Mark Helfrich's 15-2 record at Oregon is the best start for any Pac-12 head coach since Pappy Waldorf went 16-1 beginning in 1947, but that second loss was a doozy. While there was no shame in losing at No. 6 Stanford last season, the 42-16 shellacking the Ducks suffered at Arizona two weeks later was stunning.

The Wildcats handed Oregon its first defeat to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin was the program's biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008. The defeat ended a run of four consecutive BCS bowl berths, and included an added dose of negative publicity when receivers De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff turned up their noses during the preceding week at the prospect of playing in another Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
AP Photo/Steve DykesMark Helfrich knows the Ducks may have extra motivation on Thursday after last season's loss to Arizona.
This accumulation of negatives unleashed the naysayers who wasted little time insisting that it demonstrated that Helfrich couldn't match the leadership of former coach Chip Kelly.

Helfrich, clearly aware of this, didn't bob-and-weave with the media after the game. He didn't snarl either. Or pass the buck.

"Very sluggish in every phase. That's 100 percent my fault," he said. "I have to figure out exactly which levers to pull and buttons to push."

While Kelly repeated his "forward looking" mantra ad infinitum, Helfrich admitted at the time the Ducks were due some "inward looking." Ten months later, No. 2 Oregon prepares for the Wildcats to visit Autzen Stadium on Thursday night. While Helfrich completely embraces the Ducks "Win the day" philosophy -- he helped establish it as Kelly's offensive coordinator -- including only looking forward to playing "nameless, faceless opponents," he said this week that he doesn't write off the idea that some of his players might find some additional motivation from the events of Nov. 23, 2013 in Tucson.

“Anytime you don’t give somebody your best shot, that should leave a bad taste in your mouth," Helfrich said. "There were some guys that felt that way. It certainly looked that way on film. Hopefully that contributes to fuel the engine of your process.”

It was a strange game. Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota threw his first two interceptions of the season, ending a Pac-12 record streak of 353 passes without a pick. It was the first of three Oregon turnovers. The Ducks also turned the ball over on downs twice and were flagged eight times for 66 yards.

Mariota looked as stunned as Oregon fans after the game. "I have never been blown out like this before in my life," he said at the time.

Yet, as bad as the Ducks looked, Arizona deserves plenty of credit. It played a near flawless game in all three phases. The Wildcats had no turnovers, just two penalties, converted 11 of 16 third downs and were 6-for-6 with six touchdowns in the red zone. Critically, the Wildcats tackled well in space. They yielded some big plays but not any huge plays, as the Ducks had six plays of more than 20 yards but none longer than 30 and none reached the end zone.

That's pretty much the formula for beating anyone, but tackling in space is particularly noteworthy against the Ducks.

“That’s what’s going to be the key again," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The biggest new variable in this year's game is Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon making his first road start in Pac-12 play. While Solomon made his first career road start in the Alamodome against UTSA, Autzen Stadium is a far more challenging venue. Further, Solomon had his worst game of the season against the Roadrunners in terms of traditional pass efficiency rating and Total QBR.

“He’s kept his poise pretty well," Rodriguez said of Solomon. "This will be a test for him. He’s shown a lot of maturity. I’m sure there will be a few mistakes but I think he’s got the kind of mentality that if he does make a mistake or two to shake it off and keep playing.”

Helfrich was asked this week if he'd figured out "which levers to pull and buttons to push" to avoid another lackluster performance. Not surprisingly, he didn't divulge a eureka moment. That's because there's no magic. A team like Oregon, a national title contender over the past five seasons, has no margin for error. Every bad weekend is judged harshly and endlessly analyzed. There's no, "Oh, well," any more for Oregon. Wins are expected and any loss is a cause for panic.

Helfrich has posted a historically good start to his career, but coaching the Ducks after Kelly has left him with a fan base that owns a "national title or bust" mentality. Ultimately, the loss at Arizona a year ago only serves as an Exhibit A for an unsurprising truism for all teams aspiring to be champions.

Said Helfrich, “It doesn’t just happen. Winning is really hard. You have to earn every single bit of it.”
video

Trevor Matich says Oregon's secondary needs to be more physical.

Pac-12 Week 6 predictions

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
9:00
AM ET


Why Oregon will win: Two years ago, Kevin Hogan made his first road start at Autzen and won. Anu Solomon is making his seconds career road start. The difference was Stanford had a defense to back up Hogan. Arizona’s defense isn’t on that level yet. This has track meet written all over it. And maybe it will be. But eventually home-field advantage will make an impact. And the first time Arizona makes a mistake, the Ducks will pounce. -- Kevin Gemmell



Why Stanford will win: I’m not sold on either team’s offense but I think Stanford has faced tougher competition. Everything that has gone wrong with the Cardinal this year is fixable and coachable. If Stanford can clean up some of its procedural issues, it's going to put up points. The Cardinal have all the ingredients to be an effective red zone team. The defense needs no fixing. It’s No. 1 in the country for a reason. I like the Cardinal here in a one-possession game. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Notre Dame will win: Both teams play great defense, but Notre Dame is getting more superior play at quarterback with Everett Golson than Stanford is getting from Kevin Hogan. I particularly like Golson’s improved maturity as a passer, which makes his running ability even more dangerous. Further, home-field advantage can’t be discounted. It was a factor for the Cardinal last week in Husky Stadium and it will be a factor again in front of Touchdown Jesus, only this time Stanford will come up short. -- Ted Miller



Why Oregon State will win: Sean Mannion and his receivers will have been itching to get back onto the field since their loss in Los Angeles and they're going to want to make a statement. Colorado, still fuming from their double-overtime loss, is going to press a bit early, giving the Beavers a chance to get out to a quick start and, even if receiver Victor Bolden isn't in the game, allow Mannion a chance to gain some confidence with his other receivers. Colorado is also giving up 5.0 yards per rush. Look for Storm Woods to have a breakout game on the road and Mannion to button up this offense and make this a true business trip for the Beavers.-- Chantel Jennings

Why Colorado will win: The Buffs are back at home. Their offense is brimming with confidence after putting up 56 points in last week’s double-overtime loss at Cal. Meanwhile, Oregon State is reeling after Sean Mannion struggled while USC racked up 461 yards of total offense on them. Colorado enters a truly brutal stretch to close the season after this -- at USC, vs. UCLA, vs. Washington, at Arizona, at Oregon, vs. Utah -- so I expect Mike MacIntyre’s squad to come into this one with an unmatched sense of urgency. Because of that, expect more big things from Nelson Spruce, who has broken Colorado’s single-game reception record two weeks in a row (19 catches last week). -- David Lombardi



Why USC will win: In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football, USC made it easy to forget about its trip to Boston College with a sound defeat of Oregon State, while Arizona State's defense showed an inability to tackle against UCLA. Hard to go against the Trojans at home with those two games fresh on the mind. -- Kyle Bonagura



Why UCLA will win: Now that the Bruins have proven they are who we ... well, at least can be who we thought they were, there's far less reason for concern. Utah, however, has some major offensive worries following a home loss to Washington State in which the Utes simply couldn't move the ball. It was hard to look at them like a bowl team, let alone one that would go to UCLA and win. -- Kyle Bonagura



Why Washington State will win: Both teams score points in bunches, and I like Cal’s superior balance, but this one will come down to which defense can make a few stops. While, statistically, the defenses are comparable, what the Cougars did against Oregon and Utah suggests it has a better chance to throw the decisive blow (or two). -- Ted Miller

Pac-12 morning links

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
8:00
AM ET
No one's going to remember the Open five years from now, who won... but they'll remember your 12! My, God, Roy, it was ... well, it's immortal!

Leading off

For months, we've been hearing the word "autonomy" when it comes to the five wealthiest conferences in college sports, aka The Power 5. Wednesday was the first day that autonomy structure went into effect, the the Power 5 outlined some of the changes it plans to make.

Per the Associated Press, some of those changes include:
  • Funding athletic scholarships that would cover the full cost of tuition.
  • Guaranteeing multiyear scholarships for athletes.
  • Lifetime scholarship guarantees that would allow former athletes to return to school at any time and complete their degrees.
  • Providing long-term health care and insurance to former athletes.

No rule change can occur until the start of the 2015-2016 season and the Pac-12 presidents and chancellors will meet later this month to discuss how best to implement the changes. These reforms are consistent with a letter the Pac-12 sent out in May proposing several changes to the current structure.

“Student-athletes make tremendous contributions to their schools on and off the field and we want to boost the assistance they receive,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott in a release sent out by the conference on Wednesday. “Better meeting their evolving needs will allow us to preserve, and improve upon, the existing collegiate experience that has provided millions of student-athletes access to higher education and transformed the lives of so many young men and women.”

What might have been

There was a chance that Jameis Winston might have ended up in the Pac-12. For those who remember the 2012 recruiting season, the Stanford Cardinal were hopeful that Winston might break his commitment to Florida State and end up on the West Coast.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News wonderfully weaves in a Gwyneth Paltrow reference -- because, why not? -- when running the subject by coach David Shaw.

Here's what Shaw told Wilner:
There are so many what-ifs during recruiting. There are players on lots of teams who could have ended up here ... It’s two different environments; it’s two different places. I don’t know what would have happened.

It's an interesting read from Wilner with a couple more quotes from Shaw.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

A hilarious segment from USC with their players and coaches reading each other's tweets.

Awesome Mac quote.

 

Todd Graham has talked about putting up fences to keep Arizona guys in state. Billboards will have to do while the fences are under construction.

 

Grantland: The Quiet Genius

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
9:58
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Out on the dangling elbow of the Oregon coast, in a port town set against the Coos River, a teacher named Bruce Bryant sometimes points to a photograph affixed to a bulletin board in his classroom. “Hey,” he’ll ask his students. “Do you know who that is?”

The quarterback in the photo is wearing the bright purple no. 14 jersey of Marshfield High, the institution most of Bryant’s eighth-grade students will attend. Twenty-two years after graduating from Marshfield, the player in the photo occupies perhaps the most high-profile job in the state; he was endowed with more hair back in those days, but even if he’d suffered from male-pattern baldness as an adolescent, Bryant isn’t sure he’d be any more recognizable. None of his students has ever correctly named the passer.

“That,” they say, when Bryant reveals the answer, “is the coach at Oregon?”

To read the full story, click here.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
8:00
AM ET
"It says here breakfast anytime?"
"That's right."
"I'll have the pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment please."

Leading off

It's depth-chart Wednesday. As we do every week, here are the links to the teams playing this week followed by any significant notes. Washington is on bye this week, so we'll update the Huskies next week. The other 11 teams are in action. UCLA is the only team that doesn't do a weekly depth chart. Enjoy! Notes
  • At Arizona, despite being listed the first four weeks as a potential starter at strong linebacker, Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea is officially off the depth chart after announcing his transfer. He didn't record a tackle in the first four games (depth charts are so awesome!).
  • At Cal, Y receiver Stephen Anderson has dropped the "or" next to his name with Darius Powe.
  • At Colorado, Jimmie Gilbert moves into the starting spot at right defensive end.
  • At Oregon, it looks like there are two scenarios for whether Jake Fisher returns this week. It's either Fisher at LT, or Tyrell Crosby. If Crosby moves, Matt Pierson moves from left to right tackle. In special teams, Thomas Tyner is listed as the first kick returner and Charles Nelson is listed first at punt returns.
  • At Oregon State, Siale Hautau moves in at left tackle for the injured Jalen Grimble (see story below). And it looks like Trevor Romaine is back to full-time kicking status.
  • At Washington State, Sulaiman Hameed moves up to start at strong safety, while Darius Lemora moves to free safety.
Heisman chatter

The Heisman Pundit has released its weekly straw poll. As always, it is made up of 10 anonymous Heisman voters. And despite a bye week, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota hasn't slipped a bit. Here are the results of this week's poll. Mariota received seven of the 10 first place votes.
  1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon -- 23 (7)
  2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia -- 18 (3)
  3. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M -- 7
  4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama -- 5
  5. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska -- 4
  6. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin -- 2
  7. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State -- 1
Chip Patterson of CBS also weighs in on Mariota and notes that Brett Hundley climbed back into the conversation with his performance against ASU.

Tune in

Yours truly joined ESPN Radio 1080 The Fan in Portland last night if you're aching for some pod.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

USA Today wants to know which team has the best helmets? ASU and Oregon are in the discussion.

Speaking of the Ducks, their unis for this week.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 6

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
6:00
PM ET
Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Thursday

Arizona at No. 2 Oregon
  • Oregon has scored 50 points off turnovers, the most in the Pac-12.
  • Oregon QB Marcus Mariota's 13 touchdowns without an interception are the most in the country. He went 10 games without a pick to start last season and had 25 touchdowns before finally throwing one ... against Arizona.
  • Arizona leads the Pac-12 and is sixth nationally averaging 593.8 yards per game.
  • Oregon ranks No. 1 in the nation in yards per play (8.14).
  • Arizona QB Anu Solomon's 1,454 passing yards in the second most among freshmen in the country.
Saturday

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame
  • Stanford ranks No. 1 in the country in scoring defense (6.5 points per game), total defense (198.o ypg) and passing defense (74 ypg). The Cardinal defense has allowed just two touchdowns in four games.
  • The Stanford defense's average starting field position (21.6-yard line) is the most advantageous in the country.
  • Stanford's Peter Kalambayi is the only player in the Pac-12 with more than two sacks and an interception.
California at Washington State
  • More penalties have been committed against WSU (41) than any other team in the Pac-12 -- 24 of those have come with the WSU defense on the field.
  • Cal ranks No. 5 in the country in scoring offense (47.5 ppg).
  • WSU QB Connor Halliday has attempted 60 more pass than anyone else in the country. He's also the national leader in completions (201), passing yards (2,318) and passing touchdowns (20).
  • Cal's Jared Goff isn't far behind Halliday. He's ninth in the country averaging 337 yards passing per game and his touchdown/interception ratio of 17 to 3 is among the best in the country.
  • Against FBS teams, Cal and WSU have combined to score 72.5 points per game and allow a total of 75.5 points per game.
Oregon State at Colorado
  • Oregon State ranks No. 16 in the country in total defense (306.5) and No. 2 in the Pac-12.
  • Oregon State (18) and Colorado (17) rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the country in total first downs received from opposing penalties.
  • Colorado's 138 first downs ranks No. 2 in the country behind only Texas A&M.
  • After catching 19 passes and three touchdowns against Cal, Colorado WR Nelson Spruce leads the country in receptions (56), receiving yards (697) and receiving touchdowns (10).
  • The 123 yards Oregon State QB Sean Mannion threw for against USC last week was the least he'd ever thrown for in a game he started.
Arizona State at No. 16 USC
  • USC's turnover margin (plus-seven) is sixth-best in the country; ASU (plus-one) is tied for No. 52.
  • ASU is the least-penalized team in the Pac-12 (5.5 per game).
  • USC QB Cody Kessler's 10 touchdowns without an interception are the second-most in the country behind only Mariota.
  • ASU WR Jaelen Strong has accounted for 33.3 percent of the Sun Devils' receptions, the second-most in the Pac-12.
  • ASU RB D.J. Foster averages 5.02 yards per carry before contact, which is the most among Pac-12 running backs.
Utah at No. 8 UCLA
  • Both defenses -- Utah (75.5 yards to goal) ranks No. 8 and UCLA (75.1) is No. 11 -- have an average starting field position that ranks among the country's best.
  • Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with four return touchdowns -- only two other players have at least two.
  • Utah's Andy Phillips is one of two kickers in the country who has made at least five field goals from 40-plus yards.
  • With 47 tackles, three for loss, a pick-six and a forced fumble, UCLA LB Eric Kendricks is making a strong case for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
  • UCLA RB Paul Perkins has 214 yards rushing after contact, the second-most in the Pac-12 behind only ASU's D.J. Foster (224).
Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5

Gurley or Mariota For Heisman?

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
12:39
PM ET


video

Heather Dinich and Ivan Maisel look at which of the two front-runners for the Heisman award most deserves it this season.

Playoff Top Four: Week 6

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
12:32
PM ET


video

Heather Dinich and Ivan Maisel look at who belongs in the playoffs after five weeks of the season.
video 
Entering Week 6 of the college football season, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Georgia running back Todd Gurley have separated themselves as the front-runners for the Heisman. This week, Pac-12 reporter Chantel Jennings and SEC reporter Edward Aschoff engage in a friendly (-ish) debate regarding the two players:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOregon QB Marcus Mariota is dangerous with his feet or his arm.
Jennings: Mariota is the best player in college football right now. The only thing that could derail that fact would be if his offensive line can’t keep it together and continues to put up performances like it did against Washington State, in which it allowed seven sacks. But when we come to the Mariota-Gurley Heisman talk, I’m really interested to see what your argument is, Edward. Mariota is a machine. As a quarterback, he has the highest passer efficiency rating in the nation. There are only 10 quarterbacks in the country who haven’t thrown a pick yet, and none of those signal-callers has thrown more than 10 touchdowns. Mariota has thrown 13. Then, look at his feet. He doesn’t even play running back but he still has about a third of Gurley’s rushing yardage and half the number of rushing touchdowns (Mariota: 214 yards, three touchdowns; Gurley: 610 yards, six touchdowns). Please, Ed, let’s hear your side ...

Aschoff: Listen, Mariota is a heck of a player. I think he's hands down the best quarterback in the country and should be the first quarterback taken in next year's NFL draft. With that said, he's no Gurley. He's a machine, yes, but he's more of a Prius compared to the Cadillac Escalade with a V-8 that Gurley is. The scary thing about Georgia's junior running back is that he's slimmed down yet he looks bigger. He's faster and more agile yet he's stronger. Gurley can bowl his opponents over, sprint to the outside and take a run to the house, or he can leave defenders dizzy with his elusiveness. Gurley has 610 rushing yards, but he should have even more. His coaches limited him to just six carries against Troy (73 yards), and the argument could be made that his 28 carries (career-high 208 yards) against Tennessee on Saturday weren't enough. Oh, and did I mention that this tank of a human being is averaging a gaudy 8.8 yards per carry and that out of his 69 carries this season he has just 11 lost yards? Take Gurley off Georgia's team and the Bulldogs aren't 1-1 in SEC play. You really think Mariota is better than that? He's flashier than that? Come on.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Georgia
David Goldman/AP ImagesGeorgia RB Todd Gurley has a rare blend of speed and power.
Jennings: First off, most people in the Pacific Northwest would rather be a Prius than an Escalade. Sure, an Escalade might look fancier and be in more music videos, but at the end of the day, don't you want the vehicle that doesn't require maintenance every other month? The vehicle that doesn't need to stop every 40 miles to fill up the tank? A vehicle that so many other vehicles of the future are going to be based on?

Anyway, back to the nitty-gritty, which is yes, when it comes to the facts, Mariota is better than that. His pass attempt-to-touchdown ratio is the best in the country: every 7.4 times the ball leaves his hands, it's ending up in the end zone. OK, fine. Gurley doesn't pass the ball. Let's talk about running again. Every 11.5 carries, Gurley ends up in the end zone. Guess what? Every 11 carries, Mariota finds his way there. He has the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in the country. And he has already led his team to a victory over a top-10 team this season. Everyone can agree a Prius is more efficient than an Escalade, and in football, it's good to be efficient. That's exactly what Mariota is.

Aschoff: I see what you did there with the Prius and the Escalade. But if I need someone to bust through a brick wall and grind out that extra yard -- or three -- I'm handing it off to that environment-destroying driving machine. While we're talking about rushing, which is Gurley's specialty, he's already had 19 runs of 10 or more yards in just four games. If you're keeping score at home, that's 4.8 of those runs per game. Two of those runs went for 51 yards. What has Mariota done? He has 11 of those runs and hasn't even touched a 50-yard scamper yet. And it should be noted that Gurley is excellent when he takes contact. It seems to make him better. He drags defenders with him like Linus drags his blanket. Heading into last week, he was the only player in the country to average more than 100 yards after contact in multiple games (102 vs. Clemson and South Carolina). In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society, Gurley was incredible against an improved Tennessee team. He ran for a career-high 208 yards (and now he has 16 career 100-yard rushing games), had two touchdowns, registered 30 receiving yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. How good was he? Well, Tennessee had so little confidence in its defense stopping him late in the game that it attempted an onside kick with two minutes left and three timeouts remaining in order to try to keep the ball away from him. All Gurley did after that was run the clock out with 26 rushing yards on six carries.

But hey, that Mariota performance over Washington State was cool and all ...

Jennings: You're right. I'll give you that. Washington State might not be better than a 2-2 Tennessee team that has already given up 4.4 yards per rush this season (cough, cough, No. 81 in the nation in that category). But it's not fair to look at the most recent performance since the slates are so different. Let's look at both players' best wins so far. Gurley's was against Clemson in the season opener, no? He carried the ball 15 times, scored thrice and accounted for 198 rushing yards and minus-5 receiving yards. That's cool. Mariota's best win was Week 2 against Michigan State, a game in which he threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns and added nine rushes for 42 yards. Michigan State is one of the best defenses in the country. Clemson isn't even one of the top three in the ACC. Now, I know I was an English major and all, but 360 yards of total offense plus three touchdowns is still bigger than 193 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, right?

Aschoff: That Michigan State (still the Big Ten, though) win was huge, and Mariota was great. I'll give that to you. And Clemson, well, #Clemsoning took over a couple of weeks ago. But don't sleep on what Gurley did against Tennessee and South Carolina. The numbers aren't exactly helping the Gamecocks, but that was a great game, and Gurley did everything he could have ... when his coach wasn't throwing the ball on first-and-goal from the 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Gurley averaged 6.6 yards per carry in that game, on the road. Before Gurley faced Tennessee, the Vols were allowing 3.9 yards per carry. Then Gurley went all Gurley on the Vols.

Both of these players are great, and you have a chance to win any game with either. I want the bulldozer in the backfield who can grind out yards or take it to the house. The good thing is that this debate should rage on because they'll have plenty of opportunities to make us both look good going forward.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:00
AM ET
video 
USC's impact visitor list, Stanford's statement in the Evergreen State, UCLA's major opportunity and a sophomore quarterback at his best under the bright lights are a few of the highlights from the recruiting weekend in the Pac-12 conference.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
8:00
AM ET
I spent four lonely days in a brown L.A. haze, and I just want you back by my side.

Leading off

It's time to take our weekly stroll through The Eliminator. Not that one. This one. (But kudos to you if you know the reference).

The good news is, no Pac-12 teams were officially "eliminated" this week, per our Mark Schlabach. But a few teams were relegated to the "on the fence" category. One-loss Stanford and USC were already dangling. This week they are joined by Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah and Washington -- all who dropped their first games of the season over the weekend.

Here's Schlabach's take on the Huskies:
After trailing Georgia State by 14 points at home two weeks ago and then mustering little offense in a 20-13 loss to Stanford on Saturday, we're guessing the Huskies won't be occupying this spot for very long. Washington coach Chris Petersen was so desperate to generate some sort of offense against the Cardinal that he tried a fake punt on fourth-and-9 at his team's 47-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. It was stuffed for no gain, and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan ran for the go-ahead touchdown five plays later.

Three Pac-12 teams officially remain in contention. That's Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Of course, one of those teams won't be undefeated by the time Friday morning rolls around. The Ducks and Wildcats are set to square off Thursday night in Eugene.

More playoff projections

If you believe Yahoo's Pat Forde, then we're finally going to get to see the matchup we've dreamed about for years in the College Football Playoff: Oregon vs. Alabama. Forde projects the Ducks as the No. 2 seed and Alabama as No. 3 team. His take on the Ducks:
Oregon has won six straight Pac-12 home openers, and none of them has been close. Average score in routs of California (2013), Arizona (2012), Cal (2011), Stanford (2010), Cal (2009), and Washington (2008): 46-13. And three of those opponents were ranked at the time. Next: Sorry, Arizona, you’re the opening Pac-12 cannon fodder in Autzen Stadium on Thursday night.
Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports has the Ducks as the No. 3 seed facing No. 2 Auburn. There's also some good stuff on Notre Dame-Stanford.

Tune in

Yours truly joined Bill Riley and Sean O'Connell on ESPN700 in Salt Lake City yesterday if you're aching for some pod.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

It's been a long, long time since we've seen a Cal locker room celebration. This was awesome.

Warning: Bold Week 6 Pac-12 declarations

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
6:00
PM ET
Declarative sentences are dangerous heading into Week 6 of a college football season. History has taught us most things that appear ready to be tied neatly with a bow end up torn to shreds. But danger is the Pac-12 blog's middle name. (We just thought "Pac-12 Danger Blog" might scare some folks away and damage advertising revenue).

Ergo.

Oregon's visit to UCLA on Oct. 11 will be what we thought it would be in August

Sure, both/either the Bruins and Ducks could fall this week at home, going down to Utah and/or Arizona, and we'd pin that on the proverbial "look ahead." But the expectation is that won't happen. The Utes lost some gusto while surrendering a 21-0 lead at home to Washington State, and Arizona is more than a three-touchdown underdog in Autzen Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota, Devon Allen
AP Photo/Dean HareMarcus Mariota and Oregon will try to avoid a letdown this week against Arizona.
While neither the Bruins nor Ducks have been consistently impressive, they have produced the loudest national statements in the conference thus far. UCLA posted a dominant road win at Arizona State, while Oregon overwhelmed Michigan State in the second half.

What's most notable about the Ducks-UCLA matchup is its potential for a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, as both appear to be front-runners in their respective divisions. Not to look too far ahead, which we are clearly doing, but that could create a quandary for the College Football Playoff. It certainly would make it more difficult to get two Pac-12 teams into the playoff.

Of course, if both arrive at the game -- and that's obviously no guarantee at this early juncture -- with multiple losses, the issue is moot. But play out the various scenarios of zero, one and two losses for each in your head. What if they split close games? What if, say, Oregon is the nation's only unbeaten team but UCLA's only defeats are close losses to the Ducks?

It could get complicated. Good thing we can call such speculation "way premature" in order to avoid taxing our brains with the myriad possibilities.

The Pac-12 needs Stanford to beat Notre Dame

If Stanford wins at Notre Dame, the Cardinal will likely jump into or at least be very close to the Top 10, which could give the Pac-12 three Top 10 teams heading into Week 7. If the Cardinal lose, it will become a big hit for them and the Pac-12 as a whole.

While the Pac-12 is widely viewed as the nation's No. 2 conference, probably by a wide margin, and its 22-4 record versus FBS foes is impressive, there already have been substantial damaging defeats.

Most obviously, whatever USC accomplishes this year will be diminished by the loss at Boston College. If the Trojans had lost amid a flurry of turnovers and miscues, that's one thing. The problem is that defeat was all about getting whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That rates as a physical issue, which is a very football-y thing.

Washington State's losses to Rutgers and Nevada also will hurt because the Pac-12 blog suspects the Cougars are going to give a lot of conference teams trouble this season, witness the so-close performance against Oregon and the huge comeback win at Utah. The Cougs are a solid team, much better than they showed against the Scarlet Knights and Nevada, which by the way are a combined 7-2. But that won't prevent pundits and rival fans from using the transitive property against the Pac-12 when the Cougs notch an upset or two.

Yet if Stanford beats Notre Dame and surges into its Nov. 1 date at Oregon with just one defeat, the Pac-12 might produce a second Top-10 matchup in less than a month. That's the sort of thing the SEC does, which inspires all that media gushing that so annoys many of you fine people.

Bottom line: A road win over No. 9 Notre Dame would provide a significant perception boost and a loss would do the same in a negative direction.

The middle stepped back instead of forward

Washington and Oregon State could have made big statements on Saturday. They didn't. Therefore that velvet rope that has separated both from the North Division VIP room, uncomfortably shared by Oregon and Stanford, is still there, still manned by a couple of beefy security guys.

You probably could say the same for Utah, which looked like a potential South contender before it completely collapsed against the Cougars. The jury is still out on Arizona State, which is dealing with an injury to QB Taylor Kelly and a not-ready-for-prime time defense. We'll see where Arizona stands Thursday at Oregon.

Despite many unanswered questions, the overall feeling about the challenging middle of the Pac-12 feels different than it did in August or even a few weeks ago. It doesn't appear as rugged. There seems to be some separation between Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and -- perhaps -- USC and the rest of the conference, though the Trojans could topple if they lose at home to the Sun Devils on Saturday.

Washington was a preseason Top 25 team, and Oregon State and Utah looked like threats to advance into the rankings. No longer. At least not at this point.

That is not to say teams can't get healthy, solve issues or simply grow up and then go on a run. In fact, it's reasonable to suspect that among the gaggle of Arizona, Utah, Washington and Oregon State, at least one will end the season in the Top 25.

At this point, however, there's little to suggest we will have an unexpected interloper breaking through in either division, challenging the consensus preseason favorites.
When Arizona took down Oregon last season, it was considered one of the biggest upsets of the year. The Ducks had everything on lock and had seemingly "learned their lesson" two weeks prior, before handing it all away on the road against a 6-4 team.

This Thursday, Oregon will have the chance to see Arizona again, a year removed from one of the biggest blemishes of the Ducks' recent history. Which got us thinking about other big conference upsets -- how did teams respond in those matchups the following season? Well, we’ve got you covered with four different examples.

2007: Stanford 24-No. 2 USC 23

[+] EnlargePete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Matt SaylesWhen Jim Harbaugh, right, led Stanford to an upset of Pete Carroll's USC team in 2007, the rivalry heated up. It led to a memorable confrontation after the 2009 game, shown above.
Stanford scored 17 fourth-quarter points, giving the 41-point underdog Cardinal a huge win at USC. It stopped several of the Trojans’ win streaks including five straight against Stanford, 35 straight at home and 24 straight conference home wins.

And in 2008 ... No. 6 USC 45-Stanford 23

No. 6 USC played a rough first half and entered halftime tied at 17 with unranked Stanford. But a strong second half propelled USC to a 45-23 win. From the AP write up: "From the highlights of the game played on the video board during warm-ups, to the "Greatest Upset Ever" T-shirts worn by many fans in the crowd, to the Stanford band spelling out the score of last year's game at halftime, the Cardinal did their best to extend the memory.”

2003: No. 13 Kansas State 35-No. 1 Oklahoma 7

Kansas State put up 519 yards of offense against the vaunted Oklahoma defense, giving the Sooners their first loss of the 2003 season (though, they would still go on to play in the BCS Championship, where they endured their second loss of the season, against No. 2 LSU).

And in 2004 ... No. 2 Oklahoma 31-Kansas State 21

The Sooners, like USC in 2004, started slow against the team that had upset it the previous season. Oklahoma had 60 penalty yards midway through the second quarter and started the game with two three-and-outs. But a strong second half -- Adrian Petersen rushed for 104 yards -- propelled the Sooners to the win.

1998: NC State 24-No. 2 Florida State 7

NC State was a 25-point underdog, but managed to make the Seminoles look like the one that was far overmatched. Florida State was riding a 47-1 ACC record heading into this game, but when your quarterback throws six interceptions, it’s pretty hard to win.

And in 1999 ... No. 1 Florida State 42-NC State 11

This year it was the NC State quarterback who struggled, throwing four interceptions and losing two fumbles en route to a 31-point loss. Two of those turnovers resulted in FSU touchdowns, and the FSU kicker made five field goals -- so it wasn’t exactly an impressive performance for the FSU offense, but overall, the Seminoles managed to avenge their upset from the previous season.

1985: Oregon State 21-Washington 20

Oregon State came into this game after being shut out offensively in the two previous games and was a 38-point underdog against the Huskies. With just under four minutes left and the Beavers trailing by six, Oregon State failed to convert a fourth down at its 11 yard line. But minutes later a blocked punt turned into a defensive score and the extra point gave the Beavers the edge they needed for the win.

And in 1986 ... No. 13 Washington 28-Oregon State 12

The Beavers had already lost three games to ranked opponents in 1986 (by a collective score of 103-24) when the Huskies visited Corvallis. They were overmatched for against their fourth top-25 team of the season and ended up with a 16-point home loss to the team they had shocked the year before.

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