Pac-12 Mailbag: Spring Competitions; Pac-12 vs. Big Ten Rivalry Series

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Pac-12 Mailbag: Spring Competitions; Pac-12 vs. Big Ten Rivalry Series
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Thought for the week: The seeds of college football fandom are planted in children's subconscious through the pageantry and excitement of autumn Saturdays, not the economics and politicking of the offseason.

Submit your questions for the Pac-12 mailbag via Twitter @kensing45, or email pac12mailbag@gmail.com. 

I am cheating a bit, as a complete, conference-wide breakdown of positional competitions is on its way. Consider the following more of a sneak peek into a few that are especially intriguing. 

Arizona

Ka'Deem Carey leaves Arizona as arguably its greatest offensive player of all time. The only realistic  competitors for that title are Art Luppino and Dennis Northcutt. So Carey's departure obviously leaves a huge hole in the Wildcats' offense.

JOHN MILLER/Associated Press

The hole is big enough that I suspect Rich Rodriguez will fill it with a committee rather than just one back who takes on Carey's 300-plus carry workload. There are so many candidates vying for the position that even forming a committee lends itself to heated competition. 

Jared Baker is the most veteran of the group, but he won't be available in the spring because of a torn ACL. Redshirt freshmen Pierre Cormier and Zach Green are different style ball-carriers: Cormier is smaller and shiftier, Green is bigger and more powerful. 

True freshman Nick Wilson is the most highly rated of Arizona's offensive recruits, but counterpart Jonathan Haden is an early enrollee, and thus gets an immediate jump on acclimating to the college style.

 

Oregon

Oregon has such a deep and talented corps of running backs that head coach Mark Helfrich can't really go wrong. Byron Marshall established himself as Kenjon Barner's replacement in spring ball and was more than adequate through the season's first two months before a late injury slowed him. 

Marshall did nothing to lose his spot, but Thomas Tyner is such an intriguing talent that one cannot help but wonder if he can establish himself as the feature back in the spring.  

 

USC 

David Cleveland/Associated Press

Cody Kessler is in a situation akin to that of Oregon's Marshall. Kessler certainly did nothing to lose the starting quarterback job at USC. On the contrary, he was the consummate field general during the Trojans' final 7-2 stretch and saved his most prolific outing for the finale, which seemingly would solidify his spot.

Yet Max Browne is as celebrated a quarterback recruit as USC has brought in during the last decade—and given the many highly regarded prospects to sign with the Trojans, that's saying something. He's also more of a prototypical pocket passer than Kessler, a quality that head coach Steve Sarkisian worked well with in his time as a USC assistant. 

Personally, I feel Browne would have to vastly outperform Kessler to make that change. Kessler was too good down the stretch and had an evident on-field chemistry with Nelson Agholor, the Trojans' top receiver next season. Still, the competition will be fun to follow. 

This is such a great concept, and I really do hope this becomes a trend. The ACC-Big Ten Challenge is a highlight of college basketball's early season, and when the Pac-12 and Big Ten announced the possibility of a similar series for football in 2011, I was elated. I even had a name ready: War of the Roses, since nothing screams college football quite like 15th century English history (or 1980s Danny DeVito movies). 

Last season gave us a little taste in Week 3, with UCLA vs. Nebraska, Washington vs. Illinois and Cal vs. Ohio State. There are more Pac-12 vs. Big Ten crossovers coming in 2014, but such matchups are sporadic. For that reason, an ACC vs. SEC series is easier to broker logistically. 

Nati Harnik/Associated Press

To wit, Florida and Florida State, Clemson and South Carolina and Georgia and Georgia Tech all play each other every season. There's a guaranteed crossover that already exists. 

The only guaranteed nonconference crossover in the Pac-12 is USC and Stanford playing Notre Dame, and Utah against BYU—and that is in jeopardy.  

Beyond the Rose Bowl and the intermingling of the recent seasons, there isn't the same natural rivalry in the Pac-12 and Big Ten. Meanwhile, some Pac-12 programs have opted to use their nonconference flexibility for purposes such as recruiting. Take Arizona State, which is scheduling more games in and against teams from Texas to plant its recruiting flag in the Lone Star State. 

Perhaps the highest logistic hurdle is the Big Ten expanding to 14 teams, which leaves two of its members every year to seek out a third nonconference game that is otherwise taken care of for the rest of the league. 

If the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten series is rekindled, it won't be due to the SEC and ACC. The most influential party in moving the tide of nonconference scheduling will be the College Football Playoff committee. If strength of schedule takes precedent, the idea could be re-explored. 

Short answer? Not good. The Pac-12 had two teams ranked in the top four of the final BCS standings just once in the system's history, 2010. That season is also noteworthy of other reasons. First, it was the last of the Pac-10 era, thus there was no championship game. 

The conference was also decidedly mediocre beyond pace-setters Oregon and Stanford.  USC went 8-5. Arizona and Washington both finished 7-6. Arizona State was 6-6, with two wins over Football Championship Subdivision opponents. 

Contrast that with 2013 when a record five teams won at least 10 games. Six finished ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. The Pac-12 is simply better as a whole than it was then, and as a result, it's far less likely two teams can run roughshod over everyone else. 

 

Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. Submit your weekly mailbag questions via Twitter @kensing45 or via email at pac12mailbag@gmail.com. 

 

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