#4Pac: What I'm thankful for in the Pac-12

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
6:00
PM PT
Jaelen StrongRic Tapia/Icon SportswireArizona State receiver Jaelen Strong catches a Hail Mary to beat USC on Oct. 4.

Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we're asking what each Pac-12 reporter is most thankful for from this Pac-12 season.

David Lombardi/@LombardiESPN:

I'm most thankful for never knowing what's going to happen next. College football is notoriously unpredictable, but the 2014 Pac-12 has taken this volatility to the next level, before proceeding to pour gasoline all over it. Every Saturday, Larry Scott lights the match.

First came the Hail Mary epidemic. I'm pretty sure that Pac-12 football viewers will never look at that prayer of a play in the same way again. Furious comebacks, iced kickers, confused officials, epic quarterback performances, mind-numbingly painful turnovers followed by 100-yard fumble returns, and just a whole bunch of general nonsense came next. This season, Pac-12 road teams are a combined 29-20 in conference games. That puts at least some kind of statistical value on the eccentricity that we're dealing with here. With a crazy closing weekend and a title game still ahead, the unpredictability isn't over yet. That's a rush, and I'm thankful for that.

Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings:

Ted and I answered this question in the #6pac last week and I think I'll stick to my original answer. I'm so thankful for back-up quarterbacks. Can you imagine how different this season would be if the conference didn't have this kind of depth at quarterback? What if UCLA hadn't had Jerry Neuheisel to turn to when Brett Hundley went down at Texas? What if Mike Bercovici hadn't been the Sun Devils' star in late September and early October? How fun has it been to watch Luke Falk emerge at Washington State, and how much excitement has his presence brought to that fan base after losing Connor Halliday in such a disappointing manner?

At this point, would it be so crazy to imagine that whomever steps in for Anu Solomon on Saturday could lead the Wildcats to victory? Coming into this season we lauded the Pac-12 for being the conference of quarterbacks. Now, with one week left in the regular season, I don't think any college football fan across the country can deny this league's depth.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell:

I'm most thankful to be covering the most exciting conference in college football. It's chaotic, it's mind-bending and it makes about as much sense as Thanksgiving in July. But it's hard not to love it.

From the Hail Mary's, to the last-second field goals, to the missed field goals, the Pac-12 has provided amazing theatre in 2014.

The road teams (29-20) will finish with a better record in conference games this season. The Pac-12 leads all conferences in scoring, but expect the postseason All-American teams to be littered with defensive players from the West Coast.

Very little about this league makes sense. Heading into last week's matchups, there had been 34 games involving Pac-12 teams that were decided by a touchdown or less. Last week? Zero. And that included Arizona vs. Utah, two teams that had played in more tight games than all but one team in the country.

This league never lacks in the surprise department. And as a writer trying to make sense of it all, I'm thankful that sometimes I can't. Rather, I just sit back and savor the chaos.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN:

From a neutral perspective, it's hard to ask for a better season than the Pac-12 has provided this season. So looking through a football lens, I'm thankful the boring moments have been significantly outweighed by the exciting ones. Seasons like this don't come around very often.

In 49 conference games, 22 have been decided by one score, five went to overtime and two were decided on Hail Mary's. Oregon's Marcus Mariota is on his way to becoming the conference's first Heisman winner since Reggie Bush in 2005, Washington State's Connor Halliday broke the FBS single-game passing record and the Pac-12 South delivered a five-team race for the division title. Even the teams on the bottom half of the standings have stayed relevant late into the year.

To this point, there's not much within reason that could have added to the overall intrigue. Here's to a happy, healthy Thanksgiving to everyone in Pac-12 land any beyond.

Hopefully the final stretch matches what has been building since August.

Take 2: Notre Dame vs. USC

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
3:00
PM PT
Notre Dame and USC look to salvage disappointing seasons Saturday at the Coliseum. Both teams have four losses apiece. Both also have young teams that return plenty of talent for 2015.

So which team is closer to a national title? Matt Fortuna and Kyle Bonagura debate.

Fortuna: One needs to just look at Notre Dame's starting 22 from this past Saturday to see what the near-term future could possibly hold for this program: Seventeen of those players have eligibility remaining for next season. That does not include Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt, two of the Irish's top front-seven players, who were sidelined with injuries. That also does not include end Ishaq Williams or corner KeiVarae Russell, both of whom might return next season after serving academic suspensions this fall.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Harry How/Getty ImagesGoing into his first Notre Dame game as USC's head coach, Steve Sarkisian is trying to get what has been an elusive eighth win.
Of course, Notre Dame's 7-4 record suggests that there is plenty to improve upon, and things are far from rosy right now in South Bend. Still, they are a competent holder away from likely being 9-2. And when they are at full strength, they showed just how close they might really be to an elite team, taking defending national champion Florida State] to the wire in Tallahassee. Bumps were expected this year with a young defense and a new coordinator in Brian VanGorder, and injuries (and costly offensive turnovers) have only made the situation look more dire through this three-game losing streak.

Still, with so much coming back and with so many younger guys being forced into bigger roles now, much will be expected from the unit in 2015 — as will be the case with Everett Golson and the offense, which is bubbling with potential (and, at times, production) but at times cannot help but trip over itself and give the ball away.

Bonagura: It’s actually going to be pretty tough to differentiate between the teams because their stories this season and how they’re positioned for the future are so similar. The one major difference is that USC has been up against a stacked deck because of NCAA sanctions that have limited its scholarships.

The Trojans came into the season with just 65 recruited scholarship players (85 is the maximum) and have not had more than 57 of them available for any game this year. That lack of depth has required first-year coach Steve Sarkisian to give significant playing time to 11 true freshmen, eight of whom have combined for 45 starts. For comparison’s sake, 18 of USC’s 22 listed starters this week have eligibility remaining -- although receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive lineman Leonard Williams are widely expected to leave early for the NFL.

Despite all that, it took a Hail Mary (against Arizona State) and a touchdown pass with eight seconds left (against Utah) to prevent the Trojans from winning the Pac-12 South, which had five of its six teams ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings just last week. There’s no reason to believe this team won’t be a more dangerous threat to compete for the Pac-12 title next year, which would put it in the playoff and national championship mix.

Matt, Sarkisian said this week that the USC-Notre Dame game is arguably the biggest rivalry game in college football. I think that’s a stretch -- and seemed like strange timing, considering the Trojans just lost to UCLA -- but I’m interested how in it’s perceived on the other side. Notre Dame obviously has a lot of rivals, so where does this one stack up?

Fortuna: Well, we all know Michigan is not a Notre Dame rival, right? Just ask Irish fans, who are oh-so-happy to tell you that they no longer need the Wolverines … right after they shell out record-setting ticket prices to see them.

But Michigan became a casualty of the Irish's ACC scheduling agreement because of a clause in the series' contract. And both schools are probably better off for the time being, considering the national scheduling flexibility each now has, and considering the fact that each has no shortage of annual rivalries anyway.

The Wolverines have Ohio State and Michigan State. Notre Dame has Navy, Stanford and, of course, USC, the biggest of them all.

It is hard to think of a rivalry that can compare to this one when you consider all of its unique factors: Non-league, non-regional, brand names. And yet in many ways, these programs are so similar: Rich histories, constant recruiting battles, fake drowning nephews and fake dead girlfriends …

Still, no team gets Notre Dame fans riled up quite the way USC does. They are raised on disliking that team from L.A., more than anyone else. From the Bush Push to Lane Kiffin, there is plenty of hate. And likely an underlying respect: These programs have the most NFL draft picks. They have seven Heisman Trophy winners apiece. They each have 11 claimed national titles.

They are massively successful, and they are certainly in position to be that way again by the time they meet next year in South Bend, Indiana. But what about this year? What do you think is the biggest carrot the four-loss Trojans are playing for Saturday as they face a fellow four-loss rival?

Bonagura: This is one of those games that shouldn't require much motivation. Even if they played in an empty high school stadium, you get the sense that the game would matter a lot. That said, losses to UCLA and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks wouldn't be the way to build momentum for the program -- recruiting, fan support, general development, etc. -- at the end of Sarkisian's first season. It's only one game, but 8-4 just has a different vibe than 7-5, and the last thing Sarkisian needs is another seven-win season.

There's also the added element of what the game means for the Notre Dame vs. Pac-12 series this season. The Irish got by Stanford on a late touchdown pass, but turned in a poor showing at Arizona State a couple weeks ago, leaving this to serve as a rubber match of sorts. Since 2004, Notre Dame is 18-13 against Pac-12 teams and has won five of the last seven.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:42
AM PT
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.
The match-up on Saturday between the Irish and the Trojans will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the great games in the series.

On Nov. 28, 1964 Notre Dame came swaggering into the Coliseum ranked No. 1 in the country with a 9-0 record under first-year coach Ara Parseghian. It had been a surprising turnaround for the Irish, who had been 2-7 in 1963 and had only posted two winning seasons in the previous eight years, and were on their fourth coach in that same span. Notre Dame featured quarterback John Huarte, who personified the rags-to-riches Irish by going from deep reserve to Heisman Trophy winner in one year. USC had a solid team with a 6-3 record and was still alive for a potential Rose Bowl berth. The Trojans were led by tailback Mike Garrett, who would win the Heisman the following year.

[+] EnlargeUSC's Rod Sherman
Courtesy of USCRod Sherman's touchdown in the final minutes against Notre Dame in 1964 gave the Trojans a 20-17 upset victory.
USC coach John McKay, who had won a national championship in 1962, was well aware of what kind of team the Irish were bringing to town.

"I studied the Notre Dame-Stanford film for six hours last night and I have reached one conclusion: Notre Dame can't be beaten," McKay told the media the week before the game. "I've decided that if we play our very best and make no mistakes whatsoever we will definitely make a first down."

The Irish jumped on top early and went into halftime with a comfortable 17-0 lead as Huarte completed 11 of 15 passes for 176 yards and a touchdown to wide receiver Jack Snow. In the second half, however, things started to change.

USC took the third-quarter kickoff and promptly scored on a Garrett run to make it 17-7, and then the momentum took a pair of cardinal and gold turns. After driving the length of the field, the Irish fumbled the ball away inside the USC 10-yard line. On their next possession, the Notre Dame running back dove into the end zone but the play was called back due to a holding call that Parseghian would later refer to as "the worst officiating call in the history of college football."

Notre Dame failed to score after the holding penalty and USC took advantage by driving 88-yards and scoring on a pass from quarterback Craig Fertig to tight end Fred Hill to bring the score to 17-13 with just over five minutes to play. The Trojans defense forced an Irish punt, and a long return from Garrett set USC up with field position on the Notre Dame side of the field for a dramatic finish.

Fertig hit Hill with a pass to put the Trojans in the Notre Dame red zone, and there was another controversial call on a Fertig throw to Hill in the end zone on second down, a play USC fans thought should have been ruled a touchdown. On a third down from the Irish 15, Fertig was hit, the ball came loose and was ruled an incomplete pass, which resulted in yet another disputed call from the Notre Dame side. The Trojans maintained possession but were faced with a fourth down and the game on the line.

What happened next is the stuff of Trojans lore. It began on the USC sideline, when receiver Rod Sherman approached head coach John McKay with a play suggestion, something that players just didn’t do with the imposing USC coach. But the Sherman idea of calling "84-Z-Delay" was quickly accepted by McKay, and Sherman ran onto the field to give the play to Fertig.

As the ball was snapped, Fertig rolled left, while Sherman took off from the left slot position, faked to the outside and then cut back to the middle against coverage from Notre Dame safety Tony Carey. As to what actually took place after the ball was thrown was the fodder of many humorous takes between Fertig and Sherman on the USC banquet circuit over the years. To hear Fertig tell it, the ball hit Sherman right between the 1 and the 2 on his jersey. Sherman, of course, remembers having to reach outstretched to make the grab. Regardless of which version you want to believe, the pass was completed for a touchdown and it caused a pandemonium amongst the 83,840 fans in attendance. USC 20, Notre Dame 17.

For the Trojans, the euphoria of the victory was tempered with the news later that night that the AAWU conference had voted to send co-champion Oregon State to the Rose Bowl instead of USC. It was a vote that caused USC athletic director Jess Hill to comment, "So far as I am concerned, this is one of the rankest injustices ever perpetrated in the field of intercollegiate athletics."

While USC lost a shot at the Rose Bowl, the Irish lost a shot at a national championship. Notre Dame finished the season 9-1 and ranked No. 3 in the country. The Trojans were ranked No. 10 with a 7-3 record and, most importantly, a victory over the Irish that still resonates with USC fans 50 years later.

Pac-12 Week 14 predictions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:30
AM PT
Why Arizona will win: This could go one of two ways. Either ASU’s blitz-happy scheme will create havoc in the backfield and the Wildcats offense won’t be able to get things going, or Arizona will be able to account for the pressure and hit some home runs. We’ve seen ASU get exploited when they over-pressure. This Arizona team has the running backs and receivers that could take advantage of that. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Arizona State will win: The loss to Oregon State reminded the Sun Devils not to overestimate anyone. The start of the Washington State game reminded the Sun Devils that they need to play from the opening kick. When ASU does both of those things, it's very, very dangerous. We saw other receivers step up last week in Jaelen Strong's absence. He's expected to be back this week but the Sun Devils' performance against Wazzu will give OC Mike Norvell more confidence in his receiver corps. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Cal will win: BYU's recent run of success has been a product of significantly inferior opponents, and Cal not only is a big step up in competition for the Cougars, but it has bowl game to play for. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why BYU will win: While Cal is much improved and has bowl eligibility to play for, I suspect the Golden Bears are going to be physically and emotionally worn down after getting blown out at home by rival Stanford. I think BYU, always hungry for a win against the Pac-12, takes advantage. -- Ted Miller

Why Washington State will win: It has been a disappointing season filled with miserable moments for the Cougars -- see Conor Halliday's horrific injury. But this is their Super Bowl, and it’s at home. Washington State has a chance to purge a lot of 2014 pain by beating their rival. The stage sets up perfectly: Washington’s offense is not explosive, and this game will be played in the #Pac12AfterDark Pullman cold. Your move, Luke Falk. -- David Lombardi

Why Washington will win: For all of Washington’s offensive shortcomings, this is still a phenomenal defense that gets after the quarterback. If Falk can handle the pressure, he’s going to prove me wrong. But in this game, I like Washington to go crazy in the backfield. As for points, well, the Huskies will find them somewhere. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

UCLA will beat Stanford: Stanford has not proven that it can effectively move the ball against a solid defense, and last week’s whipping of USC indicated that UCLA is peaking at the right time on that side of the ball. Plus, the Cardinal won't have offensive MVP Ty Montgomery (shoulder), so it’s tough to see them outscoring the Bruins, even if their defense contains Brett Hundley. -- David Lombardi

Utah will beat Colorado: Utah's defense is too good to struggle two weeks in a row, especially against the lone winless team in conference play. -- Kyle Bonagura

USC will beat Notre Dame: Notre Dame has lost four of its past five and expect that streak to continue when the Fighting Irish visit the Coliseum. USC is going to respond after its 18-point loss to UCLA last weekend and Cody Kessler is going to continue his quiet campaign (30 TD, 4 INT). Look for Su'a Cravens and Hayes Pullard to come up big for the Trojans defense. -- Chantel Jennings

Oregon will beat Oregon State: What’s fascinating about this game is that both teams have a lot to play for. Obviously, in the national picture, the Ducks' motivation is more important. I expect a good fight from the Beavers, who are trying to become bowl eligible. But ultimately Oregon has too many weapons and an injury-depleted OSU squad simply can’t keep up. -- Kevin Gemmell

Notre Dame prediction: Game 12 at USC

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:00
AM PT
One 7-4 rival faces another. Who ends the regular season on a positive note?

How Notre Dame can win: It has been said before and it will be said again: Everett Golson and the Irish offense have to protect the defense, now more than ever. That means being efficient, and not turning the ball over. It means building on the efforts the ground game made this past weekend, when Tarean Folston ran for 134 yards. And it means not messing up on special teams — the Irish actually had one of their best all-around special teams performances of the Brian Kelly era last Saturday before the final, fateful missed kick. Notre Dame won't survive a miscue like that one when facing USC's offense.

How USC can win: It is rare that a USC quarterback can fly under the radar, but that appears to be the case with Cody Kessler. He has been remarkable this season, throwing for 3,133 yards with 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He has tremendous weapons around him, and the Trojans would be wise to attack early and often against an Irish defense reaching even further down the depth chart this week, as it is without tackle Jarron Jones and safety Drue Tranquill (in addition to Sheldon Day for the game and Nyles Morgan for a half). That is all the more important for the Trojans given their youth on the offensive line.

Breakout player: Amir Carlisle. The man has been on both sides of this rivalry before. Expect a long kick return in his first game at the Coliseum wearing a white jersey.

Prediction: USC 35, Notre Dame 27. The Trojans' skill players prove to be too much in this one.
OK, so who's it gonna be -- Mississippi State or Ohio State?

Honestly, the suspense is killing me, and we haven't even gotten to the games this weekend. See, here's the issue that these teams are facing: Who will have the best résumé after championship Saturday?

Mississippi State might not go to Atlanta for the SEC championship game, but if the Bulldogs beat Ole Miss on Saturday, they'll be in position for that fourth spot (assuming the top three win out). But if No. 6 Ohio State wins out, the Buckeyes will be Big Ten champions. Say what you will about the strength of the Big Ten, the Buckeyes would have a conference championship and the fourth-ranked Bulldogs would not. Both would only have one loss.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
5:00
AM PT
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

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
PM PT
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

USC Trojans Tuesday practice report

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
4:01
PM PT
The Trojans are coming off a disappointing 38-20 loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl, but with another rivalry game on tap against Notre Dame this weekend, Steve Sarkisian’s squad was in high spirits as they took part in a physical, full-pads practice session on Tuesday, with the USC head coach noting afterwards that his team has successfully switched their focus.

“It was good to get with the team yesterday and kind of get some closure on the game – to kind of understand where our downfalls were, areas where we can improve, and put that to bed, move forward and focus on Notre Dame,” Sarkisian said. “This is a great matchup for us. It’s a great matchup for them. Two teams that are kind of fighting with their backs against the wall. We’re in very similar situations. I think both teams will be hungry, ready to come out and put on a really good show in the Coliseum on Saturday.”

In addition to it being another rivalry game, another factor that is providing added motivation for USC players such as quarterback Cody Kessler is the fact this weekend’s contest will mark the final time that the seniors on the team will line up in a Trojans uniform in the Coliseum.

“This is the last game for Randall [Telfer] and Hayes [Pullard], guys that have been through so much here, and we’re playing for them,” Kessler said. “We’re playing for the Trojan family and all of the guys before us that played in this game -- the USC-Notre Dame rivalry game -- so guys are going to be ready, and I think they showed that today at practice.”

Mama makes a move

With the USC offensive line struggling of late, particularly against the Bruins, there was a change on Tuesday as freshman Damien Mama ran exclusively with the No. 1 unit at left guard in place of Khaliel Rodgers, who has started the past three games at that spot.

The 6-foot-5, 370-pound Mama was a starter for the Trojans in the team’s first two games of the season. While he has contributed as a key reserve throughout a majority of the rest of the schedule, he’s also been hampered by injuries – most recently a knee injury that forced him to miss the Washington State game Nov. 1.

Now fully healthy, he’s begun to make his presence felt in a major way once again. He played significant minutes against UCLA, and now appears poised to re-assume his role as a starter.

“Just being able to compete out there with the ones, it’s good to be back up there,” said Mama following practice.

Sarkisian is encouraged by what Mama has shown when he’s been healthy.

“Damien is a very powerful guy -- really strong hands,” Sarkisian said. “When he gets on double teams and different things he can really move bodies to create running lanes. When he’s healthy, he’s really good. He’s obviously battled through a different couple things here throughout the season that have kind of held him back some, but he appears to be healthy again, and so hopefully we can utilize his talents.”

Injury update
  • Freshman tight end Bryce Dixon sat out Tuesday’s practice after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following the UCLA game.
  • Safety Leon McQuay III wore a yellow non-contact jersey and ran primarily with the No. 2 defensive group. Gerald Bowman and John Plattenburg lined up with the No. 1 unit at the two safety spots.
News and notes
  • Josh Shaw, who returned to practice last week and participated in his first game of the season for the Trojans this past Saturday, saw time at cornerback and nickelback on Tuesday -- at times with the No. 1 defense.
  • Soma Vainuku saw some brief action at tailback.
  • Seniors Telfer and Giovanni Di Poalo wore their high school jerseys during practice. Telfer went to Rancho Cucamonga (California), while Di Poalo is a Ventura (California) St. Bonaventure grad.
  • There was a wide receiver-defensive back one-on-one period that got the players animated. Shaw had a nice pass-break-up against Darreus Rogers, Kessler hit Nelson Agholor with Seymour in coverage, Max Browne connected with Steven Mitchell against Bowman, and Kessler hit JuJu Smith deep along the sideline with a walk-on in coverage.
  • Javorius Allen and Justin Davis had a fairly light day, although Allen did break off a nice long touchdown run during a service team period.
USC recruiting is in need of a significant shot in the arm after the Trojans’ performance at the Rose Bowl this past weekend. But the good news for USC fans is that the Trojans are in position to do just that, thanks to a handful of significant visitors who will be in town to watch USC host Notre Dame.

This weekend presents a slight departure from USC’s official visit plans for the past few years. In fact, the five official visitors scheduled this weekend appear to be more than USC hosted on in-season official visits during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes combined.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

WeAreSC roundtable: Looking ahead to Notre Dame at USC

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
12:19
PM PT
The USC Trojans won't have much time to recover from the loss to UCLA as the Fighting Irish come to town on Saturday. The WeAreSC staffers give three things each that the Trojans will need to do in order to beat Notre Dame.

Garry Paskwietz

1. Play to the rivalry: One of the biggest surprises from the USC-UCLA game last weekend was the fact that the Trojans were unable to match the intensity and execution level of the Bruins. In the rivalries with UCLA and Notre Dame, that has rarely been an issue for the Trojans, and with a packed Coliseum crowd on senior night it's hard to imagine that it would happen again on Saturday. Leaders of the team such as Hayes Pullard need to make sure their teammates are ready.

2. Find the missing Buck: You will still find Buck Allen near the top of the Pac-12 rushing rankings but there's been a different level of production over the past three games compared to the back who put together six straight 100-yard rushing games earlier this season. That drop certainly coincides with the injury to left tackle Chad Wheeler, who was the most consistent USC lineman before suffering a torn knee ligament against Utah. The Irish are dealing with injuries to their rush defense, as Notre Dame will be without two top defensive linemen, the middle linebacker who called the defensive signals, and a starting safety. It will be interesting to see if that means more of a reliance on the run game from the USC offense.

3. Pressure Golson: The Trojans will look to make things uncomfortable in the pocket for Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, a strategy which was used in similar fashion for UCLA's Brett Hundley, who was able to have success with the perimeter screen passing game. Golson is a veteran quarterback who led his team to a victory in the Coliseum against the Trojans two years ago, and he's not going to get rattled easy so if there are any tricks left in the bag of USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

Johnny Curren

1. Avoid a post-UCLA hangover: The Trojans can't let this past weekend's debacle carry over into their preparation for Notre Dame. They need to realize the importance of this rivalry game, and come out with energy and a positive mindset right from the first moment they hit Brian Kennedy-Howard Jones Field this week. For this to happen, veteran leaders such as Pullard, Nelson Agholor and Cody Kessler will need to help rally the team together.

2. Get after Golson: While he doesn't present quite the challenge that Hundley did, Golson is still a formidable dual-threat passer who has the ability to put up some big numbers against the Trojans if the defensive front doesn't bring the heat on a consistent basis. The defense did appear to do a decent job of getting after Hundley early on last weekend, but it was apparent the Trojans' pass rush lost some steam as the game wore on. Unless they want a repeat of last week, Wilcox & Co. need to find a way to make Golson uncomfortable throughout the game. Of course, for any of this to really work, the Trojans' safeties will need to have a better outing in coverage as well.

3. Get a better performance out of the offensive line: Tim Drevno's group struggled throughout this past weekend's contest. With USC unable to establish any kind of a rushing attack, the Bruins were able to completely rattle Kessler. There's little doubt Notre Dame will try to replicate what UCLA accomplished, so the USC offensive line better be ready. I'd like to see Drevno open up some spots up front for competition this week. In particular, I think that Damien Mama deserves a shot at earning his starting job back, and perhaps it's time to even give someone such as Aundrey Walker a serious look.

Greg Katz

1. The Trojans have to up their game and match the physical play of the Irish. Last week against UCLA, the Bruins had their way with the Trojans, and the Men of Troy were physically dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. If the Trojans don't flex some muscle and show lack of aggressiveness, it will set the tone for the game. The last thing the Trojans can allow is for an aggressive Irish defense to sack Cody Kessler six times and don't think ND won't try to copy the UCLA model for success.

2. The Trojans' offense has to attack the Irish down field with medium to deep passing routes. The Irish secondary is vulnerable. Although Notre Dame is strong up front on defense, the Trojans have to find a way to get the running game going with Javorius Allen, something that was sorely lacking against UCLA. The Irish are inexperience at middle linebacker, and it would behoove the Trojans to challenge the ND run defense to help create effective passing opportunities. If the Trojans can establish a balanced offense, it will help keep the Irish offense under wraps. Although he has had a tough season, Irish quarterback Everett Golson is due for a big game, but he can't have one if he's on the bench.

3. Playing against the Irish offense is like playing against the UCLA offense. With the Bruins, it was stopping Brett Hundley, and against Notre Dame it's stopping senior quarterback Everett Golson, a smaller version of Hundley. The Trojans, hopefully, learned from the UCLA game that you can stop a running game, but you still have to account for the bubble screens and the quick slants. Golson can execute those patterns. If the Trojans corners get physically worked like they by the blocking of the UCLA receivers, it could be a long night against the Irish, as it was with the Bruins. The Irish have good receivers and they can be dangerous, so there will have to be improved secondary play from the Trojans. If the USC secondary has a second week of blown coverages and tackles, it could be a long night in the Coliseum for the Men of Troy.

Rivalry Week: Notre Dame-USC

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:39
AM PT


video

Notre Dame and USC are looking to bounce back from losses in this year's rivalry game.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
10:00
AM PT
video
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.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Pac-12 morning links

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

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29