Pac-12: Illinois Fighting Illini

Mailbag: Graham contract; Angry Badgers!

September, 20, 2013
Welcome to the week 4 mailbag. It will be done in sanskrit.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's this new Internet thing that just might work out.

To the notes!

Scott from Norfolk, Va., writes: Todd Graham really does seem like a great fit at ASU and he really did seem to bring about a very positive and much-needed cultural overhaul to the program. That said, doesn't his contract extension and raise seem a little premature? He's great so far, but "so far" is only 15 games, in which he's 10-5. Dennis Erickson was 12-3 in his first 15 games. I have to imaging this increases Graham's buyout (though I haven't seen direct mention of it, perhaps you can inform us as to whether that's true?), so isn't ASU unnecessarily limiting its options down the road here? Or am I overreacting and this is par for the course (and it's only fair that if coaches are now getting fired after two years they should also get raises on the same time scale)?

Ted Miller: I see this as a renewal of vows, Arizona State and Graham making it clear to everyone they are happy -- at present -- with each other (and let's also note the same can be said for AD Steve Patterson, whose contract was also extended).

Of course, we all know college contracts often end up getting broken, one way or another. A coach can leave for a big-money job, at which point the new school often picks up the buyout tab, or boosters can get so worked up about a surprising downturn that the school decides to eat the contract and move on. And, yes, sometimes extensions bite a school in the butt -- see Colorado with Dan Hawkins and Iowa with Kirk Ferentz, two coaches who got big-money extensions that proved too expensive to buy out when things went south.

This new contract isn't a big risk for either party. Graham's current contract runs through 2016, this new one runs through 2018. He wasn't given a 10-year deal that could expose Arizona State should the Sun Devils start losing two years from now. As for Graham, his buyout of $1.5 million isn't terribly big. Chip Kelly's buyout at Oregon was $3.5 million.

Another interesting detail, though, is Graham is forbidden from taking a Pac-12 job through the life of the former contract. If I were a Pac-12 AD, I 'd always try to get that written into a head coach's contract. It's a good way to protect program secrets. Not saying any Pac-12 program would ever have any.

But, yes, if Texas wanted to hire Graham, it could easily handle the buyout, even though this extension is intended to prevent Graham's name from getting aggressively thrown into the rumor mill.

Why now? Well, you might have noticed the rumor mill already is starting to grind. From the ASU perspective, just about everything Graham has done thus far with the Sun Devils has been positive, and that's not just about winning.

Kevin, as you know, spent a lot of time with Graham and his staff last week. I think the picture he paints is of a highly functioning coaching staff with a strong, driven, organized leader running the show.

I know media members aren't allowed to write nice things about Graham. Kevin's and my problem is we actually have spent enough time with him to actually know what we are talking -- and writing -- about.

Sam from Sammamish, Wash., writes: I am noticing some chippiness of late between long-time conference allies, the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. Here is a link to a story about Sark thinking on the fly about where to practice on Friday prior to the game in Chicago. What the story neglects to mention is Northwestern University decided to deny UW access to its practice fields less than 24 hours prior to arrival because it would give their Big Ten brethren Illinois an unfair disadvantage. Add this questionable gesture or lack thereof to the Wisconsin/ASU officiating debacle and methinks there may be some outright animosity building up?

Ted Miller: The Rose Bowl conferences are business partners, but that doesn't mean they aren't rivals who desperately want to win and claim superiority. That sometimes involves gamesmanship, which is what it appears Northwestern did in this instance.

Here's what coach Steve Sarkisian said on the matter:
“It’s an unfortunate situation. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of love lost right now between the Big Ten and Pac-12 right now, quite honestly, especially after the Arizona State-Wisconsin game. So it is what it is. Pat Fitzgerald and I exchanged some comments, and we’re fine. I don’t know where it’s going to go from a conference level. It was unfortunate, but in the end, I think it was a positive. It just kept lending to, there’s no distractions for us on this team. If we have to walk through the streets of Chicago to a park in downtown Chicago with a light pole in the middle of the field to practice, we’ll do it. And our guys didn’t skip a beat. It actually worked out really well for us. It’s not a big deal for us anymore. We’ve moved on.”

Oh, well. I've got a really high regard for Fitzgerald, so he gets a pass from me. Sark and Huskies fans might feel differently.

The bottom line is Washington beat Illinois 34-24 and the Pac-12 is 3-2 versus the Big Ten. So pffft to our friends from the Midwest.

Bill from Portland writes: What are the odds of USC and Texas meeting in the Holiday Bowl, and if they did, would those be some of the hottest hot seats in college football? P.S. How crazy is it that in the same year it is a good possibility that USC, Texas and Nebraska may be looking for new coaches at the same time?

Ted Miller: Those certainly are some A-list jobs that might open up by season's end. Suffice it to say, there's already plenty of chatter about how those potential openings might go.

It's certainly not that long of a shot that the Trojans and Longhorns could play in the Holiday Bowl -- or the Alamo Bowl for that matter -- for the first time since their epic national title game after the 2005 season, albeit in far different circumstances. Of course, both teams will need to climb a bit in their respective conference's pecking order to make it happen, particularly 1-2 Texas.

That said, I'm not sure either team would embrace the idea, though both would like an invitation to a quality bowl game. After all, the theme of most advance stories would be: Look how the mighty have fallen!

Lee from Ripon, Wisconsin writes: You are so incredibly stupid it is beyond belief. To compare a judgment call (pass interference) with a failure of the game officials to call a play by the rules defies basic logic. Of course basic logic is obviously beyond you. But when you make statements that are factually incorrect, you really display your stupidity. The Pac-12 is the only major conference that uses officials from its league for home nonconference games. The other conferences have the game officials in essence travel with the visiting team. The game officials that worked the ASU at Wisconsin game in 2010 were from the Pac-12. The referee was the same individual who worked the Ohio State at Cal game Saturday night. It was NOT a Big Ten official who missed the pass interference call that you are basing your fallacious argument on; it was a Pac-12 official. If you weren't so fricking lazy you would have checked this out prior to making a factually incorrect statement; it is called research. I will be sending this email to the president of ESPN and suggest that they fire your sorry butt. An individual too fricking lazy to do basic research and as a result base an "argument" (what you stated doesn't meet the definition of a sound argument, but obviously the explanation of what qualifies as a sound argument is way beyond your severely limited mental capacity) isn't qualified to be a sports reporter. You aren't even qualified to be a dog catcher, or a member of the Bush cabinet. Hell, you aren't even qualified to be a Pac-12 football game official.

Ted Miller: Thank you for your interest in the Pac-12 blog. We value your input. Please press one for customer service, two for new accounts ...

Lee, you are correct. I am stupid and lazy. That has never been so clear until this week when many Wisconsin fans showed up to help become smarter-er. But, to be honest, your world of Badger sophistication frightens and confuses me. I read "factually incorrect" and I want to bury my face into my blankie. I read "fricking lazy" and "research" and I want to know, "Where did these highfalutin concepts get created... The Kollege Klub?"

But there is one thing I do know.

That referee Bill LeMonnier led a Big Ten crew on Sept. 18, 2010 inside Camp Randall Stadium for Arizona State's visit to Wisconsin.

I guess I'm just lucky my computer is connected to the Internet-S.

Don from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: Ted --Please pass this on to Kevin -- seems every time I try and click on "send email to Kevin" it displays your smiling face. Is this part of your evil scheme?I wanted to commend Kevin on his very fine profile of Todd Graham. It was well written, informative and unflinching. As a Stanford fan, and Stanford having not played ASU since 2010, I had kind of lost track of the program (although certainly the Graham hire made news). So with the game coming up this week, it was time to get into Graham and the program a bit, and Kevin's piece filled out everything very nicely. Pac-12 blog rocks!

Ted Miller: I have many evil schemes. This is not one of them, though now I'm sort of wishing it were. A guy can never have too many evil schemes, right?

Yet just two seconds ago, I was gazing at Kevin's Clooney-esque mug.

Did you click here? There are two places to send your Pac-12 mail, one to me and one to Kevin.

Typically, if you are angry and want to insult us, those notes should go to Kevin. If you want to write how great the Pac-12 blog is, those notes go to me.

Jesse from Portland writes: I know of your long gripe with the word, "Natty." However, an Oregon player first invented that word. And since it has gone global in it's usage, though originating in Oregon, we claim that word. If you actually took the time to visit every single sports forum and blog, you would quickly see that this word is used by every single fan nationally describing the NCG. It has become a universal word and has so for three years now. Get with the times. You are getting old. The only people who hate that word are Oregon haters, cause they know a Duck invented it. And because it was first invented by a Oregon player, we are NOT going to to stop using that word, not now, not ever! We are the only Pac-12 team to go to a Natty in the last eight years. And we are projected to make another one this year. So we have every right to use that word. So Natty, Natty, Natty, wish you were at the Natty. Natty is here to stay. Both now, forever and into all time. It is a Oregon thing, going to a Natty. And unless you are a Duck, you just cannot understand. You Natty old reporters ... don't like the Natty? Well ... go Duck yourself then. Natty times are here to stay!

Ted Miller: (A sigh ... and then a slow clap ... everyone in the coffee shop slowly stands and joins in).

Pac-12 predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
Both Ted and Kevin went 9-1 last week, both missing on picking USC to beat Washington State.

For the year, Kevin is 18-2 and Ted is a miserable 17-3.


Kevin Gemmell: The Cardinal thrive on efficiency, and they were very efficient in their season opener. Army is hardly the test San Jose State was. It makes its living by running the ball, averaging 329 yards on the ground through the first two weeks. Guess which team loves for teams to run at them? … Stanford 38, Army 7.

Ted Miller: Army is not going to win this football game, but on a week when we remember 9/11, let's tip our cap to those guys. I'm sure they'll compete hard and make sure Stanford comes back west knowing it played a football game. … Stanford 35, Army 10.


Gemmell: The Buffs probably lose this one. It was a nice couple of games. They got a little momentum, doubled their win total from last season and generated a little excitement early in the rebuilding process. Fresno State has some weapons. Then again, as Ben Bradlee famously said during the Watergate investigation: “[Bleep] it, let’s stand by the boys.” … Colorado 31, Fresno State 28.

Miller: Colorado has already shown it's a better football team than it was in 2012. Better will make this one closer than last season -- way closer. But Fresno State might be the nation's best non-AQ team. … Fresno State 38, Colorado 30.


Gemmell: Had he taken the Colorado job, Butch Jones would have had to wait two more weeks to get blown out by the Ducks. At least now he gets it out of the way sooner. Look for those little mistakes Oregon had last week to disappear as the Ducks return home. … Oregon 48, Tennessee 17.

Miller: There is a level of intrigue for this game based on the Volunteers having a great offensive line and the Ducks being somewhat questionable at linebacker. Is that enough to keep it close? Probably not. … Oregon 44, Tennessee 20.


Gemmell: The Buckeyes showed some depth against San Diego State last week when Braxton Miller went down. That doesn’t bode well for a Cal defense that is rife with injuries right now. The Bears can put up points. No one is disputing that. Stopping people is the bigger priority right now. … Ohio State 38, Cal 27.

Miller: The Buckeyes are going to pile up rushing yards, whether Miller plays or not. So can the Bears pile up passing yards to match them, score for score? Maybe for a little while, but not for four quarters. … Ohio State 40, California 21.


Gemmell: Welcome to the desert, where the temperature at kickoff is expected to be a toasty 102 degrees. But it won’t be the heat that burns the Badgers. It will be ASU’s precision efficiency, which is amplified when Taylor Kelly plays at home. In eight career home games, he has 19 TDs to three INTs and is completing 74.2 percent of his throws. … Arizona State 35, Wisconsin 24.

Miller: But it's a dry heat! My question is whether the Sun Devils defense will be able to stand up to the relentless power-rushing attack of the Badgers. My guess is both teams will be pretty darn worn out by the end of the game. Kevin thinks the UCLA-Nebraska game was the toughest pick this week. This was it for me. … Arizona State 24, Wisconsin 23.


Gemmell: Two weeks ago, I said I would pencil this in as an Oregon State win. Pencils have erasers. The Beavers have all sorts of issues on defense, and the Utes are playing with a confidence we’ve rarely seen since they joined the league. I think Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks have a big day, but I think Travis Wilson & Co. have a bigger day. … Utah 31, Oregon State 27.

Miller: This feels like a HUGE game for both teams. As in, neither will accomplish its goals this season if it loses. I like the matchup with a more mature Travis Wilson against the injury-riddled Beavers defense, but I also think Mannion and Cooks have an edge versus the Utes' questionable secondary. The edge for the Utes is playing at home. … Utah 38, Oregon State 35.


Gemmell: The Wildcats still haven’t put it all together. But, once again, their schedule allows for tweaking and growing. Ka'Deem Carey's return was as spectacular as expected, and the defense continues to show signs of improvement. I suspect we’ll learn more about the Wildcats when they open league play on Sept. 28 against Washington. For now, they’ll continue to tweak their way to another win. … Arizona 42, UTSA 21.

Miller: I'm with Kevin. I'm ready to see Arizona get tested. The Wildcats' big goal in this game is fleshing out a passing attack that has been poor to middling in the first two games. … Arizona 48, UTSA 17.


Gemmell: A whole week for Cody Kessler to take the first-team snaps might do wonders. But, for now, if the Trojans do win, it will continue to be on the coattails of the defense, which has been outstanding, and that’s getting lost in all of this quarterback mess. … USC 31, Boston College 17.

Miller: Forget Lane Kiffin for a moment. What about the players? Do they have pride? Or are they ready to wave a white flag on their season and their head coach? I think we'll see USC bounce back, but I'm far from certain of it. … USC 24, Boston College 17.


Gemmell: The worst thing in the world would be an emotional letdown. Don’t see it happening. The offense gets back on track this week and the defense continues to improve in Year 2 under Mike Breske. The Air Raid should be in full effect this week. … Washington State 48, Southern Utah 10.

Miller: Washington State is going to win this game, but the Cougars need to get their offense back in sync. That means enough running game to keep a defense honest and more than 300 passing yards. We'll see both on Saturday. … Washington State 51, Southern Utah 13.


Gemmell: By far the toughest game to pick this week. It all comes down to which defense can better contain the other’s quarterback. I think the bye week was a good thing for the Bruins, though this week will certainly be emotionally trying with the death of receiver Nick Pasquale. They have on film what they did right and wrong versus a mobile quarterback from the Nevada game. I think they put that film to good use. …UCLA 36, Nebraska 31.

Miller: Both teams have good offenses, but I think the UCLA defense is better. Further, I like Brett Hundley to take control in the fourth quarter and Anthony Barr to make some game-changing plays against Taylor Martinez. … UCLA 40, Nebraska 31.


Gemmell: This is the next big test for the Huskies: Can they be as productive on the road? They come off the bye week healthy and rested, and the return of Austin Seferian-Jenkins gives Keith Price another outstanding weapon. Looking for the Huskies to take a big step forward. … Washington 35, Illinois 24.

Miller: If the Huskies play like they did against Boise State, they will roll. I expect them to. I also expect Seferian-Jenkins to have a big game, both catching the ball and blocking for Bishop Sankey against a middling defense. … Washington 41, Illinois 20.

Pac-12 lunch links: Richardson humble

September, 11, 2013
I just wanna go to the rooftops and scream, "I love my best friend, Evan."

Mature Huskies head to Illinois

September, 11, 2013
Washington made a strong statement with its season-opening win over Boise State. The Huskies dominated a ranked team on both sides of the ball in a 38-6 victory, and that's why they vaulted to No. 19 in the AP poll.

Steve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Tom HauckAfter an impressive win against Boise State, Steve Sarkisian's Huskies can take another step forward with a victory against Illinois in Chicago on Saturday.
Yet, one game does not make a season, and a faceplant against Illinois on Saturday at Solider Field could be all the more damning. Everyone saw what the Huskies can do when they play well, so a bar of high expectations has been set. Crashing into that bar now would feel like a major underachievement, a failure of focus and mental toughness.

And Huskies coaches, players and fans are well-aware of their team's struggles on the road. They are 3-10 away from Seattle over the past two seasons so a visit to a Central Time Zone to take on a better-than-expected Illini team, which is 2-0 after whipping Cincinnati, presents another test for a program trying to take a step forward after three consecutive 7-6 seasons.

Coach Steve Sarkisian thinks he's found a cure for the road woes and inconsistency of his program: Maturity. He's repeatedly said he believes this is his best team since he took over the Huskies in 2009. That's based on talent, but growing up is also a part of it.

"As much or more than anything, our football team has really matured over the last few years," Sarkisian said. "This is as mature as we’ve been since I’ve been here."

That maturity revealed itself against Boise State, but it also is about the practice and preparation. That needs to be consistent with every opponent, and the Illini will present challenges, particularly to the Huskies' defense.

Illinois senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been lights out thus far working under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, who was fired last year after coaching at Western Michigan for eight seasons. Scheelhaase has passed for 728 yards in two games, with six touchdowns and just one interception. He's completing 74 percent of his throws with a sturdy 10.6 yards per attempt.

Sarkisian called the Illini offense "dynamic," and noted that six different players have produced plays of 30 or more yards.

"We have to try to find a way to affect the quarterback, whether it’s via pass rush or disguising our coverages," Sarkisian said. "Because when he gets comfortable, they’re really hard to stop."

As for the Huskies' offense, it's hoping to get the same results from quarterback Keith Price, who was dynamic himself against Boise State, overcoming an early interception to throw for 324 yards and two touchdowns. Price also gets a key weapon back as All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will play at Illinois after being suspended from the Boise State game due to a spring DUI.

The Huskies looked deep at receiver against the Broncos, but Seferian-Jenkins offers a big target who should be particularly valuable in the red zone.

“Austin’s obviously a very talented player," Sarkisian said. "He’s a weapon for us in the passing game and the running game. He’ll have a significant role in the game plan to catch the ball, whether it’s short, intermediate or long."

While the Illinois offense has put up impressive big numbers, its defense also has, but not in a good way. It's yielded 431 yards per game. Southern Illinois scored 34 points against the Illini in the season-opener.

A mature, nationally-ranked team goes into Chicago and takes care of business decisively. That's the next test for the Huskies as they try to take another step forward in the Pac-12 and national pecking order.

The Pac-12 will establish its national identity on Saturday. Simple as that.

Every Pac-12 team plays. No byes this week, my friends. There's one conference game, Oregon State at Utah, that is critical to both teams. Eight of the nonconference foes are unbeaten at 2-0. Six of those teams are from AQ conferences, including four matchups with the Big Ten. Three are against ranked teams. Fresno State, which is visiting Colorado, is the equivalent of 28th in the AP poll. Three Pac-12 teams are underdogs.

Three teams are traveling across multiple times zones. Six teams will be televised on either ABC, ESPN, Fox or Fox Sports 1.

It's a big weekend, folks. It's "measuring stick"weekend.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesJim Mora Jr. leads the Bruins into Lincoln, Neb., in a big game for the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.
Sure, Stanford (Army), Washington State (Southern Utah) and Arizona (UTSA) aren't playing marquee matchups. But nine other Pac-12 teams can make a resonating, national statements about the trajectory of their seasons if they win on Saturday.

The underdogs are Colorado, California, which plays host to No. 4 Ohio State, and UCLA, which visits No. 23 Nebraska.

Colorado is looking to redeem itself for a white-flag performance at Fresno in 2012, a humiliating 69-14 defeat that wasn't even as close as the final score indicates, seeing that it was 35-0 after one quarter. If the Buffs pull the upset, it would establish the Pac-12 as a patsy-less conference with no easy outs.

Cal nearly won at Ohio State a year ago, more than physically matching the Buckeyes, who would go undefeated. That game, in fact, is probably why there's a lot of skepticism -- cough, cough -- about how good the Buckeyes actually are. The good news is Cal is at home. The bad news is the Bears nearly lost there a week ago to Portland State, an FCS team.

Perhaps the most meaningful game for the conference is the Bruins-Cornhuskers matchup, mostly because both teams are ranked. Last year, UCLA prevailed as an underdog, 36-30, in Week 2, and that victory immediately gave the Bruins and new coach Jim Mora national legitimacy and presaged a turnaround season in Westwood. The Bruins also are dealing with the shocking death of receiver Nick Pasquale, who was hit by a car over the weekend.

A victory by the 16th-ranked Bruins could push them close to the nation's top 10 and set them up for a 5-0 start before getting the most arduous road double in the country this fall: at Stanford, at Oregon on back-to-back weekends starting Oct. 19.

UCLA's South Division rival, unranked Arizona State, is favored by 5 points over No. 20 Wisconsin, which is interesting. While many still seem to question second-year coach Todd Graham's crew, Vegas apparently does not. But lines only mean so much. The one thing missing from the Sun Devils strong 2012 campaign was a victory over an A-list foe. The burly Badgers are an A-list foe.

Speaking of favorites, Oregon is giving 27 points to an SEC team, Tennessee. That's a pretty substantial sign of respect. But, of course, it also establishes an expectation. If the Ducks win, say, 28-17, there will be more than a few smirks in SEC country and among some media folks who fawn on the conference. Style, which Oregon typically has in abundance, matters in this one.

Washington has struggled on the road of late, going 3-10 away from Seattle the past two seasons. Further, Illinois (2-0) might be better than expected; so it's not about style points for the Huskies. It's just about winning and maintaining the positive momentum the program ignited with the opening win over Boise State. Of course, an impressive victory could push the Huskies into the nation's top 15.

USC could use some style -- any at all on offense. The visit from Boston College looked like a walk-over for the Trojans in the preseason, but now it feels like a must-win for coach Lane Kiffin. It's difficult to imagine USC's season turning around after a 1-2 start, which could doom Kiffin.

Then there's Oregon State's visit to Utah. In the preseason, the Beavers looked like a decided favorite for this one, but then they lost their opener to Eastern Washington. Meanwhile, the Utes have surged, getting surprisingly good play from true sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson. An Oregon State win likely would restore confidence and make the Eastern Washington loss look more flukish. A Utah victory would make the Utes look like a bowl team and inspire an edit of preseason expectations.

Finally, there's the three teams playing lesser foes. We have three words for each of you: Don't blow it.

If the Pac-12 wins eight of these 10 nonconference games, it would substantially boost the major preseason storyline for the conference: The Pac-12 is as deep in quality as it has been in years and is in the running for the mythical title of nation's best conference.

But if it wins just five or six games, the measuring stick would be broken in half. The perception of the conference would sink, and there would be little chance to salvage it. At least until the bowl season.

Quick look at Week 3 Pac-12 games

September, 9, 2013
Here's a quick look at Week 3 in the conference. All games are on Saturday and times are ET.

No. 16 UCLA (1-0) at No. 23 Nebraska (2-0), noon, ABC: Series tied at 6-6. UCLA won 36-30 last year in the Rose Bowl. With 4,014 career passing yards, sophomore QB Brett Hundley needs 74 yards to move into UCLA’s top-10 list, passing former Bruin and 1967 Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban (4,087 yards). In the season-opener, Hundley connected with 10 different receivers. In last year’s win over Nebraska, the Bruins had 653 yards in total offense (344 rush/309 pass).

No. 5 Stanford (1-0) at Army (1-1), noon, CBS Sports Network: Series is tied 5-5. Army won the last meeting 17-13 in 1979. Stanford senior FS Ed Reynolds had a game-high 12 tackles (9 solo) to go with an interception in Stanford’s 34-13 victory over San Jose State. His interception extended Stanford’s streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 25, the longest streak in the nation. Stanford’s current streak of being in the top five of the AP poll for three consecutive ranking periods is one week shy of the school’s best of four weeks achieved during the 1940 season.

Fresno State (2-0) at Colorado (2-0), 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Colorado leads the series 4-2, but Fresno State stomped the Buffaloes, 69-14, last year. In that game, Colorado was outgained 665 yards to 278. The Bulldogs rolled up 288 yards rushing. It was 35-0 after the first quarter, and it was 55-7 at the half. So, yeah, the Buffs should be motivated. Junior WR Paul Richardson grabbed 10 receptions for 208 yards in the season opener, then tallied 11 receptions for 209 yards in the win over Central Arkansas. It’s the first time in Pac-12 history that a receiver has posted back-to-back games of 200 or more yards receiving. The Buffs are looking to start the season 3-0 for the first time since 2008.

Boston College (2-0) at USC (1-1), 3 p.m., Pac-12 Network: USC leads the series 3-0. The Trojans last beat BC 24-13 in the 2009 Emerald Bowl. The Washington State pass defense held USC to 54 yards on 11 completions (4.9 ypc), while limiting All-American Marqise Lee to 27 yards on seven catches. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin named Cody Kessler the starting QB on Monday. The Trojan defense is playing well. It held Washington State to 7 yards rushing and now leads the nation in rushing defense (allowing 15.0 ypg) as well as sacks with 11 (5.5 per game)

Tennessee (2-0) at No. 2 Oregon (2-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN: Oregon leads the series 1-0. It won 48-13 at Tennessee in 2010. In that game, the Ducks trailed 13-3 before scoring the final 45 points. Through two games, the Ducks have posted five 100-yard rushing performances -- two by De'Anthony Thomas, two by Marcus Mariota and one by Byron Marshall. Mariota is the first Oregon QB to rush for 100 or more yards in back-to-back games. Eight of Oregon’s nine scoring drives last week against Virginia were accomplished in under two minutes. That’s 17 of 19 scoring drives this season in less than two minutes (the other two drives were 2:11 and 3:08).

No. 19 Washington (1-0) at Illinois (2-0), 6 p.m., Big Ten Network: Washington leads the series 5-4. The Huskies won the last meeting 52-14 in Champaign. Illinois beat Washington in the 1964 Rose Bowl. The Huskies have now appeared in back-to-back AP polls for the first time since the 2003 season. Senior QB Keith Price has 56 TD passes in his career, most in school history, and ranks 25th all-time in the Pac-12. Junior RB Bishop Sankey has rushed for 100 or more yards in five of the last six games. He’s gained 368 yards over his last two games.

Southern Utah (2-0) at Washington State (1-1), 6:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting between the two programs. With its 10-7 win over Southern Cal, Washington State snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Trojans. It was the Cougars' first win in The Coliseum since 2000. WSU leads the Pac-12, and is sixth in the FBS, allowing just 72.8 passing yards per game.

No. 4 Ohio State (2-0) at California (1-1), 7 p.m., Fox: Ohio State leads the series 6-1, including a 35-28 win last year in Columbus. Cal freshman QB Jared Goff has thrown for 930 yards in two games. His two-game total is just eight yards shy of the Pac-12 record two-game total of 938 yards set by former Cal Bear Pat Barnes in 1996. Barnes posted 435 yards vs. UCLA, then followed with a school-record 503 yards vs. Arizona. The last time Cal hosted a nonconference foe ranked among the top five was No. 4 Nebraska in 1998 (lost, 24-3).

Oregon State (1-1, 0-0) at Utah (2-0, 0-0), 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Oregon State leads the series 9-6-1, including a 21-7 win in Corvallis last year. Oregon State's junior QB Sean Mannion threw for 372 yards and four TDs in the win over Hawaii. It was fifth time he’s thrown for 350 or more yards in a game, while it was the sixth time he’s tossed three or more TD passes in a game. The Utes set a school mark for points in a quarter with 35 in the second of the 70-7 win over Weber State. This is the second time in school history Utah has amassed 100 points in the first two games (1973; 29-22 loss at Texas Tech, 82-6 win vs. UTEP). Sophomore QB Travis Wilson has connected on 31-of-47 for 566 yards and 5 TDs this season. His 202.2 passing efficiency rating ranks eighth in the FBS and second in the Pac-12.

UTSA (1-1) at Arizona (2-0), 10:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting. After serving a one-game suspension and missing the first quarter, junior RB Ka'Deem Carey rushed 171 rushing yards on 16 carries (10.7 ypc) and 2 TDs, including a 56-yard TD run on his first carry of the season. Carey has 31 rushing TDs, second on the school’s career list. (UA record is 44 by Art Lupino, 1953-56). Junior S Tra'Mayne Bondurant added his FBS-leading third interception of the season with a pick he returned 52 yards for a TD, his second return this season for a score.

No. 20 Wisconsin (2-0) at Arizona State (1-0), 10:30 p.m., ESPN: Arizona State leads 2-1, but the Badgers won a 20-19 thriller in 2010. Arizona State is 8-0 vs. the Big Ten at Sun Devil Stadium. The Sun Devils committed just one penalty for 5 yards in their season-opening win over Sacramento State. ASU led the Pac-12 last season with just 55 penalties (4.2 per game) for 454 yards (34.9 ypg). Junior QB Taylor Kelly completed 23 of 31 passes for 300 yards and a career high-tying five TDs in the blowout win over Sacramento State. He has a streak of 102 straight pass attempts without an interception dating back to last year, which currently stands fourth nationally. His touchdown passes of 16, 41, 24, 33 and 26 yards, all went to five different receivers. Dating back to the final three games of the 2013 season, Kelly has gone 76-of-102 (.745) with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions on 1,005 yards.
Washington had a singular, overriding goal entering the opening weekend of the season: Win. Beat Boise State. Walk out of renovated Husky Stadium at 1-0.

So mission accomplished.

But 1-0 is not all the Huskies got out of that 38-6 victory.

For one, there's winning and then there's delivering the sort of whipping that really good teams do to pretty good teams to make a national statement. We don't know yet how good the Broncos are, but the Huskies stomped the nation's No. 19 team like you'd expect, say, LSU to take care of business. The Huskies recorded plenty of style points on both sides of the ball.

Keith Price
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenThe season opener against Boise State was more than just a victory for Keith Price and Washington.
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins also sat out because he was suspended for an offseason DUI. Winning the way the Huskies did without him is a positive on several levels. First, it shows that the offense can roll up nearly 600 yards without the nation's best tight end. That speaks to the number of weapons the Huskies offense has. The biggest revelation in the game might have been the depth and talent of the Huskies receivers even after Kasen Williams.

Further, and beyond Xs and Os, coach Steve Sarkisian was able to score a point for his discipline. There was plenty of thinking that ASJ would play -- Kevin and I have debated it for weeks, with me predicting he would play (and, as Kevin quickly pointed out via text, me being wrong, wrong, wrong). That means no media snark putting an asterisk on the win for a lack of accountability.

And, in a more Machiavellian coaching sense, let's not forgot that ASJ gets to rest his surgically repaired pinkie for two more weeks before going to Chicago to play Illinois, as the Huskies are off this week. That, quietly, is a big deal.

This off week also feels fortuitous.

A lot was put into this game by the Huskies. Even though Sarkisian and his players relentlessly beat the drum of "it's just one game," the reason they relentlessly beat that drum is because few saw it that way. This game was a grand opening of not only a stadium, it also was the "hello world" moment for what Sarkisian has repeatedly described as his best team. A face plant would have substantially lowered Sark and the program's Q-rating. It also, by the way, would have devalued whatever the Huskies might have accomplished thereafter -- taking the perception of the Pac-12 down with it -- because a loss to a non-AQ team has a lingering transitive effect that's hard to shake.

What does that mean? Well, did you ever bring up Georgia's loss to Boise State to open 2011 as a way to diminish the SEC? But of course we, er, you did.

So the off week means the Huskies can enjoy the game tape, put ice on some bumps and bruises and not worry about the proverbial "let-down game" a week later. They get extra time to get ASJ back into the swing of things. They get extra time to refocus.

The eventual quality of their refocusing is the next test. The Huskies take on a struggling Illinois team -- the Illini barely slipped by Southern Illinois on Saturday -- at Soldier Field on Sept. 14. While the Huskies get extra time to rest and game-plan this weekend, Illinois will have its hands full with a tough Cincinnati squad on Saturday.

Still, Washington has not been good on the road of late. They are 3-8 the past two seasons away from Seattle, and among those defeats are plenty of flat performances. If Washington approaches the efficiency and focus it showed in the win over Boise State, it rolls by two or more touchdowns. But if it just goes through the motions and gets upset, the entire positive narrative of the Boise State victory could reverse course in an equally negative way.

Part of the challenge of being a good college football team is being good every week. It's about not settling. It's not about pining for eight wins. Heck, it's not really about victory totals and postseason rewards.

It's about an obsessive focus on every moment of preparation and game-day execution. It's about "winning the day," but we won't type that because the phrase has been taken.

Washington showed everyone Saturday what it can be this fall. The performance produced credible grounds for optimism. But it also raised a bar over which the Huskies now must consistently leap over. Or end up wondering what might have been. Again.

Take 2: B1G vs. Pac-12

July, 12, 2013
Your B1G and Pac-12 bloggers have been grinding away on their respective leagues' nonconference primer series. Here's the Big Ten series, and here's the Pac-12 series. Part of the fun is learning about other teams in other conferences and what they bring to the table. The Pac-12 and Big Ten face each other five times during the regular season. The Pac-12 got the better of the matchups last year. Will this year be different? Brian Bennett and Kevin Gemmell decided to talk it over.

Brian Bennett: The first thing I look at for Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups in any given season is where the games are staged. Big Ten teams don’t seem to think the West Coast is the Best Coast; they are just 5-20 in true road games against the Pac-12 since 2000, and that includes an 0-3 mark on the road versus the Pac-12 last year. (The league also has just one win in its past 10 Rose Bowls, but not all of those games came against the Pac-12.)

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
AP Photo/David StlukaNew coach Gary Andersen and the Badgers will have their hands full at ASU this season.
So it’s not good news for the league that I cover that three of these five matchups are located far left of the Midwest. If there’s any reason for optimism, it’s that the Big Ten teams should be substantial favorites in two of the road games -- Northwestern at Cal in the opener and Ohio State against those same Bears in Week 3. Cal is intriguing because of new coach Sonny Dykes, but Northwestern and Ohio State are both legitimate Top 20 teams with conference-title aspirations; if they can shake off the jet lag and contain the Bears’ passing attack, they should take care of business.

The two most interesting games -- and what look like virtual toss-ups -- are Wisconsin at Arizona State, and UCLA at Nebraska. The Badgers have a lot of returning talent, but a new head coach and different schemes on both sides of the ball. It’s also going to be a clash of styles, with the Badgers’ power running game going up against Arizona State’s spread offense. Will Gary Andersen’s team have its new systems figured out by then, and is Wisconsin’s defense -- particularly its inexperienced secondary -- fast enough to handle the Sun Devils?

UCLA-Nebraska is probably not getting enough attention as a must-watch game this year. Last year’s shootout in Pasadena, Calif., featured nonstop pingpong action, and both teams figure to have topflight offenses again. The Cornhuskers have a perilously young defense, but Bo Pelini’s teams usually defend much better at home than on the road. Quarterback Taylor Martinez -- who grew up a Bruins fan but was recruited by them as a defensive back -- will be highly motivated to beat UCLA his senior year. This is Nebraska’s only major test in the first seven games, and it’s one I think the Huskers have to find a way to win.

Finally, there’s Washington at Illinois. The Illini get the benefit of home turf, sort of, as the game will be played at Soldier Field in Chicago. We’ll see if Tim Beckman’s crew will inspire enough fans to show up by Week 3. While Washington has been mediocre for what seems like forever, I can’t confidently pick Illinois to beat any half-decent power conference opponent at this point.

In the end, I say the Big Ten manages a winning record this time around against the Pac-12, taking the two games in Berkeley, Calif., and the one in Lincoln, Neb. A 3-2 mark sounds about right, though if Wisconsin can pull off the win in the desert, that could be a good sign for both the Badgers and the league as a whole.

Kevin Gemmell: I'm going 3-2 also, but in favor of the Pac-12. After all, if we were in total agreement, it would make for a pretty boring Take 2. So I'll play the contrarian when it comes to UCLA-Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesCoach Jim Mora and UCLA allowed just six points in the second half of last year's win against Nebraska.
We agree on the Cal games versus Northwestern and Ohio State -- though I think Cal is going to give both of those teams a better run than they are banking on. I like what Andy Buh is doing with a defense that could be sneaky good. And the Bears have some explosive depth at wide receiver. But ultimately it's a rookie quarterback -- whomever Dykes chooses among Zach Kline, Jared Goff and Austin Hinder -- and a team that will still have some growing pains as new systems are installed on both sides of the ball. Like you with Illinois, I'm not ready to give the Bears the green light yet. However, last year's game in Columbus, a 35-28 win for Ohio State, should serve as a reminder not to take Cal lightly. No doubt, the Buckeyes will remember Brendan Bigelow and his four carries, 160 yards and two touchdowns.

Both halves of the Pac-12 blog have been saying we believe Washington is going to get over that seven-win hump this year after three straight seasons of mediocrity. The Huskies have a lot of pieces in place with a returning quarterback, a 1,400-yard rusher, good receivers, a good line and the top tight end in the country. Their defense made huge strides last season in the first year under Justin Wilcox, and we're expecting another leap forward in 2013. What scares me is Washington's inconsistent play on the road the past few seasons. During the Huskies' trio of 7-6 seasons, they are 14-5 in Seattle (last year they played at CenturyLink Field) and 6-11 on the road. The past two years they are 11-2 at home and 3-8 on the road (0-2 in their bowl games at neutral sites). If the Huskies want to have a breakout year, they are going to have to win away from home. Steve Sarkisian actually talked about this in a Q&A we did back in April. But they certainly have the talent to win this game.

The ASU-Wisconsin game is really a critical one for the Sun Devils. It kicks off a four-game stretch (with no bye weeks) that also includes Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. ASU is another team looking for some national credibility, and this is its first opportunity to get some. You're right to talk about the ASU offense, but that defense -- which ranked first nationally in tackles for a loss and second in sacks last season -- is going to be crazy good with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford leading the attack. I'm banking on a good game, but ultimately one ASU wins at home.

That brings us to UCLA-Nebraska, a game I'm also surprised more people aren't geeked up about outside of the respective fan bases. This should be a fantastic showcase for both leagues. Brett Hundley impressed in his freshman campaign, and I think this game is going to be a spotlight for two of the country's most athletic quarterbacks. I was in Pasadena for the game last season, and what actually stood out to me was UCLA's defense -- particularly in the second half. The Bruins allowed only six points, and kept Martinez to 11 yards rushing and the Huskers to 106 total yards in the final 30 minutes. They should be improved in Year 2 under Jim Mora and Lou Spanos. If the Bruins pull this one off, it's going to be because of what they can do defensively.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.


Boise State, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Chris Petersen (84-8), eighth year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 7-1 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: five offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Joe Southwick returns after completing 66.8 percent of his throws last year with 19 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He threw for 2,730 yards and averaged 210 per game.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence earned first-team all-league honors after posting a team-high 13 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks to go with 48 tackles.
  • The skinny: The Broncos will probably start the year ranked -- and they've earned that right. They have consistently been a Top 25 program and the elite team among non-BCS conference schools. They've gone 5-0 against the league's teams (including Utah in the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl, prior to the Utes joining the conference) since 2008. Their last loss to a Pac-12 team was at Washington in 2007. And in case anyone needs reminding, this is a rematch of last year's Las Vegas Bowl, which the Broncos won 28-26 on a late field goal.
at Illinois (in Chicago), Sept. 14
  • Coach: Tim Beckman (2-10), second year
  • 2012 record: 2-10, 0-8 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: eight offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns as a four-year starter after an injury-plagued 2012. A high ankle sprain limited him for the majority of the season and as a result, he had just four touchdowns to eight interceptions with a 60.6 completion percentage in 10 games.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jonathan Brown is an all-conference candidate after posting 59 tackles last year with 2.5 sacks and a team-high 9.5 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: Much of what Illinois wants to do on offense revolves around Scheelhaase's ability to move. And with an ankle injury limiting him last season, the offense suffered, averaging a minuscule 16.7 points per game. With him healthy, and a lot of returning players around him on offense, expect Illinois to be improved in that department.
Idaho State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Mike Kramer
  • 2012 record: 1-10, 0-8 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Justin Arias, a redshirt junior, moves into the starting quarterback role. He has two capable receivers to throw to in Cameron Richmond and Luke Austin, who combined for 1,405 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
  • Defensive headliner: Sophomore defensive back Taison Manu was a freshman All-American last season after posting 77 tackles (tied for second on the team) an d4.5 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: Give the Bengals credit. They've scheduled two FBS teams every year since 2008, including the likes of ASU, Oklahoma, Georgia, Nebraska and BYU. This season they go to Washington and again at Provo, Utah. Granted, they've lost all those games, usually by a wide margin, but they at least aren't afraid to be ambitious in their scheduling. Last year they set a conference record for most passing attempts and completions. Though they allowed almost 54 points per game in 2012.
Thoughts: The big one here, obviously, is Boise State. Illinois should be better than last season, but so should the Huskies, and despite Washington's road woes, this should be categorized as a winnable game. The Boise State game means a heck of a lot to Washington's season. Obviously, it will be an electric atmosphere with the opening of remodeled Husky Stadium. As we've written a couple of times before, in the Ultimate Road Trip and Most Important Game series, what a victory could do for the Huskies on the national landscape. Accepting that Boise State will likely be a Top 25 team to start the season, a win likely puts Washington in the rankings -- where they'll stay, and likely climb as others around them lose -- heading into conference play. After Arizona, it's three straight against Stanford, Oregon and ASU. Heading into that stretch ranked and 3-0 would bring the fan base to a tizzy. A loss, however, stunts momentum, and victories over Illinois and Idaho State would be met with more of a "meh." If the Huskies want to be nationally relevant and show they are ready to take the next step, beating Boise would be a good place to start.
We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Remember all that sanction talk back in June? Sooooo two-and-a-half months ago. Welcome to Week 3.

Saturday, Sept. 14
  • Stanford at Army
  • Fresno State at Colorado
  • Tennessee at Oregon
  • Ohio State at California
  • Wisconsin at Arizona State
  • Oregon State at Utah
  • UTSA at Arizona
  • Boston College at USC
  • Southern Utah at Washington State
  • UCLA at Nebraska
  • Washington vs. Illinois (at Soldier Field)
My choice: UCLA at Nebraska

Why: This is a week where allegiances are truly divided -- because Week 3 provides a really good slate of games. There will be griping. Feelings will be hurt. Such is the cruel mistress that is the Pac-12 Blog Ultimate Road Trip.

We have a league game with Oregon State traveling to Rice-Eccles. We've got potentially the No. 1 team in the country in Ohio State coming into Berkeley. We've got an SEC team coming to Autzen and three other Pac-12/Big Ten games. Plus -- and Stanford should have smooth sailing at Army -- I always enjoy watching the service academies play. If you've never been to a game at West Point and stood in silence when they play the alma mater, it should be on your bucket list. But not this year. Not this week. Too many other good games.

This week we go beyond the borders of the Pac-12 states. In a rematch of one of the more exciting games of last season, the Bruins return the trip to Nebraska after topping the then-No. 16 Huskers 36-30 last year in Week 2 at the Rose Bowl.

More than Brett Hundley's coming-out party against tougher competition (and his home debut, where he threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns), it was UCLA sending a message that things were going to change in the Jim Mora era. The Bruins made big plays on offense when they had to and made the stops -- especially in the second half -- when needed. Datone Jones was beastly.

After a 24-24 tie at intermission, the Bruins held Taylor Martinez to 11 rushing yards following a first half in which he ran for 101. UCLA limited Nebraska to 76 rushing yards in the second half after allowing 184 in the first.

This year's matchup could prove to be equally exciting. It features a much more seasoned Hundley clashing with Martinez -- so quarterback productivity will certainly be an interesting sidebar in this rematch. Both teams return experienced lines and key players on defense.

Assuming the Bruins show up and aren't overwhelmed by the environment, this should be the week's most exciting game.

However, if you want to make a case for Arizona State-Wisconsin (a game I think ASU wins -- especially at home), it would be tough to argue. If you want to make a case for road-tripping to Chicago -- a heck of a city -- I wouldn't complain. If you want to argue for watching Oregon blow up a bottom-tier SEC team and all the schadenfreude that comes with that ... by all means. Those who want to see Cal-Ohio State (though the Bears will probably be fairly heavy home dogs), I could see that. Even Oregon State-Utah, a league game that was probably closer than last year's 21-7 would indicate, is of interest.

This week, you can follow our road trip, or simply follow your gut, because there aren't many bad choices.

Most important game: Washington

April, 16, 2013
Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.

We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.

And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.


Most important game: vs. Boise State, Aug. 31

Why it's important: There is obvious temptation to pick a North Division rival -- and I certainly am not trying to downplay the significance of the Apple Cup. When that game rolls around, the Huskies might be a top 25 team jockeying for a high-end bowl game. And revenge will certainly be on their minds.


Most important 2013 game for Washington?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,142)

Ask any Washington player which loss hurt the most last year and I'm confident at least 7 out of 10 would say Washington State. The other three would say Boise State.

As for Oregon -- yeah, I get how important that game is. But a rivalry is only as good as the teams (note the plural) that play in it. And Washington hasn't lived up to its end of the bargain since "The Matrix" trilogy ended. Wouldn't be shocked to see a few Oregon fans wearing these if they drive up for the game. If Washington beats Oregon -- then certainly it would be huge for the program. But it would also be considered a significant upset. And thus, it's not their most important game.

Stanford is obviously important as well. The Huskies shook up the college football world by stunning the Cardinal last year -- and now they have to prove they can do it on the road. That's a huge game for the maturity of this program under Steve Sarkisian. But it's not their most important game.

Recall, if you will, another team in the North Division that finished 7-6 the year before and kicked off its season in a remodeled stadium against a Mountain West Conference opponent. That would be California in 2012. Remember how that game turned out? Remember the tone that loss set for the rest of the season?

I'm not saying the Huskies will share Cal's fate should they lose that game. But with so many key starters returning -- an improved (and healthy) offensive line, an A-list running back, a defense on the verge of graduating from potent to nasty -- a home loss in the new-look stadium would be absolutely deflating.

Remember, this series is also about what each game might reveal. And I don't know about you all, but I'm anxious to see if Keith Price is going to return to the 2011 form that made him one of the most feared quarterbacks in the league. This first test will be very telling of his progress.

And, of course, there are the rematch ramifications. Boise State's 28-26 fourth-quarter win in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas is still very fresh in the minds of fans, players and bloggers.

In the final two games of 2012, the Huskies failed to finish. And as a result, they enter the year on a two-game skid. A victory over a team that's been a top-25 staple would energize the fan base and lend credence to the whispers that this could actually be Washington's breakout year. It also probably puts the Huskies in the top 25 after Week 1. Then victories at Illinois (currently enjoying a nine-game losing streak) and home to Idaho State and Arizona (no promises after last year's 52-17 whooping, but there are a lot more question marks around the Wildcats than there were last week) would put Washington at 4-0 heading into the critical showdown with Stanford.

A loss, however, would zap any preseason hype and would be greeted with an unenthusiastic "ho-hum, more of the same" attitude.

It's a question of legitimacy. And the Huskies can get some by winning in Week 1.

Graham proving equal to his salesmanship

September, 11, 2012

TEMPE, Ariz. -- You show up at the used car lot and you see the smiling salesman. He wants to tell you about this great car. It's got everything. Perfect for you. Best deal ever! It hurts him to sell you this great car for such a low, low price but -- nudge, nudge -- he's doing it special. Just for you.

More often than not, it's pure cheese. But, sometimes, the guy beneath the grin is telling you the truth. It's a great car and a great deal.

Todd Graham arrived at Arizona State under a cloud of recrimination for the way he left Pittsburgh. He spent his early months as the Sun Devils' coach pitching himself and the program with evangelical zeal. He'd expertly touch all the best talking points. He talked about a high-octane offense and an aggressive defense. He talked about discipline and winning with class. He talked about players starting with clean slates. He talked about competition. He talked about relationships.

Some fans and reporters bought in. Some reserved judgment. And some were skeptical.

Well, folks have been driving the 2012 Sun Devils around Tempe for two games and, suffice it to say, it's been a nice ride. Yes, it's only two games. Sun Devils fans have been burned before, such as last year. But those talking points and words have become deed, revealing a coach -- so far -- with a plan and a program on the uptick.


  • High octane offense? The Sun Devils rank first in the Pac-12 in scoring with 54 points per game. They are averaging 7.7 yards per play. And while the schedule hasn't been daunting, Illinois was ranked seventh in the nation in total defense a year ago.
  • Aggressive defense? The Sun Devils' eight sacks ranks second in the conference. They've forced six turnovers, which is tied for the most in the conference.
  • Discipline? The Sun Devils are seventh in the nation and first in the Pac-12 with just 17.5 penalty yards per game. They ranked last -- 120th -- in the nation last year with 79.77 yards per game. They have been flagged just five times. Nine Pac-12 teams have been flagged at least 11 times. USC has 20 penalties in two games.
  • Winning with class? Graham has told his players not to trash talk -- or counter trash talk -- during games. And he's keeping score, noting during Monday's news conference two instances against Northern Arizona when he was unhappy with players mouthing off to opponents.
  • Competition? Few folks projected Taylor Kelly as the winner of the three-way QB competition. In fact, just about everyone ranked him third. But he straight won the job by asserting himself during preseason camp. And guess who is the Pac-12's highest rated passer at present?

Of course, it pays to be cautious. Don't forget Arizona State was 5-1 and ranked 18th heading to Oregon on Oct. 15 of last year. Thereafter, the season imploded.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinTodd Graham's attention to discipline and detail is paying off early on for the unbeaten Sun Devils.
Still, this team certainly feels different than that strutting collection from a year ago. Former coach Dennis Erickson liked his team to be loose and edgy. Graham's answer to just about any question is discipline.

Such as what it's going to take for the Sun Devils, a program known for its struggles on the road, to play at a high level at Missouri on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

“I think focus," he said. "I think that is probably the key. One of the things we try to have the guys do -- how we do everything we do -- we do it a certain way. I think just the mental aspect of it."

Graham tries to recreate the home locker room on the road. That means shipping as much as he can from Tempe to Columbia.

"We take all of the signs that are in our locker room and actually have them made and carry them with us," he said. "We have plug-in air fresheners and we use the same air fresheners to try to make things as normal as they can possibly be. I don’t change anything. Everything is at exactly the same time. We try to keep things like that. As much as you can keep them in the routine the better it is."

This is definitely a different sort of attention to detail.

Respecting the details is why Kelly won the QB job. While Mike Bercovici has a better arm, and Michael Eubank is a better runner, Kelly figured out that protecting the football, understanding the underpinnings of the new offense and taking charge in the huddle was going to win over Graham and his staff.

"Taylor is a leader," Graham said. "He's a born winner."

And he has no turnovers in two games while completing nearly 79 percent of his passes.

Yet things are different on the road. Missouri will be smarting after folding up in the second half against Georgia. And it surely remembers losing at Arizona State in overtime last year.

The Sun Devils have to prove they can handle success. And then when adversity inevitably arrives, they have to handle that -- the 2011 season being exhibit A of how not to.

Still, the ride so far with Graham's Sun Devils has been far smoother than expected.

Arizona State rolls over Illinois

September, 9, 2012
Two games into the Todd Graham era at Arizona State, and it's difficult to imagine things looking more impressive.

It's not just that the Sun Devils improved to 2-0 with a dominant 45-14 win over Illinois, it's that they are playing smart, disciplined football.

And, yes, Graham has noticed and is pleased.

"I feel like this was a big test for us, going up against a Big Ten team, and a very strong one at that," he said. "We went out and dominated them. I love the way our guys are playing disciplined. Our goal was zero penalties, and the only person who got a penalty was me, and we took a delay so we could back the punt up a little bit."

That's right: Arizona State was flagged for one penalty for 5 yards, and it was drawn on purpose.

As for dominant, the Sun Devils scored touchdowns on four of their six first-half possessions. On a fifth, they fumbled on the 1-yard line.

Arizona State completed its first 14 passes, 10 by starter Taylor Kelly and four by backup Michael Eubank. Kelly completed 18-of-24 for 249 yards and a TD with no interceptions, while Eubank completed 5-of-5 for 69 yards with two scores. Eubank also ran for a TD.

The Sun Devils outgained Illinois 510 yards to 332.

While Illinois was without quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who was sidelined with an ankle injury, it was still an impressive performance on both sides of the ball.

The Sun Devils will take to the road next weekend, visiting new SEC member Missouri, a team the Sun Devils beat last year.

What's coming up: Part 2

September, 8, 2012
A look at what's coming up in the second half of the day for the Pac-12. Kevin will be bringing a pregame report from Pasadena and Ted will be reporting from Tucson. ESPN Los Angeles is blanketing USC at Syracuse.

Times are PT.

Fresno State (1-0) at No. 4 Oregon (1-0), 3:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Since the Ducks pulled quarterback Marcus Mariota with 7:03 left in the second quarter (they were leading 50-3) many are excited to see if he'll make it through an entire game. Or at least take a snap in the second half. The Ducks scored a touchdown on their first seven possessions last week. This will be the first road game -- and first time against a ranked opponent -- for new Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter, who has spent the majority of his career as a defensive coordinator.

Washington (1-0) at No. 3 LSU (1-0), 4 p.m., ESPN: Of all the nonconference games on the docket this weekend, this one might be the most meaningful to Pac-12 fans since it's against the SEC. Washington quarterback Keith Price has explosive potential, but the Huskies lost part of their running back by committee last week when Jesse Callier went down for the year with a knee injury. At question is whether Washington can run the football against LSU's front and whether they can stop the run. Chances are this game is won or lost at the line of scrimmage.

Duke (1-0) at No. 25 Stanford (1-0), 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network: The Cardinal weren't spectacular in their debut against San Jose State last week. Part of it might have been rust, part of it could have been the team pressing a bit too hard in its first game without Andrew Luck, or maybe the Cardinal will really take a major step back in 2012. It's too soon to tell, but a lot of their issues at the line of scrimmage need to be sorted out before USC comes to town next week. It'll be interesting to see what the return of linebacker Shayne Skov does for the defense.

Illinois (1-0) at Arizona State (1-0) , 7:30 p.m., ESPN: This should be a more substantial test for the new-look Sun Devils under Todd Graham, who were clean and dominant on both sides of the ball while whipping Northern Arizona. Arizona State leads the series 2-1, but Illinois won 17-14 last year at home. In that game, Illinois recorded six sacks, two interceptions and recovered a fumble. The big question is whether Illini starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will be healthy enough to play. Scheelhaase left the Illini's victory over Western Michigan last week with an ankle injury. After he left, the offense managed no points and just 15 yards on the five drives with Reilly O'Toole at the helm. The defense scored Illinois’ only points after Scheelhaase left.

Did you know? Pac-12 Week 2

September, 7, 2012
Some notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • The Pac-12 plays seven games against foes from other AQ conferences on Saturday.
  • Arizona has lost 6 consecutive games against top-20 teams. Its last victory against a top-20 opponent came Sept. 18, 2010, against ninth-ranked Iowa.
  • Oklahoma State defeated Arizona each of the past two seasons -- in the 2010 Alamo Bowl and last year in Stillwater. The ‘Pokes outscored Arizona 73-24 in the two games, and gained 594 yards in the win last season. That was the most yards allowed by Arizona in a single game since 2005.
  • In his brief debut last week in an 84-0 win over Savannah State, Oklahoma State freshman quarterback Wes Lunt was 11-for-11 passing for 129 yards. Arizona ranked last in the Pac-12 last year in pass defense.
  • The Illinois defense recorded six sacks, two interceptions and recovered a fumble in its 17-14 win against Arizona State last year.
  • Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s injury status will be a key thing to keep an eye on for this game. Scheelhaase left the Illini's victory over Western Michigan last week with an ankle injury. After he left, the offense managed no points and just 15 yards on the five drives with Reilly O’Toole at the helm. The defense scored Illinois’ only points after Scheelhaase left.
  • California has never played Southern Utah before.
  • Utah State last week held Southern Utah to three points and 209 yards.
  • Colorado is playing Sacramento State for the first time. It's the Buffs third game against an FCS foe.
  • Sacramento State lost its opener at New Mexico State, 49-19.
  • Oregon has dominated the series with Fresno State of late, winning six in a row against the Bulldogs. Fresno State’s last win in the series came in 1982.
  • Oregon leads FBS in touchdowns drive of two minutes or fewer (95) one minute or fewer (44) and three plays or fewer (41) since the start of 2010. Last week against Arkansas State, Oregon scored eight touchdowns that averaged 2:00 and five of the Ducks' eight touchdowns were scored in under 1:45.
  • Since coach Chip Kelly took over in 2009, Oregon has had 60 rushing plays of at least 30 yards, the most in FBS. That’s bad news for the Bulldogs. Over that same span, Fresno State’s defense has allowed 45 such plays (worst in FBS).
  • Wisconsin has won 33 consecutive regular-season non-conference games, the second-longest active streak among FBS teams. Its last loss regular-season non-conference loss came in 2003 against UNLV.
  • Oregon State has lost two straight and three of its last four season openers.
  • Duke visits Stanford looking to do something it hasn’t done in more than 40 years -- the Blue Devils haven’t beaten a ranked team away from Durham since Oct. 2, 1971. The opponent and location of that game? Stanford, in Palo Alto, Calif. Since then, Duke has dropped 57 straight games against ranked opponents away from Durham. In fact, Duke’s overall record against ranked opponents since that game is a dismal 3-93, with all three wins coming at home.
  • Stanford has won 10 straight August/September games and nine straight regular season games vs non-conference opponents.
  • Running back Rex Burkhead’s injury status (knee) will be a big topic, but Nebraska feels comfortable with its depth behind Burkhead. When Burkhead left the game in the first quarter last week, his backups -- Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard, Imani Cross -- rushed for 177 yards and combined for two scores (one rush, one pass).
  • Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez saw instant returns on his work this summer at the Manning Camp and with QB guru Steve Calhoun. Martinez had a career-high 354 passing yards and five touchdowns in the Cornhuskers' 49-20 victory over Southern Miss. Martinez had the majority of his success downfield, completing 10 of 15 throws that traveled 10 yards or more downfield for 225 yards and four touchdowns. His four touchdowns on these throws doubled his previous career high. He had two each against Northwestern in 2011 and Oklahoma State in 2010.
  • Keep an eye on UCLA’s special teams, specifically their extra-point attempts. Last week against Rice, they allowed Cameron Nwosu to set an NCAA record by blocking three of them.
  • USC dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 in the AP poll this week becoming the first team to win a game by more than 35 points and fall from No. 1 since Penn State in 1997. The only No. 1 team to win its opener by more than 35 points and fall from No. 1 was Florida in 1994. The Gators beat New Mexico State 70-21 and fell to No. 2 behind Nebraska. Nebraska had shut out No. 24 West Virginia 31-0 the previous week in the Kickoff Classic.
  • Matt Barkley has thrown 35 touchdowns since the start of 2010 season when opponents send five or more pass-rushers. Against a blitz, he's completing 61 percent of his passes with 35 TDs and just three interceptions.
  • USC gained 224 of its 394 receiving yards after the catch against Hawaii, the most yards after the catch for any AP top-25 team in Week 1. Marqise Lee had 138 yards after the catch, including 69 on his 75-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the game. The 224 yards after the catch was the Trojans’ second-most since the start of the 2009 season. They had 234 YAC against UCLA in their final game of last season.
  • This is the 110th meeting between Utah and Utah State, the 12th-most-played rivalry in FBS history. Utah has won the past 12 meetings and leads the all-time series 77-28-4. The last seven meetings have all been decided by more than 15 points.
  • Utah State is 0-3 against BCS-AQ schools since Gary Andersen took over as coach in 2009, but all three games have been within eight points. Utah State has not hosted a BCS-AQ team since 2001.
  • LSU hosts Washington on Saturday night and the Tigers have been anything but kind to Pac-12 opponents over the years. LSU hasn’t lost to a Pac-12 team since dropping a 17-12 decision to USC in 1979. Since then, LSU is 11-0 and averaging 35.8 points per game in those contests. To make things worse for Washington, LSU has won 38 straight non-conference regular season games.
  • LSU lost three of its four starters in the secondary. Last week, North Texas threw for two touchdown; last year, the Tigers allowed multiple TD passes only once (two against West Virginia) and allowed only seven on the season.
  • Washington hasn’t fared well in non-conference road games of late. The Huskies have lost four consecutive non-conference games away from home, with their last such win coming in the 2007 season opener at Syracuse.
  • Since the SEC was formed in 1933, Washington is only 1-6 against SEC teams, with its lone victory coming in the 1989 Freedom Bowl over Florida. This is Washington’s first road game at an SEC school since 1983 (also at LSU).
  • Washington State is playing Eastern Washington for the first time since 1908.
  • The new kickoff rules seem to be having an impact already. In the first week last season, the touchback percentage was 19.4 (138 total). Last week, the touchback percentage ballooned to 40.8 (269 total).