Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is trying to resurrect a program in the midst of what is arguably college football's most treacherous minefield. He knows the dangers of the Pac-12 South firsthand; his Buffaloes are camped out in the cellar of it.
"I think [the Pac-12 South] is the toughest division in college football, period," he proclaimed on Tuesday's conference call.
Uh oh. Those will almost certainly be considered fighting words by many in the Southeast, home of the rugged SEC West.
But MacIntyre's comments bring up a fun chance of examination: What is the toughest division in the country? This season, the argument inevitably boils down to the Pac-12 South -- which is fresh off surpassing its Northern brethren -- and the SEC West, which has maintained the upper hand in that area of the country for several years running now.
Of course, coaches advocate for the division in which they play -- MacIntyre's club is laboring through conference play with an 0-7 record, so we know what camp he's in.
"The [Pac-12 South] is very comparable to the SEC West, and I think people can argue that both ways," he said. "I think we have better quarterbacks. That always makes for a better team, when you have a better quarterback."
We asked for a little help in clarifying the argument from our friends in ESPN Stats and Information and the Football Power Index (FPI).
Although the Pac-12 South has more teams (5) ranked in the AP Top 25 than the SEC West (4), every single team from the SEC West -- including 1-5 Arkansas -- received votes in the most recent AP poll. When accounting for the total amount of poll votes as well as a teams' FPI, the SEC West sum is 97.3, greater than the Pac-12's 90.3.
When it comes to FPI, the SEC West has the advantage with an average rank 10.4, compared to the Pac-12 South, which has an average rank of 30.8. Although there are five teams with .700 or better overall winning percentages in the Pac-12 South, FPI predicts that on a neutral field, every team in the West would have a greater than 50 percent chance to beat two-thirds of the South: Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, and Colorado. According to FPI, UCLA and USC are the only two Pac-12 South teams that would have a better than 50 percent chance of holding their ground against a handful of SEC West teams.
Salt these projections however you like. Perhaps the most important factor in this argument is that Oregon, the Pac-12's top-rated team, resides in the North (Alabama, the SEC's biggest gun, is part of the West, so that gives the division a firepower advantage).
If college football history has taught us anything, this type of debate will rage on unresolved well beyond this season. But MacIntyre, who might know better than most, has cast his vote for the Pac-12 South.
Catch the winning pass, kick the dramatic last-second field goal or come off the bench to make a big play in this series, and your college football legacy is assured in L.A. It often creates a memory or an image that can last a lifetime.
But for others, this game occasionally means something else. Something more urgent. Something more tangible.
This is a defining moment for both of them. The first-year head coach who has yet to carve out his Trojans identity, and the junior quarterback who has yet to win a game against the school's two fiercest rivals.
For Sarkisian, this is an opportunity to shake off the doubters who have been skewering him on their blogs and message boards.
It comes with the job at USC. You accept the position, and you must also accept the pressure that accompanies it.
You can't lose to a nondescript Boston College team, getting pounded for 400 yards on the ground, and not get criticized for it. You can't run up big leads on Arizona State and Utah, only to fall apart in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and blow games that could have turned the program around.
Sark has gone 7-3 in his first 10 games as a Trojans coach and hasn't proven anything.
But all that can change on Saturday. If he can take this team into the Rose Bowl and get it to play up to its potential, utilizing all his gifted, athletic weapons on offense while finding some way to slow down the Bruins' Brett Hundley on defense. If he get his kids to play with poise and cut down on their frustrating penalties, his stature immediately improves.
Instead of "7-win Sark," he becomes the guy who breaks UCLA's brief, two-game winning streak in this rivalry, the recruiter who assumes the hot local hand, the coach who appears as if he's ready to bring this program back to the glory years.
If he doesn't, of course, the mood and the storyline only grow darker. He becomes the coach who couldn't win the big ones at Washington and now can't win the big one here. He turns into the guy who let UCLA make it three in a row while running off in a blue and gold cloud of recruiting frenzy.
Sure, it's only his first year and this is only one game. But either way, it is a undeniable signature moment.
For Kessler, too, this is a time to clarify his status, although much of what happened a year ago, in the haze of Lane Kiffin's suffocating season, shouldn't be a reflection of this quarterback's ability.
Kiffin lacked confidence in him early, and things became somewhat murky when Ed Orgeron took over and tried to change the offense. Still, Kessler had his shot against a vulnerable Notre Dame team in South Bend and a chance when Hundley and the Bruins came to the Coliseum.
He couldn't manufacture a victory in either instance. Now he gets another chance.
The Kessler we've watched this season bears little resemblance to the one from a year ago. He is much more relaxed and confident in 2014, throwing accurately, taking care of the football, spreading it around while producing 29 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
But in order to move to the next level, before he can be remembered as one of the more effective quarterbacks in recent USC history, he has to demonstrate he can beat UCLA and/or Notre Dame.
If Kessler can go in with the underdog Trojans and knock the Bruins out of the Pac-12 title game, his stature can grow expotentially. He immediately goes from being a competent, gym rat of a quarterback to a bigtime player who will be on everybody's all-star honor roll in 2015.
One game. One challenge. One pressure-packed Saturday.
And for both USC's coach and quarterback, one huge, defining moment.
On Saturday, arguably the country's best player basically ended his career with a devastating ACL injury in his first game back from a four-game NCAA suspension. Sunday brought us the firing of a coach who did everything right, but win. The work week brought more attention to autograph issues with Florida State's star, and two schools are dealing with horrific allegations away from the field.
It's depth chart Wednesday and with all 12 teams in action, that means you get 11 depth charts to peruse with UCLA the usual odd team out.
- Arizona State Page 18 of game notes
- Cal Page 11 of game notes
- Oregon State (Page 32 of the game notes)
- USC (Page 18 of the game notes)
- Utah (Page 12 of the game notes)
- Washington (Page 9 of the game notes)
- Washington State (Page 11 of the game notes)
One of college football’s weirdest stories of the season -- Decade? Ever? -- added a new chapter Tuesday when USC announced it had reinstated defensive back Josh Shaw. Shaw, as nearly everyone with a pulse knows, has been suspended since late August after concocting an imaginary rescue of his drowning nephew to hide the fact that he jumped from the third floor following an argument with his girlfriend.
There are several levels of stupidity to the whole ordeal, but the decision to reinstate Shaw was justified. It was time. By most accounts, Shaw is a good kid who made a couple bad choices and they spiraled out of control. The embarrassment he has dealt with -- and will continue to deal with for years, no doubt -- has served as more than enough punishment. It’s still be to determined if he can make an impact on the field after missing so much time, but, for his sake, hopefully he can. It’ll be an important step in putting this mess behind him.
- Arizona is hanging on to hopes of a Pac-12 title.
- Biletnikoff Award candidate Jaelen Strong is "50-50" for Saturday's game against Washington State.
- Cal's Hardy Nickerson Jr. is hoping to channel some his dad's Big Game success this weekend.
- Colorado was already out-manned against Oregon and now it's dealing with injuries.
- Oregon remains in great shape as far as the College Football Playoff is concerned.
- Oregon State RB Terron Ward discusses his potential season-ending injury.
- Stanford needed a win in the Big Game to get to the Pac-12 title game last year. This year it's for bowl eligibility.
- There are a lot of similarities between USC and UCLA.
- "Prepare to be confused" is how the Seattle Times described Chris Petersen's first season at Washington.
- Notes from WSU practice.
Cal running back Jeff Coprich was surprised at the conclusion of practice Thursday with word that he had been named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. A video featuring Coprich’s community service played on the stadium video board and he was given a trophy.
Utah punter Tom Hackett may be the best punter in the country and on Monday he explained how punting is basically “kicking bacon down a field for people’s entertainment.”
BREAKING: Tom Hackett explains his role as a Division I punter. pic.twitter.com/7aXgESTZk5— Matthew Piper (@matthew_piper) November 17, 2014
Of course that resulted in fun with Photoshop
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Shaw had been suspended since late August, when he fabricated a story to explain how he suffered two high ankle sprains as a result of jumping from the balcony of his third-story apartment following an argument with his girlfriend. He initially -- and repeatedly -- told USC officials the injury occurred as a result of a leap from a balcony in an effort to save his drowning nephew. That story was shared on USC's website and quickly became a national story before Shaw admitted he had made it up.
His reinstatement was announced on the USC website.
"For several months, local authorities have been investigating the August 23 incident involving Josh Shaw. They have now concluded that investigation and determined that no action will be taken against him," USC athletic director Pat Haden said in a statement. "USC also conducted its own internal investigation of Josh, evaluating both athletic department code of conduct and potential NCAA compliance issues.
Say what you will about the College Football Playoff selection committee, but they’ve set the stage for drama over the season’s final three weekends -- whether they did so intentionally or not.
Mississippi State is the top-seven team that’s least likely to be a conference champion, so the Bulldogs might’ve been in a desperate position if they had fallen out of the top four this week. But they did not. Will MSU eventually get jumped by a conference champion? Or will a road win in the Egg Bowl be enough to help the Bulldogs hold their ground?
Things are lining up for a high-profile Big Ten title game
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“This week, to us, is a great week, [and] it’s a great week for college football,” Sarkisian said. “But as a Trojan you live it every day. This isn’t a sometime thing, it’s an all-the-time thing.”
Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“Obviously, it’s UCLA. You know, the same town, the tradition behind it and everything, and it’s definitely a bigger game than usual, but we’re not doing anything extra or coming out and trying to do stuff differently than we have all season,” Kessler said. “We’re putting our heads down, just coming out to practice, going to work, and let our play do the talking on Saturday.”
Still no Shaw
USC senior cornerback Josh Shaw has been suspended from all team activities since late August after having been caught fabricating a story about how he suffered two high ankle sprains, while also being the subject of a subsequent domestic violence investigation stemming from the same incident.
But on Monday it was revealed that the Los Angeles District Attorney will not file any charges against Shaw, causing some to speculate that he might make a return to the team.
There was no sign of Shaw at practice on Tuesday, however, and when Sarkisian was asked about the situation, he said that there was no update to give.
“There’s nothing new from me,” Sarkisian said. “It hasn’t got to my desk yet. I think it’s kind of more in the university’s hands.”
As far as a potential return to the team for Shaw this season, Sarkisian said that it would be “nice,” but also noted that the Trojans have grown accustomed to playing without him at this point in the season.
“I think it would be great for Josh,” Sarkisian said. “It’s your senior year, you want to play, especially when it’s your two rivals. We’ve played 10 games without him, so we have a pretty good understanding of who we are.”
Dixon takes part
One player who did participate in practice was freshman tight end Bryce Dixon, who was held out of the Trojans’ victory over California this past Thursday due to a student conduct issue.
But while he did take part in the workout, Sarkisian said that he still doesn’t know if Dixon will play this weekend, as the issue still hasn’t been completely resolved.
“It’s ongoing,” Sarkisian said. “It’s actually in the university’s hands as well. They have given him the green light to practice, which is a positive, so we’ll see where it goes from here.”
- Senior rush end/outside linebacker J.R. Tavai, who has missed the Trojans’ past two games due to a sprained knee, took part in the entire practice session Tuesday and did not appear to be affected by his prior injury in any way.
“J.R. has been good,” Sarkisian said. “He’s looked healthy. He’s looked fast and physical. J.R. is a hardball football player, and he brings a real presence to our defense. He brings a real attitude and leadership. Anytime you have a senior on your defense that can play, it’s helpful. So, it’s good to have him back.”
- Safety John Plattenburg (thigh bruise) also made it through practice and looks to be on pace to play this weekend.
- Safety Leon McQuay III and cornerback Chris Hawkins wore yellow non-contact jerseys on Tuesday, but both appeared to be moving well, with each taking part in the entire practice.
- Cornerback/wide receiver Adoree' Jackson blocked an Andre Heidari field goal attempt during a special teams period.
- There was a competitive one-on-one period early on between the defensive backs and the receivers, with Kessler completing a pass to Nelson Agholor with Kevon Seymour in coverage, JuJu Smith hauling in a Kessler pass against Jackson, Hawkins breaking up a Max Browne pass intended for Darreus Rogers, George Farmer catching a deep pass along the sideline against Jonathan Lockett, Steven Mitchell catching a long pass from Kessler against Plattenburg, and Dixon reeling in a Kessler toss against McQuay.
- The No. 1 offensive and defensive units spent much of the day going up against the service teams, with Jackson coming up with a highlight-reel interception against the scout-team offense during one of these periods, and Smith making two deep grabs against the scout-team defense. Javorius Allen also had a couple nifty runs for big gains.
- Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was at USC’s practice on Tuesday, as were scouts from the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars.
It would have been fun, but now Oregon looks like the conference's only realistic hope of earning one of the four playoff spots.
However, the Beavers' win also created a more likely scenario, in which 10 Pac-12 teams will be bowl eligible. There are currently six bowl-eligible teams, but that number will grow to eight after this weekend, with Stanford playing Cal and Washington playing Oregon State. All four need just one more win to hit the threshold.
Here are the teams that still have work to do to go bowling:
California (needs one win): vs. Stanford, vs. BYU
Stanford (needs one win): at Cal, at UCLA
Oregon State (needs one win): at Washington, vs. Oregon
Washington (needs one win)*: vs. Oregon State, at Washington State
And here's our weekly attempt to map out where the Pac-12 teams will end up come bowl season:
College Football Playoff: Oregon
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Arizona State
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Utah
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford
Cactus Bowl: Washington
Hawaii Bowl**: California
*Washington needs to win seven games to become bowl eligible because it had four nonconference games, which was allowed because of its trip to Hawaii.
LOS ANGELES -- Fifth-year senior tight end Randall Telfer signed with USC in 2010. It had long been his dream to be a Trojan. His favorite player? Reggie Bush.
True freshman Adoree' Jackson signed with USC in 2014. The native of Belleville, Illinois, grew up with no attachment to USC -- until he saw video of Reggie Bush, who became his favorite player.
Telfer knew USC faced NCAA sanctions when he signed, but he didn't know how severe. That understanding only hit him after a 50-0 victory over UCLA and 10-2 record in 2011 was followed by ... nothing. No bowl. Little national relevance. Jackson knew of USC's NCAA sanctions when he signed, but he also was aware the scholarship penalties expired with his recruiting class. As a first-year player, he knows no difference between USC having 85 guys on scholarship and 65, at least not yet, and he's got enough on his mind playing both ways as a true freshman.
Washington State at Arizona State
- Arizona State running back D.J. Foster has been held to zero or negative rushing yards 29.0 percent of the time in Pac-12 games, the highest percentage among running backs.
- Foster also ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 averaging 139.9 yards from a scrimmage a game.
- Among the 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, WSU receiver Vince Mayle has the longest reception this year (90 yards).
- The Cougars have thrown for at least 400 yards in a loss four times this season, which is the second-most times that has happened in a season for a team dating back at least 10 years.
- Arizona State ranks 21st in the country with 47 penalties. It is the only Pac-12 school that ranks in the top-60 and one of just four that ranks in the top-104.
- Utah's 47 sacks are the most for an FBS team over the first 10 games of a season since at least 2004.
- Utah running back Devontae Booker leads the Pac-12 with 133.4 rushing yards per game in conference games. Booker also has the most carries for zero or negative yards (36).
- Utah DE Nate Orchard is on pace for 21.5 sacks this season (including a bowl game), which would fall a few shy of Terrell Suggs' NCAA record of 24 in 2002. The NCAA began keeping sacks as an official stat in 2000.
- Dating back to 2004, only Arizona State's Andrew Walter (30) and Oregon Marcus Mariota (28) had more touchdown passes than Anu Solomon over their first 10 career games.
- Solomon is one of just two quarterbacks in the country (with at least 440 pass attempts) over the past 10 years not to fumble as a result of a sack.
- Cal has the most fourth-down conversions (17) and best fourth-down conversion percentage in the Pac-12 (70.8).
- In Pac-12 play, Stanford is averaging 5.8 yards per play, which ranks fifth in the conference.
- Cal running back Daniel Lasco leads the Pac-12 with 10 rushing touchdowns in conference games.
- Stanford running back Kelsey Young has been held to zero or negative rushing yards just once on 28 carries in Pac-12 play, the lowest percentage (3.6) among players with at least 20 carries.
- Cal quarterback Jared Goff's 6,906 yards passing over his first 22 career games is the most by a Power 5 quarterback since at least 2004.
- Oregon is scoring 3.54 points per drive, the most in the country.
- Oregon fails to pick up a first down on just 19.4 percent of its drives, the fourth-best percentage in the country.
- Colorado has run the most plays (871) in the country, which is 307 more than Connecticut, which has run the fewest.
- Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce is one of nine players with at least 99 receptions over his team's first 10 games since 2004.
- The Ducks average more yards per play (7.28) than any other Power 5 team.
- USC failed to score a touchdown on a goal-to-go situation for the first time this season last week against Cal. Its goal-to-go touchdown percentage of 93.8 percent (15 for 16) ranks third-best nationally.
- Among USC quarterbacks dating back to 2004, only Matt Barkley in 2012 (33) had more touchdown passes through 10 games than Cody Kessler's 29.
- Over the past three years, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has thrown for the fifth-most yards in the country (9,363), but the players ahead of him all have at least 46 more passing attempts.
- If USC receiver Nelson Agholor has 200 yards receiving against UCLA, he will become the first player with three consecutive 200-yard receiving games in the country since at least 2004. Only six others have had back-to-back 200-yard receiving games in that span.
- Among Pac-12 players with at least 75 carries, UCLA running back Paul Perkins ranks second in yards per carry (6.2).
- Oregon State's 94 penalties are the most in the country.
- Washington OLB Hau'oli Kikaha (33.5) needs 2.5 sacks to pass Central Florida's Bruce Miller for the most sacks since 2004.
- Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion needs 130 yards passing to move up to the top-10 all-time in FBS.
- Oregon State running back Storm Woods has averaged 7.4 yards per rush (51 carries, 379 yards) in conference play, the most in among players with at least 20 carries.
- Washington leads the Pac-12 in both forced fumbles (13) and fumble recoveries (14).
Play like a champion. Garner interest from college scouts. Earn scholarships. Treat every scholarship with equal density. Refuse to publicly lean to a program.
Ask Sheffield about a favorite in his recruiting process, and expect an answer that will lead the most persistent, inquisitive person to nowhere. He's quick to say that he's "still wide open with 37 offers."
Ask the five-star cornerback about the Under Armour All-America Game, however, and get a completely different answer. Sheffield was awarded his commemorative jersey on Tuesday in a ceremony sponsored by American Family Insurance.
"It's a huge honor to be an Under Armour All-American. I'm very happy, very excited," Sheffield said. "I've always wanted to be an Under Armour All-American, since I was a little kid. "I just want to get there and have fun and compete."
Hearing Sheffield open up about the game is a treat of sorts, as he's naturally an actions-first kind of athlete. Sheffield prefers letting his game speak for itself -- and it's spoken loud enough for him to earn nearly 40 offers coast to coast.
At 6 foot and 181 pounds, Sheffield is the top-ranked player in Texas and the No. 3 cornerback in the nation. He is No. 8 in the ESPN 300 and has seen a steady rise in the 2015 rankings since its debut last season.
Sheffield's resume has everything college coaches want to hear. His fastest 40-yard dash is 4.37 seconds. He's a cover corner who doesn't mind making the big hits. If he's needed for special teams, he can be a reliable return man, as well.
The world will get a chance to judge for itself when Sheffield competes in the UA game in January. The big question now, however, is, where will Sheffield end up? He's taken official visits to USC, Ohio State and Florida State, and he recently was in Baton Rouge for an unofficial visit to LSU. Sheffield said he'll take an official visit to Alabama next month, and he's expecting to take an unofficial visit for Texas A&M's Thanksgiving game against LSU in College Station.
Sheffield said he plans on taking that fifth official visit. Which team will get it?
"I'm unsure right now," he said. "It'll be one of my 37 offers."
Sheffield will announce his college plans at the UA game. Until then, he's tight-lipped. One thing he won't keep close to the vest is the importance of having a position coach who will push him. He said the winning school will have a coach he can build a quality relationship with, in addition to someone who can potentially take him to the next level.
"That's important to me," Sheffield said. "Real important."
Best player to put on a UA jersey: "Jadeveon Clowney. He's a good athlete, and he was the No. 1 player coming out of high school. He also was the No. 1 draft pick."
Receiver you most want to compete against: "It doesn't matter. I just want to get there and compete."
Your jersey number: "I've always worn No. 11. It's a number I've worn since Little League."
Favorite football memory: "It was my sophomore year in my first year on varsity. I had my first interception, and it was a pick-six. It won the game for us."
Did you know? Sheffield wants to major in sports management. He said the schools he ultimately considers in his top list will have solid sports management programs.
At this time, there's no new information of pregame campus vandalism, but there are pictures of a special public spectacle. The huge game assumed a prominent place in Southern California landscape Monday night, as both the Trojans and Bruins were well represented at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), one of the world's most iconic travel hubs. Airport officials alternated lighting on the imposing LAX gateway pylons between USC red/gold and UCLA blue/gold in honor of Saturday's game.
Over 60 million people fly into and out of LAX annually so thousands of travelers saw the rivalry colors during their Monday evening forays into and out of the huge airport. The lighting made for a vibrant photo slideshow courtesy Steve McCrank of the Los Angeles News Group. Los Angeles Daily News writer Jack Wang then tweeted two of McCrank's pictures.
Revel in the rivalry and look up as LAX Gateway pylons are lit red/gold & blue/gold tonite in preparation for the USC-UCLA football game!— LAX Airport (@flyLAXairport) Nov. 18, 2014
13:30 2nd Qtr Oregon State 0 Washington 14
- Pac-12 Network
Final Washington State 31 13 Arizona State 52 Final 15 Arizona 42 17 Utah 10 Final Stanford 38 California 17 Final Colorado 10 2 Oregon 44 Final 19 USC 20 9 UCLA 38