UCLA: Lane Kiffin

Preseason position reviews: Quarterback

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
9:00
AM PT
It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.

UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.

Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.

Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.

USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.

Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.

California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.

WE'LL SEE

Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.

Pac-12 prognostication pratfalls of 2013

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
5:30
PM PT
Life is full of great joys. A child's smile. A roasting whole pig. A sunset at the beach. A sunset at the beach with a child's smile and a roasting whole pig. And a drink with an umbrella in it. Hitting a point at a Vegas craps table covered in chips.

Yet for some of you, there is no greater joy than the Pac-12 blog face planting. We imperiously prognosticate -- some might call it "doing our job" but let's not get bogged down in nuance -- and we often end up going rear-end-over-tea-kettle. Pointing that out in colorful ways is not unlike a second Christmas morning for some of you.

In 2012, the Pac-12 blog was practically the Walmart of bad predictions. You might recall our doe-eyed affection for Matt Barkley-led USC. We were exposed early and often.

So, as we start to formulate many of our preseason predictions for 2014, it seems worthwhile to look back the 2013 preseason in an effort to establish how often we were stupid and how often your favorite blind squirrels actually found nuts.

We'll start with our preseason list of the Pac-12's top-25 players. And here's our postseason list.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesHey, turns out we were right about Oregon's Marcus Mariota being the Pac-12's top player.
The postseason top 10:
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 3: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 4: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
No. 5:Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
No. 6: Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 8: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 9: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 10: Leonard Williams, DE, USC

The preseason top 10:
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 4. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
No. 5. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 6. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 7. Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 8. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 9. David Yankey, OG, Stanford
No. 10. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

As noted here, there were plenty of changes between the two.
Who made the preseason list and missed the postseason list?
3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
11. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
14. De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon
17. Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford
19. Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
20. Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon
21. Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford

Notes: Injuries or getting the boot (Lyerla) was the biggest reason these guys fell off the postseason list. Reynolds' numbers fell off, and the Cardinal's pass defense slipped to the middle of the conference, but I'm sure David Shaw would tell us we blew it. Hogan had a good season but maybe didn't take as big a step forward as some of us thought he would. Bradford, as previously noted, had a good, but not great, season and was eclipsed by other players.

Still, there wasn't much to be embarrassed about with either list.

Here's how Kevin and I voted in the Pac-12 preseason media poll:
Kevin Gemmell's ballot

North

  1. Stanford
  2. Oregon
  3. Washington
  4. Oregon State
  5. Washington State
  6. California
South

  1. Arizona State
  2. UCLA
  3. USC
  4. Arizona
  5. Utah
  6. Colorado
Pac-12 title game champion: Stanford

Ted Miller's ballot

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsAnd yes, we nailed the Stanford-Arizona State title game matchup with Stanford heading to the Rose Bowl.
North

  1. Stanford
  2. Oregon
  3. Washington
  4. Oregon State
  5. California
  6. Washington State
South

  1. Arizona State
  2. USC
  3. UCLA
  4. Arizona
  5. Utah
  6. Colorado
Pac-12 title game champion: Stanford

Hmm. It appears that we both picked the divisional winners and Pac-12 champion correctly. We, clearly, rock.

Did you notice anything about Kevin's ballot. It looks exactly like the final Pac-12 standings. He, by the way, never, ever mentions that.

How about the preseason power rankings versus the final version?

The top-six in both matches up precisely. Betting that's the first time that has happened since the Pac-12 blog began in 2008.

The bottom six is far less precise, though no team is more than two spots different in the final ranking than in the preseason version.

Then there were our self-proclaimed "Bold Predictions."

As more than a few of you have pointed out, these often are not so bold, but that doesn't stop them from being wrong. Further, because they were made in January of 2013, some of them actually ran counter to our late-summer predictions, such as picking Stanford as the Pac-12 leader. The switch from Oregon came after Chip Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles.

We made 19 predictions. Seven were correct or mostly so:

  • The Pac-12 will finish 2013 with six teams in the Top 25: That will be six of this seven: Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Oregon State.
  • The Washington renaissance will arrive: The Huskies will finish 9-3 in 2013, opening the new Husky Stadium in style.
  • Colorado will win four games in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre: And Buffs fans will be reasonably encouraged.
  • The sledding will be rough in Sonny Dykes' first season at California: The Bears don't have great talent coming back, but the schedule is the biggest problem. By my guess, Dykes will play eight ranked teams in his first season, including a strong Big Ten duo at home the first and third weekends of the season (Northwestern and Ohio State).
  • Arizona's offensive numbers will make everyone realize how good Matt Scott was: Arizona averaged 37 points and 522 yards per game last year because of QB Matt Scott, who ranked seventh in the nation in total offense with 338.5 per game. He was a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's K offense. We expect the Wildcats' offense to take a step back in 2013, whether B.J. Denker or JC transfer Jesse Scroggins wins the QB job. As good as national rushing champion Ka'Deem Carey is, he will find the holes a bit smaller without Scott, even with a solid offensive line coming back.
  • Defenses will continue to rise: Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr will be first-team preseason All-Americans, and Stanford will again have one of the nation's top 10 defenses. But we also expect across-the-board improvement on defense.
  • But it will still be the Conference of QBs: Mariota will win the Heisman and again earn the first-team All-Pac-12 nod, but the battle for second-team will be hot between Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, Stanford's Kevin Hogan, UCLA's Brett Hundleyand Washington's Keith Price, who will be the conference's Comeback Player of the Year.
  • Breakout player: Junior Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks will earn first-team All-Pac-12 honors with Marqise Lee.

The last one was mostly about Cooks breaking out, as he did as the Biletnikof Award winner. The Huskies went 9-4, but it's certainly fair to term the season a "renaissance." Arizona's offensive numbers went down, but B.J. Denker, while limited, turned in a better season than most expected.

Some were way off. Such as:
[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBut about that Lane Kiffin will quiet his critics thing ... um, did we mention that we did say USC would win 10 games and they did?
Lane Kiffin and USC will post a bounce-back season: We expect the Trojans to win 10 games -- that's with a highly favorable 13-game schedule, by the way -- and return to the national rankings. Although the Trojans won't return to dominance, they will play better all-around football in 2013, and it will be enough to quiet Kiffin's critics -- at least enough for him to return in 2014. We don't, however, expect USC to win the South Division.

He was fired before midseason, though the Trojans did win 10 games, including their bowl victory.

And, of course, our Oregon enthusiasm -- national champs! Marcus Mariota wins Heisman! -- didn't come to pass.

Then there were our week one bowl projections:

VIZIO BCS National Championship: Stanford vs. BCS
Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO: Oregon vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Washington vs. Big 12
Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: UCLA vs. ACC
Las Vegas: USC vs. MWC
Fight Hunger: Arizona vs. BYU
Gildan New Mexico: Washington State vs. MWC

Four of those were correct -- the Holiday, Sun, Las Vegas and New Mexico.

Finally, there were our "Best case-worst case" flights of fancy. There is a strong possibility this series will be retired. It feels as if it might have jumped the proverbial shark.

(We typed the exact same thing last year, but this year we, unfortunately, mean it).

Final Pac-12 Power Rankings

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
1:00
PM PT
If you don't like where you ended up in the Power Rankings, you should have played better.

Click here for Week 15's Power Rankings. Note that these rankings reflect the totality of the season.

1. Stanford (11-3, 7-2): Oregon finished higher in the final polls, but Stanford is the Pac-12 champion. And everyone out West remembers what happened Nov. 7.

2. Oregon (11-2, 7-2): The Ducks spent most of the season as a national title contender, but the regular season ended with a thud. The bowl victory over Texas was nice, and when you think about it, 11-2 and a final No. 9 ranking is, well, not too bad for Mark Helfrich's debut season.

3. Arizona State (10-4, 8-1): If the Sun Devils had taken care of business in the National University Holiday Bowl and grabbed an 11th win, this would have been a special season. As it turned out, it was merely a very good one.

4. UCLA (10-3, 6-3): The Bruins fell short of the South Division title because of a loss to Arizona State, but a 10-3 finish with a final No. 16 ranking tells the ultimate story: UCLA is trending up. Oh, and in case anyone forgot, there also was that second consecutive victory over USC for coach Jim Mora. Did anyone forget? Anyone? Bueller?

5. USC (10-4, 6-3): The Trojans had two seasons: the miserable start under Lane Kiffin and the strong second half under interim coaches Ed Orgeron and, in the bowl game, Clay Helton. Going 10-4 and finishing ranked 19th, particularly under the trying circumstances, is about the best that could have been hoped. Other than losses to UCLA and Notre Dame. That part could have been better.

6. Washington (9-4, 5-4): After three consecutive 7-6 seasons, the Huskies broke through in 2013, finishing 9-4 and ranked 25th. Credit goes to Steve Sarkisian for turning around a program that went winless the year before he arrived. He leaves behind a team with plenty of potential for new coach Chris Petersen.

7. Arizona (8-5, 4-5): The Wildcats had an interesting season. In part, their eight wins were because of a pillow-soft nonconference schedule that was a guaranteed 3-0 start. But they also beat Oregon and won a bowl game, dominating Boston College on both sides of the ball. On the downside is a second consecutive defeat to their friends in Tempe.

8. Oregon State (7-6, 4-5): The Beavers started horribly with a loss to Eastern Washington then rolled off six consecutive wins. Then, with the schedule ramping up considerably, they lost five in a row to finish the regular season. The strong performance in the Hawaii Bowl against Boise State took some of the sting out of the losing streak. But only some.

9. Washington State (6-7, 4-5): If the Cougars had won their bowl game, they would have been seventh here. Losing to Colorado State is bad under any circumstances, but the way the Cougs wilted at the end was horrid and should operate as fuel to motivate the team this offseason. Still, despite losing their final two games and finishing with a losing record, getting back to a bowl game was a big deal in the second season under Mike Leach.

10. Utah (5-7, 2-7): A second consecutive losing season is not what Utes fans have come to expect, even with a red-letter win over Stanford. Further, they are 5-13 in Pac-12 play in the past two seasons. There were major injury issues, most notably to QB Travis Wilson, but Utah can't be happy with its early performance in the conference. On the plus side, beating BYU and Utah State means state rivals don't have much room to rib the Utes.

11. Colorado (4-8, 1-8): There wasn't anywhere to go but up for Colorado after going 1-11 in 2012, and the Buffaloes went up this season under first-year coach Mike MacIntyre. They were still mostly outclassed in Pac-12 play, but there were signs of taking a step forward. The question now becomes, can they move up in the South Division?

12. California (1-11, 0-9): It was perhaps the most miserable season in Cal history in the first year under Sonny Dykes. The injuries were so epidemic it almost became comical -- almost -- but the effort and execution from the healthy players wasn't so hot either. The Bears need to show improvement next fall or the going could be tough for Dykes.

Mailbag: More Sankey-Carey kerfuffle

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
2:30
PM PT
Postseason awards and All-America teams are a hot, and always controversial, topic this week.

Chris in Lake Stevens, Wash. writes: (Ka'Deem) Carey over (Bishop) Sankey? Are you an idiot or an Arizona grad? Sankey had more yards, more TDs and a better YPC. You've lost all credibility as far as I'm concerned.

Kevin Gemmell: Really? All credibility? Idiot? For picking a first-team All-American, a Doak Walker finalist, a guy who finished ahead of Sankey in the Heisman voting and the offensive player of the year as selected by the coaches?

Guess the coaches are idiots as well.

I’m happy to re-open the debate (and I will below). But your note smacks of uneducated fanaticism.

Chris L in Memphis writes: In making his case on East Coast bias, Ted wrote this: "Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey is the nation's best running back." Please make the case as to how Carey is even the best back in his conference.

Kevin Gemmell: I’d be happy to, Chris. And thanks for your letter. I know this particular Chris to be an extremely educated Washington fan -- the kind that makes Washington fans look good.

First off, as I stated in last week’s mailbag, I thought Ted’s East Coast bias column was one of the strongest pieces I’ve ever read from him.

Obviously, the Sankey vs. Carey debate will rage for years. And it should. It’s fun to debate the merits, of which there are many, of two fantastic players. Washington fans will always back Sankey -- which is right. And Arizona fans will always back Carey -- which is also right. There's just a right way and a wrong way to do it (cough, cough, Chris in Lake Stevens). Because both are outstanding running backs with the physical build and skill sets to be successful running backs at the next level.

Sankey had more total yards and more touchdowns. Carey had more yards per game and 10 fewer zero or negative rushing plays (Sankey had 45, Carey 35). We won’t get into the debate of playing time because I know Sankey sat the second half of some games and Carey missed a game, etc. etc. Carey had more carries because his team didn’t have the passing attack that Washington did. The Huskies averaged 271.3 yards through the air per game with 24 touchdowns. Arizona had just 186.8 passing yards per game with 14 touchdowns. Washington leaned heavily on Sankey, but I think we can all agree that Arizona leaned more heavily on Carey.

The little separation that exists in my mind is because of Carey’s consistency. I broke this down in a column earlier this month and essentially Carey did his best work -- more than 20 yards above his average -- against the top competition.

Sankey and Carey had six games this year that involved common opponents: Oregon, ASU, California, Colorado, UCLA and Washington State. In those games Sankey averaged 144 yards with eight total touchdowns. Against the same competition, Carey rushed for 152.5 yards with 11 touchdowns.

Sankey was outstanding. But his overall season takes a hit from the ASU game (13 carries, 22 yards) and, yes, the fact that Carey’s team beat Oregon and he was a huge reason why has to weigh in.

Again, this is a Fujis vs. Honey Crisp discussion. But when you look at overall consistency -- essentially zero bad statistical games for Carey -- the fact that he did better against head-to-head competition and that he was at his best against tougher defenses, I think that justifies making a case for him as the best back in the league.

Weston in Costa Mesa, Calif. writes: Hello Kevin, I was curious to know what your view is on the state of USC football going into the next few seasons. Where does the program go if Sark doesn’t work out and is he in the hot seat right away if he doesn’t deliver in the first year (by deliver I mean anything less than an 8 win season).ThanksWestonps. I’m a Stanford fan living in a USC ruled area and everybody is talking about this.

Kevin Gemmell: This is sort of a two-parter. The first part, the state of USC football over the next few seasons, is essentially asking what do I think Steve Sarkisian can do for the program. The second part is if he doesn’t succeed, how quick will he get the hook.

I can’t imagine that if he only wins seven games in his first year that Pat Haden would put him on the hot seat. Haden showed an amazing amount of patience with Lane Kiffin and gave him the opportunity to right the ship in 2013. When it was clear the ship wasn’t being righted, he made his move.

This was a high-profile hire for USC and for Haden. A lot of eyes will be on this decision for the next few years. And my best bet is that Haden is going to do everything possible to convince people he got his guy.

As for how they’ll do? Well, there are some really, really talented players on both sides of the ball. And it was pretty clear that the Trojans underachieved with Kiffin as their head coach because they clearly had the talent to rip off five in a row and beat the No. 4 team in the country in Stanford.

We’ve said this before … USC is a brand. It is always going to attract high-profile recruits simply because it’s USC. You combine that with a bulldog of a recruiter in Sarkisian and you have to expect the Trojans will be just fine.

The question is what happens once he does get those elite athletes into the program. How does he develop the talent? How does he handle the X’s and O’s? He did an amazing job of bringing Washington back to respectability. But he never got them into the elite class. Perhaps with a few more years in Seattle he would have? We’ll never know. But that certainly plants a lingering question about what he can do at USC.

I think given the way the South sets up for the next few years, USC could certainly win it. Or ASU could repeat. Or UCLA could win its third division in four years. Or Arizona could make a run when their potential All-Universe scout team starts playing in games.

The South is so wide open right now that there really isn’t one clear-cut team that is a favorite. And I think USC has to be considered in that mix. The Trojans could win the South next year. Or they could finish fourth in the division.

I’m willing to give Sark and Haden the benefit of the doubt that they can get USC moving in the right direction. Sark might not be the biggest name nationally, but he has the pedigree that fits very well with the culture in Southern California.

Peter in Washington writes: Did you intentionally leave off the second common opponent between BYU and UW? Both teams played FCS Idaho State year as well as Boise State.

Kevin Gemmell: The simple answer would have been yes, it was intentional, because Idaho State is an FCS team and it wasn’t worth mentioning. But truth be told, I just missed it. So thanks for keeping me honest. And in the interest of getting all of the information out there, Washington beat Idaho State 56-0 on Sept. 21. BYU beat the Bengals 59-13 on Nov. 16.

Mike in Boston writes: I thought I'd give you a heads up that you came in fifth in the Cardboard's (an independently run Stanford fan community) "Predict the Score" game for predicting Stanford's game outcomes. We entered the predicted scores from your weekly post on Pac-12 games. Note, Miller sits all the way down at No. 15.

Kevin Gemmell: Awesome! Had no idea you guys were doing that. Since I finished 10 spots ahead of Ted, I think it’s fair that the next 10 rounds of non-alcoholic eggnog are on him.

Sun Devil Ric in San Diego writes: I thought I understood the politics of trophies and All-American teams, but I guess I'm still clueless. Why did ASJ win the Mackey award, but isn't named on a single All-American team yet?

Kevin Gemmell: You understand them? Really? Please share. Because I've been at this a long time and I still don't know.

Tight end was a deep position this year. And ASJ did get named third-team AA in the AP All-American team. Like every single postseason award, there is a level of subjectivity that is tough to comprehend because it's different for everyone. I wish I could climb into the minds of the voters and give you a clear-cut explanation for why things are the way they are when it comes to postseason awards. But I can't.

All I can say is I think the Mackey folks got it right.

Ryan in New York writes: Kevin, Great work by you and your partner Miller on the ESPN.com AA team. I think the Pac was well represented, and that's testimony to you and Ted spreading the good word and fighting the good fight. Well done. Happy HolidaysRC

Kevin Gemmell: Back atcha Ryan. There will never be a perfect postseason list. And I would have liked to see Anthony Barr on our list also. But the fact that Barr appears on others, as does Trent Murphy, shows just how deep and talented the Pac-12 was this season.

Looking forward to another year of why UCLA is overrated mailbag drops from you. But for now, enjoy the bowl season and the holiday season.

That goes for the rest of you, too. (Yes, Chris in Lake Stevens, even you).

Conference wrap: Pac-12

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
10:00
AM PT
It’s tough to put a grade on the 2013 edition of Pac-12 football. When we look back 20 years from now, all that will probably stand out is that the Pac-12 had just one BCS bowl team in the final year of the Bowl Championship Series. So with Stanford carrying the flag for the league, its performance against Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio takes on a greater importance.

But this year, perhaps more than any other, the Pac-12 showed why it is one of the toughest, if not the deepest, conference in all of college football. It passed the nonconference test, going 31-6 against non-league competition -- with wins over teams from the SEC, Big Ten and ACC. It crushed the Mountain West, going 10-0 against the West Coast’s little brother conference. And three more meetings in the postseason could extend it to 13-0.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Matt YorkDavid Shaw has Stanford atop a very deep conference.
Speaking of bowls, a record nine Pac-12 teams are in the postseason, 75 percent of the league. Washington State is bowling for the first time since 2003. Colorado is making headway. Utah appears right on the cusp of breaking through.

There were thrilling upsets. (Utah, Washington State and USC all get thumbs up.) There was the Week 1 Oregon State debacle. There were All-Americans, national award winners and a style of football that is uniquely Pac-12.

The influx of big-name coaches has raised the ante over the past few seasons, and that trend continued this year, with Steve Sarkisian’s move to USC and Chris Petersen’s ingress to Washington.

The South was nasty, and will be again next year. Arizona State has staked its claim. But UCLA is right on the Sun Devils’ heels, as are USC and an Arizona squad that has the potential to be very, very scary in 2014.

The North belongs to Stanford until proven otherwise. The Cardinal's recipe for beating Oregon has yielded fruit for two years. But with Marcus Mariota back for another season, you certainly have to expect the Ducks to be a top-10 team. And Petersen’s arrival makes Washington an instant player for the division.

The best thing the Pac-12 can go is finish strong in the postseason, win its BCS bowl game and head into the playoff era with plenty of momentum.


Offensive MVP: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey
was arguably the most consistent skill player in college football this season, posting at least 100 yards in every game he played and finishing with 1,716 yards and 17 touchdowns on 322 carries (5.3 average). He also caught 26 passes and a touchdown.

Defensive MVP: With 14 sacks, Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy was the Pac-12 and the national leader in getting at the quarterback. He also ranked third nationally with 21.5 tackles for loss. Murphy posted 58 total tackles, blocked a kick, forced a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown.

Newcomer of the year: Plenty of fantastic options, including ASU receiver Jaelen Strong and Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam. But it was UCLA linebacker/running back Myles Jack who made the biggest splash. The Bruins' true freshman posted 70 tackles with five for a loss, an interception and two forced fumbles. He also blocked a kick. As a running back he carried 37 times for 269 yards with seven touchdowns.

Biggest surprise: Washington State athletic director Bill Moos said he thought the Cougars would start being a consistent winner by 2014. Coach Mike Leach had his own timetable. In just his second season in Pullman, Leach has the Cougars in a bowl game for the first time since 2003 -- and they recorded a marquee win on the road at USC in Week 2 that ultimately helped them become bowl-eligible.

Biggest disappointment: There was no great redemption story for Lane Kiffin. In fact, the Trojans looked like a significantly improved team after he was removed from his coaching duties. Hopes were high that Kiffin would be able to turn the Trojans around after an abysmal 2012. But a 62-41 loss at ASU in Week 5 was the straw that broke the back of his fairly underwhelming tenure with the Trojans.

Best game: At the quarter pole, we went with Oregon State at Utah. At the midway post, we went with Oregon State at Utah. And now in the season wrap, we’re sticking with that. That game, now more than ever, spells out the importance of every single week. Oregon State would be home for the holidays without that dramatic 51-48 overtime victory. And because of said dramatic overtime defeat, the five-win Utes are out of the postseason again. From a pure tension and excitement level, that game was tough to beat.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
11:00
AM PT
Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.

Plenty at stake for Trojans, Bruins

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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Arizona State’s 38-33 victory over UCLA last week solidified one thing: Neither UCLA nor USC will be playing in the Pac-12 championship game.

Los Angeles has represented the South Division the first two years of the title game. UCLA went both times, but USC fans will always hold a 50-0 asterisk over the Bruins’ heads for 2011.

Still, motivation isn't an issue when these teams meet.

The Bruins have won just twice in the last 14 meetings, and they haven’t won at the Coliseum since 1997. But they won last year in a game that was (almost) the final insult on an otherwise train-wrecked 2012 for the Trojans.

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Eric RisbergA USC win over UCLA could help interim head coach Ed Orgeron remove the "interim" from that title.
Both coaches will tell you their teams aren't preparing any differently. And it’s probably true. But below the undertow of mutual respect and coaching clichés is a bitterness that goes back decades. To say nothing of the fact that bowl pecking order also comes into play.

“We do understand that this is our rivalry game and this is a game that’s huge for our fan base and huge for our players,” USC interim coach Ed Orgeron said. “… No disrespect, but this is a game that we want to win very badly.”

It’s a huge game for Orgeron, also, because he has put himself in position to lose the “interim” status from his title. Since Lane Kiffin was fired after the Sept. 28 Debacle in the Desert, Orgeron has led the Trojans to a sterling 6-0 mark in Pac-12 play and a 6-1 record overall. They've resurfaced in the BCS rankings at No. 23, one spot behind the No. 22 Bruins.

Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles summed it up best:
This next game is the kind of thing Ed Orgeron was born for. He’s a fiery motivator who loves to talk about USC tradition and will find the right emotional buttons to push to have his team excited about Saturday’s game.

UCLA coach Jim Mora recognizes it, also.

“You see an energy,” Mora said. “I don’t know if you call that a tangible or an intangible. But you see an energy and enthusiasm and passion and a group of guys going out and having a lot of fun … They are a team that’s filled with a lot of good football players. There’s a lot of talent over there and they are playing with a lot of confidence right now. Their energy and their confidence level is apparent.”

Mora is hoping that confidence isn't something his guys are lacking following their loss to the Sun Devils, who claimed the Pac-12 South title and sacked quarterback Brett Hundley nine times in the process.

The Trojans, who rank fourth in the conference with 33 sacks on the year, are hoping they can make a similar impact against a UCLA offensive front that starts three true freshmen.

“[Hundley] can make you miss,” Orgeron said. “We had a hard time getting him down last year. We thought we rushed the passer very well but we could not get him down. He’s the key to their offense. They have a very good scheme. They are very well-coached. It should be a tough ballgame.”

Mora has been equally impressed with the play of USC’s quarterback, Cody Kessler. In the first five games of the year, Kessler was completing 63.4 percent of his throws with an average of 166.4 yards per game with six touchdowns to four interceptions. In the seven games since Orgeron took over and Clay Helton started calling the offense, Kessler is completing 65.8 percent of his throws, averaging 231 yards per game with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

“When you have talent like Cody does and you get an opportunity to play, like he’s getting, and you gain that experience, like he is, you’re going to get better,” Mora said. “This is a talented young man and he’s getting snaps and he’s feeling more comfortable in that offense and he’s getting a rhythm with his receivers. Talent plus experience, that equals good performance.”

Being the biggest show in town comes with its share of distractions. Yet both coaches said they believe their players aren't going to get caught up. Mora especially praised his young team for showing great resiliency following each of their three losses this season.

“I think our young men do a good job of that every week, of focusing on what it’s going to take to go out and play their best,” Mora said. “We talk about having zoom focus and eliminating distractions and following our routine. This week is no different. You prepare like you prepare. You focus on what you’re supposed to focus on. All that periphery stuff doesn't necessarily affect what happens on the field. Our guys have a firm grasp of that and I think that helps us.

“These are two very proud programs with a lot of tradition. Our schools sit about 12 miles from each other and this town is very divided between Trojan and Bruin. There is a lot of pride that goes along with being either a Bruin or a Trojan.”

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
10:15
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

  1. The big one: No. 5 Stanford will host No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night in a game that is sure to send shock waves throughout the Pac-12 and BCS Standings. A win for the Ducks likely re-catapults them back over Florida State and into the No. 2 spot of the BCS rankings -- the outcome of Alabama-LSU pending. A victory for the Cardinal keeps their national championship hopes alive, but they’d still need some help along the way to pass Ohio State and Florida State. This is just the second time that two Pac-12 teams have met while ranked in the top five of the BCS standings. The last time was No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Oregon in 2007.
  2. [+] EnlargeByron Marshall
    Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall leads the Oregon rushing attack at Stanford on Thursday night.
    Edges matter: Per the brilliant number crunchers at ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinal will have to contain the Ducks when they try to run outside. Oregon averages 8.7 yards per rush outside the tackles, second among all AQ teams behind Wisconsin. Last season, Stanford forced Oregon to run 63 percent of the time between the tackles. And when the Ducks did get outside, the Cardinal were able to contain them to the tune of just 29 yards, 1.9 yards per rush and 1.3 yards before contact. In Oregon’s other games last season, they averaged 108.1 yards per game outside the tackles.
  3. The other side of the ball: We know about Oregon’s offense. We know about Stanford’s defense. How about when roles are reversed? The Cardinal offense hasn’t been all that productive of late, averaging just 21.6 points over its past three games. Oregon’s defense yields just 16.9 points per game -- seventh-best in the country. Turnovers will obviously be a premium for both defenses. Stanford has a zero turnover margin with 11 takeaways and 11 giveaways. Oregon, however, is plus-13 with 23 turnovers gained to 10 turnovers lost.
  4. Quotable: Always good for a one-liner, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked earlier in the week about De’Anthony Thomas’ comments that he expects the Ducks to score at least 40 points. “I don’t have an issue with that,” Shaw said. “He’s a confident young man, and they put it on film. They’ve done it. So I have no problem with that if that’s his mentality. I’m just glad he only said 40.” Seeing as Shaw has a penchant for the us-against-the-world approach for his team, here’s betting he had a different message for his defense behind closed doors.
  5. South showdown (1): UCLA heads to Tucson, where it hasn’t won since 2003 -- the first year of the Karl Dorrell era. Both teams have already achieved bowl eligibility. Both teams sit at 3-2 in conference play. Now it becomes a question of pecking order. Ka’Deem Carey has rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 straight games, which is tops in the FBS. The Bruins snapped their two-game losing streak with a win over Colorado last week. Brett Hundley posted the third game of his career with two rushing and two passing touchdowns and he accounted for 345 yards of total offense. Keep an eye on how things play out in the first 30 minutes, because the Bruins are 13-0 under coach Jim Mora when they lead at the half.
  6. South showdown (2): The Sun Devils look to strengthen their foothold on the South with a trip to Utah -- a team they blasted in Tempe last season. In fact, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he has “horrible memories” of last season's loss and called it one of Utah’s poorest performances since joining the Pac-12. The obvious sidebar here is it’s the first time Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is facing the team he used to coach. But Whittingham said Erickson is a pretty even-keeled guy and he doesn’t expect sentiment or emotions to play a role. Whittingham also said that quarterback Travis Wilson is healed from his hand injury and won’t wear a glove. Across the field, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly is coming off of a seven-touchdown game on the road at Washington State.
  7. Trojans rolling: Since making the coaching switch from Lane Kiffin to interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Trojans have gone 3-1, including a convincing 31-14 win last week on the road at Oregon State. For the second time this season USC had a pair of running backs post 100-yard games with senior Silas Redd rushing for 140 yards and Buck Allen collecting 133 yards (8.3 yards per catch) and 3 TDs. Allen was USC’s fourth different back to rush for 100 yards this season. Marqise Lee is also coming off an outstanding performance, grabbing five passes for a season-high 105 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Beavers. Cal is still looking for a conference win, but should have some more confidence after an improved showing last week against Arizona.
  8. Bowl eligible: So far there are six teams already bowl eligible (Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA) with two more on the verge of becoming eligible this week. USC, because of the 13-game regular season schedule sits at 6-3 overall and needs to pick up a win at California to get a spot in the postseason. Washington is at 5-3 with a visit from Colorado. Both teams are favorites, which would give the league eight teams headed to the postseason with the legitimate potential for two more (Utah and Washington State). Both have four wins and Colorado still has an outside shot. Cal is the only Pac-12 team eliminated from bowl eligibility.
  9. Star power: Two of the nation’s elite offensive playmakers square off in Seattle when Colorado visits Washington. Buffs wide receiver Paul Richardson has 57 catches for 984 yards with eight touchdowns and continues to close in on several of Colorado’s single-season receiving marks. Washington counters with running back Bishop Sankey, who enters the week as the nation’s No. 3 rusher, averaging 145.3 yards per game. He’s coming off a career-best 241-yard performance against Cal and ranks fourth nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns.
  10. Taking a breather: There are two teams on bye this week with Oregon State looking to refocus after dropping back-to-back games against Stanford and USC and Washington State taking its second bye week in the past three. The Beavers, who are already bowl eligible, close the season with two of their final three on the road; at ASU, home to Washington and at Oregon for the Civil War. With four wins, the Cougars need to win two more to teach the postseason. They are also on the road for two of their past three with dates at Arizona next week and home to Utah before closing out the Apple Cup in Seattle.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
9:00
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If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

Click here for last week's Power Rankings.

1. Oregon: The Ducks get the national stage Thursday night to make clear their national title candidacy. Or not.

2. Stanford: The Cardinal get the national stage Thursday night to make clear that the Pac-12 belongs to the less flashy team in the North Division. Or not.

3. Arizona State: The Sun Devils brought their A-game on the road to Washington State, particularly QB Taylor Kelly. Now can they do the same on Saturday at Utah, a wounded team that is coming off a bye week and looking to make a South Division statement?

4. UCLA: It was far from perfect, but the Bruins took care of business at Colorado. The final four games, starting Saturday with a tricky visit to Arizona in a key South clash, will provide a chance for UCLA to climb into the top 10 and take control of the South Division. Or something more mediocre than that.

5. USC: Knock, knock. Who's there? USC. USC who?! US-see, we're pretty darn OK when we care and have a good plan! I bet there are more than a few folks who aren't USC fans, at least those who don't wear powder blue, who are enjoying the Trojans' elevated level of play under Ed Orgeron. What if that is less about Lane Kiffin being gone and more about Coach O being in charge? And if the Trojans win out? "Hmm," says athletic director Pat Haden. At the very least, USC's next coach should make an effort to retain Orgeron.

6. Arizona: The Wildcats have established that they are a solid team, maybe even pretty good. UCLA's visit on Saturday could significantly elevate that perception. A win would make Arizona a South contender and a Top 25 team.

7. Washington: The Huskies should beat Colorado in Husky Stadium on Saturday and become bowl eligible, though this team shouldn't take anything for granted (see the Buffaloes' early effort versus UCLA). Then they must win at least two of the final three games to make the case that this was a successful season. The catch? That will require a road win at UCLA or Oregon State.

8. Oregon State: After consecutive losses at home to Stanford and USC, the peanut gallery has adopted a fair tweak: "The Beavers weren't any good. They just had an easy schedule over the first seven games." The only way to defeat that take is to win two of the final three games, which won't be easy. The Beavers have a bye in which to get healthy and refocused before heading to Arizona State on Nov. 16.

9. Utah: This is Utah's BIG weekend. The Utes had a week off to get healthy (Travis Wilson's throwing hand!), refocus and game plan for surging Arizona State. The MUSS also should be well-rested and properly annoyed so as to make Arizona State, traditionally a bad team on the road, uncomfortable. A win would be transformative for bowl possibilities, as well as Pac-12 prestige.

10. Washington State: A third consecutive blowout loss, albeit against a tough slate, has some grumbling in Pullman. Where's our Mike Leach magic that we were promised? The Cougars are off this week, and they need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible. Won't be easy.

11. Colorado: Colorado showed some fight against UCLA, but it couldn't keep up with Brett Hundley and company. Fair to say bowl chances are extremely remote -- the Buffs would have to win out. A visit to Washington is next, but the home game against California is the most likely chance to pick up a Pac-12 victory this season.

12. California: Cal hung with Arizona for four quarters, repeatedly fighting back when the Wildcats seemed to be taking charge. The defense played better. The offense scored its most points (28) since Sept. 14 versus Ohio State (34). So there's that. The Bears host surging USC on Saturday, though the visit to Colorado on Nov. 16 looms as the season's biggest game -- the one that determines the bottom of the conference.

Happy Halloween in the Pac-12

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
11:00
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The Pac-12 has its share of ghosts, ghouls and goblins. So in the spirit of the Halloween weekend ...

Scary movie -- Worst loss of the season: Washington headed to Arizona State ranked 20th, with national pollsters being forgiving of consecutive, competitive losses to Stanford and Oregon. A shocking 53-24 beatdown delivered by the Sun Devils, and the Huskies were dumped from the national rankings. The new storyline was a familiar one: Another seven-win season?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks rocked Tennessee, 59-14, in the "biggest debacle of the season."
Rising from the dead: Oregon State surely was headed for the slag heap after it opened with a 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. The defense looked AWFUL. Fire Mark Banker! Fire Mark Banker! Panic in the streets of Corvallis! After all, we'd seen this before.The Beavers opened with a loss to Sacramento State in 2011 and then meandered to a woeful 3-9 finish. But the Beavers dusted themselves off and surged to six consecutive wins. Last weekend, they extended Stanford until the waning moments before falling 20-12. With QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks fronting the nation's best passing offense, Oregon State remains a threat in the North Division.

Haunted House: Arizona State struggles on the road, but it certainly has horrified visitors to Sun Devil Stadium. Of course, we can start with the, er, unusual finish against Wisconsin. Then there's the dismantling of both USC and Washington. Sure, the Sun Devils looked like a different team -- in a bad way -- while losing at Stanford and to Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but visiting foes often leave Tempe with a haunted look.

Thriller: The most exciting Pac-12 game so far this year is Oregon State's 51-48 overtime win at Utah. The Beavers jumped to a 20-7 lead, but the Utes tied things in regulation with a 21-point fourth quarter, including a 9-yard run from QB Travis Wilson for the tying TD on third-and-goal with 21 seconds left in the game. On the Beavers' side of things, QB Sean Mannion converted two critical fourth-down plays in the fourth and then threw the winning TD pass in overtime to, of course, Brandin Cooks.

Nightmare in Eugene -- Biggest debacle of the season: Tennessee took a 7-0 lead at Oregon, and the folks in orange maybe starting thinking about "SEC!" chants. Then the Ducks scored 59 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter. Oregon fans started chanting "We want Bama."

House of horrors: Horrors? We give you USC. The Trojans fired coach Lane Kiffin as he got off the team bus at LAX after a 62-41 beatdown at Arizona State, and they have suffered through epidemic injuries that are even worse for a team crippled by scholarship reductions. Meanwhile, the program has watched as the NCAA reduced Penn State's sanctions and provided a reprieve for Miami, which overlooked the scandalous doings of now-incarcerated booster Nevin Shapiro while under the leadership of late athletic director Paul Dee, who chaired the Committee of Infractions against USC.

Cursed team: California, losers of 10 consecutive Pac-12 games, might be headed for its worst season since the regrettable Tom Holmoe Era. Start with one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Then move on to a roster decimated by injuries. The Bears have been slow to adjust to new schemes on both sides of the ball, and they presently ranked last in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Halloween costumes

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
9:00
AM PT
If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

See last week's Power Rankings here.

1. Stanford: The Cardinal now have three quality conference wins -- Arizona State, Washington State and Washington -- so they now have by far the Pac-12's best résumé. Oregon gets to show its stuff against a common opponent (the Huskies) on Saturday, thereby allowing the Pac-12 blog to employ the "Transitive Property of College Football" for next week's Power Rankings. (Note: Kevin Gemmell VEHEMENTLY disagrees ranking Stanford over Oregon. He wants Ducks fans to know he is very impressed with Oregon becoming the first team since 1885 to score 50-plus points in its first five games.)

2. Oregon: As expected, Oregon rolled over Colorado. But that game ended the poor-to-middling early schedule. Going forward, the Ducks get to showcase themselves as national title contenders -- and QB Marcus Mariota as a Heisman Trophy contender -- starting with their good friends in Seattle.

3. Washington: The Huskies can't lick their wounds too long. Oregon is coming. The Ducks have beaten the Huskies nine straight times by at least 17 points. It is likely you will hear and/or read that more than once this week.

4. UCLA: While the Bruins shouldn't overlook pass-happy California, their first major conference test comes in two weeks at Stanford. A week later, they get Oregon. Win one -- or both! -- and UCLA goes from merely a good, top-15 team to something else entirely. At this point, by the way, it feels like you could draw a line here to separate the Pac-12 into two categories.

5. Arizona State: There was a strong dose of "same old Sun Devils" with the flat performance against Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium. Yes, it was a blown opportunity. While the loss doesn't count in the conference race, it does serve to significantly demote the Sun Devils' national esteem. Colorado comes to Tempe on Saturday. Then Washington does.

6. Oregon State: The first big question for the Beavers is how healthy they will be coming out of their off week. The second big question is an interesting trip to Washington State. The winner will take a big step forward in the North Division pecking order.

7. Utah: No, Utes, it doesn't get any easier with Stanford coming to town. The big issue will be how well QB Travis Wilson bounces back after a six-interception game in their tough loss to UCLA. The Cardinal defense is not typically the sort that sends a get-well card.

8. Arizona: The Wildcats are coming off a bye, which means they should be well rested. On the downside, they visit USC -- also coming off a bye -- in its first post-Lane Kiffin game. That means the Wildcats not only will get a team that might be inspired by a change of leadership to the fiery Ed Orgeron -- it also might have some tricks up its sleeves.

9. Washington State: The Cougars' win at California gave them firm separation from the bottom fourth of the conference. A win over the Beavers would push them into the middle. It hasn't been legitimate to speculate about that since 2007.

10. USC: We'll get our first look at Orgeron's Trojans on Thursday night against Arizona. A strong performance could reintroduce USC to the South Division race and make the Notre Dame visit the next weekend intriguing.

11. Colorado: The past two weeks have brought the Buffaloes back to Earth. They played hard and well in spurts against Oregon State and Oregon, but the top-to-bottom talent just isn't there. It will be interesting to see if they show the same fire at Arizona State, which should be angry and is a different team at home.

12. California: The schedule is ridiculous and injuries have piled up, but the Bears also have been sloppy on both sides of the ball. Game 3 of nine consecutive weeks of football is at UCLA. So yeah, the hits just keep coming -- another highly ranked foe. Sonny Dykes' first season is shaping up like a long one.

UCLA focused on itself and Utah, not USC

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
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UCLA and USC are uncomfortably intertwined more than just about any other college football rivalry. They share a city, not just a state. Many of the players know each other, having played together or against each other during their high school careers in Southern California. Many of them cross paths on a regular basis around town.

More often than not, they exchange a fist bump and leave the posturing stares to overzealous fans. And they do chat. So yes, it's likely that during the four days since USC fired Lane Kiffin, the topic has come up and there's been a degree of Bruins curiosity.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley has accounted for 10 touchdowns this season for UCLA.
Or not.

While UCLA second-year coach Jim Mora has repeatedly expressed sympathy for Kiffin's plight, he also denies that his players give a flip about the goings-on across town.

"We don't worry about that stuff," Mora said. "We don't talk about it. We don't think about it. It's not in our orbit. That's another team. We worry about our team. Our players worry about our team. They couldn't care less what's going on over there. It doesn't matter to us. It's not going to affect us. We don't play them until late November. It doesn't matter to us. It's a nonfactor."

Mora has a point, too. Any focus on USC distracts from the present purpose: His team pays a visit to Utah on Thursday as the No. 12 Bruins open their Pac-12 schedule with a South Division showdown.

It's an interesting matchup with more than a few notable connections.

Start with UCLA’s win in last year’s meeting, with the Bruins bouncing back from a blowout loss to woeful California the week before. At the time, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman, was beginning to establish himself as a budding star. In the opposite huddle, true freshman quarterback Travis Wilson was making his first career start. Wilson would throw for more yards than Hundley -- 220 versus 183 -- but was far less efficient. And Hundley just killed the Utes defense with his running, accounting for 68 yards on 15 carries.

Hundley's offensive coordinator is Noel Mazzone, who was hired by Mora because of the work he did with Brock Osweiler running an up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense at Arizona State.

This offseason, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham decided he wanted to adopt an up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense. So he hired Mazzone's former boss at Arizona State, Dennis Erickson, who is one of the fathers of the up-tempo, pass-happy spread offense.

Erickson has done wonders with the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Wilson, whom Mora this week compared to the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Osweiler, who is now with the Denver Broncos.

UCLA's offense, very good last year, is putting up ridiculous numbers this season with Hundley in his second year as a starter. It ranks second in the nation in total offense (614 yards per game) and third in scoring (52.7 points per game). Balance? The Bruins are 13th in the nation in rushing (284.3 YPG) and 12th in passing (330 YPG). Efficiency? UCLA leads the nation with an eye-popping 68 percent conversion rate on third down.

Said Whittingham: "They are doing everything right on offense."

Yet perhaps no offense in the nation is as improved as Utah's. Last year, the Utes averaged 324 yards and 26.7 points per game. This year, they are averaging 505 yards and 42 points per game. Utah passed for a conference-worst 190.7 yards per game in 2012. This year it's 286 yards per game. The Utes had 16 touchdown passes all of last season. They have nine through four games this fall.

"Dennis has his handprints all over that," Mora said.

Obviously, the linchpin has been Wilson, whom Whittingham admits has thus far exceeded expectations. Wilson is simply a different player than he was as a true freshman trying to negotiate a Pac-12 schedule.

"I think there are quite a few differences," Whittingham said. "No. 1, his confidence level, his poise level, his command of the offense. He's playing very confidently right now. He's really progressed and matured a lot faster than any of us thought he would. His numbers and Hundley's numbers are almost the exact same."

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
Chris Nicoll/USA TODAY SportsUtah QB Travis Wilson has seen improvement this season working with Dennis Erickson.
That is -- perhaps surprisingly -- true. Wilson is third in the Pac-12 and 15th in the nation in passing efficiency, while Hundley is fourth and 16th. Hundley ranks 11th in ESPN's Total QBR, while Wilson is 16th. Hundley is averaging 282.7 yards passing per game with eight TDs and three interceptions, while Wilson is averaging 279.5 YPG with nine TDs and three picks.

Wilson has rushed for 257 yards, Hundley for 157.

"That will be an intriguing matchup, to see how the quarterbacks match up against each other," said Whittingham, making an accurate statement that no one would have said in August.

When you add up all these sparkling numbers, you figure this game won't end up 21-14, with the teams combining for less than 700 yards of offense.

Of course, the defenses will have their say, too. The Bruins have a clear advantage there, yielding 18 points per game compared to 24.2 for the Utes, but it's difficult to truly measure things based on the nonconference schedule.

As always, turnovers will be a key, something that typically starts with quarterback play. But also pay attention to third down. As previously noted, the Bruins are great at converting them on offense, but they also are pretty salty thwarting them on defense (26.7 percent). The Utes convert just 35 percent of their third downs and are at 36.6 percent on third-down defense.

For UCLA, this is the first step toward winning the South Division. Utah, on the other hand, is trying to gain traction in Year 3 in the conference. The previous two years, the Utes started Pac-12 play at a dismal 0-4. Beating the Bruins not only would prevent them from heading toward that early-oh-fer direction again, it would make a strong statement.

As in: The Utes now have a Pac-12 QB, so now they are ready to advance in the conference pecking order.

Pac-12 lunchtime links

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
11:30
AM PT
I'm gonna go get the papers, get the papers.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
11:00
AM PT
Taking stock of Week 5 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Arizona State’s home victory over USC was an announcement to the rest of the country that the Sun Devils deserve to be ranked, and the country responded by putting ASU back in the Top 25 at No. 22. More important than national perception, however, is that the Sun Devils didn’t fall to 0-2 in conference play, which would have been devastating for the team’s season-long goals. They picked up a South Division win and are still in control of their destiny in the division. One last nonconference game next week against Notre Dame and then it’s all league games the rest of the way -- including a pivotal Oct. 19 game against Washington and the all-important No. 23 game at UCLA.

Best game: In a week where the average margin of victory was 29 points in the five games, the “closest” was Washington’s 18-point victory over visiting Arizona. But there was a sense Washington was in control all 60 minutes. Oregon was fun to watch simply for the fact that not even Mother Nature could play defense against the Ducks. Stanford was fun to watch because the Cardinal looked explosive. Oregon State was fun to watch because it was a complete performance. But the ASU-USC game probably had the most drama. We had an idea of what was at stake, and even when USC cut it to 48-34 with 9:54 left in the game, there was still that lingering thought that maybe it wasn’t over. Of course, ASU scored two more touchdowns to put it away. And the end result was Lane Kiffin’s dismissal.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Foster
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriD.J. Foster played a part in Arizona State's offensive explosion against USC.
Biggest play: After USC took a 21-20 lead in the opening minute of the second half, the Sun Devils responded 21 seconds later with a 74-yard touchdown from Taylor Kelly to D.J. Foster. But that wasn’t the biggest play. On USC’s next series, less than a minute later, Alden Darby jumped a Cody Kessler pass and returned it 46 yards for a score, giving the Sun Devils a 34-21 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter. He had two picks on the day, and the pick-six was a massive momentum swing, and it happened while Pat Haden and USC decision-makers were huddling to decide Kiffin’s future.

Offensive standout: Tough to ignore the kind of numbers Sean Mannion is putting up. After matching a school record two weeks ago at Utah with five touchdown passes, he surpassed the record by throwing for six touchdowns and 414 yards in the blowout win over Colorado. He did have an interception, but only because his receiver’s hands and chest got in the way and it was tipped in the air. Mannion now has 21 touchdowns on the year to just two picks.

Defensive standout: Has to be Darby, who totaled seven tackles to go with his two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Defensive standout 1B goes to Stanford’s Trent Murphy. Is there any outside linebacker with better hands? Or does he only show them off at CenturyLink Field? Saturday he intercepted a point-blank pass in the backfield from Austin Apodaca and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. If that looked familiar, he did the same thing last year at the CLink against Washington.

Special teams standout: With four games in the Pacific Northwest Saturday, weather was dominant storyline when it came to special teams. We saw numerous fumbles, bad snaps and weather-induced wackiness. But there was nothing wacky about Oregon’s Bralon Addison, who returned two punts for touchdowns. The first was a 75-yard return in the second quarter that was pure sideline speed. The second, a 67-yard return, required a little more dancing and cutting -- and avoiding being knocked down by his teammate before the play even got started.

Smiley face: The Pac-12 once again has five teams ranked in the Top 25 in both polls with ASU’s victory over USC. And Oregon State is receiving votes in the coaches poll.

Frowny face: Injuries always get a frowny face -- and Saturday saw two of the league’s superstars go down with injuries. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas was injured on the kickoff and didn’t return. And USC wide receiver Marqise Lee suffered a knee injury that hopefully looked worse than it really is.

Thought of the week: The Beavers are back, sort of. Oregon State finally strung together a game where its defense matched the offense. And Colorado is a much-improved team from last season. Are the Buffs bowl bound? Probably not. But they aren’t the Buffs of last year, which gives a little credence to Oregon State’s dominating performance. The initial thought was that the Beavers would be 7-0 or 6-1 heading into their Oct. 26 showdown with Stanford. And they might still be (though Washington State isn’t going to make it easy). Not suggesting you go all-in on the Beavers. Remember, they are only a week removed from a miraculous win over San Diego State. But don't sell just yet, either.

Question of the week: The Trojans have a bye week to patch holes and put “Operation: Changing Lanes” in action. Do they look to an NFL name or a college name? UCLA is showing that a former NFL coach can have success in Los Angeles, even if he’s not an alumnus. USC is an attractive gig, and you can bet there were a lot of back-channel phone calls going out over the past 72 hours.

The Pac-12 this year, and beyond

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
9:00
AM PT
Today's assignment for the conference bloggers: Which teams in your conference are built to win this year -- and had better, because the future doesn't look too bright. One problem: It's just not that cut and dry with the Pac-12.

This is playing off of the top 25 future power rankings that were released Tuesday Insider -- projecting where programs will be three years from now. In the top 25 were Stanford (10), Oregon (11), UCLA (22) and USC (25).

Let's tackle the first part before digging into the second. For teams that are built to win now, we can break those down into three categories:
Oregon has proved to be virtually unmatched offensively the past few seasons, and this season they offer an outstanding secondary to boot. Stanford's defense and grind-'em-out West Coast offense has propelled it to three consecutive BCS bowl games.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriUnder coach Todd Graham, Arizona State could very well push its way into the Pac-12's top tier, where Oregon and Stanford are fixtures.
Arizona State has an ambitious 2013 schedule that -- if successfully navigated -- will land it in the national rankings and potentially the Pac-12 championship game. The same is true for UCLA -- which also has a tougher schedule than last season. And you can never count out USC because of the talent the Trojans bring in each year. The switch to the 3-4 is a good step defensively, and having the reigning Biletnikoff winner (receiver Marqise Lee) never hurts.

Washington -- with good quarterback play -- could reach double-digit wins. Oregon State, though there have been down years, is consistently a tough program, and last year Arizona showed offensively what it's capable of in Rich Rodriguez's system.

Now, the second part. This is where the assignment doesn't necessarily apply to the Pac-12 because, frankly, the future looks pretty bright for the bulk of the conference. Maybe I'm the eternal optimist with a backside full of sunshine and pocket full of miracles, but I don't see dynastic collapses in the future. Just the opposite: I'd put Arizona State and Oregon State in the future power rankings now. Maybe even Washington.

I see the rest of the conference getting better. Top to bottom, the coaching staffs are phenomenal. Stanford officially closed the gap on Oregon last year, and Washington and Oregon State are closing the gap in the North. Three years from now, Sonny Dykes and Mike Leach could have California and Washington State, respectively, in the hunt. The South is for sure a three-way battle this season among ASU, UCLA and USC, with Arizona nipping at their heels. Colorado is in rebuilding mode (again) and Utah is entering a very crucial year.

Potential future downfalls? I guess we could grasp at some straws. Oregon does still have some sanctions looming -- expected to be announced anytime between today and when Thomas Tyner graduates. Stanford has done a better job of recruiting speed the past few years, but it will always have to outwork others on the trail because of its admission standards. Washington could be on the verge of an uphill slingshot or downward spiral. Another seven-win season could put coach Steve Sarkisian in hot water. Same for USC; a division or conference title rights the ship, while another seven-win year likely costs Lane Kiffin his job.

Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State are in the toddler stage of new coaches and systems. And all three took significant steps forward last season.

Most will agree that the Pac-12's greatest strength -- its parity -- is also one of its biggest downfalls. The hotly debated nine-game schedule plays a huge factor. Tie-ins with Notre Dame and the annual weekenders with the California schools all but guarantee meat-grinding schedules each year.

Three years from now it's more likely that we'll be talking about how the rest of the league has narrowed the margin rather than which dynasty has crumbled.

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