NCF Nation: Byron Marshall

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

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

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

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

Then … Stanford.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earlier this morning, we took a look at who might replace the guys who jumped to the NFL in the South Division. Here’s a look at the North.

Leaving: Brendan Bigelow, RB, Cal

The replacement: Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco are both coming back, so there is at least some experience at the position. Jeffrey Coprich and Darren Ervin could also see some time. Incoming freshman Devante Downs is built more like a fullback but could also see some carries in the running game.

Leaving: Richard Rodgers, WR, Cal

The replacement: Stephen Anderson is a possibility to emerge at inside receiver. Darius Powe is going to see action regardless of whether it’s inside or outside and Raymond Hudson, Jacob Wark, and Drake Whitehurst are all possibilities.

Leaving: Khairi Fortt, LB, Cal

The replacement: Nathan Broussard is coming off an injury and Raymond Davison and Jason Gibson are moving back to linebacker from safety. Juco transfers Sam Atoe and Jonathon Johnson could help. Also, Downs (see the Bigelow section) comes in as an athlete, and putting him on the defensive side of the ball is a possibility.

Leaving: Kameron Jackson, CB, Cal

The replacement: Darius Allensworth and Trey Cheek will get the most looks. Cedric Dozier saw some starting time last season. He’s not a lock but has some experience. Isaac Lapite, Adrian Lee and Joel Willis are also possibilities. Stefan McClure should also be back from his 2013 injury, and Cameron Walker, who was playing out of position at safety, might move back to corner.

Leaving: Viliami Moala, DT, Cal

The replacement: Jacobi Hunter should be the main guy, but transfers Trevor Kelly and Marcus Manley should help out across the line. Austin Clark is still waiting to hear about his sixth year of eligibility, but if he gets it, he and Mustafa Jalil could shuffle up and down the line as they look to replace the graduated Deandre Coleman as well.

Leaving: Chris McCain, DE, Cal (Previously dismissed from team)

The replacement: Kyle Kragen and Puka Lopa were the top two guys to replace McCain after he left. Brennan Scarlett is also expected back and Johnson could be in the mix. The coaching staff seems to be really high on him.

[+] EnlargeDe'Anthony Thomas
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesDe'Anthony Thomas' unique set of skills will be hard for Oregon to replicate.
Leaving: De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

The replacement: Unless Oregon is hiding another multitalented back who can run like DAT, there is no "real" replacement. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner should continue to get the work as the primary 1-2 punch, but it will be interesting to see if the Ducks use either in a more dynamic way like they did Thomas.

Leaving: Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon (Left the team earlier in the season).

The replacement: Pharaoh Brown, Evan Baylis and John Mundt will all continue to get work, probably in that order. They all pitched in in some capacity after Lyerla left the team, so the Ducks should be in good shape at the position.

Leaving: Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon

The replacement: That Ifo Ekpre-Olomu opted to return bodes well for the Ducks. Troy Hill would have been the obvious selection, but he remains suspended indefinitely, and his future with the program is in question. Dior Mathis has experience and the coaching staff is high on redshirt freshman Chris Seisay. Juco transfer Dominique Harrison enrolled early and will participate in spring ball, so there are options.

Leaving: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State

The replacement: Much like USC’s dilemma with Marqise Lee, The Beavers' task of replacing a Biletnikoff winner is no easy one. Victor Bolden is the logical choice. He returned kicks, ran a few fly sweeps and was Cooks’ immediate backup. But a big wide receiver class last year that included Bolden, Hunter Jarmon and Walter Jones could make things more interesting in the spring.

Leaving: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State

The replacement: Lavonte Barnett was the backup all season but didn’t have much production. Jaswha James has bounced around a bit -- mostly at linebacker -- but has finally settled at DE and had a nice bowl performance. Titus Failauga is also a possibility as Mike Riley went out of his way to specifically mention him during a recent teleconference. There are also rumblings that Obum Gwacham -- a talented athlete who hasn’t worked out at wide receiver -- could move to defensive end.

Leaving: David Yankey, OL, Stanford

[+] EnlargeDavid Yankey
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergStanford has a lot of offensive linemen with experience, but replacing an All-American such as David Yankey is never easy.
The replacement: A member of Stanford’s lauded offensive line recruiting class of 2012, Joshua Garnett has already seen his share of playing time. That’s one of the big advantages of being an offensive lineman at Stanford. With their multiple offensive-linemen sets, there is plenty of rotation. Then again, Yankey was a two-time All-American -- it's tough to replace that.

Leaving: Cameron Fleming, OL, Stanford

The replacement: Like Garnett, Kyle Murphy was part of the ’12 class and has also seen his share of action on the offensive line. The Cardinal are replacing four offensive linemen, but most of those replacements -- such as Garnett and Murphy -- already have some playing experience.

Leaving: Ed Reynolds, FS, Stanford

The replacement: Good question. All of Stanford’s free safeties are gone, while returning strong safeties include Jordan Richards and Zach Hoffpauir. Someone could make a switch, or it’s possible that former quarterback Dallas Lloyd, who is now making the transition to safety, could play here.

Leaving: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

The replacement: Jesse Callier started the 2012 season, but a season-ending injury gave rise to Sankey. Dwayne Washington seems like he could be an every down-type back, while Callier excels in third-down situations or as a changeup back. Deontae Cooper will also see carries.

Leaving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington

The replacement: Joshua Perkins was the No. 2 all season, so there’s little reason to think he won’t graduate to No. 1. He’s more receiver than blocker, but he’s got talent and shouldn’t have a problem assuming the role of the outgoing Mackey winner.

Valero Alamo Bowl roundtable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will be the key player in this game?

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

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

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

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

After a trying second half of the season, Christmas came early for Oregon coach Mark Helfrich when quarterback Marcus Mariota announced Tuesday that he would return for his redshirt junior season instead of entering the NFL draft, in which he almost certainly would have been an early first-round selection.

As a stocking stuffer, two-time first-team All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu also announced he will return. Goducks.com, the school’s athletics website, announced the news for both.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota will return to Oregon next season as a Heisman Trophy favorite.
While the Ducks probably are going to say goodbye to receiver De'Anthony Thomas and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who have yet to announce their intentions, Mariota's decision does make one thing clear: Oregon will be the favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2014, the first year of the four-team College Football Playoff.

Mariota, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection for a second consecutive year, will be the preseason favorite to win the Heisman Trophy as he captains an offense that looks like it will welcome back eight starters, a calculation that doesn't include DAT or RB Byron Marshall, the Ducks leading rusher.

While the Ducks' defense will take a few hits, Helfrich's second team appears stacked and ready for a potential bounce-back season. North Division rival Stanford will be replacing a number of key stars on both sides of the ball, including eight players who earned first- or second-team All-Pac-12 honors.

Mariota completed 227 of 360 attempts for 3,412 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions and rushed for 582 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He set a Pac-12 record from the end of last season into this year by attempting 353 passes without an interception. He ranks second in the nation in ESPN.com Stats & Information's Total QBR.

Of course, a knee injury suffered against UCLA on Oct. 26 hampered him over the second half of the season, most notably in the Ducks' first loss at Stanford. Still, the Ducks "down" year produced a 10-2 record, a sixth consecutive 10-win season with a bowl game left to play.

Mariota's return means that as many as 10 conference teams could welcome back their 2013 starting quarterback. We still await word from UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon State's Sean Mannion on whether they will enter the NFL draft. The return of Utah's Travis Wilson is up in the air due to health issues.

Only Arizona and Washington started seniors at QB this year.

The dual return of Mariota and Grasu means the brains of the Ducks' offense will be back in 2014. Grasu, perhaps the nation's top center, should have a mastery of the Ducks' offensive line calls, while Mariota figures to own an Andrew Luck-like knowledge of the nuances of the Ducks' offense as a third-year starter.

That's a huge advantage heading into 2014.

Further, their return is a vote of confidence in Helfrich. If one or the other didn't believe in the Ducks' first-year coach, they almost certainly would have moved on.

The only Ducks who might be unhappy with Mariota's decision are backup QBs Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues, who will be redshirt sophomores next season. They probably expected to be in a hotly contested competition for the starting job this spring. That said, they might benefit from another year of seasoning playing behind a future high NFL draft choice.

Of course, sometimes the celebrated return of a QB doesn't always work out (see: USC's Matt Barkley in 2012). Fans and NFL scouts will expect Mariota to be even better next fall. Comparable numbers might be viewed as a sign of his plateauing.

But that's a potentiality that isn't worth fretting over today.

Oregon fans were frustrated when the program lost two of its final four games and fell out of the national title race. Here's a guess that those frowns just turned upside down.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
10:15
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

  1. North race: Oregon’s road is clear. If they win out, they will be the North Division champs. If they lose either of their final two games, both against conference opponents, Stanford will win the North by virtue of its tiebreaker. That is assuming, of course, Stanford gets by Cal in the Big Game. Stanford’s final game is a nonconference matchup against Notre Dame.
  2. [+] EnlargeKelly
    AP Photo/Rick BowmerTaylor Kelly and Arizona State can win the Pac-12 South with a win at UCLA on Saturday.
    South race: A lot will be decided this weekend when Arizona State travels to UCLA. If ASU wins this game, it will win the South. If UCLA wins and beats USC next week, it will be the South champs for the third straight year. USC is still in the mix, but the Trojans need some help. They need to beat Colorado and UCLA and hope that ASU drops its next two games.
  3. Bowl picture: Eight teams are bowl eligible with three more still in the mix. Washington State can become bowl eligible this weekend with a win over visiting Utah. Utah could still become bowl eligible with a win over Washington State and a win over Colorado in the season finale. Colorado could still become bowl eligible with a win over USC and a win over Utah. Recall that Colorado received a waiver from the NCAA that allows their two FCS victories to count toward bowl eligibility.
  4. Questionable quarterbacks: We’re still waiting to see the status of Washington quarterback Keith Price. The Huskies have kept him on ice this week, though he said he’s confident he’ll play. If he can’t, the Huskies will go with Cyler Miles. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota says his knee is near 100 percent. One quarterback we know for sure isn’t playing is Utah’s Travis Wilson, who learned that his playing career might be over after concussion tests revealed a preexisting condition. The Pac-12 blog wishes him the best as the Utes move forward with Adam Schulz -- a strong-armed former walk-on.
  5. Clutch quarterbacks: The ASU-UCLA game obviously has massive Pac-12 South implications. But it also features two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league in ASU’s Taylor Kelly and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Remember last year’s game in Tempe? UCLA won in the closing seconds and both quarterbacks led their team on late scoring drives. The Bruins have had to find creative ways to score points. Last week it was LB/RB Myles Jack, who scored four rushing touchdowns, and DE-turned-tight end Cassius Marsh, who snagged a touchdown reception. ASU has had no problems getting production from Marion Grice, who has 20 touchdowns on the season and is closing in on 1,000 yards. Line play will be critical as ASU’s veteran front seven will push a young UCLA offensive line.
  6. Sense of urgency bowl: Both Washington and Oregon State are bowl eligible. But the Huskies are still lacking a quality road win and the Oregon State offense hasn’t been what it was the first half of the season. Washington has dropped all three road conference games this year and four straight dating back to last year’s Apple Cup. Quarterback Sean Mannion has an unfavorable 3-to-7 touchdown to interception ratio in his last two games, though he’s 199 yards shy of the school’s single-season passing mark. Brandin Cooks is now one of five Pac-12 receivers to ever reach 100 receptions in a season. Speaking of school records, Washington running back Bishop Sankey is to break Washington's single-season rushing mark. He has 1,396 yards, and if he keeps up his average of 139.6 yards per game, he'll top Corey Dillon's 1,695 yards in 1996. Both teams need this one to have the semblance of a salvaged season.
  7. Trying to get to a bowl: Aside from the bowl implications, the Cougars will be honoring 19 seniors. The Cougars are yet to win a conference home game this year while Utah is yet to win a conference game on the road. Combine that with Connor Halliday throwing at least one interception in every game and Utah’s inability to intercept the ball (only two on the year) and you have quite the conundrum. Washington State has had 10 or more receivers catch a pass in nine games this year.
  8. In control: The Ducks travel to Arizona this week, where they’ll face a Wildcats team looking to better its bowl situation. Ka'Deem Carey has now gone for at least 100 yards in 13 consecutive games and is second in the country with an average of 150.3. On the other side, Byron Marshall is nine yards shy of reaching 1,000. Assuming he does, that would be seven straight years the Ducks have had a 1,000-yard rusher. And there is the other streak -- Mariota's Pac-12 record of 353 passes without an interception.
  9. A Song of Ice and Fire: Yes, that’s a tip of the hat to my Game of Thrones friends. The Trojans are on fire right now, having won four straight and five of their last six. They are 5-1 since Ed Orgeron was named interim head coach, including a win last week over No. 4 Stanford. But weather conditions are expected to be in the 30s and there is the possibility of snow in Boulder. USC isn’t traditionally a cold-weather team. Colorado is coming off a big home win against Cal and the Buffs still have something to play for in late November. Been a while since we typed that.
  10. Big Game: This is the season finale for Cal, which has a chance to make something of an otherwise depressing season. Of course, to do it, they’ll have to knock off a Cardinal team that probably smells blood after its loss to USC last week. The Bears are more than a 30-point underdog and the Cardinal have to win in the event Oregon drops one of its final two Pac-12 games. The Bears are trying to avoid their first winless conference season since 2001. The Cardinal have forced a turnover in 35 consecutive games.
STANFORD, Calif. – For obvious reasons, there was no talk of titles -- national, Pac-12 or otherwise -- from the Oregon side following Stanford’s 26-20 victory over the Ducks Thursday night.

That Stanford won isn’t/shouldn’t be considered shocking. That Oregon was scoreless through three quarters might be. That the Ducks stormed back for 20 points in the fourth quarter in only an eight-minute span makes perfect sense.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMarcus Mariota had a rough night against Stanford as rumors swirled about a possible knee injury.
And the Pac-12 has again dragged itself into November chaos. That's par for the course.

Heading into Thursday night’s showdown, the No. 3 Ducks represented the Pac-12’s best chance for a national championship. A victory over No. 5 Stanford would have almost guaranteed they’d jump Florida State in the BCS standings and put them back in the No. 2 spot. From there, it was as simple case of winning out and advancing to the title game.

But for the second year in a row, the Ducks' BCS title hopes were severely wounded at the hands of a Stanford defense that was dominant on the line of scrimmage and an offense that jack-hammered its way up and down the field.

“Any loss is disappointing,” said Oregon first-year coach Mark Helfrich. “Where we’ve put ourselves and where our players have put ourselves, it’s obviously magnified. … We don’t hold the cards anymore, but we never hold the cards. We have to come back, prepare and get ready for whoever is next.”

And next is Utah -- the team that could ultimately go down as the fly in the Pac-12’s title ointment after it knocked off Stanford in Salt Lake City last month.

The Cardinal seized control of the Pac-12 North. With victories over USC and California, the Cardinals would again represent the North Division in the Pac-12 championship game. Their regular-season finale against Notre Dame also takes on a greater importance when considering the BCS landscape.

The Cardinal still need some help if they hope to get into one of the top two spots in the BCS rankings. Florida State, Alabama and Ohio State are all undefeated. And the chances of a one-loss team -- even one with a résumé as impressive as Stanford’s -- making that kind of jump seems improbable. There is obviously much football to be played. But for now, 2013 projects to play out much like 2012. If the Cardinal win out, they’ll likely go to another Rose Bowl and a one-loss Oregon team should find its way into a BCS game as an at-large team.

But that’s a lot of ifs.

“You know, it’s November. It’s November,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “We talked as a team about [how] it’s time to play our best football. No one has seen our best football, and that’s including us. Tonight was about three and three quarters of it, and that’s what we talk about. We can’t be satisfied. We can’t be satisfied with how we finished the game. I’m not happy about it one bit. We can’t be satisfied with one win. We’ve got to win in November. We’ve got a tough game next week against an outstanding USC team that’s playing great and we’ve got to be ready to roll.”

For the Ducks, there is plenty to lament in a game accented by turnovers and missed opportunities. Twice Oregon advanced inside the Stanford 5-yard line and twice they were turned away. Both failures led to 96-yard scoring drives by the Cardinal.

And then there was the issue of Marcus Mariota’s injured knee. Reports started to circulate just before kickoff that he had a sprained MCL, and the coach and quarterback tip-toed around the issue during the postgame non-festivities.

“It is what it is,” Mariota said. “It’s a little banged up, but it’s nothing too extraordinary. We’re just going to take it and get healthy and I’ll be ready next week.”

Asked if he thought Mariota’s knee was bothering him, Helfrich said: “I don’t know. Everybody’s banged up this time of the year.”

Still, the Cardinal defense kept Byron Marshall and De’Anthony Thomas bottled up. The Ducks managed just 62 rushing yards and were 3 of 10 on third-down conversions.

“We don’t concede points,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, who made 10 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles. “People can write what they want to and say what they want. But what counts is the guys that take that field. Eleven guys on offense take the field and 11 guys on defense. What happens between the lines is dictated by us. That’s the only thing we can control and that’s how we play.”

In the national picture, Oregon’s loss feels more significant than Stanford’s win because it takes another undefeated team off the board. But in the Stanford locker room, where things were far more festive, this victory sends a message that Stanford’s sustained success is not by coincidence.

“It’s huge,” said running back Tyler Gaffney, who rushed for 157 yards and a touchdown on a school-record 45 carries. “I think the whole nation knows, and us especially, that this is a play-in game for the Pac-12 North. To be able to win the Pac-12 championship, you have to go through Oregon or you have to go through us. That is the mentality.”

Marshall takes Oregon RB reins

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
11:19
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EUGENE, Ore. -- When running back Byron Marshall signed to play football at Oregon two years ago, he knew he'd have to compete in a crowded backfield.

Kenjon Barner was Oregon's bona fide star in the backfield last season, and speedy sophomore De'Anthony Thomas was one of the country's most explosive players. Barner ran for 1,767 yards with 21 touchdowns in 2012, while Thomas ran for 701 yards with 11 scores.

Marshall, from Valley Christian High School in San Jose, Calif., had a solid freshman season, running 87 times for 447 yards with four touchdowns. When Barner departed after the 2012 season, Marshall was still supposed to take a back seat to Thomas this season.

But after Thomas sprained his ankle against California on Sept. 28, Marshall emerged as No. 3 Oregon's top running threat. Going into Thursday night's game at No. 5 Stanford, Marshall has gained more than 100 rushing yards in each of the past five games. Thomas started against then-No. 12 UCLA on Oct. 26, but reinjured his ankle in the second quarter. Marshall ran for 133 yards with three touchdowns in Oregon's 42-14 victory.

"I knew there would be competition coming in, especially with how many great backs that have come out of here year after year after year," Marshall said. "I never want to shy away from competition. I wouldn't go to a school just because I have a guaranteed spot if I can go to a better school and fight for a job. At a top-five program, there's always going to be competition for a position. You always have to be ready to play."

To continue reading this story, click here.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
10:15
AM ET
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.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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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
10/27/13
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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 are Oregon's weaknesses?

October, 23, 2013
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Oregon is terrible on fourth down. The Ducks have converted on just seven of 18 fourth-down plays this year. Their 38.9 conversion rate ranks 10th in the Pac-12, behind struggling teams like Colorado and California.

We point that out because that's about the only thing Oregon isn't doing well right now.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
Steve Conner/Icon SMIOregon appears to have no glaring weaknesses, yet first-year coach Mark Helfrich says the Ducks can get better in every phase.
The Pac-12 keeps track of 33 statistical categories, covering offense, defense, special teams, penalties, turnovers, etc. The Ducks rank first in the conference in 11 categories, including the two most important: scoring offense and scoring defense. They rank in the top three in 18 categories. Most of the categories they are not doing well in -- time of possession, onside kicks, opponent penalties -- evoke a "neh."

Others are deceptive. Oregon ranks sixth in total defense but is No. 1 in the far more revealing stat of average yards surrendered per play, where they rank eighth in the nation at 4.46 yards. The Ducks are 10th in red-zone offense, but their touchdown percentage in the red zone -- 72.1 percent -- ranks second.

This seems like a team with few, if any, holes. So what are the Ducks' weaknesses?

"I haven't seen any," said California coach Sonny Dyke, whose Bears lost 55-16 at Oregon on Sept. 28. "They are incredibly fast. I think the difference this year is they are throwing the ball so much better. Their receivers are faster, bigger, stronger, more physical, making more plays than in the past."

In the preseason, there were three questions about Oregon: 1. How would Mark Helfrich do stepping in for Chip Kelly? 2. What would be the pecking order at running back and how would De'Anthony Thomas be used? 3. How would the Ducks replace the dynamic linebacking troika of Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay?

Check, check and check.

The 7-0 record, No. 2 ranking in the national polls -- No. 3 in the BCS standings -- and 40-point average margin of victory suggest that Helfrich is doing fairly well. He might be a softer touch than Kelly -- though he's not afraid to tweak a reporter or two -- but he's not taking any mercy on the field.

Running back? The bottom line is the Ducks are No. 2 in the nation in rushing with 332.4 yards per game, 17 yards better than last year's average, and they've done that with DAT missing the last four games with an injury. Backups Byron Marshall and true freshman Thomas Tyner are both averaging 6.7 yards per carry and have combined for 16 touchdowns. Marshall, a sophomore, ranks 19th in the nation with 106.6 yards rushing per game.

Linebacker? Tony Washington, who replaced Jordan, has nine tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Jordan had 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2012. Derrick Malone leads the Ducks in tackles with 59. And, really, the bottom line is the defensive numbers, including a run defense that ranks 22nd in the nation.

"I think [the Ducks defense is] certainly the best they've been," Dykes said. "The secondary is really, really good. They are good at linebacker and they are pretty active up front."

Of course, Dykes is a first-year Pac-12 coach who hasn't been dealing with Oregon during its rise to consistent top-five team, though he was Arizona's offensive coordinator from 2007 to 2009. If we're going to ask whether this version of Oregon might be the best yet, we need to ask someone who's seen them all.

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, whose Huskies have lost 10 in a row to Oregon, including five defeats during his tenure, let out a big breath when asked if this was the Ducks' best team.

"Hooof," he said. "We've played some pretty good ones. I think the balance they have on offense is probably the best that they've been."

The general consensus is Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' best quarterback during its recent run. He might, in fact, as former Ducks All-American QB Joey Harrington recently volunteered, be the best in program history. Mariota brings a dangerous downfield passing game to a longstanding dominance running the ball. As for the defense, it's very good, though it remains to be seen whether it's as good as the 2010 unit or even the talented crew of 2012 that battled numerous injuries.

Still, every coach who has played the Ducks probably feels there's something he wishes he might have attacked more or tried to exploit.

"I think there is a lot of places," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "There's always a lot of places."

Washington State lost 62-38 at Oregon last weekend, with Leach's Cougars adding two late touchdowns to make the gap less dramatic. Quarterback Connor Halliday set a number of Pac-12 and NCAA passing records in the game -- he completed 58 of 89 passes for 557 yards -- but also threw four interceptions, one of which Terrance Mitchell returned 51 yards for a touchdown.

"Oregon is really fast," Leach said, echoing a common theme. "As you play Oregon, everything they do -- they can reel plays in quicker. They react to everything quicker. Very explosive... Oregon hits you in the mouth when you throw one up."

Of course, speculating on Oregon's seeming lack of weaknesses and its standing among other accomplished Ducks teams is a mostly a meaningless academic exercise when five regular season games remain ahead, including a visit Saturday from No. 12 UCLA. In fact, the next five Pac-12 games (combined opponent record of 26-7) are far tougher than the first four (combined record of 12-16).

Helfrich isn't really biting, either. When asked about areas of concern, he pointed back to the preseason questions and implied the jury is still out at linebacker.

Yet his overriding conclusion sounded very Chip Kelly-ish, while also offering plenty of room to read between the lines.

"I think everything," he said. "In every phase we can get better, starting with me, everything we do."

That's either coachspeak -- we need to get better every day -- or carries a more ominous implication: No weaknesses? Best Oregon team? You haven't seen anything yet.

Ducks bounce back from early turnovers

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
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EUGENE, Ore. -- The Oregon offense started to sputter in the second quarter Saturday against Washington State.

Oh sure, the Ducks entered halftime up 34-24, with 483 yards of offense already.

But Oregon was up 27-7 early in the second quarter.

More troubling, the Ducks fumbled the ball away three times in the quarter. At one point, that allowed the Cougars -- who entered as 40-point underdogs -- to close within 27-21.

"We needed to take care of the football better in the first half, though we got a lot of yards," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "We got off to a sluggish start, but we responded well in the second half. I was happy with our response in the second half."

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota fumbled twice in the second quarter after being sacked, with one of those being returned for a WSU touchdown.

"Our culture has been one play at a time," Mariota said. "You have to focus on the next one. I was nonchalant with (the ball) a couple of times there. But we knew if we take care of what we need to do, we will be successful."

Byron Marshall rushed for 192 yards and three touchdowns, with 108 of those yards coming in the second half. After a 35-yard reception on a fourth-down play in the second quarter, Marshall coughed up the ball.

"You have to stay on it," Marshall said. "You have to pick it up. Three fumbles is unacceptable. You don't turn the ball over."

Helfrich noted the turnovers were team fumbles.

"You can learn from everything," the first-year head coach said. "When you turn the ball over, it is multiple people's responsibility, starting with us as coaches."

Though the Ducks led the Cougs at half by less than a touchdown for the second year in a row, just like last season, Oregon pulled away in the third quarter. Two touchdowns in this third quarter pushed the lead to 48-24, with the final score 62-38.

"Aside from that fumble, I felt I had a solid game," said Marshall, who became the main running back for Oregon after De'Anthony Thomas was injured on the opening kickoff against California on Sept. 28. "It was a really good game. I played hard. That was the best game I've ever had."

As a team, the Ducks rushed for 383 yards and had 336 yards passing, for 719 yards total. In addition to Marshall, Thomas Tyner rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns.

"Guys like Byron and Thomas have really stepped up and carried the load," said Mariota, who rushed for 96 yards himself. "You can't replace someone like De'Anthony, but they have helped fill the void. They've done a great job for us."

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
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Five things we learned from the five Pac-12 games this week:

  1. Utah won’t make things easy in the South: The conference record might not show it, but Utah is a pretty good football team. Despite going 3-0 in its nonconference schedule, the Utes have yet to really make an impact in conference play. But they’ve made it tough for others -- pushing Oregon State into overtime a couple of weeks ago and then putting a scare into UCLA on Thursday. Six Utah turnovers (all interceptions) didn't help its cause. As for the Bruins, they survived a tough road game and did nothing to damage their national ranking. For a team that’s expected to be in the hunt for the Pac-12 South, you have to imagine they are happy to have Utah in their rearview mirror.
  2. [+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsConnor Halliday threw for 521 yards and three touchdowns in WSUs 44-22 win over Cal.
  3. Air trumps Bears: We knew there would be a lot of passing (combined 129 attempts). We knew there would be yards (1,160) and we knew there would be a lot of passing yards (1,027). It was every bit the air show, needing only the "Top Gun" theme music and an F-14 flyover to make it official. Connor Halliday was 41-of-67 for 521 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, leading WSU to a 44-22 win over Cal. The Bears' Jared Goff was 32-of-58 for 489 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. Red zone fumbles doomed the Bears, who have now lost nine straight games to FBS opponents, the longest losing streak of any BCS conference team. The Cougars, meanwhile, find themselves two wins away from bowl eligibility.
  4. Ducks are deep, dangerous: And this is without De’Anthony Thomas? Oregon scored 50-plus points for the fifth straight game, topping Colorado 57-16, setting a school record and becoming just the second team in the history of history to do that (Princeton in 1885, per ESPN Stats and Information). No DAT? No problem. Quarterback Marcus Mariota set a personal best by accounting for seven touchdowns -- five in the air and two on the ground. Byron Marshall posted his second straight 100-yard rushing game, and Bralon Addison had his first career 100-yard receiving game. Right now the Ducks have zero weak spots.
  5. ASU not quite ready for its close-up: You can’t ask for a better opportunity ... playing a historic program at a neutral site with not one, but two opportunities to drive down and win the game. Trailing Notre Dame 30-27, both drives, however, ended with Taylor Kelly interceptions -- including one that was returned for a touchdown. A late ASU score made the final 37-34 margin. The Sun Devils come out of their brutal four-game stretch 2-2 with wins over Wisconsin and USC, but losses to Stanford and the Irish. The optimistic Sun Devils fan says at least we beat USC, because that keeps us in the hunt for the Pac-12 South. The half-empty-glass drinker notes that twice the Sun Devils have reached Top 25 status and twice (at 2:57 a.m. PT on Sunday morning I'm predicting the Sun Devils don't stay in the Top 25) have had it relinquished. Arizona State could still contend for the division. But its national credibility suffered a setback Saturday.
  6. Stanford, Washington make statements: There’s a couple of different takeaways from Saturday’s nightcap, depending on whether you sleep in purple or Cardinal-colored jammies. This was a quality win over a quality opponent for Stanford. As expected, it was a tight, hard-fought game with both offenses and defenses coming up big at various times. Special teams -- specifically Stanford’s Ty Montgomery -- turned out to be the difference-maker, with Montgomery's long kick returns, including a 99-yard TD return on the opening kick. The takeaway for Washington? The Huskies are a top-20 team and should continue to be ranked accordingly. The Cardinal held Bishop Sankey below his season average, but he still ran for 125 yards and two scores. And there should be no debate about whether Keith Price is back following his performance (33-of-48 for 350 yards with two touchdowns and an interception). Regardless of where you come down on the video replay, this was billed as the game of the week, and it lived up to the hype.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
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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.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 2.

    1. Heavy favorites: The Pac-12 is favored in all eight of its nonconference games this week. In fact, the league is favored by at least 10 points in every game and by at least 20 points in six of the eight. It should be a strong week for the conference. Should being the operative word.

 

  • League play kicks off: The ninth game this week features the first conference showdown of the season with Washington State traveling to USC. The Cougs are coming off a tough loss at Auburn, where Connor Halliday completed 35 of 65 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. Cody Kessler is expected to start for the Trojans, but Max Wittek likely will see time again. USC’s defense had four interceptions and seven sacks in its Week 1 win over Hawaii. WSU's last win at USC was in 2000.
  • Debuts: After spending last Saturday lounging around and watching football, Arizona State coach Todd Graham and Stanford coach David Shaw have to get back to work. The Sun Devils open the season on the cusp of the Top 25 and host Sacramento State on Thursday night. Stanford hosts San Jose State in the Bill Walsh Legacy Game. The Cardinal opened the season ranked No. 4 but got bumped down to No. 5 for their Week 1 laziness.
  • Off and running: The Pac-12 had seven players rush for at least 100 yards in Week 1, headlined by Washington’s Bishop Sankey. He and the Huskies are off this week prepping for their game against Illinois on Sept. 14. Three of those seven came from Oregon -- a school record with De’Anthony Thomas, Byron Marshall and Marcus Mariota all eclipsing 100 yards. The other 100-yard rushers were Jordon James (UCLA, which is off this week), Daniel Jenkins (Arizona) and Tre Madden (USC).
  • 2-oh? Colorado snapped an eight-game losing streak last week with its win over Colorado State. The Buffs host Central Arkansas on Saturday with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
  • Crazy eights: Stanford and San Jose State are both riding eight-game winning streaks dating back to last season. That’s the first time in all of the years the schools have played that both have enjoyed simultaneous streaks.
  • Dominating the MWC: The Pac-12 went 5-0 against the Mountain West last week with Utah (Utah State), Colorado (Colorado State), USC (Hawaii), Washington (Boise State) and UCLA (Nevada) all scoring victories. The Pac-12 has three more games against the Mountain West this week with Arizona traveling to UNLV, Hawaii visiting Oregon State and San Jose State at Stanford. It was a rough opening weekend for the West Coast’s little brother league, which went just 3-9.
  • Road warriors: No. 2 Oregon goes on the road for the first time this season and is riding the nation’s best winning streak away from home. The Ducks have won 15 straight road games. Alabama and Northern Illinois are tied for second with nine. Oregon’s last road loss was at Stanford in 2009.
  • Strong debuts: The three new coaches in the Pac-12 went 2-1 in their season openers. Mark Helfrich (Oregon) rolled over Nicholls State (no shocker there). Mike MacIntyre led Colorado to an emotional win over an in-state rival in Colorado State, and Sonny Dykes’ California team put up a gritty effort in defeat against Northwestern.
  • Suspensions lifted: After being suspended for Week 1, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, the nation’s leading rusher last season, will make his debut against UNLV. Daniel Jenkins filled in quite nicely, rushing for 139 yards on 12 carries, including a 91-yard touchdown run. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was also suspended for Week 1, is expected to be on the field when the Huskies return to action next week. Cal linebacker Chris McCain had his suspension rescinded after he was ejected per the NCAA’s new targeting rule and will play against Portland State.

 

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