Pac-12 morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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We've got another holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.

I haven't even finished eating all of my Halloween candy.

Leading off

Depth Chart Wednesday! Depth Chart Wednesday! Depth Chart Wednesday! Let's get to it. Note: UCLA doesn't celebrate Depth Chart Wednesday. Awards season is in full swing

OK, there are a lot of these to get through, but stick with us. We can do it together.

There's a very good representation of the Pac-12 among these lists. If a Pac-12 player is a finalist, he's listed as the first name on the list (just an FYI).

MAXWELL AWARD: Given to the top player in college football (as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota -- 3,103 passing yards, 32 TD, 2 INT, 597 rushing yards, 97 carries, 9 rushing TDMississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott -- 2,1714 passing yards, 23 TD, 10 INT, 891 rushing yards, 171 carries, 12 rushing TD
  2. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon -- 254 carries, 2,109 yards, 25 TD
BEDNARIK AWARD: Given to the top defensive player in college football (again, as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III -- 126 tackles, 22 TFL, 12 sacks, 5 forced fumbles
  2. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa -- 43 tackles, 18 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
  3. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley -- 24 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble
RAY GUY: Given to the top college punter. Yards per punt season average follows each finalist's name.
  1. Tom Hackett (Utah) -- 46.5
  2. JK Scott (Alabama) -- 46.8
  3. Scott Arellano (BYU) -- 44.6
  4. Scott Harding (Hawaii) -- 41.5
  5. Austin Rehkow (Idaho) -- 47.8
  6. Justin Vogel (Miami) -- 44.0
  7. Tyler Wedel (Northern Illinois) -- 41.9
  8. Cameron Johnston (Ohio State) -- 43.6
  9. Drew Kaser (Texas A&M) -- 44.4
  10. Alex Kinal (Wake Forest) -- 43.8
OUTLAND: Given to the top interior lineman (offense or defense).
  1. Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown
  2. Auburn center Reese Dismukes
  3. Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff
DAVEY O'BRIEN: Given to the best college quarterback
  1. Mariota (see stats above)
  2. Prescott (see stats above)
  3. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin -- 3,021 passing yards, 24 TD, 5 INT, 122 rushing attempts, 548 yards, 7 TD
JIM THORPE AWARD: Given to the top defensive back in college football.
  1. Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 7 pass break ups
  2. Alabama safety Landon Collins -- 75 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT, 5 pass break ups
  3. Louisville safety Jerod Holliman -- 32 tackles, 2 TFL, 13 INT, 3 pass break ups
News/notes/team reports
video

College football reporter Chris Low breaks down Saturday's rivalry game between No. 2 Oregon and Oregon State.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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Headed into the final week of the regular season, eight Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible, and California and Oregon State remain one win away.

Cal has a significantly easier path to win No. 6, hosting BYU on Saturday, while Oregon State must get through rival Oregon in Corvallis. If the Golden Bears win, it will likely impact where rival Stanford -- which beat Cal 38-17 -- ends up in the postseason. Even though Stanford beat Cal and travelled well for BCS bowls over the past four seasons, the Cardinal’s small fan base and demonstrated lack of enthusiasm this season doesn’t make it an attractive team for bowl officials.

Oregon remains at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, while No. 8 UCLA remains within striking distance of the top four should it beat Stanford, then Oregon.

Here's our weekly attempt to map out where the Pac-12 teams will end up come bowl season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual): Oregon
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Arizona
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Utah
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: California*
At-large: Stanford

*Needs a win to become bowl eligible
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For the first time this season, the top seven teams in the College Football Playoff Top 25 have remained the same, as determined by 11 members of the 12-member selection committee (Mike Tranghese was sick and unable to travel to Dallas for the meetings).

No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Mississippi State each won in Week 13, and in spite of another close win for the Seminoles, FSU did not drop another spot. The only difference at the top was that No. 8 UCLA, No. 9 Georgia and No. 10 Michigan State all slid up one notch to take the spot of Ole Miss, which sank nine spots to No. 19 after being shut out by Arkansas.

Here's what the bracket would look like today:

NCF Playoffespn


TCU is still the first team on the bubble at No. 5, followed by No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Baylor. No. 11 Arizona jumped four spots, and No. 17 Missouri is up three spots. Another big mover was No. 18 Minnesota, which rose seven spots after beating Nebraska.

The biggest surprise this week was that not one but two Group of 5 teams were ranked: No. 23 Boise State and No. 24 Marshall. It was a controversial call, as Boise State is a two-loss team just one win away from clinching the Mountain West's Mountain Division, and Marshall is the only undefeated team remaining in the Group of 5. Marshall has already clinched the Conference USA East title.

Marshall is ranked No. 19 in the latest Associated Press poll, followed by No. 21 Colorado State and No. 25 Boise State. This is the first time since Week 10, when East Carolina was ranked in the selection committee's first Top 25, that the Group of 5 has been represented in the CFP rankings.

That would make Boise State the frontrunner to represent the Group of 5 in a New Year's Six Bowl.

As for the other major bowls, here's a projection based on the current rankings:

The Orange Bowl lost the ACC champion (FSU) so it gets the next highest-ranked ACC team, No. 16 Georgia Tech. The Orange Bowl then selects the next highest-ranked nonconference championship team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. By contract, displaced conference champs from the SEC and Big Ten don't go to the Orange Bowl. That would pit the Yellow Jackets against No. 10 Michigan State because the committee would look to avoid a rematch with No. 9 Georgia.

Here's what New Year's Eve and New Year's Day could look like, based on today's rankings:

Dec. 31

12:30 p.m. ET -- Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl -- No. 9 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor

4 p.m. ET -- VIZIO Fiesta Bowl -- No. 23 Boise State vs. No. 8 UCLA

8 p.m. ET -- Capital One Orange Bowl -- No. 16 Georgia Tech vs. No. 10 Michigan State

Jan. 1

12:30 p.m. ET -- Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic -- No. 5 TCU vs. No. 6 Ohio State

5 p.m. ET -- Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual -- No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

8:30 p.m. ET -- Allstate Sugar Bowl -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
With more than half the votes in this week's poll, Oregon redshirt freshman receiver Darren Carrington earns the top spot for this week's Pac-12 Play of the Week.

For a catch like this, there's no better way to explain it than to say, just watch the video.

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From the peanut gallery ...

Rebel fell: Ole Miss plummets to 19

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
5:56
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video

Things remained the same at the top of the latest unveiling of the College Football Playoff rankings, but one team took quite the tumble down the list.

Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State are again the top four teams in the CFP rankings; in fact, the top seven teams from last week's rankings remained unchanged. TCU, Ohio State and Baylor held steady at the Nos. 5-7 spots.

Mississippi, however, took a spill, going from No. 8 last week all the way down to No. 19 following an embarrassing 30-0 road loss to Arkansas that was the Rebels' third straight SEC defeat.

As a result of Ole Miss' fall, UCLA, fresh off its win over rival USC, moved up to No. 8. Georgia and Michigan State rounded out the top 10. The Spartans benefited from the Rebels' fall, moving back into the top 10 after landing at No. 11 the previous week.

Further down the rankings is the battle to see which school from outside the Power 5 conferences will earn a guaranteed spot in a New Year's bowl. Boise State


(Read full post)


Week 13 Pac-12 QB Power Rankings

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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The Pac-12 is loaded with talent at quarterback this season to the point where it seems like the conference is a hoarder and really good QBs are in abundance. But this is the way we like it. And the other conferences can keep hoarding whatever they like as long as the signal-callers stay west.

Every week we'll provide you with a power ranking of the conference's top quarterbacks, based mostly on that QB's most recent game.

Drumroll please ...

For Week 12's rankings, click here.
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 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
10:00
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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

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
AM ET
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.

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.
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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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