Pac-12: Iowa State Cyclones

No one can accuse the Pac-12 of taking it easy when it comes to scheduling. So when Bruce Feldman broke down what he considers the 10 toughest schedules of 2012, it's no surprise that three Pac-12 teams landed in that top 10 -- including two in the top three.

Here's Feldman's list:
  1. Notre Dame
  2. Washington
  3. Oregon State
  4. Michigan
  5. Kansas
  6. Ole Miss
  7. Auburn
  8. Iowa State
  9. Cal
  10. South Carolina
Feldman on Washington: The Huskies start with San Diego State (which has won 17 games the past two seasons), then venture off to Baton Rouge to face a loaded LSU squad. After the encounter with the Tigers, they get FCS Portland State before the Huskies get into the teeth of their schedule: a three-game stretch against Stanford, the most physical team in the Pac-12, at Oregon and then home against USC to wrap things up against the league's three most talented teams.

On Oregon State: In the second half of the season, when coach Mike Riley very likely will be battling to keep his job, his team has to deal with Utah, Washington, ASU, Stanford, Cal and Oregon, which translates to probably five of the six best teams in the league.

On Cal: The Bears get seven home games, which is nice but they also have back-to-back road trips to Ohio State and USC in the opening month of the season. There is also a four-game stretch of Stanford, at Utah, Washington and Oregon and that comes right after a trip to Wazzu, which is going to be a handful for teams to prepare for this fall.

And just to throw a fourth team into the mix, I think you can easily make an argument for USC to be on this list as well. The four-game swing at Stanford, home to Cal, at Utah and at Washington is sure to take its toll -- considering those are three of the top defensive fronts in the conference. Then there is the much-anticipated showdown with Oregon at home on Nov. 3 before closing out the year at home against Notre Dame.

Schlabach, Edwards project the bowls

December, 4, 2011
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We'll find out bowl matchups for sure later today, but ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards have posted their final bowl projections.

Here's how they see the Pac-12 ending up.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio: Both have Oregon and Wisconsin because that's the game.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Both have Oklahoma State and Stanford
Valero Alamo: Both have Washington playing Oklahoma.
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Both have California playing Texas.
Hyundai Sun: Both have Utah playing Georgia Tech.
MAACO Las Vegas: Schlabach has Arizona State playing Boise State. Edwards has the Sun Devils playing TCU.
Kraft Fight Hunger: Schlabach has UCLA playing Illinois. Edwards has the Bruins playing Iowa State

Cal fans: Any comments on playing Texas? Any feelings about Longhorns coach Mack Brown you want to express? Refresh our memory of 2004.

There's also an obvious angle for UCLA vs. Illinois.

Oregon State not short on motivation

November, 25, 2011
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Oregon State seems like nothing more than a bit player against Oregon in the 115th Civil War. The Ducks have moved on to bigger things in the rivalry -- conference championships, national championship games, Rose Bowls, etc. -- while the Beavers are about to tie a ribbon on a second consecutive losing season.

In 2007, Oregon State won 38-31 in double-overtime. In 2008 and 2009, the stakes were the Rose Bowl.

In 2011? The Beavers are four-touchdown underdogs to an Oregon team trying to sew up the first Pac-12 North Division championship and a home game against the South champ on Dec. 2.

"Wow, 29-point underdogs," freshman defensive end Scott Crichton said. "We were underdogs last game and we blew them out. This game is going to be different from what everyone says."

Crichton refers to the Beavers' surprisingly efficient 38-21 win over Washington last weekend, which is easily the highlight of their season.

Still, the Huskies aren't the Ducks. And that game was in the friendly confines of Reser Stadium, not the Ducks' rowdy home base, Autzen Stadium.

Of course, crazy stuff happens in college football and rivalry games. Just when things seem to make sense, No. 2 Oklahoma State loses to Iowa State.

If Oregon State plays its best game of the season, and Oregon plays like it did for 2 1/2 quarters in its 38-35 loss last weekend to USC, the upset could happen.

"Every phase of the game we’re going to have to play at a tremendously high level to compete," Beavers coach Mike Riley said. "I will tell you this -- I think our team will compete hard and prepare well, and I know they’re looking forward to a great opportunity.”

Only two current Oregon State players — receivers James Rodgers and Darrell Catchings — have beaten Oregon. Rodgers scored the winning TD in the 2007 game, taking a fly sweep 25 yards for a score.

A lot has happened to the Beavers and Rodgers since then. Rodgers suffered a serious knee injury in 2010 and didn't return to the field until game three this year. He's yet to regain his All-American form, and he suffered a sprained ankle in the win over Washington, which makes his status questionable for Saturday.

Of course, Rodgers, despite sporting a boot on his injured foot, said this week he has no doubt he will play. This will be his last game as a Beaver and he said it was important to "try to get some respect back."

Still, the stakes for Oregon after the USC loss are no longer just bragging rights. If the Ducks lose, Stanford wins the North, and the Ducks likely end up in the Alamo Bowl. You'd think that would be enough to keep them focused Saturday.

The Ducks are looking to win a fourth consecutive Civil War, which would be their longest winning streak since 1994-97. If the Beavers lose, this would mark their first season with three wins or fewer since 1997, Riley’s first season at Oregon State.

Make no mistake: Oregon State's downturn is even more notable when juxtaposed with Oregon's rise. That has some Beavers fans chirping about the program trending downward under Riley.

The tangible stakes are huge for Oregon. But there's plenty for the Beavers to play for, too.

Said Crichton, "It would help us a lot. I know we can win this game, and it definitely would bring momentum to us and everyone else who doubts us."

Cowboys fall, Ducks rise

November, 19, 2011
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Anyone notice the Iowa State's uniforms look a lot like USC's if you squint your eyes just so?

No reason I'm making that observation, of course.

Oregon might want to make sure it takes care of business in Autzen Stadium this evening instead of thinking too much about moving up another notch in the race for the national title game.

After Iowa State dispatched No. 2 Oklahoma State on Friday night in double-overtime -- just like everyone saw coming, right? -- the Ducks likely will move up to No. 3 in the BCS standings on Sunday behind LSU and Alabama.

If they beat the Trojans.

And if they win impressively, their bid to become viewed as the "best one-loss" team would be bolstered.

The Cowboys loss sent a simple message that Yogi Berra would admire: It ain't over until it's over. There is NO team you can pencil into the national title game at this point, even top-ranked and impressive LSU.

LSU still has to play Arkansas, which only lost to Alabama, and the SEC title game, which we noted Friday leaves open plenty of complicated possibilities. Alabama has a visit to rival Auburn. Oregon has USC, Oregon State and then the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2.

And, really, Oklahoma is still lurking, though beating Oklahoma State won't have as much heft now. Or what about the Cowboys? Recall that the computers love them; they were tied with LSU for No. 1 with the computers last week.

But here's what you can say about Oregon's chances, without question: They are better today than the were just 24 hours ago.

By the way, Jon Wilner looks at what Oklahoma State's loss might mean for Stanford -- and Andrew Luck's Heisman Trophy chances -- here.

Press Coverage: Oregon vs. Auburn

November, 10, 2010
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It's time for a blogger debate! And it doesn't get much better than when we match the SEC and Pac-10.

Our topic: No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 Auburn. Who's better and why?

Both are unbeaten, and if the season ended today, they'd play for the national title.

We've got lots of football left, and probably many more plot twists in the hunt for the national title, but there's no reason we can't engage in a hypothetical, is there?

So the Pac-10 blog -- Ted Miller -- and the SEC blog -- Chris Low -- have decided to meet for some civilized debate on Auburn versus Oregon.

Ted Miller: Chris, since things are so quiet in the sleepy SEC, I think we should spice things up with a Pac-10-SEC blogger debate! It seems like a long time since we last had a debate between our two conferences. How’d that one go? Let’s see I championed Taylor Mays and you celebrated Eric Berry. Wait. Why did I bring that up?

Anyway, our topic is Oregon and Auburn: Who’s better and why.

[+] EnlargeGene Chizik
John Reed/US PresswireGene Chizik has silenced those critical of his hiring last year but getting Auburn off to a 10-0 start this season.
This is a potential national title game between the No. 1 Ducks and No. 2 Tigers, who are both unbeaten and feature Heisman Trophy candidates leading high-powered offenses.

You get first blood. Tell me about Auburn. It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that Jay Jacobs was getting hounded for hiring Gene Chizik. Guessing that’s died down a wee-bit.

Chris Low: No doubt, Ted. I wonder where that obnoxious guy is now, the one yelling at Jacobs as he was leaving the airport after finalizing the deal with Chizik? Maybe Jacobs knew what he was doing after all. The guy with the 5-19 record at Iowa State has done all right by himself on the Plains. He has a Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback and the SEC's leading rusher in Cam Newton, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound freak of nature who runs like Bo Jackson and also has an NFL arm. Keep your eyes, too, on freshman running back Mike Dyer, who they haven't had to lean on much this season, but is oozing with talent and has fresh legs for this stretch run. The Tigers' defensive numbers are nothing to write home about, but they do have the kind of dominant interior defensive lineman, Nick Fairley, who can take over games. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Fairley's the closest thing he's seen to Warren Sapp. Auburn's calling card defensively has been making plays at key times in the fourth quarter. The Tigers have been a serviceable defense through three quarters this season, but they've been a championship-caliber defense in the fourth quarter -- which is why they're 10-0.

So tell me about Oregon?

[+] EnlargeDarron Thomas
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireSophomore Darron Thomas was thrust into the starting quarterback job and has performed admirably.
Ted Miller: Speaking of coaches: How about Oregon’s Chip Kelly? How could he possibly expect to top winning the Pac-10 and playing in the Rose Bowl his first season? How about contending for a national title in his second? The Ducks, however, expected to be here when the 2009 season ended because just about everybody was coming back from the Pac-10 champions. That is until a guy you are now familiar with -- quarterback Jeremiah Masoli -- got caught up in some off-field issues and eventual got himself booted from the team. That seemingly left a void behind center, but sophomore Darron Thomas has not only filled Masoli’s shoes, he’s gone up a few sizes: He’s 15th in the nation in passing efficiency and 21st in the nation in total yardage. Meanwhile, speedy running back LaMichael James is the top Heisman alternative to your guy, Newton. As for the defense, it’s like the offense: Extremely fast. It ranks 13th in the nation in scoring defense and it has forced 28 turnovers, second-most in the nation. Folks often underestimate the Ducks' defense because it gives up some yards -- it ranks 29th in the nation in total defense -- but that’s because the offense scores so quickly: The nation’s No. 1 offense ranks 115th in the nation in time of possession. But the Ducks only give up 4.45 yards per play. Our factoid of the day is that number would rank No. 1 in ... wait for it ... the SEC!

Obviously, we're talking about two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn.

Chris Low: Ted, I think what separates Auburn is Newton. Nobody has been able to stop him. If you commit to taking away the run, he's proved he can beat people throwing the ball. And if you come after him and/or don't have enough people in the box, he's been magic running the ball. Keep in mind, too, that we're not talking about a 220-pound guy running the ball. We're talking about a 250-pound guy who's physical, tough and doesn't run out of bounds. In the red zone, he's the great equalizer, because he gains 3 yards when he falls forward and has the size and the strength to push the pile. On top of it all, he's always a threat to throw the ball. Similar to Oregon, Auburn doesn't flinch if somebody puts 30-plus points on the board, because the Tigers' mentality is that they're going to score 50. Their offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn, will make you defend everything -- reverses, throwback passes, passes to the backs, even passes to Newton. He caught a touchdown pass two weeks ago against Ole Miss. The Tigers also play at a tempo on offense that has opposing defenses gasping for air in the fourth quarter. But when they have to, they can put teams away and finish games by running the ball. They're fourth nationally (one spot ahead of Oregon) this week in rushing offense with an average of 307.2 yards per game. Auburn's top four rushers -- Newton, Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin -- are all averaging at least 6.4 yards per carry. Do the Ducks have any answers for that running game?

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Paul Abell/US PresswireAuburn's Cam Newton is just as dangerous with his arm as he is on his feet.
Ted Miller: That’s what’s so interesting about this as a potential national title game match -- there’s an odd familiarity that both teams will have with each other despite never crossing paths. My guess is Malzahn and Kelly already have studied each other, just in terms of mutual admiration. And both defenses will be familiar with up-tempo, no-huddle, spread-option offenses that can power you and finesse you and throw downfield. Further, the Ducks have played against a number of big, fast, capable quarterbacks with NFL futures: Washington’s Jake Locker, Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Stanford’s Andrew Luck. The results have been mixed. Last year, Luck and Pryor got them. Luck beat the Ducks with uncanny downfield accuracy, which is why he’ll go No. 1 in this spring’s NFL draft. Pryor shocked them with the best passing game of his career in the Rose Bowl. Locker missed this year’s game, but he’s never had much luck against Oregon. In general, Oregon has a good run defense: Opponents are averaging 3.38 yards per rush. But the Ducks are undersized. A physical Stanford team had some success, rushing for 177 yards. But one thing about Oregon on both sides of the ball: It is masterful with halftime adjustments. They shutout Stanford, owners of the nation’s No. 5 scoring offense, in the second half, and have given up just 48 points in the second half this year -- just seven in the fourth quarter!

Obviously, two very good teams that have done impressive things on their way to remaining unbeaten. I know we both have Oregon ahead of Auburn in our power rankings, but give me the case for Auburn if it played Oregon in the national title game. How do you see it going?

Chris Low: Well, if that happens, the first thing we all better make sure we have is a calculator. That and make sure there's no danger of a power surge to the scoreboard. You're right about Oregon. Nobody in the country has been better in the second half. The Ducks' ability to score points in bunches is amazing, but the Tigers are equally adept at going on head-spinning scoring sprees. Just ask Arkansas, which saw Auburn roll up 28 points in the fourth quarter in Xbox-like fashion. I have no doubt that an Auburn-Oregon matchup would be played in the 40s. I think the difference, though, would be Auburn's ability to put the breaks on the track meet and run the football in the fourth quarter, especially with Newton being so good at converting on third down. So I'm going Auburn 45, Oregon 41 in a game that rates up there with the Texas-USC classic to decide the 2005 national title.

Ted Miller: That's clearly something we can all agree on: This likely would be a highly entertaining, offensively driven national title game if these two teams manage to get themselves there. Further, I think, after never getting a USC-SEC title game, folks on both coasts would enjoy an SEC-Pac-10 matchup. No trash-talking there, right? And I do see a clear advantage for Auburn: It has been tested. It's played five games decided by eight points or fewer, and three decided by a field goal. The Ducks closest game? An 11-point win at Arizona State. But that's also why I'd pick Oregon in this one. Oregon beat the No. 6 team in the nation, Stanford, by 21 points. It shut Andrew Luck out in the second half. And I look at all of Auburn's close games: Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky and LSU, and think: None of them would be within 10 points of the Ducks. Maybe LSU, because any game Les Miles touches is surprising. And I think Vegas would agree with me. So if we ended up with an Oregon-Auburn national title game, my guess is the Tigers would go TD for TD with the Ducks in the first half, then the Ducks would pour it on late for a 50-35 win. But I reserve the right to change my mind, particularly because I think the Tigers' toughest test -- Alabama -- is ahead.

Moreover, both teams should be advised: You probably should get to the Jan. 10 date in Glendale before you start trash-talking each other. At least before you use your best stuff.

Steele ranks the schedules

June, 8, 2010
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Phil Steele's blog is a must-read, even if you don't always agree with him. (Oregon fans still grousing about his lack of respect for the Ducks in the 2009 preseason should note that he's ranked them 10th this year.)

He has published his strength of schedule rankings and four Pac-10 teams rate among the top 15 and all 10 are among the top 55.

According to Steele, poor ole Iowa State has the nation's toughest schedule. While I suspect UCLA and Oregon State would be eager to trade schedules with the Cyclones, who play Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa, the list is worth a look.

As for the Pac-10, it goes like this: No. 3 UCLA, No. 6 Oregon State, No. 7 Washington, No. 13 Washington State, No. 29 Arizona State, No. 32 California, No. 34 Stanford, No. 40 Arizona, No. 45 USC and No. 55 Oregon.

Now Ducks fans, feel free to object to that schedule ranking. Not sure how playing road games with Tennessee, USC, California and Oregon State constitute a schedule with a middling degree of difficulty.

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