Pac-12: Cowboys Stadium

Notre Dame wanted out of its series with Arizona State, but the Sun Devils wanted to play. A compromise was announced Tuesday that is a win for the Sun Devils.

The Fighting Irish will visit Tempe on Nov. 8, 2014, but the Sun Devils won't make a return trip to South Bend, Ind., in 2017.

The meeting scheduled for Oct. 5, 2013, between the teams at Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas has nothing to do with this game contract. It's still on.

A statement from ASU vice president for athletics Steve Patterson:
“We’re pleased that Notre Dame was able to resolve its scheduling issues in a way that allows it to play at Sun Devil Stadium in 2014. ... Our entire Sun Devil family -- season ticket holders, fans, students, alumni -- and our entire community here in the Valley have been looking forward to playing Notre Dame in Tempe since the original agreement was signed in 2008. While the game at Notre Dame in 2017 has been canceled, what is most important to us is that the game in Tempe has been saved."

Notre Dame, which has been reworking its schedule after it agreed to play five ACC football games per year from 2014 on, apparently had a weakness in its negotiating position with ASU: Not including a buyout in the original game contract.
There should be no joy when a college football player shows "poor academic judgment," as Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson described his turn of misfortune, thereby earning a suspension that ended his 2013 season before it began.

So stop smiling, particularly you guys in Tempe, Los Angeles and Palo Alto.

Seriously, that's not terribly charitable.

In any event, Golson's academic pratfall dramatically changes the complexion of the three Pac-12 games with Notre Dame this season: Arizona State in Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 5, USC on Oct. 19 and at Stanford on November 30.

While Golson was inconsistent as a redshirt freshman starter last fall, he still was good enough to lead his team to an undefeated season and a berth in the national title game. Word this spring was he looked more in command and greatly improved, which makes sense for a second-year starter. It's not unreasonable to believe the big-armed, speedy dual-threat QB would have been more of a dual threat this fall, perhaps significantly more, a guy who well fit what coach Brian Kelly wants to do on offense.

There is no way to sugarcoat it: Notre Dame just got worse. And that benefits the Irish's opponents.

With Golson back, one could overlook obvious issues for an offense that only finished 78th in the nation in scoring last year. Now, not so much. As's Matt Fortuna pointed out, this offense "features two new starting linemen, is down its top two running backs from last year, and has no sure answer to replace record-setter Tyler Eifert at tight end."

So the Irish are going to -- again -- lean heavily on their defense. Arizona State, USC and Stanford each have offenses that, at least in terms of potential, can more than match up with what should again be a good Notre Dame defense. And all three should have an advantage when their defense squares up with the new-look Irish offense, particularly Stanford.

With Golson gone, the most obvious answer is experienced senior Tommy Rees. He has 18 career starts and has played well at times, but he's far from big armed and he doesn't have the running ability Golson has. Life gets much easier for a defense when the opposing QB isn't a substantial run threat.

While it's unseemly to leap into the air and click your heels together over a foe's misfortune, it is fair to say that Todd Graham, Lane Kiffin and David Shaw didn't have their Memorial Day weekend ruined by this news.
The question concerns Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly: What's next for him after a strong starting debut as a sophomore? Both head coach Todd Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell make the same observation in separate interviews.

"In the eight games we won last year, Taylor didn't throw any interceptions," Graham said.

"And in the five games we lost," Norvell said, "he threw at least one."

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireTaylor Kelly "commands our team," coach Todd Graham said. "He's a guy with all the intangibles, a guy we completely trust."
It's an interesting factoid -- all nine interceptions in five losses -- one you can imagine has been brought up to Kelly by both a few times. You also could read too much into it. Other than his first-ever road start against a mediocre-to-bad Missouri team, those losses came against good teams.

But it also aligns with what Kelly needs to do this fall to take the proverbial next step: Take charge and be consistently excellent so Arizona State becomes better than those other good teams.

Graham calls it mastering the offense. Kelly knows it's about stepping up at critical moments.

"When things hit the fan, that's when I've got to play my best," Kelly said. "When things would start to hit the fan last year, I would kind of panic and start forcing things. Or if we were down, I'd feel I had to make a play. After watching film, I realize I need to take the easy route and take what the defense gives me."

Be smart. Command the huddle. Distribute the ball to the playmakers. Step up and deliver in big moments. That's what veteran quarterbacks do, and that's what will get Kelly and the Sun Devils to the Pac-12 title game with a shot at the Rose Bowl.

It's reasonable to project. Kelly blew away preseason expectations last year, eclipsing 3,000 yards passing while ranking second in the Pac-12 and ninth in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw 29 touchdown passes and rushed for 516 yards and a score. Even incremental improvement should make him an all-conference candidate, though the same can be said for a number of outstanding Pac-12 quarterbacks.

It's strange to recall that a year ago the idea of such a projection would have seemed ridiculous. Kelly finished 2012 spring practice third in the Sun Devils quarterback competition behind Mike Bercovici and Michael Eubank. More than that, there was some talk of reducing his reps and making it a two-man race heading into fall camp.

"We came this close to making it a two-man race because of my belief that it's hard to rep three guys," Graham said. "That would have eliminated Taylor Kelly. I'll be honest. He was third team coming out of spring, and that was where he should have been. He improved that much over the summer."

The same can be said for the 2012 season. Kelly showed resilience by bouncing back after bad games. The poor showing at Missouri? He threw 11 touchdown passes in the next three games with no picks. A four-game losing streak killing the momentum of a previously promising season? Kelly threw eight touchdown passes with no picks as the Sun Devils finished with three consecutive victories, including a comeback victory in the Territorial Cup.

"I think he got better every single game," Graham said. "There is no substitute for experience. What gives me the most confidence in this team is we have a quarterback who I completely trust, who has all the intangibles it takes to be a great quarterback and a great leader."

There is a question, and it affects Kelly directly: Receiver.

Kelly has a good tight end/H-back in Chris Coyle. Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster are skilled pass-catchers. But there's a dearth of talent and experience at wideout.

Said Kelly, "It's been a work in progress."

It's an issue whose solution lies in the unknown: Arizona State needs at least two, perhaps three, incoming receivers to show up ready to play immediately. The Sun Devils signed five receivers, topped by the touted Jaelen Strong (Said Graham, "As dynamic a receiver as I've seen on film."), and they will be immediately thrown into the rotation.

While Graham also frets about special teams, the Sun Devils' potential advance to a 10-win sort of team depends on giving Kelly some A-list targets who will keep an opposing defense honest.

Further, there won't be much of a preseason, getting-to-know-you process. Games 2-4 go: Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium.

Yet this team is fully capable of handling a front-loaded schedule and climbing the national rankings. And that feeling starts with Kelly.

"He commands our team. He's a guy with all the intangibles, a guy we completely trust," Graham said. "We have a quarterback who is a championship-level quarterback. That gives you a chance."

Bowls & playoffs: The old and the new

April, 24, 2013
Two items appeared in my email over the past 24 hours, one representing a celebration of college football's old system and the other the brand spanking new.

First, there's the four-team college football playoff, which will begin in 2014 and replace our beloved BCS system.

After working with consultants, PR and marketing firms, psychics and the Kardashians, it was decided to call the college football playoff, "The Ultimate Extravaganza of Spectacular Spectacular FancyPants Cornholio and Ole!"

Or ... the "College Football Playoff."

The Powers That Be, perversely, opted for the latter. And it will be played in Cowboy Stadium on Jan. 12, 2015.

“We decided to call the playoff what it is -- the College Football Playoff. We think the new playoff will be the most dynamic improvement to college football in a generation. Certainly it’s what the fans want. We also invite everyone to vote online to select the logo and help us kick off the new College Football Playoff,” said Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff, in a statement.

We have been told the CFP will not be abbreviated.

From the press release:
The College Football Playoff will begin with the 2014-2015 season and feature the top four teams as chosen by a yet-to-be-named selection committee. The Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl have already been chosen to host the first national semifinals, which will pair No. 1 versus No. 4 and No. 2 versus No. 3 on Jan. 1, 2015.

You can vote on the logo here. I voted for No. 2, and my least favorite is No. 4. Of course, it's winning by a wide margin.

All of this college football cogitating is going on in Pasadena, the home of the Granddaddy of the All, college football's greatest tradition and spectacle, the Rose Bowl.

It also was announced this week the Rose Bowl has a special logo for its 100th game.

Think of that: Something lasting 100 years. Boggles the mind.

Of course, the Rose Bowl is double-hosting this bowl season. Five days after the traditional game that hopes -- fingers crossed! -- to match the Pac-12 and Big Ten, the Tournament of Roses will also host the 16th and final BCS National Championship on Monday, Jan. 6, at the Rose Bowl Stadium.

So in with the new and celebrate the old. And prepare for the long good-bye to the BCS.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Todd Graham is perturbed. Heads may roll. It's just a matter of time before Twitter will light up about the new crisis at Arizona State.

Graham and the Sun Devils have gathered after a spring practice, awaiting their training table. It's Tuesday. It's lunch time. That means one thing: Taco Tuesday. When a fellow shows up for training table on Tuesday at Arizona State, he expect tacos. That is the way. And it is good. Graham likes Taco Tuesday.

Yet there are no tacos to be found. These are the times that try men's souls. Graham makes sure everyone in the room knows he is perturbed. And enjoying himself, tacos or not.

What a difference a year makes.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriFor Todd Graham and Arizona State, the past is no longer interesting. It's all about the present, in which the Sun Devils are South Division co-favorites.
Last year, Graham might have been the most hated coach in college football. Among those sane enough not to hate a coach for leaving one football program for another, as Graham did Pittsburgh for Arizona State, he was at least the most mocked for his undeniably peripatetic ways.

Because little was expected of the Sun Devils in 2012, the only subject that interested national reporters about the program was Graham's controversially abrupt departure from Pittsburgh. He was asked to explain his OUTRAGEOUS BEHAVIOR -- you know, leaving one job for a better one -- exactly 5,356 times.

"We loved that," he said. "It's our favorite subject."

Yet he answered all 5,356 inquiries without snapping over the redundancy. And then he coached the heck out of his football team, which showed impressive improvement both on and off the field.

The Sun Devils went 8-5 -- just the second time the program won at least that many games since 2005 -- and won a bowl game, its first in six seasons. But it was not only that. In 2011, they ranked last in the nation with 79.77 penalty yards per game. That was a talented but horribly sloppy and undisciplined team. In 2012, they ranked first in the Pac-12 and eighth in the nation with 34.92 penalty yards per game.

In 2011, the Sun Devils waived a white flag over a once-promising season, losing six of their final seven games against a weak schedule, with the locker room fracturing into antagonistic bailiwicks. In 2012, they bounced back from a four-game losing streak against quality opponents to win their final three games, including a comeback victory at rival and 24th-ranked Arizona.

And instead of racing out the door for an NFL paycheck -- as many Sun Devils have been wont to do -- consensus All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, opted to return for his senior season.

The past is no longer interesting. It's all about the present, in which the Sun Devils find themselves as South Division co-favorites with UCLA, a team that beat them last fall on a last-second field goal with Sutton sitting out with an injury.

"We're not going to sneak up on anybody," Graham said. "People are expecting us to be a darn good football team. So how do you handle success?"

That's been a problem in the past. A preseason ranking in 2008 became a 5-7 finish, and Arizona State was 5-1 and ranked 18th before it imploded in 2011.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesWill Sutton led the Pac-12 in tackles for loss and sacks per game in 2012.
High expectations for 2013 are based not only on 16 returning starters, but on who's coming back. First, there's Sutton, who led the Pac-12 in tackles for loss and sacks per game. Then there's quarterback Taylor Kelly, who ranked second in the conference in passing efficiency in 2012 in his debut as a starter. Surrounding them is a strong supporting cast. Sutton has LB Carl Bradford (20.5 tackles for a loss), while Kelly has a deep stable at running back, led by D.J. Foster and Marion Grice, and an offensive line that should be much improved.

"This team has some very strong qualities," Graham said. "One, being the quarterback. Two, being we do have the capabilities of having a really good defensive football team."

Kelly, who was buried at No. 3 on the QB depth chart after spring practices last year, seems poised to take another step forward.

"I think he got better every single game," Graham said. "There is no substitute for experience. What gives me the most confidence in this team is we have a quarterback, and we have a quarterback who I completely trust, who has all the intangibles it takes to be a great quarterback and a great leader."

Folks should get a fairly good line on the 2013 Sun Devils by the first weekend of October. Last year, the early schedule was weak. That's not the case this go-around. After the opener against Sacramento State, Arizona State plays Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium.

At that point, we should know if the Sun Devils are legit Rose Bowl contenders. Graham thinks so, and he wants his team to believe it.

"I believe these guys think they can win [the Pac-12]," he said. "I don't think they did last year."

The subject has changed in Tempe. The question heading into 2013 is whether that translates onto the field.
Welcome. I am he as you are he as you are me and this is the mailbag.

Goo goo goo joob.

(Kevin is the walrus).

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

Notes please.

Tyler from Phoenix, Ariz., writes: I know you and Kevin are pretty high on ASU for 2013. But honestly, that schedule packs a wallop! Far too often there have been ASU teams that stumble in the beginning of the season, lose confidence, and proceed to lose winnable games late in the season. Am I crazy to think that they make take a step forward as a team, but take a step back in the win-loss column?

Ted Miller: You are crazy as a loon.

Yet you also are correct about the schedule. After FCS Sacramento State, the Sun Devils' next four games are tough: Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, which will feel like a road game.

I expect Arizona State to go 2-2 in that stretch. I like its chances at home against a Wisconsin team breaking in a new coach and against the Trojans. I think the chances are dim at Stanford. Notre Dame will be favored, perhaps by more than a touchdown, but I also think the Sun Devils, if they play well, have a good shot to upset the Irish.

So 3-1 is far from inconceivable. Neither is 1-3, by the way.

Obviously, the Pac-12 games are most important, and beating USC would make a statement in the South Division. As for losing confidence early, that will be the measure of Year 2 under coach Todd Graham. Recall that the Sun Devils bounced back well this year after losing four in a row to win their final three games, including a comeback win at rival Arizona.

We've heard a lot of about a culture change in the program, and we've seen a lot of evidence that has taken place. What the Sun Devils did last year was mostly win the games they were supposed to (Missouri being the exception) and lose against ranked teams. The next step is to beat quality opponents.

The tough start simply means we'll get a good early measure of the Sun Devils: Are they a top-25 team with a chance to win the South? Or are they a middle-of-the-pack team?

My feeling right now is the former. But we shall see.

Josh from College Station, Texas, writes: Greetings from SEC country. I have an expansion related question. Big surprise, right? It seems that, of the five major conferences (SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, B1G, and ACC...heck I'll even throw the MWC in there) the Pac-12 has the fewest options available for expansion, if the need were ever to arise. If college football makes a move for larger conferences, where does the Pac-12 turn to increase its size? Before the Grant of Rights occurred, the Big 12 was ripe for the picking, but now I'm not so sure. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Ted Miller: I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that College Station, Texas, is now "SEC country." But if Josh can do it, I should too.

You are correct. If we are to assume the Big 12 is again solid -- and it's probably not safe to assume anything, though the Big 12 seems stable at present -- then there are aren't any appealing, regional options for the Pac-12.

Now, this is when everyone goes, "What about School X?"

The answer is "No. It is not appealing." I don't want to get involved in typing why a list of schools on the West Coast are not appealing because that seems an unnecessary way to insult a variety of fine institutions.

As a catch-all: Outside of the Big 12, there aren't any schools out there that would bring strong, new markets to the conference, and that is what expansion is all about: eyeballs. Eyeballs mean more TV revenue. TV revenue makes expansion go round-and-round.

In September 2011, before the SEC and Big Ten made bold, expansionist moves, the Pac-12 could have added Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. It would have become the Pac-16 and the nation's most powerful athletic conference, but commissioner Larry Scott, acting on behalf of the Pac-12 presidents, turned down the opportunity.

I believed that was a mistake then and I do so even more now, and I think Scott agrees with me, though he can't publicly admit it.

Most longtime college football observers who have paid attention to the nuances of the expansionist trends believe there will be further contraction in the future as we move forward with a playoff format. The have-programs and have-conferences will continue to consolidate their forces. Consider the weakened states of the Big East and ACC, AQ conferences in the BCS system, as the Big Ten and SEC have flexed their muscles.

I do think there is reason for the Pac-12 to be nervous.

That said, Scott has long seemed to have a pretty good grip on the national landscape. He's a creative thinker. If trends continue in their present fashion, I suspect he's got a Plan B.

Derrick from Omaha, Neb., writes: Do you have any info on John Boyett? Could he get a medical redshirt? Is he turning pro? If so what is his draft stock?

Ted Miller: The Oregon safety is not seeking a medical redshirt year. He's entering the NFL draft this spring.

He pretty much moved back to Napa, Calif., his hometown, after his knee injury, handling his own surgery (both both patellar tendons), rehab and affairs.

As for his draft prospects, it's hard to say. He's not big -- 5-foot-10, 205 pounds -- and doesn't have great speed. He does, however, have great football instincts and a lot of "want-to." His numbers as a starter since his true freshman season were sensational.

I think he'll have a pro career, if healthy, at least as a special-teams ace.

The biggest thing he needs to do is run a good 40-yard dash for NFL scouts and prove his knees are back to 100 percent. If he shows he's healthy, my guess is he'll get picked in the late rounds of the draft.

Derek from Salt Lake City writes: All-Knowing Ted, In your article about UCLA landing two elite safeties, you mentioned that strong recruiting classes may help UCLA "challenge USC for PAC-12 supremacy." How is this supposed to occur if USC is nowhere near the top? Even if USC surprises us with a much stronger season next year (very iffy with a new QB), they would be, at most, the third-best team in the conference.

Ted Miller: A great way to get your note published is to call me "All-Knowing Ted."

As to your question, Derek, I was referring to recruiting rankings Insider. USC, ranked eighth in the nation, is tops in the Pac-12 at present but UCLA, at 12th and up nine spots after a big week, seems to be closing strong as the Trojans struggle a bit with decommitments.

To me, it would be a pretty big deal if UCLA's recruiting class eclipses USC's, even with the Trojans class limited by sanctions, particularly after how well the Trojans' recruiting season started.

Dave from Cocoa Beach, Fla., writes: I'm a slacker! I missed your review of Utah, do have a link to it so I can catch up? Need all I can get here is gatorville (they even get more local coverage than FSU!).

Ted Miller: Dave, I'm sure everyone feels sorry for you living in Cocoa Beach. Poor, poor Dave. Sitting on the beach with his laptop, checking his IBM stock, listening to the ocean lap against the white sands -- "Now where is the cabana girl with my pina colada? How can I be expected to endure WITHOUT MY PINA COLADA AND MY UTAH SEASON REVIEW!"

Dave, here's the Utah season review. And here's a link for everyone who might wish to peruse all the Pac-12 season reviews.
SEC and Big 12 folks have been tweaking the Big Ten and Pac-12's love of the Rose Bowl of late. That made me grin because the primary motivation for those tweaks was jealousy.

Don't buy that assessment? Well, then what do you make of this: The SEC and Big 12 champions, starting in 2014 after the current BCS contract expires and we presumably adopt a four-team playoff, will meet annually in a prime time New Year's Day "bowl" game.

[+] EnlargeMike Silve
Darrell Walker/Icon SMICommissioner Mike Slive and the SEC have a bowl agreement with the Big 12 that is nearly identical to the Rose Bowl model used by the Big Ten and Pac-12.

Unless, of course, the SEC and/or Big 12 champions are selected for the four-team playoff, which one is almost certain to be and both are likely to be.

But, if one or both is selected for the playoff, then, just like the Rose Bowl, a No. 2 team from both or either conference will be selected.

So the SEC and Big 12 have adopted the Rose Bowl model in its entirety. Other than the fact that they can't play in the Rose Bowl stadium as the sun goes down over the San Gabriel Mountains.

The location has not been set. The Sugar Bowl (SEC) and Fiesta Bowl (Big 12) already have a dog in this fight, but expect bids to come from Jerry Jones and his deluxe Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as well as a play from Atlanta.

By the way, the Rose Bowl jealousy stuff is mostly good-natured ribbing while I'm gaping at another sudden shift in college football's tectonic plates.

Folks, this stuff is amazing, and there's a stunning plot twist seemingly on a weekly basis -- Florida State to the Big 12? Notre Dame back in play?

The main take-away: This is a step closer to four power conferences, with the ACC and Big East finding their footing suddenly precarious.

And, if you want to worry, Pac-12 fans, it looks like the SEC and Big 12 are being far more aggressive -- read: expansionist -- as college football remakes itself. Keep in mind that the Pac-12 could have ended the Big 12 last September and become the first 16-team super-conference if Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech had made a jump.

Pac-12 presidents might end up regretting their decision not to expand -- and giving Oklahoma, in particular, the shaft. Newly enriched by a mega-TV deal, they might have lost track of the big picture while they were counting their money.

Commissioner Larry Scott has long held that further consolidation at the top of college football was inevitable. This is another example of him proving right, though this time without a blockbuster deal for Pac-12 folks to celebrate.

This latest news is a reason to get nervous. Or to just marvel at how quickly the game has changed.

Best Pac-12 atmospheres in 2011

January, 18, 2012
I get paid to go to football games. It beats digging ditches for a living.

Some games, however, are better than others, mostly because of the location and magnitude of the game. So here are my top-six game-day environments from 2011.

1. Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin: Not much to say here. It's the Rose Bowl. All the other bloggers are doing lists, but they are playing for No. 2 because the Rose Bowl is the most righteous sports atmosphere in all the world. Other than the World Cup final.

2. Stanford at USC, Oct. 29: An instant classic. Two high-quality teams with super-elite quarterbacks going blow for for blow until it was decided in Stanford's favor in triple-overtime. And with 93,607 on hand, it was an old-school crowd at the Coliseum.

3. Oregon vs. LSU, Cowboys Stadium: Cowboys Stadium is the ultimate statement of sporting excess, which is to say it's awesome. And this was a rare season-opener matching top-five teams from the two best conferences over the past decade or so. And it would have been a good game if we could have made the third quarter disappear, eh Ducks?

4. Arizona State at Oregon, Oct. 15: Went to Autzen Stadium three times this season, and this was the best atmosphere. Crowd of 60,055 was a stadium record, and they were thrilled when backup quarterback Bryan Bennett came off the bench for an injured Darron Thomas to lead the Ducks to 17 unanswered points in a come-from-behind 41-27 win.

5. Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 11: I did not attend this game, but here's what Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmel had to say: "The Cardinal faithful packed Stanford Stadium for arguably the biggest game in school history that ultimately ended with a resounding thud. The pregame atmosphere was phenomenal. But as it became more apparent the Cardinal were not going to win, the once excitable, sellout crowd became placid and subdued. Great atmosphere, but only for about a quarter and change."

6. Missouri at Arizona State, Sept. 9: Many have forgotten how well the Sun Devils started the season. This 37-30 overtime win on ESPN was played in front of a packed house at Sun Devil Stadium -- 70,236 -- and just about everyone was wearing black for a "blackout." Might have been quarterback Brock Osweiler's best game.

Oregon just won't go away

November, 14, 2011
When the Oregon Ducks trudged off the Cowboys Stadium field after a 40-27 loss to LSU on Sept. 3, just about everyone counted them out. That was made real when they were poleaxed by pollsters, dropping from No. 3 to No. 13 and No. 14 in the AP and coaches' polls, respectively.

That will teach Oregon -- and anyone else -- to agree to a marquee nonconference matchup against an elite team that everyone wants to see!

Most turned away from the team with loud uniforms. Andrew Luck and Stanford were now the interesting team in the Pac-12, and Oklahoma, Alabama, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Florida State, Texas A&M and those LSU Tigers were the real contenders.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireCoach Chip Kelly, RB LaMichael James and the Ducks are aiming for the national title game.
But teams, as they are wont to do in college football, started falling by the wayside, and the Ducks kept coming. It was quiet at first. Nevada bludgeoned a week after LSU; a pounding of Arizona on the road; California and Arizona State dispatched with prejudice.

And when Oregon gamboled off the field after a 53-30 victory over Stanford, just about everyone started counting them back in.

It made me recall that cool sequence at the beginning of Rocky III when Clubber Lang is, one by one, clubbering a string of foes on a bigger and bigger stage, and his dominance is attracting the worried attention of Rocky's manager Mickey.

And just as Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" ends, Clubber barks at Mickey, "I want Balboa! I want Balboa! You hear that, Old Man?"

Said Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas after the game, "I feel like if we get another shot at [LSU] again, I feel like it will be a better game."

Not exactly the same sort of bravado, but LSU is more Ivan Drago than Rocky.

Oregon would like to play LSU again with an offensive line and defensive front seven that have jelled. It would like to play LSU again with a healthy LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner. It would like to play LSU without four turnovers, including two fumbles from Thomas.

It is a longshot to happen. And to be absolutely fair to how things went down in game one -- it sure as heck was as much about LSU's size and speed as turnovers -- and how good LSU has looked since then, my guess is few, including our friends who look at things without emotion in Las Vegas, would pick the Ducks to win a rematch.

It would, however, be interesting. Let's recall that the last offensive-minded evil genius to get a rematch in a national championship game against a defensive power -- Florida and Steve Spurrier in 1996 with Florida State -- won and won big.

If Oregon wins out impressively, and some dominoes fall here and there, maybe it will happen. It just won't happen today, this week or next. So let's bracket off the national title stuff.

And, as we look big picture, let's bracket off the potential endgame with L'Affair de Willie Lyles. I've talked to smart people who think Oregon may get hammered, and I've talked to smart people that think they won't. You never know with the NCAA, an institution where logic and fairness aren't always part of the process.

The big picture is this: Oregon is on the cusp of a third consecutive conference title. It's won 19 consecutive conference game, all but three by double-digits. If I were projecting coach Chip Kelly's record after his third season ends this January, I'd guess 34-5 (.875). Yes, I'm projecting a BCS bowl victory.

And Oregon will be a preseason top-five team in 2012 and will be the overwhelming favorites to win a fourth consecutive conference title, even if running back LaMichael James doesn't come back.

2013 looks like it will set up nicely, too.

Get the point? Oregon, barring a bomb from the NCAA, is set up for the long haul. It's on the cusp of becoming one of "those" programs. You know, where nine wins is viewed as a rebuilding year.

Of course, all the Ducks haters are barking about the lack of a Rose Bowl victory much less a national title. True. Snarky, but fair. That's why some of this hangs on the Ducks taking care of business in whatever January bowl they end up playing in.

Said Thomas, "I wouldn't want to play us."

Oh, there are lots of fans of lots of teams across the country that would have smart alec replies to that. That's the trash talking, message board, comments section face of college football.

But also know that plenty of measured, football-smart fans -- even LSU and Alabama fans -- watched the tour de force display against Stanford and thought to themselves, "I don't want to play them."

Mailbag: Duck, Cardinal consternation!

November, 11, 2011
Happy Friday.

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To the notes!

Robert from Portland writes: There is always talk about who's the best player or qb or running back every year. Then at the end of the year there is the talk about who is more likely to do it the next year. More often than not players don't repeat performances. This brings me to my question, who was the last running back to lead the nation in running one year and then come back and do it again? LaMichael James is doing it so far this year yet doesn't seem to get any recognition. All while missing TWO games.

Ted Miller: If James leads the nation in rushing for a second consecutive year, he will be in super-elite company. The last guy to do that turned out OK: LaDainian Tomlinson at TCU in 1999 and 2000.

As far as not getting recognition, you mean other than 1. Winning the Doak Walker Award last year as the nation's top running back; 2. Being a Heisman Trophy finalist; 3. Earning unanimous 2011 preseason All-American honors?

James dropped off the Heisman Trophy radar this season for three reasons: 1. He didn't play well against LSU in the opener; 2. He hasn't played many marquee opponents since then; 3. As you noted, he missed some action.

And if he has a lights-out game against Stanford in a victory -- think his 2010 performance -- then he'll again be on a shortlist of Heisman candidates.

Derrick from Omaha writes: One thing I have not heard mentioned regarding the Oregon-Stanford game is prep-time. Chip has only lost 5 games, 4 of those were to teams who had a month or more to get ready. The fifth was to Stanford who was coming off a bye week.Chip's Ducks have never lost to a team that played a game the previous week.Is this a real factor? Do you think this impacts this week's game?

Ted Miller: Yes, it's a factor and yes I think it impacts this week's game.

I will quibble with your saying this doesn't get mentioned. And I'd bet Chip Kelly would, too.

It's an unbelievable number, really, when used positively: It's darn near impossible to beat a Kelly offense with just one week to prepare.

On the other hand, it's more often been used in the negative: An elite defense with extra time to prepare can control Kelly's offense. Kelly, fairly, has repeatedly countered that the defenses that had extra time to prepare -- other than Stanford in 2009 -- were pretty elite.

As for this week, it's all about Stanford's defensive players not getting fooled by misdirection, maintaining their gap responsibilities, executing their assignments and tackling well. Oregon makes it hard to do all that, and it seems it's even more difficult without extra time to practice and train players' eyes.

But it is pretty interesting: If Stanford beats Chip Kelly's Ducks, it will be the first team to do so with just one week to prepare.

Pedro from Eugene, Ore. writes: Why do you have Stanford atop your most recent Pac-12 rankings but pick Oregon to beat them in Palo Alto? The rankings are your opinion, so wouldn't you rank the team to win a head-to-head matchup higher? Or has your Magic 8 Ball predicted a fluke upset?

Aaron from Seattle writes: Gotta wonder about you picking Oregon over Stanford, but having Stanford to the National Championship and Oregon to the Rose Bowl.... wanna show your math on that one?

Ted Miller: Can't a girl change her mind?

With the bowl projections, I hadn't really started thinking about the Oregon-Stanford game. Just like the power rankings on Monday, those projections were based on what happened in the previous 10 weeks.

But when I really started thinking about the game, this is what exploded out of my head, not unlike Athena bursting from Zeus' noggin!

Of course -- as noted -- I may have just had a bad burrito for lunch.

And there was just a little bit of not wanting to spoil my super-shocking prediction.

Alex from Las Vegas writes: Regarding the UCLA/Texas game at Cowboy Stadium, why do Pac-12 teams agree to play games at "neutral sites" that are anything but neutral. Why couldn't Oregon fly the extra 1/2 hour to Baton Rouge or UCLA just go to Austin? At least then they get whatever love that is associated with playing tough road games. Given the windfall of cash that the conference is about to get, can't they drive a harder bargain when it comes to schedules?

Ted Miller: I hear you. LSU-Oregon didn't feel like a neutral site game, and UCLA-Texas certainly won't.

So why can't Oregon play LSU in Phoenix or UCLA play Texas in Lambeau Field? My best answer is no one is trying to set up those games, while Jery Jones is doing so in Cowboys Stadium. And he's paying program's big bucks to come visit.

And, by the way, Cowboys Stadium is really impressive. I'm certain that the players will be goosed about the game, even if their fans are in a big minority.

Chance from Portland writes: What do the computers base there rankings on in the bcs poll?

Ted Miller: Most of the computer polls don't reveal their formulas because, of course, those formulas are so super-secret-awesome.

I can tell you that they don't include margin of victory, which was mistakenly removed after the 2004 season because -- waaaa! -- coaches were worried about running up the score.

Here's a hand-dandy guide to the computer polls.

Kyle from Jerusalem writes: Ted, I'm confused. Alabama lost to LSU at HOME last weekend and didn't even score a touchdown, and the ducks lost to them on a neutral field at the very beginning of the season. I know the SEC has a stronger conference, and how the computers would favor them. But how do the human polls explain putting Alabama at #3 and not at least behind the ducks and the other undefeated teams? And, if the remaining one loss teams fall, does Alabama really deserve to play in the "Game of the Century, Part II" when the ducks have shown they have matured as a team since the beginning of the year?

Ted Miller: The human polls have Alabama at No. 4. The BCS standings rank Alabama No. 3, but the Crimson Tide has only a very small edge over No. 4 Stanford due to the computers, which will disappear -- and not reappear -- if the Cardinal beats Oregon on Saturday and then wins out.

But, yes, one of the travesties this season was Oregon getting dumped from No. 3 to No. 13 and No. 14 in the AP and coaches polls, respectively, after it lost a glorified road game to LSU. It was as though a false narrative -- LSU dominated Oregon -- got started and the public never allowed the facts of the game to change a good, SEC story.

Further, to me, pollsters should have given Oregon credit for having the courage to schedule the game. I know if LSU had lost, I certainly wouldn't have dumped the Tigers 10 spots in my power ranking vote for

In many ways, you can, in fact, argue Oregon's performance against LSU approximated Alabama's. The Ducks produced three long TD drives: 19 plays, 79 yards; 13 plays 68 yards; 10 plays 70 yards. Alabama produced no TD drives, though it did have 62-yard and 79-yard drives, which netted three points. And we've noted before the statistical similarities on both sides of the football.

Other than the Ducks losing the turnover battle 4-1.

All that said, I voted Alabama fourth and Oregon sixth, just like most everyone else. Why? Alabama has a better resume at present, see wins over Penn State and Arkansas. And, to be honest, I think Alabama would beat Oregon.

That said: I'd much rather see a rematch with Oregon and LSU than Alabama and LSU. Just in terms of pure entertainment purposes. Oh, and I'd go to the game if Oregon was in it.

Isaac from San Francisco writes: Well you blew it. While we educated folks like all the big words and cultural references and your funny little comments which aren't always that funny really, you still don't know anything about football. Stanford is going to crush Oregon. And you picked Oregon. What will that make you, smart guy?

Ted Miller: Well, by my best estimation, if Stanford beats Oregon that would make my prediction of Oregon beating Stanford incorrect.

But thanks for calling me smart.

UCLA to play Texas in Cowboys Stadium

November, 10, 2011
UCLA and Texas enjoyed their series so much they've decided to sign a new game contract and upgrade their venue.

The Bruins and Longhorns have agreed to play in Cowboys’ Stadium in 2014, the LA Times reported. The date has been tentatively set for Sept. 13, according to Chris Foster's story, which noted "The Bruins have a game against Virginia scheduled for that day, but the two schools will work out a change."

UCLA and Texas split a home-and-home series this season and last with both winning on the road. UCLA whipped Texas 34-12 in Austin in 2010, and the Longhorns whipped the Bruins 49-20 in the Rose Bowl this year.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 4

September, 22, 2011
Ten issues to consider heading into the fourth week of games.

Pressure Barkley: USC QB Matt Barkley comfortable in the pocket? That's not a good thing for a defense, particularly when he gets to find receiver Robert Woods. USC has allowed just two sacks this year, and Arizona State will be missing its best pass-rusher -- defensive end Junior Onyeali, who's out indefinitely with a knee injury -- so the Sun Devils might need to get creative with blitzes. You know, like they've done with linebacker Vontaze Burfict this year, see four sacks.

[+] EnlargeUSC's Matt Barkley
Kelvin Kuo/US PRESSWIREMatt Barkley has passed for 892 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception so far this season.
Foles on his own? Arizona QB Nick Foles is a heck of a player but he will not beat Oregon on his own. He needs help from the Pac-12's worst running game, its worst defense and an offensive line that has yielded seven sacks.

Washington D needs to step up: Arizona has the worst defense in terms of yards allowed in the conference, but the Huskies are the worst in terms of points surrendered: 36.7 ppg. And the Huskies are 11th in the conference in yards allowed, too. Coordinator Nick Holt is the conference's best paid defensive coordinator (without the last name "Kiffin," at least), and it was widely believed in the preseason that the Huskies had enough talent to be an A-list defense this fall. The early results have been terrible. A visit from California to start the Pac-12 schedule is a heck of an opportunity for Holt and the UW D to reverse their fortunes.

No slow start in the 'Shoe, Colorado: As pointed out by the Boulder Daily Camera: "The Buffs have been outscored 40-20 in the first half in the first three games and 14 of the Buffs' 20 first-half points came against [Colorado State]." It wouldn't be a good idea to fall behind early against Ohio State in the Horseshoe. For one, having lost 19 in a row on the road, it likely wouldn't help the Buffaloes' confidence. Second, Ohio State's grind-it-out offense is much better playing from ahead than playing from behind -- see below.

Brehaut takes over: Richard Brehaut has an opportunity to decisively win the UCLA QB job. He just needs to put up numbers in a victory at Oregon State. Most observers have long felt coach Rick Neuheisel has favored Kevin Prince in the Bruins' seemingly endless QB competition, but Neuheisel will favor the guy who gets him a W. Brehaut should have a chance against the Beavers' pass defense, which is the worst in the Pac-12.

Osweiler bounce back: ASU QB Brock Osweiler was lights out at home against Missouri but he struggled at Illinois. Now he's back home facing USC, which has beaten the Sun Devils 11 consecutive times. Osweiler needs to regain his Missouri form -- or at least approximate it -- in order for Arizona State to jump to the front of the Pac-12 South Division pecking order.

Ducks make statement: After losing to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, which inspired many national pundits to write Oregon off, the Ducks quietly rolled up a pair of dominant wins at home against inferior foes. But now Oregon opens the Pac-12 schedule on ESPN2 with a chance to make a statement: "We're still here." If the Ducks can match -- or eclipse -- Stanford's impressive 37-10 win in Tucson last weekend, they likely will hush some of the doubters.

Zach Maynard's first big road test: The Cal QB has been solid in the Bears' first three games, including winning at Colorado, but playing at Husky Stadium is not something he's done before, certainly not during his days as the starting QB at Buffalo. While the Huskies' defense has been vulnerable, it's also faced three experienced QBs. Expect the Huskies to throw a lot at Maynard, whose biggest weakness in the early going has been accuracy.

Colorado run D vs. Ohio State: Colorado ranks fifth in the Pac-12 in rushing defense, and it will surely gang up on the run at Ohio State. The Buckeyes had only 209 total yards at Miami last weekend, including 35 yards passing. The way to stop the Buckeyes' offense, who completed a dreadful 4 of 18 passes against the Hurricanes, is to force them to throw. Can the Buffs do that?

Mannion the man? While Oregon State redshirt freshman QB Sezan Mannion saw a lot of action in the first two games, this is his first official game as the Beavers' starter. He's going to get some help with receiver James Rodgers and tight end Joe Halahuni returning to action, but it will be up to Mannion to deliver the ball on time and in the right spot against UCLA.

Oregon wants to become road warriors

September, 21, 2011
Oregon coach Chip Kelly recently groused about how hard it is to get elite teams to sign a home-and-home series with his Ducks. While money, as it often is in college football, is an issue, the biggest reason is teams don't want to get their butts kicked. Kelly's crew has won 18 in a row at home, last losing to Boise State on Sept. 20, 2008.

So when you ask Kelly about what he's learned about his team during a pair of home blowouts after it lost to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, he doesn't make any sweeping pronouncements of newfound skill, confidence or maturity.

"We're a good team at home," he said. "What we've got to learn now is how do we play on the road?"

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireChip Kelly's Oregon squad will try to regain their momentum by beating Arizona on the road Saturday.
That's a fair point. Though Oregon has lost only five games over the past two-plus seasons, each has been outside the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium.

And the numbers show a decided difference, too. The Ducks averaged 59 points at home last season and 36.7 points on the road. They averaged 41.6 points at home in 2009 and 29.7 point on the road. On defense, the Ducks held foes to 14.8 points at home in 2010 and 22.0 points on the road. In 2009, it was 20.4 at home and 27.7 on the road.

Of course, every team is better at home, and the quality of the home and road schedules matter. But when your team is trying to join the super-elite, those are numbers coaches notice and point out to players. For example, Auburn last season played better defense on the road, and averaged 45.8 points at home and 36.3 points on the road. In 2009, Alabama averaged 32.7 points at home and 31.4 points on the road. Those are the last two national champions.

So Kelly wants his team to take its A-game -- its Autzen-game -- to Tucson to face reeling Arizona.

Speaking of the Wildcats, a lot has been made of their seven-game losing streak to FBS foes. No one likes a seven-game losing streak.

But some perspective, folks. Four of those games were against top seven-ranked foes, and a fifth was against an Oklahoma State squad that finished 2010 ranked 13th. The Ducks will be the Wildcats third top-10 opponent in three weeks.

"This has been a perfect storm and we've got to weather it," said Arizona coach Mike Stoops (a visit to No. 23 USC is next, by the way).

Further, Stoops is a defensive coach. His most infamous sideline frowns and gesticulations come when his defense is not doing what he wants it to do. And that's been happening a lot of late, seeing that his defense ranks 111th in the nation.

Oregon, by the way, will be bringing the nation's No. 6 offense, the third consecutive top-20 offense the Wildcats will have faced, which is also a good reason the defense has looked so lousy. You might be surprised, however, that the fiery Stoops has become philosophical, preaching the power of positive thinking and learning from adversity.

"You have to look at where it's exposing our weak areas, where we have to get better," he said.

Stoops then is probably noting his run game, which ranks 116th in the nation with an anemic 55.7 yards per game. The Ducks defensive weakness, at least thus far, has been against the run, see 214.3 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the Pac-12. So that's an interesting weakness-on-weakness matchup.

It's more likely, though, this one will come down to a showdown of strength on strength: Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles versus a good Oregon pass defense, which ranks No. 1 in the conference.

Kelly is a big fan of Foles.

"I think Nick is one of the top quarterbacks in the country, not only in this conference," he said. "I don't think he gets nearly enough credit."

Of course, we could have another barn burner. The last time the Ducks visited in 2009, they won a thrilling 44-41 decision in double-overtime, a game that it looked like the Wildcats had in the bag. Until they didn't.

"I remember Jeremiah Masoli just running around making plays," Stoops said. "He made some incredible plays down the stretch. We couldn't come up with that last play to win the game."

Oregon doesn't want that. It wants to come in a take care of business -- like Stanford did in Tucson last weekend -- and look like a team that shouldn't yet be written out of national title contention.

Stoops' team is just trying to weather the storm. But he sees "speed everywhere" with Oregon. And he knows no team brings an offensive maelstrom like the Ducks.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The weeks of hype -- and controversy -- are almost over. In 90 minutes, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 LSU will start butting heads and we'll get some football answers instead of speculation.

Oregon's high-tempo, spread option offense will get another shot at a big-fast-mean "SEC defense." The Ducks will get an opportunity to end a pattern of struggling to move the ball against A-list defenses that get extra time to prepare.

What tweaks might have Chip Kelly come up with during his extra time to prepare? Are the Ducks going to be pass-first, as they were forced to be against Auburn. Or will the running game get going with LaMichael James, Kenyon Barner and true freshman De'Anthony Thomas?

Suspensions anyone? We'll see what LSU looks like without starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and Russell Shepard, its best receiver. We'll see what the Oregon defense looks like without CB Cliff Harris, and -- most likely -- MLB Kiko Alonso.

Is LSU going to be conservative and rely on its defense and 223-pound running back Spencer Ware? Or will it let Jarrett Lee throw the ball around, thinking a Harris-less secondary isn't as worrisome?

What nutty things do the coaches have planned?

Just like Kelly isn't afraid to go for it on any fourth down or do an on-side kick to open a second half, Les Miles has never been one to shy away from trickeration. Miles, who's 23-0 in regular-season nonconference games, even succeeds when he makes major gaffes.

Miles, however, won't eat the grass at Cowboys Stadium. It's artificial. That would be gross.

While the superficial position is to compare the LSU and Auburn defenses, but that's not really accurate. LSU's is better and more talented at all three levels. Only it has two new starting DTs, not Nick Fairley disrupting things in the middle.

Still, the Tigers secondary is vastly superior to Auburn's. If the Ducks have no running game, it will be tougher going throwing it. And much more risky.

Further, the Ducks are breaking in two new offensive linemen, one of whom -- OG Ramsen Golpashin -- is a 275-pound former walk-on.

Oregon also is breaking in five new starters on its front-7 on defense, though the new guys have plenty of experience. The Ducks defense held up well versus its offense this spring and preseason. Most in green believe the defense will do fine.

After all, no SEC defense did a better job against Cam Newton and Auburn last year.

The stakes are simple: The winner immediately becomes a national title contender. The winner, in fact, might -- should -- move up to No. 1 in the major polls, which means it will have poll position in the title chase.

Things are quiet here at present. But that won't last 80,000 fans are going to pack this place -- a significant majority of them in LSU purple -- and the talk will end and the best season-opener in decades will start to provide some answers.
Nobody likes sounding relentlessly redundant, but if the story doesn't change the story doesn't change.

For all that Oregon has accomplished in two years under Chip Kelly, it has flopped against highly rated nonconference foes who have had extra time to prepare for the Ducks high-tempo, spread-option attack.

  • In 2009, the Ducks opened at Boise State. While that game is most remembered for LaGarrette Blount's post-game meltdown in Kelly's debut, Boise State fans will be glad to remind you the Broncos held the Ducks to 31 yards rushing in a 19-8 victory.
  • The Ducks righted themselves dramatically in 2009 and earned a berth opposite Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. But the Buckeyes held the Ducks to 260 yards in a 26-17 victory
  • And, finally, in the national title game against Auburn, the Ducks only scored 19 points. They gained 449 yards but only 75 on the ground.
[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireOregon coach Chip Kelly and the Ducks would score a big win for the Pac-12 with a defeat of LSU on Saturday.
Those three games, against which there is little counter argument, other than the Ducks Pac-10 success, have inspired this sort of analysis: Oregon needs to get more physical.

If you have ever played football, you surely understand that when a football player has his physicality doubted, well, that's pretty galling.

Before all you Ducks get bent over this, keep in mind that Kelly has been a stand-up guy about this very point. In all three instances, he admitted the Ducks got beat at the point of attack. Further, during preseason camp, I asked running back LaMichael James about what went wrong against Auburn.

"Their defensive line was overpowering our offensive line," he said. "That was just the way it was."

How do you think this goes over with a Ducks offensive lineman? Department of "Truth Hurts."

Here's the good news: Oregon can end such talk on Saturday. All it has to do is take it to No. 4 LSU, a program as physically talented in terms of future NFL potential as any in the nation.

That's the micro-economic level of the super-cool-awesomeness of this marquee season-0pener in Cowboys Stadium.

Any one else curious to see what Kelly's got up his sleeve to counter LSU's extra prep time to school itself on the Ducks misdirection?

The macro-economic level is this: Pac-12 versus SEC. One game for a regular-season's worth of trash talking.

You might have heard the SEC has experienced some football success of late. On occasion, SEC fans will take a moment to remind you of it. There is a rumor, in fact, that five consecutive seasons have ended with a happy ending in some SEC outpost, the latest against the Pac-12's newest top-dog.

That would be Oregon.

To be honest, last January, I though Oregon was going to pound Auburn. I didn't think a two-player team -- no matter how good those two players were -- could beat the Kelly and the Ducks. The last time I had such a strong hunch about a game and was so completely wrong was when Washington pushed Miami around in 2000. (This is not to say I've had a long run of correct strong hunches about games before January. They just don't come by very often before marquee matchups).

Even if you throw out the stakes specific to Oregon and the Pac-12, this game has huge meaning nationally. The winner could -- should, in my mind -- rise to No. 1 in both major polls. Voters should reward the winner for showing the courage to play this game, which is great for college football at a time college football needs something great to distract fans from a stunning onslaught of scandals. A couple of which, rumor has it, might involve these two teams, territory we're choosing not to explore at this moment.

So if Oregon wins, it could rise to No. 1. If LSU has a successful season in the rugged SEC West, that win will grow in value. But even if LSU falters, the Ducks will be in position to play again for the national title if they keep winning.

Further, the odds aren't terrible that Oregon could arrive at Stanford on Nov. 12 and we find ourselves eyeballing two unbeaten teams. It could be a One-Two matchup even. At the worst, if the Ducks and Cardinal face each other without a blemish on either slate, it will be the biggest Pac-12 game in years (last year's game also matched unbeaten teams but was much earlier -- Oct. 2 -- in the season). If Stanford prevailed, it also could crow about beating the team that beat LSU and likely would play for the national title if it finished 12-0.

If Oregon loses to LSU, the Ducks could still have a great season. They could rally and perhaps get back into the national title hunt. And there's always the Rose Bowl, hardly a terrible destination. One nonconference game can't completely make or break a season.

But an Oregon victory would give the program a level of early-season gravitas it has never had. It would silence any remaining doubters, both of the Ducks and the Pac-12.

So, yes, you have heard correctly: This game is very, very big.