USC searches for identity after bye 

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
LOS ANGELES -- Returning to Pac-12 play, it figures that the No. 18 USC Trojans (2-1, 1-0 Pac-12) will be in a feisty mood when they face the undefeated but unranked Oregon State Beavers (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12) Saturday night in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The Trojans spent last week’s bye trying to figure out what went wrong in the 38-31 loss at Boston College.

According to Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian, the team worked to address their shortcomings during the bye -- which meant dealing with issues on both sides of the ball, healing the wounded, and looking at a few new wrinkles.

After four weeks, we still know nothing

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
The Socratic smugness that enveloped me in the wee hours of Sunday morning was a revelation of sorts, though a recognition of futility isn't terribly comforting.

After the tumult of another thrilling weekend, Twitter spun and spun with ostensible wisdom, with Pac-12 and college football philosophers insisting this or that was true based on this or that result. As for me, all I knew is that I knew nothing. Therefore, I am wiser than Twitter, for neither Twitter nor I appears to know anything great and good; but Twitter fancies it knows something, although it knows nothing. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than Twitter, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.

Ya know?

Dominant teams? There may not be any. Florida State, Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon etc. Each seems to be surviving rather than asserting itself. Same holds true in the Pac-12.

The good news is Socrates also believed an unexamined college football season is not worth following. Further, after four confounding weeks, both nationally and within the Pac-12, we figure to scrape and claw toward more substantial revelations this week, at least on the West Coast. Probably. Maybe.

First, just the facts.

Seven Pac-12 teams remain unbeaten, though hardly unblemished. Three in the North Division: Oregon, Washington and Oregon State. And four in the South: Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah.

At least one of those will go down before next weekend, as UCLA visits Arizona State in a critical South clash on Thursday. Both teams have looked vulnerable. Both teams have QB questions, with Taylor Kelly definitely out for the Sun Devils, and Brett Hundley trying to come back from a hyper-extended elbow that knocked him out of the nail-biting win over Texas.

Oregon, the putative top Pac-12 team and favorite to represent the conference in the College Football Playoff, is off this week. The Ducks might be good enough to win the national championship or they might lose three games due to an injury-riddled offensive line or a leaky defense. We've seen Oregon dispatch mighty Michigan State with a dominant second half on both sides of the ball and then cling for dear life at Washington State, the only conference team presently owning a losing record.

Just as UCLA-Arizona State is a separation game in the South, so is Stanford’s visit to Washington on Saturday in the North. We have little feeling on the potency of either. Both have flashed potential on both sides of the ball. Yet both also have looked feckless and discombobulated, which is surprising when you consider the reputations of their respective head coaches. The winner becomes the top potential foil for Oregon in the North.

Or might that actually be Oregon State? We don’t really know what to make of the Beavers, who visit USC on Saturday, because they haven't played anyone. For that matter, we don’t really know what to make of USC either because it was good enough to beat Stanford and bad enough to be humiliated at Boston College.

Things are perhaps just as intriguing -- read: hard to figure -- among the hoi polloi, among the teams not widely viewed as serious threats to win the conference. And by "widely viewed" keep in mind the chattering classes tend to talk themselves into general agreement based their need to wheeze carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, yours truly not exempted by any means.

Colorado's trip to California is a game that matches teams that both said, “We can win this one!” in the preseason. The loser’s long shot bowl hopes will take a huge hit. You could probably say the same about Washington State’s trip to Utah, though a Utes victory might propel them into the Top 25 and transform them into a popular new dark horse in the South.

In fact, our limited intelligence after four weeks might merely be a confirmation of what most suspected in the preseason: There will be no easy outs this fall, which might be as much a function of the top slipping as the bottom rising. Sure, Washington State is 1-3, but the Cougs pushed Oregon to the brink. A little less brilliance from Marcus Mariota and a little more help from the officials and things might have been different. Colorado is 2-2 but it gave Arizona State trouble, the Buffs rushing for 232 yards against the Sun Devils' rebuilt defense. California was a Hail Mary pass away from winning at Arizona and improving to 3-0. Utah won convincingly at Michigan, which might not mean much but it's still a happy ending in the Big House against a team wearing cool winged helmets.

So expect to muddle forward toward clarity, even if we encounter a few false summits along the way. No Pac-12 team appears unbeatable. And no team appears incapable of playing competently. Each fan base should remain hopeful while not ruling out the possibility of eventual despondency.

The good news, as Socrates noted via Plato, is there are two ruling and directing principles in a college football season. It always at least teases our innate desire for pleasure. And, at its end, we acquire grounds to judge excellence.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Hey Shane Falco. I lost a ton of money on that Sugar Bowl disaster of yours. What a bloody shambles that was. You could smell the stink all the way back in bloody Wales.

Leading off

Have we all caught our respective breaths? Good.

What a weekend it was for the Pac-12. Thrilling games in Tucson and Pullman were the exclamation point on a day that saw Colorado cap the Hawaii sweep, OSU take care of business against SDSU, Utah go to B1G country and win on the road and 30 fantastic minutes of football from the Huskies. Here are some reactions from across the league and country:

Jon Wilner weighs in on the weekend in his Pac-12 roundup, with some harsh analysis for the Bears:
Cal played well, led 31-13 entering the fourth quarter and had the Wildcats beaten time and time again (or so it seemed). But with an offense incapable of eating the clock, the defense wilted and Arizona pounced on the opportunity. In the Hotline’s opinion, the Air/Bear Raid approach is inherently flawed. The next time it wins a major conference championship will be the first time.

Things aren't looking great in Michigan after Utah rolled through town, writes Dan Wolken of USA Today. And Athlon Sports offers up their thoughts on the Michigan-Utah game.

By now, we've all seen the highlights of the Arizona-Cal game. Rich Rodriguez and his guys just want to remind you of the duration of the game:

In the rankings

The Ducks had a good chance to slide up into that No. 1 spot, but Washington State's gutty performance gave voters enough pause to not give Oregon top honors. Kyle Bonagura broke it down here for you.

Here's where the ranked Pac-12 teams stand. As always, the AP ranking is first followed by the coaches poll. You can see the complete polls here.
  • Oregon 2 - 4
  • UCLA 11 - 10
  • ASU 15 - 12
  • Stanford 16 - 14
  • USC 18 - 22

Utah, Washington Arizona and Oregon State all received votes in the AP poll. Washington, Arizona and Oregon State got votes in the coaches poll. Also, thought you'd like to see how a couple of people voted. Here is Bill Rabinowitz's ballot and Wilner's ballot.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The victory announcement from the Cal store is kind of funny if you haven't heard about it yet.

Creepy? Adorable? A little bit of both?

Kind of dig this move from ASU and Todd Graham.

Finally, thought this was funny as an impromptu game of Twitter-tac-toe broke out between Utah football and the Pac-12 Network during the rain delay.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
What did we learn this week, people? The Pac-12’s depth is going to make for a fun season and probably a good dose of insanity when trying to sort out the postseason.

For example, two late games Saturday night that ended in dramatic fashion could have bowl implications. When you look at Cal’s remaining schedule, are there four wins out there? How about Washington State? Had the Cougars won, you could make a case that, at 2-2, they weren’t out of it yet. But what are the odds the Cougars win five of their next eight?

The Bears kick off a stretch of three games against nonranked opponents (Colorado, Washington State, Washington) before closing the season against five of six teams currently ranked in the Top 25. They will need an upset or two along the way. As for Colorado, that Cal game is a huge swing game for the Buffs as well.

Seven Pac-12 teams are still undefeated -- Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah. We know that isn’t going to last. Oregon and Arizona are two wins away from bowl eligibility. Washington needs seven because of the Hawaii rule, and Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah are halfway there.

Things are sure to get more interesting in the coming weeks as we plow full steam ahead into conference play.

For now, here are the projections. As always, salt heavily.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: Utah
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: Arizona
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Oregon State
*-At large

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21

Mailbag: USC plays, Oregon greatness

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
Happy Friday. This is the Week 4 mailbag, popularly known as the mailbag that appears before the fourth weekend of the season.

Follow me on Twitter here. It makes it so easy to pass along an insult!

To the notes!

Ben from Los Angeles writes: I think just about every person watching the USC-BC game last Saturday was wondering why Sark was running the ball. My mom even called to ask me what he was thinking. BC sold out to stop the run, but SC just ran straight into it anyway. How can a squadron of highly paid football coaches not see what the rest of us see? Sark admitted he was stubborn, but doesn't he pay these guys to tell him when he's off the mark?

Ted Miller: USC rushed 29 times for 20 yards against Boston College. That is awful, even when you consider the 36 yards yielded on five sacks. Meanwhile, the Trojans and QB Cody Kessler complete 31 of 41 passes for 317 yards -- 7.7 yards per attempt -- with four TDs and no interceptions.

So obviously the passing game was working better than the running game against Boston College, a team that isn't known for its athleticism in the secondary, particularly compared to what the Trojans offer at receiver.

In other words: I hear you.

Steve Sarkisian's desire to maintain balance didn't work. While the defense was more of a disaster -- 452 yards rushing surrendered, 8.4 yards per rush, a complete breakdown of scheme and fundamentals -- scoring just seven points in the second and third quarters against a weak defense is pretty baffling.

Yet the bigger picture was most troubling. USC jumped to a 10-0 lead and then seemed to lose its focus and intensity, and BC took advantage. The performance fit in with typical stuff from Sarkisian's critics, most notably his teams' tendency to struggle on the road, even against outmanned teams.

Many jumped the gun on celebrating USC, including the Pac-12 blog, without really looking at the victory over Stanford and being more cautious about its potential ramifications and meaning. Many aspects of that game suggested the Cardinal were the better team; they just couldn't get out of their own way. Or kick a field goal. (In our defense, the lauding of USC as a South Division contender was more about the schedule than the Trojans looking like an elite team.)

USC and Sarkisian do have a ready-made excuse: The thinness of the roster because of scholarship limitations. While that is legitimate, that still doesn't cover for losing to a team that will be lucky to become bowl-eligible in the ACC.

Still, just as it was premature to rank USC in the top 10 after it beat Stanford, is it premature to fit Sark for his Lane Kiffin undergarments.

SharkDuck from Portland writes: Since everyone is assuming (outside of Oregon) that the Ducks will implode at some point (OL issues, Mariota injury, etc), if they do run the table to a playoff spot, do they have to win it all to be considered "great," or is the playoff enough? I wait on the edge of my chair, unable to fufill my drone duties until answered.

Ted Miller: Oregon played for the national title after the 2010 season. The Ducks finished No. 2 in 2012, one of five consecutive final rankings in the top 11, with three in the top five during that span.

Reaching the playoff would be a solid achievement, but the Ducks already have accomplished a similar feat by reaching the BCS title game against Auburn. The only thing the program hasn't accomplished -- the only box that hasn't been checked -- is winning a national title.

To earn legitimacy as "great" or to be considered one of "those" programs, the Ducks must win a national title. Doing so also, by the way, would eliminate the only remaining substantive tweak Washington fans have when going back and forth with Ducks fans.

Success is a harsh mistress, eh? Consider that finishing 11-2 and ranked No. 9 last year was treated as a significant disappointment by many Oregon fans.

AnGeLfRoMaBoVe from Heaven Streets of Gold writes: Who do you think will win the national championship and/or Heisman?

Ted Miller: Wait, I'll go get my crystal ball out of the closet.

Crystal ball, who wins the Heisman and national title?

Well, that's not very nice. I what? There's no proof of that! You have pictures? Do you want to go back into the closet? You wouldn't!

[Sounds of smashing crystal].

Er, Florida State wins the national title and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman Trophy.

Bruce from Salt Lake City writes: Ted, with all of the drama going into the first playoff selection, the committee might as well beef it up with a "Bachelorlette" rose-like ceremony where they invite all of the coaches in the top 10, who pull and pick the coaches (teams) one by one. Add in some dramatic music and a few camera confessionals of the coaches not picked, maybe a few heated words between rivals - this could make for some OK, good TV. If not TV, then at least a Frank Caliendo ESPN segment. Thoughts?

Ted Miller: Adding Frank Caliendo makes just about everything better.

I like your idea. I particularly think it would be fun to have cameras trailing the spurned coaches as they exit in tears and then climb into their limos of shame.

"It just hurts so much," LSU coach Les Miles might say. "It's like reading a book and it's sad ... I don't read books, but if I read books, it would be like reading a book. A sad one. It's not a hammer-and-a nail relationship, though. I'm proud of our men, anyway. Spectacular group of men. You got to find them, you throw your arms around them and give them a big kiss on the mouth, if you're a girl. Anyway. I'm the head coach at LSU. I will be the head coach at LSU. I have no interest in talking to anybody else, including you, camera guy. I got a Sugar Bowl to play, and I'm excited for the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play in it. Please ask me after. I'm busy. Thank you very much. Have a great day!"

Pac-12 morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
Happy Friday!

Leading off

This is the final weekend of "mostly" nonconference play. Starting next week, it's a full slate of Pac-12-only games. So say your hellos and goodbyes to the Michigans, Hawaiis and Georgia States of the world this weekend. There are still three dates with Notre Dame and Cal's season finale against BYU. But for the rest of the league, we wrap up the non-league games this weekend.

The nonconference schedule always makes for some interesting picks. The Pac-12 blog unleashed its picks on the world yesterday morning. Not a ton of discrepancy, other than a 4-1 decision on the Utah-Michigan game. Besides that one game, the rest of the Pac-12 blog is in agreement.

Here are what others from across the country are picking for Week 4.
  • The folks at CBS make their picks on some of the national games, including an across-the-board-selection of Oregon in Pullman.
  • Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman Review was pretty good last week straight up, not so much if you're betting pennies. His picks this week.
  • Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News weighs in with his picks here.
  • Athlon Sports offers up their Pac-12 predictions here.
  • Christian Caple of the News Tribune lays out his picks.

(I'm noticing a lot of folks went 7-1 last week ... hmmm, USC...)

Big Board update

When the first two names are called at the 2015 NFL draft, there's a good chance they will both be from the Pac-12. So says ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., who updated his Big Board. It's an Insider piece, but I'll tell you the new big board is silly with Pac-12 players. Eight players from the league are in his top 25 -- including three in the top 10.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun
LOS ANGELES -- One of those in attendance last weekend for the Trojans' game at Boston College was Kevin Bruce, a former co-captain on the 1974 USC national champions and recent seven-year resident of Boston.

I had an opportunity to break bread with Bruce in Beantown’s Italian North End and got his views on a variety of subjects that pertain to the past, present, and future of Trojans football.

What are your thoughts on the 2014 Trojans defense after it gave up 38 points and a whopping 452 yards rushing against Boston College?

Kevin Bruce: The defense lacks an identity. This is a winner group waiting to happen. BC blew the Trojans apart first by [offensive] complexity then physicality; yet they were one-dimensional. My view is that [defensive coordinator Justin] Wilcox has not demonstrated that he knows what to do with personnel and scheme yet. If in doubt, then simplify and get aggressive and disrupt offenses. We're missing upperclassman leadership right now, and the impact of the guys who left early for the NFL, especially [George] Uko, [Dion] Bailey and the loss of [Josh] Shaw are all showing.

Switching gears, Kevin, you played on two national championship teams (1972 and 1974). What’s been the biggest change in the college game from then to now?

KB: Greg, the game has changed by rule and as you look at how, for example, pass blocking. The first thing that happens (now) is the hands go to the chest and you grab because that’s what offensive players do. Back in the day, you couldn’t do that, at least not legally, but of course it happened all the time, but not legally.

I think the other blocking changes that I’ve seen is the amount of below-the-waist blocking, chop block, cut blocks, whatever, that’s routine. If you were going to play in the box, that front seven if you will, when I played, you had to be prepared to play it all from head to toe, literally.

Could the teams that you played on at USC compete with today’s Trojans teams and the current top echelon teams of college football for that matter?

KB: We wouldn’t compete, we would win! One of the reasons we’d win is because we loved to play football, and there isn’t a tougher group of folks than the USC teams I played for (1972-75). I don’t care what the rules are. Strap it on, go out there, and we’re going make you pay if you’re playing us.

Are players that play for USC today different than when you played?

KB: You know what, I don’t think so. We are all cut from the same cloth, and the great equalizer, you go on to a 100-yard football field, put on the uniform, the rules are the same, you keep score, and you play the game and enjoy it. Hopefully, you enjoy it. You play hard and you get a good outcome. That has never changed. Some of the rules change, some uniforms change, some of the colors changes, ask Oregon on that one. That’s the sizzle on the steak. The steak is the same. That hasn’t changed.

What are some of the good memories you took with you after you finished your football career at the University of Southern California?

KB: The opportunity to play, to wear the uniform and put on the cardinal and gold is unbelievable. Winning in that environment is even better. Winning national championships is always a good thing. For us, some of the traditions, for example, is getting to the Rose Bowl. We had a very made clear, articulated goal, at the beginning of every season. We’re going to win every game, and we’re going to go the Rose Bowl and beat whomever the Big Ten sends out. That was our season, that is what we could control, and that’s what we did.

My memories are that we accomplished that more than we didn’t. In my four years, we were able to win two national championships, and we got to play Woody [Hayes'] team three times (1972, 73, 74) and beat them two out of three (1972 and 1973). I’d love to go back and get that third one, but you can’t go back in time and change all that. I’ll tell you, those games in the Rose Bowl were physically the most demanding football games I’ve ever played in.

I have great memories of that 1975 Rose Bowl game in January with the two-point conversion, we win by a point (18-17), and I was totally spent. I went into that game just sick. There wasn’t nothing left in me after that game, nothing. I had cuts over both eyes and so did the guy I played against at Ohio State who had cuts over both his eyes. That’s the truth because I talked to him after the game and we were both bleeding on each other.

What are your views of the new College Football Playoff? Do you wish they had this new system when you were playing or is it a bad idea?

KB: You know, there’s a good and a bad. You know what I like is a little more football and getting good, elite teams playing each other. Those are good football games and I like that part. I am not sure it really supports the student part of student-athlete as much as I’d like to see because frankly that is part of the college experience and, yeah, you do go to class as required.

What I don’t like is that it is destroying the traditions of over 120 years of college football. That is something that should be considered. The bowl games now, the Rose Bowl -- is that really the Rose Bowl now or is it like the precursor to another BCS game that has the name of some corporation? For me, it detracts from the tradition and the pageantry of the college game. It’s more akin to the professional game, and I know this is big business. I get that. I am not naive.

You played for a legendary Hall of Fame coach in John McKay. What are your memories of Coach?

KB: It’s interesting. My memories of Coach are that he was the best teacher of football that you could imagine. As a coach, he did all the things right. He was a great, great game-day coach. On the sidelines, he knew what he was looking for. He was able to make the kind of calls that were necessary, and he would make gutsy calls all the time.

I remember a fair amount of two-point conversion attempts in the Rose Bowl games, some were successful and some were not. Coach never hesitated. It was never even a decision in his mind. He didn’t go to those games for a tie. He went to win, and that’s what he instilled in all of us: accountability.

We didn’t talk about accountability, it was expected. You loved football, you loved the university, you put the uniform on, and you went out and gave it your all. Your preparation preceded the game, you transferred it to the playing field, you executed the game plan and you did what you had to do. And in nine times out of 10 -- in my case, it was more than that in my four years -- we would win and be successful. It was great memories and that was on Coach McKay. He was a great teacher. He wasn’t your friend; he was your coach.

Finally, was there a difference as a player coming down that famous Coliseum tunnel before a UCLA game as opposed to a Notre Dame game?

KB: No, the dislike is the same. When we played UCLA, we knew we were going to impose our will. With Notre Dame, we were going to impose our will, but we might get into a fight. You know what, it only happened two out of the four years I was playing, so I don’t know what happened in the other two years. Somehow we got along. [Laughs.]

Pac-12 morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
I see you have learned to work the Google on the internet machine.

Leading off

The two highest-ranked teams in the Pac-12 -- Oregon and UCLA -- have had some issues along the offensive line three weeks into the season. The Ducks have suffered injuries that have forced some younger or less experienced players into action. The Bruins haven't done a great job protecting their quarterbacks. If either hopes to advance to the College Football Playoff, they are going to have to figure things out up front. That's the premise of Steve Lassen's piece for Athlon Sports, which examines the offensive lines of both schools so far.

Lassen on Oregon:
Will Oregon’s offensive line woes derail the offense against Washington State or Arizona? Probably not, but a thin offensive line could create more pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota.

And on UCLA:
The stats from the first three games suggest the offensive line is improving. But what type of impact could a long-term injury to [Malcolm] Bunche hold for this group? And assuming Bunche does return to full strength, can this unit jell and continue to improve after a sluggish start to the season?

UCLA is off this week while Oregon travels to Washington State for its first Pac-12 game of the season. The Bruins will head to Tempe on the 25th to square off with ASU.

Utes & Cats

In his mailbag this week, Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports hit on a question about Arizona and Utah and their place in the South Division. Here's an excerpt about the Utes:
This year, with [Travis] Wilson back and currently the nation’s No. 2-rated passer, the Utes have clobbered their first two foes, but they were Idaho State and Fresno State. Michigan has certainly proven beatable. If Utah can pull it off on the road, then I’d reevaluate their place in that division.

Mandel says, given the state of the division (injuries to Taylor Kelly, a shaky start for UCLA, USC's loss), the Utes might be a good sleeper team to sneak up and steal the division. He doesn't see Arizona as a team ready to make that leap yet. On the field, it won't get settled until the Wildcats make the trip to Salt Lake City on Nov. 22. Might be an intriguing showdown for a couple of teams either looking to reach bowl eligibility or improve their place in the pecking order.

My guess is if Utah wins this weekend, they'll be added to this list.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you're a fan of "The Office," this is for you. If you're a fan of Stanford athletics, this is for you. If you're a fan of both, this might be the greatest thing in the world. And if you're a fan of neither, move along. Nothing to see here.

Want to see what the Ducks saw before their Wyoming game? Warning: The following video might make you want to go workout.

USC Trojans practice report 

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
The Trojans took part in another physical, full-pads practice session in the blistering Southern California heat on Wednesday. For the second consecutive day, it featured plenty of 11-on-11 work with the No.1 offense going against the No. 1 defense, and the second team offense versus the second team defense.

Coming off a 37-31 loss to Boston College, there was a focus on correcting some of the problems that the team has had up to this point, as well as on adding some possible new wrinkles to the mix -- something that USC head coach Steve Sarkisian specifically brought up when discussing the offense.

"A bye week is always unique because you're trying to fix some of the issues that you have, and what you previously have installed, and then you're looking at some potential ideas for the future," Sarkisian said. "I think we're cleaning up some of the issues that we've had. We looked at a few different schemes today that we'll have to look at the film, quite honestly, to see how they look and how they mesh with what we're doing, but the guys worked hard."

Wilcox talks BC loss

Not surprisingly, before Sarkisian spoke it was USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox who was swarmed by the media on Wednesday. The Trojans defense struggled against Boston College's potent rushing attack Saturday, surrendering 452 yards on the ground.

Wilcox noted that a lack of discipline and communication were major causes for the defensive breakdown, but he also shouldered much of the responsibility himself.

"I've got to do a better job at making sure that we're prepared -- wherever we're playing, no matter who we're playing, that we're in the right frame of mind to do that," Wilcox said. "There were times when we were fine, and then when the emotion of the game, and the sway started going another way --you've still got to stay with it. You've got to do your job. It's mundane, but that's how you have to play against everybody, but especially those option teams. There were instances where maybe guys were trying to do a little too much, and that hurt us."

Injury update

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WeAreSC Roundtable: Bye week

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
WeAreSC staffers discuss the USC Trojans at the bye week:

What has been the most predictable thing you have seen this year?

Garry Paskwietz: The fact that the Trojans went on the road and suffered a loss against an opponent that featured a strong running attack behind a punishing offensive line, and that the young USC offensive line went through some growing pains while featuring three freshmen in the interior rotation.

Johnny Curren: The fact that USC’s offensive line ran into a roadblock early on this season. While that wasn’t necessarily a shock to me, what was surprising was that it happened against Boston College, and not Stanford. In any case, it certainly wasn’t a secret heading into this season that Tim Drevno's group was a major question mark -- even with the influx of freshman talent. Those that follow USC closely always knew that this young and inexperienced group might struggle at some point, and that’s precisely what happened.

Greg Katz: The most predictable thing I’ve seen is the positive performances of defensive tackle Leonard Williams, linebacker Hayes Pullard, tailback Buck Allen, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, and quarterback Cody Kessler. All five players have, for the most part, lived up to the expectations for a majority of the young season.

What has been the least predictable thing you have seen this year?

[+] EnlargeMyles Willis
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaThe USC defense was run over by Boston College, giving up 452 yards on the ground.
GP: That the events I described in question No. 1 happened against Boston College, not Stanford. Most everyone had the second game of the season circled on the calendar with a trip to Palo Alto and, while that game certainly lived up to the billing, it wasn’t the Cardinal who rolled up over 400 rushing yards while only giving up 20. I know Boston College qualified as the classic trap game but it was still a surprise to see the game won on both sides of the line of scrimmage, which is why they are called trap games.

JC: The fact that the Trojans defense would rank No. 116 in the FBS against the run at this point, giving up an average of 245.7 yards per game. Sure, that is due in large part to Boston College’s 452-yard outburst, but with the Trojans featuring a defense that is headlined by established stalwarts like Williams and Pullard, that ranking is shocking any way you look at it.

GK: The way the defensive line has played considering it was supposed to be the strength of the team but has been badly outmuscled on the ground for the most part by Stanford and Boston College. If they don’t pick up their game, the Trojans could be in real trouble in Pac-12 play.

Name one thing you would like to see from the bye week as the team moves forward.

GP: A clear offensive plan to take advantage of the multiple weapons, and I completely expect Steve Sarkisian to make his intentions known as to the strategy options he looked at during the bye week. Sarkisian said it’s important for the Trojans to play to their strengths and it will be interesting to see where he thinks the strengths lie based upon the direction he chooses to go.

JC: More discipline on defense. The USC defense will need to turn things around in a big way, and in a hurry, for this team to have a high level of success throughout the rest of the schedule. Against Boston College players were out of position, they whiffed on tackles, and they just looked sloppy in general. I’m hoping Justin Wilcox & Co. are able to bring this collection of talent together over the course of the next week or two so that when they line up against Oregon State they stick to their assignments, they get back to playing physical football, and most importantly, they play as one cohesive unit.

GK: I would like to see a team that realizes that it can’t rest on its victories over Fresno State and Stanford and understands that the Boston College game was a major warning sign of things to come if they don’t come out focused and intense every game.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.

NCAA: RB Ty Isaac must sit out '14

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
[+] EnlargeTy Isaac
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesTy Isaac will have three years of eligibility remaining with Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Running back Ty Isaac's appeal to play this season for Michigan was denied by the NCAA, coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday.

The sophomore, who transferred from USC this summer, had applied for a medical hardship waiver in an attempt to play immediately. Isaac, a Chicago-area native, said he was returning to the Midwest to be closer to his mother, who was recovering from hearing loss surgery.

The NCAA denied his initial request to skip the mandatory one-year waiting period for transfer players in late August.

Isaac ran for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries during his freshman year with the Trojans. The Wolverines had hoped he would be a part of the running back rotation in Ann Arbor this season.

Hoke said Isaac has been a productive member of the team while working with the scout team this fall.

"He's handled it great," Hoke said. "He had a great day yesterday. From an attitude standpoint and everything else, he's been awesome."

(Read full post)

Pac-12 morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
Come son of Jor-El. Kneel before Zod. Snootchie boochies!

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! There are four teams on bye this week -- Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and USC -- so we won't update them until next week. Here are the updated depth charts for the other eight.
Some observations: Mark your calendars

The Pac-12 released the 2015 schedule on Tuesday and Kyle Bonagura broke it down last night. You can just scroll down, because it's the post right below this one. Or if you're really lazy, just click here.

Some of the key matches that jump out are Michigan's trip to Utah in a rematch of this weekend's game, Arizona State vs. Texas A&M at Reliant Stadium and a rematch of Oregon-Michigan State, with the Ducks traveling to B1G country this time around.

There's the usual matchups of Notre Dame vs. USC and Stanford, plus Oregon State travels to Michigan and Cal heads to Texas. And don't think the Cougars won't have vengeance on their mind when they go to Rutgers.

P-A-C vs. S-E-C

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News broke down the nonconference performances thus far of the Pac-12 and the SEC to find the answer to the question: Who is better?

He crunches the results, makes a couple of predictions, and leaves us with this result:
The Pac-12 hasn’t outperformed the SEC thus far in Power 5 results and has no discernible advantage going forward in the quantity or quality of its Power 5 games.
News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

Ever wonder what Mike Leach or Steve Sarkisian would look like if they were the subject of the Mona Lisa? We haven't either, thank goodness someone has.

Three times the jinx? We're kidding.

There wasn’t any doubt about the message that Steve Sarkisian has sent in the past regarding the identity he wanted to establish with his USC offense.

“I’ve been clear about the fact that I want to run the football,” Sarkisian said. “I want us to be a physical, run-first football team.”

That’s exactly what the Trojans did during the first two weeks of the season. In the opener against Fresno State, USC ran the ball 64 times for 277 yards. The numbers weren’t as gaudy against a physical Stanford team -- 37 attempts for 156 yards -- but the effort came in an emotional win and there were no complaints. Against Boston College, however, things went a bit sideways.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaJavorius Allen and the USC running game were completely throttled by Boston College.
The Trojans ended the game with 20 total rushing yards. To put that number into perspective, consider that Pittsburgh ran for over 300 yards on the same Eagles defense the previous week. It was the lowest rushing total for a USC team since the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.

The result was surprising, yes, but there were legitimate items to explain it. Three of the four guards in the offensive line rotation are true freshmen, and the fourth was seeing his first game action of the season after missing most of last season with a knee injury. There is also a new starter at right tackle who is seeing his first action as a Trojan this season. This is not to say that the blame is placed on the shoulders of these players, but miscommunication on the line was a factor in the last week’s performance, and the inexperience of the group has to be considered part of that cause.

“They [Boston College] took great advantage of our young offensive line, and that depends on communication,” Sarkisian said. “It’s one thing to come in with a plan and realize they are defensing it; it’s another thing to make the adjustment to what they are doing. We didn’t do that well and a confused football player is not a very good football player.”

USC quarterback Cody Kessler put the responsibility on the players to execute the plays that are called.

"We had a lot of missed assignments when we were trying to establish the run but the play calls were there, the looks we wanted were there,” Kessler said.

With the USC run game stopped, the Boston College defense was able to pin its ears back and get after Kessler to the tune of five sacks. Kessler actually had a pretty good game, completing 31 of 41 passes for 317 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. It continues a pattern of efficient play for Kessler, who eight touchdowns and no interceptions along with a 71% completion percentage this season.

“Protecting the ball is my biggest thing and I've been doing an OK job with that right now,” Kessler said.

There were a lot of USC fans who would have been happy to see Kessler throw the ball even more against Boston College when it was clear that the run game wasn’t working. When Sarkisian held his weekly call with the media on Sunday night, he admitted that, in hindsight, throwing the ball more might have been the proper thing to do.

“I want to run the ball but we have to make sure we aren’t being stubborn about it,” Sarkisian said. “Over the last two weeks we’ve had a lot of three-and-outs, and the key for us to get our play count up and really get the tempo going is to get first downs. We need to figure out who we are on offense, what is our identity? Are we a run-to-pass team or a pass-to-run team? When is the time right to pass to set up the run? We need to figure that out so that we can play to our strengths. Last night might have been a perfect example of that.”

For the head coach to admit to reconsidering a major focus of his offensive strategy has received mixed reviews among USC fans. There are certainly some who welcome the honestly and the willingness to be flexible about what is working with the personnel of your team. There are also others who question how the original premise could change so quickly.

Of course, there is no clear answer to fixing what went wrong against Boston College, just as it might be an overreaction to change much of anything because of one bad game. Sometimes there isn’t any amount of strategy that is going to work if you are getting physically beat on both sides of the line, as the Trojans were Saturday. That is more surprising than any rushing total or completion percentage. I just don’t think there were too many people who expected the Eagles to overpower the Trojans, yet that is exactly what happened.

Any changes in offensive strategy during the bye week will likely depend upon the comfort level between coaches and players in terms of adjustments. Sarkisian called it “in-game adversity” when you have a situation like Saturday where the defense throws some complicated stunts and twists at a young offensive line to cause confusion. Where do you go? How do you adjust? It’s a fine line that Sarkisian and his staff will need to walk, and it will be very interesting how it plays out with the USC offense in the coming weeks.