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Cary Chow and Heather Dinich look ahead to what might be in store when the College Football Playoff rankings are updated tonight.
Two clear front-runners have emerged in the 2014 Heisman Trophy race: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Which player should win the award? Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett debate it.

Brian Bennett: Kevin, to prove there is no anti-West Coast bias, I'll let you go first. State your case in 150 words or fewer why Mariota deserves the Heisman.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesOregon QB Marcus Mariota's 42 total touchdowns -- with still a game to go in the regular season -- is a spectacular feat.
Kevin Gemmell: Awww, that's really generous of you B-squared. But I don't need 150. I need only seven: "He's the best player in college football." This could be an exercise where we go back and forth listing the merits of both players. Of which there are many. And I like the fact that a non-quarterback is getting deserved Heisman hype. Unfortunately, this is the wrong year for it. So rather than listing all of the reasons why Gordon should win the Heisman (we can do that later, if you really want), I want to know why you think Mariota shouldn't.

BB: You're right that Mariota might well be the best player in college football. But if the Heisman simply went to the best player, we'd just give it to the NFL's No. 1 draft pick every year. It's supposed to go to the player with the best season. And Gordon is putting up one for the ages.

He rushed for 2,000 yards faster than anyone in history. His current 8.3 yards-per-carry average would be the highest ever. He will soon become one of just three running backs ever to record 2,000 yards and 30 total touchdowns (he needs only three more TDs). And he might just eclipse Barry Sanders' hallowed single-season rushing record.

At the very least, Gordon will likely finish with the second-best season by a running back of all time. How do you not give the Heisman to someone who does all that? And has Mariota created any "Heisman moments" like Gordon's 408-yard day vs. Nebraska?

KG: I'm glad you brought up single-season performance. Because with four more touchdowns last week, Mariota has accounted for 42 total this season -- the most of any player in Pac-12 history. You want to talk about a season for the ages? Think of all the offensive talent that has strolled through the Pac-12 over the years. Annually it's the most prolific offensive conference in the country -- and this guy (with one more regular-season game left) has already put up the most prolific offensive season in league history.

I'd call his 318 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan State Heisman-esque ... or have you B1G guys forgotten about that one? But we both know the Heisman isn't about a "moment." You said yourself it's about the best season. And 32 passing touchdowns with just two interceptions -- while playing against some of the most pressure-heavy defenses in the country, is how you build a Heisman season. Not a moment.

And since you're tapping into some history, let's go back a decade and look at how Mariota's current season stacks up. Our QBR metrics -- which measure how well a quarterback has performed against his competition -- go back only 10 years. But Mariota already has a better season than Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton (all Heisman winners, by the way), Colin Kaepernick, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Pat White and on and on. I bet if we had the historical data, it would show Mariota is having one of the best quarterback seasons in the history of college football.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 408 against Nebraska, is averaging a phenomenal 8.3 yards per carry.
And if we can agree that quarterback is the most important position in the game (and I think we can agree on that much), how then can you not give the Heisman to the guy having one of the best historical seasons ever at the most important position?

BB: Mariota is a spectacular player. No argument here on that. (Though I might point out that Ohio State's J.T. Barrett also has 42 touchdowns in a much less offense-friendly league. Hmm.) But it bugs me that the Heisman has become the sole province of quarterbacks. Defenses stack as many men as possible in the box against Wisconsin, which doesn't throw the ball well, yet Gordon is still averaging 9.95 yards per carry in his past seven games against ranked teams -- basically a first down every carry! It's much harder to tailor a defense around stopping a dual-threat quarterback.

We may never see a season quite like Gordon's 2014 again, and his numbers speak for themselves. I think one thing we can both agree on is Mariota and Gordon are both otherworldly players. Any way we could split the Heisman in half this year?

KG: I'm with you 100 percent. I too get peeved that the past few years the Heisman has devolved into the dual-threat quarterback of the year award. And a lot of that has to do with the advancement of the spread offense. These quarterbacks are putting up numbers that seemed unreachable even 10 years ago.

I hear you loud and clear on Gordon. And I can come up with 2,109 reasons why he's the runaway Doak Walker winner. Not even close. He's spectacular. And most years, I'd probably be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you because I do believe the award has become too quarterback-driven.

This year, however, the voters should and will get it right by handing it to a dual-threat quarterback. From statistical measurables, legacy numbers and team success, Mariota is without equal.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

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While there were a number of important visitors at every Pac-12 game this past weekend, the Rose Bowl took center stage as UCLA hosted a number of official and unofficial visitors in what was the hottest ticket of the year for Southern California recruits. UCLA kicked off its strong weekend with a commitment from an ESPN 300 prospect, while Oregon hosted a junior college standout committed to another Pac-12 program. This upcoming weekend presents an opportunity for recruiting statements to be made in rivalry games.

Pac-12 morning links

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What is with everyone today? It's Thanksgiving not truth day!

Leading off

Tonight the committee will release its College Football Playoff rankings and it'll be interesting to see how it views certain team's wins (cough, UCLA) and certain team's losses (cough, Ole Miss). The Ducks, after a big win over Colorado, should be secure in the top four though it'd be quite the surprise for them to sneak in to the top spot, even with Alabama's slow start against Western Carolina this weekend.

If you saw The Eliminator on Monday morning, there were probably a few things you noticed. First and foremost, Mark Schlabach pointed out the fact that yes, we're heading into the final weekend of the regular season. And no, the College Football Playoff hasn't broken the regular season by any means. Instead, with one week to go (in most conferences), there is plenty of excitement down the stretch.
No. 2 Oregon must survive the Civil War against Oregon State.

No. 3 Florida State must get past one more regular-season game against rival Florida.

The Big Ten West, Pac-12 South and SEC East are still up for grabs, too.

So much for the playoff ruining the drama of college football's regular season.

Oregon is still listed under "In Contention" while Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA are all in the "On The Fence" category. The good news for Pac-12 fans is that no conference team did anything detrimental this weekend. The only two teams that were eliminated were Ole Miss (which lost 30-0 to unranked -- but hot -- Arkansas) and Michigan State.

Awards season

The Butkus Award (given annually to the nation's top linebacker) announced its five finalists on Monday. The Pac-12 snagged two of the spots.
  1. UCLA's Eric Kendricks
  2. Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha
  3. Miami's Denzel Perryman
  4. Michigan's Jake Ryan
  5. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith

That is one heck of a list of candidates and the Pac-12 Blog would like to congratulate all five. Seriously, these are all fantastic linebackers and players that certainly deserve to be honored after the seasons they've all had.

However, there's one pretty obvious name missing from that list: Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III. He has been an absolute monster this season and though I wouldn't want to single out any individual on that list and say that Wright deserves the spot more, it certainly was shocking to see Wright --- who averages a nation-high 2 TFL per game and ranks fifth nationally in sacks per game -- to not be on that list.

And we weren't the only to feel that way:

Diving into some numbers

According to Nate Silver's model over at fivethirtyeight.com, the Bruins' 38-20 win last Saturday was the biggest win of the weekend. Based off his model, UCLA went from having an 8.2 percent chance to making the playoff to having a 14.0 percent chance of making the playoff.

There are eight schools (again, this is according to Silver's model) that have at least a 10 percent chance of making the playoff. Here's a list of the eight programs Silver says are still in the running -- by at least 10 percent -- to make the playoff, followed by their total chance and the percent their chance increased or decreased following last Saturday's games.
  1. Alabama -- 80.8 percent, +5.5 percent after beating Western Carolina, 48-14.
  2. Oregon -- 75.7 percent, +3.6 percent after beating Colorado, 44-10.
  3. FSU -- 59 percent, -0.9 percent after beating Boston College, 20-17.
  4. TCU -- 47.1 percent, -1.8 after being on a bye.
  5. Ohio State -- 42 percent, -1.5 percent after beating Indiana, 42-27.
  6. Baylor -- 33.3 percent, +2.5 percent after beating Oklahoma State, 49-28.
  7. Mississippi State -- 32.6 percent, +5.1 after beating Vanderbilt, 51-0.
  8. UCLA -- 14 percent, +5.8 percent after beating USC, 38-20.

So, UCLA's chances don't look awesome, but if it wins the Pac-12 title, there will certainly be an argument for the Bruins being in one of the four spots. And, as far as the chances of making the finals, the Pac-12 is still sitting pretty well. Oregon has a 44.2 percent chance to make the finals (UCLA is at 6.1 percent).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

For any media covering the Territorial Cup this weekend, Josh Kelman has you covered for your postgame story.

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There's only one week left in the regular season before the conference championship games begin (everywhere but the Big 12, that is). That leaves two more auditions for teams to make their final impressions on the 12 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

A handful of teams can control their playoff hopes, but more often than not, the teams on the bubble could use a little help down the stretch. The good news? There's still time. Here's a playoff road map to help illustrate how the leading candidates can get there in the final two weeks:

1. Alabama

What the Tide controls: If Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl, it wins the SEC West and is one step closer to the playoff. Win the SEC and they're in.

Where they need help: If Mississippi State loses to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, Alabama will clinch the division regardless of what happens in the Iron Bowl.

2. Oregon

What the Ducks control: They've already clinched the Pac-12 North Division, earning a spot in the conference title game. All Oregon has to do is avoid an upset in the regular-season finale against Oregon State -- a 5-6 team that somehow found a way to upset then-No. 6 Arizona State.

Where they need help: If Stanford could knock off UCLA, it would eliminate the highest-ranked team in the Pac-12 South from facing Oregon in the league title game. That doesn't mean Arizona or Arizona State couldn't upset Oregon in the title game. After all, Arizona handed the Ducks the only loss of the season. But it would mean the Pac-12's best hope at a two-loss league champ in the playoff is out of the picture.

3. Florida State


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Eccentric twists and turns have become the primary theme of this 2014 season -- remember the Hail Mary binge, the comebacks, the upsets, the celebratory fumbles at the 1-yard line, the field goal icing drama, and the #Pac12AfterDark hashtag made to describe all the otherworldly mystery.

To remind us that absolutely nothing about the Pac-12 is normal, the stage is set for the South champion to be determined in another "only out West" kind of way: Simultaneous games on Black Friday -- the third to last day of November -- under the beating sun of 80-degree weather.

"Perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer," Henry David Thoreau wrote about the Pac-12 a good 169 years ago. "Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."

Well, he wasn't really writing about the road to the Field of Jeans. But the point stands. The Weird West has hummed a different, fascinating tune all season long, and this last regular-season weekend promises to supply more of the same as the Levi's Stadium championship matchup is finalized.

Simultaneous explosions: Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenTaylor Kelly, Arizona State and Arizona will be scoreboard watching on Friday.
Two more detonations await before we will have fully traversed the minefield of the Pac-12 South. Fittingly, the Rose Bowl will be host to one, while the other will shake Tucson.

Both Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, on Black Friday. Arizona Stadium will require high bandwidth WiFi as both the 9-2 Sun Devils and 9-2 Wildcats need the Bruins to lose so that the Territorial Cup determines the Pac-12 South. So there'll certainly be more than a few fans trying to stream the happenings in Pasadena on their smart phones while simultaneously watching an intriguing Duel in the Desert.

ASU started slowly but ended up whipping Washington State 52-31 this past Saturday, so the Sun Devils feel they're back on track following bitter disappointment in Corvallis two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Arizona did some 1970s Arnold-style muscle flexing in Utah, racking up 298 rushing yards in a 42-10 road annihilation. The Sun Devils' aggressive defense has given up its share of big runs this season, and that's a danger point ahead of a matchup with Arizona's Nick Wilson (20 carries, 218 yards, 10.9 per carry, 3 touchdowns at Utah). We'll keep an eye on quarterback Anu Solomon's status (ankle) throughout this week.

The Territorial Cup will take on truly monumental importance if Stanford successfully embraces the spoiler role and asserts itself early versus UCLA. Remember that the Bruins haven't beaten the Cardinal since 2008 -- that's the pre-Andrew Luck era stuff. Stanford clinched its first Pac-12 title run with consecutive victories over UCLA in 2012, and although their title defense has already failed here in 2014, they did shut down the Bruins' rushing attack in a suffocating win last year.

Brett Hundley's unit must show that it's made significant strides, because the Cardinal's defense looks ready: They battered Cal to the tune of a season-high five takeaways in Saturday's 38-17 win. Stanford set the table with competent offense, but the Bruins' obviously pose a greater challenge than the Bears did defensively. USC mustered only a season-low 4.1 yards per play against UCLA's defense, which is peaking at the right time.

The “rivalry”: Utah at Colorado

Let's not kid ourselves: These two programs do not have enough historical hatred for each other to truly fall into the rivalry category. Nevertheless, this is a huge contest for both squads. The Utes have lost three of their last four games, and a loss in Boulder to close the season would put a massively bitter finishing touch on a once-promising season. It'd be like finding a massive, plump orange, only to discover there's a worm inside of it.

Meanwhile, this is Colorado's Super Bowl. The Buffs are 0-8 in conference play, and this is a wonderful chance to enter a critical building offseason on a much-needed high note.

Desperation bowl: Notre Dame at USC

At one point earlier this year, matters looked so promising for both the Irish and the Trojans. Now, this historical rivalry is more about avoiding complete late-season disaster than anything else. Notre Dame has dropped four of five games (including consecutive home defeats to Northwestern and Louisville), while USC's thorough whipping at the hands of hated UCLA has Steve Sarkisian scrambling to avoid that dreaded seven-win season. The loser of this game is going to stagger into bowl season neck-deep in turmoil.

Tipping point game: BYU at Cal

All is not lost for the Bears even though the wounded Stanford beast came into Memorial Stadium to drop off a few busloads of humble pie. Cal feels that it's still ascending as a program -- the defense must improve for the Bears to take that next step -- and this nonconference finale against the Cougars is the Cal's chance to punch a postseason ticket for the first time since 2011. Remember that bowl eligibility secures extra December practice time for a program. That's potentially vital as Sonny Dykes positions his team to attempt a third year breakthrough.

Civil War: Oregon State at Oregon

The "Civil War" is my favorite rivalry nickname, so I don't think I can come up with a better way to describe this game than that simple moniker, one which illustrates just how divided the Beaver State really is. Nobody is giving Oregon State much of a shot here, but remember they're playing for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's senior season. There's also that whole thing about top 10 teams struggling in Reser Stadium -- one fell victim to Corvallis just two weeks ago. The Ducks must be wary: Marcus Mariota's strong Heisman push is on the line along with College Football Playoff hopes.

Some ice cream for a Pac-12 dessert: Washington at Washington State

The last game of the Pac-12 regular season will, indeed, be an opportunity for some #Pac12AfterDark eccentricity. This will offer a good representation of how geographically diverse the Pac-12 is. Whereas Friday's games in Los Angeles and Tucson are expected to experience 80-degree temperatures, the forecast for this one in Pullman calls for the mercury to dip below 30 degrees on Saturday night. This is not the end of the road for Washington, but both the Huskies and the Cougars have chances to add a positive memory to difficult seasons.
Usually our 6-Pac of questions runs on Thursday, but with Thanksgiving this week, Kevin Gemmell and Kyle Bonagura discuss six pressing issues a little earlier this week.

Which Pac-12 South team still in contention would give Oregon the most trouble in the Pac-12 title game?

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: I hit on this in my mailbag last week, and I still think UCLA, Arizona and ASU all provide unique challenges that are starkly different from each other. But the UCLA team I saw live at the Rose Bowl Saturday night was electric. The offensive line mauled, the defensive got after the quarterback and the wide receivers stepped up big. UCLA looks to be playing its best football right now. That could make things real interesting for the Ducks.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
Chris Williams/Icon SportswireDoes UCLA provide the South Division with its best chance to beat Oregon?
Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Even though UCLA has been the division’s best team over the last few weeks, I’m leaning toward Arizona because of the Wildcats’ recent success against Oregon. Football is so predicated on match ups and Arizona has won its last two games against the Ducks -- and nothing was fluky about either game. It’s also tough to get past the fact that UCLA simply wasn’t competitive against the Ducks earlier this year. It trailed 42-10 at home before a late rally made the final score (42-30) appear closer than it was.

If a Pac-12 South team wins the conference championship game, how likely would a playoff berth be?

Gemmell: I think it depends on how much the committee is really going to emphasize conference championships. They say they will, so we have to take them at their word for now. If it’s UCLA, the Bruins would be 5-1 against Top 25 teams, which would include a win over Oregon in the rematch. Arizona would be 4-1 with two wins over the Ducks and ASU would be 6-1 against ranked teams. That in itself makes for a compelling enough argument for inclusion.

Bonagura: It’s a good sign for the Pac-12 that 1-loss Oregon is ranked ahead of undefeated Florida State. It shows there is precedent to slot a 2-loss Pac-12 team ahead of a 1-loss team should UCLA, Arizona or Arizona State beat Oregon. It’s obviously not that simple, but like you point out, Kevin, all three would have wins that stack up favorably compared to other candidates from other conferences. It'd be a coin flip.

What are your takeaways for Colorado’s season to this point?

Gemmell: Encouraging, though it’s tough to see. I think you hit the nail on the head, Kyle, in your power rankings Sunday when you said because the conference is so deep, you can’t see the results in the standings. Colorado has gotten better, but so has the conference. They just need to accelerate their improvement over the next couple of years if they want to pass some of these teams. But they were a lot more competitive this year than in season’s past. That’s something to build on going forward.

Bonagura: Coaches hate -- HATE -- playing “What If?” In Colorado’s case, it’s particularly frustrating, or encouraging, depending how you look at it. The Buffs led 10-win Colorado State (10-1) in the fourth quarter, they went to double overtime with Cal, they led Oregon State at halftime, they went to double overtime with No. 9 UCLA and led Washington at halftime. There were some not-so-close games in there, too, but the point is they were a few breaks from a more respectable record.

Headed into his first Apple Cup, how would you measure Chris Petersen’s first season at Washington?

Gemmell: I think he needs this one to rally his base. He’s been a no-nonsense coach when it comes to discipline. I dig that, so kudos to him. The OKG thing will fly for now. And I’m willing to give a two-time national coach of the year a couple of seasons to get the OKGs he really needs to build the program up in his image. Much like the situation in Boulder, Washington will have to find a way to keep pace with the rest of the league. The South is rising at a furious pace. Oregon isn’t going anywhere. Stanford might not be down for long. In other words, it’s not going to get easier.

Bonagura: Good, not great. The Huskies have won the games they should have won, but there isn’t a signature win to date. Like you said, Kevin, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Nothing about his coaching résumé indicates the Huskies won’t trend upwards deeper into his tenure in Seattle. That said, losing the Apple Cup would leave a sour taste on his debut season regardless of what happens it whatever lesser-tier bowl they end up in.

Rich Rodriguez still hasn’t beaten Arizona State. What will be the keys in this week’s Territorial Cup?

Gemmell: Neither team needs motivation, that’s for sure. But if this game does come down to determining the South Division, well, that’s going to make things awfully exciting. Health of some key players will obviously contribute. But I think Arizona’s one-two punch of Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson will make or break this game. If those two get off, it opens up a world of possibilities for Arizona’s offense. If the Sun Devils can run blitz the heck out of Arizona and make plays in the backfield, that could be the game-changer.

Bonagura: Health and turnovers are the two big ones. If Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon isn’t ready to go, I think you have to give the edge to Arizona State. We’ll probably have to wait until later in the week to get a better idea of what Solomon’s chances are, but the assumption at ASU is that he will play. In games between teams this closely matched, I always give the edge to whatever team wins the turnover battle. Also, limit the scoreboard watching -- UCLA will be playing Stanford at the same time.

“Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota” is the talk around O’Hara Catholic School in Eugene, Oregon. What was the talk around your middle school?

Gemmell: Will Clark (still the prettiest swing of all time), Guns N’ Roses (find me a better debut album top to bottom than Appetite for Destruction … fine, maybe Pearl Jam’s Ten a couple of years later in 1991) and Batman (yes, kids there was a time when Michael Keaton actually was Batman).

Bonagura: When I was in middle school in the Bay Area, Steve Young was wrapping up a legendary career with the 49ers, Puff Daddy owned the radio airwaves and it seemed like every girl saw Titantic at least four times in theaters.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood kind of had to scratch his head.

“I checked myself,” Greatwood joked. “What did I do wrong? Who did I offend? Which one of the gods did I offend?”

It’s not completely ridiculous to believe that someone in Oregon's O-line room might’ve done something to make the football gods mad. After all, the lineman injury chart is starting to look like an Ayn Rand novel at this point.

Case in point:
  • August 11: Tyler Johnstone’s ACL tear is first reported, though he tore it sometime during the previous week. He's out for the season.
  • September 6: Haniteli Lousi misses the Michigan State game after injuring his leg sometime during prep for that game. He returned on Oct. 24 versus Cal.
  • September 6: Andre Yruretagoyena injured his right leg. He returned Nov. 22 versus Colorado.
  • September 13: Jake Fisher injured his left leg. He returned Oct. 11 versus UCLA.
  • October 18: Hamani Stevens left the Washington game with an ankle injury. He returned Oct. 24 versus Cal.
  • November 1: Matt Pierson injured his left knee. He's still out.
  • November 8: Hroniss Grasu injured his left leg. He's still out.
 Silver lining? The plethora of lower body injuries has allowed younger linemen to get more experience and build toward next year, while not losing too much in the run game (though, Marcus Mariota has been sacked more due to the injuries).

For the most part, the Ducks’ patchwork system has worked. Yes, they averaged just 3.5 yards per rush in their loss to Arizona on Oct. 2 (two yards fewer than their season average), but considering multiple position changes and shifts along the line, having only one loss seems pretty impressive.

“We spin the dial and see what comes up,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich jokingly said about his offensive line. “It has been a week to week existence in that position room.”

Until Nov. 8, it seemed as though Grasu was one of the few untouchables among that dial, but the injury bug struck him too, and Stevens stepped into his place. And for the first time in Mariota’s career, he took a game snap from someone other than Grasu on Saturday.

“It was definitely different, but Hamani stepped up and played well,” Mariota said. “He was recruited as a center. So, he just did his thing, did what he does naturally.”

Again, the line was just fine. The Ducks averaged 6.5 yards per rush, scored three rushing touchdowns and allowed two sacks. Greatwood was happy with the performance, but admitted the Ducks did miss some protections and assignments early. However, those problems cleared themselves up as the game went on.

Although Doug Brenner had been the assumed to be the heir to Grasu, Greatwood and Helfrich decided they wanted Stevens -- a redshirt senior -- to bring his leadership and experience to the center position. Brenner played left guard. Yruretagoyena also made his return, and Helfrich was happy to see him “just knocking off that rust.”

If that’s what it takes to get these guys back in the lineup, Greatwood and Helfrich want to see all kinds of rust knocked off in the coming weeks.

Greatwood said he's never dealt with this many offensive line injuries during his coaching career. The key has been keeping the group confident and continuing to push the players, just like he does when there aren't injuries along the line.

“The last thing you do is throw up your hands,” Greatwood said. “No one is going to feel sorry for you. Everybody goes through it. You just have to keep going.”

However, the injuries have changed things a bit for the group. Last week, they didn't have a full one- and two-deep group for practice. That, obviously, affects the tempo of practice because there are guys who are running so many more reps than usual. The hitting has lightened up a bit in practice, but with Oregon still wanting to run full speed, it has been a little more “taxing,” Greatwood said, for members of his offensive line.

But the Ducks have gotten better with the adjustments. Perhaps when Johnstone went down at the beginning of the season, panic may have set in with this group -- the most experienced one of the entire roster -- and they would suffer some kind of setback.

Now, it’s almost surprising to see the offensive line start the same players for two games in a row.

“They don’t blink at it,” Greatwood said of the moves. “It’s like OK this week you’re playing this position. The kids have stepped up and done a great job every time we shuffle the deck.”

The Ducks have three, maybe four, games left in their schedule and chances are the deck will be shuffled once more (though, Greatwood hopes that shuffling only occurs when guys are getting healthy again).

But until then, he’s going to say his Hail Mary’s and do random acts of kindness every day (and maybe put his offensive linemen in bubble wrap) ... just in case.
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There are just two weeks left in the college football season, and Gene Wojciechowski says that we still don't know anything.
Week 13 was a doozy, folks. So, vote ... because Odell Beckham Jr. can't win the Pac-12 Play of the Week, too.

1. A hop, skip and jump away ... from the end zone

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The race is on for which Pac-12 freshman running back will have the most impressive season -- Arizona's Nick Wilson or Oregon's Royce Freeman. Wilson is averaging six yards per carry and has 35 more rushing yards this season while Freeman has accounted for four more rushing touchdowns than Wilson. But, Wilson is the one that found his way onto the play of the week vote this week after busting out a 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Utah. He hopped his way through the line of scrimmage before outmaneuvering a diving Justin Thomas and finding his way to the end zone. The score gave the Wildcats a 28-10 lead over the Utes.

2. Hard(ison) making it look easy

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SportsNation

Who had the best play in the Pac-12?

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    17%
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    11%
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    53%
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    15%
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    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,208)

That's right big fella. It's not just the pretty boy defensive backs or linebackers that can pick off quarterbacks. Defensive lineman can, too. Senior defensive lineman Marcus Hardison recorded his first career interception against Notre Dame a few weeks ago, but he didn't return that one at all. But against Washington State, Hardison managed to not only pick off Luke Falk, but to then ramble and run 12 yards before being taken down. The interception came at a crucial time for the Sun Devils, too. Hardison picked off Falk on his first pass attempt after ASU had cut Washington State's lead to seven. The Arizona State offense followed up Hardison's athletic play with a quick scoring drive to even out the score at 21.

3. Darren's derrière

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In the postgame media conference on Saturday, quarterback Marcus Mariota said he'd remember redshirt freshman receiver Darren Carrington's pass because it represented the ideal that even when you're down you don't stop working, you follow through with your play/what you're doing. That's super poetic, Marcus, but we liked this play just because it was ridiculous. Carrington almost made the play the first time around, spinning halfway around and trying to snatch the pass with his right hand. But he ended up with his backside on the ground but kept his eye on the ball and allowed it to fall into his chest to make the catch. So, the final catch was either much more difficult or much easier than his initial attempt depending on how you look at it.

4. A 9.0 for the landing, a 10.0 for the pick

With the Bruins up by just three in the second quarter, linebacker Eric Kendricks picked off a tipped Cody Kessler pass that ended up turning the game in UCLA's favor. It was a diving interception and we're still not entirely sure how Kendricks was able to stay in bounds. “It has to be indisputable evidence to overturn it,” Mora told the Los Angeles Daily News. “And he kept his feet up. I'm pretty sure he wasn't conscious of it. It was just a very athletic play by him.” The Bruins ended up making the best of Kendricks' pick and marching down the field, eating up some clock and extending their lead to 10.

5. Lights, Cameron, Action

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With the Sun Devils trailing by 14, sophomore wide receiver Cameron Smith connected with Taylor Kelly for a diving, 42-yard touchdown catch. Smith outran freshman defensive back Charleston White before making the play, his sixth touchdown catch of the year, and one the Sun Devils needed badly after digging themselves a hole early against the Cougars. Smith finished the day with two touchdowns and 131 yards -- the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.
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As Melvin Gordon closes in on Barry Sanders hallowed single-season rushing record, Chris Low wonders if Gordon is poised to run away with the Heisman trophy.
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A great mystery has been lost amid the jocularity surrounding celebrity journalist and sixth-grader Charlie Papé's quizzing Oregon coach Mark Helfrich about the future of Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota. While we can all appreciate that top topics of conversation at Papé's O'Hara Catholic School in Eugene are "Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota," what has been over looked is Papé mentioned four topics of interest but never provided that final topic.

While Papé's life story is certain to shortly be developed into a movie -- think one part "Network," one part "Frozen" and one part "Wonder Years" -- we feel certain that elusive No. 4 concerns who will be the Pac-12's South Division champion, for that is a potential and worrisome foil for his troika of topics. It is against whom Oregon fans -- girls and boys, of course -- could see their prayers answered (or not) and against whom Mariota could secure the Ducks' first Heisman Trophy (or not).

After all, there has to be a villain menacing Papé's sixth-grade trinity, right?

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIIf Jim Mora's Bruins beat Stanford on Friday, UCLA will meet the Ducks in a conference title game that is setting up to have major national significance.
A lot became clear in college football this weekend, and not just that Helfrich clearly enjoys sixth-graders more than adult reporters. For one, the Heisman race is now down to two outstanding athletes: Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, who is posting a historically good season. The only problem with Gordon's candidacy is not a person in the world would select him over Mariota in a football draft, and that includes all those Badgers jumping around in Madison. With Mariota, Wisconsin would be unbeaten.

Second, the once-muddled South picture will be resolved with finality on Friday before nightfall.

If UCLA beats Stanford at home, the Bruins will not only play Mariota and the Ducks for the conference title on Dec. 5 in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, they also will be well positioned to play themselves into the College Football Playoff. Their case for the CFP could be decisively made, in fact, with the opportunity to erase one of their two losses by beating the No. 1 or No. 2 team on the final day of the season.

Ah, but down in the desert of Tucson they will be rooting hard for the Cardinal while simultaneously renewing the love fest that is the Territorial Cup. If the Bruins fall, the winner between Arizona and Arizona State captures the South title. Both teams figure to be ranked near the top-10 when the selection committee announces its rankings on Tuesday. The Wildcats and Sun Devils haven't met as ranked teams since 1986. Further, with both sitting at 9-2, this is the first meeting in which both will have at least nine wins since 1975. So, yeah, this is a big Territorial Cup.

And guess what? If the Territorial Cup winner paired that quality victory with a win over Oregon, it also would have a good case for the CFP, though it's likely a couple of dominoes would have to fall ahead of the Wildcats and Sun Devils in the rankings.

Though we should make no assumptions of any kind for Saturday, which includes what the Ducks do at Oregon State in the Civil War, Friday should be a great fun, a joyous conflagration of rivalry and national relevance.

Last year was a breakthrough for the Pac-12. Six teams finished ranked and nine played in bowl games. Five teams posted double-digit wins. There were no naysayers -- at least credible naysayers -- to the conference's overall depth and strength.

Yet there was a chink in the 2013 armor: Just one team, No. 9 Oregon, was ranked in the final AP top 10. The conference was highly respected and completely out of the national picture, though obviously Stanford, ranked No. 5 after winning the Pac-12 title, could have made some noise if it had beaten Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

That is the step forward the conference can take as we hit the home stretch of 2014, with winning the conference's first national title since 2004 being the biggest and most elusive prize. The Pac-12 title game is setting up to have major national significance, so fans from all corners of the country as well as many in flyover and frozen states will tune in. Some folks out West will be agitating for the Pac-12 title game to become a de facto CFP play-in game, even with a two-loss champion, and fans from other regions need to watch in order to make themselves into educated trolls so they can best fight against this position on Twitter afterward.

Oregon, as a 12-1 Pac-12 champ, by the way, would have the strongest case for the No. 1 overall seed.

This past week, a reader and Arizona fan questioned the idea of Pac-12 collectivism -- the idea that a fan of a Pac-12 team should also root hard for the conference in general. He made a fair and not uncommon point, one that aligns with the big-city vibe of the Pac-12 and its pro sports towns.

But college football isn't set up like pro sports, even with this new playoff. It's still a beauty contest and whom you hang out with matters. You can't just root for one team and wish ill on all others. Six teams ranked in the top-20 and more than one perceived national title contender bolsters Colorado just like it bolsters Oregon. It also pays better when they distribute cash from the new playoff/bowl model.

Further, it's fun to know that a prominent TV in a Jackson, Mississippi, sports bar will be tuned to the Pac-12 on Friday, or that a crew of Ohio State students will be marinating in a Columbus apartment checking out the Territorial Cup, or that a dad in Dallas will shush his children so he can better counter the arguments stacked against his TCU/Baylor team by these darned, overrated Pac-12 squads.

Now what we really need is for Papé to contact a friend at Holy Spirit Catholic School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and get him to tell Nick Saban about the gospel of Jesus, girls, Marcus Mariota and the Pac-12 South.

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Leading off

Rankings are starting to get awfully important now. As we head into the final week of the regular season, there is plenty of jockeying going on. And how the rest of the country sees things will likely play a role in how the College Football Playoff selection committee sees things.

The Pac-12 had a setback in the rankings last weekend with lackluster performances from Utah and USC. Both of their non-competitive losses bounced them from the rankings, leaving the league with just four teams left in the top 25. Kyle Bonagura has the conference perspective here. The good news is that all four teams are ranked in the top 15 -- so the best the league has to offer is getting its due. Here are where the four teams stand in the AP and coaches polls (AP listed first).
  • Oregon 2-3
  • UCLA 9-10
  • Arizona 12-12
  • ASU 13-13

As always, here are how some folks who cover the conference voted in the AP poll. Playoff chatter

In this week's look at Pat Forde's "Fab 4," Oregon is seated nicely at the No. 2 spot, where he projects the Ducks to face Mississippi State in the Rose Bowl.

His take on the Ducks:
The Ducks continue rolling at a high rate of speed, winning their sixth straight Saturday -- all of them by double digits, all while scoring at least 42 points. They jumped on hapless Colorado 30-3 in the first half, upped the lead to 44-10 in the third quarter and then used the fourth as mop-up duty. In combination with Oregon's pileup of strong wins, its lone loss (31-24 to Arizona on Oct. 2) has only gotten better as the season has gone along. The Wildcats now are 9-2 and remain in contention to win the Pac-12 South and have a potential league championship rematch with Oregon.

Worth noting that he also has UCLA as a team still worth consideration. If the Bruins beat Stanford on Friday, they will lock up the South and force a rematch with the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If the Cardinal beat the Bruins, then it's winner take all in the Territorial Cup.

News/notes/team reports

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