Eccentric twists and turns have become the primary theme of this 2014 season -- remember the Hail Mary binge, the comebacks, the upsets, the celebratory fumbles at the 1-yard line, the field goal icing drama, and the #Pac12AfterDark hashtag made to describe all the otherworldly mystery.

To remind us that absolutely nothing about the Pac-12 is normal, the stage is set for the South champion to be determined in another "only out West" kind of way: Simultaneous games on Black Friday -- the third to last day of November -- under the beating sun of 80-degree weather.

"Perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer," Henry David Thoreau wrote about the Pac-12 a good 169 years ago. "Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."

Well, he wasn't really writing about the road to the Field of Jeans. But the point stands. The Weird West has hummed a different, fascinating tune all season long, and this last regular-season weekend promises to supply more of the same as the Levi's Stadium championship matchup is finalized.

Simultaneous explosions: Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenTaylor Kelly, Arizona State and Arizona will be scoreboard watching on Friday.
Two more detonations await before we will have fully traversed the minefield of the Pac-12 South. Fittingly, the Rose Bowl will be host to one, while the other will shake Tucson.

Both Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, on Black Friday. Arizona Stadium will require high bandwidth WiFi as both the 9-2 Sun Devils and 9-2 Wildcats need the Bruins to lose so that the Territorial Cup determines the Pac-12 South. So there'll certainly be more than a few fans trying to stream the happenings in Pasadena on their smart phones while simultaneously watching an intriguing Duel in the Desert.

ASU started slowly but ended up whipping Washington State 52-31 this past Saturday, so the Sun Devils feel they're back on track following bitter disappointment in Corvallis two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Arizona did some 1970s Arnold-style muscle flexing in Utah, racking up 298 rushing yards in a 42-10 road annihilation. The Sun Devils' aggressive defense has given up its share of big runs this season, and that's a danger point ahead of a matchup with Arizona's Nick Wilson (20 carries, 218 yards, 10.9 per carry, 3 touchdowns at Utah). We'll keep an eye on quarterback Anu Solomon's status (ankle) throughout this week.

The Territorial Cup will take on truly monumental importance if Stanford successfully embraces the spoiler role and asserts itself early versus UCLA. Remember that the Bruins haven't beaten the Cardinal since 2008 -- that's the pre-Andrew Luck era stuff. Stanford clinched its first Pac-12 title run with consecutive victories over UCLA in 2012, and although their title defense has already failed here in 2014, they did shut down the Bruins' rushing attack in a suffocating win last year.

Brett Hundley's unit must show that it's made significant strides, because the Cardinal's defense looks ready: They battered Cal to the tune of a season-high five takeaways in Saturday's 38-17 win. Stanford set the table with competent offense, but the Bruins' obviously pose a greater challenge than the Bears did defensively. USC mustered only a season-low 4.1 yards per play against UCLA's defense, which is peaking at the right time.

The “rivalry”: Utah at Colorado

Let's not kid ourselves: These two programs do not have enough historical hatred for each other to truly fall into the rivalry category. Nevertheless, this is a huge contest for both squads. The Utes have lost three of their last four games, and a loss in Boulder to close the season would put a massively bitter finishing touch on a once-promising season. It'd be like finding a massive, plump orange, only to discover there's a worm inside of it.

Meanwhile, this is Colorado's Super Bowl. The Buffs are 0-8 in conference play, and this is a wonderful chance to enter a critical building offseason on a much-needed high note.

Desperation bowl: Notre Dame at USC

At one point earlier this year, matters looked so promising for both the Irish and the Trojans. Now, this historical rivalry is more about avoiding complete late-season disaster than anything else. Notre Dame has dropped four of five games (including consecutive home defeats to Northwestern and Louisville), while USC's thorough whipping at the hands of hated UCLA has Steve Sarkisian scrambling to avoid that dreaded seven-win season. The loser of this game is going to stagger into bowl season neck-deep in turmoil.

Tipping point game: BYU at Cal

All is not lost for the Bears even though the wounded Stanford beast came into Memorial Stadium to drop off a few busloads of humble pie. Cal feels that it's still ascending as a program -- the defense must improve for the Bears to take that next step -- and this nonconference finale against the Cougars is the Cal's chance to punch a postseason ticket for the first time since 2011. Remember that bowl eligibility secures extra December practice time for a program. That's potentially vital as Sonny Dykes positions his team to attempt a third year breakthrough.

Civil War: Oregon State at Oregon

The "Civil War" is my favorite rivalry nickname, so I don't think I can come up with a better way to describe this game than that simple moniker, one which illustrates just how divided the Beaver State really is. Nobody is giving Oregon State much of a shot here, but remember they're playing for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's senior season. There's also that whole thing about top 10 teams struggling in Reser Stadium -- one fell victim to Corvallis just two weeks ago. The Ducks must be wary: Marcus Mariota's strong Heisman push is on the line along with College Football Playoff hopes.

Some ice cream for a Pac-12 dessert: Washington at Washington State

The last game of the Pac-12 regular season will, indeed, be an opportunity for some #Pac12AfterDark eccentricity. This will offer a good representation of how geographically diverse the Pac-12 is. Whereas Friday's games in Los Angeles and Tucson are expected to experience 80-degree temperatures, the forecast for this one in Pullman calls for the mercury to dip below 30 degrees on Saturday night. This is not the end of the road for Washington, but both the Huskies and the Cougars have chances to add a positive memory to difficult seasons.

USC Trojans recruiting notebook

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Lining up at linebacker, tight end, running back and even on most of the special teams units, Class of 2016 star Lokeni Toailoa was impossible to miss this past Friday night during Rialto (Calif.) Carter's game against Romoland (Calif.) Heritage in the second round of the CIF-SS Inland Division playoffs.

"I love my team and I love football," Toailoa said, "so if I need to stay on the field the entire game, you better believe that I'm going to be on the field all four quarters."

[+] EnlargeLokeni Toailoa
Johnny Curren/ESPN.comESPN Junior 300 LB Lokeni Toailoa hasn't narrowed down his college choices yet, however, the Trojans are hoping to be a favorite.
But despite Toailoa's best efforts, Carter ultimately fell to Heritage by a final score of 28-19, putting an end to what has been an extremely impressive season for the ESPN Junior 300 linebacker, as well as for his entire team.

"We came out here and we battled until the end, and we came up short. That's just how it is," Toailoa said. "And this season, even though we didn't make it to the end, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I have 50-plus brothers out here."

The USC coaching staff targeted Toailoa as a priority early in the recruiting process, offering the 6-foot-1 1/2, 222-pound standout last April, and during his game on Friday he was decked out in Trojans' gloves and arm sleeves. He was quick to point out, however, that his choice of gear wasn't necessarily a reflection of anything.

"This is my away game attire," Toailoa said. "I change it up week-to-week. For home games, I typically wear UCLA or Oregon State."

In fact, Toailoa isn't anywhere close to naming a leader, or even a group of favorites, primarily because his attention has been directed elsewhere this fall.

"I'm wide open to all 18 schools that have offered so far," Toailoa said. "My main focus was to take a step back from recruiting during the season, and to help my team win some games. Now that the season is over, I'm going to take some time off, get my body right, get back into it for the 7-on-7 circuit, and see where recruiting goes."

Still, there's no denying USC is a significant player in Toailoa's recruitment. He rooted for the Trojans growing up, and he's also been spotted at a number of games at the Coliseum this season.

"The atmosphere at the Coliseum is always great," Toailoa said. "I'm just impressed with Coach [Steve] Sarkisian and the whole USC coaching staff and what they're doing so far."

Another program that Toailoa is definitely considering is UCLA, and he was at the crosstown clash between the Bruins and Trojans in the Rose Bowl this past Saturday. And while UCLA wound up winning the contest in dominating fashion, and he did re-tweet some positive Bruins messages following their victory, heading into the game Toailoa said that, ultimately, the outcome would have no bearing on his final decision.

"It doesn't matter to me who wins or loses that game," Toailoa said. "I'm looking for the education. I want to see if I would want to go there if I wasn't playing football. So, that won't play into my decision at all."

News and notes

-- A number of prospects are expected to be at USC this coming weekend on official visits for the Trojans' clash with Notre Dame, including linebacker John Houston Jr. (Gardena, Calif./Serra), linebacker Osa Masina (Salt Lake City, Utah/Brighton), defensive tackle Tim Settle (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson) and linebacker Roquan Smith (Montezuma, Ga./Macon County) among others. ESPN 300 tight end Chris Clark (Avon, Conn./Avon Old Farms) was also originally scheduled to come in this weekend, but he has pushed that trip back due to a late-season knee injury. ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem Hills, Utah/Salem Hills) will be at the game on an unofficial visit.

-- ESPN 300 wide receiver Christian Kirk (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro) has announced he will commit to a school on Dec. 17. His last official visit will be taken to USC (Dec. 5), and he is also considering Texas A&M, Arizona State, UCLA, Auburn and Ohio State.

-- Indianapolis (Ind.) Lawrence Central standout and one-time Michigan commit Darrin Kirkland Jr. has set up an official visit to USC for the weekend of Dec. 13. The ESPN 300 linebacker is also considering Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Texas.

-- Speaking of former Wolverines pledges, ESPN 300 running back Mike Weber (Detroit, Mich./Cass Tech) has officially decommitted from Michigan. He expressed interest in taking an official visit to USC recently, and is also reportedly considering Michigan State, Ohio State, Miami (Fla.), Tennessee and Wisconsin among others. He took an unofficial visit to USC this past summer.

-- ESPN 300 defensive end Keisean Lucier-South announced Saturday via Twitter that he has committed to UCLA. The Orange (Calif.) Lutheran product was also considering Oregon, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida as well as USC.

A look at the stats some recruits recorded in their games this past weekend:

Class of 2015

QB Sam Darnold (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente) – USC commit
-- In a 56-6 victory over Santa Ana (Calif.) Foothill, Darnold completed 15 of 22 passes for 284 yards and five touchdowns with two interceptions, and he also rushed for 67 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries.

RB Aca'Cedric Ware (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill) – USC commit
-- Rushed for 212 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 50-28 victory over McKinney (Texas) Boyd.

WR Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) – USC commit
-- Caught five passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-36 victory over Lake Mary (Fla.).

LB Cameron Smith (Granite Bay, Calif./Granite Bay) – USC commit
-- In a 28-13 victory over Napa (Calif.), Smith compiled 17 tackles (3 solo) on defense, while also hauling in a three-yard touchdown pass on offense.

ATH Langley (Pleasanton, Calif./Foothill) – USC commit
-- Caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns, and he also returned a fumble 70 yards for a touchdown in a 54-8 victory over Antioch (Calif.).

RB Jones (McKinney, Texas/McKinney North)
-- Rush for 308 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries in a 50-44 victory over West Mesquite.

RB Weber (Detroit, Mich./Cass Tech)
-- Rushed for 131 yards and one touchdown on 40 carries in a 30-14 loss to Saline (Mich.).

WR Cordell Broadus (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Caught two passes for 52 yards and one touchdown in a 56-6 victory over Las Vegas (Nev.) Arbor View.

WR Kirk (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro)
-- In a 49-21 victory over Queen Creek (Ariz.), Kirk caught four passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 124 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries, and he also intercepted a pass and took it back 50 yards for a touchdown.

WR DaMarkus Lodge (Cedar Hill, Texas/Cedar Hill)
-- Had four receptions for 47 yards and one touchdown in the victory over Boyd.

CB Iman Marshall (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
-- In a 44-27 victory over Encino (Calif.) Crespi, Marshall caught two passes for 60 yards and one touchdown on offense, and he also racked up nine tackles (8 solo) on the defensive side of the ball.

ATH Ykili Ross (Riverside, Calif./Poly)
-- Caught seven passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-33 victory over San Bernardino (Calif.) San Gorgonio.

Class of 2016

QB Shea Patterson (Shreveport, La./Calvary Baptist Academy)
-- Completed 10 of 20 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-21 victory over Baton Rouge (La.) Dunham.

WR Dylan Crawford (La Canada, Calif./St. Francis)
-- Had five receptions for 147 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-35 loss to Whittier (Calif.) La Serna.

WR Jackie Jones (Long Beach, Calif./Poly)
-- Caught five passes for 46 yards in the victory over Crespi.

WR Javon McKinley (Corona, Calif./Centennial)
-- Had six receptions for 187 yards and one touchdown in a 27-24 victory over Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei.

ATH Byron Murphy (Scottsdale, Ariz./Saguaro)
-- Caught three passes for 80 yards and one touchdown in the victory over Queen Creek.

ATH Trevon Sidney (La Puente, Calif./Bishop Amat)
-- Caught a touchdown pass and came up with a key interception in a 24-17 victory over San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) JSerra.

Class of 2017

QB Tate Martell (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- In the 56-6 victory over Arbor View, Martell completed 8 of 12 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns, while also picking up 31 yards on the ground on his only carry.

DE Haskell Garrett (Las Vegas, Nev./Bishop Gorman)
-- Had four tackles (3 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss and half a sack in the victory over Arbor View.

ATH Darnay Holmes (Newbury Park, Calif./Newbury Park)
-- Had four receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown in a 42-26 victory over Santa Maria (Calif.) St. Joseph.

ATH Nathan Tilford (Upland, Calif./Upland)
-- Rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in a 52-21 victory over Newhall (Calif.) Hart.

JUCO

WR De'Quan Hampton (Long Beach, Calif./L.B. City College) – USC commit
-- Had six receptions for 67 yards and one touchdown 75-41 Golden West College.

WR Isaac Whitney (Riverside, Calif./Riverside City College)
-- Caught three passes for 89 yards and one touchdown in a 51-37 victory over Ventura College.
LOS ANGELES -- Like two proud but beat up former heavyweight champions, the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-3 Pac-12) and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-4) stagger into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday in what turns out to be their final round of the 2014 regular season.

Both unranked programs are hurting from difficult Saturday losses, as the Trojans were completely humbled by rival UCLA, 38-20, in the Rose Bowl while the Irish helped beat themselves by missing a field goal at the end of a 31-28 loss against Louisville at home.

The Trojans are now 2-2 in their last four games while the Irish have lost three in the same span. The two teams have two common Pac-12 opponents -- Stanford and Arizona State. Both the Trojans and Irish beat the Cardinal but lost to the Sun Devils.
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 count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Matt Kalil, No. 73 in 2008 class

Kalil came out of uber talented Servite High in Anaheim, California, in 2008 as a lock for USC with his older brother, Ryan Kalil, having played for the Trojans and had a very successful college career. The youngest of two brothers, Kalil, chose the Trojans over Notre Dame, and was a member of a USC class that included Tyron Smith, Nick Perry, Jurrell Casey, Khaled Holmes, Malik Jackson and Wes Horton. Kalil's father, Frank Kalil, played college football at Arkansas and Arizona.

Kalil redshirted as a freshman in 2008 due in part to sprained knee. He spent his redshirt freshman season as a backup tackle with one start.

It was the 2010 season in which Kalil became a full-time starter, logging 13 starts at left tackle earning All-Pac 12 mention.

His fifth and final season in Los Angeles was a First-team All-American performance at left tackle. In addition to being selected to All-American teams, he also took home the 2011 Morris Trophy, which is awarded to the best lineman on the West Coast. He was the third straight USC player to win the award following Charles Brown in 2009 and Tyron Smith in 2010.

Kalil was selected fourth overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2012 NFL draft. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2012 and has started every game for the Vikings since being drafted.

Honorable mention: Devonte Fields, No. 73 in the 2012 class. Fields was on his way to All-American status before off the field issues led to suspensions. As a freshman, the Arlington Martin High product started all 13 games that ended with Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors by the coaches after recording 53 tackles, 18,5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Fields selected the hometown Horned Frogs over Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
Week 13 was a doozy, folks. So, vote ... because Odell Beckham Jr. can't win the Pac-12 Play of the Week, too.

1. A hop, skip and jump away ... from the end zone

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The race is on for which Pac-12 freshman running back will have the most impressive season -- Arizona's Nick Wilson or Oregon's Royce Freeman. Wilson is averaging six yards per carry and has 35 more rushing yards this season while Freeman has accounted for four more rushing touchdowns than Wilson. But, Wilson is the one that found his way onto the play of the week vote this week after busting out a 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Utah. He hopped his way through the line of scrimmage before outmaneuvering a diving Justin Thomas and finding his way to the end zone. The score gave the Wildcats a 28-10 lead over the Utes.

2. Hard(ison) making it look easy

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SportsNation

Who had the best play in the Pac-12?

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    18%
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    11%
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    51%
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    15%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,246)

That's right big fella. It's not just the pretty boy defensive backs or linebackers that can pick off quarterbacks. Defensive lineman can, too. Senior defensive lineman Marcus Hardison recorded his first career interception against Notre Dame a few weeks ago, but he didn't return that one at all. But against Washington State, Hardison managed to not only pick off Luke Falk, but to then ramble and run 12 yards before being taken down. The interception came at a crucial time for the Sun Devils, too. Hardison picked off Falk on his first pass attempt after ASU had cut Washington State's lead to seven. The Arizona State offense followed up Hardison's athletic play with a quick scoring drive to even out the score at 21.

3. Darren's derrière

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In the postgame media conference on Saturday, quarterback Marcus Mariota said he'd remember redshirt freshman receiver Darren Carrington's pass because it represented the ideal that even when you're down you don't stop working, you follow through with your play/what you're doing. That's super poetic, Marcus, but we liked this play just because it was ridiculous. Carrington almost made the play the first time around, spinning halfway around and trying to snatch the pass with his right hand. But he ended up with his backside on the ground but kept his eye on the ball and allowed it to fall into his chest to make the catch. So, the final catch was either much more difficult or much easier than his initial attempt depending on how you look at it.

4. A 9.0 for the landing, a 10.0 for the pick

With the Bruins up by just three in the second quarter, linebacker Eric Kendricks picked off a tipped Cody Kessler pass that ended up turning the game in UCLA's favor. It was a diving interception and we're still not entirely sure how Kendricks was able to stay in bounds. “It has to be indisputable evidence to overturn it,” Mora told the Los Angeles Daily News. “And he kept his feet up. I'm pretty sure he wasn't conscious of it. It was just a very athletic play by him.” The Bruins ended up making the best of Kendricks' pick and marching down the field, eating up some clock and extending their lead to 10.

5. Lights, Cameron, Action

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With the Sun Devils trailing by 14, sophomore wide receiver Cameron Smith connected with Taylor Kelly for a diving, 42-yard touchdown catch. Smith outran freshman defensive back Charleston White before making the play, his sixth touchdown catch of the year, and one the Sun Devils needed badly after digging themselves a hole early against the Cougars. Smith finished the day with two touchdowns and 131 yards -- the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.
While the majority of top prospects go to powerhouse programs on an annual basis, there are always a handful of selections that are very surprising. Here are five that stand out in the 2015 class with two being at the most important position in sports.

1. Jarrett Stidham, QB
ESPN 300 ranking: No. 39


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So, Mr. Haden, how exactly would you assess the direction of the USC football program now?

As much as we’d all like to ask Pat Haden that question today, chances are the Trojans’ athletic director won’t be making any public comments for a while.

Can you blame him?

Haden, after all, is the one who hired Steve Sarkisian, and in light of what transpired at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, that decision has a chance to rank right up there with Mike Garrett’s frantic rush to name Lane Kiffin the coach after Pete Carroll left for the NFL.

When you really think about it, that’s how USC’s embarrassing 38-20 mauling of a loss to UCLA can best be described -- it was pure Kiffin-esque.

[+] EnlargeUSC, UCLA
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler passed for only 214 yards and one touchdown with one interception against UCLA.
The Trojans were outplayed and outcoached in every facet. And please, spare me the tired line about sanction limitations. Line up the 22 starters on each team and allow NFL evaluators to take their pick, and considerably more USC players would be selected.

No, this game wasn’t about lack of talent. It was about lack of A) Good decision-making (going for it on fourth-and-2 at the 5 instead of taking the field goal early? Really?) B) Poise, C) Discipline and D) The ability to make adjustments at halftime. And all of that reflects directly on the underachieving guy being paid somewhere between $3 million and $4 million a year to be the head coach.

Sarkisian not only oversees the entire operation, he also calls the offensive plays. And in the chess match that played out in Pasadena on Saturday, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone consistently came up with daring, creative calls, while Sark never could seem to solve a Bruins defense that had been something less than spectacular for most of the season.

Ironically, Jim Mora’s team repeatedly bruised the Trojans with bubble screens, blocking them beautifully and executing them better than bubble screen-crazy USC ever has. Live by the bubble screen and die by the bubble screen, huh, guys?

As much criticism as Sarkisian will get for this performance, he certainly wasn’t the only one who failed miserably.

" Quarterback Cody Kessler looked rattled and uncomfortable from the start, and things only deteriorated from there once USC’s blockers up front were completely overrun by the Bruins’ defensive line. Kessler regularly lights it up against the marshmallows on the schedule, but he has yet to win a big-time game and is now 0-3 against UCLA and Notre Dame.

" Nelson Agholor fumbled one punt to set up a Bruins’touchdown and failed to hold on to what appeared to be a catchable 25 yard pass in the end zone. He spent the rest of the evening surrounded by blue-clad defenders who limited him to three receptions for 24 yards.

" Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox seemed so consumed with stopping UCLA’s brilliant Brett Hundley from hurting the Trojans with his runs, he opened up all sorts of passing lanes for the Bruins’ underrated receivers. And then Hundley topped it off by faking Su'a Cravens out of his cleats to score unmolested on a 17-yard read-option sprint for UCLA’s final touchdown.

" Leonard Williams was something less than his usual overpowering self, and he and Gerald Bowman were called for consecutive 15-yard personal fouls on the Bruins’ last touchdown drive. Sure, they were frustrated, but Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels can relate. It was strictly a case of being dumb and dumber.

Recruiting-wise, this was a game bound to turn the late momentum toward Westwood. All of those blue-chip kids who were vacillating between USC and UCLA have to know that the Bruins, not the Trojans, are the team on the rise nationally. And the only LA coach who has proven himself at this point is Mora.

So now USC, at 7-4 -- hmmmm, does that record sound familiar to you longtime Sark watchers out there? -- gets to play Notre Dame in a game featuring two teams teetering on the precipice of disastrous seasons. Brian Kelly’s lurching Irish have lost three in a row and four of their last five.

It is difficult to remember when a matchup in this once-storied series ever came up feeling more empty and irrelevant.

After that, a Trojans team that conceivably could be 7-5 will be invited to one of those low-level postseason events. The game will have some sort of commercial label to it, but rest assured, no one will be fooled.

Call it the You-Get-What-You-Deserve Bowl.

Pac-12 morning links

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It's Baltimore. No one lives forever.

Leading off

Rankings are starting to get awfully important now. As we head into the final week of the regular season, there is plenty of jockeying going on. And how the rest of the country sees things will likely play a role in how the College Football Playoff selection committee sees things.

The Pac-12 had a setback in the rankings last weekend with lackluster performances from Utah and USC. Both of their non-competitive losses bounced them from the rankings, leaving the league with just four teams left in the top 25. Kyle Bonagura has the conference perspective here. The good news is that all four teams are ranked in the top 15 -- so the best the league has to offer is getting its due. Here are where the four teams stand in the AP and coaches polls (AP listed first).
  • Oregon 2-3
  • UCLA 9-10
  • Arizona 12-12
  • ASU 13-13

As always, here are how some folks who cover the conference voted in the AP poll. Playoff chatter

In this week's look at Pat Forde's "Fab 4," Oregon is seated nicely at the No. 2 spot, where he projects the Ducks to face Mississippi State in the Rose Bowl.

His take on the Ducks:
The Ducks continue rolling at a high rate of speed, winning their sixth straight Saturday -- all of them by double digits, all while scoring at least 42 points. They jumped on hapless Colorado 30-3 in the first half, upped the lead to 44-10 in the third quarter and then used the fourth as mop-up duty. In combination with Oregon's pileup of strong wins, its lone loss (31-24 to Arizona on Oct. 2) has only gotten better as the season has gone along. The Wildcats now are 9-2 and remain in contention to win the Pac-12 South and have a potential league championship rematch with Oregon.

Worth noting that he also has UCLA as a team still worth consideration. If the Bruins beat Stanford on Friday, they will lock up the South and force a rematch with the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If the Cardinal beat the Bruins, then it's winner take all in the Territorial Cup.

News/notes/team reports

Florida State still No. 1 in AP poll

November, 23, 2014
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Florida State is No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll, followed by Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State. The top four teams were unchanged for the first time since late September.

The gap between the Seminoles and the Crimson Tide narrowed after another close call by Florida State, which beat Boston College 20-17 on a field goal in the waning seconds.

Florida State received 37 first-place votes and 1,458 points, down six first-place votes and 18 points from last week. Alabama has 21 first-place votes 1,445 points. No. 3 Oregon received two first-place votes, one more than last week.

Mississippi State is fourth, followed by Baylor and TCU. Baylor and TCU swapped places. Ohio State remained No. 7.


(Read full post)


Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 13

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Rose Bowl after the USC Trojans (7-4, 6-3 Pac-12) were defeated 38-20 by the UCLA Bruins (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) Saturday.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian comments:

For openers: “I’m going to start by saying UCLA played a very good football game. Some of the keys to the ballgame were pretty clear -- their ability to extend drives, the third-down efficiency, 9-for-16, and then their efficiency in the red zone, 5-for-6. I felt like they did a nice job on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Over time that took a toll on us. We couldn't get off the field.”

On the perimeter game: “The perimeter screen game really hurt us. The ball got on the perimeter for them, and they really got yards and chunks in the screen game, which took its toll. It was a real swing in the game with the turnover there in the second quarter. They took advantage of it -- the score right at the end of the half. Then they came right back out and got another seven to start the second half. Then we go three-and-out and they get seven more. [That] really was the entire ball game.”

On bouncing back to face Notre Dame: “It’s going to be a unique challenge for us. We have to get back up on the horse, and when there’s this level of disappointment that’s going to take great leadership. That starts with me getting these guys prepared to play Notre Dame next Saturday night.”

UCLA head coach Jim Mora comments:

On the meaning of the victory over USC: “It just confirms what I have believed in all along. It’s not close to finished, but we are moving in the right direction.”

On the USC rivalry: “When I got here, I didn’t think much of it. I just have a lot of respect for Sark, obviously. That guy gave me an opportunity, along with [UCLA athletic director] Dan [Guerrero] and Chancellor Block. I just have a lot of respect for Sark and what he is trying to do over there. I don’t know about the rivalry. That is not how my mind works. I just work day to day.”

On defending the Trojans: “To me, it is about stopping the run first, eliminating big plays second and getting after the quarterback third. But you don’t want to let things get down the field on us. Nelson Agholor is special. I said the same thing about [Marqise] Lee two years ago. [Nelson is] a great football player. You have to tackle him and you can’t let him get loose.”

More notes and anecdotes:

Key(s) to victory: UCLA junior quarterback Brett Hundley passed for three touchdowns (326 yards through the air) and rushed for another, while the Bruins defense dominated a subdued Trojans offense in a decisive 38-20 victory that gave the Blue and Gold their third consecutive win over the Men of Troy.

Let’s get physical: On the physical aspect of the game, Mora said, “UCLA is a physical football team. I don’t think there was anything extra. We felt like if we let it get to where it was extra, we thought that it could get away from us, emotionally. We held it together emotionally, and USC did the exact same thing. That is a credit to our staff and to their staff. That is a credit to their players and to our players. It was good, hard-fought football by two teams dying to get after each other.”

The offensive implosion: The Trojans scored 20 points against the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 35.2 points per game.

Kessler comments: On UCLA’s defensive dominance, Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler said, “They did a really good job of game-planning us. They got a lot of pressure on us and they had a great pass rush.”

Defensive leak: The Trojans defense allowed 38 points to the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were allowing 23.3 points per game.

The strong safety speaks: Trojans senior strong safety Gerald Bowman had his opinion of the game and the UCLA offense. Bowman said, “We have to step it up. I think a turning point was our missed tackles. We were doing our jobs, but we just didn’t finish. We have to learn to finish. They were running their offensive tempo pretty fast.”

Quarterback pressure: Kessler was sacked six times by the UCLA defense, while the Trojans sacked Hundley just twice.

Offensive recession: The Trojans had 276 yards in total offense against the Bruins on Saturday. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were averaging 458.0 offensive yards per game.

Fast start: Before the UCLA game, the Trojans had outscored opponents 129-22 in the first quarter. On Saturday night in the first quarter, the Men of Troy were outscored 14-7.

Getting on line: Afterward, Trojans starting sophomore offensive tackle Zach Banner said, “This one hurts. It’s our rivals. Seeing Cody get sacked, I personally feel like I let my team down.”

More defensive issues: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed a total of 461 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were allowing 396.8 yards per game.

Through the Hayes: On his defense’s performance, Trojans senior linebacker Hayes Pullard said, “Nobody could have predicted this game before and looked into the future. I always tip my cap to Brett (Hundley). He’s a physical runner and a very skilled athlete.”

Rush-hour jam: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans rushed for 62 yards. Prior to the Bruins game, the Men of Troy were averaging 163.1 yards rushing per game.

Tough going: Trojans standout junior tailback Javorius Allen managed just 60 yards rushing with a long carry of 12 yards.

On the mark: Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 135 net yards rushing. Prior to the UCLA game, the Men of Troy were allowing 135.1 yards rushing per game.

Counting the house: The announced attendance was 82,431, which is short of a Rose Bowl sellout (91,136).

Below the passing norm: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans passed for 214 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 294.9 passing yards per game.

The evaluation: On the turning point to this season, senior tight end Randall Telfer, who didn’t catch a pass on Saturday night, said, “The tide for us turned at the start of the season when we thought we could be special. We had the hype and the expectations. It has become strange and shocking. As for UCLA, they have a lot of heart and energy and they have managed to put together a complete team.”

Air defense breakdown: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans defense allowed 326 passing yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans pass defense was allowing 261.7 yards per game.

Action Jackson: Outside the Trojans locker room after the game, USC true freshman corner sensation Adoree' Jackson said, “We messed up on tackles. We made a couple of mistakes, especially on my end. I was surprised by the game, and I thought we were going to get the ‘W.’ UCLA just executed better than us.”

Flag improvement: On Saturday against the Bruins, the Trojans were penalized five times for 49 yards. Prior to the UCLA game, the Trojans were averaging 83.2 yards in penalties per game.

A second opinion: Assessing the game following its conclusion, Trojans junior linebacker Anthony Sarao said, “We failed to execute. We had a great game plan coming in. It’s not about a magical defense. It’s about players. I’ll say this: We never laid down.”

Top tacklers: Pullard led the Trojans defense with nine tackles, followed by sophomore free safety Leon McQuay with seven tackles.

Injury report: There were no reported injuries.

Scouts honor: NFL scouts in attendance included reps from the Rams, Raiders, Cowboys, Dolphins, Panthers, Jaguars, Colts, Falcons, Bengals and Bears.

Bowling alley: Representatives from the Alamo, Holiday and Sun Bowls were in attendance to watch the Trojans and Bruins.

Next game: The Trojans will host the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame next Saturday afternoon in the Coliseum. Kickoff time will be 12:30 p.m. PT and the game will be televised on Fox.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- The transfer of sports ownership in Los Angeles is trickier than it is in most cities.

In other municipalities, you can close a deal in a day or transfer it from year to year like a pink slip without much debate.

Win, and it’s yours. You own it. You run it. No debate about it.

Los Angeles, however, is different.

Ownership of the city with respect to its various sports isn’t so much an annual transaction as almost a generational one that doesn’t change hands overnight. As crazy as it might sound, head-to-head results don’t mean as much in the long term as national accomplishments.

On Saturday, UCLA defeated USC 38-20 and claimed a third straight win in the crosstown rivalry. It represents the Bruins’ longest win streak in the series since they claimed eight straight from 1991 to 1998. Not only has UCLA beaten USC three straight seasons, but each one has also been by double digits. The Bruins have scored at least 35 points in three straight games against the Trojans for the first time in the rivalry’s 85-year history.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
Chris Williams/Icon SportswireThe Bruins might own the Trojans for now, but they certainly don't own Los Angeles.
After Sunday’s game, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, who is now 3-0 against USC, smiled and said, “UCLA runs L.A.”

Last year, UCLA coach Jim Mora pumped his fists after beating USC at the Coliseum and screamed, “We own this town!”

There is no doubt UCLA is the better football team in Los Angeles and has been for three years now. If Los Angeles were just any other city, these results would make Los Angeles a UCLA football town.

By that reasoning, such recent dominance also would make Los Angeles a Clippers town. The Clippers have beaten the Lakers four straight times and eight times in their past nine meetings and thumped them by an average margin of 35.5 points during their final three meetings the past season.

But Los Angeles is not any other city.

Despite what outsiders might think, L.A. isn’t as fickle as the weather or ever-changing standings. Teams don’t relinquish ownership of this city after three years when they’ve been running things for more than 50 years.

Winning Los Angeles will always be far more difficult than winning a division or a championship. Have a great season, and you can claim one of those, but winning Los Angeles will always take more than a good season or three. It takes sustained success over decades -- the kind of sustained success great enough to change rooting interests passed down through generations.

This season’s USC team is the last to be impacted by the three-year NCAA penalty that caps the annual roster at a maximum of 75 scholarship players and the yearly scholarship signees to 15, which is 10 fewer than the NCAA maximum in both cases. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that UCLA’s three-year run has coincided with USC’s punishment, but the Bruins certainly have taken advantage on and off the field, as well, in recruiting during this time period.

Mora and Hundley have enjoyed unprecedented success at UCLA over the past three years. Not only have they beaten USC three straight seasons, but Saturday’s win also locked up the ninth win of the Bruins’ season. Never before in the story of UCLA football (dating back to 1919), have the Bruins won at least nine games in three straight seasons.

But unless UCLA can beat Stanford next week and Oregon the following (they haven’t beaten both in the same season since 2007), they will finish this three-year run without a conference title and without a trip to the Rose Bowl or a BCS quality bowl. The Bruins’ most recent conference title and trip to the Rose Bowl were in 1998, and their most recent Rose Bowl win was 1985.

Los Angeles is a city owned and run by the teams that win championships. It’s the only kind of currency this town recognizes. Head-to-head battles and win streaks are nice, but they are quickly forgotten when trophy cases accumulate dust. The same goes for empty seats in the crowd. As good as UCLA has been these past three seasons, they Bruins have been hard-pressed to get the Rose Bowl filled to capacity.

The Rose Bowl seats 92,542, but the most recent time a UCLA home game cracked 90,000 was in 2006, when a 7-6 UCLA squad spoiled USC’s shot at playing in the national championship. Saturday’s game drew 82,431 in Pasadena, which meant there were about 10,000 empty seats for the showdown between No. 9 UCLA and No. 19 USC.

USC has 11 national championships and six Heisman trophy winners, and 483 Trojans have been taken in the NFL draft -- second only to Notre Dame. From 2002 to 2008, USC enjoyed seven straight 11-win seasons, conference championships and BCS bowls and won two national championships. The Trojans also beat UCLA in 12 of 13 games from 1999 to 2011, culminating in a 50-0 win at the Coliseum. Sure, it’s old news and nothing more than a history lesson, but it’s what Los Angeles recognizes and respects.

Likewise, L.A. sports fans respect the Lakers’ 16 NBA championships, UCLA’s 11 national championships in college basketball and the Dodgers’ six World Series titles. Yes, their crosstown rivals might get the better of them from time to time, but until that translates into something more than bragging rights, ownership of Los Angeles won't change hands.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
2:47
AM PT
A few things we learned this week in the Pac-12.

South Division picture clearer: With UCLA's 38-20 whipping of USC and Arizona's 42-10 bludgeoning of Utah, the Trojans and Utes are out of the South Division race. So it comes down to UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State on the final weekend of the regular season to see who plays North Division champion Oregon on Dec. 5 for the Pac-12 title. UCLA controls its fate: It wins the South if it beats Stanford on Friday. If UCLA loses to Stanford, the winner of the Territorial Cup on Friday is the Pac-12 champion. Funny thing: Both games are 12:30 PT kicks, so they will be contested simultaneously, which means the Sun Devils and Wildcats likely will be doing some scoreboard watching during their rivalry game.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsUCLA rolled over USC 38-20, which gave the Bruins three straight wins in the cross-town rivalry.
Battle for L.A. goes to UCLA: UCLA has now won three in a row against USC for the first time since it won eight in a row from 1990 to 1998, so Bruins third-year coach Jim Mora has officially established a trend, even if this was Steve Sarkisian's first go-around over the Victory Bell. This was a big one, with both teams ranked and the South Division still available for the taking. UCLA, by the way, also keeps its hopes for a berth in the College Football Playoff alive -- hopes that will be pretty good if they win out and take the conference crown over Oregon. Next big question: Who wins the L.A. recruiting battle? By the way, USC has a lot of guys coming back in 2015, while UCLA will be breaking in a new QB with Brett Hundley likely heading to the NFL after he provided Bruins fans a troika of L.A. rule during his tenure. With UCLA rising under Mora and USC now free of NCAA sanctions, this rivalry should only get better -- as in, more nationally relevant.

This is the biggest Territorial Cup in a long time: Arizona and Arizona State, both 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-12, will meet in the Territorial Cup as ranked teams for the first time since 1986. The most recent time both teams had at least nine wins was 1975 (ASU 10-0, Arizona 9-1). The South Division is still undecided. Next Friday, with everyone stuffed with turkey, this will be great fun in Tucson. Big question, though: Will Arizona QB Anu Solomon, who left the Wildcats' win over Utah with a lower-leg injury, be available?

Newly bowl eligible: Stanford's 38-17 win over Cal and Washington's 37-13 win over Oregon State made each team bowl-eligible and gave the Pac-12 eight eligible teams. Cal and Oregon State still can become bowl-eligible on the final weekend. Cal needs to beat BYU at home on Saturday, while the Beavers need to end their six-game losing streak in the Civl War against state Oregon.

Cal is much better, but Stanford still rules the Big Game: Cal and Stanford entered the Big Game with matching 5-5 records, but the Cardinal made a dominant statement and won their fifth in a row in the series. That means no Stanford senior will experience life without The Axe. Entering the game, it was a matchup of a good offense (Cal) versus a good defense (Stanford) and a bad offense (Stanford) versus a bad defense (Cal). We learned Stanford's good defense is better than Cal's good offense, and its bad offense is better than Cal's bad defense.

Washington State's freshman QB Luke Falk has lots of potential, but he hasn't yet arrived: Falk was impressive coming off the bench to replace an injured Connor Halliday against USC and had a brilliant starting debut at Oregon State and a strong start at Arizona State, when the Cougs jumped ahead 21-7 against the Sun Devils. But things went haywire thereafter, and Falk started looking like a freshman. He committed five turnovers (four picks and a fumble) in a game the Cougars lost 52-31. He threw for 601 yards and three TDs, and he has shown plenty of good things that point to a strong future running Mike Leach's offense. But the performance in Sun Devil Stadium showed he's still got ways to go, which really shouldn't be surprising.
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Check out the top plays from Week 13 of college football.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Naturally, UCLA coach Jim Mora would have preferred his Bruins be a pristine 11-0, having already locked up the Pac-12 South ahead of next week’s season finale against Stanford.

But let’s be honest. When you hoist your sails in Pac-12 waters, you’re going to hit a couple of rocks.

UCLA took on water midway through the season with back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon, and the national media just assumed the S.S. Bruin was unsalvageable.

But the Bruins bailed the water out. And five wins later -- including their most recent 38-20 pasting of USC Saturday night -- No. 9 UCLA once again finds itself hanging around for a spot in the College Football Playoff. And while swallowing a pair of home losses never sits well, perhaps the silver lining of the mid-season defeats is that the national media turned its oppressive stare away from Westwood, giving the Bruins the space they needed to grow into the team that throttled its rivals at the Rose Bowl Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
Chris Williams/Icon SportswireFor the third straight season, UCLA punched USC in the mouth and defeated the Trojans by double figures, a streak that hasn't happened in nearly 60 years.
“I don’t know if it was the external pressure as much as it was the pressure we put on ourselves,” UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. "We’ve got a young roster. They wanted it so bad. I dare to say too bad, to the point where they were pressing. This team has been built upon these guys trusting each other and loving ball and they almost lost that a bit in that mid-season lull. We dropped a couple and we swore to get back to who we are and not care about what everyone else thinks about us.”

Saturday night, UCLA looked every bit the dominant team many thought it would be when the Bruins were tapped as the No. 7 team in the country in the preseason. The defense was vicious -- sacking USC quarterback Cody Kessler six times and picking up eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Trojans, who averaged 35.2 points per game coming into the game, were held to just 20 points.

Offensively, quarterback Brett Hundley shook off an early pick-six and ended up 22-of-31 for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a 15-yard score.

And let’s not overlook the fact that the Bruins are now 3-0 against USC in the Mora era. To boot, all three wins have come by 10 points or more. The last time that happened was 1953-55, a time period that saw the Bruins win the UPI national championship in 1954.

Mora took all of two sentences to relish the significance of the win.

“We don’t bask in moments,” he said. “We’ll just move on to the next moment.”

The next moment involves a Stanford squad that is 3-0 against Mora. With a victory Friday the Bruins will clinch the Pac-12 South and face the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If they lose, then Saturday’s Territorial Cup between Arizona State and Arizona will determine the division champion.

Schematically, the Bruins didn’t make any drastic overhauls when they hit their two-game skid. They took the leash off Hundley and gave him more freedom to run. And they put more of an emphasis on their base offense. But for the most part, the UCLA team Saturday -- from an X's and O's standpoint -- was the same that won Aug. 30 at Virginia.

“Those two losses feel like 100 years ago,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “That doesn’t mean I’m not [upset] that we lost both. I think we’ve seen the offensive line really improve over the last month. And the glass half full is that maybe we’re a better football team because of those losses. The kids refocused, and we went back to our base, and we figured we’d just get good at what we do.”

It sounds simple enough. The result has been a spike in the national rankings and UCLA’s second win over a top-20 team in its last five games. And the Bruins are sure to climb again when the new rankings are released Tuesday, given their win over the No. 19 Trojans and Ole Miss’ loss to Arkansas.

Of course, just like when his team was ranked No. 7 in the preseason, Mora was in no mood to talk about the playoff.

“I talk about the Pac-12 championship,” he said. “We have to win Friday. If we can win Friday, we will have another shot to win the Pac-12 championship. I don’t talk about that other stuff.”

And yet the “other stuff” can’t be ignored. Because if the Bruins were to win the conference, it would include a win over (likely) No. 2 Oregon and give them a compelling case for being the best two-loss team in the country. And if a conference championship counts for something -- as the selection committee claims -- the Bruins would have a very strong argument for inclusion.

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