NCF Nation: Nick Foles

BERKELEY, Calif. -- While California has hired two coaches over the past 12 years, it didn't hire them to do the same job.

Jeff Tedford took possession of a dilapidated and unlivable house on college football's skid row in 2001. Sonny Dykes this winter moved into a nice home in a posh neighborhood that needs some minor interior renovations.

Sure, Cal went a dreary 3-9 last season, its second losing season in three years, which got Tedford fired. But he took over a program that went 1-10 in 2001, played in a crumbling stadium that averaged 30,000 in attendance and featured some of the worst facilities in major college football.

Dykes has inherited a team that went 82-57 under Tedford and plays in front of 55,876 fans even during a 3-9 season. And the facilities? Sparkling. Brand freaking new. Among the best in the Pac-12 and the nation.

Tedford made the Bears respectable and then made a push for the top of the Pac-10. That initiated the process -- glacial in pace -- of facility upgrades. But he couldn't reach the top of the conference. The program plateaued and then reversed course. In 2004, it seemed certain Tedford would get the Bears to their first Rose Bowl since 1959. In 2012, the Rose Bowl seemed infinitely far away, and it didn't help that stricken Old Blues had to watch crosstown rival Stanford win the darn thing.

Enter Dykes.

"Jeff had a rebuilding job. His job was different," Dykes said. "He made this place credible. He made people take notice and say, 'Cal is a good job. You can do things at Cal.' If it hadn't been for his success, we wouldn't be sitting in this facility right now. He did a great job with the program. They kind of fell off the last couple of years, but he's what made this place a good place."

Dykes is expected to make it a great place.

That won't be easy. Stanford and Oregon are in the way, for one. Washington and Oregon State, potential top-25 teams in 2013, also are looking to take the proverbial "next step." And that's just the North Division.

Further, there are some things that need to be cleaned up, not the least of which is team academics.

Cal is the nation's most celebrated public university. It's difficult to walk around campus without running into someone wearing a Nobel Prize medal. Yet the football program not only ranked last in the Pac-12 in graduation rate last season at 48 percent -- 5 percent behind No. 11 Arizona -- it ranked second worst among automatic qualifying conference teams, 1 percent ahead of Oklahoma, where folks believe the Nobel Prize is something a person gets for visiting the "Rock Rose Capital of the World."

On the football side of things, the Bears seemed mired in a general malaise over the past few seasons. Quarterback play, upon which Tedford built his strong reputation, was mediocre to bad post-Aaron Rodgers. Further, when Cal lost, it didn't mess around. Over Tedford's final four years, the Bears lost 16 games by at least 17 points. That happened while the Bears nonetheless remained a major pipeline to the NFL.

Top-to-bottom talent didn't seem like the problem. It seemed like the Bears had become a bit of a head case. Chief among Dykes' first-year tasks is creating a mentally tougher team.

"This is not a traditional rebuilding job," Dykes said. "But some things do need to be rebuilt. I think the psyche needs to be rebuilt. Maybe expectations need to be rebuilt. We need to do a good job of balancing athletic and academic success."

As for X's and O's and quarterback woes, Dykes and his spread-guru offensive coordinator Tony Franklin averaged 51.5 points per game last season at Louisiana Tech, with quarterback Colby Cameron ranking 22nd in the nation in passing efficiency while throwing 31 TD passes with just five interceptions.

Too pass-happy? The Bulldogs averaged 227 yards rushing, which ranked 17th in the nation. Dykes, who also coached Nick Foles as Arizona's offensive coordinator before going to Louisiana Tech in 2010, has the offensive bona fides, without question.

In terms of putting it all together at an elite academic institution -- Cal fans might want to cover their ears -- Dykes sees a pretty good model playing ball a bit to the south.

"The thing Stanford has done is they've done it the right way," he said. "Their kids are graduating. They've proven you can have high academic standards and still have success on the field."

Dykes says his charge is "not about building a team; it's about building a program." That means creating a culture aimed at long-term and high-level success.

Yes, more than a few Old Blues have related to Dykes their singular wish to experience a Rose Bowl before they die. Tedford used to joke that many Cal fans wanted the Rose Bowl more than a national title.

Tedford took over a team that hadn't posted a winning season in eight years. He made winning seasons the standard. Now Dykes is charged with pushing the Bears back into the national rankings and into the Pac-12 title picture, while maintaining high academic standards.

And if he produces a Rose Bowl victory, they'll probably build a statue of him outside remodeled Memorial Stadium.

Arizona may have growing pains in 2013

December, 17, 2012
During the early afternoon on Saturday, one half of the Pac-12 blog was standing in line waiting to talk to Santa -- er, his kids, his kids were waiting to talk to Santa -- while the other half was watching that little bit of nuttiness going on between Arizona and Nevada in New Mexico.

The obvious question: No, the Pac-12 blog didn't use its pull with Santa, which as you all know is considerable, to get the Wildcats an early gift. But it's no surprise you might feel that way about that "No-way-that-just-happened" 49-48 victory.

The following pretty much happened:
Ted: My iPhone is trying to fool me -- Siri is mad because she saw me admiring the new Samsung Galaxy. It says Arizona won 49-48. That can't be right. It was 45-28 entering the fourth quarter.

Kevin: I have to redo the entire Instant Analysis. The first one was composed in elegantly wrought heroic couplets. It was Pulitzer worthy.

Ted: What the heck happened?

Kevin: Well ... you sorta had to see it.
[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
AP Photo/Eric DraperArizona will surely be counting on star RB Ka'Deem Carey for heavy production in 2013.
What an interesting first year for coach Rich Rodriguez, eh?

The Wildcats posted a number of nice wins (Oklahoma State, USC and Washington), a couple of blowout losses (49-zip at Oregon, 66-10 at UCLA) and a pair of blown big games (54-48 in overtime to Stanford and 41-34 to Arizona State).

In consecutive games to finish the season, they yielded a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to their good friends from Tempe, and they overcame a 17-point deficit in their bowl game, one that featured their own players fighting each other on the sidelines. So, yeah, you couldn't take much for granted with this team, even them not punching each other.

The end result is an 8-5 finish, including Arizona's first bowl win since 2008. The program has won eight games twice since going 12-1 in 1998, but no more.

So, despite the loss to the Sun Devils, it's fair to call this a successful season for Rich Rod.

In the preseason, this looked like a team that would be hard-pressed to reach six wins and earn a bowl berth. The offense looked potentially strong, but the defense didn't pass the sight test, particularly up front.

That impression proved true, but QB Matt Scott was so good -- as were RB Ka'Deem Carey and WR Austin Hill -- that the offense was (mostly) able to overcome a struggling defense.

And don't view this as a ripping of defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Casteel got as much as he possibly could out of this overmatched unit, one that featured no All-Pac-12 players and just two -- LB Jake Fischer and safety Jared Tevis -- that earned honorable mention.

So what does the future hold? Well, Scott will be gone and the defensive front will be a glaring question mark heading into spring practice. Few will project the 2013 team improving on eight wins.

The good news? Well, it's nice to have a returning consensus All-American in Carey as a first option, and the offensive line and corps of receivers should be solid, though both have some holes to fill.

The defense? That's an interesting question. Twenty-one of 22 players on the two-deep from the New Mexico Bowl are scheduled to return in 2013, including all 11 starters. But that's not necessarily a good thing, particularly on the D-line, where the Wildcats got pushed around all season.

Further, Scott was second-team All-Pac-12 this year and couldn't have played much better (and tougher). A legitimate dual-threat who fit perfectly into Rodriguez's spread-option attack, he far exceeded preseason expectations as a passer. From our vantage point, he played himself into the 2013 NFL draft this fall.

He won't be easy to replace. The competition between backup B.J. Denker, former USC QB Jesse Scroggins, a junior college transfer who will arrive this spring, and redshirt freshman Javelle Allen will be interesting to watch. Scroggins, a once-touted recruit, is much more of a pro-style passer than Denker or Allen, so comparing their skills sometimes will have an apples & oranges feel -- not unlike Nick Foles vs. Matt Scott a few years back.

Rodriguez said when he was hired that it takes a few years for him to recruit to his systems on both sides of the ball, obviously alluding to what he wasn't given at Michigan. The moderate success this season might fuel the sort of fans who expect improvement every year, and that group might end up feeling grumpy this time next year.

Still, there's no question the program feels healthier than it did a year ago. The biggest problem, in fact, might only be that the program up north feels a tad bit more sprightly.

Dykes replaces Teford at California

December, 5, 2012
California has hired Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, an offensive specialist, to replace Jeff Tedford as the Bears head football coach.

Why is the 43-year-old with a 22-15 record coaching in Ruston, La., a good hire in Berkeley?

For one, offense.

Louisiana Tech's offense ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring this season with 51.5 points per game. And it wasn't just about passing. Most intriguing is the solid balance, as the Bulldogs rushed for 227.2 yards per game, which ranked 18th in the nation. They also ranked 18th in the nation in passing efficiency while yielding just eight sacks.

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/Seth PerlmanSonny Dykes went 22-15 in three seasons as coach of Louisiana Tech.
Dykes, who replaced recently fired Tennessee coach Derek Dooley at Louisiana Tech, is the former offensive coordinator at Texas Tech -- co-coordinator with now-West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen -- and Arizona, where he was largely responsible for the development of former Wildcats QB Nick Foles, now with the Philadelphia Eages. He learned offense from Hal Mumme and Mike Leach and is the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, so he's grown up around the business.

In 2006, the year before he arrived at Arizona, the Wildcats ranked 115th in the nation in total offense and 105th in scoring offense. In 2008, the Wildcats ranked 16th in scoring and 33rd in total offense.

Dykes was the 2011 WAC coach of the year and led the Bulldogs to a 9-3 finish this season, which included road wins over Illinois and Virginia. The Bulldogs also almost knocked off Texas A&M before losing 59-57.

Dykes is known as a good recruiter with a good eye for talent. He also is socially smooth, so he should be able to negotiate those demands at Berkeley, which isn't the typical environment for a coach who expects football to be first at all moments.

Any questions? Well, defense. The Bulldogs were horrible at it this year. They were much better a year ago. The first big question will be who Dykes hires as his defensive coordinator.

Still, Cal appears to have grabbed a rising star, a molder of quarterbacks, one who knows the West Coast but also has knowledge of other areas, including Texas and the Southeast.

He steps into a good situation. Cal has a newly remodeled stadium and upgraded facilities that are the match of any Pac-12 team. It has a good Bay Area recruiting base, and a brand name that allows for a national reach.

Dykes needs to know, however, that Bears fans, despite being pretty darn bright, have become demanding. Fans started to grumble about Tedford not when he posted his first losing season in 2010 but in 2008 and 2009 when he won 17 games. Seven or eight wins a season won't create much enthusiasm. (And Dykes won't have the services of standout receiver Keenan Allen, who announced Wednesday that he will enter the NFL draft).

Of course, if Dykes leads the Bears to their first Rose Bowl since 1959, they will immediately build a statue of him outside of Memorial Stadium.

Another epic clash for Scott, Barkley?

October, 25, 2012
Last weekend, Arizona's Matt Scott and USC's Matt Barkley led their teams to victory and played well. And you heard a lot more about Barkley than Scott.

Barkley was brilliant, and Scott was just very good. Barkley completed 19 of 20 passes for 298 yards with six touchdowns and zero interceptions against Colorado. It was the most efficient performance in the country this season and the most efficient in the history of the Pac-12. He now has 102 career TD passes, a Pac-12 record.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Russ Isabella/US PresswireSenior QB Matt Barkley has the Trojans sitting at 6-1 (4-1 Pac-12) entering Week 9.
Scott, who leads the Pac-12 in passing yards per game with 336.4, played a more supporting role while throwing for 256 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 43 yards and a score in a blowout win over Washington.

Yet it felt familiar. USC is always big news, even when it's not winning championships. And Barkley is the most famous college quarterback in the country, even if he's not going to win the Heisman Trophy.

Scott? His outstanding numbers and quick adoption of new coach Rich Rodriguez's offense resonates only regionally, if at all.

That might change. These two seniors meet Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., with Barkley, a four-year starter, trying to lead the Trojans back into the national title picture, which means not overlooking Scott and the Wildcats because of their Nov. 3 date with Oregon.

These two did meet once before. Let's hope this one is as fun as the first time: Oct. 4, 2007. That's when Barkley, a junior at top-ranked Mater Dei in Santa Ana, Calif., and already highly celebrated, and Scott, a senior at No. 2 Centennial High of Corona, clashed in front of roughly 10,000 fans in the Santa Ana Bowl.

[+] EnlargeScott
AP Photo/Wily LowSenior QB Matt Scott and the Wildcats are 4-3 (1-3 Pac-12) entering Week 9.
Mater Dei won 51-37 in a game that featured 58 first downs and 1,295 yards of offense, a California high school record that didn't fall until this season.

"The fans definitely got their money's worth," Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson told reporters after the game. "That was some show."

Scott passed for 176 yards and rushed for 178. Barkley was 21 of 31 for 364 yards and two touchdowns. The Centennial defense featured Vontaze Burfict, Brandon Magee, Shelly Lyons and Will Sutton, who all signed with Arizona State. In a joint interview in 2011, the Pac-12 blog asked Burfict, Magee and Lyons about this game, and they all became a bit grumpy. It's fairly well-known that Barkley and Burfict are not exactly close.

Barkley was a five-star prospect in 2008, the nation's highest-rated quarterback. He signed with USC, which was on a dynastic run atop the then-Pac-10, with a 6-1 record in BCS bowl games over the previous seven years and two national titles.

So what does Rodriguez think of Barkley?

"He's obviously been one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Pac-12," he said. "He's likely to be the first pick in the NFL draft. We're facing one of the all-time greats and also a tremendous leader."

Scott, a year ahead of Barkley, was a three-star prospect who picked Arizona over California, Boise State and Utah. The Wildcats went 5-7 in 2007, their ninth consecutive non-winning season. He beat out Nick Foles for the starting spot in 2009 but lost the job to Foles three games into the season. When Foles was hurt in 2010, Scott came off the bench and played well, but he opted to redshirt in 2011 so he could finally inherit the keys to the offense as a fifth-year senior.

When asked about Scott, USC coach Lane Kiffin's first word is "Wow."

"He's a phenomenal player," Kiffin said. "I didn't realize he is as fast as he is -- accurate, arm strength. He's playing great, doing an unbelievable job with the system."

So there's plenty of admiration for both quarterbacks.

Scott said he and Barkley know each other from football camps and recruiting and get along well, but, yes, it would be meaningful to best Barkley on Saturday.

"They are the No. 9-ranked team, so it's going to mean a lot more," Scott said. "It's a big stage. A great quarterback is coming in here. It would mean a lot to outplay him."

If Take 2 is anything like Take 1, this one figures to be pretty interesting.

Who has brains coming back?

April, 3, 2012
Recognition is so important for an offense. Think Andrew Luck -- or Peyton Manning -- wildly gesticulating at the line of scrimmage.

Or, for that matter, Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas doing the same thing.

That was something that stuck with me after I chatted with Oregon sophomore center Hroniss Grasu a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about how he improved at making line calls during the 2011 season, but he went out of his way to note how good Thomas was at helping out, at identifying last-second changes a defense made that perhaps hinted at its ill intentions.

The point: Centers and quarterbacks are the brains of an offense. The center typically makes the calls at the line of scrimmage that make sure everyone is accounted for. And quarterbacks communicate to both the skill players and the line about check and audibles.

The QB and center work in tandem. They need to be in sync. And having smart, experienced signal-callers and centers is a big deal for an offense. It means an offense can go to the line with more options, and it can check into the right option more often than not. That breeds confidence, both among players and with their coaches.

So which Pac-12 teams are experienced at QB and center? Who has both back, one back or neither?

Thanks for asking.

Arizona: Center
: While Nick Foles was the Wildcats' quarterback last year, Matt Scott has started five games, so the offense is not in inexperienced hands. Senior center Kyle Quinn did a solid job in 2011, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. On the downside, the Wildcats are installing a new offense with coach Rich Rodriguez, so past experience isn't as helpful.

Arizona State: Neither
QB Brock Osweiler is gone as is center Garth Gerhart. Kody Koebensky likely takes over at center, while the quarterback competition continues to be wide-open. Of course, the Sun Devils are installing a new offense under new coach Todd Graham, so being green isn't as much of an issue.

California: Both
: QB Zach Maynard should be much more in control as a second-year starter. While center Dominic Galas is back, he's sitting out spring due to a shoulder injury, and it appears he will switch over to guard. Galas, some of you Bears fans might recall, did have some issues with shotgun snaps last year. Chris Adcock or Mark Brazinski could end up winning the job.

Colorado: Center
: Tyler Hansen is almost certainly going to be replaced at quarterback by Texas transfer Connor Wood, a sophomore with no game experience. It should help Wood, however, to have junior Gus Handler back making the line calls. Daniel Munyer, who's slated to start at guard, also has starting experience at center.

Oregon: Center
Skinny: Center
Grasu's first start as a redshirt freshman was against LSU's beastly defensive front. That was a baptism by fire, but he consistently improved throughout the season. QB Bryan Bennett has some experience, including one start, but he will be challenged this spring by redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

Oregon State: QB
: Sean Mannion is back at QB, but center Grant Johnson is gone. The frontrunner to win that job is sophomore Roman Sapolu. The Beavers have injury issues on the line this spring, and that likely will slow down the unit's -- and Sapolu's -- development.

Stanford: Center
: You might have heard that Andrew Luck is gone. Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes look like the favorites to replace him, but neither has significant experience. Senior Sam Schwartzstein did a fine job stepping into Chase Beeler's shoes in 2011, but life was, naturally, easier with Luck at QB. More will fall on Schwartzstein in 2012.

: The Bruins have two quarterbacks with significant starting experience back: Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut. But redshirt freshman Brett Hundley might end up winning the job. All three are learning a new offense this spring under new coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Sophomore Jacob Brendel -- or perhaps junior Greg Capella, who mostly started at guard last year -- are the frontrunners to replace Kai Maiava at center.

USC: Both
: You've maybe heard of Trojans QB Matt Barkley and his receivers, Robert Woods/Marqise Lee, being the best pass-catch trio in the nation. Well, Barkley and senior center Khaled Holmes are the perhaps the best QB-center combination in the nation. Holmes was second-team All-Pac-12 in 2011, and he's probably the best center in the conference.

Utah: Both
: Junior Jordan Wynn, a three-year starter, only needs to stay healthy for the Utes to get at least solid QB play. Center Tevita Stevens is solid, but he will be breaking in a pair of new OTs.

Washington: Both
: Junior QB Keith Price was a revelation last year as a first-year starter, far eclipsing the production of his celebrated predecessor, Jake Locker. Senior center Drew Schaefer is a 30-game starter. So this is a strong combo for the Huskies.

Washington State: Both
: Jeff Tuel feels like a decided frontrunner to retain his starting job at QB, while junior Matt Goetz returns at center. A junior-college transfer in 2011, he started the final nine games of 2011. A year of seasoning -- and in the weight room -- should help Goetz in 2012.

Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

February, 23, 2012
Pac-12 spring preview: South Division

Spring practice is almost here. Here's a snapshot at what to expect from the Pac-12 South in the coming weeks.


Spring practice starts: March 4

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Hello, my name is ... Like the other two teams in the South Division with new head coaches (Arizona State and UCLA) much of Arizona's first few weeks will be Rich Rodriguez evaluating his personnel and getting to know what he has to work with. Likewise, the players are going to have to figure out what this new coaching staff is about. Everything from how they do pre-practice stretches to how they call the cadence is going to change.
  • New scheme and a new scheme: A spread option on offense and a 3-3-5 on defense. That's a lot of new material to digest on both sides of the ball. Until Rodriguez can recruit the players he likes into his scheme, he's going to have to make it work with the players he has. Fortunately on the defensive side of the ball, Arizona has good depth in the secondary with Cortez Johnson, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson, Jourdon Grandon and Tra'Mayne Bondurant. The Wildcats should also get a boost with the return of injured players Jake Fischer (LB), Jonathan McKnight (CB) and Adam Hall (S).
  • Perfect fit? Former starter Matt Scott, who was beaten out by Nick Folesin 2009, is expected to reprise his starting role under Rodriguez. He redshirted the 2011 season and -- magically -- Foles never got hurt last year despite taking 23 sacks and countless hits. Scott is considered the more versatile quarterback and should fit nicely into the new run-based spread attack.

Spring practice starts: March 13

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • QB competition: We know what kind of offense new coach Todd Graham is going to run; now it's a matter of figuring out who is going to run it. Graham has his choice of three players -- Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly or Michael Eubank -- to replace NFL-bound Brock Osweiler. Graham said earlier this month that there are no favorites heading into the competition and each one brings his own skill set to the table. Eubank has the size (6-foot-5, 235 pounds), Bercovici (6-1, 205) is a mechanic and Kelly (6-1, 202) is a little bit of everything.
  • Get the locker room: By the end of the 2011 season, ASU's locker room wasn't just divided, it was completely splintered. Graham's task -- and that of his new coaching staff -- is to pick up the pieces, mend internal fences and find some chemistry on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Brandon Magee, long considered a great locker room leader, should help get the Sun Devils back on track as he returns from a season-ending Achilles injury.
  • Hands competition: The Sun Devils lose three of their top four wide receivers from last season -- Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie. Jamal Miles returns after finishing second on the team last season with 60 catches and six touchdowns. Rashad Ross figures to be the No. 2 guy, but establishing depth in that corps -- especially if Graham wants to be up-tempo -- is key.

Spring practice starts: March 10

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Momentum, maybe? For as rough as 2011 was for the Buffs, they ended the year on a high note, winning two-of-three down the stretch -- including a 17-14 win over Utah in the season finale. But there is also the possibility that things might get worse before they get better. With just four returning starters on offense, spring in Boulder will likely be more about teaching and less about refining.
  • Where to start (offense)? Well, quarterback might be a good place. In the court of public opinion, Connor Wood, a transfer from Texas, seems to be the favorite. Nick Hirschman appeared in five games last season, mostly in mop-up time when the game was already out of hand. It's also possible a starter could be named by the end of spring ball. Finding offensive weapons to surround the new quarterback will also be a challenge. Wide receiver Paul Richardson caught 39 balls last season, and running back Tony Jones showed a flare for catching the ball out of the backfield. He'll likely step in as the new workhorse back for the departed Rodney Stewart.
  • Where to start (defense)? Last in this. Last in that. Last in almost every team statistic the Pac-12 has to offer. But there are some intriguing youngsters on the roster. Cornerback Greg Henderson was all-conference honorable mention as a freshman with a team-high nine passes broken up. Jered Bell also returns from injury after blowing out a knee last preseason. If healthy, he's expected to be a big contributor in the secondary. Linebacker Jon Majorreturns as the team's leading tackler, and if Doug Rippy is fully recovered from his knee injury, he'll look to build on what was a pretty good season last year before getting hurt.

Spring practice starts: April 3

Spring game: May 5

What to watch:
  • QB up for grabs: Like the majority of the conference, UCLA enters spring with a quarterback competition. New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said he doesn't care how much experience (or lack thereof) a player has -- if he can play, he wins the job. So don't be surprised if Brett Hundley passes Kevin Prince and Richard Brehautas the new man leading the Bruins. Fans have been clamoring for a change. Hundley might be it.
  • Attitude adjustment: One of the first things new head coach Jim Mora did was slam the team for its tradition of going "over the wall," a time-honored senior ditch day, saying if they want to jump the wall, they should just keep on going. How's that for sending a message? UCLA has earned a reputation for being soft and underachieving despite good talent. Attitude and toughness is needed -- and so far, Mora appears to be hammering that point home.
  • Speaking of toughness ... The defense has to get tougher. No two ways about it. It was weak against the run last season, allowing more than 190 yards per game on the ground; couldn't get to the quarterback; and couldn't get off the field almost 50 percent of the time on third down. It's time for potential all-conference players such as defensive end Datone Jones to start living up to the hype and the defense as a whole to stop getting pushed up and down the field. At 6-5, 275 pounds, Jones has the physical makeup to be a major force in the conference and catapult himself into the elite class of collegiate defensive players.

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Ignore the hype: Few teams ended last season hotter than USC and returning quarterback Matt Barkley. The Heisman talk has already started, the way-too-early rankings already have the Trojans as national championship contenders, and the public perception is that the offense is unstoppable. Nice to hear, but hype is a double-edged sword. Head coach Lane Kiffin has a knack for deflecting hype. This season will be his toughest test to date.
  • Insurance? The Trojans are loaded on both sides of the ball with returning players. But after the starting 22, things start to get dicey. Developing depth and keeping the starters healthy is a top priority -- particularly on the offensive and defensive lines and at running back, where experience is thin outside of the starters. The entire back seven returns on defense -- headlined by hard-hitting safety T.J. McDonald. Stopping the pass has been a major priority for Kiffin, and if this group stays healthy it should see the pass-efficiency numbers improve even more.
  • Other options: Along those same lines, wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee make up the most feared receiving duo in the conference -- maybe the country. But who are the Nos. 3 and 4 receivers behind them? George Farmer? Victor Blackwell? De'Von Flournoy? Don't overlook the tight end duo of Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer, which should rival Stanford's Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo as the best tight end tandem in the conference.

Spring practice starts: March 20

Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Youthful approach: Head coach Kyle Whittingham turned some heads by naming former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson as his offensive coordinator. Johnson, who recently turned 25, said he's not looking to make wholesale changes to the offense, though he wants to put his stamp on it and continue to build around running back John White IV, who had a breakout season in his first year of major college football. Having quarterback Jordan Wynn back healthy should also help as the team transitions to Johnson running the offense.
  • Fixing the line: Who is going to protect Wynn (if he does indeed win back the starting job) and make holes for White? That's a major concern heading into spring as the Utes have to replace a pair of all-conference linemen in Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. The Utes should be set at the interior but have to adjust to a new position coach, with Tim Davis leaving for Florida after just one season and Dan Finn -- a former Utah graduate assistant who was brought on to help Davis -- taking over the whole line following a one-year stint at San Diego State.
  • Work the experience: The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, especially with the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the conference's best defensive lineman. With the Kruger brothers returning to the line -- Joe at defensive end and Dave at tackle -- Derrick Shelby is the lone starter who has to be replaced. There's also some pretty good depth in the secondary that was tops in the conference last season in pass-efficiency defense.
Stanford's recent success just about Andrew Luck? That's just silly talk.

If ESPN NFL draft guru Todd McShay is on target with his mock 2012 NFL draft, plenty of evidence to the contrary will be produced on draft day. Insider
McShay projects that Luck will be the No. 1 overall pick, of course, but he also projects that Luck will be joined by three teammates in the first round.

How many other teams will produce that many first-round picks? One: National champion Alabama.

The Pac-12 has seven first-round picks in McShay's mock draft.

Here's how McShay sees things, with some comments included.

1. Andrew Luck, QB Stanford (Indianapolis Colts)

2. Matt Kalil, OT, USC (St. Louis Rams)

13. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford (Arizona Cardinals)
This might seem a bit high for a guard, but DeCastro was the most dominant interior offensive lineman in the nation in 2011 and has a chance to develop into one of the elite NFL players at his position. Offensive tackle is also a need area, but DeCastro is a much better overall player than the top available tackle. Cornerback could also be a consideration, but both Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama) and Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) carry off-field baggage.

18. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford (San Diego Chargers)

20. Nick Perry, DE, USC (Tennessee Titans)
The Titans have three defensive ends set to become free agents and need a dynamic pass-rusher to complement Derrick Morgan. While Perry is raw, he has good initial burst and natural pass-rush skills. Cornerback, safety and offensive line are also need areas, but Perry makes the most sense in this situation.

26. Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford (Houston Texans)
The Texans would rather get a wideout here to complement Andre Johnson, but Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery would be reaches at this point. A difference-maker at tight end would help, though, and Fleener is a reliable target with toughness, a competitive nature and underrated speed/athleticism. He could draw some attention to the middle away from Johnson, and with a deep wideout class Houston could find a quality receiver in the next couple of rounds.

29. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State (Baltimore Ravens)
Burfict is a physical freak with tremendous athleticism and explosive power. He's a top-20 talent, but questions about his discipline on and off the field are hurting his stock. However, Burfict could contribute immediately and would benefit greatly from the leadership and guidance of Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. And you have to wonder whether the Ravens would press their luck and take another player with character flags after bringing cornerback Jimmy Smith into the fold last year.

Here's McShay's player rankings. Insider

Here's Kiper's Big Board. Insider

And here's Kiper's top-five by position, Insider which is chock full of Pac-12 players.

Most interesting: Kiper ranks former Arizona State's Brock Osweiler No. 3 among the quarterbacks, ahead of former Arizona's Nick Foles, who is fifth. Luck, of course, is No. 1 and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is No. 2.

If Osweiler ends up getting picked on the first day -- first two rounds -- it certainly will validate his surprising decision to enter the NFL draft.

Fiesta Bowl has makings of a classic

December, 5, 2011
First thoughts ...

The 2012 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, aka the January NFL Combine, could have as many as five first-round draft picks on the field when the Stanford Cardinal and Oklahoma State Cowboys meet on Jan. 2.

Four of them come from Stanford: quarterback Andrew Luck, offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro and possibly tight end Coby Fleener.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Richard Rowe/US Presswire"That guy wearing No. 81 is something special," Stanford coach David Shaw said of Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon.
Oklahoma State boasts – hands down -- the nation's best wide receiver in Justin Blackmon. He has 113 catches, 1,336 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Cardinal have seen Blackmon-esque wide receivers this season -- Juron Criner, Michael Floyd, Robert Woods, etc. Big, fast, physical wide receivers who can use their bodies to create separation. But seeing players like Blackmon isn't the same as seeing Blackmon.

“The first time I saw him getting ready for Arizona, I put on the Oklahoma State game,” Stanford head coach David Shaw explained. “I’m trying to watch Arizona’s defense but I kept watching Justin. I had to go back to the sheet that had all of the heights and weight on it. Is he really that big? Can he be that big and that fast and that quick? A guy that will catch a 50-yard post and then come back again on the next play and it doesn't look like he's out of breath. He's a phenomenal athlete and an outstanding football player.”

The Cardinal have seen Weeden-esque quarterbacks before -- Nick Foles, Matt Barkley, etc.; quarterbacks with arms who can deliver with pinpoint accuracy. But seeing quarterbacks like Brandon Weeden isn't the same as seeing Weeden.

Oh yeah … did I mention they have Blackmon?

“That guy wearing No. 81 is something special,” Shaw said. “And the combination of those two guys is formidable. It has been. They have other guys. They have good running backs and other wide receivers that make big plays also. But Justin Blackmon I think is a special, special player. Being who I am, that's where my eye gravitates towards when I watch a team like this. I studied receivers for so long in the NFL. This guy is ideal. He's what you're looking for.”

We have a month to pore over statistics, scrutinize every position and every individual battle. But my first thought is that this is an incredibly even matchup.

  • Both teams have marquee quarterbacks.
  • Both teams have strong passing games – a clear edge to Oklahoma State’s receivers and a clear edge to Stanford’s tight ends.
  • Both teams have strong running games, though the Cardinal are a little more balanced and methodical.
  • Both have defenses that have taken their share of criticism, but ultimately make plays when they need to.

Of all of the BCS bowl games, this is the headliner. It might not be for the national championship -- both teams had a shot at it, though Oklahoma State has the bigger gripe -- but at first glance this looks to be the most entertaining game on the docket. If my DVR has space for only one of the BCS bowl games, this is the one I'd record.

“I think this game is going to be great for college football,” Shaw said. “I think it's going to be exciting. It has a lot of what you're looking for ... You've got one of the best teams in the nation, won their conference. Have an outstanding quarterback, outstanding receiver and an outstanding system; an opportunistic defense that gets turnovers and plays at a fast tempo with a lot of speed.

“Then you have this little team from the West Coast that runs the football with a prototypical quarterback with a balanced offensive attack and attacking style defense. I think it's going to be exciting. I think it's going to be one of the best bowl games this year.”

Question from reporter: Do you think it will be better than the national championship?

Shaw, with a laugh: “I didn't say that.”

Question from reporter: Will it be higher scoring?

Shaw, with a bigger laugh: “I didn't say that, either.”

Shaw doesn’t have to say it. We’re all thinking it.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 27, 2011
Who gets a helmet sticker for a job well done?

Matt Barkley, USC: The Trojans quarterback completed 35 of 42 passes for 423 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions in a 50-0 victory over rival UCLA. He set a new conference record with 39 TD passes this season. He might have played well enough to earn himself an invitation to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Chase Thomas, Stanford: The Cardinal outside linebacker had five tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and two QB hurries in Stanford's 28-14 win over Notre Dame.

Colorado: Instead of mailing it in, the Buffaloes' 26 seniors, who had never won on the road, went out with a bang. The defense held Utah to 274 yards and the offense did just enough Friday in a 17-14 victory, which ended a 24-game losing streak outside of the state of Colorado.

Zach Maynard, California: The Bears QB completed 19 of 26 attempts for 237 yards and a touchdown and rushed five times for 40 yards and another score in the 47-38 win over Arizona State. His numbers aren't spectacular, but no player has improved as much over the past four weeks, when he's throw five TD passes and just one interception. Recall that after throwing four picks in a loss to UCLA, Maynard looked like a disaster.

Darron Thomas, Oregon: The Ducks quarterback completed 27 of 40 passes for 305 yards with four TDs and no interceptions in the 49-21 win over Oregon State.

Nick Foles, Arizona: The Wildcats QB, playing in his final game in Tucson, completed 33 of 43 for 352 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the 45-37 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. He overcame a rib injury that looked like it might knock him out of the game early in the week.

Keith Price, Washington: A week after mostly sitting out the Oregon State game with a knee injury, the Washington QB completed 21 of 29 passes for 291 yards with three TDs and no interceptions in a 38-21 victory over Washington State in the Apple Cup.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

November, 21, 2011
Taking stock of the 12th week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: USC ended Oregon's 21-game home winning streak as well as the Ducks' 19-game conference winning streak with a 38-35 victory, giving coach Lane Kiffin and QB Matt Barkley a signature victory.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMatt Barkley threw four touchdown passes in USC's win over Oregon.
Best game: Unlike most weeks this season, four Pac-12 games came down to the waning moments, but the Trojans' win in Autzen Stadium was thrilling and meaningful, featuring a pair of ranked teams. The Trojans jumped ahead 38-14 but the Ducks stormed back with 21 unanswered points. The game would have gone to overtime if Ducks kicker Alejandro Maldonado hadn't missed from 37 yards on the game's final play.

Biggest play: Hey, Cougs, did Marquess Wilson score?

Washington State was inches short from beating Utah in regulation, and more than a few folks in Pullman -- including coach Paul Wulff -- believe the 6-yard pass Wilson caught in the waning moments from QB Connor Halliday was actually a 7-yard TD pass. As it was, Mo Lee's tackle stopped Wilson from getting the go-ahead TD and, after two incompletions, the Cougars settled for a tying field goal that sent the game into overtime. Utah prevailed 30-27.

This from Howie Stalwick explains the situation:
The Cougars were out of time-outs, so Wulff could not call for a review. The upstairs review official had the option to review the play. A touchdown would have given WSU the win, but Wulff wound up going for a field goal.

NCAA rules permit the reversal of on-field rulings only if evidence is abundantly clear that an error was made. Television replays were inconclusive regarding whether Wilson broke the plane of the goal line. Snow on the field complicated matters.

Wulff said a photo he observed, combined with video he watched, convinced him that Wilson scored.
Offensive standout: Barkley completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the Trojans' 38-35 win at Oregon.

Defensive standout: Oregon State defensive end -- and Washington native -- Scott Crichton had two sacks, three total tackles for a loss and forced a key fourth-quarter fumble in the Beavers' 38-21 win over Washington.

Special-teams standout: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against USC. He also caught a 29-yard TD pass.

Smiley face: Little has gone right for Arizona this year. Heck, it fired its head coach, Mike Stoops, before the season was over. But things are a little brighter in Tucson after a 31-27 upset win at Arizona State. QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner -- the Wildcats' two biggest stars -- turned in strong performances and the defense did just enough to win. In a tough situation, interim head coach Tim Kish has done a good job keeping things together and giving his seniors a great memory.

Frowny face: Arizona State. The Sun Devils have lost four of five, and their three-game losing streak came against teams that have less talent and less reason to play hard. Not much to say, but I'm guessing Sun Devils fans can think of plenty.

Thought of the week: Utah plays Colorado on Friday. The Utes should beat the woeful Buffaloes and finish the regular season with a five-game winning streak and an 8-4 record. Then the Utes will watch Arizona State play host to California that night and UCLA visit USC on Saturday. If the Sun Devils and Bruins both lose, the Utes will win the South Division in their first year in the conference. And they'd deserve it more than UCLA or Arizona State, which have meandered through a year that might get both head coaches fired.

Questions for the week: Are there any upsets left? Will Stanford beat Notre Dame and earn an at-large BCS bowl berth? Or will Oregon fall to Oregon State at home and allow the Cardinal to slip into the Rose Bowl -- win or lose versus the Fighting Irish? Will UCLA whip suddenly hot USC and save Rick Neuheisel's job? What about the Apple Cup: If Washington State beats rival Washington, will that be enough to save Wulff's job? Or might Colorado rise up and end its 24-game losing streak outside its home state at Utah? Lots of intrigue for the final weekend of the regular season.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 20, 2011
Who gets a helmet sticker for a job well done?

Scott Crichton, Oregon State: The true freshman defensive end -- and Washington native -- had two sacks and forced a key fourth-quarter fumble in the Beavers' 38-21 win over Washington.

John White, Utah: The Utes running back rushed for 186 yards on 42 carries with two touchdowns in the 30-27 overtime win over Washington State.

Kevin Prince, UCLA: The Bruins quarterback completed 15-of-19 for 225 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 45-6 win over Colorado. He also rushed 10 times for 84 yards.

Matt Barkley, USC: The Trojans quarterback completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the Trojans 38-35 win at Oregon.

Foles & Criner: Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and wide receiver Juron Criner were supposed to be the Pac-12's best pass-catch combination. Things didn't got their -- or the Wildcats' -- way this season. But Foles completed 35-of-51 for 370 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and Criner caught nine passes for 134 yards with a touchdown in the 31-27 upset win at Arizona State.

Final: Colorado 48, Arizona 29

November, 12, 2011
Colorado senior running back Rodney Stewart, playing in his last game on Folsom Field, made sure the Buffaloes wouldn't go winless in their first year of Pac-12 play.

Stewart rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries as the Buffs rolled over Arizona 48-29.

Colorado outrushed the Wildcats 273 yards to 60.

Arizona quarterback Nick Foles threw for 352 yards but also tossed three interceptions.

The Buffs improved to 2-9 on the season and 1-6 in conference play, while the Wildcats fall to 2-8 and 1-7 as they battle to avoid the South Division basement.

Colorado is at UCLA next weekend. Arizona visits archrival Arizona State, the Wildcats' final conference game. They conclude their season on Nov. 26 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 10, 2011
Issues to consider heading into the 11th week of games.

Luck & James: We've said -- and typed -- this before and we will say -- and type -- it again: Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon running back LaMichael James are big-time players. They were both Heisman Trophy finalists in 2010. Luck finished second; James won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back. Luck is the overwhelming Heisman favorite at present. James leads the nation in rushing. Who makes more big-time plays on Saturday? The one who does likely will play for the winning team, and he might end up hoisting the bronze stiff arm trophy.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireBig-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. So who will make more: Stanford's Andrew Luck or Oregon's LaMichael James?
Barkley makes Sarkisian seem brilliant: Washington coach Steve Sarkisian made headlines this week when he said he'd pick Trojans QB Matt Barkley over Stanford QB Andrew Luck. Maybe he was hoping Barkley would be so flattered that he'd take it easy on a Huskies pass defense that yields 283 yards per game? Don't count on it. In fact, expect Barkley to eclipse 30 TD passes this season -- he enters the game with 28 -- and perhaps move within sniffing distance of Matt Leinart's conference record of 38 with two games to play.

Chow down? It seems like Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow plays one of his former teams every other week, but this time it's different. He was UCLA's offensive coordinator the previous three seasons, so he knows the Bruins personnel on both sides of the ball extremely well. That could be invaluable, particularly with two teams that are limited offensively.

For the defense? Arizona and Colorado own the two worst defenses in the conference. You'd think that Arizona then would have an advantage because it has a much better offense -- Colorado ranks last in the conference in scoring and 11th in total offense. But the Buffaloes are healthier than they've been in weeks, and two cornerbacks return from suspension (Parker Orms and Paul Vigo). Plus there has to be a sense of urgency and desperation at the thought of going winless in their first year of Pac-12 play, while the Wildcats seemed to take a step back last weekend at Utah. While Nick Foles against the Colorado defense seems like a bad matchup, and two poor performances in a row for Foles seem doubtful, don't be surprised if the Buffs come out playing with as much fire as they have in their final home game.

Good Bears or Bad Bears? In terms of matchups, you have to like California's defense against Oregon State, as well as the Bears ability to run and stop the run while playing at home. But it's difficult to focus on X's and O's with the Bears, because it seems like so much goes on -- right and wrong -- in their collective heads. They won three in a row to start the season. Then lost three in a row. They won a game, looking great against Utah. Then lost a game, looking terrible against UCLA. They then looked good again while pounding Washington State last weekend. So does that mean it's time for the Bad Bears to reappear? Cal should beat the Beavers. It's more talented and playing at home. But you never know which team will show up.

Sun Devils should be hot under the collar: Arizona State blew a special season at UCLA. That should bother them. As should tweaks from fans and the media. But they can still win the South Division, go to a good bowl game and have a good season. Nine or 10 wins isn't out of the question. So they need to bring their best focus and intensity to Pullman to face a desperate Washington State team. It's going to be a bit chilly. It may snow. But QB Brock Osweiler and linebacker Vontaze Burfict need to make sure that the locker room is in a frenzy and ready to make a statement against the Cougars.

Red zone, turnovers, third down: Stanford is a perfect 52-of-52 in the red zone this year (with a stunning 41 TDs). It also is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in red zone defense. The Cardinal is No. 2 in the conference in turnover margin, and has given the ball away just seven times this season. Finally, Stanford is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions and second in third-down defense. Oregon is strong by these three measures also. Whoever is better in two of three categories on Saturday is probably going to end up smiling when the clock strikes zero.

The Price of playing defense: Last year, lots of folks were down on USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and for good reason. The Trojans, so long a dominant defensive team, played soft and tentative and put up bad numbers. But, without a lot of fanfare, USC has significantly improved on D. For one, it's held six of nine foes to 17 or fewer points. The Trojans rank fourth in the conference in total defense. Still, they aren't great against the pass. They give up 271 yards passing per game and rank sixth in pass-efficiency defense, with foes completing 63 percent of their throws. Washington QB Keith Price started the season hot, but has cooled off of late, tossing six interceptions in his past three games after throwing four in his first six. The Trojans have been tough to run against, so Price won't be able to just lean on running back Chris Polk. He's going to have to make plays in the passing game. Like he did in the first six games.

Predictions: Pac-12 Week 11

November, 10, 2011
Went 3-3 last week -- yeesh -- and the season record is now 51-19.

Oregon 35, Stanford 30: All season long I was a Stanford lean, in large part due to homefield advantage, which will allow Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck to communicate however he pleases throughout the game. But after watching the Ducks defense seem to grow up versus Washington, it just seems like Oregon has too much overall team speed on both sides of the ball.

Colorado 33, Arizona 28: It seems like a bad matchup: Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles versus a beaten up, bad Buffaloes secondary. But the Buffs are getting healthier, and their final home game of the season will produce their first Pac-12 win.

USC 35, Washington 27: Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley will turn in another Luck-like performance and end the Huskies two-game winning streak in the series.

California 28, Oregon State 24: Cal never beats Oregon State. And I never pick either of these teams correctly. But Cal is at home -- sort of at AT&T park -- and seemed to figure out last week against Washington State that it needs to run the ball and play defense to win.

Utah 24, UCLA 20: The Utes have the sort of front seven that can stop UCLA's pistol attack. And Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow will have some nice inside info to help game plan.

Arizona State 41, Washington State 31: The Sun Devils are 1-3 on the road this year, but they should have the right amount of desperation to be focused and intense after blowing one at UCLA. News of a Bruins defeat also figures to trickle into the locker room.

Quick look at Week 11 games

November, 8, 2011
Here's a quick look at Week 11 in the Pac-12.

All times are ET.

Arizona (2-7, 1-6) at Colorado (1-9, 0-6) 2:30 p.m. FCS: Is Colorado going to win a Pac-12 game? This might be its best chance, considering its final two games are on the road, where the Buffaloes never win. The Buffs lead the series 12-1, but the Wildcats won the last game 24-21 in 1986. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles needs 84 yards of total offense to break Willie Tuitama's school record of 8,727 set from 2005-08. Last week against USC, Buffs running back Rodney Stewart set a new school record for all-purpose yards (4,466), passing his offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy.

Washington (6-3, 4-2) at USC (7-2, 4-2) 3:45 p.m. FX: USC leads the series 49-28-4, but Washington has won the last two, including a 32-31 win last year. Huskies quarterback Keith Price needs four touchdown passes to eclipse the school record of 28 thrown by Cody Pickett in 2002. USC has blocked six kicks this year. Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley threw a school record six touchdown passes in the win over Colorado, and he leads the conference with 28 touchdown passes.

Oregon State (2-7, 2-4) at California (5-4, 2-4) 6:30 p.m. CSNBA: California leads the series 33-30-0, but Oregon State won last year 35-7. After posting their first losing season under coach Jeff Tedford, the Bears need one win to become bowl eligible. The Beavers are already assured a second consecutive losing season. Oregon State's redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Mannion has thrown for 200 or more yards in eight consecutive games, most for the program since Derek Anderson went 13 in a row in 2003. Cal receiver Keenan Allen took nine games to reach 1,000 yards receiving, the fastest of any receiver in school history. Cal is ranked 19th in the nation in total defense.

UCLA (5-4, 4-2) at Utah (5-4, 2-4) 6:30 p.m. KJZZ: The winner becomes bowl eligible. UCLA leads the series 8-1 but Utah won the last meeting, 44-6 in 2007. The Utes have been to a bowl game the last eight seasons, and they are 7-1 in those games. Utes running back John White is the 11th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 yards rushing. He had his fifth 100-yard rushing game against Arizona. The Utes are 5-0 when he rushes for 100 yards. The Bruins are ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (186.4 yards per game).

No. 4 Stanford (9-0, 7-0) at No. 7 Oregon (8-1, 6-0) 8 p.m. ABC: It looked like the Pac-12 game of the year in the preseason and it turned out to be exactly that. Stanford leads the series 44-29-1, but Oregon won 52-31 last year. Oregon running back LaMichael James leads the nation in rushing with 151.57 yards per game. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck ranks fifth in passing efficiency. Both were Heisman Trophy finalists last year. The Ducks have won 18 consecutive conference games. Stanford has won 17 games in a row, the nation's longest winning streak. This is the Cardinal's first 9-0 start since 1951. Stanford leads the nation in red zone efficiency. It's perfect at 52 of 52. The Ducks lead the Pac-12 with 29 sacks, or 3.22 per game. Stanford has yielded the fewest sacks in the conference, just four, which is tied for fewest in the nation.

Arizona State (6-3, 4-2) at Washington State (3-6, 1-5) 10:30 p.m. Versus: Arizona State leads the series 23-12-2, and the Sun Devils won 42-0 last year. After a 3-1 start, the Cougars have lost five in a row. Sun Devils running back Cameron Marshall leads the Pac-12 with 13 touchdowns. Sun Devils defensive tackle Bo Moos is the son of Washington State AD Bill Moos. Cougars wideout Marquess Wilson needs 26 yards to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving this year, which will make him just the second wideout in school history to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (Jason Hill, 2004-05). Cougs kicker Andrew Furney is one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award.