USC Trojans: Kevin Hogan

Spring position breakdown: QBs

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
7:00
PM PT
Spring has sprung in the Pac-12, with Stanford starting spring practices this week and several schools following suit next week.

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.

Season wrap: USC

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
7:00
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The big news for USC's 2013 campaign wasn't the season itself but the firing of coach Lane Kiffin. That, however, also was the transformative moment of the season, as the Trojans bounced back from a dispiriting 3-2 start to finish 10-4 and rank 19th, rallying under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

The Trojans went 6-2 under Orgeron, but his hopes for earning the full-time job were likely dashed by two losses to Notre Dame and UCLA, USC's two chief rivals.

The second big news for the Trojans was the hiring of Steve Sarkisian away from Washington, which received a mixed reaction. But that points toward the future. Our concern is the 2013 season.

You can read our graded review of USC here.

Offensive MVP: The Trojans' offense struggled much of the season, ranking ninth in the conference with 29.7 points per game, but its most consistent weapon was receiver Nelson Agholor. With Marqise Lee in and out of the lineup with injuries, it was Agholor, a sophomore, who led the Trojans with 918 yards receiving and six touchdowns. His 16.4 yards per reception also was tops among the team's receivers. Further, he led the conference and ranked second in the nation with a 19.1-yard average on punt returns, which included two returns for touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Leonard Williams became one of the nation's best defensive linemen as a true sophomore. He ranked second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He also had four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles and was named a first-team All-American by ESPN.com and third-team by the Associated Press. He is almost certain to be a 2014 preseason All-American.

Best moment: No. 4 Stanford had rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to tie the score at 17-17, and it had the ball with more than three minutes remaining on its 40-yard line. There was plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal, but Stanford QB Kevin Hogan threw his second fourth-quarter interception to Su'a Cravens at the USC 44. The Trojans then got a 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari, who had struggled for much of 2013, with just 19 seconds left to notch the upset, and recorded the fourth and best win of what would become a five-game winning streak under Orgeron.

Worst moment: While the 10-7 loss at home to Washington State was horrible -- the Trojans had just 193 total yards -- and was the beginning of the end for Kiffin, the 62-41 loss at Arizona State was the defeat that ended his tenure. Athletic director Pat Haden was so dismayed with the white-flag performance -- the Trojans gave up 612 yards -- that he fired Kiffin at LAX in the early morning hours of the next day. Of course, that low moment seems to spur the season's transformation so some may see Kiffin's firing as a good thing.

What lies ahead in 2014?

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
1:00
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It’s never too early to start looking ahead to what’s in store for next year’s college football season. Per usual, we’ve got you covered.

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.

Mailbag: USC vs. Washington staffs

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
5:30
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Happy Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Doing so just makes everything better. Promise.

To the notes!

 




Don from Any place other than Pullman writes: Am I alone in feeling excited about Chris Petersen, but uninspired by his chosen staff? He doesn't seem to have hired anyone with significant Pac-12 experience. I'm concerned about their ability to recruit big-time athletes to UW and their level of preparedness of the weekly grind that they never experienced at BSU. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Ted Miller: Petersen brought most of his Boise State staff to Washington -- six of nine coaches -- which is what most head coaches do when they change jobs. For one, familiarity and loyalty are important among coaches, and Petersen surely believes that he's not the only reason the Broncos had such a long run of success.

Two guys who were not at Boise State last year, receivers coach Brent Pease and linebackers coach Jeff Choate, were at Florida in 2013 but had previously coached at Boise State. And there's one spot still open.

Meanwhile, former Washington coach and new USC coach Steve Sarkisian brought five coaches from his Huskies staff to USC, and they joined Clay Helton and Tee Martin, holdovers from Lane Kiffin's staff. Sarkisian then hired Tim Drevno away from the San Francisco 49ers to coach his offensive line.

Petersen, at least with only one void remaining, opted not to retain any of Sarkisian's assistants.

A few weeks back, we declared Washington the winner over USC in terms of the PR surrounding both head coaching hires. You could say that the second round of the PR battle between the programs goes to the Trojans, though this is obviously a superficial and subjective judgement.

In terms of general name-recognition and "prestige" hires, USC ended up ahead. This is a really, really good USC coaching staff, though I'm not sure Sarkisian wouldn't have been better off retaining defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

The big blow to Washington was losing Tuiasosopo, an all-time great Husky. When I wrote on Dec. 13 that he was expected to follow Sark, plenty of Washington fans called me an idiot because they thought Tuiasosopo, the Huskies' interim coach during the Rose Bowl, would take a job with Petersen. He could have -- he was offered the tight ends job -- but didn't.

Yet, Don, you are mistaken when you say these guys don't know the Pac-12 and won't be up to the grind. As noted, Pease and Choate were in the SEC this year, and plenty of Petersen's assistants have Pac-12 experience. Heck, DBs coach Jimmy Lake has coached DBs at Washington before.

Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith played quarterback at Oregon State, leading the Beavers to a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame after the 2000 season. Linebacker coach Bob Gregory played at Washington State and was a successful defensive coordinator at California, and he also coached at Oregon and Washington State.

If you have faith in Petersen's head coaching skills, that would include having faith in his ability to evaluate coaches and assemble a staff.

Finally, it's all about what happens going forward, not PR victories. As we previously noted, the public relations and perception winner before either staff has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

 




Josh from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Was it just me or was the Rose Bowl a little hard to watch with David Shaw's stubborn play-calling? For someone so highly thought of in coaching circles, Shaw certainly didn't give his team much of a chance to win. I think your article about what Stanford can improveon is missing David Shaw reflecting on his play-calling decisions and playing big games too conservatively. Remember his play-calling in the Fiesta Bowl two years ago? Taking the ball out of the best QB in the nation's hands in the final drive? Will this affect the NFL's opinion of him?

Ted Miller: No, this will not affect the NFL's opinion of him. Nor will it affect most folks' opinion of Shaw. He's one of the nation's elite coaches. Know how we know this? He's 34-7 and has won consecutive Pac-12 titles.

Stanford has an identity, and sticking to that identity is a big reason for that 34 above. Why does Shaw keep calling power running plays, even when they are not working? Because that strategy in the past has helped get to that 34.

Now, this doesn't mean the Pac-12 blog is immune to the "I'm Smarter Than The Coach Syndrome?" No. Absolutely not. I've questioned Shaw's play-calling in tweets. I questioned the end of the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State. I've also questioned Chip Kelly's play-calling. Heck, I've questioned just about every coach I've covered.

Know why? Because it's part of my job to kibitz in areas where I'm a decided amateur, just as it is a prerogative of fans to do the same. It's part of the reason we watch the games, fantastically putting on the headset and immersing ourselves into the strategy of what works and doesn't work.

One of two things happen when a play is called: 1. It works; 2. It doesn't work. In the case of No. 2, folks often second-guess.

Let me give you an example. I didn't like Shaw's call on fourth-and-1 at the end of the Rose Bowl -- a dive for fullback Ryan Hewitt to the left side that was stopped for no gain. What would I have done? I would have said, "There's no way we drive methodically for a touchdown here." I would have run play-action and had QB Kevin Hogan look deep for the receiver who was not covered by Spartans all-world cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

And, if Shaw had done that, he would have been: 1. A genius if it worked; 2. A questionable play-caller who should have run power if it didn't.

Stanford was a very good, but imperfect team this year. Michigan State simply outplayed the Cardinal in the Rose Bowl.

 




Ben from Denver writes: What greater meaning for the Pac-12 do you see after the Rose Bowl loss? Was everyone delusional that the Pac-12 was so strong this year? Until yesterday, I assumed Stanford would win the Rose and that Oregon would have handily beaten Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, UCF and Baylor had they made the BCS cut, but now I really doubt it. Is Oregon Stanford's big game? They seemed to play at a higher level against the Ducks, but in many other games this year, and especially the Rose Bowl, they looked pedestrian. Is there something in the Midwest water that helps non-Badger quarterbacks have career games in the Rose? See Cooks/MSU and Pryor/OSU. Do you see the Rose Bowl loss leading to an overall lower expectation or ranking for the Pac-12 and thus a tougher road to a playoff spot next year?

Ted Miller: As I previously noted, Stanford's Rose Bowl loss served as more of a validation for how good Michigan State was than as potential ammunition to say that Stanford and the Pac-12 were overrated.

The reason folks thought the Pac-12 was good this year was because it went 28-8 against FBS foes in nonconference games and it was loaded with All-Americans and NFL prospects at nearly every position.

While fans and media inevitably read too much into bowl results, bowls often operate as a separate entity from the regular season -- see Texas Tech's inspired performance against a bizarrely uninterested Arizona State team.

The Big 12 champion, Baylor, got whipped by Central Florida. SEC superpower Alabama got whipped by an Oklahoma team that lost to Texas by 16 and Baylor by 29.

I don't think anything that happened in the bowls or this season will diminish the general perception that the Pac-12 probably remains the No. 2 football conference behind the SEC. I certainly don't think there will be any negative ramifications heading into 2014 and the first year of the College Football Playoff.

 




Tony from La Jolla, Calif., writes: I sure hope you've noticed how solid the Arizona recruiting effort has become after the easy win over a brutal BC squad in the Independence Bowl. After snatching Jalen Tabor from Bama and Jordan Poland from SC, surely this vaults Arizona into the top 10 nationally and to the very top of the Pac-12 for 2014 recruits. Still, however, the most important recruit still "unsigned" is a two-time consensus all-American that could be the final piece in a Pac-12 South championship, a spot in the title game, and an outside shot at making the Final Four. Things are great at Arizona now; it's time to jump on the bandwagon. If Carey stays, this team should be your pick to win the South (especially if Hundley and Mora leave UCLA.) What say you?

Ted Miller: I have noticed. Rich Rodriguez is making his big move, it appears.

ESPN.com currently ranks Arizona No. 16 in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-12. It also interesting that the Wildcats good friends from up north, the Arizona State Sun Devils, are No. 18 and No. 2 in the Pac-12. That, to me, is both surprising and amusing. We have something else for these two fan bases to trade barbs about!

As for your "unsigned" recruit, I'd rate the odds remote that RB Ka'Deem Carey returns, and I'd personally strongly advise him to leave for the NFL draft. He has nothing left to accomplish at the college level and running backs have a short NFL shelf life. Even the best ones don't play into their 30s.

The bigger question for the Wildcats contending in the South next year is quarterback. Who's it going to be?

But after two years watching Rich Rod and QBs coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith work wonders with Matt Scott and B.J. Denker, I'm thinking even modest expectations at the position would be pretty darn high.

So, yeah, I'm starting to see Arizona as a true South Division darkhorse.

 




Robert from Santa Clara, Calif., writes: So a friend and I are having an argument about the effects of Stanford's Rose Bowl loss. My friend Jason is arguing that "If Stanford won the Rose Bowl, some of the winning pot money is split among the Pac-12 and therefore Cal could get a small share."

Ted Miller: When Stanford lost the Rose Bowl, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour was handed a pot of gold by a leprechaun dressed head-to-toe in tie-dye pajamas, who proceeded to sing:
Nine mile skid on a ten mile ride,
Hot as a pistol but cool inside.
Cat on a tin roof, dogs in a bind,
Nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile.

Of course, while singing, said leprechaun did that back-and-forth swaying dance that frat guys do at jam-band concerts, one that the Pac-12 blog was last seen doing in 2004 in Seattle at a Drive-By Truckers show.

What we mean to say is that, win or lose, the Pac-12 got $17 million for the game, which is split equally among the conference programs.

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
9:00
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
10:15
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in the final week of the regular season:

  1. Home-field advantage: Who will host the Pac-12 title game? That’s up to Arizona State (and Arizona, for that matter). The scenario is pretty simple. If Arizona State wins, the Sun Devils will finish with an 8-1 record in Pac-12 play and will host Stanford in the championship game. If Arizona wins, the Sun Devils will be 7-2, the same record as the Cardinal, and Stanford will host the championship game by virtue of its tiebreaker over the Sun Devils.
  2. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Kevin Casey/Getty ImagesArizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey has rushed for 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
    Home-field advantage (Take 2): Oregon hasn’t lost at home to Oregon State since the overtime game in 2007. Washington hasn’t lost at home to Washington State since 2007. UCLA hasn’t won at the Coliseum since 1997. The Cardinal have a 15-game home winning streak, longest in the country. Arizona State has a seven-game home winning streak. Home-field advantage is obviously important. And for the reasons listed in the first bullet point, the location of the title game is still unknown. But it hinges on the Territorial Cup, and the visiting team has won the past four.
  3. Battle of strengths: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, along with his 155.9 yards per game and 14-game streak of rushing for 100 yards or more, heads to Tempe to face an Arizona State defense that is third in the league against the run, yielding 123.4 yards per game.
  4. The Kelly factor: There are a lot of reasons why ASU is riding a six-game win streak heading into its showdown with Arizona. But one key reason has been the increased use of quarterback Taylor Kelly in the running game. Through the first five games when the Sun Devils were 3-2, Kelly averaged 7.8 rushes per game and 25.8 yards per game with zero touchdowns. Over the past six games, he’s averaging 12.5 rushes per game and 47 yards with eight touchdowns.
  5. Showdown in Tinseltown: The Trojans have won 12 of the past 14 meetings, though the Bruins took out the Trojans last season. Unlike last season's game, there is no bearing on the Pac-12 South title since ASU has already wrapped it up. But there is no shortage of storylines. Is this the game that ends Ed Orgeron’s magnificent run as head coach? Or is it the game that convinces Pat Haden to drop “interim” from his title and make him the guy. It’s a game with massive recruiting implications in Southern California and is always the best game in town, since there is no other football.
  6. Rocky Mountain blues: Neither Colorado nor Utah are going to a bowl game -- again. There is certainly more disappointment in Salt Lake City for a team that had high hopes. But after beating Stanford in October, the Utes have dropped five in a row. Colorado has four wins so far -- which was the total from the past two seasons combined, so coach Mike MacIntyre has things moving in the right direction. At this point, it’s about either team trying to build up some momentum.
  7. Civil showdown: Oregon is looking to extend its Civil War winning streak to six straight over Oregon State. Both teams had a rough November, but an Oregon win would give the Ducks a sixth-straight 10-win season. The Beavers, meanwhile, are trying to snap a four-game skid. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks second in the country in ESPN’s Total QBR ranking, while Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks leads the country with 141.8 receiving yards per game.
  8. Will the real Kevin Hogan please stand up: Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kevin Hogan had a career-high 98.9 Total QBR in Stanford’s 63-13 win against California. Hogan had career highs in passing yards (329), passing touchdowns (five) and 15-yard completions (15). Hogan bounced back from his career-low 23.1 Total QBR in Stanford’s loss to USC last Saturday.
  9. Stanford-Notre Dame quotable: Of course, we all remember how last year’s game ended in South Bend. Notre Dame’s goal-line stand in the rain, Stepfan Taylor failing to cross the goal line in overtime, etc. Coaches love to be reminded of stuff like that, and our own Ted Miller was kind enough to ask coach David Shaw about that play. His response: “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t watch that play again. I think I watched so many times last year that I don’t need to see it again. I know what happened.”
  10. Apples and apples: Washington State reached six wins for the first time since 2006 and could go to a bowl game for the first time since 2003. The Huskies are at the seven-win mark, a hump they’ve failed to get over of late, so this game has a tremendous impact on bowl pecking order. The Huskies are coming off a blowout win over Oregon State where Bishop Sankey rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He’s third in the nation in total yards. WSU safety Deone Bucannon, the Pac-12’s leading tackler, became the first Cougar to post back-to-back seasons of at least 100 tackles since the turn of the century.

Stat attack! Some Week 11 Pac-12 numbers

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
1:00
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Some Pac-12 numbers for your review.

Number to the left is national rank.

Scoring offense

3. Oregon, 51.7 points per game
8. Arizona State, 43.7
T24. Oregon State, Washington, 37.2

Total offense

2. Oregon, 596.6 yards per game
10. Washington, 515.9
17. Arizona State, 490.4
25. Oregon State, 474.2

Rushing offense

7. Oregon, 301.5 yards per game
12. Arizona, 271.3
17. Washington, 229.0

Passing offense

2. Oregon State, 404.8 yards per game
7. Washington State, 365.0
8. California, 345.3
18. Arizona State, 304.8
20. Oregon, 295.0
25. Washington, 286.9

Note: Oregon's numbers took a dramatic fall after the loss at Stanford. The Ducks entered last week averaging 55.6 ppg., 632.1 ypg and and 331.5 rushing yards per game. Arizona State also went down after its tough win at Utah, but Washington used a blowout win against Colorado to perk up considerably.

Scoring defense

10. Oregon, 17.9 points per game
18. Stanford, 19.4
19. USC, 19.6
27. Washington, 21.8

Total defense

14. Arizona State, 332.7
17. USC, 339.5
20. Stanford, 348.8

Yards yielded per play (FBS foes only)

7. Oregon, 4.45 yards per play
11. Stanford, 4.75
20. USC, 4.93
23. Washington, 4.99
25. UCLA, 5.01
29. Arizona, 5.08
31. Arizona State, 5.10
35. Utah, 5.12

Pass-efficiency defense

8. Oregon
12. Washington
18. Arizona
20. Arizona State
21. USC

Note: The defensive numbers continue to be strong in the conference, with eight teams ranked in the nation's top 35 in yards per play, a great measure of a defense's efficiency. Further, five top-21 pass efficiency defenses is pretty incredible when you think about the QBs in the conference.

Rushing

2. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 152.6 yards per game
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 145.0
17. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 115.9
T23. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 102.8

Note: Carey lost the nation's lead because Boston College's Andre Williams piled up 295 yards at woeful New Mexico State. Gaffney has become the go-to guy in Stanford's offense, as the Cardinal has reclaimed its hard-nosed, run-first mentality.

Pass efficiency

7. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
14. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
18. Brett Hundley, UCLA
20. Keith Price, Washington

Note: Interesting that Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, as well as he is playing, is ranked 34th in passing efficiency. He's 11th in ESPN.com Total QBR.

Receiving yards per game

1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 149.3
5. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 117.9

Note: Lots of guys have fallen off among the national leaders here. Are these two the first-team All-Pac-12 receivers?

Sacks per game

T3. Trent Murphy, Stanford, 1.1
T15. Tony Washington, Oregon, 0.8
20. Devon Kennard, 0.8 (in 10 games)
T21. Trevor Reilly, Utah, .08

Note: Reilly is an underrated guy who is making a push for first-team All-Pac-12. Funny that picking the All-Pac-12 defense might be more challenging than the offense.

Random notes
  • Eight Pac-12 QBs are ranked in the top 44 of ESPN.com's total QBR: 2. Mariota, 11. Kelly, 13. Hundley; 17. Kevin Hogan, Stanford; 28. B.J. Denker, Arizona; 29. Mannion; 36. Price; 44. Travis Wilson, Utah.
  • With three regulars season games to play, a conference title game and bowl games ahead, nine Pac-12 players presently have at least four interceptions. Last year, nine players had at least four interceptions at season's end.
  • California has run 894 plays this year, most in the nation.
  • Washington has just five turnovers this year, tied for seventh fewest in the nation. Washington State's 27 turnovers ranks 122nd in the nation and last in the Pac-12.
  • Utah has just two interceptions. Only Kentucky has fewer.
  • USC and Arizona have recovered just three fumbles this year.
  • UCLA's Anthony Barr is tied for the nation's lead with Colorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe with five forced fumbles.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
10:00
AM PT
Five things we learned in the Pac-12 this week:

1. Oregon has a Stanford problem: Used to be the other way around. Last year it felt more like Oregon had a Stanford inconvenience, not so much a problem. This year, there is little doubt and few excuses. The Cardinal were dominant through 50 minutes and just good enough in the final 10. The extent of Marcus Mariota’s injured knee remains a question. Still, he looked pretty spry in the fourth quarter, and there was ample opportunity along the way for the Ducks to make plays. But it was Stanford’s defense that came up with the stops/turnovers and the offense that shoved its tempo right down the Oregon front seven. This was the offensive line we’ve been waiting to see. And let’s not forget Kevin Hogan’s mobility. He was good enough in the passing game, but his touchdown run was huge, as were his breaking three tackles on a third-down scramble. The Ducks still have national cred. They’ve done too much over the last four years to lose it with one game. But as long as Stanford continues to push them around, they won’t be able to shake the questions about their physicality.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesIt was another long day for Cal's special teams, which allowed two punt returns for TDs to USC's Nelson Agholor.
2. Cal has a special-teams problem: We tip our cap to USC’s Nelson Agholor for his two touchdowns on punt returns -- the first a 75-yard return in the first quarter to open scoring and the second a 93-yard return at the end of the first half. Those were, of course, contributing scores to USC’s 62-28 shellacking of Cal, which is still seeking its first conference win. But this isn’t the first time Cal’s coverage team has had issues. Recall that it allowed two punt returns for touchdowns to Oregon’s Bralon Addison, who ran back punts of 75 and 67 yards in the Ducks’ home win in September. Adding insult to injury, the Trojans got a third “return for a touchdown” when Josh Shaw recovered a blocked punt. Jared Goff had his second interception-free performance in his last three games, so that’s a positive. But there aren’t many smiley faces around Cal right now. The Trojans became bowl-eligible with the win and are 4-1 since the coaching change. Their South Division hopes are still very much alive.

3. ASU almost had a problem: First, give credit to Utah’s defense, which once again came to play. And with the ASU offense struggling, it was the defense that stepped up and kept the Sun Devils in the game. Over the last four games, the Sun Devils are allowing fewer than 20 points per game. And they were clutch in the fourth quarter in the 20-19 win over Utah. The ASU defense held Utah to a three-and-out or a turnover in all five of the Utes' fourth-quarter possessions. And here’s a fun note from our Stats & Info folks: According to ESPN’s win probability model, Arizona State had a 7.1 percent chance of winning at the end of the third quarter. Entering this weekend, only 17 FBS teams have come back to win after having a win probability of 7.1 percent or lower. The offense finally came alive and scored 13 points in the fourth. Utah had won 49 straight games when leading at halftime.

4. No problems for the Huskies: The Trojans weren’t the only team to become bowl-eligible on Saturday. The Huskies picked up pivotal win No. 6 and are bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year after a brilliant performance from quarterback Keith Price, who was 22-of-29 for 312 yards with two passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Bishop Sankey turned in yet another solid performance with 143 yards and a score. The rebuilding Buffs have now lost 14 straight conference games. Washington has back-to-back road games at UCLA and Oregon State before closing out the year at home in the Apple Cup. The potential is there for nine or 10 wins, which would certainly assuage some of the midseason chatter about coach Steve Sarkisian.

5. Myles Jack = a problem for opposing teams: How fun is that guy to watch? UCLA coach Jim Mora has been hinting for quite some time that we’d see the true freshman linebacker swap sides. And on Saturday we saw him tally eight tackles, recover a fumble in the end zone, and then as a running back carry the ball six times for 120 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown. That overshadowed Ka'Deem Carey’s 149-yard rushing performance and a touchdown for Arizona -- Carey’s 12th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, which is tops in college football. More importantly, the Bruins won in Tucson for the first time since 2003 and kept pace with the Sun Devils for the race in the South Division. Arizona is pushed aside, making it a three-way race among the Bruins, Trojans and Sun Devils.

Stat attack! Some Week 10 Pac-12 numbers

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
1:00
PM PT
Some Pac-12 numbers for your review.

Number to the left is national rank.

Scoring offense

2. Oregon, 55.6 points per game
6. Arizona State, 46.6
25. UCLA, 37.3

Total offense

2. Oregon, 632.1 yards per game
10. Arizona State, 515.1
15. Washington, 501.9
26. Oregon State, 474.2

Rushing offense

2. Oregon, 331.5 yards per game
12. Arizona, 275.4
22. Washington, 218.1

Passing offense

3. Oregon State, 404.8 yards per game
7. Washington State, 365.0
8. California, 351.1
17. Arizona State, 324.7
20. Oregon, 300.6
23. Washington, 283.8

Note: It's becoming clear that Oregon and Arizona State have the two best offenses in the Pac-12. It's also clear that Pac-12 offenses, on the whole, aren't terribly efficient. Oregon ranks second in the nation in yards per play at 8.09. The next conference team is Arizona State, way down at No. 27 (6.28 yards per play).

Scoring defense

7. Oregon, 16.9 points per game
13. USC, 18.7
19. Stanford, 19.4
26. Arizona, 20.9

Total defense

11. USC, 323.6
17. Arizona State, 343.4
23. Stanford, 353.4

Yards yielded per play (FBS foes only)

7. Oregon, 4.41 yards per play
11. Stanford, 4.69
T19. USC, 4.92
19. Arizona, 4.92
25. UCLA, 4.97
26. Washington, 5.0

Pass-efficiency defense

6. Oregon
14. Washington
15. Arizona
20. USC
26. Arizona State

Note: Arizona's improvement on defense has been remarkable, but that improvement will be strenuously tested by the upcoming schedule, starting with a visit from UCLA on Saturday. Also ahead: Washington State, Oregon and Arizona State. If the Wildcats maintain a top-25 defensive ranking by season's end, coordinator Jeff Casteel should be Assistant Coach of the Year.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Steven Bisig/USA TODAY SportsStanford's Tyler Gaffney is averaging 110.8 rushing yards per game.
Rushing

1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 153.1 yards per game
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 145.3
17. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 110.8
18. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 109.9

Note: Stanford will need Gaffney to hit this number if it hopes to beat Oregon on Thursday. And it needs to keep Marshall off his average, too. Carey will be challenged by a UCLA run defense that yields only 3.9 yards per carry.

Pass efficiency

5. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
16. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
21. Brett Hundley, UCLA
25. Keith Price, Washington
27. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
28. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

Note: Mariota fell to No. 2 in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR behind Baylor's Bryce Petty. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly has surged to eighth in the nation in QBR. Eight Pac-12 QBs rank among the top 43 in the nation in QBR.

Receiving yards per game

1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 149.3
5. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 123.0
30. Chris Harper, California, 91.2
31. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State, 90.0

Sacks

2. Trent Murphy, Stanford, 1.2 sacks per game
T10. Tony Washington, Oregon, 0.9
T21. Devon Kennard, 0.8 (in 9 games)
T27. Anthony Barr, UCLA, 0.9
T27. Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington, 0.9

Note: Murphy has labored in Barr's shadow, but he can make a name for himself on Thursday if he can take down Marcus Mariota. Barr will be chasing Ka'Deem Carey and B.J. Denker on Saturday. Murphy is fifth and Barr tied for seventh in the nation in tackles for a loss (1.7 and 1.6 per game, respectively).

Random notes

  • Arizona State RB Marion Grice continues to lead the nation in scoring with 13.5 points per game. His teammate, kicker Zane Gonzalez, is fifth with 11.6 ppg.
  • Washington State safety Deone Bucannon is tied for sixth with five interceptions.
  • Stanford is 10th in the nation in run defense, so that obviously will be a strength-on-strength matchup on Thursday.
  • UCLA QB Brett Hundley leads the Pac-12 and ranks 13th in the nation with a 68 percent completion percentage.
  • Colorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe leads the nation with five forced fumbles. Barr and Washington are tied for second with four.
  • Oregon State QB Sean Mannion still leads the nation with 31 TD passes. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is tied for fifth with 23.
  • Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is fifth in the nation with 15.84 yards per completion.
  • Oregon State and Arizona State have both yielded three blocked kicks. UCLA and Stanford have both blocked three kicks.
  • Arizona State ranks first in the conference and eighth in the nation with just 31.88 penalty yards per game. Four Pac-12 teams are among the nation's most penalized teams: Oregon (116), California (118), Washington (122) and UCLA (123, which is last).

Stat attack! Some Week 9 Pac-12 numbers

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
1:00
PM PT
Some Pac-12 numbers for your review.

Number to the left is national rank.

Scoring offense

2. Oregon, 55.6 points per game
6. Arizona State, 45.4
15. Oregon State, 40.1

Total offense
2. Oregon, 632.1 yards per game
14. Arizona State, 509.1
15. Washington, 501.9
22. Oregon State, 487.4
30. UCLA, 469.1

Rushing offense

2. Oregon, 331.5 yards per game
11. Arizona, 288.0
22. Washington, 218.1

Passing offense

1. Oregon State, 420.0 yards per game
6. Washington State, 373.1
8. California, 358.9
14. Arizona State, 332.0
20. Oregon, 300.6
24. Washington, 283.8

Note: The offensive numbers have been trending down. Why? Pac-12 defenses. You’ve got to respect the balance of Oregon and Washington, though the Huskies probably should be getting more than 34.5 points per game out of 502 yards of offense. By the way, Stanford ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in total offense with just 389.6 yards per game, but the Cardinal's 6.2 yards per play is just below Arizona State, Washington and Oregon State's 6.3 ypp, which is tied for second in the conference.

Scoring defense

9. Oregon, 16.9 points per game
16. USC, 19.3
18. Stanford, 19.4
20. Arizona, 19.9

Total defense

11. USC, 317.9
21. Arizona State, 349.3
25. Stanford, 353.4

Yards yielded per play (FBS foes only)

7. Oregon, 4.41 yards per play
11. Stanford, 4.69
16. USC, 4.79
23. Arizona, 4.89
25. UCLA, 4.97
26. Washington, 5.0

Pass-efficiency defense

6. Oregon
12. Arizona
14. Washington
20. USC
29. UCLA
30. Arizona State

Note: Is this the year that defense eclipses offense in the Pac-12? As good as the top Pac-12 offenses are, the numbers for scoring and passing efficiency are better for defense than offense. Still plenty of football left, though. USC gave up 62 to Arizona State and 31 to Arizona, but when playing non-Arizona schools in its other six games, the Trojans have yielded 10.2 points per game.

Rushing

1. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 153.3 yards per game
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 145.3
17. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 110.8
18. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 109.9
31. Tre Madden, USC, 95.9

Note: Who will lead the Pac-12 in rushing, and will that total end up winning the top spot in the nation? And, if so, how does that guy not get invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony? Also, do both All-American running backs come from the Pac-12?

Pass efficiency

5. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
13. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
28. Keith Price, Washington
29. Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Note: Mariota is still No. 1 in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly is 38th in the nation in the NCAA pass efficiency rating but he is 11th in QBR. Price climbed from 35th to 28th on his numbers against California. UCLA's Brett Hundley has fallen to 36th in the nation.

Receiving yards per game

1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 157.0
3. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 130.6
21. Chris Harper, California, 99.5
25. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State, 97.9

Sacks

4. Trent Murphy, Stanford, 1.90 sacks per game
T10. Tony Washington, Oregon, 0.9
T18. Anthony Barr, UCLA, 0.9 (Barr's played in fewer games than Washington)
21. Keenan Graham, UCLA, 0.8

Note: The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award looks like a battle between Murphy and Barr. Barr is fifth in the nation with 1.90 tackles for a loss per game, while Murphy is tied for seventh with 1.70 per game.

Random notes: Arizona State is the Pac-12's least-penalized team. Washington is the most-penalized team. Oregon leads the Pac-12 in turnover margin. It's plus-13 for the season, having forced a conference-high 23 turnovers. Arizona has the fewest turnovers with eight. Washington State has the most with 25, including 19 interceptions, which is nine more than any other team. California, however, is 12th in turnover margin at minus-12. Stanford, USC and Utah are tied for first in the conference with 27 sacks. Arizona and Colorado are last in the conference with just nine sacks. Stanford has yielded the fewest sacks --nine in eight games. Cal has yielded the most sacks -- 27 in eight games. Oregon State leads the conference in third down defense, with foes converting just 32 percent of the time. UCLA is still No. 1 in third down offense (51.9 percent).

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
11:00
AM PT
Taking stock of Week 9 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: UCLA had a good plan and played with fire at Oregon, but the Ducks owned the second half, scoring 28 unanswered points in a 42-14 blowout that seemed like a potentially tight game at halftime. Oregon made another strong statement for its national title candidacy.

Best game: Stanford seemed in control with its dominant defense owning an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter over Oregon State, but a fumble and a failed third-and-1 conversion gave the Beavers new life, and they nearly forced overtime before yielding 20-12. About a quarter of the Beavers crowd was headed for the gates with five minutes left, but many of them did an about-face and joined the hopeful frenzy that didn't die until the very end.

Biggest play(s): The Beavers had a first-and-goal on the Stanford 7-yard line in the final minute, needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force overtime. They got four shots at the end zone, but each Sean Mannion pass fell incomplete, including a fourth-down attempt that, for a moment, seemed to have a chance.

[+] EnlargeBJ Denker
Karl Gehring/The Denver Post/Getty Images B.J. Denker had a big night against Colorado.
Offensive standout: There have been and probably will continue to be doubts about Arizona QB B.J. Denker, but you have to credit him for showing grit in the face of criticism and, by golly, for improving. He accounted for 457 total yards in the 44-20 win at Colorado. He completed 21 of 32 passes for 265 yards with a TD and interception and he also rushed for 192 yards on 15 carries.

Offensive standout II: Just like Denker, Washington RB Bishop Sankey put up big numbers against a Pac-12 bottom-feeder, but you can't ignore the numbers: a career-high 241 yards on 27 carries -- which works out to 8.9 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in a 41-17 win over California.

Defensive standout: Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss among his eight total tackles in Stanford's win over Oregon State. He also broke up a pass and blocked another as the Cardinal defense held the Beavers to just 288 total yards. And he was a disruptive force well beyond the stats. There seemed to be six Murphys on the field, and the Beavers didn't block any of them.

Defensive standout, team editions: USC, Oregon and Stanford each deserve special note for playing outstanding team defense. USC held Utah to three points and 201 total yards, Oregon pitched a second-half shutout and Stanford held the most potent passing attack in the nation to 271 yards.

Special-teams standout: Washington K/P Travis Coons was 2-2 on field goals in the Huskies 41-17 win over California, making kicks of 46 and 42 yards. He was perfect on five PATs and had three of his eight punts downed inside the California 20-yard line, as well as a 46-yard effort.

Smiley face: Stanford and Oregon both took care of business against ranked teams, setting up a marquee matchup of national interest on Thursday, Nov. 7. While the Cardinal's loss at Utah reduces the overall wow factor of the Pac-12 showdown that was circled in red in the preseason to some extent, these are still teams in the top five of the BCS rankings, and the Pac-12 North Division is likely at stake. It's good for the Pac-12 as a whole to have the big stage to itself. And both teams get extra time to prepare, so THERE WILL BE NO EXCUSES!

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesStanford needs more offense from Kevin Hogan & Co. to keep up with Oregon.
Frowny face: Stanford will have no chance against the Ducks without some passing game, and the one the Cardinal brought to Oregon State won't cut it against the Ducks defense, which might have the nation's best secondary. QB Kevin Hogan completed just 8 of 18 passes for 88 yards (4.9 per completion), with a QBR of 27.0 -- 50 being average -- against an inspired Beavers defense. Stanford coach David Shaw said as much about his offense after the game. The Cardinal needs receiver Devon Cajuste to get healthy, if that's even possible.

Thought of the week: Let the bowl scramble begin! Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State are already bowl-eligible, with Oregon and Stanford both in position to obtain BCS bowl berths. Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington each have five wins, needing one more to become bowl-eligible. Of course, the South Division winner also has a shot of getting a Rose Bowl berth in the Pac-12 championship game. USC, Utah and Washington State need two more wins to become bowl-eligible. Only Cal, at 1-7, is out of the running, though Colorado getting three wins is a decided long shot. After the BCS bowls, things will get pretty interesting in the rush for the best bowl slots -- Alamo and Holiday -- compared to the other choices. There might be some hurt feelings -- "Hey, we beat them and have the same record and they got a better game!"

Questions for the week: Where are the road warriors (other than Oregon)? Go through the Pac-12 schedule: There have been few impressive or surprising road wins this year. Arizona lost at USC and Washington. Arizona State lost at Stanford and to Notre Dame in AT&T Stadium. UCLA lost at Stanford and Oregon. USC lost at Arizona and Notre Dame. Utah lost at Arizona and USC. Stanford lost at Utah. Washington lost at Stanford and Arizona State. The best road wins? Stanford over Oregon State on Saturday. Oregon over Washington on Oct. 12. Washington State over USC on Sept. 7, perhaps the most surprising win. UCLA over Utah on Oct. 3. And Oregon State over Washington State on Oct. 12. That's about it. A program goes from good to great by learning how to consistently win on the road -- see Oregon and Stanford

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
11:00
AM PT
Taking stock of Week 7 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Utah knocked down Stanford last week, but the Cardinal got up, wiped away the blood and posted an inspired performance on both sides of the ball in a 24-10 win over UCLA. RB Tyler Gaffney rushed for a career-high 171 yards, including 84 yards in the fourth quarter, while the defense throttled QB Brett Hundley and the Bruins.

Best game: Utah's visit to Arizona was a back-and-forth affair and wasn't iced until Wildcats running back Ka'Deem Carey capped an epic night with a 44-yard touchdown run in a 35-24 victory. Both teams showed resolve, with the Utes fighting back after losing starting QB Travis Wilson to a hand injury, and the Wildcats bouncing back after losing a big first-half lead.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's defense was spectacular in a 24-10 win over previously unbeaten UCLA, but Kodi Whitfield's one-handed touchdown grab might be the play of the year.
Biggest play: Stanford receiver Kodi Whitfield's 30-yard touchdown reception against UCLA gave Stanford a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, so it was important. But this time we're more about best play instead of biggest. As in ... best play of the year? His twisting, one-handed grab between two defenders was unbelievable. It certainly will make a top-10 list of plays for the 2013 college football season. It's also amusing that such an acrobatic catch came from the son of a former All-Pac-10 offensive lineman, Bob Whitfield.

Offensive standout(s): We have a "chicken or the egg" deal with Oregon State. QB Sean Mannion completed 35 of 45 passes for 481 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the blowout win over California. Receiver Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score. Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdown passes. Cooks lead the nation in every notable statistical category for his position, including receiving yards and touchdowns. Feel free to tap whichever one is your personal favorite.

Offensive standout 2: Carey rushed 40 times for 236 yards against a tough Utah run defense. It was a big-time performance by a big-time player when his team really needed it.

Offensive standout 3: Arizona State RB Marion "006" Grice rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries -- 7.5 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in the 53-24 win over Washington. He also caught four passes for 37 yards and a score. He now has 18 total touchdowns this season.

Defensive standout: Arizona State's defensive effort against Washington was beastly, particularly considering the Huskies had decent success against the two best defenses in the Pac-12: Stanford and Oregon. The Sun Devils held the Huskies to 212 total yards, including minus-5 yards rushing. Bishop Sankey, who entered the game leading the nation in rushing, had 22 yards on 13 carries. The Sun Devils had seven sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. That Huskies offense, by the way, ranked 15th in the nation in rushing, eighth in total offense (526.8 yards per game) and averaged 35 points per game.

Defensive standout 2: Stanford safety Jordan Richards had a team-high 10 tackles as well as two interceptions in the win over UCLA.

Special teams standout: It's not good when your punter is called upon 11 times, but Washington's Travis Coons averaged 46.8 yards on 11 boots with a long of 61 yards. He also made a 27-yard field goal and three PATs.

Smiley face: The Pac-12 is playing defense this fall. The five winners Saturday plus USC, which lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, combined to hold their opponents to 19.6 points per game, and many of those points -- hello, Washington State, says Nick Aliotti -- came in obvious fourth-quarter garbage time. The Pac-12 offenses, of course, are still good, other than a few stragglers (USC!), so there's strength on both sides of the ball. And fewer 52-50 games.

Frowny face: Washington! Washington! That performance at Arizona State was abysmal (though we type that without taking credit away from an inspired Sun Devils effort and game plan). If the Huskies win in Tempe, they buck the "overrated!" taunt that their adversaries -- mostly Ducks fans but also many Cougars and Beavers -- have enjoyed tossing their way for, oh, 12 or so years. A win at Arizona State would have hinted at a team headed toward nine or 10 wins. Now the ugly possibility of a fourth consecutive 7-6 season -- how is that possible! -- is in play.

Thought of the week: The Pac-12 is the center of the college football universe this weekend with two matchups of ranked teams in the BCS standings. And it's all happening in the state of Oregon! In Eugene, with ESPN's "College GameDay" setting up camp, the No. 3 Ducks play host to No. 12 UCLA, while No. 6 Stanford is visiting No. 25 Oregon State just up the road in Corvallis. The Ducks are looking to further burnish their national title game resume, while UCLA is looking for a breakthrough win. The Beavers are trying to move up in the North Division pecking order and make themselves the top challenger for the Ducks. And Stanford is trying to get to its Nov. 7 showdown with Oregon in control of its destiny.

Questions of the week: Which quarterback(s) has the best weekend in Oregon? Does Ducks QB Marcus Mariota make a loud Heisman Trophy statement, or is he upstaged by Mannion? And what about the visitors? Does Hundley rediscover his mojo at Oregon? Or does Stanford's Kevin Hogan show everyone that steady and unspectacular wins the day when you've got a great defense?

Question of the week 2: Who rises above the noise and consistently plays to its ability over the homestretch of the season? It's not easy to go unbeaten, even when you're more talented than everyone on your schedule, because it's difficult to get 40 or so guys to bring their A-game 12 games in a row. It's not easy to go 8-4 and know your team reached its max winning potential, that you only lost to superior teams. And it's hard to win on the road. Take Arizona State. The version of the Sun Devils who blistered USC and Washington at home would have romped Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but that team didn't show up that evening in Arlington, Texas. And the Huskies that nearly beat Stanford and whipped Boise State would have won in Tempe. Stanford's tumble at Utah, Oregon State's defeat to Eastern Washington -- losses full of regret. The pressure is building. Which teams win all the games they are supposed to -- as favorites -- and which teams fall to underdogs?

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
10:00
AM PT
Five things we learned in the Pac-12 in Week 7:

1. There is a clear front-runner: Oregon’s 45-24 win over No. 16 Washington was a clear signal to the league and the country that the Ducks are every bit the national-championship contender we thought they were. Now they have the quality road win against a ranked opponent to back it up. Marcus Mariota is the hands-down Heisman favorite after throwing for 366 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 88 yards and a score. He has accounted for 25 touchdowns with zero turnovers. Coupled with Stanford’s loss at Utah, the Ducks are the unquestioned front-runner in the Pac-12. We can’t talk about that game, however, without tossing a bone to Washington running back Bishop Sankey, who added 167 more yards on the ground, giving him five 100-plus-yard games this season

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillAnthony Barr and UCLA whipped Cal to set up a showdown with Stanford next Saturday.
2. Don’t count out the Trojans: UCLA seems like the front-runner in the South after improving to 5-0 with Saturday’s win over Cal. But USC looked invigorated in its win Thursday over Arizona under interim coach Ed Orgeron. The offense produced a season-high 546 yards. Cody Kessler had touchdown passes of 62 and 63 yards (without Marqise Lee!). The Trojans have seven games to go -- two against ranked teams (Stanford, UCLA), two against teams that used to be ranked (Oregon State, Notre Dame), two against the bottom of the conference (Colorado, Cal) and one against a surging Utah team. They are in a hole already with two conference losses -- including a head-to-head with ASU -- but a decent bowl game should still be a realistic goal.

  • Stanford’s strengths appear suspect: Defense and the offensive line were the supposed strengths of Stanford. And Utah tore down whatever mystique either had and exploited/exposed them in their 27-21 win on Saturday. The Utes totaled 410 yards of offense -- which included a 99-yard touchdown drive. Defensively, they sacked quarterback Kevin Hogan twice and pressured him several times more. The explosive passing game that broke out against Washington State two weeks ago has been absent ever since, while Utah made sure no one is going to be comfortable against them the rest of the season. A return to the postseason seems very much in Utah's grasp.
  • Back to the basement: UCLA and Arizona State made short work of the two bottom teams in the conference, Cal and Colorado, respectively. The Buffs seem to have regressed after their 2-0 start and looked anything but competitive in their 54-13 loss to Arizona State, which led 47-6 at halftime. With four turnovers, they looked more like the 2012 Buffs. In Pasadena, the Bears lost their 10th straight game to an FBS team after UCLA won 37-10 behind 410 passing yards and three touchdowns from Brett Hundley. UCLA’s trip to Stanford next week was already super intriguing. Stanford’s loss makes it super-duper intriguing.
  • The Beavs appear to be back: Oregon State continues to rebuild its once-shattered image week by week and yard by Sean Mannion yard. Mannion tossed four more touchdowns and threw for 493 yards as the Beavers exploded for 35 unanswered points at the end of the third and into the fourth quarter. While Oregon has clearly established itself as the North Division front-runner, the second tier looks extremely crowded with Washington, Stanford and Oregon State. For as bad as the season started for the Beavers, coach Mike Riley has kept the ship from coming apart with five straight wins. A sixth win is likely with Cal next week, setting up a very intriguing showdown with Stanford.

 

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:15
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Here are a few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

  1. Welcome, Coach O: The USC Trojans will make their debut with Ed Orgeron running the show. Considered a fiery alternative to his predecessor, the former Ole Miss coach says he’s been putting an emphasis on bringing fun back to football. The Trojans, who face the Arizona Wildcats tonight, are 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 2001, when they started 0-3. The last USC coach to lose his debut was John Robinson in his second stint in 1993. Not sayin' … just sayin'.
  2. Speaking of that game: The past six matchups between Arizona and USC has been decided by a touchdown or less. Of the 35 meetings, 15 have been within a touchdown. The Trojans and Wildcats have split their past four meetings, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
  3. Get up for "GameDay"! ESPN’s "College GameDay" is making its first appearance in Seattle for Saturday’s showdown between the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies. Just a reminder, the Ducks have won nine straight in the series -- all by at least 17 points and with a 26-point average margin of victory. This is the second time in as many weeks the Huskies will face a top-5 opponent after falling 31-28 last week to No. 5 Stanford.
  4. [+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWashington State quarterback Connor Halliday won a shootout against Cal.
  5. Conference of quarterbacks: Some quarterback numbers from our friends at the Pac-12 office: “Pac-12 quarterbacks continue to put up impressive numbers each weekend. Washington State’s Connor Halliday [521 yards] and California’s Jared Goff [504 yards] combined for 1,025 passing yards in WSU’s 44-22 win at Cal. It was the most passing yards by two opposing players in a Conference game. Four Pac-12 quarterbacks ranked among the top eight in the FBS in passing yards per game -- No. 1 Oregon State’s Sean Mannion (403.6 YPG), No. 3 California’s Goff (364.2 YPG), No. 5 Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly (346.4 YPG) and No. 8 Washington State’s Halliday (332.2 YPG).”
  6. North vs. South: Just an update on how things are going in the unofficial rivalry. The North division is 6-0 against teams from the South division. There’s a good chance the Bruins -- the only South team yet to play a team from the North -- break up the no-hitter with a visit from California, which has dropped nine straight games to FBS opponents. That is one of two interdivision games this weekend. Stanford’s trip to Utah is the other. The Bruins are 4-0 for the first time since 2005 and are coming off a six-interception performance against Utah.
  7. Everyone in action: Did you know there are only three weeks out of the entire season in which every Pac-12 team is playing against another Pac-12 team? This is the first one. Every team played in Week 3, but mostly against nonconference foes. The next time this happens will be in Week 12, then again in Week 13.
  8. 55 for six? Last week, we asked if the Ducks could break 50 points for the fifth straight game. They did, becoming the first team since 1885 to start the season with five straight wins with 55 points or more. Now they’ll look to become the first team to do it six times in a row since Oklahoma in 2008.
  9. Must-see TV: Better yet, see it live. Stanford makes its first trip to Utah since the Utes joined the conference. The teams haven’t played since 1996. It’s been hard luck for the Utes so far in conference play, having dropped an overtime game to Oregon State and then falling by a touchdown last week to UCLA. Coach Kyle Whittingham talked this week about the need to be stronger on first and second down to give his team a more manageable third down. Utah is just 3-of-27 on third downs in its past two games. On the flip side, Stanford will look to rebound from a shaky offensive performance in the win over Washington. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has thrown an interception in four straight games.
  10. Elite receivers: Two of the league’s top receivers square off when Colorado travels to Arizona State. The Buffs' Paul Richardson has four plays of 50 yards or more and has three 100-yard receiving games this season. Also with three 100-yard games is ASU’s Jaelen Strong, the junior college transfer who has made an immediate impact for the Sun Devils. OSU’s Brandin Cooks still leads the league with 10.4 receptions per game, but Strong and Richardson are right behind, tied for second with 7.8 per game.
  11. Bowl implications: Oregon State heads to Washington State with four wins. The Cougs likewise have four wins -- making this a critical game for postseason hopes. Both teams have a challenging second half of the schedule, so this one feels like one of those must-win games to keep bowl hopes alive and well. Don’t expect a ton of play on the ground. As noted above, Cooks leads the league in receptions and Oregon State has the No. 1 passing offense with 21 touchdowns and 420.6 yards per game with Mannion at the helm. Washington State is third in passing offense (359.7 yards per game) and tied for second in the league with 15 passing touchdowns. The Beavers and Cougars rank 11th and 12th, respectively, in the league in rushing offense. Speaking of bowls, more of a formality, but Stanford and Oregon can become bowl eligible with a win.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
9:00
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Ted went 5-0 last week. Kevin went 4-1, missing on his Notre Dame-Arizona State pick.

For the season, Kevin is 42-4 while Ted is 41-5.

Things get much tougher from here on, though.

Thursday

ARIZONA at USC

Kevin Gemmell: I have no clue what to make of USC right now. Is this a situation where all of that potential energy is going to erupt? I know getting Silas Redd back is going to be a huge boost to an already outstanding running game. The teams have split the last four meetings and the last six games have been decided by a touchdown or less. When things are that close, go with the home team. USC 38, Arizona 31.

Ted Miller: Arizona State ripped USC's previously dominant defense apart in a 62-41 win, but that was due to QB Taylor Kelly passing for 351 yards and three touchdowns. As in: Kelly's potent passing opened up the Sun Devils running game. Arizona doesn't have that element. The Trojans will be able to gang up against Ka'Deem Carey. Plus, I suspect we'll see an inspired effort from the Trojans under interim coach Ed Orgeron. USC 28, Arizona 24.

Saturday

COLORADO at ARIZONA STATE

Gemmell: The Sun Devils better not take the foot off the gas now that their tough four-game stretch is through. The Buffs have talent and they haven’t lost confidence. I'm excited to see Paul Richardson and Jaelen Strong square off in a battle of elite receivers. ASU ultimately has more consistent firepower and should win easily. But Colorado isn’t going to roll over. Arizona State 42, Colorado 27.

Miller: Arizona State should be mad about its lackluster performance against Notre Dame. It also plays much better at home. Richardson will be a good test for the Sun Devils secondary, which made Tommy Rees look like Tom Brady. Arizona State 38, Colorado 24.

CALIFORNIA at UCLA

Gemmell: The list of defensive injuries continues to grow for the Bears. The fact that Jordon James might not play is a blow, but not a huge one, since the Bruins were expecting a by-committee backfield anyway. Its secondary should feel pretty good about nabbing six interceptions last week. The Bears, however, have dropped nine straight against FBS opponents. This should make it an even 10. UCLA 42, California 27.

Miller: The Bruins are going to be hungry because of the embarrassing way they played in Berkeley last year, particularly QB Brett Hundley. How beat up is the Bears defense? Just one starter from the spring depth chart will start Saturday. The only question is how the potent Cal passing game matches up with the Bruins secondary, which grabbed six interceptions at Utah last week. UCLA 50, California 31.

STANFORD at UTAH

Gemmell: Utah is getting closer, but hasn’t quite gotten over the hump yet. Stanford’s offense will be looking to bounce back -- as will Utah’s. Last week felt like a good wakeup call for the Cardinal, who own the nation’s second-longest winning streak. I'm expecting physical line play from both teams, but ultimately a Cardinal win. Stanford 31, Utah 21.

Miller: I like both quarterbacks to bounce back from poor performances last week, but Stanford's Kevin Hogan has a better supporting cast than Utah's Travis Wilson, and Wilson will be facing the Pac-12's best front seven. There should be plenty of good contact at the line of scrimmage. Stanford 35, Utah 20.

OREGON at WASHINGTON

Gemmell: I'm curious to see how Washington responds after its first loss of the year. Oregon has been so completely dominant, and would love nothing more than to score 55 or more points for a sixth straight game this season, especially at the expense of the Huskies. I like the progression of Washington, but I like Oregon better in this game. Oregon 42, Washington 31.

Miller: Husky Stadium will be rocking, and Washington is perfectly capable of pushing the Ducks. Keith Price could make himself a true UW legend by leading a winning effort, but we suspect it will be Ducks QB Marcus Mariota getting the ultimate star -- Heisman? -- turn. It's going to be 10 in a row for the Ducks, but it won't be by at least 17 points. Oregon 35, Washington 24.

OREGON STATE at WASHINGTON STATE

Gemmell: Call me crazy, but I like the Cougs in this one. The secondary is physical enough to hang with OSU’s receivers (as well as anyone can hang with Brandin Cooks) and the front seven has done a good job creating pressure. That leads to turnovers. Washington State seems ready to take a step forward in the North Division pecking order. This game would qualify as a step forward. Plus, two of my four misses this year have come by way of Oregon State. I clearly have no clue how to predict the Beavs. Washington State 45, Oregon State 42.

Miller: Oregon State, Oregon State, Oregon State. ... I ... am ... really ... sorry ... but I just got to do it. There really isn't a jinx ... is there? On the other side of the ledger, you are welcome in Pullman. Cold beverages on Kevin at The Coug. Oregon State 40, Washington State 38.

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