Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

Pac-12 mailbag: South rising

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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Welcome to the mailbag. I pray come and crush a cup of wine. And follow me on Twitter.

Arthur in Poulsbo, Washington writes: If the Sun Devils win the rest of their games (big if), do you think the UCLA game with Bercovici's first start, will hurt their chances in getting into the playoffs?

Kevin Gemmell: I think a one-loss Pac-12 champion is a lock, whether that's ASU, Arizona, Utah or Oregon.

But since you're talking about ASU specifically, let's look at the schedule: at Washington (a team that started the year ranked), vs. Utah (a top 20 team as of this week), versus Notre Dame (a top 10 team this week), at Oregon State, versus WSU and at Arizona (a top 15 team).

Combine all of that with the fact they have already beaten two ranked teams and their lone loss was at home to No. 11 (at the time), I think the Playoff Selection Committee would look very, very favorably on the Sun Devils for going 11-1.

Here's the catch, they probably won't. And Arizona and Utah probably wouldn't go 11-1, either (they all play each other, anyway). Oregon has the "easiest" road the rest of the way, so the Ducks might end up with just one loss. But would you be shocked if they didn't? I sure wouldn't be.

A one-loss Pac-12 champion is a sure-thing. Take it to the bank. It gets dicey with a 2-loss team. But even that I think might be safe -- if the committee members truly take depth of conference and strength of schedule into account.

This is a brave and scary new world we're entering. Year 1 will go a long way toward setting some precedents.




Derek in Cedar Rapids, Iowa writes: Well, that was a brutal display by the Cardinal offense on Saturday! My question has to do with the explanation that Stanford is lacking a 220-pound back to run between the tackles, and that is the reason that the offense is so poor. Yes, Tyler Gaffney always seemed to fall forward for an extra yard last year, but how much of this has to do with an offensive line that is not (yet) living up to its recruiting rankings? If the blocking is what it needs to be, shouldn't Remound Wright, Barry Sanders and company be able to hit the hole for nice, positive gains? In other words, how much of this struggle has to do with the revamped offensive line, rather than Gaffney joining Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart in the NFL?

Gemmell: The answer to your question is yes, and yes. Yes, the Cardinal have not found a reliable back to give them, at least, 15 carries a game consistently. And yes, the offensive line has not lived up to the considerable hype it garnered when these guys were first recruited.

Does that mean they never will? Of course not. Remember, Andrus Peat is the only returning starter of the bunch. The rest of them -- while having seen a little playing time in the past -- are first-year starters.

But it's not all on the line. Because in Stanford's scheme, pass protection is a huge responsibility for the backs. And none of them have excelled in that department. For as outstanding as Gaffney and Taylor were at carrying the load, they were also very good at reading defenses and picking up blitzes. This wouldn't have happened in those days. Or this.

It is a combination of everything all snowballing into an avalanche of offensive inefficiency. You take an inexperienced line, combine it with backs who haven't done a great job in pass protection/getting extra yards and a quarterback who hasn't played particularly well, and you have the worst offense in the conference.




Mark in Phoenix writes: It was a dominating weekend for the Pac 12 South over the North. Is it too soon to remove the justifier of "so far" and declare that the Pac 12 South is better than the North?

Gemmell: By my count, the Pac-12 South is 7-4 against the North in their 11 inter-division matchups this year. Advantage, South.

Five of the six Pac-12 South teams are ranked, compared to just one team from the North. Advantage, South.

Every team but Oregon in the North has at least two conference losses, while the South has four teams with one conference loss and another with two. Advantage South.

The North has Oregon, the league's highest-ranked team at No. 6 and likely the Pac-12's best chance at making the College Football Playoff. Advantage, North.

Yes, the South is clearly the dominant division right now. That will sort itself out in the coming weeks with showdowns like USC at Utah, Arizona at UCLA and Utah at ASU. And then there are the rivalry games at the end of the year.

But outside of the SEC West, I don't think there is another division in football that is as nasty as the South.

The North has a chance to right things in the coming weeks. Arizona travels to Washington State this week and ASU heads to Washington. UCLA at Washington and Oregon at Utah in a couple of weeks will be interesting.

A rising South, in one sense, is great for the conference. The USC-Stanford rivalry is at a tipping point, as is the Arizona-Oregon matchup. There has never been a better time to be a fan of Pac-12 football. On the flip side, the power shift makes the league that much more balanced, which leads to further criticism of the league nationally.

I think back to a quote Mark Helfrich gave me a couple of weeks ago, when he said the Pac-12 has a perception that parity equals mediocrity, but in other leagues, parity equals strength.

Hopefully when the music stops and the four playoff teams are named, the Pac-12's depth will be an asset, not a deterrent.
videoSo maybe all the hubbub and Apocalyptic thoughts that came crashing down on Eugene and all of Interstate 5 and up through the Cascades a few weeks ago were a little bit of an overreaction, no?

But oh, how quickly the tide changes. Because in just two weeks, Marcus Mariota has led the Oregon Ducks from pandemonium to the Promised Land (with some help from a few other top teams being upset) and back into the good graces of the football gods. Not bad, Marcus, not bad -- just 16 days to go from a hopeless team to a heroic one.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota has helped Oregon stay in contention for the College Football Playoff by completing 70 percent of his passes.
“Ah, but [insert SEC West QB name here] could do it in 15,” someone argues. But, that’s fine. Because the SEC can do what the SEC wants to do.

At this point, the Ducks just need to insulate and take care of business because they’re likely in control of their own destiny. According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Oregon has a 21 percent shot to win out. That's third-best among one-loss teams, behind Ohio State and TCU, which both have a 26 percent chance.

And with one game to go until the College Football Playoff committee releases its first set of rankings, Oregon solidified itself as the Pac-12’s banner holder.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t major issues that could still be exploited, and coach Mark Helfrich is the first to admit that.

“There’s a ton we can improve upon, for sure,” he said on Sunday night after watching his team’s game film from its dominant win over Washington.

Such as ... tackling. That has looked better these past two weeks, but the Ducks are still giving up far too many big plays. Oregon has given up 119 plays of 10 or more yards so far this season. You want to know who else has given up that many plays of 10 or more yards?

Purdue and Toledo. In very few cases in college football -- when it comes to statistics -- do you want to be on the same list as those two teams.

As the weeks progress, the Ducks are doing a better job communicating and getting helmets to the ball. But still, of the 1,182 rushing yards the Ducks have allowed, 610 have come after contact.

So, you can decide whether it’s more worrisome that more than half of opponents’ rushing yardage has come after Oregon (tries to) tackle or the fact that through seven games, 572 rushing yards have come before an Oregon defensive player has even gotten to the ball. Or, everyone can just agree that it’s bad news when the Oregon defense allows other teams a 4.3-yards-per-rush average and a 65 percent conversion rate on third-down rushing attempts.

But, it can get better (well, at 120th in the country in third-down rushing defense, it can’t get much worse).

Defensive coordinator Don Pellum has been on this staff a long time, and he knows that this group can play much better than it has. Defenses always take longer to jell and with so many new faces on that side of the ball and D-lineman Arik Armstead hopefully healthy for good, maybe the learning curve will kick up a notch.

But the offense finally seems to be clicking. And though Helfrich wants to downplay the return of offensive tackle Jake Fisher, the skies have looked dramatically clearer for the Ducks since Fisher got back to bookending the left side of the line and protecting Mariota’s blindside.

In Oregon's games against Arizona and Washington State, with Fisher out, the Ducks' average rushing yardage was just about even with what those two teams had given up coming into those games. Meaning, it was average. An average team will not reach the playoff.

But when Fisher returned, the Ducks averaged 1½ times the rushing averages that UCLA and Washington had given up coming into those games. That’s the kind of performance the committee wants to see. It’s not all about statistics, but when Royce Freeman is rushing for 100 yards and Mariota is completing 70 percent of his passes, they’re a hard team to ignore.

And that’s exactly what the Ducks need to be: Hard to ignore -- and not just because their uniforms are flashy.

So, why not Oregon? That’s the question the committee will ask itself as it sits down to look at the résumés of the top 20 or so teams.

It’s a team that knows how to be nationally relevant, but it’s also a team that knows what it feels like to slip out of that conversation.

Two weeks ago, it seemed like that might happen. But the loss to Arizona doesn’t carry as much weight now, as there’s a certainty that at least two one-loss teams will be in the playoff.

Oregon is in the conversation. The Ducks are the ones who are going to decide whether they keep themselves there or not.
With more than a third of the votes in this week's Pac-12 Blog Play of the Week vote, Oregon receiver Dwayne Stanford's 16-yard touchdown catch stole the show.

It's not really surprising considering how ridiculous of a play it was. Yes, it might not have been a game-winner like Devontae Booker's was, and he used both hands, unlike Cal receiver Chris Harper. But Stanford managed to jump, turn, go over two Husky defenders, spin some more and then come down with the TD to give the Ducks a 35-6 lead.

Not bad for his first touchdown against an FBS opponent.

"I told Marcus to put it up to where only I can catch it," Stanford told The Oregonian. "That's what we got to do. When we have the opportunity to make plays, we got to take advantage."

And did he ever. For that advantage and that play, Stanford gets the nod for the Week 8 winner for the Pac-12 Blog's Play of the Week.

Reader reaction:

 

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 21, 2014
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Even without a public commitment, the Pac-12 was full of recruiting news this weekend, as every home team hosted visitors and ESPN 300 prospects made their way to each Saturday game. Elsewhere, Arizona State extended an offer to a 2017 quarterback and Utah has a chance to make a big statement.

Oregon has one game left before the College Football Playoff committee releases its first rankings of the year.

Currently, the Ducks sit at sixth in the AP Poll, but with a strong showing Friday night they could certainly move up. However, there probably won’t be any major leaps considering the slates of the five teams that sit ahead of Oregon (No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky, No. 2 FSU at Louisville, No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU, No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee and No. 5 Auburn vs. South Carolina).

But the committee has said that they’re going to give a look to any team in the top 20. So even if Oregon doesn’t move up, that doesn’t count them out of the committee’s first ranking for the group of four. It also doesn’t count out No.’s 7-20, either, though. So a strong performance this weekend is necessary in order to leave the committee with a good impression of these Ducks.

And in order to do that, here are four key playmakers -- outside of Marcus Mariota -- that need to have big games on Friday against Cal.

1. WR Byron Marshall

Strange to call a guy who had a 1,000-yard rushing season “emerging,” but he has a new role on this team. So in a big way he is emerging as a new kind of playmaker for the Ducks. Marshall gives the Oregon offense the ability to mess with defensive coordinators. When defensive coordinators call their defensive sets, it’s based on the offensive personnel. And when Marshall is in there, DC’s need to basically guess at whether he’s going to rush or split out. Technically, the Ducks are referring to him as a wide receiver , but against Washington he recorded just as many rushes (five) as he did catches. Marshall needs to continue to prove his versatility in the offense and be that headache for opposing defenses.

[+] EnlargePharaoh Brown
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsPharaoh Brown causes match-up problems for defensive coordinators.
2. TE Pharaoh Brown

Of late, Brown has sort of been similar to Marshall in the fact that defensive coordinators don’t really know what he’s going to do. He led the Ducks in receiving yardage against UW. In the last two games he has accounted for more receiving yards than he did in Oregon’s first five games. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has complimented Brown for how much he has matured in the past year and though his silly penalties the last two weeks might not show that, if Brown continues to mature -- both emotionally and as a player -- he’s going to be a guy that can tear defenses up. The committee would like to see that.

3. LT Jake Fisher

Fans can play the “What if” game with Oregon’s offensive line all day but it won’t change what the Ducks have now, and Fisher is a huge part of that. In the three games that Fisher missed (he left early in the Wyoming game so we’ll count that), the Ducks didn’t exceed expectations against the given defenses. Coming into the Oregon game, Washington State had given up 4.0 yards per rush and the Ducks averaged 4.1 yards per rush in that game. Coming into the Arizona match up, the Wildcats had given up 3.6 yards per rush, Oregon averaged 3.5 yards per rush that game. On top of that, Mariota was sacked 12 times in those two games. Since, the Oregon run game has excelled -- the Ducks averaged 6.3 yards per rush against UCLA, the Bruins had given up 4.0 yards per rush coming into that game; the Ducks averaged 4.4 yards per rush against Washington, which had only given up 3.1 yards per rush -- and Mariota has only been sacked three times. Keep Mariota healthy and the Ducks have playoff hopes. A lot of that falls on Fisher.

4. DL Arik Armstead

The Ducks needed to rebuild its defensive front coming into this season and Armstead was supposed to be a huge part. And he has played a good role in that effort. After accounting for just 17 tackles last season, the junior has already matched that total this season despite missing time due to injury. He has also tallied four tackles for a loss, one sack and four quarterback hurries. But it’s not enough if the Ducks want to have a dominant defense. Oregon needs to be much, much better up front and Armstead needs to play a bigger role. The Ducks are giving up 5.6 yards per play and are allowing teams to convert on 30.8 percent of their plays (96th nationally). He has had a solid season so far but the Ducks need a playmaker on the defensive line, one that can do it all. With his combination of size and athleticism, he seems to be a great candidate. But, the proof is in the pudding and the committee is going to need to see some bigger plays -- especially up front -- out of this Oregon defense.
Week 8 was great. As always, here are your choices for the Pac-12 Blog's Play of the Week. All were impressive, but which was head and shoulders above the rest?

1. Why use two hands when you only need one?

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With Cal trailing by three, and the Bears with their second attempt at the endzone from the 7-yard line, Cal junior receiver Chris Harper caught a one-handed touchdown pass over UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams (who's not new to the Play of the Week vote, but usually isn't the one being beat in the play). It was a nice throw from quarterback Luke Rubenzer, but Harper displayed great athleticism in going up for that ball, controlling it and bringing it down with his right hand.

2. Oregon's own [Dwayne] Stanford problem

SportsNation

Who had this week's Pac-12 Play of the Week?

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    15%
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    33%
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    16%
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    22%
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    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,437)

Oregon sophomore receiver Dwayne Stanford elevated over both Kevin King and Sidney Jones to come down with his first touchdown against an FBS opponent in his career. It was a perfect ball from quarterback Marcus Mariota and Stanford's leap, catch and spin for the score -- which gave the Ducks a 35-6 lead -- certainly deserves a spot in this week's vote. Stanford's catch was even bigger for the Ducks as Mariota begins to look for new weapons in the receiving game with Bralon Addison still out and Keanon Lowe, his most experienced receiver who returned this season, having sat out the last two games. Stanford finished the day with five catches for 55 yards, including this little 16-yard beaut.

3. No. 7 for No. 6

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USC quarterback Cody Kessler tied the Pac-12's and stole the USC school record for touchdown passes thrown in a game … seven. Yes, this coming from a quarterback who often gets put on the backburner because there are just so many guys to talk about in this conference. Though all seven touchdown passes were impressive, we're going with his record-breaking toss for many reasons:
  • He displayed plenty of calm in the pocket while Colorado had a pretty solid pass rush going on.
  • The throw itself was put in the perfect spot so only his receiver could get it.
  • Steven Mitchell's diving catch for it was just the cherry on top.
4. Book it for Booker

Running back Devontae Booker had a huge night on Thursday for the Utes. With not much happening in the air, he got it done on the ground for Utah, rushing 32 times for 229 yards and three touchdowns. But the vote this week is for his 19-yard rushing touchdown in the second overtime to seal the win for Utah. The play itself might not have featured as many ankle breakings as others this weekend, but to thrive under that kind of pressure and get a road win in the Pac-12 (which seems pretty common these days, I know) is good enough to get on the vote. Booker -- who flew under the radar coming into this season -- is now second in the conference in rushing yards per game (123.7) and third in all-purpose yards (146.2).

5. An Oregon Grand [Byron] Marshall

Technically, Byron Marshall is a wide receiver now for the Oregon Ducks. But don't tell that to the ankles he broke on Saturday as he rushed in a 23-yard touchdown. Though it was a receiving touchdown, it was his performance after the catch that gets him on this vote. His change of speed and direction got two Husky defenders to look silly before he bulldozed his way into the endzone through three more Washington players (and an Oregon player, too). On the day, Marshall accounted for five carries for 30 yards and five catches for 48 yards.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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I like it. What's not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Good.

Leading off

The biggest news is that Stanford dropped out of the rankings after its 72-week run in the top-25. Sorry, Cardinal. But maybe a sweep of the state of Oregon over the next two weekends will get you back in. Kyle Bonagura went a bit deeper on the subject, which you can read here.

Here are the Pac-12 teams in the rankings. As always, the AP rank is first, followed by the coaches poll.
  • Oregon 6-7
  • Arizona State 14-14
  • Arizona 15-15
  • Utah 19-19
  • USC 20-21
  • UCLA 25-NR

Stanford was the only conference team to pick up any votes in the AP poll and in the USA Today coaches' poll. Washington and Stanford both received votes. Check out the complete rankings right here.

Curious how people who cover the conference teams voted? Glad you asked.
And per usual, Heather Dinich gives you a rundown of the playoff picture following last week's football action. She has interesting thoughts on Stanford. Sorry Cardinal, but Dinich says that a three-loss team -- even if it wins the Pac-12 title -- won't make the playoff. Read on here.

Some streaks extended, others stopped right in their tracks

The Oregon Ducks continued their streak over Washington, winning their 11th consecutive game in the series. This kind of dominance in the series reminded The Oregonian's Andrew Greif of the Ducks of yesteryear as it produced a strong run game, solid QB play and, again, a win over the Huskies.
But in their play, a 45-20 victory against the Huskies at Autzen Stadium, the present-day Ducks instead resembled something closer to the grind-'em-up machine of the last decade that brought this program to prominence.

So, the 1994 throwback uniforms made quite a bit of sense, Greif explains. And speaking of those Oregon uniforms, The Huffington Post decided to go through 50 Oregon uniforms that "changed the way we see college football."

And while the Ducks were having usual success in Eugene, the Bruins had unusual success in Berkeley. UCLA hadn't won there since 1998 and it squeaked out a win over the Bears, breaking that streak.

But despite a win, UCLA isn't exactly looking like the top team many expected it to be coming into this season. Everett Cook of The Los Angeles Times writes that -- among a few other things learned in the Bruins' win over the Bears -- that UCLA continues to play down to the level of its competition.

And can we speak of streaks without at least addressing the ongoing Pac-12 road team streak? Utah and UCLA won on the road but USC, Oregon and ASU got work done at home. Does this mean that the magic of the road is gone? Probably not. With some interesting matchups this weekend (Oregon at Cal, UCLA at Colorado, Arizona at Washington State, Arizona State at Washington ... just to name a few), it wouldn't be too surprising to see some road teams walk out of opposing stadiums with a win.

And some shout outs

Let's give props where props deserve to be given. There were quite a few guys who had career days over the weekend in the Pac-12. News/notes/team reports

Best of the visits: Pac-12

October, 19, 2014
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Another weekend of Pac-12 games meant another weekend of Pac-12 visitors, as multiple conference programs hosted important official and unofficial visitors. Those recruits took to twitter to share their experiences, as Arizona State, Cal, USC and Oregon all put together significant performances -- including three home victories -- in front of recruits.

Cal hosts big weekend

The Golden Bears had a number of official visitors on hand -- including ESPN 300 wide receiver Carlos Strickland -- and almost pulled off the upset against UCLA. As always, the Cal passing game was on display, and this time it came in front of Strickland and three-star receiver Lavan Alston. Class of 2016 standout running back Sean McGrew, who holds a number of Pac-12 offers, was also on hand on an unofficial visit.

Oregon's ESPN 300 visitors

Perhaps no Pac-12 program hosted a more potent one-two punch than the Ducks, as Oregon brought in ESPN 300 teammates John Houston Jr. and Rasheem Green on official visits.


The two hold significant interest in UCLA, USC and other programs, but the Ducks picked a great weekend to bring in the talented defenders on official visits. Neither is expected to make a decision before signing day, but Oregon could be in the mix for both until the end.

Masina's second Pac-12 trip

ESPN 300 outside linebacker Osa Masina has three Pac-12 programs among his final schools, and the nation's No. 124 overall prospect was on an official visit to Arizona State this weekend. Masina went to UCLA earlier this month and will visit USC at the end of November.

Recruits see big USC win

While the Trojans didn't host any official visitors, being the only game in Los Angeles brought out some important local prospects.

ESPN 300 athlete Ykili Ross attended several USC games this season and was at the Coliseum again on Saturday.


The Trojans also received an unofficial visit from 2016 ESPN 300 safety C.J. Pollard, who picked up an offer from USC last week. Pollard is another in a long line of Gardena (Calif.) Serra standouts and his father, Marvin, is a former USC cornerback.

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A quick look at Oregon's 45-20 victory over Washington, the Ducks' 11th consecutive win over the Huskies.

How the game was won: Oregon’s offense is playing like it wants to play. Jake Fisher returned to the lineup in the Ducks’ win over UCLA, and the O-line looked like it took another step forward against a talented Huskies front seven. Though the O-line had a few silly penalties that they’ll have to clean up, the offense managed to click and tore up the Washington defense with big plays. Oregon accounted for 22 plays of 10 or more yards against a stout defense.

Game ball goes to: Oregon running back Royce Freeman. He’s a freshman who plays (and is built) like a fifth-year senior. Freeman averaged 5.8 yards per rush against a defense giving up only 3.1 yards per carry, finishing with 169 yards on 29 carries. It was his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game, and he had a Pac-12 season-high four rushing touchdowns in this game, with a fifth taken away by an offensive line penalty. It was the most rushing touchdowns in a single game for a Duck since Kenjon Barner recorded five against USC in 2012. But to be kind, let's give a second game ball to the Oregon offensive line for making that possible.

What it means: First and foremost for Ducks fans, the streak against Washington is still alive. From a national perspective, this was a big game. It answered the question of whether or not Oregon’s offensive performance against UCLA was a one-and-done. (Answer: nope, not at all.) And while most of the nation was tuned in to the top-five matchup in Tallahassee, the Ducks managed to put on a pretty good show in Eugene.

Playoff implication: With 10 days until the playoff selection committee releases its first ranking, Oregon is still very much in the conversation. The Ducks O-line was far from perfect but still light years ahead of where it was in Oregon’s loss to Arizona. In this game, the committee saw an unflappable Marcus Mariota, a strong run game and a defense that is coming along. And even if the defense is still slow on the uptake through the rest of the season, the improvements of the O-line could give the committee enough belief that this Mariota-led offense could probably make up for whatever deficiencies the defense has shown. At the end of the day, it’s about who has more points.

Best play: Dwayne Stanford's 16-yard receiving touchdown in the third quarter. He jumped backward and elevated over both Kevin King and Sidney Jones, spun in the air and came down with the score to give the Ducks a 35-6 lead. It was Stanford’s second touchdown of the season, but his first career touchdown reception against an FBS team.

What's next: Oregon travels to Berkley to take on California, a team that will be eager to prove itself after a very close loss to UCLA on Saturday. Washington welcomes Arizona State to Seattle for a chance to pick up a sixth win and bowl eligibility.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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(All times local)
12:30 p.m.

UCLA at California, ESPN2, ABC

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJared Goff will look to rebound against UCLA after Cal scored just one touchdown last week.
This is the battle for bragging rights between California's top two public schools. Both teams are coming off disheartening losses, so there should be a sense of urgency coming from both sidelines. Cal must demonstrate that it can at least slow down an explosive offense to keep this competitive. However, the Bruins' defense hasn't been much to write home about, either. Expect UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and Cal QB Jared Goff to light up the Memorial Stadium scoreboard.

3 p.m.

Colorado at USC, Pac-12 Network

The Trojans escaped against Arizona with a win by the skin of their teeth when the Wildcats' last-second field goal attempt was wide right. The week before, USC lost to Arizona State on a Hail Mary. On paper, it looks as if Steve Sarkisian's team will have a chance to catch its breath at home against struggling Colorado, but if there's one thing the Pac-12 has taught us this season, it's that absolutely nothing is automatic.

5 p.m.

Washington at Oregon, Fox Sports 1

It now has been more than 4,000 days since the Huskies last beat Oregon. Washington enters Autzen Stadium armed with a sterling defensive front seven that has helped generate a nationwide-best five defensive touchdowns this season, so there's hope in Seattle that the Huskies can snap Oregon's 10-game streak this time around (Danny Shelton is the kind of big body in the middle that can neutralize explosive offenses).

The Ducks, though, are fresh off a statement win at UCLA. So while Washington is eyeing the upset, the Quack Attack is looking to make another spectacular Marcus Mariota-led splash. Keep this in mind: When it comes to avoiding turnovers, these are the top two teams in the nation. Washington has given it away only once, the Ducks just three times.

7:30 p.m.

Stanford at Arizona State, ESPN

The Cardinal showed signs of offensive life last Friday against Washington State, and they can continue developing their identity on that side of the ball against an Arizona State defense that has not been good (the Sun Devils are allowing a conference-worst 6.1 yards per play). ASU will likely need to find more offensive consistency than it did in two games versus Stanford's top-flight defense last season. Much of that will rest on the shoulders of quarterback Mike Bercovici, who has thrown for an NCAA-record 998 yards in his first two career starts. Taylor Kelly may play, but it'll probably be Bercovici working with explosive weapons D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong against the Cardinal's rugged defense.

Revisiting Pac-12's 'fearless predictions'

October, 17, 2014
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Anu Solomon, Marcus Mariota, Kevin HoganGetty Images, USA TODAY SportsThe Pac-12 blog revisits some of its preseason "fearless predictions" to see how they stand at the midway point of the season.
At the midway point of the season, the Pac-12 bloggers decided it was a good time to revisit some of the blog's fearless predictions for 2014. How'd we do?

1. A Pac-12 team will win the national championship: We wrote that Oregon, UCLA, Stanford or USC would win the national championship, and we'd like to celebrate the fearlessness of that prediction because at this point that is its strongest quality. Each member of that foursome already has at least one loss, with Stanford, UCLA and USC having gone down twice. At No. 9, the Ducks seem like the most likely team to work its way back into College Football Playoff consideration, but that might require going undefeated the rest of the way. No easy task. The Pac-12 has proved even deeper than it appeared in the preseason, while the top doesn't appear as unassailable as it did in August. We may have swung for the fences and missed with this one. -- Ted Miller

2. A Pac-12 player will win the Heisman Trophy: The Pac-12 blog is still confident. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota presents the best candidate from the league. He's yet to throw an interception, his dual-threat numbers more than qualify him and the Ducks are still in the hunt for a conference title and College Football Playoff berth. Although he's the nation's most accurate quarterback, the window for UCLA's Brett Hundley is shrinking quickly. But with names like Buck Allen and Shaq Thompson starting to emerge, the league still has a phenomenal shot at a stiff-arm trophy. -- Kevin Gemmell

3. No Pac-12 coach will be fired at season's end: The two coaches whose seats were moderately warm going into the year, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Cal's Sonny Dykes, both have their programs headed in the right direction. That leaves absolutely no coaches in the Pac-12 in jeopardy of losing their jobs. -- Kyle Bonagura

4. Cal and Colorado will be good enough to deliver a major upset this fall: I think we can consider Cal's win at Washington State as major enough considering the kind of offensive numbers (and special-teams touchdowns) that Jared Goff and his teammates had to put up in Pullman. To win on the road against a team whose QB threw for the FBS passing record is pretty major. However, at the midpoint of the season, we're still waiting on Colorado. The Buffs came pretty close against Cal and Oregon State, which we could've considered in this category, especially with how well Cal was playing at the time. But we're keeping this prediction with Colorado. The Buffs have six regular-season games left and four of those teams are currently in the top 25. We're not counting out a top-25 takedown by Ralphie & Co. -- Chantel Jennings

5. The USC-UCLA game will be a battle of top-10 teams: OK, maybe we shot for the moon a bit with that one. But what about top-25 teams? That's still likely. The Trojans are at No. 22 and UCLA is the first team out of the rankings at the unofficial No. 26 spot. USC has only one ranked team in its next four games leading up to the UCLA showdown. Good chance it will still be ranked. Same for UCLA, which has only No. 16 Arizona as a ranked opponent on the docket before hosting the Trojans on Nov. 22. Win out and the Bruins will be back in the top 20. -- Kevin Gemmell

6. Oregon will cover the spread against Michigan State in Week 2: Annnnnd, we got one. Boom shaka laka. -- Chantel Jennings

7. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame: Well, after Stanford yanked defeat from the jaws of victory -- hey, let's rush three and not cover anybody on fourth-and-11 from our 23-yard line with time running out! -- this prediction is already doomed. The question now, with Notre Dame ranked No. 5 as it heads to No. 2 Florida State on Saturday, is whether Arizona State (Nov. 8) and USC can beat the Irish (Nov. 29). We're going to stay optimistic -- I know; so strange! -- and say yes. Biggest reason why? Stanford played Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, but the Irish have to come west to play the Sun Devils and Trojans. And now's not the time to note that home-field advantage hasn't been worth squat in the Pac-12 this season. -- Ted Miller

8. Whoever starts at quarterback for Arizona will pass for more than 3,000 yards: Freshman Anu Solomon has cemented himself as the Wildcats' starting quarterback, and our initial assessment of 3,000 yards actually looks conservative now. Through six games, Solomon has demonstrated remarkable poise in the pocket, even leading Arizona to a shocking 31-24 upset over Oregon at Autzen Stadium. He has already racked up 2,136 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Since the Wildcats are on target to play in a bowl game, Solomon is actually on pace to shatter that three-grand figure while throwing for 4,628 yards and 33 touchdowns. Rich Rodriguez is developing a potent attack in Tucson, and it should only improve as Solomon accrues more experience with his talented receiving corps. -- David Lombardi

9. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan will be the Pac-12's most improved player: This prediction has not come to fruition. Through the first half of the season, Hogan has actually regressed in a key statistical area, and Stanford has struggled mightily in the red zone, a place where great quarterbacks shine. Averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, Hogan's no longer as efficient as he was in 2013 (8.9 yards per attempt) despite enjoying a much more complete aerial arsenal (Stanford's tight end position is back this year). The Cardinal's running game is not as strong this year, and that's forced Hogan to shoulder a heavier load. He averaged 15 throws per game in 2012. That number bumped up to 21 in 2013, and it has shot up to 29 here in 2014. It's become clear that this larger burden has pushed Hogan further from his comfort zone.

If Stanford can re-establish its running game and return Hogan to the play-action happy spot that gives him more opportunities to make plays with his legs, we may be able to revisit this prediction at season's end. -- David Lombardi

10. Six teams will be ranked in the final top 25 at the end of the season: Six looks like a stretch at this point and it's not because the Pac-12 might have six of the country's 25 best teams. With the level of parity the conference has shown over the first half of the season, it'll be tough to differentiate from, say, the conference's No. 5 team and its No. 8 team. That dynamic will make it significantly more difficult to have more teams in the top 25 than if there were a clear divide between the haves and the have-nots. -- Kyle Bonagura

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

October, 17, 2014
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As the schedule flips to the second half of the season, recruits will witness some important games in the Pac-12 this weekend. The three biggest recruiting weekends in the conference all feature ESPN 300 prospects, as programs look to positions themselves to close their recruiting classes with marquee prospects.

1. Oregon


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Pac-12 North recruiting roundup 

October, 16, 2014
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At the halfway point of college football's regular season, there is still plenty to be decided both on the field and on the recruiting trail. The Pac-12 placed six programs among the top 40 recruiting classes in Wednesday's updated class rankings and conference recruiting classes contain as many as 24 -- Arizona -- and as few as nine -- Stanford -- verbal commitments. This update offers a look at where each Pac-12 North program stands with its 2015 recruiting class, including its top prospect and position of strength, as well as a look at where things are going well, and not so well, for each class.

Cal

Total number of commitments: 10

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The introduction of Chris Petersen to the Washington-Oregon rivalry comes as quite a relief to the ink-stained wretches who write about college football. Redundancy and predictability are the sworn enemies of the scribbling class, and the Huskies-Ducks rivalry has been a model of redundancy and predictability for a decade, with the boys in green -- or, you know, whatever -- owning the purple team by at least 17 points in the last 10 matchups.

With Petersen now fronting the Huskies, that's an item of interest that a journalist can wrap a lead around. He or she doesn't have to immediately recycle the droning, "Is this the year Washington breaks through?" One can observe that Petersen not only was once a Ducks assistant -- from 1995-2000 under Mike Bellotti -- when he started a longstanding friendship with second-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, but he also was 2-0 against Oregon while heading Boise State, where he was 92-12 and was universally esteemed for his Huge Football Brain.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images"I know about the Oregon-Washington stuff," Huskies coach Chris Petersen said, "but that's not my focus, getting them fired up. To me, this needs to be about us."
"Huge Football Brain"? That hints at Chip Kelly, which means Huskies fans have stopped reading and now have thrown themselves on their prayer rugs and begun wailing to the college football gods that Washington really, really would like Petersen to become Washington's version of Kelly. Or, even better, Don James, Take 2.

With Huskies fans duly distracted by their invocations, we'll note to the tittering Oregon fans that the Ducks will be celebrating the 20-year anniversary of an obscure moment in their team's history on Saturday. While video of Kenny Wheaton's pick-six interception against Washington in 1994 is as difficult to find as a white peacock, it does exist, and there's a quiet minority of Ducks fans who believe it was a meaningful moment in the transformation of the program.

Those Oregon fans obsessed with such esoterica will be glad to know the Duck will don throwback uniforms to honor the occasion, of which at least one Oregon administrative Twitter feed observed this week: "Prior to 'The Pick' Oregon all-time had a .495 Win% (359-366-34). Since that game, Oregon is .731 (177-65)."

So, yes, call us a wee bit sarcastic when we poke fun by minimizing the impact of "The Pick," unquestionably the Ur-moment in Oregon football history, a highlight that plays immediately before every Ducks home game.

And the reason it is the definitive before-after line for the program's rise to West Coast and national prominence is not only that it was the key play in a run to the program's first Rose Bowl since 1958, it was that it happened so dramatically against the Huskies, the established Northwest power that Ducks fans most hated.

Which brings us back the rivalry and the two head coaches. Both know the rivalry well. That means they will at least acknowledge its biliousness, unlike Kelly, who seemed to enjoy telling reporters how much he liked former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, knowing it would inspire forehead slaps among the Ducks faithful.

"Do I understand the rivalry as a native Oregonian? Absolutely," Helfrich said. "I know the history of that very well and what it means to our fans."

And yet, it's all about an established winning process with the Ducks, and that centers on preparing the same every week for a "nameless faceless opponent."

Echoed Petersen, "I know about the Oregon-Washington stuff, but that’s not my focus, getting them fired up. To me, this needs to be about us."

That carries over to Helfrich's and Petersen's friendship. Both insisted in the preseason it would overcome them being at professional loggerheads in the Pac-12's North Division, though they admitted this week they hadn't talked thus far this season. Both also insisted this week that it has no impact on their emotions or preparation for the game. Which, you know, is as it should be.

Petersen, while at Boise State, handed the Ducks their last nonconference loss at home in 2008, and then spoiled Kelly's head coaching debut in 2009. While that's an interesting factoid, it's also far less relevant than how well the Ducks offensive line, which recovered nicely in a win at UCLA with offensive tackle Jake Fisher back in the lineup, will play against the Huskies stout front-7, led by nose guard Danny Shelton, defensive endHau'oli Kikaha and linebacker Shaq Thompson.

What Oregon showed last week while redeeming itself after flubbing around in a home loss to Arizona is that when the offensive line is playing well, the offense hums along like in days of old. Petersen knows his team can't allow QB Marcus Mariota to feel comfortable.

"He might be the best player in college football, so that’s a problem right there," he said.

Another interesting factoid: Neither QB has thrown an interception this year. Because Cyler Miles isn't the playmaker that Mariota is, it's probably more critical for him to maintain his clean sheet Saturday.

So here we are, back at the redundancy: Is this the Huskies year? Maybe. Stranger things have happened this season. A lot stranger. But all the history and emotions don't hold a lot of weight with either coach. Whether the Huskies break through or the Ducks make like Spinal Tap's amplifiers and go up to 11, the coaches just view the game as X's and O's either doing what they want them to do or not.

Noted Petersen dryly, "So it doesn’t necessarily have to do with anything in the past. It comes down to playing good football."

Pac-12 Week 8 predictions

October, 16, 2014
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Why Utah will win: Duh, the Utes are on the road. Is any further explanation needed? I like the confidence Utah is playing with. I like that they are a three-phase team. And I really, really like the sack-happy Utah front seven against an Oregon State offensive line that hasn't fully come together yet. The Utes have established a strong running game that will exist regardless of who is handing off the ball. OSU's offense is yet to really come together. And unless you've got a defense like Stanford's, averaging fewer than 30 points per game will eventually catch up with you. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Oregon will win: Oregon has won 10 in a row in this bitter rivalry, and each of those victories came by at least 17 points. That’s dominance. Last year, the Huskies challenged the Ducks for three quarters at home before being overwhelmed in the fourth quarter in a 45-24 Ducks win. While Washington is closing the gap, and the Chris Petersen hire adds an intriguing wrinkle to the series, the Ducks seemed to regain their footing last weekend at UCLA. They’ll particularly need that improved O-line play to neutralize Washington’s tough front seven. But don’t despair Huskies: Marcus Mariota won’t be around when the Ducks come back to Husky Stadium in 2015! -- Ted Miller

Why Stanford will win: Stanford is just a bad matchup for Arizona State. The Cardinal's physicality on defense caused problems in both games last year and there's not much reason to indicate that won't be the case again Saturday. Stanford's offense has struggled, but there were enough schematic changes against Washington State to sense improvement is coming. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: Because there’s no way that if all five of us picked all five of the same teams this week, that we’d all be perfect. My gut says one of these games doesn’t happen the way we all believe it will. The Sun Devils are the more highly ranked team and they’re playing at home which in the Pac-12 this year means they should lose, right? So, I’m going to say they’re going to win. Despite Stanford’s tough defense, I think Arizona State has enough success against them to sneak out with a win. The Pac-12 this season has made little sense and for some reason everyone thinks Stanford is going to come in and crush ASU, so I say, what the hey, let’s pick ASU because no one else did. -- Chantel Jennings

Unanimous picks

Why UCLA will win: Don't get us wrong, Cal has a very real shot to win this game. Their offense is still explosive, and UCLA's defense has not shown that it's anywhere near Washington's caliber, the Bears' last opponent. We're still waiting for evidence that Cal's defense can stop Brett Hundley & Co. -- David Lombardi

Why USC will win: It's clear that the Trojans are significantly better than Colorado, and they're at home. Despite its inconsistency this season, USC just has too much size, athleticism, and skill to reasonably think they'll lose this game. -- David Lombardi

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