Pac-12: Taylor Martinez

Pac-12 lunch links: Utah's new go-to WR?

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
2:30
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Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I'd use them so
That heaven's vaults should crack.

Mora: We have to handle our emotions

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
5:30
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Which Bruin has the outside contain against Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez doesn’t really seem as significant as it did a week ago. How UCLA plans to attack Nebraska’s defense and the progression of the running back corps feels completely secondary.

“Football pales in comparison to what they are going through right now,” coach Jim Mora said.

This is the fine line Mora and his staff have had to toe since the Bruins returned to work following the death of wide receiver Nick Pasquale last weekend. It’s Mora’s job to be a father figure and to be emotionally available to his players. He’d call that his most important responsibility as a coach. But it’s also his job to prepare the 16th-ranked Bruins as they go on the road to face No. 23 Nebraska.
[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesJim Mora and his team have had an emotional week.


“First and foremost, it’s most important that you are available to them,” Mora said. “ . . . [Football is] also an outlet for their emotions and their grief and the things they are feeling. Just make myself available to them 100 percent of the day. And they know that. And I think when you do that, it helps them come to grips with their emotions and it helps them get focused on the task at hand. I think it’s just about being real. Being genuine. Being honest and being there for them.”

The Bruins will wear Pasquale’s No. 36 on their jerseys. Likewise, Nebraska will wear No. 36 on its helmets. Before kickoff, the 91,000 in Memorial Stadium in Lincoln also will hold a moment of silence. Mora praised Nebraska coach Bo Pelini for his empathy and the prayers and well-wishes of the Nebraska program. But he also knows that when the moment of silence ends, those 91,000 will be screaming for his team to lose.

“I don’t know that we could find a more difficult situation,” Mora said. “You combine what’s happened here from an emotional standpoint to our team over the last three days and how it’s affecting them. ... When the game starts, they want to win, we want to win, and their fans will be cheering like crazy for them. And we have to be able to handle all of that. We have to be able to handle our emotions. We have to remain poised and be able to overcome adversity. To me, those are things that define mental toughness is your ability to do that. It’s a tremendous test.”

Speaking of tests, the Bruins will be looking to slow down Nebraska's Martinez. During the bye last week, the coaching staff spent plenty of time evaluating what they did right and wrong in Week 1’s win over Nevada, which also boasts an athletic dual-threat quarterback in Cody Fajardo. He was Nevada’s offensive bright spot in the 58-20 loss, rushing for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

To slow Martinez, Mora said the Bruins' defenders have to account for him -- and not just react to him -- as a runner.

“You have to be assignment-perfect,” Mora said. “But what happens is you get frustrated and you do something you wouldn’t typically do and he exploits it. He’s a tenacious competitor. That’s what I respect so much about him is his competitive drive. [In last season's game] he never gave up. He was never down. He never conceded a down, and that makes it really difficult to defend a guy.

“ . . . Sometimes that forces you to do something silly on the next snap, and you can’t do that with this guy."

Nebraska is equally concerned about the playmaking of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Last season’s 36-30 win over Nebraska in Pasadena was Hundley’s “hello, world” moment to the rest of college football.

“I think what’s good about Brett Hundley is that he is efficient,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “He doesn’t make a lot of bad decisions with the ball. When things aren’t there, he pulls it down and can hurt you with his feet. He’s effective in the running game, and he has the ability to throw the ball well so you have to make sure you’re very balanced in the way you defend him.”

Pac-12 lunch links: Richardson humble

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
2:30
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I just wanna go to the rooftops and scream, "I love my best friend, Evan."

Take 2: B1G vs. Pac-12

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
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Your B1G and Pac-12 bloggers have been grinding away on their respective leagues' nonconference primer series. Here's the Big Ten series, and here's the Pac-12 series. Part of the fun is learning about other teams in other conferences and what they bring to the table. The Pac-12 and Big Ten face each other five times during the regular season. The Pac-12 got the better of the matchups last year. Will this year be different? Brian Bennett and Kevin Gemmell decided to talk it over.

Brian Bennett: The first thing I look at for Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups in any given season is where the games are staged. Big Ten teams don’t seem to think the West Coast is the Best Coast; they are just 5-20 in true road games against the Pac-12 since 2000, and that includes an 0-3 mark on the road versus the Pac-12 last year. (The league also has just one win in its past 10 Rose Bowls, but not all of those games came against the Pac-12.)

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
AP Photo/David StlukaNew coach Gary Andersen and the Badgers will have their hands full at ASU this season.
So it’s not good news for the league that I cover that three of these five matchups are located far left of the Midwest. If there’s any reason for optimism, it’s that the Big Ten teams should be substantial favorites in two of the road games -- Northwestern at Cal in the opener and Ohio State against those same Bears in Week 3. Cal is intriguing because of new coach Sonny Dykes, but Northwestern and Ohio State are both legitimate Top 20 teams with conference-title aspirations; if they can shake off the jet lag and contain the Bears’ passing attack, they should take care of business.

The two most interesting games -- and what look like virtual toss-ups -- are Wisconsin at Arizona State, and UCLA at Nebraska. The Badgers have a lot of returning talent, but a new head coach and different schemes on both sides of the ball. It’s also going to be a clash of styles, with the Badgers’ power running game going up against Arizona State’s spread offense. Will Gary Andersen’s team have its new systems figured out by then, and is Wisconsin’s defense -- particularly its inexperienced secondary -- fast enough to handle the Sun Devils?

UCLA-Nebraska is probably not getting enough attention as a must-watch game this year. Last year’s shootout in Pasadena, Calif., featured nonstop pingpong action, and both teams figure to have topflight offenses again. The Cornhuskers have a perilously young defense, but Bo Pelini’s teams usually defend much better at home than on the road. Quarterback Taylor Martinez -- who grew up a Bruins fan but was recruited by them as a defensive back -- will be highly motivated to beat UCLA his senior year. This is Nebraska’s only major test in the first seven games, and it’s one I think the Huskers have to find a way to win.

Finally, there’s Washington at Illinois. The Illini get the benefit of home turf, sort of, as the game will be played at Soldier Field in Chicago. We’ll see if Tim Beckman’s crew will inspire enough fans to show up by Week 3. While Washington has been mediocre for what seems like forever, I can’t confidently pick Illinois to beat any half-decent power conference opponent at this point.

In the end, I say the Big Ten manages a winning record this time around against the Pac-12, taking the two games in Berkeley, Calif., and the one in Lincoln, Neb. A 3-2 mark sounds about right, though if Wisconsin can pull off the win in the desert, that could be a good sign for both the Badgers and the league as a whole.

Kevin Gemmell: I'm going 3-2 also, but in favor of the Pac-12. After all, if we were in total agreement, it would make for a pretty boring Take 2. So I'll play the contrarian when it comes to UCLA-Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesCoach Jim Mora and UCLA allowed just six points in the second half of last year's win against Nebraska.
We agree on the Cal games versus Northwestern and Ohio State -- though I think Cal is going to give both of those teams a better run than they are banking on. I like what Andy Buh is doing with a defense that could be sneaky good. And the Bears have some explosive depth at wide receiver. But ultimately it's a rookie quarterback -- whomever Dykes chooses among Zach Kline, Jared Goff and Austin Hinder -- and a team that will still have some growing pains as new systems are installed on both sides of the ball. Like you with Illinois, I'm not ready to give the Bears the green light yet. However, last year's game in Columbus, a 35-28 win for Ohio State, should serve as a reminder not to take Cal lightly. No doubt, the Buckeyes will remember Brendan Bigelow and his four carries, 160 yards and two touchdowns.

Both halves of the Pac-12 blog have been saying we believe Washington is going to get over that seven-win hump this year after three straight seasons of mediocrity. The Huskies have a lot of pieces in place with a returning quarterback, a 1,400-yard rusher, good receivers, a good line and the top tight end in the country. Their defense made huge strides last season in the first year under Justin Wilcox, and we're expecting another leap forward in 2013. What scares me is Washington's inconsistent play on the road the past few seasons. During the Huskies' trio of 7-6 seasons, they are 14-5 in Seattle (last year they played at CenturyLink Field) and 6-11 on the road. The past two years they are 11-2 at home and 3-8 on the road (0-2 in their bowl games at neutral sites). If the Huskies want to have a breakout year, they are going to have to win away from home. Steve Sarkisian actually talked about this in a Q&A we did back in April. But they certainly have the talent to win this game.

The ASU-Wisconsin game is really a critical one for the Sun Devils. It kicks off a four-game stretch (with no bye weeks) that also includes Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. ASU is another team looking for some national credibility, and this is its first opportunity to get some. You're right to talk about the ASU offense, but that defense -- which ranked first nationally in tackles for a loss and second in sacks last season -- is going to be crazy good with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford leading the attack. I'm banking on a good game, but ultimately one ASU wins at home.

That brings us to UCLA-Nebraska, a game I'm also surprised more people aren't geeked up about outside of the respective fan bases. This should be a fantastic showcase for both leagues. Brett Hundley impressed in his freshman campaign, and I think this game is going to be a spotlight for two of the country's most athletic quarterbacks. I was in Pasadena for the game last season, and what actually stood out to me was UCLA's defense -- particularly in the second half. The Bruins allowed only six points, and kept Martinez to 11 yards rushing and the Huskers to 106 total yards in the final 30 minutes. They should be improved in Year 2 under Jim Mora and Lou Spanos. If the Bruins pull this one off, it's going to be because of what they can do defensively.

Nonconference primer: UCLA

June, 28, 2013
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We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

UCLA

Nevada, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Brian Polian, first year
  • 2012 record: 7-6, 4-4 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Cody Fajardo returns at quarterback after finishing 10th nationally last year in total offense, averaging 325.6 yards per game. He has a career completion percentage of 67.7 percent and accounted for 32 touchdowns last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Brock Hekking returns after earning second-team all-league honors last year. He posted eight sacks on the year and was third on the team with 75 tackles.
  • The skinny: How dangerous is Fajardo? Against two Pac-12 teams last year (Cal and Arizona) he completed 74 percent of his throws (47 of 63) and rushed for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He can play. It's a new era following the (second) retirement of Chris Ault, father of the Pistol. But if Polian learned anything from his time at Stanford, you don't fix what's not broken. And Nevada knows how to score. Defense, however, is a different story as the Wolfpack allowed more than 33 points per game in 2012.
at Nebraska, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Bo Pelini (49-20), sixth year
  • 2012 record: 10-4, 7-1 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Uber-athletic quarterback Taylor Martinez is on pace to become just the second quarterback in FBS history (joining Colin Kaepernick) to throw for 9,000 yards and rush for 3,000 yards in a career. He accounted for 33 touchdowns last year, 23 in the air, 10 on the ground, while throwing for 2,871 yards and rushing for 1,019.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Jason Ankrah will be called upon to be the leader of the front seven. He's started 18 games the past two seasons and last year he tallied 26 tackles with six for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
  • The skinny: The Huskers have enjoyed five straight years of at least nine wins and 10 wins in three of the past four years. The Bruins are a team still learning how to handle success. Last season's home victory was a coup for the Bruins. A win in Lincoln would carry even more weight. The Huskers are 19-2 at home in the past three seasons, falling to Texas in 2010 and Northwestern in 2011.
New Mexico State, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Doug Martin, first year
  • 2012 record: 1-11, 0-6 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Despite the poor record, wide receiver Austin Franklin was still a semifinalist last year for the Biletnikoff Award -- which says something coming from a 1-11 team. He caught 74 balls for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns. He was first-team All-WAC and SI.com named him an All-American honorable mention.
  • Defensive headliner: A second-team all-league selection, linebacker Trashaun Nixon started all 12 games last year, recording 96 tackles with 9.5 for loss and three sacks.
  • The skinny: The Aggies enter the season on an 11-game losing skid (their only win last year coming against FCS Sacramento State, the same one that beat Colorado) and they have dropped 14 in a row against FBS competition. After a four-year record of 10-40, DeWayne Walker (formerly of Cal, USC, and UCLA among others) opted to return to the NFL where he's the DB coach for Jacksonville.
Thoughts: There are only three quarterbacks in FBS football who have passed for 4,000 yards and rushed for 1,500 yards over the last two seasons. The Bruins face two of them in Martinez and Fajardo. With the exception of New Mexico State, this is a considerably vigorous nonconference slate. Nevada will test the defense at home in the first week (though it's a test that's passable). Nevada's defensive struggles of late, however, suggest taking the over in this game. Combined rushing yards for Brett Hundley and Fajardo? 250? Then the Bruins get a week off to tweak and correct before making the trip to Lincoln, which will provide a stiff test. And for those who love the chess match aspect of scheming, it's probably worth noting that Nebraska will likely be studying that Nevada game film closely to see what the Bruins do to try and contain Fajardo. (I can tell you right now what the game plan is: Unleash Anthony Barr. Rinse. Repeat). We'll know exactly how much this team has matured by the time New Mexico State comes to town. 3-0 would be outstanding. 2-1 would be respectable. 1-2 would be viewed as a step backward for a program trying to build its brand under Jim Mora.
We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Remember all that sanction talk back in June? Sooooo two-and-a-half months ago. Welcome to Week 3.

Saturday, Sept. 14
  • Stanford at Army
  • Fresno State at Colorado
  • Tennessee at Oregon
  • Ohio State at California
  • Wisconsin at Arizona State
  • Oregon State at Utah
  • UTSA at Arizona
  • Boston College at USC
  • Southern Utah at Washington State
  • UCLA at Nebraska
  • Washington vs. Illinois (at Soldier Field)
My choice: UCLA at Nebraska

Why: This is a week where allegiances are truly divided -- because Week 3 provides a really good slate of games. There will be griping. Feelings will be hurt. Such is the cruel mistress that is the Pac-12 Blog Ultimate Road Trip.

We have a league game with Oregon State traveling to Rice-Eccles. We've got potentially the No. 1 team in the country in Ohio State coming into Berkeley. We've got an SEC team coming to Autzen and three other Pac-12/Big Ten games. Plus -- and Stanford should have smooth sailing at Army -- I always enjoy watching the service academies play. If you've never been to a game at West Point and stood in silence when they play the alma mater, it should be on your bucket list. But not this year. Not this week. Too many other good games.

This week we go beyond the borders of the Pac-12 states. In a rematch of one of the more exciting games of last season, the Bruins return the trip to Nebraska after topping the then-No. 16 Huskers 36-30 last year in Week 2 at the Rose Bowl.

More than Brett Hundley's coming-out party against tougher competition (and his home debut, where he threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns), it was UCLA sending a message that things were going to change in the Jim Mora era. The Bruins made big plays on offense when they had to and made the stops -- especially in the second half -- when needed. Datone Jones was beastly.

After a 24-24 tie at intermission, the Bruins held Taylor Martinez to 11 rushing yards following a first half in which he ran for 101. UCLA limited Nebraska to 76 rushing yards in the second half after allowing 184 in the first.

This year's matchup could prove to be equally exciting. It features a much more seasoned Hundley clashing with Martinez -- so quarterback productivity will certainly be an interesting sidebar in this rematch. Both teams return experienced lines and key players on defense.

Assuming the Bruins show up and aren't overwhelmed by the environment, this should be the week's most exciting game.

However, if you want to make a case for Arizona State-Wisconsin (a game I think ASU wins -- especially at home), it would be tough to argue. If you want to make a case for road-tripping to Chicago -- a heck of a city -- I wouldn't complain. If you want to argue for watching Oregon blow up a bottom-tier SEC team and all the schadenfreude that comes with that ... by all means. Those who want to see Cal-Ohio State (though the Bears will probably be fairly heavy home dogs), I could see that. Even Oregon State-Utah, a league game that was probably closer than last year's 21-7 would indicate, is of interest.

This week, you can follow our road trip, or simply follow your gut, because there aren't many bad choices.
We're looking at some of the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2012.

Up next: Franklin, Bruins rising

Who and against whom: Johnathan Franklin provided a strong hint at his and the Bruins return to relevance in a 36-30 victory over No. 16 Nebraska.

The numbers: Franklin rushed for 217 yards on 26 carries -- 8.3 yards per rush -- and caught three passes for 59 yards, including a 9-yard TD, the Bruins final score.

A closer look: UCLA started the season with only middling expectations. Many were skeptical of new coach Jim Mora. This victory, one in which the Bruins asserted themselves in the second half on both sides of the ball, raised eyebrows nationally and hinted that the program was ready for a legitimate turnaround. There were a number of notable performances for UCLA, including redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley completing 21 of 33 passes for 304 yardS with four touchdowns and no interceptions in his first home start. That certainly deserves honorable mention, as does DE Datone Jones' thunderous sack of QB Taylor Martinez, which broke a 27-27 tie with a safety. But what stood out was Franklin running hard. He was fast -- see a 54-yard scamper -- physical, and a weapon in the passing game, looking like the complete back he'd only hinted out in previous years.

You can check out some of the other top performances here.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 10, 2012
9/10/12
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Taking stock of the second week of games in the Pac-12.

Team(s) of the week: We refuse to make a distinction between Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona, teams with losing records in 2011 -- two with new head coaches as a result -- that beat ranked teams on Saturday. So this is a tip of the cap to the troika. And, yes, Kevin and I believe it worthy to note that we both wrote about the Beavers and Bruins pulling upsets, but we were lame in our inability to pull the trigger on upset predictions.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Franklin
Cal Sport Media/AP PhotoJohnathan Franklin has put together impressive back-to-back performances.
Best game: UCLA's win over Nebraska had the most impressive moments on both sides of the ball, as well as a defining play: Maligned defensive end Datone Jones' thunderous sack of Taylor Martinez for a safety that gave the Bruins a 29-27 lead, one they would never relinquish. There's plenty of new to the Bruins -- coach Jim Mora, quarterback Brett Hundley, etc. -- but UCLA fans should be happy that older guys -- Jones, running back Johnathan Franklin, etc. -- who have suffered through a period of extended mediocrity are making a huge impact with improved play.

Biggest play: Arizona cornerback Jonathan McKnight, who missed the 2011 season with a knee injury, returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give the Wildcats a two-touchdown advantage over Oklahoma State. Coach Rich Rodriguez called it the biggest play of the game, and it is the moment when Arizona Stadium embraced the idea of an impending upset of the 18th-ranked Cowboys.

Offensive standout: It might be time to at least start considering a Heisman Trophy campaign for UCLA's Franklin, who presently leads the nation in rushing by a wide margin with 215.5 yards per game and a stout average of 10.5 yards per rush. Yeah, 10.5. After rushing 214 yards last week against Rice -- "It's just Rice!" everyone said -- he followed up with a career high 217 rushing yards against Nebraska. He also caught three balls for 59 yards and a touchdown.

Defensive standout: Stanford safety Ed Reynolds grabbed two interceptions, returning one 71 yards for a touchdown, in the Cardinal's dominant win over Duke. He's tied for the national lead with three picks and has 144 return yards.

Special teams standout: Washington State kicker Andrew Furney booted a 60-yard field goal in the Cougars' win over Eastern Washington, second longest in school history.

Smiley face: Going 6-1 versus other automatic-qualifier conferences -- Washington was the lone loser at No. 3 LSU -- provides a major boost to the conference, particularly the three wins over ranked teams. Will any other conference be able to say it beat three ranked teams from other AQ conferences this regular season? We'll see -- the SEC has a chance.

Frowny face: The newest members of the Pac-12, Colorado and Utah, turned in the worst performances of the weekend. At least Washington was playing on the road against a national power. The Buffaloes lost at home to an FCS team, and the Utes went down to a Utah State program that it had owned before it jumped from the Mountain West to the Pac-12.

Thought of the week: Washington plays host to USC on Oct. 13. Know what that means? It means that we'll hear lots of "transitive property of college football." If the Trojans don't thoroughly dominate the Huskies, as LSU did in a 41-3 win, then we'll hear lots of crowing about how USC is overrated. What that means, of course, is Pac-12 fans should point out that every SEC team that Arkansas beats this year is worse than Louisiana-Monroe.

Questions for the week: A conference wants two things: national title contenders and depth. The Pac-12 had the first to begin the season. No one doubts USC or Oregon. Now there are five ranked Pac-12 teams and two others getting votes. That's a show of respect for what transpired this past weekend. The key now is maintaining. Can the Pac-12 finish the regular season with five ranked teams and one playing for the national title? That would be the ideal scenario.

Instant Analysis: UCLA 36, Nebraska 30

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
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PASADENA, Calif. -- A wild, offensively heavy affair between UCLA and Nebraska ended with a 36-30 victory for the Bruins. Here are the highlights of how it all went down:

It was over when: Safety Andrew Abbott intercepted Taylor Martinez with 3:07 left in the game and returned it to the Nebraska 16. Three plays later, quarterback Brett Hundley hit Johnathan Franklin on a 9-yard swing pass for a touchdown to put the Bruins ahead 36-27 with 2:13 to play.

Player of the game: Franklin continues to impress and pile on the yards. After posting 214 yards last week against Rice, he poured on 217 yards on 26 carries. He also caught three balls for 59 yards and a score.

Unsung hero: UCLA defensive end Datone Jones seems to be flourishing in the new 3-4 scheme. Against the Cornhuskers, he had three tackles for a loss, including a fourth-quarter safety that broke a 27-27 tie.

Stat of the game: 1,091 yards of total offense. The Bruins picked up 653, and Nebraska totaled 438.

What it means: The wrap on UCLA after last week was this: "Nice win, but it was Rice. Do it against a real team." With its victory over No. 16 Nebraska, UCLA has done it against a real team. With Utah's loss Friday night, look for the Bruins to shoot up the Pac-12 Power Rankings and re-establish the hierarchy in the Pac-12 South.

Feeling the heat at the Rose Bowl

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
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PASADENA, Calif. -- The expectation is that Nebraska’s defense is going to try to turn up the heat on UCLA and the Bruins’ rookie quarterback Brett Hundley. But UCLA might be returning the favor with its home field advantage.

It’s hot at the Rose Bowl, about 95 degrees at field level with little to no breeze. This is exactly why Jim Mora worked his team out in San Bernardino this summer.

Still no word on whether Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead will play. He’s listed first on the depth chart. But the Bruins are just as concerned with quarterback Taylor Martinez and the five touchdowns he threw last week in the Cornhuskers’ 49-20 win over Southern Mississippi.

The Bruins got big games from Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin last week. Expect Nebraska and its bulky and athletic even front to bring far more pressure than the Bruins saw against Rice.

Take 2: Any second-week upsets?

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
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Are there any upset specials on the menu in Week 2? Your Pac-12 bloggers can think of a couple.

Ted Miller: Wisconsin whipped Oregon State 35-0 last year. No way the Beavers can notch an upset against Wisky, right? A 35-plus point swing? Please.

Believe it. For one, we expect the Beavers to be much better than they were last year. And this Badgers team seems potentially much worse.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireOregon State coach Mike Riley welcomes back 17 starters.
Beavers better: QB Sean Mannion is no longer a redshirt freshman snagging a job away from a returning starter who was popular in the locker room.

Wisky worse: New Badgers QB Danny O'Brien, a Maryland transfer, is solid, but he's no Russell Wilson. Wilson made the Badgers last year, giving them a potent, efficient passing attack to complement a physical running game.

Beavers better: While things are chippy in Corvallis after consecutive losing seasons, the Beavers and coach Mike Riley mostly had a newsless offseason, only losing secondary coach Keith Heyward to Washington. They have stability.

Wisky worse: The Badgers have six new coaches, and among their losses was offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.

Beavers better: Oregon State welcomes back 17 starters.

Wisky worse: The Badgers welcome back only 11 starters.

Beavers better: Those seven freshmen or sophomore starters for Oregon State from a year ago will be far more seasoned.

Wisky worse: The Badgers, no matter how they say they won't, will have to difficult time mustering a focused respect for Oregon State, based on how easy things were a year ago.

Beavers better: They are playing at home, not in front of 80,000 hostile fans in Camp Randall Stadium.

Wisky worse: While it's not good that Oregon State's opener against Nicholls State was postponed, the Beavers got to stay home and watch the Badgers struggle in a 26-21 win over Northern Iowa. That game film, which Badgers coach Bret Bielema really, really didn't want Oregon State to see, surely boosted the Beavers confidence.

I think Oregon State is going to be better on both lines of scrimmage. I think Mannion's maturity as a passer will make it easier for the Beavers to establish an adequate running game. And I don't think the Badgers offensive line, replacing three starters, will be as good this fall.

Last year, the Beavers were outrushed 208 yards to 23. I think that number will be far closer this go-around.

Finally, there's this: Nobody on the Wisconsin defense can keep up with receiver Markus Wheaton. We know this because nobody on the Badger defense could keep up with De'Anthony Thomas in the Rose Bowl, and Wheaton is faster than Thomas.

No, this game is not 50-50. Or even 60-40. If the Beavers do win, it will be an upset, and just about everyone will be surprised.

Our point here is merely to prepare you to not be that surprised.

Kevin Gemmell: Wow. That was pretty compelling. Can't refute any of that, only to say that the last product we saw from Oregon State was the last product they had on the field in 2011. And it wasn't great. I too believe Oregon State will be much better this year, but if I were picking an upset in Week 2, I'd go with a team I've already seen in action (a lesson learned from my Washington State debacle last week).

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Franklin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesUCLA running back Johnathan Franklin ran for 214 yards in the opener against Rice.
Just so we're clear, I'm on record with a prediction that Nebraska beats UCLA. I was asked in my chat on Wednesday to assign a percentage to UCLA's chance of winning. And I went with 49 percent.

Were the Bruins outstanding in Week 1? No. But they won on the road with a rookie quarterback (never easy) and for the most part they were pretty good considering all of the youth they put out there. And that youth was evident, especially in the first half when the defense yielded 24 points and 282 yards.

Ah, but here's a little not-so-secret secret, Jim Mora can coach. Consider the second half -- a couple of tweaks to what Rice was doing on offense and the Bruins surrendered just 76 yards in the final 30 minutes -- only crossing into the UCLA half once. I asked Mora to explain the defensive difference between halves and his answer was satisfactory. UCLA didn't do a lot of full tackling in the fall camp, so they were a little rusty. Makes sense.

UCLA can't win this game on athleticism alone. Because Nebraska can match them speed-for-speed and player-for-player. In fact, when you look at the rosters side-by-side, it's probably a draw in terms of who has the better athletes. So UCLA will have to take advantage of the wealth of coaching knowledge it has on the sidelines and exploit the mismatches it does have.

For example, UCLA's offensive line is young and probably inferior to Nebraska's defensive front. So expect a lot of quick passes from second-time-starter Brett Hundley. No reason to make those guys pass block for three seconds, because they probably won't be able to. Nebraska will pressure Hundley far more than Rice did.

Also, Joseph Fauria is a mismatch for any linebacker or safety in the country. I wouldn't be shocked to see the Bruins ride that guy to the tune of nine or 10 catches. And we'll find out whether Johnathan Franklin is as good as his three-touchdown, 214-yard rushing performance against Rice suggests.

Defensively, they need an answer for Taylor Martinez. I'm not going to pretend to have it. But I will say Datone Jones might finally be maturing into the player we all thought he could be and a little pressure -- especially against a team on the road -- can go a long way.

This is going to be a competitive game, and much like your Oregon State scenario, no one should be shocked if the Bruins walk away from this game 2-0.

Did you know? Pac-12 Week 2

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
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Some notes to get you through the hours until Saturday. Many thanks to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • The Pac-12 plays seven games against foes from other AQ conferences on Saturday.
  • Arizona has lost 6 consecutive games against top-20 teams. Its last victory against a top-20 opponent came Sept. 18, 2010, against ninth-ranked Iowa.
  • Oklahoma State defeated Arizona each of the past two seasons -- in the 2010 Alamo Bowl and last year in Stillwater. The ‘Pokes outscored Arizona 73-24 in the two games, and gained 594 yards in the win last season. That was the most yards allowed by Arizona in a single game since 2005.
  • In his brief debut last week in an 84-0 win over Savannah State, Oklahoma State freshman quarterback Wes Lunt was 11-for-11 passing for 129 yards. Arizona ranked last in the Pac-12 last year in pass defense.
  • The Illinois defense recorded six sacks, two interceptions and recovered a fumble in its 17-14 win against Arizona State last year.
  • Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase’s injury status will be a key thing to keep an eye on for this game. Scheelhaase left the Illini's victory over Western Michigan last week with an ankle injury. After he left, the offense managed no points and just 15 yards on the five drives with Reilly O’Toole at the helm. The defense scored Illinois’ only points after Scheelhaase left.
  • California has never played Southern Utah before.
  • Utah State last week held Southern Utah to three points and 209 yards.
  • Colorado is playing Sacramento State for the first time. It's the Buffs third game against an FCS foe.
  • Sacramento State lost its opener at New Mexico State, 49-19.
  • Oregon has dominated the series with Fresno State of late, winning six in a row against the Bulldogs. Fresno State’s last win in the series came in 1982.
  • Oregon leads FBS in touchdowns drive of two minutes or fewer (95) one minute or fewer (44) and three plays or fewer (41) since the start of 2010. Last week against Arkansas State, Oregon scored eight touchdowns that averaged 2:00 and five of the Ducks' eight touchdowns were scored in under 1:45.
  • Since coach Chip Kelly took over in 2009, Oregon has had 60 rushing plays of at least 30 yards, the most in FBS. That’s bad news for the Bulldogs. Over that same span, Fresno State’s defense has allowed 45 such plays (worst in FBS).
  • Wisconsin has won 33 consecutive regular-season non-conference games, the second-longest active streak among FBS teams. Its last loss regular-season non-conference loss came in 2003 against UNLV.
  • Oregon State has lost two straight and three of its last four season openers.
  • Duke visits Stanford looking to do something it hasn’t done in more than 40 years -- the Blue Devils haven’t beaten a ranked team away from Durham since Oct. 2, 1971. The opponent and location of that game? Stanford, in Palo Alto, Calif. Since then, Duke has dropped 57 straight games against ranked opponents away from Durham. In fact, Duke’s overall record against ranked opponents since that game is a dismal 3-93, with all three wins coming at home.
  • Stanford has won 10 straight August/September games and nine straight regular season games vs non-conference opponents.
  • Running back Rex Burkhead’s injury status (knee) will be a big topic, but Nebraska feels comfortable with its depth behind Burkhead. When Burkhead left the game in the first quarter last week, his backups -- Ameer Abdullah, Braylon Heard, Imani Cross -- rushed for 177 yards and combined for two scores (one rush, one pass).
  • Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez saw instant returns on his work this summer at the Manning Camp and with QB guru Steve Calhoun. Martinez had a career-high 354 passing yards and five touchdowns in the Cornhuskers' 49-20 victory over Southern Miss. Martinez had the majority of his success downfield, completing 10 of 15 throws that traveled 10 yards or more downfield for 225 yards and four touchdowns. His four touchdowns on these throws doubled his previous career high. He had two each against Northwestern in 2011 and Oklahoma State in 2010.
  • Keep an eye on UCLA’s special teams, specifically their extra-point attempts. Last week against Rice, they allowed Cameron Nwosu to set an NCAA record by blocking three of them.
  • USC dropped from No. 1 to No. 2 in the AP poll this week becoming the first team to win a game by more than 35 points and fall from No. 1 since Penn State in 1997. The only No. 1 team to win its opener by more than 35 points and fall from No. 1 was Florida in 1994. The Gators beat New Mexico State 70-21 and fell to No. 2 behind Nebraska. Nebraska had shut out No. 24 West Virginia 31-0 the previous week in the Kickoff Classic.
  • Matt Barkley has thrown 35 touchdowns since the start of 2010 season when opponents send five or more pass-rushers. Against a blitz, he's completing 61 percent of his passes with 35 TDs and just three interceptions.
  • USC gained 224 of its 394 receiving yards after the catch against Hawaii, the most yards after the catch for any AP top-25 team in Week 1. Marqise Lee had 138 yards after the catch, including 69 on his 75-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the game. The 224 yards after the catch was the Trojans’ second-most since the start of the 2009 season. They had 234 YAC against UCLA in their final game of last season.
  • This is the 110th meeting between Utah and Utah State, the 12th-most-played rivalry in FBS history. Utah has won the past 12 meetings and leads the all-time series 77-28-4. The last seven meetings have all been decided by more than 15 points.
  • Utah State is 0-3 against BCS-AQ schools since Gary Andersen took over as coach in 2009, but all three games have been within eight points. Utah State has not hosted a BCS-AQ team since 2001.
  • LSU hosts Washington on Saturday night and the Tigers have been anything but kind to Pac-12 opponents over the years. LSU hasn’t lost to a Pac-12 team since dropping a 17-12 decision to USC in 1979. Since then, LSU is 11-0 and averaging 35.8 points per game in those contests. To make things worse for Washington, LSU has won 38 straight non-conference regular season games.
  • LSU lost three of its four starters in the secondary. Last week, North Texas threw for two touchdown; last year, the Tigers allowed multiple TD passes only once (two against West Virginia) and allowed only seven on the season.
  • Washington hasn’t fared well in non-conference road games of late. The Huskies have lost four consecutive non-conference games away from home, with their last such win coming in the 2007 season opener at Syracuse.
  • Since the SEC was formed in 1933, Washington is only 1-6 against SEC teams, with its lone victory coming in the 1989 Freedom Bowl over Florida. This is Washington’s first road game at an SEC school since 1983 (also at LSU).
  • Washington State is playing Eastern Washington for the first time since 1908.
  • The new kickoff rules seem to be having an impact already. In the first week last season, the touchback percentage was 19.4 (138 total). Last week, the touchback percentage ballooned to 40.8 (269 total).

Pac-12 predictions: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
9:00
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Welcome to Week 2. Ted went 9-2 in Week 1; Kevin went 8-3. The difference was Kevin picking a Washington State upset of BYU.

Friday

Kevin: Utah 35, Utah State 10. The Utes will see a stronger offense than they saw last week, but it won't matter much because the defense is so solid. Love the emergence of Jake Murphy and the increased attention to the tight ends.

Ted: Utah 28, Utah State 17. It won't be as easy as last weekend but the Utes will be in control on both sides of the ball. Expect quarterback Jordan Wynn to take a few more shots downfield.

Saturday

Kevin: Cal 31, Southern Utah 14. Maybe this is the week Memorial Stadium sees a victory. The last one was on Oct. 23, 2010. Cal should win based on its athletes alone.

Ted: Cal 35, Southern Utah 10. The Bears should get a couple of injured guys back on defense, which should help. Playing angry might help, too.

Kevin: Washington State 28, Eastern Washington 14. The Cougs let me down last week, but I'm cautiously picking them again this week. I think the offense gets going. The defense actually showed some life in the second half against BYU, giving hope that it will carry into this week.

Ted: Washington State 35, Eastern Washington 24. If I were picking an FCS team to play, the Eagles might be the last one I'd pick -- just ask Washington. There's a reason the Cougars have avoided their neighbors since 1908. Still, I suspect the Cougs' offense will get going this week.

Kevin: Colorado 21, Sacramento State 10. Colorado did some good things last week, but was just too inconsistent. The younger players should have the jitters out of their systems and the Buffs should be able to run the ball against an FCS team. If not, things are worse than we thought.

Ted: Colorado 33, Sacramento State 17. This qualifies as a must-win, and I suspect the Buffs will take care of business in a focused fashion.

Kevin: USC 45, Syracuse 17. No issues for the Trojans this week -- they'll cruise. Wouldn't be surprised to see a little more balance on offense this week, considering they are on the road again next week at Stanford and they'll probably want to test drive the run game.

Ted Miller: USC 48, Syracuse 20. It will be interesting to see how many of the three injured USC defensive starters return this week. I suspect things will look more polished on both sides of the ball. Ditto on what Kevin said about running the ball.

Kevin: Wisconsin 21, Oregon State 17. Tough to gauge the Beavers since they didn't play in Week 1. And though Wisconsin struggled last week, it's never easy to start the season against a ranked opponent.

Ted: Wisconsin 34, Oregon State 24. Was tempted momentarily to pick the upset, but then I remembered that Montee Ball is back. For those who don't know, he's really good. I doubt the Beavers' defense, though improved, can contain him for four quarters.

Kevin: Oregon 49, Fresno State 21. Taking into account that Oregon's fifth-string players will be in by the second quarter, I'll give the Bulldogs three touchdowns throughout the course of the game. Ducks breeze through another one.

Ted: Oregon 55, Fresno State 24. They say a new quarterback makes his biggest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2. If so, here's a "Yikes!" on behalf of the Bulldogs in advance of facing Marcus Mariota.

Kevin: Nebraska 28, UCLA 27. I saw a lot of good things out of the Bruins in Week 1. I also saw a lot of things that won't fly against the Cornhuskers. I want to pull the trigger on the Bruins, but the youth on the offensive line is still a concern.

Ted: Nebraska 35, UCLA 24. The Bruins will battle, but Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is a third-year starter who appears to have figured it all out. I want to see how the Bruins run the ball and stop the run. Of course, that's all about taking a measure of UCLA's physicality up front.

Kevin: Oklahoma State 45, Arizona 28. A nice win for the Wildcats last week, but the defense probably isn't ready yet for a high-powered offense like the Cowboys'.

Ted: Oklahoma State 35, Arizona 30. I suspect the Wildcats have a better shot than many suspect, playing at home against a freshman quarterback, with Matt Scott giving Arizona a significant advantage behind center. That said, the Wildcats' track record in two previous meetings as well as a questionable front seven makes it difficult to pull the trigger on an upset pick.

Kevin: Stanford 24, Duke 17. Traveling cross-country is never easy. We saw that last season when Duke hung with the Cardinal in the first half in Durham. The Cardinal have some core fundamentals to fix before next week's game against the Trojans.

Ted: Stanford 30, Duke 17. The Cardinal will play better this weekend on both sides of the ball. And they need to. Duke thinks it has a bowl team and is hungry to earn respect.

Kevin: Arizona State 27, Illinois 14. Color me impressed by the Sun Devils, who showed no mercy in Week 1. There are quarterback issues surrounding the Illini and regardless of who starts for them, the Sun Devils face either a backup in Reilly O'Toole or a limping starter in Nathan Scheelhasse.

Ted: Arizona State 24, Illinois 17. This pick assumes that Scheelhasse won't play or will be severely limited by his bum ankle. The key for the Sun Devils is getting the running game going, whether that's with Cameron Marshall, Marion Grice or D.J. Foster. Or all three.

Kevin: LSU 28, Washington 17. I was impressed with the defense against San Diego State, but if the offense struggles against LSU, it could be a long day. Losing Jesse Callier doesn't help.

Ted: LSU 41, Washington 17: LSU will be able to run and stop the run. Washington won't. While Huskies quarterback Keith Price will have his moments, it's too much to ask him to beat -- or even to be competitive with -- the Tigers on the road.

Manning Award 'Stars of the Week'

September, 5, 2012
9/05/12
9:30
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The Manning Award has named nine quarterbacks as its "Stars of the Week," and two are from the Pac-12 and three of others are of interest.

The two Pac-12 QBs on the list are USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Matt Scott.

The QBs of interest are two that Pac-12 teams face this weekend -- Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (UCLA) and Syracuse's Ryan Nassib (USC) -- and another conference team faces next weekend in Ohio State's Braxton Miller (California).

Here are the numbers and comments from the Manning award for these five.

Matt Barkley, USC

(23-of-38, 372 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT)

Barkley hooks up a 75-yard touchdown connection on the first play of the season to get USC rolling in a 49-10 wipeout of Hawaii.

Braxton Miller, Ohio State

(14-of-24, 207 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT)

The sophomore adds 161 rushing yards, a school record for a quarterback, and another touchdown in a 56-10 blowout of Miami (Ohio) for Urban Meyer's Buckeye debut.

Taylor Martinez, Nebraska

(26-of-34, 354 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INT)

Martinez, known more for his running skills than his passing skills, registers a career-high in passing yards in leading the Huskers to a 49-20 victory over Southern Miss.

Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

(44-of-65, 470 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT)

Nassib throws four second-half touchdowns and obliterates his own school record for completions (29), but it's not enough for the Orange, who fall to Northwestern, 42-41.

Matt Scott, Arizona

(30-of-46, 387 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT)

Scott sets his career-high in passing yards, including a 10-yard scoring strike in overtime to give the Wildcats a 24-17 win over Toledo in the debut for coach Rich Rodriguez.

Holt, Huskies eyeballing RG3

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
8:30
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Nick Holt can laugh now. The diverse playmaking of Baylor quarterback and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is so impressive, a defensive coordinator can only find amusement when asked how Washington is going to stop him in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29.

[+] EnlargeNick Holt
Steven Bisig/US PresswireDefensive coordinator Nick Holt is preparing his Huskies for the likes of Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.
"The guy is phenomenal," Holt said.

The numbers are mind-blowing. Griffin ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing efficiency, his 192 score being 10 points higher than the marks of 2010 Heisman winner Cam Newton and Heisman finalist Kellen Moore of Boise State.

He's accounted for 4,642 total yards and 45 touchdowns. He's thrown 36 TD passes and just six interceptions. He completed 72.4 percent of his throws. Oh, and he rushed for 644 yards and nine TDs. Only five Pac-12 running backs scored more than nine rushing touchdowns.

Meanwhile, there's the Huskies defense. It didn't play well this year and Holt heard plenty about that. He's the Pac-12's highest paid defensive coordinator not named Monte Kiffin, and his defense ranked 94th in the nation. Its 33.3 points per game ranked 10th in the conference.

Of course, in the name of positive spin, there's this: The Huskies will be the sixth best defense Baylor and Griffin have faced. And they've faced some really lousy ones.

Five Baylor foes rank from 99th to 120th (Kansas in last place in FBS football) in the nation in total defense. Three others ranked in the 60s. The only top-25 defense the Bears faced was No. 14 Texas.

That said, the Bears hung 48 points and 511 yards on the Longhorns.

There's other good news for the Huskies. Like the Big 12, the Pac-12 is QB-centric. Holt and the Huskies have seen plenty of good QBs of all types this season.

Just not one who combines Andrew Luck with LaMichael James.

"He's extremely athletic and he's a great quarterback," Holt said. "He can run and throw. He's kind of the best of everybody we've played. And we've played some great quarterbacks in our conference."

The Huskies thought they would be much better on defense this year but they regressed. Losing end and top pass rusher Hau'oli Jamora in game four against California to a knee injury hurt. Youth and inconsistency at outside linebacker hurt. A lack of a consistent pass rush hurt. A tendancy to give up big plays in the passing game hurt. And poor tackling and sometimes tentative play hurt.

There is impatience among the Huskies fan base, which sees a solid offense not getting help from a porous defense.

"We're really young in a lot of key positions," Holt said. "We're getting better but we're still young. It takes time to build a great, great defense."

Holt does have something to point to that could give his team confidence: Its bowl experience in 2010.

Nebraska stomped the Huskies last year 56-21 in the regular season, rolling up 533 yards. In the Holiday Bowl, that same Cornhuskers squad produced just 189 yards in a 19-7 defeat, one of the most shocking results of the bowl season.

"It was a great turnaround," Holt said. "We played well. That's what we've got to do this game."

Of course, that Nebraska team was reeling as QB Taylor Martinez was banged up and had lost his confidence. Baylor and Griffin appear to be peaking.

Holt and the Huskies aren't going to be expected to stop Griffin and the Bears. Just slow them down. Hold them to a below-average game. Maybe force a turnover or two. And then let the Huskies offense -- QB Keith Price, RB Chris Polk and company -- get to work on the nation's 114th-ranked defense, which yields nearly 36 points per game.

Yes, most pundits expect plenty of points, see a 78 1/2-point over-under, the largest of the bowl season. Holt's charge is to make sure Baylor has at least one less than the Huskies.

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