Stanford Football: Jeff Tedford

Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

But first, you now have a full bag of Twitter handles that are required reading.

You have mine here. You have Kevin Gemmell's brand spanking new 140-character depot.

And you have our veteran Tweeters and new Pac-12 blog insiders, Chantel Jennings -- here -- and Kyle Bonagura -- here.

That is 560 characters that nine out of 10 doctors recommend -- and this is the 10th doctor.

To the notes!


Nick from Sacramento writes: If Sonny Dykes wins 5 games this season, with a new AD, think he sees season 3?

Ted Miller: Short answer: Yes.

I also think that if he wins four or even three games and the Bears are far more competitive on both sides of the ball than they were in 2013, he deserves a third season, unless things go haywire off the field. While Dykes didn't inherit an entirely empty cupboard from Jeff Tedford, there were certainly issues, and then the Bears' injury woes last season were among the worst I've witnessed -- UCLA fans, you could equate it to your 1999 season, when Bob Toledo was practically walking around campus asking guys to suit up.

Dykes hasn't been perfect. Most notably his hiring of Andy Buh as defensive coordinator didn't work out. But he also deserves credit for making a handful of changes on his staff this offseason, including the hiring of Art Kaufman to run his defense.

Of course, when a football coach of a struggling team sees the athletic director who hired him depart, he knows he is losing an important administrative relationship. ADs and the coaches they hire in revenue sports are tied at the hip. When one suffers, so does the other. In this case, with Sandy Barbour leaving, Dykes is now less secure than he was last week. And it's notable that we rated him as the least secure Pac-12 coach even before this news.

The question now turns to the sort of AD Cal has in mind to replace Barbour. There are plenty of athletic director types out there. Some move deliberately. Some are more impulsive. I've been told by more than a few savvy ADs that it's important to hire your own football coach because you would rather be judged by what you have done than what your predecessor did.

Yet, as with most things in college football, there is an easy solution: Winning.

If Dykes goes 4-8 this season and gets back to the postseason in 2015 with quarterback Jared Goff as a third-year starter -- and his team is academically and behaviorally sound -- I suspect we'll see him around for a while.


Tom from Seattle writes: Saw your QB blog about the PAC-12 and the comments on Utah's QB Travis Wilson -- "When healthy, Wilson has been a solid performer with good upside. "Are we talking about the same Travis Wilson that is the 11th ranked PAC-12 QB in conference play two years running and leads the world in INT's? Still love your blogs, though!

Ted Miller: Yes.

First, Wilson, despite playing with an injury for three games, ended up grading out fairly well, ranking 47th in the nation in ESPN.com's Total QBR. Sure, that is only ninth in the Pac-12, but in the conference of quarterbacks, it's important to keep a national perspective when we are evaluating what might constitute a "solid performer."

Second, see if you notice anything in these numbers. Can you guess when Wilson got hurt? What you see is a pretty good quarterback through six games and the bottom falling out during the next three conference games. Again, "when healthy Wilson has been a solid performer..." When he was bad last season, he wasn't healthy (other than the UCLA disaster).

What about that "good upside" part? Well, let's not forget that Wilson was a true sophomore last season. He was thrust into service prematurely in 2012 and played fairly well considering the circumstances. When the Utes were 4-2 after beating Stanford, he looked like a guy who could lead the Utes into the South Division race.

For comparison's sake, consider that Oregon State's Sean Mannion had a 127.1 rating with 18 interceptions as a redshirt freshman starter. Wilson finished with a 129.7 rating last season.

But thanks for loving the blogs. Most awesome people do.


Paul from Albany, Ore., writes: Losing Brandin Cooks is going to be very difficult on the Oregon State offense and this fact has been pointed out numerous times. What has not been pointed out is that this same dialogue was stated the prior year when Markus Wheaton was lost to the NFL. Yes Cooks had a better year last than Wheaton did one earlier. But why has so little been written about the common denominator in both seasons -- Sean Mannion?? He is returning and yet all you folks write about is the losses he has sustained. How about digging into the idea that maybe he is a key factor in helping these receivers achieve their lofty status?

Ted Miller: Well, after passing for 10,436 yards and 68 touchdowns in three seasons, Mannion certainly merits a tip of the cap. And he has improved each year, which is a good thing.

I'd also contend he gets plenty of credit. For one, we ranked him fourth among Pac-12 quarterbacks, which is saying something when all four qualify as All-American candidates. And NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. knows who he is, ranking him the nation's No. 2 senior quarterback Insider.

But this will be a revealing year for Mannion. For one, he's a senior. This is his last chance to make a statement as a college quarterback and as an NFL prospect. Second, for the first time, he doesn't have a proven, NFL prospect at receiver.

NFL scouts are presently wondering if Wheaton and Cooks made Mannion look good. If Mannion is a more efficient player this season with a less stellar supporting cast in the passing game and, yes, wins a couple of big games, his stock will rise both when it comes to college kudos and NFL love.


Wayne from Mesa, Ariz., writes: A few weeks ago, the PAC-12 announced a new start time window for football: 11:00am. A few stories circulated the announcement, but I have not seen anything since. Has there been much feedback regarding this start time? From my standpoint, while it provides needed content for that time slot on the PAC-12 Network, it's way too early for the fans, especially in a region where we are used to late afternoon and night games.

Ted Miller: We did a poll and 58 percent of 5,391 respondents were positive about the 11 a.m. window.

I generally agree with that result. While 11 a.m. isn't ideal, it's better than having four games kickoff at 7:30 p.m. PT. A lot of Pac-12 fans have been complaining about a surfeit of late kickoffs. This is a response to that complaint. My guess is those who will now complain about the early kickoff will be fewer in numbers.

It's important to note a few things about the 11 a.m. window.

Wayne, I notice you are from Arizona. If you are a fan of Arizona or Arizona State, you won't have to worry about an 11 a.m. kickoff, at least not until late October. The Pac-12 has no interest in fans melting into puddles in their seats.

It's also unlikely the 11 a.m. kick will be the day's marquee game. That still will almost always fall into primetime windows, be that on ET or PT.

I suspect the 11 a.m. kickoff will mean more TV eyeballs for what might seem like middling games. While some folks are worried about competing with SEC or Big Ten games at 2 p.m., I don't see that as an issue. Some viewers will tune in because they care more about the Pac-12. Some will tune in because they like to watch more than one game at once. Those who don't care about the Pac-12 wouldn't watch with any kickoff time.

Some don't like the 11 a.m. kickoff because it means waking up early to drive to the stadium, and it cuts into tailgating time. But I'm not sure if these party-hardy folks are looking at the big picture.

First, there will be some encouragement for fans to arrive Friday evening. That only means more fun. Then, on Saturday, you get the 8 a.m. bloody mary at the stadium with eggs and bacon and country ham from this guy. Yummy. Then you have a postgame tailgate and time for a dinner and -- potentially -- a nice evening to tool around the old college digs.

The socially creative among you will be emailing me at season's end telling me the 11 a.m. kickoff rocked.


Emily from Los Angeles writes: You want a heartbreaking loss? What about the 3OT game between USC and Stanford?

Ted Miller: You mean a game that featured big names, ranked teams, controversy, late heroics and three overtimes could be heartbreaking?

I was there. Really entertaining, strange game. Hated how it ended, though. Not in terms of who won, but that it was about a sloppy and unfortunate turnover rather than a dramatic play.


Trevor from Portland writes: We got an article about Pac-12 heartbreakers, and it left out the biggest heartbreaker of the decade. Cam Newton fumbled, he wasn't down by forward progress. Cliff Harris was in. Michael Dyer was down. I'm still not over it.

Ted Miller: I was there for that one, too.

The Ducks were so close to a national title. It was the only time I can recall that Chip Kelly expressed regret about his game plan and some in-game decisions, as that sort of navel gazing wasn't his thing.

That is the thing about close games. They are a thrill to win and excruciating to lose. They also are why we love sports. While we love the winning, there is also a masochistic side to us that enjoys the social aspects of wallowing in misery among friends.

(Thousands of fans from various, struggling Pac-12 outposts immediately go, "Who... us?")

Pac-12's lunch links

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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This is the end, beautiful friend. This is the end, my only friend, the end.

Pac-12 lunchtime links

September, 19, 2013
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And when they've given you their all some stagger and fall;
After all it's not easy, banging your heart against some mad buggers' wall.

Pac-12 North: 2012 face-plants

December, 5, 2012
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Every team in the Pac-12 had a face plant in 2012 -- a forehead-slapper of a game that either completely changed the trajectory of their season or was simply one that they'd like to have back. Here's a look at the face-plant games in the North Division. Tomorrow we'll look at the exact opposite -- the signature wins of each team and the impact it had on the season.
California: The Bears' 3-9 season got off to a bad start in the opener when Nevada came into newly renovated Memorial Stadium and won 31-24. It seemed to suck the life and excitement out of a potentially promising season that eventually ended with the firing of Jeff Tedford. The offense couldn't sustain drives and the defense yielded 450 yards of offense. Bad start to a bad season.

Oregon: It's tough to call the Stanford loss a face-plant, because the Cardinal defense was really, really good in this game. Then again, the usually efficient Oregon offense looked anything but, rushing for 198 yards and breaking its streak of 13 games with at least 42 points. The laundry list of injuries the Ducks endured this season played a role. But this certainly qualifies as one the Ducks would like to have back, because it changed everything about the college football season. Had the Ducks won out, they would be in Miami.

Oregon State: It's one thing to lose at No. 14 Stanford -- though the Beavers can certainly lament winning the turnover battle 4-1 and still losing that game. Their lone turnover changed the postseason fortunes of both teams. But the loss to unranked Washington -- especially with four turnovers -- qualifies as a face-plant. It was the Beavers' first loss after opening the season 6-0, and it changed the shape of the Pac-12 North down the stretch.

Stanford: After the Cardinal won the Pac-12 title, a repeated theme among the players was "no one believed in us." That's probably because people watched the game at Washington on Sept. 27. With all of the momentum after knocking off No. 2 USC, the Cardinal went on the road for the first time in 2012 and failed to score an offensive touchdown.

Washington: On the brink of their first eight-win season of the Steve Sarkisian era, the Huskies watched Apple Cup rival Washington State mount the largest comeback in the history of the rivalry and overtake Washington in overtime. It was an epic collapse by the HUskies, and the sour taste will linger beyond the MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.

Washington State: Unfortunately for the Cougars, there are plenty to choose from. The Colorado loss -- for example -- stopped a two-game winning streak and sent the Cougars spiraling into an eight-game slide. But I still think the season opener against BYU was the face-plant game. For starters, it was the first televised college football game of the 2012 season. Everyone tuned in to watch Mike Leach in his WSU debut. And the Cougars failed to score a touchdown. The offense looked disjointed, and the attitude issues from certain players that would plague the team all season were on display for a national audience to see.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 13

November, 21, 2012
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this weekend:

1. All eyes on the North, via the South: Stanford and Oregon both have a shot to still win the North Division, though it's Stanford that is in the advantageous position of controlling its own destiny. The Cardinal can lock up the division with a win or an Oregon loss. Stanford will host the Pac-12 championship game against the Bruins if they win. Oregon will win the division and host the championship game if they win and Stanford loses. UCLA will host Stanford if it wins and Oregon loses.

2. Civil War: Plenty at stake in this game -- including Oregon's chances of playing for a national championship. The Ducks need some help to get back into one of two spots that could get them in the BCS Championship Game. But winning is a priority. The same can be said for the Beavers, who aren't out of the hunt for an at-large berth in a BCS game. If they are able to beat the Ducks, then they'd be in the top 14 and would be BCS eligible -- should a BCS game find them attractive. No promises, but it's better to be in the conversation than on the outside looking in.

3. About them Bruins: They are riding a five-game winning streak and are 3-0 against Top 25 teams. The offense continues to improve behind the play of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin -- recently named a Doak Walker Award finalist for the nation's top running back. Interestingly enough, this will be the second straight week Stanford has faced a Doak finalist, after going head-to-head with Oregon's Kenjon Barner last week. When asked about his first impressions of Stanford's defensive front, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said: "The '81 Bears. Or the '85 Bears. Whichever Bears team was really, really good."

4. About them Bruins II: I get what fans are saying about UCLA maybe playing conservative against Stanford -- not trying to lose -- but maybe keeping it closer to the vest anticipating a rematch with the Cardinal rather than having to face the Ducks in the conference title game. Even Ted made a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge at the idea in his prediction this morning. I'll say this -- it's bollocks. (I'd prefer to use stronger language, but decorum prohibits me. And yes, that was a nod to "Animal House.") Jim Mora won't coach his team to play less than 100 percent. He won't even hint at it. Anyone who has spent five minutes with the man (and I can assure you I've spent more than that) will tell you that's not how he operates. I think he wants to play Oregon. I think he wants to go through Autzen to win the conference championship and the Rose Bowl and cast an icy stare at everyone who questioned his hiring. I think he wants to tell recruits on the fence between Oregon, USC and UCLA that he stomped the Trojans and went into Autzen and took away the conference title from the Ducks. That's not to say UCLA can or will, but I expect the Bruins to come out with guns blazing in trying to win this game. Anything less would be cowardice. And you don't get to 9-2 and win your division by being cowardly. Any UCLA fan hoping for less than their team's total effort Saturday should be embarrassed.

5. Conference rivalries: The Cups, Apple and Territorial, have two very different feels this year. In Pullman, Wash., the Huskies, trending up and looking to end the regular season with eight wins, are in a much better place than the host Cougars. Washington State is still looking for its first conference win under new coach Mike Leach. In the desert, two new head coaches are getting their first tastes of the rivalry, and both already have their teams headed to the postseason in their first years. There are obviously bragging rights and recruiting implications that go along with this game. They have matching conference records (4-4), while Arizona is 7-4 overall to ASU's 6-5. You can nit-pick about who got the better hire. But I'd like to think we can agree on the fact that both teams got the best coaches for their schools and both have so far turned out to be great hires.

6. Nonconference: Say this for Max Wittek, the kid has got confidence. Nothing wrong with a little moxie before your first start. USC head coach Lane Kiffin said he expects quarterback Matt Barkley to return in time for a bowl game. Until then, it will be Wittek leading the Trojans against No. 1 Notre Dame. Six times the Trojans have knocked off an undefeated Notre Dame team -- twice when they were ranked No. 1. So there is a precedent. Oregon fans, now might be a good time to learn the words to "Fight On."

7. Budding rivalry? During the Pac-12 media day back in August -- which seemed like a lifetime ago -- media types were asking Utah and Colorado players about their rivalry. The players all sort of shrugged. One game, a rivalry does not make. It takes years of passion, glorious victories and gut-wrenching defeats. Ask the Utes how good that win over BYU felt this year. That doesn't mean one can't develop between these two teams over time. Colorado fired the first shot in the battle of conference newcomers last season. Neither team is headed to a bowl game, but a win in the finale would ease some of the pain -- even slightly -- of what has been a bummer of a season for both squads.

8. Post-Tedford, Day 1: California athletic director Sandy Barbour said the school has hired a search firm to help with selecting a new coach. She added that they have already received a great deal of interest since the news broke Monday morning. She also said they received a great deal of interest before Jeff Tedford was officially fired -- which she said they did not entertain. Obviously, making the right hire is critical. With the improved facilities (courtesy of the departed Tedford) Cal is a fairly attractive spot in one of the best conferences in college football. They'll get a jump on the hiring with the Bears' season already over, so I wouldn't expect a long, drawn-out search process.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 18, 2012
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What did we learn in Week 12? Read on.

Barring a miracle, Oregon won't play for the national title, and even its Pac-12 supremacy is threatened: Oregon's hopes to play for a national title for the second time in three years took a huge and likely catastrophic hit with a 17-14 overtime loss to Stanford. The Ducks' chances to win the Pac-12 for a fourth consecutive year also are in doubt. If Stanford prevails at UCLA on Saturday, the Cardinal would win the North Division and would host UCLA on Nov. 30 for the Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl berth. Yes, they'd play a second time within a week.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Franklin
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJohnathan Franklin rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns in UCLA's win over USC.
The football monopoly in L.A. is over: UCLA whipped USC to capture the Pac-12 South Division, and there is no asterisk, as there was when the Bruins represented the South at Oregon last year. The Bruins jumped to an early lead and then didn't wilt when the Trojans charged back. First-year coach Jim Mora, who is now clearly in the conference coach of the year race, has emphasized mental toughness and discipline, and in a single season he seems to have changed the culture in Westwood. By the way, this is good news: The Pac-12 will benefit if the USC-UCLA game is again nationally and regionally meaningful.

USC's business is finished: It's official: The Trojans' 2012 season is a massive failure. A preseason national title contender, USC is now 7-4 overall and 5-4 in Pac-12 play. It may not be ranked this week. QB Matt Barkley, the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite who spoke of "unfinished business" when he opted to return for his senior year, suffered an injury late against the Bruins, and his business might be finished without another shot at soon-to-be No. 1 Notre Dame. While coach Lane Kiffin told reporters that he was certain of his return in 2013, it's pretty clear Kiffin will top hot-seat projections next summer.

The Pac-12 will have eight bowl-eligible teams: Arizona State's blowout win over Washington State gave the conference eight bowl-eligible teams, while Utah's loss to Arizona ensured there won't be a ninth. The Utes, Colorado, Washington State and California will stay home during the holidays. Further, if Oregon wins the Civil War and Stanford beats UCLA, the conference is almost certain to get two BCS bowl teams, with the UCLA-Stanford winner in the Pac-12 title game going to the Rose Bowl and the Ducks getting an at-large selection, likely to the Fiesta Bowl. That would mean an extra $6.1 million the conference could split up.

Tedford's tenure in California is likely at an end: While there continue to be supporters for Cal coach Jeff Tedford, a fifth consecutive defeat to end the season, particularly a 62-14 blowout at Oregon State, feels like a capper to his 11-year tenure in Berkeley. Tedford is liked and respected and probably will land on his feet and get another head-coaching opportunity, but the Bears have fallen behind in the conference pecking order -- heck, the Bay Area pecking order -- and they have bills to pay while facing growing fan apathy. A decision could come as soon as Sunday.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
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A few storylines to keep an eye on this week:

  1. And the winner in the North is ...? Could be Oregon. If the Ducks can get past visiting Stanford this week, they'll lock up the division and earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. They still have to go through Oregon State next week -- but wins over both of those clubs should help them in the BCS standings. Well, at least on the computer side. The Ducks hold the No. 1 spot in both human polls. So if they win out, they will be in the national championship game. The North Division winner could be Stanford, too. If the Cardinal win this weekend and close out with a victory at UCLA next week, Stanford and Oregon will each have one conference loss, with the Cardinal holding the tiebreaker.
  2. And the winner in the South is ...? We'll see Saturday, but we know it will be from Los Angeles. The USC-UCLA rivalry hasn't been one of late. UCLA's last victory over the Trojans came in 2006 -- a 13-9 win that snapped USC's NCAA record of 63 consecutive games scoring at least 20 points and also cost the Trojans a spot in the BCS title game. The scenario is winner-take-all -- regardless of what happens next week.
  3. On the bubble: Arizona State and Utah are both trying to make the postseason. ASU has the easier road, needing just one win to lock up bowl eligibility. And it hosts a Washington State team that is winless in conference play. Utah has to first beat Arizona at home this week, then win at Colorado next. The Utes are yet to win a road game this year.
  4. QB carousel: Seems like it wouldn't be a normal week in the Pac-12 if there weren't quarterback issues. Almost half of the league has uncertainty at the position heading into this weekend. Arizona's Matt Scott might not be able to go again this week; same for Cal's Zach Maynard. Nick Hirschman suffered a concussion last week for Colorado, Jeff Tuel was injured for Washington State, opening the door for Connor Halliday's five touchdowns. And the Sean Mannion-Cody Vaz back-and-forth continues at Oregon State, pending Vaz's health.
  5. [+] EnlargeKa'Deem Carey
    Rick Scuteri/US PresswireUtah's chances at the postseason hinge on doing a better job stopping Ka'Deem Carey than Colorado.
    Quality matchups: If the Utes do want to get into the postseason, they'll have to find a way to slow down Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, who rushed for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns in last week's victory over Colorado. It's Utah's strength as a defense versus Arizona's strength as an offense. You can say the same for the Oregon-Stanford matchup, which pits Oregon's league-best rushing attack against Stanford's conference-leading rush defense.
  6. Gone in 60 seconds: Per the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, Stanford is the only FBS team that hasn't allowed a touchdown drive of three plays or fewer; it is also one of only five teams that has not allowed a touchdown in less than a minute. Oregon, of course, leads the FBS in touchdown drives that last one minute or less. Stopwatches at the ready.
  7. The SoCal tight-end factor: More super-cool stuff from the Stats & Info group: Matt Barkley and Brett Hundley have combined to throw 17 touchdowns and zero interceptions when targeting their tight ends. Hundley completes 75.6 percent of his passes when targeting a tight end; Barkley is at 67.2 percent. Could make for an interesting sidebar to Saturday's matchup.
  8. Off and running: Washington's Bishop Sankey heads to Colorado as one of the hottest running backs in the conference right now. He ha rushed for 351 yards and four touchdowns in his past two games and last week became the 11th player in UW history to reach the 1K milestone. Expect him to add to that total. Colorado ranks last in the conference against the run, yielding 227.6 yards per game on the ground to go with a conference-worst 25 rushing touchdowns allowed.
  9. Decisions, decisions: When California coach Jeff Tedford gets back to the Bay Area following the Bears' trip to Oregon State, he'll have sit down with athletic director Sandy Barbour to discuss the future of Cal football and what role -- if any -- he plays in it. Walking into that meeting with a victory over the No. 16 Beavers would probably go over better than closing out the year on a five-game losing streak.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
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Welcome to Week 8.

Kevin and Ted both went 4-1 last week. For the season, Ted is 44-15 and Kevin is 43-16.

All games are Saturday.

USC AT ARIZONA

Kevin Gemmell: Unlike Washington last week, the Trojans are much better equipped to handle a shootout. And if the USC passing attack is really back to the level it showed last week, the Trojans have enough firepower to pull away. USC 45, Arizona 35.

Ted Miller: This one gives off the slight scent of an upset. But I'm with Kevin. USC 44, Arizona 28.

UCLA AT ARIZONA STATE

Kevin Gemmell: I think the bye week helps UCLA tremendously, while ASU will likely still be trying to pick up the pieces of last week's loss. A rested UCLA team balances out the fact that it is on the road. UCLA 35, Arizona State 27.

Ted Miller: The Sun Devils will be without defensive tackle Will Sutton, and that's not good. But the Bruins struggle on the road, and I think Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly bounces back. Arizona State 30, UCLA 24.

CALIFORNIA AT UTAH

Kevin Gemmell: Just when I start to put my faith in Cal, they rush for 3 yards. And Utah's defense is coming off probably its best game of the season against Oregon State. Recent history suggests Utah's second-half run starts now. Utah 17, Cal 10.

Ted Miller: It's gut-check time for both teams. The loser might kiss bowl hopes goodbye. We like the Bears to step up for Jeff Tedford. Cal 24, Utah 17.

WASHINGTON STATE AT STANFORD

Kevin Gemmell: Stanford's defense had as good of a performance as any team in the conference last week. No reason to think that won't carry over with the Cardinal back at home against an offense that has failed to reach the end zone twice this season. Stanford 27, Washington State 10.

Ted Miller: Stanford should be able to control both lines of scrimmage. End of story. Stanford 35, Washington State 13.

COLORADO AT OREGON

Kevin Gemmell: So... next week should be fun. Oregon 49, Colorado 14.

Ted Miller: I suspect Oregon's starters will get plenty of rest in the second half. Oregon 45, Colorado 10.

OREGON STATE AT WASHINGTON

Kevin Gemmell: Mike Riley has faith in Sean Mannion, and Mannion has been given the green light to play. CenturyLink is a very hostile environment, but the Beavers have done some of their best work on the road this year. Oregon State 24, Washington 14.

Ted Miller: The Huskies have lost three in a row since upsetting Stanford, and quarterback Keith Price has not been himself. The Beavers should keep on trucking, but I wouldn't be surprised if this one was hotly contested deep into the fourth quarter. Oregon State 28, Washington 24.

Stanford takes road woes to Cal

October, 19, 2012
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Despite the proximity of the Stanford and UC-Berkeley campuses, Saturday’s Big Game is very much a road game for the Cardinal.

“You know right off the bat that you are in hostile territory,” said Stanford coach David Shaw, who is well-versed in the rivalry as a player and a coach. “You know that most of the people in the stands don’t want you to have success, and they let you know that. Physically we’re not a long ways away. But it feels like you are a long way from home.”

This is important. Because if you’ve followed Stanford this year, that’s not good news. The Cardinal’s offensive inefficiencies away from Palo Alto have been well-documented. They haven’t moved the ball effectively. They have 13 total three-and-out drives in both road games (they had 14 all of last season, and have 24 so far on this one). Most important, they have scored zero offensive touchdowns away from home and -- not surprisingly -- both of their losses have been on the road.

“We just have to play better,” Shaw said. “We have to make the plays that are there to be made. We have to score points. Defensively, we’ve played well on the road. We played two really good games. On offense, we haven’t mustered a touchdown. That’s not us. That’s not what we’ve been at home and that’s not what we’ve been since we’ve been here. We’ve looked at a lot of ways to make sure we utilize our personnel and make sure we’re as aggressive as we think is prudent. But at the same time, we have to make plays.”

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
AP Photo/Dean HareKeenan Allen's huge day at Washington State surely didn't go unnoticed by Stanford defenders.
This is an odd installment for the 115th Big Game because of the unusual timing. Usually reserved as an end-of-the-season showdown, the game is being played in October. There are a lot of considerations that went into the scheduling, such as a new TV contract, Stanford’s commitment to the rivalry with Notre Dame and the fact that the conference added two new teams last season. While neither coach expects this to be a regular occurrence, it’s still unusual.

“It doesn’t help to get worked up about it,” said Cal coach Jeff Tedford. “We’re excited to play the game. It is what it is. ... The odd part is going to be afterwards. Typically, it’s the last game of the year and there is all of the buildup. But as far as what’s going on this week, we have a game, it’s a great game. There is a lot of excitement and energy and emotion, and there’s no other way to look at it.”

Cal, which has won back-to-back games, could even its record at 4-4 with a victory. That puts the Bears back in bowl contention -- a notion that seemed unlikely when they were sitting at 1-4 following a 27-17 home loss to Arizona State on Sept. 29.

Last week, wide receiver Keenan Allen continued to climb the Cal record books, catching 11 balls for 166 yards and a touchdown in the 31-17 victory over Washington State. Clearly, Allen is a concern for the Stanford defense.

“There are three or four times a game he does something you have to rewind and just see again,” Shaw said.

Surely, Tedford has studied Stanford’s road losses at Washington and last week at Notre Dame. But while Shaw upped the significance of this being a road game for his team, Tedford downplayed its significance as a home game.

“It seems like our fans outnumber the Stanford fans here,” he said. “Years ago, when you went to Stanford you had more Cal people than Stanford people. That’s changed in the last few years. Now there is a slight home-field advantage, but both teams are well-represented. Stanford will have its crew here and it will be loud and it will go back and forth.”

Regardless of the records, the location or what month it’s being played in, the Big Game is usually never short on drama, with 42 of the contests being decided by seven points or fewer. And given the way Stanford’s game ended at Notre Dame last week -- with a controversial call in overtime -- Shaw said this week gave his players a good chance to redirect their frustrations.

“You need a place to place your emotion,” he said. “What better game to have to try to forget last week than the Big Game. That’s helped a lot.

“... They know us, we know them. Every year something crazy happens. Every year it’s an exciting game. There is a lot of emotion and it’s something you feel in the course of a week. When your rivalry week shows up, you feel it on Monday and it builds all week. It’s not the same as just another game. It might be a big game, but it’s not the Big Game. This is different.”

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 14, 2012
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What did we learn in Week 7? Read on.

Arizona State will be Oregon's toughest test: Sure, the Sun Devils haven't played anyone, much less anyone nearly the equal of second-ranked Oregon. But the way the Sun Devils have looked against that schedule suggests strongly that they will be able to challenge the Ducks, particularly playing at home. Arizona State's defense is aggressive and gets good penetration, while the high-tempo offense has nice balance, and Taylor Kelly is playing better than any quarterback in the conference, including Ducks counterpart Marcus Mariota. And there is the issue of Mariota struggling in his only road start this season.

[+] EnlargeCody Vaz
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireCody Vaz (14) proved he was a more-than-capable replacement at QB for Oregon State.
Oregon State can maintain with QB Cody Vaz: Vaz, a redshirt junior making his first start since high school, completed 20 of 32 passes for 332 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Beavers' 42-24 victory at BYU. That was pretty much the equal of what Sean Mannion, out with a knee injury, has done this year. Actually, Vaz's efficiency mark (180.6) would rank No. 1 in the Pac-12. Further, the Beavers were able to run the ball fairly well against the nation's No. 1 run defense, while the defense grabbed three interceptions. The Beavers are 5-0 for the first time since 1939. The magic continues.

Home Stanford, good. Road Stanford, bad: The Stanford Cardinal are a completely different team when you get them away from the friendly confines of Stanford Stadium. In two road games this year, they have failed to score an offensive touchdown (the two they've had have come from the defense, one against Washington, one against Notre Dame). Quarterback Josh Nunes has struggled away from home. In his two road games, he's a combined 30-of-62 (48 percent) for 295 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. His teammates have dropped 11 balls on the road (five against Washington, six against Notre Dame). Stanford is on the road again next week for the Big Game against a Cal team that has won two straight.

USC just isn't going to be as pretty as expected: USC quarterback Matt Barkley, the preseason Heisman Trophy front-runner, completed 10 of 20 passes for 167 yards in the 24-14 win over Washington. He threw a touchdown pass. He threw a pick. It was his third game with fewer than 200 yards passing this year. His numbers aren't terrible, but they seem more like something he'd have done four years ago when he was the freshman starter for the nation's premier college football program, which never started true freshmen at QB. Barkley and receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee have fallen well short of high expectations, and maybe it's time to let those go. The preseason expectations for this team aren't being met. Still, the Trojans are 5-1. They are still in the national title hunt, if on the outside. It's just that the Trojans looked like a team that would make you gasp over the playmaking in the preseason. Hasn't been the case. This is a team that is conservative, often sloppy and good on defense. You know: SEC-ish.

California, Tedford aren't dead: With a 31-17 victory over Washington State, California improved to 3-4 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play. Is that a good record? No. But the Bears have won two in a row and will host Stanford on Saturday in an unusual midseason Big Game. Cal needs three wins to earn bowl eligibility, and the remaining schedule is far from easy. Coach Jeff Tedford remains on the hot seat, and it's difficult to imagine a losing record will leave folks in Berkeley happy. So the pressure remains. But two weeks ago, Cal seemed dead. Now it's off life support. If it can trip a Stanford squad coming off a dispiriting loss at Notre Dame, the hope may blossom into genuine opportunity.

What to watch in the Pac-12

September, 27, 2012
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A few storylines to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this week.

  1. Thursday night showdown: It wasn't just the Baylor game that got a lot of Washington's defensive staff canned last year. Much of the Huskies' defensive downfalls started earlier in the season -- and many can point to the Stanford game as a kicking-off point. The Cardinal rushed for a school-record 446 yards and two Stanford backs gained more than 100 yards. One of them is back -- Stepfan Taylor. He and the Cardinal go into CenturyLink Field ranked No. 8 in the nation with another strong rushing attack and the No. 1 rush defense in the country.
  2. Road warriors: It's been a charmed life for quarterbacks Josh Nunes (Stanford) and Marcus Mariota (Oregon) so far this season. Both took over as first-time starters and neither has had to leave the friendly confines of their respective home stadiums -- until now. Nunes makes his first road start tonight in Washington and Mariota and the Ducks finally leave Autzen when they face Washington State in Seattle on Saturday. Both have their teams undefeated and ranked in the top 10.
  3. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    Scott Olmos/US PresswireMarcus Mariota is part of a talented young crop of Pac-12 quarterbacks.
    Young guns: Speaking of Mariota, he's one of several young quarterbacks carving out quite the name for themselves early in the 2012 season. The top four leaders in passing efficiency are sophomores or younger: Mariota, Sean Mannion, Brett Hundley and Taylor Kelly. Even Oregon State coach Mike Riley said earlier this week he's never seen such a talented crop of youthful quarterbacks making such an immediate impact on the conference. Last week's Mannion-Hundley duel was a nice glimpse of what the conference can look forward to in years to come.
  4. Getting toasty: What does Saturday's game mean for the future of Cal coach Jeff Tedford? Though he received the dreaded vote of confidence, he's pretty much the only coach in the conference on the hot seat. At 1-3, Cal's chances for a postseason berth are quickly dwindling. And now the Bears face a revitalized Arizona State squad that is offensively efficient (see the aforementioned Kelly) and an opportunistic defense that is tied for second in the conference with 14 sacks. Cal is second to last in sacks allowed.
  5. Air raid: Oregon State travels to Arizona in a battle of the conference's top two passing teams. Should be a lot of points and a lot of yards. Wait... where have we heard this one before? Oh yeah, that was supposed to be the case last week with Oregon-Arizona. But the Wildcats failed to produce in the red zone and were blanked by the Ducks. And the Beavers have the nation's No. 2 rush defense (behind Stanford) to boot. Probably the most intriguing game on the docket this week. If the Beavers win, they'll continue to climb in the polls. If Arizona wins, it's back in the polls. Lots of intrigue in Tucson.
  6. Lessons learned? UCLA and Colorado both learned a thing or two about their teams last week. The Bruins learned that youthful teams will sometimes make youthful mistakes. Colorado learned that quitting gets you nowhere and the Buffs manned up in the fourth quarter and pulled out a win. One team still needs to get comfortable in its own skin as a winning program. The other is just looking for another win. Which lessons will carry over into this game?
  7. On kicking: Improved field goal kicking last week from the conference. I noted last week that the Pac-12 was converting just 59 percent of its field goals -- worst among the BCS conferences. Last week, kickers went 16-of-23 (69 percent). Better, but still not great.
  8. Looking ahead: USC and Utah have the bye this week in preparation for next week's Thursday night South Division showdown in Salt Lake City. Well, at least it was thought to be a showdown in the preseason. The Utes are reeling and the Trojans are looking to get back into the top 10. The bloom isn't completely off the rose, but this one doesn't smell as sweet as it did in late August.
Cal folk and Stanford folk don't really like being lumped together. Unless the words "Big" and "Game" accompany the two schools in the same sentence, folks from either side of San Francisco Bay would just as soon they not be mentioned together, thank you very much.

This week, however, the Bay Area's two Pac-12 teams find themselves in strikingly similar positions:

  • Both teams performed well below expectation in Week 1.
  • Both teams have very winnable games in Week 2.
  • Both teams have season-defining showdowns in Week 3.

Translation: There ain't much time to get your stuff together.

There is one massive difference that shouldn't be overlooked. Stanford was a winner in Week 1, surviving San Jose State 20-17. Cal can say no such thing, falling to Nevada 31-24. But when we take that very important factoid out of the equation, we're left with a couple of teams -- thought to be toward the top of the Pac-12's North division hierarchy -- scrambling to patch holes on Sept. 8 before crucial contests on Sept. 15.

Both teams had issues on defense -- a perceived strength in 2012 for each program. Cal, in particular, had few answers for Nevada and its pistol offense, yielding 220 yards on the ground, including 145 and three touchdowns from running back Stefphon Jefferson and 97 yards and a score from quarterback Cody Fajardo.

[+] EnlargeStefphon Jefferson
Kyle Terada/US PresswireStefphon Jefferson (25) and Nevada ran all over Cal in its opener on the way to 31-24 victory.
Nevada had 15 offensive drives in the game. Of those 15, five consisted of nine plays or more, four consumed at least four minutes and Nevada's first touchdown came on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 6 minutes, 13 seconds of clock. Cal's defense allowed the Wolf Pack to convert 11 of 20 third downs -- a point that doesn't sit well with Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who said third-down defense was what frustrated him the most.

"It seemed like last week, what could have gone wrong did," Tedford said. "They did a nice job executing, you have to give them credit. But we couldn't get off the field on third down. They put long drives together."

Across the bay at Stanford, third downs were also an issue -- at least for the offense -- which converted just 2 of 13 chances (15 percent). For a little perspective, last season the Cardinal converted 53 percent.

After taking the opening kickoff 81 yards on 13 plays (6 minutes, 32 seconds) for a touchdown, the Cardinal failed to put a drive together that lasted more than eight plays. Of their 11 offensive drives (not counting the final drive that ended in victory formation), Stanford had four three-and-out drives. For a little more perspective, Stanford had 16 three-and-out drives all of last season.

"The best I can say is there was some dissatisfaction with the way that we played," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "San Jose State played us extremely tough and extremely well. But at the same time, we didn't play up to our capabilities and the positive is we were able to gut out a win and get some stops on defense in the fourth quarter. Those were positives and we ended the game with an interception. But at the same time, we were dissatisfied with our execution."

Both teams are at home in Week 2, with Stanford hosting Duke and Cal hosting FCS Southern Utah of the Big Sky Conference. And just to be clear ...

"We're in no position to overlook anyone after losing last week," said Tedford.

Still, next week is looming. Stanford will play host to USC -- which was ranked No. 1 to start the season -- and Cal travels to Ohio State. Both games have tremendous implications for the rest of the season. For Stanford, it's a chance to silence critics who say the Cardinal will fall back to mediocrity now that Andrew Luck is gone. For Cal, it's a significant out-of-conference game that could bolster the league's national reputation.

Fajardo scorched Cal on zone-read runs. Imagine what Braxton Miller will do if the Bears don't tighten up. San Jose State's David Fales threw for 217 yards on 24 of 35 passing against the Cardinal. Matt Barkley and his wide receivers will be far more formidable.

In other words, if each school performs the way it did in Week 1, Sept. 15 could be a very long day.

Most important game: Stanford

May, 23, 2012
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Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.

We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.

We're going in alphabetical order.

Stanford

Most important game: at California, Oct. 20

Why it's important: Well, for one, it's the Big Game, even if it's been dumped into the middle of the season.

There are games that would resonate more nationally for the Cardinal. Beat USC on Sept. 15, and everyone immediately forgets Andrew Luck. Win at Oregon on Nov. 17, and pack up for a special season as Stanford unloads two years of frustration. But Stanford will be substantial underdogs in both games. If things go as most will project, Stanford will lose both games. So, sure, either would be a big win for the program, particularly post Luck, but they would be fairly shocking.

The visit to Cal feels important because it something more approximating a "must-win." Start with the fact that Stanford, Washington and California seem like a troika that falls together -- in that order -- below Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division pecking order. This could serve as a separation game for the Cardinal, which will have already visited Washington on Sept. 27. Stanford has dominated the Huskies lately, so a win over Cal may be enough to ensure at least a second place finish in the North -- with a puncher's shot still remaining in Autzen Stadium. So this is a rivalry game with significant North Division ramifications.

But it's even more than that. Stanford has won two Big Games in a row and played in two consecutive BCS bowl games. It has taken over the Bay Area after years of struggling versus Jeff Tedford and the Bears. Some Cal fans might try to write off the Cardinal surge as something produced by a serendipitous aligning of the college football planets. As in by the flash-across-the-sky tenures of charismatic former coach Jim Harbaugh and a once-in-a-generation quarterback. If Cal wins this game, it could claim exactly that with justification. "Ah, the Bay Area pecking order has been righted," Bears fans might say. "Stanford's reign of terror is at an end. Ad perpetuam memoriam! Or not. And ad victoriam!"

But if Stanford were to win a third Big Game in a row -- inside the newly remodeled Memorial Stadium no less -- it would send a simple message: With or without Luck, the Cardinal own the Bay Area.
Is David Shaw one of the top two or three coaches in the Pac-12? No.

How about top five? Nope.

Top half? Top 8? Negative.

Not if you buy the recent rankings by Athlon Sports, which has Shaw as the No. 9 rated coach in the Pac-12 conference.

Before we dive into that, let's review the list:

  1. Chip Kelly, Oregon
  2. Lane Kiffin, USC
  3. Mike Leach, Washington State
  4. Kyle Whittingham, Utah
  5. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  6. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
  7. Mike Riley, Oregon State
  8. Jeff Tedford, Cal
  9. David Shaw, Stanford
  10. Todd Graham, Arizona State
  11. Jim Mora, UCLA
  12. Jon Embree, Colorado
[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireDavid Shaw did more than just ride Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck's coattails.
No doubt, Kelly belongs at the top. If anyone wants to make an argument for anyone else -- I'd love to hear it. Kelly is clearly the top coach in the conference.

But it starts to get muddled after No. 1. When I first saw the headline, my initial thought for Shaw was in two-three-four range. But as I kept scrolling down, I was pretty surprised to see him at No. 9.

The biggest argument against Shaw is that he doesn't have a body of work yet as a head coach. It seems like the question mark from the Athlon folks is that they don't know what Shaw can do without a Harbaugh or a Luck next to his name.
There is much to like about Shaw and there is much that is still unknown. This fall will feature the first in Palo Alto without a Harbaugh or a Luck on the roster and it falls to Shaw to maintain an unprecedented level of success. Jim Harbaugh deserves all of the credit for re-establishing the Cardinal brand nationwide and developing Andrew Luck into the best player in the nation the last two years. Replacing two first-round offensive linemen will also be an issue for Stanford in 2012. Shaw is steeped in Stanford tradition as a player and son of a coach for the Cardinal, but legacy alone won’t keep Shaw in Bob Bowlsby’s good graces. This is one name that could be ranked much higher (or lower) on this list come next offseason.

I think it's a bit of a sweeping statement to say Harbaugh deserves all of the credit. Shaw, after all, played a huge role in recruiting Luck. He also recruited a large portion of Harbaugh's players and ran Harbaugh's offense for four seasons. And he's the reigning Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Doesn't that count for anything?

As fate would have it, I was plugging away at this post yesterday afternoon when my cell rang and Shaw's picture appeared. After we got done swapping stock tips and talking about which Hunger Games characters we were going to dress as for the big premier, I figured it was worth asking his opinion on such polls and how he felt about his ninth-ranked status.

"No reaction at all," said Shaw, never one for chest-puffing. "I have no problem with that. I'm a one-year head coach and a lot of people attribute the team's success to Andrew -- justifiably so. A lot of people attribute it to Jim Harbaugh. Me, honestly, that's fine. As long as Bob Bowlsby likes the job that I'm doing and I can keep this job -- hopefully for the next 15-20 years -- I can be the last-ranked coach as long as we keep winning games and going to bowl games, I'm fine.

"Rankings don't win games."

Shaw has an NFL pedigree that few coaches on this list can match. I'm not saying he should be No. 2. You can make arguments, I think, for Shaw, Leach, Whittingham or Kiffin in the No. 2 spot. And they would all have merit. (I'm actually leaning toward Whittingham, having seen his success over the years during my time covering the Mountain West).

But when you consider the recruiting class Shaw brought in this year -- which had absolutely nothing to do with Harbaugh or Luck -- and the way he schemed the offense this season to compensate for a lack of overwhelming wide receiver talent, you have to think that warrants more than being the No. 9 guy in the conference. Think of the triple-tight formations and the plays with eight offensive linemen. Pretty innovative stuff.

Consider some of the immeasurables that Shaw was dealing with this season. He had a glaring spotlight already with the departure of Harbaugh and the return of Luck. He had to replace three offensive linemen with first-year starters, had a shaky receiving corps and had to fill both coordinator spots. The dice were equally loaded for success or failure. It's too dismissive to say he was just riding the coattails of Harbaugh and Luck because Shaw's fingerprints were all over the 2011 team. And give credit to the rest of his staff. Shaw brought in Mike Bloomgren, Jason Tarver, Ron Crook and Mike Sanford -- all of whom were major contributors to the team's success. Hiring solid coaches is an important element that often gets overlooked.

Was he perfect? Nope. Not even close. Find me a coach who is. I'll wait ... ... ... I can count on one hand the number of times I questioned a Shaw decision or play call.

I like Shaw's demeanor -- calm most of the time but fiery when he has to be. I like the pro-style, balanced approach to offense, and I like how he's a tireless advocate for his players.

All of the above don't make Shaw the No. 1 coach in the conference. But it doesn't make him No. 9, either.

Big Game means plenty to Cal

November, 17, 2011
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California's Sean Cattouse is a good safety. A sure tackler. An NFL prospect. And you already know where this is going, right?

Cattouse was cast as the part of roadkill for one of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck's most replayed highlights -- his 58-yard scramble in last year's Big Game blowout of the Bears. "Roadkill" is not a role any football player wants.

"A lot of jokes. It's all fun and games," Cattouse said when asked -- again and again -- this week about the play. "I'm just more sickened with myself with how I went about trying to tackle him. It looked like nothing I've done before."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAndrew Luck and the Cardinal won back the Axe after beating Cal 48-14 last season.
How much do you think Cattouse enjoys hearing about that play? How much do you think he wants a rematch with Luck, one on one? And how much do you think all the Cal players enjoy hearing about how super-awesome Luck and the Cardinal are?

The Big Game is always a big game. It's a rivalry game between elite schools that like to tout how they are more elite really than the other.

And it means plenty to Cal.

For one, they'd get the Axe back. While the Bears have split the last four Big Games, they have won seven of nine under coach Jeff Tedford.

Tedford is another issue. While he's been successful against the Bears' biggest rival -- Stanford was riding its longest winning streak in the series with seven consecutive Big Game victories from 1995-2001 when he arrived in Berkeley -- there is considerable fan frustration with his program's inconsistency over the past few years. A win over a highly ranked Stanford team would mute that, at least in the short term.

Further, Cal is playing for its own stakes. If it beats the Cardinal, it improves to 7-4 and moves up in the pecking order with bowl selections.

That said, there are unintended consequences of playing the spoiler. It would cost the Pac-12 about $6 million because Stanford wouldn't be the pick for an at-large BCS bowl berth. And then the Cardinal likely would end up in the Alamo Bowl, which would knock every other bowl-eligible team down a notch.

"It's not about spoiling anything for them," Cal quarterback Zach Maynard said. "It's a huge rivalry game for us."

Cal also has a strong history of upsets in the series, particularly when the Cardinal boasts a celebrated quarterback.

The Bears beat John Elway twice, producing the greatest play in college football history -- "The Play," in fact -- to do so in 1982. They knocked off Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett in 1970. And, of course, they upset Luck in 2009, 34-28, with Cal linebacker Mike Mohamed grabbing an interception in the waning moments with Stanford on the Bears' 3-yard line.

That, in fact, was one of the worst games of Luck's career. He was 10-of-30 for 157 yards with no touchdowns.

Before that game, Tedford repeatedly tweaked his players with how the media and fans believed then-No. 14 Stanford and running back Toby Gerhart were too physical for the Bears. In response, Cal's Shane Vereen rushed for 193 yards on 42 carries with three touchdowns and outplayed Gerhart.

It was a successful motivational angle that Tedford might revisit. Young people often seem to respond well to the underdog, no-respect role.

"Those are always motivational pieces," Tedford said. "We have a great deal of respect for them. Their accolades -- they are worthy of them."

Still, in the end, all rivalry games are like this. There are Cal men and Stanford men. Blues and Cardinal. And when they meet -- their own and the other -- they will remember who won, and when and how it went down.

Said Cattouse, "It's a big game every year. Every year we want to win it."

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
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Saturday, 1/3
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Monday, 1/12