its television access restricted by the NCAA, that the ESPN payout will be adjusted accordingly).

  3. NEVER!!!!! There there’s already a UC in the 12 PAC, plus were the only school in the conference on the eastside of the rockies, so N/M that west coast chic.

    Stuart, long time reader first time poster. this is awesome news! cannot wait till next year! keep up the good work!

    1. There’s actually 2 UCs in the Pac-12…but only people from the state of CA (myself include) call “CAL” UC Berkley.

  4. Here’s a question – it has been stated (according to cubuffs.com) that CU is called “CU” due to “midwestern casualness”, a la NU, OU, MU, KU, etc. However, now that we are “west-coast chic”, are we going to adopt the naming convention of our new conference: UO, UW (U Dub), UA, UU (never mind that one).

    Rhetorical.

  5. Stuart,
    Thanks again for the incredible dedication you present. I have to ask why people would care at all if the Buffs play on ESPN or Fox and what makes you believe ESPN is better?

    1. Thanks, Sam, for the kind words.

      I would agree with Wilner’s comment in the article, “the network’s influence on college sports is so great it impacts recruiting”. Players and coaches want to be on ESPN, and who doesn’t want that extra coverage on Sportscenter?

      There is also the availability factor. Some of us outside of Colorado have issues with some of the other carriers, whereas ESPN is omnipresent. True, GameDay goes to sites where the game was televised on another network … but not often.

  6. Pour it on for UCLA !! At the risk of creating bad karma, enough bad things cannot happen to UCLA to satisfy me.

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