Pac-12: Connor Wood

Top 2013 performances: Will Oliver

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
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We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2013.

[+] EnlargeWill Oliver
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesWill Oliver was good for 15 big points in Colorado's season-opening victory over Colorado State.
Up next: Good Will kicking

Who and against whom: Colorado opened its 2013 season with a 41-27 win over rival Colorado State, and kicker Will Oliver was perfect along the way in helping the Buffs to a 1-0 start.

The numbers: Oliver went 4-of-4 on field goal attempts, including boots of 22, 41, 44 and 52 yards, and hit all of his PATs for a 15-point day.

A closer look: Win No. 1 for new Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre had to feel pretty darn good. It was his debut game after jumping over from San Jose State, it was against an in-state rival, and it was a two-touchdown victory. And while Paul Richardson and Connor Wood get a lot of the credit for the offense, it was actually the 15 points provided by Oliver (his highest total of the season) that were the difference. Let’s face it, 4-for-4 is a good day; 4-for-4 with a couple of 40-plus yarders is an outstanding day. Throw in a 50-plus-yard kick and you have one of the best kicking days in the Pac-12 in 2013. Oliver’s 22-yard field goal in the first quarter helped put the Buffs up 10-0. He added a 41-yarder as time expired in the first half, a 44-yarder in the third quarter and then, with his team trailing 24-23, he drilled a 52-yarder in the fourth quarter to put Colorado on top for good. It was the second longest field goal in the conference in 2013 (he was tied for the longest of 53 yards), and it got the MacIntyre era off to a solid start.

Pac-12 lunch links: Players on mend

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
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There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic, universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.
There's nothing like being unbeaten in college football. Food tastes better. The air smells sweeter. Love pervades the campus community, enveloping the football team with warm fuzzies.

It's been a long time since Colorado could feel good about its football team, but the Buffaloes will enter Pac-12 play Saturday at Oregon State at 2-0, feeling pretty darn good about themselves, particularly after a dismal, 1-11 campaign in 2012.

"It's the energy and the spirit around this place, not only with the football team but with the school," defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe said. "You're getting a lot more students coming up to you, wishing you good luck and congratulating you on the 2-0 start. It makes you want to practice even harder."

Of course, there's a catch for the Buffs. They've been riding a 2-0 high for almost three weeks, as they last played on Sept. 7. So the euphoria has died down a bit. Moreover, their Sept. 14 game with Fresno State was canceled due to serious flooding, which led to loss of life and significant property damage.

Instead of playing a revenge game against the Bulldogs, who pummeled the Buffs 69-14 in 2012, the Colorado players served meals to emergency personnel and flood victims. It became a moment for perspective. There are emotional swings with 2-0 as well as 0-2, but real-world events possess a far greater gravity.

Some players were directly affected by the flooding, so coach Mike MacIntyre gave his team a couple of days off to get things back in order in their personal lives.

Now, attention turns back to football. MacIntyre's chief task is rebooting the early momentum so his team doesn't look rusty and out of sorts against the Beavers.

[+] EnlargeMike Macintyre, Samson Kafovalu, Keegan LaMar, Jack Harris
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsMike MacIntyre and the Colorado Buffaloes haven't played since a victory over Central Arkansas on Sept. 7.
"It seems like three years ago since we last played," he said. "We've been trying to do everything we can to keep up the speed of the game. This is almost like another opening game for us."

The early returns from the 2-0 start suggest that MacIntyre has his team's attention. In both games, a squad that seemed to lack mental toughness a year ago took control in the fourth quarter. Colorado has outscored foes 39-10 in the fourth quarter this season. Last year, despite being hopelessly behind in most cases, the Buffs were outscored 112-59 in the fourth.

"I think it's the coaching," said Uzo-Diribe, when asked what the biggest difference from last year is. "A lot of the guys playing now are the same guys who played last year, but with this coaching staff, we are starting to take on an identity on defense and on offense. We really all bought into a system and schemes."

The Buffs seem more detail-oriented. For example, the biggest play of the victory over Colorado State was cornerback Greg Henderson's 53-yard scoop and score in the fourth quarter, which made Colorado's lead 33-24. Uzo-Diribe caused the fumble.

Not only had the defense taken a renewed focus on creating turnovers during spring and preseason practice, they'd scouted tendencies from Rams running back Kapri Bibbs, who sometimes was careless with ball security. That popped into Uzo-Diribe's head as he came up behind Bibbs.

"We came into the week after watching the film knowing that their running back's ball security wasn't great," Uzo-Diribe said. "Last season, both [running backs] showed that they fumbled the ball a lot. It was something we had in our mind that when we saw that running back -- get a strip attempt on the ball."

Turnovers could be critical Saturday because it's likely both defenses will have their hands full. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion ranks second in the nation with 401 yards passing per game. Colorado quarterback Connor Wood is fourth with 370.5. Wood's go-to guy is Paul Richardson, who leads the nation with 208.5 yards receiving per game. Beavers receiver Brandin Cooks is second with 159.8 yards per game. Cooks leads the nation with 10.8 receptions per game; Richardson is second at 10.5.

So it's a heck of a matchup of pass-catch combinations playing against defenses that remain works in progress.

Of course, it's likely the game will come down to who gets more out of their seeming weaknesses. Both teams have struggled to run the ball this year. Oregon State has 11 sacks in four games. Colorado has just three in two games. Both teams are positive so far in turnover margin. The Beavers are down three starters on their offensive line because of injury.

For the Beavers, a victory would set them up at 4-1 and 2-0 in Pac-12 play, with four consecutive wins putting some distance between them and an opening weekend loss to Eastern Washington, an FCS team. With a bye next week, the conference's most injury-ravaged team also could start to get healthy.

For the Buffaloes, an upset road victory would probably win over more than a few folks who have been slow to jump on the bandwagon in Boulder. At 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the conference, it would be reasonable to speculate about potential bowl eligibility, particularly if the school is able to schedule a patsy to replace the lost Fresno State game.

Uzo-Diribe said the Buffs locker room already believes.

"The past couple of seasons we've said that, but as the season went on, we didn't really believe it," he said. "I feel like this season, guys see it, guys believe it. They are working towards it."

Pac-12 predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Kevin Gemmell went 7-0 last week and improved to a scintillating 33-3. Ted Miller went 6-1, missing with his Holy War pick, a selection he made only to put the stink on BYU. But Utah fans shouldn't send any more checks his way.

Miller therefore fell to 31-5. Gemmel; is already making plans for the $1 million he gets if he wins the season.

All games are Saturday.

Arizona at Washington

Gemmell: Not sure what to make of Arizona yet. It hasn’t been pressed, and the passing game is still a question mark. Taking on a Washington team that has been pushed -- and is at home -- seems like a lot to overcome. And I wouldn’t worry about Washington looking over the horizon to the Stanford game next week. It'll be focused on revenge after what happened last year in Tucson. Washington 38, Arizona 24.

Miller: The Wildcats have had two weeks to prepare, but a team can't really prepare for an atmosphere like Husky Stadium. While Wildcats QB B.J. Denker has played in road games, this will be a new level of extreme. The real issue is how effective Denker is throwing the football. If the Wildcats can achieve efficient balance, the holes will be bigger for RB Ka'Deem Carey. It also will be interesting to see how the Wildcats newly stout defense holds up against the Huskies' highly rated offense. Washington 35, Arizona 20.

USC at Arizona State

Gemmell: Plenty of great sidebars and storylines in this must-win game for both teams. The Sun Devils are holding on to whatever national credibility they have by a thread. USC is riding the coattails of its defense. If Arizona State can put together 60 minutes instead of 15, I think it wins by a couple of touchdowns. If it doesn't, it could be tight. ASU 24, USC 21.

Miller: We know USC's defense is good. Do we yet know if the Trojans' offense is going to be this bad all season? The first question is whether Trojans QB Cody Kessler's throwing hand is 100 percent. The passing game went south against Utah State last weekend after he got hurt. And what will Sun Devils QB Taylor Kelly be able to do against that tough USC defense? Arizona State 21, USC 17.

Colorado at Oregon State

Gemmell: Much like Arizona, I’m waiting to see what Colorado is really made of. I love the start, and everyone feels good about the Buffaloes being 2-0. But Oregon State’s passing game has been wickedly efficient and the Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks connection is one of the best in the country. The Buffs will score points, but before I start picking them in a league game on the road, I need to see just how much they’ve grown up. The two weeks off is also a wrench in predictions. They could be super rested, or super rusty. Oregon State 48, Colorado 38.

Miller: Colorado is a better team than it was in 2012, we know that. But being better and being ready to win on the road in the Pac-12 are two different things. I want to see what Buffs QB Connor Wood and WR Paul Richardson can do against a suspect Beavers defense. Oregon State 40, Colorado 28.

California at Oregon

Gemmell: Another step in the maturation of Jared Goff. Being down defensively isn’t where you want to be when playing Oregon -- especially on the road. No reason why the Ducks don’t keep things rolling. Oregon 49, Cal 21.

Miller: Both teams were off last weekend, and Cal needed a break. But Autzen Stadium isn't a place to go to heal a season. I think this one might get a bit lopsided. Oregon 50, California 20.

Stanford vs. Washington State (in Seattle)

Gemmell: Will be interesting to see how the Cougars attack Stanford early with Ed Reynolds out for the first half. I'm guessing they go at the heart of the Stanford secondary because running against the Cardinal will be a chore. Turnovers have been Washington State’s Achilles Heel (11 total, minus-3 ratio, worst in the league). Stanford will do what Stanford does. And what Stanford does should be more than enough. Stanford 31, Washington State 17.

Miller: Stanford will be missing All-American OG David Yankey, too, so the Cougs' front-seven will be catching a break. No guard in the country is better at pulling, so that hits the Cardinal's bread-and-butter. But Stanford figures to take this one seriously because the Cougars gave them trouble last year, is an obviously improved team and the Cardinal turned in a woeful fourth quarter last weekend against Arizona State. Stanford 35, Washington State 22.

Quick look at Week 5 Pac-12 games

September, 23, 2013
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Here's a quick look at Week 5 in the conference. All games are on Saturday and times are ET.

Colorado (2-0, 0-0) at Oregon State (3-1, 1-0) 3 p.m. Pac-12 Network: This is the first meeting of these teams as Pac-12 members. The Buffaloes lead the series 3-2, including a 28-21 win in 1988, the team's last meeting. There should be plenty of passing in this game. Buffs QB Connor Wood has passed for 370.5 yards per game, which ranks fourth in the nation, while Oregon State's Sean Mannion has passed for 401.0 yards per game, which ranks second in the nation. Mannion also leads the nation with 15 touchdown passes. His top target is Brandin Cooks, who leads the nation with 10.8 catches per game and has caught seven of Mannion's TD throws. Meanwhile, Woods has Paul Richardson, who leads the nation with 208.5 yards receiving per game. The last time these teams played, Colorado rallied from a 21-16 fourth quarter deficit to pull out a 28-21 win. Buffs RB Eric Bienemy carried the ball 20 times for 211 yards and three TDs, including a 66-yard TD run in the fourth quarter to put Colorado on top. Oregon State QB Eric Wilhelm was 27-of-38 for 353 yards and 2 TDs.

Arizona (3-0, 0-0) at No. 16 Washington (3-0, 0-0) 7 p.m. FOX: Washington leads the series 18-10-1 but the Wildcats rolled the Huskies 52-17 last year in Tucson. Unlike the above game, this one might be about rushing. Arizona ranks fifth in the nation with 322.3 yards rushing per game, while Washington ranks ninth with 303.7 yards rushing per game. RB Ka'Deem Carey leads Arizona with 149.5 yards rushing per game, while the Huskies counter with Bishop Sankey, who averages 148.7 yards per game. Arizona leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense (8.7 ppg). Washington is third in the Pac- 12 in scoring defense (10.0 ppg). The Wildcats have given up just 26 points through three games. The last time they gave up 26 or fewer points through the first three games of the season was in 1996. The Wildcats are 2-9 over their last 11 league road games, with five of those nine losses coming against ranked opponents. The Huskies are 3-0 for the first time since 2001, and have scored 34 or more points in three straight games for the first time since 2002. UW senior QB Keith Price tossed three TD passes to add to his Husky career record total of 61 (t20th all-time in Pac-12). Price has completed 77 percent of his passes this season with seven TDs and just one INT.

No. 5 Stanford (3-0, 1-0) vs. Washington State (3-1, 1-0) 10 p.m. ESPN (CenturyLink Field, Seattle): Stanford leads the series 37-25-1, including a 24-17 victory last year. At 61 percent, Stanford is one of three Pac-12 teams with a third-down conversion rate better than 60 percent (UCLA at 68.3 percent, Washington at 65.9 percent). All three Pac-12 teams are among the top five nationally in third-down conversion. Stanford has won 11 straight dating back to last season, which is currently the second longest streak in FBS (Ohio State is at 15). Stanford is returning to CenturyLink Field, where it suffered its lone conference defeat last year, to Washington. Cardinal junior WR Ty Montgomery is third in the Pac-12 in all-purpose yardage (165.7 ypg) and averages 20.7 yards per touch. In the win over Idaho, Washington State junior QB Connor Halliday recorded his sixth career 4-touchdown game, tying Ryan Leaf for most all- time in school history. With 346 yards passing, he also posted his third straight 300-yard performance, and eighth career 300-yard performance. Sophomore WR Gabe Marks posted career-highs with 11 receptions and 146 yards in the win over Idaho. His 31 receptions this season are currently tied for fifth among all FBS players. The Cougar defense is allowing just 221.7 yards per game over the last three games. The Cougars have won three in a row for the first time since the 2006 season and are looking to make it four straight for the first time since the winning the final game of the 2004 season and the first three contests of the 2005 season. In last season's surprisingly close game, Stanford sacked Cougars QB Jeff Tuel a record 10 times.

USC (3-1, 0-1) at Arizona State (2-1, 0-1) 10:30 p.m. ESPN2: USC leads the all-time series against Arizona State, 19-10. The Trojans are 12-1 in the series since 2000, with ASU’s lone victory coming in 2011, a 43-22 win to end an 11-game losing streak. Prior to this millennium, ASU was 9-7 all-time against USC. The Trojans beat the Sun Devils in Los Angeles last year in a 38-17 rout in the Coliseum. Arizona State RB Marion Grice is ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring (16) and No. 5 in rushing TDs (6). Over the past six games, he has scored 14 TDs (11 rushing, three receiving), scoring once every 7.8 touches in that span. Sun Devils QB Taylor Kelly set a new career high with 367 passing yards against Stanford, and is sixth in the nation at 339.7 passing ypg. USC OLB Morgan Breslin leads the Pac-12 in sacks (1.3 per game) and tackles for loss (1.8 per game) -- Breslin missed the opener against Hawaii due to injury. USC has four players on its roster from Arizona (OLB Devon Kennard of Desert Vista HS, C- OG Cyrus Hobbi of Saguaro HS, SNP Peter McBride of Chaparral HS and S John Auran of Brophy College Prep), while the Sun Devils feature 39 Californians.

California (1-2, 0-0) at No. 2 Oregon (3-0, 0-0) 10:30 p.m. Pac-12 Network: California leads the series 39-34-2, but the Ducks prevailed 59-17 win last year. In that game, Ducks QB Marcus Mariota completed 27 of 34 passes for 377 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions, which was a 230.79 passing efficiency rating. Cal is facing its second-consecutive top-five opponent -- two weeks ago the Bears played Ohio State -- and third ranked foe this season. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff tops the FBS with 435.3 yards passing per game. The Ducks are 13th in the FBS in pass efficiency defense, so the Goff versus the Ducks secondary is an interesting matchup. Oregon leads the Pac-12 and is second in the FBS in scoring, averaging 61.3 ppg. It has scored 50 or more points in a game three straight times, and in 10 of the last 16 games. The Ducks have scored in less than two minutes in 23 of 28 scoring possessions. 12 different players have found the end zone for the Ducks.

A quick look at today's Pac-12 slate

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
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Here's what's ahead today in the Pac-12.

Weber State (1-0) at Utah (1-0), 2 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Utah leads the series 3-0. The last meeting was a 37-21 win in 2008. Weber State opened with a 50-40 win over Stephen F. Austin, while the Utes beat Utah State.

No. 3 Oregon (1-0) at Virginia (1-0) 3:30 p.m. ABC/ESPN: First meeting. Virginia beat BYU 19-16 in its opener, a game that featured a two-hour rain delay. The Cougars outgained the Cavaliers 362 yards to 223. Three Ducks eclipsed 100 yards rushing against Nicholls State: QB Marcus Mariota, RB De'Anthony Thomas and RB Byron Marshall. Since 2000, the Pac-12 is 26-23 when playing in the Eastern time zone. The Ducks are 3-0 during that span, beating Michigan (2007), Purdue (2008) and Tennessee (2010).

Portland State (1-0) at California (0-1) 5 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Cal leads the series 1-0, beating the Vikings 42-16 in 2006. Portland State beat Eastern Oregon 57-17 in its opener. In his first career start against Northwestern, Cal QB Jared Goff set a freshman record with 445 yards passing, the second-best overall total in school history, falling behind 503 yards from Pat Barnes in a four-overtime game against Arizona in 1996.

Hawaii (0-1) at Oregon State (0-1) 8 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Oregon State leads the series 5-3, with the Beavers winning the last meeting 45-7 in 2008. The Rainbow Warriors opened with a loss to USC. The Beavers, of course, lost to FCS Eastern Washington. The preseason story for Oregon State was the quarterback competition, but perhaps it should have been the defense, which got run over by the Eagles. QB Sean Mannion completed 37 of 43 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns, while WR Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 196 yards and two scores.

Central Arkansas (1-0) at Colorado (1-0) 8 p.m. Pac-12 Network: First meeting. Central Arkansas beat Incarnate Word 58-7 on Saturday, while the Buffaloes snapped an eight-game losing streak with their win over Colorado State on Sunday. QB Connor Wood completed 33 of 46 passes for 400 yards and three TDs against the Rams. His interception-free game with 46 attempts was the second best in Buffs history.

Arizona (1-0) at UNLV (0-1) 10:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network: Arizona leads the series 1-0, winning 38-21 in 2001. UNLV opened with a 51-23 loss at Minnesota. That was the 23rd loss in a row on the road for the Rebels, but the Wildcats are coming to Sam Boyd Stadium. The Rebels actually outgained Minnesota 419 yards to 320 and rushed for a strong 193 yards. All-American RB Ka'Deem Carey, who was suspended for the season-opener against Northern Arizona, is expected to make his season debut.

Washington State (0-1) at No. 24 USC (1-0) 10:30 p.m. FoxSports 1: The first Pac-12 game of the season! USC leads the series 58-8-4, but the teams haven't played since a 50-16 USC win in 2010. The big question is how things will stack up at quarterback for the Trojans -- who will start and how much both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will play. Connor Halliday is the Cougars quarterback and passed for 344 yards at Auburn, but also threw three costly interceptions. Now back in Pac-12 play, he will be facing a much more physical, athletic and talented defense this week. He can't afford similar mistakes, or Cougars coach Mike Leach might give Austin Apodaca a look.

San Jose State (1-0) at No. 4 Stanford (0-0) 11 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Stanford leads the Bay Area series -- now the Bill Walsh Legacy Game -- 51-14-1, but the Spartans gave the Cardinal trouble last year before falling 20-17. Of course, at the time we didn't know San Jose State would finish 11-2 and send coach Mike MacIntyre off to Colorado. The Spartans are now coached by Ron Caragher, who was hired away from San Diego, where he followed Jim Harbaugh. Spartans QB David Fales was the nation's most accurate passer last year. The Spartans opened with a 24-0 win over Sacramento State. At No. 4, Stanford has its highest preseason rank in its history. The Cardinal has been ranked 45 consecutive weeks dating back to Sept. 5, 2010. That is the school's longest continuous ranking in the polls. Stanford owns a nine-game home winning streak, longest in the Pac-12.
The moment was great. The moment was exciting.

The moment has passed.

That was the message Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre wanted to relay to his players this week following their season-opening 41-27 victory over rival Colorado State.

“It was very uplifting to see the joy on their faces and how hard they have been working to see the work pay off,” MacIntyre said. “I told them it was a great win for us and for our program, but it’s just one. It’s just the first one. Now our guys have put that behind them and we’re working on our next game against Central Arkansas, which is a really good football team. The way everything went last weekend with seven FCS teams beating seven FBS teams, it’s pretty amazing.”

The Buffs are all-too familiar with the wrath of the FCS. Last year they blew two leads and fell in Week 2 to Sacramento State, 30-28, on a 30-yard field goal as time expired. For those who were there, it was a gut-wrenching followup from a blown fourth-quarter lead to Colorado State the week before.

MacIntyre wasn’t there. But watching him on Saturday, you’d think he was. The way he reacted to Saturday’s victory -- the critical fourth-down measurement late in the game, the sideline animation -- you’d think he was carrying all of the burdens of last season rather than coming off a year in which he coached San Jose State into the top 25. But his emotion was as raw and unchecked as his players’.

“I was just so excited for those kids,” MacIntyre said. “The seniors have all had three different coaches. They lost to that team last year. There’s nothing like your first game of the season. When you add into it that it’s a rivalry game and you add to it a stadium that’s divided 50-50, there is a lot of excitement and emotion that goes into it. I knew that when we held them there that was basically the dagger, and it was done. It was exciting.

“... We talked about it in the locker room as soon as the game was over. Enjoy this, they’ve earned it but it’s just one game, so we take every game as a season within itself.”

It sounds like the message has gotten through -- at least at the soundbite level.

“I think it’s just a preventative statement just for all the guys to understand that its only one game,” quarterback Connor Wood said. “There’s a lot more to go and real winners ... it doesn’t faze them if they win a bunch of games and the media says a lot of good things about you, but they don’t let it get to their head and you stay hungry. I think that’s what he wants to get across to us.”

The Week 1 victory matches Colorado’s win total from a year ago -- a bummer of a season that saw the Buffs at the bottom of nearly every major statistical category and ended with the firing of Jon Embree. So the victory -- especially one over a rival -- was welcomed.

“It got the bad taste out of our mouths from this offseason because it’s been a long offseason,” Wood said. “Especially losing last year to CSU makes it feel a lot better heading into this week but then again its only one game so we have a long way to go.”

Colorado looks like a different team

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
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Colorado was perhaps the nation's worst AQ conference team last year. That won't be the case this year.

In their first game under coach Mike MacIntyre, the Buffaloes beat rival Colorado State 41-27, with quarterback Connor Wood throwing for 400 yards and two of his three touchdowns to receiver Paul Richardson, who finished with 208 yards receiving.

In last year's loss to the Rams, the Buffaloes wilted in the fourth quarter. This time, they dominated, winning the final frame 18-3 with big plays on both sides of the ball.

The biggest was a 53-yard fumble return for a TD from cornerback Greg Henderson. At the time, Colorado had just taken a 26-24 lead, so things were tight. Defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe forced the fumble, coming up behind Joe Hansley and slapping the ball loose.

It was a heady play. How often did we accuse a Buff of being "heady" last year?

Richardson then iced the game with a 75-yard touchdown reception with 3:36 remaining, taking a short pass the distance against busted coverage.

Wood was in complete control. While he got little support from a running game, he completed 33 of 46 with three TDs and no interceptions.

Don't forget the defense. Last year, the Buffs yielded 46 points and 499 yards per game. The Rams had just 295 yards.

Kicker Will Oliver was 4 for 4 on field goals, including a career-long of 52 yards. The only downer was poor coverage on special teams, with the Rams returning a punt 74 yards for a TD and a kick 84 yards, which set up another TD.

The Buffs play host to Central Arkansas next weekend, trying to improve to 2-0. They haven't been 2-0 since 2008.

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 
It all seemed so simple before Week 1 of last year. Six quarterback competitions, six resolutions before the first game of the year.

Taylor Kelly had won the gig at ASU. Jordan Webb set foot on campus and was almost instantly Colorado’s starter. Marcus Mariota outdistanced Bryan Bennett. Josh Nunes was Andrew Luck’s successor. Brett Hundley was an exciting unknown, and Jeff Tuel was the guy to lead WSU’s Air Raid.

Of course, simplicity doesn’t always last. Be it injury or performance, Webb and Nunes weren’t the starters at the end of the season and Tuel went back-and-forth with Connor Halliday. Mariota, Kelly and Hundley, however, went on to be three of the four most efficient quarterbacks in the league.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMax Wittek (13) and Cody Kessler (6) will both see time at QB for the Trojans.
The moral of the story: Don’t fear the unknown. But don’t be too comfortable with it, either.

Which leads us to this year’s crop of quarterback competitions. It’s not as cut-and-dried as it was a year ago. At least two of them are ongoing and will probably stretch into the first weeks of the season.

The No. 24 Trojans open against Hawaii with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek still in the hunt for the right to replace Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin, however, said he has zero concerns that the competition hasn’t been resolved.

“I see it as completely opposite,” Kiffin said during Tuesday’s Pac-12 conference call. “I think they have both performed so well. We feel great about both of them running our offense. I see it as a positive. I think they've really worked on their weaknesses … that way we don’t have to call the game any different based on who is in. We can do all of our stuff.”

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez hasn’t picked his guy yet, either. Though he did say he has seen some recent progress from B.J. Denker, Javelle Allen and Jesse Scroggins. A week ago, it was thought that as many as four or five guys could still be in the mix.

“I’d be more concerned if none of them made progress,” Rodriguez said. “In the last week and a half, they have all made some pretty good progress. B.J. Denker and Javelle Allen, the guys that have been in the program, have made pretty good progress. And Jesse Scroggins has gotten better as well. I feel good about that. There’s no question there is always more concern when you don’t have experience there. B.J. has been in the system for a year and Javelle has been in the system for a year. We feel pretty confident they can run the whole entire offense and with Jesse it’s just a matter of time.”

And time is on Arizona’s side. The Wildcats don’t exactly have a pressing first month of the season. They host Northern Arizona this weekend, followed by a trip to UNLV before hosting UTSA on Sept. 14. Then it’s a bye week before opening league play at Washington.

One report last week had Oregon State playing the quarterback shuffle heading into Week 1. But Mike Riley put that to rest yesterday when he named Sean Mannion his starter.

“I had told some stories in the past of experience with two quarterbacks playing, but never intended to start a rotation situation here at all,” Riley said. “We intended to name a starter and then have kind of left it up in the air … Sean is the starter and we’ll go into the game like that.”

Connor Wood won the job at Colorado -- ending a QB competition that started with six but dwindled after injuries and transfers.

"He's big, he's athletic, he's got a strong arm, and he's a talented athlete," said coach Mike MacIntyre, who noted he was also very pleased with the progress of freshman Sefo Liufau. "He really started capturing the essence of our offense and understanding where to go with the ball and where to go with our run game. He kept improving."

Cal coach Sonny Dykes took a different approach, naming Jared Goff his starter as soon as he could.

“Anytime you have a starting quarterback, I think everyone is more comfortable,” Dykes said. “The quarterback is more comfortable. The skill-position players can start to get on the same page. You develop a relationship with the center and quarterback and their ability to communicate with each other and the sense of timing that needs to exist there. I think what it does is settle everybody down.”

Quick look at Week 1 Pac-12 games

August, 26, 2013
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Here's a quick look at Week 1 in the conference. All times are ET.

Thursday

Utah State at Utah, 8 p.m. Fox Sports 1: Utah leads the series 77-29-4 but the Aggies won 27-20 in overtime last year in Logan. That ended the Utes 12-game winning streak in the series. The Aggies went 11-2 last year but lost coach Gary Andersen to Wisconsin. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells takes over, and he has 15 starters back, including QB Chuckie Keeton, who put up big numbers last year. This will be the debut of Utes new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson.

No. 21 USC at Hawaii, 11 p.m. CBS Sports Network: USC leads the series 8-0. Hawaii is coached by Norm Chow, who went 3-9 in his first season. Trojans fans might have heard of him, and there isn't a warm relationship between Chow and USC coach Lane Kiffin. The Rainbow Warriors have 17 starters back. Chow made some news before the season when he dismissed offensive coordinator Aaron Price -- son of former Washington State coach Mike Price -- before he'd even coached a game. Chow now will run the offense.

Friday

Northern Arizona at Arizona, 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Arizona leads the series 11-1, and that defeat occurred in 1932. The game likely will feature the debut of Wildcats QB B.J. Denker, though coach Rich Rodriguez has been coy about his starting QB, separating the top-three guys with an "Or" on his depth chart. The Wildcats beat the Lumberjacks 41-10 in 2011.

Saturday

Nicholls State at No. 3 Oregon, 4 p.m. Fox Sports 1: These teams have never met, and it's unfortunate they will Saturday. Nicholls State went 0-7 in the Southland Conference last year, its lone 2012 win coming over NAIA Evangel. Oregon State beat Nicholls State 77-3 last year when the Beavers were legitimately trying not to score. As The Oregonian has pointed out, it's likely the Autzen Stadium points record (72, recorded against New Mexico in 2010 and Nevada in 1999) will be broken.

Eastern Washington at No. 25 Oregon State, 6 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Oregon State leads the series against the FCS power 2-0, last winning 56-17 in 2006. It was announced Monday afternoon that Sean Mannion will start at QB for the Beavers over Cody Vaz, who still might see some playing time.

Washington State at Auburn, 7 p.m. ESPNU: Auburn leads the series 1-0, beating the Cougars 40-14 in 2006. This will be the debut of Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, as well as his starting QB Nick Marshall. Two years removed from a national title -- won in a nailbiter over Oregon -- Auburn went 3-9 last fall and fired coach Gene Chizik. Malzahn was the Arkansas State coach last year, but he also was Chizik's offensive coordinator in 2010. The Tigers welcome back 17 starters.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Bishop Sankey
Josh Holmberg/USA TODAY SportsBoise State and Washington played in the Las Vegas Bowl last year, with the Broncos winning 28-26.
strong>Nevada at No. 21 UCLA, 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network: First meeting. After Chris Ault retired -- again -- Brian Polian became the Nevada coach. The Wolf Pack has 12 starters back from a 7-6 team, most notably QB Cody Fajardo, a dynamic pass-run threat. He rushed for 1,100 yards and passed for 2,786 yards last year, accounting for 32 total TDs.

No. 19 Boise State at Washington, 10 p.m. Fox Sports 1: The series is tied 1-1. Boise State beat the Huskies 28-26 in the Las Vegas Bowl last year, while the Huskies prevailed in the 24-10 in 2007. The Broncos have only 10 starters back from their 11-2 team, while the Huskies welcome back 20. While Boise State QB Joe Southwick didn't put up big numbers last year, he was extremely efficient over the latter third of the season.

No. 22 Northwestern at California, 10:30 p.m., ESPN2: Northwestern leads the series 1-0 -- a 20-14 win in 1949. The Wildcats welcome back 17 starters from a 10-3 team that beat Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl last year. That includes the outstanding combination of QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark. They combined for over 2,200 yards rushing last year. This is the debut of Cal coach Sonny Dykes, who replaced Jeff Tedford, as well as true freshman QB Jared Goff.

Sunday

Colorado vs. Colorado State (Denver), 6 p.m., CBS Sports Network: Colorado leads the series 61-21-2 but the Rams won 22-17 last year. The game will be played on Sports Authority Field at Mile High, previously known as Invesco Field, home of the Denver Broncos. The Rams welcome back 18 starters from a 4-8 team in Jim McElwain's second season. Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, who is making his debut leading the Buffaloes, announced this week that Connor Wood will start at quarterback.

Pac-12 lunch links: QB Wood to start

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
2:30
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I'm waking up, I feel it in my bones
Enough to make my systems blow
Welcome to the new age, to the new age
Welcome to the new age, to the new age.

Colorado Buffaloes season preview

August, 16, 2013
8/16/13
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We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Colorado Buffaloes.

Colorado

Coach: Mike MacIntyre (16-21, 0-0 at Colorado)

2012 record: 1-11, 1-8 Pac-12 South

Key losses: OT David Bakhtiari, TE Nick Kasa, OLB Jon Major, DT Will Pericak, FS Ray Polk.

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Brennan LinsleyMike MacIntyre is charged with turning around Colorado after making a winner out of San Jose State.
Key returnees: C Gus Handler, TB Christian Powell, WR Tyler McCulloch, S Marques Mosley, DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, P Darragh O'Neill, WR Paul Richardson, Derrick Webb.

Newcomer to watch: It’s too early to tell which one, but three freshmen wide receivers -- Elijah Dunston, Devin Ross and Bryce Bobo (ironically numbered 1, 2 and 3) -- are all making a case to be in the rotation and two-deep.

Biggest games in 2013: The season opener against Colorado State (Sept. 1) is always a big one, and the rivalry with Utah (Nov. 30) is starting to take shape.

Biggest question mark: While no official word has come down on who will start at quarterback, it’s looking more and more like Connor Wood will at least begin the season as the starter. So we can at least put a partial check mark there. The biggest question is really what sort of progress -- if any -- we’ll see in Mike MacIntyre’s first season as the new head coach. He comes in with solid credentials and was Mr. Fix-It at San Jose State. But with the new job comes a new set of challenges. Chief among them, the proverbial challenge of “changing the culture.” MacIntyre made it clear that he wants to win and compete immediately, and he believes that his players have bought in. We’ll see how much on Sept. 1.

Forecast: The media doesn’t have much faith in the Buffs, picking the team that went 1-11 last season to finish last again in the Pac-12 South. This might be one of those situations in which the team shows improvement -- just not in the win department. Remember, San Jose State appeared to take a step back in MacIntyre’s first season, going 1-12, but it was during that time that he was establishing his schemes and philosophies, and in Year 2 they went 5-7. By the third season, the Spartans were 11-2 (10-2 under MacIntyre) and ranked in the top 25. No one is saying the Buffs will be ranked in three seasons, and most people probably aren't expecting it. The Pac-12 is a different animal than the now football-less WAC, but it's not wrong to hope for a postseason berth in the next 3-5 seasons.

And this season, the Buffs are loaded with young players who gained a ton of experience last season. They return 17 starters (eight offense, nine defense) including a young secondary that took its licks last season. Mosley, Kenneth Crawley and Yuri Wright all started last season, and Greg Henderson and Parker Orms are the veterans of the group. Up front defensively, Uzo-Diribe is a talented pass-rusher, and linebackers Derrick Webb and Paul Vigo should be the anchors on defense.

Offensively, they lose Bakhtiari to the NFL and Alex Lewis announced a transfer, which was followed by some bizarre and unfortunate circumstances. But they get Richardson back after he missed all of 2012 with a knee injury. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the most explosive wide receivers in the country and should give the Buffs a stretch-the-field threat they were lacking.

Powell also quietly put together a strong second half last season, posting a pair of 100-yard games and four touchdowns over the final five. If they can plug the left side of the line (it’s looking like veteran Jack Harris at left tackle and Kaiwi Crabb at left guard), he could inch closer to 1,000 yards on the ground after posting 691 and a 4.4 yards per carry average last season.

There is talent on Colorado’s roster, but, as what's becoming a trend with Colorado, fans are going to have to be patient until the new staff figures out how best to use it.
Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.

Best case-worst case: Colorado

July, 29, 2013
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Though the Pac-12 blog harbors concerns that this series might have jumped the shark, the nuttiness that is "Best case-worst case" is back.

This is the first in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up first: Colorado

Best case

Deep inside Pac-12 headquarters, Larry Scott sits in his office, fuming. His communications director, Dave Hirsch stands before him.
Scott: Dave, what is the worst team in the Pac-12?

Hirsch: Well that would be hard to say, sir. They're each outstanding in their own way.

Scott: Cut the malarky, son. I've got their highlights right here. Who lost to an FCS team in Week 2? Who turned in a white flag performance at Fresno State? Who posted the biggest margin of defeat of any major college team? By every Halloween, Boulder is filled with despair. Every spring, a sense of resignation that the good times are gone forever.

Hirsch: You're talking about Colorado, sir.

Scott: Of course, I'm talking about Colorado, you twerp!

Scott announces that Colorado is on double-secret Pac-12 probation. If they don't reach a bowl game in 2013, they will get kicked out of the conference and replaced by Nebraska.

Inside the Colorado locker room, the Buffaloes learn the news. Few believe this team can get to six wins.
LB Derrick Webb: Let it go, guys. War's over, man. Scott dropped the big one.

Center Gus Handler: What? Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when Darth Vader captured Harry Potter? Heck no!

QB Connor Wood: Darth Vader?

WR Paul Richardson: Forget it. He's rolling.

Handler: What the fudge happened to the Colorado I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? Where's the shoulder-to-shoulder? This could be the greatest season of our lives, but you're gonna let it be the worst. 'Ooh, we're afraid of Larry Scott and Oregon and Stanford and USC, Handler, we might get whipped.' Well just kiss my rear end from now on! Not me! I'm not gonna take this.

Richardson: Right! Handler's right. Psychotic... but absolutely right.

Colorado beats Colorado State and Central Arkansas. Fresno State is up next.

On Monday, first-year coach Mike MacIntyre wordlessly rolls a giant screen into the Buffs main meeting area. He clicks on highlights of Colorado's 69-14 loss at Fresno State the year before. When grumpy players leave after re-watching their notorious performance, they realize that MacIntyre has set up TVs all over the football facility. Those TVs will endlessly spool Fresno-Colorado highlights all week.

The Buffs trail 28-24 with one minute remaining. They take over on their 20-yard line. Wood is sacked on the first two plays. Ten seconds remain. No time outs. It's third and forever.

Wood drops back and heaves the ball into the air. It flies 70 yards. It lands in the outstretched fingers of a leaping Richardson. Two Bulldogs safeties collide. Richardson, realizing he is alone, struts into the end zone. Handler is the first to arrive.

Folsom Field goes bonkers. For 20 minutes.

Colorado loses its next three games to Oregon State, Oregon and by a field goal at Arizona State. The media grills MacIntyre.

"It's pretty simple, folks," MacIntyre says. "Our best effort, our best performance, guarantees this team very little. We are smaller, slower and younger than just about anybody on our schedule. But our best effort does guarantee us one thing, however, and it is the most important thing. It guarantees we can look around the locker room and know we did everything we could to be a great teammate. That, by the way, is no different than what those championship Colorado teams in the late 1980s, early 1990s asked of themselves."

The Buffaloes upset Arizona, lose a heartbreaker at UCLA and get bombed at Washington. They get win No. 5 against California, but fail to earn bowl eligibility after losing 20-10 to USC.

Up next: Arch-rival Utah.

Handler walks into MacIntyre's office with Wood, Webb and Richardson. He drops a bike on MacIntyre's desk. The black and gold bike has been sloppily painted over with Utah red.
Handler: Coach, this is the vandalized bike of the daughter our former coach, Jon Embree, a great and loyal Buff.

Richardson: We know a lot of Colorado fans blame him for everything, but we don't. We love you coach, but we still love and respect coach Embree.

Wood: So we want to tell you what this is and what it means to our locker room. And, well, we also know that it's one of the Pac-12 blog's favorite bits of fancy in his Best Case/Worst Case posts, which he nearly killed this year because he wasn't certain he could think up much else. Word is his brain is not that big.

A short time later, MacIntyre bursts into the Buffs locker room and throws the bike.

"This is an abomination!" he barks. "This must not stand! We have an old saying at Colorado: 'Don't get mad, get even.'"

Colorado beats Utah 30-27, with kicker Will Oliver booting a 57-yard field goal on the last play of the game. The Buffs earn a berth in the New Mexico Bowl, where they beat Nevada to finish 7-6.

Richardson announces he is returning for his senior year. "I'd like to ask the rest of the Pac-12," he says to reporters. "Do you mind if we dance with your dates?"

Christian McCaffrey switches his commitment from Stanford to Colorado. This leads to a change-of-heart across the state, as seven of the top nine in-state prospects sign with the Buffs.

On Christmas Eve, Trey Parker announces he will pay for all of Colorado's facilities renovations. The "Cartman Academic Center" is a big hit.

The snow comes early and often and is most righteous.

Worst case

The ultimate indignity wasn't losing a second consecutive game to Colorado State, this time 28-10. It was that the Rams didn't seem that enthused by the result.

Big brother in the state rivalry had taken a fall.

"We've got bigger fish to fry," Rams coach Jim McElwain says. "While our fans won't take a win over Colorado for granted, I think just about everyone in Fort Collins felt confident entering this game."

The Buffaloes get a win by besting Central Arkansas, and the visit from Fresno State seems to inspire a locker room bent on revenge for the blowout loss to the Bulldogs the previous year.

But Derek Carr takes a merciful kneel on the Buffs 2-yard line as time expires. The final count? 50-13. Folsom Field is just about empty when Carr gently puts the Buffs out of their misery.

"We'll keep fighting," coach Mike MacIntyre says.

Only it doesn't seem that way as the Buffaloes lose to Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State by a combined 153-20 margin. "MacIntyre honeymoon ending early," says the Boulder Daily Camera headline.

With an off week ahead, MacIntyre switches from Connor Wood to true freshman Sefo Liufau at quarterback. But Arizona sacks Liufau twice and intercepts him three times before MacIntyre reinserts Wood in a blowout loss to Arizona.

"We're going to play two quarterbacks," MacIntyre says.

But nothing works because the Buffs just don't have enough talent. The season-ending loss at Utah gives them a 10-game losing streak and a final 1-11 record.

"As miserable as this season was," says MacIntyre, looking for a positive spin. "I saw some good things. We're young. We're going to get better."

Fundraising hits rock bottom, and facilities upgrades are delayed indefinitely.

Nebraska wins the national title over Texas.

Walmart buys downtown Boulder.

"We're going to get rid of all those uppity shops and high falutin restaurants and give folks low prices on plastic furniture and cheap stuff they don't need," says Walmart president and CEO Mike Duke. "It's going to be the biggest and best Walmart yet!"

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