Pac-12: Josh Nunes

It all seemed so simple before Week 1 of last year. Six quarterback competitions, six resolutions before the first game of the year.

Taylor Kelly had won the gig at ASU. Jordan Webb set foot on campus and was almost instantly Colorado’s starter. Marcus Mariota outdistanced Bryan Bennett. Josh Nunes was Andrew Luck’s successor. Brett Hundley was an exciting unknown, and Jeff Tuel was the guy to lead WSU’s Air Raid.

Of course, simplicity doesn’t always last. Be it injury or performance, Webb and Nunes weren’t the starters at the end of the season and Tuel went back-and-forth with Connor Halliday. Mariota, Kelly and Hundley, however, went on to be three of the four most efficient quarterbacks in the league.

[+] EnlargeMax Wittek and Cody Kessler
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMax Wittek (13) and Cody Kessler (6) will both see time at QB for the Trojans.
The moral of the story: Don’t fear the unknown. But don’t be too comfortable with it, either.

Which leads us to this year’s crop of quarterback competitions. It’s not as cut-and-dried as it was a year ago. At least two of them are ongoing and will probably stretch into the first weeks of the season.

The No. 24 Trojans open against Hawaii with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek still in the hunt for the right to replace Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin, however, said he has zero concerns that the competition hasn’t been resolved.

“I see it as completely opposite,” Kiffin said during Tuesday’s Pac-12 conference call. “I think they have both performed so well. We feel great about both of them running our offense. I see it as a positive. I think they've really worked on their weaknesses … that way we don’t have to call the game any different based on who is in. We can do all of our stuff.”

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez hasn’t picked his guy yet, either. Though he did say he has seen some recent progress from B.J. Denker, Javelle Allen and Jesse Scroggins. A week ago, it was thought that as many as four or five guys could still be in the mix.

“I’d be more concerned if none of them made progress,” Rodriguez said. “In the last week and a half, they have all made some pretty good progress. B.J. Denker and Javelle Allen, the guys that have been in the program, have made pretty good progress. And Jesse Scroggins has gotten better as well. I feel good about that. There’s no question there is always more concern when you don’t have experience there. B.J. has been in the system for a year and Javelle has been in the system for a year. We feel pretty confident they can run the whole entire offense and with Jesse it’s just a matter of time.”

And time is on Arizona’s side. The Wildcats don’t exactly have a pressing first month of the season. They host Northern Arizona this weekend, followed by a trip to UNLV before hosting UTSA on Sept. 14. Then it’s a bye week before opening league play at Washington.

One report last week had Oregon State playing the quarterback shuffle heading into Week 1. But Mike Riley put that to rest yesterday when he named Sean Mannion his starter.

“I had told some stories in the past of experience with two quarterbacks playing, but never intended to start a rotation situation here at all,” Riley said. “We intended to name a starter and then have kind of left it up in the air … Sean is the starter and we’ll go into the game like that.”

Connor Wood won the job at Colorado -- ending a QB competition that started with six but dwindled after injuries and transfers.

"He's big, he's athletic, he's got a strong arm, and he's a talented athlete," said coach Mike MacIntyre, who noted he was also very pleased with the progress of freshman Sefo Liufau. "He really started capturing the essence of our offense and understanding where to go with the ball and where to go with our run game. He kept improving."

Cal coach Sonny Dykes took a different approach, naming Jared Goff his starter as soon as he could.

“Anytime you have a starting quarterback, I think everyone is more comfortable,” Dykes said. “The quarterback is more comfortable. The skill-position players can start to get on the same page. You develop a relationship with the center and quarterback and their ability to communicate with each other and the sense of timing that needs to exist there. I think what it does is settle everybody down.”
Kevin Hogan AP Photo/Jeff ChiuKevin Hogan transformed Stanford's 2012 season when he took over for the last five games.

Howdy. Next week, we'll have games. That is a good thing.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. That way no one will look at you when the term "benighted souls" is used in your presence.

To the notes.

Stanford CardinalAndrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: In general, I think you guys do an awesome job with the player rankings before and after each season. It's one of the most entertaining pieces you do every year. So far, the only glaring issue I have with the list is ranking Kevin Hogan at No. 17. It very specifically states that the rankings are a reflection of where a player starts the season, not where you think they are going to be ranked by the end of the season. And I simply think you are giving Hogan too much credit for his brief amount of playing time. He would have been a better choice at No. 25, or simply someone who merited strong consideration but didn't make the cut. Do you really think he's better than Ben Gardner (or Henry Anderson) or any of the other guys ranked after him? In short, I think you broke your own rules. But otherwise, love the work you guys do.

Ted Miller: Now this is how you write a note of complaint or disagreement.

Most notably, Andrew doesn't use the dimwit phrase "lose all credibility!" to make his point. He disagrees with something. He states his case.

That said, Kevin and I had a very specific discussion about Kevin Hogan and whether his fairly high ranking would appear to be a projection. It is not.

Now, obviously, Hogan's ranking isn't based on his pedestrian 2012 stats. At least, not the ones you most frequently see. Hogan's case, first of all, is based on how he transformed Stanford's season, from mostly treading water to Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion.

And we can quantify this because ESPN Stats & Information has quantified it, in fact, seeking out the Pac-12 blog to point out its findings.

Under the heading, "How much better was Stanford after QB change?" our sabermetric friends provided three bullet points.

  • Josh Nunes started Stanford's first eight games. His opponent adjusted quarterback rating was 56.4. His completion percentage on third down was 46 percent. He had nine turnovers.
  • Hogan started the final five games. His opponent adjusted QBR was 77.8. He completed 65 percent of his passes on third down. He had three turnovers.
  • The Cardinals' offensive efficiency rating with Nunes was +3. With Hogan, it was +25.

Now I hear your counter: We are comparing Hogan to Nunes. What about other Pac-12 quarterbacks?

Hogan's QBR of 77.8 would have ranked third in the Pac-12, behind only Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Arizona's Matt Scott and ahead of USC's Matt Barkley, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly.

And, of course, he compiled that QBR against four ranked teams and Wisconsin.

Jeff from Paulina, Ore., writes: Your ranking of De'Anthony Thomas at number 14 in the Pac-12 preseason player rankings is absolutely absurd. I would like to use more adjectives to describe it including a few vulgar ones but I think you get the message. Not only does that ranking call into the question your being qualified to be the Pac-12 blog writer, it harms the national credibility of one a one of the most dynamic and realistic Heisman contenders the conference has had in a long time. Typical east coast college football fan: "De'Anthony Thomas for Heisman? There are like 10 players in his conference better than him (or 13 as you say). Look, the ESPN Pac-12 writer even has him at 14th." Sorry to be so harsh Ted. I know you don't like that De'Anthony doesn't fit into the traditional single position role, but unless you think he will have less touches because of that (Helfrich says he wants to get DAT more touches this year including around 20 carries a game), I don't understand how that matters.

Ted Miller: Sigh.

Kevin had a go at this same question last week.

Again, Jeff is not looking at what De'Anthony actually did last year, he's thinking of a the idea of DAT and projecting forward. This list doesn't project forward.

Let me quantify this a little more. Consider this previously published chart.


Thomas and Arizona State's Grice are basically a push, though Thomas also returned a punt and kickoff -- in the Fiesta Bowl, no less -- for TDs. Grice ranked 24th on our list, Thomas 14th. And, by the way, Grice obviously had to share the ball with D.J. Foster, just as Thomas shared touches with Kenjon Barner.

Let me take this outrage on in a general way, for we have as many angry notes about ranking Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins too low at No. 13.

The common denominator for just about all the "you lose all credibility!" notes is fan bias for players from their team. So Seferian-Jenkins, for Washington fans, is a only a "Finalist for the Mackey Award you idiot!" and not the No. 8 receiver in the Pac-12, a tight end who was not an elite blocker in 2012.

Thomas is one of the nation's most dynamic players. Seferian-Jenkins is a future first-round NFL draft pick. But we are evaluating what they actually did last year, not imagining them as fully realized football players.

As for Thomas' Heisman Trophy hopes, he will lose exactly zero votes because the Pac-12 blog ranked him 14th in the conference in the preseason, but thank you for imbuing us with so much power.

Evan from Novato, Calif., writes: Got a toughie for you. What game are you least looking forward to this season??!! And Why?

Ted Miller: From a preseason perspective, I'm most looking forward to Oregon's visit to Stanford on Nov. 7 for what might be the biggest Thursday night ESPN game in the history of Thursday night ESPN games.

Of course, we thought USC-Oregon was going to be epic last year, and things didn't exactly work out.

Arizona State has a fantastic four-game run against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame that could announce the Sun Devils as a budding national power -- or crush all optimism in Todd Graham's second year.

I'm wondering if Oregon's visit to renovated Husky Stadium on Oct. 12 might get heated. And I love the idea of USC-UCLA again being nationally relevant.

The list is long.

Oh... wait. You said "least" looking forward to.

I am least looking forward to Oregon-Nicholls State.

Kentucky WildcatsBert from Miles City, Mont., writes: Just saw your column about 6 worst FBS jobs and I have to write you to correct some fairly lazy research on your part. You mention Kentucky's poor attendance last year as one of your arguments for the job being bad, the problem is that last year's attendance was not the norm for Kentucky. Last years attendance was about a fanbase fed up with a terrible head coach, and an AD that basically told the fanbase to "make his day" when it came to a coaching change. So the fanbase made his day, and stayed away in droves to FORCE a coaching change the AD did not want to make. You see if you had done any research than to look up just last year's attendance, like simply put ncaa college football attendance into google, you would have seen official NCAA attendance stats that showed Kentucky to have a damn good football fanbase. Here is where UK ranks 2011 - 2005 in attendance: 2011-27th in nation-60,007; 2010-25th-66,070; 2009-22nd-69,594; 2008-23rd-69, 434; 2007-23rd-68,824; 2006-31st-57,330; 2005-27th-62,450. So I am not going to argue if UK is one of the 6 worst jobs, that is to subjective. You say we are, I would argue that opinion, but I will not allow lazy arguments to go unchallenged. UK for a football school of little success has a great fanbase, that shows up in droves when the coaching staff gives it a reason. One thing I think is that when you do this column again, and again put UK in your 6 worst fbs jobs you will not be able to use attendance as a reason as we will once again have top 30 or better attendance in 2013.

Ted Miller: Point taken. Kentucky fans, in the past, showed up to watch their team play.

But my research wasn't lazy. In fact, I originally was going to note your very point in the article, including, of course, that the downturn took place over the past two seasons. I'll explain why I didn't in two paragraphs.

First, the important number is not the attendance figure but percent of capacity (Commonwealth Stadium seats 67,500). As noted about 2012, "the Wildcats played in front of an average of 49,691 fans last year, which was only 73.5 percent of capacity at Commonwealth Stadium, by far the worst percentage in the SEC and seventh worst among FBS teams."

In 2011, that percentage was 88.8, better only that Vanderbilt in the SEC.

But, Bert, know why I didn't belabor that point, taking time to note it was based on fan frustration with coach Joker Phillips? Because it makes the Kentucky job look even worse. I originally was going to point that out but felt like I was being too harsh -- and that the Kentucky blurb would be too long compared to the others.

Let's avoid fairly lazy thinking here: Your counter is that Kentucky fans used to show up to watch the Wildcats until they bailed out on their team because they didn't like the team's third-year coach.

And that makes Kentucky a better job?

Forget all the numbers I used to quantify why Kentucky ranked among the six worst jobs, such as not having a winning record in conference play since 1977. Consider, instead, that Kentucky fans began turning away from the program in a coach's second year, and that they apparently didn't feel a responsibility to support the young men attending their beloved school and wearing their beloved colors.

Again: And that makes Kentucky a better job?

Biggest play of 2012?

July, 16, 2013
7/16/13
5:30
PM ET
If we ask what was the biggest play of the Pac-12's 2012 season, the one thing we know before we start to debate is it will involve Stanford.

SportsNation

What was the biggest play of the 2012 season?

  •  
    3%
  •  
    25%
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    53%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,113)

Stanford not only won the Pac-12 because it came out on the better end of many of those big plays, it also was involved in plays that decided the national championship.

Consider:
  • If Stanford beats Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish don't play Alabama for the national title.
  • If Stanford loses at Oregon, the Ducks probably would have played Alabama for the national title.
  • Stanford first exposed USC as a national title pretender.
  • And the Cardinal have plenty of their own "what ifs" in losses to the Irish and Washington.
But what was the biggest individual play of the Pac-12 season?


We see four choices.

  • With the score tied at 14-14 in the fourth quarter against USC, the Cardinal faced a 3rd-and-10 at midfield. Then starting Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes dropped back, but couldn't find anyone and was under pressure. Yet the not terribly mobile Nunes scampered 12 yards for a first down. Two plays later, he connects with tight end Zach Ertz for a 37-yard go-ahead touchdown.
  • Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor is stopped -- well, sort of -- just inches short of Notre Dame's goal line in overtime, giving the Irish a 20-13 victory, the signature win of their season. Of course, Cardinal fans will tell you that Taylor scored, not once but twice, on the final set of downs.
  • In the first quarter of their 17-14 victory at Oregon, backup safety Devon Carrington caught Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota from behind, preventing him from getting the final 15 yards of what looked like a sure 92-yard touchdown run. The Cardinal defense then held when the Ducks were stopped on fourth-and-2 on the 7-yard line four plays later.
  • Facing a 3rd-and-15 early in the fourth quarter of the Pac-12 title game against UCLA, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, under intense pressure, connects with Drew Terrell for a 26-yard, game-tying touchdown. Without that play, Stanford might not have played in its first Rose Bowl since the 1999 season.

Or is there another play that was bigger this past season?
Unlike last year, there is no quarterback competition at Stanford. But the recently released post-spring depth chart does reveal some potentially interesting developments to eye-ball heading into fall.

Starting on offense -- there are only two running backs listed -- Anthony Wilkerson "or" Tyler Gaffney as the starter. Both are trying to replace three-time 1,000-yard rusher Stepfan Taylor, though it's widely believed the Cardinal will take more of a committee approach than they did last year, when Taylor led the Pac-12 with 322 carries. There is plenty of depth, albeit mostly inexperienced, behind Gaffney and Wilkerson.

Also of note offensively is the addition of Kevin Danser on the depth chart at center. He's slated to start at right guard, though there is also an "or" separating Khalil Wilkes, Conor McFadden and Danser at center. It will be interesting to watch in the fall if Danser continues to get work at center. And if he wins the job, it would allow the Cardinal to insert Josh Garnett into the starting rotation at guard. That would give the Cardinal a starting front of Andrus Peat (LT), David Yankey (LG), Danser (C), Garnett (RG) and Cam Fleming (RT).

With the news of Josh Nunes' retirement yesterday, Evan Crower is locked in as the backup to Kevin Hogan and, for now, Devon Cajuste looks like he'll start opposite Ty Montgomery at receiver.

Fullback Geoff Meinken also announced he'll retire after struggling to return from a knee injury that kept him out of 2012.

At tight end -- Stanford's go-to receiving position the last couple of years -- Luke Kaumatule and Davis Dudchock are separated by an "or." However both will probably get a ton of work in Stanford's two-tight-end sets.

Defensively, there are only two "ors" on the depth chart. Henry Anderson and Josh Mauro have a good competition going at defensive and Blake Lueders and James Vaughters are undecided at the outside linebacker spot to release Chase Thomas. Though the Cardinal rotate backers and defensive linemen so frequently that "starter" is more of an honorary title.

Worth noting also that Devon Carrington, who has spent his career at safety, is also listed as a backup with Usua Amanam at right cornerback behind Wayne Lyons. Amanam is Stanford's go-to nickelback and Carrington is also backing up Ed Reynolds.

Looking at the specialists, up for grabs is the punter, which could go to either Ben Rhyne or Conrad Ukropina. Montgomery looks set at kick return while it's a four-way race between him, Kodi Whitfield, Keanu Nelson and Barry Sanders to return punts.

You can see the complete depth chart here and interpret it as you see fit.
Stanford's post-spring depth chart was released Monday, and it revealed that sophomore quarterback Evan Crower is now Kevin Hogan's backup.

A big reason for that was revealed that Josh Nunes, who started the first eight games of 2012 before being beaten out by Hogan, has been forced to retire due to injuries, the school announced.

The injury that has ended Nunes' career was not announced, but it is believed to be a biceps muscle injury on his throwing arm that he suffered while lifting weights in January, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Nunes passed for 1,643 yards with 10 TDs and seven interceptions last season. He was the starter when the Cardinal upset then-No. 2 USC 21-14 on Sept. 15, a performance that will be his career highlight. He also led the Cardinal to a comeback win over Arizona.

Dallas Lloyd is expected to be the Cardinal's No. 3 QB. Neither Crower nor Lloyd have game experience.
Happy Friday. The mailbag is a bit longer this week because your questions are just so darn compelling. So snuggle up to the fireplace with your laptop, iPad or Kindle, put on a pot of chamomile (that's what the Pac-12 blog readers drink, right?) and settle in.

As always, follow the blog on Twitter.

Kote in Palo Alto writes (and writes, and writes, and writes): Hi Kevin, First off, I'm thrilled about Stanford football over the past four years. I don't think any Stanford fan isn't, and if they are, they're wrong to be. That said, I am concerned about the coaching staff's alleged conservatism, but it's not the general concern that most people have cited. Instead, I'm specifically concerned about conservatism in situations that call for more spontaneity. The Rose Bowl was a great example of what I mean. Stanford jumped out to a 14-0 lead on some terrific play-calling: the pitch to Terrell who tossed it to JRP, Hogan airing it out to Ertz, and the sweep to Young. Those were great plays, but they were ones that Shaw and Hamilton probably drew up and planned out weeks before. After those first two series, the playcalling got much more conservative, and we never saw the end zone again. Then I thought about the rest of this past year, and particularly Stanford's losses. In both cases, we had a lead, and in both cases the other team came from behind to win it. We can blame Josh Nunes and an anemic offense all we want, but it seemed like things got pretty uncreative at the ends of those games (just think about ND's goal line "stand"). For whatever reason, once Stanford gets beyond the initial game plan, things seem to tighten up a bit, and the result is less scoring. The defense also stops worrying about the long ball or the trick play as well, and that makes the vintage pound-it-up-the-middle strategy less effective, too. This was true in some other games as well -- we didn't score in the second half at all against Cal, and only 3 points in the second half against SJSU. That might be selection bias, but it seemed like a lot of the time this year the offense built a lead at the beginning of the game, and we either clung on for dear life or kicked a last minute field goal or two to get the win or pad the margin. Is it possible that Shaw and his staff are good at drawing up creative plays before the game starts, but that they need to work on the confidence/grit/toughness/whatever to call gutsy plays off the cuff?

Kevin Gemmell: Let’s check the scoreboard:

Pac-12 coach of the year honors for David Shaw: 2

Pac-12 coach of the year honors for Kote from Palo Alto: 0

I poke fun in jest. But hopefully the sentiment is well taken. David Shaw is not an exciting play-caller, nor are the Cardinal built to be the greatest show on turf. He’s a very traditional West Coast offense-minded coach who plays to his strength: strong running backs and a strong offense line. Isn't that what good coaches do? Play to strengths?

That doesn’t mean he can’t mix it up with a fun play every so often. But he’s extremely calculating. Don’t think for a second that someone on their staff hasn’t sabremetricized Stanford’s success/failure ratio on certain plays in certain situations. You cite the Notre Dame game. With that offensive line and that running back, I’d go up the middle four times too. Because the odds of Stanford failing to go four yards on four plays have to be extremely long. (And depending who you ask, they did go 4 yards.)

Allow me to offer an example of gutsy play-calling. Down 23-21 with a little more than five minutes left in the game, Stanford was at the Oregon State 13-yard line. The play-calling brain trust dialed up a post route to Zach Ertz – knowing that he was going to draw man-to-man coverage from Jordan Poyer, arguably the best cover-corner in the league last year with a league high six interceptions. Ertz beat Poyer with a head fake to the corner and caught the 13-yard pass, leading to Stanford’s 27-23 victory. This wasn’t a trick or flashy play – but given the circumstances and the defender, it was a gutsy call. It was taking a chance. It just doesn't meet your definition of "gutsy."

And there is a purpose to those vintage “drive it up the middle” plays. It’s demoralizing to a defense when they get dragged up and down the field. Stanford’s approach last year was to get an early lead, and then grind teams down with long drives. It is a proven formula as old as football itself.

Shaw isn’t totally against trickery, either. We’ve seen a couple of flea flickers. The Wildcat reverse of Andrew Luck to Ty Montgomery against USC in 2011 comes to mind, as does Luck’s one-handed catch. But every risk Shaw takes offensively is extremely calculated and measured.

I appreciate where you are coming from. But the sooner you understand that Mike Martz isn't running the offense and start embracing the smashmouth culture your team has adopted, you'll be able to enjoy their success that much more.

(Read full post)

Top performances of 2012: Matt Scott

February, 25, 2013
2/25/13
9:00
AM ET
We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2012.

Up next: Oh so close

Who and against whom: Arizona quarterback Matt Scott came up on the losing end of an epic overtime shootout with Stanford -- arguably the most entertaining game in the Pac-12 last season. But even in defeat, he did something no other quarterback had done or would do in 2012 -- scorch the mighty Cardinal defense.

The numbers: Scott completed 45 of 69 passes for 491 yards and he tossed three touchdowns.

A closer look: We're dipping into the well on this game again having already recognized the winning quarterback -- Josh Nunes. This game was that epic. Right up until overtime, Scott was having one of the best individual games in the Pac-12 all season. Even his interception in overtime -- which gave the Cardinal the ball and eventually the 54-48 win -- wasn't a wayward throw, it was just tipped at the line (credit to Stanford's Chase Thomas for beating out a couple of teammates in a game of three flies up). But until then, Scott was on. He threw ropes to Austin Hill (11 catches, 165 yards, two touchdowns). His fade touchdown to Terrence Miller was as pretty a pass as you'll see in college football. He completed 65 percent of his throws and tossed three scores against a secondary that allowed just one receiving touchdown or less in 10 games. No quarterback threw more touchdowns in a game against Stanford and no quarterback tossed for more yards in a game against Stanford in 2012. His 491 yards were the second highest passing total in the Pac-12 last season second only to Matt Barkley's 493 against Arizona. Ironically enough, also a losing effort.
Hail to the chief he's the one we all say hail to;
We all say hail 'cause he keeps himself so clean.
He's got the power, that's why he's in the shower.
Ted is sad, which is why I'm doing the mailbag today.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter and Ted will be happy again.

Thomas in Palo Alto, Calif. writes: You called Tyler Gaffney a game-changer. Isn't that hyperbole considering he's been away from football for a year?

Kevin Gemmell: If you want to get picky, I said he could be a game-changer. But just for the sake of argument, I'm willing to drop the "could" and predict that he will in fact be a game-changer. There is no other running back on the Stanford roster right now that has Gaffney's skill set. Anthony Wilkerson rivals him in experience, but Wilkerson is yet to make a big impact in his career. His carries, and thus his production, have declined every year, culminating with a career-low 50 carries for 224 yards (4.5 average) and just one touchdown in 2012. There were some injuries involved there, as well.

I'm guessing the two of them slug it out (along with several others) for the starting gig -- the winner getting 12 to 15 carries per game -- and the runner-up getting 8-12. A few more carries will be sprinkled in to change-of-pace backs to be determined and a few to the fullback. Remember, David Shaw prefers to use as many as four or five different backs during a game. So the "starter" might only have 10 carries.

And Gaffney could even be a stop-gap until Barry Sanders, Remound Wright or Ricky Seale is able to emerge as the go-to back. (Kelsey Young likely stays in the hybrid WR/RB role.) Gaffney is a bona fide playmaker who could very easily shoulder the offensive load for the Cardinal -- be it for an entire season or six games until a youngster gets it all figured out. Either way, it's win-win for a Stanford offense that could use some veteran seasoning.


Ryan in New York writes: USC signed 13 guys. UCLA [24]. How can you even compare the two? It's absolutely [stupid]. Is it all about numbers? USC had more Top 150 and 300 guys. So it's about quantity? Keep hating [Lane] Kiffin. And remind me the last time UCLA played in a BCS bowl? Or better yet, won a Rose Bowl? Stanford has won seven, UCLA five. USC 24. No contest. You guys are so brutal it hurts. Peace.

Kevin Gemmell: OK, you sort of went in a lot of different directions here. Let's try to narrow the scope and start with recruiting. I'm not sure if you're referring to a specific article, or just the rankings in general, but I'm pretty sure the recruiting classes of UCLA and USC are comparable in terms of talent. If you're griping about the rankings -- it's not just the ESPN group that has UCLA's class ranked No. 1 in the conference. It's pretty consensus.

No, it's not just quantity -- because Arizona, ASU, Utah and Washington State all had larger classes. But UCLA had comparable quality to go with its quantity. USC had nine ESPN 150 guys, 12 ESPN 300 guys and all 13 were 4-star players. Anyone who doesn't think that's not an outstanding class is silly. Because it is.

UCLA had six ESPN 150, 10 ESPN 300 and 12 four-stars. But they also added 12 guys behind the 12 four-stars -- meaning UCLA has wiggle room with this class that adds depth and maybe one of those highly-ranked three-stars like Myles Jack (a four-star per Rivals and Scout) develops into an all-conference player. USC can't afford to swing-and-miss on its recruits, because depth is going to be an issue. As you yourself pointed out in last week's mailbag, USC couldn't go for the "low hanging fruit." That's where quantity comes into play and that's why the Bruins get the nod for top recruiting class.

Hating on Kiffin ... let's be honest here, he didn't exactly give us much reason to love him this year. But I'm on record saying I don't think things are as terrible as they appear. Maybe I'm wrong and the sky really is falling. I just don't see it. I think the Pac-12 blog has been harsh but fair considering the faceplant USC took this year.

And I don't remember either Ted or I disputing how many Rose Bowls USC won vs. UCLA (and since you asked me to remind you, it was the '86 Rose Bowl for UCLA). But since we're on the subject, how many of those Rose Bowls did Kiffin win as head coach? Tradition matters. But it's also a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately game.


Newknox in Knoxville, Tenn., writes: In your opinion based on knowledge of what coaches think, is it possible to have too many 5 star recruits? Too many egos? Also, in the Pac-12, who has the best recruiting class based on needs? For example, USC has a few holes to fill. Did they do that?

Kevin Gemmell: I doubt it. Most five stars fall into line rather quickly -- because they end up going to schools that also have a bunch of former five stars. So a five-star true freshman who gets knocked on his keester by a former five-star who is now a junior understands his place. There are always exceptions, but having a bunch of ready-to-play guys who can all run 4.4 isn't a bad thing. In all my years in this business, I've never heard a coach complain about too much speed and too much athleticism. Woe is they.

Plus, there aren't that many five stars to go around. In this year's class, two went to Notre Dame and two went to Ole Miss. Last year, two went to Alabama and two went to Florida State. In 2011, two went to Clemson. It's not like five or six are all going to the same school and they are all wide receivers competing for two spots.

As for holes filled I think UCLA certainly solidified its defensive backfield for the next few years. Five of USC's top six signees are on the defensive side of the ball and at all three levels -- which is a spot they really needed to address. I would say each team filled at least one major hole it had to address in recruiting.


Brian in Denver writes: I am guessing that Kevin Hogan is not going to be one of your top seven Pac-12 performers from the past year, and I understand the logic -- he barely played in the first eight games of the year and didn't start until the tenth. But his ascension to the Stanford starting QB role was absolutely essential to the amazing run the team had to close out the year. No way [Josh] Nunes gets through OSU, Autzen, UCLA squared and then the Rose Bowl. He may not have been a top 25 performer for the year, but a case can be made that he was also the MVP of the league this year.

Kevin Gemmell: Don't think I'm giving away Pac-12 blog secrets here, so you're right, Hogan is not in the Top 25. That's not to say he wasn't discussed. Ted and I each started with about 35-40 players and we debated every one of them. He got about five minutes of back-and-forth and was eventually placed in the "no" pile. Don't be surprised, however, to see him ranked favorably on the preseason top 25 list.

No doubt his ascension was big for Stanford and their post Notre Dame run. But I think league MVP is pushing it. Don't get me wrong -- he was good. But he was good at what he was asked to do. He was 5-0 as a starter, but in those five games he had a 6-to-3 touchdown-interception ratio. He averaged 180.6 passing yards and completed 70 percent of his throws. You can tack on two more touchdowns on the ground.

He had the benefit of an outstanding running back, an elite tight end and a great offensive line working in front of him. And let's not forget the outstanding defense. So did Nunes, for that matter, but Hogan was just better. That's why the switch was made. Stanford's run this year truly was a "team" effort. Because as I pointed out in a top performances post Thursday, Stanford probably has three losses had it not been for Nunes' play against Arizona.

I'm curious to see how Hogan matures with an entire offseason as the starter and how he holds up over a full season. He's going to be asked to do a lot more next year than he was this year -- and Shaw wants him to do more. Shaw wants him to get to that point where he can suggest plays and even start doing some calling on the field. Certainly he qualifies as one of the bright, young quarterbacks in the league.


BeaverDan from "The Couv" writes: OK, reading your blog I have been turned on to Dexter and Alex Berenson's John Wells novels - both great suggestions. Anything further that I might have missed? I think we share similar tastes in entertainment.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, let me compliment you on your tastes. You must be a very handsome individual and the life of all social gatherings. Glad I could provide some offseason time-killers. Berenson's latest John Wells novel, "The Night Ranger," was released this week so I'm looking forward to cracking that open (rather, downloading) it this weekend. TV wise, I've been a fan so far of "The Americans" on F/X. Pretty solid start for the new series. If you like the spy/espionage genre, give it a try.

Top performances of 2012: Josh Nunes

February, 14, 2013
2/14/13
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We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2012.

Up next: Start spreading the Nunes

Who and against whom: Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes helped engineer a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback as the Cardinal topped Arizona 54-48 in overtime -- capping one of the most thrilling games in the Pac-12 last season.

The numbers: Nunes accounted for five touchdowns, completing 21-of-34 passes for 360 yards and two scores plus three more on the ground.

A closer look: When future generations look back at Stanford's 2012 Pac-12 championship run and ensuing Rose Bowl victory, chances are Nunes will simply be remembered as the guy who couldn't replace Andrew Luck. Yeah, that's kind of a raw deal -- because he bailed out Stanford's impenetrable defense big time when the Wildcats showed up on the Farm and scorched Stanford's D for 617 yards. The offense had to win the game, and Nunes responded with career highs in completions, yards and quarterback rating. After the Wildcats jumped ahead 48-34 with 9 minutes, 13 seconds left in the game, Nunes put together a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with him scoring from 1 yard out. Then the Cardinal drove 79 yards on 14 plays to tie the score and force overtime, the knotting tally coming on a 3-yard Nunes run. He was 9-of-16 for 119 yards during the final two drives.

Pac-12 chat wrap

January, 31, 2013
1/31/13
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Apparently I offended Stanford fans yesterday by saying I don't think the Cardinal can go undefeated -- which was promptly followed by the fact that I don't think any team in the Pac-12 can go undefeated. Sounds like a good poll question for later today -- can anyone go undefeated in 2013? For now, enjoy the chat highlights or click here to see the entire chat.

Trojan1981 (Edinburgh): With 38 conference championships under their belt, nobody can reasonably dispute that USC is a "traditional powerhouse"; but do any of the other teams in the PAC 12 meet the definition?

Kevin Gemmell (2:02 PM): Hey, Trojan 1981 to start us off. How about that. USC certainly has a nice advantage in overall titles. But UCLA has 17, Washington 15, Stanford and Cal at 13 apiece. I guess it depends on your definition of "traditional" power, but I think you could make an argument for UCLA and certainly Stanford and Oregon are on the rise.

John (Mountain View, CA): Kevin, after covering the program for a year, you probably know this -- what was the demand for Mike Bloomgren among college and pro teams? There was a report that USC was attempting to hire him as well as contact from other schools and the NFL. How hot a commodity is he now? What are the chances he follows in the footsteps of other Stanford OCs and get an NFL OC gig or college head-coaching job after next year?

Kevin Gemmell (2:07 PM): I don't know how much of a demand there was from the NFL. I can tell you he's extremely well-respected among his peers in the league and he was the natural choice for the job. [Head coach David] Shaw clearly recognized that. I know he spent four seasons with the Jets and he and [UCLA offensive coordinator] Noel Mazzone became good friends during that time and Noel can't stop raving about him. Give him a couple of seasons before we start talking about him moving up. But he certainly is one of the brighter pro-style minds in the country.

The Intern (Andrew) (Office, Couch): Can we expect [Taylor] Kelly to start for ASU next year? any chance for the other guys? Or maybe back to 2 QB system?

Kevin Gemmell (2:12 PM): [Todd] Graham strikes me as a smart coach. And a smart coach doesn't sit guys as efficient as Kelly was this year. I see no reason why he wouldn't be the starter. That's not to say they won't keep working in [Michael] Eubank or if Kelly falters, we could see a switch. But based on his performance last year, he's earned the right to be the starter through good times and bad.

Haggmark (San Francisco): Lame excuses aside, how many wins does [Lane] Kiffin have to get to keep his job in 2014. Does one embarrassing loss seal the deal?

Kevin Gemmell (2:19 PM): I think if he can get to 8-9 wins without any of the off-field issues, that would probably be enough considering the sanctions he has to deal with. But seven wins coupled with another off-field incident probably would be the end.

Mario (Tah): OSU: Blip in 2012 or sign of things to come?

Kevin Gemmell (2:35 PM): I think a sign of things to come. That offensive line should get better, good skill players in the pipeline and the coaching staff has been one of the best in the country in terms of continuity.

cougarbrian's little brother (PDX): Who will win the Apple Cup next year?

Kevin Gemmell (2:39 PM): I would say Washington based on the talent coming back. But I would have said Washington this year based on the talent they had (wait, I did say say Washington in my predictions. Thanks a lot Dawgs).

SEC fan (The dirty south): What are the chances the Pac-12 catches up to us for best conference in the country and steals the NC from us?

Kevin Gemmell (2:40 PM): I think Oregon is the only team that could legitimately make a run at the national championship next year. I think Stanford is going to be outstanding, but I just don't know where the points are going to come from. I see them being in a lot of close games again next year. As far as "best conference," teams like Oregon State and UCLA need to step up when the spotlight is on them for the conference to be respected in terms of its depth.

Bill (Denver): Time for a token CU question..... Can you say something nice about the Buffs?

Kevin Gemmell (2:48 PM): Best mascot entrance in college football -- hands down. But in all seriousness, I like the young QBs, I like the move to the pistol and I like that the coaching staff -- though they are new -- has worked together for a few years. The Embree crew was still learning to work together. I think four wins next year is realistic and a bowl game in three years makes sense.

Drake (San Jose): Stanford has to replace very little compared to what they did when Andrew and Co. left. This is why I think you shouldn't be saying they can't run the table. BTW, their offense this year was mediocre and they still should have won all 12 games. Yes I'm still mad about notre dame.

Kevin Gemmell (2:51 PM): I don't think any Pac-12 teams can run the table. Not just Stanford. Going undefeated in this day and age is so hard to do. Has nothing to do with Stanford being Stanford. It's just plain hard. With that said, [Kevin] Hogan (and [Josh] Nunes) at least had [Zach] Ertz, [Levine] Toilolo and a 1,000-yard rusher in [Stepfan] Taylor to work with. Now you're taking all of that out of the equation? That's a ton of offense to replace.

Carson (Seattle WA): Where do you see UW in your preseason polls next season?

Kevin Gemmell (2:58 PM): Hovering around 25 ... not sure if I'm going to include them (though I did last year, again, thanks Dawgs). I know Ted is very high on them and will probably have them in his preseason top 25.
For last week's Take 2, Ted and I shared our favorite games that we covered in person during the 2012 season. Of course, just because it was the best game in-person doesn't necessarily mean it was the best game. As I pointed out in my Take 2, the Stanford-Washington game wasn't exactly great football. Rather, it was the environment and energy in the stadium that made it my favorite of 2012.

SportsNation

What was the best regular season Pac-12 game of 2012?

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    37%
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    9%
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    7%
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    38%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,088)

Naturally, this prompts the next question: What was the best game of the 2012 season?

There are lots of ways that people value what makes the best game -- so narrowing the list down to five was tough (and ESPN mandate only allows five options -- so great matchups like the Territorial Cup and Oregon State-UCLA just missed the cut). Some people prefer a good offensive shootout. Others like a hard-nosed, defensive grind. Others just like an upset for the sake of an upset, so I tried to get a dusting of all of the above when picking the options for your Tuesday poll question.

So, what was the best regular season Pac-12 game of 2012?

Your options, in no particular order:

Oregon at USC: While this Nov. 3 showdown didn't live up to the buildup in terms of team expectations (at least for USC), the game itself was a classic. The Ducks won 62-51 behind 321 rushing yards and five touchdowns from Kenjon Barner and four touchdown passes from Marcus Mariota. Matt Barkley threw for 321 yards and five touchdowns and Marqise Lee caught 12 balls for 157 yards and two scores. It kept fans glued to the TV and defensive purists reaching for sick bags.

Washington at Washington State: Ah, the Apple Cup. Say what you want Washington fans, this was still a great game to watch. The Cougars overcame an 18-point, fourth-quarter deficit (the largest fourth-quarter comeback in the storied history of the rivalry) and Andrew Furney came through with one of the more clutch kicking performances of the season. He drilled a 45-yarder with less than 2 minutes left in the game to tie it at 28-28, and then he popped a 27-yarder in overtime for the win. Perhaps even more shocking? Washington State had three, count 'em, three rushing touchdowns!

Arizona at Stanford: Josh Nunes took a lot of guff from Stanford fans this year. They should be grateful for his performance in the Cardinal's thrilling 54-48 win over Arizona in overtime. He accounted for five touchdowns -- three on the ground and two in the air -- while throwing for 360 yards and no interceptions. He carried the vaunted Stanford defense against an Arizona team that lit them up -- including 132 yards and three touchdowns from Ka'Deem Carey and 491 passing yards and three touchdowns from Matt Scott. The teams matched for 617 total yards of offense and the Cardinal showed they could win even when their defense gets scorched. And yes, Arizona, Scott, Carey and Austin Hill absolutely scorched Stanford's 'D.'

Stanford at Oregon: This one is for the defensive purists. The only thing better than Stanford's defensive gameplan was the way the Cardinal executed it. The Cardinal kept the Ducks' explosive offense to 405 total yards (198 on the ground) and Oregon was just 4 of 17 on third downs and 0 for 2 on fourth down. Shockingly, it was Kevin Hogan's first road start and just the second of his career -- but he wasn't fazed by the Autzen environment. And there was plenty of high drama as Zach Ertz caught the controversial game-tying touchdown and Jordan Williamson drilled a 37-yarder in overtime for the victory. Not to mention Oregon was No. 1 at the time and this game reshaped the entire college football landscape.

UCLA at Arizona State: Anyone watching this game got some outstanding insight into the future of quarterbacking in the league. After ASU jumped ahead 14-0, the Bruins battled back, setting up a fantastic fourth quarter that saw Taylor Kelly drive his team to a late touchdown drive to go ahead 43-42 with 1:33 left in the game. On the ensuing drive, Brett Hundley brought his team down, which set up a 33-yard Ka'imi Fairbairn game-winner as time expired on the 45-43 UCLA win. The outcome helped UCLA lock up the South and was one of the most thrilling games of the year.

Season review: Stanford

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
9:00
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Before we focus forward, we're going to look back with team-by-team season reviews.

We continue today in reverse alphabetical order.

STANFORD (12-2, 8-1)

Grade: A

MVP: Can we just go ahead and name the entire defense as a singular MVP? Judges? No? Oh well, I guess we have to pick one. And since determining the MVP from that defense is unbelievably impossible, because they truly are the sum of their parts, we'll look to the offensive side of the ball, where running back Stepfan Taylor broke 1,000 yards for third straight season and leaves the school as one of its greatest backs ever. He hit career highs in rushing yards (1,530), carries (322), and receptions (41). When an inconsistent offense stalled, he was one of the few gears that didn't shut down. He rushed for at least 100 yards in eight games, and scored at least one touchdown in nine. He's a complete back -- running, vision, catching, toughness, blocking -- and some NFL team is going to be very happy to have him.

What went right: They won the Pac-12 championship and the Rose Bowl, giving the Cardinal their second BCS Bowl victory in the past three years. The goal of every team should be -- first and foremost -- to win your league. Only one team can actually do it -- and it was Stanford, hence the 'A' grade. While the offense lacked for explosiveness -- it averaged just 27.9 points per game -- the defense was one of the best in the country. Led by a front seven that often enjoyed its "parties in the backfield" and a secondary that was perceived as a possible weak point in the preseason but turned out to be a valuable asset, the Cardinal finished 11th nationally in points against (17.2). In a league where half of the teams average at least 30 points per game, that might be the most impressive number of all.

What went wrong: When head coach David Shaw says Stanford would not have beaten USC or Arizona with Kevin Hogan as the quarterback, you have to believe him. Why? Now this might come as a shock, so I hope you're sitting down ... because he knows more about quarterbacks, offense and football than you do; more than I do and more than Ted Miller does. Debate all you want about whether he was too late pulling the trigger in replacing Josh Nunes. He is the two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year. I'll stick by his story. So the quarterback controversy left a few ink stains on the season -- most notably at Washington, where Nunes was making his first road start and the team ran into a highly motivated Washington defense that shut down Taylor and kept the Cardinal without an offensive touchdown. The Cardinal were bad in that game -- but let's also make sure we give Washington some credit, because the Huskies played inspired football. As for the Notre Dame game in South Bend -- Stanford's only other defeat -- there's no evidence the Cardinal would have won the game had Taylor not been stopped on that controversial goal-line ending. But it would have been nice to let it play out.

2013 outlook: The defense should once again be nasty. The news that defensive end Ben Gardner, and linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy will be returning, makes the Cardinal the league's best defense until proven otherwise (we'll learn a little more when ASU's equally nasty defensive front comes to Palo Alto on Sept. 21). Chase Thomas' absence will be noticeable. But there are some young outside linebacker's in the pipeline who can fill in adequately. The issue for the Cardinal is going to be finding a way to score. With Taylor gone -- as well as five of the top six receivers from last season -- the offense has some question marks. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo were huge security blankets in the red zone and on third down. Also, the development of Hogan will need to take a big step forwar,d because he'll be asked to do a lot more. They also need to replace center Sam Schwartzstein -- a very underappreciated asset for what he did the past two seasons. Still -- with the defense headlining their efforts -- there's no reason to think the Cardinal won't be one of the top two teams in the conference again.
No big debate today. Instead, your Pac-12 bloggers thought it would be fun to look back fondly on the favorite games they covered in person during the 2012 season.

Kevin Gemmell: In January 2009, I covered the San Diego Chargers' wild-card playoff game at home against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Chargers won 23-17 at Qualcomm Stadium in the loudest football environment I've ever experienced.

The previous season, in 2007, I covered the Chargers on Christmas Eve against the Denver Broncos: holiday game, "Monday Night Football," AFC West rivals -- things got pretty loud. But that game didn't even come close to the audio assault from the Washington faithful at CenturyLink Field for the Huskies' upset over Stanford back in Week 5.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Stepfan Taylor
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesWashington's defense held Stanford's Stepfan Taylor to 75 yards on 3.6 per carry on Sept. 27.
I was on the sidelines for the final five minutes -- and deafening doesn't begin to describe just how loud it was. It was great!

And this isn't just me spouting hyperbole. A few days after the game, Stanford coach David Shaw told me it was the third-loudest game he'd ever experienced. One of them was an NFL game, and the second was at Oregon's Autzen Stadium a couple of years ago.

The Stanford-Washington game itself was a bit of a clunker. Neither offense looked particularly sharp -- save Huskies RB Bishop Sankey's 61-yard touchdown run, which came on a fourth-and-1. Stanford's only touchdown was an uber-athletic pick-six from linebacker Trent Murphy.

The Cardinal were the talk of the college football world after knocking off No. 2 USC a week and a half earlier. Of course, at the time, USC was still believed to be one of the true juggernauts of the 2012 season. And given Stanford's recent history against Washington, we figured we'd be watching the Winter Olympics from Satan's backyard before Washington had any hope of upsetting the Cardinal.

But the Huskies' defense shut down Stepfan Taylor and the M.A.S.H.-unit offensive line kept Stanford's vicious front seven at bay as best it could -- enough to pull off a 17-13 victory.

No doubt, Washington was a much different team at home than it was on the road in 2012. And you can probably attribute a lot of that to The CLink and its boisterous 12th man.

I was fortunate enough to witness three top-10 upsets this year: Stanford's win over USC, Washington's win over Stanford, and Washington's win over Oregon State. Even Stanford's victory over Oregon State was technically an upset, since the Cardinal were No. 14 at the time and OSU was No. 11.

But nothing came close to those closing minutes in Seattle. And when Desmond Trufant intercepted Josh Nunes to clinch the win -- followed by a good old-fashioned field storming -- it was a pleasant reminder of just how cool college football is.

Ted Miller: My favorite game that I covered this year also made me a sourpuss.

[+] EnlargeJordan Williamson
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesJordan Williamson's 37-yard field goal handed Oregon its lone loss and ended its BCS title chances.
When Oregon lost 17-14 in overtime to Stanford -- Jordan Williamson hit a 37-yard field goal for the red-letter victory -- I turned to a couple of guys in the press box and said, "You know what just happened? The Pac-12 blog won't get to go to South Florida for a week and the SEC just won a seventh consecutive national title."

We now know more fully that this overtime loss probably prevented the Ducks from claiming the program's first football national title. You'll find few people today who would pick Notre Dame to beat Oregon, and that would have been the title game if the Ducks hadn't been smothered by Stanford.

And, of course, that was it, too. Stanford played brilliantly. It was perhaps the best performance by a Pac-12 team against the Ducks in four years under Chip Kelly. The defensive game plan and execution were darn near perfect, but the performance of redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan shouldn't be forgotten. He shined in the Pac-12's toughest venue and did what Andrew Luck was unable to do the previous two seasons: beat Kelly and the Ducks.

Of course, Stanford's defense was what left everyone with an open mouth in Autzen Stadium. Oregon entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring, at 54.8 points per game. No opponent had been within double digits of the Ducks. Heck, just two foes had been within three touchdowns. But Stanford held a team that had been averaging 562.6 yards per game to 405, 77 of which came on a Marcus Mariota run that led to no points.

Want a number? The Ducks were 4-of-17 on third down and 0-for-2 on fourth.

After the game, I took my tale of woe to Cardinal coach David Shaw: "You know what you just did? The Pac-12 blog won't get to go to South Florida for a week and the SEC just won a seventh consecutive national title."

He seemed less concerned about that than I was.

Pregame: Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:00
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Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)

Who to watch: The running backs. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball -- the Doak Walker award winner -- and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor -- a three-time 1,000-yard rusher -- are two of the best in the game. Both are the engines that make their respective machines go. Each team will work furiously to establish a running game. So while you are watching two of the elite running backs in the country, keep an eye on the lines as well -- because how each team’s big boys do will go a long way toward determining how the running backs do.

What to watch: For sure, the fourth quarter. These two teams have combined to play six overtime games, Stanford has had to overcome ties or deficits six times in the fourth quarter, and Wisconsin has lost all five of its games by a combined 19 points (four field goals and a touchdown). If this game is a microcosm of these teams’ seasons, then there should be high drama up until the final play.

Why to watch: Aside from the fact that it’s the Granddaddy, this game is oozing with subplots. You have Barry Alvarez making his return to coaching -- although for just one game. You have Stanford playing in its third consecutive BCS bowl game (Wisconsin as well, for that matter) even after the departure of Andrew Luck and a midseason quarterback change from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan. You have a Wisconsin team that some say backed into the Rose Bowl, and you have mirror teams with nearly identical philosophies.

Predictions: In case you missed it Tuesday morning, you can see the predictions from Pac-12 bloggers Kevin Gemmell and Ted Miller here. This is what the Big Ten bloggers are thinking.

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