NCF Nation: Paul Richardson


The Pac-12 has 26 of the 98 early entrants in the NFL draft. That’s impressive. Some players are locks to get drafted. Others might have jumped the gun a bit and find themselves on practice squads or brushing up on their Canadian. We’ll see.

What we’re more concerned about here is who is going to replace them. Some answers are clearer than others. Some teams might have to alter their schemes just to account for a departed player.

Here’s a look at the possible replacement players in the Pac-12 South. We’ll look at the North later this morning.

Leaving: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona.

The replacement: Jared Baker should be in the mix, though an injury will keep him out of spring ball. He’s expected to return in time for fall camp. Pierre Cormier and Zach Green will also get looks. Speaking with folks at Arizona, the word right now is that it’s wide open. One player could emerge, or it could end up being a by-committee approach. Nothing is off the table at this point.

Leaving: Carl Bradford, LB, Arizona State

The replacement: There really isn’t anyone who has Bradford’s skill set in the program yet, so the position is wide open. Viliami Latu has potential. So does Chans Cox, who was hurt a lot last season. They are also excited about incoming freshman Ismael Murphy-Richardson. He might not be ready to jump in immediately, but he could be the Devil backer by 2015.

[+] EnlargeRichardson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsColorado will have a hard time replacing the explosive plays that Paul Richardson provided.
Leaving: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado

The replacement: It was probably going to be Jeff Thomas before he transferred. Now it’s probably going to be a rotation of D.D. Goodson, Devin Ross, or redshirt freshmen Bryce Bobo or Elijah Dunston. Nelson Spruce has been solid, but he’s not the breakaway threat Richardson was. This will be a key spring battle to watch.

Leaving: Xavier Su'a-Filo, OL, UCLA

The replacement: Simon Goines should be back after starting six games at left tackle before an injury forced him out. Scott Quessenberry stepped in and played five games at left guard, which is where he’ll likely be next season with Goines back at tackle.

Leaving: Dion Bailey, LB, USC

The replacement: Leon McQuay III saw some playing time and is very highly regarded by the coaching staff. His contributions last season were mostly on special teams, but he’ll take on a larger role with Bailey’s departure.

Leaving: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

The replacement: Remember George Farmer? He’s still around and could be in for a big season if healthy. Darreus Rogers and Steven Mitchell both are promising, but both have missed time with injury. You never truly replace a Biletnikoff winner, but playing opposite a surging Nelson Agholor could help boost the production of whoever gets in the regular rotation.

Leaving: George Uko, DT, USC

The replacement: Transfer Delvon Simmons is coming off a redshirt season, as is freshman Kenny Bigelow. Both should get some serious looks, as this will be one of the hot position battles this spring. Someone will ultimately win the job, but expect a rotation with both next season.

Leaving: Marcus Martin, C, USC

The replacement: Lots of ifs here. It could be Max Tuerk moving over from guard, but he’ll also be in the mix for right tackle to replace Kevin Graf. Khaliel Rodgers redshirted and is an option at guard or center. Giovanni Di Poalo could also get a look.

Leaving: Xavier Grimble, TE, USC

The replacement: Grimble and Randall Telfer were basically co-starters, so all this probably means is Telfer’s workload increases as he becomes the clear No. 1. Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick is the only other scholarship tight end on the roster.

Leaving: Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

The replacement: Westlee Tonga seems like the logical fit. He has been around for a few years and has some experience, but was injured most of last year. He’ll get another opportunity to be the lead tight end in the newest installment of Utah’s offense.

Early entry talent drain for Pac-12

January, 6, 2014
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While the return of UCLA QB Brett Hundley for his redshirt junior season was the weekend's big news, an early-entry to the NFL draft talent drain is hitting the Pac-12 hard.

While a number of big-name players have not yet formally announced their intensions -- such as Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey, Stanford OG David Yankey, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Arizona State LB Carl Bradford and Oregon State QB Sean Mannion -- already 17 players have announced they will give up their remaining eligibility to turn professional.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

There has been good news at quarterback. Hundley joins Oregon's Marcus Mariota as pretty significant surprises that they opted to return to school, and that means the 2014 class of Pac-12 quarterbacks will be without peer in the nation by a wide margin.

Here's the early-entry list so far:

Dion Bailey, LB, USC
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
George Uko, DT, USC
Marcus Martin, C, USC
Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, UCLA
Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR, Oregon
Colt Lyerla, TE, Oregon*
Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
Kameron Jackson, CB, California
Richard Rodgers, TE California
Jake Murphy, TE, Utah

*Lyerla was kicked off the team at Oregon in October.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 12 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: USC started with a great plan against Stanford. Then it played smart, disciplined football and executed that plan. And when Stanford looked like it was asserting itself, the Trojans persevered, making clutch plays at the end to beat the Cardinal 20-17. USC is now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, looking nothing like the sloppy, uninterested team from the beginning of the season.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee caught six passes for 83 yards in USC's upset win over Stanford.
Best game: On a mostly ho-hum weekend, USC-Stanford wasn't decided until the final moments. Moreover, the stakes were high. Stanford was knocked out of the lead spot in the North Division and the Trojans are now squarely in the South race.

Biggest play: Was it the athletic interception from freshman Su'a Cravens that set up the final USC drive? Or was it the fourth-and-2 completion from Cody Kessler to Marqise Lee for 13 yards to the Stanford 35-yard line on the game-winning drive? Or the 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari? Each was critical in the final turn toward USC in the fourth quarter.

Offensive standout: Colorado WR Paul Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards in the Buffaloes' 41-24 win over California, which gave them their first Pac-12 win since September 2012. Richardson broke the school’s single-season receiving record, eclipsing the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson. He sits at 1,201 receiving yards, which ranks second in the Pac-12.

Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had eight tackles, with four coming for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against USC. The Cardinal lost, but it sure wasn't Murphy's fault. He now leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (12) and tackles for a loss (18).

Defensive standout 2: Arizona State safety Robert Nelson had two interceptions -- one he returned 23 yards for a touchdown -- and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devils' 30-17 win over Oregon State. He also had five tackles.

Special teams standout: It has been a long season for Heidari, but he was the difference for the Trojans in their upset win over Stanford. He kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play that provided the winning margin. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal and was 2-for-2 on PATs.

Smiley face: We'd gush more about Orgeron's leadership at USC, but there at least needs to be a hat tip to Washington State and coach Mike Leach going to Tucson and grabbing a much-needed victory with some late-game heroics from QB Connor Halliday. His 25-yard TD pass to Isiah Myers for the tiebreaking touchdown with 2:15 to play gave the Cougars a 24-17 win, keeping their bowl hopes alive.

Frowny face: As impressive as USC's win over Stanford was, it probably wasn't very popular among 10 other Pac-12 teams. Oregon, of course, is thrilled. The Ducks now control their North Division destiny and Rose Bowl hopes. But Stanford's losing makes it unlikely the conference will have two BCS bowl teams, which means every conference team lost about $500,000 when the Cardinal went down. It will be the first time since 2009 conference ADs won't enrich their coffers with that extra check.

Thought of the week: Arizona State and UCLA have a recent history of disappointing their fans and falling short of expectations. But guess what? Both teams are 8-2 and ranked heading into their critical showdown Saturday. They are about where optimistic preseason expectations placed them after 10 games. Both have showed resolve under second-year head coaches. No matter who wins Saturday, both programs seem to be on a decided uptick.

Questions for the week: Who salvages their season? Several Pac-12 teams' seasons are on the brink, and two games in particular are of note: Washington visits Oregon State and Washington State plays host to Utah. As far as the Huskies and Beavers, the loser of that game will officially be able to call its season a disappointment. The Huskies would then face the specter of another 7-6 season -- or worse -- and that could make Steve Sarkisian's seat pretty hot. The Beavers would be set up to lose their final five regular-season games after a 6-1 start, pending the result of the Civil War against Oregon. Utah needs to win in order to keep its bowl hopes alive, and failing to reach a bowl game for a second consecutive year would have folks getting chippy in Salt Lake. The game is not a must-win for the Cougars' bowl hopes, but they'd probably rather not hang their hopes on the Apple Cup the following week.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
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Here are the players who earned helmet stickers in the Pac-12 in Week 12:

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: Halliday completed 36 of 53 passes for 319 yards, none more important than a 25-yard strike to Isiah Myers for a touchdown with 2:15 left. The score stood as the game-winner as WSU improved to 5-5 -- one game shy of bowl eligibility.

Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: After running for four touchdowns in the Bruins’ 41-31 win against UCLA, Jack maintained he’s “still defense all the way.” Could have fooled us. Jack became the first UCLA player since Maurice Jones-Drew to pull off the feat and is now tied with Jordan James for second on the team with five rushing scores despite playing offense in just two games.

Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey cracked the 100-yard mark for the 13th straight game, running for 132 yards on 26 carries and a score. The Doak Walker Award semifinalist came into the game No. 2 in the nation, averaging 152.6 yards per game.

Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards and broke the school’s single-season receiving record in the process. He surpassed the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson and sits at 1,201 receiving yards on the year.

Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State: Grice ran for 118 yards on 24 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ win against Oregon State. ASU remains in control in the Pac-12 South with an important showdown with UCLA looming next week.

Andre Heidari, K, USC: Heidari’s day didn’t start too well when he missed the PAT following USC’s first touchdown of the game. But he redeemed himself with a 47-yard field goal in the final minute to lift USC over No. 4 Stanford, 20-17.

Tyler Gaffney, RB, Stanford: Stanford’s loss won’t fall on Gaffney’s shoulders. The senior carried 24 times for 158 yards and a pair of scores, including a highlight-reel quality 35-yarder in the first quarter.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

  1. The big one: No. 5 Stanford will host No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night in a game that is sure to send shock waves throughout the Pac-12 and BCS Standings. A win for the Ducks likely re-catapults them back over Florida State and into the No. 2 spot of the BCS rankings -- the outcome of Alabama-LSU pending. A victory for the Cardinal keeps their national championship hopes alive, but they’d still need some help along the way to pass Ohio State and Florida State. This is just the second time that two Pac-12 teams have met while ranked in the top five of the BCS standings. The last time was No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Oregon in 2007.
  2. [+] EnlargeByron Marshall
    Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall leads the Oregon rushing attack at Stanford on Thursday night.
    Edges matter: Per the brilliant number crunchers at ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinal will have to contain the Ducks when they try to run outside. Oregon averages 8.7 yards per rush outside the tackles, second among all AQ teams behind Wisconsin. Last season, Stanford forced Oregon to run 63 percent of the time between the tackles. And when the Ducks did get outside, the Cardinal were able to contain them to the tune of just 29 yards, 1.9 yards per rush and 1.3 yards before contact. In Oregon’s other games last season, they averaged 108.1 yards per game outside the tackles.
  3. The other side of the ball: We know about Oregon’s offense. We know about Stanford’s defense. How about when roles are reversed? The Cardinal offense hasn’t been all that productive of late, averaging just 21.6 points over its past three games. Oregon’s defense yields just 16.9 points per game -- seventh-best in the country. Turnovers will obviously be a premium for both defenses. Stanford has a zero turnover margin with 11 takeaways and 11 giveaways. Oregon, however, is plus-13 with 23 turnovers gained to 10 turnovers lost.
  4. Quotable: Always good for a one-liner, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked earlier in the week about De’Anthony Thomas’ comments that he expects the Ducks to score at least 40 points. “I don’t have an issue with that,” Shaw said. “He’s a confident young man, and they put it on film. They’ve done it. So I have no problem with that if that’s his mentality. I’m just glad he only said 40.” Seeing as Shaw has a penchant for the us-against-the-world approach for his team, here’s betting he had a different message for his defense behind closed doors.
  5. South showdown (1): UCLA heads to Tucson, where it hasn’t won since 2003 -- the first year of the Karl Dorrell era. Both teams have already achieved bowl eligibility. Both teams sit at 3-2 in conference play. Now it becomes a question of pecking order. Ka’Deem Carey has rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 straight games, which is tops in the FBS. The Bruins snapped their two-game losing streak with a win over Colorado last week. Brett Hundley posted the third game of his career with two rushing and two passing touchdowns and he accounted for 345 yards of total offense. Keep an eye on how things play out in the first 30 minutes, because the Bruins are 13-0 under coach Jim Mora when they lead at the half.
  6. South showdown (2): The Sun Devils look to strengthen their foothold on the South with a trip to Utah -- a team they blasted in Tempe last season. In fact, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he has “horrible memories” of last season's loss and called it one of Utah’s poorest performances since joining the Pac-12. The obvious sidebar here is it’s the first time Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is facing the team he used to coach. But Whittingham said Erickson is a pretty even-keeled guy and he doesn’t expect sentiment or emotions to play a role. Whittingham also said that quarterback Travis Wilson is healed from his hand injury and won’t wear a glove. Across the field, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly is coming off of a seven-touchdown game on the road at Washington State.
  7. Trojans rolling: Since making the coaching switch from Lane Kiffin to interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Trojans have gone 3-1, including a convincing 31-14 win last week on the road at Oregon State. For the second time this season USC had a pair of running backs post 100-yard games with senior Silas Redd rushing for 140 yards and Buck Allen collecting 133 yards (8.3 yards per catch) and 3 TDs. Allen was USC’s fourth different back to rush for 100 yards this season. Marqise Lee is also coming off an outstanding performance, grabbing five passes for a season-high 105 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Beavers. Cal is still looking for a conference win, but should have some more confidence after an improved showing last week against Arizona.
  8. Bowl eligible: So far there are six teams already bowl eligible (Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA) with two more on the verge of becoming eligible this week. USC, because of the 13-game regular season schedule sits at 6-3 overall and needs to pick up a win at California to get a spot in the postseason. Washington is at 5-3 with a visit from Colorado. Both teams are favorites, which would give the league eight teams headed to the postseason with the legitimate potential for two more (Utah and Washington State). Both have four wins and Colorado still has an outside shot. Cal is the only Pac-12 team eliminated from bowl eligibility.
  9. Star power: Two of the nation’s elite offensive playmakers square off in Seattle when Colorado visits Washington. Buffs wide receiver Paul Richardson has 57 catches for 984 yards with eight touchdowns and continues to close in on several of Colorado’s single-season receiving marks. Washington counters with running back Bishop Sankey, who enters the week as the nation’s No. 3 rusher, averaging 145.3 yards per game. He’s coming off a career-best 241-yard performance against Cal and ranks fourth nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns.
  10. Taking a breather: There are two teams on bye this week with Oregon State looking to refocus after dropping back-to-back games against Stanford and USC and Washington State taking its second bye week in the past three. The Beavers, who are already bowl eligible, close the season with two of their final three on the road; at ASU, home to Washington and at Oregon for the Civil War. With four wins, the Cougars need to win two more to teach the postseason. They are also on the road for two of their past three with dates at Arizona next week and home to Utah before closing out the Apple Cup in Seattle.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 10

November, 3, 2013
11/03/13
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 from Week 10:

  1. When consistent, ASU is really good: The Sun Devils picked up their first road win of the season with an extremely impressive 55-21 win over Washington State on Thursday night. Here's the kicker ... running back Marion Grice didn't get in the end zone! Quarterback Taylor Kelly was dominant, completing 22 of 31 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran for 66 yards and two scores, giving him seven on the day. Since dropping a 37-34 game to Notre Dame, the Sun Devils have outscored Colorado, Washington and Washington State 162-58. If the Sun Devils can maintain this consistent, high level of play, the rest of the Pac-12 South will be hard-pressed to keep pace. As for the Cougs, after a 4-2 start, they have dropped three straight, and the defense has given up at least 52 points in all three losses.
  2. [+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC is 3-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, who celebrated Friday's win in Corvallis with the band.
  3. The Trojans aren't done yet; the Beavers might be: Despite everything that has happened to USC, the Trojans are a factor in the South Division. They need to win out and probably get a little help along the way, but after a fairly convincing 31-14 road win over Oregon State, the Trojans look like a team to be reckoned with down the stretch. Since the Lane Kiffin firing, USC is 3-1 under Ed Orgeron. Conversely, Oregon State suffered a big setback and is now an even longer shot to win the North Division. There is still hope, but the Beavers also need to win out and hope for some help.
  4. Colorado is gritty: Say what you want about the wins and losses, but Colorado is a tougher team than it was last season. UCLA won 45-23, and the final score isn't particularly shocking. But the Buffs led midway through the second quarter, and true freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau looked very poised on the road, going 25-of-36 for a touchdown and zero interceptions. They matched UCLA's physicality and even showed a bit of swagger -- be it from receiver Paul Richardson or Liufau. Culture change takes a long time. But we are starting to see the makings of a team that isn't satisfied with being pushed around. On the flip side, good performance from UCLA to get back on track. Brett Hundley looked like he was still a little uncomfortable with his young offensive line, but he looked stronger. If the Bruins can survive a trip to Arizona and home date with Washington, Nov. 23 is high noon with ASU coming to town.
  5. About those Cats: Arizona has won three in a row, including back-to-back road games to become bowl-eligible for the second straight year under Rich Rodriguez. A fine accomplishment, considering everyone they lost in the offseason through injury, graduation or attrition. Quarterback B.J. Denker turned in another steady performance, completing 24 of 38 passes for 261 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. But he's also emerged the past couple of weeks as a solid complementary runner to Ka'Deem Carey. Denker rushed for 44 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Cal. Carey, meanwhile, continues to shred defenses. Although he didn't reach the end zone against the Bears, he rushed for 152 yards, giving him 1,072 for the year. A big date with UCLA awaits next week. Can't overlook the performance of Cal, either, which sold out to stop the run early and showed a lot of life. Kenny Lawler finally had that breakout game with three touchdown catches, two of them spectacular.
  6. South rising? The early disparity between the North and South seems to be shrinking. The South scored two major victories this week with USC's win at Oregon State and ASU's win at Washington State. Arizona's win over Cal was expected, but again, we give the Bears credit for the strong showing. As it stands, the North still holds a two-game edge over the South with an 8-6 record. Oregon is the only team to be perfect in inter-division play. Stanford, ASU and Oregon State are all 2-1. It stands to reason that the North is still probably considered the stronger division with Oregon and Stanford ranked in the top five. But the South has made a strong play of late with its depth, which includes five of six teams at .500 or better.

Happy Halloween in the Pac-12

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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The Pac-12 has its share of ghosts, ghouls and goblins. So in the spirit of the Halloween weekend ...

Scary movie -- Worst loss of the season: Washington headed to Arizona State ranked 20th, with national pollsters being forgiving of consecutive, competitive losses to Stanford and Oregon. A shocking 53-24 beatdown delivered by the Sun Devils, and the Huskies were dumped from the national rankings. The new storyline was a familiar one: Another seven-win season?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Ducks rocked Tennessee, 59-14, in the "biggest debacle of the season."
Rising from the dead: Oregon State surely was headed for the slag heap after it opened with a 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. The defense looked AWFUL. Fire Mark Banker! Fire Mark Banker! Panic in the streets of Corvallis! After all, we'd seen this before.The Beavers opened with a loss to Sacramento State in 2011 and then meandered to a woeful 3-9 finish. But the Beavers dusted themselves off and surged to six consecutive wins. Last weekend, they extended Stanford until the waning moments before falling 20-12. With QB Sean Mannion and WR Brandin Cooks fronting the nation's best passing offense, Oregon State remains a threat in the North Division.

Haunted House: Arizona State struggles on the road, but it certainly has horrified visitors to Sun Devil Stadium. Of course, we can start with the, er, unusual finish against Wisconsin. Then there's the dismantling of both USC and Washington. Sure, the Sun Devils looked like a different team -- in a bad way -- while losing at Stanford and to Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but visiting foes often leave Tempe with a haunted look.

Thriller: The most exciting Pac-12 game so far this year is Oregon State's 51-48 overtime win at Utah. The Beavers jumped to a 20-7 lead, but the Utes tied things in regulation with a 21-point fourth quarter, including a 9-yard run from QB Travis Wilson for the tying TD on third-and-goal with 21 seconds left in the game. On the Beavers' side of things, QB Sean Mannion converted two critical fourth-down plays in the fourth and then threw the winning TD pass in overtime to, of course, Brandin Cooks.

Nightmare in Eugene -- Biggest debacle of the season: Tennessee took a 7-0 lead at Oregon, and the folks in orange maybe starting thinking about "SEC!" chants. Then the Ducks scored 59 unanswered points by the end of the third quarter. Oregon fans started chanting "We want Bama."

House of horrors: Horrors? We give you USC. The Trojans fired coach Lane Kiffin as he got off the team bus at LAX after a 62-41 beatdown at Arizona State, and they have suffered through epidemic injuries that are even worse for a team crippled by scholarship reductions. Meanwhile, the program has watched as the NCAA reduced Penn State's sanctions and provided a reprieve for Miami, which overlooked the scandalous doings of now-incarcerated booster Nevin Shapiro while under the leadership of late athletic director Paul Dee, who chaired the Committee of Infractions against USC.

Cursed team: California, losers of 10 consecutive Pac-12 games, might be headed for its worst season since the regrettable Tom Holmoe Era. Start with one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Then move on to a roster decimated by injuries. The Bears have been slow to adjust to new schemes on both sides of the ball, and they presently ranked last in the conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Halloween costumes

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

  1. Light week: Only four games on the Pac-12 docket this week, including one on Thursday (Arizona State at Washington State), one on Friday (USC at Oregon State) and two on Saturday (Arizona at California and Colorado at UCLA).
  2. Let's go bowling: Three teams, Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, are already bowl bound. Four others sit on the precipice and as many as seven others are still in the hunt (note, because of the 13-game schedule, USC needs seven wins to become bowl eligible). Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA can all become bowl eligible this week.
  3. [+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
    AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonBishop Sankey is one of four Pac-12 backs who average at least 100 yards a game.
  4. 1K club: Washington running back Bishop Sankey became the Pac-12's first 1,000-yard rusher this season and has 1,162 yards on the year. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (920 yards) probably will break through this week against a Cal rush defense that yields an average of 189.1 yards per game. Carey leads the league with 153.3 yards per game, one of four backs who average at least 100 yards per contest (Sankey, 145.2; Tyler Gaffney, 110.8; Byron Marshall, 109.9).
  5. Scoreboard, baby: The Sun Devils have the top two scorers in FBS football in running back Marion Grice (15.4 points per game) and kicker Zane Gonzalez (11.4 ppg) and rank sixth in the nation with 45.4 points per game. Four times this year they have posted 50 or more points. That's the most since the 1973 team. Worth noting, too that Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is third nationally in scoring, making it a hat trick for the conference.
  6. Rubber arm: Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday is on pace to set single-season school records in pass attempts and completions. Through eight games he has completed 273 passes on 428 attempts. Gabe Marks has been the primary recipient with 59 catches for 655 yards. But eight different WSU receivers have 20 or more catches.
  7. Remember, Reser: The Beavers have won three straight over USC in Corvallis, but the Trojans' defense, though injury-depleted, is having a fine season. The Trojans have held six of their eight opponents to fewer than 300 yards. They'll be tested by an Oregon State passing attack that, despite a loss last week to Stanford, is still one of the best in the nation. Cooks leads the FBS with 10.6 receptions per game and 157 yards per game. USC is tied for the conference lead with 27 sacks, which might not bode well for an Oregon State team that gave up eight sacks to the Cardinal last week.
  8. Off and running: The aforementioned Carey is 80 yards shy of reaching 1,000. When he gets there, he'll be just the third Arizona running back to post multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 straight games, which is the longest active streak in FBS. But it was quarterback B.J. Denker who led the Wildcats in rushing last week, posting 192 yards on 15 carries.
  9. Where's the points? Cal, still winless in conference play, is giving up a league high 44 points per game and scoring a league low 22.9 points per game. Moving the ball isn't a problem. The Bears rank sixth in the league in total offense, averaging 468.4 yards per game. But they have only scored 20 touchdowns on the year, second worst only to Colorado's 19. Receivers Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs have combined for 112 catches for 1,387 yards, but just six touchdowns -- five from Harper.
  10. Back to basics: The Bruins are looking to snap a two-game slide after dropping back-to-back road games at Stanford and Oregon. Keep in mind the Bruins have played 32 freshmen this year -- including 17 true freshman. Last year they played 26, including 12 true. Through the first five games, quarterback Brett Hundley averaged 293.8 passing yards per game, was completing 68 percent of his throws with 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. In the last two weeks he averaged just 128 yards and completed 63 percent of his throws with two touchdowns to four interceptions. The more comfortable he gets with his young, reshaped offensive line, and the fact that he's not playing two of the top teams in the league, should help him bounce back.
  11. Explosive potential: The Buffs rebuilding process has yet to produce a conference win. But that doesn't mean Colorado can't be explosive. Wide receiver Paul Richardson has 50 catches and 914 yards with seven touchdowns, and he's sneaking up on some Colorado single-season marks. He has six plays of 50 yards or longer this season. Freshman quarterback Sefo Liufau is 1-1 as a starter and is completing 59 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and an interception.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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Five things we learned in Week 9 in the Pac-12.

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall rushed for 1,038 yards for the Ducks in 2013.
See Ducks run: First, credit the Bruins for effort. They sold out and committed to the run and totaled 219 yards on the ground in playing the Ducks to a 14-14 halftime tie. They weren’t intimidated and they didn’t back down from the challenge. But like Jim Mora said, “the heck with being close.” UCLA needs to start winning these games if it wants to be considered an elite Pac-12 team. That said, Oregon simply needed 48 minutes instead of its usual 30 to dispatch a team, ranked or not. And it was refreshing to see how the Ducks would react to being punched back. They reacted like a championship team should. Oregon picked up 325 yards on the ground, with 133 yards and three touchdowns from Byron Marshall. And we’ve been saying it in the blog for a while now: Oregon’s defense is really, really good. The Ducks picked off Brett Hundley twice and held him to just 64 yards in the air. Marcus Mariota was a very clean 21-of-28 for 230 yards and a touchdown. His streak of games with at least one rushing and one passing touchdown came to an end, but he extended his interception-less streak to 292 consecutive passes. And it has to be comforting to know that if every Oregon running back is suddenly stricken with sprained ankles, Rodney Hardrick can always carry the rock.

Typical Stanford: Stanford’s offense survived on the strength of tough running by Tyler Gaffney and a defense that sacked Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion eight times. But it was Gaffney’s late-game fumble that should serve as a reminder that Stanford hasn’t been scoring many points of late. So, not unlike last year’s Stanford team, white knuckles will likely be required down the stretch. But credit the defense for creating pressure on Mannion, who was 41-of-57 for 271 yards and a touchdown. His partner in crime, Brandin Cooks, had nine catches for 80 yards and a score. Sans the late-game fumble, Gaffney was stellar again, this time going for 145 yards and three touchdowns. The Beavers saw their six-game winning streak come to an end. But there’s little time to wallow with USC coming into town before a bye and then going on the road for two of their last three. The next time Stanford takes the field will be when Oregon comes to town. And despite the one Cardinal loss, that game still has all the fun subplots and polish we were hoping for.

Where’s the offense? The Utes are reeling after failing to win on the road for the second straight week. And the once-potent offense managed just three points and 201 yards, and it turned the ball over four times. Remember, this is the team that put up 410 yards on Stanford. But this was the worst offensive output by far. A lot of that has to do with the health of Travis Wilson, who sat out the second half for the second straight week. The offensive line looked leaky and the explosive attack we’d come to know the first half of the season looked flat. The defense did what it could, but the offense left it in bad spots. Which leads us to the Trojans. Not a particularly great offensive showing for them, either, so a game ball to Andre Heidari and his four field goals. Cody Kessler looked pretty good, taking care of the ball and completing 21 of 32 passes for 230 yards with a touchdown. But minus-30 yards in sacks left the Trojans with just 30 total rushing yards for the game. Credit USC’s defense for being opportunistic and big ups to the Trojans for continuing to persevere despite a depleted roster. They did what they had to do to win. But now Utah’s signature win a couple of weeks ago is starting to look more and more like a one-week-wonder.

Carey keeps rolling: The leading rusher against Colorado was not Ka’Deem Carey, surprisingly enough. But Carey did rush for 119 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 10 straight games of at least 100 yards dating back to last year’s game against Colorado. It was quarterback B.J. Denker who carried 15 times for 192 yards. The Buffs played this one tough for a while, even leading 13-10 with five minutes left in the half. But the Wildcats struck hard and fast with two late-half touchdowns, and it was game over from there. You can get the sense that this is a different Colorado team than last season. And Paul Richardson is simply outstanding (seven catches, 132 yards, one score). The results just aren’t showing up in the win column. Arizona broke through with its second straight conference win and will look to become bowl eligible next week against Cal.

Huskies bounce back: Washington got exactly what it needed: a win, and a convincing win at that. Cal continues to be everyone’s slump buster. And the Huskies busted their three-game slump with a monster 241-yard, two-touchdown performance from Bishop Sankey. This win won’t get the Huskies back in the Top 25. And beating Colorado next week probably won’t, either. But the Huskies are one step closer to another year of bowl eligibility, and with back-to-back road games at UCLA and Oregon State before the Apple Cup, Washington has an opportunity to finish very strong and break the seven-win curse. For Cal, it’s about finding the little positives. But the Bears have now dropped 10 straight Pac-12 contests dating back to last year. And after another blowout loss, you have to wonder if that streak will end this season.

Reranking the Pac-12's top 10 players

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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Bristol apparently felt the Pac-12 reporters weren't getting enough hate mail, so they asked us to rerank our top 10 players from the preseason top 25 ranking at the midway point. No easy task, mind you. Things change. Perceptions change. Rosters change (No. 20, for example, is no longer playing).

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonMarcus Mariota is not only the No. 1 player in the Pac-12, but he might be the top player in the nation.
So both halves of the Pac-12 blog banged their heads together and came up with a midseason ranking that is flawless and immune to criticism. Non-skill players are always tough to evaluate, but even tougher with a reduced body of work, so keep in mind that the postseason list will have linemen, defensive backs, etc., and will be a stronger reflection of the conference as a whole. Consider this an appetizer to the surf-and-turf postseason list.

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (preseason ranking: No. 1): We’re pretty confident we got this one right. He’s thrown for 17 touchdowns, run for eight more and has zero turnovers. He’s deserving of his Heisman front-runner status and leads all quarterbacks in adjusted QBR.

2. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington (preseason: No. 15): The workhorse back leads the Pac-12 with 149.8 yards per game and 899 yards on 159 carries. He’s had 100-plus yards in five of six games this season.

3. Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State (preseason: unranked): He wasn’t even the clear starter when we first put the preseason list together. Now he leads the nation with 2,511 passing yards and 25 touchdowns to just three interceptions.

4. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA (preseason: No. 4): With 26 tackles, including four sacks and a league-high 10 tackles for loss in five games, Barr has made his case as the league’s premier defender thus far.

5. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State (preseason: No. 22): When Mannion is throwing, Cooks is usually catching. He leads the nation in catches (63), receiving yards (944) and receiving touchdowns (11). Phenomenal first half.

6. Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford (preseason: No. 7): He has emerged as one of the most dynamic defensive playmakers in the country. He’s tied for the league lead in sacks with five, backed up by eight tackles for a loss. He also has an interception returned for a touchdown.

7. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA (preseason: No. 5): He’s completing 68 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns in the air and three on the ground. More importantly, he has the Bruins 5-0 and playing confident football.

8. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona (preseason: No. 6): Despite missing the first game of the season for disciplinary reasons, the nation’s leading rusher from last year has kept up his form. He’s averaging 142.2 yards per game with 569 yards on 115 carries while rushing for five touchdowns.

9. Keith Price, QB, Washington (preseason: unranked): The question with Price was whether he’d return to his 2011 form. He has done that and then some. He’s the league’s most accurate passer at 69.3 percent with 12 touchdowns to four interceptions.

10. Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford (preseason: unranked): It was a toss-up here between Montgomery and Colorado’s Paul Richardson, who could be No. 10B. Richardson has more yards, but they both have five receiving touchdowns. The difference has been Montgomery’s special teams contributions the past two weeks. He’s returned kicks of 99 and 100 yards for touchdowns and leads the Pac-12 in all-purpose yards per game with 196.5 -- 20 yards per game more than Cooks, Sankey and Carey.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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Here are a few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12.

  1. Welcome, Coach O: The USC Trojans will make their debut with Ed Orgeron running the show. Considered a fiery alternative to his predecessor, the former Ole Miss coach says he’s been putting an emphasis on bringing fun back to football. The Trojans, who face the Arizona Wildcats tonight, are 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 2001, when they started 0-3. The last USC coach to lose his debut was John Robinson in his second stint in 1993. Not sayin' … just sayin'.
  2. Speaking of that game: The past six matchups between Arizona and USC has been decided by a touchdown or less. Of the 35 meetings, 15 have been within a touchdown. The Trojans and Wildcats have split their past four meetings, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.
  3. Get up for "GameDay"! ESPN’s "College GameDay" is making its first appearance in Seattle for Saturday’s showdown between the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies. Just a reminder, the Ducks have won nine straight in the series -- all by at least 17 points and with a 26-point average margin of victory. This is the second time in as many weeks the Huskies will face a top-5 opponent after falling 31-28 last week to No. 5 Stanford.
  4. [+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWashington State quarterback Connor Halliday won a shootout against Cal.
  5. Conference of quarterbacks: Some quarterback numbers from our friends at the Pac-12 office: “Pac-12 quarterbacks continue to put up impressive numbers each weekend. Washington State’s Connor Halliday [521 yards] and California’s Jared Goff [504 yards] combined for 1,025 passing yards in WSU’s 44-22 win at Cal. It was the most passing yards by two opposing players in a Conference game. Four Pac-12 quarterbacks ranked among the top eight in the FBS in passing yards per game -- No. 1 Oregon State’s Sean Mannion (403.6 YPG), No. 3 California’s Goff (364.2 YPG), No. 5 Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly (346.4 YPG) and No. 8 Washington State’s Halliday (332.2 YPG).”
  6. North vs. South: Just an update on how things are going in the unofficial rivalry. The North division is 6-0 against teams from the South division. There’s a good chance the Bruins -- the only South team yet to play a team from the North -- break up the no-hitter with a visit from California, which has dropped nine straight games to FBS opponents. That is one of two interdivision games this weekend. Stanford’s trip to Utah is the other. The Bruins are 4-0 for the first time since 2005 and are coming off a six-interception performance against Utah.
  7. Everyone in action: Did you know there are only three weeks out of the entire season in which every Pac-12 team is playing against another Pac-12 team? This is the first one. Every team played in Week 3, but mostly against nonconference foes. The next time this happens will be in Week 12, then again in Week 13.
  8. 55 for six? Last week, we asked if the Ducks could break 50 points for the fifth straight game. They did, becoming the first team since 1885 to start the season with five straight wins with 55 points or more. Now they’ll look to become the first team to do it six times in a row since Oklahoma in 2008.
  9. Must-see TV: Better yet, see it live. Stanford makes its first trip to Utah since the Utes joined the conference. The teams haven’t played since 1996. It’s been hard luck for the Utes so far in conference play, having dropped an overtime game to Oregon State and then falling by a touchdown last week to UCLA. Coach Kyle Whittingham talked this week about the need to be stronger on first and second down to give his team a more manageable third down. Utah is just 3-of-27 on third downs in its past two games. On the flip side, Stanford will look to rebound from a shaky offensive performance in the win over Washington. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has thrown an interception in four straight games.
  10. Elite receivers: Two of the league’s top receivers square off when Colorado travels to Arizona State. The Buffs' Paul Richardson has four plays of 50 yards or more and has three 100-yard receiving games this season. Also with three 100-yard games is ASU’s Jaelen Strong, the junior college transfer who has made an immediate impact for the Sun Devils. OSU’s Brandin Cooks still leads the league with 10.4 receptions per game, but Strong and Richardson are right behind, tied for second with 7.8 per game.
  11. Bowl implications: Oregon State heads to Washington State with four wins. The Cougs likewise have four wins -- making this a critical game for postseason hopes. Both teams have a challenging second half of the schedule, so this one feels like one of those must-win games to keep bowl hopes alive and well. Don’t expect a ton of play on the ground. As noted above, Cooks leads the league in receptions and Oregon State has the No. 1 passing offense with 21 touchdowns and 420.6 yards per game with Mannion at the helm. Washington State is third in passing offense (359.7 yards per game) and tied for second in the league with 15 passing touchdowns. The Beavers and Cougars rank 11th and 12th, respectively, in the league in rushing offense. Speaking of bowls, more of a formality, but Stanford and Oregon can become bowl eligible with a win.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
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Ted went 5-0 last week. Kevin went 4-1, missing on his Notre Dame-Arizona State pick.

For the season, Kevin is 42-4 while Ted is 41-5.

Things get much tougher from here on, though.

Thursday

ARIZONA at USC

Kevin Gemmell: I have no clue what to make of USC right now. Is this a situation where all of that potential energy is going to erupt? I know getting Silas Redd back is going to be a huge boost to an already outstanding running game. The teams have split the last four meetings and the last six games have been decided by a touchdown or less. When things are that close, go with the home team. USC 38, Arizona 31.

Ted Miller: Arizona State ripped USC's previously dominant defense apart in a 62-41 win, but that was due to QB Taylor Kelly passing for 351 yards and three touchdowns. As in: Kelly's potent passing opened up the Sun Devils running game. Arizona doesn't have that element. The Trojans will be able to gang up against Ka'Deem Carey. Plus, I suspect we'll see an inspired effort from the Trojans under interim coach Ed Orgeron. USC 28, Arizona 24.

Saturday

COLORADO at ARIZONA STATE

Gemmell: The Sun Devils better not take the foot off the gas now that their tough four-game stretch is through. The Buffs have talent and they haven’t lost confidence. I'm excited to see Paul Richardson and Jaelen Strong square off in a battle of elite receivers. ASU ultimately has more consistent firepower and should win easily. But Colorado isn’t going to roll over. Arizona State 42, Colorado 27.

Miller: Arizona State should be mad about its lackluster performance against Notre Dame. It also plays much better at home. Richardson will be a good test for the Sun Devils secondary, which made Tommy Rees look like Tom Brady. Arizona State 38, Colorado 24.

CALIFORNIA at UCLA

Gemmell: The list of defensive injuries continues to grow for the Bears. The fact that Jordon James might not play is a blow, but not a huge one, since the Bruins were expecting a by-committee backfield anyway. Its secondary should feel pretty good about nabbing six interceptions last week. The Bears, however, have dropped nine straight against FBS opponents. This should make it an even 10. UCLA 42, California 27.

Miller: The Bruins are going to be hungry because of the embarrassing way they played in Berkeley last year, particularly QB Brett Hundley. How beat up is the Bears defense? Just one starter from the spring depth chart will start Saturday. The only question is how the potent Cal passing game matches up with the Bruins secondary, which grabbed six interceptions at Utah last week. UCLA 50, California 31.

STANFORD at UTAH

Gemmell: Utah is getting closer, but hasn’t quite gotten over the hump yet. Stanford’s offense will be looking to bounce back -- as will Utah’s. Last week felt like a good wakeup call for the Cardinal, who own the nation’s second-longest winning streak. I'm expecting physical line play from both teams, but ultimately a Cardinal win. Stanford 31, Utah 21.

Miller: I like both quarterbacks to bounce back from poor performances last week, but Stanford's Kevin Hogan has a better supporting cast than Utah's Travis Wilson, and Wilson will be facing the Pac-12's best front seven. There should be plenty of good contact at the line of scrimmage. Stanford 35, Utah 20.

OREGON at WASHINGTON

Gemmell: I'm curious to see how Washington responds after its first loss of the year. Oregon has been so completely dominant, and would love nothing more than to score 55 or more points for a sixth straight game this season, especially at the expense of the Huskies. I like the progression of Washington, but I like Oregon better in this game. Oregon 42, Washington 31.

Miller: Husky Stadium will be rocking, and Washington is perfectly capable of pushing the Ducks. Keith Price could make himself a true UW legend by leading a winning effort, but we suspect it will be Ducks QB Marcus Mariota getting the ultimate star -- Heisman? -- turn. It's going to be 10 in a row for the Ducks, but it won't be by at least 17 points. Oregon 35, Washington 24.

OREGON STATE at WASHINGTON STATE

Gemmell: Call me crazy, but I like the Cougs in this one. The secondary is physical enough to hang with OSU’s receivers (as well as anyone can hang with Brandin Cooks) and the front seven has done a good job creating pressure. That leads to turnovers. Washington State seems ready to take a step forward in the North Division pecking order. This game would qualify as a step forward. Plus, two of my four misses this year have come by way of Oregon State. I clearly have no clue how to predict the Beavs. Washington State 45, Oregon State 42.

Miller: Oregon State, Oregon State, Oregon State. ... I ... am ... really ... sorry ... but I just got to do it. There really isn't a jinx ... is there? On the other side of the ledger, you are welcome in Pullman. Cold beverages on Kevin at The Coug. Oregon State 40, Washington State 38.

One of the more remarkable aspects of Oregon's dynamic and dominant four-year run under Chip Kelly was that the Ducks never lost to a bad or even mediocre team.

Sure, Kelly went a scintillating 46-7 as the Ducks head coach. But it's perhaps as notable that those seven losses came to teams that were a combined 74-7, and five of those defeats belonged to an 8-5 Stanford team in 2009. No other foe that beat Kelly had more than two defeats. Kelly lost to two teams, Boise State and Auburn, that went unbeaten.

Just about everybody gets upset at some point. Pete Carroll and USC went down to Stanford, a 41-point underdog, in 2007, the same year that Nick Saban and Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Good programs become complacent on a random weekend and get upset. It's a fact of sports.

But the Ducks avoided that under Kelly while operating under his sometimes annoying -- at least to reporters -- mantra of "Nameless Faceless Opponents."

And so we have new Ducks coach Mark Helfrich taking his second-ranked team to Colorado, which has had a mostly positive start to a massive rebuilding project under Mike MacIntyre.

The Ducks are 39-point favorites Saturday in Boulder. You will not find anyone in the country picking Colorado to win. Or even to keep it close. But MacIntyre has a story to tell about an epic upset. He can tell his locker room about what he participated in on Oct. 17, 1998.

"I've been a part of [an epic upset] before as a coach," he said. "I definitely know it can happen."

MacIntyre was an assistant at Temple in 1998 when the woeful and winless Owls, 35-point underdogs with a freshman making his first start at quarterback, overcame a 17-point deficit on the road to shock previously unbeaten and 14th-ranked Virginia Tech. It was Temple's first win in 27 Big East Conference road games. Ten Owls players made their first career starts in the game because of injuries.

The shocker also inspired one of the best and most honest quotes to ever come out of a losing locker room.

"I've never been so embarrassed in my life," Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore said. "I'm shellshocked. We're the laughingstock of college football right now and deservedly so."

Again, we are not suggesting the Buffaloes are going to embarrass the Ducks. But, well, you never know.

For one, Helfrich noted, the Buffs look a lot different on film from the team Oregon effortlessly obliterated 70-14 last year, a game the Ducks led 56-0 at halftime. It's not so much about new schemes. It's about how the Buffs are playing.

"Just their culture -- you can see it on film," Helfrich said. "They are just kind of better. I think Coach MacIntyre has done a great job of resetting the standard, probably starting from scratch in his way."

So what needs to happen for the Ducks to go down? Start with turnovers.

Ignore that Oregon was the first team since 2010 not to turn the ball over in its first three games of the season. The Ducks had two giveaways last weekend against California. Sure, that game was played in torrential rain, but perhaps the performance presaged an epidemic of poor ball security?

Then move on to explosion plays. What if Oregon's typical flow of them runs dry and the Buffs suddenly seem touched by the spirit of Sammy Baugh? What if Colorado receiver Paul Richardson busts out another 200-yard game, hauling in a handful of TD bombs from Connor Wood?

And what if Oregon QB and Heisman Trophy frontrunner Marcus Mariota decides to -- finally! -- have a bad game?

Hey, it's all a reach. But stranger things have happened. Not many. But they have.

Said MacIntyre, "The kids got to believe. They've got to execute and play ball."

Of course, the more realistic "victory" for the Buffs would be keeping the game competitive well into the third quarter.
There's nothing like being unbeaten in college football. Food tastes better. The air smells sweeter. Love pervades the campus community, enveloping the football team with warm fuzzies.

It's been a long time since Colorado could feel good about its football team, but the Buffaloes will enter Pac-12 play Saturday at Oregon State at 2-0, feeling pretty darn good about themselves, particularly after a dismal, 1-11 campaign in 2012.

"It's the energy and the spirit around this place, not only with the football team but with the school," defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe said. "You're getting a lot more students coming up to you, wishing you good luck and congratulating you on the 2-0 start. It makes you want to practice even harder."

Of course, there's a catch for the Buffs. They've been riding a 2-0 high for almost three weeks, as they last played on Sept. 7. So the euphoria has died down a bit. Moreover, their Sept. 14 game with Fresno State was canceled due to serious flooding, which led to loss of life and significant property damage.

Instead of playing a revenge game against the Bulldogs, who pummeled the Buffs 69-14 in 2012, the Colorado players served meals to emergency personnel and flood victims. It became a moment for perspective. There are emotional swings with 2-0 as well as 0-2, but real-world events possess a far greater gravity.

Some players were directly affected by the flooding, so coach Mike MacIntyre gave his team a couple of days off to get things back in order in their personal lives.

Now, attention turns back to football. MacIntyre's chief task is rebooting the early momentum so his team doesn't look rusty and out of sorts against the Beavers.

[+] EnlargeMike Macintyre, Samson Kafovalu, Keegan LaMar, Jack Harris
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsMike MacIntyre and the Colorado Buffaloes haven't played since a victory over Central Arkansas on Sept. 7.
"It seems like three years ago since we last played," he said. "We've been trying to do everything we can to keep up the speed of the game. This is almost like another opening game for us."

The early returns from the 2-0 start suggest that MacIntyre has his team's attention. In both games, a squad that seemed to lack mental toughness a year ago took control in the fourth quarter. Colorado has outscored foes 39-10 in the fourth quarter this season. Last year, despite being hopelessly behind in most cases, the Buffs were outscored 112-59 in the fourth.

"I think it's the coaching," said Uzo-Diribe, when asked what the biggest difference from last year is. "A lot of the guys playing now are the same guys who played last year, but with this coaching staff, we are starting to take on an identity on defense and on offense. We really all bought into a system and schemes."

The Buffs seem more detail-oriented. For example, the biggest play of the victory over Colorado State was cornerback Greg Henderson's 53-yard scoop and score in the fourth quarter, which made Colorado's lead 33-24. Uzo-Diribe caused the fumble.

Not only had the defense taken a renewed focus on creating turnovers during spring and preseason practice, they'd scouted tendencies from Rams running back Kapri Bibbs, who sometimes was careless with ball security. That popped into Uzo-Diribe's head as he came up behind Bibbs.

"We came into the week after watching the film knowing that their running back's ball security wasn't great," Uzo-Diribe said. "Last season, both [running backs] showed that they fumbled the ball a lot. It was something we had in our mind that when we saw that running back -- get a strip attempt on the ball."

Turnovers could be critical Saturday because it's likely both defenses will have their hands full. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion ranks second in the nation with 401 yards passing per game. Colorado quarterback Connor Wood is fourth with 370.5. Wood's go-to guy is Paul Richardson, who leads the nation with 208.5 yards receiving per game. Beavers receiver Brandin Cooks is second with 159.8 yards per game. Cooks leads the nation with 10.8 receptions per game; Richardson is second at 10.5.

So it's a heck of a matchup of pass-catch combinations playing against defenses that remain works in progress.

Of course, it's likely the game will come down to who gets more out of their seeming weaknesses. Both teams have struggled to run the ball this year. Oregon State has 11 sacks in four games. Colorado has just three in two games. Both teams are positive so far in turnover margin. The Beavers are down three starters on their offensive line because of injury.

For the Beavers, a victory would set them up at 4-1 and 2-0 in Pac-12 play, with four consecutive wins putting some distance between them and an opening weekend loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. With a bye next week, the conference's most injury-ravaged team also could start to get healthy.

For the Buffaloes, an upset road victory would probably win over more than a few folks who have been slow to jump on the bandwagon in Boulder. At 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the conference, it would be reasonable to speculate about potential bowl eligibility, particularly if the school is able to schedule a patsy to replace the lost Fresno State game.

Uzo-Diribe said the Buffs locker room already believes.

"The past couple of seasons we've said that, but as the season went on, we didn't really believe it," he said. "I feel like this season, guys see it, guys believe it. They are working towards it."

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
10:15
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A few things to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this week.

  1. League play is upon us: Rejoice! Now the Pac-12 teams can gut each other with their nine-game conference schedule and lose all of that national credibility it built up in the first four weeks of the season. This year, perhaps more than any other in recent memory, it doesn’t look like there are any easy outs. Would anyone really be shocked if Colorado beat Oregon State based on what we’ve seen? The only one that would be truly shocking would be Cal beating Oregon -- and we might raise an eyebrow if Washington State beats Stanford in Seattle -- especially sans David Yankey for the game and Ed Reynolds for a half.
  2. [+] EnlargeAndre Williams
    Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUSC's Morgan Breslin has recorded four sacks this season for the Trojans.
    Nonconference notes: A good tidbit from the folks at the Pac-12 offices regarding the league’s 29-4 nonconference record: Since 1934, only one season witnessed the conference capture more than 29 wins in nonleague play; 2002 (32-15), when the league played an eight-game conference schedule, allowing an additional 10 non-conference games to be played. There are three nonconference games remaining (a possible fourth pending Colorado’s situation) against Notre Dame. The Pac-12 is contracted with seven bowl games, so there could be as many as 11 more nonconference games.
  3. Battle of elites (1): Two of the league’s top running backs will be on the field in Seattle on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean either a bizarre trade or either Ka’Deem Carey or Bishop Sankey playing defense. In terms of rushing yards per game, they are separated by less than a yard (149.5 for Carey, 148.67 for Sankey). Yards per carry? It’s even closer (6.97 for Sankey, 6.95 for Carey). Both have four rushing touchdowns. While it’s not truly head-to-head, this could be one of those games folks look to when awarding postseason honors.
  4. Battle of elites (2): Two of the league’s top wide receivers will be on the field in Corvallis on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean a bizarre trade or either Brandin Cooks or Paul Richardson playing defense. Cooks leads the nation with 43 catches for 639 yards and seven touchdowns. In only two games, Richardson has 21 catches for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Sixty percent of the time Cooks catches the ball, Oregon State either gains a first down or scores a touchdown.
  5. Battle of elites (3): Two of the league’s top defensive players will be on the field in Tempe on Saturday -- though not at the same time. That would mean either a bizarre trade or either Morgan Breslin or Will Sutton playing offense (which would be awesome!). Breslin is tied for the conference lead in total sacks (four) with teammate George Uko and leads the league in tackles for a loss per game. Sutton, on the other hand, has nine tackles, no sacks and half a tackle for a loss. The reason? Teams are double- and triple-teaming him like crazy. Plus, ASU has faced more run-based teams in the first few weeks. This week might be a good time for him to break out.
  6. Speaking of USC: How good has the defense been? According to ESPN Stats & Information, none of the four quarterbacks USC has seen has posted a Total QBR above 30. The Trojans are also blitzing a lot more under new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. Last year they blitzed 25 percent of the time. This year it’s up to 46 percent. And when they blitz, opposing QBs are completing just 41.9 percent of their throws, throwing it away or ending up on the ground.
  7. All hands: With big quarterback numbers come big receiving numbers. Six Pac-12 receivers have hauled in 10 or more catches in a game eight times this season, led by Cooks and Richardson with two each. Also, 17 different receivers have posted 100 or more receiving yards in a game 26 times, led by Cooks and Utah’s Dres Anderson with three games each.
  8. Layoff impact: Colorado is playing for the first time since its Sept. 7 win over Central Arkansas, which seems like months ago, though it actually has been only 20 days. After their Sept. 14 game with Fresno State was called off because of the flooding, the Buffs had a bye in Week 4. This is Colorado’s first trip to Corvallis. The previous two meetings (1931, 1963) took place in Portland. This is the last Pac-12 team Colorado is yet to play since joining the league (though the Cal game in 2011 was the back end of a home and home that didn’t count in the conference standings).
  9. Tough road: This is the second-straight game against a top-five team for California, which faces No. 2 Oregon this weekend. The Bears have gotten huge numbers out of true freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who leads the FBS with 435.3 yards per game. But the defense has been hammered with injuries. Not good, considering 12 different Ducks have scored touchdowns so far.
  10. Odds and ends: Worth noting that four more Pac-12 receivers were recently added to the Biletnikoff watchlist: Cal’s Bryce Treggs, Oregon State’s Richard Mullaney and Washington State’s Gabe Marks, who are all in action this weekend. Utah's Dres Anderson is the fourth … UCLA and the Utes are off this week in anticipation of their Thursday night showdown next week in Salt Lake City.

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