NCF Nation: B.J. Denker


TUCSON, Ariz. -- It became clear this spring that senior Jesse Scroggins, a transfer from USC, is going to be Arizona's starting quarterback this fall.

Check that. Scroggins is still too inconsistent, see a bad interception in the spring game on Saturday. True Wildcats insiders know that coach Rich Rodriguez wants a guy who's smart and takes care of the football. That's clearly Texas transfer Connor Brewer, who makes up for a lack of arm strength with passing accuracy and good instincts.

Yawn. We've been talking to people who know people. It's impossible to ignore Jerrard Randall's upside. The LSU transfer has the biggest arm, despite a quirky throwing motion, and the quickness to run the spread-option.

OK, folks. We weren't going to say anything but we hate when misinformation gets out there on some message board. The real scuttlebutt concerns not merely an evaluation of the Wildcats' 15 spring practices but also a savvy projecting forward. The light has started to flicker for redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, and when it goes completely on, he's the guy who will be under center on Aug. 29 against UNLV.

[+] EnlargeJesse Scroggins
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY SportsUSC transfer Jesse Scroggins is one of four who are in the running for Arizona's starting QB job.
It might feel like we are being flip with this, but this is fairly close to the reality in Tucson right now. Everybody has an opinion on Arizona's difficult-to-read four-man quarterback competition, and even folks who have watched many of the closed practices have different takes. One told the Pac-12 blog he likes Brewer. Another said Scroggins had pushed slightly ahead. Another suggested the best bet was a combination of Scroggins and Randall.

While it's a good bet that Rodriguez and his QB coach/co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith have developed some idea of a pecking order this spring, you also get the feeling that even their takes have some fluidity.

“I’m not being coy," Rodriguez said after the spring game, seeming just a bit coy. "But I wanna see what they do in August and throughout the whole summer.”

What makes this competition so intriguing is whoever ends up winning the job is probably going to end up putting up A-list numbers, perhaps even breaking into the All-Pac-12 conversation with established stars such as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and Oregon State's Sean Mannion.

Ridiculous? Not when you consider what Rodriguez and Smith have done with their past two first-year starters in Matt Scott and B.J. Denker, both of whom put up notable dual-threat numbers. And not when you consider the offensive supporting cast, particularly what might be the deepest crew of receivers in the country.

How deep? The Wildcats go at least eight-deep at the position, with their second four being comparable to many teams' starting four. How deep? One observer wondered whether Nate Phillips would fall into the top four. Phillips was only a freshman All-American last season, leading the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. How deep? It's likely a number of the receivers will see time at running back and even get looks in the secondary, an area where the Wildcats are far less capable.

"We have a good problem to have a wideout right now," Smith said. "We'd like to roll four out there, run them, run them, run them. And then roll four more out there and not miss a beat. That's kind of where they are at right now."

I'm not being coy. But I wanna see what they do in August and throughout the whole summer.

-- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, on his QB competition
Not only are six of the top seven receivers back from last season, but the Wildcats also welcome the return of Austin Hill, who put up huge numbers and earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012 before missing last season with a knee injury. Further, two transfers, DaVonte' Neal (Notre Dame) and Cayleb Jones (Texas) are big-time talents -- the Nos. 8- and 147-rated players in the nation in the 2012 recruiting class, according to ESPN.com -- who are likely to earn starting spots. Both scored impressive touchdowns in the spring game.

While the Wildcats are replacing All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey, and that competition also continues to be wide open, there doesn't seem to be nearly as much intrigue there. Arizona's veteran offensive line is almost certain to make at least one of the backs a 1,000-yard rusher, though it appears there will be a far more committee approach than with Carey.

In terms of analyzing the general tenor of spring practices, there are some hints at what the coaches are thinking at QB. Scroggins, Solomon and Brewer -- coming out in that order in the spring game -- each worked with the first-team offense, while Randall saw action with the 2s.

Scroggins, as a senior, had the most to lose this spring. Therefore, his generally encouraging performance -- far more focused and efficient than he was last year while not putting up much of a challenge to Denker -- means he probably made up the most ground.

"He's gotten better," Rodriguez said. "We were really concerned whether Jesse could execute what we want from a mental and physical standpoint. That's the bottom line for all the guys. We had doubts coming into the spring. He erased some of them. Not all of them. But because he's gotten more comfortable with our plays and what it requires to execute them he's put himself in the mix."

Both Smith and Rodriguez also said it won't count against Scroggins that he's the only senior, though his winning the job would mean a fourth consecutive season with a first-year starter in 2015.

[+] EnlargeNate Phillips
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesNate Phillips, who led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs in 2013, is part of a deep group of receivers.
Brewer, a redshirt sophomore, almost seems comparable to Denker, though he's not as capable a runner. He had the best numbers in the spring game, completing 8 of 12 passes for 71 yards and two TDs.

"Connor is a smart guy," Rodriguez said. "He's got a little bit of experience. He understands football. He's a competitive guy. But he's going to have -- I don't want to say be perfect -- but he has to execute because he's not going to be able to outrun or out-throw someone. But he does have some skills. He's helped himself this spring."

With Solomon, a redshirt freshman, there are undeniable flashes, but it's also clear Rodriguez and Smith are challenging his intensity, focus and dedication. They believe he coasted during his redshirt season, and both talk about him needing to reach "another level."

"Sometimes he fools us," Rodriguez said. "He knows more than we think he knows with the system, but he hasn't taken the next step."

Randall is the wild card. The other three QBs were in Tucson last fall. He's the only complete newbie to the offense. He's also pretty raw. But when he does something like, oh, casually flick the ball 70-plus yards, it's difficult to not raise an eyebrow.

"He's got an unbelievable arm, sometimes too strong," Rodriguez said. "He's got great quickness and can run. He's really done a good job. We've kind of forced-fed him. His head has probably been spinning in every practice. But the development he's made in 15 practices has been really good. Even though he's behind the other guys mentally, I think physically he makes up for it. He's going to be in the mix."

None of the quarterbacks were made available to the media after the spring game, and it's pretty clear the coaches and Arizona's sports information staff have done a thorough job of schooling players on not revealing a personal preference or hinting at a perceived pecking order. The furthest any would go was Hill admitting that he wished he knew the pecking order so he could prioritize whom he threw with over the summer.

So no clarity behind center. The Wildcats' deep and talented crew of receivers heads into the offseason, not unlike an orchestra awaiting a conductor.
On Thursday, we looked at the Pac-12 North Division. Today, we turn to the South:

ARIZONA

Spring start: March 3
Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  • QB competition: Coach Rich Rodriguez has used first-year starters in his first two seasons at Arizona and will make it three-for-three in 2014. For the most part, things worked with both Matt Scott and more recently B.J. Denker, which should make Wildcats fans optimistic about what should be a wide-open competition.
  • Replacing Carey: As intriguing as the quarterback competition will be, the battle to replace all-time great Ka'Deem Carey at running back could be more important. None of the returning running backs had a carry last year, which led to this comment from Rodriguez: "Now it’s a mystery. That’s going to be one of the positions, like quarterback, that will be kind of open to see if we can get guys to get better."
  • Keep Austin healthy: After tearing his ACL last spring following a breakout season in which he caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns, receiver Austin Hill has been given a clean bill of health. Said Rodriguez: "He is still wearing the knee brace but I think it is a little bit more precautionary. He is 100 percent doing everything. He’s even a bit bigger and stronger so he should have a big spring. I know he’s hungry to get out there, too."
ARIZONA STATE

Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • OL changes: Auburn transfer Christian Westerman, a prototypical guard, could be the Sun Devils' best offensive lineman, which makes things interesting considering both starting guards -- Jamil Douglas and Vi Teofilo -- will be back next year. Douglas, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection, has worked at tackle in the past and could shift outside to replace first-team All-Pac-12 left tackle Evan Finkenberg.
  • Getting defensive: Coach Todd Graham's college roommate, Keith Patterson, has arrived as the defensive coordinator, but Graham will remain the play-caller and Chris Ball's title will still read co-defensive coordinator. Got all that? New coaching dynamics get sorted out in the spring, too.
  • Looking for replacements: On defense, ASU needs to replace seven starters, highlighted by DT Will Sutton, LB Carl Bradford and CBs Robert Nelson and Alden Darby. If ASU is to build off its impressive 2013 season, those holes need to be filled quickly. They'll benefit from a schedule that starts with Weber State, New Mexico, Colorado and a bye, but after that the Sun Devils have UCLA, USC and Stanford in a span of four weeks.
COLORADO

Spring start: March 3
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • QB development: Sefo Liufau's development will be interesting if for nothing else than because the jump from Year 1 starter to Year 2 starter is always intriguing with quarterbacks. It's tempting to assume a big statistical jump is coming, but it's not always that simple (see: Hogan, Kevin; Mannion, Sean; Hundley, Brett). Liufau will need to get on the same page with his receivers as they combine to …
  • … Replace Paul Richardson: Look for Nelson Spruce, D.D Goodson and Tyler McCulloch to lead what will be a much more balanced receiving corps following Richardson's early departure for the NFL. Spruce was the Buffs' second-leading receiver last year, but Goodson, going into his second season at receiver, figures to make the biggest jump.
  • Rising expectations: It took MacIntyre three years to turn San Jose State into a winner, but there was a four-win improvement in the second year. He won't match that with the Buffs, but a two-win improvement gets Colorado bowl eligible. Colorado has a chance to match last year's win total (4) in the first five games next year: vs. Colorado State, at Massachusetts, Arizona State, Hawaii, at Cal. In fact, it's probably the internal expectation.
UCLA

Spring start: April 1
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Manage expectations: The Bruins are in new territory this offseason with expectations through the roof. They'll likely be a preseason top-10 team, which will drum up chatter about a potential national championship run. Likely message from coach Jim Mora: "Tune out the noise."
  • The #Hundley4Heisman campaign: It's a real thing and Mora threw his weight behind it when he tweeted the hashtag on Jan. 26 with a picture of the Heisman Trophy. Get used to reading "Heisman candidate" next to "Brett Hundley" a lot between now and September. At times, it might feel unavoidable.
  • Leading rusher? They're set at quarterback and bring a lot of talent back at both receiver and on the offensive line, but the running back situation isn't as clear. Hundley was the team's leading rusher in 2013, but someone needs to step up to take pressure off him and LB/RB Myles Jack. It's an important spring for both Jordan James and Paul Perkins, who had varying degrees of success last year.
USC

Spring start: March 11
Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Under center? Cody Kessler is back, but coach Steve Sarkisian immediately made it known there would be an open competition for the quarterback job. Max Wittek is no longer around, but Kessler should get a serious challenge from redshirt freshman Max Browne. With a new offense to learn, spring will essentially serve as preparation period for the real competition during fall camp.
  • Catch your breath: The most noticeable change in USC during the first game will be how much faster it's playing offensively. Sarkisian installed a high-tempo offense at Washington last year and, pleased with the results, will continue to press the tempo with the Trojans. Goodbye, huddles.
  • Change it up: As is the case when new coaching staffs arrive, there will likely be a higher percentage of position changes than usual and a more fluid depth chart. It's hard to peg exactly where that'll occur with USC, but it'll be worth monitoring throughout the spring.
UTAH

Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Wilson's road back: Travis Wilson is expected to be the Utes' starting quarterback next season, but he'll be limited to non-contact drills during the spring. That's about the best news Wilson could have received following an early November discovery that he had an undiagnosed injury to an intracranial artery -- a condition that threatened his career. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson will not join the team until after he graduates in May, but he'll be immediately eligible to play.
  • Revolving OC door: Dave Christensen moves in, Dennis Erickson moves over and Brian Johnson moves out. Kyle Whittingham introduced the Utes' seventh offensive coordinator is seven years in early January. Christensen believes in similar philosophies to what the Utes had under Erickson/Johnson, but the terminology will change and the tempo will increase.
  • Pressure building? Utah was used to winning big before it got to the Pac-12 in 2011. Whittingham lost just 20 games in his six full seasons as the school's head coach while a member of the Mountain West Conference. In the three years since, Utah's dropped 19 and qualified for just one bowl. No one should doubt Whittingham's ability as a coach -- he's a good one -- but the jump in competition has been difficult.

AdvoCare V100 Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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Two of the nation’s best running backs will face off when Arizona and Boston College meet Tuesday in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl (12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Shreveport, La. A few key players and matchups to watch:

Who to watch: Boston College’s Heisman finalist running back Andre Williams. The Doak Walker Award winner gets a chance to add on to his 2,102 rushing yards and showcase his talents to not only a national audience but plenty of NFL scouts who want to know if he’s the real deal. If this is your first time seeing the nation’s leading rusher work his bruising magic, you should be in for a treat.

What to watch: Is this it for Ka’Deem Carey? Arizona’s star back could go pro after this game, but not before he tries for his 16th consecutive 100-yard game. Since the start of the 2012 season, no running back has more rushing yards than Carey’s 3,645. Whether or not this is his last game in blue and red, expect big numbers.

Why to watch: Both teams have shown flashes of how good they can be. Arizona blew out a No. 5 Oregon team 42-16 last month. Boston College knocked off Virginia Tech and led entering the fourth quarter in a close loss to Clemson. Which one these seven-win squads can put it all together and ride their run game to a strong finish?

Prediction: Arizona 31, Boston College 24: The Eagles are the hotter team, having won four of their last five to get to Shreveport, but quarterback B.J. Denker should step up big just as he did against Oregon and guide Arizona to a close win in his finale.

Stakes high for ASU, Arizona

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
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In terms of general bitterness, the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry over the Territorial Cup is pretty darn underrated nationally. That's understandable, though, because the game rarely has much national relevance. One team can be up or down, but it's been rare that both are good and playing for more than state pride.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesTodd Graham (left) and Taylor Kelly are directing one of the Pac-12's best offense, but will be missing their top rusher.
That’s why Saturday’s meeting feels a bit different. For the first time since 1986, both teams enter the game with at least seven wins. Most notable: Arizona State needs to beat the Wildcats to secure home-field advantage for the Pac-12 title game against Stanford on Dec. 7.

How much does that matter? The Sun Devils are 6-0 at home this year with an average margin of victory of 26.8 points per game, including wins over two ranked teams, Wisconsin and USC, as well as a blowout victory over Washington. They are 3-2 on the road, with a 42-28 loss at Stanford, a game that was 39-7 entering the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats are trying to upgrade their own bowl prospects while playing the role of spoiler. And Arizona fans, who have never experienced a Rose Bowl, want to make it as difficult as possible for the Sun Devils to get to the Granddaddy for a third time.

Both teams are coming off the biggest victories their second-year head coaches have produced. Todd Graham and the Sun Devils captured the South Division crown with a win at UCLA last weekend. A road win like that -- over a quality foe with high stakes -- is something that has been tough to come by for ASU through the years. Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats ended No. 5 Oregon's Rose Bowl hopes with a shocking 42-16 blowout win.

The game sets up to be hotly contested. Seven of the last nine matchups have been decided by a TD or less. The past four games have been decided by a total of 15 points. And home field often doesn't matter. The visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four.

“I don’t worry about all that stuff,” Graham said. “I don’t think what happened last year has anything to do with this year. People have a whole bunch of time in their hands to spend analyzing stuff. We don’t overanalyze it.”

Despite that harrumph, Graham probably feels pretty good about what happened last year. His team won 41-34, overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in front of a stunned Tucson crowd.

But the typically loquacious Graham might have been grumpy Monday during his news conference because his star running back Marion Grice is highly questionable with what appears to be an ankle injury he suffered in the fourth quarter at UCLA. Grice has been a TD machine this year, leading the Pac-12 and ranking fifth in the nation with 10.7 points per game. Grice also ranks first in the Pac-12 and fourth nationally in all-purpose yards with 176.5 per game.

QB Taylor Kelly is the Sun Devils second-leading rusher, though Deantre Lewis and D.J. Foster are capable backup running backs.

The most obvious personnel change between these two teams compared to last year is Arizona replacing QB Matt Scott with B.J. Denker. The Wildcats are scoring just five fewer points per game than in 2012, but the more notable development is the Wildcats dramatic defensive improvement, something that should put coordinator Jeff Casteel in line for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach.

The Wildcats are yielding nearly two fewer touchdowns per game this year compared to 2012 (21.6 points per game versus to 35.3 ppg in 2012). They are giving up 100 fewer yards per game (399 vs. 499) and nearly 40 fewer yards rushing per game (206.2 vs. 166.6). They've risen from ninth in the conference in pass efficiency defense to fourth. And they just held Oregon to its lowest point total of the season.

[+] EnlargeJeff Casteel
AP Photo/John MillerRich Rodriguez (right) has a signature win at Arizona after defeating Oregon, but it's been the play of Jeff Casteel's defense that has been surprising.
Of course, the Sun Devils are no slouch on defense either. Playing against a tougher schedule than the Wildcats, they've yielded the same total on yards per play -- 5.2 -- and rank second in the conference in total defense and third in run defense.

"They have nine seniors starting on defense and five senior backups," Rodriguez noted. "That might be the oldest defense in college football.”

It's actually seven senior starters, but Rodriguez's point is it is a veteran unit. The Wildcats start five seniors.

While the game has more tangible meaning for Graham and Arizona State, it might have more intangible meaning for Rodriguez. For one, it would be fair to say he and Graham don't have a terribly warm relationship. And in a battle for state supremacy, Rodriguez doesn't want to find himself in a 0-2 hole against Graham as they battle for state supremacy. So, yeah, this one is important for myriad reasons.

Said Rodriguez: “You’d have to be living under a rock if you play for Arizona and don’t realize how important the ASU rivalry is.”
Last Nov. 3, Arizona headed to UCLA riding a hot streak. It had won two in a row, obliterating Washington 52-17 and shocking then-No. 9 USC 39-36. The Wildcats were squarely in the Pac-12 South Division race.

Then Arizona made like a rotten Halloween pumpkin being hurled off the roof of a 50-story building. The Bruins delivered a 66-10 smashing that was pretty much over after the first quarter.

"Why did you have to bring it up?" replied Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez when asked about what went wrong. "About everything did. ... There wasn't a single thing we did well, in any phase. If you want to know what went wrong, it was everything."

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesUCLA coach Jim Mora believes last year's blowout win against Arizona is "irrelevant" to this year's game.
UCLA led 21-0 after the first quarter and 42-3 at halftime. The Bruins outgained the Wildcats 611 yards to 257. Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey would go on to lead the nation in rushing, but he managed just 54 yards on 16 carries against the Bruins. That was a season low, as was his 3.4 yards per carry.

UCLA wasn't 56 points better than the Wildcats, who finished last season 8-5. It was just one of those games. The Bruins played well in all phases and the Wildcats played poorly.

Funny thing about games like that, though. The losing coach tends to volunteer a better memory of it. The winning coach wants his players to erase their recollection and any residual feelings that might influence their perception of how and why things went down as they did.

As Bruins coach Jim Mora effused, "It's pretty irrelevant to us."

Mora's Bruins are headed to Tucson to again face the Wildcats in another key South clash on Saturday night. He doesn't want his players to think this game will be easy just because last year's was. And Rodriguez is hoping his players might compete with a little more edge and focus, knowing they got humiliated last year in by far the team's worst performance in Rodriguez's first season.

"I would hope just from a competitor's standpoint, when you didn't play well against somebody, you'd want to have another chance to show you are a little bit better than what you did," Rodriguez said.

Last year's game also had another notable occurrence: B.J. Denker had to come off the bench for an injured Matt Scott, who suffered a concussion, and Denker would make his first career start the following weekend against Colorado.

While Denker is a much different and better quarterback than he was a year ago, this game more likely turns on Carey looking like a player trying to lead the nation in rushing for a second consecutive season rather than the guy he was in last year's UCLA-Arizona game.

Carey leads the nation with 153.1 yards rushing per game and averages a strong 5.7 yards per carry. While the Bruins' run defense has yielded some yards -- 167.6 per game, which ranks eighth in the Pac-12 -- it limits opposing runners to 3.9 yards per carry, which is tied for fifth in the conference.

Carey was largely irrelevant in last year's game because the Wildcats fell behind by a large margin, forcing them to throw, and throw ineffectively.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsArizona will need a big performance from running back Ka'Deem Carey, who leads the nation in rushing yards per game this season.
Arizona can't afford to let the Bruins get off to another fast start and take Carey -- and the crowd -- out of the game. Mora certainly knows that Carey is where everything starts for the Wildcats offense.

"This guy, I don't think you stop him," Mora said. "He's too good. He's leading the nation in rushing. You just hope to contain him a little bit, not let him break the long ones."

While Mora didn't have many thoughts about last year's game, he did have some ideas about why Carey is again putting up such big numbers.

"He runs hard," Mora said. "He's got great vision. He's good after contact. He's elusive. He's powerful. He's a slasher. He can catch it in the open field. He can break the long one. He can get the tough yards up inside. He's got all the attributes you look for in a great running back."

The good news for the Bruins is they have a strong defensive front seven, a 3-4 scheme anchored by a crew of linebackers who rank among the nation's best.

Yet defense is also where Arizona is most different from 2012. The Wildcats wore down last year on defense in the first year of using Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme. An inexperienced unit that wasn't that talented in the first place was hit hard by injuries. This year, the Wildcats rank among the Pac-12 leaders in most defensive categories. While still not exactly loaded with future NFL talent, particularly on the defensive line, the Wildcats are playing good team defense.

That said, the best offenses on the Wildcats' schedule have yet to be faced, and that starts Saturday with the Bruins and quarterback Brett Hundley.

Both teams are 6-2 overall and 3-2 in conference play, though the Bruins are 19th in the BCS rankings largely due to their first eight games being significantly tougher.

Still, both teams' seasons will be judged by how they handle their final four contests. The winner Saturday, for one, will announce itself as a South Division contender.

"This is at least where you want to be in November, with a chance to play meaningful games with a lot at stake," Rodriguez said. "And here we are with a big one Saturday night."

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 from Week 10:

  1. When consistent, ASU is really good: The Sun Devils picked up their first road win of the season with an extremely impressive 55-21 win over Washington State on Thursday night. Here's the kicker ... running back Marion Grice didn't get in the end zone! Quarterback Taylor Kelly was dominant, completing 22 of 31 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran for 66 yards and two scores, giving him seven on the day. Since dropping a 37-34 game to Notre Dame, the Sun Devils have outscored Colorado, Washington and Washington State 162-58. If the Sun Devils can maintain this consistent, high level of play, the rest of the Pac-12 South will be hard-pressed to keep pace. As for the Cougs, after a 4-2 start, they have dropped three straight, and the defense has given up at least 52 points in all three losses.
  2. [+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC is 3-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, who celebrated Friday's win in Corvallis with the band.
  3. The Trojans aren't done yet; the Beavers might be: Despite everything that has happened to USC, the Trojans are a factor in the South Division. They need to win out and probably get a little help along the way, but after a fairly convincing 31-14 road win over Oregon State, the Trojans look like a team to be reckoned with down the stretch. Since the Lane Kiffin firing, USC is 3-1 under Ed Orgeron. Conversely, Oregon State suffered a big setback and is now an even longer shot to win the North Division. There is still hope, but the Beavers also need to win out and hope for some help.
  4. Colorado is gritty: Say what you want about the wins and losses, but Colorado is a tougher team than it was last season. UCLA won 45-23, and the final score isn't particularly shocking. But the Buffs led midway through the second quarter, and true freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau looked very poised on the road, going 25-of-36 for a touchdown and zero interceptions. They matched UCLA's physicality and even showed a bit of swagger -- be it from receiver Paul Richardson or Liufau. Culture change takes a long time. But we are starting to see the makings of a team that isn't satisfied with being pushed around. On the flip side, good performance from UCLA to get back on track. Brett Hundley looked like he was still a little uncomfortable with his young offensive line, but he looked stronger. If the Bruins can survive a trip to Arizona and home date with Washington, Nov. 23 is high noon with ASU coming to town.
  5. About those Cats: Arizona has won three in a row, including back-to-back road games to become bowl-eligible for the second straight year under Rich Rodriguez. A fine accomplishment, considering everyone they lost in the offseason through injury, graduation or attrition. Quarterback B.J. Denker turned in another steady performance, completing 24 of 38 passes for 261 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. But he's also emerged the past couple of weeks as a solid complementary runner to Ka'Deem Carey. Denker rushed for 44 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Cal. Carey, meanwhile, continues to shred defenses. Although he didn't reach the end zone against the Bears, he rushed for 152 yards, giving him 1,072 for the year. A big date with UCLA awaits next week. Can't overlook the performance of Cal, either, which sold out to stop the run early and showed a lot of life. Kenny Lawler finally had that breakout game with three touchdown catches, two of them spectacular.
  6. South rising? The early disparity between the North and South seems to be shrinking. The South scored two major victories this week with USC's win at Oregon State and ASU's win at Washington State. Arizona's win over Cal was expected, but again, we give the Bears credit for the strong showing. As it stands, the North still holds a two-game edge over the South with an 8-6 record. Oregon is the only team to be perfect in inter-division play. Stanford, ASU and Oregon State are all 2-1. It stands to reason that the North is still probably considered the stronger division with Oregon and Stanford ranked in the top five. But the South has made a strong play of late with its depth, which includes five of six teams at .500 or better.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
10:15
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

  1. Light week: Only four games on the Pac-12 docket this week, including one on Thursday (Arizona State at Washington State), one on Friday (USC at Oregon State) and two on Saturday (Arizona at California and Colorado at UCLA).
  2. Let's go bowling: Three teams, Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, are already bowl bound. Four others sit on the precipice and as many as seven others are still in the hunt (note, because of the 13-game schedule, USC needs seven wins to become bowl eligible). Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA can all become bowl eligible this week.
  3. [+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
    AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonBishop Sankey is one of four Pac-12 backs who average at least 100 yards a game.
  4. 1K club: Washington running back Bishop Sankey became the Pac-12's first 1,000-yard rusher this season and has 1,162 yards on the year. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (920 yards) probably will break through this week against a Cal rush defense that yields an average of 189.1 yards per game. Carey leads the league with 153.3 yards per game, one of four backs who average at least 100 yards per contest (Sankey, 145.2; Tyler Gaffney, 110.8; Byron Marshall, 109.9).
  5. Scoreboard, baby: The Sun Devils have the top two scorers in FBS football in running back Marion Grice (15.4 points per game) and kicker Zane Gonzalez (11.4 ppg) and rank sixth in the nation with 45.4 points per game. Four times this year they have posted 50 or more points. That's the most since the 1973 team. Worth noting, too that Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is third nationally in scoring, making it a hat trick for the conference.
  6. Rubber arm: Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday is on pace to set single-season school records in pass attempts and completions. Through eight games he has completed 273 passes on 428 attempts. Gabe Marks has been the primary recipient with 59 catches for 655 yards. But eight different WSU receivers have 20 or more catches.
  7. Remember, Reser: The Beavers have won three straight over USC in Corvallis, but the Trojans' defense, though injury-depleted, is having a fine season. The Trojans have held six of their eight opponents to fewer than 300 yards. They'll be tested by an Oregon State passing attack that, despite a loss last week to Stanford, is still one of the best in the nation. Cooks leads the FBS with 10.6 receptions per game and 157 yards per game. USC is tied for the conference lead with 27 sacks, which might not bode well for an Oregon State team that gave up eight sacks to the Cardinal last week.
  8. Off and running: The aforementioned Carey is 80 yards shy of reaching 1,000. When he gets there, he'll be just the third Arizona running back to post multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 straight games, which is the longest active streak in FBS. But it was quarterback B.J. Denker who led the Wildcats in rushing last week, posting 192 yards on 15 carries.
  9. Where's the points? Cal, still winless in conference play, is giving up a league high 44 points per game and scoring a league low 22.9 points per game. Moving the ball isn't a problem. The Bears rank sixth in the league in total offense, averaging 468.4 yards per game. But they have only scored 20 touchdowns on the year, second worst only to Colorado's 19. Receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have combined for 112 catches for 1,387 yards, but just six touchdowns -- five from Harper.
  10. Back to basics: The Bruins are looking to snap a two-game slide after dropping back-to-back road games at Stanford and Oregon. Keep in mind the Bruins have played 32 freshmen this year -- including 17 true freshman. Last year they played 26, including 12 true. Through the first five games, quarterback Brett Hundley averaged 293.8 passing yards per game, was completing 68 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. In the last two weeks he averaged just 128 yards and completed 63 percent of his throws with two touchdowns to four interceptions. The more comfortable he gets with his young, reshaped offensive line, and the fact that he's not playing two of the top teams in the league, should help him bounce back.
  11. Explosive potential: The Buffs rebuilding process has yet to produce a conference win. But that doesn't mean Colorado can't be explosive. Wide receiver Paul Richardson has 50 catches and 914 yards with seven touchdowns, and he's sneaking up on some Colorado single-season marks. He has six plays of 50 yards or longer this season. Freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau is 1-1 as a starter and is completing 59 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and an interception.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 9 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: UCLA had a good plan and played with fire at Oregon, but the Ducks owned the second half, scoring 28 unanswered points in a 42-14 blowout that seemed like a potentially tight game at halftime. Oregon made another strong statement for its national title candidacy.

Best game: Stanford seemed in control with its dominant defense owning an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter over Oregon State, but a fumble and a failed third-and-1 conversion gave the Beavers new life, and they nearly forced overtime before yielding 20-12. About a quarter of the Beavers crowd was headed for the gates with five minutes left, but many of them did an about-face and joined the hopeful frenzy that didn't die until the very end.

Biggest play(s): The Beavers had a first-and-goal on the Stanford 7-yard line in the final minute, needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force overtime. They got four shots at the end zone, but each Sean Mannion pass fell incomplete, including a fourth-down attempt that, for a moment, seemed to have a chance.

[+] EnlargeBJ Denker
Karl Gehring/The Denver Post/Getty Images B.J. Denker had a big night against Colorado.
Offensive standout: There have been and probably will continue to be doubts about Arizona QB B.J. Denker, but you have to credit him for showing grit in the face of criticism and, by golly, for improving. He accounted for 457 total yards in the 44-20 win at Colorado. He completed 21 of 32 passes for 265 yards with a TD and interception and he also rushed for 192 yards on 15 carries.

Offensive standout II: Just like Denker, Washington RB Bishop Sankey put up big numbers against a Pac-12 bottom-feeder, but you can't ignore the numbers: a career-high 241 yards on 27 carries -- which works out to 8.9 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in a 41-17 win over California.

Defensive standout: Stanford outside linebacker Trent Murphy had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss among his eight total tackles in Stanford's win over Oregon State. He also broke up a pass and blocked another as the Cardinal defense held the Beavers to just 288 total yards. And he was a disruptive force well beyond the stats. There seemed to be six Murphys on the field, and the Beavers didn't block any of them.

Defensive standout, team editions: USC, Oregon and Stanford each deserve special note for playing outstanding team defense. USC held Utah to three points and 201 total yards, Oregon pitched a second-half shutout and Stanford held the most potent passing attack in the nation to 271 yards.

Special-teams standout: Washington K/P Travis Coons was 2-2 on field goals in the Huskies 41-17 win over California, making kicks of 46 and 42 yards. He was perfect on five PATs and had three of his eight punts downed inside the California 20-yard line, as well as a 46-yard effort.

Smiley face: Stanford and Oregon both took care of business against ranked teams, setting up a marquee matchup of national interest on Thursday, Nov. 7. While the Cardinal's loss at Utah reduces the overall wow factor of the Pac-12 showdown that was circled in red in the preseason to some extent, these are still teams in the top five of the BCS rankings, and the Pac-12 North Division is likely at stake. It's good for the Pac-12 as a whole to have the big stage to itself. And both teams get extra time to prepare, so THERE WILL BE NO EXCUSES!

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesStanford needs more offense from Kevin Hogan & Co. to keep up with Oregon.
Frowny face: Stanford will have no chance against the Ducks without some passing game, and the one the Cardinal brought to Oregon State won't cut it against the Ducks defense, which might have the nation's best secondary. QB Kevin Hogan completed just 8 of 18 passes for 88 yards (4.9 per completion), with a QBR of 27.0 -- 50 being average -- against an inspired Beavers defense. Stanford coach David Shaw said as much about his offense after the game. The Cardinal needs receiver Devon Cajuste to get healthy, if that's even possible.

Thought of the week: Let the bowl scramble begin! Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State are already bowl-eligible, with Oregon and Stanford both in position to obtain BCS bowl berths. Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington each have five wins, needing one more to become bowl-eligible. Of course, the South Division winner also has a shot of getting a Rose Bowl berth in the Pac-12 championship game. USC, Utah and Washington State need two more wins to become bowl-eligible. Only Cal, at 1-7, is out of the running, though Colorado getting three wins is a decided long shot. After the BCS bowls, things will get pretty interesting in the rush for the best bowl slots -- Alamo and Holiday -- compared to the other choices. There might be some hurt feelings -- "Hey, we beat them and have the same record and they got a better game!"

Questions for the week: Where are the road warriors (other than Oregon)? Go through the Pac-12 schedule: There have been few impressive or surprising road wins this year. Arizona lost at USC and Washington. Arizona State lost at Stanford and to Notre Dame in AT&T Stadium. UCLA lost at Stanford and Oregon. USC lost at Arizona and Notre Dame. Utah lost at Arizona and USC. Stanford lost at Utah. Washington lost at Stanford and Arizona State. The best road wins? Stanford over Oregon State on Saturday. Oregon over Washington on Oct. 12. Washington State over USC on Sept. 7, perhaps the most surprising win. UCLA over Utah on Oct. 3. And Oregon State over Washington State on Oct. 12. That's about it. A program goes from good to great by learning how to consistently win on the road -- see Oregon and Stanford

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
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Five things we learned in Week 9 in the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards for the Ducks in 2013.
See Ducks run: First, credit the Bruins for effort. They sold out and committed to the run and totaled 219 yards on the ground in playing the Ducks to a 14-14 halftime tie. They weren’t intimidated and they didn’t back down from the challenge. But like Jim Mora said, “the heck with being close.” UCLA needs to start winning these games if it wants to be considered an elite Pac-12 team. That said, Oregon simply needed 48 minutes instead of its usual 30 to dispatch a team, ranked or not. And it was refreshing to see how the Ducks would react to being punched back. They reacted like a championship team should. Oregon picked up 325 yards on the ground, with 133 yards and three touchdowns from Byron Marshall. And we’ve been saying it in the blog for a while now: Oregon’s defense is really, really good. The Ducks picked off Brett Hundley twice and held him to just 64 yards in the air. Marcus Mariota was a very clean 21-of-28 for 230 yards and a touchdown. His streak of games with at least one rushing and one passing touchdown came to an end, but he extended his interception-less streak to 292 consecutive passes. And it has to be comforting to know that if every Oregon running back is suddenly stricken with sprained ankles, Rodney Hardrick can always carry the rock.

Typical Stanford: Stanford’s offense survived on the strength of tough running by Tyler Gaffney and a defense that sacked Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion eight times. But it was Gaffney’s late-game fumble that should serve as a reminder that Stanford hasn’t been scoring many points of late. So, not unlike last year’s Stanford team, white knuckles will likely be required down the stretch. But credit the defense for creating pressure on Mannion, who was 41-of-57 for 271 yards and a touchdown. His partner in crime, Brandin Cooks, had nine catches for 80 yards and a score. Sans the late-game fumble, Gaffney was stellar again, this time going for 145 yards and three touchdowns. The Beavers saw their six-game winning streak come to an end. But there’s little time to wallow with USC coming into town before a bye and then going on the road for two of their last three. The next time Stanford takes the field will be when Oregon comes to town. And despite the one Cardinal loss, that game still has all the fun subplots and polish we were hoping for.

Where’s the offense? The Utes are reeling after failing to win on the road for the second straight week. And the once-potent offense managed just three points and 201 yards, and it turned the ball over four times. Remember, this is the team that put up 410 yards on Stanford. But this was the worst offensive output by far. A lot of that has to do with the health of Travis Wilson, who sat out the second half for the second straight week. The offensive line looked leaky and the explosive attack we’d come to know the first half of the season looked flat. The defense did what it could, but the offense left it in bad spots. Which leads us to the Trojans. Not a particularly great offensive showing for them, either, so a game ball to Andre Heidari and his four field goals. Cody Kessler looked pretty good, taking care of the ball and completing 21 of 32 passes for 230 yards with a touchdown. But minus-30 yards in sacks left the Trojans with just 30 total rushing yards for the game. Credit USC’s defense for being opportunistic and big ups to the Trojans for continuing to persevere despite a depleted roster. They did what they had to do to win. But now Utah’s signature win a couple of weeks ago is starting to look more and more like a one-week-wonder.

Carey keeps rolling: The leading rusher against Colorado was not Ka’Deem Carey, surprisingly enough. But Carey did rush for 119 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 10 straight games of at least 100 yards dating back to last year’s game against Colorado. It was quarterback B.J. Denker who carried 15 times for 192 yards. The Buffs played this one tough for a while, even leading 13-10 with five minutes left in the half. But the Wildcats struck hard and fast with two late-half touchdowns, and it was game over from there. You can get the sense that this is a different Colorado team than last season. And Paul Richardson is simply outstanding (seven catches, 132 yards, one score). The results just aren’t showing up in the win column. Arizona broke through with its second straight conference win and will look to become bowl eligible next week against Cal.

Huskies bounce back: Washington got exactly what it needed: a win, and a convincing win at that. Cal continues to be everyone’s slump buster. And the Huskies busted their three-game slump with a monster 241-yard, two-touchdown performance from Bishop Sankey. This win won’t get the Huskies back in the Top 25. And beating Colorado next week probably won’t, either. But the Huskies are one step closer to another year of bowl eligibility, and with back-to-back road games at UCLA and Oregon State before the Apple Cup, Washington has an opportunity to finish very strong and break the seven-win curse. For Cal, it’s about finding the little positives. But the Bears have now dropped 10 straight Pac-12 contests dating back to last year. And after another blowout loss, you have to wonder if that streak will end this season.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
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So who deserves a helmet sticker for a job well done?

USC defense: The Trojans held Utah to 201 total yards in a 19-3 victory. They recorded six sacks, nine tackles for a loss and three interceptions and kept the Utes scoreless after a field goal on their first possession.

Avery Patterson, S, Oregon: Patterson had seven tackles with three coming for a loss and an interception in the Ducks' 42-14 win over No. 12 UCLA.

Byron Marshall, RB, Oregon: Marshall rushed for 133 yards on 19 carries (7.0 average) with three touchdowns in Oregon's win over UCLA.

B.J. Denker, QB, Arizona: Denker completed 21 of 32 passes for 265 yards with a TD and interception in the Wildcats' 44-20 win over Colorado. And he also rushed for 192 yards on 15 carries. He nips RB Ka'Deem Carey, who rushed for 119 yards and four TDs.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington: Sankey rushed for a career-high 241 yards on 27 carries -- 8.9 yards per rush -- and scored two touchdowns in the Huskies' 41-17 win over California to break a three-game losing streak.

Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford: Murphy had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss among his eight total tackles in Stanford's 20-12 win over Oregon State. He also broke up a pass and blocked another as the Cardinal defense held the Beavers to just 288 total yards.

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Gaffney rushed for 145 yards on 22 carries (6.6 average) with three touchdowns in Stanford's victory.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

1. Title game rematch: UCLA and Stanford will face each other for the third time in the last 10 months. Only this time it’s the Bruins who are the higher-ranked team, coming in at No. 9 after Stanford slid to No. 13 following its loss at Utah. Remember all of those side-to-side swing passes that Dennis Erickson and Utah used to keep Stanford off balance? Remember who worked for Erickson at ASU? Yep, Noel Mazzone. And UCLA loves to hit its receivers in the flat. Keep an eye on what happens after the second-half kickoff, as well. The Bruins are outscoring opponents 71-0 in the third quarter this year. Stanford has a 12-game home winning streak -- third longest in the nation -- and is 10-1 at home against ranked opponents since 2009. Stanford hasn’t lost consecutive games since the middle of the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks are expected to be one of the top two teams when the BCS standings are released on Sunday.
2. BCS time: The first Harris Poll of the season was released Sunday and featured four Pac-12 teams in the top 25: Oregon (2), UCLA (9), Stanford (12) and Washington (25). The first BCS standings will be released this week -- which comes on the heels of the announced selection committee for the College Football Playoff that starts next year. We’re all expecting Oregon to be in one of the top two spots. Question is, where will UCLA or Stanford land?

3. North vs. South: Two more critical North versus South showdowns this week with UCLA traveling to Stanford and Washington heading to Arizona State. The UCLA-Stanford game takes center stage for obvious reasons. But Washington-ASU has all the makings of a thriller. This is one of those 50-50 games that either team needs to win to show they belong in the upper tier of the Pac-12. The quarterbacks, Keith Price and Taylor Kelly, are obviously the mechanisms that make their teams go. But Washington running back Bishop Sankey (899 yards) has rushed for at least 125 yards in five of six games and ASU gives up almost 170 yards per game on the ground. Look for him to probably break 1,000 for the season by the final whistle. On the flip side, ASU’s Marion Grice already has 15 total touchdowns. He had 19 last year, so look for him to eclipse that mark in the next couple of games.

4. Making up is hard to do: Colorado will face Charleston Southern this week as a makeup for the Sept. 14 game against Fresno State that was canceled because of severe rain and flooding in Colorado. Charleston Southern is a perfect 7-0 on the year and is receiving votes in the Sports Network FCS College Football Poll. The Buffs are looking to get to 3-3 for the first time since 2010. And they are making a change at quarterback with Sefo Liufau stepping in after going 18 of 26 for 169 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions in relief against Arizona State.

5. No. 5? The Cougars are looking for their fifth win for the first time since 2007. Tough draw, however, this week with a trip to Oregon. The Ducks are averaging 56.8 points per game and are second in the country in total offense with 630.5 yards per game.

6. Taking care of the ball: Speaking of Oregon, quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman frontrunner through the first half of the season, continues to impress with turnover-free performances. Though his completion percentage is down from last year, he hasn’t thrown an interception in 165 pass attempts this year -- which extends a streak dating back to last season of 233 attempts. His last interception was against Stanford. During that stretch, he’s completed 100 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns. Receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison have 27 catches each for a combined 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns.

7. Rebuilding the brand: Nothing can unite the USC fan base like a win against Notre Dame. Better yet, a win at Notre Dame. The Trojans won their first game of the Ed Orgeron era and look to follow it up against the Irish. Neither team is ranked, but the names carry a lot of weight. This is a game that could re-energize the Trojans moving forward. Marqise Lee and Morgan Breslin have both practiced and it’s looking like both will play. That should be a huge boost after getting running back Silas Redd back last week.

8. Momentum building? What do the Utes do with their big win over Stanford? Do they keep the momentum rolling? They have to go on the road for four of their next six -- including leaving the state for the first time this season when they travel to face Arizona. The Wildcats are still looking for their first conference win, though quarterback B.J. Denker had a strong statistical performance in the loss last week to USC, completing 28 of 44 passes for a career high 363 yards and four touchdowns.

9. Who needs a running game? The Pac-12’s top two passing offenses square off with Oregon State’s trip to Cal. OSU quarterback Sean Mannion has six straight games of 350 passing yards and the Beavers lead the conference with 433.2 passing yards per game and 25 passing touchdowns. Cal averages 371.3 yards in the air -- second in the league, but just 11 passing touchdowns, third worst. The Bears can move it, they just haven’t been able to convert yards into points.

10. No off week: For the second straight week, all 12 schools will be in action. This was supposed to be a bye week for Colorado, but the Charleston Southern game fills the void. Next week Arizona State and Washington State are on bye. It will be the first of two byes in three weeks for the Cougars, who will have opened the year with eight straight games following this week’s matchup with Oregon.

Sankey a workhorse for Washington

September, 29, 2013
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SEATTLE -- Regardless of the weather, Washington running back Bishop Sankey is going to get his touches. He knows it; opposing defenses know it. It's fact.

Put the Huskies in a constant rain, throw in a gusting wind, and it's all Sankey, all the time. That was the case on Saturday as the junior ran for 161 yards on a school-record 40 carries to lift No. 16 Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) past previously unbeaten Arizona (3-1, 01), 31-13.

"You play the hand that you're dealt, and those were the conditions we had and [Sankey] was awesome," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "He didn't change, his focus was there, his body language didn't change from his first carry to his last one."

The 40 carries breaks the record (38) Corey Dillon set in the Apple Cup against Washington State in 1996, and if Washington hadn't pulled away in the fourth, Sarkisian would have kept calling Sankey's number. That would have been fine by Sankey, who said fatigue was not a factor.

"You just had to dig deep, and that's something that we preach here is mental toughness," said Sankey, the nation's No. 2 leading rusher coming in. "That's what I was trying to do for the team."

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsWashington running back Bishop Sankey carried a school-record 40 times for 161 yards and a touchdown in the rain.
It didn't hurt that he was coming off what, by his standards, amounted to a game off last week against Idaho State. That four-carry, 77-yard performance was no accident, Sarkisian said. Keeping his workhorse fresh for the Pac-12 opener was part of the grand plan.

"That's why he had four carries last week and 40 tonight," he said. "We knew coming into the game that both were going to go fast."

The win brings Washington to 4-0 for the first time since 2001. That year the Huskies, as the No. 10-ranked team, lost the next week on the road at No. 7 UCLA and finished 8-4, which included a loss to Texas in the Holiday Bowl.

They'll face a similar challenge next week on the road at No. 5 Stanford.

After scheduling itself to a 3-0 record with games against Northern Arizona, UNLV and Texas-San Antonio, Arizona remained as much of a mystery as a 3-0 team could be. Coming into Saturday's game on the banks of Lake Washington, Arizona had the opportunity to prove its legitimacy. Instead, the Wildcats showed they have a lot to get cleaned up.

Offensively, it took time for Arizona to adjust to the step up in competition.

In the first quarter, the Wildcats finished with more plays (16) than total yards (11) and didn't complete a pass or register a first down. Their first eight possessions of the game netted no points -- not factoring in Washington's safety on a botched Arizona punt -- and just 75 yards.

"That's why you play in the Pac-12, because you have bigger, faster, athletes," Arizona quarterback B.J. Denker said. "But I don't think it was anything we couldn't handle. Our offensive line was fine. Ka'Deem [Carey] ran the ball well. When I got hit, it wasn't like my whole body broke. It hurt like every other hit. These guys weren't superhuman out there."

It wasn't until they were pressed for time did the Wildcats find any semblance of an offense. Given the ball at their own 14 with 2 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first half, the Wildcats marched 84 yards in 14 plays, and Carey scored from three yards out to make it 11-6.

It was the first touchdown Washington had allowed in the first half this year.

The Wildcats answered Washington's 95-yard touchdown drive to open the second half with a 72-yard one of their own, but after cutting the deficit to 18-13, Arizona couldn't keep pace.

"It would have been nice when we got the momentum going to get a stop on defense or anther big play on offense to get the lead," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We never really made them face any adversity. You have to give them credit for that."

Carey, who led the nation in rushing a year ago, finished with 132 yards on 30 carries.

Arizona remains on the road next week at USC.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
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Kevin Gemmell went 7-0 last week and improved to a scintillating 33-3. Ted Miller went 6-1, missing with his Holy War pick, a selection he made only to put the stink on BYU. But Utah fans shouldn't send any more checks his way.

Miller therefore fell to 31-5. Gemmel; is already making plans for the $1 million he gets if he wins the season.

All games are Saturday.

Arizona at Washington

Gemmell: Not sure what to make of Arizona yet. It hasn’t been pressed, and the passing game is still a question mark. Taking on a Washington team that has been pushed -- and is at home -- seems like a lot to overcome. And I wouldn’t worry about Washington looking over the horizon to the Stanford game next week. It'll be focused on revenge after what happened last year in Tucson. Washington 38, Arizona 24.

Miller: The Wildcats have had two weeks to prepare, but a team can't really prepare for an atmosphere like Husky Stadium. While Wildcats QB B.J. Denker has played in road games, this will be a new level of extreme. The real issue is how effective Denker is throwing the football. If the Wildcats can achieve efficient balance, the holes will be bigger for RB Ka'Deem Carey. It also will be interesting to see how the Wildcats newly stout defense holds up against the Huskies' highly rated offense. Washington 35, Arizona 20.

USC at Arizona State

Gemmell: Plenty of great sidebars and storylines in this must-win game for both teams. The Sun Devils are holding on to whatever national credibility they have by a thread. USC is riding the coattails of its defense. If Arizona State can put together 60 minutes instead of 15, I think it wins by a couple of touchdowns. If it doesn't, it could be tight. ASU 24, USC 21.

Miller: We know USC's defense is good. Do we yet know if the Trojans' offense is going to be this bad all season? The first question is whether Trojans QB Cody Kessler's throwing hand is 100 percent. The passing game went south against Utah State last weekend after he got hurt. And what will Sun Devils QB Taylor Kelly be able to do against that tough USC defense? Arizona State 21, USC 17.

Colorado at Oregon State

Gemmell: Much like Arizona, I’m waiting to see what Colorado is really made of. I love the start, and everyone feels good about the Buffaloes being 2-0. But Oregon State’s passing game has been wickedly efficient and the Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection is one of the best in the country. The Buffs will score points, but before I start picking them in a league game on the road, I need to see just how much they’ve grown up. The two weeks off is also a wrench in predictions. They could be super rested, or super rusty. Oregon State 48, Colorado 38.

Miller: Colorado is a better team than it was in 2012, we know that. But being better and being ready to win on the road in the Pac-12 are two different things. I want to see what Buffs QB Connor Wood and WR Paul Richardson can do against a suspect Beavers defense. Oregon State 40, Colorado 28.

California at Oregon

Gemmell: Another step in the maturation of Jared Goff. Being down defensively isn’t where you want to be when playing Oregon -- especially on the road. No reason why the Ducks don’t keep things rolling. Oregon 49, Cal 21.

Miller: Both teams were off last weekend, and Cal needed a break. But Autzen Stadium isn't a place to go to heal a season. I think this one might get a bit lopsided. Oregon 50, California 20.

Stanford vs. Washington State (in Seattle)

Gemmell: Will be interesting to see how the Cougars attack Stanford early with Ed Reynolds out for the first half. I'm guessing they go at the heart of the Stanford secondary because running against the Cardinal will be a chore. Turnovers have been Washington State’s Achilles Heel (11 total, minus-3 ratio, worst in the league). Stanford will do what Stanford does. And what Stanford does should be more than enough. Stanford 31, Washington State 17.

Miller: Stanford will be missing All-American OG David Yankey, too, so the Cougs' front-seven will be catching a break. No guard in the country is better at pulling, so that hits the Cardinal's bread-and-butter. But Stanford figures to take this one seriously because the Cougars gave them trouble last year, is an obviously improved team and the Cardinal turned in a woeful fourth quarter last weekend against Arizona State. Stanford 35, Washington State 22.
Is Arizona ready? After rolling through a Downy-soft nonconference schedule the competition level gets raised dramatically as the Wildcats head north to Seattle to face No. 16 Washington. Did the sacrificial trio of Northern Arizona, UNLV and Texas-San Antonio do enough to prepare the Tucson crew for the rigors of the Pac-12?

“Heck, I think we were ready to play a league game the first week,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “Our schedule is what it was. Those teams, even though we were favored to win them all, you still have to go out there and play well and win them. I think San Antonio is going to win games. I think UNLV is going to win games. I think Northern Arizona is going to win league games at their level. We try to prepare for the first game no matter who we’re playing and I thought we were ready then.

“But tough environment against good players and a good coaching staff, it will be a challenge.”

[+] EnlargeB.J. Denker
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesArizona's passing offense has gotten off to a slow start in 2013 behind new starting quarterback B.J. Denker.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Wildcats was whether they would be improved on defense. With the entire starting cast back, they are allowing an average of just 8.7 points per game, though the aforementioned trio is hardly considered a suitable measuring stick for what Arizona will face in Pac-12 competition.

And the Huskies should prove to be suitable competition. Through their first three games, which included wins over then-No. 19 Boise State and a road win against Illinois in Chicago, Washington is averaging almost 43 points per game and more than 625 yards of total offense.

“Our season started during week one,” quarterback B.J. Denker said. “There are no pretend games in football, you only get 12. Yes, this is Pac-12 play and we understand this is a bigger deal and this is going to be the best team we will have played. We can only play who is put on the schedule, I don’t think the normal fan appreciates that if they are I-AA (FCS) or you are a lower-tier Division I football team, this game is rough. You can’t just go out on the field and expect a victory because somebody will come and smack you in the mouth.”

The pressure is on Denker to revitalize a passing attack that flourished last year under Matt Scott, but has been a work in progress the first three weeks. The Wildcats average only 108 yards per game in the air -- a surprisingly low number for a Rodriguez-coached team. Denker is completing just 56.4 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Part of that is a new quarterback getting to know new wide receivers. Another part is 151 carries through three games.

“I don’t think the chemistry was the issue,” Denker said. “Most of the reason the numbers weren’t so good was because we were running the ball so well. It’s not like I don’t know what our receivers are going to do. It’s just being young and not really having to throw the ball every down. We have been working on that since the season started and during this bye week. I feel like it is getting better and as the season progresses, you will see that on the field.”

Rodriguez said improvement in the passing game was his top priority during the bye week. And he seems pleased with the progress.

“It’s gotten better, I have to judge it in practice,” he said. “We really struggled beginning of August; it was a combo of new receivers with a new quarterback. We’ve gotten a whole lot better the last three weeks, particularly in practice. We know we have to throw the ball. Everyone is going to put everybody in the box to try to stop the run game. We’ve worked harder on that than anything else we’ve done offensively.”

The wide receiving corps could also get a boost with the return of David Richards, who has been nursing a foot injury. Rodriguez said he’s been practicing this week and a decision on whether he’ll play will be made either Wednesday or Thursday.

The sidebar to this game is the running backs: Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey and Washington’s Bishop Sankey. Sankey has one extra game on Carey, who sat out the season opener for disciplinary reasons but is averaging 149.5 yards per game since his return. Sankey averages 148.6. Both have four rushing touchdowns and average 6.9 yards per carry.

While some postseason honors might hinge on who plays better, that’s not even on Rodriguez’s radar.

“I don’t think the players of the coaches on either side look at individual matchups like that,” he said. “We know Sankey has been a huge part of their success and Ka’Deem has been a huge part of ours. That’s going to be the case for the rest of the season. We look at the overall picture.”

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
10:15
AM ET
A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 3.

  1. [+] EnlargeUCLA's Brett Hundley
    Gary A. Vasquez/US PRESSWIREUCLA's Brett Hundley threw for four TDs and the Bruins celebrated a win over Nebraska last year. Can they do it again this season?
    B1G tests: The Pac-12 faces the Big Ten four times this week. The league went 4-1 last season against its Rose Bowl partners, including Stanford’s win over Wisconsin in the Grand Daddy. This week, UCLA travels to Nebraska, Arizona State hosts Wisconsin, Ohio State travels to Cal and Washington takes on Illinois in Chicago. The Big Ten is already up 1-0 this year after Northwestern beat Cal in Week 1. Over the past five seasons, the leagues are nearly even, with the Pac-12 going 11-10 (including 2013).
  2. Getting defensive: Last week the Pac-12 had five interceptions returned for touchdowns -- including two by Colorado, two by Arizona and one by Washington State. Utah also returned a fumble for a touchdown.
  3. Speaking of defensive: Stanford has the longest streak in the nation with 25 consecutive games with a takeaway. Safety Ed Reynolds kept it alive last week with an interception. Oregon has 40 takeaways since the start of the 2012 season, the most of any team in the country. The Ducks already have six this year (three interceptions, three fumbles).
  4. Rematches: Three of the nonconference games this week are rematches from last season. In 2012, the Bruins topped Nebraska in Pasadena, Cal hung tough against the Buckeyes but ultimately lost and Colorado was blown out by Fresno State on the road.
  5. Heavy hearts: The Bruins travel to Lincoln this week with the memory of wide receiver Nick Pasquale still very much on their minds. The Bruins will wear Pasquale’s “36” on their uniforms. In a very classy act, the Huskers will do the same with a “36” decal on their helmets, along with a moment of silence before kickoff.
  6. Off and running: Through two games, Oregon has already produced five 100-yard rushing performances: two from De'Anthony Thomas, two from Marcus Mariota and one from Byron Marshall. Of their 17 touchdown drives, 15 of them have come in less than two minutes.
  7. League play continues: For the first time this season, all 12 teams will be in action in the same week -- all on the same day, for that matter, with no Thursday or Friday night games. One week after USC and Washington State kicked off conference play, Oregon State (1-1) and Utah (2-0) open their league play with the Beavers heading to Rice-Eccles. Not to put too much into one game, but this one could be huge for the trajectory of each team. The Utes face BYU next week and then have back-to-back home games against UCLA and Stanford. Four of their final six are on the road, so the Utes are looking to take advantage of a schedule that is front-loaded with home games.
  8. Are you for real? If last week was the Pac-12’s cupcake week, this week is all about measuring sticks. All four of the Pac-12/Big Ten showdowns feature at least one ranked team (No. 4 Ohio State; No. 16 UCLA and No. 23 Nebraska; No. 19 Washington; No. 20 Wisconsin). Eight of the nonconference opponents are 2-0. Fresno State might be the best non-AQ team in college football. Teams such as ASU and UCLA can certainly make a splash on the national stage. And a team like Colorado can take a huge step forward in terms of its perception. Cal beating the No. 4 team in the country couldn't hurt, either.
  9. North vs. South: For those keeping track at home, the Pac-12 North features three of the league’s four ranked teams. But through the first two weeks, the North Division is a combined 7-3 while the South is 9-1 with five of its six teams undefeated. The North is 2-1 against ranked teams (including a win over then-No. 25 USC), while the South has yet to play a ranked opponent. That of course changes this week with ASU and UCLA. Not making any statements, just an observation.
  10. QBs on the move: Last season, four Pac-12 quarterbacks accounted for 10 rushes of at least 30 yards each, with half of those coming from Mariota. Through two weeks this season, five Pac-12 quarterbacks have accounted for eight rushes of at least 30 yards. Among them are Arizona’s B.J. Denker (30, 35) and Javelle Allen (61); Mariota (46, 71); UCLA’s Brett Hundley (37); and Utah’s Travis Wilson (38, 51). Each of the eight rushes resulted in a touchdown.

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