Vote: Pac-12 play of the Week

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:00
AM PT
We should know better by now. On weekend’s when not much should happen, EVERYTHING WILL HAPPEN. And it happened this weekend. There are quite a few awesome plays up for the Pac-12 Blog’s Play of the Week (and even more that just didn’t make the cut -- we can only have five, sorry guys) and now it’s your turn to vote for which was the best of the best.

Montgomery goes bowling

Ty MontgomeryAP Photo/Elaine Thompson


Every wonder what it’s like to be a human blocking sled? Well, Washington sophomore defensive back Trevor Walker discovered that on Saturday as Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery literally bowled him into the end zone. One defender approached Montgomery around the 8-yard line. He collided with Montgomery and flew out of bounds (that’s not how tackling is supposed to happen). Then Walker met up with Montgomery at the 5-yard line before being bulldozed into the end zone. I think we can all agree -- that’s how linemen and some fullbacks play. Wide receivers? Nah. Unless your name is Ty Montgomery.

Definitely, Mayle

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Washington State mounted a surprising comeback in the second half against Utah after going down 21-0 early and still training by 17 at the half. But an 81-yard touchdown by Washington State receiver Vince Mayle tied everything up in Salt Lake City (the extra point gave the Cougars their final margin for victory). With just about five minutes left in the game, QB Connor Halliday hit Mayle on the slant. Mayle got by one defender before a fellow receiver threw a perfect block to spring him, untouched, another 55 yards into the end zone.

Call me Ishmael

Ishmael Adams AP Photo/Matt York


With UCLA leading by just three points and the first half nearly coming to a close, UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams managed to pick off Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici at the 5-yard line and returned it 95 yards for the score. Later in the game Adams would return a kick off 100 yards for a score, which is also ridiculous, but, the Bruins already had a hefty lead at that point and the Pac-12 writers decided to give the edge to the pick-six that totally deflated the ASU team before heading into the half.

Hail Mary 2.0

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After Arizona beat Cal last week on a Hail Mary, USC threw one of its own against Oregon State. With the clock expiring before halftime and the Trojans only leading by four points, USC quarterback Cody Kessler scrambled around the pocket for a bit before he launched a 48-yard pass to the end zone where it found the hands of sophomore wide receiver Darreus Rogers. USC would go on to win the game by 25 points, but this play was certainly deflating for a the Beavers, who had shown signs of possible upset material early in the game.

Let’s go Lasco

LascoEzra Shaw/Getty Images


Cal junior running back Daniel Lasco recorded the first “receiving” touchdown of his career on Saturday, though most of his work was put in on the ground. He snatched a pass from Cal QB Jared Goff before taking off down field. Before he even reached the 20-yard line there was a point in which there were five Colorado defenders circling in on him. He plowed through that group somehow before outrunning another two guys and finding the end zone. Not only was it ridiculously impressive to beat seven defenders head-to-head in a single play, it was also record setting -- the 92-yard receiving touchdown was the longest passing play for a TD in Cal football history.

SportsNation

Who had the play of the week in the Pac-12?

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    9%
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    12%
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    29%
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    33%
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    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 221)

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:00
AM PT
USC's impact visitor list, Stanford's statement in the Evergreen State, UCLA's major opportunity and a sophomore quarterback at his best under the bright lights are a few of the highlights from the recruiting weekend in the Pac-12 conference.

Which surprise team is legit?

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
7:00
AM PT

As we move past the quarter mark of the 2014 season, it's a good time to examine which upstart teams have legit staying power. There have been lots of unexpected risers, from Mississippi State to BYU to East Carolina. But which early-season surprise team is most likely to sustain its success?

Insider's panel of experts debates that as well as other key questions: Which team -- outside of Michigan -- has been the biggest disappointment? Who's the leading candidate for comeback player of the year? And which Week 6 favorite should be on upset alert?


1. Which early-season surprise team can sustain its success?

Travis Haney: Mississippi State. I'll couch this by saying I think Alabama and Auburn are still the superior teams in the SEC West, but the Bulldogs have the physical girth up front to compete in every remaining game. Plus, Dak Prescott is the real deal at quarterback. If coach Dan Mullen's team will ever have a chance in the SEC West, as wild and deep as it is, this is the year.

If it can manage to go 6-2 in the league, it would be a real sign of success. I doubt there's an Auburn 2013 in the field, but Mississippi State can make a lot of noise and, as I said in the preseason, at least shape the division race. This is a huge week. To validate what's happening, the Bulldogs have to follow up the euphoria of Baton Rouge with a win at home against Texas A&M.


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Pac-12 morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
8:00
AM PT
I spent four lonely days in a brown L.A. haze, and I just want you back by my side.

Leading off

It's time to take our weekly stroll through The Eliminator. Not that one. This one. (But kudos to you if you know the reference).

The good news is, no Pac-12 teams were officially "eliminated" this week, per our Mark Schlabach. But a few teams were relegated to the "on the fence" category. One-loss Stanford and USC were already dangling. This week they are joined by Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah and Washington -- all who dropped their first games of the season over the weekend.

Here's Schlabach's take on the Huskies:
After trailing Georgia State by 14 points at home two weeks ago and then mustering little offense in a 20-13 loss to Stanford on Saturday, we're guessing the Huskies won't be occupying this spot for very long. Washington coach Chris Petersen was so desperate to generate some sort of offense against the Cardinal that he tried a fake punt on fourth-and-9 at his team's 47-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. It was stuffed for no gain, and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan ran for the go-ahead touchdown five plays later.

Three Pac-12 teams officially remain in contention. That's Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Of course, one of those teams won't be undefeated by the time Friday morning rolls around. The Ducks and Wildcats are set to square off Thursday night in Eugene.

More playoff projections

If you believe Yahoo's Pat Forde, then we're finally going to get to see the matchup we've dreamed about for years in the College Football Playoff: Oregon vs. Alabama. Forde projects the Ducks as the No. 2 seed and Alabama as No. 3 team. His take on the Ducks:
Oregon has won six straight Pac-12 home openers, and none of them has been close. Average score in routs of California (2013), Arizona (2012), Cal (2011), Stanford (2010), Cal (2009), and Washington (2008): 46-13. And three of those opponents were ranked at the time. Next: Sorry, Arizona, you’re the opening Pac-12 cannon fodder in Autzen Stadium on Thursday night.
Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports has the Ducks as the No. 3 seed facing No. 2 Auburn. There's also some good stuff on Notre Dame-Stanford.

Tune in

Yours truly joined Bill Riley and Sean O'Connell on ESPN700 in Salt Lake City yesterday if you're aching for some pod.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

It's been a long, long time since we've seen a Cal locker room celebration. This was awesome.

Warning: Bold Week 6 Pac-12 declarations

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
6:00
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Declarative sentences are dangerous heading into Week 6 of a college football season. History has taught us most things that appear ready to be tied neatly with a bow end up torn to shreds. But danger is the Pac-12 blog's middle name. (We just thought "Pac-12 Danger Blog" might scare some folks away and damage advertising revenue).

Ergo.

Oregon's visit to UCLA on Oct. 11 will be what we thought it would be in August

Sure, both/either the Bruins and Ducks could fall this week at home, going down to Utah and/or Arizona, and we'd pin that on the proverbial "look ahead." But the expectation is that won't happen. The Utes lost some gusto while surrendering a 21-0 lead at home to Washington State, and Arizona is more than a three-touchdown underdog in Autzen Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota, Devon Allen
AP Photo/Dean HareMarcus Mariota and Oregon will try to avoid a letdown this week against Arizona.
While neither the Bruins nor Ducks have been consistently impressive, they have produced the loudest national statements in the conference thus far. UCLA posted a dominant road win at Arizona State, while Oregon overwhelmed Michigan State in the second half.

What's most notable about the Ducks-UCLA matchup is its potential for a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, as both appear to be front-runners in their respective divisions. Not to look too far ahead, which we are clearly doing, but that could create a quandary for the College Football Playoff. It certainly would make it more difficult to get two Pac-12 teams into the playoff.

Of course, if both arrive at the game -- and that's obviously no guarantee at this early juncture -- with multiple losses, the issue is moot. But play out the various scenarios of zero, one and two losses for each in your head. What if they split close games? What if, say, Oregon is the nation's only unbeaten team but UCLA's only defeats are close losses to the Ducks?

It could get complicated. Good thing we can call such speculation "way premature" in order to avoid taxing our brains with the myriad possibilities.

The Pac-12 needs Stanford to beat Notre Dame

If Stanford wins at Notre Dame, the Cardinal will likely jump into or at least be very close to the Top 10, which could give the Pac-12 three Top 10 teams heading into Week 7. If the Cardinal lose, it will become a big hit for them and the Pac-12 as a whole.

While the Pac-12 is widely viewed as the nation's No. 2 conference, probably by a wide margin, and its 22-4 record versus FBS foes is impressive, there already have been substantial damaging defeats.

Most obviously, whatever USC accomplishes this year will be diminished by the loss at Boston College. If the Trojans had lost amid a flurry of turnovers and miscues, that's one thing. The problem is that defeat was all about getting whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That rates as a physical issue, which is a very football-y thing.

Washington State's losses to Rutgers and Nevada also will hurt because the Pac-12 blog suspects the Cougars are going to give a lot of conference teams trouble this season, witness the so-close performance against Oregon and the huge comeback win at Utah. The Cougs are a solid team, much better than they showed against the Scarlet Knights and Nevada, which by the way are a combined 7-2. But that won't prevent pundits and rival fans from using the transitive property against the Pac-12 when the Cougs notch an upset or two.

Yet if Stanford beats Notre Dame and surges into its Nov. 1 date at Oregon with just one defeat, the Pac-12 might produce a second Top-10 matchup in less than a month. That's the sort of thing the SEC does, which inspires all that media gushing that so annoys many of you fine people.

Bottom line: A road win over No. 9 Notre Dame would provide a significant perception boost and a loss would do the same in a negative direction.

The middle stepped back instead of forward

Washington and Oregon State could have made big statements on Saturday. They didn't. Therefore that velvet rope that has separated both from the North Division VIP room, uncomfortably shared by Oregon and Stanford, is still there, still manned by a couple of beefy security guys.

You probably could say the same for Utah, which looked like a potential South contender before it completely collapsed against the Cougars. The jury is still out on Arizona State, which is dealing with an injury to QB Taylor Kelly and a not-ready-for-prime time defense. We'll see where Arizona stands Thursday at Oregon.

Despite many unanswered questions, the overall feeling about the challenging middle of the Pac-12 feels different than it did in August or even a few weeks ago. It doesn't appear as rugged. There seems to be some separation between Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and -- perhaps -- USC and the rest of the conference, though the Trojans could topple if they lose at home to the Sun Devils on Saturday.

Washington was a preseason Top 25 team, and Oregon State and Utah looked like threats to advance into the rankings. No longer. At least not at this point.

That is not to say teams can't get healthy, solve issues or simply grow up and then go on a run. In fact, it's reasonable to suspect that among the gaggle of Arizona, Utah, Washington and Oregon State, at least one will end the season in the Top 25.

At this point, however, there's little to suggest we will have an unexpected interloper breaking through in either division, challenging the consensus preseason favorites.

Pac-12 Live: Week 6

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
12:00
PM PT
Join ESPN.com Pac-12 reporters Kyle Bonagura, Kevin Gemmell and Chantel Jennings at 4 p.m. ET as they review Week 5 in the conference and look ahead to the games this week, including Arizona vs. Oregon on Thursday. Don't forget that you can also ask the experts your Pac-12 questions live on the show.

Monday reset: A look around the Pac-12

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
11:00
AM PT
"This was supposed to be a boring college football weekend," our own Ted Miller tweeted. "But of course, 'Boring College Football Weekend' is the unicorn of sports."

Those simply don’t exist, especially in the modern inception of the Pac-12, where substantial conference depth has translated into frequent drama. USC manhandled Oregon State to finish this past Saturday’s action, but before that, only eight total points separated the three earlier games at the end of regulation.

Though there wasn't much hype entering Week 5, it ultimately blossomed into a fantastic Saturday of down-to-the-wire finishes. That means the sky’s the limit for Week 6, which features a truly robust six-game slate. Let's set the table.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: Stanford at Notre Dame

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCoach David Shaw and Stanford face a crucial test against Notre Dame.
Bad news: Stanford’s Week 2 home loss to USC immediately erased much, if not all, of the Cardinal’s margin for error in the quest for a College Football Playoff berth. Good news: Saturday’s 20-13 road suffocation of Washington made it readily apparent that David Shaw’s program can still make up lost ground. The cold-blooded Cardinal defense that has made a name for itself stifling explosive Pac-12 offenses hasn't gone anywhere, and now it's returning to South Bend looking to purge controversial 2012 memories of Stepfan Taylor struggling at the goal line in overtime.

Stanford is in the midst of what is widely considered to be the toughest two-game stretch of its schedule. A win Saturday means a road sweep of the only two trips that derailed the Cardinal when they faced a similar slate in 2012, so there is obviously a lot of stake entering this classic showdown (heck, in 2012, this game ultimately determined a spot in the national title game). One juicy battle is already set, and it pits Stanford's top-ranked pass defense (which has allowed only a single 100-yard passer in four games) against vastly improved Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson (25 straight completions against Syracuse). The Cardinal defense is giving up only 4.7 points per game.

Team with the most to prove: Utah (at UCLA)

Coming off a muscle-flexing win in the Big House, Utah was enjoying life on cruise control against Washington State. The Utes jumped out to a 21-0 lead in front of their raucous home crowd, and the stars seemed to be aligning for a Week 6 Pac-12 South showdown between the undefeated Block U and fellow unbeaten No. 8 UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Not so fast, shouted Mike Leach's crew.

Wazzu roared back late, overcoming a fourth-and-14 paired and a 27-14 deficit in the final quarter to win 28-27. And, just like that, Utah had returned from its big early season splash to the dreaded land of questions.

Was the Utes' early season offense really that good, or was it just picking on very shoddy Idaho State and Fresno State defenses? After winning just two road games in two seasons prior, did Utah's victory at The Big House actually signify a turnaround, or was Michigan just a corpse of a football team?

Utah will enter the Rose Bowl with a chance to push aside the Wazzu loss and prove its impressive start was no fluke. The Bruins are bubbling with confidence after hanging 62 points on Arizona State, so this is a true litmus test for the Utes.

Most desperate team: Colorado (vs. Oregon State)

There is no pleasant way to lose in double overtime, but the Buffs took an especially gut-wrenching route in Strawberry Canyon. First, they blew an early 21-7 lead. Then, they wasted a sensational late Bryce Bobo touchdown catch that forced extra time in the first place. And in a game dominated by a severe lack of effective defense -- Cal and Colorado became the first teams in FBS history to both throw seven touchdown passes in one game -- the Buffs were, ironically enough, ultimately denied by the Bears’ defense in a second overtime goal-line stand.

Colorado is now 2-3, but most sobering is the fact that this 59-56 loss dropped them to 4-25 in Pac-12 play since entering the conference in 2011. Oregon State visits Boulder next weekend after mustering only 181 yards of total offense in a disheartening 35-10 loss at USC.

A glance at the Colorado schedule calls for intense urgency now: At least on paper, this coming contest against the Beavers looks like the Buffs' best chance to rack up another win this season. The Los Angeles schools loom after the bye, and there is also a trip to Autzen Stadium waiting in late November.

Diamond in the rough game: California at Washington State

Consider the dazzling offensive display that Cal and Colorado flashed this past Saturday: the aforementioned 14 touchdown passes (tying an FBS record) and the 913 passing yards. Then consider the mind-boggling numbers that Washington State quarterback Conor Halliday is on pace to post this season: After Saturday's 417-yard performance, he has a nation-best 2,318 yards and 20 touchdown passes in just five games. Assuming Washington State makes a bowl game, Halliday is on pace to become the first college quarterback to surpass 6,000 passing yards in a single season.

So if anyone is familiar with the results of mixing gasoline and fire, this game might be the football equivalent. It features two high-scoring offenses coming off confidence-building wins, a pair of shaky defenses, and two coaches hungry to capitalize on an opportunity to make a valuable dent in the Pac-12 standings. Though Leach has a chance to return to .500, Cal's Sonny Dykes can move to 4-1 as his team nears the meat of its schedule.

The true hidden intrigue here might come from Wazzu's defense, which tightened the screws down the stretch at Utah. How will the Cougars fare against explosive Cal youngster Jared Goff?

The week’s top chance at vengeance: Oregon (vs. Arizona)

The spotlight almost always focuses on Oregon’s loss to Stanford last season, but it’s important to remember that it was the Ducks’ later stumble at Arizona Stadium that ultimately derailed the team’s BCS train and rerouted it to the Alamo Bowl. After the Cardinal’s 2013 loss to USC, Oregon had a golden opportunity to again smell Roses, but the Wildcats quashed those by administering a humiliating 42-16 beatdown in the desert.

The Ducks say that catastrophe has helped them develop valuable perspective when it comes to preparation, and Thursday night's rematch offers a chance for Oregon to put November 23, 2013 in the past.

Remember that this is a showdown between undefeated teams. Arizona is still buzzing after Austin Hill snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with his Hail Mary catch against Cal. The Wildcats have proven they can score in bunches season, but keeping pace with the Ducks in that regard presents an entirely unique challenge.

This week's top chance at redemption: ASU (at USC)

One can be sure that Arizona State players and coaches will wince more than a few times this week. They will be watching film from their brutal 62-27 home loss to UCLA, a game highlighted by the Sun Devils' atrocious tackling against Brett Hundley and the Bruins' potent offense.

A trip to the Coliseum always offers a shot at redemption, but No. 16 USC is coming into this game bristling with confidence after smacking Oregon State, 35-10. The Trojans performed exponentially better defensively against the Beavers than they did in their previous game at Boston College, but ASU -- fresh off a 622-yard performance against UCLA -- will provide a new challenge for USC, even if quarterback Taylor Kelly (questionable) is not yet ready to return from injury.

Saturday offers two potential outcomes for these teams: ASU will either re-emerge in the Pac-12 South race following that ugly loss to the Bruins, or USC will further entrench itself alongside its crosstown rival as one of the firm leaders of that division.
Michigan’s efforts on the recruiting trail aren’t going anywhere until something changes. Plus, whoever ends up getting the Kansas job must do whatever he can to keep quarterback Ryan Willis on board.


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Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
8:00
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Well, that was interesting.

Remember how we talked about Utah-Washington State being a swing game? If the Cougars can somehow rally to find four more wins and the Utes can't find three, we're going to look back at the Cougs' 28-27 come-from-behind win as a tipping point.

The same could be said for Cal, which pulled off a double-overtime win against a feisty Colorado team to pick up win No. 3.

Let's begin with the Utes, who once again started hot in nonconference play, only to see things fall apart once league competition started. Can't blame this one on injured quarterbacks, because Utah had two opportunities in the fourth quarter with its starter to make something happen. The Pac-12 blog still thinks there are three wins out there for Utah. Of its eight remaining games, three of them are against unranked teams. The rub is that all three are on the road.

Cal also has five ranked teams still on the schedule, and the three remaining against unranked teams -- Washington State, Washington and Oregon State -- are critical. Two of the three are on the road. We're adding Cal to the projections this week. We like its moxie.

As for the Beavers, boy, that offense didn't look good. Given OSU's three unimpressive wins and one very bad loss, we're going to drop them from the projections for now, but as always reserve the right to change our minds.

We're down to just three undefeated teams left: Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. And 10 teams are either halfway to a bowl game or beyond.

Here are the latest projections. As always, salt heavily.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
San Francisco Bowl: Arizona
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Washington
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State
Cactus Bowl: Utah
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: California

* at large
video

ESPN college football reporter Heather Dinich joins Antonietta Collins to break down significant movers in the ESPN power rankings.

Florida State Remains No. 1

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
1:18
PM PT


video

College football reporter Heather Dinich reacts to the latest AP Top 25 poll, and discusses how big of a surprise it is that Florida State is still No. 1.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
2:00
PM PT

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
9:00
AM PT
Remember when everyone looked at week 5 on their college football calendar and thought to themselves, “Yeah, might not be a very exciting weekend"? Ha.

Let’s give out some helmet stickers to guys who made the weekend in Pac-12 football very, very exciting.

Su'a Cravens, S, USC: The sophomore finished with six tackles, one sack, one TFL and a 31-yard pick 6 in the Trojans' 35-10 win over Oregon State. It was a great defensive performance from the Trojans defense, and Cravens was a much-needed standout for a group that needed one.

Jared Goff, QB, California: Goff threw for 449 yards and seven scores in the Golden Bears' 59-56 double-overtime win over Colorado while completing 23 of 41 passes. He threw just one interception, but was able to lead the Bears to victory, snapping the Bears’ 15-game Pac-12 losing streak. Goff looked like a veteran and continues to impress with the strides he has made between years 1 and 2 under Sonny Dykes.

James Langford, K, Cal: He was 8 of 8 on extra points, but that’s not going to get a kicker on this list. But Langford -- who missed a 42-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter -- calmly hit a 34-yard FG in double overtime. Calm. Cool. Collected. Helmet Stickered.

Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado: Normally, a player who’s on a team that lost doesn’t get on this list. But when you throw for seven touchdowns and 449 yards (if that stat line looks familiar, it’s because it’s the EXACT SAME as Goff’s, though his QBR was slightly higher) then you get on this list. He also added 72 rushing yards on 10 carries. The sophomore didn’t look like a sophomore and did everything he could to get the ‘W’ for the Buffaloes.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Injured? His play certainly didn’t look like it. Hundley threw for four touchdowns and 355 yards in a 62-27 win over Arizona State on Thursday. He completed 18 of 23 passes and led his team into a pretty intimidating atmosphere and made the Sun Devils look like the team that was playing on an opponent’s field.

Ishmael Adams, DB, UCLA: A 95-yard interception return for a touchdown would probably get a player a helmet sticker. Add a 100-yard kickoff return for a score to that and you’re a shoo-in for a Pac-12 helmet sticker.

Peter Kalambayi, OLB, Stanford: The redshirt freshman was a big reason why the Stanford defense held Washington to 2.6 yards per play in the Cardinal's 20-13 victory. He sacked Cyler Miles three times and finished with six tackles.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
3:12
AM PT
Some things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 5:

UCLA and QB Brett Hundley are what we thought they'd be: UCLA answered a variety of questions in its 62-27 win over Arizona State, starting with Hundley's health and continuing with whether this team was overrated in the preseason. While it wasn't a perfect performance -- the defense needs to play better -- it was a dominating one on the road against a ranked team. As for Hundley, he might return to the Heisman picture after completing 18 of 23 passes for 355 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 97.7 QBR. Perhaps its time to ease up on nitpicking the Bruins over their lack of style points. Is your team 4-0?

Arizona State's young defense is going to be a problem: The preseason story with the Sun Devils was veteran, explosive offense paired with a completely rebuilt defense. Sometimes preseason stories don't hold up as young players step up. Sometimes they do. This one did. The Sun Devils are likely to improve on defense this season, but they're likely going to win a bunch of shootouts to be a factor in the South Division. Against UCLA, they yielded 580 yards -- a stunning 10 yards per play -- and gave up eight plays of more than 20 yards.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Kevin Hogan
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan pulled out a victory for Stanford, but the Cardinal offense still has significant red-zone problems.
Stanford's defense has replaced key 2013 pieces; offense hasn't: Stanford again looks to have the Pac-12's best defense, despite losing stars such as LB Shayne Skov, OLB Trent Murphy and safety Ed Reynolds, among others. The Cardinal held Washington to 179 yards and 15 first downs in a 20-13 victory after similarly dominating USC (291 yards). Yet the offense, which has replaced four offensive linemen and RB Tyler Gaffney from the 2013 unit, has been sputtering, particularly in the red zone. Stanford scored one touchdown in five red zone trips against USC and scored two touchdowns in five red zone trips against the Huskies, including a late touchdown run from QB Kevin Hogan that proved to be the game-winner. The good news is the offensive problems, including missed field goals from veteran kicker Jordan Williamson, are solvable. Not to use a coaches' cliche, but it's purely a matter of execution.

Washington is not ready for prime time: Washington was inconsistent during a 4-0 run through a weak nonconference schedule. At times, the defense or offense looked good, but often not at the same time and certainly not for four quarters -- or even three. There was some thought everything might come together in front of a raucous crowd Saturday against Stanford. Nope. While the defense played well, pressured Hogan consistently and contained the Cardinal running game, the offense was abysmal. Yes, Stanford is good on defense, but the Huskies have one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines and a good corps of receivers. The Huskies had just one sustained drive and averaged 3.4 yards per pass and 2.1 yards per run. The Huskies' problem under Steve Sarkisian was getting past Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 North. It seems unlikely that will happen this year, either, in season one under Chris Petersen.

California has moved out of the Pac-12 basement: Cal and Colorado are both trying to move out of the bottom of the Pac-12 and become at least competitive. Last year, Cal didn't win a Pac-12 game, and Colorado's only conference win was over Cal. Both have looked much improved in the early going this season. But Cal's thrilling 59-56 win in double-overtime provides the Golden Bears a big boost. For one, the Bears, at 3-1, can legitimately entertain bowl hopes. In a game in which QBs Sefo Liufau and Jared Goff both threw for 449 yards and seven touchdowns, the Bears found a way to win, which is particularly meaningful after they suffered a heartbreaking loss at Arizona the week before via a Hail Mary. That might be enough, at the very least, to ensure they don't end up at the bottom of the conference by season's end.

Utah wilted; Washington State stepped up: Utah led 21-0 after one and 24-7 at halftime, but the Utes offense never got untracked -- one TD came from the defense, another from special teams -- while Washington State refused to yield on the road. The end result was a critical 28-27 victory for the Cougars, who couldn't afford to lose if they wanted to retain bowl hopes. It seemed as though the Utes tried to sit on the lead. That was a mistake. It might turn out to be meaningful that Cougars coach Mike Leach called a special first-quarter time out and gathered his team for a pep talk. Utah's Pac-12 woes continue, and the Cougs can hope this serves as a springboard for the rest of the season.

We were deceived by early USC, Oregon State results: USC's 35-10 win over Oregon State seemed to make two things clear: 1. The Beavers' 3-0 start against a weak nonconference schedule was meaningless in terms of projecting forward against good Pac-12 teams. 2. USC's shocking loss at Boston College was probably an anomaly. While it's premature to count Oregon State out of the North Division hunt, it's difficult not to see the defeat at USC as a bit of an exposure. And USC has enough on both sides of the ball to become a factor in the South race.

Drawing conclusions from Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
8:31
PM PT

Florida State vs. NC StateChris Morris for ESPN

Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.

No. 1 Florida State 56, NC State 41

Florida State survived a furious upset bid by NC State, as Jameis Winston threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns to help FSU rally from 17 points down.


No. 6 Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)

Kenny Hill rallied Texas A&M past the surging Razorbacks, throwing three touchdown passes during the fourth quarter and overtime before the Aggies made a game-ending defensive stop.


No. 11 UCLA 62, No. 15 Arizona State 27

Brett Hundley threw for 355 yards on Thursday night as UCLA had 582 yards of total offense and scored the most points in the 55-year history of Sun Devil Stadium.


Top-five teams watching, waiting


(Read full post)


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D. Fuller181096.10
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense175.5304.8480.3
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring3824.813.3