NCF Nation: California Golden Bears

Pac-12 rivalry heat meter

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
6:00
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A college football rivalry never exactly cools off, at least among the emotionally involved. But rivalries do go through upticks and downticks of relevance, both regionally and nationally.

So which Pac-12 rivalries are heating up, stagnating or cooling as we head into the 2014 season?

USC Trojans-UCLA Bruins

The facts: USC leads the series 46-30-7 and has won 12 of the last 15 games, but the Bruins have won two in a row under Jim Mora, including a 35-14 domination last year.

The meter: Sizzling and rising.

The animosity between the fan bases is always strong, but what makes a rivalry truly heat up is relevance. And substantial stakes. This rivalry is gaining in both areas. USC is one of the preeminent football programs in the nation, even though UCLA fans hate to read that. UCLA is the rising western power under Mora, even though USC fans mock the idea. USC has a new coach in Steve Sarkisian and is moving past NCAA sanctions. UCLA is a top-10 team eyeballing the College Football Playoff. Know what I say? Release the hounds!

Arizona Wildcats-Arizona State Sun Devils

The facts: Arizona leads the series 47-39-1, but Todd Graham has won the last two against Rich Rodriguez, including a 58-21 blowout last year in Tempe. Before that, the visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four -- games that were decided by a total of 15 points.

The meter: Blistering and heating up.

While Oregon-Washington fans provide the most blowback to the Pac-12 blog -- Yakety Yak! Oh, yeah! Yakety Yak -- Arizona and Arizona State fans are a strong No. 2. It used to be the fans hated each other and whined a lot -- "You cover them more... waaaaaa!" -- because both teams were fairly mediocre. But the Sun Devils won the South Division last year and are now 2-0 under Todd Graham against the Wildcats and Rich Rodriguez. With both programs trending up in an overall sense, the rivalry is gaining relevance. It also helps that Graham and Rodriguez don't particularly care for each other.

Oregon Ducks-Washington Huskies

The facts: Washington leads the series 58-43-5, but the Ducks have won 10 straight in the series by at least 17 points, including a 45-24 win in Seattle last year.

The meter: Hot but stagnating.

This has long been the most bitter Pac-10/12 rivalry but it has experienced a dramatic power shift to the Ducks. Sorry Huskies, you know it's true. It seems like Oregon fans these days are more worried about winning that darn absent national title than fretting about that team from up North. Now, if Washington and new coach Chris Petersen go into Autzen Stadium and steal one this year... well, that can't happen. Can it? Maybe that possibility needs to be debated.

USC-Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The facts: USC has won nine of the last 12 meetings, but the Fighting Irish has won three of the last four, including a 14-10 win last year. Since 1967, USC has gone 24-20-3 in the series.

The meter: Simmering with many hoping for a boil (particularly TV executives)

As far as national rivalries go, this one is without peer. It's an annual classic that matches two of college football's top powers. Lately, both teams have been nationally relevant, albeit not on an annual basis, and that's the issue. This rivalry is more about national relevance than bitterness. What it needs to heat up is for both teams to be national contenders with the winner in line for the College Football Playoff.

Washington-Washington State Cougars

The facts: Washington leads the series 68-32-6, including a 27-17 victory last year. The Cougars have lost 11 of the last 16 Apple Cups, but are 1-1 under Mike Leach.

The meter: Simmering with lots of potential spice

Have you stopped and pondered just how fun this one might get if Petersen and Mike Leach get their programs' performances to match their respective coaching reputations? For one, in terms of the media, it could be a Don James-Jim Walden deal where Petersen is a "2,000-word underdog" to the loquacious Leach. As it is at present, the Cougars really, really hate the entitled Huskies but the Huskies reserve their most bitter distain for Oregon.

Oregon-Oregon State

The facts: Oregon leads the series 61-46-10 and has won the last six meetings, including a 36-35 thriller in Autzen Stadium last year.

The meter: Warm but in need of another log on the fire

Know what bothers Oregon State fans? When some Ducks fans say they root for the Beavers when the two aren't playing. It probably isn't a statement of emotional fact, but Oregon fans recognize it as the ultimate patronizing gesture. See above with Washington: The Beavers really, really hate the entitled Ducks but the Ducks reserve their most bitter distain for Washington. Now, if the Ducks start to slide a bit and the Beavers push past them in the North Division -- or at least become Oregon's equal again -- this one will immediately boil over, potentially returning to the back-and-forth turf battle it was from 1998-2008, when it was one of the conference's most interesting and meaningful rivalries.

USC-Stanford Cardinal

The facts: In a series that dates back to 1905, USC holds a 59-29-3 lead, but Stanford has won four of the last five meetings. Still, a year after Stanford upset the then-No. 2 Trojans, USC returned the favor by knocking off No. 4 Stanford 20-17 last fall.

The meter: Most rivalries are more about the fans than the players. This one might be more about the players than the fans. These two teams go at each other -- hard. Things really picked up steam with former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh mouthing off about Pete Carroll, then backing it up with two wins, including the classic "What's your deal?" game in 2009. Stanford started USC's and Lane Kiffin's downward spiral in 2012, while the Trojans ended the Cardinal's national title hopes in 2013. And I personally enjoy watching the Stanford band drive the Coliseum crowd crazy -- "And now a tribute to a great USC graduate... Joe Francis!"

California Golden Bears-Stanford

The facts: Stanford leads the Big Game rivalry 54-44-10 and has won four in a row, including a 63-13 blowout last year.

The meter: Luke warm until Cal rights itself

The Big Game is a great rivalry with a great history. The problem is getting the two teams to be good at the same time. Cal dominated the rivalry under Jeff Tedford until 2009. Now the Cardinal is fully in control. Second-years Bears coach Sonny Dykes probably could win over the Old Blues by pulling the upset this fall, but that will mean winning as a double-digit underdog.

BYU Cougars-Utah Utes

The facts: Utah leads the series 57-34-4. Utah has won four straight and nine of the last 12 games with the Cougars, including a 20-13 victory last year in Provo.

The meter: Always hot but chilling for two years

Utah has dominated this bitter series of late, most notably since joining the Pac-12, but there will be a two-year hiatus until the Holy War is renewed in 2016. That is unfortunate, as the series hasn't been interrupted since BYU didn't field teams during World War II (1943-45). Further, BYU is presently outside looking in, as it is not a Power Five conference member. It will be interesting to see how things go in the future.

Utah-Colorado Buffaloes

The facts: Colorado leads the series 31-26-3, and this is both teams’ longest series against any Pac-12 team. They played annually from 1903-62 with four exceptions, but then the rivalry went dormant for 49 years before it resumed in 2011 as Pac-12 members. As Pac-12 members, Utah leads 2-1 having won two in a row.

The meter: Tepid while awaiting some seasoning

Sure, this is a bit of an artificial rivalry. They are paired as rivals because they joined the conference together. But as both start to develop their Pac-12 legs, you can count on this rivalry heating up. They will be compared for a long time. Neither wants to be the one not measuring up. And don't forget the "Red Bike Incident."
The business of music at a football practice is tricky. At times, it needs to inspire. Other times, it needs to pester and frustrate. And still, at others, it just needs to sink into the background, a low hum amidst tackles and touchdowns.

Sometimes, coaches use it to imitate opposing stadiums, turning players’ own practice fields against them for a few days so that when they actually walk into enemy territory, they’re more prepared.

[+] EnlargeBruce Springsteen
Larry Busacca/WireImageIf Arizona State coach Todd Graham had his way, the music of Bruce Springsteen -- or "The Boss" -- would be blasting out of the loudspeakers at practice.
And sometimes, it’s just bad. Like very bad. Like “What Does the Fox Say?” bad (Yes, Washington Huskies, we’re looking at you).

But it’s always diverse. Like the players and coaches and schemes, practice music across the Pac-12 is a smorgasbord of genres and styles. You’ve got your ‘80s rock, your top 40 hits, your crying babies. It’s like listening to the radio, if there were no confines on what could or could not be played. Ever.

At USC, recruiting coordinator Alex Rios (whose Twitter bio reads: “Office: USC Football Recruiting Analyst, Field: Dancing DJ”) uses Spotify -- an online music library -- to create playlists for practice.

“I try to tailor that day’s songs to the theme of practice,” Rios said. “For example, if we are focusing on up-tempo in practice, I build a playlist of up-tempo songs, or if we are going to play at a stadium that has loud fans, I try to play songs that stadium uses to pump up its fans.”

The approach at Stanford is similar. Ryan Devlin, assistant director of football operations and recruiting, has taken over the reigns as the Cardinal practice DJ. He has over 2,000 songs in his Spotify library and during any given practice he only employs 35-45 of those.

“I'd say 60 percent of the songs I use came directly from me -- songs that I know fit the tempo we're looking for,” Devlin said. “The rest come from searching other playlists on Spotify and YouTube, hearing a new song on the radio, or a suggestion from a coach or player. I always say I take suggestions, not requests. I have to make sure it's appropriate and will fit the tempo of practice.”

Since Stanford has an outdoor practice field, the music flows out onto campus, meaning students, professors and visitors can hear what’s being played. That adds another level to Devlin’s job, as it’s not just the players he needs to keep happy, but the community as well.

That same problem hasn’t stopped Washington State though. Though practice music is only played on Thursdays in Pullman, they’ve still found a way to annoy some students and faculty. Quarterback Connor Halliday said that a few fellow students have mentioned to him that the raucous crowd noise that's blasted on Thursdays during the season isn’t always welcomed by non-football-playing students as they amble from class to class.

But be grateful, Pullman students. At least you’re not in Tucson.

Andrew Warsaw, Arizona’s Operation's Coordinator, is in charge of the Wildcats’ music. After the series of promotional videos Arizona has released, it should come as no surprise that the practice music is also a little bit off-the-wall sometimes.

“Depending on what coach [Rich Rodriguez] wants, we will play whatever,” Warsaw said. “If he wants to us to play something annoying during a certain period of practice we will play a baby crying for five-straight minutes, or songs like Barbie Girl or The Macarena.”

Arizona also takes player requests (which tend to stay closer to top-40 radio hits). Arizona State only plays music during warm-ups and seniors are asked to request which songs they’d like to hear during that time. California and Oregon State rely heavily on player requests -- though Oregon State players have been known to request Miley Cyrus music, which makes avoiding any parties in the USA awfully difficult.

Though if it were up to only coaches to choose the music, practices would probably sound quite different.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham would probably pick mostly country music or Bruce Springsteen, while Utah coach Kyle Whittingham would stick to only classic rock. In the perfect world, he wants to hear nothing post-1980 played at his practices. Though, he knows that no matter what is played “one-third of the team will love it, one-third of the team will hate it, and one-third of the team won’t care.” Little does he know, Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” now haunts the dreams of wide receiver Dres Anderson and defensive end Nate Orchard. “Starships” by Nicki Minaj has had a similar effect on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, but he should consider himself lucky. When asked to name the worst practices songs they'd heard, Washington players at Pac-12 media days had no shortage to chose from. Offensive lineman Ben Riva stole the competition (if this is a competition) for the worst song when he said that he had heard “The Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats.

Yes, the Canadian band that has had enough members over its years to field an entire first string on offense and defense in American football has resounded through Chris Petersen’s practices.

But, maybe Petersen is onto something. Maybe that song, followed by Cyrus and some Ylvis is just a way to better prepare his team for what they could face in the Pac-12 this season. Maybe these songs are fueling what could be a breakout year for the Huskies in a very deep conference.

Or maybe it’s just a lot of really, really terrible music.

[+] EnlargeBob Marley
Getty ImagesA little "Buffalo Soldier" by Bob Marley could be what Colorado needs to get back to a bowl game.
But, fear not, the Pac-12 blog is here to help (we'd never leave folks in a pickle). If the DJs need any guidance with song recommendations, here’s our top pick for each school based on its personality.

Can’t promise they’re incredible. Can promise they’re better than "Barbie Girl."

  • Arizona: "Title Sequence," BT -- Reasoning: They're into speed this year and this is The Fast & The Furious theme song
  • Arizona State: "Runnin' with the Devil," Van Halen -- Reasoning: ASU's run game has improved under Graham. They're the Sun Devils. A + B = Van Halen.
  • California: "Pachanelly’s Canon," Gentleman’s Rule -- Reasoning: Because Cal winning four times as many games as it did last season sounds as crazy taking Nelly and adding Pachelbel’s Canon. But, it works. Cal will too.
  • Colorado: "Buffalo Soldier," Bob Marley -- Reasoning: 1. Buffaloes. 2. Bob Marley would love Colorado for many reasons. Well, mostly for one reason.
  • Oregon: "We Will Rock/Quack You," D2: The Mighty Ducks version -- Reasoning: It could only be more obvious if the offense were to run a Flying V formation this season.
  • Oregon State: "Happy," Pharrell -- Reasoning: Mike Riley is happy.
  • Stanford: Anything by Weezer -- Reasoning: Best nerd band. Stanford: best nerd football team.
  • UCLA: "Show 'Em What You're Made Of," Backstreet Boys -- Reasoning: 1. Like Backstreet Boys, UCLA is back ("All right!") 2. They're favored in the South, now they just need to show everyone what they're made of
  • USC: "Let It Go," Frozen -- Reasoning: The sanctions are gone. Let it go.
  • Utah: "Ring Of Fire," Lennon and Maisy cover -- Reasoning: Maybe the players can't like Cash's version. They'll have to like these two singing sisters covering it. Maybe? Guys, just give it a chance.
  • Washington: "Who'll Stop The Rain," CCR -- Reasoning: Can't promise Chris Petersen will get rid of the rain in Seattle, but the future is looking bright.
  • Washington State: "Hoist the Colors," Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End -- Reasoning: There’s a flag, there are pirates. No more explanation needed. You're welcome, Mike Leach.
Last week at Pac-12 media days, the media poll was announced and the resounding response was that the media believes the Ducks will win this year’s Pac-12 championship game.

When it came to the breakdown of where teams would finish, again it was a pretty clear agreement: most media had Oregon and Stanford as No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the North Division and UCLA and USC as their counterparts in the South Division.

SportsNation

Which will be the matchup in the 2014 Pac-12 Championship game?

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    40%
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    23%
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    10%
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    6%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 10,607)

We didn’t need a media poll to start thinking about the Pac-12 championship game, but this just gave us even more reason to explore it. Yes, these four teams seem to be a step ahead in personnel and game plan for the season, and have some favorable matchups here and there. But, it’s college football and craziness happens, so there is certainly a chance that a team not in this group jumps into the lead in the North or South and ends up playing in Levi’s Stadium at the end of the season.

So, we wanted to ask you: which matchup do you think you will be watching when it all comes down to it on Dec. 5?

Will it be:

Oregon-UCLA: This would be a rematch of an Oct. 11 game that would match up (what could be) an explosive and dynamic Oregon run game against some of the best linebackers in the country -- Myles Jack, Eric Kendrick, we’re looking at you, can you handle Marcus Mariota, Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner? It would be great to be able to see Mariota and Brett Hundley on the same field twice this season as they battle it out for NFL draft status, top quarterback in the Pac-12/nation, etc. etc.

Oregon-USC: These teams don’t play during the regular season, and if you can say that you don’t want to see USC defensive end Leonard Williams get after Mariota and the Oregon offensive line, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t like puppies, apple pie or happiness. This could be one of the best battles-within-a-battle to watch all season, regardless of conference. No doubt football fans all over the country would tune in to see what could be the best defensive lineman and the best quarterback battle for 60 minutes.

Stanford-UCLA: Could we see two teams play in back-to-back weekends? If Stanford wins the North and UCLA wins the South, that would be the case. They would close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 28 in Los Angeles and then meet again a bit further north at Levi’s Stadium the following weekend. If you are not completely trusting of Oregon and its ability to close out a season, maybe this is the pick to make. Stanford has been the underdog before and has done pretty well.

Stanford-USC: This would be a great rematch. These teams play in Week 2, but can you imagine how different they would be by the championship game? The growth that happens between Sept. 6 and Dec. 5 would just be ridiculous, and it would be fun to compare these two games side-by-side and say, “Yes, this is where this team has grown the most over a season.” A Steve Sarkisian-David Shaw dual-duel is completely conceivable and would be fun to watch.

Other: Those are the front-runners in the conference, but could we see some surprises? Trap games exist for all four of those teams, and with coachs like Chris Petersen or Todd Graham, you can't completely count out their teams. Could Washington sneak into a matchup with UCLA or USC or someone else? Could Arizona State appear in the championship game for the second season in a row? It’s all possible. But is it probable? You decide.
Over the past few weeks, ESPN writers and analysts sat down to rank the top 100 football players in the country based on their own predictions of the kind of contribution -- both quantitatively and qualitatively -- they’d make to their team in this upcoming season.

We perused about 460 different players who hailed from each position group and conference across the country and ranked those players on a scale of 0-10. If we thought a player would be a “stellar contributor,” we ranked him somewhere in the 8-10 range.

A “solid contributor” earned a 4-7 ranking and a “contributor” (meaning, he’ll certainly contribute but not to the level of the others who were listed on the voting sheet) was given a 0-3. Their averages were found and then ranked and we were left with the top 100 players.

Twenty players from the Pac-12 made their way on to the list, including two players in the top 10 (both of which are from the same team -- can you guess whom?). This week, we’ll be counting down those 100 players. Keep your eyes here as we begin our march toward the 2014 season.

Five Pac-12 players to root for

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
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There is no shortage of players who will excite on the field in the Pac-12 this season, but it's not all about on-field performance. Whether it's for their off-field contributions or their on-field demeanor, here are five guys worth rooting for even if they don't play for your team.

Taylor Kelly, quarterback, Arizona State: Quick, who was the second-team All-Pac-12 quarterback last season -- UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Arizona State’s Kelly? Outside the Pac-12, the assumption would probably be Hundley, and that would be wrong. Kelly quietly led ASU to the best regular-season record in the Pac-12 last season and has a likely NFL future. His time in Tempe hasn’t been one big party, either. The Master’s candidate volunteers at local schools two days a week and is heavily involved in the Scholar Baller leadership and outreach program, for which he teaches high school students about leadership and character among other things. Kelly is also an accomplished drag racer, but that passion is currently on hold at the request of ASU coach Todd Graham. As a result of his vast car knowledge, Kelly has turned into the de facto mechanic for the ASU football team.

[+] EnlargeMariota
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsWhen Marcus Mariota isn't piling up big stats on the field, he can usually be found studying somewhere.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon: After passing up a good shot at being the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to return to school, Mariota has all the makings of a Heisman Trophy favorite. And he won’t come with much controversy. If Andrew Luck set the standard for unassuming superstar quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Mariota isn’t far behind. He’s quiet, he’s polite, he’s humble and while pursuing a degree in General Science, he has developed a reputation as one of the most studious athletes on campus. For those looking for reasons to root against him, as an individual, it will be hard to justify.

Toni Pole, defensive tackle, Washington State: When Pole intercepted a Keith Price pass in overtime and nearly returned it for a touchdown in the 2012 Apple Cup, he created a memory Washington State fans will remember for a long time. For many, that is not the only lasting impression he has produced. Pole is a frequent volunteer in the Pullman community, and his philantrophic efforts have included helping to put on “Butch’s Bash,” a holiday party for local kids. He makes trips to the local senior center where he plays games with the residents and is musically inclined. When the Cougars are on the road, he can be found playing the piano in hotel lobbies and has sang the National Anthem at women’s basketball games.

Ty Montgomery, receiver, Stanford: Stanford coach David Shaw has said Montgomery has the talent to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but after big junior year with the Cardinal, Montgomery didn’t even consider a pre-graduation jump to Sunday football. He didn’t even ask for an evaluation from the NFL or for a draft-round projection, which is common for draft-eligible players. He chose Stanford largely for academic reasons and chose to stay for the same. As soft-spoken as they come, Montgomery has already been named to the Maxwell and Hornung Award watch lists and is one of the more dynamic kick returners in the country.

Stefan McClure, cornerback, Cal: After a solid true freshman season in 2011, McClure appeared on his way to a great career for Cal. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but it’s not for a lack of talent. He sat out the 2012 season rehabbing a torn ACL, then suffered another torn ACL five games into last season. If there is anyone who could use some good vibes coming his way, it’s McClure.

Position U: Running backs

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
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Who really deserves to claim the title of "Running Back U" for the 2000s?

1. Arkansas (104 points)
In perhaps the biggest upset at any position, Arkansas can call itself “Running Back U” for the 2000s. Certainly Darren McFadden played the biggest role in the Razorbacks’ claim, but he got an assist from Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Those former backfield mates are among six Arkansas running backs who have been drafted since 2001, helping the Hogs barely edge Oklahoma for the top spot.

Award winners: McFadden, Walker (2006, 2007), Camp (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: McFadden (2006, 2007).
First-team all-conference: Fred Talley (2002), Cedric Cobbs (2003), Darren McFadden (2005, 2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2008), McFadden (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cobbs (Round 4, 2004), Knile Davis (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Hillis (Round 7, 2008), Kiero Small (Round 7, 2014).

2. Oklahoma (102 points)
When someone like Adrian Peterson has been on your campus, you have to start there when discussing Oklahoma running backs. But one of the main reasons the Sooners racked up such a considerable point total is the Big 12’s unusual practice of honoring fullbacks on its all-conference team. In addition to the Petersons and DeMarco Murrays, there are also several blocking backs included in the Sooners’ 12 all-conference running backs who made our list.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Peterson (2004).
First-team all-conference: Quentin Griffin (2002), Peterson (2004, 2005, 2006), J.D. Runnels (2005), Brody Eldridge (2007), DeMarco Murray (2008, 2010), Matt Clapp (2008), Trey Millard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Peterson (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Griffin (Round 4, 2003), Murray (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Runnels (Round 6, 2006), Patrick (Round 7, 2008), Trey Millard (Round 7, 2014).

3. Alabama (100 points)
Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams had better pick it up this season, or the Alabama train is going to roll to the top spot. The Crimson Tide once again has one of the nation’s most talented backfields with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry set to join the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy as top point producers from Alabama.

Award winners: Ingram, Heisman (2009); Richardson, Walker (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011).
First-team all-conference: Kenneth Darby (2005), Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011), Lacy (2012), Yeldon (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ingram (2011), Richardson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Le’Ron McClain (Round 4, 2007), Glen Coffee (Round 3, 2009), Lacy (Round 2, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ahmaad Galloway (Round 7, 2003), Darby (Round 7, 2007), Brad Smelley (Round 7, 2012).

4. Auburn (86 points)
Auburn hasn’t been as flashy as its in-state rival -- the Tigers don’t have a single award winner or consensus All-American in the 2000s -- but few schools have been as consistent at developing solid tailbacks. Perhaps the most memorable names are the stars from the undefeated 2004 team -- Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams -- but Rudi Johnson, Kenny Irons, Ben Tate and Tre Mason all made big impacts at Auburn, as well.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2000), Williams (2003, 2004), Brown (2004), Irons (2005, 2006), Michael Dyer (2011), Mason (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brown (2005), Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Heath Evans (Round 3, 2001), Johnson (Round 4, 2001), Irons (Round 2, 2007), Tate (Round 2, 2010), Mason (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jay Prosch (Round 6, 2014).

4. Wisconsin (86 points)
Montee Ball is Wisconsin’s only major award winner and consensus All-America tailback from the 2000s, but the Badgers have an impressive tradition of turning out 1,000-yard rushers. Among the program’s top producers from this era are 2001 first-round pick Michael Bennett, Brian Calhoun and Anthony Davis, among others. Ball posted huge yardage and touchdown totals in 2011 and 2012 -- which explains why he was a two-time All-American and won the 2012 Doak Walker Award -- but it’s the run of consistency at running back that makes Wisconsin a producer of top rushers.

Award winners: Ball, Walker (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Ball (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Davis (2001), Calhoun (2005), P.J. Hill (2006), John Clay (2009), Ball (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bennett (2001).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Calhoun (Round 3, 2006), Ball (Round 2, 2013), James White (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Davis (Round 7, 2005), Bradie Ewing (Round 5, 2012).

6. Oregon (82 points)
Although the Ducks have ranked among the nation’s top programs over the past half-decade, LaMichael James’ 2010 Doak Walker Award is the only major award that an Oregon player has won at any position in the 2000s. James is the Ducks’ top point producer out of the backfield in recent years, but they also won points with backs like Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith before Chip Kelly’s rushing attack turned Oregon into the offensive juggernaut that we see today.

Award winners: James, Walker (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: James (2010), Kenjon Barner (2012).
First-team all-conference: Smith (2002), Jonathan Stewart (2007), James (2010, 2011), Barner (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Stewart (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Morris (Round 2, 2002), Smith (Round 4, 2003), LaMichael James (Round 2, 2012), De’Anthony Thomas (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Barner (Round 6, 2013).

7. USC (78 points)
Reggie Bush was actually a two-time All-American, but we aren’t factoring the 2004 nod he received because that was as an all-purpose player, not a running back. Nonetheless, Bush’s standout 2005 season was the main points driver as the Trojans cracked the top 10 largely because of the former No. 2 overall NFL pick’s accomplishments. It bears mentioning, however, that USC has already had eight running backs drafted in the 2000s.

Award winners: Bush, Heisman (2005), Camp (2005), Walker (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Bush (2005).
First-team all-conference: Bush (2004, 2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bush (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Fargas (Round 3, 2003), LenDale White (Round 2, 2006), Joe McKnight (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Malaefou Mackenzie (Round 7, 2003), David Kirtman (Round 5, 2006), Allen Bradford (Round 6, 2011), Stanley Havili (Round 7, 2011).

8. Penn State (72 points)
Larry Johnson’s huge 2002 season accounts for much of Penn State’s point production -- he generated 52 points between winning three national awards, becoming a consensus All-American, winning first-team all-conference honors and getting drafted in the 2003 first round -- but the Nittany Lions have had five running backs drafted and Evan Royster also won all-conference honors in 2009.

Award winners: Johnson, Camp (2002), Maxwell (2002), Walker (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Johnson (2002).
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2002), Royster (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Johnson (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Omar Easy (Round 4, 2002), Michael Robinson (Round 4, 2006), Tony Hunt (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Royster (Round 6, 2011).

9. Oklahoma State (70 points)
There’s nothing flashy about Oklahoma State’s point production here. No national awards, and just Kendall Hunter among its All-Americans. But the Cowboys have been outstanding at producing all-conference running backs, with Hunter (twice) and Tatum Bell ranking among their eight backs who made the coaches’ first team.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Hunter (2010.
First-team all-conference: Bell (2003), Dantrell Savage (2007), Hunter (2008, 2010), Keith Toston (2009), Bryant Ward (2009, 2010), Joseph Randle (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Bell (Round 2, 2004), Vernand Morency (Round 3, 2005), Hunter (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Randle (Round 5, 2013).

10. California (66 points)
Considering how Cal shares a conference with splashy programs like Oregon and USC, perhaps it’s understandable that its success developing tailbacks might fly a bit under the radar. But just look at the Bears’ résumé, starting with Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and J.J. Arrington. There have been some enormously productive tailbacks who got their start in Berkeley.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Arrington (2004).
First-team all-conference: Adimchinobe Echemandu (2003), Arrington (2004), Lynch (2006), Justin Forsett (2007), Best (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Lynch (2007), Best (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Arrington (Round 2, 2005), Shane Vereen (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Echemandu (Round 7, 2004), Forsett (Round 7, 2008).

10. Virginia Tech (66 points)
Frank Beamer’s Hokies are another bunch who trotted out productive tailback after productive tailback. Virginia Tech hasn’t won a national award and has only Kevin Jones among its All-America backs, but its list of all-conference backs -- including first-round picks Jones and David Wilson, along with Lee Suggs, Brandon Orr and Ryan Williams -- features some players whose running abilities fit perfectly with Beamer’s winning formula in Blacksburg.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jones (2003).
First-team all-conference: Suggs (2000), Jones (2003), Orr (2006), Williams (2009), Wilson (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2004), Wilson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Suggs (Round 4, 2003), Williams (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jarrett Ferguson (Round 7, 2002), Cedric Humes (Round 7, 2006).

REST OF “RUNNING BACK U” RANKINGS
62 -- Boston College; 60 -- Michigan, Ohio State; 58 -- Stanford; 56 -- LSU, Miami; 52 -- Georgia Tech, Oregon State; 50 -- West Virginia; 48 -- BYU; 44 -- Arizona, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, TCU; 42 -- Texas; 40 -- Clemson, Iowa, Nebraska; 36 -- Kansas State, Rutgers; 32 -- Georgia, Minnesota; 28 -- Florida State, Louisville, Tennessee, UCLA; 26 -- Illinois, Maryland, Syracuse; 24 -- Virginia; 20 -- Colorado, North Carolina; 18 -- Baylor, Mississippi State, Wake Forest; 16 -- Florida, Northwestern, Washington, Washington State; 14 -- Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas Tech; 12 -- Iowa State, Kentucky; 10 -- Kansas, N.C. State, Texas A&M; 8 -- Missouri, Utah; 6 -- Arizona State, Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame; 2 -- Vanderbilt
BERKELEY, Calif. -- When Sonny Dykes left Louisiana Tech to replace Jeff Tedford as the coach at California following the 2012 season, he had no grand visions of immediate success -- at least not from a wins and losses standpoint.

Anyone who took an honest look at the roster, which included just 13 of the 38 players that signed as part of the 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes, and the schedule -- ranked here as the nation’s third-toughest going into the season -- knew there weren’t many wins on the table. Even in a best-case scenario, it would have been hard to find five.

"I anticipated [the season] would be difficult at first," Dykes said, "but it ended up being more difficult than I anticipated in a lot of ways."

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Eric RisbergA roster bereft of veteran players and a nasty string of injuries made Year 1 at California a trying one for Sonny Dykes.
Injuries had a lot to do with that. Before Cal entered conference play it had already lost five players for the season, and by the time it limped out of the Big Game against Stanford in the season finale, 25 guys had combined to miss 138 games due to injury. It's that level of attrition that keeps good teams out of bowl games, and in this case, enough to turn a team expected to struggle into one that was historically undermanned.

But despite the Golden Bears' 1-11 record that didn't include a win against a FBS program, nor many competitive games, Dykes is more confident than ever that he made the right decision when he passed on multiple head-coaching overtures to come to Berkeley.

"I'm more sold on Cal today than I was a year ago," he said from his office this week. "I think it's a great university. The people are passionate about it, they're supportive. We have the resources that we need. We just have to provide a good product, and people will come and get behind it."

Dykes is confident that will happen. He's just not sure when. The roster overhaul is still far from complete, and the team will again face an eye-popping roster discrepancy between younger and older players.

"[In the fall] we're going to have only four players [who] have been in the program for four or five years," he said. "We're dealing with some staggeringly low numbers of upperclassmen. Without guys that have played a lot of football, there is going to be some growing to do."

That's not welcome news for Cal fans, but that won't change reality.

To his credit, Dykes has done his part to try and rectify the source of Cal's major woes a year ago: its defense. He fired defensive assistant coaches Barry Sacks and Randy Stewart in January and eventually parted ways with defensive coordinator Andy Buh in favor of former Cincinnati DC Art Kaufman.

We're dealing with some staggeringly low numbers of upperclassmen. Without guys that have played a lot of football, there is going to be some growing to do.

-- Cal coach Sonny Dykes
"It didn’t work. It just didn’t work," he said of his defensive staff. "Those guys, for whatever reason, never could get on the same page."

Even with the defense's tremendous woes, pulling the plug after one season was tough for Dykes.

"I don't know that it was going to [iron itself out] and that was ultimately what led me to make those decisions," Dykes said. "That's a hard thing to do ... you have to be pretty convinced it's the right move."

As the son of a coach -- his father, Spike Dykes, coached at Texas Tech from 1984 to 1999 -- Dykes, 44, has long been aware of how quickly the perception of a coach can change. He's not blind to his own situation, either.

"You go from being one of the smartest coaches in one year to being one of the dumbest the next," he said. "It’s kind of part of the deal.

"But the thing about buzz is that -- whether it’s good buzz or bad buzz -- it’s all the same, it’s just buzz. You don’t want to be somebody who ignores it when it’s bad and revels in it when it’s good. It’s got to be treated the same way all the time. You have a job to do, regardless. When you've done this job for a long time and it's worked, you have to trust your process, and the method, and work your way through it."

Now that spring practice is in the rear-view mirror and summer is approaching, Dykes' days are a little less structured. During the week, he begins each day by driving his 5-year-old daughter, Ally, to kindergarten. Dykes then makes the 10-minute trip from Piedmont, where he lives, to the football offices beneath Memorial Stadium.

His days are still full, but he has more time to call on others and lean on them for advice on how to improve the program.

"I talk to a lot of guys in the business," Dykes said. "Guys [who] are friends of mine, some first-year head coaches [who] are kind of going through some of the same things -- Dave Doeren at NC State, Mark Stoops at Kentucky -- and then you'll talk to other coaches [who] have been in it a while. I talk to [former Texas coach] Mack Brown a lot, talk to [Kansas State coach] Bill Synder, some guys [who] are older and have some perspective."

He also sent a pair of assistant coaches to Texas A&M in late March to spend time with the coaching staff there and has looked to some of California's most successful high school coaches too, namely former De La Salle High (Concord, Calif.) coach Bob Ladouceur, whose program is set to be depicted this summer in the movie "When the Game Stands Tall."

Dykes isn't hesitant to name the program's long-term goal -- "obviously to win the conference championship," he said -- but that will require patience. For now, it's all about -- cliche, but true -- getting better.

"What’s that look like?" he asked. "You don’t always know. You just have to trust it's happening."

Spring preview capsules: Pac-12 North

February, 27, 2014
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A glimpse at what's going on in the Pac-12 North:

CALIFORNIA

Spring start: March 31
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Kaufman effect: New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman has his work cut out for him after inheriting a Cal defense that allowed 45.9 points per game during coach Sonny Dykes' first season. This isn't a case of needing few tweaks back to respectability; it could take a complete overhaul to get things turned in the right direction.
  • Developing Goff:Jared Goff jumped right into the starting job as a true freshman, and his considerable talent was evident from the beginning. With a year under his belt, Goff will take on more of a leadership role as he begins his first spring as the unquestioned starter.
  • Get healthy: Cal's 2013 season was met with a rash of injuries that made one of the nation's toughest schedules even tougher to navigate. The Golden Bears will show extreme caution during the spring as to remain as healthy as possible for fall camp.
OREGON

Spring start: April 1
Spring game: May 3

What to watch:
  • Life after Mariota? Much like Andrew Luck's 2011 season at Stanford, it's clear Marcus Mariota is headed into his final season as the Ducks quarterback despite having two years of eligibility left. It really began last season, but Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who served as dual backups last year, will continue to compete for the soon-to-be-vacated starting job.
  • Pellum takes over: Don Pellum replaces longtime defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who held the job for the previous 17 seasons. It'll take some adjusting without Aliotti around, but Pellum, who has spent 23 years coaching at Oregon, figures to make it close to a seamless transition.
  • Building receiver depth: Bralon Addison is back, but the Ducks will need to find players to replace Josh Huff, Daryle Hawkins and De'Anthony Thomas in the passing game. Keanon Lowe will likely jump into the No. 2 role, but after that the pecking order is unclear.
OREGON STATE

Spring start: March 31
Spring game: May 3

What to watch:
  • Garrett steps in: There won't be any major philosophical overhauls under new offensive coordinator John Garrett, but new twists are inevitable. He and fifth-year senior quarterback Sean Mannion will spend the spring getting on the same page.
  • Revitalized running game? Running backs Terron Ward and Storm Woods will have to be more involved as the Beavers pursue greater offensive balance. Chris Brown's development will be important to add depth at the position after he saw scarce playing time as a redshirt freshman.
  • Replacing Crichton: Receiver Brandin Cooks isn't the only big-name player leaving Corvallis; finding a replacement for defensive end Scott Crichton will be just as important. Lavonte Barnett and Jaswha James are two players to keep in mind at the spot opposite Dylan Wynn, while defensive tackle Jalen Grimble should immediately contribute on the line as well.
STANFORD

Spring start: Feb. 24
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • RB by committee? After Stanford's first spring practice, coach David Shaw touched on how it might become a running-back-by-committee in the Stanford backfield. He said it last year too, but without an experienced ball carrier on the roster, it rings truer this time.
  • Reloading on defense: The Cardinal had four defensive players at the NFL combine and also will replace first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end Ben Gardner. OLB Kevin Anderson, S Kodi Whitfield, DE Luke Kaumatule and ILB Blake Martinez are four players fighting for a chance at more playing time.
  • Staff changes: The program faces the most staff turnover in Shaw's tenure, with defensive coordinator Derek Mason (head coach, Vanderbilt), quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford (offensive coordinator, Boise State) and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski (defensive coordinator, Vanderbilt) all taking promotions elsewhere. Spring will be an important time to bring new coaches Lance Taylor and Pete Hansen -- and a third yet to be hired -- up to speed.
WASHINGTON

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Petersen era begins: Chris Petersen's arrival to a major conference will be a national story line heading into the 2014 season. After posting a 92-12 record at Boise State in eight seasons, expectations are high in Seattle, where he'll replace Steve Sarkisian.
  • Status of Miles/Stringfellow: Quarterback Cyler Miles, who was expected to take over as the starting quarterback, and receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow were suspended indefinitely on Feb. 6, leaving questions about their status with the team. With Miles away, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams will get more opportunities.
  • Replacing Sankey: Jesse Callier, Deontae Cooper and Dwayne Washington will all compete for carries with Bishop Sankey off to the NFL. That much is clear. How the offense will use the trio isn't, thanks to the arrival of Petersen.
WASHINGTON STATE

Spring start: March 27
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
Two years ago, the Pac-12 had an Oregon problem. The Ducks had won three consecutive conference titles and were among the favored to make it four. They didn't. Now the Ducks, and the rest of the Pac-12, have a Stanford problem, as the Cardinal have won two titles in a row.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kell, Marcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsA fully healthy Marcus Mariota should again be one of the Pac-12's top Heisman candidates.
Further, considering that USC won six consecutive conference crowns from 2003 to 2008, it's fair to say the Pac-12 has a diversity problem. It didn't used to be like that. From 1995 to 2002, seven teams won conference titles. The only repeat winner? Washington State.

Is 2014 the season for a new color scheme at the top? Will the South (Division) rise again? (We're eyeballing you, UCLA.) While we're at it, will the conference, which last won a national title in 2004, break through this fall, finishing atop the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff?

These are the big-picture questions that start to get answered as Pac-12 teams begin spring practice. Stanford got rolling Monday. Arizona, Washington and Colorado hit the field next week. Oregon and UCLA won't get cracking until April 1, and the Ducks and Oregon State won't finish until May 3, officially sending us into the long, hot days of the summer offseason.

As is the case most years, there's a little old and a little new in the Pac-12 this spring.

Start with the head coaches. USC and Washington will hit the field for the first time with new guys in charge, making Oregon State and Utah the only two conference teams headed by the same guy since the 2010 season. Neither coach is much of a stranger. USC hired Steve Sarkisian away from the Huskies, and Washington turned around and lured Chris Petersen away from Boise State.

The bigger area of turnover was coordinators. Just three teams didn't make any changes on the top of their offensive and defensive units: Arizona, Colorado and Washington State.

There will be more stability at quarterback. Ten teams welcome back their 2013 starters, if we can be optimistic enough to include Utah's Travis Wilson, who will practice this spring with no contact but still has not been fully cleared to continue his career due to a pre-existing medical condition.

Arizona and Washington will stage full-on competitions to replace B.J. Denker and Keith Price, respectively. Wilson's uncertain status makes the Utes' QB situation complicated, while at USC, touted redshirt freshman Max Browne is expected to provide a strong challenge to incumbent starter Cody Kessler.

Meanwhile, the returning QB talent is strong. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley will be near the top of every preseason Heisman Trophy watch list. Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion aren't too far behind.

The situation at running back and receiver is not as strong. The top four rushers from 2013 are gone: Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Washington's Bishop Sankey, Stanford's Tyler Gaffney and Arizona State's Marion Grice. The top three receivers -- as well as USC's Marqise Lee -- also are off to the NFL: Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Kirby Lee/University of Southern California/Collegiate Images/Getty ImagesSteve Sarkisian has switched divisions but takes over a USC team that finished third in the Pac-12 South.
There are a lot of voids across the conference on defense as well. Just one first-team All-Pac-12 performer is back -- Ducks CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- and just four on the second team. The six players who led the conference in tackles for a loss are gone: Stanford's Trent Murphy, UCLA's Anthony Barr, Oregon State's Scott Crichton, Arizona State's Carl Bradford, Utah's Trevor Reilly and Arizona State's Chris Young.

While Stanford and Oregon -- it used to be Oregon and Stanford -- will remain the favorites among many, both have big questions on defense. The Ducks will be projected ahead of the Cardinal, however, because of Mariota's return and Stanford having to replace Gaffney and four starting O-linemen.

Yet this go-around, Stanford has the winning streak in the series and consecutive crowns and Oregon has the chip on its shoulder.

"It's not that we should [have a chip on our shoulder]. It's that we need to," Oregon running back Byron Marshall said. "Like you said, Stanford has kind of had our number the past couple of years. … As one of the leaders on this team, it's my job to remind everyone that [Stanford] beat us the last two years. It hasn't really been a close game. It might be close by score, but they've dominated us in both performances. We need to have a chip on our shoulder in order to get where we want to this year."

That last line pretty much applies to every Pac-12 team this spring.

The conference was as deep as it's ever been in 2013 and a record six teams ended up ranked in the final Associated Press poll, but the conference produced just one BCS bowl team and no team finished in the final top eight.

Will a Pac-12 team advance from good to elite in 2014? Spring practice provides an important step toward that possibility.
1. Back to football on Michael Sam for a moment. Even as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Missouri defensive end is projected as a middle-round pick because he hasn’t shown the flexibility or the lateral movement that NFL scouts want at that position. From what I am told of his work at the Senior Bowl, he had trouble changing direction. Sam’s strengths: good hands, which are critical to his demonstrated ability to get off blocks.

2. What a year the California Golden Bears have had: a new coach and a new coaching staff, a 1-11 record, with the victory coming against an FCS team, an average losing margin of 28 points in the Pac-12, a revamped coaching staff, massive debt, dwindling crowds, and all of that pales in comparison to the death of defensive end Ted Agu after he collapsed during conditioning on Friday. It simply has to start getting better.

3. The graduate-and-transfer rule that Jacob Coker (Florida State to Alabama) and Max Wittek (USC to …?) are using is eight years old, and it seems to me that football coaches are finally accepting it. I like what North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren said when graduate quarterback Pete Thomas decided to transfer. “I have really enjoyed coaching him and want him to be successful as a player and in life. Going forward I will do anything I can to help him through his transition as a transfer.” Here’s hoping Thomas has as much success as the last Wolfpack quarterback to use the rule: Russell Wilson.

Pac-12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
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Today we put a bow on the 2013 season (almost -- a few more review posts are coming up, and then probably a few more after that). But today across the blogosphere, we’re categorizing some of the top moments and individuals from the Pac-12 season. These are set in stone and in no way open to argument or interpretation.

Best coach: Arizona State's Todd Graham was voted as the league’s coach of the year by his peers. And it’s hard to argue with that, given the fact that the Sun Devils had the best league record and won their division. But you can’t discount the job of the L.A. coaches (interim or otherwise). Ed Orgeron did a phenomenal job in relief at USC before Steve Sarkisian was hired, and Jim Mora shepherded his team through a difficult time early.

Best player, offense: Ka’Deem Carey was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year. And the Pac-12 blog agrees. Certainly, cases can be made for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was on the Heisman Trophy track before being derailed by a knee injury. And there is the debate between Carey and Washington running back Bishop Sankey, which will rage until the end of days.

Best player, defense: The coaches went with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. And there’s nothing wrong with that selection. But cases certainly can be made for outside linebackers Trent Murphy (Stanford) and Anthony Barr (UCLA).

Best moment: Lots of them. Shocking upsets (see below) and stellar individual performances dusted the landscape of the 2013 Pac-12 season. But in terms of moments that were seared into our memories, it’s tough not to think about UCLA’s come-from-behind win at Nebraska way back on Sept. 14, following the death of Nick Pasquale. Specifically, Anthony Jefferson recovering a red zone fumble and then sprinting off the field to give the ball to Mora, followed by a big hug. It was as authentic and genuine a moment as you’ll find in sports.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's Kodi Whitfield had a highlight touchdown grab against UCLA.
Biggest upset: Take your pick between Utah topping Stanford or Arizona topping Oregon. Both were road losses for the favorites and both shook up the national and league landscape. Granted, Utah’s win over Stanford came earlier in the season, and early-season losses are easier to rebound from. Oregon’s loss to Arizona came at the end and cost the Ducks all kinds of postseason possibilities.

Best workhorse performance: It’s a tie between Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Carey -- both of whom put in the work in their teams’ victories over Oregon. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries; Gaffney carried 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown.

Best play: One of the most subjective categories, for sure, but Kodi Whitfield’s one-handed touchdown catch against UCLA was nothing short of spectacular. He elevated between two Bruins defenders and backhanded the ball out of the air for a 30-yard touchdown. Something about UCLA-Stanford brings out the one-handed catches. Recall in 2011, Andrew Luck hauled in a one-handed catch against the Bruins, and a few plays later, Coby Fleener snagged a one-handed dart from Luck for a touchdown.

Best performance, offense: Again, wildly subjective. Take your pick from Ty Montgomery’s five-touchdown day against Cal, Marion Grice’s four touchdowns against USC or Wisconsin, or Myles Jack’s four touchdowns against Washington. Brandin Cooks had a pretty nice day against Cal with his 232 receiving yards. There were games with seven touchdown tosses from Mariota and Taylor Kelly. Connor Halliday’s losing effort against Colorado State was spectacular. In terms of impact, it’s hard not to go back to Carey’s effort against Oregon.

Best performance, defense: As in every other category here, plenty to go around. But think way back to Washington State’s win over USC. Damante Horton had a 70-yard interception return that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. Then, after Andrew Furney’s 41-yard field goal put the Cougars ahead 10-7 with 3:15 left in the game, Horton picked off Max Wittek, which allowed WSU to run out the clock.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
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Here's what we learned in the Pac-12 in Week 12:

Oregon is the Rose Bowl favorite: For the first time all year, Oregon seems destined for the Rose Bowl -- the game, not just the stadium. The Ducks were pegged for the national title game before losing to Stanford last week, which figured to have shipped them to a BCS bowl elsewhere. But after USC’s upset win over the Cardinal, Oregon again stands to host the Pac-12 championship game, which will send the winner to the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesQuarterback Cody Kessler and the Trojans got a huge upset victory over Stanford.
Orgeron makes his case: The almost instantaneous turnaround of the USC program under interim coach Ed Orgeron isn’t going unnoticed. When Lane Kiffin was fired, Orgeron figured to be merely a means to get to the end of the season before a big-name savior could be hired. Less than two months later, Orgeron has the Trojans playing like, well, you’d expect USC to play. The Coliseum is filling up again, the Trojans have reintroduced the forward pass and now own a win against a top-five opponent. If he wasn’t a serious candidate to replace Kiffin at the end of September, that has probably changed.

WSU a bowl threat: Needing two wins with three games to go, Washington State snapped a three-game losing streak at Arizona to take a big step toward returning to the postseason for the first time since 2003. The 24-17 win marked the team’s most important victory since taking down the Trojans at the Coliseum on Sept. 7 and is arguably -- considering the circumstances -- the team’s most complete win of the season. Utah’s trip to Pullman next week will essentially serve as a semifinal game for each team’s postseason hopes. If WSU loses, it still has the Apple Cup the following week, but Cougars fans would like nothing more than to lock up bowl eligibility at Martin Stadium. Will students delay the start of their Thanksgiving break to remain in town?

Injuries unearth strength for UCLA: A week ago, the Bruins’ desperate need for help at running back led coach Jim Mora to call on freshman linebacker Myles Jack, who responded with 120 yards on six carries. Mora played coy throughout the week as to the chances that Jack would be back with the offense, but it became obvious early in UCLA’s 41-31 win against Washington that the former Bellevue (Wash.) High two-way star’s performance earned a bigger role. Four touchdowns later, it’ll be hard to justify leaving Jack on the sideline when UCLA has the ball if/when the health situation improves in the backfield.

Cal is conference’s worst: Someone had to win. Someone had to snap a double-digit conference losing streak. Not only did Colorado pull it off, it turned it into a lopsided affair, winning 41-24. With only Stanford remaining, Cal is all but assured to become the 19th team since the Pac-8 was formed in 1968 to finish conference play without a win. One of those teams was Cal in 2001, which led to the dismissal of Tom Holmoe and the hiring of Jeff Tedford. Tedford, of course, was replaced by Sonny Dykes this season.

Another step back for Washington: Since peaking at No. 15 in the AP poll after its 4-0 start, Washington has failed to meet expectations. The first big blow was the 53-24 loss to Arizona State, and Friday’s loss to UCLA again stamped the Huskies as a third-tier program in the conference. Next week’s trip to Corvallis will be another benchmark test for the Huskies before they try to reclaim the Apple Cup on Nov. 29. If the UW athletic department is looking for a positive byproduct of the recent 2-4 stretch, it’s that the Sarkisian-for-USC campaign has died down significantly.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
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Here are the players who earned helmet stickers in the Pac-12 in Week 12:

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: Halliday completed 36 of 53 passes for 319 yards, none more important than a 25-yard strike to Isiah Myers for a touchdown with 2:15 left. The score stood as the game-winner as WSU improved to 5-5 -- one game shy of bowl eligibility.

Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: After running for four touchdowns in the Bruins’ 41-31 win against UCLA, Jack maintained he’s “still defense all the way.” Could have fooled us. Jack became the first UCLA player since Maurice Jones-Drew to pull off the feat and is now tied with Jordan James for second on the team with five rushing scores despite playing offense in just two games.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey cracked the 100-yard mark for the 13th straight game, running for 132 yards on 26 carries and a score. The Doak Walker Award semifinalist came into the game No. 2 in the nation, averaging 152.6 yards per game.

Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards and broke the school’s single-season receiving record in the process. He surpassed the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson and sits at 1,201 receiving yards on the year.

Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State: Grice ran for 118 yards on 24 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ win against Oregon State. ASU remains in control in the Pac-12 South with an important showdown with UCLA looming next week.

Andre Heidari, K, USC: Heidari’s day didn’t start too well when he missed the PAT following USC’s first touchdown of the game. But he redeemed himself with a 47-yard field goal in the final minute to lift USC over No. 4 Stanford, 20-17.

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Stanford’s loss won’t fall on Gaffney’s shoulders. The senior carried 24 times for 158 yards and a pair of scores, including a highlight-reel quality 35-yarder in the first quarter.

USC win over Stanford shakes up Pac-12

November, 17, 2013
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Not a minute had gone by after USC kicker Andre Heidari slayed No. 4 Stanford with a 47-yard field goal before Oregon backup quarterback Jeff Lockie took to Twitter.

“FIGHT ON!!!!!!” he wrote.

[+] EnlargeAndre Heidari
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesKicker Andre Heidari's game-winning field goal ended USC's losing streak to Stanford at four games.
While 93,607 fans packed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night, the Trojans’ biggest fans were in Oregon.

A week after the Ducks' Pac-12 title hopes were seemingly dashed, Heidari’s kick vaulted them right back into the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 North and back on course for the Rose Bowl. Oregon needs to pull off what Washington State did Saturday -- win at Arizona -- then beat Oregon State at home to host its second conference title game in three seasons.

The Ducks played a game Saturday, too, but their eventual rout of Utah served merely as an appetizer for the day’s marquee game. Especially in Eugene.

While the Ducks’ payoff on Saturday is healthy bounty, it’s important not to understate what it meant at USC, where the Trojans ended their longest losing streak to Stanford in the series’ 88-year history (four games), kept their own conference title hopes alive and further cemented interim coach Ed Orgeron as a suitable long-term option.

The campus’ love affair with Orgeron is in full bloom. When you deliver opportunities to rush the field, that tends to be the case.

Stanford would know, too. A year ago it was Stanford students rushing the field after the Cardinal’s win against then-No. 2 USC. Last week, they were back on the grass at Stanford Stadium following the now-less-relevant victory against Oregon.

That jubilation was short-lived.

With the loss to USC, Stanford’s run of three straight trips to BCS bowls is in serious jeopardy. A loss to Oregon and a win against USC would have left the Cardinal on track for the Rose Bowl, but flipping those results could leave them on the outside looking in now that the winner of the Pac-12 title game will head to Pasadena. The Big Game figures to be a cakewalk next week against Cal, but the regular-season finale against Notre Dame could still carry some weight as Stanford looks for a BCS at-large berth.

As Oregon cheered for USC this week, the Trojans will do the same next week for rival UCLA. The Bruins, whose only losses this year came on the road to Oregon and Stanford, are set to host Arizona State in a game that could create a three-way tie atop the Pac-12 South with a UCLA win. If that were to happen, USC would be in position to steal the division on the regular season’s final day, needing a win against UCLA and an Arizona win over Arizona State.

A dream scenario for USC, sure, but the fact that it still exists nearly two months after Lane Kiffin’s dismissal speaks volumes.

For Arizona State, the next two weeks are more are more simple. Win at UCLA, go the Pac-12 championship. If the Sun Devils lose, they still can take the division with a victory over Arizona the following week, coupled with a USC win against UCLA.

UCLA needs nothing shy of wins against Arizona State and USC to take the division.

If Oregon and USC were the day’s big winners, then Washington State and Colorado are next in line.

The Cougars’ 24-17 win at Arizona keeps their once-faint hopes for bowl berth alive. Since beating Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl, WSU students haven’t had good reason to stay in Pullman for the start of Thanksgiving break. This week, that’s not the case.

Utah plays at Martin Stadium next Saturday in a game pivotal for both teams’ bowl hopes. For Utah, a victories is essential. It needs wins against WSU and Colorado to go bowling. The Cougars have another opportunity the following week at Washington, but if they can lock up bowl eligibility against Utah, it’ll make for a much less stressful lead-up to the Apple Cup.

And let us not forget the Game of the Weak.

While at San Jose State last year, current Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre ended Sonny Dykes’ tenure at Louisiana Tech with a loss. On Saturday, he again topped Dykes and Cal, meaning the Bears' first season without Jeff Tedford will likely end the same way it did in 2001 -- the season before he was hired -- without a conference win.

3-point stance: Rallying behind Muschamp

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
5:30
AM ET
1. Florida fans are taking their frustrations out on head coach Will Muschamp when it’s plain to see that the Gators have suffered as many injuries as any team in recent memory. Athletic director Jeremy Foley and university president Bernie Machen went to bat for Muschamp on Wednesday. Even Steve Spurrier, whose No. 10 South Carolina team plays his alma mater on Saturday, endorsed Muschamp. They stated the obvious, as I am doing here. But the fans haven’t grasped it yet.

2. According to the reporting of Mark Schlabach and David Hale, Tallahassee police waited nine months to send to the state attorney a complaint of sexual assault that involves Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The complaint lists the offender as being between 5-foot-9 and 5-11. Winston is 6-4. Skepticism is justified. But here’s why it matters to the No. 2 Seminoles football team. University policy dictates that a student-athlete charged with a felony is suspended. Backup quarterback Jacob Coker isn’t available. He underwent knee surgery this week.

3. One ugly streak will end in the Pac-12 this week when Colorado, which has lost 14 consecutive conference games, welcomes California, which has lost 12 league games in a row. Both teams’ last Pac-12 victory came against Washington State last season. Both teams have first-year head coaches. This season, Cal came within a touchdown of one Pac-12 team (Arizona); every Colorado conference loss has been by at least three touchdowns. I still see a spark in Boulder that injuries have prevented in Berkeley.

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