Pac-12: TCU Horned Frogs

Oregon not only Pac-12 team eyeing CFP

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
12:00
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The first rule of College Football Playoff is you talk about College Football Playoff.

The second rule is you assume nothing. Well, that's completely wrong. The entire -- and endless! -- discussion involves projecting ahead, making assumptions about teams winning here or winning there.

So that's what we're going to do here.

As is quantified here by the inimitable Sharon Katz of ESPN's Stats & Information, UCLA is squarely in the playoff hunt, even as a two-loss team trying to eclipse one-loss teams, such as TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Mississippi State.

She notes: "If UCLA were to beat Stanford and Oregon, the average current FPI ranking of UCLA’s 11 wins would be 33, the best in the nation." Then she concludes, with a question: "[If UCLA were to win out,] could the committee really leave a two-loss Pac-12 champion, with the hardest schedule in the nation, out of the playoff?"

The answer is no.

UCLA as the 11-2 Pac-12 champion will be in the playoff, and there's nothing any other bubble teams can do about it. There are two reasons -- the most important reasons, ones we've seen bandied about incessantly in regards to the selection committee: 1) merit, 2) best four teams. The Bruins would have earned a spot based on a demonstrably superior résumé, including a victory over the Ducks which would function as an eraser for one of their two defeats. And the Bruins would pass the sight test as one of the four best teams by posting the most distinguished win of 2014 on the last day of the season (over No. 2 Oregon).

I already hear the whining out there. Hush. There is no counterargument that is valid. You have lost out to the cruel mistresses of facts and logic. So we are not going to waste time with folks who insist on fighting a losing fight only because of the colors they wear on Saturday.

The more spicy issue is the Territorial Cup. Say UCLA loses to Stanford, and the winner of No. 13 Arizona State at No. 11 Arizona on Friday becomes the Pac-12 South Division champions. That's where things get interesting.

That is this week's only matchup of top-13 teams, meaning the winner can post the weekend's most meaningful victory. In the scenario with UCLA losing, that also means the winner could post the final weekend's most meaningful victory -- again, over No. 2 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Consecutive weekends of meaningfulness! The selection committee surely will imbibe that like a 22-year-old single malt.

Arizona's strength of record currently rates 11th and Arizona State's is 13th. Those two ratings would skyrocket, while other teams vying for a top-four spot would slide.

But how could the Wildcats/Sun Devils make up so much ground? Well, we've seen teams gain incredible traction in human polls with a run of wins that seemed impressive at the time. Mississippi State went from unranked to No. 1 after beating LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Of that troika, Auburn, at No. 15, is the committee's only presently ranked team, and Texas A&M and LSU play on Thanksgiving Day hoping to avoid a fifth defeat.

So clear-thinking folks, which we are sure committee members are, would see the Wildcats/Sun Devils as worthy of a rapid climb based on veritably impressive wins validated by a season's worth of work. Conversely, in the 20/20 vision of retrospect, the Bulldogs' rise would be a fun, if temporary, illusion worthy of nostalgia -- "I remember when our Bulldogs beat No. 2 Auburn!" -- but certainly not justifying a playoff spot.

What about other teams trying to insinuate themselves into the playoff? Unless Auburn upsets Alabama, Mississippi State's only remaining game is against flagging, No. 19 Ole Miss. TCU has Texas and Iowa State, a pair of unranked teams. Ohio State has its rivalry game with Michigan and then a matchup with either No. 18 Minnesota or No. 14 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Baylor has Texas Tech and No. 12 Kansas State on Dec. 6, a matchup that could significantly bolster the Bears' case.

Ah, but Baylor has its pastry-soft nonconference schedule holding it back. If it comes down the the Bears and, say, Arizona, then the Pac-12 team is surely ... er... what? The Wildcats played UNLV, UTSA and Nevada in its nonconference schedule? Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty, that's not a very Pac-12 thing to do.

It's fortunate that Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne has a great sense of humor. He'd surely be amused -- just like the folks at Baylor -- if the committee cited that weak slate as the reason the Wildcats got left at the altar.

In any event, this is probably all idle speculation. A few more major plot twists are nearly certain. Based on history, at least a couple of the teams in the top-eight fighting for positioning are going to go rear-end-over-tea-kettle, including a member of the top-three that has been practically written into the playoff with an ink pen.

But if you retain anything from these scribbles, it must be this: The first rule of College Football Playoff is you talk about College Football Playoff.

CFP committee evaluates the victories 

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
8:18
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Entering the reveal of this week’s College Football Playoff Rankings, I was most interested to see how far Arizona State, Baylor and Ohio State would rise after big wins Saturday. So, naturally, the committee had to sidetrack this article by dropping undefeated Florida State behind once-beaten Oregon and forcing me to address that issue first.

For starters, it’s refreshing to see that the committee isn’t so married to the loss column that it would never put a one ahead of a zero. Whether it would do so at the end of the season is another matter, but at least for now, it would only mean that Florida State would wear white instead of garnet in a semifinal against Oregon. And since that would give the Ducks more uniform options, who’s really going to complain too much about this?

The bigger takeaway, though, is that the committee is really evaluating the wins. Even though FSU hasn’t lost a game, it has only two wins over the committee’s current top 25 -- No. 18 Notre Dame and No. 19 Clemson, both narrow escapes and both in Tallahassee. Oregon, on the other hand, has beaten No. 11 UCLA, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 23 Utah, all by double digits with two of those games on the road. The Ducks have the better wins, and they’ve looked better than the Seminoles over the last month.

I have Florida State at No. 2 and Oregon at No. 3 on my ballot but have no complaints about the committee flipping that order.

Other takeaways:

• TCU apparently passes the eye test against Alabama this week.

Video: Dr. Lou's Picks

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
9:42
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video

Lou Holtz makes his predictions for Notre Dame-Arizona State, Kansas State-TCU, Oregon-Utah and Ohio State-Michigan State.

Pac-12 problem: Losing expansion?

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
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Over the past five or so years, the Power Five conferences started playing expansion roulette. Although the ultimate wisdom of these moves can be measured only over the long term, the short-term results can be judged.

That judgment? Things worked out well for the SEC and Big Ten. Not so much for the Pac-12 and Big 12.

The Big Ten added Nebraska three seasons ago to give it 12 teams. The Cornhuskers, despite not satisfying their demanding fans, have gone 17-7 in league play and won 28 games overall.

[+] EnlargeSefo Liufau and Tenny Palepoi
AP Photo/Rick BowmerColorado and Utah have a dismal 13-41 combined record in league play since joining the Pac-12.
The SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Each has posted double-digit wins and high national rankings as an SEC member, and their two-year conference marks essentially match what they did in their last two years in the Big 12.

The Big 12 replaced those two with TCU and West Virginia, teams that had won BCS bowl games as members of the Mountain West and Big East conferences, respectively. Yet neither has posted a winning record in Big 12 play, and both regressed to 4-8 overall and 2-7 in the conference last year.

The Pac-12? It raided the Big 12 for Colorado, which went 5-7 and 2-6 in 2010, and the Mountain West for Utah, which went 10-3, 7-1 that year. Neither has matched its 2010 records in the Pac-12 nor posted a winning record in conference play. The Buffaloes have gone a meager 4-23 against Pac-12 foes, while the Utes have gone from 4-5 to 3-6 to 2-7 in conference games.

Nebraska has been to three consecutive New Year's Day bowls, beating Georgia in the Gator Bowl last year, while Texas A&M has won a Heisman Trophy and two bowl games. Like the Aggies, Missouri has won a Cotton Bowl against the Big 12. Both have produced top-five rankings over the past two years.

The lone badge of postseason honor for the Pac-12 newbies? Utah's victory over Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl. To the Utes' credit, they have gone 9-1 in games outside the Pac-12 over the past three seasons, including 3-0 versus their bitter rival BYU.

Although the Pac-12 has surged after realignment in terms of national perception, gaining ground on the SEC, and the Big Ten has stagnated by comparison, that's had nothing to do with expansion. While Pac-12 folks aren't going to whine about the fruits of expansion -- Exhibit A being a $3 billion TV deal -- or even grouse about poor-to-middling results from the new members, it's fair to say the short-term gain in terms of assets on Saturdays has been slight.

As assets, Colorado and Utah don't attract national eyeballs at present as they would if they were winning 10 games and were nationally ranked. The Utes' nail-biter with Arizona State in November was an interesting game, but it would have been featured prominently in highlight shows that night if it were a battle of ranked teams eyeballing the South Division title.

That said, other Pac-12 coaches might enjoy not having two more teams threatening to play at a Top 25 -- or better -- level. The conference, even with the Utes and Buffs slumping, is deeper than it's ever been. In fact, if both were playing at a high level, the conference's chances to put two teams in BCS bowl games, as it did in two of the previous three years, would have been reduced, costing each team about $1 million since 2011. That holds true looking forward to a potential berth -- or berths -- in the College Football Playoff.

Depth is good. It's fun to celebrate top-to-bottom quality. But it also makes it more difficult to go 12-0 or 11-1 in the regular season, records typically required for national title contention.

Still, the Pac-12 is better served by Utah and Colorado improving. The conference certainly would like the Denver and Salt Lake City markets to turn their attention to college football in large numbers.

Not to conclude with an outlandish assertion here, but here's a guess that the folks most eager for the Buffs and Utes to help the Pac-12 feel good about its expansion choices are the fans, administrators, players and coaches associated with both programs.
Happy Friday -- just two more of these before College Football Eve!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Costi from Phoenix writes: Ted, Pac-12 bias aside (if that is possible), how good will the conference be this year? We have repeatedly debated over it being the number 2 conference, is there any possibility of the Pac-12 being the best this year? Also, does a Pac-12 team have to win the national title to be crowned the best conference? Because lets face it, with as much talent as there is in the Pac, it is nearly impossible to go undefeated in this conference.

Ted Miller: No, you don't have to win the national title to be considered the best conference, but it sure helps. There were plenty of times the SEC didn't look all that strong, top to bottom, during its run of seven national titles, but arguing overall depth is just another highly subjective college football debate -- one that's easier to make when you're raising a crystal football over and over again.

As it is, the Pac-12 sets up this fall to be as strong as it's been in recent memory. While there's the typical offensive star power, what's more notable is the strength coming back on defense and the offensive line. From a preseason perspective, you have two legit national title contenders in Stanford and Oregon and seven teams that look top-25 worthy: the Ducks and the Cardinal, UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State and Washington.

The Pac-12 earning a "best conference" nod? Well, it starts with winning the nonconference games. Then it goes to getting two BCS bowl teams, preferably one playing for and winning the national title. And then it's overall bowl record.

If the Pac-12 posts a strong nonconference record, ends the season with five to seven nationally ranked teams and wins its bowl games, particularly the BCS ones, then folks might call the Pac-12 the best conference in 2013.




Jon from Portland writes: Brandin Cooks #22 ?!?!? I would provide written reasoning on why he should be higher, but writing them down will only frustrate me further.

Ted Miller: I suspect Cooks will be higher on the postseason list, but if you ranked him higher in the preseason, you'd be speculating, which we are trying to avoid too much of in the preseason.

The chief issue with Cooks: He needs to prove he can thrive without Markus Wheaton. Wheaton was first-team All-Pac-12 last year and Cooks only honorable mention for a reason. Wheaton has arrived as a true No. 1 receiver. Cooks was a No. 2.

And, by the way, only one receiver ranks ahead of Cooks on the list. Can you guess who that is?




Nick from Ottawa, Canada, writes: Question I saw on the big ten blog and I wanted to see what your opinion was: In a scenario where the top three teams at the end of the year are Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama, the first two teams are 13-0 and the Tide is 12-1. Is there any realistic scenario you see where an OSU team with a 25-game winning streak doesn't make it to the championship game? And if not, who would be their opponent?

Ted Miller: Oregon and Ohio State would play for the national title and Alabama would get left out, though there are some circumstances that might complicate things.

What if the rest of the Big Ten or Pac-12 has a horrible season while the SEC has six top-10 teams? What if Alabama's only loss -- say, a nailbiter with LSU on Nov. 9 -- happens with starting QB AJ McCarron out with an injury? And what if the Crimson Tide, having already won two consecutive titles, beats an undefeated, top-ranked Georgia team for the SEC title?

Ohio State plays a weak schedule. What if the Buckeyes are so unimpressive while winning that some pollsters drop them, particularly with sentiments that Alabama should have a chance to defend its title, not to mention that Oregon likely would be heavily favored against the Buckeyes.

As noted: Potential variables.

But those variables and how they play out with the computers and pollsters would have to be meaningful enough that they would outstrip an unbeaten team from an AQ conference. I'd rate that as unlikely.




Pete from Denver writes: It seems like a lot of people are very high on UCLA. I agree that there offense looks pretty good minus a RB, but the D is highly questionable especially the secondary. That coupled with a tougher schedule this looks like a team that could lose 5 or 6 games instead of 2 or 3. Is there something I am missing or do you agree that UCLA is a little overhyped?

Ted Miller: UCLA's schedule is a reason to speculate the Bruins might take a step back record-wise this year while actually being a better team than in 2012. Most notable: The Bruins play Oregon, while top South Division rivals USC and Arizona State do not. That's a significant advantage for the Trojans and Sun Devils. Further, some injury questions, particularly on defense, might give a prognosticator pause.

That said, the Bruins' front seven, led by the beastly Anthony Barr, looks strong, even with some voids on the D-line. The secondary will be young but may be more physically talented than the 2012 unit. On offense, it's hard not to put a "buy" rating on QB Brett Hundley.

I do think the range of what UCLA might do this year is pretty broad. I wouldn't be shocked by 10 wins. Or seven.




Ryan from Seattle writes: I know you have a take on this: What about LSU coach Les Miles bringing Jeremy Hill back, and the TCU coach blasting him for it?

Ted Miller: Good for Gary Patterson. And bad for LSU, the judicial system in Louisiana and Les Miles.

First of all: Watch the video. Hill didn't just get into a fight. He sneaked up behind someone who was either hurt or extremely intoxicated and cold-cocked him as hard as he could.

So Hill is: 1. A coward; 2. Cruel. Just imagine if the victim, whom Hill never acknowledges during his worthless and insincere apology, was a friend of yours or your son? Or, really, you.

Oh, and this is not his first moment of being a cruel bully. You could pretty much get a "ditto" from me on this Greg Doyel column.

What's almost as revolting is all the people around Hill who join in -- trading high fives and laughing. Where's the moral compass?

It makes me cringe to see Miles call call Hill "a good person." The overwhelming evidence is that he is not. Would Miles say the same if someone randomly clocked him from behind? Nope.

Now, we've got some discipline questions in the Pac-12, too, most notably with Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and preseason All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who got a DUI in the spring. In some big-picture ways, a DUI is more serious than what Hill did, at least in terms of what could happen when a drunk person gets behind the wheel. It could -- and many times has -- led to multiple deaths.

Further, it appears Sarkisian is about to get hit with tons of media grief when he decides not to suspend Seferian-Jenkins for the season opener against Boise State. While Sarkisian's track record with discipline is strong -- and he was quick to dump defensive end Andru Pulu after he brutalized a guy at a party -- such a decision is going to smack of a "winning above all else" mentality.

Still, Seferian-Jenkins' DUI doesn't make him a toxic person. His was a horrible mistake in judgment that he can learn from.

With Hill, we have video proof that when he sees a hurt person, his chief reaction is to assault him. How can he not be viewed as a danger to society?
The Stats & Info gang is once again doing its weekly conference power rankings. And the Big 12 has the early bragging rights, followed by the SEC and then the Pac-12.

The power rankings use a formula that equally weights the rankings from the AP poll and a combination of the available BCS computer rankings. The Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 all rank first, second and third, respectively, in the AP poll and computer rankings.

You can see the complete Stats & Info story here.

As Sharon Katz points out in the article, it's early. And while the Big 12 is 15-2 against teams outside the conference, its teams have only faced three AQ opponents.

Writes Katz:
It should be no surprise that the Pac-12 is in third place after going 6-1 against AQ opponents on Saturday, including four wins by double digits. Pac-12 teams upset three ranked opponents at home (No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 16 Nebraska and No. 18 Oklahoma State) on Saturday and are 17-6 overall in games outside the conference.

The Big 12 has five ranked teams in Oklahoma (5), West Virginia (9), Texas (14), TCU (16) and Kansas State (21). The Pac-12 has five ranked teams in USC (2), Oregon (4), Stanford (21), UCLA (22) and Arizona (24).

The one major difference? The Big 12 is yet to play a ranked opponent. The Pac-12 played four of them in Week 2.

So what do we take from this? Not a whole lot. Especially two weeks into the season. The Pac-12 has faced significantly stiffer competition as a conference and come out ahead in most of those games.

Vote for the best game of 2011

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
11:00
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Best college football game in 2011? The correct answer is Stanford's 56-48 triple-overtime win over USC.

But, as shocking as this surely is to all of us, it appears some benighted folks hold opinions that, gulp, differ from mine.

I know: Absurd!

And here's your chance to vote on the best game in 2011!

From our friends at ESPNU:
ESPNU is celebrating the 25 best college football games of the 2011 season and needs your help. Below are the five games that an expert panel deemed to be the most exciting. They will all air in their entirety on July 15-16, but the order is up to you. Mouse over the photos below to refresh your memory and then click the images to set your rankings. Games ranked No. 5 through No. 3 will air on July 15 and the top two games will air on July 16.


Here's how I would vote:
  1. Stanford-USC: If you saw this game -- and were being objective -- you would vote it No. 1. Two elite teams led by super-elite QBs playing at an extremely high level. The only knock on it was it ended with a fumble.
  2. Michigan State 37, Wisconsin 31: Two good teams, epic fourth quarter with a great finish. Well, not if you root for Wisky, which got its revenge in an also incredibly entertaining Big Ten title game.
  3. Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31: A spectacular Wolverines comeback in the Big House against a middling team.
  4. Baylor 50, TCU 48: A hello world moment for Robert Griffin III, but this was just a basic barnburner. We get about six of these a year in the Pac-12.
  5. USC 38, Oregon 35: This was a good game -- and revealing of the Trojans' return to the nation's elite -- but the Ducks were banged up and missed a chip shot field goal to tie in regulation.

Thoughts?

I mean other than, "Ted, you Awesome Rocker, you nailed it again! Here's a check for $1,000! Just for being awesome!"
ESPN Insider Travis Haney looks at programs with untapped potential that could break through  into the nation's elite over the next few years, and he taps Arizona as a Pac-12 school that could move up in the national pecking order.

Writes Haney:
The Wildcats have been close in the past, just missing the Rose Bowl in 1993 and 1998. The commitment seems strong, with a $72 million football facility set for completion in 2013. "That sends a message right there," new coach Rich Rodriguez said this week. Coming from Michigan, Rodriguez added that he sees favorable weather as a strong selling point for the school, which will draw from recruiting-rich areas such as Phoenix and Southern California.

Haney leads his story with TCU, a program that appears poised to move up from non-AQ giant killer to just being one of the giants as it joins the Big 12.

As for the Wildcats, you probably could put a number of Pac-12 teams into that category, particularly the ones with new coaches.
  • Arizona State has long been burdened with the title of "sleeping giant." Is Todd Graham going to awake the Sun Devils?
  • UCLA has been successful before and there is no reason the Bruins can't surge under new coach Jim Mora. It wasn't too long ago when the Bruins, in fact, dominated their rivalry with then-faltering USC.
  • Mike Leach is just one of those coaches who gets more from less -- see what he did with Texas Tech. And Washington State has proved it can win in the Pac-12 -- see two Rose Bowl berths since 1997 and three consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001 to 2003. If Mike Price can do it, Mike Leach can do it.

Further, Washington is a team that seems to be putting it together -- A-list coaching staff plus good recruiting plus upgraded facilities. It certainly feels like the Huskies are close to challenging Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12 North.

And here's one that might seem strange: California.

While many Cal fans are frustrated with a present plateau of mediocrity under Jeff Tedford, it's not ridiculous to wonder what Tedford might get done now that he's been given long -- long! -- promised facilities upgrades. If the recent uptick in recruiting continues -- yes, even without Tosh Lupoi -- then the Bears could quickly get into the North mix.
Ball/JamesUS Presswire

Montee Ball and LaMichael James will highlight a showdown of high-powered offenses.

After a year's hiatus, the Rose Bowl is back to its traditional self: A Pac-12-Big Ten matchup.

And it looks like a good matchup of good teams with contrasting styles.

Sounds like a good time for a blog debate!

Ted Miller: Well, Brian, we’re back to a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten Granddaddy and it looks like a good one: Midwest power versus West Coast flash. I’m a little surprised that Oregon is favored against Montee Ball, Russell Wilson and that mammoth group of biscuit and gravy eaters you call an offensive line. Give me an idea of what the Ducks are up against with the Badgers' offense. Is it all power football, or is it more sophisticated than that?

Brian Bennett: You'd better believe the Badgers have the baddest bunch of big uglies in college football, with an offensive line that outweighs many NFL units. Add in a couple of good tight ends, a senior fullback and Wisconsin's dedication to the ground game and you can see why the program has been one of the best running teams in the country for several years now. But it's not just all brute. The thing that makes these linemen stand out is that they are nimble and can really move, and I think many defenses are shocked by that combination of strength and athleticism early in games. Wilson has also given this team an entirely new dimension with his ability to make plays on the move and his outstanding accuracy. Opponents have no choice but to respect the run when playing Wisconsin, and that makes this offense the most dangerous play-action team in America. You'll see receivers getting huge cushions in the passing game, and Ball can break tackles even when the box is loaded.

That's why the Badgers average 44.6 points per game, just a tick below Oregon's 46.2 average. My question for you is, can the Ducks' defense handle this kind of offensive power, especially in a 3-4 scheme?

[+] EnlargeBall
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireMontee Ball's 1,759 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns on the season have helped the Badgers score an average of 44.6 points per game.
Ted Miller: Oooooo. I’m telling Chip Kelly that you said the Ducks run a 3-4! He hates that. No idea why. Coordinator Nick Aliotti will tell you that the Ducks throw a lot of stunts and looks -- 3-4, 4-3, 2-5, etc -- and crazy stuff at you. They are fast, underrated and bigger than many think. Their top four defensive tackles, who are in a regular rotation, weigh 321, 300, 283 and 286 pounds.

Oregon has faced big, powerful teams before. Stanford and USC the past two years, in conference, and Auburn and LSU out of conference. Forgotten in the talk about how Auburn and LSU slowed down the Ducks' offense is how the Ducks' defense slowed down both sets of Tigers. Oregon outgained LSU 372-273 but was done in by four horrible turnovers. The Ducks held Auburn and Cam Newton to 22 points, its second-lowest total of the season.

Sure, Oregon’s defense ranks 59th in the nation in total yards while Wisconsin ranks eighth. But they yield similar numbers on yards per play: Oregon 4.93, Wisconsin 4.85. And the Ducks are slightly better on third down. Oregon’s defense’s biggest problem is its offense, which scores a lot of points despite ranking LAST in the nation in time of possession. The Badgers' defense, with an offense that ranks 22nd in time of possession, only faced 786 plays this year. Oregon faced 1,005. That skews numbers.

Wait. Did I get all stats-y there? Sorry. My answer to the size question is what Oregon will say leading up to the Rose Bowl. It’s nothing new for them. They play their game, run their stunts, use their speed and see what happens. Stanford, which has two first-round NFL draft choices on its O-line, would be the most natural comparison with the Badgers. And for two years in a row, no team has played good enough defense to beat the Cardinal and Andrew Luck other than Oregon.

While Badgers fans expect Whisky to run over the Ducks with size -- Big Ten thinking! -- Ducks fans believe they can exploit the Badgers' defense with speed and misdirection -- Pac-12 thinking! What about some Brian Bennett thinking: Do the Badgers have the speed on defense to keep up with the Ducks? Is Bret Bielema going to use past blueprints to thwart Kelly?

(Read full post)

Ranking the Pac-12 bowls

December, 6, 2011
12/06/11
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While many eyes will be on the national championship game -- the LSU-Alabama rematch -- it's possible the Pac-12 will produce two more entertaining bowl games.

Here's how we rank the Pac-12 bowl games.

1. Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State (11-1) vs. Stanford (11-1). If you gave LSU or Alabama one of these two QBs, the national title game would no longer only be about defense. This will be college football's goodbye to Andrew Luck, while Oklahoma State and Brandon Weeden will want to make a simple statement: We should have played for the national title. This feels like a game that is certain to go into the fourth quarter.

2. Rose Bowl Game (Jan. 2): Oregon (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (11-2). Two high-powered offenses. One that spreads you out and overcomes you with tempo and speed. One that lines up and plays smashmouth football, at least until flashy QB Russell Wilson arrived in Madison. Oregon has lost two BCS bowl games in a row, so the Ducks need to win to make a firm claim to a spot in the nation's elite. Wisconsin sort of feels the same way -- the Badgers lost here last year to TCU, if you recall.

3. Valero Alamo (Dec. 29): Baylor (9-3) vs. Washington (7-5). It appears Baylor will feature the Heisman Trophy winner: QB Robert Griffin III. Or RG3, for short. Both teams have plenty of offense and neither will scare you on defense. If there are fewer than 75 points on the board, we'll be surprised.

4.Bridgepoint Education Holiday (Dec. 28): Cal (7-5) vs. Texas (7-5). How can a matchup of 7-5 teams be a good one? Well, there's a rivalry angle here for Cal fans who have tenaciously remembered that Texas coach Mack Brown lobbied in 2004 for a Rose Bowl berth at the Bears' expense. For the Old Blues this is a chance at vindication. And both of these teams could use some positive offseason momentum.

5. Hyundai Sun (Dec. 31): Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Utah (7-5). It will be interesting to see how Georgia Tech's option attack does against a tough Utah defense.

6. MAACO Las Vegas (Dec. 22): Boise State (11-1) vs. Arizona State (6-6). This is a sad way to end the career of Boise State QB Kellen Moore. One of the great QBs in college football history is going out, not in the BCS bowl he deserved, but in the Las Vegas Bowl against a team that collapsed and fired its coach. I'd rate the Sun Devils' chances here only slightly above zero.

7. Kraft Fight Hunger (Dec. 31): Illinois (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7). You have two interim coaches because both teams fired their head coach. You have a certainty that one team will end the season with a losing record. You have one team riding a six-game losing streak. You have another that lost its final regular season game 50-zip to its archrival and needed a waiver from the NCAA to even be here. If you are watching this game on New Year's Eve, you are in need of some fairly strong New Year's resolutions about, you know, getting a life.

Schlabach, Edwards project the bowls

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
1:15
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We'll find out bowl matchups for sure later today, but ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards have posted their final bowl projections.

Here's how they see the Pac-12 ending up.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio: Both have Oregon and Wisconsin because that's the game.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Both have Oklahoma State and Stanford
Valero Alamo: Both have Washington playing Oklahoma.
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Both have California playing Texas.
Hyundai Sun: Both have Utah playing Georgia Tech.
MAACO Las Vegas: Schlabach has Arizona State playing Boise State. Edwards has the Sun Devils playing TCU.
Kraft Fight Hunger: Schlabach has UCLA playing Illinois. Edwards has the Bruins playing Iowa State

Cal fans: Any comments on playing Texas? Any feelings about Longhorns coach Mack Brown you want to express? Refresh our memory of 2004.

There's also an obvious angle for UCLA vs. Illinois.

Where might the chips fall?

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
10:53
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What we now know: Oregon will play Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

I love that matchup, by the way. Two teams that were just outside the national title discussion with tons of offensive star power who do things differently.

Then what?

Stanford is likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl. But who will it play? It looked like the winner of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game until the Cowboys opened up a can of whup-butt in a 44-10 beatdown of their rival Sooners.

Now Alabama adherents are scurrying around telling folks not to do what their eyes and brains are saying to do: Put Oklahoma State opposite LSU, the most dominant No. 1 team of the BCS area, in the national title game and see what happens.

But that's another fight (and, yeah, if I were a coach, I'd rather play the Cowboys than the Crimson Tide).

The Pac-12 issue is if the Cowboys get promoted, who might play opposite Stanford? Likely the No. 2 team in the Big 12: Kansas State.

But there is a potential fly in the ointment, well-described here by Jon Wilner.
However, there is a remote chance that Stanford could get knocked out of the BCS. As the No. 4 team in the BCS standings, the Cardinal would be guaranteed a berth in all scenarios except one — the one that could become reality Sunday.

If Oklahoma State jumps Alabama, then the Crimson Tide would fall into the No. 3 spot and receive BCS protection as an at-large team.

In that case, Stanford would not be guaranteed a berth, and the Fiesta, under the letter of the BCS law, could invite someone else (best bet: Michigan). But would it? It seems highly unlikely that the Fiesta would pass on the No. 4 team in order to take a team ranked 8-10 spots lower. Never in the 13-year history of the BCS has the No. 4 team been left out.

Wilner also points out that the Fiesta Bowl's new executive director, Robert Shelton, is a Stanford graduate.

So let's assume a bowl that needs to do the right thing does so -- prioritizing merit -- and picks Stanford. Then with those two spots secure -- and the extra $6 million-plus it means for the conference -- there's the trickle down.

Washington is likely headed to the Alamo Bowl against an uncertain Big 12 opponent. First, we need to know what happens with Oklahoma State. Potential foes include Oklahoma, Baylor or Kansas State.

Then our guess is California goes to the Holiday Bowl (selected over Utah because they have the same conference record and Cal beat the Utes head-to-head). The Bears could face Baylor, Oklahoma or even Missouri or Iowa State.

Utah heads to the Sun Bowl (vs. Georgia Tech?), Arizona State goes to Las Vegas for Dennis Erickson's last game (TCU if it doesn't get a bounced into a BCS at-large berth, or Boise State if it does), and UCLA -- armed with its NCAA bowl waiver for a 6-7 record -- gets an invite to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against ... hmm... Illinois? Wyoming?

There would be an obvious angle, of course, for a UCLA-Illinois matchup.

We'll, of course, have more later on the bowls. I assume you knew that, though.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 14

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
8:30
PM ET
It now appears that the Pac-12 will produce two BCS bowl teams and two empty bowl contracts.

I don't expect UCLA to ask the Pac-12 to apply for a bowl waiver if the Bruins finish 6-7 after a loss Friday at Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. The Bruins are almost certain to be looking for a new coach. It would be extremely awkward to deal with that during bowl preparations. Further, a likely trip to the Bay Area for the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl would be expensive. Probably not worth the, er, glory.

And I'm not sure the waiver would get rubber stamped, anyway. There will be more deserving teams available for the Kraft and New Mexico bowls. Heck, 10 Big Ten teams are bowl eligible.

By the way, expect some tough matchups. If Oklahoma loses to Oklahoma State this weekend, the Sooners are a likely foe for Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Arizona State, with or without Dennis Erickson, probably would get TCU in Las Vegas.

Rose Bowl Game: Oregon vs. Big Ten
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Stanford vs. Big 12
Valero Alamo: Washington vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: California vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Utah vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: Arizona State vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: No team vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: No team vs. Mountain West

Not to be defensive about Oregon, but...

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
12:00
PM ET
Dr. Saturday takes a look at Oregon's 53-30 win against Stanford, and makes a great point about how good the Ducks' defense was against Andrew Luck and the Cardinal, even though it gave up 30 points.

Writes Matt Hinton:

It wasn't just Stanford's worst offensive effort of the season: It was arguably the worst in nearly three full seasons with Andrew Luck as starting quarterback. Thirty points points marked the Cardinal's lowest-scoring game in two years; their output in terms of total yards (372), rushing yards (133) and yards per play (4.9) marked new lows in any game Luck has started in his career. The best-protected quarterback in America was sacked three times, a career high, hit a dozen more and forced into three turnovers — yes, another career high.


In other words, Oregon did what SEC folks believe an "SEC defense" would do to Luck and the Cardinal.

Because folks almost always think offense when the Ducks come up -- and not unreasonably -- and then promptly talk about that offense getting contained by elite foes with extra time to prepare, it's notable that the Ducks' defense has distinguished itself on those same big stages when the offense has been deemed to have fallen short. Consider:
  • In last season's national title game, the Ducks held Auburn to 22 points, the Tigers lowest total since the second game of the season. Lower than the Tigers scored against Alabama and LSU, by the way.
  • While LSU's 40 points suggests offensive success in this year's opener, the Tigers only gained 273 yards against the Ducks.
  • Remember how bad the Ducks' offense looked in a 19-8 loss at Boise State to open the 2009 season? Well, guess how many times Boise State has scored just 19 points at home since then? That would be zero times. In fact, the Broncos' only point total lower than 19 since then came in the Fiesta Bowl that season -- a 17-10 win against TCU and its widely celebrated defense.
  • The Ducks' defense could be termed middling in the 26-17 Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State after the 2009 season, but let's keep in mind that was the best game mercurial Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor played in his career. And, you might recall, some of his big plays were, er, a bit fortunate.

The point is this. Oregon plays good defense and has for a while.

That said, Ducks fans must know that their program won't get its due credit until Chip Kelly and company win a BCS bowl game. That's just how things go.

Mailbag: Duck, Cardinal consternation!

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
6:13
PM ET
Happy Friday.

Follow me on Twitter.

To the notes!

Robert from Portland writes: There is always talk about who's the best player or qb or running back every year. Then at the end of the year there is the talk about who is more likely to do it the next year. More often than not players don't repeat performances. This brings me to my question, who was the last running back to lead the nation in running one year and then come back and do it again? LaMichael James is doing it so far this year yet doesn't seem to get any recognition. All while missing TWO games.

Ted Miller: If James leads the nation in rushing for a second consecutive year, he will be in super-elite company. The last guy to do that turned out OK: LaDainian Tomlinson at TCU in 1999 and 2000.

As far as not getting recognition, you mean other than 1. Winning the Doak Walker Award last year as the nation's top running back; 2. Being a Heisman Trophy finalist; 3. Earning unanimous 2011 preseason All-American honors?

James dropped off the Heisman Trophy radar this season for three reasons: 1. He didn't play well against LSU in the opener; 2. He hasn't played many marquee opponents since then; 3. As you noted, he missed some action.

And if he has a lights-out game against Stanford in a victory -- think his 2010 performance -- then he'll again be on a shortlist of Heisman candidates.


Derrick from Omaha writes: One thing I have not heard mentioned regarding the Oregon-Stanford game is prep-time. Chip has only lost 5 games, 4 of those were to teams who had a month or more to get ready. The fifth was to Stanford who was coming off a bye week.Chip's Ducks have never lost to a team that played a game the previous week.Is this a real factor? Do you think this impacts this week's game?

Ted Miller: Yes, it's a factor and yes I think it impacts this week's game.

I will quibble with your saying this doesn't get mentioned. And I'd bet Chip Kelly would, too.

It's an unbelievable number, really, when used positively: It's darn near impossible to beat a Kelly offense with just one week to prepare.

On the other hand, it's more often been used in the negative: An elite defense with extra time to prepare can control Kelly's offense. Kelly, fairly, has repeatedly countered that the defenses that had extra time to prepare -- other than Stanford in 2009 -- were pretty elite.

As for this week, it's all about Stanford's defensive players not getting fooled by misdirection, maintaining their gap responsibilities, executing their assignments and tackling well. Oregon makes it hard to do all that, and it seems it's even more difficult without extra time to practice and train players' eyes.

But it is pretty interesting: If Stanford beats Chip Kelly's Ducks, it will be the first team to do so with just one week to prepare.


Pedro from Eugene, Ore. writes: Why do you have Stanford atop your most recent Pac-12 rankings but pick Oregon to beat them in Palo Alto? The rankings are your opinion, so wouldn't you rank the team to win a head-to-head matchup higher? Or has your Magic 8 Ball predicted a fluke upset?

Aaron from Seattle writes: Gotta wonder about you picking Oregon over Stanford, but having Stanford to the National Championship and Oregon to the Rose Bowl.... wanna show your math on that one?

Ted Miller: Can't a girl change her mind?

With the bowl projections, I hadn't really started thinking about the Oregon-Stanford game. Just like the power rankings on Monday, those projections were based on what happened in the previous 10 weeks.

But when I really started thinking about the game, this is what exploded out of my head, not unlike Athena bursting from Zeus' noggin!

Of course -- as noted -- I may have just had a bad burrito for lunch.

And there was just a little bit of not wanting to spoil my super-shocking prediction.


Alex from Las Vegas writes: Regarding the UCLA/Texas game at Cowboy Stadium, why do Pac-12 teams agree to play games at "neutral sites" that are anything but neutral. Why couldn't Oregon fly the extra 1/2 hour to Baton Rouge or UCLA just go to Austin? At least then they get whatever love that is associated with playing tough road games. Given the windfall of cash that the conference is about to get, can't they drive a harder bargain when it comes to schedules?

Ted Miller: I hear you. LSU-Oregon didn't feel like a neutral site game, and UCLA-Texas certainly won't.

So why can't Oregon play LSU in Phoenix or UCLA play Texas in Lambeau Field? My best answer is no one is trying to set up those games, while Jery Jones is doing so in Cowboys Stadium. And he's paying program's big bucks to come visit.

And, by the way, Cowboys Stadium is really impressive. I'm certain that the players will be goosed about the game, even if their fans are in a big minority.


Chance from Portland writes: What do the computers base there rankings on in the bcs poll?

Ted Miller: Most of the computer polls don't reveal their formulas because, of course, those formulas are so super-secret-awesome.

I can tell you that they don't include margin of victory, which was mistakenly removed after the 2004 season because -- waaaa! -- coaches were worried about running up the score.

Here's a hand-dandy guide to the computer polls.


Kyle from Jerusalem writes: Ted, I'm confused. Alabama lost to LSU at HOME last weekend and didn't even score a touchdown, and the ducks lost to them on a neutral field at the very beginning of the season. I know the SEC has a stronger conference, and how the computers would favor them. But how do the human polls explain putting Alabama at #3 and not at least behind the ducks and the other undefeated teams? And, if the remaining one loss teams fall, does Alabama really deserve to play in the "Game of the Century, Part II" when the ducks have shown they have matured as a team since the beginning of the year?

Ted Miller: The human polls have Alabama at No. 4. The BCS standings rank Alabama No. 3, but the Crimson Tide has only a very small edge over No. 4 Stanford due to the computers, which will disappear -- and not reappear -- if the Cardinal beats Oregon on Saturday and then wins out.

But, yes, one of the travesties this season was Oregon getting dumped from No. 3 to No. 13 and No. 14 in the AP and coaches polls, respectively, after it lost a glorified road game to LSU. It was as though a false narrative -- LSU dominated Oregon -- got started and the public never allowed the facts of the game to change a good, SEC story.

Further, to me, pollsters should have given Oregon credit for having the courage to schedule the game. I know if LSU had lost, I certainly wouldn't have dumped the Tigers 10 spots in my power ranking vote for ESPN.com.

In many ways, you can, in fact, argue Oregon's performance against LSU approximated Alabama's. The Ducks produced three long TD drives: 19 plays, 79 yards; 13 plays 68 yards; 10 plays 70 yards. Alabama produced no TD drives, though it did have 62-yard and 79-yard drives, which netted three points. And we've noted before the statistical similarities on both sides of the football.

Other than the Ducks losing the turnover battle 4-1.

All that said, I voted Alabama fourth and Oregon sixth, just like most everyone else. Why? Alabama has a better resume at present, see wins over Penn State and Arkansas. And, to be honest, I think Alabama would beat Oregon.

That said: I'd much rather see a rematch with Oregon and LSU than Alabama and LSU. Just in terms of pure entertainment purposes. Oh, and I'd go to the game if Oregon was in it.


Isaac from San Francisco writes: Well you blew it. While we educated folks like all the big words and cultural references and your funny little comments which aren't always that funny really, you still don't know anything about football. Stanford is going to crush Oregon. And you picked Oregon. What will that make you, smart guy?

Ted Miller: Well, by my best estimation, if Stanford beats Oregon that would make my prediction of Oregon beating Stanford incorrect.

But thanks for calling me smart.

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