NCF Nation: James Rodgers

Heading into the 2010 season, it was not uncommon for media sorts to volunteer Oregon State as a program that had the best staff of assistant coaches in the Pac-10.

Why? Good numbers without stockpiles of elite recruits. Non-elite recruits becoming NFL draft choices. Thirty-six wins over the previous four seasons. You know, the usual suspects.

Oh, but how two down seasons can change things. After going a combined 8-16 over the past two years, many Beavers fans are either calling for head coach Mike Riley's head, or they are at least calling for the heads of his coordinators: Mark Banker on defense and Danny Langsdorf on offense.

How quickly can things change? Well, I wrote this heading into 2010 as part of a "Don't be surprised if..." series: "Don't be surprised if ... Beavers offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf becomes a hot head-coaching candidate when new starting quarterback Ryan Katz posts surprisingly strong numbers this fall."

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireAfter two straight lowly seasons, Oregon State coach Mike Riley might call offensive plays in 2012.
Katz posted pretty good numbers in 2010 -- 60 percent completion rate, 18 TDs, 11 interceptions -- but he was promptly and surprisingly displaced as the starter by redshirt freshman Sean Mannion at the beginning of the 2011 season. And Langsdorf is now fighting for his job instead of presiding over his own program.

In fact, there now appears to be some question as to whether Riley will take over play-calling responsibilities from Langsdorf in 2012, which Riley gave to Langsdorf midway through the 2008 season. This question is being -- legitimately -- asked because Riley is calling plays this spring.

Riley was noncommittal -- and a tad uncomfortable -- with this line of inquiry Monday, and you can see video of his thoughts here. He called it "not a big deal." He said he was calling plays so he could see how the offense reacted against certain looks from the defense: "It's a way to orchestrate a big-picture look," he said.

When asked if it was for spring only, he said, "For right now, it's only for spring."

That qualifies as a "maybe," not a "Yes" or "No."

So here's my defense of Langsdorf, who also coaches the Beavers QBs. It might not be completely comforting for Beavers fans, but I think it's fair and accurate: The reason the Beavers offense has struggled the past two seasons ... drum roll please ... is a lack of good players.

I know: Thud.

The 2010 season likely would have been different if receiver James Rodgers hadn't blown out his knee during an impressive win at Arizona on Oct. 9. And the Beavers would have qualified for a bowl game if typically reliable tight end Joe Halahuni hadn't dropped a 2-point conversion that would have beaten homestanding Washington in double-overtime.

2011? Well, that was just pretty lousy. Riley, Langsdorf, Banker, the players -- everyone associated with the program -- surely spent some time wondering where they failed.

Still, as the Pac-12 blog observed while praising Langsdorf just two years ago:

In his six seasons as offensive coordinator, the Beavers have posted five of their top-nine all-time seasons of total offense. Remember the early careers of quarterbacks Matt Moore, Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao? One word: Yucky. Remember their late careers? Two words: Dramatic transformation. Canfield earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 2009 and joined Moore in the NFL.


In 2008, with Langsdorf calling plays, the Beavers ranked 32nd in the nation with 30.5 points per game and 30th in the nation with 407.1 yards per game. In 2009, they ranked 26th in points (31.5 ppg) and 34th in yards (410.6 ypg).

In other words, Langsdorf has been a successful coordinator and playcaller. At least when he's shown up for battle with more than a pillow shield and plastic sword.

Things set up fairly well for the offense heading into 2012. Langsdorf has his returning starter at QB in Mannion. He has a good crew of receivers, led by Markus Wheaton. But the offense will struggle if it can't generate a running game, which mostly hinges on improved play on the offensive line, which has been sub-par two years running.

One of the criticisms of Riley has been his loyalty to his assistant coaches, but he's made tough decisions recently, including firing longtime linebackers coach Greg Newhouse in March of 2011 (mostly because of recruiting shortcomings). If Riley takes away play-calling responsibilities from Langsdorf, it will be a painful blow to both men.

But it appears that possibility is at least being considered, so it will be worth asking about in advance of the season opener on Sept. 1 against Nicholls State.

Predictions: Big East bowls

December, 26, 2011
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The time has come for me to make my can't-be-beat Big East bowl predictions. All year you guys wanted me to think outside the box and pick some upsets. I shall deliver today. The pick for the Orange Bowl comes later this week, so West Virginia fans have to wait a few more days.

Belk Bowl: Louisville (7-5) vs. NC State (7-5), Dec. 27, 8 p.m. Here comes Test 1 against the ACC. The Wolfpack will have the benefit of playing in front of a partisan crowd, but Louisville goes into the game on a bit of a hot streak, having closed the season with a 5-1 mark. The Cardinals have simply found their identity. This offense is not going to light up the scoreboard, but it has become more efficient and balanced since play-calling duties switched to Shawn Watson. The defense has been solid, and will be one of the best the Wolfpack have faced this season. Louisville ranks No. 10 nationally in rushing defense (103.5 ypg), No. 14 in scoring defense (19.2 ppg) and No. 23 in total defense (327.8 ypg). Here is the bottom line for me: You know what you are going to get out of the Cardinals. They have been exceptionally consistent in the second half of the season. You cannot say the same for NC State, one of the most inconsistent teams in the nation. Will we see the NC State team that beat Clemson or the one that lost to Boston College and nearly lost to Maryland? Louisville 24, NC State 20.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6), Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. Once again, Rutgers is playing the quarterback shuffle game, and coach Greg Schiano has not announced whether Chas Dodd or Gary Nova will start in the bowl game. No matter who is behind center, you can bet one thing has been emphasized since Rutgers lost to UConn -- hold onto the football. Rutgers turned the ball over six times against the Huskies and simply never gave itself a chance to win. Iowa State has been solid at forcing turnovers, but the Cyclones have given the ball away too many times this season. Rutgers owned the turnover margin earlier this season but has fallen off lately. The key for Rutgers in all its wins this season has been simple -- create turnovers, limit mistakes and allow defense and special teams to carry the day. Schiano always gets his team up for bowl games, and Iowa State has dropped two games in a row since beating Oklahoma State. Rutgers 27, Iowa State 20.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6), Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. I have been outspoken on this game in the past week so you know where I am going with this one. Zach Collaros might be back at quarterback for the Bearcats, which should be a huge advantage. Still, these teams are very similar -- good running backs (Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy) and good defenses (Vandy ranks No. 19 in the nation, Cincinnati ranks in the top 10 against the run and leads in sacks). The quarterback matchup between Jordan Rodgers and Collaros should be a good one as well, but I still give the advantage to the Bearcats. This is a team that was on pace to get to a BCS game before Collaros broke his ankle. Cincinnati has been terrific at getting after the quarterback and making tackles behind the line, and the secondary is much improved. The seniors are eager to win their first bowl game and eager to prove the naysayers wrong once again. Cincinnati 27, Vanderbilt 21.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Pitt (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5), Jan. 7, 1 p.m. The big question headed into this one is how Pitt responds with interim coach Keith Patterson leading the way. The Panthers played under an interim coach in this game last year against Kentucky and won, so clearly this is not a unique situation. Pitt has to do what has worked best this season -- establish the run and let quarterback Tino Sunseri manage the game. The defense has been much improved in the second half of the season, and SMU has struggled to put up points of late. The Mustangs also will be without leading rusher Zach Line, who played a big role in the offense. If the Panthers can continue to get after the quarterback and play well in the secondary, they should be able to win this game. Pitt 28, SMU 17.

Quick look at week 10 games

November, 1, 2011
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Here's a quick look at Week 10 in the Pac-12.

All times are ET.

Friday

USC (6-2, 3-2) at Colorado (1-8, 0-5) 9 p.m. ESPN: USC leads the series 5-0, winning the most recent meeting in 2002 40-3. Trojans QB Matt Barkley needs just 108 yards of total offense to move into third on the school's all-time total offense list. Colorado QB Tyler Hansen moved into fifth place on the Buffaloes' all-time passing yards list with 4,851. The Buffs rank 11th or 12th in the conference in 16 of 33 team statistical categories listed on the Pac-12's official release, including ranking last in scoring offense, scoring defense, rushing offense, rushing defense, pass-efficiency defense, sacks against, red zone offense and red zone defense.

Saturday

No. 4 Stanford (8-0, 6-0) at Oregon State (2-6, 2-3) 3:30 p.m. ABC: Stanford is riding a 16-game winning streak, longest in the nation. The Cardinal leads its series with Oregon State 49-25-3, including a 38-0 win last year. The Cardinal, however, lost its previous visit to Corvallis, 38-28 in 2009. The Cardinal trailed for the first time this season in its 56-48, triple-overtime win over USC last weekend. Last week, Oregon State receiver James Rodgers became the third Beaver to eclipse 200 career receptions. The Beavers are last in the conference in turnover margin (minus-5). Stanford is second (plus-7). The Cardinal have turned it over just six times, the Beavers 21.

Washington State (3-5, 1-4) at California (4-4, 1-4) 6:30 p.m. CSNCA: California leads the series 42-25-5. The Bears won last season in Pullman 20-13, a game that was notable because it was the Cal's first without QB Kevin Riley. Cougars QB Marshall Lobbestael, formerly Jeff Tuel's backup before Tuel got hurt, has eclipsed 300 yards in four games. Only Arizona's Nick Foles has more 300-yard games (six). The Cougars have scored 266 points this year (33.2 points per game). They scored 235 points in all of 2010 (19.6 ppg). Cal receiver Keenan Allen needs 11 yards to eclipse 1,000 receiving this season.

Utah (4-4, 1-4) at Arizona (2-6, 1-5) 7 p.m. FSAZ-KJZZ: Utah leads the series 19-15-2, last beating the Wildcats 27-24 in 2005. Before scoring 27 points in their first Pac-12 victory, the Utes had averaged just 13 points per game in their previous four conference games. The Utes lead the conference in total defense (325.6 yards per game). When Utes running back John White rushed for a career-high 205 yards in the win over Oregon State, it was Utah's first 200-yard rushing game in nine years. Wildcats QB Nick Foles leads the conference with 366.1 yards passing per game, which is on pace to eclipse the conference record of 342.9 yards passing per game set by Washington's Cody Pickett in 2002.

No. 19 Arizona State (6-2, 4-1) at UCLA (4-4, 3-2) 7:30 p.m. Versus: UCLA leads the series 16-10-1, but the Sun Devils won 55-34 in Tempe last year. Sun Devils running back Cameron Marshall is first in the conference with 12 rushing TDs. Bruins QB Kevin Prince rushed for 163 yards in the win over Cal. It was the first time since 1976 (Jeff Dankworth vs. Cal) that a Bruins QB eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark. ASU has forced 25 turnovers, five more than any other Pac-12 team. The Sun Devils are first in the conference in turnover margin (plus-12). UCLA is tied for sixth with just as many giveaways as takeaways.

No. 8 Oregon (7-1, 5-0) at Washington (6-2, 4-1) 10:30 p.m. FSN: Washington leads the series 58-40-5, but the Ducks have won seven in a row, each by at least 20 points. The Ducks have scored 40 or more points in each of their past seven games, averaging 50.4 points during the winning streak. Running back LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas both started for Oregon against Washington State after missing action due to injuries. Thomas was yanked at halftime, however, so it's unclear if he or backup Bryan Bennett will start Saturday. Washington has scored 30 or more points in seven games this season, which hasn't happened since the 2000 Rose Bowl team scored more than 30 in nine games. Huskies running back Chris Polk's 3,577 career rushing yards ranks 14th in conference history and second all-time for the Huskies, only behind Napoleon Kaufman (4,106 yards). This will be the final game in Husky Stadium before it undergoes major renovations. The Apple Cup on Nov. 26 and the 2012 season will be played in the Seattle Seahawks home stadium, CenturyLink Field.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 5

September, 29, 2011
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Ten issues to consider heading into the fifth week of games.

Wynn flinging it? Utah QB Jordan Wynn is understandably tired of talking about his surgically repaired shoulder, but many will continue to wonder about it until he looks 100 percent in an A-list performance. He's mostly improved each week, but coming off a bye week he should be well-rested and as healthy as he's been. With a high-scoring Washington offense coming to town, he might need to look like his old, efficient self for the Utes to win.

[+] EnlargeWynn
Kirby Lee/US PresswireUtah quarterback Jordan Wynn has passed for 578 yards and five TDs this season.
Arizona D steps up or Barkley bounces back? Trojans QB Matt Barkley turned in a poor performance at Arizona State, with two interceptions, a fumble and a number of missed throws. Arizona's defense has been a perfect backdrop so far for tour de force offensive performances. Will Barkley be the latest A-list player to make the Wildcats look bad? Or will the Wildcats step up, as their friends in Tempe did a week ago?

ASU stays focused: Speaking of Tempe, the Sun Devils are at home against 0-3 Oregon State. On paper, it would look like an easy, blowout win. But ASU isn't a team that can believe anything will be easy just yet, particularly against a program that has beaten it three straight times. The Sun Devils need to step on the gas early and keep pressing until the game is clearly in hand.

Does Lobbestael get time to throw? Washington State's strong crew of receivers has a decided advantage against Colorado's secondary, which was questionable even before it got banged up. That would seem to play right into Cougars QB Marshall Lobbestael's hands. But the Buffaloes compensate for their secondary with a fierce pass rush, see 14 sacks, which leads the Pac-12. So will Lobbestael be able to punish Colorado pressure? Or will he have a long day looking up at the lights around Folsom Field?

Luck vs. Bruins defense: While the Bruins defense played OK at Oregon State, it's still been dreadful this year, mustering just three sacks while giving up 183 yards rushing per game, which ranks 11th in the conference. If Stanford runs well bell-to-bell, this is going to be a blowout. And if Andrew Luck can stand in the pocket unmolested, this is going to be a blowout. The 2011 Bruins defense was billed as a group that would attack. It's going to have to take some aggressive chances to slow down Luck and the Cardinal.

Polk versus Utes run defense: Huskies running back Chris Polk is one of the nation's best runners. He ranks second in the Pac-12 with 127 yards rushing per game. Utah's run defense is yielding just 79 yards per game, which ranks third in the conference. While UW QB Keith Price has been brilliant thus far -- see a nation-leading 14 TD passes -- know that coach Steve Sarkisian wants to challenge the Utes with the running game. If the Utes make the Huskies one-dimensional, that will make things tough for Price on the road.

Any help for Foles? The defense isn't Arizona's only problem. The Wildcats also have one of the nation's worst running games and have surrendered 12 sacks, most in the conference. It's mostly been QB Nick Foles versus the world during the three-game losing streak. Will any other Wildcats step up? Will a defender make a play that gives Foles a short field? Will the running backs and offensive line create any sort of running threat? Will the O-line give Foles time to throw? Foles can't do it alone, particularly on the road against a quality team.

Rodgers revs up: Know what would be the best way for the Beavers to energize? A couple of big plays from receiver James Rodgers, who will be playing his second game since returning from knee surgery. Rodgers looked good against UCLA and made some plays. Here's a guess he'll be less focused on his knee and more focused on making plays than he was in his first game back. When healthy, he's one of the most dangerous players in the nation. Can he unleash his old self on the Sun Devils?

Rodney Stewart let loose: San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman gashed the Cougars for 191 yards and four touchdowns. Can Colorado's Rodney Stewart follow his lead? The Cougars are better on defense than they have been, but these are still many of the same players who yielded 220 yards on the ground in 2010. Stewart and the Buffs running game has mostly been held in check, see a No. 11 ranking in the conference. It would be a good time for Stewart and company to reverse that early-season trend.

Bruins get physical: One of the best things UCLA can do is keep Luck off the field. That means run the ball. The Bruins have run well in the early going with 214 yards per game. Stanford has the nation's No. 1 rated running defense, but it has yet to play a good running team. Also, this is the Cardinal's first game without standout linebacker Shayne Skov. If the Bruins can run consistently, and physically challenge the Cardinal front seven, that could open things up for QB Richard Brehaut. And Stanford is yielding a 65.8 percent completion rate, third worst in the conference.

Final: UCLA 27, Oregon State 19

September, 24, 2011
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At least for a week, UCLA can smile. Oregon State? Not so much.

The Bruins triumphed 27-19 in the Desperation Bowl at Oregon State, as the Bruins evened their record at 2-2 and at least briefly boosted coach Rick Neuheisel's chances of surviving the 2011 season.

And the Beavers, who closed the gap to 21-19 to start the fourth after a 2-point conversion failed, fell to 0-3 for the first time since 1996.

UCLA QB Richard Brehaut threw for a touchdown and ran for another. The Bruins outrushed the Beavers 211 yards to 88.

Making his first career start at QB, Oregon State redshirt freshman Sean Mannion completed 24 of 40 for 287 yards with a TD, an interception and a fumble on the Beavers 4-yard line.

Receiver James Rodgers had a solid return, catching five passes for 76 yards.

UCLA faces a tough task on Saturday at Stanford. Oregon State visits Arizona State.

UCLA in control at Oregon State

September, 24, 2011
9/24/11
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The Desperation Bowl didn't start well for UCLA, but the Bruins have asserted themselves on both sides of the ball at Oregon State and lead 21-3.

Oregon State can't run the ball -- see 13 carries, 16 yards -- and that's putting a lot of pressure on quarterback Sean Mannion.

Meanwhile, Richard Brehaut is making a statement as UCLA's quarterback. He's completed 4 of 5 for 108 yards with a 22-yard touchdown to Taylor Embree. He's also rushed for a touchdown.

James Rodgers, by the way, has two receptions for 48 yards. And a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
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Ten issues to consider heading into the fourth week of games.

Pressure Barkley: USC QB Matt Barkley comfortable in the pocket? That's not a good thing for a defense, particularly when he gets to find receiver Robert Woods. USC has allowed just two sacks this year, and Arizona State will be missing its best pass-rusher -- defensive end Junior Onyeali, who's out indefinitely with a knee injury -- so the Sun Devils might need to get creative with blitzes. You know, like they've done with linebacker Vontaze Burfict this year, see four sacks.

[+] EnlargeUSC's Matt Barkley
Kelvin Kuo/US PRESSWIREMatt Barkley has passed for 892 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception so far this season.
Foles on his own? Arizona QB Nick Foles is a heck of a player but he will not beat Oregon on his own. He needs help from the Pac-12's worst running game, its worst defense and an offensive line that has yielded seven sacks.

Washington D needs to step up: Arizona has the worst defense in terms of yards allowed in the conference, but the Huskies are the worst in terms of points surrendered: 36.7 ppg. And the Huskies are 11th in the conference in yards allowed, too. Coordinator Nick Holt is the conference's best paid defensive coordinator (without the last name "Kiffin," at least), and it was widely believed in the preseason that the Huskies had enough talent to be an A-list defense this fall. The early results have been terrible. A visit from California to start the Pac-12 schedule is a heck of an opportunity for Holt and the UW D to reverse their fortunes.

No slow start in the 'Shoe, Colorado: As pointed out by the Boulder Daily Camera: "The Buffs have been outscored 40-20 in the first half in the first three games and 14 of the Buffs' 20 first-half points came against [Colorado State]." It wouldn't be a good idea to fall behind early against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. For one, having lost 19 in a row on the road, it likely wouldn't help the Buffaloes' confidence. Second, Ohio State's grind-it-out offense is much better playing from ahead than playing from behind -- see below.

Brehaut takes over: Richard Brehaut has an opportunity to decisively win the UCLA QB job. He just needs to put up numbers in a victory at Oregon State. Most observers have long felt coach Rick Neuheisel has favored Kevin Prince in the Bruins' seemingly endless QB competition, but Neuheisel will favor the guy who gets him a W. Brehaut should have a chance against the Beavers' pass defense, which is the worst in the Pac-12.

Osweiler bounce back: ASU QB Brock Osweiler was lights out at home against Missouri but he struggled at Illinois. Now he's back home facing USC, which has beaten the Sun Devils 11 consecutive times. Osweiler needs to regain his Missouri form -- or at least approximate it -- in order for Arizona State to jump to the front of the Pac-12 South Division pecking order.

Ducks make statement: After losing to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, which inspired many national pundits to write Oregon off, the Ducks quietly rolled up a pair of dominant wins at home against inferior foes. But now Oregon opens the Pac-12 schedule on ESPN2 with a chance to make a statement: "We're still here." If the Ducks can match -- or eclipse -- Stanford's impressive 37-10 win in Tucson last weekend, they likely will hush some of the doubters.

Zach Maynard's first road test: The Cal QB has been solid in the Bears' first three games, but playing at Husky Stadium is not something he's done before, certainly not during his days as the starting QB at Buffalo. While the Huskies' defense has been vulnerable, it's also faced three experienced QBs. Expect the Huskies to throw a lot at Maynard, whose biggest weakness in the early going has been accuracy.

Colorado run D vs. Ohio State: Colorado ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, and it will surely gang up on the run at Ohio State. The Buckeyes had only 209 total yards at Miami last weekend, including 35 yards passing. The way to stop the Buckeyes' offense, who completed a dreadful 4 of 18 passes against the Hurricanes, is to force them to throw. Can the Buffs do that?

Mannion the man? While Oregon State redshirt freshman QB Sezan Mannion saw a lot of action in the first two games, this is his first official game as the Beavers' starter. He's going to get some help with receiver James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni returning to action, but it will be up to Mannion to deliver the ball on time and in the right spot against UCLA.

3-point stance: James Rodgers returns

September, 22, 2011
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1. Before the season began, Oregon State coach Mike Riley worried aloud that flanker James Rodgers, recovering from a severe knee injury, might be better off if he redshirted and applied for a sixth season of eligibility. Rodgers is healthy enough that doctors have cleared him to play Saturday against UCLA. How much -- and how quickly -- he will resemble the James Rodgers of 2008-10 is a coldhearted question given the long rehabilitation. It will be interesting to see Rodgers answer it nonetheless.

2. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has adapted well to head coach Dana Holgorsen’s spread offense. In three games, Smith has completed 17 passes of 20 yards or more, nearly half the number (35) that the Mountaineers completed in all of 2010 (thanks, ESPN Stats & Info). However, No. 2 LSU, which visits Morgantown on Saturday night, has allowed but two completions of more than 20 yards this season. Big plays, moreso than usual, will tell the tale at Milan Puskar Stadium.

3. East Carolina has posted a web page describing the breadth of its fan support just in case anyone from, oh, an AQ conference wanders by (thanks, Big East blogger Andrea Adelson). The Pirates’ average attendance in 2010, 49,665, would have ranked fourth in the Big East. Their games drew more in-state viewers than did North Carolina State. East Carolina’s in-state popularity has never been as much of an issue as its lack of a profile outside North Carolina. Establishing that is the rub.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 4

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
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Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

See last week's power rankings here.

1. Stanford: The Cardinal was dominant in its first legitimate test of the season, winning its now-nation-leading 11th in a row, but the loss of linebacker Shayne Skov to a knee injury could prove costly.

2. Oregon: The Ducks did what they needed to do: Completely outclass Missouri State in a fairly entertaining -- "Wow, did you see that!" -- way.

3. USC: The Trojans finally flexed their muscles for four quarters. When they do that, they are a top-15 perhaps even top-10 team. So will they do that at Arizona State on Saturday?

4. Arizona State: Sure, the Sun Devils blew a game they should have won at Illinois. But they still have the best nonconference win -- against Missouri -- of any team in the conference. The Sun Devils and Utah have established themselves as the teams to beat in the South Division (Trojans ineligible).

5. Utah: The Utes opened up a can of whup-butt at BYU in a blowout shocker. Got to like the killer instinct on both sides of the ball. The Utes played hard until the very end, even though the game was out of hand in the third quarter.

5. California: We still don't know who the Bears are. We should get a better idea during their visit to Washington on Saturday. The winner pushes into the No. 3 slot in the North Division.

6. Washington: Boy, that third quarter at Nebraska. Yucky. Huskies fans, you can get mad about the officiating -- it should be reprimanded this week -- but your chief concern should be the defense.

8. Arizona: Look, this is a horrible schedule for a team that could have used a soft start to the season -- look longingly at Stanford's slate -- but the Wildcats still flashed just enough potential to suggest this team is good enough to get to a bowl game. But only if the locker room holds together until Week 6.

9. Washington State: Wow, rough a punter and everything goes splat. It appears that the Cougars will have to settled for "better" rather than "magical." But how good will better be? And will it be good enough to save Paul Wulff's job?

10. Colorado: Colorado took control of Colorado State and showed signs of life on both sides of the ball. You ask, Buffs, why are you below WSU? Well, did you see what UNLV did to Hawaii?

11. UCLA: There was some thought of dumping the Bruins into the basement because they don't have the excuses -- injuries -- Oregon State does. But UCLA does have a win and hasn't lost to an FCS team and hasn't been shut out. And the Bruins and Beavers play the Desperation Bowl on Saturday.

12. Oregon State: The good news is the Beavers didn't lose this weekend. The better news is some guys -- tight end Joe Halahuni and, maybe, receiver James Rodgers -- are getting healthy.

Katz out, Mannion in at Oregon State

September, 13, 2011
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It seems shocking to those of us who saw Ryan Katz as a quarterback with tremendous upside and the leader of the Oregon State offense, but he is no longer the Beavers starter.

Coach Mike Riley announced Tuesday that the job now belongs to redshirt freshman Sean Mannion.

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Sean Mannion
AP Photo/Morry GashRedshirt freshman Sean Mannion has supplanted junior Ryan Katz as Oregon State's starting quarterback.
The Beavers are 0-2 and have looked bad getting there. But this decision was rooted in spring practices when Mannion showed promise while Katz was hurt, and it came down to pure competition.

Mannion has consistently outplayed Katz in practice as well as during the 0-2 start.

"It was fairly early in camp," Riley said when asked when he first considered Mannion potentially eclipsing Katz on the depth chart.

Mannion, 6-foot-5, 218 pounds, first replaced Katz in the opener against Sacramento State, a shocking 29-28 home defeat to an FCS team. While Katz started at Wisconsin, Mannion played nearly the entire game.

In two games, Mannion produced a 131.0 efficiency rating. Katz was at 78.9. Mannion completed 66 percent of his passes with no interceptions. Katz completed 52 percent with one pick.

Katz, a big-armed junior, passed for 2,401 yards and 18 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 2010 and seemed poised for a breakthrough this fall. But it quickly became clear that Riley and his offensive coaches believe that Mannion has more present and future potential running the Beavers offense.

It doesn't appear Katz is taking the change very well, which is understandable but could become an issue in the locker room. You'd think if anyone can calm Katz, it would be Riley, as light a touch as there is in college coaching. But Riley also knows that situations like this can become divisive, which he'd likely move quickly to quash.

The Beavers have a bye this week to complete the transition. They will play host to UCLA on Sept. 24.

Mannion's job now is to win over his teammates and the locker room. He needs to inspire confidence over the next two weeks of practice. And then he needs to justify his coaches' decision with his performance. It will help that he'll get tight end Joe Halahuni back and, perhaps, receiver James Rodgers. That should significantly bolster the passing game.

For Katz, he'll have to decide if he wants to stick around or transfer.

Of course, it's entirely possible we haven't seen the last of him this season. If Mannion falters, or if he gets hurt, then Katz could get another chance.

All Katz has to do is look north to Washington State, where Jeff Tuel's backup, Marshall Lobbestael, has become the toast of Pullman.

Final: Wisconsin 35, Oregon State 0

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
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Last weekend, Oregon State got beat by an FCS team. This weekend, No. 8 Wisconsin made it look like an FCS team.

The Beavers simply were outclassed. They were outrushed 208 yards to 21.

But the passing is what Beavers fans likely will be most focused upon: As in who's doing it.

It appears that Ryan Katz, even though he started the game, is no longer Oregon State's quarterback.

He completed just 2 of 3 throws for 17 yards. He seemed to enter the game mostly to run the ball, see four carries for 17 yards.

Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Sean Mannion completed 25 of 38 for 244 yards.

It would appear he's the man going forward, though there could be more intrigue here.

While this slow start would seem worse than Oregon State's traditional slow starts, it still might be premature to write the Beavers off. After a bye week, they figure to get healthier. When UCLA comes to town to start the Pac-12 season, tight end Joe Halahuni will be back and receiver James Rodgers could be back.

It's possible that Oregon State will be a very different team once the Pac-12 schedule starts.

But it's fair to say the situation at quarterback needs to clear up.

Beavers try to regain mojo vs. Wisconsin

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
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Oregon State coach Mike Riley isn't the sort of guy to toss over a table and spill 100 cups of Gatorade on his players to make sure they know how unhappy he is, but he's also not going to pat the Beavers on the back and wipe away their tears after an embarrassing loss to Sacramento State.

He's going to look for answers -- tough answers if need be. The one he immediately came up with Monday is announcing the quarterback job will be split between Ryan Katz, the 2010 starter, and redshirt freshman Sean Mannion.

Mannion played well in the loss to the Hornets; Katz did not. Ergo, the potential shakeup, though it's unclear how things will be rotated when the Beavers visit No. 8 Wisconsin on Saturday.

Yeah, Wisconsin. Not good. The Badgers are a big, physical team with a new, impressive dual-threat QB in Russell Wilson, a transfer from NC State. The Beavers lost at home to an FCS team. Now they are going on the road to play a national title contender.

The first issue: What went wrong for the Beavers against the Hornets in a 29-28 overtime defeat?

Riley isn't certain. And he admitted he didn't see such a flat performance coming.

"We trusted this team's work ethic," he said. "They were really good in fall camp. Everything up to that was positive. Why all of a sudden would you doubt what they are all about as far as getting ready to play?"

What's most worrisome: Riley thought the Beavers seemed tight, though they were playing at home against a supposedly overmatched foe. Sure, eight true freshmen and eight redshirt freshmen saw their first career action, in large part due to epidemic injuries, but that still doesn't fully explain a listless performance.

What does Riley expect -- hope? -- to see in front of 80,000 fans in Camp Randall Stadium?

"Poise is No. 1," he said. "We had some stage fright in our opener. It looked like we played with not much emotion but I sensed it was a fear."

Unfortunately, the injury luck still hasn't turned positive, even with the return of DT Kevin Frahm (knee) and potential return of DT Dominic Glover (academics). The lone bright spot from the Sacramento State game was true freshman running back Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for a nation-leading 223 yards. He's now doubtful for the visit to Wisconsin because of a hamstring injury suffered Tuesday.

The hits keep coming. The injury situation has been so bad that Riley made a decision he knew would inspire criticism: He opted to selectively enforce preseason player suspensions because of the thinness of the depth chart.

Fact is, it could get ugly at Wisconsin. It would be a tough matchup for the Beavers even at 100 percent. But with several key starters out -- most notably WR James Rodgers, TE Joe Halahuni and CB Brandon Hardin -- it's probably going to be a challenge for Riley to just restore his team's confidence.

There is a silver lining, though. The Beavers have a bye next week. Halahuni is likely back for UCLA's visit on Sept. 24. And Rodgers could be back, too. That will be a big boost in terms of skill and leadership, particularly in the passing game.

The hope is things will sort themselves out at QB this weekend -- and here's a guess Riley would prefer for Katz to reassert himself -- and the momentum will take a positive swing as Pac-12 play opens.

Otherwise, the Beavers could be looking at consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

Consoling the state of Oregon

September, 5, 2011
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Says the Oregon fans: At least there's Sacramento State. Thanks Hornets.

Says the Oregon State fan: At least there's LSU. Thanks Tigers.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezOregon's high-powered offense has averaged 17.8 points per game in Chip Kelly's four nonconference losses at the school.
Otherwise, either Ducks or Beavers fans would be crowing at the other's expense this week. As it is, both are miserable.

And they should be.

Oregon laid an egg instead of taking advantage of a major opportunity against LSU. The loss, naturally, inspired more of the same talk about the present leader of the Pac-12 not being able to physically keep up with an elite SEC team.

We went that route, too. But let's pause for a moment and wonder how that game might have gone for the Ducks if the teams had the same number of turnovers and penalties. You know: What if the game happened the way Oregon wanted it to instead of the way it actually did.

That same approach, which all unhappy football fans use the day after, is surely being employed by Oregon State adherents.

Beavers, yes, you are now on the ignoble list of FBS teams that have lost to FCS teams. In fact, you are on the list of FBS teams from BCS AQ conferences that have lost to FCS teams. Put all those letters together and they spell, "Embarrassing."

But we come not here to bury fans from the state of Oregon but to console them!

First, you have this: These defeats did nothing to damage your Rose Bowl chances. There are 11 games left. The only fact as of today is the best you can do in the regular season is go 11-1.

Oregon, you might have played yourself out of the national title chase. Or you might not have. Fair to say, it will take a lot of losing all over the country and impressive winning from the Ducks to get pollsters to rank the Ducks Nos. 1 or 2.

Oregon State, you might have a little embarrassing left to do. You are going to Wisconsin on Saturday. Did you watch the Badgers against UNLV? One word: Gulp. Hard to imagine that being a pleasant trip, though Beavers fans surely will enjoy one of the nation's great college towns.

But Beavers, you aren't whole. You are without your big front teeth and wonderful paddle tail: receiver James Rodgers, cornerback Brandon Hardin, defensive tackle Kevin Frahm, defensive tackle Dominic Glover and tight end Joe Halahuni. That's a lot of quality starters to be missing.

Many of those guys will be back at some point: Frahm this week, Halahuni by the Sept. 24 game with UCLA. Rodgers ... hopefully sometime.

But let's be honest Oregon State: This is a team with issues. Coach Mike Riley said as much during the preseason. Sure injuries have been brutal, leading to 14 players making their first career starts and a school-record eight true freshman playing. But even without the injuries, this team didn't look like a threat in the Pac-12 North Division.

That said: Slow starts are often a staple of good seasons in Corvallis.

The 2000 team that went 11-1 nearly lost its opener to Eastern Washington. The 2004 team started 1-4 but went 7-5. In 2006, the Beavers got bombed at Boise State but went 10-4. In 2007, they got stomped at Cincinnati but went 9-4. In 2008, Penn State delivered the beatdown, but that team went 9-4.

In fact, the Beavers best seasons seem to have featured multiple early defeats -- in many years bad ones -- which likely will be the case after the trip to Madison. So maybe this is just the unhappy required part of a pattern for success?

Just like Oregon, which has now lost four consecutive marquee nonconference games to A-list foes with extra time to prepare. That pattern, nonetheless, has been imposed upon the two-time defending conference champions, not exactly a struggling program.

Ducks, Beavers: It's Labor Day. Let it go sometime around 10 a.m. PDT. Find a fan of opposite color and rib him or her, and take it back good naturedly.

It's a long season. But you don't know that it's going to be a looooooong season just yet. Eleven more games to turn those frowns upside down.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 1

August, 29, 2011
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Welcome to the final preseason Pac-12 power rankings!

You can review the post-spring power rankings here. There is a good deal of movement. And a lot of different iterations -- including change at the very top -- were heavily considered.

This week's vote is based on one factor: If the Pac-12 had a tournament this week on a neutral field, how do you think things would finish. That means, for example, a team's schedule doesn't matter. But preseason camp momentum -- read: an absence of controversy or injuries -- does.

Going forward, the power rankings will be far more focused on that immediate present reality: How did teams handle their business that past weekend? It won't necessarily be a projection of finish.

And, for those new to the power rankings, the motto here is simple: If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

1. Oregon: Based on what we typed above, one might think the Ducks would fall behind Stanford. And our thought process in early August was exactly that -- see here -- as our top-25 poll included other factors, such as schedule, such as Stanford playing host to Oregon this season. But here's the deal: Oregon is the top bird until somebody shoots it out of the air.

2. Stanford: A lot of folks are questioning Stanford. The Pac-12 blog is, too. My question: Will Andrew Luck and the Cardinal win the national championship this season. My hunch? A strong maybe.

3. USC: If the Trojans were eligible for the postseason, the gap between them and Nos. 1 and 2 would be fairly small. As it is, the gap between USC and the top two spots is fairly gigantic.

4. Arizona State: The Pac-12 blog has been banging the Sun Devils' drum since late in the 2010 season. And if this team was getting ready to send out the depth chart it appeared to have last December -- just about everyone back -- I'd project it in the top-15. But with all the attrition -- injuries, players quitting, etc. -- it's hard to know who the Sun Devils will be.

5. Washington: The Huskies' big question was replacing quarterback Jake Locker. Ther second question was at linebacker. It seems more than a few folks are optimistic those questions will be adequately answered. There's a lot to like on this roster, particularly what looks to be a dramatically improved defense.

6. Utah: It's hard to project Utah because we've never seen them before in this environment. What we can say is the success of this season hangs on keeping quarterback Jordan Wynn's surgically repaired shoulder safe.

7. Arizona: Just when we were starting to think the Wildcats might be an underrated team, they lose their best cover corner -- Jonathan McKnight -- for the season to a knee injury. While Arizona State and Oregon State have had the worst injury luck of the offseason, the Wildcats aren't far behind.

8. UCLA: The Bruins feel like a sleeper. It almost seems as simple as this: If UCLA is merely adequate at quarterback, it will be a bowl team and a factor in the Pac-12 South.

9. California: See what we typed for UCLA, only in the North Division. Further, the Bears look like they are going to play a lot of their talented true and redshirt freshmen classes. That should at least be very interesting.

10. Colorado: Not unlike Utah, we don't really know what we're going to get with the Buffaloes. There was a big temptation to rank them higher -- this is an experienced team with more talent than many old school Pac-10 folks think. But how could we rank the Buffs ahead of Cal after what happened in Berkeley last season?

11. Oregon State: Beavers fans are erupting... no way! Yes way. On the list of injured or at least uncertain: receiver James Rodgers, tight end Joe Halahuni, cornerback Brandon Hardin, defensive tackle Dominic Glover, defensive tackle Kevin Frahm and linebacker Cameron Collins. And many more, actually. The Beavers entered preseason practices with a lot of questions -- as coach Mike Riley repeatedly said -- they will head into the first week with perhaps more than they did at the beginning of August.

12. Washington State: There was some thought of bouncing the Cougars out of the basement. They, unlike a number of teams, have stayed relatively healthy during camp, and just about every report coming out of Pullman is colored with optimism. But the same rule that applies to Oregon in a positive way applies to the Cougars in a negative one: You're here until you prove otherwise.

Injury woes at Oregon State

August, 24, 2011
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Oregon State and Arizona State seem to be battling to become the Pac-12's biggest MASH unit.

Most folks already know about the uncertainty of receiver James Rodgers (knee) and tight end Joe Halahuni (shoulder), who are doubtful to play at Wisconsin on Sept. 10. But there are a couple of other injuries worth following that are also critical.
  • On the "fairly good," side of the injured list is DT Kevin Frahm. He had surgery on Monday to repair a torn meniscus. The hope is he will return to practice in time to play at Wisconsin.
  • The news is not so good for cornerback Brandon Hardin and his shoulder. He'll need surgery to fix a fracture, and the procedure could end his season. At the minimum, he'll be out six weeks. Sophomore Rashaad Reynolds will step into a starting role.
  • Defensive tackle Dominic Glover still hasn't been cleared academically. What once seemed like a minor issue is taking longer than expected to resolve, which is reason to be nervous.
  • Things are cloudy at tight end until Halahuni comes back. Freshman Kellen Clute hurt his knee in the scrimmage, and two redshirt freshmen, Tyler Perry and Connor Hamlett, will be suspended for a game, though it's unclear which game at this point.
  • Also, linebacker Cameron Collins continues to be limited by an abominable issue. He had offseason surgery and has missed a lot of practice time.

Getting away from injuries, it appears that true freshman Malcolm Agnew is on the cusp of earning the starting spot at running back. The last true freshman to start at the position for the Beavers turned out OK, you might recall.

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