Tuesday is Pac-12 football coaches conference call day, and this was the first one of the season, with each team in action starting Thursday. Some snippets of what was discussed:
Coach Rich Rodriguez has named redshirt freshman Anu Solomon to start the UNLV opener ahead of Jesse Scroggins and Jerrard Randall.
“The reason he’s getting the nod for the first game is he’s played the best over the last three weeks,” says Rodriguez. “I told him, ‘Don’t look over your shoulder for every little thing you do wrong. You just can’t make the egregious (mistakes).’ He’s a cool customer. He’s hard to get rattled. I’m sure he’ll be a little nervous Friday night, but I’m anxious to see what he can do.”
Todd Graham says he’s excited about the development an offensive line that allowed a league-leading 41 sacks in 2013, saying “it’s probably the most improved unit on our entire team. It’s bigger, stronger and faster. I’m excited about what they can do.”
Meanwhile, Graham, whose team opens with Weber State Thursday night, says walk-on Jordan Simone of Skyline, brother of ex-WSU receiver Gino Simone, will start at safety. Jordan began at WSU but transferred and walked on at ASU when secondary coach Chris Ball departed with the Paul Wulff firing and landed in Tempe.
“His dad (Ronnie) did the same thing when he came here,” Graham said. “(Jordan’s) a great story, a great young man, great character. He’s an exciting kid to watch, to see how he’s grown.”
The Bears play at Northwestern in a rematch of Cal’s best performance last year (a 44-30 loss) before injuries began taking a toll. “I don’t know that there’s much carryover,” said Sonny Dykes.
Among new defenders Dykes praised is linebacker Devante Downs of Mountlake Terrace. “It’s going to look a lot different just in terms of who’s out there,” says Dykes. “Hopefully, it’s a lot better defense.”
The Buffs have an interesting situation: They don’t really have a rival in the Pac-12, notwithstanding the Utah finale every season pitting the league’s newest members. But they play Colorado State Friday night, and Mike MacIntyre acknowledges it to be a rival – in the opener.
“It’s a big, heightened game,” he said. “A lot of the kids know each other and that adds flavor to it.” He added that the timing is good, saying he doesn’t think either school would want the game later in the year, when “you’re caring about your conference, so playing earlier in the year is a good thing for both of us.”
Mark Helfrich says defensive lineman T.J. Daniel, converted a year ago from tight end, “is starting to play a lot more freely. When guys first make that transition, they’re hesitant. He’s kind of over that hump. I’m expecting big things from him.”
The Ducks have All-America corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu listed in the punt-return depth and running back Thomas Tyner at kick returner. Each has had a limited role in that in the past, as Ekpre-Olomu, a senior, returned two punts as a freshman, and Tyner was in kick-return formation last year but didn’t receive any kicks.
Oregon hosts FCS South Dakota Saturday night.
Mike Riley says the top Oregon State offensive lineman, Isaac Seumalo, won’t return “until after our bye week, sometime after that, I don’t know how soon.” The bye is Sept. 13, the third weekend of the season. Seumalo has had a foot problem dating to the OSU bowl win in Hawaii and was in a walking boot as late as the opening of fall camp.
Beyond Seumalo, the Beavers’ offensive line is “about as healthy as we can be,” right now, Riley says, in advance of the Saturday opener with Portland State.
The Cardinal hosts Cal-Davis a week before a big game with USC, and if Stanford were less capable, there might be talk of what happened in 2005, when the Aggies upset the Cardinal, 20-17, with a late touchdown.
“Not at all,” said David Shaw, Stanford coach, as to whether mention of that game nine years ago had come up. “A lot of these guys were not even in high school yet for that game.”
Standout receiver-kick returner Ty Montgomery, who had off-season elbow surgery, has been cleared to play.
The Bruins make the same trek three time zones east to Virginia that Oregon made early in September a year ago, but Jim Mora says he hasn’t picked the brain of Helfrich to get any insight into the Cavaliers or the experience, even on the East Coast media swing the coaches made late last month.
“We kind of put ball away for a while,” Mora says. “ I really didn’t talk to him at all.”
As for the 9 a.m. (PDT) Saturday kickoff in Charlottesville, a time that has troubled some West Coast teams in the past, Mora scoffed, “We practice at 7 a.m. during the season, so it’s really not a big deal for us. We’re up and at it anyway.” In fact, comparing the times, he said, “We’re getting a little extra sleep. We’ll be very rested.”
Steve Sarkisian no doubt isn’t terribly pleased having to deal with the aftermath of the Josh Shaw story. Shaw sprained both ankles jumping off a second floor to rescue a seven-year-old nephew struggling in a pool – or so his story goes. Sarkisian confirmed that USC had gotten calls that “questioned the validity of his story, and we’re doing due diligence as we speak.”
Sarkisian said Shaw “has never given us any indication not to believe his story.”
The loss of Shaw in the secondary, he said, makes the Trojans “a little more inexperienced than we’d like to see” entering Saturday’s late-afternoon date with Fresno State.
Utah hosts Idaho State Thursday night, bringing to Salt Lake City the FCS school where Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham did a six-year stint as an assistant (1988-93). “Loved it, I’ve got great memories,” says Whittingham.
If you’re thinking this might be a spot for an upset, Utah is 36-0 against current Big Sky members.
Idaho State is also where Whittingham and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen worked together two years (1990-91), and talked about the idea of becoming teammates again “if the opportunity ever arose.”
Whittingham hired Christensen after last season and now the Utes will run a faster offense, having flown through “200 or 300 repetitions” more than they did a year ago in the same time in fall camp. Says Whittingham, “We’re definitely going to snap the ball a lot quicker.”
The Huskies’ Chris Petersen might be the coach who stands to gain the most by the college football playoff, having moved from a school, Boise State, that likely is on the outside looking in at the new system, to one that could crack the final four at some point.
“Everybody wanted to see this next step,” Petersen says. “They wanted to settle it on the field and not have some mythical national champion. I’m going in with good trust and faith and I’m excited to see how it goes.”
Converted running back Teondray Caldwell has made a good transition to safety, and is in the depth for the Rutgers game Thursday night, says Mike Leach.
“He really did, almost surprisingly so,” Leach said. “He’s always been a quick, pretty athletic guy who’s not afraid to be physical. I think the extra space he’s had the opportunity to work with has helped him. He really sorts things out pretty quick.”