Pac-12: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

This week we ranked the Pac-12's nonconference games. There's little question which is the best and most anticipated matchup.

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Which is the second-best Pac-12 nonconference game in 2014?

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    27%
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    30%
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    11%
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    19%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,445)

If the idea of Michigan State, the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion and a likely top-five team, visiting Oregon, another likely top-five team, doesn't get your juices flowing, you are probably a zombie, and the proper authorities will be alerted.

But which is the second-best game? Or the one you're most excited about? We see five options. Three involve Notre Dame.

Here's how we previously framed those games.
  • Stanford at Notre Dame, Oct. 4: This has become a strong, national rivalry. The last time the Cardinal played in South Bend, the ending was highly controversial -- the Fighting Irish wouldn't have played for the 2012 national title without a boost from the officials. This game likely reveals the team that is a College Football Playoff candidate.
  • Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 29: It remains the greatest intersectional rivalry in college sports. It would be a good idea for first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian to win this one, as it's a good way to win over his fan base.
  • Notre Dame at Arizona State, Nov. 8: The Fighting Irish tried to get out of this game. They also beat the Sun Devils last season. Arizona State should be plenty motivated in front of what is certain to be a packed house.
  • UCLA vs. Texas, Sept. 13 (Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas): Texas is breaking in new coach Charlie Strong in what is really a glorified home game. UCLA is only trying to announce itself as a national title contender. While the Longhorns are down, they won't lack talent.
  • Utah at Michigan, Sept. 20: Here's a good way for the Utes to announce their return to relevance -- a trip to the Big House. Utah certainly won't be intimidated. It won in Ann Arbor 25-23 in 2008 on its way to an undefeated season. It also lost 10-7 in 2002.

Tradition, obviously, makes the Fighting Irish a draw for national eyeballs, and USC and Stanford are traditional opponents, with the matchup with the Trojans being one of college football's great showcases.

But when something doesn't happen often, such as the Irish visiting Arizona State, that adds some juice.

Speaking of juice -- again -- UCLA's national title hopes could receive some with an impressive performance in front of a huge, antagonistic crowd in the NFL's marquee venue.

And, finally, the Big House is, well, just that: One of college football's most famous venues. The Utes could make some national noise -- and make life really, really difficult for Wolverines coach Brady Hoke -- with an upset victory.
The Pac-12 typically plays a rugged nonconference schedule, but the 2014 slate is, well, only fair to middling.

There's a true marque national game -- Michigan State at Oregon -- and there are three matchups with Notre Dame. But there aren't a whole lot of ranked foes from other areas of the country on the slate.

Here's how we'd rank the Pac-12's best nonconference games in 2014.

1. Michigan State at Oregon (Sept. 6): It's a top-10 -- perhaps even top-five -- matchup that looks like a Rose Bowl. Or a College Football Playoff semifinal. The Spartans shut down Stanford in the Rose Bowl in January and are eyeballing even bigger things this fall. Like the Ducks.

2. Stanford at Notre Dame (Oct. 4): This has become a strong, national rivalry. The last time the Cardinal was in South Bend, the ending was highly controversial -- the Fighting Irish wouldn't have played for the 2012 national title without a boost from the officials. This game likely reveals if one or the other is a CFP candidate.

3. Notre Dame at USC (Nov. 29): It remains the greatest intersectional rivalry in college sports. It would be a good idea for first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian to win this one. A good way to win over his fan base.

4. Notre Dame at Arizona State (Nov. 8): The Fighting Irish tried to get out of this game. They also beat the Sun Devils last year. Arizona State should be plenty motivated in front of what is certain to be a packed house.

5. UCLA vs. Texas (Sept. 13, Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas): Texas is breaking in new coach Charlie Strong in what is really a glorified home game. UCLA is only trying to announce itself as a national title contender. While the Longhorns are down, they won't lack talent.

6. Utah at Michigan (Sept. 20): Here's a good way for the Utes to announce their return to relevance -- a trip to the Big House. Utah certainly won't be intimidated. It won in Ann Arbor 25-23 in 2008 on its way to an undefeated season. It also lost 10-7 in 2002.

7. California at Northwestern (Aug. 30): Sonny Dykes wants to get his second season off with a bang. This is a good -- and winnable -- opportunity to do just that.

8. Rutgers vs. Washington State (Aug. 28, CenturyLink Field, Seattle): The Cougars are eyeballing a breakthrough season. It will be hard to do that with an opening loss to a Big Ten team. Yes, Rutgers is now a Big Ten team.

9. Illinois at Washington (Sept. 13): The Illini don't seem too scary, but they are a Big Ten team. They didn't make things too easy on the Huskies last year, either.

10. BYU at California (Nov. 29): We've already noted how nice it would be for Dykes to get his second season off to a fast start. What about a strong finish?

Pac-12 predictions: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
11/27/13
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Ted went 5-1 last week and Kevin went 4-2. Both missed on Arizona's upset of Oregon, and Kevin picked Oregon State to beat Washington, which it didn't. So, Beavers fans, Kevin is now your villain!

That leaves your bloggers tied at 69-16 for the season.

Friday

WASHINGTON STATE AT WASHINGTON

Kevin Gemmell: I think this is an interesting game because -- aside from the normal rivalry -- this game has some meaning for postseason play, which is something we haven’t said in a while. I think Mike Leach has gotten every drop out of his team. But Washington’s motivation to break that seven-game seal, and the fact that they are at home, makes me lean toward the Huskies. Washington 35, Washington State 27.

Ted Miller: Both teams posted nice wins last week that they really needed. The Huskies playing at home in some ways almost feels canceled by the potential absence of Keith Price. Cyler Miles did a solid job off the bench versus UCLA and starting at Oregon State, but the Beavers' defense offered pretty much zero resistance. Still, I like a big day from Bishop Sankey in front of the home fans. Washington 42, Washington State 27.

OREGON STATE AT OREGON

Kevin Gemmell: It’s pretty obvious that an Oregon State victory would heal more wounds than an Oregon win would. At the same time, Oregon is just simply a better team right now than the Beavers. Oregon 42, Oregon State 21.

Ted Miller: You'd think both would be motivated after looking awful last week. The problem is that the Ducks' issues seem more solvable. The one-dimensional Beavers offense has been slipping since the competition got better, and the defense has yielded 130 points over the past three weeks. Oregon 45, Oregon State 20.

Saturday

ARIZONA AT ARIZONA STATE

Kevin Gemmell: I’m well aware of the recent trend of road teams winning. But I also think ASU has a ton of motivation to win this so it can stay home for the Pac-12 title game. That’s a huge, huge factor. A lot will depend on which Arizona team shows up. The one that stomped Oregon? Or the one that lost to Washington State? We’re pretty sure we know which ASU team will show up at home. Arizona State 38, Arizona 31.

Ted Miller: I witnessed Arizona beat Oregon, and the Wildcats looked fantastic on both sides of the ball. I also watched the Sun Devils outlast UCLA, one of the bigger wins for the Sun Devils in recent years. I'm taking the Sun Devils because they are great at home, the stadium will be rocking and the Wildcats have not posted a quality road win this year. Arizona State 30, Arizona 27.

UCLA AT USC

Kevin Gemmell: Toughest call of the week, and maybe the toughest call of the year. How will UCLA respond after the loss to Arizona State -- especially when the South title is no longer on the line? I don’t think any extra motivation is needed in this rivalry. But there’s a sense that USC is playing much more relaxed and loose. Also, USC is awesome at getting after the quarterback, and UCLA gave up nine sacks last week. USC 27, UCLA 24.

Ted Miller: Kevin's right, this is a tough call. It just seems like USC has a lot of momentum right now and is playing at home, and the Bruins last won in the Coliseum in 1997. USC 30, UCLA 27.

COLORADO AT UTAH

Kevin Gemmell: The Utes are a different team at home, plain and simple. I really like what Mike MacIntyre has done in this first season, and I think Colorado’s trajectory is heading north. For all of Utah’s struggles of late, that defense is still really, really tough -- especially at home. Utah 24, Colorado 13.

Ted Miller: I agree with Kevin about the Utes playing in Rice-Eccles Stadium. It's notable that their five-game slide happened during a stretch where they played four of five on the road, the lone home loss being a 20-19 nail-biter to Arizona State. I suspect QB Adam Schulz will play better in large part because the Utes should be able to run on the Buffaloes. Utah 28, Colorado 24.

NOTRE DAME AT STANFORD

Kevin Gemmell: This is still a critical game for Stanford. It doesn’t want to be heading into the title game with a loss, and if it does lose, and then loses to ASU, its bowl position could slip dramatically. A victory over a rival -- one that’s already beaten ASU and USC, by the way -- would go a long way. Stanford shouldn’t be resting on any laurels, and I don’t think it will. Stanford 31, Notre Dame 21.

Ted Miller: Notre Dame has been good enough to beat Arizona State, Michigan State, USC and BYU, but it also lost to Michigan and Pittsburgh. It's notable that two of those losses were on the road. So we're going with the homestanding Cardinal, who are unbeaten at home. Stanford 24, Notre Dame 20.

Quick look at Week 14 in the Pac-12

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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Here's a quick look at Week 14 in the conference. All times are ET.

Friday

Washington State (6-5, 4-4) at Washington (7-4, 4-4) 3:30 p.m. Fox: Washington leads the series 67-32-6 and is 38-15-5 in games played in Seattle. The Cougars have lost 10 of the last 15 Apple Cups, but they prevailed last year 31-28 in overtime, overcoming an 18-point Huskies fourth-quarter lead. Only since 1962 has the winner been awarded the Apple Cup trophy. The winner was awarded the Governor’s Trophy from 1934 to 1961. Washington RB Bishop Sankey enters the week as the nation’s No. 4 rusher with 143.2 yards per game. His 17 rushing TDs ranks sixth in the nation, and his 34 career TDs tied him with Napoleon Kaufman for the UW record. He needs 121 yards to eclipse Corey Dillon's single season rushing record of 1,695. After losing three in a row, the Cougars beat Arizona and Utah, thereby becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2006. They haven't been picked for a bowl game since 2003. They won at Arizona with defense, holding the Wildcats to just 17 points, and beat the Utes with offense, scoring 49 against a defense that entered the game yielding 27 points per game. The big question for Washington is whether senior QB Keith Price will get the start. A shoulder injury last week forced Cyler Miles into action. The Huskies rushed for 530 yards last week against Oregon State.

Oregon State (6-5, 4-4) at No. 13 Oregon (9-2, 6-2) 7 p.m. Fox Sports 1: Oregon leads the series 60-46-10 and has won the last five meetings. Both teams limp into the matchup. After an 8-0 start and rising to No. 2 in the BCS standings, the Ducks have lost two of three, including a shocking 42-16 blowout loss at Arizona. The Beavers started 6-1 but have lost four in a row, including a 69-27 loss last weekend at home to Washington, a game the Huskies led 48-zip after three quarters. Oregon State gave up 692 total yards, including 530 rushing yards to the Huskies. Oregon enters the game leading the Pac-12 in scoring (47.7 ppg), total offense (573.5 ypg) and rushing offense (277.9 ypg). QB Marcus Mariota ranks second in the nation in ESPN.com's Stats & Information's Total QBR rating. Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks ranks first in the nation in receiving yards per game with 141.8 yards per game. His 15 TD receptions is five more than any other Pac-12 receiver.

Saturday

Colorado (4-7, 1-7) at Utah (4-7, 1-7) 2 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Colorado leads the series 31-25-3, and this is both teams’ longest series against any Pac-12 team. They played annually from 1903-62 with four exceptions, but then the rivalry went dormant for 49 years before it resumed in 2011 as Pac-12 members. Last season, Utah’s 42-35 win in Boulder was its first over the Buffs since 1962. That game was a back and forth affair that was iced by Utah's Reggie Dunn producing his fifth 100-yard kickoff return of his career (an NCAA record) for the winning TD. John White rushed for 168 yards, and Utah’s four interceptions matched its season total entering the game. In this week’s NCAA rankings, Utah has the fifth-toughest schedule in the country (down from No. 2 a week ago). Utah’s schedule has been rated among the nation’s toughest all season. The combined FBS record of Utah’s opponents is 64-30 and all of its first 11 FBS opponents are bowl eligible.

No. 25 Notre Dame (8-3) at No. 8 Stanford (9-2) 7 p.m. Fox: Notre Dame leads the series 18-9 but Stanford has won three of the last four. The Fighting Irish won last year 20-13 in overtime in South Bend in controversial fashion. It appeared Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor scored twice near the goal line, but officials ruled he didn't, the second time being upheld after a replay. Notre Dame is trying to sweep the Pac-12. It previously beat Arizona State and USC. A win over Stanford, in fact, would give the Irish wins over the conference's North and South division champions. A year after going undefeated in the regular season, Notre Dame has lost to Michigan, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. Stanford leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense, giving up 18.9 points per game. Notre Dame yields 22.5 ppg, which ranks 35th in the nation.

No. 22 UCLA (8-3, 5-3) at No. 23 USC (9-3, 5-3) 8 p.m. ABC: USC leads the series 46-29-7 and has won 12 of the last 14 games. But the Bruins triumphed 38-28 last year, snapping a five-game losing streak. UCLA last beat USC in the Coliseum in 1997. A Trojans victory would give USC its second 10-win season in the past three years and its 25th overall. UCLA head coach Jim Mora’s parents attended USC. The Trojans are 6-1 under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, a semifinalist for national coach of the year. UCLA has given up 32 sacks this year, second most in the conference. USC has 33 sacks, fourth most in the conference. USC QB Cody Kessler has completed 73 percent of his passes in the last four games. USC RB Javorius Allen has 10 TDs and three 100-yard rushing performances in the last four games. UCLA QB Brett Hundley is second in the conference in passing efficiency. The Trojans are No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (20.2 ppg) and No. 1 in total defense (336.6 ypg). UCLA OLB Anthony Barr is second in the Pac-12 with 17 tackles for a loss. His eight sacks are tied for third.

Arizona (7-4, 4-4) at No. 12 Arizona State (9-2, 7-1) 9:30 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Arizona leads the series 47-38-1. The Sun Devils won in Tucson last season, 41-34, overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. The visiting team has won eight of the last 13 matchups, including the last four. Seven of the last nine have been decided by a TD or less. The past four games have been decided by a total of 15 points. More than just bragging rights are on the line as a Sun Devils victory would force Stanford to come to Tempe for the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 7. Both teams are coming off big wins over high-ranked teams. ASU beat UCLA 38-33, which gave the Sun Devils the South division title, while Arizona took down No. 5 Oregon, 42-16. Arizona is yielding 21.6 points per game. Last year, the Wildcats gave up 35.6 points per game. Both teams are giving up 5.2 yards per play. The blitz-happy Sun Devils are second in the Pac-12 with 34 sacks. Arizona has surrendered just 14 sacks, second fewest in the conference.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

Click here for last week's Power Rankings.

1. Stanford: It seems in some ways just that Stanford now eclipses Oregon in the Pac-12 North based on the teams' head-to-head result. The Cardinal, by the way, could do the conference a favor by beating Notre Dame on Saturday. Otherwise the Fighting Irish, with wins over Stanford, Arizona State and USC, could claim their own Pac-12 title.

2. Arizona State: You can't undersell what Todd Graham has done in Tempe. If the Sun Devils beat rival Arizona on Saturday, they will play host to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game. So there are considerable stakes outside of pride. And we know how well the Sun Devils play at home. The result earlier this season at Stanford might be meaningless.

3. Oregon: It has been a long time since the Ducks weren't Nos. 1 or 2 in the Power Rankings. After getting blown out at Arizona, coach Mark Helfrich said there needed to be some "inward" looking inside the locker room. Can the Ducks regain their mojo? The Civil War against Oregon State will be a pretty grumpy affair, without substantial external stakes for either team for the first time in a long time.

4. USC: The Trojans, as expected, improved to 6-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron after whipping Colorado. Yet, much of the present goodwill would be surrendered with a second consecutive loss to UCLA. If Orgeron delivers a victory, however, his candidacy to become the next head coach takes on substantial legitimacy.

5. UCLA: Losing at home to Arizona State hurt, but the Bruins know exactly how to turn their frowns upside down: Beat USC. That also would boost their bowl options, of course.

6. Washington: While there has been a lot of hyperventilating about Steve Sarkisian and the inconsistent Huskies, the ultimate story will be written over the next two games, starting with Friday's Apple Cup. If Washington beats Washington State and then wins a bowl game, it will finish 9-4, and that would represent a strong step forward after three consecutive 7-6 seasons. On the downside, anything less would cap a disappointing season, and certainly wouldn't cool Sarkisian's coaching seat.

7. Arizona: While Arizona's friends up North have taken a solid lead in the battle of second-year head coaches between Rich Rodriguez and Graham, the Wildcats can take back a lot with an upset win in Tempe. Not only would they boost their bowl prospects and make Rich Rod 1-1 versus Graham, they'd force the Sun Devils to travel to Stanford for the Pac-12 title game, which would substantially reduce their Rose Bowl chances.

8. Washington State: The Cougars are bowl eligible, but they could become bowl eligible with a bang -- as well as positively giddy -- with a second consecutive upset win over the hated Huskies in Seattle. An added consolation would be seeing Sarkisian's seat heat up substantially and seeing a potential shift in the balance of power in the state.

9. Oregon State: That was a dreadful performance against Washington. The worst I've personally witness from the Beavers. Coach Mike Riley is a class act and a heck of a guy, but he needs to answer for that. It wasn't about losing to the Huskies. It was about how it went down at home, with a listless, uninterested effort.

10. Utah: While there are legitimate excuses for how Utah's season has gone, the loss at Washington State, even without QB Travis Wilson, delivered a resounding thud to Year 3 in the Pac-12. The Utes are 1-7 in conference play. A loss at home to Colorado on Saturday would make coach Kyle Whittingham's seat hot heading into 2014.

11. Colorado: While the Buffaloes were brought back down to Earth after getting pounded by USC, they showed admirable fight in the second half. Concluding the season with a road win over Utah would bode well for the future. And it would mean the Buffs finish 10th in the Pac-12 Power Rankings, not 11th.

12. California: The best news for the Bears is the season is over. Little went right in Sonny Dykes' first season, and he took the blame upon himself after the blowout Big Game defeat to Stanford. There is plenty of justifiable fan frustration. Dykes' first question is his staff, particularly on defense. He probably needs to make some changes. And then he needs to look at his roster and decide who cares about winning and who doesn't.

Mailbag: Mariota's Heisman chances?

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
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Happy Friday.

First of all, a big thank you to all Kansas State fans who contributed ideas for my "flip" visit to Manhattan, Kan. My mailbag overfloweth with perspective and suggestions. Dinner at CoCo Bolos last night was solid, as was breakfast at The Chef. If you see me in "Aggieville" tonight, don't hesitate to say "hello."

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Ian from Salt Lake City: Why has Marcus Mariota dropped nigh completely from the Heisman radar? I understand the loss to Stanford and playing poorly is a huge portion of that, but it seems to me that people, especially the media (not you or Kevin obviously), have fallen in love so much with Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel that they brush aside Mariota like a fly. Both Mariota and Manziel lost games to their biggest competition, Mariota is putting up pretty comparable numbers to Winston with less interceptions, and Mariota is a proven winner, so why no, relatively speaking, love?

Ted Miller: There are three types of overreaction in college football. There's media overreaction, there's fan overreaction and, third, there's fan overreaction to media overreaction.

Do you define "dropped completely from the Heisman Trophy radar" as falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in media polls? Or also here. Do you define Mariota getting brushed aside "like a fly" after he posts his worst game of the season in a loss that knocks his team -- apparently -- out of the national title hunt?

Have I fallen in love with Jameis Winston? Yes. I'm man enough to admit that I am in love with Winston. I swoon at his stratospheric potential. I love the way he taken a program known for its NFL talent and mercurial performances and made it the nation's most consistently dominating team. Clemson's overwhelming performance against a very good Georgia Tech team on Thursday reminded us just how impressive the Seminoles' win in Death Valley was.

That said, if Mariota plays appreciably better than Winston and Manziel over the final three games, he still might win the Heisman. At the very least, the sophomore will get invited to New York for the ceremony.

There was an understandable and justifiable demotion of Mariota in every Heisman poll after the Ducks offense sputtered against Stanford. Three big performances, however, will background that. And if Stanford loses to USC, three big performances likely would give him another shot in the Pac-12 title game.

Those games will give him space to be evaluated over the totality of the season. They will also his toughness, which I think is being overlooked or played down after the Stanford game, to shine. Mariota should be saluted for even being out there because he was clearly playing on one good leg, and Stanford realized early on that he was not going to be a factor on designed runs or even scrambles.

By the way, Mariota still is the nation's No. 1 rated QB and has yet to throw an interception. (Throwing that in, Ian, to quell some media overreaction so your fan overreaction to media overreaction might re-react toward a more realistic place).




Paul from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Ted I am a very loyal Oregon Duck fan and was very disappointed with our loss at Stanford. That being said I think a few different bounces of the ball and the end could have played out differently. Regardless, true champions find a way to deal with adversity and we, the Ducks, did not adapt and overcome. My comment/question is this. I agree Stanford has a good team but I think there overall offensive balance is questionable. The ground game is awesome but there passing attack is average at best and tends to be liability. If Stanford gets put behind in a game and has to abandon their ground and pound game plan, they struggle, which is what happened against Utah. I believe in a game against a team that can play with them physically that Stanford will have issues due to their lack of a decent passing attack.

Ted Miller: I hear you. In fact, I think both Kevin and I have questioned Stanford at times about its middling passing game, which has shown flashes but not advanced as much this season as we anticipated it would in August. The Cardinal ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing offense with just 183 yards per game.

And yet.

Even though Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is not putting up big numbers, he ranks 17th in ESPN Stats & Information's total quarterback rating. Hogan is running the Cardinal offense efficiently, even if he only ranks fifth in the conference by the old school pass efficiency measure.

Coach David Shaw has said he would never throw if he knew he'd gain four yards every run. The Cardinal is averaging 4.8 yards per run.

Hogan has thrown well at times, and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranks third in the conference. He's accounted for 15 touchdowns -- 13 passing -- and protects the football.

And there's always this annoying tidbit: Shaw is 31-5. His Stone Age, antiquated, hopelessly conservative, 1970s football has Stanford winning 86 percent of his games.

Is Stanford the sort of team that makes a 14-point deficit look like nothing? No. Did Utah mute the Cardinal for three quarters? Yes, though I think the Utes success on offense was a bigger story in that game.

Could a team like, say, Alabama thwart Stanford because it is as big and physical as the Cardinal? Maybe.

One of the things I really wanted to see this season was for them to try.




Tony Jones from Chandler, Ariz. writes: Ted, I've been keeping an eye on the Jeff Sagarin rankings the last couple of weeks, waiting for verbal pitchforks to be hurled from Sun Devils fans ranting about how ASU is barely getting a sniff in the AP (21st), USA Today (22nd) and BCS (19th) polls while hanging out in the Top 10 in Sagarin's metrics (currently 9th). So when I saw your piece discussing the Championship Drive Ratings and Football Power Index, I was curious to see where ASU ranked. The Sun Devils rank higher in both the CDR (6th) and FPI (7th) than in Sagarin's wizardry. I'm an Arizona alum, so it makes little difference to me, but should ASU fans be Michael Crowing about where they are in the BCS and going all in with their disrespect cards? BTW, I think it's also interesting that the Wildcats are ranked 24th by Sagarin and 28th in the FPI, but are 44th in the CDR. Much bigger disparity than the Sun Devils.

Ted Miller: Kevin has Arizona State 18th and I have them 19th. And both of us have noticed how the Sun Devils rank higher with the computers, most notably the Championship Drive Rating, ESPN Stats & Information's complex metric that measures a team's resume.

But I also know why the Sun Devils are being held back due to purely human reasons.

No. 1: The controversial ending against Wisconsin. No. 2: The loss to Notre Dame.

Those are not "bad" losses. But those two results tie the Sun Devils to the wagons of the Badgers and Fighting Irish, and both provide drag.

The officiating implosion at the end of Arizona State's win over the Badgers means voters don't feel comfortable elevating the Sun Devils decisively over the Badgers, who in fact rank ahead of ASU in both polls. Voters feel further justified doing so because the Sun Devils lost to the Fighting Irish, who are presently unranked after losing to Pittsburgh.

This is a case of Arizona State's marquee win -- Wisconsin -- not earning them the poll respect it typically would, and that is understandable to a certain degree. The Badgers feel like they might miss out on an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game because of that loss, one that they put an asterisk beside.

Yet, as I typically think when reading questions like this: Just keep winning. If the Sun Devils win the rest of their regular season games, including a Nov. 23 date at UCLA, they would jump into the top 10. And if they win the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl, they might finish in the top-five.




Ron from Maricopa, Ariz., writes: This article I believe is incorrect. Colorado received a waiver for playing two FCS games and theoretically they can go to a bowl if they win out. Two games are doable: Cal and Utah. USC is probably too much. But Buffs should be motivated this week for at least the possibility of a bowl.

Ted Miller: Correct. If Colorado wins its final three games -- California, USC and at Utah -- it will become bowl eligible.

And that certainly would be an amazing accomplishment for the Buffaloes in their first season under Mike MacIntyre.




Kevin from Oklahoma City writes: I know there is still plenty of season left and lots can change but out of curiosity if ASU were to win out and Stanford suffers an upset somewhere along the way, allowing Oregon to take the north...who would host the title game? Would Oregon get to host based on overall record?

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon. (Answer is the same from last week!)

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Scheduling, Willingham, gripes

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
5:30
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Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. Your IQ will thank you.

To the notes.

Jeff from Eugene, Ore., writes: My concern was that Oregon was going to be scheduling teams like Michigan State and Nebraska. Now I feel a little upset seeing it happen. I mean they are OK, but I was hoping the Ducks would play teams like Georgia, Florida, Alabama or someone like that. It is my understanding that it helps recruiting to play in the area being recruited, so the recruits' families and friends will get to see them play at least once and it gives the team exposure. Oregon needs to recruit nationally in order to maintain its national presence. And it seems to me that it would have helped their upcoming class if they had been able to schedule a home and home with Florida State for example instead of Nebraska. Plus, I want to see the Ducks play really quality games vs. quality opponents, not mediocre opponents from mediocre conferences. Is Oregon not trying or are those other schools chicken?

Ted Miller: The Big Ten has been struggling the past few years, but I suspect that won't be permanent. So tread carefully here.

Getting A-list Pac-12 and SEC teams together for nonconference games has been difficult for a variety of reasons, other than the Ducks' matchup with LSU in Cowboys Stadium to start the 2011 season with a bang.

To make such games happen, it takes two to tango. I get a feeling there's reluctance on both ends, not just down south. We do have some notorious instances of the SEC running away like scared kittens, such as Georgia canceling a home-and-home series with Oregon and essentially admitting they were afraid of the Ducks. And there are others. But I haven't heard from any Pac-12 athletic directors getting the stiff arm from their SEC counterparts of late.

Further, the SEC as a whole has greatly improved its nonconference scheduling. Georgia, for example, added Clemson to its slate, a game that once was a classic southern rivalry. The new College Football Playoff can expedite quality nonconference scheduling nationwide by making sure whimpy nonconference schedules will kill a team's chances to make the playoff.

But future Pac-12 nonconference schedules are Big Ten-heavy and include a lot of BYU and Notre Dame as well as a smattering of Texas. As of yet, there is no Alabama, LSU, Georgia or Florida, though I suspect -- hope? -- that we may get some "special event," neutral-site SEC-Pac-12 games sometime down the road.

The Pac-12's first choice for quality nonconference games always will be the Big Ten, in large part because there's a special relationship between the Rose Bowl conferences.

You can review future Pac-12 nonconference schedules here.




Joe from Everett, Wash., writes: The selection committee is a joke, primarily because of one selection: Tyrone Willingham. Are you freaking kidding me?! He is absolutely reviled at Notre Dame and Washington for running those programs into the ground. He's proven that he's no longer qualified to lead an NCAA college football program.

Ted Miller: Well, for one, he's not leading a college football program. He will be evaluating them for a four-team playoff.

My guess is you're chaffed at the potential for Willingham to have a conflict of interest -- as in he'll want to screw over Notre Dame and Washington for firing him. I seriously doubt that. For one, it would be so transparent that other committee members would surely call him on it. It's as likely he'd overcompensate the other way to protect against such a perception.

I have not talked to Willingham since his termination at Washington. Through the years, I've dealt with lots of different coaches, lots of different personalities. I feel like I'm pretty good at "getting" guys -- seeing their perspectives and how their coaching filters through their character and personality. Willingham, I must admit, was a guy I never totally "got."

I've read and heard a lot of negative reviews on him through the years, but I think folks underestimate how close the Huskies were to breaking through under him. For one, what if QB Isaiah Stanback didn't get hurt in 2006? Or QB Jake Locker in 2008? And it's not as though things were much different when he was replaced by Mr. Strategic Advantage at Notre Dame.

Is Willingham a dynamic, fan- and media-friendly personality? No. Did he do a good job at Notre Dame and Washington. No.

Can he objectively evaluate college football teams for a four-team playoff? Absolutely.




Dan from Denver writes: Hey Ted,I've got a coworker that's been reading SEC fan blogs too much. He believes that an undefeated Clemson, FSU or even Miami are more worthy of the No. 2 ranking than the Ducks. He also claims that Alabama's WRs would dominate Oregon's "undersized" DBs, and that there are no SEC-caliber linebackers in the Pac-12 to challenge UO. My apparent lack of football acumen (or his stubbornness) leave me unable to make my case. Got any good talking points for me?

Ted Miller: Ramdom coworker No. 1 will have little say on how the pecking order of unbeatens is established. So you have that.

If Alabama, Oregon, FSU/Clemson and Ohio State all finish unbeaten, the strong odds are that Alabama and Oregon will play for the national title.

What could make that change? Well, imagine if Oregon struggles while winning and the Pac-12 eats itself alive and finishes with just, say, three ranked teams and only the Ducks with double-digit wins. And picture the ACC packing the Top 25 with teams, and Clemson/FSU putting together dominant shows on a weekly basis. Then pollsters might jump the ACC champ over the Pac-12 champ and get support from the computers while doing so.

I doubt it though.

As for a lack of Pac-12 linebackers or an undersized Oregon secondary, all you need to do is educate him. I know it's en vogue to relish saying factually incorrect things, to deny science, obsess over conspiracy theories and imaginary scandals, but Anthony Barr, Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Myles Jack, Eric Kendricks, Hayes Pullard, Shaq Thompson, etc., as well as Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Terrance Mitchell and the rest of the beastly Oregon secondary, are a reality that can't be denied.




Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: After Stanford's loss last week, the Mrs. and I, both Duck fans, have been arguing about who it is better to root for (or against) in helping Oregon's cause: Stanford or UCLA? The Transitive Property of College Football does not apply (as it never should), as Oregon will play both head-to-head. If UCLA wins against Stanford, and Oregon manages to beat both, will it matter from a BCS/national perception that Oregon beat an undefeated UCLA team and a two-loss Stanford team, or is it better for Oregon if they beat two one-loss teams? Of course, there are dozens of scenarios beyond this, including one-loss teams (yes, Oregon too) throughout the Pac-12 as the season marches on (as you astutely pointed out earlier this season what the perception will be if the conference cannibalizes itself). Just trying to get an "I told you so" for the sake of a healthy marriage! Thanks!

Ted Miller: The ideal scenario is probably this.

UCLA beats Stanford and loses to Oregon twice, the second time in a competitive Pac-12 championship game. That gets the Bruins, at 11-2, a Rose Bowl invitation while the Ducks play for the natty, er, national title. Stanford would finish 9-3, still potentially a top-15 team with a chance to move up in, I'd guess, the Alamo Bowl.

I think Oregon is going to be fine in any scenario if it finishes 13-0, so this is mostly a splitting-hairs exercise. In either potential "best-case" scenario, Stanford or UCLA end up with three and two defeats.




Dylan from Salt Lake City writes: Kevin presented several decent reasons as to why Utah should be lower than Washington in the power rankings ... provided the power rankings are representative of the season rather than the week. If you're looking at the week, then Utah should clearly be above Washington. This is the problem with being noncommittal about walking the line and being noncommittal with the power rankings. Although based on the power rankings, maybe I answered my own question about what they represent.

Ted Miller: First, I second what Kevin wrote. Of course, I will add more.

The power rankings are organic throughout the season. They prioritize the most recent week, but they also accumulate data as the weeks pass, and that in itself reduces the overall value of a single game. For example, if 8-3 Utah were to lose to three-win Colorado in the season finale, we wouldn't rank the Buffaloes ahead of the Utes in the power rankings.

The biggest problem for the Utes climbing dramatically in the power rankings is the home loss to Oregon State, which opened the season with a loss to an FCS foe. As the Beavers pick up wins, that loss gets "better" but it also makes it difficult to move the Utes ahead of Oregon State, which faces a much tougher schedule over the season's final third. So then the question is whether Oregon State has done enough to eclipse Washington. We think the Huskies résumé still remains stronger than the Beavers.

In fact, the way the Huskies played at Stanford and against Oregon actually increased their rating, at least for me.

Now you could have justified going: Oregon State, Utah and Washington in the power rankings. And we looked at that. That would have given more weight to the week -- a Utah win over a Stanford team that beat the Huskies -- but that doesn't feel right based on the product Washington has put on the field through the entire season.

So how does Utah move up? Glad you asked. Keep winning.

Know when the power rankings actually matter? Two times: At the end of the regular season and after the bowls.




David from Salt Lake City writes: Ted,I couldn't help but noticing that Utah has performed just about exactly to the 'Best' scenario from your 'Best/Worst Case -- Utah blog. Your preseason picks are, apparently, spot on. Do you have premonitions? Or is this just an innate ability to [humorously] pick winners?

Ted Miller: Funny how that works. A 9-4 record actually now seems a not unreasonably optimistic projection.

Now go watch all the Rocky movies, MUSS members.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
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Ted went 5-1 last week. Kevin went 4-2. Both missed Utah's upset of Stanford. Ted correctly picked Oregon State over Washington State.

Wait. Ted got an Oregon State pick correct? Oh no ... the sun has turned black and is that ... on the horizon ... THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE!

Run for your lives.

For the season, they are both 46-6.

Utah at Arizona

Kevin Gemmell: I’m curious to see what Utah does with its new-found momentum. If the Utes play the way they did against Stanford, they should win. If they play the way they did against Oregon State and UCLA, well, they still might win. Like what Utah has done defensively in recent weeks. Utah 31, Arizona 24.

Ted Miller: I agree with what Kevin said. But I also wonder what happens if the Wildcats get four quarters from QB B.J. Denker like his fourth quarter against USC. RB Ka'Deem Carey will be tough to contain if the Wildcats produce some reliable balance. Further, the Utes have yet to beat a quality Pac-12 foe on the road. So … it's time for that to happen. Utah 35, Arizona 30.

Washington at Arizona State

Kevin Gemmell: This feels like one of those games in the past we thought Washington should win, but it didn’t. This year’s team is different, and I think the defense can be disruptive enough and the offense explosive enough to pick up a quality win on the road. Washington 38, Arizona State 34.

Ted Miller: A critical game for both teams. Washington has struggled on the road against quality foes, and the Sun Devils are a far tougher test than Illinois. Yet here's a guess that the Huskies bounce back after consecutive losses to top-five teams, winning with a superior defense and better offensive balance. Washington 35, Arizona State 28.

USC at Notre Dame

Kevin Gemmell: Looks like my streak of picking road dogs continues … not a great recipe for success. But this USC team seems to have a little more confidence and pep in its step. It gets peppier with the presumptive return of Marqise Lee. Going crazy and picking the Trojans. USC 31, Notre Dame 21.

Ted Miller: The good news for the Trojans is Notre Dame's offense won't tax its lack of depth like up-tempo offenses in the Pac-12. The bad news is the Fighting Irish might tax the Trojans with their physical play up front on both lines. The Orgeron magic might not travel as well away from the Coliseum, too. Notre Dame 24, USC 21.

UCLA at Stanford

Kevin Gemmell: This feels like one of those games where everyone is down on Stanford and expecting them to go in the tank. Maybe. UCLA has the credentials and the momentum. And something special is brewing in Pasadena. But Stanford is at its best when its back is against the wall and they can rally around the “us vs. the world” mentality. Stanford 27, UCLA 24.

Ted Miller: It's hard to ignore the different results both teams got at Utah. Further, a little bird -- read: someone with NFL interests -- told me a few weeks back the loss of DE Henry Anderson was going to be bigger than many thought. I like the Bruins’ two superstars, OLB Anthony Barr and QB Brett Hundley, to live up to their marquee billing. UCLA 31, Stanford 28.

Washington State at Oregon

Kevin Gemmell: Cougs, Cougs, Cougs. Every time I put my faith in you, you let me down. No upset this week. Ducks roll. Oregon 56, Washington State 27.

Ted Miller: A nice matchup for the Oregon secondary, which was outstanding at Washington last weekend. A good matchup for the Ducks' offensive line against a strong Cougars D-front. But the Ducks starters probably won't be needed too deep into the fourth. Oregon 47, Washington State 24.

Oregon State at California

Kevin Gemmell: Curious to see if Oregon State’s run game picks up against a depleted Cal team. But then again, when you have Sean Mannion-to-Brandin Cooks cranking, it’s all good. Oregon State 42, California 17.

Ted Miller: At some point you'd think Cal is going to shock someone. Its beleaguered defense will have an inspired effort and its passing attack will tie an opposing secondary in knots. But I don't think it happens this weekend. (Beavers fans, you still should probably retain possession of your Miller Prediction Countering Rabbit's Foot). Oregon State 44, California 31.

Charleston Southern at Colorado

Kevin Gemmell: A midseason switch to a true freshman quarterback feels like a move that the Buffs are looking to the future. Maybe. Or maybe he gives them their best option to pick up win No. 3. Full disclosure, I don’t know much about Charleston Southern, other than it is undefeated. But I’m a firm believer that FBS teams from BCS conferences are supposed to beat FCS teams. Colorado 30, CSU 21.

Ted Miller: I suspect Colorado will take out some frustration on the Buccaneers and pick up a third win. The larger question is whether the Buffs will get No. 4. Colorado 41, CSU 17.

Quick look at Week 8 Pac-12 games

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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Here's a quick look at Week 7 in the conference. All times are ET. All games at Saturday.

Charleston Southern (7-0) at Colorado (2-3), 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network: First meeting. This is a replacement game for the Buffaloes, filling in from the Sept. 14 game with Fresno State that was canceled due to flooding in Boulder. The Buccaneers are unbeaten and ranked 24th in the FCS poll, and five of those wins have come on the road. Colorado switched QBs from Connor Wood to true freshman true freshman Sefo Liufau last weekend against Arizona State. This will be Liufau's first start.

No. 9 UCLA (5-0, 2-0) at No. 13 Stanford (5-1, 3-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2: UCLA leads the series 45-36-3, but Stanford beat the Bruins twice last year: 35-17 in the regular-season finale and 27-24 in the Pac-12 championship game. UCLA's sophomore QB Brett Hundley completed 31-of-41 for a career-high 410 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Cal. It was the third-highest passing yardage total in school history. Only Cade McNown (513 vs. Miami, 1998) and Drew Olson (510 vs. Arizona State, 2005) had more. The Bruins have outscored their opponents 71-0 in the third quarter this season. The Bruins scored at least 30 points for the fifth straight game to open the season. UCLA last accomplished that feat in 1998. In the loss at Utah, the Cardinal allowed a first-quarter touchdown for the fist time this season and gave up more first-quarter points (14) than it had surrendered in the first quarters of its first five games combined (12).

No. 20 Washington (4-2, 1-2) at Arizona State (4-2, 2-1), 6 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Arizona State and Washington are tied at 15-15 in the series, but the Sun Devils have won seven in a row. That ties for the fourth-longest active winning streak among all Pac-12 opponents behind Oregon-UW (10), ASU-Utah (9) and Oregon-ASU (8). The teams last met in 2010, a 24-14 Sun Devils win. Arizona State RB Marion Grice leads the nation in scoring (15.0 ppg) and rushing TDs (10). He has 15 total TDs this season. ASU is No. 13 nationally (and No. 1 in the Pac-12) in fewest penalty yards per game (34.17). Washington ranks first in the Pac-12 and 16th in the country in passing yards allowed (182.2 yards per game). ASU has the nation’s ninth-ranked passing attack at 342.2 yards per game. Washington RB Bishop Sankey leads the nation with 149.8 yards rushing per game. He has rushed for 100 or more in nine of the last 11 games. Huskies QB Keith Price has 7,529 career yards, 110 shy of the No. 2 spot on the school's all-time passing list.

USC (4-2) at Notre Dame (4-2), 7:30 p.m., NBC: Notre Dame leads the series, which began in 1926, 44-35-5. USC has won 9 of the last 11 meetings, but the Fighting Irish has won two of the last three, including a 22-13 win in the Coliseum last year. Before falling to the Irish in 2010, USC had won eight consecutive games in the series. Since 1967, USC has gone 24-19-3 in the series. In South Bend, USC is 14-23-1 -- two other losses came in Chicago -- but it has won the last five and six of the past eight and hadn't lost on the road to the Irish since 2001. USC has not lost a non-conference road game since 2002. USC interim head coach Ed Orgeron has a tough task, however: Only two Trojans coaches have won their debut games against the Irish (neither did so in South Bend). The winner gets year-long possession of the jeweled Shillelagh. This is only the 11th time that neither team has been ranked going into the game. USC and Notre Dame both have played Arizona State, with the Trojans falling to the Sun Devils in Tempe, 62-41, and Notre Dame winning in Arlington, Tex., 37-34.

Utah (4-2, 1-2) at Arizona (3-2, 0-2), 10 p.m., Pac-12 Network: Utah leads the series with Arizona 20-16-2, but it saw a three-game winning streak snapped last year in Salt Lake City, 34-24. Utah’s first Pac-12 road win came against Arizona in Tucson in 2011, 34-21. Utah received 47 votes in this week’s Associated Press poll, marking its first mention in the poll since 2010. Utah received 18 votes in the USA Today Coaches' poll. Utah's upset victory over No. 5 Stanford was Kyle Whittingham's 75th as the Utes' head coach. Whittingham, 75-34 in his ninth season, earned his first regular-season win against Arizona in the 2005 season opener. His first career victory came in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl as Utah’s co-head coach. Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey ranks second in the Pac-12 with 142.2 yards rushing per game. He averages 6.1 yards per carry. This will be Utah's first out-of-state trip this season. Utah leads the country in fewest fumbles lost (1), and leads the Pac- 12 in sacks (20), sacks per game (3.33) and red zone offense (.909). Utah has the best kicking duo in the conference. First- year placekicker Andy Phillips is the only kicker in the nation to make 11-of-11 field goals to date (including 4-of-4 from 40-yards or longer) and is 27-of-27 in PATs, while sophomore punter Tom Hackett leads the Pac-12 in punt average (44.1), punts of 50+ yards (9) and punts inside the 20-yard line (14). While Arizona QB B.J. Denker ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and last in passing yards per game (161.6 ypg), he threw for 363 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in the 38-31 loss at USC last Thursday.

Washington State (4-3, 2-2) at No. 2 Oregon (6-0, 3-0), 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Oregon leads the series 45-38-7 and has won six in a row over the Cougars, including a 51-26 victory in Seattle last year. The Cougars' last win in the series came in 2006, 34-23 in Pullman over the 16th-ranked Ducks. WSU’s last win in Eugene came in 2003, 55-16 over No. 10 Oregon. The Cougars last win over a top-5 team was in the 2003 Holiday Bowl, beating No. 5 Texas 28-20. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is No. 1 in the nation in ESPN.com's Total Quarterback Rating. He has yet to throw an interception this season in 165 attempts and has extended his streak to 233 attempts without a pick dating back to the first half vs. Stanford in 2012. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday ranks 10th in the nation in passing yards per game at 320.1. Oregon ranks No. 5 in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Washington State has had 10 receivers catch a pass in each of the last five games and has had 10 or more players catch a pass six times in seven games.

Oregon State (5-1, 3-0) at California (1-5, 0-3), 10:30 p.m., ESPN2: California leads the series 34-31, but the Beavers dominated the Bears in Corvallis last year in a 62-14 win, the last game of Jeff Tedford's tenure in Berkeley. Oregon State rolled up 559 yards in total offense, with QB Sean Mannion throwing for for 325 yards and 4 TDs. Mannion has five consecutive 350-yard passing games. His 493 passing yards in the win over Washington State set a new school record. Mannion owns five of the 14 all-time 400-yard passing games. He has thrown for 25 TDs in 2013, tied for the third-most in a single season at Oregon State. He has 56 TD passes for his career, moving into second all-time at Oregon State. Mannion has found sophomore WR Brandin Cooks for 17 touchdown passes in their careers, tying for the most in school history with Erik Wilhelm and Robb Thomas. UCLA was the fourth of Cal’s six opponents this year to be ranked at the time of the game (also No. 22 Northwestern, No. 3 Ohio State; No. 2 Oregon). The combined record for the five opponents that have defeated Cal this year is 25-4.
I am going to go with the balloon animal display. For the kids. And then when she comes close to check it out, guess who is the broken man, haunted past? How about you?

ASU presses on after up-and-down start

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
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Arizona State coach Todd Graham is a glass-half-full sort of guy. While a lot of Sun Devils fans were massively disappointed with the performance against Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium, which cost the team a national ranking, Graham saw a bright side.

"[We are] really close in a lot of things," he said during his news conference Monday.

Perhaps Graham read the Pac-12 blog and its defense of "close?"

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsTodd Graham believes the Sun Devils' rugged schedule so far will pay dividends later in the season.
The glass-half-empty sorts will see a team that should be 4-1, one that was outcoached and outplayed by a middling Notre Dame team in Arlington, Texas. The glass-half-full sorts will counter that in August a 3-2 start would have seemed pretty solid.

Obviously, Graham leads the latter camp.

"We finished up the first third of the season and I think we are in good shape," Graham said. "I know that we are a lot better football team because of the schedule we just played."

And, really, as Graham repeatedly pointed out last week before playing Notre Dame, the Sun Devils season will be made -- or broken -- by the Pac-12 schedule. They are 1-1 in conference play and play host to Colorado on Saturday. They don't play Oregon, while South Division rival UCLA plays both the Ducks and Stanford. There is no reason to count Arizona State out of the division race.

As for what went wrong against Notre Dame, it was the Sun Devils defense making a previously struggling Fighting Irish offense look potent.

"The biggest thing that hurt us in the game was we did not have enough opportunities, not enough plays offensively," Graham said. "That had a lot to do with them sustaining drives and executing."

It also had a lot to do with the lack of a running game -- 65 yards rushing -- and an off-day for quarterback Taylor Kelly, who like his team continues to play much better at home than on the road. Kelly threw a pair of picks and missed several open receivers.

But dwelling on what might have been would be a mistake. And overlooking Colorado could lead to a costly and embarrassing evening.

“Obviously, the caliber of teams we have been playing and where [the Buffaloes are] at right now is a little different," Graham said. "Guys think that this will not be as big a challenge and you can’t do that. You have got to bring it because they can definitely beat you. There is not anybody in the Pac-12 that can’t beat anyone. There is great parity in this league. The danger is not taking a team seriously."

Colorado doesn't run the ball well and its offensive line won't be the match of Wisconsin, Stanford and Notre Dame, or even USC. That should give defensive tackle Will Sutton and outside linebacker Carl Bradford opportunities to make plays that have been eluding them.

The Sun Devils already have experienced dramatic ups and downs in their season. The question now is whether they can find consistency, and whether that consistency will be good enough to take the South, as they just missed doing a year ago.

Said Graham, "We have a lot better football team than we had at this time last year."

Washington hangs tough in polls

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
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In a sign of respect for Washington and Stanford, the Huskies only lost one spot in both the AP and coaches' polls on Sunday after the Cardinal's nail-biting 31-28 victory.

The Huskies fell to No. 16 with the AP and No. 19 with the coaches. Stanford remained at No. 5 in both polls, while Oregon remained at No. 2 behind Alabama.

Washington plays host to the Ducks on Saturday.

UCLA rose one spot in the AP poll to No. 11 after winning at Utah. The Bruins remained No. 13 in the coaches poll.

Arizona State, after losing 37-34 to Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium, fell out of the Top 25 for the second time this season.

Pac-12 Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
10:00
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Some notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for many of these numbers.
  • With a win over Notre Dame, Arizona State will become the first school ever to beat USC and Notre Dame in consecutive games. The last team to beat both IN THE SAME SEASON? You don’t have to look far, Stanford has done it three times since 2009.
  • Arizona State coach Todd Graham is no stranger to beating Notre Dame. In 2010, his Tulsa team came to South Bend and upset the Irish 28-27.
  • Arizona State’s offense has been lethal this season, especially through the air. The Sun Devils have thrown for at least 350 yards in all four games and last week racked up 612 total yards and 62 points on USC.
  • That could spell trouble for a Notre Dame defense that is a far cry from what it was a year ago. Entering the BCS Championship Game last season, the Notre Dame defense allowed just nine total touchdowns -- seven through the air. Through five games this season, they have already allowed 14 touchdowns -- 10 of the passing variety.
  • Notre Dame has allowed at least 24 points in three games so far this season. In 12 regular season games last season, only one team reached that mark (Pitt, 26).
  • Arizona State’s Marion Grice has scored 12 TDs from scrimmage this season (eight rush, four receiving). No other FBS player has more than nine this season. In the last 10 seasons, that ties the most through four team games. Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson in 2012 and Temple’s Bernard Pierce in 2011 both had 12.
  • California leads its series with Washington State 44-25-5 and has won eight consecutive meetings. The teams have not met in Berkeley since 2009 after playing the 2011 meeting in San Francisco at AT&T Park, home of baseball’s San Francisco Giants. The Cougars’ last win in the series came at Memorial Stadium, a 48-38 victory in 2002 behind Jason Gesser’s 432 yards and four touchdowns along with Eric Coleman’s blocked punt he returned for a touchdown.
  • Both Cal and WSU prefer to throw the ball. Cal ranks fourth in the nation with 373 yards per game, while the Cougars are 14th with 329.3 yards per game. Neither runs well, with Cal ranking 97th in the nation in rushing and the Cougs 121st.
  • Both teams were forced to make QB changes in losses last weekend -- Bears QB Jared Goff due to fumble issues and Connor Halliday due to injury. Nonetheless, it appears that neither team will change starters.
  • Oregon has scored at least 55 points in each of its first four games. That’s the longest such streak in school history, and the longest in FBS since Houston topped 55 points in five straight games in 2011.
  • Oregon has 31 touchdown drives this season, and 26 of those drives have taken two minutes or less. That’s the most such touchdown drives in FBS; Baylor (23) is the only other team with more than 15 such drives this season.
  • Oregon QB Marcus Mariota has the second-highest Total QBR (94.6) in the FBS this season. Last week against California, he posted the third-lowest Total QBR (54.3) of his career. Of course, the weather -- torrential rain -- may have had something to do with that.
  • Colorado has lost 11 straight games against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. The Buffaloes last win against a ranked opponent was against No. 17 Kansas in 2009; their last win against a team ranked this high was in 2001, when they beat No. 2 Nebraska to win the Big 12 North. The Buffs are also 3-17 vs. Pac-12 opponents since joining the conference in 2011 (including a nonconference match-up with California in 2011), the worst winning percentage of any conference member.
  • So far this season, the Pac-12 North is a perfect 5-0 against the South division.
  • Since the start of last season, Stanford has held its opponents to 17.7 points per game, 10th best in the nation. They held Oregon to 21 fewer points than any other team and Arizona was the only opponent to score more than 30 points.
  • The Cardinal rely on the front-seven to stop the run. Since the start of last season, they average 6.4 players in the box on running plays, tied for the second fewest by any AQ defense. They have brought an eighth man into the box on just 35 runs, 25 fewer than any other major conference team. More than a quarter of those runs (10) were against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl when the Badgers used two or more tight ends in the formation.
  • From 1977 to 2003, Washington went 20-2 against Stanford. Since then, Washington is 2-6 against Stanford.
  • Stanford is one of six FBS teams since the start of last season that have held their opponent to under 100 yards rushing per game. During that time period, The Cardinal have allowed the fewest yards per rush (3.1) in the Pac-12 and have forced the seventh-most runs for a loss (191) by any FBS team.
  • Stanford’s 3-4 defense has been just as effective in the passing game. The Cardinal lead the FBS with 66 sacks since the start of last season. They have at least one sack in every game, except for when they played Army, which had only 10 dropbacks.
  • Stanford has an AQ-high 196 total pressures (hurries + knockdowns) from the start of last season. That means the Cardinal hit or hurried the quarterback on 23 percent of opponents’ dropbacks, including 25 percent of the time against Washington last season.
  • Stanford sends four or fewer pass rushers on 77 percent of opponents’ dropbacks. That is slightly more than the AQ average (73 percent). When sending four or fewer, the Cardinal have an AQ-high 48 sacks and have hit or hurried the quarterback on 21 percent of dropbacks, five percentage points higher than the AQ average.
  • Washington QB Keith Price has been sacked 40 times since the start of last season, tied for the seventh most by any FBS quarterback. Yet, he has only been sacked three times this season. If Stanford cannot get to him with four pass rushers, it could be an issue. Price is completing 82.1 percent of his passes with four touchdown and no interceptions this season when opponents blitz.
  • Through five weeks, Keith Price has a Total QBR of 81.2, which is 40.3 points higher than last season. Price has the highest completion percentage in the Pac-12 and is one of four qualified quarterbacks in the FBS to improve their Total QBR from 2012 by more than 40 points.
  • One reason for Price’s improved numbers rests on the health of his offensive line. After injuries forced Washington’s projected starters to miss a combined 40 starts last season, the same unit has started every game together in 2013. With continuity on the offensive line, Price has been sacked three times this season, after taking 37 sacks in 2012, sixth most in the FBS.
  • Not only has the offensive line given Price more time to throw, but it has also helped open running lanes for Bishop Sankey and the Huskies running attack. Sankey has the fifth-most rushing yards (607) and tied for the seventh-most rushes of 20 yards or more (6), two fewer than he had all of last season. Through five weeks, he has nearly doubled his rushing total from this time last season. Sankey has 29 rushes where he was not contacted until he was more than five yards downfield, tied for the most among AQ rushers.
Not to get Biblical on you, but the Arizona State Sun Devils -- Devils! -- are embracing their sinister side for their showdown Saturday against Notre Dame in Cowboys Stadium.

The Sun Devils will don black uniforms with helmets decorated with wild-looking flames -- hellfire? -- against the Fighting Irish, who will be wearing angelic white.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezArizona State signal-caller Taylor Kelly has thrown for 11 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.
Of course, this isn't a battle of good and evil. It's just two teams embracing the marketplace ideology of branding in college football.

"We wanted to do something unique obviously to Arizona State, so the flames we thought were pretty cool and we put the flames on the back, we obviously want to use our brand," said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, who was involved in the design and noted that every helmet will be different.

The Sun Devils are, er, on fire after a blowout win over USC, while Notre Dame is coming off a loss to Oklahoma and is a disappointing 3-2 after going unbeaten and playing for the national title a season ago. If the Sun Devils can pull off the win and start 4-1 against a rugged early slate, they will enter the meat of the Pac-12 schedule with plenty of momentum and confidence.

Moreover, they can make history. No team has ever beaten USC and Notre Dame, two of the nation's most storied programs, back-to-back.

But while Graham is glad to talk about attention-grabbing uniforms and history, neither is his central focus. There have been two downers so far this year for Arizona State: (1) The first half at Stanford; (2) The Sun Devils' run defense, which ranks 11th in the conference, yielding 192 yards per game.

When asked about what the problems were against the run, Graham, not known for being laconic in any event, went on with a nearly 500-word answer during his Monday news conference. This story is just over 732 words.

"I am answering long because this is the number one thing that we have to do to win a championship," he said. "This has got to get better and I think it can. That is our number one focus."

Graham said that the chief problem was players getting out of position. He said there were 15 misalignments for the defense against the Trojans, who rushed for 247 yards on Saturday. He also said the biggest plays are coming on the perimeter, not up the middle. Part of the problem against USC was noseguard Jaxon Hood being out. He's questionable-to-doubtful for the Notre Dame game.

The good news for that run defense, however, is the Fighting Irish's struggles on offense. They rank 85th in the nation in scoring (25.4 points per game) and 93rd in rushing offense (135.5 yards per game).

But even the Irish's vaunted defense has been only mediocre. It has yielded 23.8 points and 364 yards per game, numbers that rank 46th and 53rd in the nation.

It's worth noting that both teams have played tough opponents, so the early-season statistics might be slightly skewed. But in the preseason, the Sun Devils looked like underdogs for this game. Now they are 5 1/2-point favorites.

This game also will be another test for the Sun Devils learning to play better on the road, most particularly QB Taylor Kelly. Though this game is technically being played at a neutral site, Irish fans will far outnumber the ASU loyalists. The Sun Devils are 3-4 on the road under Graham, and two of the 2012 road wins were over woeful California and Colorado. The lone quality road win was at rival Arizona last year.

Further, Kelly is a decidedly better QB at home. His rating this season is 156.6 at home and 121.3 on the road (at Stanford, perhaps the Pac-12's best defense). Last season, he was 198.7 at home and 127.6 on the road.

"You could probably take any quarterback and they would have the same stats," Graham said before adding, "If you want to win a championship you have got to win on the road."

Graham was quick to point out that the Pac-12 schedule has more importance for the Sun Devils. But he also knows that lining up opposite Notre Dame means you'll be performing in front of a lot of eyeballs.

Winning is the most important part of branding.

"Is it more important than the Pac-12 games? No, it is not," Graham said. "That is how we emphasize it to our players. But it is very important to our fan base, very important to our football program."

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