Oregon Ducks: Lane Kiffin

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.
Life is full of great joys. A child's smile. A roasting whole pig. A sunset at the beach. A sunset at the beach with a child's smile and a roasting whole pig. And a drink with an umbrella in it. Hitting a point at a Vegas craps table covered in chips.

Yet for some of you, there is no greater joy than the Pac-12 blog face planting. We imperiously prognosticate -- some might call it "doing our job" but let's not get bogged down in nuance -- and we often end up going rear-end-over-tea-kettle. Pointing that out in colorful ways is not unlike a second Christmas morning for some of you.

In 2012, the Pac-12 blog was practically the Walmart of bad predictions. You might recall our doe-eyed affection for Matt Barkley-led USC. We were exposed early and often.

So, as we start to formulate many of our preseason predictions for 2014, it seems worthwhile to look back the 2013 preseason in an effort to establish how often we were stupid and how often your favorite blind squirrels actually found nuts.

We'll start with our preseason list of the Pac-12's top-25 players. And here's our postseason list.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesHey, turns out we were right about Oregon's Marcus Mariota being the Pac-12's top player.
The postseason top 10:
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 3: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 4: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
No. 5:Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
No. 6: Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 8: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 9: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 10: Leonard Williams, DE, USC

The preseason top 10:
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 4. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
No. 5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 6. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 7. Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 8. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 9. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
No. 10. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

As noted here, there were plenty of changes between the two.
Who made the preseason list and missed the postseason list?
3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
11. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
14. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
17. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
19. Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
20. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
21. Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

Notes: Injuries or getting the boot (Lyerla) was the biggest reason these guys fell off the postseason list. Reynolds' numbers fell off, and the Cardinal's pass defense slipped to the middle of the conference, but I'm sure David Shaw would tell us we blew it. Hogan had a good season but maybe didn't take as big a step forward as some of us thought he would. Bradford, as previously noted, had a good, but not great, season and was eclipsed by other players.

Still, there wasn't much to be embarrassed about with either list.

Here's how Kevin and I voted in the Pac-12 preseason media poll:
Kevin Gemmell's ballot

North

  1. Stanford
  2. Oregon
  3. Washington
  4. Oregon State
  5. Washington State
  6. California
South

  1. Arizona State
  2. UCLA
  3. USC
  4. Arizona
  5. Utah
  6. Colorado
Pac-12 title game champion: Stanford

Ted Miller's ballot

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAnd yes, we nailed the Stanford-Arizona State title game matchup with Stanford heading to the Rose Bowl.
North

  1. Stanford
  2. Oregon
  3. Washington
  4. Oregon State
  5. California
  6. Washington State
South

  1. Arizona State
  2. USC
  3. UCLA
  4. Arizona
  5. Utah
  6. Colorado
Pac-12 title game champion: Stanford

Hmm. It appears that we both picked the divisional winners and Pac-12 champion correctly. We, clearly, rock.

Did you notice anything about Kevin's ballot. It looks exactly like the final Pac-12 standings. He, by the way, never, ever mentions that.

How about the preseason power rankings versus the final version?

The top-six in both matches up precisely. Betting that's the first time that has happened since the Pac-12 blog began in 2008.

The bottom six is far less precise, though no team is more than two spots different in the final ranking than in the preseason version.

Then there were our self-proclaimed "Bold Predictions."

As more than a few of you have pointed out, these often are not so bold, but that doesn't stop them from being wrong. Further, because they were made in January of 2013, some of them actually ran counter to our late-summer predictions, such as picking Stanford as the Pac-12 leader. The switch from Oregon came after Chip Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles.

We made 19 predictions. Seven were correct or mostly so:

  • The Pac-12 will finish 2013 with six teams in the Top 25: That will be six of this seven: Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Oregon State.
  • The Washington renaissance will arrive: The Huskies will finish 9-3 in 2013, opening the new Husky Stadium in style.
  • Colorado will win four games in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre: And Buffs fans will be reasonably encouraged.
  • The sledding will be rough in Sonny Dykes' first season at California: The Bears don't have great talent coming back, but the schedule is the biggest problem. By my guess, Dykes will play eight ranked teams in his first season, including a strong Big Ten duo at home the first and third weekends of the season (Northwestern and Ohio State).
  • Arizona's offensive numbers will make everyone realize how good Matt Scott was: Arizona averaged 37 points and 522 yards per game last year because of QB Matt Scott, who ranked seventh in the nation in total offense with 338.5 per game. He was a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's K offense. We expect the Wildcats' offense to take a step back in 2013, whether B.J. Denker or JC transfer Jesse Scroggins wins the QB job. As good as national rushing champion Ka'Deem Carey is, he will find the holes a bit smaller without Scott, even with a solid offensive line coming back.
  • Defenses will continue to rise: Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr will be first-team preseason All-Americans, and Stanford will again have one of the nation's top 10 defenses. But we also expect across-the-board improvement on defense.
  • But it will still be the Conference of QBs: Mariota will win the Heisman and again earn the first-team All-Pac-12 nod, but the battle for second-team will be hot between Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, UCLA's Brett Hundleyand Washington's Keith Price, who will be the conference's Comeback Player of the Year.
  • Breakout player: Junior Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks will earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors with Marqise Lee.

The last one was mostly about Cooks breaking out, as he did as the Biletnikof Award winner. The Huskies went 9-4, but it's certainly fair to term the season a "renaissance." Arizona's offensive numbers went down, but B.J. Denker, while limited, turned in a better season than most expected.

Some were way off. Such as:
[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBut about that Lane Kiffin will quiet his critics thing ... um, did we mention that we did say USC would win 10 games and they did?
Lane Kiffin and USC will post a bounce-back season: We expect the Trojans to win 10 games -- that's with a highly favorable 13-game schedule, by the way -- and return to the national rankings. Although the Trojans won't return to dominance, they will play better all-around football in 2013, and it will be enough to quiet Kiffin's critics -- at least enough for him to return in 2014. We don't, however, expect USC to win the South Division.

He was fired before midseason, though the Trojans did win 10 games, including their bowl victory.

And, of course, our Oregon enthusiasm -- national champs! Marcus Mariota wins Heisman! -- didn't come to pass.

Then there were our week one bowl projections:

VIZIO BCS National Championship: Stanford vs. BCS
Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO: Oregon vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Washington vs. Big 12
Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: UCLA vs. ACC
Las Vegas: USC vs. MWC
Fight Hunger: Arizona vs. BYU
Gildan New Mexico: Washington State vs. MWC

Four of those were correct -- the Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas and New Mexico.

Finally, there were our "Best case-worst case" flights of fancy. There is a strong possibility this series will be retired. It feels as if it might have jumped the proverbial shark.

(We typed the exact same thing last year, but this year we, unfortunately, mean it).

Final Pac-12 Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
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If you don't like where you ended up in the Power Rankings, you should have played better.

Click here for Week 15's Power Rankings. Note that these rankings reflect the totality of the season.

1. Stanford (11-3, 7-2): Oregon finished higher in the final polls, but Stanford is the Pac-12 champion. And everyone out West remembers what happened Nov. 7.

2. Oregon (11-2, 7-2): The Ducks spent most of the season as a national title contender, but the regular season ended with a thud. The bowl victory over Texas was nice, and when you think about it, 11-2 and a final No. 9 ranking is, well, not too bad for Mark Helfrich's debut season.

3. Arizona State (10-4, 8-1): If the Sun Devils had taken care of business in the National University Holiday Bowl and grabbed an 11th win, this would have been a special season. As it turned out, it was merely a very good one.

4. UCLA (10-3, 6-3): The Bruins fell short of the South Division title because of a loss to Arizona State, but a 10-3 finish with a final No. 16 ranking tells the ultimate story: UCLA is trending up. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, there also was that second consecutive victory over USC for coach Jim Mora. Did anyone forget? Anyone? Bueller?

5. USC (10-4, 6-3): The Trojans had two seasons: the miserable start under Lane Kiffin and the strong second half under interim coaches Ed Orgeron and, in the bowl game, Clay Helton. Going 10-4 and finishing ranked 19th, particularly under the trying circumstances, is about the best that could have been hoped. Other than losses to UCLA and Notre Dame. That part could have been better.

6. Washington (9-4, 5-4): After three consecutive 7-6 seasons, the Huskies broke through in 2013, finishing 9-4 and ranked 25th. Credit goes to Steve Sarkisian for turning around a program that went winless the year before he arrived. He leaves behind a team with plenty of potential for new coach Chris Petersen.

7. Arizona (8-5, 4-5): The Wildcats had an interesting season. In part, their eight wins were because of a pillow-soft nonconference schedule that was a guaranteed 3-0 start. But they also beat Oregon and won a bowl game, dominating Boston College on both sides of the ball. On the downside is a second consecutive defeat to their friends in Tempe.

8. Oregon State (7-6, 4-5): The Beavers started horribly with a loss to Eastern Washington then rolled off six consecutive wins. Then, with the schedule ramping up considerably, they lost five in a row to finish the regular season. The strong performance in the Hawaii Bowl against Boise State took some of the sting out of the losing streak. But only some.

9. Washington State (6-7, 4-5): If the Cougars had won their bowl game, they would have been seventh here. Losing to Colorado State is bad under any circumstances, but the way the Cougs wilted at the end was horrid and should operate as fuel to motivate the team this offseason. Still, despite losing their final two games and finishing with a losing record, getting back to a bowl game was a big deal in the second season under Mike Leach.

10. Utah (5-7, 2-7): A second consecutive losing season is not what Utes fans have come to expect, even with a red-letter win over Stanford. Further, they are 5-13 in Pac-12 play in the past two seasons. There were major injury issues, most notably to QB Travis Wilson, but Utah can't be happy with its early performance in the conference. On the plus side, beating BYU and Utah State means state rivals don't have much room to rib the Utes.

11. Colorado (4-8, 1-8): There wasn't anywhere to go but up for Colorado after going 1-11 in 2012, and the Buffaloes went up this season under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre. They were still mostly outclassed in Pac-12 play, but there were signs of taking a step forward. The question now becomes, can they move up in the South Division?

12. California (1-11, 0-9): It was perhaps the most miserable season in Cal history in the first year under Sonny Dykes. The injuries were so epidemic it almost became comical -- almost -- but the effort and execution from the healthy players wasn't so hot either. The Bears need to show improvement next fall or the going could be tough for Dykes.
Actually, Peter, I wanted to tell you, I was listening to Sarah's iPod the other day, and amidst the interminable dross that's on that thing, I found one track that I quite liked. So I checked what it was, and it was actually one of yours, and it kind of reminded me of a dark, gothic Neil Diamond. It's great.

USC's Pendergast factor

December, 28, 2013
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A couple of you have asked about the difference Clancy Pendergast made for USC's defense this fall, which is a pretty easy to quantify.

And it seems some of you asked specifically because Oregon is now looking for a defensive coordinator after Nick Aliotti announced his retirement Friday after the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 30.

We sometimes do take requests at the Pac-12 blog.

With seven starters back from the 2012 unit, the improvement was dramatic and across the board, despite the Trojans switching schemes from Monte Kiffin's 4-3 Tampa 2 to Pendergast's 3-4 -- or 5-2, as he calls it.

Here are the numbers:
2012 Pac-12, 2013 Pac-12

Scoring defense 5th (24.3 ppg), 2nd (21.3ppg)

Total defense 7th (394.0 ypg), 1st (341.2 ypg)

Rushing defense 8th (167.0 ypg), 2nd (126.7 ypg)

Passing defense 4th (227.0 ypg), 1st (214.5 ypg)

Pass Eff. Def. 6th (123.9), 3rd (114.0)

Opponent 1sts, 9th (22.6), 2nd (18.5)

Oppoent 3rd percentage 8th (38.0), 2nd (36.8)

Red zone def percentage 6th (81.1), 1st (63.4)

Further, the Trojans ranked in the nation's top 32 in every above number. In 2012, they didn't rank that highly in any of the above numbers. In fact, their highest national ranking was 40th in scoring defense.

And those 2013 numbers, by the way, including the absolute white flag performance at Arizona State, a 62-41 defeat, had a lot more to do with effort than scheme, which is why Lane Kiffin was fired the same night.

Pendergast has received plenty of praise for the job he did this year at USC. This makes clear it was justifiable.

Just saying, Ducks.

Conference wrap: Pac-12

December, 16, 2013
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It’s tough to put a grade on the 2013 edition of Pac-12 football. When we look back 20 years from now, all that will probably stand out is that the Pac-12 had just one BCS bowl team in the final year of the Bowl Championship Series. So with Stanford carrying the flag for the league, its performance against Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio takes on a greater importance.

But this year, perhaps more than any other, the Pac-12 showed why it is one of the toughest, if not the deepest, conference in all of college football. It passed the nonconference test, going 31-6 against non-league competition -- with wins over teams from the SEC, Big Ten and ACC. It crushed the Mountain West, going 10-0 against the West Coast’s little brother conference. And three more meetings in the postseason could extend it to 13-0.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkDavid Shaw has Stanford atop a very deep conference.
Speaking of bowls, a record nine Pac-12 teams are in the postseason, 75 percent of the league. Washington State is bowling for the first time since 2003. Colorado is making headway. Utah appears right on the cusp of breaking through.

There were thrilling upsets. (Utah, Washington State and USC all get thumbs up.) There was the Week 1 Oregon State debacle. There were All-Americans, national award winners and a style of football that is uniquely Pac-12.

The influx of big-name coaches has raised the ante over the past few seasons, and that trend continued this year, with Steve Sarkisian’s move to USC and Chris Petersen’s ingress to Washington.

The South was nasty, and will be again next year. Arizona State has staked its claim. But UCLA is right on the Sun Devils’ heels, as are USC and an Arizona squad that has the potential to be very, very scary in 2014.

The North belongs to Stanford until proven otherwise. The Cardinal's recipe for beating Oregon has yielded fruit for two years. But with Marcus Mariota back for another season, you certainly have to expect the Ducks to be a top-10 team. And Petersen’s arrival makes Washington an instant player for the division.

The best thing the Pac-12 can go is finish strong in the postseason, win its BCS bowl game and head into the playoff era with plenty of momentum.


Offensive MVP: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey
was arguably the most consistent skill player in college football this season, posting at least 100 yards in every game he played and finishing with 1,716 yards and 17 touchdowns on 322 carries (5.3 average). He also caught 26 passes and a touchdown.

Defensive MVP: With 14 sacks, Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy was the Pac-12 and the national leader in getting at the quarterback. He also ranked third nationally with 21.5 tackles for loss. Murphy posted 58 total tackles, blocked a kick, forced a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown.

Newcomer of the year: Plenty of fantastic options, including ASU receiver Jaelen Strong and Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam. But it was UCLA linebacker/running back Myles Jack who made the biggest splash. The Bruins' true freshman posted 70 tackles with five for a loss, an interception and two forced fumbles. He also blocked a kick. As a running back he carried 37 times for 269 yards with seven touchdowns.

Biggest surprise: Washington State athletic director Bill Moos said he thought the Cougars would start being a consistent winner by 2014. Coach Mike Leach had his own timetable. In just his second season in Pullman, Leach has the Cougars in a bowl game for the first time since 2003 -- and they recorded a marquee win on the road at USC in Week 2 that ultimately helped them become bowl-eligible.

Biggest disappointment: There was no great redemption story for Lane Kiffin. In fact, the Trojans looked like a significantly improved team after he was removed from his coaching duties. Hopes were high that Kiffin would be able to turn the Trojans around after an abysmal 2012. But a 62-41 loss at ASU in Week 5 was the straw that broke the back of his fairly underwhelming tenure with the Trojans.

Best game: At the quarter pole, we went with Oregon State at Utah. At the midway post, we went with Oregon State at Utah. And now in the season wrap, we’re sticking with that. That game, now more than ever, spells out the importance of every single week. Oregon State would be home for the holidays without that dramatic 51-48 overtime victory. And because of said dramatic overtime defeat, the five-win Utes are out of the postseason again. From a pure tension and excitement level, that game was tough to beat.

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.

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.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

  1. The big one: No. 5 Stanford will host No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night in a game that is sure to send shock waves throughout the Pac-12 and BCS Standings. A win for the Ducks likely re-catapults them back over Florida State and into the No. 2 spot of the BCS rankings -- the outcome of Alabama-LSU pending. A victory for the Cardinal keeps their national championship hopes alive, but they’d still need some help along the way to pass Ohio State and Florida State. This is just the second time that two Pac-12 teams have met while ranked in the top five of the BCS standings. The last time was No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Oregon in 2007.
  2. [+] EnlargeByron Marshall
    Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall leads the Oregon rushing attack at Stanford on Thursday night.
    Edges matter: Per the brilliant number crunchers at ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinal will have to contain the Ducks when they try to run outside. Oregon averages 8.7 yards per rush outside the tackles, second among all AQ teams behind Wisconsin. Last season, Stanford forced Oregon to run 63 percent of the time between the tackles. And when the Ducks did get outside, the Cardinal were able to contain them to the tune of just 29 yards, 1.9 yards per rush and 1.3 yards before contact. In Oregon’s other games last season, they averaged 108.1 yards per game outside the tackles.
  3. The other side of the ball: We know about Oregon’s offense. We know about Stanford’s defense. How about when roles are reversed? The Cardinal offense hasn’t been all that productive of late, averaging just 21.6 points over its past three games. Oregon’s defense yields just 16.9 points per game -- seventh-best in the country. Turnovers will obviously be a premium for both defenses. Stanford has a zero turnover margin with 11 takeaways and 11 giveaways. Oregon, however, is plus-13 with 23 turnovers gained to 10 turnovers lost.
  4. Quotable: Always good for a one-liner, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked earlier in the week about De’Anthony Thomas’ comments that he expects the Ducks to score at least 40 points. “I don’t have an issue with that,” Shaw said. “He’s a confident young man, and they put it on film. They’ve done it. So I have no problem with that if that’s his mentality. I’m just glad he only said 40.” Seeing as Shaw has a penchant for the us-against-the-world approach for his team, here’s betting he had a different message for his defense behind closed doors.
  5. South showdown (1): UCLA heads to Tucson, where it hasn’t won since 2003 -- the first year of the Karl Dorrell era. Both teams have already achieved bowl eligibility. Both teams sit at 3-2 in conference play. Now it becomes a question of pecking order. Ka’Deem Carey has rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 straight games, which is tops in the FBS. The Bruins snapped their two-game losing streak with a win over Colorado last week. Brett Hundley posted the third game of his career with two rushing and two passing touchdowns and he accounted for 345 yards of total offense. Keep an eye on how things play out in the first 30 minutes, because the Bruins are 13-0 under coach Jim Mora when they lead at the half.
  6. South showdown (2): The Sun Devils look to strengthen their foothold on the South with a trip to Utah -- a team they blasted in Tempe last season. In fact, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he has “horrible memories” of last season's loss and called it one of Utah’s poorest performances since joining the Pac-12. The obvious sidebar here is it’s the first time Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is facing the team he used to coach. But Whittingham said Erickson is a pretty even-keeled guy and he doesn’t expect sentiment or emotions to play a role. Whittingham also said that quarterback Travis Wilson is healed from his hand injury and won’t wear a glove. Across the field, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly is coming off of a seven-touchdown game on the road at Washington State.
  7. Trojans rolling: Since making the coaching switch from Lane Kiffin to interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Trojans have gone 3-1, including a convincing 31-14 win last week on the road at Oregon State. For the second time this season USC had a pair of running backs post 100-yard games with senior Silas Redd rushing for 140 yards and Buck Allen collecting 133 yards (8.3 yards per catch) and 3 TDs. Allen was USC’s fourth different back to rush for 100 yards this season. Marqise Lee is also coming off an outstanding performance, grabbing five passes for a season-high 105 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Beavers. Cal is still looking for a conference win, but should have some more confidence after an improved showing last week against Arizona.
  8. Bowl eligible: So far there are six teams already bowl eligible (Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA) with two more on the verge of becoming eligible this week. USC, because of the 13-game regular season schedule sits at 6-3 overall and needs to pick up a win at California to get a spot in the postseason. Washington is at 5-3 with a visit from Colorado. Both teams are favorites, which would give the league eight teams headed to the postseason with the legitimate potential for two more (Utah and Washington State). Both have four wins and Colorado still has an outside shot. Cal is the only Pac-12 team eliminated from bowl eligibility.
  9. Star power: Two of the nation’s elite offensive playmakers square off in Seattle when Colorado visits Washington. Buffs wide receiver Paul Richardson has 57 catches for 984 yards with eight touchdowns and continues to close in on several of Colorado’s single-season receiving marks. Washington counters with running back Bishop Sankey, who enters the week as the nation’s No. 3 rusher, averaging 145.3 yards per game. He’s coming off a career-best 241-yard performance against Cal and ranks fourth nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns.
  10. Taking a breather: There are two teams on bye this week with Oregon State looking to refocus after dropping back-to-back games against Stanford and USC and Washington State taking its second bye week in the past three. The Beavers, who are already bowl eligible, close the season with two of their final three on the road; at ASU, home to Washington and at Oregon for the Civil War. With four wins, the Cougars need to win two more to teach the postseason. They are also on the road for two of their past three with dates at Arizona next week and home to Utah before closing out the Apple Cup in Seattle.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

Click here for last week's Power Rankings.

1. Oregon: The Ducks get the national stage Thursday night to make clear their national title candidacy. Or not.

2. Stanford: The Cardinal get the national stage Thursday night to make clear that the Pac-12 belongs to the less flashy team in the North Division. Or not.

3. Arizona State: The Sun Devils brought their A-game on the road to Washington State, particularly QB Taylor Kelly. Now can they do the same on Saturday at Utah, a wounded team that is coming off a bye week and looking to make a South Division statement?

4. UCLA: It was far from perfect, but the Bruins took care of business against Colorado. The final four games, starting Saturday with a tricky visit to Arizona in a key South clash, will provide a chance for UCLA to climb into the top 10 and take control of the South Division. Or something more mediocre than that.

5. USC: Knock, knock. Who's there? USC. USC who?! US-see, we're pretty darn OK when we care and have a good plan! I bet there are more than a few folks who aren't USC fans, at least those who don't wear powder blue, who are enjoying the Trojans' elevated level of play under Ed Orgeron. What if that is less about Lane Kiffin being gone and more about Coach O being in charge? And if the Trojans win out? "Hmm," says athletic director Pat Haden. At the very least, USC's next coach should make an effort to retain Orgeron.

6. Arizona: The Wildcats have established that they are a solid team, maybe even pretty good. UCLA's visit on Saturday could significantly elevate that perception. A win would make Arizona a South contender and a Top 25 team.

7. Washington: The Huskies should beat Colorado in Husky Stadium on Saturday and become bowl eligible, though this team shouldn't take anything for granted (see the Buffaloes' early effort versus UCLA). Then they must win at least two of the final three games to make the case that this was a successful season. The catch? That will require a road win at UCLA or Oregon State.

8. Oregon State: After consecutive losses at home to Stanford and USC, the peanut gallery has adopted a fair tweak: "The Beavers weren't any good. They just had an easy schedule over the first seven games." The only way to defeat that take is to win two of the final three games, which won't be easy. The Beavers have a bye in which to get healthy and refocused before heading to Arizona State on Nov. 16.

9. Utah: This is Utah's BIG weekend. The Utes had a week off to get healthy (Travis Wilson's throwing hand!), refocus and game plan for surging Arizona State. The MUSS also should be well-rested and properly annoyed so as to make Arizona State, traditionally a bad team on the road, uncomfortable. A win would be transformative for bowl possibilities, as well as Pac-12 prestige.

10. Washington State: A third consecutive blowout loss, albeit against a tough slate, has some grumbling in Pullman. Where's our Mike Leach magic that we were promised? The Cougars are off this week, and they need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible. Won't be easy.

11. Colorado: Colorado showed some fight against UCLA, but it couldn't keep up with Brett Hundley and company. Fair to say bowl chances are extremely remote -- the Buffs would have to win out. A visit to Washington is next, but the home game against California is the most likely chance to pick up a Pac-12 victory this season.

12. California: Cal hung with Arizona for four quarters, repeatedly fighting back when the Wildcats seemed to be taking charge. The defense played better. The offense scored its most points (28) since Sept. 14 versus Ohio State (34). So there's that. The Bears host surging USC on Saturday, though the visit to Colorado on Nov. 16 looms as the season's biggest game -- the one that determines the bottom of the conference.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 from Week 10:

  1. When consistent, ASU is really good: The Sun Devils picked up their first road win of the season with an extremely impressive 55-21 win over Washington State on Thursday night. Here's the kicker ... running back Marion Grice didn't get in the end zone! Quarterback Taylor Kelly was dominant, completing 22 of 31 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran for 66 yards and two scores, giving him seven on the day. Since dropping a 37-34 game to Notre Dame, the Sun Devils have outscored Colorado, Washington and Washington State 162-58. If the Sun Devils can maintain this consistent, high level of play, the rest of the Pac-12 South will be hard-pressed to keep pace. As for the Cougs, after a 4-2 start, they have dropped three straight, and the defense has given up at least 52 points in all three losses.
  2. [+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC is 3-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, who celebrated Friday's win in Corvallis with the band.
  3. The Trojans aren't done yet; the Beavers might be: Despite everything that has happened to USC, the Trojans are a factor in the South Division. They need to win out and probably get a little help along the way, but after a fairly convincing 31-14 road win over Oregon State, the Trojans look like a team to be reckoned with down the stretch. Since the Lane Kiffin firing, USC is 3-1 under Ed Orgeron. Conversely, Oregon State suffered a big setback and is now an even longer shot to win the North Division. There is still hope, but the Beavers also need to win out and hope for some help.
  4. Colorado is gritty: Say what you want about the wins and losses, but Colorado is a tougher team than it was last season. UCLA won 45-23, and the final score isn't particularly shocking. But the Buffs led midway through the second quarter, and true freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau looked very poised on the road, going 25-of-36 for a touchdown and zero interceptions. They matched UCLA's physicality and even showed a bit of swagger -- be it from receiver Paul Richardson or Liufau. Culture change takes a long time. But we are starting to see the makings of a team that isn't satisfied with being pushed around. On the flip side, good performance from UCLA to get back on track. Brett Hundley looked like he was still a little uncomfortable with his young offensive line, but he looked stronger. If the Bruins can survive a trip to Arizona and home date with Washington, Nov. 23 is high noon with ASU coming to town.
  5. About those Cats: Arizona has won three in a row, including back-to-back road games to become bowl-eligible for the second straight year under Rich Rodriguez. A fine accomplishment, considering everyone they lost in the offseason through injury, graduation or attrition. Quarterback B.J. Denker turned in another steady performance, completing 24 of 38 passes for 261 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. But he's also emerged the past couple of weeks as a solid complementary runner to Ka'Deem Carey. Denker rushed for 44 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Cal. Carey, meanwhile, continues to shred defenses. Although he didn't reach the end zone against the Bears, he rushed for 152 yards, giving him 1,072 for the year. A big date with UCLA awaits next week. Can't overlook the performance of Cal, either, which sold out to stop the run early and showed a lot of life. Kenny Lawler finally had that breakout game with three touchdown catches, two of them spectacular.
  6. South rising? The early disparity between the North and South seems to be shrinking. The South scored two major victories this week with USC's win at Oregon State and ASU's win at Washington State. Arizona's win over Cal was expected, but again, we give the Bears credit for the strong showing. As it stands, the North still holds a two-game edge over the South with an 8-6 record. Oregon is the only team to be perfect in inter-division play. Stanford, ASU and Oregon State are all 2-1. It stands to reason that the North is still probably considered the stronger division with Oregon and Stanford ranked in the top five. But the South has made a strong play of late with its depth, which includes five of six teams at .500 or better.

Happy Halloween in the Pac-12

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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The Pac-12 has its share of ghosts, ghouls and goblins. So in the spirit of the Halloween weekend ...

Scary movie -- Worst loss of the season: Washington headed to Arizona State ranked 20th, with national pollsters being forgiving of consecutive, competitive losses to Stanford and Oregon. A shocking 53-24 beatdown delivered by the Sun Devils, and the Huskies were dumped from the national rankings. The new storyline was a familiar one: Another seven-win season?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks rocked Tennessee, 59-14, in the "biggest debacle of the season."
Rising from the dead: Oregon State surely was headed for the slag heap after it opened with a 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. The defense looked AWFUL. Fire Mark Banker! Fire Mark Banker! Panic in the streets of Corvallis! After all, we'd seen this before.The Beavers opened with a loss to Sacramento State in 2011 and then meandered to a woeful 3-9 finish. But the Beavers dusted themselves off and surged to six consecutive wins. Last weekend, they extended Stanford until the waning moments before falling 20-12. With QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks fronting the nation's best passing offense, Oregon State remains a threat in the North Division.

Haunted House: Arizona State struggles on the road, but it certainly has horrified visitors to Sun Devil Stadium. Of course, we can start with the, er, unusual finish against Wisconsin. Then there's the dismantling of both USC and Washington. Sure, the Sun Devils looked like a different team -- in a bad way -- while losing at Stanford and to Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but visiting foes often leave Tempe with a haunted look.

Thriller: The most exciting Pac-12 game so far this year is Oregon State's 51-48 overtime win at Utah. The Beavers jumped to a 20-7 lead, but the Utes tied things in regulation with a 21-point fourth quarter, including a 9-yard run from QB Travis Wilson for the tying TD on third-and-goal with 21 seconds left in the game. On the Beavers' side of things, QB Sean Mannion converted two critical fourth-down plays in the fourth and then threw the winning TD pass in overtime to, of course, Brandin Cooks.

Nightmare in Eugene -- Biggest debacle of the season: Tennessee took a 7-0 lead at Oregon, and the folks in orange maybe starting thinking about "SEC!" chants. Then the Ducks scored 59 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter. Oregon fans started chanting "We want Bama."

House of horrors: Horrors? We give you USC. The Trojans fired coach Lane Kiffin as he got off the team bus at LAX after a 62-41 beatdown at Arizona State, and they have suffered through epidemic injuries that are even worse for a team crippled by scholarship reductions. Meanwhile, the program has watched as the NCAA reduced Penn State's sanctions and provided a reprieve for Miami, which overlooked the scandalous doings of now-incarcerated booster Nevin Shapiro while under the leadership of late athletic director Paul Dee, who chaired the Committee of Infractions against USC.

Cursed team: California, losers of 10 consecutive Pac-12 games, might be headed for its worst season since the regrettable Tom Holmoe Era. Start with one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Then move on to a roster decimated by injuries. The Bears have been slow to adjust to new schemes on both sides of the ball, and they presently ranked last in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Halloween costumes

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 8

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 this week.

  1. Stanford makes a statement: Behind a powerful rushing performance from Tyler Gaffney (36 carries, 171 yards, two touchdowns) and a pair of interceptions from safety Jordan Richards, the Cardinal reminded everyone that they aren't going to go gentle into that good night, topping No. 9 UCLA 24-10 at home. Stanford's defense shut out the Bruins in the first half and held them to just 266 yards of total offense. The Cardinal are at their best when it's them against the world. And that was certainly the case this week. The home stretch is brutal, with showdowns yet to be played against Oregon State, Oregon, USC, California and Notre Dame. Stanford could run the table. Or lose two, three or four of those games. But the Cardinal showed us this week -- as they did last year -- never to count them out.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarion Grice
    AP Photo/Matt YorkMarion Grice rushed for 158 yards and two scores in Arizona State's impressive victory over Washington.
  3. Devils trending up, Huskies trending down: In a must-win game for conference-wide credibility, the Sun Devils weren't just outstanding offensively against Washington -- the run defense was also absolutely stellar. They held Bishop Sankey, the nation's leading rusher in yards per game coming in, to just 22 yards on 13 carries. And when you factor in sack yardage, the Huskies "mustered" minus-5 yards. On the flip side, Marion Grice was his dominant self on the ground and in the air. He rushed for 158 yards and two scores and caught another ... giving him 18 total touchdowns on the year. The Sun Devils probably get back into the Top 25 with this win -- or at least closer to the bubble. Make no mistake, this was a very important win for the Sun Devils and their confidence. The Huskies have dropped three straight, and the special season they were hoping for in August is suddenly looking a lot more mediocre. This was supposed to be one of those games the Huskies could win to take the next step. Instead, the Sun Devils are trending up.
  4. USC missed an opportunity: Things were set up so nicely early on for the Trojans. A huge goal-line stand followed by a 94-yard touchdown drive and a 7-0 lead on the road. A field goal gave them 10 points early in the second quarter. And then the offensive inefficiencies that plagued the twilight of the Lane Kiffin era reared their head in South Bend. The Trojans went scoreless the rest of the way and had 10 drives that included six punts, two failed fourth-down conversions, a missed field goal and an interception. Twice in the fourth quarter the Trojans were at or inside the Notre Dame 25 but were unable to capitalize. This loss doesn't do much in the way of the Pac-12 standings. But for a team trying desperately to salvage its brand, this one hurts.
  5. What to make of the South: All week long, the question surrounding the Utes was whether they could keep the momentum from their Stanford win rolling. We got our answer. Would things be different had Travis Wilson played the whole game? Maybe. Maybe not. Adam Schulz looked good enough in relief of the injured Wilson, throwing for 142 yards and a score. It still looks like ASU's trip to Pasadena on Nov. 23 is going to be the decisive tilt in the South Division. But half of the division sits at 1-2, with ASU on top at 3-1 and UCLA not far behind. Colorado is still winless in league play but is 3-3 overall. Two of the wins have come against FCS teams, but hey, it's two more wins than they had against the FCS last year. Ka'Deem Carey makes Arizona dangerous, no matter what. Utah, albeit inconsistent, is the team no one wants to play. USC, well, who knows what to make of them? The top of the division still doesn't have a front-runner, and Spots 3 to 6 are a mess.
  6. And then there's the North: Oregon scored 62 points and totaled more than 700 yards in its win over Washington State. The scary thing is, the Ducks can be better. And the Cougs, as they did last year, made things interesting in the first half. But unlike the South, there is a true front-runner in the North. The Ducks are 4-0 in the conference and also perfect overall. Without question, they are the team to beat. Speaking of perfect in conference play, the Beavers are also 4-0 behind another stellar performance from Sean Mannion in a win over Cal. But we'll know more about the Beavers when they take on Stanford next week in a game sure to impact the pecking order. Washington's stock is falling, and Cal is already rock bottom. Washington State, which is on bye next week, has four cracks left at two wins to become bowl eligible. The North, at least this week, has a little more clarity. But don't be shocked if that clarity gets muddied in the coming weeks.

Pac-12 midseason report

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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As we turn the page on the first half of the 2013 season, the big takeaway is this: The Pac-12 still has a viable national championship contender in Oregon and at least one viable BCS at-large team. An undefeated Oregon team obviously advances to the national championship game. A one-loss Oregon, Stanford and/or UCLA would all be prime candidates for an at-large bid (we'll know more after UCLA plays both of those teams).

Either way, the Pac-12 clearly distinguished itself as one of the top two leagues in college football with a 29-5 mark against out of conference competition. And a strong argument can be made that, top to bottom, it is on par if not superior to the SEC.

The Pac-12 is deep, which, as we’ve learned the last couple of weeks, is its blessing and its curse.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiMarcus Mariota has every reason to smile, leading an undefeated team and not committing a single turnover through six games.
The blessing is Oregon stayed highly visible through the first half of the season, even though it hadn’t played a ranked team until Saturday’s win at Washington. But the way the Ducks have won, by starting the year with five games of scoring 55 points or more, and the way they were able to squash most naysayers with dominant performance after dominant performance speaks to the sheer impressiveness of what Oregon has accomplished so far. A Heisman front runner also helps.

Plus, ASU and UCLA picked up critical wins over Wisconsin and Nebraska, and Washington topped Boise State. Those were all marquee wins that bolstered the conference’s national perception. Washington has dropped two games but remains in the top 25 because voters are recognizing the quality of competition in the Pac-12.

The curse is Washington plays in the Pac-12 North, in which wins are hard to come by. The curse is that a four-win Washington State team would have a much better shot at going bowling if the Pac-12 played an eight-game conference schedule. The curse is Stanford ran into a surging Utah team that finally had its “hello Pac-12” moment. Stanford didn't lose that game. Utah won it. And the Utes aren't going to make things easy in the South. Just as Washington State isn’t going to make things easy in the North. They led the Beavers late into the third quarter on Saturday night.

Now UCLA, Stanford, Oregon, ASU, Washington UCLA, Utah and Oregon State are all going to cannibalize one another throughout the course of a vicious conference schedule. UCLA has back-to-back trips to Stanford and Oregon. Washington has to go to ASU. Utah is on the road for four of its next six games. ASU must try to clinch the South in Pasadena. UCLA has to try to clinch the South at the Coliseum. That’s right, don’t rule out USC just yet.

Or maybe we see Stanford do what it did last year -- drop a game on the road after a failed goal-line push (starting to sound familiar?) and then close strong in the last mile. Then again, Stanford could conceivably drop its next two to UCLA and Oregon State and then beat Oregon. That would almost seem apropos for this wacky conference. Almost.

If we learned anything these first seven weeks, it’s that the Pac-12 has changed the perception of how it’s viewed around the country. It started the year with five teams in the top 25. A total of seven have been in and out of the rankings. It has four in this week -- all four in the top 20 -- two in the top 10 and one, at No. 2, receiving first-place votes. Three other teams have been in and out of the rankings -- USC, Oregon State and ASU -- and the Beavers, Sun Devils and Utes are receiving votes.

And as the conference continues gorging itself, it’s only going to get more interesting from here on out.

Offensive MVP: You can make a case for a few guys, but Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota gets the nod because not only has he accounted for 25 touchdowns, but he’s responsible for zero turnovers. All he has done in the first half of the season is be dominant, help his team without hurting them, and garnered legitimate Heisman buzz.

Defensive MVP: Tough call here between UCLA’s Anthony Barr and Stanford’s Trent Murphy. Barr leads the conference with by two more tackles for loss than anyone else, despite playing fewer games. Murphy has more sacks and a freakishly athletic pick-six. We’re giving the nod to Barr, who has more total tackles, has forced three fumbles and recovered two.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesUSC was a mess under Lane Kiffin; will the Trojans rally without him?
Biggest surprise: Utah’s win over Stanford certainly qualifies. As does Washington State’s win over USC in Week 2. Both of those teams sit at four wins, and that Nov. 23 date between the Utes and Cougs in Pullman could have bowl implications for both teams who were home for the holidays last year.

Biggest disappointment: While things might be looking up in Troy, the way the quarterback situation was handled followed by the dismissal of head coach Lane Kiffin was disappointing. The Trojans had bought enough good will to start the year in the top 25, but that faded quickly. Now they are searching for someone who can restore the brand.

Newcomer of the year: Coin toss between the unbelievably versatile Myles Jack of UCLA -- who has future first-rounder written all over him -- and Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam. We’re a Gilliam lean simply because of the sheer volume of his production. The true freshman leads the conference with an average of 10.6 tackles per game, is second in the league in solo stops (35) and has 53 tackles and a couple of sacks on the year.

Best coach: It’s hard to overlook the job Mark Helfrich has done with Oregon. And if we’re talking strictly on the field, he gets the vote. But we’re tipping our cap to Jim Mora for keeping his team together through a tragedy that would rock any program. He has been an emotional beacon for his players and the university and shepherded them through an extremely difficult time. All the while staying perfect on the season, a distant second to the job he has done off the field.

Best game: There has been plenty of drama, but halfway through the season we’re sticking with Oregon State’s overtime win at Utah in Week 3. Travis Wilson engineered an outstanding second-half comeback, and the Utes eventually erased a 27-10 deficit and turned it into a 38-37 lead. Late touchdowns from both teams forced overtime in the conference’s most thrilling game to date.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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See last week's Power Rankings here.

1. Oregon: The Ducks not only got their signature victory over a quality ranked foe, they actually did so by playing a relevant fourth quarter. That the 10th consecutive win over Washington ended up being a 10th consecutive blowout only solidifies their standing here.

2. UCLA: The Bruins, after impressively whipping California, are the conference's only other unbeaten, top-10 team after Stanford was upset at Utah. The Bruins can make a major statement if they go on the road and hand the Cardinal a second loss this season.

3. Stanford: While the power rankings in large part react to the week that was, they also strongly consider the totality of the season. While that was a tough loss at Utah, keep in mind the Cardinal have three quality Pac-12 wins: Arizona State, Washington State and Washington.

4. Washington: The Huskies have lost consecutive games to top-five foes in the Cardinal and Ducks. There's no shame in that. But now they need to pick up a quality road win. And so we have the visit to Arizona State on Saturday, a critical game for both.

5. Oregon State: The Beavers have won five in a row since they opened with an upset loss to Eastern Washington. While you never say never, they should improve to 6-1 at California on Saturday, and that might be enough to get them back into the national polls. Thereafter, though, the schedule ramps up considerably.

6. Utah: Funny thing with Utah's first two years in the Pac-12: We thought the Utes got lucky not playing Stanford and Oregon in their division. The win over the Cardinal might be a turning point for Utah in the conference. Or the Utes might lose at Arizona on Saturday and come back to earth.

7. Arizona State: The Sun Devils are a much better team at home, and the Huskies have struggled on the road under coach Steve Sarkisian. So Saturday sets up for Arizona State to make its own statement in the Pac-12 pecking order. A victory also probably returns the Sun Devils to the national rankings.

8. Washington State: Things fell apart at home against Oregon State quickly, as a highly competitive game became a blowout loss in the fourth quarter. Things don't get any easier this weekend, as a visit to Oregon typically isn't much fun. Or is it a great upset opportunity?

9. USC: If Ed Orgeron wants to show everyone what his leadership means at USC, he could lead the Trojans to a win at Notre Dame. Beat the Fighting Irish, and there will be more than a few folks who, at least tentatively, ask, "What about Ed?"

10. Arizona: The Wildcats face three consecutive winnable games starting with a visit from Utah. They become bowl eligible with three more wins and could work their way back into the South Division picture. The Utah game feels like a major measuring stick -- for both teams.

11. Colorado: Reality has set in for the Buffaloes. The question now is whether a QB change is at hand.

12. California: California showed some fight against UCLA. But this obviously is an outmanned team going through schematic growing pains on both sides of the ball.

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