Pac-12: Montee Ball

Best/Worst of the Pac-12 bowl season

January, 10, 2013
We're taking a look at the best and worst of the Pac-12 bowl season.

Best player, offense: Washington RB Bishop Sankey was the best player on the field in the Huskies' 28-26 defeat in the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl. He gained 205 yards on 30 carries with a TD. He also caught six passes for 74 yards, giving him 279 of Washington's 447 yards from scrimmage.

Best player, defense: Arizona State DT Will Sutton had 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss in the Sun Devils' 62-28 domination of Navy.

Best player, special teams: De'Anthony Thomas' 94-yard return of the opening kickoff of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl set the tone for Oregon's 35-17 triumph over Kansas State. We'll also slip in that his 23-yard TD on a screen pass was perhaps even more spectacular.

Best game: It's still difficult to wrap one's mind around Arizona's comeback against Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. The Wolf Pack led 48-35 with 1:48 remaining, but the Wildcats scored two touchdowns and recovered an onside kick in the final 46 seconds to steal a 49-48 victory. Arizona trailed 21-0 in the first quarter and was down 45-28 entering the final period, but still won.

Worst game: USC's 21-7 loss to a Georgia Tech team with seven defeats in the Hyundai Sun Bowl was not only the worst performance of the Pac-12's bowl season, it was the worst bowl performance in USC history. The Trojans, the preseason No. 1 team, managed to gain just 205 yards against a bad defense, one that had been shredded in a 49-28 loss to Middle Tennessee.

Best play: Arizona linebacker Marquis Flowers recovered the onside kick that set up the Wildcats' go-ahead drive against Nevada. He also grabbed the interception with 13 seconds left that ended the high drama.

Best goal-line stand: Stanford dominated Wisconsin's offense in the second half of the Rose Bowl, but that wasn't the case in the second quarter, when the Badgers scored 14 points and were gashing the Cardinal. Gashing, other than one critical play. On fourth-and-goal at the Stanford 1-yard line, Badgers RB James White was stonewalled by DE Ben Gardner.

Worst play: Baylor led UCLA 14-0, but UCLA looked poised to make a defensive stop in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl. The Bears faced a third-and-9 from their 45-yard line. UCLA decided to blitz, and Bears QB Nick Florence made them pay with a 55-yard TD pass to Tevin Reese. It was a beautiful pass and catch for Baylor. But it was a crushing blow to the Bruins, who never mounted much of a challenge the rest of the evening.

Best stat(s): Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly was nearly perfect against Navy. He completed 17 of 19 passes for 277 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. That's a pass efficiency rating of 277.43. Alabama's AJ McCarron led the nation with a pass efficiency rating of 175.28 this season. Oh, and Kelly also rushed for 81 yards on seven carries -- 11.6 yards per rush -- and a TD.

Best stat(s) II: Stanford's defense shut out Wisconsin in the second half of the Rose Bowl, holding the Badgers to just four first downs and 82 total yards, including 13 yards rushing from All-American RB Montee Ball.

Worst stat: UCLA's feckless performance against Baylor was best summed up by the Bruins going 1-for-17 on third downs. That's bad against any defense, but making matters worse is this: Baylor ranked 119th in the nation in third-down conversions allowed.

Crazy stat: Texas' defense posted an Alamo Bowl-record 10 sacks for minus-81 yards against Oregon State. Alex Okafor alone set a bowl record with 4.5 sacks. Here's a guess that Beavers fans were wondering how a team that gave up 23 sacks in its previous 12 games couldn't make an adjustment, because Okafor doesn't rank in the top five of defensive linemen/outside linebackers Oregon State faced during the regular season.
Oregon/Kansas StateUS PresswireOregon'a Marcus Mariota and Kansas State's Collin Klein lead two very different offenses.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Both Fiesta Bowl quarterbacks earned first-team all-conference honors. Both are dual threats. Both are humble guys who inspire effusive praise from coaches and teammates.

But Kansas State's Collin Klein and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are not exactly spitting images of each other.

Mariota, a willowy 6-foot-4, 196 pounds, is a redshirt freshman running an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Klein, a sturdy 6-foot-5, 226 pounds, is a senior running an offense that is in no hurry to snap the ball. The Ducks rank 100th in the nation in time of possession; Kansas State is 19th.

Mariota and Oregon own the first half, averaging 31.3 points before the break. That’s more than 73 FBS teams average in all four quarters. Kansas State ranks second in the nation (behind Louisiana Tech) with 23.4 points per game in the second half.

Mariota is a good runner but is primarily a passer. He ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency, having thrown 30 touchdown passes with six interceptions. When he runs -- 690 yards, four touchdowns -- it's all about speed.

Klein is a good passer but is primarily a runner. He is ranked 15th in the nation in passing efficiency with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Meanwhile, Klein and Wisconsin running back Montee Ball are the only two FBS players who have more than 40 rushing touchdowns over the past two season.

Klein averaged 13.2 designed running plays in Big 12 games this season. When he runs -- 890 yards, 22 touchdowns -- it's more about power. He is one of four FBS players with more than 200 rushing yards in the red zone, and he gained 35.7 percent of his red zone yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Klein, deeply religious and newly married, is the unquestioned leader of a team making its first BCS bowl appearance since 2003.

"When he talks, people listen," tight end Travis Tannahill said. "He's definitely the rock of our team."

Mariota is a young hurler from Hawaii who yields to a senior class that will be playing in its fourth BCS bowl game in a row. That said, Mariota's poise and playmaking have certainly earned him a seat at the leadership table, a place he often takes without a lot of talking.

"Any time you're around him, he's always going to give you positive energy," center Hroniss Grasu said. "It rubs off on you. It shows on the field how calm he is. He doesn't make too many mistakes in games or practice."

Another difference: Klein took time to develop. In fact, he played receiver in 2009 before breaking out at quarterback in 2011. Mariota has been a quick study -- and remarkably so.

"It took him about a week to figure out what we do," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "He's never really made the same mistake twice. He's great at understanding and grasping the reason why we do something and moving forward. The amazing thing is he's only a redshirt freshman. So how far can he go? It's been an amazing thing to watch. A really special, young talent."

Klein was a Heisman Trophy finalist this season. Mariota seems on track to be one in the future. Both admit the hoopla that surrounded them this season didn't feel real. At least, Mariota called it "unreal" and Klein called it "surreal."

Yet neither seems to have gotten caught up reading headlines about him, particularly Klein, who made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

"When you talk to Collin, for Collin, it's not about Collin," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said. "For Collin, it's about his teammates and being the best teammate that he can be, to be the quality leader of our program and care about each and every person in our program."

Mariota sees the similarities as well as the differences.

Said Mariota, "From watching him, he's a good leader and a humble guy. That's someone I'd look forward to meeting."

That will happen Thursday night in the Fiesta Bowl. The player who does what makes him special better is likely to be on the winning team.

Cardinal win with Cardinal ball

January, 1, 2013

PASADENA, Calif. -- Beauty is in the eye of whichever team has more points at the end of the game. Beholder be damned.

This is 2012 Stanford football -- white knuckles and all. If you want pretty, the Getty Museum is on the other side of the 405.

Anyone expecting anything different in the 99th Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio probably hasn’t watched much Cardinal ball this season. Stanford did what it does best: get a lead, hold a lead and win the game in the fourth quarter. It was what guided Stanford (12-2) to a Pac-12 championship, and it’s what enabled the Cardinal to beat Wisconsin 20-14 on Tuesday night.

“We’re not built for style points and we don’t blow teams out,” said Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner, who tallied six tackles, including a critical stop on a Wisconsin fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. “It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight and this one was no different. It’s going to be a four-quarter game with us. Wisconsin played very hard. They didn’t make it easy on us. It’s one of those things where at each pivotal moment someone new stepped up and made a play.”

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsStanford limited Wisconsin running back Montee Ball to just 13 yards in the second half.
After jumping out to a 14-0 lead and a 17-14 halftime lead, the Cardinal defense pitched a second-half shutout -- holding the Badgers (8-6) to 82 total yards in the second half. Running back Montee Ball, the Doak Walker Award winner, rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown, but was held to just 13 yards in the second half.

“We pride ourselves on being able to drag teams into the deep water in the fourth quarter,” linebacker Chase Thomas said. “We’ve been there plenty of times. … We’re used to making the big stops when we have to. That’s how we’re built.”

Indeed. This is the 10th time this year Stanford has been involved in a game that was decided by a touchdown or less. And they’ve won eight of those.

“We were prepared for this,” said running back Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown. “We were ready for this kind of game. We’ve seen it before and we’re a mature enough team to be able to handle the close games.”

But it’s the Notre Dame game -- a 20-13 loss in overtime in South Bend on Oct. 13 (the last time Stanford lost) -- that head coach David Shaw singled out as the turning point for the season. You may remember a critical instant replay involving Taylor that didn’t go Stanford’s way at the end of that game.

“We could sit, sulk and think about what could have been,” Shaw said, recalling how he addressed the team. “Or we can say, 'From now on, we’re going to finish games. Don’t leave it up to officials. Finish games.' … That was kind of a galvanizing moment for us. We lost that game and it was so heartfelt and so devastating. It was right in front of us. We made a collective decision that we were not going to let games slip away from us. So we went on a tear. Eight games in a row. We kept the same mentality. We never got too high, we never got too low. That game really propelled us to this one.”

And now the Cardinal have their first Rose Bowl title since 1972 and their second victory in a BCS bowl game in the past three years. It would be three in a row except for a loss in overtime last year to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. Don’t think this win doesn’t wash a bit of the bad taste out of their mouths from last season.

“Oh yeah, more than a little bit,” Gardner said. “This is pretty darn sweet. We know what it’s like to be in tight games and we never had a doubt.”

Stanford has drawn comparisons to a Big Ten team for its physical style of play and run-first, stop-the-run mentality. And it was on full display Tuesday night -- much as it’s been all season.

“It’s football,” Shaw said. “It’s really, really physical football. There were guys that were tired. Every play you could hear the pads popping. It’s the kind of football that I grew up watching. And I’m proud that our guys played that style of football.”

Anything less wouldn’t be Stanford.

Taylor gains tough yards in Rose Bowl win

January, 1, 2013

AP Photo/David HoodSenior running back Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal won their first Rose Bowl since 1972.
The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl Game Pres. by Vizio, their first Rose Bowl win since January 1, 1972. Below is a look at how the Cardinal won their eighth straight game and why the Badgers' loss continued a discouraging trend for the Big Ten:

• Stepfan Taylor gained 50 of his team-high 88 rush yards after first contact in the Rose Bowl, including 32 of his 39 yards in the fourth quarter. It was his most yards after contact in the fourth quarter of any game this season and thanks to his touchdown in the first quarter, Taylor scored on the ground in five of Stanford’s final six games of the season.

• Stanford allowed a season-high 119 yards on carries inside the tackles in the first half against Wisconsin (5.4 yds per rush), including 76 yards on inside runs by Montee Ball. The second half was a different story, however, as Wisconsin gained just 13 yards up the middle and averaged just 1.4 yards per carry including just eight yards by Ball.

• With the loss, Wisconsin became the third team all-time and the first since Michigan from 1976-78 to lose the Rose Bowl in three consecutive seasons. The Badgers’ run is part of a stretch that has seen the Big Ten lose nine of its last 10 Rose Bowl appearances. The only Big Ten team to win a Rose Bowl during that span was Ohio State on January 1, 2010 against Oregon.

• Stanford did much of its damage on first down against Wisconsin, gaining an average of 8.2 yards per play and scoring both of its touchdowns on first down in the game.

The 8.2 yards per play marked the second-highest first-down average for the Cardinal in a game this season (8.5 versus Arizona) and was the most allowed per play by Wisconsin in a game since it gave up 11.5 to Oregon in last season’s Rose Bowl.

• Ball’s performance was not forgotten in the defeat as he rushed for 100 yards for the 10th time this season (tied for second most in FBS) and scored the last of his FBS-record 83 career touchdowns.

The Rose Bowl marked Ball’s 26th-career game in which he rushed for at least 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, most in the FBS since his freshman year of 2009. With the score, Ball also became the first player in history to score a touchdown in three separate Rose Bowls.

Stanford keys for Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
Three keys for Stanford in today’s Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio:

1. Be yourself: The Cardinal got to this point by doing what they do best -- dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and playing hard-nosed, power football. Offensively, it’s power left, power right, rinse, repeat. Once that’s been established on offense, the middle is usually nice and open for tight end Zach Ertz on the play-action passes. Sure, there may be a wrinkle or two, and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton might window dress a couple of things. But in the end, the Cardinal should feed Stepfan Taylor 20-25 times and let him do what he’s done exceptionally well for the past three seasons. Defensively, it’s stop the run first and foremost. That presents a challenge, considering Wisconsin is led by Montee Ball, the Doak Walker award winner, who rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns.

2. The Hogan factor: What Kevin Hogan has brought to the Stanford offense is the ability to make plays with his legs and move the pocket. While Taylor will get plenty of touches, Hogan’s feet enable the Cardinal to run more bootlegs and a read-option package that keeps defenses guessing. He won’t be the centerpiece of the running game -- nor should he be with Taylor and a capable stable backing him up. But don’t be surprised to see a handful of designed runs for Hogan. Plus, if something isn’t there downfield, you’ll probably see a few runs by Hogan that aren’t by design. He’s proven to be an apt scrambler and has a knack for picking up first downs.

3. Penetrate: One of the things that makes Stanford’s front seven so talented is that it can usually get pressure with just four defenders, which frees up the linebackers to either create tackles for a loss, sacks or wreak general havoc in the backfield. Plus, if the Cardinal are able to get penetration early without sending extra blitzers, it opens up the defensive playbook later in the game for stunts and blitzes that the Badgers haven’t seen yet. Stanford leads the nation with 56 sacks, which is the most of any team since the NCAA started keeping it as a team record in 2005. The less they can do without getting too exotic early, the better off they are. But if that four-man rush is established, the occasional blitz should keep the Badgers off balance.

Wisconsin keys for the Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
Three keys for Wisconsin in today's Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio:

1. Open it up: Wisconsin is Wisconsin, so of course the Badgers are going to do everything they can to run the ball. But even their offensive line is going to have trouble simply lining up and ramming the ball down Stanford's throat. The Cardinal are one of the most physical, fundamentally sound teams in the country and had the third-best run defense in the FBS. Wisconsin does not want to get into third-and-long situations in this game, because that's when Stanford -- which led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss -- can really wreak havoc. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada drew up a dynamic, diverse game plan for the Big Ten championship game and will need to do so again to keep the Cardinal guessing. Is there anything left in the playbook after that Nebraska game? "There's always more left," Canada said last week. "We can draw up plays for days and days." It's quite likely that quarterback Curt Phillips will have to make more plays and probably will have to throw more than the eight pass attempts he had against the Huskers. And Joel Stave, now healthy, could factor in as well. Wisconsin's bread and butter remains the running game, with Montee Ball, James White and X factor Melvin Gordon. But the Badgers will likely need more than that to solve the Stanford defense.

2. Stop Stepfan: Stanford's offense is more than just running back Stepfan Taylor. The emergence of Kevin Hogan at quarterback late in the season made the Cardinal more multidimensional, and you have to always watch out for their tight ends, especially Zach Ertz. But Taylor is still the engine that drives the offense, and Wisconsin would much rather see Hogan throw the ball around than deal with Stanford's powerful running game all day. The good news: The Badgers were very good against the run this year as well, ranking 22nd in the nation in stopping the rush. They are stout in the middle of the defensive line, though star linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland will have their hands full with those tight ends. Wisconsin also does a good job of making opponents earn every yard down the field; in Big Ten play, opponents had only four total plays of 30 or more yards versus Chris Ash's defense. In Stanford's two losses, Taylor averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, more than a yard below his average. If the Badgers can make him work that hard for yards today, they will have a great chance.

3. Finish: Wisconsin knows all about coming up a play short in the Rose Bowl. A failed two-point conversion made the difference in a 21-19 loss to TCU two years ago, while last year's 45-38 setback against Oregon ended with Russell Wilson begging for another second on the Ducks' 25. But the Badgers don't even have to remember that far back to know close-game heartache. Of course, they lost four games by exactly three points, five by a total of 19 points and three in overtime. They probably would have lost every meaningful close game had Utah State made an easy field goal. It's highly unlikely that Wisconsin will blow out Stanford like it did against Nebraska, so any victory will probably have to include finishing off a close game for the first time since September. It doesn't help that the team's kicking game has been pretty bad; the Badgers were a Big Ten-worst 10-of-18 on field goals this year, and Kyle French missed key tries in the overtime losses to Ohio State and Penn State to end the regular season. But here is why Wisconsin fans have hope that a close game might finally go their way in Pasadena: Barry Alvarez will be making the late-game decisions.

Pregame: Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)

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

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

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

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

Rose Bowl predictions

January, 1, 2013
The Pac-12 is 2-4 with two games -- BCS bowl games -- remaining this bowl season. My oh, my.

Both Ted & Kevin missed on the Sun Bowl with their USC pick. Ted fell to 68-28 this season. Kevin is 67-29. Both are whimpering home with their predictions, not unlike the conference they cover.

Kevin Gemmell: I think Wisconsin is a better team than the record indicates -- and the fact that the coordinators are sticking around despite already having other jobs will be a motivating factor for the Badgers to come out and play hard. That said, Wisconsin has nothing Stanford hasn’t seen already. The Cardinal have seen North-South, All-American running backs already and have gotten the job done. Wisconsin, however, hasn’t seen a defense like Stanford’s. The Cardinal will control the lines and therefore control the game. Stanford 28, Wisconsin 17.

Ted Miller: Is Stanford immune to the Pac-12's bowl malaise? Maybe.The Cardinal has won seven in a row since falling in overtime at No. 1 Notre Dame. The question is whether Wisconsin and Montee Ball can consistently run against one of the nation's top run defense. UCLA, which got bricked by Baylor, ran well against the Cardinal in the Pac-12 title game, so Stanford's run defense is not a sure thing. Still, Stanford is a well-coached team and the Badgers are dealing with a coaching change. Stanford 27, Wisconsin 24.

Stanford ready for another elite RB

December, 28, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Stanford’s defense has to face yet another Doak Walker finalist. Heck, that’s just another day at the office.

In fact, this is the fourth straight game that the Cardinal will be seeing one of the three finalists for the award given to the nation’s top running back. Only this time, they are facing the guy who brought home the hardware.

First, they held Oregon’s Kenjon Barner to just 66 yards on 21 carries. Then in they kept UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin to just 65 yards on 21 carries. In the Pac-12 title game, also against UCLA, Franklin had a monster game, rushing for 194 yards on 19 carries. But hey, these guys are Doak Walker finalists for a reason, right?

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY SportsStanford has already faced Doak Walker finalists Kenjon Barner and Johnathan Franklin. In the Rose Bowl it gets Doak Walker winner Montee Ball.
Now the Cardinal will complete the Tour de Doak when they take on winner Montee Ball and the Wisconsin Badgers on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio. And Ball knows the Stanford front seven is as advertised.

“They're very physical,” he said. “They're big. They're big up front. The linebackers are very physical. They play extremely smart, which allows for them to make great plays … They're a lot faster than people think and they'll shock you at times because they're great athletes.”

To win the Doak Walker award, you have to be a pretty good athlete as well. And Ball is that. He’s rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 133.1 yards per game.

“First off, he's a great runner behind his pads,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov.” It really goes unnoticed, but every time he gets hit, he falls forward 5 more yards, which makes a big difference, because you're looking at second-and-7 or second-and-5, for the dynamic of what you're doing from an offensive perspective. He's elusive, and I think he's faster this year than he has been in years past. So he's definitely going to be terrific competition for us.”

Of course, this isn’t anything the Cardinal haven’t seen in the past. Stanford boasts the nation’s No. 3 rush defense and is allowing just 87.69 yards per game. Considering the competition they’ve faced (let’s not forget to include consensus All-American Ka'Deem Carey from Arizona in there as well) that’s an awfully impressive season-long statistic.

“They do a good job,” said Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada. “They're well-coached. They are. It's not clinic talk. They're gap sound. Each week, I think we can do this. Some weeks it works, some weeks it doesn't. There's always a chink. I'm sure they've watched us for a month; this is how they're going to attack us. I'm sure they're right. But they're well coached, smart football players. They do a lot and their kids don't make mistakes.”

Just because Stanford has seen three All-Americans during the course of its season, it doesn’t mean they can take Ball or the Wisconsin rushing attack lightly.

“When you talk about Montee Ball, you're talking about one of the best in the country, Doak Walker Award winner,” said Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason. “He's got speed, size, and great vision. Finds seams and creases, and the one thing that he's been able to do is get better as games have gone on. So I think this group is formidable. They're probably one of the best that we'll see all year, and that presents a challenge.”

Wisconsin is also giving Stanford its due respect. But they aren't going to be intimidated by the numbers.

"I think it's going to be a much different test," said Wisconsin center Travis Frederick. "I can't say it's going to be tougher. Their defense has done tremendous things and they deserve to be ranked where they are ... It's going to be a little bit different, but I think it's going to be a comparable challenge, and potentially a greater challenge."

Pac-12 bowl primer: Rose Bowl

December, 14, 2012
This week we'll be taking a snapshot look at all of the bowl games including Pac-12 teams.


Wisconsin (8-5, 4-4 Big Ten) vs. No. 6 Stanford (11-2, 8-1)

Where: Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Bowl

When: Tue. Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT


About Stanford: The Pac-12 champs are riding a seven-game winning streak. It's been a whacky year, for sure, on The Farm (and on the road for that matter, see: Dame, Notre). The Cardinal scored marquee wins over No. 2 USC, No. 11 Oregon State and No. 16 (and 17) UCLA in consecutive weeks. But the crown jewel came when they went to Eugene and knocked off the No. 2 Ducks. The defense has been outstanding against the run and the secondary has done a solid job of avoiding big plays and creating turnovers. Stepfan Taylor is one of the most complete running backs in the country and a late-season swaparoo to Kevin Hogan at quarterback has helped stabilize the offense.

About Wisconsin: Don't let the five losses fool you -- the Badgers were competitive in all five defeats. Four of the five came by a field goal (two of them in overtime) and a third overtime game was lost by a touchdown to Ohio State. So while the Cardinal have been very good this year at winning the close ones, the Badgers haven't been as fortunate. However, pasting No. 12 Nebraska 70-31 in the conference championship and advancing to a third straight Rose Bowl makes up for a lot of close losses.

Key players, Stanford: It starts with Taylor, Stanford's all-time leading rusher, but it doesn't end with him. As Hogan matures into the role of starter, his understanding of the offense has expanded. And he has a great mismatch target in All-American tight end Zach Ertz. Defensively, the sum of Stanford's front seven is as good as there is in the nation. But first-team, all-conference safety Ed Reynolds has really been a difference-maker this season with six interceptions -- half of which have been returned for touchdowns.

Key players, Wisconsin: Like Stanford, it starts with the run for Wisconsin. And the Badgers also have one of the best backs in the country in Montee Ball -- this year's Doak Walker Award winner. He's one of just three running backs in the country to rush for at least 1,700 yards and he's reached the end zone 21 times on the ground. The linebacking duo of Mike Taylor and Chris Borland have combined for more than 200 tackles, 25 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.

Did you know: Wisconsin is making its fifth Rose Bowl appearance in the BCS era, matching USC for most appearances since 1998 ... Coach-turned-athletic director-turned-coach Barry Alvarez has an 8-3 record in bowl games ... Alvarez is just the second person to ever coach in the Rose Bowl after being inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame (Rick Neuheisel is the other) ... This is the first time in Stanford history the program is going to four straight bowl games ... Wisconsin, Stanford and Oregon are the only teams in the country that have gone to BCS bowls the past three seasons ... Stanford is 5-6-1 all time in Rose Bowls, including a 17-9 loss to Wisconsin in its previous appearance.

Best case/worst case: Pac-12 bowls

December, 13, 2012
Our assignment is to pose a best-case and a worst-case scenario for every Pac-12 bowl team.

So here goes.


Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, N.M., Dec. 15: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5), 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Arizona rolls 40-28, as quarterback Matt Scott goes out with a bang that raises NFL eyebrows, and running back Ka'Deem Carey rushes for 195 yards to sew up the national rushing title.

Worst case: Scott gets knocked out of the game early and backup B.J. Denker looks overwhelmed, raising questions about the future at QB. Carey rushes for 35 yards and loses the rushing title as Nevada rolls 42-21. Michigan fans hit the message boards with a litany of "I told you so" about Rich Rodriguez.


MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Dec. 22: Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: In a "Welcome back!" performance, QB Keith Price throws for 295 yards and three touchdowns -- matching the total TD passes the Broncos have yielded all season -- and runs for another score as the Huskies end 2012 with a statement victory that bodes well for 2013. The Huskies' hot offseason topic is how high the preseason ranking will be.

Worst case: Washington starts slowly as it has much of the season, then gives up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead as Price throws multiple interceptions. Boise State wins going away 38-17, and the Huskies' hot offseason topic is whether coach Steve Sarkisian has plateaued.


Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, San Diego, Dec. 27: UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5), 9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: That the Bruins score 45 points is not unexpected. That Baylor is held to just 17 points is unexpected. UCLA dominates on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Brett Hundley looks like a budding Heisman Trophy candidate. After the game, linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Xavier Su'a-Filo both announce they are returning for the 2013 season. Says Barr, "Unfinished business? Naaah. I just like playing with these guys."

Worst case: Baylor rolls over UCLA in a 55-30 win, as the Bruins' defense can do nothing to slow the Bears, while Hundley throws three picks. Barr and Su'a-Filo opt to leave for the NFL, as does coach Jim Mora, who is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oregon State

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, Dec. 29: Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon State throttles the Longhorns 31-13 with stifling defense, but the big story is Cody Mannion -- or is it Sean Vaz? -- throwing four touchdown passes and making a strong case to be the 2013 starter.

Worst case: The Beavers become the only team that couldn't run on Texas this year, and Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz both throw two interceptions in a 30-10 defeat. Meanwhile, Oregon State makes both Case McCoy and David Ash look like superstars. "Well," say all the national commentators. "This makes a strong case for the Big 12's superiority over the Pac-12. But we've still got to see the Fiesta Bowl."

Arizona State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco, Dec. 29: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Best case: Arizona State uses its superior speed on both sides of the ball to throttle Navy 48-17. After the game, consensus All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton announces he's returning for his senior year.

Worst case: Navy's triple option wears down the Sun Devils in a 28-17 victory. Even worse, the Sun Devils turn the ball over five times and commit 12 penalties for 105 yards, including two personal fouls. They look like the 2011 team, not the 2012 version under new coach Todd Graham.


Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31: USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7), 2 p.m. ET, CBS

Best case: Matt Barkley looks like, well, Matt Barkley, throwing five touchdown passes as the Trojans roll 40-10. As for the defense, coordinator Monte Kiffin goes out in style, with the Trojans holding Georgia Tech's option to just 225 total yards. Head coach Lane Kiffin announces after the game that he has hired Bob Diaco away from Notre Dame to be his defensive coordinator.

Worst case: Barkley tries to play but reinjures his shoulder, and the Trojans fold thereafter, ending a horribly disappointing season with a 38-17 loss. After the game, receiver Robert Woods, running back Silas Redd and cornerback Nickell Robey announce they will enter the NFL draft. Lane Kiffin also announces the hiring of Nick Holt to run the Trojans' defense.


Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1: Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5), 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Stanford dominates on both sides of the ball in a 30-10 victory, holding the Badgers to just 79 yards rushing and 210 total yards. Quarterback Kevin Hogan throws two touchdown passes and runs for another, while running back Stepfan Taylor rushes for 145 yards and a score. After the game, linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and tight end Zach Ertz announce they will be returning for their senior seasons.

Worst case: Montee Ball rushes for 197 yards and two scores as Wisconsin pushes the Cardinal around in a 24-17 win. The Badgers sack Hogan four times, overwhelming the Cardinal's offensive line. After the game, Skov, Gardner and Ertz announce they will enter the NFL draft. Coach David Shaw is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles, and Walt Harris is rehired.


Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 3: Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1), 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon starts fast and never lets up in a 51-20 blowout, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 187 yards and two scores and quarterback Marcus Mariota throwing for three TDs. The Ducks sack Collin Klein five times and grab two interceptions. "I'm sure glad we didn't play them in the regular season," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder says afterward. Shortly after the game, Ducks coach Chip Kelly signs a lifetime contract, opens practices and promises to be more patient with hypotheticals and other sorts of irritating questions.

Worst case: The Kansas State defense throttles the Ducks' offense, and Klein throws three TD passes in a 30-13 victory. The Ducks rush for only 101 yards. "Oregon struggles in these big games," say the national commentators afterward. "And this really makes the Pac-12 look bad." Kelly is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles. Mariota quits football to become a professional surfer. John Mackovic is hired to replace Kelly.

Awards finalists announced

November, 19, 2012
The finalists for college football's national awards have been named and five from the Pac-12 are up for postseason honors.

Running backs Kenjon Barner (Oregon) and Johnathan Franklin (UCLA) are finalists for the Doak Walker Award for the nation's best running back along with Wisconsin's Montee Ball.

Franklin (1,441 yards) and Barner (1,426 yards) rank fifth and sixth respectively in the country in rushing yards. Barner is second nationally in yards per carry (6.48) among players with at least 200 carries. He has 19 rushing touchdowns and Franklin has 10.

USC wide receiver Marqise Lee is one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top wide receiver. He's joined by West Virginia's Stedman Bailey and Baylor's Terrance Williams as finalists.

Lee leads the nation with 107 receptions and 1,605 yards. He has 14 receiving touchdowns.

Tight ends Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington) and Zach Ertz (Stanford) are up for the Mackey Award along with Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert.

Ertz and Seferian-Jenkins have almost identical numbers. Both have 58 catches, Seferian-Jenkins has 753 yards and five touchdowns to Ertz's 747 yards and six touchdowns.

You can see the complete list of finalists for all of the awards here.

The awards will be given out during the Home Depot College Football Awards Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m ET on ESPN. A nomination special will air on Nov. 20 at 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

Oregon State defense does it again

September, 22, 2012

PASADENA, Calif. -- It’s campaign season. And while the Oregon State defense was busy laying demo to another Heisman campaign for the second consecutive game, coach Mike Riley looked like he was launching a campaign for some kind of office. Clinching his grandson, “Baby Eli,” Riley laid a long, deep kiss on his wife, Dee, that would make Al and Tipper Gore blush.

“Yeeeaaahhhhhh, Mike,” came a shout from the crowd that surrounded the Oregon State locker room following the Beavers' 27-20 victory over No. 19 UCLA.

The win, Riley’s 74th, ties him with Lon Stiner for most as an Oregon State head coach.

“It’s great,” said Riley of his team’s 2-0 start. “... We get to start fresh and we get to make our own bed. So we’ll see how we do. We’re off to a good start.”

Given the quirky beginning to the Beavers’ season, folks were wondering whether Oregon State was for real after knocking off No. 13 Wisconsin. The Beavers were on bye last week and the Badgers hadn’t looked all that impressive since. But Riley cautioned against taking anything away from his squad.

“You should never do that to teams,” he said. “You should never try to quantify a win or downgrade an opponent because of something else that happened. That’s really unsafe to do. We thought Wisconsin was a good team and we played them and beat them, and we thought these guys [UCLA] were a good team and played them and beat them and that’s where we are.”

The last time the Beavers defeated ranked teams in back-to-back games was during the 2000 season (No. 8 OSU defeated No. 5 Oregon 23-13 on Nov. 18, and then No. 5 OSU beat No. 10 Notre Dame on Jan. 1 in the Fiesta Bowl). This was the first time in school history, however, the Beavers have beaten ranked teams consecutively in the regular season.

If Oregon State’s defense needed any motivation to stay focused during its bizarre, hiatus-heavy opening to the 2012 season, all the players need to do is close their eyes and think back to last year’s 12-week train wreck.

[+] EnlargeScott Crichton
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireDefensive end Scott Crichton had six tackles and both of Oregon State's sacks against UCLA.
“We learned from being 3-9 last year,” said cornerback Jordan Poyer. “The season sucked. The guys don’t want to go through that again. We have a good attitude. This is the best attitude we’ve had as a team since I’ve been here.”

And the defense played with a bit of an attitude as well. UCLA (3-1) entered the game with the nation’s No. 2 offense, averaging 622 yards per game. OSU held it to 444. Perhaps more importantly, the Beavers contained the nation’s leading rusher, UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, to just 45 yards on 12 carries. He had been averaging 180.3 yards per game. This on the heels of limiting Wisconsin’s Montee Ball to 61 yards on 15 carries two weeks ago. Ball was considered a preseason Heisman finalist and Franklin had gained Heisman steam through the first three weeks.

“They don’t matter to us,” said OSU defensive end Scott Crichton, who had six tackles, three tackles for a loss and both of OSU’s sacks. “Whoever we go against, we just want to beat them. ... We know Franklin is an explosive running back. We just tried to slow him down and we did a pretty good job today.”

The Beavers also got a fantastic performance from outside linebacker Michael Doctor, who notched a team-high nine tackles -- including eight solo and a tackle for a loss. Doctor’s job was to spy ultra-athletic UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Riley pointed to one specific play late in the game when Hundley started to scramble and Doctor chased him down and limited the third-and-6 dash to just 3 yards. Hundley (32 yards rushing, 27-of-42 passing for 372 yards and a score) looked like he had some daylight, but Doctor was able to smother him before a big gain. Trailing 27-17, that forced the Bruins to attempt a 42-yard field goal, which Ka'imi Fairbairn missed wide right.

“That one play was probably a game winner. It might have been,” Riley said. “Michael Doctor can run. In this day and age, to have two linebackers that can run like Doctor and D.J. Welch is a good thing for your defense with as spread out as everybody is.”

Offensively, the Beavers got explosive performances from wide receivers Markus Wheaton (9 catches 150 yards and a touchdown) and Brandin Cooks (6 catches, 175 yards and a touchdown) while totaling 501 yards of offense. Quarterback Sean Mannion was 24-of-35 for 379 yards with two scores and an interception. Storm Woods netted 96 yards on the ground with a touchdown.

But it was the Beavers’ defense that made the bigger statement.

“Our expectations of ourselves are pretty high,” Poyer said. “We know we’re a good defense. We know there are going to be people out there doubting us. We know if we stick together as a team, the sky is the limit for us.”

Strange things afoot for Oregon State

September, 13, 2012
There were a lot of strange things about Oregon State's 10-7 win against Wisconsin last weekend. For one, the score. Forget that the Beavers upset the No. 13 Badgers. Who would have projected that score, either way?

Then there's this: Oregon State just about always starts a season slowly. And it just about always loses to its A-list nonconference foe.

Take a gander through the years. Despite a number of good seasons, you have to go back to 2002 to see a 4-0 start. September is typically losing time for the Beavers, particularly against tough nonconference opponents. Oh, there's a scattering of wins over Boise State and Nevada mixed in there. But consider the list since Oregon State ramped up the difficulty of its nonconference schedule, post-Dennis Erickson.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Jaime Valdez/US PresswireOregon State coach Mike Riley has the Beavers off to a promising start this season.
LSU in 2004 (three missed PATs!). Louisville in 2005. Cincinnati in 2007 and 2009. Penn State in 2008. TCU and Boise State in 2010. And Wisconsin in 2011. All losses. The majority of them bad losses.

The last time the Beavers got out of September with fewer than two losses? 2003.

"It is a strange start to the season, for sure," Riley said.

Riley was referring to the Beavers' first game getting canceled and then having a bye in week 3. Every other Pac-12 team will have three games to its credit on Monday, while the Beavers will have just one.

And the Beavers aren't out of the woods yet. They have two more September games, and visits to UCLA and Arizona have transformed from "road games against struggling programs with new coaches" to "road games against ranked teams."

Still, Oregon State, a young team, looked different -- and certainly unexpected -- while physically whipping a notoriously physical football team.

The Beavers' lines were big questions entering the season. How many times has Riley said "running the ball and stopping the run." My count is 362, but that might be off a few because I'm not around him every day.

Who projected the Beavers would outrush the Badgers and Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball 78-35, holding the Badgers to a microscopic 1.5 yards per carry? Sure, 78 yards isn't a great rushing yield, but the Beavers generated some sort of running game and surrendered only one sack while dominating time of possession by 11 minutes. Wisconsin ranked 16th in the nation in time of possession last season.

Though it's just a single game -- a very small sample size any sabermetrician would tell you -- the numbers were just about the reverse of every lousy number the Beavers produced in 2011, and there were plenty. From passing efficiency defense to turnover margin to tackles for a loss, the Beavers ranked in the 100s in 2011. And they did all of those well against a Big Ten power.

"I think you saw the combination of some experience from the players and some hard work from the players combining for just better play," Riley said when asked for an explanation.

But Riley also admitted that he didn't see 10-7 coming, calling it "surprising."

"I was as curious as the fans were," Riley said. "I can't pretend I knew what was going to happen."

Besides the improved play on both lines, it's hard to ignore the maturity of Sean Mannion's performance. He threw 18 interceptions last season, most in the conference by a wide margin. Against Wisconsin, he threw zero.

"[He made] great decisions to just throw the ball away a couple of times. It's great quarterbacking," Riley said. "He turned down a couple of throws that he wishes he had back. He had a couple of corner routes that were open that he checked the ball down a little early."

That would be the next step: Instinctually knowing the different between playing aggressively and forcing the action. The former is good, the latter bad.

This is a young team. Mannion is one of 24 freshmen or sophomores among the top-48 on the depth chart, not including the three listed at H-back and fullback. In fact, on offense, 13 players on the two-deep in the traditional 11 positions are underclassmen, including a true freshman at center in Isaac Seumalo.

The bad news there is youth might lead to some boneheaded moments that cost the Beavers this season. The obvious good news is it bodes well for the future.

The recent past, of course, is consecutive losing seasons in Corvallis, and that had some folks griping about Riley and his staff. But the immediate present is about as promising as it's been since the program won 36 games from 2006-2009.

It was just one game, and a strange one that that. But, wow, what a game for a program trying to right itself.

Pac-12 names players of the week

September, 10, 2012
The Pac-12 named its players of the week for Week 2. UCLA's Johnathan Franklin was named offensive player of the week, OSU linebacker D.J. Welch was defensive and Arizona kicker John Bonano was special teams.

From the release:
Franklin, a senior from Los Angeles, Calif., rushed for a career-best 217 yards on 26 carries (8.3 average) and hauled in three passes for 59 yards (19.6 average) and a touchdown in a 36-30 win over No. 16 Nebraska to earn his second-straight Pac-12 Player of the Week honor. He became the seventh Bruin to eclipse the 3,000-yard rushing mark and moved into seventh place on UCLA’s all-time rushing list. Through two games this season, Franklin is the NCAA’s leading rusher, averaging 215.5 yards per game.

Welch, a sophomore from Palm Desert, Calif., tied for the team lead with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss (8 yards) in a 10-7 win over No. 13 Wisconsin. Oregon State’s defense held the Badgers to 207 yards of total offense, including just 35 rushing yards, and kept Wisconsin running back Montee Ball out of the end zone, snapping a 21-game touchdown streak for the 2011 Heisman finalist.

Bonano, a senior from Salinas, Calif., was perfect in the kicking game and scored a career-high 15 points in a 59-38 win over No. 18 Oklahoma State. He converted field goals of 22 yards, 24 yards, and 46 yards and was 5-5 on PAT attempts. Bonano kicked off 11 times, logging 4 touchbacks and contributing Oklahoma State’s average starting field position at their own 24 yard-line.