Pac-12: Auburn Tigers

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.

A quick look at today's Pac-12 slate

August, 31, 2013
The Pac-12 is 3-0. The going won't be as easy in some stadiums today.

Here's what's ahead.

Nicholls State at No. 3 Oregon, 4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1: These teams have never met, and it's unfortunate they will Saturday. Nicholls State went 0-7 in the Southland Conference last year, its lone 2012 win coming over NAIA Evangel. Oregon State beat Nicholls State 77-3 last year when the Beavers were legitimately trying not to score. As The Oregonian has pointed out, it's likely the Autzen Stadium points record (72, recorded against New Mexico in 2010 and Nevada in 1999) will be broken.

Eastern Washington at No. 25 Oregon State, 6 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network: Oregon State leads the series against the FCS power 2-0, last winning 56-17 in 2006. It was announced Monday afternoon that Sean Mannion will start at QB for the Beavers over Cody Vaz, who still might see some playing time.

Washington State at Auburn, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU: Auburn leads the series 1-0, beating the Cougars 40-14 in 2006. This will be the debut of Tigers coach Gus Malzahn, as well as his starting QB Nick Marshall. Two years removed from a national title -- won in a nailbiter over Oregon -- Auburn went 3-9 last fall and fired coach Gene Chizik. Malzahn was the Arkansas State coach last year, but he also was Chizik's offensive coordinator in 2010. The Tigers welcome back 17 starters.

Nevada at No. 21 UCLA, 10 p.m. Pac-12 Network: First meeting. After Chris Ault retired -- again -- Brian Polian became the Nevada coach. The Wolf Pack has 12 starters back from a 7-6 team, most notably QB Cody Fajardo, a dynamic pass-run threat. He rushed for 1,100 yards and passed for 2,786 yards last year, accounting for 32 total TDs.

No. 19 Boise State at Washington, 10 p.m. Fox Sports 1: The series is tied 1-1. Boise State beat the Huskies 28-26 in the Las Vegas Bowl last year, while the Huskies prevailed in 2007, 24-10. The Broncos have only 10 starters back from their 11-2 team, while the Huskies welcome back 20. While Boise State QB Joe Southwick didn't put up big numbers last year, he was extremely efficient over the latter third of the season.

No. 22 Northwestern at California, 10:30 p.m., ESPN2: Northwestern leads the series 1-0 -- a 20-14 win in 1949. The Wildcats welcome back 17 starters from a 10-3 team that beat Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl last year. That includes the outstanding combination of QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark. They combined for more than 2,200 yards rushing last year. This is the debut of Cal coach Sonny Dykes, who replaced Jeff Tedford, as well as true freshman QB Jared Goff.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
It's prediction time! Wheeee!

Last year, Kevin and Ted tied at the end of the regular season with 66-25 records. Ah, but then came the bowl season, and -- cough, cough -- by virtue of Ted going 5-3 and Kevin going 4-4, the old guy prevailed by a single game.

Let's hear it for the old guys!

And you know who won it for Ted? Texas! How about that fudge?



Kevin Gemmell: First game, and I’m already conflicted. This one is scary with Chuckie Keeton back at QB for Utah State and all five of his linemen back to protect him. I think Utah is going to be better than it was last season, and the Utes will be looking for revenge from last year’s loss. In close games, go with the home team. Utah 21, Utah State 17

Ted Miller: This is an interesting one. Utah State changed coaches but has a lot of guys back. The Utes have preseason injury issues -- paging Brian Blechen; your defense needs you -- and those issues have made coach Kyle Whittingham grumpy. But you know why I'm picking Utah? Because I think the Utes are angry about how folks have written them off, and angry often translates well in football. And I like the MUSS being loud. Utah 24, Utah State 21


Kevin Gemmell: A good chance for both USC quarterbacks to get a lot of work against a nonthreatening opponent. Trojans should roll. USC 35, Hawaii 14

Ted Miller: USC is going to win this game, but it would be good for coach Lane Kiffin if the Trojans looked good doing it. Want to be goofy about your QB situation? Fine. You just better look good on offense. The biggest news in this one is which QB starts and, subsequently, who sets himself up to start against Washington State next week. USC 35, Hawaii 20



Kevin Gemmell: How many Arizona quarterbacks will we see in this game? I’m putting the over/under at three -- and I’m leaning toward the over. Arizona 42, NAU 17

Ted Miller: I actually think B.J. Denker is going to be the man for the Wildcats, even if other guys play. The issue is whether he remains that way. I think the only guy who would unseat him is Jesse Scroggins, and he has struggled to stay healthy. Arizona 40, NAU 14



Kevin Gemmell: The only concern here is that Marcus Mariota tweaks a fingernail pulling off his shoulder pads at halftime. Oregon 48, Nicholls State 7

Ted Miller: I'm actually afraid for Nicholls State. Oregon 101, Nicholls State 3


Kevin Gemmell: Eastern Washington is a pretty good Football Championship Subdivision team. And Oregon State fans know better than to overlook FCS teams. But I see no reason the Beavers don’t roll in this one. Oregon State 35, Eastern Washington 10

Ted Miller: The Beavers have some nagging injury issues, so they just want to win this one and get out of the game healthy. And they want Sean Mannion to justify his winning a high-profile QB competition. Oregon State 41, Eastern Washington 17


Kevin Gemmell: A good tuneup game for the Bruins against a team that has some bite. I really like what Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo is capable of. But I like Brett Hundley better. Should be a decent game, but ultimately not enough to give UCLA a real scare. UCLA 35, Nevada 17

Ted Miller: Sitting here making this pick, I realize how Jim Mora has changed things at UCLA in just one year. For a decade or so previous to him, this is exactly the sort of game that you'd pause over, going, "Hmm ... UCLA is better but, man, do the Bruins know how to blow it!" Mora inspires confidence in terms of his team coming out in a businesslike fashion and playing like the superior collection of athletes that it is. UCLA 40, Nevada 24


Kevin Gemmell: Should be one of the closest, most competitive games in the country in Week 1. And in close games, sticking with my personal doctrine, I’ll go with the home team. Washington 24, Boise State 21

Ted Miller: These teams were tightly contested in the Las Vegas Bowl, and the Huskies look like a better team than they were last season, while the Broncos have a lot of guys to replace. Still, it comes down to Huskies QB Keith Price. If he's his 2011 self again, Washington will roll. Washington 30, Boise State 21


Kevin Gemmell: I think the Bears will show a little backbone and Jared Goff will gain some confidence. But probably not enough to beat a ranked team in his first career start. However, it’ll be closer than people think. Northwestern 35, California 28

Ted Miller: Hello, Cal fans. It's me again. I've got bad news. I think you're going to win this game. Of course, that probably means you're going to lose, because the Bears never do what I think they'll do. Or was that just a Jeff Tedford thing? I'm so conflicted. Maybe if someone brought me a calabrese from Top Dog I could make sense of it all? California 27, Northwestern 24


Kevin Gemmell: I got burned by the Cougs in the season opener last year when they were two-touchdown dogs on the road, and it haunts me to this day. Lesson learned. Auburn 28, Washington State 21

Ted Miller: Both teams went 3-9 last season, but the Tigers have a lot more size and athletes. I think the Cougars are going to put a scare into Auburn and its fans, but the Tigers' athleticism and, perhaps, the Southeastern humidity will wear WSU down in the fourth quarter. Auburn 33, Washington State 24


Kevin Gemmell: The Rams bring back nine starters on offense. But Paul Richardson is due for a multitouchdown game. Colorado will get a little vengeance from last season. Bring on the Mac attack. Colorado 27, Colorado State 17

Ted Miller: I stared at the Colorado depth chart Tuesday and had an interesting reaction that surprised me: maybe. The Buffs should have won this game last season, and I think they're better than in 2012. Colorado 30, Colorado State 27

Best case-worst case: Washington State

July, 31, 2013
This is the second 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: Washington State

Mike Leach exits the Holland-Terrell Library at Washington State with professor Buddy Levy, his co-author for a book about Geronimo. It's 11:50 p.m. Leach takes a left on Wilson and another left on Stadium Way. An early fall chill is in the air. Martin Stadium rises in front of Leach.

Leach pauses and looks toward the field. He hears the faint sound of drums and wooden flutes. He shakes his head. He's not sure if the music is only in his mind, but it grows louder as he nears the stadium. He follows the sounds past the 11-foot, bronze Cougar and walks through the main gate.

The field is full of Cougars. Not animals. The fan kind. Draped in crimson, they are dancing in perfect unison. The music reaches a frantic crescendo. And then stops. All the fans look up at Leach. They are very serious, other than Coug-A-Sutra, who is jumping around going, "Mike Leach! Mike Leach! I know him!"

A man appears.

"Mike, how are you? Name's GoyaaBé," the apparition says walking up from behind Leach. "But you can call me Geronimo. I have some concerns about chapter nine, but we can talk about that later. This here is Wovoka. Your fans are doing their own version of the 'Ghost Dance'."

Leach, who exchanges a fist bump with Geronimo and Wovoka, doesn't seem surprised in the least to be talking to spirits of Native American heroes.

"They are summoning Cougars legends, the ancestors who led this football program to great glory," Leach says. "Makes sense. There's Lone Star Dietz! And Mel Hein! That must be Ryan Leaf before he lost his way."

"It is time for the Cougar spirit to rise again," Geronimo intones. "You must take your team on a vision quest. Your 'Air Raid' must be as one with the Palouse. You and the land are one. And, Mike, one more thing..."

"Yes," says Leach.

"It must be fun," Geronimo says with a mischievous grin and coy eyebrow raise.

Auburn fans pretty much knew the game with Washington State was going to be screwy when Nova, Auburn's six-year-old golden eagle, lands on Leach's shoulder before the opening kickoff, the two seeming to engage in a lengthy conversation, one that ends with Leach cracking up and the new fast friends appearing to trade cell numbers.

Cougs win 31-20.

After a 27-24 loss at USC, Washington State thrashes Southern Utah and Idaho. Following QB Connor Halliday's 10th TD pass, the Martin Stadium PA system clicks on some music that captures Coug fans fancy.

"Halliday... celebrate! It would be so nice... Halliday!"

"Guys, I really think Madonna is singing, 'Holiday,' not 'Halliday,'" Halliday says to a disbelieving media contingent. "But she did call me the other day, so I can ask her when we go out to Rico's on Tuesday. She might be moving to Pullman."

Washington State loses to Stanford 24-21, whips California 30-17 and upsets No. 10 Oregon State 27-24. The Cougs first appearance in the AP poll since 2006 though is short-lived after a 45-24 loss at Oregon.

"The thing with us is we have to be at our best every play to beat a team like Oregon," Leach says. "That didn't happen today, but the guys played hard and fought until the end. We never lost our edge, and I like that. That's different than last year. These guys believed until the final whistle, and I like what I saw in the locker room afterwards. Darryl Monroe got up and asked everybody to think only about what they can do to get better during our off week."

Ten inches of snow and 17 degree weather greets No. 15 Arizona State. A pleasant breeze -- a Coug phrasing -- brings the chill to negative numbers. Washington State dumps its friends from the desert 28-20.

Wins at Arizona and over Utah push the Cougars to 8-3 on the season. Up next: A trip to 7-4 Washington. The winner likely will earn a Holiday Bowl berth.

Leach gathers his players at the team hotel before the bus to fancy, renovated Husky Stadium.

"Hemingway's 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' is one of the greatest short stories ever written," Leach says. "I'm not going to talk to you about the story, though. Here's the epigraph before the story begins: 'Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,336 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai 'Ngaje Ngai,' the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.'"

Leach pauses. "Critics have debated this epigraph for decades. But I know its meaning. Not only that. I feel it in my bones," he says.

"Perseverance," safety Deone Bucannon says.

"The heroism of the act isn't about reaching the summit but about seeking it," receiver Gabe Marks says.

Announcer: Well, it all comes down to this. The Huskies have a fourth and goal on the Washington State 1-yard line with 22 seconds left. Cougars lead 28-24.

Leach to his gathered defense: "Man, is this not the greatest thing? Enjoy this! Dreams are made of this. Unleash your barbaric yawp on these guys!"

The Huskies later express bafflement about the Cougars dancing around, yawping and yelling about Kilimanjaro after Bishop Sankey is stopped inches short of the goal line.

Washington State beats No. 13 Texas 31-10 in the Holiday Bowl to finish 10-3 and ranked 15th.

"Geronimo" By Mike Leach and Buddy Levy spends eight weeks atop the New York Times Best-Sellers list.

The Kraken awakes in Lake Washington, apparently grumpy and hungry, and eats fancy new Husky Stadium in one bite.

"Yummy!" says the Kraken.

"No, I didn't release the Kraken," Leach says. "... as far as you know.

"But I cannot speak for Geronimo."

Worst case

It was deja vu all over again.

It was supposed to be different in year two under Mike Leach, just as it was supposed to be different in year one. But a 38-17 opening loss at Auburn felt just as demoralizing as what happened at BYU the year before.

"We've still got those hangdog expressions on the sidelines," Leach says. "We still don't look like winners, guys who can handle adversity."

USC pounds the Cougars 45-13, but they get on the winning track with wins over Southern Utah and Idaho. Yet that's the end of winning in 2013, as the schedule toughens up, with no patsies over the final eight games.

The biggest indignity is the 50-10 shellacking from No. 10 Washington in the Apple Cup, with Steve Sarkisian leaving his starters in for the entire third quarter.

"I'm sorry," Sarkisian says, laughing to reporters. "But we've got to get ready for the Rose Bowl and I wanted our guys to get as much football in before they take a month-long break. And, well, I've heard a lot of about the Cougars 18-point fourth-quarter comeback last year. Who's to say they couldn't have come back from 30 down?"

Leach is asked if the Cougars resemble the same "empty corpses" and "zombies" he compared them to in 2012.

"No," he says. "I've seen several zombie movies since then, and zombies are much better football players than our guys."

He's then asked if the Cougs 2-10 finish is better than their 3-9 mark from a year before.

“Football seasons are funny things,” Leach says. “They’re very satisfying ultimately, but then there’s a point where it gets kind of tedious and you get tired of the same stuff over and over. … Football seasons almost go a little beyond even the confines of, say, a marriage. You coach a season, that’s there forever in the record book. There’s no divorcing a football season.

"Though I'd like to do just that to my two years here in Pullman."

Leach decides to resign and concentrate on writing and saying interesting things at cocktail parties.

"I know things didn't work out like we planned with Coach Leach -- and we wish him well on his latest work, 'A Breathtaking Work of Staggering Genius: The Pac-12 Blog Story' -- but I think we've got the right guy coming in now," athletic director Bill Moos says at a news conference.

"Ladies and gentlemen, your next Washington State head coach... Nick Holt!"

Washington wins the Rose Bowl.

Seattle Times headline: "Every Washington State fans found unresponsive and in fetal position."
Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!
The nonconference primer series came to a close Monday afternoon with the final installment of Washington State. Consider yourselves primed.

Looking over the nonconference slate for each team, there are some good games. Too many to limit to the five-option maximum of a normal poll. So we're going to split them up with a North poll today and a South poll tomorrow. (Auto-correct is trying to change it to North Pole and South Pole, kinda funny). Both divisions have some quality nonconference matchups. Today, we'll vote on the North and tomorrow we'll vote on the South.


What's the most intriguing nonconference game in the North Division?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,593)

What's the most intriguing nonconference game in the North Division? Your options (determined by chronological order):

Aug. 31, Washington vs. Boise State: The Pac-12 blog hasn't been shy expressing its thoughts about this game. The rematch of last year's MAACO Bowl Las Vegas showdown -- which Boise State won in the fourth quarter -- could have tremendous ramifications for the Huskies -- win or lose.

Aug. 31, Washington State at Auburn: Two teams that were down last season, and two teams with offensive-minded coaches. And there is always Pac-12/SEC pride on the line.

Sept. 14, Cal vs. Ohio State: It's not every day that a potential No. 1 team in the country comes to the East Bay for a nonconference game. And considering how Cal pushed the Buckeyes last season, it's certainly worth tuning in for. I wouldn't say Ohio State is on upset alert -- especially with Cal thrusting a green quarterback into a new system with a new coach. But I'm not completely sold that Ohio State wins this one without a little effort.

Sept. 21, Oregon State at San Diego State: It should be a winnable game for the Beavers ... should be. But the Aztecs have been on a hot streak in recent years -- including a gutty road win at Boise last season that helped them get a slice of the conference title. Adam Muema is one of the nation's top backs, and Qualcomm Stadium and Mike Riley never really agreed. This smells like a trap.

Nov. 30, Notre Dame at Stanford: This one could have BCS bowl game implications. Last year's game -- and its controversial ending -- proved to be a turning point for both teams. Will this year's have the same implications?
We conclude our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.

Washington State

at Auburn, Aug. 31
  • Coach: Gus Malzahn, first year
  • 2012 record: 3-8, 0-8 SEC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Tre Mason returns as a 1,000-yard rusher from last year, where he totaled 1,002 yards with eight touchdowns and 83.5 yards per game. Fun fact: He's the first non-QB to lead Auburn in total offense since Bo Jackson in 1985.
  • Defensive headliner: Senior Demetruce McNeal was second on the team last year with 90 tackles, including seven for a loss.
  • The skinny: Auburn ranked tied for last in the country last year with just two interceptions. Washington State was second to last in the nation in interceptions throw with 21. It's the uncatchable force vs. the easily-catchable object, so to speak. Malzahn is a Todd Graham disciple so you'd expect the Tigers to post better offensive numbers than their 18.6 points per game last year.
Southern Utah, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Ed Lamb (26-29), sixth season
  • 2012 record: 5-6, 4-4 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: six offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: Fatu Moala returns as the team's leading receiver from last year, where he caught 65 balls for 810 yards and nine touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Zak Browning is back after leading the Thunderbirds with 116 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss with one sack and in interception. He also forced five fumbles.
  • The skinny: Lamb took an 0-11 team and eventually guided it to the 2010 Great West Conference championship. Last year, Southern Utah's first in the Big Sky, it went 4-4. But the Thunderbirds lose their top three rushers from last year and have to replace quarterback Brad Sorensen, who attempted every pass last year for the team.
Idaho, Sept. 21
  • Coach: Paul Petrino, first year
  • 2012 record: 1-11, 1-5 WAC
  • Returning starters: seven offense, three defense
  • Offensive headliner: Center Mike Marboe is a preseason all-independent selection by several publications and is on the Rimington watch list.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Solomon Dixon led the Vandals with three interceptions last year while tallying 36 tackles -- including three for a loss.
  • The skinny: The WAC orphans begin anew as an independent. They allowed more than 42 points per game and scored just south of 16 per contest. That's a perfect recipe for a one-win season. The blood is already bad in this turf war, but it elevated earlier this year when this happened. Don't expect many pleasantries when these teams meet for the 91st time.
Thoughts: The Cougars open the year with back-to-back road games. Following the trip to Auburn, they start league play on the road in Week 2 at USC before finishing off the nonconference slate with home games against Southern Utah and Idaho. Most people expect the Cougars to be underdogs on the road to Auburn -- and they probably will be. The Cougars are very much a question mark with a quarterback competition still in the works and a deep receiving corps that is waiting to be unleashed. Would anyone be shocked if they went into Auburn and lost by 21? Probably not. Would anyone be shocked if they come out and throw it around and win by a touchdown or two? Maybe ... but not that shocked. How much growth happened in the offseason is still unknown. But it's safe to assume Washington State will be more efficient in Year 2 under Mike Leach than it was in Year 1. The remaining two nonconference games -- despite the bubbling tensions with Idaho -- should be considered winnable. Southern Utah has made strides under Lamb, but not enough to topple a Leach-coached team. The Idaho game has been on hiatus since the 2007 meeting, but the Cougars have won eight straight in the series. Fans should, at the very least, expect a 2-1 record in nonconference play. And 3-0 would be pleasantly surprising.

Here's the complete nonconference primer series.
Hazel’s obsession with Hoosiers around the world was a textbook example of a false karass, of a seeming team that was meaningless in terms of the ways God gets things done, a textbook example of what Bokonon calls a granfalloon. Other examples of granfalloons are the Communist party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows -- and any nation, anytime, anywhere.

Early odds on Pac-12 games

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

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

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

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

Poll: Pac-12's worst BCS moment

May, 24, 2013
On Wednesday, we provided you with our worst five Pac-12 BCS moments.

Here's what we wrote (our polls can only included five choices, so if you think Oregon losing the Rose Bowl to Ohio State after the 2009 season, go with "other").

Worst moment for the Pac-12 in the BCS Era?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,093)

1. Just one BCS national title, lots of frustration: No conference has more legitimate gripes with the BCS system than the Pac-12. Multiple seasons saw the conference have teams skipped over, most notably Oregon in 2001 and USC in 2003 and 2008. And ask California fans about how Texas coach Mack Brown gamed the system in 2004, preventing the Bears from playing in the Rose Bowl.

2. USC's three-peat gets Vince Younged: It's difficult to look at Texas' epic 41-38 win over USC as anything but great college football art -- perhaps the all-time greatest game -- but Trojans fans don't feel that way. The loss prevented USC from claiming three consecutive national titles and, of course, a second BCS crown for the Pac-10/12.

3. Oregon falls short versus Auburn: Oregon looked like a great team and Auburn a team with two great players before the BCS title game after the 2010 season. The Ducks chose a bad time to play one of their worst games of the season, but they still nearly prevailed before being undone by a dramatic game-winning drive from the Tigers.

4. Make a field goal, Stanford: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a certain game winner from 35 yards on the last play of regulation, in the Cardinal's 41-38 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2011 season. Williamson also missed from 43 yards in overtime, which set the Cowboys up for the win. Stanford dominated the game, outgaining the Cowboys 590 yards to 412, with a 243-13 edge in rushing.

So what's your take?

Hope springs in the Pac-12

May, 22, 2013
The 2013 season will be the final year of the BCS era.

And there was much rejoicing!

So, what have been the Pac-12 highs and lows of this often confounding system? Thanks for asking!


1. USC drubs Oklahoma for the 2004 national title: The 55-19 victory over unbeaten Oklahoma was the most dominant display of the BCS era. It was also the pinnacle of the Trojans' dynasty under Pete Carroll. It's worth noting that future Pac-12 member Utah also whipped Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to finish unbeaten that same year.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesReggie Bush and USC ran away with the 2004 national title.
2. USC wins "real" national title: In 2003, USC was No. 1 in the AP and Coaches polls at season's end. If you had eyes and knew anything about football, it was clear the Trojans were the nation's most-talented team on both sides of the football, a notion that was reinforced the following season. Two teams picked by computers played in New Orleans -- most folks outside of Louisiana don't even remember who -- and that forced the Trojans to settle for three-fourths of a national title after dominating Michigan 28-14.

3. The year of the Northwest: After the 2000 season, three teams from the Northwest finished ranked in the AP top seven. Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and finished third. Oregon State drubbed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished fourth. Oregon beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl to finish seventh.

4. Oregon gets left out but finishes No. 2: One of the grand faux paus of the BCS era was Nebraska playing Miami for the 2001 national title. Nebraska was coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado, but the computers failed to notice, and the Cornhuskers were euthanized by the Hurricanes before halftime. The Ducks would whip that same Colorado team 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl and finish ranked No. 2.

5. Oregon and Stanford both win: The 2012-13 bowl season wasn't good to the Pac-12, but Oregon pounded Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks finished ranked No. 2 and Stanford was seventh. It was just the second time two Pac-10/12 teams won BCS bowl games in the same season.


1. Just one BCS national title, lots of frustration: No conference has more legitimate gripes with the BCS system than the Pac-12. Multiple seasons saw the conference have teams skipped over, most notably Oregon in 2001 and USC in 2003 and 2008. And ask California fans about how Texas coach Mack Brown gamed the system in 2004, preventing the Bears from playing in the Rose Bowl.

2. USC's three-peat gets Vince Younged: It's difficult to look at Texas's epic 41-38 win over USC as anything but great college football art -- perhaps the all-time greatest game -- but Trojans fans don't feel that way. The loss prevented USC from claiming three consecutive national titles and, of course, a second BCS crown for the Pac-10/12.

3. Oregon falls short versus Auburn: Oregon looked like a great team and Auburn a team with two great players before the BCS title game after the 2010 season. The Ducks chose a bad time to play one of their worst games of the season, but they still nearly prevailed before being undone by a dramatic game-winning drive from the Tigers.

4. Make a field goal, Stanford: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a certain game-winner from 35 yards on the last play of regulation, in the Cardinal's 41-38 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2011 season. Williamson also missed from 43 yards in overtime, which set the Cowboys up for the win. Stanford dominated the game, outgaining the Cowboys 590 yards to 412, with a 243-13 edge in rushing.

5. Ducks drop Rose Bowl: Oregon fell flat in Chip Kelly's first BCS bowl game, with the favored Ducks losing to Ohio State 26-17 in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor had perhaps the best game of his career -- 266 yards passing, 72 rushing -- and the Ducks offense struggled, gaining just 260 yards.
Happy Friday.

Pac-12 schedule notes, analysis

January, 10, 2013
The Pac-12 released its official 2013 schedule Thursday, and as usual some teams have a tough road ahead of them.

First, there's California, which plays Northwestern and Ohio State in its nonconference schedule, and then faces Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, UCLA, USC and Washington. All of those teams could be ranked in the preseason, and Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford could all be in the top five.

Then there's Arizona State, which plays Wisconsin and Notre Dame (Cowboys Stadium) in its nonconference schedule. The good news for the Sun Devils is missing Oregon.

At this point, with Stanford and Oregon again expected to lead the conference, the red-letter date is then Thursday, Nov. 7, when the Ducks visit Stanford. It's hard to imagine that game won't have major conference and national implications.

With rivalry games, there's some good news. They all will be played over the last two weeks of the season. Further, the Pac- 12 Championship Game will be played on Saturday, Dec. 7, instead of a Friday night, as it has been the previous two years. It also will be on ESPN or ABC, instead of Fox.

Hits and misses area always important. We previously published the schedule rotation here. But here are the highlights:
  • If we are allowed to posit Oregon and Stanford as the conference frontrunners, it's reasonable to take note of which teams miss them: Arizona (Stanford), Arizona State (Oregon), Colorado (Stanford) and USC (Oregon). No team misses both, as Utah did the previous two years.
  • Speaking of the Utes, the schedule ramps up a bit: They play Stanford at home and visit Oregon. But that's not as tough as UCLA, which plays both on the road.
  • And, apologies in advance to Colorado, but if we are allowed to posit the Buffaloes as the conference's weakest team, then it's reasonable to point out the teams that miss them: Stanford and Washington State.
  • USC has five home games and misses Washington and Oregon. It's a schedule that suggests a potential bounce-back season.

And here are some more notes on the schedule:
  • It features a nonconference slate of 15 games versus teams that participated in bowls following the 2012 season, with four against nonconference opponents who participated in BCS bowls, and that doesn't include Ohio State, which went unbeaten.
  • Five teams play five home conference games: Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford, USC, Utah and Washington.
  • Arizona State plays Notre Dame at Cowboys Stadium on Oct. 5, the first of three Pac-12 games with the Fighting Irish. USC is at Notre Dame on Oct. 19 and Stanford plays host to the Irish on Nov. 30.
  • The season opens Thursday, Aug. 29, as USC visits Hawai’i and Utah hosts Utah State.
  • The opening week of the season also features key nonconference matchups: UCLA hosts Nevada, Washington State visits Auburn, California hosts Northwestern and Washington hosts Boise State as it re-opens Husky Stadium.
  • The schedule features six games on five Thursday night dates, most notably Oregon at Stanford on Nov. 7, a potential top-five battle which we're ready to predict could garner the highest ratings any Thursday night ESPN game has received.
  • The schedule’s three Friday dates feature USC at Oregon State on Nov. 1, Washington at UCLA on Nov. 15, and the Apple Cup and Civil War games the day after Thanksgiving on Nov. 29.
Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There is a school of thought, now apparently subscribed to by a handful of desperate NFL teams, that if that uber-suave, hirsute gentleman from those wildly entertaining Dos Equis beer commercials revealed his true identity, he would rip off a bearded mask and reveal Chip Kelly.

Is Kelly the most interesting man in the world?

Pause for a moment before chortling over our potential hyperbole, for Kelly has packed a lot into his 52-game tenure at Oregon, including 45 victories.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Don RyanChip Kelly doesn't often discuss his life with writers, but when he does, his answers are revealing.
He has run with the bulls in Pamplona. He has led the Ducks to three Pac-12 titles and four BCS bowl games. He has done humanitarian work in Africa. He has produced Oregon's first Rose Bowl victory in 95 years. He has visited U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kelly, 49 and single, is also fiercely private. He has never cooperated with any truly in-depth "This is your life, Chip Kelly!" story, which is exceedingly rare for a high-profile coach. Nearly all his close friends are back in New Hampshire, where he's from and where he went to college.

Kelly doesn't like glad-handing boosters, something often viewed as a prerequisite for being a college coach. He particularly dislikes talking to reporters, and he goes to great lengths to make sure they understand.

The Dos Equis guy says, "Stay thirsty, my friends." Kelly would say, "Stay away, annoying hangers-on."

Yet the vast majority of Ducks fans not only love all the winning, they love Kelly for his wiseacre, smirking self. They chant "Big Balls Chip!" inside rocking Autzen Stadium to celebrate Kelly's penchant for going for it on fourth down, going for 2 and launching onside kicks at surprising times.

He tells fans, "Shut up!" for cheering behind him during an ESPN postgame interview, and they love him more. A Twitter page, Chipisms, celebrates not only Kelly's amusing or insightful wisdom -- “I saw the ‘Feel Sorry for Yourself’ train leaving the parking lot & none of our players were on it, so that was a good sign” -- but also for his snark.

Inquiries that Kelly doesn't like might get one-word answers, clichéd responses or snappy rejoinders that belittle his inquisitors. Questions that engage him, however, receive full and thoughtful treatment. Consider this response from an ESPN story on Kelly's trip to Africa, when he worked with adolescent girls who had no idea who he was.

"The real heroes are the little girls in Africa who are trying to better themselves so they can help their families," he said. "When I hear a coach say, 'We're grinding.' I'm like: You're sitting in a room with air conditioning watching videotape. That's not grinding."

There seem to be three facets to Kelly. His standoffish public face, the detail-obsessed coach and the Renaissance man determined to drink life to the lees away from the game. Even the hard-driving, "win the day" side of Kelly can loosen up behind closed doors; those who work with him frequently cite his sense of humor.

"He [jokes around] all the time," said offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, a leading candidate to replace Kelly should he bolt for an NFL job. "It's not: 'Aha, he smiled! Isn't that amazing?' It's daily. We have a lot of fun."

Further, while Kelly's offense almost always runs like a finely tuned machine, plenty of, er, interesting things have been interspersed with winning during Kelly's tenure. Drama has not been lacking over the past four seasons.

His first game as Oregon's head coach remains his worst: A 19-8 loss at Boise State. Not only did the Ducks gain an embarrassing 152 total yards, but Kelly's star running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Broncos player afterward, bringing the hot light of controversy to his team's feckless performance.

Some thought Kelly was in over his head. He answered that by becoming the first Pac-10 coach to lead a team to an outright conference championship his first season.

Oh, and in a sign of interesting things to come, when a season-ticket holder wrote Kelly demanding a refund for his expenses incurred after attending that disastrous trip to Boise, Kelly quickly fired off a note with a personal check for $439.

Heading into 2010, starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was suspended after he was involved in the burglary of an Oregon fraternity house. Losing a star quarterback typically would damage a team's chances, but all Kelly's team did was finish undefeated and play for the national championship, losing 22-19 when Auburn kicked a last-second field goal.

The NCAA came calling during the 2011 offseason, wanting to know details of Kelly's and the program's dealings with street agent Willie Lyles. A distraction? Nope. Oregon won the conference a third consecutive year and the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.

Kelly then nearly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His quarterback, two-year starter Darron Thomas, had already opted to leave the program, which again threw into question the Ducks' prospects. But Kelly returned and so did the winning, with redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota earning first-team All-Pac-12 honors while leading the Ducks to a No. 4 ranking and a Fiesta Bowl berth opposite Kansas State.

Yet he arrives at the Fiesta Bowl amid swirling rumors that he's about to leave for his pick of available NFL jobs. Asked about his NFL ambitions this week, he gave a 235-word answer that essentially said "no comment."

"My heart is to win the day, and that’s it," he concluded. "I know everybody wants to hear a different answer, and I know at times when I don’t give you guys the answer you guys want, then I’m being evasive. I’m not being evasive. My job is to coach the University of Oregon football team, and I love doing it. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

So the question will linger for a coach who at the very least is currently the most interesting man in college football: Will the Fiesta Bowl be his last day to win for Oregon?