Pac-12: Virginia Cavaliers

Position U: Tight ends

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Tight End U” for the 2000s?

1. Miami (84 points): While it has been relatively quiet since its positional heyday early in the 2000s, Miami still easily tops this list. With seven tight ends drafted, including first-round picks Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow and Greg Olsen, the Hurricanes far surpassed the next closest programs at the position. They don’t get extra points for this, but they also produced arguably the top tight end in the NFL today in 2010 third-round pick Jimmy Graham, who's now starring for the New Orleans Saints.

Award winners: Kellen Winslow, Mackey (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Kellen Winslow (2003).
First-team all-conference: Jeremy Shockey (2000, 2001), Kellen Winslow (2002, 2003), Greg Olsen (2006).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jeremy Shockey (2002), Kellen Winslow (2004), Greg Olsen (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Kevin Everett (Round 3, 2005), Jimmy Graham (Round 3, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Dedrick Epps (Round 7, 2010), Richard Gordon (Round 6, 2011).

2. Iowa (66 points): Dallas Clark leads the way thanks to a 2002 season after which he won the John Mackey Award and was a consensus All-American. But Iowa had a consistent run of tight ends in the 2000s, with first-round pick Clark and five others getting drafted -- most recently third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz, who was the fifth tight end selected this year.

Award winners: Dallas Clark, Mackey (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Dallas Clark (2002).
First-team all-conference: Dallas Clark (2002), Brandon Myers (2008), Tony Moeaki (2009), C.J. Fiedorowicz (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Dallas Clark (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Scott Chandler (Round 4, 2007), Tony Moeaki (Round 3, 2010), C.J. Fiedorowicz (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Erik Jensen (Round 7, 2004), Brandon Myers (Round 6, 2009).

3. Missouri (64 points): Missouri hasn’t had as much success placing tight ends in the pros as some of the other top programs on this list, but the Tigers have an award winner (Chase Coffman won the 2008 Mackey Award) and three consensus All-American tight ends (Coffman, Martin Rucker and Michael Egnew) since 2000. Not too shabby.

Award winners: Chase Coffman, Mackey (2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Martin Rucker (2007), Chase Coffman (2008), Michael Egnew (2010).
First-team all-conference: Martin Rucker (2006), Michael Egnew (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Rucker (Round 4, 2008), Chase Coffman (Round 3, 2009), Michael Egnew (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.

4. Wisconsin (64 points): One All-American (Lance Kendricks in 2010, when he led the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches), six first-team All-Big Ten picks (Kendricks, Garrett Graham twice, Mark Anelli, Travis Beckum and Jacob Pedersen) and six drafted players helped Wisconsin nearly earn the runner-up spot in the tight end rankings.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Lance Kendricks (2010).
First-team all-conference: Mark Anelli (2001), Travis Beckum (2007), Garrett Graham (2008, 2009), Lance Kendricks (2010), Jacob Pedersen (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Owen Daniels (Round 4, 2006), Travis Beckum (Round 3, 2009), Garrett Graham (Round 4, 2010), Lance Kendricks (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Mark Anelli (Round 6, 2002), Jason Pociask (Round 5, 2006).

5. Georgia (62 points): It doesn’t have the national awards to show for it, but Georgia seems to boast an outstanding tight end nearly every season. The best example of that is how the Bulldogs keep placing tight ends in the pros – starting with Randy McMichael, Ben Watson and Leonard Pope and leading all the way up to Arthur Lynch, who just went to the Miami Dolphins in the most recent draft. The Bulldogs have built an impressive legacy at the position that looks to continue.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Randy McMichael (2001), Leonard Pope (2004, 2005), Martrez Milner (2006), Orson Charles (2011), Arthur Lynch (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ben Watson (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Randy McMichael (Round 4, 2002), Leonard Pope (Round 3, 2006), Martrez Milner (Round 4, 2007), Orson Charles (Round 4, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Arthur Lynch (Round 5, 2014).

6. BYU (56 points): Independents Notre Dame and BYU are hurt in these position rankings by not being members of a conference -- thus they couldn’t earn points for all-conference selections, although BYU did as a member of the Mountain West up through 2010. In fact, the Cougars earned 36 of their 56 points by having six tight ends named to the All-MWC team between 2001 and 2009. Notre Dame certainly belongs higher on the list, considering that it has had nine tight ends drafted, including first-round pick and 2012 Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Dennis Pitta (2009).
First-team all-conference: Doug Jolley (2001), Jonny Harline (2005, 2006), Dennis Pitta (2007, 2008, 2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Doug Jolley (Round 2, 2002), Dennis Pitta (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tevita Ofahengaue (Round 7, 2001), Spencer Nead (Round 7, 2003).

7. Virginia (54 points): Heath Miller is a one-man wrecking crew here, single-handedly accounting for 38 of Virginia’s 54 points thanks to a Mackey Award-winning season in 2004 when he was a consensus All-American and went on to become a first-round draft pick. Miller also won All-ACC honors in 2003.

Award winners: Heath Miller, Mackey (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Heath Miller (2004).
First-team all-conference: Heath Miller (2003, 2004), John Phillips (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Heath Miller (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Luzar (Round 4, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Billy Baber (Round 5, 2001), Tom Santi (Round 6, 2008), John Phillips (Round 6, 2009).

8. Stanford (48 points): Stanford is arguably the top program for tight ends right now, but that’s a fairly recent development. Of the six Cardinal tight ends drafted since 2001, four have been since 2010, led by second-round picks Coby Fleener and 2012 All-American Zach Ertz. Stanford posted a rare double in 2013 when Ertz and Levine Toilolo were both picked in the draft’s first four rounds.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Zach Ertz (2012).
First-team all-conference: Alex Smith (2004), Coby Fleener (2011), Zach Ertz (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Teyo Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Alex Smith (Round 3, 2005), Coby Fleener (Round 2, 2012), Zach Ertz (Round 2, 2013), Levine Toilolo (Round 4, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jim Dray (Round 7, 2010),

9. Colorado (46 points): Colorado hasn’t had much to brag about on the football field over the last several years, but the Buffaloes are still hanging on in the tight end rankings. Daniel Graham’s outstanding 2001 season (including a Mackey Award and a consensus All-America designation prior to becoming a first-round draft pick) is a big reason why Colorado makes the top 10.

Award winners: Daniel Graham, Mackey (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Daniel Graham (2001).
First-team all-conference: Daniel Graham (2001), Joe Klopfenstein (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Daniel Graham (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Joe Klopfenstein (Round 2, 2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Quinn Sypniewski (Round 5, 2006), Nick Kasa, Round 6, 2013).

10. UCLA (46 points): As with its fellow No. 9 on the list, Colorado, UCLA can thank a single player for its spot in the top 10. Marcedes Lewis accumulated 32 of the Bruins’ 46 points with a 2005 season when he won the Mackey Award, was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Pac-10 pick and then went on to become a 2006 first-round draft selection.

Award winners: Marcedes Lewis, Mackey (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Marcedes Lewis (2005).
First-team all-conference: Mike Seidman (2002), Marcedes Lewis (2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Marcedes Lewis (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Mike Seidman (Round 3, 2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jeff Grau (Round 7, 2002), Bryan Fletcher (Round 6, 2002).

44 – Notre Dame; 40 – Clemson; 38 – Arizona State, Florida, Louisville; 34 – Oregon, USC; 32 – Minnesota, North Carolina, Purdue, Rutgers; 28 – Tennessee; 26 – Oklahoma; 24 – N.C. State; 22 – Kentucky, Washington; 20 – Arkansas, Maryland; 18 – Penn State, Pittsburgh, Texas Tech; 16 – Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas; 14 – Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State; 12 – South Carolina; 10 – California, LSU, Michigan State, Oregon State; 8 – Boston College, Northwestern; 6 – TCU, Utah, Duke, Syracuse; 4 – Alabama, Kansas, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech; 2 – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa State, Mississippi State; 0 – Auburn, Baylor, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Washington State, West Virginia

Mailbag: Standing up for Kiffin

September, 6, 2013
Welcome to the second Friday of the football season. This is the mailbag.

There's no actual bag, but it's fun to hold on to the quaint ways of the past. Such as following the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Sean from Tempe, Ariz., writes: Why were there no post-game comments on ASU's drubbing of Sacramento State? I highly value the opinion of the ESPN Pac-12 blog and their objective, if quirky, views on how teams play throughout the year. I stayed up until well past midnight after the win hoping for some quality non-AP reading and was sadly disappointed. In the absence of ESPN's old forum I thrive solely on this blog and hope you can remedy this situation.If it was because ASU clearly dominated an FCS opponent and didn't seem worthwhile commenting on, I understand. Please continue the good work.

Ted Miller: Kevin is objective. I am quirky. And cranky.

We're changing things up a bit. Kevin and I will still comment on big games and newsy things coming out of games but we're not going to do a writeup on every contest. That's not just us. It's a change for all the conference blogs.

You can read the game story here, and there's a separate area to chat about the game, where fans can go back and forth over stuff.

As for my reaction, I think Arizona State is doomed. That was the worst 55-0 win I've ever witnessed.

Kidding, of course. To be honest: The game was over before halftime, which is when I turned it off.

The Sun Devils did everything coach Todd Graham and their fans could have hoped for -- completely dominating in all areas. Arizona State outgained Sacramento State 523 yards to 167 -- the Hornets had four of their six total first downs on their first drive -- and QB Taylor Kelly threw for 300 yards and five TDs.

And the discipline stuff that Graham has been preaching continued: one penalty for 5 yards and no turnovers.

All that performance did was whet everyone's appetite for Wisconsin's visit next weekend. That game will have a writeup. Promise. And maybe more.

Tony from Fresno, Calif., writes: I am a rarity these days. An SC fan who actually likes Lane Kiffin. I don't think people understand just how drastically losing so many scholarships has hurt the team the past three years, at all positions, especially on defense. People don't seem to be calling for Mack Brown's head, and he's had so much more to work with the past three years. Regardless what people on the outside say, being close to the situation, every time I hear the players speak it really seems like they have his back and love the guy. Marqise Lee's comments during this QB battle have just been hilarious, and telling how good a relationship he has with his players. I really appreciated your piece on him after the game on how the public loves to view the bad without giving the good its due. Do you think outside of going 11-2, Kiffin actually makes it through to 2014? I understand why people dislike him from Oakland and Tennessee, but as an SC alum I'm actually proud to call him my coach.

Ted Miller: Well, some people have called for Mack Brown's head, but I get your point.

I also believe the most positive way for a fan to be is ... positive. You support your coach and your team until the end of the season, then take stock. So my feeling is Trojans fans should go all-in with Kiffin and the Trojans and see what happens this season. I think the odds are solid this crew surprises some folks, wins the South Division and ends up ranked in the top half of the national rankings.

My big-picture theory has always been that Kiffin is a smart, talented guy who should become a good coach. What we know is he was a good coach in 2011 and not one in 2012. Now, is he mature enough and reflective enough to combine the fun lessons and the hard lessons of those two seasons and grow into the right guy to lead USC?

So you root for your coach and your team. Let the media do its job, which is to be sourly objective -- or subjective, in the case of a columnist -- pointing out the good and the bad and questioning the underpinnings of both.

As for the threshold for Kiffin retaining his job, I don't think it's as high as 11-2. I think the biggest thing is beating UCLA and Notre Dame, for one. Going 9-4 with rivalry wins is better than 10-3 with rivalry losses. In fact, I think the biggest measure is the finale against the Bruins in the Coliseum. Win that game and a middling bowl, and I think Kiffin will coach the Trojans in 2014.

David from Calgary, Alberta writes: With USC's young secondary and Connor Halliday having so many options to go to, plus an upswing in the run game, do you think Washington State can pull this one out on Saturday?

Ted Miller: Yes, I think USC should be on upset alert. That said, Kevin and I picked USC.

Potentially helping the Cougars' case is USC injuries. The Trojans continue to be banged up, including both starting corners, Anthony Brown and Kevon Seymour, as well as top pass rusher Morgan Breslin, who is expected to play after missing the opener with a ankle injury. The question with USC while still under NCAA sanctions hasn't really been the starting 22. It's been depth. Against the Cougars uptempo pace, a lack of depth is accentuated.

But the key to me is Halliday making plays like he did at Auburn without the interceptions. Not only did he throw three picks against the Tigers, he had a couple of others that were dropped. I think the Cougs' upset chances hinge on their having a clean sheet on giveaways, or at least decisively winning the turnover battle.

Lance from Canada writes: What's your take on teams faking injuries to slow down uptempo offenses? This issue was mentioned in a few different games, but everyone came to the same conclusion -- nobody can prove they faked it. Why on earth is an injured player, who stops the game while being attended to, allowed to come back in after only one play? That's a safety concern. If he's THAT hurt to where the game needs to be stopped, should he be coming back in that quickly? If there was a requirement where they have to sit out an entire series (or at least a few plays) if the game has to be stopped and the training staff has to come on the field, that would go a long way toward getting rid of timely "injuries" and bad acting jobs.

Ted Miller: First, let's understand: Players are absolutely faking injuries. I think coaches playing this indignant card when asked about it is ridiculous. Of course, that's all a part of maintaining plausible deniability.

A coach can easily get his defense to understand his desire for a few fake injuries without specifically signaling a guy to take a fall -- technical term, "A Tosh Lupoi" -- during a game.
Coach to defense during Tuesday practice: I am not telling you guys to fake an injury. But if you feel a twinge or tweak or don't feel 100 percent, it is within the rules for you to go down. Use your judgement. It's quite possible you might only feel 97 percent after their offense gets consecutive first downs.

And there you have it.

As for a remedy, I don't like the idea of constantly adding rules, but I do like Cal coach Sonny Dykes' solution: If a player is hurt enough to go down and not get up, he surely needs a thorough review by the medical staff, which cannot happen in the space of one play.

So injured players should be forced to sit out either a certain number of plays -- say three -- or perhaps an entire series.

Of course, there are ways around even that, such as defensive coach sending in a reserve so he can take a dive and delay the game. Still, I suspect it would reduce the amount of spurious, "I've fallen and can't get up!" moments.

Ryan from Naval Base Point Loma, San Deigo, Calif., writes: First off I just want to say I am a big fan and check your blog more than I check my Facebook. That's saying a lot. Although, I think that speaks to my obsession with the Ducks more than my obsession with you. ... If I didn't know any better I would think the University of Virginia is a legitimate BCS contender! All I've been hearing since Monday, from enough experts to make me sick, is how this is going to be a relatively close game in Virginia. Has everyone fallen and hit their heads this offseason??? Look, Virginia may very well be a decent-looking squad this year. But some of these predictions are outrageous! Am I wrong as an Oregon fan to be offended by the rest of the country expecting this to be a three-score game or less? Not happening.

Ted Miller: Do some of you older Oregon fans, who remember the program before the mid-1990s, ever shake your head and smile at the younger generation of Ducks?

Ryan, where are you getting these predictions? Kevin picked the Ducks by 28, I picked the Ducks by 21. Oregon has perked up to a 24.5-point favorite. If someone has picked the upset, it has eluded me.

I think you are reacting to the quite reasonable media narrative that after playing Nicholls State, a truly bad FCS team, the Ducks are now taking a long road trip to play a respectable AQ conference team. The 'Hoos are not milquetoast. If the Ducks don't show up, they could lose.

Further, there's still the valid curiosity over whether the Ducks continue to be their inexorable selves under first-year coach Mark Helfrich.

So, to your question, which I suspect was delivered with just a bit of faux outrage, I would say ... no.

No, you are not wrong as an Oregon fan to be offended by the rest of the country expecting this to be a three-score game or less. You are an Oregon fan. That is the sort of thing you do. It's joyous, irrational and filled with hubris. Just like all fan bases backing national powers.

Tim from Austin, Texas writes: Ted, I'm not sure if you wrote the story previewing the Washington State at USC game this week or not (it's underneath your video, so I can only assume), but at the bottom it states that Washington State has dropped 20 straight games to ranked opponents. However, this is untrue. Washington was ranked No. 25 last year when Washington State beat the Huskies in the Apple Cup. I know it is just a minor detail, but I'm sure all Coug fans have noticed that and would like to have it corrected.

Ted Miller: I couldn't find the story you were referencing, but Washington wasn't ranked in either poll when it lost the 2012 Apple Cup.

But you are not completely wrong: The Huskies were ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings the week before that game.

Further, ESPN uses the BCS rankings instead of the poll rankings for the sake of clarity over the second half of the season. That, of course, will end after this season when the BCS ends.

Trojan1981 from Tokyo writes: I wanted to make sure that it was made clear that I am not responsible for breaking the chat. The one who is responsible is an imposter Husky who was using my good name to slander Trojans everywhere. Please let it be known that actual Trojans are the most reliable of all Pac-12 fans.

Ted Miller: Trojan1981, we would never suspect anything ill of you.

(And very strategic to pick a Husky as your nemesis, thereby enlisting Oregon fans as potential allies).

Virginia trip a step up for Oregon

September, 4, 2013

Mark Helfrich had a simple goal in his first game as Oregon's head coach: self-preservation.

Said the longtime offensive coordinator, "I hadn't been on the sideline for a game since 1996, so that in and of itself was a new experience, trying to not get killed when someone was running on the sidelines."

Of course, against woeful Nicholls State, Helfrich might have won the one-on-one battle. Oregon piled up 772 yards of offense -- 500 rushing -- without really trying that hard in a 66-3 victory.

The contest operated pretty much as a preseason game for Helfrich and his staff, eight of whom remained behind when Chip Kelly bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles. There were some minor logistical issues to get used to -- "Mark, do we want to accept or decline this penalty?" -- but otherwise it was business as usual, Helfrich said.

Expect the intensity to ratchet up a bit for the Ducks' visit to Virginia. For one, Charlottesvile is 2,400 miles and three times zones away. That type of cross-country travel is never easy on a team. Second, Virginia is a solid ACC squad, one that opened with a defensive-minded win over BYU.

The Ducks are a three-touchdown-plus favorite, but the Cavaliers have the size and athleticism to -- at least -- keep things interesting.

"They're very good," Helfrich said. "It's a completely different test."

Virginia is an interesting team. While Mike London's seat isn't necessarily hot after going 16-21 his first three seasons -- his 2014 recruiting class currently ranks 21st in the nation -- he did massively overhaul his 2012 staff, adding a ton of college coaching experience. He hired former NC State coach Tom O'Brien as associate head coach, former Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild as offensive coordinator and former Georgia Tech and Notre Dame defensive coordinator John Tenuta to lead his defense.

That's a lot of experience going against a first-time head coach. Of course, Helfrich has other things going for him, such as three offensive players who rushed for more than 100 yards last week in QB Marcus Mariota, RB De'Anthony Thomas and RB Byron Marshall, and perhaps the best secondary in college football.

Further, the Pac-12 does pretty well when going east, and Oregon leads the way. Since 2000, the Pac-12 is 26-23 when playing in the Eastern time zone. The Ducks are 3-0 during that span, beating Michigan (2007), Purdue (2008) and Tennessee (2010).

As the Ducks' former offensive coordinator, Helfrich is not like most new head coaches. He knows his school's travel routines. The Ducks will do everything in preparation for this road trip just as they did under Kelly. And, for that matter, under Mike Bellotti.

Still, there are some concerns. The Ducks' opener against Nicholls State didn't produce only bouquets and rainbows during film study. For one, the team's most questionable position -- linebacker -- flashed some ability as well as vulnerability. Helfrich noted too many missed tackles, which means the starting spots are presently written in pencil.

"We're still going to have a competitive situation there," Helfrich said.

Although the Ducks are big favorites, a trip to Virginia will offer a far more substantial test for Helfrich's team than last weekend's walkover. Don't expect Oregon to average 11.1 yards per carry this weekend.

It's so far, so good for Helfrich, but there is so much more up ahead. Or as he volunteered, "I think we'll be tested a little bit differently in future games, but I think we're off to a good start."

Quick look at Week 2 Pac-12 games

September, 2, 2013
Here's a quick look at Week 1 in the conference. All times are ET.


Sacramento State (0-1) at Arizona State (0-0), 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network: First meeting. Sacramento State lost its opener 24-0 to San Jose State. Of course, Sacramento State beat Oregon State in the 2011 season-opener, so Arizona State should not take this game lightly.


Weber State (1-0) at Utah (1-0), 2 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Utah leads the series 3-0. The last meeting was a 37-21 win in 2008. Weber State opened with a 50-40 win over Stephen F. Austin. The Utes beat Utah State.

No. 3 Oregon (1-0) at Virginia (1-0) 3:30 p.m. ABC/ESPN: First meeting. Virginia beat BYU 19-16 in its opener, a game that featured a two-hour rain delay. The Cougars outgained the Cavaliers 362 yards to 223. Three Ducks eclipsed 100 yards rushing in the opener against Nicholls State: QB Marcus Mariota, RB De'Anthony Thomas and RB Byron Marshall. Since 2000, the Pac-12 is 26-23 when playing in the Eastern time zone. The Ducks are 3-0 during that span, beating Michigan (2007), Purdue (2008) and Tennessee (2010).

Portland State (1-0) at California (0-1) 5 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Cal leads the series 1-0, beating the Vikings 42-16 in 2006. Portland State beat Eastern Oregon 57-17 in its opener. In his first career start against Northwestern, Cal QB Jared Goff set a freshman record with 445 yards passing, the second-best overall total in school history behind 503 yards from Pat Barnes vs. Arizona in 1996, a four-overtime game.

Hawaii (0-1) at Oregon State (0-1) 8 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Oregon State leads the series 5-3, with the Beavers winning the last meeting 45-7 in 2008. The Rainbow Warriors opened with a loss to USC. The Beavers, of course, lost to FCS Eastern Washington. The preseason story for Oregon State was the quarterback competition, but perhaps it should have been the defense, which got run over by the Eagles. QB Sean Mannion completed 37 of 43 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns, while WR Brandin Cooks caught 13 passes for 196 yards and two scores.

Central Arkansas (1-0) at Colorado (1-0) 8 p.m. Pac-12 Network: First meeting. Central Arkansas beat Incarnate Word 58-7 on Saturday. Word! The Buffaloes snapped an eight-game losing streak with their win over Colorado State on Sunday. QB Connor Wood completed 33 of 46 passes for 400 yards and three TDs against the Rams. His interception-free game with 46 attempts was the second best in Buffs history.

Arizona (1-0) at UNLV (0-1) 10:30 p.m. CBS Sports Network: Arizona leads the series 1-0, winning 38-21 in 2001. UNLV opened with a 51-23 loss at Minnesota. That was the 23rd loss in a row on the road for the Rebels, but the Wildcats are coming to Sam Boyd Stadium. The Rebels actually outgained Minnesota 419 yards to 320 and rushed for a strong 193 yards. All-American RB Ka'Deem Carey, who was suspended for the season-opener against Northern Arizona, is expected to make his season debut.

Washington State (0-1) at No. 24 USC (1-0) 10:30 p.m. FoxSports 1: The first Pac-12 game of the season! USC leads the series 58-8-4, but the teams haven't played since a 50-16 USC win in 2010. The big question is how things will stack up at quarterback for the Trojans, who will start and how much both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek will play. Connor Halliday is the Cougars quarterback, and he passed for 344 yards at Auburn, but he also threw three costly interceptions. Now back in Pac-12 play, he will be facing a much more physical, athletic and talented defense than Auburn this week. He can't afford similar mistakes, or coach Mike Leach might give Austin Apodaca a look.

San Jose State (1-0) at No. 4 Stanford (0-0) 11 p.m. Pac-12 Network: Stanford leads the Bay Area series -- now the Bill Walsh Legacy Game -- 51-14-1, but the Spartans gave the Cardinal trouble last year before falling 20-17. Of course, at the time we didn't know San Jose State would finish 11-2 and send coach Mike MacIntyre off to Colorado. The Spartans are now coached by Ron Caragher, who was hired away from San Diego, where he followed Jim Harbaugh. Spartans QB David Fales was the nation's most accurate passer last year. The Spartans opened with a 24-0 win over Sacramento State. No. 4 is Stanford's highest preseason ranking in history. The Cardinal has been ranked 45 consecutive weeks dating back to Sept. 5, 2010. That is the school's longest continuous ranking in the polls. Stanford owns a nine-game home winning streak, longest in the Pac-12.

Oregon season preview

August, 15, 2013
We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Oregon Ducks.


Coach: Mark Helfrich (first year)

2012 record: 12-1 (8-1 Pac-12 North)

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsWith a year of experience, the Ducks' offense could see more passing from Marcus Mariota.
Key losses: RB Kenjon Barner, OLB Dion Jordan; LB Kiko Alonso, LB Michael Clay

Key returnees: QB Marcus Mariota, RB/WR De'Anthony Thomas, WR Josh Huff, C Hroniss Grasu, TE Colt Lyerla, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, DE Taylor Hart

Newcomer to watch: It's a good bet that freshman Matt Wogan will be Oregon's kicker this year. Wonder what might have happened if the Ducks had made field goals against USC in 2011 and Stanford in 2012?

Biggest games in 2013: The game of the year, as it has been of late in the Pac-12, is the Oregon-Stanford showdown. This year it's a Thursday night affair at Stanford on Nov. 7. The visit to remodeled Husky Stadium on Oct. 12 also is noteworthy as the Ducks don't want to stop dominating Washington. And, of course, with Oregon State back in the national picture, the season-ending Civil War with the Beavers should be meaningful. As far as nonconference games, the Ducks need to be impressive against Tennessee in Week 3 to keep SEC critics at bay.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: There aren't many, but linebacker is a big one. It's not that there aren't potentially good players ready to step in, but replacing a troika like Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay isn't easy. The inside spots, in particular, seem to be up in the air thus far during preseason camp. Oh, by the way, it's also worth noting that Mr. Win the Day, Chip Kelly, is now coaching the Philadelphia Eagles, so first-time head coach Mark Helfrich is a question until he proves otherwise.

Forecast: Oregon is again loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and poised for a Pac-12 and national title run.

That starts on offense with quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was brilliant as a redshirt freshman starter in 2012, ranking seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He's a top Heisman Trophy candidate, as is his best weapon, running back/receiver De'Anthony Thomas.

All of the Ducks' top pass-catchers are back, so you might see the ball in the air more this season. Mariota has a live and accurate arm, and he's got a good pair of tackles protecting his flanks. Expect tight end Colt Lyerla to have a bigger role this fall. Both guard spots will feature new starters. Center Hroniss Grasu was first-team All-Pac-12 a year ago and is an All-American candidate.

While linebacker is a question, the defensive line and secondary are not. It's not just about the starters either. It's about outstanding depth. The Ducks' twos would start a lot of places. The line welcomes back just about the entire 2012 two-deep, a group that played well in 2012, despite numerous injuries. Expect true sophomores DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead to make significant jumps in production. The secondary? That crew, led by All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, might be the best unit in the nation.

The schedule is favorable. A visit to Virginia and home match with Tennessee give the Ducks a chance to make statements against what should be overmatched foes from other AQ conferences. There are seven home games and well-positioned bye weekends on Sept. 21 and Nov. 2, which is the weekend before the visit to Stanford.

The Ducks have finished ranked in the top five for three consecutive seasons. Their reasonable goal this fall is the spot at the very top.



We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 2.

Thursday, Sept. 5
  • Sacramento State at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 7
  • Weber State at Utah
  • Oregon at Virginia
  • Portland State at California
  • Hawaii at Oregon State
  • Central Arkansas at Colorado
  • Arizona at UNLV
  • Washington State at USC
  • San Jose State at Stanford
My choice: Washington State at USC

Why: Anyone else still recovering from last week's excitement? Fourth-and-1 with 35 seconds left and down by a touchdown, Boise State calls a QB sneak at the Washington 40-yard line to keep a drive alive. After a controversial spot, there is a replay and it's called back. Oh, sweet irony! Washington's defense holds, turnover on downs, Huskies win 24-17 and have a week to relax before heading to Soldier Field.

As for Week 2, Pac-12 play is upon us. Yeah, it happens that fast. The first Pac-12 conference game of the year features Washington State -- still giddy after Connor Halliday and Gabe Marks connected for four touchdowns in the surprisingly easy road win over Auburn -- traveling to a 1-0 and well-tanned USC team. (The Cougars owe me a makeup for my BYU pick last year. Don't let me down.)

The Trojans haven't lost to the Cougars at home since 2000. And it's a safe bet that USC will probably be double-digit favorites in this game. But it's also the first time USC will be facing the Cougars in the Mike Leach era -- and the Pac-12 blog is expecting some improvement out of Washington State in 2013. Recall that while USC ranked third in pass defense last year, they were middle of the road in pass efficiency defense, allowing 20 touchdowns in the air while quarterbacks completed 60.4 percent of their throws against the Trojans. Not horrible numbers, but not lockdown, either.

Looking at the rest of the Week 2 lineup, there isn't a lot of intrigue with four FCS teams on the docket. Then again, the league has lost to an FCS team two straight years -- so nothing can be taken for granted. San Jose State/Stanford was tight last year, and as it turned out, the Spartans were a pretty darn good team under one Mike MacIntyre -- and the dangerous connection of quarterback David Fales to receiver Noel Grigsby is intact. But MacIntyre is gone, Ron Carragher is in (along with former Washington assistant Jimmie Dougherty as offensive coordinator) so we'll have to see if the Spartans can keep things rolling post-Mac.

Still, we're road tripping to L.A. since it's the first Pac-12 conference game of the year and we're banking on Sacramento State's two-game win streak against the league to end in Tempe. Plus, USC's choice of quarterback is going to be an intriguing storyline to follow all season. And, if anything, I hear the Transformers 3-D ride at Universal Studios is supposed to be pretty sweet.
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.


Nicholls State University, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Charlie Stubbs (6-27), fourth year
  • 2012 record: 1-10, 0-7 Southland
  • Returning starters: nine offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Marcus Washington, an all-league honorable mention pick last year, led the team in rushing with 598 yards and rushed for six touchdowns. He averaged 76.5 all-purpose yards per game last year.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Chris Bermond finished second on the team last year with 64 tackles (36 solo) and posted two tackles for a loss with a pair of pass breakups.
  • The skinny: Assuming there are no acts of God, we'll see NSU in the season opener this year. It has a lot of players returning, but anyone who saw it against Oregon State last year saw the talent differential between the Southland squad and an upper-tier Pac-12 team. And we're going to go out on a limb and call Oregon upper tier.
at Virginia, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Mike London (16-21), fourth year
  • 2012 record: 4-8, 2-6 ACC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Tailback Kevin Parks returns after leading Virginia with 734 rushing yards and five touchdowns last year. He also caught 24 balls for 189 yards.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Jake Snyder was tops among the team's defensive linemen with 44 stops last year and second with 2.5 sacks.
  • The skinny: Virginia is looking for a new quarterback after the departure of both Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims. It also lost leading tackler Steve Greer (122 tackles), so there are some holes to fill on both sides of the ball. The Cavaliers have been up and down in London's tenure, going 4-8 in Year 1, 8-5 in Year 2 and then 4-8 last year.
Tennessee, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Butch Jones, first year
  • 2012 record: 5-7, 1-7 SEC
  • Returning starters: five offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: The Volunteers lost a lot on offense from last year, but running back Rajion Neal returns as the rushing leader after posting 708 yards and five touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker A.J. Johnson, who was second-team All-SEC last season, returns after posting 138 stops last year -- tops on the team -- to go with 8.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
  • The skinny: A lot of UT's all-league offensive players from last year are gone, including tight end Mychal Rivera and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Also gone is quarterback Tyler Bray. That said, the Vols do have a fairly experienced offensive line, headlined by tackle Antonio Richardson. This is Tennessee's return trip from the 2010 matchup, which Oregon won 48-13.
Thoughts: Over/under on the amount of minutes Marcus Mariota will play in all three games? Ninety minutes? No real threats here and Oregon's starters should be well rested heading into conference play on Sept. 28 when they host Cal. Nicholls State University has been an under-performing FCS squad, Virginia is rebuilding with new offensive and defensive coordinators and Tennessee is starting anew with Jones (once thought to be the next head coach at Colorado). This provides a nice cushion for the Ducks as they transition to game day under new head coach Mark Helfrich. Anything less than a 3-0 start is almost unimaginable.

You can see the rest of the series here.

Early odds on Pac-12 games

June, 10, 2013
Who's the favorite in the big Pac-12 nonconference and conference games this year?

Well, the process of making point spreads -- for entertainment purposes only! -- has begun. Don Best revealed the Golden Nugget's odds for 250 college games late last week.

That includes making Oregon a 4-point favorite at Stanford on Nov. 7, meaning Las Vegas believes the Ducks to be the best team in the Pac-12. Or at least it believes that's what the public believe.

We are not listing every game, only some of the notable ones.
  • Washington State at Auburn (-11.5)
  • Colorado vs. Colorado State (-3.5)
  • Boise State at Washington (-2)
  • Oregon (-21) at Virginia
  • Wisconsin at Arizona State (pick)
  • Ohio State (-21) at California
  • UCLA at Nebraska (-6)
  • Tennessee at Oregon (-25)
  • Arizona State at Stanford (-10)
  • Utah at BYU (-7.5)
  • USC at Arizona State (pick)
  • Arizona State vs. Notre Dame (-4) (Cowboys Stadium)
  • Oregon (-37) at Colorado
  • Washington at Stanford (-10)
  • Arizona at USC (-7)
  • Oregon (-14) at Washington
  • UCLA at Stanford (-10)
  • USC at Notre Dame (-5)
  • Stanford (-3) at Oregon State
  • UCLA at Oregon (-20)
  • USC at Oregon State (-2)
  • Oregon (-4) at Stanford
  • Washington at UCLA (-2)
  • Oregon State at Arizona State (-4.5)
  • Stanford at USC (-1)
  • Arizona State at UCLA (-3)
  • California at Stanford (-22)
  • Washington at Oregon State (-5)
  • Washington State at Washington (-14)
  • Oregon State at Oregon (-16)
  • Arizona at Arizona State (-5)
  • UCLA at USC (-7)

WSJ: USC is the big show

December, 28, 2010
When NCAA sanctions against USC included a two-year postseason ban, the bowl season took a major hit.

Or at least that's what the Wall Street Journal says. "When Southern California is in a bowl game, TV viewers tune in," the business newspaper reported this week.

How so? Well, the WSJ wanted to measure which teams moved the needle among viewers: "To figure out which teams are the most popular TV draws during the bowl season, we looked at the national viewership figures for every bowl since 1998. We then ranked each school based on whether it exceeded or fell short of its bowls' average audience size."

And the numbers showed that USC was the top draw, even over Notre Dame.
The best was USC, which exceeded its expected audience size by 29%. The most famous example of this was its epic national-title loss to Texas in 2006, which drew 35.6 million viewers—33% more than what the title game has averaged since its inception.

The ACC won't like the numbers. Four of the worst draws hail from the conference: Clemson, Georgia Tech, NC State and Virginia.

Midseason report: USC

October, 12, 2010
USC Trojans

Record: 4-2, 1-2 Pac-10

It's now fair to say that the USC dynasty is over. Completely. In the preseason, it wasn't ridiculous to wonder if the four-loss team from 2009 was just a blip and that the Trojans would bounce back in 2010, reinvigorated under new coach Lane Kiffin. That clearly hasn't happened. USC looks like a middle-of-the-pack team in the Pac-10.

Kiffin was left a poor hand. The Trojans talent was already down -- see 2009 -- but a series of events have left them with just 70 scholarship players. There is a decided lack of depth. Kiffin has joked that the challenging present will be good practice for the future, because NCAA sanctions have docked USC 30 scholarships over the next three years.

Even through a 4-0 start, USC looked unimpressive. The defense was exposed immediately when Hawaii piled up big numbers in a 49-36 USC victory. The offense then looked bad in a 17-14 win over Virginia. Things seemed to come together slightly during wins over Minnesota and Washington State, but neither of those two teams provide much of a measure.

The last two games, though, were revealing. Playing two opponents that beat them last year -- Washington and Stanford -- the Trojans again went down due to late drives for winning field goals. The defense just couldn't get a stop during crunch time. The Trojans looked uninspired against Washington, but they fought hard at Stanford, a team that ran the score up on them in 2009.

They just couldn't impose their will like the USC teams of 2002-2008 always did. The question going forward: Will the postseason ban start to sink in over the coming weeks, making it harder for the team to get focused and motivated every week?

Offensive MVP: Sometimes people forget that Matt Barkley is a true sophomore. It certainly seems like he's been around a while -- perhaps that's because there's been so much USC news over the past year-plus -- but he's quickly matured into one of the nation's best quarterbacks. He ranks 14th in the nation and second in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency. He's completing 65 percent of his throws and averaging 253 yards passing per game. He's thrown 15 touchdown passes with just four interceptions. He seems well on track toward joining previous USC quarterbacks as first-round NFL draft picks.

Defensive MVP: The USC defense has been mostly bad this year, but tackle Jurrell Casey has been mostly good. He's got 32 total tackles, with 3.5 coming for a loss and two sacks. He's still widely considered an early-round NFL draft pick. Casey's numbers will pick up significantly if his line mates can stay healthy.

Pac-10 Q&A: USC's Ed Orgeron

September, 24, 2010
During his first run at USC, Ed Orgeron built his reputation as a great defensive line coach and a recruiting force.

He also was the coaching staff's designated fiery guy. Fair to say he was a master at whipping a locker room into a frenzy.

Now he's back, working under Lane Kiffin instead of Pete Carroll, and he's trying to rebuild the Trojans into the force they were from 2002-2008, not the indifferent team from last fall.

And, of course, he and Kiffin are trying to do that while yoked with severe NCAA sanctions.

The Trojans are 3-0, but most of the country is unimpressed. AP voters seem to be applying a special standard to USC, punishing the Trojans in the polls despite their playing three FBS teams -- two from AQ conferences -- as well as two road games.

Orgeron and USC are headed to Washington State on Saturday, where they likely will win but still drop a couple of spots in the polls. We caught up with him before he bolted for Pullman.

How long did it take for you to feel like you were back home at USC?

Ed Orgeron: (Laughs) Not long at all. This is a place I always wanted to come back to. And I was fortunate enough to come back here and fit right in and just start working again. So it didn't take long at all.

Before we get into football, what happened to your foot? How did you get hurt?

EO: I was at practice two Thursdays ago, setting up a drill, and I heard a crack. I got an x-ray on it and it was something that probably happened while I was jogging this summer, a little fracture. Just got a little worse.

I ask because I was wondering if you've mellowed. Or are you still as fiery as ever?

EO: (Laughs) I'm not mellow. In fact, there may be a little bit more fire that has come out.

Tell me about the defense: What's your overall feeling after three games?

EO: We started off really shaky. Hawaii was on fire. We made a lot of mistakes and didn't tackle well and got tired in the first game. We made some improvement playing against Virginia. We still have a ways to go. I'm really proud of the way we tackled and fit the run against Minnesota, which was averaging 252 yards per game. We still haven't played up to our potential yet. We're still getting better. We still have some deficits that we will have to get better, recruit better, coach better. But I think the tackling has improved, the conditioning is getting better and they're playing harder.

Who is playing well?

EO: We came in and we were really concerned with our linebackers. But I think they've been very solid. The whole crew: Michael Morgan, Devon Kennard, Malcolm Smith and Chris Galippo -- those guys a group of done a good job. DT Jurrell Casey is playing like an All-American. He's one of the better players I've had since I've been at USC. He's been really consistent.

What isn't going well?

EO: Everything starts up front. You got to have a consistent pass rush. We haven't had a ferocious pass rush since we've been back here. Not tackling, giving up the big plays. We've had busted assignments, letting guys get over the top. Guys have been in position to make plays and haven't. Everything that hasn't gone well has been correctable, though.

When you were at USC before, Washington State was pretty good. Are you a little surprised by their struggles?

EO: You just never can tell in college football. With recruiting, everything. Everything has equaled out. Look at Boise State. A team can lose a couple of good players and fall off, but they can regain their strength with a couple good players in recruiting. They have been off for a while, but I think those guys will fight back eventually.

What do you see from the Cougars offense on tape that you guys need to worry about?

EO: They are explosive. They aren't scoring a lot of points, but they've reeled off some big plays, some big runs. They've had more explosive plays that you'd expect from a team not having much success. We need to go up there and be ready to play. You know they're always going to play the Trojans well.

How far are you guys away from getting back to old USC defense?

EO: Oh, we're a ways away. That's going to be a process. It took us a couple years with coach Carroll to start playing USC defense, a couple of great recruits coming in. We're a ways away. Whether we can attain it this season remains to be seen.

You're known as one of the nation's top recruiters. What do you say about NCAA sanctions when you are out recruiting?

EO: It's galvanized our football team. We had choice to complain about it, give excuses, but we didn't. We're recruiting harder than ever. We're coaching harder than ever. There's a chance for these guys to come in and play. It really affected this year's class the most with two bowls. Next year's class is only one bowl. I really feel with 15 recruits we can play with anybody in the nation. USC is going to get the top players. I don't think it's going to be that detrimental to USC. We're not going to let that happen.

Knowing your numbers are going to be down over the next few years, how have you guys changed strategies to account for that?

EO: Lineman. Linemen. You have to get lineman. You have to have backups on the line to be able to practice the way we want to practice, physically, with physical practices. We have to make sure that the lines are really, really great.

Kiffin asks for patience -- from himself, others

September, 16, 2010
Lane Kiffin thinks USC deserves a break. And not just from media and USC fans who have been beating up on the Trojans for their performances in the first two games.

Kiffin also thinks the Trojans deserves a break from Kiffin.

Lane Kiffin
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireLane Kiffin admitted that perhaps his expectations were a little too high.
After all, he's the one who said this after USC improved to 2-0: "I hope you can tell the disappointment. We're not getting it done. It's the most miserable 2-0 locker room I've been in, which is good."

After a few days in which he could digest that being one of 43 2-0 teams isn't the worst thing ever, Kiffin took a longer view.

"Our standards are so high because we are at 'SC and because we have high standards in general, coaches and players," he said. "I think everyone, including ourselves, forgets that it is our first year. We expect our players to have picked up three new systems. There's only one coach here from last year out of all the 10 coaches. We do sometimes forget that because we expect our guys to play great and never make mistakes in our new schemes."

So is Kiffin talking about the "P" word? You know: Patience?


"Were probably not doing a very good job of that because we have our expectations set so high," he said. "We do probably need to have a little more patience with them."

Though it seems like most of Kiffin's motivational coaching shtick involves directly challenging his players in person and through the media, he changed tack this week and gave them a little bit of positive reinforcement when he pinned a printout on every door of Heritage Hall, which compared the season to a 13-round heavyweight boxing match and featured a picture of Muhammad Ali glowering over a fallen Sonny Liston. It exhorted the Trojans to "Stay focused!" and "Toughness and Discipline!"

USC faces another long trip Saturday to an opponent that should be overmatched. Minnesota, after all, lost at home to South Dakota last weekend.

When asked if his team might yawn at the prospect of facing the wounded Gophers, Kiffin was quick to point to the Kansas case study: Bad enough one week to lose to North Dakota, but good enough to beat No. 15 Georgia Tech the next.

And if USC plays as bad on defense as it did against Hawaii, and as bad on offense as it did against Virginia, it could lose this one.

But that's seeing the glass as half-empty. The offense played great at Hawaii, while the defense was solid vs. the Cavaliers.

"The positive on that is we know we can play well on both sides of the ball," Kiffin said.

Two things are particularly hurting USC. In both games, the Trojans seemed to get tired. Kiffin said that was due to playing starters too many snaps. The plan is to play backups more, even if that makes the coaches nervous.

The second issue: penalties. USC ranks 119th in the nation in penalties, averaging 12 flags for 120 yards per game.

Kiffin said penalties have been an area of emphasis -- avoiding them, not getting them -- since he started in the spring. He said the coaches talk about limiting penalties endlessly. So his new approach is this: silence.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said when asked about the penalty issues.

Perhaps that's an answer in itself. Kiffin and USC need to lighten up a bit and recognize that he's a first-year coach leading a depleted roster during a tumultuous time for the program. Things are much different than when Kiffin was the offensive coordinator back in 2005.

So, as the wise men of Guns N' Roses once noted: Maybe we all just need a little patience.

Of course, selling that to demanding USC fans might not be that easy.

What to watch in the Pac-10: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
Ten issues to consider heading into the third week of games.

1. Cal's defense will be tested at Nevada: California presently ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense, giving up a scant 160 yards per game. So kudos to new coordinator Clancy Pendergast. But Nevada ranks No. 1 in total offense, rolling up a monstrous 592 yards per game. So who wins: The irresistible force or the immovable object?

2. Arizona's O-line vs. Iowa's D-line: The Wildcats have a good offensive line, probably among the top three or four units in the Pac-10. But Iowa probably has the best defensive line in the country, led by end Adrian Clayborn. All four starters are back from 2009's stingy unit that combined for 27 sacks and allowed just 3.5 yards per rush. The first question is can the Wildcats line do enough to create any sort of run threat or occasional creases for Nic Grigsby? The second is, failing that, will the line give QB Nick Foles enough time to throw the ball?

[+] EnlargeTyler Hansen
AP Photo/Ben MargotCal has the nation's No. 1 defense through two games, allowing just 160 yards per game.
3. Locker on the big stage: There is a bizarre crew that haunts the Pac-10 blog and constantly calls Washington QB Jake Locker "overrated," meaning they disagree with Mike Bellotti, Pete Carroll, every Pac-10 coach, every NFL scout, LSU's players (who called Locker the best player they saw in 2009) and just about everyone who makes a living around football. Of course, they have the right to call the world flat. But guess what? If Locker doesn't turn in an impressive performance vs. Nebraska, his Heisman Trophy candidacy will end before it gets started. So this is his big moment to either lead an upset or take a step back in national stature.

4. Vontaze Burfict vs. John Clay: Arizona State's 245-pound linebacker Vontaze Burfict is one of the most talented and aggressive LBs in the country. Wisconsin's 248-pound running back John Clay is one of the best power runners in the country. When these two meet, the violence of the impact should be dynamic. But who knocks the other backwards? Burfict and the ASU defense is looking to make a national statement. To do so, it needs to contain Clay.

5. Can USC put it together? USC's offense looked great in the opener at Hawaii. The defense looked terrible. The offense looked terrible vs. Virginia. The defense looked pretty good. The cumulative affect is we really don't know who these Trojans are. Will they put it all together at Minnesota's expense? Or will it be another piddling effort?

6. Luck through the air: Stanford QB Andrew Luck looked great running, but, despite two TD passes, didn't throw terribly well at UCLA. He completed just 11 of 24 passes for 151 yards. Wake Forest's secondary didn't look great while giving up 358 passing yards and four touchdowns to Duke in a wild 54-48 victory. You'd think Luck would feast on that at home and revert back to his accurate, playmaking self.

7. How will UCLA's offense bounce back? Stanford shut out the Bruins and held them to 233 total yards last weekend. That had many screaming for QB Kevin Prince's head. But Prince's biggest problem is he's barely seen practice time due to a back injury and then a shoulder injury. He's practiced all this week. Moreover, Houston's defense isn't anything like its offense. The Cougars are surrendering 26 points and 393 yards per game. Expect the Bruins to be much better on offense Saturday.

8. Jacquizz should break out vs. Louisville: Dating back to last season, Oregon State RB Jacquizz Rodgers hasn't eclipsed 100 yards rushing in three games. That's a mini-slump for him. Louisville gave up 230 yards rushing to a mediocre Kentucky team in week one. So expect for Rodgers to get his 100 yards. And also expect him to get some touches in the passing game, which he didn't vs. TCU.

9. Cougs stepping forward? Does the comeback win vs. Montana State turn a page for Washington State? Sure, it was just an FCS opponent, but showing some backbone feels meaningful. SMU has a high-powered, balanced offense and is one of the favorites in Conference USA. Moreover, the Mustangs will be plenty motivated after losing at Washington State last year. But if the Cougars pull the upset, the entire tenor of their season could change.

10. How did the Pac-10 measure up? It wasn't the most creative name or anything, but "Measuring Stick Saturday" is real. The Pac-10's place in the pecking order among BCS conferences largely will be based -- at least during the regular season -- on what happens Saturday. A winning weekend will earn it consideration with the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12. A losing one? It falls to the bottom half of the six. Considering the Pac-10 is an underdog in five of the nine games, the conference needs for all its favorites to prevail and at least one underdog to come through with an upset.

Pac-10 officials blew call, get punished

September, 13, 2010
Pac-10 officials blew a critical call in the USC-Virginia game on Saturday. That might not surprise you. A swift reprimand might.

Kudos to the Pac-10 for quickly and publicly accepting responsibility. That's a change under commissioner Larry Scott.

Here's the release:
The Pac-10 has disciplined the officials involved in last Saturday’s Virginia-USC football game for failure to apply the playing rules correctly, Commissioner Larry Scott announced today. Those officials involved in making the call have been reprimanded and will be removed from a future game assignment.

The officials misapplied rules for blocking below the waist on a Virginia fake punt in the second quarter. According to the playing rules, blocking below the waist anywhere on the field by either team is illegal if the offense is lined up in a scrimmage kick formation, unless a kick is not made.

“The officials recognized the mistake after the fact and apologized to the Virginia coaching staff. We know mistakes are made in games, but we will not tolerate our officials misinterpreting the rules,” Scott said.

“We believe the reprimand and removal from a future assignment are appropriate,” Scott concluded.

Pac-10 rewind and look ahead

September, 13, 2010
An undefeated weekend. Unless you're UCLA.

Team of the week: Oregon actually in some ways looks better because it came back from a 13-3 deficit at Tennessee with a 45-zip run. If the Ducks had rolled from the get-go, it would have been a case of "that's what we expected." But by bouncing back from adversity -- nothing went right in the first quarter on either side of the ball -- Oregon showed notable resilience and grace under pressure. And, let's face it, it was kind of fun that the early going spawned some SEC trash talk -- "We play defense in the SEC!" -- that was notably muted by game's end.

Best game: So Washington State nearly went down to Montana State? Think Virginia Tech, Kansas and Minnesota would prefer a "nearly" for themselves? The Cougars showed some heart by rallying from 15 points down in the fourth quarter to win 23-22.

[+] EnlargeLaMichael James
AP Photo/Wade PayneStopping LaMichael James in space is one of Stanford's biggest challenges.
Biggest play: LaMichael James' all-on-his-own 72-yard TD run was a thing of beauty. Just spectacular. And when he made the Tennessee defense look silly -- there was a palpable wince in Neyland Stadium -- you could sort of sense that the Ducks were about to deliver a beatdown. And they did.

Offensive standout: Washington receiver Jermaine Kearse bounced back from an inconsistent performance at BYU to dominate Syracuse's secondary. He hauled in nine receptions for 179 yards with three TDs. Kearse ranks third in the nation with 143.5 receiving yards per game.

Defensive standout (s): Two strong performances from Bay Area teams. California linebacker Mohamed led the Bears defensive effort against Colorado with 14 tackles and an interception for a TD, while Stanford safety Michael Thomas had five tackles -- one for a loss -- and forced two fumbles in the shutout win against UCLA. The second forced fumble he returned 21 yards for a TD.

Special teams standout: Kenjon Barner returned a punt 80 yards for a TD, giving the Ducks three punt returns for scores in two games after Cliff Harris had two against New Mexico in the opener.

Smiley face: The Stanford defense, which recorded its first road shutout since 1974, a 35-zip blanking of UCLA. Also, the Pac-10, a week after going 6-4 in nonconference games, went 7-0 against nonconference foes, including wins against the Big 12 (Colorado), the SEC (Tennessee), the Big East (Syracuse) and the ACC (Virginia).

Frowny face: UCLA. The Bruins rank 115th in the nation in scoring, 115th in passing and 111th in total offense. The defense? It ranks 116th vs. the run and 102nd in scoring. And Arizona State's rushing offense, which only produced 56 yards on 29 carries against Northern Arizona. That's 1.9 yards per rush vs. an FCS team.

Sloppy: Look at the bottom of this list. Arizona State and USC rank 118th and 119th in penalty yards per game (112 and 120, respectively). Both have committed 24 penalties in their first two games. Yeech.

Quote of the week: "That's the most miserable 2-0 locker room I've ever been in," USC coach Lane Kiffin said after his Trojans beat Virginia.

Quote of the week II: "Tonight was an offensive disaster," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said after his Bruins were blanked.

Thought of the week: Here's are the top games (Oregon vs. Portland State is not included).

Iowa at Arizona
Arizona State at Wisconsin
Nebraska at Washington
Cal at Nevada (Friday)
Wake Forest at Stanford
Houston at UCLA
USC at Minnesota
Washington State at SMU
Louisville at Oregon State

The win-loss record on Saturday night will play a huge role in how the Pac-10 is perceived this season. And, Oregon fans, if you are starting to entertain national-title dreams, you should root hard for the conference to do well. And, yes, that includes the Huskies and Beavers. Saturday's results will resonate in both the national and computer polls -- and later the BCS standings.