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Monday, October 15, 2012
2012 Pac-12 midseason report

By Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell

Six teams are up and six teams are down if you compare our Week 1 Pac-12 power rankings to our Week 8 power rankings.

No team is exactly where we projected it to be in the preseason. So, yeah, we nailed it!

Oregon State and Arizona State gained the most ground, with both advancing seven spots to Nos. 2 and 4, respectively. The biggest drop belonged to Utah, which fell six spots to No. 10, and Washington State, which tumbled four to No. 12.

Yet really, it feels like the biggest news at midseason is the change at the top.

USC was a strong Pac-12 favorite in the preseason. It ranked No. 1 in the preseason AP poll and No. 3 in the coaches' poll. Oregon was the consensus second pick, a top-five team, yes, but decidedly in the shadows of Matt Barkley & Co.

But the Ducks are now atop the Pac-12, unbeaten and ranked third in the initial BCS standings, in great position to play for the national title. Meanwhile, USC lost at Stanford and is 10th in the BCS standings.

Still, Oregon and USC meet Nov. 3. That game could play a role in deciding who plays for the national title.

Four new coaches were hired this offseason in the conference, and three are doing well, most notably Arizona State's Todd Graham. While a favorable schedule helped the Sun Devils roar to a 5-1 start, with the Ducks coming to town Thursday, the way they have looked -- efficient, disciplined, potent -- is notable.

UCLA and Arizona are both slightly ahead of expectations under Jim Mora and Rich Rodriguez, respectively. Both have posted wins over ranked teams, and both are in good position to earn bowl berths.

The same can't be said for Washington State coach Mike Leach. His Cougars (2-5) have been slow to pick up new schemes. Leach hasn't clicked with the Cougars' returning talent on offense, thought to be pretty darn good in the preseason.

As far as the coaching hot seat, in the preseason most viewed California coach Jeff Tedford and Oregon State's Mike Riley to be in the most trouble. Riley has rallied the Beavers into the top 10. Hot seat talk in Corvallis has been replaced by coach of the year chants. Tedford's seat with his 3-4 team remains decidedly warm.

Finally, there's the Heisman. Barkley was the preseason favorite, but the Trojans' passing attack has been oddly muted. Oregon's do-everything back De'Anthony Thomas remains in the picture, but his fancy-pants playmaking also has been fairly quiet.

A dark horse to get into the race for the bronze statue? Don't look now, but Arizona State sophomore QB Taylor Kelly is third in the nation in passing efficiency through Saturday. If he leads the Sun Devils to an upset of the Ducks and puts up big numbers in the process, his name may start appearing on Heisman lists.

Little has gone according to plan in the season's first half. It's possible we shall reach the same conclusion over the second half.

Offensive MVP, Taylor Kelly: He's playing the quarterback position as well as any in the country right now, completing 68 percent of his passes, with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Even more impressive, both of those interceptions came in one game, meaning he's been turnover-free in the other five. Obviously this week is a huge test for him, but you can't argue with what he's done the first half of the season.

Will Sutton
Arizona State's Will Sutton is a disruptive presence on the defensive line.
Defensive MVP, Will Sutton: Tough call here, but arguably no player has been more disruptive than Sutton. He's second nationally in sacks and fifth nationally in tackles for a loss. Within the conference, he's first in both categories. His first step has been almost impossible for teams to stop. Oregon State's Jordan Poyer was a close second.

Biggest surprise, Oregon State: You could also place Arizona State in this category, but at least it was a bowl team last year. Oregon State is coming off a 3-9 season and finds itself sitting with a 5-0 record and No. 8 spot in the BCS standings. It's coming together beautifully for the Beavers on both sides of the ball, and they showed the true meaning of a team win with last week's performance at BYU.

Biggest disappointment: Washington State. The Air Raid will get there. It's just not going to be this year. Twice, the heralded offensive attack of Leach has been held without an offensive touchdown, and the inconsistencies at quarterback have only worsened matters. Naturally, there have been flashes of positive play. But this offense is designed for more than just 21.1 points per game.

Newcomer, Marcus Mariota: Kelly certainly applies here, but so does Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has taken control of one of the top offenses in the country. In helping the Ducks to a 6-0 start and No. 3 ranking in the BCS standings, Mariota is completing 67.9 percent of his throws with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions. Chip Kelly often talks about how Mariota doesn't make the same mistakes twice, exactly what you want to see from a young player.

Best coach: Todd Graham or Mike Riley? Mike Riley or Todd Graham? Both are deserving, but we're leaning toward Riley for now, simply because of the perfect record, the high national ranking and the significant turnaround from last year's record. He also took over the offensive play calling this year, and you can see the spike in efficiency. Coincidence? Probably not.