Oregon Ducks: Kevin Hogan

It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.

UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.

Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.

Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.

USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.

Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.

California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.

WE'LL SEE

Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.

Summer Pac-12 power rankings

May, 27, 2014
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While summer is considered the "offseason," we all know there is no offseason. Every Pac-12 team is either gaining -- or losing -- ground right now due to its focus and effort at getting better, both on a team and individual level.

So how do things stand in advance of teams beginning preseason camp?

Glad you asked (and you can view the final 2013 power rankings here).

1. Oregon: I know. We always rank Oregon here, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the return of QB Marcus Mariota and a veteran offensive line is just too tantalizing. The Ducks look like the Pac-12's best bet for an entrant in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. UCLA: I know. We're dropping the two-time defending Pac-12 champions to No. 3, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the Pac-12 blog keeps reviewing the Bruins' depth chart and contemplating a trip to Vegas ... 20/1 ... hmm.

3. Stanford: The quandary with Stanford: Was the defensive front seven dominant this spring because it's going to again be among the best in the nation (probably)? Or was it because four new starters on the O-line means a step back on offense (maybe)? Two other issues: 1. Replacing D-coordinator Derek Mason; 2. Can QB Kevin Hogan improve enough on short and intermediate throws to take advantage of a strong crew of receivers?

4. USC: The Trojans enter the final season under NCAA scholarship reductions with a starting 22 good enough to win the Pac-12, but depth and health are issues. There is a lot to like on both sides of the ball, though the offensive line probably rates as the most critical question mark.

5. Arizona State: The defending South champions are going to be tough to stop on offense behind QB Taylor Kelly and WR Jaelen Strong, but replacing nine starters -- and just about all its star power -- on defense is not an issue you can write off with a "Hey, we've got lots of great JC transfers coming in."

6. Washington: The return of QB Cyler Miles from suspension provides a big boost and probably means that the Huskies can be a factor in the North race. The secondary is a concern, and that's not a good concern to have in the QB-laden conference this fall. And there is some mystery as to whether there will be growing pains during the transition to Chris Petersen from Steve Sarkisian.

7. Oregon State: We expect the Beavers defense to be better this fall compared to last season, so the big question is how do the 10 guys on offense complement QB Sean Mannion? The O-line -- again -- is a question, and it's not easy to replace the nation's best receiver. Still, we expect the 2014 Beavers to be better than the 2013 version. Perhaps much better.

8. Washington State: If you are looking for a true conference dark horse, it's the Cougars. There are questions on the O-line and on defense, but the passing game should be outstanding with third-year starter Connor Halliday and a deep, talented crew of receivers. Put it this way: What does this team look like if it improves as much in Mike Leach's third year as it did in Year 2?

9. Arizona: The Wildcats are outstanding at receiver, good on the offensive line and solid at safety. There are questions just about everywhere else, and the strange thing is that quarterback might be the least worrisome. Still, to show how we view the Pac-12's depth again this fall, the Wildcats over/under for wins is seven.

10. Utah: The Utes situation seems fairly simple. If the production at quarterback is consistent, this is a bowl team. The best bet is with a healthy Travis Wilson, though it really is about just starting the same guy all 12 games.

11. Colorado: The Buffaloes should take another step forward in Year 2 under Mike MacIntyre, but the real issue is whom can they crawl over to rise in the conference pecking order? With about six or seven projected senior starters this fall, the Buffs might not make a move up until 2015.

12. California: If the bet were to pick who finishes last in the Pac-12 in 2014, Cal or the field, I'd be reluctant to tap Cal. I'd much rather go with the field because I think the Bears were awful in Year 1 under Sonny Dykes because of an epidemic of injuries and a poorly-coached defense. The latter should be solved by the hiring of coordinator Art Kaufman, and I can't foresee the injury situation being nearly as bad.
You remember the three-headed monster, right? It's about returning production that will scare -- terrify! --opponents. Or not.

On offense, it's elite combinations at quarterback, running back and receiver.

On defense, it's elite combinations of a leading tackler, a leader in sacks and leader in interceptions.

This year, we're breaking things down by division.

We looked at the South Division offensive three-headed monsters on Monday. On Tuesday, we’ll take a look at the North Division offense.

Only Cal and Washington State return their three-headed leaders from last season. The other four teams have all had a change of some kind. And there are some big question marks surrounding a couple of schools -- especially the one in Seattle.

Let’s take a look:

1. Oregon

QB Marcus Mariota, RB Byron Marshall, WR, Bralon Addison

The skinny: Heisman candidate + rising star + explosive playmaker = nasty. Though losing Josh Huff and De’Anthony Thomas, the Oregon offense should be explosive once again. Mariota led the nation in adjusted QBR last season to go with 31 passing touchdowns to just four interceptions. Marshall is a returning 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns last season, and Addison hauled in nine scores.

2. Stanford

QB Kevin Hogan, RB ?, WR Ty Montgomery

The skinny: The Cardinal get the No. 2 spot here based on experience at quarterback and the fact Montgomery is returning after a second-team all-league year. And whoever the “regular” running back is, be it Kelsey Young (the leading returner in yards), Ricky Seale, Barry Sanders or Remound Wright, he will be running behind a stellar offensive line. Worth noting that Hogan and Montgomery had more rushing yards last year than any of the listed running backs. But Stanford's success running the football leads the Pac-12 blog to give it the benefit of the doubt.

3. Oregon State

QB Sean Mannion, RB Terron Ward, WR Richard Mullaney

The skinny: Though the Beavers lose Brandin Cooks, Mannion has the potential to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country after throwing 37 touchdowns last year. Storm Woods had more carries and touchdowns, but Ward had more yards, so they’ll likely work in unison, again. Mullaney had 52 catches last season.

4. Washington State

QB Connor Halliday, RB Marcus Mason, WR Gabe Marks

The skinny: WSU gets the edge in the rankings over Washington (for now) because there are still a lot of question marks around the Huskies. Halliday tossed 34 touchdowns last year and threw for nearly 4,600 yards. Marks has blossomed into a bona fide playmaker and should be in the mix for all-conference honors. The Cougars don’t do much in the way of running the football. But when they did last year, Mason totaled 429 yards on 87 carries.

5. Washington

QB?, RB Jesse Callier, WR, Jaydon Mickens

The skinny: Washington is one of those programs that could end up in one of the top two spots by the end of the season. But for now, there is too much unknown. The status of QB Cyler Miles is still up in the air. Callier has the most returning attempts (one more than Dwayne Washington and five more than Deontae Cooper) and the Huskies expect Kasen Williams back by the fall at receiver. Mickens caught 65 balls and five touchdowns last year and the aforementioned RB trio combined for 10 touchdowns.

6. California

QB Jared Goff, RB Khalfani Muhammad, WR Bryce Treggs

The skinny: There is a lot of potential in this group. The Bears just need that potential to translate into points on the field. Goff threw for 3,508 yards in his debut season, and Treggs caught 77 of his passes. Though just one for a touchdown (Chris Harper and Kenny Lawler each caught five). Though the departed Brendan Bigelow had more carries, Muhammad outperformed him with more yards and touchdowns.

Spring position breakdown: QBs

February, 24, 2014
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Spring has sprung in the Pac-12, with Stanford starting spring practices this week and several schools following suit next week.

Ergo, we break down where teams stand with each position group, starting with quarterbacks.

Arizona: The Wildcats probably have the most wide-open QB competition, with four guys having a legitimate chance to replace the departed B.J. Denker. Three are transfers from big-time programs: senior Jesse Scroggins (USC), sophomore Connor Brewer (Texas) and junior Jerrard Randall (LSU). The fourth, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, was one of the biggest stars in the 2013 recruiting class. Don't expect much to be settled by the end of spring, though coach Rich Rodriguez might at least allude to some sort of pecking order. Or a top three.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are strong at QB with senior Taylor Kelly, a third-year starter who has put up big numbers the past two seasons, and junior Mike Bercovici, a big-armed backup -- perhaps, in fact, the best backup in the Pac-12. That's why Michael Eubank opted to transfer to Samford in Birmingham, Ala. It will be interesting to see which of the youngsters on the roster emerge as a No.3, a guy who might challenge Bercovici in 2015.

California: It seems unlikely that sophomore Jared Goff will be unseated, particularly after Zach Kline opted to transfer. Goff was uneven last season -- his entire team was -- but flashed plenty of potential. He and a talented crew of receivers should get better this spring. The big question might be whether anyone challenges senior Austin Hinder for the backup job.

Colorado: Sophomore Sefo Liufau is solid as the returning starter. He took some lumps last season but also flashed plenty of promise -- as both a player and leader. After him, there's junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke, a redshirt sophomore, the likely backup. Depth is a problem, at least this spring. As the Boulder Daily Camera noted, "Five quarterbacks have left the CU program either to transfer to other schools or give up the sport entirely since the start of spring football last year. A sixth completed his eligibility last season." That's why the Buffs added walk-on Trent Sessions to the roster. He worked with the equipment staff last year.

Oregon: The Ducks probably feel pretty good about their third-year starter, junior Marcus Mariota, a leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate who would have been a first-round pick if he'd entered the 2014 NFL draft. The competition for the backup spot, however, will be interesting because Mariota is almost certain to enter the NFL draft after the season. Sophomores Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues are 2A and 2B, with Lockie first off the bench as the backup in 2013, but Rodrigues the more physically talented player as a runner and passer.

Oregon State: Like their friends to the south, Oregon State is fortunate its 2013 starter, Sean Mannion, decided to return instead of entering the NFL draft. Mannion's chief focus will be finding some receivers to replace the production of the departed Brandin Cooks. The battle for the backup job also will be interesting between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt. Of course, their battle might not resolve things much for 2015, with incoming Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio joining the fray after sitting out a season.

Stanford: It seems unlikely that two-year starter Kevin Hogan will be challenged for the starting job this spring, even though he had some ups and downs in 2013, but there is no lack of talent battling for the backup job. Junior Evan Crower was the backup in 2013, but redshirt freshman Ryan Burns is a big-time talent. As is incoming freshman Keller Chryst, who officially will arrive in the fall but, as a Palo Alto resident, figures to hang around spring practices.

UCLA: Heading into his third season running the offense, Brett Hundley gives the Bruins one of the best starting quarterbacks in the nation. He's a proven dual threat and leader who will be refining his game this spring and building chemistry with his receivers. After him, however, things are a bit iffy, in large part because of the 2013 preseason transfer of T.J. Millweard to Kansas. The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Of course, there is another QB out there some UCLA fans might be thinking about.

USC: The returning starter facing the most formidable challenge to his starting job this spring is probably Cody Kessler, even though Kessler played well in the second half of the 2013 season. With the transfer of Max Wittek, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, at the very least, sets up to be a high-quality backup next season. But plenty of folks think Browne has a legitimate shot to unseat Kessler, particularly with new coach Steve Sarkisian taking over.

Utah: There's still no final word on the long-term health issue that might end QB Travis Wilson's career, and anything decisive might not come for weeks. If Wilson gets cleared, the good bet is on him returning to the starting job. If not, a spring competition will begin between Adam Schulz, who stepped in when Wilson went down, and redshirt freshmen Conner Manning and Brandon Cox. In the fall, dual-threat QB Donovan Isom arrives.

Washington: Keith Price, a three-year starter, is gone, but the Huskies seemed fairly set at QB with sophomore backup Cyler Miles appearing plenty capable of stepping into the cockpit this spring. In limited action last season, Miles completed 61 percent of his throws for 418 yards with four TDs and two picks, and he also showed good mobility, rushing for 200 yards. The pecking order at least seemed set, that is, until Miles got into some off-field trouble that threatens his status for spring practice and perhaps beyond. If Miles is still suspended, that means opportunity comes knocking for sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams to make an impression.

Washington State: Connor Halliday will be a senior, three-year starter and the Cougars' top leader in the third season running Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense. He figures to put up huge numbers this fall with a strong crew of receivers. His 2013 backup, sophomore Austin Apodaca, opted to transfer, perhaps believing that redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman had the inside track to the starting job in 2015. Depth is a bit of a question, with the No. 3 this fall likely being true freshman Peyton Bender.

What lies ahead in 2014?

January, 8, 2014
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It’s never too early to start looking ahead to what’s in store for next year’s college football season. Per usual, we’ve got you covered.

Three major pieces are out today -- including one from our very own Ted Miller -- who looks at some of the questions that will sear on our brains until kickoff 2014.

One major point Ted brings up is the return of so many big-name quarterbacks -- specifically how loaded it is in the Pac-12.

Nine starters from 2013 are returning in 2014 -- headlined by potential first-round draft choices Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA. But also back are Taylor Kelly (ASU), Jared Goff (Cal), Sefo Liufau (Colorado), Sean Mannion (Oregon State), Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Cody Kessler (USC) and Connor Halliday (Washington State). We still need to see what the long-term diagnosis is for Utah's Travis Wilson.

Don’t be shocked if a few quarterback competitions “open up,” maybe at Stanford, USC or Washington State. But don’t be shocked, either, if experience wins out.

Adam Rittenberg also takes a look at some players to watch in 2014 -- including Mariota, Hundley and UCLA’s Myles Jack. Digging a little deeper in the conference, there are some extremely bright defensive stars to keep an eye on, including USC’s Addison Gillam and Arizona’s Scooby Wright. Washington’s Shaq Thompson could also emerge as a candidate for defensive player of the year.

Finally, Mark Schlabach offers up some bold predictions for 2014. Notable here is that he predicts an SEC team won’t win a national championship, and that Jameis Winston will win a second consecutive Heisman Trophy. Though Mariota and Hundley should be right up there in terms of preseason hype. Recall, the preseason favorite hasn’t fared well the last few years. Andrew Luck gave way to Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley stumbled to Johnny Manziel and Mariota slipped to Winston.

The next seven months should provide plenty of fodder.

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.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 this week:

When Stanford is on, it’s on: Home or away, when the Cardinal are at their best, they are tough to stop. And while Tyler Gaffney’s 22 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns were huge, obviously, it was the fact that the Cardinal could effectively set up play-action off of those runs that was a key to the game. Kevin Hogan was a very efficient 12-of-18 for 277 yards and a touchdown, including an average of 15.4 yards per completion. He was able to find Jordan Pratt, Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste (two catches, 120 yards) on some big plays. That more than anything kept the Sun Devils defense guessing all night.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDavid Shaw and Stanford celebrated another Pac-12 championship after running over Arizona State.
Line play was key: You need only see the final stat sheet of rushing yards to know which team won the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal pounded out 240 yards on 33 carries (5.5 yards per) with four touchdowns on the ground. Arizona State had just 138 yards on 43 carries with one touchdown for an average of 3.2 yards per carry. Part of that was Marion Grice not being available and D.J. Foster getting hurt. Part of it is Stanford’s run defense is really good. See the goal-line stand in the third quarter.

Not so special: It was a rough night for Arizona State from a special teams perspective. Punter Alex Garoutte averaged just 33 yards per punt, Zane Gonzalez missed his only field goal attempt (31 yards) and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery enjoyed an average of nearly 30 yards per kick return. Said Arizona State coach Todd Graham of his special teams: “It’s absolutely sad.”

Fun facts (via ESPN Stats & Information): With the loss, ASU falls to 7-1 at home this season and end an eight-game home winning streak. … Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1970-1971. … The Cardinal outscored ASU 80-42 in two games this season. … In its past 10 meetings with teams ranked in the AP Top 25, Stanford is 10-0, including 6-0 this season.

Oregon to the BCS? Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to hope. With NIU losing Friday night, it opened up the possibility of a second Pac-12 team, namely Oregon, going to a BCS bowl game since there are no non-AQ teams going to BCS bowl games this year. Michigan State’s win over Ohio State throws an additional wrench. Various projections are floating for Oregon. But the most likely scenario is still the non-BCS Alamo Bowl. Orange is all but a lock to be Ohio State-Clemson. Best bet for a BCS bowl is probably the Sugar against Alabama -- and of course the BCS ranking will play a role whether Oklahoma (currently No. 17) gets into the top 14. Texas beating Baylor and Oklahoma State taking care of business certainly would have helped. Neither happened.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in the final week of the regular season:

  1. Home-field advantage: Who will host the Pac-12 title game? That’s up to Arizona State (and Arizona, for that matter). The scenario is pretty simple. If Arizona State wins, the Sun Devils will finish with an 8-1 record in Pac-12 play and will host Stanford in the championship game. If Arizona wins, the Sun Devils will be 7-2, the same record as the Cardinal, and Stanford will host the championship game by virtue of its tiebreaker over the Sun Devils.
  2. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Kevin Casey/Getty ImagesArizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey has rushed for 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
    Home-field advantage (Take 2): Oregon hasn’t lost at home to Oregon State since the overtime game in 2007. Washington hasn’t lost at home to Washington State since 2007. UCLA hasn’t won at the Coliseum since 1997. The Cardinal have a 15-game home winning streak, longest in the country. Arizona State has a seven-game home winning streak. Home-field advantage is obviously important. And for the reasons listed in the first bullet point, the location of the title game is still unknown. But it hinges on the Territorial Cup, and the visiting team has won the past four.
  3. Battle of strengths: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, along with his 155.9 yards per game and 14-game streak of rushing for 100 yards or more, heads to Tempe to face an Arizona State defense that is third in the league against the run, yielding 123.4 yards per game.
  4. The Kelly factor: There are a lot of reasons why ASU is riding a six-game win streak heading into its showdown with Arizona. But one key reason has been the increased use of quarterback Taylor Kelly in the running game. Through the first five games when the Sun Devils were 3-2, Kelly averaged 7.8 rushes per game and 25.8 yards per game with zero touchdowns. Over the past six games, he’s averaging 12.5 rushes per game and 47 yards with eight touchdowns.
  5. Showdown in Tinseltown: The Trojans have won 12 of the past 14 meetings, though the Bruins took out the Trojans last season. Unlike last season's game, there is no bearing on the Pac-12 South title since ASU has already wrapped it up. But there is no shortage of storylines. Is this the game that ends Ed Orgeron’s magnificent run as head coach? Or is it the game that convinces Pat Haden to drop “interim” from his title and make him the guy. It’s a game with massive recruiting implications in Southern California and is always the best game in town, since there is no other football.
  6. Rocky Mountain blues: Neither Colorado nor Utah are going to a bowl game -- again. There is certainly more disappointment in Salt Lake City for a team that had high hopes. But after beating Stanford in October, the Utes have dropped five in a row. Colorado has four wins so far -- which was the total from the past two seasons combined, so coach Mike MacIntyre has things moving in the right direction. At this point, it’s about either team trying to build up some momentum.
  7. Civil showdown: Oregon is looking to extend its Civil War winning streak to six straight over Oregon State. Both teams had a rough November, but an Oregon win would give the Ducks a sixth-straight 10-win season. The Beavers, meanwhile, are trying to snap a four-game skid. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks second in the country in ESPN’s Total QBR ranking, while Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks leads the country with 141.8 receiving yards per game.
  8. Will the real Kevin Hogan please stand up: Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kevin Hogan had a career-high 98.9 Total QBR in Stanford’s 63-13 win against California. Hogan had career highs in passing yards (329), passing touchdowns (five) and 15-yard completions (15). Hogan bounced back from his career-low 23.1 Total QBR in Stanford’s loss to USC last Saturday.
  9. Stanford-Notre Dame quotable: Of course, we all remember how last year’s game ended in South Bend. Notre Dame’s goal-line stand in the rain, Stepfan Taylor failing to cross the goal line in overtime, etc. Coaches love to be reminded of stuff like that, and our own Ted Miller was kind enough to ask coach David Shaw about that play. His response: “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t watch that play again. I think I watched so many times last year that I don’t need to see it again. I know what happened.”
  10. Apples and apples: Washington State reached six wins for the first time since 2006 and could go to a bowl game for the first time since 2003. The Huskies are at the seven-win mark, a hump they’ve failed to get over of late, so this game has a tremendous impact on bowl pecking order. The Huskies are coming off a blowout win over Oregon State where Bishop Sankey rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He’s third in the nation in total yards. WSU safety Deone Bucannon, the Pac-12’s leading tackler, became the first Cougar to post back-to-back seasons of at least 100 tackles since the turn of the century.

Stat attack! Some Week 11 Pac-12 numbers

November, 12, 2013
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Some Pac-12 numbers for your review.

Number to the left is national rank.

Scoring offense

3. Oregon, 51.7 points per game
8. Arizona State, 43.7
T24. Oregon State, Washington, 37.2

Total offense

2. Oregon, 596.6 yards per game
10. Washington, 515.9
17. Arizona State, 490.4
25. Oregon State, 474.2

Rushing offense

7. Oregon, 301.5 yards per game
12. Arizona, 271.3
17. Washington, 229.0

Passing offense

2. Oregon State, 404.8 yards per game
7. Washington State, 365.0
8. California, 345.3
18. Arizona State, 304.8
20. Oregon, 295.0
25. Washington, 286.9

Note: Oregon's numbers took a dramatic fall after the loss at Stanford. The Ducks entered last week averaging 55.6 ppg., 632.1 ypg and and 331.5 rushing yards per game. Arizona State also went down after its tough win at Utah, but Washington used a blowout win against Colorado to perk up considerably.

Scoring defense

10. Oregon, 17.9 points per game
18. Stanford, 19.4
19. USC, 19.6
27. Washington, 21.8

Total defense

14. Arizona State, 332.7
17. USC, 339.5
20. Stanford, 348.8

Yards yielded per play (FBS foes only)

7. Oregon, 4.45 yards per play
11. Stanford, 4.75
20. USC, 4.93
23. Washington, 4.99
25. UCLA, 5.01
29. Arizona, 5.08
31. Arizona State, 5.10
35. Utah, 5.12

Pass-efficiency defense

8. Oregon
12. Washington
18. Arizona
20. Arizona State
21. USC

Note: The defensive numbers continue to be strong in the conference, with eight teams ranked in the nation's top 35 in yards per play, a great measure of a defense's efficiency. Further, five top-21 pass efficiency defenses is pretty incredible when you think about the QBs in the conference.

Rushing

2. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 152.6 yards per game
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 145.0
17. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 115.9
T23. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 102.8

Note: Carey lost the nation's lead because Boston College's Andre Williams piled up 295 yards at woeful New Mexico State. Gaffney has become the go-to guy in Stanford's offense, as the Cardinal has reclaimed its hard-nosed, run-first mentality.

Pass efficiency

7. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
14. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
18. Brett Hundley, UCLA
20. Keith Price, Washington

Note: Interesting that Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, as well as he is playing, is ranked 34th in passing efficiency. He's 11th in ESPN.com Total QBR.

Receiving yards per game

1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 149.3
5. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 117.9

Note: Lots of guys have fallen off among the national leaders here. Are these two the first-team All-Pac-12 receivers?

Sacks per game

T3. Trent Murphy, Stanford, 1.1
T15. Tony Washington, Oregon, 0.8
20. Devon Kennard, 0.8 (in 10 games)
T21. Trevor Reilly, Utah, .08

Note: Reilly is an underrated guy who is making a push for first-team All-Pac-12. Funny that picking the All-Pac-12 defense might be more challenging than the offense.

Random notes
  • Eight Pac-12 QBs are ranked in the top 44 of ESPN.com's total QBR: 2. Mariota, 11. Kelly, 13. Hundley; 17. Kevin Hogan, Stanford; 28. B.J. Denker, Arizona; 29. Mannion; 36. Price; 44. Travis Wilson, Utah.
  • With three regulars season games to play, a conference title game and bowl games ahead, nine Pac-12 players presently have at least four interceptions. Last year, nine players had at least four interceptions at season's end.
  • California has run 894 plays this year, most in the nation.
  • Washington has just five turnovers this year, tied for seventh fewest in the nation. Washington State's 27 turnovers ranks 122nd in the nation and last in the Pac-12.
  • Utah has just two interceptions. Only Kentucky has fewer.
  • USC and Arizona have recovered just three fumbles this year.
  • UCLA's Anthony Barr is tied for the nation's lead with Colorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe with five forced fumbles.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
10:00
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 this week:

1. Oregon has a Stanford problem: Used to be the other way around. Last year it felt more like Oregon had a Stanford inconvenience, not so much a problem. This year, there is little doubt and few excuses. The Cardinal were dominant through 50 minutes and just good enough in the final 10. The extent of Marcus Mariota’s injured knee remains a question. Still, he looked pretty spry in the fourth quarter, and there was ample opportunity along the way for the Ducks to make plays. But it was Stanford’s defense that came up with the stops/turnovers and the offense that shoved its tempo right down the Oregon front seven. This was the offensive line we’ve been waiting to see. And let’s not forget Kevin Hogan’s mobility. He was good enough in the passing game, but his touchdown run was huge, as were his breaking three tackles on a third-down scramble. The Ducks still have national cred. They’ve done too much over the last four years to lose it with one game. But as long as Stanford continues to push them around, they won’t be able to shake the questions about their physicality.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesIt was another long day for Cal's special teams, which allowed two punt returns for TDs to USC's Nelson Agholor.
2. Cal has a special-teams problem: We tip our cap to USC’s Nelson Agholor for his two touchdowns on punt returns -- the first a 75-yard return in the first quarter to open scoring and the second a 93-yard return at the end of the first half. Those were, of course, contributing scores to USC’s 62-28 shellacking of Cal, which is still seeking its first conference win. But this isn’t the first time Cal’s coverage team has had issues. Recall that it allowed two punt returns for touchdowns to Oregon’s Bralon Addison, who ran back punts of 75 and 67 yards in the Ducks’ home win in September. Adding insult to injury, the Trojans got a third “return for a touchdown” when Josh Shaw recovered a blocked punt. Jared Goff had his second interception-free performance in his last three games, so that’s a positive. But there aren’t many smiley faces around Cal right now. The Trojans became bowl-eligible with the win and are 4-1 since the coaching change. Their South Division hopes are still very much alive.

3. ASU almost had a problem: First, give credit to Utah’s defense, which once again came to play. And with the ASU offense struggling, it was the defense that stepped up and kept the Sun Devils in the game. Over the last four games, the Sun Devils are allowing fewer than 20 points per game. And they were clutch in the fourth quarter in the 20-19 win over Utah. The ASU defense held Utah to a three-and-out or a turnover in all five of the Utes' fourth-quarter possessions. And here’s a fun note from our Stats & Info folks: According to ESPN’s win probability model, Arizona State had a 7.1 percent chance of winning at the end of the third quarter. Entering this weekend, only 17 FBS teams have come back to win after having a win probability of 7.1 percent or lower. The offense finally came alive and scored 13 points in the fourth. Utah had won 49 straight games when leading at halftime.

4. No problems for the Huskies: The Trojans weren’t the only team to become bowl-eligible on Saturday. The Huskies picked up pivotal win No. 6 and are bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year after a brilliant performance from quarterback Keith Price, who was 22-of-29 for 312 yards with two passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Bishop Sankey turned in yet another solid performance with 143 yards and a score. The rebuilding Buffs have now lost 14 straight conference games. Washington has back-to-back road games at UCLA and Oregon State before closing out the year at home in the Apple Cup. The potential is there for nine or 10 wins, which would certainly assuage some of the midseason chatter about coach Steve Sarkisian.

5. Myles Jack = a problem for opposing teams: How fun is that guy to watch? UCLA coach Jim Mora has been hinting for quite some time that we’d see the true freshman linebacker swap sides. And on Saturday we saw him tally eight tackles, recover a fumble in the end zone, and then as a running back carry the ball six times for 120 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown. That overshadowed Ka'Deem Carey’s 149-yard rushing performance and a touchdown for Arizona -- Carey’s 12th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, which is tops in college football. More importantly, the Bruins won in Tucson for the first time since 2003 and kept pace with the Sun Devils for the race in the South Division. Arizona is pushed aside, making it a three-way race among the Bruins, Trojans and Sun Devils.

Mailbag: Ducks doldrums, post-Stanford

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
5:30
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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.
Last year’s Stanford-Oregon game didn’t just break the mold of the rivalry’s previous three matchups. It detonated it with an ordnance of smothering defense and glacial tempo.

Stanford’s 17-14 overtime win was a stark contrast to how the previous meetings had played out since 2009 -- the first game that featured both David Shaw and Mark Helfrich on their respective sidelines.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe trend of high-scoring Stanford-Oregon games was halted last season, as Marcus Mariota and the Ducks couldn't get on track.
No. 3 Oregon takes its nation-leading 18-game road winning streak to No. 5 Stanford Thursday night in a true clash of schematic styles. And there are lessons to be learned from some of the recent matchups -- trends and themes that paint a picture of what could transpire Thursday night.

The teams have split their past four meetings, with Stanford winning at home in 2009 and on the road in 2012. Oregon won back-to-back games in 2010 in Eugene, Ore., and 2011 in Palo Alto, Calif.

In the three games prior to last season, the winning team had scored at least 51 points and the loser had scored at least 30. The margin of victory was at least nine points. It was an annual offensive feast worthy of a league known for putting up points.

But last year’s game flipped the script as the offenses took a backseat to trench warfare, making every point a premium.

“Each game is its own entity,” said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, who was offensive coordinator for the previous four matchups. “One big thing is our programs are a lot more similar than they are different from a number of perspectives. Their offense is different from our offense. But we’re similar in the fact of playing with heart -- playing fundamentally sound. We recruit a lot of the same people.

“But at some point it’s going to come down to our best person and their best person in space or in tight.”

Clichés become clichés for a reason. Some coach somewhere once said “big-time players make big-time plays” and everyone thought it was a profound statement at the time. Then more and more coaches started saying it and the meaning dulled. And in the case of Stanford-Oregon, it’s cliché, but true.

The past four meetings have all been defined by outstanding individual performances. Some were statistically sensational: Toby Gerhart’s 223 rushing yards and three touchdowns in 2009; LaMichael James' 257 yards and three touchdowns a year later; James again in 2011; and Zach Ertz in 2012.

Others were more understated. But regardless of the total points scored, it still comes down to players making plays.

“The biggest one is, and I hate to put it on one side of the ball because it is a complete game, but when we make the open-field tackles and don’t miss them, we have a chance,” Shaw said. “And then the two wins, the common denominator is making big plays. Toby Gerhart ripping off some big runs. Chris Owusu had a huge touchdown pass. Ryan Whalen had a huge catch to get us in the end zone. Zach Ertz last year was huge. Then Kevin Hogan's mobility. He ran for a touchdown and could escape and slide and find Zach off schedule. Defensively, we have to make those open-field tackles and line up and not be out of position.”

Thursday’s showdown is a true struggle of strength versus strength when you consider the following:

  • Oregon hasn’t scored fewer than 35 points in its past 10 games -- the last time coming in the 17-14 loss to Stanford last season.
  • Stanford hasn’t allowed more than 30 points in its past 17 games, the nation’s second-longest active streak.
  • The Ducks have won 18 straight on the road -- their last loss coming to Stanford in 2009.
  • Stanford has won 13 straight at home, its last loss in Palo Alto coming to Oregon in 2011.

There are dozens of notable sidebars to this matchup. Obviously, Stanford’s defense versus Oregon’s offense is the storyline that garners the most attention. But this is also a Heisman showcase game for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, just as it was for Andrew Luck in the 2011 loss to the Ducks. There are the recent struggles of Stanford’s offense and the inconsistencies of Hogan, who made his first career road start last year at Autzen and was lauded as one of the game’s heroes for his poise on the grand stage. There is Oregon’s defense -- so smothering and so in the shadow of the offense.

Stanford’s top priority is and always will be to stop the run. But the Ducks have also developed a dangerous downfield passing attack that wasn’t as developed last season. No Oregon wide receiver had more than 500 receiving yards last season. This season Josh Huff (703) and Bralon Addison (609) give the Ducks' offense an added dimension that Stanford will have to account for. And then there is the always-accurate Mariota, who hasn’t thrown an interception since the first half of last season's Stanford game.

Defensively, the Cardinal are very good at getting to the quarterback without having to send extra blitzers. No team in the country has more sacks over the past two years when sending four or fewer rushers at the quarterback.

“They have some guys up front that really try to control the line of scrimmage,” Mariota said. “They have done an awesome job all year of being physical. But I think our offensive line is up to the challenge. They are going to go out and play their best and we’ll do our best at executing.”

The recent past between these teams might not be entirely prologue. But history tells us that big-time players will make big-time plays -- if you'll pardon the cliché.
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.

Stat attack! Some Week 10 Pac-12 numbers

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
1:00
PM ET
Some Pac-12 numbers for your review.

Number to the left is national rank.

Scoring offense

2. Oregon, 55.6 points per game
6. Arizona State, 46.6
25. UCLA, 37.3

Total offense

2. Oregon, 632.1 yards per game
10. Arizona State, 515.1
15. Washington, 501.9
26. Oregon State, 474.2

Rushing offense

2. Oregon, 331.5 yards per game
12. Arizona, 275.4
22. Washington, 218.1

Passing offense

3. Oregon State, 404.8 yards per game
7. Washington State, 365.0
8. California, 351.1
17. Arizona State, 324.7
20. Oregon, 300.6
23. Washington, 283.8

Note: It's becoming clear that Oregon and Arizona State have the two best offenses in the Pac-12. It's also clear that Pac-12 offenses, on the whole, aren't terribly efficient. Oregon ranks second in the nation in yards per play at 8.09. The next conference team is Arizona State, way down at No. 27 (6.28 yards per play).

Scoring defense

7. Oregon, 16.9 points per game
13. USC, 18.7
19. Stanford, 19.4
26. Arizona, 20.9

Total defense

11. USC, 323.6
17. Arizona State, 343.4
23. Stanford, 353.4

Yards yielded per play (FBS foes only)

7. Oregon, 4.41 yards per play
11. Stanford, 4.69
T19. USC, 4.92
19. Arizona, 4.92
25. UCLA, 4.97
26. Washington, 5.0

Pass-efficiency defense

6. Oregon
14. Washington
15. Arizona
20. USC
26. Arizona State

Note: Arizona's improvement on defense has been remarkable, but that improvement will be strenuously tested by the upcoming schedule, starting with a visit from UCLA on Saturday. Also ahead: Washington State, Oregon and Arizona State. If the Wildcats maintain a top-25 defensive ranking by season's end, coordinator Jeff Casteel should be Assistant Coach of the Year.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsStanford's Tyler Gaffney is averaging 110.8 rushing yards per game.
Rushing

1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 153.1 yards per game
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 145.3
17. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 110.8
18. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 109.9

Note: Stanford will need Gaffney to hit this number if it hopes to beat Oregon on Thursday. And it needs to keep Marshall off his average, too. Carey will be challenged by a UCLA run defense that yields only 3.9 yards per carry.

Pass efficiency

5. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
16. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
21. Brett Hundley, UCLA
25. Keith Price, Washington
27. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
28. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

Note: Mariota fell to No. 2 in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR behind Baylor's Bryce Petty. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly has surged to eighth in the nation in QBR. Eight Pac-12 QBs rank among the top 43 in the nation in QBR.

Receiving yards per game

1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 149.3
5. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 123.0
30. Chris Harper, California, 91.2
31. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State, 90.0

Sacks

2. Trent Murphy, Stanford, 1.2 sacks per game
T10. Tony Washington, Oregon, 0.9
T21. Devon Kennard, 0.8 (in 9 games)
T27. Anthony Barr, UCLA, 0.9
T27. Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington, 0.9

Note: Murphy has labored in Barr's shadow, but he can make a name for himself on Thursday if he can take down Marcus Mariota. Barr will be chasing Ka'Deem Carey and B.J. Denker on Saturday. Murphy is fifth and Barr tied for seventh in the nation in tackles for a loss (1.7 and 1.6 per game, respectively).

Random notes

  • Arizona State RB Marion Grice continues to lead the nation in scoring with 13.5 points per game. His teammate, kicker Zane Gonzalez, is fifth with 11.6 ppg.
  • Washington State safety Deone Bucannon is tied for sixth with five interceptions.
  • Stanford is 10th in the nation in run defense, so that obviously will be a strength-on-strength matchup on Thursday.
  • UCLA QB Brett Hundley leads the Pac-12 and ranks 13th in the nation with a 68 percent completion percentage.
  • Colorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe leads the nation with five forced fumbles. Barr and Washington are tied for second with four.
  • Oregon State QB Sean Mannion still leads the nation with 31 TD passes. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is tied for fifth with 23.
  • Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is fifth in the nation with 15.84 yards per completion.
  • Oregon State and Arizona State have both yielded three blocked kicks. UCLA and Stanford have both blocked three kicks.
  • Arizona State ranks first in the conference and eighth in the nation with just 31.88 penalty yards per game. Four Pac-12 teams are among the nation's most penalized teams: Oregon (116), California (118), Washington (122) and UCLA (123, which is last).

Oregon-Stanford: Respectful rivalry grows

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
12:00
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David Shaw Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw is 1-1 against Oregon and 30-5 overall.

Stanford had just torn the hearts out of Oregon and its fans inside Autzen Stadium. The Ducks' unbeaten season had ended in shocking fashion. National championship hopes had been kicked to the curb.

"It's such an honor to come into this stadium and beat a phenomenal team," the Stanford quarterback said after the victory.

A gracious, classy and perhaps rare take from a college player. But no, that was not Kevin Hogan talking about the Cardinal's 17-14 overtime upset of the Ducks in Autzen Stadium last Nov. 17 that ruined the Ducks' drive for a berth in the 2012 national title game. It was Stanford's backup quarterback, Chris Lewis, talking about the Cardinal's 49-42 win in Autzen Stadium on Oct. 20, 2001, that ruined the Ducks' drive for a berth in that season's national championship game.

Lewis' postgame quote, however, generally sums up the Oregon-Stanford series, which Thursday night again will be the Pac-12 game of the year. There appears to be little animosity and a good dose of respect between the Ducks and Cardinal, who both own road wins as underdogs against each other in the past three years.

Though they are very different institutions, playing football in very different ways and, well, dressing very differently while doing so, the rivalry between the Pac-12's top two teams in the past four seasons doesn't include much ill will compared to the rivalries between Oregon and Washington and USC and UCLA.

Perhaps it should, at least in terms of what Stanford and Oregon have taken away from each other through the years, and not just during their recent and simultaneous rise to join the nation's elite.

Nine times since 1964, Stanford has handed Oregon its first defeat of the season. Twice it was the Ducks' only defeat. Without a loss to Stanford in 1995, the Ducks would have played in a second consecutive Rose Bowl in Mike Bellotti's first season.

Oregon has returned the favor of late as Stanford became nationally relevant. The Cardinal lost just one regular-season game in both 2010 and 2011. To Oregon.

Stanford's win in Autzen Stadium last year was shocking in many ways. The Ducks had owned the Cardinal and Andrew Luck the previous two years, so much so that in advance of the 2012 season, Stanford coach David Shaw openly admitted his team had an "Oregon problem," though he reasonably noted that the entire Pac-12 shared the Ducks conundrum.

Yet, as stunning as it was to witness the Cardinal shut down the Ducks' offense last November, the 2001 game eclipsed it 20-fold in terms of sheer nuttiness.

While some of Oregon's younger fans might not remember 2001, the older ones surely slapped their foreheads upon seeing the name "Chris Lewis" again. In that contest, the unbeaten and fifth-ranked Ducks were seemingly cruising, leading 42-28 in the fourth quarter at home, with Stanford quarterback Randy Fasani knocked out of the game in the second quarter.

But things went haywire in the fourth quarter, particularly on special teams, when Stanford blocked two punts and recovered an onside kick. Still, it appeared the Ducks would prevail 42-41 when they blocked the potentially game-tying PAT.

Unfortunately for Oregon, quarterback Joey Harrington was turning in his only poor performance of the season. On third-and-1 from Oregon's 30, Harrington was hit by safety Tank Williams, and his throw was picked off by diving defensive end Marcus Hoover at the 33 (it was Harrington's second interception of the game). After Stanford scored the go-ahead TD, Harrington, who had led nine fourth-quarter comebacks in his career and was popularly known as "Captain Comeback," threw four consecutive incompletions from the Cardinal 37.

The normally straightforward Associated Press report noted that the game "had everything but aliens landing on the Autzen Stadium turf."

Oregon, one of the earliest victims of a BCS controversy, went on to finish No. 2. Bellotti showed up at the Rose Bowl, host of the BCS title game, to watch Miami stomp overmatched Nebraska, a team that was blown out in the regular-season finale by Colorado, a team the Ducks had crushed in the Fiesta Bowl.

Yes, there were a fair share of what-ifs from the Ducks, not unlike last year, though it's worth remembering that Miami team was one college football's all-time great squads.

Of course, things were much different for both Oregon and Stanford in 2001. Neither team had established itself as a consistent national power. In fact, both would go through significant downturns thereafter, particularly Stanford.

In 2007, both programs made inspired decisions that inspired initial befuddlement among media and fans: Bellotti hired Chip Kelly away from New Hampshire, an FCS team, to coordinate his offense, and Jim Harbaugh was plucked away from San Diego, another FCS team, by Stanford. Harbaugh brought along Shaw to coordinate his offense.

As isolated events, the Stanford-Oregon game on Oct. 20, 2001, and some buzz-less coaching hires in 2007 didn't resonate nationally. But from a long-term view, they are notable dots to connect for what has become one of the nation's best and most meaningful rivalries.

Even if the teams don't provide much cartoonish trash talk to foment the hype.

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
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