USC Trojans: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

This week we ranked the Pac-12's nonconference games. There's little question which is the best and most anticipated matchup.

SportsNation

Which is the second-best Pac-12 nonconference game in 2014?

  •  
    27%
  •  
    30%
  •  
    11%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,445)

If the idea of Michigan State, the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion and a likely top-five team, visiting Oregon, another likely top-five team, doesn't get your juices flowing, you are probably a zombie, and the proper authorities will be alerted.

But which is the second-best game? Or the one you're most excited about? We see five options. Three involve Notre Dame.

Here's how we previously framed those games.
  • Stanford at Notre Dame, Oct. 4: This has become a strong, national rivalry. The last time the Cardinal played in South Bend, the ending was highly controversial -- the Fighting Irish wouldn't have played for the 2012 national title without a boost from the officials. This game likely reveals the team that is a College Football Playoff candidate.
  • Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 29: It remains the greatest intersectional rivalry in college sports. It would be a good idea for first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian to win this one, as it's a good way to win over his fan base.
  • Notre Dame at Arizona State, Nov. 8: The Fighting Irish tried to get out of this game. They also beat the Sun Devils last season. Arizona State should be plenty motivated in front of what is certain to be a packed house.
  • UCLA vs. Texas, Sept. 13 (Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas): Texas is breaking in new coach Charlie Strong in what is really a glorified home game. UCLA is only trying to announce itself as a national title contender. While the Longhorns are down, they won't lack talent.
  • Utah at Michigan, Sept. 20: Here's a good way for the Utes to announce their return to relevance -- a trip to the Big House. Utah certainly won't be intimidated. It won in Ann Arbor 25-23 in 2008 on its way to an undefeated season. It also lost 10-7 in 2002.

Tradition, obviously, makes the Fighting Irish a draw for national eyeballs, and USC and Stanford are traditional opponents, with the matchup with the Trojans being one of college football's great showcases.

But when something doesn't happen often, such as the Irish visiting Arizona State, that adds some juice.

Speaking of juice -- again -- UCLA's national title hopes could receive some with an impressive performance in front of a huge, antagonistic crowd in the NFL's marquee venue.

And, finally, the Big House is, well, just that: One of college football's most famous venues. The Utes could make some national noise -- and make life really, really difficult for Wolverines coach Brady Hoke -- with an upset victory.
The Pac-12 typically plays a rugged nonconference schedule, but the 2014 slate is, well, only fair to middling.

There's a true marque national game -- Michigan State at Oregon -- and there are three matchups with Notre Dame. But there aren't a whole lot of ranked foes from other areas of the country on the slate.

Here's how we'd rank the Pac-12's best nonconference games in 2014.

1. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6): It's a top-10 -- perhaps even top-five -- matchup that looks like a Rose Bowl. Or a College Football Playoff semifinal. The Spartans shut down Stanford in the Rose Bowl in January and are eyeballing even bigger things this fall. Like the Ducks.

2. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4): This has become a strong, national rivalry. The last time the Cardinal was in South Bend, the ending was highly controversial -- the Fighting Irish wouldn't have played for the 2012 national title without a boost from the officials. This game likely reveals if one or the other is a CFP candidate.

3. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 29): It remains the greatest intersectional rivalry in college sports. It would be a good idea for first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian to win this one. A good way to win over his fan base.

4. Notre Dame at Arizona State (Nov. 8): The Fighting Irish tried to get out of this game. They also beat the Sun Devils last year. Arizona State should be plenty motivated in front of what is certain to be a packed house.

5. UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas): Texas is breaking in new coach Charlie Strong in what is really a glorified home game. UCLA is only trying to announce itself as a national title contender. While the Longhorns are down, they won't lack talent.

6. Utah at Michigan (Sept. 20): Here's a good way for the Utes to announce their return to relevance -- a trip to the Big House. Utah certainly won't be intimidated. It won in Ann Arbor 25-23 in 2008 on its way to an undefeated season. It also lost 10-7 in 2002.

7. California at Northwestern (Aug. 30): Sonny Dykes wants to get his second season off with a bang. This is a good -- and winnable -- opportunity to do just that.

8. Rutgers vs. Washington State (Aug. 28, CenturyLink Field, Seattle): The Cougars are eyeballing a breakthrough season. It will be hard to do that with an opening loss to a Big Ten team. Yes, Rutgers is now a Big Ten team.

9. Illinois at Washington (Sept. 13): The Illini don't seem too scary, but they are a Big Ten team. They didn't make things too easy on the Huskies last year, either.

10. BYU at California (Nov. 29): We've already noted how nice it would be for Dykes to get his second season off to a fast start. What about a strong finish?
MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Nike SPARQ combines have grown with each passing year, and on Saturday there was a record turnout. If the 1,993 prospects who attended weren't impressive enough, the performances by several top prospects who came to compete certainly left spectators turning heads.

Here is a rundown of some of the event's top performers.
  • ESPN Junior 300 running back Taj Griffin posted one of the top SPARQ scores of the day. Griffin checked in at 5-foot-10, 174-pounds, ran a 4.41 40-yard dash and a 4.35 shuttle, had a 46-inch vertical leap and a 36-foot power ball toss for a combined score of 124.29. On the recruiting front, Oregon, Clemson, Florida State, Ohio State and Tennessee continue to stand out the most.

  • No. 3 junior offensive tackle Chuma Edoga posted an impressive score of 94.65. After measuring at 6-4 and weighing 276 pounds, Edoga ripped off a 5.01 40-yard dash, a terrific 4.69 shuttle and had a 33.8-inch vertical jump and 37-foot power ball throw. Following his impressive effort, he said his top four schools in order are Tennessee, Southern California, Georgia and Stanford with a decision likely on May 25, his birthday. The big news might have been that he currently prefers the Volunteers, but his mother is in the corner of the Bulldogs and Cardinal.
  • No. 252 prospect C.J. Sanders made the trip and did not disappoint. He checked in at 5-9 and 176 pounds, ran a 4.57 40-yard dash, had a blazing 4.09 shuttle run, leaped 36.5 inches and tossed the power ball 41 feet. On the recruiting front, USC, Notre Dame and Georgia are the latest to offer, joining Duke, Northwestern, Stanford, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He visited USC last week, and lists Reggie Bush as his childhood idol. Sanders is the son of former Ohio State and NFL wide receiver Chris Sanders. His mom played basketball at Michigan. He reports his family favors Duke and USC early on with a decision slated for the summer.
  • Class of 2016 prospect Ben Cleveland is already considered one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, and the 6-7, 317-pounder showed why Saturday. He clocked a very impressive 5.22 40-yard dash and 4.87 shuttle, and had a 25.8-inch vertical leap and 41.5-foot power ball throw for a score of 99.78. He has offers from Georgia, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Texas with Alabama expected in the near future. He made an unofficial visit to Clemson two weeks ago.
  • Class of 2015 running back Jaylen Burgess posted a 118.44. The 5-10, 214-pounder ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and a 4.38 shuttle, and had a 36.7-inch vertical leap and 42.5 power ball throw. He is receiving interest from Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Duke and a number of other ACC schools. Duke and Tennessee are the coaching staffs Burgess talks to the most. He posted more than 1,500 all-purpose yards as a junior.
  • Class of 2016 linebacker and defensive end Charles Wiley checked in at 6-3, 203 pounds. He clocked a 4.68 40-yard dash and 4.45 shuttle, and also leaped 35 inches and threw the power ball 34.5 feet. He has an early offer from Virginia Tech.
  • Class of 2015 athlete Jeremiah Mercer is flying completely under the recruiting radar. While he had to sit out the 2013 season due to transfer rules, he made his mark Saturday posting a score of 97.47. The 5-11, 163-pound running back and wide receiver ripped off a 4.48 40-yard dash and 4.18 shuttle, and added a 36.2-vertical leap and 31-foot power ball toss. He is receiving interest from Vanderbilt and Mississippi State and lists Florida State as his dream school.
  • Class of 2016 inside linebacker Tyler Reed posted a very impressive score of 104.91. After measuring 6-2, 234 pounds, Reed ran a 4.96 40-yard dash and 4.59 shuttle, and had a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 41-foot power ball throw. He recorded 130 tackles as a sophomore.
  • Class of 2015 running back Eric Montgomery posted a 115.47, one of the day’s top scores. The tailback checked in at 5-11, 185 pounds, ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and a 4.19 shuttle, and jumped 36 inches and threw the power ball 38 feet. On the recruiting front, Kentucky, Cincinnati, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, among others, are showing interest.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
9:00
AM PT
Ted went 5-1 last week and Kevin went 4-2. Both missed on Arizona's upset of Oregon, and Kevin picked Oregon State to beat Washington, which it didn't. So, Beavers fans, Kevin is now your villain!

That leaves your bloggers tied at 69-16 for the season.

Friday

WASHINGTON STATE AT WASHINGTON

Kevin Gemmell: I think this is an interesting game because -- aside from the normal rivalry -- this game has some meaning for postseason play, which is something we haven’t said in a while. I think Mike Leach has gotten every drop out of his team. But Washington’s motivation to break that seven-game seal, and the fact that they are at home, makes me lean toward the Huskies. Washington 35, Washington State 27.

Ted Miller: Both teams posted nice wins last week that they really needed. The Huskies playing at home in some ways almost feels canceled by the potential absence of Keith Price. Cyler Miles did a solid job off the bench versus UCLA and starting at Oregon State, but the Beavers' defense offered pretty much zero resistance. Still, I like a big day from Bishop Sankey in front of the home fans. Washington 42, Washington State 27.

OREGON STATE AT OREGON

Kevin Gemmell: It’s pretty obvious that an Oregon State victory would heal more wounds than an Oregon win would. At the same time, Oregon is just simply a better team right now than the Beavers. Oregon 42, Oregon State 21.

Ted Miller: You'd think both would be motivated after looking awful last week. The problem is that the Ducks' issues seem more solvable. The one-dimensional Beavers offense has been slipping since the competition got better, and the defense has yielded 130 points over the past three weeks. Oregon 45, Oregon State 20.

Saturday

ARIZONA AT ARIZONA STATE

Kevin Gemmell: I’m well aware of the recent trend of road teams winning. But I also think ASU has a ton of motivation to win this so it can stay home for the Pac-12 title game. That’s a huge, huge factor. A lot will depend on which Arizona team shows up. The one that stomped Oregon? Or the one that lost to Washington State? We’re pretty sure we know which ASU team will show up at home. Arizona State 38, Arizona 31.

Ted Miller: I witnessed Arizona beat Oregon, and the Wildcats looked fantastic on both sides of the ball. I also watched the Sun Devils outlast UCLA, one of the bigger wins for the Sun Devils in recent years. I'm taking the Sun Devils because they are great at home, the stadium will be rocking and the Wildcats have not posted a quality road win this year. Arizona State 30, Arizona 27.

UCLA AT USC

Kevin Gemmell: Toughest call of the week, and maybe the toughest call of the year. How will UCLA respond after the loss to Arizona State -- especially when the South title is no longer on the line? I don’t think any extra motivation is needed in this rivalry. But there’s a sense that USC is playing much more relaxed and loose. Also, USC is awesome at getting after the quarterback, and UCLA gave up nine sacks last week. USC 27, UCLA 24.

Ted Miller: Kevin's right, this is a tough call. It just seems like USC has a lot of momentum right now and is playing at home, and the Bruins last won in the Coliseum in 1997. USC 30, UCLA 27.

COLORADO AT UTAH

Kevin Gemmell: The Utes are a different team at home, plain and simple. I really like what Mike MacIntyre has done in this first season, and I think Colorado’s trajectory is heading north. For all of Utah’s struggles of late, that defense is still really, really tough -- especially at home. Utah 24, Colorado 13.

Ted Miller: I agree with Kevin about the Utes playing in Rice-Eccles Stadium. It's notable that their five-game slide happened during a stretch where they played four of five on the road, the lone home loss being a 20-19 nail-biter to Arizona State. I suspect QB Adam Schulz will play better in large part because the Utes should be able to run on the Buffaloes. Utah 28, Colorado 24.

NOTRE DAME AT STANFORD

Kevin Gemmell: This is still a critical game for Stanford. It doesn’t want to be heading into the title game with a loss, and if it does lose, and then loses to ASU, its bowl position could slip dramatically. A victory over a rival -- one that’s already beaten ASU and USC, by the way -- would go a long way. Stanford shouldn’t be resting on any laurels, and I don’t think it will. Stanford 31, Notre Dame 21.

Ted Miller: Notre Dame has been good enough to beat Arizona State, Michigan State, USC and BYU, but it also lost to Michigan and Pittsburgh. It's notable that two of those losses were on the road. So we're going with the homestanding Cardinal, who are unbeaten at home. Stanford 24, Notre Dame 20.

Quick look at Week 14 in the Pac-12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
8:30
PM PT
Here's a quick look at Week 14 in the conference. All times are ET.

Friday

Washington State (6-5, 4-4) at Washington (7-4, 4-4) 3:30 p.m. Fox: Washington leads the series 67-32-6 and is 38-15-5 in games played in Seattle. The Cougars have lost 10 of the last 15 Apple Cups, but they prevailed last year 31-28 in overtime, overcoming an 18-point Huskies fourth-quarter lead. Only since 1962 has the winner been awarded the Apple Cup trophy. The winner was awarded the Governor’s Trophy from 1934 to 1961. Washington RB Bishop Sankey enters the week as the nation’s No. 4 rusher with 143.2 yards per game. His 17 rushing TDs ranks sixth in the nation, and his 34 career TDs tied him with Napoleon Kaufman for the UW record. He needs 121 yards to eclipse Corey Dillon's single season rushing record of 1,695. After losing three in a row, the Cougars beat Arizona and Utah, thereby becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2006. They haven't been picked for a bowl game since 2003. They won at Arizona with defense, holding the Wildcats to just 17 points, and beat the Utes with offense, scoring 49 against a defense that entered the game yielding 27 points per game. The big question for Washington is whether senior QB Keith Price will get the start. A shoulder injury last week forced Cyler Miles into action. The Huskies rushed for 530 yards last week against Oregon State.

Oregon State (6-5, 4-4) at No. 13 Oregon (9-2, 6-2) 7 p.m. Fox Sports 1: Oregon leads the series 60-46-10 and has won the last five meetings. Both teams limp into the matchup. After an 8-0 start and rising to No. 2 in the BCS standings, the Ducks have lost two of three, including a shocking 42-16 blowout loss at Arizona. The Beavers started 6-1 but have lost four in a row, including a 69-27 loss last weekend at home to Washington, a game the Huskies led 48-zip after three quarters. Oregon State gave up 692 total yards, including 530 rushing yards to the Huskies. Oregon enters the game leading the Pac-12 in scoring (47.7 ppg), total offense (573.5 ypg) and rushing offense (277.9 ypg). QB Marcus Mariota ranks second in the nation in ESPN.com's Stats & Information's Total QBR rating. Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks ranks first in the nation in receiving yards per game with 141.8 yards per game. His 15 TD receptions is five more than any other Pac-12 receiver.

Saturday

Colorado (4-7, 1-7) at Utah (4-7, 1-7) 2 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Colorado leads the series 31-25-3, and this is both teams’ longest series against any Pac-12 team. They played annually from 1903-62 with four exceptions, but then the rivalry went dormant for 49 years before it resumed in 2011 as Pac-12 members. Last season, Utah’s 42-35 win in Boulder was its first over the Buffs since 1962. That game was a back and forth affair that was iced by Utah's Reggie Dunn producing his fifth 100-yard kickoff return of his career (an NCAA record) for the winning TD. John White rushed for 168 yards, and Utah’s four interceptions matched its season total entering the game. In this week’s NCAA rankings, Utah has the fifth-toughest schedule in the country (down from No. 2 a week ago). Utah’s schedule has been rated among the nation’s toughest all season. The combined FBS record of Utah’s opponents is 64-30 and all of its first 11 FBS opponents are bowl eligible.

No. 25 Notre Dame (8-3) at No. 8 Stanford (9-2) 7 p.m. Fox: Notre Dame leads the series 18-9 but Stanford has won three of the last four. The Fighting Irish won last year 20-13 in overtime in South Bend in controversial fashion. It appeared Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor scored twice near the goal line, but officials ruled he didn't, the second time being upheld after a replay. Notre Dame is trying to sweep the Pac-12. It previously beat Arizona State and USC. A win over Stanford, in fact, would give the Irish wins over the conference's North and South division champions. A year after going undefeated in the regular season, Notre Dame has lost to Michigan, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. Stanford leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense, giving up 18.9 points per game. Notre Dame yields 22.5 ppg, which ranks 35th in the nation.

No. 22 UCLA (8-3, 5-3) at No. 23 USC (9-3, 5-3) 8 p.m. ABC: USC leads the series 46-29-7 and has won 12 of the last 14 games. But the Bruins triumphed 38-28 last year, snapping a five-game losing streak. UCLA last beat USC in the Coliseum in 1997. A Trojans victory would give USC its second 10-win season in the past three years and its 25th overall. UCLA head coach Jim Mora’s parents attended USC. The Trojans are 6-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, a semifinalist for national coach of the year. UCLA has given up 32 sacks this year, second most in the conference. USC has 33 sacks, fourth most in the conference. USC QB Cody Kessler has completed 73 percent of his passes in the last four games. USC RB Javorius Allen has 10 TDs and three 100-yard rushing performances in the last four games. UCLA QB Brett Hundley is second in the conference in passing efficiency. The Trojans are No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (20.2 ppg) and No. 1 in total defense (336.6 ypg). UCLA OLB Anthony Barr is second in the Pac-12 with 17 tackles for a loss. His eight sacks are tied for third.

Arizona (7-4, 4-4) at No. 12 Arizona State (9-2, 7-1) 9:30 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Arizona leads the series 47-38-1. The Sun Devils won in Tucson last season, 41-34, overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. The visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four. Seven of the last nine have been decided by a TD or less. The past four games have been decided by a total of 15 points. More than just bragging rights are on the line as a Sun Devils victory would force Stanford to come to Tempe for the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 7. Both teams are coming off big wins over high-ranked teams. ASU beat UCLA 38-33, which gave the Sun Devils the South division title, while Arizona took down No. 5 Oregon, 42-16. Arizona is yielding 21.6 points per game. Last year, the Wildcats gave up 35.6 points per game. Both teams are giving up 5.2 yards per play. The blitz-happy Sun Devils are second in the Pac-12 with 34 sacks. Arizona has surrendered just 14 sacks, second fewest in the conference.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
9:00
AM PT
If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

Click here for last week's Power Rankings.

1. Stanford: It seems in some ways just that Stanford now eclipses Oregon in the Pac-12 North based on the teams' head-to-head result. The Cardinal, by the way, could do the conference a favor by beating Notre Dame on Saturday. Otherwise the Fighting Irish, with wins over Stanford, Arizona State and USC, could claim their own Pac-12 title.

2. Arizona State: You can't undersell what Todd Graham has done in Tempe. If the Sun Devils beat rival Arizona on Saturday, they will play host to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. So there are considerable stakes outside of pride. And we know how well the Sun Devils play at home. The result earlier this season at Stanford might be meaningless.

3. Oregon: It has been a long time since the Ducks weren't Nos. 1 or 2 in the Power Rankings. After getting blown out at Arizona, coach Mark Helfrich said there needed to be some "inward" looking inside the locker room. Can the Ducks regain their mojo? The Civil War against Oregon State will be a pretty grumpy affair, without substantial external stakes for either team for the first time in a long time.

4. USC: The Trojans, as expected, improved to 6-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron after whipping Colorado. Yet, much of the present goodwill would be surrendered with a second consecutive loss to UCLA. If Orgeron delivers a victory, however, his candidacy to become the next head coach takes on substantial legitimacy.

5. UCLA: Losing at home to Arizona State hurt, but the Bruins know exactly how to turn their frowns upside down: Beat USC. That also would boost their bowl options, of course.

6. Washington: While there has been a lot of hyperventilating about Steve Sarkisian and the inconsistent Huskies, the ultimate story will be written over the next two games, starting with Friday's Apple Cup. If Washington beats Washington State and then wins a bowl game, it will finish 9-4, and that would represent a strong step forward after three consecutive 7-6 seasons. On the downside, anything less would cap a disappointing season, and certainly wouldn't cool Sarkisian's coaching seat.

7. Arizona: While Arizona's friends up North have taken a solid lead in the battle of second-year head coaches between Rich Rodriguez and Graham, the Wildcats can take back a lot with an upset win in Tempe. Not only would they boost their bowl prospects and make Rich Rod 1-1 versus Graham, they'd force the Sun Devils to travel to Stanford for the Pac-12 title game, which would substantially reduce their Rose Bowl chances.

8. Washington State: The Cougars are bowl eligible, but they could become bowl eligible with a bang -- as well as positively giddy -- with a second consecutive upset win over the hated Huskies in Seattle. An added consolation would be seeing Sarkisian's seat heat up substantially and seeing a potential shift in the balance of power in the state.

9. Oregon State: That was a dreadful performance against Washington. The worst I've personally witness from the Beavers. Coach Mike Riley is a class act and a heck of a guy, but he needs to answer for that. It wasn't about losing to the Huskies. It was about how it went down at home, with a listless, uninterested effort.

10. Utah: While there are legitimate excuses for how Utah's season has gone, the loss at Washington State, even without QB Travis Wilson, delivered a resounding thud to Year 3 in the Pac-12. The Utes are 1-7 in conference play. A loss at home to Colorado on Saturday would make coach Kyle Whittingham's seat hot heading into 2014.

11. Colorado: While the Buffaloes were brought back down to Earth after getting pounded by USC, they showed admirable fight in the second half. Concluding the season with a road win over Utah would bode well for the future. And it would mean the Buffs finish 10th in the Pac-12 Power Rankings, not 11th.

12. California: The best news for the Bears is the season is over. Little went right in Sonny Dykes' first season, and he took the blame upon himself after the blowout Big Game defeat to Stanford. There is plenty of justifiable fan frustration. Dykes' first question is his staff, particularly on defense. He probably needs to make some changes. And then he needs to look at his roster and decide who cares about winning and who doesn't.

Mailbag: Mariota's Heisman chances?

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
5:30
PM PT
Happy Friday.

First of all, a big thank you to all Kansas State fans who contributed ideas for my "flip" visit to Manhattan, Kan. My mailbag overfloweth with perspective and suggestions. Dinner at CoCo Bolos last night was solid, as was breakfast at The Chef. If you see me in "Aggieville" tonight, don't hesitate to say "hello."

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Ian from Salt Lake City: Why has Marcus Mariota dropped nigh completely from the Heisman radar? I understand the loss to Stanford and playing poorly is a huge portion of that, but it seems to me that people, especially the media (not you or Kevin obviously), have fallen in love so much with Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel that they brush aside Mariota like a fly. Both Mariota and Manziel lost games to their biggest competition, Mariota is putting up pretty comparable numbers to Winston with less interceptions, and Mariota is a proven winner, so why no, relatively speaking, love?

Ted Miller: There are three types of overreaction in college football. There's media overreaction, there's fan overreaction and, third, there's fan overreaction to media overreaction.

Do you define "dropped completely from the Heisman Trophy radar" as falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in media polls? Or also here. Do you define Mariota getting brushed aside "like a fly" after he posts his worst game of the season in a loss that knocks his team -- apparently -- out of the national title hunt?

Have I fallen in love with Jameis Winston? Yes. I'm man enough to admit that I am in love with Winston. I swoon at his stratospheric potential. I love the way he taken a program known for its NFL talent and mercurial performances and made it the nation's most consistently dominating team. Clemson's overwhelming performance against a very good Georgia Tech team on Thursday reminded us just how impressive the Seminoles' win in Death Valley was.

That said, if Mariota plays appreciably better than Winston and Manziel over the final three games, he still might win the Heisman. At the very least, the sophomore will get invited to New York for the ceremony.

There was an understandable and justifiable demotion of Mariota in every Heisman poll after the Ducks offense sputtered against Stanford. Three big performances, however, will background that. And if Stanford loses to USC, three big performances likely would give him another shot in the Pac-12 title game.

Those games will give him space to be evaluated over the totality of the season. They will also his toughness, which I think is being overlooked or played down after the Stanford game, to shine. Mariota should be saluted for even being out there because he was clearly playing on one good leg, and Stanford realized early on that he was not going to be a factor on designed runs or even scrambles.

By the way, Mariota still is the nation's No. 1 rated QB and has yet to throw an interception. (Throwing that in, Ian, to quell some media overreaction so your fan overreaction to media overreaction might re-react toward a more realistic place).




Paul from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Ted I am a very loyal Oregon Duck fan and was very disappointed with our loss at Stanford. That being said I think a few different bounces of the ball and the end could have played out differently. Regardless, true champions find a way to deal with adversity and we, the Ducks, did not adapt and overcome. My comment/question is this. I agree Stanford has a good team but I think there overall offensive balance is questionable. The ground game is awesome but there passing attack is average at best and tends to be liability. If Stanford gets put behind in a game and has to abandon their ground and pound game plan, they struggle, which is what happened against Utah. I believe in a game against a team that can play with them physically that Stanford will have issues due to their lack of a decent passing attack.

Ted Miller: I hear you. In fact, I think both Kevin and I have questioned Stanford at times about its middling passing game, which has shown flashes but not advanced as much this season as we anticipated it would in August. The Cardinal ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing offense with just 183 yards per game.

And yet.

Even though Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is not putting up big numbers, he ranks 17th in ESPN Stats & Information's total quarterback rating. Hogan is running the Cardinal offense efficiently, even if he only ranks fifth in the conference by the old school pass efficiency measure.

Coach David Shaw has said he would never throw if he knew he'd gain four yards every run. The Cardinal is averaging 4.8 yards per run.

Hogan has thrown well at times, and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranks third in the conference. He's accounted for 15 touchdowns -- 13 passing -- and protects the football.

And there's always this annoying tidbit: Shaw is 31-5. His Stone Age, antiquated, hopelessly conservative, 1970s football has Stanford winning 86 percent of his games.

Is Stanford the sort of team that makes a 14-point deficit look like nothing? No. Did Utah mute the Cardinal for three quarters? Yes, though I think the Utes success on offense was a bigger story in that game.

Could a team like, say, Alabama thwart Stanford because it is as big and physical as the Cardinal? Maybe.

One of the things I really wanted to see this season was for them to try.




Tony Jones from Chandler, Ariz. writes: Ted, I've been keeping an eye on the Jeff Sagarin rankings the last couple of weeks, waiting for verbal pitchforks to be hurled from Sun Devils fans ranting about how ASU is barely getting a sniff in the AP (21st), USA Today (22nd) and BCS (19th) polls while hanging out in the Top 10 in Sagarin's metrics (currently 9th). So when I saw your piece discussing the Championship Drive Ratings and Football Power Index, I was curious to see where ASU ranked. The Sun Devils rank higher in both the CDR (6th) and FPI (7th) than in Sagarin's wizardry. I'm an Arizona alum, so it makes little difference to me, but should ASU fans be Michael Crowing about where they are in the BCS and going all in with their disrespect cards? BTW, I think it's also interesting that the Wildcats are ranked 24th by Sagarin and 28th in the FPI, but are 44th in the CDR. Much bigger disparity than the Sun Devils.

Ted Miller: Kevin has Arizona State 18th and I have them 19th. And both of us have noticed how the Sun Devils rank higher with the computers, most notably the Championship Drive Rating, ESPN Stats & Information's complex metric that measures a team's resume.

But I also know why the Sun Devils are being held back due to purely human reasons.

No. 1: The controversial ending against Wisconsin. No. 2: The loss to Notre Dame.

Those are not "bad" losses. But those two results tie the Sun Devils to the wagons of the Badgers and Fighting Irish, and both provide drag.

The officiating implosion at the end of Arizona State's win over the Badgers means voters don't feel comfortable elevating the Sun Devils decisively over the Badgers, who in fact rank ahead of ASU in both polls. Voters feel further justified doing so because the Sun Devils lost to the Fighting Irish, who are presently unranked after losing to Pittsburgh.

This is a case of Arizona State's marquee win -- Wisconsin -- not earning them the poll respect it typically would, and that is understandable to a certain degree. The Badgers feel like they might miss out on an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game because of that loss, one that they put an asterisk beside.

Yet, as I typically think when reading questions like this: Just keep winning. If the Sun Devils win the rest of their regular season games, including a Nov. 23 date at UCLA, they would jump into the top 10. And if they win the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl, they might finish in the top-five.




Ron from Maricopa, Ariz., writes: This article I believe is incorrect. Colorado received a waiver for playing two FCS games and theoretically they can go to a bowl if they win out. Two games are doable: Cal and Utah. USC is probably too much. But Buffs should be motivated this week for at least the possibility of a bowl.

Ted Miller: Correct. If Colorado wins its final three games -- California, USC and at Utah -- it will become bowl eligible.

And that certainly would be an amazing accomplishment for the Buffaloes in their first season under Mike MacIntyre.




Kevin from Oklahoma City writes: I know there is still plenty of season left and lots can change but out of curiosity if ASU were to win out and Stanford suffers an upset somewhere along the way, allowing Oregon to take the north...who would host the title game? Would Oregon get to host based on overall record?

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon. (Answer is the same from last week!)

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?

Pac-12 predictions: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
9:00
AM PT
Ted went 5-1 last week. Kevin went 4-2. Both missed Utah's upset of Stanford. Ted correctly picked Oregon State over Washington State.

Wait. Ted got an Oregon State pick correct? Oh no ... the sun has turned black and is that ... on the horizon ... THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE!

Run for your lives.

For the season, they are both 46-6.

Utah at Arizona

Kevin Gemmell: I’m curious to see what Utah does with its new-found momentum. If the Utes play the way they did against Stanford, they should win. If they play the way they did against Oregon State and UCLA, well, they still might win. Like what Utah has done defensively in recent weeks. Utah 31, Arizona 24.

Ted Miller: I agree with what Kevin said. But I also wonder what happens if the Wildcats get four quarters from QB B.J. Denker like his fourth quarter against USC. RB Ka'Deem Carey will be tough to contain if the Wildcats produce some reliable balance. Further, the Utes have yet to beat a quality Pac-12 foe on the road. So … it's time for that to happen. Utah 35, Arizona 30.

Washington at Arizona State

Kevin Gemmell: This feels like one of those games in the past we thought Washington should win, but it didn’t. This year’s team is different, and I think the defense can be disruptive enough and the offense explosive enough to pick up a quality win on the road. Washington 38, Arizona State 34.

Ted Miller: A critical game for both teams. Washington has struggled on the road against quality foes, and the Sun Devils are a far tougher test than Illinois. Yet here's a guess that the Huskies bounce back after consecutive losses to top-five teams, winning with a superior defense and better offensive balance. Washington 35, Arizona State 28.

USC at Notre Dame

Kevin Gemmell: Looks like my streak of picking road dogs continues … not a great recipe for success. But this USC team seems to have a little more confidence and pep in its step. It gets peppier with the presumptive return of Marqise Lee. Going crazy and picking the Trojans. USC 31, Notre Dame 21.

Ted Miller: The good news for the Trojans is Notre Dame's offense won't tax its lack of depth like up-tempo offenses in the Pac-12. The bad news is the Fighting Irish might tax the Trojans with their physical play up front on both lines. The Orgeron magic might not travel as well away from the Coliseum, too. Notre Dame 24, USC 21.

UCLA at Stanford

Kevin Gemmell: This feels like one of those games where everyone is down on Stanford and expecting them to go in the tank. Maybe. UCLA has the credentials and the momentum. And something special is brewing in Pasadena. But Stanford is at its best when its back is against the wall and they can rally around the “us vs. the world” mentality. Stanford 27, UCLA 24.

Ted Miller: It's hard to ignore the different results both teams got at Utah. Further, a little bird -- read: someone with NFL interests -- told me a few weeks back the loss of DE Henry Anderson was going to be bigger than many thought. I like the Bruins’ two superstars, OLB Anthony Barr and QB Brett Hundley, to live up to their marquee billing. UCLA 31, Stanford 28.

Washington State at Oregon

Kevin Gemmell: Cougs, Cougs, Cougs. Every time I put my faith in you, you let me down. No upset this week. Ducks roll. Oregon 56, Washington State 27.

Ted Miller: A nice matchup for the Oregon secondary, which was outstanding at Washington last weekend. A good matchup for the Ducks' offensive line against a strong Cougars D-front. But the Ducks starters probably won't be needed too deep into the fourth. Oregon 47, Washington State 24.

Oregon State at California

Kevin Gemmell: Curious to see if Oregon State’s run game picks up against a depleted Cal team. But then again, when you have Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks cranking, it’s all good. Oregon State 42, California 17.

Ted Miller: At some point you'd think Cal is going to shock someone. Its beleaguered defense will have an inspired effort and its passing attack will tie an opposing secondary in knots. But I don't think it happens this weekend. (Beavers fans, you still should probably retain possession of your Miller Prediction Countering Rabbit's Foot). Oregon State 44, California 31.

Charleston Southern at Colorado

Kevin Gemmell: A midseason switch to a true freshman quarterback feels like a move that the Buffs are looking to the future. Maybe. Or maybe he gives them their best option to pick up win No. 3. Full disclosure, I don’t know much about Charleston Southern, other than it is undefeated. But I’m a firm believer that FBS teams from BCS conferences are supposed to beat FCS teams. Colorado 30, CSU 21.

Ted Miller: I suspect Colorado will take out some frustration on the Buccaneers and pick up a third win. The larger question is whether the Buffs will get No. 4. Colorado 41, CSU 17.
I am going to go with the balloon animal display. For the kids. And then when she comes close to check it out, guess who is the broken man, haunted past? How about you?

Pac-12 Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
7:00
AM PT
Some notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for many of these numbers.
  • With a win over Notre Dame, Arizona State will become the first school ever to beat USC and Notre Dame in consecutive games. The last team to beat both IN THE SAME SEASON? You don’t have to look far, Stanford has done it three times since 2009.
  • Arizona State coach Todd Graham is no stranger to beating Notre Dame. In 2010, his Tulsa team came to South Bend and upset the Irish 28-27.
  • Arizona State’s offense has been lethal this season, especially through the air. The Sun Devils have thrown for at least 350 yards in all four games and last week racked up 612 total yards and 62 points on USC.
  • That could spell trouble for a Notre Dame defense that is a far cry from what it was a year ago. Entering the BCS Championship Game last season, the Notre Dame defense allowed just nine total touchdowns -- seven through the air. Through five games this season, they have already allowed 14 touchdowns -- 10 of the passing variety.
  • Notre Dame has allowed at least 24 points in three games so far this season. In 12 regular season games last season, only one team reached that mark (Pitt, 26).
  • Arizona State’s Marion Grice has scored 12 TDs from scrimmage this season (eight rush, four receiving). No other FBS player has more than nine this season. In the last 10 seasons, that ties the most through four team games. Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson in 2012 and Temple’s Bernard Pierce in 2011 both had 12.
  • California leads its series with Washington State 44-25-5 and has won eight consecutive meetings. The teams have not met in Berkeley since 2009 after playing the 2011 meeting in San Francisco at AT&T Park, home of baseball’s San Francisco Giants. The Cougars’ last win in the series came at Memorial Stadium, a 48-38 victory in 2002 behind Jason Gesser’s 432 yards and four touchdowns along with Eric Coleman’s blocked punt he returned for a touchdown.
  • Both Cal and WSU prefer to throw the ball. Cal ranks fourth in the nation with 373 yards per game, while the Cougars are 14th with 329.3 yards per game. Neither runs well, with Cal ranking 97th in the nation in rushing and the Cougs 121st.
  • Both teams were forced to make QB changes in losses last weekend -- Bears QB Jared Goff due to fumble issues and Connor Halliday due to injury. Nonetheless, it appears that neither team will change starters.
  • Oregon has scored at least 55 points in each of its first four games. That’s the longest such streak in school history, and the longest in FBS since Houston topped 55 points in five straight games in 2011.
  • Oregon has 31 touchdown drives this season, and 26 of those drives have taken two minutes or less. That’s the most such touchdown drives in FBS; Baylor (23) is the only other team with more than 15 such drives this season.
  • Oregon QB Marcus Mariota has the second-highest Total QBR (94.6) in the FBS this season. Last week against California, he posted the third-lowest Total QBR (54.3) of his career. Of course, the weather -- torrential rain -- may have had something to do with that.
  • Colorado has lost 11 straight games against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. The Buffaloes last win against a ranked opponent was against No. 17 Kansas in 2009; their last win against a team ranked this high was in 2001, when they beat No. 2 Nebraska to win the Big 12 North. The Buffs are also 3-17 vs. Pac-12 opponents since joining the conference in 2011 (including a nonconference match-up with California in 2011), the worst winning percentage of any conference member.
  • So far this season, the Pac-12 North is a perfect 5-0 against the South division.
  • Since the start of last season, Stanford has held its opponents to 17.7 points per game, 10th best in the nation. They held Oregon to 21 fewer points than any other team and Arizona was the only opponent to score more than 30 points.
  • The Cardinal rely on the front-seven to stop the run. Since the start of last season, they average 6.4 players in the box on running plays, tied for the second fewest by any AQ defense. They have brought an eighth man into the box on just 35 runs, 25 fewer than any other major conference team. More than a quarter of those runs (10) were against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl when the Badgers used two or more tight ends in the formation.
  • From 1977 to 2003, Washington went 20-2 against Stanford. Since then, Washington is 2-6 against Stanford.
  • Stanford is one of six FBS teams since the start of last season that have held their opponent to under 100 yards rushing per game. During that time period, The Cardinal have allowed the fewest yards per rush (3.1) in the Pac-12 and have forced the seventh-most runs for a loss (191) by any FBS team.
  • Stanford’s 3-4 defense has been just as effective in the passing game. The Cardinal lead the FBS with 66 sacks since the start of last season. They have at least one sack in every game, except for when they played Army, which had only 10 dropbacks.
  • Stanford has an AQ-high 196 total pressures (hurries + knockdowns) from the start of last season. That means the Cardinal hit or hurried the quarterback on 23 percent of opponents’ dropbacks, including 25 percent of the time against Washington last season.
  • Stanford sends four or fewer pass rushers on 77 percent of opponents’ dropbacks. That is slightly more than the AQ average (73 percent). When sending four or fewer, the Cardinal have an AQ-high 48 sacks and have hit or hurried the quarterback on 21 percent of dropbacks, five percentage points higher than the AQ average.
  • Washington QB Keith Price has been sacked 40 times since the start of last season, tied for the seventh most by any FBS quarterback. Yet, he has only been sacked three times this season. If Stanford cannot get to him with four pass rushers, it could be an issue. Price is completing 82.1 percent of his passes with four touchdown and no interceptions this season when opponents blitz.
  • Through five weeks, Keith Price has a Total QBR of 81.2, which is 40.3 points higher than last season. Price has the highest completion percentage in the Pac-12 and is one of four qualified quarterbacks in the FBS to improve their Total QBR from 2012 by more than 40 points.
  • One reason for Price’s improved numbers rests on the health of his offensive line. After injuries forced Washington’s projected starters to miss a combined 40 starts last season, the same unit has started every game together in 2013. With continuity on the offensive line, Price has been sacked three times this season, after taking 37 sacks in 2012, sixth most in the FBS.
  • Not only has the offensive line given Price more time to throw, but it has also helped open running lanes for Bishop Sankey and the Huskies running attack. Sankey has the fifth-most rushing yards (607) and tied for the seventh-most rushes of 20 yards or more (6), two fewer than he had all of last season. Through five weeks, he has nearly doubled his rushing total from this time last season. Sankey has 29 rushes where he was not contacted until he was more than five yards downfield, tied for the most among AQ rushers.

Kiffin just never looked the part at USC

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
11:45
AM PT
The problem with coaching USC is you're coaching USC. If you don't really understand what that means, then you're doomed to fail.

That's the lesson learned by Lane Kiffin, who was fired shortly after the team's charter flight landed in Los Angeles early Sunday morning after his team's 62-41 loss at Arizona State, the school announced before any reporter could claim the news story prize.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsLane Kiffin could never quite live up to USC's lofty expectations.
Kiffin went 28-15 in three-plus years while the Trojans were buried under difficult NCAA sanctions, but the key span is the past 11 games. He lost seven of those, essentially starting a downturn just after folks started to wonder if he actually might be a good coach.

If you can recall USC in December 2011, the Trojans were coming off an impressive 10-2 season that included a win at Oregon. Quarterback Matt Barkley shocked many when he announced in front of a strategically placed Christmas tree during a Heritage Hall news conference that he would return for his senior season to take care of "unfinished business."

That, of course, meant a Pac-12 and national title.

The Trojans headed into the 2012 offseason overbrimming with talent and expectations. They were ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP poll. Yet, little thereafter went well. And that falls, not unfairly, on Kiffin.

He just never seemed capable of getting out of his own way and just coaching his collection of athletes, which in just about every case were more physically talented than the guys on the other side of the field.

Did USC have depth issues due to scholarship reductions? Sure. But that didn't change the fact that the area where USC consistently seemed to be most lacking was coaching, in terms of preparation, motivation and execution. And the offensive play calling, which Kiffin refused to give up despite pointed criticism, was fundamentally flawed in one simple way: The plays Kiffin called more often than not didn't work.

He too often tried to be clever or tricky. He also seemed to react poorly when things weren't going well. An early sack or turnover would seemingly spook him into an overly conservative plan. His complicated schemes seemed simplistic and predictable in execution compared to simpler schemes from other Pac-12 programs that seemed more imaginative and effective.

Further, USC had been eclipsed not only in the Pac-12 by Oregon and Stanford, it also had lost ground to its previously struggling rivals, UCLA and Notre Dame. Trojans fans are demanding as a whole, but losing to the Bruins and Fighting Irish is a deal-breaker.

Kiffin was most consistent as a recruiter, even with scholarship limitations. But the downturn even caught up with that. The Trojans presently have only seven commitments, and they are not ranked among the nation's top 40 classes.

USC remains one of the nation's best college coaching jobs. The high school talent in the surrounding area is among the best in the country. The school also has the resources to make the next coach among the nation's highest paid.

Athletic director Pat Haden likely decided to make a decisive move now so he could get a head start on his search. No sense in allowing the ship to continue to sink. He'll immediately start getting back-door feelers from NFL and college head coaches and top assistants -- many probably already have made inquiries. Lots of names will circulate, from Boise State's Chris Petersen, to St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher, to Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, to Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, to Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

Kiffin was unquestionably burdened with tougher circumstances than many coaches who take over college football superpowers. Yet such an explanation only goes so far in this win-now age.

While he flickered potential during the 2011 season, his ultimate downfall was this: His teams never consistently looked like USC should. And he never consistently looked like a guy who should be fronting USC.

Best case-worst case: USC

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
1:30
PM PT
This is the sixth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: USC

Best case

Lane Kiffin glowers at the ocean from his Manhattan Beach home. He is disquieted, even with his favorite Eric Clapton song playing in the background. The waves roar at him under an unusually cloudy August day in Southern California.

"Now is the season of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of Bruin," he says. "And all the clouds that Mora'd upon our house, in the deep bosom of the ocean buried."

Kiffin picks up a copy of the LA Times. He throws it onto a pile where ESPN Magazine, Sports Illustrated and the Orange County Register lay. "Hot seat, hot seat, hot seat!" he says. "I have been rudely stamp'd!"

He turns on the TV and with an exaggerated, irritated emphasis, he flips the channels until he arrives on ESPN.

"And therefore — since I cannot prove a media favorite -- to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain," Kiffin says. "And hate the idle pleasures of these Pac-12 days!”

He watches interviews of UCLA coach Jim Mora, Stanford coach David Shaw and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. He smirks.

He says, "Winning is the thing wherein I'll catch the catch the conscience of the Pac-12 kings! And keep my job."

A few days later, on Aug. 23, Kiffin stands before reporters.

"Cody Kessler is going to be our starting quarterback," Kiffin says. "He doesn't have the biggest arm and he's not built like an NFL quarterback, but he played this best during fall camp. I like his moxie. Sometimes even USC needs moxie."

USC rolls over Hawaii and Washington State, dominates Boston College and thrashes Utah State. Kessler throws just one interception against 10 touchdown passes, while the defense dominates, not yielding more than 20 points during the 4-0 start. The Trojans rise to No. 10 in the national rankings.
Kevin Gemmell: Boy, the Trojans drowned those first four teams in malmsey butt.

Ted Miller: What's malmsey butt?

Gemmell: It's ... I have no idea. I was just trying to stick to your Richard III deal.

Things, however, go off the tracks at Arizona State. The Trojans are flagged eight times for 85 yards and turn the ball over three times in the first half as they trail the Sun Devils 21-3.

"Have we eaten of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?" Kiffin barks in the locker room. "Men, settle down. We only need to focus on one thing. Win the next play. Stop over thinking this. Win the next play. Beat the guy in front of you. Win the next play and then do it again. That is all."

Kessler throws three touchdown passes to Marqise Lee in the third quarter, and Silas Redd, Justin Davis and Tre Madden wear down the undersized Sun Devils defense in the fourth, as the Trojans roll to 42-24 win.

During the bye week, a column on the front of the LA Times sports page asks: "Is Kiffin becoming a good coach?"

Scoffs Kiffin, "Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit and lost without deserving."

The Trojans blow out Arizona and head to Notre Dame at 6-0. Lee turns South Bend into his own little play pen, catching four touchdown passes and going the distance on a kickoff return.

The fourth-ranked Trojans roll over Utah and then, with Lee on the cover of Sports Illustrated, head to Corvallis.
Gemmell: Just tapping some things into the "Uh Oh Calculator" here. We've got USC going to Corvallis and USC on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Miller: And don't forget my 3,000-word story on the certainty that the Trojans would play for the national title this week!

The Trojans miss a 27-yard field goal with 20 seconds left and Oregon State prevails 28-27, which is USC's fourth consecutive loss in Corvallis.

USC bounces back with a win at California. Then No. 7 Stanford comes to town, fresh off a loss to No. 2 Oregon. The Cardinal have won four in a row in the series with USC and five of the last six matchups.

"Stanford has just dominated us," Kiffin says in his Tuesday news conference. "They are a more physical team than we are. So we're going to need to find ways to make this game less about the line of scrimmage."

On the first play after the kickoff, Kessler lines up behind center and hands off to Redd. On second and 6, he lines up in the shot gun. On third and 1, he rushes the Trojans to the line of scrimmage, takes the shotgun snap and connects with Lee for a 30 yard gain.
Announcer: It appears that Lane Kiffin is going to run an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Basically his two-minute offense.

Color analyst: Of course, Stanford saw the nation's best up-tempo offense last week against Oregon, and it faces a lot of up-tempo schemes, but you have to think this is a bit of a curveball for defensive coordinator Derek Mason.

USC takes a 14-10 lead into halftime.

The Trojans get a stop on Stanford's first possession of the second half. They take over on their 31. Kessler is back under center. On first down, he pitches to Redd for six yards. On second down, he pitches to Redd for four yards. On first down, he pitches to Davis for three years. On second down, he pitches to Davis for 10 yards.
Announcer: Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty. After running a no-huddle offense and throwing 29 times in the first half, Kiffin has pulled a page from John McKay's old playbook.

Color analyst: Student body right, student body left. An I-formation, a simple toss with big linemen and a fullback leading the way. It seems Kiffin, after calling Stanford physically dominant all week, might have been playing opossum.

The Trojans rush for 210 yards in the second half against the nation's No. 1 run defense and win 35-20.
Miller: That was genius, Lane! Like I've said all along, you should call your own plays. It's your team and I've always thought you were a great play caller.

Kiffin: That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain — At least I am sure it may be so with the Pac-12 blog.

Miller: Lane, you need to lighten up. That's the next step. Maybe you should read some Christopher Moore?

Kiffin: Knavery's plain face is never seen till us'd!

The Trojans, who climb to No. 4 in the national polls, batter Colorado and improve to 11-1. Up next: No. 10 UCLA, which is 9-2, having only lost to Oregon and Stanford. The battle for the Victory Bell also will decide the Pac-12 South Division title.

"Do I remember my non-block that allowed Anthony Barr to sack Barkley and end his USC career?" Trojans offensive tackle Aundrey Walker says, rephrasing a reporter's question. "The one in which Barr made fun of me at Pac-12 media day? The one that typified our 2012 season? The play that should haunt me until I redeem myself? No. I've not thought about that once."

The Trojans score on their first five possessions and blow out the Bruins, who turn the ball over five times. Barr doesn't even touch Kessler all day. With 2:30 left, Kiffin goes for 2 to make the final count 51-0.
Kiffin: Well, we beat them 50-zip in 2011, so I didn't want the same final number again.

Reporter: It will be construed that Lane Kiffin was running up the score, that he has no conscience.

Kiffin: Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe.

No. 2 Oregon beats the Trojans 33-31 in the Pac-12 championship game when Alejandro Maldonado kicks a 58-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.

Lee wins USC's eighth Heisman Trophy.

The Ducks whip Alabama 40-10 to win the national title. The Trojans dominate previously unbeaten Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl. The final polls rank Oregon No. 1 and USC No. 2.

UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington also win bowl games, with seven Pac-12 teams finishing ranked in the final polls.

"Good," says Kiffin. "We want Oregon and UCLA and the rest of the conference to be strong. It's no fun to rule the weak."

Worst case

On Aug. 23, Kiffin stands before reporters.

"Max Wittek is going to be our starting quarterback," Kiffin says. "He didn't play as well as Cody Kessler in the spring or in preseason camp, but he's big and tall and has a good arm. He looks the part. You media sorts don't understand that it's better to look good than to be good."

Wittek plays fairly well during a 4-0 start -- Marqise Lee leads the nation with 768 yards receiving -- and he needs to because the Trojans new defensive scheme is inconsistent, yielding an average of 30 points in the season's first third.

The Trojans rise to No. 13 in the rankings.
Kevin Gemmell: We'll get a better measure of USC at Arizona State, Wittek's first road start against an A-list defense.

Ted Miller: The Sun Devils will certainly test the Trojans play caller.

Arizona State leads USC 24-20 with one minute left, but a long Wittek pass to Lee gives the Trojans a first and goal at the Sun Devils 1-yard line.

Consecutive QB sneaks are stopped for no gain by Will Sutton, Kiffin perhaps thinking he could fool the Sun Devils by running his quarterback at the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12.

After the Trojans final time out, Silas Redd is stopped by Sutton for no gain on third down. The clock says: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1... baaaa! Game over. Arizona State wins.
Announcer: Three words: Clock freaking managment.

Color analyst: Just wow.

Kiffin: I'm still going to call plays.

After an off-week, the Trojans are flat in a 28-24 home loss to Arizona. They get buried 28-10 at Notre Dame, with Wittek throwing three interceptions.

USC athletic director Pat Haden release a statement saying he's "100 percent behind Lane Kiffin and there is no hot seat."

The Trojans slip Utah 20-17, go down at Oregon State but improve to 6-4 with a road win at California.

"Being bowl eligible while under NCAA sanctions is a good thing," Kiffin says. "USC fans are too greedy, always believing they can win championships."

Stanford runs over USC 30-10, but the Trojans pick up a seventh win at Colorado.

Up next: No. 10 UCLA, which has already clinched the Pac-12 South Division crown.
Miller: Did you know that when Richard III was whipped in the Battle of Bosworth Field it ended the Wars of the Roses and began the Tudor dynasty?

Gemmell: And for your purposes here, setting up an obvious connection, with Jim Mora/Richmond besting Lane Kiffin/Richard III and taking over the football dynasty in LA.

Miller: You want to do these best-case, worst-case stories next year?

Gemmell: No.

The Bruins batter USC 35-0, despite Mora clearing his bench in the fourth quarter and only calling running plays and no blitzes over the final five minutes. Anthony Barr has three of the Bruins five sacks, and Wittek is picked off twice.

"I know some Bruins fans want us to be merciless, but this program is about winning with class," Jim Mora says. "In Westwood, we hope to enrich this time to come with smooth-faced success, with smiling plenty and fair prosperous days!"

USC goes on to lose to Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, thereby finishing 7-7.

Bruins QB Brett Hundley leads the Bruins to an upset of No. 2 Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. Hundley, after winning the Heisman Trophy, announces he will return for his redshirt junior season. He then leads the Bruins to a Rose Bowl win over Ohio State.

A news conference is called in Heritage Hall.

"It's been a tough year," Haden says. "But I continue to believe Lane Kiffin is the coach who will lead the Trojans back to greatness."

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

Hope springs in the Pac-12

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
12:43
PM PT
The 2013 season will be the final year of the BCS era.

And there was much rejoicing!

So, what have been the Pac-12 highs and lows of this often confounding system? Thanks for asking!

Best

1. USC drubs Oklahoma for the 2004 national title: The 55-19 victory over unbeaten Oklahoma was the most dominant display of the BCS era. It was also the pinnacle of the Trojans' dynasty under Pete Carroll. It's worth noting that future Pac-12 member Utah also whipped Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to finish unbeaten that same year.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesReggie Bush and USC ran away with the 2004 national title.
2. USC wins "real" national title: In 2003, USC was No. 1 in the AP and Coaches polls at season's end. If you had eyes and knew anything about football, it was clear the Trojans were the nation's most-talented team on both sides of the football, a notion that was reinforced the following season. Two teams picked by computers played in New Orleans -- most folks outside of Louisiana don't even remember who -- and that forced the Trojans to settle for three-fourths of a national title after dominating Michigan 28-14.

3. The year of the Northwest: After the 2000 season, three teams from the Northwest finished ranked in the AP top seven. Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and finished third. Oregon State drubbed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished fourth. Oregon beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl to finish seventh.

4. Oregon gets left out but finishes No. 2: One of the grand faux paus of the BCS era was Nebraska playing Miami for the 2001 national title. Nebraska was coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado, but the computers failed to notice, and the Cornhuskers were euthanized by the Hurricanes before halftime. The Ducks would whip that same Colorado team 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl and finish ranked No. 2.

5. Oregon and Stanford both win: The 2012-13 bowl season wasn't good to the Pac-12, but Oregon pounded Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks finished ranked No. 2 and Stanford was seventh. It was just the second time two Pac-10/12 teams won BCS bowl games in the same season.

Worst

1. Just one BCS national title, lots of frustration: No conference has more legitimate gripes with the BCS system than the Pac-12. Multiple seasons saw the conference have teams skipped over, most notably Oregon in 2001 and USC in 2003 and 2008. And ask California fans about how Texas coach Mack Brown gamed the system in 2004, preventing the Bears from playing in the Rose Bowl.

2. USC's three-peat gets Vince Younged: It's difficult to look at Texas's epic 41-38 win over USC as anything but great college football art -- perhaps the all-time greatest game -- but Trojans fans don't feel that way. The loss prevented USC from claiming three consecutive national titles and, of course, a second BCS crown for the Pac-10/12.

3. Oregon falls short versus Auburn: Oregon looked like a great team and Auburn a team with two great players before the BCS title game after the 2010 season. The Ducks chose a bad time to play one of their worst games of the season, but they still nearly prevailed before being undone by a dramatic game-winning drive from the Tigers.

4. Make a field goal, Stanford: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a certain game-winner from 35 yards on the last play of regulation, in the Cardinal's 41-38 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2011 season. Williamson also missed from 43 yards in overtime, which set the Cowboys up for the win. Stanford dominated the game, outgaining the Cowboys 590 yards to 412, with a 243-13 edge in rushing.

5. Ducks drop Rose Bowl: Oregon fell flat in Chip Kelly's first BCS bowl game, with the favored Ducks losing to Ohio State 26-17 in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor had perhaps the best game of his career -- 266 yards passing, 72 rushing -- and the Ducks offense struggled, gaining just 260 yards.
Once lauded as the preseason No. 1 with the Heisman Trophy favorite at quarterback, the USC football program sank to historic depths in 2012. What's the state of the program and is the sky falling on USC? Your bloggers debate:

Ted Miller: Is the sky falling for USC? Maybe just a little, at least if you believe in momentum.

In August, the Trojans were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. They were rolling with the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. Quarterback Matt Barkley was the golden boy of the preseason, the top Heisman candidate, lauded for his unselfish decision to return for his senior season. And coach Lane Kiffin, after leading the Trojans to a 10-2 finish in 2011, seemed to be well on his way to proving his skeptics wrong and rewriting the story of his coaching career.

Now, in February, USC is coming off a 7-6 season, the first time a preseason No. 1 team lost six games. It lost five of its final six games, including an execrable performance against middling Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. After the game, there was a locker-room altercation that involved some players bad-mouthing Barkley. Further, Kiffin has been -- fairly -- blamed for the collapse, and many of his actions during the season served to reinforce his image as a guy obsessed with working the angles instead of focusing on the details. All this serves to put Kiffin on perhaps the hottest seat in the nation heading into 2013.

Further, the recruiting class, the one constant during the surprising losing, ended up ranked 14th in the nation after several players decommitted. A handful of those decommitted players added salt to the Trojans' wounds by signing with rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.

Why did they decommit? The reasons are likely to be specific to the individual athlete, but it's fair to say that the program's fall from grace and Kiffin's uncertain status played a role.

The program was perceived in a much different way in August than it is today. The considerable momentum of the preseason has reversed. Considerably.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP PhotoLane Kiffin might be on the hot seat in 2013, but perhaps a dimmer spotlight will help his Trojans.
Of course, USC still signed an outstanding recruiting class, with 12 of the 13 members earning four stars and nine ranking among the nation's top 150 players. The present negative momentum can be quickly reversed with a fast start to the season. If Kiffin wins nine or 10 games, he'll probably be back in 2014, especially if he can beat UCLA and Notre Dame in the process -- and the Bruins in particular.

So, really, the sky is not falling over Heritage Hall.

But it is definitely blocked by dark, threatening clouds no USC fan likes to see.

Kevin Gemmell: No, the sky is not falling on USC. And I'll tell you why. There aren't many schools in the country that finish 7-6 and can bring in a recruiting haul -- considered by some to actually be a disappointment -- like the Trojans did earlier this week. There aren't a lot of schools that can look as bad as the Trojans did in 2012 and still ink six players rated in the top six for their positions nationally -- including the Nos. 1 and 3 safeties, the No. 2 pocket passer and the No. 3 defensive tackle. USC is a brand name and is always going to attract elite recruits. Even in the worst of times. And it can't get much worse than it did last season.

I've been very critical of the 2012 edition of USC football. In a word, it stunk. It was like watching a train wreck crash into a train wreck that crashed into a manure pile. For whatever reason, despite an abundance of talent, the chemistry proved toxic. Kiffin has, rightfully so, shouldered the lion's share of the blame.

All that said, with the talent USC has on its roster as of today, the Trojans can win at least nine games in 2013 (pause for laughter). I say again, the Trojans can win more games in 2013 than the team with Barkley, Robert Woods, Khaled Holmes, Nickell Robey and T.J. McDonald.

Bad years -- for whatever reason -- happen. But folks weren't screaming to fire Kiffin when he took over a program on probation and went 18-7 in his first two seasons -- including the aforementioned 10-win campaign in 2011. People weren't calling for his head when the Trojans won at Autzen Stadium in 2011 -- something only one other Pac-12 team has been able to do since 2008.

What made 2012 so much worse than it should have been were the off-field issues that came across as bush league. Those are easily corrected. You know how? Stop doing stupid things off the field! That should do the trick. And while we're at it, stupid things on the field don't work that well either. Free tip.

The spotlight won't be nearly as bright in 2013 as it was in 2012. The Trojans will probably start off in the preseason top 25. Maybe they even sneak into the top 20. That's a lot more psychologically manageable than No. 1. The schedule sets up nicely with four very winnable games before the Trojans travel to Arizona State at the end of September for their first Pac-12 South showdown. Then they get a week and a half to prep for Arizona and an extra two days to prep for Notre Dame. More importantly, it gets a lot of young players time to get acclimated. There is also a lot of returning talent that saw a great deal of playing time in 2012 -- for better or worse.

As of Feb. 8, 2013, I'm not sure who is going to win the Pac-12 South. I might give a slight edge to either Arizona State or UCLA. But discounting the Trojans is just foolishness. No, USC fans, the sky is not falling. Sometimes you just have to put the past behind you and -- as you folks say -- fight on.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Saturday, 1/10
Monday, 1/12