USC Trojans: Matt Scott
Spring start: March 3
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
- QB competition: Coach Rich Rodriguez has used first-year starters in his first two seasons at Arizona and will make it three-for-three in 2014. For the most part, things worked with both Matt Scott and more recently B.J. Denker, which should make Wildcats fans optimistic about what should be a wide-open competition.
- Replacing Carey: As intriguing as the quarterback competition will be, the battle to replace all-time great Ka'Deem Carey at running back could be more important. None of the returning running backs had a carry last year, which led to this comment from Rodriguez: "Now it’s a mystery. That’s going to be one of the positions, like quarterback, that will be kind of open to see if we can get guys to get better."
- Keep Austin healthy: After tearing his ACL last spring following a breakout season in which he caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, receiver Austin Hill has been given a clean bill of health. Said Rodriguez: "He is still wearing the knee brace but I think it is a little bit more precautionary. He is 100 percent doing everything. He’s even a bit bigger and stronger so he should have a big spring. I know he’s hungry to get out there, too."
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- OL changes: Auburn transfer Christian Westerman, a prototypical guard, could be the Sun Devils' best offensive lineman, which makes things interesting considering both starting guards -- Jamil Douglas and Vi Teofilo -- will be back next year. Douglas, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, has worked at tackle in the past and could shift outside to replace first-team All-Pac-12 left tackle Evan Finkenberg.
- Getting defensive: Coach Todd Graham's college roommate, Keith Patterson, has arrived as the defensive coordinator, but Graham will remain the play-caller and Chris Ball's title will still read co-defensive coordinator. Got all that? New coaching dynamics get sorted out in the spring, too.
- Looking for replacements: On defense, ASU needs to replace seven starters, highlighted by DT Will Sutton, LB Carl Bradford and CBs Robert Nelson and Alden Darby. If ASU is to build off its impressive 2013 season, those holes need to be filled quickly. They'll benefit from a schedule that starts with Weber State, New Mexico, Colorado and a bye, but after that the Sun Devils have UCLA, USC and Stanford in a span of four weeks.
Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- QB development: Sefo Liufau's development will be interesting if for nothing else than because the jump from Year 1 starter to Year 2 starter is always intriguing with quarterbacks. It's tempting to assume a big statistical jump is coming, but it's not always that simple (see: Hogan, Kevin; Mannion, Sean; Hundley, Brett). Liufau will need to get on the same page with his receivers as they combine to …
- … Replace Paul Richardson: Look for Nelson Spruce, D.D Goodson and Tyler McCulloch to lead what will be a much more balanced receiving corps following Richardson's early departure for the NFL. Spruce was the Buffs' second-leading receiver last year, but Goodson, going into his second season at receiver, figures to make the biggest jump.
- Rising expectations: It took MacIntyre three years to turn San Jose State into a winner, but there was a four-win improvement in the second year. He won't match that with the Buffs, but a two-win improvement gets Colorado bowl eligible. Colorado has a chance to match last year's win total (4) in the first five games next year: vs. Colorado State, at Massachusetts, Arizona State, Hawaii, at Cal. In fact, it's probably the internal expectation.
Spring start: April 1
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Manage expectations: The Bruins are in new territory this offseason with expectations through the roof. They'll likely be a preseason top-10 team, which will drum up chatter about a potential national championship run. Likely message from coach Jim Mora: "Tune out the noise."
- The #Hundley4Heisman campaign: It's a real thing and Mora threw his weight behind it when he tweeted the hashtag on Jan. 26 with a picture of the Heisman Trophy. Get used to reading "Heisman candidate" next to "Brett Hundley" a lot between now and September. At times, it might feel unavoidable.
- Leading rusher? They're set at quarterback and bring a lot of talent back at both receiver and on the offensive line, but the running back situation isn't as clear. Hundley was the team's leading rusher in 2013, but someone needs to step up to take pressure off him and LB/RB Myles Jack. It's an important spring for both Jordan James and Paul Perkins, who had varying degrees of success last year.
Spring start: March 11
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Under center? Cody Kessler is back, but coach Steve Sarkisian immediately made it known there would be an open competition for the quarterback job. Max Wittek is no longer around, but Kessler should get a serious challenge from redshirt freshman Max Browne. With a new offense to learn, spring will essentially serve as preparation period for the real competition during fall camp.
- Catch your breath: The most noticeable change in USC during the first game will be how much faster it's playing offensively. Sarkisian installed a high-tempo offense at Washington last year and, pleased with the results, will continue to press the tempo with the Trojans. Goodbye, huddles.
- Change it up: As is the case when new coaching staffs arrive, there will likely be a higher percentage of position changes than usual and a more fluid depth chart. It's hard to peg exactly where that'll occur with USC, but it'll be worth monitoring throughout the spring.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Wilson's road back: Travis Wilson is expected to be the Utes' starting quarterback next season, but he'll be limited to non-contact drills during the spring. That's about the best news Wilson could have received following an early November discovery that he had an undiagnosed injury to an intracranial artery -- a condition that threatened his career. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson will not join the team until after he graduates in May, but he'll be immediately eligible to play.
- Revolving OC door: Dave Christensen moves in, Dennis Erickson moves over and Brian Johnson moves out. Kyle Whittingham introduced the Utes' seventh offensive coordinator is seven years in early January. Christensen believes in similar philosophies to what the Utes had under Erickson/Johnson, but the terminology will change and the tempo will increase.
- Pressure building? Utah was used to winning big before it got to the Pac-12 in 2011. Whittingham lost just 20 games in his six full seasons as the school's head coach while a member of the Mountain West Conference. In the three years since, Utah's dropped 19 and qualified for just one bowl. No one should doubt Whittingham's ability as a coach -- he's a good one -- but the jump in competition has been difficult.
Welcome to game week. These are the preseason power rankings. You can see our post-spring power rankings here. They are different.
1. Stanford: Both Kevin and Ted went against the popular grain -- as in the Pac-12 media poll -- and picked Stanford to win the Pac-12. The biggest reason for that, other than the Cardinal winning in Eugene in 2012 and welcoming back a strong crew of starters, is the continuity in the head coaching office.
2. Oregon: The Ducks are again a preseason top-five team and national title contender, with their North Division rivalry with Stanford becoming one of college football's must-see games. There are plenty of reasons to believe that new coach Mark Helfrich, stepping up from offensive coordinator, will maintain the juggernaut Chip Kelly built, including having just about all of Kelly's assistant coaches coming back. But there is certainty only in seeing it happen on the field. The Ducks do have an advantage in terms of schedule, with Stanford playing USC, UCLA and Arizona State, and Oregon missing the Trojans and Sun Devils. And Stanford doesn't play Colorado, either.
3. Arizona State: The South Division seems to be a three-team toss-up. When Kevin and I tossed our coin, it came up with the Sun Devils. Taylor Kelly leads the offense and Will Sutton leads the defense. Pretty good start. Of course, the early schedule will reveal a lot.
4. UCLA: The Bruins have the toughest conference schedule among South Division teams, mostly because they play Oregon. ASU and USC do not. There are some questions, but QB Brett Hundley and OLB Anthony Barr are a pair of future NFL first-round picks.
5. USC: The Trojans were seventh in the spring, in large part because of residual fumes from a horribly disappointing 2012 campaign. Also, coach Lane Kiffin sits on the hottest seat in the conference. But if you look at the Trojans on paper, well, it's not too difficult to imagine this team getting on a roll, one that could lead it back into the nation's top 10.
6. Washington: The Huskies not only have 20 starters back, they also are getting back several former starters who were injured last season, most notably DE Hau'oli Kikaha -- who changed his last name from Jamora -- and OG Colin Tanigawa. Both topped the depth chart released this weekend. This team, after three consecutive seven-win seasons, sets up for a return to national relevance. The opener in newly remodeled Husky Stadium against Boise State is, well, huge.
7. Oregon State: The Beavers still haven't named a starting quarterback -- the Pac-12 blog is of the mind we'll likely see both Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz in at least the first two games. The big question, however, remains: How will things work out at defensive tackle? If that question is answered, it could be a big year in Corvallis.
8. Arizona: The Wildcats are operating under the radar because of two questions: 1) QB play; 2) defense. They are replacing the highly productive Matt Scott, and even though a lot of folks are back on defense, that unit got run over in 2012. The defense is going to be better. How much is a fair question. And how much can the guy behind center do his best Scott imitation?
9. Utah: The transition to the Pac-12 probably hasn't been as easy as most Utah folks -- coaches, players and fans -- expected. Still, if QB Travis Wilson takes a step forward under new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson and the Utes fill some holes on defense, this team could move up at least to the middle of the conference. Needs to stay healthy, though.
10. California: When you look at the Bears' depth chart, this seems low, even with a true freshman, Jared Goff, taking over behind center with a brutal early schedule. Still, there might be some growing pains under new coach Sonny Dykes, as his schemes on both sides of the ball are very different compared with what the Bears did under Jeff Tedford.
11. Washington State: The Cougars welcome back 17 starters, and they seem certain to be improved in the second season under coach Mike Leach. The defense has sneaky-good talent, and the deep crew of receivers seems perfect for Leach's "Air Raid" scheme. Of course, dramatic improvement might mean only five victories against a rugged schedule, including the opener at Auburn.
12. Colorado: The Buffaloes should be better this season under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre, but that likely won't be enough for them to move up in this conference.
And, of course, the conference's top two passers, Arizona's Matt Scott and USC's Matt Barkley, are both off to the NFL.
The returning members of the 2.5 K Club are:
- UCLA's Brett Hundley (3,740 yards, 29 TDs, 11 Ints, No. 4 in passing efficiency)
- Arizona State's Taylor Kelly (3,039 yards, 29 TDs, 9 Ints, No. 2 in passing efficiency)
- Washington's Keith Price (2,728 yards, 19 TDs, 13 Ints, No. 8 in passing efficiency)
- Oregon's Marcus Mariota (2,677 yards, 32 TDs, 6 Ints, No. 1 in passing efficiency)
There's a reason why Oregon, UCLA and Arizona State are highly thought of heading into 2013: Proven production returning behind center. And if Washington can get Price back to top form, the Huskies become a top-25 team.
So how does everyone else stack up? Which teams seem likely to get 2,500 yards passing next fall?
Well, there's lots of "To be determined" intrigue.
TBD, Arizona: B.J. Denker will enter fall camp atop the depth chart, but this one is far from over. If USC transfer Jesse Scroggins, who owns by far the biggest arms on the roster, wins the job, the Wildcats are almost sure to pass for 2,500 yards. Coach Rich Rodriguez, though widely viewed as a spread-option coach, showed last year he's comfortable throwing, so Denker or incoming freshman Anu Solomon also could put up solid passing numbers.
TBD, California: New coach Sonny Dykes likes to throw the rock around. Louisiana Tech averaged 351 yards passing per game last year. So whoever wins the QB job -- we're betting on Zach Kline -- will almost certainly hit the 2,500-yard mark.
TBD, Colorado: The Buffaloes struggled to the throw the ball last year, but new coach Mike MacIntyre might solve that, seeing his San Jose State Spartans passed for 332 yards a game last fall. Connor Wood, the frontrunner to win the job, has the arm to throw the ball around, but it's a matter of putting it all together.
TBD, Oregon State: Sean Mannion nearly made the above list, passing for 2,446 yards and 15 TDs with 13 interceptions last year, ranking fifth in the conference in passing efficiency and fourth in passing yards per game with 244.6. But he's still knotted with Cody Vaz in the competition for the starting job. If one guy starts the entire season, he will put up strong passing numbers because Mike Riley teams always do.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: The Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in passing last year with just 200 yards per game, but part of that was a scheme that played to a rugged defense and Hogan not winning the job until after midseason. Hogan is plenty capable, and his supporting cast is solid. Expect Hogan to at least hit the 2,500-yard mark.
TBD, USC: Whether it's Cody Kessler or Max Wittek, the USC QB will throw for at least 2,500 yards if he maintains his hold on the job. While Lane Kiffin likes balance, there are too many passing game weapons not to attack downfield, starting with All-American receiver Marqise Lee.
Travis Wilson, Utah: The Utes were last in the Pac-12 and 97th in the nation in passing in 2012, but Dennis Erickson is now their co-offensive coordinator. One of the original architects of the spread passing attack, it's highly likely Utah will substantially boost the 190.7 yards passing a game it produced last fall. Wilson is fully capable of throwing for 2,500 yards, and the Utes are solid at the receiver position.
Connor Halliday, Washington State: Halliday still isn't free-and-clear of redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, but he's a solid frontrunner in the competition. Whoever wins the job, he will put up big numbers in Mike Leach's "Air Raid" system. The Cougars couldn't stick with a QB last year, going back and forth with Halliday and Jeff Tuel, but they still led the Pac-12 with 330.4 yards passing per game. If Halliday starts 12 games, he'll throw for 4,000 yards.
You can see the preseason top 25 here.
No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
2012 numbers: Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards with 14 touchdowns. He also rushed 13 times for 106 yards. And returned a kickoff 100 yards for a TD.
Preseason ranking: No. 9
Making the case for Lee: It's pretty simple: Lee, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound true sophomore, was a unanimous All-American because he was the best receiver in the nation this season. Some might argue he was the best overall player in the nation. He ranked second in the nation in both receptions per game (9.08) and receiving yards per game (132.38). His 345 yards receiving at Arizona set a Pac-12 record and also were the fifth-most in FBS history. Lee produced three of the top four receiving games in the conference this year -- the Arizona performance, 197 yards versus Hawaii and 192 yards at Utah. Five times he went over 150 yards receiving. It wasn't like teams didn't know he was coming. He was a 1,000-yard receiver as a true freshman. Further, the Trojans other top receiving target, Robert Woods, was a unanimous All-American the year before. You'd think Lee would have had to share the ball more. Yet Lee was so difficult to stop, so tempting to target, that it's possible -- probable perhaps -- that the Trojans strangely inconsistent offense this year looked to Lee too often. That, however, isn't Lee's fault. Lee posted a spectacular season that wasn't appreciated enough because his team was so massively disappointing overall.
No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah
Start date: March 3
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
- New battery: The Wildcats are looking to replace a top-notch quarterback-center combo in Matt Scott and Kyle Quinn. The rock-solid duo helped produce one of the top offenses in the league. Jesse Scroggins and B.J. Denker are among those in the mix to run the offense and several returning offensive linemen are versatile enough to move around. Chris Putton and redshirt freshman Beau Boyster could be in the mix at center.
- Many happy return(er)s: Arizona returns a big chunk of its offensive production -- including running back Ka'Deem Carey and receiver Austin Hill. Both should be on all sorts of preseason teams and awards watch lists. But behind the big names, there's also David Richards, Johnny Jackson, Tyler Slavin and Garic Wharton back in the mix.
- No learning curve: Last spring, the talk was about Rich Rodriguez calling out his team for its lack of physical conditioning. The fact that the majority of the team understands what is expected -- and they don't need to spend the whole spring learning new systems, should be a huge help. Consider that the Wildcats return their entire defense from a group that was, at times, shaky, but will certainly benefit from another full season of playing in the 3-3-5 scheme.
Start date: March 19
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
- Plugging the middle: One of the few losses to ASU's roster is middle linebacker Brandon Magee -- a leader on and off the field and an all-around heck of a player. Carlos Mendoza looks to be a good fit -- though he's likely to miss spring while continuing to recover from a shoulder injury suffered against Illinois. Folks might remember his two interceptions before going down for the year.
- Catching on: Unlike last spring, the Sun Devils have their quarterback. And he's a good one. Now, they need to find folks he can throw to. JC transfers De'Marieya Nelson (H-back, 6-3, 230) and Jaelen Strong (WR, 6-4, 205) are both big bodies who could step in and contribute immediately.
- Wait and see: The kicker here is a lot of these players who are expected to compete won't arrive until the fall. So in the meantime, a lot of the younger players and redshirts will get a ton of reps in the system. And speaking of kicker, don't underestimate how much of an impact Josh Hubner made at punter. Iowan Matt Haack, who arrives in the fall, is a rugby-style kicker who can kick with either foot. That's just cool.
Start date: March 7
Spring game: April 13
What to watch:
- Meet your QB: Whomever it will be. There are five on the roster and a sixth coming in. Safe to say, quarterback play was extremely inconsistent last season for the Buffs. With an entirely new coaching staff coming in and installing the pistol, this could be one of the more interesting and wide-open position battles in the league.
- Curious defense: One needs only to review Colorado's national rankings last year to realize they struggled. As one Buffs insider mentioned to me, they were ranked No. 1 in a lot of categories. Unfortunately, that "1" was followed by two more numbers. Only three defensive ends have playing experience. However a secondary that lacked experience in 2012 has a lot more looking into 2013.
- Receiver options: The Buffs welcome back Paul Richardson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Colorado's premier offensive playmaker will be a nice veteran presence to whomever wins the quarterback job. Grayshirt Jeff Thomas also is back. An improved passing attack should help give the quarterback some confidence and open up the running game.
Start date: April 2
Spring game: April 27
What to watch:
- Life after Franklin: The Bruins say goodbye to the best statistical back in school history -- leaving a huge void in the backfield. Johnathan Franklin was a great presence for young quarterback Brett Hundley, but now someone has to step up to fill that role, either solo or along with a committee. Look for Jordon James, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen to all get looks.
- New No. 1: The Y-receiver, aka hybrid tight end, was filled wonderfully by Joseph Fauria -- Hundley's favorite red zone target. Darius Bell and Ian Taubler both had looks last year, but Fauria too will be tough to replace. Shaq Evans, Devin Fuller, Jordan Payton and Devin Lucien round out a pretty good receiving corps.
- Secondary solutions: The Bruins must replace two corners and a safety -- Sheldon Price, Aaron Hester, Andrew Abbott -- and there isn't a ton of starting experience. Randall Goforth has five starts, but veterans such as Brandon Sermons and Anthony Jefferson have more special-teams experience than actual secondary play. Keep an eye on the secondary too when the Bruins start fall camp to see if any freshmen jump into the mix immediately.
Start date: TBD
Spring game: April 13
- New defensive scheme: The Trojans will move to a 5-2 defensive scheme under Clancy Pendergast, and the spring drills will be the first opportunity to see the defense in action. The Trojans will have an experienced front seven, but four new starters are expected in the secondary.
- Replacing Barkley: Max Wittek got the first extended audition in the battle to take over for Matt Barkley, but he didn’t do enough in two late-season starts to claim the job. Cody Kessler and freshman spring enrollee Max Browne also will be looking to take the reins at one of the glamour positions in college football.
- Lane Kiffin on the hot seat: The Trojans are coming off a disappointing season, and the fans are howling in protest, but so far his boss Pat Haden has maintained full support for his coach. Now is the time for Kiffin to show why that support is warranted. -- Garry Paskwietz, WeAreSC
Start date: March 19
Spring game: April 20
What to watch:
- Erickson impact: The biggest question was what sort of role Dennis Erickson would play in the offense once he arrived. We'll know sooner than later. He already has talked about putting an identity on the Utah offense. That starts in spring when routines are established and expectations are set. And with Erickson on board to give the offense a push, the expectations will be much higher.
- Wilson maturing: That leads us to the presumptive starting quarterback -- Travis Wilson -- who jumped in midseason after Jordan Wynn got hurt and Jon Hays struggled to produce. Wilson went from OK to pretty good in just a few weeks. A nice jump considering his experience level. With an entire offseason knowing he'll be the starter -- and with Erickson and Brian Johnson molding him -- it will be interesting to see what progress he makes this spring.
- D-line makeover: The Utes lose some talent on the defensive line -- specifically All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Look for DE/LB Trevor Reilly to spend more time with his hand down. Tenny Palepoi, LT Tuipulotu and JC transfer Sese Ianu could all see time in the mix at defensive tackle.
1. Be physical up front: This will be particularly important for the Trojans on defense. USC needs a game on defense where it has a physically dominant performance, and the Sun Devils are coming off a poor offensive performance last week against Oregon State. Look for Ed Orgeron’s position group to come out firing in this one. Conversely, the Trojans need to protect Barkley against an effective ASU pass rush led by Will Sutton.
1. Play for themselves: This game isn’t about the fans in the stands or the players who came before them. This game is about this team and these players, a group who entered the season with high expectations but suddenly is on the brink of going in two very different directions depending on the outcome against the Ducks. The only ones who can go on the field and do something about it are the players, so they need to go out there and show how they want to be remembered.
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See last week's power rankings here.
This feels like an odd one.
1. Oregon: The Ducks showed seemingly effortless brilliance in a dominant victory over Colorado, but it wasn't a good weekend for the Ducks. They don't want the distance between themselves and everyone else to appear this vast. They want the conference to look strong, top to bottom. Losses by USC and Oregon State dinged the Ducks' BCS standing in terms of potential strength of schedule ratings down the road. And Kansas State and Notre Dame both posted impressive wins.
2. Oregon State: Picking the No. 2 team here wasn't easy. Stanford was considered, but the Cardinal barely slipped by Washington State at home. And the Beavers still have only one loss. The power rankings looks more at the short term, but the big picture keeps the Beavers here. By a thread. It feels like the visit from Arizona State will be a tester, particularly when there are now quarterback questions.
3. Stanford: The Cardinal muddled through a win against Washington State. They very well may muddle through a visit to Colorado on Saturday. The visit from Oregon State on Nov. 10 will begin a home stretch that will reveal just who Stanford is in 2012 (at Oregon on Nov. 17, at UCLA on Nov. 24).
4. Arizona: Matt Scott and Rich Rodriguez are making beautiful music together, but somebody needs to tip their cap to Wildcats defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. He's put together an opportunistic defense that just finds a way to do well with some questionable parts. Sure, USC had huge numbers. But the Wildcats also got stops that proved critical.
5. USC: The idea that the Trojans would fall into the middle of the Pac-12 power rankings never occurred to the Pac-12 blog in the preseason. What's notable is the sloppiness: turnovers and penalties. Sure, other teams have penalties. But the Trojans seem to get lots of penalties of choice -- personal fouls, taunting, lining up wrong.
6. Washington: There are two Huskies teams. The one that plays at home is worthy of a national ranking. The one that plays on the road is worthy of mockery. The next step for coach Steve Sarkisian is to make the Huskies into a team that plays like it's at home even when it's not. Up next is a Friday visit to flagging California.
7. UCLA: The win at Arizona State -- a clutch comeback one, no less -- feels like a potential corner-turner for the Bruins. Recall the horrid performance at California? That brought up some old UCLA bugaboos about road games. This win canceled those out nicely. Let's ask it ... maybe Jim Mora is the guy to actually end the football monopoly in L.A. Of course, the visit from Arizona on Saturday will provide a huge measuring stick in the South Division. The Bruins control their own destiny. If they win out, they go to the Pac-12 title game.
8. Arizona State: The schedule is getting tougher, and the Sun Devils are taking some hits. There was plenty of good to take away from the 45-43 loss to UCLA, but not so much on the defensive side of the ball. The Sun Devils could quickly right things if they can win at Oregon State.
9. Utah: Hard to say whether the blowout win over California was about the Utes finding their mojo after another 0-4 Pac-12 start -- just like last year -- or whether it was just a Cal team waving the white flag on its season. Maybe a little of both. But if the Utes can hold serve at home against Washington State, they will need to win just two of their final three to become bowl eligible. And one of those games is with Colorado.
10. Washington State: The Cougars were close at Stanford, but isn't being close what we sorta celebrated last year? The good news is how much better the defense is playing. The bad news is ... 10 sacks surrendered. And you got to see just how tough QB Jeff Tuel is. Getting hit that much and still playing well, passing for 401 yards and two touchdowns with no help from a running game.
11. California: Hey, Cal? Are you quitting on yourselves and coach Jeff Tedford? The performance at Utah suggests so.
12. Colorado: There is some good news. There are only four more games this season.
1. Marqise Lee: On a day when there were holes in just about every other facet of the Trojans’ performance, Lee was phenomenal. Making 16 receptions for a Pac-12-record 345 yards and 2 touchdowns. It’s hard to imagine a better receiver in college football right now. He made his mark on special teams, too, with a 72-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter that set up the Trojans’ final score.
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Arizona defender had fallen down, and USC receiver Robert Woods was all alone running down the sideline. Quarterback Matt Barkley leaned back and heaved the ball. Woods ran, the ball arced. It looked like a sure touchdown, one that probably would have started the conversation about the Trojans' huge game with Oregon the following weekend.
Woods ran. It felt perfectly scripted, a pair of superstars hooking up and making a definitive statement together.
Then the ball thudded to the turf a few yards in front of Woods. Barkley flat-out missed what should have been an easy 87-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter that would have pushed the USC lead to 22.
"I'll be thinking about that play all night," Barkley said. "I got a little too excited. I just didn't put enough air under the ball."
When your singular goal is a national title, every play matters. The details matter.
What happened next is Arizona took over the game, scoring 26 consecutive points, then holding on at the end for a 39-36 victory, with a Barkley Hail Mary pass falling harmlessly to the turf on the game's final play.
Just like that -- poof! -- USC's national title hopes died. The Trojans, who in the preseason looked like they were again ready for their national close-up after an NCAA-imposed two-year hiatus, now merely become the potential spoiler when the Ducks come to the Coliseum hoping to keep their national title run alive.
Arizona outlasted USC in this infinitely sloppy four-hour affair. The Trojans lost despite one of the all-time great performances from Marqise Lee, who broke the Pac-12 single-game receiving record with 345 yards on 16 receptions with two touchdowns. He also had a 72-yard kickoff return that set up a quick touchdown with 4:40 remaining that briefly perked up USC's hopes.
But this USC team, which seemed destined for greatness in the preseason, couldn't find that miracle.
And now the hard question: With its chief goals dashed, how will the Trojans (6-2, 4-2 Pac-12) react?
"We stick together," Barkley said. "That's the beauty of football. You experience the most exhilarating moments of your life and you learn how to cope and deal with some of these losses."
He then added, "We can still do something special."
USC could still go to the Rose Bowl. It could still win the South Division and then win the Pac-12 title game. Or it could collapse, losing four or five games. None of USC's final four games -- Oregon, Arizona State, at UCLA and Notre Dame -- are gimmes.
While Arizona (5-3, 2-3) played well in the second half, asserting itself as the Trojans seemed to wilt, the Trojans also were stunningly mistake-prone. Two of the Trojans' five turnovers were baffling Barkley interceptions. Arizona had only one turnover, a Jawanza Starling interception that he immediately fumbled back to the Wildcats on his return.
USC also surrendered a 60-yard pass from Arizona quarterback Matt Scott to Austin Hill on a third-and-22 play from the Wildcats' 16-yard line. That play set up the Wildcats' go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter.
"There are plays in every game that haunt you," USC coach Lane Kiffin said.
Kiffin further expressed bafflement at how penalty-prone the Trojans are. USC was flagged 13 times for 117 yards. Of course, Arizona had 14 penalties for 129 yards, So, yeah, it was sloppy for both sides.
Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez immediately noted that his team "didn't play very well." But he also liked what beating the Trojans means for his team.
"I think it makes us more relevant -- it should," he said. "I don't think we're a top-10 team, we've lost three games, but it gives us confidence. I hope it makes people notice. I hope it makes recruits notice."
On this day, Arizona's chief relevance came in making USC irrelevant nationally.
In one of the most celebrated moments of the offseason, Barkley stood in front of a Christmas tree last December in Heritage Hall and announced he was returning to USC for his senior season to take care of "unfinished business."
It will remain that way.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona notched a huge upset over No. 9 USC, winning 39-36. Here are some initial thoughts.
It was over when: USC quarterback Matt Barkley's Hail Mary pass was knocked down in the end zone and the clock struck zero.
Game ball goes to: Arizona. Just a gritty, tough effort. Scored 26 consecutive points in a 15-minute span of the second half to take down the Trojans. The offense wore down USC, while the defense had just enough for the Wildcats to win.
Stat of the game: 1,206. That's the total yards in the game. USC had 618.
Stat of the game II: 5. Number of USC turnovers, including two interceptions from Barkley.
Unsung hero of the game: Well ... he'll be pretty "sung," but he doesn't get the game ball. In a losing effort, USC's Marqise Lee turned in perhaps the greatest performance by a receiver in Pac-12 history -- the greatest if you judge by receiving yards. He set a new Pac-12 record with 16 catches for 345 yards. He also had a 72-yard kickoff return.
Best call: On third-and-22 from the Arizona 16, Wildcats quarterback Matt Scott threw a 60-yard pass to Austin Hill. It set up Arizona's go-ahead score.
Second-guessing: On fourth-and-2 from the Arizona 29-yard line, USC called a reverse to Lee.
What USC learned, what Arizona learned: USC learned that its national title hopes are over. It will be interesting to see how the Trojans react next week when Oregon comes to visit. And thereafter. Arizona learned that it has advanced much faster than just about anyone thought possible under new coach Rick Rodriguez. This team is banged up, but it plays with resolve. At 5-3 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-12, it might still end up having a say in the South Division.
What it means: It means the game we all fingered in the preseason as the Pac-12 game of the year -- perhaps the national game of the year -- won't be nearly as epic. It will be meaningful, of course, for Oregon, which is still in the national title hunt, but USC's loss also takes some starch out of the Ducks, who need quality wins to bolster their BCS standing.
The Trojans, coming off a blowout home win over Colorado, will face Oregon in a highly anticipated game next week.
Here are 10 things to watch against Arizona:
1. Arizona's explosive offense. Regardless of his quick exit from Michigan and the fallout thereafter, Rich Rodriguez is clearly an elite offensive mind. And his spread schemes have caught on quickly in Tucson. Rodriguez's Arizona team is gaining yards at a prolific pace -- 549 per game, fifth-best in the the nation. His quarterback, the athletic Matt Scott, redshirted last season as a senior under Mike Stoops, a rare move for a player of his caliber. But, man, how lucky has Rodriguez been to have such an experienced, talented quarterback in his arsenal in his first season at a new school? Scott has been the centerpiece of the offense, and everything else has flowed from there. He helps the Wildcats run roughly 85 plays per game, tiring out opposing defenses and forcing teams to make tough substitution decisions.
2. Nice kickoff time. USC coach Lane Kiffin has said it before -- 12:30 is his favorite kickoff time, especially on the road. It allows his players to get home at a reasonable hour so the next day's meetings don't feel like a continuation of gameday. Sure, it'll be hotter in Tucson than it would've been with a night kickoff, but there's another added advantage to the early start: Arizona's rowdy (and close-to-the-field) student section, known as the ZonaZoo, may be too warm to get as loud as they do for night games. Considering USC's well-documented struggles with crowd noise on the road this year, that might be big.
3. Barkley's opportunity. It hasn't come totally out of the blue -- there is certainly a precedent for returning quarterbacks' stock to drop a bit -- but Matt Barkley's 2012 season has not been the overwhelming success some expected. He's had good games against Hawaii, Utah and Colorado, but he hasn't played exceptionally against a good opponent yet. Will last Saturday's record-setting day set the tone for a string of good performances from the senior signal-caller? Perhaps. And it's not like the Wildcats' D is going to shut the Trojans out or anything. It's just a matter of truly exploding. Anything less than 275 or so yards and three touchdowns will be a disappointment in this game, and he really could go for a lot more.
4. Protecting him. Of course, a large reason why Barkley hasn't played exceptionally is because of his line. It's hard to throw deep when you can't sit in the pocket for more than three seconds at a time. With Max Tuerk likely to start at left tackle, maybe there will be significant improvement. But Kiffin and Co. have learned how to make use of other ways to give Barkley time to throw, so this isn't as big a problem as it was a month ago.
5. Defensive rotations. This, on the other hand, might be a real problem. Kiffin has never been one to make extensive use of his second- and third-stringers -- he'll tell you he only really trusts his starting 22 -- so the Trojans' backups often don't get as much on-field time as others across the country. That's started to change a bit last year and more this year, as the USC staff realized it needed to develop depth, but it's still not a strong point. Kiffin's idea to rotate defensive guys in last week against Colorado, mimicking what defending Arizona's offense will require, might end up looking like a genius move by early Saturday evening.
6. Underrated running back. Quick -- who do you think has gained more yards for scrimmage this season, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey or USC's Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal, combined? The answer is, surprisingly, the former. Carey, the talented sophomore, is already approaching 1,000 yards on the ground this year for the Wildcats and has also been a legitimate receiving threat . He's gained 1,064 rushing and receiving yards, whereas the Trojans' McNeal and Redd have totaled 957. Obviously that's a product of the opportunities he's been given in Arizona's fast-paced offense, but that might not be as big a reason as you think: Carey's still gaining a respectable 5.4 yards per carry and a very respectable 10.1 yards per catch.
7. Memories of 2009. Remember the moment when Pete Carroll's final season at USC officially went off the rails? It came against this team, in the last game of the regular season. The Trojans came in reeling at 8-3 and ranked No. 18 in the country and produced a pitiful 282-yard offensive output. Barkley was quoted as saying the team's energy level was off from kickoff. "I don't know why we're putting ourselves in bad situations," he said then. Not that anyone's expecting it to, but that obviously can't happen Saturday.
8. Close games since '07. Here's an interesting fact: Every one of the last five games between these two teams has been decided by seven points or less. Arizona won that 2009 game by four, the Trojans won by seven last year, by three in 2010 and then by seven in 2007 and 2008. Does that necessarily mean that USC won't blow Arizona out? No. What the squads did against each other four and five years ago doesn't mean much to this year's teams. But don't be surprised if you see another close game.
9. Oregon. OK, so this isn't exactly about tomorrow's game -- but it's sort of gotten to the point of the college football season that resembles September in the major leagues, in that teams are starting to scoreboard watch. Scoreboard watching could get pretty brutal at Arizona Stadium on Saturday. Oregon kicks off against Colorado 30 minutes before the Trojans and Wildcats, and the Ducks could easily be up by three or four touchdowns in that time. As long as USC tops Arizona, next week's game will be one of the most talked-about matchups of the year.
10. A prediction. Much like recent history would suggest, this game should be close. USC's offense won't have a ton of trouble putting up points, but the defense could struggle with adjusting to Arizona's attack. There's only so much preparation you can get done against Colorado and your own scout team. Monte Kiffin has proven adept at making defensive adjustments, though, so improvement's not out of the question. And going through some adversity against the spread this week will probably end up helping USC against Oregon. So, the Wildcats could take an early lead, but expect the Trojans to surpass them later in the game -- maybe with a good third quarter, finally -- and win by a small margin. USC 38, Arizona 35.
Barkley was brilliant, and Scott was just very good. Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions against Colorado. It was the most efficient performance in the country this season and the most efficient in the history of the Pac-12. He now has 102 career TD passes, a Pac-12 record.
Yet it felt familiar. USC is always big news, even when it's not winning championships. And Barkley is the most famous college quarterback in the country, even if he's not going to win the Heisman Trophy.
Scott? His outstanding numbers and quick adoption of new coach Rich Rodriguez's offense resonates only regionally, if at all.
That might change. These two seniors meet Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., with Barkley, a four-year starter, trying to lead the Trojans back into the national title picture, which means not overlooking Scott and the Wildcats because of their Nov. 3 date with Oregon.
These two did meet once before. Let's hope this one is as fun as the first time: Oct. 4, 2007. That's when Barkley, a junior at top-ranked Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., and already highly celebrated, and Scott, a senior at No. 2 Centennial High of Corona, clashed in front of roughly 10,000 fans in the Santa Ana Bowl.
"The fans definitely got their money's worth," Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson told reporters after the game. "That was some show."
Scott passed for 176 yards and rushed for 178. Barkley was 21 of 31 for 364 yards and two touchdowns. The Centennial defense featured Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee, Shelly Lyons and Will Sutton, who all signed with Arizona State. In a joint interview in 2011, the Pac-12 blog asked Burfict, Magee and Lyons about this game, and they all became a bit grumpy. It's fairly well-known that Barkley and Burfict are not exactly close.
Barkley was a five-star prospect in 2008, the nation's highest-rated quarterback. He signed with USC, which was on a dynastic run atop the then-Pac-10, with a 6-1 record in BCS bowl games over the previous seven years and two national titles.
So what does Rodriguez think of Barkley?
"He's obviously been one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Pac-12," he said. "He's likely to be the first pick in the NFL draft. We're facing one of the all-time greats and also a tremendous leader."
Scott, a year ahead of Barkley, was a three-star prospect who picked Arizona over California, Boise State and Utah. The Wildcats went 5-7 in 2007, their ninth consecutive non-winning season. He beat out Nick Foles for the starting spot in 2009 but lost the job to Foles three games into the season. When Foles was hurt in 2010, Scott came off the bench and played well, but he opted to redshirt in 2011 so he could finally inherit the keys to the offense as a fifth-year senior.
When asked about Scott, USC coach Lane Kiffin's first word is "Wow."
"He's a phenomenal player," Kiffin said. "I didn't realize he is as fast as he is -- accurate, arm strength. He's playing great, doing an unbelievable job with the system."
So there's plenty of admiration for both quarterbacks.
Scott said he and Barkley know each other from football camps and recruiting and get along well, but, yes, it would be meaningful to best Barkley on Saturday.
"They are the No. 9-ranked team, so it's going to mean a lot more," Scott said. "It's a big stage. A great quarterback is coming in here. It would mean a lot to outplay him."
If Take 2 is anything like Take 1, this one figures to be pretty interesting.
548.7: Average yards per game compiled by the Arizona offense, No. 5 in the nation
Rich Rodriguez’s spread-option offense has been a hit this season in Tucson, putting up huge numbers week in and week out. Quarterback Matt Scott has already thrown for more than 2,300 yards and 17 touchdowns in seven games, while running back Ka’Deem Carey averages 120.3 yards rushing per game.
464.7: Average yards per game allowed by the Arizona defense allows, No. 104 in the nation
In direct contrast to the stellar output of the offense, the Wildcats’ defense has struggled, ranking near the bottom of the Pac-12 in just about every major defensive statistical category. Lacking a consistent pass rush, it's ranked 111th nationally against the pass (291.1 yards allowed per game).
4.3: Average number of points Arizona has scored in the first quarter of games in 2012
It’s safe to say that the Wildcats have a knack for getting off to slow starts. The Wildcats have accumulated a total of just 30 first-quarter points through seven games, and they were shut out in the first 15 minutes of regulation in each of the team’s three losses.
3: Times that Arizona has eclipsed the 50-point mark in just seven games this season
Not surprisingly, the Wildcats are a perfect 3-0 in those matchups, and the last time an Arizona team went over the 50-point plateau three times in one season was in 1954.
1-3: Arizona’s record against nationally ranked opponents
The Wildcats are battle-tested to say the least, having already faced four ranked opponents. And while Arizona’s 59-38 win over Oklahoma State stands as the team’s only victory in those matchups, with the exception of the Oregon game, the Wildcats were only a play or two away from coming out on top in those other contests.
1. Continued success in red zone: The Trojans rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in red zone offense and defense, a trend that needs to continue against Arizona. There’s little doubt both teams are going to gain some yardage in this game, so the big key will be limiting the number of opponent drives that end in touchdowns and converting when you have your opportunities.
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