Mailbag: Humbug to Pac-12 pride

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter. It's the first step toward making your life into an epic poem.

To the notes?

Luke from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Thank you to Kevin Gemmell for writing the following: "This league's coaches rarely talk about what's good for the conference. They want what's best for their own team -- national perception and conference pride be damned. And for the record, this fifth of the Pac-12 blog is just fine with that." I find a lot of writing in the blog is around the narrative of the Pac-12 winning a national championship. This seems reasonable considering it is the Pac-12 blog. However, I pose the question: How many people read this blog because they are fans of the conference and how many people read because they are fans of a team in the conference? I'd argue the latter is a much larger portion. The narrative pretending their is some sort of overall conference strategy where we all pull the rope to win a national title is a little silly. I'm an Arizona fan. If Oregon makes it to the playoff will I cheer for them? Yes. Is Oregon winning a national title one of my goals as an Arizona fan coming into the season? Absolutely not. Fans from 10 other teams in the conference feel the same way.Buffs fans don't care if OSU "flipped the script" and now ASU doesn't get to be part of a de facto playoff game against Oregon. Buffs fans want a conference W, and go to your blog for insight on how they get there. Same with me. If the Ducks win a national title I'll be happy for them and happy for the conference. But that's it, slightly happy.

Ted Miller: Interesting point, and this is a position I've heard before from Pac-12 fans. It's pretty much a big-city, pro-sports attitude, where a team has no notable, vested interests in the success of, say, its league or division. It also tends to mean you're a not an obsessive college football fan, in that obsessive college football fans follow the entire game nearly as much as their own team, see the constant trolling that goes on between the ESPN.com conference blogs.

I'm not going to tell you how to be a sports fan. That's entirely your call, and we appreciate you visiting ESPN.com. I do, however, have a position on this, which I'm sure shocks you.

First off, I think what Kevin is noting is that Pac-12 teams don't have any intention of laying down to further a rival's national title hopes, which should surprise no one. We both talk to coaches all the time about what's "good" for the conference. What these coaches want is the Pac-12 to receive the same deference as the SEC, and they'd prefer themselves and not their top rivals to be the conference's bell cow.

Of course their overwhelming interests are their own teams, which sign their paychecks, but they also understand a shared interest. That would include, for example, the Pac-12 playing a nine-game conference schedule while other conferences play only eight. Just about every Pac-12 coach believes that is a problem because it ensures the conference has six more losses in its collective standings every season, though it's more front and center for coaches whose teams presently have a national outlook compared to coaches who are just trying to win a conference game.

And you better believe there's shared interests in a conference with revenue sharing. When the Pac-12 got two BCS bowl teams, each team pocketed an additional $500,000, plus or minus, so Pac-12 rivals tend to be frenemies. That won't change in the College Football Playoff, when the Pac-12 getting left out will cost every conference team big money.

I view it as no coincidence that you got your feathers up, Luke, when an Arizona State loss at Oregon State was bemoaned as a lost opportunity for the conference to stage a Pac-12 championship game as a play-in contest for the inaugural College Football Playoff between a pair of highly rated teams. Of course, your emotional reaction to any sympathy for the Sun Devils, whose misfortune you surely were rejoicing about on Saturday, colors your position.

But this also comes down to a pretty straightforward cost-benefit analysis, something the SEC and its rabid rivalries picked up on before the rest of the nation: A rising (Crimson?) tide lifts all ships. While your emotions are almost entirely invested in loving your team and hating your top rivals, there's also the practical shared interest within Power 5 conferences of wanting to distinguish the conference as a whole, to look better top to bottom than the other four major conferences, to be first among so-called equals. Without the purity of an extensive playoff, as there are in pro sports, there's still a beauty contest going on every year in college football, and it's all about regional perceptions.

For example, Alabama fans were in a quandary when Auburn played Oregon for the national title. How could they possibly root for Auburn -- ever?! Many couldn't bring themselves to do it. But many did in the name of SEC solidarity. And the many who couldn't still salved their feelings when the Tigers won the title by saying, "Well, at least the SEC kept the national championship streak going."

I expect that to be the same for many in the Pac-12. Many Washington and Oregon State fans surely couldn't root for the Ducks to win a national title, but if that had happened there would have been a part of them that recognized the Pac-12 taking down the SEC as a good thing for the Pac-12 and, by extension, themselves.

This doesn't mean you begin every season rooting for your team and the Pac-12 in general on equal footing. But there is unquestionably a shared interest.

Let's say Arizona is approaching the end of the 2015 regular season and is ranked No. 6 in the college football rankings. You turn on the TV and see a pundit saying, "Arizona has looked great this year, but the Pac-12 is down. That's why you have to give the edge to a second SEC team getting into the playoff."

You'd probably find your self becoming more of a collectivist.

Caleb from Astoria, Ore., writes: If Utah wins out, UCLA beats USC, Stanford beats UCLA, and Arizona beats Arizona State, this leaves all five teams at 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Who would go to the Pac-12 Championship game?

Ted Miller: Utah.

Tiebreaker: The Utes and UCLA, with 3-1 records against the other four, would eliminate Arizona, Arizona State and USC. Then the Utes would win out because of their head-to-head win over UCLA.

Spencer from Indianapolis writes: This year the Pac 12 bowls have a new selection process. Do you feel like some of the better teams might slip to a lower bowl because of fan base, location, and so on? I feel like my Utes might slip down because they are not as big of a draw as others. I also feel like some other teams may slip down as well. Just wondering your thoughts on the process this year.

Ted Miller: If you are talking about major bowls outside the playoff -- the Peach, Fiesta, Cotton and Orange bowls -- the selection committee is also placing teams in those games based on its rankings, which means those old, annoying considerations -- such as selling hotel rooms -- won't play a predominant role in picking teams. That's unquestionably a good thing.

As for the Pac-12's existing bowl partnerships, those will be mostly the same. While the SEC, ACC and Big Ten have taken more control over the bowl selection procedure, the Pac-12 still has a rule that allows bowls to pass over a team as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record.

So the, say, Alamo Bowl could pass over Utah in favor of USC, even though the Utes beat the Trojans as long as USC is no more than one-game behind the Utes in the conference standings.

But that's no different than any other year.

Aaron Tigard, Ore., writes: Hey PAC, Sad days here. With Marcus Mariota's latest transgression, how does this impact the team and his draft prospects? Based on the coverage, I have to imagine that Coach Helfrich has no option other than removing him from the team, posthaste. Will the CFP committee take this into account? As for "Menace" Mariota, is there an NFL team out there who will be willing to take a chance on a player who clearly has off-the-field issues? Should he even declare for the draft or should he transfer to Portland State for a year to rehab his image?

Ted Miller: Mr. Subtle immediately picked up on your facetiousness here. And I get it. Most folks speed -- ranging between sometimes and all of the time. Mariota is unquestionably a high-character guy, not in the sense that he's a great football player who hasn't been arrested and handles the media well but in the sense that he'd be viewed as a paragon of what a young man should be even without football. There are no naysayers to this. And snarky me has looked for them.

Yet let's not make light of driving 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. That's a bad thing. You'd feel differently if there had been an accident and someone who was obeying traffic laws had been injured. Considering that speeding occurs in 33 percent of all fatal accidents, this is not something to sniff at. Aggressive speeding is selfish and stupid and dangerous.

Of course, part of this is me being 45 and having two children. I've become a militant slow driver -- as in I never go over 10 miles above the speed limit. I also take a passive-aggressive joy in making tailgating speeders lives miserable. Pull up to my bumper to show me I'm going too slow for you? Well, I'll show you slow.

When you're in your 20s, you often think you're immortal and bad things only happen to other people. Or you are above the rules. After all, your life is so important and you are in a hurry and everybody needs to just get out of your way because you are late and that isn't your fault it's these slow drivers!

Mariota is a fine young man. He also needs to slow the freak down.
video

While the Pac-12 South race is wide open, Oregon has the Pac-12 North locked up. Heather Dinich and Cary Chow look at which Pac-12 South team could provide the best challenge for the Ducks.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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The penultimate weekend of the regular season is upon us, and that means some serious recruiting weekends in store for several Pac-12 programs. A look at the top three recruiting visits in the Pac-12 includes one staff taking advantage of hosting its rivalry game and two others bringing in recruits to witness their final home games of the regular season.

USC at UCLA

Pac-12 morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

As we do every Friday, we focus our attention on some picks. Only two weeks left (not counting the bowl games). Six are already bowl eligible, two more will punch their ticket this weekend (the winners of the Stanford-Cal and Oregon State-Washington games becomes bowl eligible). So we'll have at least eight. But nine or 10 are still mathematically possible. But we'll worry about that when we have to.

The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning. Chantel Jennings went against the grain in a couple of picks and Kyle Bonagura likes the Trojans. Other than that, pretty unanimous.

As we do every week, here are some predictions from folks who cover the conference and college football nationally.

The Fox Sports tandem of Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel both like the Bruins in a tight game. Here's what Feldman had to say:
Brett Hundley wrecked the Trojans last season with his legs and arm, and he was very sharp in carving up USC two years ago. Despite how well Cody Kessler, Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen are playing, my hunch is the Bruins have enough athletes on defense to contain them to get away with a win. UCLA 31, USC 30.

Here are some other thoughts: Halliday update

Injured Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday spoke about the specifics of his injury for the first time Thursday. We had one report here on the blog. He also shared his frustration over the injury and the hope that he'll be playing football again within five months, which would put him in line to participate in WSU's pro day.

Here's a quote from Halliday from a story in the Spokesman-Review:
I think the hardest thing was just how close I was to being healthy throughout the year, going to the combine, getting to do all that stuff. That’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I’ve been able to dream so that was the frustrating thing: I was just three games away from that.

Halliday was putting up monster numbers. We know this because he's still leading the Pac-12 in passing with 3,873 yards and 32 touchdown passes. Here's the full transcript of Halliday's conference call with the media.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The Cal band continued its annual tradition of invading the San Francisco Chronicle, which is kind of funny.



I don't know what this is or what it does ... but I think I want one.

Early Offer: Who will land Soso Jamabo? 

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
11:00
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Soso Jamabo loved visits to UCLA and Notre Dame, but is it too early to count out the Texas schools? Plus, NC State added a key pledge on Wednesday that should give the Wolfpack much-needed help on the offensive line.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Mayday Minute

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:14
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video

Mark May discusses Will Muschamp getting fired at Florida, Northwestern winning two straight games over Notre Dame, Marcus Mariota on pace to set an NCAA record for lowest percentage picked and previews USC at UCLA.

A 6-pac of questions for Week 13

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
6:00
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Every Thursday two of our writers gather ‘round the water cooler to discuss six pressing issues in Pac-12 football, aptly named the #6pac. Today, Ted Miller and Chantel Jennings debate…

1. The Arizona-Utah game has a lot on the line in regard to the South race. How is that game won?

[+] EnlargeSolomon/Wilson
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsThere's no question that Arizona-Utah comes down to Anu Solomon (12), but how he performs involves a battle of wills.
Miller: Utah isn't going to transform offensively, so it wins the way it has won all year: With its defense and special teams. For Arizona, it needs to approximate a draw at the line of scrimmage, which it didn't do against Washington, even though it got a W. Yet it might come down to whether the Wildcats get good Anu Solomon -- Washington State and Colorado -- or bad Anu Solomon -- UCLA and Washington -- which we've seen alternate over the past four weeks.

Jennings: I'm with Ted on this one. Only, I don't think the Solomon that shows up is dependent on Solomon. I think it's got to do much more with what the Utah defense makes him. And I believe they're going to make him very uncomfortable. The Utes' defense is closer to a UCLA or Washington type, so I think Utah will get to him and, like so many other games this year, the game will be won by Utah won with some serious defensive intensity.

2. Oregon State is playing for bowl eligibility at Washington this weekend. Do the Beavers get it?

Miller: I like the Huskies at home. I think the Washington defense gets good pressure on Sean Mannion, and the offense, which took a step forward versus Arizona, is at least adequate.

Jennings: Why not Oregon State? The Beavers' defense looked good against Arizona State and Sean Mannion has found chemistry with receivers. Terron Ward isn't playing but I think Storm Woods is going to have a big game on the ground. Bowl eligibility is on the line and though OSU delivered a huge upset at home against Arizona State, I don't think it'll happen against Oregon. Mannion knows this is his best chance at bowl eligibility and I think he's going to get it.

3. Thanksgiving is creeping upon us, what are you most thankful for in the Pac-12 this year?

Miller: I am most thankful for #Pac12AfterDark. No other conference has produced more nuttiness than the Pac-12. Things are rarely predictable, and even when they are, they aren't boring.

Jennings: Backup quarterbacks. Guys like Jerry Neuheisel, Mike Bercovici, Kendal Thompson (or Travis Wilson, depending on how you look at it) and Luke Falk have all made this season's group of quarterbacks even better and deeper than we could've imagined.

4. At this point it looks like Oregon is the league's best chance at a national title. What team would the Ducks not want to face in a semifinal?

Miller: The only team I don't like as a matchup is Alabama. The Tide is big and physical on both lines of scrimmage. They remind me of Stanford when it was still Stanford, and we know how that gave the Ducks trouble before. Oregon certainly could use some good injury news on its lines, particularly on offense.

Jennings: I agree that a tough defense is a worry, but I think what would be more worrisome for the Ducks is actually a high-powered offense. Basically, what team could beat Oregon at its own game? The Ducks have scored 62 touchdowns this season but three other schools who are in playoff talks aren't too far behind -- Ohio State (59), Baylor (59) and TCU (58). Of those teams, the one that has accounted for the most plays of 10 or more yards is Ohio State. So I'll agree with Ted on Bama, but I also have to throw the Buckeyes in the ring.

5. We've got a few rivalry games this weekend, what has been the most exciting rivalry you were ever a part of?

Miller: Well, I covered Auburn way back in the day and those Iron Bowls were something to behold, even though the Tide and Tigers weren't doing too much when I was down there in the mid-to-late-1990s. I also can remember more than a few thrilling Apple Cups, including a time I was among the poor fools getting pelted by bottles and other random objects during a near-riot at Martin Stadium.

Jennings: I'm going way back to my high school days -- not to a game I covered, but to one of those small-town rivalries that movies are made about that I was actually a part of. My high school was only good at boys' cross country (which isn't exactly riveting to cheer for) so my senior year, when our boys' basketball team was actually kind of good, it was the thing to do on Friday nights. We played our rival (essentially the exact same town just 10 miles up the road) and it was this heated, intense, spiteful type of games. We ended up winning by two on a last-second floater in the lane. Everyone tried to rush the court (fail) but it was one of those movie moments that I actually lived through. Very cool. Very John Mellencamp-ish.

6. We're three weeks from the championship game -- what team does Oregon face?

Miller: I'm going to say UCLA, and I think there's still a strong possibility it becomes a "play-in" game for both teams with the College Football Playoff.

Jennings: I'm also saying the Bruins. But at this point, I think the only Pac-12 team with a chance to get in the playoff is Oregon.
With four entries, the Pac-12 dominates the list of five finalists for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

The five finalists are Hawaii punter/wide receiver/punt returner Scott Harding, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard and Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon.

The Polynesian College Football Player of the Year is given, according to a news release, to "the most outstanding Polynesian college football player that epitomizes great ability and integrity."

The finalists were chosen by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, which is composed of past college football head coaches Dick Tomey (Chairman), LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett, NFL player personnel expert Gil Brandt, past NFLPA president and Inaugural Inductee Kevin Mawae and Hawai'i sportscaster Robert Kekaula. The committee will meet again in the coming weeks to select the winner.

The winner will be announced on December 9. The formal presentation of the award will be held at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Celebration Dinner during the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend on January 23, 2015.

The Pac-12 had 15 players on the initial watch list released in July.

Pac-12 Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:00
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Why Stanford will win: Stanford winning the Big Game would be a sure-thing if I had predicted Cal to win -- as Bears fans know, my pick is like getting handed a condemning black spot from a pirate, a la "Treasure Island." But there is something to be said for the physicality of Stanford's defense being able to contain Cal's offense, as Washington's front seven did. I also suspect Stanford will get Good Kevin Hogan in this game, which should be enough to get the Cardinal bowl eligible in an otherwise disappointing season. -- Ted Miller

Why Cal will win: I like this matchup: A great offense against a great defense, and a "meh" offense against a "meh" defense. Yay, Pac-12 football! But I think Jared Goff is going to come up huge for the Bears. I'm giving the nod to the team that has more positive vibes, rather than the one dealing with disappointment. That's what I've learned from the West Coast. -- Chantel Jennings

Why USC will win: It just wouldn't feel right if the Pac-12 South finished without another change of course. Look for Cody Kessler to turn in another big game and the Trojans to avoid a three-game losing streak to UCLA -- something that has happened just three times in the series' history. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why UCLA will win: With Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor exploding on a regular basis, USC may have more top-level flash (don’t tell that to Brett Hundley, though), but UCLA has the depth advantage in this game. The Trojans’ late-game struggles have to be cause for some concern here, especially since the Bruins have been playing their best football as of late. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon State will win: The Beavers are riding high and bowl eligibility is on the line in Sean Mannion's senior year. Last week, the Beavers played for pride. This week, it'll be to give their leader one extra game in an OSU uniform. They clicked last week and I think that will continue. I think the Beavers are going to leave Seattle with a win and extend their season one more game. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Washington will win: In losing Terron Ward, the Beavers lose a running back, a leader and a special teams contributor. That’s a big deduction this late in the season for a team not overflowing with playmakers. Combine that with a talented Washington front seven and the Huskies feel right in this one at home. Now, if Cyler Miles can just hold on to the dang ball. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

Why Utah will win: Home-field advantage might not mean as much as it used to in the Pac-12 this season, but I think the crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium fuels Utah's nation-leading pass rush. It will be enough to push the Utes to victory over an Arizona offense that’s still young at key positions. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon will win: When the best team in the conference plays the worst team in the conference, it's easy to pick the winner (even in the Pac-12). It's only a question of how much the Ducks will win by. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils are going to be eager to bounce back from their loss in Corvallis and pick up win No. 9 against Washington State. Look for a better performance from Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster, who rushed for just 51 yards against the Beavers. -- Chantel Jennings

Pac-12 morning links

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
8:00
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I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for.

Leading off

The USA Today annual database of coaches salaries, which was released Wednesday, always draws plenty of debate. Coach "X" is overpaid. Coach "Y" is underpaid. Whatever your stance, one thing is for sure ... coaches salaries are at an all-time high. And thus, the expectations are equally high.

Here’s how things shape up for the Pac-12 coaches, based on total compensation.
  • Chris Petersen, Washington, $3,681, 720
  • Rich Rodriguez, Arizona, 3,298,500
  • Jim Mora, UCLA, $3,250,000
  • Mike Leach, Washington State, $2,750,000
  • Todd Graham, Arizona State, $2,702,960
  • Kyle Whittingham, Utah, $2,200,000
  • David Shaw, Stanford, $2,012,666
  • Mike MacIntyre, Colorado, $2,010,150
  • Mark Helfrich, Oregon, $2,000,000
  • Sonny Dykes, Cal, $1,808,000
  • Mike Riley, Oregon State, $1,510,008
  • Steve Sarkisian, USC, N/A

When talking to some coaches last February for a story about potential coaching changes in the future, a few of them expressed to me that the main reason coaches only get three years now is the salaries. It used to be a coach would get at least four years -- one full recruiting cycle -- to turn a program around. Yet schools also have to spend the money to attract coaches, especially rebuilding projects. With the pressure to produce immediate results, it stands to reason that the heat gets turned up after Year 2 or 3. For now, it looks like everyone in the Pac-12 is reasonably happy with their coach, so it's unlikely we see any unforced moves in the offseason.

Player of the Year

The 15 semifinalists for the Walter Camp Award, given annually to the top player in college football, were released Wednesday with three Pac-12 players on the list.
Not to be overshadowed, the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top running back, was also released Wednesday. USC's Buck Allen was the only Pac-12 player named a semifinalist.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you watch one video of a punter pinning opponents inside the 10 today, make it this one.

Here's injured Buffalo Bills linebacker and former Duck Kiko Alonso chillin in some snow, because, well, why not?

Recovery

A video posted by Kiko Alonso (@elbravo_50) on


Some more Big Game motivation.

#4Pac: Most intriguing rivalry game?

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:00
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Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're asking which rivalry game each reporter is most excited to see?

David Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Cal vs. Stanford

Here's a recipe for entertaining theater: Take two rival programs on opposite trajectories and have them collide. Stanford is diving fast coming off the pinnacle (a Rose Bowl season), while Cal is picking up steam coming from the nadir (1-11 misery). It’s fitting, then, that both teams are 5-5 at this point of intersection. Technically, they're in the same spot when it comes to record, but aside from that, their situations couldn’t be any more different.

The Cardinal brings the Pac-12’s worst offense into this game, while the Bears own the conference’s worst defense. Something has to budge in that matchup of extremes, right? This game should be significantly more competitive than last year, and the Bears should enter angry, too: Stanford put up a Big Game record 63 points in 2013 and posted the largest-ever margin of victory in the rivalry’s century-plus long history.

Cal’s on the upswing now, and Stanford is clearly vulnerable, so this features everything a legendary rivalry should: a chance at vengeance, pride, and a boatload of history. Oh, and a victory clinches a postseason berth for the winner. It’s been a while since Big Game meant so much to both programs.

Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon vs. Oregon State

I'm most excited to watch the Civil War. For me, I think it'll feel a lot like my Michigan-Michigan State rivalry roots -- two great programs about 40 minutes from one another. Throughout the state of Michigan you split allegiances and I think that's true in Oregon as well. I would say the same of USC-UCLA, but there's so much else competing for people's attention in Los Angeles. Having been a part of the Michigan-MSU rivalry, I'm excited to see how this Oregon-Oregon State one stacks up. Plus, there's always the chance the Beavers pull off another upset and dash the Ducks' playoff hopes.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: Cal vs. Stanford

I grew up watching the Big Game, so that one will always be near and dear to me. I never had a favorite team, I just enjoyed the pageantry of the rivalry and the history of loathing between the schools.

A former colleague of mine at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mark Zeigler, was one of the key instigators in producing the fake Cal newspaper. I love the history of the Immortal 21 and the Phoenix Five.

This year’s offers an extra dose of drama because the teams meet right in the middle of differing trajectories. The Bears, building off their winless-against-FBS-teams season, boast the No. 2 offense in the conference. But they can’t stop anybody. The Cardinal have the worst offense in the league. But their defense is fantastic.

Though Sonny Dykes won’t be named the Pac-12 coach of the year (I don’t think), he deserves some recognition for what he’s been able to do in turning the program around so quickly.

I was asked in a recent radio interview if the Cardinal might come out flat because they’ve had such a down season. The answer is, obviously, no. This is not a game teams come out flat for. Both teams are fighting for postseason berths and given the different styles they play, the stage could be set for one of the more dramatic Big Games in recent history.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: USC vs. UCLA

Each rivalry has its own unique aspects that make it appealing, but this year the answer is clear: USC at UCLA. With the Bruins needing two more wins to clinch the Pac-12 South and USC also in contention, there won’t be a Pac-12 rivalry game with higher stakes this year. And after UCLA came in at No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, there’s still a plausible route for the Bruins to be one of the four teams left standing. That ends the discussion.

There’s always going to be something about the UCLA-USC game that other rivalries don’t have as a result of the schools’ locations. The campuses are about 13 miles apart and both fall within the Los Angeles city limits, making it without question the best crosstown rivalry in the country. That doesn’t necessarily make it better than, say, the Apple Cup -- Washington and Washington State are nearly 300 miles apart -- but it does give it an added dynamic that other games don’t have.

As for the actual game, the quarterbacks -- UCLA’s Brett Hundley and USC’s Cody Kessler -- would have made it interesting regardless of the stakes.

Mailbag: Oregon vs. ???

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
8:00
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Welcome to the mailbag, where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came. If you feel so inclined, follow me on Twitter.

Derrick in Omaha writes: Who should Oregon fear the most in a Pac-12 champ game? I don't think we need a highly ranked opponent, just one we can beat. Tough to beat UCLA twice, but USC is looking pretty good, too. And Arizona has had our number the last few years.

Kevin Gemmell: The simple answer is this: Fear everyone! There is no easy out.

Whoever the Ducks end up playing, they are going to get a unique challenge. But let's go down the line and look at the five teams left and what sort of trouble they could present the Ducks. (Relax, this is in alphabetical order).

SportsNation

Which South Division team could give Oregon the most trouble in the Pac-12 championship game?

  •  
    16%
  •  
    18%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    34%
  •  
    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,399)

Arizona: The Wildcats have the benefit of beating Oregon twice in the past two seasons. Could they pull it off thrice? Oregon is a different team than the one that lost seven weeks ago. It's healthier in some places, but not in others. And as you note, it's hard to beat a team twice in one season. But the 'Cats seem to know something no one else does. If Arizona wins again, they should take a bow. (Ohhh ... See what I did there?)

ASU: The Ducks didn't see the Sun Devils this year. But you've got to think the matchup with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Jaelen Strong (assuming both are at full health) would be a marquee storyline in this game. ASU will blitz, because that's what ASU does, and if they can keep Marcus Mariota contained, they'd have a shot. That's a big if, though.

UCLA: The Bruins have the experience of having already seen the Ducks once this season. But they had no answer for Royce Freeman, who really blossomed in this game with 121 rushing yards and two scores. But UCLA's Paul Perkins, though kept out of the end zone, rushed for 187 yards on 21 carries -- an average of 8.9 yards per touch. That could be a problem.

USC: Really good running back. Really good receiver. Really accurate quarterback who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Really athletic defense. This one is intriguing. ...

Utah: The final score, 51-27, wasn't indicative of how close that game really was. The Utes were within a field goal with 11 minutes left, and we don't know what would have happened if the Utes had gone up 14-0 instead of the infamous 7-7 swing.

All five matchups have their pros and cons for the Ducks. Let the debate begin.




0006shy in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kevin, is it time for the rest of the country to admit that the Pac-12 South is the toughest division in college football? Five teams -- five teams! -- are still in contention to win it. Talk about cannibalizing! Sorry Sec West, your propaganda doesn't work over here on the BEST coast. With teams like Arkansas (one conference win in two and a half years), A&M (no defense at all), LSU (couldn't complete a pass even if the existence of the universe depended on it), and the Mississippi schools (eight non-conference games combined, zero against Power 5 teams), you're a distant second.

Kevin Gemmell: I think the rest of the country has, in fact, woken up and smelled the Southern goodness. That's why there are five Pac-12 South teams ranked in the most recent College Football Playoff poll with UCLA (9), ASU (13), Arizona (15), Utah (17) and USC (19). But it's not just the committee. All five are also ranked in the AP poll and the coaches' poll. So there is wide recognition that the South is deep.

That five of six teams from one division are ranked in the top 20 is awfully impressive. But for the sake of comparison, it's worth noting that the SEC West has four ranked teams and three of them are in the top 10 and all four are in the top 15.

So the question then becomes quality vs. depth. No doubt, the South is a deeper division. Even with seven teams compared to six, I'd take the bottom half of the South over the bottom half of the West any day. But does the South have more quality at the top than the West?

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre has some thoughts on the subject, which you can read here.

For kicks, let's quickly look at the potential matchups of the top five from each division (we're going by rankings):
  • Alabama (1) vs UCLA (9)
  • Mississippi State (4) vs. ASU (13)
  • Ole Miss (8) vs. Arizona (15)
  • Auburn (14) vs. Utah (17)
  • Texas A&M (NR) vs. USC (19)

I think on any given day you have the Pac-12 South going 3-2 and the next day the West going 3-2.

So to answer your question/comment, I think the South probably has a slight edge. But that's also coming from a Pac-12 writer. But I think "distant" second might be a little too extreme. It's pretty neck and neck.




James in Corvallis writes: What are your thoughts on Jordan Villamin after the OSU upset? He has a size/speed combo that OSU hasn't had in recent memory. Could he be something special? It would be nice to have that one-two punch with Bolden and Villamin.

Kevin Gemmell: Interesting to see this question pop up, because I just asked Mike Riley about Villamin on Tuesday's conference call. And I know Chantel Jennings has a Pulitzer-worthy feature coming out on him for tomorrow, so look for that.

I'm not necessarily ready to speculate on anybody's future -- especially a wide receiver when a quarterback transition is going to occur in the very near future -- but it's fair to say he's made the most of his opportunities.

First, his measurables are outstanding. At 6-4, 240 pounds, he's certainly got the kind of frame that can give defensive backs fits. In the first five games, he had just three catches for 32 yards.

But since Richard Mullaney went out and Villamin's role has increased, he's caught 26 balls for 479 yards and four touchdowns. He had huge performances against Cal (9-140-1) and ASU (4-127-1) and appears to be gaining more confidence with every game he's played.

And that's exactly what Riley said when I asked him about him: more opportunities have led to greater confidence.

He's still a pup and learning the speed of the game. But I'd look for him to play a big role in the final two regular-season games and potentially a bowl game if the Beavers can get there.
video

Oregon quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite Marcus Mariota received a speeding ticket last weekend while the Ducks were on a bye.

A report from The Oregonian states that Mariota was going 80 mph in a 55 mph zone outside of Eugene. He faces a fine of up to $260 and was given a Lane County Circuit Court date of Dec. 11, which is the same day as the Home Depot College Football Awards in Orlando, Fla. The Heisman Trophy Award will be presented two days later in New York.

Mariota could ask for an extension if he chooses to fight the ticket, or he could pay the fine up front and avoid a court date.

"Mr. Mariota was polite and respectful, he was professional and took the citation appropriately and acted appropriately," state police Lt. Josh Brooks told The Oregonian. "Everybody gets tickets and 80 in a 55 is a tad fast. We send you on your way, it's just that."


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Heismanology

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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Joe Tessitore discusses the latest Heismanology poll, which has Oregon QB Mariota remaining in the top spot and Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon jumping to second after his record-breaking performance against Nebraska.

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