Pac-12 QB Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
3:00
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The Pac-12 typically has great quarterbacks and good depth at the position, but the 2014 season is particularly stacked behind center. With 10 returning starters, including a handful who are expected to be All-American candidates and early NFL draft picks, it’s almost difficult to keep up with who’s doing what to whom’s secondary.

No worries. We’ve got you covered. Each week, we will provide you a top-five ranking of the Pac-12 QBs.

Now, it won’t always be a 1 to 5 ranking according to the expected pecking order at season’s end or NFL draft lists. It will react heavily to the preceding week. And we’ll try to spread some love. If our ratings seem inconsistent and they frustrate you at times, well, we just feel so horrible about that.

Honorable mention:
Brett Hundley, UCLA, Connor Halliday, Washington State, Taylor Kelly, Arizona State: Three big names end up here after being outshined by others, at least for one week. Hundley was victimized by poor offensive line play at Virginia and mostly played well under intense pressure, but he gets hit for he and his team falling well short of expectations. One offensive touchdown ... really? Halliday gets a hat tip for putting up huge numbers in a loss, but it was a disappointing season-opening loss. Ergo, only a hat tip. Kelly put up solid if unspectacular numbers against a terrible opponent.
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Chantel Jennings speaks with Oregon QB Marcus Mariota about the Ducks' preparation for a visit from Michigan State.
Duck tales. Duck tales.

RUNNING BACKS
  • After Saturday's performance it's no surprise that the backs were a big topic of conversation on Monday. Byron Marshall, Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman combined for two touchdowns and 229 yards on 29 carries against South Dakota. Running backs coach Gary Campbell said that he thought they did well but that they need to get better -- so there's the obvious note of the day.
  • On where the backs must improve: "One-on-one, I think we need to be able to break tackles and one-on-one be able to avoid guys," Campbell said. "We have to make plays one-on-one and avoid getting tackled."
  • Campbell was happy with Freeman's performance (10 carries, 75 yards, two touchdowns). "Obviously he made a few mistakes, freshman mistakes," Campbell said. "But, physically he played pretty well. I expect him to be more physical and I think that'll come along with maturity."
  • The backs were also involved largely in the pass game. Marshall led the way for all receivers with eight catches. Tyner recorded three catches and Freeman recorded one. Offensive coordinator Scott Frost complimented the running backs' versatility. "I think all three of our backs have exceptional hands," Frost said. "It gives us an ability to use them in different ways."
  • QB Marcus Mariota said that he has worked on his chemistry in the pass game with Marshall. "He has had great hands out of the backfield," Mariota said. "We needed to find ways to get that guy on the field and he has done a great job. He's still learning out there and he's getting better every day."
SOME MARIOTA QUOTES
  • He stressed communication up front so that the Ducks will be able to take their shots downfield. Mariota referred to Michigan State's defensive backs as some of the best in the country. Though the Spartans' "No Fly Zone" lost a few big names from last year, their secondary still looks very strong.
  • His evaluation of the receivers in the South Dakota game: "They did a great job," Mariota said. "For young guys, some of those guys playing in their first game, they handled their emotions well and they were able to get some catches in."
  • On whether he's concerned about going up against an experienced MSU defense with his young receivers: "These guys, even in practice today, they did a good job of understanding our game plan and making sure they're in the right places. For those guys, I think they're excited."
  • He said the MSU defense doesn't really remind him of any Pac-12 defense.
  • On recovery from actually playing in a game: "It was good to get the first hit -- that's always nice to kind of get those jitters out of the waym" Mariota said. "But I feel good. My body feels good."
  • He was impressed with the freshmen, saying they did an unbelievable job (though, during the postgame news conference on Saturday he did make a joke about some of the freshmen being a little overeager and putting on their pads three hours before game time). "We applaud those guys," Mariota said. "They came in wanting to make an impact, and that's what they did."
  • On where the offense needs to improve going into Week 2: "The tempo -- I think we can play a lot faster," Mariota said. "We understand our tempo is one of our greatest assets and if we continue to push that, push the potential of that, it'll really be a weapon for us."
BONUS NOTES FROM MARK HELFRICH'S SUNDAY CONFERENCE CALL
  • On freshman offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby getting some snaps. The good: athleticism, explosive. Helfrich also said that he did a lot of good things as well as a lot of bad things, so basically what you'd expect from a freshman with a high talent ceiling. "It's a little bit of a mixed bag," Helfrich said. "I think ideally you're going to redshirt those guys, but as we've experienced if those guys are ready to go we're going to play them."
  • Oregon played 70 players on offense and defense (not including special teams), 10 of those were freshmen.
  • On what Mariota could improve on from Week 1 to Week 2: "He had a couple odd plays for him -- he had one ball that just kind of flubbed out of his hand, he tried to kind of run the route for the receiver and it's hard to do that with a quarterback trying to redirect mid pitch. That's something that happens. Another time he was kind of off balance. … I thought he coached the young guys up when he was out of there and did a good job in that regard."
  • Was he happy with how the Ducks tackled in space? "No." So, another obvious point to end the day.

Grading Week 2's cupcakes

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
11:25
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Strength of schedule is a major component of the College Football Playoff, but its true value in the entire equation has yet to be determined. Here's what we know: It's become increasingly important, athletic directors have beefed up their future schedules in part because of the new criteria, and FCS opponents are not only scoffed at, they're quickly becoming extinct.

Just not fast enough for some.

With the exception of Michigan State-Oregon, USC-Stanford, Michigan-Notre Dame and Ohio State-Virginia Tech, the national schedule in Week 2 is filled with cotton balls. Lots of fluff. It's weeks like these that leave attendance struggling and have many clamoring for an all-Power 5 regular season.

So how do the big boys stack up this week as far as strength of schedule? It's time to hand out some grades. Remember, this report card is only for Week 2 -- a snapshot of the schedule, not an evaluation of the entire body of work. This is not scientific, it's subjective -- just like the committee's rankings:

Pac-12

SOS grade: A

Pac-12
The skinny: The Pac-12 has the two best games in the country this week, highlighted by Oregon's game against 2014 Rose Bowl champs Michigan State. It only has two FCS opponents (Cal versus Sacramento State and Washington versus Eastern Washington) -- the fewest of any Power 5 conference -- and games against Fresno State, Nevada and UTSA won't be easy. It looks like an unofficial Pac-12-Mountain West challenge this week.

BIG TEN


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Marcus Mariota and Connor CookAP PhotoThe performances of Marcus Mariota, left, and Connor Cook will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's Oregon-Michigan State game.
There will be no "real" Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2015. The "real" Rose Bowl, whose purity previously had been diluted by the BCS, is a casualty of the College Football Playoff this season. While that will make many of us old fogies wince, the only constructive response is to embrace change and recognize the fulfillment of decades-long clamoring for a playoff was inevitably going to kill off some cherished institutions with its birth.

As a consolation prize, however, the college football gods have given us No. 8 Michigan State visiting No. 3 Oregon on Saturday. It's a Rose Bowl matchup the first weekend of September, with the (alleged) Big Ten best versus (alleged) Pac-12 best. With Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller out for the season and UCLA's less than scintillating performance at Virginia, this one has gained further traction as a potential CFP selection committee barometer for both teams and both conferences.

No, there will be no sunset behind the San Gabriel Mountains at Autzen Stadium, but there likely will be rosy fingers of meaning extending from whatever happens Saturday. For one, an early-season victory over a top-10 team in a nonconference game is exactly what the selection committee claims it will pay homage to. As an optional challenge boldly undertaken outside of the rote bureaucracy of conference scheduling, this game should serve as a badge of honor for teams trying to distinguish themselves to 13 judges in a conference room Dec. 7.

Ah, the committee. We can be fairly certain that, for better or worse, the great "Transitive Property of College Football" will play a role in its deliberations, and that is the perception prize the Spartans and Ducks will battle over in addition to the scoreboard numbers.

If Oregon wins, it will thereby -- transitively -- be better than any team the Spartans beat over the remainder of their season. If Michigan State ends up the Big Ten champion at 12-1, the Ducks will be viewed as the de facto Big Ten champs -- at least if the Ducks do well enough over the rest of their season to merit such an overreaching (overreacting?) designation. This playoff math would be rendered less relevant if Oregon, in this scenario, meanders to a 10-2 finish and fails to win the Pac-12's North Division.

The same goes for Michigan State, perhaps even more so because the rest of its schedule is not as demanding. If the Spartans beat a Ducks team -- in fearsome Autzen Stadium, the Pac-12's toughest road venue, no less -- that goes on to win the ostensibly SEC-ish Pac-12, their bounty could be a defensible claim to the top perch in two Power 5 conferences. That is, of course, if they take care of business over the entire season.

So the function is almost a transference of the Rose Bowl's typical season-ending meaning, just without any of the cool pageantry. A further twist is that both teams after the game become each other's biggest fans, with both winner and loser wanting the other to make the result a more impressive measure of itself.

Not that you'll hear Ducks coach Mark Helfrich or Spartans leader Mark Dantonio celebrating this sort of curlicue thinking. They've got teams with big goals, including playoff goals, but placing this game on such a pedestal could make a loss feel catastrophic within the locker room. Then what about the next 10 or 11 games?

“[This is] game No. 2. We have 10 games after that. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves," Dantonio said. "It’s not an end-all either way. That’s going to be a measuring stick game for us. Where are we at? Who are we? It will give us a little more of a sense of identity early in the season.”

Once you get past going John le Carré on potential selection committee intrigues, the football part of this football game is pretty cool, too. Although the teams share a team color of green, that's pretty much where the commonality ends, and even then, Oregon long ago went ludicrous speed on the notion of team colors and sartorial standards.

Speaking of ludicrous speed, Oregon, you might have heard, plays fast and furious on offense and piles up yards and points like a frenzying school of pirañas. Meanwhile, Michigan State, as you know, plays defense like a thick wall of titanium. Wall? It's more like an impregnable box -- with walls slowly closing together.

Last year, Oregon ranked No. 2 in the nation in total offense (565 yards per game) and No. 4 in scoring offense (45.5 ppg). Michigan State ranked No. 2 in total defense (252.2 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring defense (13.2 ppg). The Spartans also enter the game knowing they beat the Pac-12 team that beat the Ducks, given that they dispatched Stanford 24-20 in the 2014 Rose Bowl.

Of course, an over-reliance on what happened the past season is one of the greatest weaknesses in so-called college football punditry. The first weekend has already shown us that projecting forward based on returning starters and extrapolated improvement is an inexact science. Both Oregon and Michigan State are missing key players from 2013 on both sides of the ball. They also have shiny new players ready to glow.

Still, the circumstantial evidence suggests both teams will lean on their obvious strengths on Saturday. The Ducks and quarterback Marcus Mariota, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, rolled up 673 yards without really trying in an opening win over South Dakota, while Michigan State's defense throttled Jacksonville State 45-7 yielding just 244 yards.

The obvious only goes so far. The game ultimately might swing on the secondary quantities. Spartans quarterback Connor Cook has been surging since the middle of the past year, and he was darn near perfect in the opener and actually earned a perfect rating of 100 in ESPN.com's Total QB Rating. Oregon's defense has long been given short shrift, despite ranking among the nation's leaders and sending numerous players to the NFL.

The sum conclusion is that, while we will go Rose Bowl-less this season, this is a game that has plenty to offer, both in football on Saturday and in potential micro-analyzed meaning as the season progresses.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
8:00
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I can't believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but now they're everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.

Leading off

Welcome to Week 2. By now, you probably already know what happened in Week 1. But we'll use this space each Monday to give you a quick reference to every game that happened in the Pac-12. National reactions

Here's a look at what some folks around the nation are saying about the Pac-12 and its teams.

John Taylor of NBC Sports hit on a couple of Pac-12 teams in his Week 1 rewind. USC coach Steve Sarkisian is getting a lot of praise for keeping things together after a tumultuous week leading up to the Trojans' first game.
In the first game of the Steve Sarkisian era Saturday night, the Trojans took out all of their lingering frustrations on an overmatched Fresno State squad by the score of 52-13. Quarterback Cody Kessler passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns ... in the first half alone. The offense ultimately rolled up 704 yards of offense on 104 plays, the latter of which set a Pac-12 record.

Anne Petersen of the Associated Press gets to the heart of what everyone is thinking in Eugene ... we can finally start looking ahead to Week 2 and Oregon vs. Michigan State.
While Oregon is known for their hyper-drive offense, Michigan State's success last season -- the Spartans went undefeated in conference play -- came in large part because of their bruising defense. The Spartans lost standouts Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard from that defense, but they still have lineman Shilique Calhoun, considered one of the top players in his league, and linebacker Taiwan Jones, who looked promising in the opener with Bullough gone.

UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is catching a little heat from Pete Roussel for the way his linemen performed in the win over Virginia. The Bruins were without starting center Jake Brendel. And that obviously hurt. But there were bigger line issues at play. Not to mention more than a few wide receiver drops.
The resume of a coach is his tape. And right now, Adrian Klemm has his hands full. He knows it, too. That "super assistant" label from the media doesn’t look so fitting right now.
Nationally honored

UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week for his performance in UCLA's win over Virginia. Kendricks posted 16 tackles, forced a fumble that led to a UCLA defensive touchdown and also returned an interception for a touchdown. Say what you want about the offense (and there is plenty to say), but Kendricks had a monster game.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Saw this Saturday night and had to tweet it out, because it's equal parts awesome and adorable.

 
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Despite losing to Florida State, Oklahoma State could end up being a winner on the recruiting trail because of its effort. Plus, Oregon brought in two key official visitors for its first game of the season and was rewarded with an ESPN 300 commitment, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

The first week of the season has come and gone, and with it went the redshirts for 75 freshman players in the Pac-12.

USC, which had the conference's highest-ranked recruiting class in 2014, played the most freshmen (11) and Oregon State played none. Those 75 players accounted for seven starts (on offense or defense) and eight touchdowns. The total number of players will undoubtedly grow in the next few weeks.

Here's a breakdown of all 75, by school (*-denotes players who started):

Arizona (6)
Arizona State (9)
Cal (8)
Colorado (3)
Oregon (10)
Oregon State (0)
  • None
Stanford (4)
UCLA (7)
USC (11)
Utah (10)
Washington (5)
Washington State (2)
EUGENE, Ore. -- Every Sunday through the season we’ll be giving out a handful of helmet stickers to deserving Ducks. After Saturday’s 62-13 blowout win over South Dakota, when really everyone and their mother could’ve gotten one, it was tough to narrow down, but here are the three big winners (and one honorable mention).

QB Marcus Mariota
The redshirt junior completed 14 of 20 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns. He took off six times and picked up 43 yards on the ground and one rushing touchdown, his final play of the day. With 23 yards against Michigan State next weekend, Mariota will take the top spot for overall offensive yards at Oregon. The best part of his performance might’ve been the chemistry he showed with his receivers and running backs. Though he only connected with three receivers, there’s definitely promise in the young group and Byron Marshall proved to be a sure handed pass-catching running back that Mariota will be able to rely on this year.

RB Royce Freeman
The freshman lived up to his hype as he accounted for two touchdowns on 10 carries (he also caught one pass for 11 yards). Mariota said that he knew Freeman was going to be special earlier this summer during a 7-on-7 session after he juked some linebackers. “He stepped onto campus with kind of a confidence that you could tell right away that he believed in himself that he could do whatever he needed to do,” Mariota said. “For a guy his size to be that elusive and to be able to have the ability that he has, it’s special for us.”

Injury gods
Too often we see some player go down with some freak injury in a cupcake or gimme game. And with Michigan State coming to Autzen Stadium next weekend, the Ducks needed to make sure they go into that weekend firing on all cylinders. And whether it was the strength and conditioning staff (most likely) or the injury gods that kept the injury bug away from the Ducks in the opener, they deserve some credit. Props to them.

Honorable mention
Any fan in Autzen Stadium who stayed to watch the whole game, especially when most of the starters exited after the first half. Give yourself a pat on the back. Nothing like doing the wave at 10:43 at night when your team is up 49 points.
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Just inches from a touchdown, Oregon RB Byron Marshall let go of the football before he crossed the goal line.
We never know. We learn.

We have ideas of what teams will look like, and we project based on returning talent, talking with coaches, watching practices and making educated guesses. But we never really know until we see what's on the field.

We're smarter Saturday night than we were Thursday morning -- mostly. The first week of Pac-12 Football 101, which saw the league go 10-2 in nonconference play, was chock-full of intellectual goodies.

Perhaps the team that enlightened us the most was the California Bears, who snapped a 16-game losing streak to FBS teams by going into Ryan Field and notching a 31-24 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeCal's Jalen Jefferson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJalen Jefferson celebrates his interception that essentially sealed the game for Cal.
It's not that it was the first FBS win of the Sonny Dykes era, or that the offense looked balanced and explosive. It's the fact that they had a 31-7 lead and won 31-24. Dykes liked the idea that his team had to tip-toe through a little bit of fire to pick up the win. He watched his team evolve from soft to salty.

"I never got the feeling from one player or one coach of ‘here we go again,'" Dykes told the Pac-12 blog via telephone after the game. "The guys really believed in each other. And the reason they did is because they have worked so hard. They were prepared. And they knew someone would make a play to give us a chance to win the ball game."

As it turned out, someone made two. On Northwestern's final drive, Jalen Jefferson notched a critical sack on second-and-6 for a loss of 11 yards. On the next play, Jefferson snagged an interception that essentially closed out the game.

"It's been a long few months for us, but we're a tighter team than we were last year," Jefferson said. "A lot of those breaks we weren't getting last year, we got them. We can feel things changing for the better."

Added quarterback Jared Goff: "I think we learned about resiliency. We knew they would fight back and we didn't give up ... we learned how to finish a game."

It was educational, for sure.

We learned some things haven't changed -- at least not yet. While the Bears were protecting the fourth quarter from a Big Ten team, the Washington State Cougars were yielding the fourth quarter to another. And UCLA? Well, Brett Hundley is still getting sacked, and his offensive line still looks leaky. If not for three defensive touchdowns, the Bruins would be staring at 0-1.

We didn't learn much from the FCS games -- other than it was good to see Utah's Travis Wilson back on the field and that Oregon State seems to makes those games sketchier than they probably should be. We don't know a ton more about ASU's defense or Oregon's offense. We didn't learn much about Stanford's rushing attack. Ty Montgomery is really good. But we already knew that.

We learned USC still has the ability to hit the mute button on the outside noise. If there's one team that knows a little something about turmoil, it's the Trojans -- for what they went through last year. That's a team with scary potential.

We learned not very good is sometimes good enough. See Washington and UCLA, whose fans are crawling into bed at this moment feeling both relieved and probably a little jolted.

And the rest of the Pac-12 probably learned a little something about the Bears.

"We're capable of being pretty good, I think," Dykes said. "We have to execute better. We're good in spurts. We have to be good consistently and close people out."

Next week Cal gets FCS Sacramento State with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2011. The schedule ramps up with a pair of high-profile games, including Michigan State at Oregon and USC at Stanford.

Looking forward to what we'll know by this time next Saturday.

Oregon 62, South Dakota 13

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
2:18
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Marcus Mariota combined for 310 yards passing and rushing with four touchdowns in Oregon's 62-13 win over South Dakota.

Mariota has 4 TDs and Oregon beats S. Dakota 62-13

August, 31, 2014
Aug 31
2:09
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video

EUGENE, Ore. -- Marcus Mariota threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns then ran for one more before sitting out the second half, leading the third-ranked Oregon Ducks to a 62-13 victory over South Dakota in the season opener for both teams on Saturday night.

Running back Byron Marshall was Oregon's top receiver with eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks, who have won 10 straight home openers. Freshman Royce Freeman, a five-star recruit out of Imperial, California, ran for 75 yards and two more scores.

Mariota's 62-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Stanford on Oregon's first series of the game gave him the Ducks' career record for touchdowns with 79 (64 pass, 14 rush and one reception), surpassing Joey Harrington.

Trevor Bouma ran for a 3-yard TD and Miles Bergner kicked a pair of field goals for the Missouri Valley's Coyotes, who went 4-8 last season but were surprisingly plucky against the bigger and faster Ducks.


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EUGENE, Ore. -- ESPN's College GameDay will be in Eugene when Michigan State visits Oregon on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

It's the sixth-consecutive season that GameDay will visit Eugene. The crew was on campus last season when Oregon and UCLA faced off. The Ducks won, 42-14, to move to 8-0 on the regular season.

The matchup is a highly anticipated one, featuring two preseason top-10 teams, led by returning quarterbacks Connor Cook (Michigan State) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon). College Football Playoff implications are on the line as the Big Ten and Pac-12 battle.

 

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 10/2
Saturday, 10/4