NCF Nation: Tom Hackett

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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 ESPN.com 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
Dec 11
10:10
AM ET
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)

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 10 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Is there any doubt? Stanford, again a substantial underdog to No. 3 and unbeaten Oregon, again controlled the line of scrimmage with its trademark physical style in a 26-20 victory on Thursday, that final score in no way reflecting the complete control the Cardinal had from bell-to-bell. It was a total team effort, featuring a great plan from the coaches that was well-executed by players who relish their underdog status when compared to flashy Oregon. Nerd Nation rules again. (But don't celebrate too long, Stanford. The season's far from over.)

[+] EnlargeKelly
AP Photo/Rick BowmerTaylor Kelly led two fourth-quarter TD drives as Arizona State rallied to beat Utah on Saturday.
Best game: Arizona State trailed at Utah for most of three quarters, and it entered the fourth quarter down 19-7. It looked like a familiar scenario: The Sun Devils blowing it on the road. But QB Taylor Kelly, stymied most of the afternoon, led two fourth-quarter TD drives and Will Sutton iced the game with, of all things, an interception with 1:01 remaining for a 20-19 victory.

Biggest play: While there were a number of big plays in the above game, no play was as "Good golly!" good as Myles Jack's 66-yard touchdown run for UCLA at Arizona. For one, he's a linebacker. Second, it was on a third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter just after an Arizona TD that reduced the Bruins' lead to five points. The Wildcats would score a TD on their next possession, so UCLA needed all the points it got. And the nation got introduced to Jack, a certain freshman All-American who is already being referred to as a first-round NFL draft pick.

Offensive standout: In the preseason, Stanford's offensive line looked like the nation's best unit. At times during the first half of the season, it didn't live up to that billing. But against Oregon it was dominant against a good defensive front. It not only paved the way from RB Tyler Gaffney's 157 yards on 45 carries, it also held the Ducks without a sack. QB Kevin Hogan was hurried just once. Stanford beat the Ducks because it made time of possession matter, with the offensive line playing the most important role in converting 14 of 21 third-down plays as well as the only fourth-down attempt. Last season's win over Oregon was about the Stanford defense. This one was about the O-line.

Defensive standout: Stanford LB Shayne Skov led the Cardinal's defense, which was pretty darn salty against the Ducks, with nine tackles (two for loss), two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He also broke up a pass and had two QB hurries.

Special teams standout: USC's Nelson Agholor returned punts 75 and 93 yards for TDs in the Trojans' 62-28 beatdown of California.

Special teams standout II: Against Arizona State, Utah punter Tom Hackett averaged 50.6 yards on nine punts, with a long of 70. He killed three inside the Sun Devils' 20-yard line and was a big reason the Utes controlled field position most of the afternoon.

Freakish two-way standout: Jack, a true freshman, became a national sensation on Saturday -- despite the late West Coast kickoff -- when he turned in helmet-sticker worthy performances on BOTH sides of the ball. On defense, he had eight tackles, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery. On offense, he rushed for a team-high 120 yards on just six carries, including the aforementioned 66-yard touchdown.

Smiley face: In recent seasons, just when things started to go well for Arizona State and UCLA, it became time to bet against them, particularly on the road. Both lacked consistent mental toughness. But both might be changing their ways. Both won on the road against good foes, overcoming myriad momentum shifts when they looked like they might be in trouble. Is it possible that their game on Nov. 23 will match top-15 teams with the stakes being the South Division? Maybe.

Frowny face: As great as Stanford's win is for Stanford, the Cardinal -- for the second consecutive season -- ruined the Pac-12's chances to put a team in the national title game. The Pac-12 hasn't won a national title since USC in 2004. The conference, in fact, has played in the title game only once since then, with Oregon getting nipped by Auburn after the 2010 season. While the league isn't mathematically eliminated -- if there's only one unbeaten team at season's end, the Pac-12 has a good shot at being No. 1 among the once-beatens -- it is a bit disappointing that the conference likely won't finish 2013 with the No. 1 team, thereby ending the SEC's streak of 103 consecutive national titles. Plus or minus.

Thought of the week: Oregon fans should stop panicking or allowing the nationwide trolling to get to them. College football nation: If the Ducks have been truly unmasked and your rough-tough team would dominate them, then why not seek them out for a nonconference game? Ohio State, Baylor, Florida State, Alabama, etc? If the Ducks are just a gimmick team, sign a game contract for a home-and-home series. Out West, however, we won't hold our breaths for one reason: Those teams want no part of that. Why? Because while a very good Stanford program, which is rougher and tougher than just about anyone, has won two in a row against the Ducks in impressive fashion, Oregon remains an elite team that can slice and dice the hopes and dreams of an opponent before it can say, "I wish my team hadn't been brave because now I can't be an anonymous trash-talking troll on Twitter."

Question for the week: Is the Pac-12 still in the Heisman Trophy hunt? Sure, there's been an overreaction against Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, sprained knee and all, after the Ducks went down to Stanford and he didn't play well on a big stage. And Arizona losing to UCLA diminished Ka'Deem Carey's chances. But what happens if one or both finish strong? You could make an argument that both are the best players at their positions. Difficult to imagine at least one won't get an invitation to New York for the ceremony.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Stanford’s margin of victory so far hasn’t been as tight as it was last season -- but last week the Cardinal played their closest game of 2013, topping Washington 31-28. The big difference in that game was special teams – specifically Ty Montgomery -- who had two big returns, including one for a touchdown.

Will special teams be a factor today? Possibly. Utah kicker Andy Phillips is still a pristine 9 of 9 on field goals with a long of 45. Only he and Washington’s Travis Coons can boast kicking perfection coming into this week. And should things get dicey in the closing minutes, the Utes are 2 of 2 on onside-kick attempts. Phillips is 3 of 3 from beyond 40 yards.

Both teams rank in the top four in punting -- with Utah’s Tom Hackett tied for the conference lead in punt return average (44.0), punts inside the 20 (11) and punts of 50-plus yards (7).

Montgomery enters the game leading the league in kick return average with 33.5 yards per kick and Stanford is the only school with a kick return for a touchdown. Utah’s kick coverage team ranks seventh in the conference.

Both David Shaw and Kyle Whittingham are big believers in the field-position game, so if offenses stall, look for the punters/kickers/returners to possibly play a significant role.

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