Oregon Ducks: BCS

Mailbag: Bowl, apple controversies

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Santa is watching and you don't want to be added to the naughty list.

George from Phoenix writes: I've read Kevin and your pre-bowl comments on how well the Pac-12 needs to (and should do) in the bowls. "Favored in all games (or 8/9)". "Opponents are overmatched," etc. I believe the hype. Then I read Mark Schlabach predictions yesterday which has the Pac-12 going a measly 3-6, including a loss in the BCS game you have so wisely noted is most important for Pac-12 perception!!!! Should I panic? What's a guy to believe?!?!

Ted Miller: I would say Mark shouldn't get too close to Vegas this holiday season.

If the Pac-12 goes 3-6 in its bowl games, Kevin has agreed to wear nothing but a burlap sack for a week. If the Pac-12 goes 3-6 in its bowl games, I will listen only to Adele songs for two weeks. OK, a week. No… a day. An entire day! An entire work day.

Everybody has opinions. And sportswriters are often asked to pick games. They can go the easy route and pick the favorites over and over again. Or they can try to spice things up by predicting upsets. It's also possible that Mark suspected he'd get a rise out of Pac-12 fans, so he's already 1-0 this bowl season. (George was not the only one to note Schlabach's Pac-12 bowl picks.)

But there might be method to his madness, or at least a justifiable logic.

You have two Pac-12 teams, USC and Washington, going through coaching turmoil. You have an Oregon team that had players complaining about the Rose Bowl now playing in the Valero Alamo Bowl against a Texas team that surely will be trying to win one for outgoing coach Mack Brown.

You have Arizona and Oregon State teams that have been pretty mercurial this season. You have Stanford facing a Michigan State team that is playing as well as any squad in the nation.

There are ways to script a 3-6 bowl season. Even Jon Wilner has the Pac-12 going a meager 5-4.

I think both will be wrong.

But ask Cal and Oregon State fans how often I'm right.


Mike from Springfield, Missouri, writes: I will miss the BCS because it really does make every game more interesting throughout the year. I don't deny that the playoffs will be more exciting than the current bowls. But I think the rest of the regular season will be much less interesting.

I would not have been watching the Iron Bowl this year because I would have known that even with a Bama loss, they would still be in the top four and making the playoffs and still probably be the favorite to win it, and so that game would have been not nearly as big as news as it was. We would then be talking about how it was good for Bama to lose because then they didn't even have to play the SEC title game and would be playing for the national title. Same thing years back when No. 1 Ohio State was playing No. 2 Michigan.

As well as Bama recruits, Bama will always start off ranked high in the polls and so the regular season won't get any headlines til Bama loses twice. I would have probably not watched a game all year this year with as good as Bama was, knowing that it would take two losses for them to not win the title and would probably just watch the playoffs. I think there will ultimately be a lot of fans like me and college football will find out that they had a good thing even with as much controversy as it had (there will always be controversy with a league with 119 teams that doesn't have equal schedules).

Ted Miller: You make a fair point.

On the one hand, by adopting a four-team College Football Playoff compared to a two-team BCS title game, we are increasing the pool and therefore the opportunity. It seems more democratic, eh?

But there are always unintended consequences when change comes to a system. It's possible the biggest beneficiaries of the CFP will be the college football superpowers, teams that get the benefit of the doubt after a loss (or two).

If Alabama, USC, Texas, and LSU (group A) had just one loss, and Duke, Northwestern, Boise State and Texas Tech (group B) also had just one loss, how many teams from group A get into the playoff compared to group B?

If the selection committee is, like the national polls, heavily reliant on reputation, the elite powers will typically get the benefit of the doubt.

When a highly ranked Alabama/USC/LSU/Texas team loses its first game, it won't tumble precipitously in the polls, whereas a Duke/Northwestern/Boise State/Texas Tech that is climbing the polls after being unranked in the preseason doesn't get the same consideration.

Further, as you noted, increasing the pool to four teams over two decreases the value of the regular season, the one undeniable strength of the BCS system.

Many think we're headed toward an eight-team playoff. That sounds far more equitable, but that would reduce the value of the regular season even further -- significantly.

It will be interesting to see how the CFP affects how we perceive and react to the regular season. It's still going to be college football, so it will continue to be awesome. And it will still provoke controversies.

It is possible that those controversies won't be as juicy.


Ryan from Kennewick, Wash., writes: Anything is possible in college football. "Never say never" and "Texas (UT) has unlimited resources" are two things we hear a lot. Even though there are provisions in the UT athletic director's contract to keep him from hiring ASU's staff, what are the chances that Texas uses their "resources" to go after one of them anyway? (Obviously I'm primarily referring to Todd Graham.)

Ted Miller: If Texas really, really wants to hire Todd Graham away from Arizona State, it will go after him. And I personally would have no problem with Graham taking the job because this is the United States of America, and if you are a football coach, you should want to coach at Texas and make $5 million a year.

(Kevin has told me that Texas is the only job that could lure him away from the Pac-12 blog. Mine would be Florida Keys Community College -- because, hey, you're living in the Florida Keys!).

I know there was an agreement between Arizona State and its former athletic director Steve Patterson, now at Texas, that Patterson wouldn't bring Sun Devils staffers with him to Austin.

But this is the United States of America. If you have money and good lawyers, you can make just about anything happen you want.

Other than get Nick Saban.


Scott from London writes: Just wondering what your thoughts are on B.J. Denker's 898 yards rushing and how his propensity to ball-hog on the read option hurt Carey's chances at the Doak/Heisman Awards?I know Carey was still a workhorse, but who should be running the ball? Your All-American RB or your gangly 6-2 QB?

Ted Miller: Everyone needs to read Scott's note with a British accent. I first used my best Jeeves/P.G. Wodehouse then went all Oliver Twisty cockney on it.

It might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes the best thing for a running back is not getting the ball. It's the same when an A-list quarterback has a beastly running back lining up behind him.

Most defensive coordinators will tell you the first thing they do is try to take away what an offense most likes to do. With Arizona, that was hand the ball to Carey. So that means forcing the Wildcats to show they have other threats to worry a defense.

Denker averaged 5.4 yards per rush -- despite losing 121 yards on sacks -- and scored 12 TDs. A defense has to respect that. A read-option keeper from Denker, which was more often successful than not, forced a defense to obsess just a little bit less about Carey. That translated to a few split seconds of divided attention here or there that probably increased the size of holes Carey saw when he got the ball.

I think Arizona fans should be grateful for what they got out of Denker this year. I know he was doubted by just about everyone in August, including me. He became a solid QB for the Wildcats, and his outstanding performance against Oregon was one he should never forget. Not sure anyone made more out of his talents this year than Denker.


Nick from Seattle writes: "Again, this is a Fujis vs. Honey Crisp discussion. But when you look at overall consistency -- "Now you've done it. Now you have absolutely lost all credibility. How dare you suggest Fujis are better apples than Honey Crisp in any way?! Utter blasphemy...

Ted Miller: I told Kevin that if he uses apples-to-apples analogies, he's wading into deep and emotional waters, particularly with Washington fans. And Washington State fans for that matter.

I'm with you on this one. Kevin has lost all credibility -- ALL OF IT! -- when it comes to comparing apples to apples.

(Cue the Fuji apple fans with their outrage and advanced statistical analysis that proves -- PROVES! -- Fujis are just as good as Honey Crisp.)

Mailbag: Did USC or Washington win?

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, Pac-12 championship and coaching carousel edition.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?

Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?

The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.

Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.

Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.

As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.

Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.

Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.

So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.

Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.


Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?

Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.

A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.

Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.

The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.

But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.

In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.

Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.

But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.


Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?

Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.

That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.

Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.

And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.


Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.

Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.

The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.

Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.

The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.


Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?

Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.

Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.

I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
11:00
AM ET
Taking stock of Week 12 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: USC started with a great plan against Stanford. Then it played smart, disciplined football and executed that plan. And when Stanford looked like it was asserting itself, the Trojans persevered, making clutch plays at the end to beat the Cardinal 20-17. USC is now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, looking nothing like the sloppy, uninterested team from the beginning of the season.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee caught six passes for 83 yards in USC's upset win over Stanford.
Best game: On a mostly ho-hum weekend, USC-Stanford wasn't decided until the final moments. Moreover, the stakes were high. Stanford was knocked out of the lead spot in the North Division and the Trojans are now squarely in the South race.

Biggest play: Was it the athletic interception from freshman Su'a Cravens that set up the final USC drive? Or was it the fourth-and-2 completion from Cody Kessler to Marqise Lee for 13 yards to the Stanford 35-yard line on the game-winning drive? Or the 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari? Each was critical in the final turn toward USC in the fourth quarter.

Offensive standout: Colorado WR Paul Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards in the Buffaloes' 41-24 win over California, which gave them their first Pac-12 win since September 2012. Richardson broke the school’s single-season receiving record, eclipsing the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson. He sits at 1,201 receiving yards, which ranks second in the Pac-12.

Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had eight tackles, with four coming for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against USC. The Cardinal lost, but it sure wasn't Murphy's fault. He now leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (12) and tackles for a loss (18).

Defensive standout 2: Arizona State safety Robert Nelson had two interceptions -- one he returned 23 yards for a touchdown -- and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devils' 30-17 win over Oregon State. He also had five tackles.

Special teams standout: It has been a long season for Heidari, but he was the difference for the Trojans in their upset win over Stanford. He kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play that provided the winning margin. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal and was 2-for-2 on PATs.

Smiley face: We'd gush more about Orgeron's leadership at USC, but there at least needs to be a hat tip to Washington State and coach Mike Leach going to Tucson and grabbing a much-needed victory with some late-game heroics from QB Connor Halliday. His 25-yard TD pass to Isiah Myers for the tiebreaking touchdown with 2:15 to play gave the Cougars a 24-17 win, keeping their bowl hopes alive.

Frowny face: As impressive as USC's win over Stanford was, it probably wasn't very popular among 10 other Pac-12 teams. Oregon, of course, is thrilled. The Ducks now control their North Division destiny and Rose Bowl hopes. But Stanford's losing makes it unlikely the conference will have two BCS bowl teams, which means every conference team lost about $500,000 when the Cardinal went down. It will be the first time since 2009 conference ADs won't enrich their coffers with that extra check.

Thought of the week: Arizona State and UCLA have a recent history of disappointing their fans and falling short of expectations. But guess what? Both teams are 8-2 and ranked heading into their critical showdown Saturday. They are about where optimistic preseason expectations placed them after 10 games. Both have showed resolve under second-year head coaches. No matter who wins Saturday, both programs seem to be on a decided uptick.

Questions for the week: Who salvages their season? Several Pac-12 teams' seasons are on the brink, and two games in particular are of note: Washington visits Oregon State and Washington State plays host to Utah. As far as the Huskies and Beavers, the loser of that game will officially be able to call its season a disappointment. The Huskies would then face the specter of another 7-6 season -- or worse -- and that could make Steve Sarkisian's seat pretty hot. The Beavers would be set up to lose their final five regular-season games after a 6-1 start, pending the result of the Civil War against Oregon. Utah needs to win in order to keep its bowl hopes alive, and failing to reach a bowl game for a second consecutive year would have folks getting chippy in Salt Lake. The game is not a must-win for the Cougars' bowl hopes, but they'd probably rather not hang their hopes on the Apple Cup the following week.
Chaos could happen. Alabama could lose to Auburn. Florida State could go down in the ACC title game. Ohio State could lose to Michigan. Baylor could falter at Oklahoma State.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTailback Tyler Gaffney's big day -- 45 carries for 157 yards -- helped Stanford crush Oregon's hopes of playing in the national title game.
Then the Pac-12, in the form of either Stanford or Oregon, could slip into the final -- final! -- BCS national title game. Honestly, it wouldn't even require all of that. Because of the top-to-bottom quality of the conference this year, a one-loss Pac-12 team might end up first among equals in the BCS standings. Unbeaten Alabama and a bunch of one-loss teams? Stanford probably would come first among those with a single blemish, though then the nation would commence a bitter and grotesque "quality loss" debate.

So it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Pac-12 wiggles its way back into one of the top two spots.

But our premise here is that doesn't happen, that things don't go all 2007 again. Our premise here is the Pac-12 again is shut out of the national title game.

A CliffsNotes version of what follows: Drat. But justifiable.

The Pac-12's last national championship was USC in 2004, which means the drought will be a full decade when we head into the first season of the four-team College Football Playoff in 2014.

The conference did play a supporting role in two of the best BCS title games: USC falling to Texas after the 2005 season in one of the greatest college football games in history, and Oregon being nipped by Auburn by a last-second field goal after the 2010 season.

Still, in the preseason this felt like the year of a breakthrough. This felt like the year in which the Pac-12's two top dogs, Stanford and Oregon, had the pieces in place to win a title and dethrone the SEC after seven consecutive championships. They both had experience at quarterback. Both looked strong on the offensive line. Both had A-list talent on defense.

(And both had united to defeat evil!)

Sure, both had questions. But all teams do. Stanford and Oregon had begun to look like programs that answer questions on an annual basis. You know: Like Alabama, which was supposed to be questionable on defense and, well, isn't.

Yet after both the Cardinal and Ducks went down, those questions returned. Stanford's middling passing attack was a major reason the Cardinal lost at Utah. And one suspects that if linebackers Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were on hand, Oregon wouldn't have allowed Stanford to convert all seven of its third-and-2 or shorter plays with Tyler Gaffney runs last Thursday.

Might have things been different for either team if, say, Stanford had a healthy Henry Anderson for Utah, or if Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent last Thursday? Maybe. But that's speculation trying to subvert the bottom line reflected on the scoreboard.

Judging who should play for the national title, which is always subjective in our present system and will continue to be with the four-team playoff, ultimately involves the totality of the season, so how things look on Nov. 11 is pretty meaningless. But how things look to me today is that Alabama and Florida State should play for the national title and that they both look better than either Stanford or Oregon.

Maybe that changes, because a week ago I was ranking Oregon No. 1. It probably would change if Alabama lost to Auburn, or if Florida State went down in the ACC title game. Stranger things have happened.

But my chief reaction after the Stanford-Oregon game was: Neither of these teams would beat Alabama. My feeling wasn't as strong for Florida State, but the Seminoles have yet to reveal any weaknesses so far this season.

I can feel the rage already exploding out there from Pac-12 fans. Such an assertion surely will make Pac-12 fans angry, but I suspect that 75 percent of those currently enraged actually, perhaps not even that deep down, agree with me. They just don't want to hear it or read it.

But the role of the Pac-12 blog is not to advocate for the conference. It distributes tweaks to other regions when necessary or even just for the amusement of doing so. But there's also a credibility issue. If we're telling folks Oregon/Stanford has the best chance of any team in the nation to beat Alabama and end the SEC's run, it should be a honest assessment, not a stroking of the regional ego or some public-relations move.

So today's assessment, impermanent as it may prove to be, is this: The Pac-12 will not play for the national title this season because it doesn't deserve to.

Again: Drat. But justifiable.

Mailbag: Ducks doldrums, post-Stanford

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, post BCS championship game relevance.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Jeff from Portland writes: Ted, Please, help me off the ledge here. How in the world can Oregon gain back national credibility and be seen as something more than just a pretty face that can't perform when it matters most. The team has seen some wonderful moments over the past few years, but it feels like there have been more heartbreaking moments than great ones. Listened to several talking heads who pointed out that this wasn't just a loss but a setback for a program hoping to shed its reputation as a team who couldn't come through against a great defense. Instead, with perhaps the best version yet (on both sides of the ball), the Ducks fell way short. What's next? Can Oregon gain back respect anytime soon?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsOregon has beaten highly ranked opponents before, including No. 5 Kansas State in 2012.
Ted Miller: Well, first of all, the Ducks have won two consecutive BCS bowls, beating a pair of top-10 teams in the process: No. 5 Kansas State, the 2012 Big 12 champion, and No. 10 Wisconsin, the 2011 Big Ten champ. Oregon is 7-6 against top-15 teams since 2009 -- five top-10 wins -- so it has won plenty of big games.

I also think it's fair to ask: Would you rather have the Ducks win more big games but also get upset more often by unranked teams? I understand where your frustration is coming from, but the root cause of it is a flawed belief that there's only one type of successful season: An undefeated one.

Oregon is 8-1 and likely still will be a top-10 team on Monday for crying out loud.

But, yes, there is a foundation for those questioning Oregon: In pretty much every loss since 2009, the Ducks were beaten at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Oh, you can debate specific details of most of those games -- and specific things that went wrong unrelated to the line of scrimmage -- but it's generally true enough that it has become the accepted reality of the college football nation.

Yes, Oregon has lost some credibility as a member of the sport's super-elite, as a national title contender. Just as Stanford was once questioned about its team speed while it was getting blistered by Oregon, now the Ducks are being questioned for their ability to stand up to big, physical (yet still athletic) lines.

How can Oregon regain that credibility? Well, for one, it could beat Stanford next year. In the near-term, it could win the rest of its games, then win a BCS bowl as an at-large team, perhaps the Orange vs. Clemson or the Sugar vs the No. 2 SEC team.

"Wait!" you say, "a No. 2 SEC team?"

The way I see it, if Notre Dame wins the rest of its games and beats Stanford in the season finale, then the Orange Bowl, with the first choice in this year's rotation, would pit the Fighting Irish against the No. 2 ACC team (assuming Florida State is in the national title game). Then the Sugar Bowl could match Oregon with an SEC team.

(Of course, the Sugar Bowl might, in that case, chase the No. 2 Big Ten team, thinking it might sell more hotel rooms, flipping off the nation which would prefer an A-list matchup).

Oh, and there also is the possibility, if Stanford loses at USC, that the Ducks could meet unbeaten Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.


Duckzkila from Portland writes: Ted, do you think Stanford has the blueprint for stopping the Ducks? My thoughts on this is Stanford has less of a blueprint and more the Ducks Number. I say this because Stanford's three wins came in three different manners. The first was a shootout, where Toby Gehardt and Andrew Luck killed us. Last year was and epic defensive performance on Stanford's part. Though some will say last nights was also an epic defensive performance on Stanford's behalf, I disagree. Don't get me wrong they played pretty darn good, they forced 2 turnovers, and harassed Super Mariota into looking like less than average Mariota. Oregon was able to move the ball on them though. The real reason they won was their ability to execute a gameplan, with very little Margin for error. They did what no other team has been able to do to the Ducks, make time of possession matter. My point is there are not very many teams in the country that would have the patience to go Gaffney for 4, Gaffney for 4, Gaffney for 3 all night. I'd wager there are even less teams with the ability to execute like Stanford did. Kudos to Stanford, they became Bizzaro Oregon last night, and through holding the ball for a huge amount of time, and paying the drives off, they put a ton of pressure on Oregon to score on every position, effectively flipping the script- Stanford style. I apologize for the long note, but just as they take away the shoe strings of suicidal inmates, they should probably take away an Oregon's fan access to the internet after soul crushing losses.

Ted Miller: I think much of what you said is correct. I think Stanford whipped Oregon more because of its offensive line than the defensive effort, though both were outstanding.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsStanford's ability to convert third downs with Kevin Hogan and Tyler Gaffney was the difference.
The most telling number to me? Stanford was 14 of 21 on third down, converting seven in a row during their three scoring drives in the first half. When that streak ended, they immediately converted on a fourth and 1 and then converted two more third downs.

The Ducks were only 3 of 10 on third down.

Moreover, Stanford did play an almost perfect game. It won the turnover battle 2-0 and was penalized just twice for 10 yards, compared to 10 for 81 yards for Oregon.

There were so many "what if?" moments for Oregon. What if Marcus Mariota didn't under throw a wide-open Josh Huff on what should have been an easy touchdown in the first quarter? What if De'Anthony Thomas didn't fumble inside Stanford's 5-yard line? What if Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's interception stood?

But you want to know what I thought the game's biggest play was?

With 8:26 in the second quarter, Stanford took over on its 2-yard line after the DAT fumble. On third and 6, it looked like Stanford QB Kevin Hogan was about to fall down on a scramble. Instead, he righted himself, and two Ducks completely whiffed on the tackle short of the first down, allowing Hogan to gain 12 yards.

Instead of giving the ball back to Oregon with good field position, Stanford proceeded to burn the rest of the first half clock with a 21-play drive, kicking a short field goal to go up 17-0 at the break.

It was a simple moment when Hogan executed and the Ducks' defense didn't. It's moments like that that kill dreams of a national title.


Michael from Tempe, Ariz., writes: I know we have yet to see how Taylor Kelly will play tomorrow against Utah, but after last night's horrific performance by Mariota, would you say that TK is closing the gap between them?

Ted Miller: "Horrific" is a tad strong.

Mariota's national perception certainly took a hit last night, though hopefully folks realize he was playing on a bad knee. He probably deserves at least a hat tip for toughness, despite the poor-to-middling performance.

Ultimately the measure between the two in terms of, say, first-team All-Pac-12, will be about the totality of the season. If Arizona State wins out -- particularly if it wins the Pac-12 title game -- Kelly would be in play to eclipse Mariota as the Pac-12's No. 1 QB.

Kelly's numbers are very good. The biggest difference at present is Mariota has zero interceptions and Kelly has eight.


David from Mesa, Ariz., writes: So with Oregon's loss last night, can you help explain how the pac 12 would solve this scenario? ASU wins out, and is 8-1 in conference, Stanford loses to SC next week and finishes 7-2, and Oregon wins out to go 8-1. Obviously the winners of the North and South are Oregon and ASU respectively...but who hosts the game? They didn't play this year.

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon.


Nathan from Phoenix writes: Ted-Don't you think it was low class of Oregon to continue to run out their number 1's and throw the football in the 4th quarter against Stanford when the game was clearly over? I mean I guess they only care about stats, and Stanford got the most important stat of all the Win. Oh, and you can tell Oregon fans I said that.

Ted Miller: Got lots of these from Washington State fans who are still mad at Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti for his ill-advised comments after the Ducks-Cougars game.

I get it. I hear you. Not exactly the same scenario, but I hear you.

I hope you feel better now and we can move on.

Mailbag: Are Oregon fans the worst?

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday -- hey, there's a game tonight!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Dave from Neverland writes: On Tuesday, John Canzano posted a letter he had purportedly received from a former Ducks player. This player outlined the abhorrent fan behavior he observed while sitting in the stands. There have been countless other stories about the wretched behavior of Ducks fans, not just at Autzen, but also other stadiums they visit. An article a few years back by one of your competitor websites surveyed fans and the survey concluded that Oregon fans are generally perceived as being the worst in the conference, by far. Reading the comments of the Canzano blog post, the fan comments seemed to substantiate the article. My question: Is the perception about Oregon fans aligned with reality? Are Oregon fans truly as awful as they are made out to be, or are we just hated because we win?

Ted Miller: I was asked about this in my Thursday chat, and my chief response was to deride the anonymity of the letter writer.

I stand by that. If you're going to attack something, you need to have the courage to step up and identify yourself. That, by the way, is not a slight on Canzano for posting the letter, only on its writer.

[+] EnlargeOregon fans
AP Photo/Don RyanAre Oregon fans worse than the rest of the Pac-12?
Are Oregon fans "truly as awful as they are made out to be or are we just hated because we win?"

The short answer is no, Ducks fans are not uniquely awful. At least, I find such a sociological oddity difficult to believe. That said, I am not an expert on this: As a sportswriter, I have not sat in the stands of a college football game since the early 1990s.

Oregon is going through an unprecedented run of winning. That inspires gloating. Lots of it. And plenty of entitlement, too. The stadium is packed and the program is rich. Rivals are jealous, and therefore easy and frequent targets -- in the stands or anywhere else. And, suddenly, a two-loss season sounds like a disaster and everyone is a football expert.

Even without siting in the stands, I have personally witnessed reprehensible fan behavior at just about every Pac-12 venue. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote about the near-riot in Martin Stadium after the controversial 2002 Apple Cup and some Washington State fans took exception, often by trying to rewrite the facts of what happened. So I know how things might be for Canzano now.

There are all sorts of fans and each of those sorts roots for every team. Some love cheering and bonding with family and friends. Some find comfort in wide-eyed zealotry, the my-team-right-or-wrong adherence that defies all reasonable counterargument.

As I've previously noted, there are two foundations for fandom: Those who derive most of their joy from rooting for something. And those who most enjoy rooting against something. The first group is looking for something with which to align themselves. The second group is looking for a villain.

Yes, the loudest voices in the Pac-12 blog comment section are typically the latter. And, yes, those often are the sort of fans who can ruin the game-day experience of even folks wearing the same colors.

My belief is that if Washington or Oregon State started winning at the same rate Oregon has for the past four-plus years, its fans would act the same, or at least be perceived to act the same.

Yet there is a clear takeaway from this that is a positive. Reasonable people should have the guts to stand up to bad fan behavior. Don't be a passive onlooker. If someone is acting like a jerk, you should: 1. Calmly and with a minimum amount of confrontation, tell him/her to settle down; 2. Get security.

And Oregon itself should remain as vigilant as possible when it comes to making sure that reasonable standards of behavior are enforced.


Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: There have been quite a few articles this week about "The Eye Test", and which two teams would be most deserving in a three or four-team race. For the sake of this question, let's assume that Oregon, Florida State and Alabama win out.Florida State seems to be getting quite a bit of hype relative to Oregon. Florida State certainly has history behind its program, including a national title, but has been off and on in the last few years. Many voters won't budge on Alabama (with the exception of the intelligent, educated few, such as those that blog for the Pac-12), the rationale being that until someone knocks them off, they deserve to be No. 1. So it seems that many pundits love Florida State THIS YEAR, right NOW, rather than taking the longer view. My question, then, is this: Should not the same logic apply to Oregon? Oregon has been ranked No. 2 much more frequently than Florida State, including last year's final rankings, and has certainly been more consistent. Six losses in four years, and never an NC State kind of upset. The Pac-12 is a tougher conference than the ACC. Why, then, is Oregon not the obvious choice as No. 2, the way Alabama seems to be the obvious choice as No. 1? Is it Oregon's supposed lack of pedigree, or is it the dreaded East Coast Bias?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

The "eye-test" debate, while always inspiring strong feelings across the country, is irrelevant the first weekend of November. Five weeks remain in the regular season, and Alabama, Florida State and Oregon will each need to then win their conference championship games to remain in the national title hunt.

Every year, we speculate on apocalyptic visions of, say, four unbeaten teams from AQ conferences -- who goes to the title game! And then at least two of those teams lose.

Let's at least wait until we reach late November before beginning the earnest lobbying for prioritizing the specific subjective distinction that favors your team.

Further, Oregon fans, while there's a lot of noise out there, the general consensus from long-time observers of the BCS process, is that if Oregon wins out, it will at least end up No. 2 in the final BCS standings. It could, in fact, end up No. 1 if the SEC continues to cannibalize itself.

The Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC, and it's unlikely voting patterns in the coaches and Harris polls will dramatically change if the present course is maintained.


Sad Cougar fan from Bellevue, Wash.,writes: Ted, real talk for a minute. After over a decade of misery, all Coug fans pointed to Leach as our hope. But after yet another Wulff-like performance from the team last night. They were outcoached in every phase of the game. Was our hope foolish? In today's NCAA,and today's Pac-12, do we honestly EVER have a shot at being relevant again? The glory years were a perfect storm. UW was bad, Oregon wasn't Oregon yet. Stanford wasn't Stanford yet, USC was just getting started. Honestly. We're never going to be good ever again are we? I am slipping into "mariners mindset?" Get excited for opening day, then stop caring by June.

Ted Miller: No question that was a dreadful performance against Arizona State. And it's been a bad three-week conference run since a 4-2 start inspired optimism.

However, yes, Washington State has a shot at being relevant again. In fact, I'm certain it eventually happen, whether that's about next year or seven years from now. How many programs have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997? It's simply a matter of getting the right players and the right coach together.

Sure, the euphoria after hiring Mike Leach has waned considerably. The mistake with that probably was believing he brought with him some magical elixir that immediately made the program bowl-eligible and then, shortly thereafter, Rose Bowl worthy.

Further, while most of us saw Leach inheriting an intriguing roster from Paul Wulff, he didn't share that view. Leach definitely has his own ideas about how to run a program and the sort of players he wants, in terms of both athletic ability and mental makeup. That he decided to mostly erase what was there and then re-draw from scratch his own plan is making the growing pains last longer. And be more painful.

This is only Year 2 with Leach. Feel free to feel bad. But don't panic yet.


Devin from Keizer, Ore., writes: What would it take for OSU to make it to the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the championship game?

Ted Miller: First, the Beavers need to win out -- other than the Civil War -- and finish 9-3 and earn at least a No. 14 ranking in the final BCS poll. That might require strong finishes from the remaining foes -- USC, Arizona State and Washington -- in order to boost the human and computer rankings.

Then there's the question of Stanford and the South Division contenders.

Stanford, at 10-2 with a win over Oregon State, would almost certainly be ranked higher. Even though the Cardinal played in the Rose Bowl last year, the bowl committee would go with Stanford. This is how the Pac-12 blog is presently projecting things. So Oregon State needs the Cardinal to lose again, at least a third game. Maybe a fourth.

As for the South teams, the Beavers could give themselves the edge over Arizona State with a head-to-head win. They don't play UCLA, so they should be rooting for the Sun Devils to beat the Bruins. The South champion also would pick up a loss in the Pac-12 title game, which would boost the Beavers.

A lot of things would have to fall into place. But Oregon State should start with a simple plan: Keep winning.


John from Dublin, Calif., writes: This week, everybody at ESPN has been making a big deal about how the Trojans have not fared well of late in Corvallis, and it's true. However, all these pundits seem to forget the Trojans' record vs. the Beavers in L.A.. Eisenhower was president the last time Oregon State won in the Coliseum. Why can't you guys give equal time to the Trojans' streak?

Ted Miller: I think the biggest reason is the game tonight is going to be played in Corvallis, not the Coliseum, which makes factoids about Oregon State-USC games played in the Coliseum less relevant.

But I promise that next year, we will note that Oregon State has not won at USC since 1960.


Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Eleanor Catton, author of the Luminaries, won the Man Booker prize at the age of 28. Are you excited for her, or sad for Jim Crace and Colm Toibin? Also: please tell Puddles that I can't take another heartbreak.

Ted Miller: Funny story. Went to buy "The Luminaries" the other day, at which point I discovered it was 828 pages. That, my friends, is an offseason read.

Good for Catton, though she might want to rethink lecturing the world about how she should be received.

If she really cares about unfairness, she should consider championing the great American male writers who have been unjustifiably slighted by the Swedish Academy when it awards the Nobel Prize to lesser-lights on an annual basis, most notably Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo.

And Puddles, after he stopped writing letters to Canzano, has been alerted.

State of Oregon takes center stage

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
12:20
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If you catch the state of Oregon collectively lip-syncing to the will.i.am/Britney Spears song "Scream and Shout" this week -- "All eyes on us! All eyes on us!" -- it's understandable.

Oregon, our 27th most populous state, with one tenth the population of fellow Pac-12 state California, one that produced just 13 FBS football signees last February, is the center of the college football universe on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsQB Sean Mannion and Oregon State look to win their seventh straight, but it won't be easy against Stanford.
First, No. 12 UCLA visits No. 3 Oregon, with ESPN's College GameDay setting up shop. This is a nice test for the Ducks, one that should allow them, if they win, to climb past Florida State into the all-important second spot in the BCS standings. And, obviously, the Bruins could make a national statement in Year 2 under Jim Mora with a victory.

Then, the nightcap just 45 miles down the road in Corvallis: No. 6 Stanford, the top one-loss team in the BCS standings, visits No. 25 Oregon State. With a win, the Cardinal could set up a marquee North Division match up with Oregon on Nov. 7. Or the Beavers could announce themselves as North contenders, and perhaps hint at another high-stakes Civil War matchup to end the season, not unlike 2009.

If we use the BCS standings as our rankings (the Beavers are No. 28 in the AP poll), it's the first time ranked Oregon and Oregon State teams have played host to ranked visitors on the same Saturday in state history.

Of course, there are other marquee games. No. 10 Texas Tech, unbeaten but untested, visits No. 15 Oklahoma, where it is 100 percent certain Bob Stoops is grumpy. And No. 21 South Carolina, one of the SEC's reeling powers, faces No. 5 Missouri, the unbeaten upstart from the Big 12 that was hopelessly overmatched by the SEC grind (or so almost everyone thought).

Give those games a nice pat on the head. And revert your admiring gaze back to the Beaver state (apologies Ducks, but, well, that's where you live).

A few decades ago, the very notion of the state being even worth a glance from the college football nation would have been difficult to imagine. In 1971, the Beavers began a streak of 28 consecutive losing seasons. From 1965 to 1988, the Ducks never won more than six games.

When Oregon won the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season, it was the first victory in the Granddaddy by either since 1942. The Beavers last Rose Bowl appearance came in 1965.

But since 2000, both programs have been regular inhabitants in the national rankings. The Beavers won the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame after the 2000 season and finished ranked fourth, the first of five Top 25 rankings in the final AP poll, including No. 20 in 2012.

And, obviously, Oregon has been on a bit of a roll of late, finishing ranked for the past six seasons in a row, including top-four rankings in the past three.

The Ducks and Beavers, however, presently have different bars over which they are trying to jump.

Oregon is smack in the middle of the national-title hunt, where there is no margin for error. So far, the Ducks have dominated every foe. Their closest game was a 21-point win at Washington.

Oregon State started the season nationally ranked by faceplanting with an opening loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. In that game, the defense was abysmal. Yet since then, the Beavers have clawed their way to six consecutive victories and are a win away from jumping back into the national polls. Beating Stanford, in fact, could immediately propel them into the teens, not the 20s.

And that defense that got torched by EWU has held the past three Pac-12 foes to an average of 19.3 points per game.

There's obviously a lot at stake for all four teams, but an interesting subplot is the QBs from the Oregon schools. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota is No. 1 in ESPN's total quarterback rating (QBR) and tops among Heisman Trophy candidates. Beavers QB Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdowns. He could legitimize his Heisman candidacy with a big game against a rugged Stanford defense.

So there's a good reason all eyes will be on the state of Oregon this weekend. Both games will have significant national and Pac-12 ramifications.

And if the home teams win, it would become reasonable to speculate upon the possibility of another epic Civil War on Nov. 29 in Eugene, one that again would captivate the college football nation.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
11:00
AM ET
Taking stock of Week 7 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Utah knocked down Stanford last week, but the Cardinal got up, wiped away the blood and posted an inspired performance on both sides of the ball in a 24-10 win over UCLA. RB Tyler Gaffney rushed for a career-high 171 yards, including 84 yards in the fourth quarter, while the defense throttled QB Brett Hundley and the Bruins.

Best game: Utah's visit to Arizona was a back-and-forth affair and wasn't iced until Wildcats running back Ka'Deem Carey capped an epic night with a 44-yard touchdown run in a 35-24 victory. Both teams showed resolve, with the Utes fighting back after losing starting QB Travis Wilson to a hand injury, and the Wildcats bouncing back after losing a big first-half lead.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's defense was spectacular in a 24-10 win over previously unbeaten UCLA, but Kodi Whitfield's one-handed touchdown grab might be the play of the year.
Biggest play: Stanford receiver Kodi Whitfield's 30-yard touchdown reception against UCLA gave Stanford a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, so it was important. But this time we're more about best play instead of biggest. As in ... best play of the year? His twisting, one-handed grab between two defenders was unbelievable. It certainly will make a top-10 list of plays for the 2013 college football season. It's also amusing that such an acrobatic catch came from the son of a former All-Pac-10 offensive lineman, Bob Whitfield.

Offensive standout(s): We have a "chicken or the egg" deal with Oregon State. QB Sean Mannion completed 35 of 45 passes for 481 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the blowout win over California. Receiver Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score. Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdown passes. Cooks lead the nation in every notable statistical category for his position, including receiving yards and touchdowns. Feel free to tap whichever one is your personal favorite.

Offensive standout 2: Carey rushed 40 times for 236 yards against a tough Utah run defense. It was a big-time performance by a big-time player when his team really needed it.

Offensive standout 3: Arizona State RB Marion "006" Grice rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries -- 7.5 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in the 53-24 win over Washington. He also caught four passes for 37 yards and a score. He now has 18 total touchdowns this season.

Defensive standout: Arizona State's defensive effort against Washington was beastly, particularly considering the Huskies had decent success against the two best defenses in the Pac-12: Stanford and Oregon. The Sun Devils held the Huskies to 212 total yards, including minus-5 yards rushing. Bishop Sankey, who entered the game leading the nation in rushing, had 22 yards on 13 carries. The Sun Devils had seven sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. That Huskies offense, by the way, ranked 15th in the nation in rushing, eighth in total offense (526.8 yards per game) and averaged 35 points per game.

Defensive standout 2: Stanford safety Jordan Richards had a team-high 10 tackles as well as two interceptions in the win over UCLA.

Special teams standout: It's not good when your punter is called upon 11 times, but Washington's Travis Coons averaged 46.8 yards on 11 boots with a long of 61 yards. He also made a 27-yard field goal and three PATs.

Smiley face: The Pac-12 is playing defense this fall. The five winners Saturday plus USC, which lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, combined to hold their opponents to 19.6 points per game, and many of those points -- hello, Washington State, says Nick Aliotti -- came in obvious fourth-quarter garbage time. The Pac-12 offenses, of course, are still good, other than a few stragglers (USC!), so there's strength on both sides of the ball. And fewer 52-50 games.

Frowny face: Washington! Washington! That performance at Arizona State was abysmal (though we type that without taking credit away from an inspired Sun Devils effort and game plan). If the Huskies win in Tempe, they buck the "overrated!" taunt that their adversaries -- mostly Ducks fans but also many Cougars and Beavers -- have enjoyed tossing their way for, oh, 12 or so years. A win at Arizona State would have hinted at a team headed toward nine or 10 wins. Now the ugly possibility of a fourth consecutive 7-6 season -- how is that possible! -- is in play.

Thought of the week: The Pac-12 is the center of the college football universe this weekend with two matchups of ranked teams in the BCS standings. And it's all happening in the state of Oregon! In Eugene, with ESPN's "College GameDay" setting up camp, the No. 3 Ducks play host to No. 12 UCLA, while No. 6 Stanford is visiting No. 25 Oregon State just up the road in Corvallis. The Ducks are looking to further burnish their national title game resume, while UCLA is looking for a breakthrough win. The Beavers are trying to move up in the North Division pecking order and make themselves the top challenger for the Ducks. And Stanford is trying to get to its Nov. 7 showdown with Oregon in control of its destiny.

Questions of the week: Which quarterback(s) has the best weekend in Oregon? Does Ducks QB Marcus Mariota make a loud Heisman Trophy statement, or is he upstaged by Mannion? And what about the visitors? Does Hundley rediscover his mojo at Oregon? Or does Stanford's Kevin Hogan show everyone that steady and unspectacular wins the day when you've got a great defense?

Question of the week 2: Who rises above the noise and consistently plays to its ability over the homestretch of the season? It's not easy to go unbeaten, even when you're more talented than everyone on your schedule, because it's difficult to get 40 or so guys to bring their A-game 12 games in a row. It's not easy to go 8-4 and know your team reached its max winning potential, that you only lost to superior teams. And it's hard to win on the road. Take Arizona State. The version of the Sun Devils who blistered USC and Washington at home would have romped Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but that team didn't show up that evening in Arlington, Texas. And the Huskies that nearly beat Stanford and whipped Boise State would have won in Tempe. Stanford's tumble at Utah, Oregon State's defeat to Eastern Washington -- losses full of regret. The pressure is building. Which teams win all the games they are supposed to -- as favorites -- and which teams fall to underdogs?

Edwards mocks BCS standings

October, 19, 2013
10/19/13
3:00
PM ET
The first BCS standings will be released this Sunday night, but here are ESPN.com's Brad Edwards's mock standings in advance of this weekend's games

Mock BCS standings
Through games of Oct. 12
1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Clemson
4. Ohio State
5. Florida State
6. LSU
7. Texas A&M
8. UCLA
9. Louisville
10. South Carolina

Obviously, good news for Oregon. And undefeated UCLA, ranked below two SEC teams with one loss, will move up if it beats Stanford on Saturday. Or Stanford will move into the top-10 with a win.

Obviously, these don't project what things might look like on Sunday because teams will move up or down depending on the weekend's results.

Also, it's important to note, Edwards said in an email, that one of the six BCS computers isn't available yet, so there are a few different ways to calculate the computer part of the formula.

Edwards also projects that the winner of the Florida State-Clemson game will be "comfortably ahead of Ohio State" in the first BCS standings.

He added, "It's possible that the winner could also be deceptively close to Oregon for the No. 2 spot, but that really depends on how the polls come out on Sunday."

Mailbag: Scheduling, Willingham, gripes

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Your IQ will thank you.

To the notes.

Jeff from Eugene, Ore., writes: My concern was that Oregon was going to be scheduling teams like Michigan State and Nebraska. Now I feel a little upset seeing it happen. I mean they are OK, but I was hoping the Ducks would play teams like Georgia, Florida, Alabama or someone like that. It is my understanding that it helps recruiting to play in the area being recruited, so the recruits' families and friends will get to see them play at least once and it gives the team exposure. Oregon needs to recruit nationally in order to maintain its national presence. And it seems to me that it would have helped their upcoming class if they had been able to schedule a home and home with Florida State for example instead of Nebraska. Plus, I want to see the Ducks play really quality games vs. quality opponents, not mediocre opponents from mediocre conferences. Is Oregon not trying or are those other schools chicken?

Ted Miller: The Big Ten has been struggling the past few years, but I suspect that won't be permanent. So tread carefully here.

Getting A-list Pac-12 and SEC teams together for nonconference games has been difficult for a variety of reasons, other than the Ducks' matchup with LSU in Cowboys Stadium to start the 2011 season with a bang.

To make such games happen, it takes two to tango. I get a feeling there's reluctance on both ends, not just down south. We do have some notorious instances of the SEC running away like scared kittens, such as Georgia canceling a home-and-home series with Oregon and essentially admitting they were afraid of the Ducks. And there are others. But I haven't heard from any Pac-12 athletic directors getting the stiff arm from their SEC counterparts of late.

Further, the SEC as a whole has greatly improved its nonconference scheduling. Georgia, for example, added Clemson to its slate, a game that once was a classic southern rivalry. The new College Football Playoff can expedite quality nonconference scheduling nationwide by making sure whimpy nonconference schedules will kill a team's chances to make the playoff.

But future Pac-12 nonconference schedules are Big Ten-heavy and include a lot of BYU and Notre Dame as well as a smattering of Texas. As of yet, there is no Alabama, LSU, Georgia or Florida, though I suspect -- hope? -- that we may get some "special event," neutral-site SEC-Pac-12 games sometime down the road.

The Pac-12's first choice for quality nonconference games always will be the Big Ten, in large part because there's a special relationship between the Rose Bowl conferences.

You can review future Pac-12 nonconference schedules here.




Joe from Everett, Wash., writes: The selection committee is a joke, primarily because of one selection: Tyrone Willingham. Are you freaking kidding me?! He is absolutely reviled at Notre Dame and Washington for running those programs into the ground. He's proven that he's no longer qualified to lead an NCAA college football program.

Ted Miller: Well, for one, he's not leading a college football program. He will be evaluating them for a four-team playoff.

My guess is you're chaffed at the potential for Willingham to have a conflict of interest -- as in he'll want to screw over Notre Dame and Washington for firing him. I seriously doubt that. For one, it would be so transparent that other committee members would surely call him on it. It's as likely he'd overcompensate the other way to protect against such a perception.

I have not talked to Willingham since his termination at Washington. Through the years, I've dealt with lots of different coaches, lots of different personalities. I feel like I'm pretty good at "getting" guys -- seeing their perspectives and how their coaching filters through their character and personality. Willingham, I must admit, was a guy I never totally "got."

I've read and heard a lot of negative reviews on him through the years, but I think folks underestimate how close the Huskies were to breaking through under him. For one, what if QB Isaiah Stanback didn't get hurt in 2006? Or QB Jake Locker in 2008? And it's not as though things were much different when he was replaced by Mr. Strategic Advantage at Notre Dame.

Is Willingham a dynamic, fan- and media-friendly personality? No. Did he do a good job at Notre Dame and Washington. No.

Can he objectively evaluate college football teams for a four-team playoff? Absolutely.




Dan from Denver writes: Hey Ted,I've got a coworker that's been reading SEC fan blogs too much. He believes that an undefeated Clemson, FSU or even Miami are more worthy of the No. 2 ranking than the Ducks. He also claims that Alabama's WRs would dominate Oregon's "undersized" DBs, and that there are no SEC-caliber linebackers in the Pac-12 to challenge UO. My apparent lack of football acumen (or his stubbornness) leave me unable to make my case. Got any good talking points for me?

Ted Miller: Ramdom coworker No. 1 will have little say on how the pecking order of unbeatens is established. So you have that.

If Alabama, Oregon, FSU/Clemson and Ohio State all finish unbeaten, the strong odds are that Alabama and Oregon will play for the national title.

What could make that change? Well, imagine if Oregon struggles while winning and the Pac-12 eats itself alive and finishes with just, say, three ranked teams and only the Ducks with double-digit wins. And picture the ACC packing the Top 25 with teams, and Clemson/FSU putting together dominant shows on a weekly basis. Then pollsters might jump the ACC champ over the Pac-12 champ and get support from the computers while doing so.

I doubt it though.

As for a lack of Pac-12 linebackers or an undersized Oregon secondary, all you need to do is educate him. I know it's en vogue to relish saying factually incorrect things, to deny science, obsess over conspiracy theories and imaginary scandals, but Anthony Barr, Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Myles Jack, Eric Kendricks, Hayes Pullard, Shaq Thompson, etc., as well as Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell and the rest of the beastly Oregon secondary, are a reality that can't be denied.




Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: After Stanford's loss last week, the Mrs. and I, both Duck fans, have been arguing about who it is better to root for (or against) in helping Oregon's cause: Stanford or UCLA? The Transitive Property of College Football does not apply (as it never should), as Oregon will play both head-to-head. If UCLA wins against Stanford, and Oregon manages to beat both, will it matter from a BCS/national perception that Oregon beat an undefeated UCLA team and a two-loss Stanford team, or is it better for Oregon if they beat two one-loss teams? Of course, there are dozens of scenarios beyond this, including one-loss teams (yes, Oregon too) throughout the Pac-12 as the season marches on (as you astutely pointed out earlier this season what the perception will be if the conference cannibalizes itself). Just trying to get an "I told you so" for the sake of a healthy marriage! Thanks!

Ted Miller: The ideal scenario is probably this.

UCLA beats Stanford and loses to Oregon twice, the second time in a competitive Pac-12 championship game. That gets the Bruins, at 11-2, a Rose Bowl invitation while the Ducks play for the natty, er, national title. Stanford would finish 9-3, still potentially a top-15 team with a chance to move up in, I'd guess, the Alamo Bowl.

I think Oregon is going to be fine in any scenario if it finishes 13-0, so this is mostly a splitting-hairs exercise. In either potential "best-case" scenario, Stanford or UCLA end up with three and two defeats.




Dylan from Salt Lake City writes: Kevin presented several decent reasons as to why Utah should be lower than Washington in the power rankings ... provided the power rankings are representative of the season rather than the week. If you're looking at the week, then Utah should clearly be above Washington. This is the problem with being noncommittal about walking the line and being noncommittal with the power rankings. Although based on the power rankings, maybe I answered my own question about what they represent.

Ted Miller: First, I second what Kevin wrote. Of course, I will add more.

The power rankings are organic throughout the season. They prioritize the most recent week, but they also accumulate data as the weeks pass, and that in itself reduces the overall value of a single game. For example, if 8-3 Utah were to lose to three-win Colorado in the season finale, we wouldn't rank the Buffaloes ahead of the Utes in the power rankings.

The biggest problem for the Utes climbing dramatically in the power rankings is the home loss to Oregon State, which opened the season with a loss to an FCS foe. As the Beavers pick up wins, that loss gets "better" but it also makes it difficult to move the Utes ahead of Oregon State, which faces a much tougher schedule over the season's final third. So then the question is whether Oregon State has done enough to eclipse Washington. We think the Huskies résumé still remains stronger than the Beavers.

In fact, the way the Huskies played at Stanford and against Oregon actually increased their rating, at least for me.

Now you could have justified going: Oregon State, Utah and Washington in the power rankings. And we looked at that. That would have given more weight to the week -- a Utah win over a Stanford team that beat the Huskies -- but that doesn't feel right based on the product Washington has put on the field through the entire season.

So how does Utah move up? Glad you asked. Keep winning.

Know when the power rankings actually matter? Two times: At the end of the regular season and after the bowls.




David from Salt Lake City writes: Ted,I couldn't help but noticing that Utah has performed just about exactly to the 'Best' scenario from your 'Best/Worst Case -- Utah blog. Your preseason picks are, apparently, spot on. Do you have premonitions? Or is this just an innate ability to [humorously] pick winners?

Ted Miller: Funny how that works. A 9-4 record actually now seems a not unreasonably optimistic projection.

Now go watch all the Rocky movies, MUSS members.
Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is a school of thought, now apparently subscribed to by a handful of desperate NFL teams, that if that uber-suave, hirsute gentleman from those wildly entertaining Dos Equis beer commercials revealed his true identity, he would rip off a bearded mask and reveal Chip Kelly.

Is Kelly the most interesting man in the world?

Pause for a moment before chortling over our potential hyperbole, for Kelly has packed a lot into his 52-game tenure at Oregon, including 45 victories.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Don RyanChip Kelly doesn't often discuss his life with writers, but when he does, his answers are revealing.
He has run with the bulls in Pamplona. He has led the Ducks to three Pac-12 titles and four BCS bowl games. He has done humanitarian work in Africa. He has produced Oregon's first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years. He has visited U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kelly, 49 and single, is also fiercely private. He has never cooperated with any truly in-depth "This is your life, Chip Kelly!" story, which is exceedingly rare for a high-profile coach. Nearly all his close friends are back in New Hampshire, where he's from and where he went to college.

Kelly doesn't like glad-handing boosters, something often viewed as a prerequisite for being a college coach. He particularly dislikes talking to reporters, and he goes to great lengths to make sure they understand.

The Dos Equis guy says, "Stay thirsty, my friends." Kelly would say, "Stay away, annoying hangers-on."

Yet the vast majority of Ducks fans not only love all the winning, they love Kelly for his wiseacre, smirking self. They chant "Big Balls Chip!" inside rocking Autzen Stadium to celebrate Kelly's penchant for going for it on fourth down, going for 2 and launching onside kicks at surprising times.

He tells fans, "Shut up!" for cheering behind him during an ESPN postgame interview, and they love him more. A Twitter page, Chipisms, celebrates not only Kelly's amusing or insightful wisdom -- “I saw the ‘Feel Sorry for Yourself’ train leaving the parking lot & none of our players were on it, so that was a good sign” -- but also for his snark.

Inquiries that Kelly doesn't like might get one-word answers, clichéd responses or snappy rejoinders that belittle his inquisitors. Questions that engage him, however, receive full and thoughtful treatment. Consider this response from an ESPN story on Kelly's trip to Africa, when he worked with adolescent girls who had no idea who he was.

"The real heroes are the little girls in Africa who are trying to better themselves so they can help their families," he said. "When I hear a coach say, 'We're grinding.' I'm like: You're sitting in a room with air conditioning watching videotape. That's not grinding."

There seem to be three facets to Kelly. His standoffish public face, the detail-obsessed coach and the Renaissance man determined to drink life to the lees away from the game. Even the hard-driving, "win the day" side of Kelly can loosen up behind closed doors; those who work with him frequently cite his sense of humor.

"He [jokes around] all the time," said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, a leading candidate to replace Kelly should he bolt for an NFL job. "It's not: 'Aha, he smiled! Isn't that amazing?' It's daily. We have a lot of fun."

Further, while Kelly's offense almost always runs like a finely tuned machine, plenty of, er, interesting things have been interspersed with winning during Kelly's tenure. Drama has not been lacking over the past four seasons.

His first game as Oregon's head coach remains his worst: A 19-8 loss at Boise State. Not only did the Ducks gain an embarrassing 152 total yards, but Kelly's star running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Broncos player afterward, bringing the hot light of controversy to his team's feckless performance.

Some thought Kelly was in over his head. He answered that by becoming the first Pac-10 coach to lead a team to an outright conference championship his first season.

Oh, and in a sign of interesting things to come, when a season-ticket holder wrote Kelly demanding a refund for his expenses incurred after attending that disastrous trip to Boise, Kelly quickly fired off a note with a personal check for $439.

Heading into 2010, starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended after he was involved in the burglary of an Oregon fraternity house. Losing a star quarterback typically would damage a team's chances, but all Kelly's team did was finish undefeated and play for the national championship, losing 22-19 when Auburn kicked a last-second field goal.

The NCAA came calling during the 2011 offseason, wanting to know details of Kelly's and the program's dealings with street agent Willie Lyles. A distraction? Nope. Oregon won the conference a third consecutive year and the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.

Kelly then nearly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His quarterback, two-year starter Darron Thomas, had already opted to leave the program, which again threw into question the Ducks' prospects. But Kelly returned and so did the winning, with redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors while leading the Ducks to a No. 4 ranking and a Fiesta Bowl berth opposite Kansas State.

Yet he arrives at the Fiesta Bowl amid swirling rumors that he's about to leave for his pick of available NFL jobs. Asked about his NFL ambitions this week, he gave a 235-word answer that essentially said "no comment."

"My heart is to win the day, and that’s it," he concluded. "I know everybody wants to hear a different answer, and I know at times when I don’t give you guys the answer you guys want, then I’m being evasive. I’m not being evasive. My job is to coach the University of Oregon football team, and I love doing it. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

So the question will linger for a coach who at the very least is currently the most interesting man in college football: Will the Fiesta Bowl be his last day to win for Oregon?

Pac-12 out of BCS national title picture

November, 25, 2012
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» BCS standings reaction: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | Notre Dame

Oregon led the Pac-12 at No. 5 in the latest BCS standings, but the Ducks and the conference have no chance to play for the national title.

Stanford, which ended Oregon's national title hopes with a win in Eugene on Nov. 17, is eighth. Oregon State is 15th and UCLA is 16th.

Stanford plays host to UCLA on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl.

Oregon is a likely at-large selection for a BCS bowl, most likely the Fiesta Bowl against the Big 12 champion.

The BCS national title game will match unbeaten, top-ranked Notre Dame against the once-beaten SEC champion, which will be decided on Saturday when No. 3 Georgia plays No. 2 Alabama.

Final: Oregon 48, Oregon State 24

November, 24, 2012
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The 116th Civil War was close. And then it wasn't. Yes, we've seen that before with Oregon.

Oregon scored 28 consecutive second-half points and blew away Oregon State 48-24.

The Beavers opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive that narrowed the deficit to 20-17. But they made things easy for the Ducks by then giving away five of their six turnovers in the second half.

A week after getting shut down by Stanford in their first loss of the season, the Ducks (11-1, 8-1) rolled up 570 yards while winning their fifth Civil War in a row. Oregon State (8-3, 6-3) gained 393. The Ducks outrushed the Beavers 430 yards to 82.

After the Beavers scored on their first possession of the third quarter, Oregon made its move. It drove 66 yards for a touchdown, and then the Beavers fumbled the ensuing kickoff. A 29-yard De'Anthony Thomas run later -- on fourth-and-5 no less -- and it was 34-17.

Kenjon Barner rushed for 198 yards on 28 carries with two TDs, but he was banged up much of the second half, when Thomas took over. Thomas rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries and three scores.

Beavers QB Sean Mannion, who lost his job to Cody Vaz after throwing four interceptions at Washington on Oct. 27, again threw four interceptions.

Oregon, which has won 15 consecutive road games, now awaits a couple other results. First, it needs Stanford to lose to UCLA this afternoon, which would make the Ducks the Pac-12 North Division champions. They then would play UCLA, already the South champion, on Friday in the Pac-12 title game.

Further, Oregon is still in the national title hunt. It needs, first and foremost, for No. 1 Notre Dame to lose tonight at USC. It also probably needs Florida to lose to Florida State, a game that is in the fourth quarter as this sentence is typed.

Even if Oregon doesn't reach the Pac-12 title game, where it would play for a Rose Bowl berth or more, it is almost certain to be an at-large selection for a BCS bowl game, mostly likely the Fiesta Bowl.

Lots of intrigue for 116th Civil War

November, 20, 2012
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Kelly/RileyUS PresswireOregon coach Chip Kelly and Oregon State coach Mike Riley face off Saturday in the 116th Civil War.
The 2012 Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State doesn't match the 2000 game, when both teams were ranked in the top 10 for the first time in the rivalry's history, or the 2009 game, when the winner-take-all stakes were a Pac-10 title and a Rose Bowl berth. But it's pretty darn big.

The 116th Civil War, the seventh-oldest rivalry game in college football, in Reser Stadium on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network) approaches the 2000 game in terms of both teams' rankings, the first time in the series that both were ranked in the top 10. Oregon was fifth and Oregon State eighth in that game, won 23-13 by the Beavers. This go-around, Oregon is again fifth and the Beavers 15th in the latest BCS standings.

There is no Rose Bowl on the line for Oregon State, as there was in 2008 and 2009, but the Beavers can play a spoiler role while boosting themselves in the Pac-12 pecking order.

Oregon still harbors hopes of slipping into the national title game, and the Ducks will win the North Division if they beat the Beavers and Stanford loses at UCLA on Saturday. Then Oregon would play host to UCLA on Nov. 30, with -- at least -- a Rose Bowl berth at stake.

And even if Stanford beats UCLA to win the North, an Oregon victory over the Beavers likely would earn it an at-large berth to a BCS bowl game, probably the Fiesta Bowl, where they could end up playing the Big 12 champ, likely Kansas State.

Oregon State? While its postseason destination is most likely the Holiday Bowl, ending a four-game losing streak in the rivalry series would be significant. It would certainly stem the momentum that has been decidedly in the Ducks' favor since an obscure coach from New Hampshire by the name of Chip Kelly arrived as the team's offensive coordinator in 2007.

While the 2008 and 2009 Civil Wars were big games with big implications, the 2010 and 2011 games were all about the Ducks. They were coronation events, as Oregon earned berths in the national title game and the Rose Bowl. The Beavers, meanwhile, were sucking on lemons, suffering through back-to-back losing seasons.

That had some Beavers fans grousing about coach Mike Riley and his staff. It wasn't only about a program backtrack. It was about what was happening 45 minutes to the south in Eugene. It's no fun losing games, but when you are losing, it's much worse when your rival is thriving.

Beavers fans saw Kelly -- smug, smirking, standoffish, annoyingly brilliant -- and felt they were getting left behind.

But we all know things can change quickly in college football. The Beavers are on a clear uptick. While both teams have a lot of talent coming back in 2013, it's Oregon that now has some question marks.

Will Kelly be lured away by an NFL offer? More than a few NFL sorts believe he will have his pick of jobs this offseason.

And what about the NCAA investigation into L'Affair de Willie Lyles? At some point penalties will be handed out. While those penalties are not expected to be crippling -- despite the uninformed blather coming from some people -- they certainly won't help the Ducks maintain their perch atop the Pac-12.

Just imagine how the next couple of months could go for Oregon State fans: 1. A Civil War victory over Oregon, ending a four-year losing streak in the series and the Ducks' three-year run of conference titles; 2. Kelly leaves Eugene for the NFL; 3. NCAA sanctions for the Ducks.

Let's just say more than a few Beavers fans would be high-fiving each other. And there would probably be more than a few Washington Huskies fans trying to get in on that action.

Or ... or ...

Oregon beats the Beavers for a fifth consecutive time, finagles its way into the national title game and then beats, say, Alabama for the school's first national title. Then Kelly announces he's staying in Eugene "for life" and the NCAA gently slaps the Ducks' wing.

So, yeah, there's a lot going on here.

Still, amid all these possibilities and speculations, good and bad for both programs, there is only one thing that either can control: Saturday's game.

Yes, it's pretty darn big.

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