Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
10:00
AM PT
All times Pacific

10 a.m.

Washington at Colorado, Pac-12 Network


The Buffaloes are desperate for a conference win, and given Washington’s horrendous offensive struggles, this looks to be their best remaining chance. The Huskies can still wreak havoc defensively, though, so they’re the favorites entering this game. Cyler Miles will be back under center for Washington, which will try to escape Boulder with greater ease than UCLA, who beat the Buffs in double overtime, did last week.

1:30 p.m.

USC at Washington State, Pac-12 Network


Connor Halliday's passing yardage totals continue to light up box scores on a weekly basis, but Cougars losses are piling up just as quickly. Washington State must win out just to finish .500 this season, and that outcome appears highly unlikely. USC might be hurting after a close loss at Utah that also cost them left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but there’s a lot here for Wazzu to handle between Cody Kessler, his explosive targets, and Javorius Allen.

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsWill Marcus Mariota and Oregon solve Stanford, or will the Cardinal pluck the Ducks again?
4:30 p.m.

Stanford at Oregon, FOX


Don’t let the Cardinal’s three losses fool you: This is still a titanic match-up between the nation’s most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing only 3.7 yards per play, best in FBS) and its best quarterback (Marcus Mariota’s 192.2 rating is No. 1). However, it’s the other side of the ball that might ultimately decide the winner in the Ducks’ revenge effort. Stanford’s offense, though recently revamped, is averaging a league-worst 14.7 points per game on the road, while Oregon’s defense has not been airtight this season.

7:30 p.m.

California at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network


Sean Mannion will likely break the Pac-12’s career record for passing yards in this game, as the current mark, held by USC’s Matt Barkley, is just over 200 yards away. Fittingly, the quarterback on the other side -- Cal sophomore Jared Goff -- has a legitimate shot to re-break that record if he’s still around in two years. This one will be fun because it features two talented quarterbacks and an air of desperation, as both teams need a win to stay on reasonable track for bowl eligibility.

Arizona at UCLA, ESPN

It’s put up-or-shut up time in Westwood. The Bruins have squeaked by two lower-tier Pac-12 teams in Cal and Colorado. The road becomes more difficult with resurgent Arizona visiting. The Wildcats fired on all cylinders at Washington State last week, and Anu Solomon is certainly excited to test the shaky Bruins defense with the likes of Nick Wilson and Austin Hill. Meanwhile, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III has forced five fumbles this season, while UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has turned the ball over eight times. Keep an eye on the Bruins’ ability to protect the football.

8 p.m.

Utah at Arizona State, Fox Sports 1


So, how much has Arizona State’s defense — particularly its stoutness against the run — improved? We’ll find out when Utah’s Devontae Booker (leading the Pac-12 at 166 rushing yards per conference game) tests Tempe to wrap up Saturday. The Sun Devils had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight games before stifling Stanford. Washington also had some success against them on the ground last week (but none through the air), so this duel in the desert represents a true litmus test for both teams. The winner will be in excellent position when it comes to the race for the Pac-12 South crown.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
8:00
AM PT
Happy Friday! And Happy Halloween!

Leading off

Friday means picks! Big picks, small picks, upset picks and more. The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning with a little debate among the higher-profile games. And as we do each Friday, here are some picks from national writers and those who cover the conference.

The FOX pair of Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman are in sync with their Pac-12 picks. Both like Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona to beat Stanford, Utah and UCLA, respectively. Here is Feldman's take on the ASU-Utah matchup:
As good as the Utes D is playing, I think ASU QB Taylor Kelly can handle the heat. The Sun Devils have had fits dealing with the run, and Utah's Devontae Booker has been outstanding, but look for ASU to be able to give more focus to containing him since the Utes’ passing game is hampered further without leading receiver Dres Anderson (out for the season with a knee injury).
Big Board update

ESPN's Mel Kiper has released his latest Big Board projections, and as of right now, the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft will be from the Pac-12. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is No. 1 overall, followed by USC's Leonard Williams. Here's Kiper's take on the Oregon quarterback:
He combines above-average accuracy and anticipation with an ability to get through his progressions and elite athleticism. How well he can take apart a defense with tools other than his legs matters in terms of how he is viewed as a prospect, but his ability to throw on the run or simply take off and pick up chunk yardage is a major plus.

It's an insider piece, so I can't give away the farm. (Hint: my password is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Safe to say these two aren't the only Pac-12 players who appear in his top 25. There are five more (Washington fans, you'll be pleased).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Lisa Horne, proprietor of PigSkinGrind.com, offers up some awards and highlights thus far this season. She's a Heisman voter, so for what it's worth, she taps Mariota for having the top Heisman moment so far.

Speaking of Mariota ...

Five storylines for the USC Trojans as they prepare to face the Washington State Cougars on Saturday (1:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network).

A Day With Coach Orgeron

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
9:46
AM PT
video

MANDEVILLE, La. -- Ed Orgeron stirs a massive pot of gumbo the same way he would lead his defensive linemen through a drill during the dog days of preseason camp.

Beads of sweat forming on his forehead, Orgeron doesn't just stir this Cajun delicacy whipped up by his mother, known affectionately as "Co Co." He attacks it, making sure it's just right for serving.

Sure enough, the roux is heavenly, not to mention all of the ingredients that go with it.

"In Louisiana, you better know how to do two things -- swim and make a roux," Orgeron jokes.

It's game day at the Orgeron household, and like any football coach worth his salt, he has his ritual down to a science.

Only these days, the man they call "Coach O" isn't coaching, at least not until December, when he's sure to emerge as one of the hottest free agents on the market. He's too busy being a husband, father, cook and the biggest (and loudest) Mandeville High School fan on the planet while soaking up life on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

* * *

The first Saturday this season was the hardest.

"I really didn't know what to do with myself because the juices were flowing and I'm running around the house," says Orgeron, whose thick Cajun drawl is naturally amplified. "It's taken an adjustment to just calm down and watch the games and not be as emotional."

Maybe he's not as emotional, but the fire is still there.

Watching the games from an outdoor paradise his wife, Kelly, designed that includes a gourmet kitchen with multiple flat-screen TVs just feet from a saltwater pool and hot tub, Orgeron is ready to watch Kentucky-Mississippi State. The coach, who insists he has cut down on his beloved Red Bulls, is just getting warmed up.


(Read full post)


USC, Wazzu look to rebound

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
9:00
AM PT
LOS ANGELES -- So the last time the USC Trojans faced the Washington State Cougars was in the second game of the 2013 season, and the Cougs came away from the Coliseum with a stunning 10-7 victory, thanks to a 41-yard field goal by Andrew Furney with just 3:03 remaining in the contest.

The incredulous loss set in motion the eventual firing of Lane Kiffin, the promotion of former defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to interim head coach, the unexpected advancement later of offensive coordinator Clay Helton to interim head coach, and the eventual hiring of Steve Sarkisian as the current USC head coach.

Since that chain of events, the Trojans (5-3, 4-2 Pac-12), under first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian, and Washington State (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12), guided by third-year head coach Mike Leach, have been 2014 program roller coasters.

As we enter the month of November, it would be safe to say that both programs have not met expectations, and Saturday afternoon's game will either add to deeper misery and or keeping bowl hopes alive.

To put it on the table, neither team is expected to play in the Pac-12 title game but a bowl game is not out of the question. However, the road to a postseason reward is in sudden death for the Cougars. WSU has to win all its final four games to be bowl eligible.

On the other hand, the Trojans need to win just one more game to officially become bowl eligible. Including Washington State, the Men of Troy will have four shots to accomplish a potential bowl invitation.

If anything, this Saturday's game at tiny but loveable Martin Stadium figures to be a highly-entertaining affair, courtesy of that mad professor of Pac-12 airborne football, the one and only Mike Leach. The Cougars are one of the Pac-12's most top offenses, ranked second behind Arizona. On the other hand, the Trojans are ranked eighth in total offense.

Say what you want about the eccentricities of Mr. Leach, but the man has proven that he knows what he is doing. The Cougars have no problem putting points (35.2 avg.) on the board but have a problem keeping opponent's points off the board (38.0 avg.). Washington State will be led by senior quarterback Connor Halliday, who just happens now to be WSU's all-time leading passer and ranks tops in the Pac-12 as a thrower (479.1 ypg.)

The Trojans counter with junior quarterback Cody Kessler, who has played with grit and determination this season. In addition, with the Pac-12's leading rusher in junior Buck Allen (126.2 avg./g), the Trojans can light up the scoreboard as well (33.8), especially against a weak WSU defense.

Of course, it remains to be seen just what kind of teams come out of the locker room on Saturday. With the Trojans still trying to maintain some sense of purpose to the 2014 season and Washington State numb from last Saturday's 50-37 marathon loss to No. 14 Arizona, perhaps only a sports psychiatrist can predict what will happen this week in the Palouse Country.

To add a little extra distraction to Saturday's festivities, there is always the November weather in Pullman. The forecast is for light rain with a high of 45, which make for a true fall football game.

For the Trojans, they'll hope they won't be experiencing an Arizona State redo in terms of giving up massive yards through the air. If ASU backup quarterback Mike Bercovici can produce a 510-yard, five-touchdown passing performance, then you can imagine just what Halliday is capable of producing.

Last weekend in a losing effort to Arizona, Halliday, the nation's leading passer, threw for 489 yards on 79 pass attempts, good for four touchdowns. Given that Kessler recently tossed a single-game school record of seven touchdowns against Colorado, the prospects for a dueling passing circus is in the realm of probability.

At the very worst, Saturday's contest should be anything but dull, and there is nothing like a little quarterback showmanship for a potentially high-scoring, fall afternoon of enjoyment.

Pac-12 Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
9:00
AM PT
Why Stanford will win: Over the past two seasons, I've picked Oregon to win this game with a strong degree of confidence. And I've been wrong. So, with not much confidence -- the Cardinal already have lost three games and NT David Parry is hurt -- I am picking Stanford. Mostly because if I'm going to be wrong, I want to be wrong in a new way. And I want Ducks fans to troll me for it. -- Ted Miller

Why Oregon will win: The Ducks' offense has looked confident, explosive and efficient since it started to get healthy across the offensive line. The new-look Stanford offense, while maybe better suited for the current personnel, might not be able to sustain those long drives that have worn down Oregon in the past. Stanford's defensive injuries are a concern as well. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Arizona will win: Scooby Wright III and his gang of Wildcats are going to be too much for the UCLA offensive line. Anu Solomon, Nick Wilson and Austin Hill will all have big games for Arizona. Time to start making some sense out of the South. -- Chantel Jennings

Why UCLA will win: This feels a lot like 2012 -- a surging Arizona team coming to the Rose Bowl vs. a UCLA team that had had a couple of bad games. And we all remember what happened there (UCLA won 66-10). Different year, different players. I get all that. But last week was a wake-up call for the Bruins. This game is put-up or shut-up for them. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Utah will win: With matching three-game win streaks, there's plenty to like about both teams, but Utah's Devontae Booker could be the difference. In his first year in the Pac-12, the juco transfer has averaged a conference-best 166.3 rushing yards per conference game. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils have a chance to solve what's been a major weakness at home, and I think their upward trajectory indicates that they'll do just that. ASU's defense had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight entering the Stanford game Oct. 18, and even Washington ran the ball with success against the Sun Devils last week. So on paper, it's a bad matchup since Devontae Booker has made Utah a successful rushing team, but I have a feeling ASU will capitalize on this big (late) stage to make a statement. Plus, Taylor Kelly will have shaken off last week's rust. -- David Lombardi

Unanimous picks

Why USC will win: Washington State's defense just doesn't have it. That's particularly bad news this week, since Cody Kessler delivered a notable performance in the face of Utah's ferocious pass rush during USC's loss last week. Kessler has a bevy of weapons in the passing game, and the Trojans also own balance thanks to running back Buck Allen. They will score plenty of points in Pullman, Washington, and there'll again be too much pressure on Connor Halliday's shoulders. -- David Lombardi

Why Cal will win: Both teams are limping into this game, but I think the Bears' limp is more figurative -- they've lost their past three games after a 4-1 start -- while the Beavers are limping because of injuries physical and mental. Cal also just strikes me as hungrier, though the Bears must contend with a strong Oregon State pass defense. The loser here seems unlikely to become bowl eligible, while the winner will need just one more victory over the homestretch. -- Ted Miller

Why Washington will win: The Huskies snap their two-game losing streak with a 17-point win over Colorado on the road. Hau'oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton and Shaq Thompson are going to have a huge game for the UW front seven defensively and the offense will take a step forward with more consistent play through four quarters (plus, it'll help that there won't be 95 mph winds, as there were in Seattle last week). -- Chantel Jennings

Pac-12 morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
8:00
AM PT
Don't you draw the queen of diamonds boy, she'll beat you if she's able;
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.

Leading off

At this point in the season, any injury to a starter can be crippling. And in the ridiculously competitive Pac-12 South, it can be downright devastating. Earlier in the week we learned that USC would be without left tackle Chad Wheeler for the rest of the season. Wednesday, another impact player was lost for the year when Utah announced that wide receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
“We feel bad for Dres. It’s heartbreaking for that kid. He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s poured everything he had into this program for five years,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “Nobody’s outworked him. Nobody’s done more for us than Dres during that period of time. He’s taken care of business on and off the field. He’s got his degree already in hand.”

Here are some reactions:
The Utes, very much in the thick of things in the Pac-12 South -- and even the playoff conversation -- enter one of the toughest stretches in the country. After this week's trip to ASU, they are home to Oregon, at Stanford, home to Arizona and at Colorado to close out the season. According to FPI, the Utes have the second-toughest remaining schedule of the 25 ranked teams and the eighth toughest in the nation.

Heisman update

Catching you up on the Heisman race, which could take a turn this weekend with Stanford heading to Oregon, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is nearly neck-and-neck with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. In the latest ESPN.com poll, Prescott leads Mariota by a single point.

Here’s how it shakes out (followed by total points):
  1. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (45)
  2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (44)
  3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (18)
  4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (13)
  5. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (11)

No other Pac-12 players are receiving votes. Here’s guessing that if Mariota can finally get over his Stanford hump, he’ll enjoy a nice bump.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

I guess yesterday was National Cat Day? To which my beagle says, meh. The tweet is still funny, though.
D.J. Foster bringing his media skills to practice.
LOS ANGELES -- The USC Trojans took part in a two-hour practice session on Wednesday in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets, following which USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said that he was pleased with the way that his players have worked this week coming off a crushing loss at Utah, where they struggled down the stretch – a common theme for the team this season that he hopes to see corrected.

“I’ve just really tried to challenge the guys on coming out here with a great attitude, with great energy, and to their credit, they did it again,” Sarkisian said. “And I’ve made it a real clear point to them about actually how well we’ve played, but we have to finish better, and we have to be confident in our ability to finish, to make the plays at the critical moments. Because we’re plenty capable of doing it.”

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesWashington State quarterback Connor Halliday has 3,833 passing yards and 32 touchdowns this season, but also has thrown 10 interceptions in eight games.
The Trojans are set to face a Washington State team this Saturday that, while sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12 North Division with a record of 1-3 in conference and 2-6 overall, features an extremely dangerous passing offense.

Directing Mike Leach’s Air Raid passing attack, quarterback Connor Halliday ranks No. 1 nationally in both passing yards (3,833) and touchdowns (32), and the Cougars throw the ball almost 65 times per game.

Sarkisian said he wouldn’t be surprised if Washington State puts the ball in the air 85 times on Saturday, and that above all else, it’s going to be important for the Trojans to be patient on defense.

“We can’t get hung up if they complete some balls – they’re going to,” Sarkisian said. “If you throw the ball 85 times – I don’t care if there’s 85 players out there – you’re going to complete some passes. We’re going to have to live with that. The key is trying to pressure the quarterback some, disguise our coverages, get our hands on footballs, create some turnovers, create short fields and just try to make it hard on them so that it’s not just pitch and catch all day long.”

Lobendahn remains at left tackle

With Chad Wheeler out for the season after tearing his ACL this past weekend, Toa Lobendahn, who has started every game this season for the Trojans at left guard, lined up with the No. 1 offense at left tackle for the second consecutive day. Aundrey Walker ran with the No. 2 offense at that spot.

Having had a chance to go over film from Tuesday’s practice session, Sarkisian said he was impressed with what he saw from Lobendahn at tackle, and he inferred that the freshman will start there Saturday.

“He looked really good,” Sarkisian said. “He looked athletic. You know, we’ve always felt like his strength was his feet at guard. And at tackle, I thought it really showcased his feet, especially on film. And not just in the team settings, but when you watch the one-on-one stuff, pass rush … he really has good feet. That, quite honestly, for his future might be more of a natural position for him. So, that looks like the direction we’re going to go in.”

Damien Mama, meanwhile, did not participate in practice after injuring his knee on Tuesday, so Khaliel Rodgers ran exclusively at left guard with the No. 1 offense. Sarkisian said that they will see if Mama will be able to do more on Thursday.

More on injuries

  • Defensive lineman Leonard Williams (shoulder) took part in some early drills and warmups, but he did not suit up, and he sat out the vast majority of practice. Sarkisian said that they expect to have him ready to go against Washington State, though.
  • Nose tackle Antwaun Woods (illness) did not practice.
  • Fullback Soma Vainuku (hamstring) did not practice, and Sarkisian said that it doesn't look like he'll play this weekend.
  • Safety Gerald Bowman (foot) practiced, and Sarkisian was encouraged by how much he was able to do.
  • Wide receiver Ajene Harris (hamstring) was limited, and Sarkisian said Harris still isn't 100 percent.
News and notes

  • With Washington State passing the ball so much, Sarkisian said this could be a game in which we see more of outside linebackers Charles Burks and Quinton Powell. “Charles, he’s a natural pass rusher, as Quinton Powell is,” Sarkisian said. “That’s what they did in high school. And this game lends itself to them being able to play to their strengths.”
  • For the second straight day there was a spirited one-on-one period featuring the wide receivers against the defensive backs. A few highlights of note:

-Cody Kessler tried to hit JuJu Smith down the sideline, but Adoree' Jackson had great coverage and the pass fell incomplete.

-Max Browne hit George Farmer deep against Jonathan Lockett.

-Nelson Agholor jumped high to snag a Browne pass out of the air over Kevon Seymour.

-Browne connected with Smith deep against Leon McQuay III.

-Browne tried to hit Steven Mitchell over the middle, but Bowman broke it up.

  • Agholor, Smith and Mitchell each hauled in long touchdown passes during service-period work.
  • Former USC wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was among those in attendance.
As the Trojans head into the final month of the 2014 regular season they will do so without a pair of key players who were injured in the Utah game; left tackle Chad Wheeler and rush end J.R. Tavai.

Wheeler will miss the remainder of the year with a torn ACL while Tavai is out until the UCLA game, most likely, with a knee sprain.

As always, injuries to one player means opportunity for other players and the injuries to Wheeler and Tavai could have an impact on several other players.

At left tackle, the Trojans put Aundrey Walker in Wheeler's spot during the Utah game and the senior from Ohio performed admirably as a veteran who had started eight games at the spot in 2012. At this point, however, it looks like USC coach Steve Sarkisian will move true freshman Toa Lobendahn from left guard to left tackle as Lobendahn has taken the reps with the first team during practice this week.

The original move to replace Lobendahn at left guard was to put fellow true freshman Damien Mama in that spot but Mama suffered a recurrence this week of a knee injury that he first hurt in fall camp so redshirt freshman Khaliel Rodgers has moved into the starting spot. Rodgers had been the first team right guard through much of fall camp before having a knee injury of his own that knocked him out of the season opener and paved the way for Mama -- and eventually Viane Talamaivao -- to become the regular starter.

Walker -- who had an up and down fall camp of his own while trying to return from an ankle injury that happened last year against UCLA -- will serve as a rotating reserve for now with the ability to play both tackle and guard spots if needed.

"Toa has looked really good, very athletic," Sarkisian said after the Wednesday practice. "We've always thought his strength was his footwork at guard and I think that is showcased when he's at tackle. Quite honestly, tackle might be the most natural position for him in the future.

"With that being said, we're still going to have to rotate some guys. Khaliel Rodgers was in there at left guard today, Aundrey (Walker) is going to have to be ready to spell these guys, and Zach Banner at right tackle as well. And we will continue to monitor Damien to see how he responds. Khaliel is really back 100 percent healthy again, he's an excellent puller, that's something he does very well, and we loved to pull Toa when he was in that spot so that's something we lean on. Khaliel gives us some similarities in that regard to be able to get to the perimeter with our power run game."

On the defensive side, Tavai was having one of his best games of the year against the Utes with six tackles, a forced fumble and two tackles for loss before leaving the game after getting into a collision with teammate Hayes Pullard. Felix stayed in for the remainder of the game and ended up leading the Trojans in tackles with nine. Two players who could see an increase in playing time over the next two weeks against teams that are expected to throw the ball are Charles Burks and Quinton Powell.

"Felix probably brings a little more natural athleticism than Tavai, not as big or physical as J.R., but they are similar in terms of what they are asked to do within our scheme," Sarkisian said. "The key thing for Scott is that we're continuing to fight for consistency with him, he put up some good tackle numbers the other night but we've also had two games in a row where he jumped offsides on a third down, and a couple times where he came inside and lost contain. He's gonna make good plays, he's a really good player, but we're pushing him to not always try so hard to make those big plays.

"Charles Burks is a natural pass-rusher, as is Quinton Powell, and this game lends to them being able to play to their strengths. The odds are that Washington State is going to throw the ball so those two guys will have a chance to show their skill set."

WeAreSC chat, 2 p.m. PT

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
9:01
AM PT
On Wednesday, WeAreSC reporter Garry Paskwietz will be chatting about USC Trojans football. Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC and has been covering the Trojans since 1997. Send your questions now and join Paskwietz every Wednesday at 2 p.m. PT.
Man, they sure do play football different down South. It's grittier. Grimier. No one escapes unscathed. It's a grind unlike any other in college football.

After three years of the Pac-12's Battle of Northern Domination, the South has risen again. You, of course, knew we were typing about the Pac-12's South Division -- the Southwest -- not that adorable, quaint, scrappy crew in the SEC West, right?

It's the wild, wild West in the South Division. It's a gaggle of good teams with little obvious separation and several major showdowns ahead. All we need is Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood and John Wayne to mosey into the saloon to make the picture complete. Or maybe tubercular Doc Holiday will step out of the shadows and murmur, "I'm your huckleberry."

"Just about everybody controls their own destiny -- almost," said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, a noted enthusiast of Westerns. "We probably could have predicted -- we did predict it -- in the preseason because there's so much parity in our league, particularly in the South. Everybody is going to beat up on everybody else and it's going to be a wild race."

The six-team South has become a five-team race, with only Colorado out of contention. Four of those teams are ranked, and USC is the equivalent of 27th in the AP Poll. Three teams have just one conference loss, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah, and each of them controls its own destiny. They also have yet to play each other, though the Utes visit the Sun Devils on Saturday.

USC and UCLA have two conference defeats. Both lost to Utah, but USC beat Arizona and UCLA beat Arizona State. So there's plenty of room for us to end up with a labyrinthine tie-breaking procedure to decide who plays the North champion in the conference title game on Dec. 5.

Last year at this time, only Arizona State had just one conference loss, and UCLA and the Sun Devils were the only two ranked South teams. In 2012, no team finished ranked and division champion UCLA finished 9-5. In 2011, first year of Pac-12 play, USC dominated the division but was ineligible for the postseason, so UCLA represented the South in the inaugural Pac-12 title game with a losing record and a lame duck coach in Rick Neuheisel.

So the South being the conference's lead story is a new thing.

Things could sort themselves out a bit this weekend. No. 18 Utah visits No. 15 Arizona State, with the winner earning what could be an important advantage if the race came down to a tiebreaker. No. 25 UCLA plays host to No. 14 Arizona, and the Bruins probably should view this one as a proverbial "must-win" game. The Trojans visit Washington State, a team that shouldn't be taken lightly, even with a 2-6 record, considering the Cougars won at USC a year ago.

Despite all the rankings, it's interesting how many questions these teams have. At Arizona State, how will the QB situation with Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici play out? And is the defense truly ready for prime time? Utah also has QB questions with Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson -- or will the Utes simply lead with their defense and special teams? Can UCLA solve its O-line woes and inconsistent and often sloppy play and live up to its preseason hype? Or might the Trojans, after an "As the World Turns" season, emerge from the carnage?

While it's an undoubtedly big Saturday, it's difficult to believe things will be resolved before the last two weekends of the season. Arizona will be at Utah on Nov. 22 and then plays host to rival Arizona State on Nov. 28 in what could be a Territorial Cup for the ages. USC visits UCLA on Nov. 22, and the Bruins conclude their season at home versus Stanford on Nov. 28. USC is at home against Notre Dame on Nov. 29, when it could be celebrating a division title before even playing.

No team has an easy path home, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Utah faces the toughest remaining schedule -- No. 8 in the nation -- while Arizona's is the most manageable at No. 25.

Further, advanced metrics reveal a mixed predictive bag. Arizona, Arizona State and Utah have a better chance to win the South because they have one fewer loss than USC and UCLA in conference play, but USC and UCLA have a better chance to win their remaining games.

USC has the best chance to win the rest of its game, according to evaluative metric FPI, at 13.9 percent. Utah's chances to win out according to FPI are just 0.6 percent. As for the ultimate picture, FPI rates Arizona State as having the best chance to win the division at 34.2 percent. Arizona is next at 21.6 percent, while UCLA is last at 12 percent.

Got it? It probably will feel less confusing as we progress through November. Maybe.

It shouldn't surprise you in the least that the Pac-12 blog is going to lean on an old standby to placate all the "what ifs" you wide-eyed obsessives shall muster in the short term on Twitter and elsewhere: Lots of football left to be played.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
8:00
AM PT
The hurt doesn't show;
But the pain still grows;
It's no stranger to you and me.
(I know you totally just did the drums in your head!)

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! And the people rejoiced. All 12 teams are in action again, so here are the most current depth charts for each team (except, as you know by now, UCLA, which doesn't do a weekly depth chart). As always, I've made some notes below.
Notes (lots this week) News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Happy birthday, coach.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:15
PM PT
If the regular season ended today, Oregon would not be in the first four-team College Football Playoff.

The 12-member playoff selection committee revealed its first Top 25 rankings on Tuesday, and slotted the Ducks at No. 5. However, with several weeks left, the Ducks remain in good position to climb into a playoff spot by the end of the season.

The top four teams are: 1. Mississippi State; 2. Florida State; 3. Auburn; and 4. Ole Miss. Ole Miss and Mississippi State will play each other on Nov. 29.

At No. 12, Arizona led a group of four other Pac-12 teams in the selection committee's Top 25. The Wildcats were followed by No. 14 Arizona State, No. 17 Utah and No. 22 UCLA.

Besides UCLA, which has two losses, all of those teams have a conceivable route to the playoff by winning out. No matter what happens elsewhere, it would be very difficult to leave out a one-loss Pac-12 team, regardless of who it is.

The committee will officially announce the four playoff teams on Dec. 7.

Here's our weekly attempt at mapping out where the Pac-12 teams will end up come bowl season.

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

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 10

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
7:30
PM PT
Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Washington (5-3, 1-3 Pac-12) at Colorado (2-6, 0-5)
  • Washington (19.6 percent) is the only team in Pac-12 play that is scoring on less than 25 percent of its drives.
  • When facing a goal-to-go situation, the Washington defense has allowed a touchdown just five of 11 times in Pac-12 play (45.5 percent). That’s 16 percent lower than the conference’s next best team, USC (61.5).
  • Washington has scored the fewest points in conference play (18.5 per game), while Colorado has allowed the second most (45.8).
  • Colorado WR Nelson Spruce (77 catches, 864 yards, 11 touchdown receptions) is the only receiver in the country with at least 60 catches, 800 yards and 10 touchdown receptions.
  • Among the nine Power 5 teams winless in conference play, Colorado has the closest point margin per game (10.6).
USC (5-3, 4-2) at Washington State (2-6, 1-4)
  • On trips to the red zone in conference games, opposing teams have scored touchdowns 39.1 percent of the time against USC (9 for 23), which is the lowest in the conference.
  • USC RB Javorius Allen leads the nation with 846 yards rushing in conference games.
  • USC (84.5 yards per game) and WSU (75.0) are two of the three most penalized teams in Pac-12 games.
  • WSU QB Connor Halliday has thrown for 3,833 yards this season. That’s more total offense than all but 19 FBS teams.
  • Four WSU players (Vince Mayle, River Cracraft, Jamal Morrow, Isiah Myers) rank among the top seven in receptions in Pac-12 games.
Stanford (5-3, 3-2) at No. 5 Oregon (7-1, 4-1)
  • In Pac-12 games, Oregon leads the conference in yards per play (6.95) and Stanford ranks No. 4 (6.06).
  • After picking up the initial first down of a drive, Oregon scores 64.4 percent of the time. In the same scenario, Stanford’s scoring rate is 43.8 percent.
  • Stanford has allowed 0.89 points per drive this season, the third fewest in the country.
  • The Cardinal is the only team in the Pac-12 to force opponents to punt more than half the time (53.8 percent).
  • Stanford held Oregon to 34 points combined over the last two seasons. Only two other teams during those seasons held the Ducks to fewer than 35 in a single game.
California (4-4, 2-4) at Oregon State (4-3, 1-3)
  • Oregon State has seen an average of 32.5 pass attempts per game on defense in conference play, the fewest in the Pac-12. Cal has averaged 45.5 per game on offense.
  • Cal has forced teams to go three-and-out 9.8 percent of the time in conference play, the lowest rate the conference.
  • Oregon State has allowed just 11 passes of 20 or more yards in Pac-12 play (second fewest), while Cal has connected on 33 such plays (most).
  • Cal QB Jared Goff averages 8.74 yards per attempt, the second most in the conference behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
  • Oregon State QB Sean Mannion needs 194 yards passing to break Matt Barkley’s Pac-12 career passing record (12,327)
No. 14 Arizona (6-1, 3-1) at No. 25 UCLA (6-2, 3-2)
  • Among players with at least 30 carries in Pac-12 play, UCLA RB Paul Perkins is averaging the most yards per carry (8.01). He’s averaged 9.34 yards on first down.
  • Arizona LB Scooby Wright is the only player in the country with at least nine sacks and five forced fumbles.
  • Arizona QB Anu Solomon is one of six quarterbacks in the country with at least 20 touchdown passes and fewer than five interceptions.
  • In conference games, UCLA has the second-best yards margin per game in the Pac-12 (plus-63), behind only Stanford (plus-134).
  • UCLA has out gained Arizona just three times in the the teams' last 10 meetings.
No. 18 Utah (6-1, 3-1) at No. 15 Arizona State (6-1, 4-1)
  • Utah has registered a first down or scored a touchdown on 23.7 percent of its offensive plays during Pac-12 games, which is the fewest in the conference.
  • Utah has thrown the ball 33 percent of the time on first down, the lowest in the Pac-12.
  • In seven games, Utah leads the nation with 35 sacks. No other team which has played just seven games has more than 28.
  • ASU WR Jaelen Strong has accounted for 32.9 percent of the Sun Devils’ receptions this year, the highest percent among Pac-12 receivers.
  • ASU RB D.J. Foster is averaging 7.55 yards per touch from scrimmage this season, the most of any Pac-12 player with at least 80 touches.
Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8Week 9

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 11/1