Here's the slate.
Sat., Dec. 21 Gildan New Mexico Bowl : Albuquerque, N.M. (University Stadium)
WASHINGTON STATE (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, ESPN
Sat., Dec. 21 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Las Vegas, Nev. (Sam Boyd Stadium)
USC (9-4) vs. Fresno State (11-1), 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, ABC
Tues., Dec. 24 Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl: Honolulu, Hawaii (Aloha Stadium)
OREGON STATE (6-6) vs. Boise State (8-4), 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, ESPN
Fri., Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl : San Francisco (AT&T Park)
WASHINGTON (8-4) vs. BYU (8-4), 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT, ESPN
Mon., Dec. 30 Valero Alamo Bowl : San Antonio, Texas (Alamodome)
OREGON (10-2) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET/3:45 p.m. PT, ESPN
Mon., Dec. 30 National University Holiday Bowl: San Diego, Calif. (Qualcomm Stadium)
ARIZONA STATE (10-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5), 10:15 p.m. ET/7:15 p.m. PT, ESPN
Tues., Dec. 31 AdvoCare V100 Bowl: Shreveport, La. (Independence Stadium)
ARIZONA (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5), 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT, ESPN
Tues., Dec. 31 Hyundai Sun Bowl: El Paso, Texas (Sun Bowl)
UCLA (9-3) vs. Virginia Tech (8-4), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT, CBS
Wed., Jan. 1 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio: Pasadena, Calif. (Rose Bowl)
STANFORD (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1), 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT, ESPN
Oregon Ducks (10-2) vs. Texas Longhorns (8-4)
Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, San Antonio (ESPN)
OREGON DUCKS BREAKDOWN
During an 8-0 start, Oregon fans had only one thought in coach Mark Helfrich's first season: We want Bama. During a 2-2 finish, they started missing Chip Kelly.
Not only were the Ducks again in the thick of the national title hunt, but QB Marcus Mariota was also the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate.
But in that win over the Bruins, Mariota sprained his knee. While the injury didn't force him to miss a game, it severely limited his ability to run either on designed plays or scrambles. That put a major part of the Ducks’ offense on ice.
Stanford dominated the Ducks on both sides of the ball in a 26-20 win on Nov. 7, the Pac-12's marquee date of the year. Mariota struggled mightily, but the real issue was the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal owned it.
The low point, however, was a 42-16 defeat at Arizona that proved the death knell of the Ducks' BCS bowl hopes. It was Oregon's first loss to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin of defeat was their biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008.
The Ducks bounced back with a victory in the Civil War, but that 36-35 nail-biter at home over a reeling Beavers team was hardly suggestive of the team that dominated foes through the first eight games. It will be interesting to see how the Ducks respond in the postseason. It should help that Mariota should be close to full health. -- Ted Miller
TEXAS LONGHORNS BREAKDOWN
The Longhorns had everything on the line against Baylor, including a Big 12 title and a trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. They couldn’t get the job done. The bowl matchup that the 30-10 loss leads to is immaterial to Texas fans now. All they want to know is whether the Mack Brown era is over.
Despite losing five starters to season-ending injuries, the Longhorns turned around a rough start with a 7-2 record in Big 12 play. They made that run with a potent power run game, now led by Malcolm Brown (774 yards, nine touchdowns). Whether or not Mack Brown is done, this is the final game for nine senior starters and an opportunity for Case McCoy to end his up-and-down career on a high note.
Texas’ defense underwent a revival in 10 games under Greg Robinson and did hold Baylor’s top-ranked scoring offense to three points in the first half. Jackson Jeffcoat finished with a Big 12-leading 12 sacks in his senior season and anchors a unit that has plenty of experience defending high-tempo spread offenses. -- Max Olson
The No. 19 Badgers (9-3) are playing in a non-BCS bowl for the first time in three seasons following three consecutive appearances in the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin lost those games, though, and will be looking for its first bowl win under coach Gary Andersen.
South Carolina (10-2) won its final five games of the season, including a double-overtime victory against then-unbeaten Missouri.
The Gamecocks are making their second Capital One Bowl appearance in three seasons, having beaten Nebraska in 2012.
South Carolina is also the only team to beat Fiesta Bowl-bound UCF, rallying in the final three quarters to claim a three-point victory.
It is the first meeting between the schools.
AT&T Cotton Bowl: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
SEC runner-up Missouri is headed to the Cotton Bowl, where the No. 8 Tigers will play No. 13 Oklahoma State on Jan. 3.
Missouri (11-2) is coming off a 59-42 loss to Auburn in the SEC championship game in only its second season in that league.
Oklahoma State (10-2) was on track for a Big 12 title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series before a 33-24 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.
SEC teams have won the last five Cotton Bowls, and nine of the last 10, over Big 12 teams. The lone exception was the 2008 game when Missouri, then in the Big 12, beat Arkansas 38-7.
The ESPN 300 receiver has offers from all over the country, and he hosted in-home visits from Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M, respectively, last week. On Thursday, Iheanacho’s recruiting went up a notch, as he received an offer from Oregon.
This weekend, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound receiver said he will take a trip to Eugene, Ore., for an official visit to the Oregon campus. Iheanacho, who is set to announce his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 4 in San Antonio, said he is looking forward to meeting the Oregon coaches and also getting a feel for the campus.
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Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO (Jan. 1, 2014): Stanford vs. Michigan State
Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30): Oregon vs. Big 12
National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31): UCLA vs. ACC
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): USC vs. MWC
Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 27): Washington vs. BYU
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 21): Washington State vs. MWC
AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31): Arizona vs. ACC
Texas (Dec. 27): Oregon State vs. Big Ten
When Stanford is on, it’s on: Home or away, when the Cardinal are at their best, they are tough to stop. And while Tyler Gaffney’s 22 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns were huge, obviously, it was the fact that the Cardinal could effectively set up play-action off of those runs that was a key to the game. Kevin Hogan was a very efficient 12-of-18 for 277 yards and a touchdown, including an average of 15.4 yards per completion. He was able to find Jordan Pratt, Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste (two catches, 120 yards) on some big plays. That more than anything kept the Sun Devils defense guessing all night.
Not so special: It was a rough night for Arizona State from a special teams perspective. Punter Alex Garoutte averaged just 33 yards per punt, Zane Gonzalez missed his only field goal attempt (31 yards) and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery enjoyed an average of nearly 30 yards per kick return. Said Arizona State coach Todd Graham of his special teams: “It’s absolutely sad.”
Fun facts (via ESPN Stats & Information): With the loss, ASU falls to 7-1 at home this season and end an eight-game home winning streak. Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1970-1971. The Cardinal outscored ASU 80-42 in two games this season. In its past 10 meetings with teams ranked in the AP Top 25, Stanford is 10-0, including 6-0 this season.
Oregon to the BCS? Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to hope. With NIU losing Friday night, it opened up the possibility of a second Pac-12 team, namely Oregon, going to a BCS bowl game since there are no non-AQ teams going to BCS bowl games this year. Michigan State’s win over Ohio State throws an additional wrench. Various projections are floating for Oregon. But the most likely scenario is still the non-BCS Alamo Bowl. Orange is all but a lock to be Ohio State-Clemson. Best bet for a BCS bowl is probably the Sugar against Alabama -- and of course the BCS ranking will play a role whether Oklahoma (currently No. 17) gets into the top 14. Texas beating Baylor and Oklahoma State taking care of business certainly would have helped. Neither happened.
The BCS bowl matchups won't be announced until Sunday night, but we can give our best projection now of what those matchups will be.
Here is how we think things will shake out for each of the five BCS games, including a look at what variables are still in play for each.
VIZIO BCS National Championship
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Instead, the defeat opens up another at-large spot for a major-conference team. That team will probably come from the Big 12 or Pac-12 and play in the Sugar Bowl, the most likely candidates being Baylor or Oregon.
Oklahoma could also have a chance to get that spot with a victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday.
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To the notes.
Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?
Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?
The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.
Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.
Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.
As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.
Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.
Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.
So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.
Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.
It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.
Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?
Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.
A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.
Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.
The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.
But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.
In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.
Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.
But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.
Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?
Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.
That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.
Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.
And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.
Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.
Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.
The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.
Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.
The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.
Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?
Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.
Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.
I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.
- Arizona will stock up with some junior college signees.
- Winning has redeemed Arizona State coach Todd Graham.
- More on California's field naming rights.
- Colorado is hitting the local recruiting trail.
- An update on former Oregon TE Colt Lyerla.
- Oregon State has facility upgrade plans.
- RB Tyler Gaffney rates among Stanford's best.
- UCLA has received plenty of good news this week, and this tidbit is pretty darn big.
- New USC coach Steve Sarkisian will continue to call offensive plays, but not by himself.
- We take a moment to remind everyone that Utah DB Eric Rowe is smart, despite an oversight that left him off the Pac-12's All-Academic team.
- Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins tells students about the dangers of drinking and driving.
- A quick Washington State practice report.
- Jon Wilner lays out his Pac-12 bowl projections.
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That, as we noted on Tuesday, makes Oregon the 2014 Pac-12 favorite, no matter that running back De'Anthony Thomas and/or cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu are unlikely to follow his example. In fact, the Ducks are a good bet to begin the season with another top-five ranking, in large part due to Mariota still being behind center -- his two-time first-team All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu, no less.
Every other conference team that has reasonable designs on contending next fall will have more questions than Oregon.
Arizona State and Stanford, who play Saturday for the right to go to the Rose Bowl, are senior-heavy teams. Both will welcome back their quarterbacks, Taylor Kelly and Kevin Hogan, respectively, but they will take significant hits on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. UCLA also is likely welcoming back quarterback Brett Hundley, and it looks like the South Division favorite, but it, too, will be replacing some key star power on defense, starting with outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
The most preseason buzz, however, will surround Oregon, and Mariota will be the guy on the cover of all the magazines.
While Ducks fans aren't really looking ahead just yet because many are crossing their fingers over an outside shot at a BCS bowl game -- Discover Orange Bowl vs. Alabama! -- there is enough of a pause in the action to consider the state of the Ducks.
Was Year One under Mark Helfrich a success? A failure? Somewhere in between?
Some Ducks fans, the national-title-or-bust ones, already view it as a failure. Others would join that crowd if Oregon loses its bowl game, wherever that may be.
The more reasoned position is to be mildly disappointed that it became a transitional year, post-Chip Kelly, and that specific circumstances -- Mariota's sprained knee and a uniquely deep Pac-12 -- waylaid what was clearly a pretty darn good team, perhaps as good as any of the other Ducks BCS bowl teams.
As you might have noticed, it's not easy to go undefeated. Just ask Baylor, Alabama and every other college football team unfortunate enough not to play Ohio State's, Florida State's and Northern Illinois's soft schedules. Kelly, as big as his brain is, managed only to do it once before losing the national title game. That year, however, the only other Pac-12 team that ended up ranked was Stanford, and the third-best record in the conference was 8-5 USC.
In other words -- and most Pac-12 fans should not read the end of this sentence -- 10-2 isn't that bad. Notice that no other conference team did better.
But who said rationality was part of being a college football fan?
So, knowing that irrational impatience typically prevails, Helfrich is fortunate to have Mariota returning. A third-year starter at quarterback will provide stability and leadership. It's no guarantee of success -- see USC's Matt Barkley -- but it solves the most critical position on any football team. The 2014 team will start with a 10-win over-under.
Of course, Ducks fans will embrace the over. That's life in Eugene now. Helfrich is well aware that he took over a program that no longer sees eight or nine wins as a successful season. He could be 21-4 at the end of the next regular season, but if the Ducks aren't headed to the inaugural College Football Playoff, there will be a strong sentiment that the program has taken a step back under Helfrich.
Mariota is the biggest reason to bet the over. He's the biggest reason Helfrich might coax some breathing room out of his second go-around.
Still, one of the big stories in the Pac-12 in 2014 will be which way the Ducks trend: Do they regain their footing atop the conference? Or does evidence accumulate suggesting a clear decline?
- Arizona's bowl destination is up in the air.
- ASU will have to make some defensive changes against Stanford this time around.
- Memorial Stadium remains the same, but the field has a new name.
- Colorado's regents have approved upgrades.
- How do this year's Ducks compare to last year's?
- Bruce Feldman weighs in on Mike Riley and the state of OSU football in a Q&A with the Oregonian.
- The keys for Stanford to beat Arizona State.
- UCLA brings in a running backs coach with LA ties.
- The full quote sheet from Steve Sarkisian's introductory news conference at USC -- and player reactions.
- What are the expectations for Utah in 2014?
- Are there frontrunners in the Washington job search?
- Cougars are looking for their spot on the bowl landscape.
- Athlon Sports offers up some quirky title game statistics and some predictions.
Here are the top five storylines that Pac-12 recruiting fans should be watching for during the week of practices and the game, which is set for 4 p.m. ET on Jan. 2 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and will be televised on ESPN.
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