Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

As far as the Pac-12 is concerned, there wasn't much of a shakeup in the first AP poll of the season that took actual games to take into account.

Oregon remained at No. 3, followed by No. 11 UCLA, No. 13 Stanford, No. 14 USC and No. 17 Arizona State. Washington, which began the season at No. 25, fell from the rankings after its narrow win against Hawaii.

Here's a closer look at the fluctuation of teams:

No. 3 Oregon: After receiving one first-place vote in the preseason poll, the Ducks received five this week. Only top-ranked Florida State (46) has more first-place votes than Oregon, which hosts No. 7 Michigan State this week. It will be the first nonconference matchup between top-10 teams in the history of Autzen Stadium. Oregon is just three points behind Alabama in the rankings.

No. 11 UCLA: Fell four spots from No. 7 after its 28-20 win at Virginia. Georgia (6), Michigan State (7), Texas A&M (9) and Baylor (10) are the four teams that jumped the Bruins.

No. 13 Stanford: It was hard to really learn much from the Cardinal's 45-0 win against UC Davis as far as how the team stacks up against the nation's elite, but it's still mildly amusing to see a team fall two spots with that kind of performance. Of course, it's also easy to explain considering the teams that jumped them -- Texas A&M and LSU -- both beat teams that are still in the Top 25.

No. 14 USC: Of the ranked Pac-12 teams in Week 1, USC had the best performance compared to what expectations were going into the game. The Trojans picked up about 100 points in the poll and moved up one spot.

No. 17 Arizona State: Like Oregon and Stanford, ASU treated its FCS opponent as expected. The Sun Devils are up two spots and were passed only by Texas A&M.

Washington: The Huskies received 34 votes, down from 130 in the preseason, which technically puts them at No. 34.

Arizona: The Wildcats picked up four votes after dismantling UNLV. And if you must know, that's good for No. 44.

Oregon State: After overcoming a halftime deficit against Portland State, the Beavers, who had 10 preseason votes, no longer have an AP support. However, the performance was good enough to pick up an extra vote in the coaches' poll -- jumping from four to five votes. Go figure.

The College Football Playoff committee, responsible for selecting the four teams to play in this year's inaugural playoff, will release its first Top 25 rankings Oct. 28 on ESPN.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
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Pac-12 morning links

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
8:00
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Leading off

Week 2 brings two of the most anticipated games of the college football season, with Michigan State traveling to Oregon and Stanford hosting USC. Nationally, most are calling the Sparty-Duck game the No. 1 nonconference matchup in college football this year. The Pac-12 blog agrees. And we know what Stanford and USC have been like the last few seasons. It's a good week to be a Pac-12 fan. Here's what some folks are saying about the matchups.

Athlon Sports on Oregon-Michigan State:
We don't really know anything about either team after lopsided victories in Week 1. Sparty crushed poor Jacksonville State 45-7, while the Ducks routed lowly South Dakota 62-13. This is the ultimate contrast in schemes with Marcus Mariota leading one of the nation's most powerful spread attacks and Pat Narduzzi directing one the gnarliest defensive units in the land.

And their take on Stanford-USC:
Look for quarterbacks Kevin Hogan (204 yds, 4 total TD) and Cody Kessler (394 yds, 4 TD) to build on excellent Week 1 performances. Stanford is looking for revenge after a late-season upset at the hands of the Trojans in Los Angeles a year ago, and the loser will fall a game behind higher-ranked division contenders.

Sports Illustrated previews the MSU-Oregon game as well, with a focus on what this game could mean for the playoff selection committee down the road:
The ramifications of the result from Eugene will transcend what Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun do on the field, as the season’s marquee non-conference game provides precious data points in comparing the Big Ten and the Pac-12.

And our own Ted Miller hit on this yesterday.

Bowling talk

One of the bolder predictions in the preseason came from Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports, who pegged the Washington Huskies as the team to beat in North. Here is his weekly notebook with news and notes and his opinion from around college football. Top to bottom, it’s a good read with plenty of Pac-12 goodies in there. But the one most readers will stop on are his predictions for the six bowl games on New Year’s Day, which still include Washington and UCLA.
Am I feeling a little skittish about my UCLA and Washington picks right about now? Of course. Will I be swapping out Michigan State for Ohio State this time next week? Quite possibly. But I’d like to watch more than one game before jumping to any grand conclusions. After all, a year ago Auburn barely survived Washington State at home in its season opener and Michigan State could barely move the ball against Western Michigan. They wound up a combined 25-3.
Tune in

For all of your audio needs, you can check out the Solid Verbal podcast. They recap a lot of what happened in the Pac-12 (starting at about the 38:20 mark). Among the topics:
  • Some praise for California.
  • Should we freak out about UCLA?
  • Washington's struggles.
  • Washington State-Rutgers.

Worth a listen if you have the time.

News/notes/team reports

*I posted the updated depth charts last week for each team. Is that a weekly feature you guys want? Tweet at me and let me know.

Just for fun

Never hurts to keep an eye on this:



Nice to see Cal players celebrating.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
8:00
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I can't believe how fast things move on the outside. I saw an automobile once when I was a kid, but now they're everywhere. The world went and got itself in a big damn hurry.

Leading off

Welcome to Week 2. By now, you probably already know what happened in Week 1. But we'll use this space each Monday to give you a quick reference to every game that happened in the Pac-12. National reactions

Here's a look at what some folks around the nation are saying about the Pac-12 and its teams.

John Taylor of NBC Sports hit on a couple of Pac-12 teams in his Week 1 rewind. USC coach Steve Sarkisian is getting a lot of praise for keeping things together after a tumultuous week leading up to the Trojans' first game.
In the first game of the Steve Sarkisian era Saturday night, the Trojans took out all of their lingering frustrations on an overmatched Fresno State squad by the score of 52-13. Quarterback Cody Kessler passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns ... in the first half alone. The offense ultimately rolled up 704 yards of offense on 104 plays, the latter of which set a Pac-12 record.

Anne Petersen of the Associated Press gets to the heart of what everyone is thinking in Eugene ... we can finally start looking ahead to Week 2 and Oregon vs. Michigan State.
While Oregon is known for their hyper-drive offense, Michigan State's success last season -- the Spartans went undefeated in conference play -- came in large part because of their bruising defense. The Spartans lost standouts Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard from that defense, but they still have lineman Shilique Calhoun, considered one of the top players in his league, and linebacker Taiwan Jones, who looked promising in the opener with Bullough gone.

UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm is catching a little heat from Pete Roussel for the way his linemen performed in the win over Virginia. The Bruins were without starting center Jake Brendel. And that obviously hurt. But there were bigger line issues at play. Not to mention more than a few wide receiver drops.
The resume of a coach is his tape. And right now, Adrian Klemm has his hands full. He knows it, too. That "super assistant" label from the media doesn’t look so fitting right now.
Nationally honored

UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week for his performance in UCLA's win over Virginia. Kendricks posted 16 tackles, forced a fumble that led to a UCLA defensive touchdown and also returned an interception for a touchdown. Say what you want about the offense (and there is plenty to say), but Kendricks had a monster game.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Saw this Saturday night and had to tweet it out, because it's equal parts awesome and adorable.

 
The first week of the season has come and gone, and with it went the redshirts for 75 freshman players in the Pac-12.

USC, which had the conference's highest-ranked recruiting class in 2014, played the most freshmen (11) and Oregon State played none. Those 75 players accounted for seven starts (on offense or defense) and eight touchdowns. The total number of players will undoubtedly grow in the next few weeks.

Here's a breakdown of all 75, by school (*-denotes players who started):

Arizona (6)
Arizona State (9)
Cal (8)
Colorado (3)
Oregon (10)
Oregon State (0)
  • None
Stanford (4)
UCLA (7)
USC (11)
Utah (10)
Washington (5)
Washington State (2)
We never know. We learn.

We have ideas of what teams will look like, and we project based on returning talent, talking with coaches, watching practices and making educated guesses. But we never really know until we see what's on the field.

We're smarter Saturday night than we were Thursday morning -- mostly. The first week of Pac-12 Football 101, which saw the league go 10-2 in nonconference play, was chock-full of intellectual goodies.

Perhaps the team that enlightened us the most was the California Bears, who snapped a 16-game losing streak to FBS teams by going into Ryan Field and notching a 31-24 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeCal's Jalen Jefferson
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJalen Jefferson celebrates his interception that essentially sealed the game for Cal.
It's not that it was the first FBS win of the Sonny Dykes era, or that the offense looked balanced and explosive. It's the fact that they had a 31-7 lead and won 31-24. Dykes liked the idea that his team had to tip-toe through a little bit of fire to pick up the win. He watched his team evolve from soft to salty.

"I never got the feeling from one player or one coach of ‘here we go again,'" Dykes told the Pac-12 blog via telephone after the game. "The guys really believed in each other. And the reason they did is because they have worked so hard. They were prepared. And they knew someone would make a play to give us a chance to win the ball game."

As it turned out, someone made two. On Northwestern's final drive, Jalen Jefferson notched a critical sack on second-and-6 for a loss of 11 yards. On the next play, Jefferson snagged an interception that essentially closed out the game.

"It's been a long few months for us, but we're a tighter team than we were last year," Jefferson said. "A lot of those breaks we weren't getting last year, we got them. We can feel things changing for the better."

Added quarterback Jared Goff: "I think we learned about resiliency. We knew they would fight back and we didn't give up ... we learned how to finish a game."

It was educational, for sure.

We learned some things haven't changed -- at least not yet. While the Bears were protecting the fourth quarter from a Big Ten team, the Washington State Cougars were yielding the fourth quarter to another. And UCLA? Well, Brett Hundley is still getting sacked, and his offensive line still looks leaky. If not for three defensive touchdowns, the Bruins would be staring at 0-1.

We didn't learn much from the FCS games -- other than it was good to see Utah's Travis Wilson back on the field and that Oregon State seems to makes those games sketchier than they probably should be. We don't know a ton more about ASU's defense or Oregon's offense. We didn't learn much about Stanford's rushing attack. Ty Montgomery is really good. But we already knew that.

We learned USC still has the ability to hit the mute button on the outside noise. If there's one team that knows a little something about turmoil, it's the Trojans -- for what they went through last year. That's a team with scary potential.

We learned not very good is sometimes good enough. See Washington and UCLA, whose fans are crawling into bed at this moment feeling both relieved and probably a little jolted.

And the rest of the Pac-12 probably learned a little something about the Bears.

"We're capable of being pretty good, I think," Dykes said. "We have to execute better. We're good in spurts. We have to be good consistently and close people out."

Next week Cal gets FCS Sacramento State with a chance to start 2-0 for the first time since 2011. The schedule ramps up with a pair of high-profile games, including Michigan State at Oregon and USC at Stanford.

Looking forward to what we'll know by this time next Saturday.

Takeaways from Stanford-UC Davis

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
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Stanford made quick work of U.C. Davis in a 45-0 rout.

It was exactly the type of performance that was expected, but here are a few takeaways:

Ty Montgomery is one of the nation's most exciting players. A year ago, Montgomery landed on just about every All-America team as a returner after finishing second in the country in both yards per kickoff return (30.3) and kickoff returns for touchdowns (two). But despite how good he was in that role, the Cardinal never used him on punt returns -- not once over his first three years. Shaw made it clear this year that would change and on his first career attempt, Montgomery validated that decision with a 60-yard return for a touchdown.

video

And while his national recognition comes from what he does on special teams, there's so much more depth to his game. In the first half, he caught fives passes for 77 yards and was also introduced as the team's new Wildcat operator (one carry, 8 yards). One thing that stands out about Montgomery is how effortless he makes things look. It's like his jog is significantly faster than everyone else's sprint. Sure, this was against UC Davis, so this 44-yard touchdown reception might be the type of play one might expect for a future NFL receiver, but it's worth appreciating. Put Montgomery in Washington State's offense and what does he go for? 100 catches, 1,500 yards? More?

video True freshman Christian McCaffrey will make an impact. I was admittedly a little surprised in training camp when David Shaw announced McCaffrey wouldn’t redshirt. It just seemed like there were enough bodies to account for anything he would be able to provide this year. Still think that holds true to some extent, but McCaffrey made an impact in several ways in the opener. He had three tackles on special teams as a gunner and went 52 yards untouched on his first touch for a touchdown and nearly broke a punt return for another.

video Passing game ahead of running game. Take Montgomery out of the equation and Stanford still is more advanced throwing the ball than running it. At least so far. With the starters in the game in the first half, Stanford had 70 yards rushing (on 14 attempts) and 204 yards passing as quarterback Kevin Hogan connected on 12-of-15 passes. That’ll probably trend in the other direction eventually, but Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren will continue to take advantage of Hogan’s ability to throw the deep ball with a talented group of receivers. Last year, Hogan completed more passes that traveled 30 yards or more in the air than any quarterback in the country (17) despite ranking just 48th in total attempts nationally. Expect more passes like Michael Rector.

video
Happy Friday. That goes for you, too, Washington State.

Well, mostly. Hey, next round's on Gemmell? That help? Thought so.

Follow me on Twitter, where I wax and wane between sympathetic, antagonistic and sarcastic.

To the notes!

Devon from Mesa, Arizona, writes: When Todd Graham was hired at ASU, the national media focused only on his nomadic past and the admittedly less-than-ideal way he left Pitt. But since then, he's been nothing but extremely loyal and impressive as the Sun Devils' coach, improving the play on the field, the quality of recruiting, the discipline in the program, and the morale of the fan base. But even after winning the South and the conference coach of the year honors last year, most media picks ASU as no better than fifth in the Pac-12 this season. What more does he need to do to convince the national media to get past the one-year stint at Pitt and to start giving Graham some respect for the outstanding program he's building in Tempe?

Ted Miller: Well, fifth in the Pac-12 is good enough to be 19th in the preseason AP poll and 18th with the coaches, slightly ahead of their 2013 finish, so it's not exactly like the national media is hatin' them some Sun Devils. Further, fifth is only down two spots in the conference from last year, when ASU finished third in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and Oregon.

Why down two spots? Quick: Name four defensive starters. Ah ha! Yes, pretty much completely rebuilding your defense with unknown quantities is something the national media picked up on. It's not personal. It's business. The media goes all Missouri on you: You've got to show us. While Graham has recruited well, he's not in Alabama or Florida State territory, where he gets the benefit of the doubt with his true and redshirt freshmen and JC transfers.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsTodd Graham and Arizona State have some rebuilding to do, but the pollsters have given the Sun Devils some respect.
Speaking of JC transfers, and I don't want to seem thin-skinned here, but the Pac-12 blog received gobs of "your an idiot" [sic] hate mail this offseason from maestros of the message boards fans telling us how stupid we were for not understanding how dominant front-seven stalwarts Dalvon Stuckey and Darrius Caldwell were going to be.

How's that working out? Not to be snide about academic non-qualifiers but we've written over and over again about the love affair folks seem to have with the idea of touted players who have yet to play a game or even practice. Previously we termed it, "Incoming Dude Is Obviously Transcendent." Or IDIOT. Yes, we just tittered at our own snarky joke. So sorry for that.

So the reason the Sun Devils slipped in the preseason projections is the defense looks suspect. It's nothing more complicated than that.

Did we learn anything about the Sun Devils -- defense or otherwise -- during their 45-14 stomping of Weber State on Thursday? Nope.

How can Arizona State improve its place in the national pecking order? Beat UCLA at home on Sept. 25, a Thursday night game that should have a significant national audience. A 4-0 start for Graham and the Sun Devils would earn them a top-10 ranking.

Ah, did you notice something about this answer, though? I didn't bring up Pittsburgh and all that muckety-muck. Know why? I've moved on and I think most writers have, too. Graham was the Pac-12 Coach of the Year last year and has shown no interest in moving out of Tempe. I think that narrative has seen its last whimper, at least until he seems to again show a wandering eye


Eric from Vallejo, California, writes: Hi, longtime Ducks fan here. Saw my first game at Autzen in 1970.The two biggest conference games for the Ducks are with UCLA on the road, and Stanford at home. I have noticed that nobody has commented on the fact that the Ducks get two extra days to prepare for UCLA and one extra day to prepare for Stanford. (UCLA's game before meeting the Ducks is on a Saturday, but the Ducks' previous game is on a Thursday. Similarly, Stanford's previous game is on a Saturday, but the Ducks' previous game is on a Friday.) It could be the difference-maker! The scheduling gods smiled on the Ducks this year. How significant do you think the extra days of rest and prep will be for the Ducks on their two most important conference games?

Ted Miller: Oregon's schedule is undoubtedly favorable. It starts with missing USC and Arizona State, a pair of top-25 teams from the South Division, and it includes having Michigan State, Washington and Stanford all come to Autzen Stadium.

And your point about extra days of preparation is entirely valid. I'm imagining UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone reading this and going, "Well that stinks," then telling Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, and that troika proceeding to trash the coaches' offices, throwing chairs out the window and kicking walls before they throw themselves on their knees and bellow in unison, "Why! WHY?! Oh, why doth thou forsake us, oh great scheduling gods?!"

It might not happen exactly like that, but it would be cool if it did.

There's no question extra preparation time, as well as extra rest/recovery time, is an advantage. While there's no obvious proof of a pro-Ducks scheduling conspiracy, you never know.


Jim from Los Angeles writes: I think Myles Jack is a much better linebacker than running back. I'd rather seem him play defense and only occasionally play offense. How do you think UCLA can best utilize Jack's talents?

Ted Miller: Jim... last name... Mora?

I think that's UCLA's plan, particularly with Jordan James back from injury. Recall that the reason Jack saw action at RB last year was because of injuries in the backfield, most notably to James, who ranked among the national rushing leaders early in the season.

But Jack also might offer a good change of pace to a more physical runner, particularly near the goal line. I expect him to get touches on offense in specific packages but I also don't think anyone has illusions about where his primary position is -- on defense, where he's got an NFL future.


Craig from Independence, Oregon, writes: Do you think Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota will be NFL quarterback(s)? Both seem to have the physical makeup of one, but are they NFL material?

Ted Miller: Yes.

They are different, but they both will be early draft picks -- perhaps both going in the first round this spring -- and I suspect both will have good NFL careers.

Both have NFL arms. Both are tall, which the NFL values. Both are smart enough to learn an NFL playbook. Mariota brings a run/scramble element, while Mannion is a traditional guy who stands tall in the pocket.

I've learned through the years that my skills predicting NFL careers are limited, not unlike NFL GMs. But I'd be surprised if both don't end up as NFL starters.


Fleecemonkey from San Carlos, California, writes: Did no one do any independent source verification before reporting the Josh Shaw story? Is that not the journalistic standard? I ask out of sincere curiosity. No snark intended. When I wrote a piece for the NY Times Sunday Review, I had to provide documentation for every fact. Does sports journalism adhere to different practices?

Ted Miller: While all forms of journalism should adhere to basic 101 standards, these are complicated times for the profession. Things move faster than they once did. As in immediate fast. You get information you believe is from a good source and you tend to go with it ASAP. It used to be you could double- and triple-source and provide depth and perspective on breaking news because your only time constraint was the deadline for the AM edition. Now, for better or worse, there's a battle for Twitter turf.

That's a different bird than what you did for the NY Times Sunday Review, which I'm guessing was a non-deadline feature or long-form story that can be thoroughly fact-checked because there's time to do so.

In this case, team captain Josh Shaw, a senior with a good reputation, told coaches and administrators at USC that he jumped off of a second-story balcony and hurt his ankles because he was trying to save his drowning 7-year-old nephew. There was no reason, at that point, to view Shaw with suspicion, to see him as someone who would manufacture an outrageous lie. He had no history of deceit or questionable conduct within the program, at least as far as we know.

How did USC get fooled? Read this. It does a good job of explaining.

Then USC, using its official website, published a story with quotes from Shaw and coach Steve Sarkisian. That put the seemingly legitimate information out there, and beat writers felt they needed to react for their publications as soon as possible, probably knowing it would be of national interest. At that point, just about everyone was planning a follow-up. That would be the deeper and more detailed -- and more sourced -- picture of an act of heroism and the young man who performed it. .

Things moved pretty quickly thereafter, though not before many of us were captivated -- hook, line and sinker. As it was, the feel-good story became a stinking pile of manure.


Costi from Phoenix writes: While a lot of optimism always inevitably floats around at the beginning of the season (which I love, of course). I want the pessimistic side of your analysis as well. I want to know what team or teams do you think is most likely to underwhelm, fall well short of expectations, or simply just surprise people with how thin or bad they are? I mean, sure, the Bears and Buffs are most likely to be the worst teams at the end of the season, but everyone expects that. Which Pac-12 team projected to contend is most likely to fall well short of expectations?

Ted Miller: After watching Washington State lose Thursday to a Rutgers team that I thought it would roll over, I think all the favorites have plenty of room to self-destruct. Heck, many Pac-12 teams are just a few injuries away from massively reduced capabilities -- see Oregon with QB Marcus Mariota last year.

What could go wrong? How about this.

  • Arizona: What if QB play is poor and the defense gets exposed?
  • Arizona State: What if the rebuilt defense is lousy?
  • California: What if the team starts slowly and quits on Sonny Dykes?
  • Colorado: What if the voids left behind by WR Paul Richardson and DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe prove too much?
  • Oregon: What if the receivers and secondary underwhelm?
  • Oregon State: That O-line is questionable, and Brandin Cooks is in the NFL.
  • Stanford: Losing four starting O-linemen and the biggest producers on defense could actually be a problem.
  • UCLA: Sophomore slumps on both lines, a loss to Texas and a team unprepared for disappointment.
  • USC: New systems and a lack of depth, as well as swirling preseason controversies.
  • Utah: Still not ready for prime time Pac-12 play.
  • Washington: New systems, new QB, new RB and a young secondary.
  • Washington State: No run defense; no running game.

The teams set up for the biggest falls are everyone's favorites: Oregon and UCLA. While I don't see either faltering in a massive way, it wouldn't shock me if one or the other ended up outside the top 10. Because both have such high expectations, that first defeat might include a hangover that causes loss No. 2. Or even No. 3.


Gary from La Grande, Oregon, writes: Ted, you've been catching a lot of heat for ending the best-case/worst-case scenarios. So, I thought you might feel better to know that I couldn't stand 'em.

Ted Miller: Yes, Gary, I now feel great. Thanks.
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”

Pac-12 morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
8:00
AM ET
Happy (football) Friday!

Leading off

So ... Cougs ... what's up?

While Utah and Arizona State cruised to easy victories over FCS teams, the Washington State Cougars fell behind early, came back and took a lead into the fourth quarter, but couldn't hold on in a 41-38 loss to Rutgers. Can't pin this one on the offense. Connor Halliday went 40-of-56 for 532 yards with five touchdowns and one early interception. But the defense broke numerous times, yielding 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns to Paul James, and a critical special-teams error opened the door for a Rutgers go-ahead score. Ted Miller had a quick take on the game last night. And I don't necessarily want to call out Cougar Brian in a second links post this week, but please leave a comment at the bottom, just so we all know you're OK.

Speaking of special teams, the Utes put on quite the special-teams extravaganza in their 56-14 win over Idaho State -- headlined by Kaelin Clay, who went all Reggie Dunn and returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown. The Pac-12 blog makes it a habit not to get too high on wins over FCS teams. But it was nice to see a healthy Travis Wilson (13-of-18, 265 yards) throw for a touchdown and run another one in (well, dive it in, actually).

The Sun Devils also took care of business against FCS Weber State with a 45-14 victory. D.J. Foster left fans asking "Marion who?" and scored three touchdowns on the ground to go with 147 rushing yards. Same train of thought as above. It's a win. The Sun Devils did exactly what they needed to do and had a drama-free evening.

USC

Perhaps the weirdest Week 1 in college football history got weirder Thursday when USC running back Anthony Brown quit the team and then accused new coach Steve Sarkisian of being a racist on the way out. This comes on the heels of the Josh Shaw "story." Sark addressed that yesterday, saying he shares the blame for helping the initial heroic story take flight. But that there is also potential for Shaw to return to the team this year. The LA Times also has some details of how Shaw's name got linked to a police incident report.

Year of the Oregon quarterback?

Really interesting story from Gina Mizzell of The Oregonian, who asks if this is the best QB combination ever from the state of Oregon:
In a recent survey of former Oregon and Oregon State coaches and quarterbacks, Mannion and Mariota join other combinations such as OSU's Jonathan Smith and UO's Joey Harrington, who each were fixtures from 1999-2001. There was the combination of native Oregonians Kellen Clemens (a Burns-raised Duck) and Derek Anderson (first of Scappoose, then of Reser Stadium) from 2003-04. Farther back, Heisman winner Terry Baker of OSU faced Bob Berry, who led Oregon to three straight winning seasons for the first time in 25 years.

Comparing times and eras is always complicated. What Marcus Mariota is doing is a lot different than what Harrington and Clemens were asked to do. Mannion is the more traditional quarterback here. But the fact that he'll be the league's all-time leading passer in a matter of weeks shouldn't be overlooked either. For what it's worth, a fun debate and a question worth asking.

News/notes/practice reports

Pac-12 bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
5:00
PM ET
The college football postseason will be very different this season, with the end of the BCS and the beginning of the four-team College Football Playoff. But there's more!

The CFP selection committee also will pick teams for the Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls. Those are the major bowls not hosting this season's CFP semifinal games. The selections will be based on ... get ready to be shocked ... merit. Well, there are some other considerations, but there won't be any more ridiculous decisions made purely on potential ticket sales. (The national semifinals, by the way, are to be played out at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1, 2015, with the winners to vie for the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.)

There also is expected to be more flexibility in the bowl arrangements, with bowls working with conferences to put together the best matchups possible and avoid repeat visits. That seems to be another good thing, though we await its execution.

In any event, here are your Pac-12 bowl projections, made with all the certainty one can muster in advance of the season itself.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (vs. Big 12)
National University Holiday Bowl: USC (vs. Big Ten)
San Francisco Bowl: Washington (vs. Big Ten)
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (vs. ACC)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington State (vs. Mountain West)
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State (vs. Big 12)
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Arizona

* at large
The 2014 Pac-12 season starts tonight, and that is unquestionably a righteous thing. The first week's slate of games? Well, it's not exactly going to awaken any echoes. Still, Confucius say he who casts a disrespectful glance at a season opener finds his beer warm and his prayers to the college football gods unanswered.

Yet with all due respect, the Pac-12 plays five games versus overmatched FCS foes and is double-digit favorites in four other games. The only underdog is California, which visits Northwestern.

Ah, but that second Saturday. That, my friends, is a biggie. Not entirely across the conference, but two games will attract beaucoup Pac-12 and national eyeballs and are decidedly meaningful in terms of setting up the first season of the College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Don RyanMarcus Mariota and Oregon can make a significant statement with a win over Michigan State in Week 2.
Start with No. 8 Michigan State's visit to No. 3 Oregon. This might be the biggest nonconference matchup of the season, and it's even bigger after the season-ending injury to Ohio State QB Braxton Miller. The Spartans are now the clear favorites in the Big Ten, as the Ducks are the popular preseason pick in the Pac-12. It might look like a Rose Bowl, but it probably ends up operating like a CFP elimination game. Or validation game.

It's an intriguing matchup, too: Celebrated offense versus celebrated defense, with the Ducks, led by preseason Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota, facing Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who might be the best in the business.

Meanwhile, No. 11 Stanford plays host to No. 15 USC. The Trojans used to feast on the Cardinal. Now this is a bitter and highly competitive rivalry. What makes this game fun is the rivalry is as much player-based as fan based. That bitterness ignited between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh -- "What's your deal?" -- and has maintained its burn over the past few years, with the teams exchanging major upsets the past two seasons.

It also won't cool things down, at least in terms of perception, that new Trojans coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford coach David Shaw were at public loggerheads last year over the Cardinal allegedly faking injuries in a tight victory over Sark's Washington team. While it might be responsible to note that Shaw and Sarkisian seem to get along well and chat amiably at coaching functions, that would de-sensationalize an angle the Pac-12 blog would prefer to jump up and down and point at next week.

It also has been established, though less publicly, that more than a few Stanford players were extremely unhappy with Sarkisian's accusation, most notably DE Ben Gardner, whose NFL career has already been waylaid by the shoulder issue that hampered him against the Huskies.

We also must add that the irreverent Stanford band surely is already clicking its collective heels over the possibilities the "Josh Shaw Tall Tale of Heroism" offers for a halftime snark.

Even if you cast aside the emotions, this is a big Pac-12 game. The winner figures to establish itself as a top-10 team and national contender. While they occupy different divisions, one will end up 0-1 in conference play and the other will be 1-0. In what figure to be tight races in both divisions, that one-game swing could prove critical.

A USC victory would be a significant event in the South Division. The Trojans don't play Oregon, as UCLA does. Arizona State doesn't, either. The Bruins and the Sun Devils both play Stanford. The Sun Devils visit USC. In other words, in terms of schedule strength among the contenders, a USC win over Stanford might change the perception of the South race.

Of course, from a coach's perspective we are getting ahead of ourselves. USC plays host to Fresno State on Saturday. While the Bulldogs don't look like the formidable foe the Trojans whipped in the Las Vegas Bowl a year ago, they certainly have a pulse. Stanford plays UC Davis and Oregon plays South Dakota. Both will roll, though some Davis folks have pointed out the Aggies upset the Cardinal in 2005, one of the notable moments of Walt Harris' coaching tenure.

As you well know, sports teams play one game at a time.

"We approach this game, literally, exactly like every other one," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said of South Dakota and, by extension, Michigan State. "To do anything else would be a conflict of our process, disrespectful to our opponent and to the game."

While Helfrich and Shaw admit that they spent plenty of time this offseason reviewing Michigan State and USC/Washington film knowing about their big dates in Week 2, the nature of football is routine, and routine dictates you prepare for each game the same way.

Dangers of looking ahead this week? Unlikely. For one, it's the first game of the season. The opportunity to play a real game in front of a crowd after a long preseason camp is a reward in itself. Don't expect players to be blasÚ and unfocused.

And there are stakes for players in game one, no matter how undecorated the foe is, according to Shaw.

"We have a lot of guys still competing for things, for who's going to get more playing time," he said. "I'd feel bad for the guy who shows a sign of not focusing on the task at hand. He's going to meet with a not very happy Coach Shaw."

Pac-12 morning links

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
8:00
AM ET
Could it be? In a bizarre twist, a horse is abusing a jockey. Might this be the start of a terrifying planet of the horses? In this announcer's opinion, almost certainly yes. And away I go.

Leading off

While there are still plenty of questions swirling about the Josh Shaw situation, we at least have some confirmation that his original story was a lie. As a result, Shaw has been suspended indefinitely from the team and has retained counsel.

Here's a few of the stories that are out there: What a rush

Interesting little stat here courtesy of the Pac-12 Networks.



I like Oregon to continue their streak. The only argument against being that with three backs it's possible that we could see three guys in the 700- 800- 900-yard range. Plus you factor in injuries, assorted carries for whoever has the hot hand and a quarterback that's going to rush for about 700 yards and it's possible Oregon doesn't get a 1K rusher. Possible, but not probable.

Stanford is going to be really interesting to watch as they move back to a by-committee backfield. But even when they had that approach in previous years, they were still able to produce a 1,000-yard rusher. A lot of it will depend on who emerges as the 15-20 carry back (if there is one) and how quickly the four new offensive linemen come together. But if I had to bet, I'd like both of these schools to continue this streak.

Heisman love?

Chris Huston, who runs the site Heismanpundit.com released his preseason straw poll for 2014. It's a small sample -- only 10 Heisman voters from around the country -- but the results are slanted heavily toward the Pac-12, including a couple of names we haven't previously seen connected with the award. First, the results (first place votes in parentheses):

1. Marcus Mariota, Jr., QB, Oregon — 24 (6)
2. Jameis Winston, So., QB, Florida State — 19 (3)
3. Brett Hundley, Jr., QB, UCLA — 6
4. Bryce Petty, Sr., QB, Baylor — 5
5. Myles Jack, So., LB/RB, UCLA — 3 (1)
6. (tie) Leonard Williams, Jr., DT, USC — 1
Melvin Gordon, Jr., RB, Wisconsin — 1
Ty Montgomery, Sr., WR, Stanford — 1

Mariota, we expected. Same for Hundley. Even Jack we'd heard had been getting some Heisman love. (And in case you missed it, the Pac-12 blog talked with Jack about all of the preseason attention he's been getting). But it's interesting to see USC's Leonard Williams and Stanford's Ty Montgomery on the list.

Williams, we know, is an All-America defensive linemen and considered by many to be the best in the country and a top five pick in the 2015 draft. Chances are this is just some preseason posturing from voters. There's always talk in the preseason that a defensive player will break through and win. We saw it with Jadeveon Clowney and Ndamukong Suh. And while the Pac-12 blog would love to see the day that "the best" college football player wins the award (see this column from 2012, Huston is actually quoted), the odds of it happening are slim.

Even for a guy like Montgomery, who is expected to be a significant special teams contributor to go with his receiving stats. We'll see how this all shakes out in November and December. As the Pac-12 blog wrote last week, we've been fooled by preseason favorites before. Still, nice to know the rest of the country has its eyes on the West.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun (LA themed)

Some new artwork in the Coliseum.



What say you, America?

Mailbag: Worst case scenarios

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
9:00
PM ET
My weekly mailbag returns! We're keeping them tighter this season, so I'll only hit two or three questions per mailbag. But that doesn't mean we still can't have a little fun (see question No. 1)

And feel free to follow me on Twitter.

To the Notes!

Costi in Phoenix writes: While a lot of optimism always inevitably floats around at the beginning of the season (which I love of course). I want the pessimistic side of your analysis as well. I want to know what team or teams do you think is most likely to underwhelm, fall well short of expectations, or simply just surprise people with how thin or bad they are? I mean sure the bears and buffs are most likely to be the worst teams at the end of the season, but everyone expects that. Which Pac 12 team projected to contend is most likely to fall well short of expectations?

Kevin Gemmell: That's no fun! This is the one time of year when everyone is undefeated. Why would you possibly want me to take that away from them?

This is going to sound like a blanket statement ... and it is ... because it's true. Every team in the Pac-12 is capable of exceeding or falling short of expectations. Too much happens over the course of a season -- including a nine-game conference schedule -- for us to sit here in Week 1 and say something is definitively going to happen.

But since Costi in Phoenix wants to be Buzz Killington, I guess we'll go through a quick worst-case scenario for every team in the league. (While paying homage to Ted Miller).

Arizona: Anu Solomon is just mediocre and the Wildcats play quarterback roulette throughout the year, giving them another six or seven win season. And they lose to ASU. Taylor Kelly wins the Heisman. Arizona loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.

ASU: The defense never quite catches up to the offense. The Sun Devils score a lot of points, but they give up a lot also. They hit a four game losing streak against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington and lose at home to Notre Dame. And they lose to Arizona. They go to a bowl game, but it's a step backwards from last season. Anu Solomon wins the Heisman. RichRod hires Mike Norvell as his offensive coordinator.

Cal: They play like 2013 Cal. Kevin Hogan wins the Heisman.

Colorado: They play like 2012 Colorado. Travis Wilson wins the Heisman.

Oregon: The Ducks lose to Stanford, Washington and Oregon State. The defense and offensive line takes guff for not being physical enough. Sean Mannion wins the Heisman. Oregon loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.

Oregon State: The run game the Beavers so badly want to establish never really gets off the ground. Sean Mannion breaks the conference passing record, but that's overshadowed by a 6-6 finish. Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman and Oregon State loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.

Stanford: The critics are finally right and the Cardinal take a step backwards. No one really emerges as a reliable running back and the Cardinal fall to Oregon, Washington and UCLA to close out 9-3. Jared Goff wins the Heisman. David Shaw leaves for the NFL. Stanford loses to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

UCLA: The Bruins can't answer the hype, falling to Oregon, Stanford and USC. Brett Hundley finishes fifth in the Heisman race, with the award going to Cody Kessler. Nick Saban attends Steve Sarkisian's coaching clinic on up-tempo offenses, proclaiming it all the rage. The Bruins lose to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

USC: An early loss to Stanford sets the tone for an eight-win season, which includes losses to UCLA, Notre Dame and ASU. Brett Hundley wins the Heisman and the national championship. A bad year in the SEC leaves an opening for one of their bowl games, and Alabama beats the Trojans in the Belk Bowl. USC's defense has no answer for the onslaught of bubble screens.

Utah: The Utes miss the postseason for the third straight year -- the seventh pivotal loss coming in the finale to Colorado -- and the heat is officially on Kyle Whittingham. BYU advances to the College Football Playoff.

Washington: The Huskies flip through several quarterbacks trying to find the right combination. And despite a top-notch defense, the offense just can't score enough points. It's another seven-win season with losses to Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State Washington State and ASU. Marcus Mariota and Connor Halliday split the Heisman.

Washington State: After taking a step forward last year and qualifying for a bowl game, the Cougars are unable to reach the postseason, following several tough losses -- including Washington in the Apple Cup. Cyler Miles wins the Heisman. Mike Leach decides to adopt the triple-option.

Craig in Independence, Oregon, writes: Do you think Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota will be NFL quarterback(s)? Both seem to have the physical make-up of one but are they NFL material?

Kevin Gemmell: Barring any disastrous injuries or off-field incidents this season, both will be drafted -- maybe both in the first round. And if you've been reading any 2015 draft material, Mariota is likely a top five pick.

Let's start with Mannion. As many coaches have told me over the last few months, he's the prototypical NFL quarterback in terms of size and frame. That he knows a pro-style system and can work under center is only going to benefit him as he adjusts to the next level.

The big knock on Mannion is that he doesn't fit the new mold of the uber-athletic dual-threat quarterback. That's not his game. And while some NFL GMs are enamored by this, there are still plenty out there who believe in the 3-5-7-step drop and poise in the pocket. Mannion has that. He delivers a deep ball as well as anyone in the conference. He's accurate and his decision-making improved a lot last season. Expecting to see major gains there in 2014.

Mannion probably won't be taken in the top 10. But if he goes late in the first or second round, and has a year or two to sit, he could end up making an NFL GM look very, very smart in three or four years.

As for Mariota, he's the do-everything kind of guy. His athleticism alone makes him a high draft pick. He's built for any system, which is what makes him so appealing.

So to answer your question, yes, both are NFL material.

Pac-12 morning links

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
8:00
AM ET
Well, I'm not crazy about the plutonium or nicotine, but it is very nice to see Bart eating his vegetables.

Leading off

If the first day of Week 1 is any indication of how the season will go, it's going to be an odd season.

The big story in the Pac-12, well, the country, was the peculiar circumstances surrounding USC cornerback Josh Shaw. News broke early in the day that the story of how he originally injured his ankles -- leaping from a balcony and rescuing his nephew from a pool -- might be exaggerated, or possibly fabricated.

Here are some of the latest stories (as of late Tuesday night).
The story was fantastical when it was true. If it's false, it's even more bizarre. Plenty of hearsay and conjecture still floating around for anyone to put all of the pieces together yet. Be sure to follow ESPNLA's Arash Markazi for the latest.

More predictions

Yesterday was also prediction day. The Pac-12 blog came out with 10 bold predictions for the conference (I did three of them, if you can guess which three, I'll give you a "you're awesome" shout out on Twitter), and Fox Sports had its own set of predictions for college football -- three of their 10 involved the Pac-12 in one form or another.

One of them is that Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday will attempt 100 passes in a game. It's bold, but it might not be that crazy. Recall last year he hit 89 pass attempts against Oregon. Last year the Cougars averaged 58.1 pass attempts per game -- so take that for what it's worth.

However, Halliday does own most of the school's single-game pass attempt records. (Here's a little something I pulled from the WSU media guide).
  • 89 Connor Halliday Oregon 10/19/13
  • 67 Connor Halliday California 10/5/13
  • 66 Drew Bledsoe Montana 9/5/92
  • 65 Connor Halliday Auburn 8/31/13
  • 62 Connor Halliday Utah 11/23/13
  • 60 Connor Halliday Colorado 9/22/12
  • 60 Connor Halliday Oregon 9/29/12
  • 59 Alex Brink Oregon State 10/28/05
  • 59 Jeff Tuel Stanford 10/27/12
  • 59 Connor Halliday Washington 10/29/13

Thoughts? Does he get to 100? I know CougarBrian will be anxious to weigh in.

Going, going, gone

Of all the preseason teams you'd like to see your favorite players on, this is not one of them. Athlon released its "All Gone" team, which picks the best players by position who are gone for the year.

Three Pac-12 players made the list. Proceed with caution ... and possibly some tissues if you're the emotional type.

Best of the best

NFL.com released its top 20 players in college football, and six from the Pac-12 are on the list (a much better list than the previous one).

It's the usual suspects:
As always, take lists with the grainy salt in which they are intended. I've seen plenty that have Hundley as a top 10 or top five player. Others have Mariota at No. 1. The good news is games start this week, and we can start putting some production to the lists.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

An Oregon season hype video. I love these.

Click here, and productivity across the state of Oregon will instantly drop by 96 percent.

As the Huskies prepare for their season opener at Hawaii, the Pac-12 blog has no qualms saying it is officially jealous of Seattle Times writer Adam Jude. Cheers.

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