Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

video How the game was won: David Shaw and Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren made the offensive changes they promised after the past week's disastrous performance at Arizona State. The Cardinal radically altered their formula of attack and worked from a no-huddle offense at the start of the game. They stretched the perimeter with athletic weapons Ty Montgomery and Christian McCaffrey before gashing the wide-open middle of the field with their young tight ends.

The Cardinal's offensive resurgence in the first half (8.2 yards per play during that stretch) made the job easy for Stanford's suffocating defense in the 38-14 win. Stanford held the Beavers' first string offense to just 133 total yards and an anemic efficiency mark: about 2.5 yards per play. Sean Mannion needed 316 passing yards to break the Pac-12 career passing record, but after a 14-for-30, 122-yard performance, he'll have to wait until next time to challenge Matt Barkley's mark.

Game ball goes to: Stanford wide receiver/returner Ty Montgomery. Once again, No. 7 was the best player on the field. He showed excellent hands on a crossing pattern early and extended another first-half Stanford drive on a pretty catch-and-run. Quarterback Kevin Hogan stood in against a ferocious Oregon State blitz on that play. Montgomery then delivered the absolute dagger, a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the second half. He made Beaver defenders look like they were stuck in quicksand along his route to the end zone.

What it means: Entering next week's showdown at Oregon, Stanford is operating with a drastically different offense. After Arizona State trounced the Cardinal 26-10 this past week, it was clear the Cardinal were not maximizing their abundance of offensive talent. Stanford's chances of winning at Autzen Stadium looked very slim, regardless of how well their nation-leading defense was playing. Suddenly, next week's showdown becomes all the more intriguing, especially ater Oregon's defensive struggles against Cal on Friday. Oregon State entered this game second in the Pac-12 in the total defense category, so Stanford is now playing competent offense to go along with its championship-caliber defense. We'll see if they can consistently maintain that balance.

Oregon State, meanwhile, drops to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in Pac-12 play. They're essentially eliminated from Pac-12 North competition and now face a battle to reach bowl eligibility. The Beavers host Cal and Washington State in the next two weeks, so there are definitely two winnable games left for them, but the rest of the schedule is very challenging: versus Arizona State, at Washington, versus Oregon.

What's next: Stanford's showdown at Oregon next Saturday has officially become massive. The Cardinal and the Ducks will battle it out at Autzen Stadium in a game that might well determine the Pac-12 North title. As mentioned above, Oregon State heads back to Reser Stadium licking their wounds ahead of a three-game homestand.

Best play: Stanford also did a much better job putting Hogan in his scrambling comfort zone. Shaw dialed up a designed run for him, and that turned into 37-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Hogan's powerful stiff-arm earns our play of the game honors.

video
Greetings. Welcome to the Mailbag.

If you are pursuing enlightenment, then go here.

To the notes.

Bryce from San Francisco writes: It's already been established that many SEC teams are a bunch of cowards, afraid to visit another conference powerhouse (no, LSU fans, Cowboys Stadium doesn't count as a road game). My question is if the playoff committee will see all these SEC teams backing out of tough games to schedule patsies and reward the Pac-12 while punishing the SEC for their scheduling. The SEC deserves to be docked for softening their schedule. And the Pac-12 should be rewarded for trying to play the best, even when other conferences are too scared to.

Ted Miller: Well, hold on now. LSU has done home-and-homes with Arizona, Arizona State and Washington in the not too distant past, and let's just say that Tigers fans have room to crow about the results, particularly those who continue to smart about finishing ranked second in 2003 behind consensus national champion USC.

In general, the SEC has significantly upgraded its nonconference schedules over the past several years and there's been a concerted effort to continue that trend going forward. LSU has led the way, but Alabama also deserves credit, while Auburn earns kudos for its series with Kansas State. Though Georgia chickened out of a series with Oregon knowing it would go 0-2, the Bulldogs did do a home-and-home with Arizona State and have scheduled one with Notre Dame while continuing their rivalry series with Georgia Tech. In 2017, Florida plays Florida State and Michigan, and Texas A&M, after dropping Oregon and USC, has added Arizona State and UCLA.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDak Prescott's Mississippi State team is No. 1 right now, but its nonconference schedule (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin) is notably weak compared to other playoff contenders.
The big issue for the SEC as we move into the College Football Playoff Era is not so much the nonconference slate. It's the SEC's eight-game conference schedule. That provides a institutionalized shortcut with the singular intention of avoiding competition that should operate as an automatic demerit for a contending SEC team during committee deliberations, particularly when the nonconference schedule is lacking.

I believe it will, perhaps as soon as this season, and when the selection committee confirms my belief and enrages an SEC fan base, the next SEC commissioner will push his conference to make the change.

Ah, but nonconference scheduling will be an issue this year, and I believe the committee will make it clear that cowardly scheduling has its own risks.

That brings us to the Mississippi schools as well as Baylor. While Ole Miss did take a minor step forward with a game with Boise State, even that doesn't hold the credibility it did a few years ago. Meanwhile, Mississippi State's and Baylor's nonconference schedules are a joke. They are offensive to the ideas of courage, honor, masculinity and all that is right and good. Hemingway and Maximus Decimus Meridius and Dirty Harry have personally communicated outrage to the Pac-12 blog. I may overstate things but only by a little.

What that means is pretty simple. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and/or Baylor should be significantly burdened when it comes to eclipsing a team from, say, the Pac-12 with the same record, particularly if they don't win their conference title.

So my answer is I expect the committee to provide the Pac-12 champion a positive click automatically, one that won't be available to any other conference, based on the tough nonconference schedules, nine-game conference schedules and conference title game.


Jeff from Corvallis, Oregon, writes: More an observation. Other Pac-12 schools seem to be getting better in a positive way, Utah, Cal, UCLA, both Arizona schools, even WSU is competitive! Oregon State seems to be flat-lining while other schools are trending up. Riley the most underrated coach, yeah, OK, but 6-6 or 7-4 in a season, appears OSU will be left our of a bowl this season and losing to the Ducks every season is getting old. Every season clock-management is horrible, the red zone is like our kryptonite (except for last year) and play calling is head-scratching most of the time. Getting tired of hearing that every loss is a learning experience ... shouldn't we be undefeated by now then, with all of our losses and experiences gained? I think a change is needed. I feel better now, Pac-12 Blog, that is now off my chest. ... Thanks for listening to a disgruntled Beaver fan.

Ted Miller: You are welcome.

I understand your frustration. It's not illegitimate. It's difficult to see your team struggle while your rival thrives. And I know that many who have long supported Mike Riley are starting to wonder about the direction of the program.

I have two initial thoughts. First, let's see how things play out. Plenty of season left. Second, man, I'd be more optimistic about the rest of the season if I didn't just peruse your injury list, which features a few substantial hits to the offensive (Isaac Seumalo, Gavin Andrews) and defensive lines (Jalen Grimble), not to mention a big hit at receiver (Richard Mullaney).

Hey, injuries are part of the game. Get it. Still, ask Oregon fans what might have been if it had both starting offensive tackles all season. Of course, just about every Pac-12 team has an injury sob story.

My simple suggestion is not unlike what I once told California fans about Jeff Tedford and Utah fans about Kyle Whittingham: Tread lightly. Don't be emotional. Consider the big picture. I think things had run their course with Tedford at Cal, and I think the Bears decision to cut ties after the 2012 season was entirely justifiable. I also think Utes fans might be seeing the benefits of staying the course with Whittingham this season.

You will be hard-pressed to find too many football folks who don't believe Riley is a good coach. While the Beavers were unquestionably down in 2010 and 2011, they've still posted winning records in four of the past six seasons, twice winning nine games. On the other hand, if Oregon State finishes with a losing record, the Riley critics out there can say the Beavers have posted losing records in three of their last five seasons. They will insist that the program shouldn't settle for mediocrity and that the right coach can win in Corvallis.

(I'd recommend then asking who that coach would be.)

If the Beavers do finish with a losing record, it would be justifiable to consider a change. That wouldn't be my recommendation, but it would not be unjustifiable.


Rosie from Seattle writes: Is there a problem with UW's QB situation? Cyler Miles doesn't look confident and is concussed. Lindquist seems to have fallen behind Troy Williams. I'm just curious if we see Jake Browning come in next January and finally lead the Dawgs to a victory at Oregon and a 10-win season.

Ted Miller: The Huskies rank last in the Pac-12 in passing and 10th in pass efficiency. So, yeah, the QB play hasn't been great and that is a problem for a team trying to move up in the conference and North Division pecking order. That stands out even more when you see so many young QBs over the past few years, including Arizona redshirt freshman Anu Solomon this year, doing well.

If things continue to muddle around with the offense -- it's also last in the conference in total yards and yards per play -- I'd rate the touted Browning's chances to start next year pretty good, though I'm typically skeptical of incoming players until they prove what they can do against college competition.

I'd also rate the middling play of the offensive line as an equal disappointment as the production behind center, though obviously the two are tightly knotted together.


Doug from Portland writes: Whenever I read up on who the experts have picked for the Heisman, I get a little annoyed. Mariota is a generational talent (I'm only slightly biased as a Ducks fan) and is putting up exceptional numbers in several statistical categories. But he can't seem to get past the "flavor of the week." (No offense to Dak this week and to Everett in the next.) Has the race always been this historically fickle or is this a relatively new development? Furthermore, it seems the Pac-12, which regularly produces the best professional quarterbacks ... you know, the position that has won the award a bazillion times, can't seem to score a Heisman winner these days outside of USC. Do you have to be a Trojan to win the Heisman out West?

Ted Miller: It's easy to be disgruntled when we speak in non-specific generalities, but which season bothers your most?

The only recent Heisman winner I'd rate as controversial would be Alabama RB Mark Ingram over Stanford RB Toby Gerhart in 2009, though plenty of folks wanted to invoke a character clause with Cam Newton vs. Andrew Luck in 2010. Otherwise, the winners put up such great numbers, often for teams that significantly exceeded expectations, I have no problem with how the voting went.

If Mariota maintains his present numbers and the Ducks win the Pac-12, he's going to win the Heisman Trophy.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:00
AM ET
video (All times Pacific)

Friday, 7 p.m.

Oregon at California, Fox Sports 1

[+] EnlargeMariota
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and Oregon figure to be in a shootout against California.
This is a matchup between the two Pac-12 leaders in scoring offense: The Ducks average 43.6 points per game, and the Bears are at 41.6. The difference on paper -- and likely on the field, too -- comes on defense. Cal sports the conference's second-worst unit (38.4 points per game), and the Ducks have upped their defensive play to reach fourth in the conference rankings (23.6 points per game). This will be the first college football game at Levi's Stadium and comes on a massive sports night in the San Francisco Bay Area: Game 3 of the World Series will be happening there, too.

Saturday, 11 a.m.

UCLA at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

It's turned into another long season for the Buffs, and the journey certainly doesn't become any easier with UCLA's explosive bunch coming to town. Turnovers, though, have been a major issue for the Bruins this season. Cal scored 21 points off UCLA miscues to keep the game close last week, and that might well be Colorado's formula to have a puncher's chance at Folsom Field. For Brett Hundley's squad, this should be a chance for a tuneup before a challenging finishing stretch: vs. Arizona, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Stanford.

12:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Stanford, ESPN2

The Beavers will certainly be sniffing upset in Palo Alto. Stanford is a very vulnerable team right now: The offense is faltering, and that supersonic defense has taken two gut punches with injuries to linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That being said, the Cardinal have been excellent when faced with adversity in the David Shaw era. The fourth-year coach has yet to lose consecutive games in his tenure, and Stanford is desperate to right the ship at home.

3 p.m.

Arizona at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

The Cougars won 24-17 in Tucson last season, but we will likely see more points this Saturday in Pullman when Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach resume battle. Arizona and Washington State are the Pac-12's two top teams when it comes to total offense. They are averaging a combined 1,091 yards per game. Since both defenses are ranked in the conference's bottom half, expect fireworks and an intriguing duel between senior Connor Halliday (who is on an NCAA record-smashing pace) and freshman Anu Solomon.

7 p.m.

USC at Utah, Fox Sports 1

This Utah squad reminds our Kevin Gemmell of the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Pac-12 championship, and I agree with him: The Utes don't ask for much out of their quarterback (62 pass yards last week), they run the ball with vigor (229 yards from Devontae Booker last week) and they set up frequent shop in opposing backfields (nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game). Both teams have also established a hashtag for their pass rush: 2012 Stanford had #PartyInTheBackfield, and 2014 Utah has coined #SackLakeCity. So USC is tasked with beating this rugged Ute team in a raucous road environment. This game is a significant step in figuring out the convoluted Pac-12 South puzzle.

7:45 p.m.

Arizona State at Washington, ESPN

There is a 70 percent chance of rain in Seattle. They call that "Dawg Weather" in the Pacific Northwest, and Washington hopes that will aid in its quest to win the turnover battle -- the Huskies are ranked second nationally in turnover margin even after last week's substandard performance at Oregon. Taylor Kelly returns to the quarterback role for Arizona State, but Todd Graham expects Mike Bercovici will also get snaps. Washington's offense has sputtered this season (league-worst 5.0 yards per play), and it will be interesting to see who gets the upper hand in its matchup with the Sun Devils' unremarkable defense.
1. The popular knock on Utah stems from the fact that they only had 62 passing yards last week, but they keep finding other ways to win. Will the Utes’ formula be enough in a big showdown against USC this Saturday?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I say yes. Utah’s defense is going to be stout and Nate Orchard is going to have a monster game, getting after Cody Kessler. The Utes have the highest sack percentage (12.1 percent) of any team in the nation, and if we’re doing over/under for 3.5 sacks from the Utes in this game, I’m going with the over. And with Kessler struggling, the Trojans will try to lean more on Buck Allen, but bad news for Buck. The Utes have the best run defense in the conference, allowing just 2.85 yards per rush (Stanford is in second with 2.89). They’ve given up just three rushing touchdowns (tied for fifth in the country). On top of that, Utah’s special teams are going to ball out. USC has given up 13.3 yards per punt return (112th nationally) and have allowed almost one-fifth of kickoffs to be returned at least 30 yards. Kaelin Clay? Go for it … just leave out the Heisman pose this time. As long as Utah’s offense is good enough (and with Devontae Booker coming off that Oregon State performance, I’m not super worried), the Utes take care of business.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: This will be a very close game, and although this whole Travis Wilson/Kendal Thompson quarterback shuffle isn't ideal (Wilson will start this week), Utah can succeed even with an anemic passing attack. That's because a strong rushing attack and a powerful defense form a potent combination. Booker has eclipsed the 150-yard mark in three consecutive weeks (he hit 229 yards his last time out), and that forms an intriguing matchup with a USC defense that has actually been good against the run since its debacle at Boston College. No discussion of Utah's chances is complete without an acknowledgement of #SackLackCity, the location of Saturday's game. Chantel mentioned Orchard; his 10.5-sack effort this season trails only Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha nationally. On a team-wide level, no one in the nation is even close to matching Utah's sack production, which stands at 5.5 per game. Second place is 4.0 sacks per game, and the Utes are on pace to post a staggering 71.5 sacks this season. The Trojans do have the athleticism to potentially burn Utah's ferocious pass rush, but it's really tough to bet against Kyle Whittingham's unit in its raucous home environment.
2. Rich Rodriguez vs. Mike Leach: How great offensive minds square off in the Palouse. How many points will we in Arizona-Washington State?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I don’t think it’ll be quite as crazy as Cal-Wazzu, but, I think we’ll see at least 49 points combined.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Well, Cal-Wazzu is an insane standard to live up to (119 combined points), but I think we're going to see some offensive madness in the Palouse. Both the Arizona defense (allowing 5.9 yards per play) and the Washington State defense (allowing 6.0 yards per play) rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in that statistic, so that'll leave Leach and Rodriguez room to score. I have a feeling both teams will hit the 40s in this one.
3. Conversely, how few points will we see at Stanford-Oregon State? The Cardinal’s defense had great success against Oregon State last year, but Stanford's offense is the Pac-12’s worst in terms of scoring now, and the Beavers are playing solid defense.

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Twenty-eight or fewer. I bet we’ll see three touchdowns and maybe a field goal.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Stanford is favored by 13 points here, and some jokesters on Twitter have asked if the number 13 is the spread or the over/under for this one. I think we'll see more points than people expect: The Cardinal will have receiver Devon Cajuste back, and they'll be missing key defensive linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That should count for at least a few Oregon State points.
[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressRoyce Freeman has a bright future at Oregon.
4. Which freshman or sophomore in the conference will be an All-American by the time he graduates?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon running back Royce Freeman. He’s an absolute man-child. I saw him wearing a backpack one day and I thought it was a mini backpack because it looked so small on him. But then when I looked more closely I realized it was a normal backpack, it just looked mini-sized on him. But it’s not just his physical size that makes him great. He’s elusive. He’s fast. His vision is improving. And if you look at the progress he has made from Game 1 to Game 7 of the Ducks’ season, imagine what he’ll do in the next two or three years.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: I like Chantel's pick. I also think that Arizona running back Nick Wilson is doing a heck of job carrying the freshman torch. His 6.4 yards per carry leads the the top Pac-12 running backs. And even though he's not as big as Freeman, Wilson still packs a physical punch -- just ask Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
5. Statistically, Cal has the worst defense in the conference. If you could take any defensive player in the Pac-12 and put him on the Bears, who would you pick and why?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Initially I considered Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha, because any team would be better with him in its front seven. But I’ve decided to go with Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson. He doesn’t lead the conference in tackles (that’s Scooby Wright III), but he makes things happen on defense. And what I think Cal needs more than a stout pass rusher is a straight playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears have forced just nine fumbles and of those nine they’ve only recovered three. Thompson has forced and recovered three fumbles alone. I think he could make things happen for the Bears.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: The most valuable asset for a defense is a dangerous body that can attract and swallow multiple blocks, and no Pac-12 player provides more value in this regard than an athletic fire hydrant Danny Shelton: 339 pounds, 7.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss. I'll let David Shaw's father Willie defend my position: "If you give me a choice between a great cornerback and a great defensive lineman, I'll take the great defensive lineman. Because a great defensive lineman can make an average corner look great."
6. Word/phrase association.

Jennings/@ChantelJennings:

a. Pac-12 South: Ultimate chaos

b. December 6: Anyone’s guess

c. Wazzu: So close yet so far

d. Andy Phillips: Money

e. Hau'oli Kikaha: I’m glad I don’t play quarterback in the Pac-12

f. Buck Allen: Tank

Lombardi/@LombardiESPN:

a. Pac-12 South: Minefield

b. December 6: Talking scoreboard (Bay Area radio listeners understand)

c. Wazzu: Poor Connor Halliday

d. Andy Phillips: Automatic

e. Hau'oli Kikaha: A name fit for a sack master

f. Buck Allen: So why didn't Lane Kiffin play him?
Levi's StadiumAP Photo/Tony AvelarThe San Francisco 49ers are working to bring several high-profile events to Levi's Stadium.
If things work out the way the San Francisco 49ers are hoping, Friday’s game at Levi’s Stadium between Cal and Oregon will be the first of many college football games to take place at the new venue.

Levi’s will also host the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 5 and the San Francisco Bowl on Dec. 30, but a few years down the line the lineup could potentially include an early season, neutral-site game and the College Football Playoff championship. At least that’s the goal.

The College Football Playoff championship sites are set through the 2016 season, but when the request for proposal process begins for the three games after that, the 49ers plan to participate, according to the team’s director of business operations, Chris Giles.

"Myself and the leadership over at the playoff group have had multiple discussions," Giles said. "I think we can make a very compelling case that the national championship should be at Levi’s Stadium."

Located about an hour south of San Francisco in Santa Clara, the stadium is to host Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 NFL season, WrestleMania in February 2015, and is actively pursuing other high-profile events, including international soccer matches and concerts, to fill the rest of the calendar.

"The intention all the way to completion [of construction] was to make the venue a 365-day-a-year venue," 49ers chief revenue officer Ethan Casson said. "We absolutely wanted the focal point to be on our football team and the 49ers, but we just believe a venue like this with what we are doing specific to technology, green and fan experience, it would be phenomenal to program this building with high-profile events above and beyond the NFL games. That’s where college football has really resonated."

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who is on the Board of Managers for the College Football Playoff, said part of the criteria for the championship game is to rotate it among several sites and the West region "will get its fair share of games." This year’s game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, followed by University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, next season and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, after that.

"All the fan amenities really do distinguish Levi’s as a special place to play," Scott said. "It’s a new venue that a lot of people will want to see. Media, sponsors, alumni of our schools ... it’s a big attraction, and undoubtedly it would be highly successful in the championship game mix."

Scott was impressed enough with the venue’s offerings to ditch the conference’s home-hosting model for the Pac-12 championship game and move it to Santa Clara for at least three seasons.

For Giles, who worked closely with Scott at the Pac-12 before going to work for the 49ers, the pairing between Levi’s and the Pac-12 seemed like a natural fit.

"The game is worthy of being played on the biggest stage, and now it is. It’s not just another home game," he said. "It allows us to build a festival atmosphere. Having run that game for the Pac-12 before coming here, it’s very difficult to do things that are typically associated with a game of that magnitude from a fan-engagement and auxiliary events standpoint."

The Pac-12 had operations teams on site for at least two 49ers games this season, and Scott said it will have a large contingent present on Friday. He said they also expect feedback from both Cal and Oregon to be helpful for the game’s planning process.

An announcement of a title partner for the San Francisco Bowl, which was known as the Fight Hunger Bowl last year, is expected to be made in the next couple weeks, according to Casson.

Casson, who has worked closely with the San Francisco Bowl Game Association to find a title sponsor, said the bowl’s move from AT&T Park in San Francisco, where the game has been played since 2002, and its new pairing with the Big Ten has helped drum up significant interest. He said there were about six companies that seriously looked into the title partnership and either made a bid or wanted to.

The bowl will get the fourth pick among Pac-12 teams -- after the Rose/Playoff Group, Alamo and Holiday Bowls -- and at least five different Big Ten teams will play in the game over a six-year period.

The 49ers are also interested in developing an early season series -- comparable to the Cowboys Classic in Arlington -- that would ideally create an intriguing nonconference game early in the year, but it’s unclear what the timetable is for that to become a reality.

"I’m talking with [athletic directors] on a weekly basis, and lot of what we’re talking about is 2019, 2020, 2021," Giles said.

Because of how far in advance teams schedule nonconference games, Giles said it’s easier -- at least for now -- to have a team relocate one of its home games to the stadium. That was the case for Cal-Oregon, which came about after discussions to bring this year’s Big Game between Cal and Stanford broke down late last August.

Giles said potential home games at Levi’s aren’t limited to the Bay Area’s three FBS schools -- Cal, Stanford and San Jose State -- but he wouldn’t pursue a home-game relocation from a school that wasn’t a "reasonable driving distance from the stadium."

That presumably leaves Fresno State, which is about 150 miles away, as another option. The Bulldogs played Cal at the 49ers' previous home, Candlestick Park, in 2011.
Stanford has lost three games in a regular season for the first time since 2009.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Tony AvelarDavid Shaw and Stanford have their backs against the wall -- again.
 On the way, its offense has dropped to the very bottom of the Pac-12's statistical rankings. Its vaunted defense has suffered a pair of critical injuries at the position where they hurt most -- the defensive line.

And for the first time in 72 weeks (that dates back to early 2010), the two-time defending Pac-12 champion is not ranked in the Top 25.

Are we witnessing the end of this program's magical four year run, a stretch during which Stanford was the only team in the nation to qualify for a BCS bowl in each season?

"The sky is falling every single year," coach David Shaw contends. "Coaches and players don't [buy into that]. Fans can do that. Talking heads can do that. We go back to work and we try to solve our problems."

There are plenty of those on The Farm right now.

Perhaps Stanford can take comfort in its recent history during these trying times: The Cardinal did also hit rocky points on their way to those consecutive Pac-12 titles the past two seasons, after all. The 2012 campaign featured the anemic offensive performances of losses at Washington and Notre Dame, while the 2013 journey saw maddening red-zone struggles deliver gut punches at Utah and USC.

The Cardinal regained their footing both of those times. In 2012, renewed balance came thanks to a quarterback change that introduced Kevin Hogan to the starter's role. In 2013, outside help -- coming in the form of Arizona's upset over Oregon -- was Stanford's saving grace.

In both instances, though, Shaw's team maintained its championship trajectory thanks to a core of fiery veteran players, the experienced bodies who had been staples around The Farm throughout the program's entire resurgence. Shayne Skov's raspy 2012 locker room speeches came when the team's back was against the wall, and they became the stuff of Stanford legend. Ben Gardner became a rallying point for the 2013 squad after a torn pectoral muscle ended his career. Trent Murphy may not have been as outwardly vocal as Skov, but he too had a penchant for inspiring stability and constant work in the locker room.

"Just keep chopping wood," Murphy repeated after the Cardinal's 2013 loss to USC, a setback that looked like it had knocked the team out of Pac-12 title contention. "Good things will happen."

Sure enough, he was right: Good things did happen. Stanford found themselves back in (and dominating) the Pac-12 championship game just three weeks after their moment of greatest despair.

'A fascinating team'

Well, Stanford's annual pilgrimage to the land of adversity is back, 2014 style this time. And the hole to escape certainly seems deeper than the previous two. Three losses saddle the Cardinal this time. A struggling offense is again the culprit, but unlike 2012, there is no shocking salvation-via-quarterback change on the horizon. The fiery veteran leadership of players like Skov, Gardner, Murphy, and Tyler Gaffney has graduated.

 For pundits, those losses were a source of major preseason concern, with potentially trying situations like the current one being the primary source of worry. Shaw, meanwhile, agrees that his team's leadership make-up is different, but he thinks it can still be effective.

"This is a fascinating team," Shaw said. "We don’t really have [fiery players like Skov]. But our guys work like crazy. We may not have the guy who goes up there and does all the speeches and gets everybody all fired up and motivated, but we came out here Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday on our goal line day, and guys were hitting hard and hustling. It was as physical as it was in training camp."

Shaw exuded unbridled optimism at practice Wednesday, the day after he took blame for his team's offensive ineptitude by suggesting he needs to do a better job scheming to put Stanford's dangerous playmakers in a position to succeed.

"I don’t worry about that speech-making and that obvious leadership stuff," he said. "But I love the way that Jordan Richards, A.J. Tarpley and Kevin Hogan get back to work. The players are always more resilient. ... All the fans have seven days to lament. These guys have to work."

The public can begin to judge the fruits of that labor this Saturday, when Stanford has its chance to rebound at home against Oregon State. The Holy Grail -- err, the Oregon game -- awaits at Autzen Stadium the week after that. While the Cardinal's three losses have eliminated the team from College Football Playoff contention, Stanford still controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 title chase. So Shaw's team has the rather odd opportunity of playing spoiler (at least two of its remaining opponents, Oregon and Utah, are very much alive in the Playoff chase) while simultaneously chasing a conference championship.

Given the team's offensive struggles, such success certainly seems like a long shot today. But Stanford's squad is making it no secret that they're still shooting for that Pac-12 three-peat. Fittingly, Usua Amanam, their retired 2012 Rose Bowl champion, swung by Wednesday's practice, preaching the same sense of urgency that his own Stanford team had embraced to rise from the dead two years ago.

"No matter what happens," Amanam told the team. "Don’t waste one day, because at one point, you can't play anymore."

Pac-12 morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
8:00
AM ET
4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! All 12 teams are in action this week -- no byes. Actually, it will be like this for the next two weeks. So that's exciting! Here are the most current depth charts for all the teams in action this week, save UCLA, which doesn't post a weekly depth chart. As always, I'll note any significant changes below. Notes
Heisman updates

Usually in this space every Wednesday, we've been linking the straw poll from Heismanpundit.com. However Chris Huston, friend of the blog who runs that site, has put it on hold while he does some work for the official Heisman site. We wish him the best.

So today we'll update you with the ESPN.com Heisman poll. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota still sits behind Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. But he closed the gap last week with his performance against Washington.

Here's how the latest poll shakes out, followed by their total points:
  1. Dak Prescott (47)
  2. Marcus Mariota (42)
  3. Melvin Gordon (25)
  4. Tie: Amari Cooper (9)
    Jameis Winston (9)

Prescott and Mariota were the only players receiving first-place votes. Looks like it's a two-man race to the finish.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

A cool behind-the-scenes photo journal of UCLA's trip to Cal.

Bravo, Oregon fans. Bravo.



The Trojans will rock these shiny new lids on Saturday.

Criticism and questions are swirling around Stanford following another anemic offensive performance in Saturday's 26-10 loss to Arizona State, and coach David Shaw is taking full responsibility for the team's struggles on that side of the ball.

“I’ve done a poor job of structuring our offense so that our guys can be successful," Shaw said Tuesday. "We have to utilize our personnel better."

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsKevin Hogan is completing only 54.5 percent of his passes over the past three games after completing 71 percent in Stanford's 3-1 start.
Stanford has dropped to the Pac-12 cellar in terms of scoring offense. The Cardinal are averaging only 17.6 points per game against Power 5 competition, roughly two touchdowns below the Pac-12 average (30.2 per game). In Tempe, Stanford managed only 10 points, 288 yards of total offense, and 4.7 yards per play, all figures that paled in comparison to what Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado accomplished offensively against Arizona State. The Sun Devils had surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in four straight games, but Stanford -- once feared for its powerful rushing attack -- managed only 76 yards on the ground.

Shaw said quarterback Kevin Hogan, who finished 19-for-39 against a steady diet of Arizona State pressure, is receiving a lot of unwarranted blame for Stanford's struggles. He instead suggested that the Cardinal coaching staff has not successfully tailored its offensive approach to put Hogan and a bevy of playmakers in position to succeed.

"I’ve got to help our guys so they can just be the great athletes they are," Shaw said. "We’ve sputtered too many times. I need to adjust accordingly... We've got too good of personnel in our offense to score [so few points]."

Shaw would not elaborate on intricate details of Stanford's potential offensive adjustments, but the attack has come under fire for relying heavily on its traditional power rushing, play-action oriented approach even though it has become increasingly apparent that the team's decrease in size at the running back position has made that strategy less effective. In the past, Stanford has enjoyed the services of bruisers such as Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. Now, the Cardinal seem to enjoy comparative advantages on the outside instead, behind big receiving talents Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and a trio of young tight ends.

Shaw said he wants to capitalize on that without drastically altering Stanford's scheme midseason.

“I’m taking this one personally because I look at our guys, and I’ve got to help them," he said. “I have to find a way to utilize our personnel better. I just have to.”

Stanford has partially reopened a competition at right guard. Although Shaw said Johnny Caspers has played well enough to keep his starting spot there, Brendon Austin is getting an opportunity to earn playing time.

The Cardinal host Oregon State this Saturday in what promises to be a test for the team's staggering offense: The Beavers rank second -- behind only Stanford -- in the Pac-12's total defense category. The Cardinal's heavily anticipated visit to Autzen Stadium looms the week after.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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The exodus is here, the happy ones are near;
Let's get together before we get much older.

Leading off

The Eliminator blew through the Pac-12 this week with brimstone and hell-fire, slashing its way through a quarter of the league. You can now add Stanford, Oregon State and Washington to the teams officially out of a contention for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. After holding on by their roots, paws and teeth, the Cardinal, Huskies and Beavers all suffered losses that the Eliminator deems too significant to recover from. Her justice is swift, if not fair. Here's some thoughts on the Huskies:
Losing 11 consecutive games to Oregon is pretty bad, but losing in the manner in which they lost to the Ducks was even worse. Oregon dominated in every facet of the game, and Washington proved that Chris Petersen's first season in the Power 5 is not going to be like his first season at Boise State.

So who is left? Arizona and Oregon are the two Pac-12 teams still listed as "In Contention" while Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah continue to dangle "On the Fence."

Cardinal seeing red

As noted above, things haven't gone swimmingly for the two-time defending conference champions. Athlon Sports took a look at some of the issues facing the Cardinal. And if you're looking on the offensive side of the ball, there are more than a few. They key in specifically on the offensive line:
The most likely reason Stanford’s offense has been struggling this season may be due to the fact the Cardinal had to start an almost entirely new offensive line this season. Stanford lost four starters up front, as well as a starting tight end from 2013. Good teams tend to have experience and depth on the offensive line, and that does not appear to be the case for Stanford this season and it is showing. Stanford has allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 73rd nationally.

Also from Athlon, a look at some crazy Pac-12 stats, and why the Utes must be taken seriously in the South.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun (the pucker-up edition)

By now, you've probably seen "The Kiss", a moment of celebratory passion between ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici and his girlfriend, who also happens to be an ASU cheerleader.



Here's a little story on the lip-locking moment. The Pac-12 blog isn't quite ready to place it among history's best kisses ... like this one ... this one ... or this one. But it ain't bad. However, you must remember this ...
A slight sense of normalcy returned to the Pac-12 this past weekend, but fear not -- it's still plenty weird out West. Home teams actually posted a winning record (3-2) this past weekend, improving their season season mark to a still-dismal 7-16.

Stanford, the two-time defending champion, is staggering, so Oregon has established a grip on the Pac-12 North. Meanwhile, let's not pretend we have a bead on the minefield that is the Pac-12 South. Four teams are tied at the top in the loss column, and a fifth -- preseason favorite UCLA -- hovers right behind them with two losses. It's a mess of epic proportions.

With USC visiting Utah this weekend, we will see some moving and shaking in the South. Let the horse race continue around the second bend. Here is Week 9:

The delicious appetizer: Oregon vs. Cal (at Levi's Stadium)

A couple weeks ago, Cal enjoyed its time in sole possession of the Pac-12 North lead, but that stay was as short-lived as most expected it to be. Though Jared Goff has emerged as one of the league's elite passers (9.1 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, four interceptions), the Bears are hindered by a defense that struggles to tackle in critical situations. That was the story of their 36-34 loss to UCLA, even though a trio of Bruins' turnovers kept that game close. It's also bad news entering a matchup with an Oregon team that is beginning to fire on all cylinders. The Ducks blasted Washington 45-20 behind four touchdowns from true freshman Royce Freeman. He is a six-foot, 230-pound tank -- exactly the type of player who can turn the Bears into falling dominoes.

Goff will need to deliver an epic performance in his duel with Marcus Mariota. Combined numbers for these two: 43 touchdowns, four picks.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: USC at Utah

Salt Lake City hosts a de facto College Football Playoff elimination game. The Arizona State-Washington battle in Seattle might have shared this designation had the Huskies found a way to get it done at Autzen Stadium, but they were run out of the building. So USC (5-2 overall) and Utah (5-1 overall) square off in the Pac-12's marquee Week 9 game. This one is fun on many levels: The Utes are coming into their own as a rugged defense (allowing 4.7 yards per play), while the Trojans are brimming with offensive confidence following their 56-28 win against Colorado, during which Cody Kessler threw a touchdown pass on 27 percent of his attempts (his seven touchdowns broke Matt Barkley's school record).

This game also features the Pac-12's two most productive running backs: USC's Buck Allen (130 yards per game) and Utah's Devontae Booker (124 yards per game). Buckle up, Rice-Eccles Stadium will be shaking.

The proving grounds game/redemption opportunity: Oregon State at Stanford

Week 8 was bitterly disappointing for these teams. The Beavers lost 29-23 at home in double overtime to a Utah team that managed only 62 passing yards, and Stanford managed less offensive production against Arizona State than Weber State, New Mexico, and Colorado. Talk about a reversal of fortune: The Cardinal's 26-10 loss to the Sun Devils came on the very same field where they dominated offensively and won the Pac-12 championship last season. Judging by margin of victory, that was their worst setback since falling 53-30 to Oregon in 2011.

Unless Stanford figures it out offensively, points will likely be scarce in this game. The Cardinal's defense still leads the nation allowing only 3.8 yards per play, and it has proven to be a rough matchup for the Beavers' offense. Meanwhile, Oregon State's defense has been surprisingly efficient, surrendering 4.9 yards per play (third in the Pac-12), so it's unclear if 13.5 is the spread or the over/under in this one.

Opposing directions bowl: Arizona State at Washington

The Sun Devils delivered a fantastic all-around performance in their 26-10 pounding of Stanford, and the Huskies were on the receiving end of a 45-20 whipping in Eugene. So both clubs are trending in opposite directions here, but they are still a combined 10-3. Washington is desperate to right the ship at home, where its havoc-wreaking defense (nation-best five touchdowns) thrives. Meanwhile, Arizona State has another chance to solidify legitimacy after two straight energizing wins. A week after facing Stanford's anemic attack, the Sun Devils face a Washington offense that is ranked dead last in the Pac-12. That is medicine for a once-struggling ASU defense.

Where great offensive minds meet: Arizona at Washington State

Time to change gears: With Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach squaring off, there should be no shortage of total offense on the Palouse. The Cougars are desperate; they need to win four of their last five just to make a bowl game. Connor Halliday is already on pace to shatter the FBS single season-passing yards record, and Anu Solomon brings less gaudy numbers but a better 5-1 record into this game. Both teams are coming off bye weeks, so both offensive game plans should be beyond polished Saturday afternoon.

The afterthought: UCLA at Colorado

The Bruins overcame severe sloppiness in their 36-34 win at Cal, and Colorado never had a chance in the 56-28 loss at the Coliseum. At 0-4 in conference play, the Buffs are desperate, and it's tough to spot a win on their remaining schedule. The Bruins must iron out their galling turnover issue (quarterback Brett Hundley has been responsible for eight giveaways -- opponents have scored touchdowns off seven of them) and frequent trouble with defensive breakdowns. Folsom Field might be a good place to start that process, because a home showdown with Arizona waits UCLA after this one.
From the mud, muck and mess that was the first seven weeks of the Pac-12’s 2014 season, a smidgen of clarity started to creep through in Week 8. Like a Socratic archetype emerging from its cave, slowly, but surely, we’re starting to see the light.

By no means, however, are things back to normal -- whatever normal looks like in the Pac-12. Stanford, the two-time defending conference champion, lost to Arizona State, a team it had thoroughly dominated twice last season. And while the Cardinal still might rise from the ashes of their own blunders, for now it appears more likely than not that we’ll have a new league champion.

However, there were some things that actually made sense in Week 8, shocking as it may seem. USC dominated a weaker opponent. That made sense. Oregon continued its winning ways over Washington, extending its streak to 11 over the Huskies by 17 or more points. That made sense. Three of the five home teams won. That sort of made sense. But the road team is still 16-7 in conference play. That still makes no sense.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe Ducks reasserted themselves as the Pac-12's best hope to make the College Football Playoff.
Oregon’s performance against Washington, complete and convincing, temporarily restored the natural order of the preseason -- a simpler time when most people projected the No. 3 Ducks as a playoff team. Saturday night, Oregon sent out a 45-point message that was unmistakably crystal clear: We’re still here.

As the Pac-12 engages in its annual act of self-consumption, the doom-and-gloom prognostications that the league would be left out of the first College Football Playoff might now seem premature. No word yet on the total number of torn ACLs from knee-jerk injuries.

And as the fires burned through the night in Morgantown, West Virginia, the Big 12’s chances of a playoff berth, too, may have gone up in flames. The Pac-12 may be a bunch of cannibals, but at least the Big 12 has the decency to barbecue itself first.

Indeed, it's the Ducks who hold the Pac-12's playoff future in their delicate, webbed feet.

“We have to be nastier,” said Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, looking ahead to the coming weeks. “We have to come off the ball and finish the plays. Our playmakers, our running backs, our skill guys are going to make the defenders miss and extend the plays, so we have to keep on working on finishing.”

Finishing hasn’t been Oregon’s strong suit the past couple of seasons. Following explosive starts in 2012 and 2013, the Ducks’ national championship hopes were derailed by Stanford two years ago, and again by the Cardinal in 2013. The Arizona stumble last season didn’t help, either. We'll see if this season's comes back to bite them.

But for now the Ducks must once again pick up the proverbial postseason flag and carry it for the conference. Per ESPN Stats & Info, since its loss to Arizona earlier this month, Oregon’s projected chance of winning the Pac-12 has actually risen by more than 20 percentage points. How does that make sense? The rest of the league has been munching on itself. Every other team in the Pac-12 North has at least two conference losses, so with the way the Ducks have performed in the past two games against UCLA and Washington -- plus their remaining schedule -- FPI projects that Oregon has a 88 percent chance to win the North.

Take that with a grain of seasoning of your choice. The Pac-12 has a funny way of making statistics look silly.

If Week 8 brought us a dusting of clarity, look for more in the coming weeks, especially in the South. Four teams head into Week 9 with one conference loss, and five of the division’s six teams are ranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll. The next two weeks brings us showdowns like USC at Utah, Arizona at UCLA and Utah at Arizona State. And of course there’s still the battle for Los Angeles and the Territorial Cup looming. One way or another, for better or worse, the South will sort itself out.

And when it does, Oregon will be there waiting. At least that’s what we believe after Week 8. By the end of Week 9, we might end up right back in the mud and the muck and the mess.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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Just a few weeks ago, it was popular to write off the Pac-12's chances of having a team in the initial College Football Playoff. What was then an overreaction is now just silly.

It's clear Oregon, as the top-ranked one-loss team outside the SEC, controls its own destiny as far as the playoff is concerned. In no way does that guarantee anything, but based on how the Ducks have played since losing at Arizona and what has happened elsewhere in college football, Oregon should feel good about where it is.

The Ducks became the Pac-12's first bowl-eligible team after beating Washington 45-20 on Saturday, but after them the conference remains a jumbled mess. Six others have at least five wins, including five teams in the South Division.

There's no sound way to logically project how this will end up -- too much parity -- but here's our weekly attempt:

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

Stanford's AP poll streak ends

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:52
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Welcome back, UCLA. Goodbye, Stanford.

Oregon headlines the list of six Pac-12 teams ranked in this week's AP poll, which does not include the Cardinal for the first time since the second week of the 2010 season. The Cardinal's school-record, 72-week run ended following a 26-10 loss to Arizona State on Saturday, which also propelled the Sun Devils to No. 14.

Oregon jumped Baylor, Michigan State and Notre Dame to No. 6 and is the nation's No. 3-ranked one-loss team behind No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Auburn.

Arizona, which was idle this week, is a spot behind its in-state rival at No. 15.

The most anticipated game in the Pac-12 this week will be No. 20 USC's trip to No. 19 Utah, which is one of just two games in the country that will feature a pair of ranked teams.

After a 36-34 win against Cal, UCLA re-enters the poll at No. 25. The preseason No. 7 team was unranked last week after consecutive losses to Utah and Oregon.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:00
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Some things we learned in Week 8 of the Pac-12.

The streak continues: The Ducks beat Washington. Again. It was by more than 17 points. Again. Make it 11 in a row for Oregon over the Huskies. For obvious reasons, you tip your cap to Ducks running back Royce Freeman for his 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the 45-20 Oregon victory. But a little credit also goes to Marcus Mariota's wide receivers. From Darren Carrington's tip-toe catch inside the 5 to Dwayne Stanford's phenomenal touchdown, the receivers came up big for their quarterback. Oh yeah, still no interceptions. The Ducks look every bit the part of a playoff team.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
AP Photo/Ryan KangOregon's Royce Freeman had 29 carries for 169 yards and four touchdowns against Washington.
Huskies have to pick up the pieces: Washington isn't that bad. It just seems like whenever it plays Oregon, whatever can go wrong will. Whether it's a quarterback throwing his first interception of the season, a shotgun snap when said quarterback isn't ready or the opposing quarterback getting a lucky bounce off a fumble, the wheels seem to come off for the Huskies when these teams meet, and the breaks never go their way. No need to panic yet about bowl eligibility. The defense is good enough that there are at least two wins out there, and probably three or four. But having dropped two of three, the last thing the Huskies need to do is hit the panic button. They got whooped. It happens. Move on. It'll be interesting to see how Chris Petersen's team looks with ASU coming to town. Speaking of which ...

... ASU inching toward elite status: What was the big knock on Todd Graham? He still hadn't won the big one. Despite Stanford's offensive inefficiencies (add special teams to those inefficiencies after Saturday night), the Cardinal were still the two-time defending conference champs. Their 26-10 win over the Cardinal brings ASU up a notch, as it knocked off one of the league's top-tier teams. They did it convincingly and by dictating the game. Graham has already said Taylor Kelly is his guy when he's ready to play. But you can't overlook the 2-1 record Mike Bercovici has put up in relief.

Stanford loses its elite status: Elite teams don't look like Stanford did Saturday night. They don't fumble on kickoff returns and muff punts. They don't lose the turnover battle and rush for 76 yards when rushing is what they do. With two conference losses, the Cardinal aren't out of it yet. They could still run the table and get to the Pac-12 championship game. But a three-loss team, no matter how good the other three opponents or how close the losses, isn't getting into the playoffs.

Utah has their back, just not their quarterback: Devontae Booker is certainly making his case for newcomer of the year. He was one of the few offensive bright spots for the Utes, as he rushed for 229 yards and three touchdowns in their 29-23 double-overtime win at Oregon State. Now, the quarterback is once again a question, with USC coming to town next week. Travis Wilson was 5-of-10 for 45 yards. Kendal Thompson, who started and played the first half, was 4-of-8 for 17 yards and an interception. There are some decisions to make (again) this week for Kyle Whittingham and Co.

Bears down: You can make plenty of arguments about whether UCLA's Marcus Rios possessed the ball on that game-changing interception in the Bruins' 36-34 win at Cal. But you first have to question the play call on first down, and you also have to go back through the game and look at Cal's tackling, which was not good. There were plenty of other places where Cal lost that game. The questionable replay, because it came at such a critical juncture in the game, will be highly debated. But Cal knows there was a lot more to that game than just that call.

The Bruins continue to defy logic: UCLA was on the road. UCLA hadn't won in Berkeley since 1998. UCLA lost the turnover battle. Cal scored 21 points off turnovers. I'm not sure what the exact metric is, but logic says that's a game UCLA should not have won. Yet the Bruins overcame themselves and managed their first win at Cal after seven previous losses. The Bruins totaled 567 yards of offense, so moving the ball wasn't an issue. If they can cut the turnovers, there's no reason to think they still couldn't win the South.

Beavers bowl window is shrinking: We talked in the past about the Week 8 showdown with Utah being a swing game for Oregon State. At 4-2, the Beavers have six opportunities left to find two wins. None of those opportunities are particularly appealing. Cal and Washington State can put up crazy points. They are at Stanford and at Washington while getting ASU and Oregon at home. Their only saving grace is that four of the six are at Reser … but given the way the league has shaped up, that probably doesn't mean much.

Colorado regressed: Maybe it's a one-week deal. Maybe not. Either way, the 56-28 loss to USC was ugly and worthy of the Pac-12 blog's “Dude?” status. The Buffs surrendered 56 points (all from the USC offense -- no special teams or defensive touchdowns) and yielded 532 yards. That wasn't the Colorado team we've seen in previous weeks. Which leads us to …

… USC has explosive potential: Steve Sarkisian has said the past couple weeks that he wants to see his offense be more explosive. Remember Nelson Agholor? Hadn't heard his name in a while. Sure, he had 42 catches coming into this week, but he had only four receiving touchdowns and just 67.5 yards per game. He had a fairly monstrous day and caught six balls for 128 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, someone has to throw them. Agholor's day was made possible by Cody Kessler, who set a school record with seven touchdown passes.

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