Pac-12: Notre Dame Irish

We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team’s nonconference opponents in 2014. (Note, we'll take a break from the series for a couple of days to focus on media days coverage. We'll pick up with UCLA on Friday).

STANFORD

UC Davis Aggies, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Ron Gould (5-7), second year
  • 2013 record: 5-7, 5-3, Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Eight offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Gabe Manzanares was the Big Sky newcomer of the year season, rushing for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also earned third-team all-conference honors along the way.
  • Defensive headliner: An all-conference honorable mention last season, linebacker Steven Pitts posted 74 stops, including a team high 11.5 tackles for a loss. He also had four sacks to go with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • The skinny: Cal fans might recall Gould from his days with the Bears, where he helped develop, among others, Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. The Aggies return four of five starters on the offensive line and a talented running back in Manzanares. The defensive line needs to be rebuilt and they have to replace quarterback Randy Wright. Expect Davis to rely heavily on the run game.
Army Black Knights, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Jeff Monken, first season
  • 2013 record:3-9, Independent
  • Returning starters: 10 offense, 16 defense (that’s not a typo, that’s what they list).
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Terry Baggett led the team with 141 carries for 1,113 yards and eight touchdowns last year, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and 92.8 yards per game.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive lineman Mike Ugenyi led all of Army’s defensive linemen last year with 39 stops, including 6.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
  • The skinny: Despite the coaching change, the Knights will continue to run the triple-option. Monken tallied a 38-16 record when he was at Georgia Southern and advanced to the FCS semifinals three times before helping the team transition into the Sun Belt Conference and FBS play. Army didn’t exactly give Stanford trouble last year. But it wasn’t a walk-over for the Cardinal, either.
At Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Saturday, Oct. 4
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (37-14), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 9-4, Independent
  • Returning starters: Five offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Center Nick Martin, recently added to the Rimington watch list for the nation’s best center, missed spring ball recovering from a knee injury last season. But when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the country.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell returns after posting 51 tackles last year, including 1.5 for a loss. He had one interception and led the team with nine passes defended while also recovering a fumble.
  • The skinny: This will be the first of three games between Pac-12 schools and Notre Dame, who face Arizona State and USC in November. The last time these teams played in South Bend, well, you remember. It was a controversial ending that kept the Irish undefeated. But it also fueled the Cardinal’s Rose Bowl run. No doubt, David Shaw & Co. haven’t forgotten.
Thoughts: The Cardinal have an unusual layout to the first half of their season. They open with a nonconference game and then have a conference game in between the other two for the first six games. They have the Trojans in between Davis and Army and a trip to Seattle in between Army and the visit to Notre Dame. Stanford has some of its toughest games on the road this season -- including trips to Tempe, Eugene and Pasadena, and factoring in a trip to South Bend isn't easy. It’s also probably frustrating for local fans to see the Bill Walsh Legacy game with San Jose State put on hiatus. And hopefully the schools can come to an agreement to bring that game back. But for now, the Cardinal should be able to handle Davis and Army. The Aggies probably won’t provide a very good proxy for the Trojans, so Stanford had best be ready to work in Week 2. The Notre Dame game is just a fun rivalry that will likely feature two ranked teams. There are two wins here for sure, and more than likely a third if the Cardinal can shake off the South Bend demons from 2012.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

ARIZONA STATE

Weber State, Thursday, Aug. 28
  • Coach: Jay Hill, first year
  • 2013 record: 2-10, 1-7 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Bo Bolen, who led the Wildcats in rushing last year, carried 123 times for 549 yards and five touchdowns. He's also a special teams threat, returning 11 kicks for 292 yards and a touchdown.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive back Deon'tae Florence is the only member of the Wildcats to land on the preseason All-Big Sky team. He posted four interceptions and eight pass breakups last year.
  • The skinny: New coach Jay Hill cut his teeth for 13 seasons at Utah, working under Ron McBride, Urban Meyer and the last nine under Kyle Whittingham. The program has struggled of late. But getting a coach like Hill, who knows the recruiting landscape with Utah, BYU and Utah State all pulling for players, should provide a boost. And since he worked with Whittingham, you know he loves defense.
At New Mexico, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Bob Davie (7-18), third year
  • 2013 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Six offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: There are still a lot of positions up for grabs. But wide receiver Jeric Megnant (19 catches, 294 yards, one touchdown) headlines a receiving corps that has experience.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Dakota Cox was a freshman All-American last season and posted 99 tackles, becoming the first Lobos freshman to lead the team in tackles since 1994.
  • The skinny: Lots of questions unanswered and holes to fill for the Lobos on offense. There are options at quarterback, but the team must replace aptly-named running back Kasey Carrier. The strength as of now rests on the defensive side of the ball. Besides Cox, there is talent there with defensive end Brett Bowers and safety David Guthrie.
Notre Dame, Saturday, Nov. 8
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (37-14), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 9-4 Independent
  • Returning starters: Five offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Everett Golson returns after missing the entire 2013 season.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jaylon Smith, recently named to the Butkus watchlist, tallied 67 stops last year with 6.5 tackles for a loss and an interception.
  • The skinny: The Irish will face the Pac-12 three times this year. The rivalries with USC and Stanford are always great, but this year's ASU game has a fascinating sidebar after Notre Dame tried to pull out of its trip to Tempe. The Sun Devils will be looking for revenge from last year's loss, and the home fans probably won't be too welcoming. The fact that both of these teams could be ranked come November also adds a fun twist.
Thoughts: The only real threat here is Notre Dame. New Mexico has beaten just seven FBS teams over the last three seasons and Weber State, operating under a new coach and staff, should be little more than a warmup for the Sun Devils as they try to pull their defense together. The good news is the Sun Devils and Irish don't meet until Week 11. By that time (Todd Graham and Co. hope), the defense will be playing like a well-oiled machine, not a collection of nine new starters. Several Sun Devils have admitted that last year's game against Notre Dame was one that got away. With what should be a raucous home crowd and an offense that could be extremely explosive, a better showing is expected. Best case scenario, obviously, is 3-0. It would be nice if both of these teams were ranked come November to add sizzle to the matchup. But even if they aren't, there are enough icy feelings between these programs to make this game more than intriguing. A 2-1 nonconference mark with a loss to Notre Dame wouldn't be horrific. But anything less would.

You can see the rest of the nonconference primers here.
JonesMatt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsLast season's loss could serve as motivation for Stanford.

Stanford and Notre Dame probably looked at this game in the preseason and wondered if there would be BCS implications. Well, there aren’t. But both teams still have plenty to play for. Notre Dame reporter Matt Fortuna breaks down the Irish side of things while Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell lays out the pros for Stanford.

Matt Fortuna: If last week's game against BYU is any indication, Notre Dame is not taking this, or any contest, lightly.

Sure, the preseason goal of a return trip to the national title game was off the board by the end of a September. And further BCS hopes went up in flames with a flop at Pitt earlier this month. But with a long two weeks to decide whether to blow the rest of this season off or make something out of nothing -- while absorbing the potentially devastating news that Louis Nix's season, and likely Irish career, is over, too -- the Irish responded by putting together their most complete performance of the season against the Cougars.

BYU will not be mistaken for Stanford, but the Cardinal give the Irish plenty more to aim for than they had last week in the lead-up to Senior Day.

They are rivals, for one. The ties between the schools stretch from the field to the sideline to the administration. And they go after many of the same kids, too.

To add to that, Notre Dame has already beaten Arizona State and USC, two wins that look better and better by the week. A win in Palo Alto, Calif., would give the Irish a clean sweep this season of the Pac-12, no small accomplishment given how powerful that league has been this fall.

Plus, a win over No. 8 Stanford would give No. 25 Notre Dame its fourth win over a team that is currently -- and in the case of the Cardinal, will still be -- ranked in the BCS standings. (The Irish also handed No. 11 Michigan State its only loss.)

The only other schools with three wins over currently ranked teams? Stanford and ASU.

A win over Stanford would be make it two in a row for the Irish in the series, no small feat considering how badly the Cardinal had manhandled them in the previous three contests. It would also keep alive the possibility of a second straight 10-win season, another rarity, as the program had not accomplished such a feat since the 1991-93 campaigns, under Lou Holtz.

A date in the Pinstripe Bowl seems to be waiting for the Irish no matter how they play Saturday. But as Cam McDaniel told me in a passionate exchange following his career-best performance last week, to say Notre Dame has nothing left to play for this season is an "ignorant" statement.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, the fact that both of these teams agree to annually play a tough nonconference game is awesome. Who knows what the strength-of-schedule factor will be when the new playoff format rolls around? But here’s a couple of teams that don’t dodge the big games.

As Matt noted, this is a huge game for recruiting purposes because there aren’t many programs in the country that truly recruit nationally. These teams do.

Pending the outcome of the Territorial Cup (that’s Arizona State vs. Arizona for all the Notre Dame folks) the Cardinal could either host the Pac-12 championship game for the second year in a row or could end up in Tempe next week. The outcome of this game has zero bearing on that. But either way, Stanford doesn’t want to be heading into that game with a loss.

The Cardinal have a couple of streaks they’d like to keep alive, as well. For starters, Stanford is riding a 15-game home winning streak, the second-longest in the country behind South Carolina. The Cardinal are 12-1 at home against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 since 2009 and are 36-3 at home since the final game of 2007. A win could also lock up a fourth-straight 10-win season for Stanford.

That’s all well and good. But the name of the game is momentum -- and Stanford needs to keep it going heading into the Pac-12 championship game, regardless of the venue.

A loss to the Irish stunts the momentum of last week’s 63-13 thrashing of rival Cal. Further, should they fall in the Pac-12 title game, they’d plummet down the bowl game pecking order.

Finally, the national perception of the league is at stake. Matt notes Notre Dame’s previous wins this season -- which includes wins over South Division champ ASU and USC -- but it goes back to last year as well. The Irish are currently riding a four-game winning streak over the Pac-12 following last year’s wins over Stanford and USC. Should Notre Dame win, Brian Kelly gets my vote as Pac-12 coach of the year.

Stanford coach David Shaw and his players have reiterated several times this week that this year’s game isn’t about revenge. Stanford is a different team, Notre Dame is a different team. Makes sense. But somewhere deep down there has to be a little bit of bitterness for how things played out in last year's rainy, overtime game.

And let’s not forget the greatest motivation of all. Whether it's Week 1 or Week 14, losing always stinks.
Stanford coach David Shaw often points to last year’s Notre Dame game as a turning point for his program.

You might recall the rainy, overtime ending steeped in controversy that fueled the Cardinal’s us-versus-the-world mentality following the 20-13 loss. It was the kick in the bark that propelled Stanford to eight straight wins and a Rose Bowl victory to close out the year.

And when the Irish roll into Palo Alto this weekend for the regular-season finale for both teams, Shaw knows this much: Last year’s game has absolutely nothing to do with this year’s.

“The replay official said we didn’t cross the line so the game was over. It’s on Stanford’s football team from last year for not getting it done and Notre Dame for getting it done. That’s what happened last year.

[+] EnlargeTrent Murphy
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Trent Murphy says Stanford isn't dwelling on last year's controversial loss at Notre Dame.
“ … A football season has highs and lows and the good teams bounce back because you can’t have a season of all highs. When things don’t go your way you regroup and you retool and you go back after it again. That’s what we did last year after the Notre Dame game. That’s what we did this year after the USC game. This is going to be a great game that’s not going to hinge at all on what happened last year.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by his players.

“That was a long time ago,” Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy said. “I think last year’s game doesn’t really have any carryover into this season. It’s a new team and a new year … [but] there is always something to learn from.”

Added quarterback Kevin Hogan: “We can’t treat this like a revenge game. It’s over. We have a new team, they have a completely new team.”

Saturday’s game has zero bearing on the outcome of the Pac-12 standings. The Cardinal have already locked up the Pac-12 North Division and will be playing in the championship game for the second straight year. Home field advantage isn’t even an issue for the title game, because it all hinges on what happens between Arizona and Arizona State. If the Sun Devils win, they’ll host the title game in Tempe. If not, it will be in Palo Alto again.

But that’s not to say the Cardinal still don’t have plenty of motivation. They are riding a 15-game home winning streak, second longest in the nation behind South Carolina, and since 2009 they are 12-1 against teams ranked in either the AP or coaches poll. Notre Dame is 25th in the BCS and AP polls.

To say nothing of the roller coaster that has been the 2013 Stanford season. Touted early on as a national champion contender, the Cardinal lost on the road to Utah, but bounced back strong with their second-straight win over Oregon. Then a loss to USC essentially wrapped up the conference crown for the Ducks. But Arizona had different thoughts.

Now, the Cardinal are back in the championship game. According to Shaw, that wackiness is just par for the course in the Pac-12.

“It’s college football,” Shaw said. “And I remind people that we don’t go through all the ups and downs that maybe the media and even the fans go through because we’ve got more games to play. If we win a big game they don’t cancel the next week and if we lose a game they don’t cancel the next week. During the week when people are lamenting and calling me names and the sky is falling when we lose and when people are exalting us and telling us how wonderful we are when we win, those things can’t ever affect the football team or the coaches because we move on and play the next week.”

And this week’s opportunity offers the Cardinal a chance to snap Notre Dame’s 2013 stranglehold on the Pac-12. The Irish have already knocked off ASU, the South Division champs, and USC. So there is plenty of reason from a national perspective for the Cardinal not to look over the horizon to Arizona State in next week’s title game.

“One of our team goals is going 1-0 every week and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Murphy said. “We got into Cal week and we had to go 1-0, keep the Axe and it was a big game for us. Now we’re facing Notre Dame and it’s the biggest game for us and we need this victory.”

Pac-12 mailbag

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
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Ted's back next week. I'll be off. And then we'll both be in Los Angeles for Pac-12 media day. Start thinking of some questions.

As always, follow us on Twitter.

To the notes!

Terry in West Linn, Ore. writes: Where would Marqise Lee be in a list of Trojan greats if you could only pick one football season in each player's career? Who is your ''Greatest Trojan ever?" I've never seen a better receiver.

Kevin Gemmell: We're looking at one season only? Yikes. Hard to overlook Marcus Allen and his 2,427 yards and 22 touchdowns in 1981. He had 433 carries in 12 games. That's a crazy amount. Consider last year's league leader in carries was Stanford's Stepfan Taylor who had 322 in 14 games. Allen set or tied 16 NCAA records during his time at USC and was the first player to ever break 2000 yards (2,342, technically bowl games didn't count back then).

In 2005, Reggie Bush averaged 8-point-freaking-7 yards per carry. That's a pretty good season, also.

If you're talking just wide receivers, then yes, Lee is at the top of the conversation with his 2012 numbers (118 catches, 1,721 yards, 14 touchdowns). There have only been two other USC receivers to have at least 100 catches in a season, Keyshawn Johnson in 1995 and Robert Woods in 2011. Lee was prolific last season and he should have been -- at the very least -- a Heisman finalist if not the winner. Something I've previously railed about.

But if I were drafting No. 1 overall, like the WeAreSC folks did earlier this week, I'd probably go with Allen.




Denny in Seattle writes: On several occasions over the last few months, I've seen you use the phrase "non-traditional rivalries" when referring to Oregon-Washington. What does that mean?

Kevin Gemmell: You're not the first to ask, and I'm a little surprised by all of the blowback that comment gets. It's one of those things that you write and don't really think it's a big deal, but I guess to a lot of people it is.

Let me say, first off, that I'm in no way trying to downgrade the rivalry between Oregon and Washington or Stanford and USC or USC and Notre Dame by using the phrase non-traditional rivalries. I just think of "traditional" rivalries as the ones that are traditionally played at the end of the season: Cal-Stanford, USC-UCLA, Arizona-Arizona State, Oregon-Oregon State, Washington-Washington State.

Ask most Stanford fans would you rather beat USC or Cal, they'd say Cal. Or, let me re-phrase that: Who would they rather lose to? USC or Cal?

Ask Washington fans who they'd rather lose to, Oregon or Washington State? I'm sure the Oregon loss hurt last year. Since you're writing from Seattle, I assume you're a Washington fan -- you can't tell me the Oregon loss tasted worse than the Washington State loss.

All of those games are great rivalries -- and it's OK to have more than one rival. Oregon-Stanford is certainly a rivalry game these days and I think UCLA and ASU is blossoming into one. The Utah-Colorado "rivalry" seems forced. Maybe it will develop into one. Maybe not.

I'm just using the term "traditional" in regards to the teams that typically play at the end of the season. I guess from now on I could get into semantics and say "regional" rivalries. But I think those games I mentioned mean just a little bit more than that.

By the way, I love that people get passionate over semantics. That's what makes college football so great.

(Read full post)

Yesterday we polled the most intriguing nonconference game in the Pac-12 North. As promised, today we poll the South Division. Here's the full nonconference primer series so you can review the games.

Not surprised to see Stanford versus Notre Dame and Washington versus Boise State as the two games people view as most intriguing. Though I thought it would have been a little closer. I voted Washington -- and I think I've pretty sufficiently hammered home my thoughts on how important that game is over the last few weeks.

SportsNation

What's the most intriguing nonconference game in the South Division?

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    4%
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    24%
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    28%
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    25%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,027)

On to the South, with another round of excellent matchups. Arizona State has two of them, but in the interest of getting more teams into the poll I had to make a Solomon-like choice between the Wisconsin and Notre Dame games. Some of you might agree, some won't.

So, on to the poll. What's the most intriguing nonconference game in the South Division? Your options (determined by chronological order):

Sept. 1, Colorado versus Colorado State (in Denver): One of Colorado's oldest rivals, Colorado State could provide a tone-setter for Mike MacIntyre's first season as the Buffs' coach. Last year's game was a close one, and a lot of people are eager to see what the Buffs will look like once shaped in Mac's image. Colorado gave Jim McElwain his first win as CSU's coach. We'll see if the Rams can return the favor.

Sept. 14, ASU versus Wisconsin: As noted, I was on the fence between this one and Notre Dame. But I picked this one because it's the first game of that four-game stretch that also includes Stanford, USC and then Notre Dame. If the Sun Devils don't win this one, it could be bad vibes going into those next three games. Win it, and they've got the Big Mo moving forward.

Sept. 14, UCLA at Nebraska: The return trip from last year's game at the Rose Bowl should be a great one. Two athletic quarterbacks -- two teams that will likely start in the top 25 and a fantastic showcase game for the Pac-12 and Big Ten.

Sept. 21, Utah at BYU: I think the season opener against Utah State is also critical for the Utes. But this one is the Holiest of Holies. And while discussions are in the works to keep the series going, there is still going to be a two-year gap where bragging rights will mean everything.

Oct. 19, USC at Notre Dame: A classic rivalry that always garners plenty of national attention, this year's contest has plenty of intrigue. What will USC's quarterback situation look like in mid-October? Will the Irish still have their regular-season win streak? Last year's game in LA was a microcosm of everything that went wrong for the Trojans in 2012 and they'll be eager to make amends on the road.
The nonconference primer series came to a close Monday afternoon with the final installment of Washington State. Consider yourselves primed.

Looking over the nonconference slate for each team, there are some good games. Too many to limit to the five-option maximum of a normal poll. So we're going to split them up with a North poll today and a South poll tomorrow. (Auto-correct is trying to change it to North Pole and South Pole, kinda funny). Both divisions have some quality nonconference matchups. Today, we'll vote on the North and tomorrow we'll vote on the South.

SportsNation

What's the most intriguing nonconference game in the North Division?

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    30%
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    8%
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    16%
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    42%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,593)

What's the most intriguing nonconference game in the North Division? Your options (determined by chronological order):

Aug. 31, Washington vs. Boise State: The Pac-12 blog hasn't been shy expressing its thoughts about this game. The rematch of last year's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas showdown -- which Boise State won in the fourth quarter -- could have tremendous ramifications for the Huskies -- win or lose.

Aug. 31, Washington State at Auburn: Two teams that were down last season, and two teams with offensive-minded coaches. And there is always Pac-12/SEC pride on the line.

Sept. 14, Cal vs. Ohio State: It's not every day that a potential No. 1 team in the country comes to the East Bay for a nonconference game. And considering how Cal pushed the Buckeyes last season, it's certainly worth tuning in for. I wouldn't say Ohio State is on upset alert -- especially with Cal thrusting a green quarterback into a new system with a new coach. But I'm not completely sold that Ohio State wins this one without a little effort.

Sept. 21, Oregon State at San Diego State: It should be a winnable game for the Beavers ... should be. But the Aztecs have been on a hot streak in recent years -- including a gutty road win at Boise last season that helped them get a slice of the conference title. Adam Muema is one of the nation's top backs, and Qualcomm Stadium and Mike Riley never really agreed. This smells like a trap.

Nov. 30, Notre Dame at Stanford: This one could have BCS bowl game implications. Last year's game -- and its controversial ending -- proved to be a turning point for both teams. Will this year's have the same implications?
We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 8.

Saturday, Oct. 19
  • Utah at Arizona
  • Washington at Arizona State
  • USC at Notre Dame
  • UCLA at Stanford
  • Washington State at Oregon
  • Oregon State at California
My choice: USC at Notre Dame

Why: Tough decision this week trying to decide between a rematch of last year's Pac-12 title game or a nonconference meeting between rivals USC and Notre Dame. Washington at Arizona State is also very intriguing.

Ultimately -- since this is a road trip -- we're leaning toward a trip to South Bend, Indiana. We've been to Palo Alto once already (this will be our seventh city in eight weeks), and it's a foregone conclusion that we'll be back in the Bay again in Week 11, so in the interest of continuing to hit as many cities as possible while protecting the integrity of intriguing matchups, we head to Indiana. Plus, I've got a funny feeling we're going to see UCLA next week.

This is the second of three games that features Notre Dame versus the Pac-12. The Irish face ASU in Week 6 on neutral ground, and will close out the season at Stanford. This week, they play host under the lights to the Trojans.

Last year's matchup -- which Notre Dame won 22-13, thus punching its ticket to the BCS title game -- was a microcosm of everything that went wrong for the Trojans in 2012. Make a play, win a game. They didn't make a play. Make a stop, win a game. They didn't make a stop. The final six minutes make train wrecks look delightful. Let's relive it mentally, shall we?
  • 1st and Goal at ND 2: USC penalty, 5-yard false start.
  • 1st and Goal at ND 7: Curtis McNeal rush 3 yards.
  • 2nd and Goal at ND 4: ND penalty, pass interference.
  • 1st and Goal at ND 2: ND penalty, pass interference.
  • 1st and Goal at ND 1: Max Wittek rush no gain.
  • 2nd and goal at ND 1: Max Wittek rush no gain.
  • 3rd and Goal at ND 1: Curtis McNeal rush for no gain.
  • 4th and Goal at ND 1: Max Wittek pass incomplete to Soma Vainuku.

The execution was bad. The play-calling was bad. The clock management was bad. It was all just so bad, bad, bad. I would say it was the final insult on a downer of a year. If only we knew what was looming in the Sun Bowl.

But the Trojans have moved on from last season -- so they say. They have a revamped defense and a bad taste in their mouths that they are eager to Listerine away.

This game could help with that. Big time. This is a crucial game for USC if it hopes to rebuild its national reputation, which is damaged, but not irreparable. It's also one of those "must-win" games for USC coach Lane Kiffin, who finds himself on the hottest seat in all of college football heading into 2013.

The Arizona State game on Sept. 28 will be a challenge -- especially at Tempe. But all the other games up until this one should be considered winnable for the Trojans. They should be either 6-0, or at worst, 5-1 heading into this game, and enjoying a top 25 ranking. A victory on the road possibly clinches a bowl berth. But more importantly, it could secure Kiffin's job and remind the rest of the country that the Trojans were simply down last year, and not out.

Nonconference primer: USC

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
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We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

USC

at Hawaii, Aug. 29
  • Coach: Norm Chow (3-9), second year
  • 2012 record: 3-9, 1-7 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: 9 offense, 8 defense
  • Offensive headliner: We met the offensive line in the Oregon State nonconference primer. Wide receiver Scott Harding is back after catching 20 balls and a pair of touchdowns last year with a 12.8 yards-per-reception average.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Art Laurel posted 51 tackles, including 13.5 for a loss and four sacks last season while also forcing a fumble.
  • The skinny: This is actually the first time we'll see Hawaii this season, though they make back-to-back appearances against the Pac-12 and will travel to the mainland a week later to face Oregon State. Last year's game was a blowout in LA, with the Trojans winning 49-10. The first play of the game was a 75-yard touchdown from Matt Barkley to Marqise Lee. Many thought it was a harbinger. Many were wrong. Will be interesting to see how Taylor Graham, a QB transfer from Ohio State, factors in.
Boston College, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Steve Addazio, first year
  • 2012 record: 2-10, 1-7 ACC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Chase Rettig returns at quarterback after completing 54.2 percent of his throws with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2012.
  • Defensive headliner: One of the coolest names for a linebacker in all of college football -- Steele Divitto -- is back after posting 92 tackles last year while forcing a pair of fumbles and recovering four of them.
  • The skinny: The Eagles return a lot of players -- particularly on defense -- but it was a defense that gave up a lot of yards and never got much pressure -- ranking 120th last year in sacks and tackles for a loss. It's been a couple of down years, but they are only a few seasons removed from being an 11-win team. They should improve on the two wins from last year, but it's still better to get them early in the season.
Utah State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Matt Wells, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 6-0 WAC
  • Returning starters: eight offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Chuckie Keeton, a first-team all-league performer, returns after completing 67.6 percent of his throws for 3,373 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jake Doughty led the team with 109 tackles and also notched 3.5 tackles for a loss and a sack while earning first-team all-league honors.
  • The skinny: Keeton is back, but he also has all five starters on the line protecting him -- a group that helped departed running back Kerwynn Williams rush for 1,512 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells was promoted as head coach after Gary Andersen took the Wisconsin job, so continuity is in place. This is a squad that topped Sonny Dykes' Louisiana Tech team and Mike MacIntyre's San Jose State team last year. Their only losses were to BYU and Wisconsin by a combined five points.
at Notre Dame, Oct. 19
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1, Independent
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver T.J. Jones matched the team high last season with 50 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Behind that stout defensive front, linebacker Dan Fox is back after posting 63 tackles last season, including two for a loss.
  • The skinny: So ... last year's game was ugly. The Trojans ended 2012 by losing five of their last six -- including three straight. This one was sandwiched in between losses to UCLA and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl and the Irish were able to punch their ticket to the BCS championship game at the Trojans expense. This is the second of three Pac-12/Notre Dame showdowns.
Thoughts: The Trojans are one of the few teams in the league that don't have an FCS team on their nonconference schedule. That being said, Hawaii and Boston College shouldn't be considered much of a threat. Because the Trojans play at Hawaii, they get to add an additional game -- and that's Utah State -- a team that's risen the ranks of the non-BCS hierarchy the last few seasons. How they do under a new coach (even though he was promoted from within) will be interesting to see. The fact that the Trojans will have already played three games prior to their meeting with the Aggies is in USC's favor, especially as Lane Kiffin and Co. continue to break in a new quarterback. Notre Dame is obviously a historical rivalry, and last year the Irish provided a twisty dagger in the vein of shortcomings that was USC in 2012. Retribution should be on USC's mind. Two games are very winnable, one game smells like a trap and the other is a rivalry game. Fans and players should expect nothing less than 4-0, though 3-1 wouldn't be outrageous considering they are playing in South Bend.

Nonconference primer: Stanford

June, 27, 2013
6/27/13
7:00
PM ET
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Stanford

San Jose State, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Ron Caragher, first year
  • 2012 record: 11-2, 5-1 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback David Fales returns as the FBS's most accurate quarterback from 2012. Last year he completed 72.5 percent of his throws while tossing 33 touchdowns and 4,193 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive tackle Travis Raciti returns after earning All-WAC honors last season. He posted 13 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks.
  • The skinny: Mike MacIntyre revitalized the struggling program and in three years had them at double-digit wins. Now Caragher shepherds them into the Mountain West Conference. Stanford has dominated the Bill Walsh Legacy Game -- though the Spartans gave them quite the scare last season. The Fales-to-Noel Grigsby connection could end up being one of the most dangerous in the country and should not be taken lightly.
at Army, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Rich Ellerson (17-32) fifth season
  • 2012 record: 2-10, Independent
  • Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Raymond Maples is just the third Army player in school history to post consecutive 1,000 yard seasons after rushing for 1,215 yards and two touchdowns last year, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive back Geoffrey Bacon returns after leading Army with 136 tackles last year -- which was fifth nationally in tackles per game at 11.3. This year he's moving from linebacker to the secondary.
  • The skinny: Despite the record, Army still had the No. 1 rushing attack in the country last year, averaging almost 370 yards on the ground per game. Match that against a Stanford front seven that was fifth nationally against the run and second in tackles for a loss and there should be plenty of helmet paint being traded.
Notre Dame, Nov. 30
  • Coach: Brian Kelly, (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1, Independent
  • Offensive headliner: We talked about left tackle Zack Martin in the ASU nonconference primer. He'll be clearing the way for George Atkinson III, who averaged 7.1 yards per carry last year and scored five touchdowns on 361 rushing yards.
  • Defensive headliner: We mentioned Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix in the ASU article. Nix is phenomenal at stopping the run, which is worth noting again, given what the Cardinal will want to do on offense.
  • The skinny: Stanford head coach David Shaw pointed to the Notre Dame game last year -- and its highly-controversial ending -- as a turning point for the Cardinal's run to the Rose Bowl. This one is the season finale for both teams so it's possible that it could have national-championship implications for both squads.
Thoughts: A fairly challenging nonconference slate. Remember after the season opener last year, we were all wondering what was wrong with Stanford? Turns out San Jose State was pretty darn good. Shaw told us, we didn't listen. Considering who the Spartans have coming back, chances are they'll be good again. Interestingly enough, Caragher replaced Jim Harbaugh and Shaw at USD after the duo left for Stanford, so there's your Kevin Bacon moment for this game. Army doesn't pose much of a threat on the field and, of course, the Notre Dame game was one of the most controversial matchups in all of college football last season. The Cardinal are legitimate BCS championship contenders. Should they top San Jose State -- which should be considered a quality win, or at least, not a cupcake win -- it points them in the right direction heading into a difficult Pac-12 slate. Should they escape that unscathed, a home date with the Irish could determine Stanford's postseason placement. And for a team looking to add a fourth-straight BCS game, nay the BCS game, only 3-0 will do.
Only six more mailbags until media day, so enjoy each one.

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To the notes!

Greg in Los Angeles writes: Which team makes the biggest turnaround from 2012? Is it Cal with a new staff? Colorado which could double (triple?) it's win total from last year? Does USC do a 180 from it's previous miserable performance? (And no poll would be complete without an 'Oregon' option)

Kevin Gemmell: Are those my only options?

I think Cal is going to improve -- but the record might not show it simply because of who they have to play. The nonconference schedule is brutal. The North is brutal. I think I wrote something somewhere at sometime not to be surprised if Cal sneaks up on one of the top four in the North and pulls an upset. But of those top four, three of them are on the road (Oregon State is the only home game).

Colorado -- as you deftly point out -- could triple its win total. I could see that. I think Colorado State and Central Arkansas are winnable and then there might be one or two more wins out there. I think you certainly would chalk up a three- or four-win season as a victory for the Buffs and Mike MacIntyre in his first year.

As for the Trojans, I think they need at least nine wins to pick up the pieces from last year. If they only get eight, they had better beat UCLA and Notre Dame along the way. I'm not sold that the sky is falling on USC -- but I do think they are at a critical juncture. As I've noted a few times, I really like the switch to the 3-4 and think that's going to pay huge dividends because they have to do a better job stopping the run. They are right there with ASU and UCLA as legitimate contenders for the South Division. And if they end up in the Pac-12 title game, that would certainly qualify as a turnaround season.

Bob in Tempe writes: How the hell you have Washington over ASU is beyond me. Damn Californians ...

Kevin Gemmell: I'm not sure how being from California impacts the projection of a team from Washington over a team from Arizona. But I'll let that one slide.

As I noted in the future power rankings, Arizona State could very well be at the top of the rankings in 2016. Just give me one season of double-digit wins. One season with multiple wins over ranked opponents. One season where they finish the year ranked and I'll buy it.

And here's the counter argument -- you haven't seen that from Washington, either. And you're right. We haven't seen a 10-win season. But they did beat two top 10 teams last year, where Arizona State beat No. 24 Arizona in a rivalry game.

Don't get me wrong, I'm high on ASU this year. But those future power rankings were as much about building a program and sustaining success. I think Washington has already gone through the process of building up their program and now they are ready to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Whereas ASU is still in the early stages of re-branding itself under Todd Graham. That's not a knock on the program. It just takes time. And I'm convinced he's the right guy for the job. He and I were chatting yesterday, as a matter of fact, and I'm buying what he's selling.

Bob, you've inspired me! Everyone, if you feel compelled over the weekend, send me what your future power rankings will look like in 2016. Be reasonable (if possible). And try to be logical (if possible). If we get enough that are publishable, Ted and I will run some of them next week. Same format, rank them 1-through-12 with a sentence or two explaining your logic.

Harry in Minnesota writes: Kevin:Thanks for your excellent and detailed coverage of the conference and my favorite team in it, Stanford. Ok. But: I'm not clear why so many pundits ranks Brent Hundley so highly. I've watched and rewatched Hundley's two games against Stanford, and they prompted me to compare Hundley's numbers with Kevin Hogan's: PER: Hogan 148, Hundley 148 Third down PER: Hogan 142, Hundley 120.Third down conversion percentage passing: Hogan 47%, Hundley 38% Third down conversion percentage passing or rushing: Hogan 43%, Hundley 34 + runs: Hundley 19 (1.4 per game), Hogan 15 (2.5 per game)First downs rushing: Hundley 25 (1.9 per game); Hogan 19 (3.2 per game)W-L: Hundley 9-5, Hogan 6-0. On first down and with the option of giving the ball to Jonathan Franklin, Hundley was an effective quarterback. After that, but particularly on the money down (3rd), he was remarkably less effective. Of course, it may be that the pundits rank Hogan right behind him, but hesitate to say that until Hogan has more than six games to his resume. Perhaps. But I'm left with the feeling that Brent Hundley just looks the part of a fast, athletic, dangerous college quarterback; it's a Moneyball effect. Do you agree? Or am I missing something that my eyes and the statistics miss?

Kevin Gemmell: Like the fact that after first down, Hundley was left scrambling for his life? Only two teams in FBS football were worse at allowing sacks than UCLA (and both actually come from the Pac-12). Hundley takes some of the blame -- he has to get better at knowing when to throw it away. But he certainly didn't have the quality of offensive line play that Hogan did. UCLA was playing three freshman and a guy who hadn't played football in two years.

That will change this year. And I suspect Hundley will be a much better quarterback for it. He is the real deal. But I think Hogan is as well.

Both are outstanding quarterbacks. But Stanford did a much better job protecting Hogan -- literally and figuratively. Hundley was thrown right into the thick of it -- with a new coach running a new offense that he wasn't recruited for. Both had outstanding backs to lean on. Both have outstanding coaches overseeing their progress.

But they also run two very different types of systems. And if you're just watching Hundley in those two games, remember those came at the tail end of his first year as starter and he'd already been put on his back more than 40 times. It's a long season and those shots added up. He's added about 17 pounds of muscle (I was pretty shocked when I first saw him when I went up there to visit in spring ball), but he's retained his speed.

Just for funsies, let's say Hogan was at UCLA and Hundley was at Stanford (to my knowledge, Hogan wasn't offered by any other Pac-12 schools, but Hundley did receive an offer from Stanford).

Hundley wouldn't have had to learn a new system with a new coach (he would have learned for a year under Andrew Luck). And suppose was brought along slowly -- as Hogan was -- and inserted halfway into the year. My guess is we'd probably see similar results. And I think if Hogan started 14 games for the Bruins, we'd probably see close to similar results there.

In his first year as a starter, Hundley completed 66.5 percent of his throws with 29 touchdowns. I'll take that from a first-year starter.

So in the end -- Hogan or Hundley? Hundley or Hogan? I think both are perfect fits for where they are at. And the fans are the real winners because when you toss in Marcus Mariota and Taylor Kelly, you've got a really exciting crop of quarterbacks to watch each week.

Just Saying in Las Vegas writes: I am going to be the guy to say the obvious, the Pac 12 will be known as the sissy conference if this "no contact rule" is enforced. Why doesn't the Pac 12 just give up their manhood and sponsor soccer? Football is a man's sport; a violent sport. That's just how it is. It's hard to feel THAT sorry for college players when they get these huge scholarships and everything [including grades] handed to them. Then if they go pro, we're talking about millions upon millions of dollars annually. I am so glad the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and ACC actually have some pride by continuing to allow hits in practice. I know you guys are Pac 12 cheerleaders, so get ready to be making lame excuses as to why Pac teams just aren't as tough as other power conference teams.

Kevin Gemmell: Wow, someone drank too much come-at-me-bro-juice this morning and got their TapOut undies in a bunch.

First, the premise of your note is wrong. It's not a no-contact rule. It's limiting the amount of hitting in practice -- something that a lot of schools in those conferences you mentioned are already doing. And they are doing it in the NFL also. In fact, I'm pretty sure what the Pac-12 is doing is mostly drawn from NFL policy. They'll release the official policy next month, but I promise it's nothing that already isn't being done across the country.

And you don't need to have suffered a concussion to suffer from brain damage.

You are right, though. This is a violent game. And as we move into the College Football Playoff era, there is going to be a call for standardization across the board: Standardized scheduling, number of assistants for assistants etc. And yes -- full-on hitting in practice is going to be one of those things that I believe will be regulated across college football in the coming years. You might not like it, but this is the direction of football -- professional or otherwise. And it's been happening for a while. The Pac-12 is just the first to standardize it and put out a press release about it.

So have another Rockstar and get on board, or pick another sport to follow.

But if you're feeling extra geeked up, feel free to walk up to this guy and call him a sissy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy.

And by the way, on this blog, you'll get a lot more respect if you actually use your name. Just saying.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Arizona State

Sacramento State, Sept. 5
  • Coach: Marshall Sperbeck (30-37), seventh year
  • 2012 record: 6-5, 4-4 Big Sky
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Ezekiel Graham is the top offensive threat, rushing for 861 yards and five touchdowns last season. Not huge numbers, but he also makes his mark as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 40 balls for 406 yards and two touchdowns last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Todd Davis has led the Hornets in tackles the past couple of seasons and there's little reason to think he won't again. He posted 103 tackles last year -- including an impressive 13.5 for a loss.
  • The skinny: Not to worry. It's just an FCS team, right? Well, considering the Hornets have beaten Pac-12 teams in back-to-back years, that should at least perk the ears of ASU up a little bit. They topped Oregon State 29-28 in overtime in 2011 and then a year later beat Colorado, 30-28, on a walk-off field goal by a walk-on kicker. The chance of an upset isn't likely. But the history suggests enough to not sleepwalk through this game.
Wisconsin, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Gary Andersen, first year
  • Returning starters: eight offense, six defense
  • 2012 record: 8-6, 4-4 Big Ten
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis headlines a pretty deep wide receiving corps. A first-team All Big Ten selection last year, he caught 49 balls for 837 yards and five touchdowns. The former walk-on QB is tops among all active FBS players with an average of 16.7 yards per catch. He's also a dangerous punt returner.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Chris Borland needs 144 tackles this season to become Wisconsin's all-time leader. He's forced 14 career fumbles -- the most in school history and most among active NCAA players.
  • The skinny: Andersen was a hot name among potential Pac-12 coaching vacancies, but last year's WAC coach of the year instead ended up in the land of cheese. Last year the Badgers became the third Big Ten team to play in three consecutive Rose Bowls -- though they lost all three, including to Stanford last season and Oregon in 2011-2012. New offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig also has strong ties to the Pac-12, having worked at Cal, Utah and Oregon.
Notre Dame, Oct. 5 (In Arlington, Texas)
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (28-10), fourth year
  • Returning starters: six offense, eight defense
  • 2012 record: 12-1 Independent
  • Offensive headliner: Skill position players are more fun to talk about, but left tackle Zack Martin will be starting for the fourth straight year and he's a captain. Watching him against ASU's defensive front will be a great game within the game.
  • Defensive headliner: Take your pick between defensive end Stephon Tuitt or noseguard Louis Nix. Both are elite playmakers and present a defensive front that rivals the talent and athleticism of ASU's.
  • The skinny: The last time we saw Notre Dame, it was getting run up and down the field by Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game. But before that, the Irish were perfect -- including wins over Stanford and USC. Though they tiptoed through quite a few rain drops along the way -- and haven't had the quietest of offseasons -- this should be a game of national interest. Both teams will have already played tough games (ASU: Wisconsin, at Stanford, USC; Notre Dame: at Michigan, Oklahoma) but a potential meeting of Top-25 teams on a neutral site will draw plenty of intrigue.
Thoughts: No, I don't think Sacramento State will make it three in a row. ASU should out-distance and out-muscle the FCS squad fairly early. But the rest of the nonconference slate will get the Sun Devils some national attention. The Wisconsin game is intriguing. But because what the Sun Devils bring to the table -- that's a very winnable game. Notre Dame is the really interesting one. Not only because of the little bit of nastiness that's built up between the programs in recent weeks, but because it's on a neutral site and it comes after three straight games against Wisconsin, at Stanford and home to USC. That's a brutal gauntlet that could either propel ASU into the national spotlight or leave them scrambling to pick up the pieces. A 3-0 record is very possible. Going 2-1 is probable and 1-2 is the worst-case scenario (we're not even putting 0-3 on the table).

Midweek mailbag

May, 29, 2013
5/29/13
7:00
PM ET
I'll be stepping off the grid for a couple of weeks, leaving the blog in the loving, capable and never-sarcastic hands of Mr. Miller. But I didn't want some of these mailbag questions to go stale in my absence. So here's a special Wednesday edition of the mailbag.

No doubt, Ted will remind you on Friday to follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. In the meantime, here's another good one to follow.

Doug in Salem, Ore., writes: Would it not provide us a better Play off if the BCS and NCAA add three post season games on Championship Saturday where the winners move on to a selection committee locked in on only those 8 winners? Seems like that could weed out a Notre Dame if it is really a bad team, allow non-division champions a second chance to earn a spot and a non-AQ team a chance to prove itself. What do you think?

Kevin Gemmell: Essentially, what you're asking is if the playoff would be better with more teams. My answer is absolutely yes. I think an eight-team playoff would be outstanding. Change moves at a glacial pace, however, and this is the system we have in place for the next 12 years.

As for the Notre Dame issue -- they went 12-0. Granted, they tiptoed through dozens of raindrops to get there -- but they still went undefeated. And even if an additional game was added and Notre Dame was 12-1, it would be hard to imagine a scenario where a 12-1 Notre Dame team gets left out.

There is great concern that the new College Football Playoff is going to be a BCS by any other name. That's why so much of its success/failure is going to depend on the selection committee, how it's made up, and how much weight they give to certain variables such as strength of schedule. We have more than a decade to talk about what's wrong with the new system. Let's keep our fingers crossed that they get it right more often than not. Drop me a line again in 2025 and we can start talking about expansion (hopefully).




Andrew in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, writes: With the [Stanford] D given the chance to find itself and build momentum AND having a more balanced attack from the Offence, how will that let David Shaw take a four-down attitude inside the 40, sooner than later, regardless of the competition. This would show faith in both the O-Line, Hogan, and the whole defense to hold and not break. Champions are built on attitude and I'd like Shaw to challenge his players, but also show them his faith that they can do by their own merits, not just by playing the strategy of averages. If we get to the BCS Championship Game, we'll need that attitude and confidence. What do you think?

Kevin Gemmell: Allow me to offer a similar answer to the one I gave Kote in Palo Alto a few weeks back when he mentioned wanting to see some more aggressiveness from David Shaw.

Pac-12 coach of the year honors for David Shaw: 2

Pac-12 coach of the year honors for Andrew in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: 0

Like last time, this is offered with the gentlest of ribbing. Bear in mind that Shaw is an NFL-trained coach, running an NFL offense and he approaches the game with an NFL mentality. He'll continue to play the percentages and -- as he describes it -- take calculated risks when appropriate.

But he's also shown tremendous confidence in kicker Jordan Williamson to hit anything inside of 50. And if he misses, he'll keep trotting him out there. I think if the situation calls for it, he'll take a chance if the numbers are right. You mentioned more balance in the offense. Last year Stanford ran the ball 57 percent of the time. That's who they are. That's who they want to be. I wouldn't expect them to become pass-happy overnight, especially with an untested wide receiving corps.

When they punt on fourth-and-2 from their opponents' 45, it's not Shaw showing a lack of faith in his offense. It's him playing the field position game and believing, 1) his punter can pin the other team, 2) his defense can stop them on three downs, 3) he'll get the ball back around the same spot with four fresh downs. His players understand this. And if there's one thing Stanford isn't lacking -- it's attitude.

Perhaps with the offensive line the Cardinal have in 2013, they might take a couple of more chances during the season. But if you're looking for him to fill Chip Kelly's vacated seat and become the most aggressive playcaller in the league, you've got the wrong coach.




Paul in San Antonio writes: In your opinion: Lane Kiffin goes 8-4; beating UCLA but losing to ND.- Does Lane start looking to sell his house? Mike Leach goes 3-9; losing most conference games but again beating Washington- Does he go on the hot seat? Colorado goes 1-11, only beating an FCS team.- Is Mike MacIntyre on the hot seat? Utah again goes 3-6 in Pac 12 play and loses to BYU- Is Kyle Whittingham, despite his tenure, on the hot seat? Oregon State beats Oregon and wins the Pac 12- Will OSU?s national image start to beat out Oregon's?

Kevin Gemmell: I think if Kiffin wins eight or nine games and beats UCLA, he'll be safe. Remember, that win over UCLA might be the difference in winning the South Division. So if eight wins gets the job done and they go to the Pac-12 title game, he'll be back. If he loses both games and has another seven-win season, then I think things will get really dicey.

Washington State is invested heavily in Leach, so barring back-to-back 0-12 seasons, I don't see him being on the hot seat. But the pressure will be there to perform in Year 3. If noticeable strides aren't made after three seasons, then I think we'll see his seat warm. But my gut tells me he'll have them at least in bowl contention by the third year.

The MacIntyre situation is clouded by the fact that there's going to be a new athletic director. But I have a hard time believing that he'll be on the hot seat after one, or even two years. Remember, San Jose State took a step backward in his first year before they took steps forward in the second and third years. If three years later the Buffs have only won four games, then we'll talk.

I think you have to give Utah at least four seasons in the Pac-12 -- a full class cycle -- before you can start passing judgment on Whittingham. Remember, not only are they adjusting to a higher level of play every week, but they need a grace period to re-work how they operate their program. Utah is seeing television money never thought possible in the Mountain West, and part of the learning curve is figuring out the proper way to appropriate that funding. Hiring Dennis Erickson is a great start -- a move they never would have been able to make financially in a non-AQ conference. Nor would a non-AQ team be able to attract a big-name coach like Erickson to be a coordinator. Let the money sink in, let the new facilities work their magic on recruits and if Utah has a four- or five-year bowl drought, then you can open up discussions. But Whittingham -- who I believe to be an outstanding coach -- should be sitting on ice for now.

If Oregon State beats Oregon (assuming that's part of a 10 or 11-win season) it will certainly up the nation's impression of the Beavers. But it's going to take more than one victory to raise their national image above Oregon's. The Ducks have done it for a while now -- four straight BCS bowl games, including the national championship. There's a lot of work for the Beavers to do to even be considered in the same conversation with the Ducks nationally. They have to have about four or five consecutive 10-win seasons, go to multiple BCS (or playoff) games and beat the Ducks several years in a row.
Last week we gave you our thoughts on the teams we thought had the toughest schedule. There are a couple different schools of thought. There is the straight-forward raw data -- which goes off of the combined records/winning percentage of last season's opponents. If you want to use that methodology, here's how the schedules shape up in terms of difficulty.
  • California: 93-60 (.588)
  • Colorado: 90-63 (.588)
  • Utah: 90-64 (.584)
  • Stanford: 88-65 (.575)
  • Arizona State: .87-67 (.564)
  • Oregon State: 81-72 (.529)
  • Washington State: 80-71 (.529)
  • UCLA: 81-73 (.525)
  • USC: 86-79 (.521)
  • Washington: 73-73 (.519)
  • Arizona: 73-77 (.486)
  • Oregon: 67-83 (.446)

This makes for a good jumping off point, but it's hardly definitive since teams change so much from year to year in terms of personality and personnel. Oregon State was a prime example last season -- going from 3-9 in 2011 to 9-4 in 2012.

SportsNation

Which Pac-12 team has the toughest schedule in 2013?

  •  
    22%
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    33%
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    12%
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    13%
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    20%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,869)

You could also examine the schedule by the way it plays out (home vs. road games/timing of bye weeks) coupled with the expectations of each team. This is what the bloggers did -- with me taking Oregon State and their brutal second-half slate, and Ted going with Stanford's power-packed lineup.

Was that the right approach? What are your thoughts? Which Pac-12 team has the toughest schedule in 2013?

Arizona State: An early stretch of four straight games against Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame will tell us an awful lot about the Sun Devils and whether their preseason hype is deserved. No bye weeks separating these, either. Going to be an interesting month in Sun Devil country.

Cal: It might be a tough first year for new head coach Sonny Dykes. The Bears face six teams that won at least nine games last season -- and they have three national championship contenders with Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford on the docket.

Oregon State: The Beavers go from a pretty non-threatening first half to a mettle-testing final five. For a team hoping to make a splash on the national stage, it'll have to buckle down after what should be -- at the very least -- a 6-1 start.

Stanford: Tough games early and rivalry games late. And as Ted notes, for a team that hopes to play for a national championship, there is no room for error.

Other: Colorado and Utah -- statistically speaking -- have very difficult lineups. Eight of the 11 FBS teams Colorado faces this year went to a bowl game last season, and nine of the 11 that Utah faces were in the postseason in 2012.
Tomorrow, we'll know. But for one more day, we mock.

The Darrelle Revis trade forced ESPN.com's Todd McShay to go back in and reevaluate the Mock Draft 5.0 Insider that he released earlier this month. That was a good looking mock draft for the Pac-12, which had Oregon's Dion Jordan going No. 2, Utah's Star Lotulelei going No. 4, Washington's Desmond Trufant at No. 21 and UCLA's Datone Jones going No. 29.

But the Revis trade sent shockwaves -- at least through the mock world. Things look a little different Insider for the conference in Mock Draft 5.1.
The trade also has Mel Kiper Jr. re-thinking his first round Insider. Here's where the Pac-12 players stand in his updated mock draft.
Interesting to see that McShay dropped Trufant all the way off his board, while Kiper has him in the top 20. Also, an appearance from Long in the first round suggests that his stock has risen considerably in the last few weeks.

Obviously, tomorrow will settle the debate. But we've now seen anywhere from three to nine Pac-12 players who could go in the first round. As of Feb. 19, the consensus among the fans (though not by much) was that the Pac-12 would have four players go in the first round.

Right now Jordan and Lotulelei seem like locks. We thought Trufant was a lock (and the Pac-12 blog still believes he is), though McShay thinks otherwise. Ertz has been on the fence -- though Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert has widened the gap between the top two tight ends. One scout told the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner that Ertz's "lack of being a blocker " likely has him targeted for the second round. Stepfan Taylor might disagree.

Jones and Long are intriguing possibilities. Jones' stock has been climbing since the NFL scouting combine in February. Woods, USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Cal's Keenan Allen are all up in the air and have been projected anywhere from the first to third rounds.

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