Playoff Field: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:22
PM ET


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Cary Chow, Heather Dinich, and Adam Rittenberg take a look at where things stand after week 8 of the college football season, and what the playoff selection committee will have to do when sorting out all of the one-loss teams.
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Heather Dinich and Adam Rittenberg look at some of the challenges with deciding where to rank Oregon for the College Football Playoff.

Week 8 Pac-12 QB Power Rankings

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:00
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Cody KesslerKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler set a USC single-game record with his seven passing touchdowns against Colorado.


The Pac-12 is loaded with talent at quarterback this season to the point where it seems like the conference is a hoarder and really good QBs are in abundance. But this is the way we like it. And the other conferences can keep hoarding whatever they like as long as the signal-callers stay west.

Every week we'll provide you with a power ranking of the conference's top quarterbacks, heavily considering the QB's most recent game.

Drumroll please...

Inactive Week 8: Arizona's Anu Solomon and Washington State's Connor Halliday.

For Week 7's rankings, click here.

Gurley, Allen headline top 10 RBs

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:00
PM ET

Over the past few weeks, ESPN Insider has featured the top 10 wide receivers and top 10 quarterbacks in college football.

This third part of the series will review the top 10 running backs in college football. The depth of quality candidates at this position is higher than it has been in a few years, so the competition was quite spirited. The list includes strong representation from the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 and varies from speedy breakaway threats to explosive power runners.

Here are the top 10 running backs in college football:

(Note: Unless otherwise noted, all metrics below are from games against Power 5 opponents.)

Best Of The One-Loss Teams

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
10:04
AM ET


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ESPN college football reporter Adam Rittenberg breaks down which one-loss college football team is the best of the lot.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
10:00
AM ET
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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.


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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.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
8:00
AM ET
The exodus is here, the happy ones are near;
Let's get together before we get much older.

Leading off

The Eliminator blew through the Pac-12 this week with brimstone and hell-fire, slashing its way through a quarter of the league. You can now add Stanford, Oregon State and Washington to the teams officially out of a contention for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. After holding on by their roots, paws and teeth, the Cardinal, Huskies and Beavers all suffered losses that the Eliminator deems too significant to recover from. Her justice is swift, if not fair. Here's some thoughts on the Huskies:
Losing 11 consecutive games to Oregon is pretty bad, but losing in the manner in which they lost to the Ducks was even worse. Oregon dominated in every facet of the game, and Washington proved that Chris Petersen's first season in the Power 5 is not going to be like his first season at Boise State.

So who is left? Arizona and Oregon are the two Pac-12 teams still listed as "In Contention" while Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah continue to dangle "On the Fence."

Cardinal seeing red

As noted above, things haven't gone swimmingly for the two-time defending conference champions. Athlon Sports took a look at some of the issues facing the Cardinal. And if you're looking on the offensive side of the ball, there are more than a few. They key in specifically on the offensive line:
The most likely reason Stanford’s offense has been struggling this season may be due to the fact the Cardinal had to start an almost entirely new offensive line this season. Stanford lost four starters up front, as well as a starting tight end from 2013. Good teams tend to have experience and depth on the offensive line, and that does not appear to be the case for Stanford this season and it is showing. Stanford has allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 73rd nationally.

Also from Athlon, a look at some crazy Pac-12 stats, and why the Utes must be taken seriously in the South.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun (the pucker-up edition)

By now, you've probably seen "The Kiss", a moment of celebratory passion between ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici and his girlfriend, who also happens to be an ASU cheerleader.



Here's a little story on the lip-locking moment. The Pac-12 blog isn't quite ready to place it among history's best kisses ... like this one ... this one ... or this one. But it ain't bad. However, you must remember this ...
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Much like Nike has adopted Oregon, Maryland has been adopted by Under Armour. Mitch Sherman wonders if that's enough to turn Maryland into an Oregon of the east.
A slight sense of normalcy returned to the Pac-12 this past weekend, but fear not -- it's still plenty weird out West. Home teams actually posted a winning record (3-2) this past weekend, improving their season season mark to a still-dismal 7-16.

Stanford, the two-time defending champion, is staggering, so Oregon has established a grip on the Pac-12 North. Meanwhile, let's not pretend we have a bead on the minefield that is the Pac-12 South. Four teams are tied at the top in the loss column, and a fifth -- preseason favorite UCLA -- hovers right behind them with two losses. It's a mess of epic proportions.

With USC visiting Utah this weekend, we will see some moving and shaking in the South. Let the horse race continue around the second bend. Here is Week 9:

The delicious appetizer: Oregon vs. Cal (at Levi's Stadium)

A couple weeks ago, Cal enjoyed its time in sole possession of the Pac-12 North lead, but that stay was as short-lived as most expected it to be. Though Jared Goff has emerged as one of the league's elite passers (9.1 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, four interceptions), the Bears are hindered by a defense that struggles to tackle in critical situations. That was the story of their 36-34 loss to UCLA, even though a trio of Bruins' turnovers kept that game close. It's also bad news entering a matchup with an Oregon team that is beginning to fire on all cylinders. The Ducks blasted Washington 45-20 behind four touchdowns from true freshman Royce Freeman. He is a six-foot, 230-pound tank -- exactly the type of player who can turn the Bears into falling dominoes.

Goff will need to deliver an epic performance in his duel with Marcus Mariota. Combined numbers for these two: 43 touchdowns, four picks.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: USC at Utah

Salt Lake City hosts a de facto College Football Playoff elimination game. The Arizona State-Washington battle in Seattle might have shared this designation had the Huskies found a way to get it done at Autzen Stadium, but they were run out of the building. So USC (5-2 overall) and Utah (5-1 overall) square off in the Pac-12's marquee Week 9 game. This one is fun on many levels: The Utes are coming into their own as a rugged defense (allowing 4.7 yards per play), while the Trojans are brimming with offensive confidence following their 56-28 win against Colorado, during which Cody Kessler threw a touchdown pass on 27 percent of his attempts (his seven touchdowns broke Matt Barkley's school record).

This game also features the Pac-12's two most productive running backs: USC's Buck Allen (130 yards per game) and Utah's Devontae Booker (124 yards per game). Buckle up, Rice-Eccles Stadium will be shaking.

The proving grounds game/redemption opportunity: Oregon State at Stanford

Week 8 was bitterly disappointing for these teams. The Beavers lost 29-23 at home in double overtime to a Utah team that managed only 62 passing yards, and Stanford managed less offensive production against Arizona State than Weber State, New Mexico, and Colorado. Talk about a reversal of fortune: The Cardinal's 26-10 loss to the Sun Devils came on the very same field where they dominated offensively and won the Pac-12 championship last season. Judging by margin of victory, that was their worst setback since falling 53-30 to Oregon in 2011.

Unless Stanford figures it out offensively, points will likely be scarce in this game. The Cardinal's defense still leads the nation allowing only 3.8 yards per play, and it has proven to be a rough matchup for the Beavers' offense. Meanwhile, Oregon State's defense has been surprisingly efficient, surrendering 4.9 yards per play (third in the Pac-12), so it's unclear if 13.5 is the spread or the over/under in this one.

Opposing directions bowl: Arizona State at Washington

The Sun Devils delivered a fantastic all-around performance in their 26-10 pounding of Stanford, and the Huskies were on the receiving end of a 45-20 whipping in Eugene. So both clubs are trending in opposite directions here, but they are still a combined 10-3. Washington is desperate to right the ship at home, where its havoc-wreaking defense (nation-best five touchdowns) thrives. Meanwhile, Arizona State has another chance to solidify legitimacy after two straight energizing wins. A week after facing Stanford's anemic attack, the Sun Devils face a Washington offense that is ranked dead last in the Pac-12. That is medicine for a once-struggling ASU defense.

Where great offensive minds meet: Arizona at Washington State

Time to change gears: With Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach squaring off, there should be no shortage of total offense on the Palouse. The Cougars are desperate; they need to win four of their last five just to make a bowl game. Connor Halliday is already on pace to shatter the FBS single season-passing yards record, and Anu Solomon brings less gaudy numbers but a better 5-1 record into this game. Both teams are coming off bye weeks, so both offensive game plans should be beyond polished Saturday afternoon.

The afterthought: UCLA at Colorado

The Bruins overcame severe sloppiness in their 36-34 win at Cal, and Colorado never had a chance in the 56-28 loss at the Coliseum. At 0-4 in conference play, the Buffs are desperate, and it's tough to spot a win on their remaining schedule. The Bruins must iron out their galling turnover issue (quarterback Brett Hundley has been responsible for eight giveaways -- opponents have scored touchdowns off seven of them) and frequent trouble with defensive breakdowns. Folsom Field might be a good place to start that process, because a home showdown with Arizona waits UCLA after this one.
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?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    34%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    22%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,123)

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.
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Danny Kanell discusses which teams he would pick for the College Football Playoff and predicts the winner.
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Danny Kanell and Adam Rittenberg look back on Texas A&M and South Carolina from week 1. Did the first big game of the season point us in the wrong direction?

Pac-12 morning links

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:00
AM ET
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

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Pac-12 Weekend Wrap: Oct. 21
Recruiting reporter Erik McKinney breaks down the top weekend storylines from the Pac-12.
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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Friday, 10/24
Saturday, 10/25