Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

Happy Halloween in the Pac-12

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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Happy Halloween, Pac-12.

This holiday seems perfect for a conference that has had so many tricks and treats already this year.

So, to celebrate, we've looked around the conference and picked out some possible costumes for teams, coaches and players.

For example, this year Arizona is going as Stanford (Oregon's apparent Kyrptonite). Stanford is going as Utah circa 2013 (three losses by Week 7). Utah is going as Oregon (injury bug strikes). And Oregon is going as a flamingo. Because really, a duck going as a bird is just some irony I'd love to see.

Oh, and also, Washington State is going as a pirate. Just because. Here are some other options for teams:

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJared Goff and the Golden Bears have been surprisingly improved this season.
Freddy Krueger (team not to sleep on): Cal. We all knew they'd be better than last season, but who could have predicted that they would be a possible bowl team with four games to go? At Week 5 in the season they were just a Hail Mary away from being undefeated. Jared Goff is one of the most improved players in the nation and he's leading a team that has Sonny Dykes in some coach of the year discussions. Cal has lost three games in a row, but they managed to put up 41 points against Oregon and almost beat UCLA at home. Oregon State? USC? Stanford? You've been warned. This team is not one you can sleep on. The 2013 team? Maybe. But this 2014 version is so different.

Boo (boo): Oregon's offensive line. Remember when this was going to be Oregon's best position group this season? Since then, the Ducks lost starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone, who had come into the season with 26 starts under his belt. Then the coaching staff moved right tackle Jake Fisher to fill Johnstone's spot and back up Andre Yruretagoyena into the right tackle spot. Then Yruretagoyena got hurt. Then they moved true freshman Tyrell Crosby into right tackle. Then Fisher got hurt and Crosby moved over to left tackle and former walk on Matt Pierson moved to right tackle. Follow? Don't blame you if you don't. Oregon's one loss came with huge inexperience on both sides of the line. If the Ducks were 100 percent healthy that game, do the Wildcats still win? Who knows. But the game itself probably would've looked quite a bit different.

Graveyard: Colorado. Sorry Buffs, but you're winless in the conference. You've been snake bitten, we'll give you that. Double overtime losses to UCLA and Cal? That's just rough. But the good thing about a graveyard on Halloween is that corpses come back to life and with four more games, there's always a chance.

Trick: Washington State. The Cougars were supposed to be one of the most improved teams in the league this season. With third year coach Mike Leach at the helm and Connor Halliday finally coming into his own, they were supposed to be a darkhorse in the north. Well, the trick is on us. Wazzu sits at 2-6 overall after most of us anticipated the inverse at this point in the season.

Treat: The Arizona schools. ASU and Arizona were picked to finish third and fourth in the Pac-12 South, respectively. Instead, they're leading their division with huge wins over the teams that were supposed to be dominating everyone. And you know what makes these teams even more treat-like? In the conference of quarterbacks these two programs have given us some of the most interesting quarterback storylines of the season. No one was talking about Anu Solomon last July. Now? Now, he has 2,430 yards and 20 passing touchdowns. And Arizona State has provided plenty of spice too. When Taylor Kelly went down Mike Bercovici kept that team relevant and led the Sun Devils to a huge upset over USC. What a treat for those teams and anyone who watched.

Pac-12 costume ideas:

For the Pac-12 refs, we have a few different options considering the amount of hate you've gotten from some fans this season. It was hard to find other people and things that are as notorious as you, but here's a possible list:

1. LeBron James circa 2010, and the entire West Coast can be the city of Cleveland.
2. Justin Bieber, and the entire West Coast can be the entire West Coast.
3. Brussel sprouts.
4. The song "Call Me Maybe."
5. The Internet guy who shows up two hours late.

Or, just go as a zebra. You already have the outfit.

  • Washington State QB Connor Halliday: Mighty Mouse. His extreme strength is displayed by the fact that his arms are still attached to his body after three years in Leach's offense.
  • UCLA coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich: Those people who fight at a nice restaurant.
  • USC RB Buck Allen: A wrecking ball.
  • UCLA QB Jerry Neuheisel, ASU QB Mike Bercovici: Ronnie Bass from "Remember the Titans." Like Bass, Neuheisel and Bercovici came in for their injured starting quarterback and led their teams to victory.
  • Utah's special teams: The exceptional middle child. The oldest child is always the most mature and doted upon -- that's your defense typically. The youngest kid is always so cute and everyone pays the most attention to it -- that's your offense. Then there's the middle kid who is usually forgotten. That's the special teams. But every so often there's a middle kid that's a piano prodigy or knows how to code at 7 years old or wins every spelling bee. Yep, Utah's special teams win every spelling bee. … For those who are curious, some notable and accomplished middle children: Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates.
  • Washington's Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson: The Three Musketeers. "Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures," Alexander Dumas wrote. I'd say that sums it up. Though none of these players are very quarrelsome, they certainly seek (and excel in) hazardous adventures.
  • Oregon State WR Victor Bolden: Jay Leno. You gotta feel for a guy who's expected to come into Brandin Cooks' spot. Kinda like Jay Leno coming in to Johnny Carson's role at "The Tonight Show."

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
10:00
AM ET
All times Pacific

10 a.m.

Washington at Colorado, Pac-12 Network


The Buffaloes are desperate for a conference win, and given Washington’s horrendous offensive struggles, this looks to be their best remaining chance. The Huskies can still wreak havoc defensively, though, so they’re the favorites entering this game. Cyler Miles will be back under center for Washington, which will try to escape Boulder with greater ease than UCLA, who beat the Buffs in double overtime, did last week.

1:30 p.m.

USC at Washington State, Pac-12 Network


Connor Halliday's passing yardage totals continue to light up box scores on a weekly basis, but Cougars losses are piling up just as quickly. Washington State must win out just to finish .500 this season, and that outcome appears highly unlikely. USC might be hurting after a close loss at Utah that also cost them left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but there’s a lot here for Wazzu to handle between Cody Kessler, his explosive targets, and Javorius Allen.

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsWill Marcus Mariota and Oregon solve Stanford, or will the Cardinal pluck the Ducks again?
4:30 p.m.

Stanford at Oregon, FOX


Don’t let the Cardinal’s three losses fool you: This is still a titanic match-up between the nation’s most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing only 3.7 yards per play, best in FBS) and its best quarterback (Marcus Mariota’s 192.2 rating is No. 1). However, it’s the other side of the ball that might ultimately decide the winner in the Ducks’ revenge effort. Stanford’s offense, though recently revamped, is averaging a league-worst 14.7 points per game on the road, while Oregon’s defense has not been airtight this season.

7:30 p.m.

California at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network


Sean Mannion will likely break the Pac-12’s career record for passing yards in this game, as the current mark, held by USC’s Matt Barkley, is just over 200 yards away. Fittingly, the quarterback on the other side -- Cal sophomore Jared Goff -- has a legitimate shot to re-break that record if he’s still around in two years. This one will be fun because it features two talented quarterbacks and an air of desperation, as both teams need a win to stay on reasonable track for bowl eligibility.

Arizona at UCLA, ESPN

It’s put up-or-shut up time in Westwood. The Bruins have squeaked by two lower-tier Pac-12 teams in Cal and Colorado. The road becomes more difficult with resurgent Arizona visiting. The Wildcats fired on all cylinders at Washington State last week, and Anu Solomon is certainly excited to test the shaky Bruins defense with the likes of Nick Wilson and Austin Hill. Meanwhile, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III has forced five fumbles this season, while UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has turned the ball over eight times. Keep an eye on the Bruins’ ability to protect the football.

8 p.m.

Utah at Arizona State, Fox Sports 1


So, how much has Arizona State’s defense — particularly its stoutness against the run — improved? We’ll find out when Utah’s Devontae Booker (leading the Pac-12 at 166 rushing yards per conference game) tests Tempe to wrap up Saturday. The Sun Devils had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight games before stifling Stanford. Washington also had some success against them on the ground last week (but none through the air), so this duel in the desert represents a true litmus test for both teams. The winner will be in excellent position when it comes to the race for the Pac-12 South crown.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
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ESPN 300 prospects are set to scatter all over the Pac-12 landscape this weekend, as several conference programs are hosting very important official visit weekends. We take a look around the Pac-12 at the three biggest recruiting weekends in the conference.

Stanford at Oregon

Pac-12 morning links

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
8:00
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Happy Friday! And Happy Halloween!

Leading off

Friday means picks! Big picks, small picks, upset picks and more. The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning with a little debate among the higher-profile games. And as we do each Friday, here are some picks from national writers and those who cover the conference.

The FOX pair of Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman are in sync with their Pac-12 picks. Both like Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona to beat Stanford, Utah and UCLA, respectively. Here is Feldman's take on the ASU-Utah matchup:
As good as the Utes D is playing, I think ASU QB Taylor Kelly can handle the heat. The Sun Devils have had fits dealing with the run, and Utah's Devontae Booker has been outstanding, but look for ASU to be able to give more focus to containing him since the Utes’ passing game is hampered further without leading receiver Dres Anderson (out for the season with a knee injury).
Big Board update

ESPN's Mel Kiper has released his latest Big Board projections, and as of right now, the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft will be from the Pac-12. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is No. 1 overall, followed by USC's Leonard Williams. Here's Kiper's take on the Oregon quarterback:
He combines above-average accuracy and anticipation with an ability to get through his progressions and elite athleticism. How well he can take apart a defense with tools other than his legs matters in terms of how he is viewed as a prospect, but his ability to throw on the run or simply take off and pick up chunk yardage is a major plus.

It's an insider piece, so I can't give away the farm. (Hint: my password is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Safe to say these two aren't the only Pac-12 players who appear in his top 25. There are five more (Washington fans, you'll be pleased).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Lisa Horne, proprietor of PigSkinGrind.com, offers up some awards and highlights thus far this season. She's a Heisman voter, so for what it's worth, she taps Mariota for having the top Heisman moment so far.

Speaking of Mariota ...

Tale of the tape: Stanford vs. Oregon 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
5:00
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video
While Stanford's trip to Oregon this weekend has lost some of its preseason luster, it's still a matchup of two Pac-12 North and recruiting powers.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

EUGENE, Ore. -- Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 -- that date was circled on so many of the Oregon Ducks' calendars last year.

It was the date they'd have a chance to hit the field again against the team that derailed their 2012 season. But the 2013 date would have the same result -- that circle would make no difference in the end -- it'd be another loss to Stanford, another New Year's Day spent not playing in the Rose Bowl.

"We can't make it a bigger game than it is," Oregon center Hroniss Grasu said. "That's what I feel like we did last year. We were just focusing on that game way too much."

So perhaps in this game, one of the biggest benefits for Oregon will be one of its biggest questions marks -- its youth.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesOregon has lost two straight to Stanford, but several key Ducks have never played in the rivalry.
Running back Royce Freeman, who took over the starting running back job five games into the season and has accounted for 55 percent of the Ducks' rushing yards in October, has never played in this rivalry. Wide receiver Devon Allen, who has been one of Marcus Mariota's most consistent targets this season, has never played in this rivalry. Wide receiver Darren Carrington, who has come on strong as of late, has never played in this rivalry. Charles Nelson, special teams phenom, has never played in this rivalry.

Though Allen and Carrington saw the effects of this game last year during their redshirt seasons, they weren't in that game seeing exactly how everything went down.

Now, their ignorance could be Oregon's bliss.

In any other game that type of inexperience might be considered a deterrent. But here, in a game in which the history has messed with the present players more and more, perhaps inexperience will be one of the Ducks' greatest strength.

"I feel like it's a little bit easier for those guys to be able to play this game," Grasu said. "Because all we can tell those young guys is treat it like you perform in practice. They do an unbelievable job at practice and it has been showing on the field every Saturday. They just have to keep doing that -- don't get too hyped up just for this game."

"Maybe that is a good thing," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said about his young playmakers. "Those guys are a little bit fresher in their perspective."

The youth certainly has been fresh for Helfrich this season, especially of late as the learning curves have really picked up.

But to him, he really doesn't think of his players in terms of grades. He looks at each of them as a player going into Week 9 of the season, and so far, all of these 18- and 19-year olds have looked like very talented Week 9 players.

"We have so many [young] guys playing prominent roles on both sides of the ball and on special teams," Helfrich said. "If they're in the game, they're our best guy doesn't matter what grade they're in."

It might not matter to Helfrich, but it could, in fact, be a help to the coach come Saturday.
When contemplating the career arcs of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan over the last two years, there has been a “Yeah, but…” element for each.

Mariota is again a Heisman frontrunner and one of the most accomplished quarterbacks ever to grace the green. Yeah, but those Stanford games …

Hogan has led the Cardinal to a couple of Rose Bowls, but has had his struggles with consistency. Yeah, but those Oregon games …

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMarcus Mariota has one final chance to beat Stanford, Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
When the teams meet Saturday at Oregon in a critical Pac-12 North showdown, Hogan will not be in the secondary when Mariota is on the field. Nor will Mariota be playing linebacker when Hogan is reading the defense. Yet quarterback play has helped define this game over the last couple of years as much as any defensive stand or overtime field goal.

Hogan’s legend was born on Nov. 17, 2012, at Autzen Stadium. Still in a post Andrew Luck haze and unsatisfied with the results of Josh Nunes, Stanford turned to Hogan to make his first career start at home against Oregon State. A week later, he made his first road start in Eugene and helped engineer an unlikely 17-14 overtime win over the No. 1 Ducks. It was not a game the Cardinal were expected to win.

A year later at Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal knocked off the No. 2 Ducks 26-20. Again, Oregon was the favorite.

“Kevin has played probably two of the best games of his career against us,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.

Against Oregon, Hogan is completing 65 percent of his throws with one touchdown, one interception and a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Conversely, Mariota has completed 57 percent of his throws against the Cardinal with three touchdowns, one interception and zero rushing touchdowns. Stanford -- the only Pac-12 team Mariota hasn’t beaten in his decorated career -- has been his Great White Buffalo (said in a whisper).

“Last year Marcus certainly didn’t play his best game, nor did everybody around him contribute to his best game,” Helfrich said.

Fair to assume, too, that his knee injury had something to do with it.

The quarterbacks once against take center stage this weekend as the No. 5 Ducks look to move up in the College Football Rankings. Stanford, the two-time defending league champs, is looking just to stay in the North Division race.

“It goes without saying our game plans are completely geared around Marcus,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We have that much respect/fear of him. It is respect. He is the focal point of what we do and the focal point of what they do. At times we’ve been able to contain him. We’ve been able to harass him.

“But in every game, there’s a streak where you can’t do anything about it. He gets out of the pocket and takes off. He makes a couple of great throws. He moves the team down the field in three plays and scores a touchdown. It’s understanding that that’s going to happen at some point during the game. And when it does happen, we give respect to a great player and we come back and try to get after him again.”

Stanford’s best weapon against Mariota the last couple of years has been its offense’s ability to sustain drives and the defense’s ability to get off the field. In the two previous meetings, Stanford converted 52 percent on third down, while the Ducks converted just 25 percent.

It’s that same consistency Hogan has shown the previous two years that Shaw is hoping for out of him on Saturday.

“I think the biggest thing is being opportunistic,” Shaw said. “If something was there he was getting the ball out of his hands and throwing it. If nothing is there pulling it down and running it. Being very decisive. Converting on third-downs. Controlling the ball and controlling the clock. It’s hard to separate Kevin from the entire offense. But that’s pretty much what’s been good about what we’ve done.”

Meanwhile, Mariota has gracefully answered all Heisman questions before and during the season, though he has made it quite clear that the stiff-arm is the furthest thing from his mind. Still, many voters -- both of the Heisman and Selection Committee variety -- will look to this game to see if he and the Ducks can cure their recent Stanford woes.

And when we look back on this era of Pac-12 football in a couple of decades, Mariota’s accomplishments won’t be whisked away. Nor will Hogan’s Rose Bowl appearances be redacted. Question is, will we still be saying, “Yeah, but ..."

Pac-12 morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
8:00
AM ET
Don't you draw the queen of diamonds boy, she'll beat you if she's able;
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.

Leading off

At this point in the season, any injury to a starter can be crippling. And in the ridiculously competitive Pac-12 South, it can be downright devastating. Earlier in the week we learned that USC would be without left tackle Chad Wheeler for the rest of the season. Wednesday, another impact player was lost for the year when Utah announced that wide receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
“We feel bad for Dres. It’s heartbreaking for that kid. He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s poured everything he had into this program for five years,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “Nobody’s outworked him. Nobody’s done more for us than Dres during that period of time. He’s taken care of business on and off the field. He’s got his degree already in hand.”

Here are some reactions:
The Utes, very much in the thick of things in the Pac-12 South -- and even the playoff conversation -- enter one of the toughest stretches in the country. After this week's trip to ASU, they are home to Oregon, at Stanford, home to Arizona and at Colorado to close out the season. According to FPI, the Utes have the second-toughest remaining schedule of the 25 ranked teams and the eighth toughest in the nation.

Heisman update

Catching you up on the Heisman race, which could take a turn this weekend with Stanford heading to Oregon, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is nearly neck-and-neck with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. In the latest ESPN.com poll, Prescott leads Mariota by a single point.

Here’s how it shakes out (followed by total points):
  1. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (45)
  2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (44)
  3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (18)
  4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (13)
  5. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (11)

No other Pac-12 players are receiving votes. Here’s guessing that if Mariota can finally get over his Stanford hump, he’ll enjoy a nice bump.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

I guess yesterday was National Cat Day? To which my beagle says, meh. The tweet is still funny, though.
D.J. Foster bringing his media skills to practice.

Mailbag: Playoff-bound Utes?

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
7:30
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video
Welcome to the mailbag. Please stay for the punch and pie. And if you feel like it, follow me on Twitter.

Emily, who was formerly from L.A., writes: Unhappy Trojan here, but I have to admit Utah was a really good team. Question that calls for speculation: if Utah beats Oregon - assuming both teams win this coming weekend (yes, I know that's a lot to assume) - do you think the Playoff Committee would recognize Utah as a team worthy of the playoff? Or would taking down Oregon completely knock the PAC-12 out of the running?

Kevin Gemmell: I think the same train of thought that applies to Oregon also applies to Utah, Arizona and Arizona State. A one-loss Pac-12 team will not be left out of the College Football Playoff. This is why we have people now and not computers. At some point, someone in that room will stand up and say it’s absurd for a one-loss Pac-12 champion to not be included. Question is, will there be one?

Since you’re asking specifically about the Utes, let’s break them down. They already have wins over two ranked teams. If they win out, they will have beaten ASU, Oregon and Arizona -- all ranked, and all in the top 15. Two of their wins would also be against Michigan and Stanford. The Michigan win doesn’t carry the weight it used to, but at least one person in that room will be swayed by a win at Stanford.

Now, what’s the likelihood this actually happens? Pretty slim. The Utes have the second-hardest remaining schedule of the 25 teams according to FPI (8th nationally) and their chances of winning out are .8 percent. And things got a lot tougher with the news this morning that receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the year with a knee injury. That taxes a passing game that already had issues.

But whether it’s Utah, Oregon or one of the desert schools, any of them would have a more-than-presentable résumé to make a case for playoff inclusion with just one loss.


Jeff in Sacramento writes: When is the last time Oregon lost 3 straight to the same team? For instance, if Oregon were to lose to Stanford, this would be the third year in a row. When is the last time that happened?

Kevin Gemmell: It took a ton of sleuthing and cross-referencing and spreadsheets, but I have your answer.

Actually, I popped open the Oregon media guide and found it in two minutes because it’s more recent than you’d think.

Before Oregon had a Stanford problem, it had a -- wait for it -- CAL PROBLEM! That’s right, the Bears were the thorn in Oregon’s side in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Before Oregon picked up its sixth-consecutive win over the Bears last week, it was Oski owning Puddles. In those three years, two of the wins were by double digits. Two wins came in Berkeley and one at Autzen.

Here are the links to the three games so you can relive the heroics of Nate Longshore and DeSean Jackson and wallow in the shortcomings of Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Johnson. 2006, 2007, 2008.


An anonymous Huskie in Cougar Land writes: Why can't Pac-12 teams schedule good opponents? Other than Oregon playing Michigan St and UCLA playing Texas, I can't count another Pac-12 team playing a team from a power five conference with a winning record. Why do we have to be such wimps? It's quite simple why nobody thinks the Pac-12 can compete with the SEC: they don't play anyone good! Imagine Oregon playing Alabama. Or Stanford playing LSU. If they played tougher opponents, they would not only get the credit they need - and want - but could also vault themselves into national prominence.

Kevin Gemmell: You might notice a trend … and that’s other schools ducking out of their obligations to play Pac-12 teams. It takes two to dance, otherwise you're just pulling a Billy Idol. The Pac-12 has been willing. But their partners haven’t been.

Like, for example, Texas A&M recently leaving Oregon at the altar, or Georgia pulling out of its Oregon game a few years ago. Or Notre Dame trying to get out of its obligation at ASU. By the way, this is the second year in a row that three teams from the Pac-12 play Notre Dame. Wouldn’t consider them wimps. And for what it's worth, Rutgers and Virginia are a couple of Power-5 teams that look bowl-bound.

But to ease your concerns, here are a few matchups we have to look forward to in the coming years (all information via fbsschedules.com):

  • Arizona: Mississippi State in 2022 and 2023.
  • Arizona State: Michigan State in 2018 and 2019; LSU in 2022 and 2023.
  • Cal: Texas in 2015 and 2016; North Carolina in 2017 and 2018; Auburn in 2019 and 2020; TCU in 2020 and 2021.
  • Colorado: Michigan in 2016; Nebraska in 2018, 2019, 2023 and 2024.
  • Oregon: Michigan State in 2015; Nebraska in 2016 and 2017; Ohio State in 2020 and 2021.
  • Oregon State: Michigan in 2015; Ohio State in 2018.
  • Stanford: Notre Dame annually.
  • UCLA: Texas A&M in 2016 and 2017; Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019; LSU in 2021 and 2024; Michigan in 2022 and 2023.
  • USC: Notre Dame annually; Alabama in 2016, Texas in 2017 and 2018.
  • Utah: Michigan in 2015.
  • Washington: Michigan in 2020 and 2021.
  • Washington State: Wisconsin in 2022 and 2023.

So as you can see, there’s not a single Pac-12 team that doesn’t have a notable Power-5 opponent (or independent Notre Dame) coming up on the schedule. Some are immediate, some are a few years away. Schedules are made years in advance. Sometimes they turn out to be great showdowns. Sometimes they are clunkers. And sometimes they just fizzle. But you can't accuse the Pac-12 of not being aggressive in its scheduling.

This first year of the College Football Playoff is going to be interesting, because we’ll see how much the selection committee really takes strength of schedule into account. And we’ll likely see teams adjust future schedules accordingly.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
8:00
AM ET
The hurt doesn't show;
But the pain still grows;
It's no stranger to you and me.
(I know you totally just did the drums in your head!)

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! And the people rejoiced. All 12 teams are in action again, so here are the most current depth charts for each team (except, as you know by now, UCLA, which doesn't do a weekly depth chart). As always, I've made some notes below.
Notes (lots this week) News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Happy birthday, coach.

For the second week in a row, the Ducks have taken the top spot in the Pac-12 blog's Play of the Week.

This week, it's freshman Charles Nelson with his 58-yard punt return for a touchdown in Oregon's 59-41 win over Cal last Friday. He took the top spot with 41 percent of the readers' votes.

On Tuesday, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich referred to Nelson's recent play as "phenomenal" and the readers agree as this play seemed to be nothing short of that … especially since we're talking about a true freshman. In 2013, Bralon Addison returned two punts for touchdowns against Cal, so the Bears' special teams were certainly going to be ready for this kind of an attack. But not even with that kind of a warning were they able to stop Nelson.

I have a feeling this is not the last we hear of this phenomenal frosh.

As always, some viewer reaction.

First, a Cal fan:

Now, some Ducks:


Freeman/FournetteGetty ImagesRoyce Freeman, left, and Leonard Fournette have combined for 20 TDs this season as freshmen.


Oregon freshman Royce Freeman (748 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 13 rushing touchdowns) and LSU freshman Leonard Fournette (657 yards, 5.0 yards per carry, 7 rushing touchdowns) first made their names known on the recruiting scene, and they’ve been able to back up their hype at the college level with just half a season under their belts. Pac-12 writer Chantel Jennings and SEC writer Edward Aschoff got together to debate which player is the leader for best freshman running back in the nation.

Jennings: Edward, I hear there's this pretty good freshman running back in the South. And guess what, there's another good one out here on the West Coast, and I'd bet dollars to donuts that by the end of the season, Royce Freeman is going to be the most well-known (and rightfully so) freshman running back in the nation.

Aschoff: Freeman has been impressive this season. His play has people all over the country buzzing about him. He's a player, for real, but I will say this: By season's end, the country will be more excited about LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette. Bet whatever you want on that one. It took a little while for the 6-foot-1, 230-pound chiseled man-child to get going, but he's been very impressive of late. Did you see how many Florida Gators defenders he threw around like rag dolls a couple of weeks ago? Did you see how he tortured Ole Miss defenders with punishing run after punishing run? Florida and Ole Miss currently rank 22nd and 23rd, respectively, in the nation in run defense, but were nuzzled up with the best of them before facing Fournette. The Gators allowed just 103 rushing yards a game and one rushing touchdown heading into the LSU game, but Fournette ran for a season-high 140 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Against Ole Miss, which allowed 97.1 rushing yards per game, he ran for 113 yards and caught two passes for 41 yards. He breaks tackles with ease. He can hit the home run play. He's starting to live up to the preseason hype, and he doesn't need a face mask to make plays. Fournette is heating up, but can Freeman keep his momentum?

Jennings: Oh Ed, that's cute. Did you see how Freeman ran against Washington's front seven (5.8 yards per carry, 4 TDs)? Or what he did against UCLA's defense (6.7 yards per carry, 2 TDs)? Or were those games too late for you and the rest of the East Coast? If so, you most certainly managed to stay up for the Oregon-Michigan State game in Week 2 when he averaged 6.8 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns, no? Those numbers make Fournette's stats against Florida and Ole Miss (yes, 5.2 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively) look … meh. But please, let's talk some stats, Ed. Specifically, let's look at what these guys have done versus Power 5 opponents (because if you're really about to include Fournette's season-high 7.1 yards per carry against Sam Houston State in these stats then you're not nearly the competitor I thought you were)… Freeman has 651 rushing yards against Power 5 opponents; Fournette has 391. Freeman averaged 5.4 yards per rush against Power 5 opponents; Fournette averages 4.3. Freeman has 10 rushing touchdowns against Power 5 opponents; Fournette has three. Freeman has 18 rushes of 10 or more yards against Power 5 opponents; Fournette has 10. Is there really a need to go on? Didn't think so.

Oh, also (and did you really think as a Michigan graduate I'd miss this), let's not forget that Freeman knows how to carry himself on the field and isn't about to strike the Heisman pose against an FCS school...

Aschoff: I mean when your Power 5 teams include just one team -- Michigan State -- that ranks in the top 30 in rush defense, I guess that's respectable. Cal and UCLA both rank outside the top 50 nationally in scoring defense, while Fournette has already faced four rush defenses inside the top 25. You know what else is impressive about the rise of Fournette? He's sharing a backfield with two other running backs who both have more than 400 rushing yards and have totaled nine touchdowns. They've also carried the ball a combined 153 times. Fournette has had to battle his way through two other running backs who could start in the SEC to get his team-high 131 carries, 657 yards and seven touchdowns. He's been able to average 73 yards a game with two other studs taking carries here and there. Again, Freeman has been great, but Fournette is surging. He's pounding folks. He's dragging kids through the turf. We're heading into the last month of the season, and he's gaining speed -- and strength.

Fournette is a physical specimen, who is about to have his way with some approaching defenses. Fournette doesn't need all that space to work with, like the Ducks afford Freeman. No, he works well in tight spaces, parting a sea of linemen with ease. He embraces contact. When he starts pumping those legs, watch out, or just grab on and hold tight. He's barely behind Freeman when it comes to stats, but the Tigers have brought him along slower than Freeman. He's getting used to the speed and chaos in the SEC, so expect a special last month for Fournette.

Jennings: Hey, stats are all relative, right? Maybe Freeman's numbers are monstrously better than Fournette's with a slightly worse schedule, but don't bring that top 30 in rushing defense stuff in here. You know who else is on that list … Boston College, Virginia, Toledo, Michigan. Freeman would run for miles on those teams. So yes, we can only go so far with stats. And the statistics conundrum is one that won't be solved until the end of the season. So we can leave it at that.

But you can't act like Fournette is the only one sharing a backfield. Freeman came in behind Byron Marshall, who had a 1,000-yard season last year, and Thomas Tyner. On top of that, he shares carries with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who averages eight carries per game. So, Freeman has definitely had to come from the back of the pack to make his presence known. The 18-year-old battled through some serious competition to be the starter. I think we can agree on the fact that both of these guys are special players, and in the years to come not only are we going to be debating which is the best in his respective class, but which is the best back in the entire nation. And the rest of the debate right now? Well, let's agree to disagree.
Three years ago, after Oregon had run circles around Stanford en route to a 53-30 victory, a dejected Andrew Luck uttered the famous phase.

"We have an Oregon problem," he said.

[+] EnlargeKyle Murphy
Zach Bolinger/Icon SportswireAndrus Peat (No. 70) and Kyle Murphy will lead Stanford's offensive line against a tough Oregon defense in their Week 10 matchup.
That night marked the low point in the extraordinary resurgence of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era.

But a new Stanford defense was born in the aftermath of Oregon's dominance, and the tables soon turned in shocking fashion. Just one season later, the unit had gone from Oregon's punching bag to the Ducks' kryptonite.

Suddenly, two straight Cardinal wins later, Oregon had a Stanford problem.

The Cardinal won the annual matchup 17-14 in overtime in 2012. They then opened up a 26-0 fourth-quarter lead in 2013 before withstanding a furious Ducks rally to win 26-20. So Mark Helfrich faces the challenge of reversing Oregon's fortunes against Stanford.

Here are the primary ingredients of the Cardinal's success against the Ducks over the past two seasons, along with a look at how these key puzzle pieces might apply to this 2014 renewal of hostilities.

Defense: Dominant play from the line

Oregon has averaged over 45 points per game each of the past two seasons, but Stanford has held the Ducks to an average of 17 points per game in the two meetings in that span. The formula for the Cardinal's defensive success has actually been relatively simple: It's been been rooted in commanding play along the defensive front.

In 2012 at Autzen Stadium, Stanford enjoyed exemplary performances from nose tackle Terrence Stephens and fellow defensive lineman Henry Anderson, whose positional versatility allowed him to shuffle between spots on the line and keep the Cardinal's big boys fresh. They, in turn, blasted the line of scrimmage, and that hit Oregon's explosive offense where it hurt. Stanford was able to limit the Ducks' running game and pressure Marcus Mariota without blitzing, and that allowed the second and third levels of the Cardinal defense to stay honest against the pass. The result: Stanford won despite losing the turnover battle 3-1.

In 2013, the Cardinal hoped to follow a similar formula, but their defensive line came in decimated by injury. Anderson and nose tackle David Parry both played at less than 100 percent, while Ben Gardner was already out for the season. Stanford responded by applying an effective Band-Aid: It worked to funnel all the Ducks' offense to the middle of the field. This put a massive added burden on inside linebackers Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley to make plays, and they gobbled up their chances. Skov registered the game's signature play when he stripped De'Anthony Thomas at the 1-yard line to keep Oregon off the board and shift momentum to the Cardinal sideline.

So how does this all apply to 2014? Well, Stanford's defensive line again looks to be wounded this time around. Aziz Shittu will miss the game, and Parry -- the unit's centerpiece -- is questionable with a leg injury. If Parry doesn't play, it will be a challenge for Stanford to execute its past formula. Oregon may enjoy more daylight in the running game against the Cardinal reserves, a unit that includes 255-pound true freshman Harrison Phillips. That's potential mealtime for bruiser Royce Freeman, and his success can open things up for Mariota's arm.

Offense: Drive-sustaining success

In 2012, Stanford somehow beat Oregon on the road despite going scoreless on 10 straight possessions of its own. The injured 2013 Stanford defense needed a little more help from its offense and got that through a mauling ground performance. The Cardinal rushed 66 times and threw the ball only 13 times. Tyler Gaffney racked up a school-record 45 rushes, and that helped Stanford finish 14-for-21 on third down and control the clock for nearly 43 minutes of game time.

The Cardinal don't have a big power back like Gaffney anymore, and that deficiency is good news for an Oregon defense that used the offseason to get stronger in an attempt to avoid repeating its 2013 fate. Stanford will have to sustain drives in different ways this time around, and its radical new offensive approach last week will be put to the test.

Defense: Speed and discipline on the back end

Before 2012, Stanford didn't have the athleticism to catch Oregon if it made a mistake near the line of scrimmage. That's why points for the Ducks would always burst through the floodgates after strong Cardinal defensive starts. Since 2012, though, Stanford has developed elite athleticism throughout its linebacker corps and secondary. This was readily apparent when reserve safety Devon Carrington ran down Mariota on a diagonal to save a touchdown two years ago.

Elite meets elite: 2014 marks the first time in the Stanford-Oregon rivalry that the nation's most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing an FBS-best 3.7 yards per play) meets the nation's most efficient quarterback (Mariota's 192.1 rating is the best in college football). Mariota should certainly be champing at the bit after reports claimed a knee injury slowed him down at Stanford last season.

Special-teams success

In 2012, overtime came down to field goals: Alejandro Maldonado's try clanged off the upright, while Jordan Williamson overcame struggles to nail the game winner. That came after Stanford punter Daniel Zychlinski enjoyed the game of his career, repeatedly reversing field position for his team's defense. When it comes to Stanford-Oregon, don't discount the importance of special-teams plays. After all, they made a significant difference in the Cardinal's favor in 2012, and they kept Oregon in the game in 2013 (blocked field goal returned for a touchdown).

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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The Pac-12 saw a new commitment and a flip on Sunday, while Stanford and Utah took advantage of important recruiting weekends and focus is already shifting toward a huge upcoming visitor list for Oregon.

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Each Tuesday, we ask the College Football Insider team to answer three big questions. On tap today: Which College Football Playoff matchups would be the most interesting? Which coach has done the best job so far? And which team truly boasts the most dominant defense?

Which coach has done the best job so far this season?
Travis Haney: Rightful homage is being paid to the coaches in Mississippi, but I want to go a different direction. Kyle Whittingham has Utah 6-1 after some doubted whether he could handle the Pac-12 transition. The Utes' offense isn't great at all -- 84th in yards per play -- but that further illustrates the job Whittingham has done to make Utah a complete team on defense and special teams. The win over Stanford in 2013 didn't look fluky, and neither did wins over UCLA or USC in 2014. The Utes will be a headache for Oregon in a couple of weeks, especially coming off the Stanford game

Tom Luginbill: Nobody was talking about Utah prior to the season, and all the Utes have done is take care of business with average QB play (plus an injury) and stellar special-teams performances. Utah is the one team that can truly throw a wrench into the Pac-12 playoff picture.


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