NCF Nation: Arizona Wildcats

Territorial Cup has hate and relevance

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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What makes a great college football rivalry? Two things: 1. Passionate and legitimate ill will; 2. National relevance.

Arizona and Arizona State have long had the former, with the bad feelings advancing beyond the typical state rivalry because of a handful of historical issues, including the University of Arizona fighting against "Tempe Normal School" becoming an accredited university in the late 1950s. That one still grates on Sun Devils elders, while snarky Wildcats fans will call ASU "Tempe Normal" just to be annoying.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRich Rodriguez and the Wildcats get a shot at rival Arizona State on Friday.
Those bad feelings ticked another notch forward when Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State hired Todd Graham. They don't like each other.

They were once friends, with Rodriguez hiring Graham away from a high school job in Texas to coach at West Virginia in 2002, but that clearly is no longer the case. Neither says much about the other on the record, but during a visit to ESPN's offices by Pac-12 coaches shortly after they were hired, they stood in stony silence for several minutes just a few feet from each other without making eye contact, despite a certain charming reporter offering up some wonderful repartee that typically would inspire conviviality from even a pair of gargoyles.

That dislike extends through the coaching staffs. Arizona assistants Calvin Magee and Tony Dews, who worked for Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan, spent a single season coaching with Graham at Pittsburgh after Rodriguez was fired at Michigan. When they rejoined Rodriguez at Arizona, Graham called them "mercenaries," according to a tweet from Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Yet history and personal feelings go only so far in the national college football conversation when your team is simply battling for bowl eligibility. Or one team is good and the other shows up only as a spoiler. That has been the case more often than not in the Territorial Cup, which was first contested in 1899, 13 years before Arizona became an official state in the union.

That is where Graham and Rodriguez have most enriched this rivalry: Both teams are now good. This will be the first time they meet as ranked teams since 1986. Both are 9-2. The last time they met as teams with at least nine wins? 1975. Arizona State has posted nine wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1996-97. Arizona owns its best record since 1998.

Both are 6-2 in Pac-12 play. If UCLA should lose to Stanford in a game played simultaneously with the Territorial Cup at 3:30 p.m. ET, then the champion of Arizona also becomes the Pac-12 South Division champ and would play Oregon for the conference title on Dec. 5. Further, the winner also might set itself up to be selected as practically a home team for the Fiesta Bowl. That is, unless the winner somehow beats Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and slips into the College Football Playoff, a not outrageous scenario, by the way.

“This game is the single most important game every year for us and for our fans," Graham said. "Obviously it has a lot more meaning with both teams going for 10th win and Pac-12 South championship on the line. So, yeah, there’s a little extra to it.”

Said Rodriguez: "I don’t believe that ‘if you only win one game but you beat ASU, it’s a good year,’ but it is the most important game on our schedule because it is the rivalry game. The rivalry game is always the most important when you see it with no records. Now that we both have had pretty good years and have even more at stake, this makes it of added importance."

Of added importance to both coaches, though perhaps more for Rodriguez: Graham is 2-0 against Rich Rod since they arrived in the desert. No Arizona State coach opened his career in Tempe at 3-0 versus the Wildcats. While folks in Tucson appreciate the undeniably good job Rodriguez has done rebuilding the program, they also would really, really not like to spend a third year listening to Sun Devils fans squawking at them.

In the Sun Devils' last visit to Tucson, they overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 41-34. Last year, the Sun Devils rolled the Wildcats 58-21, a blowout win that earned them home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game against Stanford.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenTaylor Kelly and the Sun Devils are looking to finish the season strong.
The intrigue this year is at quarterback. Arizona's starter, impressive redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, couldn't play the second half of the Wildcats' win last weekend over Utah because of an ankle injury that has been hounding him for some time. He's decidedly questionable, and senior Jesse Scroggins will make his first career start if Solomon can't play.

For Arizona State, there's senior Taylor Kelly. The three-year starter wants to finish his career 3-0 against the Wildcats. He has been inconsistent since returning from a foot injury, but he seemed to find his rhythm in the second half last week against Washington State. His life also will be easier with the expected return of receiver Jaelen Strong from a concussion.

Arizona's home-field advantage might not be much of an advantage. The Sun Devils have won five of the past seven in Tucson, and this rivalry has surprisingly not favored the home team of late. The visitor owns an 8-6 edge in the past 14 matchups, and the Sun Devils' win in Tempe last year ended a four-game winning streak for the road team.

Good news for those who like thrillers: Seven of the past 10 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The four games before last year's blowout were decided by a total of 15 points, with a fourth-quarter comeback, two blocked extra points, a late field goal and a red zone stand being the difference.

Graham said the game is about the players, not the coaches. Rodriguez, though he probably doesn't want to be seen as agreeing with Graham, said about the same.

"There is a lot of stake," he said. "It is our 19 seniors' last home game, so I would be shocked if preparation wasn’t at an ultimate high.”

National links: Calm before the storm 

November, 25, 2014
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Let’s just get this out of the way: Last week in college football was kind of dull.

Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.

My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.

But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.

And it starts in two days.

National links: Who's No. 4? 

November, 24, 2014
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We’re inside of two weeks until Dec. 7, when the College Football Playoff selection committee announces its four picks to appear in the sport’s first national semifinals.

There will be teams left out who can make perfectly compelling cases to be playoff participants. There will be voices raised and criticisms leveled regarding which program truly deserved the final spot in the playoff. This much is a certainty.

But which teams have the best chances of cracking the field? It still seems to be a matter of conjecture beyond the top three teams: Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Expect drama from Utah-Arizona

November, 21, 2014
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The following is a public service announcement from the ESPN.com Pac-12 blog.

Those planning to attend Saturday’s Utah-Arizona game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, or watching the 12:30 PT kickoff on ESPN, are advised to bring the following items:

  • Blood pressure medication
  • A defibrillator
  • A shoulder to cry on
  • A comforting beverage of your choice (the Pac-12 blog doesn’t judge)
Given the erratic and unpredictable nature of both teams, the Pac-12 blog thanks you for your consideration.

[+] EnlargeAustin Hill
Darin Wallentin/Getty ImagesThe Wildcats have made close, nail-biting finishes the norm.
Think we’re being too dramatic? We’re not. More nails have been bitten to the nub between watching Utah and Arizona than any other teams in the conference. That they meet Saturday in a game with Pac-12 South implications only adds to the pulse-racing dramatics these two teams have practiced in 2014.

Each team has played in six games decided by seven or fewer points -- that’s tied for the second most in FBS. The Wildcats are 5-1 in those tight games while the Utes are 4-2. Utah has also played three overtime games, going 2-1 in bonus football.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez prepped his team in the preseason for the fact that his Wildcats would likely participate in several barn burnings. And thus they were ready when things got close in Week 2 on the road at UTSA.

“We’ve got some talent, but (we knew) we’re not overloaded where we can dominate anybody,” Rodriguez said. “Plus the schedule that we play, there are a lot of quality teams with a lot of quality players. We got into that mindset that we’re ready to battle. I think it’s helped us when we’ve faced some adversity. Whether we’ve gotten down early or been on the road, our guys said hey, let’s make some plays and keep playing and see what happens.”

What happened was some of the most dramatic football in the country this season. Among Arizona's thrillers are a 36-point, fourth-quarter, time-expiring Hail Mary against Cal; a win over No. 2 Oregon on the road; a missed field goal in the loss to USC; and most recently, a successful last-second field goal to beat Washington.

If Arizona has been the Cardiac 'Cats, then Utah has certainly been the ulcer-inducing Utes. During a stretch from the end of September to the beginning of November, the Utes played in five straight games decided by six or fewer points. The highlights include a two-point win over UCLA, a double-overtime win over Oregon State and a last-minute touchdown against USC. The lowlights are an overtime loss to ASU and blowing a 21-0 lead to WSU.

Most recently, Utah won a double-overtime game last week at Stanford.

“I’d say it starts with our leadership and the senior leadership on this team,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s a great group. It’s as good of leadership as I’ve been around during my time at Utah and I think that’s a main factor in the mentality of the team and the way they are able to persevere.”

Winning these close games is unfamiliar territory for the Utes. But playing in them isn’t. Last season Utah also played in six close games, but lost in overtime to Oregon State, by a touchdown to UCLA and by a point to ASU.

“I think we’re a better football team personnel-wise across the board,” Whittingham said. “We’ve upgraded and that obviously has a lot to do with it. But between that, the experience we may have gained and the leadership, I think those are probably the main factors.”

While Utah has relied on its experience, Arizona has relied on its conditioning. You might recall way back in 2012 when Rodriguez was first hired, he famously (infamously?) called his players weak. Now it’s that physical strength that he’s banking on to get his guys through tough times.

“I think our team knew back in August, we talked about it, we knew we would probably be in a lot of tight games that would go the full 60 minutes and if anything else, we’re going to be a pretty conditioned team,” Rodriguez said. “We control what we can control and we talk about playing as hard on the last play as we do the first play and I think our guys really believe that plays a role in every game. There’s a little luck involved, too. But we’ve been in nine straight games that have gone down to the fourth quarter and our guys, to their credit, they are still playing as hard as they did at the beginning.”

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
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After two weeks on a diet, a jam-packed Pac-12 slate is back Saturday. Here's the rundown:

10 a.m.

Washington State at Arizona State, Pac-12 Network

One word: early. This game kicks off at 11 a.m. local time, but keep in mind that the Cougars' body clocks will still be set to the Pacific time zone. Mike Leach said that Washington State's hotel pregame routine will start between 5 and 6 a.m. It'll be a chance for fans to watch the Pac-12 while munching on pancakes, French toast, or -- my favorite -- crab Benedict. And it'll be a chance for ASU to wash away the horrible memory of last week's 35-27 loss at Oregon State as quickly as possible.

12:30 p.m.

Arizona at Utah, ESPN

By lunchtime, there should be a craving for a good dose of backfield pressure. #SackLackCity should be a fun place for the Wildcats' Scooby Wright to visit: He's ranked in the top three nationally in sacks and tackles for loss, so why not put him on the same field as the Utes' Nate Orchard, who's currently at the top of the sack heap? Defensive star power is the name of the game here, but keep an eye on Arizona's Anu Solomon: He must step up to the challenge of the Rice-Eccles crowd.

1 p.m.

Stanford at Cal, Fox Sports 1

Stanford's offense has been bad, but the Cardinal have found a way to score against shaky defenses this season (they've been terrible in games against ranked teams, averaging only 11.4 points per regulation in those contests). Well, good news for the Cardinal: The Golden Bears are worse than shaky on defense (39.2 points, 518 yards per game). Bad news for Stanford: Cal is at home, and it is smelling blood. Let's see what gives in the 117th Big Game. Oh, and that matchup between Jared Goff and Lance Anderson's top-ranked Cardinal defense isn't too shabby, either.

1:30 p.m.

Colorado at Oregon, Pac-12 Network

The best team in the conference meets the worst team in the conference. Prediction-wise, that's about all that needs to be said about this one. Some extra, slightly unrelated food for thought: Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre asserted that the Pac-12 South was the best division in college football, better than even the SEC West. Imagine how absurdly strong the South would be if Oregon were in it, too (I bring this up only because the SEC's top team, Alabama, happens to reside in the powerful West).

5 p.m.

USC at UCLA, ABC

Statues have been vandalized, airports have received photogenic lighting decorations, and statues have been arguably vandalized some more by duct tape (intended to protect them, but still, that's going to be a pain to remove, right?). The pregame rituals of rivalry week were fun, but it's time for some actual football with Pac-12 championship hopes on the line. The matchup of Brett Hundley and Cody Kessler is fascinating one, as is the battle between USC's frontline explosiveness and a UCLA machine that appears to be peaking at the right time.

7:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Washington, ESPN

The Beavers need one more win to earn bowl eligibility for Sean Mannion in his senior season. It's amazing what one good week (paired with a bad one) can do: Both of these teams have lost four of their past five games, but the feeling surrounding Oregon State is much more positive than the one in Seattle. The Beavers notched a huge 35-27 upset win over ASU last weekend, while the Huskies dropped a bitter 27-26 decision to Arizona. Both have a chance to finish forgettable seasons on a high note.
With four entries, the Pac-12 dominates the list of five finalists for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

The five finalists are Hawaii punter/wide receiver/punt returner Scott Harding, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard and Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon.

The Polynesian College Football Player of the Year is given, according to a news release, to "the most outstanding Polynesian college football player that epitomizes great ability and integrity."

The finalists were chosen by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, which is composed of past college football head coaches Dick Tomey (Chairman), LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett, NFL player personnel expert Gil Brandt, past NFLPA president and Inaugural Inductee Kevin Mawae and Hawai'i sportscaster Robert Kekaula. The committee will meet again in the coming weeks to select the winner.

The winner will be announced on December 9. The formal presentation of the award will be held at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Celebration Dinner during the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend on January 23, 2015.

The Pac-12 had 15 players on the initial watch list released in July.

Pac-12 Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
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Why Stanford will win: Stanford winning the Big Game would be a sure-thing if I had predicted Cal to win -- as Bears fans know, my pick is like getting handed a condemning black spot from a pirate, a la "Treasure Island." But there is something to be said for the physicality of Stanford's defense being able to contain Cal's offense, as Washington's front seven did. I also suspect Stanford will get Good Kevin Hogan in this game, which should be enough to get the Cardinal bowl eligible in an otherwise disappointing season. -- Ted Miller

Why Cal will win: I like this matchup: A great offense against a great defense, and a "meh" offense against a "meh" defense. Yay, Pac-12 football! But I think Jared Goff is going to come up huge for the Bears. I'm giving the nod to the team that has more positive vibes, rather than the one dealing with disappointment. That's what I've learned from the West Coast. -- Chantel Jennings

Why USC will win: It just wouldn't feel right if the Pac-12 South finished without another change of course. Look for Cody Kessler to turn in another big game and the Trojans to avoid a three-game losing streak to UCLA -- something that has happened just three times in the series' history. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why UCLA will win: With Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor exploding on a regular basis, USC may have more top-level flash (don’t tell that to Brett Hundley, though), but UCLA has the depth advantage in this game. The Trojans’ late-game struggles have to be cause for some concern here, especially since the Bruins have been playing their best football as of late. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon State will win: The Beavers are riding high and bowl eligibility is on the line in Sean Mannion's senior year. Last week, the Beavers played for pride. This week, it'll be to give their leader one extra game in an OSU uniform. They clicked last week and I think that will continue. I think the Beavers are going to leave Seattle with a win and extend their season one more game. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Washington will win: In losing Terron Ward, the Beavers lose a running back, a leader and a special teams contributor. That’s a big deduction this late in the season for a team not overflowing with playmakers. Combine that with a talented Washington front seven and the Huskies feel right in this one at home. Now, if Cyler Miles can just hold on to the dang ball. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

Why Utah will win: Home-field advantage might not mean as much as it used to in the Pac-12 this season, but I think the crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium fuels Utah's nation-leading pass rush. It will be enough to push the Utes to victory over an Arizona offense that’s still young at key positions. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon will win: When the best team in the conference plays the worst team in the conference, it's easy to pick the winner (even in the Pac-12). It's only a question of how much the Ducks will win by. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils are going to be eager to bounce back from their loss in Corvallis and pick up win No. 9 against Washington State. Look for a better performance from Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster, who rushed for just 51 yards against the Beavers. -- Chantel Jennings
Here we are, two weeks left in the regular season, and the Pac-12 once again has a team in contention for a national championship.

But let’s be honest ... does anyone actually feel good about the prospects? Oregon -- the league’s brightest beacon of hope -- retained its No. 2 spot when the latest College Football Playoff rankings were revealed Tuesday night.

With games against Colorado (2-8) and Oregon State (5-5) remaining -- plus an opponent still-to-be-determined in the Pac-12 championship game -- the Ducks seem to be in good shape for a spot in the national semifinal in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. A 69-percent chance, if you trust the ESPN metrics.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe path to the College Football Playoff seems straightforward for Royce Freeman and Oregon. But recent Pac-12 history has not been kind to teams in the Ducks' position.
The case for Oregon is compelling. Since losing to Arizona, the Ducks have won their last five games by an average of 21.6 points and have three double-digit wins over FPI Top 25 opponents -- the most in FBS. With the country’s most efficient offense led by the most efficient quarterback, it seems safe to at least start looking up hotels in the greater Los Angeles area.

But Pac-12 fans have learned to live in a world where the other shoe dangles delicately -- amassing potential energy before delivering a knockout blow at terminal velocity. We’ve seen teams with stronger resumes than the 2014 Ducks pull off amazing feats of yoga just so they could kick themselves in the rear.

In other words, Pac-12, you’ve teased us too many times before.

You know what you are, Pac-12? You’re the last number on a lottery scratcher that doesn’t hit. You’re the ace that pops up when you double down on 7-4. You’re the high-priced steak that’s undercooked and over-seasoned. You’re the last episode of The Sopranos. So much anticipation and build up, followed by an unsatisfying and jarring cut to black.

As my colleague Ted Miller likes to uncouthly say, you yak on yourself this time each year.

Will this year be different?

We thought it would be last year, before Stanford beat Oregon, USC beat Stanford and Arizona beat Oregon.

We thought 2012 would be different, until the Stanford beat Oregon.

We thought 2011 would be different, until Oregon beat Stanford and USC beat Oregon.

You can go all the way back to the league’s last national champion in 2004 and find an instance of foot-shooting almost every year. USC and Oregon did it in their national championship games in 2005 and 2010, respectively. The 2008 Trojans -- a team so ridiculously loaded with future NFL talent -- crashed and burned in Corvallis in the third game of the season. The computers never forgave them.

But before that, there were the Trojans gagging in 2006 with a mid-season loss (again in Corvallis) and a season-finale loss to UCLA. You can even go back to ’98 and dredge up the would-be UCLA-Tennessee national championship that never happened, courtesy of Miami.

We’ve already seen it with Arizona State’s collapse last weekend in Corvallis. How neat and tidy would it have been for the league to have two one-loss teams playing in the championship game with a spot in the playoffs on the line? But that’s not the league’s style. It prefers messy.

Had the Sun Devils pulled out a win last weekend, do you think the Beavers faithful at Reser Stadium would have been chanting “P-A-C, P-A-C” like some other conference we know that holds itself in such high regard? Of course not. This league’s coaches rarely talk about what’s good for the conference. They want what’s best for their own team -- national perception and conference pride be damned. And for the record, this fifth of the Pac-12 blog is just fine with that.

Colorado isn’t going to yield the floor to the gentlemen from the great state of Oregon. Nor are the Beavers gracefully going to step aside and accept their seventh straight loss to the Ducks. Those teams want nothing more than to dust the college football landscape with thermite and watch it burn.

Nothing is a lock. Nothing is even close to being a lock. If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that the worst may be yet to come.

Or maybe this year will be different. Maybe the Pac-12 will hit that third lottery number, pull that face card, and savor that high-priced steak. Maybe this is the year the league’s national title hopes don’t have a Sopranos-esque ending and simply snap to black. Because the league clearly has one of the best teams in the country. And it would be a shame if things just cut off right in the middle of

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
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Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
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It's time to start sorting out the weekend mayhem in the Pac-12, starting with a look at standout players.

Nelson Agholor, WR, USC: Last season, Agholor torched California as a punt returner. This time, he etched his name into Trojans history as a wide receiver. Agholor grabbed 16 Cody Kessler passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first USC wide receiver ever to amass 200 receiving yards in consecutive games, in a 38-30 USC victory. Agholor has teamed with Kessler and Javorius Allen to form quite the three-headed monster on top of the USC offense, and that unit will take aim at UCLA with plenty on the line next weekend.

Su'a Cravens, DB, USC: Cravens' versatility on defense has been essential to USC's success this season, particularly after the Trojans lost physical cornerback Josh Shaw. Since then, Cravens has thrown his powerful 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame all over the field, and he did more of the same against Cal Thursday night, racking up a team-high 10 tackles, 1.5 tackle for loss, and a pass break-up. Cravens leads USC with 14 TFL and two interceptions this season. He's also broken up eight passes. It's about time he earned a helmet sticker.

Casey Skowron, K, Arizona: Call it poetic justice. Five weeks after a Steve Sarkisian icing timeout nullified his potential game-winning field goal against USC, Skowron missed his first try at the gun against Washington -- except Chris Petersen's icing timeout gave him a second chance. This time, Skowron nailed the 47-yard game winner on his second chance, sending Arizona to 27-26 victory. Demons exorcised.

Henry Anderson, DL, Stanford: The Cardinal defense showed up on Senior Day, but the team's offense again failed to deliver in a 20-17 double-overtime loss to Utah. Anderson did his job, though. The fifth-year senior registered the best game of his career in his final home game, notching three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, both career bests. The numbers Anderson put up Saturday surpassed those that he had posted in the previous nine.

Tom Hackett, P, Utah: The Utes and the Cardinal engaged in an ugly three-hour, evenly matched defensive brawl. Stanford ran the ball more effectively, but Utah made up for that through Hackett's sensational punting. He racked up an astonishing 402 yards on nine punts -- an average of 44.7 per boot -- and pinned the Cardinal inside their 20-yard line six times. Thanks primarily to Hackett, Stanford's average starting field position was its 18, while Utah started from its 32. That was a significant difference in this defensive struggle.

Nate Orchard, DL, Utah: If Anderson earns a helmet sticker, Orchard deserves one too: He racked up a team-leading 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks to help push Utah's national lead in sacks to 47. The Utes actually struggled against Stanford's run game, but it seemed like Orchard constantly made a huge plays at critical junctures to stymie the Cardinal.

Terron Ward and Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State: The Beavers' dynamic backfield duo punched Arizona State's defense in the face with two long first-quarter touchdown runs, and that set the tone for Oregon State's 35-27 upset win. Ward finished with 148 yards on 19 carries (7.8 yards per carry) while Woods racked up 125 yards on only 11 carries (11.4 ypc). At the end of the first quarter, both backs were averaging over 35 yards per carry. Keep in mind that this all came against a Sun Devils defense that had been smothering the run for several weeks, and it set up Sean Mannion and Jordan Villamin (four catches, 127 yards) for passing success down the stretch.
A few things we learned this week in the Pac-12.

The South is a mess, again: UCLA is now the front-runner in the division following Arizona State's 35-27 loss to Oregon State. The tiebreaker scenarios now start to get a little confusing. Luckily, Kyle Bonagura broke it all down earlier this week. You can click here to check it out. The simplest scenario would be for UCLA to win out and face Oregon (which has already locked up the North) in the Pac-12 title game. But this league doesn't do simple. It mocks simple. It laughs at you for even beginning to hope that anything will ever be simple again. So expect more chaos in the final couple of weeks.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Brian Murphy/Icon SportswireFollowing its upset of No. 6 Arizona State, Oregon State has now gone 5-5 at home as an unranked team playing a top 10 team since 2000.
But the South is also awesome: Even though the league's best chance at landing a team in the College Football Playoff comes from the North (see below), the South continues to assert itself as the dominant division. It entered the week 11-6 against its northern brethren, and picked up three more wins along the way. Victories from Arizona over Washington, Utah over Stanford and USC over Cal improved the mark to 14-7. OSU's stunner over ASU prevented the sweep. The South is plenty deep and plenty talented. David Lombardi wrote about that last week, as a matter of fact.

And then there was one: We've been saying for quite some time that a one-loss Pac-12 champion gets into the College Football Playoff. That hope is still alive with the Ducks, who were on a bye this week. The optimal scenario of Oregon and a one-loss ASU team meeting in the Pac-12 championship game -- in essence a playoff elimination game -- is gone. Even if a South team does win the conference, it will be tough for a two-loss team to get in. Not saying it's impossible, but it will be hard. So the Ducks, once again, are carrying the league's postseason hopes.

Consider Kessler: Coaches will no doubt start penciling in their all-conference teams soon, if they haven't started already. I think it's safe to assume that Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota is a sure thing for first team. But how about second team? Something to ponder: USC's Cody Kessler is completing 70.2 percent of his throws with 29 touchdowns to just three interceptions. While the Trojans have had a fairly up-and-down season, Kessler has mostly been steady. He probably deserves a lot more national recognition than he's getting.

Home warriors: Something amazing happened this week: The home teams actually did pretty good! Coming into the week, the road team was 26-13 in conference games. But with home wins from Arizona, Oregon State and USC, the visitors “fall” to 27-16. Of course, the one team that lost at home -- Stanford -- once held the nation's longest home win streak. Chalk it up to more Pac-12 lunacy this year.

Rivalry implications: The first round of rivalry games kicks off next week with UCLA and USC squaring off at the Rose Bowl and Cal hosting Stanford in the Big Game. Lots of intrigue surrounding both games. USC is coming off a win against Cal, while the Bruins were on a bye. As noted above, this is a huge game for the South Division standings. And if the Bruins win, they can lock up the division a week later against the Cardinal. For Stanford and Cal, the winner is bowl eligible. Given that one team is offensively challenged and the other is defensively challenged, it's the tale as old as time of weakness on weakness.

Coming back fresh: Four teams had a bye in Week 12: Colorado, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State. All four have varying degrees of importance for which to play. Oregon, as noted above, is looking for a spot in the playoff. Colorado can go all Skynet and blow everything up, locally and nationally. WSU got great production last week out of Luke Falk, who is auditioning to be WSU's quarterback of the future. And UCLA, of course, only has to worry about a rivalry and a division title. Given all that happened this week nationally and within the conference, probably a good week to take a breather.

A day for redemption: A couple of Pac-12 players who starred in the role of goat in previous weeks had their moments in the sun. First, Arizona kicker Casey Skowron -- who caught his share of social media bullying after missing a game-winning 36-yard field goal against USC last month -- was the hero in Tucson for nailing a 47-yarder as time expired in the Wildcats' 27-26 win over Washington. And last week, Utah's Kaelin Clay was a national punchline for his unforced fumble against the Ducks. But Saturday, he caught the first touchdown for Utah in overtime in the Utes' 20-17 win over the Cardinal. Pretty good timing by both guys to come up big.

Corvallis, the city of broken dreams: There are trap games. And then there are trap games at Reser Stadium. Since 2000, Oregon State has the best home record in FBS football as an unranked team going against a team ranked in the AP top 10 (minimum 10 games), improving to 5-5. Chantel Jennings broke down a few of those for you earlier this week.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 12

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
10:00
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Four teams have bye weeks and California-USC was on Thursday, so it's a lighter Saturday for the conference. Here's a rundown of the action.

12:30 p.m. PT

Washington at Arizona, FOX

[+] EnlargeShaq Thompson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsCan converted linebacker Shaq Thompson produce enough firepower to help Washington upset No. 14 Arizona?
The Huskies' offense has finally found a pulse with Shaq Thompson at running back. The problem is that the team's once-vaunted defense seems to be running out of steam. The dismissal of cornerback Marcus Peters decimated the secondary, and now injury problems in the front seven (Hau'oli Kikaha exited early last week) have compounded issues. Washington seems vulnerable entering Tucson, and the Wildcats still have plenty to play for: If they can win out in conjunction with one more USC loss, they'll win the Pac-12 South. Those scenarios are still a bit down the road, though, so enjoy the matchup of the nation's two leaders in tackles for loss: Kikaha has 22.5, while Arizona's Scooby Wright III is right behind him at 20.5.

3:00 p.m. PT

Utah at Stanford, Pac-12 Network

The over-under number here stands at 42.5, and that's interesting because this is a matchup of the Pac-12's two most efficient defenses. Statistically, the Cardinal's body of work this year is head and shoulders above the rest of the conference (16.1 points per game, 4.1 yards per play), but Utah is second in the latter category, surrendering only 5.1 yards per play. Earlier this week, I wrote about the intriguing similarities between this 2014 Utah team and the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal have changed since then, but like the Utes, they've seen up-and-down play from the quarterback position. Will Kevin Hogan or Travis Wilson have a better game here? The team that puts its signal-caller in better position to succeed will likely win Saturday.

7:45 p.m. PT

Arizona State at Oregon State, ESPN

The Sun Devils are riding high, and now the goal is to avoid a letdown in a spot that has some history of being conducive to them. Four top 10 teams have gone down at Reser Stadium since 2000. Oregon State is facing a world of difficulty, though: The Beavers have hit the roughest stretch of Mike Riley's tenure. They're 1-10 in their last 11 Pac-12 games, and that lone win came against Colorado, a team that's winless in conference play. While this is certainly an opportunity for Oregon State to play spoiler and bring some good vibes to a sliding season, ASU clearly has more firepower going in. The Sun Devils flashed greatness in stretches on both sides of the ball last week against Notre Dame, and they now have a chance to solidify their spot atop the Pac-12 South. Watch as Taylor Kelly continues to ease back into his comfort zone following injury.
Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Central receiver Terrell Chatman committed to Miami early on, but that hasn’t stopped other schools from coming after him. His teammate, Kevin Henry, is working hard to ensure he’ll end up at Oklahoma State.


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2011-2012: The days of Northern rule

In the first three seasons after the conference's expansion to 12 teams, the Pac-12 North ruled the league. Oregon's annual November matchup with Stanford went further toward determining the league champion than the official Pac-12 championship game held a week later.

This was most apparent in 2011, the first year of the two-division, title-game format. USC, still on postseason probation that season, had the firepower to give the Cardinal and Ducks all they could handle (they took Stanford to triple overtime and beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium). But the Trojans' postseason absence took any true bite out of the South: The rest of the division was puny, and its top qualifying option for the title game was 6-6 UCLA -- a team that had already fired its head coach in Rick Neuheisel.

When the Bruins visited Eugene for all the marbles in December that season, the game was mocked as more of a ritual sacrifice on the path to Oregon Rose Bowl glory than a legitimate championship game.

In 2012, the Pac-12 South hadn't gained much tangible ground. USC was back from its probation, but the Trojans were a significantly worse team than they were the year prior. No team from the South finished the season in the AP's Top 25 rankings (three clubs from the North did), and UCLA again packed its bags for the conference title game. This time, it came against Stanford and was more competitive (27-24) than a year prior, but the closeness may have been attributed to the fact the two teams had played just six days prior (the Cardinal drubbed the Bruins 35-17 in that one).

Simply put, very little indicated the Pac-12 South was catching up to its Northern brethren. The North owned a 17-9 record in head-to-head matchups with the South in 2011 and a 16-9 mark in 2012. Four teams from the North finished with better records than the South's title-game representative in 2011, and that number only decreased to three -- still indicative of a staggering amount of imbalance -- in 2012. The heavyweights commanded this conference, and they resided in Eugene and Palo Alto.

2013: Subtle indications of a shift

The first signs of a power tilt came last season, and that initial shift has turned into a full Pac-12 South surge here in 2014. For the first time in the Pac-12's short history, the South finished the season with as many ranked teams as the North in 2013. The rise of Arizona State, the continued improvement of UCLA, and the post-Lane Kiffin resurgence of USC gave the South three 10-win teams last year, beating the North's final tally of two (Oregon and Stanford, the usual suspects).

In terms of overall record, the North's once-wide head-to-head edge was cut to just one game, 13-12. The stage was set for a Pac-12 South statement in the Pac-12 championship game, but Stanford put those thoughts on hold when they waltzed into Sun Devil Stadium and whipped Arizona State, 38-14.

The Pac-12 North was still king, but not for long.

2014: The cataclysmic change

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriArizona freshman QB Anu Solomon should help the Pac-12 South keep trending up in future seasons.
Oregon may well successfully wave the North's flag again this year -- in fact, they're favored to again win the Pac-12 title -- but, outside of Marcus Mariota's empire in Eugene, there isn't much to write home about in the division. The South, meanwhile, has seen surges from Arizona and Utah this season to enjoy unprecedented parity. Five teams have been legitimate contenders in that division this season, all while the North has completely melted away outside of Oregon.

The Ducks have clinched the Pac-12 North with two games -- more than 20 percent of the schedule -- still remaining. Stanford, suffering through its worst season this decade, is in a fight just to become bowl eligible. Washington, which won nine games last year, has struggled to replace the firepower Keith Price and Bishop Sankey brought to the offense. Oregon State, a formidable nine-win component just two years ago, is 1-10 in its last 11 conference games. Washington State has regressed to 3-7 following a year of bowl eligibility, while California has lifted itself out of the doldrums but is still hindered by the Pac-12's worst defense.

It's all added up to this: For the first time since the conference's expansion, the Pac-12 South has a winning record over the North. It stands at 11-6 right now. Stanford, the North's second-place team, has a 5-4 overall record that would be good for sixth-best in the South, better than only bottom feeder Colorado -- and it should be noted that the Buffs are showing progress, too.

This nugget is perhaps the most staggering of all: No Pac-12 North team except for Oregon has beaten a ranked opponent in 2014.

2015 and beyond: Projecting the future

Of course, numerous variables will determine the balance moving forward. But the South looks like it'll remain strong. USC's recruiting remains excellent, and the last remnants of NCAA sanctions will soon wear off. Graham has shown to be a reliable winner at ASU (the Sun Devils have won 13 of their past 15 conference games), while in-state rival Arizona is succeeding with freshmen Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson at key positions. Utah seems to have finally rediscovered its rugged identity after a rough transition to the Pac-12, and UCLA has the talent and recruiting punch to remain formidable.

Oregon will have to successfully absorb Mariota's loss, or else the Pac-12 North will be in big trouble. Stanford's prospects are a big question mark at this point, and it's unclear if Chris Petersen will have the firepower necessary to immediately improve Washington. Cal's rise is promising, but the struggles of Oregon State and Washington State are both disconcerting for the division that once ruled the Pac-12.

Only time will tell what ultimately happens, but the South has the definite overall upper hand now.
Kyle AllenKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTexas A&M QB Kyle Allen threw 4 TD passes in an upset win over Auburn in his debut.
Each week, Adam Rittenberg takes you inside coaches' conversations in Inside Access Insider, but we can't fit everything everyone said in one place. So here are some nuggets that didn't fit in the column, but are too good to be ignored. In today's notebook: Texas A&M's secret to developing young QB, how Clemson overcomes injuries, Nebraska's D's tricks to getting off the field on third down and Arizona finding its QB of the future.

The secret of A&M's success
From Johnny Manziel to Kenny Hill to Kyle Allen, Texas A&M has perfected the preparation process for young quarterbacks in hostile venues. Allen became the latest Aggies freshman triggerman to make a major national splash on the road when he fired four first-half touchdown passes in Saturday's 41-38 win at Auburn. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 277 yards in his first career road start.

How does A&M get its young quarterbacks to perform under the toughest conditions?

It starts during the planning process. Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital urges the quarterbacks to speak up.

"I've asked them from Day 1, you guys have to be honest with me, you guys have to tell me if you like it," Spavital told Inside Access. "If you've got a better idea, bring it to the table, but you've got to communicate with me because I'm not going to try to put you in a bad situation.

"There were a lot of plays in the game plan where [Allen] was like, 'Spav, I don't like that.' So I take it out."


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