NCF Nation: Scooby Wright

If Oregon wins the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 will cap the greatest season in its history, including iterations as the Pac-8 and Pac-10. Perhaps we should toss an "arguably" in there, particularly if the conference's seven other bowl teams go belly-up in some form or fashion, but why be wishy-washy?

After Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the overwhelming winner of the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, the Pac-12 completed a sweep through the award season like some morphing of "Titanic," "Ben Hur" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at the Oscars. Combine Mariota with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright, and the Pac-12 has produced the season's most decorated offensive and defensive players. Not since 2002, when USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman and Arizona State LB Terrell Suggs swept most defensive awards has this happened.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks have a chance to make this a historic season for the Pac-12.
Mariota also won the Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the year awards, as well as the Davey O'Brien and Unitas awards as the nation's top QB. Wright won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Further, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard won the Hendricks Award and Utah punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award.

Toss in eight players on the All-America team -- from seven different schools -- and six teams ranked in the final pre-bowl CFP rankings and it feels like an unprecedented season for national recognition in the Pac-12.

Well, at least if the Ducks take care of business.

The season Palmer and Suggs were college football's most celebrated players, just two Pac-10 teams ended up ranked, though both were in the top 10 (USC and Washington State), while Colorado, then in the Big 12, also finished ranked. In 2004, USC won the national title, Trojans QB Matt Leinart won the Heisman and California finished in the top 10. Arizona State also finished ranked, while Utah went undefeated, though as a Mountain West Conference member. Obviously, if you fudge with conference membership issues, you can make things look better retroactively than they were in their present time.

In 2000, three teams -- No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Oregon State and No. 7 Oregon -- finished ranked in the top seven. In 1984, the Pac-10 won the Rose (USC), Orange (Washington) and Fiesta (UCLA) bowls and finished with three top-10 teams, including No. 2 Washington, which was victimized by BYU's dubious national title.

So there have been plenty of impressive seasons, just not anything as scintillating as 2014 if Oregon wins the title.

Oregon, of course, hoisting the new 35-pound, cylindrical trophy as the last team standing is hardly a sure thing. First, the Ducks get defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual. While many have questioned the Seminoles this season because every game has been a nail-biter, that doesn't change the fact the nation's only unbeaten Power 5 conference team -- winners of 29 games in a row, no less -- own the fourth quarter. In football, owning the fourth quarter is almost always a good thing.

If Oregon manages to win that CFP semifinal game, the good money is on it getting a shot at top-ranked Alabama in the national title game, though throwing funereal dirt on Ohio State this season has proved difficult. Ohio State is the Count Dracula of college football this season -- perennially undead. That duly noted, knocking aside Alabama -- the game's most dynastic program, led by its most celebrated coach in Nick Saban -- while the Crimson Tide also stand as the bell cow of the dominant SEC would be the ultimate achievement for a team and conference eager to solidify its super-elite standing.

The simple fact that Oregon has not won a national title in football -- and the Pac-12/10 hasn't claimed one since 2004 -- stands out on both literal and symbolic levels. There has not been a first-time national champion since Florida won in 1996, while a Pac-12/10 team other than USC hasn't won one since Washington in 1991. Before that, if then-Big 8 member Colorado's 1990 title doesn't count, it's UCLA in 1954.

So Oregon taking that final step into the light would represent a pretty dramatic development, particularly after the school already upgraded its trophy case with its first Heisman. It would complete a climb started in the 1990s and show other mid-to-low-level Power 5 teams that all they need to transform into a superpower is good coaching, strong administration and a sugar-daddy billionaire booster.

As for the conference in general, it would be a big deal to have a non-USC national title in the coffers, and it would be further validation of the depth and quality of the conference. Last season, for the first time since 2009, the conference didn't finish with a top-five team, but for the first time ever it finished with six teams ranked in the final AP poll. So the Ducks at the top would provide some nice symmetry.

As for the entire postseason, the Pac-12 is favored in seven of its eight bowl games, with UCLA being only a slight underdog to Kansas State, with the line trending down since opening at 3 1/2 points. So the conference is set up for success. Anything fewer than six wins -- including Oregon in the Rose Bowl -- would be a disappointment, an underachievement.

You know, not unlike last season, when the conference went 6-3 and graded a mere "Gentleman's C" from the Pac-12 blog.

While Washington and Oregon State fans will be hard-pressed to force out a "Go Ducks!" and USC fans probably aren't ready to admit a new member to the college football penthouse, if Oregon can make its tide rise to the top -- and roll the Tide along the way -- it will boost all Pac-12 ships.

CFB Awards Show: The numbers to know

December, 11, 2014
Did you know that only once in the past six seasons the Maxwell Award winner (Player of the Year) won the Heisman Trophy in the same year (Cam Newton, 2010)? Or that this is the first time in the history of the the Doak Walker Award that all three finalists are from the same conference (Big Ten)?

Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information, here are some more fun facts and numbers that you need to know before tonight's Home Depot College Football Awards (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET)...

Maxwell Award (Player of the Year)

RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
  • Fourth-most rush yards (2,336) in season in FBS history
  • Most rush yards in single season in Big Ten history
  • Set FBS record for rush yards in game with 408 vs. Nebraska on Nov. 15 (broken following week by Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine)
[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesWill Marcus Mariota become just the second player in the past six years to win the Maxwell and Heisman?
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
  • Holds Pac-12 single-season and career records for TD Responsibility (131)
  • 101 career Pass TD, second-most in Pac-12 history
  • One pass TD shy of tying Pac-12 single-season record (39 by Matt Barkley in 2011)
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
  • Leads SEC in TD Responsibility
  • Holds school record for career TD Responsibility
  • Four games with 200-plus pass yards and 100-plus rush yards. No other player has more than two.
Davey O’Brien Award (Best Quarterback)

QB Trevone Boykin, TCU
  • First player in school history with 3,000 pass yards in single season
  • Leads Big 12 with 30 pass TDs this season
  • Broke school record for pass TDs in single season
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
  • Leads FBS with 91.9 Total QBR
  • Leads FBS in Yards per attempt (10.2)
  • Leads FBS in TD/Int ratio (19.0)
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
  • Only FBS player with 2,900 pass yards and 900 rush yards this season
  • Single-season school record 3,935 yards of total offense this season
  • Needs 82 total yards to become school’s all-time sole leader in total offense
Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year)

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson
  • ACC Defensive Player of the Year
  • Leads ACC in sacks (11.0) and tackles for loss (18.5)
  • Clemson’s all-time leader and fifth in ACC history in sacks (32.0)
DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
  • Big Ten Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
  • Leads Big Ten and in top 5 in FBS in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20.0)
  • TFL in 17 of past 19 games, including school-record-tying 14 straight
LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona
  • Pac-12 Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year
  • Leads FBS in tackles for loss (28.0) and forced fumbles (6), and is second in tackles (153)
  • Leads Pac-12 and third in FBS in sacks (14.0)
Outland Trophy (Top Interior Lineman)

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown of Texas is the only defensive player up for the Outland Trophy this season.
DT Malcom Brown, Texas
  • First-Team All-Big 12 selection this season
  • Team-high 6.5 sacks this season, most among Big 12 DTs
  • Texas: leads Big 12 and T-10th in FBS in sacks (39)
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
  • First-Team All-SEC selection this season
  • 49 career starts, tied for second-most in school history
  • Auburn: Led SEC in rushing each of past two seasons
OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa
  • Big Ten Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year
  • First-Team All-Big Ten selection this season
  • Iowa: Third-lowest sack percentage in Big Ten over past two seasons (4.6 percent)
Doak Walker Award (Top Running Back)

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
  • Broke single-game school record for all-purpose yards with 341 vs. Rutgers on Oct. 25
  • Had four games of 200-plus rush yards this season
  • First player Nebraska player with three 1,000-yd seasons
Tevin Coleman, Indiana
  • Second in FBS in rush yards (a school-record 2,036)
  • Second in FBS in all-purpose YPG (181.4)
  • Career-high 307 rush yards vs. Rutgers on Nov. 15 are second-most in IU history
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
  • Fourth-most rush yards in single season in FBS history (2,336)
  • Most rush yards in single season in Big Ten history
  • Set FBS record for rush yards in game with 408 vs Nebraska on Nov. 15 (broken following week by Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine)
Biletnikoff Award (Top Wide Receiver)

Amari Cooper, Alabama
  • SEC Offensive Player of the Year
  • 115 receptions, SEC single-season record
  • Leads SEC in Rec, yards, TDs
Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
  • Leads FBS in receiving YPG (149.1) and TDs (17)
  • School-record and FBS-high nine 100-yard games this season
  • Three straight games with 175+ Receiving yards, tied for most in single season since 2004
Kevin White, West Virgina
  • Leads Big 12 with 102 receptions this season
  • Broke single-game school record for receptions with 16 vs. Texas on Nov. 8
  • Set school record and tied for the national lead with seven straight 100-yard games
[+] EnlargeGerod Holliman
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsLouisville's Gerod Holliman is one interception away from setting the FBS record for a single season.
Jim Thorpe Award (Top Defensive Back)

S Landon Collins, Alabama
  • Unanimous first-Team All-SEC selection
  • Leads team in tackles (90) and Ints (3)
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
  • Three-time first-Team All-Pac-12 selection
  • Would become first Oregon player to win the Thorpe
S Gerod Holliman, Louisville
  • 1st-Team All-ACC selection
  • Shares FBS single-season record for interceptions (14), a record that has stood since 1968 (Al Worley, Washington)
  • He has more interceptions this season than 98 FBS teams
Lou Groza Award (Top Placekicker)

Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
  • Made 46 of 49 career FG (98.4 percent) and all 147 extra-point attempts
  • Seeking to become first back-to-back winner since Sebastian Janikowski (1998-99), also from Florida State. In fact, this would be the fifth time an FSU player has won the Groza (Tulane the only other school with two wins)
Brad Craddock, Maryland
  • Holds school record for most consecutive FG without a miss (24)
Josh Lambert, West Virginia
  • Leads FBS with 2.3 FG per game
Ray Guy Award (Top Punter)

Tom Hackett, Utah
  • Leads FBS with 35 punts downed inside opponent’s 20-yard line (35) and inside opponent’s 10-yard line (19)
Austin Rehkow, Idaho
  • Leads FBS for a second straight season with 47.8 yards per punt average (min. 40 punts)
JK Scott, Alabama
  • FBS-high 52.1 percent of punts downed inside opponent’s 20-yard line (minimum 40 punts)
As expected, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez were honored with the Pac-12's three major individual awards.

Mariota, a heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, was named the conference's Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 3,470 yards and 36 touchdowns with just two interceptions in the regular season. A junior, Mariota was the first-team all-conference quarterback in each of the past two seasons and the Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2012.

Wright III, the Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, turned in one of the most impactful seasons in all of college football. The sophomore led the conference in forced fumbles (6), ranked third in the nation in sacks (14) and his 139 tackles helped the Wildcats win the Pac-12 South for the first time. He was a Pac-12 honorable mention selection a year ago.

Rodriguez is the first Arizona coach to named Pac-12 Coach of the Year since Dick Tomey in 1992. In his third season in Tucson, Rodriguez has led the Wildcats to their third overall 10-win season in school history and first since 1998.

Oregon running back Royce Freeman was named the Freshman Offensive Player of the Year after rushing for 1,185 yards during the regular season. USC's Adoree' Jackson, who also saw time on offense and special teams, was honored as the Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Shortly after leading Arizona to a 42-35 win over archrival Arizona State on Friday, a red-letter victory that had the additional reward of earning the Wildcats the Pac-12's South Division championship, coach Rich Rodriguez fielded a question about his team finding a way into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

You could see the wheels in Rodriguez's mind start to rumble. Perhaps a quote from Shakespeare would be appropriate on this day when his scrappy team ended up atop a rugged division -- the SEC West of the West -- few thought it would win back in August? Or maybe some Tennyson would give his charges their due?

[+] EnlargeScooby Wright
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriScooby Wright helped Arizona seal the Pac-12 South title with two sacks on Friday.
Ah, Arizona's playoff possibilities? "There's a chance -- you ever seen the movie 'Dumb and Dumber?'" Rodriguez said.

Yes, the laughing media gathering seemed to indicate, it had. And there is a chance if Arizona bests No. 2 Oregon next Friday in the Pac-12 title game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Wildcats, ranked 11th in this week's CFP rankings, almost certainly need some help from teams rated above them, but they already received some of that when UCLA got blown out by Stanford, thereby making the Territorial Cup stakes the South. They'll need the selection committee to be broadminded enough to see a potential 11-2 record against the Wildcats' schedule as being among the best four bodies of work this season -- as in better than what some one-loss teams did. And Arizona also has a bit of a Baylor problem with its weak nonconference slate. But, yes, Lloyd Christmas, we're saying there's a chance.

First things first, though: the Ducks. That game in itself is pretty darn interesting. As much as folks talked about Oregon having a "Stanford problem" after losing to the Cardinal in 2012 and 2013, the Ducks' more recent issue is the Wildcats, who are riding a two-game winning streak in the series and -- oh, by the way -- handed Oregon its lone defeat this season on Oct. 2 -- in a shocked Autzen Stadium, no less.

"Our guys should have a little confidence because we played pretty well against them the last two times," Rodriguez said.

The team that beat No. 13 Arizona State will have a chance against the Ducks. The Wildcats got 178 yards rushing and three touchdowns from true freshman running back Nick Wilson, while redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, questionable before the game with a foot/ankle injury, turned in a poised, mostly efficient performance with a pair of touchdown passes, including a 20-yarder to Samajie Grant that provided the winning margin.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats defense continues to produce timely plays, with All-America candidate Scooby Wright leading an attack that produced seven sacks and two turnovers. Wright rolled up a game-high 13 tackles -- nine solos -- with two sacks and five tackles for a loss. One of those sacks came on the Sun Devils' final possession, one that concluded with a fourth-down stop on the Wildcats 40-yard line, which sent the sold-out crowd into hysterics.

"We were flying around out there like there was no tomorrow," was Wright's assessment.

Last year, Arizona State buried the Wildcats 58-21, which gave Sun Devils coach Todd Graham a 2-0 lead against Rodriguez in the Territorial Cup. It also capped a regular season in which the Sun Devils captured the South Division crown. This was the programs' first meeting as ranked teams since 1986. So there was a lot at stake, both in emotional and tangible terms.

While Rodriguez previously had not been one to drum up the importance of the rivalry, his tune changed a bit afterward.

"You try not to put too much pressure on a rivalry, but let's be honest -- there is," Rodriguez said.

Whatever happens in the Pac-12 title game -- the Ducks figure to be double-digit favorites, even with the Wildcats' win this season -- winning the South by beating Arizona State was a big moment for Rodriguez and the Wildcats, who might end up in the Fiesta Bowl even if they lose to Oregon. The program hasn't reached double-digit wins since 1998, but now there's a sense that the Wildcats and Sun Devils are going to be crossing paths as ranked teams on a fairly regular basis going forward.

At least as long as Rodriguez and Graham are calling the shots.

Said Rodriguez: "We're not there yet but we are on our way."

PASADENA, Calif. -- So much for that high-scoring game expected out of No. 12 Arizona and No. 22 UCLA.

The offensive juggernauts came into Saturday’s game at the Rose Bowl averaging a combined 76.4 points per game, but neither was able to find much of a rhythm, as UCLA won 17-7 in a game that was -- gasp! -- dominated by defense. Here’s what happened.

How the game was won: UCLA (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12) shook off a rough start in which it was penalized 98 yards and trailed 10-3 at the half. Behind quarterback Brett Hundley, the Bruins scored a pair of third-quarter touchdowns and outlasted Arizona (6-2, 4-2) in a game they won mostly because someone had to.

Game ball goes to: Hundley. In a game light on offense, Hundley tied Cade McNown for the UCLA career lead with 68 touchdown passes and made just enough plays to get the win. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown and finished with 131 yards rushing on 24 carries. It was the third time in Hundley’s career that he cracked the 100-yard rushing mark, but the second time in as many weeks.

Game ball, Part II: Arizona LB Scooby Wright III. A week after being named the Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week, Wright finished with 19 tackles, three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

What it means: UCLA’s Pac-12 title hopes are still alive. A loss would have surely ended any realistic chance the Bruins had at finishing atop the Pac-12 South, but now they remain just a game back in the loss column of the Utah-Arizona State winner.

Playoff implication: Going into the game, Arizona had an obvious path the playoff: win out. Now, with a pair of losses, the likelihood of either team making the playoff isn’t good. They’d be in the conversation with a Pac-12 title and two losses, but that résumé would only be good enough if there was complete madness across the rest of the country.

Best play: Hundley completed a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton to put UCLA up 17-7 in the third quarter.

video What's next: UCLA goes out of the division next week at Washington (6-3, 2-3) before home games against USC (6-3, 5-2) and Stanford (5-4, 3-3) to finish the regular season. Arizona will try to bounce back at home against lowly Colorado (2-7, 0-6) before finishing the season with Washington, Utah and Arizona State.

Freshmen impact in the Pac-12

September, 25, 2013

Pretty much every team plays true freshmen. But how much of an impact are those freshmen having on the game? Through four weeks, some have made immediate impacts. Others have seen some mop-up time. Across the ESPN blogosphere this morning, we’re looking at the five teams in each conference who have had freshmen make the greatest impacts on their team.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCal signal-caller Jared Goff is off to a big start in his career.
1. California: The quarterback is the most important position, and anytime you have a true freshman playing quarterback, it’s going to have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. So far, quarterback Jared Goff has risen to the occasion, even if it hasn’t translated into wins for the Bears. He leads the country in total offense. He’s completing 61 percent of his passes (103-of-168) and has seven touchdowns to four interceptions. Goff is one of seven true freshmen who have seen time for the Bears. Running back Khalfani Muhammad is tied for second on the team with 21 carries (97 yards, one touchdown).

2. UCLA: The Bruins have played 16 true freshmen so far, which, as of last week, was second in the country only to Texas A&M. Linebacker Myles Jack has had the biggest impact with 14 tackles, including two for a loss and a team-high four pass breakups. They are also getting good production from Eddie Vanderdoes, who had two tackles for a loss against New Mexico State, and offensive lineman Alex Redmond has started all three games at guard.

3. USC: The Trojans have gotten impact performances on both sides of the ball from their freshmen. Seven have seen the field for the Trojans. Safety Su’a Cravens has been as advertised so far with 18 tackles, half a tackle for a loss, and an interception. With Silas Redd out, running back Justin Davis has supplemented Tre Madden nicely. In four games, Davis has rushed for 189 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 47.2 yards per game and a team-high 5.9 yards per carry.

4. Washington State: The Cougars have gotten quality -- not necessary quantity -- out of their true freshmen. They have only played four. But two of them are getting quality playing time and making significant contributions. Cornerback Daquawn Brown made his first career start against USC and posted a team high 11 tackles while breaking up two passes. He also had an interception against Southern Utah. Wide receiver River Cracraft is fourth on the team with 10 catches for 111 yards.

5. Colorado: The Buffs aren’t going as young as they did last year, but they are still getting production from their rookies. And they have found something special in linebacker Addison Gillam. Through two games he’s the Buffs leading tackler with 20 stops -- including a sack, two tackles for a loss and five stops on third down. He also blocked a punt. Defensive end Jimmie Gilbert should also continue to see time. In 64 snaps he has three tackles and a sack.

Honorable mentions

These guys have been impactful, but chances are their teams would still have had success if they weren’t on the field based on quality of competition and/or depth at a position. But their contributions shouldn’t be overlooked.

  • Oregon TE John Mundt: Five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Oregon RB Thomas Tyner: 12 carries for 80 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Arizona LB Scooby Wright: 13 tackles, three for a loss.
  • Oregon State KR Victor Bolden: 19 returns, 365 yards, 19.2 average.
  • Utah LS Chase Dominguez: Haven’t heard his name before? Good. You shouldn’t. He’s a long snapper.
  • Arizona State K Zane Gonzalez: Has converted 4 of 7 field goals with a long of 40 and is 3-4 inside 40 yards. 13 of 13 on PATs.
  • Washington KR John Ross: Six kick returns for 112 yards (18.7 average). Three punt returns for 16 yards (5.3 average).