Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 5.

Thursday, Sept. 25
  • UCLA at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 27
  • Oregon State at USC
  • Colorado at California
  • Washington State at Utah
  • Stanford at Washington
  • Byes: Arizona, Oregon
My choice: UCLA at Arizona State and Stanford at Washington

Why: For the first time this year, we have a full set of just conference games. And that’s exciting, because there are some good ones. And because of the Thursday-Saturday scheduling, we’ve got ourselves a 2-fer.

Oregon State at USC is going to be fun with Manning Academy quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler squaring off. Colorado at Cal is intriguing for power ranking purposes, as is Washington State at Utah.

But on the first leg of our two-game Week 5 trip, we’re making our first stop in Tempe to see the game that has essentially determined the Pac-12 South division the last couple of years. And it might be the swing game again this season.

The Sun Devils are the defending South champs after taking it from UCLA, which won the division in 2012. The Bruins are the likely favorites this year and looking to take it back.

And the last two meetings have been thrillers. In 2012, it was Taylor Kelly who drove the Sun Devils 56 yards in six plays to give ASU a 43-42 edge with 1:33 left to play. Then Brett Hundley returned the favor, moving UCLA 60 yards in 12 plays to set up Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 33-yard field goal that lifted the Bruins to a 45-43 win as time expired.

Last year, with the Bruins trailing 38-33 and 3:21 left, Hundley wasn’t able to duplicate the magic as the Sun Devils defense stifled him on the final drive. Of course, that was after ASU had built up a 35-13 lead at halftime and almost gave it up in the second half. But a win is a win.

When the preseason media poll is revealed next week, chances are UCLA will be picked to win the South, most likely followed by USC and then ASU. The Sun Devils aren’t going to give up their crown without a fight.

And speaking of critical intra-division games, we’re going to hop on a flight Friday morning up to Seattle, grab dinner at El Gaucho, and then watch Washington host the Cardinal on Saturday. (Or you could drive it … 1,428 miles from stadium to stadium).

Recent history isn’t always great precedent, but given how the last two games have gone, this one could be equally thrilling. The 2012 showdown at the CLink was one of the most deafening games I’ve ever covered -- pro or college. And it was the game that launched Bishop Sankey from backup-turned-starter into a bona fide playmaker.

And of course there were the controversies of last year’s game -- the allegations of fake injuries, a critical replay, Austin Seferian-Jenkins' dropped pass on third down, Ty Montgomery’s monster returns etc. And though Washington’s coaching staff has changed, this meeting has turned into a stellar North matchup the last couple of seasons and worthy of a spot on the road trip.

You can catch the rest of the road trip here.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
2:30
PM ET
Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
It's possible that your team's backup quarterback will be completely irrelevant this season. It's also possible he will become your team's most important player.

Just like the vice president isn't that important until he is, so is the backup quarterback. He could rescue or ruin your season.

So how do Pac-12 teams stand at backup quarterback? Let's take a look. We started with the South Division on Wednesday. Today, it's the North.

(Obviously, if your team hasn't yet named a starting quarterback, this is a bit of an either/or exercise.)

California: With Zach Kline leaving the program, which further established sophomore Jared Goff as the starter, Austin Hinder is the backup. He's a senior with limited experience.

Oregon: The battle behind Marcus Mariota didn't produce decisive results this spring, but Jake Rodrigues' decision to transfer established sophomore Jeff Lockie as the heavy favorite to be the backup. He was ahead of Rodrigues last year, though Rodrigues was a bigger physical talent. Morgan Mahalak is a touted incoming freshman, and the competition figures to be heated to replace Mariota in 2015.

Oregon State: With Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio -- he was a walk-on for the Crimson Tide, not a touted recruit -- immediately eligible, he will join the battle between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt to back up Sean Mannion, a senior. Obviously, the winner becomes the front-runner to win the starting job in 2015. None of the three has played in a college game.

Stanford: Evan Crower, a redshirt junior, was Kevin Hogan's backup last season and might be the favorite to hold onto that perch behind the third-year starter again this fall. That said, redshirt freshman Ryan Burns and incoming freshman Keller Chryst are both touted recruits. Crower completed 10 of 15 passes for 141 yards and one touchdown last year.

Washington: If sophomore Cyler Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse and becomes the starter -- he certainly looked the part in limited work last year, which included a winning effort in a start at Oregon State -- then the battle to back him up is between sophomore Jeff Lindquist and redshirt freshman Troy Williams. They were the only two quarterbacks throwing passes during spring drills, but neither asserted himself.

Washington State: The Cougars backup QB situation has gone from good to worrisome since the end of the 2013 season. First, Austin Apodaca opted to transfer, probably because he heard footsteps from redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman. Then Bruggman also bolted, perhaps because he didn't like getting outplayed by walk-on Luke Falk during spring practices. As it is, the Cougs would prefer for Connor Halliday to stay healthy.
It's possible that your team's backup quarterback will be completely irrelevant this season. It's also possible he will become your team's most important player.

Just like the vice president isn't that important until he is, so is the backup QB. He could rescue or ruin your season.

So how do Pac-12 teams stand at backup QB? Let's take a look, starting with the South Division.

(Obviously, if your team hasn't yet named a starting QB, this is a bit of an either-or exercise).

Arizona: The above disclaimer was written for the Wildcats, who have a wide-open competition heading into fall camp between four guys: senior Jesse Scroggins, sophomore Anu Solomon, junior Jerrard Randall and sophomore Connor Brewer. The good news is all four flashed capability during spring practices, so there's little worry on Rich Rodriguez's staff whether he can find at least two guys with whom he can win. Further, the backup situation sets up things for next year (if Scroggins prevails, and he's a slight frontrunner, then it will be competition-on again).

Arizona State: Starter Taylor Kelly is one of the nation's best returning QBs. His big-armed backup, Mike Bercovici, is likely one of the nation's best backup QBs. While Kelly is the clear starter, there isn't a Sun Devil player or coach who'd panic if Bercovici were forced into action. During spring practices, he looked like a co-starter, though he's not the runner Kelly is. The redshirt junior could have transferred searching for playing time when he lost out to Kelly in 2012, but he'll get his shot in 2015 while owning a strong knowledge of Mike Norvell's offense.

Colorado: When you asked coach Mike MacIntyre to list things that pleased him this past spring, he was quick to note how Jordan Gehrke played, establishing himself as Sefo Liufau's backup. That's good because, due to attrition, backup QB was a big concern entering spring practices. No QB on the roster besides Liufau, a true sophomore, has taken a snap in an FBS game.

UCLA: The Bruins have very few questions, but backup QB is one of them. That is a significant concern for two reasons: 1. The drop-off from Brett Hundley appears steep; 2. Hundley likes to run, which puts him at greater risk for injury (Hundley needs to remember to slide -- just because he's built like a linebacker doesn't mean he needs to try to run over one). The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Some obscure QB recruit has committed, but he won't be around until 2015.

USC: New coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler his starter during spring practices, but there's no question redshirt freshman Max Browne is talented. While he's seen no game action, he's got an NFL arm and flashed a nice touch during spring practices. It's probably good the Trojans have a clear pecking order. And it's good they have a guy like Brown waiting in the wings.

Utah: Whether you're a bird in the hand person -- Travis Wilson is healthy, experienced and ready to rock a third year as a starter! -- or a two-in-the-bush sort -- Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson was once a touted recruit! -- Utes fans surely are breathing easier about their QB situation. If Thompson -- or Conner Manning or Adam Schulz -- is good enough to beat out Wilson, then that means the Utes should be solid at QB this fall.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
2:30
PM ET
This is Butkus, Klahn's bodyguard. He is tough and ruthless. This is Kwong, Klahn's chauffeur. He is rough and toothless.
 
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 3

Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Wyoming at Oregon
  • Illinois at Washington
  • Army at Stanford
  • Portland State at Washington State
  • USC at Boston College
  • UCLA vs. Texas (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas)
  • Arizona State at Colorado
  • Nevada at Arizona
  • Byes: Cal, Oregon State, Utah
My choice: UCLA vs. Texas

Why: What an incredible Week 2 that was. Oregon made a national statement with its convincing win against Michigan State and I can’t believe Stanford-USC ended in another last-minute field goal! That had to be one happy team from the state of California.

For Week 3, let’s take a step out of our comfort zone and travel to a place not normally frequented by the Pac-12 faithful during the regular season -- Texas.

Let’s be honest. Texas isn’t what it used to be. The Longhorns are trying to get back there under new head coach Charlie Strong. But it might take a while.

However, the Texas brand still carries a ton of name value. And a win against the Longhorns at a neutral site (only by name), would be a huge boost for a UCLA program trying to make a splash on the national stage. The Bruins will likely be a top 10 team to start the season. And barring an unbelievable mishap at Virginia or home against Memphis, they will be a team the playoff committee is keeping an eye on when this game rolls around.

From an individual standpoint, this game could also be a big boost for quarterback Brett Hundley and his Heisman candidacy. Voters were already eyeing Marcus Mariota and his five-touchdown performance against Michigan State last week (three in the air, two on the ground). They aren’t going to care much what Hundley does against Virginia or Memphis. But if he goes into Texas and has a huge game, that will definitely give him a boost.

There are also, of course, the rumors that circulated about UCLA head coach Jim Mora when the Texas job became available. Whether those were substantiated or legitimate are irrelevant. They were out there -- and that adds an element of intriguing to this game.

This is a game UCLA should win, thus making it a must-win. If the Bruins want to go to where they hope they will, they have to win this game convincingly. If they do, they will get the benefit of beating a brand-name team, even if the Longhorns are currently re-branding.

Nevada at Arizona has some intrigue because it’s a rematch of the thrilling 2012 New Mexico Bowl. And Illinois’ trip to Washington is another Pac-12-Big Ten showdown. But as far as national interest goes, UCLA-Texas is the game to see this week.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.

Special teams review: Punter

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
5:30
PM ET
We conclude our position reviews with punter, where nine starters return.

Here's how they stack up.

GREAT SHAPE

Tom Hackett, Utah: Utah led the Pac-12 in net punting and Hackett led the conference with an average of 43.4 yards per punt, burying 27 kicks inside the 20. He won first-team All-PAC-12 honors and is an All-American candidate.

[+] EnlargeDarragh O'Neill
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiDarragh O'Neill was a consistent performer for the Buffaloes in 2013, averaging 40.5 yards per punt.
Ben Rhyne, Stanford: Rhyne ranked second in the conference with 42.9 yards per punt. He had 12 kicks of 50-plus yards and put 15 inside the 20.

Sean Covington, UCLA: As a freshman, Covington ranked fourth in the conference with an average of 42.6 yards per punt, but the Bruins also ranked second in the league in net punting.

Darragh O'Neill, Colorado: O'Neill averaged 40.5 yards per punt last year and pinned 22 of 56 boots inside the 20.

Keith Kostol, Oregon State: Kostol averaged 40.5 yards per punt -- same as O'Neill -- and pinned 23 of 67 boots inside the 20.

Cole Leininger, California: Leininger tied for second in the conference with a 42.9-yard average, and his 14 punts of more than 50 yards ranked second in the conference. The Bears, however, did rank 10th in the league in net punting.

GOOD SHAPE

Kris Albarado, USC: While Albarado ranked 12th in the conference with a meager 37.1 yards per punt average, he did kill 27 of 64 inside opponent's 20 yard line, a better rate than Hackett. He doesn't have a big leg -- just four punts over 50 yards -- and the Trojans still ended up 11th in net punting.

Drew Riggleman, Arizona: Riggleman ranked eighth in the conference with a 40.1 yard average. He did rank tied for third with 12 punts of 50 or more yards and killed 18 inside the 20. The Wildcats ranked sixth in net punting. There could be a challenge from the incoming Josh Pollack.

WE'LL SEE

Matt Haack, Arizona State: The Sun Devils struggled in the punt game last year, and Alex Garoutte lost his job to Haack, who was strong during spring practices. Both, however, averaged under 39 yards per kick, and the Sun Devils were last in the conference in net punting.

Washington: Korey Durkee has some experience, averaging 36.9 yards on 15 punts in 2012 as a true freshman, so he's the frontrunner to replace the valuable Travis Coons. Incoming kicker/punter Tristan Vizcaino could be a factor.

Washington State: Wes Concepcion took over the job last year from Michael Bowlin and averaged just 36.2 yards per punt.

Oregon: Matt Wogan is expected to handle both the punting and kicking duties after just kicking last year. He was solid punting during the spring.

Other position reviews:
My name is John Johnson. But everyone here calls me Vicki.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 2:

Thursday, Sept. 4
  • Arizona at UTSA
Friday, Sept. 5
  • Washington State at Nevada
Saurday, Sept. 6
  • Sacramento State at California
  • Fresno State at Utah
  • Eastern Washington at Washington
  • USC at Stanford
  • Michigan State at Oregon
  • Arizona State at New Mexico
  • Memphis at UCLA
  • Oregon State at Hawaii
  • Colorado at UMass (at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts)
My choice: Michigan State at Oregon

Why: After a rather uneventful Week 1, which saw the conference go 11-1 (with Cal taking Northwestern to nonuple overtime but coming up short) Week 2 ramps up with two of the best games in the country -- making it nearly impossible for the Pac-12 blog to make a compelling case for one over the other.

On one hand, you've got the Rose Bowl Champions, Michigan State, coming into Autzen for a clash of what should be top-10 teams (we’re giving Oregon and Michigan State the benefit of the doubt over South Dakota and Jacksonville State, respectively). On the other, the first Pac-12 game of the season that will feature two top-25 teams in Stanford and USC.

Literally, I flipped a coin.

Both games will likely have significant ramifications as we look ahead to the College Football Playoff. All four teams feel they have a good shot at one of those four spots. Yet two of those four will have some work to do by the end of Week 2.

The Stanford-USC games the past few years have been epic, from last-minute field goals and triple overtimes to shocking upsets. Last year was no exception as the Trojans snapped a four-game skid to the Cardinal on the strength of Andre Heidari's last-minute field goal. And while the Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw verbal jousting over faking injuries seems to be water under the bridge from last year’s Stanford-Washington game, it still adds a sprinkle of thermite to an already heated rivalry.

And yet, the Oregon-Michigan State matchup has huge national appeal because of its potential impact on the postseason. It's been deemed by many as the top nonconference game in college football in 2014. This is one of those games that can make or break a season in Week 2. The winning coach will say “it’s just another game.” But we know it’s not. The losing coach will say “it’s just another game.” But we know it’s not. Of course, the winner won’t get an automatic bid to the playoff with a win in Week 2. But it will surely strengthen their resume. Just as the losing team won’t completely be eliminated. But it will be a stain on theirs.

Couple all of that with the sheer difference in style and personality of the two teams, their approaches to the game and the Pac-12-Big Ten connection and you have a thrilling matchup that should play just as well in Week 2 as it would on New Year's Day.

But if you told me you were going to Palo Alto instead, I wouldn’t hold it against you.

You can catch the rest of the road trip here.
video
After reviewing performances at The Opening last week, here are a few quick hits on how each Elite 11 quarterback performed:

Special teams review: Kicker

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
5:30
PM ET
We've reviewed and rated the returning position players in the Pac-12. Up next are the specialists, starting with kickers.

The conference is strong at kicker, with eight returning starters, including a couple in line for All-American consideration.

GREAT SHAPE

Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State: A freshman All-American, he was first-team All-Pac-12 last season, making 25 of 30 attempts (83.3 percent). Only negative is his longest field goal was just 44 yards, and he doesn't kick off.

[+] EnlargeWill Oliver
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesColorado's Will Oliver is one of the Pac-12's top all-around kickers.
Andy Phillips, Utah: A former elite skier, he made his first 11 career field goals and ended up 17-of-20 for the season. Has great leg, as he made 9 of 11 from 40 yards are longer, with a long of 51. Didn't miss a PAT either. One weakness: Not very good on kickoffs.

Will Oliver, Colorado: Made 17 of 24 field goals with a long of 53. Like Phillips, he was perfect on PATs and was good on kickoffs.

Jordan Williamson, Stanford: Connected on 18 of 22 kicks with a long of 48. Of his four misses, two of them came from 50 yards or longer. At 54.35 percent, he had the highest touchback percentage on kickoffs in the conference.

GOOD SHAPE

Ka'imi Fairbairn, UCLA: Faibairn made 14 of 20 field goals with a long of 48. Missed just 1 of 60 PATs and ranked second in the conference in touchback percentage on kickoffs (50 percent).

Trevor Romaine, Oregon State: A four-year starter, Romaine was good, but not great last year, converting 14 of 20 field goals with a long of 50 yards. Converted just 3 of 7 kicks behind 40 yards.

Andre Heidari, USC: Made 15 of 22 field goals with a long of 52 yards, but was just 3-of-8 between 40 and 49 yards. Struggled on kickoffs, too. Of course, he nearly jumps a spot or two this year because he made that pressure-packed 47-yard game winner to knock Stanford out of the national title hunt.

Matt Wogan, Oregon: For most Ducks fans, being just average at kicker is an improvement, as Oregon doesn't try many field goals and the results the past few seasons with big ones have been pretty, er, horrible. But Wogan was a respectable 7-of-9 last season, though his longest was only 39 yards.

WE'LL SEE

Washington State: Mainstay Andrew Furney is gone, but Erik Powell looked good during the spring.

Washington: The Huskies are replacing the outstanding Travis Coons. Cameron Van Winkle has some game experience, but Tristan Vizcaino is a touted freshman.

California: Vincenzo D'Amato is gone. Noah Beito is the frontrunner for field goals, but James Langford could be the kickoff guy.

Arizona: The departed Jake Smith struggled last season, and the competition is a bit of a mystery. Casey Skowron seemed to lead after spring practices, but his hold on the job isn't secure.

Other position reviews:

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
2:30
PM ET
In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.


 
More watch list news with nine Pac-12 players being named to the Butkus Award list. The Butkus is given annually to the top linebacker in college football. (There are also professional and high school level awards.)

The last winner from the conference was USC’s Chris Claiborne in 1998, so it’s been a while.

Here are the Pac-12 players named to the preseason list.
You can see the complete list here.
The watchlist roll out continues this week with the announcement of the Rotary Lombardi preseason list.

Of the 123 players on the list, 15 are from the Pac-12 representing six schools.

Eligibility for the Lombardi Award includes offensive or defensive “down” linemen or linebackers “who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage.”

Here are the Pac-12 players.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. Now that that song is stuck in your head (you're welcome) it's time once again for the Ultimate Road Trip! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip begins.

Welcome to Week 1

Thursday, Aug. 28
  • Idaho State at Utah
  • Rutgers vs. Washington State (at CenturyLink Field, Seattle)
  • Weber State at Arizona State
Friday, Aug. 29
  • Colorado State vs. Colorado (at Sports Authority Field, Denver)
  • UNLV at Arizona
Saturday, Aug. 30
  • UCLA at Virginia
  • Portland State at Oregon State
  • UC Davis at Stanford
  • Fresno State at USC
  • Washington at Hawaii
  • South Dakota at Oregon
  • California at Northwestern
My choice: Colorado State vs. Colorado

Why: Let’s be honest … Week 1 is a bit of a dud (except for when Cal goes into Northwestern and pulls off a shocker, make me a believer, Bears). Lots of expected blowouts on the docket. Lots of FCS teams cashing checks. Lots of wins for the Pac-12. In fact, I’d be shocked if the conference didn’t win at least 10 games in Week 1.

The only games matching power conferences are UCLA’s trip to Virginia, an ACC team currently riding a 10-game losing streak to FBS teams, Cal’s trip to the Big Ten’s Northwestern (the Bears have lost 16 straight to FBS teams) and new Big Ten team Rutgers coming to Seattle to face Washington State. That might actually prove to be an entertaining game. If you want to make a case for that one, I’ll listen.

Fresno State at USC has a little drama, but only because the teams just played in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (which USC won in a blowout, and the Bulldogs are sans the prolific pass-catch team of Derek Carr and Davante Adams).

So why not spend the first week checking out a rivalry game? The gauntlet was thrown down last year by then-new Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre when his Buffs won 41-27, avenging a 22-17 loss from the year before when Jim McElwain made his debut with the Rams.

A lot of people are curious to see what strides the Buffs are going to make in Year 2 of the MacIntyre era -- the Pac-12 blog included -- and we’ll get a look at Sefo Liufau, who comes in as the unquestioned starter and with some experience under his belt.

Is this the highest profile game of the week? No. But I think we all know what Oregon is going to do to South Dakota or Stanford to UC Davis.

This one might turn out to be the highest entertainment value. Lest we forget what the Rams did to Washington State last year in the New Mexico Bowl?

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Darnold talks on Day 2 at the Elite 11
Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) took time out to talk to WeAreSC on Day 2 of the Elite 11 Finals about what the experience has been like so far, and what he believes he brings to the table at the quarterback position.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Friday, 8/29
Saturday, 8/30