We're in the pass-happy age of football -- from high school all the way up to the NFL. So, it's no surprise that of the 10 players listed here on my "matchup nightmares" list, all are quarterbacks, pass-catchers or pass-rushers.
What I set out to do with this ranking was identify the most difficult individual matchups in college football -- the players most likely to induce sleepless nights from opposing coordinators and players and that require the most attention because of their ability to single-handedly take over a game.
Here's how I rank the toughest matchups in the country:
The Aggies have lost a pair of games already this season, but my guess is that if you polled defensive coordinators from all over the country on the player they'd least want to face, Manziel would get a high percentage of the votes.
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Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) at Washington State (4-4, 2-3) 10:30 p.m. ESPN: Arizona State leads the series 25-13-2 and the Sun Devils have won eight of the last nine, including a 46-7 win over the Cougars last year. The Cougars did upset the Sun Devils 37-27 in 2011. The Sun Devils have FBS's No. 1 and No. 2 scorers in RB Marion Grice at No. 1 and PK Zane Gonzalez at No. 2. Since 1999, ASU is 17-5 in games not played on a Saturday (Bowl Games exluded). That number includes an impressive 9-2 record in games played on Thursday evenings. This will be the fifth such game under Todd Graham’s tenure, with ASU going 3-1 thus far in Thursday night contests, including a win earlier this season over Sacramento State. The Cougars are in search of their third league victory. The last time the Cougars won three Pac-12 games in a season came during the 2007 season when they finished 3-6 in league play. WSU Junior QB Connor Halliday is on pace to establish school single-season records in pass attempts and completions. Through eight games, Halliday has 428 attempts with 273 completions. The school marks are 503 (Alex Brink, 2007) and 305 (Brink, 2007). With 2,798 passing yards this year, he needs 14 yards to move into the school’s single-season top 10 list.
USC (5-3, 2-2) at Oregon State (6-2, 4-1) 9 p.m. ESPN2: USC leads the series 59-11-4, but the Beavers have won three of the last five meetings, including the last three meetings in Corvallis. They haven't played since 2010, a 36-7 Beavers victory in Corvallis. USC beat Utah 19-3 over the weekend with only 58 healthy scholarship players. In that game the Trojans piled up six sacks. Oregon State yielded eight sacks in its loss to Stanford. USC leads the Pac-12 in total defense and is second in rush defense and scoring defense (it is in the national Top 20 in each category, as well as in sacks and tackles for loss). Oregon State QB Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing yards and TD passes. He threw for 350-plus yards in 7 consecutive games before Stanford slowed him and he recently set school records for game passing yardage (493 at Washington State) and TDs (6 against Colorado). WR Brandin Cooks tops the nation in receiving yards, receptions and receiving TDs and he is third in scoring and fourth in all-purpose running. His 21 career TD catches ties the school record. He has already moved himself up to 26th on the Pac-12 single-season receiving yardage list with 1,256 yards. He’s sixth on the Oregon State list, just 51 yards from moving up to third on the school list. Cooks leads the FBS with 10.6 receptions per game and 157.0 yards per game
Arizona (5-2, 2-2) at California (1-7, 0-5) 3:30 p.m. Pac-12 Network: The series is tied 14-14-2, and they have split their last four meetings. This is the Bears and Wildcats first meeting since a 10-9 Arizona win in 2010. Wildcats junior RB Ka’Deem Carey is 80 yards shy of reaching 1,000 for the season. When he reaches that mark, he’ll become the third running back in school history to post multiple seasons with 1,000 yards rushing. He’ll join Art Luppino (1954, 55) and Trung Canidate (1998, 1999). Carey has an FBS-leading active streak of 10 consecutive games with 100 or more rushing yards, which ties Canidate’s school record set during the 1999 season. Carey has 39 career rushing TDs, second on the school’s all-time list and tied for 14th all time in the Pac-12. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff, who it appears will retain his starting job, has thrown for 300 or more yards in five games, while also attempting 50 or more passes in five games as well. He has connected 112 times with sophomore WRs Chris Harper (58 receptions) and Bryce Treggs (54 receptions) for 1,387 yards. Both should finish the season among the school’s top 10 list for single-season receptions. Ninth and 10th on Cal’s single-season list are notable alums Keenan Allen (61 rec., 2012) and DeSean Jackson (59 rec., 2006).
Colorado (3-4, 0-4) at No. 20 UCLA (5-2, 2-2) 7:30 Fox Sports 1: UCLA leads the series 6-2, including victories the past two seasons in Pac-12 play. The Buffaloes two wins came in 2002 and 2003. The Bruins blocked an Oregon punt that set up an early score in their game with the Ducks. It was the 11th blocked kick in 21 games under coach Jim Mora. The Bruins have played 32 freshmen (17 true/15 redshirt) this season. They played 26 freshmen (12 true/14 redshirt) last season. UCLA started three true freshman on the offensive line at Oregon: Alex Redmond at right guard, Caleb Benenoch at right tackle and Scott Quessenberry at left guard. Colorado's junior WR Paul Richardson now has 50 catches for 914 yards, 18.3 yards per reception, with seven TDs. He’s inching closer to all the school season marks: 78 receptions (D.J. Hackett, 2003), 1,149 yards (Charles E. Johnson, 1992) and 11 TDs (Derek McCoy, 2003). His 75-yard TD reception was the sixth play of 50 yards or longer this season, tying the modern day record for most plays 50 yards or longer in a year (and it was the 12th of his career). It was his fifth 100- yard game of the season, giving him eight for his career (records are six and 12, respectively); the latter is fourth all time at CU. His seven TD catches this year have covered 405 yards (57.9 per), and his 18 career have spanned 776 yards (43.1).
You can view it here.
And here's how your Pac-12 bloggers voted.
Here's Kevin's ballot:
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State
13. Fresno State
14. Texas Tech
15. Texas A&M
17. Oklahoma State
20. South Carolina
22. Northern Illinois
23. Michigan State
24. Arizona State
And here's mine:
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State
9. Oklahoma State
13. South Carolina
17. Central Florida
19. Fresno State
20. Texas A&M
21. Notre Dame
23. Arizona State
24. Michigan State
Here’s some more on the trio per the Pac-12’s release:
Denker, a senior from Torrance, Calif., produced one of the most prolific offensive games in school history as Arizona defeated Colorado 44-20 in Boulder on Saturday. He collected 457 total yards, good for sixth-most in school single-game history, and established a new school record for quarterbacks with 192 rushing yards on 15 carries (12.8 yards per carry). He completed 21-of-32 passes for 265 yards with a touchdown and an interception while his rushing total was the fourth-highest this season for an FBS quarterback. Denker accounted for eight plays that gained 20 yards or more and paced an Arizona offense that gained 670 yards total, which ranks third most in program history.
Murphy, a senior from Mesa, Ariz., recorded 3.5 tackles for loss including 2.5 sacks among eight total tackles in Stanford’s 20-12 win over No. 25 Oregon State in Corvallis on Saturday night. Murphy also defended one pass, blocked an extra point and logged two quarterback hurries as the Cardinal held the nation’s leading passer and touchdown leader to 271 yards and one touchdown. Murphy is fourth in the nation in sacks per game (1.2) and tied for seventh in tackles for loss per game (1.7). This is his second defensive player of the week honor this season.
Coons, a senior from Alta Loma, Calif., handled all three phases for Washington as he was the punter, place-kicker and handled kickoff duties for the Huskies in their 41-17 win over California on Saturday night in Seattle. He punted eight times for a 37.8-yard average with three of the eight downed inside the 10-yard line. Coons also remained perfect on the season on field goals, going 2-of-2, including one from 42 yards and another from a career-long 46 yards. Coons also had three of eight kickoffs result in touchbacks.
Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were running backs Byron Marshall of Oregon, Tyler Gaffney of Stanford and Bishop Sankey of Washington; and wide receivers Brandin Cooks of Oregon State and Nelson Agholor of USC. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were defensive ends Leonard Williams of USC and Trevor Reilly of Utah; defensive backs/cornerbacks Avery Patterson of Oregon, Rashaad Reynolds of Oregon State and Tre Watson of Washington; safety William Parks of Arizona; and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt of UCLA. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors were kickers Jake Smith of Arizona, Trevor Romaine of Oregon State and Andre Heidari of USC; and linebacker Myles Jack of UCLA.
But the Pac-12 blog is tipping its cap to the defense for its second-half shutout of UCLA and yielding a season-low 283 yards of total offense in the 42-14 win over the No. 12 Bruins.
And from a collection of many great defensive performances, we’re singling out safety Avery Patterson, who posted a career-high three tackles for loss to go with his second interception of the season and sixth of his career. He had seven tackles on the day, six of them solo.
With Oregon leading 21-14 to start the fourth quarter, Patterson intercepted UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley at the Oregon 28 and returned it 34 yards. That set up Marcus Mariota’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Bralon Addison and opened the floodgates for a 21-point fourth quarter for the Ducks.
Following the game, coach Mark Helfrich praised his defense as a whole for its efforts.
"Outstanding. It wasn’t like one guy was locking somebody up either,” Helfrich said. “It was a little bit of pressure got to them and created a turnover or a guy made a great break on the ball in space. Exactly, that’s our formula. We’re going to pick and choose our pressures and try to confound and confuse and Nick [Aliotti] and his staff did an incredible job."
But the greater context of the game was more significant. Tennessee, for better or worse, served as a piņata for both No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon this season, offering a rare common opponent to examine. When you consider the fact that no other top-five team has faced a common opponent with Alabama, the Tennessee games grow more interesting.
So who looked better against Butch Jones' Volunteers? Well, the answer to that question is tricky. The scores -- Alabama won by 35 points and Oregon won by 45 -- are misleading. The Ducks jumped to a 38-7 halftime lead and continued their manic pace on offense, scoring three third-quarter touchdowns. The Tide, too, got out to a big 35-0 halftime lead, but instead cruised in the third and fourth quarters, scoring one touchdown and a field goal.
Oregon ran 67 plays on offense to Alabama's 65, and the Ducks were more efficient. Marcus Mariota threw for 456 yards and four touchdowns and helped generate 687 total yards of offense. AJ McCarron, meanwhile, threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns. All told, the Tide put up a respectable 479 yards of offense. But in fairness, the difference in first-half offense -- Oregon put up 350 yards to Alabama's 292 -- was not as noticeable.
The teams' third- and fourth-down efficiency numbers were nearly identical. Alabama converted on 7 of 11 third downs and moved the chains on its lone fourth-down attempt. Oregon, conversely, was 6 of 13 on third downs and picked up a first down on its only fourth-down attempt.
Both teams ran for an average of roughly 5 yards per carry and both forced a turnover on defense.
The defenses offered little separation, though. Oregon gave up a touchdown to Tennessee in the first quarter and the Vols held the ball for 34:18. Alabama, meanwhile, didn't give up points until a third-quarter field goal and the Vols didn't score a touchdown until early in the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand. Tennessee generated about the same offensive output against Alabama as it did against Oregon -- 322 yards to 316.
Truthfully, if you're looking for who the better team is -- Alabama or Oregon -- based on their common opponent, Tennessee, you're looking too hard. Both Alabama and Oregon beat up on Tennessee badly and both looked like title contenders in the process. Alabama's traditional pro-style offense, largely viewed as weaker than Oregon's fast-paced attack, held its own by comparison. Meanwhile, Oregon's defense, traditionally thought of as inferior to Alabama's historically dominant defense, was just as good by comparison, too.
If you're an Oregon fan you can focus on the Tide's one turnover against the Vols. An Alabama fan would point out that his team committed only four penalties and didn't allow a single sack while Oregon committed twice as many penalties and allowed twice as many sacks.
But leave the film study to the coaches if the two teams do wind up meeting in Pasadena for the BCS National Championship in January. We've got a long way to go until then.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- One day after Florida State dropped a spot to third in the latest BCS standings, head coach Jimbo Fisher said he believes his Seminoles are as good as any other team in the country -- but he didn't vote them No. 1, either.
Fisher, who has a vote in the USA Today Coaches Poll, which makes up one-third of the BCS formula, didn't put FSU atop his ballot. Emotion, he said, shouldn't figure into the decision.
"That's a job I have," Fisher said. "I don't look at it through our team. You can't let emotion get into it. You have to do what you think, from your study, evaluation, opinion and expertise, where you should fit in that poll."
Florida State did not earn any first-place votes in the latest coaches' poll.
While Fisher didn't reveal his full ballot, he strongly suggested Alabama took the top spot.
"Alabama's been very consistent, playing great defense right now, they have playmakers that can run the football, they're very physical, and they've done it and earned it for two years," Fisher said.
Fisher said he thought Alabama and Oregon both had an edge on Florida State because of their performance in past seasons, adding that he would prefer no polls were released until six or seven weeks into a season.
Florida State is 7-0 and will host No. 7 Miami this week after torching its past three opponents by a combined 163-31. Still, that performance wasn't enough to hold off Oregon in the latest poll. The two teams flipped positions in this week's poll, with the Seminoles now trailing the Ducks by .0306 points.
- Ka'Deem Carey is the face of Arizona's rising program.
- Arizona State focuses on an always challenging trip to Pullman. The Sun Devils flip a former USC commitment.
- Wondering if Jared Goff will become a long-term answer at quarterback for California.
- Two key offensive players are nursing injuries for Colorado.
- Oregon climbs in the BCS standings, but it doesn't really matter much yet.
- The loss to Stanford was painful, but there are positives for Oregon State to build on.
- Stanford's game with Oregon is now front and center.
- Is the confidence of UCLA QB Brett Hundley shaken?
- USC turns its attention to Oregon State in a place that hasn't been terribly hospitable to the Trojans.
- Utah is searching for answers after losing to USC.
- Washington loses WR Kasen Williams to a broken foot.
- A first look at Washington State's game against Arizona State.
“They have a great coaching staff, great environment,” he said. “I love the players and the way they interact with the staff. It was just everything when I went up there. I was overwhelmed.”
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Three Pac-12 players are among 15 semifinalists for the Thorpe Award: Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Oregon State CB Steven Nelson.
Four Pac-12 linebackers are among the 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award: UCLA's Anthony Barr, California's Khairi Fortt, Utah's Trevor Reilly and Stanford's Shayne Skov.
Here are the complete lists:
Thorpe Award semifinalists
- C.J. Barnett, Ohio State
- Deone Bucannon, Washington State
- Landon Collins, Alabama
- Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
- Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
- Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
- Vernon Hargreaves, Florida
- Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
- Steven Nelson, Oregon State
- Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
- Calvin Pryor, Louisville
- Jason Verrett, TCU
- Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois
- Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
Team of the week: UCLA had a good plan and played with fire at Oregon, but the Ducks owned the second half, scoring 28 unanswered points in a 42-14 blowout that seemed like a potentially tight game at halftime. Oregon made another strong statement for its national title candidacy.
Best game: Stanford seemed in control with its dominant defense owning an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter over Oregon State, but a fumble and a failed third-and-1 conversion gave the Beavers new life, and they nearly forced overtime before yielding 20-12. About a quarter of the Beavers crowd was headed for the gates with five minutes left, but many of them did an about-face and joined the hopeful frenzy that didn't die until the very end.
Biggest play(s): The Beavers had a first-and-goal on the Stanford 7-yard line in the final minute, needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force overtime. They got four shots at the end zone, but each Sean Mannion pass fell incomplete, including a fourth-down attempt that, for a moment, seemed to have a chance.
Offensive standout II: Just like Denker, Washington RB Bishop Sankey put up big numbers against a Pac-12 bottom-feeder, but you can't ignore the numbers: a career-high 241 yards on 27 carries -- which works out to 8.9 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in a 41-17 win over California.
Defensive standout: Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss among his eight total tackles in Stanford's win over Oregon State. He also broke up a pass and blocked another as the Cardinal defense held the Beavers to just 288 total yards. And he was a disruptive force well beyond the stats. There seemed to be six Murphys on the field, and the Beavers didn't block any of them.
Defensive standout, team editions: USC, Oregon and Stanford each deserve special note for playing outstanding team defense. USC held Utah to three points and 201 total yards, Oregon pitched a second-half shutout and Stanford held the most potent passing attack in the nation to 271 yards.
Special-teams standout: Washington K/P Travis Coons was 2-2 on field goals in the Huskies 41-17 win over California, making kicks of 46 and 42 yards. He was perfect on five PATs and had three of his eight punts downed inside the California 20-yard line, as well as a 46-yard effort.
Smiley face: Stanford and Oregon both took care of business against ranked teams, setting up a marquee matchup of national interest on Thursday, Nov. 7. While the Cardinal's loss at Utah reduces the overall wow factor of the Pac-12 showdown that was circled in red in the preseason to some extent, these are still teams in the top five of the BCS rankings, and the Pac-12 North Division is likely at stake. It's good for the Pac-12 as a whole to have the big stage to itself. And both teams get extra time to prepare, so THERE WILL BE NO EXCUSES!
Thought of the week: Let the bowl scramble begin! Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State are already bowl-eligible, with Oregon and Stanford both in position to obtain BCS bowl berths. Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington each have five wins, needing one more to become bowl-eligible. Of course, the South Division winner also has a shot of getting a Rose Bowl berth in the Pac-12 championship game. USC, Utah and Washington State need two more wins to become bowl-eligible. Only Cal, at 1-7, is out of the running, though Colorado getting three wins is a decided long shot. After the BCS bowls, things will get pretty interesting in the rush for the best bowl slots -- Alamo and Holiday -- compared to the other choices. There might be some hurt feelings -- "Hey, we beat them and have the same record and they got a better game!"
Questions for the week: Where are the road warriors (other than Oregon)? Go through the Pac-12 schedule: There have been few impressive or surprising road wins this year. Arizona lost at USC and Washington. Arizona State lost at Stanford and to Notre Dame in AT&T Stadium. UCLA lost at Stanford and Oregon. USC lost at Arizona and Notre Dame. Utah lost at Arizona and USC. Stanford lost at Utah. Washington lost at Stanford and Arizona State. The best road wins? Stanford over Oregon State on Saturday. Oregon over Washington on Oct. 12. Washington State over USC on Sept. 7, perhaps the most surprising win. UCLA over Utah on Oct. 3. And Oregon State over Washington State on Oct. 12. That's about it. A program goes from good to great by learning how to consistently win on the road -- see Oregon and Stanford
The college football season is just heating up, but it's never too early to look ahead to signing day. With Feb. 5 just 100 days away, here's a look at 100 things to watch heading up to the big day. From top uncommitted players to key recruiters to class rankings predictions, this is everything you'll need to know as recruiting hits the home stretch.
Questions that will shape signing day
100. Who's next at USC? The Trojans' hire will shape West Coast and national recruiting. If the hire comes from a power program, then many a domino would begin to fall in the coaching world and affect more than one class.
99. Will Texas make a move? If the Longhorns win the Big 12, it's hard to imagine a coaching change. If Texas stumbles, all bets are off. Like USC, a coaching change at Texas could reshape the 2014 recruiting race.
See last week's Power Rankings.
1. Oregon: The Ducks have met all challenges with a dominant effort. No team has been able to end up within three touchdowns of them after four quarters. Can Stanford solve the Oregon riddle at home on Nov. 7?
2. Stanford: Stanford isn't as fancy-pants as Oregon. It doesn't win pretty. But, despite a slip at Utah, the Cardinal are clearly the No. 2 team in the Pac-12. Last year we typed the same just before they dispatched the No. 1 team, Oregon.
3. Arizona State: The Sun Devils had a week off to rest and figure out how to package the strong performances at home and bring them on the road. They'll test the efficacy of what they developed at Washington State, a team that is hungry to get bowl eligible. It's a Halloween showdown that might end up haunting one or the other.
4. UCLA: Just like Washington, the Bruins couldn't handle the Stanford-Oregon, back-to-back gauntlet. The good news for the Bruins is they get Colorado at home now, not Arizona State on the road. Still, the Bruins can't just show up and think things will be easy. That could lead to an embarrassing pratfall.
5. Oregon State: The Beavers' first loss since the opening disaster against Eastern Washington certainly was less painful. Or was it? The Beavers are going to watch Stanford game tape and they are going to have regrets over many, many missed opportunities. That goes for players and coaches, as Mike Riley noted after the game. No time to rest, though, as USC comes to town for a Friday showdown.
6. Washington: The Huskies healed in many areas against California, which is sort of the role the Bears have played this year. The offense -- QB Keith Price and RB Bishop Sankey -- put up huge numbers. Now they get a week off before playing host to Colorado. Then back-to-back road trips to UCLA and Oregon State, which will make or break the season.
7. USC: The Trojans, injury-ravaged though they are, played great defense against Utah, though the Utes had their own injury woes. They need two more wins on a 13-game schedule to become bowl eligible. Up next is a dreaded visit to Corvallis, where USC's fortunes have not been great in recent years.
8. Arizona: The Wildcats are operating under the radar, in large part due to their schedule. They will try to become bowl eligible at Cal this weekend. Then, however, the road tilts a bit uphill: UCLA, Washington State, Oregon and at Arizona State. We'll shortly find out if this is a six/seven-win team or an eight/nine-win team.
9. Washington State: The Cougars were off this week, just like their opponent on Halloween, Arizona State. They need to win two of their final four games to become bowl eligible. Wonder if Mike Leach has any special tricks or treats for the Sun Devils?
10. Utah: The win over Stanford was satisfying, but the bottom line is the Utes, after starting 0-4 in Pac-12 play the previous two years, are now 1-4 in conference play. The obvious key to turning things around? Getting QB Travis Wilson healthy and back to form, so it's a good time for a bye week. The visit from Arizona State on Nov. 9 has the potential to be a telling game for both teams.
11. Colorado: The Buffs put up a good fight against Arizona, but they were unable to get key stops on defense. Things don't get any easier, with back-to-back road trips to UCLA and Washington coming up.
12. California: The story wasn't much different against Washington. Will it be any different with a visit from Arizona? It feels like the Bears' best, perhaps only, shot at a conference win will be at Colorado on Nov. 16.
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