Pac-12: Boston College Eagles

Injuries, implosion muddle South picture

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Wait. That's been used before. But, with apologies to Dickens, it fits. The Pac-12 weekend was a tale of one division, two teams, two cities, two quarterbacks, and it was a day of thrills and it was a day of misery.

The plot certainly thickened in the Pac-12's South Division on Saturday, but not necessarily in a good way.

A week after posting a gritty upset at Stanford, USC was humiliated at Boston College, while UCLA cobbled together a win over Texas behind scrappy, ebullient backup QB Jerry Neuheisel. Neuheisel's services were required because Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury. His status remains uncertain, though there was reasonable hope based on initial reports that his injury wasn't serious.

[+] EnlargeAntwaun Woods
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesUSC's shocking loss to Boston College underscored the vulnerability within the Pac-12 South division.
Our second city is Tempe, Arizona, where UCLA will be on Thursday, Sept. 25, squaring off with defending South Division champion Arizona State, which beat Colorado on Saturday but also lost its star senior quarterback, Taylor Kelly, who beat out Hundley for second-team All-Pac-12 last year. Seeing Kelly on crutches due to a foot injury -- and his body language -- probably won't fuel great expectations that he will be ready for the Bruins.

The UCLA-Arizona State game was one we eyeballed in the preseason as a major measuring stick in the battle for the South. A significant part of the appeal was the quarterback battle. That hasn't changed, only now the intrigue is whether it will be Neuheisel for UCLA and Mike Bercovici for Arizona State. A week ago, that quarterback news would have heavily favored the Sun Devils. While Bercovici isn't the runner Kelly is, he's got one of the best arms in the conference and is well-versed in the Sun Devils offense. He is expected to win the starting job as a fifth-year senior next fall. Neuheisel was widely viewed as a career backup with a well-known father -- former UCLA QB and coach Rick Neuheisel -- but his second-half performance against the Longhorns suggested he can be more than a rudimentary game manager.

Both teams have an off week, when they can either get healthy or retool their plans. The stakes continue to be high, perhaps more so after USC threw up on itself with a wet-noodle performance at Boston College. While a nonconference game doesn't affect the Trojans' Pac-12 standing, it certainly made them look extremely vulnerable heading into a much-needed bye week. Other than USC fans, the most miserable folks watching that game surely root for Stanford, which probably can't believe it lost to the Trojans just a week before.

What this implosion and these injuries reveal in a wider sense is vulnerability in the South. In the preseason, UCLA looked like a decisive South favorite. Then USC made a statement with a win over the Cardinal. Arizona State was lurking with a great offense and a questionable defense. At this point, however, none of these three teams is scaring anyone. And don't look now, but Arizona and Utah remain unbeaten and have shown flashes that suggest they might be factors in a divisional race that previously seemed limited to the aforementioned troika.

The Wildcats play host to California on Saturday. Lo and behold, the Bears also are unbeaten, and this game suddenly possesses some potential meaning it didn't seem to have in the preseason. If Cal gets the upset, it can fully erase last season's misery and start thinking bowl game. If Arizona gets the win, it will be 4-0 and eyeballing the Top 25 with a visit to No. 2 Oregon looming on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Arizona appears suspect on defense, but the offense, with impressive redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon, a good O-line, deep corps of receivers and breakout freshman running back Nick Wilson, will make the Wildcats a threat to any foe.

Utah visits Michigan on Saturday. While the Wolverines don't look like they'll be hailing in much victory this season, a Utes win would certainly raise more than a few eyebrows. While Utah's trouble hasn't been in nonconference games since joining the Pac-12, a 3-0 start would hint they are not a South afterthought, particularly if the offense continues to shine with QB Travis Wilson.

While Oregon's win over Michigan State coupled with Stanford's loss to USC only boosted the Ducks' status as North Division favorites, the South intrigue has seemingly spiderwebbed since the beginning of the season. The race appears more wide open and complicated. UCLA's visit to Arizona State remains a major measuring stick, but it's just as likely either team would sacrifice that game -- as horrible as that sounds -- to know it will get its starting quarterback back healthy for the rest of the season.

Position U: Linebacker

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
9:30
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Who really deserves to claim the title of “Linebacker U” for the 2000s?


1. Ohio State (222 points)


Move over Penn State. Ohio State is the new “Linebacker U” -- and the Buckeyes claimed the title in a blowout. In many of these positional rankings, only a handful of points separate first and second place. At linebacker, the Buckeyes finished nearly 50 points ahead of second-place Alabama. But when your players stockpile national awards and All-America honors and then many more go on to become NFL draft picks, you put your program in position to rank at the top of this list. Players such as A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis and most recently Ryan Shazier have done that in Columbus.

Award winners: A.J. Hawk, Lombardi (2005); James Laurinaitis, Butkus (2007), Nagurski (2008), Lott (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Matt Wilhelm (2002), A.J. Hawk (2004, 2005), James Laurinaitis (2006, 2007, 2008).
First-team all-conference: Joe Cooper (2000), Matt Wilhelm (2002), A.J. Hawk (2003, 2004, 2005), James Laurinaitis (2006, 2007, 2008), Ross Homan (2010), Brian Rolle (2010), Ryan Shazier (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: A.J. Hawk (2006), Bobby Carpenter (2006), Ryan Shazier (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cie Grant (Round 3, 2003), Matt Wilhelm (Round 4, 2003), Anthony Schlegel (Round 3, 2006), James Laurinaitis (Round 2, 2009), Thaddeus Gibson (Round 4, 2010), John Simon (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Courtland Bullard (Round 5, 2002), Rob Reynolds (Round 5, 2004), Larry Grant (Round 7, 2008), Marcus Freeman (Round 5, 2009), Austin Spitler (Round 7, 2010), Brian Rolle (Round 6, 2011), Ross Homan (Round 6, 2011).


T-2. Alabama (174)


The Crimson Tide has claimed two Butkus Awards and has had four consensus All-Americans at linebacker since 2009, when Alabama won the first of its three BCS titles under Nick Saban. Alabama also has had three linebackers picked in the first round (Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley) and five linebackers overall drafted during that run of dominance.

Award winners: DeMeco Ryans, Lott (2005); Rolando McClain, Butkus (2009); C.J. Mosley, Butkus (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: DeMeco Ryans (2005), Rolando McClain (2009), Dont’a Hightower (2011), C.J. Mosley (2012, 2013).
First-team all-conference: Saleem Rasheed (2001), Derrick Pope (2003), Cornelius Wortham (2004), DeMeco Ryans (2005), Rolando McClain (2008, 2009), Dont’a Hightower (2011), Courtney Upshaw (2011), C.J. Mosley (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rolando McClain (2010), Dont’a Hightower (2012), C.J. Mosley (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Saleem Rasheed (Round 3, 2002), DeMeco Ryans (Round 2, 2006), Courtney Upshaw (Round 2, 2012), Nico Johnson (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derrick Pope (Round 7, 2004), Cornelius Wortham (Round 7, 2005).


T-2. Oklahoma (174)


Hey, what do you know? Oklahoma is near the top of the rankings at another position. At linebacker, the Sooners’ position is largely because of the early-2000s run when Rocky Calmus and Teddy Lehman cleaned up on the awards and All-America circuit. It also helps that Oklahoma has had 12 linebackers drafted since 2001.

Award winners: Rocky Calmus, Butkus (2001); Teddy Lehman, Bednarik (2003), Butkus (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Rocky Calmus (2000, 2001), Teddy Lehman (2002, 2003), Curtis Lofton (2007).
First-team all-conference: Rocky Calmus (2000, 2001), Jimmy Wilkerson (2001), Teddy Lehman (2002, 2003), Dan Cody (2003), Lance Mitchell (2004), Rufus Alexander (2005, 2006), Curtis Lofton (2007), Travis Lewis (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Torrance Marshall (Round 3, 2001), Rocky Calmus (Round 3, 2002), Teddy Lehman (Round 2, 2004), Dan Cody (Round 2, 2005), Clint Ingram (Round 3, 2006), Curtis Lofton (Round 2, 2008), Keenan Clayton (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Lance Mitchell (Round 5, 2005), Rufus Alexander (Round 6, 2007), Nic Harris (Round 5, 2009), Travis Lewis (Round 7, 2012), Corey Nelson (Round 7, 2014).


T-4. USC (140)


It should come as no surprise that the greater portion of USC’s linebacker point total came during its mid-2000s run, when it was an annual BCS title contender. Standout linebackers such as Rey Maualuga -- the 2008 Bednarik Award winner, consensus All-American and three-time All-Pac-10 selection -- Keith Rivers, Matt Grootegoed and Brian Cushing helped the Trojans become the nation’s most dominant program during that period.

Award winners: Rey Maualuga, Bednarik (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Matt Grootegoed (2004), Rey Maualuga (2008).
First-team all-conference: Matt Grootegoed (2002, 2004), Lofa Tatupu (2004), Rey Maualuga (2006, 2007, 2008), Keith Rivers (2006, 2007), Brian Cushing (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Keith Rivers (2008), Brian Cushing (2009), Clay Matthews (2009), Nick Perry (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Markus Steele (Round 4, 2001), Lofa Tatupu (Round 2, 2005), Kaluka Maiava (Round 4, 2009), Rey Maualuga (Round 2, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Zeke Moreno (Round 5, 2001), Oscar Lua (Round 7, 2007), Dallas Sartz (Round 5, 2007), Thomas Williams (Round 5, 2008), Malcolm Smith (Round 7, 2011), Devon Kennard (Round 5, 2014).


T-4. Miami (140)


When your program has 12 players from one position drafted and four of them go in the first round, chances are you’ll rank toward the top of the board. That’s the case with Miami, which had Dan Morgan (who won three national awards and was a consensus All-American in 2000), Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams and Jon Beason all become first-round picks after standout careers in Coral Gables.

Award winners: Dan Morgan, Bednarik (2000), Nagurski (2000), Butkus (2000).
Consensus All-Americans: Dan Morgan (2000).
First-team all-conference: Dan Morgan (2000), Jonathan Vilma (2001, 2002, 2003), D.J. Williams (2003), Sean Spence (2011), Denzel Perryman (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dan Morgan (2001), Jonathan Vilma (2004), D.J. Williams (2004), Jon Beason (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Rocky McIntosh (Round 2, 2006), Leon Williams (Round 4, 2006), Tavares Gooden (Round 3, 2008), Darryl Sharpton (Round 4, 2010), Colin McCarthy (Round 4, 2011), Sean Spence (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Darrell McClover (Round 7, 2004), Spencer Adkins (Round 6, 2009).


6. Penn State (134)


The old “Linebacker U” still makes our top 10. In fact, Penn State still has plenty to brag about at the position where it has long been known for producing stars. The Nittany Lions earned four national awards and three All-America designations between Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor, plus they had nine players drafted since 2001.

Award winners: Paul Posluszny, Butkus (2005), Bednarik (2005, 2006); Dan Connor, Bednarik (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007).
First-team all-conference: Paul Posluszny (2005, 2006), Dan Connor (2007), NaVorro Bowman (2008, 2009), Gerald Hodges (2011), Michael Mauti (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Paul Posluszny (Round 2, 2007), Dan Connor (Round 3, 2008), Sean Lee (Round 2, 2010), NaVorro Bowman (Round 3, 2010), Gerald Hodges (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tim Shaw (Round 5, 2007), Josh Hull (Round 7, 2010), Nathan Stupar (Round 7, 2012), Michael Mauti (Round 7, 2013).


7. Georgia (110)


Two-time All-American Jarvis Jones and fellow 2013 first-round pick Alec Ogletree might get most of the glory, but this group is chock full of talent. Justin Houston is making his mark as a pass-rusher in the NFL and there are a bunch of old war horses such as Will Witherspoon, Kendrell Bell and Tony Gilbert who hung around the league for several years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Boss Bailey (2002), Odell Thurman (2003, 2004), Rennie Curran (2008, 2009), Jarvis Jones (2011, 2012), Ramik Wilson (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jarvis Jones (2013), Alec Ogletree (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kendrell Bell (Round 2, 2001), Will Witherspoon (Round 3, 2002), Boss Bailey (Round 2, 2003), Odell Thurman (Round 2, 2005), Rennie Curran (Round 3, 2010), Justin Houston (Round 3, 2011), Akeem Dent (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tony Gilbert (Round 6, 2003).


8. Texas (108)


Texas snuck into the top 10 on the back of Derrick Johnson, who won both the Nagurski and Butkus awards in 2004 and was a consensus All-American in 2003 and 2004 before becoming a 2005 first-round draft pick. The current Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl linebacker accounted for 62 of the Longhorns’ 108 points in the linebacker rankings.

Award winners: Derrick Johnson, Nagurski (2004), Butkus (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Derrick Johnson (2003, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Cory Redding (2001), Derrick Johnson (2002, 2003, 2004), Aaron Harris (2005), Sergio Kindle (2008), Emmanuel Acho (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Derrick Johnson (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Roddrick Muckelroy (Round 4, 2010), Sergio Kindle (Round 2, 2010), Sam Acho (Round 4, 2011), Keenan Robinson (Round 4, 2012), Alex Okafor (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Emmanuel Acho (Round 6, 2012).


9. Boston College (104): Luke Kuechly is responsible for most of the points here. The four-time award winner in 2011, was twice named a consensus All-American, earned all-conference honors three times and became a first-round draft pick. That's a grand total of 84 points for the Carolina Panthers star. The Eagles also have an active string of first-team all-conference linebackers that started with Mark Herzlich in 2008.

Award winners: Luke Kuechly, Nagurski (2011), Lombardi (2011), Lott (2011), Butkus (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Luke Kuechly (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Mark Herzlich (2008), Luke Kuechly (2009, 2010, 2011), Nick Clancy (2012), Kevin Pierre-Louis (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Luke Kuechly (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Pierre-Louis (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


T-10. Maryland (100)

E.J. Henderson accounts for more than half of Maryland’s points thanks in large part to his two national awards and two consensus All-America designations. Henderson is among three Terrapins linebackers who made the All-ACC first team twice (along with D’Qwell Jackson and Alex Wujciak), while Shawne Merriman is the only Terp during the 2000s to be selected in the first round of the draft.

Award winners: E.J. Henderson, Bednarik (2002), Butkus (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: E.J. Henderson (2001, 2002).
First-team all-conference: E.J. Henderson (2001, 2002), D’Qwell Jackson (2004, 2005), Erin Henderson (2007), Alex Wujciak (2009, 2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Shawne Merriman (Round 1, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: E.J. Henderson (Round 2, 2003), Leon Joe (Round 4, 2004), D’Qwell Jackson (Round 2, 2006)
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Moise Fokou (Round 7, 2009).


T-10. Notre Dame (100)


There are times when a single player’s excellence is the difference between a school's spot falling near the top of the rankings and its sitting further down the list. Such is the case with Manti Te’o, who accounted for 82 points in his incredible 2012 season alone (seven national awards, a consensus All-America selection and then becoming a second-round NFL pick). Notre Dame is penalized in these team rankings by not earning points for all-conference honorees, so its spot in this top 10 speaks to how impressive Te’o’s 2012 season truly was.

Award winners: Manti Te’o, Maxwell (2012), Camp (2012), Nagurski (2021), Lombardi (2012), Bednarik (2012), Lott (2012), Butkus (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Manti Te’o (2012).
First-team all-conference: Not applicable.
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Rocky Boiman (Round 4, 2002), Courtney Watson (Round 2, 2004), Manti Te’o (Round 2, 2013), Prince Shembo (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Anthony Denman (Round 7, 2001), Tyreo Harrison (Round 6, 2002), Darius Fleming (Round 5, 2012).

REST OF “LINEBACKER U” RANKINGS
98 – Florida State; 92 – UCLA; 72 – Florida, Stanford; 66 – Iowa, TCU, Wisconsin; 64 – Nebraska; 62 – Michigan State, Oregon State, Tennessee; 60 – LSU, Pittsburgh; 58 – Virginia Tech; 56 – West Virginia; 48 – NC State; 46 – Michigan, Ole Miss, Purdue; 44 – BYU, California, Kansas State; 42 – North Carolina; 40 – Illinois; 38 – Clemson, Iowa State, Texas A&M; 36 – Arizona, Auburn, Syracuse; 34 – Arizona State, Utah, Wake Forest; 32 – Missouri, South Carolina, Virginia; 30 – Arkansas, Georgia Tech; 28 – Kentucky; 26 – Northwestern, Vanderbilt; 24 – Colorado, Oregon; 20 – Washington; 18 – Oklahoma State, Rutgers; 16 – Mississippi State; 14 – Kansas, Louisville; 12 – Baylor; 10 – Washington State; 6 – Duke; 4 – Texas Tech; 2 – Minnesota; 0 – Indiana

AdvoCare V100, Sun Bowl predictions

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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Both Kevin and Ted correctly picked Oregon, but missed on Arizona State. Kevin is 79-19 on the season, and Ted is 75-23.

AdvoCare V100: Arizona vs. Boston College


Kevin Gemmell: The big storyline here is obviously the running backs – Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Boston College’s Andre Williams. Both were Doak Walker finalists, and Williams took home the trophy. But the real story should be B.J. Denker, who is averaging 95 yards per game on the ground with four touchdowns over the past six games. Boston College is a better team than the one that lost to USC, 35-7 back in September. But the Eagles also feasted on a lot of weaker competition. So did Arizona, but it at least has a win over a top-five team (Oregon) to its credit. I like Carey and Co. to outdistance the Eagles. Arizona 38, Boston College 28.

Ted Miller: While all the hype of about this game is about the running backs, and justifiably so, here's a guess that the ultimate difference-maker is someone we're not expecting, though Kevin's noting Denker would be my first guess. Boston College played Florida State tough and beat Virginia Tech, and Arizona's red-letter moment was a win over Oregon. This feels like a game that might go to the fourth quarter, but we like the Wildcats' chances because their offense is ultimately not one-dimensional. Arizona 35, Boston College 24.

Hyundai Sun Bowl


Kevin Gemmell: Virginia Tech doesn’t give up a lot of points -- only 17.4 per game, to be exact. They don’t score many, either (23.4). And they head into the postseason having lost three of their past five. The Bruins got healthy in a lot of different areas, and they have the offense (36.5 points per game) and the defense (24.1) to match the Hokies on both sides of the ball. As is always the case when UCLA plays, the question is whether Virginia Tech can 1) get to Brett Hundley and 2) actually get him down. No quarterback in the Pac-12, maybe the country, is as good at extending plays. That’s going to put a lot of pressure on Virginia Tech’s defense. And after last season's bowl debacle, I think the Bruins feel like they have something to prove. UCLA 31, Virginia Tech 21.

Ted Miller: It's not good that the UCLA defense will be without leading tackler Eric Kendricks, but Virginia Tech has struggled to run the ball and, forced to pass, it has yielded 2.5 sacks per game. That's not a good sign with Anthony Barr is on the opposite side of the line. Hundley and the Bruins' offense should be challenged by a good Hokies' defense, but they'll score enough to get the W. UCLA 24, Virginia Tech 20.

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Bowl primer: AdvoCare V100

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
9:00
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We continue our look at each of the Pac-12’s opponents during the bowl season.

AdvoCare V100 Bowl
Shreveport, La., Dec. 31, 9:30 a.m. PT
Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5)

Boston College Eagles

Coach: Steve Addazio (first season)
Record: 7-5, 4-4 ACC
Combined opponents' record: 77-67 (.534)
Common opponents: Boston College lost to USC 35—7 on Sept. 14. Arizona lost to USC 38-31 on Oct. 10, the first game with Ed Orgeron as the interim head coach for the Trojans.
Leading passer: Chase Rettig, 147-238 (61.8 percent) for 1,804 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Leading rusher: Andre Williams, 329 rushes, 2,102 yards with 17 touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Alex Amidon, 67 catches, 903 yards with five touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Steele Divitto (one of the coolest names in all of football), 107 tackles.

What to know: Boston College enters the game in relative good health, though it is worth noting that Williams, who outdistanced Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey and Washington’s Bishop Sankey for the Doak Walker Award, missed a good chunk of the season finale against Syracuse because of a shoulder injury. All indications are that he’ll be ready to go for this game.

Staring at a 3-4 record, the Eagles closed out the season by winning four of their last five to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. They faced only two top 25 opponents this year and dropped both games, falling to Florida State and Clemson -- though they picked up a signature win by topping Virginia Tech 34-27.

Obviously, the running backs take center stage in this game. Williams leads the nation in rushing this season and Carey led the nation in rushing last year. It's not unlike last year’s New Mexico Bowl, where Carey and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson were vying for the rushing title. Unless Carey has a 600-yard game, Williams can probably feel good about retaining his title.

When Williams rushes for at least 100 yards, BC is 7-2. When he doesn’t, the Eagles are 0-3. It seems pretty clear what the key matchup is for the Arizona defense.

Key matchup: But what about the other side of the ball? Arizona is 6-5 when Carey rushes for at least 100 yards, as he rushed for 100 or more yards in every game he played this season (he missed the opening-week win over Northern Arizona). Boston College’s rush defense is fairly sturdy. It allows 152.8 rushing yards per game -- which is 50th in the country -- and they have only allowed 16 touchdowns on the ground. Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis isn’t far behind Divitto with 104 tackles, and defensive end Kasim Edebali has 15 tackles for a loss on the year to go with 9.5 sacks.
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. -- Mark Twain

Awards season is tricky. Voters are tasked with choosing the outstanding player at a position working with their own value system -- which is fueled by personal experience, regional bias, weighted statistics and subjectivity that only they can defend.

Let’s first agree that to be selected as a finalist for one of college football’s postseason awards, you have to be a pretty special player.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Casey
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsArizona's Ka'Deem Carey ran for 100-plus yards in every game he played this season and had 1,885 yards and 19 total TDs on the year.
And this year’s lineup of Doak Walker finalists, which goes to the nation’s top running back, is no exception. Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey and Boston College’s Andre Williams can all make a compelling case. Williams has the numbers. Carey and Sankey have the consistency.

Yet recent history has shown us it’s not just about the back with the most rushing yards. If it were, Carey would have been the winner last season. And he wasn’t even a finalist.

The Doak Walker might be the one award where you can actually lean on the numbers -- because there are plenty of metrics available to gauge the success of running backs. And after dissecting those numbers, one thing is very clear: the award should go to one of the Pac-12 backs.

Says, the Pac-12 writer … I know. But hear me out.

  • Carey has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season. Williams has not.
  • Sankey has scored at least one rushing touchdown in every game this season. Williams has not.
  • Carey has caught 26 balls for 173 yards and a touchdown while Sankey has 25 catches for 298 yards and a score. Williams has not … caught a single pass all year.

Sorry, but in today’s football, zero receptions has to be a significant mark against Williams. Not a single check down or dump off or swing pass to speak of? Not one hot read? Maybe it’s what we’ve come to expect from Pac-12 offenses that the backs are more involved in the passing game. Or maybe it’s the fact that pretty much every other starting running back in the country has at least one catch this year.

Being a running back has to be more than just carrying the football. And while no one questions Williams’ ability to do that, and do it well, it does raise questions about his completeness as a back.

Looking at each player’s individual game log, Williams faced four rushing defenses that rank in the top 30. Carey faced three and Sankey faced two. That measurement in itself is slanted, by the way, because the Pac-12 has seven of the top 44 rushing offenses in the country, which in turn impacts the rush defense numbers. The ACC only has four of the top 44. So take that for what it’s worth.

[+] EnlargeBishop Sankey
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonWashington's Bishop Sankey finished the season with 1,775 yards rushing and 19 total TDs.
Against top 30 rush defenses, Williams averaged 95.5 yards per game, well below his season average of 175.7. Sankey averaged 73.5 yards. With only two games to work with, his poor performance against Arizona State significantly slants that average and skews his outstanding 125 yards and two touchdowns against Stanford -- the nation’s No. 3 rush defense.

Carey, however, averaged 175.6 rushing yards per game -- almost 20 yards higher than his 156 average. Meaning Carey did some of his best work against the nation’s best defenses.

There isn’t a lot of head-to-head data among the three since one is from another conference. But against USC, Williams carried 17 times for 38 yards and no touchdowns. Carey rushed for 138 yards on 21 carries.

Sankey and Carey have a few head-to-heads. Against Oregon, Sankey rushed for 167 yards and two scores. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four scores.

Williams’ best games came against some of the nation’s weakest rush defenses. He posted 263 yards and five touchdowns against Army (ranked 99th), 295 yards against New Mexico State (ranked 123rd) and 339 against North Carolina State (ranked 79th). To his credit, he did have nice rushing numbers against Florida State (149 yards against the Seminoles’ 13th-ranked rushing defense), but no touchdowns.

And to be fair, the Pac-12 duo feasted plenty on the league’s weaker defenses. Sankey had 241 yards against Cal and Carey posted four touchdowns against Colorado.

But Carey’s strongest game of the season was a 232-yard effort against Utah -- which finished the year ranked 22nd against the run.

This isn’t a Carey vs. Sankey debate. The fact that both have shown up every week -- Sankey with the touchdowns and Carey with the 100-yard games -- speaks to their level of consistency. Sankey has the better overall numbers. But 1.7 yards per carry against ASU and 3.4 against UCLA certainly standout as a negative. Carey has the untenable argument of rushing for at least 100 yards in every game. But zero touchdowns in a close game against Cal and no scores against USC also standout.

However, both are also more complete and consistent backs than the third Doak Walker finalist. And the 2013 award should end up in the hands of a consistent, well-rounded Pac-12 running back.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
9:00
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Both Ted and Kevin went 9-1 last week, both missing on picking USC to beat Washington State.

For the year, Kevin is 18-2 and Ted is a miserable 17-3.

STANFORD at ARMY

Kevin Gemmell: The Cardinal thrive on efficiency, and they were very efficient in their season opener. Army is hardly the test San Jose State was. It makes its living by running the ball, averaging 329 yards on the ground through the first two weeks. Guess which team loves for teams to run at them? … Stanford 38, Army 7.

Ted Miller: Army is not going to win this football game, but on a week when we remember 9/11, let's tip our cap to those guys. I'm sure they'll compete hard and make sure Stanford comes back west knowing it played a football game. … Stanford 35, Army 10.

FRESNO STATE at COLORADO

Gemmell: The Buffs probably lose this one. It was a nice couple of games. They got a little momentum, doubled their win total from last season and generated a little excitement early in the rebuilding process. Fresno State has some weapons. Then again, as Ben Bradlee famously said during the Watergate investigation: “[Bleep] it, let’s stand by the boys.” … Colorado 31, Fresno State 28.

Miller: Colorado has already shown it's a better football team than it was in 2012. Better will make this one closer than last season -- way closer. But Fresno State might be the nation's best non-AQ team. … Fresno State 38, Colorado 30.

TENNESSEE at OREGON

Gemmell: Had he taken the Colorado job, Butch Jones would have had to wait two more weeks to get blown out by the Ducks. At least now he gets it out of the way sooner. Look for those little mistakes Oregon had last week to disappear as the Ducks return home. … Oregon 48, Tennessee 17.

Miller: There is a level of intrigue for this game based on the Volunteers having a great offensive line and the Ducks being somewhat questionable at linebacker. Is that enough to keep it close? Probably not. … Oregon 44, Tennessee 20.

OHIO STATE at CALIFORNIA

Gemmell: The Buckeyes showed some depth against San Diego State last week when Braxton Miller went down. That doesn’t bode well for a Cal defense that is rife with injuries right now. The Bears can put up points. No one is disputing that. Stopping people is the bigger priority right now. … Ohio State 38, Cal 27.

Miller: The Buckeyes are going to pile up rushing yards, whether Miller plays or not. So can the Bears pile up passing yards to match them, score for score? Maybe for a little while, but not for four quarters. … Ohio State 40, California 21.

WISCONSIN at ARIZONA STATE

Gemmell: Welcome to the desert, where the temperature at kickoff is expected to be a toasty 102 degrees. But it won’t be the heat that burns the Badgers. It will be ASU’s precision efficiency, which is amplified when Taylor Kelly plays at home. In eight career home games, he has 19 TDs to three INTs and is completing 74.2 percent of his throws. … Arizona State 35, Wisconsin 24.

Miller: But it's a dry heat! My question is whether the Sun Devils defense will be able to stand up to the relentless power-rushing attack of the Badgers. My guess is both teams will be pretty darn worn out by the end of the game. Kevin thinks the UCLA-Nebraska game was the toughest pick this week. This was it for me. … Arizona State 24, Wisconsin 23.

OREGON STATE at UTAH

Gemmell: Two weeks ago, I said I would pencil this in as an Oregon State win. Pencils have erasers. The Beavers have all sorts of issues on defense, and the Utes are playing with a confidence we’ve rarely seen since they joined the league. I think Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks have a big day, but I think Travis Wilson & Co. have a bigger day. … Utah 31, Oregon State 27.

Miller: This feels like a HUGE game for both teams. As in, neither will accomplish its goals this season if it loses. I like the matchup with a more mature Travis Wilson against the injury-riddled Beavers defense, but I also think Mannion and Cooks have an edge versus the Utes' questionable secondary. The edge for the Utes is playing at home. … Utah 38, Oregon State 35.

UTSA at ARIZONA

Gemmell: The Wildcats still haven’t put it all together. But, once again, their schedule allows for tweaking and growing. Ka'Deem Carey's return was as spectacular as expected, and the defense continues to show signs of improvement. I suspect we’ll learn more about the Wildcats when they open league play on Sept. 28 against Washington. For now, they’ll continue to tweak their way to another win. … Arizona 42, UTSA 21.

Miller: I'm with Kevin. I'm ready to see Arizona get tested. The Wildcats' big goal in this game is fleshing out a passing attack that has been poor to middling in the first two games. … Arizona 48, UTSA 17.

BOSTON COLLEGE at USC

Gemmell: A whole week for Cody Kessler to take the first-team snaps might do wonders. But, for now, if the Trojans do win, it will continue to be on the coattails of the defense, which has been outstanding, and that’s getting lost in all of this quarterback mess. … USC 31, Boston College 17.

Miller: Forget Lane Kiffin for a moment. What about the players? Do they have pride? Or are they ready to wave a white flag on their season and their head coach? I think we'll see USC bounce back, but I'm far from certain of it. … USC 24, Boston College 17.

SOUTHERN UTAH at WASHINGTON STATE

Gemmell: The worst thing in the world would be an emotional letdown. Don’t see it happening. The offense gets back on track this week and the defense continues to improve in Year 2 under Mike Breske. The Air Raid should be in full effect this week. … Washington State 48, Southern Utah 10.

Miller: Washington State is going to win this game, but the Cougars need to get their offense back in sync. That means enough running game to keep a defense honest and more than 300 passing yards. We'll see both on Saturday. … Washington State 51, Southern Utah 13.

UCLA at NEBRASKA

Gemmell: By far the toughest game to pick this week. It all comes down to which defense can better contain the other’s quarterback. I think the bye week was a good thing for the Bruins, though this week will certainly be emotionally trying with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale. They have on film what they did right and wrong versus a mobile quarterback from the Nevada game. I think they put that film to good use. …UCLA 36, Nebraska 31.

Miller: Both teams have good offenses, but I think the UCLA defense is better. Further, I like Brett Hundley to take control in the fourth quarter and Anthony Barr to make some game-changing plays against Taylor Martinez. … UCLA 40, Nebraska 31.

WASHINGTON at ILLINOIS (in Chicago)

Gemmell: This is the next big test for the Huskies: Can they be as productive on the road? They come off the bye week healthy and rested, and the return of Austin Seferian-Jenkins gives Keith Price another outstanding weapon. Looking for the Huskies to take a big step forward. … Washington 35, Illinois 24.

Miller: If the Huskies play like they did against Boise State, they will roll. I expect them to. I also expect Seferian-Jenkins to have a big game, both catching the ball and blocking for Bishop Sankey against a middling defense. … Washington 41, Illinois 20.


The Pac-12 will establish its national identity on Saturday. Simple as that.

Every Pac-12 team plays. No byes this week, my friends. There's one conference game, Oregon State at Utah, that is critical to both teams. Eight of the nonconference foes are unbeaten at 2-0. Six of those teams are from AQ conferences, including four matchups with the Big Ten. Three are against ranked teams. Fresno State, which is visiting Colorado, is the equivalent of 28th in the AP poll. Three Pac-12 teams are underdogs.

Three teams are traveling across multiple times zones. Six teams will be televised on either ABC, ESPN, Fox or Fox Sports 1.

It's a big weekend, folks. It's "measuring stick"weekend.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesJim Mora Jr. leads the Bruins into Lincoln, Neb., in a big game for the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.
Sure, Stanford (Army), Washington State (Southern Utah) and Arizona (UTSA) aren't playing marquee matchups. But nine other Pac-12 teams can make a resonating, national statements about the trajectory of their seasons if they win on Saturday.

The underdogs are Colorado, California, which plays host to No. 4 Ohio State, and UCLA, which visits No. 23 Nebraska.

Colorado is looking to redeem itself for a white-flag performance at Fresno in 2012, a humiliating 69-14 defeat that wasn't even as close as the final score indicates, seeing that it was 35-0 after one quarter. If the Buffs pull the upset, it would establish the Pac-12 as a patsy-less conference with no easy outs.

Cal nearly won at Ohio State a year ago, more than physically matching the Buckeyes, who would go undefeated. That game, in fact, is probably why there's a lot of skepticism -- cough, cough -- about how good the Buckeyes actually are. The good news is Cal is at home. The bad news is the Bears nearly lost there a week ago to Portland State, an FCS team.

Perhaps the most meaningful game for the conference is the Bruins-Cornhuskers matchup, mostly because both teams are ranked. Last year, UCLA prevailed as an underdog, 36-30, in Week 2, and that victory immediately gave the Bruins and new coach Jim Mora national legitimacy and presaged a turnaround season in Westwood. The Bruins also are dealing with the shocking death of receiver Nick Pasquale, who was hit by a car over the weekend.

A victory by the 16th-ranked Bruins could push them close to the nation's top 10 and set them up for a 5-0 start before getting the most arduous road double in the country this fall: at Stanford, at Oregon on back-to-back weekends starting Oct. 19.

UCLA's South Division rival, unranked Arizona State, is favored by 5 points over No. 20 Wisconsin, which is interesting. While many still seem to question second-year coach Todd Graham's crew, Vegas apparently does not. But lines only mean so much. The one thing missing from the Sun Devils strong 2012 campaign was a victory over an A-list foe. The burly Badgers are an A-list foe.

Speaking of favorites, Oregon is giving 27 points to an SEC team, Tennessee. That's a pretty substantial sign of respect. But, of course, it also establishes an expectation. If the Ducks win, say, 28-17, there will be more than a few smirks in SEC country and among some media folks who fawn on the conference. Style, which Oregon typically has in abundance, matters in this one.

Washington has struggled on the road of late, going 3-10 away from Seattle the past two seasons. Further, Illinois (2-0) might be better than expected; so it's not about style points for the Huskies. It's just about winning and maintaining the positive momentum the program ignited with the opening win over Boise State. Of course, an impressive victory could push the Huskies into the nation's top 15.

USC could use some style -- any at all on offense. The visit from Boston College looked like a walk-over for the Trojans in the preseason, but now it feels like a must-win for coach Lane Kiffin. It's difficult to imagine USC's season turning around after a 1-2 start, which could doom Kiffin.

Then there's Oregon State's visit to Utah. In the preseason, the Beavers looked like a decided favorite for this one, but then they lost their opener to Eastern Washington. Meanwhile, the Utes have surged, getting surprisingly good play from true sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson. An Oregon State win likely would restore confidence and make the Eastern Washington loss look more flukish. A Utah victory would make the Utes look like a bowl team and inspire an edit of preseason expectations.

Finally, there's the three teams playing lesser foes. We have three words for each of you: Don't blow it.

If the Pac-12 wins eight of these 10 nonconference games, it would substantially boost the major preseason storyline for the conference: The Pac-12 is as deep in quality as it has been in years and is in the running for the mythical title of nation's best conference.

But if it wins just five or six games, the measuring stick would be broken in half. The perception of the conference would sink, and there would be little chance to salvage it. At least until the bowl season.

Quick look at Week 3 Pac-12 games

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
8:00
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Here's a quick look at Week 3 in the conference. All games are on Saturday and times are ET.

No. 16 UCLA (1-0) at No. 23 Nebraska (2-0), noon, ABC: Series tied at 6-6. UCLA won 36-30 last year in the Rose Bowl. With 4,014 career passing yards, sophomore QB Brett Hundley needs 74 yards to move into UCLA’s top-10 list, passing former Bruin and 1967 Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban (4,087 yards). In the season-opener, Hundley connected with 10 different receivers. In last year’s win over Nebraska, the Bruins had 653 yards in total offense (344 rush/309 pass).

No. 5 Stanford (1-0) at Army (1-1), noon, CBS Sports Network: Series is tied 5-5. Army won the last meeting 17-13 in 1979. Stanford senior FS Ed Reynolds had a game-high 12 tackles (9 solo) to go with an interception in Stanford’s 34-13 victory over San Jose State. His interception extended Stanford’s streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 25, the longest streak in the nation. Stanford’s current streak of being in the top five of the AP poll for three consecutive ranking periods is one week shy of the school’s best of four weeks achieved during the 1940 season.

Fresno State (2-0) at Colorado (2-0), 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Colorado leads the series 4-2, but Fresno State stomped the Buffaloes, 69-14, last year. In that game, Colorado was outgained 665 yards to 278. The Bulldogs rolled up 288 yards rushing. It was 35-0 after the first quarter, and it was 55-7 at the half. So, yeah, the Buffs should be motivated. Junior WR Paul Richardson grabbed 10 receptions for 208 yards in the season opener, then tallied 11 receptions for 209 yards in the win over Central Arkansas. It’s the first time in Pac-12 history that a receiver has posted back-to-back games of 200 or more yards receiving. The Buffs are looking to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008.

Boston College (2-0) at USC (1-1), 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network: USC leads the series 3-0. The Trojans last beat BC 24-13 in the 2009 Emerald Bowl. The Washington State pass defense held USC to 54 yards on 11 completions (4.9 ypc), while limiting All-American Marqise Lee to 27 yards on seven catches. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin named Cody Kessler the starting QB on Monday. The Trojan defense is playing well. It held Washington State to 7 yards rushing and now leads the nation in rushing defense (allowing 15.0 ypg) as well as sacks with 11 (5.5 per game)

Tennessee (2-0) at No. 2 Oregon (2-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN: Oregon leads the series 1-0. It won 48-13 at Tennessee in 2010. In that game, the Ducks trailed 13-3 before scoring the final 45 points. Through two games, the Ducks have posted five 100-yard rushing performances -- two by De'Anthony Thomas, two by Marcus Mariota and one by Byron Marshall. Mariota is the first Oregon QB to rush for 100 or more yards in back-to-back games. Eight of Oregon’s nine scoring drives last week against Virginia were accomplished in under two minutes. That’s 17 of 19 scoring drives this season in less than two minutes (the other two drives were 2:11 and 3:08).

No. 19 Washington (1-0) at Illinois (2-0), 6 p.m., Big Ten Network: Washington leads the series 5-4. The Huskies won the last meeting 52-14 in Champaign. Illinois beat Washington in the 1964 Rose Bowl. The Huskies have now appeared in back-to-back AP polls for the first time since the 2003 season. Senior QB Keith Price has 56 TD passes in his career, most in school history, and ranks 25th all-time in the Pac-12. Junior RB Bishop Sankey has rushed for 100 or more yards in five of the last six games. He’s gained 368 yards over his last two games.

Southern Utah (2-0) at Washington State (1-1), 6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting between the two programs. With its 10-7 win over Southern Cal, Washington State snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans. It was the Cougars' first win in The Coliseum since 2000. WSU leads the Pac-12, and is sixth in the FBS, allowing just 72.8 passing yards per game.

No. 4 Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1), 7 p.m., Fox: Ohio State leads the series 6-1, including a 35-28 win last year in Columbus. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff has thrown for 930 yards in two games. His two-game total is just eight yards shy of the Pac-12 record two-game total of 938 yards set by former Cal Bear Pat Barnes in 1996. Barnes posted 435 yards vs. UCLA, then followed with a school-record 503 yards vs. Arizona. The last time Cal hosted a nonconference foe ranked among the top five was No. 4 Nebraska in 1998 (lost, 24-3).

Oregon State (1-1, 0-0) at Utah (2-0, 0-0), 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Oregon State leads the series 9-6-1, including a 21-7 win in Corvallis last year. Oregon State's junior QB Sean Mannion threw for 372 yards and four TDs in the win over Hawaii. It was fifth time he’s thrown for 350 or more yards in a game, while it was the sixth time he’s tossed three or more TD passes in a game. The Utes set a school mark for points in a quarter with 35 in the second of the 70-7 win over Weber State. This is the second time in school history Utah has amassed 100 points in the first two games (1973; 29-22 loss at Texas Tech, 82-6 win vs. UTEP). Sophomore QB Travis Wilson has connected on 31-of-47 for 566 yards and 5 TDs this season. His 202.2 passing efficiency rating ranks eighth in the FBS and second in the Pac-12.

UTSA (1-1) at Arizona (2-0), 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting. After serving a one-game suspension and missing the first quarter, junior RB Ka'Deem Carey rushed 171 rushing yards on 16 carries (10.7 ypc) and 2 TDs, including a 56-yard TD run on his first carry of the season. Carey has 31 rushing TDs, second on the school’s career list. (UA record is 44 by Art Lupino, 1953-56). Junior S Tra'Mayne Bondurant added his FBS-leading third interception of the season with a pick he returned 52 yards for a TD, his second return this season for a score.

No. 20 Wisconsin (2-0) at Arizona State (1-0), 10:30 p.m., ESPN: Arizona State leads 2-1, but the Badgers won a 20-19 thriller in 2010. Arizona State is 8-0 vs. the Big Ten at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils committed just one penalty for 5 yards in their season-opening win over Sacramento State. ASU led the Pac-12 last season with just 55 penalties (4.2 per game) for 454 yards (34.9 ypg). Junior QB Taylor Kelly completed 23 of 31 passes for 300 yards and a career high-tying five TDs in the blowout win over Sacramento State. He has a streak of 102 straight pass attempts without an interception dating back to last year, which currently stands fourth nationally. His touchdown passes of 16, 41, 24, 33 and 26 yards, all went to five different receivers. Dating back to the final three games of the 2013 season, Kelly has gone 76-of-102 (.745) with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions on 1,005 yards.

Nonconference primer: USC

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
7:00
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We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

USC

at Hawaii, Aug. 29
  • Coach: Norm Chow (3-9), second year
  • 2012 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
  • Offensive headliner: We met the offensive line in the Oregon State nonconference primer. Wide receiver Scott Harding is back after catching 20 balls and a pair of touchdowns last year with a 12.8 yards-per-reception average.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Art Laurel posted 51 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss and four sacks last season while also forcing a fumble.
  • The skinny: This is actually the first time we'll see Hawaii this season, though they make back-to-back appearances against the Pac-12 and will travel to the mainland a week later to face Oregon State. Last year's game was a blowout in LA, with the Trojans winning 49-10. The first play of the game was a 75-yard touchdown from Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee. Many thought it was a harbinger. Many were wrong. Will be interesting to see how Taylor Graham, a QB transfer from Ohio State, factors in.
Boston College, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Steve Addazio, first year
  • 2012 record: 2-10, 1-7 ACC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Chase Rettig returns at quarterback after completing 54.2 percent of his throws with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2012.
  • Defensive headliner: One of the coolest names for a linebacker in all of college football -- Steele Divitto -- is back after posting 92 tackles last year while forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering four of them.
  • The skinny: The Eagles return a lot of players -- particularly on defense -- but it was a defense that gave up a lot of yards and never got much pressure -- ranking 120th last year in sacks and tackles for a loss. It's been a couple of down years, but they are only a few seasons removed from being an 11-win team. They should improve on the two wins from last year, but it's still better to get them early in the season.
Utah State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Matt Wells, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 6-0 WAC
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Chuckie Keeton, a first-team all-league performer, returns after completing 67.6 percent of his throws for 3,373 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jake Doughty led the team with 109 tackles and also notched 3.5 tackles for a loss and a sack while earning first-team all-league honors.
  • The skinny: Keeton is back, but he also has all five starters on the line protecting him -- a group that helped departed running back Kerwynn Williams rush for 1,512 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells was promoted as head coach after Gary Andersen took the Wisconsin job, so continuity is in place. This is a squad that topped Sonny Dykes' Louisiana Tech team and Mike MacIntyre's San Jose State team last year. Their only losses were to BYU and Wisconsin by a combined five points.
at Notre Dame, Oct. 19
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1, Independent
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver T.J. Jones matched the team high last season with 50 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Behind that stout defensive front, linebacker Dan Fox is back after posting 63 tackles last season, including two for a loss.
  • The skinny: So ... last year's game was ugly. The Trojans ended 2012 by losing five of their last six -- including three straight. This one was sandwiched in between losses to UCLA and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl and the Irish were able to punch their ticket to the BCS championship game at the Trojans expense. This is the second of three Pac-12/Notre Dame showdowns.
Thoughts: The Trojans are one of the few teams in the league that don't have an FCS team on their nonconference schedule. That being said, Hawaii and Boston College shouldn't be considered much of a threat. Because the Trojans play at Hawaii, they get to add an additional game -- and that's Utah State -- a team that's risen the ranks of the non-BCS hierarchy the last few seasons. How they do under a new coach (even though he was promoted from within) will be interesting to see. The fact that the Trojans will have already played three games prior to their meeting with the Aggies is in USC's favor, especially as Lane Kiffin and Co. continue to break in a new quarterback. Notre Dame is obviously a historical rivalry, and last year the Irish provided a twisty dagger in the vein of shortcomings that was USC in 2012. Retribution should be on USC's mind. Two games are very winnable, one game smells like a trap and the other is a rivalry game. Fans and players should expect nothing less than 4-0, though 3-1 wouldn't be outrageous considering they are playing in South Bend.

Video: Top 5 bounce-back teams

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
5:11
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Mark May discusses the five teams he thinks will have a bounce-back season in 2013.
We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Remember all that sanction talk back in June? Sooooo two-and-a-half months ago. Welcome to Week 3.

Saturday, Sept. 14
  • Stanford at Army
  • Fresno State at Colorado
  • Tennessee at Oregon
  • Ohio State at California
  • Wisconsin at Arizona State
  • Oregon State at Utah
  • UTSA at Arizona
  • Boston College at USC
  • Southern Utah at Washington State
  • UCLA at Nebraska
  • Washington vs. Illinois (at Soldier Field)
My choice: UCLA at Nebraska

Why: This is a week where allegiances are truly divided -- because Week 3 provides a really good slate of games. There will be griping. Feelings will be hurt. Such is the cruel mistress that is the Pac-12 Blog Ultimate Road Trip.

We have a league game with Oregon State traveling to Rice-Eccles. We've got potentially the No. 1 team in the country in Ohio State coming into Berkeley. We've got an SEC team coming to Autzen and three other Pac-12/Big Ten games. Plus -- and Stanford should have smooth sailing at Army -- I always enjoy watching the service academies play. If you've never been to a game at West Point and stood in silence when they play the alma mater, it should be on your bucket list. But not this year. Not this week. Too many other good games.

This week we go beyond the borders of the Pac-12 states. In a rematch of one of the more exciting games of last season, the Bruins return the trip to Nebraska after topping the then-No. 16 Huskers 36-30 last year in Week 2 at the Rose Bowl.

More than Brett Hundley's coming-out party against tougher competition (and his home debut, where he threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns), it was UCLA sending a message that things were going to change in the Jim Mora era. The Bruins made big plays on offense when they had to and made the stops -- especially in the second half -- when needed. Datone Jones was beastly.

After a 24-24 tie at intermission, the Bruins held Taylor Martinez to 11 rushing yards following a first half in which he ran for 101. UCLA limited Nebraska to 76 rushing yards in the second half after allowing 184 in the first.

This year's matchup could prove to be equally exciting. It features a much more seasoned Hundley clashing with Martinez -- so quarterback productivity will certainly be an interesting sidebar in this rematch. Both teams return experienced lines and key players on defense.

Assuming the Bruins show up and aren't overwhelmed by the environment, this should be the week's most exciting game.

However, if you want to make a case for Arizona State-Wisconsin (a game I think ASU wins -- especially at home), it would be tough to argue. If you want to make a case for road-tripping to Chicago -- a heck of a city -- I wouldn't complain. If you want to argue for watching Oregon blow up a bottom-tier SEC team and all the schadenfreude that comes with that ... by all means. Those who want to see Cal-Ohio State (though the Bears will probably be fairly heavy home dogs), I could see that. Even Oregon State-Utah, a league game that was probably closer than last year's 21-7 would indicate, is of interest.

This week, you can follow our road trip, or simply follow your gut, because there aren't many bad choices.
With the transfer of the nation's second leading tackler, Arizona's glaring need at linebacker just got a boost.

Akron linebacker Brian Wagner will enroll at Arizona this week and will be immediately eligible due to an NCAA rule that allows athletes pursuing graduate degrees not offered at the former school to play right away.

Wagner, 22, averaged 13.36 tackles per game in 2011, and considering top tackler Luke Kuechly of Boston College is off to the NFL, Wagner will be the top returning tackler in FBS football.

Wagner, who earned first-team All-MAC honors, is taking advantage of the same transfer rule that was used by Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.

Why is this a big get for Arizona? Because its top two tacklers, Derek Earls and Paul Vassallo, are graduating, and the Wildcats' top two returning linebackers -- sophomores Hank Hobson and Rob Hankins -- combined for four starts and 18 tackles last season, in large part due to the Wildcats using a base nickel formation much of the season. But when you toss in 2010 starter Jake Fischer, who is coming back from an ACL injury, you have four experienced guys for three spots.

And, yes, you can essentially pencil Wagner, 6-foot, 235 pounds, into the starting lineup.

From the Tucson Citizen:

He played middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme at Akron. Exactly where he fits into Arizona’s scheme is to be determined, Wagner said, with the Cats presumably running a 3-3-5, no matter who coach Rich Rodriguez eventually brings in as defensive coordinator.


As for that defensive coordinator, nothing yet -- I found this to be an interesting narrative on back-and-forth with West Virginia DC Jeff Casteel. Speculation that Penn State also might be a player with Casteel raised one of my eyebrows, though Casteel's 3-3-5 doesn't sound like a Penn State defense.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl will ring in 2012

June, 1, 2011
6/01/11
1:00
PM ET
The inaugural Kraft Fighting Hunger Bowl brought up the rear of the 2011 bowl season, but in its second iteration will ring in a New Year.

The bowl formerly know as the Emerald Bowl will be played on Dec. 31 at AT& T Park, with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. ET. on ESPN.

The bowl game is contracted to feature the Pac-12's No. 6 team and Army, if it wins six games and becomes bowl eligible. Last season, no Pac-10 team qualified and the game featured Nevada beating Boston College 20-13 on Jan. 9, which made it the final bowl game before the BCS Championship Game.

Here's the Pac-12 bowl lineup for 2011-12 (the conference will add the New Mexico Bowl -- No. 7 selection -- in 2012).

No. 1 : Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, Jan. 2 (Jan. 1, the bowl's traditional date, falls on a Sunday, when no bowl game will be played this year) OR Allstate BCS National Championship, Jan. 9

No. 2: Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Big 12 No. 3, Dec. 29.

No. 3: Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl vs. Big 12 No. 5, Dec. 28.

No. 4: Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. ACC No. 4, Dec. 31.

No. 5: MAACO Las Vegas vs. Mountain West No. 1, Dec. 22

No. 6: Kraft Fight Hunger vs. Army (if eligible), Dec. 31.

Did your team mute explosive offenses?

February, 23, 2011
2/23/11
4:01
PM ET
Coaches love talking about explosion plays. You want to get a lot of them and give up very few.

On Tuesday, we looked at offensive explosion plays -- plays of 20 or more yards -- which you can see here. Tomorrow, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. On Friday, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of passing numbers.

So here's how the Pac-12 stacked up in 2010 (again, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information). The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in 2010.

7. California... 34
13. Arizona State... 38
21. Arizona... 41
28. Stanford... 43
49. Oregon... 49
52. Colorado... 50
60. Utah... 52
63. Oregon State... 53
63. Washington... 53
84. UCLA... 59
95. Washington State...62
99. USC... 63

It's interesting that the defensive numbers are better than the offensive: average rank of 53 on defense versus 65 on offense. Isn't the Pac-12 supposed to be flashy on O and soft on D? The SEC's average rank on defense was 54, even with two top-10 teams (No. 2 Florida & No. 9 LSU).

Of course, Utah and Colorado weren't in the Pac-10 last year (average rank of Pac-10 was 52).

Wow. USC. That's terrible.

Some other thoughts.
  • In 2009, Oregon was No. 1 in the Pac-10 and tied for 18th in the nation with 41 explosion plays yielded. Oregon State was second with 43 (25th in nation).
  • Don't be too surprised by Oregon's middling number in 2010: The Ducks play an aggressive, attacking scheme that sometimes leaves them vulnerable. And they also see a lot of plays, which means more opportunities for an offense to break one.
  • USC tanked in 2010. It ranked second in the nation in 2008 with 22 and 28th in the nation in 2009 with 43. So in the first season under touted coordinator Monte Kiffin, the Trojans nearly tripled the number of explosion plays they surrendered in 2008.
  • Washington State ranked 95th in 2010 (62), 113th in 2009 (69) and 116th (75) in 2008. So that's improvement. Slow improvement.
  • Remember how it seemed like former Cal defensive coordinator Bob Gregory's defense was conservative, which would suggest not yielding a lot of explosion plays? Well, in 2009 the Bears ranked 89th (58), so that's significant improvement in year one under Clancy Pendergast. Of course, in 2008, the Bears ranked 14th (38).
  • Teams that ranked in the top-10 the past three years: Florida, TCU and Iowa. Ohio State and Penn State were also notably consistent.

But do limiting explosion plays on defense equate to winning? Short answer: Mostly, but not as much as the offensive numbers, at least this past season. Here's the top-10 in 2010 with the team's record in parenthesis to the right.

1. Pittsburgh... 30 (8-5)
2. Florida... 32 (8-5)
2. TCU... 32 (13-0)
4. West Virginia... 33 (9-4)
4. Iowa... 33 (8-5)
4. Temple... 33 (8-4)
7. Kent State... 34 (5-7)
7. California... 34 (5-7)
9. LSU... 36 (11-2)
10. Boston College.. 37 (7-6)
10. Ohio State... 37 (12-1)

Two teams have losing records, but three won 11 or more games. Still, it's a bit surprising that eight of 11 lost four or more games.

As for a correlation to defensive success: Every team here ranked in the top-42 in the nation in scoring defense and eight were ranked in the top-20. TCU, West Virginia, Ohio State, Iowa and LSU ranked in the top-11 in scoring defense.

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