NCF Nation: California Bears

The difference between winning one game and five games in a college football season is competence -- showing up with legitimate Power 5 conference players and knowing what you're doing. The difference between winning five games and winning nine or 10 or 11 games, pushing into the top 25 and competing for championships is, as every coach will tell you, "the little things."

Well, that and budding NFL talent at most positions, but you get the point.

California improved from a dreadful 1-11 in coach Sonny Dykes' first season to 5-7 in 2014. The 2013 record in every way reflected how terrible the Bears were, particularly on defense, and the record last fall showed dramatic improvement in just about every area. With 17 returning starters, second most behind UCLA in the Pac-12, it's not difficult to project forward to 2015 in a positive way.

[+] EnlargeLasco
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesDaniel Lasco leads the Bears' ground attack, finishing for 1,115 yards and 12 TDs last season.
"We don't set limits," Dykes said of rising expectations. "If we start talking about success for us being eight wins, nine wins, then we might be selling ourselves short."

Dykes, whose Bears began spring practices this week, then started listing things that matter for his team: fewer stupid penalties, third-down efficiency on both sides of the ball, the ability to operate a "4-minute offense," which can slow down from an up-temp, no-huddle base scheme and possess the ball, assert its will and finish off the game clock in victory formation.

He then added, "We've also got to stop onside kicks and Hail Marys."

Ah, a dose of humor is good. Cal fans, perhaps, get the reference? A little game at Arizona? Losing the fourth quarter 36-14, the final six coming on a Hail Mary pass from Wildcats redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon, making his first Pac-12 start, following a successful onside kick? A 49-45 defeat that became the most obvious weekend to point to when bowl eligibility was ultimately missed?

Of course, fortune smiled at Cal more than a few times in 2014, too, just ask Washington State and Colorado fans. A missed 19-yard field goal from the Cougars? Cal's defense, the worst in the Pac-12, producing a goal line stand?

The benefit of winning and losing creatively is teachable moments and valuable experience, and that experience as well as improving depth is a big reason why Cal stacks up as a North Division dark horse. You've got a third-year starter at quarterback in Jared Goff, an NFL prospect, a deep crew of receivers and an underrated 1,000-yard rusher in Daniel Lasco. While the offensive line doesn't stack up as dominant, it should be at least serviceable.

The defense? In 2013, it combined injuries, youth and a lack of direction to become one of the worst crews in the conference's past decade. Last season, it was still young and still had injury problems, but it was sound and lined up correctly.

"It didn't show up statistically on defense, but we were a lot better than the year before," Dykes said. "We played harder and lined up better and we were more fundamentally sound. We weren't good by any stretch of the imagination but we were much improved."

In Year 2 under coordinator Art Kaufman, the expectation is the unit should advance from bad -- 39.8 points per game -- to at least middling. Dykes talks about having 19 defensive linemen on the roster and 14 linebackers, which compares favorably to the almost comically unworkable five he had in 2013.

"That's what real football teams have," he said. "For the first time in two years, we have depth in spots. We're still a little thin at safety but seven DBs are coming to help us."

The issue is pass defense. While the Bears' run defense was mostly solid, opposing QBs tossed 42 touchdown passes last season, which is five more than any other FBS team yielded. Cal's 8.1 yards per attempt ranked 115th in the nation. Yes, those numbers are as bad as they sound.

A big reason for all that success through the air? No pressure. While the Bears were decidedly undermanned at safety, they also managed just 16 sacks, which ranked 113th in the nation. That's why the Bears really need JC transfer Devante Wilson to quickly develop, senior Kyle Kragen to come back strong after missing last year due to injury and sophomore Noah Westerfield to mature. Those three ends could make up for oft-injured Brennan Scarlett's transfer to arch-rival Stanford.

Then when you combine Mustafa Jalil and the promising James Looney, a transfer from Wake Forest, inside, you have a potentially solid D-line, which can make up for a potential youth moment in the secondary.

The defense doesn't have to be dominant for the Bears to advance in the Pac-12 pecking order -- Goff, Lasco and company should average 40 points per game. But it does need to get better. Dykes, not surprisingly, seems confident that Old Blues are going to see improvement everywhere, and that should translate to the North standings.

"Last year I think we showed we are taking steps in the right direction," Dykes said. "By no means are we where we are going to be or where we want to be. But we are certainly a better product and we return virtually our entire football team. We're fired up about this year."
Ole Miss and Cal have agreed to play a home and home series that will take place in 2017 and 2019.

The Pac-12 vs. SEC showdown will begin on Sept. 16, 2017, in Berkeley, California, before shifting to Oxford, Mississippi, on Sept. 21, 2019. It will be the first such meeting between schools on the football field in their history.

For Ole Miss, the game fulfills an SEC obligation to schedule at least one nonconference game against an opponent from a Power 5 conference. Cal does not have any such scheduling requirement under Pac-12 rules.

Hugh Freeze's Rebs ended last season 9-4 and ranked 17th in the final AP Poll.

The Bears, meanwhile, finished 5-7 in coach Sonny Dykes' second season leading the program.

With the Ole Miss series penciled in, Cal has also moved its series with another SEC program, Auburn, back a year. Instead of the series beginning in 2019, the Bears will now travel to Auburn on Sept. 19, 2020, before hosting the Tigers the following season at California Memorial Stadium on Sept. 18.

Final 2014 Pac-12 Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
» More Final 2014 Power Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Expect Pac-12 southern chaos in 2015

December, 9, 2014
The Arizona Wildcats can thump their chest all they want … at least for now. They are the Pac-12 South champs until proven otherwise. Just like Arizona State was … before Arizona proved otherwise. Just like UCLA was, before ASU proved otherwise.

Being proven otherwise, however, seems to be turning into an annual tradition in the South, which has had three different winners in the last three years. And if you thought the division was crazy in 2014, hang on, because it might plunge itself deeper into capricious insanity in 2015 and beyond.

"It's anybody's guess," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham when asked to handicap the South next season. "But I have to believe it's one of the toughest divisions in all of college football. It was very close this year, obviously. We had a lot of teams lumped up there at the top. Every year is its own entity and set of circumstances. I can't speak to next year. But right now it's anybody's guess."

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriQuarterback Anu Solomon will return in 2015 to Pac-12 South champion Arizona, but the division will be wide open.
The South heads into the postseason with five of its six teams ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25; Arizona (10), UCLA (14), ASU (15), Utah (22) and USC (24). Of course, the North continues to claim the ultimate bragging rights, having won every conference title since the league moved to a divisional format in 2011. This year was no exception with Oregon blasting the ‘Cats in the title game.

But the 2014 season saw a clear power shift within the depth of the conference. For the first time since expansion, the South had a winning record against its northern counterparts, going 15-10.

"The South has definitely resurged," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "Every game against those guys is difficult. Trying to handicap it for next year would be like trying to handicap this year. It's impossible."

Adding to the impossibility is that five of the six teams in the division are likely to return a quarterback with substantial starting experience. Barring any surprise defections, draft declarations or injuries, only UCLA will be without a quarterback with significant time as a starter.

"Once again, that means you are going to see offenses executed extremely well week in and week out," said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team is the only one in the division not ranked in the Top 25. "All the quarterbacks in somehow, someway, have broken records at their school. You're looking at quality players coming back that can score points each Saturday."

Given the Trojans historical success, it seems almost shocking that USC is yet to win a division title. Maybe that changes as the Trojans roster slowly starts to rebuild itself in the post-sanctions era. Maybe not. The trio of previous victors -- all with head coaches who were hired following the 2011 season -- show no indication of slowing down. Plus the Utes are on the rise and Colorado is putting a more competitive product on the field. The Buffs were "in" seven of their nine conference games. Anyone think they are going to be worse next year?

"The thing that can happen is any team in the South can beat any team," MacIntyre said. "I think that's where it's at. We had double-overtime with UCLA and definitely could have won it. We were in there with everyone (in the South) except USC. There's a lot of parity, but there is also high-caliber football."

Meanwhile up North, the divide might be growing. The Ducks will have to find a replacement for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota (oh come on, like it's not going to happen) and we're not exactly sure what we're going to get from the Cardinal. You have to imagine things will be smoother in Year 2 of the Chris Petersen era at Washington, but there will be losses on defense. Shaw pointed to Cal as a team on the rise, but defense will again be a concern. So outside of Oregon, you have to question which North team could do the most damage against the South. Oregon State will have a new coach. Washington State is still rebuilding. The Ducks were the only team up North to be ranked. And even if the Cardinal thump Maryland in their bowl game, the chances of them finishing ranked are slim.

"We've got a lot of guys coming back so I know we'll be in the mix," Shaw said. "But I know this, next year will be as crazy as it was this year. And in the South, I don't know who has the edge. But it's going to be exciting."

That's a safe assumption ... until proven otherwise.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 14

November, 30, 2014

Pac-12 has a history of being a buzzkill

November, 19, 2014
Here we are, two weeks left in the regular season, and the Pac-12 once again has a team in contention for a national championship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will this year be different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
A few things we learned this week in the Pac-12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corvallis, the city of broken dreams: There are trap games. And then there are trap games at Reser Stadium. Since 2000, Oregon State has the best home record in FBS football as an unranked team going against a team ranked in the AP top 10 (minimum 10 games), improving to 5-5. Chantel Jennings broke down a few of those for you earlier this week.
At face value, the Week 12 slate in the Pac-12 isn't sexy, particularly when compared to the doozies the conference has enjoyed in recent weeks. Four clubs again have byes, and there's no truly marquee matchup that stands out from the bunch.

The conference has consistently been giving us "are you not entertained?!" moments, so this initial look at this week's docket may trigger some feelings of withdrawal. But we'll stick with the "Gladiator" theme in our search for some perspective. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (the real guy, not the one featured in the movie), might have been a hidden fan of this Week 12 about 1,800 years ago.

"Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee," he said.

And that's exactly what we're going to do. Because while this cluster of games hasn't made the massive initial splash of its predecessors, there's enough material to make for another engaging weekend.

A Tasty Appetizer: California at USC

At 5-4, the Bears are one win away from bowl eligibility. This trip to Los Angeles and home dates against Stanford and BYU remain on the schedule. Conventional wisdom says that final game against the Cougars will be Cal's best chance to notch win No. 6, but since when does conventional wisdom mean anything in college football? The Bears are averaging 42 points per game this season. They trail only Oregon in the Pac-12, and that explosiveness makes them dangerous on a weekly basis. Jared Goff receives the majority of adulation in Berkeley, but he's enjoyed some critical support on the ground: Only two conference running backs have averaged over five yards per carry while rushing for at least 10 touchdowns. Oregon stud Royce Freeman is one, while Cal's Daniel Lasco is the other.

The Bears must maintain this offensive balance to close out the season, because their Pac-12 worst defense simply isn't at the necessary level yet. That's why Cody Kessler (25 touchdowns, two interceptions) is licking his chops this weekend, and that's why this matchup has some potential Thursday night insanity in it. The Trojans have been good against the run defensively, but if Lasco finds some room to work, there'll be a shootout in the Coliseum (the Pac-12 really is built for Gladiator references).

Saturday's first course: Washington at Arizona

Following the dismissal of cornerback Marcus Peters and a number of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Huskies are reeling. Washington has been able to find some success on offense by using Shaq Thompson's top-flight talents at running back, but it was clear during the 44-30 home loss to UCLA that this is a football team struggling with limited resources. Still, there are plenty of intriguing pieces to watch in action here. It sounds as if dinged up national sack leader Hau'oli Kikaha (nation-leading 16.5 sacks) will play this weekend, and that sets the table for a potentially explosive matchup against young quarterback Anu Solomon. The Wildcats, who are coming off a 38-20 win against Colorado, have a strong set of receiving options, and they may pose big problems for a Washington secondary in flux. That'll put even more pressure on Kikaha and the Huskies' pass rush, and considering that unit's ferocity in getting after the quarterback, that's not a bad thing for entertainment purposes.

Don't forget that we'll also have a chance to see Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright work against a sputtering offense. The man's also been a statistical machine, so this game is a chance to watch some of the Pac-12's defensive stars.

Desperation Bowl: Utah at Stanford

In many ways, the 2014 Utes are built like the 2012 Cardinal -- a team that fans in Palo Alto really miss right about now. I wrote about the similarities earlier today while elaborating on the importance of this game for both of these teams. Two consecutive losses (that 51-27 setback to Oregon was brutal, considering how things shook out after Kaelin Clay's infamous mistake) have sent Utah into a slump after a sensational start to the season, while previously mighty Stanford is now in a fight just to attain bowl eligibility.

It feels that both clubs need this game to avoid "total free fall" mode, so this may end up being an entertaining watch, especially if you're a fan of players who love to get after the quarterback. Utah leads the nation with 43 sacks, while Stanford still has some healthy and monstrous pass-rushing talent -- Henry Anderson and Peter Kalambayi come to mind. Expect some violent takedowns in this one.

Game with biggest College Football Playoff implications: Arizona State at Oregon State

Our Ted Miller astutely noted that the Sun Devils' 55-31 win against Notre Dame was actually a three-game series: ASU won Game 1, 34-3, dropped Game 2, 28-0, and sealed the rubber match, 21-0. By the time the desert dust had settled, Todd Graham's team had fully overcome its 62-27 September debacle against UCLA.

The Sun Devils obviously aren't perfect, but their two excellent surges against the Irish proved that there's been a whole heck of a lot of improvement going on in Tempe. At this point, the Sun Devils should strive to continue their steady build heading into the Nov. 28 Territorial Cup. Oregon State's slide has reached severe levels with last week's 39-32 home loss to Connor Halliday-less Washington State, and ASU gets those same Cougars at home after this contest in Corvallis. Of course, the Sun Devils must be wary of a letdown, but the stars seem to be aligning for that match-up against the hated Wildcats with everything on the line.

Then again, conventional wisdom doesn't apply to Pac-12 football, so make sure to watch without making any prior assumptions.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 10

November, 2, 2014
A look at the Pac-12's top players in Week 10.

Shaq Thompson, RB, Washington: The Huskies need offense more than they need defense, and Thompson is the defintion of firepower. As a linebacker, he has scored a nation-high four defensive touchdowns this season. As a running back in Washington's 38-23 win over Colorado, Thompson was also a monster: 15 carries, 175 yards, and a touchdown. That's a sweet 11.7 yards a pop to go with over 200 all-purpose yards.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC: This was smooth sailing for the Trojans. Kessler utilized his arsenal of weapons, completing 21 passes to six different receivers in USC's 44-17 win over Washington State. The quarterback's final line was gaudy: 21-for-32, 400 yards, five touchdowns. That's a gaudy 12.5 yards per attempt. Kessler is (rather quietly) assembling a very productive season for Steve Sarkisian's team.

Nelson Agholor, WR, USC: This receiver's performance was anything but quiet on Saturday: 8 catches, 220 yards, and an 87-yard touchdown reception. The Trojans are a force to be reckoned with in space, and Agholor is the veteran leader of the team's deep playmaking corps.

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: An eye-opening career is over in Pullman after Halliday broke his fibula in gruesome fashion. The senior was on pace to break the NCAA single-season passing record. That obviously won't happen anymore, but Halliday deserves a helmet sticker on his unfortunate final day in a Wazzu uniform.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: A year after Stanford bulldozed Oregon with the power run, the Ducks gave the Cardinal a taste of their own medicine -- and they did it behind another muscle-flexing performance from this true freshman. Freeman popped pads against Stanford's top-ranked defense to the tune of 98 yards on 19 carries, while Thomas Tyner provided some tough running of his own (10 carries, 63 yards). The Ducks exposed the Cardinal 45-16.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: He only caught five balls for 77 yards on Saturday, but it seems like every single one of Strong's grabs came in clutch situations. The guy is aptly named, he soars over defensive backs, and has hands of glue. The Sun Devils feed off their reliable target, who combined with running back Demario Richard (14 carries, 116 yards) to deliver for the offense in ASU's 19-16 overtime win over Utah.

UCLA defense: The Bruins had not been very good defensively in the weeks leading up to this matchup against Arizona's potent attack, so their stifling performance garnered some attention Saturday. UCLA allowed the Wildcats only 3.2 yards per play and flustered quarterback Anu Solomon into an 18-for-48 performance (it must be noted that Arizona also dropped numerous passes). This was a welcome resurgence for the Baby Blue, which won 17-7.

Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona: He continues to be a machine. Wright's stat line: 19 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks. No forced fumbles this time, but he's already registered three of those this season.
Some things we learned this week in the Pac-12:

Oregon solved its Stanford problem: If folks want to say that Oregon made a statement, or that Marcus Mariota made a Heisman statement ... that’s fine. The simple fact is Oregon was just the better team in its 45-16 win. The offense was fearless, going right at the heart of Stanford’s vaunted defense by rushing for 267 yards and four touchdowns. Mariota finished 19-of-30 for 258 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 85 yards and two scores. For the record, Oregon is 16-0 when Mariota rushes for a touchdown.

Stanford’s reign is over: It was a good run, but with three conference losses, the Cardinal will not be playing in the Pac-12 championship game. For your consideration: Stanford had held opponents to fewer than 30 points in 31 straight games, going back to its 54-48 OT win over Arizona in 2012. In this era of Pac-12 football, that’s an awfully impressive stat -- and a reminder of how well Oregon played.

Can’t count out the Bruins: Oh, those penalties (11 for 118 yards). Baffling, at times, how a team with so much talent can unload like a Gatling gun all over its feet. And yet it was the feet of quarterback Brett Hundley -- who rushed for 131 yards -- that helped carry the Bruins to a 17-7 win over No. 12 Arizona. With Washington, USC and Stanford still on the docket, the Bruins need some help, but aren’t out of the South picture yet -- especially if the defense can play like it did Saturday.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThere's something about playing UCLA in the Rose Bowl that brings out the worst in Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez's offense.
Cats have to get in sync: Arizona has now lost two of three and is in danger of slipping completely out of the conversation in the South. Anu Solomon was just 18-of-48 for 175 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Credit the UCLA defense, which was outstanding. But 255 yards of offense and one touchdown aren’t going to cut it for Arizona in a stretch run which includes three of its last four against South Division teams. Arizona’s two worst performances under Rich Rodriguez (in terms of total yards) have come against UCLA, including a 257-yard effort in 2012.

In praise of Connor Halliday: Few quarterbacks took more hits or played through more pain over the last few years. Whether it was fighting through a lacerated liver or the countless bumps and bruises he’s endured over his career, Halliday always stood in the pocket, took his licks, and bounced back up. His WSU career is over after suffering a broken leg in the Cougars' 44-17 loss to USC. The Pac-12 blog wishes him the best in his recovery.

USC can salvage its season: The Trojans are bowl eligible. That was expected, so good for Troy. And while USC is still looking up at a few teams in the South Division after losses to Utah and Arizona State, there is still noise to be made with games against Notre Dame and UCLA. Its victory, while dampened by the unfortunate, aforementioned injury to Halliday, was still complete and dominating in all three phases.

ASU is for real: Time to start taking this team seriously on both sides of the ball. For all the guff the defense took for having to replace all of those starters, it has allowed only 36 points in its last three games. The 19-16 overtime win over Utah is quality. The Sun Devils have won four straight since the UCLA debacle and are peaking with Notre Dame coming to town. Win that one, and why can’t we start talking about ASU for the playoff?

Utah has to rebound: Of all the scenarios for how the game against ASU could have gone, Andy Phillips missing an OT field goal -- twice -- had to be low on the list. The Utes don’t have time to lick their wounds with Oregon, Stanford, Arizona and Colorado still looming. They are bowl eligible, and that’s great. But a five-game losing skid to close out the year seems just as plausible as a 4-1 finish if they can't leave this one in the past.

California rising: The Golden Bears aren’t going bowling yet, but they got a heck of a lot closer with a critical 45-31 road win over Oregon State. Lost in all the Bear Raid stuff is that this is a pretty good running team, and Daniel Lasco is quietly having one of the better seasons from a Pac-12 running back. The proof was his 30-carry, 188-yard, three-touchdown performance Saturday. Cal has to find one more win among USC, Stanford and BYU. This sliver of the Pac-12 blog thinks it will.

Passing champ: Hats off to OSU’s Sean Mannion, who passed former USC quarterback Matt Barkley to become the league’s all-time leading passer. He now has 12,454 career passing yards. For as frustrating a season as it’s been for the Beavers -- whose postseason hopes are dwindling each week -- it’s an amazing accomplishment that should not go unmarked.

Washington can be efficient offensively: Nothing wrong with your quarterback going 13-of-19 for 206 yards with a couple of scores and no interceptions in a 38-23 win. Nothing wrong with your star linebacker rushing for 174 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown. (By the way, it’s a pity Shaq Thompson is not getting more recognition nationally for being an amazing all-around player.) The fumbles are a concern. But the Huskies keep finding creative ways to score -- be it offense, special teams or defense. A big test looms against a surging UCLA team next week. Let the Shaq-Myles Jack storylines begin ...

Colorado is its own worst enemy: Buffaloes fans don’t want to hear “at least they are playing better.” Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. Colorado looked pretty good the first 25 minutes or so against Washington. But four turnovers, including a pick-six, were costly as the Buffs blew three different 10-point leads. It’s one thing to say Colorado is going to shock someone. Now it’s time to actually do it. The postseason is officially out of the picture, but three ranked teams in Arizona, Oregon and Utah remain. The Buffs can’t dance, but they can certainly trip someone up. Or so we keep saying ...

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
All times Pacific

10 a.m.

Washington at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

The Buffaloes are desperate for a conference win, and given Washington’s horrendous offensive struggles, this looks to be their best remaining chance. The Huskies can still wreak havoc defensively, though, so they’re the favorites entering this game. Cyler Miles will be back under center for Washington, which will try to escape Boulder with greater ease than UCLA, who beat the Buffs in double overtime, did last week.

1:30 p.m.

USC at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

Connor Halliday's passing yardage totals continue to light up box scores on a weekly basis, but Cougars losses are piling up just as quickly. Washington State must win out just to finish .500 this season, and that outcome appears highly unlikely. USC might be hurting after a close loss at Utah that also cost them left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but there’s a lot here for Wazzu to handle between Cody Kessler, his explosive targets, and Javorius Allen.

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsWill Marcus Mariota and Oregon solve Stanford, or will the Cardinal pluck the Ducks again?
4:30 p.m.

Stanford at Oregon, FOX

Don’t let the Cardinal’s three losses fool you: This is still a titanic match-up between the nation’s most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing only 3.7 yards per play, best in FBS) and its best quarterback (Marcus Mariota’s 192.2 rating is No. 1). However, it’s the other side of the ball that might ultimately decide the winner in the Ducks’ revenge effort. Stanford’s offense, though recently revamped, is averaging a league-worst 14.7 points per game on the road, while Oregon’s defense has not been airtight this season.

7:30 p.m.

California at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network

Sean Mannion will likely break the Pac-12’s career record for passing yards in this game, as the current mark, held by USC’s Matt Barkley, is just over 200 yards away. Fittingly, the quarterback on the other side -- Cal sophomore Jared Goff -- has a legitimate shot to re-break that record if he’s still around in two years. This one will be fun because it features two talented quarterbacks and an air of desperation, as both teams need a win to stay on reasonable track for bowl eligibility.

Arizona at UCLA, ESPN

It’s put up-or-shut up time in Westwood. The Bruins have squeaked by two lower-tier Pac-12 teams in Cal and Colorado. The road becomes more difficult with resurgent Arizona visiting. The Wildcats fired on all cylinders at Washington State last week, and Anu Solomon is certainly excited to test the shaky Bruins defense with the likes of Nick Wilson and Austin Hill. Meanwhile, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III has forced five fumbles this season, while UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has turned the ball over eight times. Keep an eye on the Bruins’ ability to protect the football.

8 p.m.

Utah at Arizona State, Fox Sports 1

So, how much has Arizona State’s defense — particularly its stoutness against the run — improved? We’ll find out when Utah’s Devontae Booker (leading the Pac-12 at 166 rushing yards per conference game) tests Tempe to wrap up Saturday. The Sun Devils had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight games before stifling Stanford. Washington also had some success against them on the ground last week (but none through the air), so this duel in the desert represents a true litmus test for both teams. The winner will be in excellent position when it comes to the race for the Pac-12 South crown.
About this time of year coaches scour junior college ranks for offensive line talent, and thathas helped Tyler Howell become one of hottest targets around. Plus, is Clemson in danger of losing ESPN 300 commitment Juwuan Briscoe?

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Marcus Mariota threw for 326 yards and five touchdowns as No. 6 Oregon rang in the first college football game at Levi's Stadium with a 59-41 win. Cal kept it interesting for a while -- it trailed 31-28 late in the first half -- but the Bears aren't quite ready to seriously compete with a team of Oregon's caliber. Here's what happened.

How the game was won: Oregon scored and scored and scored. Then it kept scoring. For Cal to have had a chance to pull out a miracle, it would have needed a big edge in the turnover battle, but despite Mariota's first interception of the season -- which needed two Cal players to tip it first -- that didn't happen.

Game ball goes to: Oregon WR Byron Marshall. Playing 15 miles north of his high school, Marshall contributed as a receiver (4 catches, 133 yards, 1 touchdown) and carrying the ball (7 carries, 57 yards).

What it means: They are who we thought they were. Both teams. Oregon piled up 592 yards of offense and cruised in the second half, while Cal continued to show progress. It was the fourth game this year that Cal and its opponent both accumulated at least 560 yards of offense. Only one other team in the country (Bowling Green) has been involved in two such games.

Playoff implication: No change here. Oregon remains the Pac-12’s best bet at a playoff berth and is in good position as the top-ranked one-loss team outside the SEC. However, the Ducks' performance on defense will undoubtedly raise some red flags for the College Football Playoff selection committee.

What's next: Oregon (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) hosts Stanford at Autzen Stadium next week, where it will try to end a two-year skid against the Cardinal. With two wins needed for bowl eligibility, Cal (4-4, 2-4) has an important game at Oregon State. The Bears have No. 20 USC, Stanford and BYU after that to try to get to six.