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.
1. Why use two hands when you only need one?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
- Adam Jude of The Seattle Times.
- Kyle Ringo of the Daily Camera.
- Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star.
- Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal.
- Mike Sorenson of the Deseret News.
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.
- Utah running back Devontae Booker started off the Pac-12 strong Thursday night, rushing for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Lindsey Schnell of SI.com writes that behind Booker, Utah is finally ready to make its mark in the Pac-12. For his performance, Booker was named Athlon's National Player of the Week.
- USC quarterback Cody Kessler set a school record and tied the Pac-12's record with seven touchdowns passes in the Trojans' win over Colorado. For his performance, Kessler was named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week.
- Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman accounted for 169 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in the Ducks' win. It was Freeman's second-consecutive 100-yard game and his best performance of the season. Here's video of Freeman discussing his performance.
- Even with a bye, Arizona moved up in the polls.
- Mike Bercovici is a big reason why ASU is so high in the polls.
- Cal receiver Trevor Davis was released from the hospital. Good, good news.
- Mike MacIntyre is working to fix Colorado's miscues.
- Pat Forde has Oregon in for his Fab Four.
- Victor Bolden is Oregon State's Mr. Versatility.
- Stanford is using monetary figures in its recruiting.
- Marcus Rios has had a way of beating the odds before his game-sealing pick.
- The Los Angeles Times gives an update on the bizarre LenDale White situation.
- Utah's starting QB? The answer is still up in the air.
- Chris Petersen says "it was too easy" for the Ducks.
- Washington State is seeking a winning attitude.
It's clear Oregon, as the top-ranked one-loss team outside the SEC, controls its own destiny as far as the playoff is concerned. In no way does that guarantee anything, but based on how the Ducks have played since losing at Arizona and what has happened elsewhere in college football, Oregon should feel good about where it is.
The Ducks became the Pac-12's first bowl-eligible team after beating Washington 45-20 on Saturday, but after them the conference remains a jumbled mess. Six others have at least five wins, including five teams in the South Division.
There's no sound way to logically project how this will end up -- too much parity -- but here's our weekly attempt:
College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Arizona
Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah
National University Holiday Bowl: Arizona State
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: UCLA
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford
Cactus Bowl: Washington
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Cal
* at large
Cal hosts big weekend
The Golden Bears had a number of official visitors on hand -- including ESPN 300 wide receiver Carlos Strickland -- and almost pulled off the upset against UCLA. As always, the Cal passing game was on display, and this time it came in front of Strickland and three-star receiver Lavan Alston. Class of 2016 standout running back Sean McGrew, who holds a number of Pac-12 offers, was also on hand on an unofficial visit.
Oregon's ESPN 300 visitors
Cal game today! pic.twitter.com/sLl4tBxyQF— Sean McGrew (@smcgrew11) October 18, 2014
Perhaps no Pac-12 program hosted a more potent one-two punch than the Ducks, as Oregon brought in ESPN 300 teammates John Houston Jr. and Rasheem Green on official visits.
The two hold significant interest in UCLA, USC and other programs, but the Ducks picked a great weekend to bring in the talented defenders on official visits. Neither is expected to make a decision before signing day, but Oregon could be in the mix for both until the end.
Masina's second Pac-12 trip
ESPN 300 outside linebacker Osa Masina has three Pac-12 programs among his final schools, and the nation's No. 124 overall prospect was on an official visit to Arizona State this weekend. Masina went to UCLA earlier this month and will visit USC at the end of November.
While the Trojans didn't host any official visitors, being the only game in Los Angeles brought out some important local prospects.
ESPN 300 athlete Ykili Ross attended several USC games this season and was at the Coliseum again on Saturday.
Blessed! pic.twitter.com/sZpKFc3sQJ— OvO_Y2K (@TheRealYK_7) October 18, 2014
The Trojans also received an unofficial visit from 2016 ESPN 300 safety C.J. Pollard, who picked up an offer from USC last week. Pollard is another in a long line of Gardena (Calif.) Serra standouts and his father, Marvin, is a former USC cornerback.
Oregon headlines the list of six Pac-12 teams ranked in this week's AP poll, which does not include the Cardinal for the first time since the second week of the 2010 season. The Cardinal's school-record, 72-week run ended following a 26-10 loss to Arizona State on Saturday, which also propelled the Sun Devils to No. 14.
Oregon jumped Baylor, Michigan State and Notre Dame to No. 6 and is the nation's No. 3-ranked one-loss team behind No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Auburn.
Arizona, which was idle this week, is a spot behind its in-state rival at No. 15.
The most anticipated game in the Pac-12 this week will be No. 20 USC's trip to No. 19 Utah, which is one of just two games in the country that will feature a pair of ranked teams.
After a 36-34 win against Cal, UCLA re-enters the poll at No. 25. The preseason No. 7 team was unranked last week after consecutive losses to Utah and Oregon.
Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: The Utes passed for only 62 yards in their dramatic 29-23 double-overtime victory at Oregon State, so they relied on Booker's running for the necessary offense to win. And boy, did he sure do some running. Booker amassed 229 yards on 32 carries (7.2 average) and he made sure he left nothing to chance in the second overtime, knifing his way 19 yards for the winning touchdown even though Utah needed only a field goal for the victory. Booker found paydirt two other times -- once to give the Utes a late fourth-quarter lead and once to open the first overtime. So aside from being statistically productive, he delivered in the clutch.
Gionni Paul, LB, Utah: It's time to start recognizing the quality of this Utah defense. The front seven has been sturdy this season. On Thursday, the Utes allowed only 4.7 yards per play against Oregon State. They also recorded five more sacks, pushing their conference-best total to 33. Most importantly, the defense was again fundamentally sound across the board, so let's put a sticker on Paul's helmet -- he led the unit with 14 tackles.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: This was by no means Hundley's best game. He fumbled early on, and that set up a Cal touchdown. He then threw an ugly second-half interception that opened the door for another Bears score. But on a day marred by UCLA sloppiness on both sides of the ball, Hundley overcame his own mistakes and those of his teammates with his supreme athleticism. He did so with statistical flair: 330 passing yards, 94 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns. The Bruins ended up beating the Bears 36-34 on a late field goal, and that capped a Hundley-led 567-yard performance.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC: USC boasts an illustrious list of quarterbacks in its storied history. Well, Kessler can now say he has thrown more touchdown passes in a single game that any of the legendary names that came before him. Kessler tossed seven scores in the Trojans' 56-28 annihilation of Colorado, and he did it with remarkable efficiency (19-for-26, 319 yards). More than a quarter of Kessler's throws were touchdowns. By the way, Matt Barkley held the previous USC single-game touchdown record, throwing six on two separate occasions.
Buck Allen, RB, USC: It wasn't exactly tough running Saturday, but Allen deserves another sticker as he continues his fine season. The back's final line against Colorado: 15 carries, 128 yards, 8.5 per carry.
Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: Oregon's remarkable win streak over Washington reached 11 games with Saturday's commanding 45-20 win, and the Ducks got it done by pummeling the Huskies' vaunted front seven. They did it behind Freeman, a true freshman power back who's built more like a senior. His bruising effort amassed 169 yards on 29 carries (5.8 average) against a Washington defense that had been sturdy against the run entering the game. Freeman powered his way to four touchdowns. The Ducks' offensive line seems to be back and firing on all cylinders.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Yes, I know -- Mariota's helmet is already full of stickers since he gets one seemingly every single week. But we can't ignore another ridiculously efficient performance: 24-for-33, 336 yards, two touchdowns. Mariota has now thrown 19 touchdown passes, and he's the only quarterback in the nation to not have thrown an interception. Now, where's he going to stash all these helmet stickers?
Mike Bercovici, QB, Arizona State: It'll be interesting to see what Todd Graham does after Taylor Kelly is healthy again, because Bercovici sure delivered an excellent performance against Stanford's rugged defense in ASU's 26-10 win. He finished 23-for-33 for 245 yards and a touchdown, but numbers don't really illustrate the critical elements of his performance. Remember that the Cardinal entered this game as the nation's top defense, so the Sun Devils had their offensive work cut out for them. Bercovici succeeded where most quarterbacks fail against Stanford: He managed a nearly perfect game, positioning ASU for a convincing victory.
ASU defense: Granted, Stanford's offense is a mess right now, but ASU does deserve significant credit for its defensive performance in Tempe. The Sun Devils' defense had taken an enormous amount of flak following its Sept. 25 tackling meltdown against UCLA, in which the unit allowed 10 yards per play (that was a 62-27 final score). The Sun Devils smelled Cardinal blood today, and they preyed on Stanford's discombobulated offense with excellent aggressiveness, discipline and fundamentally sound tackling. The Cardinal didn't reach the end zone until 10 minutes remained. Graham's unit should have confidence again.
The streak continues: The Ducks beat Washington. Again. It was by more than 17 points. Again. Make it 11 in a row for Oregon over the Huskies. For obvious reasons, you tip your cap to Ducks running back Royce Freeman for his 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the 45-20 Oregon victory. But a little credit also goes to Marcus Mariota's wide receivers. From Darren Carrington's tip-toe catch inside the 5 to Dwayne Stanford's phenomenal touchdown, the receivers came up big for their quarterback. Oh yeah, still no interceptions. The Ducks look every bit the part of a playoff team.
... ASU inching toward elite status: What was the big knock on Todd Graham? He still hadn't won the big one. Despite Stanford's offensive inefficiencies (add special teams to those inefficiencies after Saturday night), the Cardinal were still the two-time defending conference champs. Their 26-10 win over the Cardinal brings ASU up a notch, as it knocked off one of the league's top-tier teams. They did it convincingly and by dictating the game. Graham has already said Taylor Kelly is his guy when he's ready to play. But you can't overlook the 2-1 record Mike Bercovici has put up in relief.
Stanford loses its elite status: Elite teams don't look like Stanford did Saturday night. They don't fumble on kickoff returns and muff punts. They don't lose the turnover battle and rush for 76 yards when rushing is what they do. With two conference losses, the Cardinal aren't out of it yet. They could still run the table and get to the Pac-12 championship game. But a three-loss team, no matter how good the other three opponents or how close the losses, isn't getting into the playoffs.
Utah has their back, just not their quarterback: Devontae Booker is certainly making his case for newcomer of the year. He was one of the few offensive bright spots for the Utes, as he rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns in their 29-23 double-overtime win at Oregon State. Now, the quarterback is once again a question, with USC coming to town next week. Travis Wilson was 5-of-10 for 45 yards. Kendal Thompson, who started and played the first half, was 4-of-8 for 17 yards and an interception. There are some decisions to make (again) this week for Kyle Whittingham and Co.
Bears down: You can make plenty of arguments about whether UCLA's Marcus Rios possessed the ball on that game-changing interception in the Bruins' 36-34 win at Cal. But you first have to question the play call on first down, and you also have to go back through the game and look at Cal's tackling, which was not good. There were plenty of other places where Cal lost that game. The questionable replay, because it came at such a critical juncture in the game, will be highly debated. But Cal knows there was a lot more to that game than just that call.
The Bruins continue to defy logic: UCLA was on the road. UCLA hadn't won in Berkeley since 1998. UCLA lost the turnover battle. Cal scored 21 points off turnovers. I'm not sure what the exact metric is, but logic says that's a game UCLA should not have won. Yet the Bruins overcame themselves and managed their first win at Cal after seven previous losses. The Bruins totaled 567 yards of offense, so moving the ball wasn't an issue. If they can cut the turnovers, there's no reason to think they still couldn't win the South.
Beavers bowl window is shrinking: We talked in the past about the Week 8 showdown with Utah being a swing game for Oregon State. At 4-2, the Beavers have six opportunities left to find two wins. None of those opportunities are particularly appealing. Cal and Washington State can put up crazy points. They are at Stanford and at Washington while getting ASU and Oregon at home. Their only saving grace is that four of the six are at Reser … but given the way the league has shaped up, that probably doesn't mean much.
Colorado regressed: Maybe it's a one-week deal. Maybe not. Either way, the 56-28 loss to USC was ugly and worthy of the Pac-12 blog's “Dude?” status. The Buffs surrendered 56 points (all from the USC offense -- no special teams or defensive touchdowns) and yielded 532 yards. That wasn't the Colorado team we've seen in previous weeks. Which leads us to …
… USC has explosive potential: Steve Sarkisian has said the past couple weeks that he wants to see his offense be more explosive. Remember Nelson Agholor? Hadn't heard his name in a while. Sure, he had 42 catches coming into this week, but he had only four receiving touchdowns and just 67.5 yards per game. He had a fairly monstrous day and caught six balls for 128 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, someone has to throw them. Agholor's day was made possible by Cody Kessler, who set a school record with seven touchdown passes.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Freshman Royce Freeman ran for 169 yards and four touchdowns and No. 9 Oregon extended its winning streak over Washington to 11 straight games with a 45-20 victory on Saturday night.
Marcus Mariota threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns for the Ducks (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12), who won their second straight game as they distance themselves from a loss at home to Arizona on Oct. 2.
Freeman's four touchdowns were the most rushing touchdowns in a single game for a Duck since Kenjon Barner had five against USC in 2012.
Cameron Van Winkle hit a pair of field goals for Washington (5-2, 1-2), which hasn't defeated Oregon since the 2003 season. Sophomore Cyler Miles struggled to find a rhythm, throwing for 147 yards and a touchdown with an interception and a fumble.