Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
10:00
AM ET
The regular season's grand finale is upon us. Here's a look through Black Friday and Closing Saturday in the Pac-12:

Friday, Nov. 28

12:30 p.m.

Stanford at UCLA, ABC: The Cardinal are the two-time defending Pac-12 champions, but they're now in a position to play spoiler to UCLA's title bid. A win locks up the South for the No. 8 Bruins and keeps them in contention for the four-team College Football Playoff. Stanford will be without offensive star Ty Montgomery (shoulder), so UCLA figures to have a good chance to beat the Cardinal for the first time since 2008.

[+] EnlargeNick Wilson
AP Photo/Steve DykesIn Arizona's last three games, RB Nick Wilson has rushed for more than 100 yards in each contest.
ASU at Arizona, Fox: If UCLA slips, the Sun Devils and Wildcats are both ready to pounce on the opportunity to win the Pac-12 South in this Territorial Cup. Let's rephrase that: If UCLA slips, this can turn into the biggest Territorial Cup ever. A division championship and a Levi's Stadium date with Oregon would be on the line. Key matchup here: Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson against ASU's volatile run defense.

Saturday, Nov. 29

10 a.m.

Utah at Colorado, Pac-12 Network: The Utes are slipping badly and the Buffs are 0-8 in Pac-12 play. There's certainly hope in Boulder after Arizona drubbed Utah 42-10 in Salt Lake City last week. Kyle Whittingham's club is staggering, and Colorado's Mike MacIntyre -- who strongly feels his program is making progress -- would love nothing more than an uplifting win entering a critical offseason.

12:30 p.m.

Notre Dame at USC, Fox: This is another contest pitting two clubs coming off losses. The 2014 season has taken a turn for the worse on both Figueroa St. and in South Bend, but one of college football's most storied rivalries is an intriguing watch regardless. The Irish will be playing this game without Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, their two best defensive linemen. They've given up 30-plus points in six straight games for the first time in their 126-year history. Yes, that's Javorius Allen licking his chops.

1:30 p.m.

BYU at Cal, Pac-12 Network: The Bears have one more crack at securing the bowl eligibility that will earn them vital December practice time. The opponent is BYU. The Cougars have won three straight games in their effort to salvage what once looked like a season of complete misery following Taysom Hill's injury. But those wins came against shaky competition: Jared Goff's unit should move the ball against a BYU defense that surrendered 55 points to Boise State.

5 p.m.

Oregon at Oregon State, ABC: There's plenty on the line in the Civil War: While the Ducks battle for a College Football Playoff spot and a Marcus Mariota Heisman trophy, the Beavers will scrap for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's final season. Remember the upset havoc that Reser Stadium can wreak. Oregon is certainly the better team, but nothing is guaranteed heading into Corvallis.

7:30 p.m.

Washington at Washington State, ESPN: The Cougars played well as they built up a 24-21 lead at ASU last week, but turnovers helped knock the wheels off in the second half. Still, Mike Leach's club smells opportunity here: This Apple Cup is in Pullman, and Washington is a weaker opponent than the Sun Devils. The Huskies' Cyler Miles played efficient football last week; Chris Petersen will ask for more of the same out of his quarterback so that Wazzu's Luke Falk (601 passing yards vs. ASU) stays on the sideline. Falk did turn the ball over last week, though, and the Huskies are known to generate takeaways from time to time (24 this season).
video In one of the most important Territorial Cups in the history of the rivalry, the Arizona Wildcats held on for a 42-35 home win over Arizona State. With the victory, combined with UCLA's loss to Stanford, the Wildcats win the Pac-12 South Division. Here’s how it all went down in Tucson, Arizona.

How the game was won: With sensational plays on offense and some timely plays on defense. The teams went back and forth and were tied three times, though the Wildcats never trailed. Ultimately, it was Samajie Grant's second touchdown reception of the game -- a 20-yard hookup from Anu Solomon midway through the fourth quarter that extended Arizona's lead to 42-28 -- that was the difference on the scoreboard. Arizona State had one final drive, but the Cats defense stiffened, and ASU never cracked the 40.

Game ball goes to: Two candidates from Arizona. Offensively, you can’t say enough about freshman running back Nick Wilson, who carried 24 times for 178 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, linebacker Scooby Wright continued to show why he's one of the best players in the nation. He tallied a game-high 13 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for a loss.

What it means: The Wildcats are the South Division champions for the first time since conference expansion, it's also Rich Rodriguez's first victory in the Territorial Cup, and, of course, a date with the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara, California, next Friday.

Playoff implication: A win over Oregon and a conference championship would certainly gloss up the résumé of a two-loss team. Conference championship games will play a key role in determining the top four teams for the College Football Playoff -- or so we're told. The Wildcats have a 3-1 record against ranked teams and would be 4-1 with a second victory over the Ducks if they win the conference title.

Best play: There were a few of them. Was it Jaelen Strong laying out on a 50-yard reception? Or his one-handed touchdown catch? Maybe it was the scoop-and-score for each team. Maybe it was Grant's 69-yard touchdown, on which he made several Sun Devils miss on what should have been a 10-yard slant. Any one of Wright's tackles for loss or sacks would qualify. So many good ones to choose from.

What's next: The Wildcats are the only team to beat Oregon this season (the Ducks close the season at Oregon State on Saturday), winning 31-24 at Autzen Stadium back in October. The Sun Devils, last year's South Division champs, await their bowl destination.
Five things to watch in the 2014 edition of the Civil War.

1. How both teams can manage their emotions and this week. There’s always a lot of emotion going into this game. Add to that the importance of what both teams are playing for -- continuing the quest for a berth in the College Football Playoff for Oregon, bowl eligibility for Oregon State. Add in Thanksgiving week, which always throws the schedule off just a little bit and, suffice it to say, this is no normal game despite the fact that everyone involved is going to try and play the “we’re treating this like every other game” card. The truth of the matter is that this isn’t like every other game. Can Oregon finish? Can Oregon State dig deep and reach the postseason? We’ll see.

2. Who’s in at running back? Both teams have a few question marks at running back. Oregon doesn’t know whether sophomore Thomas Tyner will be playing or not. If he doesn’t play then the Ducks will look to a combination of Royce Freeman, Kenny Bassett and Byron Marshall. If Tyner doesn't play, Mark Helfrich would have Marshall tote the ball a bit more, with Bassett picking up any leftover carries from Marshall and Freeman. For the Beavers, it’s still uncertain whether or not Storm Woods will be playing. Terron Ward and Chris Brown are both out for the season so if Woods (who was in a non-contact uniform at practices this week) is out, then the Beavers will be looking at a fourth-string running back. Not exactly what Mike Riley would want against a Ducks rushing defense that has given up just 4.2 yards per rush this season.

3. Can Oregon stay healthy? Win or lose, Oregon will be playing in the Pac-12 championship game next weekend. And if the Ducks beat the Beavers and win the championship, Oregon’s argument for a spot in the College Football Playoff would basically be unbeatable. But in order to beat Oregon State and the Pac-12 South champion, Oregon needs to be healthy. If there are any more injuries along the offensive line or to any of Oregon’s key stars, there might be a bit more space for a TCU, Ohio State or Baylor to sneak into the top four.

4. Big plays. One of the main ways that Oregon State was able to upset Arizona State a few weeks ago were with explosive plays. All four of the Beavers' touchdowns on their scoring drives were on plays of 20 or more yards, including touchdowns of 78, 66 and 67 yards, respectively. The Ducks defense has given up its fair share of big plays this season -- 49 plays of 20 or more yards and 179 plays of 10 or more yards -- so the Ducks need to keep Oregon State in front of them. But the Beavers are in the exact same boat. Like the Ducks, Oregon State has given up 49 plays of 20 or more yards, but it has only given up 157 plays of 10 or more yards.

5. Be thankful for these quarterbacks. Hey, the game is just two days after Thanksgiving so let’s still be thankful. But really, how many rivalries across the country have been able to have this kind of QB play and these type of players start in their programs for several consecutive years? The Ducks and Beavers fanbases should be grateful that Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota have been the leaders of these teams the last few seasons, and there’s no reason why both fanbases can’t share in a bit of gratitude for these two players on Saturday. There are definitely other players on both sides of the rivalry who deserve credit and recognition, but few players have handled the attention and pressure of their programs with the grace that these two have.
Thanksgiving is a special night. Jimmy Walker used to say dy-no-mite, that's right.

To the notes!

John in San Jose writes: How could all of you supposed experts or idiots pick Utah over the Cats? Don't you watch the games? Not one of you gave the Cats a chance in Utah and they blew them out.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, quit trying to sweet talk us, you silver-tongued charmer you. That won't get you anywhere.

[+] EnlargeBrian Blechen, Nick Wilson
AP Photo/Rick BowmerPerhaps we were guilty of overthinking -- or overwatching -- with our unanimous forecast of a Utah win over Arizona.
I can't speak for the rest of the blog, but I have to admit, I was a little surprised that all five of us picked Utah. I went back on forth on that one.

I always love the "don't you watch the games?" criticism. Because, actually, that's all we do. And I usually watch them multiple times (thank you Pac-12 Networks' Football in 60). And in this case, it's BECAUSE I watch the games that I leaned toward Utah.

When making picks, all we can work with is the information we already have. If I had a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, things would be different. Biff Tannen and I would be sucking down cocktails on a yacht somewhere.

Considering Arizona and Utah had played in six games this season that had come down to a touchdown or less, that led me to believe it would be a close game. And in close games, especially with a warm-weather team going to a cold-weather climate, I thought my rationale was sound.

Obviously, it wasn't, because the Utes got rolled. Perhaps I was overthinking it? I'm sure there were plenty of people in the world who picked Arizona to win. But I'm pretty sure few actually saw a blowout.

My record in Arizona games is 8-3 this year. I whiffed on the Oregon game, I picked them to beat USC and they let me down (where were the "thanks for the support, Kev" mailbag letters then, huh?) and I whiffed on Utah. The only time I picked against them and won was UCLA.

As you can see this morning, I picked them in Territorial Cup. If they lose, I want my "thanks for the support, Kev" mailbag letter from you, John.




ST in Boston writes: Should Oregon have that perfect season by finishing with both a Heisman and CFP trophy, which has historically done more for recruiting (the top single player award or the top team award)? And stats on that?

Kevin Gemmell: I'm not sure if that is quantifiable. And if there is a study out there about it, I haven't seen it. So this is just an educated guess.

I would say that the opportunity to win a national championship would be the larger draw for recruits on several levels. If you play for a team that's in the national title discussion, it's already a high-profile program.

High-profile programs offer bells and whistles such as upgraded facilities (most of which have awesome locker rooms, weight rooms, practice facilities, player lounges and barber shops), uniform diversity and national TV exposure. It almost feels like playing for a title contender is an afterthought to some of the perks of going to an upper-tier program.

Just because you go to Ohio State or Notre Dame or USC or Oklahoma, doesn't mean you're going to win a Heisman. Heck, Army has more Heisman trophy winners than Texas.

I recently visited Utah and got a tour of the new facilities. The message was that recruiting happens the second you walk in the door. Even when a recruit is waiting alone in the lobby (which is awesome), he is being recruited by his surroundings.

So based on what I've seen, the prospect of a national championship would likely be the bigger draw. Just my take.




Andrew in La Crescenta, Calif. writes: Personally, I believe if UCLA beats Stanford this Friday they would be guaranteed a New Year's Bowl game regardless of the outcome of the Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon would be ranked so high that I can't see the Bruins dropping more than a couple spots if they lose. Any thoughts on this?

Kevin Gemmell: I like the wishful thinking. But there are a few things to consider. Let's suppose that UCLA wins the South and loses to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. What then?

You have a three-loss team that would have fallen out of the top 10. Style points, I believe, will matter. If the Ducks come out and win 42-10, I think the selection committee would be hard-pressed to pick the Bruins for New Year's Day game. If they lose in overtime by a field goal? That might be a different story.

And say it's a 35-24 game -- not a blowout, but not exactly a nail biter. Is there a chance the committee names the winner of the Territorial Cup -- which only has two losses -- to one of those secondary games? If the Wildcats smoke the Sun Devils, or vice versa, they'd be 10-2 and likely in the top 10.

This is all uncharted territory, so the word "guarantee" shouldn't be thrown around loosely. And let's not forget that UCLA ... or Arizona ... or ASU could end up beating Oregon. I don't want an Oregon championship to come off sounding like a forgone conclusion. Because it's not.

Is it possible that three Pac-12 teams play in those games? One playoff and two secondary? Maybe. Perhaps the Ducks play in the national semifinal after edging the Bruins, who play in a secondary game and the Territorial Cup winner at 10-2 also gets in. That might be overly wishful thinking. But I'm not ruling it out.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 14

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
7:30
PM ET
Here is another random accounting of stats related to the Pac-12.

Stanford at UCLA
  • Stanford is minus-6 in turnover margin in Pac-12 games, but is just minus-4 in points off turnover margin.
  • UCLA running back Paul Perkins leads the Pac-12 with 1,262 yards rushing, which is the second-most for a UCLA running back over the last 10 years.
  • Stanford is one of 20 teams in the country to allow 11 or fewer touchdown passes this season.
  • Only nine teams in the country have allowed more first downs due to penalty than UCLA (26).
  • In conference games, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has rushed for 492 yards, which is the most in the Pac-12 and fifth-most among Power 5 quarterbacks.
Arizona State at Arizona
  • Arizona has scored 87 points off turnovers in conference games, the most in the Pac-12.
  • Over the last three seasons, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly ranks fifth in the country with 75 touchdown passes.
  • Points per drive: Arizona 2.39; Arizona State 2.45.
  • Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III is the only player in the country with at least 13 sacks and four forced fumbles.
  • Arizona State's penalty margin (minus-26) is tied for the fifth-best mark in the country.
Notre Dame at USC
  • USC has forced five turnovers in the red zone, the second-most among Power 5 teams.
  • USC leads the Pac-12 with 81 third-down conversions.
  • USC's red zone touchdown percentage (72.7) ranks third among Power 5 teams.
Oregon at Oregon State
  • Oregon has scored 40-plus points in six straight games and gained more than 500 yards of offense in its last five, both are the longest active streaks in the country.
  • Since being sacked 15 times in his first five games, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been sacked just 10 times over the last six games.
  • With 1,050 rushing yards, Oregon running back Royce Freeman is the first true freshman in school history to crack the 1,000-yard mark.
  • Oregon State has averaged 30.3 points in the Civil War since 2004.
  • Oregon State's third-down conversion percentage is 30.9, which is the worst in the Pac-12, while Oregon has the best (52.4).
Washington at Washington State
  • WSU ranks last in the Pac-12 with a minus-12 in turnover margin in conference games.
  • WSU receiver Vince Mayle's 1,159 receiving yards in conference play is the third-most over the last 10 years.
  • Washington's John Ross ranks second in the nation with 760 kickoff-return yards.
  • Washington leads the nation with seven defensive touchdowns.
  • Washington outside linebacke Hau'oli Kikaha leads the nation in sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (23.5)
Utah at Colorado
  • Utah kicker Andy Phillips has eight field goals of 40-plus yards in conference games, which is twice as many as any other kicker in the conference.
  • Utah punter Tom Hackett leads the nation in punts downed inside the 20 (34) and 10 (19).
  • Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with four kicks returned for touchdowns.
  • Colorado has allowed 20 sacks this season, which is the fewest in the Pac-12.
  • Colorado's Nelson Spruce is tied for the national lead with 101 catches.
BYU at Cal
  • Quarterback Jared Goff finished the Pac-12 season with 3,070 yards. He's just the fourth player since 2004 to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark in conference games.
  • Cal has never played in a bowl after starting the season 5-6.
  • Cal running back Daniel Lasco needs 15 yards rushing against BYU to become the sixth Pac-12 player to rush for 1,000 yards this season.

Past weeks
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12

Pac-12 morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
5:00
AM ET
We've got another holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.

I haven't even finished eating all of my Halloween candy.

Leading off

Depth Chart Wednesday! Depth Chart Wednesday! Depth Chart Wednesday! Let's get to it. Note: UCLA doesn't celebrate Depth Chart Wednesday. Awards season is in full swing

OK, there are a lot of these to get through, but stick with us. We can do it together.

There's a very good representation of the Pac-12 among these lists. If a Pac-12 player is a finalist, he's listed as the first name on the list (just an FYI).

MAXWELL AWARD: Given to the top player in college football (as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota -- 3,103 passing yards, 32 TD, 2 INT, 597 rushing yards, 97 carries, 9 rushing TDMississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott -- 2,1714 passing yards, 23 TD, 10 INT, 891 rushing yards, 171 carries, 12 rushing TD
  2. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon -- 254 carries, 2,109 yards, 25 TD
BEDNARIK AWARD: Given to the top defensive player in college football (again, as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III -- 126 tackles, 22 TFL, 12 sacks, 5 forced fumbles
  2. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa -- 43 tackles, 18 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
  3. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley -- 24 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble
RAY GUY: Given to the top college punter. Yards per punt season average follows each finalist's name.
  1. Tom Hackett (Utah) -- 46.5
  2. JK Scott (Alabama) -- 46.8
  3. Scott Arellano (BYU) -- 44.6
  4. Scott Harding (Hawaii) -- 41.5
  5. Austin Rehkow (Idaho) -- 47.8
  6. Justin Vogel (Miami) -- 44.0
  7. Tyler Wedel (Northern Illinois) -- 41.9
  8. Cameron Johnston (Ohio State) -- 43.6
  9. Drew Kaser (Texas A&M) -- 44.4
  10. Alex Kinal (Wake Forest) -- 43.8
OUTLAND: Given to the top interior lineman (offense or defense).
  1. Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown
  2. Auburn center Reese Dismukes
  3. Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff
DAVEY O'BRIEN: Given to the best college quarterback
  1. Mariota (see stats above)
  2. Prescott (see stats above)
  3. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin -- 3,021 passing yards, 24 TD, 5 INT, 122 rushing attempts, 548 yards, 7 TD
JIM THORPE AWARD: Given to the top defensive back in college football.
  1. Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 7 pass break ups
  2. Alabama safety Landon Collins -- 75 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT, 5 pass break ups
  3. Louisville safety Jerod Holliman -- 32 tackles, 2 TFL, 13 INT, 3 pass break ups
News/notes/team reports
With more than half the votes in this week's poll, Oregon redshirt freshman receiver Darren Carrington earns the top spot for this week's Pac-12 Play of the Week.

For a catch like this, there's no better way to explain it than to say, just watch the video.

video
From the peanut gallery ...

Two clear front-runners have emerged in the 2014 Heisman Trophy race: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Which player should win the award? Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett debate it.

Brian Bennett: Kevin, to prove there is no anti-West Coast bias, I'll let you go first. State your case in 150 words or fewer why Mariota deserves the Heisman.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesOregon QB Marcus Mariota's 42 total touchdowns -- with still a game to go in the regular season -- is a spectacular feat.
Kevin Gemmell: Awww, that's really generous of you B-squared. But I don't need 150. I need only seven: "He's the best player in college football." This could be an exercise where we go back and forth listing the merits of both players. Of which there are many. And I like the fact that a non-quarterback is getting deserved Heisman hype. Unfortunately, this is the wrong year for it. So rather than listing all of the reasons why Gordon should win the Heisman (we can do that later, if you really want), I want to know why you think Mariota shouldn't.

BB: You're right that Mariota might well be the best player in college football. But if the Heisman simply went to the best player, we'd just give it to the NFL's No. 1 draft pick every year. It's supposed to go to the player with the best season. And Gordon is putting up one for the ages.

He rushed for 2,000 yards faster than anyone in history. His current 8.3 yards-per-carry average would be the highest ever. He will soon become one of just three running backs ever to record 2,000 yards and 30 total touchdowns (he needs only three more TDs). And he might just eclipse Barry Sanders' hallowed single-season rushing record.

At the very least, Gordon will likely finish with the second-best season by a running back of all time. How do you not give the Heisman to someone who does all that? And has Mariota created any "Heisman moments" like Gordon's 408-yard day vs. Nebraska?

KG: I'm glad you brought up single-season performance. Because with four more touchdowns last week, Mariota has accounted for 42 total this season -- the most of any player in Pac-12 history. You want to talk about a season for the ages? Think of all the offensive talent that has strolled through the Pac-12 over the years. Annually it's the most prolific offensive conference in the country -- and this guy (with one more regular-season game left) has already put up the most prolific offensive season in league history.

I'd call his 318 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan State Heisman-esque ... or have you B1G guys forgotten about that one? But we both know the Heisman isn't about a "moment." You said yourself it's about the best season. And 32 passing touchdowns with just two interceptions -- while playing against some of the most pressure-heavy defenses in the country, is how you build a Heisman season. Not a moment.

And since you're tapping into some history, let's go back a decade and look at how Mariota's current season stacks up. Our QBR metrics -- which measure how well a quarterback has performed against his competition -- go back only 10 years. But Mariota already has a better season than Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton (all Heisman winners, by the way), Colin Kaepernick, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Pat White and on and on. I bet if we had the historical data, it would show Mariota is having one of the best quarterback seasons in the history of college football.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 408 against Nebraska, is averaging a phenomenal 8.3 yards per carry.
And if we can agree that quarterback is the most important position in the game (and I think we can agree on that much), how then can you not give the Heisman to the guy having one of the best historical seasons ever at the most important position?

BB: Mariota is a spectacular player. No argument here on that. (Though I might point out that Ohio State's J.T. Barrett also has 42 touchdowns in a much less offense-friendly league. Hmm.) But it bugs me that the Heisman has become the sole province of quarterbacks. Defenses stack as many men as possible in the box against Wisconsin, which doesn't throw the ball well, yet Gordon is still averaging 9.95 yards per carry in his past seven games against ranked teams -- basically a first down every carry! It's much harder to tailor a defense around stopping a dual-threat quarterback.

We may never see a season quite like Gordon's 2014 again, and his numbers speak for themselves. I think one thing we can both agree on is Mariota and Gordon are both otherworldly players. Any way we could split the Heisman in half this year?

KG: I'm with you 100 percent. I too get peeved that the past few years the Heisman has devolved into the dual-threat quarterback of the year award. And a lot of that has to do with the advancement of the spread offense. These quarterbacks are putting up numbers that seemed unreachable even 10 years ago.

I hear you loud and clear on Gordon. And I can come up with 2,109 reasons why he's the runaway Doak Walker winner. Not even close. He's spectacular. And most years, I'd probably be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you because I do believe the award has become too quarterback-driven.

This year, however, the voters should and will get it right by handing it to a dual-threat quarterback. From statistical measurables, legacy numbers and team success, Mariota is without equal.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
10:00
AM ET
video
While there were a number of important visitors at every Pac-12 game this past weekend, the Rose Bowl took center stage as UCLA hosted a number of official and unofficial visitors in what was the hottest ticket of the year for Southern California recruits. UCLA kicked off its strong weekend with a commitment from an ESPN 300 prospect, while Oregon hosted a junior college standout committed to another Pac-12 program. This upcoming weekend presents an opportunity for recruiting statements to be made in rivalry games.

National links: Calm before the storm 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:30
AM ET
Let’s just get this out of the way: Last week in college football was kind of dull.

Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.

My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.

But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.

And it starts in two days.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Pac-12 morning links

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
AM ET
What is with everyone today? It's Thanksgiving not truth day!

Leading off

Tonight the committee will release its College Football Playoff rankings and it'll be interesting to see how it views certain team's wins (cough, UCLA) and certain team's losses (cough, Ole Miss). The Ducks, after a big win over Colorado, should be secure in the top four though it'd be quite the surprise for them to sneak in to the top spot, even with Alabama's slow start against Western Carolina this weekend.

If you saw The Eliminator on Monday morning, there were probably a few things you noticed. First and foremost, Mark Schlabach pointed out the fact that yes, we're heading into the final weekend of the regular season. And no, the College Football Playoff hasn't broken the regular season by any means. Instead, with one week to go (in most conferences), there is plenty of excitement down the stretch.
No. 2 Oregon must survive the Civil War against Oregon State.

No. 3 Florida State must get past one more regular-season game against rival Florida.

The Big Ten West, Pac-12 South and SEC East are still up for grabs, too.

So much for the playoff ruining the drama of college football's regular season.

Oregon is still listed under "In Contention" while Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA are all in the "On The Fence" category. The good news for Pac-12 fans is that no conference team did anything detrimental this weekend. The only two teams that were eliminated were Ole Miss (which lost 30-0 to unranked -- but hot -- Arkansas) and Michigan State.

Awards season

The Butkus Award (given annually to the nation's top linebacker) announced its five finalists on Monday. The Pac-12 snagged two of the spots.
  1. UCLA's Eric Kendricks
  2. Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha
  3. Miami's Denzel Perryman
  4. Michigan's Jake Ryan
  5. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith

That is one heck of a list of candidates and the Pac-12 Blog would like to congratulate all five. Seriously, these are all fantastic linebackers and players that certainly deserve to be honored after the seasons they've all had.

However, there's one pretty obvious name missing from that list: Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III. He has been an absolute monster this season and though I wouldn't want to single out any individual on that list and say that Wright deserves the spot more, it certainly was shocking to see Wright --- who averages a nation-high 2 TFL per game and ranks fifth nationally in sacks per game -- to not be on that list.

And we weren't the only to feel that way:

Diving into some numbers

According to Nate Silver's model over at fivethirtyeight.com, the Bruins' 38-20 win last Saturday was the biggest win of the weekend. Based off his model, UCLA went from having an 8.2 percent chance to making the playoff to having a 14.0 percent chance of making the playoff.

There are eight schools (again, this is according to Silver's model) that have at least a 10 percent chance of making the playoff. Here's a list of the eight programs Silver says are still in the running -- by at least 10 percent -- to make the playoff, followed by their total chance and the percent their chance increased or decreased following last Saturday's games.
  1. Alabama -- 80.8 percent, +5.5 percent after beating Western Carolina, 48-14.
  2. Oregon -- 75.7 percent, +3.6 percent after beating Colorado, 44-10.
  3. FSU -- 59 percent, -0.9 percent after beating Boston College, 20-17.
  4. TCU -- 47.1 percent, -1.8 after being on a bye.
  5. Ohio State -- 42 percent, -1.5 percent after beating Indiana, 42-27.
  6. Baylor -- 33.3 percent, +2.5 percent after beating Oklahoma State, 49-28.
  7. Mississippi State -- 32.6 percent, +5.1 after beating Vanderbilt, 51-0.
  8. UCLA -- 14 percent, +5.8 percent after beating USC, 38-20.

So, UCLA's chances don't look awesome, but if it wins the Pac-12 title, there will certainly be an argument for the Bruins being in one of the four spots. And, as far as the chances of making the finals, the Pac-12 is still sitting pretty well. Oregon has a 44.2 percent chance to make the finals (UCLA is at 6.1 percent).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

For any media covering the Territorial Cup this weekend, Josh Kelman has you covered for your postgame story.

Eccentric twists and turns have become the primary theme of this 2014 season -- remember the Hail Mary binge, the comebacks, the upsets, the celebratory fumbles at the 1-yard line, the field goal icing drama, and the #Pac12AfterDark hashtag made to describe all the otherworldly mystery.

To remind us that absolutely nothing about the Pac-12 is normal, the stage is set for the South champion to be determined in another "only out West" kind of way: Simultaneous games on Black Friday -- the third to last day of November -- under the beating sun of 80-degree weather.

"Perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer," Henry David Thoreau wrote about the Pac-12 a good 169 years ago. "Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."

Well, he wasn't really writing about the road to the Field of Jeans. But the point stands. The Weird West has hummed a different, fascinating tune all season long, and this last regular-season weekend promises to supply more of the same as the Levi's Stadium championship matchup is finalized.

Simultaneous explosions: Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenTaylor Kelly, Arizona State and Arizona will be scoreboard watching on Friday.
Two more detonations await before we will have fully traversed the minefield of the Pac-12 South. Fittingly, the Rose Bowl will be host to one, while the other will shake Tucson.

Both Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, on Black Friday. Arizona Stadium will require high bandwidth WiFi as both the 9-2 Sun Devils and 9-2 Wildcats need the Bruins to lose so that the Territorial Cup determines the Pac-12 South. So there'll certainly be more than a few fans trying to stream the happenings in Pasadena on their smart phones while simultaneously watching an intriguing Duel in the Desert.

ASU started slowly but ended up whipping Washington State 52-31 this past Saturday, so the Sun Devils feel they're back on track following bitter disappointment in Corvallis two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Arizona did some 1970s Arnold-style muscle flexing in Utah, racking up 298 rushing yards in a 42-10 road annihilation. The Sun Devils' aggressive defense has given up its share of big runs this season, and that's a danger point ahead of a matchup with Arizona's Nick Wilson (20 carries, 218 yards, 10.9 per carry, 3 touchdowns at Utah). We'll keep an eye on quarterback Anu Solomon's status (ankle) throughout this week.

The Territorial Cup will take on truly monumental importance if Stanford successfully embraces the spoiler role and asserts itself early versus UCLA. Remember that the Bruins haven't beaten the Cardinal since 2008 -- that's the pre-Andrew Luck era stuff. Stanford clinched its first Pac-12 title run with consecutive victories over UCLA in 2012, and although their title defense has already failed here in 2014, they did shut down the Bruins' rushing attack in a suffocating win last year.

Brett Hundley's unit must show that it's made significant strides, because the Cardinal's defense looks ready: They battered Cal to the tune of a season-high five takeaways in Saturday's 38-17 win. Stanford set the table with competent offense, but the Bruins' obviously pose a greater challenge than the Bears did defensively. USC mustered only a season-low 4.1 yards per play against UCLA's defense, which is peaking at the right time.

The “rivalry”: Utah at Colorado

Let's not kid ourselves: These two programs do not have enough historical hatred for each other to truly fall into the rivalry category. Nevertheless, this is a huge contest for both squads. The Utes have lost three of their last four games, and a loss in Boulder to close the season would put a massively bitter finishing touch on a once-promising season. It'd be like finding a massive, plump orange, only to discover there's a worm inside of it.

Meanwhile, this is Colorado's Super Bowl. The Buffs are 0-8 in conference play, and this is a wonderful chance to enter a critical building offseason on a much-needed high note.

Desperation bowl: Notre Dame at USC

At one point earlier this year, matters looked so promising for both the Irish and the Trojans. Now, this historical rivalry is more about avoiding complete late-season disaster than anything else. Notre Dame has dropped four of five games (including consecutive home defeats to Northwestern and Louisville), while USC's thorough whipping at the hands of hated UCLA has Steve Sarkisian scrambling to avoid that dreaded seven-win season. The loser of this game is going to stagger into bowl season neck-deep in turmoil.

Tipping point game: BYU at Cal

All is not lost for the Bears even though the wounded Stanford beast came into Memorial Stadium to drop off a few busloads of humble pie. Cal feels that it's still ascending as a program -- the defense must improve for the Bears to take that next step -- and this nonconference finale against the Cougars is the Cal's chance to punch a postseason ticket for the first time since 2011. Remember that bowl eligibility secures extra December practice time for a program. That's potentially vital as Sonny Dykes positions his team to attempt a third year breakthrough.

Civil War: Oregon State at Oregon

The "Civil War" is my favorite rivalry nickname, so I don't think I can come up with a better way to describe this game than that simple moniker, one which illustrates just how divided the Beaver State really is. Nobody is giving Oregon State much of a shot here, but remember they're playing for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's senior season. There's also that whole thing about top 10 teams struggling in Reser Stadium -- one fell victim to Corvallis just two weeks ago. The Ducks must be wary: Marcus Mariota's strong Heisman push is on the line along with College Football Playoff hopes.

Some ice cream for a Pac-12 dessert: Washington at Washington State

The last game of the Pac-12 regular season will, indeed, be an opportunity for some #Pac12AfterDark eccentricity. This will offer a good representation of how geographically diverse the Pac-12 is. Whereas Friday's games in Los Angeles and Tucson are expected to experience 80-degree temperatures, the forecast for this one in Pullman calls for the mercury to dip below 30 degrees on Saturday night. This is not the end of the road for Washington, but both the Huskies and the Cougars have chances to add a positive memory to difficult seasons.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood kind of had to scratch his head.

“I checked myself,” Greatwood joked. “What did I do wrong? Who did I offend? Which one of the gods did I offend?”

It’s not completely ridiculous to believe that someone in Oregon's O-line room might’ve done something to make the football gods mad. After all, the lineman injury chart is starting to look like an Ayn Rand novel at this point.

Case in point:
  • August 11: Tyler Johnstone’s ACL tear is first reported, though he tore it sometime during the previous week. He's out for the season.
  • September 6: Haniteli Lousi misses the Michigan State game after injuring his leg sometime during prep for that game. He returned on Oct. 24 versus Cal.
  • September 6: Andre Yruretagoyena injured his right leg. He returned Nov. 22 versus Colorado.
  • September 13: Jake Fisher injured his left leg. He returned Oct. 11 versus UCLA.
  • October 18: Hamani Stevens left the Washington game with an ankle injury. He returned Oct. 24 versus Cal.
  • November 1: Matt Pierson injured his left knee. He's still out.
  • November 8: Hroniss Grasu injured his left leg. He's still out.
 Silver lining? The plethora of lower body injuries has allowed younger linemen to get more experience and build toward next year, while not losing too much in the run game (though, Marcus Mariota has been sacked more due to the injuries).

For the most part, the Ducks’ patchwork system has worked. Yes, they averaged just 3.5 yards per rush in their loss to Arizona on Oct. 2 (two yards fewer than their season average), but considering multiple position changes and shifts along the line, having only one loss seems pretty impressive.

“We spin the dial and see what comes up,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich jokingly said about his offensive line. “It has been a week to week existence in that position room.”

Until Nov. 8, it seemed as though Grasu was one of the few untouchables among that dial, but the injury bug struck him too, and Stevens stepped into his place. And for the first time in Mariota’s career, he took a game snap from someone other than Grasu on Saturday.

“It was definitely different, but Hamani stepped up and played well,” Mariota said. “He was recruited as a center. So, he just did his thing, did what he does naturally.”

Again, the line was just fine. The Ducks averaged 6.5 yards per rush, scored three rushing touchdowns and allowed two sacks. Greatwood was happy with the performance, but admitted the Ducks did miss some protections and assignments early. However, those problems cleared themselves up as the game went on.

Although Doug Brenner had been the assumed to be the heir to Grasu, Greatwood and Helfrich decided they wanted Stevens -- a redshirt senior -- to bring his leadership and experience to the center position. Brenner played left guard. Yruretagoyena also made his return, and Helfrich was happy to see him “just knocking off that rust.”

If that’s what it takes to get these guys back in the lineup, Greatwood and Helfrich want to see all kinds of rust knocked off in the coming weeks.

Greatwood said he's never dealt with this many offensive line injuries during his coaching career. The key has been keeping the group confident and continuing to push the players, just like he does when there aren't injuries along the line.

“The last thing you do is throw up your hands,” Greatwood said. “No one is going to feel sorry for you. Everybody goes through it. You just have to keep going.”

However, the injuries have changed things a bit for the group. Last week, they didn't have a full one- and two-deep group for practice. That, obviously, affects the tempo of practice because there are guys who are running so many more reps than usual. The hitting has lightened up a bit in practice, but with Oregon still wanting to run full speed, it has been a little more “taxing,” Greatwood said, for members of his offensive line.

But the Ducks have gotten better with the adjustments. Perhaps when Johnstone went down at the beginning of the season, panic may have set in with this group -- the most experienced one of the entire roster -- and they would suffer some kind of setback.

Now, it’s almost surprising to see the offensive line start the same players for two games in a row.

“They don’t blink at it,” Greatwood said of the moves. “It’s like OK this week you’re playing this position. The kids have stepped up and done a great job every time we shuffle the deck.”

The Ducks have three, maybe four, games left in their schedule and chances are the deck will be shuffled once more (though, Greatwood hopes that shuffling only occurs when guys are getting healthy again).

But until then, he’s going to say his Hail Mary’s and do random acts of kindness every day (and maybe put his offensive linemen in bubble wrap) ... just in case.

National links: Who's No. 4? 

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:30
AM ET
We’re inside of two weeks until Dec. 7, when the College Football Playoff selection committee announces its four picks to appear in the sport’s first national semifinals.

There will be teams left out who can make perfectly compelling cases to be playoff participants. There will be voices raised and criticisms leveled regarding which program truly deserved the final spot in the playoff. This much is a certainty.

But which teams have the best chances of cracking the field? It still seems to be a matter of conjecture beyond the top three teams: Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Pac-12 morning links

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:00
AM ET
It's Baltimore. No one lives forever.

Leading off

Rankings are starting to get awfully important now. As we head into the final week of the regular season, there is plenty of jockeying going on. And how the rest of the country sees things will likely play a role in how the College Football Playoff selection committee sees things.

The Pac-12 had a setback in the rankings last weekend with lackluster performances from Utah and USC. Both of their non-competitive losses bounced them from the rankings, leaving the league with just four teams left in the top 25. Kyle Bonagura has the conference perspective here. The good news is that all four teams are ranked in the top 15 -- so the best the league has to offer is getting its due. Here are where the four teams stand in the AP and coaches polls (AP listed first).
  • Oregon 2-3
  • UCLA 9-10
  • Arizona 12-12
  • ASU 13-13

As always, here are how some folks who cover the conference voted in the AP poll. Playoff chatter

In this week's look at Pat Forde's "Fab 4," Oregon is seated nicely at the No. 2 spot, where he projects the Ducks to face Mississippi State in the Rose Bowl.

His take on the Ducks:
The Ducks continue rolling at a high rate of speed, winning their sixth straight Saturday -- all of them by double digits, all while scoring at least 42 points. They jumped on hapless Colorado 30-3 in the first half, upped the lead to 44-10 in the third quarter and then used the fourth as mop-up duty. In combination with Oregon's pileup of strong wins, its lone loss (31-24 to Arizona on Oct. 2) has only gotten better as the season has gone along. The Wildcats now are 9-2 and remain in contention to win the Pac-12 South and have a potential league championship rematch with Oregon.

Worth noting that he also has UCLA as a team still worth consideration. If the Bruins beat Stanford on Friday, they will lock up the South and force a rematch with the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If the Cardinal beat the Bruins, then it's winner take all in the Territorial Cup.

News/notes/team reports

SPONSORED HEADLINES

PAC-12 SCOREBOARD