WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
The match-up on Saturday between the Irish and the Trojans will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the great games in the series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 Week 14 predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unanimous picks

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

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

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

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

Notre Dame prediction: Game 12 at USC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
We've got another holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.

I haven't even finished eating all of my Halloween candy.

Leading off

Depth Chart Wednesday! Depth Chart Wednesday! Depth Chart Wednesday! Let's get to it. Note: UCLA doesn't celebrate Depth Chart Wednesday. Awards season is in full swing

OK, there are a lot of these to get through, but stick with us. We can do it together.

There's a very good representation of the Pac-12 among these lists. If a Pac-12 player is a finalist, he's listed as the first name on the list (just an FYI).

MAXWELL AWARD: Given to the top player in college football (as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota -- 3,103 passing yards, 32 TD, 2 INT, 597 rushing yards, 97 carries, 9 rushing TDMississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott -- 2,1714 passing yards, 23 TD, 10 INT, 891 rushing yards, 171 carries, 12 rushing TD
  2. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon -- 254 carries, 2,109 yards, 25 TD
BEDNARIK AWARD: Given to the top defensive player in college football (again, as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III -- 126 tackles, 22 TFL, 12 sacks, 5 forced fumbles
  2. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa -- 43 tackles, 18 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
  3. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley -- 24 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble
RAY GUY: Given to the top college punter. Yards per punt season average follows each finalist's name.
  1. Tom Hackett (Utah) -- 46.5
  2. JK Scott (Alabama) -- 46.8
  3. Scott Arellano (BYU) -- 44.6
  4. Scott Harding (Hawaii) -- 41.5
  5. Austin Rehkow (Idaho) -- 47.8
  6. Justin Vogel (Miami) -- 44.0
  7. Tyler Wedel (Northern Illinois) -- 41.9
  8. Cameron Johnston (Ohio State) -- 43.6
  9. Drew Kaser (Texas A&M) -- 44.4
  10. Alex Kinal (Wake Forest) -- 43.8
OUTLAND: Given to the top interior lineman (offense or defense).
  1. Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown
  2. Auburn center Reese Dismukes
  3. Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff
DAVEY O'BRIEN: Given to the best college quarterback
  1. Mariota (see stats above)
  2. Prescott (see stats above)
  3. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin -- 3,021 passing yards, 24 TD, 5 INT, 122 rushing attempts, 548 yards, 7 TD
JIM THORPE AWARD: Given to the top defensive back in college football.
  1. Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 7 pass break ups
  2. Alabama safety Landon Collins -- 75 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT, 5 pass break ups
  3. Louisville safety Jerod Holliman -- 32 tackles, 2 TFL, 13 INT, 3 pass break ups
News/notes/team reports

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
Headed into the final week of the regular season, eight Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible, and California and Oregon State remain one win away.

Cal has a significantly easier path to win No. 6, hosting BYU on Saturday, while Oregon State must get through rival Oregon in Corvallis. If the Golden Bears win, it will likely impact where rival Stanford -- which beat Cal 38-17 -- ends up in the postseason. Even though Stanford beat Cal and travelled well for BCS bowls over the past four seasons, the Cardinal’s small fan base and demonstrated lack of enthusiasm this season doesn’t make it an attractive team for bowl officials.

Oregon remains at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, while No. 8 UCLA remains within striking distance of the top four should it beat Stanford, then Oregon.

Here's our weekly attempt to map out where the Pac-12 teams will end up come bowl season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual): Oregon
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Arizona
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Utah
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: California*
At-large: Stanford

*Needs a win to become bowl eligible

USC Trojans Tuesday practice report

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

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

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

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

Mama makes a move

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WeAreSC roundtable: Looking ahead to Notre Dame at USC

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

Garry Paskwietz

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

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

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

Johnny Curren

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

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

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

Greg Katz

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

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

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

Rivalry Week: Notre Dame-USC

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25


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

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
While there were a number of important visitors at every Pac-12 game this past weekend, the Rose Bowl took center stage as UCLA hosted a number of official and unofficial visitors in what was the hottest ticket of the year for Southern California recruits. UCLA kicked off its strong weekend with a commitment from an ESPN 300 prospect, while Oregon hosted a junior college standout committed to another Pac-12 program. This upcoming weekend presents an opportunity for recruiting statements to be made in rivalry games.

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Pac-12 morning links

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
What is with everyone today? It's Thanksgiving not truth day!

Leading off

Tonight the committee will release its College Football Playoff rankings and it'll be interesting to see how it views certain team's wins (cough, UCLA) and certain team's losses (cough, Ole Miss). The Ducks, after a big win over Colorado, should be secure in the top four though it'd be quite the surprise for them to sneak in to the top spot, even with Alabama's slow start against Western Carolina this weekend.

If you saw The Eliminator on Monday morning, there were probably a few things you noticed. First and foremost, Mark Schlabach pointed out the fact that yes, we're heading into the final weekend of the regular season. And no, the College Football Playoff hasn't broken the regular season by any means. Instead, with one week to go (in most conferences), there is plenty of excitement down the stretch.
No. 2 Oregon must survive the Civil War against Oregon State.

No. 3 Florida State must get past one more regular-season game against rival Florida.

The Big Ten West, Pac-12 South and SEC East are still up for grabs, too.

So much for the playoff ruining the drama of college football's regular season.

Oregon is still listed under "In Contention" while Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA are all in the "On The Fence" category. The good news for Pac-12 fans is that no conference team did anything detrimental this weekend. The only two teams that were eliminated were Ole Miss (which lost 30-0 to unranked -- but hot -- Arkansas) and Michigan State.

Awards season

The Butkus Award (given annually to the nation's top linebacker) announced its five finalists on Monday. The Pac-12 snagged two of the spots.
  1. UCLA's Eric Kendricks
  2. Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha
  3. Miami's Denzel Perryman
  4. Michigan's Jake Ryan
  5. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith

That is one heck of a list of candidates and the Pac-12 Blog would like to congratulate all five. Seriously, these are all fantastic linebackers and players that certainly deserve to be honored after the seasons they've all had.

However, there's one pretty obvious name missing from that list: Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III. He has been an absolute monster this season and though I wouldn't want to single out any individual on that list and say that Wright deserves the spot more, it certainly was shocking to see Wright --- who averages a nation-high 2 TFL per game and ranks fifth nationally in sacks per game -- to not be on that list.

And we weren't the only to feel that way:

Diving into some numbers

According to Nate Silver's model over at fivethirtyeight.com, the Bruins' 38-20 win last Saturday was the biggest win of the weekend. Based off his model, UCLA went from having an 8.2 percent chance to making the playoff to having a 14.0 percent chance of making the playoff.

There are eight schools (again, this is according to Silver's model) that have at least a 10 percent chance of making the playoff. Here's a list of the eight programs Silver says are still in the running -- by at least 10 percent -- to make the playoff, followed by their total chance and the percent their chance increased or decreased following last Saturday's games.
  1. Alabama -- 80.8 percent, +5.5 percent after beating Western Carolina, 48-14.
  2. Oregon -- 75.7 percent, +3.6 percent after beating Colorado, 44-10.
  3. FSU -- 59 percent, -0.9 percent after beating Boston College, 20-17.
  4. TCU -- 47.1 percent, -1.8 after being on a bye.
  5. Ohio State -- 42 percent, -1.5 percent after beating Indiana, 42-27.
  6. Baylor -- 33.3 percent, +2.5 percent after beating Oklahoma State, 49-28.
  7. Mississippi State -- 32.6 percent, +5.1 after beating Vanderbilt, 51-0.
  8. UCLA -- 14 percent, +5.8 percent after beating USC, 38-20.

So, UCLA's chances don't look awesome, but if it wins the Pac-12 title, there will certainly be an argument for the Bruins being in one of the four spots. And, as far as the chances of making the finals, the Pac-12 is still sitting pretty well. Oregon has a 44.2 percent chance to make the finals (UCLA is at 6.1 percent).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

For any media covering the Territorial Cup this weekend, Josh Kelman has you covered for your postgame story.

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

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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.


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.



Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29