Pac-12: California Bears

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

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

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

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

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

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

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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

Bravo, Oregon fans. Bravo.



The Trojans will rock these shiny new lids on Saturday.

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

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

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

Cardinal seeing red

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 8

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

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

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

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

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Arizona
Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah
National University Holiday Bowl: Arizona State
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: UCLA
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford
Cactus Bowl: Washington
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Cal
* at large
Some things we learned in Week 8 of the Pac-12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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

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#DAMCANCER

View on Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We had no idea...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, the sensational has far outweighed the shortcomings.

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

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

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

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

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

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

Who's the Q for the U?

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

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

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

ASU created a stick-figure video to remind over-zealous boosters not to be over zealous.

Mailbag: Bowls, Beavers and Bears

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
9:00
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, where home-field advantage actually means something. Feel free to follow me on Twitter.

Peter in Denver writes: The OSU vs. Utah game seems very pivotal. They are both 4-1 and the loser of this game may miss a bowl game (Utah's schedule is brutal). While the winner could be a dark horse to win their respective division (either would control its own destiny with a win). What do the Beavers need to do to win this game?

Kevin Gemmell: Oregon State is already in the hole since it's playing at home. Nothing the Beavers can do about that, though.

This is a huge swing game we were targeting several weeks ago that could make or break the postseason hopes of either team. Let’s start with the Utes. After this week they’ve got USC, at Arizona State, Oregon, at Stanford, Arizona and at Colorado. If you would have asked me in the preseason if the Utes would go into the Rose Bowl and win, I’d probably say no. Then again, I didn’t think they’d lose at home to WSU, either. If Utah beats Oregon State, it’s hard not to imagine them finding at least one more win from that bunch.

As for the Beavers, I wouldn’t say it’s that much easier. At Stanford before three straight home games against Cal, WSU and ASU before closing on the road at Washington and then home for the Civil War.

So what does OSU have to do to win? First, start by containing Nate Orchard. If they can do that, it will lead to step No. 2, run the football successfully. When they do that, they can set up the pass. The hope is that Victor Bolden is closer to 100 percent. The off week helped in that regard. I’d also avoid kicking to Kaelin Clay. But that’s just me.


Derek in Portland writes: Can you guys take a look at these 2 plays of OSU and USC and review them impartially? You guys seem to like Coach Sark, but he looks like a Snake Oil Salesman to everyone who's not a fan of whatever team he's coaching. Obviously he doesn't coach the offensive line, but in the end he's responsible for the actions of his team. OSU is now without 2 DT's which is a difficult position for us small guys to recruit. It also took away the season (and maybe the career) of a kid trying to better his life from a small island in the middle of the pacific. Jalen Grimble Injury; Noke Tago Injury.

Kevin Gemmell: Neither of those are fun to watch because you know what the end result is going to be. But at the same time, I’ve seen plays like that dozens of times each week -- from pretty much every school in the conference, and guys bounce right back up.

Mark Banker questioned the technique of the blocks. And I would tend to agree with him -- especially on the Max Tuerk block where he goes helmet first into Tago’s knee, who appears to be planting his right foot exactly at the point of impact. With the guard pulling behind him and the play flowing in the opposite direction, you can argue whether a chop block was really necessary.

The question on situations like this is always intent. And I’d like to believe that Tuerk, who I’ve talked to many times, wouldn’t intentionally go after a player. The Grimble injury appears to be a normal football play. One guy gets pushed into the other in the trenches. Those are big bodies flying around and collisions like that happen all the time.

The result is unfortunate. But from my understanding of the rules, neither was illegal.

I’m not going to defend the Trojans, nor am I going to make any accusations that their offensive line was hunting. Injuries are an unfortunate part of a violent game. And maybe the legality of one-on-one chop blocks is something that could/should be reviewed in the offseason.


Raj in Bear Territory writes: After the video game numbers, Cal's offense came crashing down to Earth, struggling with UW's athletic front. It could be argued, however, that Cal plays very emotionally and never really mentally recovered from the first Goff fumble. Coming into the meat of their schedule, do you see Cal's offense struggling as much as they did against Washington or will they get back on track?

Kevin Gemmell: I don’t think there is any argument at all. The Bears’ confidence was 100 percent shaken by the Shaq Thompson fumble return. Psychologically, that is a massive swing. Instead of a 7-0 lead early in the game to cap a great nine-play, 79 yard drive, you’re looking at 7-0 hole. From there it was five punts, two more turnovers and two stops on fourth down.

Now let’s give credit where credit is due. Washington has one of the best front sevens in the country and they did what they do best, rattling an offensive line that has a couple of sophomores on it and a sophomore quarterback. Outside of Stanford, the Bears probably won’t see a collection of seven defenders up front as good as the one they saw last week.

I think the offense gets back on track. But there’s a stipulation to that. I don’t think “on track” refers to the obscene numbers they were putting up in the first half of the season. For starters, UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and USC will also present their own set of defensive challenges.

I’m not so much worried about the offense as I am the defense, which is allowing almost 39 points per game. I get that if you score 40 and the other team scores 39, you still win. But there are going to be games where the offense struggles -- like last week -- and the defense will need to pick up the slack a little. That’s all part of the growing process toward becoming a complete team.
The home field used to be a sanctuary -- a safe haven for teams looking to gain an edge on their opponents with the support of a noisy and raucous student body.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wish I knew.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

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

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

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

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

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

3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin — 4

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

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

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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

 

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

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

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

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

Midterms

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

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

Taking a break from Oregon State prep.

We live in a world that values entertainment over excellence, so why should the Pac-12 cater to a minority who like their football magisterial and coldly dominant? We call those folks snobs. Antiquated snobs at that. The Pac-12 is of the people, where each team is as likely to go rear-end-over-tea-kettle as it is to win with dramatic and inspired verve.

Heck, the rest of college football is providing a less vivacious version of the Pac-12's entertainment over excellence, in any event. Alabama and all those five-star recruits? It lost to Ole Miss and barely survived against Arkansas. Florida State? Last year, it was Muhammad Ali -- brash, svelte and lethal. This year it's Buster Douglas, distracted and indolent and ripe for the picking, if still holding the championship belt.

There are just six unbeaten teams left -- two reside in the state of Mississippi -- and one unbeaten team will go down Saturday when Notre Dame visits Florida State, with the winner still not likely to be called "perfect" in anything but record. Last year at this point in the season, there were 14 teams without a loss. In 2012, there were 12.

And none of those six play in the Pac-12 after Arizona pulled defeat from the jaws of victory against USC, despite those jaws of victory upchucking opportunity after opportunity on the no-longer-10th-ranked Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota and Royce Freeman
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillIt was way too early to write off Oregon, as UCLA found out Saturday.
Oregon? Remember how the Ducks were summarily dismissed last week after their home loss to the Wildcats? No? Well, it happened. Google it. Those weakling Ducks, however, welcomed back tackle Jake Fisher to their offensive line against UCLA, and the unit transformed from the "Little Rascals" to the "Super Friends." It was as though Fisher walked into the huddle and, just like Adrian provided a perfect inspirational plot segue from her hospital bed after giving birth in "Rocky II," told the other O-lineman, "There's one thing I want you to do for me... block," and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, playing the role of Mickey, erupted with,"What are we waiting for!" as the adrenaline-churning workout montage music started to play.

The "Rocky" reference is admittedly tortured, but Fisher did get socked by Bruins defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes, who was unhappy Fisher had road-graded him. So, yeah, boxing.

And so the Ducks are back in the top 10, well within striking distance of the College Football Playoff. Just like everyone was saying.

Fisher's next project? Perhaps Middle East peace? Or maybe he needs to get in between Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, whose sideline spat made Twitter go all aflutter.

The Bruins are the latest team to be written off, cast off from the national rankings and dismissed as this season's cautionary tale, filed under "overrated." They have issues everywhere: Fighting coaches, struggling offensive line, underachieving defense and an inconsistent star quarterback in Brett Hundley. And, yet, we'd still probably rank the Bruins as the favorites to win the Pac-12's South Division. As good a choice as any, really. For what that's worth.

UCLA, after all, did beat Arizona State on the road. And Arizona State beat USC on the road. And USC beat Arizona on the road. Ah, but Utah beat UCLA on the road, and Washington State, owner of the conference's worst record, beat Utah on the road. Oh, whatever.

Maybe all this parity -- parody? -- is the fans' fault. Nobody can win at home. Home teams are 4-14 in Pac-12 play. Last year, they were 31-21. In 2012, the record was 29-25. Whatever happened to home cooking?

We've only hit the midseason mark and the "what-ifs" are piling up all over the Pac-12. What if Stanford were just semi-competent in the red zone? What if UCLA and/or Arizona could make a game-winning field goal? What if successful Hail Mary passes were as rare as an Asian crested ibis or a Madagascar pochard? What if Washington State could magically eliminate four plays this season? What if Utah didn't -- apologies, Cougars -- "Coug it" in the fourth against Washington State?

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is running into this column screaming, "Hey, the Buffs are outraged, too!" And, to throw out a forward-looking "what if," what if Washington wins at Oregon next weekend, ending a 10-game losing streak?

At this point in Pac-12 play, the sports cliche "on any give day..." has become a statement of fact. No team is invincible and no team is milquetoast. This midseason realization suggests that the team that crawls out of the dust on Dec. 5 after the Pac-12 championship game is more likely to have three losses than one, more likely to be a national afterthought rather than a favorite for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

And yet it's ridiculous to believe we suddenly see things clearly, at home in the Pac-12 or abroad in the MIGHTY SEC WEST (all-caps required, per edict from SEC Dark Lord Mike Slive). Oregon might get healthy and become the contender many foresaw in the preseason. What if Stanford's offense gets out of its own way and pairs with its elite defense? And what if UCLA distills its seeming chaos into an elixir that provokes it to play to its on-paper potential?

Chances are it will be messy, though. There will be fits and starts of great football, but it won't be sustained.

What seems certain is it will be entertaining, if often painful for the emotionally invested. Pac-12 football in 2014 is likely to end up becoming something like that 1980s movie that critics hated but you feel compelled to watch until its conclusion every time you cross it while doing a late-night channel surf.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
8:00
AM ET
What is this? You're wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see. Don't be that guy.

Leading off

The shakeup in the rankings continues and once again the Pac-12 has a team ranked in single digits after a one-week hiatus.

On the strength of their convincing road win at UCLA, the Ducks are back in the top 10 in both polls, while the Bruins stumbled out of the rankings for the first time since 2012. USC is back in as the L.A. schools continue to ping pong in the rankings.

Kyle Bonagura broke it down here, as he does every Sunday. Here are the Pac-12 teams in the rankings. As always, the AP rank is first, followed by the coaches poll.
  • Oregon 9-9
  • Arizona 16-17
  • Arizona State 17-18
  • Utah 20-23
  • USC 22-25
  • Stanford 23-20

UCLA and Washington are receiving votes in both polls, and the Bruins are the unofficial No. 26 for both. You can see the complete rankings here.

Here's how some folks who cover the conference voted:
And speaking of rankings, the College Football Playoff will reveal the first round of rankings later this month. Here's a quick tuneup on everything you need to know about this brave new world.

Oregon-UCLA reactions

It was billed as one of the biggest games in the Pac-12 this year, but it ended with a thud. Here's what some folks are saying about the battle of ranked teams.

The Ducks understand what a second loss could mean, writes Tyson Alger of the Oregonian.

Also from Alger, does Thomas Tyner's performance point to a more productive Oregon run game?

The Bruins find themselves at a crossroads, writes Jack Wang of the LA Daily News. Here's what Myles Jack had to say about it:
We have to change something that -- maybe the coaches will figure out, or something we’ll figure out. Something’s gotta change.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports still has the Ducks as one of his four playoff teams. His thoughts on the Ducks:
The Ducks are the first team with a loss to crack the top four, thanks to owning a pair of double-digit wins that stack up well against the competition: by 19 over Michigan State and by 12 on the road over the Bruins. If undefeated Baylor had played Oregon’s schedule so far, their record would be no better and perhaps worse.

Some thoughts from Larry Scott on the league's parity. And he said the conference will review the Eddie Vanderdoes punch.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Kyle goes all Cliff Clavin on us.

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