Pac-12: Utah Utes

Pac-12 morning links

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

Leading off

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

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

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

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

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

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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

Bravo, Oregon fans. Bravo.



The Trojans will rock these shiny new lids on Saturday.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
8:00
AM ET
The exodus is here, the happy ones are near;
Let's get together before we get much older.

Leading off

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

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

Cardinal seeing red

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposing directions bowl: Arizona State at Washington

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

Where great offensive minds meet: Arizona at Washington State

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

The afterthought: UCLA at Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stanford's AP poll streak ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:00
PM ET

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
9:00
AM ET
Another weekend is finished in the Pac-12. Here are some individual accolades.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: The Utes passed for only 62 yards in their dramatic 29-23 double-overtime victory at Oregon State, so they relied on Booker's running for the necessary offense to win. And boy, did he sure do some running. Booker amassed 229 yards on 32 carries (7.2 average) and he made sure he left nothing to chance in the second overtime, knifing his way 19 yards for the winning touchdown even though Utah needed only a field goal for the victory. Booker found paydirt two other times -- once to give the Utes a late fourth-quarter lead and once to open the first overtime. So aside from being statistically productive, he delivered in the clutch.

Gionni Paul, LB, Utah: It's time to start recognizing the quality of this Utah defense. The front seven has been sturdy this season. On Thursday, the Utes allowed only 4.7 yards per play against Oregon State. They also recorded five more sacks, pushing their conference-best total to 33. Most importantly, the defense was again fundamentally sound across the board, so let's put a sticker on Paul's helmet -- he led the unit with 14 tackles.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: This was by no means Hundley's best game. He fumbled early on, and that set up a Cal touchdown. He then threw an ugly second-half interception that opened the door for another Bears score. But on a day marred by UCLA sloppiness on both sides of the ball, Hundley overcame his own mistakes and those of his teammates with his supreme athleticism. He did so with statistical flair: 330 passing yards, 94 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns. The Bruins ended up beating the Bears 36-34 on a late field goal, and that capped a Hundley-led 567-yard performance.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC: USC boasts an illustrious list of quarterbacks in its storied history. Well, Kessler can now say he has thrown more touchdown passes in a single game that any of the legendary names that came before him. Kessler tossed seven scores in the Trojans' 56-28 annihilation of Colorado, and he did it with remarkable efficiency (19-for-26, 319 yards). More than a quarter of Kessler's throws were touchdowns. By the way, Matt Barkley held the previous USC single-game touchdown record, throwing six on two separate occasions.

Buck Allen, RB, USC: It wasn't exactly tough running Saturday, but Allen deserves another sticker as he continues his fine season. The back's final line against Colorado: 15 carries, 128 yards, 8.5 per carry.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: Oregon's remarkable win streak over Washington reached 11 games with Saturday's commanding 45-20 win, and the Ducks got it done by pummeling the Huskies' vaunted front seven. They did it behind Freeman, a true freshman power back who's built more like a senior. His bruising effort amassed 169 yards on 29 carries (5.8 average) against a Washington defense that had been sturdy against the run entering the game. Freeman powered his way to four touchdowns. The Ducks' offensive line seems to be back and firing on all cylinders.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Yes, I know -- Mariota's helmet is already full of stickers since he gets one seemingly every single week. But we can't ignore another ridiculously efficient performance: 24-for-33, 336 yards, two touchdowns. Mariota has now thrown 19 touchdown passes, and he's the only quarterback in the nation to not have thrown an interception. Now, where's he going to stash all these helmet stickers?

Mike Bercovici, QB, Arizona State: It'll be interesting to see what Todd Graham does after Taylor Kelly is healthy again, because Bercovici sure delivered an excellent performance against Stanford's rugged defense in ASU's 26-10 win. He finished 23-for-33 for 245 yards and a touchdown, but numbers don't really illustrate the critical elements of his performance. Remember that the Cardinal entered this game as the nation's top defense, so the Sun Devils had their offensive work cut out for them. Bercovici succeeded where most quarterbacks fail against Stanford: He managed a nearly perfect game, positioning ASU for a convincing victory.

ASU defense: Granted, Stanford's offense is a mess right now, but ASU does deserve significant credit for its defensive performance in Tempe. The Sun Devils' defense had taken an enormous amount of flak following its Sept. 25 tackling meltdown against UCLA, in which the unit allowed 10 yards per play (that was a 62-27 final score). The Sun Devils smelled Cardinal blood today, and they preyed on Stanford's discombobulated offense with excellent aggressiveness, discipline and fundamentally sound tackling. The Cardinal didn't reach the end zone until 10 minutes remained. Graham's unit should have confidence again.
Some things we learned in Week 8 of the Pac-12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utah unveils new black helmet

October, 18, 2014
Oct 18
4:20
PM ET
While most of the conference is action today, No. 20 Utah is at home celebrating ... and not because of its 29-23 win at Oregon State on Thursday.

The Utes' cause for celebration was the unveiling of a new black helmet the team will wear next Saturday against USC. As players tend to be with these things, the reaction was, well, positive. Check out the video (and look for the bow).



Here's a good look at the new helmet.

Judgment call? Take a bow, Pac-12

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
4:45
PM ET
Oregon linebacker Tony Washington was, apparently, a big fan of Thursday night’s showdown between Utah and Oregon State. And why not? It was a double-overtime thriller that the Utes won on the road.

Washington was so excited about it – he sent out a tweet. You might notice, however, a dusting of sarcasm and a not-so-subtle dig at Pac-12 officials.


The tweet includes a screen shot of Utah running back Devontae Booker bowing in the end zone after a touchdown run. And if Washington seems a little peeved, it’s probably understandable.

Late in Oregon’s 31-24 loss earlier this month to Arizona, Washington was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after he made a critical sack on third-and-goal. After the play, he ran toward midfield and bowed toward the Oregon sideline. That drew a flag, which gave the Wildcats a fresh set of downs and first-and-goal at the Oregon 8. A pass interference call against the Ducks set the Wildcats up at the 2-yard line, and two plays later, Terris Jones-Grigsby scored on a 1-yard run that turned out to be the game winner.

Here’s the Washington bow for perspective. And another look at the Booker bow. The only real difference was that Washington sprinted back toward midfield before the gesture. Booker’s occurred in the end zone immediately after the score.

When asked about the inconsistencies, a spokesman for the Pac-12 said “It’s a judgment call.”

Washington took a lot of heat for his “excessive” celebration. However, it can also be argued that Arizona could have kicked what would have been a 34-yard field goal to break the 24-24 tie. And if the game played out as it did, with the Ducks failing to score on their final drive, Arizona still would have won 27-24. End of story.

Or maybe it doesn’t.

Either way, the Booker bow did not go unnoticed on social media Thursday night.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

Another double-overtime game. Another game that comes down to the last possession. Another home team falls. Just another night in the Pac-12.

If you stayed up for the Utah-Oregon State drama, you were rewarded with yet another fantastically entertaining game.

Here's some reaction from the action at Reser: Pick 'em

Every Friday we bring you some picks from folks who cover the conference. The Pac-12 blog, which continues to muddle its way through this torturous weekly exercise, posted its picks Thursday morning. Here's what some other folks have to say about this weekend: A happy return?

There are always questions when things don't go according to script. And more than once, the Pac-12 blog has received a letter or two about Brett Hundley's decision to return to college for another season. An unnamed NFL scout talked about that decision with Chris Foster of the L.A. Times. And Hundley called his return "a worthwhile experience."

The scout pitched the idea of Hundley coming back for one more season next year. Here's what he had to say:
He has a long way to go. He's still athletic. He's still smart. He's still a good worker. He just needs to become a better passer in the pocket, and he needs to learn that he's got to stay in there and throw the ball accurately inside the pocket ... Don't take those sacks. You never see Peyton Manning taking those kind of sacks. You can't hold onto the ball for five seconds.

Accuracy hasn't necessarily been the problem. Hundley leads all FBS quarterbacks with a 72.2 completion percentage. The sacks, however, have been. Head coach Jim Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone have gone out of their way to say that sacks aren't just on an offensive line. That sometimes the quarterback is at fault. Sometimes it's the receivers. And sometimes the other team just makes a play. Will be interesting to see in the coming months if Hundley even entertains the idea of coming back for one more year. However, he told the Pac-12 blog in the preseason that regardless of what happens, this was his last year at UCLA.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Oregon State's Dylan Wynn is awesome. #Damcancer indeed.

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#DAMCANCER

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1. Given the skewed home vs. road statistic so far, which home team has the best chance to win?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: USC over Colorado. I would use the unranked team playing on the road at a ranked team rationale, but USC showed that’s flawed thinking last week. The other option was Oregon over Washington, but despite the Ducks’ ownership of the rivalry, USC was a pretty easy choice. I’ve got road teams winning three of five this week … which, of course, would lower the road winning percentage in Pac-12 play.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: I’m nervous to pick the Ducks because everything is working against them. They are the league’s highest ranked team. They are back in the playoff conversation and they haven’t lost to the Huskies in a decade. In the Pac-12 we call those insurmountable odds. But I’ll swing for fences anyway and go green.
[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota may end up being the No. 1 pick in next year's NFL draft, but he didn't crack ESPN's Midseason All-America Team.
2. Which Pac-12 player was most deserving of a spot on the ESPN.com Midseason All-America team, but wasn’t included?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: Utah DE Nate Orchard, Washington OLB Hau'oli Kikaha, Colorado WR Nelson Spruce and Utah returner Kaelin Clay all have good cases, but Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is still the best player in the country. Dak Prescott is having a great season for No. 1 Mississippi State, but if he were at Oregon, he’d be the backup.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. No argument whatsoever with what Kyle offered. I lobbied for all five of those guys, and I also made a pitch for Utah kicker Andy Phillips. Between his leg strength, reliability and the fact that he can pull off the onside kick and make tackles, he’s a complete player – something we don’t always talk about with kickers.
3. Does Washington’s 10-game losing streak to Oregon end this weekend?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: The losing streak reaches 11, but the streak of losing by at least 17 points ends. Washington will keep it closer this time … 14?
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: I’m afraid it doesn’t. I’ve really enjoyed watching Washington’s front seven perform this year. And lost among all the Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton and Kikaha talk is that the Hudson & Hudson duo is playing pretty well also. I don’t love that Ben Riva is likely out and Josh Perkins is sitting for a half. Until Washington shows me otherwise, the Ducks have the edge. Kyle might not be wrong, though, on the 17-point streak.
4. What can we expect Thursday from Utah at the quarterback position?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: Like most, I’m expecting Kendal Thompson to be the starter and for him to play most of, if not the entire game against Oregon State. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wilson got a series or if they went back to him if Thompson struggles, but it’s hard to see how they could go back to Wilson to start this one after Thompson came off the bench and guided Utah to a win last time out against UCLA.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: None of the three options would surprise me: Wilson starting, Thompson starting or a two-quarterback system. Like in baseball, sometimes a pitcher has a bad game and you yank him early. Doesn’t mean you cut him out of the rotation. My guess is we see both quarterbacks tonight and whoever has the hot hand finishes out the game.
5. Besides Oregon, is there another Pac-12 team that can make a case for the College Football Playoff halfway through the season?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: By virtue of its win against Oregon and its identical 5-1 record, Arizona still has a case. It doesn’t have the strength of schedule right now to warrant serious playoff consideration, but, hypothetically, if Arizona won out and its lone loss came as a result of a missed field goal against USC that’s easily forgivable.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: I think Stanford has the name brand and reputation -- if the Cardinal can run the table. They’ll need a little help from USC and ASU to beat Notre Dame -- which will soften the last-second road loss to the Irish in the eyes of the committee. It would make their loss to USC not seem as bad and their win (if they do win this weekend) at ASU stronger. A two-loss Stanford team that’s also a Pac-12 champion would be hard to turn away given the strength of schedule.
6. Who is a breakout player to watch for the second half?

  • Kyle Bonagura / @BonaguraESPN: Arizona State fans saw him break out in the first half, but it’s time for everyone else to take notice of safety Jordan Simone. After earning a scholarship in fall camp, Simone has proved to be one of the better safeties in the conference. His 20-tackle game against USC was one of best individual performances in a game this year.
  • Kevin Gemmell / @Kevin_Gemmell: Since Kyle went defense, I’ll go offense. A running back we’re not talking much about is Utah’s Devontae Booker. There are only five backs in the conference averaging more than 100 yards per game, and Booker is one of them. He’s only got four rushing touchdowns, but he’s averaging nearly six yards per carry and the Utes have done a nice job balancing out the offense. As the schedule stiffens, look for him to be an impact guy.
The preseason narrative in the Pac-12 was all about the quarterbacks, and with good reason. With 10 starters coming back, there was considerable hype that this might be the best collection of quarterbacks in league history.

We had no idea...

Through the first half of the season, the league’s quarterbacks have collectively exceeded expectations statistically and internally.

“Coming in I thought it was going to be the best in the country,” said Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez. “Halfway through, that’s still holding true.”

First, let’s get some numbers out of the way:

  • Three FBS quarterbacks have attempted at least 100 passes without throwing an interception and they are all from the Pac-12: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (155 attempts), Washington’s Cyler Miles (129 attempts) and Utah’s Travis Wilson (101 attempts).
  • UCLA’s Brett Hundley leads FBS football with a 72.2 completion percentage.
  • Washington State’s Connor Halliday set an FBS record with 734 passing yards (and lost!)
  • Cal’s Jared Goff and Colorado’s Sefo Liufau combined for 14 passing touchdowns in a game with seven each.
  • We’ve seen six 500-yard passing performances, 12 400-yard passing performances and 26 300-yard performances.
  • Three of the six most efficient quarterbacks through the first half of the season reside in the Pac-12 -- Mariota, Hundley and Goff. Six more are in the top 50. And in ESPN’s advanced QBR metric, Mariota is No. 1 in the country with Goff and Hundley in the top 10 and USC’s Cody Kessler at No. 17.

“We have, in my opinion, without a doubt, the best group of quarterbacks in the country,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Halliday with his total offense, 460-plus a game and the efficiency of Mariota. He’s up in the 190s. And Hundley with all he brings to the table. It goes on and on. [Sean] Mannion, who we’re facing this week is a different animal. He’s more of a pocket guy. All of them are very effective and all of them present a very big challenge for you.”

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
James Snook/USA TODAY SportsWashington State's Connor Halliday leads the nation in passing yards (3,344) and touchdowns (28).
And that’s barely mentioning the newcomers or the backups. Miles and Arizona’s Anu Solomon are a combined 10-2 as starters with one loss each. UCLA’s backup, Jerry Neuheisel, was carried off the field in Arlington after engineering a game-winning drive against the Longhorns. ASU’s Mike Bercovici has nine touchdowns and nearly 1,100 passing yards in two games in relief of the injured Taylor Kelly. What the Utes would have given in the past for a quarterback to be interception free through the first half of the season. Now Wilson might get benched in favor of Kendal Thompson.

“It’s a grind,” said Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. “That aspect has not been surprising at all how good and efficient they have been … the quality and depth in the conference has borne out exactly how we thought it would in the preseason.”

And that’s led to some phenomenal moments through the first seven weeks. We’ve seen Marys of the Hail, Jael and Hill variety. We’ve seen a 60-59 game. We’ve seen a 59-56 double-overtime game. We’ve seen 36 points scored in the fourth quarter.

The only logical explanation is that no one in the Pac-12 plays defense … so says the stereotype that circulates East of the Rockies. Ironic, then, that the No. 1 defense in the country belongs to Stanford and that five of 11 defenders on the ESPN.com midseason All-America team are from the Pac-12 (and the Pac-12 blog can think of one or two more names that should have been on that list, cough, Hau'oli Kikaha, cough, Nate Orchard). But we digress.

It hasn’t been perfect up and down the board. Mariota and Hundley – despite outstanding statistics – have been hampered by offensive line injuries and issues. Stanford’s Kevin Hogan – while still putting up respectable numbers, has already taken 12 sacks after being put down 14 times all last season. And the Cardinal have the worst scoring offense and red zone offense in the conference. Halliday is among the nation’s leaders in interceptions with eight (to go with his nation-leading 28 touchdowns). For all of Wilson’s grit and moxie, he’s still struggled with accuracy, completing 57.4 percent of his throws. That’s a big reason why we might see Thompson Thursday night.

Still, the sensational has far outweighed the shortcomings.

“It’s lived up to the hype,” said Cal coach Sonny Dykes. “When you look at all the guys, everyone is playing at a high level and performing well. I think that’s why there is so much parity in the league right now because there are a lot of good quarterbacks and a lot of points getting scored. If you’ve got a good quarterback and can score some points, you’ve got a chance to be anybody. That’s been the story this year. Even the young quarterbacks, the guys who were unproven, have played well and made this a very solid league.”

For all the unpredictability and craziness that has gone on through the first seven weeks, the only constant has been stellar quarterback play. Don’t expect that to change in the second half of the year.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham stuck to the coaching handbook this week and opted against publicly naming a starting quarterback headed into Thursday night’s game at Oregon State.

“It's not a huge strategic move,” he said. “But why tip your hand if you don't have to? And we don't have to.”

In theory, that would leave those outside the program -- and more importantly, in Corvallis -- to speculate: Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson?

[+] EnlargeKendal Thompson
AP Photo/Alex GallardoKendal Thompson has earned the start against Oregon State on Thursday.
 Except it’s hard to believe there’s much of a decision to make. Not after what happened in Utah’s past two games.

In a 28-27 loss to Washington State on Sept. 27, Wilson failed to lead the Utes into the red zone, and Whittingham later admitted that, in hindsight, Thompson “should have probably gotten a couple series.” Those comments are partially why it came as no surprise when Wilson got the hook after starting with three consecutive three-and-outs at then-No. 8 UCLA the following week. And after Thompson, an Oklahoma transfer, went on to lead Utah to a 30-28 win and into the AP Top 25 for the first time since joining the Pac-12, it’s hard to find logic that points back to Wilson.

Regardless, Oregon State coach Mike Riley said the Beavers will be prepared for either guy -- which likely would have been the case even if Whittingham went public with his decision.

“Obviously, we have to prepare for both if they’re not going to name the starter, and they certainly have two good players to pick from,” Riley said. “We played against Travis last year, and he gave us all sorts of fits and [Thompson] has come in there and done a nice job, so probably a good problem for Utah to deal with.”

In Oregon State’s 51-48 overtime win against Utah last season, Wilson completed 19 of 33 passes for 279 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions and ran for 142 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries.

Despite what Wilson did against the Beavers in that game, it’s what Thompson can do with his legs that could ultimately give him the edge. By no means did he set the world on fire against UCLA, but he carried 19 times for 83 yards to go along with a 10 for 13 passing night with 95 yards, a touchdown and no picks.

Riley is no stranger to dealing with unsettled quarterback situations. He benched returning starter Ryan Katz in favor of Sean Mannion early in the 2011 season, and after Mannion went down with an injury the next year, he split time with Cody Vaz when he returned. Then the duo waged a long quarterback competition before Mannion emerged at the end of training camp last season.

“We were into that about a year and a half ago, and it’s a little bit challenging, probably,” Riley said. “Coaches trying to decide what’s best to do and players are up in the air a little bit, but I think in the bigger picture, the competition creates the best in people most of the time and you want to find that out at that position.”

Utah has been in a similar situation to what it'll be facing Thursday, too, just not for how it relates to quarterbacks. Last fall, the Utes beat No. 5 Stanford 27-21 to move to 4-2, but five straight losses followed, taking them out of the bowl picture.

"We have had that conversation, how we didn't capitalize on a big win last year vs. Stanford," Whittingham said. "The timing of the game is almost identical -- I think Stanford was in Week 6 last year, rather than Week 5, which the UCLA game was. It's a one-game-at-a-time mentality, but we hope to have a better result throughout the second half of the season than we did last year."

Pac-12 morning links

October, 16, 2014
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Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark!

Leading off

Get a good look at as many Pac-12 players as possible over the second half of the season. Because for a lot of them, this will be their last year. The league is loaded with NFL potential this season, and ESPN's Todd McShay recently updated his Top 32 players. There's a new No. 1 -- USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams. But he's just one of 10 Pac-12 players who could go in the first round in the next NFL draft.

Here's what McShay has to say about Williams:
Williams moves up to the No. 1 spot in this week's rankings, as we've had more of an opportunity to watch his performance; this adjustment is mostly just an acknowledgement of what a complete game he has and how he has been playing up to that level so far this season. He possesses excellent strength and speed for his size, and has the versatility to create mismatches all along the D-line. His best projection is as a 5-technique defensive end, but he has the quickness and point-of-attack skills to perform inside as a 3-technique (especially in pass-rushing situations), and enough athleticism to occasionally line up as a traditional left defensive end. As a pass-rusher, he isn't going to gain the edge with pure speed, but he has good initial quickness and a wide array of moves. He possesses an above-average motor and plays with an edge.

The rest of the article is Insider, so you'll need to decipher a series of clues hidden within some of the greatest Renaissance works of art to get full access. But I'll give you a hint at No. 2 ... he's a quarterback and he wears green.

Who's the Q for the U?

We have football tonight when Utah travels to Oregon State. And the big storyline surrounding this game is whether it will be Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson at quarterback for the No. 20 Utes. So far, coach Kyle Whittingham has kept things close to the vest.
"It's not a huge strategic move, but why tip your hand if you don't have to, and we don't have to. It's not like the NFL where you have to declare what's going on," Whittingham said. "They've handled themselves very well in practice. You'd expect both of them to work hard like they have all year long. There is really no change in our approach in that regard."

The irony, of course, is that the Utes have wished upon many a star to have a starting quarterback make it through the season -- pretty much ever since Brian Johnson. Now they have two. Tonight's game is a 7 p.m. PT kickoff on the Pac-12 Networks.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

ASU created a stick-figure video to remind over-zealous boosters not to be over zealous.

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