USC: Kevin Hogan

Spring position breakdown: QBs

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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Spring has sprung in the Pac-12, with Stanford starting spring practices this week and several schools following suit next week.

Ergo, we break down where teams stand with each position group, starting with quarterbacks.

Arizona: The Wildcats probably have the most wide-open QB competition, with four guys having a legitimate chance to replace the departed B.J. Denker. Three are transfers from big-time programs: senior Jesse Scroggins (USC), sophomore Connor Brewer (Texas) and junior Jerrard Randall (LSU). The fourth, redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, was one of the biggest stars in the 2013 recruiting class. Don't expect much to be settled by the end of spring, though coach Rich Rodriguez might at least allude to some sort of pecking order. Or a top three.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are strong at QB with senior Taylor Kelly, a third-year starter who has put up big numbers the past two seasons, and junior Mike Bercovici, a big-armed backup -- perhaps, in fact, the best backup in the Pac-12. That's why Michael Eubank opted to transfer to Samford in Birmingham, Ala. It will be interesting to see which of the youngsters on the roster emerge as a No.3, a guy who might challenge Bercovici in 2015.

California: It seems unlikely that sophomore Jared Goff will be unseated, particularly after Zach Kline opted to transfer. Goff was uneven last season -- his entire team was -- but flashed plenty of potential. He and a talented crew of receivers should get better this spring. The big question might be whether anyone challenges senior Austin Hinder for the backup job.

Colorado: Sophomore Sefo Liufau is solid as the returning starter. He took some lumps last season but also flashed plenty of promise -- as both a player and leader. After him, there's junior college transfer Jordan Gehrke, a redshirt sophomore, the likely backup. Depth is a problem, at least this spring. As the Boulder Daily Camera noted, "Five quarterbacks have left the CU program either to transfer to other schools or give up the sport entirely since the start of spring football last year. A sixth completed his eligibility last season." That's why the Buffs added walk-on Trent Sessions to the roster. He worked with the equipment staff last year.

Oregon: The Ducks probably feel pretty good about their third-year starter, junior Marcus Mariota, a leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate who would have been a first-round pick if he'd entered the 2014 NFL draft. The competition for the backup spot, however, will be interesting because Mariota is almost certain to enter the NFL draft after the season. Sophomores Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues are 2A and 2B, with Lockie first off the bench as the backup in 2013, but Rodrigues the more physically talented player as a runner and passer.

Oregon State: Like their friends to the north, Oregon State is fortunate its 2013 starter, Sean Mannion, decided to return instead of entering the NFL draft. Mannion's chief focus will be finding some receivers to replace the production of the departed Brandin Cooks. The battle for the backup job also will be interesting between sophomore Brent VanderVeen and redshirt freshman Kyle Kempt. Of course, their battle might not resolve things much for 2015, with incoming Alabama transfer Luke Del Rio joining the fray after sitting out a season.

Stanford: It seems unlikely that two-year starter Kevin Hogan will be challenged for the starting job this spring, even though he had some ups and downs in 2013, but there is no lack of talent battling for the backup job. Junior Evan Crower was the backup in 2013, but redshirt freshman Ryan Burns is a big-time talent. As is incoming freshman Keller Chryst, who officially will arrive in the fall but, as a Palo Alto resident, figures to hang around spring practices.

UCLA: Heading into his third season running the offense, Brett Hundley gives the Bruins one of the best starting quarterbacks in the nation. He's a proven dual threat and leader who will be refining his game this spring and building chemistry with his receivers. After him, however, things are a bit iffy, in large part because of the 2013 preseason transfer of T.J. Millweard to Kansas. The chief competitors for the backup job are Jerry Neuheisel, the 2013 backup, and redshirt freshman Asiantii Woulard, with Woulard being the guy with the most future upside. Of course, there is another QB out there some UCLA fans might be thinking about.

USC: The returning starter facing the most formidable challenge to his starting job this spring is probably Cody Kessler, even though Kessler played well in the second half of the 2013 season. With the transfer of Max Wittek, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne, at the very least, sets up to be a high-quality backup next season. But plenty of folks think Browne has a legitimate shot to unseat Kessler, particularly with new coach Steve Sarkisian taking over.

Utah: There's still no final word on the long-term health issue that might end QB Travis Wilson's career, though you'd think something would be announced before the Utes begin spring practices on March 18. If Wilson gets cleared, the good bet is on him returning to the starting job. If not, a spring competition will begin between Adam Schulz, who stepped in when Wilson went down, and redshirt freshmen Conner Manning and Brandon Cox. In the fall, dual-threat QB Donovan Isom arrives.

Washington: Keith Price, a three-year starter, is gone, but the Huskies seemed fairly set at QB with sophomore backup Cyler Miles appearing plenty capable of stepping into the cockpit this spring. In limited action last season, Miles completed 61 percent of his throws for 418 yards with four TDs and two picks, and he also showed good mobility, rushing for 200 yards. The pecking order at least seemed set, that is, until Miles got into some off-field trouble that threatens his status for spring practice and perhaps beyond. If Miles is still suspended, that means opportunity comes knocking for sophomore Jeff Lindquist or redshirt freshman Troy Williams to make an impression.

Washington State: Connor Halliday will be a senior, three-year starter and the Cougars' top leader in the third season running Mike Leach's "Air Raid" offense. He figures to put up huge numbers this fall with a strong crew of receivers. His 2013 backup, sophomore Austin Apodaca, opted to transfer, perhaps believing that redshirt freshman Tyler Bruggman had the inside track to the starting job in 2015. Depth is a bit of a question, with the No. 3 this fall likely being true freshman Peyton Bender.

Season wrap: USC

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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The big news for USC's 2013 campaign wasn't the season itself but the firing of coach Lane Kiffin. That, however, also was the transformative moment of the season, as the Trojans bounced back from a dispiriting 3-2 start to finish 10-4 and rank 19th, rallying under interim coach Ed Orgeron.

The Trojans went 6-2 under Orgeron, but his hopes for earning the full-time job were likely dashed by two losses to Notre Dame and UCLA, USC's two chief rivals.

The second big news for the Trojans was the hiring of Steve Sarkisian away from Washington, which received a mixed reaction. But that points toward the future. Our concern is the 2013 season.

You can read our graded review of USC here.

Offensive MVP: The Trojans' offense struggled much of the season, ranking ninth in the conference with 29.7 points per game, but its most consistent weapon was receiver Nelson Agholor. With Marqise Lee in and out of the lineup with injuries, it was Agholor, a sophomore, who led the Trojans with 918 yards receiving and six touchdowns. His 16.4 yards per reception also was tops among the team's receivers. Further, he led the conference and ranked second in the nation with a 19.1-yard average on punt returns, which included two returns for touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Defensive end Leonard Williams became one of the nation's best defensive linemen as a true sophomore. He ranked second on the Trojans with 74 tackles, including 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks. He also had four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles and was named a first-team All-American by ESPN.com and third-team by the Associated Press. He is almost certain to be a 2014 preseason All-American.

Best moment: No. 4 Stanford had rallied from a 10-point first-half deficit to tie the score at 17-17, and it had the ball with more than three minutes remaining on its 40-yard line. There was plenty of time to drive for the winning field goal, but Stanford QB Kevin Hogan threw his second fourth-quarter interception to Su'a Cravens at the USC 44. The Trojans then got a 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari, who had struggled for much of 2013, with just 19 seconds left to notch the upset, and recorded the fourth and best win of what would become a five-game winning streak under Orgeron.

Worst moment: While the 10-7 loss at home to Washington State was horrible -- the Trojans had just 193 total yards -- and was the beginning of the end for Kiffin, the 62-41 loss at Arizona State was the defeat that ended his tenure. Athletic director Pat Haden was so dismayed with the white-flag performance -- the Trojans gave up 612 yards -- that he fired Kiffin at LAX in the early morning hours of the next day. Of course, that low moment seems to spur the season's transformation so some may see Kiffin's firing as a good thing.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in the final week of the regular season:

  1. Home-field advantage: Who will host the Pac-12 title game? That’s up to Arizona State (and Arizona, for that matter). The scenario is pretty simple. If Arizona State wins, the Sun Devils will finish with an 8-1 record in Pac-12 play and will host Stanford in the championship game. If Arizona wins, the Sun Devils will be 7-2, the same record as the Cardinal, and Stanford will host the championship game by virtue of its tiebreaker over the Sun Devils.
  2. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Kevin Casey/Getty ImagesArizona tailback Ka'Deem Carey has rushed for 1,559 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
    Home-field advantage (Take 2): Oregon hasn’t lost at home to Oregon State since the overtime game in 2007. Washington hasn’t lost at home to Washington State since 2007. UCLA hasn’t won at the Coliseum since 1997. The Cardinal have a 15-game home winning streak, longest in the country. Arizona State has a seven-game home winning streak. Home-field advantage is obviously important. And for the reasons listed in the first bullet point, the location of the title game is still unknown. But it hinges on the Territorial Cup, and the visiting team has won the past four.
  3. Battle of strengths: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, along with his 155.9 yards per game and 14-game streak of rushing for 100 yards or more, heads to Tempe to face an Arizona State defense that is third in the league against the run, yielding 123.4 yards per game.
  4. The Kelly factor: There are a lot of reasons why ASU is riding a six-game win streak heading into its showdown with Arizona. But one key reason has been the increased use of quarterback Taylor Kelly in the running game. Through the first five games when the Sun Devils were 3-2, Kelly averaged 7.8 rushes per game and 25.8 yards per game with zero touchdowns. Over the past six games, he’s averaging 12.5 rushes per game and 47 yards with eight touchdowns.
  5. Showdown in Tinseltown: The Trojans have won 12 of the past 14 meetings, though the Bruins took out the Trojans last season. Unlike last season's game, there is no bearing on the Pac-12 South title since ASU has already wrapped it up. But there is no shortage of storylines. Is this the game that ends Ed Orgeron’s magnificent run as head coach? Or is it the game that convinces Pat Haden to drop “interim” from his title and make him the guy. It’s a game with massive recruiting implications in Southern California and is always the best game in town, since there is no other football.
  6. Rocky Mountain blues: Neither Colorado nor Utah are going to a bowl game -- again. There is certainly more disappointment in Salt Lake City for a team that had high hopes. But after beating Stanford in October, the Utes have dropped five in a row. Colorado has four wins so far -- which was the total from the past two seasons combined, so coach Mike MacIntyre has things moving in the right direction. At this point, it’s about either team trying to build up some momentum.
  7. Civil showdown: Oregon is looking to extend its Civil War winning streak to six straight over Oregon State. Both teams had a rough November, but an Oregon win would give the Ducks a sixth-straight 10-win season. The Beavers, meanwhile, are trying to snap a five-game skid. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks second in the country in ESPN’s Total QBR ranking, while Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks leads the country with 141.8 receiving yards per game.
  8. Will the real Kevin Hogan please stand up: Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kevin Hogan had a career-high 98.9 Total QBR in Stanford’s 63-13 win against California. Hogan had career highs in passing yards (329), passing touchdowns (five) and 15-yard completions (15). Hogan bounced back from his career-low 23.1 Total QBR in Stanford’s loss to USC last Saturday.
  9. Stanford-Notre Dame quotable: Of course, we all remember how last year’s game ended in South Bend. Notre Dame’s goal-line stand in the rain, Stepfan Taylor failing to cross the goal line in overtime, etc. Coaches love to be reminded of stuff like that, and our own Ted Miller was kind enough to ask coach David Shaw about that play. His response: “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t watch that play again. I think I watched so many times last year that I don’t need to see it again. I know what happened.”
  10. Apples and apples: Washington State reached six wins for the first time since 2006 and could go to a bowl game for the first time since 2003. The Huskies are at the seven-win mark, a hump they’ve failed to get over of late, so this game has a tremendous impact on bowl pecking order. The Huskies are coming off a blowout win over Oregon State where Bishop Sankey rushed for 179 yards and three touchdowns. He’s third in the nation in total yards. WSU safety Deone Bucannon, the Pac-12’s leading tackler, became the first Cougar to post back-to-back seasons of at least 100 tackles since the turn of the century.

Stat attack! Some Week 11 Pac-12 numbers

November, 12, 2013
11/12/13
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Some Pac-12 numbers for your review.

Number to the left is national rank.

Scoring offense

3. Oregon, 51.7 points per game
8. Arizona State, 43.7
T24. Oregon State, Washington, 37.2

Total offense

2. Oregon, 596.6 yards per game
10. Washington, 515.9
17. Arizona State, 490.4
25. Oregon State, 474.2

Rushing offense

7. Oregon, 301.5 yards per game
12. Arizona, 271.3
17. Washington, 229.0

Passing offense

2. Oregon State, 404.8 yards per game
7. Washington State, 365.0
8. California, 345.3
18. Arizona State, 304.8
20. Oregon, 295.0
25. Washington, 286.9

Note: Oregon's numbers took a dramatic fall after the loss at Stanford. The Ducks entered last week averaging 55.6 ppg., 632.1 ypg and and 331.5 rushing yards per game. Arizona State also went down after its tough win at Utah, but Washington used a blowout win against Colorado to perk up considerably.

Scoring defense

10. Oregon, 17.9 points per game
18. Stanford, 19.4
19. USC, 19.6
27. Washington, 21.8

Total defense

14. Arizona State, 332.7
17. USC, 339.5
20. Stanford, 348.8

Yards yielded per play (FBS foes only)

7. Oregon, 4.45 yards per play
11. Stanford, 4.75
20. USC, 4.93
23. Washington, 4.99
25. UCLA, 5.01
29. Arizona, 5.08
31. Arizona State, 5.10
35. Utah, 5.12

Pass-efficiency defense

8. Oregon
12. Washington
18. Arizona
20. Arizona State
21. USC

Note: The defensive numbers continue to be strong in the conference, with eight teams ranked in the nation's top 35 in yards per play, a great measure of a defense's efficiency. Further, five top-21 pass efficiency defenses is pretty incredible when you think about the QBs in the conference.

Rushing

2. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona, 152.6 yards per game
3. Bishop Sankey, Washington, 145.0
17. Tyler Gaffney, Stanford, 115.9
T23. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 102.8

Note: Carey lost the nation's lead because Boston College's Andre Williams piled up 295 yards at woeful New Mexico State. Gaffney has become the go-to guy in Stanford's offense, as the Cardinal has reclaimed its hard-nosed, run-first mentality.

Pass efficiency

7. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
14. Sean Mannion, Oregon State
18. Brett Hundley, UCLA
20. Keith Price, Washington

Note: Interesting that Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, as well as he is playing, is ranked 34th in passing efficiency. He's 11th in ESPN.com Total QBR.

Receiving yards per game

1. Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 149.3
5. Paul Richardson, Colorado, 117.9

Note: Lots of guys have fallen off among the national leaders here. Are these two the first-team All-Pac-12 receivers?

Sacks per game

T3. Trent Murphy, Stanford, 1.1
T15. Tony Washington, Oregon, 0.8
20. Devon Kennard, 0.8 (in 10 games)
T21. Trevor Reilly, Utah, .08

Note: Reilly is an underrated guy who is making a push for first-team All-Pac-12. Funny that picking the All-Pac-12 defense might be more challenging than the offense.

Random notes
  • Eight Pac-12 QBs are ranked in the top 44 of ESPN.com's total QBR: 2. Mariota, 11. Kelly, 13. Hundley; 17. Kevin Hogan, Stanford; 28. B.J. Denker, Arizona; 29. Mannion; 36. Price; 44. Travis Wilson, Utah.
  • With three regulars season games to play, a conference title game and bowl games ahead, nine Pac-12 players presently have at least four interceptions. Last year, nine players had at least four interceptions at season's end.
  • California has run 894 plays this year, most in the nation.
  • Washington has just five turnovers this year, tied for seventh fewest in the nation. Washington State's 27 turnovers ranks 122nd in the nation and last in the Pac-12.
  • Utah has just two interceptions. Only Kentucky has fewer.
  • USC and Arizona have recovered just three fumbles this year.
  • UCLA's Anthony Barr is tied for the nation's lead with Colorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe with five forced fumbles.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 this week:

1. Oregon has a Stanford problem: Used to be the other way around. Last year it felt more like Oregon had a Stanford inconvenience, not so much a problem. This year, there is little doubt and few excuses. The Cardinal were dominant through 50 minutes and just good enough in the final 10. The extent of Marcus Mariota’s injured knee remains a question. Still, he looked pretty spry in the fourth quarter, and there was ample opportunity along the way for the Ducks to make plays. But it was Stanford’s defense that came up with the stops/turnovers and the offense that shoved its tempo right down the Oregon front seven. This was the offensive line we’ve been waiting to see. And let’s not forget Kevin Hogan’s mobility. He was good enough in the passing game, but his touchdown run was huge, as were his breaking three tackles on a third-down scramble. The Ducks still have national cred. They’ve done too much over the last four years to lose it with one game. But as long as Stanford continues to push them around, they won’t be able to shake the questions about their physicality.

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesIt was another long day for Cal's special teams, which allowed two punt returns for TDs to USC's Nelson Agholor.
2. Cal has a special-teams problem: We tip our cap to USC’s Nelson Agholor for his two touchdowns on punt returns -- the first a 75-yard return in the first quarter to open scoring and the second a 93-yard return at the end of the first half. Those were, of course, contributing scores to USC’s 62-28 shellacking of Cal, which is still seeking its first conference win. But this isn’t the first time Cal’s coverage team has had issues. Recall that it allowed two punt returns for touchdowns to Oregon’s Bralon Addison, who ran back punts of 75 and 67 yards in the Ducks’ home win in September. Adding insult to injury, the Trojans got a third “return for a touchdown” when Josh Shaw recovered a blocked punt. Jared Goff had his second interception-free performance in his last three games, so that’s a positive. But there aren’t many smiley faces around Cal right now. The Trojans became bowl-eligible with the win and are 4-1 since the coaching change. Their South Division hopes are still very much alive.

3. ASU almost had a problem: First, give credit to Utah’s defense, which once again came to play. And with the ASU offense struggling, it was the defense that stepped up and kept the Sun Devils in the game. Over the last four games, the Sun Devils are allowing fewer than 20 points per game. And they were clutch in the fourth quarter in the 20-19 win over Utah. The ASU defense held Utah to a three-and-out or a turnover in all five of the Utes' fourth-quarter possessions. And here’s a fun note from our Stats & Info folks: According to ESPN’s win probability model, Arizona State had a 7.1 percent chance of winning at the end of the third quarter. Entering this weekend, only 17 FBS teams have come back to win after having a win probability of 7.1 percent or lower. The offense finally came alive and scored 13 points in the fourth. Utah had won 49 straight games when leading at halftime.

4. No problems for the Huskies: The Trojans weren’t the only team to become bowl-eligible on Saturday. The Huskies picked up pivotal win No. 6 and are bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year after a brilliant performance from quarterback Keith Price, who was 22-of-29 for 312 yards with two passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Bishop Sankey turned in yet another solid performance with 143 yards and a score. The rebuilding Buffs have now lost 14 straight conference games. Washington has back-to-back road games at UCLA and Oregon State before closing out the year at home in the Apple Cup. The potential is there for nine or 10 wins, which would certainly assuage some of the midseason chatter about coach Steve Sarkisian.

5. Myles Jack = a problem for opposing teams: How fun is that guy to watch? UCLA coach Jim Mora has been hinting for quite some time that we’d see the true freshman linebacker swap sides. And on Saturday we saw him tally eight tackles, recover a fumble in the end zone, and then as a running back carry the ball six times for 120 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown. That overshadowed Ka'Deem Carey’s 149-yard rushing performance and a touchdown for Arizona -- Carey’s 12th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, which is tops in college football. More importantly, the Bruins won in Tucson for the first time since 2003 and kept pace with the Sun Devils for the race in the South Division. Arizona is pushed aside, making it a three-way race among the Bruins, Trojans and Sun Devils.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 9 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: UCLA had a good plan and played with fire at Oregon, but the Ducks owned the second half, scoring 28 unanswered points in a 42-14 blowout that seemed like a potentially tight game at halftime. Oregon made another strong statement for its national title candidacy.

Best game: Stanford seemed in control with its dominant defense owning an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter over Oregon State, but a fumble and a failed third-and-1 conversion gave the Beavers new life, and they nearly forced overtime before yielding 20-12. About a quarter of the Beavers crowd was headed for the gates with five minutes left, but many of them did an about-face and joined the hopeful frenzy that didn't die until the very end.

Biggest play(s): The Beavers had a first-and-goal on the Stanford 7-yard line in the final minute, needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force overtime. They got four shots at the end zone, but each Sean Mannion pass fell incomplete, including a fourth-down attempt that, for a moment, seemed to have a chance.

[+] EnlargeBJ Denker
Karl Gehring/The Denver Post/Getty Images B.J. Denker had a big night against Colorado.
Offensive standout: There have been and probably will continue to be doubts about Arizona QB B.J. Denker, but you have to credit him for showing grit in the face of criticism and, by golly, for improving. He accounted for 457 total yards in the 44-20 win at Colorado. He completed 21 of 32 passes for 265 yards with a TD and interception and he also rushed for 192 yards on 15 carries.

Offensive standout II: Just like Denker, Washington RB Bishop Sankey put up big numbers against a Pac-12 bottom-feeder, but you can't ignore the numbers: a career-high 241 yards on 27 carries -- which works out to 8.9 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in a 41-17 win over California.

Defensive standout: Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss among his eight total tackles in Stanford's win over Oregon State. He also broke up a pass and blocked another as the Cardinal defense held the Beavers to just 288 total yards. And he was a disruptive force well beyond the stats. There seemed to be six Murphys on the field, and the Beavers didn't block any of them.

Defensive standout, team editions: USC, Oregon and Stanford each deserve special note for playing outstanding team defense. USC held Utah to three points and 201 total yards, Oregon pitched a second-half shutout and Stanford held the most potent passing attack in the nation to 271 yards.

Special-teams standout: Washington K/P Travis Coons was 2-2 on field goals in the Huskies 41-17 win over California, making kicks of 46 and 42 yards. He was perfect on five PATs and had three of his eight punts downed inside the California 20-yard line, as well as a 46-yard effort.

Smiley face: Stanford and Oregon both took care of business against ranked teams, setting up a marquee matchup of national interest on Thursday, Nov. 7. While the Cardinal's loss at Utah reduces the overall wow factor of the Pac-12 showdown that was circled in red in the preseason to some extent, these are still teams in the top five of the BCS rankings, and the Pac-12 North Division is likely at stake. It's good for the Pac-12 as a whole to have the big stage to itself. And both teams get extra time to prepare, so THERE WILL BE NO EXCUSES!

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesStanford needs more offense from Kevin Hogan & Co. to keep up with Oregon.
Frowny face: Stanford will have no chance against the Ducks without some passing game, and the one the Cardinal brought to Oregon State won't cut it against the Ducks defense, which might have the nation's best secondary. QB Kevin Hogan completed just 8 of 18 passes for 88 yards (4.9 per completion), with a QBR of 27.0 -- 50 being average -- against an inspired Beavers defense. Stanford coach David Shaw said as much about his offense after the game. The Cardinal needs receiver Devon Cajuste to get healthy, if that's even possible.

Thought of the week: Let the bowl scramble begin! Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State are already bowl-eligible, with Oregon and Stanford both in position to obtain BCS bowl berths. Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington each have five wins, needing one more to become bowl-eligible. Of course, the South Division winner also has a shot of getting a Rose Bowl berth in the Pac-12 championship game. USC, Utah and Washington State need two more wins to become bowl-eligible. Only Cal, at 1-7, is out of the running, though Colorado getting three wins is a decided long shot. After the BCS bowls, things will get pretty interesting in the rush for the best bowl slots -- Alamo and Holiday -- compared to the other choices. There might be some hurt feelings -- "Hey, we beat them and have the same record and they got a better game!"

Questions for the week: Where are the road warriors (other than Oregon)? Go through the Pac-12 schedule: There have been few impressive or surprising road wins this year. Arizona lost at USC and Washington. Arizona State lost at Stanford and to Notre Dame in AT&T Stadium. UCLA lost at Stanford and Oregon. USC lost at Arizona and Notre Dame. Utah lost at Arizona and USC. Stanford lost at Utah. Washington lost at Stanford and Arizona State. The best road wins? Stanford over Oregon State on Saturday. Oregon over Washington on Oct. 12. Washington State over USC on Sept. 7, perhaps the most surprising win. UCLA over Utah on Oct. 3. And Oregon State over Washington State on Oct. 12. That's about it. A program goes from good to great by learning how to consistently win on the road -- see Oregon and Stanford

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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Taking stock of Week 7 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Utah knocked down Stanford last week, but the Cardinal got up, wiped away the blood and posted an inspired performance on both sides of the ball in a 24-10 win over UCLA. RB Tyler Gaffney rushed for a career-high 171 yards, including 84 yards in the fourth quarter, while the defense throttled QB Brett Hundley and the Bruins.

Best game: Utah's visit to Arizona was a back-and-forth affair and wasn't iced until Wildcats running back Ka'Deem Carey capped an epic night with a 44-yard touchdown run in a 35-24 victory. Both teams showed resolve, with the Utes fighting back after losing starting QB Travis Wilson to a hand injury, and the Wildcats bouncing back after losing a big first-half lead.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's defense was spectacular in a 24-10 win over previously unbeaten UCLA, but Kodi Whitfield's one-handed touchdown grab might be the play of the year.
Biggest play: Stanford receiver Kodi Whitfield's 30-yard touchdown reception against UCLA gave Stanford a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, so it was important. But this time we're more about best play instead of biggest. As in ... best play of the year? His twisting, one-handed grab between two defenders was unbelievable. It certainly will make a top-10 list of plays for the 2013 college football season. It's also amusing that such an acrobatic catch came from the son of a former All-Pac-10 offensive lineman, Bob Whitfield.

Offensive standout(s): We have a "chicken or the egg" deal with Oregon State. QB Sean Mannion completed 35 of 45 passes for 481 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the blowout win over California. Receiver Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score. Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdown passes. Cooks lead the nation in every notable statistical category for his position, including receiving yards and touchdowns. Feel free to tap whichever one is your personal favorite.

Offensive standout 2: Carey rushed 40 times for 236 yards against a tough Utah run defense. It was a big-time performance by a big-time player when his team really needed it.

Offensive standout 3: Arizona State RB Marion "006" Grice rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries -- 7.5 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in the 53-24 win over Washington. He also caught four passes for 37 yards and a score. He now has 18 total touchdowns this season.

Defensive standout: Arizona State's defensive effort against Washington was beastly, particularly considering the Huskies had decent success against the two best defenses in the Pac-12: Stanford and Oregon. The Sun Devils held the Huskies to 212 total yards, including minus-5 yards rushing. Bishop Sankey, who entered the game leading the nation in rushing, had 22 yards on 13 carries. The Sun Devils had seven sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. That Huskies offense, by the way, ranked 15th in the nation in rushing, eighth in total offense (526.8 yards per game) and averaged 35 points per game.

Defensive standout 2: Stanford safety Jordan Richards had a team-high 10 tackles as well as two interceptions in the win over UCLA.

Special teams standout: It's not good when your punter is called upon 11 times, but Washington's Travis Coons averaged 46.8 yards on 11 boots with a long of 61 yards. He also made a 27-yard field goal and three PATs.

Smiley face: The Pac-12 is playing defense this fall. The five winners Saturday plus USC, which lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, combined to hold their opponents to 19.6 points per game, and many of those points -- hello, Washington State, says Nick Aliotti -- came in obvious fourth-quarter garbage time. The Pac-12 offenses, of course, are still good, other than a few stragglers (USC!), so there's strength on both sides of the ball. And fewer 52-50 games.

Frowny face: Washington! Washington! That performance at Arizona State was abysmal (though we type that without taking credit away from an inspired Sun Devils effort and game plan). If the Huskies win in Tempe, they buck the "overrated!" taunt that their adversaries -- mostly Ducks fans but also many Cougars and Beavers -- have enjoyed tossing their way for, oh, 12 or so years. A win at Arizona State would have hinted at a team headed toward nine or 10 wins. Now the ugly possibility of a fourth consecutive 7-6 season -- how is that possible! -- is in play.

Thought of the week: The Pac-12 is the center of the college football universe this weekend with two matchups of ranked teams in the BCS standings. And it's all happening in the state of Oregon! In Eugene, with ESPN's "College GameDay" setting up camp, the No. 3 Ducks play host to No. 12 UCLA, while No. 6 Stanford is visiting No. 25 Oregon State just up the road in Corvallis. The Ducks are looking to further burnish their national title game resume, while UCLA is looking for a breakthrough win. The Beavers are trying to move up in the North Division pecking order and make themselves the top challenger for the Ducks. And Stanford is trying to get to its Nov. 7 showdown with Oregon in control of its destiny.

Questions of the week: Which quarterback(s) has the best weekend in Oregon? Does Ducks QB Marcus Mariota make a loud Heisman Trophy statement, or is he upstaged by Mannion? And what about the visitors? Does Hundley rediscover his mojo at Oregon? Or does Stanford's Kevin Hogan show everyone that steady and unspectacular wins the day when you've got a great defense?

Question of the week 2: Who rises above the noise and consistently plays to its ability over the homestretch of the season? It's not easy to go unbeaten, even when you're more talented than everyone on your schedule, because it's difficult to get 40 or so guys to bring their A-game 12 games in a row. It's not easy to go 8-4 and know your team reached its max winning potential, that you only lost to superior teams. And it's hard to win on the road. Take Arizona State. The version of the Sun Devils who blistered USC and Washington at home would have romped Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but that team didn't show up that evening in Arlington, Texas. And the Huskies that nearly beat Stanford and whipped Boise State would have won in Tempe. Stanford's tumble at Utah, Oregon State's defeat to Eastern Washington -- losses full of regret. The pressure is building. Which teams win all the games they are supposed to -- as favorites -- and which teams fall to underdogs?

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
10:15
AM PT
Here are a few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

  1. Welcome, Coach O: The USC Trojans will make their debut with Ed Orgeron running the show. Considered a fiery alternative to his predecessor, the former Ole Miss coach says he’s been putting an emphasis on bringing fun back to football. The Trojans, who face the Arizona Wildcats tonight, are 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 2001, when they started 0-3. The last USC coach to lose his debut was John Robinson in his second stint in 1993. Not sayin' … just sayin'.
  2. Speaking of that game: The past six matchups between Arizona and USC has been decided by a touchdown or less. Of the 35 meetings, 15 have been within a touchdown. The Trojans and Wildcats have split their past four meetings, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
  3. Get up for "GameDay"! ESPN’s "College GameDay" is making its first appearance in Seattle for Saturday’s showdown between the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies. Just a reminder, the Ducks have won nine straight in the series -- all by at least 17 points and with a 26-point average margin of victory. This is the second time in as many weeks the Huskies will face a top-5 opponent after falling 31-28 last week to No. 5 Stanford.
  4. [+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWashington State quarterback Connor Halliday won a shootout against Cal.
  5. Conference of quarterbacks: Some quarterback numbers from our friends at the Pac-12 office: “Pac-12 quarterbacks continue to put up impressive numbers each weekend. Washington State’s Connor Halliday [521 yards] and California’s Jared Goff [504 yards] combined for 1,025 passing yards in WSU’s 44-22 win at Cal. It was the most passing yards by two opposing players in a Conference game. Four Pac-12 quarterbacks ranked among the top eight in the FBS in passing yards per game -- No. 1 Oregon State’s Sean Mannion (403.6 YPG), No. 3 California’s Goff (364.2 YPG), No. 5 Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly (346.4 YPG) and No. 8 Washington State’s Halliday (332.2 YPG).”
  6. North vs. South: Just an update on how things are going in the unofficial rivalry. The North division is 6-0 against teams from the South division. There’s a good chance the Bruins -- the only South team yet to play a team from the North -- break up the no-hitter with a visit from California, which has dropped nine straight games to FBS opponents. That is one of two interdivision games this weekend. Stanford’s trip to Utah is the other. The Bruins are 4-0 for the first time since 2005 and are coming off a six-interception performance against Utah.
  7. Everyone in action: Did you know there are only three weeks out of the entire season in which every Pac-12 team is playing against another Pac-12 team? This is the first one. Every team played in Week 3, but mostly against nonconference foes. The next time this happens will be in Week 12, then again in Week 13.
  8. 55 for six? Last week, we asked if the Ducks could break 50 points for the fifth straight game. They did, becoming the first team since 1885 to start the season with five straight wins with 55 points or more. Now they’ll look to become the first team to do it six times in a row since Oklahoma in 2008.
  9. Must-see TV: Better yet, see it live. Stanford makes its first trip to Utah since the Utes joined the conference. The teams haven’t played since 1996. It’s been hard luck for the Utes so far in conference play, having dropped an overtime game to Oregon State and then falling by a touchdown last week to UCLA. Coach Kyle Whittingham talked this week about the need to be stronger on first and second down to give his team a more manageable third down. Utah is just 3-of-27 on third downs in its past two games. On the flip side, Stanford will look to rebound from a shaky offensive performance in the win over Washington. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has thrown an interception in four straight games.
  10. Elite receivers: Two of the league’s top receivers square off when Colorado travels to Arizona State. The Buffs' Paul Richardson has four plays of 50 yards or more and has three 100-yard receiving games this season. Also with three 100-yard games is ASU’s Jaelen Strong, the junior college transfer who has made an immediate impact for the Sun Devils. OSU’s Brandin Cooks still leads the league with 10.4 receptions per game, but Strong and Richardson are right behind, tied for second with 7.8 per game.
  11. Bowl implications: Oregon State heads to Washington State with four wins. The Cougs likewise have four wins -- making this a critical game for postseason hopes. Both teams have a challenging second half of the schedule, so this one feels like one of those must-win games to keep bowl hopes alive and well. Don’t expect a ton of play on the ground. As noted above, Cooks leads the league in receptions and Oregon State has the No. 1 passing offense with 21 touchdowns and 420.6 yards per game with Mannion at the helm. Washington State is third in passing offense (359.7 yards per game) and tied for second in the league with 15 passing touchdowns. The Beavers and Cougars rank 11th and 12th, respectively, in the league in rushing offense. Speaking of bowls, more of a formality, but Stanford and Oregon can become bowl eligible with a win.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
9:00
AM PT
Ted went 5-0 last week. Kevin went 4-1, missing on his Notre Dame-Arizona State pick.

For the season, Kevin is 42-4 while Ted is 41-5.

Things get much tougher from here on, though.

Thursday

ARIZONA at USC

Kevin Gemmell: I have no clue what to make of USC right now. Is this a situation where all of that potential energy is going to erupt? I know getting Silas Redd back is going to be a huge boost to an already outstanding running game. The teams have split the last four meetings and the last six games have been decided by a touchdown or less. When things are that close, go with the home team. USC 38, Arizona 31.

Ted Miller: Arizona State ripped USC's previously dominant defense apart in a 62-41 win, but that was due to QB Taylor Kelly passing for 351 yards and three touchdowns. As in: Kelly's potent passing opened up the Sun Devils running game. Arizona doesn't have that element. The Trojans will be able to gang up against Ka'Deem Carey. Plus, I suspect we'll see an inspired effort from the Trojans under interim coach Ed Orgeron. USC 28, Arizona 24.

Saturday

COLORADO at ARIZONA STATE

Gemmell: The Sun Devils better not take the foot off the gas now that their tough four-game stretch is through. The Buffs have talent and they haven’t lost confidence. I'm excited to see Paul Richardson and Jaelen Strong square off in a battle of elite receivers. ASU ultimately has more consistent firepower and should win easily. But Colorado isn’t going to roll over. Arizona State 42, Colorado 27.

Miller: Arizona State should be mad about its lackluster performance against Notre Dame. It also plays much better at home. Richardson will be a good test for the Sun Devils secondary, which made Tommy Rees look like Tom Brady. Arizona State 38, Colorado 24.

CALIFORNIA at UCLA

Gemmell: The list of defensive injuries continues to grow for the Bears. The fact that Jordon James might not play is a blow, but not a huge one, since the Bruins were expecting a by-committee backfield anyway. Its secondary should feel pretty good about nabbing six interceptions last week. The Bears, however, have dropped nine straight against FBS opponents. This should make it an even 10. UCLA 42, California 27.

Miller: The Bruins are going to be hungry because of the embarrassing way they played in Berkeley last year, particularly QB Brett Hundley. How beat up is the Bears defense? Just one starter from the spring depth chart will start Saturday. The only question is how the potent Cal passing game matches up with the Bruins secondary, which grabbed six interceptions at Utah last week. UCLA 50, California 31.

STANFORD at UTAH

Gemmell: Utah is getting closer, but hasn’t quite gotten over the hump yet. Stanford’s offense will be looking to bounce back -- as will Utah’s. Last week felt like a good wakeup call for the Cardinal, who own the nation’s second-longest winning streak. I'm expecting physical line play from both teams, but ultimately a Cardinal win. Stanford 31, Utah 21.

Miller: I like both quarterbacks to bounce back from poor performances last week, but Stanford's Kevin Hogan has a better supporting cast than Utah's Travis Wilson, and Wilson will be facing the Pac-12's best front seven. There should be plenty of good contact at the line of scrimmage. Stanford 35, Utah 20.

OREGON at WASHINGTON

Gemmell: I'm curious to see how Washington responds after its first loss of the year. Oregon has been so completely dominant, and would love nothing more than to score 55 or more points for a sixth straight game this season, especially at the expense of the Huskies. I like the progression of Washington, but I like Oregon better in this game. Oregon 42, Washington 31.

Miller: Husky Stadium will be rocking, and Washington is perfectly capable of pushing the Ducks. Keith Price could make himself a true UW legend by leading a winning effort, but we suspect it will be Ducks QB Marcus Mariota getting the ultimate star -- Heisman? -- turn. It's going to be 10 in a row for the Ducks, but it won't be by at least 17 points. Oregon 35, Washington 24.

OREGON STATE at WASHINGTON STATE

Gemmell: Call me crazy, but I like the Cougs in this one. The secondary is physical enough to hang with OSU’s receivers (as well as anyone can hang with Brandin Cooks) and the front seven has done a good job creating pressure. That leads to turnovers. Washington State seems ready to take a step forward in the North Division pecking order. This game would qualify as a step forward. Plus, two of my four misses this year have come by way of Oregon State. I clearly have no clue how to predict the Beavs. Washington State 45, Oregon State 42.

Miller: Oregon State, Oregon State, Oregon State. ... I ... am ... really ... sorry ... but I just got to do it. There really isn't a jinx ... is there? On the other side of the ledger, you are welcome in Pullman. Cold beverages on Kevin at The Coug. Oregon State 40, Washington State 38.

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2013 TEAM LEADERS

PASSINGATTCOMPYDSTD
C. Kessler361236296820
RUSHINGCARYDSAVGTD
J. Allen1357855.814
T. Madden1387035.13
RECEIVINGRECYDSAVGTD
M. Lee5779113.94
N. Agholor5691816.46
TEAMRUSHPASSTOTAL
Offense174.2218.1392.3
TEAMPFPAMARGIN
Scoring28.521.37.2