NCF Nation: Zach Maynard

Pac-12 spring focus on QBs, new coaches

February, 21, 2013

The overwhelming sentiment in college football is that having an accomplished quarterback coming back as you head into spring football is a good thing. Even a most excellent thing. Of course, overwhelming sentiments often end up getting poleaxed by what ends up happening when toe meets leather.

Last spring, USC was celebrating the return of the most celebrated quarterback in the nation, which made the Trojans top national title contenders. California, Oregon State, Utah, Washington and Washington State felt pretty darn set at the position. Meanwhile, Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford had big questions at quarterback.

How did that turn out?

Still, quarterback is typically the Point A of where we in the Pac-12 start looking forward to the next season.

Those teams with big questions at quarterback last year? They are feeling pretty happy about themselves this go-around. Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Stanford have quarterbacks who are sure to be on watch lists for national awards. Ducks QB Marcus Mariota is among the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy.

Meanwhile, three teams are looking for a new starting quarterback: Arizona is replacing Matt Scott, California is replacing Zach Maynard, and USC is replacing Matt Barkley. Those are wide-open competitions without a clear front-runner.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDespite a head-coaching change, Oregon likely is feeling confident heading into spring workouts with Marcus Mariota back at QB.
Then there are teams that have experience at quarterback but not entirely the right kind -- or, at least, there's some uncertainty who will be behind center to start 2013.

Coming off a 1-11 season that included generally horrible play at quarterback, it's fair to say Colorado's QB competition is wide open, even more so with a new head coach and new offensive system (the pistol).

Oregon State went back and forth with Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz throughout 2012. That competition will be rejoined this spring, though it's 50-50 whether we'll have any post-spring clarity on the ultimate pecking order. Travis Wilson took over at Utah as a true freshman when Jordan Wynn went down to injury, but he probably will need to win over new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson.

And while Washington and Washington State have returning veterans with plenty of starting experience -- Keith Price for the Huskies and Connor Halliday for the Cougars -- their inconsistency in 2012 will inspire some intrigue this spring that perhaps a youngster could put up a meaningful challenge for the starting job.

Of course, there are other spring story lines of note.

After four new coaches saw their first Pac-12 spring in 2012, three more newbies arrive this year. That's a lot of change over two seasons, but coaching changes are a constant in the Pac-12 and college football in general.

Mike MacIntyre will begin a massive rebuilding project at Colorado, and Sonny Dykes faces a minor rebuilding project at California. In contrast, Mark Helfrich at Oregon won't be rebuilding anything or changing much in terms of scheme or how the Ducks operate. But he is charged with winning 11 or 12 games and playing in a BCS bowl game every year.

Another rebuilding project that begins this spring: Lane Kiffin and USC.

Kiffin and the Trojans had an epically disappointing 2012 season, becoming the first team ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll to finish with six defeats. That landed Kiffin on the hot seat, inspiring him to remake his staff, most notably replacing his father, Monte Kiffin, with former California defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

It still remains to be seen if Kiffin will continue as offensive playcaller.

The Trojans will not only be looking for a quarterback this spring, but they also will be adopting a new base 3-4 defense. So there's a lot to get done.

USC can take heart in its 2012 misfortunes, though. Teams that head into spring believing they've already got it all figured out, well, they just might not. And teams that seem laden with questions might find some exciting answers few saw coming -- Taylor Kelly!

The overwhelming sentiment entering 2013 spring practices is that Oregon and Stanford are again the cream of the North Division and that Arizona State and UCLA are the front-runners in the South. A significant part of that is all four seem set with very good and potentially outstanding quarterbacks.

Teams with QB issues, meanwhile, are questionable to worrisome.

While there are plenty of story lines to follow this spring, we won't know for months whether those overwhelming sentiments get poleaxed once again.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week:

  1. And the winner in the North is ...? Could be Oregon. If the Ducks can get past visiting Stanford this week, they'll lock up the division and earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. They still have to go through Oregon State next week -- but wins over both of those clubs should help them in the BCS standings. Well, at least on the computer side. The Ducks hold the No. 1 spot in both human polls. So if they win out, they will be in the national championship game. The North Division winner could be Stanford, too. If the Cardinal win this weekend and close out with a victory at UCLA next week, Stanford and Oregon will each have one conference loss, with the Cardinal holding the tiebreaker.
  2. And the winner in the South is ...? We'll see Saturday, but we know it will be from Los Angeles. The USC-UCLA rivalry hasn't been one of late. UCLA's last victory over the Trojans came in 2006 -- a 13-9 win that snapped USC's NCAA record of 63 consecutive games scoring at least 20 points and also cost the Trojans a spot in the BCS title game. The scenario is winner-take-all -- regardless of what happens next week.
  3. On the bubble: Arizona State and Utah are both trying to make the postseason. ASU has the easier road, needing just one win to lock up bowl eligibility. And it hosts a Washington State team that is winless in conference play. Utah has to first beat Arizona at home this week, then win at Colorado next. The Utes are yet to win a road game this year.
  4. QB carousel: Seems like it wouldn't be a normal week in the Pac-12 if there weren't quarterback issues. Almost half of the league has uncertainty at the position heading into this weekend. Arizona's Matt Scott might not be able to go again this week; same for Cal's Zach Maynard. Nick Hirschman suffered a concussion last week for Colorado, Jeff Tuel was injured for Washington State, opening the door for Connor Halliday's five touchdowns. And the Sean Mannion-Cody Vaz back-and-forth continues at Oregon State, pending Vaz's health.
  5. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireUtah's chances at the postseason hinge on doing a better job stopping Ka'Deem Carey than Colorado.
    Quality matchups: If the Utes do want to get into the postseason, they'll have to find a way to slow down Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in last week's victory over Colorado. It's Utah's strength as a defense versus Arizona's strength as an offense. You can say the same for the Oregon-Stanford matchup, which pits Oregon's league-best rushing attack against Stanford's conference-leading rush defense.
  6. Gone in 60 seconds: Per the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, Stanford is the only FBS team that hasn't allowed a touchdown drive of three plays or fewer; it is also one of only five teams that has not allowed a touchdown in less than a minute. Oregon, of course, leads the FBS in touchdown drives that last one minute or less. Stopwatches at the ready.
  7. The SoCal tight-end factor: More super-cool stuff from the Stats & Info group: Matt Barkley and Brett Hundley have combined to throw 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions when targeting their tight ends. Hundley completes 75.6 percent of his passes when targeting a tight end; Barkley is at 67.2 percent. Could make for an interesting sidebar to Saturday's matchup.
  8. Off and running: Washington's Bishop Sankey heads to Colorado as one of the hottest running backs in the conference right now. He ha rushed for 351 yards and four touchdowns in his past two games and last week became the 11th player in UW history to reach the 1K milestone. Expect him to add to that total. Colorado ranks last in the conference against the run, yielding 227.6 yards per game on the ground to go with a conference-worst 25 rushing touchdowns allowed.
  9. Decisions, decisions: When California coach Jeff Tedford gets back to the Bay Area following the Bears' trip to Oregon State, he'll have sit down with athletic director Sandy Barbour to discuss the future of Cal football and what role -- if any -- he plays in it. Walking into that meeting with a victory over the No. 16 Beavers would probably go over better than closing out the year on a five-game losing streak.

Pac-12 laden with QB questions this week

November, 14, 2012
Oregon State and Stanford, both nationally ranked, took the unusual route of changing starting quarterbacks late in the season, yet there is still sizzling quarterback news in the conference, even though we are headed into Week 12.

Five teams face uncertainty at the position this weekend. So here's an update on where things stand.

Arizona: Arizona starter Matt Scott may miss a second start due to a concussion, which would mean a second start for junior college transfer B.J. Denker at Utah. Coach Rich Rodriguez releases an official injury report on Thursday, but it likely will leave Scott's status as the vague "questionable." Denker played very well against Colorado, completing 12 of 14 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown and also running nine times for 44 yards and a score. But Utah's defense, particularly playing at home, is a different animal.

California: Allan Bridgford is likely to make his second consecutive start for Zach Maynard, who is out with a knee injury, at Oregon State. Bridgford also will be without star receiver Keenan Allen (knee). He was 9-of-21 for 113 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions against Oregon.

Colorado: Nick Hirschman played well last week in the loss to Arizona but he suffered a concussion. If he can't go, coach Jon Embree said Connor Wood will make his first career start against Washington. Former starter Jordan Webb would serve as the backup. Said Embree, "We won't know what we will do until probably Thursday." Embree also said he anticipated playing more than one guy.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion might return to the starting job against California after Cody Vaz sprained his ankle late in the loss to Stanford. "When Cody gets healthy, and how fast he gets healthy, then we'll have a decision," coach Mike Riley said.

Washington State: Connor Halliday came off the bench in relief of an injured Jeff Tuel and led a furious comeback last weekend against UCLA, throwing for 330 yards and five touchdown passes, but Tuel will get the nod at Arizona State on Saturday, coach Mike Leach confirmed.
California is 3-7, has lost three games in a row, and coach Jeff Tedford -- have you heard? -- is on a decidedly hot seat.

The Bears' starting quarterback, Zach Maynard, won't play Saturday because of a knee injury suffered last week against Washington. The Bears' best player, receiver Keenan Allen, also won't play because of a knee injury. The Bears' best offensive lineman, right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, is doubtful with a knee injury.

[+] EnlargeAllan Bridgford
AP Photo/Rob HoltAfter spending most of the season on the sideline, Allan Bridgford will start against Oregon on Saturday.
Oregon, fresh off decimating a USC team that beat Cal by 22 points, comes to town on Saturday.

Just FYI, Saint Jude is the patron saint of desperate or lost causes. Of course, Cal could prop up its hopes on what happened in 2010.

The Ducks and their high-powered offense were also unbeaten and headed for the national title game when they arrived in Berkeley, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2010. They had scored more than 50 points in each of their six previous games. Cal was headed toward a losing, bowl-less season, just as it is now.

But the Bears' defense held the Ducks to just 317 yards, and Cal nearly pulled off the upset before succumbing 15-13. It was Oregon's second-lowest point total and third-lowest yardage total under coach Chip Kelly.

Of course, that was two years ago. Oregon blasted Cal 43-15 last year. And the present matchup doesn't look terribly favorable.

Tedford has been watching Oregon game tape, including the 62-51 victory at USC, in which the Ducks rolled up 730 yards. It was the most points scored and yards gained ever against a USC defense.

"Unbelievably impressive," Tedford said. "It will keep you awake at night watching that. They are prolific with what they are doing now. It's amazing how they are executing and the team speed they have, the way their quarterback is playing. There's really no holes. To do that against USC, which we all know is talented and athletic, was a real eye-opener."

It seems fair to suggest that Cal is going to have to score a lot of points to have any chance of pulling the upset. The problem with that is the Bears are ninth in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (24.5 points per game), while Oregon is No. 1 at 54.3 points per game.

Yes, if the Bears double their season average, they still will be well short of what Oregon typically scores.

Further, there's the quarterback issue. While Cal fans haven't been thrilled by Maynard through the past two seasons, there's a reason backup Allan Bridgford never won the starting job. For one, Bridgford, who is 4-for-16 for 32 yards this season, lacks Maynard's foot speed. That could be a problem for an offense that has yielded 39 sacks and has added to its already long list of injury woes on the line.

"We don't have a ton of tape on Allan," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "Seems like he's a little more of a passer than a runner. But I don't know how much you drastically change your offense at this point in the season."

That's pretty much what Tedford said: Bridgford will run the Bears' offense.

Some hope for Cal could lie in the Ducks' beaten-up defensive front seven, which could be down three D-linemen, including end Dion Jordan. Or it could hang on the Ducks having a post-USC letdown.

There's always Saint Jude, who might take a sad Cal song and make it better.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 8, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on in Week 11.

  1. Backups-to-starters: Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan both started the season on the bench. Now they square off as starters in one of the most pivotal games in the North Division this season. Whichever team wins in Palo Alto, Calif., on Saturday emerges as the prime contender to challenge Oregon for the division crown and a spot in the conference title game. But the stakes are higher still. Because there's a good chance that if either loses to Oregon, but is able to win its other remaining games, that team could still make the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the national championship game. Much on the line with not a ton of experience at the QB position.
  2. Backups-to-starters, Take II: While Vaz and Hogan are now starting quarterbacks because of performance reasons, Allan Bridgford and B.J. Denker probably will get the nod in lieu of injured starters Zach Maynard and Matt Scott at California and Arizona, respectively. Maynard suffered a knee injury in the loss to Washington. An MRI showed no ligament damage, but he hasn't practiced much. Scott continues to be evaluated after suffering a concussion in the loss to UCLA and Denker has been taking the bulk of the snaps in practice this week.
  3. Bowl-bound? Washington, Arizona State and Arizona all could become bowl-eligible this week with victories. The Sun Devils have the toughest chore of the trio, going on the road to face a disgruntled USC team that gave up 62 points to Oregon last week. Arizona -- despite the questionable health of quarterback Scott -- has the easier task with Colorado coming to the desert. Washington has been tough at home, but hosts a surging Utah squad also looking to get back into the postseason.
  4. Slump-buster: Speaking of that Arizona State-USC game, both teams come into the game with losing streaks. The Sun Devils have dropped three straight and USC has dropped two in a row. The Trojans have not lost three in a row since 2001. Someone is going to put the skids on their losing streak.
  5. [+] EnlargeReggie Dunn
    Russ Isabella/US PresswireUtah may need more kick-return magic from Reggie Dunn to get a win at Washington.
    Something's Bruin: UCLA took a huge step toward winning the South -- no asterisks this year, thank you very much -- with its blowout win over Arizona last week. That sets up a monumental showdown next week with crosstown rival USC -- a team that's had its way with the Bruins every year since 2006. While an upset isn't expected in Pullman, Wash. -- especially given the issues the Cougars have experienced this year -- the Bruins are still a young team and can't be caught looking too far ahead. It's a good thing to control your destiny, but it also can weigh heavily on a team with a lot of freshmen playing on offense.
  6. Barner watch: After rolling up 321 yards and five touchdowns last week against USC, Oregon running back Kenjon Barner has played his way into the Heisman conversation. However, the Ducks needed all four quarters to pull away from the Trojans last week and Barner carried 38 times. You have to wonder if the Ducks go back to their standard operating procedure of sitting the starters in the second half should they build a big lead on the Bears.
  7. Three weeks in a row? Can Utah kick returner Reggie Dunn do it again? He has returned three kickoffs 100 yards for touchdowns in the past two weeks -- an NCAA record. And he has four such returns for his career, also an NCAA record.
  8. Tough at home: The Utes will need all the points they can get. Washington is 4-1 at CenturyLink Field and the Huskies' defense is allowing only 13 points per game in their home away from home. (Stanford had a defensive touchdown and USC had a special-teams touchdown -- total points are 15.8).
The Pac-12 typically is the "Conference of Quarterbacks." In 2012, that's still the case. Only it's the "Conference of Quarterback Nuttiness."

Kevin sent me a note on Sunday: "Hey, Nostradamus, here's a curiosity ... 23 different Pac-12 quarterbacks attempted at least a pass this weekend."

It's crazy. We're at Week 11, and many Pac-12 teams need a "Hello, my name is ..." sticker on their quarterbacks' chest.

  • Colorado, Oregon State and Stanford have either changed starting quarterbacks over the past two weeks or are about to make a change.
  • Arizona and California are likely to have new starting quarterbacks on Saturday due to injury.
  • It looks as though when we emerge from the weekend, only five Pac-12 teams -- Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington -- will have started the same quarterback in every game.

Further, consider the youth movement.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan may see an increase in looks as the Cardinal deploy a new package in their offense.
Kelley L. Cox/US PresswireRedshirt freshman Kevin Hogan will make his first start for the Cardinal on Saturday against Oregon State.
Last weekend, the conference's three freshman starters -- Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Utah's Travis Wilson -- combined to complete 60 of 72 passes for 763 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. That works out to a 210.8 efficiency rating.

Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, is No. 1 in the nation with a 174.49 mark.

Meanwhile, most of the conference's veteran quarterbacks are struggling. In the Pac-12's pass efficiency rankings, the bottom six includes two seniors and three juniors.

In the preseason, USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Keith Price looked like the sure first- and second-team All-Pac-12 quarterbacks. Not so much any more.

While Barkley is 11th in the nation in passing efficiency and has thrown 30 TD passes -- eight more than any other conference quarterback -- few would describe the preseason Heisman front-runner's season as successful.

Price has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).

When quarterbacks have been the story this year, it's often been about benchings.

Stanford-Oregon State is a critical showdown of North Division teams, but the Cardinal just replaced Josh Nunes with Kevin Hogan, and Cody Vaz will make his fourth start but just his second as the Beavers' No. 1 quarterback over Sean Mannion. (Vaz started two games after Mannion suffered a knee injury.)

Experience at quarterback is typically viewed as critical for success. That has not proved true this year. Mannion, Price, Cal's Zach Maynard, Colorado's Jordan Webb, Utah's Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays and Washington State's Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday each owned significant experience entering the season. And each has been underwhelming.

Whereas, when you toss Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly into the mix, it's mostly the young, first-year starters out front. You might even include Arizona's fifth-year senior Matt Scott in that pool as a first-year starter.

There's still plenty of football to be played. Barkley still might end up first-team All-Pac-12.

But the first 10 weeks in the "Conference of Quarterbacks" has taught us two things: 1) There are no sure things; 2) If you don't like your quarterback, wait a week. Things might change.

Huskies win an ugly one at Cal

November, 3, 2012

There’s ugly. And there’s whatever that was Friday night in Berkeley, Calif.

But when all the turnovers had been recovered and all the yellow laundry had been cleared from the field (on one play, there were four separate penalties), the Washington Huskies emerged with a 21-13 victory over California. It was Washington’s first road win of the season and snapped a six-game road losing streak for the Huskies. The win moves Washington (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) one step closer to bowl eligibility.

Cal (3-7, 2-5) is officially eliminated from postseason contention for the second time in three seasons -- and questions surrounding the future of coach Jeff Tedford are sure to heat up with this latest loss.

The teams combined for eight turnovers (four apiece) and 19 penalties for a total of 168 yards (12 for 108 from Washington).

But amid the sloppiness, there were bright spots. Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins -- playing on a bum ankle -- turned in a gritty performance with eight catches for 151 yards and a score. Bishop Sankey had a season-high 189 yards on the ground for Washington to go with a pair of scores.

However, it's hard to overlook a stretch in the fourth quarter in which four consecutive drives ended in turnovers -- including four turnovers over a span of 11 snaps.

The Huskies jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when they turned an Isi Sofele fumble into an 11-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard Sankey touchdown run.

The Bears battled back to match the score in the second quarter when Chris Harper scored on a 14-yard end-around. Cal then took a six-point lead in the third following a pair of Vincenzo D’Amato field goals.

But Seferian-Jenkins -- who came out of the locker room at halftime limping badly -- made his presence known late in the third quarter. He made a leaping 43-yard reception that later helped set up his jumping 29-yard touchdown from Keith Price that gave Washington a 14-13 edge at the end of the third quarter.

Price completed 16 of 29 passes for 237 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His Cal counterpart, Zach Maynard, was 15-of-29 for 175 yards with no touchdowns and a pick. C.J. Anderson led Cal on the ground with 160 yards on 22 carries.

The loss also puts a damper on an outstanding game from Cal linebacker Nick Forbes, who tallied 10 tackles with an interception and two fumble recoveries.

It was a Maynard interception in the fourth that set up Sankey’s second touchdown run of the game and gave Washington the final margin.

Making matters worse for Cal, Maynard was sidelined near the end of the game with what appeared to be a knee injury. He was helped off the field and then carted to the locker room. Allan Bridgford relieved Maynard on Cal’s final drive but was unable to get the Bears into the end zone.

What to watch in the Pac-12

October, 18, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:

1. Judgment night: ASU fans have been clamoring for respect. Thursday night is as good of a chance as any to get some. The Sun Devils have the No. 3 team in the country coming to their backyard for one of the biggest games in the conference this year. On paper, this looks like a vintage Pac-12 matchup of two high-scoring offenses. But wasn't that the case the last time Oregon played a team from the state of Arizona? Time to see if Arizona State is as good as their record suggests. Worth noting, also, that this is likely Oregon's biggest test to date as well. Let's give some credit to the 5-1 team from Tempe.

2. Efficiency experts: The game within the game features the two most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12. ASU's Taylor Kelly checks in as the conference's No. 1-rated quarterback in passing efficiency and Oregon's Marcus Mariota isn't too far behind at No. 2. Mariota hasn't been as protective of the ball over the past three games throwing seven touchdowns, but also four interceptions. Conversely, Kelly has 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions during that span. You have to think ball security was a huge point of emphasis for Oregon during improvement week.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireArizona State's Taylor Kelly is the most efficient quarterback in the Pac-12 with a rating of 175.98.
3. Big Game for Cal: With a victory over their most bitter rival, the Bears can get back to .500 and have a shot at the postseason. Their remaining four games are at Utah, home to Washington, home to Oregon and at Oregon State to close out the season. The odds of them winning three of those four are awfully tiny. But a win over the Cardinal gives them a fighting chance. Which Zach Maynard is going to show up? Seems to be the Cal question of the week, every week.

4. Big Game for Stanford: Make no mistake about it -- this is a road game for Stanford even though it's just a hop and a skip over the Bay Bridge (actually, probably easier to take the Dumbarton Bridge to the 880). Either way, it's less than 50 miles, but it's a road game. And we all know Stanford has been a different team on the road. No need to rehash all of the ugly offensive stats. The only one that matters is the Cardinal are 0-2 away from home. That has to change considering four of their final six games are on the road.

5. The Vaz effect: Cody Vaz wasn't just a pleasant surprise -- he was sensational making his first start on the road for the injured Sean Mannion. It helps when you have a pair of outstanding receivers to throw to, and Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks certainly didn't let him down. With the way the defense is playing, there is little reason to expect a drop off.

6. More White: Utah ranks 116th in the nation in rushing yards, averaging exactly 100 per game. Not what you'd expect with a back like John White IV -- once touted as a possible preseason Heisman contender. Head coach Kyle Whittingham went out of his way to state this week that they need to get White the ball more often. He had 14 carries against ASU, 13 against USC and a season-low 11 at UCLA.

7. Back to basics: Will be interesting to see if Matt Barkley gets USC's passing game back on track this week. Nothing wrong with winning via defense and the running game, but the inconsistencies from Barkley and his receivers has been one of the biggest surprises in the season to date.

8. Swing game: Don't underestimate how important of a game Washington at Arizona is. The Wildcats should be daisy fresh after the bye week. You have to wonder if the Huskies (1) have enough defense to prevent it from becoming a shootout-- as Arizona games tend to become -- and (2) if Washington can keep up if it does turn into a high-scoring affair. This is a crucial game for Arizona, which would have to win two more games to be bowl eligible. And the schedule looks like USC, UCLA, Colorado and Utah the rest of the way. A loss means the Wildcats have to win three of those four.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 14, 2012
Somebody get that Oregon State quarterback a double-double.
  1. Cody Vaz, QB, Oregon State: There's temptation to give a helmet sticker to Markus Wheaton for his three touchdowns (two receiving, one rushing) or Jordan Poyer for his “oh look, a football” pick-six. But it's got to be Vaz, who made his first career start and was sharp, completing 20 of 32 balls for 332 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the 42-24 victory over BYU, the nation's No. 3 scoring defense. He throws one mean block also.
  2. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Oh yeah, he had a pretty good game also. Wheaton had the touchdowns, but Cooks had a monster game, catching eight balls for 173 yards -- which worked out to an average of 21.6 yards per catch. Plus he played three quarters on a taped-up ankle after hurting it in the first quarter. Snaps to him for gutting it out.
  3. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: Another game, another outstanding performance from the Sun Devils' quarterback, who tossed five touchdowns with no picks on 20 of 28 passing for 308 yards on the road in a 51-17 victory over Colorado. The Sun Devils are using the screen game as well as any team in the country and Kelly is executing the offense magnificently. Tougher games coming up, but at this point, Kelly’s name needs to be in the conversation for offensive player of the year (and there's a strong chance he might appear in the top five of someone's Heisman ballot this week. Hint: Mine).
  4. Dion Bailey, LB, USC: While the Trojans were able to put some pressure on Washington quarterback Keith Price with five sacks, it was Bailey who had a hand in half of the Trojans’ turnovers. He picked off one ball (which was a pretty sweet play reaching back against his body's momentum) and also forced a fumble by laying a big hit (though probably not the most fundamentally sound) on a scrambling Price. He finished with seven tackles in the 24-14 win.
  5. Tevin McDonald, S, UCLA: Not a flashy performance from McDonald. No interceptions or forced fumbles. But his 10 tackles -- eight of them solo jobs -- were a game high in the 21-14 win over Utah. Just a good, solid showing in a game that was a little tighter than most people thought it would be.
  6. Keenan Allen, WR, Cal: Quarterback Zach Maynard had 14 completions and 11 of them went to Allen, who moved up to No. 2 on Cal’s all-time receiver list. His 166 yards included a 69-yard touchdown in the 31-17 road victory over Washington State.

Big night for Allen as Cal tops Wazzu

October, 14, 2012
The California Bears have themselves a winning streak.

Behind a huge game from standout wide receiver Keenan Allen, the Bears (3-4, 2-2) won their second consecutive game -- and their eighth straight over Washington State -- by downing the Cougars 31-17 in Pullman, Wash.

Allen caught 11 balls for 166 yards -- including a 69-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead -- to move up to No. 2 on Cal’s all-time reception list.

Quarterback Zach Maynard, who was coming off one of the best games of his career last week against UCLA, wasn’t quite as efficient this week. He did, however, complete 14 of 23 balls for 189 yards and a score with two interceptions. He also showed off his running ability, scrambling 10 times for 78 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown that stretched Cal’s lead to 21-3 early in the third quarter.

C.J. Anderson totaled 112 yards on 15 carries with a pair of scores as part of a 318-yard rushing night for Cal.

“I thought Zach made a lot of good reads and pulled it down for some positive yards,” Cal head coach Jeff Tedford told the Pac-12 Network after the game. “And the backs always run hard.”

For the Cougars (2-5, 0-4), who have now dropped four in a row, it was another inconsistent showing. Starting quarterback Connor Halliday was replaced by Jeff Tuel for the second week in a row after Halliday completed just 4 of 10 passes for 74 yards with two interceptions.

Tuel looked sharp at times, completing 30 of 53 balls for 320 yards with two touchdowns. Brett Bartolone hauled in both of Tuel’s touchdown passes. Isiah Myers led the Cougars -- who were without Marquess Wilson for the second half after he took a hard shot in the end zone -- with eight catches for 108 yards.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
A few storylines to keep an eye on this week in the Pac-12:
    [+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
    Kyle Terada/US PresswireCardinal quarterback Josh Nunes has solidified his starting job.

  1. Game of the week: Which Stanford team shows up at No. 7 Notre Dame? Is it the explosive offense that racked up more than 600 yards against Arizona? Or the struggling offense which failed to score an offensive touchdown at Washington? The Irish have one of the nation's best defenses, but Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes put to rest any questions about his starting job with his five-touchdown performance against the Wildcats. But for the Cardinal to be considered serious contenders in the Pac-12 North, they are going to have to get it done on the road.
  2. Speaking of the road: Heck of a time to make your first collegiate start -- midseason and on the road. But that's the challenge in front of Oregon State backup quarterback Cody Vaz. With the news that Sean Mannion will be out at least 2-4 weeks with a knee injury, the junior steps in after having not played since 2010. Head coach Mike Riley created a minor media buzz during spring ball when he said Vaz had closed the gap with Mannion. Fortunately for the Beavers, the running game is starting to click with Storm Woods and Malcolm Agnew, and the wide receiver duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks is playing well. Vaz has some support.
  3. Is he for real? Anyone recognize the guy in blue wearing No. 15 last week? After his first interception last week, Cal quarterback Zach Maynard was, dare we say, prolific. He completed 83.3 percent of his throws and tossed four touchdowns in the Bears' upset against UCLA. This coming a week after he completed 32.1 percent at home against Arizona State. The yards, touchdowns and completion percentage were all season highs. Has the light finally come on?
  4. No peeking: Can the Sun Devils resist the urge to look beyond Colorado to their showdown next week with Oregon? Head coach Todd Graham said it shouldn't be hard. But then again, these are college players, and you have to wonder if the 1-4 Buffs are being overlooked. The good news is we'll find out tonight, since it's the national Thursday game.
  5. Rally the troops: It's a good thing for Washington that USC isn't still ranked in the top five. The Huskies have been outscored 93-24 in their two games against top five programs this year. After the 41-3 loss to LSU, the Huskies had Portland State to beat up on. It's not going to be as easy this week with the No. 11 Trojans coming to town. Steve Sarkisian has had some success against the Trojans, and he obviously knows the program very well. Can he get the Huskies to put last week's debacle at Oregon behind them?
  6. About those Trojans: Head coach Lane Kiffin talked at length this week about how tough it is to come into the season with a high preseason ranking -- ya know, like No. 1. But the Trojans showed last week that maybe the fork-sticking was premature. After spotting the Utes 14 points, quarterback Matt Barkley calmly led a USC offense that looked potent and efficient. And in the process, he pulled himself back into the Heisman race -- though there is still work to be done on that front. Nov. 3 is still high noon for the Trojans, and the better they look leading into that game against Oregon, the better it will be for the conference. And, aside from the first three minutes last week, the Trojans looked pretty good.
  7. Swing game? If the Utah Utes hope to make a bowl game this season, this game might be the turning point. They face a UCLA team that showed its youth against Cal on offense, and a fairly seasoned defense looked porous. The Utes have to travel to Oregon State next week, where they'll see the Vaz-led Beavers (Utah knows a little something about overcoming-quarterback-injury adversity). Then it's five straight games against unranked teams to close out the season. A win puts them back at .500 and still in the bowl hunt. The Bruins are two wins away, but face a tougher second-half schedule, including closing out the season with USC and Stanford. A win by the Bruins puts them on the verge of bowl eligibility.
The California Bears have some positive momentum to build from -- finally. No disrespect to Southern Utah, but that wasn't exactly a slap-yourself-on-the-back-win for the Bears.

But a win over a ranked UCLA team -- that could go a long way toward restoring a bit of confidence to a team that sorely needed it.

"We talked about really using adversity as an opportunity to do something," said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. "It was great to see the team play like they did and their excitement throughout the game and after the game. It's been three weeks of playing three tough, hard-fought games and not coming out on the right side of the scoreboard. It was great to have some success and see the joy and fun that goes into a win. But also understanding that it can't be a one-night stand. We're back to work and focused and attention to detail and all of the things we've been preaching and doing."

With their 43-17 win last week over the Bruins, the Bears could be on their way to salvaging their season. Quarterback Zach Maynard had one of the best games of his career, the running game came alive and the defense forced six turnovers. Now they visit Pullman, Wash., to face a 2-4 Cougars squad that has had some troubles of its own. A victory would bring the Bears to 3-4, setting up a crucial matchup with rival Stanford that could very well determine Cal's postseason fate.

[+] EnlargeRichard Rodgers
Jason O. Watson/Getty ImagesRichard Rodgers' breakout game hinted at the potential Cal's offense has when hitting on all cylinders.
There are still some issues, as you'd expect from a 2-4 team. The Bears are still allowing too many third-down conversions on defense and one good offensive performance doesn't mean they'll continue to be this efficient. But it's a much-needed step in the right direction. Part of the success can be attributed to a healthy Richard Rodgers. The tight end had a monster game against the Bruins, catching seven balls for 129 yards. You combine his underneath play with the stretch-the-field ability of Keenan Allen (eight catches, 79 yards, two touchdowns) and you have more dimensions to an offense that is at its most efficient when the entire field is in play.

Rodgers' play opened up the running game for C.J. Anderson (21 carries, 151 yards, one touchdown) and the defense was able to snag six turnovers to get the ball back. It was a complete team effort -- something the Bears had been missing.

"It's a team game and everybody has to do their job," Tedford said. "[Maynard] had a great game against Ohio State and he played real well against UCLA, but it's about catching the ball. It's about pass protection. It's all of it. Not getting penalties and [ending up] in long situations. He was very consistent and made good decisions. He didn't force the football. That's what we're looking for out of him. But he has to have some help to enable him to play consistently -- an effective run game, pass protection, catching footballs, the whole bit.

"... [Rodgers] is still not 100 percent. To have him back in the game and be able to contribute, it definitely gives you another phase of your offense. It was nice to see him do some of the things we thought he has the potential to do."

Up in Pullman, the Cougars have dropped two straight and head coach Mike Leach is making news after his now infamous "empty corpses" remark.

For the second time this season, Washington State failed to score a touchdown. Quarterback Connor Halliday was intercepted three times and Jeff Tuel was picked off once in a 19-6 loss to Oregon State.

The transition to the Air Raid hasn't happened as quickly as Leach would have hoped. The Cougars lead the conference in interceptions thrown and though they average 312 yards in the air per game (third behind Arizona and Oregon State), they are eighth in passing efficiency.

"You always want as much as possible as early as possible," Leach said. "I knew we were going to have to play a lot of young guys. I knew there were going to be a lot of new faces that hadn't played ... I knew it was going to be a work in progress. We just have to continue to work to get better."

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 8, 2012
Taking stock of the sixth week of games in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Just as the hot seat talk for California coach Jeff Tedford was starting to crescendo, the Bears pulled out an impressive 43-17 win over No. 25 UCLA. The Bears played tough on both sides of the ball, and QB Zach Maynard overcame an early interception to post perhaps his best career game, accounting for five TDs -- four throwing, one running. The defense forced six turnovers and pressured UCLA QB Brett Hundley most of the evening. Cal needed a win, and it got it.

Best game: There were nine lead changes in the first three quarters of Arizona's visit to Stanford, as neither defense could get a stop. But when the Wildcats jumped up 48-34 with nine minutes left in the game, it didn't appear we'd get an 11th change. But Stanford rallied around QB Josh Nunes and forced overtime. At that point, the Cardinal defense stepped up, forcing a turnover, and RB Stepfan Taylor's 21-yard TD run provided the winning points at 54-48.

[+] EnlargeJosh Nunes
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireStanford QB Josh Nunes talks with coach David Shaw during a timeout against Arizona on Saturday.
Biggest play: Down seven with 1:21 left and facing a fourth-and-9 at the Arizona 20-yard line, Nunes found Zach Ertz over the middle for 17 yards to the 3-yard line. Nunes went the final 3 yards for the tying touchdown that got Stanford to OT.

Offensive standout: Nine days after a loss at Washington had some fans calling for him to be benched, Nunes' clutch performance against Arizona might end up being more resonant than his struggles versus the Huskies. He overcame a slow start and accounted for five Stanford touchdowns, completing 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards and two scores while also rushing for 33 yards on seven carries and three touchdowns.

Defensive standout: What's it with all these three-interception games? Oregon State CB Jordan Poyer grabbed three picks against Washington State, while Cal's Kameron Jackson did the same against UCLA. Both also had four tackles. Earlier in the year, UCLA CB Sheldon Price had three picks against Houston.

Special teams standout: Stanford's Daniel Zychlinski averaged 54.3 yards on four punts in the Cardinal's overtime win over Arizona with a long of 59 yards.

Smiley face: The Pac-12's top four teams: Oregon, USC, Oregon State and Stanford each found different ways to win. Oregon rolled over rival Washington 52-21, looking like a dominant, national title contender along the way. USC overcame a horrible start that left it in a 14-0 hole two minutes into its visit to Utah. Oregon State was sloppy and inefficient on offense but was bailed out by its defense against Washington State. And Stanford, as already mentioned, overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Arizona in overtime. One of the signs of a good conference is when its ranked teams just get it done, even if they aren't clicking.

Frowny face: Mike Leach was supposed to bring a high-powered passing offense to Washington State, and the Cougars were supposed to have the QB-WR combinations to make it potent. But it hasn't played out that way. The Cougars were held to two field goals in a 19-6 loss to Oregon State. They finished with a measly 227 total yards with five turnovers, including four interceptions. Neither Connor Halliday nor Jeff Tuel is playing well, and the receivers have been making too many drops. The Cougs are 98th in the nation in scoring with 21.8 points per game.

Thought of the week: Notre Dame, which Stanford visits on Saturday, is 5-0 and ranked seventh. The Fighting Irish appear to be finally emerging from a long period of malaise, and that's good for the Pac-12. The past few years, Stanford's and USC's annual whipping of the Irish meant little to the national audience. But a ranked Notre Dame team provides an opportunity for Stanford and USC to post wins that do raise eyebrows nationally, as well as raise the perception of the conference. Of course, Stanford and USC have to win those games for Notre Dame's return to relevance to be a positive one.

Questions for the week: The Pac-12 features four teams ranked from Nos. 2 through 17: No. 2 Oregon, No. 10 Oregon State, No. 11 USC and No. 17 Stanford. While any of those four teams could fall apart and out of the rankings, they do appear to comprise a top third of the conference so far. But who might rise from the Pac-12 and become a fifth ranked team, or at least the fifth team in the Pac-12 pecking order? The conference isn't lacking candidates. You'd have to rank Arizona State and Washington as the top two. The Sun Devils are playing well, while the Huskies already have a win over Stanford. Then there's UCLA, Arizona and Utah. And, perhaps, a resurgent California, which just beat UCLA. Will a nine-win team emerge from that group? Or will we end up with a lot of 7-5, 6-6 and 5-7?

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 7, 2012
So much offense! So much defense! So hard to choose ...

  1. Josh Nunes, QB, Stanford: The goat of last week's Washington-whooping, Nunes was absolutely clutch in leading the Cardinal from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 54-48 overtime victory at home over Arizona. He engineered back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter -- including a steely 4th-and-9 toss that helped set up the tying score. Nunes accounted for five Stanford touchdowns, completing 21 of 34 passes for 360 yards and two scores while also rushing for 33 yards on seven carries and three touchdowns.
  2. Nickell Robey, CB, USC: Leaned heavily toward the USC quarterback, but Robey was so solid that we couldn't pass him up. He had seven tackles (four solo), forced a fumble and had the nail-in-the-coffin interception that he returned 38 yards for a score with 9:30 left in USC's 38-28 victory at Utah on Thursday. The Trojans had a 10-point lead at the time, so the game wasn't exactly wrapped up. Robey saw to that.
  3. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State: In the preseason, we talked about there being two true lockdown corners in the conference. Poyer is one of them (see the above entry for the other one). When the offense was struggling, it was Poyer and the Beavers defense that kept Oregon State in the game. Poyer tallied three interceptions to help keep the Beavers undefeated, while also breaking up a pass, notching a tackle for a loss and finishing with four stops in the 19-6 win at Washington State.
  4. Zach Maynard, QB, Cal: With the exception of a couple of handoff-exchange issues, Maynard played fantastic football, throwing four touchdowns and running in a fifth in a 43-17 upset win over UCLA. He completed 25 of 30 passes (83.3 percent) for 295 yards to keep the Bruins winless at Cal since 1998. His 1-yard rushing touchdown was his second of the season on the ground. Nice bounce-back performance after a 9-for-28 showing the previous game against Arizona State.
  5. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: In the biggest game of his young career, Mariota tossed four touchdown passes and completed 15 of 24 balls to lead the Ducks to yet another blowout win -- 52-21 this time -- over the Washington Huskies. He also ran for 40 yards on seven carries and kept plays alive with his feet. He had one pick, but for the most part he showed good decision making on when to throw and when to throw it away. The Pac-12 blog sees marked improvement in Mariota each week.
  6. Matt Scott/Ka'Deem Carey, QB/RB, Arizona: We normally don't hand out stickers in defeat, so Scott and Carey can get a half-sticker each. But both deserve the recognition for fantastic performances. Carey rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns against the conference's No. 1 rush defense. Scott was 45-of-69 for a career-high 491 yards with three scores. Those numbers are too good to go unrecognized.

Maynard shines, Bears stump Bruins

October, 7, 2012

UCLA went to Memorial Stadium looking for its first win in Berkeley since 1998. All the No. 25 Bruins found was a fierce Cal pass rush and an inspired Bears offense that quarterback Zach Maynard ran with relative efficiency to a 43-17 victory over the Bruins.

Maynard accounted for five Cal touchdowns -- four in the air and one on the ground -- and the much-maligned Bears defense kept the Bruins to 378 total yards, sacked quarterback Brett Hundley four times and forced six UCLA turnovers.

For as well as Cal played, UCLA also didn't help their cause with miscommunications and penalties. For example, a mix-up between Hundley and Shaquelle Evans led to an interception at the end of the first half that could have been a huge momentum swing.

And the Bears capitalized on the Bruins' mistakes, turning those five turnovers into 20 points.

UCLA jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Hundley connected with defensive lineman-turned-eligible-receiver Cassius Marsh on a 4-yard score.

But the Bears then scored 23 straight on three Maynard touchdowns -- a 5-yarder to C.J. Anderson, an 8-yarder to Keenan Allen and a 32-yarder to Brendan Bigelow. He was a very crisp 25 of 30 for 295 yards.

"[Maynard] played within himself and we did a nice job as a team," Cal head coach Jeff Tedford told the Pac-12 Network after the game. "It was a total team effort. It was solid. All three phases played well. Now we regroup and get ready for another game next week. This is just one game."

Hundley, who finished 31-of-47 for 253 yards, connected with Joseph Fauria for a 3-yard strike to cut the score to 23-14 early in the third quarter. But Maynard answered by finding Allen again -- this time for 34 yards -- to put Cal ahead 29-14 after the blocked PAT.

Things got ugly in the fourth when Cal fumbled in the UCLA red zone, then Hundley was intercepted for the second time, and then Cal fumbled again on the very next offensive play. And then Hundley was picked again on the next UCLA drive by Michael Lowe. The teams combined for 22 penalties for 199 yards.

Maynard put the game out of reach midway through the fourth when, following the Lowe interception, he marched the Bears to the UCLA 1-yard line and put his head down for the score.

Anderson iced it in the final minutes with a 68-yard touchdown with 1:32 left in the game.