USC Trojans: Rose Bowl

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

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

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    30%
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    11%
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    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.

Trojans still coming to Pasadena 

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
9:00
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The Pac-12’s Stanford Cardinal and the Big Ten’s Michigan State Spartans have proven on the playing field that they belong in the 100th game of college football’s Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

However, when you think about Rose Bowls, it’s hard to ignore that the University of Southern California Trojans have appeared in 33 Rose Bowls, more than any college football team in the land.

It would have be a nice touch if the Trojans could have appeared in the 2014 Rose Bowl, but it wasn’t meant to be, even though the Men of Troy stunned Stanford, 20-17, in that memorable Coliseum game on Nov. 16.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
9:00
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If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

Click here for last week's Power Rankings.

1. Stanford: With the win over Notre Dame, Stanford defeated its sixth ranked opponent in a single season for the first time in school history. It also clinched its fourth straight 10-win season. The Cardinal had just three 10-win seasons all time before this streak. They have a chance to secure a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth on Saturday at Arizona State.

2. Arizona State: After blowing out Arizona, the Sun Devils have won seven in a row and are 7-0 at home this season with an average margin of victory of 28 points. If Stanford thinks the Pac-12 title game will be anything like the Sept. 21 game in Palo Alto, it will be in for a long night in Tempe on Saturday.

3. Oregon: The Ducks showed grit winning in the fourth quarter against Oregon State, but it's also fair to say that performance didn't look anything like the September-October squad that dominated on both sides of the ball during an 8-0 start. It seems likely Oregon will eclipse the loser of the Pac-12 title game for the Valero Alamo Bowl slot because of its national brand.

4. UCLA: UCLA's second consecutive win over USC means just what the Bruins and coach Jim Mora said afterward: They own L.A. It's also meaningful that they bounced back strong after the disappointing loss to Arizona State. Next challenge -- other than the bowl game -- is to dominate recruiting in Southern California.

5. USC: Here's a guess that the loss to UCLA likely leaves interim Ed Orgeron outside looking in as far as becoming the Trojans' next coach. Losing to both Notre Dame and the Bruins weighs down a résumé, no matter how much better the product was post-Lane Kiffin.

6. Washington: Steve Sarkisian and the Huskies got over the 7-6 hump with an eighth win in the Apple Cup. Win a bowl game and Sark and company will face a much more positive offseason compared to last year.

7. Washington State: Despite losing the Apple Cup, the Cougars are clearly on an uptick under Mike Leach. A bowl win, of course, would accelerate the upticker.

8. Arizona: It seemed as though the Wildcats used up their A-game in the upset win over Oregon. Rich Rodriguez has posted two solid seasons in Tucson, but going 0-2 versus the hated Sun Devils prevents Wildcats fans from feeling satisfied.

9. Oregon State: The Beavers' preseason worst-case scenario was the possibility of a major second-half slide. That came true, see five consecutive losses. This team needs a bowl game -- to win a bowl game -- just to wash the bad taste out of its mouth.

10. Utah: Lots of offseason questions for the Utes after a second-consecutive bowl-less season, but the chief one is at quarterback. Getting back to a bowl game in 2014 depends on it.

11. Colorado: Even while losing at Utah, it was clear that this team took a big step forward in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre. The Buffaloes darn near notched a huge comeback on the road, showing fight until the very end. A 4-8 season and 1-8 finish in Pac-12 play might not feel very good overall, but this team is much improved compared to 2012. Now, can it take a big step forward in 2014?

12. California: There is no where to go but up, and Sonny Dykes needs to make some tough calls on his staff. The Bears could energize their fan base with some recruiting wins, seeing that none of those came in Pac-12 play.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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Taking stock of Week 13 in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: Arizona played with near-perfect execution in all three phases while upending No. 5 Oregon 42-16. While the lead to that game was the Ducks' listless effort, the Wildcats deserve plenty of credit for getting after Oregon and closing the deal with authority. The win certainly thickened the plot for the Territorial Cup on Saturday against the Wildcats good buddies in Tempe.

[+] EnlargeSamajie Grant
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesReceiver Samajie Grant (three catches, 38 yards) and the Wildcats jumped all over Oregon early and routed the Ducks.
Best game: Arizona State looked like it was going to blow out UCLA. Then it looked like it was going to choke in the second half. Yet the Sun Devils pulled themselves together just in time and kept the Bruins out of the end zone on their final two possessions in a 38-33 victory. The Sun Devils are a Territorial Cup win away from playing host to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, which could yield the program's first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season.

Biggest play: UCLA faced a third-and-6 from the Arizona State 7-yard line with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, but QB Brett Hundley was sacked by Sun Devils LB Chris Young for a loss of 13 yards. Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, who beat Arizona State with a last-second field goal a year ago, then missed the 38-yard attempt that would have closed the gap to two points.

Offensive standout: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 206 yards and four TDs on 48 carries in the Wildcats' upset win over Oregon. It was his 14th consecutive 100-yard-plus rushing game, an active streak that now is tied for longest by an FBS player over the past 10 seasons (Jerome Harrison, 2004-05). His 48 carries is a new school record and the most so far this season by any FBS running back. He had just two negative yards. He became Arizona's career rushing leader with 3,913 yards, eclipsing Trung Canidate (1996-99). He also set a new school record for career touchdowns with 49, surpassing Art Luppino (1953-56).

Offensive standout II: Stanford WR Ty Montgomery scored five touchdowns in the Cardinal's blowout Big Game win over California. He rushed 31 yards for a score and had TD receptions of 50, 12, 72 and nine yards. He finished with five catches for 160 yards.

Defensive standout: Arizona State LB Chris Young had three sacks and a game-high 13 tackles (12 solo) in the Sun Devils' win at UCLA. The sacks cost the Bruins 27 yards, and two of them came on the Bruins' final two desperation possessions in the fourth quarter.

Defensive standout II: Washington CB Marcus Peters had six tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Huskies' blowout win at Oregon State.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Harry How/Getty ImagesArizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly was 20-of-27 for 225 yards and a touchdown in the Sun Devils' win over UCLA.
Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons was 2-of-2 on field goals with a long of 44 yards against Oregon State. He also was 9-of-9 on PATs and had three of his four punts killed inside the Beavers 20-yard line.

Smiley face: The state of Arizona: Both the Wildcats and Sun Devils posted impressive wins on Saturday, thereby making the Territorial Cup as meaningful as it has been in years.

Frowny face: The state of Oregon: Both the Ducks and Beavers posted embarrassing performances on Saturday, thereby making the Civil War the least meaningful it has been in years.

Thought of the week: It's great that the Pac-12 is deep. It's great to have nine bowl-eligible teams. But the most important take-away from the conference's late-season swoon in the national picture is this: THE NINE-GAME CONFERENCE SCHEDULE. If the SEC and ACC refuse to play nine conference games, the Pac-12 must -- absolutely must -- revert to an eight-game schedule as we move forward with the four-team playoff. It's simply not fair that on a weekend of major Pac-12 match-ups, most SEC teams are giving themselves a week off with cupcake foes.

Questions for the week: Will rivalry week produce any upset thunderclaps? If USC beats UCLA, that's a thunderclap because it would make Orgeron a frontrunner to become the Trojans' next permanent coach. If Arizona beats Arizona State, that's a thunderclap because the Wildcats would show they are certainly not yielding state dominance to the surging Sun Devils, who would have a much better shot at the Rose Bowl at home in the Pac-12 title game rather than at Stanford. If Washington State beats Washington, that's a thunderclap because Huskies fans might run out of patiences with Steve Sarkisian. If Oregon State beats Oregon, that's a thunderclap because Ducks fans would seriously start to question first-year coach Mark Helfrich. If Colorado beats Utah, that's a thunderclap because the Buffaloes would eclipse the Utes in the Pac-12 pecking order and make Kyle Whittingham's seat hot. And if Notre Dame beats Stanford, that's a thunderclap because the Fighting Irish would be crowned Pac-12 champions by the court of public opinion after also beating ASU and USC.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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Taking stock of Week 12 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: USC started with a great plan against Stanford. Then it played smart, disciplined football and executed that plan. And when Stanford looked like it was asserting itself, the Trojans persevered, making clutch plays at the end to beat the Cardinal 20-17. USC is now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, looking nothing like the sloppy, uninterested team from the beginning of the season.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee caught six passes for 83 yards in USC's upset win over Stanford.
Best game: On a mostly ho-hum weekend, USC-Stanford wasn't decided until the final moments. Moreover, the stakes were high. Stanford was knocked out of the lead spot in the North Division and the Trojans are now squarely in the South race.

Biggest play: Was it the athletic interception from freshman Su'a Cravens that set up the final USC drive? Or was it the fourth-and-2 completion from Cody Kessler to Marqise Lee for 13 yards to the Stanford 35-yard line on the game-winning drive? Or the 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari? Each was critical in the final turn toward USC in the fourth quarter.

Offensive standout: Colorado WR Paul Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards in the Buffaloes' 41-24 win over California, which gave them their first Pac-12 win since September 2012. Richardson broke the school’s single-season receiving record, eclipsing the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson. He sits at 1,201 receiving yards, which ranks second in the Pac-12.

Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had eight tackles, with four coming for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against USC. The Cardinal lost, but it sure wasn't Murphy's fault. He now leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (12) and tackles for a loss (18).

Defensive standout 2: Arizona State safety Robert Nelson had two interceptions -- one he returned 23 yards for a touchdown -- and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devils' 30-17 win over Oregon State. He also had five tackles.

Special teams standout: It has been a long season for Heidari, but he was the difference for the Trojans in their upset win over Stanford. He kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play that provided the winning margin. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal and was 2-for-2 on PATs.

Smiley face: We'd gush more about Orgeron's leadership at USC, but there at least needs to be a hat tip to Washington State and coach Mike Leach going to Tucson and grabbing a much-needed victory with some late-game heroics from QB Connor Halliday. His 25-yard TD pass to Isiah Myers for the tiebreaking touchdown with 2:15 to play gave the Cougars a 24-17 win, keeping their bowl hopes alive.

Frowny face: As impressive as USC's win over Stanford was, it probably wasn't very popular among 10 other Pac-12 teams. Oregon, of course, is thrilled. The Ducks now control their North Division destiny and Rose Bowl hopes. But Stanford's losing makes it unlikely the conference will have two BCS bowl teams, which means every conference team lost about $500,000 when the Cardinal went down. It will be the first time since 2009 conference ADs won't enrich their coffers with that extra check.

Thought of the week: Arizona State and UCLA have a recent history of disappointing their fans and falling short of expectations. But guess what? Both teams are 8-2 and ranked heading into their critical showdown Saturday. They are about where optimistic preseason expectations placed them after 10 games. Both have showed resolve under second-year head coaches. No matter who wins Saturday, both programs seem to be on a decided uptick.

Questions for the week: Who salvages their season? Several Pac-12 teams' seasons are on the brink, and two games in particular are of note: Washington visits Oregon State and Washington State plays host to Utah. As far as the Huskies and Beavers, the loser of that game will officially be able to call its season a disappointment. The Huskies would then face the specter of another 7-6 season -- or worse -- and that could make Steve Sarkisian's seat pretty hot. The Beavers would be set up to lose their final five regular-season games after a 6-1 start, pending the result of the Civil War against Oregon. Utah needs to win in order to keep its bowl hopes alive, and failing to reach a bowl game for a second consecutive year would have folks getting chippy in Salt Lake. The game is not a must-win for the Cougars' bowl hopes, but they'd probably rather not hang their hopes on the Apple Cup the following week.

Mailbag: Are Oregon fans the worst?

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
5:30
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Happy Friday -- hey, there's a game tonight!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Dave from Neverland writes: On Tuesday, John Canzano posted a letter he had purportedly received from a former Ducks player. This player outlined the abhorrent fan behavior he observed while sitting in the stands. There have been countless other stories about the wretched behavior of Ducks fans, not just at Autzen, but also other stadiums they visit. An article a few years back by one of your competitor websites surveyed fans and the survey concluded that Oregon fans are generally perceived as being the worst in the conference, by far. Reading the comments of the Canzano blog post, the fan comments seemed to substantiate the article. My question: Is the perception about Oregon fans aligned with reality? Are Oregon fans truly as awful as they are made out to be, or are we just hated because we win?

Ted Miller: I was asked about this in my Thursday chat, and my chief response was to deride the anonymity of the letter writer.

I stand by that. If you're going to attack something, you need to have the courage to step up and identify yourself. That, by the way, is not a slight on Canzano for posting the letter, only on its writer.

[+] EnlargeOregon fans
AP Photo/Don RyanAre Oregon fans worse than the rest of the Pac-12?
Are Oregon fans "truly as awful as they are made out to be or are we just hated because we win?"

The short answer is no, Ducks fans are not uniquely awful. At least, I find such a sociological oddity difficult to believe. That said, I am not an expert on this: As a sportswriter, I have not sat in the stands of a college football game since the early 1990s.

Oregon is going through an unprecedented run of winning. That inspires gloating. Lots of it. And plenty of entitlement, too. The stadium is packed and the program is rich. Rivals are jealous, and therefore easy and frequent targets -- in the stands or anywhere else. And, suddenly, a two-loss season sounds like a disaster and everyone is a football expert.

Even without siting in the stands, I have personally witnessed reprehensible fan behavior at just about every Pac-12 venue. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote about the near-riot in Martin Stadium after the controversial 2002 Apple Cup and some Washington State fans took exception, often by trying to rewrite the facts of what happened. So I know how things might be for Canzano now.

There are all sorts of fans and each of those sorts roots for every team. Some love cheering and bonding with family and friends. Some find comfort in wide-eyed zealotry, the my-team-right-or-wrong adherence that defies all reasonable counterargument.

As I've previously noted, there are two foundations for fandom: Those who derive most of their joy from rooting for something. And those who most enjoy rooting against something. The first group is looking for something with which to align themselves. The second group is looking for a villain.

Yes, the loudest voices in the Pac-12 blog comment section are typically the latter. And, yes, those often are the sort of fans who can ruin the game-day experience of even folks wearing the same colors.

My belief is that if Washington or Oregon State started winning at the same rate Oregon has for the past four-plus years, its fans would act the same, or at least be perceived to act the same.

Yet there is a clear takeaway from this that is a positive. Reasonable people should have the guts to stand up to bad fan behavior. Don't be a passive onlooker. If someone is acting like a jerk, you should: 1. Calmly and with a minimum amount of confrontation, tell him/her to settle down; 2. Get security.

And Oregon itself should remain as vigilant as possible when it comes to making sure that reasonable standards of behavior are enforced.


Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: There have been quite a few articles this week about "The Eye Test", and which two teams would be most deserving in a three or four-team race. For the sake of this question, let's assume that Oregon, Florida State and Alabama win out.Florida State seems to be getting quite a bit of hype relative to Oregon. Florida State certainly has history behind its program, including a national title, but has been off and on in the last few years. Many voters won't budge on Alabama (with the exception of the intelligent, educated few, such as those that blog for the Pac-12), the rationale being that until someone knocks them off, they deserve to be No. 1. So it seems that many pundits love Florida State THIS YEAR, right NOW, rather than taking the longer view. My question, then, is this: Should not the same logic apply to Oregon? Oregon has been ranked No. 2 much more frequently than Florida State, including last year's final rankings, and has certainly been more consistent. Six losses in four years, and never an NC State kind of upset. The Pac-12 is a tougher conference than the ACC. Why, then, is Oregon not the obvious choice as No. 2, the way Alabama seems to be the obvious choice as No. 1? Is it Oregon's supposed lack of pedigree, or is it the dreaded East Coast Bias?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

The "eye-test" debate, while always inspiring strong feelings across the country, is irrelevant the first weekend of November. Five weeks remain in the regular season, and Alabama, Florida State and Oregon will each need to then win their conference championship games to remain in the national title hunt.

Every year, we speculate on apocalyptic visions of, say, four unbeaten teams from AQ conferences -- who goes to the title game! And then at least two of those teams lose.

Let's at least wait until we reach late November before beginning the earnest lobbying for prioritizing the specific subjective distinction that favors your team.

Further, Oregon fans, while there's a lot of noise out there, the general consensus from long-time observers of the BCS process, is that if Oregon wins out, it will at least end up No. 2 in the final BCS standings. It could, in fact, end up No. 1 if the SEC continues to cannibalize itself.

The Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC, and it's unlikely voting patterns in the coaches and Harris polls will dramatically change if the present course is maintained.


Sad Cougar fan from Bellevue, Wash.,writes: Ted, real talk for a minute. After over a decade of misery, all Coug fans pointed to Leach as our hope. But after yet another Wulff-like performance from the team last night. They were outcoached in every phase of the game. Was our hope foolish? In today's NCAA,and today's Pac-12, do we honestly EVER have a shot at being relevant again? The glory years were a perfect storm. UW was bad, Oregon wasn't Oregon yet. Stanford wasn't Stanford yet, USC was just getting started. Honestly. We're never going to be good ever again are we? I am slipping into "mariners mindset?" Get excited for opening day, then stop caring by June.

Ted Miller: No question that was a dreadful performance against Arizona State. And it's been a bad three-week conference run since a 4-2 start inspired optimism.

However, yes, Washington State has a shot at being relevant again. In fact, I'm certain it eventually happen, whether that's about next year or seven years from now. How many programs have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997? It's simply a matter of getting the right players and the right coach together.

Sure, the euphoria after hiring Mike Leach has waned considerably. The mistake with that probably was believing he brought with him some magical elixir that immediately made the program bowl-eligible and then, shortly thereafter, Rose Bowl worthy.

Further, while most of us saw Leach inheriting an intriguing roster from Paul Wulff, he didn't share that view. Leach definitely has his own ideas about how to run a program and the sort of players he wants, in terms of both athletic ability and mental makeup. That he decided to mostly erase what was there and then re-draw from scratch his own plan is making the growing pains last longer. And be more painful.

This is only Year 2 with Leach. Feel free to feel bad. But don't panic yet.


Devin from Keizer, Ore., writes: What would it take for OSU to make it to the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the championship game?

Ted Miller: First, the Beavers need to win out -- other than the Civil War -- and finish 9-3 and earn at least a No. 14 ranking in the final BCS poll. That might require strong finishes from the remaining foes -- USC, Arizona State and Washington -- in order to boost the human and computer rankings.

Then there's the question of Stanford and the South Division contenders.

Stanford, at 10-2 with a win over Oregon State, would almost certainly be ranked higher. Even though the Cardinal played in the Rose Bowl last year, the bowl committee would go with Stanford. This is how the Pac-12 blog is presently projecting things. So Oregon State needs the Cardinal to lose again, at least a third game. Maybe a fourth.

As for the South teams, the Beavers could give themselves the edge over Arizona State with a head-to-head win. They don't play UCLA, so they should be rooting for the Sun Devils to beat the Bruins. The South champion also would pick up a loss in the Pac-12 title game, which would boost the Beavers.

A lot of things would have to fall into place. But Oregon State should start with a simple plan: Keep winning.


John from Dublin, Calif., writes: This week, everybody at ESPN has been making a big deal about how the Trojans have not fared well of late in Corvallis, and it's true. However, all these pundits seem to forget the Trojans' record vs. the Beavers in L.A.. Eisenhower was president the last time Oregon State won in the Coliseum. Why can't you guys give equal time to the Trojans' streak?

Ted Miller: I think the biggest reason is the game tonight is going to be played in Corvallis, not the Coliseum, which makes factoids about Oregon State-USC games played in the Coliseum less relevant.

But I promise that next year, we will note that Oregon State has not won at USC since 1960.


Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Eleanor Catton, author of the Luminaries, won the Man Booker prize at the age of 28. Are you excited for her, or sad for Jim Crace and Colm Toibin? Also: please tell Puddles that I can't take another heartbreak.

Ted Miller: Funny story. Went to buy "The Luminaries" the other day, at which point I discovered it was 828 pages. That, my friends, is an offseason read.

Good for Catton, though she might want to rethink lecturing the world about how she should be received.

If she really cares about unfairness, she should consider championing the great American male writers who have been unjustifiably slighted by the Swedish Academy when it awards the Nobel Prize to lesser-lights on an annual basis, most notably Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo.

And Puddles, after he stopped writing letters to Canzano, has been alerted.

Mailbag: Graham contract; Angry Badgers!

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
2:30
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Welcome to the week 4 mailbag. It will be done in sanskrit.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's this new Internet thing that just might work out.

To the notes!

Scott from Norfolk, Va., writes: Todd Graham really does seem like a great fit at ASU and he really did seem to bring about a very positive and much-needed cultural overhaul to the program. That said, doesn't his contract extension and raise seem a little premature? He's great so far, but "so far" is only 15 games, in which he's 10-5. Dennis Erickson was 12-3 in his first 15 games. I have to imaging this increases Graham's buyout (though I haven't seen direct mention of it, perhaps you can inform us as to whether that's true?), so isn't ASU unnecessarily limiting its options down the road here? Or am I overreacting and this is par for the course (and it's only fair that if coaches are now getting fired after two years they should also get raises on the same time scale)?

Ted Miller: I see this as a renewal of vows, Arizona State and Graham making it clear to everyone they are happy -- at present -- with each other (and let's also note the same can be said for AD Steve Patterson, whose contract was also extended).

Of course, we all know college contracts often end up getting broken, one way or another. A coach can leave for a big-money job, at which point the new school often picks up the buyout tab, or boosters can get so worked up about a surprising downturn that the school decides to eat the contract and move on. And, yes, sometimes extensions bite a school in the butt -- see Colorado with Dan Hawkins and Iowa with Kirk Ferentz, two coaches who got big-money extensions that proved too expensive to buy out when things went south.

This new contract isn't a big risk for either party. Graham's current contract runs through 2016, this new one runs through 2018. He wasn't given a 10-year deal that could expose Arizona State should the Sun Devils start losing two years from now. As for Graham, his buyout of $1.5 million isn't terribly big. Chip Kelly's buyout at Oregon was $3.5 million.

Another interesting detail, though, is Graham is forbidden from taking a Pac-12 job through the life of the former contract. If I were a Pac-12 AD, I 'd always try to get that written into a head coach's contract. It's a good way to protect program secrets. Not saying any Pac-12 program would ever have any.

But, yes, if Texas wanted to hire Graham, it could easily handle the buyout, even though this extension is intended to prevent Graham's name from getting aggressively thrown into the rumor mill.

Why now? Well, you might have noticed the rumor mill already is starting to grind. From the ASU perspective, just about everything Graham has done thus far with the Sun Devils has been positive, and that's not just about winning.

Kevin, as you know, spent a lot of time with Graham and his staff last week. I think the picture he paints is of a highly functioning coaching staff with a strong, driven, organized leader running the show.

I know media members aren't allowed to write nice things about Graham. Kevin's and my problem is we actually have spent enough time with him to actually know what we are talking -- and writing -- about.




Sam from Sammamish, Wash., writes: I am noticing some chippiness of late between long-time conference allies, the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. Here is a link to a story about Sark thinking on the fly about where to practice on Friday prior to the game in Chicago. What the story neglects to mention is Northwestern University decided to deny UW access to its practice fields less than 24 hours prior to arrival because it would give their Big Ten brethren Illinois an unfair disadvantage. Add this questionable gesture or lack thereof to the Wisconsin/ASU officiating debacle and methinks there may be some outright animosity building up?

Ted Miller: The Rose Bowl conferences are business partners, but that doesn't mean they aren't rivals who desperately want to win and claim superiority. That sometimes involves gamesmanship, which is what it appears Northwestern did in this instance.

Here's what coach Steve Sarkisian said on the matter:
“It’s an unfortunate situation. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of love lost right now between the Big Ten and Pac-12 right now, quite honestly, especially after the Arizona State-Wisconsin game. So it is what it is. Pat Fitzgerald and I exchanged some comments, and we’re fine. I don’t know where it’s going to go from a conference level. It was unfortunate, but in the end, I think it was a positive. It just kept lending to, there’s no distractions for us on this team. If we have to walk through the streets of Chicago to a park in downtown Chicago with a light pole in the middle of the field to practice, we’ll do it. And our guys didn’t skip a beat. It actually worked out really well for us. It’s not a big deal for us anymore. We’ve moved on.”

Oh, well. I've got a really high regard for Fitzgerald, so he gets a pass from me. Sark and Huskies fans might feel differently.

The bottom line is Washington beat Illinois 34-24 and the Pac-12 is 3-2 versus the Big Ten. So pffft to our friends from the Midwest.




Bill from Portland writes: What are the odds of USC and Texas meeting in the Holiday Bowl, and if they did, would those be some of the hottest hot seats in college football? P.S. How crazy is it that in the same year it is a good possibility that USC, Texas and Nebraska may be looking for new coaches at the same time?

Ted Miller: Those certainly are some A-list jobs that might open up by season's end. Suffice it to say, there's already plenty of chatter about how those potential openings might go.

It's certainly not that long of a shot that the Trojans and Longhorns could play in the Holiday Bowl -- or the Alamo Bowl for that matter -- for the first time since their epic national title game after the 2005 season, albeit in far different circumstances. Of course, both teams will need to climb a bit in their respective conference's pecking order to make it happen, particularly 1-2 Texas.

That said, I'm not sure either team would embrace the idea, though both would like an invitation to a quality bowl game. After all, the theme of most advance stories would be: Look how the mighty have fallen!




Lee from Ripon, Wisconsin writes: You are so incredibly stupid it is beyond belief. To compare a judgment call (pass interference) with a failure of the game officials to call a play by the rules defies basic logic. Of course basic logic is obviously beyond you. But when you make statements that are factually incorrect, you really display your stupidity. The Pac-12 is the only major conference that uses officials from its league for home nonconference games. The other conferences have the game officials in essence travel with the visiting team. The game officials that worked the ASU at Wisconsin game in 2010 were from the Pac-12. The referee was the same individual who worked the Ohio State at Cal game Saturday night. It was NOT a Big Ten official who missed the pass interference call that you are basing your fallacious argument on; it was a Pac-12 official. If you weren't so fricking lazy you would have checked this out prior to making a factually incorrect statement; it is called research. I will be sending this email to the president of ESPN and suggest that they fire your sorry butt. An individual too fricking lazy to do basic research and as a result base an "argument" (what you stated doesn't meet the definition of a sound argument, but obviously the explanation of what qualifies as a sound argument is way beyond your severely limited mental capacity) isn't qualified to be a sports reporter. You aren't even qualified to be a dog catcher, or a member of the Bush cabinet. Hell, you aren't even qualified to be a Pac-12 football game official.

Ted Miller: Thank you for your interest in the Pac-12 blog. We value your input. Please press one for customer service, two for new accounts ...

Lee, you are correct. I am stupid and lazy. That has never been so clear until this week when many Wisconsin fans showed up to help become smarter-er. But, to be honest, your world of Badger sophistication frightens and confuses me. I read "factually incorrect" and I want to bury my face into my blankie. I read "fricking lazy" and "research" and I want to know, "Where did these highfalutin concepts get created... The Kollege Klub?"

But there is one thing I do know.

That referee Bill LeMonnier led a Big Ten crew on Sept. 18, 2010 inside Camp Randall Stadium for Arizona State's visit to Wisconsin.

I guess I'm just lucky my computer is connected to the Internet-S.




Don from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: Ted --Please pass this on to Kevin -- seems every time I try and click on "send email to Kevin" it displays your smiling face. Is this part of your evil scheme?I wanted to commend Kevin on his very fine profile of Todd Graham. It was well written, informative and unflinching. As a Stanford fan, and Stanford having not played ASU since 2010, I had kind of lost track of the program (although certainly the Graham hire made news). So with the game coming up this week, it was time to get into Graham and the program a bit, and Kevin's piece filled out everything very nicely. Pac-12 blog rocks!

Ted Miller: I have many evil schemes. This is not one of them, though now I'm sort of wishing it were. A guy can never have too many evil schemes, right?

Yet just two seconds ago, I was gazing at Kevin's Clooney-esque mug.

Did you click here? There are two places to send your Pac-12 mail, one to me and one to Kevin.

Typically, if you are angry and want to insult us, those notes should go to Kevin. If you want to write how great the Pac-12 blog is, those notes go to me.




Jesse from Portland writes: I know of your long gripe with the word, "Natty." However, an Oregon player first invented that word. And since it has gone global in it's usage, though originating in Oregon, we claim that word. If you actually took the time to visit every single sports forum and blog, you would quickly see that this word is used by every single fan nationally describing the NCG. It has become a universal word and has so for three years now. Get with the times. You are getting old. The only people who hate that word are Oregon haters, cause they know a Duck invented it. And because it was first invented by a Oregon player, we are NOT going to to stop using that word, not now, not ever! We are the only Pac-12 team to go to a Natty in the last eight years. And we are projected to make another one this year. So we have every right to use that word. So Natty, Natty, Natty, wish you were at the Natty. Natty is here to stay. Both now, forever and into all time. It is a Oregon thing, going to a Natty. And unless you are a Duck, you just cannot understand. You Natty old reporters ... don't like the Natty? Well ... go Duck yourself then. Natty times are here to stay!

Ted Miller: (A sigh ... and then a slow clap ... everyone in the coffee shop slowly stands and joins in).

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.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 13

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
10:00
AM PT
Taking stock of Week 13 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Quick: Name the team that you saw as a certainty to lose this past weekend. Washington State, right? The Cougars were 2-9, mired in controversy, and their best defensive player, OLB Travis Long, was out with an injury. Further, rival Washington was riding high, having won four games in a row. And when the Huskies took an 18-point lead into the fourth quarter, that certainty felt confirmed. Heck, the Pac-12 blog even tweeted a postmortem, declaring the Cougs dead. But despite all that was against them, the Cougars rose up and won. Kudos, particularly to the seniors, who end their careers on a high note.

Best game: The Apple Cup was exciting -- it went to overtime -- but it was terribly sloppy. No. 1 Notre Dame's 22-13 win over USC, while certainly not elegantly played by the Trojans, was a high-stakes affair that wasn't resolved until the waning moments of the fourth quarter. While Notre Dame was seemingly in control throughout, USC's offensive talent made it seem as though things could change quickly. The Fighting Irish stopped USC eight straight times inside the 10-yard line with 2:33 left to ice the game, which was pretty darn dramatic (though USC fans might use another term).

Biggest play: With less than six minutes left and the score tied at 27, Arizona lined up to punt from its 15-yard line. The Wildcats already had lost momentum, allowing a 10-point lead to slip away, but there was no reason it couldn't swing back their way. Unless they gave up a blocked punt, which they did. Kevin Ayers got the block, and it was recovered at the Arizona 8-yard line. A TD run from Cameron Marshall later, the Sun Devils took a lead they'd never relinquish.

[+] EnlargeReggie Dunn
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireUtah's Reggie Dunn runs into the end zone after his one 100-yard TD kickoff return late in the fourth quarter against Colorado.
Defensive standout: Arizona State LB Brandon Magee, a Pac-12 blog favorite, collected a career-high 17 tackles -- 14 solos -- with three coming for a loss in the Sun Devils' win over Arizona.

Defensive standout II: Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas, who has had a better season than his overall numbers indicate, was dominant against UCLA, recording two sacks in the win over the Bruins.

Offensive standout: It hasn't been the scintillating year many projected for Oregon WR/RB De'Anthony Thomas, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, but he came through big for the Ducks when they needed him in the Civil War. With Kenjon Barner banged up, Thomas turned in his best game of the season, rushing for 122 yards on 17 carries with three touchdowns. TD runs of 5 and 29 yards in the third quarter transformed a close game into a blowout.

Special-teams standout: Utah's Reggie Dunn quite simply has posted the best season a college football kick returner has ever had. In the win over Colorado, just after the Buffs tied the game with a 100-yard kickoff return, Dunn went 100 yards for a score on the ensuing kickoff, providing the winning points. It was the fourth time this season and fifth time in his career Dunn has gone 100 yards for a touchdown on a kick return. Both are NCAA records.

Special-teams standout II: Washington State kicker Andrew Furney came up big in the Cougs' come-from-behind Apple Cup win. He tied the game with a 45-yard field goal and won it in overtime with a 21-yard kick. On the night, he was 3-for-3.

Smiley face: It was reasonable to wonder how Stanford might react at UCLA after its emotional, hard-fought win at Oregon. But the Cardinal were efficient, businesslike and dominant on both sides of the ball against a very good Bruins team. I'd bet if you asked the SEC champion which team it wouldn't want to play for the national title, Stanford might be the first team mentioned.

Frowny face: Late in the fourth quarter and holding a nine-point lead, Notre Dame stopped USC eight straight times inside the 10-yard line. First, you give credit to Notre Dame, which plays outstanding defense. Then you acknowledge that Lane Kiffin's play calling at this crucial moment was ... terrible, as L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke wrote in detail here.

Thought of the week: With the Rose Bowl berth on the line, UCLA gets a second crack at Stanford on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game. With just six days separating that and their regular-season game, how might this matchup look different? Did the Bruins save some schematic ideas? Remember: UCLA already had won the South Division. With Oregon's win over Oregon State, the Cardinal needed to win at UCLA to earn the Pac-12 North Division crown. The Bruins' stakes were much lower: pride. If you're one for realpolitik in college football, a win Saturday would have sent the Bruins to boisterous Autzen Stadium for the Pac-12 title game. UCLA's chances to get to the Rose Bowl might be better at Stanford than they would have been at Oregon.

Questions for the week: Who had Stanford and UCLA as their North and South Division winners in August? Anyone? Anyone? I can't recall a published prediction picking either. But I now have written a post-it note that is now stuck to my desk: "There are no sure things. There are no sure things. Never forget." Of course, you know I will forget this.

Pac-12 at center of final mad scramble

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
12:30
PM PT
The Pac-12 takes center stage this week with two of the three matchups of ranked teams, and both games are chock full of national intrigue.

No. 2 Oregon plays host to No. 13 Stanford with the Pac-12 North Division on the line (mostly). The Ducks, of course, are fighting for a berth in the national title game, but first they want to secure home-field advantage for the Pac-12 championship game on Nov. 30.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
AP Photo/Nick LuceroThe annual rivalry game with USC will have more than bragging rights at stake this season for coach Jim Mora and UCLA.
And No. 18 USC visits No. 17 UCLA with the South Division on the line (completely). The Battle for L.A. is once again relevant, with the Bruins and first-year coach Jim Mora having a chance to reverse a decade of negative momentum with one big Saturday statement.

The other game with ranked teams? No. 23 Texas Tech at No. 24 Oklahoma State. Neh.

Stanford will be the highest-ranked opponent that Oregon has faced thus far this season, but the Ducks have owned the Cardinal of late. Not only have the Ducks won nine of the past 10 games in the series, they've scored 105 points combined in the past two games while winning each by more than 20 points.

Stanford, however, controls its own destiny just like Oregon. If it beats the Ducks, and then finishes its season with a win at UCLA, it wins the North. If Stanford beats Oregon but loses to UCLA, and the Ducks also go down at Oregon State, the Cardinal would win the North Division because it would have head-to-head victories over both the Ducks and Beavers.

As for USC-UCLA, the Trojans have dominated the series of late, winning five straight and 12 of the past 13. All five victories during the current winning streak have been by at least 14 points, including a 50-0 bludgeoning last season. UCLA’s last win in the series came in 2006 when they upset the Trojans 13-9 at home.

This showcase weekend is a seeming climax for an interesting year for the Pac-12. For one, the conference has joined the SEC and the Big 12 as the nation's dominant leagues, with decisive superiority -- 17 members of the present BCS standing's top 25 -- compared to other "AQ conferences." Six of 12 Pac-12 teams are ranked in the BCS standings. For the Big 12, it's five of 10, and the SEC features not just six of 14 but six in the top 9.

Yet it's possible for the first time in three years the Pac-12 won't get a second BCS bowl team, which would dock the conference's 2012-13 bowl payout by about $6.1 million, or $508,333 per team. Just to be eligible, a second team must be ranked in the final top 14 of the BCS standings. Further complicating matters is Notre Dame. If Oregon earns a berth in the national title game, more than a few projections have the Rose Bowl picking Notre Dame -- undefeated or with one loss -- over a three-loss Pac-12 team.

Still, there's enough football left complicating potential scenarios that the speculation is mostly an academic exercise at present, not unlike guessing who-done-it two-thirds of the way through a mystery novel.

As for the rest of the Pac-12, things also are intriguing. Seven teams are already bowl eligible, and only three -- California, Colorado and Washington State -- are guaranteed losing records. To become bowl eligible, Arizona State needs to win one of its final two games -- Washington State and at Arizona -- and Utah needs to win both its final two -- Arizona and at Colorado.

If the conference has eight or even nine bowl eligible teams, things could get interesting. For one, the conference's seven contracted bowls have plenty of flexibility for choosing teams. There figures to be some politicking among conference teams. And, perhaps, some hurt feelings. Further, the 6-6 teams at the end of the bowl pecking order likely will be scrambling free agents, ending up in bowl games you probably haven't paid any attention to before.

This should be the best weekend of the Pac-12 season so far. It may provide further clarity. Or it might just thicken the plot.

USC looks to rebound against Oregon

October, 30, 2012
10/30/12
9:00
AM PT
There is a lot on the line as USC gets ready to take on Oregon on Saturday at the Coliseum. The game may not have national title implications for both sides, but there is still plenty at stake in terms of the Pac-12 title and a potential Rose Bowl berth.

Chip Kelly
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA USC win over Chip Kelly's high-powered Ducks will go a long way toward easing the pain from last week's Arizona loss.

As much as the loss to Arizona stung the Trojans last weekend, the reality is that USC still controls its destiny for a berth in the conference title game. Right now, the Trojans are one of three teams in the Pac-12 South with two conference losses, and it just so happens the other two teams (Arizona State and UCLA) are on the USC schedule following Oregon.

If the Trojans can get by the Ducks -- and then get wins over the Sun Devils and Bruins -- it would possibly give USC home-field advantage for the conference title game. A victory in that game would then propel USC into a New Year’s Day berth at the Trojans’ home away from home, the Rose Bowl.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Well, of course, it isn’t. Not by a long shot. But just because it isn’t simple doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, it would represent one of the best finishes in USC history, especially if it also included a victory over unbeaten Notre Dame at the Coliseum.

Let’s face it: Very little about this season has been easy. The Trojans were expected to be a smooth-running machine with so many starters returning from a team that was on the rise at the end of last season. Through the first two months of 2012, however, there have been an unexpected number of sputtering moments mixed in with some bouts of inspired play. There have also been penalties and mental lapses fans just didn’t see coming from such a veteran group.

Even with all that, the Trojans still have a chance. And the scheduling gods didn’t mess around either, as the Ducks are next up and they have been as good as advertised.

Oregon has taken the Trojans’ spot atop the Pac-12 mountain in recent years, but there were legitimate questions coming into the season. The Ducks had lost stars at quarterback and running back -- players who had seen a lot of success -- and there was uncertainty about their replacements.

It’s a tribute to Oregon coach Chip Kelly’s system that the Ducks haven’t skipped a beat with the new starters. When you add a defense as good as any Oregon has put on the field in recent years, you have a team that has emerged as one of the favorites to reach the national title game. How perfectly did the stars align to have the Ducks visit the Coliseum at a time when the Trojans need a really big win?

Last year, USC’s victory over the Ducks was a huge step for a program looking to reclaim a place among the nation’s elite. This year, the result could make an even bigger statement on the direction of the program.

A victory for the Trojans would be a special start to a November march toward a Rose Bowl berth that would be a fitting ending for this team. A loss? Well, a loss puts this season in a place that no USC fan wants it to go. This much we know: The Ducks are coming to town on Saturday and the Trojans are going to need to be ready.


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.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley, Lane Kiffin
Matt Kartozian/US Presswire"There are plays in every game that haunt you," USC coach Lane Kiffin said -- and quarterback Matt Barkley, left, agreed.
All USC needed to do was get a quick stop on defense. It didn't. The Wildcats got two first downs, forced USC to burn its final two timeouts and left Barkley and company with just 55 seconds from their 13-yard line to make a miracle comeback.

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.

Best Pac-12 atmospheres in 2011

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
10:23
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I get paid to go to football games. It beats digging ditches for a living.

Some games, however, are better than others, mostly because of the location and magnitude of the game. So here are my top-six game-day environments from 2011.

1. Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin: Not much to say here. It's the Rose Bowl. All the other ESPN.com bloggers are doing lists, but they are playing for No. 2 because the Rose Bowl is the most righteous sports atmosphere in all the world. Other than the World Cup final.

2. Stanford at USC, Oct. 29: An instant classic. Two high-quality teams with super-elite quarterbacks going blow for for blow until it was decided in Stanford's favor in triple-overtime. And with 93,607 on hand, it was an old-school crowd at the Coliseum.

3. Oregon vs. LSU, Cowboys Stadium: Cowboys Stadium is the ultimate statement of sporting excess, which is to say it's awesome. And this was a rare season-opener matching top-five teams from the two best conferences over the past decade or so. And it would have been a good game if we could have made the third quarter disappear, eh Ducks?

4. Arizona State at Oregon, Oct. 15: Went to Autzen Stadium three times this season, and this was the best atmosphere. Crowd of 60,055 was a stadium record, and they were thrilled when backup quarterback Bryan Bennett came off the bench for an injured Darron Thomas to lead the Ducks to 17 unanswered points in a come-from-behind 41-27 win.

5. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 11: I did not attend this game, but here's what Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmel had to say: "The Cardinal faithful packed Stanford Stadium for arguably the biggest game in school history that ultimately ended with a resounding thud. The pregame atmosphere was phenomenal. But as it became more apparent the Cardinal were not going to win, the once excitable, sellout crowd became placid and subdued. Great atmosphere, but only for about a quarter and change."

6. Missouri at Arizona State, Sept. 9: Many have forgotten how well the Sun Devils started the season. This 37-30 overtime win on ESPN was played in front of a packed house at Sun Devil Stadium -- 70,236 -- and just about everyone was wearing black for a "blackout." Might have been quarterback Brock Osweiler's best game.
Breathe, USC fans, breathe.

In fact, I'd suggest you ignore what happened Tuesday with Ohio State and its slap on the wrist from the NCAA for a massive systemic breakdown and a coverup by head coach, Jim Tressel.

Yes, when you hold up the Ohio State case and the USC case, it's impossible not to conclude the Ohio State case was far more severe. It was, of course, without question. No informed, objective person believes differently.

[+] EnlargeUSC Trojans
Kirby Lee/US PresswireTrojans fans spell out the word playoffs, but there won't be any postseason play for USC this season.
But here's the thing: Being outraged will accomplish nothing. You will be unhappy and your team will still be docked 30 scholarships over the next three years for what one player secretly did while Ohio State will be down just nine scholarships over the same time period for the rule-breaking of five with full knowledge of their head coach. And your unhappiness will provide great joy to folks who don't like your team.

Adopting a placid pose — at least as best as you can — will be good practice for handling potentially more infuriation ahead. The NCAA also likely will give even worst upcoming cases — North Carolina and the University of Miami at Paul Dee — less severe penalties than it gave USC.

Why? Because the NCAA treated USC unfairly — everybody in college sports knows this — and it likely won't revisit such irrational harshness. In the end, the justification for such severe penalties, meted out in contrast to past precedent, was little more than "just because."

But the NCAA, an organization not endowed with a sense of self-awareness, failed to foresee when it curb-stomped USC that among the lawbreakers in college football, the Trojans were jaywalkers amid a mob of bank robbers. Ohio State's sanctions, in fact, represent a return to NCAA normalcy: Mostly toothless penalties that will have little effect on the program's prospects, other than a single-season bowl ban.

There we go again: Fretting the particulars and the injustice of it all.

The point is USC fans have been quite reasonably been shaking their fists at the heavens or, more accurately, the NCAA home office in Indianapolis for two years. That anger has accomplished nothing, other than emboldening taunts from opposing fans.

You know: Fans whose teams didn't finish 10-2 and ranked No. 5 in the nation.

And therein lies the ultimate revenge: Winning.

It's hard to imagine the next five years won't see a USC downturn. Losing 30 scholarships is a tough burden. Things could be particularly difficult in 2014 and 2015, when the true cumulative impact arrives. And it could be even more galling if Ohio State is back in the national title hunt those years. Maybe playing Miami in a Fiesta Bowl rematch!

But if the Trojans can somehow remain in the picture, perhaps playing in a Rose Bowl -- or two -- along the way that would be a heck of a panacea, wouldn't it?

It's a longshot, sure. But other than that, we've got nothing for you USC. Sorry.

Easy, now. Breathe, breathe. Happy place. Happy place.

Oh, no. That's exactly what we were trying to avoid.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 13

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
7:19
AM PT
Issues to consider heading into the 13th week of games.

Is QB Matt Barkley going to put on a big show in his final game at USC? Or is this not going to he Barkley's last game at USC? In any event, UCLA's only chance to win this game is if Barkley is off, which he hasn't been of late. And, if Barkley throws another four TD passes or so, does he deserve some Heisman Trophy consideration? Or at least, does he have a chance to steal All-Pac-12 first-team honors from Andrew Luck?

[+] EnlargeUSC's Matt Barkley
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIREWould another big game from Matt Barkley make him a Heisman finalist?
Andrew Luck answers his critics: Notre Dame is always a big show, so if Andrew Luck turns in a big-time performance after a couple of shaky -- read: merely good -- outings, it's likely he gets his Heisman Trophy campaign back on track. The Irish defense is good enough to challenge Stanford. Barring Oregon losing the Civil War, this will be Luck's last game in Stanford Stadium. Will he put on a show?

Does Oregon State have any chance in the Civil War? Oregon is a four-TD favorite over Oregon State. The Ducks appear headed to a third consecutive Pac-12 title and BCS bowl game, while the Beavers are headed toward a second-consecutive losing season. That combination has Oregon State fans a tad grumpy. So, can the Beavers come into Autzen Stadium and challenge the Ducks? It will take a perfect game. But Oregon State's beating Washington last weekend showed that the Beavers still have some fight and can't be completely written off.

Does Arizona State have any fight left? Speaking of teams with dubious fight, there's Arizona State. The Sun Devils collapse has been odd because their three consecutive embarrassing losses, nonetheless, haven't stopped this from being true: The Sun Devils are still in the Rose Bowl hunt. If Arizona State wins and UCLA loses and Utah wins this weekend, the Sun Devils win the South Division and play for the Pac-12 title on Dec. 2. But after three consecutive defeats, it doesn't appear the Sun Devils care much. Maybe they will be motivated by the 50-17 humbling they suffered at Cal last season. Or maybe they'll just wake up and play up to their capabilities. Or maybe they'll just stink it up and watch coach Dennis Erickson walk away.

John White, John White, John White: At this moment, you could make an argument that Utah running back John White is the best running back in the Pac-12. Yes, better than Oregon's LaMichael James and better than Washington's Chris Polk. White leads the conference with 1,377 yards rushing and is second with 14 TDs, ahead of both James and Polk. Anyway, suffice it to say, White is really good even though the opposing defense knows White is coming because the Utes don't throw much. Colorado has the worst run defense in the conference. That's trouble. Two hundred rushing yards for White might guarantee him first-team All-Pac-12 status.

Nick Holt vs. Marshall Lobbestael: Washington's defense was supposed to be good this year. It hasn't been. Nick Holt is the Pac-12's highest paid defensive coordinator not named Monte Kiffin. Marshall Lobbestael is Washington State's No. 3 QB. He started the season as Jeff Tuel's backup, played well while Tuel was hurt, then was displaced by talented freshman Connor Halliday. But both Tuel and Halliday are hurt for the game, and the gritty Lobbestael now faces Holt's defense. Who wins?

Arizona reaction on Rodriguez week: Arizona notched a huge win over rival Arizona State last weekend. It was emotional and surely satisfying during a lost season. But now the Wildcats have to get up for another game against Louisiana-Lafayette. How will the Wildcats respond after an emotional win, playing against an opponent that won't inspire much awe, but one that is -- oh, by the way -- 8-3. Will there be any reaction to the hiring of Rich Rodriguez? The Wildcats new coach is watching, and he likely will raise an eyebrow at players who step up. And those who don't.

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