Pac-12: Colorado Buffaloes

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
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Pac-12 Live: Week 5

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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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.
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Colorado picked up its second win of the season on Saturday with a 21-12 victory over Hawaii Warriors at home. The nine-point win is the best showing of a Pac-12 team against Hawaii so far this season (Washington won by one in the season opener, Oregon State won by eight in Week 2).

The receiving star of the day was Nelson Spruce, who picked up one touchdown and 172 yards on 13 receptions. His 71-yard touchdown picked the Buffs up out of the hole and gave them a lead which they wouldn't relinquish the rest of the game.

But his stardom didn't stop on the field. Nope, he took it to the locker room where he decided it was time for a post-game selfie. And why not? With these kinds of selfie skills, he should share his talent with the world.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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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.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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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.

Best of the visits: Pac-12

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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A fairly uninteresting slate of games provided for some notable outcomes and entertaining storylines for Pac-12 official and unofficial visitors this weekend. Despite a somewhat sluggish start and less than capacity crowd, Stanford put up a big win in front of some important visitors, while Colorado hosted a few in-state commitments and UCLA overcame adversity in front of some notable out-of-state targets.

Stack in the house at Stanford

The Cardinal had two ESPN 300 visitors in attendance in 2015 defensive tackle Christian Wilkins and 2016 defensive tackle Garrett Rand, but there was a famous father who took in the game as well: former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse and his son, Jaye Stackhouse, a 2015 cornerback from Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett, watched Stanford shut out Army. While Stackhouse doesn't hold an offer from the Cardinal, it's not surprising to see Stanford recruiting a player from Georgia, a state the program has found plenty success in over the past few years.

Big names, frames at Stanford

Speaking of Wilkins and Rand, the two standouts were joined by another fellow big man, ESPN 300 offensive lineman Nick Wilson, a Stanford commit who made an unofficial visit across the country this weekend. Wilson undoubtedly took his turn as recruiting coordinator while watching the game with the uncommitted defensive linemen.

Big lineman takes in Buffs game

Colorado held up well in a 14-point loss to Arizona State, and the Buffs took advantage of their first home game of the season by hosting top committed recruit and ESPN 300 offensive guard Tim Lynott on an unofficial visit. Lynott is the No. 2 player in the state, so getting him on campus often this season and keeping him engaged in the program will be a priority for Colorado.

Movin' on up

UCLA had an opportunity to impress a number of Texas recruits during its trip to Arlington to take on the Longhorns. The Bruins have done very well recruiting the state and already have two commitments from Lone Star State players in 2015. But head coach Jim Mora and staff have their sights set on pulling several more commitments from the region, including ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson, who has already said he will use one of his official visits on the Bruins. Luckily for UCLA, Jefferson had a great view of the Bruins' comeback win.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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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

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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It's a slow weekend in the Pac-12, as the conference doesn't host any real nonconference games of note. But the conference does have plans to host a significant uncommitted ESPN 300 recruit and has a team involved in one of the most intriguing non-conference games of the weekend, which could lead to significant gains on the recruiting trail.


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The question for Arizona State coach Todd Graham focused on his defense. This was not a new topic. The Sun Devils are pretty much completely rebuilding their defense after losing nine starters from the 2013 Pac-12 South Division champions, and it obviously had experienced some ups and downs against second-rate competition through two games.

"We’ve just got to eliminate the mental errors and the breakdowns," Graham said. "These guys are fast and we’re gaining depth on the inside on the defensive line. We have seven or eight guys we feel good about playing. Five corners we feel good about playing. We’re getting there."

Then, after a pause, Graham added his own footnote, one that probably anticipated what his listeners were thinking while he talked about his questionable defense.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTodd Graham and ASU's explosive offense will face a Colorado defense that yielded an average of 34.5 points and 5.7 yards per play against Colorado State and UMass.
"Our offense has helped a lot, too," he said. "That helps a lot. Our offense is going to score a bunch of points."

The best defense, in ASU's case, at least in the early going, is going to be a good offense.

If you're looking for a reason why the No. 16 Sun Devils probably feel pretty comfortable about their trip to Colorado on Saturday, it's their offense. Though averaging 51.5 points per game against Weber State and New Mexico isn't exactly going to make the front page of the New York Times, it seems notable when that offense is facing a Buffaloes defense that yielded an average of 34.5 points and 5.7 yards per play against Colorado State and UMass. Against that weak schedule, those two numbers still rank last in the Pac-12.

The Buffs are young on defense and it has showed thus far, so there is no question where ASU holds a decided edge. Though second-year coach Mike MacIntyre said nice things about the Sun Devils' defense -- "I see a lot of athletes. I see a lot of players who can make plays," he said -- it's pretty obvious what is keeping him up at night this week. Asked about which player most concerns him on the Sun Devils' offense, he didn't feel a need to be specific.

"Shoot, all 11," MacIntyre said. "Their line is good, their running backs are good, their quarterback is excellent. Their receivers are big and their tight ends are good. Their offense is one of the most talented in the Pac-12, no doubt about it."

That is the issue for the Buffs as they struggle to find a way up in the South Division pecking order. They have struggled on both sides of the ball so far, and they probably need the Sun Devils' offense to devolve into a flurry of turnovers and miscues to have any chance Saturday. With running back D.J. Foster running well and receiver Jaelen Strong surrounded by a better supporting cast than last season and a physical, athletic offensive line, veteran quarterback Taylor Kelly probably feels like a lottery winner strutting down Rodeo Drive.

The Buffs are starting freshmen at both defensive ends, which is probably intriguing for Foster. That also probably means they will have to blitz to pressure Kelly, and that is dangerous because Kelly's back-shoulder fade to Strong versus man coverage is one of the most difficult plays to defend in the conference.

Still, this should be the stoutest test for the Sun Devils thus far. It is, after all, the conference opener for both. If they pass, then they can earnestly eyeball the critical Sept. 25 visit from UCLA. Both teams have a bye with which to give their preparations extra mustard.
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?

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    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.”
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?

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    11%
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    26%
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    28%
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    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?

Pac-12 problem: Losing expansion?

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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Over the past five or so years, the Power Five conferences started playing expansion roulette. Although the ultimate wisdom of these moves can be measured only over the long term, the short-term results can be judged.

That judgment? Things worked out well for the SEC and Big Ten. Not so much for the Pac-12 and Big 12.

The Big Ten added Nebraska three seasons ago to give it 12 teams. The Cornhuskers, despite not satisfying their demanding fans, have gone 17-7 in league play and won 28 games overall.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau and Tenny Palepoi
AP Photo/Rick BowmerColorado and Utah have a dismal 13-41 combined record in league play since joining the Pac-12.
The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Each has posted double-digit wins and high national rankings as an SEC member, and their two-year conference marks essentially match what they did in their last two years in the Big 12.

The Big 12 replaced those two with TCU and West Virginia, teams that had won BCS bowl games as members of the Mountain West and Big East conferences, respectively. Yet neither has posted a winning record in Big 12 play, and both regressed to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference last year.

The Pac-12? It raided the Big 12 for Colorado, which went 5-7 and 2-6 in 2010, and the Mountain West for Utah, which went 10-3, 7-1 that year. Neither has matched its 2010 records in the Pac-12 nor posted a winning record in conference play. The Buffaloes have gone a meager 4-23 against Pac-12 foes, while the Utes have gone from 4-5 to 3-6 to 2-7 in conference games.

Nebraska has been to three consecutive New Year's Day bowls, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl last year, while Texas A&M has won a Heisman Trophy and two bowl games. Like the Aggies, Missouri has won a Cotton Bowl against the Big 12. Both have produced top-five rankings over the past two years.

The lone badge of postseason honor for the Pac-12 newbies? Utah's victory over Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl. To the Utes' credit, they have gone 9-1 in games outside the Pac-12 over the past three seasons, including 3-0 versus their bitter rival BYU.

Although the Pac-12 has surged after realignment in terms of national perception, gaining ground on the SEC, and the Big Ten has stagnated by comparison, that's had nothing to do with expansion. While Pac-12 folks aren't going to whine about the fruits of expansion -- Exhibit A being a $3 billion TV deal -- or even grouse about poor-to-middling results from the new members, it's fair to say the short-term gain in terms of assets on Saturdays has been slight.

As assets, Colorado and Utah don't attract national eyeballs at present as they would if they were winning 10 games and were nationally ranked. The Utes' nail-biter with Arizona State in November was an interesting game, but it would have been featured prominently in highlight shows that night if it were a battle of ranked teams eyeballing the South Division title.

That said, other Pac-12 coaches might enjoy not having two more teams threatening to play at a Top 25 -- or better -- level. The conference, even with the Utes and Buffs slumping, is deeper than it's ever been. In fact, if both were playing at a high level, the conference's chances to put two teams in BCS bowl games, as it did in two of the previous three years, would have been reduced, costing each team about $1 million since 2011. That holds true looking forward to a potential berth -- or berths -- in the College Football Playoff.

Depth is good. It's fun to celebrate top-to-bottom quality. But it also makes it more difficult to go 12-0 or 11-1 in the regular season, records typically required for national title contention.

Still, the Pac-12 is better served by Utah and Colorado improving. The conference certainly would like the Denver and Salt Lake City markets to turn their attention to college football in large numbers.

Not to conclude with an outlandish assertion here, but here's a guess that the folks most eager for the Buffs and Utes to help the Pac-12 feel good about its expansion choices are the fans, administrators, players and coaches associated with both programs.
As you might have heard, the Pac-12 has a bit of depth at quarterback this year. Actually, a ridiculous amount. Maybe the most in college football history.

The chances are slim, but there’s a foreseeable scenario in which the conference could feature two Heisman Trophy finalists (Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota), the nation’s leader in touchdown passes (Sean Mannion), the nation’s passing yardage leader (Connor Halliday) and send two others to the NFL next season (Taylor Kelly and Kevin Hogan).

That’s before factoring in USC’s Cody Kessler, whom Bovada installed at 75-to-1 to win the Heisman, and Utah’s Travis Wilson, who has a chance to become one of the best comeback stories in recent memory.

With all that talent, Cal’s Jared Goff and Colorado’s Sefo Liufau are, for the most part, flying comfortably below the radar. However, if things progress the way the pair of sophomores -- both of whom started as true freshmen -- are expecting, that will soon change.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesThrown into the fire as a true freshman, Cal's Jared Goff is poised for a breakthrough.
It was at about this time a year ago that Goff was named the starter, but he and Liufau were still getting comfortable with their teammates, learning new offenses and unsure of the road ahead.

"Fall camp was a little overwhelming," Liufau said. "It was hard to grasp the whole offense and decipher what defenses were doing, call out the protections, run the correct play, use all the signals. Things were going too fast for me to comprehend."

And now?

"Night and day," he said. "Everything has slowed down."

For Goff, the difference is equally palpable.

"Last year, I was more focused on bigger things, the basics," he said, "and now I can go into more detailed stuff and make more intricate reads."

Getting thrown into the fire as a true freshman quarterback ranks up there with the more difficult tasks in college football, but because they were also playing for first-year coaches in systems that were foreign to their teammates, the learning curve was even tougher. Goff didn’t have the luxury of a soft opening, either, facing four ranked teams in his first six starts.

All things considered, Goff’s freshman season — from an individual standpoint — went about as well as one could have hoped. He completed 320 of 531 passes (60.3 percent) for 3,508 yards and 18 touchdowns. Of the 16 quarterbacks at the FBS level that attempted at least 430 passes, only five had fewer interceptions than Goff’s 10.

After a summer in which he spent at least three days a week running 7-on-7 drills with the Golden Bears' impressive collection of receivers, Goff's development has been obvious during Cal practices.

"His ability to be on the same page with the receivers has really improved," coach Sonny Dykes said. "He's a lot more poised, a lot more confident. He's stronger. The ball is coming out quicker and he's a lot more decisive."

Unlike Goff, Liufau was eased into the job last season. He sat for the first four games and came off the bench against Arizona State in the fifth before taking the reins against Charleston Southern and keeping them the rest of the year. He completed 149 of 251 passes (59.4 percent) for 1,779 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The numbers won't blow anyone away, but it was enough of a foundation for Colorado fans to be confident they had a guy with a bright future.

However, that was with talented receiver Paul Richardson. The Seattle Seahawks' second-round pick averaged 6.9 catches for nearly 98 yards with Liufau entrenched as the starter and was as reliable a security blanket as there was in college football.

Without him, there's reasons for skepticism, but Liufau doesn't seem worried.

"I see big strides from numerous players and the team overall," he said. "I think we can win every game. It sounds crazy to people, but if we execute the way we have in fall camp, it’s definitely possible."

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