USC Trojans: Rich Rodriguez
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.
If you don't like where you finished in the power rankings, you should have played better.
See the pre-bowl-season power rankings here.
1. Stanford: Oregon received a higher final national ranking, and you could make a decent challenge in favor of the Ducks. They didn't get upset by Washington, didn't play a lot of close games and beat a top-five team in the Fiesta Bowl. But, on Nov. 17, the Cardinal went to Eugene and took care of business. Stanford is the Pac-12 champion, and Oregon is not. Ergo, Stanford sits atop the power rankings. And 2013 looks pretty darn good, too.
2. Oregon: The cherry on the top of another special season for Oregon is the return of coach Chip Kelly. And we're of the mind that, if not for the slip against Stanford, Oregon would be sitting atop college football this morning after a fine evening of frolic in South Florida. The Ducks and Stanford will be national title contenders again in 2013. And guess which two teams are going to top the first 2013 power rankings?
3. Oregon State: The loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl was baffling. The Beavers were a superior team that seemed to be looking for ways to lose in the fourth quarter. The quarterback carousel needs to be resolved. But the Beavers still won nine games, and their 6-3 conference record overcomes UCLA because of a head-to-head win on the road. Nice bounce back after consecutive losing seasons.
4. UCLA: Yes, the Bruins flopped in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl against Baylor, but it's impossible not to see Year 1 under Jim Mora as a success, made even more notable by USC's flop. Like last season, the Bruins won the South Division, but this time they earned it.
5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils won their final three games for the first time since 1978. That's how you go into an offseason with optimism. We hear a lot about "culture change" from programs with new coaches. The Sun Devils' culture change under Todd Graham was made manifest by what happened on the field.
6. Arizona: The Wildcats did better than expected in Year 1 under Rich Rodriguez, and the season would have been a complete success if not for what happened against that team from up north. That loss hurts, but quality wins over Oklahoma State, USC and Washington, as well as an overtime game with Stanford, show this team competed better than in recent years.
7. Washington: The Huskies finishing 7-6 against a brutal schedule probably was close to preseason expectations. But the two-game losing streak to end the season, which included a dreadful meltdown in the Apple Cup to Washington State, quashed the momentum a four-game winning steak from Oct. 27 to Nov. 17 had built. Perhaps that will make the Huskies hungrier in 2013, when they have a nice array of talent returning.
8. USC: The Trojans' season was a complete disaster. USC started out at No. 1 but turned in a white flag performance while losing a sixth game in the Hyundai Sun Bowl to a middling Georgia Tech team. The Trojans were eclipsed by rivals UCLA and Notre Dame while wasting the much-ballyhooed return of QB Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin will be sitting on one of the nation's hottest seats in 2013. We've been over this a few times.
9. Utah: The Utes' move up in class from the Mountain West Conference is proving tougher than some imagined. Utah missed out on playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2002, and there were issues on both sides of the ball. The Utes need an upgrade in talent and overall depth, sure, but consistent quarterback play would be a good place to start. Therein lies hope with promising freshman Travis Wilson.
10. California: A dreadful 3-9 finish ended Jeff Tedford's tenure in Berkeley after 11 seasons. In early October, after consecutive wins over UCLA and Washington State, it seemed as though the Bears might be poised for a rally. Alas, they lost their final five games, including a horrid performance in a 62-14 drubbing at Oregon State. Sonny Dykes has enough returning talent to produce significant improvement in the fall.
11. Washington State: New coach Mike Leach's season was bad on the field and off, but it ended on a notable uptick with an Apple Cup win over Washington that included a comeback from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit. Still, 3-9 took a bite out of the enthusiasm Leach's hiring initially generated.
12. Colorado: A horrid 1-11 finish that was capped by a controversial firing of Jon Embree after just two seasons. The Buffaloes are probably the worst AQ conference team over the past two seasons, and that is the considerable mess new coach Mike MacIntyre was hired to clean up. Of course, MacIntyre put together an impressive turnaround at San Jose State, so he looks like a good choice to bring the Buffs back to respectability.
The Pac-12 -- again -- produced national title contenders but not a team playing for the crystal football when the final bell rang. Further, for the first time since 2008, the conference didn't provide a Heisman Trophy finalist.
A short summary of the regular season: It was pretty good but could have been better. But it was definitely surprising.
Better? If things had fallen the right way, seven Pac-12 teams could have been ranked in the final regular-season poll. USC began the season as a national title contender only to yield that spot to Oregon. Then Stanford ended the Ducks' hopes on Nov. 17 with a 17-14 overtime win in Autzen Stadium.
So the conference streak without a football national championship extends to eight seasons.
Surprising? UCLA won the South Division over rival USC, and Stanford beat out Oregon in the North by virtue of the aforementioned win in Eugene. Neither was tapped in the preseason as the conference champion by any of the 123 media members who voted.
Surprising? USC quarterback Matt Barkley topped just about every preseason Heisman Trophy list. He didn't even make first- or second-team All-Pac-12.
Surprising? Three of the four new coaches turned in strong seasons. Start with Jim Mora, who led the Bruins to the Pac-12 championship game and a national ranking. And, a year after USC beat UCLA 50-0, the Bruins prevailed, 38-28.
Sorry for bringing that up, USC.
Both Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State's Todd Graham finished 7-5, though Graham handed Rodriguez his fifth defeat in the Territorial Cup.
Sorry for bringing that up, Wildcats.
The new coach who was expected to make the most noise -- with both his mouth and his team -- was only 1-for-2, and it wasn't Mike Leach's team doing the talking. His Cougars finished 3-9 and recorded just one conference victory. Of course, that lone Pac-12 win was over Washington.
Sorry for bringing that up, Huskies.
The good news is a record eight bowl teams, including a third consecutive season with two BCS bowl berths, which means an extra $6.1 million for the conference to split up.
The bad news is two more coach firings: Jeff Tedford at California after 11 seasons and Jon Embree at Colorado after just two. That means half the teams in the Pac-12 will have changed coaches over the past two years.
Further, USC's disappointing season lands Lane Kiffin on the 2013 hot seat, the only Pac-12 coach who will be stuck with that designation heading into 2013.
What about some highlights? Well, here you go.
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonArizona State's Will Sutton averaged almost a sack per game this season, including one at Missouri.
Defensive MVP, Will Sutton, Arizona State: The numbers alone paint a pretty good picture of just how dominant the speed-rushing defensive tackle was. He led the conference in tackles for a loss per game and averaged almost a sack per game. He was a wrecking ball -- the kind of player offensive coordinators design their game plan around.
Newcomer of the year, Marcus Mariota, Oregon: In a year in which redshirt freshmen quarterbacks became all the rage, Mariota stood out with his efficiency as a passer, his athleticism as a runner and the speed with which he commanded Oregon's offense. His presence assures Oregon will continue to be one of the best offensive teams in the country in the coming years.
Biggest surprise: A school not named USC or Oregon is going to the Rose Bowl. In fact, neither team played in the Pac-12 championship game -- which many thought was as foregone conclusion before a single ball had been hiked. Stanford and UCLA were surprises -- but they also earned it.
Biggest disappointment: USC's once-promising season first got hijacked at Stanford. And from then on the Trojans were swimming in concrete shoes. After starting the season No. 1 in the AP poll, the Trojans became the first such team since 1964 to end the year out of the Top 25. The contrarian opinion Kevin Gemmell offered up back in March came to fruition. And it was a complete disaster. And, yes, even worse than Ted Miller's "Worst Case." And that's pretty bad.
Best game: Depends on where your tastes lie. If you like defense, then it was Stanford's performance at Oregon, where they held the Ducks to fewer than 200 yards rushing and won in overtime. Jordan Williamson's 37-yard kick sent shock waves throughout college football. If you like offense, you have to look to the Nov. 3 shootout between Oregon and USC. The stakes weren't as high as we all thought a few months ago, but some of the league's premier offensive players showed up as the teams combined for 113 points, 68 first downs and 1,145 yards of total offense.
And, again, keep in mind the power rankings lean heavily on the week that was, not as much on the totality of the season.
See last week's power rankings here.
1. Stanford: I've started to think Stanford has become one of those "No one in the entire nation is playing better at this point of the season" teams. Certainly no team has better back-to-back wins over the past two weeks.
2. Oregon: The Ducks looked like their old selves against rival Oregon State. Best bet is they are headed to the Fiesta Bowl, where they will almost certainly play a Big 12 team that is ranked higher than the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative. Maybe even good ole Kansas State.
3. UCLA: Were the Bruins -- consciously or unconsciously -- holding something back against Stanford on Saturday, knowing they'd already secured a berth in the Pac-12 title game? Maybe. We'll see in Friday's rematch.
4. Oregon State: Early in the third quarter, it looked like the Beavers might challenge the Ducks. Then -- poof -- Oregon went all Oregon and it was another blowout. Guessing the Beavers end up in the Holiday Bowl with the Pac-12 title game loser going to the Alamo Bowl.
5. Arizona State: It's official: Year 1 under new coach Todd Graham is an unquestioned success. Going 7-5 is one thing, but 7-5 with win No. 7 coming in Tucson is entirely different.
6. Arizona: While the reverse on the Arizona State verdict isn't true -- it's impossible to say the Wildcats didn't greatly exceed expectations in Rich Rodriguez's first season -- losing state bragging rights is an itch that will demand scratching for an entire year.
7. Utah: The Utes end the season with a close win at Colorado. That's not much -- at all -- but the teams below rate lower based on their recently elevated program misery index.
8. USC: Last year, the Trojans upset Oregon and beat their top rivals, Notre Dame and UCLA. This year, preluded by national championship expectations, they lost to all three. USC went from top-ranked to unranked, from expectations of 12-0 to 7-5. There are no grins inside Heritage Hall. Lane Kiffin will be near the top of every 2013 preseason coaching hot seat list.
9. Washington State: It was an awful season, full of losing and controversy. Ah, but when a Washington fan walks into the local watering hole, he will avert his eyes in shame from the Cougar contingent. When the folks in purple start to talk about all the great things going on at Washington, they will be silenced by a simple: "31-28. Stick it."
10. Washington: That was a dreadful choke in the Apple Cup, Huskies. You rightly should expect much grief from your Coug friends. Of course, you still have a bowl game ahead in which to secure an eighth win, which the Huskies haven't collected since 2001. Do that, and you not only will perk up several spots in the power rankings, you can enter the offseason with a smile.
11. California: Teams that fire their coach tend to tumble in the power rankings. But take heart, Golden Bears fans. See how quickly three of the four Pac-12 teams that hired new coaches a year ago climbed out of the doldrums.
12. Colorado: Worst season in Colorado history? Probably. Now there's just one question, Buffs: What are you going to do about it?
If you squint real hard while watching USC, you can mistake Matt Barkley's cardinal jersey for Joe Naimath's crimson Alabama jersey. In fact, if you were to watch some grainy, flickering film from the 1960s, you'd see the basic USC offense: a running back, often a fullback and a quarterback under center.
So, why can't the Trojans be more like Oregon? Why can't they blur the line between grass-and-mud football and Tron? And more to the point in this disappointing season for the Trojans, should they? Will they have to one day?
It seems worth asking these questions this week, sandwiched around that loss against one spread team (Arizona) and this Saturday's meeting with the Ducks, who probably have the best spread offense in the country.
The Trojans are increasingly isolated by the spread of the spread. Ole Miss is now running it under first-year coach Hugh Freeze and, when a team with "Ole" in its name runs a system, it might be time to adjust. The movement's waters have moved particularly aggressively on the West Coast. The newest coaches in the Pac-12, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona and Mike Leach at Washington State, are two gurus of the spread.
Even Lane Kiffin, who literally grew up around the NFL, has learned to appreciate its explosive potential and, he says, universal applicability in the college game.
"I would disagree that it didn't work at Michigan," Kiffin said. "They didn't stop anybody. That wasn't because of the offense. Rich-Rod put up a ton of points and yards. I don't know them offhand, I just remember seeing scores like 52-48 and stuff like that.
"I think you can definitely run a spread offense at a national, storied program. I don't think it makes any difference."
So, why is USC stubbornly clinging to antiquated notions such as: keep your quarterback upright, take your time in the huddle and, at least occasionally, hand the ball off? Because the minute USC changes -- if it ever changes -- it could squander its biggest edge. Because, while spread elements have increasingly infiltrated the NFL, a system like Oregon's might never fly there.
Why? In short, it's the cost of insurance. Five of the nine highest-paid players in the NFL are quarterbacks and all of them are making more than $12 million. The average NFL quarterback makes roughly $2 million and the average starter makes several times that. If you're an NFL owner, the last thing you're willing to do is send a $15 million investment racing along at the mercy of rampaging safeties.
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.
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.
Matt Kartozian/US Presswire"There are plays in every game that haunt you," USC coach Lane Kiffin said -- and quarterback Matt Barkley, left, agreed.
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.
Russ Isabella/US PresswireSenior QB Matt Barkley has the Trojans sitting at 6-1 (4-1 Pac-12) entering Week 9.
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.
AP Photo/Wily LowSenior QB Matt Scott and the Wildcats are 4-3 (1-3 Pac-12) entering Week 9.
"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.
AP Photo/Don RyanKa'Deem Carey will be looking to find the end zone early and often against USC on Saturday.
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.
The Mountaineers have been lit up to the tune of 40 points per game this season, making them the sixth-worst scoring defense in the NCAA. (They gave up 26.7 points per game under Casteel last year.) In 2012, West Virginia has the worst pass defense in the country, with opponents gaining nearly 15 yards per completion and more than 10 yards every attempt.
Casteel's new unit with the Wildcats hasn't exactly been elite, either. Arizona's pass defense is 10th-worst in the country in terms of yards per game, and 37th-worst (83 out of 120) in terms of overall scoring defense.
But it's definitely different than any other defense the USC Trojans are going to face this season. Arizona's 3-3-5 alignment -- commonly known as an odd stack or multiple spread defense, with three linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs -- is known for three big things:
- 1. It enables teams to more easily use smaller, faster players across their defense than a normal 3-4 or 4-3 would require.
- 2. It a defense easier for players to understand, relatively speaking, because they're typically assigned a single gap on a given play and told to attack that gap.
- 3. It can be difficult for opposing offensive linemen to understand pre-snap who they're going to have to block on a particular play.
Generally speaking, the 3-3-5 relies on big plays more than it does stopping teams straight away. It also generally works better against a spread than against a pro-style offense. And, as with any incorporation of any new scheme at any level, it takes time to stick.
USC coach Lane Kiffin said this week that the sticking process has been evident in recent weeks.
Date: Saturday, October 27
Matt Kartozian/US PresswireDual-threat QB Matt Scott leads a potent Arizona offense.
Location: Wildcat Stadium (Tucson, Ariz.)
TV: ABC or ESPN2
Radio: ESPNLA 710 (pre-game show begins at 7 a.m. PT)
Scouting Arizona: Arizona, under new coach Rich Rodriguez, snapped a three-game losing streak (all to ranked teams) with a convincing 52-17 win against Washington on Saturday.
The Wildcats sport a potent offense that is fifth nationally in total offense (548.7 yards per game, first in Pac-12) and passing offense (352.3 ypg, first in Pac-12) and 20th in scoring offense (39.1, second in Pac-12). Senior QB Matt Scott (200 of 311, 64.3 percent, 2,355 yards, 17 TD, eight INT in 2012, plus 65 carries, 265 yards, 4.1 avg, three TD) is fourth nationally in total offense (374.3, first in Pac-12). Sophomore RB Ka’Deem Carey (155 carries, 842 yards, 5.4 avg, 11 TD, plus 22 receptions, 222 yards, 10.1 avg, one TD) is 14th nationally in rushing (120.3, fourth in Pac-12), 16th in all-purpose running (154.3, third in Pac-12) and tied for 18th in scoring (10.3, second in Pac-12). Sophomore WR Austin Hill (44 receptions, 678 yards, 15.4 avg, seven TD in 2012), who is 14th nationally in receiving yards (96.9, fourth in Pac-12) and senior Dan Buckner (44 rec, 599 yds, 13.6 avg, 2 TD in 2012) are the top pass catchers.
On the other hand, UA’s defense is in the bottom 20 nationally in total defense (464.7 yards per game, 11th in Pac-12). Junior MLB Jake Fischer (67 tackles, 4.5 for loss, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries) is the Pac-12’s top tackler (9.6), while sophomore safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant (43 tackles, 10.5 for loss, one INT, 4 deflections, 1 forced fumble) and sophomore CB Jonathan McKnight (29 tackles, three INT, 3 deflections) lead the secondary. -- courtesy USC sports information
Team(s) of the week: USC and Oregon did nothing to dispel the notion they are the class of the conference and are headed toward an epic clash on Nov. 3 in Los Angeles. Both teams pounded lesser foes, while a number of teams trying to challenge them -- Stanford, Washington and California -- didn't look ready for prime time. Further, both looked strong on both sides of the ball.
Kirby Lee/US PresswireUSC receiver Marqise Lee stole the show against Hawaii on Saturday.
Biggest play: We'll give you two from the same guy. USC WR Marqise Lee took the very first play of USC's game with Hawaii 75 yards for a score. He later dashed 100 yards for a touchdown on a kickoff return.
Offensive standout: Scott seems like a good fit for Rodriguez's offense, just as most expected. He completed 30 of 46 passes for 387 yards and two scores and also rushed 14 times for 74 yards in the win against Toledo.
Defensive standout: Stanford CB Usua Amanam, a converted running back, recorded six tackles, two sacks, four tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in the Cardinal's win over San Jose State.
Special-teams standout: Hard to overlook Lee's 100-yard kickoff return. The truth is it wasn't a very good weekend for special teams, with lapses all over the conference.
Smiley face: Well, is there anyone who doubts Oregon's redshirt freshman QB Marcus Mariota now? Yes, it was a home game against an overmatched Arkansas State team, but Mariota looked completely in control during the brief time he played. He completed 18 of 22 passes for 200 yards with three TDs and no interceptions. He also rushed for 24 yards. It was the ninth most efficient performance on the opening weekend.
Frowny face: Cal! Cal, Cal, Cal! DRRRRRRRRR. That 31-24 loss to Nevada was bad period, but losing on the very day you celebrate the opening of your $321 million renovated stadium? Yuck. Nevada has now swept a home-and-home series with the Bears, and the only conclusion is the Wolf Pack is just better. After all, they outgained Cal 450 yards to 365 and converted 11 of 20 third-down plays compared to 3-of-14 for Cal. Oh, and the Bears' piddling run game likely won't get better if OT Matt Summers-Gavin is injured. Recall the Pac-12 blog writing about solid upset hopes for the Bears at Ohio State on Sept. 15? The Pac-12 blog wishes that stricken from the record. Consider this from Jeff Faraudo of the Contra Costa Times: "[Nevada QB Cody] Fajardo torched the Bears for 327 yards rushing and passing. Uh-oh ... in two weeks, Cal faces Ohio State and QB Braxton Miller, who had 368 combined yards vs. Miami-Ohio."
Thought of the week: Arizona State's 30 penalty yards versus Northern Arizona were the fewest it has posted since recording just 27 versus Arizona on Dec. 1, 2007, a span of the past 51 games. New coach Todd Graham talked about discipline and he delivered in the first game. Sure, it's against an FCS team and not a very good one at that, but since his controversial hiring, Graham continues to give off a positive impression. Now let's see what he can do the next two weeks against Illinois on Saturday and at Missouri on Sept. 15. Oh, and did anybody see that Pittsburgh-Youngstown State score? Just wondering how the post-Graham era started for the Panthers.
Questions for the week: The Pac-12 went 8-3 against a weak opening slate, with California, Colorado and Washington State losing and Arizona, Stanford and Washington playing tight games with what should have been overmatched foes. It was not an impressive opening weekend for the most part. Now the competition amps up considerably, with matchups with the SEC (Washington at LSU), Big 12 (Oklahoma State at Arizona), Big Ten (Illinois at Arizona State, Nebraska at UCLA, Wisconsin at Oregon State) and ACC (Duke at Stanford) and Big East (USC vs. Syracuse in East Rutherford, N.J.). The Pac-12 will be underdogs in four of those games. Is anyone capable of pulling an upset? And will the favorites all hold serve?