Oregon Ducks: Sonny Dykes
- Where might Arizona go bowling?
- Arizona State isn't that upset about a 2-2 early-season run.
- Can California coach Sonny Dykes stave off recruiting commitment poachers?
- Colorado loses a reserve QB to transfer.
- Some thoughts on the return of QB Marcus Mariota and C Hroniss Grasu to Oregon.
- Good analysis of Oregon State's meager bowl options, including the accurate observation that our projection for the S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia isn't going to happen (yes, we blew that -- a spasm over regional proximity without double checking the MAC tie-in).
- Location has made Stanford an underdog in the Pac-12 title game.
- Jim Mora is staying at UCLA, which is big news in the conference.
- New USC coach Steve Sarkisian (I'm going to have to get used to typing that) won his press conference, even with big news coming from Westwood.
- A Kyle Whittingham critic gives the Utah coach a vote of confidence for 2014.
- Washington's coaching search moves on, post-Mora.
- Where might Washington State go bowling?
Click here for last week's Power Rankings.
1. Stanford: With the win over Notre Dame, Stanford defeated its sixth ranked opponent in a single season for the first time in school history. It also clinched its fourth straight 10-win season. The Cardinal had just three 10-win seasons all time before this streak. They have a chance to secure a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth on Saturday at Arizona State.
2. Arizona State: After blowing out Arizona, the Sun Devils have won seven in a row and are 7-0 at home this season with an average margin of victory of 28 points. If Stanford thinks the Pac-12 title game will be anything like the Sept. 21 game in Palo Alto, it will be in for a long night in Tempe on Saturday.
3. Oregon: The Ducks showed grit winning in the fourth quarter against Oregon State, but it's also fair to say that performance didn't look anything like the September-October squad that dominated on both sides of the ball during an 8-0 start. It seems likely Oregon will eclipse the loser of the Pac-12 title game for the Valero Alamo Bowl slot because of its national brand.
4. UCLA: UCLA's second consecutive win over USC means just what the Bruins and coach Jim Mora said afterward: They own L.A. It's also meaningful that they bounced back strong after the disappointing loss to Arizona State. Next challenge -- other than the bowl game -- is to dominate recruiting in Southern California.
5. USC: Here's a guess that the loss to UCLA likely leaves interim Ed Orgeron outside looking in as far as becoming the Trojans' next coach. Losing to both Notre Dame and the Bruins weighs down a résumé, no matter how much better the product was post-Lane Kiffin.
6. Washington: Steve Sarkisian and the Huskies got over the 7-6 hump with an eighth win in the Apple Cup. Win a bowl game and Sark and company will face a much more positive offseason compared to last year.
7. Washington State: Despite losing the Apple Cup, the Cougars are clearly on an uptick under Mike Leach. A bowl win, of course, would accelerate the upticker.
8. Arizona: It seemed as though the Wildcats used up their A-game in the upset win over Oregon. Rich Rodriguez has posted two solid seasons in Tucson, but going 0-2 versus the hated Sun Devils prevents Wildcats fans from feeling satisfied.
9. Oregon State: The Beavers' preseason worst-case scenario was the possibility of a major second-half slide. That came true, see five consecutive losses. This team needs a bowl game -- to win a bowl game -- just to wash the bad taste out of its mouth.
10. Utah: Lots of offseason questions for the Utes after a second-consecutive bowl-less season, but the chief one is at quarterback. Getting back to a bowl game in 2014 depends on it.
11. Colorado: Even while losing at Utah, it was clear that this team took a big step forward in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre. The Buffaloes darn near notched a huge comeback on the road, showing fight until the very end. A 4-8 season and 1-8 finish in Pac-12 play might not feel very good overall, but this team is much improved compared to 2012. Now, can it take a big step forward in 2014?
12. California: There is no where to go but up, and Sonny Dykes needs to make some tough calls on his staff. The Bears could energize their fan base with some recruiting wins, seeing that none of those came in Pac-12 play.
What's the one regret you can't work through? You got it baby, mine would be you.
- Ka'Deem Carey is a Doak Walker finalist.
- ASU tries to keep its focus in a hype-heavy week.
- It wasn't much of a honeymoon for Sonny Dykes in his first season.
- The Colorado-Utah game doesn't have the buzz of a rivalry.
- Marcus Mariota says he's doing fine after going through concussion tests.
- Lifelong Oregon State fan Mike Riley has a lot of Civil War memories.
- Grading Stanford's performance against Cal.
- The stakes are plenty high for this year's USC-UCLA showdown.
- The Trojans have been expanding their playbook.
- Kyle Whittingham says he'll keep looking for answers.
- Some quotes from Steve Sarkisian's weekly news conference.
- WSU's offensive line feeling good about itself.
- Some fun Pac-12 stats via Athlon, along with their bowl projections.
Click here for last week's Power Rankings.
1. Stanford: It seems in some ways just that Stanford now eclipses Oregon in the Pac-12 North based on the teams' head-to-head result. The Cardinal, by the way, could do the conference a favor by beating Notre Dame on Saturday. Otherwise the Fighting Irish, with wins over Stanford, Arizona State and USC, could claim their own Pac-12 title.
2. Arizona State: You can't undersell what Todd Graham has done in Tempe. If the Sun Devils beat rival Arizona on Saturday, they will play host to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. So there are considerable stakes outside of pride. And we know how well the Sun Devils play at home. The result earlier this season at Stanford might be meaningless.
3. Oregon: It has been a long time since the Ducks weren't Nos. 1 or 2 in the Power Rankings. After getting blown out at Arizona, coach Mark Helfrich said there needed to be some "inward" looking inside the locker room. Can the Ducks regain their mojo? The Civil War against Oregon State will be a pretty grumpy affair, without substantial external stakes for either team for the first time in a long time.
4. USC: The Trojans, as expected, improved to 6-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron after whipping Colorado. Yet, much of the present goodwill would be surrendered with a second consecutive loss to UCLA. If Orgeron delivers a victory, however, his candidacy to become the next head coach takes on substantial legitimacy.
5. UCLA: Losing at home to Arizona State hurt, but the Bruins know exactly how to turn their frowns upside down: Beat USC. That also would boost their bowl options, of course.
6. Washington: While there has been a lot of hyperventilating about Steve Sarkisian and the inconsistent Huskies, the ultimate story will be written over the next two games, starting with Friday's Apple Cup. If Washington beats Washington State and then wins a bowl game, it will finish 9-4, and that would represent a strong step forward after three consecutive 7-6 seasons. On the downside, anything less would cap a disappointing season, and certainly wouldn't cool Sarkisian's coaching seat.
7. Arizona: While Arizona's friends up North have taken a solid lead in the battle of second-year head coaches between Rich Rodriguez and Graham, the Wildcats can take back a lot with an upset win in Tempe. Not only would they boost their bowl prospects and make Rich Rod 1-1 versus Graham, they'd force the Sun Devils to travel to Stanford for the Pac-12 title game, which would substantially reduce their Rose Bowl chances.
8. Washington State: The Cougars are bowl eligible, but they could become bowl eligible with a bang -- as well as positively giddy -- with a second consecutive upset win over the hated Huskies in Seattle. An added consolation would be seeing Sarkisian's seat heat up substantially and seeing a potential shift in the balance of power in the state.
9. Oregon State: That was a dreadful performance against Washington. The worst I've personally witness from the Beavers. Coach Mike Riley is a class act and a heck of a guy, but he needs to answer for that. It wasn't about losing to the Huskies. It was about how it went down at home, with a listless, uninterested effort.
10. Utah: While there are legitimate excuses for how Utah's season has gone, the loss at Washington State, even without QB Travis Wilson, delivered a resounding thud to Year 3 in the Pac-12. The Utes are 1-7 in conference play. A loss at home to Colorado on Saturday would make coach Kyle Whittingham's seat hot heading into 2014.
11. Colorado: While the Buffaloes were brought back down to Earth after getting pounded by USC, they showed admirable fight in the second half. Concluding the season with a road win over Utah would bode well for the future. And it would mean the Buffs finish 10th in the Pac-12 Power Rankings, not 11th.
12. California: The best news for the Bears is the season is over. Little went right in Sonny Dykes' first season, and he took the blame upon himself after the blowout Big Game defeat to Stanford. There is plenty of justifiable fan frustration. Dykes' first question is his staff, particularly on defense. He probably needs to make some changes. And then he needs to look at his roster and decide who cares about winning and who doesn't.
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To the notes.
Swede from Tucson, Ariz., writes: I'm wondering if the one-game suspension and the two early byes for Arizona destroyed any discussion of Ka'deem Carey's efforts as being a Heisman candidate. He's 1-2 games behind most other RBs at this point, yet still 11th in the country in total yards (and averaging 160 yds/game - best in the country). If that pace can be sustained for the remainder of the season, it's entirely possible he will have the most yards gained (again). What is it that is keeping him from even being considered in the Heisman discussion?
Ted Miller: Carey's case has been hurt by the reasons you mention, as well as Arizona losing two games. You'll notice that the top Heisman candidates almost exclusively play for highly ranked teams.
But Carey could get back in the race, particularly if Florida State and Oregon falter with their previously perfect QBs posting poor performances.
Regardless, I think Carey could enter the discussion if he posts big numbers and leads the Wildcats to three consecutive victories, which would include a win over Pac-12 South Division rival UCLA on Nov. 9.
If Carey still led the nation in rushing and the Wildcats were 7-2 and nationally ranked, he'd start to raise eyebrows.
To really extend this, if the Wildcats end up winning the South Division and he leads the nation in rushing at the end of the regular season, the odds would get better for him to get an invitation to New York.
Carey needs a lot to happen to get into the discussion, including for other top guys to slip. But it's far from inconceivable.
In my mind, he's the best running back in the country.
Koosh from New York writes: There are so many cliches when referring to two quarterback systems "two quarterbacks means you don't have ONE quarterback", etc. But I find that it is mostly about confidence. See Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and at the Niners. As a former quarterback, he knew that a confident quarterback was a winning quarterback and spoke effusively about both of them at every chance he got. Which brings me to my question, even though [Jared Goff] has had some turnovers, Sonny Dykes has created a quarterback controversy at Cal where the ONLY thing going for them this season was that their freshman phenom was putting up video game-like numbers. Why put that kind of doubt into an 18 year old's head? For the first 3 games, I thought our offense could win almost any game for us. Since [Zach Kline] has gotten into the mix, my optimism has waned considerably and I don't think it is a coincidence.
Ted Miller: It's a tough situation at Cal, and Sonny Dykes is looking for answers. One of them might be changing quarterbacks.
Will that hurt Goff's confidence? Perhaps. It would be understandable if it did. But the sort of QB who's going to lead Cal out of the Pac-12 basement would use a demotion as motivation to get better. You cannot underestimate how important resolve and mental toughness is in football, particularly at a highly scrutinized position like quarterback.
If Goff pouts or becomes gun-shy and obsessed with making mistakes and loses his confidence, he's probably not the right guy to lead Dykes' offense. My impression of Goff is he won't do any of those things. He'll just focus on what went wrong and try to get better.
The simple fact is Goff's performance slipped once the Pac-12 schedule started. As Jon Wilner pointed out:
Goff in  non-conference games: 7 TDs, 4 INTs
Goff in  conference games: 2 TDs, 3 INTs.
Is Kline the answer? No idea. But the preseason competition was close enough that Kline probably deserves a shot, particularly with things going as poorly as they are on both sides of the ball.
Of course, a coach has to know his players. It's in his best interest to know who needs his confidence consistently massaged and who responds better to tough love. It's a fine line. My feeling is that a coach can provide the unvarnished truth to a player in one-on-one meetings, but should spare the rod when talking to the media.
I haven't read any quotes from Dykes that seemed to throw Goff under the bus.
Matt from Washington, D.C. writes: What are your thoughts on UW's up-tempo offense thus far? I understand that this is where much of college football is headed, but at some point shouldn't UW play to its strengths, especially at receiver? (i.e. getting the ball to ASJ and Kasen Williams more) I feel like I've seen enough screen plays to Mickens and Kevin Smith to last all season.
Ted Miller: The biggest problem with Washington's offense isn't growing pains due to the new up-tempo style, it's Keith Price's thumb.
Pick up a football and throw it. Now imagine your thumb is working at about 50 percent. Not good.
The Huskies had a horrific performance at Arizona State, but otherwise the offense has been good, including the losses to Stanford and Oregon, which have the two best defenses in the Pac-12.
I think the chief issue in Tempe was Price's thumb. It will be interesting to see how well he throws against Cal on Saturday. I'm sure Price and coach Steve Sarkisian are both looking forward to the bye next week before playing host to Colorado.
But I do hear you: There is something to be said for targeting Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins more. Based on what Sarkisian has said of late, I think he agrees with you.
Eric from Somerset, Colo., writes: You guys are morons! I kid. I kid, because I love. Yes, AZ looks to be the better team against my Buffs. But! IF CU can put together a complete game - they've shown solid spurts in all phases at times this year, which has been lacking for a while - give Sefo some time, get Adkins and Powell going. Have Gillam stalk Carey the entire game, since it's at home, with a black-out (for cancer) at homecoming, there may be a little MikeMac Magic in the air, and they steal a win. If so? Is it a fluke, or do you guys see them pulling off two more wins and getting bowl eligible for the first time in nearly an eternity? Oh...we all remember the glory days (at least those of us over 40, who were there). Go Buffs!
Ted Miller: The Buffs need three more wins to become bowl eligible, so I rate that as a long shot, particularly with the schedule ahead -- six consecutive games with no bye, including three on the road.
As for your specific take on the meeting against Arizona on Saturday... maybe. Stranger things have happened. If the Buffs can slow down Carey and force B.J. Denker to throw, that might invite trouble for the Wildcats, though Denker has been passing much better of late. Further, the greatly improved Wildcats defense might be missing two key pieces: spur LB Tra'Mayne Bondurant, who is out, and bandit safety Jared Tevis, who is highly questionable.
Still, I've got the Wildcats winning decisively, as does Kevin. There's a reason Arizona is favored by nearly two touchdowns on the road.
There is no question Colorado is vastly improved. Yet I'd rate the chances 50-50 whether the Buffs can get two more wins down the home stretch of the season and finish 5-7. The most favorable opportunity to pick up win No. 4 is on Nov. 16, at home against struggling California. Otherwise, each of the other five foes at present own winning records, so the Buffs will have to post an upset as a likely big underdog.
The Buffs are young and they are playing hard under Mike MacIntyre. There is reason for optimism for the future. Even a 4-8 finish would represent a significant step forward from the woeful 1-11 performance last year.
Wat from Parts Unknown writes: The claim that Oregon has been the most consistently dominant team in the country is a strange one. FSU has won games 41-13, 62-7, 54-6, 48-34, 63-0 and 51-14. Baylor has won games 69-3, 70-13, 70-7, 73-42, 35-25, 71-7. Neither of those are far removed from Oregon's 66-3, 59-10, 59-14, 55-16, 57-16, 45-24 and 62-38. Other than some attempt to parse the relative merits of 4-3 Washington, 3-3 Boston College and 2-4 Kansas State, that is a pretty equal rate of dominance. Especially considering that ASU had a larger margin of victory over UW than UO did. You guys on the west coast might not want to acknowledge it, but Baylor is the #1 offensive team in the country (in points and yards and by a large margin) and FSU has the largest scoring margin in the country. Further, FSU has the most impressive wins of the 3, over 5-2 Maryland and 6-1 Clemson. It is fine to prefer Oregon over FSU and Baylor, but don't base it on false claims of "most explosive", "most weapons", "fastest", "best offense", "best scheme" etc. because all of those are factually false based on actual numbers and statistics against similar opposition. Instead, go with something that is actually true, such as how Oregon has earned it by finishing in the top 10 every year since 2008 and winning 2 consecutive BCS bowls. But when you do, don't complain about the SEC pulling the same "track record" argument also. But don't complain about the SEC's unquantifiable and sometimes demonstrably false "toughest, deepest conference/best defenses/best up front" propaganda while trying to contrive nonsense to artificially elevate Oregon over FSU and Baylor.
Ted Miller: The Pac-12 blog appreciates your note and the effort it took. For that reason, we are not going to go item by item and point out how you cherry-picked several things, such has Florida State's scoring margin being all of 0.6 points higher than Oregon's, or not accounting for the differences between playing at home and on the road. Or that Baylor is eliminated from the "consistently dominant" argument by winning only by 10 at Kansas State, where it trailed entering the fourth quarter.
Further, we won't tweak the idea of including Maryland, which just lost by 24 points at Wake Forest, as an "impressive" win.
(Would you pick Maryland over Tennessee? Of course you wouldn't. Or, for that matter, would you pick Boston College or Kansas State to beat Washington, which has whipped Boise State, Illinois and Arizona? Of course you wouldn't).
I continue to think that Oregon has the "most explosive", "most weapons", "fastest", "best offense", "best scheme" based on what I've seen this season, and I'm far from alone on that. There is a reason both polls have Oregon ranked No. 2 behind Alabama and the Ducks are getting the second-most No. 1 votes.
All that said, there is no question the most impressive performance so far this year by any team was Florida State's dominant win at Clemson.
Could you make an argument that FSU has been just as "consistently" dominant as Oregon? Absolutely.
Could you make a sound argument that FSU deserves to be ranked No. 1? Sure.
But I also think the assertion that Oregon has been the most consistently dominant team this year doesn't quite reach the realm of strange.
Strange would be claiming that Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is so detail-oriented that he couldn't stand the idea of trash falling in between a trash can and its plastic liner in a hotel meeting room so he got on his hands and knees and fixed the liner and replaced the trash in the bag.
Oh... wait. That's true.
Jeff from Eugene, Ore., wrties: If you were lucky enough to be me, would you rather go to College GameDay or sleep in.
Ted Miller: That you even ask this makes me question whether this is the real Jeff from Eugene.
Everybody knows that if you sleep in and miss GameDay when it's on your campus, Corso will haunt you dreams, playing the role of Jacob Marley, and give you the full-on Ebenezer Scrooge treatment.
Three ghosts of College Football -- past (Knute Rockne), present (Nick Saban... eeeek!) and future (Scott Frost) -- and lots of traumatic experiences later, and you will see the error of your ways and never contemplate missing GameDay again.
You. Have. Been. Warned! Potential Impostor Jeff From Eugene!
We point that out because that's about the only thing Oregon isn't doing well right now.
Others are deceptive. Oregon ranks sixth in total defense but is No. 1 in the far more revealing stat of average yards surrendered per play, where they rank eighth in the nation at 4.46 yards. The Ducks are 10th in red-zone offense, but their touchdown percentage in the red zone -- 72.1 percent -- ranks second.
This seems like a team with few, if any, holes. So what are the Ducks' weaknesses?
"I haven't seen any," said California coach Sonny Dyke, whose Bears lost 55-16 at Oregon on Sept. 28. "They are incredibly fast. I think the difference this year is they are throwing the ball so much better. Their receivers are faster, bigger, stronger, more physical, making more plays than in the past."
In the preseason, there were three questions about Oregon: 1. How would Mark Helfrich do stepping in for Chip Kelly? 2. What would be the pecking order at running back and how would De'Anthony Thomas be used? 3. How would the Ducks replace the dynamic linebacking troika of Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay?
Check, check and check.
The 7-0 record, No. 2 ranking in the national polls -- No. 3 in the BCS standings -- and 40-point average margin of victory suggest that Helfrich is doing fairly well. He might be a softer touch than Kelly -- though he's not afraid to tweak a reporter or two -- but he's not taking any mercy on the field.
Running back? The bottom line is the Ducks are No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 332.4 yards per game, 17 yards better than last year's average, and they've done that with DAT missing the last four games with an injury. Backups Byron Marshall and true freshman Thomas Tyner are both averaging 6.7 yards per carry and have combined for 16 touchdowns. Marshall, a sophomore, ranks 19th in the nation with 106.6 yards rushing per game.
Linebacker? Tony Washington, who replaced Jordan, has nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Jordan had 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2012. Derrick Malone leads the Ducks in tackles with 59. And, really, the bottom line is the defensive numbers, including a run defense that ranks 22nd in the nation.
"I think [the Ducks defense is] certainly the best they've been," Dykes said. "The secondary is really, really good. They are good at linebacker and they are pretty active up front."
Of course, Dykes is a first-year Pac-12 coach who hasn't been dealing with Oregon during its rise to consistent top-five team, though he was Arizona's offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009. If we're going to ask whether this version of Oregon might be the best yet, we need to ask someone who's seen them all.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have lost 10 in a row to Oregon, including five defeats during his tenure, let out a big breath when asked if this was the Ducks' best team.
"Hooof," he said. "We've played some pretty good ones. I think the balance they have on offense is probably the best that they've been."
The general consensus is Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' best quarterback during its recent run. He might, in fact, as former Ducks All-American QB Joey Harrington recently volunteered, be the best in program history. Mariota brings a dangerous downfield passing game to a longstanding dominance running the ball. As for the defense, it's very good, though it remains to be seen whether it's as good as the 2010 unit or even the talented crew of 2012 that battled numerous injuries.
Still, every coach who has played the Ducks probably feels there's something he wishes he might have attacked more or tried to exploit.
"I think there is a lot of places," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "There's always a lot of places."
Washington State lost 62-38 at Oregon last weekend, with Leach's Cougars adding two late touchdowns to make the gap less dramatic. Quarterback Connor Halliday set a number of Pac-12 and NCAA passing records in the game -- he completed 58 of 89 passes for 557 yards -- but also threw four interceptions, one of which Terrance Mitchell returned 51 yards for a touchdown.
"Oregon is really fast," Leach said, echoing a common theme. "As you play Oregon, everything they do -- they can reel plays in quicker. They react to everything quicker. Very explosive... Oregon hits you in the mouth when you throw one up."
Of course, speculating on Oregon's seeming lack of weaknesses and its standing among other accomplished Ducks teams is a mostly a meaningless academic exercise when five regular season games remain ahead, including a visit Saturday from No. 12 UCLA. In fact, the next five Pac-12 games (combined opponent record of 26-7) are far tougher than the first four (combined record of 12-16).
Helfrich isn't really biting, either. When asked about areas of concern, he pointed back to the preseason questions and implied the jury is still out at linebacker.
Yet his overriding conclusion sounded very Chip Kelly-ish, while also offering plenty of room to read between the lines.
"I think everything," he said. "In every phase we can get better, starting with me, everything we do."
That's either coachspeak -- we need to get better every day -- or carries a more ominous implication: No weaknesses? Best Oregon team? You haven't seen anything yet.
Greg in Salt Lake City writes: "If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better." Oh, like maybe beat No. 5 Stanford? Done. Wait, that didn't really help. Utah is a few turnovers away from being undefeated, they get better every week and just beat Stanford. Because Power Rankings take the most recent games into account more we should definitely be ahead of Oregon State and Washington -- neither of which has beat a team that is still ranked. I would think a former MWC guy would show a little more respect ;)
Kevin Gemmell: I appreciate the passion, Greg. I really do. And I particularly appreciate the emoticon wink. And as a former MWC guy, I've followed Utah's rise in that conference and transition to the Pac-12 with great interest.
For the record, it did help. You moved up from seventh to sixth in this week’s Power Rankings.
No, you shouldn’t be ahead of Oregon State or Washington. You lost to Oregon State. Any way you slice it, the Beavers have more wins and beat you at home. As for Washington, we’ll find out more about them this week when the Huskies travel to Arizona State. Washington lost to Stanford on the road by a field goal. You beat Stanford at home by two field goals. Washington’s two losses have been to top-five teams. Utah’s losses have been to a top 15 team and an unranked team. Plus Utah has had the luxury of not having to go out of state yet.
I think the Stanford win was a critical stepping stone for the Utes, but it’s how they follow it up that will be extremely telling.
This isn’t the Mountain West where the entire season boils down to one game against TCU. You beat Stanford. Great. Now can you go on the road and beat Arizona? At USC? Can you avenge the beating you took last year from ASU? Can you win at Autzen?
Recall Washington scored two wins over top-10 teams last year, but still finished with seven wins and the season was perceived as unsuccessful. If Utah fails to make it to the postseason, how much does this one win really mean? Not a whole lot. You'll be viewed as the team that just caught Stanford on a bad day on the road rather than a team that is climbing the Pac-12 pecking order.
It was a good win. What are you going to do with it?
Ducku03 in Eugene writes: Hey Kevin I've been reading a lot about that Heisman Moment that takes a candidate over the top. It seems to me that all of these moments, the media talks about, are come-from-behind moments that give their team a miraculous win. Isn't it a little unfair to degrade a Heisman campaign just because your team is always ahead in the fourth quarter such as the case for Marcus Mariota?
Kevin Gemmell: Aside from “mandatory” and “colonoscopy,” there are no two words put together that irk me more than “Heisman” and “moment.” It’s a sham. A fluke. Just as I railed in last week’s mailbag about one play being a determining factor in a game, one moment doesn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t determine something as important as a Heisman.
I can think of about two dozen Heisman moments for Marcus Mariota already. And, as you noted, none of them involved a come-from-behind victory. That’s because he’s got his team so far ahead.
I’ve written a couple of times on the Heisman in recent years. It’s a completely subjective award that is open to all kinds of interpretation. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I happen to disagree with how some people go about their voting process. That’s what makes the Heisman so controversial. As I noted in 2011, Andrew Luck had plenty of Heisman moments, they just weren’t “traditional” Heisman moments.
I don’t think Mariota’s campaign will be slowed down if the Ducks don’t have a come-from-behind-fourth-quarter win. What he’s done so far has been too impressive. Obviously, the Stanford game will be of significance. It will be nationally televised and East Coast voters should stay up to watch.
The whole Heisman exercise has gotten out of hand. It’s taken on such a life of its own that it’s essentially downgraded the importance of some other awards like the Maxwell and Walter Camp, the Outland and the Rimington. I hate that the metrics aren’t there for linemen or defensive players to win it. And the spread offense has completely slanted the playing field in favor of quarterbacks. The whole process feels less like a celebration of greatness and more like, well, a mandatory colonoscopy.
Tommy Trojan in a beach chair on the beach writes: I know and the USC faithful know how important a win against ND this weekend is for the future of the program and for the rivalry. What does a USC win mean in the world of the Pac-12 down the stretch?
Kevin Gemmell: In terms of the standings, not a whole lot. In terms of their perception, it’s huge. USC’s brand has taken a huge hit over the last 12 months. With that comes negative recruiting from other schools and a general uneasy feeling about the state of the program.
But USC is still a brand. And it will endure. Because there are always going to be elite athletes who want to come to USC.
The Trojans aren’t out of the South Division hunt yet, but they’ll need some help along the way. All they can do is hope to win out and restore the confidence of the fan base and potential future Trojan players. Winning at Notre Dame would be a huge first step toward rebuilding that.
Chris in Foresthill, Calif. writes: Sonny Dykes is on record that Cal has the prerequisites “location, facilities, weather, academics and access to state-wide and national talent” to be a national championship contender. I don’t see it due to the predominance of pro sports in the Bay Area. In three to five years, do you see Cal as a contender, pretender or also-ran?
Kevin Gemmell: I think what we have right now, this year, with Cal is the perfect storm of a young team adjusting to new schemes, a horrific string of injuries and one of the toughest schedules in the country.
The Bears have been able to move the ball, they just haven’t been able to score. I still think the skill position players are really good, they just haven’t been able to translate it on the field on Saturdays.
Losing 10 of 11 potential starters on defense doesn't help. Dykes said today that he's never seen this many season-ending injuries in one year in his career.
In three to five years I think Cal should certainly be a mainstay in the postseason. Cal has too many advantages not to, at the very least, be a six-win team. I’m cutting Dykes and Co. some slack simply because of all the dice loaded against them this season. But there are still six opportunities left for progress. And six opportunities for a lot of younger players to get some valuable experience.
Don in Newberg, Ore. writes: Kevin, Most impressive aspect of the Ducks' win @ Washington? When the season started, there was no argument that Oregon's best three offensive players were Mariota, DAT and Lyerla. They beat the Dawgs without two of those three. That says something.
Kevin Gemmell: I’d argue that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell were right up there in terms of preseason hype. And so far Oregon’s secondary has been beastly. I’d say that was the most impressive aspect.
Keith Price did what he could, but the Ducks held him to his lowest output of the season in terms of yards and touchdowns. His longest pass was 28 yards. His completion percentage was below 60 percent for just the second time this year (the Arizona rain game was his lowest).
For as much as people want to talk about what Oregon is doing on offense -- and full disclosure, I’m one of those guys talking about their offense -- the defense has quietly been one of the best in league. Just as it was quietly one of the best in the league last year, and the year before that. They are allowing a league-low 13.8 points per game and have only allowed four touchdowns in the air. Be impressed with the offense. But don’t forget what the guys on the other side of the ball are doing.
Darin in Monterey, Calif. writes: I have a couple of questions about QBR ratings. Can you explain to me how you get a high QBR rating? Mariotta has an average of 96 or something like that and Mannion only has 82. When Oregon State played Colorado Mannion only recorded a QBR of 61, while scoring 6 TDs. … I understand that Colorado isn't exactly a powerhouse, but Mariotta scored a 96 QBR against Nicholls St. while throwing less touchdowns and about the same pass completions. So, what’s the difference?
Kevin Gemmell: You basically have two different QBR ratings. One is raw QBR, the other is adjusted QBR. Adjusted takes into account the strength of opponent and various other factors.
Essentially, it boils down to how much of a contribution did the quarterback make? What was his completion percentage on first, second or third down? What were the circumstances under which a touchdown was scored?
Here’s the complete guide to the QBR that fully explains it all. It’s a lot to take in, and requires reading it a few times. But once it all settles, you’ll start to look at QB stats differently.
Like all stats, it’s not a complete representation of the player. But it’s, in my opinion, the best statistical measuring stick out there.
Scappoozer in Scappoose, Ore. writes: I won't say I told you so. I like your coverage of Pac-12 football and a little homerism to boot but you and Ted have never jumped on your potential champions bandwagon the way the SEC bloggers have never wavered over Alabama. You start your article by saying Oregon is the national title contender we thought they were, huh? Last week Ted puts Stanford back to No. 1 in the Power Rankings? Pick a team and stick with them. Win the Decade is soooo sweet. You drank the Washington Kool-aid, yes they are a good team but pupil of the spread was not ready to beat the teacher of the spread. I've said all along Stanford is too slow and it showed, Washington might be better. I just felt like nationally and through voting the rest of the nation were closer to reality than the Pac-12 bloggers I follow. Washington was overrated and you guys always had them ranked too high and they are not ready to compete for a national championship let alone a Pac-12 championship. Our local reporters can't even pronounce our QB's name correctly, it's MARIO-TA. Go Ducks!
Kevin Gemmell: First off, the “I told you so” doesn't fly with me. I went back through my entire mailbag for the last six months and this is the first note I got from you. But I’m happy to answer it.
Second, I challenge you go to back through the blog and find a single instance where either Ted or I wrote that Washington was ready to compete for a national championship. I’ll save you the time. It’s not there. Neither of us ever wrote that.
Did Ted and I like Washington coming into the season? Yep. Still do. Did we expect them to be where they are right now? Yep. No shame in losing on the road to Stanford and at home to Oregon.
The Stanford is too slow argument doesn’t work, either. Does anyone really think Ty Montgomery looked slow the last couple of weeks?
Yes, Ted did put Stanford on top of the Power Rankings last week. As he noted, he and I squabbled over that decision. But since he gets the final byline, he pulled rank. Just as he had Paul Richardson at No. 10 in his midseason top 10 player re-ranking. But since I had the final byline, I swapped Richardson out for Montgomery and I pulled rank.
I get it. You’re excited about your team. We’re excited about them too. Coming into the season, we both felt it was 50-50 with Stanford and Oregon, and our only reservations where the coaching change. It’s clear now that Mark Helfrich has done a phenomenal job and the Ducks haven’t missed a beat. In fact, they’ve gotten better.
We've said all season long we thought the Pac-12 had two teams that could challenge for a national championship. Oregon was always one of those teams.
So go ahead and keep being excited for your team and their possible date with the BCS championship game. But don’t forget what happened last year when everyone said Stanford was down. All they did was run off 12 straight, beat Oregon in Eugene and win the Rose Bowl.
Be confident. Be excited. Be proud. But don’t get cocky until you’re holding a crystal ball.
That, my new friend from whom I expect to hear more, you can quote me on.
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.
A conglomerate of questions about Steve Sarkisian’s postgame comments about the replay and Stanford faking injuries is a major theme in this week’s mailbag. So here is a conglomerate answer:
Kevin Gemmell: I’ll start with the replay: Sark was clearly frustrated with the way the game ended. I’d be too. It was an uncomfortable thud to a heck of a game. And there continues to be debate on whether Kevin Smith had possession -- as was the call on the field -- or whether the ball indisputably hit the ground -- which was the call on the reversal. My opinion? I think it hit the ground. But I’m not sure I can say that indisputably. That raises a letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law debate that we don’t need to engage in right now.
The bigger picture, however, is a troubling trend that seems to be popping up more and more. And that’s one play being the focal point for an entire 60 minute game. Whether it’s this game, Arizona State-Wisconsin, Texas-Iowa State, etc. we’re seeing 10 seconds dominate the other 59 minutes, 50 seconds.
Washington had run 87 offensive plays before that controversial fourth-and-10. The Huskies scored four touchdowns. That means there were 83 opportunities to impact the game; 83 chances to score; 83 chances to advance the ball; 83 chances to do something other than let the final offensive play of the game for your team come down to an instant replay. Take play No. 86 -- third-and-10 -- one play before the controversial call. If All-Universe tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins catches the ball, it’s a first down. But it was a flat-out drop. Keith Price’s throw was on the money. It’s those kinds of plays that make the “we got hosed” argument tough to swallow.
In the end, hat’s off to the Huskies for a very strong performance. The Price naysayers need to go back under their bridges and any questions of Washington’s legitimacy should be put to rest.
Now … those pesky injuries.
Do teams fake injuries? Yes. And it’s an ugly part of the game that is getting uglier and uglier as more teams take on uptempo offenses. As my colleague once wrote, there is something unseemly about booing when a player is down.
Sark called out Randy Hart by name -- a name, by the way, that should still garner a ton of respect in Seattle from his long time service with Don James. He says he saw something. Across the field, in the middle of a tight game? Maybe.
But given the way the game ended and the aggressive nature in which Sark called out Stanford and its players, it comes across as sour grapes even if he does have a legitimate gripe.
Ben Gardner and Shayne Skov, by the way, have vehemently denied they faked injuries.
If sark thinks coach hart would tell us 2 fake injuries he's obviously never been around the guy. If anything he's telling us to get up n go— Ben Gardner (@BennyG49) October 6, 2013
Skov didn't take a dive, I didn't take a dive. Never have never will. Stay classy Washington— Ben Gardner (@BennyG49) October 6, 2013
We got the dub, UW is a hell of a team period. If I'm having docs look at me on the sideline I'm not faking it. Grow up, n watch the replay— Shayne Skov (@ShayneSkov11) October 6, 2013
This is an unsavory he said-he said. I know Sark. I also know Gardner and Skov. I like all those guys. And I also know of at least one person on the Washington staff who has practiced this technique in the past (to be fair, while at another program).
This seems like as good a time as any to open up some dialogue about what to do with injured players. How about if a player goes down with an injury and play has to be stopped, that player must sit out the remainder of the series or a minimum of seven plays. That gives the player ample time to recover and be treated by the medical staff. And it’s punitive enough that if the player is faking, he’s standing on the sidelines for a reasonable amount of time.
That’s just a suggestion, not necessarily the solution. But I think it has to be addressed at some point in the very near future so we don’t have to question the legitimacy of injuries.
Colin in Seattle writes: Sorry, but you totally miss on your "Stanford, Oregon still a cut above" piece. No mention of the fact that the Huskies out-gained Stanford by 200 yards and 16 first downs? No mention of the fact that Stanford was totally outplayed with the exception of two really bad kick return covers? You are not a "cut above" when your quarterback puts up 12/20, 100 yard game at home while the other quarterback puts up 350 yards. Stanford won the game, fair and square, but are by no means "a cut above". They were significantly outplayed at home, excepting a few poor mistakes by the Huskies.
Gemmell: There are only three undefeated teams left in the Pac-12. Stanford is one of them. Washington isn’t. Can't make it anymore black and white than that.
The column was about records and whether the rest of the league has closed the gap enough to challenge Oregon and Stanford and possibly derail a meeting of undefeated teams on Nov. 7. In that regard, the piece was 100 percent accurate -- because neither Stanford nor Oregon has lost. Both still have to play UCLA, the league’s other undefeated team.
It didn’t mention your examples because it was a conference-wide piece, not a game-specific column. But it also didn’t mention that Washington trailed the entire game. It didn’t mention the 18-play, 73-yard drive that ate up 5 minutes, 37 seconds and ended in an interception, and it didn’t mention that the most penalized team in the conference added 10 more penalties for 89 yards.
The “a few poor mistakes” rationale speaks to the point of the column. The upper-tier teams are able to overcome “a few poor mistakes” or they simply don’t make them. And last time I checked special teams were still a major part of the game. It wasn’t just Montgomery’s two long kick returns. How about the 12-play, 88-yard drive Washington strung together at the end of the first half. Fantastic drive. Huge momentum changer … followed by a pooch kickoff that gives Stanford the ball at the 39. Then 52 seconds later the Cardinal answered.
This game was exactly what we thought it would be -- a hard-fought game between two good teams. But if Washington wants to take the next step and contend for conference titles, these are the types of games it has to win.
It sounds like you're more peeved with the headline than the story. And if that's the case, I'll take the fall for that one. It was 1:30 a.m. and I needed something that fit on one line. If that's your biggest gripe, I can live with that.
Pete in Austin, Texas writes: What do you think the take home message is from the UW-Stanford game? I think UW is greatly improved over last year, but UW did beat Stanford last year maybe they are just a tough match-up for the Cardinal.
Gemmell: This UW team is a heck of a lot better than last year’s team. I don’t think they are a tough match-up for Stanford -- I think they are going to be a tough matchup for everyone this year. Last year’s Washington team struggled on the road and grappled with consistency (largely in part because of injuries). I think this year’s team is really, really legit. And if it didn’t play in the Pac-12 North, it could compete for a division title in just about any other division in college football.
But that’s what makes the Pac-12 North so darn tough. Washington might be the third best team in the division. The takeaway is that the rest of the country recognizes Washington’s legitimacy as well -- which is why they were only dinged one spot in the polls.
Heck, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has Washington at No. 10 this week. Jon and I were discussing his ballot after the game walking back to our cars and he felt like Washington gained a measure of respect with their performance. A lot of voters tended to agree.
Feel bad that you lost the game and missed an opportunity to make the jump to North Division elite status. But be happy that your team showed it can do it on the road. After all, there is always this week to make another statement.
Matt in San Francisco writes: Not surprisingly, many Cal fans are entering full meltdown mode after the loss to WSU. I am trying to stay more grounded, because this is a young team that has been absolutely decimated by injuries. What is the perspective from the outside? Is it really as bad as it seems? Am I overly optimistic? Is Cal on the precipice of a tailspin, or is this just a rebuilding year?
Gemmell: For now, I’d qualify it as a rebuilding year. When we did the preseason media poll, I had Cal last in the Pac-12 North simply because I thought Washington State was going to be improved in Year 2 under Mike Leach. As you note, Cal is heavy on the youth. And when you combine that with two completely new systems, one of the toughest schedules in the country and then all of those unexpected injuries, the end result is what you have now.
It’s never as bad as you think it is -- especially in-season, when it always feels worse. When you look at the rest of Cal’s schedule, you have to wonder how many -- if any -- FBS wins are out there.
Give Sonny Dykes a little bit of time to let his system take flight (no pun intended) and if you are still in this hole at the end of next year, then we can talk tailspins.
Fat_O_Line in Springfield, Ore., writes: Kevin help me out here.. How does Ted in power rankings place Stanford ahead of Oregon but in top 25 places them ahead of Stanford? I need to hear the rationale.
Gemmell: Same answer as last week, and the week before, and the week before. The power rankings are a direct reflection of where the teams are after this weekend and are independent of the top 25 rankings.
Ted’s rationale for the move this week was a direct reflection of a guy with an Oregon bumper sticker cutting him off Sunday morning on the Pima Freeway in Scottsdale.
Ted told me of this great insult, to which I replied “No, Ted. You're better than that. You can’t change the power rankings just because of something so arbitrary and capricious.”
“You and your fancy words, Gemmell," he snarled. "You think you're so perspicacious. Watch me."
Then he hung up. We haven't spoken since.
See last week's Power Rankings here.
1. Stanford: The Cardinal now have three quality conference wins -- Arizona State, Washington State and Washington -- so they now have by far the Pac-12's best résumé. Oregon gets to show its stuff against a common opponent (the Huskies) on Saturday, thereby allowing the Pac-12 blog to employ the "Transitive Property of College Football" for next week's Power Rankings. (Note: Kevin Gemmell VEHEMENTLY disagrees ranking Stanford over Oregon. He wants Ducks fans to know he is very impressed with Oregon becoming the first team since 1885 to score 50-plus points in its first five games.)
2. Oregon: As expected, Oregon rolled over Colorado. But that game ended the poor-to-middling early schedule. Going forward, the Ducks get to showcase themselves as national title contenders -- and QB Marcus Mariota as a Heisman Trophy contender -- starting with their good friends in Seattle.
3. Washington: The Huskies can't lick their wounds too long. Oregon is coming. The Ducks have beaten the Huskies nine straight times by at least 17 points. It is likely you will hear and/or read that more than once this week.
4. UCLA: While the Bruins shouldn't overlook pass-happy California, their first major conference test comes in two weeks at Stanford. A week later, they get Oregon. Win one -- or both! -- and UCLA goes from merely a good, top-15 team to something else entirely. At this point, by the way, it feels like you could draw a line here to separate the Pac-12 into two categories.
5. Arizona State: There was a strong dose of "same old Sun Devils" with the flat performance against Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium. Yes, it was a blown opportunity. While the loss doesn't count in the conference race, it does serve to significantly demote the Sun Devils' national esteem. Colorado comes to Tempe on Saturday. Then Washington does.
6. Oregon State: The first big question for the Beavers is how healthy they will be coming out of their off week. The second big question is an interesting trip to Washington State. The winner will take a big step forward in the North Division pecking order.
7. Utah: No, Utes, it doesn't get any easier with Stanford coming to town. The big issue will be how well QB Travis Wilson bounces back after a six-interception game in their tough loss to UCLA. The Cardinal defense is not typically the sort that sends a get-well card.
8. Arizona: The Wildcats are coming off a bye, which means they should be well rested. On the downside, they visit USC -- also coming off a bye -- in its first post-Lane Kiffin game. That means the Wildcats not only will get a team that might be inspired by a change of leadership to the fiery Ed Orgeron -- it also might have some tricks up its sleeves.
9. Washington State: The Cougars' win at California gave them firm separation from the bottom fourth of the conference. A win over the Beavers would push them into the middle. It hasn't been legitimate to speculate about that since 2007.
10. USC: We'll get our first look at Orgeron's Trojans on Thursday night against Arizona. A strong performance could reintroduce USC to the South Division race and make the Notre Dame visit the next weekend intriguing.
11. Colorado: The past two weeks have brought the Buffaloes back to Earth. They played hard and well in spurts against Oregon State and Oregon, but the top-to-bottom talent just isn't there. It will be interesting to see if they show the same fire at Arizona State, which should be angry and is a different team at home.
12. California: The schedule is ridiculous and injuries have piled up, but the Bears also have been sloppy on both sides of the ball. Game 3 of nine consecutive weeks of football is at UCLA. So yeah, the hits just keep coming -- another highly ranked foe. Sonny Dykes' first season is shaping up like a long one.
- Rich Rodriguez says he needs to trust his defensive depth.
- A Q&A with ASU receiver Jaelen Strong.
- Cal's coach is quite familiar with Washington State's coach.
- Connor Wood taking a positive approach to getting better.
- Some video of De'Anthony Thomas talking about his ankle injury.
- Speaking of injured running backs on video, Storm Woods discusses his health status.
- Stanford is motivated for a win, but not by revenge.
- Jordan Payton and the UCLA receivers have made strides as blockers.
- Marqise Lee is getting better, but his status for next week is still questionable.
- Kyle Whittingham believes UCLA is a top 10 team.
- Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins talk about the upcoming game with Stanford.
- Sonny Dykes and Mike Leach keep crossing paths.
- Some Week 6 predictions and storylines from Athlon.
- 50 for five? Oregon set a school record last week by scoring at least 50 points in four consecutive games. This week it faces a Colorado team that appears to be stronger than last year's but still has some holes on both sides of the ball. Sans De'Anthony Thomas, the Ducks had little trouble negotiating Cal -- and mother nature -- en route to a 55-16 win. Is a fifth straight 50-plus-point game in the cards?
- Kicking it: Great stat from our friends at the Pac-12 offices: "Entering last weekend's play, Pac-12 teams were 186-of-188 on PATs (.989). However, weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest last weekend wreaked havoc on the kickers as high winds and rain contributed to a combined six missed extra-point attempts in games in Corvallis, Eugene and Seattle. While kickers struggled with extra points last weekend, combining for 38-of 45 (.844), they did have considerable success from further out as they connected on 8-of-9 field-goal attempts (.889)." What's the takeaway? Don't try to understand kickers.
- Nine in a row: UCLA has both of its bye weeks in the rearview mirror and will play nine consecutive games to close out the season, starting tonight with a trip to Utah. Quarterbacks (and their offensive coordinators) take center stage in this matchup. UCLA's Brett Hundley and Utah's Travis Wilson are both off to fantastic starts. And UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone was the OC for Dennis Erickson at Arizona State. Erickson is of course now the OC at Utah.
- Quick starts? There are lots of intriguing storylines in the Washington-Stanford matchup. For starters, it's a pair of top-15 teams, which is always exciting. But the Huskies have outscored opponents 38-0 in the first quarter and are yet to trail in a game this season. Stanford is outscoring teams 37-12 in the first frame. This kicks off the first of three straight games for the Huskies against ranked opponents, who are home to No. 2 Oregon next week and at No. 22 ASU on Oct. 19.
- Irish x 3: The Sun Devils travel to Arlington, Texas, to take on Notre Dame -- the first of three games between the Irish and Pac-12 teams. Notre Dame will host USC under the lights on Oct. 19 and then close out the season at Stanford on Nov. 30. The Sun Devils are trying to become the first team to beat USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. It has happened only 13 times that a team has played USC and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks.
- Raids a'plenty: Washington State travels to Cal in a showdown of the Air Raid vs. the Bear Raid. Cal coach Sonny Dykes, of course, learned his offensive philosophies from working under Washington State coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech and was his GA at Kentucky.
- Quarterback change? Cal, which has gone with true freshman Jared Goff as its signal-caller this season, released its depth chart this week with an "or" between Goff and redshirt freshman Zach Kline. Dykes said he felt Kline deserved to get some reps, and both quarterbacks took reps with the first team offense this week. Does it mean Goff is out? Not necessarily. Goff said he's fine with the competition -- despite averaging 329.2 yards per game. Goff was 3 of 6 for 11 yards and lost a pair of fumbles in unfavorable weather at Oregon. Kline stepped in, making his collegiate debut, and was 18 of 37 for 165 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
- Arms race: Half of the Pac-12 quarterbacks rank in the top 25 of Total QBR heading into the week: Marcus Mariota (2), Kevin Hogan (5), Brett Hundley (11), Travis Wilson (16) and Keith Price (21) are all in action this week. Sean Mannion (22) is on bye. Four of those QBs are going head to head with Wilson and Hundley tonight and Hogan and Price on Saturday.
- Catching on: Per the hard-working folks of Arizona State's media relations office, ASU's Jaelen Strong is off to one of the best starts of any ASU wide receiver in school history. Through his first four games, he has more catches and yards than any other receiver. So far he has 31 catches for 433 yards and two touchdowns. Lenzie Jackson and Jon Mistler had four touchdowns through their first four games, but Strong is way out in front in catches and yards. He faces a Notre Dame defense that gives up 364 yards per game.
- Taking a breather: Arizona, Oregon State and USC are on a bye this week. The Trojans return to action for the first time without Lane Kiffin when they host Arizona next Thursday. Oregon State travels to Pullman to take on Washington State on Oct. 12.
- Rich Rodriguez says B.J. Denker is Arizona's best quarterback option.
- Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong are building chemistry.
- A California notebook including Sonny Dykes' thoughts on the dismissal of Chris McCain.
- The Buffs are excited for their opportunity against Oregon.
- Mark Helfrich weighs in on Lane Kiffin, plus other Oregon notes.
- Oregon State's offensive line is starting to get healthy.
- The Cardinal look like Stanford circa 2011.
- UCLA's offensive coordinator is quite familiar with Utah's offensive coordinator.
- Some potential candidates for the USC job.
- Utah-UCLA will put two of the league's rising quarterback stars on center stage.
- Steve Sarkisian says USC's opening won't be a distraction.
- The Cougars are moving on following their loss to Stanford.
- Athlon offers up some Pac-12 stats for your consideration.
Goff presently leads the nation in passing with 435.3 yards per game. Mariota presently, well, leads the nation, see the latest ESPN.com Heisman Watch poll, where he ranks No. 1 by a wide margin.
Goff has been throwing the ball all over the place -- sometimes not in the right place -- while the Bears have been playing one of the nation's toughest schedules. The No. 2 Ducks will be Cal's third ranked foe in the first four games and second top-five team.
Mariota? He's pretty much been doing whatever he wants. He ranks 14th in the nation with 296.3 yards passing per game and second in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QB Rating. The Ducks have dominated an early schedule that included AQ conference foes Virginia and Tennessee, ranking second in the nation in scoring (61.3 points per game) and rushing (355.3 yards per game).
"They are as good an offense as I've seen," Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. "They are really playing at a high level. They've got a lot of weapons. They haven't turned the ball over this year."
That last point is most notable. Cal has turned the ball over six times, including four interceptions from Goff. Two of those picks went back the other way for touchdowns in the season opener against Northwestern, or that 44-30 defeat might have turned out differently.
Dykes lauds Goff for his ability to distribute the ball to playmakers, his accuracy and his knack for working within the pocket. It's not surprising, though, that when assessing the negatives thus far that Dykes sites Goff's decision-making and tendency to force the football into tight spaces.
That said, it's difficult to argue that Goff hasn't exceeded preseason expectations after surprising many when he beat out touted redshirt freshman Zach Kline in the preseason.
"The good thing about Jared is you can see him get better practice to practice," Dykes said. "He continues to improve every day."
The next test for Goff is playing in a hostile road venue, and road venues don't get much more hostile than Autzen Stadium. Which brings us to another notable Goff characteristic, one he shares with Mariota: a seeming unflappability.
While Mariota comes at it with a genial, mellow humility that belies his fancypants playmaking, Goff conducts interviews not unlike his QB hero, former Cal great Aaron Rodgers. He's laconic and all business.
When asked if anything has surprised him since making the jump from Marin Catholic to the Pac-12, Goff said, "On TV it looks like more than it is on the field." Meaning when you get past all the pageantry in major college football, it's still just football.
As for specifically playing in Autzen, he said he expects the experience to be "fun." He said noise won't be a factor because the Bears offense operates almost entirely on hand signals. Nerves? Nope.
"I don't anticipate having any sort of different feelings than I would if it were a home game," he said. "It's a regular game. We're just playing in front of a bunch of crazy people."
Of course, those are just words. Dykes admits you never know how a young guy will react on the road. Take Mariota. As a redshirt freshman last year, he made his first career road start against Washington State in CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and it was his worst game of the season. He threw two of his season's six interceptions, his only game with more than one pick.
Goff is wired well, but he simply doesn't yet understand how different the atmosphere of a road game is.
"What he does is a great job of not worrying about anything but just going out there and playing football and doing what he is coached to do," Dykes said. "We'll see how he responds, but I expect him to respond well. You never know until a young player gets put into that situation."
A bigger problem is Oregon itself. The Ducks offense likely will roll up points against the conference's No. 12 scoring defense (42 ppg). That will put pressure on Goff and his unit to keep up. Throwing 50-plus balls into the Ducks secondary, one of the nation's best, doesn't seem ideal.
Yet Goff seems undaunted.
"We're going to take it as a challenge and go up there and do what we do every day," he said. "We really feel our offense can score on anybody."
It's an interesting matchup, Goff versus Mariota. But the matchup of the new big thing and the established big thing probably will come down to Mariota having a lot more big things around him.
- Heavy favorites: The Pac-12 is favored in all eight of its nonconference games this week. In fact, the league is favored by at least 10 points in every game and by at least 20 points in six of the eight. It should be a strong week for the conference. Should being the operative word.
- League play kicks off: The ninth game this week features the first conference showdown of the season with Washington State traveling to USC. The Cougs are coming off a tough loss at Auburn, where Connor Halliday completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. Cody Kessler is expected to start for the Trojans, but Max Wittek likely will see time again. USC’s defense had four interceptions and seven sacks in its Week 1 win over Hawaii. WSU's last win at USC was in 2000.
- Debuts: After spending last Saturday lounging around and watching football, Arizona State coach Todd Graham and Stanford coach David Shaw have to get back to work. The Sun Devils open the season on the cusp of the Top 25 and host Sacramento State on Thursday night. Stanford hosts San Jose State in the Bill Walsh Legacy Game. The Cardinal opened the season ranked No. 4 but got bumped down to No. 5 for their Week 1 laziness.
- Off and running: The Pac-12 had seven players rush for at least 100 yards in Week 1, headlined by Washington’s Bishop Sankey. He and the Huskies are off this week prepping for their game against Illinois on Sept. 14. Three of those seven came from Oregon -- a school record with De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Marcus Mariota all eclipsing 100 yards. The other 100-yard rushers were Jordon James (UCLA, which is off this week), Daniel Jenkins (Arizona) and Tre Madden (USC).
- 2-oh? Colorado snapped an eight-game losing streak last week with its win over Colorado State. The Buffs host Central Arkansas on Saturday with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
- Crazy eights: Stanford and San Jose State are both riding eight-game winning streaks dating back to last season. That’s the first time in all of the years the schools have played that both have enjoyed simultaneous streaks.
- Dominating the MWC: The Pac-12 went 5-0 against the Mountain West last week with Utah (Utah State), Colorado (Colorado State), USC (Hawaii), Washington (Boise State) and UCLA (Nevada) all scoring victories. The Pac-12 has three more games against the Mountain West this week with Arizona traveling to UNLV, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and San Jose State at Stanford. It was a rough opening weekend for the West Coast’s little brother league, which went just 3-9.
- Road warriors: No. 2 Oregon goes on the road for the first time this season and is riding the nation’s best winning streak away from home. The Ducks have won 15 straight road games. Alabama and Northern Illinois are tied for second with nine. Oregon’s last road loss was at Stanford in 2009.
- Strong debuts: The three new coaches in the Pac-12 went 2-1 in their season openers. Mark Helfrich (Oregon) rolled over Nicholls State (no shocker there). Mike MacIntyre led Colorado to an emotional win over an in-state rival in Colorado State, and Sonny Dykes’ California team put up a gritty effort in defeat against Northwestern.
- Suspensions lifted: After being suspended for Week 1, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher last season, will make his debut against UNLV. Daniel Jenkins filled in quite nicely, rushing for 139 yards on 12 carries, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was also suspended for Week 1, is expected to be on the field when the Huskies return to action next week. Cal linebacker Chris McCain had his suspension rescinded after he was ejected per the NCAA’s new targeting rule and will play against Portland State.