Stanford Football: Heisman Trophy

It's time to start our preseason position reviews. Please, hold your applause until we are finished.

Here's how we do this: We provide three evaluative categories: "Great shape," "Good shape" and "We'll see."

Hint: You'd prefer your team to be in "Great shape."

"We'll see" doesn't mean you're going to stink at said position. It means just what it says -- we'll see because there's no way at present to know.

You can review last year's rankings here.

And away we go ... starting, of course, with quarterback.

GREAT SHAPE

Oregon: Junior Marcus Mariota is -- again -- a leading Heisman Trophy candidate and a two-time first-team All-Pac-12 performer. He would have been an early-round NFL draft pick this spring if he'd opted not to return. The Ducks have some questions at receiver though.

UCLA: Junior Brett Hundley is the conference's No. 2 Heisman Trophy candidate. While Arizona State's Taylor Kelly eclipsed him for second-team All-Pac-12 last fall, Hundley's tremendous upside is why he has NFL scouts eagerly awaiting his entering the draft.

Arizona State: As noted, Kelly was the Pac-12's No. 2 QB last season, which means he was one of the nation's best at the position. It also helps his cause that he's got WR Jaelen Strong, an All-American candidate. However, Kelly does need to take fewer sacks -- you could say the same for Hundley -- and throw fewer interceptions.

Oregon State: Sean Mannion ranked second in the nation with 358.6 yards passing per game in 2013 and is also an NFL prospect. Life might be just a bit harder in the passing game without Brandin Cooks.

GOOD SHAPE

Stanford: Kevin Hogan, a third-year starter, had a good but not great sophomore season while leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship. He was mostly efficient and showed a good touch downfield, but he made some surprisingly bad decisions and needs work with his intermediate passing game. He's got a good crew of veteran receivers coming back, which bodes well for him.

Washington State: Connor Halliday threw for a bunch of yards (4,597) and TDs (34) last season, but he also tossed way too many interceptions (22). Part of that was an inconsistent O-line and a neglected running game. The good news is he's in his third year under Mike Leach and has a strong crew of returning receivers. Of all the Pac-12 QBs, he might make the biggest climb this season.

USC: Cody Kessler didn't put up big numbers last season and didn't beat Notre Dame or UCLA but significantly improved after Lane Kiffin was fired. Like Kelly, he's got an A-list target coming back in WR Nelson Agholor. We expect Kessler to thrive with a new, up-tempo scheme under Steve Sarkisian.

Utah: Utah received good news yesterday when 16-game starter Travis Wilson was medically cleared to play. When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. He'll have to fight off a challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson though.

California: Jared Goff averaged 292 yards passing per game as a true freshman. That's good. But the Cal offense struggled to do much else but throw the ball between the 20s -- hence a conference-worst 23 points per game. He had just 18 TD passes on 531 attempts. Still, he flashed potential and has a very good crew of receivers coming back.

Colorado: Sefo Liufau became the Buffaloes' starter at midseason and often played like the true freshman he was. Furthermore, he won't have Paul Richardson serving as a safety blanket and making big plays for him. Still, Liufau's baptism by Pac-12 fire provided some seasoning that was evident this spring. The Buffs feel pretty good about having a returning starter behind center.

WE'LL SEE

Washington: While Cyler Miles flashed potential last season coming of the bench for Keith Price, logging a road victory at Oregon State in his first start, he also had an off-field issue that has muddied the waters at QB for the Huskies. It remains to be seen how quickly Miles emerges from Chris Petersen's doghouse, and if he can beat out Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams.

Arizona: The Wildcats have no clear frontrunner in their QB competition. That's the bad news. The good news is the performances this spring were generally solid. Rich Rodriguez believes he's got a couple of guys who can win games for him. He's just not sure which guy is No. 1 between Jesse Scroggins, Connor Brewer, Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall.
Eight Pac-12 players were named first-team preseason All-Americans by Athlon's on Monday, while 11 others were named to the other three teams.

Oregon, Stanford and USC each had a pair of first-team selections. The Ducks were represented by center Hroniss Grasu and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Stanford's pair was OT Andrus Peat and kick returner Ty Montgomery, while USC was represented by WR Nelson Agholor and DT Leonard Williams.

The other two first-team selections were UCLA LB Myles Jack and Washington LB Shaq Thompson.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, the Pac-12's top Heisman Trophy candidate was second-team behind FSU's Jameis Winston, who won the trophy last year.

On the third team were three defenders: UCLA LB Eric Kendricks, USC LB Hayes Pullard and Washington DT Danny Shelton. Agholor also was named a punt returner, so he got two spots.

On the fourth team: Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong, Oregon State C Isaac Seumalo and USC O-lineman Max Tuerk, who was listed as a guard even though he plays center. Stanford safety Jordan Richards was fourth team with the defense, while Utah kicker Andy Phillips was a fourth-team specialist.

Pac-12 players to watch during the bowls

December, 19, 2013
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The Pac-12 plays nine bowl games and every game is important, but here are five players upon whom the spotlight will shine just a bit brighter this bowl season.

USC DT Leonard Williams

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State on Dec. 21

The skinny: Williams, an ESPN.com first-team All-American as a true sophomore, will lead the Trojans defense against QB Derek Carr and a high-flying Fresno State offense that wants to prove it can score on anyone. The Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring, but it's perhaps most impressive they've yielded just 11 sacks, which is ninth-fewest in the nation. Williams will head into the 2014 season as a preseason All-American no matter what. But he can show folks why and make a resounding statement for himself if he can get to or at least consistently harass Carr in the pocket.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesA healthy Marcus Mariota would boost Oregons chances against Texas.
Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

Valero Alamo Bowl vs. Texas on Dec. 30

The skinny: This is pretty simple: Will Mariota be 100 percent against the Longhorns? If so, will he return to his midseason form, when he was the nation's best player and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate? That means using his legs to stress the Longhorns, both with designed running plays in the read option and scrambling on passing plays. If Mariota is back to his old self, he will put himself firmly in the 2014 Heisman race. And the Ducks should roll.

Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey

AdvoCare V100 Bowl vs. Boston College on Dec. 31

The skinny: Another simple one: Carey, the nation's No. 2 rusher, versus Andre Williams, the nation's No. 1 rusher and winner of a Doak Walker Award that should have gone to Carey if the award were truly about the nation's best running back (hush, Washington fans). Both offenses rely heavily on their workhorse running backs. Both teams have middling run defenses. The guy who leads the winning effort is probably going to be the guy with the best rushing numbers.

UCLA offensive line

Hyundai Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech on Dec. 31

The skinny: The Hokies are almost always good on defense because coordinator Bud Foster is one of the nation's best defensive minds. This year's unit is A-list, giving up just 17.4 points per game, which ranks eighth in the nation. The Hokies are fourth in the nation in total defense, yielding a meager 4.34 yards per play, and eighth in run defense. The Hokies also have 37 sacks, which ranks fifth in the nation. The Bruins' young offensive line -- three freshmen starters! -- yielded 34 sacks, which ranked 107th in the nation. This will be a tough matchup for UCLA.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO vs. Michigan State on Jan. 1.

The skinny: Hogan has been hot and cold this season but mostly solid. He played well in the Pac-12 championship game victory at Arizona State but threw two interceptions in November games against USC and Notre Dame. The Spartans might offer up the best defense he's seen all year, perhaps the nation's best overall unit, in fact. Most notable: Michigan State owns the nation's best run defense, yielding 80.8 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush. While the Cardinal probably will challenge the Spartans with perhaps the nation's best offensive line and RB Tyler Gaffney, it's difficult to believe the going will be easy. Hogan will need to turn in an efficient, mistake-free performance in what might be a very low-scoring game. The Spartans also rank second in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Mailbag: Did USC or Washington win?

December, 6, 2013
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Welcome to the mailbag, Pac-12 championship and coaching carousel edition.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Elk from Los Angeles writes: Who's the bigger winner in the coaching carousel, Washington or USC?

Ted Miller: We have to declare a winner before Chris Petersen even holds his first news conference after replacing new USC coach Steve Sarkisian at Washington?

The only winner we can declare at this moment is the public relations and perception winner, and that is clearly Washington.

Petersen has long been a highly coveted candidate among AQ programs. Many sportswriters reacted with shock today when the news broke that after turning down some many suitors, Petersen was headed to Washington.

Fair to say the general consensus is that Petersen is a home run hire. Further, his track record suggests strongly he is not a climber. If he wins the Rose Bowl in 2017, he doesn't seem like the sort that would, say, jump to Texas.

As for Sarkisian to USC, the general reaction among sportswriters and USC fans was to be underwhelmed. Part of that was the belief that Trojans AD Pat Haden was going to make a home run hire that resonated nationwide -- as in Jon Gruden or Kevin Sumlin.

Sarkisian looked like a strong and legitimate USC candidate on Sept. 29, when Lane Kiffin was fired, but his Huskies immediately dropped three games in a row, and Huskies fans started to grumble.

Sark rebuilt Washington, but he never broke through in the Pac-12 North Division or the national rankings. Sarkisian is a good coach, but he's yet to distinguish himself with a landmark season. Petersen has with two BCS bowl victories and a sparkling 92-12 record.

So at this point, Washington is the clear winner.

Yet keep in mind that being the public relations and perception winner before either has coached a game or even recruited a player will be the least important victory either posts during their respective tenures.

It's all about what comes next, starting with their 2014 recruiting classes.


Flannel Beaver from Tacoma, Wash., writes: I know this has been discussed, but seriously... when will the Pac-12 go to an eight-game conference schedule? I am all for holding the our moral superiority over all other conferences. Do you think the new Playoff Selection Committee will take that into account? Do bowls consider that when looking at options? Do pollsters REALLY consider it? Then why do we continue to do it? How can I as a fan change Larry Scott's stance on this?

Ted Miller: Scott is a Machiavellian, "It's All About the Benjamins" sort. He'd go with eight games if the Pac-12 athletic directors were for it.

A nine-game conference schedule is favored by Pac-12 ADs for two reasons: 1. It means you only have to schedule three nonconference games, therefore less work; 2. An extra Pac-12 game tends to guarantee more ticket sales than a nonconference patsy, something that SEC schools don't worry about.

Once the conference expanded to 12 teams from 10, the nine-game schedule lost the symmetry that provided a true conference champion. But it was retained for the above reasons, even though it damages the conference's place in the national rankings.

The good news is most folk recognize the seriousness of this issue going forward into the four-team College Football Playoff. There will be pressure to level the playing field and have all the major conferences play nine-game schedules, as the Big 12 and Pac-12 currently do.

But if that doesn't happen, then it becomes the CFP selection committee's move. The first time a one-loss SEC team misses out to a one-loss Pac-12/Big 12 team, and the selection committee explains itself by saying, "The SEC choose to play a softer schedule than the Pac-12/Big 12, so that was the final measure that eliminated their team," then you'll see some changing.

In fact, it's too bad we don't have the playoff this year because it would be an interesting process. To me, the four-team playoff would be best served (based on today's records) by having Florida State, Ohio State, the SEC champ and the Pac-12 champ.

Yes, that would mean leaving out Alabama, which I still believe is the best team.

But if that happened because Stanford's/Arizona State's schedules were dramatically more difficult, you can bet that the SEC would man-up out of self interest.


Craig from Omaha writes: Lifelong Huskers fan here but enjoy watching Pac-12 football. … My question to you is why is it that the Pac-12 does not play its conference championship game at a neutral site like every other major conference? Is it due to loyal fan bases that are willing to travel? Do they feel there are not adequate facilities to hold such an event? I would have to think of all the venues in Pac-12 country, there would be some place that would fit the bill?

Ted Miller: The biggest problem with a neutral venue for the Pac-12 title game is the Pac-12 is much more spread out than the SEC, ACC and Big Ten. With just a week to make travel plans, it would be extremely expensive for fans to book flights. In the SEC, just about every fan base is within driving distance to Atlanta, and that's also mostly true in the Big Ten for Indianapolis and the ACC for Charlotte, N.C, though expansion has changed things a bit in that regard. For Texas A&M, it would be a 12-hour haul to drive to Atlanta.

That said, future change isn't off the table. Since the conference expanded, more than a few folks have tossed around the idea of playing the game in Las Vegas, which the Pac-12 blog would be all for, though there's not yet an appropriate stadium to play host. Another option would be rotating the game between major cities.

Truth is, the Pac-12 championship game has done fairly well at home sites -- the game Saturday at Arizona State is pretty close to a sellout. Last year's lackluster fan showing at Stanford was mostly because of torrential rain and a kickoff during Friday rush hour.

And there's something to be said for rewarding the No. 1 team with an advantage.


Scott from Homewood, Calif., writes: I think you are making the same mistake as other media members about the Stanford roster. Although the depth chart lists several players as seniors, they are in eligibility only redshirt juniors because they list by academic class instead of eligibility. Guys like Tarpley, Henry Anderson, Parry, Reynolds, Fleming, Yankey are listed on the depth chart as seniors but all have a year left. Although Yankey likely will leave early, the others will most likely be back or have the option to come back. In reality, only four offensive starters are seniors and only three defensive starters are seniors. Jon Wilner has posted twice about this issue and I just wanted to spread the word.

Ted Miller: I understand your point, but I use a depth chart that has both years.

The players Stanford loses on offense: OG David Yankey, C Khalil Wilkes, OG Kevin Danser, RB Tyler Gaffney, RB Anthony Wilkerson and FB Ryan Hewitt.

Players Stanford loses on defense: OLB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov, DE Ben Gardner and DE Josh Mauro.

The Cardinal will again be in the thick of the Pac-12 North Division race in 2014, without question. But those are some big hits to the starting lineup.


Brian from Bend, Ore., writes: Any reflection on why Marcus Mariota has been completely overlooked for QB awards and the Heisman? It seems that no one west of the Mississippi is allowed to lose games. He still has really good stats, was No. 1 in Total QBR until the Arizona game and is morally superior to any other NCAA player. Is this not the embodiment of the Heisman?

Ted Miller: The bottom line is Oregon lost two of its final four games and Mariota didn't play well at Stanford, the Ducks' marquee national game of the season.

Further, when you remove Jameis Winston's off-field issues, as was done this week, the Florida State QB is a clear No. 1 at the position, while Johnny Manziel has been a force of nature for two seasons, and AJ McCarron has led one of the most successful runs in college football history.

I'm not saying I agree with all of that as a reason to demote Mariota. But that's what happened from a national perspective.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of the final week of the regular season in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: UCLA was coming off a tough loss to Arizona State, while Ed Orgeron and USC were the toast of the City of Angels after a 6-1 run, post-Lane Kiffin. But the Bruins went into the Coliseum and delivered a decisive smackdown to the Trojans, 35-14. The 21-point margin of victory was the Bruins' largest in the rivalry game since 1970. The Bruins own the momentum with a second consecutive win in the battle for L.A.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsUCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was flawless against the Trojans, throwing for 208 yards and rushing for 80 more.
Best game: The Civil War was tension-packed to the very end, with Oregon prevailing 36-35, scoring the winning touchdown on a 12-yard pass from Marcus Mariota to Josh Huff with 29 seconds remaining.

Biggest play: While Huff's last TD reception provided the winning margin, perhaps even bigger was his 12-yard TD reception on a fourth-and-11 play that gave the Ducks a 30-29 lead with eight minutes left. That sort of aggressive fourth-down play calling hasn't always paid off this year for the Ducks, but in this big instance, it did.

Offensive standout: Washington RB Bishop Sankey rushed for 200 yards and a TD on 34 carries in the Huskies' 27-17 win over Washington State in the Apple Cup, gaining 139 yards in the second half, when Washington took over the game. He lost just 2 total yards, and he also caught a 40-yard pass. Sankey finished the regular season with 1,775 yards rushing, which broke the school's single-season record held by Corey Dillon (set in 1996).

Offensive standout II: Huff caught nine passes for a season-high 186 yards -- 20.7 yards per catch -- and three touchdowns in the Ducks' nailbiting win over Oregon State. As previously noted, Huff's last two touchdowns were clutch fourth-quarter grabs that won the game for Oregon.

Defensive standout: Stanford CB Wayne Lyons had two interceptions to go along with his three tackles in the Cardinal's 27-20 win over Notre Dame.

Defensive standout II: Washington DE Hau'oli Kikaha had a team-high 11 tackles, with 2.5 going for a loss, and two sacks in the Apple Cup.

Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons, one of the goats of the 2012 Apple Cup, was 2-for-2 on field goals against Washington State with a career-long 48-yarder. Also, three of his six punts were killed inside the Cougars' 20-yard line.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesTailback Terron Ward, who rushed for 145 yards, and the Beavers couldn't pull off the upset vs. Oregon.
Special teams standout II: UCLA CB Ishmael Adams had kick returns of 37, 47 and 46 yards against USC, the last of which set up a third-quarter touchdown drive that killed USC momentum after the Trojans had closed within seven points. He also had six tackles on defense.

Smiley face: Stanford and Arizona State both took care of business with cold-blooded dominance, which means the Pac-12 championship game features two highly ranked teams for the first time.

Frowny face: With BCS chaos taking over this weekend, Oregon and Stanford surely are asking, "What might have been?" Both started the season with national title aspirations and often looked like teams that could finish No. 1. But in a year when the Pac-12 was as deep as it's ever been, neither could bring its A game nine times this season. Or even eight. And guess what? It's Arizona State which is favored to take home the top prize in the conference and play in the Rose Bowl.

Thought of the week: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey should be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and he should win the Doak Walker Award over Boston College's Andre Williams, even though Williams leads the nation in rushing. For one, we know that leading the nation in rushing doesn't earn you the Doak Walker Award automatically because it didn't happen last year when Carey led the nation. The short argument is Carey is a better running back than Williams, who is very good but not nearly the NFL prospect Carey is. But let's face it: Williams has stuffed the ballot box and has been stuffed by good defenses (though he did distinguish himself against Florida State and Virginia Tech). He had 263 yards against Army, 295 yards against New Mexico State, 339 yards against NC State and 263 yards against Maryland. Both Boston College and Arizona played USC, and Carey had 138 yards against the Trojans, while Williams had 38 yards. Williams had 70 yards against Clemson. Carey, meanwhile, has eclipsed 100 yards in 15 straight games, the longest such streak in a decade. Further, he has faced four Top 25 opponents in 2013 and averaged 161.0 yards per game with at least one touchdown in each game. Carey's 200-yard games? They came against Utah, owner of the nation's No. 22 run defense, and Oregon. If the Doak Walker is about who is the best running back in the nation, there's no question here: It's Carey.

Questions for the week: Is the Sleeping Giant finally -- finally! -- awakening? If Arizona State wins the Pac-12 championship on Saturday and advances to its first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season, it's reasonable to begin wondering whether coach Todd Graham has taken one of college football writers' long-term speculative storylines -- why isn't Arizona State a national power? -- into the realm of reality.

Mailbag: Mariota's Heisman chances?

November, 15, 2013
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Happy Friday.

First of all, a big thank you to all Kansas State fans who contributed ideas for my "flip" visit to Manhattan, Kan. My mailbag overfloweth with perspective and suggestions. Dinner at CoCo Bolos last night was solid, as was breakfast at The Chef. If you see me in "Aggieville" tonight, don't hesitate to say "hello."

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.

To the notes.

Ian from Salt Lake City: Why has Marcus Mariota dropped nigh completely from the Heisman radar? I understand the loss to Stanford and playing poorly is a huge portion of that, but it seems to me that people, especially the media (not you or Kevin obviously), have fallen in love so much with Jameis Winston and Johnny Manziel that they brush aside Mariota like a fly. Both Mariota and Manziel lost games to their biggest competition, Mariota is putting up pretty comparable numbers to Winston with less interceptions, and Mariota is a proven winner, so why no, relatively speaking, love?

Ted Miller: There are three types of overreaction in college football. There's media overreaction, there's fan overreaction and, third, there's fan overreaction to media overreaction.

Do you define "dropped completely from the Heisman Trophy radar" as falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in media polls? Or also here. Do you define Mariota getting brushed aside "like a fly" after he posts his worst game of the season in a loss that knocks his team -- apparently -- out of the national title hunt?

Have I fallen in love with Jameis Winston? Yes. I'm man enough to admit that I am in love with Winston. I swoon at his stratospheric potential. I love the way he taken a program known for its NFL talent and mercurial performances and made it the nation's most consistently dominating team. Clemson's overwhelming performance against a very good Georgia Tech team on Thursday reminded us just how impressive the Seminoles' win in Death Valley was.

That said, if Mariota plays appreciably better than Winston and Manziel over the final three games, he still might win the Heisman. At the very least, the sophomore will get invited to New York for the ceremony.

There was an understandable and justifiable demotion of Mariota in every Heisman poll after the Ducks offense sputtered against Stanford. Three big performances, however, will background that. And if Stanford loses to USC, three big performances likely would give him another shot in the Pac-12 title game.

Those games will give him space to be evaluated over the totality of the season. They will also his toughness, which I think is being overlooked or played down after the Stanford game, to shine. Mariota should be saluted for even being out there because he was clearly playing on one good leg, and Stanford realized early on that he was not going to be a factor on designed runs or even scrambles.

By the way, Mariota still is the nation's No. 1 rated QB and has yet to throw an interception. (Throwing that in, Ian, to quell some media overreaction so your fan overreaction to media overreaction might re-react toward a more realistic place).


Paul from Vancouver, Wash., writes: Ted I am a very loyal Oregon Duck fan and was very disappointed with our loss at Stanford. That being said I think a few different bounces of the ball and the end could have played out differently. Regardless, true champions find a way to deal with adversity and we, the Ducks, did not adapt and overcome. My comment/question is this. I agree Stanford has a good team but I think there overall offensive balance is questionable. The ground game is awesome but there passing attack is average at best and tends to be liability. If Stanford gets put behind in a game and has to abandon their ground and pound game plan, they struggle, which is what happened against Utah. I believe in a game against a team that can play with them physically that Stanford will have issues due to their lack of a decent passing attack.

Ted Miller: I hear you. In fact, I think both Kevin and I have questioned Stanford at times about its middling passing game, which has shown flashes but not advanced as much this season as we anticipated it would in August. The Cardinal ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing offense with just 183 yards per game.

And yet.

Even though Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is not putting up big numbers, he ranks 17th in ESPN Stats & Information's total quarterback rating. Hogan is running the Cardinal offense efficiently, even if he only ranks fifth in the conference by the old school pass efficiency measure.

Coach David Shaw has said he would never throw if he knew he'd gain four yards every run. The Cardinal is averaging 4.8 yards per run.

Hogan has thrown well at times, and his 8.4 yards per attempt ranks third in the conference. He's accounted for 15 touchdowns -- 13 passing -- and protects the football.

And there's always this annoying tidbit: Shaw is 31-5. His Stone Age, antiquated, hopelessly conservative, 1970s football has Stanford winning 86 percent of his games.

Is Stanford the sort of team that makes a 14-point deficit look like nothing? No. Did Utah mute the Cardinal for three quarters? Yes, though I think the Utes success on offense was a bigger story in that game.

Could a team like, say, Alabama thwart Stanford because it is as big and physical as the Cardinal? Maybe.

One of the things I really wanted to see this season was for them to try.


Tony Jones from Chandler, Ariz. writes: Ted, I've been keeping an eye on the Jeff Sagarin rankings the last couple of weeks, waiting for verbal pitchforks to be hurled from Sun Devils fans ranting about how ASU is barely getting a sniff in the AP (21st), USA Today (22nd) and BCS (19th) polls while hanging out in the Top 10 in Sagarin's metrics (currently 9th). So when I saw your piece discussing the Championship Drive Ratings and Football Power Index, I was curious to see where ASU ranked. The Sun Devils rank higher in both the CDR (6th) and FPI (7th) than in Sagarin's wizardry. I'm an Arizona alum, so it makes little difference to me, but should ASU fans be Michael Crowing about where they are in the BCS and going all in with their disrespect cards? BTW, I think it's also interesting that the Wildcats are ranked 24th by Sagarin and 28th in the FPI, but are 44th in the CDR. Much bigger disparity than the Sun Devils.

Ted Miller: Kevin has Arizona State 18th and I have them 19th. And both of us have noticed how the Sun Devils rank higher with the computers, most notably the Championship Drive Rating, ESPN Stats & Information's complex metric that measures a team's resume.

But I also know why the Sun Devils are being held back due to purely human reasons.

No. 1: The controversial ending against Wisconsin. No. 2: The loss to Notre Dame.

Those are not "bad" losses. But those two results tie the Sun Devils to the wagons of the Badgers and Fighting Irish, and both provide drag.

The officiating implosion at the end of Arizona State's win over the Badgers means voters don't feel comfortable elevating the Sun Devils decisively over the Badgers, who in fact rank ahead of ASU in both polls. Voters feel further justified doing so because the Sun Devils lost to the Fighting Irish, who are presently unranked after losing to Pittsburgh.

This is a case of Arizona State's marquee win -- Wisconsin -- not earning them the poll respect it typically would, and that is understandable to a certain degree. The Badgers feel like they might miss out on an at-large invitation to a BCS bowl game because of that loss, one that they put an asterisk beside.

Yet, as I typically think when reading questions like this: Just keep winning. If the Sun Devils win the rest of their regular season games, including a Nov. 23 date at UCLA, they would jump into the top 10. And if they win the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl, they might finish in the top-five.


Ron from Maricopa, Ariz., writes: This article I believe is incorrect. Colorado received a waiver for playing two FCS games and theoretically they can go to a bowl if they win out. Two games are doable: Cal and Utah. USC is probably too much. But Buffs should be motivated this week for at least the possibility of a bowl.

Ted Miller: Correct. If Colorado wins its final three games -- California, at USC and at Utah -- it will become bowl eligible.

And that certainly would be an amazing accomplishment for the Buffaloes in their first season under Mike MacIntyre.


Kevin from Oklahoma City writes: I know there is still plenty of season left and lots can change but out of curiosity if ASU were to win out and Stanford suffers an upset somewhere along the way, allowing Oregon to take the north...who would host the title game? Would Oregon get to host based on overall record?

Ted Miller: The team ranked higher in the BCS standings would host. That almost certainly would be Oregon. (Answer is the same from last week!)
Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti is pleased. It has just been noted to him that his Ducks showcased brilliant coverage in the secondary during their 45-24 win at Washington. It's the same observation that had been made by Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian, but you get the feeling that Aliotti is not weary of hearing about it.

He admits he even allowed himself some extra time to savor the blanketing of white on black during a postgame film session with his players.

"I said, 'Look at this! There's nobody open for [Washington QB Keith] Price to throw the ball to!'" Aliotti said.

[+] EnlargeNick Aliotti
Steve Conner/Icon SMINick Aliotti spent 24 years on the Oregon coaching staff, including 17 as defensive coordinator.
Just like any other coach, Aliotti will tell you the only statistic that matters is about three letters, not numbers: W-I-N. That said, he takes a lot of pride in his defense and the players he sends onto the field. While Aliotti projects an amusing, avuncular personality, just below the surface is an intense competitor. That pride and competitiveness led to his postgame tirade two-plus weeks ago after Washington State scored two late touchdowns against his reserve players in a 62-38 Ducks win.

"That's total [bleep] that he threw the ball at the end of the game like he did," Aliotti said to reporters. "And you can print that and you can send it to [Cougars coach Mike Leach], and he can comment too. I think it's low class, and it's [bleep] to throw the ball when the game is completely over against our kids that are basically our scout team."

It might have been the most controversial moment of his 38-year career, and it cost him $5,000 after he was fined and reprimanded by the Pac-12. Aliotti apologized to Leach and called himself "embarrassed" in a release from the school two days later.

"It was probably an old guy who didn't understand the Internet, how the media can get going so fast," Aliotti said. "Just making an honest, simple statement about what I thought at the time. Obviously, I made a huge mistake by overstepping my bounds. I shouldn't have said those things. These days, you've got to be politically correct. Not one of my strong suits."

While, no, those comments weren't terribly smart coming from a veteran coach, it's not difficult to ascertain the source of Aliotti's frustration. While there typically have been hat tips to his defense during Oregon's rise to elite national power, most of the nation sees Oregon as being all about offense. That high-tempo, flashy offense is the big story when it rolls up eye-popping numbers, and it's the big story when it gets slowed down.

Recall the gloating from SEC fans about Auburn, with a middling SEC defense, shutting down the Ducks in their 22-19 victory in the 2010 national title game? Why was it not almost as notable that Oregon held Auburn to 18 fewer points than the Tigers averaged against SEC defenses?

Or when Stanford ruined Oregon's national title hopes last fall in a 17-14 overtime win, it was all about the Cardinal shutting down the Ducks with nary a mention of Aliotti's defense holding Stanford to 10 points below its season scoring average.

There's, of course, an obvious answer: The winning team sets the postgame agenda and analysis. Amid all the Ducks winning since 2009 -- 54-7 record -- the offense almost always leads.

That's apparently the big story again as No. 3 Oregon visits No. 5 Stanford on Thursday: Will the Stanford defense be able to thwart QB Marcus Mariota, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy candidate, and the Ducks again?

Yet here's a bet that the game won't turn on that. Here's a bet that Stanford's defense doesn't even approach its success from last year and that the bigger issue will be whether Stanford's struggling offense can score enough to keep it close.

Because, by the way, it's Oregon that enters the game with the Pac-12's best defense, not Stanford.

Oregon ranks first in the Pac-12 and seventh in the nation in both scoring defense (16.9 PPG) and yards per play (4.41). It leads the Pac-12 and ranks sixth in the nation in both pass efficiency defense and turnovers forced (23).

And this is happening after losing three All-Pac-12 linebackers, Dion Jordan, Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay.

Stanford coach David Shaw has noticed.

"They are missing three dynamic football players," Shaw said. "The crazy part is, without those outstanding players, the defense as a whole looks better. They are fast. They are big."

Shaw is one of more than a few Pac-12 coaches who frequently gush about Aliotti's defense, about how he maximizes his players' talents and puts them in position to be successful and how his perplexing, flexible scheme is both sound and sometimes baffling.

"It's a different scheme than most 3-4 teams," Shaw said. "It takes some getting used to, to prepare for it."

The enduring ideas about Oregon's defense, even when it is given credit, are quasi-dismissive compliments: scrappy, aggressive, quick, blitz-heavy. Those words are no longer accurate. The Ducks have comparable future NFL talent with many of the nation's top defenses, starting a secondary chock-full of future NFL starters.

Things have changed in part because winning has bolstered recruiting. The Ducks are no longer undersized. They are fast and big -- see eight defensive linemen in the regular rotation who are 6-foot-4 or taller, including three over 6-6. The secondary has become -- and will continue to be -- an NFL pipeline. And at linebacker, things are going fairly well for Alonso these days.

The improved talent has meshed with a good scheme, but Aliotti and his staff also are good at teaching and making sure each player understands what his assignments are. And trusts them.

"Our players believing in what they are doing," first-year Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "I think Nick and the defensive staff have done a great job of taking advantage of our overall strengths and maybe hiding our potential weaknesses a little bit. I think, collectively, it's a ton of guys playing hard."

Aliotti tweaks things every year. This season, the Ducks are blitzing less, due in large part to the myriad mobile quarterbacks in the Pac-12, a group that includes Stanford's Kevin Hogan, though their respectable 2.88 sacks per game suggest they are still getting pressure on the opposing quarterback.

We won't know if this turns out to be Aliotti's best unit until season's end, but it's certainly good enough to merit a spot on the marquee next to the Ducks' ludicrous speed offense.

And, yes, Aliotti wouldn't mind if he and his players received some credit.

"It's about winning games, but we do all take pride in our job," he said.

Pac-12: November stretch run

November, 1, 2013
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It's a coaching cliche: The games you remember are played in November. Or call November college football games the proverbial "crunch time." The schedule has turned toward the final quarter of the 2013 season, so the screws are tightening. Preseason dreams shortly will be realized. Or quashed.

It's a pretty good bet -- darn near a certainty, in fact -- that the Pac-12 will produce enough eligible teams to fill out the spots in its seven contracted bowls.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesCan Marcus Mariota lead Oregon to the national title?
Three teams, Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State, already are bowl eligible. Four other teams need just one more win: Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington. Three others need two: USC (because of its 13-game schedule, USC needs seven wins), Utah and Washington State. And just one, 1-7 California, has been eliminated, though Colorado faces a steep climb toward three more wins.

Further, that bowl schedule could include an extra spot if Oregon plays for the national title, meaning the Rose Bowl could pick another conference team, provided it's ranked in the top 14 of the final BCS standings. The Rose Bowl is not obligated, by the way, to pick the loser of the Pac-12 title game. It could, for example, pick the runner-up of the North or South Division.

As far as the division races go, Oregon and Stanford play Nov. 7 for the top spot in the North. The Ducks are 5-0 in conference play and Stanford is 4-1, having lost at Utah. Though the Cardinal won at Oregon State last weekend, the Beavers, at 4-1, also could get into the mix.

In the South, Arizona State, at 3-1, has a one-game lead over Arizona, UCLA and USC. The only head-to-head matchups so far among those teams is Arizona State's win over USC and USC's win over Arizona. So lots of football left before the South sorts itself out. Things could get chaotic with a multi-team tie, or one team might surge and leave no doubt.

The good news, players and coaches will tell you with an extreme degree of earnestness over the next few weeks, is they are going to play 'em one game at at time.

Team(s) with most to prove: You can't narrow the South Division down yet, with three second-year coaches trying to push past the other two in the conference pecking order -- and USC lingering as a potential spoiler with an interim head coach.

Arizona and Rich Rodriguez? Arizona State and Todd Graham? UCLA and Jim Mora? Each is looking to lead his previously meandering program to a higher level, toward Pac-12 and national legitimacy. The only way to do that is at the others' expense.

The Sun Devils and Bruins were the preseason favorites, so you can say they have the most pressure. But if Rodriguez loses a second consecutive time to Graham, you can bet he'll feel a bit of pressure from disgruntled Wildcats fans.

Team with the most to lose: Oregon probably needs to be perfect to play for the national title. That means five more wins and a 13-0 finish in a Pac-12 that is as deep as it's been in years. Perhaps ever. The Ducks have done everything else over the past four years. They played for a national title (2010), won a Rose Bowl (2011) and won a Fiesta Bowl (2012), finishing with a final No. 2 ranking. The only thing left is to finish atop the final polls after hoisting the crystal football.

Four players to keep an eye on:

  • Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: He's a leading Heisman Trophy contender with his toughest games ahead. He not only can lead the Ducks to their first national title, he also can grab the bronze statue along the way.
  • Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: Carey's been out of the headlines mostly because of the Wildcats’ lackluster schedule. But if he again leads the nation in rushing and the Wildcats make a push in the South, he might earn at least an invitation to the Heisman ceremony.
  • Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: While Arizona is still in the hunt, it feels like the South game of the year will be Arizona State's visit to UCLA on Nov. 23. Here's a bet that the QB who plays better in that game will lead his team into the Pac-12 championship game.
  • Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: See Kelly.
Biggest trap game: We have two. Stanford's visit to USC on Nov. 16, the weekend after the Oregon game, and Oregon's trip to Arizona on Nov. 23. Oregon and Stanford have dominated those series of late and both are good on the road. But if you were looking for a not-so-obvious place either might faceplant, those games are as good a bet as any.

Fearless November prediction: Mariota, a few weeks after winning the Heisman Trophy, is going to lead his team to a victory over Alabama in the national title game.

Calm before Oregon-Stanford hype

October, 31, 2013
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Apologies to the eight Pac-12 teams playing this trick-or-treat week, but this slate of games really is a light murmur before the hype volume is turned up to 11 next week.

The conference's two highest-ranked teams -- No. 2 Oregon and No. 5 Stanford -- are not only off this week, they square off next Thursday in what should be the Pac-12 game of the year.

That doesn't mean there aren't games worth watching over the next three days. Arizona State will try to prove it can beat a solid team on the road Thursday night at Washington State. USC's visit to Oregon State is intriguing on Friday night. And there are always upset possibilities as Arizona and UCLA are heavy favorites at California and Colorado, respectively.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota will have the opportunity to make a Heisman Trophy statement as well as put the Ducks in the top position in the Pac-12 race next Thursday at Stanford.
But those games won't attract eyeballs from all areas of the country the way the Ducks-Cardinal showdown will. Oregon will be trying to polish its national championship contender bona fides with its toughest test yet -- Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota also could make a Heisman Trophy statement, and Stanford will be trying to take control of the Pac-12's North Division, as it did last year when it shocked the heavily favored Ducks 17-14 in overtime in Autzen Stadium.

Still, the primary focus for both teams was and will be more on themselves this week. There's recruiting calls to make and injured guys needing to get treatment. Both teams have banged-up players whose presence could be critical for the matchup, most notably Stanford with defensive end Henry Anderson and receiver Devon Cajuste. Stanford already announced that defensive end Ben Gardner is out for the season with a pectoral injury.

Earnest game preparation won't begin until the weekend, as both teams are trying to stick to a typical game-week schedule.

Even though both coaches want to keep the emotions contained and treat the matchup like any other, there's no question that the buzz started on their respective campuses not long after each dispatched a tough opponent last Saturday, with the Cardinal winning 20-12 at Oregon State and Oregon running away from UCLA in the fourth quarter for a 42-14 victory.

"We know that it's there," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "The guys know what the game is going to be about."

The teams have split their last four meetings, with Stanford winning in 2009 and 2012. Shaw is 1-1 as the Cardinal head coach against the Ducks and he was 1-1 as the team's offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh. This will be Mark Helfrich's first taste as the Oregon head coach; he was the Ducks' offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly the previous four meetings.

While the game will be heated and the stakes high, Shaw and Helfrich seem to get along well. They chatted frequently during the Pac-12 meetings in May. They certainly have a lot in common, as both replaced charismatic former head coaches credited with creating a national power before bolting for the NFL.

And, yes, they talked about exactly that.

"Mark and I talked about that a couple of times," Shaw said. "I think he's done it perfectly. You have to completely take your ego out of it. So many people say from the outside, 'How are you going to make this your program?' You look at it and say, 'This is not my program, it's the kids' program.' Every decision you make is what's best for the kids. And if the scheme is great, who cares if they call it Chip Kelly's scheme? Or Jim Harbaugh's scheme? Whoever, it doesn't matter. The things that work, you don't change. The things that don't work, you take them out."

However, they won't be chatting much over the next six days.

Both coaches subscribed to the notion of nameless, faceless opponents and every game being equally big. That's what elite programs do. Preparation is always the same. Every game is big when conference and national titles are the chief goal.

But the fact is the Oregon-Stanford game is bigger, and has been now for going on four years. We know this because all of the college football nation will be tuning in a week from now, just as it did last year, and in 2011 and 2010.

Stanford offers showcase game for Cooks

October, 24, 2013
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Who the heck is this Brandin Cooks guy, the Oregon State Beaver who is on track to become just the second NCAA player to eclipse 2,000 yards receiving in a single season?

He's fearless.

"He's a fearless-type guy is what I noticed," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He's not real big but he's physical. He can go up and get a football with two or three people around him, and consistently does that. Every film I watched, he did that a couple of times a game."

Cooks is fast. And tough.

[+] EnlargeBrandin Cooks
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsBrandin Cooks had a season-high 14 of his FBS-leading 76 receptions against San Diego State.
"He has exceptional speed," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He's tough. And [Sean Mannion] is the perfect quarterback to complement what Brandin does as a receiver. He's so accurate and is such a great thrower."

Cooks is explosive.

"I watched the explosive pass cut up [Monday] night," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Wow. The quarterback is doing a great job sliding in the pocket and buying some time and throwing it deep and Cooks is just running by everybody. The key for us [on Saturday] is to try to keep him in front of us as best we can. Let him catch the ball in front of us and try to gang tackle."

Cooks is a high-character guy with a strong work ethic.

"Brandin is pretty much the same guy every day," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "He got to this point because of his talent and work ethic. He just comes to work every day. I haven't noticed any change in him from the time he arrived on campus. He's driven and he's also a great character guy."

And Cooks is chill. He entertained a couple of reporters on the phone on Tuesday, repeatedly deferring credit to his teammates, Mannion in particular, while lying on his back on the Beavers practice field, taking in a beautiful day in Corvallis (according to a photo texted afterwards to the Pac-12 blog).

So Cooks is a lot of things that add up to being good -- as in Biletnikoff Award good. But who gets the majority of credit for the nation's most potent passing attack, the receiver who leads the nation in receptions (10.9 per game), receiving yards per game (168.0) and touchdowns (12), or the QB who leads the nation in passing yards per game (427.4) and touchdown passes (29)?

"I'll give it straight to Sean," Cooks said. "He's the commander and chief of the offense. I'm just doing my job and he's putting the ball there."

That's a question ultimately for the college football nation to decide, as both have worked their way into the conversation for All-American honors as well as national awards, perhaps even the Heisman Trophy. That the college football nation should even care about Mannion-to-Cooks is a bit surprising, considering the Beavers lost their season-opener to Eastern Washington, an FCS team, though it's important to note that 49-46 debacle was about a defensive meltdown. Cook and Mannion were their typical brilliant selves that day.

Six consecutive wins later, however, and the Beavers plopped into the No. 25 spot in the BCS standings. They've been operating mostly under the radar throughout their winning streak, but now the schedule's degree of difficulty is ramping up substantially, starting with a visit from No. 6 Stanford on Saturday.

It's a big opportunity for the program to move up in the Pac-12 and national pecking order, and for Mannion-to-Cooks to showcase its stuff to the college football nation.

"You can only keep us under the radar for so long if we keep doing what we're doing," Cooks said. "That's the beautiful thing about this game. College football can change in a minute."

Change is good, and Cooks has undergone some since he arrived at Oregon State as a speedy, sure-handed but undersized pass-catcher from Stockton, Calif. As a true freshman, he caught 31 passes for 391 yards, but with just 162 pounds on his 5-foot-10 frame, he wasn't much of a physical presence.

He was up to 179 pounds last year while catching 67 passes for 1,151 yards as Robin to Markus Wheaton's Batman. This fall, he's now a yoked 186 pounds. He hasn't lost any speed, and he's complemented that with an ability to win most mano-a-mano battles with handsy cornerbacks trying to disrupt his routes and rhythm.

Cornerbacks still try to get into Cooks' head. That is the cornerback way. They like to tell Cooks that he's not going to do that stuff he has done to everyone else to them.

"I get it sometimes. They get hyped up," Cooks said. "But it kind of slows down as the game gets going, when our team is gashing them. That's our trash talking for them."

It helps Cooks that the Beavers have a pretty good supporting cast of pass-catchers around him, which makes defenses pay for doubling him up, using bracket coverages or rolling their zone his way. No. 2 receiver Richard Mullaney has caught 32 passes for 538 yards with a stout 16.8 yards per reception, and 25 of his catches have produced either a first down or touchdown. Five other Beavers have at least 16 receptions.

But Cooks is clearly the lead dog. The junior already is fourth on the school's career receiving list with 2,718 yards. He needs just 276 yards to move past Wheaton into third place. His next TD reception will give him 21 for his career, breaking the school record shared by James Newson (2000-03) and Mike Hass (2002-05).

Cooks knows he hasn't yet played a defense close to the quality of Stanford's. The Cardinal last week shut down the Bruins high-flying passing attack.

"Their whole defense is a great defense," Cooks said. "You see minimal mistakes."

Who the heck is Brandin Cooks? He gets an opportunity to introduce himself to a national audience against the Cardinal.

Pac-12 second-half preview

October, 15, 2013
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The first half of the Pac-12's 2013 season was good to the conference in terms of national image, but Stanford's loss at Utah reminded everyone that nothing can be taken for granted.

It's clear this is the deepest the Pac-12 has been in years. Competitive with the SEC? Nation's No. 2 conference? We shall see. Things can change quickly, after all.

That marquee national matchup between top-five Oregon and Stanford teams on Nov. 7 in Palo Alto, Calif., that many projected in the preseason? It's lost its luster. Now the conference's game of the year might be UCLA's visit to Oregon on Oct. 26. That is, if the Bruins win in Palo Alto on Saturday.

Wait. We're doing it again. One week at a time, eh?

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesOregon triggerman Marcus Mariota has become a serious Heisman Trophy contender.
Oregon dominated its first-half schedule, making it the clear lead dog -- lead Duck! -- in the conference. The Ducks are No. 2 in the nation and gaining on two-time defending national champion Alabama. At this point, it's not unreasonable to project the Ducks in the national title game and QB Marcus Mariota, at the very least, getting an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

So we know Oregon is good, and we know that Colorado and California aren't. After that, there's some gray area.

UCLA, Stanford, Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State also look like top-25 teams, with Utah gaining. Washington State, USC and Arizona are too dangerous to ignore.

The pecking order from Nos. 2 to 10 is still wide open. UCLA can make a statement at Stanford, or the Cardinal can regain their perch at No. 2. The Bruins' matchups with Washington and Arizona State also will be meaningful.

What about Oregon State? The Beavers should improve to 6-1 this weekend at California, but they remain a cypher based on the schedule. They could end up being the second-best team in the North Division. Or they could end up 6-6.

Obviously, there's a lot we don't know. That, my friends, makes it fun.

Bold prediction: This is Oregon's year. The Ducks will win the national title, Mariota will win the Heisman, and Mark Helfrich will earn national coach of the year honors. And Ducks fans will shock everyone by not relentlessly gloating but instead will be gracious and humble as they reach college football's pinnacle.

Looking forward to: The bowl season. The Pac-12 has made a reasonable claim that it is as good as the SEC over the first half of the season, whether the SEC has eight ranked teams at present or not. At this point, it's purely a moot, academic debate. But let's see what both conferences do in the bowl season. If Oregon beats Alabama for the national title -- still a LONG way off on that, by the way -- and the Pac-12 otherwise distinguishes itself in bowl games, the Pac-12 could walk away from the final year of the BCS as the reigning champion.

Or it could flop amid national snickers.

Top remaining games:

  • UCLA at Stanford, Oct. 19: The Bruins could make a claim to being the top challenger to Oregon. Or the Cardinal could grab it back.
  • UCLA at Oregon, Oct. 26: If the Bruins beat Stanford, this could be a battle of top-five teams. A great QB battle between Mariota and Brett Hundley.
  • Stanford at Oregon State, Oct. 26: This is when we find out if the Beavers are a top-25 team and contenders in the North.
  • Oregon at Stanford, Nov. 7: This is still a major North Division battle, particularly if Stanford beats UCLA. Last year, the Cardinal ruined the Ducks' national title hopes.
  • Washington at UCLA, Nov. 16: Both teams might need a victory here to reach double-digit wins. It's been a while since either savored that.
  • Arizona State at UCLA, Nov. 23: (Nice to be relevant, eh Bruins?) This still might be the game that decides that South Division.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

See last week's Power Rankings here.

1. Oregon: The Ducks not only got their signature victory over a quality ranked foe, they actually did so by playing a relevant fourth quarter. That the 10th consecutive win over Washington ended up being a 10th consecutive blowout only solidifies their standing here.

2. UCLA: The Bruins, after impressively whipping California, are the conference's only other unbeaten, top-10 team after Stanford was upset at Utah. The Bruins can make a major statement if they go on the road and hand the Cardinal a second loss this season.

3. Stanford: While the power rankings in large part react to the week that was, they also strongly consider the totality of the season. While that was a tough loss at Utah, keep in mind the Cardinal have three quality Pac-12 wins: Arizona State, Washington State and Washington.

4. Washington: The Huskies have lost consecutive games on the road to top-five foes in the Cardinal and Ducks. There's no shame in that. But now they need to pick up a quality road win. And so we have the visit to Arizona State on Saturday, a critical game for both.

5. Oregon State: The Beavers have won five in a row since they opened with an upset loss to Eastern Washington. While you never say never, they should improve to 6-1 at California on Saturday, and that might be enough to get them back into the national polls. Thereafter, though, the schedule ramps up considerably.

6. Utah: Funny thing with Utah's first two years in the Pac-12: We thought the Utes got lucky not playing Stanford and Oregon in their division. The win over the Cardinal might be a turning point for Utah in the conference. Or the Utes might lose at Arizona on Saturday and come back to earth.

7. Arizona State: The Sun Devils are a much better team at home, and the Huskies have struggled on the road under coach Steve Sarkisian. So Saturday sets up for Arizona State to make its own statement in the Pac-12 pecking order. A victory also probably returns the Sun Devils to the national rankings.

8. Washington State: Things fell apart at home against Oregon State quickly, as a highly competitive game became a blowout loss in the fourth quarter. Things don't get any easier this weekend, as a visit to Oregon typically isn't much fun. Or is it a great upset opportunity?

9. USC: If Ed Orgeron wants to show everyone what his leadership means at USC, he could lead the Trojans to a win at Notre Dame. Beat the Fighting Irish, and there will be more than a few folks who, at least tentatively, ask, "What about Ed?"

10. Arizona: The Wildcats face three consecutive winnable games starting with a visit from Utah. They become bowl eligible with three more wins and could work their way back into the South Division picture. The Utah game feels like a major measuring stick -- for both teams.

11. Colorado: Reality has set in for the Buffaloes. The question now is whether a QB change is at hand.

12. California: California showed some fight against UCLA. But this obviously is an outmanned team going through schematic growing pains on both sides of the ball.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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If you don't like where you are in the Power Rankings, play better.

See last week's Power Rankings here.

1. Stanford: The Cardinal now have three quality conference wins -- Arizona State, Washington State and Washington -- so they now have by far the Pac-12's best résumé. Oregon gets to show its stuff against a common opponent (the Huskies) on Saturday, thereby allowing the Pac-12 blog to employ the "Transitive Property of College Football" for next week's Power Rankings. (Note: Kevin Gemmell VEHEMENTLY disagrees ranking Stanford over Oregon. He wants Ducks fans to know he is very impressed with Oregon becoming the first team since 1885 to score 50-plus points in its first five games.)

2. Oregon: As expected, Oregon rolled over Colorado. But that game ended the poor-to-middling early schedule. Going forward, the Ducks get to showcase themselves as national title contenders -- and QB Marcus Mariota as a Heisman Trophy contender -- starting with their good friends in Seattle.

3. Washington: The Huskies can't lick their wounds too long. Oregon is coming. The Ducks have beaten the Huskies nine straight times by at least 17 points. It is likely you will hear and/or read that more than once this week.

4. UCLA: While the Bruins shouldn't overlook pass-happy California, their first major conference test comes in two weeks at Stanford. A week later, they get Oregon. Win one -- or both! -- and UCLA goes from merely a good, top-15 team to something else entirely. At this point, by the way, it feels like you could draw a line here to separate the Pac-12 into two categories.

5. Arizona State: There was a strong dose of "same old Sun Devils" with the flat performance against Notre Dame at AT&T Stadium. Yes, it was a blown opportunity. While the loss doesn't count in the conference race, it does serve to significantly demote the Sun Devils' national esteem. Colorado comes to Tempe on Saturday. Then Washington does.

6. Oregon State: The first big question for the Beavers is how healthy they will be coming out of their off week. The second big question is an interesting trip to Washington State. The winner will take a big step forward in the North Division pecking order.

7. Utah: No, Utes, it doesn't get any easier with Stanford coming to town. The big issue will be how well QB Travis Wilson bounces back after a six-interception game in their tough loss to UCLA. The Cardinal defense is not typically the sort that sends a get-well card.

8. Arizona: The Wildcats are coming off a bye, which means they should be well rested. On the downside, they visit USC -- also coming off a bye -- in its first post-Lane Kiffin game. That means the Wildcats not only will get a team that might be inspired by a change of leadership to the fiery Ed Orgeron -- it also might have some tricks up its sleeves.

9. Washington State: The Cougars' win at California gave them firm separation from the bottom fourth of the conference. A win over the Beavers would push them into the middle. It hasn't been legitimate to speculate about that since 2007.

10. USC: We'll get our first look at Orgeron's Trojans on Thursday night against Arizona. A strong performance could reintroduce USC to the South Division race and make the Notre Dame visit the next weekend intriguing.

11. Colorado: The past two weeks have brought the Buffaloes back to Earth. They played hard and well in spurts against Oregon State and Oregon, but the top-to-bottom talent just isn't there. It will be interesting to see if they show the same fire at Arizona State, which should be angry and is a different team at home.

12. California: The schedule is ridiculous and injuries have piled up, but the Bears also have been sloppy on both sides of the ball. Game 3 of nine consecutive weeks of football is at UCLA. So yeah, the hits just keep coming -- another highly ranked foe. Sonny Dykes' first season is shaping up like a long one.
Six Pac-12 players made the initial 28-player Heisman Trophy Watch List, published by the Heisman Pundit blog.

The Pac-12 players are:
Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., RB, Arizona
Kevin Hogan, So., QB, Stanford
Brett Hundley, So., QB, UCLA
Marqise Lee, Jr., WR, USC
Marcus Mariota, So., QB, Oregon
De'Anthony Thomas, Jr., RB, Oregon

Makes sense. And if you were making a list of the top 10 candidates, both Lee and Mariota would surely be on it.

You potentially could add Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly and Washington RB Bishop Sankey to the list, but these six probably already register in the minds of Heisman voters even outside the West Coast.

Obviously, guys will be added and subtracted from the list as the season wears on.

Youth movement at QB expanding?

March, 14, 2013
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If someone had asked me before spring practices began who California's starting quarterback would be in 2013, I would have quickly said with my all-knowing look: "Zach Kline."

If that someone had gently protested with a "But what about..." I would have interrupted with another all-knowing look, "No. It will be Zach Kline."

Unfortunately, that would have been the same all-knowing look I gave while asserting USC's national championship prospects before the 2012 season. It might be wise for me to mothball that all-knowing look, and I just want to add that my wife and children owe Lane Kiffin and the 2012 Trojans an eternal debt of gratitude.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Ed Szczepanski/US PresswireThe success of young QB's like Stanford's Kevin Hogan is no longer a rarity in college football.
Kline might well end up the Bears' starting quarterback, but that's not what this is about. It's about Cal's quarterback battle looking like it's going to be a showdown between Kline, a redshirt freshman, and true freshman Jared Goff, who opted to graduate early from high school, skip all the riotous things high school seniors do during their final spring frolic and begin the serious business of Pac-12 football.

A redshirt freshman is the "veteran." A true freshman is the challenger.

There are two notable things about the Conference of Quarterbacks this spring: 1. There's an impressive crew of talented and already accomplished ones returning; 2. Youth now rules a position where that very quality was nearly a disqualifying negative not too long ago.

California is not the only school that might tap a true freshman. Arizona has Anu Solomon coming in this fall, and the look on both coach Rich Rodriguez's and co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith's faces when talking about him suggest his candidacy is legitimate.

"If the kid is good enough and he can handle it," Smith said." Some kids transition better than others. Anu is a kid who was a four-year starter in high school. That doesn't mean anything for college, but at least he's been in the mode when he's the new kid on the block competing with older kids and he performed well. He was 56-4 as a starter. The kid is a winner. He knows how to move the football and win."

That is not too far from the case Pete Carroll made in 2008 when he opted to go with true freshman Matt Barkley, only Carroll went all Pete Carroll-y and made Barkley into some metaphysical quarterbacking beast, citing Malcolm Gladwell and labeling Barkley an "outlier."

Still, that was a precursor to the new reality.

A redshirt freshman, Texas A&M's Johnny "Football" Manziel, won the Heisman Trophy, and a redshirt freshman, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, was first-team All-Pac-12, over seniors Barkley and Arizona's Matt Scott. Stanford's season transformed when it handed its offense to redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan. Utah started a true freshman, Travis Wilson, a few games into the season. Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley led a UCLA resurgence.

Further, USC again has a early arriving true freshman who is a legitimate candidate to win the starting job in Max Browe. More than a few folks believe the front-runner to win the job at Colorado is redshirt freshman Shane Dillon.

We might not be at the end of 2013's youth movement. While Washington and Washington State both welcome back veteran quarterbacks in Keith Price and Connor Halliday, there is a sense they both could be threatened by, yes, true and redshirt freshmen challengers.

The only Pac-12 teams certain to start upperclassmen at quarterback: Arizona State with junior Taylor Kelly, and Oregon State with junior Sean Mannion or senior Cody Vaz.

This youth movement doesn't include a sacrifice of quality and high-prospects. It's not primarily about a failure of the older guys. Does any conference offer a better array of returning quarterbacks than Mariota, Kelly, Hundley and Hogan? The answer is no.

There are many explanations for this youth movement. First of all, quarterbacks are better prepared in high school. They get private coaching, go to summer camps, play 7-on-7 in the offseason, etc. In high school, they don't just show up in August for two-a-days and draw plays in the dirt anymore.

Further, a player's recognition of and respect for the natural pecking order has been reduced, as has patience. If a touted guy loses out in a quarterback competition, he seems more likely to transfer now in search of playing time. A couple of coaches also have told me it's more difficult to recruit the position when a team has an entrenched, underclass starter. That then means the junior and sophomore quarterbacks on the roster might not be as good as the younger players who sign only when the starter is a junior or senior.

Or the job will be vacant, as is the case with Browne at USC.

Yet just because a guy starts as a freshman doesn't mean the death of the upperclassman quarterback. In fact, it should in most cases increase its likelihood of occurring.

The logic is simple: If a guy is good enough to start as a freshman and plays well, then you can project forward two or three years of improvement and future success. The most important position on the field is locked down and secure and worry-free. A good thing.

It doesn't always work out like that -- see Price at Washington this past season. Or the Barkley of 2011 versus the lesser version in 2012.

That noted, it's not unreasonable to hold high hopes. Know that just about every Oregon fan has projected improvement for Mariota over the next two years, though he could enter the NFL draft as a third-year player after this season. Even moderate improvement sets him up as an All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate. Same could be said for Hogan, Hundley and Kelly, by the way.

The youth movement at quarterback is a substantial shift in thinking. An experienced, veteran quarterback used to be the first preseason measure of a team. Now all a team needs to be highly esteemed is a returning starter, even if that's just a sophomore.

It's getting to the point, in fact, that youth at quarterback will be weighted less as a potential problem by prognosticators.

At least, it's possible that the next time someone frets a lack of experience at quarterback being a problem, I'll resurrect my all-knowing look and say, "No, it's not!"

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