Pac-12: Marshall Lobbestael

Most important game: Colorado

May, 18, 2012
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Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.

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

We're going in alphabetical order.

Colorado

Most important game: Sept. 22 at Washington State

Why it's important: Imagine it, Colorado fans, a 3-0 start. Colorado State, Sacramento State and Fresno State to open the season, and victories in those three games are achievable. Then it's off to Pullman where, no doubt, last year's collapse against the Cougars is still fresh in the minds of those in Boulder. Remember the 10-point lead with five minutes left in the game? Only to watch Marshall Lobbestael throw two touchdowns in the final two minutes -- including a 63-yarder to Marquess Wilson with 1:10 left to play -- en route to a 31-27 come-from-behind win.

This game could be the most pivotal of Colorado's season. If the Buffaloes start off 3-0, then get a victory in Pullman, they'll head home to face a still-uncertain UCLA team before the bye week. It's not out of the realm of possibility for Colorado to be -- wait for it -- 5-0 heading into the bye week. Of course, a lot of things have to fall into place for all of this to come together. And it might be a stretch -- but it's not a big stretch.

If the Buffaloes can take care of business in the first three games, they'll have plenty of motivation for revenge against Washington State, and a ton of confidence as they look to the second half of the season and the very real possibility of achieving a bowl game.

True, there is a bit of a rivalry growing between Colorado and Utah, seeing as both were Pac-12 newcomers last year and the Buffaloes stunned Utah last season. It's actually a renewal of the old rivalry between the two schools from the 19-teens, through 40s. Maybe in a few years, that rivalry will rekindle (though doubtful it will ever reach the status of the CU-Nebraska rivalry).

But for now, Week 4 is the swing game for the Buffaloes and one that could alter the entire trajectory of the 2012 season.

Washington State spring wrap

May, 14, 2012
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2011 overall record: 4-8
2011 conference record: 2-7 (6th in North)
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Jeff Tuel, WR Marquess Wilson, OL John Fullington, S Deone Bucannon, LB Travis Long, WR Andrei Lintz.

Key losses
LB Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LT David Gonzales, OL B.J. Guerra, WR Jared Karstetter.

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Rickey Galvin* (602 yards)
Passing: Marshall Lobbestael (2,584 yards)
Receiving: Marquess Wilson* (1,388 yards)
Tackles: Alex Hoffman-Ellis (88)
Sacks: Travis Long* (4)
Interceptions: Damante Horton* (4)

Spring answers
1. Tuel steps up: Remember that whole quarterback-competition thing? While Mike Leach hasn't officially named Jeff Tuel his starter, given the quickness with which he picked up the offense and the numbers he put up during the spring, it's likely that a proclamation that Tuel is the guy will come early in the fall. He's looked very good to date.

2. Plenty of weapons: Lots of them. Marquess Wilson returns as one of the top wide receivers in the conference -- and he showed in the spring game what he's capable of. Converted tight end Andrei Lintz had an outstanding spring at wide receiver and showed real chemistry with Tuel throughout the 15 practices. Gino Simone, Dominique Williams and Blair Bomber add depth to a very deep group.

3. New role for running backs: Can you catch? That's what Leach is looking for out of his guys. With the ball in the air 70 to 75 percent of the time, guys like Marcus Mason and Rickey Galvin will need to shift their focus from downhill to soft hands. There will be chances to run the football, but most of those will be after the catch.

Fall questions
1. Lineup: What's the offensive line going to look like? With players like Wade Jacobson (missed the final eight games last year with a back injury) and Matt Goetz (started nine games at center last season) missing time this spring, the starting five is likely to change. Which five and at what positions remains a question.

2. New-look D: With the Cougars switching to a 3-4 front, there is more focus on the linebacking corps. Travis Long should flourish in this system (12 tackles for a loss last season), but there are depth and position questions. Eric Oertel was a pleasant surprise this spring, as were Chester Su'a and Darryl Monroe -- though both saw their springs end early with injuries. Expect some growing pains as the group comes together in the odd front.

3. D-line depth: Xavier Cooper had a very good spring, but outside of him, Lenard Williams and Anthony Laurenzi (6.5 tackles for a loss last year), there are a lot of untested players. Matthew Bock saw some reps during the spring, but defensive coordinator Mike Breske will have to develop some more guys for the unit to be sound. A pair of Samoans in the recruiting class -- Robert Barber and Destiny Vaeao -- could be forced into action early.

Might Kaufusi get reinstated?

April, 11, 2012
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The chances that Washington State linebacker Sekope Kaufusi might be reinstated to the team got better this week, as marijuana possession charges have been dropped.

Further, Kaufusi's attorney told Cougfan.com that "there were questions on both sides about the legality of the search of Kaufusi’s apartment by Pullman Police."

Kaufusi's arrest came after Pullman Police pursued an anonymous tip about the smell of marijuana smoke allegedly coming from Kaufusi's apartment. More than a few folks around the program immediately recalled the peculiar, controversial arrest by Pullman Police of former Cougars QB Marshall Lobbestael on Because We Can charges.

While new coach Mike Leach has taken a hard-line approach with discipline, the Cougs could really use Kaufusi. Leach previously booted linebacker C.J. Mizell after he was arrested on an assault charges on Feb. 5, and Alex Hoffman-Ellis graduated.

Therefore, the Cougars are trying to install a 3-4 defense this spring despite losing the three starting linebackers from 2011.

Kaufusi, a promising junior, recorded 42 tackles and two sacks in 11 games last year at strongside linebacker.
It didn't exactly take clairvoyance to see a coaching change coming at Washington State in the wake of a 4-8 season. But that's not why Jeff Tuel was expecting a shakeup.

The Washington State quarterback played in four different offenses under four different head coaches in high school, so shaking hands with a new skipper and opening a new playbook have become as clockwork to Tuel as the passing of the seasons.

"I think for some other guys it would be easy to get frustrated, having to learn a whole new system," Tuel said, who begins his senior season in September. "But it's actually something I've gotten used to. I never really had the chance to become accustomed to an offense and really know the ins and outs. Change is something I'm used to so I haven't really struggled picking it up because I'm used to it with my past experiences."

And if you're a quarterback learning a new system, what better scheme to study than Mike Leach's vaunted passing attack, which makes its debut in Pullman this season.

"Playing for coach Leach is a daily surprise," Tuel said with a laugh. "You never know what he's going to say or what his commentary is going to be about this play or that play. He demands perfection, which I love. He doesn't ever tell you how great you are, but he never tells you how much you suck, either. He's pretty level-headed and it's a good medium."

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
AP Photo/Dean HareA strong spring game helped Jeff Tuel in his bid to be Washington State's starting QB.
For now, Tuel is just happy to be back on the field. After an injury-plagued 2011 campaign limited him to just three appearances, he's finally healthy and eager to showcase what he can do. He admits it was frustrating last season -- watching his team start the year 3-1, only to close out the year by losing seven of eight.

"I tried to stay positive, 24/7, but that's not always easy," Tuel said. "I was doing whatever I could to get healthy or help teammates and I helped Marshall [Lobbestael] whenever I could. Really, I was just trying to stay positive. It's all you can do. It's easy to hang your head and get down and go into that hole and get out of shape. So I just focused my concentration on doing anything I could to help the team."

When healthy, Tuel is considered an NFL-caliber quarterback. He's 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, has a big arm and can also make plays with his feet. But he also has the attitude to match. There's speculation that Tuel and sophomore Connor Halliday, who missed the majority of spring recovering from a lacerated liver, are headed for a quarterback competition in the fall. If that's the case, Tuel says he's ready.

"The way I look at it, it's my job to lose," Tuel said. "I'm not going to sit back at all. If coach Leach says there is a quarterback competition, there's a competition. In my mind, there is always a competition. I'm still going after it 100 percent. I go into every spring and every practice the same and practice the best I can -- whether I'm a starter or it's a competition. But competition brings out the best in all people. For someone to press me for the job is a blessing and it's going to make me better."

Tuel's roommate, wide receiver Gino Simone, said Tuel has responded to all adversities like a pro.

"If he has any insecurities, he hasn't let anyone see that," Simone said. "I think he's continued to be the confident guy that he is. He's ready to work every day. If there is a quarterback competition, he's going to be ready to fight for his job -- as I know Halliday would be. We've got guys who are ready to work hard right now."

Tuel said he's confident with his progress in learning the new offense. But stressed that it will take "reps and reps and then more reps" during the summer to get to a point where they can call it polished.

"I'm the head of this thing," Tuel said. "If I'm not 100 percent confident or if I don't know exactly what's going on, it's going to spread. It's important for me and the offense to get a grasp on the plays and concepts so we don't have to think and we can just fly around."
Sean Mannion knows what he has to work on. That's a good start.

In a video interview done through Oregon State, the quarterback laid out some of his plans for the Beavers' upcoming spring practices and the 2012 season. At the top of his list are improving accuracy and reducing turnovers.

"I feel like I can improve in every area from last year," Mannion said. "You are always trying to get better in every way you can. I'd say, specifically, I want to become more accurate, as any quarterback would want to. That's something I've really been working on this off season."

[+] EnlargeOregon State's Sean Mannion
AP Photo/Morry GashSean Mannion passed for 3,328 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first year on the field, but also tossed 18 interceptions.
Actually, it wasn't Mannion's accuracy that was too much of a problem last year. As the lone (consistent) freshman starter in the conference, Mannion completed 64.5 percent of his throws -- better than Darron Thomas, Brock Osweiler, Marshall Lobbestael, Kevin Prince and Zach Maynard.

The turnovers, however were an issue. Only one quarterback in the country threw more picks than Mannion and he was one of a handful of regular starters to have more interceptions than touchdowns: 18 picks to 16 scores.

"Along with accuracy, I'd say eliminating turnovers is a big area I can improve," he said. "A lot of that comes with becoming more accurate, they kind of come hand in hand. With a year under my belt and the spring practice coming up I can really work on my decision-making."

And therein lies the key -- decision-making. In a Q&A with Mike Riley last month , the OSU coach said that making the proper decisions should help reduce those turnovers.

"We want to be able to throw the ball down the field and he has the accuracy and the arm to do that," Riley said. "We want to help him make better decisions about taking that shot down the field or dumping the ball to the tailback. When we're going good, our tailbacks or fullbacks or tight ends should be catching a lot of balls."

At 6-5, 218-pounds, he's the prototypical quarterback for Riley's system. And despite the growing pains, he was named to the Football Writers Association Freshman All-America team for his efforts. He appeared in all 12 games -- starting 10. His 3,328 yards ranks fourth all-time for single-season passing in OSU history.

The Beavers don't start spring practice until next month. But Mannion has identified where he needs to improve, which is an important first step for any young quarterback.

"I think a lot of it is just keeping your eyes down field and continuing to look for receivers getting open and checking the ball down," Mannion said. "If you're eyes are down field and you can kind of feel the rush as opposed to looking at it, it really helps.

"... The biggest difference you'll see in me next year is that hopefully I'll be a year wiser and the game will really slow down for me and I'll look to be more accurate and we'll be much improved as a team."

Season recap: Washington State

December, 7, 2011
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WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Record: 4-8, 2-7 Pac-12

After winning three of their first four to start the season, there was cautious optimism that Paul Wulff might have actually turned things around in Pullman. Then came the UCLA debacle -- coughing up an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. That opened up the flood gates, and the Cougars went on to lose six of their final seven and eventually Wulff, who was fired after a 38-21 loss to Washington in the season finale.

It wasn't all doom and gloom. Back-up-turned-starter-turned-backup-turned-starter Marshall Lobbestael looked pretty good at times, throwing five touchdowns in Week 2 against UNLV and 15 touchdowns in his first five games. Sophomore Marquess Wilson and senior Jared Karstetter teamed up for 142 catches, 18 receiving touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards while the Cougars as a whole finished with the country's ninth-best passing offense, averaging 322.3 yards per game.

There was also a gutty, four-touchdown passing performance by freshman Connor Halliday in a shocking 37-27 win over Arizona State -- which ultimately cost the Sun Devils the Pac-12 South and a spot in the conference title game.

Offensive MVP: A top-10 receiver nationally, it didn't matter who was under center for Washington State, Marquess Wilson caught what was thrown his way. With 82 grabs on the year, 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns, the sophomore averaged 115.7 yards per game. He came up huge in the victory over Arizona State with three touchdowns and 223 receiving yards. He found the end zone in eight of 12 games.

Defensive MVP: Tough call between linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis and sophomore defensive back Deone Bucannon, who both stood out. But Hoffman-Ellis lead the team with 88 total stops -- 64 of them unassisted -- and had 11 tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception.

Turning point: Has to be the UCLA game. Bowl eligibility would have seemed a lot more likely with four wins going into a stretch that had Stanford and Oregon in two of three weeks. And even though UCLA was down this year, it still would have been a victory over a brand-name conference opponent. Who knows what could have happened if the Cougars had held that lead in the fourth quarter.

Up next: Let the Mike Leach era begin. We know he has quarterbacks and receivers to work with. He'll excite the fan base and his offensive scheme could turn the program around in a hurry.
Just when it seemed like Washington State had all the Apple Cup momentum, Washington produced a strong response.

After the Cougars scored consecutive touchdowns to tie the game, the Huskies drove 61 yards in 1 minute, 41 seconds to retake the lead, 21-14 at the break.

The Huskies jumped to a 14-0 lead, mostly feeding off a sloppy start by the Cougars. Washington scored one touchdown on a blocked punt, then drove 55 yards for another.

The Cougars had five penalties, fumbled and gave up a blocked punt in the first quarter.

But Washington State found its footing on offense, driving 80 and 66 yards for touchdowns.

Both quarterbacks are playing well. Cougars QB Marshall Lobbestael completed 14 of 18 passes for 167 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. Huskies QB Keith Price completed 10 of 16 for 134 yards with two TDs and no picks.

So far, Washington State has done a good job of containing Washington running back Chris Polk.

The second half question may be which defense breaks first.

Pac-12: Did you know?

November, 25, 2011
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Some notes to get you thinking about this weekend's games. Many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • “The Civil War” between Oregon and Oregon State dates back to 1894 and will mark the 115th all-time meeting between the teams. That will make it tied for the seventh-most games played between two teams in FBS history.
  • For the fourth straight season this game has more than just school pride at stake. With a win Oregon will lock up the Pac-12 North title and host the inaugural Pac-12 championship game. If Oregon State wins then Stanford would be the Pac-12 North Champion. The Ducks have won each of the past three meetings between these teams with a lot riding on the game.
  • Oregon is looking to win its fourth straight against Oregon State. The Ducks haven’t done so since winning four straight from 1994-97.
  • If Oregon State loses to Oregon, this would mark its first season with three wins or fewer since 1997 when the Beavers went 3-8. That was Mike Riley’s first season as head coach of Oregon State.
  • Oregon will have to regroup after last week’s tough loss against USC. The loss snapped Oregon’s 21-game home win streak as well as its school-record 19-game conference win streak. Oregon has not lost two straight home games since 2002, when it lost to Arizona State and USC in consecutive games.
  • Oregon running back LaMichael James struggled to get going in the loss against USC, rushing 20 times for just 78 yards and a touchdown. His 3.9 yards per rush attempt were his fewest since Oregon’s season-opening loss against LSU (3.0). In fact James’ longest rush of the game was 9 yards. It marked the first time in his career that he did not have a single rush of at least 10 yards in a game.
  • This is the 15th straight year that Stanford and Notre Dame have met. Stanford has won the past two meetings, which is the Cardinal’s longest streak in the series. Last year’s 37-14 win was also Stanford’s largest ever victory margin in the series.
  • Stanford is looking for its second straight season of at least 11 wins (won 12 last year). Prior to 2010, Stanford had never won 11 games in a season.
  • Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck has thrown at least two touchdown passes in 14 straight games dating back to last season.
  • Luck has 76 career touchdown passes and continues to move up the school charts. He’s currently one behind John Elway’s record. Luck also needs one touchdown passes to tie the single-season pass TD record he set last season.
  • Over the past two seasons Stanford is 0-2 against Oregon, while going 22-0 against all other opponents, winning in dominating fashion. Stanford has lost to the Ducks by an average of 22 points, while it's beaten the other 22 foes by an average of 27.6.
  • USC leads the series with UCLA 45-28-7. The Trojans won 28-14 last year.
  • UCLA is 4-0 in Pac-12 home games this year, but the Bruins' only road conference win came at Oregon State.
  • UCLA is 14-0 under coach Rick Neuheisel when holding an opponent under 20 points.
  • USC is looking to post a 10-win season for the eighth time in 10 years and for the 25th time in school history.
  • Trojans wideout Robert Woods needs four catches to break Keyshawn Johnson's Pac-12 single-season receptions record (102). Trojans running back Curtis McNeal need 119 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark.
  • Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley has 33 touchdown passes, fourth most in the nation.
  • Cal leads its series with Arizona State 16-14. The Bears won 50-17 last year.
  • Cal has won three straight and seven of the last eight meetings against Arizona State, including three of the last four in Tempe.
  • Arizona State must win to keep its South Division title hopes alive. It has lost three straight and four of its last five games. The Sun Devils were 5-1 prior to that.
  • Cal has lost four straight road games.
  • Colorado leads the series with Utah 30-24-3, though the last meeting was in 1962, a 37-21 Utes win [Note: This was incorrect in the first version, as it was incorrect in the official Pac-12 release].
  • Buffs running back Rodney Stewart needs 41 receiving yards to become the 27th player in FBS history to have 3,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in his career.
  • Utah running back John White has rushed for 1,377 yards and needs 131 yards to set the single-season school rushing mark, breaking Carl Monroe's record of 1,507 set in 1982. His 14 rushing touchdowns is tied for a school record. The Utes are 7-0 when he rushes for 100 yards or more.
  • Washington leads the series with Washington State 66-31-6. The Huskies won 35-28 in Pullman last year.
  • This year's game will be played in CenturyLink Field, the Seattle Seahawks' home stadium because Husky Stadium is undergoing renovations. This is the first time since 1980 the Apple Cup has not been played on either campus.
  • Senior Marshall Lobbestael will start at quarterback for the Cougars after freshman Connor Halliday was hospitalized after the Utah game with a lacerated liver.
  • Keith Price will start for the Huskies at quarterback. He needs two touchdown passes to tie Cody Pickett's season record of 28 set in 2001.
  • This is the first meeting between the Arizona and Louisiana-Lafayette.
  • Wildcats quarterback Nick Foles set a school record with 3,982 passing yards, which ranks third all-time in the Pac-12. He needs 77 passing yards to move passed Oregon State's Derek Anderson (4,058) to move into second place. But Foles is questionable for the game with a back injury.

Quick look at Week 13 games

November, 22, 2011
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Here's a quick look at Week 13 in the Pac-12.

All times are ET.

Friday

Colorado (2-10, 1-7) at Utah (7-4, 4-4) 3:30 p.m., FSN: No word -- yet -- on the fate of Jon Embree's daughter's bike. The newest bitter rivalry in the Pac-12 is actually not that new. Colorado leads the series 30-24-3, though the last meeting was in 1962, a 37-21 Buffaloes win. Buffs RB Rodney Stewart needs 41 receiving yards to become the 27th player in FBS history to have 3,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in his career. John White's 42 carries against Washington State was the second-highest total in school history. White's 14 rushing TDs has tied a Utah record. The Utes are 7-0 when White rushes for 100 yards.

California (6-5, 3-5) at Arizona State (6-5, 4-4) 10:15 p.m., ESPN: California leads the series 16-14. The Bears won 50-17 last year. Arizona State must win in order to keep its Pac-12 South Division hopes alive. The Sun Devils have lost three in a row and four of five. Sun Devils QB Brock Osweiler has 3,377 passing yards. He is the fifth QB in program history to eclipse 3,000 yards passing. California is No. 1 in the Pac-12 in total defense.

Saturday

Oregon State (3-8, 3-5) at No. 10 Oregon (9-2, 7-1) 3:30, ABC/ESPN2: Oregon leads the series 58-46-10. The Ducks won 37-20 last year. The Ducks need to win to clinch the Pac-12 North Division title. If they lose, Stanford is the North champion. Beavers QB Sean Mannion has 3,033 yards passing. He is the fifth QB in program history to eclipse 3,000 yards passing. RB LaMichael James is now the Ducks' leader in career all-purpose yards with 5,310. Ducks QB Darron Thomas has thrown a TD pass in 23 consecutive games.

Louisiana-Lafayette (8-3) at Arizona (3-8) 4 p.m.: This is the first meeting between these teams. The Ragin' Cajuns started 6-1, losing only to Oklahoma State, but they've lost two of their past four games to Western Kentucky and Arkansas State. Wildcats QB Nick Foles set a school record with 3,982 passing yards, which ranks third all-time in the Pac-12. He needs 77 passing yards to move passed Oregon State's Derek Anderson (4,058) to move into second place. But Foles is questionable for the game with a back injury.

Washington State (4-7, 2-6) at Washington (6-5, 4-4) 7:30 p.m., Versus: Washington leads the series 66-31-6. The Huskies won 35-28 in Pullman last year. This year's game will be played in CenturyLink Field, the Seattle Seahawks' home stadium because Husky Stadium is undergoing renovations. This is the first time since 1980 the Apple Cup has not been played on either campus. Senior Marshall Lobbestael will start at QB for the Cougars after freshman Connor Halliday was hospitalized after the Utah game with a lacerated liver. Keith Price will start for the Huskies at QB. He needs two TD passes to tie Cody Pickett's season record of 28 set in 2001.

No. 22 Notre Dame (8-3) at No. 6 Stanford (10-1, 8-1) 8 p.m., ABC: Notre Dame leads the series 17-8. Stanford won 37-14 last year in South Bend. Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor has rushed for 1,036 yards this season, making him the third Cardinal back to produce multiple 1,000-yard seasons, joining Darrin Nelson (three times) and Toby Gerhart (twice). Cardinal QB Andrew Luck has 31 TD passes, one short of his own school record set last year. He has 76 career TD passes, one short of John Elway's school record of 77. The Cardinal missed a field goal against California last weekend. That's important because it was the first time this season Stanford failed to score in the red zone. They are 61 of 62 this season.

UCLA (6-5, 5-3) at No. 10 (AP) USC (9-2, 6-2) 9 p.m., FSN: USC leads the series 45-28-7. The Trojans won 28-14 last year. UCLA is 4-0 in Pac-12 home games this year, but the Bruins' only road conference win came at Oregon State. The Bruins beat Colorado 45-6 last weekend. It was the most points they've scored since Sept. 1, 2007., when they also had 45 in a win over Stanford. UCLA is 14-0 under coach Rick Neuheisel when holding an opponent under 20 points. USC is looking to post a 10-win season for the eighth time in 10 years and for the 25th time in school history. Trojans WR Robert Woods needs four catches to break Keyshawn Johnson's Pac-12 single-season receptions record (102). Trojans RB Curtis McNeal need 119 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark. Trojans QB Matt Barkley has 33 TD passes, fourth most in the nation.

WSU QB Halliday hospitalized

November, 21, 2011
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Washington State redshirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday was taken to Pullman Regional Hospital following Saturday night’s game against Utah where it was found he suffered a lacerated liver. He remains in stable condition in the intensive care unit as of Sunday evening, according to a release from the school.

From the release:
According to WSU assistant athletic director for athletic training services Bill Drake, Halliday, who received a number of hard hits throughout the contest and played through each of them, approached the WSU medical staff with significant pain following the game. He was immediately taken to the hospital and following consultation with the WSU medical staff, specialists were brought in and it was determined Halliday suffered a lacerated liver. He will remain in the ICU indefinitely where he will be monitored closely.

This means Halliday will be out of the Apple Cup against Washington on Saturday and senior Marshall Lobbestael will return to the starting lineup at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. You'll, of course, recall that the Cougars already have lost starter Jeff Tuel (shoulder) for the season. Redshirt sophomore David Gilbertson, son of former Washington coach Keith Gilbertson, will be the backup.

More details here. That story relates how the Cougars also lost second-leading receiver Isiah Barton to a knee injury.

Halliday's big night provides hope to Cougs

November, 16, 2011
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The plan was to get the redshirt freshman quarterback some action. Get him some seasoning. See how he responds to meaningful playing time. Enter the game on the third series, and dip his toe into the waters of Pac-12 play against Arizona State, a team with speed to spare on defense.

That was the plan. Then Washington State's Connor Halliday threw an 85-yard touchdown pass on his first play from scrimmage. Plans change.

"Obviously," Cougars coach Paul Wulff said. "He needed to go in the next series."

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
James Snook/US PresswireFreshman quarterback Connor Halliday earned himself his first start after throwing for almost 500 yards against Arizona State.
And the next and the next, etc. And when the game ended at Martin Stadium, the Cougs were 37-27 upset winners and Halliday had completed 27 of 36 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. In a conference of quarterbacking brilliance, it was the most prolific passing performance in the Pac-12 this season, the 10th-highest total in league history and the most ever by a freshman.

The performance, in relief of senior Marshall Lobbestael, who had replaced injured starter Jeff Tuel in Game 1, also kept the Cougs' bowl hopes alive, which means he gave a big boost to the embattled Wulff's chances of remaining atop the program.

So it was a fairly good evening for Halliday, who prepped at nearby Ferris High in Spokane. Entering the game, he'd completed just 11 of 19 passes for 177 yards and three touchdowns, mostly in mop-up duty.

It was enough for Wulff to tap him as the starter against Utah on Saturday. The Cougars must beat the Utes and then win in Seattle against rival Washington to arrive at a 6-6 record, which would earn them bowl eligibility.

A month ago, it seemed to Wulff that Halliday was content with being the guy holding the clipboard this season. Even when Tuel went down with a fractured collarbone during the first series of the season, Halliday didn't seem to view the injury as an opportunity to fight for the starting job. Though Halliday has yet to reach physical maturity -- he's a skinny 179 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame -- he has more passing skills than the game-but-limited Lobbestael. His shot was there, but he didn't seem to recognize it.

A few weeks ago, Wulff decided to have a chat with Halliday about being mature, learning the offense, practicing with more intensity and focus, and competing for the starting job.

"He's got to step up more and show more in practice so we can put him in the game," Wulff said.

Halliday took the bait, earned his coaches' trust and then responded with one of the best passing performances in the nation this season. It was so good that Arizona interim coach Tim Kish, whose Wildcats play Saturday against those same Sun Devils that Halliday sliced and diced, praised the freshman effusively without having any idea of who he is.

Said Kish: "The quarterback, the freshman, I don't know if that was a first-time, not having any jitters, throwing everything on the money type of situation for him, but he was spot-on the whole game." Kish added that Halliday was "magnificent."

Kish doesn't have to deal with Halliday, though -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham does. And the Utes will challenge Halliday with the Pac-12's No. 1 scoring defense, which is ranked second in passing efficiency defense and leads the conference with 14 interceptions.

"He appears to be in the same mold as all the other very good quarterbacks in this league," Whittingham said.

Utah, winners of three straight games and perfectly comfortable with the chill of Pullman, figures to offer a stiffer challenge. Further, it's a different experience being a starter than coming off the bench. The pressure is different, not to mention that Cougars fans are expecting an encore.

But Halliday projected poise in the pocket against the Sun Devils and he showed no lack of confidence during postgame interviews or since Wulff announced he'd start.

"If you're going to be playing football at the Pac-12 level, you've got to have confidence in yourself and believe if you get thrown out there that you are going to make things happen," Halliday said. "If you don't have that confidence, I don't think you're going to be successful."

If Halliday maintains a high level of play and, particularly, leads the Cougars to a couple of victories and bowl eligibility, it's hard to imagine he won't set himself up for a legitimate competition for the starting job this spring with Tuel, a true junior who started the season as one of the top quarterbacks on the West Coast.

"Who knows?" Wulff said when asked about a potential quarterback competition. "Sure, it could [happen]. If Connor plays himself into that role."

Such speculation is notably rooted in a positive. It posits Halliday being good enough over the final two games to earn the right to challenge Tuel for the starting job, and for Wulff to be there this spring to preside over the competition.

Halftime: Arizona St. 20, Washington St. 16

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
12:16
AM ET
Arizona State leads at intermission, but Washington State has the numbers.

A touchdown drive just before the half got the Sun Devils the lead back, but the Cougars have outgained the Sun Devils 302 yards to 194.

The Sun Devils only have 14 yards rushing, and Cougars receiver Marquess Wilson owned the first half with five catches for 145 yards, including two touchdowns, one of which covered 85 yards.

Freshman Connor Halliday replaced Marshall Lobbestael at quarterback for Washington State and completed 10 of 16 passes for 225 yards with two TDs.

Still, the Sun Devils are in position to retake control of the Pac-12 South Division after UCLA lost at Utah.

Pac-12: Did you know?

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
9:00
AM ET
Some notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • Stanford’s 16-game winning streak is the longest current streak in FBS and is the longest streak in school history.
  • Entering last week’s game with USC, the Stanford offensive line surrendered just two sacks this entire season, but the Trojans got to Andrew Luck twice last week. Oregon State, which hosts the Cardinal on Saturday, has eight sacks in its past three games.
  • Oregon State needs to win out to avoid a second consecutive losing season. The Beavers haven’t had consecutive losing seasons since an amazing stretch of 28 in a row from 1971-98.
  • Stanford has scored at least 37 points in every game this season and ranks third nationally in scoring offense (49.5 points per game).
  • The Cardinal flattened Oregon State 38-0 last season when the Beavers committed five turnovers and managed just 68 yards on the ground. Luck threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns in the Stanford victory.
  • Oregon has won 17 consecutive conference games, second-longest active streak in the country to TCU's 20.
  • The Ducks' visit Saturday will be the final game played at Husky Stadium before it undergoes major renovations. Washington’s next two games are on the road, and its finale against Washington State will be played at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, home of the Seahawks. Washington will play its home games at CenturyLink Field next year. Husky Stadium is slated to reopen in fall 2013.
  • The Ducks have won seven in a row against Washington, the longest winning streak by either team in the history of this series. Oregon has averaged 43.6 points per game during the win streak; Washington has averaged 17.1. Washington’s last win against Oregon came in 2003.
  • The Ducks have been getting it done without the benefit of winning the turnover battle. They are even in turnover margin on the season, committing nine turnovers and forcing nine. And they’ve only recovered one opponent fumble, fewest in the country. Eight teams are tied for the FBS lead with 14 recovered fumbles.
  • Its victory last week against Arizona made Washington bowl-eligible. Assuming the Huskies are selected for a bowl, it will mark the first time they've appeared in bowl games in back-to-back seasons since 2001-02, the last two years of the Rick Neuheisel era.
  • The Ducks lead FBS since the start of last season with 35 touchdown drives of three plays or fewer, including two last week against Washington State. However, in its three games away from Eugene this season, Oregon has just one such drive.
  • Arizona State has won three of the last four meetings with UCLA, including last year, when it scored 55 points, its most ever against the Bruins. The Bruins did beat the Sun Devils in their last trip to Pasadena, in 2009.
  • The only thing consistent about UCLA this season has been the Bruins’ inconsistency. The good news: UCLA won its last game, against California, 31-14. The bad news: After each of their previous three wins this season, the Bruins preceded to lose the following game, with the losses coming by an average of 30.3 points.
  • USC has won all five meetings with Colorado, but this is the first meeting since 2002. In those five all-time meetings, USC has outscored Colorado 138-24.
  • Colorado has allowed at least 45 points in each of its past four games and ranks 117th out of 120 FBS teams in scoring defense this season, surrendering 38.3 points per game.
  • Colorado has eight losses with four games remaining. The school record for most losses in a season is 10, done three times, most recently in 2006. Since starting last season 3-1, Colorado is 3-14.
  • California leads the series with Washington State 42-25-5, including a 20-13 victory in Pullman last year.
  • Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael has four games with more than 300 yards passing, second in the conference only to Arizona's Nick Foles, who has six.
  • Cougars kicker Andrew Furney is 5-for-5 on field goals of 40 or more yards.
  • The Cougars are averaging 33.3 points per game. Last year, they averaged 19.6 ppg.
  • Cal WR Keenan Allen needs 11 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
  • Utah leads the series with Arizona 19-15-2, last beating the Wildcats 27-24 in 2005.
  • Before scoring 27 points in their first Pac-12 victory, the Utes had averaged just 13 points per game in their previous four conference games. The Utes lead the conference in total defense (325.6 yards per game).
  • When Utes running back John White rushed for a career-high 205 yards in the victory over Oregon State, it was Utah's first 200-yard rushing game in nine years.
  • Wildcats QB Nick Foles leads the conference with 366.1 yards passing per game, which is on pace to eclipse the conference record of 342.9per game set by Washington's Cody Pickett in 2002.

Quick look at week 10 games

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
1:00
PM ET
Here's a quick look at Week 10 in the Pac-12.

All times are ET.

Friday

USC (6-2, 3-2) at Colorado (1-8, 0-5) 9 p.m. ESPN: USC leads the series 5-0, winning the most recent meeting in 2002 40-3. Trojans QB Matt Barkley needs just 108 yards of total offense to move into third on the school's all-time total offense list. Colorado QB Tyler Hansen moved into fifth place on the Buffaloes' all-time passing yards list with 4,851. The Buffs rank 11th or 12th in the conference in 16 of 33 team statistical categories listed on the Pac-12's official release, including ranking last in scoring offense, scoring defense, rushing offense, rushing defense, pass-efficiency defense, sacks against, red zone offense and red zone defense.

Saturday

No. 4 Stanford (8-0, 6-0) at Oregon State (2-6, 2-3) 3:30 p.m. ABC: Stanford is riding a 16-game winning streak, longest in the nation. The Cardinal leads its series with Oregon State 49-25-3, including a 38-0 win last year. The Cardinal, however, lost its previous visit to Corvallis, 38-28 in 2009. The Cardinal trailed for the first time this season in its 56-48, triple-overtime win over USC last weekend. Last week, Oregon State receiver James Rodgers became the third Beaver to eclipse 200 career receptions. The Beavers are last in the conference in turnover margin (minus-5). Stanford is second (plus-7). The Cardinal have turned it over just six times, the Beavers 21.

Washington State (3-5, 1-4) at California (4-4, 1-4) 6:30 p.m. CSNCA: California leads the series 42-25-5. The Bears won last season in Pullman 20-13, a game that was notable because it was the Cal's first without QB Kevin Riley. Cougars QB Marshall Lobbestael, formerly Jeff Tuel's backup before Tuel got hurt, has eclipsed 300 yards in four games. Only Arizona's Nick Foles has more 300-yard games (six). The Cougars have scored 266 points this year (33.2 points per game). They scored 235 points in all of 2010 (19.6 ppg). Cal receiver Keenan Allen needs 11 yards to eclipse 1,000 receiving this season.

Utah (4-4, 1-4) at Arizona (2-6, 1-5) 7 p.m. FSAZ-KJZZ: Utah leads the series 19-15-2, last beating the Wildcats 27-24 in 2005. Before scoring 27 points in their first Pac-12 victory, the Utes had averaged just 13 points per game in their previous four conference games. The Utes lead the conference in total defense (325.6 yards per game). When Utes running back John White rushed for a career-high 205 yards in the win over Oregon State, it was Utah's first 200-yard rushing game in nine years. Wildcats QB Nick Foles leads the conference with 366.1 yards passing per game, which is on pace to eclipse the conference record of 342.9 yards passing per game set by Washington's Cody Pickett in 2002.

No. 19 Arizona State (6-2, 4-1) at UCLA (4-4, 3-2) 7:30 p.m. Versus: UCLA leads the series 16-10-1, but the Sun Devils won 55-34 in Tempe last year. Sun Devils running back Cameron Marshall is first in the conference with 12 rushing TDs. Bruins QB Kevin Prince rushed for 163 yards in the win over Cal. It was the first time since 1976 (Jeff Dankworth vs. Cal) that a Bruins QB eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark. ASU has forced 25 turnovers, five more than any other Pac-12 team. The Sun Devils are first in the conference in turnover margin (plus-12). UCLA is tied for sixth with just as many giveaways as takeaways.

No. 8 Oregon (7-1, 5-0) at Washington (6-2, 4-1) 10:30 p.m. FSN: Washington leads the series 58-40-5, but the Ducks have won seven in a row, each by at least 20 points. The Ducks have scored 40 or more points in each of their past seven games, averaging 50.4 points during the winning streak. Running back LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas both started for Oregon against Washington State after missing action due to injuries. Thomas was yanked at halftime, however, so it's unclear if he or backup Bryan Bennett will start Saturday. Washington has scored 30 or more points in seven games this season, which hasn't happened since the 2000 Rose Bowl team scored more than 30 in nine games. Huskies running back Chris Polk's 3,577 career rushing yards ranks 14th in conference history and second all-time for the Huskies, only behind Napoleon Kaufman (4,106 yards). This will be the final game in Husky Stadium before it undergoes major renovations. The Apple Cup on Nov. 26 and the 2012 season will be played in the Seattle Seahawks home stadium, CenturyLink Field.

Final: Oregon 43, Washington State 28

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
7:18
PM ET
Does Oregon have a quarterback controversy?

Darron Thomas returned after missing the Colorado game with a sprained knee, but he threw two first-half interceptions before being replaced by Bryan Bennett in the second half. Bennett threw for two TDs and rushed for 25 yards as Oregon won 43-28.

It wasn't a dominant Ducks performance. The Cougars, who trailed only 15-10 at the half, actually outgained Oregon 463 yards to 456.

As for where things stand at QB, Ducks coach Chip Kelly opted not to make things clear to reporters after the game. From a Tweet from Rob Moseley, Ducks beat writer for the Eugene Register-Guard: "Kelly on whether he knows who will start at QB next week: 'Yeah, I do. I don't have to answer that question but I know.'"

Moseley, however, also Tweeted this: "[Ducks offensive coordinator] Mark Helfrich pours cold water on the idea of a QB controversy, expressing "100 percent" confidence in Darron Thomas."

So Thomas, if healthy, is the starter. But is he healthy? Oregon visits Washington on Nov. 5, then goes to Stanford on Nov. 12 for what is expected to be the Pac-12 game of the year.

Oh, by the way, RB LaMichael James returned to action after missing two games with an elbow injury. He had 13 carries for 55 yards. His backup, Kenjon Barner, had 11 carries for 107 yards.

As for the Cougars, they were competitive but the bottom line is it was a fourth consecutive conference defeat. They are now 3-5 overall and 1-4 in conference play.

QB Marshall Lobbestael returned to the starting role after Jeff Tuel was lost for the season due to a calf injury. He completed 28 of 49 passes for 337 yards with a TD but also threw two picks.

The Cougs visit Cal next week.

But the big question is who will the Ducks QB be over the next two weekends, when the North Division figures to be decided?

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