Video: Keeping the enemy close

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
11:13
AM PT
video
As UCLA prepares for its rivalry game with USC, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley sits down for a little one-on-one with former USC receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Mailbag: Humbug to Pac-12 pride

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
6:00
PM PT
Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter. It's the first step toward making your life into an epic poem.

To the notes?

Luke from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Thank you to Kevin Gemmell for writing the following: "This league's coaches rarely talk about what's good for the conference. They want what's best for their own team -- national perception and conference pride be damned. And for the record, this fifth of the Pac-12 blog is just fine with that." I find a lot of writing in the blog is around the narrative of the Pac-12 winning a national championship. This seems reasonable considering it is the Pac-12 blog. However, I pose the question: How many people read this blog because they are fans of the conference and how many people read because they are fans of a team in the conference? I'd argue the latter is a much larger portion. The narrative pretending their is some sort of overall conference strategy where we all pull the rope to win a national title is a little silly. I'm an Arizona fan. If Oregon makes it to the playoff will I cheer for them? Yes. Is Oregon winning a national title one of my goals as an Arizona fan coming into the season? Absolutely not. Fans from 10 other teams in the conference feel the same way.Buffs fans don't care if OSU "flipped the script" and now ASU doesn't get to be part of a de facto playoff game against Oregon. Buffs fans want a conference W, and go to your blog for insight on how they get there. Same with me. If the Ducks win a national title I'll be happy for them and happy for the conference. But that's it, slightly happy.

Ted Miller: Interesting point, and this is a position I've heard before from Pac-12 fans. It's pretty much a big-city, pro-sports attitude, where a team has no notable, vested interests in the success of, say, its league or division. It also tends to mean you're a not an obsessive college football fan, in that obsessive college football fans follow the entire game nearly as much as their own team, see the constant trolling that goes on between the ESPN.com conference blogs.

I'm not going to tell you how to be a sports fan. That's entirely your call, and we appreciate you visiting ESPN.com. I do, however, have a position on this, which I'm sure shocks you.

First off, I think what Kevin is noting is that Pac-12 teams don't have any intention of laying down to further a rival's national title hopes, which should surprise no one. We both talk to coaches all the time about what's "good" for the conference. What these coaches want is the Pac-12 to receive the same deference as the SEC, and they'd prefer themselves and not their top rivals to be the conference's bell cow.

Of course their overwhelming interests are their own teams, which sign their paychecks, but they also understand a shared interest. That would include, for example, the Pac-12 playing a nine-game conference schedule while other conferences play only eight. Just about every Pac-12 coach believes that is a problem because it ensures the conference has six more losses in its collective standings every season, though it's more front and center for coaches whose teams presently have a national outlook compared to coaches who are just trying to win a conference game.

And you better believe there's shared interests in a conference with revenue sharing. When the Pac-12 got two BCS bowl teams, each team pocketed an additional $500,000, plus or minus, so Pac-12 rivals tend to be frenemies. That won't change in the College Football Playoff, when the Pac-12 getting left out will cost every conference team big money.

I view it as no coincidence that you got your feathers up, Luke, when an Arizona State loss at Oregon State was bemoaned as a lost opportunity for the conference to stage a Pac-12 championship game as a play-in contest for the inaugural College Football Playoff between a pair of highly rated teams. Of course, your emotional reaction to any sympathy for the Sun Devils, whose misfortune you surely were rejoicing about on Saturday, colors your position.

But this also comes down to a pretty straightforward cost-benefit analysis, something the SEC and its rabid rivalries picked up on before the rest of the nation: A rising (Crimson?) tide lifts all ships. While your emotions are almost entirely invested in loving your team and hating your top rivals, there's also the practical shared interest within Power 5 conferences of wanting to distinguish the conference as a whole, to look better top to bottom than the other four major conferences, to be first among so-called equals. Without the purity of an extensive playoff, as there are in pro sports, there's still a beauty contest going on every year in college football, and it's all about regional perceptions.

For example, Alabama fans were in a quandary when Auburn played Oregon for the national title. How could they possibly root for Auburn -- ever?! Many couldn't bring themselves to do it. But many did in the name of SEC solidarity. And the many who couldn't still salved their feelings when the Tigers won the title by saying, "Well, at least the SEC kept the national championship streak going."

I expect that to be the same for many in the Pac-12. Many Washington and Oregon State fans surely couldn't root for the Ducks to win a national title, but if that had happened there would have been a part of them that recognized the Pac-12 taking down the SEC as a good thing for the Pac-12 and, by extension, themselves.

This doesn't mean you begin every season rooting for your team and the Pac-12 in general on equal footing. But there is unquestionably a shared interest.

Let's say Arizona is approaching the end of the 2015 regular season and is ranked No. 6 in the college football rankings. You turn on the TV and see a pundit saying, "Arizona has looked great this year, but the Pac-12 is down. That's why you have to give the edge to a second SEC team getting into the playoff."

You'd probably find your self becoming more of a collectivist.

Caleb from Astoria, Ore., writes: If Utah wins out, UCLA beats USC, Stanford beats UCLA, and Arizona beats Arizona State, this leaves all five teams at 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Who would go to the Pac-12 Championship game?

Ted Miller: Utah.

Tiebreaker: The Utes and UCLA, with 3-1 records against the other four, would eliminate Arizona, Arizona State and USC. Then the Utes would win out because of their head-to-head win over UCLA.

Spencer from Indianapolis writes: This year the Pac 12 bowls have a new selection process. Do you feel like some of the better teams might slip to a lower bowl because of fan base, location, and so on? I feel like my Utes might slip down because they are not as big of a draw as others. I also feel like some other teams may slip down as well. Just wondering your thoughts on the process this year.

Ted Miller: If you are talking about major bowls outside the playoff -- the Peach, Fiesta, Cotton and Orange bowls -- the selection committee is also placing teams in those games based on its rankings, which means those old, annoying considerations -- such as selling hotel rooms -- won't play a predominant role in picking teams. That's unquestionably a good thing.

As for the Pac-12's existing bowl partnerships, those will be mostly the same. While the SEC, ACC and Big Ten have taken more control over the bowl selection procedure, the Pac-12 still has a rule that allows bowls to pass over a team as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record.

So the, say, Alamo Bowl could pass over Utah in favor of USC, even though the Utes beat the Trojans as long as USC is no more than one-game behind the Utes in the conference standings.

But that's no different than any other year.

Aaron Tigard, Ore., writes: Hey PAC, Sad days here. With Marcus Mariota's latest transgression, how does this impact the team and his draft prospects? Based on the coverage, I have to imagine that Coach Helfrich has no option other than removing him from the team, posthaste. Will the CFP committee take this into account? As for "Menace" Mariota, is there an NFL team out there who will be willing to take a chance on a player who clearly has off-the-field issues? Should he even declare for the draft or should he transfer to Portland State for a year to rehab his image?

Ted Miller: Mr. Subtle immediately picked up on your facetiousness here. And I get it. Most folks speed -- ranging between sometimes and all of the time. Mariota is unquestionably a high-character guy, not in the sense that he's a great football player who hasn't been arrested and handles the media well but in the sense that he'd be viewed as a paragon of what a young man should be even without football. There are no naysayers to this. And snarky me has looked for them.

Yet let's not make light of driving 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. That's a bad thing. You'd feel differently if there had been an accident and someone who was obeying traffic laws had been injured. Considering that speeding occurs in 33 percent of all fatal accidents, this is not something to sniff at. Aggressive speeding is selfish and stupid and dangerous.

Of course, part of this is me being 45 and having two children. I've become a militant slow driver -- as in I never go over 10 miles above the speed limit. I also take a passive-aggressive joy in making tailgating speeders lives miserable. Pull up to my bumper to show me I'm going too slow for you? Well, I'll show you slow.

When you're in your 20s, you often think you're immortal and bad things only happen to other people. Or you are above the rules. After all, your life is so important and you are in a hurry and everybody needs to just get out of your way because you are late and that isn't your fault it's these slow drivers!

Mariota is a fine young man. He also needs to slow the freak down.

Watch: Herbstreit breaks down USC-UCLA

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
1:50
PM PT
video

Pac-12 Challengers For Oregon

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:02
AM PT


video

While the Pac-12 South race is wide open, Oregon has the Pac-12 North locked up. Heather Dinich and Cary Chow look at which Pac-12 South team could provide the best challenge for the Ducks.

USC - UCLA Preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
9:57
AM PT


video

A look ahead to the big game of the weekend between No. 19 USC and No. 9 UCLA.
The USC-UCLA rivalry is an emotional series that brings back memories for players who took part in the game. Here are thoughts from four former Trojans who had mixed on-field results against the Bruins.

Mike Lamb: Offensive line (1979-83): “My memories of the rivalry are that it was back-and-forth every year. One year people were talking about Terry Donahue getting fired because we beat them 49-14, the next year we lost when Jeff Fisher went for the pick and Freeman McNeil went the other way. The next year George Achica tips the field goal, and the year after that Karl Morgan gets the sack. It was as back-and-forth and emotional as you could possibly get; the very definition of a rivalry. It was an absolute roller-coaster for anybody who was part of it.”

John Jackson: Wide receiver (1985-89) on the 25th anniversary of the 1989 game: “That game is a horrible memory. The tide had turned in favor of SC when we faced them in 1989. They had a window in 1987-88 when they had Troy Aikman, Ken Norton and those guys and we beat them both years, and when we played them in '89 we were already locked into the Rose Bowl so that wasn't on the line. It wasn’t the reason the game ended in a tie but that was one of those games where we felt in control but the scoreboard never said it. We were driving for the winning score and we fumbled, they turned around and had their best/only drive of the day and had a shot to win at the end but the field goal attempt hit the upright. The plays were there to be made for us but something went wrong all day long.”

Jeremy Hogue: Offensive line (1991-95): “My memories aren’t very good because I played when things were on the wrong side, despite having what I still believe were the better teams. In those games, it just didn’t matter. My senior year is probably the one that sticks with me the most because the week before we had clinched the Pac-10 title and the berth in the Rose Bowl to play Northwestern. There was nothing else to play for against UCLA except the fact that it was UCLA. For me and my teammates it was more than enough but for UCLA it was all they were playing for. They came at us, we didn’t play as well as we could and we ended up losing the game. I’ll never forget doing a volunteer clinic the next offseason and it was at UCLA, I walked in the door and there was a big sign saying "City Champs." I remember thinking that we had won the Rose Bowl, we were the conference champs but all they cared about was being City Champs, and there’s something to be said for that.”

Darrell Rideaux: Cornerback (1999-2002): “The memory that sticks out to me is in 1999, when I was a true freshman filling in for an injured Antaun Simmons. I had to go up against Fast Freddie Mitchell, they didn’t call him Fast Freddie because of his speed, they called him Fast Freddie because he ran his mouth the whole game. He would talk all the time between plays, “Man, I’ve got shoes taller than you.” There was a moment in the third quarter, he was running a fade up the sideline, I got underneath him and deflected a pass. It was a moment that made me feel as if I had arrived because it was a play that stopped a key drive.”

Josh Shaw to play vs. UCLA

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
7:25
AM PT
video

The USC Trojans are getting a potentially valuable reinforcement ahead of this weekend's massive clash against the UCLA Bruins.

Coach Steve Sarkisian said cornerback Josh Shaw, who missed the first 10 games of the season after lying about how he sprained both of his ankles, would be available Saturday in some role for the Trojans (No. 19 CFP, No. 24 AP).

Sarkisian didn't indicate just how much he expects Shaw to play against the Bruins (No. 9 CFP; No. 11 AP), but he did note that the fifth-year senior has not appeared rusty in his first week back at practice.

"He's an experienced guy, he's played a lot of football, so he's able to grasp things quickly," Sarkisian told the Los Angeles Times. "His muscle memory of how to align or how to move out of a certain break isn't as difficult for somebody who is new to doing it."

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Shaw owns six career interceptions and is USC's most physically imposing cornerback. If he is indeed able to significantly contribute by Saturday, the Trojans could be in for a big boost against the explosive, up-tempo UCLA offense led by Brett Hundley.

Junior Kevon Seymour (6-0, 185) and freshman Adoree' Jackson (5-11, 185) are USC's current listed starting cornerbacks.


(Read full post)


Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
9:00
AM PT
The penultimate weekend of the regular season is upon us, and that means some serious recruiting weekends in store for several Pac-12 programs. A look at the top three recruiting visits in the Pac-12 includes one staff taking advantage of hosting its rivalry game and two others bringing in recruits to witness their final home games of the regular season.

USC at UCLA

Pac-12 morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
AM PT
Happy Friday!

Leading off

As we do every Friday, we focus our attention on some picks. Only two weeks left (not counting the bowl games). Six are already bowl eligible, two more will punch their ticket this weekend (the winners of the Stanford-Cal and Oregon State-Washington games becomes bowl eligible). So we'll have at least eight. But nine or 10 are still mathematically possible. But we'll worry about that when we have to.

The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning. Chantel Jennings went against the grain in a couple of picks and Kyle Bonagura likes the Trojans. Other than that, pretty unanimous.

As we do every week, here are some predictions from folks who cover the conference and college football nationally.

The Fox Sports tandem of Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel both like the Bruins in a tight game. Here's what Feldman had to say:
Brett Hundley wrecked the Trojans last season with his legs and arm, and he was very sharp in carving up USC two years ago. Despite how well Cody Kessler, Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen are playing, my hunch is the Bruins have enough athletes on defense to contain them to get away with a win. UCLA 31, USC 30.

Here are some other thoughts: Halliday update

Injured Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday spoke about the specifics of his injury for the first time Thursday. We had one report here on the blog. He also shared his frustration over the injury and the hope that he'll be playing football again within five months, which would put him in line to participate in WSU's pro day.

Here's a quote from Halliday from a story in the Spokesman-Review:
I think the hardest thing was just how close I was to being healthy throughout the year, going to the combine, getting to do all that stuff. That’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I’ve been able to dream so that was the frustrating thing: I was just three games away from that.

Halliday was putting up monster numbers. We know this because he's still leading the Pac-12 in passing with 3,873 yards and 32 touchdown passes. Here's the full transcript of Halliday's conference call with the media.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The Cal band continued its annual tradition of invading the San Francisco Chronicle, which is kind of funny.



I don't know what this is or what it does ... but I think I want one.

Mayday Minute

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
6:14
PM PT


video

Mark May discusses Will Muschamp getting fired at Florida, Northwestern winning two straight games over Notre Dame, Marcus Mariota on pace to set an NCAA record for lowest percentage picked and previews USC at UCLA.

Tale of the tape: USC vs. UCLA 

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
5:00
PM PT
Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Ricky TownTom Hauck for Student SportsIn Josh Rosen (UCLA), Sam Darnold (USC) and Ricky Town (USC), the Bruins and Trojans have pledges from three of the top seven pocket passers in the 2015 class.

There's no hotter ticket for Southern California recruits than the one that gets them into the Rose Bowl this weekend, as USC travels across town to take on UCLA. Both programs have an opportunity to make a statement in front of what should be a star-studded group of recruits.

The Bruins and Trojans already have put together solid 2015 recruiting classes, as both rank among the top 20 programs in the country -- USC checks in at No. 13, UCLA at No. 18. This game won't make or break either recruiting class, but a win sure gives that staff some significant recruiting ammunition against what could be its biggest competition for several ESPN 300 prospects looking to make their decisions close to signing day.


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video

Brian Griese and Robert Smith offer up their biggest keys to Saturday night's USC-UCLA clash in the Rose Bowl.
Brett Hundley, Cody KesslerAP PhotosBrett Hundley and Cody Kessler will be fighting for individual awards and the Pac-12 South title.
It's safe to assume that when the postseason awards are handed out, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will once again be holding top honors as the league's first-team all-conference quarterback.

Second team, however is still up for grabs. And this weekend's rivalry game between USC and UCLA might move the debate. There are only two quarterbacks in the conference who are completing more than 70 percent of their throws -- UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley (72.1) and USC quarterback Cody Kessler (70.2).

And while there are plenty of dynamic players on both sidelines, it's the quarterbacks who typically take center stage in this rivalry.

"I think a big part of deciding that stuff will be in this game," Kessler said. "Brett has played really well this year. He's one of my good friends and he's done a great job. I'm happy for him. This game will probably help define that. Not just the all-conference stuff. But some of the other awards and the Battle of L.A. thing. This game has a lot of emphasis on the quarterbacks and it's going to be a fun competition."

The league's two most accurate passers took different routes to get to where they are heading into Saturday. Hundley had a "competition" in the spring of 2012, but easily emerged as the starter before the season began and hasn't looked back since. Kessler's road has been more serpentine, as he had to win over two different coaching staffs (and multiple head coaches) along the way.

No one is going to confuse the two. They play very different styles, run different schemes and bring unique skill sets to their teams. But coaches who have seen both this season agree on the same thing: Both are very good at what they do.

"Very different style, but equally effective," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who was on the winning end of both games against the L.A. schools this season. "Both of them are tremendous talents. I believe both will play a long time in this sport beyond college. Kessler is more of a traditional, pocket, NFL-type guy. Hundley is very dynamic and can run the football as well as throw it. They are both great leaders and do a great job in their respective systems. Should be a great matchup."

Even the way they handle pressure is a contrast in styles. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kessler is completing 57.4 percent of his throws when he's under duress, which is tops among Power 5 quarterbacks. Conversely, Hundley ranks second among Power 5 quarterbacks with 391 scramble yards. One sticks in the pocket, the other uses his legs to make plays downfield.

"I think that Kessler is really doing a nice job executing that offense and taking care of the ball and not making mistakes," said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, who dropped both games to USC and UCLA. "Hundley can make a lot of plays with his feet. In some ways, he's probably at his best when he can freelance a little bit. But he's certainly capable of being a pocket guy and he does that well. I think his talent really comes out more when he's forced to make some plays with his feet and sustain some plays. They are very different that way, but they are both playing at a high level with two different styles. But both are good at what they do."

It's also worth noting that both have very strong run games supporting them. USC's Javorius "Buck" Allen leads the conference with 1,184 rushing yards. UCLA's Paul Perkins is right on his heels with 1,169 yards.

And yet for as much credit as Kessler gets for staying in the pocket and Hundley for leaving it, both aren't too bad when the roles are reversed. Kessler will never be a tuck-and-run guy, but he can improvise if needed.

"He has that in his arsenal," USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. "… He probably doesn't get enough credit for being as good of an athlete as he is. But I think we'd all prefer for him to stay within the system and utilize his reads and throws."

And Hundley -- who leads all FBS quarterbacks in completion percentage -- has to be a good pocket passer for those kinds of numbers. And when the Bruins throw on first down, he's completing nearly three out of every four passes (74.8 percent).

Of course, these two aren't alone in the quest for all-conference honors. Cal's Jared Goff and Arizona's Anu Solomon will get strong consideration. Even injured Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday still leads the league with 32 touchdown passes and 3,873 yards.

But neither is all that concerned with that right now. Both teams are still fighting for the Pac-12 South title and a date with Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.

"There is always going to be a lot riding on this game," Hundley said. "It's the end of the season and typically both teams are doing well. This is usually the game where the South is decided and this year it's no different. We respect them as a team. They've put together a good season. We've done the same. It's two well-respected teams and we're going to go out there and put on a show."

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