Oregon Ducks: Chip Kelly

Looking back at some teams the current group of Pac-12 coaches have led during their respective head-coaching careers turns up an impressive list. All 12 have coached a team to a bowl appearance, 10 have finished a season with double-digit wins and eight have had teams appear in the AP top 10.

Taking it a step further and just looking at each individual coach's best team (in college) also made for an interesting study. Choosing which teams those are is clearly a subjective process so for the purpose of consistency, the teams listed below were chosen based on the final spot in the AP poll.

Here are some notable takeaways:

  • Eight teams ended with bowl victories, but two occurred after the coach left.
  • Seven teams started unranked, but only one finished out of the polls.
  • Half of the coaches did it at their current school, four of which occurred in 2013.
  • Six teams appeared in the top 5 at some point and nine were in the top 15.
  • Three coaches immediately parlayed the success into their current job.
  • Only three of the teams won conference titles, none of which was in the Pac-12.
  • Two teams beat No. 1-ranked squads.
  • Four teams played in BCS bowls, and three were victorious.
We're not going attempt to rank them ourselves, but here they are in reverse order based on each team's final AP ranking:

No. 12 Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech, 2012

Dykes' record: 9-3 (4-2, third in WAC)
Final AP rank: unranked
Highest AP rank: 19
Bowl result: no bowl
The team:
The Bulldogs finished the season as the country's highest scoring team (51.50 ppg) and top-ranked offense (577.9 ypg). They rose to No. 19 in the AP poll before losing their final two games of the season, including one against Mike MacIntyre-coached San Jose State in the season finale. Louisiana Tech was offered a spot in the Independence Bowl, but it was given away while the school unsuccessfully sought other bowl options. Dykes left for Cal after the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian parlayed his successful 2013 season into the head-coaching job at USC.
No. 11 Steve Sarkisian, Washington, 2013

Sarkisian's record: 8-4 (5-4, third in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 25
Highest AP rank: 15
Bowl result: Beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl (Sarkisian did not coach)
The team:
The season began with a win against then-No. 19 Boise State, and the season ended with Broncos coach Chris Petersen being hired by the Huskies. Sarkisian departed for USC prior to the bowl. After the win against Boise, Washington debuted in the rankings at No. 19 and rose four spots before a string of three straight losses to Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State.

No. 10 Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State, 2012

MacIntyre's record: 10-2, (5-1, second in WAC)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 21
Bowl result: Beat Bowling Green in Military Bowl (MacIntyre did not coach)
The team:
Two years after coaching San Jose State to a 1-11 record in his first season as head coach, MacIntyre's team became the first in program history to finish in the final AP poll -- although, the Spartans were unranked when MacIntyre accepted the job at Colorado. SJSU didn't beat any ranked teams, but lost just 20-17 to Stanford, which went on to win Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championships. The other loss came to Utah State, which finished No. 16.

No. 9 Todd Graham, Arizona State, 2013

Graham's record: 10-4 (8-1, won Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 21
Highest AP rank: 11
Bowl result: Lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl The team: In his eighth season as an FBS head coach, Graham's most recent Arizona State team was his best. The Sun Devils began the season unranked and entered and exited the Top 25 twice before closing the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. It was ranked No. 11 when it hosted Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game, but a second loss to the Cardinal kept ASU out of the Rose Bowl.

No. 8 Mike Riley, Oregon State, 2008

Riley's record: 9-4 (7-2, tied for second in Pac-10)
Final AP rank: 18
Highest AP rank: 17
Bowl result: Beat Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl
The team:
The Beavers started unranked and lost their first two games before winning eight of nine to peak at No. 17. After a 1-2 start, it beat No. 1 USC in Corvallis, but didn't immediately build off the big win. The next week the Beavers lost to Kyle Whittingham's undefeated Utah team (more later). Riley's highest spot in the polls came in 2012, when the Beavers reached No. 7 after a 6-0 start. He was a head coach in the NFL for three years and the Canadian Football League for four, where he won a pair of Grey Cups.

No. 7 Jim Mora, UCLA, 2013

Mora's record: 10-3 (6-3, second in Pac-12 South)
Final AP rank: 16
Highest AP rank: 9
Bowl result: Beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl
The team:
The Bruins spent the entire season in the polls after starting at No. 21. They began 5-0 and rose to No. 9 before road losses to No. 13 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon. Mora's best coaching job came in the NFL in 2004 when he guided the Atlanta Falcons to an NFC South title and an appearance in the NFC Championship.

No. 6 Mike Leach, Texas Tech, 2008

Leach's record: 11-2 (7-1, tied for first in Big 12 South)
Final AP rank: 12
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Lost to Ole Miss in Cotton Bowl
The team:
The Red Raiders started the year at No. 12 and moved up to No. 6 after an 8-0 start. They rose to No. 2 after Michael Crabtree's memorable touchdown catch secured a win vs. No. 1 Texas. After two weeks at No. 2, the Red Raiders lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a game that propelled Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford to the Heisman Trophy. Leach arrived at WSU in 2012.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Kevin ReeceDavid Shaw's best team at Stanford didn't win the Pac-12 title.
No. 5 Mark Helfrich, Oregon, 2013

Helfrich's record: 11-2 (7-2, tied for first in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 9
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat Texas in Alamo Bowl The team: Of all the teams on the list, none started higher than the Ducks in Helfrich's head-coaching debut at No. 3. Oregon spent eight weeks at No. 2 before losses to Stanford and Arizona in a three-game span ended any hopes of a conference or national title. The team finished ranked No. 2 in the country in both total offense (565.0 ypg) and scoring (45.5 ppg). Quarterback Marcus Mariota dealt with some late-season injury problems, but, when healthy, he was as good as any player in college football.

No. 4 David Shaw, Stanford, 2011

Shaw's record: 11-2 (8-1, second in Pac-12 North)
Final AP rank: 7
Highest AP rank: 3
Bowl result: Lost to No. 3 Oklahoma State in Fiesta Bowl The team: In three seasons as head coach, Shaw has won a pair of Pac-12 titles. But in 2011, when Oregon won the Pac-12 title, he probably had his best team. The Rose Bowl championship team the following year also finished No. 7 and has more hardware, but it didn't have Andrew Luck. Stanford started the year at No. 7, moved up to No. 3 after winning its first nine games, but then lost 53-30 at home to No. 6 Oregon. Stanford received a second consecutive BCS at-large bid, but suffered an overtime loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. In addition to Luck, 10 other players landed on 53-man NFL rosters from the team's departing class. Stanford's low ranking of No. 8 was the best among teams on this list.

No. 3 Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia, 2005

Rodriguez's record: 11-1, (7-0 Big East champion)
Final AP rank: 5
Highest AP rank: 5 Bowl result: Beat No. 8 Georgia in Sugar Bowl The team: Freshmen QB Pat White and RB Steve Slaton were the names of note for the current Arizona coach. West Virginia started the year unranked and its lone loss came to then-No. 3 Virginia Tech. It was the first of three consecutive double-digit win seasons for the Mountaineers, who were undefeated in Big East play and capped the season with a win over No. 8 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. A strong case can be made that West Virginia had a better team in 2007, when Rodriguez left following the regular-season finale to become head coach at Michigan. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 (No. 1 in the coaches poll) going into Rodriguez's final game, but lost to a 4-7 Pittsburgh team in the 100th Backyard Brawl, which cost them a chance to play for the national title. They finished No. 6.

No. 2 Chris Petersen, Boise State, 2009

Petersen's record: 14-0 (8-0, WAC champions)
Final AP rank: 4
Highest AP rank: 4
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl The team: Washington's new coach has quite the résumé. Many consider Boise State's undefeated 2006 team that beat Oklahoma in that's year memorable Fiesta Bowl as the school's best, but three years later the Broncos finished 14-0 and finished a spot higher in the final AP poll. They opened the season at No. 14 and started with a win against No. 16 Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach. Boise capped the season with a win against undefeated TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The team's offensive coordinator, Bryan Harsin, is now the head coach and its defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, spent last season with Sarkisian at Washington and followed him to USC in the same capacity.

No. 1 Kyle Whittingham, Utah, 2008

Whittingham's record: 13-0 (8-0, Mountain West champions)
Final AP rank: 2
Highest AP rank: 2
Bowl result: Beat No. 4 Alabama in Sugar Bowl The team: In Whittingham's fourth season as head coach, the Utes finished as the nation's lone undefeated team after starting unranked. Utah opened with a win at Michigan -- Rodriguez's first game as the Wolverines' coach -- and went on to beat four teams that finished in the final AP poll, including Alabama (6), TCU (7), Oregon State (18) and BYU (25). Quarterback Brian Johnson threw for 336 yards in a convincing 31-17 win against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Want to swap out one team for another or switch the order? Email me at Kyle.Bonagura@espn.com.

Mailbag: Kelly, Sark and the SEC

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday. This is the Mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It makes trolling SO MUCH EASIER!

To the notes!

(Two exclamation points and we haven't even started! Wait … three!)

Eric from Hollywoodland, Calif., writes: I understand that the Pac-12 won a pretty major NFL draft battle in keeping the marquee QBs (Hundley, Mariota, Mannion and oft unmentioned Kelly), but why is one of the prevailing storylines STILL "SEC SO GOOD. SEC LOSES SO MANY PLAYER EARLY. ONLY SEC CAN RECOVER FROM SUCH LOSS??" Correct me if I'm wrong, but my Pac-12 educated brain tells me that 12 teams losing 25 players (2.083/team) might be even worse than 14 teams losing 28 players (2/team), right?

Ted Miller: Well, the SEC lost 32 players last year and the Pac-12 lost only 10.

And then the NFL draft happened -- 63 SEC draft picks vs. 28 for Pac-12 -- which, by the way, became the grounds for the Pac-12 blog believing the SEC might slide in 2013 while the Pac-12 might rise.

My feeling is the Pac-12 will do well in this year's draft, probably finishing a respectable distance behind the SEC. But it's a pretty clear recent trend that the SEC provides the most talent to the NFL among the major conferences.

However, it's also notable that the Pac-12's 2013 NFL rookie class was pretty darn salty, with former Oregon Ducks LB Kiko Alonso and California WR Keenan Allen being named defensive and offensive Rookies of the Year, and a number of other former conference standouts making a significant mark.




Erik from Portland writes: With [Steve] Sarkisian talking about USC going to an uptempo attack, shouldn't there be concern about whether or not the defense will be able to hold up? Aliotti alternated players constantly to keep them fresh. SC doesn't have the numbers or depth at any position (especially DL and LB) to do that.

Ted Miller: It will be a concern. It's simple math: Uptempo offenses possess the ball for shorter periods of time, which means more plays for your defense. More plays for your defense means more tired players if you aren't regularly shuffling in quality backups. USC doesn't have a lot in the way of quality backups.

One of the more impressive things about USC's defense under Clancy Pendergast this year was it attained some outstanding numbers while pretty much playing only 13 guys regularly.

Will the Trojans be deeper on defense next year? Perhaps, but only slightly so. Bottom line: Because of NCAA scholarship sanctions, USC will have no more than 72 players on scholarship in 2014, which is 13 fewer bodies than other teams are permitted.

But guess what? Sarkisian knows this. And he's a smart guy. I suspect he will pick his moments and not go all-in. I'm fairly certain USC won't be 100 percent no-huddle, uptempo next fall, particularly with a lead. I think his goal will be to control the tempo and find times to get an opposing defense off balance.

Of course, Sarkisian's desire to adopt an uptempo offense at USC is a long-term plan, at least until his philosophy changes considering this was his first year going that way. This is USC's last recruiting class that will be limited. So, starting in 2015, there should be more fresh body reinforcements.




Gee from Seattle writes: Can the SEC or any other conference put three or even four teams in the playoff next year? If so, how did this come about? Shouldn't the system allow for at least three conference champions and perhaps one at large?

Ted Miller: There are no limits on teams per conference in the four-team playoff, nor are there specific requirements for selection. The goal of the selection committee will be to pick the four best teams. Not the most deserving -- the four best.

So, yes, if a consensus from the committee is that three -- or four! -- of the best teams in the nation come from the SEC or any other conference, they will be selected.

But know that the committee also won't be eager to do that. For one, if you pick, say, three SEC teams, there's the possibility of rematches, which the committee will know fans don't like to see -- see the unpopular LSU-Alabama national title game after the 2011 season.

My guess is we're probably going to see plenty of four-team playoffs with two teams from once conference, most likely the SEC, but three will be highly unlikely.




Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: Ted, was wondering about your final top 25 poll. Aren't you getting away from your stance of "strength of schedule should mean something" by putting Clemson so high and ahead of Stanford? Yes, Clemson won their last game against a good Ohio State team and Stanford lost their last game to a better Michigan State team. When you look at the schedules, though, they are worlds apart. Name another ranked team that Clemson beat. There are 0 such wins. Stanford beat six ranked teams. Clemson got beat by double digits in its two losses. Stanford lost their three games by single scores and two were against ranked teams. Do you really think Clemson would win on a neutral field, and if you were on the playoff committee, would you really slot Clemson ahead of Stanford looking at the seasons of both teams?

Ted Miller: I see your point. I do almost always prioritize quality wins.

The combination of a head-to-head win and strength-of-schedule is why I ranked Stanford ahead of Oregon in my final poll, even though this didn't happen in either the AP or coaches poll. The Cardinal had a lot more quality wins than Oregon, including the best one -- the Ducks themselves.

But you asked about Clemson.

Part of my ranking Clemson sixth is pretty simple: My final position on Clemson is it was an elite team in 2013. It was the same justification I used earlier in the year to rank Oregon No. 2, even though the Ducks didn't post a quality victory until winning at Washington on Oct. 12.

Now, I didn't give Clemson the benefit of the doubt much of the season. I had them ranked 13th heading into the bowl games. I jumped them up because I consider the win over Ohio State impressive.

Clemson lost two games by decisive margins, yes, but they were to Florida State, which won the national title, and South Carolina, which finished ranked fourth. Further, I watched the South Carolina game, and it was a lot closer than the deceiving final score. Clemson seemed like the better team, outgaining the Gamecocks, but it lost the turnover battle 6-0.

6-0! I bet Tigers fans were ripping their eyes out watching that.

Further, Clemson beat Georgia while Georgia was still Georgia -- fifth-ranked and an elite team that hadn't yet suffered epidemic injuries. Georgia beat South Carolina the week after losing to Clemson.

Clemson, by the way, has now beaten two top-10 teams in a row in bowl games: LSU in 2012 and Ohio State this year.

(If I had a quibble with my own ballot, in fact, it would be that I ranked Clemson sixth and Oklahoma seventh. At the time I put the ballot together, I considered Oklahoma's losses worse -- Texas and Baylor -- and the Sooners' best win -- Oklahoma State -- was devalued when the Cowboys lost to Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. I could go either way on that, because the Sooners beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl was very impressive.)




Kevin from Orange County, Calif., writes: Regarding the Wazzu meltdown in their bowl game, why not mention the Stanford/UCLA game? Around two minutes left in the game, Stanford up 17-10 and inside UCLA 10-yard line and UCLA with no timeouts. ... Instead of going to the knee three straight times and guaranteeing a win, Shaw decides to run and try to score. The only way UCLA has a chance is a Stanford turnover or Stanford scores quickly and gives UCLA enough time to score themselves and get an onside kick (UCLA/Utah situation at the end of game). My point is why is Shaw getting a pass for his stupid play-calling at the end of that game if Wazzu is second-guessed? Only difference seems to be that Stanford won and Wazzu lost.

Ted Miller: You might have guessed this, but the bold and italics for the final sentence were supplied by me.

It is true. When a strategy works, it rarely gets criticized. And when it fails, it does.

Remember Chip Kelly's shocking onside kick early in the second quarter against Stanford in 2010, with the Cardinal leading 21-10? It was a game-changing moment. It was pure genius.

And we would have thought Kelly had lost his mind if Stanford had recovered and then driven for a 28-10 lead. We would have typed, "Just as Oregon seemed to have gained momentum after a terrible start, Kelly tried to get too fancy and he handed the game to Andrew Luck and Stanford. It's clear that Kelly is in over his head as a head coach and is never, ever, ever going to be successful."

Well, the last part was just me pouring it on.

Also, understand that the Pac-12 blog's consternation over the end game wasn't just about clock management. It was about yielding a 22-point lead, playing horrendous fourth-quarter defense and coughing up the ball two times in the final two minutes.

It was a total package of meltdown.




Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Am I a bad person for finding these Chip Kelly quotes hilarious? Do media folk find him condescending, or is there a small amount of joy in getting slammed by a master? I mean, who wouldn't want to get insulted by Don Rickles?

Ted Miller: Some might find him condescending, but my feeling is most reporters enjoyed working with Kelly.

Yes, he could be biting. But typically he was biting when someone asked him either: 1. A stupid question; 2. A question that he didn't want to answer. Asking the latter is often part of the reporter's job, and the truth is a biting answer is more fun than him saying, "No comment."

Further, most of his best quips aren't biting. They're him having fun. News conferences with NFL coaches are typically drab affairs. Any added color is appreciated.

As in, "This team is not going to fall for the banana-in-the-tailpipe trick."

Erroneous!

It seemed New Orleans stuck a banana in the Eagles' tailpipe.

Mailbag: Is DAT out of position?

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the final -- Miller version! -- mailbag of 2013.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Nick from Phoenix writes: Chip Kelly and Oregon surprised many a few years ago when they flipped DeAnthony Thomas from USC by promising him a chance to play offense and not make him a corner, as USC planned to do. After showing some flashes and putting together a pretty good freshman season, he seems to have plateaued as a player. He's got amazing speed and is a tremendous returner but he's too small to be a starting running back and isn't a true WR. After his freshman season I thought he would be guaranteed to leave school after his junior year. Now I can't imagine him being drafted in the first two rounds in April. He's a player without a position. All of this brings me to my question. Did Oregon do him a disservice by making him an offensive player? Given the athletic ability DAT possesses, he would have made an amazing corner and we could possibly be talking about him as a top 5 pick this year. He would still be able to flourish in the return game (where he is at his best). I really think the Oregon staff blew it with him, just like they blew it with Arik Armstead (letting him be an OK defensive lineman when he has the physical skill set to be a transcendent offensive tackle).

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesAfter a hot start, De'Anthony Thomas missed four games and had his least productive season.
Ted Miller: The starting point for this discussion is what the player wants. And that is a slippery slope in recruiting. Often what is obvious to a plurality of seemingly objective observers is not obvious to the player himself. Or his family. Or "advisors."

The good news here is Oregon and USC both told the truth in recruiting. USC coaches told De'Anthony Thomas they saw him as a cornerback. Some coaches will say whatever they can to get a player, all the while having a plan to make a switch as soon as possible. Oregon, obviously, stuck to its word with both Thomas and Armstead.

I think the issue with Armstead is more clear-cut than Thomas. Armstead is a potential NFL All-Pro at left offensive tackle, based on his skill set, and a CFL player on the D-line, based on his performance as defensive end/tackle thus far. I personally think he is leaving millions of dollars on the table by playing defense. In fact, if he were my son, I would relentlessly hound him to make the switch. I might even touch base with the Oregon coaches on the matter to see what they think, though I'm not sure the guy who replaces the retiring Nick Aliotti will want to give up any more big bodies from his D-line, which will take some big hits heading into 2014 in any event.

As for DAT, you could make a strong case that he's more naturally a corner than an offensive player due to his size. But he'd also be on the small side for an NFL corner, and there's the issue of make-up. Does he have the natural aggressiveness to go mano-a-mano in press coverage against a bigger receiver? Can he attack a 220-pound running back in the open field? DAT might be more naturally suited to avoid rather than seek contact.

The question for DAT with the NFL is fit. A team looking for an offensive weapon who's not built for 20 touches a game could do a lot worse than Thomas. The St. Louis Rams fell in love with speedy but diminutive Tavon Austin and picked him in the first round last spring. He's had a pretty darn good rookie season. He seems like a good comparison to DAT (and not the short but stocky guys, such as Maurice Jones-Drew, who are built like fire hydrants).

There is no question DAT's pure athletic ability will get him drafted, this spring or next, though what round is difficult say. The ultimate answer on his NFL career, however, will come down to durability. How many touches -- and games -- can he give an NFL team? And for how many years?

Alex from Davis, Calif., writes: I have a great play idea for Washington State when they have an 8 point lead, ~ 2 minutes to go in a game and the other team is out of timeouts. It may be too wacky and zany for Mike Leach, though. Here's how it goes: the team lines up in a "victory" formation, takes a knee, lets the play clock go as close to zero as possible and repeats the play two more times. Then they take a delay of game penalty before punting to make the other team go more than 25 yards for the winning score. I know, I know. Way too crazy. It make soooooo much more sense to try and run a QB option play (or run the ball at all when you haven't done it all year) than it does to simply take a knee and run the clock.

Ted Miller: I'm with you, as are most folks. Even some with true football smarts, such as other coaches.

But Mike Leach, an unquestionably smart man, does things his own way. His reply would be the ole "I am what I am," which means not taking a knee there, and that is what got him where he is. He believes in being aggressive.

The thing about Leach is he's not going to go, "My bad. I should have done things differently. You second-guessers are correct!" Not his style.

Further, while there were about 785 different things the Cougars could have done to ensure a victory against Colorado State, Leach would simply note the most basic one would be holding onto the football, which I'm guessing he and his assistants have emphasized and drilled endlessly.

Adam from Dallas writes: After watching USC win the Las Vegas bowl and finish up with 10 wins from this crazy season. Saying it sounds unrealistic, but shouldn't Sark almost be expected to get 10 wins next season? Am I crazy?

[+] EnlargeSarkisian
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSteve Sarkisian might get a bit of a pass in his first year, but expectations at USC are always high.
Ted Miller: While I'll need more information to know, Adam, if you are indeed crazy -- such as: Do you have a 6-foot white rabbit as a wingman when you hit the bars? -- I don't think you are off base here.

For one, USC fans tend to start their baseline of preseason expectations at 10 wins and go from there.

First, let's note that USC won 10 games on a 14-game schedule. It's not the same as the 10-2 mark in 2011. Then let's wait until the NFL defection numbers are in. There are some names on the board who could make a big difference if they opted to return next year.

As it stands now, though, USC should be in the thick of a tightly contested South Division. That, in itself, might make a 10-win season difficult. There could be a lot of cannibalism in the South, as well as the conference as a whole.

I see UCLA as the South favorite, if QB Brett Hundley opts to return for his redshirt junior year. I see Arizona State as possibly taking a step back and Arizona taking a step forward, if it gets a satisfactory answer at quarterback. Utah becomes a factor if QB Travis Wilson is given a positive bill of health from his doctors and can play this fall. And Colorado is getting better.

The good news for USC fans, whatever their 2014 expectations, is the program will be made whole in 2015, as NCAA scholarship restrictions expire. At that point, there won't be much margin for error for Steve Sarkisian. The preseason expectations going forward will be Pac-12 title or bust, with a firm belief the Trojans should win a national title before 2020.

Josh from Wichita writes: Great article on my Cats, Ted. I did just want to make one technical correction though. It is actually a 4x4 that has 'family' written on it and not a 2x4. It's 4 inches by 4 inches, but I suppose it can be forgiven. EMAW!

Ted Miller: My bad. Guess folks won't be asking me to do any construction work anytime soon.

Jon from Berkeley writes: Just wanted to share an awesome video my friend Matt recently made about the Pac-12. Hope you like it!

Ted Miller: That is pretty cool.

DuckFam from Camas, Wash., writes: Dear PAC 12 Blog,I am sorry to say this, but you are absolutely right. The emotions you have stirred have caused such outrage that I am compelled to stand up and point out that Pink Ladies have never gotten their accolades, in spite of being the all-around most balanced in their league. This all starts with the fact that Pink Ladies don't have the history and pedigree of playing in an AQ league that the more traditional power-houses, such as Granny Smiths and Red Delicious have played in; a league, BTW, that is heavily favored east of the Rockies. They are practically unheard of down south, but Georgia is already biased anyway- what is their state famous for, again? Next, when you consider the balance of sweet to tart, combined with the fact that the ratio of crunch to crisp easily rivals that of Honeycrisp, and is far tastier than Fujis, I am not sure you can even consider Fujis any further at this point. Now Honeycrisp is certainly at the top of the game most of the time, and I grant you it is great for what it is, but if this is a case to be made with more than just personal taste and opinions, then it is time to turn to the metrics. Pink Ladies are most often in play at 1.49 per pound, and often break the .99-per-pound barrier, as many traditional ones often do, especially when they are at their best around mid-season. But given the qualities that Pink Ladies offer, as stated above, at the same economic metric as Fujis, make them a far better bet than Honeycrisp (which often hit 1.99, even at their best in the season). When compared pound to pound, or dollar to pound, or the newest metric developed by people with far too much time on their hands: the Approximate Pound Per Label Eaten, or APPLE, as it is known in some circles, Pink Ladies take down all comers, every time. Once again, though, being from a different box that doesn't say Fuji or Honeycrisp means little to no consideration, in spite of obvious fact. Proof yet again of the "tastelessness" of the East Coast bias...PS- is it September yet?

Ted Miller: My only hope is the "Great Apple Controversy of 2013" continues into the New Year.

Mailbag: Christmas Eve edition

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
5:30
PM ET
T’was the night before Christmas and the Pac-12 blog crew;
Was still smarting and miffed at the fall of Wazzu.

Dressed in an opulent red and green sweater;
Ted furiously hoped that the Beavs would do better.

The Trojans exploded and won one for ‘O;’
Only to learn Dion Bailey would go.

Utes, Bears and Buffs are home for the bowls;
Leaving their fans little reason to troll.

Two teams from the desert are still yet to play;
With RichRod and Graham hoping things go their way.

One last run for Price in his prime;
Plus he gets to Fight Hunger at the same time.

The Alamo will be Mack Brown’s last stand;
Even if the year didn’t go as the Ducks planned.

Barr’s last game will be played in The Sun;
We’re also wondering: Is Brett Hundley done?

Last but not least is the Tree vs. Sparty;
In the backfield the Cardinal hope they will party.

So enjoy Christmas Eve with your best pint of ale;
Sit back and relax to this bag of mail.

(I know, it's not as good as Chongo's).

Dylan in Boston writes: Hi Kevin, In all the reporting/speculation about Justin Wilcox following Sarkisian to Troy, it seems like everybody's overlooking the fact that the Trojans already have an A-list coordinator in Clancy Pendergast. Am I the only one confused by this? In the years Pendergast was at Cal, he did more with less than Wilcox has had at Washington (at the least the talent was comparable), particularly against my Ducks. Has Wilcox really shown enough for people to assume that he has the advantage over Pendergast?

Kevin Gemmell: Has he shown enough? I think so. I think Wilcox is an outstanding coordinator and defensive-minded coach. But you’re right, you can’t overlook the job that Pendergast did at USC this year.

The move to an odd front was a fantastic one for the Trojans. Say this for Lane Kiffin, he recognized that the Trojans needed a scheme that was going to be able to account for all of the edge speed in the league and he adjusted accordingly by bringing in Pendergast. Obviously, things didn’t work out so well on the offensive side of the ball for Kiffin. But let’s give the credit where credit is due.

The numbers for both coaches suggest major improvements since their arrival. First, Washington:

In the two seasons since Wilcox arrived, the Huskies have improved in scoring defense each year. They were giving up 35.9 points per game in 2011, followed by 24.2 in 2012 and 23.4 in 2011. They have also improved turnover margin and rushing yards allowed each of the last two years.

For USC, in one season under Pendergast, the Trojans cut their points allowed by more than a field goal, made huge strides in rush defense (167 yards allowed in 2012 compared to 120.3 in 2013) and were on the plus side of turnover margin after going minus-2 in 2012 and minus-1 in 2011 (they were plus-6 this year).

So the morale of the story is this: If you’re a Washington fan, you want Wilcox to stay in Washington. If you’re a USC fan, you’re going to be happy either way.

Peter in NorCal writes: One thing that Sark going to SC won't hurt: The Stanford-USC rivalry. It seems like David and Steve get along about as well as Jim and Pete did. Fair statement? What are your observations about the two of them (both generally, and specifically the snippiness that ensued after the Stanford/Washington game this year).

Kevin Gemmell: It’s funny that you bring that up. Every year Ted and I go to the Pac-12 spring meetings in Arizona. Basically, it’s Ted and I sitting outside of meeting rooms, waiting for the coaches to emerge, and then grabbing them for interviews. Then we sit outside, watch the coaches eat lunch, and then grab them again for more interviews.

One thing Ted and I were commenting on this year was how well all of the Pac-12 coaches get along. The Big 12 coaches meeting was going on at the same time and there was little to no interaction between those guys. But the Pac-12 coaches were all sitting together and chatting each other up after meetings.

Now, we’re not in the meetings with the coaches, so I can’t speak to how they interact. But from what I’ve seen, Sarkisian and David Shaw got along just fine.

Of course, that was last May and a lot has happened since then, including the aforementioned post-game war of words.

We don’t need to rehash all of the details, but I know Shaw objected to having his assistant and his players called out by name. And whether you agree with him retaliating with a Tuesday tirade is your personal business. Sark was ticked and probably broke a couple of unwritten rules. It happens. Shaw kept the story alive an extra couple of days by using the coaches' teleconference and his Tuesday roundtable as a pulpit to respond.

Neither coach "won" the public relations battle. And I don't think either cares. But it certainly spices things up for when the Cardinal and Trojans meet again. That -- and the fact that it's come down to the last play three of the last four meetings.

Curt in Las Vegas writes: Hey Kevin, Chip Kelly left the Oregon Ducks firmly entrenched with quality players. In 2013 going 10 and 2 and playing in the Alamo bowl to us Duck fans is a letdown! Do you think Mark Helfrich is planted at Oregon with the year he had?

Kevin Gemmell: Did Chip Kelly hurt Marcus Mariota’s knee? I think we can all agree that things took a turn for the worst for Oregon when he started coming up gimpy.

I think Helfrich is a very good coach who encountered a lot of the Year 1 obstacles every coach faces. But because it’s Oregon, a perennial top-5 program, those obstacles are magnified. When you’ve sat in a coordinator’s chair for so long and then make the jump, there is some transition and self-evaluation that is required. Ted and I took a lot of guff for picking Stanford to win the conference over Oregon for this very reason.

The Alamo Bowl is a letdown, sure. A 10-2 team playing in the deepest conference in college football deserves a shot at a BCS bowl game. But as the players have said, they need only look at themselves for where they are at.

Helfrich is going to be just fine, and Oregon is going to be just fine. He has a chance to get an 11th win -- something Kelly didn’t do in his first year. And win a bowl game. Also something Kelly didn’t accomplish. We have to see how the new College Football Playoff pans out, but I don’t see any reason why a Helfrich-led Oregon won’t be in the hunt annually.

Scott in London, England writes: Hi Kevin, I've read twice in the blog today about you mentioning how scary Arizona can be next year and it got me thinking. I know we have a lot of great transfers and recruits coming in, but I'm a bit unsure as to who exactly are supposed to be immediate impact players and how many returning starters there wil be, etc.I was wondering if you and Ted plan on doing a run down of next year's potential for each Pac team that consolidates all this into one easy blog post per team:* Transfers/JuCos and why they are good/meh* Recruits and why they are good/meh* Returners and why they are good/meh* Coaching changes and why they are good/meh (assistants too)* Schedule goods and bads* Will there be an El Nino, etc...I would say I'm an above-avg fan but I really don't have the Google-Fu skills or time to compile all this and I think every Pac fan would appreciate it a series like that.Maybe you guys already do that during the offseason or preseason, but I think it could also be good after bowl season.You can think of it as your first chance to be the, "We told you so" guys. Thanks for reading, always enjoy your stuff. Keep up the good work.

Kevin Gemmell: I can assure you there will be plenty of time in the offseason for all sorts of schedule analysis, roster breakdowns etc. etc. Ted and I are happy to fill the void during the offseason, as we do every year.

Just a heads up on Arizona. Among some of the key players who will be coming off the scout team are Cayleb Jones, Davonte’ Neal and Connor Brewer. They will all be eligible in 2014 after transferring.

Jones is a wide receiver who is transferring from Texas, and he’s reunited with Brewer, a former Longhorns quarterback. Neal, from Scottsdale, is a transfer receiver from Notre Dame who made a push to become eligible in 2013, but the NCAA denied his hardship waiver. You put him in with Austin Hill, who should be fully recovered from his knee injury and should be high on the Belitnikoff watchlist, along with David Richards, Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant and you have a receiver corps that is as good as any in the conference -- probably the country.

Quarterback will be an issue and Anu Solomon is one to watch. I had this in Lunch Links today. It’s a good read from Anthony Gimino breaking down Arizona’s QB prospects for next year.

Essentially, the Wildcats have a bunch of really exciting skill players that will make the South that much more exciting. They do lose three seniors on the defensive line, so guys like Luca Bruno, Calvin Allen and Jack Banda will have to step up.

But Arizona does indeed have some scary potential next year.

Mike in Maple Valley, Wash. writes: Your definition of "Coug" was pretty spot on. You said it has been an effective term since 2005. The origin may actually go back to the 1975 Apple Cup. To "Coug it" is a ceremonial act hand down from one generation to another.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, Maple Valley sounds like the most delicious place on earth.

Second, that was a phrase pulled straight from the Urban Dictionary, and the submission was entered in 2005, so unfortunately I can’t take credit for it. I didn’t put the link in though because Urban Dictionary has a lot of non-blog-friendly expressions and sayings. You’re free to Google it yourself.

I called no joy in writing that piece. But I do think Washington State is moving in the right direction under Mike Leach. Speaking of that column ...

Andy in Fort Collins Colo. writes: You’re Washington State take was so one-sided and arrogant. How about giving the Rams a little credit instead of making excuses. (And Merry Christmas).

Kevin Gemmell: Ah, thanks Andy. Merry Christmas to you.

It was a Washington State-centric story because I’m the Pac-12 reporter and I cover the Pac-12 and Washington State is a Pac-12 team and it appeared on the Pac-12 blog. See the trend?

Did you email all of the beat writers in Pullman and Spokane and the surrounding areas and chastise them for their coverage? The folks at CougCenter do a heck of a job. And their stuff was a bit one-sided.

I don’t think it’s arrogant to say the Pac-12 is a better conference. I’ve covered both, so I feel like I’m qualified to weigh in on this. In the 12 games the two conferences have played so far, the Pac-12 has gone 11-1 and outscored the Mountain West, on average, 38.5 to 20.

Arizona should beat UNLV. And it did. Colorado should beat Colorado State. And it did. Oregon State and USC should beat Hawaii. And they did. Oregon State should beat San Diego State. And it did. UCLA should beat Nevada. And it did. Stanford should beat San Jose State. And it did. USC and Utah should beat Utah State. And they did. USC should beat Fresno State and Washington should beat Boise State. And they did.

For what it’s worth, I did include in the piece that Colorado State deserved the win for not quitting. And anything is possible (especially in Albuquerque, it seems) when you have two weeks to prepare.

That goes for tonight’s matchup between Oregon State and Boise State. The Broncos certainly aren’t the same team they were a month ago. And I’m not totally sure which Oregon State team we’re going to get. If it’s the explosive Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection, the Beavs should be fine. If it’s not, then Boise State certainly could win.

Such is the nature of bowl season.

Merry Christmas from the Pac-12 blog.

Mailbag: Helfrich crashing the Ferrari?

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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Welcome to the mailbag.

Yoda says to Twitter-follow Pac-12 blog here, yes.

To the notes!

Marcus from Canaan, Conn., writes: It's been said many times that Mark Helfrich was given the keys to a Ferrari. Well, he took that Ferrari and smashed it into a telephone pole. That said, shouldn't the Ducks brass find someone else to drive said Ferrari?

Ted Miller: The problem is we can't judge whether or not the wreck was driver error. Maybe the brakes failed. Or perhaps the Ferrari sprained its knee. It's possible Oregon would be 9-2 at present even if Chip Kelly were still the coach. Or 9-2 under a resurrected Vince Lombardi.

Recall that Kelly's first year was hardly perfect after he took over a 10-3 team from Mike Bellotti that welcomed back a lot of good players, including QB Jeremiah Masoli. Folks, in fact, immediately questioned Kelly's leadership during the disaster at Boise State to open the season.

Then, after winning seven in a row and rising to No. 8, the Ducks got bombed at unranked Stanford. Finally, Kelly's first team lost the Rose Bowl 26-17 to an Ohio State team it should have beaten by two touchdowns, making mercurial Terrelle Pryor look like an All-American.

The point is a single season is too small a sample size to pass judgment on a head coach -- good or bad.

Coaching a college team is not easy, and folks trying to completely write off the transition between Kelly and Helfrich were being short-sighted. It certainly was a major reason your Pac-12 bloggers picked Stanford to win the Pac-12 in the preseason.

Helfrich might be a great coach. He might even end up better than Kelly. But there is a transition there, as well as a learning curve for a guy who's never sat in the corner office.

I'm sure some folks questioned Bellotti in 1995, his first season, when the Ducks lost to middling Stanford and Arizona State teams and then got stomped by Colorado in the Cotton Bowl.

While it's completely understandable to be frustrated with where things stand at this moment -- that's how it is, being a fan -- let the more reasonable part of your brain prevail. Have patience and allow a bigger and more nuanced picture to develop before passing judgment on Helfrich.


Jason from St. Louis writes: My Stanford friends and I are split about this week's ASU-Arizona game. Do you think it is better that ASU lose so we get home-field advantage in the Pac-12 championship game, or for ASU to win so ASU is a potential top-10 team rather than top-20 team? I know this only affects postseason rankings and offseason bragging rights (assuming we win), but those are both big. Also, in his chat this week, Kevin thought ASU has a 50 percent chance of winning the championship at home, but only a 35 percent chance of winning if the game is on the Farm. Do you agree with those numbers?

Ted Miller: You 100 percent want Arizona State to lose so you get home-field advantage. There is no percentage of your thinking that should want to go on the road to Tempe, where the Sun Devils are dominant. To quote myself:
The Sun Devils are 6-0 at home this year with an average margin of victory of 26.8 points per game, including wins over two ranked teams, Wisconsin and USC, as well as a blowout victory over Washington. They are 3-2 on the road, with a 42-28 loss at Stanford, a game that was 39-7 entering the fourth quarter.

While it would be more impressive for Stanford to beat a highly ranked Arizona State team playing at home, the victory prize would still be the same: the Rose Bowl. Further, I don't think the Cardinal would get as much of a jump in the national rankings for winning in Tempe simply because they've already beaten ASU this season.

And I think Kevin is absolutely correct. Both of Stanford's losses came on the road this year, and the Cardinal have won 15 consecutive home games, tied for the second-longest active streak in the nation with Ohio State.


Papa John from Santa Barbara, Calif., writes: A few years back, the Pac-12 blog awarded Stanford's FB/LB Owen Marecic the title of STUD in its all-conference team selections. I was wondering if you could take that title out of retirement and award it to Trent Murphy this year, especially given his snubbing by the Butkus, Bednarik, etc. committees?

Ted Miller: That actually was the then-Pac-12 blog, not the official Pac-12 team, which can't afford to be as colorful as us.

First, Murphy is an iron-clad lock to be first-team All-Pac-12, and I'd add that he is the favorite to win conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.

While Murphy has a right to be smarting after getting snubbed for those awards, he also is almost certain to be named a first-team All-American. That's a pretty good consolation prize.


74Coug from Virginia Beach writes: As we approach another Apple Cup, why is it that nobody gives Washington State more credit for last year's victory? All writing is of an epic Washington collapse, when a reasonable perspective is that the Cougars led at halftime, and the record comeback was really necessitated only by giving Washington three short-field TDs off of turnovers.

Ted Miller: That's a fair point. Three turnovers from Washington State led to two Washington touchdowns in the third quarter, and that was the primary reason the Huskies led 28-10 entering the fourth quarter. So the Cougars' collapse in the third after leading at halftime was balanced by the Huskies' collapse in the fourth.

But, really, come on. You couldn't take this position with the game video running.

Start with this: It was the biggest lost fourth-quarter lead in the history of the Apple Cup.

Further, Washington was a two-touchdown favorite. It had won four in a row and was 7-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play, while the 2-9 Cougars had lost eight in a row and were winless in Pac-12 play. The week before, the Cougs had lost 46-7 at Arizona State. Washington was the better team.

That makes the main storyline the Huskies collapse, no matter what.

But then you toss exactly how things went down in the fourth quarter and overtime, which Bud Withers does a good job of recounting here, and you see the Huskies make like Dumb and Dumber.

In the fourth quarter, the Huskies had a fumble, five penalties -- two pass interferences and a roughing-the-passer -- and a missed 35-yard field goal for the victory in regulation. On Washington's first possession of overtime, Huskies QB Keith Price had perhaps his biggest career brain, er, hiccup, on his interception to Toni Pole, who rumbled all the way to the Huskies' 5-yard line to set up the winning field goal.

The Cougars, without question, deserve credit for showing mental toughness and resolve for taking advantage of the Huskies going rear-end-over-tea-kettle. And that was the Washington State storyline this week when chatting with coach Mike Leach, "What did that Apple Cup win mean for you guys heading into the offseason and 2013 season?"

But yielding an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, as Washington did, was nothing less than a collapse, and it was the biggest reason why folks were putting Steve Sarkisian on the hot seat last summer.


Elk from Los Angeles writes: You can't overstate the importance of winning the line of scrimmage this year. Who do you think wins the Morris trophies this year? Interesting that last year's winners will be lining up against each other in the Pac-12 championship game.

Ted Miller: USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams and Stanford offensive guard David Yankey will win the Morris Trophies.

I'd also, on the offensive line, throw in UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo, but I think Yankey will repeat.


Steve from Union City, Calif., writes: Re: Your and Kevin's Picks this week -- Lame. You guys should have some rule that you can't make all the same picks in any given week. Especially the last week of the regular season, when you are already TIED. And so it will end in a tie. Lame, lame.

Ted Miller: I agree. I felt lame while I was picking all the same teams as Kevin. And that's my fault, as Kevin sends me his picks and I post them on the blog.

The problem with this week was I had already thought about the picks before Kevin sent me his. What he sent me was pretty much what I had worked out in my head. While nearly all the games gave me pause, I just couldn't pull the trigger on a road underdog.

There have been times this year when I just said, "Oh, what the heck!" and picked against my inclination so we'd be different. That pick has tended to be pretty weak.

But don't despair! We have the bowl games ahead, so the tie could be broken.

As it was -- cough, cough -- last year.

Civil War features two grumpy teams

November, 29, 2013
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If misery loves company, the Civil War might be more civil this season. At least, Oregon and Oregon State -- fans, coaches and players -- can commiserate with each other on what horrible losses and disappointing season downturns feel like.

The Ducks and Beavers arrive at their annual showdown with their mid-season swagger replaced by a limp. The Ducks, eyeballing the national title game much of the year, have lost two of three and now must contemplate their first BCS bowl-less season since 2008. The Beavers, 6-1 a month ago, had bounced back from an opening loss to Eastern Washington to regain a national ranking, but they are now riding a four-game losing streak that was capped by a miserable white flag performance against Washington.

The Ducks were blown out last weekend 42-16 by an Arizona team that had lost at home the previous week to Washington State. The Beavers gave up 692 yards -- 530 yards rushing! -- in a humiliating 69-27 home loss to the Huskies.

What went wrong for the Beavers? "What didn't?" replied coach Mike Riley.

"I would have to say that was as out of character as I've seen us play ever," Riley said. "I shouldn't say I'm at a loss, but we just have to coach better and play better."

Oregon also seemed to lose its poise last week. First, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff caused a stir midweek by saying they weren't excited about playing in the Rose Bowl. That inspired national chortling about karma when the Ducks face-planted, thereby eliminating themselves from consideration from the slighted Granddaddy.

The loss also created some tension for first-year coach Mark Helfrich when the inevitable, "That wouldn't have happened to a Chip Kelly coached team," was broached by a fan base that hadn't suffered through a loss to an unranked team since 2009, Kelly's first season. Helfrich made no excuse for the Ducks’ woeful performance.

"We certainly didn't play up to our normal standard and like I said on game day that starts and ends with me," Helfrich said.

So what of the Civil War? Oregon is a three-touchdown favorite, but the real question is do both teams show up with something resembling their A-game? Or does just one?

"The team that handles wherever they are right now the best has the best chance to look good and play well," Riley said. "Now these guys are really good, so we're going to have to be so drastically different than we were last Saturday night. Can we do that is our issue?"

The Beavers’ biggest problem is obvious: They can't run the ball. They rank 120th in the nation with 72.8 yards rushing per game. Once they hit the second half of a backloaded schedule, opposing defenses were able to scheme up the previously potent passing game, and that has led to an offensive regression, particularly for QB Sean Mannion. He threw just three interceptions in the first eight games. He's thrown 10 in the past three.

Riley, however, brushed off talk that Mannion's confidence has taken a major hit.

"I get the question, but he's actually good," Riley said.

If Mannion starts slowly against the Ducks, it would be reasonable to wonder if Riley might turn to back senior Cody Vaz, who started five games in 2012 but was beaten out in the preseason by Mannion, a junior.

The Ducks’ quarterback, Marcus Mariota, hasn't slipped as steeply as Mannion, but he's proven fallible after becoming a leading Heisman Trophy contender through the first eight games. For one, he threw his first two interceptions of the year against Arizona, though the first wasn't his fault by any stretch. Second, he's beaten up, starting with a knee spring suffered against UCLA four weeks ago. He also appeared to get his bell rung late in the loss to Arizona, but he told reporters this week he has passed all concussion tests and will start against the Beavers.

Mariota is the least of the Ducks’ problems. Uncharacteristic offensive sloppiness and a flagging defense have been the larger issues. And, not unlike the Beavers last week against Washington, the focus and effort didn't seem very Oregon-like against Arizona.

"We did a little bit of introspection following the game, talked through that," Helfrich said. "Talked about exactly what we have to do to fix that. I think our guys responded well these last couple of days."

Both teams are headed to the postseason, so this won't be their final game. Yet both coaches know how their team performs in this game will be carried by their fans into the offseason, either as a representation of resilience or a red flag suggesting sagging morale.

Both coaches are counting on a bounce-back performance, one that means the game will reward the better team, not the one that can muster the least indifference.

"They flushed it well," Helfrich said. "The last couple of days have been very spirited, very physical practices. They are ready to get back at it."

Oregon-Stanford: Respectful rivalry grows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Calm before Oregon-Stanford hype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, yes, they talked about exactly that.

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

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

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

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

Player of the week: Pac-12

October, 28, 2013
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Oregon’s game against UCLA was supposed to be about the grand return of running back De'Anthony Thomas. And while he showed up for a half, it was Byron Marshall who stole the show with a game high 133 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

But the Pac-12 blog is tipping its cap to the defense for its second-half shutout of UCLA and yielding a season-low 283 yards of total offense in the 42-14 win over the No. 12 Bruins.

And from a collection of many great defensive performances, we’re singling out safety Avery Patterson, who posted a career-high three tackles for loss to go with his second interception of the season and sixth of his career. He had seven tackles on the day, six of them solo.

With Oregon leading 21-14 to start the fourth quarter, Patterson intercepted UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley at the Oregon 28 and returned it 34 yards. That set up Marcus Mariota’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Bralon Addison and opened the floodgates for a 21-point fourth quarter for the Ducks.

Following the game, coach Mark Helfrich praised his defense as a whole for its efforts.

"Outstanding. It wasn’t like one guy was locking somebody up either,” Helfrich said. “It was a little bit of pressure got to them and created a turnover or a guy made a great break on the ball in space. Exactly, that’s our formula. We’re going to pick and choose our pressures and try to confound and confuse and Nick [Aliotti] and his staff did an incredible job."

What are Oregon's weaknesses?

October, 23, 2013
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Oregon is terrible on fourth down. The Ducks have converted on just seven of 18 fourth-down plays this year. Their 38.9 conversion rate ranks 10th in the Pac-12, behind struggling teams like Colorado and California.

We point that out because that's about the only thing Oregon isn't doing well right now.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon appears to have no glaring weaknesses, yet first-year coach Mark Helfrich says the Ducks can get better in every phase.
The Pac-12 keeps track of 33 statistical categories, covering offense, defense, special teams, penalties, turnovers, etc. The Ducks rank first in the conference in 11 categories, including the two most important: scoring offense and scoring defense. They rank in the top three in 18 categories. Most of the categories they are not doing well in -- time of possession, onside kicks, opponent penalties -- evoke a "neh."

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.

Q&A: Oregon's Hroniss Grasu

October, 11, 2013
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The No. 2 Oregon Ducks enter Saturday’s game with Washington riding a 17-game winning streak on the road and boasting the league’s top offense. Center Hroniss Grasu took a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog this week about Oregon’s offense, prepping for Washington, the non-distraction of Colt Lyerla and exactly who would get his Heisman vote.

Is it safe to assume that Oregon will be OK without Chip Kelly?

Hroniss Grasu: (Laughs) Yeah, I think so. Coach [Mark] Helfrich and the coaching staff have been a great job since he departed and everything is still the same.

That was sarcasm, just so we’re on the same page.

[+] EnlargeHroniss Grasu
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiHroniss Grasu (55) is looking forward to the hostile atmosphere at Washington.
HG: I got you. Wasn’t sure if you were serious so I wanted to be sure I gave you a good answer.

It’s hard to ignore what you guys are doing offensively. I know you don’t focus on the numbers, but do you at least take a step back to reflect on what you have been able to do so far?

HG: No, we don’t. I think if you take a step back, you’re going the wrong direction. You have to keep going forward and keep looking forward and try to get better every day. We’ve done a good job of that.

Are there any goals in the locker room among you guys? Five straight games of 55 points is impressive.

HG: Nah, we don’t ever make any of those kinds of goals. Our only goal is to play up to our standard and set a new standard daily. If we keep meeting that standard that we set, I think we can be a pretty good football team.

What were some of your personal goals this year?

HG: My personal goal is to be the best leader on this team and do whatever it takes to help this team win. So far I think everybody on the offensive line has done a great job. They’ve all been great leaders with me, giving Marcus [Mariota] the time he needs and opening up the lanes for the running backs.

The relationship between quarterback and center is a delicate one, so to speak. How have you and Marcus gotten in sync the last couple of years?

HG: He’s an easy guy to build a relationship with. He’s the type of guy you want to be around. He always has positive energy and you want that to rub off on you. He’s the most humble person I’ve ever met. His character speaks for itself. Off the field we’ve built a better relationship.

What do you do off the field?

HG: We went golfing and we play some pool and just hang out. We had a barbecue at my house. Stuff like that.

Who’s the better golfer?

HG: I’ve been golfing longer. It’s kind of a funny story. When we first went, I was trying to teach Marcus how to tee off and I shanked it into the driving range. I was teaching him not to do that. Then he steps up and drives it right into the fairway. That’s typical Marcus. He’s good at everything.

If I promise not to tell anyone, is Washington week different?

HG: It’s not any different at all. It might be extra competitive, but we don’t treat it any differently. We know we’re going to get everyone’s best shot. We know we’re the team that is going to be circled on everyone’s schedule. We’ve been through it. We get excited when we see a hostile crowd. The atmosphere is electric. We just have to go in and do our job and execute our game plan.

You guys have won 17 in a row on the road. That’s the longest streak in the country. What do you guys do that enables you to be as successful on the road as you are at home?

HG: We just treat it like any other game. Our practices are much harder than our games. We play the loud music and simulate the noise. We stick to our game plan and listen to the coaches. We always have a good week of preparation and it’s fun and exciting to go on the road. The away games are fun because it’s us vs. the whole stadium. It helps you bond with your teammates because it’s you vs. all.

Oregon isn’t a team that you typically hear about having off-the-field distractions. But this week you had one with the departure of tight end Colt Lyerla. How much of a distraction was that to you guys?

HG: It hasn’t been a distraction at all. We haven’t really discussed it because we know it can’t be a distraction. It’s a bummer that we lost Colt because he’s a great athlete and a good person. He needs to get back on track and we can’t let that distract us.

What’s your favorite part about the new facilities?

HG: My favorite part is that we have elevators. The whole building is amazing. When the pictures came out, I was in awe. Then you see it in person; you just can’t compare it to pictures. My jaw was dropped the whole time. I can’t believe that’s our new home. It’s a blessing to use that building.

If you had a Heisman vote, who would get it?

HG: The entire Oregon Ducks football team.

The road has been kind to the Ducks

October, 9, 2013
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Autzen Stadium is one of the loudest, most imposing venues in college football. As far as home-field advantages go, Oregon's is among the best in the nation, and its 22-2 record in Eugene over the past four seasons reflects that.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesOregon's 34-17 victory over Washington in 2011 is one of 17 straight road conquests for the Ducks.
It also makes it difficult to comprehend how the Ducks have been even better in true road-game scenarios during that stretch. They haven't lost a non-neutral-site game away from home since Nov. 7, 2009, at Stanford -- a national-best span of 17 games.

It's one of two streaks near and dear to hearts of Ducks fans that will be on the line Saturday at newly renovated Husky Stadium in Seattle, where No. 2 Oregon (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) will look to make it 10 wins in a row against No. 16 Washington (4-1, 1-1).

"It's going to be a hostile environment, and I think that's part of the fun of it," Oregon safety Brian Jackson said. "But we'll also have a lot of our people coming too. It's a very passionate game between both fan bases."

Passionate might be an understatement. For many fans at both schools, the game has surpassed the instate rivalries in terms of the animosity involved. So much that Oregon fans have taken to using the hashtags "HuskyHateWeek" and "WinTheDecade" on Twitter this week.

For Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, preparation remains the same as any other week, but he admitted that, unlike his predecessor Chip Kelly, he has a specific appreciation for the rivalry.

“This isn’t a me-versus-Chip thing, but growing up here, sure I know what the Oregon State rivalry means, I know what the Washington rivalry means,” Helfrich said. “I was sitting in the stands in the olden days when the Washington fans certainly vocally outnumbered the Oregon fans, singing ‘Tequila,’ and all those kind of things.”

The $280 million renovation of Husky Stadium has made what was already a loud environment even more so. Without the track that used to create a buffer between the fans and field, there is now a feeling of intimacy at field level. It's similar, in that respect, to Autzen.

Washington is 3-0 at the new digs, with wins over Boise State, Idaho State and Arizona. The Huskies' last win against Oregon came at home in 2003.

Helfrich said the Ducks' road winning streak is a result of circumstances as much as anything. Any advantages of playing away from home are minimal, at best.

"I think there is a certain element of less distractions on the road," he said. "Less guys are worried about tickets and who's coming and sleeping in their bed or whatever those things [are] that go along with playing at home."

Washington needs to refocus quickly

October, 8, 2013
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The last thing Washington needs is a distraction. The Huskies are playing their best football in a decade, so the dust-up between Stanford coach David Shaw and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian over the Cardinal allegedly faking injuries during their game on Saturday serves no positive purpose for Washington, other than giving local and national reporters a good controversy on which to engorge themselves

After restating his, "I saw what I saw," Sarkisian quickly moved on to, "I'm done with the subject" during the Pac-12 coaches' call on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesA win over Oregon would be huge for Washington and coach Steve Sarkisian. The Huskies have lost nine straight to the Ducks.
That's probably good. Because after coming off a physically taxing game with a top-five team, the Huskies now must redirect their focus to No. 2 Oregon.

Forget that no two defensive game plans could be more dissimilar between trying to slow Stanford's pro-style offense and the Ducks' up-tempo spread. Even forget that the Oregon-Washington rivalry is the most bitter in the Pac-12 and one of the most bitter rivalries in the nation. The simple fact is the Ducks have owned the Huskies of late, winning nine in a row in the series by at least 17 points.

And you know Ducks fans are eager to print up the T-shirts: Decade of Dominance.

A Washington victory would be transformative -- in the Northwest region, in the Pac-12 and nationally. It would truly signal that the Huskies are ready to become a national power once again.

While the 31-28 loss at No. 5 Stanford was heartbreaking because the Huskies dominated the Cardinal statistically -- other than special teams -- playing the Ducks should provide plenty of motivation to refocus. Too much looking backward could prove catastrophic.

"I think in some ways it helped us," Sarkisian said of playing back-to-back top-five foes. "When you lose an emotional ballgame like we did Saturday night at Stanford, I think it was quick and easy to point out, 'Guys, we don't have time to sulk. We don't have time to sit with a woes-with-me mentality. We've got to get right back on the horse and get healthy mentally and physically'."

The Huskies have already done a pretty good job of staying focused amid outside chatter. The main preseason stories were about whether QB Keith Price could revert to his 2011 form after a poor 2012 season and Sarkisian potentially sitting on a hot seat. The opener against nationally ranked Boise State had the added pressure of being the debut of remodeled Husky Stadium. The Illinois game offered a road test for a team that was notoriously inconsistent on the road.

We all are aware this is a tremendous rivalry in college football and has been for a long time. We're excited to be part of it. That's what makes college football special.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian on the Huskies' rivalry with Oregon.
The Huskies answered all those questions. Price is playing as well as just about any quarterback in the country. Sarkisian is now talked about as a candidate for the USC job rather than a coach on the hot seat. The Huskies stomped the Broncos and opened their stadium in style. And Illinois was efficiently dispatched.

The loss at Stanford didn't quash much of the Huskies' new-found esteem either. They slipped just one spot in both national polls.

As for the bad feelings between the Ducks and Huskies, that's mostly a fan thing. Both teams talk about preparation being purely about a "nameless faceless opponent." But both Sarkisian and first-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich admit to an awareness of the heated nature of the rivalry.

"We all are aware this is a tremendous rivalry in college football and has been for a long time," Sarkisian said. "We're excited to be part of it. That's what makes college football special."

Helfrich, meanwhile, is a native of Coos Bay, Ore. He grew up rooting for the Ducks and hating the Huskies. So while former Oregon coach Chip Kelly would never admit beating Washington, which he did with plenty of panache, meant anything special, and he would cause Ducks fans to slap their foreheads by frequently mentioning how much he liked Sarkisian, Helfrich pretty much must admit there is something extra when playing the Huskies.

"Absolutely I understand the nature of the rivalry," he said.

But don't think Helfrich is that much different than Kelly. He says preparation will be no different, and he has been seen multiple times having a pleasant chat with Sarkisian.

For Washington, the goal is no distractions. Forget Stanford. Forget controversy. It doesn't even matter that it's the Ducks coming to town. It's about preparing to take the next step up the Pac-12 and national ladders.

Oregon, of course, represents one of the most challenging rungs on both ladders.

Said Sarkisian, "I think our guys are going to be prepared for whatever this game presents us."

One of the more remarkable aspects of Oregon's dynamic and dominant four-year run under Chip Kelly was that the Ducks never lost to a bad or even mediocre team.

Sure, Kelly went a scintillating 46-7 as the Ducks head coach. But it's perhaps as notable that those seven losses came to teams that were a combined 82-12, and five of those defeats belonged to an 8-5 Stanford team in 2009. No other foe that beat Kelly had more than two defeats. Kelly lost to two teams, Boise State and Auburn, that went unbeaten.

Just about everybody gets upset at some point. Pete Carroll and USC went down to Stanford, a 41-point underdog, in 2007, the same year that Nick Saban and Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Good programs become complacent on a random weekend and get upset. It's a fact of sports.

But the Ducks avoided that under Kelly while operating under his sometimes annoying -- at least to reporters -- mantra of "Nameless Faceless Opponents."

And so we have new Ducks coach Mark Helfrich taking his second-ranked team to Colorado, which has had a mostly positive start to a massive rebuilding project under Mike MacIntyre.

The Ducks are 39-point favorites Saturday in Boulder. You will not find anyone in the country picking Colorado to win. Or even to keep it close. But MacIntyre has a story to tell about an epic upset. He can tell his locker room about what he participated in on Oct. 17, 1998.

"I've been a part of [an epic upset] before as a coach," he said. "I definitely know it can happen."

MacIntyre was an assistant at Temple in 1998 when the woeful and winless Owls, 35-point underdogs with a freshman making his first start at quarterback, overcame a 17-point deficit on the road to shock previously unbeaten and 14th-ranked Virginia Tech. It was Temple's first win in 27 Big East Conference road games. Ten Owls players made their first career starts in the game because of injuries.

The shocker also inspired one of the best and most honest quotes to ever come out of a losing locker room.

"I've never been so embarrassed in my life," Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore said. "I'm shellshocked. We're the laughingstock of college football right now and deservedly so."

Again, we are not suggesting the Buffaloes are going to embarrass the Ducks. But, well, you never know.

For one, Helfrich noted, the Buffs look a lot different on film from the team Oregon effortlessly obliterated 70-14 last year, a game the Ducks led 56-0 at halftime. It's not so much about new schemes. It's about how the Buffs are playing.

"Just their culture -- you can see it on film," Helfrich said. "They are just kind of better. I think Coach MacIntyre has done a great job of resetting the standard, probably starting from scratch in his way."

So what needs to happen for the Ducks to go down? Start with turnovers.

Ignore that Oregon was the first team since 2010 not to turn the ball over in its first three games of the season. The Ducks had two giveaways last weekend against California. Sure, that game was played in torrential rain, but perhaps the performance presaged an epidemic of poor ball security?

Then move on to explosion plays. What if Oregon's typical flow of them runs dry and the Buffs suddenly seem touched by the spirit of Sammy Baugh? What if Colorado receiver Paul Richardson busts out another 200-yard game, hauling in a handful of TD bombs from Connor Wood?

And what if Oregon QB and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Marcus Mariota decides to -- finally! -- have a bad game?

Hey, it's all a reach. But stranger things have happened. Not many. But they have.

Said MacIntyre, "The kids got to believe. They've got to execute and play ball."

Of course, the more realistic "victory" for the Buffs would be keeping the game competitive well into the third quarter.

Planning for success: Oregon

October, 3, 2013
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As No. 2 Oregon prepares for a trip to Colorado, it's not so much the Buffaloes who have the Ducks' attention as much as it is themselves.

For Oregon, its own improvement will take care of Saturday's result and, perhaps more importantly, will help when the road gets tougher.

"It's us against us. Try to compete against ourselves," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "Whatever we did yesterday, do it better."

It's a philosophy Chip Kelly instilled and one Helfrich continues to employ. And it doesn't mean Colorado, or anyone else, is being overlooked.

The Ducks simply don't play down to their competition.

They haven't won a regular season game by single digits since 2010 and their average margin of victory over the last two seasons is a tad higher than five touchdowns (35.1).

"If you take a deep breath and a sigh and a relaxing breath because you're playing a supposed team that you're going to beat and then you have to ramp it up for a team that's supposedly better than you, you're not going to maximize your personal or your team's opportunities for success," Helfrich said.

Hence the full-throttle approach, even when it's not required.

Oregon will take the nation's longest road winning streak (16 games) to Boulder as a 38 1/2- point favorite, where nothing short of a Colorado miracle will prevent the Ducks from moving to 5-0.

No sound bit of logic suggests an Oregon loss is possible, but first-year Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre was quick to point out there is precedent that he's been a part of.

MacIntyre was the defensive coordinator at Temple in 1998 when the Owls took an 0-5 record to play at No. 14 Virginia Tech as a 35-point underdog. The Hokies were 5-0 and had given up just 30 points all season, the best mark in the country, while Temple was 0-26 all time in Big East road games.

Final score: Temple 28, Virginia Tech 24.

"Each one of [the players] has to believe themselves individually," MacIntyre said. "Been part of it before as a coach. Definitely know it can happen."

MacIntyre didn't imply he was confident a repeat was coming, only that he was excited about the opportunity.


"I mean you’re getting to play against the best team in the country on national television," he said. "You’re at home, great crowd. That’s what you dream about all your life."

The best?

"I would say that right now to me, they look like one of the top two or three teams in the country," MacIntyre added. "But, I would say right now the way they’re clicking off and beating everybody, I mean it’s not even close. At halftime, it’s over every game … it’s over.

"So, hopefully this one won’t be over and we will be right in it and that’s what we’re planning on doing."

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