Pac-12: Arizona Wildcats

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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video
Young baseball players frequently dream of a situation in which they come up to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded and their team trailing by three.

The football equivalent here might be a Hail Mary attempt that comes with time expiring and a club trailing by less than a touchdown.

Austin Hill faced that scenario on Saturday, though he didn't exactly daydream about it as a child.

"I never envisioned it," he laughed. "I always like to win comfortably."

Well, Saturday night's furious finish was anything but comfortable. Arizona trailed Cal 45-43 with four seconds left. From the Bears' 47-yard line, a field goal would have been a 64-yard try (exactly the NFL record), so that was out of question. The Wildcats were left with only one option, so coach Rich Rodriguez turned to divine intervention.

Well, not really -- but it turns out that the Arizona coaching staff's hand signal for "Hail Mary" happened to involve clasping the hands together in prayer fashion.

"That was the signal for this particular game," Hill said. "But they could have made up any signal, and I would have known what to run."

That would be a sprint straight to the back right corner of the end zone.

At the snap, Cal only rushed three linemen, leaving Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon with plenty of time to wait for his receivers to set up shop in the promised land.

Solomon's 73rd and final pass of the night was also its most majestic, a soaring 50-plus yard lob that might have brought down rain had the game not been played in the cloudless desert.

Hill made it to the ball's landing spot.

"Halfway, and then three-quarters of way [into the throw's flight], I knew the ball was coming to me," Hill said. "I was just hoping no one bumped into me, or hit my elbow, or jumped on top of me so I could secure the catch."

Though bodies jumped, pads crashed, and players fell in one chaotic end zone instant, none of the above happened. Hill secured the ball. Arizona Stadium entered a state of delirium. A 36-point fourth quarter had fueled a sensational comeback victory.

"Don't ever go home early," a beaming Rodriguez told a TV camera afterward.

Hill's grand finale is our Pac-12 play of the week poll winner. It won in a landslide.

On Monday, the "Hill Mary" still had Arizona buzzing as Hill went to class in Tucson. Fellow students offered their congratulations. Campus was energized by a moment the Wildcats won't soon forget.

And Hill may or may not still be holding that game-winning football, which he continued to clutch as he jogged off in Saturday night’s mayhem.

Pac-12 Live: Week 5

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
12:00
PM ET
Join ESPN.com Pac-12 reporters Kyle Bonagura, Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller at 5 p.m. ET as they discuss the crazy finish to Week 4 in the conference and look ahead to Week 5. Don't forget that you can also ask the experts your Pac-12 questions live on the show.

Best of the visits: Pac-12

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Despite no Pac-12 game being held in California this weekend, the conference saw a number of important visitors, as Oregon State, Washington and Washington State were just three of the conference programs to host impact recruits.

2016 QB in Boulder

Colorado received an unofficial visit from 2016 quarterback Kevin Davidson over the weekend. While the 2015 California quarterback crop is almost comically loaded, the 2016 group has some talent as well. While Davidson doesn't yet hold an offer, it should only be a matter of time for the strong-armed 6-foot-4, 222-pound signal-caller. Chico checks in with Huskies

Few recruits deserved a day off more than four-star running back Chico McClatcher on Saturday, just a day after rushing for five first-half touchdowns and game totals of 14 carries for 286 yards. But McClatcher took advantage of Washington's home game to make the trip to see the Huskies. Washington has commitments from the Nos. 5 and 6 players in the state, but keeping McClacher, the state's No. 3 prospect, at home would be a significant win over a number of Pac-12 programs for head coach Chris Petersen. Getting McClatcher on campus at any time this season is a big win. Dawg Pounds

Washington had a nice group of official visitors in town this weekend, as uncommitted defenders Quinten Pounds and D.J. Beavers joined running back Cameron Scarlett. While Scarlett is a top tailback target for a number of Pac-12 programs, Pounds holds Pac-12 offers from Cal, Colorado, Utah and Washington State, in addition to the Huskies. Commit sees "Hill Mary"

They're calling it the Hill Mary -- Arizona's last gasp touchdown pass from Anu Solomon to Austin Hill in the Wildcats' come from behind, 49-45 win over Cal. At least one recruit was on hand to see it, as defensive tackle Finton Connolly stayed through the end of the game and snapped a shot of himself during the aftermath. Recruits see impressive showing from Cougars

Washington State hosted a number of official visitors, including cornerbacks Cameron Haney and Darreyl Patterson, along with offensive linemen Noah Myers and Darrin Paulo. The Cougars nearly pulled off the upset of the young season, as they battled Oregon to the final whistle. Haney, who holds other Pac-12 offers from Arizona State and Washington, showed his perspective of the game.

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.
On the surface, Arizona's schedule over the first third of the season is notably weak. The Wildcats whipped overmatched UNLV, just as they did last year, outlasted UTSA, another team that prefers to go by its initials, and survived a fourth-quarter challenge from Nevada. Up next is a visit from California, which went 1-11 last year.

If your audience were patient, you could attempt to explain how that schedule was reasonably solid. UNLV was a bowl team last year, UTSA is the nation's most experienced team and Nevada was coming off a win over Washington State. Cal? It's already won at Northwestern and has looked nothing like the easy out it was in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsThe Arizona defense will have to pressure Cal's Jared Goff -- who has 510 passing yards and 7 touchdowns in two games this season.
You could also make an esoteric argument that Arizona deserves some respect for negotiating a schedule of teams that is good enough to beat you but not good enough in terms of pedigree to naturally captivate the focus of a crew of 18 to 23-year-old players.

But who has time to listen to that?

In other words, Arizona is aiming to become the least glamorous 4-0 team in the nation this weekend. There's only a remote shot the Wildcats will earn a top-25 ranking with a victory. A loss? They'd immediately be voted off Relevancy Island by the unforgiving college football cognoscenti.

A year ago, Arizona also started 3-0 against an ostensibly -- OK, an actually -- weak nonconference schedule. It then got bricked at Washington and lost at USC. Thereafter they never really became a major factor in the South Division race.

Most observers, Pac-12 or otherwise, are taking a wait-and-see approach with the Wildcats. We'll see when they visit Oregon on Oct. 5, a week that will feature the Ducks denying any revenge angle for the shocking whipping they took in Tucson a year ago. We'll see when USC comes to town on Oct. 11 and during back-to-back road games at Washington State and UCLA.

So it probably won't be until the end of October that we will have an idea if Rich Rodriguez is going to produce something special in his third season in Tucson. Yet it's also worth nothing the Wildcats are seemingly in a better spot, at least offensively, than they were a year ago.

Freshman running back Nick Wilson has so far produced Ka'Deem Carey-like numbers (149.7 yards per game; 6.8 ypc). Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency with a rating that is more than 45 points higher than B.J. Denker's number after three 2013 starts. While the points are slightly down after three games -- 39.7 ppg versus 43.7 -- the total yards and yards per play are way up.

Rodriguez can be pretty stingy with compliments, but he's tipped his cap to Wilson and Solomon, noting that Wilson is “way advanced mentally” and Solomon is “harder on himself than we would be." If you know Rich Rod, that is the highest of praise. For one, it's difficult to imagine any QB being harder on himself than Rodriguez, who is perennially the bad cop for offensive coordinator Rod Smith.

The jury, however, is out on the Wildcats defense. They dominated the early schedule a year ago -- 8.7 ppg through three games -- and ended up as the Pac-12's most improved unit last year. That included turning in a Stanford-like performance against the Ducks offense.

The defense, with some notable losses from the 2013 unit, has struggled against the pass so far this year -- yielding a 64.6 completion rate -- and in the redzone, where foes have scored touchdowns on seven of 11 drives inside the 25-yard line. Nevada quarterbackCody Fajardo completed 29 of 39 passes for 321 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Arizona's 35-28 win last weekend.

"Defensively, we didn’t do a good job getting off blocks, and we blew a couple coverages which was uncharacteristic of us," Rodriguez said. "That allowed them to control the ball and limit our possessions. We have to get better defensively."

He then added, “No question we’ve got to shore things up in a hurry because we’ve got some great throwing teams [in Pac-12], including one coming in this weekend.”

Cal has a passing attack that can give any defense some trouble, particularly if quarterback Jared Goff gets time to throw. Seeing that the Wildcats don't have a dominant pass-rusher, it's likely they will have to use a variety of blitzes to disrupt Goff, whose so far been on point as a true sophomore. That is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that the Bears likely are anticipating.

Cal will land in Tucson with a lot of confidence. The Bears view last year as an unfortunate alignment of the football planets, one that created an injury-plagued disastrous anomaly. Even then, they played Arizona tough a year ago, using a late touchdown to only lose at home by five points, their closest conference game.

We don't yet know a lot about Arizona. Cal's visit might prove to be a more revealing matchup that it appeared to be in the preseason.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
10:00
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The early weeks of the high school and college football seasons slow things down a bit when it comes to Pac-12 recruiting. Only a handful of official visitors made their way to Pac-12 campuses, while a junior college commitment to Arizona was the first addition to the conference in nearly two weeks. But there were still interesting developments at a number of conference schools as Stanford hosted a huge visitor, UCLA made an important statement, and Colorado looked ahead to the 2016 class.

Injuries, implosion muddle South picture

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:00
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Wait. That's been used before. But, with apologies to Dickens, it fits. The Pac-12 weekend was a tale of one division, two teams, two cities, two quarterbacks, and it was a day of thrills and it was a day of misery.

The plot certainly thickened in the Pac-12's South Division on Saturday, but not necessarily in a good way.

A week after posting a gritty upset at Stanford, USC was humiliated at Boston College, while UCLA cobbled together a win over Texas behind scrappy, ebullient backup QB Jerry Neuheisel. Neuheisel's services were required because Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury. His status remains uncertain, though there was reasonable hope based on initial reports that his injury wasn't serious.

[+] EnlargeAntwaun Woods
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesUSC's shocking loss to Boston College underscored the vulnerability within the Pac-12 South division.
Our second city is Tempe, Arizona, where UCLA will be on Thursday, Sept. 25, squaring off with defending South Division champion Arizona State, which beat Colorado on Saturday but also lost its star senior quarterback, Taylor Kelly, who beat out Hundley for second-team All-Pac-12 last year. Seeing Kelly on crutches due to a foot injury -- and his body language -- probably won't fuel great expectations that he will be ready for the Bruins.

The UCLA-Arizona State game was one we eyeballed in the preseason as a major measuring stick in the battle for the South. A significant part of the appeal was the quarterback battle. That hasn't changed, only now the intrigue is whether it will be Neuheisel for UCLA and Mike Bercovici for Arizona State. A week ago, that quarterback news would have heavily favored the Sun Devils. While Bercovici isn't the runner Kelly is, he's got one of the best arms in the conference and is well-versed in the Sun Devils offense. He is expected to win the starting job as a fifth-year senior next fall. Neuheisel was widely viewed as a career backup with a well-known father -- former UCLA QB and coach Rick Neuheisel -- but his second-half performance against the Longhorns suggested he can be more than a rudimentary game manager.

Both teams have an off week, when they can either get healthy or retool their plans. The stakes continue to be high, perhaps more so after USC threw up on itself with a wet-noodle performance at Boston College. While a nonconference game doesn't affect the Trojans' Pac-12 standing, it certainly made them look extremely vulnerable heading into a much-needed bye week. Other than USC fans, the most miserable folks watching that game surely root for Stanford, which probably can't believe it lost to the Trojans just a week before.

What this implosion and these injuries reveal in a wider sense is vulnerability in the South. In the preseason, UCLA looked like a decisive South favorite. Then USC made a statement with a win over the Cardinal. Arizona State was lurking with a great offense and a questionable defense. At this point, however, none of these three teams is scaring anyone. And don't look now, but Arizona and Utah remain unbeaten and have shown flashes that suggest they might be factors in a divisional race that previously seemed limited to the aforementioned troika.

The Wildcats play host to California on Saturday. Lo and behold, the Bears also are unbeaten, and this game suddenly possesses some potential meaning it didn't seem to have in the preseason. If Cal gets the upset, it can fully erase last season's misery and start thinking bowl game. If Arizona gets the win, it will be 4-0 and eyeballing the Top 25 with a visit to No. 2 Oregon looming on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Arizona appears suspect on defense, but the offense, with impressive redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon, a good O-line, deep corps of receivers and breakout freshman running back Nick Wilson, will make the Wildcats a threat to any foe.

Utah visits Michigan on Saturday. While the Wolverines don't look like they'll be hailing in much victory this season, a Utes win would certainly raise more than a few eyebrows. While Utah's trouble hasn't been in nonconference games since joining the Pac-12, a 3-0 start would hint they are not a South afterthought, particularly if the offense continues to shine with QB Travis Wilson.

While Oregon's win over Michigan State coupled with Stanford's loss to USC only boosted the Ducks' status as North Division favorites, the South intrigue has seemingly spiderwebbed since the beginning of the season. The race appears more wide open and complicated. UCLA's visit to Arizona State remains a major measuring stick, but it's just as likely either team would sacrifice that game -- as horrible as that sounds -- to know it will get its starting quarterback back healthy for the rest of the season.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
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Time to tip our cap to those who were the best of the best in Week 3.

Jerry Neuheisel, QB, UCLA: It was Jerry’s World. The redshirt sophomore stepped in for an injured Brett Hundley and completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns as he led the Bruins in a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA: Perkins took a bit of the pressure of Neuheisel as he was a weapon in the pass and run game. He had 126 yards on the ground on 24 carries and tallied 69 receiving yards on five catches.

Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford: The senior recorded the first three touchdowns of the day for the Cardinal in a 35-0 win over Army. His 13 yards per catch (four receptions, 52 yards) was a game-high.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The junior compiled quite the stat line in just under three quarters of play in the Ducks' 48-14 victory over Wyoming: Two passing touchdowns and 221 passing yards on 19-of-23 passing plus two rushing touchdowns and 71 rushing yards on five carries.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: Thompson became Washington’s first player to record a fumble return score and pick six in the same game since at least 1978. He finished the game with four tackles and three carries for 16 yards in Washington’s 44-19 win over Illinois.

D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State: The junior recorded his third-straight 100-yard rushing game, as he accounted for 147 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Foster also had three receptions for 52 yards and tallied his first receiving touchdown of the season as the Sun Devils defeated Colorado 38-24.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: He helped seal the game for Arizona as he rushed for 171 yards on 29 carries. He recorded the first two touchdowns of the game for the Wildcats en route to a 35-28 win, giving Arizona a perfect 3-0 record entering Pac-12 play.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:00
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Wyoming at No. 2 Oregon
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.

Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.

Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.

No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #USCvsBC

USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.

Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.

No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).

No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #ASUvsCOLO

The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.

Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."

Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah
Last week, your humble #4pac made some bold predictions about the season and how it will play out. One of the predictions was that there would be six teams in the AP Top 25 come season’s end.

Now you’ve seen some Week 1 action and maybe you were impressed, maybe you were disappointed, maybe you were confused (or maybe you were just happy that football was finally back and you didn't care what happened because "it's just Week 1 anyway," right?).

SportsNation

How many Pac-12 teams will be in the AP Top 25 at the end of the season?

  •  
    17%
  •  
    44%
  •  
    32%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,843)

But how much did the Huskies' near loss at Hawaii bother you? Was there too much hype too soon for first-year coach Chris Petersen? Or with Cyler Miles getting the starting QB spot, are you feeling OK the Huskies coming back into the Top 25? What about UCLA’s offense? The Bruins' defense did work, but the offense took a while to get started. Are you reconsidering their spot as a top-10 or Top-25 team? Or was it just a one-half glitch? Maybe Taylor Kelly impressed you like he did the AP, earning a small bump up in the standings.

And it’s not hard to imagine that big moves that could be happening after this weekend. With Michigan State visiting Oregon in a top-10 matchup, a lopsided win or loss could push Oregon higher or move it much lower. We’ve seen that snowball before against a team that has similar characteristics to MSU. And USC-Stanford could have the same effects except that one Pac-12 team’s move up the poll is another Pac-12 team’s move down.

You’ve only seen a small sliver but after seeing each team take the field, we wanted to know your thoughts on how many teams you think will be in the Top 25 at the end of the season.

Just to remind you, here were the Pac-12 teams in the preseason AP Top 25:

3. Oregon
7. UCLA
11. Stanford
15. USC
19. Arizona State
25. Washington

And when the Week 2 votes came out today, here’s how things shook out:

3. Oregon
11. UCLA
13. Stanford
14. USC
17. Arizona State

So, there’s a bit of movement from Week 1 to Week 2. When all is said and done and the bowl games are wrapped up, how many Pac-12 teams will still be standing in the Top 25?
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”

Solomon to get first snap for Arizona

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
10:00
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Arizona beat UNLV 58-13 last year, and it's a 24-point favorite playing the Rebels at home on Friday. The odds are long that the Wildcats are going to lose.

But that's not what their opening game is about. It's about a potential big reveal at quarterback. It's about getting a glimpse of the present and the future with Anu Solomon -- a promising redshirt freshman who beat out a gaggle of high-profile transfers to win the starting job at quarterback.

Or maybe not. Although coach Rich Rodriguez said Solomon won the job because "he played the best over the last three weeks," he also seemed pretty determined not to hand over the keys to his offense without qualification.

"That doesn’t mean that he plays the whole game and that he will be the starter the rest of the season, but I also don’t want any quarterback to ever go in thinking, As soon as I make a mistake, I’m coming out," he said of his decision. "That’s not going to be the case, either, but I thought he deserved the right to start the first game. I’m confident that Anu will play well, and he will be the starter as long as he plays well and we win."

As ringing endorsements go, that's a light tap on a triangle.

Of course, that's the Rich Rod way. He's not trying to make it easy on Solomon because, as he often says, he wants him to "be comfortable being uncomfortable." Last year, he rode B.J. Denker hard throughout camp and well into the season. The end result was solid play from a guy who seemed overmatched by Pac-12 football a few months before.

As for whether we see Jesse Scroggins, Jerrard Randall or Connor Brewer, that remains to be seen. If the Wildcats are up big at the half, Rodriguez might want to get a look at the other guys. Or he might want Solomon to get as much game experience as possible.

"I decide during the game," Rodriguez said. "If the mistakes are minor and are correctable during the game, then he will stay in. If there are any major mistakes, then I may look to make a change. As long as a guy is playing well, then he will stay in the game."

It will be interesting to see how Solomon responds. Rodriguez often griped about his seeming lack of fire, but that even keel -- not unlike Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's -- might benefit him during game-time pressure.

"The best attribute he carries is his composure," safety Jared Tevis said. "That will be big come game time. I think it’s in his personality and his character. He’s a pretty relaxed guy, and I think that’s where it comes from.”

Although Arizona's nonconference schedule appears weak at first glance, the Week 2 Thursday date at UTSA could prove tricky. For one, all road games are tough. Further, the Roadrunners are a veteran team that challenged Arizona last year, though the Wildcats prevailed 38-13. It will be a legit test for Solomon.

Or whatever combination of quarterbacks Rodriguez decides to go with at that point.
The talk of Pac-12 town this season is the quarterbacks. Yes, yes, we know.

But don’t forget the talent the league has at running back, too. The run game, after all, is what opens up the passing lanes for the signal-callers.

The 1,000-yard mark has acted as a benchmark for backs for years, so, how many Pac-12 rushers (for fun, let's include QBs) will hit the mark in 2014?

SportsNation

How many 1,000-yard rushers will the Pac-12 have in 2014?

  •  
    11%
  •  
    26%
  •  
    28%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,340)

In 2013 there were four 1,000-yard rushers: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (1,885), Washington’s Bishop Sankey (1,869), Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney (1,709) and Oregon’s Byron Marshall (1,038). Only one of those guys, Marshall, returns in 2014, and even he is listed in a three-way battle for the starting RB spot at Oregon with Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman.

In 2012 and 2010 there were six 1,000-yard rushers, and in 2011 there were seven. So what exactly will 2014 bring us?

Oregon has its three-headed monster (in addition to quarterback Marcus Mariota, who rushed for 715 yards last season). Will one or two emerge and become 1,000-yard backs? Or will they split carries, gain major yardage together and not have a single guy hit that mark? Could go either way.

USC has Buck Allen and Justin Davis and Tre Madden. ASU has D.J. Foster. Utah has Bubba Poole. Could Stanford’s Barry Sanders follow in his dad’s footsteps? Or will it be Kelsey Young who steals the show at Stanford? UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley accounted for 748 rushing yards last season. Could he add a few more long runs and hit the mark? What about one of his backs, such as Jordon James or Paul Perkins?

Colorado is pretty deep, Washington has options, and Oregon State says its run game is much improved.

With all those guys, how many 1,000-yard rushers will we actually see? History says it can range greatly. But what say you?

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:00
PM ET
Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.

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