NCF Nation: Marqise Lee
The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.
What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.
Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.
Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.
The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.
Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State
The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.
The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.
Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA
The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.
Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.
Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.
Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC
The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.
Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC
The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.
Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC
The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.
Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.
Here's our shot at it. You surely will be outraged over the player from your team who got left out.
With our evaluation, NFL careers came into play with only the offensive linemen because they are so difficult to compare.
RB Reggie Bush, USC: The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner was one of the most dynamic players in college football history. (Bush returned the Heisman in 2012.)
RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12, 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and unanimous All-American finished his career ranked second in Pac-12 history in rushing yards (5,082) and TDs (53). Nips other stellar RBs such as Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford's Toby Gerhart and USC's LenDale White.
WR Mike Hass, Oregon State: Two-time first-team All-Pac-12 and 2005 Biletnikoff Award winner was the first Pac-12 player to record three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards receiving. His 3,924 receiving yards ranks third all time in the conference. This, of course, could have been fellow Beaver Brandin Cooks or USC's Marqise Lee, who both also won the Biletnikoff Award.
WR Dwayne Jarrett, USC: A two-time consensus All-American, he set the Pac-12 standard with 41 touchdown receptions.
TE Marcedes Lewis, UCLA: A 2005 consensus All-American and John Mackey Award winner as the nation's best tight end. Caught 21 career TD passes.
OL David Yankey, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2013, he was a consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman in 2012.
OL Sam Baker, USC: A 2006 consensus All-American and three-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.
OL Ryan Kalil, USC: Won the 2006 Morris Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.
OL David DeCastro, Stanford: A unanimous All-American in 2011 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.
OL Alex Mack, California: A two-time winner of the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's best offensive lineman (2007 & 2008).
K Kai Forbath, UCLA: Consensus All-American and Lou Groza Award winner in 2009. Made 84.16 percent of his field goals, which is nearly 5 percent better than any other kicker in conference history.
LB Rey Maualuga, USC: Was a consensus All-American and won the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defensive player in 2008. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.
LB Trent Murphy, Stanford: 2013 consensus All-American and two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer.
LB Anthony Barr, UCLA: Consensus All-American 2013 and two-time first-team All-Pac-12.
DL Will Sutton, Arizona State: Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Morris Trophy winner in 2012 and 2013. Consensus All-American in 2012.
DL Haloti Ngata, Oregon: A consensus All-American and Morris Trophy winner in 2005.
DL Rien Long, Washington State: Won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus All-American in 2002.
DL Terrell Suggs, Arizona State: A unanimous All-American in 2002 after setting NCAA single-season record with 24 sacks. Won the Lombardi Trophy. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.
CB Chris McAlister, Arizona: Unanimous All-American in 1998. Three-time first-team All-Pac-12.
CB Antoine Cason, Arizona: Won the Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back in 2007. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.
S Troy Polamalu, USC: Two-time All-Pac-10 and consensus All-American in 2002.
S Taylor Mays, USC: A three-time All-American, he was a consensus All-American in 2008. Two-time first-team All-Pac-12.
P Bryan Anger, California: A three-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection and two-time Ray Guy semifinalist.
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona: In the AdvoCare V100 Bowl win over Boston College, Carey rushed for 169 yards on 27 carries and two scores, averaging 6.3 yards per rush. He decisively outplayed Boston College RB Andre Williams, who won the Doak Walker Award and was a Heisman Trophy finalist.
RB D.J. Foster, Arizona State: Despite being banged up, Foster rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries -- 6.6 yards per carry -- in the Sun Devils' 37-23 loss to Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. He also caught five passes for 23 yards.
WR Marqise Lee, USC: In his career finale, Lee caught seven passes for 118 yards with two touchdowns in USC's win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
WR Nate Phillips, Arizona: Phillips, a true freshman, caught nine passes for 193 yards in the Wildcats' win over Boston College.
WR Josh Huff, Oregon: Huff caught five passes for 104 yards and a touchdown in Oregon's 30-7 win over Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA: Su'a-Filo led the Bruins' offensive line against a tough Virginia Tech defense. UCLA rushed for 197 yards against a top-10 rushing defense and yielded only two sacks.
OL Abe Markowitz, USC: The sixth-year walk-on stepped in at center for an injured Marcus Martin -- the Trojans' best offensive lineman this season -- and played well in the 45-20 win over Fresno State. The Trojans yielded only one sack and rushed for 154 yards. He was named the "Offensive Outperformer of the Game" by his coaches.
OL Jake Fisher, Oregon: Fisher led a strong effort from the Ducks' offensive line in the win over Texas. Oregon rushed for 216 yards and yielded only two sacks. Fisher did a good job against Texas' top defender, end Jackson Jeffcoat.
OL Micah Hatchie, Washington: Hatchie, the Huskies' left tackle, was the biggest reason BYU didn't record a sack in the Fight Hunger Bowl, a 31-16 Huskies victory. Washington also rushed for 190 yards.
OL Isaac Seumalo, Oregon State: Seumalo led perhaps the Beavers O-line's best effort of the season. Oregon State rushed for 195 yards and yielded no sacks.
K Travis Coons, Washington: Coons made a 45-yard field goal against BYU -- the longest Pac-12 postseason field goal -- and was good on all four of his PATs.
DL Scott Crichton, Oregon State: Crichton had three tackles for a loss, a sack, a forced fumble and pass breakup in the win over Boise State.
DL Taylor Hart, Oregon: Hart had a game-high 11 tackles, with half a sack and a forced fumble in the Ducks' win over Texas.
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington: Kikaha had nine tackles with three sacks and a forced fumble in the Huskies' win over BYU.
LB Shayne Skov, Stanford: Skov had nine tackles, three tackles for a loss, a sack and a forced fumble in Stanford's 24-20 loss to Michigan State in the Rose Bowl.
LB Jake Fischer, Arizona: Fischer had a game-high 14 tackles in the Wildcats' win over Boston College. He also had a sack and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Arizona held Williams to only 75 yards on 26 carries.
LB John Timu, Washington: Timu had a game-high 14 tackles, a sack and an interception in the Huskies' win over BYU.
LB Jabral Johnson, Oregon State: Johnson had a game-high 12 tackles, a sack and a quarterback hurry in the Beavers' win over Boise State.
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State: Reynolds had 10 tackles and returned two fumbles for touchdowns in the Beavers' win over Boise State. The fumble returns went for 70 and 3 yards.
DB Avery Patterson, Oregon: Patterson had nine tackles and returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the win over Texas.
DB Josh Shaw, USC: Shaw held Fresno State receiver Davante Adams to nine receptions for 73 yards in the Trojans' win over the Bulldogs. He finished with six tackles and had an interception in the end zone.
DB Anthony Jefferson, UCLA: Jefferson had seven tackles, shared a tackle for a loss and had a pass breakup in the Bruins' win over Virginia Tech. The Hokies completed only 15 of 36 throws for 176 yards.
P Ben Rhyne, Stanford: With five punts, Rhyne averaged 49.8 yards per boot in the Rose Bowl.
While the return of UCLA QB Brett Hundley for his redshirt junior season was the weekend's big news, an early-entry to the NFL draft talent drain is hitting the Pac-12 hard.
While a number of big-name players have not yet formally announced their intensions -- such as Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford OG David Yankey, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Arizona State LB Carl Bradford and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion -- already 17 players have announced they will give up their remaining eligibility to turn professional.
The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.
There has been good news at quarterback. Hundley joins Oregon's Marcus Mariota as pretty significant surprises that they opted to return to school, and that means the 2014 class of Pac-12 quarterbacks will be without peer in the nation by a wide margin.
Here's the early-entry list so far:
Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon*
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah
*Lyerla was kicked off the team at Oregon in October.
USC wide receiver Marqise Lee will forego his senior season to enter the NFL draft, he announced on Twitter on Friday night.
To all Trojan fans, I have decided to forego my senior season at USC and declare for the 2014 NFL Draft. I want to thank my coaches ...— Marqise Lee (@TeamLee1) January 4, 2014
... teammates, staff and the entire Trojan Family for all of the support over the last three seasons ...— Marqise Lee (@TeamLee1) January 4, 2014
Lee struggled with knee injuries this season and missed three games. He was limited to four touchdowns, two of which came in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
He finishes his USC career with 29 receiving touchdowns in three seasons.
Then when you put it in the context of the tumultuous season -- a maelstrom of coaching uncertainty and chaotic swings of momentum -- it seems like Trojans fans should officially declare the strangest season in program history at least a moderate success, perhaps as successful as it could have been. Well, other than losses to Notre Dame and UCLA.
Further, it shows the players have pride. A substantial handful -- both seniors and underclassmen -- are eyeballing the NFL draft, and it wouldn't have been shocking if they gave an indifferent performance against Fresno State, a team that arrived with plenty of motivation. Quarterback Cody Kessler told Kevin last week that the Trojans were focused and motivated, and it proved to me more than empty, tell-the-reporter-something-pretty talk.
Said Kessler, "Getting us to 10 wins puts us in an elite group. We have a chance to finish things off right -- especially for our seniors. These guys have been through everything. Sanctions. Coaching changes. We owe it to them to give it everything we’ve got to get a win.”
So the players who are leaving, which might include leading juniors such as receiver Marqise Lee, defensive end George Uko, linebacker Hayes Pullard, safety Dion Bailey and cornerback Josh Shaw, can feel good about how they finished things. If this performance was a tribute to former interim coach Ed Orgeron, then you can be sure Coach O was howling with delight somewhere while watching the game.
But what about those who are staying?
The big news coming out of the Las Vegas Bowl other than the final score was that new coach Steve Sarkisian will retain offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who served as the interim head coach for the bowl game. That's probably good news for Kessler, who blossomed once Helton took over the offense from fired coach Lane Kiffin.
Of course, Sarkisian, like Kiffin, calls his own offensive plays, so if another opportunity arises for Helton, particularly one that includes play-calling duties, he might opt to leave.
In fact, who's staying and who's going applies to both the players and coaches. We probably won't get official word on the makeup of Sarkisian's staff until after Washington, his former team, plays BYU in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Friday night. The Huskies under new coach Chris Petersen also have kept their plans quiet.
The big questions: Will Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox and quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo follow Sarkisian south? If Wilcox shortly arrives at Heritage Hall, then where does current USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast end up? In one year, he transformed one of the nation's most underachieving defenses into one of its best. Hard to imagine he stays unemployed for long.
This whole blending together of USC's and Washington's -- and Washington's and Boise State's -- 2013 staffs has certainly inspired plenty of gossip among other assistant coaches.
Another question: Tosh Lupoi.
The Huskies ace recruiter and defensive line coach is being investigated by the NCAA following allegations that he paid for private tutoring for Husky football recruit Andrew Basham, with Basham's former high school track coach, Mike Davis, spilling the beans to the Los Angeles Times and Seattle Times last week.
What that means in the short term is that Lupoi won't be hired by USC, and he might be out of a job until the NCAA rules on his case. What it means in the big picture for two Pac-12 football programs in transition is hard to say, as Washington, USC and Sarkisian have significant interests in the matter.
Due to new NCAA rules, Sarkisian could be exposed, which means USC could suffer for violations that occurred in Seattle.
And, yes, feel free to question the timing of these allegations being reported and speculate on where the sour grapes originated that spawned the investigation.
An offshoot of Lupoi's troubles is the Trojans’ need for a defensive line coach, which probably is why Sarkisian told ESPNLA 710 on Sunday that he's going to make another run at Orgeron to see if he's interested in returning to USC.
That could be interesting. Or it could just be idle talk.
Once all the administrative and personnel issues are settled, then we'll start to take a measure of the Sarkisian administration and how things might stack up in 2014. Trojans fans first want to see where their team ends up on Feb. 5, national signing day. Then it's on to spring practice, where Kessler likely will have to prove himself again, though Helton staying on should provide his candidacy a boost.
USC's bowl win was impressive. It surely made Trojans feel good, inside and outside the locker room. But the reality is it was as isolated as a pleasant fan experience can be. A win in the Las Vegas Bowl and finishing in the lower half of the nation's top-25 isn't what Trojans pine for. With this next recruiting class the last one limited by NCAA sanctions, most are ready to see the program regain its footing among the Pac-12 and nation's elite.
Sarkisian officially took the keys of the program on Saturday. By Sunday, the euphoria from the bowl win probably started to waft away inside Heritage Hall.
The real business begins now.
It was over when: Buck Allen crossed the goal line on a 1-yard run with 4:44 left to put USC up 45-20. The Trojans had taken a 35-6 lead at halftime before Fresno State made a brief run to close the gap, but Allen provided the finishing touch with his second touchdown of the day.
Game ball: Cody Kessler. The USC quarterback set a career high, and a Las Vegas Bowl record, with four touchdown passes, and he had those in the first half alone. Kessler ended the day by completing 22 of 31 passes for 344 yards, along with one interception that was returned for a touchdown. Kessler also earned hometown bragging rights with longtime friend and fellow Bakersfield native Derek Carr from Fresno State.
Key stat: Marqise Lee with seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Those are the type of numbers that were routine for Lee in his 2012 Biletnikoff Award-winning year, but a pair of injuries in 2013 curtailed his performance. If that was his final game in a USC uniform, as it is widely expected he will declare for the NFL draft, it was a fitting ending for one of the best playmakers in school history.
Key stat 2: Fresno State came in averaging a nation-leading 409 passing yards per game. USC held the Bulldogs to 217.
Unsung hero: Dion Bailey. The Trojans' slot defender in their nickel package was all over the field posing problems for Carr. He had a pair of key tackles for loss and got in passing lanes to help thwart the short passing game of the Bulldogs.
What it means for Fresno State: It means the Bulldogs won’t reach their goal of a program-record 12 wins but that doesn’t take away from what was accomplished this year. Not only did they tie the record for most wins, but also they captured the first-ever MWC title game and had one of the top passing offenses in the country, led by a likely first-round draft choice in Carr. And, to top it off, they won’t have to wait long to get a shot at revenge, as they face the Trojans in the 2014 season opener.
What it means for USC: The goal for these players and coaches was to reach 10 wins in what was a season of adversity and change. It also was a resounding performance from those who wondered about the sense of motivation for the team, especially after last year’s effort in the Sun Bowl. Clay Helton hands off the Trojans on a good note, and now the Steve Sarkisian era begins.
To watch the trophy presentation of the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, click here.
One kick. One fumble. One stop on fourth down. Those are three different endings that led to three different white-knuckle victories for the Stanford Cardinal over USC in the last three years.
The Cardinal have dominated the series with USC of late, having won four in a row and five of the last six. But the scoreboard tells a different tale. The scoreboard shows that one missed kick, or a little more ball security, or one converted fourth down could swing the wins in favor of the Trojans.
“It’s going to be a dog fight,” countered USC interim coach Ed Orgeron.
Stanford comes into Saturday’s game at the Coliseum teeming with confidence following last week’s 26-20 over then-No. 3 Oregon. The win moved the Cardinal into the No. 4 spot in the BCS rankings and made them the clear-cut favorites in the North Division. If the Cardinal win this weekend and next week against California in the Big Game, they’ll wrap up the division and advance to the Pac-12 title game for the second straight year.
“Honestly, in the seven years I’ve been here now, I think five of them have gone down to the wire,” Shaw said. “We expect the same thing. I don’t think anybody in our conference is surprised at how well they are playing. Good schemes, good coaches, they are healthy and they are dangerous.”
USC also has divisional hopes. Since Lane Kiffin was fired and Orgeron took over, the Trojans have gone 4-1 and are still very much in the hunt for the South Division.
This is more than just a league game for the Trojans. A victory gets a tree-sized monkey off of USC’s collective back, keeps them in the race for the South title with Arizona State and UCLA and likely will have folks in Troy asking, “Why not Coach O?”
Consider the change in attitude and production since Lane Kiffin was fired following USC’s 62-41 loss at ASU. The Trojans have beaten a pair of bowl eligible teams in Arizona and Oregon State and taken down a dangerous Utah team.
Under Orgeron the Trojans are averaging 181.2 rushing yards per game. That’s not a huge swing from the Kiffin era. The difference is they are getting better production on first down. Per ESPN Stats and Info, USC is running the ball 70 percent of the time on first down, up from 62 percent under Kiffin. The result is more yards per rush (5.8), more touchdowns (8) and more rushes of 10-plus yards (23).
That increased production on first down has led to, not shockingly, better efficiency on third down. Through their first five games, the Trojans converted on just 28 percent of their third downs. In the Orgeron era, they are up to a 36-percent conversion rate on third down, including a 52-percent conversion rate the last two games.
“I think they are just playing better,” Shaw said. “I’ll throw on top of that I think they are healthy. When Marqise Lee is banged up and so is Nelson Agholor, you take the top two fastest guys off any team and you’re not going to have the same production, not to mention they were going back and forth at quarterback … the quarterback is settled and your two big threats are back and healthy and making plays and the defense has been playing really well all year.”
The increased production of the running game has also trickled down to the quarterbacks. Under Orgeron, USC’s quarterbacks are completing 64.7 percent of their throws with six touchdowns to two interceptions.
Rumors and speculation about the USC job will continue to circulate for at least the next four to six weeks. But Orgeron has proven that the Trojans will play for him. And snapping a losing streak against the Cardinal would go a long way toward making the case for dropping “interim” from his title.
The Cardinal, however, have their own aspirations. Still in the national championship conversation, though needing some help, Stanford needs to keep winning to stay ahead of Oregon in the North Division.
Recall after beating Oregon last year, the Cardinal buckled down and topped the Bruins in back-to-back games to lock up the division and the Pac-12 title. Shaw said he’s looking for a similar back-to-business effort this weekend. Euphoric hangovers are not on the agenda.
“We don’t have time for that,” Shaw said. “The conference is too tough and going down to play at the Coliseum against USC on national TV, that’s enough to get your attention. We can’t afford to dwell on any of the things that happened last week. There’s still enough negative from last week to make sure that we carry forward and improve.”
- The big one: No. 5 Stanford will host No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night in a game that is sure to send shock waves throughout the Pac-12 and BCS Standings. A win for the Ducks likely re-catapults them back over Florida State and into the No. 2 spot of the BCS rankings -- the outcome of Alabama-LSU pending. A victory for the Cardinal keeps their national championship hopes alive, but they’d still need some help along the way to pass Ohio State and Florida State. This is just the second time that two Pac-12 teams have met while ranked in the top five of the BCS standings. The last time was No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Oregon in 2007.
- Edges matter: Per the brilliant number crunchers at ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinal will have to contain the Ducks when they try to run outside. Oregon averages 8.7 yards per rush outside the tackles, second among all AQ teams behind Wisconsin. Last season, Stanford forced Oregon to run 63 percent of the time between the tackles. And when the Ducks did get outside, the Cardinal were able to contain them to the tune of just 29 yards, 1.9 yards per rush and 1.3 yards before contact. In Oregon’s other games last season, they averaged 108.1 yards per game outside the tackles.[+] EnlargeScott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall leads the Oregon rushing attack at Stanford on Thursday night.
- The other side of the ball: We know about Oregon’s offense. We know about Stanford’s defense. How about when roles are reversed? The Cardinal offense hasn’t been all that productive of late, averaging just 21.6 points over its past three games. Oregon’s defense yields just 16.9 points per game -- seventh-best in the country. Turnovers will obviously be a premium for both defenses. Stanford has a zero turnover margin with 11 takeaways and 11 giveaways. Oregon, however, is plus-13 with 23 turnovers gained to 10 turnovers lost.
- Quotable: Always good for a one-liner, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked earlier in the week about De’Anthony Thomas’ comments that he expects the Ducks to score at least 40 points. “I don’t have an issue with that,” Shaw said. “He’s a confident young man, and they put it on film. They’ve done it. So I have no problem with that if that’s his mentality. I’m just glad he only said 40.” Seeing as Shaw has a penchant for the us-against-the-world approach for his team, here’s betting he had a different message for his defense behind closed doors.
- South showdown (1): UCLA heads to Tucson, where it hasn’t won since 2003 -- the first year of the Karl Dorrell era. Both teams have already achieved bowl eligibility. Both teams sit at 3-2 in conference play. Now it becomes a question of pecking order. Ka’Deem Carey has rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 straight games, which is tops in the FBS. The Bruins snapped their two-game losing streak with a win over Colorado last week. Brett Hundley posted the third game of his career with two rushing and two passing touchdowns and he accounted for 345 yards of total offense. Keep an eye on how things play out in the first 30 minutes, because the Bruins are 13-0 under coach Jim Mora when they lead at the half.
- South showdown (2): The Sun Devils look to strengthen their foothold on the South with a trip to Utah -- a team they blasted in Tempe last season. In fact, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he has “horrible memories” of last season's loss and called it one of Utah’s poorest performances since joining the Pac-12. The obvious sidebar here is it’s the first time Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is facing the team he used to coach. But Whittingham said Erickson is a pretty even-keeled guy and he doesn’t expect sentiment or emotions to play a role. Whittingham also said that quarterback Travis Wilson is healed from his hand injury and won’t wear a glove. Across the field, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly is coming off of a seven-touchdown game on the road at Washington State.
- Silas Redd rushing for 140 yards and Buck Allen collecting 133 yards (8.3 yards per catch) and 3 TDs. Allen was USC’s fourth different back to rush for 100 yards this season. Marqise Lee is also coming off an outstanding performance, grabbing five passes for a season-high 105 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Beavers. Cal is still looking for a conference win, but should have some more confidence after an improved showing last week against Arizona. Trojans rolling: Since making the coaching switch from Lane Kiffin to interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Trojans have gone 3-1, including a convincing 31-14 win last week on the road at Oregon State. For the second time this season USC had a pair of running backs post 100-yard games with senior
- Bowl eligible: So far there are six teams already bowl eligible (Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA) with two more on the verge of becoming eligible this week. USC, because of the 13-game regular season schedule sits at 6-3 overall and needs to pick up a win at California to get a spot in the postseason. Washington is at 5-3 with a visit from Colorado. Both teams are favorites, which would give the league eight teams headed to the postseason with the legitimate potential for two more (Utah and Washington State). Both have four wins and Colorado still has an outside shot. Cal is the only Pac-12 team eliminated from bowl eligibility.
- Star power: Two of the nation’s elite offensive playmakers square off in Seattle when Colorado visits Washington. Buffs wide receiver Paul Richardson has 57 catches for 984 yards with eight touchdowns and continues to close in on several of Colorado’s single-season receiving marks. Washington counters with running back Bishop Sankey, who enters the week as the nation’s No. 3 rusher, averaging 145.3 yards per game. He’s coming off a career-best 241-yard performance against Cal and ranks fourth nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns.
- Taking a breather: There are two teams on bye this week with Oregon State looking to refocus after dropping back-to-back games against Stanford and USC and Washington State taking its second bye week in the past three. The Beavers, who are already bowl eligible, close the season with two of their final three on the road; at ASU, home to Washington and at Oregon for the Civil War. With four wins, the Cougars need to win two more to teach the postseason. They are also on the road for two of their past three with dates at Arizona next week and home to Utah before closing out the Apple Cup in Seattle.
Team of the week: USC, injury-riddled, coach-less and written off just more than a month ago, has won three of four games since Ed Orgeron took over for Lane Kiffin as interim coach, including a 31-14 win at Oregon State on Friday. And it just missed at Notre Dame (literally -- see two missed field goals). The Trojans might end up making some noise in the Pac-12's South Division after all.
Biggest play: USC QB Cody Kessler hit Marqise Lee for a 71-yard touchdown on the Trojans' first offensive play, which seemed to ignite the Trojans at Oregon State, a place where they had lost three consecutive games.
Offensive standout: Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly accounted for seven touchdowns in the Sun Devils' 55-21 blowout win at Washington State, earning a 95.4 QBR for the performance. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 275 yards with five TDs and one interception. He also rushed for 66 yards on 13 carries with two TDs.
Defensive standout: USC turned in another scintillating defensive performance at Oregon State, holding the Beavers to 14 points and 361 yards. The Beavers had been averaging 40.1 points and 487.4 yards. The Trojans had three interceptions, which matched Oregon State QB Sean Mannion's total through the first eight games. USC also got two sacks from outside linebacker Devon Kennard.
Special-teams standout: Oregon State might have lost to USC, but it wasn't punter Keith Kostol's fault. He averaged 45.8 yards on five punts, killing three inside the Trojans' 20-yard line with no touchbacks. His long was 49 yards.
Smiley face: While the North Division -- Oregon & Stanford -- gets much of the attention, the South Division also features two ranked teams: UCLA and Arizona State. They could play a critical game on Nov. 23 that will garner national attention, but they have to take care of business beforehand. Both did just that as favorites this week, with Arizona State rolling at Washington State 55-21 on Thursday, and the Bruins taking down the pesky Buffaloes 45-23 on Saturday. There have been plenty of years in the Pac-12 when ranked teams went rear-end-over-tea-kettle against seemingly overmatched foes, killing chances for a marquee matchup between ranked foes a few weeks down the road.
Frowny face: Oregon State's chances of returning to the national ranking are probably done for the season. In fact, the blowout loss to USC at home opens up the question whether the Beavers will win again against a troika of tough foes down the stretch: at Arizona State, Washington and at Oregon.
Thought of the week: It's Oregon-Stanford time. While Stanford's loss at Utah watered down this matchup a bit, it still remains the Pac-12 game of the season, the one that determines the North Division and conference front-runner. Oregon is aiming for an unbeaten season and a berth in the national title game. Stanford is aiming at a second consecutive upset of the Ducks, Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl victory. Buckle up.
Questions for the week: Who's going to rule the South and try to stop the Ducks or Cardinal from achieving their BCS bowl goals? The plot thickens Saturday with UCLA's visit to Arizona and Arizona State's trip to Utah. The Wildcats could throw themselves thickly into the race with a win over the Bruins, while the typically road-adverse Sun Devils need to win a second consecutive game away from Sun Devil Stadium. And, by the way, USC, which visits California on Saturday, is lurking.
1. Oregon in the spotlight: Separated by just 45 miles, Oregon and Oregon State will host a pair of California teams in games that will surely have major Pac-12 implications. Heisman hopefuls Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA square off as the undefeated No. 3 Ducks look to crack the top two of the BCS standings. Oregon State, winners of six in a row, host a reinvigorated Stanford squad that topped UCLA last week to get back into the top 10.
2. Get up for GameDay: ESPN’s College Football GameDay will be in Oregon for the Bruins-Ducks showdown. While the Ducks' offense gets plenty of attention -- and rightfully so -- it’s that defense, allowing fewer than 18 points per game -- that has been equally spectacular, if not underappreciated. They’ll go against a UCLA offensive line that is young and a bit banged up. The Bruins scored a season-low 10 points in the loss last week to Stanford. Part of the decline has been the loss of running back Jordon James, who is questionable this week. In their last two weeks, per ESPN Stats & Information, UCLA backs have been hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on 60 percent of their designed runs. In the first four games they had nine rushes of 20 yards or more. In the past two games, zero. On the flip side, Oregon has had no trouble running the ball (332.4 yards per game), and should be bolstered by the expected return of De’Anthony Thomas.
4. Bounce back? The Huskies -- once ranked as high as 15th in the country -- look to snap a three-game skid when California comes to town. The Bears are still looking for their first conference win and have dropped nine straight Pac-12 games dating back to last season. Complicating the matter for the Huskies is quarterback Keith Price and the injured thumb on his throwing hand. He has played through the injury for three weeks, but there is a question of whether he’ll be effective enough to play this week.
5. Honoring Coach James: Washington is also planning several tributes to legendary coach Don James, who died Sunday at age 80 of pancreatic cancer. In 18 seasons at Washington, James led the Huskies to six Pac-10 titles, a share of the 1991 national championship and a 153-58-2 record. Players and coaches will wear decals with the initials "DJ" and members of his family will serve as the honorary captains for the pregame coin toss. The band will perform a tribute to James at halftime, along with a memorial video. A public memorial service will be held Sunday afternoon at Alaska Airlines Arena.
6. Bounce back? Take 2: Utah and USC will both look to rebound from flat road performances last week. Utah is back on the road, headed down to L.A., where the Utes haven’t won since 1916. Aside from the bowl implications (see below) this is also a big recruiting trip for Utah, since 33 players on the roster hail from California. Utah’s front has been nasty, averaging 3.14 sacks per game, tops in the Pac-12. The Trojans got a boost with the return of Silas Redd (112 yards vs. Notre Dame) but marquee players from both teams, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, are battling injuries.
7. Off and running: In case anyone needs reminding, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in last year’s win over Colorado. The teams will meet again in Boulder, and Carey has picked up where he left off last year. He has nine straight 100-yard rushing games and leads the country with an average of 161 yards per game. The Buffs are coming of a win over Charleston Southern where Michael Adkins II rushed for 137 yards and four touchdowns. Also, from the Department of Funky Stats, Colorado is 0-6 in the pregame coin toss this year.
8. Bowl bound: Three Pac-12 teams are already bowl eligible: Oregon (7-0), Oregon State (6-1) and Stanford (6-1). For those three, it’s all about pecking order and jockeying for position to get to the best possible bowl game, which could include Roses, or maybe something bigger. All three of those teams still have to play each other starting with Stanford’s trip to Oregon State this weekend, Oregon’s trip to Stanford on Nov. 7 and OSU’s trip to Autzen on Nov. 29 for the Civil War.
9. Bowl bound? Lots of teams are on the bubble, but only one team could become bowl eligible this week. That’s UCLA (5-1). Of course, to do it, they’ll have to upset Oregon on the road. With GameDay in town, this one takes center stage across the country. Arizona State is the league’s only other five-win team, for now, and is off this weekend. Five other teams have four wins: Washington State (4-4, 2-3), Washington (4-3, 1-3), Arizona (4-2, 1-2), USC (4-3, 1-2) and Utah (4-3, 1-2).
10. Taking a breather: Two byes this week with Arizona State and Washington State resting up. The Cougars started the year with eight straight games, and head coach Mike Leach said that it’s possible some fatigue may have set in over the past couple of games -- both losses to the Oregon teams. WSU and ASU will meet next Thursday night in Pullman.
Utah travels to USC, and neither team feels particularly good about what it did this past week. Coming off a huge victory over Stanford, the Utes were flat in their first out-of-state road trip of the season in a 35-24 loss at Arizona.
A bowl berth still seems very much a possibility for both teams. The Trojans (4-3, 1-2) play 13 regular-season games this season because of their Week 1 trek to Hawaii. And with California and Colorado still on the schedule, it’s hard to imagine the Trojans not eking out at least two wins over the final six.
The road to the postseason is a little tougher for the Utes (4-3, 1-3). With trips to Oregon and Washington State sandwiched between home dates with ASU and Colorado, Utah is hoping it’s one-year bowl absence last season proves to be more of a freak occurrence rather than routine.
Most troubling to Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, however, was that he has no explanation for why his team lacked the sizzle it showed two weeks ago in upending Stanford.
“I think that was our first out-of-state road trip and that could have played into it a little bit,” Whittingham said. “We were flat coming out. We had a good week of preparation. There were really no indicators we were going to come out flat. For whatever reason we weren’t real fired up in the first half ... We didn’t get it done. We lost some of the momentum we had from the Stanford win. Now we have to move forward and try to get that corrected this week.”
This wasn’t the first time it’s happened, either. Whittingham cited last season's 24-21 win over No. 25 BYU, which was followed by the Utes being blasted on the road by Arizona State. In 2011 they erased a 14-13 halftime deficit to win at Pittsburgh 26-14, only to tank on the road a week later at Cal.
“I talked with Coach (Dennis) Erickson afterwards and he said that’s happened to him so many times over the course of his career and he didn’t have a great answer either, other than it happens,” Whittingham said. “It’s happened to us a couple other times ... I wish I had an answer. If I had an answer than I wouldn’t let it happen. But it did.”
And now the Utes have to wash it away. With five opportunities left to find two wins, this game takes on even greater importance for Utah -- which will have to either sweep at home or pick up at least one out-of-state road win to become bowl eligible.
“The Pac-12 has become a meat grinder just like the SEC, in my opinion,” Whittingham said. “Every single week you’re going to be challenged. I don’t want to paint the picture that it was us being flat, or this and that, why we lost. Arizona is a darn good football team. They deserved to win. Ka'Deem Carey is one of the best backs in the country and did a number on us. You have to be able to play your ‘A’ every week in order to have a chance to win. We did play our ‘A’ game against Stanford and didn’t quite play up to that level this week.”
Interim USC coach Ed Orgeron is banking on his players’ peppier attitude to guide them after one opportunity after another slipped through hands in South Bend. Numerous times throughout the game the Trojans had an opportunity to re-take the lead, but either missed field goals or penalties or poor execution contributed to their downfall. Orgeron said he’s confident the Trojans have moved on.
“I really feel like we came back with a good attitude,” he said. “We’ve put the last one behind us. I really like the feeling of this team and their attitude. But we have to play well Saturday.
“They have a good mindset, whether they read (what's written about the team) or not. It’s none of our business. They are going to do what they want to do. They are grown men. But I think they are pretty focused.”
Both teams are hoping to get marquee playmakers back for this week. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson sat the second half of the Arizona game with a hand injury. Whittingham said it’s early, but he’s hopeful Wilson be ready to play. USC wide receiver Marqise Lee also missed the second half of the Notre Dame game when he aggravated his sprained knee.
Maybe, with his hoodie on and his night done after a vicious third-quarter hit, he would have looked out to the field and watched a Notre Dame offense that had been forced to run six meaningful drives without him. Maybe he would have struggled to contain an I-know-something-you-don't smirk as the Fighting Irish, accounting for penalties, netted 30 total yards and gained one first down in his absence. Maybe he would have offered a hearty chuckle when seeing his backup and friend, Andrew Hendrix, misfire on all four of his pass attempts.
But a glimpse at life without Rees left everybody outside the program eating their words for most of the second half. Notre Dame wasn't just bad offensively; it was downright brutal, with even the sure-handed Cam McDaniel coughing up the ball late and not a soul among the raucous sellout crowd exhaling until the final zeroes were on the clock after Hendrix's two kneel-downs on his seventh and final drive.
And as it turns out, Rees had been one step ahead of everyone. His biggest play had actually come at halftime, two drives before he would be on the receiving end of a big knock from USC linebacker Lamar Dawson with just more than nine minutes to play in the third quarter. Rees was slow to even sit up, then walked gingerly off the field under his own power. He was standing up on the sidelines being interrogated by team medical personnel before heading to the locker room for further evaluation. Coach Brian Kelly said afterward that Rees had suffered a neck strain and was all there mentally, and that the team should know more in the next 24 hours.
But when the teams had gone to their locker rooms for halftime Saturday, Rees had taken it upon himself to deliver a speech that proved to be prescient in a game that featured no scoring during the final 30 minutes.
"It was a passionate speech, one of the more passionate things I've ever heard Tommy say," captain TJ Jones said. "It was really, 'Just keep your head in the game, don't give up. We've got this, 30 minutes wasn't enough. We need another 30 to win this game.' He had a lot of the guys almost in tears. It's the first time Tommy spoke out like that, and it was definitely emotional."
It had come after one of Rees' better performances to date. The senior finished the game 14-of-21 passing for 166 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers over the course of one half and one more series. He had run the offense at a much quicker pace, and the unit even left some points on the board on the game's first drive after McDaniel failed to reach the end zone on four consecutive runs.
Rees had also passed Rick Mirer on the school's all-time passing yards list, becoming the fifth Notre Dame quarterback to eclipse the 6,000-yard mark for his career.
"I think it does say a lot about the kid and his perseverance," Kelly said of the milestone. "He's just a tough kid, and he just keeps battling. I'm sure he'll look back on that a little bit later and be able to point out, 'Hey, I did play at Notre Dame and I wasn't that bad.' "
No kidding. From stepping up for an injured Dayne Crist and leading Notre Dame to four straight wins as a freshman, to surviving a turnover-plagued 2011; from getting arrested and then being relegated to a glorified graduate assistant role as Everett Golson took control, to then bailing Golson out late throughout last year's 12-0 run, Rees has nearly seen it all.
He has taken plenty of heat, too, whether it was getting booed by his home fans in his 2012 debut or withstanding a recent social-media firestorm that is coming his way only because of the poor academic judgment that the man initially in front of him displayed this past spring.
Golson, by the way, does not have to worry about schoolwork or bad weather the way Rees does, as he is training with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield out in sunny San Diego.
From there, Golson could see what the rest of us saw once his old teammate was no longer an option against the Trojans.
"As you could tell, our performance in the second half was a little difficult to adjust," tight end Troy Niklas said. "But I think we were able to make do with what we could."
Rees might have provided that extra lift just moments earlier, the son of an NFL scout always worrying about what's next.
"He was just kind of reiterating what the coaches had said, and probably a little something else," team captain Zack Martin said of Rees' halftime speech. "But we had an opportunity to beat SC at home and we hadn't done that in a long time. But to be able to win three out of four years for this class is pretty special."
Whatever checks Notre Dame had written to the devil before last season had been cashed since the calendar turned to 2013 -- Manti Te'o's girlfriend hoax, four notable transfers and Golson's suspension getting sandwiched between the Alabama beatdown and the two losses the Irish had suffered through six games this season.
Then came Saturday night against USC, and everyone got a look at just how much worse it could get if the starter everyone wanted gone could no longer return.
1. Title game rematch: UCLA and Stanford will face each other for the third time in the last 10 months. Only this time it’s the Bruins who are the higher-ranked team, coming in at No. 9 after Stanford slid to No. 13 following its loss at Utah. Remember all of those side-to-side swing passes that Dennis Erickson and Utah used to keep Stanford off balance? Remember who worked for Erickson at ASU? Yep, Noel Mazzone. And UCLA loves to hit its receivers in the flat. Keep an eye on what happens after the second-half kickoff, as well. The Bruins are outscoring opponents 71-0 in the third quarter this year. Stanford has a 12-game home winning streak -- third longest in the nation -- and is 10-1 at home against ranked opponents since 2009. Stanford hasn’t lost consecutive games since the middle of the 2009 season.
3. North vs. South: Two more critical North versus South showdowns this week with UCLA traveling to Stanford and Washington heading to Arizona State. The UCLA-Stanford game takes center stage for obvious reasons. But Washington-ASU has all the makings of a thriller. This is one of those 50-50 games that either team needs to win to show they belong in the upper tier of the Pac-12. The quarterbacks, Keith Price and Taylor Kelly, are obviously the mechanisms that make their teams go. But Washington running back Bishop Sankey (899 yards) has rushed for at least 125 yards in five of six games and ASU gives up almost 170 yards per game on the ground. Look for him to probably break 1,000 for the season by the final whistle. On the flip side, ASU’s Marion Grice already has 15 total touchdowns. He had 19 last year, so look for him to eclipse that mark in the next couple of games.
4. Making up is hard to do: Colorado will face Charleston Southern this week as a makeup for the Sept. 14 game against Fresno State that was canceled because of severe rain and flooding in Colorado. Charleston Southern is a perfect 7-0 on the year and is receiving votes in the Sports Network FCS College Football Poll. The Buffs are looking to get to 3-3 for the first time since 2010. And they are making a change at quarterback with Sefo Liufau stepping in after going 18 of 26 for 169 yards and a touchdown and two interceptions in relief against Arizona State.
5. No. 5? The Cougars are looking for their fifth win for the first time since 2007. Tough draw, however, this week with a trip to Oregon. The Ducks are averaging 56.8 points per game and are second in the country in total offense with 630.5 yards per game.
6. Taking care of the ball: Speaking of Oregon, quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Heisman frontrunner through the first half of the season, continues to impress with turnover-free performances. Though his completion percentage is down from last year, he hasn’t thrown an interception in 165 pass attempts this year -- which extends a streak dating back to last season of 233 attempts. His last interception was against Stanford. During that stretch, he’s completed 100 passes for 1,724 yards and 17 touchdowns. Receivers Josh Huff and Bralon Addison have 27 catches each for a combined 1,054 yards and 11 touchdowns.
7. Rebuilding the brand: Nothing can unite the USC fan base like a win against Notre Dame. Better yet, a win at Notre Dame. The Trojans won their first game of the Ed Orgeron era and look to follow it up against the Irish. Neither team is ranked, but the names carry a lot of weight. This is a game that could re-energize the Trojans moving forward. Marqise Lee and Morgan Breslin have both practiced and it’s looking like both will play. That should be a huge boost after getting running back Silas Redd back last week.
8. Momentum building? What do the Utes do with their big win over Stanford? Do they keep the momentum rolling? They have to go on the road for four of their next six -- including leaving the state for the first time this season when they travel to face Arizona. The Wildcats are still looking for their first conference win, though quarterback B.J. Denker had a strong statistical performance in the loss last week to USC, completing 28 of 44 passes for a career high 363 yards and four touchdowns.
9. Who needs a running game? The Pac-12’s top two passing offenses square off with Oregon State’s trip to Cal. OSU quarterback Sean Mannion has six straight games of 350 passing yards and the Beavers lead the conference with 433.2 passing yards per game and 25 passing touchdowns. Cal averages 371.3 yards in the air -- second in the league, but just 11 passing touchdowns, third worst. The Bears can move it, they just haven’t been able to convert yards into points.
10. No off week: For the second straight week, all 12 schools will be in action. This was supposed to be a bye week for Colorado, but the Charleston Southern game fills the void. Next week Arizona State and Washington State are on bye. It will be the first of two byes in three weeks for the Cougars, who will have opened the year with eight straight games following this week’s matchup with Oregon.
Matt Fortuna and Ted Miller take a look at this weekend's matchup.
Matt: We'll start with the obvious, Ted. USC is a talented team that just got a bit of a second wind this past week under Orgeron. Was the performance against Arizona simply the culmination of weeks of frustration? Or do you think these Trojans have new life and need to be looked at as the kind of threat many of us have been expecting them to be the last two years?
Ted: Is it fair for a know-it-all sportswriter to type that he has no idea? USC has been so difficult to read the past two seasons. You look at the 22 starters and think, "That's a lot of talent." But it doesn't translate to execution. Was that all Kiffin's fault? I don't think so, though the offense looked significantly better with Clay Helton calling the plays. Even the quasi-redemptive win over Arizona revealed the Trojans' tangible Achilles heel -- depth. USC jumped to an impressive first-half lead but seemed to wear down in the second half. I do think the locker room will continue to unite around Orgeron, as fiery a motivator as there is. The question is whether USC will be as motivated and focused on the road as it was at home. And can it maintain that in the fourth quarter?
Speaking of mercurial teams, the Fighting Irish. I picked Notre Dame to beat Arizona State (reaches around, pats self on back), but I did that as much because of the Sun Devils' tendency to throw up on themselves just when they seem to take a step forward as believing the Irish were better. Where does this team stand? How did the week off help -- or hurt -- the cause?
Matt: Well, this answer may sound quite familiar, too, but I think we're all still trying to figure out the Irish. A loss to ASU would have been brutal, as BCS hopes would have been eliminated by the mid-point of the season. Of course, USC can erase those scenarios this week, too, much the same way it did two years ago in a similar situation -- seventh game of the season, prime time at Notre Dame Stadium, Irish coming off a bye. Everyone slept on those Trojans that time, and they ended up turning in a 10-2 campaign while the Irish locker room nearly revolted on its head coach in that game's aftermath.
Notre Dame's front-loaded schedule looks a little less daunting in retrospect -- losses to Michigan and Oklahoma look worse by the week, as does a tight win at Purdue. But there is that small matter of Stanford underwhelming, too, and the Cardinal are easily the toughest opponent the Irish have left after the USC one, so it is not out of the question to see Notre Dame make a final push for a 10-2 mark and BCS bid.
That said, it needs to take some of the lessons from the ASU win and apply them moving forward. Coach Brian Kelly showed his players a highlight tape of three tight wins from 2012 leading up to that game in an effort to demonstrate just how razor-thin the margin for error was. We saw a much more complete performance from the Irish against the Sun Devils, but there was still a pick-six and a defense that looked little like last year's dominating unit.
I'll say this: USC's improved play under the one-game regime of Orgeron has seemed to add a much-needed jolt going into this matchup. It's USC-Notre Dame, with the Irish looking like they may have turned a corner in the rivalry last year and going for three wins out of four this year. Do you think the Trojans, having seen the Irish clinch a title-game berth on their field last season, carry a bit of a chip on their shoulder coming into this year's game? I know it sounds cliche, but from over here it looks like USC's 2013 issues have been more mental than anything else.
Ted: This is one of the truly great college football rivalries, one that is unique with its cross-country feel. If the Trojans can't get fired up for this one, then that will show you the Trojans' problems were as much the sort of player they recruited as the guy leading them onto the field. And, of course, in a rivalry game, the players who lost the year before should be particularly motivated to exact revenge.
Still, I see that as an uphill slog for USC. For one, the Trojans are banged up, with receiver Marqise Lee and outside linebacker Morgan Breslin, among others, highly questionable for the game. Second, Notre Dame is superior on both lines. I see USC hanging early but then getting worn down. Further, the pass defense has been poor, which means Irish quarterback Tommy Rees could again look like the solid decision-maker he was against Arizona State.
That said, if USC does manage to get the upset, we might have to re-evaluate USC's prospects this season. And, perhaps, even raise an eyebrow at what Orgeron is doing leading the Trojans.