Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
8:00
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Hawaii at Colorado
Time: 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Buffs will look to pick up their second win of the season against a Hawaii team that nearly beat Washington and Oregon State. Hawaii has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 57 percent completion rate and has allowed only seven pass plays of 20-plus yards, but Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce will attempt to find their way through that defense and put up some big plays for Colorado.

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesTravis Wilson will look to keep the Utes unbeaten when they travel to the Big House to meet Michigan.
Utah at Michigan
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
TV: ABC/ESPN2
Hashtag: #UTAHvsMICH

Travis Wilson will lead his 2-0 Utes into the Big House, where a struggling Michigan team is looking for its first real statement win of the season. Michigan's defense has struggled this season so Utah receiver Dres Anderson could be a name known in the Midwest by Sunday. The Utah defense will also need to contain dual-threat quarterback Devin Gardner, who could find his stride at any time.

Georgia State at Washington
Time: 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Washington put together a pretty convincing performance in a 44-19 win over Illinois, but can the Huskies keep moving forward and sustain that momentum? Georgia State isn't exactly a powerhouse, and with No. 16 Stanford on the horizon, Washington needs to make sure it keeps taking steps forward.

California at Arizona
Time: 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Arizona is 3-0 after picking up a win over Nevada (which could look even better by the end of the season) and welcomes 2-0 Cal to the desert on Saturday. One team is going to pick up its first loss -- and a conference loss at that -- this weekend, but will it be Jared Goff, whose Cal team has averaged 43 points per game, or Anu Solomon, who has finally given the Wildcats a sense of consistency at quarterback?

No. 2 Oregon at Washington State
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #UOvsWSU

The second-ranked Ducks travel to Pullman, Washington, where Washington State seems to have finally hit some kind of a stride in its third game -- and first win -- of the season. It's never easy to play in the Palouse, but will the Cougars defense actually be able to slow Marcus Mariota and the Ducks machine? Or could this prove to be a stumbling block on the way to the College Football Playoff for Mark Helfrich & Co.?

San Diego State at Oregon State
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
TV: FOX Sports 1

San Diego State played No. 21 North Carolina close in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but the Aztecs relinquished a two-touchdown lead in the second half. Oregon State is coming off a bye week following a "closer than the Beavers would've liked" 38-30 win in Hawaii. Sean Mannion, who has 628 passing yards through two games, will continue building chemistry with Victor Bolden, while Storm Woods and Terron Ward look to keep some of the pressure off the pass game by giving the Beavers a reliable run game.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
7:00
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Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

Mailbag: USC plays, Oregon greatness

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
6:00
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Happy Friday. This is the Week 4 mailbag, popularly known as the mailbag that appears before the fourth weekend of the season.

Follow me on Twitter here. It makes it so easy to pass along an insult!

To the notes!

Ben from Los Angeles writes: I think just about every person watching the USC-BC game last Saturday was wondering why Sark was running the ball. My mom even called to ask me what he was thinking. BC sold out to stop the run, but SC just ran straight into it anyway. How can a squadron of highly paid football coaches not see what the rest of us see? Sark admitted he was stubborn, but doesn't he pay these guys to tell him when he's off the mark?

Ted Miller: USC rushed 29 times for 20 yards against Boston College. That is awful, even when you consider the 36 yards yielded on five sacks. Meanwhile, the Trojans and QB Cody Kessler complete 31 of 41 passes for 317 yards -- 7.7 yards per attempt -- with four TDs and no interceptions.

So obviously the passing game was working better than the running game against Boston College, a team that isn't known for its athleticism in the secondary, particularly compared to what the Trojans offer at receiver.

In other words: I hear you.

Steve Sarkisian's desire to maintain balance didn't work. While the defense was more of a disaster -- 452 yards rushing surrendered, 8.4 yards per rush, a complete breakdown of scheme and fundamentals -- scoring just seven points in the second and third quarters against a weak defense is pretty baffling.

Yet the bigger picture was most troubling. USC jumped to a 10-0 lead and then seemed to lose its focus and intensity, and BC took advantage. The performance fit in with typical stuff from Sarkisian's critics, most notably his teams' tendency to struggle on the road, even against outmanned teams.

Many jumped the gun on celebrating USC, including the Pac-12 blog, without really looking at the victory over Stanford and being more cautious about its potential ramifications and meaning. Many aspects of that game suggested the Cardinal were the better team; they just couldn't get out of their own way. Or kick a field goal. (In our defense, the lauding of USC as a South Division contender was more about the schedule than the Trojans looking like an elite team.)

USC and Sarkisian do have a ready-made excuse: The thinness of the roster because of scholarship limitations. While that is legitimate, that still doesn't cover for losing to a team that will be lucky to become bowl-eligible in the ACC.

Still, just as it was premature to rank USC in the top 10 after it beat Stanford, is it premature to fit Sark for his Lane Kiffin undergarments.


SharkDuck from Portland writes: Since everyone is assuming (outside of Oregon) that the Ducks will implode at some point (OL issues, Mariota injury, etc), if they do run the table to a playoff spot, do they have to win it all to be considered "great," or is the playoff enough? I wait on the edge of my chair, unable to fufill my drone duties until answered.

Ted Miller: Oregon played for the national title after the 2010 season. The Ducks finished No. 2 in 2012, one of five consecutive final rankings in the top 11, with three in the top five during that span.

Reaching the playoff would be a solid achievement, but the Ducks already have accomplished a similar feat by reaching the BCS title game against Auburn. The only thing the program hasn't accomplished -- the only box that hasn't been checked -- is winning a national title.

To earn legitimacy as "great" or to be considered one of "those" programs, the Ducks must win a national title. Doing so also, by the way, would eliminate the only remaining substantive tweak Washington fans have when going back and forth with Ducks fans.

Success is a harsh mistress, eh? Consider that finishing 11-2 and ranked No. 9 last year was treated as a significant disappointment by many Oregon fans.


AnGeLfRoMaBoVe from Heaven Streets of Gold writes: Who do you think will win the national championship and/or Heisman?

Ted Miller: Wait, I'll go get my crystal ball out of the closet.

Crystal ball, who wins the Heisman and national title?

Well, that's not very nice. I what? There's no proof of that! You have pictures? Do you want to go back into the closet? You wouldn't!

[Sounds of smashing crystal].

Er, Florida State wins the national title and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman Trophy.


Bruce from Salt Lake City writes: Ted, with all of the drama going into the first playoff selection, the committee might as well beef it up with a "Bachelorlette" rose-like ceremony where they invite all of the coaches in the top 10, who pull and pick the coaches (teams) one by one. Add in some dramatic music and a few camera confessionals of the coaches not picked, maybe a few heated words between rivals - this could make for some OK, good TV. If not TV, then at least a Frank Caliendo ESPN segment. Thoughts?

Ted Miller: Adding Frank Caliendo makes just about everything better.

I like your idea. I particularly think it would be fun to have cameras trailing the spurned coaches as they exit in tears and then climb into their limos of shame.

"It just hurts so much," LSU coach Les Miles might say. "It's like reading a book and it's sad ... I don't read books, but if I read books, it would be like reading a book. A sad one. It's not a hammer-and-a nail relationship, though. I'm proud of our men, anyway. Spectacular group of men. You got to find them, you throw your arms around them and give them a big kiss on the mouth, if you're a girl. Anyway. I'm the head coach at LSU. I will be the head coach at LSU. I have no interest in talking to anybody else, including you, camera guy. I got a Sugar Bowl to play, and I'm excited for the opportunity of my damn strong football team to play in it. Please ask me after. I'm busy. Thank you very much. Have a great day!"

Upstart QBs headline Cal-Arizona game

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
3:00
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By the end of Saturday night, either Cal quarterback Jared Goff or Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon will have four career wins.

Both lead undefeated teams into the first conference game of the season for either school. And in a conference silly with veteran quarterbacks, these two represent the future of the Pac-12 at the position.

In five combined games this season, they are completing 64.5 percent of their throws with 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions. Goff, a sophomore who started last season as a true freshman, has the Bears clicking to the tune of 43 points per game. Solomon, making just his fourth career start, headlines the No. 1 total offense in the league, which averages 582.7 yards per game.

There’s a reason the over/under for this game is in the 70s.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuJared Goff had success against the Arizona secondary last season, throwing for 289 yards and four TDs.
For Goff, Year No. 2 has been anything but a sophomore slump. Last season he army-crawled his way uphill through the muck and mess that was Cal’s 2013 season, picking up only one win but a lot of lessons along the way. In two games this year, he’s completing almost 68 percent of his passes -- up from 60.3 percent last season -- and he’s already guided the Bears to a road win over a Big Ten opponent.

Call it a sophomore surge.

“[Goff] is a year older and he looks even stronger. And the second year in the system is a big deal,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. “To play as a freshman as well as he did is remarkable. But now he’s kind of a seasoned veteran. He’s seeing the whole field and … playing with a lot of confidence. That’s for sure.”

For Solomon, this would be a pretty good start to his career -- having already earned wins over UNLV, UTSA and Nevada. Some might call that a sneaky tough schedule, especially for a guy with zero career snaps before this season.

Through the first three games of his career, Solomon is completing 62 percent of his throws with eight touchdowns and one interception. For comparison, through Goff’s first three career starts, he was completing 61 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. Goff also had to face a ranked Northwestern team and No. 4 Ohio State in two of his first three games.

Still, Solomon has impressed coach Sonny Dykes, despite the limited body of work.

“They have played a couple of tight ballgames and it seems to me when the game gets tight, he plays better,” Dykes said. “When things tightened up against UTSA, he played well and I thought the same thing against Nevada. I think that’s a real sign of maturity and I think that’s impressive for a guy that’s only played in three ballgames.”

Against Arizona last season, Goff posted a career-high four touchdown passes in a narrow 33-28 loss. Or as Rodriguez describes it: “He threw it around pretty good on us last year.” Goff matched that number two weeks ago against Sacramento State and, according to Dykes, is playing with the confidence you’d expect from a guy with a year’s worth of experience.

“The biggest thing is last year he was still learning the plays,” Dykes said. “Now he’s run them all a couple hundred times. Everything happens faster. He sees things faster. He can anticipate better. The receivers are a year better. Everybody is on the same page, better than they were. The only way you have growth at the quarterback position is by playing and getting reps. He’s gotten a lot of reps.

“The more he plays, the better he’s going to get. We think he’s already pretty good. But we think he has a chance to be really good.”

Both teams boast outstanding receiving corps, which certainly helps out younger quarterbacks. That’s going to put a ton of pressure on the secondaries. Heading into this game, the Wildcats rank 10th in the conference in pass efficiency defense.

“Teams have attacked us through the air and had some success,” Rodriguez said. “Some people say that’s a secondary problem. No, it’s a total problem. Sometimes we aren’t getting a pass rush on and sometimes when you’re a little ahead teams will throw on you. But there’s no question we have to shore things up in a hurry because we’ve got some great throwing teams coming up. Including one coming in this weekend.”

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:00
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Official visits are beginning in earnest in the Pac-12, as several conference programs will host impact weekends. Despite no Pac-12 games in California this weekend, a handful of potential impact visitors will hit the campuses of several conference programs, as schools that don't always carry the recruiting banner for the Pac-12 have a chance to take center stage this weekend.

Latest Dish: Five things I learned

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
9:00
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Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. Sure, No. 5 Auburn greatly benefited from No. 20 Kansas State’s red zone miscues and three missed field goals in Thursday night's 20-14 victory at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But give the Tigers some credit for making plays when it mattered most, especially on defense.

Auburn limited the Wildcats to only 40 rushing yards on 30 carries (1.3 yards per carry) and surrendered only one run longer than 10 yards to KSU tailback Charles Jones, who came into the game averaging 6 yards per attempt. Also, Auburn only allowed two passes of more than 15 yards, and held quarterback Jake Waters to minus-7 rushing yards on 11 attempts.

Auburn might not yet have a championship-caliber defense, but it is certainly making strides under second-year coordinator Ellis Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsThe Seminoles are used to getting off to a fast start in games when Jameis Winston is under center.
2. No. 1 FSU is used to starting fast with quarterback Jameis Winston on the field. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Seminoles had a halftime lead of at least seven points in 15 of the previous 16 games Winston started at FSU. The only team that stayed within six points of the Seminoles in the first half was Auburn, which had an 11-point halftime lead in last season’s BCS National Championship. FSU rallied for a 34-31 victory in the second half to claim the school’s third national title.

We’ll see if No. 22 Clemson can keep it close in Saturday night’s ACC showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. Winston is suspended from playing in the first half after making vulgar comments in the FSU student union Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire is expected to make his first career start. Maguire hasn't started a game since November 2011, when he was a senior at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey.

3. Although hindsight is 20/20, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo accepted blame for not having tailback Todd Gurley more involved in the offense when the Bulldogs faced first-and-goal at South Carolina’s 4-yard line in the closing minutes of last week’s 38-35 loss. UGA attempted a play-action pass on first-and-goal, and quarterback Hutson Mason was penalized for intentional grounding. After two more plays, the Bulldogs missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the score, and the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock.

Bobo's first-down call was an aggressive one, and it can certainly be argued that he should have put the ball in the hands of Gurley, who might be the country's best running back. But if the play-action pass had worked, we'd be talking about how brilliant Bobo's call was. And, of course, if Bobo had called for Mason to hand the ball to Gurley on four straight plays and the Bulldogs didn't score, we'd be talking about how vanilla and uncreative his play calling was.

4. West Virginia's defense surrendered 447 yards of offense in last week’s 40-37 win at Maryland, but Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said 188 yards came on three plays. Quarterback C.J. Brown threw a 77-yard touchdown to Stefon Diggs and had a 75-yard scoring run of his own. The Mountaineers didn't give up a touchdown after Brown’s long run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half (the Terps kicked a field goal and scored on a long punt return in the fourth quarter).

West Virginia will need a similar defensive effort if it’s going to upset No. 4 Oklahoma in Morgantown on Saturday night. Last season, the Sooners defeated the Mountaineers 16-7, their fewest points total during the previous two seasons.

5. Oregon’s recent dominance over Washington State is making it one of the most lopsided conference series in the country. The No. 2 Ducks have won seven straight games over the Cougars heading into Saturday night’s game in Pullman, averaging 52.4 points per game with an average margin of victory of 32.1 points. Ouch.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

This is the final weekend of "mostly" nonconference play. Starting next week, it's a full slate of Pac-12-only games. So say your hellos and goodbyes to the Michigans, Hawaiis and Georgia States of the world this weekend. There are still three dates with Notre Dame and Cal's season finale against BYU. But for the rest of the league, we wrap up the non-league games this weekend.

The nonconference schedule always makes for some interesting picks. The Pac-12 blog unleashed its picks on the world yesterday morning. Not a ton of discrepancy, other than a 4-1 decision on the Utah-Michigan game. Besides that one game, the rest of the Pac-12 blog is in agreement.

Here are what others from across the country are picking for Week 4.
  • The folks at CBS make their picks on some of the national games, including an across-the-board-selection of Oregon in Pullman.
  • Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman Review was pretty good last week straight up, not so much if you're betting pennies. His picks this week.
  • Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News weighs in with his picks here.
  • Athlon Sports offers up their Pac-12 predictions here.
  • Christian Caple of the News Tribune lays out his picks.

(I'm noticing a lot of folks went 7-1 last week ... hmmm, USC...)

Big Board update

When the first two names are called at the 2015 NFL draft, there's a good chance they will both be from the Pac-12. So says ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., who updated his Big Board. It's an Insider piece, but I'll tell you the new big board is silly with Pac-12 players. Eight players from the league are in his top 25 -- including three in the top 10.



News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

Jim Mora mum on status of Brett Hundley

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
6:36
PM ET
video

UCLA head coach Jim Mora refused to provide an update on the condition of Brett Hundley's injury. Kevin Gemmell has the latest on the Bruins' quarterback.

A 6-Pac of questions for Week 4

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
3:00
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Nick Wilson, Marcus Mariota, Travis WilsonAP Photo, AP Photo, Icon SportswireArizona, Oregon and Utah are among the Pac-12's featured teams Week 4.
Is Cal ready to carry its success into conference play?

KyleBonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Short answer: yes. But with the understanding that success at Cal won't be defined the same way as it is other places -- at least not yet. This week's trip to Arizona could be the most telling game of the season, because the Bears are still largely an unknown due of the caliber of their first two opponents. Even if Cal keeps it close, that should constitute as success and would set the stage for winnable games the next two weeks vs. Colorado and at Washington State. After that, the schedule is brutal, but things appear to be headed in the right direction in Berkeley.

David Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Cal is a significantly improved football team -- new coordinator Art Kaufman has at least contained the defensive dumpster fire, many of last season's injuries have healed, and Jared Goff is no longer a freshman. However, I do need to see the Bears deliver in Pac-12 play before I buy some of their stock. Their lone FBS win, against, Northwestern isn't overly impressive at this point, so I don't expect a win on the road against efficient Anu Solomon (over 10 yards per attempt last week) and Arizona quite yet. I do see Cal beating Colorado at home next week leading into another winnable road game at Washington State, though. So I do think the Bears are ready for a couple droplets of conference success this year -- just not this Saturday.

What kind of chances are you giving Utah in the Big House?

Bonagura: It would be easy to write off Utah's first two wins because of who they came against -- FCS Idaho State and reeling Fresno State -- but even taking into account who they were playing, the Utes were still awfully impressive to watch. New offensive coordinator Dave Christensen's system is a perfect fit for their personnel, and the defense is right up there with Stanford in terms of its physicality. Michigan, on the other hand, hasn't done anything to inspire confidence in Brady Hoke's third (and final?) season at Michigan. Expecting a close one, but like Utah on the road.

Lombardi: I'm sure some Utah fans were salivating about this coming opportunity after seeing the score of Notre Dame's beatdown against Michigan in Week 2 (31-0). That final, though, is deceptive: The Wolverines actually out-gained the Irish 289-280. Four turnovers doomed Michigan, but it's safe to assume their defense is much stronger than the porous units Idaho State and Fresno State threw at the Utes (in fact, the Wolverines are allowing only 2.6 yards per rush and 4.1 yards per play). That being said, Utah is playing with confidence in both its running and passing games. If they can hold up along the trenches, a win is certainly within reach.

What needs to happen for Washington State to give Oregon trouble?

Bonagura: Some sort of external force would help, like, say, the Sports Illustrated cover jinx? Oregon was on the cover in 2003 -- "Rich, Cool and 4-0" -- before a game with Washington State and the Cougars went to Autzen Stadium and won 55-16. Of course, that was a really good Wazzu team, and to predict anything similar seems foolish.

Lombardi: Turnovers, turnovers, and more Oregon turnovers. This is a brutal matchup for the Cougars because they don't run the ball, so they are the least capable Pac-12 team of implementing the "Stanford formula" of ball control to beat the Ducks. Since Mike Leach tries to move the ball exclusively through the air, Connor Halliday will need to turn in the most efficient performance of his career, and it's going to need to feature a perfect combination of short and deep throws to keep an explosive Ducks' secondary off-balance. Oh, and did I mention that Wazzu will need turnovers?

What is the most interesting game of the weekend?

Bonagura: Cal-Arizona, no doubt. Conference game, Cal is on the rise, Arizona is 3-0, but had two close ones the past two weeks. Lots of reasons to be intrigued by this one -- and there just aren't that many other good games this week.

Lombardi: I think it has to be Cal-Arizona. Last year's version was actually one of the Bears' few close contests -- they lost 33-28 to the Wildcats at home. That makes one believe they can at least give the Wildcats a run for it on Saturday. But this one is on the road, so it should provide us with a good Cal litmus test, because it doesn't look like Northwestern is any good.

What running back will run for the most yards this week?

Bonagura: Arizona true freshman Nick Wilson has averaged 149.7 yards a game to start his career. No reason to believe he won't continue to produce against Cal.

Lombardi: Oregon's Royce Freeman is a bruiser, and a speedy one at that. I think he's a complete back, and think he's going to go off in the Palouse.

What must Oregon State do early to avoid needing a Houdini act to escape against San Diego State this time?

Bonagura: Two keys for Oregon State: cut down on penalties and score touchdowns in the red zone. The Beavers have been the most penalized team in the country (13.0 per game) so far and have the Pac-12's lowest red-zone touchdown percentage (39.5). Rectify those two situations issues and they will be fine.

Lombardi: Last season, the Beavers trailed 27-14 before outscoring the Aztecs 20-3 in the fourth quarter to eek out the victory. The game was actually tied 14-14 after the first quarter, but San Diego State owned the second and third quarters 13-0. Football is a game of adjustments and counter-adjustments, and it clearly took Mike Riley's staff a little too much time to counter-adjust last year. Steven Nelson's pick-six ended up saving the day for Oregon State, but the Beavers must maintain offensive efficiency into the middle of the game this time around.
Travis WilsonRuss Isabella/USA TODAY SportsTravis Wilson's is one of five Pac-12 quarterbacks who have not thrown an interception this season.

The old saying goes that you don't really know what you have until it's gone. And for Utah quarterback Travis Wilson, that time came last season.

During the Arizona State game on Nov. 9, Wilson took a bad hit. It wasn't until the following day that Wilson started feeling sick and dizzy, displaying concussion-like symptoms. That Monday, he took a concussion test and failed, prompting a CT scan of Wilson's head the next day.

"I didn't think it was any big deal," Wilson said. "I just thought it was just a concussion and maybe I'd have to sit out a week. I didn't think it was anything more than that."

The scan revealed an enlarged intracranial artery that had calcified.

Wilson's parents flew in from San Clemente, California. But even with the family there, the doctors really weren't able to give them very much information because it wasn't available. They didn't know when the injury had occurred. There wasn't much information regarding young people with this type of injury. They didn't know if football had played a part in it. They didn't know if he'd ever be able to play again.

"It was difficult," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But football was a distant second in our minds as far as making sure that he was going to be healthy for the duration of his life and not have something like this have an impact on his quality of life. That was the main concern."

The decision was made to have Wilson sit out for three months -- with his only activity being running and lifting -- and do another CT scan to see if anything changed when football was taken out of the equation. He would act as a glorified student-coach for the Utes, helping back up Adam Schulz.

"All I could really do was try to coach," Wilson said. "It was tough not being able to play. I felt sick to my stomach not being able to play. It didn't feel right just standing on the sidelines and not being able to do anything."

In February, the scan revealed no changes and the doctors said that Wilson could return to football with no-contact. Pending another scan in June, he'd be able to return for good.

He went through spring ball without contact, glad to be playing a non-contact form of football. And when his June results still showed no change, Wilson was able to get back into full football form.

"I was very grateful," Wilson said. "I got a second opportunity to play this game."

"When the potential was there for him to never play again, I think he realized how much he loved it," Whittingham said.

Wilson has wasted no time in making his mark with the Utes, who are 2-0 going into a huge matchup with Michigan on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Wilson has the second highest passer efficiency rating in the country this season and is averaging 11.7 yards per attempt. He's also one of five Pac-12 quarterbacks who has yet to throw an interception this season.

Though the Big House and the Wolverines offer a different test than one he has seen in his career, he knows that the Wilson that steps on the field now is far different than the one that stepped on the field before.

"I'm definitely playing more calm," Wilson said. "I'm just really happy with the overall success [of the team]. I think we'll continue to get better as well."

Kickoff Live: Week 4 (1 ET)

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
10:35
AM ET
ESPN.com reporters Ted Miller, Edward Aschoff and Heather Dinich join host Chantel Jennings to discuss the latest on Jameis Winston and preview the weekend slate of games.

Pac-12 Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
AM ET
The Pac-12 reporters weigh in on this week's games:


Why Utah will win: Utah’s road woes -- and the fact that the Utes have won only one game outside the state in the past two years -- give me pause. What doesn’t give me pause is the way the offense has been clicking through the first two games. Travis Wilson has completed 63.2 percent of his throws, with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Devontae Booker has been as advertised and, along with Bubba Poole and Troy McCormick, the Utes have a balanced ground attack that complements their talented receivers. With a third-down completion percentage of 51.6, the Utes have been moving the ball well. Defensive end Nate Orchard (2.5 sacks, three tackles for loss) has been phenomenal so far. And if this game comes down to kicking, there is no player in the country I’d trust more than “automatic” Andy Phillips. The fact that the Utes are coming off a bye doesn’t hurt, either. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Michigan will win: Michigan isn't as bad as Utah fans might hope it is. Four turnovers were primarily responsible for the Wolverines' 31-0 loss at Notre Dame, a game in which they actually outgained the Irish 289-280. Michigan's defense plays at a different level than overmatched opening opponents Idaho State and Fresno State: They've allowed only 2.6 yards per rush and 4.1 yards per play. This is a new challenge for Utah and it comes on the road, where the Utes have gone a measly 2-9 in the past two seasons. That being said, Wilson is leading a confident Utes offense that is enjoying success in both the running and passing phases of the game. I think Utah has enough weapons to break its four-game road losing streak in the Big House, but I need to see it happen before I truly believe. Look for the Wolverines to win a close one. -- David Lombardi


Why Arizona will win: Through two games, Cal obviously has proved it’s on the right track. To this point, the Bears are without question the most improved team in the conference -- and maybe the country. The fact that rational people can come up with solid reasoning for why Cal will win speaks volumes. I’m just not there yet. Arizona’s offense presents a set of challenges the Bears haven’t yet proved they are capable of stopping. Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon took a big step last week against Nevada, from an accuracy standpoint, though running back Nick Wilson continues to impress. Arizona wins, but it’s a much more intriguing game than it figured to be just four weeks ago. -- Kyle Bonagura


Why Oregon will win: Marcus Mariota was too much for Michigan State's defense to handle, and putting Washington State's defense in the same category as the Spartans' defense is just not really possible right now. The Heisman Trophy front-runner is going to do what he does, meaning he's going to pick apart a young Cougars secondary, and Oregon's three-headed monster at running back will keep pounding Wazzu's front seven. The Cougars will be able to put points on the board, considering how many big plays the Ducks' defense has given up this season already and how much Connor Halliday throws the ball, but expect a result pretty similar to the Ducks' previous three games. A big victory with second- and third-string guys playing the final quarter. -- Chantel Jennings

More consensus picks: Colorado over Hawaii; Oregon State over San Diego State; Washington over Georgia State.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET
I see you have learned to work the Google on the internet machine.

Leading off

The two highest-ranked teams in the Pac-12 -- Oregon and UCLA -- have had some issues along the offensive line three weeks into the season. The Ducks have suffered injuries that have forced some younger or less experienced players into action. The Bruins haven't done a great job protecting their quarterbacks. If either hopes to advance to the College Football Playoff, they are going to have to figure things out up front. That's the premise of Steve Lassen's piece for Athlon Sports, which examines the offensive lines of both schools so far.

Lassen on Oregon:
Will Oregon’s offensive line woes derail the offense against Washington State or Arizona? Probably not, but a thin offensive line could create more pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota.

And on UCLA:
The stats from the first three games suggest the offensive line is improving. But what type of impact could a long-term injury to [Malcolm] Bunche hold for this group? And assuming Bunche does return to full strength, can this unit jell and continue to improve after a sluggish start to the season?

UCLA is off this week while Oregon travels to Washington State for its first Pac-12 game of the season. The Bruins will head to Tempe on the 25th to square off with ASU.

Utes & Cats

In his mailbag this week, Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports hit on a question about Arizona and Utah and their place in the South Division. Here's an excerpt about the Utes:
This year, with [Travis] Wilson back and currently the nation’s No. 2-rated passer, the Utes have clobbered their first two foes, but they were Idaho State and Fresno State. Michigan has certainly proven beatable. If Utah can pull it off on the road, then I’d reevaluate their place in that division.

Mandel says, given the state of the division (injuries to Taylor Kelly, a shaky start for UCLA, USC's loss), the Utes might be a good sleeper team to sneak up and steal the division. He doesn't see Arizona as a team ready to make that leap yet. On the field, it won't get settled until the Wildcats make the trip to Salt Lake City on Nov. 22. Might be an intriguing showdown for a couple of teams either looking to reach bowl eligibility or improve their place in the pecking order.

My guess is if Utah wins this weekend, they'll be added to this list.



News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you're a fan of "The Office," this is for you. If you're a fan of Stanford athletics, this is for you. If you're a fan of both, this might be the greatest thing in the world. And if you're a fan of neither, move along. Nothing to see here.

Want to see what the Ducks saw before their Wyoming game? Warning: The following video might make you want to go workout.

Mailbag: WSU's defensive woes

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, where all questions are answered except the meaning of life. I’m keeping that one to myself.

Cougar Brian in Scappoose, Oregon, writes: With the probable loss to Oregon this week, we're staring at 1-3 in Pullman, and once we're past the two most winnable games on our schedule following that in Cal and Utah, it's hard to see a W again this season. Given how things are going, at what point do you see the seat under Mike Leach and his staff, especially defensive coordinator Mike Breske, heating up?

Kevin Gemmell: For Leach, there might be a slight, warm tingling sensation, but that’s about it. He’s already received an extension and he’s locked in. And I know WSU fans tend to take the pint-glass-half-empty approach to their team. But let’s not forget: It’s only his third season and he’s taken you to a bowl game. Things are better, relatively speaking.

What makes this start to the season so frustrating is that there was momentum coming out of 2013. Despite the bowl loss, the Cougars were moving in a good direction. Heck, you won at the Coliseum … with defense!

I like Breske. I like his schemes. The Pac-12 blog isn’t in the business of speculating about hot seats – because for as much as we know, we don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes.

The defense didn’t play great against Rutgers, but it played well enough to win. And had it not been for a special-teams gaffe, Washington State probably would have. Against Nevada, a Connor Halliday interception gave Nevada a short field on its first score and the offense only produced one touchdown. It was a team loss.

Keep in mind when Breske & Co. came in, they were installing an entirely new defensive scheme. It takes time to recruit the genetics to fit that system. This coaching staff hasn’t even been through a full recruiting cycle.

I’m inclined to give this group another full season after this one – assuming things don’t get markedly worse on either side of the ball. But I don’t have fans or boosters to answer to.

 




James in Alameda, California, writes: (Question edited for length) Multiple outlets are reporting different recovery times for Taylor Kelly’s injury. Any chance we'll know the truth about the injury or do you think ASU will just continue to say Kelly's status is "uncertain" until he actually returns?

Kevin Gemmell: Having talked with sources at ASU, I can only relay what I know. And what I know is that he will miss the UCLA game (barring an amazing recovery), and anything beyond that is up in the air. It depends how quickly his body heals. How much physical therapy is required? Did he drink a lot of milk as a kid? Some guys are more resilient than others. There is no blanket statement that can be made about an individual’s broken bone. Only generalities.

The UCLA game is the first of three straight games against teams currently ranked in the AP top 20, followed by No. 17 USC and No. 16 Stanford. There’s a chance Washington will also be ranked by their Oct. 25 meeting. There's never a good time for an injured quarterback. But some stretches are worse than others. This is a bad one.

But remember, a lot of the Arizona State faithful were banking on Mike Bercovici to win the starting job when Todd Graham came in. And the Sun Devils do have the league’s leading rusher in D.J. Foster. All is not lost if Kelly can’t play for several games. But his accuracy and running ability certainly gave the ASU offense a little something extra.

 




JJ in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: Lady and gentlemen, in your respective opinion, do the Ducks have a chance to make it to the playoff with the injuries at tackle? Asking a LOT for a true freshman at right tackle and a walk-on at left tackle to hold up for the entire season. At this rate, Puddles might have to line up at tackle. Thanks for the great blog.

Kevin Gemmell: This is one of those crystal-ball questions to which the best answer is time will tell.

For all we know, Tyrell Crosby and Matt Pierson might be the next coming of Jonathan Ogden and Dan Dierdorf. Or they could simply be placeholders until others return from injury. I don’t know. Of course it’s a lot to ask. But I’m guessing they wouldn’t be wearing one of 783,360 possible uniform combinations for Oregon if they didn’t have the talent.

You obviously look ahead to some of the games against A-list defensive lines, such as UCLA and Stanford, and wonder. But those guys also have a couple of games to get acclimated.

A lot needs to happen for a team to win a conference. You have to stay healthy. But no one ever really does, so you need to have depth. And you need a little luck. A lot of that is unpredictable. But, for what it’s worth, I think Oregon is still in the best position of any Pac-12 team to reach the playoffs.

#4Pac: Most impressive defensive player?

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
7:15
PM ET
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're identifying the best defensive player through the first three weeks of the season.

[+] EnlargeDanny Shelton
Larry Placido/Icon SMIWashington nose tackle Danny Shelton is clearing up doubts over his production and consistency.
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: In the preseason, there was plenty of chatter about Washington NT Danny Shelton, mostly centered around if and when he'd be taken in the first round of the NFL draft this spring. The question with Shelton has never been talent or potential. It's been consistency and production. Was he just a big guy who gobbled up blockers, which is important for any interior lineman? Or was he something more, such as a guy who gobbled up blockers but also was a disruptive force -- as in unblockable? There's also the question of whether he'd take a few plays off here and there. Based on the early returns, let's just say the 339 pounder has NFL scouts and defensive coordinators salivating. Shelton not only leads the Pac-12 in sacks with six and tackles for a loss with 7.5, he also leads the Huskies' defense in tackles, period, with 27. Has a 3-4 NT ever led his team in tackles? We're going to say no without even fact-checking that assertion, at least not at the FBS level. It probably won't hold, but the mere fact that's where the numbers are after three games bodes well not only for the Huskies defense, it also figures to make Shelton a lot of money this spring when everyone wants to hand his name to Roger Goodell.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Is there a defensive player in the conference that can do more than Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson? Over his first two seasons, he proved to be one of the nation's best linebackers, but some still believe he would make for an even better safety. Against Illinois last week, Thompson scored on a 36-yard interception return and a 52-yard fumble return to become the first player in college football with multiple defensive touchdowns this year. The performance earned him Walter Camp national defensive player of the week honors and came after a 15-tackle game against Eastern Washington the week prior in which he recorded a sack a forced fumble. Thompson is the Huskies' only player to have recorded a sack, interception, pass breakup, and both forced and received a fumble. We're talking defense here, but it seems appropriate to point out he also has six carries for 82 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown, which stands as the Huskies' longest run of the year.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: No defensive player in the Pac-12 has been more productive over the last three seasons than UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks. And he's picked up where he left off last year and the year before that. Kendricks leads the Pac-12 with 37 tackles through three games, including a league-high 21 solo stops. He's averaging 12.3 stops per game -- a full tackle more than Arizona's Scooby Wright (11 per game) -- and more than two tackles per game over every other Pac-12 defender. If the name of the game is production, then Kendricks absolutely qualifies as the most impressive. And it's not just about making tackles, he also has an interception returned for a touchdown and he forced a fumble that led to a defensive score. Both of those happened on the road at Virginia, and as a result he was named the national defensive player of the week for Week 1. On a team loaded with talented playmakers -- some of whom get more buzz than Kendricks -- he's not only been the most complete and impressive player on the Bruins, but also the Pac-12. Excited to see what he does Sept. 25 with the trip to Arizona State against the Sun Devils and D.J. Foster, who leads the league with 170 rushing yards per game.

[+] EnlargeIfo Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu isn't putting up big numbers because opposing QBs aren't throwing his way. His one interception this season tells all you need to know about his play-making skills.
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is going to have a pretty short highlight reel this season -- because he's that good. Opposing quarterbacks would rather learn what it feels like to be sacked by four members of Oregon's pass rush than to throw at Ekpre-Olomu. And so, through three games, the senior has only tallied 11 tackles and one interception. But my goodness, the one interception displayed everything you need to know about Ekpre-Olomu and his play-making abilities. He showed his awareness, change of direction, speed, jumping abilities, body control and athleticism in that one play. I can't think of another play in the Pac-12 this season in which all of those abilities were displayed so well. I'm expecting a handful more plays similar to this, maybe even something more impressive. But the most impressive part of his play -- and the part that speaks to why he is the best defensive player in the Pac-12 -- is the fact that we're not seeing a ton of him. Because QBs want nothing to do with No. 14.

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