NCF Nation: UCLA Bruins
For the first time this year, the BCS standings were released on Sunday, and it didn't really matter in the Pac-12. Barring a complete collapse from at least three of the top four teams, the Pac-12 is out of the national title hunt.
After Stanford fell to USC -- a week after handing Oregon its first defeat -- the Pac-12 is on the outside looking in, with Oregon the top conference team at No. 5.
Alabama is No. 1, Florida State is No. 2, Ohio State is No. 3 and Baylor is No. 4.
If Alabama and FSU win out, they will play for the title. It's possible -- likely? -- that the Pac-12 champion will face Ohio State, the Big Ten champion, in the Rose Bowl, which will, at least, give the Pac-12 a good bowl matchup in its only BCS game.
Yes, that's the likely reality now: For the first time since 2009, the Pac-12 will have only one BCS bowl team.
As far as the BCS standings as a whole, Stanford fell to No. 9. UCLA is No. 14 and Arizona State is No. 17. UCLA and ASU play in a big South Division matchup on Saturday. USC, now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, broke into the rankings at No. 23 and is still a potential factor in the South.
So that's five ranked Pac-12 teams and eight Pac-12 teams already bowl eligible -- but no team with much of a chance to play for the national title.
Further, Washington State's win at Arizona gives the Cougars' bowl hopes a significant boost. If they can beat either Utah on Saturday or Washington in the season finale, the Cougs will go bowling for the first time since 2003.
Meanwhile, the Utes and Colorado need to win out in order to become bowl eligible. They play on Nov. 30, the final game of the regular season.
Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio (Jan. 1, 2014): Oregon vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30): Stanford vs. Big 12
National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): UCLA vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31): Arizona State vs. ACC
Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): USC vs. MWC
Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 27): Oregon State vs. BYU
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 21): Washington vs. MWC
Heart of Dallas Bowl (Jan. 1, 2014): Arizona vs. Conference USA
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 28): Utah vs. American
South race: Arizona State and UCLA are in the same position as Stanford. If either team wins out, they will be the South Division champ. We have to wait one more week for these teams to meet, and both need to keep focus this week with a pair of dangerous North Division teams coming to town. Arizona State hosts Oregon State and UCLA hosts Washington. This is one of those "you have to earn it weeks" because of the league's nine-game schedule. USC is still in the hunt but must beat Stanford.
Bowl checkup: Right now the Pac-12 has eight bowl-eligible teams: Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Arizona. This week could provide some jockeying for bowl position and prestige. Colorado and California are officially out of bowl contention, and Washington State and Utah are still in the hunt with four wins each. Both have tough road draws this week -- Utah at Oregon and Washington State at Arizona -- and the stage is set for some good drama in Pullman, Wash., next week when Utah and Washington State square off in a game that could determine the postseason fates of both teams. Each needs to win two of their last three to become eligible.
North vs. South: This is a big weekend for determining which division is truly the strongest from top to bottom. Right now the North holds a slight edge, going 8-7 against teams from the South. But all six games this week feature North vs. South teams -- Washington is at UCLA, Washington State is at Arizona, Oregon State is at ASU, Stanford is at USC, Cal is at Colorado and Utah is at Oregon. The South is home for five of the six games.
All eyes on L.A.: Two huge games in the City of Angels this week with Stanford heading to USC and Washington coming down to UCLA. Both games have huge implications on the divisional standings. If USC wins, it keeps pace with UCLA and Arizona State. If the Cardinal win, they move one step closer to a second straight North title. Stanford has won the last four matchups and five of the last six. The last three have come down to a touchdown or less. Washington, meanwhile, looks to break its road blues. The Bruins are coming off a confidence-boosting road win at Arizona. We're also curious to see what Myles Jack brings, if anything, for an offensive encore.
All eyes (also) on Arizona: Speaking of huge games. Oregon State heads to Tempe to take on an Arizona State team looking to steal the South Division crown from UCLA. ASU still has a one-game advantage in Pac-12 play, so a loss wouldn't be devastating (losing to Washington would hurt UCLA's chances more). But the trip to Pasadena next week is obviously going to be very telling. In Tucson, the Wildcats are looking to better their bowl standing while the Cougars are hoping to take another step toward bowl eligibility. It's 12-straight 100-yard rushing games and counting for Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.
Someone has to win, right? California and Colorado are the only two teams still seeking a conference victory. Both teams have true freshmen starters at quarterback with Jared Goff at Cal and Sefo Liufau at Colorado. Speaking of true freshmen, keep an eye on Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam, who already holds the school's record for tackles by a freshman with 86. Cal hasn't won a conference game since topping Washington State on Oct. 13, 2012. Colorado hasn't won a league game since topping, well, Washington State on Sept. 22, 2012.
Bounce back: This is the first time we've had to include Oregon in a bounce-back category. But the Ducks were pretty much manhandled in the loss to Stanford last week. It was a low-output performance from the offense, and the defense couldn't get off the field. But the Ducks are still in contention for the North, though Oregon fans should be USC fans this weekend, and their shot at a BCS at-large game is still very much in play. Utah needs to find a way to snap its three-game slide. The Utes are winless since the victory over Stanford, and haven't won on the road this year. Like Stanford, Utah has a very physical front. But rehabbing at Autzen, especially with Oregon coming off of a loss, is going to be a tall order.
No more breathers: The bye weeks are done. All 12 teams are in action this week and next week. In Week 14, only California has an open date, but that's because its season will be over.
Giving back: ASU is known for embracing its military ties, and here's a head's up on something cool it is doing: As part of Sun Devil Athletics' annual Salute to Service football game against Oregon State, fans can purchase a ticket to donate to an active military member or veteran, and SDA will match every donated ticket with a second ticket.
They are now both 61-12 for the season.
WASHINGTON at UCLA
Kevin Gemmell: Washington's hit-and-miss mentality on the road gives me pause here. The Bruins have slowly regained traction from their back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon and last week's win in Tucson was a huge confidence builder. The linebackers are playing as well as any in the league -- if not the country. And the Myles Jack factor gives Washington yet another weapon to prepare for -- even if UCLA never runs the package again. UCLA 31, Washington 27.
Ted Miller: To pick Washington to win on the road against a tough foe, you've got to see it happen first. The Huskies have the players to win this game. But, again, let's see it first. UCLA 28, Washington 24.
WASHINGTON STATE at ARIZONA
Gemmell: Washington State's early-season momentum has officially burned out. The Wildcats hung with a very talented UCLA team and getting the Cougars at home will help. There will be some points in this game. But it stands to reason that Arizona's defense will make a play against a WSU team that leads the league with 20 interceptions thrown. Arizona 38, Washington State 31.
Miller: The Cougars need to win two of their final three games to become bowl eligible. We don't see that run starting in Tucson. Expect Wildcats RB Ka'Deem Carey to have a big night against a flagging Washington state run defense. Arizona 35, Washington State 30.
OREGON STATE at ARIZONA STATE
Gemmell: The Sun Devils are nasty at home. And with next week's showdown with UCLA looming, it's hard to imagine them coughing one up. The potential for potency is there for Oregon State. But the results haven't been the last couple of weeks. Coming off a bye helps. But ASU's defense has been playing extremely well. Arizona State 41, Oregon State 31.
Miller: Arizona State gutted out a tough win at Utah last week, but it almost always brings its best at home. The Sun Devils are playing well on both sides of the ball. Opponents are completing on 51.1 percent of their passes against the Sun Devils, the lowest percentage in the conference. That doesn't bode well for the one-dimensional Beavers. Arizona State 35, Oregon State 24.
STANFORD at USC
Gemmell: This one is dicey simply because of the history between these two teams. I think Stanford wins because its defense will rattle USC's passing game and plug the run. USC's strength plays right into Stanford's strength. And I think Stanford's strength is stronger. The Cardinal have won four in a row in the series and have the maturity to put last week's Oregon win behind them. Stanford 28, USC 24.
Miller: Stanford is too veteran a team to allow complacency to creep into the locker room after a big win over Oregon. Yet, be forewarned, if the Cardinal doesn't bring its A-game to the Coliseum, they will get upset by the resurgent Trojans, who are going to play hungry in front of their biggest home crowd of the year. Stanford 20, USC 17.
CALIFORNIA at COLORADO
Gemmell: Someone will get a conference win. And because the game is in Boulder, I'm going with the Buffs. The Bears continue to suffer injury after injury and they've turned the ball over 25 times. The true freshmen quarterbacks for both teams makes for an interesting storyline, and both teams have explosive wide receivers. With a lot of things being equal, go with the home team. Colorado 28, California 27.
Miller: Both teams are bad on defense, but the Bears seem better equipped to punish the Buffs. Of course, picking against the home team is a kiss of death in the Pac-12. Not sure if my Cal curse still exists, but this might tell me. California 40, Colorado 38.
UTAH at OREGON
Gemmell: Like Stanford, Utah provides a similar physical challenge on the line and in the front seven. The difference is the Utes haven't been able to get it done on the road. And trying to do it in Autzen -- after an Oregon loss -- doesn't bode well for the Utes. The Ducks need to make a statement, and my gut says it will be at Utah's expense. Oregon 49, Utah 28.
Miller: I'm with Kevin. I expect Oregon to play with some anger. Of course, the Ducks' offense isn't the same with Marcus Mariota not a true running threat because of a sprained knee. Might we see backup Jeff Lockie? Oregon 45, Utah 17.
"When I called her, she was wide-awake, excited," Jack said. "I think it was the most excited I've heard her be about a football game. That was what got me the most -- seeing how proud my mom was with how I played."
She should be proud, as Jack turned in one of the season's best performances. After all, how often is a starting linebacker named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week?
Playing offense for the first time this season, Jack rushed six times for 120 yards -– including a 66-yard touchdown run on a key third-and-1 play in the fourth quarter. On defense, where he's been the Bruins' No. 4 tackler, he had eight tackles, a tackle for loss, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery in the end zone.
Jack described things since Saturday as "hectic" and a "whirlwind," and it seemed that he, as much as anyone, was ready to move on. Hype can be fun, but it also can become a distraction. Jack already has been given advice by the Bruins' veteran star players, including QB Brett Hundley and OLB Anthony Barr.
"Just ignore the noise," Jack said. "Stay focused. There's plenty of games to go. Our sights are bigger than just winning one game. We're trying to win Pac-12 championships."
Next up for the Bruins in their quest for the Pac-12 South Division title is Jack's hometown team: Washington, which is making a rare Friday night visit to the Rose Bowl. Jack starred for Bellevue (Wash.) High School as a running back and defensive end and was highly recruited nationally. Suffice it to say, Huskies fans are still mourning his decision to head south to Westwood.
But the Huskies' recruitment might have been doomed when UCLA hired Jim Mora after the 2011 season. Mora and his wife had become friends with Jack's mother shortly after she transplanted from Atlanta to Seattle. Mora's son, Ryder, played football with Jack's little brother, Jahlen.
Mora was immediately impressed with the already yoked up budding high school freshman, and Jack was transfixed by his brother getting football advice from the former coach of the Atlanta Falcons.
"He coached the Falcons, and I had watched him on the NFL Network every morning before I went to school, and then I see just him up there watching the games," Jack said.
Jack called it an "eye-popper" when Mora was hired by the Bruins. Jack had already been offered by then-UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, and Mora quickly called to say the offer stood. Jack said when he made his visit, he knew he wanted to go to UCLA, so he committed early in June 2012.
It's one game. I'm not taking anybody's spot on offense. I'm still a defensive player. If coach asks me to come in on third-and-1, I'll be more than happy to come in there.”
-- UCLA's Myles Jack,
on taking snaps on offense
Mora recruited Jack as a linebacker, where he wanted to play, but many schools offered him as a running back. Among recruiting services, there was no unanimity on how much or how quickly Jack would contribute. He received three stars from ESPN recruiting, which noted, "Overall, Jack may be falling under the radar some due to the fact that he does not project high at one particular position and may need some adjustment time before he makes an immediate impact."
Instead, Jack's problem in his true freshman season is projecting highly at two positions. While that's a pleasant problem to have, it is an issue that needs to be managed. Running back and linebacker are taxing, physically demanding positions. Both wear a body down. The idea of Jack becoming a full-time, two-way starter isn't even being entertained.
"You've got to be careful," Mora said. "He's an 18-year-old freshman, and his plate is pretty full. We have to make sure we move methodically. My experience has told me you get carried away sometimes. When you get carried away and use a guy in too many different spots, they lose their effectiveness in all spots."
Part of the reason Jack saw action at running back is injury issues at the position. Starter Jordon James has been struggling with an ankle injury, though Mora said he expects him to be close to 100 percent for Washington. Damien Thigpen and Steven Manfro are both questionable for Friday.
That probably leaves Jack as a situational RB, as he was against Arizona, along with Paul Perkins and Malcolm Jones, though a lot depends on whether James returns to his early-season form when the Bruins' running game was strong.
For Jack, he'll do as he is asked, though he has repeatedly made it clear that he's a linebacker first. He prefers to deliver a blow rather than take it.
"It's one game," he said. "I'm not taking anybody's spot on offense. I'm still a defensive player. If coach asks me to come in on third-and-1, I'll be more than happy to come in there."
His coaches probably will be more than happy to see him again tear through an opponent for a big gain on third-and-short a few moments after making a third-down stop on defense.
2. Duke coach David Cutcliffe knows something about teaching quarterbacks. And the essence of teaching is to break down the information into easily understood portions. In discussing his current quarterbacks, Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette, at his press conference this week, Cutcliffe said, “Every play we run at quarterback, the most important thing about the play is that we have possession of the ball when the play ends. Period. You can’t give that lip service.” Everyone understands that.
3. As Saturday night games go, seeing undefeated No. 15 Northern Illinois and its outstanding quarterback, Jordan Lynch, play once-beaten Ball State would be a treat. As a Wednesday night game, it doesn’t get any better. The winner will be the first 10-game winner in the FBS. A victory also will boost the Huskies in their attempt to overtake No. 14 Fresno State in the race for a BCS bid. The Cardinals have gotten to 9-1 by outscoring people. It’s hard to imagine they can do that on the road against an offense led by Lynch.
So it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Pac-12 wiggles its way back into one of the top two spots.
But our premise here is that doesn't happen, that things don't go all 2007 again. Our premise here is the Pac-12 again is shut out of the national title game.
A CliffsNotes version of what follows: Drat. But justifiable.
The Pac-12's last national championship was USC in 2004, which means the drought will be a full decade when we head into the first season of the four-team College Football Playoff in 2014.
The conference did play a supporting role in two of the best BCS title games: USC falling to Texas after the 2005 season in one of the greatest college football games in history, and Oregon being nipped by Auburn by a last-second field goal after the 2010 season.
Still, in the preseason this felt like the year of a breakthrough. This felt like the year in which the Pac-12's two top dogs, Stanford and Oregon, had the pieces in place to win a title and dethrone the SEC after seven consecutive championships. They both had experience at quarterback. Both looked strong on the offensive line. Both had A-list talent on defense.
(And both had united to defeat evil!)
Sure, both had questions. But all teams do. Stanford and Oregon had begun to look like programs that answer questions on an annual basis. You know: Like Alabama, which was supposed to be questionable on defense and, well, isn't.
Yet after both the Cardinal and Ducks went down, those questions returned. Stanford's middling passing attack was a major reason the Cardinal lost at Utah. And one suspects that if linebackers Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay were on hand, Oregon wouldn't have allowed Stanford to convert all seven of its third-and-2 or shorter plays with Tyler Gaffney runs last Thursday.
Might have things been different for either team if, say, Stanford had a healthy Henry Anderson for Utah, or if Oregon QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent last Thursday? Maybe. But that's speculation trying to subvert the bottom line reflected on the scoreboard.
Judging who should play for the national title, which is always subjective in our present system and will continue to be with the four-team playoff, ultimately involves the totality of the season, so how things look on Nov. 11 is pretty meaningless. But how things look to me today is that Alabama and Florida State should play for the national title and that they both look better than either Stanford or Oregon.
Maybe that changes, because a week ago I was ranking Oregon No. 1. It probably would change if Alabama lost to Auburn, or if Florida State went down in the ACC title game. Stranger things have happened.
But my chief reaction after the Stanford-Oregon game was: Neither of these teams would beat Alabama. My feeling wasn't as strong for Florida State, but the Seminoles have yet to reveal any weaknesses so far this season.
I can feel the rage already exploding out there from Pac-12 fans. Such an assertion surely will make Pac-12 fans angry, but I suspect that 75 percent of those currently enraged actually, perhaps not even that deep down, agree with me. They just don't want to hear it or read it.
But the role of the Pac-12 blog is not to advocate for the conference. It distributes tweaks to other regions when necessary or even just for the amusement of doing so. But there's also a credibility issue. If we're telling folks Oregon/Stanford has the best chance of any team in the nation to beat Alabama and end the SEC's run, it should be a honest assessment, not a stroking of the regional ego or some public-relations move.
So today's assessment, impermanent as it may prove to be, is this: The Pac-12 will not play for the national title this season because it doesn't deserve to.
Again: Drat. But justifiable.
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.)
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.
Click here for last week's Power Rankings.
1. Stanford: Whoops ... the Cardinal did it again, knocking Oregon out of the national championship picture and taking over the top spot in the North Division. Now the challenge is refocusing, because the visit to USC on Saturday with ESPN's "College GameDay" on hand is hardly a gimme, particularly with the way the Trojans are playing under Ed Orgeron.
2. Oregon: Ouch. Plenty of what-ifs, starting with: What if QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent? But what-ifs only fuel Twitter. They don't change the standings. The question is how the Ducks respond against Utah, a solid team that has been suffering through its own what-if misery.
3. Arizona State: The Sun Devils showed grit with a fourth-quarter comeback win at Utah, which is obviously a tough out in Rice-Eccles (ask Stanford, UCLA and Oregon State). They still have a one-game lead in the South Division. They play host to Oregon State on Saturday, with the Beavers coming off a bye. Then comes the matchup at UCLA, which looms as the critical game in the division.
4. UCLA: If the Bruins are going to win the South, they will earn it. After outlasting Arizona on the road, they come home to host Washington in a rare Friday night game. Then Arizona State comes to town, and the season concludes at USC. It's a rugged four-game stretch that could return them to the nation's top 10. Or leave them at home for the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 7.
5. USC: USC is 4-1 under Ed Orgeron -- despite epidemic injuries -- and is bowl eligible. The Trojans now could (1) ruin Stanford's season, (2) ruin UCLA's season and (3) win the South and earn a shot at the Rose Bowl. That sounds like something to play for.
6. Washington: The good news is the Huskies earned bowl eligibility by waxing Colorado. The real news is the next three games, which will make or break the season. Win two of three versus UCLA, Oregon State and Washington State, and that gets the program over the seven-win hump. The alternatives aren't very good.
7. Arizona: The Wildcats had plenty of chances but couldn't make a decisive move against the Bruins. Their next two games, at home against Washington State and Oregon, won't impact the South race, other than potentially knock them out of it. Of course, the visit to their good friends in Tempe on Nov. 30 could prove very meaningful, even if it's just a matter of ruining things for the Sun Devils.
8. Oregon State: The swooning Beavers, coming off a bye after consecutive defeats, could right their season with a win at Arizona State. But the offense, once high-flying, needs to get back on track.
9. Utah: The Utes might be the best 4-5 team in the nation. Does that help, Utes? The Stanford win looks even better today, but it remains the only highlight of a 1-5 conference mark. The good news is the schedule eases up with a visit to Oregon on Saturday. Wait. Oh. Never mind. That doesn't sound like good news in the least.
10. Washington State: The Cougars, at 4-5, need to win two out of three to earn bowl eligibility. It's not beyond the realm of possibility, as none of the final three games look overwhelming: at Arizona, home for Utah and at Washington. But the Cougs need to look a lot better after the bye week than they did before it.
11. Colorado: The Buffs seemed to run out of gas at Washington. They need to re-engergize, and for now, they get a chance for a conference win with California coming to town. Getting that fourth victory and first Pac-12 notch would be something positive for Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre.
12. California: The Bears go to Colorado on Saturday with their best chance for a win over an FBS team this season. Lose in Boulder, and Sonny Dykes' debut season will go down as one of the worst in program history.
Nothing shocking here. The Oregon Ducks slipped from the No. 3 spot in the latest BCS standings following their 26-20 loss to No. 5 Stanford, leaving the Pac-12 without a chair if the music were to stop today.
But the music hasn’t stopped. And with its victory over the Ducks, Stanford retains its spot as the highest-ranked one-loss team -- slightly ahead of undefeated Baylor -- moving up from fifth to fourth. Oregon falls to sixth.
Stanford has a BCS average of .8689, which is just ahead of Baylor’s .8618. The Cardinal, though fifth in the human polls, are third in the average computer rankings.
Alabama (.9958) retains the top spot, followed by Florida State (.9619) and Ohio State (.8926).
The best-case scenario for the Pac-12 is to have two of those teams lose, because it’s unlikely Stanford will be able to jump an undefeated team. In fact, it’s more probable that Baylor, which still has games against two teams ranked in the BCS top 25 (Oklahoma State and Texas) would jump the Cardinal. Pittsburgh didn’t do Stanford any favors by beating Notre Dame. That took a ranked team off the board for the Cardinal, who, if they hold out to win the North, will likely be playing a top-20 ASU or UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game.
Right now the 2013 postseason projects to play out much like 2012. Considering the recent history of close games between USC and Stanford, we’re not going to assume anything when they meet this week. Or in The Big Game next week, for that matter. But for the sake of argument today, let’s say Stanford holds on to win the North. The winner of the Pac-12 championship game goes to the Rose Bowl and Oregon likely goes to a BCS bowl as an at-large team if it finishes with just the one loss.
But if one of those three undefeated teams ahead of Stanford loses, then things become a lot more interesting. If two of them lose, look out, because it’s going to get ugly. And, if somehow all three lose, it will be your run-of-the-mill November BCS chaos.
UCLA enjoyed a nice bump in the standings after winning in Tucson, Ariz. The Bruins jumped from No. 19 to No. 13. This is of note because being in the top 14 qualifies the Bruins (7-2) for a potential at-large bid if they can reach nine wins.
Arizona State also moved up three spots, going from No. 22 to No. 19, giving the league four teams in the top 20.
We're still projecting the Pac-12 to get two BCS bowl teams, despite Stanford knocking Oregon out of the national title game. We're also projecting nine conference teams to become bowl eligible, which means the conference will have a free agent. To be honest, we have no idea where that free agent -- we're projecting Utah -- might end up.
There, in fact, might not be an available spot. There are 35 bowls with 70 spots to fill. At present, there are 57 bowl-eligible teams with 20 needing just one more win.
Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO (Jan. 1, 2014): Stanford vs. Big Ten
Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3: Oregon vs. ACC
Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30): UCLA vs. Big 12
National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30): Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun Bowl (Dec. 31): Oregon State vs. ACC
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl (Dec. 21): Washington vs. MWC
Fight Hunger Bowl (Dec. 27): USC vs. BYU
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 21): Arizona vs. MWC
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Dec. 28): Utah vs. American
1. Oregon has a Stanford problem: Used to be the other way around. Last year it felt more like Oregon had a Stanford inconvenience, not so much a problem. This year, there is little doubt and few excuses. The Cardinal were dominant through 50 minutes and just good enough in the final 10. The extent of Marcus Mariota’s injured knee remains a question. Still, he looked pretty spry in the fourth quarter, and there was ample opportunity along the way for the Ducks to make plays. But it was Stanford’s defense that came up with the stops/turnovers and the offense that shoved its tempo right down the Oregon front seven. This was the offensive line we’ve been waiting to see. And let’s not forget Kevin Hogan’s mobility. He was good enough in the passing game, but his touchdown run was huge, as were his breaking three tackles on a third-down scramble. The Ducks still have national cred. They’ve done too much over the last four years to lose it with one game. But as long as Stanford continues to push them around, they won’t be able to shake the questions about their physicality.
3. ASU almost had a problem: First, give credit to Utah’s defense, which once again came to play. And with the ASU offense struggling, it was the defense that stepped up and kept the Sun Devils in the game. Over the last four games, the Sun Devils are allowing fewer than 20 points per game. And they were clutch in the fourth quarter in the 20-19 win over Utah. The ASU defense held Utah to a three-and-out or a turnover in all five of the Utes' fourth-quarter possessions. And here’s a fun note from our Stats & Info folks: According to ESPN’s win probability model, Arizona State had a 7.1 percent chance of winning at the end of the third quarter. Entering this weekend, only 17 FBS teams have come back to win after having a win probability of 7.1 percent or lower. The offense finally came alive and scored 13 points in the fourth. Utah had won 49 straight games when leading at halftime.
4. No problems for the Huskies: The Trojans weren’t the only team to become bowl-eligible on Saturday. The Huskies picked up pivotal win No. 6 and are bowl-eligible for the fourth straight year after a brilliant performance from quarterback Keith Price, who was 22-of-29 for 312 yards with two passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Bishop Sankey turned in yet another solid performance with 143 yards and a score. The rebuilding Buffs have now lost 14 straight conference games. Washington has back-to-back road games at UCLA and Oregon State before closing out the year at home in the Apple Cup. The potential is there for nine or 10 wins, which would certainly assuage some of the midseason chatter about coach Steve Sarkisian.
5. Myles Jack = a problem for opposing teams: How fun is that guy to watch? UCLA coach Jim Mora has been hinting for quite some time that we’d see the true freshman linebacker swap sides. And on Saturday we saw him tally eight tackles, recover a fumble in the end zone, and then as a running back carry the ball six times for 120 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown. That overshadowed Ka'Deem Carey’s 149-yard rushing performance and a touchdown for Arizona -- Carey’s 12th consecutive 100-yard rushing game, which is tops in college football. More importantly, the Bruins won in Tucson for the first time since 2003 and kept pace with the Sun Devils for the race in the South Division. Arizona is pushed aside, making it a three-way race among the Bruins, Trojans and Sun Devils.
Stanford: We could give a helmet sticker to RB Tyler Gaffney for his 45 carries for 157 yards. We could give it to his offensive line. We could give it to LB Shayne Skov, who led a stout defense with nine tackles, two for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Or the entire defense, which shut down the Ducks' offense. Or we could give it to David Shaw, defensive coordinator Derek Mason and the entire Stanford staff. But it's our freaking blog, so we're giving this extra large helmet sticker to the entire program.
Nelson Agholor, WR/PR, USC: Agholor caught only five passes for 35 yards, but he left little doubt about the special teams player of the week. He returned punts 75 and 93 yards for TDs in the Trojans 62-28 beatdown of California.
Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: With the Sun Devils high-powerd offense stuck in second gear, Sutton led a stout defensive effort with nine tackles, a tackle for a loss and an interception, which clinched a 20-19 victory at Utah. The Utes had just 247 total yards.
Keith Price, QB, Washington: In a 59-7 win over Colorado, Price completed 21 of 29 passes for 312 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 29 yards and a score as the Huskies became the conference's eighth bowl-eligible team. Oh, and Price didn't throw a pass in the second half.
Myles Jack, LB/RB, UCLA: The Bruins true freshman had eight tackles, a tackle for a loss and a fumble recovery on defense, and he rushed for a team-high 120 yards on just six carries, including a 66-yard touchdown that gave the Bruins their final TD in a 31-26 win at Arizona.
TUCSON, Ariz. -- UCLA is trying to win the Pac-12 South Division championship, and it has been doing so while often playing four true freshmen on offense. So it made perfect sense Saturday on the road against division rival Arizona to take a true freshman starter on defense and hand him the football on offense in a high-pressure situation and, you know, see how things go.
It was third-and-1 on the Bruins' 34-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Arizona had just cut the Bruins' lead to five points. The Wildcats, with their home crowd juiced, had the momentum. But they had no idea they were about to get Myles Jack'ed.
Jack, the centerpiece of a new UCLA offensive package that featured several defensive players, took a handoff, got the edge, threw off a couple of Wildcats and rumbled 66 yards for the Bruins' final touchdown in a 31-26 victory.
Jack finished with 120 yards on just six carries. Oh, and he had eight tackles and a fumble recovery on defense.
Sometimes you've got to improvise, but improvisation is only as good as its execution. The package featuring Jack, a dominant two-way player at Bellevue (Wash.) High School last year, was devised only this week. It could have ended up as merely a quirk in the game plan, but it turned out to be the critical game-changer in a key contest that elevated the Bruins in the South race while demoting the Wildcats. They entered the game with identical records, overall and in conference play.
All the fancy stuff is fun, but it's really about winning by any means necessary. It's about survival. UCLA was one of the survivors this weekend.
On Thursday, Oregon's fancy got stuffed by Stanford, and now the Cardinal has the lead in the North Division. On Saturday, both UCLA and Arizona State, which needed a late rally to beat Utah 20-19, were able to win tough South games on the road, while resurgent USC stomped on flagging California 62-28.
Stanford will move up a click in the BCS standings on Sunday as the nation's top one-loss team. The Cardinal merely need to win at USC on Saturday, then beat rival Cal, winless in conference play, on Nov. 23, and it will advance to the Pac-12 title game.
In other words, Stanford controls its own destiny. Just as Arizona State and UCLA do. Only one or the other will yield that control when they meet on Nov. 23. USC shares the same 4-2 conference record as the Bruins, but it already has lost to Arizona State, which is 5-1. The Trojans conclude their season by hosting UCLA at the Coliseum on Nov. 30.
So the picture is a bit clearer in the Pac-12 after a decidedly interesting weekend, but it is still blurry and uncertain, and it features a lot of football ahead.
The division winners who emerge on Nov. 30 will know that they endured perhaps the toughest grind in conference history.
"It's hard to win, man, it's hard," UCLA coach Jim Mora said.
Just take the Bruins' win over the Wildcats. Multiple times, it looked like UCLA was about to assert itself. It led 21-10 at the half, and Jack's touchdown seemed like a potential icer in the fourth.
But the Wildcats quickly went 75 yards for a touchdown to again close within five. At that point, the game had been mostly about offensive playmaking, with Jack, Bruins QB Brett Hundley and Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey and QB B.J. Denker making big plays. But it was the defenses that ruled most of the fourth.
Arizona's defense twice got stops and the ball back for its offense in the fourth, giving it a chance to score a go-ahead touchdown. But both times the Bruins' defense prevented the Wildcats from even getting a first down.
"When we watch the film," Rodriguez said. "We are not going to be very happy."
Rodriguez is surely thinking about three red zone failures. The Wildcats got stopped on a fourth-and-1 at the UCLA 15-yard line in the first quarter; Carey fumbled on the 1-yard line as he appeared on the cusp of scoring; and Denker was stopped for a 6-yard loss on third-and-1 from the UCLA 4-yard line, forcing the Wildcats to kick a field goal.
“That's not fancy. That's one team making plays and the other not. The Bruins, by the way, don't have much of a recent history of making those clutch plays, particularly on the road. This was their first win in Tucson since 2003.
This team is different. I think it is starting to show. And I think people are starting to take notice just how different this team is than all the past teams.” -- UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley
"This team is different," Hundley said. "I think it is starting to show. And I think people are starting to take notice just how different this team is than all the past teams."
Jack certainly is different -- as in special. He already has been one of the nation's best true freshman linebackers this season. Now he has shown he can be a dynamic running back. A two-way star playing high-level AQ conference football is a rare thing. Jack is like former Stanford FB/LB Owen Marecic, only with far more athletic ability.
"It's remarkable, but it doesn't surprise me," Mora said of Jack's performance.
There, of course, is a fine line between getting as much as possible out of Jack while not creating diminishing returns by playing him too much. Running back and linebacker are taxing, high-contact, high-aerobic positions.
Jack admitted he was exhausted after the game, but that didn't stop him from joking about playing running back.
"I don't know if I wanted to show them that side of me, because now they're going to be trying to make me run the ball all the time," Jack said.
Jack didn't pause when asked which position he preferred: linebacker.
"I like to hit people rather than be hit," he said. "But whatever the team wants me to do, I'm with it."
That's sort of how things are in the Pac-12 right now. It's better to hit than be hit, and the teams competing at the top are doing whatever they can to win.
Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA and USC all had good weekends. Each did what it had to do to remain in contention.
"I feel really confident in the way we are handling things," Hundley said. "I think we're in second right now. And we'll get a chance to play ASU. As long as we keep winning games, we control our own destiny."
Being in control is a good thing. On this Saturday, the Bruins asserted their control by Myles Jacking Arizona.
- The big one: No. 5 Stanford will host No. 3 Oregon on Thursday night in a game that is sure to send shock waves throughout the Pac-12 and BCS Standings. A win for the Ducks likely re-catapults them back over Florida State and into the No. 2 spot of the BCS rankings -- the outcome of Alabama-LSU pending. A victory for the Cardinal keeps their national championship hopes alive, but they’d still need some help along the way to pass Ohio State and Florida State. This is just the second time that two Pac-12 teams have met while ranked in the top five of the BCS standings. The last time was No. 4 Arizona State and No. 5 Oregon in 2007.
- Edges matter: Per the brilliant number crunchers at ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinal will have to contain the Ducks when they try to run outside. Oregon averages 8.7 yards per rush outside the tackles, second among all AQ teams behind Wisconsin. Last season, Stanford forced Oregon to run 63 percent of the time between the tackles. And when the Ducks did get outside, the Cardinal were able to contain them to the tune of just 29 yards, 1.9 yards per rush and 1.3 yards before contact. In Oregon’s other games last season, they averaged 108.1 yards per game outside the tackles.[+] EnlargeScott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsByron Marshall leads the Oregon rushing attack at Stanford on Thursday night.
- The other side of the ball: We know about Oregon’s offense. We know about Stanford’s defense. How about when roles are reversed? The Cardinal offense hasn’t been all that productive of late, averaging just 21.6 points over its past three games. Oregon’s defense yields just 16.9 points per game -- seventh-best in the country. Turnovers will obviously be a premium for both defenses. Stanford has a zero turnover margin with 11 takeaways and 11 giveaways. Oregon, however, is plus-13 with 23 turnovers gained to 10 turnovers lost.
- Quotable: Always good for a one-liner, Stanford coach David Shaw was asked earlier in the week about De’Anthony Thomas’ comments that he expects the Ducks to score at least 40 points. “I don’t have an issue with that,” Shaw said. “He’s a confident young man, and they put it on film. They’ve done it. So I have no problem with that if that’s his mentality. I’m just glad he only said 40.” Seeing as Shaw has a penchant for the us-against-the-world approach for his team, here’s betting he had a different message for his defense behind closed doors.
- South showdown (1): UCLA heads to Tucson, where it hasn’t won since 2003 -- the first year of the Karl Dorrell era. Both teams have already achieved bowl eligibility. Both teams sit at 3-2 in conference play. Now it becomes a question of pecking order. Ka’Deem Carey has rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 straight games, which is tops in the FBS. The Bruins snapped their two-game losing streak with a win over Colorado last week. Brett Hundley posted the third game of his career with two rushing and two passing touchdowns and he accounted for 345 yards of total offense. Keep an eye on how things play out in the first 30 minutes, because the Bruins are 13-0 under coach Jim Mora when they lead at the half.
- South showdown (2): The Sun Devils look to strengthen their foothold on the South with a trip to Utah -- a team they blasted in Tempe last season. In fact, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he has “horrible memories” of last season's loss and called it one of Utah’s poorest performances since joining the Pac-12. The obvious sidebar here is it’s the first time Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is facing the team he used to coach. But Whittingham said Erickson is a pretty even-keeled guy and he doesn’t expect sentiment or emotions to play a role. Whittingham also said that quarterback Travis Wilson is healed from his hand injury and won’t wear a glove. Across the field, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly is coming off of a seven-touchdown game on the road at Washington State.
- Silas Redd rushing for 140 yards and Buck Allen collecting 133 yards (8.3 yards per catch) and 3 TDs. Allen was USC’s fourth different back to rush for 100 yards this season. Marqise Lee is also coming off an outstanding performance, grabbing five passes for a season-high 105 yards and one touchdown in the win over the Beavers. Cal is still looking for a conference win, but should have some more confidence after an improved showing last week against Arizona. Trojans rolling: Since making the coaching switch from Lane Kiffin to interim coach Ed Orgeron, the Trojans have gone 3-1, including a convincing 31-14 win last week on the road at Oregon State. For the second time this season USC had a pair of running backs post 100-yard games with senior
- Bowl eligible: So far there are six teams already bowl eligible (Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona and UCLA) with two more on the verge of becoming eligible this week. USC, because of the 13-game regular season schedule sits at 6-3 overall and needs to pick up a win at California to get a spot in the postseason. Washington is at 5-3 with a visit from Colorado. Both teams are favorites, which would give the league eight teams headed to the postseason with the legitimate potential for two more (Utah and Washington State). Both have four wins and Colorado still has an outside shot. Cal is the only Pac-12 team eliminated from bowl eligibility.
- Star power: Two of the nation’s elite offensive playmakers square off in Seattle when Colorado visits Washington. Buffs wide receiver Paul Richardson has 57 catches for 984 yards with eight touchdowns and continues to close in on several of Colorado’s single-season receiving marks. Washington counters with running back Bishop Sankey, who enters the week as the nation’s No. 3 rusher, averaging 145.3 yards per game. He’s coming off a career-best 241-yard performance against Cal and ranks fourth nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns.
- Taking a breather: There are two teams on bye this week with Oregon State looking to refocus after dropping back-to-back games against Stanford and USC and Washington State taking its second bye week in the past three. The Beavers, who are already bowl eligible, close the season with two of their final three on the road; at ASU, home to Washington and at Oregon for the Civil War. With four wins, the Cougars need to win two more to teach the postseason. They are also on the road for two of their past three with dates at Arizona next week and home to Utah before closing out the Apple Cup in Seattle.