Pac-12 coaches teleconference: Chris Petersen wants expanded playoff field
Pac-12 coaches weigh in on expanding the College Football Playoff and prepare for big rivalry games in this week's teleconference.
Colorado's Mike MacIntyre
MacIntyre gave the media updates on the statuses of wide receiver Shay Fields and defensive back Ryan Moeller. MacIntyre said that Fields, who was showing concussion symptoms after taking a hit in the second quarter of Saturday’s game against USC, is “doing well” and “progressing.”
As far as Moeller is concerned, MacIntyre said “he’s looking better today than he did last week, so we’re hopeful that he’ll be out there in 12 days or so.” Moeller got hurt in the loss at Arizona State on Nov. 4.
The Buffs do not play again until a clash with Utah to conclude the regular season on Nov. 25.
Utah's Kyle Whittingham
Whittingham talked at length about the development of sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley, who he thinks could have developed even more had it not been for the shoulder injury that forced him to miss two starts.
“His leadership has been outstanding this year and he has really embraced that and being a team leader,” Whittingham said. “We think he has a great upside… he has the dual-threat capability, and we’re trying to maximize that.”
When asked to discuss Washington’s defense, Whittingham said that defensive lineman Vita Vea “is as good as anyone in the country.” The Utes travel to Seattle this weekend with an eye on a sixth victory.
Stanford's David Shaw
Shaw wasn’t having any question about potentially playing in a Pac-12 Football Championship Game for the fourth time in the last six seasons – this is Big Game week, and all the conference championship scenarios take a backseat to Stanford-Cal.
“It’s probably not one of the nastier rivalries in America but at the same time it’s still very heated,” Shaw said about Big Game. “There’s still an underlying respect… this is a great opportunity to compete against each other.”
He did respond to a question about frustrations with having won multiple Pac-12 titles but not having had the chance to play for a national championship, saying “I don’t believe in getting frustrated. I believe in getting what you earn.” He pointed out a couple of times where Stanford was close to playing for a national championship – in 2015, where the Cardinal was slotted No. 6 in the final College Football Playoff rankings and 2011, before the College Football Playoff era when the Cardinal finished the regular season No. 4.
Washington State's Mike Leach
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk has set numerous Pac-12 passing records on the Palouse, most recently becoming the conference’s all-time leader in passing touchdowns during the win at Utah on Saturday. That said, he has been benched a couple of times during the season in favor of Tyler Hilinski. So, does Leach think Falk has lived up to expectations this year? Here’s how Leach answered the question:
“Tyler is a quality player, and I think he did a good job of sparking the unit a couple of times, but without Luke, Tyler isn’t playing at this level because of Luke’s example. Some of what I think Luke does best, is he’s a very conscientious student of the game, he’s very analytical. I think there’s a tipping point to where you overthink things [to the point] it can slow you down. He’s been too analytical times, but there’s no quarterback in the country that doesn’t have ups and downs. You can take your favorite quarterback and I can tell you [his positives and negatives]… I can’t think of any of them I don’t have Luke ahead of. I can’t think any of them that would have a remote possibility of starting late in their freshman year and being the all-time passing leader in the greatest passing conference in the history of college football… I think it’s a tremendous accomplishment that almost no one else could have accomplished.”
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez
As the Wildcats prepare for Oregon, Rodriguez mentioned that the Wildcats recruited Royce Freeman out of high school. “He’s had a great career; really proud of him. Wish we didn’t have to play him,” Rodriguez said. When asked about what stood out about Freeman when recruiting him, Rodriguez noted that “he was a big physical runner who could run away from people. He had the whole physical package.”
Rodriguez noted that his team will prepare for both Justin Herbert and Braxton Burmeister to play quarterback for the Ducks. Herbert suffered a fractured collarbone in September and is close to returning.
Cal's Justin Wilcox
While Wilcox has been a part of the Big Game before when he was a linebackers coach at Cal from 2003-05, this will be his first go-around as a head coach. So what does he think of the rivalry? “I think it’s one of the greatest rivalries in college football and we appreciate being a part of it,” Wilcox said.
As one would expect, though, Wilcox said the main focus isn’t on the rivalry aspect but on the preparation aspect. With the Golden Bears coming off a bye week, the team spent extra time in strength and conditioning mode and getting their bodies and minds right for a game that could send Cal to a bowl game and knock Stanford out of Pac-12 Football Championship Game contention.
“I think the biggest thing is we focus on preparation because that will give us the best chance to win,” he said.
UCLA's Jim Mora
Big Game isn’t the only rivalry going down this week in the Pac-12. UCLA has USC on the ledger, and Mora was asked about trying to stop USC running back Ronald Jones, who has rushed for 552 yards and six touchdowns over the last three weeks.
“It’s certainly a challenge. They’ve got a tremendous rushing attack and he is without a doubt a great running back,” Mora said. “We just have to make sure we are consistent in our run fits.”
Wide receiver Jordan Lasley returned to the field against Arizona State and made a big impact by catching seven passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. He had missed the previous three games due to suspension.
“We’ve lost a lot of yards with Caleb Wilson being out and Darren Andrews being out, so having Jordan being back in there gives us another playmaker when we’ve lost a couple,” he said.
USC's Clay Helton
Helton was asked about whether or not he thought scheduling was an issue for the Pac-12. His Trojans were one of the Friday night road victims earlier this year up in Pullman.
“We’re in a television-driven world and a television-driven market. I think that’s the approach of our league. Part of college football is playing on Thursday, Friday or Saturday nights,” he said. “You make the most of those opportunities, because whether you’re on FOX or ESPN, you’re going to play one of those games. Whenever they tell us to put the ball down, we’ll do our best job.”
Helton mentioned that his son played on the same Pop Warner team as UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen. “To see [Josh] grow up to become the player and man he has become has been very fun watching,” Helton said before mentioning that he has already watched Rosen’s performance against Arizona State a "half dozen times" because of how impressive he was in leading the Bruins to their 44-37 victory.
What does Helton like most about Rosen? “I’ve been really impressed with his accuracy and arm strength. He throws a very catchable ball. He’s not afraid to pull the trigger. His accuracy, I believe, is off the charts,” he said.
Washington's Chris Petersen
When asked about it, Petersen said he would like to see the College Football Playoff field expanded. So as to not make the season longer with an expanded playoff, he proposed the idea of getting rid of one non-conference game.
“If you do that, I think there’s enough money to go around,” he said.
Washington’s record-setting punt returner Dante Pettis will be receiving boots from Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky, a guy Petersen is very impressed with.
“You’ve got a great punter there; he does a great job,” Petersen said. “Moves the ball around, has a great leg. Those type of guys are always tough do deal with. Dante’s job is to make a right decision, so he’s a hard guy to return punts on. We’ll see what happens.”
Petersen used the adjective “scary” to describe Utah’s offense and is particularly impressed with quarterback Tyler Huntley.
“We haven’t faced a quarterback like him all season,” Petersen said. “He runs really well but he keeps his eyes downfield. He’s trying to throw it, but he’ll run if they’re covered.”
On his team regrouping following the loss to Stanford, Petersen said, “That’s part of the job. It’s not always going to be a bed of roses. The gritty teams, they’re going to come back right to work. Everybody around the conference is throwing a party that we lost… We’ll be ready to play.”
Arizona State's Todd Graham
Graham thinks do-it-all talent N’Keal Harry is just scratching the surface of what he can do, likening him to former Sun Devil Jaelen Strong for his playmaking ability and strong hands.
“He’s just starting to mature mentally. He’s not even close to his potential and he’s [already] probably one of the better receivers in the Pac-12,” Graham said.
The Sun Devils can achieve bowl eligibility with a win Saturday at Oregon State.
“They know that,” Graham said when asked about whether or not six wins is a subject he broaches with his team. “Our goal is to be a team like we did in ’13 to compete for championships. We’ve fallen short of that, but another goal is to be in a bowl game and win a bowl game.”
Oregon's Willie Taggart
Of course, Taggart was asked about the status of quarterback Justin Herbert, and he said that he would make a decision on whether or not Herbert would play during the latter part of the week.
“He practiced today, his bones are healing well and there’s a good chance he can play this week,” Taggart said.
He believes that Herbert being sidelined since the end of September has helped him develop from a mental standpoint.
“I think it helped him being on the sidelines and see it from a different perspective,” Taggart said. “There’d be times he would come up to me and make suggestions.”
Taggart said he doesn’t have a timetable in his head for how long it should take to turn around programs, something he has already done at Western Kentucky and South Florida and is hoping to do at Oregon.
“Every situation is different,” he said. “Western Kentucky is different from South Florida, and South Florida is different from Oregon…No timeline, just work your tail off and have the patience to see it through.”
Oregon State's Cory Hall
Hall got a breather from the hot seat Tuesday afternoon, with no questions directed his way. The Beavers will look for their first win under Hall when they play host to Arizona State on Saturday afternoon. In 2014, the Beavers upset sixth-ranked Arizona State at home and wiped out any chance the Sun Devils had at making a push for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
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