Happy Friday Day After Christmas. Hope you got everything you wanted and didn't drink too much egg nog.

And, no, your gift to me has not yet arrived. Sure it will be here soon.

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To the notes!

Matt from Sunnyvale, Calif., writes: While eight of the Pac-12 teams are in the midst of bowl season, the other four are prepping for the holidays. In analyzing the conference's "worst" team (according to thy mighty power rankings), how would the Buffs have stacked up in any of the other Power 5 conferences this year? Besides playing in the SEC West, I think they could have an extra 2-4 wins under their belts in the ACC or Big Ten. How do the Buffs matchup to the Kansases, Purdues or Wake Forests of the Power-5 conferences? Bonus question: Clancy Pendergast has to get a look for DC at CU, no? Would be a great addition!

Ted Miller: If Colorado hired Clancy Pendergast it would instantaneously upgrade its defense, a schematic equivalent of checkers to chess, no question. Guessing he'll have some options this offseason, though.

The first part of your question is interesting, though I may extrapolate on it my own way -- as I am wont to do.

When you ask, "How would the Buffs have stacked up in any of the other Power-5 conferences this year?" my overriding thought is the Buffs would have been far better off as long as they didn't play in the SEC West. In the SEC East, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, the Buffs would have won more games. They lost four Pac-12 games this season by five points or less, and two of those defeats were to teams that remain nationally ranked.

In fact, we're going to crown Colorado the best worst Power-5 conference team.

In the interest of fairness, here are the candidates.
  • Wake Forest (3-9, 1-7 ACC): Ranked 127th in the nation in points per game (14.8) and rushing yards per game (39.9). Lost to Louisiana Monroe. Best win was 6-3 in double-overtime over Virginia Tech.
  • Purdue (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Lost to Central Michigan. Best win was at Illinois. Lost six straight to finish season.
  • Iowa State (2-10, 0-9 Big 12): Lost to North Dakota State. Gave up 38.8 points per game, which ranked 118th in nation. Best win at Iowa 20-17. Lost six straight to finish season.
  • Vanderbilt (3-9 0-8 SEC):Lost to Temple. Ranked 106th in the nation or worse in passing yards, rushing yards, points for and points against. Best win? Massachusetts?
  • Colorado (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12): Lost to Colorado State. Ranked 120th in the nation in points allowed (39.0 -- yeah, time to change coordinators). Best win? Hawaii.

Among those five, we'd rank Colorado first, Iowa State second, Purdue fourth, Wake Forest third and Vanderbilt fifth.

Bruce from Salt Lake City writes: If you could create a bowl this year -- we will call it TEDwrites Bowl -- and pit two Pac-12 teams against each other, which matchup would you like to see (again)? Also, what are the big plans for the summer?

Ted Miller: If I could replay one game this year it would be Stanford at Notre Dame. I can't help but wonder if the Cardinal's 2014 might have been much different if they didn't urp so horribly in South Bend. You could say the same about their Week 2 loss against USC, but the Trojans were a much better team than the Fighting Irish.

As far as matching Pac-12 teams, you'd of course like to see teams that didn't play each other have a go: Stanford-Arizona, Oregon-Arizona State, USC-Oregon and Utah-Washington.

It also would be fun to rematch some meaningful rivalry games: USC-UCLA and Arizona-Arizona State.

But if I were to pitch a Pac-12 matchup for a bowl game, it would be USC versus Washington: The Steve Sarkisian Bowl.

The winner gets a ninth win -- no seven-win seasons here! -- and you'd either get a dose of hush to Husky fans who ripped Sarkisian when he bolted Washington for USC or you'd get a really grumpy crew of Trojans fans dealing with lots of purple crowing.

My big plan for the summer? Other than my evil plan for world domination? Reducing my sanctimony, reading more classics of English literature and caring less about politics.

David from Calgary writes: It seems like another regular season of football has come and gone. With the postseason in front of us, do you think this could be the year where the #Pac12Fans will finally start rooting for the conference as a whole and not just their individual team?

Ted Miller: Yes and no.

No, Pac-12 fans don't seem predisposed to be as regionally united as those from the Southeast. No, you won't get too much cheering from Huskies and Beavers fans if Oregon wins the national title.

But there is some burgeoning collectivism among Pac-12 fans. You see it all over ESPN.com, when Pac-12 fans troll the SEC posts almost as gleefully as SEC fans troll the Pac-12 posts. ESPN, by the way, thanks you for your trolling compulsions.

Beyond that, if the Pac-12 goes 7-1 in bowl games and wins the national title, I'd bet Huskies fans would use that against SEC fans in an argument, as long as they didn't have to say, "And Oregon beat Alabama for the national title." They'd just say, "And a Pac-12 team beat Alabama for the national title."

The abstraction might be palatable, as opposed to the celebration of a specific rival team.

And you can bet that if Oregon wins the national title, particularly over the Crimson Tide, a "Pac-12! Pac-12!" chant will erupt in Cowboys Stadium, an acknowledgment and counter to the "SEC! SEC!" chant we've heard so much over the past decade.

Nation's most underrated QB

December, 26, 2014
Dec 26
9:00
AM PT

Is it possible that the quarterback of USC -- a tradition-rich, star- driven program -- is having one of the best statistical seasons in the nation and flying under the radar?

Apparently it is, as evidenced by Cody Kessler.

Kessler has thrown for 3,505 yards, 36 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. His plus-32 touchdown-to-interception differential ranks third in the FBS, and his 80.5 Total QBR ranks sixth. His seven touchdown passes against Colorado broke the USC single-game record.

Yet Kessler did not make first- or second-team all-conference, and despite his being named a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, some casual college football fans might have a hard time even naming USC's starting quarterback.

The biggest criticism of Kessler is that his team has lost four games -- a valid argument when comparing him with other top quarterbacks. However, when looking purely at season-long statistical trends, Kessler is among the best in the nation in accuracy, poise in the pocket and efficiency.


Most accurate QB in the country

WeAreSC Rountable: Name three keys for the Trojans in the Holiday Bowl

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
1:55
PM PT
Garry Paskwietz
  1. Attack mode: When the USC offense is functioning at a high level and spreading the ball around from Cody Kessler to his wide variety of weapons they can be a very dangerous group. And while the Nebraska defensive front is being talked about as the best the Trojans will face this season, it also figures that the Huskers secondary hasn’t seen anything quite like what they will face in the USC passing game either. Look for Steve Sarkisian to try to jump on top early by taking advantage of the match-ups in this area.
  2. Contain Ameer: Easier said than done, right? There’s a reason that Ameer Abdullah is sitting in the No. 2 spot on the all-time Nebraska rushing list, a list that certainly deserves respect, and the only person sitting ahead of him is Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier. Abdullah has been a consistent workhorse throughout his career and the primary reason he isn’t pushing the 2,000 yard mark this year is due to an injury that hobbled him over the last month of the regular season. Abdullah is expected to be healthy for the bowl game, which means a formidable test for the USC run defense.
  3. Continue Momentum: There has been a buzz of good feelings around the USC program during the bowl practice sessions after the way the Trojans finished the season in the dominating win over Notre Dame. Now comes the important element of continuing that momentum into the bowl game, if the Trojans come out and play with the crispness and toughness they showed against the Irish it would push those positive vibes heading into the final stretch of recruiting and all the way through the offseason.
Johnny Curren
  1. Get a strong outing from the O-line: The USC offensive line will need to come up with a solid performance. They’re going up against an extremely talented and big Nebraska defensive line unit that is headlined by defensive end Randy Gregory, a likely top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. For a Trojans offensive line that features three freshmen starters, the Cornhuskers’ front presents a formidable challenge to say the least, particularly for left tackle Toa Lobendahn, who should find himself matched up with Gregory on quite a few occasions. But if they’re able to rise to the occasion, not only will the Trojans likely come away with a victory, but having passed a crucial test, Lobendahn and the rest of the youngsters will head into the offseason riding a nice wave of momentum.
  2. Stop the Nebraska ground game: The Trojans front seven needs to make sure that Nebraska’s talented running back Ameer Abdullah doesn’t get in a groove, because if he gets rolling, he can really cause USC problems. But they can’t sleep on Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong either, because he can do quite a bit of damage with his legs as well. Leonard Williams, Claude Pelon and Delvon Simmons -- who will be playing nose tackle -- will need to set the tone up front for the rest of the defense to find success. With this likely being Williams’ last game in a Trojans uniform, my bet is that he more than does his part.
  3. Finish: USC’s second-half woes have been well documented this season, but against a good Nebraska team, they can’t afford to have another fourth-quarter collapse. They took a nice step forward in that regard in their regular-season ending victory over Notre Dame, and if they’re able to build off of that performance and put together four complete quarters of play in the Holiday Bowl, they should be in good shape.
Greg Katz
  1. The Trojans need to jump out quickly and establish their dominance before Nebraska wakes up from any potential malaise to the changes in coaching staff and/or any overall lack of enthusiasm they might have encountered entering Qualcomm Stadium. If the Trojans allow Nebraska to become competitive in the second half to the point that the Cornhuskers become razor focused, the Trojans will have a major challenge on their hands. If the Cornhuskers are also in striking distance coming out of halftime, it could become quite a slugfest and a test of wills the rest of the way.
  2. The Trojans will need to contain if not stop Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah. He reminds us somewhat of a Charles White, the Trojans Heisman Trophy winning tailback. Abdullah, an attacking type of runner with great balance who is hard to knock off his pins, is also a major threat as a receiver, much in the same way as Trojans tailback Javorius “Buck” Allen. In addition to Abdullah, the Huskers present athletic quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who can make life miserable for the Trojans defense if he gets a throwing rhythm to combine with his running ability. Knowing the Trojans past history with this type of athletic quarterback, things could get mighty interesting on Saturday night in San Diego.
  3. Offensively, the Trojans need to play ball control and keep the Nebraska offense on the sideline. The Trojans should have an advantage at the wide receiver spots, but Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler will need his young offensive line to give him time to carve up a rather respectable Cornhuskers secondary. A major key is how well that Trojans young offensive line plays against a physically aggressive Nebraska defense. The good news is that those three Trojans true freshmen offensive line starters are now really sophomores since we are entering the 13th game of 2014. How well they hold up could decide the game’s eventual outcome.

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
9:38
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.
Barring any surprises, seven Pac-12 teams will welcome back starting quarterbacks in 2015. Though the list isn't as glittering as it was last year, when 10 starters returned, including eventual Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, it's a strong crew, as good a group any other Power 5 conference will offer up.

That does mean five teams will feature new starters next fall, though that doesn't necessarily mean there will be five wide-open competitions. For example, senior Mike Bercovici is probably more locked into Arizona State's starting job than a couple of returning starters. His potential is a big reason the Sun Devils will be counted among the conference favorites next fall.

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
AP Photo/Gus RuelasMike Bercovici threw 12 TD passes with four interceptions this season, and flashed plenty of potential for Arizona State.
Not only is Bercovici a senior competing with four freshmen -- two redshirts -- he came off the bench this season for Taylor Kelly and played well in three starts. He knows coordinator Mike Norvell's offense and owns a big arm that should add a significant downfield passing component.

"I see [playing this season] as a big learning experience," Bercovici said. "Being here for four seasons and, in my fourth season, I finally get to see the field as a backup. I always wanted to prove to my teammates that I’ve been prepared."

He added, "Some of the success I had this year and some of the mistakes I made are all going to help me move on to the 2015 season."

Utah and Washington both welcome back returning starters in Travis Wilson and Cyler Miles, but there figures to be some intrigue this upcoming spring and fall as they try to hold onto their jobs, with Wilson most notably embroiled in a on-going, two-season competition with Kendal Thompson.

Like Bercovici, Washington State's Luke Falk gained valuable experience this season when he replaced an injured Connor Halliday, and he is a heavy favorite to win the Cougars starting job. Oregon, Oregon State and UCLA appear to have wide-open competitions, with the Bruins featuring touted incoming freshman Josh Rosen taking on an incumbent field led by Jerry Neuheisel this spring.

Bercovici was in a tight competition with Kelly heading into the 2012 season, but Kelly won the job and went on to become one of the most successful quarterbacks in program history. That could have sown the seeds of a rivalry between the two, or Bercovici could have transferred. Instead, he and Kelly became close friends.

That is why Bercovici had mixed feelings when he replaced a struggling Kelly in the Territorial Cup loss to Arizona.

"It was definitely tough to see him come off the field as a senior and for myself to come in, but we didn’t really have time to think about that during the game," he said. "Some times you have bad days when things aren’t going your way. It just sucks I couldn’t lead us to victory in that fourth quarter."

That said, he sees the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Duke on Dec. 27 as being "Taylor's game."

"This is the last time he’ll be in a Sun Devils uniform," he said. "I know he’s going to go out with a bang.”

After that, though, Bercovici will be eager to fill the ensuing vacancy behind center for a Sun Devils team expected to be in the South Division and national mix.

"This team knows this is my job moving forward," he said.

Here is how the Pac-12 sets up at quarterback for 2015, pending any unexpected NFL early entries.

2015 RETURNING STARTERS

Arizona: Anu Solomon

The skinny: Though Solomon was impressive as a redshirt freshman first-year starter, he wasn't terribly efficient, ranking 61st in the nation in Total QBR and 55th in standard passing efficiency. So there is plenty of room to get better. The good news is 1,000-yard rusher Nick Wilson will be back, as will a strong crew of receivers. The offensive line has some notable holes.

California: Jared Goff

The skinny: He threw for 331 yards per game with 35 TD passes and just seven interceptions as a true sophomore. If you are looking for a player who could breakout as a national name next fall, Goff might be your man. He has an NFL future. He also has a strong supporting cast coming back on offense -- nine returning starters -- including a deep and talented group of receivers.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau

The skinny: He passed for a school-record 28 touchdowns, but also led the Pac-12 with 15 interceptions and was briefly benched late in the season. That said, the true sophomore has talent and will likely improve as a third-year starter as the young players around him grow up. It also would help him and the Buffs if receiver Nelson Spruce returns for his senior year instead of entering the draft.

Stanford: Kevin Hogan

The skinny: Hogan ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in QBR, despite being a third-year starter with a strong group of experienced receivers. Though the Cardinal running game and offensive line was a disappointment, there were plenty of times when Hogan was inconsistent in terms of both throwing and decision-making. What Stanford wants is for Hogan to return for his senior year and play like he did against California and UCLA for an entire season. Coach David Shaw said Hogan, who was dealing with tough family situation during the season, would be the starter if he returned and wouldn't face a challenge from touted freshman Keller Chryst.

USC: Cody Kessler

The skinny: If he opts to return for his senior season, Kessler will be an All-American candidate after throwing for 36 TDs with just four interceptions and ranking sixth in the nation in QBR. If there is one criticism of Kessler, it is that he feasted on inferior foes, but didn't turn in an A-list performance against ranked teams, most notably an ineffective showing against UCLA. He should greatly benefit from the maturation of a number of young but talented players forced into action this fall, most notably on the offensive line.

Utah: Travis Wilson

The skinny: This might be the Pac-12's most interesting quarterback situation. Wilson is set to become a four-year starter, but he also might not return to the Utes for his final season. That's because coaches might want to go with Kendal Thompson, who briefly replaced Wilson in the starting lineup before getting hurt. If that's the case, Wilson can transfer with no penalty, because he is set to graduate in 2015. Utah looks like it's going to be stacked on both sides of the ball next fall -- 16 other position-player starters are set to return -- but quarterback remains the issue, as it has since Utah joined the Pac-12.

Washington: Cyler Miles

The skinny: Miles also could face a challenge for his starting spot, though the rising junior also flashed ability at times while doing a good job of protecting the football -- see just three interceptions -- and played better the second half of the season. And who might provide a legitimate challenge, as no other quarterback on the roster appears capable of unseating him. It will be interesting to see how quickly touted incoming freshman Jake Browning picks things up this spring.

2015 COMPETITIONS*

Arizona State: Mike Bercovici, Sr; Manny Wilkins, RFr; Coltin Gerhart, RFr.; Brady White, Fr.; Bryce Perkins, Fr.

The skinny: Bercovici is more certain here than a couple of the conference's returning starters. He gained valuable experience this season replacing an injured Kelly, throwing 12 TDs with four interceptions, and flashed plenty of potential, including A-list arm strength. Though the Sun Devils have stocked up on young quarterbacks, including a pair of touted incoming freshmen, Bercovici is almost a certainty here.

Oregon: Jeff Lockie, Jr.; Ty Griffin, RSo.; Taylor Alie, RSo.; Morgan Mahalak, RFr., Travis Waller, Fr

The skinny: Lockie was Mariota's backup this season and has thrown 30 passes in his career -- one TD! -- which means he will have more experience than Mariota did when he took over as a redshirt freshman. It also was a strong indicator of a pecking order when Jake Rodrigues and Damion Hobbs opted to transfer after spring practices, as they were both behind Lockie. Both Alie and Mahalak, however, have skills, and Waller is expect to be around this spring to join the fray. And perhaps there will be a wild-card transfer?

Oregon State: Luke Del Rio, So.; Brent VanderVeen, Jr., Nick Mitchell, RFr.; Marcus McMaryion, RFr., Kyle Kempt, RSo.

The skinny: This one is wide open. Not only is there no clear leader, but you also have a new coaching staff under Gary Andersen with new schemes. VanderVeen started the season as Sean Mannion's backup, but Del Rio took over that spot about three game into the season. He threw 18 passes in mop-up duty, making him the only Beavers quarterback with any game experience. Might Andersen try to lure away Austin Kafentzis, a four-star quarterack from Sandy, Utah, from his commitment to Wisconsin, where Kafentzis originally planned to enroll early to play for Andersen? And what about James Pensyl, a 6-foot-7 hurler from Land O'Lakes, Florida, who committed to Mike Riley?

UCLA: Jerry Neuheisel, Jr., Asiantii Woulard, RSo.; Mike Fafaul, RJr., Aaron Sharp, RFr., Josh Rosen, Fr.

The skinny: Neuheisel was Brett Hundley's backup this season, and came off the bench to lead the Bruins past Texas. He is a capable, charismatic guy who probably relishes the idea of being counted out by many due to the arrival of Rosen. Rosen, however, is the guy many will be watching. Perhaps the best quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class, he will participate in spring practices when he can immediately put himself into the mix.

Washington State: Luke Falk, RSo.; Peyton Bender, RFr.; Tyler Hilinski, Fr.

The skinny: Falk started fast then faded a bit after coming off the bench to replace the injured Connor Halliday, but he is the overwhelming favorite here. In four games, he threw for 1,859 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with six of those picks coming in his last two games. Still, he didn't look like a walk-on. He looked like an A-list redshirt freshman suddenly thrust into action who was struggling against good teams. Coach Mike Leach won't make it seem like Falk is locked in during spring practice, but it's his job to lose.

*Listed year in school is for 2015
There's going to be a lot of offensive firepower on the field Saturday for the National University Holiday Bowl between the USC Trojans and Nebraska Cornhuskers (8 p.m. ET, ESPN), and it's the type of collection of talent that should continue the bowl's reputation for being a game that usually features a lot of excitement.

It didn't take long for the Holiday Bowl to put up big numbers either, as the 1979 game (only the second in its existence) saw 874 yards of total offense between the two teams as Indiana -- coached by Lee "Not So Fast, My Friend" Corso -- defeated BYU by a score of 38-37.

It was the 1980 game, however, which really served notice that the San Diego-hosted bowl could be something unique. The Cougars of BYU were involved once again, this time against the Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James and the SMU Mustangs. SMU was up 45-25 late in the game before Jim McMahon led BYU on a touchdown drive, the Cougars recovered an onside kick and scored again, then blocked an SMU punt and hit a Hail Mary to pull out the dramatic 46-45 victory. McMahon (446 passing yards and four TDs) and James (225 rushing yards and two TDs) were named Co-Offensive Most Valuable Players of the Game.

McMahon came back in 1981 to throw for 342 yards and three touchdowns as the Cougars beat Washington State 38-36. The defensive MVP that day for BYU was current Utah coach Fred Whittingham.

The 1984 game was an important milestone for the bowl as BYU clinched the national championship with a 24-17 victory over Michigan, behind 343 passing yards from Robbie Bosco.

After so many years of quarterback heroics it was a return to the running game in 1988 when Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State rushed for 222 yards and a bowl-record five touchdowns in a 62-14 victory over Wyoming. Sanders sat out the fourth quarter, which prevented him from breaking Craig James' bowl rushing record. Current OSU coach Mike Gundy threw for 315 yards while Hart Lee Dykes caught 10 passes for a then bowl-record 163 yards.

It was another future Heisman winner -- Ty Detmer from BYU -- who brought the attention back to the air in 1989 by setting Holiday Bowl records for completing 42 of 59 passes for 576 yards but it was in a losing effort to Penn State, who was led by Blair Thomas with a bowl-record 35 carries for 186 yards. Detmer was knocked out of the game early with a shoulder injury in 1990 (the year he won the Heisman) in a 65-14 loss to Texas A&M but he came back to throw for 350 yards in a 1991 tie against Iowa 13-13, which was the first tie and the lowest scoring Holiday Bowl.

In recent years, the tradition of offense has been kept alive by players such as Marshawn Lynch with 111 rushing yards and a pair of scores in 2006, Colt McCoy with 321 all-purpose yards in 2007 or Dez Bryant with bowl record 13 catches for 168 yards in 2008.

USC tight ends coach Marques Tuiasosopo was part of a memorable Holiday Bowl in 1999 as quarterback of the Washington Huskies. Tuiasosopo had Washington in the lead late in the game and driving for a score when he threw an interception, the game turned, and Kansas State eventually won 24-20. Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian knows what it's like to coach in the game, he brought his Huskies to San Diego in 2010 where they beat Nebraska 19-7 behind 177 rushing yards from Chris Polk.

With such a strong tradition of performances on the offensive side of the ball, don't be surprised at all if Trojans Cody Kessler, Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor or Cornhuskers' Tommy Armstrong, Ameer Abdullah or Kenny Bell are the ones making similar memories in this edition of the game.
video

Adam Rittenberg sits down with Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah to discuss his success this season and his thoughts on Nebraska facing USC in the National University Holiday Bowl.
Be smart, Cody. Stick around for another year.

That’s my advice for Cody Kessler if, as some believe, USC’s junior quarterback is seriously considering leaving for the NFL before his senior season.


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Trojans recruiting notebook

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
11:44
AM PT
With 18 total commitments for the Class of 2015, and six spots still up for grabs, here is a quick glance at the remaining potential targets on USC’s radar, with a look at what official visits they have taken, what trips they still have on tap, and what all-star game you might be able to catch them in.

RB Ronald Jones II (McKinney, Texas/McKinney North): Jones recently de-committed from Oklahoma State, and his focus now appears to be on USC and Notre Dame. He officially visited the Trojans on the weekend of Dec. 5 and the Fighting Irish on the weekend of Dec. 12. He hasn’t scheduled any other official visits at this point. Jones will play in the Under Armour All-America High School Football Game on Jan. 2.

RB Dexter Williams (Winter Garden, Fla./West Orange): Williams is committed to Miami (Fla.) but he has expressed interest in possibly visiting USC, Notre Dame and Marshall. He’s taken official visits to Miami and Louisville.

WR DaMarkus Lodge (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill): Lodge has taken official visits to USC and LSU, and he will reportedly visit Ole Miss and Texas in January. He’s also still looking at Baylor, Arizona State, and TCU among others. He will play in the Under Armour All-America Game.

WR Equanimeous St. Brown (Anaheim, Calif./Servite): St. Brown has visited Notre Dame and Utah, and he’s mentioned in the past that he could take a trip to USC in January. He’s set to play in the Under Armour All-America Game.

TE/DE T.J. Wheatley Jr. (Buffalo, N.Y./Canisius): Wheatley recently visited USC, and the Trojans are still very much in the mix for the 6-foot-6 tight end/defensive end. He’ll also visit Alabama, Oregon and UCLA before Signing Day. Auburn and Michigan are two more schools to look out for. Wheatley will play in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl on Jan. 4.

DT Rasheem Green (Gardena, Calif./Serra): Green recently listed a top 4 that included USC, Arizona State, Miami and Oregon. He’s already checked out the Hurricanes and Ducks in person, and he has official visits lined up for the Trojans (Jan. 16) and Sun Devils (Jan. 23). Green was originally scheduled to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 3, but he will sat that one out as he continues to recover from a knee injury.

DT Tim Settle (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson): Settle recently listed a top 5 (in no order) of Louisville, Virginia Tech, Washington State, USC and Oklahoma State, and he has taken official visits to each of those programs. He will announce his decision on Jan. 2 at the Under Armour All-America Game.

DE Mika Tafua (Honolulu, Hawaii/Kamehameha): Currently committed to BYU, Tafua recently took official visits to USC and Colorado, and he will head to Provo (Utah) to check out the Cougars some time in January. He could also visit Oregon, Vanderbilt or Washington.

LB John Houston Jr. (Gardena, Calif./Serra): The Trojans are thought by many to be the favorite to land Houston, and the ESPN 300 linebacker recently listed a top 5 that included USC along with Oregon, Arizona State, Miami (Fla.) and Oklahoma. Of that group he has visited all but the Trojans, but he will take an official to USC on Jan. 16. Houston will play in the Under Armour All-America Game.

LB Osa Masina (Salt Lake City, Utah/Brighton): Masina has taken official visits to USC, UCLA and Arizona State, and there’s a possibility that he could make an announcement at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The Trojans are thought to have a good chance in this one.

LB Roquan Smith (Montezuma, Ga./Macon County): Smith has taken official visits to USC and Georgia, and he has trips set up for LSU (Jan. 16), Ole Miss (Jan. 23) and UCLA (Jan. 30). He will announce his decision on Signing Day, with the Bulldogs standing out as the leader. Smith will play in the Under Armour All-America Game.

CB DeChaun Holiday (San Marcos, Calif./Mission Hills): Holiday recently took an official visit to Oklahoma, with plans to take more trips in January, although those haven’t been set up at this point. UCLA is thought to be his leader, but USC has remained in contact with him along with Arizona State, Oregon and Washington among others. Holiday will play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

CB Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly): Marshall has already taken an official visit to Notre Dame, and he’s also set up a trip to Florida State (Jan. 16). He’s also expressed interest in taking official visits to schools like Oregon, LSU, Oklahoma and Alabama. USC is still very much in consideration, as is UCLA and Stanford, but those programs are more likely to receive unofficial visits. Marshall will play in the Under Armour Game.

CB Kendall Sheffield (Missouri City, Texas/Thurgood Marshall): Sheffield has taken official visits to USC, Ohio State, Florida State and Texas A&M, and he’s also unofficially visited both Alabama and Oklahoma. He will announce his decision at the Under Armour All-America Game.

S Marvell Tell (Encino, Calif./Crespi): Tell has taken official visits to USC, Oregon and Texas A&M, and he has said recently that he could announce a final decision between the three on Jan. 3 at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

ATH Javarius Davis (Jacksonville, Fla./Ed H. White): Davis has taken an official visit to Miami (Fla.), and Oregon and USC are among the other schools that he’s looking at. He could possibly visit the Trojans in January.

ATH Terry Godwin (Hogansville, Ga./Callaway): A Georgia commit, Godwin officially visited both the Bulldogs as well as USC recently, and he has January visits set up for Auburn (Jan. 16), Alabama (Jan. 23) and Texas A&M (Jan. 30). He will play in the Under Armour All-America Game.

ATH Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills): Gustin officially visited Notre Dame back on Sept. 5, and he is expected to take a number of trips in January, including one to USC. He checked out the Trojans on an unofficial visit this past November, in addition to Arizona State that same month. He’s also reportedly considering Arkansas, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State and Oregon. Gustin will play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

ATH Donte Jackson (Jefferson, La./Riverdale): Jackson recently announced that he will make his decision on Jan. 21, and that he will decide between LSU, Georgia and USC. Of that group he has only officially visited the Trojans, although he has been to LSU and Georgia on unofficials.

ATH Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly): Ross has taken official visits to USC, Notre Dame and Miami. He has a final five that includes the Trojans and Fighting Irish, as well as Arizona State, Oklahoma and Oregon, and he will announce his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Trojans land Whitney

Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and staff received good news this past Thursday when Riverside (Calif.) City College wide receiver Isaac Whitney signed with USC, choosing the Trojans over West Virginia and Washington State among others.

Set to arrive on campus in January with two years to play two, he caught 49 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns this fall. Possessing 6-foot-4 height, he’ll bring a unique combination of talents to the fold.

"I like Isaac on a couple fronts,” said Sarkisian following USC’s practice on Saturday. "One, I think he provides something a little bit different than what we have. He’s a bigger receiver, but for a big receiver he shows a lot of, I’d say, little-guy qualities. He’s very quick in and out of his breaks [and] he’s extremely athletic, so I think he’s going to be a great fit in our system."

News and notes
  • A pair of USC commits helped their teams win state titles this past weekend. Tight end Tyler Petite caught seven passes for 102 yards in Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo's 35-28 victory against Lakeside (Calif.) El Capitan in the CIF-State Division III final. Running back Aca'Cedric Ware, who had a monster 2014 season overall, was limited to 23 yards rushing, but his Cedar Hill (Texas) squad still managed to defeat Katy (Texas) 23-20 in the Texas Class 6A Division II championship.
  • USC offered ESPN Junior 300 defensive end and Florida State commit Janarius Robinson (Panama City, Fla./Bay) this past Friday.
  • Class of 2015 WR/DB Octavius Spencer (Monrovia, Calif./Monrovia) committed to UCLA last week. The Trojans had expressed some late-season interest in the two-way standout, but never offered.
  • Class of 2015 defensive tackle Dillon Faamatau (Norwalk, Calif./Norwalk), who has also received some interest from USC recently, committed to Washington State last week.

With the 2014 campaign in the books, here’s a look at some end-of-season statistics that a number of USC recruits put up this fall.

Class of 2015

QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) -- USC commit: In 14 games Darnold completed 213 of 314 passes for 2,985 yards and 39 touchdowns with eight interceptions, while also rushing for 785 yards and 13 touchdowns on 125 carries.

QB Ricky Town (Ventura, Calif./St. Bonaventure) -- USC commit: In 11 games Town completed 207 of 296 passes for 2,600 yards and 32 touchdowns with three interceptions, and he also rushed for 300 yards and four touchdowns on 40 carries.

RB Ware (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill) -- USC commit: In 15 games Ware rushed for 2,440 yards and 34 touchdowns on 291 carries.

WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Calif./First Coast) -- USC commit: In 10 games Payton had 47 receptions for 843 yards and eight touchdowns.

TE Petite (Moraga, Calif./Campolindo) -- USC commit: 16 games Petite caught 37 passes for 969 yards and nine touchdowns.

LB Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay) -- USC commit: In 13 games Smith amassed 148 tackles, three forced fumbles and four interceptions (two of which he returned for touchdowns).

RB Jones (McKinney, Texas/McKinney North): In 13 games Jones rushed for 2,009 yards and 28 touchdowns in 240 carries.

WR Lodge (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill):
In 16 games Lodge caught 63 passes for 1,219 yards and 25 touchdowns.

TE/DE Wheatley (Buffalo, N.Y./Canisius): Wheatley caught 11 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns on offense, and he made 68 tackles, 24 tackles for loss and 10 sacks on defense.

LB Houston (Gardena, Calif./Serra): In 11 games Houston racked up 147 tackles (61 solo), 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions – one of which he returned for a touchdown.

DL Green (Gardena, Calif./Serra): Green amassed 56 tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.

LB Masina (Salt Lake City, Utah/Brighton: In 12 games Masina compiled 97 tackles (50 solo), 10 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception on defense, and on offense he caught 11 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 596 yards and eight touchdowns on 94 carries.

CB Marshall (Long Beach, Calif/Poly): Marshall finished his senior season with 85 tackles, five tackles for loss and 16 pass deflections on defense. He also caught 19 passes for 315 yards and eight touchdowns on offense, and he returned one punt for a touchdown on special teams.

ATH Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills): Gustin completed 212 of 349 passes for 2,864 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions, he rushed for 891 yards and 10 touchdowns on 92 carries, he caught a 17-yard touchdown pass, and on defense he amassed 152 tackles (61 solo), 29 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and two interceptions.

ATH Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly): Ross caught 50 passes for 988 yards and 15 touchdowns on offense, he compiled three interceptions on defense, and he also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns on special teams.

Class of 2016

QB K.J. Costello (Coto de Caza, Calif./Santa Margarita Catholic): In 11 games Costello completed 229 of 380 passes for 3,123 yards and 23 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

QB Shea Patterson (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist Academy): In 13 games Patterson completed 129 of 199 passes for 2,428 yards and 38 touchdowns with three interceptions, and he also rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns on 55 carries.

WR Jackie Jones (Long Beach, Calif/Poly): Jones had 64 receptions for 719 yards and five touchdowns.

WR Tyler Vaughns (La Puente, Calif./Bishop Amat): In 13 games Vaughns accumulated over 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns at wide receiver, and he also picked off four passes on defense.

DE Oluwole Betiku (Gardena, Calif./Serra): In 11 games Betiku compiled 59 tackles (30 solo), 24 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.

LB Lokeni Toailoa (Rialto, Calif./Carter): In 12 games Toailoa racked up 98 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and six sacks on defense, and he also caught 11 passes for 90 yards, and rushed for 124 yards and 10 touchdowns on 35 carries on offense.

S C.J. Pollard (Gardena, Calif./Serra): In 11 games Pollard made 58 tackles (32 solo).

ATH Trevon Sidney (La Puente, Calif./Bishop Amat): In 13 games Sidney made four interceptions on defense, and he also caught four touchdown passes.

Class of 2017

QB Tate Martell (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman): In 15 games Martell completed 124 of 200 passes for 2,537 yards and 40 touchdowns with two interceptions, and he also rushed for 433 yards and five touchdowns on 73 carries.

QB Tua Tagovailoa (Honolulu, Hawaii/St. Louis): Tagovailoa completed 163 of 239 passes for 2,583 yards and 33 touchdowns with three interceptions.

WR Tyjon Lindsey (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman): In 15 games Lindsey caught 34 passes for 884 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he also returned two punts for scores.

DE Haskell Garrett (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman): In 15 games Garrett compiled 79 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and one interception.

ATH Nathan Tilford (Upland, Calif./Upland): Tilford rushed for 943 yards and 15 touchdowns on 151 carries, and he also caught 12 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

JUCO

WR De'Quan Hampton (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach City College) -- USC commit: In 11 games Hampton caught 64 passes for 839 yards and seven touchdowns.

WR Whitney (Riverside, Calif./Riverside City College) -- USC commit: In 12 games Whitney caught 49 passes for 809 yards and four touchdowns.
LOS ANGELES -- It’s big-game week for the USC Trojans of the Pac-12, as it’s just a matter of days before they are challenged by the Nebraska Cornhuskers of the Big Ten in the National University Holiday Bowl.

On Saturday evening (5 p.m. PST/ESPN) in San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, two of the most storied programs in college football lore get together, surprisingly for just the fifth time.

For Steve Sarkisian’s Trojans, they’ll be looking to prove they’re truly on the fast track back to college football’s elite, while the Cornhuskers, with interim head coach Barney Cotton, will be looking to get their first victory against that West Coast power from Los Angeles.

The Trojans currently own a 3-0-1 mark against the Huskers. How did the Trojans build such an impressive resume against the lads from Lincoln?

Let’s take a look at the previous four games between two of college football’s most recognizable brands:

1969: This was supposed to be a Trojans team rebuilding after going through the dominance of the previous O.J. Simpson era (1967-68). Making their first trip to Lincoln, it figured that with inexperienced sophomore quarterback Jimmy Jones, the Trojans would probably be shaken by the environment. But it was the capacity 67,058 in Memorial Stadium that were shaken. The Trojans struck first in the opening quarter with a 1-yard TD run by tailback Mike Berry, the first of his two scores.

In the second quarter, Trojans wide receiver Bobby Chandler was on the receiving end of a 45-yard TD bomb from the athletic Jones. Later, SC fullback Charlie Evans silenced Memorial Stadium with a 4-yard scoring reception from Jones. The Trojans held a 21-7 lead at half, and with Berry’s 1-yard third-quarter score and placekicker Ron Ayala’s fourth-quarter 34-yard field goal, the Trojans never looked back
Final score: USC 31, Nebraska 21

1970: An early September night game in Los Angeles before 73,768 in the Coliseum, the No. 9 Cornhuskers were looking for revenge when they opened the scoring in the second quarter with a surprise 17-yard fullback pass from Dan Schneiss to receiver Guy Ingles. The No. 3 and two-touchdown favorite Trojans tied it on a 4-yard run by quarterback Jimmy Jones. Nebraska came right back with quarterback Jerry Tagge connecting to scintillating wingback and future Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers for a 15-yard touchdown.

Down 14-7 at the half, the Trojans roared back in the third quarter, culminated by a 1-yard TD run by fullback Charlie Evans. However, on the second play after the ensuing kickoff, Huskers I-back Joe Orduna ripped off a 67-yard scoring jaunt to put Nebraska in front again, 21-14. The Trojans rallied in the fourth quarter, moving 80 yards, capped by a 9-yard scoring run by tailback Clarence Davis. The Trojans missed on a Hail Mary on the final play of the game, as Nebraska would then go on to the national championship with an 11-0-1 record.
Final score: USC 21, Nebraska 21

2006: It had been some 36 years since these teams had last played against each other. There was great anticipation for the “reunion.” Before 92,000, Pete Carroll’s Trojans program, which was now at its zenith, wasn’t about to let Nebraska pull a major upset on the road.

While the Trojans had lost Heisman Trophy quarterback Matt Leinart to graduation, in stepped redshirt junior John David Booty. Leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Booty found wide receiver Steve Smith for a 3-yard touchdown that put the Trojans ahead 14-3. The Trojans led 21-10 in the fourth quarter, and tailback Chauncey Washington sealed the victory with a 7-yard touchdown run. It wasn’t pretty, but it was another victory.
Final score: USC 28, Nebraska 10

2007: Based on their team’s effort the season before, the 84,959 mostly Nebraska fans in Memorial Stadium were hopeful of a potential upset in Lincoln. Instead, what the Cornhuskers received from the Trojans that September evening on national television was a major league flogging from the Men of Troy.

Carroll’s team had that unbeatable “look” when they came out for pregame warm-ups, and the Huskers found that last season’s “inexperienced” Trojans were now very experienced and extremely talented. Fullback Stanley Havili and tailback Chauncey Washington each had two touchdowns while tight end Anthony McCoy and tailbacks Allen Bradford and Stafon Johnson each added a score. The Trojans pounded out 313 yards on the ground to just 31 yards for the Cornhuskers.
Final score: USC 49, Nebraska 31
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and counting down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

C.J. Spiller, No. 47 in 2006 class

Spiller created a true recruiting battle in the Southeast between Florida, Clemson and Florida State with the Tigers winning out over Florida in a stunner that drew national attention with nearly everyone believing the two-sport star would stay in state.

Spiller hit the field running, literally, in 2006 rushing for 938 yards and 10 touchdowns on 129 carries. He added 210 yards receiving and 267 return yards for a total of 1,415 all-purpose yards.

As a sophomore, the running back with 10.3 100-meter speed rushed for 768 yards, but added nearly 1,000 yards receiving and in returns for a total of 1,723 all-purpose yards, including two kick off returns for touchdowns.

Spiller would again prove to be one of the top all-around backs in college football in 2008, adding 1,770 all-purpose yards to his quickly growing career total. He was named All-ACC first team following the 2008 season.

Spiller’s best season at Clemson would be his last. He was named unanimous All-American and ACC Player of the Year following his 2,680 all-purpose yard performance. He finished his career with 7,588 all-purpose yards and 52 touchdowns, including leaving the college ranks with the most kick off return touchdowns in FBS history.

Spiller was selected No. 9 overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 2010 NFL draft. He was named to the 2012 Pro Bowl.

Honorable mention: Nelson Agholor, No. 47 in 2012 class. Agholor picked USC over Florida and Florida State coming out of Tampa Berkely Prep. In three seasons for the Trojans, the receiver and return man has 172 receptions for 2,481 yards and 19 touchdowns, along with 977 return yards and four scores. Agholor is expected to be a highly drafted player in 2015 or 2016.
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag. Pac-12 bowl season starts Saturday. Yay.

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To the notes!

Duckzila from Portland writes: The Oregon offense typically feasts on teams that are undisciplined on defense. My perception is Florida State is a team that relies on athleticism and freelances quite a bit on the defense side of the ball. Even when they shut down Georgia Tech in the second half of the ACC championship, they were helped out by an inaccurate quarterback missing open plays downfield. To be fair, I definitely suffer from seeing college football through green and yellow shaded glasses, and haven't watched a ton of FSU games this year. I'm curious if you see the FSU defense the same way?

Ted Miller: No, I don't see Florida State's defense that way.

What I see is a talented unit that was rebuilding after being dominant during 2013's national title campaign, one that was breaking in a new coordinator, one that was then riddled by injuries. I see a defense that is on track to be as healthy as it has been all season against Oregon.

I see a defense that is adept at making adjustments. The Seminoles gave up 174 points in the first half this season. They yielded just 125 in the second half. Oregon's underrated defense gave up 141 points in the first half and 151 in the second half. I see a defense that overcame an offense that was stunningly turnover-prone -- the Seminoles' 27 turnovers would have been the highest total in the Pac-12. Oregon had just eight turnovers this season.

Further, and this isn't a terribly original point: Defenses tend to excel after extended pre-bowl preparation. The extra time helps a defense train its eyes, accustom itself to potential misdirection and create a laser-like focus on its keys. Ducks fans saw that when two offensive juggernauts, Auburn and Oregon, played a low-scoring, 22-19 slugfest for the 2010 national championship.

If Oregon's offense wins the battle with FSU's defense, I doubt we will say it's because FSU was undisciplined. I think we'll say it's because the Oregon offense is just really freaking hard to stop.


Matt from Washington, D.C. writes: Ted-According to ESPN, Washington was tied with FSU for the most All-Americans yet won eight games, none against a high-quality team. With the shadow of Dan Hawkins looming large and so much talent leaving this year, what are the reasons for optimism for UW fans moving forward in the Petersen era?

Ted Miller: It's not unfair to say Chris Petersen's first season was underwhelming, even disappointing. He inherited talent that hinted at 10 wins in the regular season and he won eight. He didn't beat a ranked team and the Huskies struggled against overmatched foes. While he's not one to navel-gaze in front of the media, my guess is Petersen will be as self-critical about himself and his staff as any message board.

So why be optimistic? Well, Petersen went 92-12 at Boise State and won two Fiesta Bowls, a record that far surpasses Dan Hawkins or, really, any coach outside of a Power 5 conference. There's a reason folks so celebrated his hiring. The guy is smart. He's detail-oriented. He has a system. Some of the things that cost the Huskies this year -- such as giving mouthy, me-first cornerback Marcus Peters the boot -- probably will pay off in the long term as Petersen establishes his culture.

Yet Petersen might need to recalibrate some. Playing a Pac-12 schedule is different than playing one or two Power 5 foes a year and trying to earn your big-boy-football bona fides. In the Pac-12, you play a marquee game against Oregon... and then you play a marque game against Arizona State the next weekend.

As much as he's emphasizing "OKGs -- Our Kind of Guys" in recruiting, he's probably going to need a more generous gray area when evaluating prospects, particularly ones who run 4.4-second 40-yard dashes and weigh more than 300 pounds. He also might need to rethink some spots on his coaching staff.

Yes, the Huskies take some huge roster hits heading into 2015, particularly on defense and the offensive line. Eight wins next year probably would be an overachievement. But Petersen wasn't hired for immediate flash. He was hired to return Washington to long-term glory. Those are two different processes, and the latter often includes worse short-term growing pains.


Ramon from Chatsworth, California, writes: The Pac-12 South was an extremely tough division this season. The toughest, if you ask me. With the way the season ended for TCU and Baylor, which Pac-12 south team has the highest chances of being affected, positively and negatively, by their out-of-conference schedule in 2015?

Ted Miller: Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah will be in good shape if the College Football Playoff committee is reviewing their nonconference schedules. Arizona and Colorado will not be.

Here are the schedules.
  • Arizona: UTSA, at Nevada, Northern Arizona
  • Arizona State: Texas A&M (Houston), Cal Poly, New Mexico
  • Colorado: at Hawaii, UMass, Colorado State (Denver), Nicholls State
  • UCLA: Virginia, at UNLV, BYU
  • USC: Arkansas State, Idaho, at Notre Dame
  • Utah: Michigan, Utah State, at Fresno State

Obviously, the Buffaloes are aiming for bowl eligibility, not a berth in the CFP, and have scheduled accordingly. Arizona is another matter, as the Wildcats' nonconference schedule is Baylor-esque and would be viewed dimly by the committee.

Of course, the Wildcats didn't envision they would be in the hunt this season, at least from the past scheduling perspective of athletic director Greg Byrne. If the Wildcats again surge in 2015, their nonconference schedule will be a problem, unless they emerge from the Pac-12 unbeaten.
There wasn’t much that JuJu Smith didn’t accomplish during his freshman year at USC. He appeared in all 12 games, eventually earning a starting wide receiver spot, and ended the season ranked second on the team with 51 catches for 658 yards and five touchdowns. Smith also added six kickoff returns and a handful of carries to his first-year resume.

[+] EnlargeJuJu Smith
Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsJuJu Smith could join classmate Adoree' Jackson in the Trojans' secondary.
One thing he didn’t do, however, was contribute in all three phases of the game since there was no defensive time for JuJu, while his fellow freshman Adoree’ Jackson did get a chance to see time on offense, defense and special teams. Smith, who was a terrific safety in high school, has been battling Jackson in one-on-ones during bowl practices and said this week that he could end up joining Jackson as a triple-threat weapon for the Trojans next season.

“Adoree’ Jackson is a great player,” Smith said. “He was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, which is awesome. For me to get to go against him every day is amazing and it’s real nice challenge to get me ready for game day. It will be great to go through our time at USC together, and next year I’ll be going both ways with him so it will be fun.”

Houston, we have a final 5: One of the top prospects on the USC wish list is linebacker John Houston, who released his list of five final schools on Friday and, to no surprise, the Trojans were included, along with Oregon, Arizona State, Miami and Oklahoma. Houston has already taken visits to the four other schools on his list and will trip to USC for the Trojans big recruiting weekend on Jan. 16, when several of the top remaining prospects will be on campus.

Houston has long been rumored to have the Trojans in his lead spot and, while nothing has changed that, he has legitimately enjoyed seeing the other schools, particularly Oregon. With that being said, the last visit is always critical and USC would appear to be well positioned to close this one and land the coveted target. Houston is ranked as the No. 2 inside linebacker by ESPN but with his 6-foot-3, 210 pound frame he could easily end up as a strong side backer as well. Houston will take part in the Under Armour All-American game on Jan. 2 to be shown on ESPN2.

Must-see matchup: You can be sure that plenty of NFL defensive line coaches will be paying attention to the Holiday Bowl with Leonard Williams of USC and Randy Gregory of Nebraska taking part in the game. The two juniors are both expected to declare for the draft and both were projected as top-5 selections by Todd McShay of ESPN in his mock draft that was released this week.

Williams, who was named the USC team MVP this week, is actually ranked atop McShay’s overall player rankings, in large part because of the versatility he has shown and the ability to play multiple spots at the next level. The fact Williams was also a consistent contributor despite playing with injuries also has been noted by the professional scouts. What they also will find when they take a closer look at Williams is a guy who plays the game with passion and has a strong work ethic. It speaks volumes that his selection as an All-American this year made him the first two-time AA selection at defensive end for the Trojans in 50 years.

Gregory has an impressive list of accomplishments of his own, including a unique ability to rush the passer as evidenced by 18 career sacks as a Cornhusker. Like Williams, he also battled injuries this year but played through it and ended the season with 10 tackles for loss. With a 6-foot-6, 245 pound frame it’s easy to see that Gregory has the physical dimensions to play in the NFL with the only question being the eventual position, an OLB in a 3-4 or DE in a 4-3.
Has this been the greatest season in Pac-12 history? The jury is still out on that front, as bowl games remain to be played, and Oregon is tasked with carrying the conference flag into a playoff battle with the nation's big boys. But after a captivating regular season, the conference is undoubtedly in strong position entering this final foray.

The 2014 ride -- typically unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while making an impact on its eccentric, memorable course.

Here is the final installment, featuring our three top plays from the 2014 Pac-12 season:

3. The play of polar opposites: Kaelin Clay fumble; Joe Walker TD return

video

This has to be the ultimate "what if?" play of the Pac-12 season, and that is saying something. Yes, Oregon might have won anyway without Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay's help in early November, but the journey to do so would have been exponentially more difficult. And a Utes' win would have drastically changed the complexion of the Pac-12 South title race and the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Early in the second quarter, Clay hauled in a deep post from Travis Wilson and sprinted toward paydirt. A jubilant Rice-Eccles Stadium shook celebrating what initially looked to be a 79-yard touchdown catch that would have positioned Utah for a 14-0 lead.

But one not-so-minor detail stood in the way of that.

As part of his scoring celebration, Clay had dropped the football -- and he accidentally did so before he had crossed the goal line. So as Utah players were celebrating what they thought to be a touchdown, Oregon defenders were scrambling to recover a fumble. Linebacker Joe Walker eventually secured the ball and ran 99 yards in the opposite direction, scoring to tie the game while creating a signature #Pac12AfterDark moment of mass confusion.

This broke the mayhem gauge: There was a point in time when Utah and Oregon were both simultaneously celebrating 100 yards apart in opposite end zones.

Only the Ducks' party lasted. Instead of trailing 14-0 in the teeth of a ferocious defense playing in front of its electric Salt Lake City crowd, Oregon was suddenly even with the Utes. Walker had sprinted 180 yards on one play -- 80 from the line of scrimmage to pick up the fumble at the goal line, and 100 more to score the other way -- but he was the energized one after the play, while Utah was deflated. The Ducks went on to win 51-27, and the rest was history.

2. The Jael Mary

Before the night of October 4, 2014, we were still oh, so naive. We thought that there was no way a successful Hail Mary could decide a game at the gun more than once per decade. We thought a nine-point lead with three minutes remaining at home against a backup quarterback was ... relatively safe?

But then October 4 happened, and nothing was the same. The practice of expecting conventional finishes in this conference died in the Los Angeles Coliseum on that night. Arizona State and USC played a game which saw Pac-12 end-of-game eccentricity go from being a rare spectacle to a regular occurrence.

Javorius Allen's 53-yard touchdown run gave USC a 34-25 lead with 3:02 remaining and Troy celebrated, unaware that ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici was about to rack up 145 yards over his next three completions. The first was a 73-yard touchdown strike to Cameron Smith. That made this a two-point game with 2:43 remaining.

But the Trojans recovered the ensuring onside kick, and ASU didn't have any timeouts left. So nothing to sweat for Steve Sarkisian, right?

Well, nothing except for the ultimate rip-your-heart-out finish. After a USC three-and-out, ASU took over at its own 28 with 23 seconds remaining. A 26-yard pass to Smith positioned the Sun Devils for a final gasp as time expired. Jaelen Strong plucked Bercovici's Hail Mary heave out of the air and hopped into the end zone, sending the Coliseum into shocked silence, leaving the hometown fans wondering why USC hadn't seemed interested in covering one of the country's best receivers?

As is the case with so many #Pac12AfterDark questions, there is no satisfying answer. There is only a legendary result, and this one is immortalized as the Jael Mary. Arizona State 38, USC 34.

1. The Hill Mary

video

The Jael Mary has an ancestor, and it also Hails (pun intended) from the state of Arizona. Two weeks before the Sun Devils snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Los Angeles, Arizona did the same thing against California. The difference: The Wildcats put on their show at home, sending a stadium into delirium, and they did it first. Arizona's last-second heroics also were a determinant in their Pac-12 South championship and Cal's failure to make a bowl game, so they beat out their Tempe rivals on this list.

The climactic play of this game was only the final piece of an absolutely sensational Wildcats' rally. Cal led 31-13 entering the fourth quarter, and it's not as if the Golden Bears suddenly stopped scoring to blow their lead: Sonny Dykes' club actually registered two insurance touchdowns in the quarter. But this insurance policy wasn't big enough to withstand a 36-point Arizona fourth quarter.

The Wildcats scored, and they scored furiously fast. A Casey Skowron field goal. A Tra'Mayne Bondurant interception followed by an Austin Hill touchdown. A Cayleb Jones touchdown. A Terrence Jones-Grigsby touchdown. An onside kick recovery. Another Jones touchdown.

Even after that flurry, Arizona still trailed 45-43. It failed a two-point conversion that could have tied the game with 2:44 remaining. Cal regained possession with a chance to seal the game, but the Wildcats kept kicking.

With under a minute left, Dykes elected to try a 47-yard field goal, but this turned out to be an ill-fated decision. James Langford missed, and Arizona got one final chance with 52 seconds left. Facing a fourth-and-7 from his own 33, quarterback Anu Solomon found Hill for a 20-yard gain that moved the ball to the Bears' 47. He then spiked the ball with only a precious few ticks remaining, setting up our No. 1 moment of truth.

To signal in the obvious play call, Rich Rodriguez and his fellow coaches clasped their hands together in "Hail Mary" prayer fashion.

Cal only rushed three, and Solomon's 73rd and final pass of the night was also its most majestic, a soaring 50-plus yard lob that might have brought down rain had the game not been played in the cloudless desert.

"Halfway, and then three-quarters of way [into the throw's flight], I knew the ball was coming to me," Hill said. "I was just hoping no one bumped into me, or hit my elbow, or jumped on top of me so I could secure the catch."

Mission accomplished. Hill Mary immortalized. Arizona 49, Cal 45.

"Don't ever go home early," a beaming Rodriguez told a TV camera afterward.

Nope, don't do that. Not in this age of Pac-12 football.

Other impact plays

Pac-12 bowl predictions

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
9:00
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Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl



Why Utah wins: This has tended to be a letdown game for Pac-12 teams in recent years -- the league has lost four of the past five games in the Las Vegas Bowl. But Utah won't be lacking for motivation after returning to the postseason after a two-year absence and Colorado State, despite its strong season, will be a little deflated following Jim McElwain's departure for Florida. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Colorado State wins: Yes, the Rams lost their coach to Florida, but they’re still running on the energy of a 10-2 season and a prolific offense. Receiver Rashard Higgins leads the nation with 17 touchdown catches and Utah is not playing its best ball of the season. I think that’s the difference-maker here. -- David Lombardi


Hyundai Sun Bowl



Why Arizona State wins: Good quarterback. Good running back. Outstanding wide receiver and a defense that gets after it on the blitz more than any team in the country. The “attacking-hybrid” defense will leave the other Devils feeling blue. -- Kevin Gemmell


National University Holiday Bowl



Why Nebraska wins: It would be a fitting start to Mike Riley's tenure at Nebraska, wouldn't it? Although the former Oregon State coach won't be guiding his new team from the sideline, expect the Cornhuskers to make an impression with a victory over a Pac-12 foe. -- Chantel Jennings

Why USC wins: USC is a more talented, athletic team than Nebraska and would win this game without extenuating circumstances, but the acrimonious departure of Bo Pelini figures to leave some Cornhuskers indifferently motivated. Further, the Trojans, whose biggest issue is depth, almost certainly benefited more from a few weeks of off-time to heal various bumps and bruises. -- Ted Miller


Foster Farms Bowl



Why Stanford wins: Defense didn’t win a championship for the Cardinal. But it can win a bowl game against a Maryland team that averages fewer than 30 points per game and only averages 130.4 yards per game on the ground. -- Kevin Gemmell


VIZIO Fiesta Bowl



Why Boise State wins: It’s the Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos don’t lose these games. In all seriousness, though, Boise State has ripped off eight straight wins. They’re peaking right now, and Arizona had some wind taken of their sails against Oregon. -- David Lombardi

Why Arizona wins: It's a statement game for Arizona -- and the Pac-12 -- so don't expect the Wildcats to take their opponent lightly. It's been too fine a season for Arizona to end with a blowout loss to Oregon and a defeat at the hands of Boise State. Expect to see some fireworks from the Wildcats' young playmakers on offense as well as trophy-laden linebacker Scooby Wright. -- Chantel Jennings


Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual



Why Oregon wins: Forget the Heisman versus Heisman storyline. The Ducks take care of the football, plain and simple. Florida State has danced with defeat several times, but other teams have let them off the hook. If they Ducks can force turnovers, they are one of the best teams in the country at making opponents pay. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Florida State wins: Florida State is getting healthy during the break before this game, while Oregon lost All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu to a knee injury. That’s a big problem when a team is preparing for Seminoles wide receiver Rashad Greene and quarterback Jameis Winston. Yet it’s Oregon’s greatest strength and Florida State's seeming weakness that will be the difference. The Ducks pretty much dominated every game they won this year. Florida State pretty much didn’t dominate anyone, playing down to foes for three-plus quarters and making their fans squirm in the waning moments. That mental toughness in the fourth quarter will pay off in this one because Oregon won’t dominate the Seminoles, and a tight final frame is when Florida State thrives. -- Ted Miller


Valero Alamo Bowl



Why Kansas State wins: This one starts with motivation, and we’re betting Kansas State has more. UCLA started out in the preseason top 10 and envisioned itself winning the Pac-12 and playing in the College Football Playoff. It’s not unreasonable to suspect the surprising and dispiriting blowout loss to Stanford during the final weekend of the season, which gave Arizona the Pac-12’s South Division crown, will come with an extended hangover. While both offenses have good quarterbacks and explosive playmakers, the Wildcats have been more consistent on defense this year. That will be the difference. -- Ted Miller

Why UCLA wins: I'm taking the opposite side of the argument when it comes to motivation. Bowl games are all about motivation, yes, and the Bruins, with a chip on their shoulder, have a chance to end the season on a high note. Brett Hundley’s finger is healthy and when he’s at his best, there aren’t many teams in the country that can stop him. Plus the Bruins are underdogs. That’s a role they haven’t played much this year, but seem to relish. -- Kevin Gemmell


TicketCity Cactus Bowl



Why Washington wins: The Huskies began to develop a semblance of offensive consistency toward the end of the season, and that makes them a capable all-around team. That certainly should be enough to beat a 6-6 Oklahoma State team that is nothing spectacular this season. -- David Lombardi

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Friday, 12/26
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