Pac-12: Alabama Crimson Tide

Ducks, Buckeyes hammer perceptions

January, 2, 2015
Jan 2
LOS ANGELES — Perception, that truth-y thing that often stands in for reality, was front and center during the buildup to the College Football Playoff semifinal matchups on Thursday.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston talked about how “perception is reality” for him and how he can’t change the minds of haters. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost noted that coach Mark Helfrich had “an uphill battle in terms of perception” having to following Chip Kelly at the Ducks' helm. Helfrich’s squad endured another round of questions about being perceived as a finesse team that wilts against programs perceived as more physical.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonOhio State ran away from Alabama to cap a miserable bowl season for the SEC West, and there was nothing fluky about it.
Down in New Orleans, the perception was that top-seeded Alabama was too big and too bad and was going to leave a footprint on the collective foreheads of Ohio State, because that’s what SEC teams do to Big Ten teams, particularly when that SEC team is Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.

It’s then fair to say that perception suffered as bad a bowl season as the SEC West, which was unmasked as college football’s tough guys when Saban’s Crimson Tide capped a shocking 2-5 divisional face-plant by being bullied by the Buckeyes.

That, of course, happened just after Helfrich took a decisive step out of Kelly’s shadow by leading his Ducks to a 59-20 brutalizing of a Seminoles team that hadn’t lost in 29 consecutive games, a team that impressively passed the sight test but nonetheless was frantically tapping out to the Ducks' jujitsu on both sides of the ball before we were more than a few minutes into the fourth quarter.

And so the dominant college football paradigm was sledgehammered in the first go-round of our new system by a matchup that resembles a traditional Rose Bowl. For the first time since 2005, no SEC team will play for the national title, and the SEC will not win a national title for a second consecutive year after winning the previous seven.

Friday was an odd day if you’ve been around the sport for a while, not only because postgame celebrations at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl were muted by the fact that the victories were secondary accomplishments that didn’t conclude the season. The much-maligned Big Ten took down the state of Alabama -- Auburn lost to Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl -- which had won four of the previous five national titles, and Michigan State hushed Baylor, a team that still doesn’t understand that its cowardly scheduling is the problem, not the media or CFP selection committee.

Those marquee Big Ten victories came after Michigan made a thundering statement by acquiring Jim Harbaugh, a hiring that stands in contrast to SEC power Florida looking to Colorado State for its next coach. No offense to the capable Jim McElwain, but his pleated khakis aren’t nearly as inspiring or fascinating as Harbaugh’s.

Oregon and Ohio State arrive as our finalists after seasons laden with adversity. Both have been wracked by injuries, the Buckeyes at quarterback, the Ducks everywhere else. Both suffered early-season defeats that had many dismissing them from the national picture. They also both feature creative, up-tempo offenses that stand in contrast to the two-back, pro-style sets that many traditionalists still write sonnets about. So there are some notable similarities.

There also are differences, of course. Ohio State has won seven national titles, the Ducks zero. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer is probably a win away from having his face carved into the Mount Rushmore of coaches. Winning a third national title after capturing two at Florida and previously winning big at Bowling Green and Utah would insert him into the "best ever" discussion.

Of course, Phil Knight might build a golden statue of Helfrich outside Autzen Stadium if the Ducks win the first CFP, grabbing the only prize that has eluded the program during its steady rise as a national power since the 1980s.

Oregon will beat Ohio State if it sticks to the simple plan it used against the Seminoles. Before the Ducks squared off against FSU, another college football blue blood, Frost spoke of the necessity of "dictating" instead of reacting to what the Seminoles were doing.

"If we are reacting to what they are doing, we aren't at our best," he said.

[+] EnlargeJan 1, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks running back
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State couldn't stand up to Oregon's physicality, another way the College Football Playoff semifinals contradicted conventional wisdom and stereotypes.
Did a team ever dictate a big game more than the Ducks did to the Seminoles, particularly in the second half, when FSU was supposed to take control? While Winston pulled out the "we beat ourselves" line afterward, he apparently failed to pay enough attention to Ducks' game film. Rendering teams into bloody hamburger during a sudden transformative frenzy is what Oregon does. The Ducks were not gifted those five turnovers from the Seminoles. They took them. The Ducks forced 30 turnovers this season and ranked second in the nation in turnover margin. They ranked first in turnover margin in 2012 and have been in the top 25 every year since 2010.

“All they did tonight was go out and act like themselves,” said Frost.

Yet there was a little bit more to the Ducks' effort, and perhaps this can be attributed to Helfrich. There is no question that Oregon players and coaches were annoyed by the pregame talk about "finesse." Receiver Byron Marshall, who was pretty snappy about the topic before the game, said afterward that certain dismissive comments that were attributed to Florida State players were posted in the locker room, which further motivated the team. Kelly would have outright rejected such an approach as an outside distraction that had nothing to do with the quality of execution. Helfrich seemed to let his players marinate just a bit in the perceived -- that word! -- tweaks.

When asked about what Winston could have meant when he said "this game could have gone either way," about a 39-point defeat, Oregon center Hroniss Grasu was at a loss.

“I don’t know what he was thinking," he said. "We beat them physically, we beat them mentally, our coaches outcoached them."

He then added: “They are a great team. We are just a better team."

Here's a guess that many of the Buckeyes could identify with those pregame sentiments and postgame conclusions.

Both these teams want a national title above all else. Winning is always the ultimate reward. But you can also bet both will sustain an internal perception that they still have to prove their doubters wrong, that they must still play with a chip on their shoulders.

And no matter what, when the smoke clears on Jan. 12, one more set of perceptions will be sledgehammered.

Oregon needs to win 2014 national title

December, 29, 2014
Coach Rich Brooks led Oregon to an 8-4 finish in 1989, his 13th season in Eugene. If that elicits a "so what," understand the Ducks hadn't won that many games since 1963. Five seasons -- and two losing records -- later, Oregon played in the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958, losing to Penn State by 18 points, though the Ducks' media guide celebrated the program's effort as proving it "belonged in Pasadena."

In 2013, Oregon went 11-2, beat Texas 30-7 in the Alamo Bowl and finished ranked No. 9 in the nation. It was considered a down season, and some wondered if first-year coach Mark Helfrich had what it takes to lead the Ducks, post-Chip Kelly.

Times change and so do expectations.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Kelly Kline/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota's Heisman Trophy represented one breakthrough for Oregon. A national championship would represent an even bigger one.
"We do sit back every now and then and kind of laugh at it, us that have been around here a long time," said first-year Ducks defensive coordinator Don Pellum, who's accumulated 31 seasons with his alma mater as a player, administrator and assistant coach.

For the vast majority of its 119 seasons of football, a winning record was an ambitious wish for Oregon. Yet now, as the Ducks eyeball defending national champion Florida State, winner of 29 consecutive games, as more than a touchdown favorites in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual, the simple reality is Oregon needs to win the national title.

After going 69-10 over the past six seasons, playing for a national title in 2010 and finishing ranked in the top five three times, the Ducks need to finish the deal and be the last team standing. They need to make this their year.

That need is not only about program validation, though that's a big part of it, as the Ducks have accomplished everything else. It's not only about opportunity, though the greatest player in program history -- Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota -- is likely off to the NFL next year.

It's also about something larger, about the good of the game, about making the first year of the College Football Playoff represent an expansion of the sport rather than a contraction, which most would argue the CFP ultimately will be. It's about the 121 FBS teams who are not participating, 84 of whom, like Oregon, have never won a football national championship.

Dismiss the Ducks as nouveau riche, but Oregon represents the present and future upstarts in its semifinal game, and upstarts are a fairly rare thing in college football. There has not been a first-time national champion since Florida won in 1996, and it's difficult to view the Gators as anything other than a so-called "have" program, particularly after they won two more BCS titles in the last decade. The biggest outlier program to win a national title under the BCS system from 1998 to 2013 was, what, Auburn?

The other three teams in the semifinals are college football blue bloods. Alabama claims 15 national titles. Ohio State claims seven. Florida State picked up its third last year. Each of their sitting coaches already owns a national title. They dominate recruiting rankings and play in front of 80,000-plus fans on Saturdays. Oregon's Autzen Stadium, though one of the loudest and most hostile environments in the sport, seats only 54,000. No BCS champion plays in a smaller stadium.

Further, it's about expanding the sport's national map. The SEC has won eight of the past nine national titles and nine total during the BCS era. If you include Florida State and Miami in the mix, then 12 of the 16 BCS national titles ended up in the Southeast, and Texas and Oklahoma add a 13th and 14th below the Mason-Dixon Line (at least an extended one).

The Pac-12/10 hasn't won a national title since USC in 2004, and no Pac-10 team other than USC has won a national title since Washington in 1991. Before that, if then-Big 8 member Colorado's 1990 title doesn't count, it's UCLA in 1954.

Of course, most players and coaches and even fans don't view their team through a prism of the big picture or cogitate over symbolic meanings and larger ramifications. Oregon and its adherents want to win a national title for the concrete thing itself and then enjoy the resultant crowing that sitting atop college football affords. Few connected to the program are likely to extrapolate too much more from the accomplishment. It's pretty obviously there, though, as a potential historical landmark.

Some folks even doubt whether winning it all will quell the critics who view Oregon as an interloper among the elite, a team that dresses strangely and relies on a peculiar system to fool the burly blue bloods who stubbornly celebrate the game as an expression of mano a mano manhood at the line of scrimmage. Ducks players, who've patiently entertained "validation" questions in advance of just about every big game since 2009, aren't certain they will be done with doubters even if they hoist the first College Football Playoff trophy.

"Who knows? I feel like with media and people and outside voices these days, you never know," outside linebacker Tony Washington said. "We could get there and people would still talk about how 'Oregon is not this. Oregon is not that.'"

Yet count Tony Washington among the "national title or bust" crew. The fifth-year senior called the Ducks during his career "up and down; it's kind of been a roller coaster," though that career has featured 59 wins, including two BCS bowl games, and just seven losses.

"We want to get to the big game," Washington explained. "We've fallen short every year. That's been disappointing for us because we all come into the season with high expectations."

Oregon's high expectations have evolved from a winning season and any old bowl game to a singularity: The Ducks must win the 2014 national title.
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To the notes!

Matt from Sunnyvale, Calif., writes: While eight of the Pac-12 teams are in the midst of bowl season, the other four are prepping for the holidays. In analyzing the conference's "worst" team (according to thy mighty power rankings), how would the Buffs have stacked up in any of the other Power 5 conferences this year? Besides playing in the SEC West, I think they could have an extra 2-4 wins under their belts in the ACC or Big Ten. How do the Buffs matchup to the Kansases, Purdues or Wake Forests of the Power-5 conferences? Bonus question: Clancy Pendergast has to get a look for DC at CU, no? Would be a great addition!

Ted Miller: If Colorado hired Clancy Pendergast it would instantaneously upgrade its defense, a schematic equivalent of checkers to chess, no question. Guessing he'll have some options this offseason, though.

The first part of your question is interesting, though I may extrapolate on it my own way -- as I am wont to do.

When you ask, "How would the Buffs have stacked up in any of the other Power-5 conferences this year?" my overriding thought is the Buffs would have been far better off as long as they didn't play in the SEC West. In the SEC East, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten, the Buffs would have won more games. They lost four Pac-12 games this season by five points or less, and two of those defeats were to teams that remain nationally ranked.

In fact, we're going to crown Colorado the best worst Power-5 conference team.

In the interest of fairness, here are the candidates.
  • Wake Forest (3-9, 1-7 ACC): Ranked 127th in the nation in points per game (14.8) and rushing yards per game (39.9). Lost to Louisiana Monroe. Best win was 6-3 in double-overtime over Virginia Tech.
  • Purdue (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Lost to Central Michigan. Best win was at Illinois. Lost six straight to finish season.
  • Iowa State (2-10, 0-9 Big 12): Lost to North Dakota State. Gave up 38.8 points per game, which ranked 118th in nation. Best win at Iowa 20-17. Lost six straight to finish season.
  • Vanderbilt (3-9 0-8 SEC):Lost to Temple. Ranked 106th in the nation or worse in passing yards, rushing yards, points for and points against. Best win? Massachusetts?
  • Colorado (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12): Lost to Colorado State. Ranked 120th in the nation in points allowed (39.0 -- yeah, time to change coordinators). Best win? Hawaii.

Among those five, we'd rank Colorado first, Iowa State second, Purdue fourth, Wake Forest third and Vanderbilt fifth.

Bruce from Salt Lake City writes: If you could create a bowl this year -- we will call it TEDwrites Bowl -- and pit two Pac-12 teams against each other, which matchup would you like to see (again)? Also, what are the big plans for the summer?

Ted Miller: If I could replay one game this year it would be Stanford at Notre Dame. I can't help but wonder if the Cardinal's 2014 might have been much different if they didn't urp so horribly in South Bend. You could say the same about their Week 2 loss against USC, but the Trojans were a much better team than the Fighting Irish.

As far as matching Pac-12 teams, you'd of course like to see teams that didn't play each other have a go: Stanford-Arizona, Oregon-Arizona State, USC-Oregon and Utah-Washington.

It also would be fun to rematch some meaningful rivalry games: USC-UCLA and Arizona-Arizona State.

But if I were to pitch a Pac-12 matchup for a bowl game, it would be USC versus Washington: The Steve Sarkisian Bowl.

The winner gets a ninth win -- no seven-win seasons here! -- and you'd either get a dose of hush to Husky fans who ripped Sarkisian when he bolted Washington for USC or you'd get a really grumpy crew of Trojans fans dealing with lots of purple crowing.

My big plan for the summer? Other than my evil plan for world domination? Reducing my sanctimony, reading more classics of English literature and caring less about politics.

David from Calgary writes: It seems like another regular season of football has come and gone. With the postseason in front of us, do you think this could be the year where the #Pac12Fans will finally start rooting for the conference as a whole and not just their individual team?

Ted Miller: Yes and no.

No, Pac-12 fans don't seem predisposed to be as regionally united as those from the Southeast. No, you won't get too much cheering from Huskies and Beavers fans if Oregon wins the national title.

But there is some burgeoning collectivism among Pac-12 fans. You see it all over, when Pac-12 fans troll the SEC posts almost as gleefully as SEC fans troll the Pac-12 posts. ESPN, by the way, thanks you for your trolling compulsions.

Beyond that, if the Pac-12 goes 7-1 in bowl games and wins the national title, I'd bet Huskies fans would use that against SEC fans in an argument, as long as they didn't have to say, "And Oregon beat Alabama for the national title." They'd just say, "And a Pac-12 team beat Alabama for the national title."

The abstraction might be palatable, as opposed to the celebration of a specific rival team.

And you can bet that if Oregon wins the national title, particularly over the Crimson Tide, a "Pac-12! Pac-12!" chant will erupt in Cowboys Stadium, an acknowledgment and counter to the "SEC! SEC!" chant we've heard so much over the past decade.

Players provide College Football Playoff picks

December, 17, 2014

Some of the top college football players in the country provide their picks on who will win the inaugural College Football Playoff.

If Oregon wins the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Pac-12 will cap the greatest season in its history, including iterations as the Pac-8 and Pac-10. Perhaps we should toss an "arguably" in there, particularly if the conference's seven other bowl teams go belly-up in some form or fashion, but why be wishy-washy?

After Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the overwhelming winner of the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, the Pac-12 completed a sweep through the award season like some morphing of "Titanic," "Ben Hur" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" at the Oscars. Combine Mariota with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright, and the Pac-12 has produced the season's most decorated offensive and defensive players. Not since 2002, when USC QB Carson Palmer won the Heisman and Arizona State LB Terrell Suggs swept most defensive awards has this happened.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks have a chance to make this a historic season for the Pac-12.
Mariota also won the Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the year awards, as well as the Davey O'Brien and Unitas awards as the nation's top QB. Wright won the Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Further, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks won the Butkus Award, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard won the Hendricks Award and Utah punter Tom Hackett won the Ray Guy Award.

Toss in eight players on the All-America team -- from seven different schools -- and six teams ranked in the final pre-bowl CFP rankings and it feels like an unprecedented season for national recognition in the Pac-12.

Well, at least if the Ducks take care of business.

The season Palmer and Suggs were college football's most celebrated players, just two Pac-10 teams ended up ranked, though both were in the top 10 (USC and Washington State), while Colorado, then in the Big 12, also finished ranked. In 2004, USC won the national title, Trojans QB Matt Leinart won the Heisman and California finished in the top 10. Arizona State also finished ranked, while Utah went undefeated, though as a Mountain West Conference member. Obviously, if you fudge with conference membership issues, you can make things look better retroactively than they were in their present time.

In 2000, three teams -- No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Oregon State and No. 7 Oregon -- finished ranked in the top seven. In 1984, the Pac-10 won the Rose (USC), Orange (Washington) and Fiesta (UCLA) bowls and finished with three top-10 teams, including No. 2 Washington, which was victimized by BYU's dubious national title.

So there have been plenty of impressive seasons, just not anything as scintillating as 2014 if Oregon wins the title.

Oregon, of course, hoisting the new 35-pound, cylindrical trophy as the last team standing is hardly a sure thing. First, the Ducks get defending national champion Florida State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual. While many have questioned the Seminoles this season because every game has been a nail-biter, that doesn't change the fact the nation's only unbeaten Power 5 conference team -- winners of 29 games in a row, no less -- own the fourth quarter. In football, owning the fourth quarter is almost always a good thing.

If Oregon manages to win that CFP semifinal game, the good money is on it getting a shot at top-ranked Alabama in the national title game, though throwing funereal dirt on Ohio State this season has proved difficult. Ohio State is the Count Dracula of college football this season -- perennially undead. That duly noted, knocking aside Alabama -- the game's most dynastic program, led by its most celebrated coach in Nick Saban -- while the Crimson Tide also stand as the bell cow of the dominant SEC would be the ultimate achievement for a team and conference eager to solidify its super-elite standing.

The simple fact that Oregon has not won a national title in football -- and the Pac-12/10 hasn't claimed one since 2004 -- stands out on both literal and symbolic levels. There has not been a first-time national champion since Florida won in 1996, while a Pac-12/10 team other than USC hasn't won one since Washington in 1991. Before that, if then-Big 8 member Colorado's 1990 title doesn't count, it's UCLA in 1954.

So Oregon taking that final step into the light would represent a pretty dramatic development, particularly after the school already upgraded its trophy case with its first Heisman. It would complete a climb started in the 1990s and show other mid-to-low-level Power 5 teams that all they need to transform into a superpower is good coaching, strong administration and a sugar-daddy billionaire booster.

As for the conference in general, it would be a big deal to have a non-USC national title in the coffers, and it would be further validation of the depth and quality of the conference. Last season, for the first time since 2009, the conference didn't finish with a top-five team, but for the first time ever it finished with six teams ranked in the final AP poll. So the Ducks at the top would provide some nice symmetry.

As for the entire postseason, the Pac-12 is favored in seven of its eight bowl games, with UCLA being only a slight underdog to Kansas State, with the line trending down since opening at 3 1/2 points. So the conference is set up for success. Anything fewer than six wins -- including Oregon in the Rose Bowl -- would be a disappointment, an underachievement.

You know, not unlike last season, when the conference went 6-3 and graded a mere "Gentleman's C" from the Pac-12 blog.

While Washington and Oregon State fans will be hard-pressed to force out a "Go Ducks!" and USC fans probably aren't ready to admit a new member to the college football penthouse, if Oregon can make its tide rise to the top -- and roll the Tide along the way -- it will boost all Pac-12 ships.

Mailbag: Humbug to Pac-12 pride

November, 21, 2014
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To the notes?

Luke from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Thank you to Kevin Gemmell for writing the following: "This league's coaches rarely talk about what's good for the conference. They want what's best for their own team -- national perception and conference pride be damned. And for the record, this fifth of the Pac-12 blog is just fine with that." I find a lot of writing in the blog is around the narrative of the Pac-12 winning a national championship. This seems reasonable considering it is the Pac-12 blog. However, I pose the question: How many people read this blog because they are fans of the conference and how many people read because they are fans of a team in the conference? I'd argue the latter is a much larger portion. The narrative pretending their is some sort of overall conference strategy where we all pull the rope to win a national title is a little silly. I'm an Arizona fan. If Oregon makes it to the playoff will I cheer for them? Yes. Is Oregon winning a national title one of my goals as an Arizona fan coming into the season? Absolutely not. Fans from 10 other teams in the conference feel the same way.Buffs fans don't care if OSU "flipped the script" and now ASU doesn't get to be part of a de facto playoff game against Oregon. Buffs fans want a conference W, and go to your blog for insight on how they get there. Same with me. If the Ducks win a national title I'll be happy for them and happy for the conference. But that's it, slightly happy.

Ted Miller: Interesting point, and this is a position I've heard before from Pac-12 fans. It's pretty much a big-city, pro-sports attitude, where a team has no notable, vested interests in the success of, say, its league or division. It also tends to mean you're a not an obsessive college football fan, in that obsessive college football fans follow the entire game nearly as much as their own team, see the constant trolling that goes on between the conference blogs.

I'm not going to tell you how to be a sports fan. That's entirely your call, and we appreciate you visiting I do, however, have a position on this, which I'm sure shocks you.

First off, I think what Kevin is noting is that Pac-12 teams don't have any intention of laying down to further a rival's national title hopes, which should surprise no one. We both talk to coaches all the time about what's "good" for the conference. What these coaches want is the Pac-12 to receive the same deference as the SEC, and they'd prefer themselves and not their top rivals to be the conference's bell cow.

Of course their overwhelming interests are their own teams, which sign their paychecks, but they also understand a shared interest. That would include, for example, the Pac-12 playing a nine-game conference schedule while other conferences play only eight. Just about every Pac-12 coach believes that is a problem because it ensures the conference has six more losses in its collective standings every season, though it's more front and center for coaches whose teams presently have a national outlook compared to coaches who are just trying to win a conference game.

And you better believe there's shared interests in a conference with revenue sharing. When the Pac-12 got two BCS bowl teams, each team pocketed an additional $500,000, plus or minus, so Pac-12 rivals tend to be frenemies. That won't change in the College Football Playoff, when the Pac-12 getting left out will cost every conference team big money.

I view it as no coincidence that you got your feathers up, Luke, when an Arizona State loss at Oregon State was bemoaned as a lost opportunity for the conference to stage a Pac-12 championship game as a play-in contest for the inaugural College Football Playoff between a pair of highly rated teams. Of course, your emotional reaction to any sympathy for the Sun Devils, whose misfortune you surely were rejoicing about on Saturday, colors your position.

But this also comes down to a pretty straightforward cost-benefit analysis, something the SEC and its rabid rivalries picked up on before the rest of the nation: A rising (Crimson?) tide lifts all ships. While your emotions are almost entirely invested in loving your team and hating your top rivals, there's also the practical shared interest within Power 5 conferences of wanting to distinguish the conference as a whole, to look better top to bottom than the other four major conferences, to be first among so-called equals. Without the purity of an extensive playoff, as there are in pro sports, there's still a beauty contest going on every year in college football, and it's all about regional perceptions.

For example, Alabama fans were in a quandary when Auburn played Oregon for the national title. How could they possibly root for Auburn -- ever?! Many couldn't bring themselves to do it. But many did in the name of SEC solidarity. And the many who couldn't still salved their feelings when the Tigers won the title by saying, "Well, at least the SEC kept the national championship streak going."

I expect that to be the same for many in the Pac-12. Many Washington and Oregon State fans surely couldn't root for the Ducks to win a national title, but if that had happened there would have been a part of them that recognized the Pac-12 taking down the SEC as a good thing for the Pac-12 and, by extension, themselves.

This doesn't mean you begin every season rooting for your team and the Pac-12 in general on equal footing. But there is unquestionably a shared interest.

Let's say Arizona is approaching the end of the 2015 regular season and is ranked No. 6 in the college football rankings. You turn on the TV and see a pundit saying, "Arizona has looked great this year, but the Pac-12 is down. That's why you have to give the edge to a second SEC team getting into the playoff."

You'd probably find your self becoming more of a collectivist.

Caleb from Astoria, Ore., writes: If Utah wins out, UCLA beats USC, Stanford beats UCLA, and Arizona beats Arizona State, this leaves all five teams at 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Who would go to the Pac-12 Championship game?

Ted Miller: Utah.

Tiebreaker: The Utes and UCLA, with 3-1 records against the other four, would eliminate Arizona, Arizona State and USC. Then the Utes would win out because of their head-to-head win over UCLA.

Spencer from Indianapolis writes: This year the Pac 12 bowls have a new selection process. Do you feel like some of the better teams might slip to a lower bowl because of fan base, location, and so on? I feel like my Utes might slip down because they are not as big of a draw as others. I also feel like some other teams may slip down as well. Just wondering your thoughts on the process this year.

Ted Miller: If you are talking about major bowls outside the playoff -- the Peach, Fiesta, Cotton and Orange bowls -- the selection committee is also placing teams in those games based on its rankings, which means those old, annoying considerations -- such as selling hotel rooms -- won't play a predominant role in picking teams. That's unquestionably a good thing.

As for the Pac-12's existing bowl partnerships, those will be mostly the same. While the SEC, ACC and Big Ten have taken more control over the bowl selection procedure, the Pac-12 still has a rule that allows bowls to pass over a team as long as there is no more than a one-game difference in conference record.

So the, say, Alamo Bowl could pass over Utah in favor of USC, even though the Utes beat the Trojans as long as USC is no more than one-game behind the Utes in the conference standings.

But that's no different than any other year.

Aaron Tigard, Ore., writes: Hey PAC, Sad days here. With Marcus Mariota's latest transgression, how does this impact the team and his draft prospects? Based on the coverage, I have to imagine that Coach Helfrich has no option other than removing him from the team, posthaste. Will the CFP committee take this into account? As for "Menace" Mariota, is there an NFL team out there who will be willing to take a chance on a player who clearly has off-the-field issues? Should he even declare for the draft or should he transfer to Portland State for a year to rehab his image?

Ted Miller: Mr. Subtle immediately picked up on your facetiousness here. And I get it. Most folks speed -- ranging between sometimes and all of the time. Mariota is unquestionably a high-character guy, not in the sense that he's a great football player who hasn't been arrested and handles the media well but in the sense that he'd be viewed as a paragon of what a young man should be even without football. There are no naysayers to this. And snarky me has looked for them.

Yet let's not make light of driving 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. That's a bad thing. You'd feel differently if there had been an accident and someone who was obeying traffic laws had been injured. Considering that speeding occurs in 33 percent of all fatal accidents, this is not something to sniff at. Aggressive speeding is selfish and stupid and dangerous.

Of course, part of this is me being 45 and having two children. I've become a militant slow driver -- as in I never go over 10 miles above the speed limit. I also take a passive-aggressive joy in making tailgating speeders lives miserable. Pull up to my bumper to show me I'm going too slow for you? Well, I'll show you slow.

When you're in your 20s, you often think you're immortal and bad things only happen to other people. Or you are above the rules. After all, your life is so important and you are in a hurry and everybody needs to just get out of your way because you are late and that isn't your fault it's these slow drivers!

Mariota is a fine young man. He also needs to slow the freak down.

Potential spoiler matchups for Alabama, Oregon 

November, 19, 2014
The near upsets that TCU and Florida State went through in Week 12 show that no matter how strong College Football Playoff title contenders are, they always have to be on the lookout for spoiler teams that could end their championship dreams.

The bad news for the top two teams in the College Football Playoff rankings -- Alabama and Oregon -- is that both have a potential spoiler matchup that just might be an unfavorable one. Here's a look at games that could prevent both teams from making the playoff. (Note: Unless otherwise specified, all of the statistical totals below are in Power 5 games.)

Alabama Crimson Tide

Mailbag: Alabama scheduling

July, 18, 2014
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).

That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.

Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.

You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.

What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.

Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.

Mickey: That was easy.

Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?

Mickey: They was hand-picked!

Rocky Balboa: Setups?

Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!

Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.

My prediction for the game? Pain.

Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?

Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.

First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.

You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.

Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.

As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.

There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.

Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)

Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.

The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.

Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.

Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?

Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.

If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.

Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.

And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.

Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.

Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.

Mailbag: Bowl game 'what ifs?'

December, 13, 2013
Welcome to the mailbag.

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To the notes!

William from Santa Barbara writes: Lets pretend that Oregon got an invite to the BCS, so all of the PAC-12 schools, except Stanford, moved up in the bowl pecking order. Would the PAC still be favored in all of their games? What does this say about the strength of our bowl lineup?

Ted Miller: Oregon would not be favored against Alabama in the All-State Sugar Bowl. More on that in a bit.

But your point is solid. The lineup, after the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio between Stanford and Michigan State, probably would look like this:

  • Arizona State vs. Oklahoma State, Valero Alamo Bowl.
  • UCLA vs. Kansas State, National University Holiday Bowl
  • USC vs. Virginia Tech, Hyundai Sun Bowl
  • Washington vs. Fresno State, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
  • Arizona vs. BYU, Fight Hunger Bowl
  • Washington State vs. Colorado State, Gildan New Mexico Bowl
  • Oregon State vs. Boston College, AdvoCare V100 Bowl

[Edit note: As some readers pointed out -- do'h! on my part -- if Oregon played in the Sugar Bowl, then Oklahoma would play in the Cotton Bowl, knocking the other Big 12 teams down a notch. Ergo, this has been changed.]

That is a favorable slate for the Pac-12, though the Sun Devils would be an underdog to the Cowboys. Other than that, you could make an argument that the Pac-12 still might be favored in every game, as it presently is with its "real" bowl lineup, though BYU might get the edge over Arizona.

That only would be more confirmation of the depth of the Pac-12 in 2013, at least pending the results of the games.

However, it's also fair to point out that two things happened to water down the Pac-12 bowl game opponents: No. 1, the Big 12 and ACC both got two BCS bowl teams. No. 2, the Big 12 and ACC got two BCS bowl teams during a season in which neither conference was terribly deep.

Marc from Albuquerque writes: Am I the only ducks fan out there who is thankful we did not get invited to play Bama in the Sugar Bowl? The way the ducks have played in the past month we would have zero chance to beat Bama. Texas is a much more winnable game and duck fans should be more excited to finish the season with a win than a beat down from the SEC.

[+] EnlargeDevon Kell, Marcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsA healthy Marcus Mariota makes all the difference for Oregon, which faces Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
Ted Miller: I'm sure every Pac-12 team, including Oregon, would have enjoyed the extra $500,000 they would have received had the Ducks, instead of Oklahoma, been picked to play Alabama.

But, as previously noted, I don't think Oregon would beat Alabama, and I base that in large part on the final four games.

That said: At midseason, I would have rated the Ducks' chances against the Crimson Tide at close to 50-50. That was when Oregon was trucking along in dominant fashion. And QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent healthy.

In fact, that is one of the big questions for the bowl season, and would be a huge issue for a hypothetical matchup with Alabama. With just more than a month to rest, would Mariota be back to his midseason form as the nation's best dual threat quarterback?

Mariota at 100 percent probably means Oregon rolls Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl. And it likely would make a matchup with Alabama, at the very least, interesting well into the fourth quarter.

Benvolio from Ashland, Ore., writes: I have a nagging thought on which I'd like your input. My main concern with hiring Sark at 'SC is the development of Keith Price over the past 3 seasons. While he threw less INTs this season than he had in previous ones, I haven't seen much clear improvement in his playing ability. Cody Kessler, on the other hand, got better in nearly every game all season long. Clearly there are too many factors at play to boil everything down to coaching, but regardless it's leaving me a little nervous about the future of our quarterback.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenKeith Price bounced back from a disappointing 2012 season with a strong performance this fall.
Ted Miller: Price threw five interceptions this year after throwing 13 last year. His efficiency rating also went up substantially, both according to the traditional NCAA measure and ESPN Stats & Information's Total QB rating.

I think Steve Sarkisian's recovery job with Price this year was outstanding. Price looked shellshocked in 2012 after a brilliant debut campaign the year before. While he fells short of his 2011 numbers, he definitely bounced back and redeemed himself. I think Price's development is far more a positive than a negative on Sark's resume.

That said, I think Huskies QB coach Marques Tuiasosopo deserves a lot of credit for Price getting his footing again, and he is expected to follow Sarkisian to USC.

There are plenty of things to worry about with USC. But a Sark-Tuiasosopo combination working with Kessler and the Trojans QBs is not high on the list.

Elk from Los Angeles writes: Does UCLA QB Brett Hundleystay another year? This year, biggest dual threat QB is Manziel, next year would have to deal with Winston and Mariota.

Ted Miller: I think Hundley, who has tremendous upside, should return for his redshirt junior season, but that has to be a decision he's fully invested in. The worst thing to do is come back and then spend the next year fretting over whether you made the right call.

Hundley likely would be an early-round draft pick this spring just based on his natural ability. He'd be a project but one with a substantial potential payoff.

I do think he would take a step forward in terms of pocket awareness, mechanics and game management if he came back to UCLA, a team that would be favored to win the South Division with him on board.

He'd also land on more than a few preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists.

Chris from Salt Lake City writes: There are a bunch of Utah fans out of their minds right now, calling for [coach Kyle] Whittingham's head. Do me a favor and explain what happens to Utah football if Dr. Hill gives Whittingham the boot. Utah would have to be the toughest job to hire for in the PAC 12 right?

Ted Miller: Chris, many of your fellow Utah fans don't like Kevin and my oft-repeated calls for patience among Utes fans, though we both understand the impatience.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsKyle Whittingham's Utes appear to have regressed. In truth, their schedule has gotten much tougher.
Utah was a top-25 program as a member of the Mountain West Conference. In the Pac-12, it has yet to post a winning conference record and has slipped from 4-5 in 2011 to 2-7 this year.

As I've noted before, I don't think we'd be having this debate if the Utes had somehow had better luck at quarterback. What if Jordan Wynn had stayed healthy in 2011 and 2012? What if Travis Wilson had this fall?

I know many would retort that there should have been a quality back-up plan. And maybe there should have been. But how many teams in the country wouldn't have slipped substantially if for three consecutive seasons their expected starting QB wasn't able to finish the season?

Further, Utah moved into a Pac-12 that is much better than the Pac-10 the Utes used to be competitive with as a MWC team.

Let me make a point that many Utah fans won't like. Those special Utah teams under Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham? They weren't as great as you think.

Before you get angry as your 2008 self, ask yourself what you thought of Fresno State this year. Your Pac-12 brain dismissed the Bulldogs, didn't it?

Go back to the stunning 31-28 comeback win over Oregon State in 2008 in Rice-Eccles Stadium. That Beavers team, which went 7-2 in Pac-12 play, including a victory over then-No. 1 USC, was good but far from great.

Imagine if the Utes had to play a nine-game schedule of Oregon State-like teams in 2008. Those Beavers lost to Stanford and got pounded by Oregon. They beat Arizona and Arizona State both by two points. No way the 2008 Utes would go unbeaten with a nine-game Pac-10 schedule.

You hated hearing that in 2008, I know. But can you see, from your new Pac-12 perspective, that 2008 tweak's logic now?

I'd wager that the 2013 Utah team with the Travis Wilson who beat BYU and Stanford behind center would be highly competitive with the 2008 Utes.

Utah is not regressing. The competition has progressed. Substantially. TCU is going through the same thing in the Big 12. Do you think Gary Patterson is a bad coach?

Of course, if things don't get better in 2014, Whittingham's seat will heat up. That's the nature of the business.

But catching up in the Pac-12 is not something that happens in one, three or probably even five seasons. It's a process, and obviously not one that is enjoyable to go through.

Mailbag: Are Oregon fans the worst?

November, 1, 2013
Happy Friday -- hey, there's a game tonight!

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes!

Dave from Neverland writes: On Tuesday, John Canzano posted a letter he had purportedly received from a former Ducks player. This player outlined the abhorrent fan behavior he observed while sitting in the stands. There have been countless other stories about the wretched behavior of Ducks fans, not just at Autzen, but also other stadiums they visit. An article a few years back by one of your competitor websites surveyed fans and the survey concluded that Oregon fans are generally perceived as being the worst in the conference, by far. Reading the comments of the Canzano blog post, the fan comments seemed to substantiate the article. My question: Is the perception about Oregon fans aligned with reality? Are Oregon fans truly as awful as they are made out to be, or are we just hated because we win?

Ted Miller: I was asked about this in my Thursday chat, and my chief response was to deride the anonymity of the letter writer.

I stand by that. If you're going to attack something, you need to have the courage to step up and identify yourself. That, by the way, is not a slight on Canzano for posting the letter, only on its writer.

[+] EnlargeOregon fans
AP Photo/Don RyanAre Oregon fans worse than the rest of the Pac-12?
Are Oregon fans "truly as awful as they are made out to be or are we just hated because we win?"

The short answer is no, Ducks fans are not uniquely awful. At least, I find such a sociological oddity difficult to believe. That said, I am not an expert on this: As a sportswriter, I have not sat in the stands of a college football game since the early 1990s.

Oregon is going through an unprecedented run of winning. That inspires gloating. Lots of it. And plenty of entitlement, too. The stadium is packed and the program is rich. Rivals are jealous, and therefore easy and frequent targets -- in the stands or anywhere else. And, suddenly, a two-loss season sounds like a disaster and everyone is a football expert.

Even without siting in the stands, I have personally witnessed reprehensible fan behavior at just about every Pac-12 venue. Back in my Seattle days, I wrote about the near-riot in Martin Stadium after the controversial 2002 Apple Cup and some Washington State fans took exception, often by trying to rewrite the facts of what happened. So I know how things might be for Canzano now.

There are all sorts of fans and each of those sorts roots for every team. Some love cheering and bonding with family and friends. Some find comfort in wide-eyed zealotry, the my-team-right-or-wrong adherence that defies all reasonable counterargument.

As I've previously noted, there are two foundations for fandom: Those who derive most of their joy from rooting for something. And those who most enjoy rooting against something. The first group is looking for something with which to align themselves. The second group is looking for a villain.

Yes, the loudest voices in the Pac-12 blog comment section are typically the latter. And, yes, those often are the sort of fans who can ruin the game-day experience of even folks wearing the same colors.

My belief is that if Washington or Oregon State started winning at the same rate Oregon has for the past four-plus years, its fans would act the same, or at least be perceived to act the same.

Yet there is a clear takeaway from this that is a positive. Reasonable people should have the guts to stand up to bad fan behavior. Don't be a passive onlooker. If someone is acting like a jerk, you should: 1. Calmly and with a minimum amount of confrontation, tell him/her to settle down; 2. Get security.

And Oregon itself should remain as vigilant as possible when it comes to making sure that reasonable standards of behavior are enforced.

Duck Fam from Camas, Wash., writes: There have been quite a few articles this week about "The Eye Test", and which two teams would be most deserving in a three or four-team race. For the sake of this question, let's assume that Oregon, Florida State and Alabama win out.Florida State seems to be getting quite a bit of hype relative to Oregon. Florida State certainly has history behind its program, including a national title, but has been off and on in the last few years. Many voters won't budge on Alabama (with the exception of the intelligent, educated few, such as those that blog for the Pac-12), the rationale being that until someone knocks them off, they deserve to be No. 1. So it seems that many pundits love Florida State THIS YEAR, right NOW, rather than taking the longer view. My question, then, is this: Should not the same logic apply to Oregon? Oregon has been ranked No. 2 much more frequently than Florida State, including last year's final rankings, and has certainly been more consistent. Six losses in four years, and never an NC State kind of upset. The Pac-12 is a tougher conference than the ACC. Why, then, is Oregon not the obvious choice as No. 2, the way Alabama seems to be the obvious choice as No. 1? Is it Oregon's supposed lack of pedigree, or is it the dreaded East Coast Bias?

Ted Miller: Sigh.

The "eye-test" debate, while always inspiring strong feelings across the country, is irrelevant the first weekend of November. Five weeks remain in the regular season, and Alabama, Florida State and Oregon will each need to then win their conference championship games to remain in the national title hunt.

Every year, we speculate on apocalyptic visions of, say, four unbeaten teams from AQ conferences -- who goes to the title game! And then at least two of those teams lose.

Let's at least wait until we reach late November before beginning the earnest lobbying for prioritizing the specific subjective distinction that favors your team.

Further, Oregon fans, while there's a lot of noise out there, the general consensus from long-time observers of the BCS process, is that if Oregon wins out, it will at least end up No. 2 in the final BCS standings. It could, in fact, end up No. 1 if the SEC continues to cannibalize itself.

The Pac-12 is stronger than the ACC, and it's unlikely voting patterns in the coaches and Harris polls will dramatically change if the present course is maintained.

Sad Cougar fan from Bellevue, Wash.,writes: Ted, real talk for a minute. After over a decade of misery, all Coug fans pointed to Leach as our hope. But after yet another Wulff-like performance from the team last night. They were outcoached in every phase of the game. Was our hope foolish? In today's NCAA,and today's Pac-12, do we honestly EVER have a shot at being relevant again? The glory years were a perfect storm. UW was bad, Oregon wasn't Oregon yet. Stanford wasn't Stanford yet, USC was just getting started. Honestly. We're never going to be good ever again are we? I am slipping into "mariners mindset?" Get excited for opening day, then stop caring by June.

Ted Miller: No question that was a dreadful performance against Arizona State. And it's been a bad three-week conference run since a 4-2 start inspired optimism.

However, yes, Washington State has a shot at being relevant again. In fact, I'm certain it eventually happen, whether that's about next year or seven years from now. How many programs have played in two Rose Bowls since 1997? It's simply a matter of getting the right players and the right coach together.

Sure, the euphoria after hiring Mike Leach has waned considerably. The mistake with that probably was believing he brought with him some magical elixir that immediately made the program bowl-eligible and then, shortly thereafter, Rose Bowl worthy.

Further, while most of us saw Leach inheriting an intriguing roster from Paul Wulff, he didn't share that view. Leach definitely has his own ideas about how to run a program and the sort of players he wants, in terms of both athletic ability and mental makeup. That he decided to mostly erase what was there and then re-draw from scratch his own plan is making the growing pains last longer. And be more painful.

This is only Year 2 with Leach. Feel free to feel bad. But don't panic yet.

Devin from Keizer, Ore., writes: What would it take for OSU to make it to the Rose Bowl if Oregon goes to the championship game?

Ted Miller: First, the Beavers need to win out -- other than the Civil War -- and finish 9-3 and earn at least a No. 14 ranking in the final BCS poll. That might require strong finishes from the remaining foes -- USC, Arizona State and Washington -- in order to boost the human and computer rankings.

Then there's the question of Stanford and the South Division contenders.

Stanford, at 10-2 with a win over Oregon State, would almost certainly be ranked higher. Even though the Cardinal played in the Rose Bowl last year, the bowl committee would go with Stanford. This is how the Pac-12 blog is presently projecting things. So Oregon State needs the Cardinal to lose again, at least a third game. Maybe a fourth.

As for the South teams, the Beavers could give themselves the edge over Arizona State with a head-to-head win. They don't play UCLA, so they should be rooting for the Sun Devils to beat the Bruins. The South champion also would pick up a loss in the Pac-12 title game, which would boost the Beavers.

A lot of things would have to fall into place. But Oregon State should start with a simple plan: Keep winning.

John from Dublin, Calif., writes: This week, everybody at ESPN has been making a big deal about how the Trojans have not fared well of late in Corvallis, and it's true. However, all these pundits seem to forget the Trojans' record vs. the Beavers in L.A.. Eisenhower was president the last time Oregon State won in the Coliseum. Why can't you guys give equal time to the Trojans' streak?

Ted Miller: I think the biggest reason is the game tonight is going to be played in Corvallis, not the Coliseum, which makes factoids about Oregon State-USC games played in the Coliseum less relevant.

But I promise that next year, we will note that Oregon State has not won at USC since 1960.

Eric from Culver City, Calif., writes: Eleanor Catton, author of the Luminaries, won the Man Booker prize at the age of 28. Are you excited for her, or sad for Jim Crace and Colm Toibin? Also: please tell Puddles that I can't take another heartbreak.

Ted Miller: Funny story. Went to buy "The Luminaries" the other day, at which point I discovered it was 828 pages. That, my friends, is an offseason read.

Good for Catton, though she might want to rethink lecturing the world about how she should be received.

If she really cares about unfairness, she should consider championing the great American male writers who have been unjustifiably slighted by the Swedish Academy when it awards the Nobel Prize to lesser-lights on an annual basis, most notably Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Don DeLillo.

And Puddles, after he stopped writing letters to Canzano, has been alerted.

Winston, Florida State among best of week

October, 22, 2013

Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY Sports
Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 444 yards in Florida State's blowout win over Clemson.
Week 8 featured upsets and surprises as nine ranked teams lost, including five at the hands of an unranked opponent. Louisville, Texas A&M and Georgia all had more than a 90 percent chance of winning midway through the third quarter before blowing double-digit leads. Conversely, Clemson, LSU, UCLA and Florida never held a lead Saturday.

With the help of ESPN’s new college football metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information takes a look back at the Week 8 action.

Best individual performances
Marcus Mariota had a 97.4 opponent-adjusted QBR in Oregon’s 63-28 win against Washington State. He completed 10-of-12 passes and ran for a touchdown in the first quarter. As a result, his Total QBR never fell below 95 in the game. Mariota leads the nation with a 96.6 opponent-adjusted Total QBR this season.

Jameis Winston posted a 97.0 opponent-adjusted QBR after throwing for a career-high 444 pass yards and accounting for four touchdowns in Florida State’s 51-14 win at Clemson. Entering the game, Clemson’s opponents had a Total QBR of 27, ninth-best in the FBS. Winston is the first player in the last 10 seasons to throw for at least 300 pass yards and three touchdowns in each of his first four conference games.

Bryce Petty had a 96.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Baylor’s 71-7 win against Iowa State. He has posted an opponent-adjusted Total QBR of 75 or higher in all of his games this season. No other player in the FBS can make that claim (minimum five games played).

AJ McCarron posted a season-high 95.3 opponent-adjusted QBR in Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas. McCarron completed 71 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and his Total QBR never dipped below 85 in the game.

Explaining Jordan Lynch’s Total QBR:
Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch set the FBS single-game record for rush yards by a quarterback (316), but his Total QBR was ONLY a 85.5. Why? QBR is a rate stat, meaning it measures efficiency.

Lynch gained 471 yards of total offense, but he was involved in 62 passing or rushing plays (7.6 yards per play).

To put that into perspective, Mariota, the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR, is averaging 10.3 yards per play this season. Furthermore, Lynch threw a costly interception from the Central Michigan 15-yard line with the score tied. That interception decreased Northern Illinois’ win probability by 12 percentage points and took 3.5 expected points off the board.

For a full list of Total QBR leaders for the season and Week 8, click here.

Best team performances
Offense-- Florida State gained 565 yards of total offense and scored 51 points Saturday against Clemson. The Seminoles’ offense added 25.3 expected points in the game, meaning they contributed about 26 net points towards their 37-point victory. Adjusted for the strength of Clemson’s defense, which had allowed 16.2 points per game entering Saturday, Florida State had the highest opponent-adjusted offensive EPA of Week 8.

Defense—Baylor’s average margin of victory this season is a ridiculous 48.5 points per game, and both its offense and defense deserves credit. On Saturday, Baylor held Iowa State to seven points and 174 total yards (2.9 yards per play). As a result, its defense added 27.5 expected points, the most for any defense in Week 8. Overall, the Bears lead the nation in both offensive and defensive expected points added this season.

Special Teams—Alabama blocked a field goal and forced a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half of its 52-0 win against Arkansas. The Tide’s special teams unit contributed 12.1 expected points, the most of any team in Week 8. Alabama is averaging 5.8 expected points added per game on special teams this season, most of any team in the FBS.

Looking ahead to Week 9

Oregon hosts UCLA (7 PM ET, ESPN) on Saturday in a game that will feature one of the top offenses in the nation looking to continue its success against one of the Pac-12’s best defensive units.

Oregon has scored at least 45 points in each of its first seven games of the season. They are the first major college football program to do that since Harvard in 1887. UCLA, which has the second-best scoring defense in the Pac-12 (19.2 PPG), hasn’t allowed more than 27 points in a game this season.

Tune in on Saturday to see of the Bruins can slow the Ducks offensive pace and jump back into the BCS discussion.

BCS: Oregon No. 3 in first BCS standings

October, 20, 2013
While Oregon is ranked second in both polls that count in the BCS standings, Florida State's win over Clemson on Saturday helped the Seminoles jump the Ducks for the second spot based on the strength of their computer ranking.

Panic in Eugene! East Coast bias! Kill the BCS!

Relax. Everything will sort itself out. This is the first BCS standings. We've got seven more versions ahead, the final one being the only one that counts.

Overall, Alabama is No. 1. Ohio State is No. 4 and Missouri is No. 5. Stanford, at No. 6, is the top one-loss team.

Oregon is ranked fourth by the computers while FSU is No. 1. Alabama is No. 2 with the computers and Missouri is No. 3.

Should Oregon fans panic? No. The toughest part of the Ducks' schedule is ahead. If Oregon wins out, it will be in good shape. Its schedule going forward is much more arduous than the Seminoles', who have already played their marquee game.

Oregon is just .0028 behind FSU, and it plays consecutive games over the next two weekends against teams presently ranked in the top 12 of the BCS standings, including No. 12 UCLA on Saturday. The Ducks also have the Civil War ahead against Oregon State, which is ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings.

Again, the "gee whiz" observation of the evening: Lots of football left.

The key is winning out, not fretting the BCS standings with six weeks remaining in the regular season and then conference championship games. Every season, folks start ranting and raving about their team getting screwed, and then their team loses and their issues become moot.

So, just win, baby.

Mailbag: Pac-12 North vs. SEC West

October, 4, 2013
Any chance every game this weekend can be as interesting as UCLA-Utah?

Welcome to the mailbag. If your life needs just a tad more "oomph," follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's loaded with oomph, as well as many vitamins and minerals.

To the notes!

Daniel from Pullman, Wash., writes: Ted-Last Saturday morning I was listening to ESPN Radio and they were debating the match-ups of the Pac-12 North and the SEC West (on neutral fields). I believe their match-ups were Al vs. OR, LSU vs. Stanford, Tex AM vs WA, Ole Miss vs OSU, Auburn vs. WSU, and Miss St or Ark vs Cal. One voted these match-ups 4-2 in favor of the SEC, and the other scored it 3-3. (Note: I think both picked LSU over Stanford.) How would you see these match-ups playing out?

Ted Miller: The first challenge is matching the seven-team SEC West versus the six-team Pac-12 North. To make things easy, goodbye Arkansas.

Further, we don't really know how each division ultimately will stack up. Our speculation is only slightly educated here, as any would be not even halfway through season.

So start with Oregon-Alabama. This is a potential national title game. There are two ways to look at it. Is this a regular season game with just one week to prepare? I'd give a slight edge to Oregon with that. If it was a national title game, with three weeks to prepare, I'd give the Crimson Tide an edge. For this exercise, we'll go with the Ducks.

I'd pick Stanford over LSU. Just like I'd pick Stanford over Georgia, which just beat LSU. Suspect that Stanford would consistently outflank the Tigers with sophisticated schemes. A few years ago, LSU's team speed would have been an issue. No longer.

I'd take Texas A&M over Washington in a barnburner. I'd take a healthy Oregon State -- as in the Beavers after their off week -- over Ole Miss. The Rebels wouldn't be able to handle Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks.

Auburn beat Washington State 31-24 on its home field, but the Cougars outgained the Tigers 464 to 394. In a neutral field rematch, I'd go with the Cougs.

Cal would be able to outscore Mississippi State, though I'd feel better with that one if the Bears didn't have so many injuries on defense.

So there you go: 5-1 Pac-12 North.

End of discussion! Right?

Andrew from Phoenix writes: Ted,Why all the volatility in Arizona State's perception? The last 3 weeks the media and PAC fans have gone from "they're ready for the national stage" to "looks like they're not that good" back to "this team can do some damage." The consensus outside of the biggest ASU homers and UA trolls was ASU would be about 8-4, just in or just out of the Top 25, and needing an upset @UCLA to win the South. I have seen nothing on the field this season that should change that. Bottom line is they demolished a poor team, handily beat (with some blemishes) a mediocre team, played a toe-to-toe in a toss up with a good team, and got their mistakes shredded by an elite team. Why so much drama?

Ted Miller: It's Kevin. He's the man behind the curtain pulling all these levers that make people crazed with drama.

I don't feel like much has changed about the perception of Arizona State, at least among those who esteemed the Sun Devils in the preseason. This is a good team, probably a top-25 team, one that is moving up in the Pac-12 and national pecking order but is not yet on the Oregon/Stanford level. And, yes, it looks like the best challenger for UCLA in the South Division, particularly after USC imploded.

But there is a logical reason for the volatility: The Sun Devils' schedule. How many teams have played three tough, AQ-conference opponents in their first four games? And with such a variety of results.

Wisconsin, 32-30 win: Controversial ending yes, but the game showed the Sun Devils are top-25 caliber.

Stanford, 42-28 loss: The Sun Devils might be a top-25 team, but they've got a ways to go to move toward the top-10.

USC, 62-41 win: An impressive offensive showing against a previously outstanding defense. More positive evidence that the program is taking steps forward under Todd Graham.

Guess what? There will be more drama on Saturday. A win over Notre Dame will provide another uptick. And a loss will add some skepticism, as well as a second fall from the national polls.

Kevin from Reno, Nevada writes: Why is Ohio State ranked ahead of Stanford? After watching ASU play Wisconsin and then Stanford, it was clear that Stanford is on an entirely different level of physicality and talent than Wisconsin. That same Wisconsin team almost beat Ohio State on the road. Also, Cal was completely over-matched against Oregon, but competed almost respectably against Ohio State. Stanford may be better than Oregon this year.

Ted Miller: At least we'll get an answer with Oregon-Stanford on Nov. 7.

But I hear you. Obviously your Pac-12 bloggers agree with you. I'd comfortably pick Stanford over Ohio State, and I suspect a lot of folks would, too. While it's dangerous to use the transitive property in college football, your point about Wisconsin is at least partially valid.

I suspect the reason most folks who are voting Ohio State ahead of Stanford are doing so is because they did so in the preseason, and the Buckeyes have yet to lose.

Andrew from Agoura Hills, Calif., writes: Now that Lane Kiffin is out the door, we've started to hear all the names of potential candidates: Kevin Sumlin (my personal favorite), Jack Del Rio, Jeff Fisher, Steve Sarkisian, Chris Petersen, etc. One name that I haven't really seen included in any of these hypothetical lists is Alabama DC Kirby Smart. Do you think he will be considered by Pat Haden and the USC braintrust? He seems to be on track to eventually be a head coach, and his credentials are very impressive for a young coach. The two problems I see are that he 1) has resisted overtures in the past, possibly because he is in line to follow Saban at 'Bama and 2) is devoid of any head coaching experience. What do you think of Smart as a candidate for the Trojans?

Ted Miller: There certainly are worse choices.

The other knock, fair or unfair, on Smart is that Saban is the ultimate brains behind the Crimson Tide's defense. Still, working under Saban for an extended period of time should overcome that as a downside. He knows Saban's "Process," which is like learning about the stock market from Warren Buffett.

My impression is Smart is shortly going to get an opportunity in the ACC or SEC. He's a child of the South and probably wants to stay down there.

In fact, if you are looking for a darkhorse candidate for USC, what about Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier? He calls Alabama's plays, has time learning from Saban and knows the Pac-12, as he was Steve Sarkisian's offensive coordinator at Washington before heading to the SEC. He also has Big Ten and NFL experience.

While USC is surely going after a big-time name with head coaching experience, many, many great hires have been first-time head coaches, such as John McKay, Bob Stoops, Chris Petersen and Chip Kelly.

Saul from Los Angeles writes: I get it, you hate your former home up there in Seattle. Why you instantly think the Washington head coach job sucks is beyond me and Wilcox would rather go to USC to be an assistant coach when he could be a head coach. You are insufferable.

Ted Miller: Every week, there are angry notes in the mailbag that make me go, "Huh?" I get that when you write about college football, you will make folks mad. Just part of the job. But what always baffles me is when I get an interpretation of one of my positions that is untethered to any actual position I can ever recall taking.

Saul isn't the only one. It appears many Alabama fans believed this story on USC's coaching search implied Pat Haden might hire Nick Saban. That conclusion apparently was based on my typing, "What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?"

I spent 20 minutes trying to figure out what got Saul's feathers raised. Apparently it is this from my chat Thursday:
Ryan (Baja): Hypothetical: Sark goes to USC. Question: What happens to Justin Wilcox?

Ted Miller: THAT is a big question. I was, in fact, thinking about that today. I'd think Washington would give him a hard look. It's just a matter of time before he's a head coach. It might, in fact, be a matter of just a couple of months. He'll have options, including one to follow Sark to LA and get a big raise.

To be clear: I think Washington would seriously consider Wilcox if Sarkisian left for USC and I'm SURE Wilcox would take the job.

If there is an implication my chat comment that Wilcox would rather be offensive coordinator at USC than head coach at Washington, then I humbly apologize. He would not. What I wanted to suggest is that if Wilcox was offered a head coaching job for a non-AQ program, he still might opt to follow Sarkisian to USC and wait for an AQ job. Such as, you know, a place like Washington.

The big hypothetical here is Sarkisian going to USC. It's possible, by the way, that Sark would say no to USC again, just as he did when it went after him before hiring Lane Kiffin.

And, if it needs to be clarified, there is not a person who has ever talked to me about Seattle who doesn't know how much I love that town.

Pac-12, nation now fret Haden's next hire

September, 30, 2013
There is something undeniably reprehensible about dancing on the grave of a fallen coach. The celebration of a person's perceived failure at his life's work is unseemly. We all know big-time college coaches are big boys who are paid well. We all know that now-terminated USC coach Lane Kiffin brought on much of the ill will he received by how he conducted himself.

Still, the nationwide cackling over Kiffin getting fired in the early morning hours Sunday doesn't represent a high moment in our sports culture.

This grab for measured compassion is made here, however, because of a cold and unfortunate reality that will seem like another potshot at Kiffin. Outside of the Kiffin household, the folks most unhappy about his getting pink-slipped are coaches, administrators and fans of the other 11 Pac-12 teams. And probably some fans of other national powers who have moved on from chortling about Kiffin's fate to asking the most important question.

[+] EnlargeKiffin
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 teams knew what they were getting with Lane Kiffin on the USC sideline. Now the sleeping giant has the potential to wake up.
What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?

Because the right coach at USC competes for national titles on a regular basis. The tradition is there. The facilities, once below standard, are vastly improved. The rich recruiting territory is there. And the ability to ante up big checks for an A-list coach and his staff is there.

Further, the next coach won't be freighted with the ready-made and mostly legitimate excuse Kiffin made when things went wrong on the field: NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions that made the USC roster thinner than those of their opponents. Those end after the 2014 recruiting class and season. The next coach can make the program whole in 2015, his second season.

USC, with 85 scholarships and the right coach, will immediately challenge Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12, and Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, etc., for national supremacy.

That's why the other Pac-12 schools are mourning Kiffin's departure. While he was tough to compete with on the recruiting trail -- his clear strength -- other schools were hoping that Kiffin would become the Trojans' "Meander Coach." That's the sort of coach rival teams want to stay atop a college football superpower, such as USC.

A Meander Coach is a coach who does just enough to hang on for several years but falls short of program standards. While not a complete disaster, he allows a program to slip a few notches in the conference and national pecking order. Good examples of this would be Bob Davie at Notre Dame, Ray Goff at Georgia and Earle Bruce at Ohio State.

A Meander 2013 season for USC under Kiffin would have been 9-4 in a 13-game schedule. Kiffin probably would have coached the Trojans in 2014 with that record, particularly if it included a win over Notre Dame or UCLA. But athletic director Pat Haden had seen enough through a 3-2 start, capped by a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Saturday, to understand that barely good enough was not even going to happen. So he made his move.

Now the hope around the Pac-12 and the nation is that Haden gets his coaching pick wrong. Haden, a former USC and NFL quarterback and Rhodes scholar, is extremely bright and knowledgeable about football, but the odds are pretty good he will get it wrong. After all, to get from John McKay and John Robinson to Carroll, USC had to go through Ted Tollner, Larry Smith and Paul Hackett. Just as Alabama had to go through Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula to get to Saban. Notre Dame and Tennessee also can teach lessons about superpowers struggling to find the right guy.

Former AD Mike Garrett's hiring of Carroll? Complete luck. It was a desperation move after Garrett was turned down by Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley. The Carroll hiring also was widely panned when it was announced. He was seen as a slightly goofy chatterbox and washed-out NFL coach. Perceptions changed, but only because the wrong hire turned out to be right.

One benefit Haden has bought himself with a midseason termination is time. While plenty of other teams are going to fire their head coaches, Haden is the first in the ring. While it's certain he already has a short list of favorite candidates that probably is not unlike the lists every publication has written up since Kiffin was fired, he also can sit back a few weeks and get a measure of who's interested. There will be plenty of back-channel feelers from agents of NFL head coaches and assistant coaches as well as college head coaches and assistant coaches.

A successful precedent for Haden to consider is Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne's handling of the transition from Mike Stoops to Rich Rodriguez. Just like Haden, Byrne fired Stoops midseason after an embarrassing loss before a bye week and installed a veteran coach, Tim Kish, as his interim head coach. He then conducted a stealth coaching search over the next six weeks, breaking the news of his hiring of Rodriguez on Twitter.

Byrne gave himself a head start with the hiring process. He got his first choice hired before the season ended and gave his new coach a head start with recruiting. He also accelerated the getting-to-know-you phase compared to all the other teams looking for a new head coach in December. Byrne even received a boost from Kish's version of the Wildcats, who won three of their final six games, including a win over archrival Arizona State.

Other Pac-12 coaches are now fretting the same thing happening with the Trojans: What if USC suddenly starts playing inspired football under interim coach Ed Orgeron? It's entirely possible the Trojans will be a better team going forward, meaning the Sun Devils are grateful Haden didn't take action after the Trojans lost at home to Washington State on Sept. 7.

As for Haden's coaching search, it will be a bit more high-profile than Byrne's. The Trojans are a national team. So in the next few weeks there will be a cacophony of public denials. They will be meaningless. Saban repeatedly said without ambiguity that he wasn't leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. Until he did. And who knew that Bret Bielema was so eager to bolt Wisconsin for Arkansas?

The two biggest problems the USC coaching search encountered after Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks that led to the Kiffin hiring are gone: (1) upcoming NCAA sanctions, and (2) no one wanting to be the guy-after-the-guy.

So know that just about everybody is in play. Until they're not.

The Pac-12 and the college football nation didn't feel too good about Kiffin in 2011, when he led the Trojans to a 10-2 record and won at Oregon and Notre Dame. But in the past 18 games, they embraced his USC tenure. They wanted him inside Heritage Hall as long as possible.

Now there is worrisome uncertainty among 11 other Pac-12 teams, not to mention folks like SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. If Haden hires the right guy, the Trojan colossus will dust itself off and rise with a cocky grin. Rose Bowls and national championships will shortly follow.

Best case-worst case: Stanford

August, 23, 2013
This is the final -- last! -- in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.

Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.

We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).

Up next: Stanford

Best case

Stanford CardinalSoft-white illumination spreads across the meeting room like smooth flowing of water. A large, circular Brazilian rosewood table is surrounded by 100 Pininfarina’s Aresline Xten executive chairs. Jean-Georges Vongerichten is carefully laying out a catered dinner. The Goldmund Epilogue Signature Audio System plays Drive-By-Truckers.

"Schwartzstein!" yells Richard Sherman. "You're very close to getting your music privileges revoked. You know I only listen to the DBT albums from before Jason Isbell was forced out of the band."

Shayne Skov stands, "Calling to order the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ... or, as we like to say, the men smart and powerful enough to be offered football scholarships to Stanford."

All 100 pipe in: "And wise enough to accept the honor and responsibility!"

Trent Murphy stands. "First off, Jean-Georges, the Wagyu Kobe ribeyes and belon oysters were outstanding. So #partyinthebackfield to that. Second, do we need an inspirational 2013 motto?"

It seems everyone has an idea. Offensive guard David Yankey: "Smash!" Former QB Andrew Luck: "It wasn't just Luck." Defensive end Ben Gardner: "Fear the mullet!" Former center Sam Schwartzstein: "May the Schwartz be with you!" Sherman, "You mad 'bro?"

Quarterback Kevin Hogan raises his hand and waits patiently. Murphy acknowledges him. Hogan stands, "What about, 'Burn the ships'?"

"Ah!" safety Ed Reynolds says. "I get it. You're referring -- as everyone here knows because we go to Stanford -- to conquistador Hernan Cortez, who in 1519 decided to conquer a millions Aztecs with 500 men. Upon landing ashore, Cortez ordered all his ships burned. That show of audacious warrior confidence sent a message to his men, as well as to the Aztecs, who were shortly conquered. The historicity of this is suspect, and we could debate the colonialism of warlike Europeans, but it's pretty tight for our purposes."

Everyone cheers. "Then it's settled says," Murphy says. "We have two other items. The good news is our fullback Ryan Hewitt solved the Jacobian conjecture this summer, so that's nice. May be a Nobel Prize in there for him or something. Finally, the operatives in Eugene have some concerns we will need to discuss with some seriousness."

Stanford, showcasing a more mature downfield passing game with Hogan, whips San Jose State 30-3. Hogan then throws his fourth and fifth TD passes of the year and sits out the fourth quarter in a 40-6 win over Army.

No. 15 Arizona State jumps to a 10-7 halftime lead.

"We're having a net force-acceleration problem with Will Sutton," Yankey says. "Come on now! This isn't Hilbert's sixteenth problem or Riemann Hypothesis! This is simple vectors. We need to figure out Fnet = m"a; Ffrict = "Fnorm; Fgrav = m"g in the second half."

Stanford rolls past the Sun Devils 28-10. The Cardinal batters Washington State 44-10. Up next: Washington.

"Gentlemen, I've been in communication with Snoop Lion and Kal-El, er, De'Anthony Thomas," Skov says at a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meeting on Sept. 29 in a private room at Manresa. "They believe Washington has gone over to the SEC aliens side, that the new Husky Stadium is really a West Coast base for the aliens."

Replies Gardner, "No way. The Ducks are always quacking on the Huskies. Everyone knows the SEC aliens are using those new buildings a California. You do know what 'Berkeley' means in alien, right?"

"Well," Skov replies, "the translation isn't exact because the aliens don't use a Latin-derived alphabet but my best understanding it is means 'big blue bag of poop.' "

Sherman pipes in, "Yeah, but Washington did beat you last year. I'd be pretty mad about that."

Stanford dominates the Huskies in a 33-13 win. The Cardinal then whips Utah, UCLA and Oregon State. Stanford, at 8-0, is ranked third. 8-0 Oregon is second.

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, a triple-secret meeting is held at the The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., between Stanford and Oregon leaders. After paying their respects to chef Thomas Keller, who personally cooked their meal, the Pac-12 rivals now hash out their business: Finding common ground for the sake of all that is right and good in college football.

Murphy: We are two proud programs that play hard and love the game and our teammates. We ultimately want the same thing every season, and for that reason we cannot be friends. But there is respect. We also understand that there is a common foe. We agree that the portents are in line, and that SEC's securing eight national titles in a row -- the sacred number -- would be catastrophic.

De'Anthony Thomas: This is good to hear. We also bring you respect from the Phil Knight Defense of the World facility. We shall play tomorrow night on ESPN with all the violence and passion and yearning of championship Pac-12 programs. I know your words -- Burn the ship! We, too, will arrive at your stadium with our ships in flames. There is no retreat. For either of us. Audaces fortuna iuvat! Victis honor!

The parties solemnly shake hands.

Says defensive end Henry Anderson, "Any chance we could have a meeting one day and just, you know, get a good burger? Or some barbecue. We could get some brisket shipped in from Franklin Barbecue in Austin or something. I mean, I like Snake River Farms 'Calotte de Boeuf' with bone marrow pain perdu, creamed arrowleaf spinach, roasted garden carrots, globe artichokes and sauce Bordelaise as much as anybody, but sometimes you don't want to gaze in wonderment at your food."

Stanford-Oregon is a dynamic, physical contest of contrasting styles that is 20-20 at the end of regulation. The teams match touchdowns in the first overtime, with Thomas going 17 yards on a third and five for the Ducks TD. A diving interception from Ifo Ekpre-Olomu ends Stanford's possession in the second overtime, but Murphy tackles Mariota for a 5-yard loss, forcing the Ducks to try a 47-yard field goal for the win.

No good. In the third overtime, cornerback Alex Carter intercepts Mariota, and Jordan Williamson connects from 34 yards for the Stanford victory.

Stanford avoids the upset at USC, with a 22-yard fourth-quarter TD run from Anthony Wilkerson providing the winning margin in a 24-20 victory. Up next: The Big Game against California.

"Look I know you guys don't think Cal is in with the aliens but don't you think it's strange that their quarterback Jared Goff looks just like the bad guy from Karate Kid?" Gardner says. "I mean come on! That can't be a coincidence!"

Gardner sacks Goff twice, and Hogan has two long TD passes in a 35-17 Stanford victory.

Second-ranked Stanford buries Notre Dame and then slips UCLA in the Pac-12 title game to improve to 13-0.

Kevin Gemmell: So that sets up the matchup everyone has been waiting for: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Stanford, both unbeaten and dominant the entire season.

Ted Miller: And college football as we know it will end if Alabama wins the SEC its eighth consecutive national title. Aliens will take over the world. Ice cream and puppies will be illegal. Underwear will be worn on the outside of pants. Everything will be painted bright orange. Hopelessness times infinity.

Stanford coach David Shaw walks into the pregame locker room at the Rose Bowl.

"Well, we've burned our ships, and shortly we go to battle," Shaw says. "But there is nothing grim about our task. Don't be tight. Forget about playing angry. Play with a warrior joy. Unleash your barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Believe in yourself, your team and our plan. You are prepared and sharp. And they have no idea what is about to come down upon their heads."

Stanford leads 14-7 late in the fourth quarter and has the ball on its 22-yard line. Hogan runs an option and tries to pitch to Tyler Gaffney but it appears Gaffney wasn't expecting the ball, which bounces off his back and is recovered by Alabama.

On first down, T.J. Yeldon goes up the middle for 11 yards. The Crimson Tide has a first and goal on the Stanford 8-yard line. Yeldon gains two yards on first down. On second down, AJ McCarron throws an out to tight end Brian Vogler, who appears to have a clear path to the end zone until cornerback Wayne Lyons blasts him out of bounds on the 1-yard line. On third down, Yeldon goes up the middle and tries to leap over the top of the pile, but he's met immediately by noseguard David Parry.

It's fourth and goal on the 1-yard line. Alabama calls time out. While McCarron is talking to Nick Saban, Yeldon walks past Murphy and shows his true alien face.

"The number is eight and the new number will be infinity!" he rasps at Murphy.

"Infinity is not a number, it is an idea," Murphy replies. "But T.J. Alien, I've got one for you. ... Are there infinitely many real quadratic number fields with unique factorization?"

Announcer: A little back and forth between Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy and T.J. Yeldon. Whatever Murphy said didn't amuse Yeldon.

Yeldon goes up the middle and leaps high into the air, where he is met by Skov inches short of the goal line. The photo of that epic impact will become the iconic image for college football over the next 100 years, erasing from mind a similar but not nearly so cool picture that was taken in New Orleans in 1979.

Stanford runs out the final six minutes, with Hogan taking a knee on the Alabama 1-yard line as time expires.

Stanford wins the 2013 national championship. The universe is saved.

"And," Sherman says at a celebration sponsored by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. "Stanford continues to be Stanford ... and what could be better than that? I'll answer: Nothing!"

Worst case

Stanford rolls over San Jose State and Army by a combined count of 80-13. The Cardinal appears dominant on both sides of the ball.

But Arizona State shocks the Cardinal at home, with Sun Devils DT Will Sutton recording two sacks and forcing a key fumble late in the fourth quarter.

"If we didn't know we can't win Pac-12 games just by showing up, we know it now," coach David Shaw says. "We didn't appear mentally tough tonight, and that isn't us."

Stanford bounces back with a four-game winning streak, beating Washington State, Washington, Utah and UCLA. But things go awry in the rain at Oregon State, as two Hogan interceptions and three fumbles key a 28-24 Beavers upset victory.

"It's good we have an off-week before Oregon," Shaw says. "We must refocus. The unbeaten Ducks should help us do that."

But this Pac-12 North Division showdown, so hyped in the preseason, mostly flops, as the game takes on the feel of the 2010 and 2011 contests, when the Ducks speed eventually took over. Oregon scores 21 unanswered points in a third-quarter explosion and coasts home 42-24.

Gemmell: Stanford had big hopes for this season. Most of those hopes are gone, and the remaining schedule isn't exactly soft. We'll get a feel for the Cardinal's mental toughness over the next month.

Miller: It's possible Stanford is about to get a taste of what USC and its fans suffered through in 2012.

Stanford is flat at USC and gets whipped 28-14. The Cardinal recovers its intensity for the Big Game against California, but the Bears, one of the nation's biggest surprises under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, are on a roll. They beat Stanford 35-24.

"Is the tide turning in this rivalry series?" Dykes says. "I'll leave that to the Pac-12 blog to determine. But we're 9-3 and feeling pretty good about going to the Alamo Bowl. Everybody loves our recruiting class. And we've got half a billon dollars in new facilities. By the way, just how bad was that movie, 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?' Might be Sean Connery's worst film."

After a home loss to Notre Dame, Stanford finishes the season with a five-game losing streak. That increases to six when the Cardinal falls to Duke in the Sun Bowl. It's the program's first losing season since 2008.

California whips Texas in the Alamo Bowl 50-3. USC beats Alabama to win the national championship. Oregon wins the Fiesta Bowl over Notre Dame. UCLA wins the Holiday Bowl over Oklahoma State.

Gemmell: Talk about Happy Holidays. Just about every team in the Pac-12 is happy as the calendar flips into 2014.

Miller: Other than Stanford, which reportedly will fall out of the top-10 of the US News & World Report's rankings of national universities this year.

Shaw is hired by the Dallas Cowboys. He's replaced by Jim Donnan.

Previous "Best case-worst case" posts


Washington State





Oregon State



Arizona State