Oregon Ducks: Heisman Trophy

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the notes!

Matt from Beaverton, Ore., writes: I'm sure by now you've read the news about the Ducks losing Bralon Addison this season due to an ACL tear. He looked to take a huge step in becoming a focal point of the Ducks offense with Huff graduating. Do you think Oregon returns to running the ball far more frequently, or are there players you think will step up to fill the void? I'm curious how Jonathan Lloyd (senior point guard for the basketball team) pans out as a return specialist/WR.

[+] EnlargeBralon Addison
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe Ducks are not devoid of offensive talent, but replacing Bralon Addison will be difficult.
Ted Miller: Losing Addison is a big blow for two reasons. First, he's an intriguing talent who was expected to become QB Marcus Mariota's No. 1 target this fall, an important distinction considering Mariota is a Heisman Trophy contender. Second, the Ducks are now as green at receiver as any team in the Pac-12. They will be without their top four receivers from 2013.

What's left? There's veteran Keanon Lowe, a good leader and a tough blocker, but he only caught 18 passes last year. In terms of wideouts, the next most productive returning receiver is sophomore Chance Allen, who caught five passes.

Of course, there's young talent. A top-five team with Oregon's offensive name brand isn't going to be devoid of guys who could immediately step in and shine, but how that pecking order develops is a mystery. Allen, sophomore Dwayne Stanford, redshirt freshman Darren Carrington and the mercurial B.J. Kelley are possibilities.

Lloyd? It's fun to speculate, but being a great athlete doesn't mean you'll be a good receiver. That gets a firm "We shall see."

As for compensating in the passing game, the Ducks are strong at tight end, so you probably will see more from those guys. They also, as you note, could lean more on the running game, as Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner have the potential to be a 2,500-plus-yard tandem.

One of the Ducks mottos is "next man in" and losing Addison hardly knocks the Ducks out of the Pac-12 and national title race. But if you made a list of the top-five most important Ducks in 2014 a week ago, he would have been on it.

 




Ray from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Recognizing that football is a big moneymaker for college athletic departments, conferences and networks, I'm curious as to whether we've already seen the peak of this sport. Between unionization of athletes and issues with concussions and the incidence of brain damage in former players, it seems like there are some issues ahead. Can educational institutions continue to feature a sport that has apparent long term consequences to the players and cash the checks without some lifetime responsibility to those students? 18-22 year olds always think they are immortal, but the faculty and administrators should know that a significant percentage of the kids have potential for injury and brain damage. Perhaps not as bad as what the Roman gladiators had, but still substantial enough that some court cases could change the financial equation. Do you think you'll need to bone up on badminton or soccer rules as an alternative sport for the Pac-12 blog at some point?

Ted Miller: This is a time of change in college football on many levels, and those changes aren't independent of each other.

We've reached critical mass with the flowing revenue and big-money salaries, where the relative deprivation between athlete and coach/administrator is impossible to ignore. We've also reached a point where we need to take strong steps to address player safety and long-term health issues. Most folks around the game see this, even if they don't agree on all the next steps.

The good news is this: Crisis often breeds progress.

As for your question, "Has college football peaked?" Maybe. But that's not my impression.

Ultimately, I don't think college football is going anywhere. Too many people love it and care about it to not figure out ways to improve things.

And the notion of no Pac-12 blog surely will motivate them all to come up with changes we all can believe in.

 




Derek from Salt Lake City writes: So recently it was announced that the student government at the University of Utah was proposing changes to the fight song "Utah Man" because they felt it was sexist and offensive to some people. I would love to know what someone who is not a die-hard Ute thinks about the whole situation ...

Ted Miller: It's funny how trivial things such as this are often highly controversial, emotional and political. My guess is the folks who most loudly claim they are aggrieved probably have never and will never even sing the song.

Still, my first response? Why not change it to "Utah Fan." What is lost? Fact is plenty of Utah fans are women. The assertion that "man" is an inclusion term is disingenuous.

Don't think so? Your momma is a man. See.

The story included Utah social work professor Joanne Yaffe observing, "I don’t think I’m being hyper-PC, I’m just thinking about not really being included in the song."

I agree. Perfectly reasonable observation. And reason to make a change.

Yet she then unfortunately added, "I think that the U can feel like a very isolating, unwelcoming place, and maybe this song is part of that."

Sigh. That's just gobbledygook. And disingenuous whining is a good way to lose a sympathetic audience.

If I were in charge at Utah, I'd change it to "Utah Fan."

And you folks know I'm up to snuff and never bluff.

Heisman Trophy contenders in Pac-12

January, 17, 2014
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Despite being a top-two conference in college football, the Pac-12 was inexplicably shut out when it came to Heisman Trophy finalists. Of course, if the award took into account the entire season, both Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey probably would have been there.

After the bowls, would anyone have voted for Jordan Lynch over Mariota or Andre Williams over Carey? Doubtful.

Here's a look at the Pac-12's top five Heisman Trophy candidates in 2014:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon signal-caller Marcus Mariota finished the 2013 season on a high note, with a blowout victory over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Mariota shouldn't just be considered the front-runner from the Pac-12, he should be considered the favorite to win the award, period.

Yes, Florida State's Jameis Winston will still be around, but if he were to repeat as the Heisman winner, the Multiple Heisman Club would double in size. History isn't on his side.

Statistically, Mariota has been among the country's best quarterbacks in each of the past two seasons, which bodes well for his candidacy. Plus, Oregon will begin the season as the Pac-12 favorite and a national title contender.

There's nothing to question about Mariota's talent, as his decision to stay at Oregon for another season might have prevented him from becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. However, spurning the NFL for another year in college didn't help the Heisman chances of the past two Pac-12 quarterbacks who made a similar decision (See: Luck, Andrew and Barkley, Matt).

2. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

Mariota wasn't the only Pac-12 quarterback who might have turned down the opportunity to be the first quarterback drafted -- Hundley fits that description, too. And when he decided to return to UCLA, the Bruins instantly became the favorites in the Pac-12 South.

If the Bruins, who finished ranked No. 16 last season, take a step forward next season, it'll likely be because of a big year from Hundley.

The schedule sets up well for Hundley, too. The Bruins have an East Coast game (at Virginia) to open the season, play Texas in Arlington, Texas, Oregon at home and finish the regular season with back-to-back home games against USC and Stanford. That's exposure.

3. Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA

In just five games, Jack made quite the impression running the ball. Take his stats and extrapolate them over a 13-game season and he would have finished with 694 yards and 18 touchdowns. That touchdown total would have equaled that of Heisman finalist Andre Williams.

Those would be pretty good numbers for a running back, but for a linebacker? Defense is where Jack belongs despite being named both the conference's Offensive and Defensive Freshman of the Year.

It might seem strange on the surface, but it's unlikely Bruins coach Jim Mora wants Jack to be a serious Heisman candidate. What it'll mean is that UCLA hasn't found a better option at running back, which is ideally what it'll do between now and its season opener.

[+] EnlargeKevon Seymour, Taylor Kelly
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesArizona State QB Taylor Kelly finished the 2013 season with 28 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions.
4. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State

How good was Kelly this year? Good enough for the coaches in the conference to vote him ahead of Hundley and Sean Mannion onto the All-Pac-12 second team.

He threw for 3,635 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while guiding one of the nation's highest-scoring offenses. The Sun Devils finished No. 11 in the country, averaging 39.7 points per game.

Like Mariota and Hundley, Kelly gets it done with his legs, too. He rushed for 608 yards and the same amount of touchdowns as Johnny Manziel (9). We know how the Heisman voters love their dual-threat quarterbacks.

5. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State

Mannion will enter the 2014 season as the nation's active leader in passing yards (10,436) and will be in position to shatter Barkley's career conference record (12,327).

When the Beavers sat at 6-1, Mannion was firmly in the Heisman race, but a five-game losing streak took the wind out of those sails. He still set the Pac-12 single-season passing record (4,662) and was rated high enough to earn a third-round grade from NFL scouts.

Losing Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks will be tough to compensate for -- although the same was said about losing Markus Wheaton going into last season -- and winning counts. If the Beavers improve it'll likely be due to a better running game, which could hurt Mannion statistically.

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Heisman shaft for Pac-12

December, 10, 2013
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The hits keep coming for the Pac-12. First, the nation's deepest and most ambitious conference in terms of scheduling gets just one BCS bowl team. Then it doesn’t have a Heisman Trophy finalist, even with two candidates who are superior to the players who were invited.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
AP Photo/Eric DraperArizona RB Ka'Deem Carey has rushed for more than 100 yards in every game he has played in this season.
Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is the nation's best running back. He is a better running back than Auburn's Tre Mason and Boston College's Andre Williams, who are two of the six Heisman finalists.

What that means is that if you had all the college -- or NFL -- coaches pick a running back, the vast majority would choose Carey first. Why? Again, he's better than Mason and Williams.

And, if this is about pure numbers, Carey's numbers are superior to Mason's, who apparently got invited to New York because he posted an undeniably great performance in the SEC title game against Missouri. If that was the selling measure, then the Auburn offensive line should have been sent to New York.

Then there's Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, whose Heisman case is hampered by the Ducks losing two of their final four games. Of course, that didn't change the fact that he's been better than three of the four QB finalists over the entire season.

None of the four invited QBs -- Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, AJ McCarron of Alabama and Jameis Winston of Florida State -- has a resume without holes.

Lynch played against weak competition. Manziel lost his final two games of the season and played poorly while doing so. McCarron's candidacy was about career achievement, but he lost to his team's arch-rival to end the season, thereby missing out on his much-celebrated drive for a three-peat.

Winston, the overwhelming favorite as the best player on the best team, obviously had his off-field issue. No charges were filed, but the incident was hardly a shining and blameless moment for Winston.

Who's to blame for nobody from the West Coast heading to NYC? Well, we hate to bring out a hackneyed harrumph but it's obvious: East Coast Bias.

Notice anything about the finalists? Yep, none play in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zones. To get off the Pac-12 train for a bit, consider that Fresno State QB Derek Carr, who is probably a better NFL prospect than Manziel, McCarron and Lynch, wasn't invited. He only led the nation in passing and threw 10 more TD passes than anyone else.

This bias isn't about some evil and corrupt dislike of all things West Coast. It's about a limited and flawed radar of evaluation. And, you know, going to bed early.

But East Coast voters aren't the only ones who suffer from bias. Here's a guess that when the regional voting patterns are revealed that Mariota's and Carey's support will only be lukewarm out West. That's because many West Coast voters suffer from a form of college football Stockholm Syndrome, where they are unduly influenced by the dominant and oft-repeated East Coast narrative, even if it runs counter to the conclusions of their own eyes and brains.

Before Oregon lost to Stanford, there was no East Coast Bias to fret. Folks loved Mariota and he led every Heisman poll. But when he lost, he plummeted unlike any other candidate who had an off-game. His consideration died completely when the Ducks also lost at Arizona.

It's a case of out of sight, out of mind, a condition that none of the other finalists back East had to deal with as they were re-evaluated despite shortcomings not unlike Mariota's.

When the odd ending to the season forced Heisman voters to revisit their pecking order, they apparently didn't include players outside their time zones. Bad finishes for Manziel, Lynch and McCarron? Neh.

A bad finish for Mariota? Wait… who's that?

For Carey, it was just a matter of everyone knowing he's the nation's best running back but not caring because he played for a 7-5 Arizona team. Are there really voters in the country who would be willing to step up to a microphone and say, "Mason/Williams are better than Carey"? I hope not.

And, despite a tireless effort from the Wildcats sports information department to point out that Carey's 15 consecutive games with over 100 yards hasn't been accomplished IN A DECADE, voters went all lazy because I'd bet at least 50 percent of them never watched him play all season.

Sour grapes? Absolutely. But sour grapes based entirely on facts and sound logic.

Mailbag: Did USC or Washington win?

December, 6, 2013
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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.

After a trying second half of the season, Christmas came early for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich when quarterback Marcus Mariota announced Tuesday that he would return for his redshirt junior season instead of entering the NFL draft, in which he almost certainly would have been an early first-round selection.

As a stocking stuffer, two-time first-team All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu also announced he will return. Goducks.com, the school’s athletics website, announced the news for both.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota will return to Oregon next season as a Heisman Trophy favorite.
While the Ducks probably are going to say goodbye to receiver De'Anthony Thomas and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who have yet to announce their intentions, Mariota's decision does make one thing clear: Oregon will be the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2014, the first year of the four-team College Football Playoff.

Mariota, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection for a second consecutive year, will be the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy as he captains an offense that looks like it will welcome back eight starters, a calculation that doesn't include DAT or RB Byron Marshall, the Ducks leading rusher.

While the Ducks' defense will take a few hits, Helfrich's second team appears stacked and ready for a potential bounce-back season. North Division rival Stanford will be replacing a number of key stars on both sides of the ball, including eight players who earned first- or second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Mariota completed 227 of 360 attempts for 3,412 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 582 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He set a Pac-12 record from the end of last season into this year by attempting 353 passes without an interception. He ranks second in the nation in ESPN.com Stats & Information's Total QBR.

Of course, a knee injury suffered against UCLA on Oct. 26 hampered him over the second half of the season, most notably in the Ducks' first loss at Stanford. Still, the Ducks "down" year produced a 10-2 record, a sixth consecutive 10-win season with a bowl game left to play.

Mariota's return means that as many as 10 conference teams could welcome back their 2013 starting quarterback. We still await word from UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion on whether they will enter the NFL draft. The return of Utah's Travis Wilson is up in the air due to health issues.

Only Arizona and Washington started seniors at QB this year.

The dual return of Mariota and Grasu means the brains of the Ducks' offense will be back in 2014. Grasu, perhaps the nation's top center, should have a mastery of the Ducks' offensive line calls, while Mariota figures to own an Andrew Luck-like knowledge of the nuances of the Ducks' offense as a third-year starter.

That's a huge advantage heading into 2014.

Further, their return is a vote of confidence in Helfrich. If one or the other didn't believe in the Ducks' first-year coach, they almost certainly would have moved on.

The only Ducks who might be unhappy with Mariota's decision are backup QBs Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who will be redshirt sophomores next season. They probably expected to be in a hotly contested competition for the starting job this spring. That said, they might benefit from another year of seasoning playing behind a future high NFL draft choice.

Of course, sometimes the celebrated return of a QB doesn't always work out (see: USC's Matt Barkley in 2012). Fans and NFL scouts will expect Mariota to be even better next fall. Comparable numbers might be viewed as a sign of his plateauing.

But that's a potentiality that isn't worth fretting over today.

Oregon fans were frustrated when the program lost two of its final four games and fell out of the national title race. Here's a guess that those frowns just turned upside down.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.

Oregon no longer needs to fret Rose Bowl

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- If you wanted to floridly imagine a cosmic wrath exacted on Oregon on Saturday by the slighted Rose Bowl in Arizona's 42-16 whipping of the Ducks, you would note that the Wildcats were clad head-to-toe in rosy red while they posted their first win over a top-five team since 2007.

It would be ridiculous, of course, to further belabor De'Anthony Thomas' and Josh Huff's controversial musings last week about not being excited about the possibility of playing in the Rose Bowl because they had their sights set on the national title game, but the karmic symmetry is impossible to ignore.

Turn your nose up at the Granddaddy? Fine, how do you feel about the Alamo Bowl? Or maybe even something a little lower on the Pac-12 bowl pecking order?

[+] EnlargeB.J. Denker
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesQuarterback B.J. Denker directed an Arizona offense that ravaged Oregon for 482 total yards.
"The way that was phrased is not representative of the way anybody feels," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "That had nothing at all to do with this."

Completely true. What did matter was the Wildcats playing an outstanding game in all three phases and the Ducks looking sloppy and uninterested while getting thrashed.

"Very sluggish in every phase. That's 100 percent my fault," Helfrich said. "I have to figure out exactly which levers to pull and buttons to push."

There were a lot of notable negative landmarks for Oregon. This was the Ducks' first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008. After four consecutive BCS bowl berths, the Ducks will be playing before the New Year this postseason. Stanford wins the North Division for the second consecutive year.

Further, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota threw his first two interceptions of the season. The first came on the Ducks' opening offensive play, and it set the tone for the game. It was a catchable ball that bounced off sure-handed Bralon Addison along the sideline and was then redirected in bounds by Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson into the waiting hands of freshman linebacker Scooby Wright.

It was a fortuitous bit of playmaking, something the Wildcats had a surfeit of, while the normally fancypants Ducks seemed to be all thumbs.

"Everything went right today," Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker said.

Denker, who began the season looking like the worst quarterback in the Pac-12, is now perhaps the most improved player in the Pac-12. He was nothing short of brilliant Saturday, completing 19 of 22 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions and rushing for 102 yards on 14 carries. But top billing for Arizona goes to running back Ka'Deem Carey, who might need a second look from Heisman Trophy voters.

Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns. It was his 14th consecutive 100-yard-plus rushing game, an active streak that now is tied for longest by an FBS player over the past 10 seasons (Jerome Harrison, 2004-05)

His 48 carries is a new school record and the most so far this season by any FBS running back. All those carries, by the way, produced just two lost yards. Further, Carey, a junior, became Arizona's career rushing leader with 3,913 yards, eclipsing Trung Canidate (1996-99). He also set a new school record for career touchdowns with 49, surpassing Art Luppino (1953-56).

"I think he's the best back in the country," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKa'Deem Carey set school records for carries in a game (48) and career yards (3,913) and TDs (49).
The Wildcats scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, converting on all eight of their third-down plays. But it wasn't just the offense. The Wildcats defense, which was atrocious a year ago, held the Ducks to their lowest point total this season. Crucially, Arizona won the turnover battle 3-0.

The Wildcats defense was at its best at important moments. Oregon had a first-and-goal on the Arizona 9-yard line in the first quarter but netted only a field goal. The Wildcats held the Ducks on a fourth-and-2 play on their 41 with one minute before halftime, which ended up producing a quick Arizona touchdown drive for a 28-9 lead at the break. They stopped Oregon on a fourth-and-2 play from their 6-yard line in the third quarter. They intercepted Mariota on a second-and-1 play from their 13 in the fourth.

"We were really dialed in the whole game," a perky Rodriguez told reporters.

The opposite could be said for Oregon.

"No energy," Huff said. "Arizona played with a lot of emotion."

The Ducks were plagued by four dropped passes and drive-killing penalties. Despite seeing his Pac-12 record streak of 353 consecutive pass attempts without an interception end, Mariota played well. He completed 27 of 41 passes with two touchdowns, and his sprained knee seemed much better as he rushed for 52 yards and wasn't sacked.

Still, the loss surely will end his Heisman Trophy candidacy.

"It hurts," Mariota said about the loss, not the Heisman slippage. "I have never been blown out like this before in my life."

None of the current Oregon players have, at least while wearing a Ducks uniform. That's why the loss seems stunning and represents a bigger crisis for Helfrich in his first season than the lackluster showing at Stanford. He admitted there needs to be some "inward looking" throughout the program.

"We have a bunch of guys who are very hurt in that locker room right now," Helfrich said.

The question now no longer centers on the Rose Bowl or any BCS bowl. That possibility is done for. It's only about a Civil War matchup on Friday with Oregon State. It's about showing pride.

Heisman voters should reconsider Mariota

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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Marcus MariotaESPN Stats & InfoA look at Oregon QB Marcus Mariota's rushing statistics this season.

Whining is not part of Oregon football. Whining doesn't win the day. Whining is not forward-looking. Whining means you're concerned with outside influences and things beyond your control. None of that jibes with the carefully constructed culture around the Ducks program.

So you won't hear many folks inside the Oregon football offices spout off about the asininity of quarterback Marcus Mariota being counted out of the Heisman Trophy race just because the Ducks lost at Stanford.

The Pac-12 blog, however, is not above whining, though it prefers to see it as vociferously opposing clouded, absurd or biased thinking.

Mariota is the best quarterback in the country. We know this because the numbers say so. He fronts the nation's No. 5 team and an offense that averages 51 points and 580 yards per game.

He has passed for 25 touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception. After throwing three touchdown passes against Utah, he extended his Pac-12 record streak of pass attempts without an interception to 353. The old mark was 216 by USC's Brad Otton from 1994-95, so Mariota hasn't merely broken the record, he has stomped it into oblivion.

He also has rushed for nine touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. So he has accounted for 34 touchdowns despite only being involved in 27 total fourth-quarter plays this year.

Ah, Mariota's rushing. That brings up a big reason Oregon lost to Stanford, as well as another compelling part of his Heisman résumé that is being overlooked: Mariota's toughness.

He has played the past two-and-a-half games with a sprained knee. While Oregon doesn't talk about injuries, it was obvious when Mariota donned a knee brace during the second half of the win over UCLA that something was wrong. The whole nation saw that against Stanford when the Ducks were forced to shelf one of the most productive parts of their offense: The spread option.

In the two games before UCLA -- Washington and Washington State -- Mariota rushed for 155 yards. In the past two games, he has rushed for minus-16 yards. That's a negative number because he's not actually running option plays or even really scrambling, which is why the Ducks have yielded eight sacks in the past three games after surrendering eight in the first seven.

So what has Mariota done on one leg for the past three games? He has completed 68 percent of his passes with six touchdowns, averaging 256 yards passing per game.

Toughness? In spades.

"That's never been a question around here," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "That guy is a warrior."

Of course, Mariota, authentically humble and soft-spoken, doesn't have feelings one way or the other on his Heisman status.

"I have none, to be honest," he said. "Obviously that's other people's opinions and that's something I can't control. I'm just going to continue focusing on getting better and putting this team in good situations. Whatever comes with that comes with that."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesOregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has 25 touchdown passes this season, has not thrown an interception in 353 attempts.
That said, Mariota is not oblivious to the outside world. He did watch USC upset Stanford at a Red Robin restaurant with his family after beating Utah. The Cardinal's loss means the Ducks retook first place in the Pac-12's North Division. If they win at Arizona on Saturday and finish the season with a victory over Oregon State in the Civil War, they will return to the Pac-12 title game after a one-year hiatus. That could provide him with another marquee game, perhaps even on a healthy knee, to showcase his skills.

As for the knee, Mariota doesn't love talking about it, though he acknowledges it has been an issue.

"It is what it is," he said. "As a football player, you play through injuries. You learn to bounce back from adversity."

While he says the knee is getting better -- he might doff the knee brace in Tucson -- he does admit that it concerned his family when he first hurt it. As a likely early first-round NFL draft pick whenever he opts to leave -- this spring or next -- the redshirt sophomore does have an asset to protect.

"Obviously they do have some worry, they do have some concerns. But they support my decision no matter what," Mariota said. "They would have to pull me off the field before I wouldn't play. That's just the way I was raised. When you are part of a group, you do everything you can for that group."

That brings us to a final point about Mariota: Character. We will not waste time assailing the character of other Heisman candidates, we will only point out the utter lack of controversy surrounding Mariota. Further, he's a high-character guy without sanctimony. There is nothing efforted about him.

Helfrich, as the first-year curator of the Ducks inward looking football culture, is not going to rally around an aggressive campaign to get folks to reconsider whether the nation's most outstanding football player should win the Heisman Trophy, but he will say his piece.

"It's unfortunate how we played in the quote-unquote, marquee big game of the year, but a lot of that was not his doing," Helfrich said. "Marcus is phenomenal. All you have to do is look at the tape and watch what he has done throughout his short career. And, obviously, off the field the guy is even better."

That about sums up our effort to vociferously oppose clouded, absurd or biased thinking about who should win the Heisman.

Mailbag: Mariota's Heisman chances?

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
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Happy Friday.

First of all, a big thank you to all Kansas State fans who contributed ideas for my "flip" visit to Manhattan, Kan. My mailbag overfloweth with perspective and suggestions. Dinner at CoCo Bolos last night was solid, as was breakfast at The Chef. If you see me in "Aggieville" tonight, don't hesitate to say "hello."

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Ian from Salt Lake City: Why has Marcus Mariota dropped nigh completely from the Heisman radar? I understand the loss to Stanford and playing poorly is a huge portion of that, but it seems to me that people, especially the media (not you or Kevin obviously), have fallen in love so much with Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel that they brush aside Mariota like a fly. Both Mariota and Manziel lost games to their biggest competition, Mariota is putting up pretty comparable numbers to Winston with less interceptions, and Mariota is a proven winner, so why no, relatively speaking, love?

Ted Miller: There are three types of overreaction in college football. There's media overreaction, there's fan overreaction and, third, there's fan overreaction to media overreaction.

Do you define "dropped completely from the Heisman Trophy radar" as falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in media polls? Or also here. Do you define Mariota getting brushed aside "like a fly" after he posts his worst game of the season in a loss that knocks his team -- apparently -- out of the national title hunt?

Have I fallen in love with Jameis Winston? Yes. I'm man enough to admit that I am in love with Winston. I swoon at his stratospheric potential. I love the way he taken a program known for its NFL talent and mercurial performances and made it the nation's most consistently dominating team. Clemson's overwhelming performance against a very good Georgia Tech team on Thursday reminded us just how impressive the Seminoles' win in Death Valley was.

That said, if Mariota plays appreciably better than Winston and Manziel over the final three games, he still might win the Heisman. At the very least, the sophomore will get invited to New York for the ceremony.

There was an understandable and justifiable demotion of Mariota in every Heisman poll after the Ducks offense sputtered against Stanford. Three big performances, however, will background that. And if Stanford loses to USC, three big performances likely would give him another shot in the Pac-12 title game.

Those games will give him space to be evaluated over the totality of the season. They will also his toughness, which I think is being overlooked or played down after the Stanford game, to shine. Mariota should be saluted for even being out there because he was clearly playing on one good leg, and Stanford realized early on that he was not going to be a factor on designed runs or even scrambles.

By the way, Mariota still is the nation's No. 1 rated QB and has yet to throw an interception. (Throwing that in, Ian, to quell some media overreaction so your fan overreaction to media overreaction might re-react toward a more realistic place).




Paul from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Ted I am a very loyal Oregon Duck fan and was very disappointed with our loss at Stanford. That being said I think a few different bounces of the ball and the end could have played out differently. Regardless, true champions find a way to deal with adversity and we, the Ducks, did not adapt and overcome. My comment/question is this. I agree Stanford has a good team but I think there overall offensive balance is questionable. The ground game is awesome but there passing attack is average at best and tends to be liability. If Stanford gets put behind in a game and has to abandon their ground and pound game plan, they struggle, which is what happened against Utah. I believe in a game against a team that can play with them physically that Stanford will have issues due to their lack of a decent passing attack.

Ted Miller: I hear you. In fact, I think both Kevin and I have questioned Stanford at times about its middling passing game, which has shown flashes but not advanced as much this season as we anticipated it would in August. The Cardinal ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing offense with just 183 yards per game.

And yet.

Even though Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is not putting up big numbers, he ranks 17th in ESPN Stats & Information's total quarterback rating. Hogan is running the Cardinal offense efficiently, even if he only ranks fifth in the conference by the old school pass efficiency measure.

Coach David Shaw has said he would never throw if he knew he'd gain four yards every run. The Cardinal is averaging 4.8 yards per run.

Hogan has thrown well at times, and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranks third in the conference. He's accounted for 15 touchdowns -- 13 passing -- and protects the football.

And there's always this annoying tidbit: Shaw is 31-5. His Stone Age, antiquated, hopelessly conservative, 1970s football has Stanford winning 86 percent of his games.

Is Stanford the sort of team that makes a 14-point deficit look like nothing? No. Did Utah mute the Cardinal for three quarters? Yes, though I think the Utes success on offense was a bigger story in that game.

Could a team like, say, Alabama thwart Stanford because it is as big and physical as the Cardinal? Maybe.

One of the things I really wanted to see this season was for them to try.




Tony Jones from Chandler, Ariz. writes: Ted, I've been keeping an eye on the Jeff Sagarin rankings the last couple of weeks, waiting for verbal pitchforks to be hurled from Sun Devils fans ranting about how ASU is barely getting a sniff in the AP (21st), USA Today (22nd) and BCS (19th) polls while hanging out in the Top 10 in Sagarin's metrics (currently 9th). So when I saw your piece discussing the Championship Drive Ratings and Football Power Index, I was curious to see where ASU ranked. The Sun Devils rank higher in both the CDR (6th) and FPI (7th) than in Sagarin's wizardry. I'm an Arizona alum, so it makes little difference to me, but should ASU fans be Michael Crowing about where they are in the BCS and going all in with their disrespect cards? BTW, I think it's also interesting that the Wildcats are ranked 24th by Sagarin and 28th in the FPI, but are 44th in the CDR. Much bigger disparity than the Sun Devils.

Ted Miller: Kevin has Arizona State 18th and I have them 19th. And both of us have noticed how the Sun Devils rank higher with the computers, most notably the Championship Drive Rating, ESPN Stats & Information's complex metric that measures a team's resume.

But I also know why the Sun Devils are being held back due to purely human reasons.

No. 1: The controversial ending against Wisconsin. No. 2: The loss to Notre Dame.

Those are not "bad" losses. But those two results tie the Sun Devils to the wagons of the Badgers and Fighting Irish, and both provide drag.

The officiating implosion at the end of Arizona State's win over the Badgers means voters don't feel comfortable elevating the Sun Devils decisively over the Badgers, who in fact rank ahead of ASU in both polls. Voters feel further justified doing so because the Sun Devils lost to the Fighting Irish, who are presently unranked after losing to Pittsburgh.

This is a case of Arizona State's marquee win -- Wisconsin -- not earning them the poll respect it typically would, and that is understandable to a certain degree. The Badgers feel like they might miss out on an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game because of that loss, one that they put an asterisk beside.

Yet, as I typically think when reading questions like this: Just keep winning. If the Sun Devils win the rest of their regular season games, including a Nov. 23 date at UCLA, they would jump into the top 10. And if they win the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl, they might finish in the top-five.




Ron from Maricopa, Ariz., writes: This article I believe is incorrect. Colorado received a waiver for playing two FCS games and theoretically they can go to a bowl if they win out. Two games are doable: Cal and Utah. USC is probably too much. But Buffs should be motivated this week for at least the possibility of a bowl.

Ted Miller: Correct. If Colorado wins its final three games -- California, USC and at Utah -- it will become bowl eligible.

And that certainly would be an amazing accomplishment for the Buffaloes in their first season under Mike MacIntyre.




Kevin from Oklahoma City writes: I know there is still plenty of season left and lots can change but out of curiosity if ASU were to win out and Stanford suffers an upset somewhere along the way, allowing Oregon to take the north...who would host the title game? Would Oregon get to host based on overall record?

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon. (Answer is the same from last week!)
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is pleased. It has just been noted to him that his Ducks showcased brilliant coverage in the secondary during their 45-24 win at Washington. It's the same observation that had been made by Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, but you get the feeling that Aliotti is not weary of hearing about it.

He admits he even allowed himself some extra time to savor the blanketing of white on black during a postgame film session with his players.

"I said, 'Look at this! There's nobody open for [Washington QB Keith] Price to throw the ball to!'" Aliotti said.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti spent 24 years on the Oregon coaching staff, including 17 as defensive coordinator.
Just like any other coach, Aliotti will tell you the only statistic that matters is about three letters, not numbers: W-I-N. That said, he takes a lot of pride in his defense and the players he sends onto the field. While Aliotti projects an amusing, avuncular personality, just below the surface is an intense competitor. That pride and competitiveness led to his postgame tirade two-plus weeks ago after Washington State scored two late touchdowns against his reserve players in a 62-38 Ducks win.

"That's total [bleep] that he threw the ball at the end of the game like he did," Aliotti said to reporters. "And you can print that and you can send it to [Cougars coach Mike Leach], and he can comment too. I think it's low class, and it's [bleep] to throw the ball when the game is completely over against our kids that are basically our scout team."

It might have been the most controversial moment of his 38-year career, and it cost him $5,000 after he was fined and reprimanded by the Pac-12. Aliotti apologized to Leach and called himself "embarrassed" in a release from the school two days later.

"It was probably an old guy who didn't understand the Internet, how the media can get going so fast," Aliotti said. "Just making an honest, simple statement about what I thought at the time. Obviously, I made a huge mistake by overstepping my bounds. I shouldn't have said those things. These days, you've got to be politically correct. Not one of my strong suits."

While, no, those comments weren't terribly smart coming from a veteran coach, it's not difficult to ascertain the source of Aliotti's frustration. While there typically have been hat tips to his defense during Oregon's rise to elite national power, most of the nation sees Oregon as being all about offense. That high-tempo, flashy offense is the big story when it rolls up eye-popping numbers, and it's the big story when it gets slowed down.

Recall the gloating from SEC fans about Auburn, with a middling SEC defense, shutting down the Ducks in their 22-19 victory in the 2010 national title game? Why was it not almost as notable that Oregon held Auburn to 18 fewer points than the Tigers averaged against SEC defenses?

Or when Stanford ruined Oregon's national title hopes last fall in a 17-14 overtime win, it was all about the Cardinal shutting down the Ducks with nary a mention of Aliotti's defense holding Stanford to 10 points below its season scoring average.

There's, of course, an obvious answer: The winning team sets the postgame agenda and analysis. Amid all the Ducks winning since 2009 -- 54-7 record -- the offense almost always leads.

That's apparently the big story again as No. 3 Oregon visits No. 5 Stanford on Thursday: Will the Stanford defense be able to thwart QB Marcus Mariota, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Ducks again?

Yet here's a bet that the game won't turn on that. Here's a bet that Stanford's defense doesn't even approach its success from last year and that the bigger issue will be whether Stanford's struggling offense can score enough to keep it close.

Because, by the way, it's Oregon that enters the game with the Pac-12's best defense, not Stanford.

Oregon ranks first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in both scoring defense (16.9 PPG) and yards per play (4.41). It leads the Pac-12 and ranks sixth in the nation in both pass efficiency defense and turnovers forced (23).

And this is happening after losing three All-Pac-12 linebackers, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.

Stanford coach David Shaw has noticed.

"They are missing three dynamic football players," Shaw said. "The crazy part is, without those outstanding players, the defense as a whole looks better. They are fast. They are big."

Shaw is one of more than a few Pac-12 coaches who frequently gush about Aliotti's defense, about how he maximizes his players' talents and puts them in position to be successful and how his perplexing, flexible scheme is both sound and sometimes baffling.

"It's a different scheme than most 3-4 teams," Shaw said. "It takes some getting used to, to prepare for it."

The enduring ideas about Oregon's defense, even when it is given credit, are quasi-dismissive compliments: scrappy, aggressive, quick, blitz-heavy. Those words are no longer accurate. The Ducks have comparable future NFL talent with many of the nation's top defenses, starting a secondary chock-full of future NFL starters.

Things have changed in part because winning has bolstered recruiting. The Ducks are no longer undersized. They are fast and big -- see eight defensive linemen in the regular rotation who are 6-foot-4 or taller, including three over 6-6. The secondary has become -- and will continue to be -- an NFL pipeline. And at linebacker, things are going fairly well for Alonso these days.

The improved talent has meshed with a good scheme, but Aliotti and his staff also are good at teaching and making sure each player understands what his assignments are. And trusts them.

"Our players believing in what they are doing," first-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "I think Nick and the defensive staff have done a great job of taking advantage of our overall strengths and maybe hiding our potential weaknesses a little bit. I think, collectively, it's a ton of guys playing hard."

Aliotti tweaks things every year. This season, the Ducks are blitzing less, due in large part to the myriad mobile quarterbacks in the Pac-12, a group that includes Stanford's Kevin Hogan, though their respectable 2.88 sacks per game suggest they are still getting pressure on the opposing quarterback.

We won't know if this turns out to be Aliotti's best unit until season's end, but it's certainly good enough to merit a spot on the marquee next to the Ducks' ludicrous speed offense.

And, yes, Aliotti wouldn't mind if he and his players received some credit.

"It's about winning games, but we do all take pride in our job," he said.

Pac-12: November stretch run

November, 1, 2013
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It's a coaching cliche: The games you remember are played in November. Or call November college football games the proverbial "crunch time." The schedule has turned toward the final quarter of the 2013 season, so the screws are tightening. Preseason dreams shortly will be realized. Or quashed.

It's a pretty good bet -- darn near a certainty, in fact -- that the Pac-12 will produce enough eligible teams to fill out the spots in its seven contracted bowls.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesCan Marcus Mariota lead Oregon to the national title?
Three teams, Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, already are bowl eligible. Four other teams need just one more win: Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington. Three others need two: USC (because of its 13-game schedule, USC needs seven wins), Utah and Washington State. And just one, 1-7 California, has been eliminated, though Colorado faces a steep climb toward three more wins.

Further, that bowl schedule could include an extra spot if Oregon plays for the national title, meaning the Rose Bowl could pick another conference team, provided it's ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings. The Rose Bowl is not obligated, by the way, to pick the loser of the Pac-12 title game. It could, for example, pick the runner-up of the North or South Division.

As far as the division races go, Oregon and Stanford play Nov. 7 for the top spot in the North. The Ducks are 5-0 in conference play and Stanford is 4-1, having lost at Utah. Though the Cardinal won at Oregon State last weekend, the Beavers, at 4-1, also could get into the mix.

In the South, Arizona State, at 3-1, has a one-game lead over Arizona, UCLA and USC. The only head-to-head matchups so far among those teams is Arizona State's win over USC and USC's win over Arizona. So lots of football left before the South sorts itself out. Things could get chaotic with a multi-team tie, or one team might surge and leave no doubt.

The good news, players and coaches will tell you with an extreme degree of earnestness over the next few weeks, is they are going to play 'em one game at at time.

Team(s) with most to prove: You can't narrow the South Division down yet, with three second-year coaches trying to push past the other two in the conference pecking order -- and USC lingering as a potential spoiler with an interim head coach.

Arizona and Rich Rodriguez? Arizona State and Todd Graham? UCLA and Jim Mora? Each is looking to lead his previously meandering program to a higher level, toward Pac-12 and national legitimacy. The only way to do that is at the others' expense.

The Sun Devils and Bruins were the preseason favorites, so you can say they have the most pressure. But if Rodriguez loses a second consecutive time to Graham, you can bet he'll feel a bit of pressure from disgruntled Wildcats fans.

Team with the most to lose: Oregon probably needs to be perfect to play for the national title. That means five more wins and a 13-0 finish in a Pac-12 that is as deep as it's been in years. Perhaps ever. The Ducks have done everything else over the past four years. They played for a national title (2010), won a Rose Bowl (2011) and won a Fiesta Bowl (2012), finishing with a final No. 2 ranking. The only thing left is to finish atop the final polls after hoisting the crystal football.

Four players to keep an eye on:

  • Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: He's a leading Heisman Trophy contender with his toughest games ahead. He not only can lead the Ducks to their first national title, he also can grab the bronze statue along the way.
  • Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey's been out of the headlines mostly because of the Wildcats’ lackluster schedule. But if he again leads the nation in rushing and the Wildcats make a push in the South, he might earn at least an invitation to the Heisman ceremony.
  • Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: While Arizona is still in the hunt, it feels like the South game of the year will be Arizona State's visit to UCLA on Nov. 23. Here's a bet that the QB who plays better in that game will lead his team into the Pac-12 championship game.
  • Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: See Kelly.
Biggest trap game: We have two. Stanford's visit to USC on Nov. 16, the weekend after the Oregon game, and Oregon's trip to Arizona on Nov. 23. Oregon and Stanford have dominated those series of late and both are good on the road. But if you were looking for a not-so-obvious place either might faceplant, those games are as good a bet as any.

Fearless November prediction: Mariota, a few weeks after winning the Heisman Trophy, is going to lead his team to a victory over Alabama in the national title game.

Calm before Oregon-Stanford hype

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Apologies to the eight Pac-12 teams playing this trick-or-treat week, but this slate of games really is a light murmur before the hype volume is turned up to 11 next week.

The conference's two highest-ranked teams -- No. 2 Oregon and No. 5 Stanford -- are not only off this week, they square off next Thursday in what should be the Pac-12 game of the year.

That doesn't mean there aren't games worth watching over the next three days. Arizona State will try to prove it can beat a solid team on the road Thursday night at Washington State. USC's visit to Oregon State is intriguing on Friday night. And there are always upset possibilities as Arizona and UCLA are heavy favorites at California and Colorado, respectively.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota will have the opportunity to make a Heisman Trophy statement as well as put the Ducks in the top position in the Pac-12 race next Thursday at Stanford.
But those games won't attract eyeballs from all areas of the country the way the Ducks-Cardinal showdown will. Oregon will be trying to polish its national championship contender bona fides with its toughest test yet -- Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota also could make a Heisman Trophy statement, and Stanford will be trying to take control of the Pac-12's North Division, as it did last year when it shocked the heavily favored Ducks 17-14 in overtime in Autzen Stadium.

Still, the primary focus for both teams was and will be more on themselves this week. There's recruiting calls to make and injured guys needing to get treatment. Both teams have banged-up players whose presence could be critical for the matchup, most notably Stanford with defensive end Henry Anderson and receiver Devon Cajuste. Stanford already announced that defensive end Ben Gardner is out for the season with a pectoral injury.

Earnest game preparation won't begin until the weekend, as both teams are trying to stick to a typical game-week schedule.

Even though both coaches want to keep the emotions contained and treat the matchup like any other, there's no question that the buzz started on their respective campuses not long after each dispatched a tough opponent last Saturday, with the Cardinal winning 20-12 at Oregon State and Oregon running away from UCLA in the fourth quarter for a 42-14 victory.

"We know that it's there," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "The guys know what the game is going to be about."

The teams have split their last four meetings, with Stanford winning in 2009 and 2012. Shaw is 1-1 as the Cardinal head coach against the Ducks and he was 1-1 as the team's offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh. This will be Mark Helfrich's first taste as the Oregon head coach; he was the Ducks' offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly the previous four meetings.

While the game will be heated and the stakes high, Shaw and Helfrich seem to get along well. They chatted frequently during the Pac-12 meetings in May. They certainly have a lot in common, as both replaced charismatic former head coaches credited with creating a national power before bolting for the NFL.

And, yes, they talked about exactly that.

"Mark and I talked about that a couple of times," Shaw said. "I think he's done it perfectly. You have to completely take your ego out of it. So many people say from the outside, 'How are you going to make this your program?' You look at it and say, 'This is not my program, it's the kids' program.' Every decision you make is what's best for the kids. And if the scheme is great, who cares if they call it Chip Kelly's scheme? Or Jim Harbaugh's scheme? Whoever, it doesn't matter. The things that work, you don't change. The things that don't work, you take them out."

However, they won't be chatting much over the next six days.

Both coaches subscribed to the notion of nameless, faceless opponents and every game being equally big. That's what elite programs do. Preparation is always the same. Every game is big when conference and national titles are the chief goal.

But the fact is the Oregon-Stanford game is bigger, and has been now for going on four years. We know this because all of the college football nation will be tuning in a week from now, just as it did last year, and in 2011 and 2010.

Mailbag: QBs, Heisman, dominant teams

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
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Nine out of 10 doctors recommend the Friday mailbag. The 10th is a loquacious colon and rectal surgeon, so to be honest we don't really care if he hangs out here or not.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Swede from Tucson, Ariz., writes: I'm wondering if the one-game suspension and the two early byes for Arizona destroyed any discussion of Ka'deem Carey's efforts as being a Heisman candidate. He's 1-2 games behind most other RBs at this point, yet still 11th in the country in total yards (and averaging 160 yds/game - best in the country). If that pace can be sustained for the remainder of the season, it's entirely possible he will have the most yards gained (again). What is it that is keeping him from even being considered in the Heisman discussion?

Ted Miller: Carey's case has been hurt by the reasons you mention, as well as Arizona losing two games. You'll notice that the top Heisman candidates almost exclusively play for highly ranked teams.

But Carey could get back in the race, particularly if Florida State and Oregon falter with their previously perfect QBs posting poor performances.

Regardless, I think Carey could enter the discussion if he posts big numbers and leads the Wildcats to three consecutive victories, which would include a win over Pac-12 South Division rival UCLA on Nov. 9.

If Carey still led the nation in rushing and the Wildcats were 7-2 and nationally ranked, he'd start to raise eyebrows.

To really extend this, if the Wildcats end up winning the South Division and he leads the nation in rushing at the end of the regular season, the odds would get better for him to get an invitation to New York.

Carey needs a lot to happen to get into the discussion, including for other top guys to slip. But it's far from inconceivable.

In my mind, he's the best running back in the country.


Koosh from New York writes: There are so many cliches when referring to two quarterback systems "two quarterbacks means you don't have ONE quarterback", etc. But I find that it is mostly about confidence. See Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and at the Niners. As a former quarterback, he knew that a confident quarterback was a winning quarterback and spoke effusively about both of them at every chance he got. Which brings me to my question, even though [Jared Goff] has had some turnovers, Sonny Dykes has created a quarterback controversy at Cal where the ONLY thing going for them this season was that their freshman phenom was putting up video game-like numbers. Why put that kind of doubt into an 18 year old's head? For the first 3 games, I thought our offense could win almost any game for us. Since [Zach Kline] has gotten into the mix, my optimism has waned considerably and I don't think it is a coincidence.

Ted Miller: It's a tough situation at Cal, and Sonny Dykes is looking for answers. One of them might be changing quarterbacks.

Will that hurt Goff's confidence? Perhaps. It would be understandable if it did. But the sort of QB who's going to lead Cal out of the Pac-12 basement would use a demotion as motivation to get better. You cannot underestimate how important resolve and mental toughness is in football, particularly at a highly scrutinized position like quarterback.

If Goff pouts or becomes gun-shy and obsessed with making mistakes and loses his confidence, he's probably not the right guy to lead Dykes' offense. My impression of Goff is he won't do any of those things. He'll just focus on what went wrong and try to get better.

The simple fact is Goff's performance slipped once the Pac-12 schedule started. As Jon Wilner pointed out:
Goff in [3] non-conference games: 7 TDs, 4 INTs

Goff in [4] conference games: 2 TDs, 3 INTs.

Is Kline the answer? No idea. But the preseason competition was close enough that Kline probably deserves a shot, particularly with things going as poorly as they are on both sides of the ball.

Of course, a coach has to know his players. It's in his best interest to know who needs his confidence consistently massaged and who responds better to tough love. It's a fine line. My feeling is that a coach can provide the unvarnished truth to a player in one-on-one meetings, but should spare the rod when talking to the media.

I haven't read any quotes from Dykes that seemed to throw Goff under the bus.


Matt from Washington, D.C. writes: What are your thoughts on UW's up-tempo offense thus far? I understand that this is where much of college football is headed, but at some point shouldn't UW play to its strengths, especially at receiver? (i.e. getting the ball to ASJ and Kasen Williams more) I feel like I've seen enough screen plays to Mickens and Kevin Smith to last all season.

Ted Miller: The biggest problem with Washington's offense isn't growing pains due to the new up-tempo style, it's Keith Price's thumb.

Pick up a football and throw it. Now imagine your thumb is working at about 50 percent. Not good.

The Huskies had a horrific performance at Arizona State, but otherwise the offense has been good, including the losses to Stanford and Oregon, which have the two best defenses in the Pac-12.

I think the chief issue in Tempe was Price's thumb. It will be interesting to see how well he throws against Cal on Saturday. I'm sure Price and coach Steve Sarkisian are both looking forward to the bye next week before playing host to Colorado.

But I do hear you: There is something to be said for targeting Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins more. Based on what Sarkisian has said of late, I think he agrees with you.


Eric from Somerset, Colo., writes: You guys are morons! I kid. I kid, because I love. Yes, AZ looks to be the better team against my Buffs. But! IF CU can put together a complete game - they've shown solid spurts in all phases at times this year, which has been lacking for a while - give Sefo some time, get Adkins and Powell going. Have Gillam stalk Carey the entire game, since it's at home, with a black-out (for cancer) at homecoming, there may be a little MikeMac Magic in the air, and they steal a win. If so? Is it a fluke, or do you guys see them pulling off two more wins and getting bowl eligible for the first time in nearly an eternity? Oh...we all remember the glory days (at least those of us over 40, who were there). Go Buffs!

Ted Miller: The Buffs need three more wins to become bowl eligible, so I rate that as a long shot, particularly with the schedule ahead -- six consecutive games with no bye, including three on the road.

As for your specific take on the meeting against Arizona on Saturday... maybe. Stranger things have happened. If the Buffs can slow down Carey and force B.J. Denker to throw, that might invite trouble for the Wildcats, though Denker has been passing much better of late. Further, the greatly improved Wildcats defense might be missing two key pieces: spur LB Tra'Mayne Bondurant, who is out, and bandit safety Jared Tevis, who is highly questionable.

Still, I've got the Wildcats winning decisively, as does Kevin. There's a reason Arizona is favored by nearly two touchdowns on the road.

There is no question Colorado is vastly improved. Yet I'd rate the chances 50-50 whether the Buffs can get two more wins down the home stretch of the season and finish 5-7. The most favorable opportunity to pick up win No. 4 is on Nov. 16, at home against struggling California. Otherwise, each of the other five foes at present own winning records, so the Buffs will have to post an upset as a likely big underdog.

The Buffs are young and they are playing hard under Mike MacIntyre. There is reason for optimism for the future. Even a 4-8 finish would represent a significant step forward from the woeful 1-11 performance last year.


Wat from Parts Unknown writes: The claim that Oregon has been the most consistently dominant team in the country is a strange one. FSU has won games 41-13, 62-7, 54-6, 48-34, 63-0 and 51-14. Baylor has won games 69-3, 70-13, 70-7, 73-42, 35-25, 71-7. Neither of those are far removed from Oregon's 66-3, 59-10, 59-14, 55-16, 57-16, 45-24 and 62-38. Other than some attempt to parse the relative merits of 4-3 Washington, 3-3 Boston College and 2-4 Kansas State, that is a pretty equal rate of dominance. Especially considering that ASU had a larger margin of victory over UW than UO did. You guys on the west coast might not want to acknowledge it, but Baylor is the #1 offensive team in the country (in points and yards and by a large margin) and FSU has the largest scoring margin in the country. Further, FSU has the most impressive wins of the 3, over 5-2 Maryland and 6-1 Clemson. It is fine to prefer Oregon over FSU and Baylor, but don't base it on false claims of "most explosive", "most weapons", "fastest", "best offense", "best scheme" etc. because all of those are factually false based on actual numbers and statistics against similar opposition. Instead, go with something that is actually true, such as how Oregon has earned it by finishing in the top 10 every year since 2008 and winning 2 consecutive BCS bowls. But when you do, don't complain about the SEC pulling the same "track record" argument also. But don't complain about the SEC's unquantifiable and sometimes demonstrably false "toughest, deepest conference/best defenses/best up front" propaganda while trying to contrive nonsense to artificially elevate Oregon over FSU and Baylor.

Ted Miller: The Pac-12 blog appreciates your note and the effort it took. For that reason, we are not going to go item by item and point out how you cherry-picked several things, such has Florida State's scoring margin being all of 0.6 points higher than Oregon's, or not accounting for the differences between playing at home and on the road. Or that Baylor is eliminated from the "consistently dominant" argument by winning only by 10 at Kansas State, where it trailed entering the fourth quarter.

Further, we won't tweak the idea of including Maryland, which just lost by 24 points at Wake Forest, as an "impressive" win.

(Would you pick Maryland over Tennessee? Of course you wouldn't. Or, for that matter, would you pick Boston College or Kansas State to beat Washington, which has whipped Boise State, Illinois and Arizona? Of course you wouldn't).

I continue to think that Oregon has the "most explosive", "most weapons", "fastest", "best offense", "best scheme" based on what I've seen this season, and I'm far from alone on that. There is a reason both polls have Oregon ranked No. 2 behind Alabama and the Ducks are getting the second-most No. 1 votes.

All that said, there is no question the most impressive performance so far this year by any team was Florida State's dominant win at Clemson.

Could you make an argument that FSU has been just as "consistently" dominant as Oregon? Absolutely.

Could you make a sound argument that FSU deserves to be ranked No. 1? Sure.

But I also think the assertion that Oregon has been the most consistently dominant team this year doesn't quite reach the realm of strange.

Strange would be claiming that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is so detail-oriented that he couldn't stand the idea of trash falling in between a trash can and its plastic liner in a hotel meeting room so he got on his hands and knees and fixed the liner and replaced the trash in the bag.

Oh... wait. That's true.


Jeff from Eugene, Ore., wrties: If you were lucky enough to be me, would you rather go to College GameDay or sleep in.

Ted Miller: That you even ask this makes me question whether this is the real Jeff from Eugene.

Everybody knows that if you sleep in and miss GameDay when it's on your campus, Corso will haunt you dreams, playing the role of Jacob Marley, and give you the full-on Ebenezer Scrooge treatment.

Three ghosts of College Football -- past (Knute Rockne), present (Nick Saban... eeeek!) and future (Scott Frost) -- and lots of traumatic experiences later, and you will see the error of your ways and never contemplate missing GameDay again.

You. Have. Been. Warned! Potential Impostor Jeff From Eugene!

State of Oregon takes center stage

October, 22, 2013
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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.

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