Pac-12: Doak Walker

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

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

USC DT Leonard Williams

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

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

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

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

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

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

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

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

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

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

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

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

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.

Biggest shoes to fill: UCLA

March, 15, 2013
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Starters in, starters out. That’s college football. Players’ eligibility expires, and they leave for the rest of their lives, whether that includes the NFL or not.

And they leave behind shoes of various sizes that need to be filled.

Our concern with this series? The biggest shoes -- in some cases Shaq-like size 23s.

Biggest shoes: RB Johnathan Franklin

Franklin rushed for a school-record 1,734 yards (6.1 average), averaging 123.9 yards per game, with 13 touchdowns. He also caught 33 balls for 323 yards and two touchdowns. He was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and became the Bruins all-time leading rusher, capping his career with a Pac-12 South Division title. Twice in 2012 he topped 200 yards rushing and six times he rushed for at least 160 yards. Against Stanford in the Pac-12 title game -- with the Cardinal boasting the best run defense in the conference -- he piled up 194-yard on 19 carries (10.2 average) with two touchdowns. He finished his career fifth on the Pac-12's all-time rushing list with 4,403 yards. It will be surprising if he lasts past the third round of the NFL draft.

Stepping in: A committee?

There isn't a running back on the Bruins roster who will make anyone forget Franklin. That could change, but it's presently a position decidedly in flux. Quarterback Brett Hundley was the Bruins No. 2 rusher last year, and undersized No. 3 rusher Damien Thigpen is coming back from a knee injury. Steven Manfro and Jordan James are nice supporting guys, but not the sorts who get 20-plus carries a game. More than a few folks are high on redshirt freshman Paul Perkins, but everyone felt the same way about former National Gatorade Player of the Year, Malcolm Jones, who has returned to the team as a walkon after three unremarkable seasons. The competition will get an injection of intriguing talent if incoming freshman Craig Lee gets academically eligible. All this, by the way, doesn't mean the offense and the running game can't match or exceed last year's strong production. For one, Hundley should be far saltier with a year under his belt. No. 2 -- and perhaps more important for the running backs -- the young offensive line, which struggled at times last year, should be much improved. It might actually turn out to be a good thing that carries are being shared more in 2013. That means guys will be fresher when the screws tighten late in what could be a special season in Westwood.
Toby Gerhart preceded him at Stanford. Then came Oregon's LaMichael James, casting a big shadow for two seasons. While 2012 seemed like it set up well for Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor to finally see his name on the college football marquee, he's nonetheless looking up at Oregon's Kenjon Barner, Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in the pecking order of Pac-12 running backs.

Taylor has practically become famous, in fact, for being overlooked and underrated. It's a perception that is frequently noted just before a coach or player praises Taylor for his all-around skills as well as his character.

"For some reason, I don't know why, I think he is extremely underrated," said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, whose Ducks play host to Taylor and Stanford on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireStepfan Taylor needs just 203 more yards to become Stanford's all-time leading rusher.
Said Stanford coach David Shaw, "He epitomizes what we are all about."

Taylor, a Doak Walker Award semifinalist, is hardly anonymous. You don't become the first player in Stanford history to record back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and be known only as What's His Name.

He is 169 rushing yards from reaching 4,000 in his career and 203 yards from breaking the school's career rushing record held by Darrin Nelson. Taylor’s 36 career rushing touchdowns are third all-time on The Farm. He needs one more to tie "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell for second.

Taylor presently ranks 22nd in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 with 106.1 yards per game. He's also the Cardinal's second leading receiver with 28 catches for 184 yards and two scores. Last week in the win over Oregon State, Taylor fumbled for the first time in nearly a calendar year, snapping a streak of 261 consecutive rushes without a fumble dating back to Nov. 26, 2011.

Oh, and he can block, too.

"He's the best pass-blocking running back in our conference, and it's not even close," Shaw said.

You put this all together, and the most popular conclusion is that Taylor's payoff will be in the NFL, where his toughness, ability to run between the tackles and diversity of skills will be more fully appreciated.

"Oh, gosh, I think he's a really, really good player. I really like him," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I think he's an NFL back. He's powerful, he's quick, he's smart, he's durable. He just keeps pounding at you. Of course, that's kind of Stanford's mentality, and he fits into it really well."

Riley knows firsthand. The Beavers own one of the nation's toughest run defenses, but Taylor gashed it for 114 yards on 19 carries in a 27-23 victory last weekend. However, it was a screen pass at the end of the third quarter that earned Taylor the most kudos. He took the short dump pass 40 yards for a critical touchdown that started the Stanford comeback, and just about every Oregon State defender had a shot at him but couldn't get Taylor down, most notably safety Anthony Watkins, whom Taylor dispatched with a brutal stiff-arm at the 12-yard line.

As for Taylor being underrated and underappreciated, the person who seems to care least about that is Taylor.

"I don't really think about that," he said. "I feel like people who watch football recognize what I do. I just go out there and play my game, control what I can control. That's the main thing. And try to get the win. That's my main focus."

Said Shaw, "He's the last person who wants to talk about himself."

Taylor might have to talk about himself if the Cardinal upset the No. 2 Ducks. By just about every estimation, Taylor will have to come up big for Stanford to have a chance. Stanford must run well and possess the football against a beaten-up Oregon defense, thereby keeping the Ducks' explosive offense on the sidelines.

Oregon pounded the Cardinal the previous two years, both times handing Stanford its only regular-season loss. While Taylor said, "It's the next game on our schedule; it just happens to be Oregon," he also admitted veteran Stanford players might have something of a "chip on our shoulder" when it comes to the Ducks.

And Taylor might be ready for his national close-up.

If he were to put up big numbers in a win over Oregon on Saturday, here's a guess that he'd become suddenly popular among fans of many college football teams, including Notre Dame, Kansas State and Alabama.

Three Pac-12 RBs are award semifinalists

November, 10, 2012
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Oregon's Kenjon Barner, UCLA's Johnathan Franklin and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor are among the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back.

Here's the complete list of semifinalists:

Montee Ball (Sr.) Wisconsin
Kenton Barner (Sr.) Oregon
Le’Veon Bell (Jr.) Michigan State
Giovani Bernard (So.) North Carolina
David Fluellen (Jr.) Toledo
Johnathan Franklin (Sr.) UCLA
Stefphon Jefferson (Jr.) Nevada
Venric Mark (Jr.) Northwestern
Joseph Randle (Jr.) Oklahoma State
Stepfan Taylor (Sr.) Stanford

Eight Pac-12 RBs on Doak Walker list

July, 19, 2012
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Eight Pac-12 running backs are on the 52-man watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which is given annually to the nation's best running back.

You can review the entire list here.

And here are the Pac-12 RBs on the list:

Season grade: Oregon

January, 12, 2012
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The 2011 season is over. That means report cards are due.

Up next: Oregon

Offense: The Ducks finished the season ranking third in the nation in scoring (46.1 ppg), fourth in total offense (523 yards per game) and fifth in rushing (299.2 ypg). So, well, not much to say there. Pretty darn good. Areas for criticism? Well, Oregon was sloppy against LSU in the opener and couldn't run the football, though no other team scored more on the Tigers than Oregon (27 points). Quarterback Darron Thomas had moments when his accuracy was off. No Ducks receiver earned even honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. Running back LaMichael James didn't win the Doak Walker Award again. Yeah, we're reaching a bit.

Grade: A.

Defense: The defense ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in both total defense (390.1 ypg) and scoring defense (24.6 ppg). But the Ducks ranked second in the conference in yards per play -- 5.07 -- which is a better measure of the defense because of how quickly the offense works. LSU scored 40 points but only gained 273 yards -- the Ducks were done in by four turnovers. USC piled up 462 yards and 38 points in a win in Eugene. Wisconsin ran over the Ducks in the first half of the Rose Bowl, but the Ducks stiffened in the second half. Still, after replacing six starters from the 2010 unit, it's hard to call the Ducks' defense anything less than solid.

Grade: B.

Overall: Oregon began the season as a national title contender, ranked third in the preseason poll. They finished ranked fourth -- a year after finishing ranked third. There were high expectations this season and the Ducks met them. The biggest accomplishment was winning the Rose Bowl after losing two previous BCS bowl games. That was a meaningful step in terms of national perception. By the way, the Ducks look like national title contenders again in 2012. Really, there was only one way the Ducks could have produced a better season, and that's finishing ranked No. 1. And, folks, I can't bring myself to give a team an A- when it wins the Rose Bowl and finishes ranked in the top five.

Grade: A.

LaMichael James to enter draft

January, 6, 2012
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As expected, Oregon junior running back LaMichael James will enter the NFL draft.

James' decision was first reported by The Oregonian on Dec. 15.

James, a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner, will finish his career as the best player in Oregon history and one of the best running backs in Pac-12 history. His 5,082 career yards rushing and 53 TDs rank second all-time in the conference. He was the first running back to eclipse 1,500 yards rushing three consecutive years.

His obvious replacement would be talented junior backup Kenjon Barner, but Barner also is considering entering the NFL draft.

The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.

Here is the list of Pac-12 players who have opted to enter the NFL draft a year early.

Vontaze Burfict, LB, ASU
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
Matt Kalil, LT, USC
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Nick Perry, DE, USC
Chris Polk, RB, Washington
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler is expected to shortly announce that he also will enter the draft.

Weekend rewind: Pac-12

December, 5, 2011
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Taking stock of the Pac-12 heading into the bowl season.

Team of the week: Oregon won its third consecutive Pac-12 championship with a 49-31 win over UCLA in the inaugural conference title game. The Ducks have officially become a mini-conference dynasty.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThis 30-yard touchdown run by LaMichael James set the tone for Oregon against UCLA.
Biggest play: After UCLA fumbled on its first possession, Oregon faced a fourth and 1 on the Bruins 30-yard line in the first quarter. A defensive stop would have made a big statement. Instead, LaMichael James went 30-yards for a 7-0 lead. What seemed inevitable in any event seemed even more so at that moment.

Offensive standout: James, the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist, is one of the best backs in the history of the Pac-8, Pac-10 and Pac-12. And, Huskies, USC and Beavers fans, to argue the point is to be stupid.

Consider:

  • James, a junior, rushed for 219 yards on 25 carries against UCLA, giving him 1,646 on the season. He becomes the first player in conference history to rush for 1,500 or more yards three times in a career. First. In. History. That's enough, by the way. But there's more!
  • James passed former USC back Marcus Allen (4,810 from 1978-81) for third on the Pac-12’s career rushing list with 4,923 yards.
  • James tied USC’s LenDale White (2003-05) for second in conference history in career rushing touchdowns with 52. He also equaled White’s 342 career points, which is 10th in Pac-12 history.

If you want to argue, please, first insist the earth is flat. It's a more intelligent position.

Defensive standout: Oregon linebacker Michael Clay had two sacks, six tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in the Ducks win against UCLA.

Special teams standout: UCLA punter Jeff Locke averaged 48.2 yards on four punts, killing two inside the Oregon 20-yard line.

Smiley face: Washington State for hiring Mike Leach. We don't use a hashtag often on the Pac-12 blog, but this gets one: #brilliant!

Frowny face: Arizona and Washington State conducted A-list coaching searches and got their man. It doesn't appear at this point Arizona State and UCLA are. We'll see who both end up with -- this frown can be turned upside down -- but it appears we're going to have an athletic director (or two) picking a third or fourth choice and then disingenuously insisting that's not the case.

Thought of the week: Getting two BCS bowl berths for a second consecutive year means each Pac-10 team will take home at least $1.2 million more over the past two years than if it had just one. And, yeah, I mean Pac-10 because Colorado and Utah don't get a BCS bowl share this year. Commissioner Larry Scott had nothing to do with Oregon and Stanford getting good, but he is the commissioner of record during those two years. Just by standing around and smiling, it seems as though Scott makes revenue appear.

Questions for the week: The Pac-12 is likely to be underdogs in five or six of its seven bowl games (spreads will be released later today). Oregon is expected to be favored against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and UCLA could go either way with Illinois in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. So will the conference lay an egg -- as expected in Vegas -- this bowl season or will it step up and prove the experts wrong?

Mailbag: Duck, Cardinal consternation!

November, 11, 2011
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Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter.

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 ESPN.com.

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.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 11

November, 10, 2011
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Issues to consider heading into the 11th week of games.

Luck & James: We've said -- and typed -- this before and we will say -- and type -- it again: Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. Stanford QB Andrew Luck and Oregon running back LaMichael James are big-time players. They were both Heisman Trophy finalists in 2010. Luck finished second; James won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back. Luck is the overwhelming Heisman favorite at present. James leads the nation in rushing. Who makes more big-time plays on Saturday? The one who does likely will play for the winning team, and he might end up hoisting the bronze stiff arm trophy.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireBig-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. So who will make more: Stanford's Andrew Luck or Oregon's LaMichael James?
Barkley makes Sarkisian seem brilliant: Washington coach Steve Sarkisian made headlines this week when he said he'd pick Trojans QB Matt Barkley over Stanford QB Andrew Luck. Maybe he was hoping Barkley would be so flattered that he'd take it easy on a Huskies pass defense that yields 283 yards per game? Don't count on it. In fact, expect Barkley to eclipse 30 TD passes this season -- he enters the game with 28 -- and perhaps move within sniffing distance of Matt Leinart's conference record of 38 with two games to play.

Chow down? It seems like Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow plays one of his former teams every other week, but this time it's different. He was UCLA's offensive coordinator the previous three season, so he knows the Bruins personnel on both sides of the ball extremely well. That could be invaluable, particularly with two teams that are limited offensively.

For the defense? Arizona and Colorado own the two worst defenses in the conference. You'd think that Arizona then would have an advantage because it has a much better offense -- Colorado ranks last in the conference in scoring and 11th in total offense. But the Buffaloes are healthier than they've been in weeks, and two cornerbacks return from suspension (Parker Orms and Paul Vigo). Plus there has to be a sense of urgency and desperation at the thought of going winless in their first year of Pac-12 play, while the Wildcats seemed to take a step back last weekend at Utah. While Nick Foles against the Colorado defense seems like a bad matchup, and two poor performances in a row for Foles seem doubtful, don't be surprised if the Buffs come out playing with as much fire as they have in their final home game.

Good Bears or Bad Bears? In terms of matchups, you have to like California's defense against Oregon State, as well as the Bears ability to run and stop the run while playing at home. But it's difficult to focus on Xs and Os with the Bears, because it seems like so much goes on -- right and wrong -- in their collective heads. They won three in a row to start the season. Then lost three in a row. They won a game, looking great against Utah. Then lost a game, looking terrible against UCLA. They then looked good again while pounding Washington State last weekend. So does that mean it's time for the Bad Bears to reappear? Cal should beat the Beavers. It's more talented and playing at home. But you never know which team will show up.

Sun Devils should be hot under the collar: Arizona State blew a special season at UCLA. That should bother them. As should tweaks from fans and the media. But they can still win the South Division, go to a good bowl game and have a good season. Nine or 10 wins isn't out of the question. So they need to bring their best focus and intensity to Pullman to face a desperate Washington State team. It's going to be a bit chilly. It may snow. But QB Brock Osweiler and linebacker Vontaze Burfict need to make sure that the locker room is in a frenzy and ready to make a statement against the Cougars.

Red zone, turnovers, third down: Stanford is a perfect 52-of-52 in the red zone this year (with a stunning 41 TDs). It also is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in red zone defense. The Cardinal is No. 2 in the conference in turnover margin, and has given the ball away just seven times this season. Finally, Stanford is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in third-down conversions and second in third-down defense. Oregon is strong by these three measures also. Whoever is better in two of three categories on Saturday is probably going to end up smiling when the clock strikes zero.

The Price of playing defense: Last year, lots of folks were down on USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and for good reason. The Trojans, so long a dominant defensive team, played soft and tentative and put up bad numbers. But, without a lot of fanfare, USC has significantly improved on D. For one, it's held six of nine foes to 17 or fewer points. The Trojans rank fourth in the conference in total defense. Still, they aren't great against the pass. They give up 271 yards passing per game and rank sixth in pass-efficiency defense, with foes completing 63 percent of their throws. Washington QB Keith Price started the season hot, but has cooled off of late, tossing six interceptions in his past three games after throwing four in his first six. The Trojans have been tough to run against, so Price won't be able to just lean on running back Chris Polk. He's going to have to make plays in the passing game. Like he did in the first six games.

Thomas the man if James is out

October, 7, 2011
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If running back LaMichael James is out for more than a few weeks, Oregon will need several players to step up. But the player who will need to step up the most is not the guy -- or guys -- who will replace James. It's QB Darron Thomas.

James is the Ducks A-lister. He's the Doak Walker Award winner, the unanimous preseason All-American. He's the first guy the Ducks look to. Thomas is the second.

Thomas has been overshadowed by other fancypants QBs in the conference thus far, but he entered Thursday's game with California ranked 17th in the nation in passing efficiency with 12 touchdowns and just one interception.

But he was mediocre-to-bad in the first half against Cal, completing just 8 of 19 for 101 yards with a bad interception in Bears territory. He was particularly bad when the Bears blitzed, according to ESPN Stats & Information, completing 4 of 9 with the pick.

In the second half, Thomas didn't need to pass much, but he was effective when he did, throwing all three of his TD passes after the break. And when Cal blitzed he was 4 for 4 with two TDs, averaging 23.5 yards per attempt.

Resilience might be Thomas' best quality. He rarely has two halves of bad football. Recall how bad he was early in the national title game against Auburn, and then how he bounced back and nearly led the Ducks to a comeback win.

The hope is James will be back sooner than later -- certainly sooner than how his dislocated elbow seemed to initially indicate -- but while he's not in the huddle, Thomas will need to take charge, starting with a tricky date with Arizona State on Oct. 15.

James says he'll be back -- but when?

October, 7, 2011
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Oregon running back LaMichael James said the dislocated elbow -- X-rays were negative on any breaks -- that he suffered in the Ducks' impressive 43-15 win over California won't end his season, but it's fair to say he's highly doubtful for the Oct. 15 game with Arizona State.

Replays of the injury on ESPN were hard to watch, but James told reporters after the game that he immediately popped his elbow back into place. He hurt it early in the fourth quarter, at which point he had already accumulated 239 yards rushing. He produced a 53-yard touchdown run as well as runs of 47 and 30 yards.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesLaMichael James dislocated his elbow against Cal Thursday night.
James now has 30 rushes of 30 yards or longer in his career, the most by any FBS player since the start of the 2004 season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist and the nation's leading rusher, he moved into fifth place on the conference's career rushing list with 4,129 yards.

The apparent red-letter date on the Ducks' schedule is the Nov. 12 visit to Stanford, which could be a battle for the Pac-12 North Division between a pair of top-10 teams. After the Arizona State game, the Ducks play at Colorado on Oct. 22, Washington State on Oct. 29 and are at Washington on Nov. 5.

Kenjon Barner is James' capable backup. He rushed for 88 yards on just 10 carries with a touchdown against Cal. Barner got hurt in the opener against LSU and missed two games. He's rushed for 167 yards and three scores this season.

The Ducks are getting a dual threat from true freshman De'Anthony Thomas. He rushed for a 17-yard touchdown and caught six passes for 114 yards and two scores.

James' injury also could mean more carries for 227-pound true freshman Tra Carson. He's rushed for 116 yards on 18 carries this year.

Oregon has options at running back. Losing James doesn't cripple its high-powered offense.

But James, the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner, is the nation's best running back. Entering Thursday's game, among all FBS players, James has the most rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, 20-plus yard rushes, 50-plus yard rushes and 100-yard rush games.

That's not something you can easily replace.

More on James here and here.

LaMichael James ready for his encore

September, 1, 2011
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LaMichael James can't believe Oregon is ranked No. 3 in the country. The 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's best running back can't believe folks think the Ducks are that good.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireOregon's LaMichael James led the nation with 1,731 rushing yards last season.
"We're not the best team in the country by any means," he said. "They say we're ranked No. 3, but if you look talent-wise, we're definitely not ranked that high."

Poor old Ducks. What are they possibly going to do against big, bad, fourth-ranked LSU on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium?

Part of this is James being coy, which he sometimes does with reporters. Another part is James believes the chief secrets of the Ducks' recent run of success is: 1. preparation; 2. chemistry.

So while he might downplay Oregon's talent, he doesn't downplay the Ducks' expectations. Another berth in the national title game? Said James, "We know what it takes to get there."

Yes, they do. They were clipped by Auburn 22-19 on a late field goal in January. In that game, James was held to 49 yards on 13 carries. He said he's yet to watch the game film but he knows what went wrong with the Ducks' potent running game.

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

The first big question for Saturday is whether LSU will do the same.

Auburn wasn't the first to throttle the Ducks' explosive offense after getting extra time to prepare. Boise State did it in the 2009 season opener. Ohio State did it in the 2010 Rose Bowl.

What wrinkle will James, Chip Kelly and the Ducks introduce that might end that pattern? No hints are forthcoming from the Ducks' camp, but it's likely you will see new formations that pair James with outstanding backup Kenjon Barner on the field at the same time. And perhaps even talented true freshman De'Anthony Thomas will join them, putting a speedy troika on the field to distract the Tigers.

Ask James where he most needs to improve his game and the first thing he notes is being a "better decoy."

"I need to be better without the ball in my hands," he said.

With the ball in his hands in 2010, James led the nation with 1,731 yards rushing (144.25 yards per game) and ranked second with 21 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns. While James is widely viewed as a speedy, home run threat who's undersized (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) he does a lot of his damage between the tackles.

"If you ask anyone who plays against him, or anybody who has watched him consistently, he's a very physical running back," Kelly said. "You don't have to be a big back to be physical."

A lot of that is want-to. James, a first-team All-Pac-10 academic in 2010, is one of the Ducks' hardest workers. He has to be, considering his 294 carries last fall was 34 more than any other Pac-10 running back.

It's possible, in fact, that James might become more valuable this season with fewer touches. That might hurt his chances to win the Heisman Trophy, but it would keep him fresher for a late-season run.

"I don't really care how much I get the ball," he said. "I really am a team player. As long as we win games, that's the only thing that matters to me. If I get the ball 30 or 40 times in a game and we lose, that's not good. It doesn't matter to me. I'll take the ball 10-15 times and if we win the game, I'll be happy."

James and the Ducks know what it takes to play for a national championship. So they probably know a good place to start -- and a good place to silence doubters -- will be Saturday in Arlington, Texas.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2011: No. 2

August, 26, 2011
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players continues.

You can see the final post-2010 top 25 here. It doesn't, however, include players from Colorado or Utah.

2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
AP Photo/Rick BowmerOregon's LaMichael James led the nation in rushing last season.
2010 numbers: James led the nation with 1,731 yards rushing -- 144.25 yards per game -- and ranked second with 21 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also caught 17 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

2010 ranking: No. 2

Making the case for James: James probably would be No. 1 in any other conference. Why? Well, he was a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist, a unanimous first-team All-American and the Doak Walker Award winner as the nation's best running back. But the guy ahead of him was the Heisman runner-up and will be rated No. 1 by the NFL next spring. James, a junior who also was first-team All-Pac-10 academic in 2010, set Ducks freshman and sophomore records for rushing and is on the short list of Heisman candidates this fall. He blends outstanding speed with good instincts and surprising physicality. He also became a better receiver last year, a part of his game that was missing in 2009. It's possible, however, that his numbers will go down this fall, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. He likely will be a better back in a bowl game if he doesn't carry the ball 294 times, which he did last year because talented backup Kenjon Barner missed significant action with injuries. With Barner back healthy, and some true freshmen who are too talented to sit, James might get fewer touches in 2011, which should help him not wear down as he did a bit in 2010.

3. Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
4. Chris Polk, RB, Washington
5. Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State
6. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
7. Nick Foles, QB, Arizona
8. Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
9. Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon
10. Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
11. Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
12. T.J. McDonald, S, USC
13. Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington
14. Matt Kalil, OT, USC
15. Delano Howell, S, Stanford
16. Mychal Kendricks, LB, California
17. Rodney Stewart, RB, Colorado
18. Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington
19.
Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
20. Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
21. Robert Woods, WR, USC
22. Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
23. David Paulson, TE, Oregon
24. David DeCastro, OG, Stanford
25. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State

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