NCF Nation: Oregon Ducks

3-point stance: No help needed

April, 8, 2014
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1. Northwestern has played its hand in the unionization issue beautifully. The university never blamed its student-athletes. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has gone public with his opposition to the union, but has done so with facts and without histrionics. The last thing Northwestern needs is NCAA president Mark Emmert making headlines by calling unionization "grossly inappropriate." Emmert has been an ineffective reformer. He lost a lot of credibility by railroading Penn State before he had the facts. He could best help Northwestern by going on vacation for the rest of April.

2. Rutgers athletic director Julie Hermann said it would be great if the Newark Star-Ledger went out of business. Hermann doesn't like what one columnist writes about her. The Star-Ledger last week laid off 167 people in her state. You would think an athletic official who has been accused of verbal abuse in the past would think twice before lashing out. Whatever justification Hermann thought she had to say that, she didn't.

3. I got a tour Monday of the not-quite-one-year-old football building that Phil Knight built for Oregon and I have three words: Oh. Em. Gee. Whatever you heard or read about the spare-no-expense design doesn't do the building justice. Italian leather chairs. German lockers. Brazilian wood floors -- in the weight room. Turkish toilets. (I am leaving a few countries out.) Wall coverings and upholstery of football leather. Hand-painted foosball players. And on. And on. The arms race is over. We have a winner.

1. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson made a compelling case Tuesday for the value of participating in college athletics, echoing Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. They both said, in so many words, if you want to go pro, go pro; let college athletics be college athletics. I hope the difference is maintained, too. There is room to provide more benefits to college athletes without professionalizing them. But once an employer-employee relationship is established, the rules will change. Whether they can change without rendering college athletics unrecognizable, ay, there’s the rub.

2. Oregon has won 60 consecutive games when leading at the half, the longest streak in the FBS. Oklahoma is second at 42. Both are perennial national contenders with explosive offenses that can quickly make a game one-sided. But here’s the surprise: Kansas State is third on the list at 39 games. In the five seasons since Bill Snyder returned to the sideline, Kansas State (42-22, .656) has been good, but not dominant. Without dominance, I’d guess the streak has a lot to do with Snyder, mental toughness and a lack of mistakes.

3. Speaking of Oklahoma, did you see the Sooners’ April Fool’s tweet that Blake Bell had returned to quarterback? The surprise is that Bell actually finished last season with a higher efficiency rating (132.20) than the player replacing him, freshman Trevor Knight (125.00). What that tells you is how much Knight improved over the course of the year. He shredded Alabama for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In the last three games, Knight went 49-of-71 for 547 yards with 2 interceptions and 5 touchdowns for an efficiency of 151.34. That’s why Bell is a tight end.

ESPN CFB Spring Tour: Oregon

April, 1, 2014
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How will Year 2 in the Mark Helfrich Era go in Eugene? Our ESPN College Football Spring Tour continues in the Pacific Northwest, where Oregon reporter Chantel Jennings will be bringing you the sights and sounds from campus today. Keep this page open starting at 10 a.m. PT as Chantel provides insight, interviews, pictures and videos from Ducks camp.

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.
On Oct. 26, No. 2 Oregon rolled over No. 12 UCLA in raucous Autzen Stadium. It was a vintage Oregon performance. The game was tied at the half and then -- zip! wham! zooooom! -- it was 42-14 and the Bruins looked stunned.

Ducks sophomore running back Byron Marshall rushed for 133 yards on just 19 carries and three touchdowns, including two during the dominant second half. Running back had been a position of concern in the preseason. Marshall had answered that concern.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesByron Marshall's performance against UCLA was his last big game before suffering through injuries and ineffectiveness the rest of the season.
He led Pac-12 running backs with 6.8 yards per carry. He was tied for first with 12 rushing TDs. His 109.9 yards per game ranked fourth in the conference and 18th in the nation. The UCLA game was his fifth consecutive game with more than 100 yards rushing.

And Oregon was rolling toward the national title game. It was averaging 55.6 points and 331.5 yards rushing per game, both numbers ranking second in the country. The Ducks appeared unstoppable, despite that slight limp in quarterback Marcus Mariota's stride after the UCLA victory.

Then … Stanford.

"We took a shot to our confidence in that game," Marshall said. "I don't think we were the same team after that. That kind of put a downfall to everyone's performance. Stanford was a big loss and that hurt."

Yep. And the Ducks' downfall after that 26-20 defeat ran parallel to Marshall's own personal slide.

The Oregon offense would average just 29.2 points over its final five games. During that span, Marshall would rush for 159 total yards, average 4.2 yards per carry, score just two more TDs and sit out most of the Arizona loss and the narrow win over Oregon State due to injury. With Marshall hurt or in check, the Ducks averaged 180.8 yards rushing over the final five games. Good for some teams, but not for Oregon.

While the popular -- and ultimately accurate -- explanation for the Ducks' slide in 2013 was a knee injury to Mariota that pretty much eliminated him as a running threat, Marshall's waning production over those final five games is also pretty telling.

When Oregon opens spring practice on April 1, Marshall and the Ducks are going to be in both familiar and unfamiliar positions. They, again, are going to be Pac-12 favorites and national title contenders. And they are going to be grumpy.

"11-2 is never a bad season, a bad record to have, but to know you are definitely one of the most talented teams in the country and could have been in the national championship or at least a BCS game, that's kind of eating at all of us," Marshall said. "We know we were better than we played in that last month. A lot of guys were hungry to come back and start working for next season."

Of course, the Ducks did get a boost shortly after the season ended when Mariota announced he would return for his redshirt junior season instead of entering the NFL draft, where he likely would have been a first-round pick.

"It kind of seemed like he might have his eye on the first round," Marshall said. "It's really hard to see that and come back for another season. It was definitely good news. It did catch me as a bit of a surprise. Everyone was super-excited about that. Our offense will have the same, familiar pace. There's definitely that chemistry that will still be there. His leadership will be still there. I feel like we're going to pick up better than where we left off last year."

Marshall, 5-foot-10, 201 pounds, has been focused on getting stronger this offseason so he can be a more physical runner, as well as working on his lateral quickness. He knows there are no gimmes on the depth chart. Speedy Thomas Tyner, a touted 2013 recruit, rushed for 711 yards -- a school record for a true freshman -- and nine touchdowns last year, matching Marshall's 6.2 yards per carry. While they look like a dynamic backfield duo, Marshall wants to maintain his status as option 1A.

"I think both of us are capable of making big plays," Marshall said. "We just kind of have to see how the coaches are going to play that out. It's not necessarily my decision. Of course, I'd like to get the ball every play for all four quarters. Obviously, that's not going to happen."

While Mariota is the unquestioned star of the offense, the key for the Ducks getting back on track is restoring their dominant running game. Mariota is a dynamic runner, both leading the spread option and as an improvisational scrambler, but keeping him healthy is critical for the Ducks' national title hopes. Further, if Marshall and Tyner are scaring opposing defenses, that will open up the downfield passing game.

If Marshall becomes a star this season, the offense will be tough to stop. Marshall, in fact, might be the difference between a third consecutive season looking up at Stanford in the North Division standings -- another near-miss -- or the Ducks earning a berth in the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.

While Marshall and Oregon will be all about "Win the Day" again in the fall, focusing only on the immediate game at hand, don't think for a minute the offseason musing doesn't include coveting the one thing that has eluded the program: a national title.

Said Marshall, "The last two or three years, we've kind of been right on the edge of going to the national championship game. Or winning the national championship game. It's too long. I feel like we're overdue. I know other people do too."

Pac-12 top 25 for 2013: No. 1

January, 31, 2014
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Our countdown of the Pac-12’s Top 25 players from the 2013 season continues.

You can review our 2013 preseason Top 25 here.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota threw 25 TD passes in 2013 before tossing his first interception, spearheading the No. 1 offense in the Pac-12.
No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

2013 numbers: Mariota completed 245 of 386 passes for 3,665 yards with 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He also rushed for 715 yards and nine touchdowns.

Preseason ranking: No. 1

Making the case for Mariota: The Heisman frontrunner for the most of the season, Mariota commanded the No. 1 offense in the Pac-12 as the Ducks averaged 45.5 points per game. He was named first-team All-Conference by the coaches and was a semifinalist for the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp player of the year, more than justifying his spot as the preseason No. 1. A hush-hush knee injury sustained against UCLA eventually slowed him down the stretch and derailed what could have been a Heisman season. Pre-injury, he had 20 touchdowns and zero interceptions; post-injury, 11 touchdowns and four picks. All nine of his rushing touchdowns came before he partially tore his MCL. Still, he set an Oregon single-season record with 4,380 total yards. He also set a Pac-12 record by attempting 353 consecutive passes without an interception. He was No. 1 in the Pac-12 in efficiency and No. 1 in the nation in ESPN’s adjusted QBR rating. While he’ll likely start the season behind defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston, expect Mariota to garner significant preseason Heisman buzz and, at the very least, earn a trip to New York when it's all said and done. He passed up an opportunity to be a first-round draft pick. And by doing so, he makes the Ducks the early favorites in the Pac-12 in 2014 and a likely preseason top 5 team.

The countdown:
No. 2: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 3: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 4: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
No. 5: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
No. 6: Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
No. 7: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 8: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 9: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 10: Leonard Williams, DE, USC
No. 11: Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State
No. 12: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
No. 13: Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford
No. 14: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 15: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 16: Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
No. 17: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
No. 18: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 19: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 20: Trevor Reilly, DE/OLB, Utah
No. 21: Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State
No. 22: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 23: Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
No. 24: Josh Huff, WR, Oregon
No. 25: Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA
1. It will be weird to see Larry Johnson wearing scarlet and gray. The last coaching connection to Joe Paterno at Penn State has left for Ohio State. Like Ed Orgeron at USC, Johnson auditioned for the head coaching job, didn’t get it, and refused to stay and work for the guy who did. It’s hard to believe that Johnson would set aside 18 years, but egos can be slow to heal. Penn State will pay a price for his departure. Defensive tackle Thomas Holley of Brooklyn already has decommitted from Penn State for Florida.

2. NCAA President Mark Emmert will deliver his State of the Association address Thursday, and the title of the speech alone speaks to the pomposity that the NCAA needs to reduce. How Emmert survived the mess his administration made of things at Penn State and Miami is beyond belief; his inability to push through the increase in benefits to student-athletes he has championed for three years is another poor grade on his report card. Perhaps his remarks Thursday can begin to turn around a disappointing tenure.

3. The first thing to leap out about the Pac-12 schedule announced last week is how well things set up for Oregon. Three of the Ducks’ toughest opponents -- Michigan State, Washington and Stanford -- come to Eugene; the Pac-12 South teams that Oregon skips are defending division champ Arizona State and USC; and the toughest road games are at UCLA and at Oregon State. The intersectional game against the Spartans in Week 2 will serve as a national stage for quarterback Marcus Mariota. Let the Heisman talk begin.
1. As of last Monday, Florida State had closed the gap between itself and the SEC. As of Tuesday, the gap opened again, with defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt leaving the Seminoles for the same job at Georgia. The reason why? S-E-C (Serious Extraordinary Cash): a three-year, $2.55 million deal, about half again as much as Pruitt made in Tallahassee. As they say down there, it’s just bidness, and that’s a huge illustration of the catch-up that Florida State has to play at that level.

2. Two other points re the Pruitt hire: One, the fact that Georgia gave him a three-year deal is a good indication that head coach Mark Richt plans to stay at least that long, a good sign for the Dawgs; two, if Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher wants to continue playing the Alabama-style defense, then I don’t know where else he turns other than his defensive ends coach, Sal Sunseri, who has worked for Nick Saban for four seasons, most recently from 2009-11.

3. Given that Oregon has had success promoting from within, it’s no surprise that the Ducks’ longtime linebackers coach, Don Pellum, succeeds Nick Aliotti as defensive coordinator. Pellum has spent 25 years of his 29-year career on the Oregon staff. He is a good teacher, a good communicator, and surely will be the best-dressed defensive coordinator on the West Coast (if not the East). Pellum’s promotion will minimize the disruption at Oregon, which promoted Mark Helfrich to head coach a year ago.

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.

Best/Worst of the Pac-12 bowl season

January, 10, 2014
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We're taking a look at the best and worst of the Pac-12 bowl season.

Best player, offense: UCLA QB Brett Hundley accounted for four touchdowns in the Bruins' 42-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. He rushed for 161 yards on 10 carries -- 16.1 yards per run -- with two touchdowns and he also completed 16 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two scores. He did all that against one of the nation's best defenses in a winning effort.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
AP Photo/Victor CalzadaBrett Hundley (17) and UCLA had a lot to celebrate in their Sun Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Best player, defense: Washington defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha had nine tackles with three sacks of burly BYU QB Taysom Hill. He also forced a fumble in the Huskies' 31-16 victory. It was a great ending to a great comeback season -- 13 sacks -- for a player who overcame two major knee surgeries the past two years.

Best player, special teams: Washington's John Ross had a 103-yard kickoff return in the Huskies win over BYU.

Best game: While Stanford lost the Rose Bowl 24-20 to Michigan State, it wasn't decided until the waning moments of the fourth quarter after the Cardinal failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 play on its 34-yard line. It was a well-played, entertaining game between two defensive powers that delivered plenty of exciting moments, even if the Pac-12 ended up losing.

Worst game: In the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Washington State blew a 22-point lead against Colorado State in one of the most epic meltdowns in Pac-12 bowl history. The Cougars led by 15 with three minutes left but gifted the Rams the game, 48-45, with terrible defense, incomprehensible clock management and two fumbles. The first fumble came immediately after the Cougars had been saved from a fumble by instant replay. The second came on the ensuing kickoff to set up the game-winning field goal.

Worst game runner-up: Arizona State's 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl was shocking because the Sun Devils came in nationally ranked and surging, while the Red Raiders had lost five in a row to conclude the regular season. The Sun Devils were flat on both sides of the ball, and coach Todd Graham rightly blamed himself for his team looking unprepared. His defense gave up 403 yards passing and four TDs to a freshman QB, while his offense was sloppy and out of sync. And the clock management to end the first half rivaled the Cougars at the end of the New Mexico Bowl.

Best play: On second-and-6 from the UCLA 14-yard line, Hundley dropped back to pass, but then decided to run up the middle. It was a good decision. He scampered to his left, then back to his right and, skillfully using great downfield blocks, he went 86 yards for a touchdowns. It was the longest touchdown run in UCLA bowl game history as well as the longest of Hundley's career.

Worst play: With Colorado State out of time outs, Washington State had the ball and an eight-point lead. There was1:55 left in the game, and Washington State faced a second-and-10 from its 31-yard line. There were 20 seconds left on the play clock when the ball was snapped and the Cougars handed to Jeremiah Laufasa for his first carry of the New Mexico Bowl. He fumbled and Colorado State recovered. The Rams then drove for a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to tie the game. And you know what happened next. The worst part about that sequence, however, is that all the Cougars had to do to win the game was assume victory formation and take a knee. You could blame the players for fumbling, but the ultimate blame falls on coach Mike Leach, who scoffed at clock management questions after the game. Mike, this was a simple math problem you got wrong. This isn't a subjective issue. There was a right and wrong strategy, and the Washington State head coach chose the wrong one.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsConnor Halliday had a big game against Colorado State, but end of the New Mexico Bowl was inexcusable for Washington State.
Best stat(s): USC held high flying Fresno State and QB Derek Carr to 13 points -- the Bulldogs got seven points on a pick-6 -- 14 first downs and 253 total yards. The Bulldogs entered the game averaging 570.6 yards and 45.3 points per game. Kudos to coordinator Clancy Pendergast and the 13 healthy players the Trojans had available on defense.

Best stat(s) II: In Nick Aliotti's last game as Oregon's defensive coordinator, the Ducks held Texas to seven points, 13 first downs and 236 total yards. The Ducks defense even outscored the Longhorns in the 30-7 victory with a pair of pick-6s.

Worst stat: Stanford had just 11 first downs against Michigan State. They produced just 71 yards rushing on 27 carries over the final three quarters.

Crazy stat: It was difficult to decided where to place Washington State QB Connor Halliday's performance against Colorado State. The numbers overall are incredible: 37-of-58 for 410 yards with six touchdowns -- to six different receiver! -- with one interception. But his team lost and the Rams have a bad defense. Further, he threw five of the TDs in the first half and was not particularly on target in the second half. And then there was the end game. Still, six touchdown passes tied West Virginia's Geno Smith and Iowa's Chuck Long for an NCAA bowl record. That's something worthy of note.

Pac-12 all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
9:00
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Who were the Pac-12 standouts this bowl season? Here are our picks.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley finished the season with a strong performance in the Bruins' bowl win.
QB Brett Hundley, UCLA: Hundley accounted for four touchdowns in the Bruins' 42-12 win over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. He rushed for 161 yards on 10 carries -- 16.1 yards per run -- with two touchdowns and he also completed 16 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two scores. Other QBs had nice games, but Hundley put up big numbers against an outstanding defense.

RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: In the AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Boston College, Carey rushed for 169 yards on 27 carries and two scores, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. He decisively outplayed Boston College RB Andre Williams, who won the Doak Walker Award and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.

RB D.J. Foster, Arizona State: Despite being banged up, Foster rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries -- 6.6 yards per carry -- in the Sun Devils' 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. He also caught five passes for 23 yards.

WR Marqise Lee, USC: In his career finale, Lee caught seven passes for 118 yards with two touchdowns in USC's win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

WR Nate Phillips, Arizona: Phillips, a true freshman, caught nine passes for 193 yards in the Wildcats' win over Boston College.

WR Josh Huff, Oregon: Huff caught five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in Oregon's 30-7 win over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA: Su'a-Filo led the Bruins' offensive line against a tough Virginia Tech defense. UCLA rushed for 197 yards against a top-10 rushing defense and yielded only two sacks.

OL Abe Markowitz, USC: The sixth-year walk-on stepped in at center for an injured Marcus Martin -- the Trojans' best offensive lineman this season -- and played well in the 45-20 win over Fresno State. The Trojans yielded only one sack and rushed for 154 yards. He was named the "Offensive Outperformer of the Game" by his coaches.

OL Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher led a strong effort from the Ducks' offensive line in the win over Texas. Oregon rushed for 216 yards and yielded only two sacks. Fisher did a good job against Texas' top defender, end Jackson Jeffcoat.

OL Micah Hatchie, Washington: Hatchie, the Huskies' left tackle, was the biggest reason BYU didn't record a sack in the Fight Hunger Bowl, a 31-16 Huskies victory. Washington also rushed for 190 yards.

OL Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State: Seumalo led perhaps the Beavers O-line's best effort of the season. Oregon State rushed for 195 yards and yielded no sacks.

K Travis Coons, Washington: Coons made a 45-yard field goal against BYU -- the longest Pac-12 postseason field goal -- and was good on all four of his PATs.

DEFENSE

DL Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Crichton had three tackles for a loss, a sack, a forced fumble and pass breakup in the win over Boise State.

DL Taylor Hart, Oregon: Hart had a game-high 11 tackles, with half a sack and a forced fumble in the Ducks' win over Texas.

DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington: Kikaha had nine tackles with three sacks and a forced fumble in the Huskies' win over BYU.

LB Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov had nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble in Stanford's 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.

LB Jake Fischer, Arizona: Fischer had a game-high 14 tackles in the Wildcats' win over Boston College. He also had a sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Arizona held Williams to only 75 yards on 26 carries.

LB John Timu, Washington: Timu had a game-high 14 tackles, a sack and an interception in the Huskies' win over BYU.

LB Jabral Johnson, Oregon State: Johnson had a game-high 12 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry in the Beavers' win over Boise State.

DB Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State: Reynolds had 10 tackles and returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the Beavers' win over Boise State. The fumble returns went for 70 and 3 yards.

DB Avery Patterson, Oregon: Patterson had nine tackles and returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the win over Texas.

DB Josh Shaw, USC: Shaw held Fresno State receiver Davante Adams to nine receptions for 73 yards in the Trojans' win over the Bulldogs. He finished with six tackles and had an interception in the end zone.

DB Anthony Jefferson, UCLA: Jefferson had seven tackles, shared a tackle for a loss and had a pass breakup in the Bruins' win over Virginia Tech. The Hokies completed only 15 of 36 throws for 176 yards.

P Ben Rhyne, Stanford: With five punts, Rhyne averaged 49.8 yards per boot in the Rose Bowl.

Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
10:05
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SAN ANTONIO -- No. 10 Oregon beats Texas 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A few thoughts on the game:

It was over when: Oregon safety Derrick Malone picked off a Case McCoy pass over the middle midway through the fourth quarter, then went 39 yards for the score. The Ducks went up 30-7 on McCoy’s second pick-six of the night.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was masterful both on the ground and through the air, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 133. A month off to heal a nagging knee injury did him plenty of good.

Stat of the game: McCoy finished with 48 passing yards and no touchdowns. The two passes he completed to Oregon defenders were returned for a total of 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Unsung hero: Oregon safety Avery Patterson, who gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game when he picked off a McCoy pass and scored on a 37-yard return. The senior added nine tackles in his final game.

Best call: The Ducks’ first score on offense came when Mariota, with Jackson Jeffcoat fast approaching, flipped to Josh Huff on a shovel pass and he found the end zone from 16 yards out. Huff finished with 104 receiving yards and a school-record 1,140 in 2013.

What Oregon learned: If Mariota makes good on his promise to return in 2014, Oregon should once again have a preseason top-10 team and plenty of firepower to make a run at a college football playoff bid.

What Texas learned: Nothing it didn’t already know, really. Its Case McCoy-led offense can pound the rock but couldn’t keep up with elite teams and capitalize on opportunities. The Longhorns couldn’t give Mack Brown a satisfying sendoff. Now it’s time to find his successor.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Valero Alamo Bowl, click here.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
1:30
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Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Texas reporter Max Olson break down the biggest storylines in Monday’s Valero Alamo Bowl matchup featuring Texas and No. 10 Oregon:

How do you think Mack Brown's resignation affects this game?

Max Olson: Throughout the past few weeks, Brown has stuck to the same message publicly: Texas players should win this game for themselves, not for their coach. They’ve had a brutal season, overcome plenty and have a chance to cap it with a ninth win and a few good memories. Brown keeps saying he wants this to be about the kids, not him.

What we’ll get out of kids, though, I just don’t know. They’ve been big underdogs before. They came out firing against Oklahoma and built real momentum. They held Baylor to 3 points in the first half but ran out of gas. Which Texas team shows up Monday? They’ll need plenty of motivation and good fortune.

Kevin Gemmell: My first thought was that this was going to be a huge motivation advantage for Texas -- and I’m a big believer that the bowl season is all about which team is motivated to be there. But I think the recent news that Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is also retiring balances things out in the Oregon locker room. While he’s not as big of a name nationally as Brown, he’s as much an Oregon institution as Brown is to Texas.

Both pregame speeches will be rousing. Heartstrings will be tugged. But ultimately it comes down to what happens on the field. If Oregon is able to set aside its disappointment of not being in a BCS game, then who is coaching on which sideline shouldn't matter because on paper Oregon is the stronger team.

What should be expected of a 100-percent healthy Marcus Mariota?

Gemmell: For starters, an extra element to the Oregon offense that makes them that much tougher to stop. Consider Mariota in the first seven games of the season before his knee injury. He averaged 70.4 rushing yards per game and scored nine touchdowns -- including at least one rushing touchdown in all seven games. Since hurting the knee against UCLA, he’s averaged just 17.8 rushing yards with zero rushing touchdowns.

He also threw four interceptions in the final two games after going pick-free for the first 10, so aside from his rushing abilities -- which are substantial -- his throwing mechanics should be much stronger. I’m of the belief that when he’s 100 percent healthy, Mariota is the best football player in the country. And if Texas gets a 100 percent Mariota, he’s going to be very, very difficult to stop.

Olson: Mariota is one of the many reasons why this is just not a good matchup for Texas, especially considering its defense has had legitimate issues defending the option against mobile quarterbacks. Of quarterbacks who started the last two seasons, nobody in the country has a better Total QBR than Mariota at 89.0. He’s the real deal. I fully expect him to put up big numbers in the Alamodome, and it’ll be interesting to see how Texas defends him, probably with Jackson Jeffcoat reprising his freestyle “spinner” role.

Who will be the key player in this game?

Olson: If you’ve been following this Texas team, you know the key isn’t getting a huge performance from Case McCoy. Yes, he needs to play relatively mistake-free and hit on the big passes when they’re there. But Texas doesn’t stand a chance in this one without a big night from Malcolm Brown.

The San Antonio native had rushed for 421 yards in the four games since Texas lost Johnathan Gray, including 118 in the first half against Baylor. He did a terrific job of hitting cutback lanes against the Bears, and run defense hasn’t been a strength for Oregon. Brown needs to get rolling or Texas could fall behind quickly.

Gemmell: Take your pick from any number of superstars on both sides of the ball for Oregon. Be it Mariota, Josh Huff or Byron Marshall. Defensively, cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is as lockdown as they come. But the guy who always seems to show up in the postseason is De’Anthony Thomas.

Last season against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, he returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, caught four balls for 60 yards and a score and rushed twice for 15 yards. In the 2011 Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, he carried twice for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Wisconsin. He also caught four balls for 34 yards and returned five kicks for 125 yards. Thomas is a big-game player with blazing speed and scary elusiveness. When he’s hitting on all cylinders, he’s a difference maker.

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
11:00
AM ET
No. 10 Oregon and Texas face off Monday (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. A few key players and matchups to watch:

Who to watch: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota says he’s 100 percent healthy, and that’s very good news for the Ducks. A knee injury suffered against UCLA in October limited his ability to run in Oregon’s final five games, two of which were losses. Now that he has had time off to recover, expect the Ducks’ high-tempo option attack to be back to full speed. Mariota is coming back for 2014 and has a chance to end his sophomore campaign with a big game against a Texas defense that has proven vulnerable to running quarterbacks.

What to watch: What can Texas do up front to grab control of this game from the Ducks? These Longhorns are capable of big upsets when their offensive line owns the line of scrimmage, and they’re reshuffling to put All-Big 12 left guard Trey Hopkins at right tackle. On defense, defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed must be disruptive, and you could see Jeffcoat play all over the field in a hybrid role. Texas can’t win this game without being the more physical team.

Why to watch: Mack Brown’s last hurrah after 16 seasons as head coach of the Longhorns. Texas has won seven of its past eight bowl games dating back to 2004, and its players want to send Brown off with one final victory, the 245th of his career. When everybody counted them out, Brown’s players rallied and knocked off No. 12 Oklahoma 38-20 in the Red River Rivalry this season. Can the Longhorns pull off another stunner?

Prediction: Oregon 38, Texas 17. Oregon simply has too much firepower for Texas, whose four losses have come by an average margin of 21 points. Retiring Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti gets the celebratory final Gatorade bath.

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