Pac-12: Collin Klein

Who is this year’s Johnny Manziel in the Pac-12? In other words, which player could come out of nowhere and win the Heisman from the conference? Well, if we knew, he wouldn't be coming out of nowhere in the preseason, now, would he?

Perhaps it is better that the Pac-12’s elite players are coasting below Mr. Heisman's persnickety radar. After all, front-runner status hasn't been kind to the Pac-12 the past couple of years. Two seasons ago it was Andrew Luck -- a shoo-in from the day he announced his return to take home the Heisman. Last year, it was Matt Barkley who had the unpropitious front-runner title pegged on him.

Luck carried the title much longer in his final season. Barkley, however, quickly gave way to Geno Smith, who in turn gave way to Collin Klein, who in turn fell to Johnny Football.

[+] EnlargeMarion Grice
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsArizona State's Marion Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns last season.
So how about the Pac-12?

Marcusy Football?

Marqy Football?

DATy Football?

Ka’Deemy Football?

Bretty Football?

Not exactly phonetically pleasing.

Within the Pac-12, there aren't many dark-horse candidates. There are some front-runners who immediately come to mind: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and De’Anthony Thomas, USC’s Marqise Lee, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. But none of them are considered national front-runners with Manziel (maybe?) back to defend his title, Braxton Miller coming off a perfect season, AJ McCarron and his ridiculous 30-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year and Teddy Bridgewater soaking up his share of hype.

You can make a case for all five in the preseason. Mariota and Thomas will be playing for a top-five team, which always helps garner the necessary attention from the national media, and they should continue to put up video game numbers. Hundley is one of the most exciting players in the league, and with a year of maturity, many are anxious to see just how far he can lead the Bruins. Lee was last year’s Biletnikoff winner and is arguably the top skill player in the country. Carey was last year’s national leader in rushing. Solid credentials for all.

But this is about the sleepers. The guys who are so under the radar they're practically stealth. So who are they?

You have to start with ASU’s Marion Grice, who is going to continue putting up fantastic dual-threat numbers as a runner and receiver. He’s packed on more weight and ASU offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said they've expanded the playbook now that he and quarterback Taylor Kelly are a year into the system. (Probably not a bad idea to keep an eye on Kelly, either).

Stanford’s Kevin Hogan could also be a sleeper. Like the Oregon duo, he’ll be on a high-profile team that is going to get plenty of national exposure with showdowns against Oregon, UCLA, USC and Notre Dame on the 2013 docket. He’s not as flashy as the other players and his numbers might not be as lofty, but he’s asked to do a lot more behind the scenes than a lot of other quarterbacks. That was Luck’s brilliance, as well as his Heisman curse.

The appearance of Manti Te’o in New York last year proved defensive players aren't immune to getting some attention in the spread era. So UCLA’s Anthony Barr and ASU’s Will Sutton certainly deserve to be in the conversation if we’re talking defensive players. Both should be atop the national defensive rankings in sacks and tackles for a loss. But both will have to play well enough to surpass the well-deserved hype of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and overcome the public perception of the Pac-12 when it comes to defense. As I’ve written previously, the Heisman is all about subjectivity and perception. (Full disclosure, I have Clowney No. 1 on my preseason Heisman ballot).

Finally, a guy who I think is really a long shot -- but should be getting more love than he is -- is Oregon State running back Storm Woods. In the Beavers’ first six games against FBS opponents in 2013, they face only one defense that ranked in the top 20 last year in total rushing yards allowed (Utah), and only one other in the top 50 (San Diego State). The opportunity will be there early in the season for Woods to make a name for himself. He’s got four of five offensive linemen coming back (including an outstanding center), an offense that wants to be more balanced, and a quarterback-to-be-named who is a veteran and knows the offense. He’s also really, really good.

It’s probably best not to put all your hopes into one of these guys winning the Heisman. For now, it’s safer to track the conference front-runners. But don’t sleep on these guys, either.

The next Stormy Football is just waiting to breakout.

Pac-12 lunch links: Leach's scheme

February, 22, 2013
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Happy Friday.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Oregon Ducks donned new T-shirts after their 35-17 victory over Kansas State in the Totitos Fiesta Bowl. "Won the Day" those shirts said, obviously playing off the program's mantra under Chip Kelly: Win the day.

Oregon certainly did that against the Wildcats.

Both teams ran 70 plays. Oregon gained 385 yards. Kansas State 283. Kansas State led the nation in turnover margin this year, but it lost that battle to the Ducks 2-0. The Wildcats had the second-fewest penalty yards per game in the nation this season, but they had seven flags for 57 yards versus five for 33 for the Ducks. The Wildcats were widely viewed as the nation's best on special teams this season, but they yielded a 94-yard return on the opening kickoff to De'Anthony Thomas and missed a field goal while the Ducks were 2-for-2.

Senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein was outplayed by Ducks redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota.

So Oregon won the day -- night, actually -- but the use of the past tense hints at something else, of a mission accomplished and completed. That has an ominous suggestion for Oregon fans. That feeling, of course, arises from the fact that Kelly is about to interview with at least three NFL teams, according to various reports, and many believe this was his last game at Oregon.

He and Oregon won the day and now he will move on.

Kelly fought off questions about his NFL aspirations during the weeks leading up to the game, saying his entire focus was on the Fiesta Bowl. He opened up a bit after the victory, noting that he will talk to his agent David Dunn on Thursday night or Friday morning to get an update on where things stand.

"I was getting my hair cut on Wednesday and saw my name on the bottom of ESPN, which I thought was funny because I haven't talked to anyone," he said. "I'll sit down and talk with Dave. I've said I'll always listen. That's what I'll do. ... I'll listen and we'll see."

Kelly is expected to interview with the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills. It's possible we'll know Kelly's plans by the end of the weekend.

Ducks fans chanted "Four more years!" at the end of the game. Kelly's four years atop the program -- two Rose Bowls, a national title game and a Fiesta Bowl -- have been the most successful in program history by a wide margin. The Ducks are headed for their third consecutive top-five ranking and figure to be top-five in the 2013 preseason, whoever their coach is.

The postgame interviews focused less on the Ducks' dominant performance in all phases and more on Kelly and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, who is expected to replace Kelly should he leave.

Oregon players paid tribute to both.

"[Kelly] means everything," said running back Kenjon Barner, who gained 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. "Without him, I wouldn't be the running back that I am. Sitting with him in meeting rooms is a lot different than sitting in any other meeting room that I've ever been in because it's not just about football, it's about life. He teaches you life lessons as a man, so he means a lot to me."

But Barner also added that Helfrich is ready to take over.

"If that does happen, expect the same," he said. "Nothing will change."

Said offensive lineman Kyle Long: "Seamless transition. They're cut from the same tree. I'll tell Duck Nation right now, Coach Helfrich is a brilliant coach. Great relationships with his players and other staff members. We all love Helf."

Said Helfrich about potentially becoming the Ducks coach: "We'll cross that bridge. ... Whatever happens, happens."

Helfrich coaches the Ducks quarterbacks, and his star pupil had another great game. Mariota, who won game MVP honors, completed 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 62 yards and a score.

"He's a great young player," said Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, an All-America. "He has a bright future."

Both these teams suffered their only regular-season loss on Nov. 17. The Ducks lost in overtime to Stanford, which won the Rose Bowl. Alabama also has one loss, but it's playing unbeaten No. 1 Notre Dame for the national title. Kelly was asked where he thought his team ranked.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't have a vote. I don't want a vote. This is my favorite team, so I vote us No. 1."

As for whether he's about to leave his favorite team, Kelly left few clues. He called his oncoming interviews a "fact-finding mission."

"I want to get it wrapped up quickly and figure out where I'm going to be," he said.

He's not the only one.

A program and an enraptured fan base is holding its collective breath. They are hoping Kelly will be winning more days for years to come.

Halftime: Oregon 22, Kansas State 10

January, 3, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first half of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl featured plenty of momentum swings, but Oregon's proved the most potent, even though the Ducks' running game struggled.

The Ducks are up 22-10 at the half, despite only rushing for 52 yards.

Oregon couldn't have started faster, with De'Anthony Thomas going 94 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff, with a 2-point conversion making it 8-0. Thomas then scored on a brilliant 23-yard run after a screen pass, making it 15-0.

The Kansas State offense and quarterback Collin Klein then got on track, scoring the next 10 points.

But the final swing was huge: Kansas State missed a 40-yard field goal, and Oregon drove 77 yards in five plays, needing just 46 seconds to make it 22-10.

Kansas State gets the ball to start the third quarter.

The Wildcats outgained Oregon 170 to 158. They were 6-of-10 on third down, and had the ball for 21 minutes in the first half, compared to nine for the Ducks.

The big question in the second half is whether the Ducks can get the running game going or if they will need to pass. Kansas State has been a second-half team all season, so this one is hardly over.

Oregon keys for Fiesta Bowl

January, 3, 2013
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Here are three Oregon keys for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl:

1. Win the turnover battle: Kansas State is No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin. Oregon is No. 3. The Wildcats are ranked that highly because they've given away only 10. The Ducks are that high because they've taken away 38. In Kansas State's lone loss to Baylor, QB Collin Klein threw three interceptions. In fact, Klein threw five of his seven interceptions in the final three games. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota threw only one pick over the final six games, but that interception came in the loss to Stanford. As Oregon coach Chip Kelly would tell you, winning the turnover battle is not just about getting them. It's about what you do with them or what you do when you give them away. Defenses need to make a stand; offenses need to take advantage.

2. Special teams: Both teams are good on special teams, but Kansas State might be the best in the nation. The Wildcats are No. 1 in the nation in punt and kick returns and have a good field goal kicker. As many Ducks fans know, Oregon hasn't been very good at kicker the past two seasons. If the game comes down to field goals, the Ducks are probably going to lose. Further, special teams dictate field position. Beyond that, it seems as if big bowl games feature at least one or two big plays on special teams -- a big return, a blown kick, a blocked kick, etc. In a close game, special teams often make the difference.

3. Get Klein down on first contact: It's strange to say that a quarterback is a physical runner, but that is Klein's game. He runs hard, breaks tackles and is his most aggressive near the goal line, and he gets better as the game goes along, like a good running back. He averaged 13.2 designed running plays per game in Big 12 games, averaged 5 yards per carry and had at least one touchdown in all nine conference games, including five games with at least two touchdowns. Further, he is averaging 1.4 more yards per run on such plays in the second half compared to the first. The Ducks need to be sound tacklers. They need to hit Klein hard. And they need to gang-tackle.

Pregame: Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

January, 3, 2013
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Oregon (11-1, 8-1 Pac-12) vs. Kansas State (11-1, 8-1 Big 12)

Who to watch: The Fiesta Bowl features two of the nation's best quarterbacks, Kansas State's Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 as a redshirt freshman. They are the QBs for high-powered, though very different, offenses. Klein carries far more of the load for the Wildcats than Mariota does for the Ducks, but if one of them turns in an uncharacteristically mediocre or sloppy game, it probably will cost his team the win. And that's not too far out of the realm of possibility. While both teams protect the ball well, both also rank among the nation's leaders in forcing turnovers. It will be interesting to see what happens if things are still in doubt in the fourth quarter, as most expect. Mariota played only one close game this season, and the Ducks lost that one to Stanford.

What to watch: Tackling. Klein is the Wildcats' best runner, and he thrives at getting yards after contact, especially when he smells the end zone. He has 40 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons and is one of four Football Bowl Subdivision players with more than 200 rushing yards in the red zone this season. He gained 35.7 percent of his red zone yards after contact. Running back John Hubert isn't big but runs hard, so the Ducks need to make their first hit count. Oregon is all about speed. If Mariota, Kenjon Barner, Josh Huff or De'Anthony Thomas make the first defender miss, the odds are good they'll go yard, or at least gain a big chunk of yards. Tackling will be interesting to watch early and late. Early because both teams are dealing with a long layoff (just over a month), and late because that's when fatigue -- and pressure -- sets in.

Why watch: This is the only bowl game that matches top-five teams other than the national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame. It features well-coached teams with plenty of star power and sets up to be highly competitive. It's a nice Pac-12 versus Big 12 showdown, a conference pairing the Big 12 has dominated this bowl season. And it could be Chip Kelly's final game as the Ducks coach before he takes an NFL job.

Predictions: Ted Miller says Oregon 33, Kansas State 24. Kevin Gemmell says Oregon 49, Kansas State 38. David Ubben says Oregon 38, Kansas State 31. For full predictions from the Pac-12's Miller and Gemmell, click here. For Ubben's full prediction on the Big 12 blog, click here.
Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.
Oregon/Kansas StateUS PresswireOregon'a Marcus Mariota and Kansas State's Collin Klein lead two very different offenses.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Both Fiesta Bowl quarterbacks earned first-team all-conference honors. Both are dual threats. Both are humble guys who inspire effusive praise from coaches and teammates.

But Kansas State's Collin Klein and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are not exactly spitting images of each other.

Mariota, a willowy 6-foot-4, 196 pounds, is a redshirt freshman running an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Klein, a sturdy 6-foot-5, 226 pounds, is a senior running an offense that is in no hurry to snap the ball. The Ducks rank 100th in the nation in time of possession; Kansas State is 19th.

Mariota and Oregon own the first half, averaging 31.3 points before the break. That’s more than 73 FBS teams average in all four quarters. Kansas State ranks second in the nation (behind Louisiana Tech) with 23.4 points per game in the second half.

Mariota is a good runner but is primarily a passer. He ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, having thrown 30 touchdown passes with six interceptions. When he runs -- 690 yards, four touchdowns -- it's all about speed.

Klein is a good passer but is primarily a runner. He is ranked 15th in the nation in passing efficiency with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Meanwhile, Klein and Wisconsin running back Montee Ball are the only two FBS players who have more than 40 rushing touchdowns over the past two season.

Klein averaged 13.2 designed running plays in Big 12 games this season. When he runs -- 890 yards, 22 touchdowns -- it's more about power. He is one of four FBS players with more than 200 rushing yards in the red zone, and he gained 35.7 percent of his red zone yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Klein, deeply religious and newly married, is the unquestioned leader of a team making its first BCS bowl appearance since 2003.

"When he talks, people listen," tight end Travis Tannahill said. "He's definitely the rock of our team."

Mariota is a young hurler from Hawaii who yields to a senior class that will be playing in its fourth BCS bowl game in a row. That said, Mariota's poise and playmaking have certainly earned him a seat at the leadership table, a place he often takes without a lot of talking.

"Any time you're around him, he's always going to give you positive energy," center Hroniss Grasu said. "It rubs off on you. It shows on the field how calm he is. He doesn't make too many mistakes in games or practice."

Another difference: Klein took time to develop. In fact, he played receiver in 2009 before breaking out at quarterback in 2011. Mariota has been a quick study -- and remarkably so.

"It took him about a week to figure out what we do," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's never really made the same mistake twice. He's great at understanding and grasping the reason why we do something and moving forward. The amazing thing is he's only a redshirt freshman. So how far can he go? It's been an amazing thing to watch. A really special, young talent."

Klein was a Heisman Trophy finalist this season. Mariota seems on track to be one in the future. Both admit the hoopla that surrounded them this season didn't feel real. At least, Mariota called it "unreal" and Klein called it "surreal."

Yet neither seems to have gotten caught up reading headlines about him, particularly Klein, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

"When you talk to Collin, for Collin, it's not about Collin," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said. "For Collin, it's about his teammates and being the best teammate that he can be, to be the quality leader of our program and care about each and every person in our program."

Mariota sees the similarities as well as the differences.

Said Mariota, "From watching him, he's a good leader and a humble guy. That's someone I'd look forward to meeting."

That will happen Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl. The player who does what makes him special better is likely to be on the winning team.

Take 3: Pac-12 vs. Big 12

December, 26, 2012
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The Pac-12 and Big 12 have three bowl games coming up -- including a BCS showdown in the Fiesta Bowl between a pair of top-five teams. David Ubben of the Big 12 blog and Ted Miller and Kevin Gemmell of the Pac-12 blog break down which of the three they are most looking forward to.

Ted Miller: It's not just that the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl matches top-five teams. And it's not just Oregon's and Kansas State's star power, with Wildcats QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and All American LB Arthur Brown on one side, and Ducks All-American RB Kenjon Barner and QB Marcus Mariota, a future Heisman finalist, on the other. Nor is it just the two coaches, old school Bill Snyder and new old school Chip Kelly, who many feel is headed to the NFL after this game.

Nor is it only that Pac-12 vs. Big 12 bragging rights hang heavily in the balance.

It's that you've got to love a game that has karmic significance.

Oregon and Kansas State were supposed to play this year. They had a home-and-home game contract. But then Oregon had a chance to play LSU to open the 2011 season and, well, then folks go all interpretive. Oregon fans see Kansas State as the Fraidy Cats, who took an opportunity to run away from a series instead of re-working it. Kansas State folks see logistical complications that forced their hand and, heck, it was the Ducks that first asked for an adjustment anyway.

Oregon is more than a touchdown favorite. You look at the two rosters, and it's not difficult to see a Ducks victory. And yet … who does karma favor?

Will the trash talk -- who me? -- between the fan bases come back to haunt Oregon? Will the Wildcats be vindicated? Let's just say the winner will provide more than the usual raspberries toward the other after the game.

And that is great fun.

David Ubben: I don’t know how you boys do it on the West Coast, but here in Big 12 country, we love offense. I didn’t put West Virginia 70, Baylor 63 on my best games of the year on accident. The last time Baylor got together with a Pac-12 team, I seem to remember all kinds of awesome stuff happening.

When Baylor and UCLA tangle in the Holiday Bowl, we can expect some similar fireworks, and some of them will even come courtesy of a player Pac-12 folks are surely familiar with: Lache Seastrunk. Baylor committed to him as its featured back down the stretch and he looked the part of the Big 12’s best back over the last month of the season, rushing for 693 yards and five touchdowns in his last five games. Everybody knows about Nick Florence (the nation’s leader in total offense) and Terrance Williams (the nation’s leading receiver), but this game may very well be about Seastrunk breaking out on a national scale. I’d like to see that. With apologies to offensive lineman Cyril Richardson, Seastrunk’s probably going to beat out receiver Tevin Reese as the best returning piece of this powerful offense.

Baylor doesn’t have a Heisman winner like RG3 who joined Terrance Ganaway in running away with that memorable Alamo Bowl win over Washington, but Seastrunk says he’s going to win it in 2013. I’m not going to be the one who says he can’t. UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin and Brett Hundley will be pretty fantastic foes for the Bears, but I can’t wait to see this showcase of offense.

Kevin Gemmell: Yes, David, we love our offense too. In fact, so much so that one of the most prominent offenses in football is named after the West Coast (which several Pac-12 teams run). But we can also play defense. And that is going to be the difference when Oregon State and Texas square off in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

The "Who's Going to Play Quarterback Bowl" finally has its starters -- Cody Vaz for the Beavers and David Ash for the Longhorns. But despite the fact that Oregon State has one of the most explosive wide receiver duos in the country in Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks -- I believe it's going to be the defense that carries the day for the Beavers. We know that Ash has had his troubles. And a struggling quarterback against an Oregon State secondary that ranks sixth nationally in interceptions doesn't bode well. Cornerback Jordan Poyer leads the way with seven picks this year -- that's second nationally.

Only two teams allowed more tackles for a loss this year than Texas and Oregon State is allowing opponents to convert third downs at just 29 percent. Say bonjour to Scott Crichton and Michael Doctor.

Yes, these two other games will be very offensive-centric. And that's going to make for a heck of a lot of holiday fun. This game will likely lack the offensive sizzle of the other two. There are no Heisman Trophy finalists (or players declaring they are going to win the Heisman next year). And that's OK, because there are those of us on the West Coast who still enjoy and appreciate a little bit of defense. And Oregon State's is nasty.

Pac-12 bowl primer: Tostitos Fiesta

December, 14, 2012
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This week we'll be taking a snapshot look at all of the bowl games including Pac-12 teams.

TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL

Oregon (11-1, 8-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1, 8-1)

Where: Glendale, Ariz., University of Phoenix Stadium

When: Thurs. Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT

TV: ESPN

About Oregon: The Ducks dominated their schedule, other than the 17-14 overtime loss at home to Stanford. The only other team that was within three TDs of Oregon was USC, and even that game wasn't as close as the 62-51 final indicated. This is a team that appeared headed for the national title game until it fell in Week 11 against the Cardinal, who also knocked the Ducks out of the Pac-12 title game. Oregon was very good on both sides of the ball this year, ranking third in the nation in rushing (323.25 yards per game), fourth in total offense (550.08 ypg) and second in scoring (50.83 ppg). The defense ranked third in the Pac-12 in scoring (22 ppg), third in yards per play (5.0) and its 38 turnovers gained tied for first in the nation.

About Kansas State: The Wildcats and Ducks parallel each other in many ways. They not only were supposed to play this season until the game was canceled, they also suffered their only loss on the same weekend. Kansas State went down 52-24 at Baylor on Nov. 17. Like the Ducks, the Wildcats are strong on both sides of the ball. They ranked 10th in the nation in scoring (40.7 ppg) and 24th in scoring defense (21.1). They are balanced on offense, rushing for 199 yards per game and passing for 212. Their marquee victory came at Oklahoma, a 24-19 win that ended up giving them the Big 12 title.

Key player, Oregon: Here's a certainty: If Kenjon Barner, the nation's No. 5 rusher with 135 yards per game, has a big evening, the Ducks win. If the Ducks are running the ball well -- read: Barner -- then their offense is pretty much unstoppable. Only Stanford and California held the Ducks below 200 yards rushing, and the Bears yielded six TD passes from Marcus Mariota while ganging up on the run. It won't be easy, though. The Wildcats rank 16th in the nation in run defense (119.2 ypg). Barner will be tracked by LB Arthur Brown, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

Key player, Kansas State: It all starts with QB Collin Klein for the Wildcats, a Heisman Trophy finalist and one of the nation's top dual-threat QBs. Klein passed for 2,490 yards and 15 TDs and rushed for 892 yards and 22 scores. He's an efficient passer -- 16th in the nation -- and a smart, creative playmaker. Contain Klein, you contain the Wildcats.

Did you know: The Ducks and Wildcats have never played before. ... Oregon is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. ... The Ducks last played in University of Phoenix Stadium two years ago, when they lost to Auburn 22-19 for the national title. ... Kansas State's leading receiver, Chris Harper, used to play quarterback for Oregon before transferring. ... Kansas State leads the nation in punt returns, kickoff returns and turnover margin. ... Oregon is third in turnover margin.

Best case/worst case: Pac-12 bowls

December, 13, 2012
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Our assignment is to pose a best-case and a worst-case scenario for every Pac-12 bowl team.

So here goes.

Arizona

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, N.M., Dec. 15: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5), 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Arizona rolls 40-28, as quarterback Matt Scott goes out with a bang that raises NFL eyebrows, and running back Ka'Deem Carey rushes for 195 yards to sew up the national rushing title.

Worst case: Scott gets knocked out of the game early and backup B.J. Denker looks overwhelmed, raising questions about the future at QB. Carey rushes for 35 yards and loses the rushing title as Nevada rolls 42-21. Michigan fans hit the message boards with a litany of "I told you so" about Rich Rodriguez.

Washington

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Dec. 22: Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: In a "Welcome back!" performance, QB Keith Price throws for 295 yards and three touchdowns -- matching the total TD passes the Broncos have yielded all season -- and runs for another score as the Huskies end 2012 with a statement victory that bodes well for 2013. The Huskies' hot offseason topic is how high the preseason ranking will be.

Worst case: Washington starts slowly as it has much of the season, then gives up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead as Price throws multiple interceptions. Boise State wins going away 38-17, and the Huskies' hot offseason topic is whether coach Steve Sarkisian has plateaued.

UCLA

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, San Diego, Dec. 27: UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5), 9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: That the Bruins score 45 points is not unexpected. That Baylor is held to just 17 points is unexpected. UCLA dominates on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Brett Hundley looks like a budding Heisman Trophy candidate. After the game, linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Xavier Su'a-Filo both announce they are returning for the 2013 season. Says Barr, "Unfinished business? Naaah. I just like playing with these guys."

Worst case: Baylor rolls over UCLA in a 55-30 win, as the Bruins' defense can do nothing to slow the Bears, while Hundley throws three picks. Barr and Su'a-Filo opt to leave for the NFL, as does coach Jim Mora, who is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oregon State

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, Dec. 29: Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon State throttles the Longhorns 31-13 with stifling defense, but the big story is Cody Mannion -- or is it Sean Vaz? -- throwing four touchdown passes and making a strong case to be the 2013 starter.

Worst case: The Beavers become the only team that couldn't run on Texas this year, and Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz both throw two interceptions in a 30-10 defeat. Meanwhile, Oregon State makes both Case McCoy and David Ash look like superstars. "Well," say all the national commentators. "This makes a strong case for the Big 12's superiority over the Pac-12. But we've still got to see the Fiesta Bowl."

Arizona State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco, Dec. 29: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Best case: Arizona State uses its superior speed on both sides of the ball to throttle Navy 48-17. After the game, consensus All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton announces he's returning for his senior year.

Worst case: Navy's triple option wears down the Sun Devils in a 28-17 victory. Even worse, the Sun Devils turn the ball over five times and commit 12 penalties for 105 yards, including two personal fouls. They look like the 2011 team, not the 2012 version under new coach Todd Graham.

USC

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31: USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7), 2 p.m. ET, CBS

Best case: Matt Barkley looks like, well, Matt Barkley, throwing five touchdown passes as the Trojans roll 40-10. As for the defense, coordinator Monte Kiffin goes out in style, with the Trojans holding Georgia Tech's option to just 225 total yards. Head coach Lane Kiffin announces after the game that he has hired Bob Diaco away from Notre Dame to be his defensive coordinator.

Worst case: Barkley tries to play but reinjures his shoulder, and the Trojans fold thereafter, ending a horribly disappointing season with a 38-17 loss. After the game, receiver Robert Woods, running back Silas Redd and cornerback Nickell Robey announce they will enter the NFL draft. Lane Kiffin also announces the hiring of Nick Holt to run the Trojans' defense.

Stanford

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1: Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5), 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Stanford dominates on both sides of the ball in a 30-10 victory, holding the Badgers to just 79 yards rushing and 210 total yards. Quarterback Kevin Hogan throws two touchdown passes and runs for another, while running back Stepfan Taylor rushes for 145 yards and a score. After the game, linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and tight end Zach Ertz announce they will be returning for their senior seasons.

Worst case: Montee Ball rushes for 197 yards and two scores as Wisconsin pushes the Cardinal around in a 24-17 win. The Badgers sack Hogan four times, overwhelming the Cardinal's offensive line. After the game, Skov, Gardner and Ertz announce they will enter the NFL draft. Coach David Shaw is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles, and Walt Harris is rehired.

Oregon

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 3: Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1), 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon starts fast and never lets up in a 51-20 blowout, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 187 yards and two scores and quarterback Marcus Mariota throwing for three TDs. The Ducks sack Collin Klein five times and grab two interceptions. "I'm sure glad we didn't play them in the regular season," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder says afterward. Shortly after the game, Ducks coach Chip Kelly signs a lifetime contract, opens practices and promises to be more patient with hypotheticals and other sorts of irritating questions.

Worst case: The Kansas State defense throttles the Ducks' offense, and Klein throws three TD passes in a 30-13 victory. The Ducks rush for only 101 yards. "Oregon struggles in these big games," say the national commentators afterward. "And this really makes the Pac-12 look bad." Kelly is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles. Mariota quits football to become a professional surfer. John Mackovic is hired to replace Kelly.

No Heisman Trophy finalist for Pac-12

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
7:35
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For the first time since 2008, the Pac-12 doesn't have a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Quarterbacks Johnny Manziel and Collin Klein, of Texas A&M and Kansas State, respectively, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o have been named the three finalists for the 2012 Heisman Trophy.

USC QB Matt Barkley was the preseason front-runner. At various times Oregon RB Kenjon Barner, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, USC WR Marqise Lee, UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin and Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey looked like legitimate candidates. But apparently not enough to win over voters.

The 78th annual Heisman Trophy presentation will be televised Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
8:47
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Oregon Ducks (11-1) vs. Kansas State Wildcats (11-1)

Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m. ET, Glendale, Ariz. (ESPN)

Oregon take by Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Oregon began the season as the perceived second fiddle to USC. It finished as the second fiddle to Stanford, after the Cardinal handed the Ducks their only defeat, a 17-14 overtime loss. Still, another top-five ranking and a fourth consecutive BCS bowl game makes it difficult to call the season less than a success.

The big question entering the season was replacing quarterback Darron Thomas, who made an ill-fated decision to leave early for the NFL draft. One of the theories on why Thomas left early was that his two backups were better than him. Well, based on the way redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota played, it's easy to see why Thomas might have thought that.

Mariota ranked sixth in the nation in passing efficiency this season, with 30 TD passes and just six interceptions. He completed 70 percent of his throws. He also rushed for 690 yards and four touchdowns. So quarterback questions were answered emphatically.

The Ducks blew through an easy early schedule. There was no marquee nonconference matchup to provide a test, and the early Pac-12 foes didn't offer much resistance, either. Arizona was supposed to offer a challenge, but it went down 49-0. Same with Washington (59-21) and Arizona State (43-21). The Nov. 3 game with USC was supposed to be a marquee showdown, but the Trojans didn't cooperate, arriving at the game with two losses, including a defeat the weekend before at Arizona. The Ducks rolled past the Trojans 62-51, despite numerous injuries on defense.

The dominance against solid, if non-elite foes, made Ducks look like a national title contender. By Week 12, they were ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings behind Kansas State. That looked like the potential national title matchup. But things changed for both.

After dusting California, the Ducks played host to Stanford, a team they had dominated the previous two seasons. Yet the Cardinal found its mojo on defense and shut down Chip Kelly's offense like few had before. Even with an impressive 48-24 win at Oregon State the next weekend, the Ducks couldn't get into the Pac-12 title game, because Stanford won the North, due to the head-to-head victory.

This Oregon team is strong on both sides of the ball. The defense faltered a bit late because of injuries, but it should be fairly healthy after a few weeks of rest.

The final question for Oregon fans heading into the bowl game: Will this be Kelly's last game leading the program? Many have already projected he will take an NFL job this offseason.




Kansas State take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: Kansas State can celebrate its first Big 12 title since 2003 with a trip to Glendale, Ariz., for the Fiesta Bowl, the Big 12’s traditional tie-in for its champion. The Wildcats’ loss to Baylor in their 11th game of the season kept them out of the national title game, but they rebounded to beat Texas in the finale and earn the Big 12’s automatic BCS bid, and face Oregon.

Just like he’s done so many times this season, the focus for Bill Snyder and his Wildcats will be slowing down an offense that loves to move fast, fast, fast. Even the fastest Big 12 teams might not move as quickly as Oregon, which has the nation’s fastest running backs and an offense that prides itself on pace. Kansas State’s offense is plenty effective, but will take its time at the line of scrimmage. Heisman candidate Collin Klein will face a worthy adversary in Oregon freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota, who received a little bit of Heisman hype himself. However, Kansas State’s defense, led by speedy, sure-tackling linebacker Arthur Brown, will try to contain Oregon’s duo of Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas, who also spent some time on Heisman watch lists during the season. Expect two potent, but different, running games to go head to head. Whoever wins the line of scrimmage will win this one, but Kansas State will try to get back to its efficient self. The Wildcats lead the nation in turnover margin and starting field position, and they have committed the third-fewest penalties in FBS games, with just 42 in 10 games. That’s a recipe for success, and it’s exactly how the Wildcats won the Big 12 title and reached their first BCS game since 2003, the last time it won the league.

Like Oklahoma State last season, Kansas State successfully bounced back after a painful upset loss on the road ruined hopes of a national title and a Heisman Trophy. Can the Wildcats beat a solid Pac-12 opponent in Oregon like Oklahoma State did with Stanford a year ago?

This wasn’t the ending to the season Kansas State would have liked after reaching 10-0, but with a month between games, it’ll realize by then that reaching this point is no small accomplishment, and winning this game will be important in improving the way this season is remembered. Kansas State won the Fiesta Bowl back in 1997, but lost in 2003. Can this be another BCS notch on the belt of the Cats’ legendary coach?

Barner, Lee are Walter Camp finalists

November, 28, 2012
11/28/12
4:00
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Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and USC wide receiver Marqise Lee have been selected as finalists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award.

From the release:
Barner ranks fourth in the nation in rushing yards per game (135.33) for the 11-1 Ducks… He has totaled 1,624 rushing yards (on 248 attempts) and 21 touchdowns on the season … Barner’s 22 total touchdowns rank sixth in the nation … Barner has seven 100-yard rushing efforts on the season, including a career-high 321-yard effort – with five touchdowns – in a win over USC on November 3.

Second in the nation in receiving yards per game (140.0), Marqise Lee has totaled 112 catches for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns for the 7-5 Trojans ... Lee has also returned 28 kickoffs for 802 yards (28.6 yards per return) and one touchdown … His best game came in a [loss to] Arizona on October 27 when he had 16 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns.

They are joined by Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o as finalists.

The winner will be announced Dec. 6. Stanford's Andrew Luck won the award last year.

Video: Potential BCS matchups

November, 18, 2012
11/18/12
2:35
AM ET

Lou Holtz, Mark May discuss the upsets of top-ranked Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon, and look forward to some potential BCS Championship matchups.

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