Warning: Bold Week 6 Pac-12 declarations

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Declarative sentences are dangerous heading into Week 6 of a college football season. History has taught us most things that appear ready to be tied neatly with a bow end up torn to shreds. But danger is the Pac-12 blog's middle name. (We just thought "Pac-12 Danger Blog" might scare some folks away and damage advertising revenue).

Ergo.

Oregon's visit to UCLA on Oct. 11 will be what we thought it would be in August

Sure, both/either the Bruins and Ducks could fall this week at home, going down to Utah and/or Arizona, and we'd pin that on the proverbial "look ahead." But the expectation is that won't happen. The Utes lost some gusto while surrendering a 21-0 lead at home to Washington State, and Arizona is more than a three-touchdown underdog in Autzen Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota, Devon Allen
AP Photo/Dean HareMarcus Mariota and Oregon will try to avoid a letdown this week against Arizona.
While neither the Bruins nor Ducks have been consistently impressive, they have produced the loudest national statements in the conference thus far. UCLA posted a dominant road win at Arizona State, while Oregon overwhelmed Michigan State in the second half.

What's most notable about the Ducks-UCLA matchup is its potential for a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, as both appear to be front-runners in their respective divisions. Not to look too far ahead, which we are clearly doing, but that could create a quandary for the College Football Playoff. It certainly would make it more difficult to get two Pac-12 teams into the playoff.

Of course, if both arrive at the game -- and that's obviously no guarantee at this early juncture -- with multiple losses, the issue is moot. But play out the various scenarios of zero, one and two losses for each in your head. What if they split close games? What if, say, Oregon is the nation's only unbeaten team but UCLA's only defeats are close losses to the Ducks?

It could get complicated. Good thing we can call such speculation "way premature" in order to avoid taxing our brains with the myriad possibilities.

The Pac-12 needs Stanford to beat Notre Dame

If Stanford wins at Notre Dame, the Cardinal will likely jump into or at least be very close to the Top 10, which could give the Pac-12 three Top 10 teams heading into Week 7. If the Cardinal lose, it will become a big hit for them and the Pac-12 as a whole.

While the Pac-12 is widely viewed as the nation's No. 2 conference, probably by a wide margin, and its 22-4 record versus FBS foes is impressive, there already have been substantial damaging defeats.

Most obviously, whatever USC accomplishes this year will be diminished by the loss at Boston College. If the Trojans had lost amid a flurry of turnovers and miscues, that's one thing. The problem is that defeat was all about getting whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That rates as a physical issue, which is a very football-y thing.

Washington State's losses to Rutgers and Nevada also will hurt because the Pac-12 blog suspects the Cougars are going to give a lot of conference teams trouble this season, witness the so-close performance against Oregon and the huge comeback win at Utah. The Cougs are a solid team, much better than they showed against the Scarlet Knights and Nevada, which by the way are a combined 7-2. But that won't prevent pundits and rival fans from using the transitive property against the Pac-12 when the Cougs notch an upset or two.

Yet if Stanford beats Notre Dame and surges into its Nov. 1 date at Oregon with just one defeat, the Pac-12 might produce a second Top-10 matchup in less than a month. That's the sort of thing the SEC does, which inspires all that media gushing that so annoys many of you fine people.

Bottom line: A road win over No. 9 Notre Dame would provide a significant perception boost and a loss would do the same in a negative direction.

The middle stepped back instead of forward

Washington and Oregon State could have made big statements on Saturday. They didn't. Therefore that velvet rope that has separated both from the North Division VIP room, uncomfortably shared by Oregon and Stanford, is still there, still manned by a couple of beefy security guys.

You probably could say the same for Utah, which looked like a potential South contender before it completely collapsed against the Cougars. The jury is still out on Arizona State, which is dealing with an injury to QB Taylor Kelly and a not-ready-for-prime time defense. We'll see where Arizona stands Thursday at Oregon.

Despite many unanswered questions, the overall feeling about the challenging middle of the Pac-12 feels different than it did in August or even a few weeks ago. It doesn't appear as rugged. There seems to be some separation between Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and -- perhaps -- USC and the rest of the conference, though the Trojans could topple if they lose at home to the Sun Devils on Saturday.

Washington was a preseason Top 25 team, and Oregon State and Utah looked like threats to advance into the rankings. No longer. At least not at this point.

That is not to say teams can't get healthy, solve issues or simply grow up and then go on a run. In fact, it's reasonable to suspect that among the gaggle of Arizona, Utah, Washington and Oregon State, at least one will end the season in the Top 25.

At this point, however, there's little to suggest we will have an unexpected interloper breaking through in either division, challenging the consensus preseason favorites.
When Arizona took down Oregon last season, it was considered one of the biggest upsets of the year. The Ducks had everything on lock and had seemingly "learned their lesson" two weeks prior, before handing it all away on the road against a 6-4 team.

This Thursday, Oregon will have the chance to see Arizona again, a year removed from one of the biggest blemishes of the Ducks' recent history. Which got us thinking about other big conference upsets -- how did teams respond in those matchups the following season? Well, we’ve got you covered with four different examples.

2007: Stanford 24-No. 2 USC 23

[+] EnlargePete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Matt SaylesWhen Jim Harbaugh, right, led Stanford to an upset of Pete Carroll's USC team in 2007, the rivalry heated up. It led to a memorable confrontation after the 2009 game, shown above.
Stanford scored 17 fourth-quarter points, giving the 41-point underdog Cardinal a huge win at USC. It stopped several of the Trojans’ win streaks including five straight against Stanford, 35 straight at home and 24 straight conference home wins.

And in 2008 ... No. 6 USC 45-Stanford 23

No. 6 USC played a rough first half and entered halftime tied at 17 with unranked Stanford. But a strong second half propelled USC to a 45-23 win. From the AP write up: "From the highlights of the game played on the video board during warm-ups, to the "Greatest Upset Ever" T-shirts worn by many fans in the crowd, to the Stanford band spelling out the score of last year's game at halftime, the Cardinal did their best to extend the memory.”

2003: No. 13 Kansas State 35-No. 1 Oklahoma 7

Kansas State put up 519 yards of offense against the vaunted Oklahoma defense, giving the Sooners their first loss of the 2003 season (though, they would still go on to play in the BCS Championship, where they endured their second loss of the season, against No. 2 LSU).

And in 2004 ... No. 2 Oklahoma 31-Kansas State 21

The Sooners, like USC in 2004, started slow against the team that had upset it the previous season. Oklahoma had 60 penalty yards midway through the second quarter and started the game with two three-and-outs. But a strong second half -- Adrian Petersen rushed for 104 yards -- propelled the Sooners to the win.

1998: NC State 24-No. 2 Florida State 7

NC State was a 25-point underdog, but managed to make the Seminoles look like the one that was far overmatched. Florida State was riding a 47-1 ACC record heading into this game, but when your quarterback throws six interceptions, it’s pretty hard to win.

And in 1999 ... No. 1 Florida State 42-NC State 11

This year it was the NC State quarterback who struggled, throwing four interceptions and losing two fumbles en route to a 31-point loss. Two of those turnovers resulted in FSU touchdowns, and the FSU kicker made five field goals -- so it wasn’t exactly an impressive performance for the FSU offense, but overall, the Seminoles managed to avenge their upset from the previous season.

1985: Oregon State 21-Washington 20

Oregon State came into this game after being shut out offensively in the two previous games and was a 38-point underdog against the Huskies. With just under four minutes left and the Beavers trailing by six, Oregon State failed to convert a fourth down at its 11 yard line. But minutes later a blocked punt turned into a defensive score and the extra point gave the Beavers the edge they needed for the win.

And in 1986 ... No. 13 Washington 28-Oregon State 12

The Beavers had already lost three games to ranked opponents in 1986 (by a collective score of 103-24) when the Huskies visited Corvallis. They were overmatched for against their fourth top-25 team of the season and ended up with a 16-point home loss to the team they had shocked the year before.

USC not taking Arizona State for granted 

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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LOS ANGELES -- There was talk before the start of the season that the Arizona State Sun Devils' (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) visit to this Saturday to play the USC Trojans (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) would be a pivotal Pac-12 South game.

Well, nothing has really changed, despite UCLA’s 62-27 smackdown of ASU Thursday night in Tempe. In fact, for USC, the Bruins' demolition has little consequence, considering that last season the Sun Devils provided its own smackdown of the Trojans, 62-41.

The ramifications of last season’s embarrassment in Sun Devils Stadium came hours later when USC athletic director Pat Haden unceremoniously fired head coach Lane Kiffin on the tarmac of LAX in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

USC Trojans recruiting notebook 

September, 29, 2014
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There was an impressive group of recruits in attendance at the Trojans victory over Oregon State on Saturday, including official visitors Chuma Edoga, Aca'Cedric Ware and DaMarkus Lodge.

For Edoga, an ESPN 300 offensive lineman who is committed to the Trojans, the visit offered a chance to catch up with Caleb Wilson, the son of USC defensive line coach Chris Wilson. Edoga and the younger Wilson were friends in Georgia before the father took the coaching position with the Trojans and moved west.
Ware is a running back commit to USC from Texas state champion Cedar Hill and he was accompanied on the trip by his teammate Lodge, an ESPN 300 wide receiver who recently de-committed from Texas A&M. The pair had an opportunity to spend time with Ricky Town, one of two USC commit quarterbacks from the ESPN 300 -- the other being Sam Darnold == who were in attendance at the game.



For Town, it was a day that began with USC athletic director Pat Haden greeting him with a hug and a walk down the Coliseum tunnel. Town also got pulled into the postgame victory chant by Leonard Williams.

The class of 2016 quarterback class was well represented with Malik Henry, Shea Patterson and K.J. Costello. All three are ranked among the top 10 quarterbacks in the ESPN Junior 300. Henry was considered somewhat of a surprise name on the list as he did not include the Trojans in his top 5 list earlier this summer. Patterson made the trip from Louisiana and it's the second time he has visited USC in the past couple months. Costello got stuck in traffic on the ride home but still had a positive feeling about the game.

“USC always has an electric atmosphere and I feel like I get along with the coaches really well,” Costello said.

Thoughts on 1 versus 2

Bishop Gorman defeated St. John Bosco fairly handily Friday night in a game that was delayed for an hour due to lightning in the area. Once things got started, it was clear that Gorman was just going to be too much on this night with quarterback Tate Martell and the weapons around him. First of all, it's easy to see why USC offered Martell recently as part of the class of 2017 as he is one of the more dynamic high school quarterbacks we've seen. It helps that he is surrounded by skill players such as Cordell Broadus, Tyjon Lindsey and Russell Booze. Bosco came back at the end to make the score respectable but it would have been interesting to see how last year's Bosco team -- which had more high end talent than this year -- would have fared against this year's Bishop Gorman squad.

News and notes

  • More notable Class of 2015 out-of-state targets could be on campus for official visits this coming weekend, including cornerback Kendall Sheffield (Missouri City, Texas/Thurgood Marshall) and athlete Terry Godwin (Hogansville, Ga./Callaway). Both have stated in the past that they would be at USC on the weekend of Oct. 4. Godwin is currently committed to Georgia.
  • USC recently offered Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington's Antonio Callaway. The talented ESPN 300 wide receiver now holds close to 20 total offers from big time programs across the country like Florida State, Alabama and Miami.

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USC defense gets back on track

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Claude PelonJohn Cordes/Icon SportswireThe USC defense held Sean Mannion to 123 yards passing, no touchdowns and two picks.

LOS ANGELES -- Saturday night, the USC defense played like a group that had been marinating in mistakes for the last 14 days. That's 336 hours to ponder the 452 rushing yards they surrendered to Boston College. That's 20,160 minutes to mire in the misery of the 506 total yards and 37 points they yielded at Chestnut Hill.

Nothing will take that loss off of the standings. Instead, it serves as a reminder of how disastrous things can turn when the Trojans don't play to their potential.

"This team needed to get punched in the face," said linebacker Hayes Pullard, who sat the first half of the BC game for an illegal hit the week before against Stanford. "I hate to say that. But because of that we're bouncing back and growing as a team."

Following a bye last week, this group was eager to show the Sept. 13 performance wasn't the norm. And they stifled the Oregon State offense and its strong-armed quarterback en route to a 35-10 home win.

The USC defense held Oregon State to just three offensive points (its only touchdown coming on special teams), 58 yards rushing and 181 total offensive yards. They sacked Sean Mannion twice, intercepted him twice and forced him into the worst statistical performance of his career -- which included a 14.6 adjusted QBR.

"I'm proud of these guys after what they had to hear about for the last week," said USC coach Steve Sarkisian.

If Sept. 13 was the burn, then film session the next morning was the frosty reminder of all that had gone wrong.

Said Pullard: "We didn't want to see it. But we had to. That's the thing about football. You have to tell the truth on Sundays."

Added defensive lineman Leonard Williams: "Everybody was just down."

Noted safety Su'a Cravens: "It was tough watching plays that we should have made not being made. It was tough messing up assignments [even though] we went over it 100 times in practice. But we still messed it up."

Cravens turned in a phenomenal performance Saturday, posting a team high six tackles, including two for a loss, one sack and a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter to break the early scoreless tie.

"Nobody likes losing," Cravens said. "And the way we lost, that's not SC ball. We got back to the basics and what we needed to do. That attitude of being hungry and dominant on the field came back. That attitude we had against Fresno State came back. It showed [Saturday]."

The Trojans are hoping it sticks around for a while. They have back-to-back games against the Arizona schools -- at home against ASU this week and at Tucson a week later. Both of those teams rank in the top 20 in scoring nationally.

Whether ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who sat out last week's game against UCLA with a foot injury, plays is still to be determined. Early reports are that his return this week is questionable.

Recall last year that it was the ASU game in Tempe that ultimately cost USC coach Lane Kiffin his job after the Trojans were blasted 62-41. The fallout sparked Kiffin's firing, Ed Orgeron's promotion, his quitting, Clay Helton's promotion and eventually Sarkisian's hiring.

USC's run defense will be tested by ASU's D.J. Foster, who leads the league in rushing with an average of 135 yards per game. The pass defense, however, is feeling pretty good about itself. Through four games and five weeks, the Trojans are the only team in the country that hasn't allowed a touchdown through the air.

"We were talking about that earlier in the week," Cravens said. "I think the coaches are doing a great of calling the right plays at the right time, and everyone is executing. I'm really proud of the DBs."

Pac-12 Live: Week 6

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Join ESPN.com Pac-12 reporters Kyle Bonagura, Kevin Gemmell and Chantel Jennings at 4 p.m. ET as they review Week 5 in the conference and look ahead to the games this week, including Arizona vs. Oregon on Thursday. Don't forget that you can also ask the experts your Pac-12 questions live on the show.

USC Grades: Defense stifles Mannion

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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Claude PelonJohn Cordes/Icon SportswireClaude Pelon and the USC defense harrassed Sean Mannion throughout the Trojans' blowout win.

The USC Trojans had to wait two weeks to get back onto the field after their embarrassing upset loss to Boston College. They also had to wait a month to return to the Coliseum after opening up the season four weeks ago against Fresno State.

It’s still too early in the season to know exactly what kind of team USC has. Are they the team that blew out Fresno State and shocked Stanford in Palo Alto, California, to open up the season or the team that was unable to run or stop the run against Boston College? It’s hard to say, but USC’s 35-10 win over Oregon State momentarily put USC back on track and made the Boston College fiasco look like an early-season aberration.

GradePassing attack

Cody Kessler was once again efficient for the Trojans. He completed 24 of 32 passes for 261 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In fact, Kessler has not thrown an interception this season. Kessler has thrown at least one touchdown in 15 of his past 18 games. He is already 10th on USC’s career completions list with 333. Kessler is also completing 76.5 percent of his passes from inside the pocket this season, tied for fourth best by any Power Five quarterback with a minimum of 50 attempts.

GradeRushing attack

USC ran for 200 yards against Oregon State, bouncing back from their 20-yard performance against Boston College. Javorius Allen rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown, and Justin Davis rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown. Allen also had a team-high five receptions for 23 yards, and Davis had three catches for 30 yards and a touchdown.

GradeIn the trenches

Not only did USC rush for 200 yards, but they held Oregon State to 58 yards rushing and recorded two sacks. Kessler was given enough time, more often than not, as USC controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and dictated time of possession.

GradeDefense

After a nightmarish game against Boston College, USC’s defense responded with its best performance of the season. Oregon State had only 181 total yards, the fewest by a USC opponent since San Jose State's 121 in 2009. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion finished 15-for-32 for 123 yards, which was his lowest career output. Su'a Cravens had a first-quarter interception return for a touchdown, the first of his career, and Leon McQuay had an interception in the end zone. USC’s secondary has not allowed a touchdown pass this season; no other secondary in college football can say that after the first four weeks of the season.

GradeSpecial teams

Andre Heidari’s lone field goal attempt from 36 yards was missed, but punter Kris Albarado had his best game, averaging over 40 yards per punt, including a 57-yard kick. USC didn’t get much from the return game outside of a JuJu Smith 35-yard return. The Trojans allowed Ryan Murphy to return a first-quarter kick for a 97-yard touchdown to tie the game and gave up 170 yards on four kick returns.

GradeCoaching

Steve Sarkisian opened up the offense some after a lackluster first quarter, as USC scored 35 points, their most since the season opener against Fresno State. The offense tallied 461 yards and USC won the turnover battle 2-0 after entering the game eighth in the nation with a plus-1.7 turnover margin. USC’s defense also shored up its problems from the Boston College game and shut down the Beavers, stifling Mannion, who passed for the fewest yards in his career.
The USC Trojans came away from the Coliseum on Saturday with a 35-10 victory over the Oregon State Beavers that was highlighted by a trio of critical plays.

-- The first was the pick-six interception by Su'a Cravens in the first quarter. The game was scoreless at that point and the Trojans had been a little sluggish on offense on the first couple drives with a pair of punts. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion tried to throw in the flat, only he didn't anticipate Cravens reading the play from his strong side linebacker spot and stepping in the passing lane to make the pick and go untouched 30 yards for the score. The play was a good example of why USC coaches want Cravens closer to the line of scrimmage in the linebacker role to take advantage of his high football IQ. Cravens led the Trojans in tackles with six, and also added a sack and two tackles for loss. It was the fifth career interception for Cravens.

-- The next big play came late in the second quarter with the Trojans holding a 14-10 lead. Oregon State had driven the ball to the USC 22 and Mannion tried to take a shot at the end zone to grab the lead, but freshman cornerback Adoree' Jackson was in terrific coverage and was able to bat the ball up and it landed in the hands of Leon McQuay for the USC interception. The Trojans then drove the length of the field and completed a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the half for a huge momentum swing.

-- Speaking of the Hail Mary, that is the third critical play. So many things need to go right on a play like that and they all did for the Trojans. USC coach Steve Sarkisian let the play clock run down to :01 to insure that the pass would be the final play of the half. Cody Kessler had to drop back and make an accurate 50-yard throw, with the line giving him enough time for the receivers to get downfield, and then a USC player needs to come down with the ball, which is exactly what Darreus Rogers did. Rogers has huge hands, and they came in handy to pluck the ball from midair and run the one-yard into the end zone. It allowed the Trojans to go into the locker room with a 21-10 lead and a major bounce in their step.

Notes from the sidelines

Kessler continued his efficient play with a 24-of-32 passing night for 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns. One of his more impressive plays came early in the fourth quarter when he escaped a sack on a third-down play and hit Nelson Agholor inside the Beavers' red zone. Buck Allen scored on the next play to give the Trojans a 28-10 cushion. Kessler moved to 10th place on the all-time USC completions list in this game. ... There were 27 penalty flags for 232 yards between the two teams. ... The 57-yard punt by Kris Albarado was his longest of the season. ... It was a return to form for Justin Davis, who looked closest to the freshman skills he showed before injuring his ankle last year. Davis had 15 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown, he also added 3 catches for 30 yards and another score, which was the first TD catch of his career. ... The Trojans dressed 57 recruited scholarship players. ... USC remains the only defense in the country that hasn't given up a touchdown pass this year.

Extra points

1. Oregon State entered the game leading the nation in third-down defense at 23.1 percent, but the Trojans converted 8 of 19 third-down opportunities, a 42.1 percentage.
2. The Trojans' defensive line needed to play well in this game and they did as three players on the line had four tackles apiece; Leonard Williams, Antwaun Woods and J.R. Tavai. Williams had a TFL and a sack, Tavai also had a TFL.
3. It was a pretty convincing numbers game in favor of the Trojans. USC had 461 total yards, Oregon State had 181 (the lowest total by a USC opponent since 2009). The Trojans ran 81 plays and averaged 5.7 yards per play, the Beavers ran 56 plays and averaged 3.2. USC forced two turnovers and turned them into 14 points, Oregon State did not get any turnovers. The Beavers went 1-10 on third-down conversions.

Final thoughts

While the numbers look good, including the scoreboard, this was a game that was still very much in doubt up until the final play of the first half.

The Trojans had only rushed the ball for 13 yards to that point, they already had four drives end in punts and with only one second remaining on the clock they were faced with the probability of going into halftime with a slight 14-10 lead. Then the Hail Mary changed everything. Not only did it give USC a bigger cushion going into the locker room, but it helped to galvanize the team for the second half.

Suddenly the Trojans were running the ball with confidence, 18 times in the third quarter alone for 81 yards. There was a good balance in the third quarter between Davis (nine carries) and Allen (seven carries). It says something about Buck's consistency lately that he can have 115 rushing yards for the day and most of the attention goes to Davis. The TB duo also added eight catches between them for 53 yards and a touchdown.

But make no mistake, it was USC's defense that drove this game home. Mannion is one of the better quarterbacks in the country, there's a reason he will likely end this season as the all-time conference leader in passing yards, but the Trojans limited him in the second half by forcing him to go for 4-of-13 passing and 16 yards over the final 30 minutes. Those are surprising numbers for a guy like that, and he ended the day with only 123 passing yards and four passing first downs.

Give the Trojans credit for changing the tone of this game at halftime, it was a trademark of the successful Pete Carroll teams and it happened again on Saturday.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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Well, that was interesting.

Remember how we talked about Utah-Washington State being a swing game? If the Cougars can somehow rally to find four more wins and the Utes can't find three, we're going to look back at the Cougs' 28-27 come-from-behind win as a tipping point.

The same could be said for Cal, which pulled off a double-overtime win against a feisty Colorado team to pick up win No. 3.

Let's begin with the Utes, who once again started hot in nonconference play, only to see things fall apart once league competition started. Can't blame this one on injured quarterbacks, because Utah had two opportunities in the fourth quarter with its starter to make something happen. The Pac-12 blog still thinks there are three wins out there for Utah. Of its eight remaining games, three of them are against unranked teams. The rub is that all three are on the road.

Cal also has five ranked teams still on the schedule, and the three remaining against unranked teams -- Washington State, Washington and Oregon State -- are critical. Two of the three are on the road. We're adding Cal to the projections this week. We like its moxie.

As for the Beavers, boy, that offense didn't look good. Given OSU's three unimpressive wins and one very bad loss, we're going to drop them from the projections for now, but as always reserve the right to change our minds.

We're down to just three undefeated teams left: Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. And 10 teams are either halfway to a bowl game or beyond.

Here are the latest projections. As always, salt heavily.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
San Francisco Bowl: Arizona
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Washington
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State
Cactus Bowl: Utah
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: California

* at large
The Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half turned the game around. Maybe it also turned around USC's season.

The wildly unexpected, looping, 48-yard prayer of a spiral from Cody Kessler to Darreus Rogers in the end zone Saturday night changed the entire complexion of an otherwise sluggish evening. Instead of clinging to a 14-10 lead over Oregon State, the score suddenly expanded to 21-10, sucking all the energy out of Mike Riley's Beavers.

[+] EnlargeJavorius Allen
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsUSC's Javorius Allen rushes for 115 yards on 20 carries and one touchdown against Oregon State.
Buoyed by their surprising good fortune, Steve Sarkisian's Trojans seemed to relax in the second half, returning to the way they are supposed to play on offense, emphasizing a strong running game that opened up a passing attack highlighted by USC's entire stable of young, athletic receivers.

Perhaps most important, this was the Trojans' best defensive performance of the still early season. Certainly, it helped that they were playing a straight dropback passer in Sean Mannion. USC's defense always seems to play better when the opposing quarterback isn't a running threat.

Still, Mannion's credentials were imposing, and Su'a Cravens and friends made it a long, uncomfortable evening for him. For the first time this season, the pass rush was fierce. And Cravens was merely the best player on the field, coming up with an interception touchdown return and a sack while appearing to surround every Oregon State ball carrier on the way to that 35-10 blitz.

Makes you wonder how we'd all be viewing things Sunday if there hadn't been that unsightly blip in Boston two weeks ago. How bad a loss was that? Well, Boston College was last seen losing to Colorado State on Saturday. Yes, Colorado State.

So instead of 4-0 and climbing in the polls, the Trojans are 3-1 and hoping to sneak up a notch or two in the coming weeks. It could happen, because the Pac-12 has begun to look more than a little vulnerable.

Unbeaten Oregon has some gaping holes in its injury-marred offensive line. Stanford struggled mightily to beat Washington by a touchdown on Saturday. Arizona State coughed up 62 points to UCLA at home. Utah was beaten by Washington State. And Cal and Colorado played a ping-pong game of football, trading 14 touchdown passes in a 59-56 can-anyone-here-play-defense Bears' victory.

This is shaping up as one wide-open conference race, and USC's schedule gives it a decent shot to stay in the thick of it, particularly if it can find a way to improve against dual-threat quarterbacks.

Clearly, there were more than a few encouraging signs on Saturday.

Kessler, who still hasn't thrown an interception this season, continues to play effectively, if unspectacularly, at quarterback. He takes what the defense gives him, and it usually gives him plenty once the Trojans' running game establishes itself. It took a while on Saturday, but Javorius Allen eventually slipped it into gear, perhaps motivated by fellow tailback Justin Davis' finest game of the season.

Craven has developed into a monster hybrid safety/linebacker. The young offensive line bounced back nicely. Leonard Williams, seemingly 100 percent healthy, looked as imposing as ever in the defensive line, and if freshman Adoree' Jackson isn't already one of the best cornerbacks in the Pac-12, he soon will be.

Next up is Arizona State, and much will depend on the condition of quarterback Taylor Kelly, last seen on crutches watching his Sun Devils get chewed up by Brett Hundley, Ishmael Adams and the Bruins on Thursday night. If his injured foot can heal enough to allow him to play in the Coliseum, Arizona State's chances obviously are enhanced.

Even then, though, it would seem Kelly would be limited to throwing. He's not likely to do much running on a foot that is still healing.

USC and its new-found momentum will be favored either way, just as the Trojans are once again likely to be favored in every remaining game on their schedule leading up to those two potential November blockbusters against UCLA and Notre Dame.

Funny how, in the wake of one unexpected play, outlooks can change so swiftly.

Hail Mary, indeed.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
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Best of the visits: Pac-12

September, 28, 2014
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Pac-12 programs loaded up on visitors this weekend and the conference delivered three thrilling finishes on Saturday. The only weekend game in the conference decided by more than one score was USC's blowout win against Oregon State, which came at a perfect time for the Trojans, as they were able to bounce back in front of a number of important recruits.

Stars are out at USC

The USC Trojans put more than a few eggs into Saturday night's basket, bringing committed recruits Chuma Edoga and Aca'Cedric Ware, along with ESPN 300 wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge in on official visits, and also loading up on unofficial visitors. With a convincing 35-10 victory, the strategy appeared to pay off.

Cedar Hill (Texas) High School was very well represented, as 2016 women's basketball prospect Joyner Holmes made the trip alongside Ware and Lodge.
Five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, the No. 8 overall prospect in the nation, made his way to the game and took a photo alongside Edoga and quarterback Caleb Wilson, the son of USC defensive line coach Chris Wilson. Quarterback K.J. Costello, the No. 61 prospect in the 2016 ESPN 300, snapped a shot of the pregame from the sideline. Utes host big weekend despite loss

Like USC, Utah put plenty of effort into bringing in a number of recruits this weekend. Despite the loss to Washington State, the Utes were able to feature wide receiver Kaelin Clay, a junior college receiver, which might have been the perfect recruiting pitch considering they were hosting a trio of junior college receivers in Dede Westbrook, Kyle Fulks and Kinte Hatton. Recruits see power of Bear Raid

Prospects in Berkeley were treated to an offensive explosion between Cal and Colorado, where the Golden Bears were able to put on an offensive show in front of official visitor, junior college wide receiver Isaac Whitney. It was also an intriguing game for local 2016 prospect Camilo Eifler, who holds early offers from both Cal and Colorado, and caught up with former Bishop O'Dowd receiver De'Zhon Grace. Huskies on hand

Washington hung tough with Stanford for four quarters and did so in front of several committed recruits, including wide receiver Isaiah Renfro and 2016 ESPN 300 athlete Brandon Wellington.

Renfro gave future Washington official visitors a glimpse of what they can expect upon arrival to Seattle. Wellington, meanwhile, looked to get a hashtag going, likely on the heels of linebacker Shaq Thompson's third defensive touchdown of the season.
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LOS ANGELES -- Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Coliseum after the No. 18 USC Trojans (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12) defeated the Oregon State Beavers (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) 35-10.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian comments:

On the game: "We knew it would be hard. Oregon State is a good football team; they’re physical and their quarterback is a heck of a player and Mike (Riley) would have them ready to go. I’m proud of these guys after what they had to hear about for the last week. Our D held those guys to 180 yards and held (Sean Mannion) to 123 yards passing. To do what they (the USC offensive line) did in the run game, I’m proud of what they did.”

On the Trojans' offense: “We kept hunting and pecking. Cody (Kessler) had some tremendous plays tonight, the Hail Mary, to hit that one, and a big third-down conversion in the fourth. And to keep running the ball, we’re not abandoning that. We’re going to keep running. It’s who we are and it helps, and it helps the defense. We’re still learning and gaining an attitude about it.”

On controlling the OSU offense: “It’s about doing your job on every snap, being disciplined with your eyes. Oregon (State) is great with a fly sweep. All in all, our discipline was really good and we executed the right plays at the right times. All in all, we had bodies on their receivers. We were tight and we did enough to make them uncomfortable in the pocket.”

On the Hail Mary at the end of the first half: “Initially, I didn’t want Oregon State to call timeout and for them to have all that clock. We put the offense on the field to make it look like we were going to go, and the plan was to run it down to two seconds, take the timeout and run the Hail Mary. We’ve been practicing it all week, and you never know when you’re going to use it. But when you do use it, you want to make sure you’re going to execute it, and it was well done.”

Oregon State head coach Mike Riley comments:

On the game: “I thought the story of the game, we never really responded by scoring points or controlling the ball and our defense wore out. But I thought we played a lot of good defense and special-team play. But we couldn’t put points on the board, and had we done that our defense could’ve maintained a better game.”

On the Beavers' offense: “We never really established anything. Early on, we ran the ball a little, but we never really complemented it with anything down the field of any substance. The coverage was tight and good and the pressure at other times was good. I would say we were probably disrupted. That’s probably the best way to put it.”

On the Hail Mary: “It looked like we got too many guys deep down the field. It didn’t look like we had guys on the goal line but drifted down past it and nobody in front to make a play.”

On the effects of the Hail Mary: “I thought our team was pretty good at the half, knowing they (USC) had completed (the Hail Mary) and some did some things really well. Even though we weren’t doing much on offense, our defense had played good for a long time, and at one point the only thing they (the Trojans) had really done is intercept a pass and run it back. Our team had some confidence we could do some stuff.”

More notes and anecdotes:

Key(s) to victory: Aided by a 48-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of the first half from junior quarterback Cody Kessler to sophomore wide receiver Darreus Rogers and a first-quarter 31-yard touchdown interception return by sophomore linebacker Su'a Cravens, the USC defense managed to contain the passing of Oregon State senior quarterback Sean Mannion (123 yards) to preserve the Pac-12 victory.

The streak: With Saturday’s defeat, Oregon State has now lost 23 straight games in the Coliseum, dating back to 1960.

Above the average: The Trojans scored 35 points against Oregon State on Saturday. The Men of Troy came into the OSU game averaging 32.0 points per game.

Hail Mary from Kessler: On the Hail Mary TD pass to finish the first half, Kessler said, “We wanted to run the clock down and it was either going to be a touchdown or an interception. Like Sark said, we do practice it two or three times a week in case we get those scenarios. Darreus made a great play. I think that sparked us for the second half and got the crowd pumped up.”

Rogers and out: On being the recipient of the Hail Mary touchdown reception, Rogers said, “I was hungry for the ball, and it’s my job to catch it. I was going to attach my hands to it. The size of my hands is my biggest strengths. When I caught the ball, I just wanted to know where the end zone was. It was a great feeling.”

Below the mean: The Trojans defense allowed 10 points to Oregon State on Saturday. The Men of Troy were allowing 20.0 points per game prior to the OSU game.

Secondary’s success: The key to the secondary, according to Cravens, was “the coaches calling the right plays at the right time and everybody executing. I’m really proud of the DBs.”

Offensive surplus: The Trojans had 461 yards in total offense against Oregon State on Saturday. The Men of Troy were averaging 443.0 yards per game prior to the OSU game.

On spreading the offense: According to Sarkisian, “I loved that. I think nine different guys caught passes today. We wanted to get Justin (Davis) more involved and split carries with Buck (Allen). Both ran well. Ajene Harris showed up on a huge third-down catch. All in all, there’s a little better flow to what we’re doing that way.”

Defensive dominance: Against Oregon State on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 181 total yards. Prior to playing OSU, the Trojans were allowing 412.0 yards per game.

The All-American: On containing OSU standout quarterback Sean Mannion, Trojans junior All-America defensive tackle Leonard Williams said, “If we can disrupt him and make him feel uneasy in the pocket, that was a key along with stopping their run game.”

Cardinal and Gold rush: Against Oregon State on Saturday, the Trojans rushed for 200 yards. Prior to the BC game, the Men of Troy were averaging 151.0 yards rushing per game.

Walker returns: Senior offensive tackle Andre Walker, who had not played for various issues, performed for the first time this season and said, “Things happen for a reason. You just have to overcome it. You have to turn negatives into positives. I want to help the team win games."

Immoveable object: Against Oregon State on Saturday, the Trojans defense allowed 58 net yards rushing. Prior to the OSU game, the Men of Troy were allowing 245.7 rushing yards per game.

Third downs: After the game, OSU safety Ryan Murphy said the Beavers couldn’t stop the Trojans on third down. Murphy said, “It’s on us. They converted a couple later on in the game that helped shift the momentum.”

Passing game: On Saturday against Oregon State, the Trojans passed for 261 yards. Prior to the OSU game, the Trojans were averaging 292.0 passing yards per game.

Air defense: On Saturday against Oregon State, the Trojans defense allowed 123 passing yards. Prior to the OSU game, the Trojans pass defense was allowing 166.3 yards passing per game.

Mannion speaks: Regarding the Trojans defense, Mannion said, “They’re a good team with great athletes. They’re well coached and will play good football. I think for portions of the game we played good football. I thought our offensive line did a good job and were really tough at the line of scrimmage. I think (USC) adjusted just as we do.”

Flagorama: On Saturday against Oregon State, the Trojans were penalized 14 times for 124 yards. Prior to the OSU game, the Trojans were averaging 61.0 yards in flags per game.

Strong Pac-12 start: The Trojans are 2-0 to start Pac-12 play for the first time since 2007.

Top tacklers: Cravens led the Trojans defense with six tackles, followed by senior middle linebacker Hayes Pullard with five tackles.

Rocky Balboa: Apparently the glitz and Hollywood are back, with actor Sylvester Stallone on the Trojans sideline.

The meat wagon: No major injuries were reported.

Counting the house: Coliseum attendance was announced as 74,521.

Scouting the talent: NFL representatives assessing the potential draft picks on Saturday night included the Steelers, Seahawks, Giants and Jets.

Next game: The Trojans will host Arizona State (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) next Saturday, Oct. 4, in the Coliseum with kickoff time to be announced.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
9:00
AM PT
Remember when everyone looked at week 5 on their college football calendar and thought to themselves, “Yeah, might not be a very exciting weekend"? Ha.

Let’s give out some helmet stickers to guys who made the weekend in Pac-12 football very, very exciting.

Su'a Cravens, S, USC: The sophomore finished with six tackles, one sack, one TFL and a 31-yard pick 6 in the Trojans' 35-10 win over Oregon State. It was a great defensive performance from the Trojans defense, and Cravens was a much-needed standout for a group that needed one.

Jared Goff, QB, California: Goff threw for 449 yards and seven scores in the Golden Bears' 59-56 double-overtime win over Colorado while completing 23 of 41 passes. He threw just one interception, but was able to lead the Bears to victory, snapping the Bears’ 15-game Pac-12 losing streak. Goff looked like a veteran and continues to impress with the strides he has made between years 1 and 2 under Sonny Dykes.

James Langford, K, Cal: He was 8 of 8 on extra points, but that’s not going to get a kicker on this list. But Langford -- who missed a 42-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter -- calmly hit a 34-yard FG in double overtime. Calm. Cool. Collected. Helmet Stickered.

Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado: Normally, a player who’s on a team that lost doesn’t get on this list. But when you throw for seven touchdowns and 449 yards (if that stat line looks familiar, it’s because it’s the EXACT SAME as Goff’s, though his QBR was slightly higher) then you get on this list. He also added 72 rushing yards on 10 carries. The sophomore didn’t look like a sophomore and did everything he could to get the ‘W’ for the Buffaloes.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Injured? His play certainly didn’t look like it. Hundley threw for four touchdowns and 355 yards in a 62-27 win over Arizona State on Thursday. He completed 18 of 23 passes and led his team into a pretty intimidating atmosphere and made the Sun Devils look like the team that was playing on an opponent’s field.

Ishmael Adams, DB, UCLA: A 95-yard interception return for a touchdown would probably get a player a helmet sticker. Add a 100-yard kickoff return for a score to that and you’re a shoo-in for a Pac-12 helmet sticker.

Peter Kalambayi, OLB, Stanford: The redshirt freshman was a big reason why the Stanford defense held Washington to 2.6 yards per play in the Cardinal's 20-13 victory. He sacked Cyler Miles three times and finished with six tackles.
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USC tailback Justin Davis came up with his biggest performance of the season up to this point on Saturday against Oregon State, and following the game he took time out to talk to WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz.

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