Posted on: January 2, 2012 11:04 pm
Edited on: January 2, 2012 11:06 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
PASADENA, Calif. -- Been there, done that.
It's a saying as common as a Wisconsin fan jumping around before the 4th quarter. The Badgers ended their second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl under head coach Bret Bielema much the same as they did their first - on the losing end.
For a team just two Hail Mary losses away from playing for the national title, this was supposed to be it. A hotshot transfer quarterback and a Heisman Trophy finalist running back playing behind him against a team that saw defense as outscoring their opponent. They held the lead early, held it late but ultimately didn't hold it when it mattered.
"This team never flinched, never wavered," said offensive lineman Peter Konz. "Against Michigan State we kept going, against Ohio State we kept going. It came down to winning all our last games, and we did that. We got here and we never gave up. In that reflection, it's unbelievable. As a man you can look back and go, 'I did all I could do.'"
"I'm kind of tired of tears of sadness," Bielema said. "I wanted to come out here and experience tears of joy at some point."
For a time, it looked as though Wisconsin was going to be great. Russell Wilson hit Jared Abbrederis for a 38-yard strike to cap off a 77-yard drive to open the game. Oregon answered.
Wilson responded with a 74-yard scoring drive. The Ducks took three plays to find the end zone. Back-and-forth they went on the perfectly cut grass of the Rose Bowl Stadium until Wisconsin was finally being tripped up. So close, once again, to a win but for one final time coming up just short.
"The game was basically 0-0 the whole game," Wilson said. "No matter if the score was 35-35 or 7-7, it's a 0-0 game. That's the way I look at it. There at the end it was 7-0, and we thought we could come back and score."
Success is a fleeting term for those who have tasted it because it is so easily lost. In the record books, this season will be looked at as a success. A win in the first ever Big Ten Championship Game, two candidates for the Heisman, scores of NCAA records to tell recruits about. Yet, the stinging feeling the players wearing red and white had walking off the field was not exactly the way they wanted to start the new year off.
"We'll rebound from this. I wouldn't trade in anything, anyplace in the world for that locker room that I have right now and the way that they continue to persevere," Bielema said. "I'm not going to apologize for a group that want to lead the division title, won a Big Ten title, and earned a chance to come out here and play a quality football team, and unfortunately came up a little bit short."
Bielema has built this program using size, strength and home-grown talent. He took a chance by luring Wilson to Madison and it paid off, not just with the titles but by the leadership he showed on and off the field. Ball ran himself into the record books, tying Barry Sanders' FBS-record.
But, in the final five minutes of the biggest game of the year, Abbrederis fumbled inches from going out of bounds and essentially gave away any chance the Badgers had of winning.
Heartbreak, it seemed, was the only thing that could stop Wisconsin this year.
"Well, it's never easy," the head coach said. "I'm not saying I'd rather lose by 40 points though. I mean, it just make it's that much more gut wrenching. But on the same account, you can hold your head high knowing the perseverance, and the challenge and response that our guys showed was truly amazing and a great credit to their character."
Abbrederis still finished with 346 all-purpose yards, good enough for a school bowl record. He caught a touchdown pass to give the team three players with at least eight on the season for the first time. Wilson edged out Heisman winner Robert Griffin III to set an NCAA pass efficiency record with 191.78 and extended his own record with a touchdown pass in his 38th-straight game.
"They're a great bunch of guys that have the determination," said Wilson. "We lost three games, basically, with a total of maybe within 40 seconds. It's pretty wild."
"What I brought from last year to this year is you have to capitalize on every play and every opportunity that is shown. Obviously, we fell short once again," said Ball. "We're going to approach this just like we did last year after the loss. Obviously, a little better, prepared a lot better, but the only way we can go with it is forward."
Wisconsin turned last year's heartbreak into another successful season. As the Badgers rebuild with Wilson and, likely, Ball moving on, perhaps they can do the same in 2012.
"That's neither here or there, what happens, happens," said Konz, reflecting about the game. "It's just too bad it had to end on another last-second drive.
"We left it all on the field, and to do that, there's very little to be sad about.”
Posted on: January 1, 2012 1:07 am
Edited on: January 1, 2012 1:12 am
Posted by Bryan Fischer
ATLANTA -- After every score Saturday night Virginia fans swayed back and forth singing their alma mater to the tune of 'auld lang syne.'
On New Year's Eve at the Georgia Dome however, it was the Auburn faithful who sang the actual song with gusto to ring in 2012 with a 43-24 win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
"What a great win," head coach Gene Chizik said. "You can say it's the last win of 2011 or the first win of 2012. However you want to spin it, it was a great win. I couldn't be more proud of our players or our coaches."
Playing their final game in the waning hours of 2011 was not what some in the orange and blue were looking forward to. The program had been to the top, been perfect, nearly 12 months earlier but had tumbled down the mountain to 8-5.
The confetti and plush Chick-fil-A cows falling from the rafters in Atlanta were nice but it was unmistakably different from what was falling from University of Phoenix Stadium in January.
The victory, in many ways, bookended one of the most up-and-down years in school history.
"I've said many times that our future is extremely bright. We've got a lot of really good young players," Chizik said. "We've had a lot of highs this season and we've had some lows. The highs have been really high and the lows have been really low. But these guys always bounce back."
They had been through so much, Aubie the Tiger could have gone to the court house and changed his name to Teflon Tiger. NCAA investigations? Asked, answered and over. They were walloped at home by rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Top running back Michael Dyer was not with the team and rumors swirled all month about him transferring. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof departed for Central Florida and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn surprisingly accepted the head coaching job at Arkansas State.
Despite all that, the program wrapped up 30 wins in three years and are tied for the active lead with five straight bowl wins.
"Even though we didn't have a defensive or offensive coordinator, I give all props to Coach Chizik and the staff for holding us together," defensive tackle Gabe Wright said.
Chizik, who is a perfect 9-0 in bowl games as an assistant or head coach, had a little extra on his plate given that he was coordinating the defense.
"It was very challenging," he said. "(Virginia) was an offense that did a lot of things we hadn't seen all year long. You have a lot of obligations. To try and be a position coach, the defensive coordinator, to call the game and still make decisions on the sideline - to go for it, onside kick it, punt, whatever it is - that's a lot of moving parts."
Special teams - one area where the head coach usually helps oversees - was key to turning a tight game into a blowout. Down seven, Onterio McCalebb scored on a statue of liberty play. Instead of putting the defense on the field, Chizik called for an onside kick.
Well, was nudged into calling it.
"We told them before the game started that after we scored the first touchdown, we were going to do it," he said. "But I forgot because I was over getting mixed up with the defense. After the second one, one of the coaches came up and said we had to do it. The players were all in to it."
The defense set a school-record, though it's nothing for them to be proud of, by allowing 408 yards per game. It's one reason why Roof is in Orlando and Chizik now sits at a crossroads having to replace two coordinators.
Last season, it was Malzahn - not Chizik - who was credited for most of the Tigers success last season. He won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant and his departure is one reason why, despite the amount of talent on the depth chart entering 2012, the future at Auburn still seems unclear.
How respected is Malzahn? He was the one, not the head coach, that was showered with Gatorade as the final few seconds ticked off the clock.
"That style of offense, they change up the reads and make it to where your run fits are important," Virginia head coach Mike London said. "Coach Malzahn does a great job and I wish him luck at Arkansas State."
"He's always going to be a great friend of mine and I'll always be very appreciative of him for what he's done for Auburn in three years," said Chizik. "I wish him the best, he's going to do a great job and be a great head coach."
Malzahn was aggressive and sped up the offense more than he had during the season. The Tigers' offensive output was so unusual that even normally sure-handed H-back Philip Lutzenkirchen dropped what would have been a touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter. The Auburn sideline took a few moments to stare in disbelief before snapping the ball again.
Starting quarterback Clint Moseley, who took over down the stretch run to close the season, injured his ankle early in the game. The offense didn't skip a beat with Barrett Trotter and Kiehl Frazier however, the former using his arm and the latter his legs to power scoring drives complete with misdirection and big plays. Fully healthy for the first time since October, wide receiver Emory Blake seemed to change the dynamics of the offense with his ability to stretch the field. The game's most outstanding player, McCalebb, had the team's longest run of the season in the second quarter.
"We just went out there and played hard," Lutzenkirchen said. "It felt good to get a win for the seniors."
The Cavaliers, who competed a remarkable turnaround in London's second season to come close to playing in the ACC title game, couldn't sustain momentum despite 428 yards of offense at nearly six yards a play. They missed a chance at the program's first bowl win in six years but did so without two of the team's best players, cornerback Chase Minnifield and linebacker Steve Greer.
"It's been a fantastic year for us," London said. "You get a chance to reflect on a lot of things. Right now this one stings a little bit. They played better than we did. We just regroup and get ready."
While London appears to have Virginia pointed in the right direction, there's still plenty that remains to be seen about the direction Auburn is taking. If the bowl game was any indication though, things will be just fine on the Plains.
"We just came out here and got the job done," said McCalebb. "People didn't give us much credit coming in. We knew we had to go out and do what we do."
Wright, a freshman defensive tackle who said he would ably step in for Nick Fairley on Signing Day in February, had a coming out party with a sack that setup the safety and was the only player who was able to get any pressure on quarterback Michael Rocco most of the night. Fellow frosh Quan Bray had a nice return after the safety and, despite his lack of attempts, Frazier left an impact by scoring two touchdowns in goal line situations.
"I've said it before, the future is extremely bright," Chizik said. "And this win gives a good idea of the direction we've been going in."
Bookended by success, Chizik will have to hope he's got a few more lessons ready to keep the program from taking two steps forward but one step back in 2012.
"We won some big games and we got beat in some big games," he said of the season. "There's a lot of teachable moments in there for our team."
Enough, he hopes, to carry over into next season as old acquaintances be forgot.
Tags: ACC, Alabama, Arkansas State, Aubie the Tiger, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Broyles Award, Bryan Fischer, Central Florida, Chase Minnifield, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Clint Moseley, Emory Blake, Gabe Wright, Gene Chizik, Georgia Dome, Guz Malzahn, Iron Bowl, Kiehl Frazier, Michael Dyer, Michael Rocco, Mike London, NCAA, Nick Fairley, Onterio McCalebb, Philip Lutzenkirchen, Quan Bray, Steve Greer, Ted Roof, UCF, University of Phoenix Stadium, Virinia
Posted on: December 20, 2011 6:14 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Mark Richt has the reputation of being one of the nicer head coaches in college football, and he clearly cares about the assistant coaches who work under him. But to ask the NCAA, he maybe cares a little too much, and could stand to be a little less nice.
That's the verdict from the NCAA's review of a "lengthy internal investigation conducted" by Georgia and reported Tuesday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. According to documents obtained the AJC, over the course of nearly two years Richt made out-of-pocket payments to three assistants totaling more than $25,000. The payments were ruled a secondary violation by the NCAA.
Neither Richt nor the assistants will suffer any major punishment; each coach received a letter of admonishment from the university and will undergo further rules training. The payments were included as part of a larger report of secondary violations submitted by the school, including a minor incident of impressible contact with a recruit by defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
“The report stands on its own,” athletic director Greg McGarity told the AJC in declining comment. “There’s nothing to add. We’re moving forward.”
According to the report, Richt asked former athletic director Damon Evans for raises for both former recruiting assistant Charlie Cantor and former linebackers coach John Jancek. Evans declined, citing a university-wide pay freeze and furloughs, but Richt began writing Cantor a monthly personal check for $834; he wrote Jancek a check in the summer of 2009 for $10,000. When former Bulldog assistant and current director of player development John Eason was moved from the coaching staff to an administrative position, Richt paid him the $6,150 he stood to lose in lost salary.
Richt also provided several other payments to assistants and program employees which had already been approved by the athletic department and were therefore not considered violations; for instance, when former assistant Dave Johnson left the Bulldogs just short of receiving a $15,000 five-year "longevity bonus" and the administration declined to pay it, Richt did.
It's easy to see why the NCAA might frown on under-the-table payments like Richt's, since in a different situation they might amount to secret salaries or competition bonuses that aren't on the school's books. But it's equally easy to see why the punishment was so light when Richt's motives legitimately don't seem any more calculating than to do what he feels is right by his assistants.
Posted on: December 20, 2011 3:04 pm
Edited on: December 20, 2011 6:24 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The Arizona State search to replace Dennis Erickson got its man in Todd Graham, but it didn't come without a high cost in negative press for the new Sun Devil head coach--or, as Tuesday's revealed contract details show, an equally high price in cold, hard cash.
The full details are available as an executive summary from the school's Board of Regents here (PDF), with Graham's deal set to award him $2 million per season over five seasons, a total of $10 million if Graham serves the length of the contract or if the school fires him beforehand. The contract also includes a minor $50,000 escalation for each year Graham stays in Tempe.
Perhaps the most interesting detail, however, is that the Sun Devils were desperate enough to grease the tracks of Graham's messy departure from Pitt with $1 million in buyout money.
Other interesting tidbits:
-- As with most FBS coaches, Graham has a litany of bonuses built into his contract, up to $750,000 for winning the BCS national title game. (Good luck with that, Mr. Graham.) But he must "forfeit and repay all compensation and bonuses paid" if any of the accomplishments which triggered those bonuses are vacated by the NCAA. Here's a guess that Graham will want a beefier Sun Devil compliance office soon.
-- Graham cannot leave the Sun Devils for another Pac-12 job "for the rest of the original contract's term," or at least not without (we're speculating) a sizable legal fight.
-- Per the Arizona Republic: "As football coach, Graham receives tickets to ASU sporting events, the use of two automobiles or a stipend, golf privileges at the ASU Karsten Golf Course, reimbursement of membership fees and monthly dues at a country club and one-time payment of relocation expenses." Good work if you can get it, huh?
Of course, what remains surprising about the Graham move is that the Sun Devil job still seems like outstanding work for a coach who'd just gone a mediocre-at-best 6-6 at Pitt to get. Though $2 million isn't outrageous, the contract (and buyout repayment) still does nothing to alter the perception that Graham
Posted on: December 14, 2011 5:13 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
South Carolina's compliance department has issued its official response to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations, and will be giving up at least six football scholarships over the next three seasons as part of its package of self-imposed sanctions.
The response did not dispute the NCAA investigation's assertion that Gamecock athletes (or "prospective athletes") has received some $55,000 from "representatives of the school’s athletic interests." The school also agreed that their compliance had failed to respond properly to a pair of separate "potentially improper situations," likely explaining why (as reported by CBSSports.com Carolina RapidReporter Josh Kendall) compliance director Jennifer Stiles was demoted Tuesday night.
The Notice of Allegations was delivered in September and alleged that approximately $47,000 in improper benefits had been offered to Gamecock athletes by the owner of the local Whitney Hotel, who allowed the athletes to stay at the hotel at a rate far below its usual daily rate. The infractions occurred during the 2009 season and could still result in vacations of that season's wins.
But for the time being, the Gamecocks will hope it doesn't come to that. In addition to the six scholarships forfeited over three years, the school is also self-imposing a three-year probation and limitation of official visits for the football program.
“We continue to work in full cooperation with the NCAA on this very serious matter,” Carolina president Dr. Harris Pastides said. “As an institution, we established self-imposed penalties and implemented corrective actions."
Given that the Gamecocks are still facing charges of "failure to monitor" and potential repeat violator status (per the Notice of Allegations), they're far from out of the woods yet; the NCAA's decision whether or not to impose further sanctions will come down at the Committee on Infractions hearing in February.
But until then, assuming the self-imposed sanctions are even in the final ballpark of the NCAA's punishment, it seems the Gamecocks will weather this scandal without too much serious damage.
Posted on: December 9, 2011 2:27 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2011 2:29 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
Earlier this year, I was given the prestigious honor of voting for the Heisman Trophy for the first time. The award's illustrious history of selecting the country's most outstanding player has been well chronicled and I was happy to lend my expertise. As the weeks went by however, it became clear that this would be among the most difficult votes in some time - there was no runaway favorite like Cam Newton this year.
There did seem to be some resolution towards the end of the season but, in talking with other voters, it became clear that there was no easy pick. After sitting down and looking at stats, highlights and other things, who to vote number one became pretty clear. It was spots two and three (you only have three spots on your ballot) that caused me the most angst. Without further ado, my Heisman ballot and why I voted for them.
1. Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor
Like my colleague Bruce Feldman, it's difficult to wrap your head around the fact that a player from Baylor is the most outstanding player in college football. I grew up in Texas and it always seemed the Bears were the ones everybody scheduled for homecoming. Thanks to the Big 12 television deal they were rarely on television unless they were playing a major school. Baylor, for most college football fans across the country, was irrelevant before Griffin burst onto the scene.
During September, the nation was transfixed on what, exactly, RGIII was doing but figured he couldn't keep it up. The first three games he was completing 85% of his passes, had 13 touchdown passes and no picks and flirted with a touchdown-incompletion ratio that was unheard of. The opener against No. 14 TCU was Baylor's first win over a ranked team since 2004 and the signal-caller was the chief reason why. Many expected the close loss to Kansas State to end any hopes of him making it to New York but in the deepest league in the country (sorry SEC fans), Griffin won nine games despite the Bears defense being ranked in the 100's in most major defensive categories. Safe to say that without RGIII, the Bears would have been 3-9.
What sealed the deal for me was the game-winning drive to beat Oklahoma for the first time in school history and an efficient game against what was the 9th-best defense in the country at the time in Texas to end the year. It's rare for any player in the conference to beat both schools but RGIII did accomplish the rare feat. He finished first in the country in passing efficiency with what would be an NCAA record 192.31 rating, edging out Russell Wilson despite attempting 85 more passes. He also finished second in the country in total offense and led the nation in points responsible for.
In January, Griffin was invited to speak at the NCAA convention in San Antonio by new president Mark Emmert. He was lauded for his achievements outside athletics such as getting a degree in three years and beginning his masters' with sights set on law school not his backup plan to the NFL, but his primary one. The attention and applause were genuine on that chilly day at the convention, just as it should be Saturday in New York City when he likely accepts the Heisman Trophy. On and off the field this year, Robert Griffin III was my pick for the most outstanding college football player.
2. Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford
He was supposed to be a shoe-in for this award. For most of the year, it looked like he wouldn't lose the Heisman, even if he didn't necessarily win it. I saw Luck up close several times this season and can confirm that he's the best quarterback in college football. He throws on the run better than anybody, his pocket awareness is uncanny, he calls his own plays and - like RGIII - has taken a program lacking success and turned it into a winner.
The Cardinal are 23-2 over the past two seasons and that is almost entirely due to Luck. Unfortunately his worst game of the year came when he needed it most, against Oregon. Even then, he threw for three touchdowns and the team was in things for three quarters. The offense scored fewer than 30 points just once all year - against Notre Dame when they could have topped the mark had they tried - and was more balanced than any other in the country as coaches had no issues sticking to running the ball if it was working.
A lot of people turn the Heisman race into a stats race. Luck's were good (3,170 yards passing, 35 touchdowns, 9 interceptions) but didn't top others. The thing I always kept in mind was what he did given the talent around him. Sure he had a good offensive line, so did Trent Richardson, Montee Ball, Wilson and Griffin. Nobody, however, put up the kind of numbers Luck did throwing to three tight ends who didn't have separation speed and with his best wide receiver sitting on the sidelines the second half of the year. Griffin had the dynamic Kendall Wright, Luck had Griff Whalen. That was a factor in my mind.
By all measures, he was outstanding this season but fell just short of being the most outstanding player in college football. He put up more points against USC in that school's history (against some defensive coordinator name Monte Kiffin) and had he had good defense, might be playing for the national title. He is the only quarterback ever to go undefeated against USC and Notre Dame. Listen to head coach David Shaw state his case for the quarterback and you can't help but consider him worthy of this award. I couldn't put him above RGIII so Luck wound up second on my ballot.
3. Kellen Moore, quarterback, Boise State
For many seeing this, the thought is that I gave Moore the third spot as a career achievement award. I did not.
For most of the week leading up to voting I had a running back (Ball or Richardson) penciled in. But before I was making my choices I looked again at what the diminutive but excellent quarterback had done this year. Statistically he was great: 300-of-405 passing (74%), 3,507 yards, 41 touchdowns and seven picks. I watched a lot of Boise State games this year (even the blowouts) and know that most of the numbers were accomplished in three quarters or less. A great season was hampered by the loss to TCU but it's safe to say that Moore did all he could game-in and game-out to lead the Broncos to another top 10 ranking.
Moore's best strength this year was spreading the ball around. He lost his two best receivers from last season but didn't lose a step despite several of his young pass catchers dealing with drops from time-to-time. The running game wasn't as good but Moore made up for it through the air. Were it not for a one-point loss to a good team, he'd be in New York this year.
There were three things that caused me to put the quarterback on my ballot ahead of others however. The first was just the way he played. He's good as much as every person in the country likes to knock him for the competition he faces. He'd be the best quarterback in most power conferences, easily, and can drop the ball in on downfield routes perfectly. Second, he became the NCAA's all-time, winningest quarterback at the FBS level. How is that not outstanding? There's no knocking a winner, which Moore rightfully is. Finally, as a starting quarterback Moore has never trailed by more than seven points his entire career. Never. The combined margin of defeat in his three losses total is just five points. Those are just jaw-dropping stats and a measure of someone who not only starts good but doesn't panic if put into a difficult situation.
Moore was great this season and if you sort through it all, you'd see that too.
Why I didn't vote for them (in the order I would have)
Montee Ball, running back, Wisconsin: Ball was on my ballot for the stretch run but fell just short after considering Moore. He led the country in rushing with 1,759 yards and in scoring with 17.54 points per game. His 38 touchdowns is just one shy of Barry Sanders' record and more than 45 entire teams. It hurt that Russell Wilson was the man Wisconsin picked to campaign for earlier in the year but Ball without a doubt had a season to remember and was an outstanding college football player in 2011.
Matt Barkley, quarterback, USC: I wanted to put Barkley in my top three because he has not only been outstanding on the field leading USC back to the top 10, but he has been the face of the program that was put through the ringer. He set a school and conference record for touchdown passes in a season and tossed six TDs in a game twice. It was a season for the ages but he was hampered by a very slow start to the year, the Arizona State game and the head-to-head loss to Luck.
Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama: He was the best offensive player in the SEC and a great player who I'd want on my team in a heartbeat but I didn't think Richardson was the best running back in the country. He played only four games against schools with a winning record and faced just two defenses ranked in the top 40 against the rush. 46% of his yards came against North Texas, Ole Miss, Georgia Southern and Auburn and nearly the same percentage of his touchdowns came against those four defensive powerhouses. I get that he was hurt at times and shared carries; Richardson is a great player but just wasn't the best this season.
Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback, LSU: I love the Honey Badger - he's a game changer unlike any other in the way he forces turnovers and returns kicks. That said, he wasn't the most outstanding player on his own team (punter Brad Wing was) and wasn't even the best player in the secondary (Morris Claiborne was). His coverage skills were solid but not spectacular and had he not had two big games against Arkansas and Georgia to end the season, wouldn't have been invited to New York. The suspension during the season also played a factor.
Others under consideration: Case Keenum, Houston; LaMichael James, Oregon; Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State.
Tags: Alabama, Andrew Luck, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Barry Sanders, Baylor, Big 12, Big Ten, Boise State, Brad Wing, Brandon Weeden, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Case Keenum, David Shaw, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Griff Whalen, Heisman, Heisman Trophy, Houston, Kansas State, Kellen Moore, Kendall Wright, LaMichael James, LSU, Mark Emmert, Matt Barkley, Monte Kiffin, Montee Ball, Morris Claiborne, NCAA, NFL, North Texas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pac-12, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, SEC, Stanford, TCU, Texas, Trent Richardson, Tyrann Mathieu, USC, Wisconsin
Posted on: December 7, 2011 1:46 pm
Edited on: December 7, 2011 4:19 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
The season has wrapped, the bowl games are set and it's time to hand out some awards. As part of CBSSports.com's look at the regular season, here is the best of the Pac-12 conference, which placed three teams in the top 10 in the first year as a 12 team league.
AwardsOFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford
A redshirt junior, Luck led the Cardinal to a second consecutive 11-1 regular season and was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Against Notre Dame, Luck set a new school record for touchdown passes and broke the Stanford career record held by John Elway with 80 in three seasons. The Cardinal offense averaged 43.6 points per game this year and 480.9 yards of total offense and no one in the conference has meant more to an offense than Luck does to his. Thus, the future top draft pick is CBSSports.com's Pac-12 Player of the Year. Just as important, the native Texan also came back to complete his degree during his final semester on the Farm - in architectural design
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mychal Kendricks, linebacker, California
A tackling machine during his time in Berkeley, Kendricks once again led the Bears in tackles and was fourth in the conference in tackles per game. He also had 13 tackles for a loss, two interceptions and helped lead the Cal defense to rank 27th nationally in total defense.
FRESHMEN OF THE YEAR
Marqise Lee (USC) and De'Anthony Thomas (Oregon)
Both players from the Los Angeles area burst onto the scene early and produced highlight play after highlight play for their teams this season. Lee finished the season with 73 catches for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns while paired with his former high school teammate Robert Woods. He was instrumental in USC's upset win over Oregon with 187 yards receiving and a total of 325 all-purpose yards. Thomas set a Ducks freshman record with 16 touchdowns and ended the year with 1,921 all-purpose yards to finish second in the Pac-12 to his teammate LaMichael James.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Lane Kiffin, USC
In his second season in charge of the Trojans, Kiffin has deflected criticism and NCAA sanctions to finish 10-2 and ranked in the top five in the country. Despite having one of the youngest teams in the country, USC finished 17th in the country in total offense in 2011 and the defense jumped nearly 30 spots nationally. Under Kiffin the team essentially won the Pac-12 South division and beat rivals Notre Dame and UCLA. USC lost to 4th-ranked Stanford in triple overtime but ended Oregon's 19-game winning streak.
Matt Barkley, USC
Wait, the player of the year wasn't the best quarterback? Such was the case in the Pac-12, which had an embarrassing amount of good signal-callers. Barkley took the leap to another level this season despite his two best wide receivers being underclassmen. The junior passed for a school and conference record 39 touchdowns against just seven interceptions and threw for 3,528 yards. Though Barkley wasn't named a Heisman finalist or had the same load to shoulder in the offense like Luck, he makes the first team as the best quarterback in the conference. You could say the margin at quarterback was so thin between the two that Luck's receiving abilities put him over the top for player of the year.
LaMichael James, Oregon, and John White, Utah
Despite missing two games, James still led the conference in rushing with 1,646 yards - 242 yards more than second place White. The flashy Ducks running back also led the nation in yards per game and was third in total purpose yardage. In his first year in a BCS AQ conference, White certainly made a lasting impression as the focal point of the Utes offense that dealt with plenty of injuries.
Marquess Wilson, Washington State, and Robert Woods, USC
Here's a scary thought if you're a Pac-12 defense, four of the top five receivers in the league were either a freshman or sophomore. That includes Wilson and Woods (both sophomores) who turned in brilliant seasons that land both of them on the All-Pac-12 team. Wilson is a name many people don't know about because he plays on the Palouse but he led the Pac-12 in receiving yards and averaged nearly 17 yards per catch. Woods was hampered by injury late in the year but still finished with a school and conference record 111 catches to go with his 15 touchdowns.
Coby Fleener, Stanford
It was pretty much a lock for one of the Cardinal's tight ends to fill this spot given their role in the offense. Fleener turned in a productive senior campaign, leading all tight ends in yards (648) and touchdowns (10). He also finished the year with an impressive 20.3 yards per catch.
Jonathan Martin, Stanford; Tony Bergstrom, Utah; Garth Gerhart, Arizona State; David DeCastro, Stanford; Matt Kalil, USC
There were plenty of great quarterbacks and offenses in the Pac-12 this year and one reason why was the abundance of great offensive linemen. Stanford allowed nine sacks all year while USC allowed a nation's best eight.
All-Pac-12 DefenseDEFENSIVE LINE
Dion Jordan, Oregon; Nick Perry, USC; Travis Long, Washington State; Star Lotulelei, Utah
Perry led the league in solo sacks with nine, good enough for 12th in the nation, and had 14 tackles for loss this season. Jordan wasn't too far behind him in terms of numbers and was an issue for opposing offensive lines all year. Lotulelei was the top nose tackle in conference and Long was one of the bright spots in an average Wazzu defense.
Mychal Kendricks, California; Chase Thomas, Stanford; Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Washington State
Kendricks was an impact player for Cal's stingy defense and Thomas led the conference in tackles for a loss and was second in sacks. Hoffman-Ellis didn't put up gaudy stats but was a strength on the Cougars defense.
Nickell Robey and T.J McDonald, USC; Eddie Pleasant and John Boyett, Oregon
Despite his size, Robey locked up opposing receivers and forced quarterbacks to throw to the other side of the field while McDonald roamed around and delivered some vicious hits. The Ducks defense wasn't quite as sharp as it was last season but it was still tough to throw against Pleasant and Boyett, who helped Oregon finish with 16 interceptions.
PK Andre Heidari, USC; P Jackson Rice, Oregon; Returner De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
Heidari made 15-of-17 field goals and every extra point this year. Rice led the Pac-12 in punting and was sixth in the nation with an average of 45.6 yards per punt. Opponents returned just 12 of his punts and he was also named a finalist for the Ray Guy Award for the country's top punter. Thomas had two kick returns for touchdowns and averaged nearly 30 yards a return.
Tags: 2011 CBSSports.com All-Conference Team, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Andre Heidari, Andrew Luck, Arizona State, Bryan Fischer, Cal, California, CBSSports.com All-Conference Team, Chase Thomas, Coby Fleener, David DeCastro, De'Anthony Thomas, Dion Jordan, Eddie Pleasant, Garth Gerhart, Heisman Trophy, Jackson Rice, John Boyett, John Elway, John White, Jonathan Martin, LaMichael James, Lane Kiffin, Marqise Lee, Marquess Wilson, Matt Barkley, Matt Kalil, Mychal Kendricks, NCAA, Nick Perry, Nickell Robey, Notre Dame, Pac-12, Ray Guy Award, Robert Woods, Stanford, Star Lotulelei, T.J. McDonald, Tony Bergstrom, Travis Long, UCLA, USC, Washington State
Posted on: December 6, 2011 3:41 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 6:05 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The Big East will go a long way towards remaining a solvent football league this week when, as reported by CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy, they announce the additions of Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, UCF and SMU.
But what do we know about the other four teams joining up? What do they bring to the table? What issues might they have to deal with? We've broken it down team-by-team:
PROS: The Cougars are riding a Case Keenum-led high, having won 22 games in their star QB's last two healthy seasons, including the program's first bowl win since 1980 in 2009. But Houston has plenty going for it off the field, too; their location smack dab in the middle of one of the country's largest television markets (this is going to be a repeating theme) and most fertile recruiting grounds should pay the Big East dividends both in their TV negotiations and on the recruiting trail. If the Cougars themselves can capitalize on their new BCS status on the trails in Houston and nearby Louisiana, they could be a power for years to come.
CONS: What happens when Keenum and head coach Kevin Sumlin --as seems increasingly likely -- both depart for greener pastures? This is still a program that, as mentioned, has just one bowl win in the past 31 years and was in truly sorry shape when Art Briles (with Sumlin in tow) arrived in 2003. The wrong hire in the wake of Sumlin's exit could return the Cougars to their doormat days in a hurry. And as nice as the Houston market is, the Cougars still need to make more inroads into it; fulfilling a promise to expand or replace 32,000-seat Robertson Stadium would be a plus.
PROS: As with the Cougars, Dallas-based SMU has the advantage of being located in one of the nation's biggest metro markets, a major plus for the television bean counters. But the Mustangs also have an administration that hasn't been shy about throwing its financial support behind its formerly woebegone program, and that's not a "Pony Express" joke; the school opened Gerald J. Ford Stadium just 11 years ago and four seasons back ponied up the cash (that pun's intended) to lure June Jones from Hawaii. Result: three straight bowl bids after a 25-year drought, some of the best recruiting classes in Conference USA, and noticeably increased fan interest and attendance.
CONS: If the Mustangs can hang onto Jones, or replace him with another smart (and duly expensive) hire, they have more than enough potential to be a respectable member of the Big East for some time to come. (The league's higher-ups have to appreciate that the Mustangs defeated Big East deserters TCU this past season.) But the Dallas market and surrounding recruiting grounds are so ultra-competitive, turning SMU's resources and location into a legitimate BCS contender may take quite a few years and even more support from the SMU fanbase, which was called out by an SMU player this season for its lack of enthusiasm.
PROS: If there's any school that's put its money where its mouth is when it comes to supporting athletics, it's UCF, which opened the $55 million, 45,00-seat on-campus Bright House Networks Stadium four years ago amongst multiple other major facilities upgrades. Though a 5-7 2011 season has been a major disappointment for George O'Leary's program, this is still a team that's won two C-USA titles and earned three bowl bids in the past five years. As the second-largest school in the country in terms of enrollment and the only major college football program in the sizable Orlando market, a move to the Big East and a few years of consistent winning could give the Knights the push on the recruiting trail needed to become a legit BCS contender.
CONS: Of course, that's all assuming the NCAA Committee on Infractions doesn't give the program the USC treatment in the wake of the recent allegations against exiled athletic director Keith Tribble. Though the Orlando market is an obvious TV positive, the Knight's central Florida location is both a blessing and a curse; while there's plenty of athletes available around which O'Leary (or his successor) can build a successful program, there's also few (if any) areas of the country where the competition for those athletes is more cutthroat. A few NCAA-hamstrung poor seasons could deal the program a blow that could take it years to recover from.
SAN DIEGO STATE
PROS: Long regarded as the "sleeping giant" of the Mountain West, the Aztecs finally went some way towards waking up with a 9-4 2010 season and just their second bowl berth in 19 years--a campaign that resulted in an attendance surge that ranked amongst the nation's best. Despite the loss of head coach Brady Hoke and multiple NFL talents, an 8-4 year and New Orleans Bowl berth wasn't a bad follow-up. Thanks to their access to California's bountiful recruiting grounds and the TV-friendly San Diego market, another good year or two for Rocky Long should lay the foundation for success for years to come.
CONS: As much potential as SDSU has on paper, this is still a program with just four bowl appearances and one win since 1969; just because it looks like it should be easy to win here doesn't mean it is. More than any of the other addditions save Boise, SDSU will add a sizable chunk to opponent's travel bills. And Long, already 61 years old, may not be the long-term answer at head coach; if he's not, will the Aztec brass be shrewd enough (or spend enough) to find another Hoke?