Pac-12: Arizona State Sun Devils

Greetings. Welcome to the Mailbag.

If you are pursuing enlightenment, then go here.

To the notes.

Bryce from San Francisco writes: It's already been established that many SEC teams are a bunch of cowards, afraid to visit another conference powerhouse (no, LSU fans, Cowboys Stadium doesn't count as a road game). My question is if the playoff committee will see all these SEC teams backing out of tough games to schedule patsies and reward the Pac-12 while punishing the SEC for their scheduling. The SEC deserves to be docked for softening their schedule. And the Pac-12 should be rewarded for trying to play the best, even when other conferences are too scared to.

Ted Miller: Well, hold on now. LSU has done home-and-homes with Arizona, Arizona State and Washington in the not too distant past, and let's just say that Tigers fans have room to crow about the results, particularly those who continue to smart about finishing ranked second in 2003 behind consensus national champion USC.

In general, the SEC has significantly upgraded its nonconference schedules over the past several years and there's been a concerted effort to continue that trend going forward. LSU has led the way, but Alabama also deserves credit, while Auburn earns kudos for its series with Kansas State. Though Georgia chickened out of a series with Oregon knowing it would go 0-2, the Bulldogs did do a home-and-home with Arizona State and have scheduled one with Notre Dame while continuing their rivalry series with Georgia Tech. In 2017, Florida plays Florida State and Michigan, and Texas A&M, after dropping Oregon and USC, has added Arizona State and UCLA.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDak Prescott's Mississippi State team is No. 1 right now, but its nonconference schedule (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin) is notably weak compared to other playoff contenders.
The big issue for the SEC as we move into the College Football Playoff Era is not so much the nonconference slate. It's the SEC's eight-game conference schedule. That provides a institutionalized shortcut with the singular intention of avoiding competition that should operate as an automatic demerit for a contending SEC team during committee deliberations, particularly when the nonconference schedule is lacking.

I believe it will, perhaps as soon as this season, and when the selection committee confirms my belief and enrages an SEC fan base, the next SEC commissioner will push his conference to make the change.

Ah, but nonconference scheduling will be an issue this year, and I believe the committee will make it clear that cowardly scheduling has its own risks.

That brings us to the Mississippi schools as well as Baylor. While Ole Miss did take a minor step forward with a game with Boise State, even that doesn't hold the credibility it did a few years ago. Meanwhile, Mississippi State's and Baylor's nonconference schedules are a joke. They are offensive to the ideas of courage, honor, masculinity and all that is right and good. Hemingway and Maximus Decimus Meridius and Dirty Harry have personally communicated outrage to the Pac-12 blog. I may overstate things but only by a little.

What that means is pretty simple. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and/or Baylor should be significantly burdened when it comes to eclipsing a team from, say, the Pac-12 with the same record, particularly if they don't win their conference title.

So my answer is I expect the committee to provide the Pac-12 champion a positive click automatically, one that won't be available to any other conference, based on the tough nonconference schedules, nine-game conference schedules and conference title game.


Jeff from Corvallis, Oregon, writes: More an observation. Other Pac-12 schools seem to be getting better in a positive way, Utah, Cal, UCLA, both Arizona schools, even WSU is competitive! Oregon State seems to be flat-lining while other schools are trending up. Riley the most underrated coach, yeah, OK, but 6-6 or 7-4 in a season, appears OSU will be left our of a bowl this season and losing to the Ducks every season is getting old. Every season clock-management is horrible, the red zone is like our kryptonite (except for last year) and play calling is head-scratching most of the time. Getting tired of hearing that every loss is a learning experience ... shouldn't we be undefeated by now then, with all of our losses and experiences gained? I think a change is needed. I feel better now, Pac-12 Blog, that is now off my chest. ... Thanks for listening to a disgruntled Beaver fan.

Ted Miller: You are welcome.

I understand your frustration. It's not illegitimate. It's difficult to see your team struggle while your rival thrives. And I know that many who have long supported Mike Riley are starting to wonder about the direction of the program.

I have two initial thoughts. First, let's see how things play out. Plenty of season left. Second, man, I'd be more optimistic about the rest of the season if I didn't just peruse your injury list, which features a few substantial hits to the offensive (Isaac Seumalo, Gavin Andrews) and defensive lines (Jalen Grimble), not to mention a big hit at receiver (Richard Mullaney).

Hey, injuries are part of the game. Get it. Still, ask Oregon fans what might have been if it had both starting offensive tackles all season. Of course, just about every Pac-12 team has an injury sob story.

My simple suggestion is not unlike what I once told California fans about Jeff Tedford and Utah fans about Kyle Whittingham: Tread lightly. Don't be emotional. Consider the big picture. I think things had run their course with Tedford at Cal, and I think the Bears decision to cut ties after the 2012 season was entirely justifiable. I also think Utes fans might be seeing the benefits of staying the course with Whittingham this season.

You will be hard-pressed to find too many football folks who don't believe Riley is a good coach. While the Beavers were unquestionably down in 2010 and 2011, they've still posted winning records in four of the past six seasons, twice winning nine games. On the other hand, if Oregon State finishes with a losing record, the Riley critics out there can say the Beavers have posted losing records in three of their last five seasons. They will insist that the program shouldn't settle for mediocrity and that the right coach can win in Corvallis.

(I'd recommend then asking who that coach would be.)

If the Beavers do finish with a losing record, it would be justifiable to consider a change. That wouldn't be my recommendation, but it would not be unjustifiable.


Rosie from Seattle writes: Is there a problem with UW's QB situation? Cyler Miles doesn't look confident and is concussed. Lindquist seems to have fallen behind Troy Williams. I'm just curious if we see Jake Browning come in next January and finally lead the Dawgs to a victory at Oregon and a 10-win season.

Ted Miller: The Huskies rank last in the Pac-12 in passing and 10th in pass efficiency. So, yeah, the QB play hasn't been great and that is a problem for a team trying to move up in the conference and North Division pecking order. That stands out even more when you see so many young QBs over the past few years, including Arizona redshirt freshman Anu Solomon this year, doing well.

If things continue to muddle around with the offense -- it's also last in the conference in total yards and yards per play -- I'd rate the touted Browning's chances to start next year pretty good, though I'm typically skeptical of incoming players until they prove what they can do against college competition.

I'd also rate the middling play of the offensive line as an equal disappointment as the production behind center, though obviously the two are tightly knotted together.


Doug from Portland writes: Whenever I read up on who the experts have picked for the Heisman, I get a little annoyed. Mariota is a generational talent (I'm only slightly biased as a Ducks fan) and is putting up exceptional numbers in several statistical categories. But he can't seem to get past the "flavor of the week." (No offense to Dak this week and to Everett in the next.) Has the race always been this historically fickle or is this a relatively new development? Furthermore, it seems the Pac-12, which regularly produces the best professional quarterbacks ... you know, the position that has won the award a bazillion times, can't seem to score a Heisman winner these days outside of USC. Do you have to be a Trojan to win the Heisman out West?

Ted Miller: It's easy to be disgruntled when we speak in non-specific generalities, but which season bothers your most?

The only recent Heisman winner I'd rate as controversial would be Alabama RB Mark Ingram over Stanford RB Toby Gerhart in 2009, though plenty of folks wanted to invoke a character clause with Cam Newton vs. Andrew Luck in 2010. Otherwise, the winners put up such great numbers, often for teams that significantly exceeded expectations, I have no problem with how the voting went.

If Mariota maintains his present numbers and the Ducks win the Pac-12, he's going to win the Heisman Trophy.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:00
AM ET
video (All times Pacific)

Friday, 7 p.m.

Oregon at California, Fox Sports 1

[+] EnlargeMariota
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and Oregon figure to be in a shootout against California.
This is a matchup between the two Pac-12 leaders in scoring offense: The Ducks average 43.6 points per game, and the Bears are at 41.6. The difference on paper -- and likely on the field, too -- comes on defense. Cal sports the conference's second-worst unit (38.4 points per game), and the Ducks have upped their defensive play to reach fourth in the conference rankings (23.6 points per game). This will be the first college football game at Levi's Stadium and comes on a massive sports night in the San Francisco Bay Area: Game 3 of the World Series will be happening there, too.

Saturday, 11 a.m.

UCLA at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

It's turned into another long season for the Buffs, and the journey certainly doesn't become any easier with UCLA's explosive bunch coming to town. Turnovers, though, have been a major issue for the Bruins this season. Cal scored 21 points off UCLA miscues to keep the game close last week, and that might well be Colorado's formula to have a puncher's chance at Folsom Field. For Brett Hundley's squad, this should be a chance for a tuneup before a challenging finishing stretch: vs. Arizona, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Stanford.

12:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Stanford, ESPN2

The Beavers will certainly be sniffing upset in Palo Alto. Stanford is a very vulnerable team right now: The offense is faltering, and that supersonic defense has taken two gut punches with injuries to linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That being said, the Cardinal have been excellent when faced with adversity in the David Shaw era. The fourth-year coach has yet to lose consecutive games in his tenure, and Stanford is desperate to right the ship at home.

3 p.m.

Arizona at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

The Cougars won 24-17 in Tucson last season, but we will likely see more points this Saturday in Pullman when Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach resume battle. Arizona and Washington State are the Pac-12's two top teams when it comes to total offense. They are averaging a combined 1,091 yards per game. Since both defenses are ranked in the conference's bottom half, expect fireworks and an intriguing duel between senior Connor Halliday (who is on an NCAA record-smashing pace) and freshman Anu Solomon.

7 p.m.

USC at Utah, Fox Sports 1

This Utah squad reminds our Kevin Gemmell of the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Pac-12 championship, and I agree with him: The Utes don't ask for much out of their quarterback (62 pass yards last week), they run the ball with vigor (229 yards from Devontae Booker last week) and they set up frequent shop in opposing backfields (nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game). Both teams have also established a hashtag for their pass rush: 2012 Stanford had #PartyInTheBackfield, and 2014 Utah has coined #SackLakeCity. So USC is tasked with beating this rugged Ute team in a raucous road environment. This game is a significant step in figuring out the convoluted Pac-12 South puzzle.

7:45 p.m.

Arizona State at Washington, ESPN

There is a 70 percent chance of rain in Seattle. They call that "Dawg Weather" in the Pacific Northwest, and Washington hopes that will aid in its quest to win the turnover battle -- the Huskies are ranked second nationally in turnover margin even after last week's substandard performance at Oregon. Taylor Kelly returns to the quarterback role for Arizona State, but Todd Graham expects Mike Bercovici will also get snaps. Washington's offense has sputtered this season (league-worst 5.0 yards per play), and it will be interesting to see who gets the upper hand in its matchup with the Sun Devils' unremarkable defense.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
8:00
AM ET
4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! All 12 teams are in action this week -- no byes. Actually, it will be like this for the next two weeks. So that's exciting! Here are the most current depth charts for all the teams in action this week, save UCLA, which doesn't post a weekly depth chart. As always, I'll note any significant changes below. Notes
Heisman updates

Usually in this space every Wednesday, we've been linking the straw poll from Heismanpundit.com. However Chris Huston, friend of the blog who runs that site, has put it on hold while he does some work for the official Heisman site. We wish him the best.

So today we'll update you with the ESPN.com Heisman poll. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota still sits behind Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. But he closed the gap last week with his performance against Washington.

Here's how the latest poll shakes out, followed by their total points:
  1. Dak Prescott (47)
  2. Marcus Mariota (42)
  3. Melvin Gordon (25)
  4. Tie: Amari Cooper (9)
    Jameis Winston (9)

Prescott and Mariota were the only players receiving first-place votes. Looks like it's a two-man race to the finish.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

A cool behind-the-scenes photo journal of UCLA's trip to Cal.

Bravo, Oregon fans. Bravo.



The Trojans will rock these shiny new lids on Saturday.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
8:00
AM ET
The exodus is here, the happy ones are near;
Let's get together before we get much older.

Leading off

The Eliminator blew through the Pac-12 this week with brimstone and hell-fire, slashing its way through a quarter of the league. You can now add Stanford, Oregon State and Washington to the teams officially out of a contention for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. After holding on by their roots, paws and teeth, the Cardinal, Huskies and Beavers all suffered losses that the Eliminator deems too significant to recover from. Her justice is swift, if not fair. Here's some thoughts on the Huskies:
Losing 11 consecutive games to Oregon is pretty bad, but losing in the manner in which they lost to the Ducks was even worse. Oregon dominated in every facet of the game, and Washington proved that Chris Petersen's first season in the Power 5 is not going to be like his first season at Boise State.

So who is left? Arizona and Oregon are the two Pac-12 teams still listed as "In Contention" while Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah continue to dangle "On the Fence."

Cardinal seeing red

As noted above, things haven't gone swimmingly for the two-time defending conference champions. Athlon Sports took a look at some of the issues facing the Cardinal. And if you're looking on the offensive side of the ball, there are more than a few. They key in specifically on the offensive line:
The most likely reason Stanford’s offense has been struggling this season may be due to the fact the Cardinal had to start an almost entirely new offensive line this season. Stanford lost four starters up front, as well as a starting tight end from 2013. Good teams tend to have experience and depth on the offensive line, and that does not appear to be the case for Stanford this season and it is showing. Stanford has allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 73rd nationally.

Also from Athlon, a look at some crazy Pac-12 stats, and why the Utes must be taken seriously in the South.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun (the pucker-up edition)

By now, you've probably seen "The Kiss", a moment of celebratory passion between ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici and his girlfriend, who also happens to be an ASU cheerleader.



Here's a little story on the lip-locking moment. The Pac-12 blog isn't quite ready to place it among history's best kisses ... like this one ... this one ... or this one. But it ain't bad. However, you must remember this ...
From the mud, muck and mess that was the first seven weeks of the Pac-12’s 2014 season, a smidgen of clarity started to creep through in Week 8. Like a Socratic archetype emerging from its cave, slowly, but surely, we’re starting to see the light.

By no means, however, are things back to normal -- whatever normal looks like in the Pac-12. Stanford, the two-time defending conference champion, lost to Arizona State, a team it had thoroughly dominated twice last season. And while the Cardinal still might rise from the ashes of their own blunders, for now it appears more likely than not that we’ll have a new league champion.

However, there were some things that actually made sense in Week 8, shocking as it may seem. USC dominated a weaker opponent. That made sense. Oregon continued its winning ways over Washington, extending its streak to 11 over the Huskies by 17 or more points. That made sense. Three of the five home teams won. That sort of made sense. But the road team is still 16-7 in conference play. That still makes no sense.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe Ducks reasserted themselves as the Pac-12's best hope to make the College Football Playoff.
Oregon’s performance against Washington, complete and convincing, temporarily restored the natural order of the preseason -- a simpler time when most people projected the No. 3 Ducks as a playoff team. Saturday night, Oregon sent out a 45-point message that was unmistakably crystal clear: We’re still here.

As the Pac-12 engages in its annual act of self-consumption, the doom-and-gloom prognostications that the league would be left out of the first College Football Playoff might now seem premature. No word yet on the total number of torn ACLs from knee-jerk injuries.

And as the fires burned through the night in Morgantown, West Virginia, the Big 12’s chances of a playoff berth, too, may have gone up in flames. The Pac-12 may be a bunch of cannibals, but at least the Big 12 has the decency to barbecue itself first.

Indeed, it's the Ducks who hold the Pac-12's playoff future in their delicate, webbed feet.

“We have to be nastier,” said Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, looking ahead to the coming weeks. “We have to come off the ball and finish the plays. Our playmakers, our running backs, our skill guys are going to make the defenders miss and extend the plays, so we have to keep on working on finishing.”

Finishing hasn’t been Oregon’s strong suit the past couple of seasons. Following explosive starts in 2012 and 2013, the Ducks’ national championship hopes were derailed by Stanford two years ago, and again by the Cardinal in 2013. The Arizona stumble last season didn’t help, either. We'll see if this season's comes back to bite them.

But for now the Ducks must once again pick up the proverbial postseason flag and carry it for the conference. Per ESPN Stats & Info, since its loss to Arizona earlier this month, Oregon’s projected chance of winning the Pac-12 has actually risen by more than 20 percentage points. How does that make sense? The rest of the league has been munching on itself. Every other team in the Pac-12 North has at least two conference losses, so with the way the Ducks have performed in the past two games against UCLA and Washington -- plus their remaining schedule -- FPI projects that Oregon has a 88 percent chance to win the North.

Take that with a grain of seasoning of your choice. The Pac-12 has a funny way of making statistics look silly.

If Week 8 brought us a dusting of clarity, look for more in the coming weeks, especially in the South. Four teams head into Week 9 with one conference loss, and five of the division’s six teams are ranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll. The next two weeks brings us showdowns like USC at Utah, Arizona at UCLA and Utah at Arizona State. And of course there’s still the battle for Los Angeles and the Territorial Cup looming. One way or another, for better or worse, the South will sort itself out.

And when it does, Oregon will be there waiting. At least that’s what we believe after Week 8. By the end of Week 9, we might end up right back in the mud and the muck and the mess.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
8:00
PM ET
Just a few weeks ago, it was popular to write off the Pac-12's chances of having a team in the initial College Football Playoff. What was then an overreaction is now just silly.

It's clear Oregon, as the top-ranked one-loss team outside the SEC, controls its own destiny as far as the playoff is concerned. In no way does that guarantee anything, but based on how the Ducks have played since losing at Arizona and what has happened elsewhere in college football, Oregon should feel good about where it is.

The Ducks became the Pac-12's first bowl-eligible team after beating Washington 45-20 on Saturday, but after them the conference remains a jumbled mess. Six others have at least five wins, including five teams in the South Division.

There's no sound way to logically project how this will end up -- too much parity -- but here's our weekly attempt:

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Arizona
Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah
National University Holiday Bowl: Arizona State
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: UCLA
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford
Cactus Bowl: Washington
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Cal
* at large

Stanford's AP poll streak ends

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:52
PM ET
Welcome back, UCLA. Goodbye, Stanford.

Oregon headlines the list of six Pac-12 teams ranked in this week's AP poll, which does not include the Cardinal for the first time since the second week of the 2010 season. The Cardinal's school-record, 72-week run ended following a 26-10 loss to Arizona State on Saturday, which also propelled the Sun Devils to No. 14.

Oregon jumped Baylor, Michigan State and Notre Dame to No. 6 and is the nation's No. 3-ranked one-loss team behind No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Auburn.

Arizona, which was idle this week, is a spot behind its in-state rival at No. 15.

The most anticipated game in the Pac-12 this week will be No. 20 USC's trip to No. 19 Utah, which is one of just two games in the country that will feature a pair of ranked teams.

After a 36-34 win against Cal, UCLA re-enters the poll at No. 25. The preseason No. 7 team was unranked last week after consecutive losses to Utah and Oregon.
Some things we learned in Week 8 of the Pac-12.

The streak continues: The Ducks beat Washington. Again. It was by more than 17 points. Again. Make it 11 in a row for Oregon over the Huskies. For obvious reasons, you tip your cap to Ducks running back Royce Freeman for his 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the 45-20 Oregon victory. But a little credit also goes to Marcus Mariota's wide receivers. From Darren Carrington's tip-toe catch inside the 5 to Dwayne Stanford's phenomenal touchdown, the receivers came up big for their quarterback. Oh yeah, still no interceptions. The Ducks look every bit the part of a playoff team.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
AP Photo/Ryan KangOregon's Royce Freeman had 29 carries for 169 yards and four touchdowns against Washington.
Huskies have to pick up the pieces: Washington isn't that bad. It just seems like whenever it plays Oregon, whatever can go wrong will. Whether it's a quarterback throwing his first interception of the season, a shotgun snap when said quarterback isn't ready or the opposing quarterback getting a lucky bounce off a fumble, the wheels seem to come off for the Huskies when these teams meet, and the breaks never go their way. No need to panic yet about bowl eligibility. The defense is good enough that there are at least two wins out there, and probably three or four. But having dropped two of three, the last thing the Huskies need to do is hit the panic button. They got whooped. It happens. Move on. It'll be interesting to see how Chris Petersen's team looks with ASU coming to town. Speaking of which ...

... ASU inching toward elite status: What was the big knock on Todd Graham? He still hadn't won the big one. Despite Stanford's offensive inefficiencies (add special teams to those inefficiencies after Saturday night), the Cardinal were still the two-time defending conference champs. Their 26-10 win over the Cardinal brings ASU up a notch, as it knocked off one of the league's top-tier teams. They did it convincingly and by dictating the game. Graham has already said Taylor Kelly is his guy when he's ready to play. But you can't overlook the 2-1 record Mike Bercovici has put up in relief.

Stanford loses its elite status: Elite teams don't look like Stanford did Saturday night. They don't fumble on kickoff returns and muff punts. They don't lose the turnover battle and rush for 76 yards when rushing is what they do. With two conference losses, the Cardinal aren't out of it yet. They could still run the table and get to the Pac-12 championship game. But a three-loss team, no matter how good the other three opponents or how close the losses, isn't getting into the playoffs.

Utah has their back, just not their quarterback: Devontae Booker is certainly making his case for newcomer of the year. He was one of the few offensive bright spots for the Utes, as he rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns in their 29-23 double-overtime win at Oregon State. Now, the quarterback is once again a question, with USC coming to town next week. Travis Wilson was 5-of-10 for 45 yards. Kendal Thompson, who started and played the first half, was 4-of-8 for 17 yards and an interception. There are some decisions to make (again) this week for Kyle Whittingham and Co.

Bears down: You can make plenty of arguments about whether UCLA's Marcus Rios possessed the ball on that game-changing interception in the Bruins' 36-34 win at Cal. But you first have to question the play call on first down, and you also have to go back through the game and look at Cal's tackling, which was not good. There were plenty of other places where Cal lost that game. The questionable replay, because it came at such a critical juncture in the game, will be highly debated. But Cal knows there was a lot more to that game than just that call.

The Bruins continue to defy logic: UCLA was on the road. UCLA hadn't won in Berkeley since 1998. UCLA lost the turnover battle. Cal scored 21 points off turnovers. I'm not sure what the exact metric is, but logic says that's a game UCLA should not have won. Yet the Bruins overcame themselves and managed their first win at Cal after seven previous losses. The Bruins totaled 567 yards of offense, so moving the ball wasn't an issue. If they can cut the turnovers, there's no reason to think they still couldn't win the South.

Beavers bowl window is shrinking: We talked in the past about the Week 8 showdown with Utah being a swing game for Oregon State. At 4-2, the Beavers have six opportunities left to find two wins. None of those opportunities are particularly appealing. Cal and Washington State can put up crazy points. They are at Stanford and at Washington while getting ASU and Oregon at home. Their only saving grace is that four of the six are at Reser … but given the way the league has shaped up, that probably doesn't mean much.

Colorado regressed: Maybe it's a one-week deal. Maybe not. Either way, the 56-28 loss to USC was ugly and worthy of the Pac-12 blog's “Dude?” status. The Buffs surrendered 56 points (all from the USC offense -- no special teams or defensive touchdowns) and yielded 532 yards. That wasn't the Colorado team we've seen in previous weeks. Which leads us to …

… USC has explosive potential: Steve Sarkisian has said the past couple weeks that he wants to see his offense be more explosive. Remember Nelson Agholor? Hadn't heard his name in a while. Sure, he had 42 catches coming into this week, but he had only four receiving touchdowns and just 67.5 yards per game. He had a fairly monstrous day and caught six balls for 128 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, someone has to throw them. Agholor's day was made possible by Cody Kessler, who set a school record with seven touchdown passes.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

Another double-overtime game. Another game that comes down to the last possession. Another home team falls. Just another night in the Pac-12.

If you stayed up for the Utah-Oregon State drama, you were rewarded with yet another fantastically entertaining game.

Here's some reaction from the action at Reser: Pick 'em

Every Friday we bring you some picks from folks who cover the conference. The Pac-12 blog, which continues to muddle its way through this torturous weekly exercise, posted its picks Thursday morning. Here's what some other folks have to say about this weekend: A happy return?

There are always questions when things don't go according to script. And more than once, the Pac-12 blog has received a letter or two about Brett Hundley's decision to return to college for another season. An unnamed NFL scout talked about that decision with Chris Foster of the L.A. Times. And Hundley called his return "a worthwhile experience."

The scout pitched the idea of Hundley coming back for one more season next year. Here's what he had to say:
He has a long way to go. He's still athletic. He's still smart. He's still a good worker. He just needs to become a better passer in the pocket, and he needs to learn that he's got to stay in there and throw the ball accurately inside the pocket ... Don't take those sacks. You never see Peyton Manning taking those kind of sacks. You can't hold onto the ball for five seconds.

Accuracy hasn't necessarily been the problem. Hundley leads all FBS quarterbacks with a 72.2 completion percentage. The sacks, however, have been. Head coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone have gone out of their way to say that sacks aren't just on an offensive line. That sometimes the quarterback is at fault. Sometimes it's the receivers. And sometimes the other team just makes a play. Will be interesting to see in the coming months if Hundley even entertains the idea of coming back for one more year. However, he told the Pac-12 blog in the preseason that regardless of what happens, this was his last year at UCLA.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Oregon State's Dylan Wynn is awesome. #Damcancer indeed.

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#DAMCANCER

View on Instagram

1. Given the skewed home vs. road statistic so far, which home team has the best chance to win?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: USC over Colorado. I would use the unranked team playing on the road at a ranked team rationale, but USC showed that’s flawed thinking last week. The other option was Oregon over Washington, but despite the Ducks’ ownership of the rivalry, USC was a pretty easy choice. I’ve got road teams winning three of five this week … which, of course, would lower the road winning percentage in Pac-12 play.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: I’m nervous to pick the Ducks because everything is working against them. They are the league’s highest ranked team. They are back in the playoff conversation and they haven’t lost to the Huskies in a decade. In the Pac-12 we call those insurmountable odds. But I’ll swing for fences anyway and go green.
[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota may end up being the No. 1 pick in next year's NFL draft, but he didn't crack ESPN's Midseason All-America Team.
2. Which Pac-12 player was most deserving of a spot on the ESPN.com Midseason All-America team, but wasn’t included?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: Utah DE Nate Orchard, Washington OLB Hau'oli Kikaha, Colorado WR Nelson Spruce and Utah returner Kaelin Clay all have good cases, but Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is still the best player in the country. Dak Prescott is having a great season for No. 1 Mississippi State, but if he were at Oregon, he’d be the backup.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. No argument whatsoever with what Kyle offered. I lobbied for all five of those guys, and I also made a pitch for Utah kicker Andy Phillips. Between his leg strength, reliability and the fact that he can pull off the onside kick and make tackles, he’s a complete player – something we don’t always talk about with kickers.
3. Does Washington’s 10-game losing streak to Oregon end this weekend?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: The losing streak reaches 11, but the streak of losing by at least 17 points ends. Washington will keep it closer this time … 14?
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: I’m afraid it doesn’t. I’ve really enjoyed watching Washington’s front seven perform this year. And lost among all the Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton and Kikaha talk is that the Hudson & Hudson duo is playing pretty well also. I don’t love that Ben Riva is likely out and Josh Perkins is sitting for a half. Until Washington shows me otherwise, the Ducks have the edge. Kyle might not be wrong, though, on the 17-point streak.
4. What can we expect Thursday from Utah at the quarterback position?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: Like most, I’m expecting Kendal Thompson to be the starter and for him to play most of, if not the entire game against Oregon State. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wilson got a series or if they went back to him if Thompson struggles, but it’s hard to see how they could go back to Wilson to start this one after Thompson came off the bench and guided Utah to a win last time out against UCLA.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: None of the three options would surprise me: Wilson starting, Thompson starting or a two-quarterback system. Like in baseball, sometimes a pitcher has a bad game and you yank him early. Doesn’t mean you cut him out of the rotation. My guess is we see both quarterbacks tonight and whoever has the hot hand finishes out the game.
5. Besides Oregon, is there another Pac-12 team that can make a case for the College Football Playoff halfway through the season?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: By virtue of its win against Oregon and its identical 5-1 record, Arizona still has a case. It doesn’t have the strength of schedule right now to warrant serious playoff consideration, but, hypothetically, if Arizona won out and its lone loss came as a result of a missed field goal against USC that’s easily forgivable.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: I think Stanford has the name brand and reputation -- if the Cardinal can run the table. They’ll need a little help from USC and ASU to beat Notre Dame -- which will soften the last-second road loss to the Irish in the eyes of the committee. It would make their loss to USC not seem as bad and their win (if they do win this weekend) at ASU stronger. A two-loss Stanford team that’s also a Pac-12 champion would be hard to turn away given the strength of schedule.
6. Who is a breakout player to watch for the second half?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: Arizona State fans saw him break out in the first half, but it’s time for everyone else to take notice of safety Jordan Simone. After earning a scholarship in fall camp, Simone has proved to be one of the better safeties in the conference. His 20-tackle game against USC was one of best individual performances in a game this year.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: Since Kyle went defense, I’ll go offense. A running back we’re not talking much about is Utah’s Devontae Booker. There are only five backs in the conference averaging more than 100 yards per game, and Booker is one of them. He’s only got four rushing touchdowns, but he’s averaging nearly six yards per carry and the Utes have done a nice job balancing out the offense. As the schedule stiffens, look for him to be an impact guy.
The preseason narrative in the Pac-12 was all about the quarterbacks, and with good reason. With 10 starters coming back, there was considerable hype that this might be the best collection of quarterbacks in league history.

We had no idea...

Through the first half of the season, the league’s quarterbacks have collectively exceeded expectations statistically and internally.

“Coming in I thought it was going to be the best in the country,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. “Halfway through, that’s still holding true.”

First, let’s get some numbers out of the way:

  • Three FBS quarterbacks have attempted at least 100 passes without throwing an interception and they are all from the Pac-12: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (155 attempts), Washington’s Cyler Miles (129 attempts) and Utah’s Travis Wilson (101 attempts).
  • UCLA’s Brett Hundley leads FBS football with a 72.2 completion percentage.
  • Washington State’s Connor Halliday set an FBS record with 734 passing yards (and lost!)
  • Cal’s Jared Goff and Colorado’s Sefo Liufau combined for 14 passing touchdowns in a game with seven each.
  • We’ve seen six 500-yard passing performances, 12 400-yard passing performances and 26 300-yard performances.
  • Three of the six most efficient quarterbacks through the first half of the season reside in the Pac-12 -- Mariota, Hundley and Goff. Six more are in the top 50. And in ESPN’s advanced QBR metric, Mariota is No. 1 in the country with Goff and Hundley in the top 10 and USC’s Cody Kessler at No. 17.

“We have, in my opinion, without a doubt, the best group of quarterbacks in the country,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Halliday with his total offense, 460-plus a game and the efficiency of Mariota. He’s up in the 190s. And Hundley with all he brings to the table. It goes on and on. [Sean] Mannion, who we’re facing this week is a different animal. He’s more of a pocket guy. All of them are very effective and all of them present a very big challenge for you.”

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
James Snook/USA TODAY SportsWashington State's Connor Halliday leads the nation in passing yards (3,344) and touchdowns (28).
And that’s barely mentioning the newcomers or the backups. Miles and Arizona’s Anu Solomon are a combined 10-2 as starters with one loss each. UCLA’s backup, Jerry Neuheisel, was carried off the field in Arlington after engineering a game-winning drive against the Longhorns. ASU’s Mike Bercovici has nine touchdowns and nearly 1,100 passing yards in two games in relief of the injured Taylor Kelly. What the Utes would have given in the past for a quarterback to be interception free through the first half of the season. Now Wilson might get benched in favor of Kendal Thompson.

“It’s a grind,” said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. “That aspect has not been surprising at all how good and efficient they have been … the quality and depth in the conference has borne out exactly how we thought it would in the preseason.”

And that’s led to some phenomenal moments through the first seven weeks. We’ve seen Marys of the Hail, Jael and Hill variety. We’ve seen a 60-59 game. We’ve seen a 59-56 double-overtime game. We’ve seen 36 points scored in the fourth quarter.

The only logical explanation is that no one in the Pac-12 plays defense … so says the stereotype that circulates East of the Rockies. Ironic, then, that the No. 1 defense in the country belongs to Stanford and that five of 11 defenders on the ESPN.com midseason All-America team are from the Pac-12 (and the Pac-12 blog can think of one or two more names that should have been on that list, cough, Hau'oli Kikaha, cough, Nate Orchard). But we digress.

It hasn’t been perfect up and down the board. Mariota and Hundley – despite outstanding statistics – have been hampered by offensive line injuries and issues. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan – while still putting up respectable numbers, has already taken 12 sacks after being put down 14 times all last season. And the Cardinal have the worst scoring offense and red zone offense in the conference. Halliday is among the nation’s leaders in interceptions with eight (to go with his nation-leading 28 touchdowns). For all of Wilson’s grit and moxie, he’s still struggled with accuracy, completing 57.4 percent of his throws. That’s a big reason why we might see Thompson Thursday night.

Still, the sensational has far outweighed the shortcomings.

“It’s lived up to the hype,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes. “When you look at all the guys, everyone is playing at a high level and performing well. I think that’s why there is so much parity in the league right now because there are a lot of good quarterbacks and a lot of points getting scored. If you’ve got a good quarterback and can score some points, you’ve got a chance to be anybody. That’s been the story this year. Even the young quarterbacks, the guys who were unproven, have played well and made this a very solid league.”

For all the unpredictability and craziness that has gone on through the first seven weeks, the only constant has been stellar quarterback play. Don’t expect that to change in the second half of the year.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
8:00
AM ET
Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark!

Leading off

Get a good look at as many Pac-12 players as possible over the second half of the season. Because for a lot of them, this will be their last year. The league is loaded with NFL potential this season, and ESPN's Todd McShay recently updated his Top 32 players. There's a new No. 1 -- USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams. But he's just one of 10 Pac-12 players who could go in the first round in the next NFL draft.

Here's what McShay has to say about Williams:
Williams moves up to the No. 1 spot in this week's rankings, as we've had more of an opportunity to watch his performance; this adjustment is mostly just an acknowledgement of what a complete game he has and how he has been playing up to that level so far this season. He possesses excellent strength and speed for his size, and has the versatility to create mismatches all along the D-line. His best projection is as a 5-technique defensive end, but he has the quickness and point-of-attack skills to perform inside as a 3-technique (especially in pass-rushing situations), and enough athleticism to occasionally line up as a traditional left defensive end. As a pass-rusher, he isn't going to gain the edge with pure speed, but he has good initial quickness and a wide array of moves. He possesses an above-average motor and plays with an edge.

The rest of the article is Insider, so you'll need to decipher a series of clues hidden within some of the greatest Renaissance works of art to get full access. But I'll give you a hint at No. 2 ... he's a quarterback and he wears green.

Who's the Q for the U?

We have football tonight when Utah travels to Oregon State. And the big storyline surrounding this game is whether it will be Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson at quarterback for the No. 20 Utes. So far, coach Kyle Whittingham has kept things close to the vest.
"It's not a huge strategic move, but why tip your hand if you don't have to, and we don't have to. It's not like the NFL where you have to declare what's going on," Whittingham said. "They've handled themselves very well in practice. You'd expect both of them to work hard like they have all year long. There is really no change in our approach in that regard."

The irony, of course, is that the Utes have wished upon many a star to have a starting quarterback make it through the season -- pretty much ever since Brian Johnson. Now they have two. Tonight's game is a 7 p.m. PT kickoff on the Pac-12 Networks.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

ASU created a stick-figure video to remind over-zealous boosters not to be over zealous.
The home field used to be a sanctuary -- a safe haven for teams looking to gain an edge on their opponents with the support of a noisy and raucous student body.

In the old days, there was a word for that: Advantage.

But the 2014 Pac-12 season has taken that advantage and blown it all to Hades. Through 18 conference games this season the road warriors hold a decisive 14-4 edge over the home team. And the audible antics of Autzen, the ringing reverb of Rice-Eccles or the tympanic torture of Husky Stadium haven't been immune.

[+] EnlargeArizona
AP Photo/Steve DykesCelebration scenes like the one Arizona held at Autzen Stadium on Oct. 2 have been extremely common in the Pac-12 this season.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian’s response echoed the sentiment of nearly all of the Pac-12 coaches, who could find neither rhyme nor reason as to why the Pac-12’s home cooking this season has tasted more like week-old leftovers.

“It’s a crazy year in the Pac-12,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose team once held the nation’s longest home winning streak at 17 games, only to see that snapped in Week 2 against USC . “It’s just shaping up that way. It’s hard to explain it any other way. Every week is tough. Every game is hard. It’s tough to win on the road. And then the road teams are winning in crazy fashion. Everything is up for grabs this year.”

There are two ways to look at this -- depending on how full or empty your glass is. Either the Pac-12 has the worst home conference record in college football, or the best road record. In conference-only games, the Pac-12 ranks last among all FBS conferences with its 22.2 winning percentage at home. The Big 12 (6-7) is the only other league below .500.

One fairly sound theory, presented by Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, is that with so many veteran quarterbacks, environment isn’t a factor because experience is winning out. Sounds logical -- except for the fact that his quarterback, in his second career road start, won at Autzen. Or that Mike Bercovici, Arizona State’s backup, won at The Coliseum in his first career road start.

UCLA coach Jim Mora actually tried to talk through an explanation, only to come up with nothing.

“I’ve thought a lot about that,” Mora said. “I can’t put my finger on anything. I wish I could, obviously, as do I’m sure the other coaches. I’ve actually given it a lot of thought the last week or so. I can’t come up with anything quite yet. Other than maybe there’s a psychological element to when you go on the road you close ranks a little bit and that sense of mission. Maybe? Maybe that helps you a little bit? But that doesn’t seem logical to any of us who are used to the home-field advantage.

“I wish I knew.”

One word the coaches kept coming back to was “parity.” With every Pac-12 team sitting on at least one conference loss and all but Colorado with a league win, the congruity within the conference has all but eliminated the concept of home-field advantage.

While that’s fun for the fans, it creates national problems while trying to lobby for a spot in the first College Football Playoff.

“I think our conference has this perception of parity equals mediocrity,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “There are a couple of conferences where parity equals strength. I think it’s the strongest it’s ever been top to bottom.”

Helfrich did offer one other explanation: “It’s a non-leap year? I have no idea.”

This might help: Through the first 18 conference games, the home team has a minus-11 turnover margin and the average margin of victory (or defeat) has been slightly more than four points. When you consider one home game was won on a Hail Mary, another was lost on a Hail Mary, and three more home games were lost on missed field goals, one or two plays could significantly swing the win/loss total.

That’s why league newcomer Chris Petersen isn’t putting too much stock into the trend -- at least not yet. Having only played two conference games, his Huskies fit the trend so far -- losing at home to Stanford and winning at California.

“I think this will play out,” he said. “If the records are that skewed by the end of the season, there’s something to it. We’re only two games into it so I don’t know. It will be interesting to see at the end [of the] season where everybody is.”

Every coach in America will say his school has the best fans in the country. Even if he doesn’t believe it, there’s probably a tiny footnote somewhere in the Mayflower Compact that requires him to say so. But that doesn’t mean their minds aren’t in overdrive trying to make sense of what has already been a season short on logic.

“It’s been the exact opposite in year’s past,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “I can’t explain it other than maybe it’s the matchups ... the hardest thing to do is win on the road.”

The record suggests otherwise. And for now, most of the coaches are just chalking it up to another unexplained phenomenon in the continued zaniness that is the Pac-12.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
8:00
AM ET
I'm learning to fly, but I ain't got wings;
Coming down is the hardest thing.

Leading off

Welcome to depth chart Wednesday! There are 10 teams in action this week with the alphabetical bookends -- Arizona and Washington State -- on bye. As always, here are the depth charts for the teams in action (save UCLA, which doesn't provide a weekly depth chart).
Notes Heisman update

As we do every Wednesday, we'll check in on some Heisman updates. Dak Prescott holds a lead over Marcus Mariotta in most of the ballots that are out there -- including the ESPN.com poll.

Heismanpundit.com also updated its weekly straw poll, which consists of 10 Heisman voters. However, we're starting to see a couple new Pac-12 names on their ballots. Here are the results this week (first place votes in parentheses).

1. Dak Prescott, QB, Miss. State — 25 (7)

2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 21 (3)

3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin — 4

4. (tie) Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor — 2
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama — 2

6. (tie) Bo Wallace, QB, Ole Miss — 1
Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame — 1
Buck Allen, RB, USC — 1
Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana — 1
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington — 1
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia — 1

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

In case you missed it, the Ducks will honor "The Pick" with their unis.

 

Pac-12 morning links

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
8:00
AM ET
Run to the moon, "Moon won't you hide me?"
Run to the sea, "Sea won't you hide me?"
Run to the sun, "Sun won't you hide me all on that day?"

Leading off

Last week Chantel Jennings and Kyle Bonagura debated what the Pac-12's theme song should be. A pretty good effort from the whipper-snappers. But given the number of appeals to a higher power so far this season, "Livin' on a Prayer" felt more appropriate to this old fogie.

And that leads us to this week's Eliminator, where nine Pac-12 teams are still very much living on a prayer in the hopes of advancing to the first ever College Football Playoff. Two teams -- Arizona and Oregon -- are still labeled "Still in Contention" while six teams -- Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington -- fall under the "On the Fence" side of things. Here's what our Mark Schlabach has to say about the Beavers:
After a 4-1 start, the Beavers got a much-needed bye week before hosting No. 20 Utah on Thursday night. Then they play at Stanford on Oct. 25, so we'll have a pretty good idea whether the Beavers are really in the Pac-12 race, in which 10 teams still seem to be a factor. The Oregon State defense was exposed quite a bit in a 36-31 win at Colorado on Oct. 4, so they'll have to play much better against the Utes and Cardinal.

For a league that many are already counting out of the playoff, it sure seems like there are still a lot of teams hanging around.

Midterms

Athlon Sports took a look at where things stand in the Pac-12 at the midpoint of the season. (That's a popular theme this week, and the Pac-12 blog will be addressing that later this morning).

Braden Gall recaps some of the big storylines from the first half of the season and offers some more to look at in the coming weeks. Here is his take on Oregon's offensive line in the second half of the year.
With Jake Fisher back against UCLA, the Ducks' offensive line looked as good as it has since the beginning of the season. Oregon has two huge games looming with Stanford and Washington -- two of the best defensive fronts in the nation -- and this group will have to be excellent to win those games. If this group stabilizes, Oregon could win the Pac-12 and land in the Playoffs while giving Marcus Mariota a great shot at the Heisman. If not, the Ducks could finish with three losses and another Alamo Bowl bid.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Taking a break from Oregon State prep.

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