Pac-12: Tavita Pritchard

Stanford coach David Shaw's decision to promote Lance Anderson to defensive coordinator should come as a surprise to exactly no one.

If there is anything Shaw has shown in his previous hires, it's that he likes to promote from within and strives to have continuity within the program. Choosing Anderson to replace Derek Mason, who left last week to become the head coach at Vanderbilt, fits the mold established with his initial coordinator hires of Pep Hamilton and Mason and last year's promotion of Mike Bloomgren.

The only coordinator hire that came from outside the program in Shaw's tenure was when he named current Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver the co-coordinator with Mason in 2011. Tarver was at Stanford for just that season, in which Mason still served as the play caller.

Shaw and Anderson are the only coaches who remain from Jim Harbaugh's initial staff at Stanford in 2007. Both made the jump with Harbaugh from the University of San Diego.

In all likelihood, this move was at least a year in the making. Anderson reportedly turned down the chance to become the defensive coordinator at South Florida a year ago under Willie Taggart, another former Harbaugh staff member, to remain at Stanford. It was clear then that Mason would land a head-coaching gig sooner rather than later, which makes it reasonable to assume Shaw and Anderson discussed the possibility that he'd be the eventual replacement.

That's roughly how it played out when Bloomgren was elevated from offensive line coach/run game coordinator when Hamilton took the offensive coordinator job with the Colts. In fact, Shaw and Bloomgren discussed the potential for that to eventually happen before he hired him in 2011.

With Anderson's promotion official, Stanford still has three spots to fill on its staff.

In addition to Mason, Shaw needs to replace Mike Sanford, who left to become Boise State's offensive coordinator, and inside linebackers coach David Kotulski, who will serve as Mason's defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.

Tavita Pritchard shifted from running backs coach to quarterbacks coach immediately after Sanford left, which means the Cardinal is currently without coaches for its running backs, inside linebackers, defensive backs and does not have an official recruiting coordinator.

Cardinal shuffle coaching staff

January, 29, 2013
As expected, Stanford head coach David Shaw looked internally to find his new offensive coordinator -- promoting offensive line coach and run game coordinator Mike Bloomgren to the spot vacated by Pep Hamilton.

This is not only the smart move, it's also the right move. Bloomgren already played a huge part in the play calling and devising the overall game plan. As the run game coordinator, much of what Stanford has accomplished the past two seasons on the ground has been by his design. His promotion ensures continuity within Stanford's pro-style attack that isn't particularly flashy, but coupled with a punishing defense has proven to be quite effective over the past two years.

And you can't argue with Bloomgren's results in both the running game and as a position coach -- working specifically with the interior line. In 2011 -- Bloomgren's first year -- the Cardinal ranked 18th nationally in rushing offense, totaling 210.6 yards per game. That number slipped in 2012 as the Cardinal only averaged 174.3 yards per game (48th nationally). However, part of that can be explained by losing Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, Jonathan Martin and Coby Fleener to the NFL. Luck's reputation as an in-game playcaller and what he did for the running game is well known.

This year, under Bloomgren's tutelage, four of the five offensive line starters earned all-league honors. David Yankey was an All-American and the Morris Trophy winner and as a unit they helped Stepfan Taylor to his third-straight 1,000-yard season.

The move makes way for running backs coach Mike Sanford to take on a bigger role in the offense as he assumes the job of quarterbacks and wide receivers coach. Sanford is one of the bright, young offensive minds in the conference, so it will be interesting to see what he does with the passing game next year. The Cardinal lose five of their top six receivers (including backs and tight ends) from the 2012 unit -- so this will no doubt be an area that is heavily scrutinized heading into spring and fall camps.

Sanford's move allows Tavita Pritchard (remember him, USC fans?) to move over from a defensive assistant to running backs coach.

“Tavita Pritchard is one of the brightest young coaches I have ever been around,” said Shaw in a statement released through the school. “He has been phenomenal helping Derek Mason on defense. He was instrumental to the turnaround of our program when he was our starting quarterback and a team leader. I’m excited to have him back on our offense coaching the running backs.”

With continued collaboration in the play calling and game plan between Bloomgren and Shaw -- and we can now assume Sanford will play a larger role as well -- we shouldn't see any real deviation from what the Cardinal want to accomplish on offense in 2013.
No need to rehash all the gory details of the past five USC-Stanford matchups. We know them by now.

We know about Tavita Pritchard's last-minute touchdown to Mark Bradford in 2007, giving the Cardinal (41-point underdogs) a shocking victory and ending USC's 35-game home win streak. We know the Trojans stomped the Cardinal a year later. We certainly remember Toby Gerhart's three-touchdown performance, the 2-point conversion attempt and the Pete Carroll/Jim Harbaugh "what's your deal?" moment.

Well, would you look at that ... we're rehashing the gory details. Oh well, no reason to stop now.

We remember Nate Whitaker's field goal with four seconds left in 2010 and the triple-overtime thriller in 2011.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck, Stanford Cardinal
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergAndrew Luck (12) leads a Stanford stampede after the Cardinal's triple-overtime victory in 2011 -- their third in a row in the series.
In short, Stanford-USC has provided us with some of the most entertaining football -- not just college football, but football -- over the past half-decade. From the on-field heroics to off-field jabbering, this matchup has blossomed into one of the better non-traditional rivalries in the conference. And it continues Saturday in the first league contest of the 2012 season at Stanford Stadium.

"I think it's a little more friendly rivalry and respectful rivalry maybe between the coaches than the last couple of coaches," USC coach Lane Kiffin said with a laugh. "Any time you go to the last play of the game two years in a row -- in what I think were extremely well-played games by both teams, very exciting games, great quarterback play -- yeah, it's become a rivalry. ... That's a lot of credit to Stanford. For a few years it wasn't. Obviously, Coach Harbaugh came in and really changed it and Coach [David] Shaw has picked up the flag and ran from there."

You probably won't see any mid-field fireworks between Kiffin and Shaw. The two go back a long time.

"The thing you have to remember about me and Lane, our dads worked together for years and we've known each other for a long time," Shaw said. "I have the utmost respect for Monte and since I've known Lane, he's been nothing but upfront and straight-forward with me. There is no animosity between us except for those 60 minutes on Saturday."

Of course, we also remember the playful jab Kiffin took at Shaw in the spring.

The No. 21 Cardinal have won the past three meetings and four of the past five. And it's no surprise that a guy named Andrew Luck was at the helm for those three. But Luck is gone and Matt Barkley returns at quarterback for the No. 2 Trojans. He's back to settle that unfinished business. And though he'll never admit it, part of it is probably getting a win over Stanford, the only Pac-12 team he has failed to beat in his career.

And he has as good a chance as any this year. His wide receivers -- Robert Woods and Marqise Lee -- are the best in the country. Something that Shaw is very aware of.

"In all the years I was in the NFL and studied college wide receivers, and since I’ve been here studying different offenses, I’ve never seen a college team with two guys like this. There’s never been [a pair like them] in the modern era," Shaw said.

"There are three ‘explosions’ for a receiver. There’s explosion off the ball, explosion into the cut, and explosion after the catch. Usually, they decrease, with the last one not as big as the two before. With Woods, all three are explosive. It’s like Joey Galloway in his prime. You see the same thing from Marqise Lee, except a bigger version.”

Heading into this week the Cardinal are allowing the highest completion rate of any defense in the conference. But that doesn't concern Shaw, who said he'll give up short passes all day. It's about third-down defense, red-zone defense and making tackles.

It's the making tackles part that could be troublesome, especially when dealing with Lee. The sophomore sensation has gained 73.4 percent of his 263 receiving yards this year have come after the catch.* Worth noting, too, that Stanford safety Ed Reynolds leads the conference in interceptions (3) and is tied for second in passes defended (4).

And the Cardinal have their own offensive concerns in the post-Luck era. Last year, the Cardinal had the fewest three-and-out drives in all of FBS when Luck was running the show. So far this year, they rank 75th* while converting just 28 percent of the time on third down. The Cardinal have to keep drives alive to keep Barkley off the field. No easy task against Monte Kiffin's defense.

"You can't put him in a box and say he's a Tampa-2 guy because every known blitz to man, he's done at some point," Shaw said. "Whether it's strongside blitz, weakside blitzes, secondary blitzes, three-down nickel blitzes; he's got it all in his bag and it's just what he chooses to do that week. We're preparing for a variety of things."

For Kiffin and the prep-not-hype-motivated Trojans, a lot of them are trying to treat this just like any other game as they continue to make a push toward a national championship.

"I think when you come to a place like SC, you end up being a lot of people's rivals," Kiffin said. "I guess that's the best way to describe it. We end up being everyone's rivalry. Obviously, the most historic rivalry out of conference is Notre Dame. Then UCLA is cross-town. Now Oregon and Stanford within the last few years have become big rivalries as well."

Saturday marks another chapter in what has been a fantastic run between these two teams. Vegas puts the Trojans as a 10-point road favorite. On paper, that makes sense. If you check this morning's blog predictions, I have the Trojans winning by two touchdowns. But just be prepared for anything to happen. Because lately, in matchups between these two teams, anything does.

* ESPN Stats & Information
In 2006, Stanford was irrelevant in college football. When it lost 42-0 to USC on Nov. 4, the only angle of interest was the Trojans bouncing back after a 32-game regular-season winning streak ended at Oregon State the week before.

The Cardinal would finish 1-11, and coach Walt Harris got the boot. Enter Jim Harbaugh.

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireThen-coach Jim Harbaugh, back center, celebrates Stanford's 24-23 upset of USC in 2007.
Suffice it to say that the USC-Stanford rivalry, which the Trojans had dominated under Pete Carroll, last losing in 2001, would ramp up in intensity. Roles shortly would reverse. And, best of all, it also would get a heck of a lot more colorful.

In 2007, USC was ranked No. 2 in the nation when Stanford came to the Coliseum, where the Trojans had won 35 consecutive games. They were a 41-point favorite against the lowly Cardinal, which was forced to start backup quarterback Tavita Pritchard because starter T.C. Ostrander had suffered a seizure in a restaurant just days before.

But Pritchard threw a 10-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 49 seconds remaining, giving Stanford a 24-23 victory, one of the monumental upsets in college football history.

The Trojans again rolled over Stanford in 2008, 45-23. They went on to win the Rose Bowl -- again -- and Stanford finished with a losing record for a seventh consecutive season. The planets had realigned, right?

Ah, but that wasn't the deal, was it? Harbaugh's Cardinal transformed in 2009, with Toby Gerhart and a power running attack and a young quarterback by the name of Andrew Luck. That team went to the Coliseum and scored 27 fourth-quarter points, transforming a seven-point game into a 55-21 blowout. And with 6:47 left and the Cardinal up 17, Harbaugh elected to go for two. Why?

"I just honestly thought there was an opportunity coming off the ball, the way our backs were running and the way we were playing," Harbaugh said after the game.

In other words: Because we could.

That reality is what Lane Kiffin inherited when he replaced Carroll. It wasn't the same as from 2001 to 2006, when he was a Trojans assistant and Stanford was a foe that offered little resistance.

"It obviously has changed a lot and balanced back out, which was very different from when we were here a year before," Kiffin said.

Before last year's game, the way Stanford had won -- running up the score -- was a big issue. Kiffin saw it on film, for one. And, yes, everyone asked about it, reminding him of the testy handshake between Carroll and Harbaugh that's best remembered for Carroll asking Harbaugh, "What's your deal?" But that celebrated exchange mostly falls on Carroll's being disgruntled. What's not often noted is how before meeting Carroll at midfield, Harbaugh pointedly made fun of the Trojans as they quickly scampered up the Coliseum tunnel. "Look at them all running in! Look at them all running in!" he said to himself -- and to a large TV camera just in front of him.

New Stanford coach David Shaw was the Cardinal's offensive coordinator for that game. He's previously cited that game as his favorite example of his program's physical style. And there is plenty of insider scuttlebutt that Shaw, although far more polished than the rough-around-the-edges Harbaugh, enjoys pounding opponents as much as Harbaugh did. Still, Shaw waves away an opportunity to recall the fourth-quarter thinking in 2009.

"That was a long time ago. That was what it was," he said. "We've all moved on since then. We had a heck of a game last year that was nip-and-tuck."

That's true. Last year's game was a back-and-forth thriller. USC took a one-point lead with 1:08 left on a 3-yard TD run from Allen Bradford, but Luck and the Cardinal drove for the winning 30-yard field goal on the game's last play for a 37-35 win. Luck and USC QB Matt Barkley each threw three TD passes with no interceptions, while Trojans receiver Robert Woods stole top billing with 12 receptions for 224 yards and two scores.

That well-played game sets the stage for Saturday, when the unbeaten, sixth-ranked Cardinal try to keep their national title hopes alive against the 6-1 Trojans, who are ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll. Other than Harbaugh, all the actors who played starring roles are back.

Of course, the role reversal is unmistakable. USC used to be the team hunting conference and national championships as well as Heisman trophies. Now the Trojans can only be spoilers -- they are ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions -- and Stanford is the team producing Heisman Trophy candidates. USC's motivation won't be the same as Stanford's.

"It is different from everyone we're playing, having their hopes and dreams taken away from them," Kiffin said of his players' motivations.

Stanford's fifth-year seniors were around for the 2007 game, and their fourth-year players went 5-7 in 2008. They also all know what it's like not to play in the postseason. They've also watched as USC has gone from the nation's most feared program to one they've eclipsed, winning three of the past four in the series.

Is there special emotion this week? Has this rivalry heated up?

"I don't know if it's become a heated rivalry more than any other," Shaw said.

Maybe. But Stanford has high hopes and national title dreams. Those used to dance in the Trojans' heads.

Here's a guess that Kiffin and USC would relish an opportunity to deal those a crushing blow and then to watch the Cardinal scamper up the Coliseum tunnel with their heads down.

Who gets and stops explosive passing?

February, 25, 2011
Coaches love talking about explosion plays. You want to get a lot of them and give up very few.

We looked at offensive explosion plays -- plays of 20 or more yards -- on Tuesday and defenses that prevented explosion plays on Wednesday. Thursday we looked at explosion plays in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. Today, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of passing numbers.

So here's how the Pac-12 stacked up in 2010 (again, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information). The number to the left is national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in the passing game in 2010.

14. Stanford... 48
18. Arizona... 46
37. Oregon... 43
40. Arizona State... 42
40. Utah... 42
54. Oregon State... 38
61. Washington State... 37
65. USC... 36
80. Colorado... 32
91. Washington... 30
100. California... 28
120. UCLA... 11

No surprise Stanford is on top with quarterback Andrew Luck, but Arizona at No. 2 proves that Nick Foles isn't just a dink-and-dunk passer. Some might use this as further evidence that USC's Matt Barkley and Washington's Jake Locker were "overrated."

Oh my, UCLA. Very, very bad.

Some other thoughts.
  • UCLA was dead last in the country, and only Army in 2008 -- six! -- produced fewer explosion plays in the passing game over the past three seasons.
  • To put the awfulness of the Bruins' downfield passing game into perspective: Every conference team more than doubled the number of passing explosion plays the Bruins produced, and Colorado was one play short of having NINE teams at least triple the Bruins.
  • And the blame shouldn't fall on Kevin Prince: In 2009, the Bruins produced 35 explosion plays in the passing game with him as the starter for much of the year.
  • Keep in mind that Oregon got 43 passing plays of 20 or more yards with a first-year starter at quarterback. Even though the Ducks lose their top two receivers, don't be surprised if that number goes up in 2011 in Darron Thomas' junior season.
  • Oh, and anyone remember Jeremiah Masoli? Last year, the Ducks ranked 67th with 36 explosion plays in the passing game.
  • Downfield passing was a clear area of improvement for Foles in 2010. The year before, the Wildcats connected on just 31 passing plays of 20 or more yards.
  • In 2009, California had 48 explosion plays in the passing game, which ranked 18th in the nation and No. 1 in the Pac-10. Discuss, Cal fans.
  • In 2008, with Luck redshirting behind Tavita Pritchard, the Cardinal had only 18 explosion plays in the passing game, which ranked 113th in the nation. In Luck's first year as the starter, 2009, that number perked up to 47, which ranked 25th in the nation.
  • Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett has his critics, but over the past two years the Razorbacks produced 123 explosion plays in the passing game. In 2008, they had 45.
  • In 2008, Tulsa had 82 pass plays of 20 or more yards, most over the past three years. In its 14-game schedule, that means the Golden Hurricane averaged just under six such plays per game. Tulsa is also the only program to rank in the top 10 each of the past three years.

But does piling up explosion plays in the passing game correlate to winning? Short answer: Yes. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Hawaii... 80 (10-4)
2. Boise State... 63 (12-1)
3. Arkansas... 62 (10-3)
4. San Diego State... 60 (9-4)
5. Oklahoma... 59 (12-2)
5. Oklahoma State... 59 (11-2)
7. Tulsa... 57 (10-3)
8. Tennessee... 54 (6-7)
9. UAB... 53 (4-8)
10. North Carolina State... 52 (9-4)

That's two losing teams -- though Tennessee was a bowl team -- and eight with at least nine wins and five with 10 or more. Nice mix of AQ and non-AQ teams, too.

Now on to defense, starting with the Pac-12.

The number to the left is national rank. The number to the right is the total number of passing explosion plays yielded in 2010.

6. California... 25
16. Stanford... 29
23. Washington... 31
27. Arizona... 32
27. Colorado... 32
27. Arizona State... 32
41. Oregon...33
41. Washington State... 33
58. UCLA... 36
91. Oregon State... 41
96. Utah... 42
102. USC... 44

Well, USC gave up 30 TD passes, most in the conference by five, so the Trojans in the cellar shouldn't be a surprise. Utah is completely rebuilding its secondary heading into 2011 -- so does that many Utes fans feel better or worse about their standing here? A little surprised Washington did well in this measure. And this is another reason for Cal fans to feel good about defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.

Some other thoughts:
  • First of all, the difference between No. 23 and No. 41 is two plays, so there should be a little bit of skepticism about writing too much into these numbers.
  • Obviously, the Trojans' young secondary didn't do well digesting Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 scheme in Year 1.
  • USC gave up 30 explosion passing plays in 2009 and just 14 in 2008, which is the lowest total over the past three years by six.
  • Stanford's pass defense was a big question heading into 2010. Why? In 2009, it gave up 44 passing plays of 20 or more yards. So the improvement this past season was dramatic, and probably one of the big reasons the Cardinal defense took a huge step forward.
  • Tip of the cap to Washington State: In 2009, it gave up 47 explosion plays in the passing game, which ranked 110th in the nation. So the improvement in 2010 was dramatic. Of course, the Cougars did give up 29 explosion plays in the running game, which ranked 117th in the nation.
  • Utah gave up 28 explosion passing plays in 2009, so there was fairly significant regression in 2010.
  • No team ranked in the top 10 three consecutive years, though TCU, Florida and Ohio State consistently ranked highly.
  • In 2008, Nevada gave up 70 explosion plays in the passing game. That's 11 more than the second worst total over the past three years. That means Wolf Pack fans had to endure 5.4 big passing plays per game thrown against their defense. Still, Nevada did finish 7-6.

But does limiting passing explosion plays on defense correlate to winning? Short answer: Pretty much. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Pittsburgh... 20 (8-5)
2. LSU.. 21 (11-2)
3. TCU... 22 (13-0)
4. Kent State... 23 (5-7)
5. West Virginia... 24 (9-4)
5. Texas... 24 (5-7)
6. Florida... 25 (8-5)
6. California... 25 (5-7)
6. Nebraska... 25 (10-4)
6. Temple... 25 (8-4)
6. Syracuse... 25 (8-5)
6. Boise State... 25 (13-1)

Only three of these 12 teams posted losing records, and they each went 5-7. That said, four won just eight games, so success in this stat doesn't correlate to elite status. Auburn gave up 44 explosion plays in the pass game and it went 14-0 and won the national championship. Virginia Tech gave up 45 and won the ACC.

Still, here's a guess that most defensive coordinators would rather rank at the top of this list than at the bottom.

Who gets and stops explosive rushing?

February, 24, 2011
Coaches love talking about explosion plays. You want to get a lot of them and give up very few.

We looked at offensive explosion plays -- plays of 20 or more yards -- on Tuesday and defenses that prevented explosion plays on Wednesday. Today we look at explosion plays in terms of rushing offense and rushing defense. On Friday, we'll look at explosion plays in terms of passing numbers.

So here's how the Pac-12 stacked up in 2010 (again, thanks to ESPN Stats & Information). The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of explosion plays in the running game in 2010.

4. Oregon... 39
25. Stanford... 21
29. Washington... 20
29. UCLA... 20
49. USC... 16
49. Utah... 16
66. Arizona... 14
66. Arizona State... 14
83. Oregon State... 12
91. California... 11
91. Colorado... 11
99. Washington State... 10

Not many surprises here, though Oregon State's and California's totals might seem low, considering the quality of their tailbacks: Jacquizz Rodgers and Shane Vereen.

Some other thoughts.
  • Oregon ranked second in 2009 (39) and third in 2008 (37). The Ducks, Nevada and Georgia Tech each ranked in the top five the past three seasons.
  • California ranked 18th in 2009 with 24 runs of 20 or more yards, and eighth in 2008 with 30, so its drop-off in 2010 was substantial.
  • With Toby Gerhart, the 2009 Heisman Trophy runner-up, Stanford had 20 runs of 20 or more yards. Without him in 2010, it had 21. That said: In 2008, when the Cardinal went 5-7 and Tavita Pritchard was the starting QB, it produced 25 such runs, which ranked 12th in the country.
  • In 2008, UCLA and Washington State tied for 109th in the nation with just six explosion runs. In 2009, Washington State had 10 and UCLA nine, thereby ranking 95th and 98th, respectively. While the Bruins new pistol offense didn't help the passing game, it certainly helped produce explosion plays in the running game, more than tripling the 2008 output and more than doubling what was produced in 2009.
  • Buffalo ranked last in the nation with just two runs of over 20 yards, the worst total over the past three seasons. Nothing to do with the Pac-10, but that's really, really pathetic.

But do piling up explosion plays in the run game correlate to winning? Short answer: More often than not, though a lot has to do with scheme (Georgia Tech and Navy, for example, run triple-options and don't pass much). Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Georgia Tech... 45 (6-7)
2. Northern Illinois... 42 (11-3)
3. Auburn... 41 (14-0)
4. Oregon... 39 (12-1)
5. Nevada... 38 (13-1)
6. Nebraska... 36 (10-4)
7. North Texas... 32 (3-9)
8. Mississippi... 31 (4-8)
9. Baylor... 30 (7-6)
10. Tulsa... 28 (10-3)
10. Navy... 28 (9-4)

Three teams -- including No. 1 -- posted losing records. On the other hand, seven won nine or more games and six won 10 or more.

Now, on to defense, starting with the Pac-12.

The number to the left in national rank. The number to the right is the total number of rushing explosion plays yielded in 2010.

2. Arizona State... 6
13. Arizona... 9
13. Utah... 9
13. California... 9
37. Oregon State... 12
45. Stanford... 14
59. Oregon... 16
82. Colorado... 18
90. USC... 19
98. Washington... 22
103. UCLA... 23
117. Washington State... 29

Arizona is a bit surprising because the Wildcats struggled against the run this season, particularly over the second half of 2010. Stanford is a little low because it gave up four runs of 20-plus yards in its loss to Oregon.

Some other thoughts.
  • Oregon State's number isn't bad, but in 2009 it was tied for fourth in the nation -- and No. 1 in the Pac-10 -- after yielding just six explosion rushing plays.
  • Oregon had better defensive numbers this season than in the previous two, but the Ducks gave up only nine explosion rushing plays in 2008 and 2009.
  • This is clearly an area where Washington struggles. In 2009, it gave up 21 explosion rushing plays (102nd in nation) and 22 in 2008 (102nd in nation).
  • Washington State yielded 22 rushing explosion plays in 2009 (106th in nation) and 34 in 2008 (worst in the nation) Cougars: You need to get better here.
  • In 2008, Tennessee gave up just one run of 20 or more yards. No other team over the past three seasons has yielded fewer than three. In 2009, under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, it gave up 21, which ranked 102nd in the nation. This past season, while Kiffin was in his first season at USC, the Vols yielded 16, which ranked 59th, tied with USC. In 2009, the year before Kiffin arrived at USC, the Trojans yielded 13, which ranked 42nd. Just saying.
  • While a number of teams are consistently good in this area -- Ohio State, Florida and South Florida, to name a few -- only Iowa ranked in the top 10 the past three seasons.

But do limiting rushing explosion plays on defense correlate to winning? Short answer: Not as much as you'd think, at least this past season. Here's the top 10 in 2010 with the team's record in parentheses to the right.

1. Iowa... 5 (8-5)
2. Arizona State... 6 (6-6)
2. Boston College... 6 (7-6)
4. Purdue... 7 (4-8)
4. Iowa State... 7 (5-7)
4. SMU... 7 (7-7)
4. Florida... 7 (8-5)
4. Ohio State... 7 (12-1)
9. Temple... 8 (8-4)
9. Michigan State... 8 (11-2)
9. Buffalo... 8 (2-10)
9. Wyoming... 8 (3-9)

That's six teams (out of 12) at .500 or below, including two teams who combined for 19 losses. Just two teams -- Ohio State and Michigan State -- won double-digit games. Oklahoma went 12-2 despite giving up 25 rushing explosion plays, which ranked 109th in the nation. Heck, Kansas State finished 7-6 despite giving up 31 such plays, worst in the nation.

That said: Seven of the 12 teams that gave up 25 or more explosion plays finished with losing records, and four won three or fewer games.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
Issues to consider heading into the 10th week of games.

Is Foles in sync early? Nick Foles is expected to return to his starting spot at quarterback after missing two games with a dislocated knee cap. Foles is one of the best QBs in the nation, no doubt. But this is not just another start. For one, he'll be thinking about his knee early, no matter how hard he tries to block it out. That might affect his performance. And rust might be an issue -- Foles hasn't been at game-speed since going down at Washington State on Oct. 16. Moreover, if Foles isn't in-sync and, say, throws an early interception, how quickly might Mike Stoops go with Matt Scott, who was outstanding filling in for Foles? In a big game, when the stakes are high, it might be hard to be patient.

[+] EnlargeUSC V. Oregon
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUSC will have to rebound after getting crushed by Oregon in its "bowl game" last week.
Fight still on for USC? USC can't play in a bowl game this season, so a few Trojans called last week's game with No. 1 Oregon their bowl game. Well, they lost their bowl game by three TDs; does that mean the season is over? Does the cumulative effect of two last-second losses and that blowout defeat -- not to mention what figures to be a small crowd in the Coliseum -- leave the Trojans unfocused and unmotivated with Arizona State in town fighting for its bowl life?

"Tavita" Price? Washington would have had no chance at Oregon even with Jake Locker. It will have even less of no chance without him. Right? Redshirt freshman Keith Price surely will wilt under the pressure of boisterous Autzen Stadium and relentless blitzing from mean-old Ducks defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti. Right? Well, Duck fans, let's not forget that in 2007 a Stanford team with no chance that also was starting a backup QB who made things even no-chancer entered the Coliseum -- where USC had won 35 in a row -- and beat the No. 2 Trojans, 24-23, on a 10-yard TD pass on fourth down from Tavita Pritchard. But lightning won't strike again. Right?

Lots of Jacquizz: Jacquizz Rodgers and the Oregon State running game broke through last weekend versus a good California run defense. So what will it do against a struggling UCLA run defense, which is yielding more than 200 yards per game? The guess here is Mike Riley will be eager to test the fortitude of the Bruins, whose season is teetering on the brink.

Building a Mansion on the road: Cal has been a complete disaster on the road this year, at least other than a tight game at Arizona. That makes even a trip to Washington State ominous. Further, after QB Kevin Riley suffered a season-ending knee injury during a blowout loss at Oregon State, junior Brock Mansion now will be making his first career start. Crowd noise won't be an issue -- Martin Stadium won't be full. And, while there might be some rain, the elements won't be a factor, as they sometimes are in Pullman. For Mansion, it will be all about staying focused and poised and making plays against perhaps the worst defense in the nation. Is Mansion -- and his supporting cast -- up to that, even if they aren't playing inside the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium?

Make Luck un-Lucky: The challenge for Arizona's defense is to get the Pac-10's most talented and efficient passer, Stanford's Andrew Luck, out of his comfort zone. That won't be easy. The Cardinal again has a great running game -- 224 yards per game -- and it protects Luck well, with just three sack surrendered. And even if you pressure Luck, he's such a good runner that he can make a big play with his legs just after you think a sack dance is coming. The Wildcats lead the conference in sacks, with 3.38 per game, and Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed are the best defensive end combo in the conference. But the Wildcats will have to give Luck lots of different looks, and hope that a few of them cause him a bit of angst. And provoke a mistake (or two).

A Threet to the Trojans' secondary: Arizona State QB Steven Threet leads the Pac-10 in passing yards per game. USC ranks last in passing yards surrendered. That would seem to favor Threet and the Sun Devils. At the same time, Threet has hurled 13 interceptions, most in the conference. Threet has proven he can make plays in the passing game, and USC has proven vulnerable to passers. But Threet sometimes is his own worst enemy. Can the Trojans -- and coordinator Monte Kiffin -- rattle Threet into making mistakes?

James makes more Heisman noise (and maybe Thomas, too): My Mama always said if you can't say something nice, don't say anything. But then I wouldn't be able to do my job, which is at this moment to observe that the Washington defense is lousy. The Huskies are particularly bad versus the run. Oh, by the way, Oregon rushes for 309 yards per game. So expect Ducks running back LaMichael James to get another 200-yard performance and then sit out the fourth quarter. And when the Huskies become addled trying to stop James, Thomas will find plenty of opportunities downfield. Count on both putting up numbers that are noted in next week's review of Heisman Trophy candidates.

Just when you count the Bruins out...: Seems like we've already written off UCLA about five times this year. And folks are always trying to write of Rick Neuheisel. But it also seems like, just when things are darkness for Neuheisel ... sunrise! Mike Riley seemed to be aware of that this week; he seemed genuinely concerned about how his team might view UCLA's vulnerability. Not sure how the Bruins would beat the surging Beavers, but stranger things certainly have happened. Recall that the Beavers didn't exactly shine the last time they were on the road at Washington.

Breakthrough for the Cougs? Speaking of strange things: The Cougars last Pac-10 win came in the 2008 Apple Cup against the winless Huskies. So Cal comes to Pullman looking to hand the Cougs a 16th consecutive conference defeat. If Washington State had played Arizona State tougher last weekend -- instead of, say, losing 42-0 -- then it would be easier to project an upset. Still, you'd think that, based on some of the competitive performances this year, the Cougs are going to surprise someone and get a win at some point. Cal, with a new starting QB and a tendency to throw up on itself on the road, seems like a legitimate potential victim.

Pac-10 Q&A: Stanford QB Andrew Luck

April, 22, 2010
High expectations, meet Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireAndrew Luck tries to block out speculation over his future in the NFL.
Luck, by the end of the 2010 season, could become an All-America candidate. The sophomore, in fact, is already generating NFL draft hype -- and questions.

There are a couple of reasons for this: 1. He's a major talent; 2. He led the Pac-10 in passing efficiency as a redshirt freshman. In other words, potential and production.

He's 6-foot-4, 234 pounds and he moves well. He's got an outstanding arm. He's smart. He's grounded. His father, Oliver, is a former NFL quarterback.

Red flags? None, other than the Stanford banners being waved by folks who are starting to imagine that Luck can lead the Cardinal back to the Rose Bowl.

The obvious challenge for him going forward into 2010 -- other than managing his growing stardom -- will be leading an offense that is only replacing college football's best running back: Toby Gerhart, who produced 28 touchdowns last fall.

That's a lot of production walking out the door into the NFL.

Stanford finished spring practices last weekend, so it seemed like a good time to check in with Luck as he heads into his offseason.

Last year you were a green-around-the-gills redshirt freshman: Do you feel like a veteran quarterback now?

Andrew Luck: A little bit. One year does make a whole lot of difference.

How tough was it to sit out the Sun Bowl last year due to a broken finger?

AL: It was tough. If you asked any athlete who goes through the entire regular season and doesn't get to partake in the postseason or the bowl game, it's not going to be fun. It was tough. But that being said, I was happy for Tavita [Pritchard] to get a chance to play because he had done so many great things for me during the season and helped me out so much. I was excited for him.

Tell me how you feel spring practice went: What went well and what do you guys still need to work on?

AL: Overall, I thought spring was extremely competitive. There were a lot of physical practices. A lot of guys flying around, getting better. Personally, I felt like I improved on my grasp of the offense and sort of evolving into being a leader on the team. As far as the fall, we've just got to keep working on getting ourselves in good position to run a good play and take care of our assignments.

Toby Gerhart was a workhorse. He scored 28 touchdowns. How does the offense evolve without him? How will you look different?

AL: Toby was special. He did a lot of great things. I think we'll probably have to throw the ball more. The running backs will be a little bit more by committee as opposed to one workhorse shouldering the load. People are going to have to step up at different positions. It will be exciting though.

When you have a Heisman Trophy candidate in your backfield, it takes the attention off you, the pressure off you. Do you feel like now your role has changed and you are now the center of attention, the guy with the pressure on him to carry the load, not to mention all the chatter about your being a future No. 1 NFL draft pick?

AL: It's definitely different. Toby was definitely the man for the whole team last year. I try not to pay much attention to all that [draft talk]. I can easily get myself in trouble if I start getting into all that. I tried to put more pressure on myself this spring to step up and shoulder the load of the team more.

Everybody has a different style of leading: How do you plan to become more of a leader that fits in with your personality?

AL: I think I need to work on being more vocal. I tend to be quiet sometimes, even when I do have something to say. I've been working on that a little more. Honestly, we have a bunch of great leaders on the offense, like [receiver] Ryan Whalen and the older guys on the offensive line, Andy Phillips and Chase Beeler. It's not like one guy has to motivate everyone else to come out and do extra work. People want to do it any way. In that regard, it's almost easy being a quarterback on this team. But I do need to work on being a little more vocal.

Are you able to block out the NFL speculation, or are you at least curious about the draft gurus already talking about you?

AL: I honestly try to block it out as much as possible. I don't think about it. It's a long way off for me. If I do start thinking about it, I know I'll get myself in trouble.

You know people mention that you, as a third-year player, could conceivably leave for the draft after this season?

AL: I honestly haven't thought about it. My only priority right now is next season and hopefully winning the national championship.

Speaking of the offense: Who else stepped up this spring, other than the guys like Whalen and receiver Chris Owusu, who everybody knows about?

AL: A couple of young receivers did a heck of a job this spring. Jamal-Rashad Patterson and Drew Terrell really stepped their game up a lot. And the running backs, Jeremy Stewart, who played two years ago but hurt his foot last year, did a heck of a job this offseason, as well as Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney.

You get to play against them every day in practice: It sounds like the defense showed some spark this spring with new coordinator Vic Fangio.

AL: Definitely. They are a little saltier than they were last year. [Sophomore inside linebacker] Shayne Skov is doing a heck of a job. It's really fun to see him grow after going up against him last year. You could tell during training camp last year that he was a great athlete and a great football player but maybe he didn't have his whole head wrapped around the scheme they were trying to run. You could tell he was running around not knowing what he was doing. Now he's flying around making plays all over the field. The secondary is doing a heck of a job, making a lot of plays and really putting pressure on our receivers to step their game up and putting pressure on me to step my game up. It's been very competitive.

Pritchard joins Stanford basketball team

January, 28, 2010
Tavita Pritchard, who started 20 games at quarterback for Stanford, is now a member of the Cardinal basketball team.

He participated in his first practice on Tuesday and will travel with the team during this week's road trip to Arizona and Arizona State.

He becomes the first multisport athlete on the men's basketball team since football players Mark Bradford and Evan Moore played limited minutes for the Cardinal during the 2004-05 season. Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, played baseball for the Cardinal.

Pritchard passed 2,865 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career. In his first start on Oct. 6, 2007, he led Stanford, a 41-point underdog, to a 24-23 upset victory at then-No. 2 USC, connecting with Bradford for the game-winning touchdown on a fourth-and-goal play from the USC 10-yard line with 49 seconds left in the game. He was beaten out for the starting job before the 2009 season by redshirt freshman Andrew Luck. His only start this fall came in Stanford's 31-27 loss to Oklahoma in the Sun Bowl, when Luck was out with a broken finger.

Despite the mounting injuries -- the basketball team will be without five players for this weekend's road trip -- Stanford enters the week in a five-way tie for second place in the Pac-10 at 4-3. Picked to finish last in the preseason media poll, the Cardinal is 10-9 overall and is coming off its second consecutive home sweep, defeating Oregon State 59-35 and Oregon 84-69 last week at Maples Pavilion.

Pac-10 games of the decade

January, 20, 2010
Lots of extraordinary games to choose from, as well as many ways to ascribe greatness: the size of the stage, the competitiveness of the game and the overall strangeness.

And we made the executive decision not to make this a list of USC upset losses -- other than the biggest one of those.

10. Oregon 56, Arizona State 55 (2 OT), 2000: Many of you are drawing a blank, but the ones who saw this one are jumping out of their chairs and going, "Oh man. That one was nuts." Both teams scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. The teams combined for 1,228 yards, 663 of those for the Sun Devils. Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington threw six -- SIX! -- touchdown passes, including three in the fourth quarter, the last of which tied the score with 27 seconds left after the Sun Devils gave away a critical fumble. Arizona State freshman QB Jeff Krohn threw five TD passes, by the way. ASU lost the game when coach Bruce Snyder decided to fake the extra point and go for the two-point conversion in the second overtime. It failed, leaving fans in Tempe stunned.

9. Washington State 30, USC 27 (OT), 2002: Any of you Cougars fans able to muster the memory of kicker Drew Dunning's slide on his knees at Martin Stadium? Dunning sent the game into overtime with a 35-yard field goal and then made the game-winner from the same distance in a victory that was critical to the Cougars' run to the Rose Bowl. The game featured a brilliant quarterback duel between Carson Palmer and Jason Gesser -- Gesser passed for 315 yards, Palmer for 381 -- and a dominant performance from Cougars defensive tackle Rien Long, who went on to win the Outland Trophy. Between this game and the 2006 Rose Bowl, USC lost just once.

8. Oregon 44, Arizona 41 (2 OT), 2009: If Arizona had won this game, we now know the Wildcats would have played in their first Rose Bowl. The Wildcats led 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, but then the game went crazy. With red-clad Arizona fans encircling the field, Ducks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli tied the game in regulation with six seconds left with a touchdown pass to Ed Dickson. Masoli then won it in the second overtime with a 1-yard run. Masoli ran for three TDs and passed for three more.

7. Stanford 24, USC 23, 2007: Greatest upset in Pac-10 history? Maybe. Stanford was a 41-point underdog playing its backup quarterback at No. 2 USC, which had won 35 in a row at home. But Trojans quarterback John David Booty, who foolishly played -- and was allowed to play -- with an injured throwing hand, threw four interceptions, while Stanford's Tavita Pritchard led a clutch, game-winning drive, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Mark Bradford on fourth-and-goal with 49 seconds remaining.

6. Oregon 37, Oregon State 33, 2009: It was the Civil War for the Roses, with the Ducks earning a berth in the Rose Bowl after slipping a game crew of Beavers. While the return of Ducks running back LeGarrette Blount was significant -- he scored a critical touchdown -- the game belonged to redshirt freshman running back LaMichael James, who scored three touchdowns and rushed for 166 yards, and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who ran over Beavers safety Lance Mitchell to convert a fourth-and-3 play from the Beavers' 33 with 3:41 left as Oregon ran out the final six minutes with its final drive.

5. California 31, Oregon 24, 2007: Sixth-ranked California, featuring a stellar performance from receiver DeSean Jackson, outlasted No. 11 Oregon in a game between two teams that each would at one point rise to No. 2 during the season, though both ultimately crumbled. The game turned on a strange play as the Ducks were on the cusp of tying the score. With 22 seconds to go, Dennis Dixon found Cameron Colvin near the goal line, but Colvin fumbled trying to reach the ball into the end zone when he was hit by Marcus Ezeff. The loose ball went through the end zone and was ruled a touchback and possession for Cal.

4. Washington 33, Oregon State 30, 2000: It was the greatest game no one saw because of the late, West Coast kickoff at Husky Stadium. And at the time its magnitude wasn't clear. The critical play of the back-and-forth affair happened when Washington defensive tackle Larry Tripplett caught Ken Simonton for a three-yard loss on second-and-1 from the Huskies 26-yard line with 42 seconds left. The Beavers panicked and mistakenly spiked the ball -- they had a time out left -- and then Ryan Cesca missed a 46-yard field goal to tie. It was the Beavers only loss of the season; they crushed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. They would have played Oklahoma for the national title if they had prevailed. And the win helped the Huskies win the Rose Bowl tiebreaker.

3. USC 23, California 17, 2004: No. 7 California had a first-and-goal on top-ranked USC's 9-yard line with under two minutes left. At that point, Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers had completed 29 of 31 for 267 yards and a touchdown. But the Bears couldn't punch it in, with USC registering a sack and forcing three incompletions. It was the closest call of the season for the best team of the USC dynasty.

2. USC 34, Notre Dame 31, 2005: The infamous "Bush Push" game. No. 9 Notre Dame was about to knock off top-ranked rival USC and make Irish coach Charlie Weis a national sensation, but Matt Leinart led a drive for the ages in the waning moments as the Trojans prevailed, scoring the winning points when Leinart got a little extra help from Bush on his second effort on a quarterback sneak.

1. Texas 41, USC 38, 2006 Rose Bowl: Perhaps the great game in college football history, particularly considering that the stakes were a national title for two unbeaten teams and the field was packed with talent and future high draft choices. Vince Young almost single-handedly willed his team to the victory -- he ran for 200 yards and passed for 267 more -- and denied the Trojans a third consecutive national title. USC walked away with a laundry list of "what ifs," but the ultimate result was a 34-game winning streak coming to an end.

Instant analysis: Oklahoma 31, Stanford 27

December, 31, 2009
Not-so-instant analysis because I was flying to LA for the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeTavita Pritchard
AP Photo/LM OteroStanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard struggled while playing in place of an injured Andrew Luck.
Oklahoma's 31-27 win over Stanford drops the Pac-10 to 2-4 in the bowl season and guarantees a losing bowl record with only the Rose Bowl left to play.

How the game was won: Oklahoma dominated the second half to overcome a seven-point halftime deficit. While Stanford had almost no passing game with Tavita Pritchard stepping in for the injured Andrew Luck, the Sooners got 418 yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Landry Jones.

Turning point: The third quarter. Oklahoma scored two touchdowns in the third to go ahead for good while Stanford managed to gain just 32 total yards.

Stat of the game: Oklahoma owned third down. Stanford was 1 for 12 on third down, while the Sooners were 10 for 20.

What it means: Probably not a whole lot in the big picture for Stanford, which is clearly on the rise under coach Jim Harbaugh. There's also, of course, a ready-made excuse due to the absense of Luck, though Sooners fans probably can talk a bit about injuries to quarterbacks and other stars. As far as the bigger picture for the conference, it hurts the image that another ranked Pac-10 team was decisively controlled in a bowl game -- see a 477 to 262 Oklahoma advantage in total yardage. Stanford's first order of business going forward is improving its defense, which struggled all season.

Brut Sun Bowl preview

December, 30, 2009
Breaking down the Brut Sun Bowl between No. 21 Stanford (8-4) and Oklahoma (7-5) on Thursday.

WHO TO WATCH: It will be a game-time decision on whether Stanford's redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck (broken finger) will be able to play, but the odds are the ball will be in senior backup Tavita Pritchard's hands. Pritchard isn't new to this. He has started 19 games. But in those starts he threw 22 interceptions with just 15 touchdowns. With Pritchard behind center, Oklahoma will dare him to beat them in the downfield passing game. The Sooners will crowd the line of scrimmage and use one of the nation's best run defenses to slow down All-American running back Toby Gerhart. It's Pritchard's job to make them pay for that tactic.

WHAT TO WATCH: Stanford's defense has been mediocre-to-bad this year. The Cardinal have lost three starters due to injury and they lack overall athleticism, particularly in the secondary. Opponents are completing 63 percent of their passes and have thrown for 20 touchdowns. The Sooners are loaded at receiver, will be far healthier on the offensive line after the layoff and have a good running game to keep a defense leaning forward. Although Sooners quarterback Landry Jones hasn't played well away from home this season, the Sun Bowl won't feel like an away game. The Cardinal will need to step up big on defense.

WHY WATCH: This almost certainly will be the last chance to see Gerhart in a Stanford jersey. That's reason enough because the Heisman Trophy runner-up will face a great matchup with a physical Sooners defense that doesn't want to get run over like most of Gerhart's other opponents. Also, there's the mystery of whether Luck might actually pull a Willis Reed and try to play with a surgically repaired index finger he broke in the season finale against Notre Dame.

PREDICTION: The key all year for Stanford has been Luck. Gerhart is a great running back. But he was great last year. With Luck behind center, however, it forced defenses to respect the pass, and he burned teams -- particularly Oregon -- downfield when they tried to gang up on Gerhart. With Luck, Stanford's physical offensive line would be a great matchup with the Oklahoma D-front. But the Sooners will be able to bring an extra defender into the box and outnumber the Cardinal. Can Pritchard make them pay? Guess here is he will a couple of times. But not enough for the Cardinal to outscore the Sooners, who should have their way with the Stanford D. So the call here is Oklahoma 30, Stanford 21.

With Luck down, Pritchard will lead Stanford vs. Sooners

December, 29, 2009
A day after Stanford beat Notre Dame to finish its best season since 2001 at 8-4, quarterback Andrew Luck called Tavita Pritchard. The redshirt freshman sensation, who had displaced Pritchard from the starting lineup, handed the ball off over the phone line.

Luck had broken the index finger of his throwing hand against Notre Dame and needed surgery to fix it. That meant Pritchard would start against Oklahoma in the Brut Sun Bowl on Thursday.

"It speaks volumes about Andrew," Pritchard said. "He called me and said, 'I just wanted to be the one to tell you.'"

[+] EnlargeTavita Pritchard
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireTavita Pritchard is expected to start for Stanford against Oklahoma.
Luck might still play against the Sooners' top-rated defense. Coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters that Luck had the pins removed from his finger Monday. Luck will try to throw this week and his availability figures to be a game-time decision.

Still, the likelihood is the Cardinal's chances depend on Pritchard being able to take heat off running back Toby Gerhart. If the Sooners, who rank seventh in the nation in run defense -- 88.6 yards per game -- don't respect the Stanford passing game, it could be a long afternoon in El Paso.

Pritchard, a senior, is best-known for two things, one good, the other not so good.

The good thing: In his first career start in 2007, he led Stanford, a 41-point underdog, to a 24-23 victory over then-No. 2 USC, one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

The not so good thing: In 19 career starts, Pritchard went 7-12 and threw 22 interceptions with just 15 touchdowns.

Harbaugh nearly pulled Luck's redshirt in 2008 when Pritchard was struggling. While Pritchard generally played well during spring practices, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Luck would take over in 2009.

And he did with impressive results. Luck ranked second in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency, throwing for 2,575 yards with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

Meanwhile, Pritchard completed only two passes all season, meaning he had only one more completion than Gerhart -- and one fewer touchdown pass.

Pritchard would have played the good soldier in any event -- he's been universally praised by his teammates and coaches for how he handled the demotion -- but he and Luck have become friends. It also was fairly obvious Luck was a special talent.

"We were winning," Pritchard said, "and that is definitely what matters."

After talking to Luck, Pritchard got the official word of his elevation back to the starting job from Harbaugh.

"He was kind of funny about, 'Well, back in the saddle. Keys to the car again.' Stuff like that. He was fun about it," Pritchard said.

Said Harbaugh, "I think they'll rally around [Pritchard] like they always have."

While he's not thrilled how it happened, it's clear Pritchard is excited about getting another opportunity to play. He said his teammates have expressed their confidence in him and, perhaps more importantly, he said he's confident he can get the job done.

But he's as aware as anyone else that winning is what matters. And going out with a bowl victory over the mighty Sooners is a heck of a way to cap a career.

"If we go down there and beat them, it will be a great bookend to my career," he said.

Gerhart goes from long odds to Heisman finalist

December, 8, 2009
While it might seem like Stanford running back Toby Gerhart burst onto the scene late in the 2009 season, he started talking about winning the Heisman Trophy with his dad before the season even started.

"My father said, 'Hey, you know you are like 750-1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy? Think I should throw $10 on you or something?'" Gerhart said.

It would have been a nice play.

The Heisman Trophy will be awarded Saturday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Gerhart found out Monday, while surrounded by his Cardinal teammates, that he was one of five finalists invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York.

"It was super-exciting," he said. "Everybody was fist-pumping, chest-bumping. "

But Gerhart, a first-team All-Academic pick in the Pac-10, didn't get to celebrate long. He had to rush to an exam. In fact, he took two after he found out he was headed to New York.

What fun.

Gerhart said he hasn't been to Manhattan since he was "11 or 12," when he visited during a baseball tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Just because Gerhart is a Stanford guy doesn't mean he's going to get reservations at Per Se, go see the new David Mamet play and then hang out late at all the cool clubs.

"I don't know if I'd take the sophisticated route and go see a play," he said. "If I have any free time, I'll probably go hang out in Times Square."

He is looking forward to hanging out with his fellow finalists: Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, Alabama running back Mark Ingram, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

After all the fun is over, Gerhart and Stanford need to get back to business: A Sun Bowl date on New Year's Eve with Oklahoma.

It was announced this week starting quarterback Andrew Luck is doubtful to play after surgery on the broken index finger of his throwing hand, but Gerhart said he and his teammates believe they can win with senior backup Tavita Pritchard, who has started 19 career games.

"It's definitely going to be different without Luck in the huddle but there's no doubt in my mind that Tavita is going to do well and excel," he said.

But first, he goes to New York with a chance to win the biggest individual award in college sports.

"It's something you dream about but never think you'll really get," he said.

Report: Stanford QB Luck doubtful for Sun Bowl

December, 7, 2009
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck had surgery on a finger in his right, throwing hand and won't start the Sun Bowl against Oklahoma, the Stanford Daily -- the student newspaper -- reported and confirmed.

Coach Jim Harbaugh wouldn't rule him out of the Dec. 31 game in El Paso, Tex.

"He's going to be out of practice at least two to three weeks," Harbaugh told the Pac-10 blog Monday. "He's not ruled out of the game, but based on what we know right now, he won't start. We'll have to see how his finger heals and see what his availability is for the game. It will be a game-week decision."

Luck's backup is senior Tavita Pritchard, who has started 19 games in his career but was eclipsed by Luck during spring practices.

Obviously, a huge blow to Stanford's chances.

The Sooners now likely will gang up on the line of scrimmage to stop Toby Gerhart and dare Pritchard to beat them with the passing game. A defense couldn't do that with the talented Luck running the Cardinal offense.

Of course, it was Pritchard who engineered the stunning victory at USC in 2007.

"This team doesn't make excuses," Harbaugh said. "There's injuries in football."

The Cardinal already lost linebacker Clinton Snyder, defensive end Erik Lorig, offensive tackles Matt Kopa and Allen Smith and defensive tackle Brian Bulcke to injuries this season.

Of course, Oklahoma knows all about losing star players to injuries. It's played without All-American tight end Jermaine Gresham the entire season and quarterback Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner, most of the year.