Tuesday was the final Pac-12 teleconference call with all coaches, except Jeff Tedford, who was dismissed at Cal earlier in the day. Some highlights:
The two first-year coaches in the Territorial Cup, ‘Zona’s Rich Rodriguez and ASU’s Todd Graham, have some history, dating to an NAIA title game in 1993 between Rodriguez’ Glenville State (W.Va.) team, which lost to East Central, Okla., where Graham was the defensive coordinator.
Graham later worked for Rodriguez at West Virginia, but when Rodriguez got the Arizona job well before Graham left Pitt last December for Tempe, Rodriguez hired three of Graham’s assistants. The Arizona Republic quoted a tweet from a Pittsburgh reporter at the time in which Graham called the three “mercenaries.”
Graham, asked about the Rodriguez connection, didn’t exactly paint their relationship as cozy, saying, “We know each other. But it’s not something where we call each other every day or something like that.”
And as for whether his old Pitt aides being in Tucson brings anything more to the rivalry, Graham said, “It doesn’t for me. This game is bigger than any individual, any person. It’s big enough in itself.”
The Bears fired the longest-tenured (continuously) coach in the league, Tedford, after a 3-9 season.
“Jeff’s been a great coach for a long time and he’s the winningest coach in (Cal) history,” said rival David Shaw of Stanford. “His record speaks for itself. It’s a sad day and a harsh business. I have a lot of respect for Jeff both as a coach and as a person.”
The Buffs’ dreary season comes to an end Friday in Boulder, and as if Colorado didn’t have enough baggage, it has to worry about Utah motivation for a big upset loss last year in Salt Lake City. As for the challenges in keeping a team playing hard when it’s 1-10, Jon Embree said, “I think our kids have played hard all year. We’ll keep hammering on (the theme of), come out and play hard. For the young kids, it’s the first time they’ve ever played Utah. Things don’t get old for them.”
Mike Riley has been around Civil Wars forever – since when his dad Bud was defensive coordinator for Dee Andros back in the late 1960s. “It’s probably the biggest single sporting event in our state,” he said. “The great thing is, it used to just be kind of for the local championship. The last decade, it’s been for much bigger ramifications. I’m not sure there’s many times when it’s been played when both teams are ranked as high as we are right now.”
The Ducks are No. 5 and OSU 15th in the BCS standings. Since the Saturday game is at noon, Stanford and UCLA will take the field at 3:30 p.m. knowing exactly the stakes: If Oregon beats OSU, Stanford must win to capture the Pac-12 North title (in which case the Cardinal would host UCLA in the championship game six days later). If Oregon State wins, Stanford and UCLA are playing for home-field advantage in the title game.
Shaw, talking about UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley: “You see a guy in high school, and you always wonder whether he’ll do in college what he does in high school. He’s one of those guys, you say, ‘Yeah.’ ”
Bruins coach Jim Mora, an old devotee of defense, can appreciate the Stanford front. “Wow!” he said. “They’re very physical, they play with tremendous technique, they play with their shoulders square, they’re excellent at disengaging and the most impressive thing is, the way they pursue the football. They play really hard.”
Max Wittek, the backup quarterback who will sub for Matt Barkley Saturday evening against Notre Dame, “is a very confident kid,” says Lane Kiffin. “He has great tools, he’s a very big kid, 240 pounds. He’s prepared like he was going to start the whole year. For the most part, we’re going to continue to run our (normal) offense.”
Kiffin said of the vaunted Irish defense, “Nobody’s moved the ball on them. People have thought they’d be able to test their secondary, and they haven’t.”
That doesn’t mean USC won’t.
Kyle Whittingham said he can’t remember when an opponent, other than a triple-option based team like Air Force, ran for 320 yards on his club as Arizona did the other night. “It was certainly a debacle against Arizona,” he said. “Almost all the yards were on the edge. It was not a great job by us coaches scheming for ’em.”
Overall, a disappointing 4-7 season has mostly come down to “a matter of three or four plays, game-changing plays that we haven’t been able to make” against every opponent other than Arizona State (which blasted the Utes, 37-7). “We’ve got to recruit, and two, start making some of those plays that are tipping points.”