USC Trojans: Connor Halliday
Here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."
Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."
"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.
You can review last year's rankings here.
And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.
Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.
UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.
Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.
Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.
Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.
Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.
USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.
Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.
California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.
Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.
Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.
Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.
So how do things stand in advance of teams beginning preseason camp?
Glad you asked (and you can view the final 2013 power rankings here).
1. Oregon: I know. We always rank Oregon here, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the return of QB Marcus Mariota and a veteran offensive line is just too tantalizing. The Ducks look like the Pac-12's best bet for an entrant in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
2. UCLA: I know. We're dropping the two-time defending Pac-12 champions to No. 3, underrating Stanford and its more physical but less sexy style of play. But the Pac-12 blog keeps reviewing the Bruins' depth chart and contemplating a trip to Vegas ... 20/1 ... hmm.
3. Stanford: The quandary with Stanford: Was the defensive front seven dominant this spring because it's going to again be among the best in the nation (probably)? Or was it because four new starters on the O-line means a step back on offense (maybe)? Two other issues: 1. Replacing D-coordinator Derek Mason; 2. Can QB Kevin Hogan improve enough on short and intermediate throws to take advantage of a strong crew of receivers?
4. USC: The Trojans enter the final season under NCAA scholarship reductions with a starting 22 good enough to win the Pac-12, but depth and health are issues. There is a lot to like on both sides of the ball, though the offensive line probably rates as the most critical question mark.
5. Arizona State: The defending South champions are going to be tough to stop on offense behind QB Taylor Kelly and WR Jaelen Strong, but replacing nine starters -- and just about all its star power -- on defense is not an issue you can write off with a "Hey, we've got lots of great JC transfers coming in."
6. Washington: The return of QB Cyler Miles from suspension provides a big boost and probably means that the Huskies can be a factor in the North race. The secondary is a concern, and that's not a good concern to have in the QB-laden conference this fall. And there is some mystery as to whether there will be growing pains during the transition to Chris Petersen from Steve Sarkisian.
7. Oregon State: We expect the Beavers defense to be better this fall compared to last season, so the big question is how do the 10 guys on offense complement QB Sean Mannion? The O-line -- again -- is a question, and it's not easy to replace the nation's best receiver. Still, we expect the 2014 Beavers to be better than the 2013 version. Perhaps much better.
8. Washington State: If you are looking for a true conference dark horse, it's the Cougars. There are questions on the O-line and on defense, but the passing game should be outstanding with third-year starter Connor Halliday and a deep, talented crew of receivers. Put it this way: What does this team look like if it improves as much in Mike Leach's third year as it did in Year 2?
9. Arizona: The Wildcats are outstanding at receiver, good on the offensive line and solid at safety. There are questions just about everywhere else, and the strange thing is that quarterback might be the least worrisome. Still, to show how we view the Pac-12's depth again this fall, the Wildcats over/under for wins is seven.
10. Utah: The Utes situation seems fairly simple. If the production at quarterback is consistent, this is a bowl team. The best bet is with a healthy Travis Wilson, though it really is about just starting the same guy all 12 games.
11. Colorado: The Buffaloes should take another step forward in Year 2 under Mike MacIntyre, but the real issue is whom can they crawl over to rise in the conference pecking order? With about six or seven projected senior starters this fall, the Buffs might not make a move up until 2015.
12. California: If the bet were to pick who finishes last in the Pac-12 in 2014, Cal or the field, I'd be reluctant to tap Cal. I'd much rather go with the field because I think the Bears were awful in Year 1 under Sonny Dykes because of an epidemic of injuries and a poorly-coached defense. The latter should be solved by the hiring of coordinator Art Kaufman, and I can't foresee the injury situation being nearly as bad.
- Arizona gets a commitment from a running back.
- A look at the new-look Arizona State defense.
- Previewing California's special teams. A new Joe Roth documentary is coming out.
- Here are the details for Colorado's spring game.
- Oregon's secondary is reloading.
- RBs Terron Ward vs. Storm Woods will be an interesting question for Oregon State this spring.
- Former Stanford QB Andrew Luck needs a rival in the NFL.
- Might former UCLA OLB Anthony Barr end up in Detroit?
- Remember when that seventh-grade QB committed to USC? Neither does Steve Sarkisian.
- Finally eligible, RB Devontae Booker appears ready to shine for Utah.
- Who was the most influential person for Washington football this past year? The answer might surprise you.
- Washington State and QB Connor Halliday get rolling this spring.
Ergo, we break down where teams stand with each position group, starting with quarterbacks.
Arizona: The Wildcats probably have the most wide-open QB competition, with four guys having a legitimate chance to replace the departed B.J. Denker. Three are transfers from big-time programs: senior Jesse Scroggins (USC), sophomore Connor Brewer (Texas) and junior Jerrard Randall (LSU). The fourth, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, was one of the biggest stars in the 2013 recruiting class. Don't expect much to be settled by the end of spring, though coach Rich Rodriguez might at least allude to some sort of pecking order. Or a top three.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils are strong at QB with senior Taylor Kelly, a third-year starter who has put up big numbers the past two seasons, and junior Mike Bercovici, a big-armed backup -- perhaps, in fact, the best backup in the Pac-12. That's why Michael Eubank opted to transfer to Samford in Birmingham, Ala. It will be interesting to see which of the youngsters on the roster emerge as a No.3, a guy who might challenge Bercovici in 2015.
California: It seems unlikely that sophomore Jared Goff will be unseated, particularly after Zach Kline opted to transfer. Goff was uneven last season -- his entire team was -- but flashed plenty of potential. He and a talented crew of receivers should get better this spring. The big question might be whether anyone challenges senior Austin Hinder for the backup job.
Colorado: Sophomore Sefo Liufau is solid as the returning starter. He took some lumps last season but also flashed plenty of promise -- as both a player and leader. After him, there's junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke, a redshirt sophomore, the likely backup. Depth is a problem, at least this spring. As the Boulder Daily Camera noted, "Five quarterbacks have left the CU program either to transfer to other schools or give up the sport entirely since the start of spring football last year. A sixth completed his eligibility last season." That's why the Buffs added walk-on Trent Sessions to the roster. He worked with the equipment staff last year.
Oregon: The Ducks probably feel pretty good about their third-year starter, junior Marcus Mariota, a leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate who would have been a first-round pick if he'd entered the 2014 NFL draft. The competition for the backup spot, however, will be interesting because Mariota is almost certain to enter the NFL draft after the season. Sophomores Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues are 2A and 2B, with Lockie first off the bench as the backup in 2013, but Rodrigues the more physically talented player as a runner and passer.
Oregon State: Like their friends to the south, Oregon State is fortunate its 2013 starter, Sean Mannion, decided to return instead of entering the NFL draft. Mannion's chief focus will be finding some receivers to replace the production of the departed Brandin Cooks. The battle for the backup job also will be interesting between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt. Of course, their battle might not resolve things much for 2015, with incoming Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio joining the fray after sitting out a season.
Stanford: It seems unlikely that two-year starter Kevin Hogan will be challenged for the starting job this spring, even though he had some ups and downs in 2013, but there is no lack of talent battling for the backup job. Junior Evan Crower was the backup in 2013, but redshirt freshman Ryan Burns is a big-time talent. As is incoming freshman Keller Chryst, who officially will arrive in the fall but, as a Palo Alto resident, figures to hang around spring practices.
UCLA: Heading into his third season running the offense, Brett Hundley gives the Bruins one of the best starting quarterbacks in the nation. He's a proven dual threat and leader who will be refining his game this spring and building chemistry with his receivers. After him, however, things are a bit iffy, in large part because of the 2013 preseason transfer of T.J. Millweard to Kansas. The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Of course, there is another QB out there some UCLA fans might be thinking about.
USC: The returning starter facing the most formidable challenge to his starting job this spring is probably Cody Kessler, even though Kessler played well in the second half of the 2013 season. With the transfer of Max Wittek, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, at the very least, sets up to be a high-quality backup next season. But plenty of folks think Browne has a legitimate shot to unseat Kessler, particularly with new coach Steve Sarkisian taking over.
Utah: There's still no final word on the long-term health issue that might end QB Travis Wilson's career, and anything decisive might not come for weeks. If Wilson gets cleared, the good bet is on him returning to the starting job. If not, a spring competition will begin between Adam Schulz, who stepped in when Wilson went down, and redshirt freshmen Conner Manning and Brandon Cox. In the fall, dual-threat QB Donovan Isom arrives.
Washington: Keith Price, a three-year starter, is gone, but the Huskies seemed fairly set at QB with sophomore backup Cyler Miles appearing plenty capable of stepping into the cockpit this spring. In limited action last season, Miles completed 61 percent of his throws for 418 yards with four TDs and two picks, and he also showed good mobility, rushing for 200 yards. The pecking order at least seemed set, that is, until Miles got into some off-field trouble that threatens his status for spring practice and perhaps beyond. If Miles is still suspended, that means opportunity comes knocking for sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams to make an impression.
Washington State: Connor Halliday will be a senior, three-year starter and the Cougars' top leader in the third season running Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense. He figures to put up huge numbers this fall with a strong crew of receivers. His 2013 backup, sophomore Austin Apodaca, opted to transfer, perhaps believing that redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman had the inside track to the starting job in 2015. Depth is a bit of a question, with the No. 3 this fall likely being true freshman Peyton Bender.
And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.
That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.
But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.
Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.
In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.
The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.
Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).
But a lot more is gone than is coming back.
That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.
The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.
Best coach: Arizona State's Todd Graham was voted as the league’s coach of the year by his peers. And it’s hard to argue with that, given the fact that the Sun Devils had the best league record and won their division. But you can’t discount the job of the L.A. coaches (interim or otherwise). Ed Orgeron did a phenomenal job in relief at USC before Steve Sarkisian was hired, and Jim Mora shepherded his team through a difficult time early.
Best player, offense: Ka’Deem Carey was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year. And the Pac-12 blog agrees. Certainly, cases can be made for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was on the Heisman Trophy track before being derailed by a knee injury. And there is the debate between Carey and Washington running back Bishop Sankey, which will rage until the end of days.
Best player, defense: The coaches went with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. And there’s nothing wrong with that selection. But cases certainly can be made for outside linebackers Trent Murphy (Stanford) and Anthony Barr (UCLA).
Best moment: Lots of them. Shocking upsets (see below) and stellar individual performances dusted the landscape of the 2013 Pac-12 season. But in terms of moments that were seared into our memories, it’s tough not to think about UCLA’s come-from-behind win at Nebraska way back on Sept. 14, following the death of Nick Pasquale. Specifically, Anthony Jefferson recovering a red zone fumble and then sprinting off the field to give the ball to Mora, followed by a big hug. It was as authentic and genuine a moment as you’ll find in sports.
Best workhorse performance: It’s a tie between Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Carey -- both of whom put in the work in their teams’ victories over Oregon. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries; Gaffney carried 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown.
Best play: One of the most subjective categories, for sure, but Kodi Whitfield’s one-handed touchdown catch against UCLA was nothing short of spectacular. He elevated between two Bruins defenders and backhanded the ball out of the air for a 30-yard touchdown. Something about UCLA-Stanford brings out the one-handed catches. Recall in 2011, Andrew Luck hauled in a one-handed catch against the Bruins, and a few plays later, Coby Fleener snagged a one-handed dart from Luck for a touchdown.
Best performance, offense: Again, wildly subjective. Take your pick from Ty Montgomery’s five-touchdown day against Cal, Marion Grice’s four touchdowns against USC or Wisconsin, or Myles Jack’s four touchdowns against Washington. Brandin Cooks had a pretty nice day against Cal with his 232 receiving yards. There were games with seven touchdown tosses from Mariota and Taylor Kelly. Connor Halliday’s losing effort against Colorado State was spectacular. In terms of impact, it’s hard not to go back to Carey’s effort against Oregon.
Best performance, defense: As in every other category here, plenty to go around. But think way back to Washington State’s win over USC. Damante Horton had a 70-yard interception return that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. Then, after Andrew Furney’s 41-yard field goal put the Cougars ahead 10-7 with 3:15 left in the game, Horton picked off Max Wittek, which allowed WSU to run out the clock.
Here are some high & low lights of the 2013 season (conference games only).
And some of these are intriguing because they say the opposite thing.
Such as …
Worst rushing performance: Washington rushed for negative-5 yards at Arizona State on Oct. 19 in a 53-24 defeat.
Best rushing performance: Washington rushed for 530 yards at Oregon State in a 69-27 win on Nov. 23.
Best yards per rush: Washington averaged 9.1 yards per carry at Oregon State.
Most points: Washington at Oregon State.
Most rushing TDs: The Huskies at seven rushing touchdowns at … well, you get the picture.
Most yards per play: USC averaged 9.8 yards per play at California on Nov. 9.
Longest run: USC running back Javorius Allen had a 79-yard touchdown run at Cal.
Longest pass: Cal QB Jared Goff connected with Chris Harper for an 89-yard TD against Washington State on Oct. 5
Fewest pass completions: Utah completed just six passes against Arizona State in a 20-19 defeat on Nov. 9.
Worst completion percentage: Utes QB Travis Wilson completed 28.6 percent of his throws against the Sun Devils.
Best completion percentage: Arizona's B.J. Denker completed 86.4 percent of his throws -- 19 of 22 -- against Oregon on Nov. 23.
Most interceptions: Wilson threw six interceptions in the Utes 34-27 loss to UCLA on Oct. 3.
Shortest "long" pass in a game: USC's longest completion against Washington State on Sept. 7 went for 8 yards.
Longest field goal: Arizona's Jake Smith (vs. Cal) and Colorado's Will Oliver (vs. Arizona) both made 53-yard boots.
Longest punt: Utah's Tom Hackett posted a 70-yard punt against Arizona State.
Best punt average in a game: Cal's Cole Leiniger averaged 54.2 yards on four punts at Colorado.
Longest punt return: USC's Nelson Agholor returned a punt 93 yards for a TD at Cal. He also had a 75-yard TD on a punt return in that game.
Longest kick return: Stanford's Ty Montgomery went 100 yards for a touchdown at Utah on Oct. 12.
Most fumbles lost: Cal lost four fumbles at Oregon on Oct. 28.
Most sacks allowed: UCLA gave up nine sacks to Arizona State on Nov. 23.
Most sacks by a player in a game: Both Arizona State's Chris Young (vs. UCLA) and Arizona's Sione Tuihalamaka (vs. Arizona State) had three.
Most penalties: UCLA had 13 penalties for 100 yards at Utah.
Most penalty yards: The Bruins had 122 yards in penalties -- on 11 flags -- against Colorado.
Touchdowns in one game: Montgomery had five at California on Nov. 23 (four receiving, one rushing).
Most rushing yards in a game: Washington's Bishop Sankey gained 241 yards against Cal.
Most passing yards in a game: Washington State's Connor Halliday passed for 557 yards at Oregon. (Just don't remind Nick Aliotti).
Most passing touchdowns in a game: Oregon State's Sean Mannion threw six touchdown passes against Colorado.
Most receiving yards in a game: Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks had 237 yards receiving at Cal on 13 receptions.
Most receiving TDs in a game: Montgomery had four against Cal.
We're taking a look at the best and worst of the Pac-12 bowl season.
Best player, offense: UCLA QB Brett Hundley accounted for four touchdowns in the Bruins' 42-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. He rushed for 161 yards on 10 carries -- 16.1 yards per run -- with two touchdowns and he also completed 16 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two scores. He did all that against one of the nation's best defenses in a winning effort.
Best player, special teams: Washington's John Ross had a 103-yard kickoff return in the Huskies win over BYU.
Best game: While Stanford lost the Rose Bowl 24-20 to Michigan State, it wasn't decided until the waning moments of the fourth quarter after the Cardinal failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 play on its 34-yard line. It was a well-played, entertaining game between two defensive powers that delivered plenty of exciting moments, even if the Pac-12 ended up losing.
Worst game: In the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Washington State blew a 22-point lead against Colorado State in one of the most epic meltdowns in Pac-12 bowl history. The Cougars led by 15 with three minutes left but gifted the Rams the game, 48-45, with terrible defense, incomprehensible clock management and two fumbles. The first fumble came immediately after the Cougars had been saved from a fumble by instant replay. The second came on the ensuing kickoff to set up the game-winning field goal.
Worst game runner-up: Arizona State's 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl was shocking because the Sun Devils came in nationally ranked and surging, while the Red Raiders had lost five in a row to conclude the regular season. The Sun Devils were flat on both sides of the ball, and coach Todd Graham rightly blamed himself for his team looking unprepared. His defense gave up 403 yards passing and four TDs to a freshman QB, while his offense was sloppy and out of sync. And the clock management to end the first half rivaled the Cougars at the end of the New Mexico Bowl.
Best play: On second-and-6 from the UCLA 14-yard line, Hundley dropped back to pass, but then decided to run up the middle. It was a good decision. He scampered to his left, then back to his right and, skillfully using great downfield blocks, he went 86 yards for a touchdowns. It was the longest touchdown run in UCLA bowl game history as well as the longest of Hundley's career.
Worst play: With Colorado State out of time outs, Washington State had the ball and an eight-point lead. There was1:55 left in the game, and Washington State faced a second-and-10 from its 31-yard line. There were 20 seconds left on the play clock when the ball was snapped and the Cougars handed to Jeremiah Laufasa for his first carry of the New Mexico Bowl. He fumbled and Colorado State recovered. The Rams then drove for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. And you know what happened next. The worst part about that sequence, however, is that all the Cougars had to do to win the game was assume victory formation and take a knee. You could blame the players for fumbling, but the ultimate blame falls on coach Mike Leach, who scoffed at clock management questions after the game. Mike, this was a simple math problem you got wrong. This isn't a subjective issue. There was a right and wrong strategy, and the Washington State head coach chose the wrong one.
Best stat(s) II: In Nick Aliotti's last game as Oregon's defensive coordinator, the Ducks held Texas to seven points, 13 first downs and 236 total yards. The Ducks defense even outscored the Longhorns in the 30-7 victory with a pair of pick-6s.
Worst stat: Stanford had just 11 first downs against Michigan State. They produced just 71 yards rushing on 27 carries over the final three quarters.
Crazy stat: It was difficult to decide where to place Washington State QB Connor Halliday's performance against Colorado State. The numbers overall are incredible: 37-of-58 for 410 yards with six touchdowns -- to six different receiver! -- with one interception. But his team lost and the Rams have a bad defense. Further, he threw five of the TDs in the first half and was not particularly on target in the second half. And then there was the end game. Still, six touchdown passes tied West Virginia's Geno Smith and Iowa's Chuck Long for an NCAA bowl record. That's something worthy of note.
Three major pieces are out today -- including one from our very own Ted Miller -- who looks at some of the questions that will sear on our brains until kickoff 2014.
One major point Ted brings up is the return of so many big-name quarterbacks -- specifically how loaded it is in the Pac-12.
Nine starters from 2013 are returning in 2014 -- headlined by potential first-round draft choices Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA. But also back are Taylor Kelly (ASU), Jared Goff (Cal), Sefo Liufau (Colorado), Sean Mannion (Oregon State), Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Cody Kessler (USC) and Connor Halliday (Washington State). We still need to see what the long-term diagnosis is for Utah's Travis Wilson.
Don’t be shocked if a few quarterback competitions “open up,” maybe at Stanford, USC or Washington State. But don’t be shocked, either, if experience wins out.
Adam Rittenberg also takes a look at some players to watch in 2014 -- including Mariota, Hundley and UCLA’s Myles Jack. Digging a little deeper in the conference, there are some extremely bright defensive stars to keep an eye on, including USC’s Addison Gillam and Arizona’s Scooby Wright. Washington’s Shaq Thompson could also emerge as a candidate for defensive player of the year.
Finally, Mark Schlabach offers up some bold predictions for 2014. Notable here is that he predicts an SEC team won’t win a national championship, and that Jameis Winston will win a second consecutive Heisman Trophy. Though Mariota and Hundley should be right up there in terms of preseason hype. Recall, the preseason favorite hasn’t fared well the last few years. Andrew Luck gave way to Robert Griffin III, Matt Barkley stumbled to Johnny Manziel and Mariota slipped to Winston.
The next seven months should provide plenty of fodder.
And since everyone is still suffering from a post-prime rib Christmas hangover, we thought we’d burn some extra calories by requiring you to click the mouse a couple of times with a poll.
Which Pac-12 player has shined the brightest so far from the bowl games involving Washington State, USC and Oregon State? The conference is off to a 2-1 start, and all three teams have scored at least 38 points, with WSU and USC getting into the 40s.
Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: In a losing effort, Halliday threw for 410 yards and six touchdowns and was named the Offensive Player of the Game in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. He has the unpleasant honor of being the first quarterback in bowl history to throw for six touchdowns and lose. But his effort shouldn’t be overlooked.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC: He saved one of his strongest performances of the year for the finale, completing 22 of 30 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. All four touchdown passes came in the first half.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC: In what was likely his last game as a Trojan, Lee looked every bit like the 2012 Biletnikoff winner, hauling in seven catches for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He finished with 137 all-purpose yards.
Rashaad Reynolds, DB, Oregon State: Reynolds proved 'tis better to receive than give by collecting a pair of fumbles and returning them for touchdowns in the win over Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. The first was as 3-yard return for a touchdown that gave the Beavers a 17-3 lead. The second was a 70-yard return to put OSU up 24-6 in the second quarter.
Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State: What’s that you say? Defense and a running back? Who are these Beavs? But Woods turned in a hard-nosed effort, rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown on a 6.7-yards-per-carry average.
Here’s some more on the trio per the Pac-12’s release:
Carey, a junior from Tucson, Ariz., racked up 206 yards on a school-record 48 carries to become the Wildcats’ all-time leading rusher with 3,913 career yards as Arizona upset No. 5 Oregon 42-16 on Saturday afternoon in Tucson. His four touchdowns on the day established a new program mark for career touchdowns with 49 while his 45 career rushing touchdowns are also a school record. The 48 carries were the most by an FBS player in a game this season and his string of 14 straight 100-yard rushing games is tied for the longest streak by an FBS player over the past ten seasons. The nation’s second-leading rusher (155.9 ypg) earns the conference offensive player of the week honor for the second time this year.
Young, a senior from Seattle, Wash., led an Arizona State defense that limited a potent UCLA offense and squashed a fourth-quarter comeback bid in a 38-33 win over the Bruins at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night as the Sun Devils clinched the Pac-12 South Division title with the victory. He collected a game-leading 13 tackles, including 12 solo, and three sacks for a loss of 27 yards. His two fourth-quarter sacks and game-ending tackle on the Bruins’ final two drives secured the win for the Sun Devils, who earned a spot in the Pac-12 Football Championship Game on Dec. 7.
Adams, a sophomore from Woodland Hills, Calif., collected 234 return yards in his first game serving as the return man in the Bruins’ 38-33 loss to Arizona State. His efforts in the return game led to three UCLA scores, including a 58-yard return on the Sun Devils’ first kickoff of the game to set up a 42-yard scoring pass on the next play and a 49-yard punt return that set up a 48-yard field goal that put the Bruins ahead late in the first quarter.
Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Connor Halliday of Washington State; running backs Javorius Allen of USC and Bishop Sankey of Washington; and wide receivers Ty Montgomery of Stanford and Shaq Evans of UCLA. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Anthony Barr of UCLA and Justin Sagote of Washington State; cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson of Arizona and Marcus Peters of Washington; and defensive end Leonard Williams of USC and free safety Jered Bell of Colorado. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors was Washington State kicker Andrew Furney and USC fullback/special teams member Soma Vainuku.
Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford: Montgomery accounted for five touchdowns in the Cardinal's blowout Big Game win over California. He rushed 31 yards for a score and had TD receptions of 50, 12, 72 and nine yards. He finished with five catches for 160 yards.
Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey should get a Heisman invitation. He rushed for 206 yards and four TDs on 48 carries in the Wildcats upset win over Oregon. It was his 14th consecutive 100-yard-plus rushing game, an active streak that now is tied for longest by an FBS player over the past 10 seasons (Jerome Harrison, 2004-05). His 48 carries is a new school record and the most so far this season by any FBS running back. He had just two negative yards. He became Arizona's career rushing leader with 3,913 yards, eclipsing Trung Canidate (1996-99). He also set a new school record for career touchdowns with 49, surpassing Art Luppino (1953-56).
Arizona's defense: The Wildcats, horrible on defense a year ago, held Oregon to its lowest point total -- 16 -- of the season. While the Ducks gained 506 yards, Arizona over and over again, made key plays that stopped them from getting points. No one player stood out, so we're calling it a total-team effort.
Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: Halliday passed for 488 yards and four touchdowns in the Cougars' 49-37 win over Utah, which made the Cougars bowl eligible. He completed 39 of 62 passes.
Chris Young, LB, Arizona State: Young had three sacks and a game-high 13 tackles -- 12 solo -- in the Sun Devils' win at UCLA. The sacks cost the Bruins 27 yards.
Javorius Allen, RB, USC: Allen rushed for 145 yards on 21 carries and scored three touchdowns in the Trojans win at Colorado. It was his third game in the past four with more than 100 yards rushing. He had 137 yards total in the team's first eight games.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington: Sankey rushed for 179 yards on 23 carries and scored three touchdowns in the blowout win over Oregon State.
- North race: Oregon’s road is clear. If they win out, they will be the North Division champs. If they lose either of their final two games, both against conference opponents, Stanford will win the North by virtue of its tiebreaker. That is assuming, of course, Stanford gets by Cal in the Big Game. Stanford’s final game is a nonconference matchup against Notre Dame.
- South race: A lot will be decided this weekend when Arizona State travels to UCLA. If ASU wins this game, it will win the South. If UCLA wins and beats USC next week, it will be the South champs for the third straight year. USC is still in the mix, but the Trojans need some help. They need to beat Colorado and UCLA and hope that ASU drops its next two games.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Rick BowmerTaylor Kelly and Arizona State can win the Pac-12 South with a win at UCLA on Saturday.
- Bowl picture: Eight teams are bowl eligible with three more still in the mix. Washington State can become bowl eligible this weekend with a win over visiting Utah. Utah could still become bowl eligible with a win over Washington State and a win over Colorado in the season finale. Colorado could still become bowl eligible with a win over USC and a win over Utah. Recall that Colorado received a waiver from the NCAA that allows their two FCS victories to count toward bowl eligibility.
- Questionable quarterbacks: We’re still waiting to see the status of Washington quarterback Keith Price. The Huskies have kept him on ice this week, though he said he’s confident he’ll play. If he can’t, the Huskies will go with Cyler Miles. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota says his knee is near 100 percent. One quarterback we know for sure isn’t playing is Utah’s Travis Wilson, who learned that his playing career might be over after concussion tests revealed a preexisting condition. The Pac-12 blog wishes him the best as the Utes move forward with Adam Schulz -- a strong-armed former walk-on.
- Clutch quarterbacks: The ASU-UCLA game obviously has massive Pac-12 South implications. But it also features two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league in ASU’s Taylor Kelly and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Remember last year’s game in Tempe? UCLA won in the closing seconds and both quarterbacks led their team on late scoring drives. The Bruins have had to find creative ways to score points. Last week it was LB/RB Myles Jack, who scored four rushing touchdowns, and DE-turned-tight end Cassius Marsh, who snagged a touchdown reception. ASU has had no problems getting production from Marion Grice, who has 20 touchdowns on the season and is closing in on 1,000 yards. Line play will be critical as ASU’s veteran front seven will push a young UCLA offensive line.
- Sense of urgency bowl: Both Washington and Oregon State are bowl eligible. But the Huskies are still lacking a quality road win and the Oregon State offense hasn’t been what it was the first half of the season. Washington has dropped all three road conference games this year and four straight dating back to last year’s Apple Cup. Quarterback Sean Mannion has an unfavorable 3-to-7 touchdown to interception ratio in his last two games, though he’s 199 yards shy of the school’s single-season passing mark. Brandin Cooks is now one of five Pac-12 receivers to ever reach 100 receptions in a season. Speaking of school records, Washington running back Bishop Sankey is to break Washington's single-season rushing mark. He has 1,396 yards, and if he keeps up his average of 139.6 yards per game, he'll top Corey Dillon's 1,695 yards in 1996. Both teams need this one to have the semblance of a salvaged season.
- Trying to get to a bowl: Aside from the bowl implications, the Cougars will be honoring 19 seniors. The Cougars are yet to win a conference home game this year while Utah is yet to win a conference game on the road. Combine that with Connor Halliday throwing at least one interception in every game and Utah’s inability to intercept the ball (only two on the year) and you have quite the conundrum. Washington State has had 10 or more receivers catch a pass in nine games this year.
- In control: The Ducks travel to Arizona this week, where they’ll face a Wildcats team looking to better its bowl situation. Ka'Deem Carey has now gone for at least 100 yards in 13 consecutive games and is second in the country with an average of 150.3. On the other side, Byron Marshall is nine yards shy of reaching 1,000. Assuming he does, that would be seven straight years the Ducks have had a 1,000-yard rusher. And there is the other streak -- Mariota's Pac-12 record of 353 passes without an interception.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: Yes, that’s a tip of the hat to my Game of Thrones friends. The Trojans are on fire right now, having won four straight and five of their last six. They are 5-1 since Ed Orgeron was named interim head coach, including a win last week over No. 4 Stanford. But weather conditions are expected to be in the 30s and there is the possibility of snow in Boulder. USC isn’t traditionally a cold-weather team. Colorado is coming off a big home win against Cal and the Buffs still have something to play for in late November. Been a while since we typed that.
- Big Game: This is the season finale for Cal, which has a chance to make something of an otherwise depressing season. Of course, to do it, they’ll have to knock off a Cardinal team that probably smells blood after its loss to USC last week. The Bears are more than a 30-point underdog and the Cardinal have to win in the event Oregon drops one of its final two Pac-12 games. The Bears are trying to avoid their first winless conference season since 2001. The Cardinal have forced a turnover in 35 consecutive games.
Here’s some more info on the trio per the Pac-12’s release:
Kessler, a sophomore from Bakersfield, Calif., was 25-of-37 for 288 yards and a touchdown in a 20-17 upset win over No. 5 Stanford on Saturday night in the Coliseum. He produced a season-best for both completions and attempts while connecting on 10 in a row as the Trojans held on to a seven point lead entering the third quarter. With the score tied 17-17 and 1:23 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Kessler completed a 13-yard pass to Marqise Lee on fourth and two to keep a drive alive that ended with a game-winning field goal.
Nelson, a senior from Lakeland, Fla., led an Arizona State defense that forced four interceptions from the nation’s leading passer in a 30-17 win over Oregon State in Tempe on Saturday night. Nelson collected two interceptions, returning the second one 23 yards for a game-sealing touchdown late in the fourth quarter, while adding five tackles and a fumble recovery on the night. Nelson now has six interceptions on the year, which is tied for fourth in the nation and is the most for a Sun Devil cornerback in a single season since 1987.
Heidari, junior from Bakersfield, Calif., hit the game-winning 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to seal the upset victory over Stanford. The game-winner helped the Trojans snap a four-game losing streak to the Cardinal while it was their first game-winning field goal since 2000. Heidari now has 38 field goals in his career.
Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were quarterbacks Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Connor Halliday of Washington State; running back Marion Grice of Arizona State and running back/linebacker Myles Jack of UCLA; and Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Addison Gillam of Colorado, Erik Kendricks of UCLA and Justin Sagote of Washington State; and USC safety Dion Bailey. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors was punter Sean Covington of UCLA and Oregon running back/kick returner De’Anthony Thomas.
Team of the week: USC started with a great plan against Stanford. Then it played smart, disciplined football and executed that plan. And when Stanford looked like it was asserting itself, the Trojans persevered, making clutch plays at the end to beat the Cardinal 20-17. USC is now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, looking nothing like the sloppy, uninterested team from the beginning of the season.
Biggest play: Was it the athletic interception from freshman Su'a Cravens that set up the final USC drive? Or was it the fourth-and-2 completion from Cody Kessler to Marqise Lee for 13 yards to the Stanford 35-yard line on the game-winning drive? Or the 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari? Each was critical in the final turn toward USC in the fourth quarter.
Offensive standout: Colorado WR Paul Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards in the Buffaloes' 41-24 win over California, which gave them their first Pac-12 win since September 2012. Richardson broke the school’s single-season receiving record, eclipsing the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson. He sits at 1,201 receiving yards, which ranks second in the Pac-12.
Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had eight tackles, with four coming for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against USC. The Cardinal lost, but it sure wasn't Murphy's fault. He now leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (12) and tackles for a loss (18).
Defensive standout 2: Arizona State safety Robert Nelson had two interceptions -- one he returned 23 yards for a touchdown -- and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devils' 30-17 win over Oregon State. He also had five tackles.
Special teams standout: It has been a long season for Heidari, but he was the difference for the Trojans in their upset win over Stanford. He kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play that provided the winning margin. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal and was 2-for-2 on PATs.
Smiley face: We'd gush more about Orgeron's leadership at USC, but there at least needs to be a hat tip to Washington State and coach Mike Leach going to Tucson and grabbing a much-needed victory with some late-game heroics from QB Connor Halliday. His 25-yard TD pass to Isiah Myers for the tiebreaking touchdown with 2:15 to play gave the Cougars a 24-17 win, keeping their bowl hopes alive.
Frowny face: As impressive as USC's win over Stanford was, it probably wasn't very popular among 10 other Pac-12 teams. Oregon, of course, is thrilled. The Ducks now control their North Division destiny and Rose Bowl hopes. But Stanford's losing makes it unlikely the conference will have two BCS bowl teams, which means every conference team lost about $500,000 when the Cardinal went down. It will be the first time since 2009 conference ADs won't enrich their coffers with that extra check.
Thought of the week: Arizona State and UCLA have a recent history of disappointing their fans and falling short of expectations. But guess what? Both teams are 8-2 and ranked heading into their critical showdown Saturday. They are about where optimistic preseason expectations placed them after 10 games. Both have showed resolve under second-year head coaches. No matter who wins Saturday, both programs seem to be on a decided uptick.
Questions for the week: Who salvages their season? Several Pac-12 teams' seasons are on the brink, and two games in particular are of note: Washington visits Oregon State and Washington State plays host to Utah. As far as the Huskies and Beavers, the loser of that game will officially be able to call its season a disappointment. The Huskies would then face the specter of another 7-6 season -- or worse -- and that could make Steve Sarkisian's seat pretty hot. The Beavers would be set up to lose their final five regular-season games after a 6-1 start, pending the result of the Civil War against Oregon. Utah needs to win in order to keep its bowl hopes alive, and failing to reach a bowl game for a second consecutive year would have folks getting chippy in Salt Lake. The game is not a must-win for the Cougars' bowl hopes, but they'd probably rather not hang their hopes on the Apple Cup the following week.