Pac-12: Florida State Seminoles

videoSo much for Oregon, injury riddled much of the year, getting healthy for its Rose Bowl matchup with Florida State in the College Football Playoff. So much for the A-list matchup between Ducks All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who injured his knee Tuesday, and Seminoles receiver Rashad Greene.

So much for the Ducks hitting their earnest preparation for, potentially, the program's first college football national title with positive momentum.

Oregon doesn't talk about injuries, but we do and this is a bad one. Oregon, when it does at least acknowledge that a key player might be hurt, reverts to the mantra, "Next man in," and that will be the case here. But the Ducks next man in at cornerback won't be anyone close to Ekpre-Olomu, a consensus All-American. While Oregon will don all-green uniforms for the Rose Bowl, the guy who steps in for Ekpre-Olomu might as well show up in highlighter yellow -- an actual Ducks uniform option! -- based on how the Seminoles and quarterback Jameis Winston are going to view him.

[+] EnlargeOregon defense
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a severe knee injury during the Ducks' practice Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season.
It's likely senior Dior Mathis will get the call. The fifth-year senior has seen a lot of action but he has been unable to break into the starting lineup. Or the Ducks could go with promising youngster Chris Seisay, a redshirt freshman who was listed behind Ekpre-Olomu on the depth chart in advance of the Pac-12 championship game. At 6-foot-1, Seisay, who started against Wyoming in place of Troy Hill, brings better size to field than the 5-foot-9 Mathis -- or the 5-10 Ekpre-Olomu for that matter -- but it's not encouraging when the laudatory remark next to his name on the depth chart is "has tackles in five straight games."

Ekpre-Olomu, a senior who has been a starter since midway through his freshman year, has 63 tackles and nine passes defended, including two interceptions, this season. While he's been notably beaten a few times, there were whispers that he was playing through some bumps and bruises that were slowing him down. He was one of many Ducks who were expected to greatly benefit from nearly a month off.

Suddenly losing a star like Ekpre-Olomu is about more than a starting lineup, though. It also takes an emotional toll on a team, both during preparation as well as the game. The Ducks secondary loses its best player -- a potential first-round NFL draft pick -- and a veteran leader, a guy everyone counted on. Think Mathis or Seisay will have some butterflies when they see Greene, who caught 93 passes for 1,306 yards this season, coming his way? Think Oregon's safeties will be asked to play differently than they have all season with Ifo in street clothes?

The Ducks secondary will be less talented and less confident without Ekpre-Olomu.

Injuries? Oregon's had a few. It lost offensive tackle Tyler Johnston, a 26-game starter, and No. 1 receiver Bralon Addison before the season began. It saw emerging tight end Pharaoh Brown go down on Nov. 8 against Utah. It's been without All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu for three games. It's seen several other key players miss games, including offensive tackle Jake Fisher, running back Thomas Tyner and defensive end Arik Armstead.

Yet the general feeling was the Ducks had survived. And, in fact, thrived, scrapping their way to the No. 2 seed in the CFP. By scrapping we mean winning their last eight games by an average of 26 points since suffering their lone loss to Arizona.

That, in itself, will be something the Oregon locker room will look at and point to as it gets ready for FSU. This is an elite program, one that can overcome adversity, even an injury to perhaps the team's second-best player behind a certain guy who plays behind center.

But there is no changing the fact that Oregon is worse without Ekpre-Olomu, and against a team like FSU, the defending national champions and winners of 29 consecutive games, you don't want to be at anything but your best.

Players provide College Football Playoff picks

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
1:32
PM ET
video
Some of the top college football players in the country provide their picks on who will win the inaugural College Football Playoff.
video
If Oregon wins the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 will cap the greatest season in its history, including iterations as the Pac-8 and Pac-10. Perhaps we should toss an "arguably" in there, particularly if the conference's seven other bowl teams go belly-up in some form or fashion, but why be wishy-washy?

After Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the overwhelming winner of the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, the Pac-12 completed a sweep through the award season like some morphing of "Titanic," "Ben Hur" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at the Oscars. Combine Mariota with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright, and the Pac-12 has produced the season's most decorated offensive and defensive players. Not since 2002, when USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman and Arizona State LB Terrell Suggs swept most defensive awards has this happened.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks have a chance to make this a historic season for the Pac-12.
Mariota also won the Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the year awards, as well as the Davey O'Brien and Unitas awards as the nation's top QB. Wright won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Further, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard won the Hendricks Award and Utah punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award.

Toss in eight players on the ESPN.com All-America team -- from seven different schools -- and six teams ranked in the final pre-bowl CFP rankings and it feels like an unprecedented season for national recognition in the Pac-12.

Well, at least if the Ducks take care of business.

The season Palmer and Suggs were college football's most celebrated players, just two Pac-10 teams ended up ranked, though both were in the top 10 (USC and Washington State), while Colorado, then in the Big 12, also finished ranked. In 2004, USC won the national title, Trojans QB Matt Leinart won the Heisman and California finished in the top 10. Arizona State also finished ranked, while Utah went undefeated, though as a Mountain West Conference member. Obviously, if you fudge with conference membership issues, you can make things look better retroactively than they were in their present time.

In 2000, three teams -- No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Oregon State and No. 7 Oregon -- finished ranked in the top seven. In 1984, the Pac-10 won the Rose (USC), Orange (Washington) and Fiesta (UCLA) bowls and finished with three top-10 teams, including No. 2 Washington, which was victimized by BYU's dubious national title.

So there have been plenty of impressive seasons, just not anything as scintillating as 2014 if Oregon wins the title.

Oregon, of course, hoisting the new 35-pound, cylindrical trophy as the last team standing is hardly a sure thing. First, the Ducks get defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual. While many have questioned the Seminoles this season because every game has been a nail-biter, that doesn't change the fact the nation's only unbeaten Power 5 conference team -- winners of 29 games in a row, no less -- own the fourth quarter. In football, owning the fourth quarter is almost always a good thing.

If Oregon manages to win that CFP semifinal game, the good money is on it getting a shot at top-ranked Alabama in the national title game, though throwing funereal dirt on Ohio State this season has proved difficult. Ohio State is the Count Dracula of college football this season -- perennially undead. That duly noted, knocking aside Alabama -- the game's most dynastic program, led by its most celebrated coach in Nick Saban -- while the Crimson Tide also stand as the bell cow of the dominant SEC would be the ultimate achievement for a team and conference eager to solidify its super-elite standing.

The simple fact that Oregon has not won a national title in football -- and the Pac-12/10 hasn't claimed one since 2004 -- stands out on both literal and symbolic levels. There has not been a first-time national champion since Florida won in 1996, while a Pac-12/10 team other than USC hasn't won one since Washington in 1991. Before that, if then-Big 8 member Colorado's 1990 title doesn't count, it's UCLA in 1954.

So Oregon taking that final step into the light would represent a pretty dramatic development, particularly after the school already upgraded its trophy case with its first Heisman. It would complete a climb started in the 1990s and show other mid-to-low-level Power 5 teams that all they need to transform into a superpower is good coaching, strong administration and a sugar-daddy billionaire booster.

As for the conference in general, it would be a big deal to have a non-USC national title in the coffers, and it would be further validation of the depth and quality of the conference. Last season, for the first time since 2009, the conference didn't finish with a top-five team, but for the first time ever it finished with six teams ranked in the final AP poll. So the Ducks at the top would provide some nice symmetry.

As for the entire postseason, the Pac-12 is favored in seven of its eight bowl games, with UCLA being only a slight underdog to Kansas State, with the line trending down since opening at 3 1/2 points. So the conference is set up for success. Anything fewer than six wins -- including Oregon in the Rose Bowl -- would be a disappointment, an underachievement.

You know, not unlike last season, when the conference went 6-3 and graded a mere "Gentleman's C" from the Pac-12 blog.

While Washington and Oregon State fans will be hard-pressed to force out a "Go Ducks!" and USC fans probably aren't ready to admit a new member to the college football penthouse, if Oregon can make its tide rise to the top -- and roll the Tide along the way -- it will boost all Pac-12 ships.
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To the notes.

Oscar from Irwindale Calif., writes: At the beginning of the season expectations for UCLA where pretty similar to USC's 2012 high hopes. Fair or unfair USC also had some pretty high expectations, not by experts but by the fan base. In reality who has had a better season so for between the two? UCLA cant beat the good teams and USC cant beat the bad teams.

Ted Miller: Well, USC was preseason AP No. 1 in 2012 and UCLA was preseason No. 7 this year, but I understand your general point. That Trojans team completely collapsed. I'm not expecting that from the Bruins, who are aiming for a fourth win in a row at Washington on Saturday.

I think both USC's and UCLA's deserve "incompletes" at this point. It's too early to judge, though I'd say generally the scale is leaning toward disappointment for both. USC's losses are worse, but UCLA was widely considered a national title contender. The obvious Day of Judgment, of course, will come down to who wins their annual showdown -- a third consecutive win for the Bruins or a breakthrough for the post-sanctions Trojans.

If USC wins its final three regular-season games -- Cal, UCLA, Notre Dame -- it's difficult to believe anyone will consider Steve Sarkisian's first season a disappointment. Same can be said for the Bruins. If UCLA wins out, that would give it a solid shot to still win the South Division and get another crack at Oregon in the Pac-12 title game.

If one or the other -- both? -- ends up with 10 wins, that should rate as a pretty darn successful season, particularly with the Pac-12's depth this fall. But 10 wins without a win over the other might still taste a bit sour.




Tyler from Denver writes: Considering Notre Dame has only two wins against teams with winning records (Stanford and Rice), how bad would an ASU loss look for the Pac 12 in the playoff picture?

Ted Miller: While Notre Dame's schedule has not turned out to be as rugged as it looked in the preseason, and it hasn't yet turned in a marquee victory, let's not completely write off the performance in Tallahassee against Florida State. Whatever you want to say about the penalty that took the apparent game-winning TD off the board, the Fighting Irish certainly showed they can play with just about anybody that night.

So, yes, the most impressive moment for the Irish this year is probably a loss.

But, yes, if Arizona State loses to Notre Dame on Saturday but then went on to win the Pac-12, it would be held against the conference with the College Football Playoff selection committee. If the Sun Devils only win the South Division or even if they falter and don't win it, losing a big nonconference game will be held against the conference, even if we're just talking a national perception among fans and media.

That said, even if Notre Dame ends up 3-0 against the Pac-12, beating Stanford, ASU and USC, I think a 12-1 Oregon team winning the Pac-12 is a near certainty to receive a berth in the CFP.




Brady from Salt Lake City writes: Who has the best defense in the Pac12 ? Do we know the answer already or must we wait for the Utah-Stanford game next weekend to truly know?

Ted Miller: That Stanford-Utah game might end up 6-5, with good defenses owning struggling offenses.

Stanford has notably better numbers at present. In basic statistical terms, Stanford allows fewer points per game (16.1 ppg vs. 21.2 ppg) and yards per play (4.1 ypp vs. 4.90). Stanford's defense also rates as more efficient, according to ESPN Stats & Information metrics, as the Cardinal rank seventh in the nation and the Utes are 14th.

But Stanford is banged up and the ultimate measure will be the numbers at season's end when both have played their full nine-game conference slate. We still could see a passing of the torch from Stanford to Utah as the conference's defensive leader.




Matt from Bellevue Wash., writes: If ASU wins out (don't you just feel a Zona upset in their rivalry game, though, put me down as picking that) But if they do, and they face Oregon. Is that a winner go to the CFB playoff game? Or would ASU somehow get left out?

Ted Miller: Just like Oregon, if ASU finishes as the 12-1 Pac-12 champion, I would bet my house the Sun Devils are invited to the CFP.

Yes, what I am saying is hell will freeze over before the selection committee would pick, say, a two-loss SEC team over ASU or Oregon, teams that would arrive at 12-1 with marquee nonconference victories as well as a Pac-12 title.




Oregonian in Exile in Belgium writes: A lot of the CFP discussion has centered on which 1-loss Power 5 team might get left out of the playoffs, or whether two teams from one Conference (SEC) get in, or even if a 2-loss Conference Champion (PAC-12) could still make the playoffs. Is it a foregone conclusion that an undefeated team from a Power 5 Conference (ACC) will automatically be in the top 4? If the CFP Committee's task is to select the 4 best football teams in the nation, is it not feasible that the final four may exclude an undefeated Champion such as Florida State (anticipating FSU wins out) who consistently struggles against good or mid-level teams (OK State, Clemson, Notre Dame, Louisville)? Despite the no losses, is FSU a better football team than 1-loss teams like Oregon, Auburn, Michigan State, TCU, Kansas State, Alabama, or Arizona State?

Ted Miller: As certain as I am that a 12-1 Pac-12 champion will be invited to the CFP, I am even more certain that an unbeaten Florida State team will be invited.

The Seminoles, for one, would be an undefeated defending champion, winners of 29 consecutive games. And everyone knows they are good.

In fact, if the committee left undefeated FSU, I'd join those nutty, thin-skinned, paranoid Seminoles fans in storming the Gaylord Hotel.

Position U: Kicker

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
10:30
AM ET

Who really deserves to claim the title of “Kicker U” for the 2000s?

1. Ohio State (80 points): The Buckeyes placed first among place-kickers and tied for ninth at punter thanks to an award winner in each category. The high-point man who helped Ohio State win the “Kicker U” label was Mike Nugent, who won the Lou Groza Award, was a two-time All-American and All-Big Ten pick and was picked in the second round of the 2005 draft. Punter B.J. Sander won the Ray Guy Award and was drafted in the third round before enjoying a short career with the Green Bay Packers.

Award winners: B.J. Sander, Guy (2003); Mike Nugent, Groza (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Mike Nugent (2002, 2004).
First-team all-conference: Dan Stultz (2000), Adam Groom (2002), Mike Nugent (2002, 2004), B.J. Sander (2003), Josh Huston (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: B.J. Sander (Round 3, 2004), Mike Nugent (Round 2, 2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

2. UCLA (72 points): A pair of consensus All-Americans (Justin Medlock and Kai Forbath) and a Lou Groza Award (which Forbath won in 2009) helped UCLA push toward the top of the rankings. Medlock was also drafted in 2007 and has spent portions of several seasons on NFL rosters, while also kicking at times in the CFL.

Award winners: Kai Forbath, Groza (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Justin Medlock (2006), Kai Forbath (2009).
First-team all-conference: Nate Fikse (2001, 2002), Justin Medlock (2004, 2006), Aaron Perez (2008), Kai Forbath (2009), Jeff Locke (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Justin Medlock (Round 5, 2007), Jeff Locke (Round 5, 2013).

3. Colorado (64 points): Three-time all-conference pick Mason Crosby -- also a consensus All-American in 2005 -- accounted for nearly all of Colorado’s point production at place-kicker. He went on to become a sixth-round draft pick and has set several franchise records as a member of the Green Bay Packers. Mark Mariscal also added some points by winning the Ray Guy Award and becoming an All-American and all-conference selection in 2002.

Award winners: Mark Mariscal, Guy (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2005).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Flores (2001), Mark Mariscal (2002), Mason Crosby (2004, 2005, 2006), John Torp (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mason Crosby (Round 6, 2007).

4. Michigan State (62 points): With six first-team All-Big Ten selections -- including three-time honoree Brandon Fields, who was also a consensus All-American in 2004 -- Michigan State takes the No. 3 spot. The Spartans have also had two punters drafted since 2001, which is a rare feat for a college program, as well as kickers Dave Rayner and Craig Jarrett.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Brandon Fields (2004).
First-team all-conference: Brandon Fields (2003, 2004, 2006), Brett Swenson (2009), Aaron Bates (2010), Dan Conroy (2010), Mike Sadler (2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Craig Jarrett (Round 6, 2002), Dave Rayner (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Fields (Round 7, 2007).

T-5. Baylor (56 points): Baylor places almost solely because of one player: mid-2000s standout Daniel Sepulveda. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner scored 44 points by himself, which is greater than the score for every other program in the punter rankings except one (No. 2 Michigan State, which had 48).

Award winners: Daniel Sepulveda, Guy (2004, 2006).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Sepulveda (2006).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Sepulveda (2004, 2006), Derek Epperson (2009), Spencer Roth (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Daniel Sepulveda (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

T-5. Oklahoma State (56 points): Between Quinn Sharp’s three all-conference selections at punter and two at place-kicker, Dan Bailey's 2010 Groza Award and Matt Fodge’s 2008 Guy Award, Oklahoma State fared well at both kicking positions.

Award winners: Matt Fodge, Guy (2008); Dan Bailey, Groza (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Dan Bailey (2010), Quinn Sharp (2010, 2011, 2012 at punter; 2011, 2012 at place-kicker).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

7. Florida State (54 points): A pair of Groza Award wins (by Graham Gano and last season by Roberto Aguayo) helped Florida State place third solely among place-kickers and sixth overall. Aguayo helped extend the Seminoles’ streak of first-team All-ACC place-kickers to three consecutive years after Dustin Hopkins earned the honor in 2011 and 2012. Since Aguayo was only a redshirt freshman last fall, there is a good chance the streak will continue. Punter Shawn Powell was the Seminoles' only All-American during this stretch.

Award winners: Graham Gano, Groza (2008); Roberto Aguayo, Groza (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Shawn Powell (2011).
First-team all-conference: Dustin Hopkins (2011, 2012), Shawn Powell (2011), Roberto Aguayo (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dustin Hopkins (Round 6, 2013).

8. Georgia (52 points): Give Mark Richt credit: In his 13-plus seasons as Georgia’s coach, he has rarely been without a consistent place-kicker. Players like Blair Walsh, Brandon Coutu, Billy Bennett and most recently Marshall Morgan have given Georgia a consistent scoring threat in the kicking game. And Drew Butler had one of the best seasons by any punter in SEC history when he won the Ray Guy Award in 2009.

Award winners: Drew Butler, Guy (2009).
Consensus All-Americans: Drew Butler (2009).
First-team all-conference: Billy Bennett (2002), Brandon Coutu (2005), Drew Butler (2009), Blair Walsh (2010), Marshall Morgan (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Brandon Coutu (Round 7, 2008), Blair Walsh (Round 6, 2012).

8. Miami (52 points): Another program with two punters who were drafted (Matt Bosher and Pat O’Donnell, both in the sixth round), Miami hasn’t had a punter win the Ray Guy Award or earn an All-America nod, but the Hurricanes do boast four all-conference punters since the turn of the century. Bosher was also an all-conference place-kicker in 2010.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Freddie Capshaw (2000, 2001), Todd Sievers (2001, 2002), Jon Peattie (2003), Matt Bosher (2009 at place-kicker, 2010 at punter), Pat O’Donnell (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Matt Bosher (Round 6, 2011), Pat O’Donnell (Round 6, 2014).

10. Florida (48 points): Chas Henry, who won the Ray Guy Award and was a consensus All-American and first-team All-SEC pick in 2010, accounted for 24 of Florida’s 30 points at punter. The Gators also had a pair of place-kickers (Jeff Chandler and Caleb Sturgis, a two-time all-conference pick) drafted.

Award winners: Chas Henry, Guy (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Chas Henry (2010).
First-team all-conference: Chas Henry (2010), Caleb Sturgis (2011, 2012), Kyle Christy (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jeff Chandler (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Caleb Sturgis (Round 5, 2013).

REST OF “KICKER U” RANKINGS
46 – California; 44 – Auburn, Nebraska, Utah, Wake Forest; 42 – Georgia Tech; 40 – Purdue; 38 – Pittsburgh, Tennessee; 34 – Iowa, Louisville, Maryland; 32 – BYU, Texas A&M, TCU, Wisconsin; 28 – LSU, Michigan, Oregon State; 26 – USC, Virginia Tech; 22 – Arizona State; 16 – Ole Miss; 14 – Arizona, Penn State, Texas; 12 – Alabama, Duke, Illinois, Kansas State, Kentucky, Missouri, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington State; 8 – Virginia, West Virginia, Boston College; 6 – Indiana, Oregon, Rutgers, Stanford; 2 – Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt; 0 – Clemson, Iowa State, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi State, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Texas Tech, Washington.

Mailbag: Mariota's Heisman chances?

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.

First of all, a big thank you to all Kansas State fans who contributed ideas for my "flip" visit to Manhattan, Kan. My mailbag overfloweth with perspective and suggestions. Dinner at CoCo Bolos last night was solid, as was breakfast at The Chef. If you see me in "Aggieville" tonight, don't hesitate to say "hello."

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Ian from Salt Lake City: Why has Marcus Mariota dropped nigh completely from the Heisman radar? I understand the loss to Stanford and playing poorly is a huge portion of that, but it seems to me that people, especially the media (not you or Kevin obviously), have fallen in love so much with Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel that they brush aside Mariota like a fly. Both Mariota and Manziel lost games to their biggest competition, Mariota is putting up pretty comparable numbers to Winston with less interceptions, and Mariota is a proven winner, so why no, relatively speaking, love?

Ted Miller: There are three types of overreaction in college football. There's media overreaction, there's fan overreaction and, third, there's fan overreaction to media overreaction.

Do you define "dropped completely from the Heisman Trophy radar" as falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in media polls? Or also here. Do you define Mariota getting brushed aside "like a fly" after he posts his worst game of the season in a loss that knocks his team -- apparently -- out of the national title hunt?

Have I fallen in love with Jameis Winston? Yes. I'm man enough to admit that I am in love with Winston. I swoon at his stratospheric potential. I love the way he taken a program known for its NFL talent and mercurial performances and made it the nation's most consistently dominating team. Clemson's overwhelming performance against a very good Georgia Tech team on Thursday reminded us just how impressive the Seminoles' win in Death Valley was.

That said, if Mariota plays appreciably better than Winston and Manziel over the final three games, he still might win the Heisman. At the very least, the sophomore will get invited to New York for the ceremony.

There was an understandable and justifiable demotion of Mariota in every Heisman poll after the Ducks offense sputtered against Stanford. Three big performances, however, will background that. And if Stanford loses to USC, three big performances likely would give him another shot in the Pac-12 title game.

Those games will give him space to be evaluated over the totality of the season. They will also his toughness, which I think is being overlooked or played down after the Stanford game, to shine. Mariota should be saluted for even being out there because he was clearly playing on one good leg, and Stanford realized early on that he was not going to be a factor on designed runs or even scrambles.

By the way, Mariota still is the nation's No. 1 rated QB and has yet to throw an interception. (Throwing that in, Ian, to quell some media overreaction so your fan overreaction to media overreaction might re-react toward a more realistic place).




Paul from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Ted I am a very loyal Oregon Duck fan and was very disappointed with our loss at Stanford. That being said I think a few different bounces of the ball and the end could have played out differently. Regardless, true champions find a way to deal with adversity and we, the Ducks, did not adapt and overcome. My comment/question is this. I agree Stanford has a good team but I think there overall offensive balance is questionable. The ground game is awesome but there passing attack is average at best and tends to be liability. If Stanford gets put behind in a game and has to abandon their ground and pound game plan, they struggle, which is what happened against Utah. I believe in a game against a team that can play with them physically that Stanford will have issues due to their lack of a decent passing attack.

Ted Miller: I hear you. In fact, I think both Kevin and I have questioned Stanford at times about its middling passing game, which has shown flashes but not advanced as much this season as we anticipated it would in August. The Cardinal ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing offense with just 183 yards per game.

And yet.

Even though Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is not putting up big numbers, he ranks 17th in ESPN Stats & Information's total quarterback rating. Hogan is running the Cardinal offense efficiently, even if he only ranks fifth in the conference by the old school pass efficiency measure.

Coach David Shaw has said he would never throw if he knew he'd gain four yards every run. The Cardinal is averaging 4.8 yards per run.

Hogan has thrown well at times, and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranks third in the conference. He's accounted for 15 touchdowns -- 13 passing -- and protects the football.

And there's always this annoying tidbit: Shaw is 31-5. His Stone Age, antiquated, hopelessly conservative, 1970s football has Stanford winning 86 percent of his games.

Is Stanford the sort of team that makes a 14-point deficit look like nothing? No. Did Utah mute the Cardinal for three quarters? Yes, though I think the Utes success on offense was a bigger story in that game.

Could a team like, say, Alabama thwart Stanford because it is as big and physical as the Cardinal? Maybe.

One of the things I really wanted to see this season was for them to try.




Tony Jones from Chandler, Ariz. writes: Ted, I've been keeping an eye on the Jeff Sagarin rankings the last couple of weeks, waiting for verbal pitchforks to be hurled from Sun Devils fans ranting about how ASU is barely getting a sniff in the AP (21st), USA Today (22nd) and BCS (19th) polls while hanging out in the Top 10 in Sagarin's metrics (currently 9th). So when I saw your piece discussing the Championship Drive Ratings and Football Power Index, I was curious to see where ASU ranked. The Sun Devils rank higher in both the CDR (6th) and FPI (7th) than in Sagarin's wizardry. I'm an Arizona alum, so it makes little difference to me, but should ASU fans be Michael Crowing about where they are in the BCS and going all in with their disrespect cards? BTW, I think it's also interesting that the Wildcats are ranked 24th by Sagarin and 28th in the FPI, but are 44th in the CDR. Much bigger disparity than the Sun Devils.

Ted Miller: Kevin has Arizona State 18th and I have them 19th. And both of us have noticed how the Sun Devils rank higher with the computers, most notably the Championship Drive Rating, ESPN Stats & Information's complex metric that measures a team's resume.

But I also know why the Sun Devils are being held back due to purely human reasons.

No. 1: The controversial ending against Wisconsin. No. 2: The loss to Notre Dame.

Those are not "bad" losses. But those two results tie the Sun Devils to the wagons of the Badgers and Fighting Irish, and both provide drag.

The officiating implosion at the end of Arizona State's win over the Badgers means voters don't feel comfortable elevating the Sun Devils decisively over the Badgers, who in fact rank ahead of ASU in both polls. Voters feel further justified doing so because the Sun Devils lost to the Fighting Irish, who are presently unranked after losing to Pittsburgh.

This is a case of Arizona State's marquee win -- Wisconsin -- not earning them the poll respect it typically would, and that is understandable to a certain degree. The Badgers feel like they might miss out on an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game because of that loss, one that they put an asterisk beside.

Yet, as I typically think when reading questions like this: Just keep winning. If the Sun Devils win the rest of their regular season games, including a Nov. 23 date at UCLA, they would jump into the top 10. And if they win the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl, they might finish in the top-five.




Ron from Maricopa, Ariz., writes: This article I believe is incorrect. Colorado received a waiver for playing two FCS games and theoretically they can go to a bowl if they win out. Two games are doable: Cal and Utah. USC is probably too much. But Buffs should be motivated this week for at least the possibility of a bowl.

Ted Miller: Correct. If Colorado wins its final three games -- California, USC and at Utah -- it will become bowl eligible.

And that certainly would be an amazing accomplishment for the Buffaloes in their first season under Mike MacIntyre.




Kevin from Oklahoma City writes: I know there is still plenty of season left and lots can change but out of curiosity if ASU were to win out and Stanford suffers an upset somewhere along the way, allowing Oregon to take the north...who would host the title game? Would Oregon get to host based on overall record?

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon. (Answer is the same from last week!)

Mailbag: Are Oregon fans the worst?

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
5:30
PM ET
Happy Friday -- hey, there's a game tonight!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Dave from Neverland writes: On Tuesday, John Canzano posted a letter he had purportedly received from a former Ducks player. This player outlined the abhorrent fan behavior he observed while sitting in the stands. There have been countless other stories about the wretched behavior of Ducks fans, not just at Autzen, but also other stadiums they visit. An article a few years back by one of your competitor websites surveyed fans and the survey concluded that Oregon fans are generally perceived as being the worst in the conference, by far. Reading the comments of the Canzano blog post, the fan comments seemed to substantiate the article. My question: Is the perception about Oregon fans aligned with reality? Are Oregon fans truly as awful as they are made out to be, or are we just hated because we win?

Ted Miller: I was asked about this in my Thursday chat, and my chief response was to deride the anonymity of the letter writer.

I stand by that. If you're going to attack something, you need to have the courage to step up and identify yourself. That, by the way, is not a slight on Canzano for posting the letter, only on its writer.

[+] EnlargeOregon fans
AP Photo/Don RyanAre Oregon fans worse than the rest of the Pac-12?
Are Oregon fans "truly as awful as they are made out to be or are we just hated because we win?"

The short answer is no, Ducks fans are not uniquely awful. At least, I find such a sociological oddity difficult to believe. That said, I am not an expert on this: As a sportswriter, I have not sat in the stands of a college football game since the early 1990s.

Oregon is going through an unprecedented run of winning. That inspires gloating. Lots of it. And plenty of entitlement, too. The stadium is packed and the program is rich. Rivals are jealous, and therefore easy and frequent targets -- in the stands or anywhere else. And, suddenly, a two-loss season sounds like a disaster and everyone is a football expert.

Even without siting in the stands, I have personally witnessed reprehensible fan behavior at just about every Pac-12 venue. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote about the near-riot in Martin Stadium after the controversial 2002 Apple Cup and some Washington State fans took exception, often by trying to rewrite the facts of what happened. So I know how things might be for Canzano now.

There are all sorts of fans and each of those sorts roots for every team. Some love cheering and bonding with family and friends. Some find comfort in wide-eyed zealotry, the my-team-right-or-wrong adherence that defies all reasonable counterargument.

As I've previously noted, there are two foundations for fandom: Those who derive most of their joy from rooting for something. And those who most enjoy rooting against something. The first group is looking for something with which to align themselves. The second group is looking for a villain.

Yes, the loudest voices in the Pac-12 blog comment section are typically the latter. And, yes, those often are the sort of fans who can ruin the game-day experience of even folks wearing the same colors.

My belief is that if Washington or Oregon State started winning at the same rate Oregon has for the past four-plus years, its fans would act the same, or at least be perceived to act the same.

Yet there is a clear takeaway from this that is a positive. Reasonable people should have the guts to stand up to bad fan behavior. Don't be a passive onlooker. If someone is acting like a jerk, you should: 1. Calmly and with a minimum amount of confrontation, tell him/her to settle down; 2. Get security.

And Oregon itself should remain as vigilant as possible when it comes to making sure that reasonable standards of behavior are enforced.


Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: There have been quite a few articles this week about "The Eye Test", and which two teams would be most deserving in a three or four-team race. For the sake of this question, let's assume that Oregon, Florida State and Alabama win out.Florida State seems to be getting quite a bit of hype relative to Oregon. Florida State certainly has history behind its program, including a national title, but has been off and on in the last few years. Many voters won't budge on Alabama (with the exception of the intelligent, educated few, such as those that blog for the Pac-12), the rationale being that until someone knocks them off, they deserve to be No. 1. So it seems that many pundits love Florida State THIS YEAR, right NOW, rather than taking the longer view. My question, then, is this: Should not the same logic apply to Oregon? Oregon has been ranked No. 2 much more frequently than Florida State, including last year's final rankings, and has certainly been more consistent. Six losses in four years, and never an NC State kind of upset. The Pac-12 is a tougher conference than the ACC. Why, then, is Oregon not the obvious choice as No. 2, the way Alabama seems to be the obvious choice as No. 1? Is it Oregon's supposed lack of pedigree, or is it the dreaded East Coast Bias?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

The "eye-test" debate, while always inspiring strong feelings across the country, is irrelevant the first weekend of November. Five weeks remain in the regular season, and Alabama, Florida State and Oregon will each need to then win their conference championship games to remain in the national title hunt.

Every year, we speculate on apocalyptic visions of, say, four unbeaten teams from AQ conferences -- who goes to the title game! And then at least two of those teams lose.

Let's at least wait until we reach late November before beginning the earnest lobbying for prioritizing the specific subjective distinction that favors your team.

Further, Oregon fans, while there's a lot of noise out there, the general consensus from long-time observers of the BCS process, is that if Oregon wins out, it will at least end up No. 2 in the final BCS standings. It could, in fact, end up No. 1 if the SEC continues to cannibalize itself.

The Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC, and it's unlikely voting patterns in the coaches and Harris polls will dramatically change if the present course is maintained.


Sad Cougar fan from Bellevue, Wash.,writes: Ted, real talk for a minute. After over a decade of misery, all Coug fans pointed to Leach as our hope. But after yet another Wulff-like performance from the team last night. They were outcoached in every phase of the game. Was our hope foolish? In today's NCAA,and today's Pac-12, do we honestly EVER have a shot at being relevant again? The glory years were a perfect storm. UW was bad, Oregon wasn't Oregon yet. Stanford wasn't Stanford yet, USC was just getting started. Honestly. We're never going to be good ever again are we? I am slipping into "mariners mindset?" Get excited for opening day, then stop caring by June.

Ted Miller: No question that was a dreadful performance against Arizona State. And it's been a bad three-week conference run since a 4-2 start inspired optimism.

However, yes, Washington State has a shot at being relevant again. In fact, I'm certain it eventually happen, whether that's about next year or seven years from now. How many programs have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997? It's simply a matter of getting the right players and the right coach together.

Sure, the euphoria after hiring Mike Leach has waned considerably. The mistake with that probably was believing he brought with him some magical elixir that immediately made the program bowl-eligible and then, shortly thereafter, Rose Bowl worthy.

Further, while most of us saw Leach inheriting an intriguing roster from Paul Wulff, he didn't share that view. Leach definitely has his own ideas about how to run a program and the sort of players he wants, in terms of both athletic ability and mental makeup. That he decided to mostly erase what was there and then re-draw from scratch his own plan is making the growing pains last longer. And be more painful.

This is only Year 2 with Leach. Feel free to feel bad. But don't panic yet.


Devin from Keizer, Ore., writes: What would it take for OSU to make it to the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the championship game?

Ted Miller: First, the Beavers need to win out -- other than the Civil War -- and finish 9-3 and earn at least a No. 14 ranking in the final BCS poll. That might require strong finishes from the remaining foes -- USC, Arizona State and Washington -- in order to boost the human and computer rankings.

Then there's the question of Stanford and the South Division contenders.

Stanford, at 10-2 with a win over Oregon State, would almost certainly be ranked higher. Even though the Cardinal played in the Rose Bowl last year, the bowl committee would go with Stanford. This is how the Pac-12 blog is presently projecting things. So Oregon State needs the Cardinal to lose again, at least a third game. Maybe a fourth.

As for the South teams, the Beavers could give themselves the edge over Arizona State with a head-to-head win. They don't play UCLA, so they should be rooting for the Sun Devils to beat the Bruins. The South champion also would pick up a loss in the Pac-12 title game, which would boost the Beavers.

A lot of things would have to fall into place. But Oregon State should start with a simple plan: Keep winning.


John from Dublin, Calif., writes: This week, everybody at ESPN has been making a big deal about how the Trojans have not fared well of late in Corvallis, and it's true. However, all these pundits seem to forget the Trojans' record vs. the Beavers in L.A.. Eisenhower was president the last time Oregon State won in the Coliseum. Why can't you guys give equal time to the Trojans' streak?

Ted Miller: I think the biggest reason is the game tonight is going to be played in Corvallis, not the Coliseum, which makes factoids about Oregon State-USC games played in the Coliseum less relevant.

But I promise that next year, we will note that Oregon State has not won at USC since 1960.


Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Eleanor Catton, author of the Luminaries, won the Man Booker prize at the age of 28. Are you excited for her, or sad for Jim Crace and Colm Toibin? Also: please tell Puddles that I can't take another heartbreak.

Ted Miller: Funny story. Went to buy "The Luminaries" the other day, at which point I discovered it was 828 pages. That, my friends, is an offseason read.

Good for Catton, though she might want to rethink lecturing the world about how she should be received.

If she really cares about unfairness, she should consider championing the great American male writers who have been unjustifiably slighted by the Swedish Academy when it awards the Nobel Prize to lesser-lights on an annual basis, most notably Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo.

And Puddles, after he stopped writing letters to Canzano, has been alerted.

Winston, Florida State among best of week

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
1:10
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Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards in Florida State's blowout win over Clemson.
Week 8 featured upsets and surprises as nine ranked teams lost, including five at the hands of an unranked opponent. Louisville, Texas A&M and Georgia all had more than a 90 percent chance of winning midway through the third quarter before blowing double-digit leads. Conversely, Clemson, LSU, UCLA and Florida never held a lead Saturday.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the Week 8 action.

Best individual performances
Marcus Mariota had a 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oregon’s 63-28 win against Washington State. He completed 10-of-12 passes and ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. As a result, his Total QBR never fell below 95 in the game. Mariota leads the nation with a 96.6 opponent-adjusted Total QBR this season.

Jameis Winston posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR after throwing for a career-high 444 pass yards and accounting for four touchdowns in Florida State’s 51-14 win at Clemson. Entering the game, Clemson’s opponents had a Total QBR of 27, ninth-best in the FBS. Winston is the first player in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least 300 pass yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Bryce Petty had a 96.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Baylor’s 71-7 win against Iowa State. He has posted an opponent-adjusted Total QBR of 75 or higher in all of his games this season. No other player in the FBS can make that claim (minimum five games played).

AJ McCarron posted a season-high 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas. McCarron completed 71 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and his Total QBR never dipped below 85 in the game.

Explaining Jordan Lynch’s Total QBR:
Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch set the FBS single-game record for rush yards by a quarterback (316), but his Total QBR was ONLY a 85.5. Why? QBR is a rate stat, meaning it measures efficiency.

Lynch gained 471 yards of total offense, but he was involved in 62 passing or rushing plays (7.6 yards per play).

To put that into perspective, Mariota, the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR, is averaging 10.3 yards per play this season. Furthermore, Lynch threw a costly interception from the Central Michigan 15-yard line with the score tied. That interception decreased Northern Illinois’ win probability by 12 percentage points and took 3.5 expected points off the board.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 8, click here.

Best team performances
Offense-- Florida State gained 565 yards of total offense and scored 51 points Saturday against Clemson. The Seminoles’ offense added 25.3 expected points in the game, meaning they contributed about 26 net points towards their 37-point victory. Adjusted for the strength of Clemson’s defense, which had allowed 16.2 points per game entering Saturday, Florida State had the highest opponent-adjusted offensive EPA of Week 8.

Defense—Baylor’s average margin of victory this season is a ridiculous 48.5 points per game, and both its offense and defense deserves credit. On Saturday, Baylor held Iowa State to seven points and 174 total yards (2.9 yards per play). As a result, its defense added 27.5 expected points, the most for any defense in Week 8. Overall, the Bears lead the nation in both offensive and defensive expected points added this season.

Special Teams—Alabama blocked a field goal and forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half of its 52-0 win against Arkansas. The Tide’s special teams unit contributed 12.1 expected points, the most of any team in Week 8. Alabama is averaging 5.8 expected points added per game on special teams this season, most of any team in the FBS.

Looking ahead to Week 9

Oregon hosts UCLA (7 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday in a game that will feature one of the top offenses in the nation looking to continue its success against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

Oregon has scored at least 45 points in each of its first seven games of the season. They are the first major college football program to do that since Harvard in 1887. UCLA, which has the second-best scoring defense in the Pac-12 (19.2 PPG), hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in a game this season.

Tune in on Saturday to see of the Bruins can slow the Ducks offensive pace and jump back into the BCS discussion.

Stat your case: Mariota or Winston?

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
11:15
AM ET

AP Photo, Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and Jameis Winston have been nearly flawless in 2013.
With his dominant performance against Clemson, Jameis Winston has jumped into Heisman contention.
SportsNation

After 8 weeks, which QB deserves to win the Heisman more?

  •  
    44%
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    56%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,027)


In the latest ESPN Heisman Watch, Winston and Marcus Mariota are the top two Heisman candidates.

After eight weeks, who deserves to win the Heisman?

Why Mariota should win the Heisman
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is averaging 363 yards of total offense and has accounted for 28 touchdowns this season. He ranks in the top five of most statistical categories without even attempting a pass in the fourth quarter in five of Oregon’s seven games.

Mariota is a threat on the ground and through the air; he is the only player in the FBS that is averaging at least 10 yards per rush and 10 yards per pass attempt. Similarly, he is the only player that has at least 15 pass touchdowns and seven rush touchdowns.

When passing the ball, Mariota does not turn the ball over. He has an FBS-high 197 pass attempts without an interception. In comparison, Winston has thrown three interceptions in 157 attempts. Dating back to last season, Mariota has thrown a Pac-12-record 265 passes without an interception.

When running, Mariota implements the zone read to perfection. The Ducks have called a zone-read play on 56% of their carries and have averaged 7.5 yards per rush on such plays. When Mariota keeps the ball, Oregon averages 13.7 yards per rush and has six touchdowns. It is unfair to compare Winston to Mariota on this type of play because Florida State rarely runs a zone read. However, it is important to note that Winston is averaging 3.1 yards per rush and has three rush touchdowns compared to 10.1 yards per rush and nine rush touchdowns for Mariota.

As a result of his offensive efficiency noted above, Mariota leads the nation in opponent-adjusted QBR (96.6). The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Johnny Manziel last year.

-Sharon Katz

Why Winston should win the Heisman
Heisman winners generally play well in their teams’ most important games, and Jameis Winston has had his two best games of the season against top-25 opponents.

Against No. 3 Clemson and No. 25 Maryland, Winston averaged 418.5 pass yards per game and accounted for nine total touchdowns. Florida State won by a combined 100 points in those games.

He is averaging 380.8 pass yards in four career ACC games with 16 touchdowns and two interceptions. He is the first player in the last 10 seasons to pass for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Winston makes crowd-pleasing plays. He averages 5.7 completions per game of at least 20 yards, the fourth most in the FBS. He completes an AQ-high 61.8 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or longer. That is about 12 percentage points higher than Mariota and at least 11 percentage points higher than each of the last three Heisman winners during their Heisman-winning seasons.

Winston also does not get rattled by pressure. He is completing 71.2 percent of his passes when opponents send five or more pass rushers, the fourth-highest percentage among BCS AQ quarterbacks. Winston ranks second among AQ quarterbacks in yards per attempt (12.5) and touchdowns (9) on passes against the blitz.

-- Rob Nelson

These quarterbacks will have several chances to separate themselves the rest of the season. Mariota will face back-to-back top-15 opponents as Oregon faces No. 12 UCLA and No. 6 Stanford in its next two games. Winston will take on North Carolina State, which handed the Seminoles their first loss of the season last year, followed by No. 7 Miami.

BCS: Oregon No. 3 in first BCS standings

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
9:15
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While Oregon is ranked second in both polls that count in the BCS standings, Florida State's win over Clemson on Saturday helped the Seminoles jump the Ducks for the second spot based on the strength of their computer ranking.

Panic in Eugene! East Coast bias! Kill the BCS!

Relax. Everything will sort itself out. This is the first BCS standings. We've got seven more versions ahead, the final one being the only one that counts.

Overall, Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State is No. 4 and Missouri is No. 5. Stanford, at No. 6, is the top one-loss team.

Oregon is ranked fourth by the computers while FSU is No. 1. Alabama is No. 2 with the computers and Missouri is No. 3.

Should Oregon fans panic? No. The toughest part of the Ducks' schedule is ahead. If Oregon wins out, it will be in good shape. Its schedule going forward is much more arduous than the Seminoles', who have already played their marquee game.

Oregon is just .0028 behind FSU, and it plays consecutive games over the next two weekends against teams presently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings, including No. 12 UCLA on Saturday. The Ducks also have the Civil War ahead against Oregon State, which is ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings.

Again, the "gee whiz" observation of the evening: Lots of football left.

The key is winning out, not fretting the BCS standings with six weeks remaining in the regular season and then conference championship games. Every season, folks start ranting and raving about their team getting screwed, and then their team loses and their issues become moot.

So, just win, baby.
Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence stemming from his arrest after crashing his car in March, and he was sentenced Monday to 364 days in jail with 363 suspended.

So he'll serve a day in jail before fall camp begins on Aug. 5.

But the big question, at least for the Pac-12 blog's purposes, is what coach Steve Sarkisian will do now? Not only with Seferian-Jenkins but also receiver Kasen Williams, who had his own offseason legal scrape.

Sarkisian's two best weapons in the passing game appear to be due some sort of suspension, which would mean quarterback Keith Price could be severely hamstrung in the season-opener against Boise State, a likely preseason top-25 team.

[+] EnlargeAustin Seferian-Jenkins
Jesse Beals / Icon SMIWhat kind of suspension, if any, will Steve Sarkisian hand down to star tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins?
That game, of course, will be the first in remodeled Husky Stadium. It is a huge game for Sarkisian and the Huskies as they try to take a step forward after three consecutive seven-win seasons.

There isn't anyone who doesn't view that game as huge for the program -- a tone-setter for the season.

You can imagine that Sark is just a bit unhappy that his stars players, who should be barking in the locker room at teammates about not doing these stupid things that they were doing. They've screwed him and their teammates.

Where's the leadership, gents? Call a freaking cab. Heck, call Sark. I know he'd stop whatever he was doing and come pick you up in order to keep you from driving while impaired.

The Pac-12 blog is not going to get bent about underage drinking. But getting behind the wheel at any age after drinking is not a victimless, boys-will-be-boys crime, even if good luck prevails and no one else gets hurt. Putting others at risk by drinking and driving is not a minor mistake that can be addressed by a slap on the wrist.

So the easy answer for Sarkisian is to suspend these guys for one, two or three games. Last year, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov was suspended for just one game for a DUI. That probably would satisfy the folks who expect Sarkisian to hold his players accountable. Some would say that would send a message to the Huskies as a whole about discipline and there being nonnegotiable consequences for their poor behavior. And maybe it would.

As for the win-loss column, while the opener against the Broncos would be put at risk, the Huskies should be able to handle Illinois and Idaho State without Seferian-Jenkins and Williams.

Yet there are two alternatives: 1. Sarkisian doesn't suspend either player and says punishment was internal; 2. He opts to suspend the players for Games 2 and 3 but plays them against Boise State.

He would not be the first Pac-12 coach to go wishy-washy over an off-field incident -- recall this expediency from Oregon State's Mike Riley.

In both cases, Sarkisian would get plenty of blowback, even some from the Pac-12 blog. He'd probably get more for No. 2, which would amount to an admission that winning the Boise State game mattered more than that whole "molding young men into upstanding citizens" thing.

Yet here's the reality: If the Huskies win 10 games and earn a final top-25 ranking this fall, no one will be talking about Sarkisian going soft on Williams and Seferian-Jenkins. For better or worse, winning cures just about everything in big-time sports, including college football.

Sarkisian, whether anyone at Washington would admit it or not, was hired to win football games, not teach his players tough life lessons that guide them down the path toward high character. He can try to do both -- and my personal opinion is Sarkisian legitimately cares about his players -- but winning comes first.

I remember covering the 1999 national title game between Florida State and Virginia Tech when Bobby Bowden opted to not penalize kicker Sebastian Janikowski for violating curfew. I thought Bowden was hilarious while defending himself against a media pounding, but I found myself in the minority amid much righteous indignation.

Bowden's reasoning was simple: Playing Janikowski improved his chances to win a national title. Suspending him would hurt them.

"I like him," Bowden said at the time. "Sure, it's favoritism, but we have the international rule [Janikowski was from Poland]. This isn't a democracy, and everyone doesn't have a vote. It's communism or whatever. I made the decision."

Bowden got his second national title. Any of you remember much about the Janikowski incident?

I also remember an interesting conversation with former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti after I wrote this in 2004, ripping him for allowing Richie Incognito and Rodney Woods to become Ducks. As was Bellotti's way, which is unusual among football coaches, he was measured and objective.

To paraphrase a long-ago chat, he told me he understood my take, though he disagreed with it. He and I both had a job to do. His was winning football games and dealing with guys like me. And it's notable that the second-chance worked out for Woods (and Incognito lasted just a week with the Ducks).

Of course, decisions have ripples, and those ripples can lead to unintended consequences. Bowden and Florida State, though they played for the national title the next season, began a gradual decline that led to his awkward exit in 2009.

If Sarkisian shows leniency, it could end up loosening his grip on the locker room, where guys might believe they'll also get a pass. It could become a long-term negative for his tenure.

But is Sarkisian thinking longterm? He is under moderate pressure to produce this season or find his seat warming substantially. And he has the team to do it ... at least when you factor in having A-list guys at tight end and receiver.

It's a tough call.

But the only reason we'd still be talking about it in December is if the Huskies underachieve and fans are grousing about Sarkisian.

Final: Oregon 48, Oregon State 24

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
6:38
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The 116th Civil War was close. And then it wasn't. Yes, we've seen that before with Oregon.

Oregon scored 28 consecutive second-half points and blew away Oregon State 48-24.

The Beavers opened the third quarter with a touchdown drive that narrowed the deficit to 20-17. But they made things easy for the Ducks by then giving away five of their six turnovers in the second half.

A week after getting shut down by Stanford in their first loss of the season, the Ducks (11-1, 8-1) rolled up 570 yards while winning their fifth Civil War in a row. Oregon State (8-3, 6-3) gained 393. The Ducks outrushed the Beavers 430 yards to 82.

After the Beavers scored on their first possession of the third quarter, Oregon made its move. It drove 66 yards for a touchdown, and then the Beavers fumbled the ensuing kickoff. A 29-yard De'Anthony Thomas run later -- on fourth-and-5 no less -- and it was 34-17.

Kenjon Barner rushed for 198 yards on 28 carries with two TDs, but he was banged up much of the second half, when Thomas took over. Thomas rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries and three scores.

Beavers QB Sean Mannion, who lost his job to Cody Vaz after throwing four interceptions at Washington on Oct. 27, again threw four interceptions.

Oregon, which has won 15 consecutive road games, now awaits a couple other results. First, it needs Stanford to lose to UCLA this afternoon, which would make the Ducks the Pac-12 North Division champions. They then would play UCLA, already the South champion, on Friday in the Pac-12 title game.

Further, Oregon is still in the national title hunt. It needs, first and foremost, for No. 1 Notre Dame to lose tonight at USC. It also probably needs Florida to lose to Florida State, a game that is in the fourth quarter as this sentence is typed.

Even if Oregon doesn't reach the Pac-12 title game, where it would play for a Rose Bowl berth or more, it is almost certain to be an at-large selection for a BCS bowl game, mostly likely the Fiesta Bowl.

Mailbag: Oregon post-Kelly?

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
5:00
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Stephan from Shanghai, China, writes: A lot is being made about the possibility of Chip Kelly heading for the NFL next year. This past off season, he was in talks with Tampa. Who are possible candidates for his replacement should he leave Oregon? Would anyone on his staff be able to replicate the kind of offense we have come to know Oregon for?

Ted Miller: First off, I am not ready for Chip Kelly to leave. I'm obsessed with the idea of tricking him into entertaining a hypothetical question before that happens.

It seems, as former Ducks coach Mike Bellotti has said, "inevitable" that Kelly takes a shot at the NFL, probably sooner rather than later. His stock couldn't be higher. It's almost certain that he will be pursued by multiple NFL teams after the season. So if Kelly decides he likes an opportunity, he'll probably bite. Not a sure thing -- my impression is he hardly seems eager to bolt Eugene -- but a lot of folks around the program feel resigned to the eventuality.

Who would be next? Well, this has been speculated about already because of how close it appeared Kelly was to leaving for Tampa Bay last year. There are two obvious names: Boise State's Chris Petersen and Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

Oregon has long been seen as the one job that might lure Petersen away from Boise State. Petersen knows the program, having been an assistant under Bellotti from 1995-2000, and it seems to be a good fit. Oregon is one of the few big-time programs where Petersen could remain in the region and not be dumped into a big city media market, which he reportedly doesn't want. Further, he'd have a chance to win a national title and get paid a lot more money.

Helfrich would ensure system continuity, and it's no secret a lot of folks inside the athletic department and potential decision-making process are high on him.

After that, you could line up a list of the usual suspects. Oregon has become an A-list job, one that will pay well. Of course, some might shy away as Kelly would be a tough act to follow.


Beavfann from Denver writes: Ted it is deja vu all over again. I think I am correct that you are 2-6 picking the Beaver games this year is that right? It is just like 2009 and 2010 your total lack of faith continues to inspire the Beavs. If the Beavers do pull it out this weekend will you make sure to pick against them the rest of the year? It should not matter after this week since Kevin will have the picking crown about wrapped up.

Ted Miller: I'm 4-4 picking Oregon State this year. I am 4-1 picking them to win (Utah, Arizona, UCLA and Washington State being correct as wins, Washington being the wrong win pick). And 0-3 picking the Beavers to lose (Arizona State, BYU and Wisconsin).

Don't recall too many folks picking the Beavers over Wisconsin, but I did write this. I picked BYU to beat the Beavers because that was Cody Vaz's first start for an injured Sean Mannion and I thought the road venue against a good defense would prove too much. I was wrong.

I thought the QB turmoil might hurt the Beavers last week against Arizona State, particularly coming off a loss at Washington. I was wrong.

It's very possible I will be wrong picking Stanford over the Beavers. I tried to explain the tough call here.

And if Mike Riley is successfully using my predictions to motivate his team, well, that would make me very happy. The Pac-12 blog loves to be a resource to its coaches.


Sam from Los Angeles writes: Your article on UCLA ascending to the top of the LA food chain makes it so glaringly obvious that you have not watched a single UCLA game this year. It must be hard considering you are the biggest USC homer of them all.1) UCLA didn't get "whooped" by Oregon last year. In fact, they did much better than essentially any person, bruins fans included, would have expected.2) "And the Bruins have been good on special teams too" - was that leftover from an article you wrote last year about UCLA? We have about 4 fumbles on muffed punts and a freshman kicker who has missed multiple PATs and it has become glaringly obvious can only hit field goals <35 yards. Yes we have a great punter, but that doesn't make up for the atrociousness that our special teams has been this year.3) Sheldon Price is having a breakout year? - Our cornerbacks have been absolutely terrible this year. They are by far our weakest and most vulnerable unit, and most likely going to be a huge reason why we lose to USC (if we lose). Our cornerbacks are big and athletic, and it makes me laugh everytime an announcer/"reporter" talks about how great they are based purely on their athleticism when the announcer has obviously not seen them play at all this year. Its nice to finally get some recognition that the Bruins deserve, but its just insulting when it comes from a guy who has been drinking the USC kool-aid since... forever... and its obvious that he has no clue whats going on at UCLA.

Ted Miller: All righty...
You write: "UCLA didn't get "whooped" by Oregon last year. In fact, they did much better than essentially any person, bruins fans included, would have expected."

UCLA lost to Oregon 49-31. The Bruins trailed 49-24 entering the fourth quarter. Oregon outgained the Bruins 571 yards to 337.
You write: "And the Bruins have been good on special teams too" - was that leftover from an article you wrote last year about UCLA? We have about 4 fumbles on muffed punts and a freshman kicker who has missed multiple PATs and it has become glaringly obvious can only hit field goals <35 yards. Yes we have a great punter, but that doesn't make up for the atrociousness that our special teams has been this year."

As you note, UCLA has one of the best punters in the nation in Jeff Locke. The Bruins rank No. 2 in the Pac-12 in kickoff coverage, No. 3 in kickoff returns and No. 5 in punt returns. They are 11 for 16 on field goals. That .688 percentage ranks seventh in the Pac-12, but 11 made field goals is tied for third most in the conference. Yes, Ka'imi Fairbairn has missed three of 41 PATs and has limited range, but refresh my memory about what he did against Arizona State.
You write: 3) Sheldon Price is having a breakout year? - Our cornerbacks have been absolutely terrible this year. They are by far our weakest and most vulnerable unit, and most likely going to be a huge reason why we lose to USC (if we lose).

I listed six guys, but you criticism is valid -- a bit overstated but valid -- with my positive assessment of Price. I overvalued Price's three interceptions, which all came against Houston. And Price played poorly against Oregon State, California and Arizona State.

I am sorry you believe I insulted your team by writing that article. I am sure your letter will be hung up in the UCLA coaches' offices and used in recruiting.

(Read full post)

Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.) Is Notre Dame for real? (Skip.)

Yes, the college football punditry and peanut gallery can sound like a broken record. The Fighting Irish are 5-0 and ranked seventh, and almost every sign suggests legitimacy, but, well, we've been down this road before. And not only with Notre Dame. It wasn't too long ago that everyone was blowing kisses at Florida State -- the Seminoles are finally back -- before it became a national punch line or cautionary tale, however you wish to view a loss at NC State.

Notre Dame plays host to No. 17 Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal might present the Irish their toughest test yet. Stanford, after all, beat USC. Whipped the once-No. 2 Trojans at the line of scrimmage, no less.

Of course, Stanford also wilted against Washington, making a Huskies defense that would get decimated by Oregon look stout.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
George Nkitin/AP PhotoStepfan Taylor and Stanford can perhaps clear the national title picture a bit by toppling undefeated Notre Dame.
The gist here is there is still a lot of fog over the college football season. We all say stuff, perhaps even with a feigned certainty -- Alabama is unbeatable! -- but we don't really know. The season remains rife with variables and plot twists, even with the first BCS standings being released Sunday.

There are 14 undefeated teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions). Some teams mostly feel -- fairly or unfairly -- like curiosities: three in the Big East (Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers), Ohio, Louisiana Tech, Oregon State and Mississippi State. Others own undeniable heft: Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Kansas State and, yes, Notre Dame.

Odd that this weekend's Red River Rivalry feels so far off the radar, although both Texas and Oklahoma could play roles in winnowing the contenders and pretenders. The Sooners still have dates with Notre Dame and West Virginia, while the Longhorns conclude the season against Kansas State.

The "what ifs" are rampant. Such as: What if Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon all finish undefeated; who then plays for the title? Or switch out Oregon with West Virginia or Kansas State. There are the multiple unbeaten quandaries, and then there are all the best of the once-beaten comparisons, such as: Can USC get back into the national title hunt?

Again, so many variables in our penultimate season yoked by the lovely BCS system. It's difficult to predict how pollsters will react. And don't even start with the computers. With strength of schedule, it's not just what your team has accomplished, but what all its foes did. And all its foes' foes. Etc., etc.

What's also interesting is that the march toward clarity isn't always linear. At any moment, a couple of upsets can put a boot print in our consensus expectations. For example, what might have happened last season if LSU had been nipped in the SEC title game?

The good news is a page will turn next week. If Kansas State and West Virginia both survive tricky road games this weekend -- the Wildcats are at Iowa State, and the Mountaineers are at Texas Tech -- they meet in Morgantown on Oct. 20, so one of the Big 12's two unbeatens will fall.

Same goes for the SEC East. If No. 3 South Carolina manages to win at No. 9 LSU on Saturday, a visit to No. 4 Florida on Oct. 20 seems like the Rubicon for the division. Only one unbeaten will remain in the division, just as only one unbeaten -- Alabama or Mississippi State -- can emerge from the West.

And, if everyone then holds serve, we could have an epic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup in the SEC title game.

But, alas, that's getting ahead of ourselves.

We started with the notion that Stanford will provide a nice test for Notre Dame's legitimacy. The Cardinal, after all, are riding a three-game winning streak in the series.

But we know past success doesn't guarantee future results. Just look at your 401K. Or the Fighting Irish's storied history.

Is Notre Dame for real? Heck, is anyone for real?

It's probably best to turn to one of history's great college football pundits at times like this. As Socrates once noted when his preseason picks imploded, "I know one thing, that I know nothing."

Or, more charitably, at least very little.

ASU must (Oregon) focus on Buffs (Oregon)

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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It has been chiseled onto the granite tablets that Glenn “Pop” Warner carried down from Mount Sinai. Here it is, Commandment No. 4: "Thou shalt not look ahead, for if thou, do thou shalt be gnashing thy teeth after thou art whipped."

And, of course, Commandment No. 3 is all about not overlooking any foe, "... for surely then thou shalt be cast into the burning fiery furnace."

Ah, football wisdom. We know it. We love it. We often pay backhanded tribute to it by calling it a "cliché."

But many seemingly high-quality teams through the years, despite their coaches' best efforts, often forget it. Just ask Florida State. Pete Carroll could tell you a few tales from his USC days.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriTodd Graham's Sun Devils will get a chance to make a statement against Oregon -- if they can take care of business against the Buffaloes first.
Arizona State faces the double whammy at Colorado on Thursday. First, if you look at the Buffaloes' résumé -- loss to Colorado State, loss to an FCS team, blowout loss to middling Fresno State squad -- it's not unreasonable to assume an easy victory is shortly forthcoming for Arizona State. Danger!

Second, there isn't anyone in Tempe who doesn't know who's coming to town on Oct. 18. That would be No. 2 Oregon. In the preseason, that game looked like a Ducks walk-over. But new coach Todd Graham has quickly transformed the Sun Devils into a disciplined, efficient, competitive team that is eyeing the national rankings.

The Oregon game will offer an outstanding opportunity for Graham and the Sun Devils to make a national statement about the direction of the program. But -- danger! -- the Sun Devils have to get there first. And an upset loss at Colorado would put a boot print onto those high hopes.

Ducks coach Chip Kelly has done a masterful job of creating a team culture that treats every game the same no matter the outside perception. As impressive as his 40-6 record is, what might be most impressive about it is he's lost only once to an unranked team: Stanford in 2009 (and that very good Stanford team was ranked the next week after beating the Ducks with Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck).

Before Graham's arrival, Arizona State was not known as a team with a culture that produced consistent play. At all. Heck, look no further than last year's team, which was extremely talented but quit when adversity arrived.

Graham said he has not mentioned Oregon this week. But he has pointed to NC State's stunning upset win over FSU and the Sun Devils' horrid performance at Missouri. But a coach can say only so much, can repeat the coaching commandments only so many times. At some point, the locker room needs to take the lead and understand that every opponent merits focused and intense preparation.

"I have said this earlier in the year that coming back from adversity is hard; I think handling success is harder," Graham said. "I think you have to stay hungry, you have stay focused on what you are doing, you have to stay motivated on the opponent that is right in front of you. ... I haven't gotten any sense that our guys are overlooking Colorado."

But then Graham added, "That is the hardest thing about my job -- keeping 18- to 20-year-olds focused on something."

Know that Colorado, which is as healthy as it has been all season, will put up a fight in front of its home fans. Washington State thought it had the Buffs in the bag on Sept. 22, but they came roaring back in the fourth quarter and stole a 35-34 win in Pullman.

Colorado is capable of winning this game if the Sun Devils do not show up, particularly if Buffs quarterback Jordan Webb gets enough time against an aggressive pass rush to exploit a questionable and thin secondary.

Further, if you bracket off the big game with Oregon, a lot of good can happen with a win at Colorado. An impressive performance could push the Sun Devils into the national rankings. And, at 5-1, they'd be one game short of bowl eligibility.

Graham has raised expectations with his fan base. But the fact is the Sun Devils opened 5-1 last year. The true measure of this team will be its consistency through the entire regular season.

"It has everything to do with the mental maturity of your football team," Graham said. "I don't think our guys will have a letdown."

And if they don't, well, then bring on the Ducks.

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