NCF Nation: Oregon State Beavers

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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What did we learn this week, people? The Pac-12’s depth is going to make for a fun season and probably a good dose of insanity when trying to sort out the postseason.

For example, two late games Saturday night that ended in dramatic fashion could have bowl implications. When you look at Cal’s remaining schedule, are there four wins out there? How about Washington State? Had the Cougars won, you could make a case that, at 2-2, they weren’t out of it yet. But what are the odds the Cougars win five of their next eight?

The Bears kick off a stretch of three games against nonranked opponents (Colorado, Washington State, Washington) before closing the season against five of six teams currently ranked in the Top 25. They will need an upset or two along the way. As for Colorado, that Cal game is a huge swing game for the Buffs as well.

Seven Pac-12 teams are still undefeated -- Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah. We know that isn’t going to last. Oregon and Arizona are two wins away from bowl eligibility. Washington needs seven because of the Hawaii rule, and Oregon State, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah are halfway there.

Things are sure to get more interesting in the coming weeks as we plow full steam ahead into conference play.

For now, here are the projections. As always, salt heavily.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: Utah
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: Arizona
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Oregon State
*-At large

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Some things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 3:

Marcus Mariota should be your Heisman front-runner: On the strength of his 19-of-23 performance (82.6 percent passing) with two passing touchdowns and two on the ground during Oregon's 48-14 win over Wyoming, I challenge you to find someone more deserving three games into the season. He has 11 total touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a signature win against a top-10 team and he's got a "Heisman moment" highlight. Whatever your criteria, Mariota meets it thus far.

Defensive POY up for grabs: Erick Dargan snagged a pair of interceptions against Wyoming. Shaq Thompson had two defensive touchdowns. Eric Kendricks, Danny Shelton, Leonard Williams and AJ Tarpley should be in the discussion. (I'm not going to name every player, so apologies if your favorite player or team feels slighted.) I have no clue who is going to win it. But it's going to be one of the fun storylines to follow as we start to flow into full-time conference play.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota passed for two touchdowns and ran for another two in the victory over Wyoming.
The Cardinal can rebound: Stanford improves to 8-0 following a loss under David Shaw. The Cardinal haven't lost back-to-back games since 2009 or back-to-back home games since 2007, which was Jim Harbaugh's first season. Their 35-0 shutout of Army was the second shutout of the season for the Cardinal and their sixth since the start of the 2010 season. Only Alabama has more. If Stanford can find a little more consistency on offense, there's no reason to rule it out of anything yet. But that's a big if.

USC: Dude.

USC (Take 2): Not sure what's more shocking about BC's 37-31 win over the Trojans. That USC lost a week after securing such a significant conference win for Steve Sarkisian, or that the Trojans were out-rushed 452-20. 20! Tailback R U kidding me? Not what we expect from a Sarkisian offense, nor is it what we expect from a Justin Wilcox defense. Twice the Trojans had a double-digit lead, only to cough it up. For a team that has shown a tremendous amount of fortitude through the first two weeks, it was severely lacking in Week 3.

Those gritty Bruins: Seeing Jerry Neuheisel carried off the field by his teammates, chanting "Jerry, Jerry" following the Bruins' 20-17 win over Texas in Dallas is exactly why college football is awesome. That was a brutal environment, and for the Bruins to fumble away the game with four minutes left, and then excel in all three phases -- defensive stop, huge punt return, clutch touchdown pass -- shows that this team is capable of putting it all together. If the Bruins can do it for 60 minutes, they will be a scary, scary team. The status of Brett Hundley's elbow will no doubt be much debated in the bye week.

The Cougs have a pulse: A 59-21 win over Portland State is a good start. Now do it against an FBS team. Washington State's offense is potent enough that every single Pac-12 North team should be wary.

The full Washington: When the Huskies put it together on both sides, they can be a pretty darn good football team, as evidenced by their 44-19 win over Illinois. They were balanced (245 rushing, 219 passing), the defense was nasty and the aforementioned Thompson (two defensive touchdowns) hauled in the first interception of the season for Washington after several missed opportunities the first two weeks. Another team that, when/if it all comes together, could shake things up in the North.

QB question marks? The bye week comes at a good time for UCLA and ASU. Their Thursday night showdown on Sept. 25 in Tempe has massive Pac-12 South implications. At least it has the last couple of years. But with Taylor Kelly nursing a foot injury (he was on crutches and in a boot) and Hundley's elbow injury, both teams could use the week off to get their high-profile signal-callers healthy. (We should also note another outstanding performance from ASU running back D.J. Foster, who had 147 yards on the ground and a score, and 59 yards receiving and a touchdown in a 38-24 win against Colorado.)

No more Paul Richardson questions: Though the Buffs fell to 1-2, they were fairly competitive against the Sun Devils and Nelson Spruce continues to emerge as one of the premier playmakers in the league. He entered Saturday as the league leader in receiving yards per game and he tacked on seven more catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. The Buffs are going to shock someone this season.

Wildcats' backfield growing up fast: Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon tossed three touchdowns on 22-of-26 passing with one pick in the Wildcats' 35-28 win over Nevada. True freshman running back Nick Wilson rushed for 171 yards and two scores on 29 carries. Both have quickly developed into A-list playmakers in the Pac-12. And it's hard not to imagine them only getting better with experience. Really intriguing game next week with Cal coming to town.

Week 2 statements can be deceiving

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
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Each college football season is a whodunit. Or, more accurately, it's a "who-will-do-it." It contains plot twists and turns, false leads and subtle clues about how things will play out. It's basically a 14-chapter potboiler, so if we seemed to have a couple of big reveals in Chapter 2, we should greet them with equanimity. Even skepticism.

No. 3 Oregon made the biggest national statement so far this season with a 46-27 victory against No. 7 Michigan State. The Ducks answered questions about their ability to match up with an elite physical defense and established their legitimacy. That quarterback Marcus Mariota turned in a tour de force for the Ducks further validates the preseason feeling that he was the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Also getting a hole punched in their validation cards were Ducks coach Mark Helfrich and new defensive coordinator Don Pellum.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesWe shouldn't punch Oregon's ticket to the College Football Playoff just yet.
Meanwhile, USC and new coach Steve Sarkisian also answered questions, though the Trojans' 13-10 triumph at Stanford was pretty much a quasi-comic thriller unto itself. For one, there's USC athletic director Pat Haden, who has never previously merited a rating on the wacko scale, apparently deciding there was some wisdom in his engaging the officials for all to see. Yes, a former USC quarterback, Rhodes Scholar and 61-year-old member of the College Football Playoff selection committee apparently didn't think making a spectacle of himself would turn out badly.

As for football, the Trojans won a second consecutive nail-biter over the Cardinal, propelling themselves into the top 10, They won in large part because Stanford couldn't get out of its own way. The Cardinal had nine drives inside the Trojans’ 35-yard line but scored just 10 points, which almost seems mathematically impossible. That red zone ineptitude would be notable for any team, but it's even more stunning when you consider Stanford's well-established reputation for disciplined, bruising, efficient play.

Nonetheless, the victory made the Trojans the second-highest rated team in the Pac-12 in both major polls. Two weeks into the season, one might call them the South Division favorite and most likely team to challenge the Ducks.

But what of USC's friends from Westwood, UCLA, the previous holder of both those designations? The Bruins improved to 2-0, but only after an unimpressive performance in an anxious 42-35 victory against lightly regarded Memphis. They continued a tumble in national estimation, falling from a preseason ranking of No. 7 to No. 12 in the latest AP poll. In Week 1 at Virginia, the Bruins' offense, particularly the line, appeared hapless. In Week 2, the defense took the day off.

UCLA is a cipher. The Bruins look good on paper -- the depth chart suggests no obvious deficiencies -- but have not looked good on turf, at least thus far. They remain unbeaten but are presently the most deserving owner of the dreaded "overrated" label. They could turn out to be the Chapter 1 good guys who end up as heels. Or the opposite. They could be lying in wait, bland and unimpressive, before leaping out of the shadows to make their heroic flourish. Feel free, by the way, to put your own spin on coach Jim Mora's brief postgame interview in which he said he liked his defense "a lot," before frumping off, leaving reporter and audience hanging.

In the preseason, there was some hope that UCLA's game with Texas on Saturday in Cowboys Stadium would be revealing. While expectations weren't terribly high for the Longhorns under first-year coach Charlie Strong, there were reasonable projections this game at least would be a matchup of ranked teams. But Texas is battling growing pains, as well as injuries and suspensions, under Strong. It just got whipped for a second consecutive season by BYU, so the Longhorns look like more of a banana peel than a national stepping-stone for the Bruins.

If UCLA loses, it probably will fall out of the Top 25, going from vogue pick for CFP semifinalist to unranked within three weeks. If it wins, most will shrug and point to the Sept. 25 date at Arizona State, a Thursday night showdown between South Division contenders, as a true measuring stick for whether the Bruins merit our preseason gushing.

This skepticism, however, carries little more authority than everyone's present approbation of Oregon. It's just fickle words, really. Fodder for the daily grind of sports fandom, this week's topic. In December, Oregon's 2-0 might not end up being any more meaningful than UCLA's 2-0. Further, UCLA at 4-0, no matter how it got there, would probably rework its popular descriptive term from "overrated" to "opportunistic."

In other words, our present takes are no more than hunches. These are educated hunches based on tangible evidence, but we all know tangible evidence often has a brief shelf life in college football. Oregon, USC and UCLA have made statements about themselves through Week 2, and it's inevitable that we react to what has been said.

That doesn't mean we won't be breaking down a rematch between Arizona State and Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game when the regular season ends.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
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We have twice as much data to work with than a week ago, but let's not kid ourselves with this: Trying to accurately project bowl games during the first week of September is a fool's errand.

At this point, you can really put everyone outside of Oregon, Colorado and Washington State in a bag, draw them out randomly and make valid points to why that random order makes sense.

If you agree with the order, cool. If you don't, you're probably justified.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: USC
Valero Alamo Bowl: UCLA
National University Holiday Bowl: Stanford
San Francisco Bowl: ASU
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Utah
Cactus Bowl: Washington
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Oregon State
*-At large

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
2:00
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Some things we learned in the Pac-12 in Week 2:

  • Oregon is a playoff-caliber team: Explosive offense? Check. Heisman candidate quarterback? Check. Underappreciated but potentially stout defense? Absolutely. The Ducks put together the full package in their 46-27 win over No. 7 Michigan State. They now have a signature win (so does Mark Helfrich, for that matter) to put on their playoff résumé.
  • Stanford-USC was what we thought it would be: What, were you expecting a run-of-the-mill 27-21 game? Of course not. Abnormal is normal for these teams. The game was accented by penalties and mistakes and coulda, woulda, shouldas from Stanford. The Trojans weren’t exactly in mid-season form, either. The Cardinal controlled the game, but scoreboard is scoreboard with the Trojans coming out on top 13-10. And after a tumultuous week leading up to the start of the season, the Trojans are 2-0. We’ve been saying all week this game is always full of wackiness. We wouldn’t steer you wrong.
  • [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesMarcus Mariota passed for 318 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Ducks to a signature nonconference win.
    Cal is for real (we think): But wait, Pac-12 blog, aren’t you the one always telling us we shouldn’t read too much into or praise teams that whoop up on FCS teams? Why, yes, gentle reader, we are. But here’s why we feel justified making that statement. They already beat an FBS team -- on the road and from a Power 5 conference -- and they easily took care of their business against Sacramento State, 55-14 something they didn’t do last year (they beat Portland State, but only by a touchdown). Good teams leave no doubt against weaker opponents.
  • The South is rising: USC, UCLA, ASU, Arizona and Utah are all undefeated. Colorado just beat an FBS team on the other side of the country. The North still has the top team with Oregon, but Stanford lost, Washington has looked shaky, Cal is improving, we don’t know much yet about Oregon State and WSU is winless. We're not saying the South is the dominant division, but it’s up for discussion.
  • Utah could be that good: We don’t want to get too gooey over the Utes. They’ve fooled us before. Utah is now 10-1 in nonconference play since joining the league, and we have to wait until they get into conference play. But so far so good for the Utes and Travis Wilson, who tossed five touchdowns in the 59-27 win over Fresno State.
  • Wildcats are intriguing: Don’t think for a second that going to play at UTSA was going to be walkover. That’s a veteran team with a coach who has won a national championship. The Wildcats faced a little adversity, overcame a deficit and were able to hang on for a 26-23 win. They are a really, really interesting team.
  • Quarterback play makes a difference: Last week, 336 total yards of offense for Washington and 162 passing yards on 10-of-26 passing from Jeff Lindquist. Saturday, with Cyler Miles, the Huskies had 536 total yards during their 59-52 win over Eastern Washington. They got three rushing touchdowns from Miles and 14-of-24 passing for 180 yards. That defense, though ...
  • WSU: Dude.
  • Colorado has weapons: Trailing 31-20 on the road, the Buffs showed a little bit of fight in coming back and winning 41-38 over UMass. We're not calling them a bowl team (because they probably won’t be), but the offensive numbers from Sefo Liufau -- 26-of-42 for 318 yards and three touchdowns (one interception) -- were encouraging. Nelson Spruce’s performance of 10 catches for 145 yards and two scores was nice to see, as were rushing touchdowns from Christian Powell and Tony Jones.
  • Not sure what to make of UCLA: They are 2-0. Both wins are against FBS teams. One of them is on the road. One week, the offense looks bad and the defense shines. Saturday, the offense is explosive and the defense is leaky in a 42-35 win over Memphis. The Bruins have a brutal schedule that will only get tougher. Best thing they can do is go to Texas next week and scorch the Longhorns with a complete performance.
  • Vernon Adams: The Eastern Washington quarterback could start for pretty much any team in the Pac-12. Just sayin … guy can play.
  • D.J. Foster can carry the load: Granted, the Sun Devils haven’t faced a defense with any bite yet. But at least this week it was against an FBS team. Foster carried 19 times for 216 yards and a touchdown to go with three catches for 54 yards during a 58-23 win over New Mexico. He averaged 11.4 yards per carry. He made up a nice tandem when Marion Grice was around. But he’s more than capable of being a solo act.
  • The Beavers can be balanced: Three hundred passing yards and three touchdowns from Sean Mannion (who is inching closer to that conference passing record), plus a pair of scores on the ground and 124 yards from Terron Ward in a 38-30 win over Hawaii. We still don’t know a ton about the Beavers, but it’s nice to also see some production on the ground for the second straight week.
With No. 7 Michigan State and No. 3 Oregon looming, the Pac-12 blog got to thinking about other games of similar magnitude over the past decade.

After taking a look back, there's only a few others that -- when they were played -- match the pedigree of Saturday's game. Dating back to the 2004 season, there have been just four other games involving a pair of teams ranked in the AP top-10.

In that same time period, there was a total of 21 games between top-25 teams. USC was involved in the most (7), followed by Oregon (3), Stanford (3), Cal (2), Oregon State (2) one each for Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington.

In chronological order, here are 10 of the most anticipated nonconference games of the past 10 years. The criteria for inclusion was simple: both teams had to be ranked and there could only be one matchup between the same teams. The second part eliminated No. 9 Cal vs. No. 23 Tennessee in 2006, No. 3 USC vs. No. 8 Ohio State in 2009 and Stanford vs. Notre Dame in 2011 and 2013 -- all of which would have been great choices, but would also have made for a less interesting look back.

Half the winners from these games finished the regular season undefeated.

(*-denotes ESPN's "College GameDay" was at the game)

2005 -- No. 5 LSU 35, No. 15 Arizona State 31: In Les Miles' first game as the coach at LSU, future No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell helped the Tigers erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win. LSU finished the year No. 6, while ASU fell out of the ranking for good in Week 6 after losing back-to-back games to No. 1 USC and No. 25 Oregon.

2005 -- No. 1 USC 34, No. 9 Notre Dame 31*: Remembered simply as the "Bush Push" game, USC quarterback Matt Leinart scored a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds thanks to a memorable shove from running back Reggie Bush. USC went undefeated the rest of the way until losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl; Notre Dame finished ranked No. 9.

2006 -- Oregon 34, No. 11 Oklahoma 33: Oregon QB Dennis Dixon scored a touchdown with 1:12 left, the Ducks recovered a controversial onside kick moments later and scored another quick touchdown take the lead. The game wasn't settled until Oregon blocked a 44-yard field-goal attempt as time expired. Oregon eventually fell from the rankings in Week 11 and Oklahoma finished the year ranked No. 11.

2007 -- No. 12 Cal 45, No. 15 Tennessee 31: A year after losing to the Vols in Knoxville, WR DeSean Jackson and RB Justin Forsett led Cal to a big win against Arian Foster and Tennessee in the season opener for both teams. Cal climbed as high as No. 2 in the rankings before finishing unranked and Tennessee finished No. 12.

2007 -- No. 1 USC 49, No. 14 Nebraska 31*: USC led 42-10 at one point and rushed for 313 yards as a team. Coincidentally, Nebraska Sam Keller was ASU's QB in the 2005 game against LSU. USC finished No. 3; Nebraska lost six of its final seven to finish 5-7.

2008 -- No. 1 USC 35, No. 5 Ohio State 3*: QB Mark Sanchez and the Trojans handed Ohio State its third-worst loss in 20 years. USC finished No. 3; Ohio State finished No. 6.

2009 -- No. 14 Boise State 19, No. 16 Oregon 8: Chip Kelly's first game as the Oregon head coach was remembered mostly for LeGarrette Blount's postgame punch, but it also doubled as the first game in an undefeated season for Chris Petersen's Broncos. Both teams actually improved their rankings by the season's end: Oregon finished No. 13 and Boise State No. 4.

2010 -- No. 6 TCU 30, No. 24 Oregon State 21: A year after narrowly missing out on a berth in the Rose Bowl, Oregon State opened the year with a tough loss to Andy Dalton and the Horned Frogs in the second Cowboys Classic. TCU finished undefeated and ranked No. 3; Oregon State went 5-7.

2011 -- No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27*: One of just two meetings between top-5 teams on this list, Oregon's mistakes proved costly against LSU in the third Cowboys Classic. LSU went on to play for the national title and finished ranked No. 2 and Oregon won the Pac-12 and finished No. 4.

2012 -- No. 7 Notre Dame 20, No. 17 Stanford 13*: As previously noted, any of the Stanford-Notre Dame games over the past three years would have qualified, but this one was played with the most on the line. If Stanford had won, the Cardinal would have finished the year a solid candidate to play for the national title. Instead, Notre Dame finished undefeated before losing that title game to Alabama. Stanford went on to win the Pac-12 and finished ranked No. 7.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
5:00
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If there is anything more exciting than bowl projections after one week, I haven’t seen it. Maybe one or two things … mixed competitive potato farming … root canals … etc.

You know these are coming every week, so just bear with us.

We don’t have much data to work with. I’m thinking a couple of things might get sorted out when USC travels to Stanford next week. And there will be some critical games to keep an eye on in the future (Utah vs. Washington State on Sept. 27, Cal at Washington State on Oct. 4, etc.).

Just a refresher of how things work in the new College Football Playoff era: After the four playoff teams are picked, the selection committee will also pick at-large games for the Fiesta, Peach, Orange and Cotton bowls.

The flexibility in bowl arrangements might shake some things up also. Some conferences have moved away from the traditional “in-order” selection process and moved to a “tier” process.

It’s early, so if you see your team listed, great. If you don’t, don’t get into too much of a huff yet. (What am I thinking? Of course you're going to get into a huff.)

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Stanford
Valero Alamo Bowl: UCLA
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
San Francisco Bowl: ASU
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Utah

*-At large

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
2:00
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We never know. We learn.

We have ideas of what teams will look like, and we project based on returning talent, talking with coaches, watching practices and making educated guesses. But we never really know until we see what's on the field.

We're smarter Saturday night than we were Thursday morning -- mostly. The first week of Pac-12 Football 101, which saw the league go 10-2 in nonconference play, was chock-full of intellectual goodies.

Perhaps the team that enlightened us the most was the California Bears, who snapped a 16-game losing streak to FBS teams by going into Ryan Field and notching a 31-24 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeCal's Jalen Jefferson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJalen Jefferson celebrates his interception that essentially sealed the game for Cal.
It's not that it was the first FBS win of the Sonny Dykes era, or that the offense looked balanced and explosive. It's the fact that they had a 31-7 lead and won 31-24. Dykes liked the idea that his team had to tip-toe through a little bit of fire to pick up the win. He watched his team evolve from soft to salty.

"I never got the feeling from one player or one coach of ‘here we go again,'" Dykes told the Pac-12 blog via telephone after the game. "The guys really believed in each other. And the reason they did is because they have worked so hard. They were prepared. And they knew someone would make a play to give us a chance to win the ball game."

As it turned out, someone made two. On Northwestern's final drive, Jalen Jefferson notched a critical sack on second-and-6 for a loss of 11 yards. On the next play, Jefferson snagged an interception that essentially closed out the game.

"It's been a long few months for us, but we're a tighter team than we were last year," Jefferson said. "A lot of those breaks we weren't getting last year, we got them. We can feel things changing for the better."

Added quarterback Jared Goff: "I think we learned about resiliency. We knew they would fight back and we didn't give up ... we learned how to finish a game."

It was educational, for sure.

We learned some things haven't changed -- at least not yet. While the Bears were protecting the fourth quarter from a Big Ten team, the Washington State Cougars were yielding the fourth quarter to another. And UCLA? Well, Brett Hundley is still getting sacked, and his offensive line still looks leaky. If not for three defensive touchdowns, the Bruins would be staring at 0-1.

We didn't learn much from the FCS games -- other than it was good to see Utah's Travis Wilson back on the field and that Oregon State seems to makes those games sketchier than they probably should be. We don't know a ton more about ASU's defense or Oregon's offense. We didn't learn much about Stanford's rushing attack. Ty Montgomery is really good. But we already knew that.

We learned USC still has the ability to hit the mute button on the outside noise. If there's one team that knows a little something about turmoil, it's the Trojans -- for what they went through last year. That's a team with scary potential.

We learned not very good is sometimes good enough. See Washington and UCLA, whose fans are crawling into bed at this moment feeling both relieved and probably a little jolted.

And the rest of the Pac-12 probably learned a little something about the Bears.

"We're capable of being pretty good, I think," Dykes said. "We have to execute better. We're good in spurts. We have to be good consistently and close people out."

Next week Cal gets FCS Sacramento State with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2011. The schedule ramps up with a pair of high-profile games, including Michigan State at Oregon and USC at Stanford.

Looking forward to what we'll know by this time next Saturday.
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”

Pac-12 bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
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The college football postseason will be very different this season, with the end of the BCS and the beginning of the four-team College Football Playoff. But there's more!

The CFP selection committee also will pick teams for the Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls. Those are the major bowls not hosting this season's CFP semifinal games. The selections will be based on ... get ready to be shocked ... merit. Well, there are some other considerations, but there won't be any more ridiculous decisions made purely on potential ticket sales. (The national semifinals, by the way, are to be played out at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1, 2015, with the winners to vie for the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.)

There also is expected to be more flexibility in the bowl arrangements, with bowls working with conferences to put together the best matchups possible and avoid repeat visits. That seems to be another good thing, though we await its execution.

In any event, here are your Pac-12 bowl projections, made with all the certainty one can muster in advance of the season itself.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (vs. Big 12)
National University Holiday Bowl: USC (vs. Big Ten)
San Francisco Bowl: Washington (vs. Big Ten)
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (vs. ACC)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington State (vs. Mountain West)
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State (vs. Big 12)
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Arizona

* at large

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:00
PM ET
Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.

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