NCF Nation: College Football

Best and worst losses for 1-loss teams 

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
For all of the debate about who should be ranked No. 1 among the three undefeated, power-conference teams, the far greater challenge right now when filling out a ballot is ranking the teams with one loss.

There are 15 once-beaten teams in this week's AP Top 25, and eight or nine of them could probably make a legitimate claim to being No. 4. That number of one-loss teams is sure to dwindle in the next few weeks, but there's still a good chance that the selection committee will face the difficult decision of which two or three of those teams to put into the playoff.

Obviously, there's much more to any team's résumé than a single loss, but if the BCS era is an indicator, the nature of that loss could become a major topic of discussion when distinguishing among the once-beaten teams. Perhaps that's because in a sport where there is so little common ground on which to compare top teams, having exactly one loss is the trait they all share.

So, recognizing that this could be a factor in determining which teams get into the playoff, here are the best and worst losses by current Top 25 teams that have only one defeat. The losses are ranked by Game Score, which is a metric developed by ESPN Stats & Information that takes into account quality of the opponent, location of the game, flow of the game and final score. It's important to note that opponent quality adjusts as more games are played, so these Game Scores will also change from week-to-week. (All Game Scores can be seen by clicking team links on the FPI page.)

videoSo maybe all the hubbub and Apocalyptic thoughts that came crashing down on Eugene and all of Interstate 5 and up through the Cascades a few weeks ago were a little bit of an overreaction, no?

But oh, how quickly the tide changes. Because in just two weeks, Marcus Mariota has led the Oregon Ducks from pandemonium to the Promised Land (with some help from a few other top teams being upset) and back into the good graces of the football gods. Not bad, Marcus, not bad -- just 16 days to go from a hopeless team to a heroic one.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota has helped Oregon stay in contention for the College Football Playoff by completing 70 percent of his passes.
“Ah, but [insert SEC West QB name here] could do it in 15,” someone argues. But, that’s fine. Because the SEC can do what the SEC wants to do.

At this point, the Ducks just need to insulate and take care of business because they’re likely in control of their own destiny. According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Oregon has a 21 percent shot to win out. That's third-best among one-loss teams, behind Ohio State and TCU, which both have a 26 percent chance.

And with one game to go until the College Football Playoff committee releases its first set of rankings, Oregon solidified itself as the Pac-12’s banner holder.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t major issues that could still be exploited, and coach Mark Helfrich is the first to admit that.

“There’s a ton we can improve upon, for sure,” he said on Sunday night after watching his team’s game film from its dominant win over Washington.

Such as ... tackling. That has looked better these past two weeks, but the Ducks are still giving up far too many big plays. Oregon has given up 119 plays of 10 or more yards so far this season. You want to know who else has given up that many plays of 10 or more yards?

Purdue and Toledo. In very few cases in college football -- when it comes to statistics -- do you want to be on the same list as those two teams.

As the weeks progress, the Ducks are doing a better job communicating and getting helmets to the ball. But still, of the 1,182 rushing yards the Ducks have allowed, 610 have come after contact.

So, you can decide whether it’s more worrisome that more than half of opponents’ rushing yardage has come after Oregon (tries to) tackle or the fact that through seven games, 572 rushing yards have come before an Oregon defensive player has even gotten to the ball. Or, everyone can just agree that it’s bad news when the Oregon defense allows other teams a 4.3-yards-per-rush average and a 65 percent conversion rate on third-down rushing attempts.

But, it can get better (well, at 120th in the country in third-down rushing defense, it can’t get much worse).

Defensive coordinator Don Pellum has been on this staff a long time, and he knows that this group can play much better than it has. Defenses always take longer to jell and with so many new faces on that side of the ball and D-lineman Arik Armstead hopefully healthy for good, maybe the learning curve will kick up a notch.

But the offense finally seems to be clicking. And though Helfrich wants to downplay the return of offensive tackle Jake Fisher, the skies have looked dramatically clearer for the Ducks since Fisher got back to bookending the left side of the line and protecting Mariota’s blindside.

In Oregon's games against Arizona and Washington State, with Fisher out, the Ducks' average rushing yardage was just about even with what those two teams had given up coming into those games. Meaning, it was average. An average team will not reach the playoff.

But when Fisher returned, the Ducks averaged 1½ times the rushing averages that UCLA and Washington had given up coming into those games. That’s the kind of performance the committee wants to see. It’s not all about statistics, but when Royce Freeman is rushing for 100 yards and Mariota is completing 70 percent of his passes, they’re a hard team to ignore.

And that’s exactly what the Ducks need to be: Hard to ignore -- and not just because their uniforms are flashy.

So, why not Oregon? That’s the question the committee will ask itself as it sits down to look at the résumés of the top 20 or so teams.

It’s a team that knows how to be nationally relevant, but it’s also a team that knows what it feels like to slip out of that conversation.

Two weeks ago, it seemed like that might happen. But the loss to Arizona doesn’t carry as much weight now, as there’s a certainty that at least two one-loss teams will be in the playoff.

Oregon is in the conversation. The Ducks are the ones who are going to decide whether they keep themselves there or not.

A quick look at Oregon's 45-20 victory over Washington, the Ducks' 11th consecutive win over the Huskies.

How the game was won: Oregon’s offense is playing like it wants to play. Jake Fisher returned to the lineup in the Ducks’ win over UCLA, and the O-line looked like it took another step forward against a talented Huskies front seven. Though the O-line had a few silly penalties that they’ll have to clean up, the offense managed to click and tore up the Washington defense with big plays. Oregon accounted for 22 plays of 10 or more yards against a stout defense.

Game ball goes to: Oregon running back Royce Freeman. He’s a freshman who plays (and is built) like a fifth-year senior. Freeman averaged 5.8 yards per rush against a defense giving up only 3.1 yards per carry, finishing with 169 yards on 29 carries. It was his second consecutive 100-yard rushing game, and he had a Pac-12 season-high four rushing touchdowns in this game, with a fifth taken away by an offensive line penalty. It was the most rushing touchdowns in a single game for a Duck since Kenjon Barner recorded five against USC in 2012. But to be kind, let's give a second game ball to the Oregon offensive line for making that possible.

What it means: First and foremost for Ducks fans, the streak against Washington is still alive. From a national perspective, this was a big game. It answered the question of whether or not Oregon’s offensive performance against UCLA was a one-and-done. (Answer: nope, not at all.) And while most of the nation was tuned in to the top-five matchup in Tallahassee, the Ducks managed to put on a pretty good show in Eugene.

Playoff implication: With 10 days until the playoff selection committee releases its first ranking, Oregon is still very much in the conversation. The Ducks O-line was far from perfect but still light years ahead of where it was in Oregon’s loss to Arizona. In this game, the committee saw an unflappable Marcus Mariota, a strong run game and a defense that is coming along. And even if the defense is still slow on the uptake through the rest of the season, the improvements of the O-line could give the committee enough belief that this Mariota-led offense could probably make up for whatever deficiencies the defense has shown. At the end of the day, it’s about who has more points.

Best play: Dwayne Stanford's 16-yard receiving touchdown in the third quarter. He jumped backward and elevated over both Kevin King and Sidney Jones, spun in the air and came down with the score to give the Ducks a 35-6 lead. It was Stanford’s second touchdown of the season, but his first career touchdown reception against an FBS team.

What's next: Oregon travels to Berkley to take on California, a team that will be eager to prove itself after a very close loss to UCLA on Saturday. Washington welcomes Arizona State to Seattle for a chance to pick up a sixth win and bowl eligibility.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- By no means was Utah’s 29-23 overtime victory at Oregon State pretty. It was far from it, and not an apples-to-oranges kind of far. It was more like an apples-to-zucchini squash kind of far.

It was an ugly, gut-check, props to anyone who stayed through the first three quarters and only saw five field goals kind of ugly. It was a combined 1-of-19 on third downs at one point kind of ugly.

It was the kind of ugly that necessitates the winning team’s coach to say he thought it was "an outstanding job by our football team [of] hanging in there."

Which Utah coach Kyle Whittingham did.

[+] EnlargeDevontae Booker
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenDevontae Booker's TD run in overtime gave Utah a crucial win against Oregon State.
"Our offense did enough to get us enough points to win," Whittingham said. "Our defense did enough to keep us in the game."

They did enough. They didn’t dominate. They didn’t own the Beavers. They just won. Ugly.

And you know what? It was the kind of ugly that looks like it could be enough to take the Pac-12 South Division this season.

With everyone beating up on everyone (which displays the depth of the conference) why not Utah?

It’s not what anyone pegged for this team. The Utes were picked to finish second-to-last in the South at the beginning of the season. But in a season in which the conference has seen more than one Hail Mary decide a game and road teams go 15-4 in league play, it sort of feels like anyone -- yes, even Utah -- could sneak into that top spot if just enough goes right and not too much goes wrong.

It’s the old "C’s and D’s gets degree" frame of mind. Don’t worry about being the valedictorian, just get by.

Because that is exactly what happened on Thursday night.

The Utes -- not by design -- played two quarterbacks. Kendal Thompson, who led Utah to victory on the road against UCLA two weeks ago, completed four passes in the first half. He was sacked three times and also threw an interception. Yet, somehow the Utes were still in a 6-6 tie as they went to the locker room, thanks to their captain, kicker Andy Phillips.

Phillips, 13 of 15 this season, hit 38- and 43-yard field goals to keep Utah in what some could call a defensive battle, and others would call a matchup of stagnating offenses. Truthfully, it was probably somewhere in the middle.

But, in the first half, that was enough. Though Whittingham didn’t come to Corvallis expecting to play two quarterbacks, he decided at halftime to go back to Travis Wilson, who earned the starting job coming out of fall camp.

Wilson didn’t fare too much better in the second half. He completed five passes for 45 yards, didn’t throw a touchdown, and was sacked once. But in the second half, the run game exploded for the Utes. Devontae Booker, who rushed for 44 yards at 4.4 yards per carry in the first half, scored three touchdowns (including the winner in OT) and had 185 second-half rushing yards at 8.4 yards a pop.

Whittingham said he thinks Booker is the best running back in the conference, and Booker's 229 rushing yards Thursday -- the most by any Pac-12 back so far this season -- is a reason why.

The defense played stout, keeping Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion uncomfortable. Though Mannion completed just 56.8 percent of his passes and was sacked five times, he almost led the Beavers out of the woods. His 72-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Villamin to start the fourth quarter gave Oregon State its first lead. In overtime, with the Beavers trailing by seven, he connected on a corner fade to Villamin on fourth-and-goal.

But Whittingham wasn’t upset with the plays the Utah defense allowed.

"They're gonna give up things to that guy," Whittingham said of Mannion. "They've got guys on scholarship ... that are going to make some plays. But we made a few more than they did tonight."

Not a hundred more. Not many more. In fact, Oregon State topped Utah statistically in nearly every category that typically matters -- first downs, total offense, third-down conversions.

But the only statistic that truly matters -- which team has more points -- belonged to Utah. Because the Utes made "a few more" plays than the Beavers.

That might be what it takes to become the leader in the South Division. The conference was expected to be deep, but the cream of the crop was supposed to be a head above everyone else. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

It certainly won’t be an easy road for the Utes. Their next five opponents are ranked in the top 25. They have USC at home next weekend, then travel to Arizona State. They face Oregon at home, Stanford on the road, and close out the season against South foes Arizona and Colorado.

But if they keep doing enough on offense, enough on defense, and fielding their dangerously explosive special teams, there is a chance. It might not be an incredible chance, but it does seem silly to count them out at this point.

In the Pac-12 this season, you don’t need to be an overachieving team or have a Heisman or Biletnikoff finalist ... don’t worry about the style points.

Just survive. Just do enough.
When Oregon steps on the field on Saturday against Washington, the Ducks will be throwing it back a few decades.

The 1994 season sticks out for both Oregon and Washington fans as a momentous game thanks to Kenny Wheaton and “The Pick.”

In that game, with Oregon leading 24-20, Wheaton was able to pick off Washington QB Damon Huard and return the interception 97 yards, sealing the victory for the Ducks. Oregon would go on to win the game 31-20 and, eventually, the Pac-10.

In order to honor the 20-year anniversary of this moment in this match up (and throw some salt on the Huskies’ wounds from this game), Oregon will wear throwback uniforms on Saturday night.

Troll on, Ducks. Troll on.


After its devastating home loss to Arizona last week, Oregon responded by knocking off UCLA 42-30 in Pasadena, California. Here's how it happened:

How the game was won: Oregon's offensive line dominated. Jake Fisher, who has been out since the beginning of the Wyoming game, finally returned. And his return marked a bit of a return to the way the offensive line would like to actually be playing. After two consecutive lackluster performances (which included 12 total sacks), Oregon's O-line really played impressively as the Ducks had their first 100-yard rusher this season and didn't allow a single sack.

Game ball goes to: There were plenty of great offensive performances for the Ducks, but none of them would have happened without Oregon’s offensive line. So, a tip of the hat to quarterback Marcus Mariota (passing: 210 yards, two TDs, zero interceptions; rushing: seven carries, 75 yards, two TDs), running back Royce Freeman (18 carries, 121 yards, two TDs) and tight end Pharaoh Brown (five receptions, 84 yards, one TD). But the game ball belongs to the group that made that all possible and has gone from terrible to trustworthy in just one week.

What it means: UCLA is out of the playoff discussion. A one-loss Pac-12 team making the playoff? Plausible. A two-loss team? It doesn’t happen unless the SEC self-cannibalizes, Oregon drops another game and then UCLA comes away with the conference championship. So, a lot of dominoes would have to fall.

Playoff implication for the winner: The Ducks are in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12. With how improved Oregon’s O-line looked with just the return of Fisher, the committee will need to look at the Arizona game with an asterisk of sorts as the Ducks were down three O-linemen at that time. If this is the offensive line and defensive pressure that Oregon can play with moving forward, it’ll be hard to keep the Ducks out of the playoff conversation.

Best play: Mariota has a way of turning nothing into something, even when it's his own fault. With an 11-point lead on second-and-10, Mariota fumbled, managed to recover his own fumble in stride, and then made his way into the end zone to give the Ducks a much more comfortable cushion.

What's next: Oregon welcomes Washington to Autzen Stadium. The Ducks have won the past 10 meetings between the teams. And UCLA travels to Cal next weekend and will look to avoid a three-game losing skid, which hasn’t happened since it closed out the 2012 season with two losses to Stanford and a bowl loss to Baylor.
LSU’s Tiger Stadium was voted as the toughest road environment for visiting teams in ESPN’s weekly college football poll of the FBS head coaches #1QFor128.

[+] EnlargeLSU
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsCoaches voted LSU's Tiger Stadium as the toughest road environment for visiting teams.
LSU’s Death Valley received 21 percent of the votes, more than doubling second-place Texas A&M, which received 9 percent of the votes in the poll, conducted by ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Behind LSU and Texas A&M was Oregon (6 percent) and a tie for fourth-place between Oklahoma and Wisconsin, with 5 percent each. Five schools finished tied for sixth with 4 percent each: Alabama, Clemson, Iowa, Ohio State and Virginia Tech.

Coming in at 11th place was Auburn, Tennessee and West Virginia at 3 percent each, and Florida, Penn State and South Carolina, at 2 percent each.

In all, 35 schools received votes.

The coaches from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12) overwhelming voted LSU as the toughest visiting stadium environment at 21 percent. SEC rival Alabama was tied for second among Power 5 coaches along with Clemson, Oregon and Wisconsin at 7 percent each.

The coaches from the Group of 5 conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt) chose LSU by a slim margin over Texas A&M, 22 to 16 percent. Ohio State, Oregon and Tennessee tied for third among the Group of 5 coaches with 6 percent each.

While the biggest stadiums from the more traditional programs received the majority of the votes, there were some unique answers from the coaches. Among the surprising schools that received at least one vote were: New Mexico State, Northwest Missouri State, Pittsburg (Kansas) State, Montana, Tennessee State and North Dakota State.

Of the 128 FBS coaches, 99 participated in this week’s poll.

What is the toughest road environment to play in?
LSU 21 percent
Texas A&M 9 percent
Oregon 6 percent
Oklahoma 5 percent
Wisconsin 5 percent
Alabama 4 percent
Clemson 4 percent
Iowa 4 percent
Ohio State 4 percent
Virginia Tech 4 percent
Auburn 3 percent
Tennessee 3 percent
West Virginia 3 percent
Florida 2 percent
Penn State 2 percent
South Carolina 2 percent

Schools that received 1 percent: Arizona, Arkansas, BYU, Kansas State, Marshall, Montana, Navy, Nebraska, New Mexico State, North Dakota State, Notre Dame, Northwest Missouri State, Oklahoma State, Pittsburg (Kan.) State, Syracuse, Tennessee State, Texas Tech, Utah, West Virginia.

Who the Power 5 coaches voted for
LSU 21 percent
Alabama 7 percent
Clemson 7 percent
Oregon 7 percent
Wisconsin 7 percent
Auburn 4 percent
Iowa 4 percent
Oklahoma 4 percent
Virginia Tech 4 percent
West Virginia 4 percent

Who the Group of 5 coaches voted for
LSU 22 percent
Texas A&M 16 percent
Ohio State 6 percent
Oregon 6 percent
Tennessee 6 percent
Iowa 4 percent
Oklahoma 4 percent
Virginia Tech 4 percent

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Imagine this: It's 2008, and the College Football Playoff exists.

That was the scenario Thursday in the Gaylord Texan resort, where 17 media members participated in a mock selection to better understand the voting process of the College Football Playoff's real 13-member selection committee.

It was fun. It was a spirited debate. It was very, very difficult.

A quick refresher: The 2008 season had seven one-loss teams and two undefeated teams (Utah and Boise State) ranked in the top nine of the BCS standings heading into bowl season. Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and Alabama were the top four teams that season.

Not Thursday.

The media's top four, in order, was: Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, USC.

The debatable No. 5 was Penn State.

The mock committee gave USC credit for its stingy defense and conference championship, and USC dominated Ohio State -- a team the Nittany Lions struggled with. We voted three times, and every time, the top four remained the same. The only change came on the third vote, when Penn State jumped Alabama for the No. 5 spot. Most of the committee members agreed that entering the meeting, they thought Alabama would be a top-four team. One of the biggest surprises was that the Tide didn't even make the final top five. Penn State was rewarded for its conference title and an impressive 45-14 win over Oregon State -- which beat USC.

The real selection committee also used 2008 for its mock in August and came up with the same top four -- in a different order.

In less than six hours Thursday, the mock committee had to determine what it will take the real committee two days to figure out. We used the same computers, had the same statistical data available both in a playbook-sized binder and on five large, flat-screen computers and we met in the same meeting room the committee will use. The only thing missing was our memories. Even with plenty of national college football reporters in the room who had covered the 2008 season, not having seen those teams in six years made the eye test difficult, but Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long -- the only committee member in attendance -- said we remembered much more about that season than the actual committee members did during their mock.

Each media member was assigned a real committee member to portray (some had to double up), and the recusal policy was in full effect, eliminating USC's Pat Haden from much of the conversation. I was playing the role of Condoleezza Rice, and when I logged in as "Crice" and went to input my initial pool of 25 teams to the computer, Stanford was shaded out, so I couldn't vote for the Cardinal.

Long and executive director Bill Hancock helped guide the process along. Overall, it was the seventh time the system had been tested. The playoff staff has done it four times, and the real selection committee has gone through it twice.

"We're still learning about it," Hancock said. "We're confident, but we're still learning about it."

It was an eye-opening exercise. With click after click of the mouse, we selected our teams through seven rounds of voting. There were a few ties and several re-votes (three committee members have to call for a re-vote in order for it to happen).

By early afternoon, we were confident we picked the best four teams in the country -- though not everyone might have agreed on the order.

Here's a look at five lessons learned from Thursday's media mock selection:

  1. Everyone wants an answer as to what the most important metric is, but there is no answer -- it's an individual preference. How much weight will strength of schedule be given? How important is winning a conference championship? Don't head-to-head results mean anything? It depends on which committee member you ask. All 17 of the mock committee members spoke briefly about what they thought the most important factors were, and there were varying opinions. Some thought margin of victory mattered, while others didn't. Some valued a conference championship more than others. The varying opinions were a positive, because everyone brought up points that made others pause, think and, sometimes, reconsider.
  2. It was a big loss for the little guys. The biggest difference between the media's mock selection and the BCS standings was the absence of BYU and Ball State in the final ranking. Their lack of strength of schedule kept them out. Ball State never even made it into the pool of teams to be debated.
  3. Conference championships matter. There were several teams that were difficult to separate, even when lined up side by side on the computer screens. At one point, ESPN reporter Holly Rowe referenced the selection committee's protocol, which clearly states that "the selection committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering conference championships won," along with the other criteria. It was a big reason Penn State earned the nod ahead of Alabama.
  4. The committee members have more than enough information to make an informed decision. Any and every statistic is available. Each of the committee members was given an iPad before the season to watch games and download coaches cut-ups. They have access to every game and every statistic they could possibly want. If college football fans have faith in nothing else about this system, they should rest assured the committee members have been put in a position to succeed.
  5. Defense still matters. While spread offenses have stolen the spotlight in recent years and high-scoring games have become the norm, relative defense was an important statistic in evaluating the teams. Florida's defense and USC's defense were major plusses on their résumés.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Even with new faces on defense -- from Don Pellum calling plays on the sideline to the front seven to the defensive backs -- there was an expectation that Oregon would take a step forward in the post-Nick Aliotti era.

Last season, there was -- as there is in every fan base -- discontent. And it was understandable.

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsIfo Ekpre-Olomu and the Ducks know they need to play better on defense to get back on the national radar.
Though the Ducks' defense finished the 2013 season allowing just 4.6 yards per play (ninth nationally) and forcing opponents into 70 three-and-outs (15th nationally, which is even more impressive when you consider how much the Oregon defense is on the field), it faltered in key moments and big games.

There weren't enough halftime adjustments, the players had to deal with too many changes and the adjustments weren't good anyway. The defensive line didn’t get enough pressure. The defensive backs weren’t good enough in man coverage. And so on and so on.

Because the Ducks had an offense powered by a player they called Super Mariota, the defense didn't have to do much, right?

As we near the midpoint of the 2014 season, the Oregon defense still faces plenty of criticisms (and rightfully so).

The past few weeks haven’t exactly been good. It gave up 436 passing yards to Washington State, and quarterback Connor Halliday targeted All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu twice in the end zone for touchdowns.

Last weekend, the defense sputtered against Arizona, giving up 495 yards of offense to a team led by a redshirt sophomore QB and a true freshman running back. In that game, the Ducks’ best pass-rusher, Arik Armstead, exited the game early. He was seen wearing a walking boot on his left foot this week.

Fans can debate whether these are old or new issues, but one fact remains: Statistically, the defense has taken a major step back post-Aliotti.

From 2009 to 2013, Oregon's defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in yards per play, turnovers and efficiency. Five games into the 2014 season, those numbers have dropped -- significantly. Oregon ranks 79th nationally in yards per play, is tied at No. 41 in turnovers forced and is No. 74 nationally in efficiency.

It’s always hard to compare seasons. But it’s pretty obvious that the Ducks aren’t just dealing with a small drop.

From 2009-13, the Ducks played 62 FBS opponents. Those 62 teams, in the seasons in which they played Oregon, finished with a 380-360 final record. So finishing second in efficiency and turnovers and seventh in yards allowed per play is impressive.

This season, the Ducks’ four FBS opponents have combined for a 14-7 record. However, that number will likely finish closer to the 50-percent win percentage mark as the season progresses and Oregon's and its opponents' schedules get tougher.

As the numbers change, the one that needs to improve most is the defensive efficiency rating.

On Monday, coach Mark Helfrich pointed to mental mistakes as the main reason the defense is underperforming and giving up big plays.

“Usually, the genesis of it is communication,” Helfrich said. “Your communication happens with your eyes and your hands. There’s no verbal communication on defense, and we practice that way -- there’s very little verbal communication in practice.”

Helfrich said that on one occasion against Arizona, the defense checked to a coverage that wasn’t in the game plan for the Wildcats. He also said that two of Arizona’s touchdowns came on plays Oregon had practiced last week “1,000 times.”

“We had two out of the three guys communicating great,” Helfrich said. “And one of the three [did] not. And that’s a touchdown.”

Helfrich said that this has been “the bane of existence for defenses” everywhere so it’s not as though this is a new problem for Oregon, or any team.

There is a good chance those miscommunications are occurring because the Ducks have some young players on defense and are moving them in and out of the lineup to try to find the best fit.

“They’re still trying to figure out the best guys -- who should be on the field and who shouldn’t,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “We’re 4-1. Most teams in the country aren’t 4-1. … We’re really just trying to look and see how we can improve the team any way we can whether it’s switching guys out, putting new guys in, playing more DBs, playing less DBs, doing whatever we can do.”

Like Helfrich, Ekpre-Olomu isn't worried that the Ducks are still trying to find the right personnel heading into Week 7. He understands that the defensive shuffle has contributed to communication errors.

As Oregon hits the road to face No. 18 UCLA, the Ducks know they’re facing a possible elimination game from the College Football Playoff. The offense still has its stud quarterback who has pulled a rabbit out of a hat more often than not.

But can the defense do the same? It might take that kind of leap to keep the Ducks on the national radar.
videoSome things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 6:

Expect the unexpected*: OK, so you didn't even have to have your TV on a Pac-12 game to experience the unexpected this weekend because insanity happened everywhere. It was the first time since the inception of the Associated Press Poll that five of the top eight teams lost on the same weekend. No. 12 Mississippi State upset No. 6 Texas A&M. No. 11 Ole Miss upset No. 3 Alabama. No. 25 TCU upset No. 4 Oklahoma. Northwestern upset No. 17 Wisconsin. Utah State upset No. 18 BYU. And the Pac-12 wasn't going to be left out of all the fun. Arizona State upset No. 16 USC, Utah upset No. 8 UCLA and Arizona upset No. 2 Oregon. It was bonkers. Everything. Was. Bonkers. We knew that this was going to be a crazy season, but I don't think anyone saw this kind of a shakeup -- in the conference or across the country -- coming so soon. But it's here. Holy moly, college football craziness is here.

*Except when it comes to Stanford -- then, expect the expected: Meaning, expect a championship-caliber defense and a struggling offense -- that's exactly what we saw in the Cardinal's loss to Notre Dame. Stanford's front seven were stout and made Everett Golson's job very, very hard. They have a reputation and they protected it in South Bend. Stanford's offense, on the other hand, was held to 47 rushing yards (the first time in more than two years the Cardinal haven't accounted for 100 rushing yards in a game) and senior Kevin Hogan completed just 50 percent of his passes while throwing two interceptions and zero touchdowns in the 17-14 last-minute loss.

[+] EnlargeJaelen Strong
Ric Tapia/Icon SportswireArizona State's Jaelen Strong catches a 46-yard Hail Mary as time expires to beat USC, 38-34.
Rich Rod gon' Rich Rod: And yes, that means knocking off a highly ranked Oregon team. His Wildcats advanced to 5-0 on the season with a 31-24 win over the Ducks on the road. Rodriguez got huge offensive contributions from some of his freshman, too, which should send some warning signals throughout the conference regarding this team's future. Redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon completed 20 of 31 passes for 287 yards (1 TD, 1 INT), while freshman running back Nick Wilson toted the ball 13 times, accounting for 92 rushing yards and two touchdowns (he also added a 34-yard receiving touchdown).

The state of Arizona owns the state of California in Hail Mary's: Week 4 saw Arizona take down Cal with a Hail Mary, and on Saturday night, Arizona State took down USC 38-34 with a Hail Mary. There must be something in the water (this is a joke, I know both states are in historical droughts) in the state of Arizona that's allowing its receivers to get up through piles of defensive backs and make these improbable plays.

This really is the year of the QB in the Pac-12, and yes, that includes backups: We've given a ton of coverage to the Marcus Mariotas and Brett Hundleys of the Pac-12, and they certainly deserve it. However, Week 6 saw some huge performances from some backup QBs, which just speaks to the depth at the position in the conference. Taylor Kelly's backup, junior Mike Bercovici, led his unranked Arizona State squad to an upset over No. 16 USC. Bercovici threw for five touchdowns and 510 yards (would've had more if not for a few key drops), including the 46-yard Hail Mary pass to win the game. Travis Wilson's backup, junior Kendal Thompson, led Utah to a 30-28 upset of No. 8 UCLA on the road. Thompson completed 10 of 13 passes for 95 yards and one touchdown, but where he really attacked the Bruins was on the ground. He took off 19 times for 83 yards and forced the UCLA defense to play a bit more honest.

Connor Halliday has cemented his name in the record books: In an Air Raid-versus-Air Raid matchup, Halliday broke the FBS passing record with 734 yards -- and the Cougars still lost to Cal 60-59. So, the Pac-12 Blog's verdict is still out on which is more ridiculous: the fact that Halliday still has an arm after throwing six touchdowns and 734 yards or the fact that he did that and his team still lost. But one thing is for sure: Halliday has cemented his legacy in college football with that performance. He did everything he could to get the Cougars the win.

The league's two best teams have two of the worst-performing offensive lines: For as much as we've talked about Mariota and Hundley, this weekend gave us plenty of reasons to be talking about the five players in front of those guys. In Week 4, Mariota was sacked seven times against Washington State, so I suppose the five sacks against Arizona were an improvement. But Mariota was injured in that Wazzu game. The Ducks are in a tough spot with Mariota. His offensive line isn't playing well so he needs to be more mobile, but he can't be more mobile because he's hurt. But if Mariota wants to get some empathy, he can just go to Hundley, who was sacked 10 times in the Bruins' loss to Utah. These offensive lines need to pull it together going forward.

Colorado is the worst team in the conference but not by much: Had the ball bounced the Buffs' way a bit more last weekend, maybe they would've come up with the win over Cal. And against Oregon State, the win was within reach. Colorado is making strides, and with Sefo Liufau commanding that offense the next two years, who knows what happens? Right now this is a team that's going to compete in the Pac-12, but it just isn't good enough to finish games quite yet. Until the Buffs get there, they'll be at the bottom of the pack.

Why Ole Miss can upset Alabama 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
Bo Wallace, Ole MissThomas Graning/AP ImagesBo Wallace's impressive QBR numbers suggest he could lead the Rebels to a win at home.
Ole Miss could be embarking on one of the most successful seasons in the program’s history.

The Rebels are 4-0 for the first time since 1970 and have a top-10 ranking in the Associated Press poll for only the second time in the past 44 years. To top it off, ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew is headed to the Grove for the first time in the pregame show’s history, as the Rebels host Alabama in one of the most important games ever played in Oxford.

Since Alabama has won the past five meetings between these teams by a combined score of 155-34, many may be writing this game off as one of those early season tests the Tide tends to pass with ease.

Anyone with that mindset would do well to reconsider.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
Remember when everyone looked at week 5 on their college football calendar and thought to themselves, “Yeah, might not be a very exciting weekend"? Ha.

Let’s give out some helmet stickers to guys who made the weekend in Pac-12 football very, very exciting.

Su'a Cravens, S, USC: The sophomore finished with six tackles, one sack, one TFL and a 31-yard pick 6 in the Trojans' 35-10 win over Oregon State. It was a great defensive performance from the Trojans defense, and Cravens was a much-needed standout for a group that needed one.

Jared Goff, QB, California: Goff threw for 449 yards and seven scores in the Golden Bears' 59-56 double-overtime win over Colorado while completing 23 of 41 passes. He threw just one interception, but was able to lead the Bears to victory, snapping the Bears’ 15-game Pac-12 losing streak. Goff looked like a veteran and continues to impress with the strides he has made between years 1 and 2 under Sonny Dykes.

James Langford, K, Cal: He was 8 of 8 on extra points, but that’s not going to get a kicker on this list. But Langford -- who missed a 42-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter -- calmly hit a 34-yard FG in double overtime. Calm. Cool. Collected. Helmet Stickered.

Sefo Liufau, QB, Colorado: Normally, a player who’s on a team that lost doesn’t get on this list. But when you throw for seven touchdowns and 449 yards (if that stat line looks familiar, it’s because it’s the EXACT SAME as Goff’s, though his QBR was slightly higher) then you get on this list. He also added 72 rushing yards on 10 carries. The sophomore didn’t look like a sophomore and did everything he could to get the ‘W’ for the Buffaloes.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Injured? His play certainly didn’t look like it. Hundley threw for four touchdowns and 355 yards in a 62-27 win over Arizona State on Thursday. He completed 18 of 23 passes and led his team into a pretty intimidating atmosphere and made the Sun Devils look like the team that was playing on an opponent’s field.

Ishmael Adams, DB, UCLA: A 95-yard interception return for a touchdown would probably get a player a helmet sticker. Add a 100-yard kickoff return for a score to that and you’re a shoo-in for a Pac-12 helmet sticker.

Peter Kalambayi, OLB, Stanford: The redshirt freshman was a big reason why the Stanford defense held Washington to 2.6 yards per play in the Cardinal's 20-13 victory. He sacked Cyler Miles three times and finished with six tackles.
Duke’s David Cutcliffe edged Oregon State’s Mike Riley as the nation’s most underrated coach in ESPN’s weekly college football poll of the FBS head coaches, #1QFor128.

Cutcliffe received 13 percent of the votes in the poll conducted by ESPN's Brett McMurphy, compared to 11 percent for Riley.

East Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill was third (8 percent), followed by Mark Dantonio (7 percent). Minnesota’s Jerry Kill and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, each receiving 5 percent of the votes, tied for fifth. Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo and UTSA’s Larry Coker, each with 4 percent of the vote, tied for seventh.

Rounding out the top 13: Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Rice’s David Bailiff, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Washington’s Chris Petersen (3 percent each) and Ball State’s Pete Lembo (2 percent).

In all, 39 coaches received votes.

Of the coaches from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12), Dantonio and Riley received the most votes (14 percent each). Cutcliffe and McNeill (11 percent each) tied for third among the voting from Power 5 coaches, followed by Addazio, Bailiff and Kill (8 percent each) and Fitzgerald (5 percent).

Of the coaches from the Group of 5 conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt), Cutcliffe was the overwhelming favorite with 15 percent of the votes. McNeill, Niumatalolo, Snyder (7 percent each) and Coker (5 percent) rounded out the top five voting from the Group of 5 coaches.

Of the 128 FBS coaches, 97 participated in this week’s poll.

How Power 5 coaches voted

  • Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: 14 percent
  • Mike Riley, Oregon State: 14 percent
  • David Cutcliffe, Duke: 11 percent
  • Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina: 11 percent
  • Steve Addazio, Boston College: 8 percent
  • David Bailiff, Rice: 8 percent
  • Jerry Kill, Minnesota: 8 percent
  • Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: 5 percent
How Group of 5 coaches voted

  • David Cutcliffe, Duke: 15 percent
  • Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina: 7 percent
  • Ken Niumatalolo, Navy: 7 percent
  • Bill Snyder, Kansas State: 7 percent
  • Larry Coker, UTSA: 5 percent
  • Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: 3 percent
  • Jerry Kill, Minnesota: 3 percent
  • Chris Petersen, Washington: 3 percent