Pac-12: Navy Midshipmen

We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2012.

Up next: Kelly sinks Navy

Who and against whom: Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly put on a clinic in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, leading the Sun Devils to a 62-28 blowout victory over Navy.

The numbers: Kelly completed 17 of 19 passes for 268 yards with four touchdown passes. He also rushed for 81 yards on seven carries (11.6 average) and scored on a 1-yard run, giving him five touchdowns. Worth noting too that his performance gave him a 67.1 completion percentage for the season, a school record for quarterbacks with 300-plus passes.

A closer look: This was a game with multiple offensive MVPs for the Sun Devils -- Rashad Ross caught three touchdown passes and Marion Grice (the game's offensive MVP) rushed for 159 yards and two scores on 14 carries. But it was Kelly who directed the blowout and helped the Sun Devils shatter 20 Kraft Fight Hunger bowl records. A couple of minutes into the game, he hooked up with Ross on a 16-yard strike, then would find Ross again for scores of 52 and 50 yards. His fourth touchdown pass was an 11-yard toss to Alonzo Agwuenu and his 1-yard touchdown run gave the Sun Devils a 21-0 lead at the end of the first. It was an emotionally-charged game with Grice returning a week after his brother's murder. And his 11.4 yards per carry certainly warranted his winning offensive MVP for the game. But Kelly was near perfect with his accuracy, efficient in the air and on the ground and outstanding in helping ASU to its first bowl win since the 2005 Insight Bowl.

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 ends Pac-12 season on uptick

January, 4, 2013
At least two people whispered the unthinkable to me after the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

"That," they said, "was a boring game."

That, I realized after some pondering, is what happens when the superior team plays an outstanding game: 35-17 is what happens when Oregon plays well in all three phases against a good but less talented Kansas State team.

Boring, at least if you're an Oregon fan, is good. It means the guys who were supposed to make plays did.

[+] EnlargeKenjon Barner
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Kenjon Barner and Oregon turned in a dominant performance against Kansas State.
All-American playmaker Kenjon Barner? He rushed for 120 of his 143 yards in the second half. Check.

First-team All-Pac-12 quarterback Marcus Mariota? He passed for two scores and ran for another, winning offensive MVP honors. Check.

Fancypants playmaker De'Anthony Thomas? He returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and turned in a brilliant 23-yard run for a score on a screen pass. Check.

Senior leader and All-Pac-12 linebacker Michael Clay? He led the Ducks with nine tackles, including two for a loss and a sack, winning defensive MVP honors.

And the one thing that folks in other college football regions have too often and ignorantly questioned about the Ducks -- defense -- showed up big-time, holding one of the nation's most potent offenses to 17 points and 283 yards.

Winning in all three phases, including special teams? Check.

If Chip Kelly opts to give the NFL a try, Ducks fans should simply tip their cap to him. He's earned that opportunity by taking a good program and making it great over the past four years.

Stanford, by the way, turned in a much different sort of show against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, but it also was effective. The Cardinal ran the ball and played good defense -- you know: Was all Stanford-y -- and thereby gave the Pac-12 two victories in BCS bowl games.

Those wins on the biggest stages for the conference were a bit of a salve for a mediocre, 4-4 bowl season.

Arizona needed a dramatic -- and really still unbelievable -- rally to nip Nevada. Arizona State was vastly superior to Navy. Both Oregon State and Washington blew games they led in the fourth quarter to Texas and Boise State, respectively. UCLA got bricked by Baylor on both sides of the ball. And USC turned in a humiliating performance against Georgia Tech, one that has Trojans fans lighting torches and marching to Heritage Hall, at least if my mailbag is any indication of sentiments.

The Pac-12 was favored in seven of the eight matchups, Boise State-Washington being the lone exception. So 7-1 was expected, 6-2 would have been solid, and 5-3 defensible. However, 4-4 is simply underwhelming.

The good news is the crowing from other AQ conferences should be muted.

The Big 12 is 4-4 pending the result of the AT&T Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma and Texas A&M on Friday night. The SEC is 3-3, with two of its top-10 teams going down in Florida and LSU. It's got the Cotton Bowl, BBVA Compass Bowl between Ole Miss and Pittsburgh on Saturday, and the national title game between Alabama and Notre Dame on Monday ahead.

If the SEC wins all three of those games, thereby securing a seventh national title, it will make a clear statement of superiority. But one or two slips, even with a national title victory, would nick the SEC's perception of dominant depth.

The funny thing about the bowl season, in fact, is the ACC and Big East roaring like angry puppies. The two most maligned AQ conferences over the past few years (well, other than the 2-5 Big Ten), are a combined 7-3. The ACC, at 4-2, beat LSU (Clemson) and USC (Georgia Tech) on the same day.

So the Pac-12 probably won't be an easy target for trolling. It finished 2-2 against the Big 12 this season -- 1-2 in bowl games, plus Arizona's regular season win against Oklahoma State -- so the potential argument for second best conference is mostly a moot point. The Pac-12 is clearly better at the top. The Big 12 is better at the bottom. And the middle probably goes to the Big 12 after it beat the Beavers and Bruins. Stagger all that however you wish.

More good news: The Pac-12 is well-positioned to take a step forward next year, perhaps even to challenge the SEC.

Oregon and Stanford will be preseason top-10 teams, likely top-five. You could make arguments for preseason rankings for Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and USC. The bottom of the conference also should be better as Colorado couldn't possibly be worse, and Washington State and California surely can find more than three wins in 2013.

Oregon State and UCLA figure to topple when the final rankings come out next week, while Oregon and Stanford will finish in the top-four. No other conference will have two teams ranked higher.

It was a solid season, if a bit top-heavy. It wasn't predictable, which can be viewed as a good thing. USC started the season as the biggest story in college football, and its fall from esteem became an epic tale of woe, inspiring national mockery.

As things set up for 2013, the Pac-12 appears poised to take another step forward in terms of depth.

But will a team rise to the fore and challenge for the national title?

Feel free to talk amongst yourselves on that one.
How can I hurt when I'm with you
Warm, touchin' warm
Reachin' out, touchin' me touchin' you
Sweet Caroline
Good times never seemed so good.

Pac-12 lunch links: Keys for USC

December, 31, 2012
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.

Pac-12 bowl season face plant?

December, 31, 2012
Last year, the Pac-12 had a quasi-valid excuse for its 2-5 face plant in the bowl season.

Because 10-2 and fifth-ranked USC was ineligible for the postseason, the conference was missing a quality team, and the Trojans' absence forced everyone other than Oregon up a notch in the bowl selection pecking order.

Of course, while you were trying to explain that, you were Nelsoned five times by trolls from other conferences.

The Pac-12, favored in seven of its eight bowl games, is presently 2-3 with three bowl games to play. It owns wins over Nevada and Navy, hardly a powerhouse pair. UCLA got bludgeoned by Baylor, and Washington and Oregon State threw up on themselves while blowing leads to Boise State and Texas, respectively.

The Big 12 showdown with the Pac-12 for the title of "Second Best Conference" has gone to the fly-over states, even if Oregon beats Kansas State.

The Bruins are likely to fall out of the final top 25. The Beavers also figure to tumble.

Stanford faces a no-win situation in the Rose Bowl. It's playing unranked, five-loss Wisconsin. Anything less than a dominant win will be greeted with a national, "Neh."

An Oregon loss will be met with a variety of dismissive insults. And it's not hard to imagine USC losing to the only bowl team with a losing record, Georgia Tech, today in the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

Are we on the brink of a complete meltdown, one that comes after we less than a month ago entertained the notion of going 8-0?

It's possible.

Why does that matter? Because it affects the next set of preseason rankings, and -- more important -- it sends ripples of negative perception out as we head toward a four-team playoff in 2014.

If the Pac-12 is widely viewed as the third best conference, well behind the SEC and Big 12, then when a selection committee compares, say, 11-1 Stanford and 11-1 Baylor for a playoff spot, it's likely going to leave the Pac-12 team behind.

Even with the new playoff, perception will be a critical ingredient in the process. Perhaps even more critical than before under the BCS system.

Sure, things could start to trend up in 2013, which looks promising for the conference. But perception isn't a one-year deal.

It might pain many of you to say the following, but we humbly suggest you consider repeating this: "Go Trojans;" "Go Cardinal;" "Go Ducks."

Sorry ... couldn't hear you guys over the crickets.

Arizona State dominated Navy from the opening moments, winning 62-28 as the Pac-12 improved to 2-2 this bowl season.

It was over when: The game was over quickly -- 21-zip in the first quarter -- as the Sun Devils were dominant on both sides of the ball from the opening bell until the end.

Turning point: While there really wasn't a turning point, Navy seemed to announce that this wasn't going to be its day when it dropped a sure touchdown pass on a fourth-and-7 from the Sun Devils' 31-yard line in the first quarter. It would have closed the gap to 14-7 and given the Midshipmen some confidence. Instead, Arizona State quickly went 69 yards the other way for a 21-0 lead.

Game ball goes to: Last spring, Taylor Kelly was the Sun Devils No. 3 quarterback. But he led the Sun Devils to an eighth win by passing for four touchdowns and running for another. He completed 17 of 19 throws for 272 yards and zero interceptions. He also rushed for 76 yards on seven carries.

Unsung hero: Arizona State running back Marion Grice's 22-year-old brother Joshua Wood was killed during a robbery just before Christmas, a horrible tragedy that forced him to return home to be with his family and miss practices. Grice emerged from his grieving to post an outstanding game, rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Let's hope that gave his heavy heart a boost.

Unsung hero II: The Sun Devils defense didn't always dominate, but it shut down Navy's triple option. The Midshipmen's second touchdown came on a 95-yard kickoff return from Gee Gee Greene and the bench was cleared for the entire fourth quarter, so the starting defense yielded only a single score. It's worth noting that defensive tackle Will Sutton, who is probably playing his final college game, had three sacks. One word: Unblockable.

Stat of the game: Arizona State gained 648 yards and didn't punt. In fact, it faced only three third downs through the first three quarters, converting each of them.

What it means: Arizona State finishes with three consecutive victories and an 8-5 record in coach Todd Graham's first year. The last time the Sun Devils won their final three games? 1978 under Frank Kush. When you toss in that one of those wins came over that team in Tucson, it's fair to say Graham's debut was a success that far exceeded expectations. There will be some wide grins heading into the offseason in Tempe.

Video: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl preview

December, 29, 2012

Arizona State tries to right the ship for the Pac-12 this bowl season against a Navy team that has won 7 of its past 8 to finish out the regular season.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl keys

December, 29, 2012
Here are three keys for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Play smart: Navy won't be able to just line up and beat Arizona State. It's going to need to outsmart, outflank and flat trick the Sun Devils. And it's going to need the Sun Devils to get flustered and make mistakes. That's the sort of thing the old Sun Devils did, but not this year. At least, not as often. Navy likely will make a few plays with its triple option, and its solid defense likely will take some chances that lead to big plays. Arizona State just needs to keep its composure and keep pounding. Its speed and size should eventually take over.

QBs out front: Both offenses are quarterback-centric. The Navy triple option runs through freshman Keenan Reynolds, and the Sun Devils' spread runs through sophomore Taylor Kelly. Both defenses will try to turn up the pressure and force miscues. Whichever quarterback makes the fewest likely will play for the winning team.

Run defense? Arizona State didn't play great run defense over the final stretch of the season, with four of its past six foes eclipsing 200 yards on the ground. The Sun Devils finished ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in run defense. That bodes well for Navy. It certainly will boost the Midshipmen's pregame confidence watching those game films. But the Sun Devils run the ball well, too, ranking fourth in the conference with 190.8 yards per game. If Arizona State can lean heavily on its ground game, its chances will be pretty darn good.

Pregame: Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl

December, 29, 2012
Navy (8-4) versus Arizona State (7-5, 5-4 Pac-12)

WHO TO WATCH: Navy's freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds helped transform the Midshipmen's season, leading them to seven wins in their final eight games. He's the triggerman in the triple-option and an efficient passer when he has to be, which isn't often. He threw only one interception in 97 pass attempts. Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, a consensus All-American and the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, isn't huge, but he's been unblockable much of the season. If he consistently disrupts Reynolds' timing, it could be a long day for Navy. But the triple-option, if run effectively, often can mute the effectiveness of dominant interior linemen. Sutton's impact -- or lack thereof -- on Reynolds will be interesting to watch.

WHAT TO WATCH: The line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and the Sun Devils in space. Arizona State is bigger and faster than Navy, so it should be able to control both lines of scrimmage and make big plays when its speed guys get one-on-one matchups in space. Of course, Navy is smaller and slower than just about everyone it plays, and here it is at 8-4. Winning these battles won't just be about physical skills for the Sun Devils. Discipline and fundamentals will be critical, too.

WHY TO WATCH: Matching up with a hard-nosed, triple-option attack is never easy, but the extra time should help the Sun Devils. Still, Arizona State's most notable step forward this season was consistency and discipline under first-year coach Todd Graham. That will be tested Saturday. A dominant performance on both sides of the ball for the Sun Devils, who are a two-touchdown favorite, will send the program into the offseason on a major uptick.

PREDICTION: While Navy has posted an outstanding season, its best win was over East Carolina. The most likely path toward defeat for the Sun Devils is lots of miscues -- turnovers and penalties. We don't expect that to happen. Arizona State 38, Navy 20.
Kevin and Ted both were wrong -- again, and very much so this time -- about the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl after picking UCLA to beat Baylor, so they both fell to 67-27 on the season.

There are two games on Saturday. Arizona State plays Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2) and Oregon State faces Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Kraft Fight Hunger

Kevin Gemmell: I’ve often said that I love watching Navy play. But that doesn’t mean I think it will win. Arizona State does as good a job as any team in the country at getting sacks and creating pressure in the backfield -- and that’s how you beat a triple-option team. ASU should be able to disrupt what Navy wants to do. And on offense, ASU uses its stable of backs as creatively and efficiently as any team in the conference. ASU 48, Navy 28.

Ted Miller: The Sun Devils are bigger and faster than Navy. Most important: This team has been focused and disciplined much of the season under first-year coach Todd Graham. That should be enough to win going away. Arizona State 38, Navy 20.

Valero Alamo Bowl

Kevin Gemmell: The Beavers have a nice mismatch with wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks -- and I’d expect Cody Vaz to exploit said mismatch early and often. But the real key will be Oregon State’s ability to get penetration with Scott Crichton and Co. That leads to sacks, tackles for a loss and sloppy throws which in turn creates turnovers. Oregon State is the more well-rounded, complete team. Oregon State 31, Texas 24.

Ted Miller: A week ago, I felt a solid degree of confidence that Oregon State would win this game. Further, some off-field issues make Texas look like a mess. Baylor's stomping of UCLA, however, gives me pause. Texas beat Baylor. In terms of perception, the Pac-12 needs this win. So I'm going to do everyone a favor. Texas 24, Oregon State 17.
Happy Friday.

Lunch links: Barkley out of Sun Bowl?

December, 27, 2012
The supposed great misery of our century is the lack of time; our sense of that, not a disinterested love of science, and certainly not wisdom, is why we devote such a huge proportion of the ingenuity and income of our societies to finding faster ways of doing things -- as if the final aim of mankind was to grow closer not to a perfect humanity, but to a perfect lightning-flash.

Pac-12 lunch links

December, 26, 2012
Happy Day After.
There are seven bowl games left with Pac-12 teams. Which one is a must-win? Your bloggers weigh in.

Ted Miller: Oregon and Stanford are obviously playing in the bowl games with the highest stakes, so both have plenty to gain. And lose.

But Arizona State's showdown with Navy in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl feels like a must-win for the Sun Devils, in large part because it's the conference's biggest "should-win."

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsA bowl victory would keep the good feelings going into Todd Graham's first full offseason at ASU.
The Sun Devils are one of the biggest favorites of the bowl season, as they are more than a two-touchdown favorite against the Midshipmen. Navy, though 8-4, doesn't have a terribly impressive resume. Its best win was probably over East Carolina. Its triple-option attack was shut out by San Jose State. On Nov. 10, it lost by 10 points to Troy.

If Arizona State shows up with its B game, it should win. It might even get the W with its C game. But if it shows up without passion or interest, it could get embarrassed.

And that is something previous iterations of the Sun Devils might have done.

First-year Arizona State coach Todd Graham's mantras this season have been about discipline, focus and consistency. What has most juiced Sun Devils fans is not really the 7-5 record or even the comeback victory at Arizona, though it does seem there are a few more wide grins in Tempe these days. It's the (mostly) consistent, disciplined way their team has played. It has bought into Graham's preachings and created a new culture that has revealed itself on the field.

If the Sun Devils futz around and lose to Navy, that becomes a step backward. Not a catastrophic one, mind you, but definitely a negative heading into the offseason, one that also might prevent the Sun Devils from getting preseason top-25 consideration.

And if they win? Well, it's expected, sure. But it also allows the euphoria over the Territorial Cup win to endure into the offseason. Further, a three-game winning streak to end the season is nice, as is getting an eighth win for only the third time since 2003.

Bowl games take on a life unto themselves. It's a bit of a stretch to call any bowl game a must-win. But Arizona State gets the nod among other Pac-12 teams because it's most clearly a should-win.

Kevin Gemmell: In the little corner of the world occupied by college football, perception is reality. And for a while, the perception was that Oregon was completely unstoppable.

Stanford brought all of that crumbling down with one overtime kick from Jordan Williamson and one heck of a defensive performance. The Ducks need to get that mojo back. Fast.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesQB Marcus Mariota and Oregon need a Fiesta victory to regain the aura they lost against Stanford.
And it starts with a big performance in a BCS bowl game against a top-five team.

The Ducks have a golden opportunity to re-establish their national perception when they square off against Kansas State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Because the Ducks aren't just playing to close out 2012, they are playing for how they will be perceived in 2013.

If Oregon loses -- regardless how much talent is coming back or coming in -- it will take a hit in the 2013 preseason rankings. With a strong performance, the Ducks will enjoy a nice bump -- probably into the range of No. 2 or No. 3. We still have a year of the BCS system, so rankings are everything. If Oregon can start in one of those high positions, it doesn't have to rely on other teams losing so it can move up.

That's not to say it can't be done. Look at Notre Dame, which started the season unranked in the AP Top 25 and No. 24 in the coaches' poll. Winning has a funny way of working things out. On the other hand, the Irish's BCS title game opponent, Alabama, was No. 2 in the preseason and No. 1 most of the year. So when the Crimson Tide did lose, the slide was minimal.

It's much easier to reach the national championship if you are already positioned among the top handful of teams. Of the past eight national champions, six were ranked in the AP top five in the preseason (Auburn was No. 22 in 2010 and Florida was No. 7 in '06).

Plus, the Ducks probably will take a perception hit if head coach Chip Kelly departs for the NFL.

And that leads us to the importance of this game for 2012. Of course, we know about the non-history between these two schools and the intrigue that goes along with it -- the game that should have been but wasn't. History is written by the winner. No one is going to care about a scheduling snafu if the Ducks roll.

Oh yeah ... and they are supposed to win. There's some pressure that goes with being a nine-point favorite in a high-profile BCS game. A loss would be a significant upset and stains what should be considered a very impressive 2012 for the Ducks. A victory reaffirms that Oregon is an elite program and worthy of national championship consideration next season.

Perception is reality. And Oregon has a chance to set the 2013 perception agenda.