Pac-12: Kodi Whitfield

Stanford spring wrap

May, 2, 2014
May 2
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What we learned about the two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford Cardinal in spring practice.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Defense is ahead of the offense. That shouldn’t be taken as a slight against the offense, either. Stanford’s defense is loaded back to front and set the tone for most of the spring. Replacing defensive coordinator Derek Mason, linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov, defensive ends Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro and safety Ed Reynolds is daunting, but not reason for panic.

2. Henry Anderson is a potential All-American. He has flown under the radar at times, but Anderson will be among the best defensive ends in the country next season. The fifth-year senior has the size (6-foot-6, 295 pounds) and skill to alter opposing gameplans.

3. Kevin Hogan is ready to lead. With a 10-1 career mark against Top 25 opponents, it’d be easy to argue he arrived ready to lead, but there’s now no question that he's a leader. With a talented group of receivers coming back, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if his passing numbers make a big jump this season.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Who will win the starting jobs on defense? One safety spot and one inside linebacker spot appear to be the biggest question marks going into the summer. Kodi Whitfield still figures to have a good shot at starting next to Jordan Richards at safety after converting from receiver, but Dallas Lloyd, Kyle Olugbode and Zach Hoffpauir will factor in. At linebacker, Blake Martinez and Joe Hemschoot are the frontrunners to replace Skov.

2. How will the young offensive line come together? Left tackle Andrus Peat is the only full-time starter back, but it’s a unit that won’t be light on talent. The other four players, like Peat, were from the lauded Class of 2012 and need time to gel. There was little rotation among the first team during spring practice as Stanford tries to ready the group. There won’t be much time either, with USC on the schedule in Week 2.

3. Will running-back-by-committee last? Coach David Shaw predicted a committee approach in 2013, but Tyler Gaffney forced his hand and took the lion’s share of the carries. This time, with four players close in skill level, the Cardinal will probably stick with it longer, which will jeopardize the school's six-year streak with a 1,000-yard back.

One way-too-early prediction:

Kelsey Young will lead the team in carries. He arrived at Stanford as a running back, switched to receiver and is now back at his natural position. He and Barry Sanders appeared to be the most dangerous of the backs with the ball in their hands, but they need to improve in pass protection. If Young proves to be a capable blocker, he’ll see the most snaps.
Our look at position groups in the Pac-12 continues with the safeties.

Arizona: The Wildcats have a lot of experience at safety with a combined 78 starts between Jourdon Grandon, Tra'Mayne Bondurant and Jared Tevis. All three of their backups on the AdvoCare V100 Bowl depth chart -- Anthony Lopez, William Parks and Jamar Allah -- also return.

Arizona State: Damarious Randall returns as one of the more talented safeties in the conference after a season in which he finished tied for third on the team with 71 tackles. Marcus Ball is a strong candidate to eventually earn the job next to Randall, but he's still working his way back from a clavicle injury that cost him the 2013 season. Laiu Moeakiola, who appeared in 10 games last year as a reserve, James Johnson, Jayme Otomewo and Ezekiel Bishop are other names to watch.

California: Cal started five different players at safety last year and four of them -- Michael Lowe, Cameron Walker, Avery Sebastian and Damariay Drew -- will be back. Sebastian began the year in the starting lineup and had an interception and 10 tackles before suffering a season-ending Achilles tear in the first half of the season opener. Look for him to regain his starting job next to Lowe.

Colorado: The Buffs need to replace SS Parker Orms, who had 26 career starts and 10 last season, but FS Jered Bell will return. All three of the players competing to replace Orms -- Marques Mosley, Terrel Smith and Tedric Thompson -- have started at least three games. Smith redshirted last season after he underwent shoulder surgery and has 19 career starts.

Oregon: The Ducks lose both Brian Jackson and Avery Patterson from a secondary that has consistently been among the nation's best. Fifth-year senior Erick Dargan, Patterson's high school teammate, looks to slide into his first full-time starting role after three years of meaningful contributions on both special teams and reserve duty. Opposite him, Issac Dixon is the presumed favorite with Tyree Robinson and Reggie Daniels also in the mix.

Oregon State: The Beavers have both Ryan Murphy and Tyrequek Zimmerman back for their third year as starters, which should help soften the blow of losing CB Rashaad Reynolds. A few others to watch are sophomore Cyril Noland-Lewis, Justin Strong, Brandon Arnold, Zack Robinson and walk-on Micah Audiss, who was No. 2 behind Zimmerman in the season-ending depth chart.

Stanford: Ed Reynolds' early departure for the NFL creates the one real unknown spot for the Cardinal. Two former offensive players -- QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield -- are in the competition for the vacant spot, as is Kyle Olugbode. Zach Hoffpauir will join the competition once baseball season is over. The winner will play next to Jordan Richards, a senior who has started the past two seasons and played regularly as a freshman.

UCLA: Starters Randall Goforth and Anthony Jefferson are both back after being named all-Pac-12 honorable mention last season. Two names to watch are Tahaan Goodman and Tyler Foreman, both of whom arrived as part of the Class of 2013.

USC: Su'a Cravens and Josh Shaw are back, but the Trojans will have to replace Dion Bailey, who left early for the NFL after converting to safety from linebacker last year. Shaw could wind up back at corner, which would open the door for Leon McQuay III. Gerald Bowman got a medical redshirt after appearing in three games last year and should provide depth.

Utah: Veteran Eric Rowe is set to begin his fourth year as a starter in the Utes' secondary, but he'll play next to a new player with Michael Walker out of eligibility. Charles Henderson was Walker's primary backup last season, but look for junior-college transfer Tevin Carter -- a former Cal Bear -- to challenge him for the starting job.

Washington: The Huskies are looking to fill both starting spots and will likely do so with young players. Sophomores Brandon Beaver, Kevin King and Trevor Walker all saw spot duty last year and the program signed an impressive crop of high school safeties, including Bellevue's Bishard “Budda” Baker.

Washington State: Replacing Deone Bucannon means replacing one of the school's all-time greats at his position. Isaac Dotson looks like the favorite to take that spot, but will be pushed by David Bucannon, Darius Lemora and true freshman Markell Sanders, who arrived for spring practice.



Pac-12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
10:00
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Today we put a bow on the 2013 season (almost -- a few more review posts are coming up, and then probably a few more after that). But today across the blogosphere, we’re categorizing some of the top moments and individuals from the Pac-12 season. These are set in stone and in no way open to argument or interpretation.

Best coach: Arizona State's Todd Graham was voted as the league’s coach of the year by his peers. And it’s hard to argue with that, given the fact that the Sun Devils had the best league record and won their division. But you can’t discount the job of the L.A. coaches (interim or otherwise). Ed Orgeron did a phenomenal job in relief at USC before Steve Sarkisian was hired, and Jim Mora shepherded his team through a difficult time early.

Best player, offense: Ka’Deem Carey was named the Pac-12 offensive player of the year. And the Pac-12 blog agrees. Certainly, cases can be made for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was on the Heisman Trophy track before being derailed by a knee injury. And there is the debate between Carey and Washington running back Bishop Sankey, which will rage until the end of days.

Best player, defense: The coaches went with Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton. And there’s nothing wrong with that selection. But cases certainly can be made for outside linebackers Trent Murphy (Stanford) and Anthony Barr (UCLA).

Best moment: Lots of them. Shocking upsets (see below) and stellar individual performances dusted the landscape of the 2013 Pac-12 season. But in terms of moments that were seared into our memories, it’s tough not to think about UCLA’s come-from-behind win at Nebraska way back on Sept. 14, following the death of Nick Pasquale. Specifically, Anthony Jefferson recovering a red zone fumble and then sprinting off the field to give the ball to Mora, followed by a big hug. It was as authentic and genuine a moment as you’ll find in sports.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's Kodi Whitfield had a highlight touchdown grab against UCLA.
Biggest upset: Take your pick between Utah topping Stanford or Arizona topping Oregon. Both were road losses for the favorites and both shook up the national and league landscape. Granted, Utah’s win over Stanford came earlier in the season, and early-season losses are easier to rebound from. Oregon’s loss to Arizona came at the end and cost the Ducks all kinds of postseason possibilities.

Best workhorse performance: It’s a tie between Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney and Carey -- both of whom put in the work in their teams’ victories over Oregon. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four touchdowns on 48 carries; Gaffney carried 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown.

Best play: One of the most subjective categories, for sure, but Kodi Whitfield’s one-handed touchdown catch against UCLA was nothing short of spectacular. He elevated between two Bruins defenders and backhanded the ball out of the air for a 30-yard touchdown. Something about UCLA-Stanford brings out the one-handed catches. Recall in 2011, Andrew Luck hauled in a one-handed catch against the Bruins, and a few plays later, Coby Fleener snagged a one-handed dart from Luck for a touchdown.

Best performance, offense: Again, wildly subjective. Take your pick from Ty Montgomery’s five-touchdown day against Cal, Marion Grice’s four touchdowns against USC or Wisconsin, or Myles Jack’s four touchdowns against Washington. Brandin Cooks had a pretty nice day against Cal with his 232 receiving yards. There were games with seven touchdown tosses from Mariota and Taylor Kelly. Connor Halliday’s losing effort against Colorado State was spectacular. In terms of impact, it’s hard not to go back to Carey’s effort against Oregon.

Best performance, defense: As in every other category here, plenty to go around. But think way back to Washington State’s win over USC. Damante Horton had a 70-yard interception return that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter. Then, after Andrew Furney’s 41-yard field goal put the Cougars ahead 10-7 with 3:15 left in the game, Horton picked off Max Wittek, which allowed WSU to run out the clock.
Mail+bag=mailbag. Enjoy.

Gordie in Pasadena, Calif. writes: Is Coach Sark on the hot seat? With remaining road games against UCLA and OSU, UW looks headed for a 7-win regular season. Kiffin (65%) and Tedford (59%) both had better win percentages than Sark (projected 52% by end of season) in the Pac. Mike Stoops (45%) wasn't that far off at UA. Not to mention UW getting blown out by the ducks every year. What do UW fans and boosters expect from their coach?

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAfter a hot start, Washington has struggled and some are wondering if coach Steve Sarkisian is on the hot seat now.
Kevin Gemmell: I don’t know if he’s on the hot seat yet, but some of the goodwill that was built up in the first four games is fading -- fast. Lose to Stanford on the road? Fine. It happens. Stanford is a good team. And Washington played them tough.

Losing to Oregon 45-24, meh … Oregon is Oregon. And this might be the best Oregon team in the last 10 years.

But the ASU loss was the proverbial kick in the … let’s say teeth. The Huskies were just plain bad. The defense looked like the 2011 defense. The offense looked like the 2012 offense. I don’t think ASU was really doing anything special. They were just executing and making plays. Washington wasn’t.

With five games left the Huskies could still finish with nine regular season wins, and a bowl victory would give them double digits. That would include wins over two teams ranked in the BCS top 25 in UCLA and Oregon State. That would cool things off.

Let’s assume they beat Cal and Colorado. That leaves back to back trips at UCLA and Oregon State before closing with the Apple Cup. That’s six wins with three left to play. I’m not totally sold that last week was indicative of what kind of team Washington is. It’s very possible it was just a combination of a bad week for the Huskies and an outstanding week for the Sun Devils.

But if they play like they did last week the rest of the year and finish with seven wins, then the heat really gets turned up.

Peter out West writes: Why do computers hate the Pac-12? Is it just me or is FSU's schedule soft. Like silly-soft. I know the transitive property doesn't *really* apply...but FSU's big win is Clemson. Who stinks. "But they beat GA," I can hear brainwashed people east of the mississippi saying. Please. The same GA team that just lost to Vanderbilt? The same team that eeked out a win over Tenn? Remind me again. Did Oregon beat Tenn by 20? No. Was it 30? No. Was it 40? No. It was 45. Points. 45 POINTS! "But GA beat S.Carolina," they might reply. S.Car LOST to Tenn. I realize as a Stanford fan that I'm kinda living in a glass house here with the Utes game and all...but seriously. Am I taking crazy pills, or do even the computers have East Coast bias?

Gemmell: The late German engineer Konrad Zuse is widely regarded as the father of the modern computer. Per the always accurate and trustworthy Wikipedia, he graduated from Technische Hochschule Berlin-Charlottenburg in 1935 -- the very same year Minnesota went 8-0 and was ranked No. 1 by the UP sports writers. It so happens that same year Oregon was 6-4-1, but unranked. Coincidence? Absolutely not. The fix has been in from Day 1!

I’m no engineer, but I like to think I have a gentle touch when it comes to computers. And I’ve never met one that has an opinion one way or the other. A computer is only as good as the data that goes into it. And a lot of that data is still based on perception. As David Shaw once told me, a computer never won a football game.

Oregon still has the meat of its schedule coming up -- and since you’re a Stanford fan -- the same could be said for the Cardinal. Both teams still have to play Oregon State, which is 25th. And they have to play each other. The winner will no doubt experience a nice spike in perception, computer or otherwise. The good news is one year from today, it’s a question you won’t have to worry about.

So put down the crazy pills and don’t worry about the glass house. That only applies to every other team but yours.

Brandon in Hillsboro, Ore. writes: Ok Kevin, Can you please start giving Mannion and Cooks proper due. Mannion is leading the nation in total yards and touchdowns. He's only thrown 3 INT. Yeah Mariota is good but he isn't on the same level as Mannion right now. No one is.

Gemmell: First, I reject your statement that Mariota isn’t on the same level as Mannion. Check out the latest QBR numbers. Mariota is No. 1, Mannion is No. 12.

Second, when we re-ranked the Pac-12 top 10 players at the midway point in the season, both Mannion and Cooks were in the top five. So it’s not like we’ve totally ignored them. Yes, their numbers are phenomenal. Yes, they’ve done an outstanding job holding the team together after that rough start. And yes, I want to see them do it against Stanford.

Right now Mannion is No. 2 on my Heisman ballot. I noticed someone else has him fifth. Not sure if that's Ted. But I think he deserves the recognition and so I voted accordingly.

His production can’t be denied. The Pac-12 blog has noticed. And if he’s able to put up those numbers this week against Stanford, I think the rest of the country will too.

John in Houston writes: You wrote this week it is unfair players are judge by their Heisman moments. I disagree: Heisman moments represent what makes football so great! Going back to last year, was Johnny Manziel THE best player in college football? Probably not. But it seemed that every time he stepped onto the field, there was the potential for a game-winning play. Robert Griffin III was the same way. While Andrew Luck was (and still is) very good, RG3 epitomized why football is exciting! People may forget Robert’s college statistics, but they will never forget his last second touchdown pass to Terrence Williams to beat then-#5 Oklahoma. Those kind of plays, Heisman moments, make watching football games worthwhile. Your overall point was that Marcos Mariota should and will win the Heisman. I say that he certainly won’t (and shouldn’t) if he can’t produce at least couple Heisman moments. Watching Oregon win by seven touchdowns is just boring to watch. Sorry if Duck’s fans are offended by this, but it’s true. If Oregon really wanted to win the Heisman, they would not have scheduled middle of the road SEC and ACC teams. Tennessee and UVA have been mediocre for years and the Ducks knew that when they made the schedule. Watch and see: Mariota will not win the Heisman. Not because he is not the best players, but because he didn’t make the best plays. That is college football and that is how it should be.

Gemmell: Just so we’re on the same page … you think it’s OK that the best player in college football doesn’t win the award because someone has more highlights?

If that were the case, De’Anthony Thomas should have won the Heisman two years in a row. Kodi Whitfield should be a candidate.

I won’t even get into Oregon and scheduling. I’ll let the Oregon fans straighten you out on that one.

My point wasn’t that Mariota should win the Heisman. My point is the best player should win it, be it quarterback, linebacker or offensive lineman. My point was that highlights and individual plays shouldn’t be the basis, but for a lot of voters it is, and I don’t think that’s right. The Heisman moment has been put up on such a pedestal that it takes away from the bigger picture, which is a player's total performance throughout the course of a season.

Since you brought up Luck, I’d like to re-tell a story that David Shaw told me once. He said Luck once told him that he thought the Washington game in 2011 was the best game of his career. Luck was 16 of 21 for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Pretty good numbers, but nothing that jumps off the page.

The point of the story was that Stanford rushed for a school record 446 yards, and it was Luck identifying the plays at the line of scrimmage and getting the Cardinal into the best play against that particular defense. And he was 100 percent right in every play that he called -- hence the big rushing numbers.

The point of that story is that a “Heisman Moment” should be more than a YouTube clip. Watch Luck’s Heisman campaign YouTube clip. There aren’t really any of “those” plays you are describing. Part of it is because he made it look so unbelievably easy.

But this isn’t a Luck-got-hosed response. This is a Mariota response. For the record, I think you put Mariota in any offense -- Stanford’s, Washington State’s, Arizona’s, whatever -- and he’d have equal success because he’s cut from that same type of cloth.

Watching Oregon win by seven touchdowns isn’t boring when you appreciate what the guy pulling the strings is doing. And right now Mariota is pulling all the right strings. And if he’s able to do that against UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, etc., then he should win the Heisman, regardless of what anyone thinks of his highlights.

Keith in Teutopolis, Ill. writes: I just realized UCLA has a DB named Moreau. Has anyone written a story titled "The Island of Dr. Moreau" about him? Please tell me they have.

Gemmell: That would be Fabian Moreau, and I’m not aware of any headlines. But you get snaps for the creativity. He’s second on the team with four pass breakups, so he seems to be doing just fine on that island.

However, I think we can all agree that that was a low point for both Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. Ice-Man, we hardly knew you.

Arizona State fans everywhere write: Dear (cleansing product) bag. Good call picking Washington. Go (play a round of miniature golf with) yourself. Sincerely, Arizona State fans everywhere.

Gemmell: First, let me say that I appreciate your concern regarding my hygiene. I like to think I’m fresh, but can always feel fresher. And you know, I could use a round of mini golf. Ted picked Washington too. Maybe he can caddy for me. Sound advice from the good people in Tempe.

Yes, I picked against your team. And I was wrong … really, really wrong. I also picked you to beat Notre Dame. Where were you guys then, pray tell? Where were the “Hey Kev, thanks for the support, sorry we couldn't get it done for you” notes in my mailbag?

Great win for the Sun Devils. And if they go on to bigger and better things, this win will no doubt be viewed as a season-defining moment. But much like some of our readers last week who hail from the great state of Utah, let’s not get swelled heads over one win.

It was an impressive performance. More impressive was the run defense. I didn’t see that coming. And anyone who says they did is full of it. What trend pointed toward the Sun Devils holding Washington to minus-5 rushing yards? Consider ASU’s run defense vs. their FBS opponents this year: 231 rushing yards to Wisconsin, 240 to Stanford, 247 to USC, 145 to Notre Dame. Heck, even Colorado had 99. But minus-5 against Washington. Absolutely stunning.

So Arizona State fans everywhere, enjoy the win. But don’t forget pride comes before the fall.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go freshen up.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 7 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: Utah knocked down Stanford last week, but the Cardinal got up, wiped away the blood and posted an inspired performance on both sides of the ball in a 24-10 win over UCLA. RB Tyler Gaffney rushed for a career-high 171 yards, including 84 yards in the fourth quarter, while the defense throttled QB Brett Hundley and the Bruins.

Best game: Utah's visit to Arizona was a back-and-forth affair and wasn't iced until Wildcats running back Ka'Deem Carey capped an epic night with a 44-yard touchdown run in a 35-24 victory. Both teams showed resolve, with the Utes fighting back after losing starting QB Travis Wilson to a hand injury, and the Wildcats bouncing back after losing a big first-half lead.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's defense was spectacular in a 24-10 win over previously unbeaten UCLA, but Kodi Whitfield's one-handed touchdown grab might be the play of the year.
Biggest play: Stanford receiver Kodi Whitfield's 30-yard touchdown reception against UCLA gave Stanford a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, so it was important. But this time we're more about best play instead of biggest. As in ... best play of the year? His twisting, one-handed grab between two defenders was unbelievable. It certainly will make a top-10 list of plays for the 2013 college football season. It's also amusing that such an acrobatic catch came from the son of a former All-Pac-10 offensive lineman, Bob Whitfield.

Offensive standout(s): We have a "chicken or the egg" deal with Oregon State. QB Sean Mannion completed 35 of 45 passes for 481 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the blowout win over California. Receiver Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for a score. Mannion leads the nation in passing and touchdown passes. Cooks lead the nation in every notable statistical category for his position, including receiving yards and touchdowns. Feel free to tap whichever one is your personal favorite.

Offensive standout 2: Carey rushed 40 times for 236 yards against a tough Utah run defense. It was a big-time performance by a big-time player when his team really needed it.

Offensive standout 3: Arizona State RB Marion "006" Grice rushed for 158 yards on 21 carries -- 7.5 yards per rush -- with two touchdowns in the 53-24 win over Washington. He also caught four passes for 37 yards and a score. He now has 18 total touchdowns this season.

Defensive standout: Arizona State's defensive effort against Washington was beastly, particularly considering the Huskies had decent success against the two best defenses in the Pac-12: Stanford and Oregon. The Sun Devils held the Huskies to 212 total yards, including minus-5 yards rushing. Bishop Sankey, who entered the game leading the nation in rushing, had 22 yards on 13 carries. The Sun Devils had seven sacks and 12 tackles for a loss. That Huskies offense, by the way, ranked 15th in the nation in rushing, eighth in total offense (526.8 yards per game) and averaged 35 points per game.

Defensive standout 2: Stanford safety Jordan Richards had a team-high 10 tackles as well as two interceptions in the win over UCLA.

Special teams standout: It's not good when your punter is called upon 11 times, but Washington's Travis Coons averaged 46.8 yards on 11 boots with a long of 61 yards. He also made a 27-yard field goal and three PATs.

Smiley face: The Pac-12 is playing defense this fall. The five winners Saturday plus USC, which lost 14-10 at Notre Dame, combined to hold their opponents to 19.6 points per game, and many of those points -- hello, Washington State, says Nick Aliotti -- came in obvious fourth-quarter garbage time. The Pac-12 offenses, of course, are still good, other than a few stragglers (USC!), so there's strength on both sides of the ball. And fewer 52-50 games.

Frowny face: Washington! Washington! That performance at Arizona State was abysmal (though we type that without taking credit away from an inspired Sun Devils effort and game plan). If the Huskies win in Tempe, they buck the "overrated!" taunt that their adversaries -- mostly Ducks fans but also many Cougars and Beavers -- have enjoyed tossing their way for, oh, 12 or so years. A win at Arizona State would have hinted at a team headed toward nine or 10 wins. Now the ugly possibility of a fourth consecutive 7-6 season -- how is that possible! -- is in play.

Thought of the week: The Pac-12 is the center of the college football universe this weekend with two matchups of ranked teams in the BCS standings. And it's all happening in the state of Oregon! In Eugene, with ESPN's "College GameDay" setting up camp, the No. 3 Ducks play host to No. 12 UCLA, while No. 6 Stanford is visiting No. 25 Oregon State just up the road in Corvallis. The Ducks are looking to further burnish their national title game resume, while UCLA is looking for a breakthrough win. The Beavers are trying to move up in the North Division pecking order and make themselves the top challenger for the Ducks. And Stanford is trying to get to its Nov. 7 showdown with Oregon in control of its destiny.

Questions of the week: Which quarterback(s) has the best weekend in Oregon? Does Ducks QB Marcus Mariota make a loud Heisman Trophy statement, or is he upstaged by Mannion? And what about the visitors? Does Hundley rediscover his mojo at Oregon? Or does Stanford's Kevin Hogan show everyone that steady and unspectacular wins the day when you've got a great defense?

Question of the week 2: Who rises above the noise and consistently plays to its ability over the homestretch of the season? It's not easy to go unbeaten, even when you're more talented than everyone on your schedule, because it's difficult to get 40 or so guys to bring their A-game 12 games in a row. It's not easy to go 8-4 and know your team reached its max winning potential, that you only lost to superior teams. And it's hard to win on the road. Take Arizona State. The version of the Sun Devils who blistered USC and Washington at home would have romped Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, but that team didn't show up that evening in Arlington, Texas. And the Huskies that nearly beat Stanford and whipped Boise State would have won in Tempe. Stanford's tumble at Utah, Oregon State's defeat to Eastern Washington -- losses full of regret. The pressure is building. Which teams win all the games they are supposed to -- as favorites -- and which teams fall to underdogs?
It was "statement Saturday" in the Pac-12.

Some teams, Stanford and Arizona State to name a couple, made huge statements. Other statements were significant, if not understated. Still, others failed to make statements with the weight of increased scrutiny bearing down on them.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCody Kessler and the USC offense couldn't get much going in the loss to Notre Dame.
USC stumbled on a national stage at Notre Dame. UCLA failed to beat the Cardinal for the third time in 10 months. Arizona State absolutely stuffed Washington. Utah failed to follow up its big win last week with a win on the road. Perhaps the most shocking of all ... Andy Phillips missed! Twice! Gasp! Strange things were certainly afoot in Week 8.

And yet, isn’t this exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Pac-12? Just when we think we’ve got a handle on things, Arizona rises, Arizona State romps, Kodi Whitfield makes a one-handed grab and Washington stumbles. Parity reminded us all that each week brings unpredictability.

Speaking of the Huskies, that national goodwill they’ve garnered the last few weeks is officially all used up in the wake of a 53-24 loss to Arizona State. National opinion-makers appreciated their 4-0 start -- which included a win over then-ranked Boise State. And despite back-to-back losses to Stanford and Oregon, the once-15th-ranked Huskies only slipped to 20th. Come Sunday morning, they might not even be getting votes following a third straight loss.

“That was embarrassing,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We weren’t good enough. We weren’t well-enough coached, we didn’t perform well enough and we didn’t play physical enough ... give Arizona State credit. They outcoached us and they outplayed us.”

We will give them credit. The Sun Devils' run defense was vicious, holding Bishop Sankey to just 22 yards on 13 carries. Marion Grice continued his touchdown tirade with two on the ground and one in the air. Don’t be shocked if the Sun Devils re-enter the Top 25 rankings for the third time this year.

“What an impressive performance,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham. “It might be the most impressive performance as a team that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

[+] EnlargeByron Marshall
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon tailback Byron Marshall ran for 192 yards and three touchdown vs. Washington State.
And then there were the Trojans. Oh, those Trojans. After scoring on two of their first three drives (with a missed field goal in between), USC went scoreless the rest of the game. Its next 10 drives consisted of six punts, a missed field goal, an interception and twice turning it over on downs. Much like last season's showdown with Notre Dame, it seems the takeaway from this season's 14-10 defeat is that USC lost the game rather than Notre Dame won it (and let’s not get started on the penalties).

Stanford reminded everyone that power running and defense can still win football games -- even in a league in which 80 pass attempts from one quarterback doesn't seem all that shocking.

UCLA and Arizona State still look like the front-runners in the South, but the rest of the division is a mess following Arizona’s 35-24 win over Utah -- which still has to be on the road for three of its final five games. Give Utah credit. With starting quarterback Travis Wilson sidelined for the second half, the Utes battled back behind Adam Schulz and took the lead in the third quarter. But Ka’Deem Carey and his 236 yards on the ground proved to be too much.

Colorado took care of business against an overmatched FCS team. Oregon State did what it does best against Cal, as Sean Mannion threw for 493 yards and four touchdowns.

But even Oregon’s 62-38 win over Washington State had a touch of drama. Marcus Mariota set a conference record with 265 pass attempts without an interception. But he did fumble. Cue the dramatic music.

Week 8 will go down in the books as the week that set the stage for some outstanding showdowns the rest of the way. As teams scratch and claw for bowl eligibility and postseason prestige, teams like Utah, Washington, UCLA and USC will look to Week 8 and wonder where it went wrong. Of course, there is no right answer. It’s just another week in the Pac-12.

Stanford bounces back by being itself

October, 19, 2013
10/19/13
9:57
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STANFORD, Calif. -- When streaking receiver Kodi Whitfield reached back from between two UCLA defenders to one-hand a 30-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kevin Hogan -- DaDaDa DaDaDa -- you could feel the collective head of the college football punditry nodding with a sage look. "That," the pundits said with self-satisfaction, "is what the Cardinal has been lacking. Playmaking from an aggressive downfield passing game!"

And early in the fourth quarter, when UCLA made its move, those same folks were wondering why Cardinal coach David Shaw's play calling was so conservative. Stanford rushed nine times for just 22 yards in the third and passed just three times in the fourth. A first-down run on their first possession of the fourth quarter netted only one yard, prelude to a three-and-out with the Bruins down just seven.

The Stanford defense, however, kept making stands against one of the nation's most potent offenses, and, finally, the Bruins defense softened up due to repeated body blows.

No. 13 Stanford got some notable playmaking during its 24-10 win over No. 9 UCLA, but the reason it won was because it was a better version of itself than it was a week ago during an upset loss at Utah.

[+] EnlargeKodi Whitfield
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesKodi Whitfield had the highlight touchdown grab, but Stanford beat UCLA in the trenches.
It played to its again sure-tackling defense. It won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. It showed patience with the running game.

In the fourth quarter, with the screws tightening, Stanford rushed for 81 yards on 17 carries, while UCLA managed just 53 total yards on 17 plays. Cardinal running back Tyler Gaffney rushed for 84 of his 171 yards in the fourth, scoring his second touchdown with just more than a minute left by running through an exhausted Bruins defense.

"This was the epitome of Stanford football," Gaffney said.

UCLA had been averaging 46 points per game. The Bruins, who'd been averaging 547 yards per game, gained just 266 Saturday. Among the nation's leaders in third-down conversion percentage at 56 percent, the Bruins were 5-of-15 on third down.

Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley was being talked about as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, but he was throttled by the Stanford defense, completing 24 of 39 passes for 192 yards, with two interceptions thrown to Cardinal safety Jordan Richards. He was sacked four times.

"Stanford did a really good job of bringing pressure," Hundley said. "Not even blitzing but just using their front four defensive line."

Last week, Utah gashed the Stanford defense for 410 yards -- 176 yards rushing -- and stymied the Cardinal offense, forcing turnovers and keeping Hogan off balance. In fact, one of the big questions last week was, "What's wrong with Stanford?", specifically Hogan and the offense.

Hogan's total quarterback rating dropped precipitously over the previous two games. It was 29.9 against Washington and 36.5 against Utah. His number was 78.9 against the Bruins, far better than Hundley's 34.7 (scale is 1 to 100, with 50 being average).

Part of the issue was Hogan struggling to developing consistent chemistry with a No. 2 receiver, someone other than speedy Ty Montgomery, who leads the Cardinal in all major statistical categories. The Cardinal's next three top receivers, Whitfield, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector had combined for just 27 receptions.

Against UCLA, Whitfield made the best catch of the season thus far, and Cajuste led all receivers with seven receptions for 109 yards.

Cajuste did that in just over three quarters of play, because he suffered a leg injury early in the fourth. While Shaw was uncertain of Cajuste's availability for a big visit to Oregon State next weekend, he was optimistic, saying, "It wasn't as bad as originally thought."

Hogan completed 18 of 25 passes for 227 yards with a touchdown and an interception that bounced off his receiver's hands. He also rushed for 33 yards. He said it wasn't new wrinkles that led to the offensive improvement.

"We got back to our base play, the plays we've been repping since training camp," he said. "I had to go a little bit more simple."

That said, it was notable that the Cardinal gave UCLA a good dose of up-tempo, no-huddle play, particularly in the first half. There also were more designed runs for Hogan. Pac-12 defensive coordinators will raise an eyebrow at that.

Stanford, which ran its home winning streak to 13 games by scoring a school-record sixth consecutive victory over UCLA, played its brand of football. It didn't panic about the loss at Utah, but it didn't forget how it went down, either. Shaw said he led a strong week of practice by telling his players to "bring it with you."

Stanford brought it for sure. It looked familiar. It looked like a team that, after hitting a speed bump, was back in the Pac-12 and, perhaps, national picture.

Stanford Cardinal season preview

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
10:30
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We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Stanford Cardinal.

Stanford

Coach: David Shaw (23-4)

2012 record: 12-2 (8-1 Pac-12 North)

Key losses: RB Stepfan Taylor, TE Zach Ertz, TE Levine Toilolo, OLB Chase Thomas

Key returnees: QB Kevin Hogan, OT David Yankey, LB Shayne Skov, LB Trent Murphy, DE Ben Gardner, S Ed Reynolds

Newcomer to watch: Stanford loves to rotate its linebacking corps, and outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi is impressive. He was a five- or four-star recruit, depending on which service you follow, and was one of the highest-rated OLBs in the country. He has a strong chance to play his way into the rotation.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Brian Murphy/Icon SMIStanford coach David Shaw has smiled a lot since Kevin Hogan became the starting QB late in the 2012 season.
Biggest games in 2013: The eyes of a college football nation will be tuned in on Thursday, Nov. 7, to see Oregon’s trip to Palo Alto. But there are plenty of big games before and after that -- including Arizona State (Sept. 21), Washington (Oct. 5), UCLA (Oct. 19), USC (Nov. 16) and the finale against Notre Dame (Nov. 30). If the Cardinal repeat as conference champs, they will have earned it.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It might have been the running back situation and the fact they have to replace Taylor. But Tyler Gaffney’s return from professional baseball adds experience and depth and bolsters a committee that should be able to mimic Taylor’s production. Receiving production, however, is still up in the air. Five of the top six receiving options from last year are gone -- including tight end Zach Ertz, Taylor and Drew Terrell. Ty Montgomery was sensational in 2011 and if he returns to form, could be a bona fide stretch-the-field threat. Behind him are a host of talented, but mostly unproven players. Look for Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector, Kodi Whitfield and freshman Francis Owusu (yes, that name should ring a bell), to work into the rotation.

Forecast: Expectations have never been higher for the Cardinal as they enter the year a preseason top-5 team. This is a veteran-heavy team that’s built to win tight games and grind opponents down in the fourth quarter.

The offensive focal point will be the progress of quarterback Kevin Hogan, who took over last season and went 5-0 as a starter -- including a 4-0 mark against Top 25 teams. He’s got one of the top offensive lines in the country -- headlined by All-American David Yankey -- protecting him, and a stellar defense has his back. Often forgotten is fullback Ryan Hewitt, who returns as one of the best in the country.

The running back group will be interesting to watch. Coach David Shaw strayed from his preferred by-committee method last season as Taylor carried 322 times -- most of anyone in the Pac-12. But he was that reliable. Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson, Barry Sanders et al should all contribute and carve out their niche in the offense.

Aside from the aforementioned receiving position, many are eager to see what tight end Luke Kaumatule can do stepping in as a full-time player. The Cardinal were spoiled the past few years with Ertz, Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener. Now it’s Kaumatule’s turn to carry the torch for what has been the nation’s most productive tight end-driven offense the past couple of years.

There are no real weak spots on Stanford’s defense. Five of the front seven are back from last year -- including DE Ben Gardner, ILB Shayne Skov and OLB Trent Murphy. The defensive backfield features, arguably, the nation’s top safety tandem in Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards and Usua Amanam doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves as an outstanding nickel.

As noted above, the Cardinal play a very difficult schedule -- including four straight rivalry games to close out the season. This may seem daunting, and it is. But the Cardinal could have as many as 18 juniors or seniors in the starting 22, so chances are there isn’t a situation they haven’t seen or played through before. That experience will be invaluable as the Cardinal look to defend their conference title and try to make a run to another Rose Bowl -- or beyond.
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.
I have what's known as the wheel. It's got earthy tones, a smooth draw and enough kick to win me the high and the low.
Stanford head coach David Shaw has a lot to smile about after hauling in a top-15 recruiting class on Wednesday. With six ESPNU 150 players -- including three of the top offensive linemen in the country and athletic playmakers on both sides of the ball -- Shaw said his team fills much-needed holes and adds depth at other spots.

Here's part two of a Q&A with the second-year head coach.

Q: Alex Carter was recruited as a cornerback. Is that set in stone, or could we see him at safety or as a wide receiver?

A: Alex Carter is fast, quick and strong. He is a corner for us. He could physically play five positions. He could play running back or safety or receiver or corner. He could even play a gun-run quarterback which a lot of guys are doing these days. But for us, he's a lockdown corner. He's excited about getting that opportunity to play against some of the best receivers in the nation in our conference and we know he'll be up to the challenge.

Q: You said back in December that recruiting a quarterback wasn't a priority in 2012. Is it safe to assume it will be a priority in 2013?

A: I think that's pretty safe to assume. We've got a good cast of quarterbacks here. Some of them are four-star guys who threw for a lot of yards in their high school career but haven't gotten a lot of opportunity. The opportunity is here now, this spring and this fall. We'll see what happens through the rest of this year's recruiting process. If we don't get a top-flight quarterback in this class, we're already in the process of communicating with, we believe, about four of the top five quarterbacks next year.

Q: There were some players who were forced to switch their commitment because they weren't admitted academically. How difficult is it for you as a coach to make that phone call and tell a kid with an outstanding GPA that he doesn't meet the standards of Stanford University?

A: That's the hardest thing about this process for us, is that every single offer that we make and everything that we tell all of these guys is that the offer is contingent on their admission to Stanford. There are guys where we have a strong feeling he'll get admitted, and he doesn't make it. That's part of here. The one thing I rest on, personally as an alum, during the process, our admissions people have been pretty much on. They have done a great job as evidenced by our graduation rate. They seem to pick the right people to go to school here. Sometimes it does hurt. It's not just football. It's in every single sport. But it's our job to bring the highest number of qualified candidates we can find and our admissions people will pick the ones they believe are ready for school here and those are the guys that we play with.

Q: Only two players from California. Does that matter? (Writer's note: Interview with Shaw was conducted about 30 minutes prior to Aziz Shittu of Atwater, Calif. announcing his commitment, giving Stanford three players from California).

A: Not at all. We just can't be bound to a region, even if it is close to home. We've had some years with four guys, others where it's two or three. We have to look at the United States and say 'that's our region.' Wherever we can find guys, that's where we have to go. It wasn't just a down year for us regionally out West, but it was an up year where it's usually a tough spot. Across the nation, there were a lot of guys that were great football players with high academic accomplishments and those are the guys that we go after.

Q: Conner Crane looks like Coby Fleener's little brother. Any chance you put 60 pounds on him and turn him into a tight end?

A: (Laughing) He's got more of a thin frame than Coby did. Coby had a lot of room to gain the weight and put the meat on. Conner is a little thinner so I don't anticipate him making the switch to tight end. I know he's a tall, fast receiver that plays against the highest level of competition in Texas and averages over 17, 18-yards a catch for his career. I can't wait to get him in a Stanford uniform.

Q: Going to put you on the spot. Who do you think of this class can make an immediate impact next season?

A: There are going to be multiple guys. It's hard to say. We have some open spots on the offensive line. We have guys here that can compete and we're bringing in guys that are going to compete. We've got some receivers coming in that have some unique abilities. I think Conner, Dontonio Jordan, Kodi Whitfield, Michael Rector. I think those four guys as a class are probably the most underrated group of receivers in the nation. Conner Crane has the speed and downfield ability. Michael Rector is at 6-1, 6-2 and can run every route in the book and change direction. Dontonio Jordan is outstanding in the punt return game and in the slot. Kodi Whitfield is a big, physical receiver. A lot of people came in late and tried to get him to switch because they saw what he could do.

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