Five questions: The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif talks No. 12 Oregon

Coming off its first loss of the season, No. 18 UCLA hosts Oregon on Saturday as both teams try to keep dimming college football playoff hopes alive. The Oregonian’s Andrew Greif answered five questions about the No. 12 Ducks.

1. Shortly before Oregon’s loss to Arizona, Mark Helfrich was dubbed a “quiet genius.” Was that a premature coronation of sorts, or does he simply need more time to guide the Ducks back to Chip Kelly-like levels?

It wasn’t premature to hail his intellect, because he’s regarded as one of the country’s smartest coaches on a pure intelligence level. But how that’s translated to coaching is muddled for critics, who see his 15-3 Pac-12 coaching record and believe that it should be 17-1, at worst. Honestly, he’s in a no-win situation as Chip Kelly’s successor, a point the “Quiet Genius” story deftly told. His 15-2 conference record entering last week’s game against Arizona tied Helfrich for the best conference coaching start since Pappy Waldorf at Cal in 1947. But then Oregon lost, giving him a third conference defeat — as many as Kelly had in his entire four-year run. You can sense Oregon fans getting restless that given all his intellect and talent on the rosters, the Ducks haven’t done more with it.

2. After holding opponents to 4.61 yards per play in 2013 — the seventh-best mark in the country — the Ducks are giving up 5.73 through five games. How much would you attribute the defensive drop-off to the coordinator change (Nick Aliotti to Don Pellum) versus personnel changes/injuries?

Players and coaches are steadfast that the 3-4 scheme has barely changed since Aliotti retired last January, but there is obviously some difference in play calling when a new coordinator takes over as he learns his comfort calling plays. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

First look: No. 12 Oregon Ducks

No. 18 UCLA Bruins (4-1, 1-1) vs. No. 12 Oregon Ducks (4-1, 1-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 11, 12:30 p.m. PT, Rose Bowl
TV: FOX (Gus Johnson, Charles Davis, Molly McGrath)
Radio: 1150 Fox Sports/AM 570 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: After Chip Kelly bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles in January 2013, Mark Helfrich took over and produced good but not great results. After four straight BCS bowls, the Ducks lost two games in Helfrich’s first season and ended up with an Alamo Bowl victory over Texas — as well as a No. 9 spot in the final AP poll.

Coming off a loss to Arizona, Oregon now looks more beatable than it has in years, with many fans starting to question whether or not Helfrich was the right man to lead the program. Former defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, now a Pac-12 Networks analyst, even picked this week to say that he would have accepted a hypothetical head coaching offer rather than retiring.

Key players:

QB Marcus Mariota, Jr., 6-4, 219 — 91/128, 1411 yards, 16 TD, 0 INT, 42 carries, 215 rushing yards, 3 TD
– Not much more needs to be said about Mariota, who has been playing lights out this season — minus his late-game fumble against Arizona.

RB Royce Freeman, Fr., 6-0, 229 — 67 carries, 346 yards, 5 TD
– Ranked the No. 8 running back prospect in 2014, the four-star recruit quickly became the lead runner in a talented backfield. Among the conference’s top 20 rushers, only he and USC’s Buck Allen are listed at 220 pounds or more. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

VIDEO: Brett Hundley reviews UCLA’s loss, looks to Oregon

UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley looked back on Monday at his team’s 30-28 loss to Utah and the 10 sacks he took, and looked forward to Saturday’s tilt against No. 12 Oregon.

“It’s a big game for us,” Hundley said. “But like I said, this game isn’t bigger than any other game previously. This is another game, obviously, the whole nation is going to be watching. We can go out and show the country what UCLA’s really about.”

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

After Oregon’s loss, is UCLA the new Pac-12 favorite?

Nearly four months ago, UCLA was listed as an early favorite almost through its entire 2014 schedule. The exception? Mighty Oregon, just a year removed from four straight BCS bowls, and an early three-point favorite.

My, how things have changed.

UCLA stumbled out of the gate, collecting three uneven wins before stomping on then-No. 15 Arizona State last Thursday. The Bruins still have question marks, but they’re on the upswing, and back in the hearts and minds of at least a few national pundits. One ESPN analyst has them in the San Francisco Bowl, but another picked the Fiesta Bowl. CBS Sports has slotted UCLA back into the Sugar Bowl, as the No. 4 seed in a national semifinal against Alabama.

The No. 2 Ducks, meanwhile, might have cost themselves national title hopes with their 31-24 loss at home last night to Arizona — the most surprising undefeated team left in the country. (Earlier this week, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde wrote this of the Wildcats: “Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: zero.”) Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Pac-12 links: USC’s Josh Shaw (doesn’t) save nephew from drowning

» USC cornerback Josh Shaw sprained his ankles saving his nephew from drowning during a family social on Saturday. Remarkably, Shaw leaped off second-story balcony when he saw the 7-year-old struggling, landing on the concrete before crawling into the pool.

UPDATE: Serious doubts about Shaw’s story have surfaced, and USC is investigating further.

» Anu Solomon officially became Arizona’s starting quarterback, marking the first time since freshmen became eligible in 1972 that the Wildcats will open the season with one behind center.

» A closer look at the running ability of Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly, whom Jim Mora called “tough as nails.” Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Pac-12 links: Arizona State’s Chip Sarafin comes out as gay

» Arizona State offensive lineman Chip Sarafin came out on Wednesday, becoming first openly gay active player in Division I football.

» Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon is trying to win Arizona’s starting quarterback — something that would require beating out transfers from USC, LSU and Texas.

» The Ice Bucket Challenge has helped raise $2.3 million for the national ALS association since July 29, and UCLA coach Jim Mora accepted a challenge to join yesterday:

» Washington State crossed the Idaho border for training camp, but wildfires forced the Cougars back to Pullman. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Pac-12 links: Oregon State’s Mike Riley is the conference’s coaching ‘godfather’

» In a conference filled with newcomers, Oregon State coach Mike Riley is heading into his 14th season in the Pac-12. “Mike’s kind of a godfather,” said Stanford’s David Shaw.

» Apparently no longer content with uniform experimentation, Oregon will debut scratch-and-sniff season tickets this year. Unfortunately, the sticker is a Carl’s Jr. ad and likely smells like burgers rather than ducks.

» A former ASU running back was found shot to death on a hiking trial near Sedona. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Pac-12 notes: Mike Leach thinks Connor Halliday is better than your quarterback

Connor Halliday is the best quarterback in the country, according to Connor Halliday’s coach.

After talking up the Pac-12′s depth behind center on Wednesday, Washington State’s Mike Leach said he would take his redshirt senior over just about anybody else.

“You might be rooting for your guy, and I don’t care what you think,” Leach said. “He’s better than your guy is.”

Some other Pac-12 Media Day highlights from the conference’s most quotable coach (as well as other coaches and players) …

» Asked how he would pick a bear-hunting partner between Washington coach Chris Petersen and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham: “We get a large bag and we stick in Coach Petersen, Coach Whittingham, and we shake that bag up really high and really hard.”

» On his fishing trip this summer: “My staff and I went fishing up in McCall, Idaho on the Snake River and got a huge 9.5-foot, 350-pound sturgeon, probably 95 years old. Of course, turned him loose so he could pull somebody else’s boat around for a while next time.” Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Oregon picked to win Pac-12 title over UCLA in preseason poll

Oregon and UCLA are both overwhelming favorites in their respective divisions, but for the fourth time in five years, the Ducks are the preseason pick to win the Pac-12.

Media members gave Oregon 24 votes to win conference title game at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 5, nearly double the 13 votes UCLA received. Stanford and USC also received one vote each to win the league, though they only combined for three votes to take their respective divisions.

The preseason poll has correctly picked 28 of 53 conference champions, and 11 of the last 14. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email

Which players have the best names in the Pac-12?

By now, you’ve read many of the lists that have proliferated in college football’s dry summer months. The best 100 players. The freakiest players. The best coaches, best offseasons, best uniforms.

But this? This is the most important of them all. With Pac-12 Media Days — schedule here — kicking off this morning, I have compiled the five best names from each team in the conference.

Without further ado …

Arizona: Sir Thomas Jackson, Antonio Smothers, Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Brogan Kemmerly, Abraham Mendivil

Not great depth here, as the latter two names sacrifice catchiness in favor of length. Still, Sir Thomas Jackson alone is an MVP candidate.

Arizona State: Ezekial Bishop, Demetrius Cherry, Zane Gonzalez, Jaxon Hood, Jaelen Strong

A solid quintet that lacks a superstar.

Cal: Hardy Nickerson, Avery Sebastian, Bryce Treggs, Brennan Scarlett, Maximo Espitia

A nice throwback in Hardy Nickerson, bookended by a name that makes me want to re-watch Russell Crowe take on a despotic Joaquin Phoenix. Continue reading

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email