Moments that shaped the playoff

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
1:48
PM ET
video

There are many moments that define a season, but this is the first year plays defined a playoff.

It wasn't just Baylor's nonconference schedule that doomed the Bears' playoff hopes; it was the loss at West Virginia that knocked them out of the top four. It wasn't only the performance by Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones in the Big Ten title game that punched the ticket for the Buckeyes; it was the win against Michigan State that put them in position to get there.

Here's a look at how the top four spots were won -- or lost -- in a historic season for the sport.

Alabama

The opponents: Arkansas and Mississippi State.

The moments: The first came in the fourth quarter at unranked Arkansas, when Landon Collins intercepted Brandon Allen on third-and-10 to seal the 14-13 win. The second moment wasn't a single play -- it was a 15-play drive in the fourth quarter against then-No. 1 Mississippi State. Alabama was clinging to a 19-13 lead when that 76-yard touchdown drive ate 6:07 off the clock and added a 25-13 cushion with T.J. Yeldon's 7-yard touchdown run. Blake Sims converted all three third downs himself (one pass, two rushes). It was Alabama's first win over a No. 1-ranked team in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The outcome: The win at Arkansas was critical not only for the SEC West standings, but from an emotional standpoint, as well. The Tide had to rebound from the previous week's loss at Ole Miss. The upset of Mississippi State put Alabama in the selection committee's rankings for the first time -- a spot the Tide would never relinquish.


(Read full post)


Oregon's Marcus Mariota won the Pac-12's first Heisman Trophy since 2005, and he did so in historically dominant fashion. A record 95.16 percent of voters listed Mariota on their Heisman ballots, and heading into Saturday's presentation, there wasn't much of a question that the Duck would take home college football's most hallowed hardware.

Though he still has a year of college eligibility remaining, Mariota will almost certainly declare for the 2015 NFL draft, so the Pac-12 will have to look elsewhere to repeat the Heisman feat. Here are some early 2015 candidates. Key word here is "early," as we have yet to finish 2014 and some of the players below are still deciding if they will be back next year. Keep that in mind as we quickly imagine the potential future.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

Aside from Mariota, the only Pac-12 player to finish in the top 10 of Heisman balloting was this dominant desert stud. Wright earned four second-place votes and 13 third-place votes, and it would be tough to argue with either of those evaluations based on his absurd 2014 production. Wright's numbers in tackles, sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles were all either at or near the top of the nation; he was the only player who averaged over two TFL per game, and that race wasn't remotely close. It's clear that Arizona has an absolute machine working the middle of its defense. Yes, the Heisman Trophy has a clear bias toward the offensive side of the football, but Wright was awesome enough to earn 17 votes at linebacker -- as a sophomore.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

This 230-pound bruiser did his best to give new meaning to the term "true freshman" in 2014. Aside from displaying remarkable vision, Freeman physically pounded opposing defenses like a battle-hardened senior. He supplied Oregon's rushing attack with an irreplaceable dose of physicality. The first-year statistical returns are as eye-popping as they were pad-popping: 1,299 yards, 5.6 yards per carry, 16 touchdowns. With Mariota almost certainly moving on, the Ducks' offense may center more on this young tank in 2015, and that focus could thrust Freeman into Heisman contention.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC

Kessler was the only quarterback in the nation to attempt over 400 passes and throw fewer than five interceptions in 2014. In the not-so-distant past, those kinds of numbers would automatically thrust a USC quarterback into the midst of the Heisman Trophy discussion. Kessler, however, flew under the radar throughout the entire campaign. If he decides to return to USC for his senior season, expect him to generate a big amount of preseason hype. Related note: Running back Javorius Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor also have eligibility remaining. If those two are back in Troy next year, include them as possible big-time award candidates too.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Statistically, 2014 was an excellent campaign for this Bruin, who is a redshirt sophomore. He led the Pac-12 in rushing, racking up 1,378 yards on a league-best 6.0 yards per carry. Perkins will have to score more touchdowns to generate more Heisman hype. He found pay dirt only nine times this season, but 2015 will likely present an opportunity to enter the end zone more often, as touchdown machine Brett Hundley has indicated that he will likely be moving on to the NFL. That means that Perkins may become the centerpiece of UCLA's offense. More touches, more glory.

Jared Goff, QB, California

Goff's statistical output was impressive in 2014 (3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns, 7 interceptions), but any hype surrounding him was quickly extinguished by memories of the Bears' nightmarish 2013 campaign (1-11). Cal improved to 5-7 this season, but it still failed to earn a postseason berth. Given the upward trajectory of Sonny Dykes' program, that likely won't be the case in 2015. There's a strong chance that Goff will be the quarterback of a winning team. If he continues to post gaudy numbers under that scenario (also likely), this talented gunslinger will arrive on the radar for major postseason awards. Don't sleep on him.

D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State

If wide receiver Jaelen Strong returns to ASU for his final year of eligibility, keep an eye out for him. But that seems unlikely, so the top Sun Devil to watch will probably be the versatile Foster, who was the only Pac-12 player to finish with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in 2014. Foster's 59 catches were second to only Strong in Tempe, and his explosiveness makes him a prime sizzle candidate if he decides to stay in school for one more season. Side note: Don't forget freshman running back Demario Richard, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a 17-year-old this season.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

If you enjoy watching impressive freshman running backs, Wilson is a good player to follow. He delivered an awfully dynamic inaugural campaign in Rich Rodriguez's system, delivering 5.9 yards per carry and more than 100 ground yards per game. Wilson's 15 rushing touchdowns were second among Pac-12 running backs, so second-year improvement would absolutely make him a contender for some major hardware in 2014.
video

Adam Rittenberg sits down with Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota to discuss his success this season and his thoughts on facing Florida State in the Rose Bowl.
David Shaw and Chris PetersenUSA TODAY SportsDavid Shaw, left and Chris Petersen must make strides offensively to keep pace with Oregon.
Outside of Eugene, the Pac-12 North suffered through a 2014 campaign riddled with disappointment. Stanford and Washington, the Ducks' two biggest challengers in the division, turned out to not really be challengers at all; they finished three and four games off Oregon's pace, respectively, and both were blasted out of Autzen Stadium.

Though the Huskies haven't beaten the Ducks in more than a decade, Stanford had enjoyed plenty of recent success against Oregon, so 2014 represented a landmark shift in the Pac-12 North landscape. Mark Helfrich's program is now clearly alone in the driver's seat, and though bowl season is a chance for the Ducks to again chase a coveted national championship, the runners-up are using this month for an entirely different purpose.

If the Pac-12 North is to become interesting again, Stanford and Washington must leverage their extra string of bowl practices into something that enables them to close the wide gap between Oregon and the rest of this division. Interestingly, both programs face similar challenges: Their glaring deficiencies reside on offense, but defense -- a strength for both programs this season -- is also a looming question mark, as player departures will soon significantly affect that side of the ball in Palo Alto and Seattle.

David Shaw (Stanford) and Chris Petersen (Washington) have a chance to lay the groundwork of positive change this December, while Sonny Dykes (California), Mike Leach (Washington State), and newcomer Gary Andersen (Oregon State) don't have the same opportunity. Stanford faces Maryland in its bowl game on December 30, and Washington squares off with Oklahoma State on January 2. Cal, Oregon State, and Washington State -- who failed to reach bowl eligibility -- will be tasked with clawing their way out of losing seasons without the benefit of any supplementary training.

For Stanford, priority No. 1 in this stretch involves -- at the very least -- developing a coherent offensive vision for what happens beyond this 2014 season. The Cardinal finished this past campaign ranked dead last in the Pac-12, averaging only 25.7 points per game, and the entire season seemed centered on befuddled vacillation between the power running identity of the past and an inadequately defined pass-centric offense of the future. Stanford never seemed to develop a clear offensive identity against a legitimate defense until its final game of the season, a 31-10 romp over UCLA.

Kevin Hogan finally looked comfortable in that game, and his future on the Farm (he still has one more year of eligibility remaining) is likely the central question confronting Shaw moving forward: Will Stanford gamble on getting a season's worth of UCLA-like performances from Hogan in 2015 (he finished a spectacular 16-for-19 in that game after struggling for much of 2014), or will they turn the page to one of their touted young prospects -- most likely Keller Chryst -- moving forward?

The decision there might not come now, but one can be sure that this December is giving Shaw the opportunity to conduct a critically important, thorough evaluation of his offense on all levels after a season of struggle.

On that note, Washington is in a similar boat. The Huskies averaged only 5.4. yards per play in 2014, third-worst in the Pac-12. Petersen is entering his second year in Seattle, so his hand-picked talent obviously hasn't had a chance to emerge, but the Dawgs must scramble now to get more productivity from their offense in 2014. Quarterback Cyler Miles did a good job avoiding interceptions while posting improving explosiveness numbers, but Washington will certainly need him to generate more fireworks to contend in 2015. The quest to improve that begins now, especially since the road will only get more difficult for the Huskies after the bowl game (they will be losing a handful of starting offensive linemen).

Speaking of departures, both Stanford and Washington will absorb plenty on the defensive end. The likes of David Parry, Henry Anderson, and Jordan Richards -- just to name a few -- will leave the Cardinal's conference-best unit after the season. And national sack leader Hau'oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton, John Timu, and likely Shaq Thompson will depart the Washington program. Both Shaw and Petersen will soon be staring at massive defensive voids. That means one thing: The chance for younger players to emerge begins now.

So, while Oregon loads its canons for the high-stakes spectacle at the Rose Bowl on January 1, Stanford and Washington will already be feverishly working toward laying the groundwork necessary to challenge the Ducks in 2015. There is seemingly no respite in this furious college football cycle. The Cardinal and Huskies are readying for bowl matchups that have nowhere near the prestige of the Ducks' clash with Florida State, but the work leading up to them is every bit as important in relation to the next Pac-12 North race, which has already silently begun.
video
If Oregon wins the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 will cap the greatest season in its history, including iterations as the Pac-8 and Pac-10. Perhaps we should toss an "arguably" in there, particularly if the conference's seven other bowl teams go belly-up in some form or fashion, but why be wishy-washy?

After Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the overwhelming winner of the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, the Pac-12 completed a sweep through the award season like some morphing of "Titanic," "Ben Hur" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at the Oscars. Combine Mariota with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright, and the Pac-12 has produced the season's most decorated offensive and defensive players. Not since 2002, when USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman and Arizona State LB Terrell Suggs swept most defensive awards has this happened.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks have a chance to make this a historic season for the Pac-12.
Mariota also won the Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the year awards, as well as the Davey O'Brien and Unitas awards as the nation's top QB. Wright won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Further, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard won the Hendricks Award and Utah punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award.

Toss in eight players on the ESPN.com All-America team -- from seven different schools -- and six teams ranked in the final pre-bowl CFP rankings and it feels like an unprecedented season for national recognition in the Pac-12.

Well, at least if the Ducks take care of business.

The season Palmer and Suggs were college football's most celebrated players, just two Pac-10 teams ended up ranked, though both were in the top 10 (USC and Washington State), while Colorado, then in the Big 12, also finished ranked. In 2004, USC won the national title, Trojans QB Matt Leinart won the Heisman and California finished in the top 10. Arizona State also finished ranked, while Utah went undefeated, though as a Mountain West Conference member. Obviously, if you fudge with conference membership issues, you can make things look better retroactively than they were in their present time.

In 2000, three teams -- No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Oregon State and No. 7 Oregon -- finished ranked in the top seven. In 1984, the Pac-10 won the Rose (USC), Orange (Washington) and Fiesta (UCLA) bowls and finished with three top-10 teams, including No. 2 Washington, which was victimized by BYU's dubious national title.

So there have been plenty of impressive seasons, just not anything as scintillating as 2014 if Oregon wins the title.

Oregon, of course, hoisting the new 35-pound, cylindrical trophy as the last team standing is hardly a sure thing. First, the Ducks get defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual. While many have questioned the Seminoles this season because every game has been a nail-biter, that doesn't change the fact the nation's only unbeaten Power 5 conference team -- winners of 29 games in a row, no less -- own the fourth quarter. In football, owning the fourth quarter is almost always a good thing.

If Oregon manages to win that CFP semifinal game, the good money is on it getting a shot at top-ranked Alabama in the national title game, though throwing funereal dirt on Ohio State this season has proved difficult. Ohio State is the Count Dracula of college football this season -- perennially undead. That duly noted, knocking aside Alabama -- the game's most dynastic program, led by its most celebrated coach in Nick Saban -- while the Crimson Tide also stand as the bell cow of the dominant SEC would be the ultimate achievement for a team and conference eager to solidify its super-elite standing.

The simple fact that Oregon has not won a national title in football -- and the Pac-12/10 hasn't claimed one since 2004 -- stands out on both literal and symbolic levels. There has not been a first-time national champion since Florida won in 1996, while a Pac-12/10 team other than USC hasn't won one since Washington in 1991. Before that, if then-Big 8 member Colorado's 1990 title doesn't count, it's UCLA in 1954.

So Oregon taking that final step into the light would represent a pretty dramatic development, particularly after the school already upgraded its trophy case with its first Heisman. It would complete a climb started in the 1990s and show other mid-to-low-level Power 5 teams that all they need to transform into a superpower is good coaching, strong administration and a sugar-daddy billionaire booster.

As for the conference in general, it would be a big deal to have a non-USC national title in the coffers, and it would be further validation of the depth and quality of the conference. Last season, for the first time since 2009, the conference didn't finish with a top-five team, but for the first time ever it finished with six teams ranked in the final AP poll. So the Ducks at the top would provide some nice symmetry.

As for the entire postseason, the Pac-12 is favored in seven of its eight bowl games, with UCLA being only a slight underdog to Kansas State, with the line trending down since opening at 3 1/2 points. So the conference is set up for success. Anything fewer than six wins -- including Oregon in the Rose Bowl -- would be a disappointment, an underachievement.

You know, not unlike last season, when the conference went 6-3 and graded a mere "Gentleman's C" from the Pac-12 blog.

While Washington and Oregon State fans will be hard-pressed to force out a "Go Ducks!" and USC fans probably aren't ready to admit a new member to the college football penthouse, if Oregon can make its tide rise to the top -- and roll the Tide along the way -- it will boost all Pac-12 ships.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
8:00
AM ET
As you know Robbie's shining moment this year was when he set a school record for cursing in an eighth grade English class.

Let's get the week started off right. I'm guessing it was a tough weekend for a lot of people. After all, it was our first weekend without Pac-12 football in months. Don't worry, it's coming back soon enough. But, at least there was really good news for the Pac-12 this weekend. Let's start with a Mr. Marcus Mariota who won the Heisman this past Saturday.

First, let's give some major props to this MahaloMarcus.com video because it's very much worth your time and you can view it right here. It has some classic 8-year-old Mariota footage meshed with some current footage, some emotional music and quotes from Oregon coach Mark Helfrich and the gang. Well done to the edit staff. Well done to Mariota for all these plays.

If four minutes of Mariota on video isn't enough for you ... well, lucky you, everyone and their mother reacted to this news, so we'll give you a breakdown of some writer's reactions.
The state of Oregon just doubled down. And the ghosts of this state's football programs just doubled over. Anyone who has regularly seen Mariota operate the heavy machinery that is the Ducks' offense this season knows he's the best player in America, but it really is something to see the rest of the country see it, too.

And finally, props to Oregon State for recognizing Mariota as well. The Beavers bought a full page ad in The Oregonian's special section for Mariota.

Back page of The Oregonian's special section on Marcus Mariota. Classy move from the Beavers.

A photo posted by Karly Imus (@karlyimus) on

Other awards:

It wasn't just Mariota who picked up a big award this weekend. UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Lott IMPACT Trophy. Kendricks follows in the footsteps of Anthony Barr, who won the award last year. Jack Wang wrote that Kendricks is the latest in what could be a long line of linebacker lineage at UCLA.

And look at how cordial everyone was about Kendricks' win. But would you assume anything else? Never. Especially not from the Lott IMPACT guys.



Also, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson won the Hornung Award, given to college football's most versatile athlete. The Pac-12 Blog agrees.

All right. Here's a quick rundown ...

Oregon St. congratulates Mariota

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
2:53
PM ET
video

They call the game between them the Civil War, but Oregon State put aside its dislike of its in-state rivals to congratulate Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota who won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night.

The Beavers placed an ad in Sunday's The Oregonian to congratulate Mariota and also made a digital ad.

"We have a lot of respect for Marcus," said Oregon State assistant athletic director Steve Fenk. "While many years apart in age, Marcus displays the same type of class that [Oregon State's 1962 Heisman Trophy winner] Terry Baker does on a daily basis."

Fenk said the school partnered with The Oregonian on the ad and didn't know what the cost of the full-page ad was.

Oregon has won seven straight games in the series, including a 28-point win this season.

Mariota received the second-highest percentage of possible points (90.92) in Heisman voting history, behind only Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who had 91.63 in 2006.


(Read full post)


video

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner.

Heisman in good hands with Mariota

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
8:20
PM ET
video

NEW YORK -- You can exhale now, America. This Heisman Trophy winner you can bring home to Mom.

Oregon junior quarterback Marcus Mariota won the 80th Heisman Memorial Trophy Award on Saturday night the way he won most of his 35 victories as a starter over the past three seasons: in a rout. If the voting had been a game, Mariota would have sat out the last quarter.

"Rout" might be kind. Mariota received 788 first-place votes of 894 cast. With point totals awarded on a 3-2-1 basis, Mariota finished with 2,534 points, more than twice as many as the runner-up, Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon, who edged Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, in third.

Mariota received 90.9 percent of the total possible points, the second-highest total in the history of the award. Only 10 voters didn't have Mariota on their ballot.

"I am humbled to be standing here today," Mariota said before thanking his teammates, coaches, teachers, fans and pretty much everyone in Eugene and his home state of Hawaii. His voice stayed strong until he got to his parents, Toa Mariota and Alana-Deppe Mariota.

"Words cannot express what you truly mean to me," Mariota croaked. They didn't have to. That Mariota couldn't choke out the words said everything.

After the television ceremony, teachers and other friends from his Honolulu St. Louis High waited outside the news conference with Hawaiian and Samoan leis they brought from home. Mariota came to the podium laden with greenery.


(Read full post)


Marcus Mariota wins Heisman Trophy

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
8:02
PM ET
video

NEW YORK -- Marcus Mariota wrote it all down, every word of his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. It was a good thing, too, because getting through it might have been tougher than sprinting away from a linebacker or tossing a long touchdown pass for Oregon.

The Ducks' understated star won the Heisman on Saturday night going away, capping a three-year climb to college football's most prestigious individual award.

"I'm humbled to be standing here today,'' Mariota said moments after he was announced as the winner.

Mariota isn't a big talker, but he steadily worked through his speech, thanking his teammates, teachers, friends and his home state of Hawaii. He finally hit a snag when it came time to thank his mother and father. He needed to take two deep breaths and still got choked up.

"I had to give thanks to so many people because where I am today, it's all due to all those people," Mariota said later. "It's hard not to get emotional. It's been a long journey. My emotions got the best of me.''

A pinpoint passer with wide receiver speed, Mariota came into his junior season as the favorite to win the 80th Heisman and delivered a performance that turned the presentation ceremony at a theater in Times Square into a foregone conclusion.

Mariota received twice as many points as second-place finisher Melvin Gordon


(Read full post)


Video: Marcus Mariota ready for Heisman, playoffs

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
11:13
AM ET

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota talks about what winning the Heisman Trophy would mean for his home state of Hawaii, and getting ready for the playoffs.

Video: Has Marcus Mariota separated himself from the pack?

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
9:38
AM ET

Former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard breaks down what it takes for a non-quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy.

Mailbag: South shall rise again!

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
5:30
PM ET
Happy "Mariota wins the Heisman" Eve!

Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.

To the notes!

Stu from Seattle writes: I know you all posted this week that the Pac-12 South will be wide-open next year -- and I agree completely -- but if you had to handicap the division, based on players returning, plus those likely to go pro early (a lot of critical 'SC players on that list, it seems), who do you favor RIGHT NOW to end up on top? No pressure.

Ted Miller: At first, I thought I could just pop something out there when I picked this question. It was like a fat fastball coming at me just where I like it. Swing! Then I did some depth-chart reviews. Ah, Stu, you got me with the ole changeup.

Honest answer is I have no clue how to stack things up right now. You could make a compelling case for five teams, and the sixth, Colorado, stacks up like a potential bowl team if things fall favorably here and there. My initial intention, in fact, was to pick Utah, knowing that would flummox many of you traditional Pac-10 sorts. And you know how I enjoy flummoxing you traditional Pac-10 sorts.

Things are very interesting in the South, but we can't truly stack things up until we know who's entering the NFL draft early. We can make assumptions on some guys -- Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong and USC DE Leonard Williams seem sure to bolt -- but you just never know. There are going to be some surprise players staying and some surprise players going.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Harry How/Getty ImagesThe draft decision of Nelson Agholor and others will likely tip the balance of power in 2015 in the Pac-12 South.
At this point, I'm a slight lean to Arizona State. No, USC. No, ASU. Hmm. OK, I'll say the Sun Devils, but I might change my mind. In an hour.

How do things stack up?

Arizona: Lots of skill and name players returning, but BIG hits on O-line and on defense. Still, QB Anu Solomon, RB Nick Wilson, LB Scooby Wright and a deep crew of receivers is a good place to start.

Arizona State: Mike Bercovici is pretty much like a returning starter at QB, and the defense will be much more experienced next fall. There is not a significant area that stands out as a weakness.

UCLA: While most will focus on QB Brett Hundley leaving -- and there could be other early defections -- the Bruins could potentially welcome back 18 starting position players. So the big question is whether touted incoming QB Josh Rosen will be ready, or is there some other answer behind center?

USC: We can't judge the Trojans until guys announce whether they are staying or going. If it's just one or two guys -- Williams? WR Nelson Agholor? -- then USC will be in the thick of things. And maybe the favorite.

Utah: I've got Utah with potentially 17 position players coming back, though RB Devontae Booker bolting for the NFL would be a big hit. The offensive line will be a huge strength and there's good talent coming back on defense. Will the QB position -- I know: broken record -- take a step forward?

This, obviously, is a topic we will revisit. A lot.


Tim from Salt Lake City writes: Do you expect the strength and depth of the Pac-12 South to last? Everything is about balance. For one team to win, another has to lose (not a terribly profound statement, I know). This year, that balance came in the form of several teams underachieving in the North, but Cal and Washington are trending up. Plus, I'm not ready to declare Stanford's reign over based on one underwhelming season. Could things be more balanced next year and, if so, which South team is most likely to regress?

Ted Miller: I don't see any South regression. It might, actually, end up stronger in 2015 than it was this year, particularly if players stick around instead of entering the draft and UCLA solves its QB question adequately.

The North, actually, is a better candidate for regression. Perhaps a significant one. I think Oregon will slip post-Marcus Mariota, but the Ducks still welcome back a strong core of talent. I expect them to be a slight favorite again in 2015, particularly with Stanford taking some huge hits on defense.

As for Cal and Washington trending up, I'm with you on the Bears, but I don't know about the Huskies, who take some monster losses on defense and aren't really scintillating on offense either. Oregon State will be breaking in a new coach and quarterback and rebuilding its defense, while Washington State fills me with uncertainty after I just knew last August the Cougars would take a big step forward this year.

I actually think the Cougs could be dangerous in 2015, but I'm not going to type that because it surely would throw the jinx on them, and Coug fans would blame me for doing that.


Brian from Boston writes: Looking at Cody Kessler's upcoming decision, I can't help but wonder, would he be off leaving after this year? It pains me to say it but, although his stock is not nearly as high as Matt Barkley's was after his junior year (even though his numbers are better), if he leaves now he will be a second-day pick but will probably end up on a better team, with less expectations. However, if he stays, he could get hurt, his numbers could decline and his stock could drop, or he could end up having much higher expectations.

Ted Miller: I think Kessler wants to come back, though I think he's more torn at present than he was several weeks ago, when he was talking about lobbying other Trojans considering the NFL to stick around.

You could make a case either way. Kessler has certainly boosted his stock this season, but he could play his way solidly into the first round next year.

I don't think he'll be fretting playing his way into a high draft pick and then ending up on a bad team. I've never heard a college player say he left early to avoid being drafted sooner the next year, fearing an early first-round pick could become his ruin.


David from Beaverton, Oregon, writes: Fun/hypothetical question -- you guys like those, right? For each Pac-12 team if you could take one player from another Pac-12 team and add them to said team, who would you take and why? And maybe we need some boundaries on this, like no QB's or something like that, because it would be boring if everyone chooses Mariota. The player can either make the new team better or more interesting. For example, as an Oregon fan, while I like our front seven a lot, I think we could really take it up a notch with a top-flight pass rusher like Hau'oli Kikaha. But wouldn't it also be really interesting if Nelson Agholor,was on the team even though he's probably not needed as much? Imagine him in space with the other Ducks playmakers. Anyway, what do you think?

Ted Miller: I actually do this all the time. My favorite in 2014 was imagining what Utah might have been this year with Marcus Mariota at quarterback.

(Inserting pause here for Utah fans to emerge from their swoon, though Washington fans are surely noting the Huskies were the only other Pac-12 team to recruit Mariota).

I'm not going to go through each team because every team could benefit from a Strong or Agholor or a Williams or an Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. But I do have one.

What if Arizona defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel and his 3-3-5 scheme could get a monster nose tackle, such as a Danny Shelton? You think Scooby is productive now? Imagine what he could do with a massive, demands-a-double-team presence in front of him.


Michael from Steubenville, Ohio, writes: When the Rose Bowl hosts the semifinal between Oregon and Florida State, will the winner receive the Leishman Trophy?

Ted Miller: Yep. The Rose Bowl folks are treating this one just like any other Rose Bowl, though obviously it's not a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten matchup. It's the 101st Rose Bowl, quasi-pure and simple -- or the Twitter-unfriendly "College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual."


Mike from Dublin, California, writes: This is a great video that was made by UCLA covering the point when Eric Kendricks won the 2014 Butkus Award. It's a real tear-jerker and something worth watching and sharing.

Ted Miller: Yes, that is very cool.


Kevin from San Francisco writes: Win or Lose, Buffs forever.

Ted Miller: So it's cool video day.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Players Provide Playoff Picks
Some of the top college football players in the country provide their picks on who will win the inaugural College Football Playoff.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12