Pac-12: Alabama Crimson Tide

Mailbag: Alabama scheduling

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).

That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.

Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.

You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.

What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.

Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.

Mickey: That was easy.

Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?

Mickey: They was hand-picked!

Rocky Balboa: Setups?

Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!

Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.

My prediction for the game? Pain.




Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?

Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.

First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.

You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.

Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.

As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.

There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.




Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)

Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.

The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.

Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.




Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?

Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.

If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.

Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.

And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.




Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.

Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.

Mailbag: Bowl game 'what ifs?'

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
5:30
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

William from Santa Barbara writes: Lets pretend that Oregon got an invite to the BCS, so all of the PAC-12 schools, except Stanford, moved up in the bowl pecking order. Would the PAC still be favored in all of their games? What does this say about the strength of our bowl lineup?

Ted Miller: Oregon would not be favored against Alabama in the All-State Sugar Bowl. More on that in a bit.

But your point is solid. The lineup, after the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio between Stanford and Michigan State, probably would look like this:

  • Arizona State vs. Oklahoma State, Valero Alamo Bowl.
  • UCLA vs. Kansas State, National University Holiday Bowl
  • USC vs. Virginia Tech, Hyundai Sun Bowl
  • Washington vs. Fresno State, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
  • Arizona vs. BYU, Fight Hunger Bowl
  • Washington State vs. Colorado State, Gildan New Mexico Bowl
  • Oregon State vs. Boston College, AdvoCare V100 Bowl

[Edit note: As some readers pointed out -- do'h! on my part -- if Oregon played in the Sugar Bowl, then Oklahoma would play in the Cotton Bowl, knocking the other Big 12 teams down a notch. Ergo, this has been changed.]

That is a favorable slate for the Pac-12, though the Sun Devils would be an underdog to the Cowboys. Other than that, you could make an argument that the Pac-12 still might be favored in every game, as it presently is with its "real" bowl lineup, though BYU might get the edge over Arizona.

That only would be more confirmation of the depth of the Pac-12 in 2013, at least pending the results of the games.

However, it's also fair to point out that two things happened to water down the Pac-12 bowl game opponents: No. 1, the Big 12 and ACC both got two BCS bowl teams. No. 2, the Big 12 and ACC got two BCS bowl teams during a season in which neither conference was terribly deep.




Marc from Albuquerque writes: Am I the only ducks fan out there who is thankful we did not get invited to play Bama in the Sugar Bowl? The way the ducks have played in the past month we would have zero chance to beat Bama. Texas is a much more winnable game and duck fans should be more excited to finish the season with a win than a beat down from the SEC.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kell, Marcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Marcus Mariota makes all the difference for Oregon, which faces Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Ted Miller: I'm sure every Pac-12 team, including Oregon, would have enjoyed the extra $500,000 they would have received had the Ducks, instead of Oklahoma, been picked to play Alabama.

But, as previously noted, I don't think Oregon would beat Alabama, and I base that in large part on the final four games.

That said: At midseason, I would have rated the Ducks' chances against the Crimson Tide at close to 50-50. That was when Oregon was trucking along in dominant fashion. And QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent healthy.

In fact, that is one of the big questions for the bowl season, and would be a huge issue for a hypothetical matchup with Alabama. With just more than a month to rest, would Mariota be back to his midseason form as the nation's best dual threat quarterback?

Mariota at 100 percent probably means Oregon rolls Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl. And it likely would make a matchup with Alabama, at the very least, interesting well into the fourth quarter.




Benvolio from Ashland, Ore., writes: I have a nagging thought on which I'd like your input. My main concern with hiring Sark at 'SC is the development of Keith Price over the past 3 seasons. While he threw less INTs this season than he had in previous ones, I haven't seen much clear improvement in his playing ability. Cody Kessler, on the other hand, got better in nearly every game all season long. Clearly there are too many factors at play to boil everything down to coaching, but regardless it's leaving me a little nervous about the future of our quarterback.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenKeith Price bounced back from a disappointing 2012 season with a strong performance this fall.
Ted Miller: Price threw five interceptions this year after throwing 13 last year. His efficiency rating also went up substantially, both according to the traditional NCAA measure and ESPN Stats & Information's Total QB rating.

I think Steve Sarkisian's recovery job with Price this year was outstanding. Price looked shellshocked in 2012 after a brilliant debut campaign the year before. While he fells short of his 2011 numbers, he definitely bounced back and redeemed himself. I think Price's development is far more a positive than a negative on Sark's resume.

That said, I think Huskies QB coach Marques Tuiasosopo deserves a lot of credit for Price getting his footing again, and he is expected to follow Sarkisian to USC.

There are plenty of things to worry about with USC. But a Sark-Tuiasosopo combination working with Kessler and the Trojans QBs is not high on the list.




Elk from Los Angeles writes: Does UCLA QB Brett Hundleystay another year? This year, biggest dual threat QB is Manziel, next year would have to deal with Winston and Mariota.

Ted Miller: I think Hundley, who has tremendous upside, should return for his redshirt junior season, but that has to be a decision he's fully invested in. The worst thing to do is come back and then spend the next year fretting over whether you made the right call.

Hundley likely would be an early-round draft pick this spring just based on his natural ability. He'd be a project but one with a substantial potential payoff.

I do think he would take a step forward in terms of pocket awareness, mechanics and game management if he came back to UCLA, a team that would be favored to win the South Division with him on board.

He'd also land on more than a few preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists.




Chris from Salt Lake City writes: There are a bunch of Utah fans out of their minds right now, calling for [coach Kyle] Whittingham's head. Do me a favor and explain what happens to Utah football if Dr. Hill gives Whittingham the boot. Utah would have to be the toughest job to hire for in the PAC 12 right?

Ted Miller: Chris, many of your fellow Utah fans don't like Kevin and my oft-repeated calls for patience among Utes fans, though we both understand the impatience.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsKyle Whittingham's Utes appear to have regressed. In truth, their schedule has gotten much tougher.
Utah was a top-25 program as a member of the Mountain West Conference. In the Pac-12, it has yet to post a winning conference record and has slipped from 4-5 in 2011 to 2-7 this year.

As I've noted before, I don't think we'd be having this debate if the Utes had somehow had better luck at quarterback. What if Jordan Wynn had stayed healthy in 2011 and 2012? What if Travis Wilson had this fall?

I know many would retort that there should have been a quality back-up plan. And maybe there should have been. But how many teams in the country wouldn't have slipped substantially if for three consecutive seasons their expected starting QB wasn't able to finish the season?

Further, Utah moved into a Pac-12 that is much better than the Pac-10 the Utes used to be competitive with as a MWC team.

Let me make a point that many Utah fans won't like. Those special Utah teams under Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham? They weren't as great as you think.

Before you get angry as your 2008 self, ask yourself what you thought of Fresno State this year. Your Pac-12 brain dismissed the Bulldogs, didn't it?

Go back to the stunning 31-28 comeback win over Oregon State in 2008 in Rice-Eccles Stadium. That Beavers team, which went 7-2 in Pac-12 play, including a victory over then-No. 1 USC, was good but far from great.

Imagine if the Utes had to play a nine-game schedule of Oregon State-like teams in 2008. Those Beavers lost to Stanford and got pounded by Oregon. They beat Arizona and Arizona State both by two points. No way the 2008 Utes would go unbeaten with a nine-game Pac-10 schedule.

You hated hearing that in 2008, I know. But can you see, from your new Pac-12 perspective, that 2008 tweak's logic now?

I'd wager that the 2013 Utah team with the Travis Wilson who beat BYU and Stanford behind center would be highly competitive with the 2008 Utes.

Utah is not regressing. The competition has progressed. Substantially. TCU is going through the same thing in the Big 12. Do you think Gary Patterson is a bad coach?

Of course, if things don't get better in 2014, Whittingham's seat will heat up. That's the nature of the business.

But catching up in the Pac-12 is not something that happens in one, three or probably even five seasons. It's a process, and obviously not one that is enjoyable to go through.

Mailbag: Are Oregon fans the worst?

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday -- hey, there's a game tonight!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Dave from Neverland writes: On Tuesday, John Canzano posted a letter he had purportedly received from a former Ducks player. This player outlined the abhorrent fan behavior he observed while sitting in the stands. There have been countless other stories about the wretched behavior of Ducks fans, not just at Autzen, but also other stadiums they visit. An article a few years back by one of your competitor websites surveyed fans and the survey concluded that Oregon fans are generally perceived as being the worst in the conference, by far. Reading the comments of the Canzano blog post, the fan comments seemed to substantiate the article. My question: Is the perception about Oregon fans aligned with reality? Are Oregon fans truly as awful as they are made out to be, or are we just hated because we win?

Ted Miller: I was asked about this in my Thursday chat, and my chief response was to deride the anonymity of the letter writer.

I stand by that. If you're going to attack something, you need to have the courage to step up and identify yourself. That, by the way, is not a slight on Canzano for posting the letter, only on its writer.

[+] EnlargeOregon fans
AP Photo/Don RyanAre Oregon fans worse than the rest of the Pac-12?
Are Oregon fans "truly as awful as they are made out to be or are we just hated because we win?"

The short answer is no, Ducks fans are not uniquely awful. At least, I find such a sociological oddity difficult to believe. That said, I am not an expert on this: As a sportswriter, I have not sat in the stands of a college football game since the early 1990s.

Oregon is going through an unprecedented run of winning. That inspires gloating. Lots of it. And plenty of entitlement, too. The stadium is packed and the program is rich. Rivals are jealous, and therefore easy and frequent targets -- in the stands or anywhere else. And, suddenly, a two-loss season sounds like a disaster and everyone is a football expert.

Even without siting in the stands, I have personally witnessed reprehensible fan behavior at just about every Pac-12 venue. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote about the near-riot in Martin Stadium after the controversial 2002 Apple Cup and some Washington State fans took exception, often by trying to rewrite the facts of what happened. So I know how things might be for Canzano now.

There are all sorts of fans and each of those sorts roots for every team. Some love cheering and bonding with family and friends. Some find comfort in wide-eyed zealotry, the my-team-right-or-wrong adherence that defies all reasonable counterargument.

As I've previously noted, there are two foundations for fandom: Those who derive most of their joy from rooting for something. And those who most enjoy rooting against something. The first group is looking for something with which to align themselves. The second group is looking for a villain.

Yes, the loudest voices in the Pac-12 blog comment section are typically the latter. And, yes, those often are the sort of fans who can ruin the game-day experience of even folks wearing the same colors.

My belief is that if Washington or Oregon State started winning at the same rate Oregon has for the past four-plus years, its fans would act the same, or at least be perceived to act the same.

Yet there is a clear takeaway from this that is a positive. Reasonable people should have the guts to stand up to bad fan behavior. Don't be a passive onlooker. If someone is acting like a jerk, you should: 1. Calmly and with a minimum amount of confrontation, tell him/her to settle down; 2. Get security.

And Oregon itself should remain as vigilant as possible when it comes to making sure that reasonable standards of behavior are enforced.


Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: There have been quite a few articles this week about "The Eye Test", and which two teams would be most deserving in a three or four-team race. For the sake of this question, let's assume that Oregon, Florida State and Alabama win out.Florida State seems to be getting quite a bit of hype relative to Oregon. Florida State certainly has history behind its program, including a national title, but has been off and on in the last few years. Many voters won't budge on Alabama (with the exception of the intelligent, educated few, such as those that blog for the Pac-12), the rationale being that until someone knocks them off, they deserve to be No. 1. So it seems that many pundits love Florida State THIS YEAR, right NOW, rather than taking the longer view. My question, then, is this: Should not the same logic apply to Oregon? Oregon has been ranked No. 2 much more frequently than Florida State, including last year's final rankings, and has certainly been more consistent. Six losses in four years, and never an NC State kind of upset. The Pac-12 is a tougher conference than the ACC. Why, then, is Oregon not the obvious choice as No. 2, the way Alabama seems to be the obvious choice as No. 1? Is it Oregon's supposed lack of pedigree, or is it the dreaded East Coast Bias?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

The "eye-test" debate, while always inspiring strong feelings across the country, is irrelevant the first weekend of November. Five weeks remain in the regular season, and Alabama, Florida State and Oregon will each need to then win their conference championship games to remain in the national title hunt.

Every year, we speculate on apocalyptic visions of, say, four unbeaten teams from AQ conferences -- who goes to the title game! And then at least two of those teams lose.

Let's at least wait until we reach late November before beginning the earnest lobbying for prioritizing the specific subjective distinction that favors your team.

Further, Oregon fans, while there's a lot of noise out there, the general consensus from long-time observers of the BCS process, is that if Oregon wins out, it will at least end up No. 2 in the final BCS standings. It could, in fact, end up No. 1 if the SEC continues to cannibalize itself.

The Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC, and it's unlikely voting patterns in the coaches and Harris polls will dramatically change if the present course is maintained.


Sad Cougar fan from Bellevue, Wash.,writes: Ted, real talk for a minute. After over a decade of misery, all Coug fans pointed to Leach as our hope. But after yet another Wulff-like performance from the team last night. They were outcoached in every phase of the game. Was our hope foolish? In today's NCAA,and today's Pac-12, do we honestly EVER have a shot at being relevant again? The glory years were a perfect storm. UW was bad, Oregon wasn't Oregon yet. Stanford wasn't Stanford yet, USC was just getting started. Honestly. We're never going to be good ever again are we? I am slipping into "mariners mindset?" Get excited for opening day, then stop caring by June.

Ted Miller: No question that was a dreadful performance against Arizona State. And it's been a bad three-week conference run since a 4-2 start inspired optimism.

However, yes, Washington State has a shot at being relevant again. In fact, I'm certain it eventually happen, whether that's about next year or seven years from now. How many programs have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997? It's simply a matter of getting the right players and the right coach together.

Sure, the euphoria after hiring Mike Leach has waned considerably. The mistake with that probably was believing he brought with him some magical elixir that immediately made the program bowl-eligible and then, shortly thereafter, Rose Bowl worthy.

Further, while most of us saw Leach inheriting an intriguing roster from Paul Wulff, he didn't share that view. Leach definitely has his own ideas about how to run a program and the sort of players he wants, in terms of both athletic ability and mental makeup. That he decided to mostly erase what was there and then re-draw from scratch his own plan is making the growing pains last longer. And be more painful.

This is only Year 2 with Leach. Feel free to feel bad. But don't panic yet.


Devin from Keizer, Ore., writes: What would it take for OSU to make it to the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the championship game?

Ted Miller: First, the Beavers need to win out -- other than the Civil War -- and finish 9-3 and earn at least a No. 14 ranking in the final BCS poll. That might require strong finishes from the remaining foes -- USC, Arizona State and Washington -- in order to boost the human and computer rankings.

Then there's the question of Stanford and the South Division contenders.

Stanford, at 10-2 with a win over Oregon State, would almost certainly be ranked higher. Even though the Cardinal played in the Rose Bowl last year, the bowl committee would go with Stanford. This is how the Pac-12 blog is presently projecting things. So Oregon State needs the Cardinal to lose again, at least a third game. Maybe a fourth.

As for the South teams, the Beavers could give themselves the edge over Arizona State with a head-to-head win. They don't play UCLA, so they should be rooting for the Sun Devils to beat the Bruins. The South champion also would pick up a loss in the Pac-12 title game, which would boost the Beavers.

A lot of things would have to fall into place. But Oregon State should start with a simple plan: Keep winning.


John from Dublin, Calif., writes: This week, everybody at ESPN has been making a big deal about how the Trojans have not fared well of late in Corvallis, and it's true. However, all these pundits seem to forget the Trojans' record vs. the Beavers in L.A.. Eisenhower was president the last time Oregon State won in the Coliseum. Why can't you guys give equal time to the Trojans' streak?

Ted Miller: I think the biggest reason is the game tonight is going to be played in Corvallis, not the Coliseum, which makes factoids about Oregon State-USC games played in the Coliseum less relevant.

But I promise that next year, we will note that Oregon State has not won at USC since 1960.


Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Eleanor Catton, author of the Luminaries, won the Man Booker prize at the age of 28. Are you excited for her, or sad for Jim Crace and Colm Toibin? Also: please tell Puddles that I can't take another heartbreak.

Ted Miller: Funny story. Went to buy "The Luminaries" the other day, at which point I discovered it was 828 pages. That, my friends, is an offseason read.

Good for Catton, though she might want to rethink lecturing the world about how she should be received.

If she really cares about unfairness, she should consider championing the great American male writers who have been unjustifiably slighted by the Swedish Academy when it awards the Nobel Prize to lesser-lights on an annual basis, most notably Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo.

And Puddles, after he stopped writing letters to Canzano, has been alerted.

Winston, Florida State among best of week

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
1:10
PM ET

Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards in Florida State's blowout win over Clemson.
Week 8 featured upsets and surprises as nine ranked teams lost, including five at the hands of an unranked opponent. Louisville, Texas A&M and Georgia all had more than a 90 percent chance of winning midway through the third quarter before blowing double-digit leads. Conversely, Clemson, LSU, UCLA and Florida never held a lead Saturday.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the Week 8 action.

Best individual performances
Marcus Mariota had a 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oregon’s 63-28 win against Washington State. He completed 10-of-12 passes and ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. As a result, his Total QBR never fell below 95 in the game. Mariota leads the nation with a 96.6 opponent-adjusted Total QBR this season.

Jameis Winston posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR after throwing for a career-high 444 pass yards and accounting for four touchdowns in Florida State’s 51-14 win at Clemson. Entering the game, Clemson’s opponents had a Total QBR of 27, ninth-best in the FBS. Winston is the first player in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least 300 pass yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Bryce Petty had a 96.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Baylor’s 71-7 win against Iowa State. He has posted an opponent-adjusted Total QBR of 75 or higher in all of his games this season. No other player in the FBS can make that claim (minimum five games played).

AJ McCarron posted a season-high 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas. McCarron completed 71 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and his Total QBR never dipped below 85 in the game.

Explaining Jordan Lynch’s Total QBR:
Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch set the FBS single-game record for rush yards by a quarterback (316), but his Total QBR was ONLY a 85.5. Why? QBR is a rate stat, meaning it measures efficiency.

Lynch gained 471 yards of total offense, but he was involved in 62 passing or rushing plays (7.6 yards per play).

To put that into perspective, Mariota, the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR, is averaging 10.3 yards per play this season. Furthermore, Lynch threw a costly interception from the Central Michigan 15-yard line with the score tied. That interception decreased Northern Illinois’ win probability by 12 percentage points and took 3.5 expected points off the board.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 8, click here.

Best team performances
Offense-- Florida State gained 565 yards of total offense and scored 51 points Saturday against Clemson. The Seminoles’ offense added 25.3 expected points in the game, meaning they contributed about 26 net points towards their 37-point victory. Adjusted for the strength of Clemson’s defense, which had allowed 16.2 points per game entering Saturday, Florida State had the highest opponent-adjusted offensive EPA of Week 8.

Defense—Baylor’s average margin of victory this season is a ridiculous 48.5 points per game, and both its offense and defense deserves credit. On Saturday, Baylor held Iowa State to seven points and 174 total yards (2.9 yards per play). As a result, its defense added 27.5 expected points, the most for any defense in Week 8. Overall, the Bears lead the nation in both offensive and defensive expected points added this season.

Special Teams—Alabama blocked a field goal and forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half of its 52-0 win against Arkansas. The Tide’s special teams unit contributed 12.1 expected points, the most of any team in Week 8. Alabama is averaging 5.8 expected points added per game on special teams this season, most of any team in the FBS.

Looking ahead to Week 9

Oregon hosts UCLA (7 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday in a game that will feature one of the top offenses in the nation looking to continue its success against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

Oregon has scored at least 45 points in each of its first seven games of the season. They are the first major college football program to do that since Harvard in 1887. UCLA, which has the second-best scoring defense in the Pac-12 (19.2 PPG), hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in a game this season.

Tune in on Saturday to see of the Bruins can slow the Ducks offensive pace and jump back into the BCS discussion.

BCS: Oregon No. 3 in first BCS standings

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
9:15
PM ET
While Oregon is ranked second in both polls that count in the BCS standings, Florida State's win over Clemson on Saturday helped the Seminoles jump the Ducks for the second spot based on the strength of their computer ranking.

Panic in Eugene! East Coast bias! Kill the BCS!

Relax. Everything will sort itself out. This is the first BCS standings. We've got seven more versions ahead, the final one being the only one that counts.

Overall, Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State is No. 4 and Missouri is No. 5. Stanford, at No. 6, is the top one-loss team.

Oregon is ranked fourth by the computers while FSU is No. 1. Alabama is No. 2 with the computers and Missouri is No. 3.

Should Oregon fans panic? No. The toughest part of the Ducks' schedule is ahead. If Oregon wins out, it will be in good shape. Its schedule going forward is much more arduous than the Seminoles', who have already played their marquee game.

Oregon is just .0028 behind FSU, and it plays consecutive games over the next two weekends against teams presently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings, including No. 12 UCLA on Saturday. The Ducks also have the Civil War ahead against Oregon State, which is ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings.

Again, the "gee whiz" observation of the evening: Lots of football left.

The key is winning out, not fretting the BCS standings with six weeks remaining in the regular season and then conference championship games. Every season, folks start ranting and raving about their team getting screwed, and then their team loses and their issues become moot.

So, just win, baby.

Mailbag: Pac-12 North vs. SEC West

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
5:02
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Any chance every game this weekend can be as interesting as UCLA-Utah?

Welcome to the mailbag. If your life needs just a tad more "oomph," follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's loaded with oomph, as well as many vitamins and minerals.

To the notes!

Daniel from Pullman, Wash., writes: Ted-Last Saturday morning I was listening to ESPN Radio and they were debating the match-ups of the Pac-12 North and the SEC West (on neutral fields). I believe their match-ups were Al vs. OR, LSU vs. Stanford, Tex AM vs WA, Ole Miss vs OSU, Auburn vs. WSU, and Miss St or Ark vs Cal. One voted these match-ups 4-2 in favor of the SEC, and the other scored it 3-3. (Note: I think both picked LSU over Stanford.) How would you see these match-ups playing out?

Ted Miller: The first challenge is matching the seven-team SEC West versus the six-team Pac-12 North. To make things easy, goodbye Arkansas.

Further, we don't really know how each division ultimately will stack up. Our speculation is only slightly educated here, as any would be not even halfway through season.

So start with Oregon-Alabama. This is a potential national title game. There are two ways to look at it. Is this a regular season game with just one week to prepare? I'd give a slight edge to Oregon with that. If it was a national title game, with three weeks to prepare, I'd give the Crimson Tide an edge. For this exercise, we'll go with the Ducks.

I'd pick Stanford over LSU. Just like I'd pick Stanford over Georgia, which just beat LSU. Suspect that Stanford would consistently outflank the Tigers with sophisticated schemes. A few years ago, LSU's team speed would have been an issue. No longer.

I'd take Texas A&M over Washington in a barnburner. I'd take a healthy Oregon State -- as in the Beavers after their off week -- over Ole Miss. The Rebels wouldn't be able to handle Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks.

Auburn beat Washington State 31-24 on its home field, but the Cougars outgained the Tigers 464 to 394. In a neutral field rematch, I'd go with the Cougs.

Cal would be able to outscore Mississippi State, though I'd feel better with that one if the Bears didn't have so many injuries on defense.

So there you go: 5-1 Pac-12 North.

End of discussion! Right?


Andrew from Phoenix writes: Ted,Why all the volatility in Arizona State's perception? The last 3 weeks the media and PAC fans have gone from "they're ready for the national stage" to "looks like they're not that good" back to "this team can do some damage." The consensus outside of the biggest ASU homers and UA trolls was ASU would be about 8-4, just in or just out of the Top 25, and needing an upset @UCLA to win the South. I have seen nothing on the field this season that should change that. Bottom line is they demolished a poor team, handily beat (with some blemishes) a mediocre team, played a toe-to-toe in a toss up with a good team, and got their mistakes shredded by an elite team. Why so much drama?

Ted Miller: It's Kevin. He's the man behind the curtain pulling all these levers that make people crazed with drama.

I don't feel like much has changed about the perception of Arizona State, at least among those who esteemed the Sun Devils in the preseason. This is a good team, probably a top-25 team, one that is moving up in the Pac-12 and national pecking order but is not yet on the Oregon/Stanford level. And, yes, it looks like the best challenger for UCLA in the South Division, particularly after USC imploded.

But there is a logical reason for the volatility: The Sun Devils' schedule. How many teams have played three tough, AQ-conference opponents in their first four games? And with such a variety of results.

Wisconsin, 32-30 win: Controversial ending yes, but the game showed the Sun Devils are top-25 caliber.

Stanford, 42-28 loss: The Sun Devils might be a top-25 team, but they've got a ways to go to move toward the top-10.

USC, 62-41 win: An impressive offensive showing against a previously outstanding defense. More positive evidence that the program is taking steps forward under Todd Graham.


Guess what? There will be more drama on Saturday. A win over Notre Dame will provide another uptick. And a loss will add some skepticism, as well as a second fall from the national polls.


Kevin from Reno, Nevada writes: Why is Ohio State ranked ahead of Stanford? After watching ASU play Wisconsin and then Stanford, it was clear that Stanford is on an entirely different level of physicality and talent than Wisconsin. That same Wisconsin team almost beat Ohio State on the road. Also, Cal was completely over-matched against Oregon, but competed almost respectably against Ohio State. Stanford may be better than Oregon this year.

Ted Miller: At least we'll get an answer with Oregon-Stanford on Nov. 7.

But I hear you. Obviously your Pac-12 bloggers agree with you. I'd comfortably pick Stanford over Ohio State, and I suspect a lot of folks would, too. While it's dangerous to use the transitive property in college football, your point about Wisconsin is at least partially valid.

I suspect the reason most folks who are voting Ohio State ahead of Stanford are doing so is because they did so in the preseason, and the Buckeyes have yet to lose.


Andrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: Now that Lane Kiffin is out the door, we've started to hear all the names of potential candidates: Kevin Sumlin (my personal favorite), Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher, Steve Sarkisian, Chris Petersen, etc. One name that I haven't really seen included in any of these hypothetical lists is Alabama DC Kirby Smart. Do you think he will be considered by Pat Haden and the USC braintrust? He seems to be on track to eventually be a head coach, and his credentials are very impressive for a young coach. The two problems I see are that he 1) has resisted overtures in the past, possibly because he is in line to follow Saban at 'Bama and 2) is devoid of any head coaching experience. What do you think of Smart as a candidate for the Trojans?

Ted Miller: There certainly are worse choices.

The other knock, fair or unfair, on Smart is that Saban is the ultimate brains behind the Crimson Tide's defense. Still, working under Saban for an extended period of time should overcome that as a downside. He knows Saban's "Process," which is like learning about the stock market from Warren Buffett.

My impression is Smart is shortly going to get an opportunity in the ACC or SEC. He's a child of the South and probably wants to stay down there.

In fact, if you are looking for a darkhorse candidate for USC, what about Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier? He calls Alabama's plays, has time learning from Saban and knows the Pac-12, as he was Steve Sarkisian's offensive coordinator at Washington before heading to the SEC. He also has Big Ten and NFL experience.

While USC is surely going after a big-time name with head coaching experience, many, many great hires have been first-time head coaches, such as John McKay, Bob Stoops, Chris Petersen and Chip Kelly.


Saul from Los Angeles writes: I get it, you hate your former home up there in Seattle. Why you instantly think the Washington head coach job sucks is beyond me and Wilcox would rather go to USC to be an assistant coach when he could be a head coach. You are insufferable.

Ted Miller: Every week, there are angry notes in the mailbag that make me go, "Huh?" I get that when you write about college football, you will make folks mad. Just part of the job. But what always baffles me is when I get an interpretation of one of my positions that is untethered to any actual position I can ever recall taking.

Saul isn't the only one. It appears many Alabama fans believed this story on USC's coaching search implied Pat Haden might hire Nick Saban. That conclusion apparently was based on my typing, "What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?"

I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out what got Saul's feathers raised. Apparently it is this from my chat Thursday:
Ryan (Baja): Hypothetical: Sark goes to USC. Question: What happens to Justin Wilcox?

Ted Miller: THAT is a big question. I was, in fact, thinking about that today. I'd think Washington would give him a hard look. It's just a matter of time before he's a head coach. It might, in fact, be a matter of just a couple of months. He'll have options, including one to follow Sark to LA and get a big raise.

To be clear: I think Washington would seriously consider Wilcox if Sarkisian left for USC and I'm SURE Wilcox would take the job.

If there is an implication my chat comment that Wilcox would rather be offensive coordinator at USC than head coach at Washington, then I humbly apologize. He would not. What I wanted to suggest is that if Wilcox was offered a head coaching job for a non-AQ program, he still might opt to follow Sarkisian to USC and wait for an AQ job. Such as, you know, a place like Washington.

The big hypothetical here is Sarkisian going to USC. It's possible, by the way, that Sark would say no to USC again, just as he did when it went after him before hiring Lane Kiffin.

And, if it needs to be clarified, there is not a person who has ever talked to me about Seattle who doesn't know how much I love that town.

Pac-12, nation now fret Haden's next hire

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
3:00
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There is something undeniably reprehensible about dancing on the grave of a fallen coach. The celebration of a person's perceived failure at his life's work is unseemly. We all know big-time college coaches are big boys who are paid well. We all know that now-terminated USC coach Lane Kiffin brought on much of the ill will he received by how he conducted himself.

Still, the nationwide cackling over Kiffin getting fired in the early morning hours Sunday doesn't represent a high moment in our sports culture.

This grab for measured compassion is made here, however, because of a cold and unfortunate reality that will seem like another potshot at Kiffin. Outside of the Kiffin household, the folks most unhappy about his getting pink-slipped are coaches, administrators and fans of the other 11 Pac-12 teams. And probably some fans of other national powers who have moved on from chortling about Kiffin's fate to asking the most important question.

[+] EnlargeKiffin
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 teams knew what they were getting with Lane Kiffin on the USC sideline. Now the sleeping giant has the potential to wake up.
What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?

Because the right coach at USC competes for national titles on a regular basis. The tradition is there. The facilities, once below standard, are vastly improved. The rich recruiting territory is there. And the ability to ante up big checks for an A-list coach and his staff is there.

Further, the next coach won't be freighted with the ready-made and mostly legitimate excuse Kiffin made when things went wrong on the field: NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions that made the USC roster thinner than those of their opponents. Those end after the 2014 recruiting class and season. The next coach can make the program whole in 2015, his second season.

USC, with 85 scholarships and the right coach, will immediately challenge Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12, and Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, etc., for national supremacy.

That's why the other Pac-12 schools are mourning Kiffin's departure. While he was tough to compete with on the recruiting trail -- his clear strength -- other schools were hoping that Kiffin would become the Trojans' "Meander Coach." That's the sort of coach rival teams want to stay atop a college football superpower, such as USC.

A Meander Coach is a coach who does just enough to hang on for several years but falls short of program standards. While not a complete disaster, he allows a program to slip a few notches in the conference and national pecking order. Good examples of this would be Bob Davie at Notre Dame, Ray Goff at Georgia and Earle Bruce at Ohio State.

A Meander 2013 season for USC under Kiffin would have been 9-4 in a 13-game schedule. Kiffin probably would have coached the Trojans in 2014 with that record, particularly if it included a win over Notre Dame or UCLA. But athletic director Pat Haden had seen enough through a 3-2 start, capped by a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Saturday, to understand that barely good enough was not even going to happen. So he made his move.

Now the hope around the Pac-12 and the nation is that Haden gets his coaching pick wrong. Haden, a former USC and NFL quarterback and Rhodes scholar, is extremely bright and knowledgeable about football, but the odds are pretty good he will get it wrong. After all, to get from John McKay and John Robinson to Carroll, USC had to go through Ted Tollner, Larry Smith and Paul Hackett. Just as Alabama had to go through Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula to get to Saban. Notre Dame and Tennessee also can teach lessons about superpowers struggling to find the right guy.

Former AD Mike Garrett's hiring of Carroll? Complete luck. It was a desperation move after Garrett was turned down by Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley. The Carroll hiring also was widely panned when it was announced. He was seen as a slightly goofy chatterbox and washed-out NFL coach. Perceptions changed, but only because the wrong hire turned out to be right.

One benefit Haden has bought himself with a midseason termination is time. While plenty of other teams are going to fire their head coaches, Haden is the first in the ring. While it's certain he already has a short list of favorite candidates that probably is not unlike the lists every publication has written up since Kiffin was fired, he also can sit back a few weeks and get a measure of who's interested. There will be plenty of back-channel feelers from agents of NFL head coaches and assistant coaches as well as college head coaches and assistant coaches.

A successful precedent for Haden to consider is Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne's handling of the transition from Mike Stoops to Rich Rodriguez. Just like Haden, Byrne fired Stoops midseason after an embarrassing loss before a bye week and installed a veteran coach, Tim Kish, as his interim head coach. He then conducted a stealth coaching search over the next six weeks, breaking the news of his hiring of Rodriguez on Twitter.

Byrne gave himself a head start with the hiring process. He got his first choice hired before the season ended and gave his new coach a head start with recruiting. He also accelerated the getting-to-know-you phase compared to all the other teams looking for a new head coach in December. Byrne even received a boost from Kish's version of the Wildcats, who won three of their final six games, including a win over archrival Arizona State.

Other Pac-12 coaches are now fretting the same thing happening with the Trojans: What if USC suddenly starts playing inspired football under interim coach Ed Orgeron? It's entirely possible the Trojans will be a better team going forward, meaning the Sun Devils are grateful Haden didn't take action after the Trojans lost at home to Washington State on Sept. 7.

As for Haden's coaching search, it will be a bit more high-profile than Byrne's. The Trojans are a national team. So in the next few weeks there will be a cacophony of public denials. They will be meaningless. Saban repeatedly said without ambiguity that he wasn't leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. Until he did. And who knew that Bret Bielema was so eager to bolt Wisconsin for Arkansas?

The two biggest problems the USC coaching search encountered after Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks that led to the Kiffin hiring are gone: (1) upcoming NCAA sanctions, and (2) no one wanting to be the guy-after-the-guy.

So know that just about everybody is in play. Until they're not.

The Pac-12 and the college football nation didn't feel too good about Kiffin in 2011, when he led the Trojans to a 10-2 record and won at Oregon and Notre Dame. But in the past 18 games, they embraced his USC tenure. They wanted him inside Heritage Hall as long as possible.

Now there is worrisome uncertainty among 11 other Pac-12 teams, not to mention folks like SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. If Haden hires the right guy, the Trojan colossus will dust itself off and rise with a cocky grin. Rose Bowls and national championships will shortly follow.

Best case-worst case: Stanford

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
4:50
PM ET
This is the final -- last! -- in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Stanford

Best case

Stanford CardinalSoft-white illumination spreads across the meeting room like smooth flowing of water. A large, circular Brazilian rosewood table is surrounded by 100 Pininfarina’s Aresline Xten executive chairs. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is carefully laying out a catered dinner. The Goldmund Epilogue Signature Audio System plays Drive-By-Truckers.

"Schwartzstein!" yells Richard Sherman. "You're very close to getting your music privileges revoked. You know I only listen to the DBT albums from before Jason Isbell was forced out of the band."

Shayne Skov stands, "Calling to order the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ... or, as we like to say, the men smart and powerful enough to be offered football scholarships to Stanford."

All 100 pipe in: "And wise enough to accept the honor and responsibility!"

Trent Murphy stands. "First off, Jean-Georges, the Wagyu Kobe ribeyes and belon oysters were outstanding. So #partyinthebackfield to that. Second, do we need an inspirational 2013 motto?"

It seems everyone has an idea. Offensive guard David Yankey: "Smash!" Former QB Andrew Luck: "It wasn't just Luck." Defensive end Ben Gardner: "Fear the mullet!" Former center Sam Schwartzstein: "May the Schwartz be with you!" Sherman, "You mad 'bro?"

Quarterback Kevin Hogan raises his hand and waits patiently. Murphy acknowledges him. Hogan stands, "What about, 'Burn the ships'?"

"Ah!" safety Ed Reynolds says. "I get it. You're referring -- as everyone here knows because we go to Stanford -- to conquistador Hernan Cortez, who in 1519 decided to conquer a millions Aztecs with 500 men. Upon landing ashore, Cortez ordered all his ships burned. That show of audacious warrior confidence sent a message to his men, as well as to the Aztecs, who were shortly conquered. The historicity of this is suspect, and we could debate the colonialism of warlike Europeans, but it's pretty tight for our purposes."

Everyone cheers. "Then it's settled says," Murphy says. "We have two other items. The good news is our fullback Ryan Hewitt solved the Jacobian conjecture this summer, so that's nice. May be a Nobel Prize in there for him or something. Finally, the operatives in Eugene have some concerns we will need to discuss with some seriousness."

Stanford, showcasing a more mature downfield passing game with Hogan, whips San Jose State 30-3. Hogan then throws his fourth and fifth TD passes of the year and sits out the fourth quarter in a 40-6 win over Army.

No. 15 Arizona State jumps to a 10-7 halftime lead.

"We're having a net force-acceleration problem with Will Sutton," Yankey says. "Come on now! This isn't Hilbert's sixteenth problem or Riemann Hypothesis! This is simple vectors. We need to figure out Fnet = m"a; Ffrict = "Fnorm; Fgrav = m"g in the second half."

Stanford rolls past the Sun Devils 28-10. The Cardinal batters Washington State 44-10. Up next: Washington.

"Gentlemen, I've been in communication with Snoop Lion and Kal-El, er, De'Anthony Thomas," Skov says at a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meeting on Sept. 29 in a private room at Manresa. "They believe Washington has gone over to the SEC aliens side, that the new Husky Stadium is really a West Coast base for the aliens."

Replies Gardner, "No way. The Ducks are always quacking on the Huskies. Everyone knows the SEC aliens are using those new buildings a California. You do know what 'Berkeley' means in alien, right?"

"Well," Skov replies, "the translation isn't exact because the aliens don't use a Latin-derived alphabet but my best understanding it is means 'big blue bag of poop.' "

Sherman pipes in, "Yeah, but Washington did beat you last year. I'd be pretty mad about that."

Stanford dominates the Huskies in a 33-13 win. The Cardinal then whips Utah, UCLA and Oregon State. Stanford, at 8-0, is ranked third. 8-0 Oregon is second.

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, a triple-secret meeting is held at the The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., between Stanford and Oregon leaders. After paying their respects to chef Thomas Keller, who personally cooked their meal, the Pac-12 rivals now hash out their business: Finding common ground for the sake of all that is right and good in college football.

Murphy: We are two proud programs that play hard and love the game and our teammates. We ultimately want the same thing every season, and for that reason we cannot be friends. But there is respect. We also understand that there is a common foe. We agree that the portents are in line, and that SEC's securing eight national titles in a row -- the sacred number -- would be catastrophic.

De'Anthony Thomas: This is good to hear. We also bring you respect from the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility. We shall play tomorrow night on ESPN with all the violence and passion and yearning of championship Pac-12 programs. I know your words -- Burn the ship! We, too, will arrive at your stadium with our ships in flames. There is no retreat. For either of us. Audaces fortuna iuvat! Victis honor!

The parties solemnly shake hands.

Says defensive end Henry Anderson, "Any chance we could have a meeting one day and just, you know, get a good burger? Or some barbecue. We could get some brisket shipped in from Franklin Barbecue in Austin or something. I mean, I like Snake River Farms 'Calotte de Boeuf' with bone marrow pain perdu, creamed arrowleaf spinach, roasted garden carrots, globe artichokes and sauce Bordelaise as much as anybody, but sometimes you don't want to gaze in wonderment at your food."

Stanford-Oregon is a dynamic, physical contest of contrasting styles that is 20-20 at the end of regulation. The teams match touchdowns in the first overtime, with Thomas going 17 yards on a third and five for the Ducks TD. A diving interception from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ends Stanford's possession in the second overtime, but Murphy tackles Mariota for a 5-yard loss, forcing the Ducks to try a 47-yard field goal for the win.

No good. In the third overtime, cornerback Alex Carter intercepts Mariota, and Jordan Williamson connects from 34 yards for the Stanford victory.

Stanford avoids the upset at USC, with a 22-yard fourth-quarter TD run from Anthony Wilkerson providing the winning margin in a 24-20 victory. Up next: The Big Game against California.

"Look I know you guys don't think Cal is in with the aliens but don't you think it's strange that their quarterback Jared Goff looks just like the bad guy from Karate Kid?" Gardner says. "I mean come on! That can't be a coincidence!"

Gardner sacks Goff twice, and Hogan has two long TD passes in a 35-17 Stanford victory.

Second-ranked Stanford buries Notre Dame and then slips UCLA in the Pac-12 title game to improve to 13-0.

Kevin Gemmell: So that sets up the matchup everyone has been waiting for: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Stanford, both unbeaten and dominant the entire season.

Ted Miller: And college football as we know it will end if Alabama wins the SEC its eighth consecutive national title. Aliens will take over the world. Ice cream and puppies will be illegal. Underwear will be worn on the outside of pants. Everything will be painted bright orange. Hopelessness times infinity.

Stanford coach David Shaw walks into the pregame locker room at the Rose Bowl.

"Well, we've burned our ships, and shortly we go to battle," Shaw says. "But there is nothing grim about our task. Don't be tight. Forget about playing angry. Play with a warrior joy. Unleash your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Believe in yourself, your team and our plan. You are prepared and sharp. And they have no idea what is about to come down upon their heads."

Stanford leads 14-7 late in the fourth quarter and has the ball on its 22-yard line. Hogan runs an option and tries to pitch to Tyler Gaffney but it appears Gaffney wasn't expecting the ball, which bounces off his back and is recovered by Alabama.

On first down, T.J. Yeldon goes up the middle for 11 yards. The Crimson Tide has a first and goal on the Stanford 8-yard line. Yeldon gains two yards on first down. On second down, AJ McCarron throws an out to tight end Brian Vogler, who appears to have a clear path to the end zone until cornerback Wayne Lyons blasts him out of bounds on the 1-yard line. On third down, Yeldon goes up the middle and tries to leap over the top of the pile, but he's met immediately by noseguard David Parry.

It's fourth and goal on the 1-yard line. Alabama calls time out. While McCarron is talking to Nick Saban, Yeldon walks past Murphy and shows his true alien face.

"The number is eight and the new number will be infinity!" he rasps at Murphy.

"Infinity is not a number, it is an idea," Murphy replies. "But T.J. Alien, I've got one for you. ... Are there infinitely many real quadratic number fields with unique factorization?"

Announcer: A little back and forth between Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy and T.J. Yeldon. Whatever Murphy said didn't amuse Yeldon.

Yeldon goes up the middle and leaps high into the air, where he is met by Skov inches short of the goal line. The photo of that epic impact will become the iconic image for college football over the next 100 years, erasing from mind a similar but not nearly so cool picture that was taken in New Orleans in 1979.

Stanford runs out the final six minutes, with Hogan taking a knee on the Alabama 1-yard line as time expires.

Stanford wins the 2013 national championship. The universe is saved.

"And," Sherman says at a celebration sponsored by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. "Stanford continues to be Stanford ... and what could be better than that? I'll answer: Nothing!"

Worst case

Stanford rolls over San Jose State and Army by a combined count of 80-13. The Cardinal appears dominant on both sides of the ball.

But Arizona State shocks the Cardinal at home, with Sun Devils DT Will Sutton recording two sacks and forcing a key fumble late in the fourth quarter.

"If we didn't know we can't win Pac-12 games just by showing up, we know it now," coach David Shaw says. "We didn't appear mentally tough tonight, and that isn't us."

Stanford bounces back with a four-game winning streak, beating Washington State, Washington, Utah and UCLA. But things go awry in the rain at Oregon State, as two Hogan interceptions and three fumbles key a 28-24 Beavers upset victory.

"It's good we have an off-week before Oregon," Shaw says. "We must refocus. The unbeaten Ducks should help us do that."

But this Pac-12 North Division showdown, so hyped in the preseason, mostly flops, as the game takes on the feel of the 2010 and 2011 contests, when the Ducks speed eventually took over. Oregon scores 21 unanswered points in a third-quarter explosion and coasts home 42-24.

Gemmell: Stanford had big hopes for this season. Most of those hopes are gone, and the remaining schedule isn't exactly soft. We'll get a feel for the Cardinal's mental toughness over the next month.

Miller: It's possible Stanford is about to get a taste of what USC and its fans suffered through in 2012.

Stanford is flat at USC and gets whipped 28-14. The Cardinal recovers its intensity for the Big Game against California, but the Bears, one of the nation's biggest surprises under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, are on a roll. They beat Stanford 35-24.

"Is the tide turning in this rivalry series?" Dykes says. "I'll leave that to the Pac-12 blog to determine. But we're 9-3 and feeling pretty good about going to the Alamo Bowl. Everybody loves our recruiting class. And we've got half a billon dollars in new facilities. By the way, just how bad was that movie, 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?' Might be Sean Connery's worst film."

After a home loss to Notre Dame, Stanford finishes the season with a five-game losing streak. That increases to six when the Cardinal falls to Duke in the Sun Bowl. It's the program's first losing season since 2008.

California whips Texas in the Alamo Bowl 50-3. USC beats Alabama to win the national championship. Oregon wins the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame. UCLA wins the Holiday Bowl over Oklahoma State.

Gemmell: Talk about Happy Holidays. Just about every team in the Pac-12 is happy as the calendar flips into 2014.

Miller: Other than Stanford, which reportedly will fall out of the top-10 of the US News & World Report's rankings of national universities this year.

Shaw is hired by the Dallas Cowboys. He's replaced by Jim Donnan.

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

USC

Oregon State

Washington

UCLA

Arizona State

Oregon

Best case-worst case: Oregon

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
7:00
PM ET
This is the 11th in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Oregon

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich walks out of his fourth-floor office inside the brand spanking new 145,000 square foot Hatfield-Dowlin Complex and takes his private staircase to his parking space in the garage below. As he reaches the garage, however, a door slides open behind him. He raises an eyebrow.

He turns and walks down the dimly lit corridor. He arrives at an elevator. It opens. He walks in. It descends, picking up what feels like incredible speed.

The elevator opens. His entire team stands before him. Helfrich raises an eyebrow.

"Guys," Helfrich says. "Is someone going to tell me what is going on or do I have to wait and read it on the Pac-12 blog?"

Replies quarterback Marcus Mariota, "Coach, it's time you learn the truth. Welcome to the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility, brought to you by Nike. The time of tribulation is here. Great danger rises in the Southeast."

The players part. Helfrich sees running back De'Anthony Thomas standing with his back toward him in front of a wall with a cantilevered display of 64 individual video screens, each 55 inches on the diagonal, that can be combined into one display or 64 individual displays. He turns toward Helfrich, but Thomas' typically carefree, mellow expression has been replaced by one of great vexation.

Mariota says, "Coach, you know him as De'Anthony or DAT or Black Mamba. But his true name is Kal-El. He is the son of Jor-El."

Mariota takes in Helfrich's blank expression. "Not much of a comic book guy, huh, coach?" Mariota says. "What I'm saying is De'Anthony is Superman."

Replies Helfrich, "Well that explains a lot."

Thomas walks toward Helfrich,"The signs are all here," Thomas begins. "My keeper, Snoop Dogg, has changed his name to Snoop Lion, announcing his warrior spirit's arrival. The Evil Aliens known as SEC will be going for their eighth national title this fall. That's the sacred number. If they succeed, we're all doomed."

"Evil Aliens... you mean the SEC is a bunch of aliens?" Helfrich asks. "That explains a lot. And what's with the sacred number?"

"Have you seen the movie Aliens?" Thomas replies. "The SEC is entirely populated by aliens who are just like that, only uglier. And think about the number eight. You turn it on its side, it becomes the symbol for infinity. If the aliens, er, SEC wins the national title this year, college football as we know it will end. The aliens, er, SEC will dominate.... for infinity!"

Orchestral music booms from above: Daaaaaaa Taaaaaa Dummmmmm! Ducks center Hroniss Grasu elbows Helfrich and whispers, "That music was my idea."

Oregon blows out Nicholls State 77-0 and travels across the country to rip Virginia 44-10. Tennessee comes to Autzen Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti notices that Helfrich seems agitated during a coaches meeting.

"Mark, you look agitated," Aliotti says. "You're worried about that bunch of Volunteer aliens being right in our back yard, right? Don't worry. DAT won't let anything happen. And Uncle Phil built us this Death Starr looking building to protect the sacred scrolls."

Replies Helfrich, "You knew about this?"

"Heck, yeah!" Aliotti says. "Know that florescent sign in our new dining hall -- 'Eat your enemies and the other food groups.' That was mine. My thinking was the aliens in the SEC want to eat us. What if we eat them first? Ha!"

Helfrich raises an eyebrow.

Oregon buries Tennessee 45-10. Afterwards, Thomas leads Helfrich back into the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility.

Says Thomas at the entryway, "Ifo Ekrpe-Olomu... Boseko Lokombo." The doors open. Explains Thomas, "Passwords. And just fun to say."

Thomas hits a button to rewind surveillance tape. Video cameras pick up a man in a black trenchcoat with receding gray hair slipping into the Ducks football building. When a locked door prevents his advance, he leaps into the air, turns upside down and adheres to the ceiling. He then scampers like a cockroach toward an air vent.

Thomas smiles. "Hello, Mike Slive," he says. "Watch this." The ceiling begins to glow red. Slive lets out a cry and falls to the ground.

"Wow, heated ceiling, that's cool," Helfrich says. "So is the SEC commissioner like Dark Lord Sauron, Emperor Palpatine and Lord Voldemort all rolled into one ruler of the evilest of evil empires of aliens!"

"Er, no," Thomas says. "That's so August of 2012. Someone else leads the aliens. The Saban."

Oregon whips California and Colorado, with Mariota's five touchdown passes giving him 14 for the season. Up next: A trip to Washington.

"All the Pac-12 teams are united with us against the aliens... except Washington," Mariota tells Helfrich. "You know what 'Washington Huskies' means in the alien language? Of course you don't. It means, 'Evil, horrible, no-good, ugly, purple team.'"

"That explains a lot," Helfrich says.

The Ducks batter Washington 38-17, winning their 10th consecutive game in the series by at least 17 points. Oregon rolls over Washington State and slips UCLA 28-21 to improve to 8-0.

Kevin Gemmell: No. 2 Oregon versus No. 3 Stanford, both unbeaten, the winner puts itself in position to play for the national title. Clearly the biggest Thursday night game on ESPN in history.

Ted Miller: Hab SoSlI'Quch! NuqDaq 'oH puchpa''e'.

Gemmell: That's Klingon, not alien.

It's a dynamic, physical contest of contrasting styles that is 20-20 at the end of regulation. The teams match touchdowns in the first overtime, with Thomas going 17 yards on a third and five for the Ducks TD. A diving interception from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ends Stanford's possession in the second overtime, but Trent Murphy tackles Mariota for a 5-yard loss, forcing the Ducks to try a 47-yard field goal for the win.

Announcer: Ducks backup kicker Alejandro Maldonado doesn't have a good history when it comes to clutch kicks, but injury to the starter has him facing a huge one here. He missed big ones against USC in 2011 and Stanford in 2012.

Helfrich grabs Maldonado: "I got two things for you," he says. "First, keep your celebration reasonable. Don't do anything loopy and get hurt. And, second, whatever you do, do not think about Daffy Duck."

Maldonado walks out of the huddle and lines up his kick. "What did he mean by Daffy Duck?" he thinks. "Daffy Duck... funny voice. I wonder if I can do that voice. Daffy Duck, Daffy Duck."

The kick is good. Oregon wins, though the postgame handshake with the Cardinal players seems unusually warm and solemn. The same can be said of the final three games and Pac-12 title game, with the Ducks rolling through Utah, Arizona and Oregon State, then beating Arizona State for the Pac-12 title.

That sets up the national title game: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Oregon. Both 13-0.

Thomas sits alone in the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility. He watches a blinking light. It says "telephone intercept." The computer screen reads, "Call from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa." Thomas presses the button. He listens. A voice hisses, "Bring back national title. Priority One. All other priorities rescinded."

Then, after a pause, the voice starts again, "I can't lie to you about your chances, De'Anthony -- or should I say, Jor-El -- but ... you have my sympathies." The line cuts off.

Gemmell: Oregon has the size, speed and talent to beat Alabama. Helfrich has proven himself as a leader. I think the Ducks are plenty confident. They certainly won't be intimidated.

SEC pundit: You still don't understand what you're dealing with when you play an SEC champion, do you? Perfect organisms. Their structural perfection is matched only by their hostility.

Alabama ties the game 19-19 with a touchdown and 2-point conversion. Oregon takes over with 2:33 remaining. On first and 10 from the Ducks 40, Thomas is tackled after a 6-yard gain.

Announcer: Thomas gets back up ... he gets back up ... was he not on the ground? The Crimson Tide is saying wait a minute, he was down.

Thomas' 37-yard gain gives Oregon a first and 10 on the Alabama 23. Four plays later, Oregon and Maldonado line up for a 19-yard field goal.

Maldonado: Daffy Duck, Daffy Daffy Duck, Daffy Freaking Duck.

Good.

Oregon wins the 2013 national championship. The universe is saved.

As punishment for allying with evil aliens, it is decreed that all Washington fans must say, "The Oregon Ducks rule!" before they speak for five years.

Worst case

Oregon has little trouble with Nicholls State and a road trip to Virginia as the Ducks coast to a 2-0 start.

Gemmell: It looks like business as usual for Oregon under Mark Helfrich.

Ted Miller: Maybe. But losing at home to an SEC bottom-feeder would be really embarrassing for the Ducks and for the Pac-12.

Tennessee rushes for 225 yards against the Ducks, and the Volunteers big, fast SEC defense thwarts QB Marcus Mariota and company in a 20-17 upset victory.

SEC fans: We're not surprised. That was big-boy football. The SEC is just too big and too fast and too good and too tough and too too too awesome for the lil' old Pac-12.

Pac-12 fans: [Irritated silence... with chirping crickets].

The Ducks bounce back with blowout wins over California and Colorado. They are crawling back up the rankings as they head to unbeaten Washington to play their first game in newly remodeled Husky Stadium.

Washington wins 41-7. Heisman Trophy candidate Bishop Sankey rushes for 225 yards, while Heisman Trophy candidate Keith Price passes for four touchdowns. Lombardi Award candidate Shaq Thompson has three sacks.

"Well, they'd beaten us nine times in a row by at least 17 points," coach Steve Sarkisian says after the game. "But by winning by 34, do we get two of those back?"

The Ducks bounce back with wins over Washington State and UCLA. They are a respectable 6-2, but they aren't the finely tuned -- and optimally confident -- team they were under Chip Kelly. That's made clear when they surrender a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter at Stanford and lose 27-24.

Oregon bounces Utah, but, perhaps looking ahead to No. 5 Oregon State, they lose five turnovers in a 33-30 loss at Arizona.

"It hasn't been the season we expected," Helfrich says. "But a lot of those growing pains will feel better if we can beat Oregon State in the Civil War. That's clearly the biggest game on our schedule every year, our season's Super Bowl. Hypothetically, a win there should satisfy fans. OK, now let me give you guys the injury report."

Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion throws four touchdown passes in a 35-20 win, ending a five-game losing streak in the series.

The Ducks lose to Baylor in the Holiday Bowl to finish 7-6. Mariota leads a list of eight players who opt to enter the NFL draft early, including De'Anthony Thomas, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrence Mitchell.

Oregon State beats Texas in the Fiesta Bowl to finish 12-1 and ranked third.

Arrion Springs and Royce Freeman switch their commitments to Washington.

Washington, after going 1-2 in the Heisman Trophy vote, beats Alabama to win the national championship, with Heisman winner Keith Price throwing for three scores and running for another in a 35-10 win.

The universe is saved.

It is decreed that all Oregon fans must say, "Washington is back on top!" before they speak for five years.

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

USC

Oregon State

Washington

UCLA

Arizona State

AP poll: Oregon No. 3, Stanford No. 4

August, 17, 2013
8/17/13
10:31
AM ET

Oregon and Stanford are ranked Nos. 3 and 4 in the preseason Associated Press poll, just like they were in the preseason coaches' poll.

Two-time defending champion Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State, which went unbeaten last season but was bowl ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, is No. 2.

As for the rest of the Pac-12, UCLA is 21st, USC 24th and Oregon State 25th -- just like the coaches' poll.

No, North Carolina wasn't ranked.

Arizona State was the equivalent of 30th. Washington and Arizona also received votes. So eight Pac-12 teams got some love from pollsters. Conclusion? The Pac-12 has national title contenders and depth.

Now, can it win the big one?

The SEC led all conferences with six ranked teams, all of which were in the top 12. The Pac-12 and Big Ten had five each. The Big 12 had four.
Happy Friday -- just two more of these before College Football Eve!

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To the notes!

Costi from Phoenix writes: Ted, Pac-12 bias aside (if that is possible), how good will the conference be this year? We have repeatedly debated over it being the number 2 conference, is there any possibility of the Pac-12 being the best this year? Also, does a Pac-12 team have to win the national title to be crowned the best conference? Because lets face it, with as much talent as there is in the Pac, it is nearly impossible to go undefeated in this conference.

Ted Miller: No, you don't have to win the national title to be considered the best conference, but it sure helps. There were plenty of times the SEC didn't look all that strong, top to bottom, during its run of seven national titles, but arguing overall depth is just another highly subjective college football debate -- one that's easier to make when you're raising a crystal football over and over again.

As it is, the Pac-12 sets up this fall to be as strong as it's been in recent memory. While there's the typical offensive star power, what's more notable is the strength coming back on defense and the offensive line. From a preseason perspective, you have two legit national title contenders in Stanford and Oregon and seven teams that look top-25 worthy: the Ducks and the Cardinal, UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington.

The Pac-12 earning a "best conference" nod? Well, it starts with winning the nonconference games. Then it goes to getting two BCS bowl teams, preferably one playing for and winning the national title. And then it's overall bowl record.

If the Pac-12 posts a strong nonconference record, ends the season with five to seven nationally ranked teams and wins its bowl games, particularly the BCS ones, then folks might call the Pac-12 the best conference in 2013.




Jon from Portland writes: Brandin Cooks #22 ?!?!? I would provide written reasoning on why he should be higher, but writing them down will only frustrate me further.

Ted Miller: I suspect Cooks will be higher on the postseason list, but if you ranked him higher in the preseason, you'd be speculating, which we are trying to avoid too much of in the preseason.

The chief issue with Cooks: He needs to prove he can thrive without Markus Wheaton. Wheaton was first-team All-Pac-12 last year and Cooks only honorable mention for a reason. Wheaton has arrived as a true No. 1 receiver. Cooks was a No. 2.

And, by the way, only one receiver ranks ahead of Cooks on the list. Can you guess who that is?




Nick from Ottawa, Canada, writes: Question I saw on the big ten blog and I wanted to see what your opinion was: In a scenario where the top three teams at the end of the year are Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama, the first two teams are 13-0 and the Tide is 12-1. Is there any realistic scenario you see where an OSU team with a 25-game winning streak doesn't make it to the championship game? And if not, who would be their opponent?

Ted Miller: Oregon and Ohio State would play for the national title and Alabama would get left out, though there are some circumstances that might complicate things.

What if the rest of the Big Ten or Pac-12 has a horrible season while the SEC has six top-10 teams? What if Alabama's only loss -- say, a nailbiter with LSU on Nov. 9 -- happens with starting QB AJ McCarron out with an injury? And what if the Crimson Tide, having already won two consecutive titles, beats an undefeated, top-ranked Georgia team for the SEC title?

Ohio State plays a weak schedule. What if the Buckeyes are so unimpressive while winning that some pollsters drop them, particularly with sentiments that Alabama should have a chance to defend its title, not to mention that Oregon likely would be heavily favored against the Buckeyes.

As noted: Potential variables.

But those variables and how they play out with the computers and pollsters would have to be meaningful enough that they would outstrip an unbeaten team from an AQ conference. I'd rate that as unlikely.




Pete from Denver writes: It seems like a lot of people are very high on UCLA. I agree that there offense looks pretty good minus a RB, but the D is highly questionable especially the secondary. That coupled with a tougher schedule this looks like a team that could lose 5 or 6 games instead of 2 or 3. Is there something I am missing or do you agree that UCLA is a little overhyped?

Ted Miller: UCLA's schedule is a reason to speculate the Bruins might take a step back record-wise this year while actually being a better team than in 2012. Most notable: The Bruins play Oregon, while top South Division rivals USC and Arizona State do not. That's a significant advantage for the Trojans and Sun Devils. Further, some injury questions, particularly on defense, might give a prognosticator pause.

That said, the Bruins' front seven, led by the beastly Anthony Barr, looks strong, even with some voids on the D-line. The secondary will be young but may be more physically talented than the 2012 unit. On offense, it's hard not to put a "buy" rating on QB Brett Hundley.

I do think the range of what UCLA might do this year is pretty broad. I wouldn't be shocked by 10 wins. Or seven.




Ryan from Seattle writes: I know you have a take on this: What about LSU coach Les Miles bringing Jeremy Hill back, and the TCU coach blasting him for it?

Ted Miller: Good for Gary Patterson. And bad for LSU, the judicial system in Louisiana and Les Miles.

First of all: Watch the video. Hill didn't just get into a fight. He sneaked up behind someone who was either hurt or extremely intoxicated and cold-cocked him as hard as he could.

So Hill is: 1. A coward; 2. Cruel. Just imagine if the victim, whom Hill never acknowledges during his worthless and insincere apology, was a friend of yours or your son? Or, really, you.

Oh, and this is not his first moment of being a cruel bully. You could pretty much get a "ditto" from me on this Greg Doyel column.

What's almost as revolting is all the people around Hill who join in -- trading high fives and laughing. Where's the moral compass?

It makes me cringe to see Miles call call Hill "a good person." The overwhelming evidence is that he is not. Would Miles say the same if someone randomly clocked him from behind? Nope.

Now, we've got some discipline questions in the Pac-12, too, most notably with Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and preseason All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who got a DUI in the spring. In some big-picture ways, a DUI is more serious than what Hill did, at least in terms of what could happen when a drunk person gets behind the wheel. It could -- and many times has -- led to multiple deaths.

Further, it appears Sarkisian is about to get hit with tons of media grief when he decides not to suspend Seferian-Jenkins for the season opener against Boise State. While Sarkisian's track record with discipline is strong -- and he was quick to dump defensive end Andru Pulu after he brutalized a guy at a party -- such a decision is going to smack of a "winning above all else" mentality.

Still, Seferian-Jenkins' DUI doesn't make him a toxic person. His was a horrible mistake in judgment that he can learn from.

With Hill, we have video proof that when he sees a hurt person, his chief reaction is to assault him. How can he not be viewed as a danger to society?

Oregon and Stanford lead the Pac-12 North Division heading into the preseason, and that's good enough to be ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively, in the USA Today coaches' poll released Thursday.

Two-time defending champion Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State, which went unbeaten last season but was ineligible due to NCAA sanctions, is No. 2.

As for the rest of the Pac-12, UCLA is 21st, USC 24th and Oregon State 25th.

No, North Carolina wasn't ranked.

Arizona State was the equivalent of 32nd. Arizona and Washington also received votes.

The SEC led all conferences with six ranked teams, five of which were in the top 10. The Pac-12 and Big Ten had five each.

The six Pac-12 coaches among the 62 voting in the poll this year are Arizona State's Todd Graham, Oregon's Mark Helfrich, Washington State's Mike Leach, Oregon State's Mike Riley, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Utah's Kyle Whittingham.

Biggest play of 2012?

July, 16, 2013
7/16/13
5:30
PM ET
If we ask what was the biggest play of the Pac-12's 2012 season, the one thing we know before we start to debate is it will involve Stanford.

SportsNation

What was the biggest play of the 2012 season?

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    25%
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    53%
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Discuss (Total votes: 4,113)

Stanford not only won the Pac-12 because it came out on the better end of many of those big plays, it also was involved in plays that decided the national championship.

Consider:
  • If Stanford beats Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish don't play Alabama for the national title.
  • If Stanford loses at Oregon, the Ducks probably would have played Alabama for the national title.
  • Stanford first exposed USC as a national title pretender.
  • And the Cardinal have plenty of their own "what ifs" in losses to the Irish and Washington.
But what was the biggest individual play of the Pac-12 season?


We see four choices.

  • With the score tied at 14-14 in the fourth quarter against USC, the Cardinal faced a 3rd-and-10 at midfield. Then starting Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes dropped back, but couldn't find anyone and was under pressure. Yet the not terribly mobile Nunes scampered 12 yards for a first down. Two plays later, he connects with tight end Zach Ertz for a 37-yard go-ahead touchdown.
  • Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is stopped -- well, sort of -- just inches short of Notre Dame's goal line in overtime, giving the Irish a 20-13 victory, the signature win of their season. Of course, Cardinal fans will tell you that Taylor scored, not once but twice, on the final set of downs.
  • In the first quarter of their 17-14 victory at Oregon, backup safety Devon Carrington caught Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota from behind, preventing him from getting the final 15 yards of what looked like a sure 92-yard touchdown run. The Cardinal defense then held when the Ducks were stopped on fourth-and-2 on the 7-yard line four plays later.
  • Facing a 3rd-and-15 early in the fourth quarter of the Pac-12 title game against UCLA, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, under intense pressure, connects with Drew Terrell for a 26-yard, game-tying touchdown. Without that play, Stanford might not have played in its first Rose Bowl since the 1999 season.

Or is there another play that was bigger this past season?
Are two Pac-12 teams the closest programs in the nation to winning their first national title?

That's what Athlon Sports asserted after it noted that "The last time a team won a national championship for the first time in program history was 1996 when Florida defeated Florida State in the Sugar Bowl."

Those two teams? Not too hard to guess: Oregon is No. 1 and Stanford is No. 2 on the list.

This is its take on Oregon:
A dormant program before Rich Brooks took Oregon to the Rose Bowl in 1994, Oregon has been knocking on the door for its first national title, losing 22-19 to Auburn in the BCS Championship Game in 2010. Auburn’s fortunate call on a run by Michael Dyer in the fourth quarter wasn’t the only time luck went against the Ducks. Oregon was ranked second in the AP and coaches’ polls after the 2001 regular season, but the BCS' computer average and strength of schedule components put No. 2 Nebraska into the Rose Bowl for the title against Miami. The 2007 team was ranked as high No. 2 in the BCS standings until quarterback Dennis Dixon suffered a torn ACL. Each coach since Brooks has kept Oregon in the national title conversation. That bodes well first year-coach Mark Helfrich, who has a title contender in 2013. Especially with minimal sanctions from the NCAA in the Willie Lyles case, the infrastructure is strong for Oregon to win its first title.

And Stanford:
The thought of Stanford competing for a national championship would have been far-fetched before 2010. Even Ty Willingham’s Rose Bowl team in 1999 finished the regular season 8-3. Few programs have changed their spot in the college football world as dramatically as Stanford in the last five years. David Shaw signed a top-10 recruiting class in 2012 and followed that with a quality-not-quantity 12-man class in 2013. Jim Harbaugh and Shaw proved Stanford can compete for titles despite stringent academic standards.

Athlon had South Carolina No. 3, and it mentions California as a team of note (keep in mind these have to be teams that have never won a national title).

If you were projecting a likely 2013 national title game, it probably would be Alabama-Ohio State. Both are good teams that play favorable schedules that are conducive to going undefeated.

If you were to offer a next guess, it would be the winner of the Oregon-Stanford game on Nov. 7.
2013 may be the season of the quarterback in college football, because a lot of good ones are coming back.

In the SEC, there's Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater, and Clemson offers Tajh Boyd. In the Pac-12, there's UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelley.

But the best one coming back is Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

How so? Well, for one, that was the assignment: Make a case for the best quarterback in your conference being the best in the nation.

But it's not too difficult to make Mariota's case.

As a redshirt freshman, he ranked seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,677 yards with 32 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also rushed for 752 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.

He threw a touchdown pass in every game and one interception in his final seven games. He was named MVP in the Fiesta Bowl after leading a blowout win over Big 12 champion Kansas State, which capped a 12-1 season and a final No. 2 ranking for the Ducks.

He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors after leading an offense that ranked second in the nation in scoring (49.6 PPG) and fifth in total offense (537.4 YPG). The Ducks scored 11 points per game more than any other Pac-12 team.

The 6-foot-4, 196-pound Honolulu native is an extremely accurate passer who might be the fastest quarterback in the nation -- see his 86- and 77-yard runs last season. Against USC on the road, he completed 87 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He tied a school record with six touchdown passes against California. He rushed for 135 yards at Arizona State.

Of course, his 2012 numbers aren't mind-blowing. A lot of that isn't his fault. Oregon blew out so many opponents -- average halftime score of 31-9 -- that it didn't require many plays from behind center after the break. For the season, Mariota threw just 24 passes and rushed eight times in the fourth quarter, compared to 227 passes and 71 rushes in the first half.

Manziel, for the sake of comparison, threw 62 passes and rushed 33 times in the fourth quarter. Bridgewater threw 86 passes and rushed 13 times in the fourth.

The good news is folks are probably going to see a lot more of Mariota this season. With running back Kenjon Barner off to the NFL, the Ducks might skew more toward the passing game after being run-centric under Chip Kelly. New coach Mark Helfrich, who was the Ducks' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last year, is expected to throw the ball around more because he has an experienced quarterback and a strong, experienced crew of receivers.

That means more numbers for Mariota as he leads a team in the national title hunt. The potential combination of stats and wins might be enough to get Mariota to New York in December for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

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