Pac-12: Alden Darby

There were 34 Pac-12 players selected during the NFL draft, but there will be more than twice that many rookies in NFL training camps this summer. Shortly after the draft ended, the dominoes started falling and those who went undrafted started signing free-agent contracts.

The following list of undrafted free agent signings, which was compiled from various announcements and media reports, could change in the coming days:

Arizona
Arizona State
California
Note: K Vincenzo D'Amato will reportedly attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp.

Colorado
Oregon
Oregon State
Stanford
Notes: S Devon Carrington (Pittsburgh) and LB Jarek Lancaster (Oakland) will attend rookie minicamps.

UCLA
USC
Utah
Notes: DT LT Tuipulotu will attend Green Bay's rookie minicamp and C Vyncent Jones told the Deseret News he will attend minicamps for Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Washington
Note: S Sean Parker will reportedly attend Washington Redskins rookie minicamp.

Washington State
Note: K Andrew Furney will attend Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp.

Pac-12's lunch links

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
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What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?
The Pac-12 has seen a flurry of defensive coordinator movement over the last couple of weeks -- starting with the power struggle for former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to the recent exoduses of Stanford’s Derek Mason to Vanderbilt as head coach and UCLA’s Lou Spanos to the Tennessee Titans as linebackers coach. Oregon’s promotion of Don Pellum to defensive coordinator to replace Nick Aliotti will also shine a spotlight on the Ducks’ defense in 2014 and beyond.

And then there is, of course, former USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who mysteriously continues to be out of work.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan, Scott Crichton
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesOregon State defensive end Scott Crichton is among the Pac-12 defensive stars entering the NFL in 2014.
Look at the top five scoring defenses in the Pac-12 in 2013: Stanford, Oregon, USC, Washington and UCLA, respectively. All five have had defensive coordinators in flux in the young offseason.

That makes for an interesting transition period for the Pac-12. Defenses had closed the gap in recent years with several teams ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense. That in itself is an achievement considering the level of offensive skill players and the diversity of offenses in the conference.

But when you look ahead to 2014, there are a lot of quarterbacks coming back to man the league’s high-powered offenses -- Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Connor Halliday, etc. You combine that with a massive talent drain of defensive players graduating or declaring for the NFL, plus all of the shifting within the defensive coaching ranks, and you have to wonder if 2014 is going to be the Year of Offense in the Pac-12.

Consider a few of the defensive standouts leaving: Anthony Barr (UCLA), Will Sutton (ASU), Shayne Skov (Stanford), Dion Bailey (USC), Terrance Mitchell (Oregon), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Carl Bradford (ASU), Deone Bucannon (Washington State), Trevor Reilly (Utah). There are a couple dozen others who aren’t mentioned who were high-impact guys like Stanford’s Ben Gardner and Ed Reynolds, Jordan Zumwalt and Cassius Marsh from UCLA and Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor and Robert Nelson from ASU.

In total, 19 of the 25 all-conference defensive players from 2013 will be gone next year -- including 10 of 12 from the first team. Plus about a dozen more that were honorable mention are leaving or graduating. That is a major hit to the defensive talent in the league.

The Pac-12 is rarely appreciated nationally for its defensive prowess, either from a player or coaching perspective. And now three of the best coordinators in the conference are gone, one has moved from Washington to USC and another is looking for a gig.

Pac-12 offenses are going to be loaded in 2014 while the defenses have huge question marks. There is plenty of young talent. Guys like Myles Jack (UCLA), Addison Gillam (Colorado) and Su’a Cravens (USC) have all made names for themselves early in their careers. There are also some very notable returners like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Henry Anderson (Stanford), Shaq Thompson (Washington) and Hayes Pullard (USC).

But a lot more is gone than is coming back.

That opens the door for all sorts of comparison storylines. Wilcox did an outstanding job re-tooling the defense at Washington. And now Pete Kwiatkowski will be measured against what Wilcox was able to accomplish. Likewise, Pendergast probably should have been USC’s MVP for what he did with the Trojans in one season. Now Wilcox has to take over an outfit that is losing a lot of playmakers to the NFL. No doubt, he’ll be compared to his predecessor. Just as Pellum will be compared to Aliotti, and whoever fills the seats at Stanford and UCLA will be compared to what Mason and Spanos were able to accomplish.

The guard is changing, as it does every year in college football. This year it might be the Pac-12 defenses that take a step back.

Season review: Arizona State

January, 13, 2014
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We continue our team-by-team review of the Pac-12 with Arizona State.

Offense: With 63 total touchdowns and an average of 39.7 points per game, the Sun Devils were one of the most explosive offenses in the country. They eclipsed at least 50 points in half of their games and were very balanced, ranking in the top half of the league in rushing and passing offense. A lot of that has to do with quarterback Taylor Kelly, who really came into his own in his second season as a starter. His numbers weren’t as great as 2012, but from a leadership and control standpoint, you could see him making this “his team.” His adjusted QBR was seven points higher than last season -- which speaks volumes because the schedule in 2013 was much tougher than in 2012. Chris Coyle was the league’s first-team all-conference tight end and Kelly, Marion Grice and Jaelen Strong all earned second-team honors. And offensive coordinator Mike Norvell was one of the most sought-after assistants in college football. The name of the game is scoring points and the Sun Devils were 11th nationally and second only to the Ducks in the Pac-12. Grade: A

Defense: The one area the Sun Devils really wanted to improve in 2013 was their rushing defense. And they did. After allowing 182.8 yards per game in 2012, they cut the yards allowed to 137.6. But they allowed more points per game and had fewer sacks and fewer tackles for a loss per game than in 2012. The change in scoring defense wasn’t dramatic, they went from 24.3 ppg in 2012 to 26.6 ppg in 2013. But it was still right in the middle of the national average. Where they did excel, however, was in the turnover department. ASU boasted a plus-15 turnover ratio, including a league-high 21 interceptions. They were aggressive and opportunistic, landing three players on the first-team all-league squad (Will Sutton, Alden Darby, Robert Nelson) and three more on the second team (Carl Bradford, Chris Young and Osahon Irabor). Plus Sutton was the league’s defensive player of the year for the second straight season. Head coach Todd Graham personally oversees the defense and in some aspects there was legitimate improvement. In others, minor setbacks. But not enough to really ding them for a pretty good year. Grade: B

Special teams: Freshman kicker Zane Gonzalez was a very solid 83.3 percent on his field goals, converting 25 of 30 kicks -- including 4 of 6 from beyond 40 yards. The punt team was a mess and the Sun Devils were last in the league in net punting. They didn’t return any punts or kickoffs for touchdowns and they allowed one kick off returned for a score -- in the bowl game against Texas Tech. They were middle of the road in terms of coverage, though Grice was one of the better kick returners in the league with an average of 24.1. But Gonzalez was really the strength and Graham went out of his way to note that special teams are an area of concern moving forward. Grade: C-

Overall: The loss to Texas Tech -- particularly the way the Sun Devils lost -- naturally leaves a sour taste on what should otherwise be viewed as a very good season. The Sun Devils started the year outside of the top 25 and finished 21st. They did win 10 games, won their division and had the best record in Pac-12 league play. If you’re able to look beyond the disappointment of the bowl game, it was a very strong season given the schedule they played. Graham, rightfully, shouldered all of the blame for the Holiday debacle. But he was also named the league’s coach of the year for the job he did. Perhaps the Sun Devils didn’t achieve their full potential. But they didn’t collapse down the stretch, either, and they proved they deserved to be a top 25 team. Grade: B+

Holiday Bowl roundtable

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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Polar opposites meet Monday night when Arizona State takes on Texas Tech in the National University Holiday Bowl (10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN) in San Diego, Calif. The Sun Devils won seven straight games before their Pac-12 title game loss to Stanford to end the season, while Texas Tech lost five straight games after beginning the season 7-0 to end their campaign at 7-5.

To get you ready for the second Pac-12 vs. Big 12 battle of the day, Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell answers three questions about the Arizona State and Big 12 reporter Brandon Chatmon answers three questions about Texas Tech before the Holiday Bowl.

Gemmell answers three questions about Arizona State

What’s the key to stopping the Sun Devils' offense?

[+] EnlargeD.J. Foster
AP Photo/Matt YorkSophomore running back D.J. Foster brings an explosive element to the Arizona State offense, one it can exploit against a porous Texas Tech rush defense.
You’re going to have to stop them, because they aren’t going to stop themselves. The Sun Devils have a plus-14 turnover ratio – which was tops in the Pac-12 -- including a league-high 21 interceptions. They convert better than 90 percent of the time they get into the red zone and, despite being up tempo, they are capable of long and deliberate drives.

There is hope that Marion Grice will be able to play. If he does, that changes the way the Sun Devils can run their offense because they can have Grice and D.J. Foster on the field at the same time, which opens up all sorts of possibilities in the screen game. ASU is a tempo offense, so Texas Tech’s best chance to is to do what it can to disrupt that tempo.

How does Will Sutton compare to the top defensive tackles you’ve seen? Can he take over the game?

The Will Sutton of 2012 is a lot different than the Will Sutton of 2013. Both were able to take over games for different reasons. Sutton is a workhorse. And that he’s added 20 pounds from last year to this year has changed the way he attacks offenses, and likewise how offenses attack him.

Last year he was about 275-280 and had one of the fastest first steps I’ve seen from a defensive tackle -- so much so that there was some question about whether he’d be a tackle or an end at the next level. He's returned, added the weight and kept most of his quick first step, but teams have keyed in on him much more than they did last season -- which is why his numbers are down. But that’s opened things up for guys such as Carl Bradford and Chris Young to up their games. Plus he rarely sits a snap.

Which relatively unknown Sun Devil is a guy to keep an eye on in the Holiday Bowl?

Offensively, I’d keep an eye on tight end Chris Coyle. He’s well known in the Pac-12, but nationally he doesn’t get the ink that Mackey Award winner Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington gets. Ironically, ASJ (as he’s known in these parts) was second-team all-conference to Coyle but still won the Mackey. Coyle is the perfect tight end for what ASU likes to do offensively. When Grice and Foster are on the field together, they’ll run Foster out of the slot, which opens up the middle for Coyle on seam and drag routes. When he gets going with a full head of steam, he’s tough to bring down.

Defensively, safety Alden Darby gets a lot of the publicity for being the leader of the secondary. But defensive back Robert Nelson had an outstanding season with 42 tackles and six interceptions, which was tied with three other players for tops in the Pac-12.

Chatmon answers three questions about Texas Tech

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
AP Photo/Chris JacksonFreshman Davis Webb will likely split time with sophomore Michael Brewer at quarterback for the Red Raiders.
What’s the pulse of the team right now having dropped five in a row?

It’s hard to remain too confident when your last win was in mid-October. But the Red Raiders have the personality of their coach, Kliff Kingsbury, which means they’ll enter the game expecting to win and won’t leave any stone unturned in their pursuit of a season-ending win. Tech would like to send its seniors, some of whom have played for three different coaches, out with a win. And lack of effort has never been a problem during the losing streak; it’s been a lack of experience that has reared its ugly head and led to losses. So, even though they haven’t had a lot of recent success, the Red Raiders won’t go down without a fight.

What’s the latest on the QB situation?

Kingsbury expects to play Michael Brewer and Davis Webb in the Holiday Bowl but has declined to name a starter. Brewer, a sophomore, was expected to start after the spring, but a back injury kept him sidelined for the majority of the season. Webb, a true freshman, had an up-and-down season but definitely had good moments under center in Kingsbury’s offense. With neither guy really separating themselves during bowl preparations, Kingsbury will probably go with the hot hand against the Sun Devils.

During the losing streak Tech has given up nearly 49 points per game. Is there any reason to think they can slow down ASU’s offense?

Not really. I was going to give TTU's defense the benefit of the doubt, then I remembered it allowed at least 277 rushing yards in every game during this five-game losing streak. Injuries and inexperience have played a role, but there’s no reason to think the Red Raiders will shut down ASU’s explosive offense. TTU just has to hope it slows ASU's offense down enough, get a turnover or two and operate efficiently on offense to stop its losing skid. They can’t enter the game expecting the defense to win it for them.

Pac-12 names all-conference team

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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The Pac-12 has announced its first- and second-team all-conference squads and postseason awards for 2013.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey was the only unanimous first-team pick.
Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey has been named the league's offensive player of the year. Arizona State defensive lineman Will Sutton joins an elite fraternity, earning his second straight Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award. Washington's Steve Emtman is the only other player to win the league's defensive player of the year award in back to back years (1990-1991).

UCLA's Myles Jack earned freshman of the year for both offense and defense with his 70 tackles as a linebacker and seven touchdowns as a running back. This is the first time since the awards were introduced in 2008 that the same player has won both sides.

Arizona State coach Todd Graham is the league's coach of the year for guiding the Sun Devils to a conference record of 8-1 and winning the South Division. The Sun Devils host Stanford this weekend in the Pac-12 championship game.

The team is selected by the Pac-12 head coaches.

Offensive player of the year: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE Arizona State
Freshman Offense and Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Jack, RB/LB, UCLA
Coach of the Year: Todd Graham, Arizona State

First team offense

QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (2)
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (2)
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Chris Coyle, Grad., Arizona State
OL Evan Finkenberg, Grad., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon (2)
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA (2)
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford (2)

First team defense

DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DL Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DL Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (2)
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (2)
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
DB Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
DB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
DB Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford (2)

First team specialists

PK Zane Gonzalez, Fr., Arizona State
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
RS Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
ST Soma Vainuku, So. USC

Second team offense

QB Taylor Kelly, Jr., Arizona State
RB Tyler Gaffney, Sr., Stanford
RB Marion Grice, Sr. Arizona State
WR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
WR Jaelen Strong, So., Arizona State
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Jamil Douglas, Jr., Arizona State
OL Cameron Fleming, Sr., Stanford
OL Andrus Peat, So., Stanford
OL Isaac Seumalo, So., Oregon State
OL Khalil Wilkes, Sr. Stanford

Second team defense

DL Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DL Taylor Hart, Sr., Oregon
DL Devon Kennard, Sr., USC
DL Hau'oli Kikaha, Jr., Washington
DL Tenny Palepoi, Sr., Utah
LB Carl Bradford, Jr., Arizona State
LB Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
LB Hayes Pullard, Jr., USC
LB Chris Young, Sr., Arizona State
DB Dion Bailey, Jr., USC
DB Osahon Irabor, Grad., Arizona State
DB Marcus Peters, So., Washington
DB Rashaad Reynolds, Sr., Oregon State

Second team specialists

PK Vincenzo D'Amato, Sr., California
P Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
RS Nelson Agholor, So., USC
ST Erick Dargan, Jr., Oregon
ST Joe Hemschoot, Sr., Stanford
ST Ryan Hofmeister, Jr., UCLA

RS: Return Specialist
ST: special teams player (not a kicker or returner)
(2): Two-time first-team selection

Honorable mention

Arizona: LB Marquis Flowers, Sr.; DL Tevin Hood, Sr.; WR Nate Phillips, Fr.; DB Jared Tevis, Jr.; LB Scooby Wright, Fr.

Arizona State: DL Davon Coleman, Grad.; Gannon Conway, Sr.; ST D.J. Foster, So.; ST De'Marieya Nelson, Jr.

California: DL Deandre Coleman, Sr.; QB Jared Goff, Fr.; WR Bryce Treggs, So.

Colorado: RB Mike Adkins, Fr.; LB Addison Gillam, Fr.; PK Will Oliver, Jr.

Oregon: WR/RS Bralon Addison, So.; WR Josh Huff, Sr.; OL Tyler Johnstone, So.; DL Wade Keliikipi, Sr.; LB Derrick Malone, Jr.; RB Byron Marshall, So.; DL Tony Washington, Jr.

Oregon State: OL Grant Enger, Sr.; TE Connor Hamlett, JR.; QB Sean Mannion, Jr.; DB Ryan Murphy, Jr.; DB Steven Nelson, Jr.; ST Terron Ward, Jr.

Stanford: DL Henry Anderson, Sr.; DB Alex Carter, So.; OL Kevin Danser, Sr.; DL Josh Mauro, Sr.; P Ben Rhyne, Sr.; DB Jordan Richards, Jr.; LB A.J. Tarpley, Sr.

UCLA: OL Jake Brendel, So.; ST Jayon Brown, Fr.; P Sean Covington, Fr.; TE Thomas Duarte, Fr.; WR Shaq Evans, Sr.; WR Devin Fuller, So.; DB Randall Goforth, So.; QB Brett Hundley, So.; DB Anthony Jefferson, Jr.; LB Eric Kendricks, Jr.; DL Cassius Marsh, Sr.; DL Ellis McCarthy, So.; DB Fabian Moreau, So.; OL Alex Redmond, Fr.; DL Eddie Vanderdoes, Fr.; LB Jordan Zumwalt, Sr.

USC: P Kris Albarado, So.; RB Javorius Allen, So.; WR Nelson Agholor, So.; DB Su'a Cravens, Fr.; OL Kevin Graf, Sr.; TE Xavier Grimble, Jr.; QB Cody Kessler, So.; WR Marqise Lee, Jr.; DB Josh Shaw, Jr.; DL J.R. Tavai, Jr.; OL Max Turek, So.; DL George Uko, Jr.

Utah: WR Dres Anderson, Jr.; OL Vyncent Jones, Sr.; DB Keith McGill, Sr.; PK Andy Phillips, Fr.; LB Jason Whittingham, So.

Washington: OL Dexter Charles, So.; PK Travis Coons, Sr.; OL Mike Criste, Jr.; OL Micah Hatchie, Jr.; DB Sean Parker, Sr.; QB Keith Price, Sr.; DL Danny Shelton, Jr.; LB Shaq Thompson, So.

Washington State: OL Elliott Bosch, Sr.; WR River Cracraft, Fr.; PK Andrew Furney, Sr.; DB Damante Horton, Sr.;

Some notes on the teams:

By School: Arizona State and Stanford placed the most players on the first team with six selections each.

By Class: Of the 27 first-team selections, two are graduate students, 11 are seniors, nine are juniors, four are sophomores and one freshman.

Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches -- RB Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona.

Two-time Selections: Ten players are repeat first-team selections from last year.

All-Academic: Two first team All-Pac-12 performers also were named to the Pac-12 All Academic second team -- RB Bishop Sankey of Washington and DB Ed Reynolds of Stanford, while Washington defensive lineman Hau'oli Kikaha was named to the All-Pac-12 second team and Pac-12 All-Academic first team. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly earned second-team honors on both the Pac-12 All-Conference and All-Academic teams.
Tags:

USC Trojans, Stanford Cardinal, Oregon Ducks, Pac-12, USC Trojans, Washington State Cougars, Oregon State Beavers, Jordan Zumwalt, Washington Huskies, UCLA Bruins, Devon Kennard, Arizona State Sun Devils, California Bears, Tyler Gaffney, Stanford Cardinal, Deandre Coleman, Will Sutton, Colorado Buffaloes, Todd Graham, Arizona Wildcats, Oregon Ducks, Xavier Su\'a-Filo, Andy Phillips, Shayne Skov, Keith Price, Evan Finkenberg, Sean Parker, Soma Vainuku, Cassius Marsh, Xavier Grimble, George Uko, Hayes Pullard, Marquis Flowers, Taylor Kelly, Hroniss Grasu, Sean Mannion, Eric Kendricks, Paul Richardson, Anthony Barr, Taylor Hart, Wade Keliikipi, Chris Coyle, Anthony Jefferson, Cody Kessler, Chris Young, Brett Hundley, Vincenzo D'Amato, Kevin Graf, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jordan Richards, Shaq Evans, Deone Bucannon, Bishop Sankey, Danny Shelton, Marqise Lee, Khalil Wilkes, Kevin Danser, David Yankey, Davon Coleman, Dion Bailey, Alex Carter, Alden Darby, Terron Ward, Dres Anderson, Randall Goforth, Derrick Malone, Damante Horton, Connor Hamlett, Isaac Seumalo, Andrew Furney, Henry Anderson, Gannon Conway, Scott Crichton, Rashaad Reynolds, Ka'Deem Carey, Andrus Peat, Shaq Thompson, Will Oliver, Ben Gardner, Trevor Reilly, Ty Montgomery, A.J. Tarpley, Cameron Fleming, Trent Murphy, Su'a Cravens, Byron Marshall, Josh Mauro, Nelson Agholor, Ellis McCarthy, Marcus Mariota, Erick Dargan, Joe Hemschoot, Devin Fuller, Leonard Williams, Grant Enger, Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks, Jared Tevis, Marcus Martin, Keith McGill, Marcus Peters, Ed Reynolds, Jamil Douglas, Bryce Treggs, Elliott Bosch, Tony Washington, Marion Grice, Eddie Vanderdoes, Ryan Murphy, J.R. Tavai, Carl Bradford, River Cracraft, Myles Jack, Thomas Duarte, Alex Redmond, Jake Brendel, Dexter Charles, Mike Criste, Tom Hackett, Bralon Addison, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Travis Coons, Robert Nelson, Tyler Johnstone, De'Marieya Nelson, Jaelen Strong, Tenny Palepoi, Steven Nelson, Tevin Hood, Micah Hatchie, Vyncent Jones, Jason Whittingham, Addison Gillam, Scooby Wright, Zane Gonzales, Sean Covington, Kris Albarado, Hau'oli Kikaha, Fabian Moreau, Javorius Allen, Jayon Brown, Osahan Irabor, Ryan Hoffmeister, Nate Phillips, Mike Adkins

Midseason report: Arizona State

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
10:30
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Arizona State's season has been up-and-down like no other team in the Pac-12.

Up: A win -- albeit controversially -- over No. 18 Wisconsin thrust the Sun Devils into the national ranking.

Down: Arizona State gets dominated for three quarters by Stanford before an abortive rally in the fourth makes the 42-28 final tally respectable.

Up: The Sun Devils romp over USC 62-41 and get ranked again.

Down: The Sun Devils are upset by Notre Dame 37-34, making the Fighting Irish's previously mediocre offense look like a finely tuned machine.

So what's next? More of the same? Or will there be any consistency?

It's tempting to call this weekend's visit by No. 20 Washington a critical matchup that could determine the ultimate trajectory of the season. But what if the Sun Devils beat the Huskies, get ranked again and then lose at Washington State on Oct. 31?

When it's on, this team is good enough to compete for the South Division title. But it could just as easily finish 6-6.

Offensive MVP: This is a tough call between do-everything running back Marion Grice and QB Taylor Kelly, but Kelly gets the nod as the guy in the cockpit of the Sun Devils offense. He ranks 20th in the nation in ESPN's Total QBR rating. He has completed 62 percent of his passes with 327.5 yards passing per game. He has 16 touchdown passes and six interceptions. He also has rushed for 165 yards and a TD.

Defensive MVP: Safety Alden Darby is the vocal leader of the Sun Devil defense, and he has been the unit's most consistent performer. He ranks second on the team with 29 tackles. He also has two interceptions, six pass breakups and a forced fumble.
Notre Dame kicks off the first of three games this year against the Pac-12 with Saturday’s showdown against No. 22 Arizona State in Arlington, Texas. What should you be looking for? Glad you asked. Notre Dame reporter Matt Fortuna and Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell talk it over.

Matt Fortuna: Arizona State is a newcomer to the Pac-12 portion of Notre Dame's schedule this year, Kevin. The Sun Devils have looked great against USC, not so great against Stanford and, well, fortuitous in their win over Wisconsin. They put up 62 points last week against what was believed to be a good Trojans defense, getting Lane Kiffin fired in the process. So I guess we'll start there, given Notre Dame's defensive struggles so far this season: What makes Todd Graham's unit so explosive offensively, and what do the Irish need to really keep an eye on Saturday to keep the points down?

Kevin Gemmell: Tempo, tempo, tempo. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, who Graham trusts to run the show offensively, uses “tempo” as a verb, not an adjective. As in, he wants to tempo teams into submission.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Foster
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriNotre Dame will have to find a way to slow down D.J. Foster and the Arizona State offense.
They want to have as many possessions as possible. And they get that with a fast-paced attack that stretches and then compacts a defense. Quarterback Taylor Kelly is off to another outstanding start, and a huge reason for that is the addition of wide receiver Jaelen Strong, a junior college transfer who already has 31 catches for 433 yards. He gives Kelly that sideline threat the Sun Devils were lacking last season, and Kelly has been fantastic at spotting him on the outside shoulder and letting him make plays. Strong has been targeted 51 times, so it’s only a 60-percent completion rate when they look to him. But when he does catch it, it’s usually for a substantial gain; he averages 14 yards per reception.

They use running backs Marion Grice (12 touchdowns already!) and D.J. Foster in creative ways in the screen game and like to splt Foster out into the slot. Tight end Chris Coyle has also emerged as one of the top players at his position in the country.

How about the Irish? Things don’t seem to be going as swimmingly as they did last year. Only 25.4 points per game. ASU is going to blitz early and often. What does Notre Dame have to do to get its offense moving in the right direction?

Matt Fortuna: It will get overlooked because Notre Dame lost Saturday, but the Irish were finally able to establish a ground game, tallying 220 rushing yards against the Sooners. They had eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark as a team just once before, in the opener against Temple. Junior George Atkinson III, who was the No. 1 back entering the season, finally played like it, lowering his shoulder and looking more like a downhill runner. He finished with a career-high 148 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Aside from not turning it over on their first two possessions and falling behind 14-0, it is very important for the Irish to continue to establish the ground threat early, as they often can become predictable in second- and third-and-long with a non-mobile quarterback under center in Tommy Rees, though Brian Kelly did insert Andrew Hendrix in for some zone-read, change-of-pace packages against the Sooners. Receivers must run better routes, too. TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels have been big playmakers, but they both had route-running miscues Saturday that were costly. Kelly has said that ordinary things need to be done better. The Irish also regularly play three true freshmen wideouts (Corey Robinson, James Onwualu, Will Fuller).

I'm interested in ASU's defense, particularly Will Sutton. Before the season, everyone had pegged this as a matchup of the two best interior defensive linemen in the country, between Sutton and Notre Dame's Louis Nix. It's been hard to gauge Nix's performance so far, as the Irish have faced some mobile quarterbacks and quick-strike offenses that have utilized the short passing game early to essentially take the line out of the game. What challenges do Sutton and the rest of the Sun Devils' defense present?

Kevin Gemmell: They like to blitz a lot. Todd Graham fashions his defense as a “hybrid attacking defense,” meaning at times they’ll substitute speed for bulk to create pressure from anywhere on the field.

Sutton hadn’t made much of an impact the first few games for a couple of reasons: One, they were facing mostly run-based power teams like Wisconsin and Stanford; two, he’s been seeing a lot of double and triple teams. Makes sense. His first step is so quick that it precedes his reputation. But he finally broke out against the Trojans with two tackles for a loss and a sack. I think, as the season pushes on, we’re going to see more pressure from the front seven based on the teams they’ll face.

That said, you have to look out for safety Alden Darby, who is coming off a fantastic performance against the Trojans. He had two picks (one returned for a touchdown) and has 19 tackles on the year. Hybrid linebacker Carl Bradford is explosive and Chris Young has really emerged, leading the team with 29 tackles.

The front seven is a little undersized, but it’s quick and if your protections aren’t set, someone will get missed with as much as the Sun Devils like to blitz.

Now that the Sun Devils are back in the top 25, it’s a huge game for them to keep some of that momentum going on a national stage. The Pac-12 is already coming off of the nonconference season with a 29-4 record.

Notre Dame, however, seems to be scrambling to salvage its national reputation. And with three games against the Pac-12, which many believe is the deepest conference in college football, it seems the Irish could restore some of that lost credibility. How do you see them matching up with the now Lane-less Trojans or Stanford in the season finale?

Matt Fortuna: Based on everything we have seen from both Notre Dame and Stanford so far, that matchup might not be a very pretty one for the Irish. Fortunately for them, it is not until the regular-season finale, meaning they have plenty of time to fix their issues in the six games before then.

The bigger question pertains to what kind of team the Irish will be heading into that matchup in Palo Alto, a status that will largely be dictated by their performances in both the ASU and USC games. The Irish need to get it together, fast, and Rees has to avoid a repeat performance of this past Saturday (three first-half interceptions) and get the offense going again. In theory, that should be enough to beat a USC team that looks to be reeling after the firing of its coach, though that kind of midseason move can have different lingering effects, good or bad. It's not like the Trojans aren't talented, and it's not like they won't be up for another night game at Notre Dame Stadium.

Still, I say the Irish win that one, especially coming off a bye. And especially with the threat of falling under .500, as a loss to ASU would make them 3-3 on the season. Notre Dame might be the better team, but the Irish have shown me little over the last four weeks that suggests that they are capable of keeping up with the Sun Devils' offense.

So that's an early 1-2 prediction for Notre Dame against the Pac-12 this season. What say you, Kevin?

Kevin Gemmell: I’m an ASU lean right now simply because of how explosive that offense can be. And if the Sun Devils can fix a couple of assignment issues on defense, I think they have the firepower to be a top-20, maybe even top-15 team. But they have to show they can do it away from home. A neutral field setting provides a nice opportunity. It’s close enough for their fans to travel, but it’s not a true road game.

As of today, we’re in lock-step when it comes to the Stanford matchup. The Cardinal offense is looking better and better each week. I thought back in April that Tyler Gaffney was going to be a game-changer for Stanford, and so far he’s shown that he is. That season finale could also have huge BCS implications, and I don’t see the Cardinal tossing one away at home in a game that could potentially lock them into a fourth straight BCS game.

As for USC, well, who knows? Haven’t heard any USC players come out and condemn the firing of Lane Kiffin. Maybe this move reinvigorates them? The Trojans certainly have talent. But as of today (as always, I reserve the right to change my mind), I’d go with Notre Dame at home.

Pac-12 players of the week

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion has been named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week, along with ASU safety Alden Darby as defensive player and Oregon WR/KR Bralon Addison as special teams player.

Some more on the trio per the league’s release:
Mannion, a junior from Pleasanton, Calif., set a school record with six touchdown passes in a single game in the Beavers’ 44-17 victory over Colorado at Reser Stadium. Mannion completed 27 of 52 passes for 414 yards and one interception as the Beavers move to 2-0 in Conference play and 3-1 overall. He now has 21 touchdowns on the year and 52 in his career, good for third-most in program history. Mannion leads the nation in passing yards per game (403.6 ypg) and total offense (390.2 ypg). He is also on pace to throw 50 touchdown passes this season, which would rank fourth in the NCAA record book. The honor is the second for Mannion in three weeks and marks the first Pac-12 multi-award winner in 2013.

Darby, a senior from Long Beach, Calif., racked up two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devil’s 62-41 win at home against USC on Saturday night. His fumble recovery led to an ASU field goal that put the Sun Devils ahead 20-14 before the half, while his 46-yard interception return extended the lead to 34-21 and was the second of four straight ASU touchdowns in the quarter. Darby was also third among tacklers in the game with seven, including five solo tackles.

Addison, a sophomore from Missouri City, Texas., returned two punts for 142 yards and a Conference-record tying two touchdown returns in the Duck’s 55-16 win over California on Saturday. He returned punts of 75 and 67 yards for scores in heavy rains in Eugene and is first in the country in punt return average (36.50 ypg). Thanks to Addison, Oregon is third-best in the nation in punt return average (24.78 ypg).

Also nominated for offensive player of the week honors were running backs/tailbacks Marion Grice of Arizona State, Byron Marshall of Oregon, Justin Davis of USC and Bishop Sankey of Washington; and wide receiver Devon Cajuste of Stanford. Also nominated for defensive player of the week honors were linebackers Trent Murphy of Stanford and Princeton Fuimaono of Washington; defensive end Scott Crichton of Oregon State; and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon. Also nominated for special teams player of the week honors were kickers Zane Gonzalez of Arizona State, Travis Coons of Washington and Oregon State safety Zack Robinson.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 5 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Arizona State’s home victory over USC was an announcement to the rest of the country that the Sun Devils deserve to be ranked, and the country responded by putting ASU back in the Top 25 at No. 22. More important than national perception, however, is that the Sun Devils didn’t fall to 0-2 in conference play, which would have been devastating for the team’s season-long goals. They picked up a South Division win and are still in control of their destiny in the division. One last nonconference game next week against Notre Dame and then it’s all league games the rest of the way -- including a pivotal Oct. 19 game against Washington and the all-important No. 23 game at UCLA.

Best game: In a week where the average margin of victory was 29 points in the five games, the “closest” was Washington’s 18-point victory over visiting Arizona. But there was a sense Washington was in control all 60 minutes. Oregon was fun to watch simply for the fact that not even Mother Nature could play defense against the Ducks. Stanford was fun to watch because the Cardinal looked explosive. Oregon State was fun to watch because it was a complete performance. But the ASU-USC game probably had the most drama. We had an idea of what was at stake, and even when USC cut it to 48-34 with 9:54 left in the game, there was still that lingering thought that maybe it wasn’t over. Of course, ASU scored two more touchdowns to put it away. And the end result was Lane Kiffin’s dismissal.

[+] EnlargeD.J. Foster
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriD.J. Foster played a part in Arizona State's offensive explosion against USC.
Biggest play: After USC took a 21-20 lead in the opening minute of the second half, the Sun Devils responded 21 seconds later with a 74-yard touchdown from Taylor Kelly to D.J. Foster. But that wasn’t the biggest play. On USC’s next series, less than a minute later, Alden Darby jumped a Cody Kessler pass and returned it 46 yards for a score, giving the Sun Devils a 34-21 lead less than two minutes into the third quarter. He had two picks on the day, and the pick-six was a massive momentum swing, and it happened while Pat Haden and USC decision-makers were huddling to decide Kiffin’s future.

Offensive standout: Tough to ignore the kind of numbers Sean Mannion is putting up. After matching a school record two weeks ago at Utah with five touchdown passes, he surpassed the record by throwing for six touchdowns and 414 yards in the blowout win over Colorado. He did have an interception, but only because his receiver’s hands and chest got in the way and it was tipped in the air. Mannion now has 21 touchdowns on the year to just two picks.

Defensive standout: Has to be Darby, who totaled seven tackles to go with his two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Defensive standout 1B goes to Stanford’s Trent Murphy. Is there any outside linebacker with better hands? Or does he only show them off at CenturyLink Field? Saturday he intercepted a point-blank pass in the backfield from Austin Apodaca and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. If that looked familiar, he did the same thing last year at the CLink against Washington.

Special teams standout: With four games in the Pacific Northwest Saturday, weather was dominant storyline when it came to special teams. We saw numerous fumbles, bad snaps and weather-induced wackiness. But there was nothing wacky about Oregon’s Bralon Addison, who returned two punts for touchdowns. The first was a 75-yard return in the second quarter that was pure sideline speed. The second, a 67-yard return, required a little more dancing and cutting -- and avoiding being knocked down by his teammate before the play even got started.

Smiley face: The Pac-12 once again has five teams ranked in the Top 25 in both polls with ASU’s victory over USC. And Oregon State is receiving votes in the coaches poll.

Frowny face: Injuries always get a frowny face -- and Saturday saw two of the league’s superstars go down with injuries. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas was injured on the kickoff and didn’t return. And USC wide receiver Marqise Lee suffered a knee injury that hopefully looked worse than it really is.

Thought of the week: The Beavers are back, sort of. Oregon State finally strung together a game where its defense matched the offense. And Colorado is a much-improved team from last season. Are the Buffs bowl bound? Probably not. But they aren’t the Buffs of last year, which gives a little credence to Oregon State’s dominating performance. The initial thought was that the Beavers would be 7-0 or 6-1 heading into their Oct. 26 showdown with Stanford. And they might still be (though Washington State isn’t going to make it easy). Not suggesting you go all-in on the Beavers. Remember, they are only a week removed from a miraculous win over San Diego State. But don't sell just yet, either.

Question of the week: The Trojans have a bye week to patch holes and put “Operation: Changing Lanes” in action. Do they look to an NFL name or a college name? UCLA is showing that a former NFL coach can have success in Los Angeles, even if he’s not an alumnus. USC is an attractive gig, and you can bet there were a lot of back-channel phone calls going out over the past 72 hours.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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So who deserves a helmet sticker for a job well done?

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Cooks was the best player on the field in Corvallis, decisively winning his battle with Colorado WR Paul Richardson in the Beavers' 44-17 victory. Cooks caught nine passes for 168 yards (18.7 yards per catch) with two touchdowns. He also rushed five times for 47 yards.

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: Cooks was brilliant, but Mannion was also stellar, throwing six touchdown passes, a new team record. He completed 27 of 52 passes for 414 yards with an interception in the blowout win. That pick, by the way, bounced off the chest of his receiver, so it shouldn't count against him.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington: Sankey set a school record with 40 carries in the Huskies' 31-13 win over Arizona. He gained 161 tough yards and scored a TD.

Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: Kelly completed 23 of 34 passes for 351 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the Sun Devils' 62-41 win over USC. He also rushed for 79 yards on just four carries -- 19.8 yards per pop.

Alden Darby, S, Arizona State: Darby had two interceptions against USC, including one he returned 46 yards for a touchdown. He also forced and recovered a fumble and tied for second on the Sun Devils with seven total tackles

Bralon Addison, PR, Oregon: Addison returned two punts for touchdowns against California, the first for 75 yards and the second for 67 yards.

Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford: The big receiver was the star of the Cardinal's new downfield passing game. He caught four passes for 115 yards in their 55-17 win over Washington State, including touchdowns of 57 and 33 yards.

Lunch links: Mike Riley's faith

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
2:30
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Well I guess it all started the first time I went through the second grade. I caught my reflection in a spoon while I was eating my cereal, and I remember thinking "Wow, you're ridiculously good looking, maybe you could do that for a career."
The Senior Bowl released its watch list for the 2014 game and 38 players from the Pac-12, representing 11 of the 12 schools, are on the list.

Arizona State leads the way with seven players, followed by Stanford and UCLA with six each. Arizona is the lone Pac-12 school not represented.

The SEC dominated the list with 72 players, followed by the ACC (48), Big Ten (46) and then the Pac-12.

The list, which is made up of more than 400 players vying for 110 roster spots, isn't set in stone. Additional players can be added throughout the year.

You’ll note some players are listed out of position -- mostly because they are expected to fluctuate back and forth. For example, USC’s Morgan Breslin is listed as a DE, but he’ll spend just as much time at OLB this season in USC’s new scheme.

You can see the complete watch list here. And here’s the breakdown from each Pac-12 team.

Arizona State (7)
  • Chris Coyle, TE
  • Alden Darby, S
  • Marion Grice, RB
  • Osahon Irabor, DC
  • Kevin Ozier, WR
  • Will Sutton, DT
  • Chris Young, OLB
California (1)
  • Deandre Coleman, DT
Colorado (2)
  • Gus Handler, C
  • Parker Orms, S
Oregon (5)
  • Taylor Hart, DT
  • Josh Huff, WR
  • Wade Keliikipi, DT
  • Boseko Lokombo, LB
  • Avery Patterson, DC
Oregon State (1)
  • Rashaad Reynolds, DC
Stanford (6)
  • Tyler Gaffney, RB
  • Ben Gardner, DE
  • Ryan Hewitt, FB
  • Trent Murphy, LB
  • Shayne Skov, LB
  • David Yankey, OG
UCLA (6)
  • Anthony Barr, LB
  • Seali’i Epenesa, DT
  • Shaq Evans, WR
  • Cassius Marsh, DE
  • Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE
  • Jordan Zumwalt, LB
USC (5)
  • Morgan Breslin, DE
  • Kevin Graf, OT
  • Devon Kennard, LB
  • John Martinez, OG
  • Silas Redd, RB
Utah (2)
  • Tenny Palepoi, DT
  • Trevor Reilly, LB
Washington (2)
  • Sean Parker, DC
  • Keith Price, QB
Washington State (1)
  • Deone Bucannon, S

Arizona State season preview

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
10:30
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We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with Arizona State.

Arizona State

Coach: Todd Graham (57-34, 8-5 at Arizona State)

2012 record: 8-5, 5-4 Pac-12 South

Key losses: RB Cameron Marshall, LB Brandon Magee, WR Rashad Ross, P Josh Hubner, OL Andrew Sampson, OL Brice Schwab

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireThe Sun Devils will lean on veteran quarterback Taylor Kelly's experience in 2013.
Key returnees: QB Taylor Kelly, DT Will Sutton, LB Carl Bradford, RB Marion Grice, RB D.J. Foster, LT Evan Finkenberg, TE/H Chris Coyle, S Alden Darby

Newcomer to watch: The Sun Devils need receiver Jaelen Strong to live up to his recruiting hype. So far, so good in preseason camp. Despite getting a late start while he was waiting to be academically cleared, he's been running with the first-team offense and has flashed playmaking potential. Receiver is the biggest question for the Sun Devils, and Strong is the most obvious -- and promising -- answer.

Biggest games in 2013: The South Division looks -- in the preseason -- like a three-team race between the Sun Devils, USC and UCLA. The Sun Devils play host to USC on Sept. 28 and visit the Bruins on Nov. 23. Meanwhile, there are big nonconference games with Wisconsin (Sept. 14) and Notre Dame (Oct. 5, in Cowboys Stadium).

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Top 2012 receiver Rashad Ross is gone, and the Sun Devils got little production from the position in 2012 in any event. While Grice and Foster are good receivers out of the backfield, and Coyle is a productive tight end, the missing ingredient for this offense is a wideout who can stretch the field. If there's one on the roster at present -- Strong? -- it's almost certain he will be a first-year player.

Forecast: Arizona State welcomes back 17 starters, including quarterback Taylor Kelly, from a team that exceeded expectations in 2012. If the Sun Devils take a step forward with that experience, they should be in the thick of the Pac-12 South Division race.

It starts with Kelly on offense and DT Will Sutton on defense. Kelly was probably the biggest surprise of the 2012 season, coming from nowhere to finish third in the conference in passing efficiency. Sutton only won conference Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American honors. But they are hardly alone.

Grice and Foster might be the best one-two running punch in the conference, and the depth behind them is good. Coyle is a legit weapon in the passing game, and the offensive line looks to be the school's best unit in years. On defense, productive linebacker Carl Bradford is a strong No. 2 to Sutton, and safety Alden Darby is the undisputed team leader.

In other words, the pieces are here. And missing Oregon is probably a good thing, particularly with UCLA playing both Oregon and Stanford.

But the schedule overall is rugged, particularly a nonconference slate that includes Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Finding eight wins this year will be more difficult than last year.

Still, there are plenty of reasons for high hopes in Tempe in Year 2 under Graham.

Best case-worst case: Arizona State

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
7:00
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This is the tenth 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: Arizona State

Best case

Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton comes to a stop outside Sun Devil Stadium. It's 9 p.m. He realizes he left his playbook in the coaches' offices.

He re-enters the athletic building, but he hears music. It's coming from head coach Todd Graham's office.
Here we go yo, here we go yo
So what so what so what's the scenario?

"Coach Graham listens to A Tribe Called Quest?" Sutton wonders. "Now that is unexpected."

Sutton opens Graham's door. He sees Graham sitting at his desk. Another man is sprawled on the sofa laughing.

"Will," Graham says. "Have you met my friend Jay-Z?"

Later, Sutton tells quarterback Taylor Kelly about seeing Jay-Z in Graham's office.

"You didn't know that coach hangs with all those hip-hop guys?" Kelly replies. "I saw Lil Wayne in his office once. Coach was telling him how to make a court deposition hilarious. Yep, Coach been smooth since days of Underroos. Arizona [Kelly fake gags] is all about country western. We're urban up here."

Sutton almost notes that Kelly is from Eagle, Idaho, population 20,000, but says nothing.

After Arizona State whips Sacramento State 55-3 to open the season, Wisconsin comes to town. The Sun Devils hold the Badgers to just 197 total yards in a 21-3 victory.

Sutton and safety Alden Darby meet with reporters after the game. They are asked about how they could so thoroughly shut down a big physical team like Wisconsin.

Says Darby, "Ain't nothin' but a D thang, baaaaabay!"

Sutton gives him a fist bump, "Corona and Long Beach together, now you know you in trouble."

Stanford is also a big, physical team, but it surprises the Sun Devils by throwing the ball early and often. Kevin Hogan's three touchdown passes prove the difference in a 28-27 Cardinal victory.

"Guys," Graham says after the game. "That was a tough one. We've been hit with a few shells but we don't walk with a limp. We'll just get back to work."

The Sun Devils bounce back with a 30-21 win over USC. Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster combine to rush for 260 yards and three scores.

Grice and Foster are asked after the game about sharing the ball and whether that's ever frustrating.

Says Grice, "It takes two to make a thing go right."

Adds Foster, "It takes two to make it outta sight."

The Sun Devils move up to No. 15 in the AP poll as they head to Texas to play Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium. Things go poorly in the first half as the Fighting Irish jump to a 17-0 lead and take a 24-3 advantage into the halftime locker room.

But the Sun Devils drive 80 yards for a touchdown on their first possession of the second half and the momentum shifts. Still, it's 31-27 Notre Dame when the Sun Devils get the ball back on their 35-yard line with 2:30 on the clock. They drive to the Irish's 22 with one minute left, but face a fourth-and-inches. They take their final time out.

Kelly returns to the huddle. He looks at receiver Jaelen Strong.

"You've been dogging that corner all night and he's nervous," Kelly said. "They'll be thinking run, so I'm going to play-action and you're going to do a hitch on the near side. Can you make a hitch work?"

Replies Strong, "I got 99 problems but a hitch ain't one. Hit me."

Kelly connects with Strong, who slips the corner in press coverage and sprints for the winning touchdown.

Reporter: That was quite a comeback. Do you think this marks a program, long called a sleeping giant, waking up?

Linebacker Carl Bradford seems mildly irritated by the question. He replies, "Don't call it a comeback. We've been here for years."

Reporter: I suppose you're going to tell us the plan is to put suckas in fear, makin' the tears rain down like a monsoon. And, you know, make the bass go boom?

Bradford: No. We're going to play one-game-at-a-time and give 110 percent.

Arizona State moves up to 12th in the national polls. It buries Colorado and slips Washington 24-20. It's greeted by a blizzard at Washington State, but Grice and Foster lead a rushing attack that gains 375 yards against the Cougars. Kelly throws just two passes.

Says Graham, "Today I didn't even have to use my T.K. I got to say it was a good day."

Arizona State rolls past Utah and nips Oregon State to win its seventh game in a row. Up next is a visit to No. 12 UCLA, which has only lost to Stanford and Oregon.

Kevin Gemmell: The winner in Pasadena will position itself to win the South Division and get a shot in the Pac-12 championship to make a date with the Granddaddy. The problem both defenses have is opposing quarterbacks who are at the top of their games.

Ted Miller: If there was a problem, Yo – I'll solve it! Check out the hook while DJ revolves it!

Gemmell: Please -- please! -- don't ever do that again.

Arizona State and UCLA are tied 24-24, but Brett Hundley drives the Bruins to the Sun Devils' 17 with three minutes left. He drops back, looking for Shaq Evans, but he's sacked from behind by Sutton. Darby picks up the loose ball and dashes for what proves to be the winning touchdown.

Sutton turns to Hundley, "You're just a butter knife, I'm a machete."

Hundley replies, "If I wasn't so angry, I would salute that old school reference."

At 10-1, Arizona State moves up to No. 5 in the nation. Rival Arizona comes to town limping at 5-6, needing a win to become bowl eligible. Arizona State runs onto the field with Kool Moe Dee's "Wild Wild West" blaring through the Sun Devil Stadium sound system. There is a suspicion on the opposite sideline that Graham is making fun of the Wildcats and coach Rich Rodriguez.

"He's making fun of us!" Rodriguez says to quarterback B.J. Denker.

Says Graham, "I'm making fun of them!"

Arizona State wins the toss. As the players shake hands, Kelly pulls Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers close. He says, "You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge."

The Sun Devils roll 38-17. That earns them a spot opposite unbeaten and second-ranked Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

Graham gathers the Sun Devils in the locker room at Autzen Stadium.

"Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted -- one moment! -- would you capture it or just let it slip?" he says to his players. "Yo?"

The Sun Devils take a 33-30 lead in the second overtime. Ducks kicker Matt Wogan lines up for a 27 yard field goal to send it to a third overtime.

Announcer: Wide left! For the third time in three years, a missed field goal ruins Oregon's season.

Arizona State whips Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and finishes 13-1 and ranked third.

The athletic department receives an anonymous gift of $200 million to finance the $300 million renovation of Sun Devil Stadium.

Explains Steve Patterson, ASU vice president for athletics: "Cash Rules Everything Around Me -- C.R.E.A.M. -- Get the money! Dollar, dollar bill y'all!"

Worst case

Arizona State bombs Sacramento State, but Wisconsin grinds down the smaller Sun Devils defense, and the Badgers mostly mute the Sun Devils running game. The passing game falters in the fourth quarter, with a Taylor Kelly interception killing a final drive in a 24-20 loss.

The Sun Devils' struggles are even more pronounced against Stanford, owners of one of the nation's best defenses. Not only do they go down 28-10, they lose their composure when frustration sets in during the fourth quarter, getting a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct flags.

"No, we're not reverting to former undisciplined ways," Graham tells reporters. "We've just got to keep our heads in the game. We knew our schedule was going to be tough. We just need to get back to our high-octane ways."

That doesn't happen against USC, which blisters the Sun Devils 30-13.

Kevin Gemmell: A 1-3 start is bad, but losing two conference games probably means the Sun Devils can't lose another Pac-12 game if they hope to win the Pac-12 South Division.

Ted Miller: They better start thinkin' of a master plan, 'Cuz ain't nuthin' but sweat inside their hands.'

Gemmell: Really? You need to learn to let a conceit go.

The Sun Devils fall 20-17 to Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium. The opposing defensive plan has been set: Gang up against Marion Grice and D.J. Foster and force the Sun Devils to throw the ball. As of yet none of the receivers, including touted recruit, Jaelen Strong, has been able to make the defense pay consistently. The defense has been solid, but it's not unreasonable to wonder if a guy like Will Sutton will start thinking about the NFL as the losses pile up.

"I'm not thinking about the NFL," Sutton says. "I'm thinking about Colo... oh ... is that a Bentley driving down Mill Avenue?"

The Sun Devils dump Colorado 30-20, upset Washington and even their record with a 28-24 win at Washington State. A late field goal gives Arizona State a 31-30 win at Utah.

"We need one more win to become bowl eligible," Graham says. "But we also think we can win out and get to a good bowl game."

Oregon State whips the Sun Devils 28-17, and UCLA scores 21 fourth-quarter points to win 35-31. That sets up a Territorial Cup with Arizona over big stakes. The Wildcats need to win to capture the South Division title, which will give them an opportunity to play in the program's first Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils need to win to become bowl eligible.

The Wildcats end all intrigue by halftime. Ka'Deem Carey rushes for 205 yards and QB B.J. Denker passes for 235 and three scores in a 44-17 victory.

The Sun Devils finish at 5-7, their fourth losing mark since 2008.

Carey wins the Heisman Trophy. Arizona upsets unbeaten Stanford for the Pac-12 title and then beats Ohio State in the Rose Bowl to finish 12-2 and ranked sixth.

The Wildcats also win national titles in basketball, baseball and softball.

Graham texts his players at 4 a.m. on Dec. 25 that he's leaving to become special teams coach at Arizona.

He calls it his dream job.

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts

California

Washington State

Colorado

Utah

Arizona

USC

Oregon State

Washington

UCLA

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