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Pac-12 football notebook: New coaches and a lousy bowl record

(AP photos)

The Pac-12 will feature five new head football coaches this season: Arizona State’s Herm Edwards, Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin, Oregon’s Mario Cristobal, Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith and UCLA’s Chip Kelly. That could present challenges for coaches when preparing for unfamiliar schemes and tendencies, but not as much as outsiders may think.

“The good thing is, we’ll be really five games in before we face one of the new coaches, which allows you to do some study from what goes on early in the season,” said USC coach Clay Helton, who will face four of those five coaches this season. “It’s not necessarily the head coaches. You really have to do a great job of studying the coordinators that they’ve hired and what system that they’re coming in to play.

“Obviously, the head coach has an overall philosophy that he’ll put into place but the study of those coordinators is extremely important.”

As one of those new coaches, Sumlin sees challenges on both sides.

“It’s equal,” Sumlin said. “You’ve got five new guys and guys that have been here so it’s a challenge for everybody, but a lot of guys in this league have been other places, just as a lot of assistants have been other places, too.

“I think the difficult part is the video and film can only tell you so much. It’s really on the field that you start to feel what the league is like. That won’t happen until we actually go out and play.”


The Pac-12 went 1-8 in bowl games last season. Stanford coach David Shaw said that is not a reflection of the conference’s strength.

“It’s a snapshot,” Shaw said. “The Big Ten had it a couple years ago and the Big Ten was good, it was deep. They lost more games than they won and everybody went crazy.

“We’d love to have a stronger showing but when it’s all said and done, I think the strength of our conference is understood. If we go undefeated in the bowls the next year it doesn’t mean that the conference is any better. It just means that those teams won on those days.”

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre noted that with some players sitting out for the NFL Draft and others injured – UCLA quarterback and Cardinals draft pick Josh Rosen skipped the Cactus Bowl – outcomes were impacted.

“It’s definitely concerning that we went 1-8,” MacIntyre said. “All of us in our conference would want to win the bowl game we play in. Hopefully, this year we’ll make a better showing.

MacIntyre dismissed the idea that such a record could hurt the Pac-12 when the selection committee decides the four teams for the College Football Playoff.

“They’re going to look at the body of work you do this year and who you play, how you play,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll think one second about your bowl record the year before when picking the playoffs. If they do, they’re not doing their job right.”


Earlier this month, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved altering college football’s kickoff rules to allow the receiving team to fair-catch a kick inside the 25-yard line and have it result in a touchback. The new rule is the latest in a series of changes the committee has made in recent years in hopes of making the play safer, but multiple coaches do not like the rule.

Washington State coach Mike Leach noted that it removes the advantage some teams might have with a good kicker who can pin teams deep and make field position a key strategy in the game.

“We keep monkeying with the rule book and what do we have to show for it? Not very much,” Leach said. “There aren’t very many of these rule changes that haven’t done something to limit strategy. Even though they are well intended, they haven’t had that effect. Most of them are basically the equivalent to the halo rule.

“We’re still caught up in the halo rule syndrome … It took two years to eradicate it and ever since then we’re determined to get one and make it right and say, ‘oh my god, you’re a genius, you came up with this brilliant rule.’ Failure after failure after failure. This is the latest piece of that and there will be one next year, too.”

Another potential rule change that has been tabled for further discussion is the idea of allowing players to play in four games without burning a redshirt year. Every one of the Pac-12 coaches asked was in favor of that rule change, but they don’t think it goes far enough.

“I think that we shouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “I think that guys should have five years of eligibility; there’s no redshirting. If we’re talking about helping the kids it shouldn’t even be limited to four games.”

Equity with other college sports and budgetary concerns may be two of the reasons the rule hasn’t passed yet.

“We play the most physically demanding sport maybe outside of wrestling,” Shaw said. “It’s happened so many times for us where we’ll get three guys injured and then we’ll have to play a freshman and when those other guys get back healthy the guy plays a couple games and he would normally go back to the bench, but since he burned his redshirt you kind of keep him out there to try to utilize that whole freshman year.

There is a flip side to that, Shaw said.

“What happened to us this past year and it happened to Alabama also, is where you lose four guys late in the year in one position,” he said. “Alabama lost a bunch of linebackers for about three weeks. You look at a freshman and say, ‘he’s practiced with us, he’s ready to play a little bit,’ but you hate to burn the redshirt year just to play two games waiting for those other guys to get healthy.”


— Sumlin said Arizona could be in the market for transfers — particularly graduate transfers — this offseason, with offensive line an area where he may focus.

— Edwards said he was not surprised by quarterback Blake Barnett’s decision to transfer, noting that he wants a chance to play somewhere and the Sun Devils “feel very comfortable with Manny [Wilkins]” as the starter. Edwards said the biggest question for the team as it heads into the offseason is if Dillon Sterling-Cole is ready to become the backup. “If Manny goes down, is Dillon capable of really playing that position at a level where we can win football games?” Edwards said.

— The Pac-12 conference will hold its annual meetings at Hyatt Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale from Tuesday through Friday.


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