Pac-12: Colorado Buffaloes

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EUGENE, Ore. -- No. 2 Oregon kept its national title hopes alive on Saturday with a 44-10 win over Colorado.

How the game was won: Scoring. Lots and lots of scoring. The Ducks put up 44 points and left quite a few other opportunities on the field. With the exception of the first play of the game (an onside kickoff that Colorado recovered), Oregon dominated and controlled the game in all aspects. Quarterback Marcus Mariota -- who was working behind another revamped offensive line -- was nearly flawless. From his first completion (a 7-yard completion to Devon Allen) to his last (a 14-yard TD to Charles Nelson), the game came easy to him.

The defense performed well too, holding Colorado to just 10 points (a season low) on 226 yards of offense. Colorado wide receiver Nelson Spruce, who came into the game averaging an FBS-high 9.9 catches per game, accounted for only two receptions. His 16 receiving yards was also nearly 100 yards less than his season average (109.1 yards per game).

Gameball goes to: Mariota, who most likely made his final appearance as a player in Autzen Stadium. He didn’t take part in the senior day festivities, but all signs indicate that this was the redshirt junior’s final home game. And if he returns, it would be a shock. But the reception he got from the fans as he left the field after his final play, which came early in the fourth quarter, and the ensuing “Mariota, Mariota, Mariota” chants, seemed to be a good way to say goodbye to this stadium and its fans.

Also, let’s give some quick shout outs to two true freshman standouts: Royce Freeman and Nelson. Freeman eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season -- the first true freshman in Oregon history to do so -- and ended the day with two touchdowns and 105 rushing yards on 17 carries. Nelson finished with two touchdowns as well. His three receptions is a career high. Not bad for a guy that we’ve literally watched play his way into the lineup over the past month.

Playoff implication: Oregon is securely in the top four. And with every single one of these blowout wins, it continues to make big statements to the committee. Alabama might have started slow against Western Carolina, but don’t expect the Crimson Tide to drop out of the top spot. However, it’s really not a point of worry for the Ducks because even if they aren’t the top dog, they’re securely in that top four group. As long as that’s the case, Oregon is still in the running for a national title.

Best play: There were plenty of big plays in this 34-point win. So, we’re going to go with the play that had the most style points. That was courtesy of redshirt freshman receiver Darren Carrington, who tipped the ball to himself and then caught it with his backside on the ground. It was a 29-yard reception that gave Oregon a first down. The drive ended with a field goal, but this was memorable.

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What's next: Oregon prepares for the Civil War. Oregon State’s last game in Reser Stadium was an upset of then-No. 6 Arizona State so the Ducks will need to be sharp from beginning to end. The Pac-12 championship against [insert any South team here] follows no matter what, but Oregon must beat the Beavers in order to stay in the playoff race.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

As we do every Friday, we focus our attention on some picks. Only two weeks left (not counting the bowl games). Six are already bowl eligible, two more will punch their ticket this weekend (the winners of the Stanford-Cal and Oregon State-Washington games becomes bowl eligible). So we'll have at least eight. But nine or 10 are still mathematically possible. But we'll worry about that when we have to.

The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning. Chantel Jennings went against the grain in a couple of picks and Kyle Bonagura likes the Trojans. Other than that, pretty unanimous.

As we do every week, here are some predictions from folks who cover the conference and college football nationally.

The Fox Sports tandem of Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel both like the Bruins in a tight game. Here's what Feldman had to say:
Brett Hundley wrecked the Trojans last season with his legs and arm, and he was very sharp in carving up USC two years ago. Despite how well Cody Kessler, Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen are playing, my hunch is the Bruins have enough athletes on defense to contain them to get away with a win. UCLA 31, USC 30.

Here are some other thoughts: Halliday update

Injured Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday spoke about the specifics of his injury for the first time Thursday. We had one report here on the blog. He also shared his frustration over the injury and the hope that he'll be playing football again within five months, which would put him in line to participate in WSU's pro day.

Here's a quote from Halliday from a story in the Spokesman-Review:
I think the hardest thing was just how close I was to being healthy throughout the year, going to the combine, getting to do all that stuff. That’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I’ve been able to dream so that was the frustrating thing: I was just three games away from that.

Halliday was putting up monster numbers. We know this because he's still leading the Pac-12 in passing with 3,873 yards and 32 touchdown passes. Here's the full transcript of Halliday's conference call with the media.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The Cal band continued its annual tradition of invading the San Francisco Chronicle, which is kind of funny.



I don't know what this is or what it does ... but I think I want one.

Pac-12 Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:00
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Why Stanford will win: Stanford winning the Big Game would be a sure-thing if I had predicted Cal to win -- as Bears fans know, my pick is like getting handed a condemning black spot from a pirate, a la "Treasure Island." But there is something to be said for the physicality of Stanford's defense being able to contain Cal's offense, as Washington's front seven did. I also suspect Stanford will get Good Kevin Hogan in this game, which should be enough to get the Cardinal bowl eligible in an otherwise disappointing season. -- Ted Miller

Why Cal will win: I like this matchup: A great offense against a great defense, and a "meh" offense against a "meh" defense. Yay, Pac-12 football! But I think Jared Goff is going to come up huge for the Bears. I'm giving the nod to the team that has more positive vibes, rather than the one dealing with disappointment. That's what I've learned from the West Coast. -- Chantel Jennings

Why USC will win: It just wouldn't feel right if the Pac-12 South finished without another change of course. Look for Cody Kessler to turn in another big game and the Trojans to avoid a three-game losing streak to UCLA -- something that has happened just three times in the series' history. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why UCLA will win: With Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor exploding on a regular basis, USC may have more top-level flash (don’t tell that to Brett Hundley, though), but UCLA has the depth advantage in this game. The Trojans’ late-game struggles have to be cause for some concern here, especially since the Bruins have been playing their best football as of late. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon State will win: The Beavers are riding high and bowl eligibility is on the line in Sean Mannion's senior year. Last week, the Beavers played for pride. This week, it'll be to give their leader one extra game in an OSU uniform. They clicked last week and I think that will continue. I think the Beavers are going to leave Seattle with a win and extend their season one more game. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Washington will win: In losing Terron Ward, the Beavers lose a running back, a leader and a special teams contributor. That’s a big deduction this late in the season for a team not overflowing with playmakers. Combine that with a talented Washington front seven and the Huskies feel right in this one at home. Now, if Cyler Miles can just hold on to the dang ball. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

Why Utah will win: Home-field advantage might not mean as much as it used to in the Pac-12 this season, but I think the crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium fuels Utah's nation-leading pass rush. It will be enough to push the Utes to victory over an Arizona offense that’s still young at key positions. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon will win: When the best team in the conference plays the worst team in the conference, it's easy to pick the winner (even in the Pac-12). It's only a question of how much the Ducks will win by. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils are going to be eager to bounce back from their loss in Corvallis and pick up win No. 9 against Washington State. Look for a better performance from Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster, who rushed for just 51 yards against the Beavers. -- Chantel Jennings

Pac-12 morning links

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
8:00
AM ET
I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for.

Leading off

The USA Today annual database of coaches salaries, which was released Wednesday, always draws plenty of debate. Coach "X" is overpaid. Coach "Y" is underpaid. Whatever your stance, one thing is for sure ... coaches salaries are at an all-time high. And thus, the expectations are equally high.

Here’s how things shape up for the Pac-12 coaches, based on total compensation.
  • Chris Petersen, Washington, $3,681, 720
  • Rich Rodriguez, Arizona, 3,298,500
  • Jim Mora, UCLA, $3,250,000
  • Mike Leach, Washington State, $2,750,000
  • Todd Graham, Arizona State, $2,702,960
  • Kyle Whittingham, Utah, $2,200,000
  • David Shaw, Stanford, $2,012,666
  • Mike MacIntyre, Colorado, $2,010,150
  • Mark Helfrich, Oregon, $2,000,000
  • Sonny Dykes, Cal, $1,808,000
  • Mike Riley, Oregon State, $1,510,008
  • Steve Sarkisian, USC, N/A

When talking to some coaches last February for a story about potential coaching changes in the future, a few of them expressed to me that the main reason coaches only get three years now is the salaries. It used to be a coach would get at least four years -- one full recruiting cycle -- to turn a program around. Yet schools also have to spend the money to attract coaches, especially rebuilding projects. With the pressure to produce immediate results, it stands to reason that the heat gets turned up after Year 2 or 3. For now, it looks like everyone in the Pac-12 is reasonably happy with their coach, so it's unlikely we see any unforced moves in the offseason.

Player of the Year

The 15 semifinalists for the Walter Camp Award, given annually to the top player in college football, were released Wednesday with three Pac-12 players on the list.
Not to be overshadowed, the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top running back, was also released Wednesday. USC's Buck Allen was the only Pac-12 player named a semifinalist.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you watch one video of a punter pinning opponents inside the 10 today, make it this one.

Here's injured Buffalo Bills linebacker and former Duck Kiko Alonso chillin in some snow, because, well, why not?

Recovery

A video posted by Kiko Alonso (@elbravo_50) on


Some more Big Game motivation.

Mailbag: Oregon vs. ???

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
8:00
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Welcome to the mailbag, where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came. If you feel so inclined, follow me on Twitter.

Derrick in Omaha writes: Who should Oregon fear the most in a Pac-12 champ game? I don't think we need a highly ranked opponent, just one we can beat. Tough to beat UCLA twice, but USC is looking pretty good, too. And Arizona has had our number the last few years.

Kevin Gemmell: The simple answer is this: Fear everyone! There is no easy out.

Whoever the Ducks end up playing, they are going to get a unique challenge. But let's go down the line and look at the five teams left and what sort of trouble they could present the Ducks. (Relax, this is in alphabetical order).

SportsNation

Which South Division team could give Oregon the most trouble in the Pac-12 championship game?

  •  
    16%
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    18%
  •  
    15%
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    34%
  •  
    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,439)

Arizona: The Wildcats have the benefit of beating Oregon twice in the past two seasons. Could they pull it off thrice? Oregon is a different team than the one that lost seven weeks ago. It's healthier in some places, but not in others. And as you note, it's hard to beat a team twice in one season. But the 'Cats seem to know something no one else does. If Arizona wins again, they should take a bow. (Ohhh ... See what I did there?)

ASU: The Ducks didn't see the Sun Devils this year. But you've got to think the matchup with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Jaelen Strong (assuming both are at full health) would be a marquee storyline in this game. ASU will blitz, because that's what ASU does, and if they can keep Marcus Mariota contained, they'd have a shot. That's a big if, though.

UCLA: The Bruins have the experience of having already seen the Ducks once this season. But they had no answer for Royce Freeman, who really blossomed in this game with 121 rushing yards and two scores. But UCLA's Paul Perkins, though kept out of the end zone, rushed for 187 yards on 21 carries -- an average of 8.9 yards per touch. That could be a problem.

USC: Really good running back. Really good receiver. Really accurate quarterback who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Really athletic defense. This one is intriguing. ...

Utah: The final score, 51-27, wasn't indicative of how close that game really was. The Utes were within a field goal with 11 minutes left, and we don't know what would have happened if the Utes had gone up 14-0 instead of the infamous 7-7 swing.

All five matchups have their pros and cons for the Ducks. Let the debate begin.




0006shy in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kevin, is it time for the rest of the country to admit that the Pac-12 South is the toughest division in college football? Five teams -- five teams! -- are still in contention to win it. Talk about cannibalizing! Sorry Sec West, your propaganda doesn't work over here on the BEST coast. With teams like Arkansas (one conference win in two and a half years), A&M (no defense at all), LSU (couldn't complete a pass even if the existence of the universe depended on it), and the Mississippi schools (eight non-conference games combined, zero against Power 5 teams), you're a distant second.

Kevin Gemmell: I think the rest of the country has, in fact, woken up and smelled the Southern goodness. That's why there are five Pac-12 South teams ranked in the most recent College Football Playoff poll with UCLA (9), ASU (13), Arizona (15), Utah (17) and USC (19). But it's not just the committee. All five are also ranked in the AP poll and the coaches' poll. So there is wide recognition that the South is deep.

That five of six teams from one division are ranked in the top 20 is awfully impressive. But for the sake of comparison, it's worth noting that the SEC West has four ranked teams and three of them are in the top 10 and all four are in the top 15.

So the question then becomes quality vs. depth. No doubt, the South is a deeper division. Even with seven teams compared to six, I'd take the bottom half of the South over the bottom half of the West any day. But does the South have more quality at the top than the West?

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre has some thoughts on the subject, which you can read here.

For kicks, let's quickly look at the potential matchups of the top five from each division (we're going by rankings):
  • Alabama (1) vs UCLA (9)
  • Mississippi State (4) vs. ASU (13)
  • Ole Miss (8) vs. Arizona (15)
  • Auburn (14) vs. Utah (17)
  • Texas A&M (NR) vs. USC (19)

I think on any given day you have the Pac-12 South going 3-2 and the next day the West going 3-2.

So to answer your question/comment, I think the South probably has a slight edge. But that's also coming from a Pac-12 writer. But I think "distant" second might be a little too extreme. It's pretty neck and neck.




James in Corvallis writes: What are your thoughts on Jordan Villamin after the OSU upset? He has a size/speed combo that OSU hasn't had in recent memory. Could he be something special? It would be nice to have that one-two punch with Bolden and Villamin.

Kevin Gemmell: Interesting to see this question pop up, because I just asked Mike Riley about Villamin on Tuesday's conference call. And I know Chantel Jennings has a Pulitzer-worthy feature coming out on him for tomorrow, so look for that.

I'm not necessarily ready to speculate on anybody's future -- especially a wide receiver when a quarterback transition is going to occur in the very near future -- but it's fair to say he's made the most of his opportunities.

First, his measurables are outstanding. At 6-4, 240 pounds, he's certainly got the kind of frame that can give defensive backs fits. In the first five games, he had just three catches for 32 yards.

But since Richard Mullaney went out and Villamin's role has increased, he's caught 26 balls for 479 yards and four touchdowns. He had huge performances against Cal (9-140-1) and ASU (4-127-1) and appears to be gaining more confidence with every game he's played.

And that's exactly what Riley said when I asked him about him: more opportunities have led to greater confidence.

He's still a pup and learning the speed of the game. But I'd look for him to play a big role in the final two regular-season games and potentially a bowl game if the Beavers can get there.
Here we are, two weeks left in the regular season, and the Pac-12 once again has a team in contention for a national championship.

But let’s be honest ... does anyone actually feel good about the prospects? Oregon -- the league’s brightest beacon of hope -- retained its No. 2 spot when the latest College Football Playoff rankings were revealed Tuesday night.

With games against Colorado (2-8) and Oregon State (5-5) remaining -- plus an opponent still-to-be-determined in the Pac-12 championship game -- the Ducks seem to be in good shape for a spot in the national semifinal in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. A 69-percent chance, if you trust the ESPN metrics.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe path to the College Football Playoff seems straightforward for Royce Freeman and Oregon. But recent Pac-12 history has not been kind to teams in the Ducks' position.
The case for Oregon is compelling. Since losing to Arizona, the Ducks have won their last five games by an average of 21.6 points and have three double-digit wins over FPI Top 25 opponents -- the most in FBS. With the country’s most efficient offense led by the most efficient quarterback, it seems safe to at least start looking up hotels in the greater Los Angeles area.

But Pac-12 fans have learned to live in a world where the other shoe dangles delicately -- amassing potential energy before delivering a knockout blow at terminal velocity. We’ve seen teams with stronger resumes than the 2014 Ducks pull off amazing feats of yoga just so they could kick themselves in the rear.

In other words, Pac-12, you’ve teased us too many times before.

You know what you are, Pac-12? You’re the last number on a lottery scratcher that doesn’t hit. You’re the ace that pops up when you double down on 7-4. You’re the high-priced steak that’s undercooked and over-seasoned. You’re the last episode of The Sopranos. So much anticipation and build up, followed by an unsatisfying and jarring cut to black.

As my colleague Ted Miller likes to uncouthly say, you yak on yourself this time each year.

Will this year be different?

We thought it would be last year, before Stanford beat Oregon, USC beat Stanford and Arizona beat Oregon.

We thought 2012 would be different, until the Stanford beat Oregon.

We thought 2011 would be different, until Oregon beat Stanford and USC beat Oregon.

You can go all the way back to the league’s last national champion in 2004 and find an instance of foot-shooting almost every year. USC and Oregon did it in their national championship games in 2005 and 2010, respectively. The 2008 Trojans -- a team so ridiculously loaded with future NFL talent -- crashed and burned in Corvallis in the third game of the season. The computers never forgave them.

But before that, there were the Trojans gagging in 2006 with a mid-season loss (again in Corvallis) and a season-finale loss to UCLA. You can even go back to ’98 and dredge up the would-be UCLA-Tennessee national championship that never happened, courtesy of Miami.

We’ve already seen it with Arizona State’s collapse last weekend in Corvallis. How neat and tidy would it have been for the league to have two one-loss teams playing in the championship game with a spot in the playoffs on the line? But that’s not the league’s style. It prefers messy.

Had the Sun Devils pulled out a win last weekend, do you think the Beavers faithful at Reser Stadium would have been chanting “P-A-C, P-A-C” like some other conference we know that holds itself in such high regard? Of course not. This league’s coaches rarely talk about what’s good for the conference. They want what’s best for their own team -- national perception and conference pride be damned. And for the record, this fifth of the Pac-12 blog is just fine with that.

Colorado isn’t going to yield the floor to the gentlemen from the great state of Oregon. Nor are the Beavers gracefully going to step aside and accept their seventh straight loss to the Ducks. Those teams want nothing more than to dust the college football landscape with thermite and watch it burn.

Nothing is a lock. Nothing is even close to being a lock. If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that the worst may be yet to come.

Or maybe this year will be different. Maybe the Pac-12 will hit that third lottery number, pull that face card, and savor that high-priced steak. Maybe this is the year the league’s national title hopes don’t have a Sopranos-esque ending and simply snap to black. Because the league clearly has one of the best teams in the country. And it would be a shame if things just cut off right in the middle of

Pac-12 morning links

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
8:00
AM ET
Nervous?
Yes
First time?
No, I've been nervous lots of times.

Leading off

The College Football Playoff will release its new rankings tonight, and it's a safe bet that Oregon will still be in the top four after being on bye last week. Projections have had them as high as No. 1 and as low as No. 4. If The Eliminator has anything to say about it, the Ducks are still in good shape. The Ducks are one of eight teams still listed as "in contention."
For No. 2 Oregon, the mission is now simple: Don't screw it up. The Ducks suffered November losses in each of the past three seasons that prevented them from playing for a BCS national championship. Oregon's path to the playoff isn't entirely clear -- it still has regular-season games left against Colorado on Saturday and at Oregon State for the Civil War on Nov. 29, as well as the Pac-12 championship game -- but it would be a surprise if anyone can knock off the Ducks. Since losing to Arizona 31-24 at home on Oct. 2, Oregon has scored at least 42 points in five consecutive victories.

But the Ducks aren't the only Pac-12 team still hanging around. Three others -- Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA -- remain "on the fence." The Wildcats have a tough South Division road game against Utah. The Sun Devils will look to bounce back against Washington State and UCLA and USC square off at the Rose Bowl in a rivalry game with plenty of regional and national implications.

Awards season

The Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top receiver, announced its 10 semifinalists Monday. Almost half of the players are from the Pac-12. Here's the list:
The award has resided in the Pac-12 the last two seasons, after OSU's Brandin Cooks won it in 2013 and USC's Marqise Lee took it home in 2012. You can check out the receiving stats here to see how the four stack up against the competition.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Must be rivalry week.

 
The 2014 Pac-12 season is like great cinema. Last week, I drew comparisons to "Gladiator," and how could I not? The league does host games in the Coliseum and folks are, in fact, entertained.

That parallel might have been too simplistic.

Just a few days ago, we seemed destined for a clear-cut final battle between Oregon and Arizona State. But as we've hit the home stretch, it's apparent this Pac-12 story contains more twists and turns than Lombard Street. It's time to shift cinematic comparisons. "Fight Club," "Shutter Island," "Memento," "The Empire Strikes Back" -- pick your favorite startling ending. Because it appears Tyler Durden may be orchestrating how this sucker wraps up, particularly in the Pac-12 South. The next stunner has yet to be revealed, but it's again time to make sense of it all heading into next Saturday:

Breakfast with the Pac-12: Washington State at Arizona State

Brace yourselves... for a Pac-12 kickoff at 10 a.m. PT. The Sun Devils will go from one end of the extreme (7:45 p.m. PT kick in their 35-27 loss at Oregon State last week) to the other, although it should be noted that this one starts at 11 a.m. local time in Tempe. Still, that's an early chance for ASU to right the ship after this past weekend's disaster in Corvallis. The Sun Devils had been consistently improving their run defense on a weekly basis until the Beavers' Storm Woods and Terron Ward both lit them up with 100-yard performances. As a result, Arizona State's defense is still a volatile question mark, and this week's get-back-on-track test comes against young Washington State gunslinger Luke Falk.

A tasty lunch: Arizona at Utah

Delicious indeed. The Wildcats needed a minor miracle (see an unnecessary Washington fumble and kick-icing backfire) to pull out a 27-26 win over the Huskies this past week, and they're still very much alive in the Pac-12 South race because of it. Arizona needs to win out while hoping for a USC loss this Saturday and a UCLA loss the week after that, which would lead to an Arizona rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. This weekend is a sweet matchup against Utah, which again played excellent defense in its 20-17 double-overtime win at Stanford. The Utes may also still have a chance at the South crown in a hypothetical five-way tie that's too confusing for my brain to process, so I'll let Kyle Bonagura break down that situation. Long story short: This will be a huge game in the electric Rice-Eccles Stadium environment.

Diamond-in-the-rough game: Stanford at Cal

The Cardinal have tumbled from the nation's elite to a team fighting to attain bowl eligibility, while the Bears have risen from complete inferiority to meet Stanford in the same place. The paths of these two rivals intersect at 5-5, just one win shy of that six-win postseason plateau. So, yes, a surface-level examination says this is solely a Big Game between a pair of .500 football teams. But the most dazzling explosions are often produced by entities coming from polar opposite directions, careening toward one another at blazing speeds. Can Cal end its Axe-less drought (since 2009) or will Stanford prolong its dominance of this Bay Area battle? The matchup of the Cardinal's conference-worst offense (23.9 points per game) and the Bears' conference-worst defense (39.7 points per game) will likely determine the answer to that question.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: USC at UCLA

This gem needs no more hype. It is the traditional rivalry of Los Angeles, and it comes with an enormous amount at stake beyond that. The Bruins again control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South race, and talk of a College Football Playoff berth for them has resurfaced. The Trojans aren't in a horrible position, either, although they'll need some things that are out of their control to go their way to end up at Levi's Stadium for the Pac-12 title game. This pairing of UCLA (which seems to be playing its best ball at just the right time) and an explosive USC attack (see Nelson Agholor's second consecutive 200-yard receiving performance in the Trojans' 38-30 win over Cal) sets the table for a beauty in Arroyo Seco. The Bruins' Brett Hundley may get most of the hype, but remember that USC's Cody Kessler is the nation's only quarterback to have attempted more than 300 passes with fewer than four interceptions.

Desperation bowl: Oregon State at Washington

Yes, the Beavers are coming off a potentially season-saving upset win over ASU, but they're still one win shy of bowl eligibility. With the Ducks looming in the season finale, this chance in Seattle is their best shot to earn a postseason berth. So this is a must-win without technically being a must-win for them, if you catch my drift. The Huskies, meanwhile, are thirsty to erase the putrid taste of their 27-26 loss at Arizona. It appeared as if Chris Petersen's team had finally put together a complete performance, but the Huskies passed on a late chance to kneel out most of the clock and fumbled away the game instead. This is Pac-12 Hail Mary territory, so maybe there are even tougher ways to lose than that, but the point remains: Both teams are starved for one more win.

A time to take care of business: Colorado at Oregon

The Ducks are massive favorites over the Buffs at Autzen Stadium. Oregon has already clinched the Pac-12 North and is on track for a College Football Playoff berth as long as the Ducks do what's expected of them: Beat inferior opponents in the final two weeks of the regular season. Of course, a tougher Pac-12 championship game looms after that, but that's a worry for another time. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich must first use this stretch as an opportunity for his wounded team to heal and, of course, win. Colorado, meanwhile, is scrapping for just one Pac-12 win this season. The Buffs have this opportunity against the Ducks and one versus Utah remaining. Both are daunting.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
8:00
AM ET
All the vampires walkin' through the valley, move west down Ventura Blvd;
And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows, and the good girls are home with broken hearts.

Leading off

It's a new week, which means a new set of rankings. Chaos continues to ring throughout the land, as well as in the Pac-12 South ... the toughest division in all of college football.

Half of the Pac-12 is ranked this week -- and five of those six teams hail from the South, which was thrown into further turmoil Saturday night with Oregon State's win against Arizona State. As always, Kyle Bonagura has the league breakdown here.

And here's where things shape up for the conference this week. The new College Football Playoff rankings will be unveiled -- with much debate, no doubt -- Tuesday. You can see the complete rankings here. As always, the AP result is listed first:
  • Oregon 3-3
  • UCLA 11-12
  • Arizona State 13-14
  • Arizona 15-13
  • Utah 20-21
  • USC 24-24

And as we do every Monday, here's a look at how some folks who cover the conference voted on their AP ballots. Northern misery loves company

If you land on Dan Wolken's Misery Index, chances are things have gone very, very wrong. The USA Today writer picked a pair of Pac-12 teams for this week's index, both of them from the North Division.

First, his thoughts on Stanford:
... but fans have to be a bit concerned about the backslide this year to 5-5 and the possibility the Cardinal will miss the postseason for the first time since 2009. Yes, that's right -- with games remaining at California and UCLA, Stanford is on very thin ice to make a bowl game, which would be a true disappointment considering they were expected to contend for the Pac-12 title.

And now Washington:
Coincidentally, this is the first time he's lost five games in a season as head coach. And unlike in Boise, where Petersen had enough goodwill built up to survive a rough patch or two with his fan base, he's starting from scratch with Washington fans. So far, he hasn't shown them much.

Both teams are still one game short of bowl eligibility. And as Wolken mentions, Stanford has to get it done either against rival Cal or UCLA. The Huskies have two shots left with OSU at home this weekend and then a trip to Pullman in the Apple Cup. Wouldn't be shocking if either team is left on the outside.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Good call, coaches.

It's on!

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
2:00
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A few things we learned this week in the Pac-12.

The South is a mess, again: UCLA is now the front-runner in the division following Arizona State's 35-27 loss to Oregon State. The tiebreaker scenarios now start to get a little confusing. Luckily, Kyle Bonagura broke it all down earlier this week. You can click here to check it out. The simplest scenario would be for UCLA to win out and face Oregon (which has already locked up the North) in the Pac-12 title game. But this league doesn't do simple. It mocks simple. It laughs at you for even beginning to hope that anything will ever be simple again. So expect more chaos in the final couple of weeks.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Brian Murphy/Icon SportswireFollowing its upset of No. 6 Arizona State, Oregon State has now gone 5-5 at home as an unranked team playing a top 10 team since 2000.
But the South is also awesome: Even though the league's best chance at landing a team in the College Football Playoff comes from the North (see below), the South continues to assert itself as the dominant division. It entered the week 11-6 against its northern brethren, and picked up three more wins along the way. Victories from Arizona over Washington, Utah over Stanford and USC over Cal improved the mark to 14-7. OSU's stunner over ASU prevented the sweep. The South is plenty deep and plenty talented. David Lombardi wrote about that last week, as a matter of fact.

And then there was one: We've been saying for quite some time that a one-loss Pac-12 champion gets into the College Football Playoff. That hope is still alive with the Ducks, who were on a bye this week. The optimal scenario of Oregon and a one-loss ASU team meeting in the Pac-12 championship game -- in essence a playoff elimination game -- is gone. Even if a South team does win the conference, it will be tough for a two-loss team to get in. Not saying it's impossible, but it will be hard. So the Ducks, once again, are carrying the league's postseason hopes.

Consider Kessler: Coaches will no doubt start penciling in their all-conference teams soon, if they haven't started already. I think it's safe to assume that Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota is a sure thing for first team. But how about second team? Something to ponder: USC's Cody Kessler is completing 70.2 percent of his throws with 29 touchdowns to just three interceptions. While the Trojans have had a fairly up-and-down season, Kessler has mostly been steady. He probably deserves a lot more national recognition than he's getting.

Home warriors: Something amazing happened this week: The home teams actually did pretty good! Coming into the week, the road team was 26-13 in conference games. But with home wins from Arizona, Oregon State and USC, the visitors “fall” to 27-16. Of course, the one team that lost at home -- Stanford -- once held the nation's longest home win streak. Chalk it up to more Pac-12 lunacy this year.

Rivalry implications: The first round of rivalry games kicks off next week with UCLA and USC squaring off at the Rose Bowl and Cal hosting Stanford in the Big Game. Lots of intrigue surrounding both games. USC is coming off a win against Cal, while the Bruins were on a bye. As noted above, this is a huge game for the South Division standings. And if the Bruins win, they can lock up the division a week later against the Cardinal. For Stanford and Cal, the winner is bowl eligible. Given that one team is offensively challenged and the other is defensively challenged, it's the tale as old as time of weakness on weakness.

Coming back fresh: Four teams had a bye in Week 12: Colorado, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State. All four have varying degrees of importance for which to play. Oregon, as noted above, is looking for a spot in the playoff. Colorado can go all Skynet and blow everything up, locally and nationally. WSU got great production last week out of Luke Falk, who is auditioning to be WSU's quarterback of the future. And UCLA, of course, only has to worry about a rivalry and a division title. Given all that happened this week nationally and within the conference, probably a good week to take a breather.

A day for redemption: A couple of Pac-12 players who starred in the role of goat in previous weeks had their moments in the sun. First, Arizona kicker Casey Skowron -- who caught his share of social media bullying after missing a game-winning 36-yard field goal against USC last month -- was the hero in Tucson for nailing a 47-yarder as time expired in the Wildcats' 27-26 win over Washington. And last week, Utah's Kaelin Clay was a national punchline for his unforced fumble against the Ducks. But Saturday, he caught the first touchdown for Utah in overtime in the Utes' 20-17 win over the Cardinal. Pretty good timing by both guys to come up big.

Corvallis, the city of broken dreams: There are trap games. And then there are trap games at Reser Stadium. Since 2000, Oregon State has the best home record in FBS football as an unranked team going against a team ranked in the AP top 10 (minimum 10 games), improving to 5-5. Chantel Jennings broke down a few of those for you earlier this week.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
8:00
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

#Pac12AfterDark almost made an appearance last night ... almost. While the California Golden Bears were able to mount a late semi-comeback against the Trojans, it wasn't enough as USC prevailed 38-30 behind a big night from quarterback Cody Kessler and wide receiver Nelson Agholor.

Kessler tossed four touchdowns and an interception on 31-of-42 passing for 370 yards. Agholor hauled in 16 balls for 214 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first USC player to ever record back-to-back 200-yard receiving games.

Cal made a late charge with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Quarterback Jared Goff was 29-of-46 for 279 yards with three scores. A failed onside kick attempt after Cal cut it to one possession turned out to be the difference.

You might have noticed more than a few flags on the field during the course of the game. USC coach Steve Sarkisian addressed that ... sort of ...



Here are a few recaps from the game: Getting picky

The Pac-12 blog is off to a good start with its picks this week. All five of us picked the Trojans to win at home. In fact, the only game we differ on is the Stanford-Utah game, with unanimous picks across the board for the other games. As we do every Friday, here are some picks from national writers and folks who cover the conference: News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you were at the game last night and wondering why Josh Shaw was on the cover of the gameday guide, here's why.

If you're in LA on Sunday and looking to kill time, hang out with Brett Hundley for a good cause.
2011-2012: The days of Northern rule

In the first three seasons after the conference's expansion to 12 teams, the Pac-12 North ruled the league. Oregon's annual November matchup with Stanford went further toward determining the league champion than the official Pac-12 championship game held a week later.

This was most apparent in 2011, the first year of the two-division, title-game format. USC, still on postseason probation that season, had the firepower to give the Cardinal and Ducks all they could handle (they took Stanford to triple overtime and beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium). But the Trojans' postseason absence took any true bite out of the South: The rest of the division was puny, and its top qualifying option for the title game was 6-6 UCLA -- a team that had already fired its head coach in Rick Neuheisel.

When the Bruins visited Eugene for all the marbles in December that season, the game was mocked as more of a ritual sacrifice on the path to Oregon Rose Bowl glory than a legitimate championship game.

In 2012, the Pac-12 South hadn't gained much tangible ground. USC was back from its probation, but the Trojans were a significantly worse team than they were the year prior. No team from the South finished the season in the AP's Top 25 rankings (three clubs from the North did), and UCLA again packed its bags for the conference title game. This time, it came against Stanford and was more competitive (27-24) than a year prior, but the closeness may have been attributed to the fact the two teams had played just six days prior (the Cardinal drubbed the Bruins 35-17 in that one).

Simply put, very little indicated the Pac-12 South was catching up to its Northern brethren. The North owned a 17-9 record in head-to-head matchups with the South in 2011 and a 16-9 mark in 2012. Four teams from the North finished with better records than the South's title-game representative in 2011, and that number only decreased to three -- still indicative of a staggering amount of imbalance -- in 2012. The heavyweights commanded this conference, and they resided in Eugene and Palo Alto.

2013: Subtle indications of a shift

The first signs of a power tilt came last season, and that initial shift has turned into a full Pac-12 South surge here in 2014. For the first time in the Pac-12's short history, the South finished the season with as many ranked teams as the North in 2013. The rise of Arizona State, the continued improvement of UCLA, and the post-Lane Kiffin resurgence of USC gave the South three 10-win teams last year, beating the North's final tally of two (Oregon and Stanford, the usual suspects).

In terms of overall record, the North's once-wide head-to-head edge was cut to just one game, 13-12. The stage was set for a Pac-12 South statement in the Pac-12 championship game, but Stanford put those thoughts on hold when they waltzed into Sun Devil Stadium and whipped Arizona State, 38-14.

The Pac-12 North was still king, but not for long.

2014: The cataclysmic change

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriArizona freshman QB Anu Solomon should help the Pac-12 South keep trending up in future seasons.
Oregon may well successfully wave the North's flag again this year -- in fact, they're favored to again win the Pac-12 title -- but, outside of Marcus Mariota's empire in Eugene, there isn't much to write home about in the division. The South, meanwhile, has seen surges from Arizona and Utah this season to enjoy unprecedented parity. Five teams have been legitimate contenders in that division this season, all while the North has completely melted away outside of Oregon.

The Ducks have clinched the Pac-12 North with two games -- more than 20 percent of the schedule -- still remaining. Stanford, suffering through its worst season this decade, is in a fight just to become bowl eligible. Washington, which won nine games last year, has struggled to replace the firepower Keith Price and Bishop Sankey brought to the offense. Oregon State, a formidable nine-win component just two years ago, is 1-10 in its last 11 conference games. Washington State has regressed to 3-7 following a year of bowl eligibility, while California has lifted itself out of the doldrums but is still hindered by the Pac-12's worst defense.

It's all added up to this: For the first time since the conference's expansion, the Pac-12 South has a winning record over the North. It stands at 11-6 right now. Stanford, the North's second-place team, has a 5-4 overall record that would be good for sixth-best in the South, better than only bottom feeder Colorado -- and it should be noted that the Buffs are showing progress, too.

This nugget is perhaps the most staggering of all: No Pac-12 North team except for Oregon has beaten a ranked opponent in 2014.

2015 and beyond: Projecting the future

Of course, numerous variables will determine the balance moving forward. But the South looks like it'll remain strong. USC's recruiting remains excellent, and the last remnants of NCAA sanctions will soon wear off. Graham has shown to be a reliable winner at ASU (the Sun Devils have won 13 of their past 15 conference games), while in-state rival Arizona is succeeding with freshmen Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson at key positions. Utah seems to have finally rediscovered its rugged identity after a rough transition to the Pac-12, and UCLA has the talent and recruiting punch to remain formidable.

Oregon will have to successfully absorb Mariota's loss, or else the Pac-12 North will be in big trouble. Stanford's prospects are a big question mark at this point, and it's unclear if Chris Petersen will have the firepower necessary to immediately improve Washington. Cal's rise is promising, but the struggles of Oregon State and Washington State are both disconcerting for the division that once ruled the Pac-12.

Only time will tell what ultimately happens, but the South has the definite overall upper hand now.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
8:00
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I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

Leading off

Thursday night football is back in the Pac-12 after a four-week hiatus. Remember what happened during the last Thursday night Pac-12 game? We had double overtime. You'd be wise to tune in. If you read our poll yesterday on #Pac12AfterDark, you'll note that Cal and USC -- the two teams playing this evening -- have featured prominently this year in the league's nocturnal nonsense.

There is plenty at stake when the Bears and Trojans kick off at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN. The Trojans are trying to keep pace with ASU and UCLA in the South Division race. Cal is trying to lock up a postseason spot after failing to beat an FBS team last year. Pretty remarkable turnaround.

Here are some stories heading into Thursday night's showdown.

Jeff Faraudo writes that line play is going to be critical for both teams. And Cal defensive lineman Mustafa Jalil is confident his group can hang with USC:
We’ve got to bring the fight to them. It’s a big challenge for the offensive and defensive lines. I’m 100 percent confident in our team. We’re ready to come down and get some of that Trojan.

A few more stories about tonight's matchup. Bowl math

How many Pac-12 teams are going bowling? Too soon to tell. As of this morning, six Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible for seven league-affiliated bowl games. As noted above, Cal can become bowl eligible tonight with a win at USC.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News breaks down all of the league's bowl scenarios here.

Should nine teams go bowling, it would be the second year in a row.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Were you at the ASU-Notre Dame game last week? Find and tag yourself. And if you're curious, zoom in on the pressbox, right above the "T" in Sun Devils Stadium and you'll see ESPN's Ted Miller and Ivan Maisel trolling my stories with snarky comments.

#Pac12AfterDark is amazing theater

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
2:00
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#Pac12AfterDark means different things to different people. It’s a warm kiss goodnight, or a swift kick to the shin (among other places). It’s the perfect Christmas present, or a stocking soaked with lighter fluid, burned to ashes, put in a blender and then burned again. Still for others, it’s simply mainlining Red Bull to stay awake to watch their favorite team.

But everyone can agree on this: #Pac12AfterDark means chaos.

The popular hashtag has become as much a staple on Saturday nights as SNL. And sometimes on Thursday and Friday nights, too.

It represents the far-out finishes, the freakish fumbles, the mind-melting marys and the prayers -- some answered, some not -- of the teams that clash under the lights. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Other times, it’s simply a beautiful disaster.

#Pac12AfterDark has provided college football fans – even those brave enough to endure the 11 p.m. ET kickoffs -- with some of the most exciting and dramatic moments of the 2014 season.

Here now are some of the top #Pac12AfterDark moments of the season.

The most recent -- and clearly most bizarre -- was Kaelin Clay’s unforced fumble at the 1-yard line last week against Oregon. We all know the story by now. Instead of going up 14-0, Joe Walker returned the fumble 100 yards to tie the game at 7-7. That one play perfectly encapsulated everything that #Pac12AfterDark is all about.



Arizona State is sixth in the most recent College Football Playoff Rankings. But the Sun Devils wouldn’t be there had it not been for the “Jael Mary,” a 46-yard touchdown pass from Mike Bercovici to Jaelen Strong as time expired to give ASU a 38-34 win over USC at the Coliseum. The Sun Devils trailed 34-25 with 3:02 left. Then the chaos really started.

Perhaps the origins of #Pac12AfterDark can be traced to a 10 p.m. ET start on Sept. 20, when Arizona scored 36 – 36! – points in the fourth quarter to erase a 15-point deficit and top the visiting Cal Bears 49-45 on the #HillMary. Anu Solomon aired out a 47-yard bomb to Austin Hill, who came down with it as the clock ran out. But #Pac12AfterDark can be fickle. A couple of weeks later, trailing 28-13 going into the fourth quarter, the Wildcats battled all the way back against the Trojans, recovered an onside kick, but lost 28-26 when Casey Skowron missed a 36-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.

SportsNation

What was the craziest #Pac12AfterDark moment this season?

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    48%
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    11%
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    19%
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Discuss (Total votes: 4,817)

As we just learned from the Wildcats, #Pac12AfterDark can taketh away, but can also giveth. A couple of weeks after suffering the excruciating loss to the Wildcats, Cal found itself in a shootout against the Cougs in Pullman. That was a 10:30 ET kickoff, by the way. Connor Halliday threw for a record 734 yards and six touchdowns. And with 3:18 left in the game, trailing 60-59 (yeah, it’s the Pac-12), he drove his team down to the Cal 4-yard line. After failing to find the end zone twice (though replay might tell a different story on Gerard Wicks’ run, #Pac12officials), Quentin Breshears missed a 19-yard field goal with 15 seconds left that would have given the Cougs a 62-60 win.

Another late kick, another game involving USC. It started with Utah’s Davion Orphey returning a backwards pass 53 yards for a touchdown (a pass that everyone but Orphey and the officials, yay #Pac12officials, thought was a forward pass). There was Adoree’ Jackson’s 100-yard kick return and his strip of Tim Patrick at the goal line. Plenty of weird. But the dramatic crescendo was Travis Wilson connecting with Clay on a 1-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to lock up a 24-21 win.

And so we come full circle from Clay to Clay. One week #Pac12AfterDark is your best friend. The next, your arch rival. It cannot, will not be contained. If you’re kicking off in the Pac-12 after the sun goes down, all you can do is hope the drama is minimal.

But no promises.

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