Pac-12: Arizona Wildcats

Pac-12 morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET
I see you have learned to work the Google on the internet machine.

Leading off

The two highest-ranked teams in the Pac-12 -- Oregon and UCLA -- have had some issues along the offensive line three weeks into the season. The Ducks have suffered injuries that have forced some younger or less experienced players into action. The Bruins haven't done a great job protecting their quarterbacks. If either hopes to advance to the College Football Playoff, they are going to have to figure things out up front. That's the premise of Steve Lassen's piece for Athlon Sports, which examines the offensive lines of both schools so far.

Lassen on Oregon:
Will Oregon’s offensive line woes derail the offense against Washington State or Arizona? Probably not, but a thin offensive line could create more pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota.

And on UCLA:
The stats from the first three games suggest the offensive line is improving. But what type of impact could a long-term injury to [Malcolm] Bunche hold for this group? And assuming Bunche does return to full strength, can this unit jell and continue to improve after a sluggish start to the season?

UCLA is off this week while Oregon travels to Washington State for its first Pac-12 game of the season. The Bruins will head to Tempe on the 25th to square off with ASU.

Utes & Cats

In his mailbag this week, Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports hit on a question about Arizona and Utah and their place in the South Division. Here's an excerpt about the Utes:
This year, with [Travis] Wilson back and currently the nation’s No. 2-rated passer, the Utes have clobbered their first two foes, but they were Idaho State and Fresno State. Michigan has certainly proven beatable. If Utah can pull it off on the road, then I’d reevaluate their place in that division.

Mandel says, given the state of the division (injuries to Taylor Kelly, a shaky start for UCLA, USC's loss), the Utes might be a good sleeper team to sneak up and steal the division. He doesn't see Arizona as a team ready to make that leap yet. On the field, it won't get settled until the Wildcats make the trip to Salt Lake City on Nov. 22. Might be an intriguing showdown for a couple of teams either looking to reach bowl eligibility or improve their place in the pecking order.

My guess is if Utah wins this weekend, they'll be added to this list.



News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you're a fan of "The Office," this is for you. If you're a fan of Stanford athletics, this is for you. If you're a fan of both, this might be the greatest thing in the world. And if you're a fan of neither, move along. Nothing to see here.

Want to see what the Ducks saw before their Wyoming game? Warning: The following video might make you want to go workout.
On the surface, Arizona's schedule over the first third of the season is notably weak. The Wildcats whipped overmatched UNLV, just as they did last year, outlasted UTSA, another team that prefers to go by its initials, and survived a fourth-quarter challenge from Nevada. Up next is a visit from California, which went 1-11 last year.

If your audience were patient, you could attempt to explain how that schedule was reasonably solid. UNLV was a bowl team last year, UTSA is the nation's most experienced team and Nevada was coming off a win over Washington State. Cal? It's already won at Northwestern and has looked nothing like the easy out it was in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsThe Arizona defense will have to pressure Cal's Jared Goff -- who has 510 passing yards and 7 touchdowns in two games this season.
You could also make an esoteric argument that Arizona deserves some respect for negotiating a schedule of teams that is good enough to beat you but not good enough in terms of pedigree to naturally captivate the focus of a crew of 18 to 23-year-old players.

But who has time to listen to that?

In other words, Arizona is aiming to become the least glamorous 4-0 team in the nation this weekend. There's only a remote shot the Wildcats will earn a top-25 ranking with a victory. A loss? They'd immediately be voted off Relevancy Island by the unforgiving college football cognoscenti.

A year ago, Arizona also started 3-0 against an ostensibly -- OK, an actually -- weak nonconference schedule. It then got bricked at Washington and lost at USC. Thereafter they never really became a major factor in the South Division race.

Most observers, Pac-12 or otherwise, are taking a wait-and-see approach with the Wildcats. We'll see when they visit Oregon on Oct. 5, a week that will feature the Ducks denying any revenge angle for the shocking whipping they took in Tucson a year ago. We'll see when USC comes to town on Oct. 11 and during back-to-back road games at Washington State and UCLA.

So it probably won't be until the end of October that we will have an idea if Rich Rodriguez is going to produce something special in his third season in Tucson. Yet it's also worth nothing the Wildcats are seemingly in a better spot, at least offensively, than they were a year ago.

Freshman running back Nick Wilson has so far produced Ka'Deem Carey-like numbers (149.7 yards per game; 6.8 ypc). Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon ranks seventh in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency with a rating that is more than 45 points higher than B.J. Denker's number after three 2013 starts. While the points are slightly down after three games -- 39.7 ppg versus 43.7 -- the total yards and yards per play are way up.

Rodriguez can be pretty stingy with compliments, but he's tipped his cap to Wilson and Solomon, noting that Wilson is “way advanced mentally” and Solomon is “harder on himself than we would be." If you know Rich Rod, that is the highest of praise. For one, it's difficult to imagine any QB being harder on himself than Rodriguez, who is perennially the bad cop for offensive coordinator Rod Smith.

The jury, however, is out on the Wildcats defense. They dominated the early schedule a year ago -- 8.7 ppg through three games -- and ended up as the Pac-12's most improved unit last year. That included turning in a Stanford-like performance against the Ducks offense.

The defense, with some notable losses from the 2013 unit, has struggled against the pass so far this year -- yielding a 64.6 completion rate -- and in the redzone, where foes have scored touchdowns on seven of 11 drives inside the 25-yard line. Nevada quarterbackCody Fajardo completed 29 of 39 passes for 321 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Arizona's 35-28 win last weekend.

"Defensively, we didn’t do a good job getting off blocks, and we blew a couple coverages which was uncharacteristic of us," Rodriguez said. "That allowed them to control the ball and limit our possessions. We have to get better defensively."

He then added, “No question we’ve got to shore things up in a hurry because we’ve got some great throwing teams [in Pac-12], including one coming in this weekend.”

Cal has a passing attack that can give any defense some trouble, particularly if quarterback Jared Goff gets time to throw. Seeing that the Wildcats don't have a dominant pass-rusher, it's likely they will have to use a variety of blitzes to disrupt Goff, whose so far been on point as a true sophomore. That is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that the Bears likely are anticipating.

Cal will land in Tucson with a lot of confidence. The Bears view last year as an unfortunate alignment of the football planets, one that created an injury-plagued disastrous anomaly. Even then, they played Arizona tough a year ago, using a late touchdown to only lose at home by five points, their closest conference game.

We don't yet know a lot about Arizona. Cal's visit might prove to be a more revealing matchup that it appeared to be in the preseason.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
AM ET
Come son of Jor-El. Kneel before Zod. Snootchie boochies!

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! There are four teams on bye this week -- Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA and USC -- so we won't update them until next week. Here are the updated depth charts for the other eight.
Some observations: Mark your calendars

The Pac-12 released the 2015 schedule on Tuesday and Kyle Bonagura broke it down last night. You can just scroll down, because it's the post right below this one. Or if you're really lazy, just click here.

Some of the key matches that jump out are Michigan's trip to Utah in a rematch of this weekend's game, Arizona State vs. Texas A&M at Reliant Stadium and a rematch of Oregon-Michigan State, with the Ducks traveling to B1G country this time around.

There's the usual matchups of Notre Dame vs. USC and Stanford, plus Oregon State travels to Michigan and Cal heads to Texas. And don't think the Cougars won't have vengeance on their mind when they go to Rutgers.

P-A-C vs. S-E-C

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News broke down the nonconference performances thus far of the Pac-12 and the SEC to find the answer to the question: Who is better?

He crunches the results, makes a couple of predictions, and leaves us with this result:
The Pac-12 hasn’t outperformed the SEC thus far in Power 5 results and has no discernible advantage going forward in the quantity or quality of its Power 5 games.
News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

Ever wonder what Mike Leach or Steve Sarkisian would look like if they were the subject of the Mona Lisa? We haven't either, thank goodness someone has.

Three times the jinx? We're kidding.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 4

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
7:00
PM ET
Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Hawaii at Colorado
  • WR Nelson Spruce has accounted for 39.7 percent of Colorado's receiving yards, the second-highest percentage in the conference.
  • The Buffaloes have picked up 43 first downs from pass plays, second most in the Pac-12.
  • Colorado is the only team in the Pac-12 that has been outscored this year (minus-25).
Utah at Michigan
  • Nine of Utah's 14 touchdown drives have taken two minutes or less.
  • Utah scores on 70 percent of drives where it gets the initial first down.
  • QB Travis Wilson is one of 10 players in the country with at least six touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Georgia State at Washington
  • Georgia State, a second-year FBS program, has never beaten a FBS team.
  • WR John Ross is averaging 37.3 yards per reception on six catches -- half of which have gone for touchdowns.
  • In two games with Cyler Miles at quarterback, Washington has averaged 51.5 points and 500.5 yards per game.
California at Arizona
  • Cal has lost 14 consecutive Pac-12 games, the second-longest conference losing streak in the country.
  • According to VegasInsider.com, Arizona opened as a 17-point favorite, but dropped to as low as nine points Tuesday morning.
  • Cal ranks third in the Pac-12, converting on 51.5 percent of its third-down chances.
  • Arizona ranks No. 8 nationally and No. 1 in the Pac-12 on offense, averaging 582.7 yards per game.
  • Cal ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 in rush defense (113 yards per game) and Arizona is No. 3 (116.0)
San Diego State at Oregon State
  • Oregon State has allowed one more rushing first down (11) than via penalty (10).
  • San Diego State quarterback Quinn Kaehler and Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion played against each other in the same high school league.
  • Mannion ranks No. 2 among active FBS quarterbacks with 11,064 career passing yards.
Oregon at Washington State
  • Oregon has scored at least 14 points in a national-best 68 straight games.
  • Both teams rank in the top 15 nationally in total offense: 10. Oregon (573.3); 15. WSU (557.0)
  • Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks third nationally averaging 11.35 yards per pass attempt.
  • Oregon safety Erick Dargan, who chose the Ducks over WSU, leads the nation with three interceptions -- tied with four others.
  • WSU teammates Isiah Myers and Vince Mayle are the only teammates that both rank in the top 15 in receptions -- Myers is No. 5 with 26; Mayle is No. 7 with 25.
National individual leaders

Passing touchdowns
t1. Connor Halliday, WSU — 12
t13. Sefo Liufau, Colorado — 8
t13. Marcus Mariota, Oregon — 8
t13. Cody Kessler, USC — 8
t13. Anu Solomon, Arizona — 8

RawQBR
4. Mariota, Oregon — 93.3
6. Taylor Kelly, ASU — 92.1
9. Jared Goff, Cal — 90.1
11. Travis Wilson, Utah — 87.5
14. Cyler Miles, Washington — 85.2

Rushing yards
3. D.J. Foster, Arizona State — 510
4. Nick Wilson, Arizona — 449

Rushing touchdowns
t8. Royce Freeman, Oregon — 5
t8. Foster, ASU — 5

Receiving yards
4. Isiah Myers, WSU — 423
10. Nelson Spruce, Colorado — 346

Receiving touchdowns
1. Spruce, Colorado — 6
t2. Myers, WSU — 5

Yards from scrimmage
1. Foster, ASU — 649
9. Wilson, Arizona — 470

Sacks
1. Danny Shelton, Washington — 6
t3. Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington — 5

Defensive touchdowns
1. Shaq Thompson, Washington — 2

Field goals
3. Casey Skowron, Arizona — 7

Pac-12 team stats

Offensive touchdown drive percentage
1. Oregon — 56.8
2. Utah — 50
3. Arizona State — 45.2
4. Cal — 40.7
5. Arizona — 36.8
6. Washington State — 35
7. Washington — 34.2
8. Stanford — 33.3
9. USC — 30
10. Colorado — 25
11. Oregon State — 23.3
12. UCLA — 23.1

Defensive touchdown drive percentage
1. Stanford — 2.8
2. Oregon — 15.8
3. Arizona — 17.9
4. Arizona State — 18.6
5. Cal — 19.2
6. Utah — 19.4
7. UCLA — 20
8. USC — 20.5
9. Oregon State — 20.7
10. Washington State — 24.4
11. Washington — 26.3
12. Colorado — 35

Offensive 3-and-out percentage
1. Arizona — 5.3
2. Stanford — 6.1
3. Colorado — 10
3. Washington State — 10
5. Cal — 14.8
6. UCLA — 15.4
7. Oregon — 16.2
8. Washington — 18.4
t9. Oregon State — 20
t9. USC — 20
t11. Arizona State — 21.4
t11. Utah — 21.4

Defensive 3-and-out percentage
1. Utah — 45.2
2. Stanford — 38.9
3. Arizona — 35.9
4. Washington State — 31.7
5. Oregon State — 27.6
6. Washington — 26.3
7. UCLA — 25
t8. USC — 23.1
t8. Cal — 23.1
10. Arizona State — 20.9
11. Colorado — 20
12. Oregon — 15.8

Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3

Pac-12 morning links

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
8:00
AM ET
Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup.

Leading off

For the folks out there who were on the fence about whether Todd Graham was really committed to Arizona State, he's given you half a million reasons to get off it.

During a news conference on Monday, it was announced that the Graham family and the family of athletic director Ray Anderson would each pledge $500,000 toward the school's fundraising effort to "reinvent" Sun Devil Stadium. Graham came to Arizona State with a reputation for hopping programs -- especially after a quick departure from Pittsburgh. This move seems to solidify his place in Tempe.
It really wasn’t about that. Obviously this is something that makes a big statement about what our commitment is, as we surely wouldn’t make this kind of commitment if we had anything else in mind.

Sun Devil Stadium will undergo three phases of renovations over the next three offseasons, with construction slated to be complete in 2017. You can watch the complete news conference here.

That's the good news for ASU.

The bad news is that the quarterback Taylor Kelly will miss next week's South Division showdown against UCLA. Several outlets reported the news Sunday night and the Pac-12 blog confirmed from an ASU source Monday. Mike Bercovici told Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic that he's ready for the challenge.

Eliminator

We told you last week if you haven't seen The Eliminator yet, you really should. As of right now, only Washington State and Colorado have been flagged as "eliminated" from the College Football Playoff. Arizona, ASU, Oregon and UCLA are listed as "still in contention" with the rest of the league "on the fence."

But before we get to the playoff, someone has to win their division first. Ted Miller hit on the South on Monday, which is a mess.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

If you only watch one video today of a Pac-12 mascot playing charades with Ashley Adamson, make it this one:

Pac-12 morning links

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
8:00
AM ET
Roll down the window, put down the top;
Crank up the Beach Boys, baby;
Don't let the music stop;
We're gonna ride it till we just can't ride it no more.

Leading off

Yes, that would be "I Love LA." The Bruins and the Trojans were headliners this weekend for two very different reasons.

The Bruins lost their All-America candidate quarterback, Brett Hundley, to an elbow injury. But became the feel-good story of the weekend with Jerry Neuheisel leading a come-from-behind charge in the win over Texas.

The Trojans, however, stumbled on the road against Boston College for their first loss of the season.

Here are some reactions to those games:

UCLA
USC

Finally, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News offers up some thoughts and reactions from around the league in his weekend wrap.

Rank and file

As a result of USC's loss, the Trojans tumbled out of the top 10 in the AP poll and their "stock is down," per USA Today. Meanwhile, on the strength of its blowout win over Wyoming, the Ducks picked up another first-place vote in the AP poll and are locked into that No. 2 spot. Talking with a couple of voters on Sunday, they told the Pac-12 blog that USC's saving grace -- for now -- was that they still have a road win over an AP top 15 team (Stanford) and that their loss to BC came on the road. That was enough to keep them in the top 20. But another showing like the one they had Saturday will boot them out of the rankings.

Here's where things stand for the Pac-12 teams, with the AP rank first and the coaches poll second:

Oregon 2-3

UCLA 12-10

Arizona State 15-13

Stanford 16-15

USC 17-21

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Beast.


Aren't we past Labor Day?


As noted last week, I'm a sucker for great sports photography.

Oregon remains at No. 2; USC drops

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
3:01
PM ET
video
Oregon strengthened its hold on the No. 2 spot in the fourth AP poll of the season, but the Pac-12 is without two top-10 teams for the first time this season.

The Ducks picked up an additional first-place vote and are six points closer to top-ranked Florida State (42 behind) compared to last week.

USC took the biggest fall, dropping eight spots to No. 17 following its 37-31 loss to Boston College and is now one spot behind Stanford, which the Trojans beat on the road last week.

UCLA remains at No. 12 after squeaking out a win against reeling Texas, but was jumped by both Ole Miss and Michigan State. Through three games, UCLA remains undefeated, but none of its wins have done much to impress voters.

Next up for the Bruins is No. 15 Arizona State in Tempe on Sept. 25. The Sun Devils jumped Stanford this week -- largely because USC's loss to Boston College devalued the Cardinal -- after opening conference play with a 38-24 win against Colorado.

Washington (14) and Arizona (3) also received votes.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
PM ET
 

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:50
AM ET
Some things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 3:

Marcus Mariota should be your Heisman front-runner: On the strength of his 19-of-23 performance (82.6 percent passing) with two passing touchdowns and two on the ground during Oregon's 48-14 win over Wyoming, I challenge you to find someone more deserving three games into the season. He has 11 total touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has a signature win against a top-10 team and he's got a "Heisman moment" highlight. Whatever your criteria, Mariota meets it thus far.

Defensive POY up for grabs: Erick Dargan snagged a pair of interceptions against Wyoming. Shaq Thompson had two defensive touchdowns. Eric Kendricks, Danny Shelton, Leonard Williams and AJ Tarpley should be in the discussion. (I'm not going to name every player, so apologies if your favorite player or team feels slighted.) I have no clue who is going to win it. But it's going to be one of the fun storylines to follow as we start to flow into full-time conference play.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota passed for two touchdowns and ran for another two in the victory over Wyoming.
The Cardinal can rebound: Stanford improves to 8-0 following a loss under David Shaw. The Cardinal haven't lost back-to-back games since 2009 or back-to-back home games since 2007, which was Jim Harbaugh's first season. Their 35-0 shutout of Army was the second shutout of the season for the Cardinal and their sixth since the start of the 2010 season. Only Alabama has more. If Stanford can find a little more consistency on offense, there's no reason to rule it out of anything yet. But that's a big if.

USC: Dude.

USC (Take 2): Not sure what's more shocking about BC's 37-31 win over the Trojans. That USC lost a week after securing such a significant conference win for Steve Sarkisian, or that the Trojans were out-rushed 452-20. 20! Tailback R U kidding me? Not what we expect from a Sarkisian offense, nor is it what we expect from a Justin Wilcox defense. Twice the Trojans had a double-digit lead, only to cough it up. For a team that has shown a tremendous amount of fortitude through the first two weeks, it was severely lacking in Week 3.

Those gritty Bruins: Seeing Jerry Neuheisel carried off the field by his teammates, chanting "Jerry, Jerry" following the Bruins' 20-17 win over Texas in Dallas is exactly why college football is awesome. That was a brutal environment, and for the Bruins to fumble away the game with four minutes left, and then excel in all three phases -- defensive stop, huge punt return, clutch touchdown pass -- shows that this team is capable of putting it all together. If the Bruins can do it for 60 minutes, they will be a scary, scary team. The status of Brett Hundley's elbow will no doubt be much debated in the bye week.

The Cougs have a pulse: A 59-21 win over Portland State is a good start. Now do it against an FBS team. Washington State's offense is potent enough that every single Pac-12 North team should be wary.

The full Washington: When the Huskies put it together on both sides, they can be a pretty darn good football team, as evidenced by their 44-19 win over Illinois. They were balanced (245 rushing, 219 passing), the defense was nasty and the aforementioned Thompson (two defensive touchdowns) hauled in the first interception of the season for Washington after several missed opportunities the first two weeks. Another team that, when/if it all comes together, could shake things up in the North.

QB question marks? The bye week comes at a good time for UCLA and ASU. Their Thursday night showdown on Sept. 25 in Tempe has massive Pac-12 South implications. At least it has the last couple of years. But with Taylor Kelly nursing a foot injury (he was on crutches and in a boot) and Hundley's elbow injury, both teams could use the week off to get their high-profile signal-callers healthy. (We should also note another outstanding performance from ASU running back D.J. Foster, who had 147 yards on the ground and a score, and 59 yards receiving and a touchdown in a 38-24 win against Colorado.)

No more Paul Richardson questions: Though the Buffs fell to 1-2, they were fairly competitive against the Sun Devils and Nelson Spruce continues to emerge as one of the premier playmakers in the league. He entered Saturday as the league leader in receiving yards per game and he tacked on seven more catches for 97 yards and two touchdowns. The Buffs are going to shock someone this season.

Wildcats' backfield growing up fast: Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon tossed three touchdowns on 22-of-26 passing with one pick in the Wildcats' 35-28 win over Nevada. True freshman running back Nick Wilson rushed for 171 yards and two scores on 29 carries. Both have quickly developed into A-list playmakers in the Pac-12. And it's hard not to imagine them only getting better with experience. Really intriguing game next week with Cal coming to town.

Mailbag: USC, Mariota, Coug expectations

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Trojan1981 from Office writes: Hey Ted, If USC keeps playing as well as they have ( I know there have only been two games) Where do you see them at the end of the season?

Ted Miller: Trojan1981! Where the heck have you been! Didn't someone tell you the good times are back?

Compared to most top-10 teams, it's more difficult to project USC forward. With fewer than 60 healthy players on scholarship, a fairly typical slate of injuries to starters over the next few weeks could derail the Trojans. It's not just about losing quality players, it's also a winnowing of rotations. When the Trojans line up against all the up-tempo teams in the Pac-12, you might start to see some struggles in the second half of games as fatigue becomes a factor. USC's own up-tempo offense won't help that, by the way.

I know USC won last year with a slim depth chart -- just 13 players seeing action on defense, for example -- but if you're talking about Pac-12 championships, that's the primary concern.

Call that my caveat in advance of calling USC now a co-favorite in the Pac-12's South Division, which means the Trojans have a legitimate shot at playing themselves into the College Football Playoff as the Pac-12 champions, though I'm still picking that honor for Oregon.

USC, after winning at Stanford, has one of the most forgiving schedules in the Pac-12, as it doesn't play Oregon or Washington. The Trojans will be favored in their next eight games before they visit UCLA, which still has to play Stanford and Oregon and visit Washington. They get Notre Dame at home to conclude the season.

If USC stays healthy and continues to progress, they've got as good a shot as anyone at going undefeated over the remainder of the regular season. I'm not predicting that. There figures to be at least one bump along the way. But I am typing that there is a chance.


Quackhead from Norfolk, Va., writes: Hypothetically someone other than Mariota puts up monster numbers, will Marcus' 3 years of consistent stats, living up the hype and good character give the nod to him winning the Heisman? Will that factor into the judges' minds or winning it is based purely on stats?

Miller: Stats are a big part of it, but Marcus Mariota's overall résumé will be a factor in many Heisman Trophy voters minds, even though the award is supposed to be purely about this season. It could operate, for example, as a tiebreaker.

Winning, however, is the key. Mariota fronting a 13-0 or 12-1 Oregon team with similar stats to last season will beat out another QB who has slightly better numbers but has lost two or three games. Most voters also will compare schedule difficulty and how Mariota compared to other candidates in big games. Already, Mariota has a shiny line on his résumé: Outstanding performance in win over good Michigan State team.

After dealing with controversial winners three of the past four years, many voters also probably will look kindly upon Mariota's squeaky-clean image.

My gist: Mariota is in great position to win the Heisman, but we've got lots of football ahead.


Peter from Denver writes: The best season in Oregon State football history (2000) started with a close home win against a FCS team then an 8 point win on the road against a bad team from the Mountain west. Then they had a bye week and played San Diego State at home, after that the Beavers played a highly ranked USC team. Let me know if this sounds familiar. Is this a crazy coincidence or could this be a good year for the Beavers?

Miller: Boy, that 2000 Oregon State team was something. Perhaps the most underrated and unknown great team in recent memory, despite a final top-five ranking in both polls.

I've long contended that crew the most talented team in the Pac-10 in 2000, in large part because of the NFL success of its former players -- WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, LB Nick Barnett, DE DeLawrence Grant, etc. A couple of Pac-12 assistant coaches -- QB Jonathan Smith at Washington and DB Keith Heyward at USC -- probably agree.

Are the 2014 Beavers as talented? Probably not. Certainly not at receiver or on either line (at least until stud O-lineman Isaac Seumalo returns to health).

At this point, Peter, you are dabbling in wishful thinking and coincidence.

But if the Beavers win at USC on Sept. 27, well, then maybe you will be carried through the streets of Corvallis and hailed as a genius.

(Read full post)

Arizona wary of 'should win' games

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
11:00
AM ET
For the second week in a row, the Arizona Wildcats find themselves in the always precarious "should win" scenario.

Last week, it was upstart UTSA on the road -- a team laden with seniors and a head coach who has won a national championship. A 26-23 victory (with a quarterback making just his second start) was hard-earned.

This week the Wildcats host Nevada, a Mountain West team that beat Washington State last week and has given the Pac-12 fits the last few years -- including Arizona in the 2012 New Mexico Bowl.

"We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We don't go into games talking about should or shouldn't win. We're going to prepare like we're trying to win every game. We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it.

"That's not where we are at yet."

The Pac-12 is off to a decent start in nonconference play. Through two weeks, conference teams are 19-3 against out-of-league foes. But two of those losses have come against the West Coast's little brother conference, the Mountain West.

Last season the Pac-12 manhandled the Mountain West with a 10-0 record during the regular season. When you factor in the bowl games, Pac-12 teams went 12-1 against the MWC (the only loss was Washington State's loss to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl).

This year, the Mountain West has already doubled its win total from last season. Nevada's win over WSU and Colorado State's victory over the Buffs in Week 1 has the current record at 6-2 with four games still to be played. And Hawaii put a pretty good scare into a couple of Pac-12 North teams.

"There are a lot of good players and a lot of good coaches in that league," Rodriguez said. "They have the same amount of scholarships as us and they have a history of some really good football. I think Pac-12 coaches, us included, have a lot of respect for the Mountain West."

The Wildcats should, especially if they think back to a budding Nevada quarterback named Cody Fajardo. Against the Wildcats in 2012, he threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 140 and a score.

A little older and wiser, Fajardo threw for 110 yards and ran for 100 in Nevada's 24-13 win over Washington State last week.

"I wish he wasn't still there," Rodriguez said. "He had about 1,000 yards on us. I think he's still running up and down the field. The only chance to stop him is if he cramps up after a half mile. Our guys have a lot of respect for Cody. He's obviously had a great career, especially what he did against us."

It took two late touchdowns in the final 46 seconds for the Wildcats to pull off the unlikely 49-48 come-from-behind victory in the New Mexico Bowl. After the Wolf Pack kicked a field goal with 1:48 left in the game to take a seemingly-insurmountable 48-35 lead, Matt Scott drove the Wildcats 75 yards in six plays and 1:06, connecting with Austin Hill on a 2-yard score to cut the lead to 48-41. An onside kick recovery and a touchdown pass from Scott to Tyler Slavin later and the Wildcats were up 49-48. Marquis Flowers closed out the win by intercepting Fajardo in the closing seconds.

"I don't know if it was exciting until the last minute and a half for me," Rodriguez said. "It was miserable. It wasn't very much fun. It was as improbable as a late comeback that I've ever been a part of because everything had to line up for us ... It all came together quickly in that last minute and a half for us."

With four games still remaining between the Pac-12 and Mountain West, the best the league can hope for is 10-2 -- which wouldn't be terrible. But knowing Nevada's personnel and watching film from last week, Rodriguez knows "should win" doesn't always equate to "will win."

"Whatever the outside perception is on a game, it doesn't change how we prepare," he said. "All we can control is our own approach and mindset. But the fact that they beat Washington State shows our guys they have a pretty good football team and they are playing with a lot of confidence."

Pac-12 morning links

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

As we turn the corner on Week 2 and look ahead to this weekend, folks are starting to weigh in with their picks.

The Pac-12 blog posted theirs yesterday. Not a lot of drama. In fact, I don't think the #4Pac disagreed on any games this week. We all like the Pac-12 teams playing nonconference games to win.

We're not the only ones. Here are some thoughts from Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel of Fox, who both pick the Los Angeles teams to pull off wins.

Feldman on UCLA:
The Bruins struggled in their first two games a lot more than most expected. Their O-line has been terrible, giving up more negative yardage plays than anyone in the country, but they are getting a little healthier and despite this one being played in Texas, UT is just way too undermanned on offense to knock off a Bruins team with a bunch of studs in its front seven.

Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman Review also lays out his picks for each Pac-12 game this week. (And he makes a few funnies along the way).

Friday leftovers

Part of the fun of this space is that I can put in whatever I want. I had some leftover quotes from the three coaches whose teams are on bye this week, and all three had a different take on the timing of the bye. Thought you'd like it, so I'm sharing.

Kyle Whittingham: "I would just assume play 12 straight every year." (So very Whittingham).

Sonny Dykes: "We had a pretty physical fall camp that grinded on our guys pretty good. I think we're all a little worn out physically and mentally as well ... football is a lot about momentum and getting in a routine and you hate to mess with those things. But you hope your players are mature enough to be able to handle it and stay focused and remember what's made them successful. It's probably not the perfect time, but at the same time it's probably needed."

Mike Riley: "I'm going to take advantage of it. One thing about going to Hawaii in the middle of the year, and I know people in that league have to do it all the time, that was an 11-hour trip for us. ... I'm glad we aren't playing. I gave the players [one] day off, we're going to get three games in. Because of that game and that location, I'm glad we have a bye.

It also gives Riley &Co. time to get out on the recruiting trail:

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Utah fans have to wait a week. Maybe this will hold them over.


Huskies mixing it up in the uni dept.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
8:00
AM ET
There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

Leading off

Remember all that chatter in August about how good the quarterbacks were in the Pac-12? Well, it was also in July, and June ... pretty much since last season ended. The quarterbacks driving this quarterback-driven league certainly deserve their spotlight. But lest we forget, there are some guys who can also do some damage on the ground.

John Marshall of The Associated Press looks at some of the teams in the conference who are also tearing things up on the ground. Marshall goes into detail on the running games of four teams in the league, including Arizona State:
The Sun Devils also have a pass-first perception that isn't exactly true. Since coach Todd Graham arrived three years ago, his focus has been on establishing a strong running game to set up the pass. The Sun Devils have had success doing just that with a variety of backs. This season, it's D.J. Foster's turn. A high-profile local recruit, he spent his first two seasons playing multiple positions so the Sun Devils could take advantage of his versatility.

Arizona, ASU, Washington, Utah, Oregon and USC are the six teams that are averaging more than 200 yards per game. However, perhaps the most interesting element of this story is who isn't mentioned. And that's Stanford. While the Cardinal have never been the team that put up obscene rushing numbers, they certainly have set the standard over the last few years for power running. And they've produced a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2008. Bizarre seeing the Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. But as Marshall points out, it's still early.

Individual hype

Some high praise in a couple of different articles about Pac-12 players Wednesday. First, CBS' Dennis Dodd profiles UCLA's Myles Jack. He cites an NFL scout who calls Jack the best athlete in the Pac-12.

Also, Stanford coach David Shaw joined the NFL's college football podcast and compared wide receiver Ty Montgomery to former first-round pick Irving Fryar.
"This guy needs to touch the ball every single way as humanly possible," Shaw said. "Just because he’s that kind of an athlete. He’s that kind of a dynamic football player. We have to make it hard for defenses to key on him … There is one name some of the younger listeners might not know very well, but I spent a year with Irving Fryar in Philadelphia. You’re talking about compact, physical, explosive. Irving ran a 4.3 coming out of college, coming out of Nebraska, and he would run over somebody and then run around them."
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The smile hasn't changed, eh? Good for you, KP.


Something to keep an eye on in 2015?

Pac-12 morning links

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
8:00
AM ET
Smelly cat, smelly cat,
What are they feeding you?
Smelly cat, smelly cat
It's not your fault.

Leading off

Depth chart day! Here are the updated depth charts that are available. As always, I'll point out some moves or changes of note heading into Week 3. Note that three teams are on bye this week -- Cal, Oregon State and Utah -- so we'll have an updated depth chart for them next week.
Not a lot of notes/changes to report this week. It seems like a lot of those lingering position battles that spilled over into the start of the season have been ironed out. But there are still a couple. Here are some changes from Week 2 to Week 3.
  • At Colorado, Christian Powell is listed as the starting tailback in front of Michael Adkins. Though they've been split pretty evenly thus far with Powell carrying 24 times and Adkins carrying 21 times.
  • At Oregon, Tyrell Crosby is officially in at right tackle following the injury to Andre Yruretagoyena during the Michigan State game. Crosby played the bulk of the second half. Also on special teams, Devon Allen is now listed as a primary kick returner along with Keanon Lowe. Last week it was listed as Lowe and Thomas Tyner. Allen returned three kicks for 69 yards against MSU with a long of 26 yards.
  • Though he's officially listed as the starter, USC linebacker Hayes Pullard will have to sit out the first half after being ejected for an illegal hit in last week's game against Stanford. Michael Hutchings will get the start.
  • At Washington, Ben Riva is "officially" back at at right tackle, though he was back in EWU game. Darrell Daniels or Michael Hartvigson will start at tight end for the injured Joshua Perkins. Marcus Peters, who has been suspended for this game, is still listed first on the depth chart. Travell Dixon, Naijiel Hale or Sidney Jones will likely rotate.
  • Last week Wes Concepcion and Jordan Dascalo were separated by an "or" as WSU's punters. No "or" this week with Dascalo on top. He punted three times in the loss to Nevada with two of the three inside the 20 and an average of 40.3 yards per kick. In other special teams news, Quentin Breshears gets the nod over Erik Powell at kicker. Powell made a 25-yard kick in the second quarter against Nevada, but missed from 37 and 38 yards in the third. Breshears connected from 38 yards in the fourth.
Heisman chatter

The Heisman Pundit has updated its weekly straw poll, and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is back on top. That's what happens when you throw for 318 yards and three touchdowns against a top 10 team that won the Rose Bowl last year. The poll consists of 10 Heisman voters from across the country and Mariota had seven of 10 first-place votes.

Here are this week's results:
  1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 24 (7)
  2. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia — 18 (3)
  3. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M — 9
  4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama— 4
  5. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State — 3
  6. (tie) Everett Golson, QB, Notre Dame — 1
    Javorius Allen, RB, USC — 1

Allen certainly deserves to represented on this list so far after another strong performance in USC's win over Stanford. Though he only has one rushing touchdown through two games, he's averaging a hearty 6.4 yards per carry.

And in more #SuperMariota news, Dennis Dodd of CBS explains why Mariota should be the Heisman front runner through the first couple of weeks.

Road to playoff

Checking in on the playoff hunt, our Heather Dinich says the Pac-12 has a "great chance" to land a team in the first College Football Playoff. Writes Dinich:
If the Pac-12 follows the script, the title game will feature USC and Oregon, but as one of the most balanced and deepest conferences in the country, it could also cannibalize itself.

As we know all too well, the Pac-12 is fond of cannibalism. See 2011, 2012 and 2013 as prime examples. The Pac-12 blog believes -- and has stated numerous times -- that the Pac-12 champion deserves a spot in the playoff, be it Oregon, USC, UCLA, Stanford or any other wild card. Because whoever wins this league will have gone through a harsher grinder than any other team in the country.

And speaking of playoffs, let's check in with Joey Galloway and his four teams this week:



News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you saw the links yesterday, you saw a considerably stoked Utah group reacting to their new white helmets. Here's a closer look:

What about the rest of Pac-12?

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
9:00
PM ET
A lot the Pac-12 focus through Weeks 1 and 2 were on Oregon, Stanford, UCLA and USC. The reason for that was preseason hype and big games, as well as off-field issues (USC).

But, as some of you have pointed out, there are eight other Pac-12 teams. Though these teams have mostly played under-the-radar games that haven't been terribly revealing, it still seems reasonable to take a measure of the Pac-12 teams that have yet to play a marquee matchup.

Arizona (2-0): The Wildcats actually got plenty of preseason and early-season coverage for two reasons: 1. Interesting QB competition; 2. They've played FBS teams on Friday and Thursday nights so far, which means more ownership of the available window. The Wildcats are receiving votes in both polls. The visit from Nevada on Saturday could be tricky. Ask Washington State.

What we've learned: That QB Anu Solomon can look great. And not so great. Same with the defense. The Wildcats might be a dark horse in the South Division. Or they might not be. Keep in mind, this team could be 4-0 and potentially ranked as it heads into a bye week before visiting Oregon on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Arizona State (2-0): Sun Devils fans are probably the most annoyed with their lack of attention after winning the South Division last year. The biggest reason for the lack of coverage is the opponents: An FCS team in Week 1 (Weber State) and New Mexico, a team that has gone 10-53 over the past five-plus years. At this time last year, ASU already had a win over Wisconsin, with Stanford, USC and Notre Dame the next three games. And, curiously, Arizona fans were complaining about all the attention the Sun Devils were getting.

What we've learned: Nothing. Zero. We already knew the QB Taylor Kelly, WR Jaelen Strong and RB D.J. Foster would be good. We also haven't learned much about a rebuilt defense. While the visit to Colorado could be somewhat revealing, the Buffaloes already lost to Colorado State. No, the Sun Devils won't take center stage, despite a national ranking, until UCLA visits on Thursday, Sept. 25.

California (2-0): Cal fans, just look at that record. Let it flow over you like warm sunshine. Your Bears already have doubled their 2013 win total! ESPN reporter and College Football Playoff guru Heather Dinich ranked you 25th! While neither win -- Northwestern nor Sacramento State -- rates as earth-shattering, the Wildcats are a Big Ten team and, well... 2 and Oh!

What we've learned: Probably a lot. For one, Cal is no longer a patsy. That doesn't mean it surges to bowl eligibility in Year 2 under Sonny Dykes, but this is clearly a vastly superior team compared to the hapless 2013 version. The Bears played better in their first two games than they did at any point last season. Welcome back to the living, Cal. The Pac-12 blog again awaits those joyous 12,000-word sabermetrically sound breakdowns of why Stanford might have the same red zone futility it had against USC in the Big Game.

Colorado (1-1): It wasn't just that the Buffaloes lost to Colorado State in the opener, it was that they lost because the Rams owned the line of scrimmage. Not good. The performance at UMass, which went 1-11 last year, also was pretty mediocre, though there was some flint shown in a comeback victory. Buffs bowl hopes feel pretty remote.

What we've learned: It might be another slog for Colorado. The preseason hope for Season 2 of Mike MacIntyre's rebuilding job was a strong 2-0. That would give a young team confidence. But, based on the early returns, this team could take a step back compared to 2013. Even the visit from Hawaii, which challenged both Washington and Oregon State, looks like a tossup. Of course, if the Buffs go nose-to-nose with the Sun Devils on Saturday ...

Oregon State (2-0): Bottom line is 2-0 is good for a team that has been notoriously slow out of the gate, even during good years. While things got a little testy with Hawaii in the second half, there's reason for optimism as the Beavers head into the bye week before playing host to San Diego State.

What we've learned: Not too much. We don't yet know what to make of Hawaii, which is obviously much improved over the program that won four games over the past two-plus years. It appears the Beavers rushing offense is much better, as it is averaging 170 yards per game compared to 94 last year. A trip to USC on Sept. 27 could be a major reveal.

Utah (2-0): The Utes looked good over the weekend on both sides of the ball while whipping Fresno State, but they've been outstanding in nonconference games as a member of the Pac-12, going 10-1. It's the conference games that will measure Utah's improvement.

What we've learned: There have been some hints that this might be Utah's best Pac-12 team, and that starts with quality behind center in QB Travis Wilson. Seeing that Michigan got pounded by Notre Dame, there's no reason Utah can't go into the Big House and get a win after their off week. At 3-0, Utes fans would be thinking about more than just any old bowl game. Still, the visit from Washington State the following weekend is more important than the Ann Arbor jaunt.

Washington (2-0): The Huskies have been pushed to the brink by Hawaii, which went 1-11 last year, and an FCS team, as Eastern Washington scored 52 points against a struggling pass defense. The offense looked much better with QB Cyler Miles behind center, but the defense -- the perceived preseason strength -- has been mediocre-to-bad so far.

What we've learned: We've learned new coach Chris Petersen didn't bring a magical formula to make the Huskies dominant on both sides of the ball, at least not immediately. This team started off in the Top 25 but tumbled out after an unimpressive opener, and the battle with Eastern Washington didn't help the team's image. Still, Washington should open 4-0 before playing host to Stanford on Sept. 27. That's when we take a true measure of the Huskies.

Washington State (0-2): No team has been more disappointing than Washington State. Just about every projection had the Cougars at 2-0, but they are the opposite. It's possible that Rutgers and Nevada will prove to be quality bowl teams, but that doesn't help a program that saw itself rising in the Pac-12 North.

What we've learned: Learned? That the defense and the offensive line still have issues, and those issues create problems for a team that can only pass the ball. Of course, it's possible the Cougs will be better when they get back to familiar Pac-12 terrain. The test of the season probably will come with back-to-back games at Utah and against California on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4. The Cougs probably must win both to have bowl hopes.

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