USC Trojans: Heisman Trophy

Top Pac-12 players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
9:00
AM PT
Our list of the top 25 players in the Pac-12 concludes.

No. 5: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly

2013 stats: Completed 62.4 percent of his throws for 3,635 yards with 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, giving him an adjusted QBR of 74.2, which ranked 24th nationally. He also rushed 173 times for 608 yards and nine touchdowns.

Why he's ranked here: There was some disagreement at the end of last season about who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback. Kelly won the official Pac-12 vote with the coaches, and that means a lot. It also helps that he is the quarterback of the defending South Division champion. Further, you have to love his story. Nothing has been given to Kelly. In the spring of 2012, he was little more than an afterthought, ranking third in the Sun Devils' quarterback competition. You have to be mentally tough to emerge from that sort of deficit. He has earned his spot by fighting like crazy to win the job, to lead his team well and, finally, to become an A-list quarterback worthy of national attention. He has a chance to play his way into a solid spot in the NFL draft too. As for this season, Kelly has a lot coming back on offense and, because of the Sun Devils' questionable defense, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell figures to set him free as a third-year starter.

No. 4: Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

2013 stats: Ekpre-Olomu was second on the Ducks with 84 tackles. He had five tackles for a loss to go with three interceptions and nine passes defended. He also forced a fumble.

Why he's ranked here: Ekpre-Olomu might be the best cornerback in the nation. He earned All-American honors last season and is pretty much a unanimous 2014 preseason All-American. He is not expected to last too far into the first round of the 2015 NFL draft, and truth be told, it was a bit of a surprise he stuck around for another season because he likely would have been a first-round pick last spring. It will be interesting to see if he sees much action on his side of the field this season, considering he is the lone returning starter in the Ducks' secondary. His numbers might not wow you, but opposing coaches will start their Monday meetings by drawing a line down one third of the field and saying, "Ifo is here, so we're throwing over here."

No. 3: UCLA QB Brett Hundley

2013 stats: Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 748 yards and 11 scores.

Why he's ranked here: Kelly-Hundley, Hundley-Kelly -- based on last season, Kelly should nip his buddy from UCLA. But Hundley ends up at No. 3 because of projection. He is simply overbrimming with talent. He's big, strong, smart, charismatic, etc. Outside of Johnny Manziel, no one has more scramble yards in the past two seasons than Hundley (per ESPN Stats & Information). Though there are parts of his game that didn't completely arrive in 2013 -- still more feared as a runner than downfield passer and still takes too many sacks -- those were delays, not cancellations. Hundley also has a stacked supporting cast. The Bruins are the favorite in the Pac-12 South, a preseason top-10 team and a dark horse national title contender. If UCLA surges, Hundley almost certainly will become a top Heisman Trophy candidate.

No. 2: USC DT Leonard Williams

2013 stats: Williams was second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, tied with Devon Kennard for the team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.

Why he's ranked here: Williams, a 2013 first-team ESPN.com All-American, is the consensus pick as the nation's best returning defensive lineman. He could be the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft, and he's almost certainly not going to last past the top 10 picks. Former USC coach Ed Orgeron called him the best defensive lineman he's ever coached, and Orgeron's defensive line résumé is deep. Williams has great length and athleticism and surprising power. He is the centerpiece of what might be the Pac-12's best defense. Last season, he was the lone sophomore semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player, and he is likely to be a finalist for just about every award for which he is eligible.

No. 1: Marcus Mariota

2013 stats: Mariota completed 63.5 percent of his passes for 3,665 yards with 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also rushed for 715 yards and nine touchdowns.

Why he's ranked here: Surprise! Bet you didn't see this coming, considering Mariota finished No. 1 on this list in 2012 and 2013. This was the easiest spot to fill on this list, perhaps the only easy spot by the way. Why? Mariota might be the best quarterback and player in the nation. In the 2014 Heisman Trophy race, he is option 1A besides Florida State's Jameis Winston, who won it last year but has significant character issues. Mariota opted to return and get his degree -- yes, he is taking a light class load this fall because he doesn't need any more credits -- and instantly made the Ducks (again) the Pac-12 favorite and a national title contender. The biggest question of the 2013 season was what might have happened if Mariota didn't suffer a knee injury before playing at Stanford. Pre-injury, he had 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions; post-injury, 11 touchdowns and four picks. All nine of his rushing touchdowns came before he partially tore his MCL. Despite that injury, Mariota led an offense that averaged 45.5 points per game last season -- tops in the Pac-12 and fourth in the nation -- in a very good defensive conference. While his speed and production as a runner is impossible to ignore, what separates him is his passing ability. He was No. 1 in the Pac-12 in efficiency and No. 1 in the nation in ESPN’s adjusted QBR rating. He set an Oregon single-season record with 4,380 total yards. He also set a Pac-12 record by attempting 353 consecutive passes without an interception. Though character isn't much of a factor on this list -- the Pac-12 is fortunate that it didn't see much of that weigh down the offseason -- Mariota's is difficult to ignore. St. Marcus of Eugene seems likely to be in New York in December.
It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.

UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.

Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.

Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.

USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.

Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.

California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.

WE'LL SEE

Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.
Eight Pac-12 players were named first-team preseason All-Americans by Athlon's on Monday, while 11 others were named to the other three teams.

Oregon, Stanford and USC each had a pair of first-team selections. The Ducks were represented by center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford's pair was OT Andrus Peat and kick returner Ty Montgomery, while USC was represented by WR Nelson Agholor and DT Leonard Williams.

The other two first-team selections were UCLA LB Myles Jack and Washington LB Shaq Thompson.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, the Pac-12's top Heisman Trophy candidate was second-team behind FSU's Jameis Winston, who won the trophy last year.

On the third team were three defenders: UCLA LB Eric Kendricks, USC LB Hayes Pullard and Washington DT Danny Shelton. Agholor also was named a punt returner, so he got two spots.

On the fourth team: Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong, Oregon State C Isaac Seumalo and USC O-lineman Max Tuerk, who was listed as a guard even though he plays center. Stanford safety Jordan Richards was fourth team with the defense, while Utah kicker Andy Phillips was a fourth-team specialist.
Welcome to the Friday mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter here.

And you can follow my personal Twitter feed here... if you dare.

To the notes!

Clarence from Cincinnati writes: Ted, The blog is very well run, but I feel you all are very conservative on your predictions and forecasts. What is a prediction of yours for this upcoming season from left field? For me, I see a 6-0 start for Colorado and a bowl win (I am not a Colorado fan). Also, with the conference being so deep and the possibility of another two-loss conference champ being relatively high, do you see a two-loss Pac-12 champ still making the playoff?

Ted Miller: Gemmell, chilling on vacation in an undisclosed, beachside location, just sent a bite of his fish taco skyward toward the Pacific Ocean after reading that I am "very conservative."

So you want some predictions from out of left field?
  • The SEC won't win the national championship for the second consecutive season.
  • That's because Oregon and Heisman Trophy-winning QB Marcus Mariota will go undefeated. As in 15-0.
  • UCLA will not make the College Football Playoff because of two losses to the Ducks.
  • Either Oregon State or Washington State is going to win nine games this season.
  • Seven Pac-12 teams will finish ranked in the final AP poll.
  • By signing day 2015, the Pac-12 will have two new head coaches.
  • At some point, the Pac-12 blog will be wrong.

I know. That last one is nuts.


Matthew from Tempe, Ariz., writes: I'm a huge ASU fan, and student at ASU. I'm only 19 years old but I attended my first ASU game at two months old and I've witnessed 20 seasons. I read your articles and I love what you have to say, but I'm just curious about your response to Todd Graham's nephew. I think it's an interesting article, but I just wonder if you and other analysts are downplaying what Todd Graham has done. I see here you say he inherited much more talent than Rich Rod, but I don't know if I agree with that. I think he inherited an undersized defense and he built it into what it has become. He took Will Sutton, who was a head case on and off the field, and straightened him out. I remember flashes of Sutton during his freshman year, but he just couldn't figure out his head, and I think Graham deserves credit there. I also think Graham has recruited juco players, size, speed, and defense, where Rich Rod has recruited very few defensive players (according to the ESPN recruiting services). As such a big fan of ASU, U of A hasn't had offensive problems over the past few years, they just don't play defense and to be honest, I was scratching my head when U of A went with Rich Rod because his defense was so pathetic at Michigan. I think both coaches have done a great job at their positions, but I don't understand why ESPN is so anti-Todd Graham and ASU.

Ted Miller: I stand by what I wrote last week. Most objective observers would agree that Todd Graham inherited more talent at Arizona State than Rich Rodriguez inherited at Arizona.

That doesn't take anything away from how well Graham coached his players. In fact, you could make the argument that Graham coached his team better overall, and he deserves a tip of the cap for going 2-0 against Rodriguez. You could even argue that he's recruited better, though two years doesn't define a coach as a recruiter.

That said, if you were scratching your head when Arizona hired Rodriguez, well, I have a hard time believing that. It was a home run hire, period. There were a variety of reasons he didn't do well at Michigan -- a significant portion of those being out of his hands -- but the chief one, at least to me, was his not convincing his West Virginia defensive coordinator, Jeff Casteel, to follow him to Ann Arbor.

To support this point, let's consider the Arizona and Arizona State defenses last year. The Wildcats yielded fewer points per game (24.2 vs. 26.6) and yards per play (5.3 vs. 5.5) than the Sun Devils, despite having zero first-team or second-team All-Pac-12 performers on that side of the ball. The Sun Devils had six.

Yes, Arizona State played a much tougher schedule, particularly on the nonconference side of things. But the Wildcats held Oregon to a season-low 16 points.

I agree with this: Both coaches have done a great job (so far). It will be interesting to see how things stack up in the next five years, but both schools should enjoy their growing Pac-12 and national relevance.

Graham probably will never win over all his critics, and that includes fans, media and carping competing coaches. He's a fast-talking guy who's moved around a lot and has a reputation as being hard to work for.

But what I've realized in the past two years is he's one of the most authentic coaches out there. I actually "get along" with some coaches better, but I also know they, on occasion, are working me over. Graham, on the other hand, is always working me over. He's 100 percent consistent.

Graham's garrulousness that sometimes makes him seem like a used-car salesman? That's who he is. It's not an act. He's like that off the record. He's like that with a recruit's family. He's like that when he eats lunch with his assistant coaches. He's never low-key. He's always working, always competing. He is a driven, hungry son of a gun. My impression is he genuinely means what he says -- at least more than most coaches do -- and that includes trying to do things right, on the field and off.

Observing that Graham inherited more talent than Rodriguez isn't a tweak on Graham. It's just an observation that I believe is supported by substantial evidence.


Corey from the Netherlands writes: As a Ducks fan, one of the stories of this year is how Byron Marshall responds to some serious competition from Thomas Tyner. Everyone seems ready to give the job to Tyner based on talent alone, and the situation got me thinking about Alabama in 2009, with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Of course, Ingram held off the more talented Richardson to win the Heisman Trophy that year, albeit with rather mundane numbers for a Heisman winner. I doubt Marshall nor Tyner will end up on anyone's Heisman list (we have a much better candidate!), but I have this feeling that both will be over 1,000 yards on the season, with Marshall in the top 2-3 in the conference, Tyner top 10. What do you think?

Ted Miller: A Ducks fan in the Netherlands. Hmm. I hear Amsterdam is beautiful this time of year.

What do I think? Byron Marshall/Thomas Tyner or Thomas Tyner/Byron Marshall -- it doesn't matter. It's a great luxury for run-first teams to have two capable backs. The competition will make both of them better and more hungry for touches. As long as one or the other doesn't whine about his role, things should be fine.

As for who's 1A and who's 1B, I have no idea. That's a question that will be resolved in preseason practices. If I were guessing, I'd predict that Marshall will trot out with the first-team offense against South Dakota on Aug. 30, but it will be up to him to hold on to his perch as the first option.

The goal should be for the pair to combine for 2,300 to 2,700 yards, not unlike the production of LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in 2010 and 2011. It's notable that Barner didn't hit 1,000 yards while playing behind James, so that benchmark isn't terribly important -- overall production is.


Jeff from San Diego writes: Ted... As a Trojan who has attended games since the John McKay era, in the words of the immortal Marv Goux, "UCLA is a boil to be lanced before playing Notre Dame." Beating UCLA is all well and good, but there is NOTHING better than beating Notre Dame -- the GREATEST nonconference rivalry in CFB. The history, the Heismans, the NCs...Yes, beating UCLA is required, but NOTHING compares to Notre Dame for a true Trojan!

Ted Miller: Maybe, but I do think context matters.

The present context is UCLA rising as a national power after having beaten the Trojans two years in a row. While USC has also lost two in a row to Notre Dame, the Bruins' recently elevated status in the context of the crosstown rivalry seems more notable, at least from a media perspective.

I'm sure some "true" Trojans value wins over Notre Dame more, though I suspect many of these are of an older generation. I'd also wager that plenty of "true" Trojans would, if forced to make a call, prefer beating UCLA this season compared to Notre Dame.

Another change in context: Sharing the South Division in the Pac-12. While the Notre Dame game is the "GREATEST nonconference rivalry in CFB," losing to UCLA has even more ramifications in a divisional format compared to the old Pac-10 format.


Jim from Goleta, Calif., writes: The term "blue-chip recruit" seems to be thrown around in both football and basketball recruiting and seems to mean a can't-miss guy that everyone is fighting over. Where did this term come from? Is it so ubiquitous that I am the only one who dosn't know where it came from?

Ted Miller: Blue chips, traditionally, are high-value poker chips. That's why the term was then applied to stocks, with a "blue chip stock" being stock in a large and profitable company that was a long-time industry leader.

The terms were almost immediately adopted when recruiting coverage began and gained wide acceptance and use in the 1980s and 1990s, though I couldn't figure out who first used the term "blue chip" to describe a prospect. There was a publication called "Blue Chip" magazine in the 1970s, and you can read about the early days of recruiting coverage here.


Zach from Seattle writes: I love the Pac-12 blog, and have been following it since I was a student at UW. The stories I enjoy most are usually the in-depth ones that cover a single theme with a focus on each school per story (example, the current "Key Stretch" series). However, the depth of the analyses you run usually restrict you to produce one story on each school per day. The blog usually tackles these stories in alphabetical order by school name. For fans of schools starting with a U or a W, that means we usually need to wait for a week or two to hear about a story regarding our school after cycling through the other 10-11 stories in the same vein from other schools. I can't help but feel that as writers, you feel that a story inevitably stales out by the 12th time you write it. My suggestion is that you not reduce the depth/quality of these stories but try to randomize/shuffle/invert the order you report these stories occasionally to let the Utahs, USCs, UCLAs, UWs and WSUs of the conference get some exposure to the fresh news that UA and ASU currently enjoy on a weekly basis. Seems like an easy fix, yes? Keep up the excellent work.

Ted Miller: Now Zach, we've done plenty of features in reverse alphabetical order.

Such as this. And this.

If we did a random shuffle, many fans would go ballistic. And I'd probably lose my place.

I will also say that no feature ever -- EVER -- grows stale for me. We commit to each story with 100 percent of our focus and passion whether that team starts with an A or a Z.

That's the Pac-12 blog guarantee.


Dave from Kabul, AFG writes: "Life is full of great joys...," you wrote, but I feel the need to remind you that one of them is ROFL-ing with glee over the newly posted worst-case scenario for a hated Pac-12 rival. Granted, people may have had trouble grasping the concept of the column, and I can see the trouble balancing the over-the-top fantasy with an actual best/worst case limits prediction. Still, if this column does go softly into that good night, where else shall I find such Hugo Award-caliber flights of fancy regarding these august programs I've come to know and love, respect and despise? A Husky Fever Believer.

Ted Miller: I truly appreciate the notes about the likely end of the Best-case/Worst-case stories.

I just don't think I have it in me this season. These pieces have grown more monstrous every year, and the idea of a reduction in scope or length is as unappealing as trying to top last year's efforts.

It's not just the time commitment, either. I don't want to seem melodramatic or whiny here, but my chief worry over the years when doing these is letting a team down. Basically, I've had one day to come up with something, and I'd be in a panic in the middle of the night when I thought my piece for Team X was crap.

Again, not to be whiny, but I wrote one last year for a middle-of-the-pack team -- 1,600 words -- decided it was stupid and then completely rewrote it, finishing it in the wee hours of the morning. Still didn't like it.

I've got a week off coming up, and I've told myself to look at some options but, as noted, it feels as if the well has run dry.

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

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

USC DT Leonard Williams

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

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

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

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

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

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

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

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

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

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

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

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

Mailbag: Did USC or Washington win?

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
5:30
PM PT
Welcome to the mailbag, Pac-12 championship and coaching carousel edition.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?

Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?

The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.

Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.

Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.

As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.

Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.

Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.

So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.

Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.


Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?

Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.

A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.

Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.

The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.

But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.

In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.

Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.

But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.


Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?

Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.

That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.

Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.

And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.


Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.

Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.

The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.

Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.

The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.


Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?

Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.

Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.

I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
11:00
AM PT
Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.

Mailbag: Mariota's Heisman chances?

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

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

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

And yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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




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

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

Pac-12: November stretch run

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
9:00
AM PT
It's a coaching cliche: The games you remember are played in November. Or call November college football games the proverbial "crunch time." The schedule has turned toward the final quarter of the 2013 season, so the screws are tightening. Preseason dreams shortly will be realized. Or quashed.

It's a pretty good bet -- darn near a certainty, in fact -- that the Pac-12 will produce enough eligible teams to fill out the spots in its seven contracted bowls.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesCan Marcus Mariota lead Oregon to the national title?
Three teams, Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, already are bowl eligible. Four other teams need just one more win: Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington. Three others need two: USC (because of its 13-game schedule, USC needs seven wins), Utah and Washington State. And just one, 1-7 California, has been eliminated, though Colorado faces a steep climb toward three more wins.

Further, that bowl schedule could include an extra spot if Oregon plays for the national title, meaning the Rose Bowl could pick another conference team, provided it's ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings. The Rose Bowl is not obligated, by the way, to pick the loser of the Pac-12 title game. It could, for example, pick the runner-up of the North or South Division.

As far as the division races go, Oregon and Stanford play Nov. 7 for the top spot in the North. The Ducks are 5-0 in conference play and Stanford is 4-1, having lost at Utah. Though the Cardinal won at Oregon State last weekend, the Beavers, at 4-1, also could get into the mix.

In the South, Arizona State, at 3-1, has a one-game lead over Arizona, UCLA and USC. The only head-to-head matchups so far among those teams is Arizona State's win over USC and USC's win over Arizona. So lots of football left before the South sorts itself out. Things could get chaotic with a multi-team tie, or one team might surge and leave no doubt.

The good news, players and coaches will tell you with an extreme degree of earnestness over the next few weeks, is they are going to play 'em one game at at time.

Team(s) with most to prove: You can't narrow the South Division down yet, with three second-year coaches trying to push past the other two in the conference pecking order -- and USC lingering as a potential spoiler with an interim head coach.

Arizona and Rich Rodriguez? Arizona State and Todd Graham? UCLA and Jim Mora? Each is looking to lead his previously meandering program to a higher level, toward Pac-12 and national legitimacy. The only way to do that is at the others' expense.

The Sun Devils and Bruins were the preseason favorites, so you can say they have the most pressure. But if Rodriguez loses a second consecutive time to Graham, you can bet he'll feel a bit of pressure from disgruntled Wildcats fans.

Team with the most to lose: Oregon probably needs to be perfect to play for the national title. That means five more wins and a 13-0 finish in a Pac-12 that is as deep as it's been in years. Perhaps ever. The Ducks have done everything else over the past four years. They played for a national title (2010), won a Rose Bowl (2011) and won a Fiesta Bowl (2012), finishing with a final No. 2 ranking. The only thing left is to finish atop the final polls after hoisting the crystal football.

Four players to keep an eye on:

  • Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: He's a leading Heisman Trophy contender with his toughest games ahead. He not only can lead the Ducks to their first national title, he also can grab the bronze statue along the way.
  • Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey's been out of the headlines mostly because of the Wildcats’ lackluster schedule. But if he again leads the nation in rushing and the Wildcats make a push in the South, he might earn at least an invitation to the Heisman ceremony.
  • Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: While Arizona is still in the hunt, it feels like the South game of the year will be Arizona State's visit to UCLA on Nov. 23. Here's a bet that the QB who plays better in that game will lead his team into the Pac-12 championship game.
  • Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: See Kelly.
Biggest trap game: We have two. Stanford's visit to USC on Nov. 16, the weekend after the Oregon game, and Oregon's trip to Arizona on Nov. 23. Oregon and Stanford have dominated those series of late and both are good on the road. But if you were looking for a not-so-obvious place either might faceplant, those games are as good a bet as any.

Fearless November prediction: Mariota, a few weeks after winning the Heisman Trophy, is going to lead his team to a victory over Alabama in the national title game.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
9:00
AM PT
If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

See last week's Power Rankings here.

1. Oregon: The Ducks not only got their signature victory over a quality ranked foe, they actually did so by playing a relevant fourth quarter. That the 10th consecutive win over Washington ended up being a 10th consecutive blowout only solidifies their standing here.

2. UCLA: The Bruins, after impressively whipping California, are the conference's only other unbeaten, top-10 team after Stanford was upset at Utah. The Bruins can make a major statement if they go on the road and hand the Cardinal a second loss this season.

3. Stanford: While the power rankings in large part react to the week that was, they also strongly consider the totality of the season. While that was a tough loss at Utah, keep in mind the Cardinal have three quality Pac-12 wins: Arizona State, Washington State and Washington.

4. Washington: The Huskies have lost consecutive games to top-five foes in the Cardinal and Ducks. There's no shame in that. But now they need to pick up a quality road win. And so we have the visit to Arizona State on Saturday, a critical game for both.

5. Oregon State: The Beavers have won five in a row since they opened with an upset loss to Eastern Washington. While you never say never, they should improve to 6-1 at California on Saturday, and that might be enough to get them back into the national polls. Thereafter, though, the schedule ramps up considerably.

6. Utah: Funny thing with Utah's first two years in the Pac-12: We thought the Utes got lucky not playing Stanford and Oregon in their division. The win over the Cardinal might be a turning point for Utah in the conference. Or the Utes might lose at Arizona on Saturday and come back to earth.

7. Arizona State: The Sun Devils are a much better team at home, and the Huskies have struggled on the road under coach Steve Sarkisian. So Saturday sets up for Arizona State to make its own statement in the Pac-12 pecking order. A victory also probably returns the Sun Devils to the national rankings.

8. Washington State: Things fell apart at home against Oregon State quickly, as a highly competitive game became a blowout loss in the fourth quarter. Things don't get any easier this weekend, as a visit to Oregon typically isn't much fun. Or is it a great upset opportunity?

9. USC: If Ed Orgeron wants to show everyone what his leadership means at USC, he could lead the Trojans to a win at Notre Dame. Beat the Fighting Irish, and there will be more than a few folks who, at least tentatively, ask, "What about Ed?"

10. Arizona: The Wildcats face three consecutive winnable games starting with a visit from Utah. They become bowl eligible with three more wins and could work their way back into the South Division picture. The Utah game feels like a major measuring stick -- for both teams.

11. Colorado: Reality has set in for the Buffaloes. The question now is whether a QB change is at hand.

12. California: California showed some fight against UCLA. But this obviously is an outmanned team going through schematic growing pains on both sides of the ball.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
9:00
AM PT
If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

See last week's Power Rankings here.

1. Stanford: The Cardinal now have three quality conference wins -- Arizona State, Washington State and Washington -- so they now have by far the Pac-12's best résumé. Oregon gets to show its stuff against a common opponent (the Huskies) on Saturday, thereby allowing the Pac-12 blog to employ the "Transitive Property of College Football" for next week's Power Rankings. (Note: Kevin Gemmell VEHEMENTLY disagrees ranking Stanford over Oregon. He wants Ducks fans to know he is very impressed with Oregon becoming the first team since 1885 to score 50-plus points in its first five games.)

2. Oregon: As expected, Oregon rolled over Colorado. But that game ended the poor-to-middling early schedule. Going forward, the Ducks get to showcase themselves as national title contenders -- and QB Marcus Mariota as a Heisman Trophy contender -- starting with their good friends in Seattle.

3. Washington: The Huskies can't lick their wounds too long. Oregon is coming. The Ducks have beaten the Huskies nine straight times by at least 17 points. It is likely you will hear and/or read that more than once this week.

4. UCLA: While the Bruins shouldn't overlook pass-happy California, their first major conference test comes in two weeks at Stanford. A week later, they get Oregon. Win one -- or both! -- and UCLA goes from merely a good, top-15 team to something else entirely. At this point, by the way, it feels like you could draw a line here to separate the Pac-12 into two categories.

5. Arizona State: There was a strong dose of "same old Sun Devils" with the flat performance against Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium. Yes, it was a blown opportunity. While the loss doesn't count in the conference race, it does serve to significantly demote the Sun Devils' national esteem. Colorado comes to Tempe on Saturday. Then Washington does.

6. Oregon State: The first big question for the Beavers is how healthy they will be coming out of their off week. The second big question is an interesting trip to Washington State. The winner will take a big step forward in the North Division pecking order.

7. Utah: No, Utes, it doesn't get any easier with Stanford coming to town. The big issue will be how well QB Travis Wilson bounces back after a six-interception game in their tough loss to UCLA. The Cardinal defense is not typically the sort that sends a get-well card.

8. Arizona: The Wildcats are coming off a bye, which means they should be well rested. On the downside, they visit USC -- also coming off a bye -- in its first post-Lane Kiffin game. That means the Wildcats not only will get a team that might be inspired by a change of leadership to the fiery Ed Orgeron -- it also might have some tricks up its sleeves.

9. Washington State: The Cougars' win at California gave them firm separation from the bottom fourth of the conference. A win over the Beavers would push them into the middle. It hasn't been legitimate to speculate about that since 2007.

10. USC: We'll get our first look at Orgeron's Trojans on Thursday night against Arizona. A strong performance could reintroduce USC to the South Division race and make the Notre Dame visit the next weekend intriguing.

11. Colorado: The past two weeks have brought the Buffaloes back to Earth. They played hard and well in spurts against Oregon State and Oregon, but the top-to-bottom talent just isn't there. It will be interesting to see if they show the same fire at Arizona State, which should be angry and is a different team at home.

12. California: The schedule is ridiculous and injuries have piled up, but the Bears also have been sloppy on both sides of the ball. Game 3 of nine consecutive weeks of football is at UCLA. So yeah, the hits just keep coming -- another highly ranked foe. Sonny Dykes' first season is shaping up like a long one.

Best case-worst case: USC

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

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

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

Up next: USC

Best case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ted Miller: What's malmsey butt?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USC takes a 14-10 lead into halftime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lee wins USC's eighth Heisman Trophy.

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

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

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

Worst case

On Aug. 23, Kiffin stands before reporters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color analyst: Just wow.

Kiffin: I'm still going to call plays.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gemmell: No.

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

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

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

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

A news conference is called in Heritage Hall.

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

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

2012 Pac-12 regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
9:00
AM PT

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.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton, Corbin Berkstresser
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonArizona State's Will Sutton averaged almost a sack per game this season, including one at Missouri.
Offensive MVP, Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Not only is he the most dominant wide receiver in the country, he might also be the most dominant player. Heisman voters say otherwise, but we in the Pac-12 know just how dominant he can be. His record-setting season should be more than enough to earn him the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver. And if he has matching numbers on a nine-win USC team, he's in New York this week.

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.

Another epic clash for Scott, Barkley?

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
10:00
AM PT
Last weekend, Arizona's Matt Scott and USC's Matt Barkley led their teams to victory and played well. And you heard a lot more about Barkley than Scott.

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.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Russ Isabella/US PresswireSenior QB Matt Barkley has the Trojans sitting at 6-1 (4-1 Pac-12) entering Week 9.
Scott, who leads the Pac-12 in passing yards per game with 336.4, played a more supporting role while throwing for 256 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 43 yards and a score in a blowout win over Washington.

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.

[+] EnlargeScott
AP Photo/Wily LowSenior QB Matt Scott and the Wildcats are 4-3 (1-3 Pac-12) entering Week 9.
Mater Dei won 51-37 in a game that featured 58 first downs and 1,295 yards of offense, a California high school record that didn't fall until this season.

"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.

Kiffin: Barkley not out of the Heisman race

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
4:29
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Barkley's early season performances took him out of the running for the Heisman Trophy he was favored to win just two months ago, but he's not out of it yet, according to his coach.

USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday that Barkley could still win the trophy if he continues to play the way he did against Colorado last weekend. Barkley set a school record for touchdown passes in a six-touchdown day against the Buffaloes, completing 19 of 20 pass attempts for 298 yards.

It was his best performance of the 2012 season and the best statistical game of his college career, although lowly Colorado didn't exactly present a ton of challenges.

Kiffin indirectly referenced Carson Palmer's 2002 Heisman-winning season at USC in arguing that Barkley could still win the award with five big late-season games. He'll have the stage to do it, too, with games coming up against top-10 teams Oregon and Notre Dame.

"Like I've said all along, the Heisman is a full body of work through the whole year," Kiffin said Tuesday. "Everybody wants to figure it out way early. There's been a lot of Heismans won in a lot of places, including a couple here, late in the year.

"So we'll wait and see and obviously if he keeps playing the way that he did, I think everybody will be happy."

Kansas State's Collin Klein seems to be considered the latest favorite after his team's 55-14 dismantling of Geno Smith and West Virginia last week.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD