Pac-12: Oregon State Beavers

Pac-12 morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
8:00
AM ET
I spent four lonely days in a brown L.A. haze, and I just want you back by my side.

Leading off

It's time to take our weekly stroll through The Eliminator. Not that one. This one. (But kudos to you if you know the reference).

The good news is, no Pac-12 teams were officially "eliminated" this week, per our Mark Schlabach. But a few teams were relegated to the "on the fence" category. One-loss Stanford and USC were already dangling. This week they are joined by Arizona State, Oregon State, Utah and Washington -- all who dropped their first games of the season over the weekend.

Here's Schlabach's take on the Huskies:
After trailing Georgia State by 14 points at home two weeks ago and then mustering little offense in a 20-13 loss to Stanford on Saturday, we're guessing the Huskies won't be occupying this spot for very long. Washington coach Chris Petersen was so desperate to generate some sort of offense against the Cardinal that he tried a fake punt on fourth-and-9 at his team's 47-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. It was stuffed for no gain, and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan ran for the go-ahead touchdown five plays later.

Three Pac-12 teams officially remain in contention. That's Arizona, Oregon and UCLA. Of course, one of those teams won't be undefeated by the time Friday morning rolls around. The Ducks and Wildcats are set to square off Thursday night in Eugene.

More playoff projections

If you believe Yahoo's Pat Forde, then we're finally going to get to see the matchup we've dreamed about for years in the College Football Playoff: Oregon vs. Alabama. Forde projects the Ducks as the No. 2 seed and Alabama as No. 3 team. His take on the Ducks:
Oregon has won six straight Pac-12 home openers, and none of them has been close. Average score in routs of California (2013), Arizona (2012), Cal (2011), Stanford (2010), Cal (2009), and Washington (2008): 46-13. And three of those opponents were ranked at the time. Next: Sorry, Arizona, you’re the opening Pac-12 cannon fodder in Autzen Stadium on Thursday night.
Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports has the Ducks as the No. 3 seed facing No. 2 Auburn. There's also some good stuff on Notre Dame-Stanford.

Tune in

Yours truly joined Bill Riley and Sean O'Connell on ESPN700 in Salt Lake City yesterday if you're aching for some pod.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

It's been a long, long time since we've seen a Cal locker room celebration. This was awesome.

Warning: Bold Week 6 Pac-12 declarations

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
6:00
PM ET
Declarative sentences are dangerous heading into Week 6 of a college football season. History has taught us most things that appear ready to be tied neatly with a bow end up torn to shreds. But danger is the Pac-12 blog's middle name. (We just thought "Pac-12 Danger Blog" might scare some folks away and damage advertising revenue).

Ergo.

Oregon's visit to UCLA on Oct. 11 will be what we thought it would be in August

Sure, both/either the Bruins and Ducks could fall this week at home, going down to Utah and/or Arizona, and we'd pin that on the proverbial "look ahead." But the expectation is that won't happen. The Utes lost some gusto while surrendering a 21-0 lead at home to Washington State, and Arizona is more than a three-touchdown underdog in Autzen Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota, Devon Allen
AP Photo/Dean HareMarcus Mariota and Oregon will try to avoid a letdown this week against Arizona.
While neither the Bruins nor Ducks have been consistently impressive, they have produced the loudest national statements in the conference thus far. UCLA posted a dominant road win at Arizona State, while Oregon overwhelmed Michigan State in the second half.

What's most notable about the Ducks-UCLA matchup is its potential for a rematch in the Pac-12 championship game, as both appear to be front-runners in their respective divisions. Not to look too far ahead, which we are clearly doing, but that could create a quandary for the College Football Playoff. It certainly would make it more difficult to get two Pac-12 teams into the playoff.

Of course, if both arrive at the game -- and that's obviously no guarantee at this early juncture -- with multiple losses, the issue is moot. But play out the various scenarios of zero, one and two losses for each in your head. What if they split close games? What if, say, Oregon is the nation's only unbeaten team but UCLA's only defeats are close losses to the Ducks?

It could get complicated. Good thing we can call such speculation "way premature" in order to avoid taxing our brains with the myriad possibilities.

The Pac-12 needs Stanford to beat Notre Dame

If Stanford wins at Notre Dame, the Cardinal will likely jump into or at least be very close to the Top 10, which could give the Pac-12 three Top 10 teams heading into Week 7. If the Cardinal lose, it will become a big hit for them and the Pac-12 as a whole.

While the Pac-12 is widely viewed as the nation's No. 2 conference, probably by a wide margin, and its 22-4 record versus FBS foes is impressive, there already have been substantial damaging defeats.

Most obviously, whatever USC accomplishes this year will be diminished by the loss at Boston College. If the Trojans had lost amid a flurry of turnovers and miscues, that's one thing. The problem is that defeat was all about getting whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That rates as a physical issue, which is a very football-y thing.

Washington State's losses to Rutgers and Nevada also will hurt because the Pac-12 blog suspects the Cougars are going to give a lot of conference teams trouble this season, witness the so-close performance against Oregon and the huge comeback win at Utah. The Cougs are a solid team, much better than they showed against the Scarlet Knights and Nevada, which by the way are a combined 7-2. But that won't prevent pundits and rival fans from using the transitive property against the Pac-12 when the Cougs notch an upset or two.

Yet if Stanford beats Notre Dame and surges into its Nov. 1 date at Oregon with just one defeat, the Pac-12 might produce a second Top-10 matchup in less than a month. That's the sort of thing the SEC does, which inspires all that media gushing that so annoys many of you fine people.

Bottom line: A road win over No. 9 Notre Dame would provide a significant perception boost and a loss would do the same in a negative direction.

The middle stepped back instead of forward

Washington and Oregon State could have made big statements on Saturday. They didn't. Therefore that velvet rope that has separated both from the North Division VIP room, uncomfortably shared by Oregon and Stanford, is still there, still manned by a couple of beefy security guys.

You probably could say the same for Utah, which looked like a potential South contender before it completely collapsed against the Cougars. The jury is still out on Arizona State, which is dealing with an injury to QB Taylor Kelly and a not-ready-for-prime time defense. We'll see where Arizona stands Thursday at Oregon.

Despite many unanswered questions, the overall feeling about the challenging middle of the Pac-12 feels different than it did in August or even a few weeks ago. It doesn't appear as rugged. There seems to be some separation between Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and -- perhaps -- USC and the rest of the conference, though the Trojans could topple if they lose at home to the Sun Devils on Saturday.

Washington was a preseason Top 25 team, and Oregon State and Utah looked like threats to advance into the rankings. No longer. At least not at this point.

That is not to say teams can't get healthy, solve issues or simply grow up and then go on a run. In fact, it's reasonable to suspect that among the gaggle of Arizona, Utah, Washington and Oregon State, at least one will end the season in the Top 25.

At this point, however, there's little to suggest we will have an unexpected interloper breaking through in either division, challenging the consensus preseason favorites.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
8:00
AM ET
I have watched you on the shore;
Standing by the ocean's roar.
Do you love me? Do you surfer girl?

Leading off

Two weeks in a row, two Hail Marys. Par for the course in the never-dull Pac-12. Lots of crazy action this past weekend (and last Thursday). Big special-teams moments, defensive touchdowns, and the Cougs and Bears won games with -- wait for it -- huge defensive plays at the end of their games. We have officially entered Bizarro World. And I don't want to go back.

Still offenses are what drives the Pac-12. So it seems timely that ESPN's Brett McMurphy, as part of his weekly survey, polled coaches on who is the best of the best when it comes to offensive X's and O's. Here are the top five:


Also receiving votes were Mike Leach, David Shaw, Mike Riley, Chris Petersen, Rich Rodriguez and Steve Sarkisian.

Through five weeks, here's how those top five coaches rank in scoring offense:
  • Briles (1)
  • Malzahn (15)
  • Sumlin (2)
  • Spurrier (55)
  • Helfrich (4)

Worth noting that there are five Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring offense. Besides Oregon, Cal is fifth and Arizona, Utah and ASU are all tied for 17th with an average of 42 points per game. Obviously, conference play will scale down those numbers. But no offensive conversation is complete without injecting some Pac-12 flavor.

Rank 'em

The latest rankings are out and our Kyle Bonagura, as always, gives you the weekly impact on the Pac-12. You can see the complete rankings for both polls here. This is where the Pac-12 teams stand. As always, AP rank is listed first, followed by the coaches poll.
  • Oregon 2-4
  • UCLA 8-9
  • Stanford 14-13
  • USC 16-20
  • ASU RV-24

Also receiving votes in the AP poll, besides ASU which dropped from the top 25, were Arizona and Washington. Arizona is also receiving votes in the coaches poll.

Here's how a couple of writers who cover the league voted:
And here's a look at the top 10 of the ESPN Power Rankings:

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Decorum (and pesky copyright laws) prohibit me from posting vines of broadcast games. But please, do yourself a favor. Go to Andy Phillips' Twitter account and enjoy.

In case you missed it, second Hail Mary in as many weeks. Who doesn't get sick of watching these (OK, Cal and Oregon State fans, you're excused from answering).

video

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
8:00
PM ET
Well, that was interesting.

Remember how we talked about Utah-Washington State being a swing game? If the Cougars can somehow rally to find four more wins and the Utes can't find three, we're going to look back at the Cougs' 28-27 come-from-behind win as a tipping point.

The same could be said for Cal, which pulled off a double-overtime win against a feisty Colorado team to pick up win No. 3.

Let's begin with the Utes, who once again started hot in nonconference play, only to see things fall apart once league competition started. Can't blame this one on injured quarterbacks, because Utah had two opportunities in the fourth quarter with its starter to make something happen. The Pac-12 blog still thinks there are three wins out there for Utah. Of its eight remaining games, three of them are against unranked teams. The rub is that all three are on the road.

Cal also has five ranked teams still on the schedule, and the three remaining against unranked teams -- Washington State, Washington and Oregon State -- are critical. Two of the three are on the road. We're adding Cal to the projections this week. We like its moxie.

As for the Beavers, boy, that offense didn't look good. Given OSU's three unimpressive wins and one very bad loss, we're going to drop them from the projections for now, but as always reserve the right to change our minds.

We're down to just three undefeated teams left: Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. And 10 teams are either halfway to a bowl game or beyond.

Here are the latest projections. As always, salt heavily.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
San Francisco Bowl: Arizona
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Washington
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Arizona State
Cactus Bowl: Utah
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: California

* at large

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
3:12
AM ET
Some things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 5:

UCLA and QB Brett Hundley are what we thought they'd be: UCLA answered a variety of questions in its 62-27 win over Arizona State, starting with Hundley's health and continuing with whether this team was overrated in the preseason. While it wasn't a perfect performance -- the defense needs to play better -- it was a dominating one on the road against a ranked team. As for Hundley, he might return to the Heisman picture after completing 18 of 23 passes for 355 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 97.7 QBR. Perhaps its time to ease up on nitpicking the Bruins over their lack of style points. Is your team 4-0?

Arizona State's young defense is going to be a problem: The preseason story with the Sun Devils was veteran, explosive offense paired with a completely rebuilt defense. Sometimes preseason stories don't hold up as young players step up. Sometimes they do. This one did. The Sun Devils are likely to improve on defense this season, but they're likely going to win a bunch of shootouts to be a factor in the South Division. Against UCLA, they yielded 580 yards -- a stunning 10 yards per play -- and gave up eight plays of more than 20 yards.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Kevin Hogan
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan pulled out a victory for Stanford, but the Cardinal offense still has significant red-zone problems.
Stanford's defense has replaced key 2013 pieces; offense hasn't: Stanford again looks to have the Pac-12's best defense, despite losing stars such as LB Shayne Skov, OLB Trent Murphy and safety Ed Reynolds, among others. The Cardinal held Washington to 179 yards and 15 first downs in a 20-13 victory after similarly dominating USC (291 yards). Yet the offense, which has replaced four offensive linemen and RB Tyler Gaffney from the 2013 unit, has been sputtering, particularly in the red zone. Stanford scored one touchdown in five red zone trips against USC and scored two touchdowns in five red zone trips against the Huskies, including a late touchdown run from QB Kevin Hogan that proved to be the game-winner. The good news is the offensive problems, including missed field goals from veteran kicker Jordan Williamson, are solvable. Not to use a coaches' cliche, but it's purely a matter of execution.

Washington is not ready for prime time: Washington was inconsistent during a 4-0 run through a weak nonconference schedule. At times, the defense or offense looked good, but often not at the same time and certainly not for four quarters -- or even three. There was some thought everything might come together in front of a raucous crowd Saturday against Stanford. Nope. While the defense played well, pressured Hogan consistently and contained the Cardinal running game, the offense was abysmal. Yes, Stanford is good on defense, but the Huskies have one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines and a good corps of receivers. The Huskies had just one sustained drive and averaged 3.4 yards per pass and 2.1 yards per run. The Huskies' problem under Steve Sarkisian was getting past Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 North. It seems unlikely that will happen this year, either, in season one under Chris Petersen.

California has moved out of the Pac-12 basement: Cal and Colorado are both trying to move out of the bottom of the Pac-12 and become at least competitive. Last year, Cal didn't win a Pac-12 game, and Colorado's only conference win was over Cal. Both have looked much improved in the early going this season. But Cal's thrilling 59-56 win in double-overtime provides the Golden Bears a big boost. For one, the Bears, at 3-1, can legitimately entertain bowl hopes. In a game in which QBs Sefo Liufau and Jared Goff both threw for 449 yards and seven touchdowns, the Bears found a way to win, which is particularly meaningful after they suffered a heartbreaking loss at Arizona the week before via a Hail Mary. That might be enough, at the very least, to ensure they don't end up at the bottom of the conference by season's end.

Utah wilted; Washington State stepped up: Utah led 21-0 after one and 24-7 at halftime, but the Utes offense never got untracked -- one TD came from the defense, another from special teams -- while Washington State refused to yield on the road. The end result was a critical 28-27 victory for the Cougars, who couldn't afford to lose if they wanted to retain bowl hopes. It seemed as though the Utes tried to sit on the lead. That was a mistake. It might turn out to be meaningful that Cougars coach Mike Leach called a special first-quarter time out and gathered his team for a pep talk. Utah's Pac-12 woes continue, and the Cougs can hope this serves as a springboard for the rest of the season.

We were deceived by early USC, Oregon State results: USC's 35-10 win over Oregon State seemed to make two things clear: 1. The Beavers' 3-0 start against a weak nonconference schedule was meaningless in terms of projecting forward against good Pac-12 teams. 2. USC's shocking loss at Boston College was probably an anomaly. While it's premature to count Oregon State out of the North Division hunt, it's difficult not to see the defeat at USC as a bit of an exposure. And USC has enough on both sides of the ball to become a factor in the South race.
video
LOS ANGELES -- Coming off the bye week, the USC Trojans turned in a strong defensive showing in a 35-10 win over the visiting Oregon State Beavers. Here's how it went down at the Coliseum.

How the game was won: The Trojans pulled ahead in the first half on big plays. Safety Su'a Cravens opened the scoring with a pick-six and Cody Kessler connected with Darreus Rogers on a 48-yard Hail Mary as time expired on the first half. A 16-yard Justin Davis touchdown reception was sandwiched in between. The offense picked up steam in the second half, capitalizing on touchdown runs from Davis and Buck Allen. But the real story was the USC defense, which stifled Oregon State all night.

Game ball goes to: The USC defense. After an embarrassing performance two weeks ago against Boston College, where the Trojans yielded 452 yards on the ground, they rebounded after the bye week and kept the Beavers to just three offensive points (OSU's lone touchdown was a kickoff return), 181 total yards and 58 rushing yards while limiting OSU to just 1-of-10 on third down. They also forced a pair of Sean Mannion interceptions; the aforementioned pick-six and tip-drill, tip-toe job by Leon McQuay in the corner of the end zone after the ball was deflected by Adoree' Jackson.

What it means: For the Beavers, who haven't won at USC since 1960, it’s back to work. After beating a pair of Mountain West teams and an FCS squad, this was their first real test of the year. Others needs to step up around Mannion. For the Trojans, it should be a slight confidence boost heading into next week’s home showdown with Arizona State -- a team that thumped them pretty good last year.

Playoff implication: The Boston College loss will no doubt be a stain on USC’s résumé come playoff time. The saving grace is that it was early in the season and it’s a nonconference game. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward helping the committee forget about the shortcomings at Chestnut Hill.

Best play: It’s starting to feel like if there isn’t a Hail Mary in the Pac-12 at least once a week, something is off. The Trojans provided this week’s when Kessler connected with Rogers on a 48-yard chuck-it-and-pray pass as the first half came to a close. Rogers came out end zone to catch the ball at the 1-yard line, and then spun back in to give USC a 21-10 lead at the break.

video

What's next: The Trojans host a battered ASU team that was rocked on Thursday by UCLA. Recall, it was the ASU game last year that was the ultimate nail in Lane Kiffin’s coaching coffin. If the Trojans want to keep pace with the Bruins in the South Division, that’s a must-win game. For the Beavers, it’s a trip to Colorado, where the Buffs are sure to be salty after scoring 56 points -- and losing!

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
8:00
AM ET
A look at Saturday's schedule in the Pac-12. All times ET.

4 p.m.

Colorado at California, Pac-12 Networks: Raise your hand if you expected Cal to be the Pac-12's biggest weekend favorite at some point this year. Well, that's the position the Bears (minus-14) find themselves in after having their hearts ripped out at Arizona last weekend. The general public certainly expects Sonny Dykes' team to bounce back, but be mindful of the explosive capability that Colorado's Nelson Spruce brings to the table. Oh, and Cal has outscored teams by 77 points in the first half before being outscored by 33 in the second half, the biggest differential (110 points!) in college football this season.

[+] EnlargeChris Petersen
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAfter a 4-0 start in nonconference play, Washington's Chris Petersen will coach his first Pac-12 game at home against Stanford.
No. 16 Stanford at Washington, Fox: Every year, Washington seems to have an early, massive measuring-stick game, and this is certainly one that will gauge the Huskies' ability to contend in the Pac-12 North. This contest might feature the best two defensive front sevens in the conference. But Washington's young secondary has struggled so far this season (475 passing yards and more than 10 yards per attempt given up to Eastern Washington). Can this unit contain Stanford's big, talented group of receivers? That is likely to be the critical question on what's expected to be a pristine afternoon in Seattle.

8 p.m.

Washington State at Utah, Pac-12 Networks: After seeing the scare that Washington State put into Oregon last week, Utah might not want to get too far ahead of itself against the Cougars. But it must be noted that this is a golden opportunity for the Utes: Win and they'll be undefeated heading into a litmus-test showdown with 4-0 UCLA at the Rose Bowl next week. Wazzu, though, desperately needs this game. Connor Halliday's numbers can make your head spin, but high-scoring losses are no longer enough for a team that has stumbled out of the gate at 1-3. There's some explosive playmaking ability on both sides of this one, so expect an entertaining game in Salt Lake City.

Oregon State at No. 18 USC, ESPN: USC has had two weeks to think about an abysmal defensive performance in which Boston College racked up 452 rushing yards. The Trojans' defense resembled a sieve while the Eagles' read-option rushing attack poured the water. USC returns to the comforts of the Coliseum but will face a different, yet equally dangerous, offensive threat. Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is less than 1,000 yards away from the Pac-12 all-time passing record, set by former Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley. Mannion's sharp performance last week against San Diego State should have USC's defense on alert to get its act together Saturday night.

Happy Friday -- even you, Arizona State. World didn't end Thursday.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Jockston from SEC country writes: UCLA is good on offense, but it can't play defense, so it can't win a championship because defense wins championships. When does Pac-12 figure this out?

Ted Miller: Wait. Defense wins championships? Why didn't anybody ever mention that before?

UCLA didn't distinguish itself defensively against Arizona State, a very good offensive team, but its defense wasn't as bad -- and, yes, it feels strange typing this -- as 626 yards surrendered suggests.

It was a strange game. UCLA scored so fast that Arizona State got a lot more possessions than is normal. The Bruins nearly scored a point (62) per play (58), while the Sun Devils scored 27 points in 105 plays. The Bruins averaged 10 yards per play, which is good, while the Sun Devils averaged 6.0 yards per play, which is middling.

Middling? Well, for example, Alabama yielded 5.7 yards per play in a 33-23 win over West Virginia. Against that same Mountaineers offense, Oklahoma yielded 6.3 yards per play in a 45-33 victory.

How strange was the UCLA-ASU game? The Bruins scored a decisive 21 points in the third quarter while losing the time-of-possession "battle" 11:51 to 2:57.

As for the defense, scoring is what matters most, and UCLA pretty much held the Sun Devils to just 10 points over the final three quarters (ASU scored a touchdown 26 seconds into the second quarter). If you had told Jim Mora before the game that the Sun Devils would score 27 points, I'm pretty sure he would have given you a high five. Or maybe hit the floor to do the famous Mora breakdance "windmill" he likes to do when he's really happy.


What do we know? from Tatooine writes: Was the UCLA offense really good or was the ASU D really bad? ASU may have been slightly better with [QB Taylor Kelly] ... but not much (minus-14 points?). ASU hasn't really played anyone until now and they barely beat Colorado.

Ted Miller: We can't know how Arizona State would have done against UCLA with Taylor Kelly at QB because of this pesky thing called the "space-time continuum."

As for "Was the UCLA offense really good or was the ASU D really bad?" it's a little of both. Before the season, we thought the Bruins offense would be pretty darn good, and it's trending that way after some early struggles as the O-line improves. And, before the season, we thought the Sun Devils defense would struggle to replace nine quality starters.

It also is true that Arizona State fans probably got caught up in their preseason optimism, which often refuses to acknowledge obvious weaknesses. When the Pac-12 blog wrote about the Sun Devils' defensive questions, the mailbag was glutted with angry missives such as, "Do some research -- we've got loads of quality young players!" or "We've got these great JC transfers!" or "You hate Arizona State."

The obvious preseason question for Arizona State is likely to continue as the obvious season issue: Can the high-powered offense outscore foes because the defense is going to struggle?

Understand: Arizona State isn't going to be an easy out. The UCLA game was, to use Todd Graham's descriptive term, a "catastrophe." I don't think we'll another one of those this season.


Thomas from Charlston, N.C., writes: Last week's Cal vs. Arizona amazing game ended at nearly 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Last night's UCLA vs. ASU game ended after 1 a.m. East Coast time. It is no wonder that the Pac-12 gets no respect as its teams are playing when only the Pacific states are watching. I thought Larry Scott was going to have Pac-12 kick off times earlier this season, and going forward? It appears the commish didn't do anything. Could you shine light on this?

Ted Miller: See, Apollo, the narcissist, leads his chariot across the sky from east to west, meaning the sun comes up earlier in the east and sets later in the west. That causes it to be 9 a.m. in Bristol, Connecticut, when it's an ungodly 6 a.m. in north Scottsdale, at which point my bosses -- sunny and caffeinated -- are calling to tell me to do stuff with a complete lack of concern about where Apollo and his chariot might be in the western sky.

The UCLA-ASU game Thursday wasn't going to be scheduled for 4 p.m. PT so it could be a nice prime-time event for fans in Atlanta or Miami. Why? Largely because the game was being played on the West Coast, where a 4 p.m. kickoff would have taken place just as Lumbergh would have stopped by Joe Bruins' or Sandy Sun Devils' desk and noted they'd forgotten to put the new cover sheet on the TPS reports, and that they'd have to redo, like, 3,454 of them. Now.

The Pac-12 signed a $3 billion TV contract with ESPN and Fox, which means the TV times are typically going to be what is optimal for the networks.

That said, there has been an effort to reduce the late kickoffs. This weekend, the only 7:30 PT kick is Oregon State at USC, which figures to get plenty of eyeballs -- East and West -- on ESPN.


Frank from Tucson writes: I saw some criticism from various folks on Twitter, both prior to and following ASU's defeat yesterday, of Todd Graham's declaration that his team was of a "championship caliber." What is the Pac-12 blog's opinion of coaches such as Graham who willingly place high expectations on their teams, vs. others such as Rich Rod, who avoid stating expectations in favor of "just trying to figure out how to get a first down."

Ted Miller: I love this question, for this is very real.

You have coaches who believe in unmitigated, relentless optimism, which looks like irrational exuberance if actual play doesn't match preseason effervescing. Yes, Graham is that sort of coach. In the spring, he worked me over pretty good telling me he didn't expect much drop-off from his defense.

Then you have the grumps. Instead of pumping their team up, they work them over, telling them they're no good. Yes, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez is that sort of coach. He'll tell you he wants his guys to be "comfortable being uncomfortable." He also worked me over pretty good this summer trying to convince me his receivers actually weren't as talented as folks were writing -- "I haven't seen it!" he kept saying.

Does that mean Rich Rod is a player-hating ogre? No. See this video. It's just his management style, which has worked pretty darn well throughout his career.

And does this mean Graham is a soft pollyanna? Heck no. I've seen -- heard -- Graham get crusty, and he can let the spittle fly with every bit the fervency of Rodriguez.

By the way, there's also a third type: The straight-shooter. Utah's Kyle Whittingham pretty much tells you what he thinks of his depth chart -- "We're good here; we're questionable here; we're young but talented here; and we're really searching here" -- and his analysis, in my experience, tends to hold up when games begin.

My view is it's the media's job to know who they are dealing with and to keep in perspective what that coach is saying.


Kenny from Portland writes: Oregon State hasn't had dominating final scores, but they have dominated in three key statistical categories for their success: time of possession (average nearly 14 mins more than opponents), total yards (average 195 more yards per game than opponents), defensive third-down conversion (25 percent). These are old school, pre-2009 OSU football numbers. Grind out the games, boring offense, stout D. USC got shellacked by Boston College. And Stanford beat Stanford more than USC beat Stanford. I know OSU hasn't played any world-beaters yet, but aside from USC's starters, the depth isn't there for them, and I'm having a real hard time seeing OSU not coming out of L.A. with a win. Win the turnover battle and the game is ours. Am I being a crazy Beavers fan? This is as confident as I've been about a conference game in a long time.

Ted Miller: Oh, no, Kenny. You're not crazy. I can't understand why every Oregon State fan wouldn't be as confident. I mean, I remember back in 1960 when you guys last beat USC in Los Angeles. ... wait, I wasn't alive. So, no, don't remember that at all. But a 22-game losing streak against the Trojans in L.A. shouldn't rock your confidence.

We kid!

I liked the Beavers' chances better before wide receiver Victor Bolden got hurt, but this is definitely an intriguing matchup. We don't yet know either team. We don't know the Beavers because they haven't played anybody, and we don't know the Trojans because they've been a bit schizophrenic.

I like how the Beavers' defense matches up with the USC offense, but the bigger question might be how well the Beavers run the ball. If they can run the ball, life is going to be much easier for quarterback Sean Mannion.


Joel from San Francisco writes: I've noticed that the last three days of Pac-12 morning links include links to USC stories that require paid subscriptions (in these cases, the L.A. Times). Is it possible to link to free stories or pay my L.A. Times subscription fee?

Ted Miller: We try to link to good stories. Sometimes, those stories are behind a pay wall. What you should do is subscribe to newspapers that have stories in them you want to read.

I know everyone loves free stuff and the free info on the Internet. And many, for whatever reason, perversely seem to enjoy the demise of newspapers.

But I will tell you this: Without traditional newspapers, which attempt to provide quality, objective journalism, you will end up with just agenda observers -- folks with various types of filters and biases who don't aspire to be true journalists -- monopolizing the flow of information.

While fan sites and even in-house team coverage have their place, a real newspaper beat writer who aggressively covers the good and bad and holds programs accountable is irreplaceable.

I just hope you don't learn that when they are all gone.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

It looked like we were going to get another ASU-UCLA thriller last night. The Sun Devils were poised for at least a field goal to tie things up at 20-20 at the half. And then Ishmael Adams went all Ishmael Adamsy. A 95-yard pick-six in the closing seconds of the half, a 100-yard kick return and an all-out second-half flogging by the rest of the Bruins led to UCLA's 62-27 victory in Tempe.

The teams combined for 1,206 yards of offense. Brett Hundley was 18-of-23 for 355 yards with four passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Mike Bercovici, filling in for the injured Taylor Kelly, was 42-of-68 for 488 yards with three touchdowns, but two interceptions.

This sort of sums it up:


Here's a recap of the game from Yahoo! Sports.

And another from the Arizona Republic.

And some running commentary from the L.A. Times so you can relive all of the thrills and chills.

Picks are in

Fridays are a good time to round up some picks from across the conference. The Pac-12 blog released its picks on Thursday morning (KG and CJ are off to a nice start). You can check those out here. Here's what some other folks are writing about Week 5 in the conference. No weakness? Know weakness

Your team is perfect, right? All is right with the world. Whatever perceived imperfection is simply a concoction of the media/Pac-12 blog and you will defend your team tooth and nail. Buuuuutttt ... in the event there is something wrong, Jack Follman of Pacific Takes is going to remind you of it.

Follman broke down the weakness of every Pac-12 team. Picking a team totally at random, here's what he had to say about USC:
I went against straight up saying USC can't stop the run, before they bottled up Stanford fairly well and I think their colossally bad run defense performance against Boston College had more to do with their lack of depth than straight up run defense.

It's one thing to have preseason question marks. But when those questions are still being asked in Week 5, it's officially a weakness.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Ouch.


The UCLA football twitter account was bringing the funny last night.


Pac-12 morning links

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
8:00
AM ET
It's 8:15, and that's the time that it's always been;
We got your message on the radio, conditions normal and you're coming home.

Leading off

We've got football tonight. And it's a big one. UCLA travels to Tempe, Arizona, in a Pac-12 South showdown that recent history suggests is going to be a thriller. Much of the news the last week and a half has centered around the quarterbacks, and rightfully so. Arizona State has already declared Taylor Kelly out for this game, paving the way for Mike Bercovici. UCLA coach Jim Mora says it will likely go up to kickoff before determining if his quarterback, Brett Hundley, is going to play. Here are a few stories about the matchup tonight.

Five questions about UCLA heading into the game.

Doug Haller gives us a tale of the tape breakdown.

Chris Foster takes a look at some of the key matchups. Writes Foster:
So far, Arizona State has lacked the dominant defense it had a year ago. But UCLA has not provided a protective bubble for its quarterbacks. The Bruins are giving up four sacks per game. Only four teams in the Football Bowl Division are allowing more. The cost has been more than a loss of yardage. Hundley was scrambling against Texas when he was injured.

If Hundley does play, keep in mind that ASU sacked him nine times last season. The Sun Devils, however, aren't having the same success at pressuring the QB as they did when they had Will Sutton and Carl Bradford. ASU is tied for ninth in the league with six sacks. UCLA is last with three.

Power rankings

The Pac-12 blog releases its power rankings on Sundays. Other folks like to let things digest a few extra days before ranking the league. Here are a few of the power rankings that went out Wednesday.
Not necessarily rankings. But Bud Withers of the Seattle Times tries to make sense of the Pac-12 so far this season. To which I say, good luck, sir.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

How are you getting to the game tonight? Might I suggest this:


The Bears had a surprise visitor at practice yesterday. Skittles not pictured.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
8:00
AM ET
I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you.

Leading off

Depth chart Wednesday is upon us. There are two byes this week -- Arizona and Oregon -- so we'll wait until next week to update theirs. But here they are for the other nine teams (remember, UCLA doesn't do a depth chart). As always, I've added some notes and thoughts after.
Some notes: Heisman check in

Heismanpundit.com released its latest straw poll. And while others from the Pac-12 have faded, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has strengthened his spot as the front-runner.

Here's the latest results from the weekly poll, which includes 10 Heisman voters.
  1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 24 (6)
  2. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama — 12 (2)
  3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia — 9 (2)
  4. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M — 4
  5. (tie) Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska — 3
    Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State — 3
  6. 7. (tie) Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina — 2
    Taysom Hill, QB, BYU — 2
    James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh — 1

Mariota also has a comfortable lead in the ESPN.com poll. So far this season, he has accounted for 16 touchdowns (13 passing) and he's completing 74 percent of his throws with zero interceptions.

However, he wasn't the only quarterback who stood out Saturday night. One Heisman voter makes a case for Connor Halliday's consideration.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Locker room videos are always awesome. This one is no exception.



Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.



Funny.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 5

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
6:00
PM ET
Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

No. 11 UCLA (3-0) at No. 15 Arizona State (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
  • UCLA is scoring on 28.2 percent of its drives, while ASU is allowing points on just 20.9 percent of its drives. Conversely, the Sun Devils are scoring on 52.4 percent of their drives and UCLA is allowing points 27.5 percent of the time.
  • Turnover margin so far this year: Arizona State plus-5; UCLA minus-1.
  • ASU RB D.J. Foster is the only running back in the country averaging more than 9 yards per carry (9.44 ypc) with at least 50 rushing attempts.
  • ASU's Jaelen Strong and UCLA's Jordan Payton are two of the most relied-upon receivers on the Pac-12. Strong has accounted for 37.8 percent of ASU's receptions and Payton 30.8 percent for UCLA.
  • Since coaches Todd Graham (ASU) and Jim Mora (UCLA) took over in 2011, the Bruins are 10-10 on the road and ASU is 17-5 at home.
Colorado (2-2) at California (2-1, 0-1)
  • Cal's Sonny Dykes and Colorado's Mike MacIntyre have coached against each other every season since 2010 when Dykes was at Louisiana Tech and MacIntyre at San Jose State. Dykes won the first two games, but MacIntyre has taken the last two.
  • Colorado WR Nelson Spruce ranks No. 3 in the country in reception (37) and has not dropped a pass.
  • First-half scoring margins: Cal plus-77, CU plus-7. Second-half scoring margins: Cal minus-33, CU minus-23.
  • Cal QB Jared Goff ranks No. 8 nationally in QBR.
  • The Bears have lost 15 consecutive games in Pac-12 play ... and opened as an 11.5-point favorite.
No. 16 Stanford (2-1, 0-1) at Washington (4-0)
  • Something's got to give: Washington is averaging 41.2 points per game; Stanford is allowing just 4.3 points per game.
  • Stanford WR Ty Montgomery has 22 catches on 24 targets, which is the best catch percentage (91.7) in the country among receivers with at least 20 targets.
  • Washington leads the conference in fumbles recovered on defense (5); Stanford's offense has lost the most in the conference (also 5).
  • Since David Shaw became the head coach in 2011, Stanford has only lost its first road game of the season once ... at Washington in 2012.
  • Since 2010, Stanford (.842) and UW coach Chris Petersen's previous program, Boise State (.833), are two of the five winningest programs in the country.
Washington State (1-3) at Utah (3-0)
  • Four WSU receivers (Isiah Myers, Vince Mayle, Dom Williams and River Cracraft) rank in the top seven in the Pac-12 in receiving yards.
  • Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with three return touchdowns (1 kickoff, 2 punt). Vanderbilt's Darrius Sims has two kickoff-return touchdowns, but has eight more attempts than Clay, who has just two total.
  • WSU QB Connor Halliday leads the nation with 1,901 yards passing (475.3 yards per game) ... Utah is allowing 210. yards passing per game.
  • Utah's points margin per game ranks No. 5 nationally (and first in the Pac-12) at plus-30.0 per game.
  • Utah leads the all-time series vs. WSU, 7-6.
Oregon State (3-0) at No. 18 USC (2-1, 1-0)
  • USC has won 33 of the last 37 vs Oregon State.
  • Offensive points per game: USC 32.0, OSU 31.7.
  • Oregon State take the most time per play in the conference: 29.9 seconds on average. USC averages 23.9, which is tied with Cal for third-most.
  • Both USC and Oregon State have had 40 offensive drives, and both have punted 14 times.
  • Through three games last year, Oregon State was averaging 46.3 pass attempts a game. This year, that number has dropped to 37.7.
Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4

Pac-12 morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
8:00
AM ET
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Leading off

The Eliminator is a cruel mistress. And this past weekend she claimed another victim. Add the California Bears to the "Better Luck Next Year" category after Arizona's dramatic come-from-behind victory on Saturday in Tucson.

Here's what Mark Schlabach had to say about the Bears:
If Clemson blowing a late lead is "Clemsoning," what in the world do you call what the Bears did at Arizona on Saturday night? Cal blew a 31-13 lead in the fourth quarter, giving up 19 points in the final 3:30. The Bears surrendered a 47-yard Hail Mary on the final play of a 49-45 loss.

Obviously, the playoff hopes of the Pac-12 didn't rest on Cal. While the Pac-12 blog likes what it sees from the Bears, let's get to a bowl game first before we start talking playoffs. That leaves the league with five teams under the "still in contention" category: Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Utah and Washington are all "on the fence."

Speaking of playoffs, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports weighed in with his weekly four-team projection and still has the Ducks as one of the top four teams.

What's on tap?

Athlon Sports projects the top five college football games this week, and two of their five are in the Pac-12. UCLA's trip to Arizona State -- rife with QB injury intrigue -- tops their list. And with good reason. The winner of the UCLA-ASU game has gone on to win the South Division the last two years.

They are also eyeballing the Stanford-Washington showdown. Here's why:
One of these teams has to start looking like a Pac-12 North contender, right? Stanford has been inept in the red zone, and Washington is letting bad teams hang around.

This should be an interesting matchup because both teams have struggled with consistency. Normally Stanford is the master of clean, efficient play. And when another team plays inconsistently, the Cardinal pounce. But neither team has really played up to its potential yet. The Pac-12 blog is confident they've both just been saving it for this game.

News/notes/team reports
  • Cal's blunders were Arizona's gain.
  • The Sun Devils are expecting to see Brett Hundley.
  • Some grades for Cal's game against Arizona.
  • Slowly but surely, the Buffs are making progress on offense.
  • Devon Allen emerging as a big-play threat for Oregon.
  • When Victor Bolden went down, other OSU receivers stepped up.
  • "Grades" for Stanford's bye week.
  • Tough break for the Bruins, who lose Randall Goforth for the season.
  • Adoree' Jackson narrows his focus during the bye.
  • Some new faces have been big contributors for Utah.
  • The roundup from Chris Petersen's Monday meeting with the media.
  • Some grades from WSU's game against Oregon.
Just for fun

Not necessarily fun, just gnarly.

 

So far, I'd say so:

 

After four weeks, we still know nothing

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
11:00
AM ET
video
The Socratic smugness that enveloped me in the wee hours of Sunday morning was a revelation of sorts, though a recognition of futility isn't terribly comforting.

After the tumult of another thrilling weekend, Twitter spun and spun with ostensible wisdom, with Pac-12 and college football philosophers insisting this or that was true based on this or that result. As for me, all I knew is that I knew nothing. Therefore, I am wiser than Twitter, for neither Twitter nor I appears to know anything great and good; but Twitter fancies it knows something, although it knows nothing. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than Twitter, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know.

Ya know?

Dominant teams? There may not be any. Florida State, Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon etc. Each seems to be surviving rather than asserting itself. Same holds true in the Pac-12.

The good news is Socrates also believed an unexamined college football season is not worth following. Further, after four confounding weeks, both nationally and within the Pac-12, we figure to scrape and claw toward more substantial revelations this week, at least on the West Coast. Probably. Maybe.

First, just the facts.

Seven Pac-12 teams remain unbeaten, though hardly unblemished. Three in the North Division: Oregon, Washington and Oregon State. And four in the South: Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah.

At least one of those will go down before next weekend, as UCLA visits Arizona State in a critical South clash on Thursday. Both teams have looked vulnerable. Both teams have QB questions, with Taylor Kelly definitely out for the Sun Devils, and Brett Hundley trying to come back from a hyper-extended elbow that knocked him out of the nail-biting win over Texas.

Oregon, the putative top Pac-12 team and favorite to represent the conference in the College Football Playoff, is off this week. The Ducks might be good enough to win the national championship or they might lose three games due to an injury-riddled offensive line or a leaky defense. We've seen Oregon dispatch mighty Michigan State with a dominant second half on both sides of the ball and then cling for dear life at Washington State, the only conference team presently owning a losing record.

Just as UCLA-Arizona State is a separation game in the South, so is Stanford’s visit to Washington on Saturday in the North. We have little feeling on the potency of either. Both have flashed potential on both sides of the ball. Yet both also have looked feckless and discombobulated, which is surprising when you consider the reputations of their respective head coaches. The winner becomes the top potential foil for Oregon in the North.

Or might that actually be Oregon State? We don’t really know what to make of the Beavers, who visit USC on Saturday, because they haven't played anyone. For that matter, we don’t really know what to make of USC either because it was good enough to beat Stanford and bad enough to be humiliated at Boston College.

Things are perhaps just as intriguing -- read: hard to figure -- among the hoi polloi, among the teams not widely viewed as serious threats to win the conference. And by "widely viewed" keep in mind the chattering classes tend to talk themselves into general agreement based their need to wheeze carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, yours truly not exempted by any means.

Colorado's trip to California is a game that matches teams that both said, “We can win this one!” in the preseason. The loser’s long shot bowl hopes will take a huge hit. You could probably say the same about Washington State’s trip to Utah, though a Utes victory might propel them into the Top 25 and transform them into a popular new dark horse in the South.

In fact, our limited intelligence after four weeks might merely be a confirmation of what most suspected in the preseason: There will be no easy outs this fall, which might be as much a function of the top slipping as the bottom rising. Sure, Washington State is 1-3, but the Cougs pushed Oregon to the brink. A little less brilliance from Marcus Mariota and a little more help from the officials and things might have been different. Colorado is 2-2 but it gave Arizona State trouble, the Buffs rushing for 232 yards against the Sun Devils' rebuilt defense. California was a Hail Mary pass away from winning at Arizona and improving to 3-0. Utah won convincingly at Michigan, which might not mean much but it's still a happy ending in the Big House against a team wearing cool winged helmets.

So expect to muddle forward toward clarity, even if we encounter a few false summits along the way. No Pac-12 team appears unbeatable. And no team appears incapable of playing competently. Each fan base should remain hopeful while not ruling out the possibility of eventual despondency.

The good news, as Socrates noted via Plato, is there are two ruling and directing principles in a college football season. It always at least teases our innate desire for pleasure. And, at its end, we acquire grounds to judge excellence.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
8:00
AM ET
Hey Shane Falco. I lost a ton of money on that Sugar Bowl disaster of yours. What a bloody shambles that was. You could smell the stink all the way back in bloody Wales.

Leading off

Have we all caught our respective breaths? Good.

What a weekend it was for the Pac-12. Thrilling games in Tucson and Pullman were the exclamation point on a day that saw Colorado cap the Hawaii sweep, OSU take care of business against SDSU, Utah go to B1G country and win on the road and 30 fantastic minutes of football from the Huskies. Here are some reactions from across the league and country:

Jon Wilner weighs in on the weekend in his Pac-12 roundup, with some harsh analysis for the Bears:
Cal played well, led 31-13 entering the fourth quarter and had the Wildcats beaten time and time again (or so it seemed). But with an offense incapable of eating the clock, the defense wilted and Arizona pounced on the opportunity. In the Hotline’s opinion, the Air/Bear Raid approach is inherently flawed. The next time it wins a major conference championship will be the first time.

Things aren't looking great in Michigan after Utah rolled through town, writes Dan Wolken of USA Today. And Athlon Sports offers up their thoughts on the Michigan-Utah game.

By now, we've all seen the highlights of the Arizona-Cal game. Rich Rodriguez and his guys just want to remind you of the duration of the game:

In the rankings

The Ducks had a good chance to slide up into that No. 1 spot, but Washington State's gutty performance gave voters enough pause to not give Oregon top honors. Kyle Bonagura broke it down here for you.

Here's where the ranked Pac-12 teams stand. As always, the AP ranking is first followed by the coaches poll. You can see the complete polls here.
  • Oregon 2 - 4
  • UCLA 11 - 10
  • ASU 15 - 12
  • Stanford 16 - 14
  • USC 18 - 22

Utah, Washington Arizona and Oregon State all received votes in the AP poll. Washington, Arizona and Oregon State got votes in the coaches poll. Also, thought you'd like to see how a couple of people voted. Here is Bill Rabinowitz's ballot and Wilner's ballot.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The victory announcement from the Cal store is kind of funny if you haven't heard about it yet.

Creepy? Adorable? A little bit of both?

Kind of dig this move from ASU and Todd Graham.

Finally, thought this was funny as an impromptu game of Twitter-tac-toe broke out between Utah football and the Pac-12 Network during the rain delay.

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