Stanford Football: Markus Wheaton

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.

Most to prove in the Pac-12

August, 28, 2013
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Across the ESPN blogosphere on Wednesday, we’re looking at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in each conference. In the Pac-12, the answers should be fairly obvious. Here are 10 from the league in no particular order.

1. Lane Kiffin: OK, maybe this one is in particular order. USC’s head coach is on the hottest seat in America after a disastrous 2012. There were embarrassments for the program on and off the field. That has led to plenty of speculation about what he needs to do to keep his job. Win 10 games? Nine? Win nine and beat UCLA or Notre Dame? Or both? This is a storyline that will no doubt carry deep into the season.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
James Snook/US PresswireLane Kiffin isn't the only Pac-12 coach feeling growing pressure for a successful season.
2. Steve Sarkisian: His seat isn’t as hot as Kiffin’s. But the heat index has certainly risen in the wake of another seven-win season. The Huskies have a lot of returning talent – including a quarterback with potential, a healthy offensive line, an outstanding running back and receivers (including TE), and a fairly veteran defensive core. The pieces are in place for Washington to, at the very least, get over the seven-win hump. Seven wins or fewer will be met with harsh criticism and questions about whether Sarkisian is the right guy for the job.

3. Oregon’s linebackers: This appears to be the only question mark for the Ducks, at least on paper, because they have a solid front and an outstanding secondary. Losing Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso and Dion Jordan is a big hit in terms of production, talent and leadership. Boseko Lokombo is a veteran presence, and Tony Washington, Derrick Malone and Rodney Hardrick have all been in the system for a few years. If they can match the production of their predecessors, the Ducks should be fine defensively.

4. Stanford’s wide receivers: Ty Montgomery headlines this list. At the end of 2011, he showed explosive playmaking ability and his future looked sparkling. But injuries slowed him in 2012. With the Cardinal doing some overhauling after losing their top two tight ends, the receiver spot will likely take on more emphasis in 2013. Players such as Devon Cajuste, Michael Rector and Kelsey Young will need to be productive as well.

5. Paul Richardson: The Colorado receiver missed all of last season with a knee injury and had to sit and watch his team fall apart around him. The Buffaloes went 1-11 and their coach was fired. A new coach, a new offense and a new enthusiasm in Boulder is motivating Richardson to make up for lost time. He is Colorado’s most explosive player and knows he has the potential, and responsibility, to carry the offense. Now he just has to go out and prove he can do it.

6. Oregon State’s receivers: We know what we’re getting with Brandin Cooks. He proved last season that he's an outstanding player. How much of that, however, was a product of the guy across the field, Markus Wheaton? With Wheaton gone, either Richard Mullaney or Obum Gwacham will have to step up as a complementary threat to Cooks -- along with Kevin Cummings in the slot.

7. QBs, old and new: Not all the quarterback competitions are completed. But whoever wins the job at Arizona and USC will likely be looking over his shoulder for the bulk of the season. Connor Wood is back in the starting role for Colorado, true freshman Jared Goff gets the start for Cal, and Sean Mannion finally won Oregon State's job after a grueling seven-month competition with Cody Vaz. Nothing is set in stone at Washington State, so Connor Halliday will need consistent play to hold the job (we’re assuming, for now, that it’s Halliday). Expect these players to be under the microscope all season.

8. UCLA’s running backs: There are big shoes to fill with the departure of running back Johnathan Franklin, the school’s all-time leading rusher and a Doak Walker finalist last year. Jim Mora has said that he’ll likely use five backs throughout the season. Jordon James is the front-runner of the committee and has the best opportunity to distance himself. But expect Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones, Steven Manfro and Damien Thigpen (health pending) to all fight for time and carries.

9. Utah’s secondary: It’s not necessarily young. Just inexperienced. And in a pass-happy league, that could spell trouble. Free safety Eric Rowe has the most playing time among the group. Cornerback Davion Orphey is a juco transfer and opposite him is Keith McGill, a former safety and juco transfer who appeared in five games in 2011 but suffered a season-ending injury and then missed all of 2012. There is talent there. It’s just mostly untested.

10. Arizona State: Yep, the whole team. This is what you wanted, ASU fans … for the sleeping giant to be awoken. The alarm clock just went off. Now it’s time to prove all the hype is worth it. A challenging schedule early -- including Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks -- will be a good measuring stick. Though the USC game is really the one that has South title implications. Still, the other three will go a long way toward determining how ASU is viewed nationally. Going 1-3 and beating USC wouldn’t be disastrous. Going 0-4 will draw the requisite “same old ASU” criticisms.

 

Proving grounds: Pac-12 North

July, 10, 2013
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Some players come in with plenty of hype, but never quite seem to match it. Others have a great season, then slip the following one, leaving many to wonder if they were one-year wonders. Still others have to bounce back from injury and show they aren't shells of what they used to be.

Either way, there are plenty of players in the Pac-12 with something to prove in 2013. Here are six players with something to prove from the Pac-12 North. This is last year's Proving Grounds post. Tomorrow we'll take a look at the South.

Khairi Fortt, OLB, California: He's yet to play a down for the Bears since transferring from Penn State -- a move that had less to do with the NCAA sanctions facing the Nittany Lions and more to do with his desire for a larger role in the defense. He appeared in every game for Penn State his sophomore year and is well-versed in the 4-3 -- the new base defensive alignment for the Bears this year under Andy Buh. New head coach Sonny Dykes called Fortt a potentially impactful player who needs to be more consistent. The Bears have some defensive stability with guys like Nick Forbes and Deandre Coleman. If Fortt can elevate his play and prove to be an upper-level linebacker, the Bears could have a sneaky-good defense.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB/WR/KR/PR/AP, Oregon: When it comes to delivering "SportsCenter" highlights, Thomas has nothing to prove. No question, he's one of the most explosive players in the country and certainly one of the most exciting to watch. But his burden of proof comes from a different place. During his tenure in Eugene, the Ducks relied on LaMichael James in 2011 and Kenjon Barner in 2012 to carry the bulk of the running game, with Thomas providing a change-of-OMG-did-you-see-that? But with two of the most prolific runners in school history departed, it's finally Thomas' turn to shoulder more of the workload. True, Byron Marshall will get his carries, and we're all excited to see what Thomas Tyner brings to the table. But Thomas was the workhorse this spring, and if Marshall and Tyner are slow to develop, the burden of carrying the running game falls on Thomas' frame. Like many, I'm eager to see what he does while consistently getting 15-plus carries per game. He's only had five double-digit-carry games in his career and three 100-yard rushing games -- two of which came on a combined nine carries (Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl after the 2011 season and Fresno State in 2012).

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Rob HoltJunior linebacker James Vaughters gets his chance to live up to the recruiting hype at Stanford.
Obum Gwacham or Richard Mullaney, WRs, Oregon State: Someone at Oregon State earlier in the week told me this: One of these guys has to step up for the Beavers' offense to function properly. So, by definition, if one of them doesn't step up, the offense will function improperly. Not what you want when you have a quarterback competition going on. At 6-foot-5, 227 pounds, Gwacham has tantalizing measurables. But he's had also had a case of the dropsies. Mullaney has the hands, but not the same speed as the last guy to occupy this position, Markus Wheaton. Brandin Cooks was the benefactor of Wheaton's success last year. And while a case can be made that it's Cooks who has something to prove -- to show he can be a legitimate No. 1 without Wheaton -- there is only so much he can do on his own. He needs someone else to step up opposite him. Kevin Cummings will continue to work in the slot and underneath, but the Beavers must have a second outside threat if Cooks is going to improve upon his already-impressive numbers from last season.

James Vaughters, OLB, Stanford: Vaughters was used judiciously in his freshman year in 2011. Even when Shayne Skov went down for the season -- and many thought it would be Vaughter's chance to step up -- he was still used on a limited basis while Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley filled that void. Last year Vaughters moved to the inside, but Tarpley proved to be more productive alongside Skov. With Chase Thomas gone, Vaughters figures to be the primary guy filling that spot. Outside is a more natural position for him, and with Trent Murphy on the other side, it should provide Vaughters plenty of opportunity to showcase his skills. He has all the tools to be an elite player and was considered the jewel of the 2011 recruiting class. He's in a position to excel. And if he can, he makes one of the nation's best defenses that much better.

Keith Price, QB, Washington: Obvious? Yeah. But so much of Washington's success rides on the play of its once-budding slinger. If you read the intro, Price certainly qualifies as a guy with something to prove. His 2011 season was spectacular. In a year when Andrew Luck shined and Matt Barkley appeared to be a sure-fire first-round pick, Price looked like he was on pace to have that sort of collegiate career. But he regressed in 2012. It wasn't all his fault. There were injuries across the offensive line that certainly were major contributing factors. But at the same time, Price is the quarterback, and part of his job is taking the praise and the heat. As a result, he forced way too many plays and didn't trust the offense. He needs to rely more on his playmakers instead of "trying to play hero." His words, not mine. The pieces appear to be in place for him to succeed in 2013. He's got a 1,000-yard rusher, an elite tight end, good receivers and a healthy line. Time to step up and put the seven-win jokes to bed.

Logan Mayes, LB, Washington State: Maybe it's too much to ask of Mayes ... to step in and fill the void of the departed Travis Long, who was quietly one of the Pac-12's elite defensive players the past couple of seasons. Maybe it's not. Maybe Mayes is good enough to be the team's premier defensive player in the "buck" linebacker spot. To be fair, it probably won't be all Mayes. Expect a healthy rotation of Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio as well. But no doubt, that position is of great importance to what coordinator Mike Breske wants to do on defense -- and filling the hole vacated by Long is a top priority. Mayes played pretty well in the Apple Cup in Long's absence, posting five tackles and a pair of hits on the aforementioned Price. People forget that Washington State was one of the best teams in the nation last season at generating sacks and tackles for loss (11th nationally in sacks, seventh in TFLs), so maintaining that high level will be a priority.
You might have noticed a theme this week. We kicked off the "Biggest Shoes" series and had two polls (North and South) on replacing departed players. So that means it's now time for your Pac-12 bloggers to weigh in on which two players we believe leave the biggest holes. Given our penchant for quarterbacks, you might find our two choices surprising. Read on.

Ted Miller: I do not know what size 6-foot-3, 320-pound Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei's shoes are, but I'd bet they are among the biggest in the Pac-12 -- in more ways than one.

The thing about replacing a dominant interior defensive lineman is that it's difficult to measure what you're losing. An All-America receiver or running back or even cornerback leaves, and you feel fairly comfortable quantifying what is lost and must be replaced. Lotulelei, however, was more than the sum of his stats -- 42 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five sacks, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and a very important blocked kick.

Lotulelei changed what an offense could do. He changed blocking schemes. He demanded specific attention from an offensive coordinator and a line coach. He made sure the interior of the opposing offensive line -- even if the offense was winning the overall battle -- wanted to ask for its check.

He was a unique presence. An anomaly. A college center could start 48 games in his career and face a guy like him just once. That's why Lotulelei will be a first-round NFL draft pick, even with a heart condition. He could get picked in the top five if a team deems him healthy.

But his shoes are even bigger because Utah, after a disappointing defensive campaign in 2012, is replacing three of four defensive linemen. Moreover, the Utes were unhappy with their linebacker play last fall, even with all the protection Lotulelei provided. Opposing offensive lines, unencumbered by the need to double-team Lotulelei every play, will get a lot more hats on those linebackers in 2013. Not what coach Kyle Whittingham wants.

[+] EnlargeSam Schwartzstein
Charles Baus/CSMCenter Sam Schwartzstein was a huge piece of Stanford's recent offensive success.
The cupboard isn't empty. The Utes are high on Tenny Palepoi, a 305-pound senior who played well as the backup to defensive tackle Dave Kruger last season. And there are other big bodies: LT Tuipulotu, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, a 320-pound redshirt freshman, and Viliseni Fauonuku will be in the mix.

Yet the Utes defensive coaches won't even pretend one of those guys will fill Lotulelei's shoes. They are just too big.

Kevin Gemmell: This is a tough one. I've been going through a bunch of players all week long trying to come to a conclusion on which one I wanted to write about (and Lotulelei was already taken). All of them are important -- Matt Barkley, Khaled Holmes, Robert Woods, Jordan Poyer, Travis Long, Markus Wheaton, Brandon Magee, Desmond Trufant, Stepfan Taylor, Johnathan Franklin, Zach Ertz, Dion Jordan and … (insert name I unintentionally omitted and now you feel wildly offended).

There really is no wrong answer here. Each player is a major contributor to his team in his own way. But the one name that kept coming back to me is Stanford center Sam Schwartzstein. I know, not as exciting as Kenjon Barner or glamorous as Matt Scott. But in terms of sheer contributions to the team that will be tough to replace, Schwartzstein has to be in the conversation.

In 2011, he was regarded as having the second-best football mind on the team -- behind only Andrew Luck. And he didn't lose any of that in 2012.

After the quarterback, there is no more important position on Stanford's offense than the center. He makes all of the scheme and protection calls at the line of scrimmage. He even calls plays in the huddle when the Cardinal go into the Wildcat.

Schwartzstein started every game since taking over for All-American Chase Beeler, and twice he blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in Taylor. The Cardinal played 14 games in 2012 and allowed just 20 sacks. In the 12-game regular season, they had allowed a conference-best 17. The year before that? Just 11 in 13 games. I know for a fact that there were zero quarterback-center exchange fumbles in 2011. And none comes to mind in 2012.

Khalil Wilkes, who started almost every game last year at left guard (one start at left tackle) moves over to compete with Conor McFadden for the gig. Maybe the transition from Schwartzstein to one of those guys will go as smoothly as the handoff from Beeler to Schwartzstein. After all, the new center will have one bona-fide All-American at his side and potentially a couple more on the line.

But they won't be the ones making the calls. That falls on the center -- and Schwartzstein was outstanding at it. He was second-team all-conference and honored with the school's leadership award. Not Taylor, not Ertz. Not Shayne Skov nor Ryan Hewitt nor the aforementioned All-American David Yankey. The center … the most crucial position in Stanford's offense that you never hear about.

Tough shoes to fill, indeed.
We did a top-25 Pac-12 players list, and then asked you to provide your own.

The response was strong. Both in numbers of entries and the overall quality. A few of you listed mostly guys from your favorite team. One guy took the time to type out Matt Barkley 25 times.

I couldn't publish them all, of course. Further, I didn't consider ones that listed 25 guys with no explanation -- YOU DIDN'T FOLLOW DIRECTIONS! -- and I didn't include ones that just said "switch these two players, drop Reggie Dunn and your list would be perfect."

I also have a celebrity contribution, the last one, that I found pretty interesting.

Couple of general thoughts:
Once again, here's our list.

No. 1: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
No. 2: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
No. 3: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
No. 4: Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
No. 5: Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
No. 6: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No. 7: Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
No. 8: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
No. 9: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
No. 10: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
No. 11: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
No. 12: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 13: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
No. 14: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
No. 15: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
No. 16: Trent Murphy, OLB, Stanford
No. 17: Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford
No. 18: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
No. 19: David Yankey, OL, Stanford
No. 20: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
No. 21: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
No. 22: Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
No. 24: Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
No. 25: Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah

Here are some of your thoughts.

Braxton from Fargo, N.D.:

1. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
3. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona
4. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
5. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
6. Jonathan Franklin, RB, UCLA
7. Matt Scott, QB, Arizona
8. Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
9. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
10. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford
11. Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
12. Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford
13. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
14. David Yankey, OL, Stanford
15. Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
16. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
17. Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
18. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
19. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
20. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
21. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
22. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
23. Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
24. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
25. Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

First off I do not think a sole kick returner (Reggie Dunn) belongs in a top 25 player list. I would make an exception with De'Anthony Thomas, though he plays a much more vital role in Oregon's offense, than Dunn in Utah's offense. Leaving off Austin Seferian-Jenkins is absurd. If you would take off Seferian-Jenkins off Washington's offense, they would be incredibly one-demensional. Taylor Kelly almost made my list, but I just didn't see enough fire-power in him through the season.

My take: Reasonable list. Added Seferian-Jenkins, Sankey and Trufant -- three Huskies -- and dropped Dunn, Kelly and Crichton. Could be argued.

(Read full post)

Continuing with the hits and misses from Pac-12 recruiting.

CALIFORNIA

Needs filled: The Bears added nice depth to the offensive line with tackles Aaron Cochran and Erik Bunte. Junior-college transfer Sione Sina can also be a nice stopgap at defensive end. They went heavy in the trenches with five offensive linemen and seven defensive linemen.

Holes remaining: Cal is looking for a quarterback to run the new-look offense under new head coach Sonny Dykes. Could be Zach Kline of the 2012 recruiting class. Could be Jared Goff of this year's class, an early enrollee. The Bears addressed a lot of positions, but whether some youngsters can step up remains to be seen. The 11th-hour flip of offensive guard Cameron Hunt to Oregon has to sting.

OREGON

Needs filled: The Ducks went heavy on offense, and running back Thomas Tyner highlights a group that is loaded with speed (what did you expect, it's Oregon). They added two stellar offensive guards in Hunt and Evan Voeller and a premier defensive end in Torrodney Prevot, previously a USC commit. There are speedy receivers down the line like Darren Carrington. And they added kicker Matt Wogan. The Ducks were 11th in the conference in field goals made in 2012.

Holes remaining: The Ducks still have holes to fill at linebacker. Junior-college transfer Joe Walker, an outside linebacker, could step in to help immediately. But with the losses of inside linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso, the Ducks have mostly untested talent at the position and this year's class didn't add much depth to a position that is already a question mark.

OREGON STATE

Needs filled: When you look at the top two players the Beavers lost -- Jordan Poyer and Markus Wheaton -- it's nice to look at their recruiting class and see a cornerback and wide receiver as the two highest-rated players. Dashon Hunt and Hunter Jarmon might never develop into a Poyer or a Wheaton, but the Beavers saw the holes and addressed them. JC defensive tackles Kyle Peko and Edwin Delva should help immediately and Kyle Kempt could develop into the quarterback of the future in a couple of years. a href="http://espn.go.com/college-sports/football/recruiting/player/_/id/136903/jordan-villamin">Jordan Villamin, 6-foot-4 wide receiver, might also develop into a nice red zone target.

Holes remaining: The JC transfers help with the defensive line in the immediate future, but the Beavers signed only two high school defensive linemen, leaving some questions about depth in the future. It's likely a position they'll address heavily next season.

STANFORD

Needs filled: This is a class low on numbers, but extremely high on potential. If quarterback Ryan Burns is as advertised, it's possible he could challenge for the starting job as early as 2014. Francis Owusu has tremendous upside as a receiver and Peter Kalambayi adds depth to one of the best front sevens in the nation. Plus, three tight ends (Austin Hooper, Greg Taboada and Eric Cotton Jr.). How very Stanfordish of them.

Holes remaining: The Cardinal loaded up on defensive linemen with five last year and there is plenty of depth, albeit untested, at running back. The Cardinal didn't sign any running backs or defensive linemen this year. It's not a bad thing -- for now. But if a couple of guys get injured or if there is any attrition, it could bite them. For now, the Cardinal seem to be in good shape across all positions.

WASHINGTON

Needs filled: The Huskies added some much-needed depth on the defensive line with five linemen -- headlined by ESPN 150 defensive tackle Elijah Qualls. Damore'ea Stringfellow and Darrell Daniels -- both ESPN 150 wide receivers -- provide a nice one-two offensive punch. Troy Williams, the nation's No. 3-rated dual-threat quarterback -- could potentially be the heir apparent to Keith Price. It was a good class that fills a lot of needs.

Holes remaining: For solid as the defensive line class was, the Huskies signed only three offensive linemen -- though one of them is Dane Crane, the nation's No. 4-rated center. If you recall, however, the Huskies were decimated with offensive line injuries this year and coach Steve Sarkisian made it a point to talk about the team needing more depth to be able to absorb that kind of injury hit. Three more guys helps; but is it enough to sustain them if another injury bug ravishes the line?

WASHINGTON STATE

Needs filled: This was quietly a very good encore recruiting class for Mike Leach in his second season at the helm. It's heavy on linemen, heavy in the secondary and it's headlined by a four-star wide receiver in Vince Mayle -- a JC transfer from Rocklin, Calif. Interestingly enough, it also has two fairly highly rated running backs. We know Leach isn't going to be a run-first guy -- but the Cougars could certainly use the help after rushing for 29.1 yards per game last season.

Holes remaining: Who is going to run the offense? It could be Connor Halliday. But it's also possible Leach pulls the trigger on Tyler Bruggman, the No. 22-rated pocket passer in the country from Phoenix. That remains the No. 1 priority for the Cougars in the offseason. Otherwise, this recruiting class plugged a lot of holes. The question is whether they are the right guys to help immediately.

Q&A: Oregon State's Mike Riley

November, 30, 2012
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Here's something a little different for this week's Friday Q&A. In honor of tonight's championship game, I thought it would be fun to talk to a coach who has seen Stanford and UCLA this season. Even during a game week, Oregon State coach Mike Riley was kind enough to take a few minutes to chat with the Pac-12 blog about the matchup. The Beavers beat UCLA in September 27-20 but fell to the Cardinal 27-23 earlier this month.

Here is Riley's take on each team and the game (plus a brief discussion about Brandin Cooks, because Riley and I tend to get chatty when we talk):

What has impressed you most about Stanford?

Mike Riley: Their consistency this year has been outstanding. They've stayed true to their course. They have a great running game. They use multiple tight ends. They have an identity there that they just continue to build on and force upon others. They are a powerful football team, and they utilize their personnel so well. They changed quarterbacks late in the year and haven't missed a beat. In fact, I think this [Kevin] Hogan has really added to their team with his athletic ability. They are just an all-around, good solid football team with one of the best defenses in the country. They were the best defense we've seen this year. They play hard, they play smart, and they are complemented well by what they do offensively.

[+] EnlargeMike Riley
AP Photo/Don RyanMike Riley says it will be mentally challenging to play the same team just six days later.
How about UCLA?

MR: They've done a great job with a first-year staff of looking at that team and placing personnel -- both on offense and defense -- in good spots to really enhance their talent. I think that's a real good coaching job by Jim Mora and his staff. Noel Mazzone, their offensive coordinator, does a great job with the young talent at quarterback, and they've been productive offensively and dynamic defensively. For the first year in that program, they've done exceedingly well. Just a good, well-coached football team. Very good special teams. One of the best specialists in the country with [Jeff] Locke. They do a great job in all three phases.

Anything stand out that you remember from either of the games? Highlights or lowlights?

MR: Playing against Stanford's defense is no fun -- or their offense. I'll tell you that. Everything is hard. I think that we had a two-score lead in the third quarter and we had that quarterback sacked and he made a fantastic play -- probably the play of the game -- to [Stepfan] Taylor. He flipped the ball out to him. Then you've got a great back in space, uncovered, and he takes it 50 yards for a touchdown. That really changed the dynamic of that game in a hurry. That was a memorial lowlight in that game.

UCLA was just a hard-fought, good football game that went back and forth. We hit a couple of big plays. A big pass to Markus Wheaton for a touchdown and a big pass to Brandin Cooks for a touchdown. And defensively I thought we did a really good job against a hard offense to contain. They've got the quarterback, the running back, good receivers, a big tight end. We just hung on and scratched and clawed. At the time, it was a huge victory for the Beavers because it was so hard-fought against a good football team. And at that time, we didn't know how good they'd be, and they ended up being one of the best in the league.

I was at both games, and I thought the slant pass to Brandin against UCLA was really his coming-out moment.

MR: It was. That was kind of the beginning of what we hopefully envisioned as the duo of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Markus, we knew about. Brandin was a young talented guy, and they both ended up as 1,000-yard receivers this year, which is hard to do, and we've had a lot of fun with them. But I think you're right. That was a big, big moment for Brandin and for what he would mean to the Beavers for the whole year.

As a head coach, how tough is it to turn around and play a team six days later?

MR: It's an interesting dynamic that hardly ever happens in college football. I've had a ton of experience with it because I coached in the Canadian Football League. And it's a real mental game. It's very interesting. We would literally play back-to-back with some teams every year. One time we played Toronto -- I think my last year in the Canadian League in 1990 -- we played Toronto five times. And we beat them every time, but the last one was the hardest. We beat them on a field goal on the last play of the game. It's very difficult to win back-to-back when the teams are good and very evenly matched. Stanford's got a big chore this week because they had their way last week. But to repeat that thing, there's a lot of mind games to it. Now Stanford is a mentally tough football game, but it's going to be harder.

Pac-12 2012 awards announced

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
3:14
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The Pac-12 conference has announced its 2012 individual honors and all-conference first and second teams as voted on by the coaches.

Offensive Player of the Year: Marqise Lee, WR, USC.
Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Will Sutton, DE, Arizona State.
Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon.
Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Leonard Williams, DE, USC.
Coach of the Year: David Shaw, Stanford.

FIRST-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Marcus Mariota, Fr., Oregon
RB Kenjon Barner, Sr., Oregon
RB Ka’Deem Carey, So., Arizona
WR Marqise Lee, So., USC
WR Markus Wheaton, Sr., Oregon State
TE Zach Ertz, Sr., Stanford
OL Hroniss Grasu, So., Oregon
OL Khaled Holmes, Sr., USC
OL Brian Schwenke, Sr., California
OL Xavier Su’a-Filo, So., UCLA
OL David Yankey, Jr., Stanford

SECOND-TEAM OFFENSE

QB Matt Scott, Sr., Arizona
RB Johnathan Franklin, Sr., UCLA
RB Stepfan Taylor, Sr., Stanford
WR Austin Hill, So., Arizona
WR Robert Woods, Jr., USC
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, So., Washington
OL Jeff Baca, Sr., UCLA
OL David Bakhtiari, Jr., Colorado
OL Sam Brenner, Sr., Utah
OL Kevin Danser, Sr., Stanford
OL Sam Schwartzstein, Sr., Stanford

FIRST-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Scott Crichton, So., Oregon State
DL Dion Jordan, Sr., Oregon
DL Star Lotulelei, Sr., Utah (2)
DL Will Sutton, Jr., Arizona State
LB Anthony Barr, Jr., UCLA
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford
LB Chase Thomas, Sr., Stanford (2)
DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, So., Oregon
DB Jordan Poyer, Sr., Oregon State
DB Ed Reynolds, Jr., Stanford
DB Desmond Trufant, Sr., Washington

SECOND-TEAM DEFENSE

DL Henry Anderson, Jr., Stanford
DL Morgan Breslin, Jr., USC
DL Ben Gardner, Sr., Stanford
DL Datone Jones, Sr., UCLA
LB Kiko Alonso, Sr., Oregon
LB Michael Clay, Sr., Oregon
LB Brandon Magee, Sr., Arizona State
DB Deone Bucannon, Jr., Washington State
DB Alden Darby, Jr., Arizona State
DB T.J. McDonald, Sr., USC
DB Nickell Robey, Jr., USC

FIRST-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Vince D'Amato, Jr., California
P Jeff Locke, Sr., UCLA
RS Reggie Dunn, Sr., Utah
ST Jordan Jenkins, Sr., Oregon State

SECOND-TEAM SPECIALISTS

PK Andrew Furney, Jr., Washington State
P Josh Hubner, Sr., Arizona State
RS Marqise Lee, So., USC
ST David Allen, Sr., UCLA

ALL-PAC-12 HONORABLE MENTION
NOTES
  • By School: OREGON and STANFORD placed the most players on the first team with five selections each, followed by OREGON STATE with four.
  • By Class: Of the 26 first-team selections, 14 are seniors, five are juniors, six are sophomores and one freshman.
  • Unanimous: Only one player was named on the first-team ballot of all 12 head coaches--WR Marqise Lee of USC.
  • Two-time selections: Two players are repeat first-team selections from last year--DT Star Lotulelei of Utah, LB Chase Thomas of Stanford.
  • All-Academic: Two players were named to the first team on both the All-Pac-12 Team and the Pac-12 All-Academic Football Team--P Jeff Locke of UCLA, OL Khaled Holmes, USC. In addition, OL Kevin Danser of Stanford, DL Ben Gardner of Stanford and Michael Clay of Oregon were named second-team All-Academic and second-team All-Pac-12.
Tags:

David Shaw, Terrence Stephens, Jordan Richards, Ty Montgomery, Stepfan Taylor, Stanford Cardinal, Alex Debniak, Trent Murphy, Zach Ertz, Chase Thomas, Henry Anderson, Ryan Hewitt, David Yankey, Sam Schwartzstein, Cameron Fleming, Shayne Skov, Oregon Ducks, Levine Toilolo, Ben Gardner, Arizona Wildcats, Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, UCLA Bruins, Kevin Danser, USC Trojans, Drew Terrell, Colorado Buffaloes, Terrence Brown, Usua Amanam, Johnathan Franklin, Joseph Fauria, Washington Huskies, Washington State Cougars, Arizona State Sun Devils, California Bears, Oregon State Beavers, Utah Utes, T.J. McDonald, Andre Heidari, Nickell Robey, Jordan Poyer, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas, Josh Huff, Keenan Allen, Steve Williams, Marqise Lee, Deone Bucannon, Daniel Zychlinski, Kevin Hogan, Alex Carter, Star Lotulelei, Ed Reynolds, Brandin Cooks, Markus Wheaton, Matt Scott, Bishop Sankey, David Bakhtiari, Ka'Deem Carey, Dan Buckner, Kasen Williams, Shaq Evans, Desmond Trufant, Justin Glenn, Sean Parker, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Silas Redd, Dion Bailey, John White IV, Michael Clay, Dion Jordan, Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Taylor Kelly, Eric Rowe, Xavier Grimble, Datone Jones, Morgan Breslin, Travis Long, Will Sutton, Colt Lyerla, Jake Fischer, Josh Hubner, Scott Crichton, Reggie Dunn, Isaac Remington, Kiko Alonso, Taylor Hart, Eric Kendricks, Andrew Furney, Brandon Magee, Marion Grice, Anthony Barr, Alden Darby, Alex Lewis, Andrew Abbott, Andrew Hudson, Andrew Seumalo, Austin Hill, Avery Sebastian, Brendan Bigelow, Brett Bartolone, Brian Blechen, Brian Schwenke, Carl Bradford, Cassius Marsh, Chris Coyle, Chris McCain, Christian Powell, Cyrus Coen, D.J. Foster, Damien Thigpen, Daniel Munyer, Daniel Simmons, Danny Shelton, Darragh O'Neill, Darryl Monroe, David Allen, Deveron Carr, Drew Schaefer, Elliott Bosch, Evan Finkenberg, George Uko, Grant Enger, Hayes Pullard, Hroniss Grasu, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Isaac Seumalo, Jake Brendel, Jake Fisher, Jake Murphy, Jared Tevis, Jaxon Hood, Jeff baca, Jeff Locke, Jeremiah Poutasi, Joe Kruger, John Martinez, John Timu, Jordan Jenkins, Josh Hill, Keelan Johnson, Kenneth Crawley, Kyle Negrete, Kyle Quinn, Leonard Williams, Marques Moseley, Max Tuerk, Nate Fakahafua, Nick Kasa, Osahon Irabor, Rashaad Reynolds, Rashad Ross, Sam Brenner, Sean Sellwood, Shaq Thompson, Teondray Caldwell, Terrance Mitchell, Tevita Stevens, Tony Burnett, Travis Feeney, Trevor Reilly, Trevor Romaine, Vince D'Amato, Wade Keliikippi, Wes Horton, Will Perciak, Xavier Cooper, Xavier Su'a-Filo, Yuri Wright

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
9:00
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Upsets aplenty in the final week of the regular season.
  • Andrew Furney, K, Washington State: The kicker was absolutely nails in the Apple Cup, converting all three of his field goal attempts, including a 45-yard game-tying field goal late in the fourth and the game-winner in overtime. He also hit a 21-yard kick to open the scoring in the Cougars' 31-28 win.
  • Reggie Dunn, KR, Utah: Utes’ coach Kyle Whittingham said what we were all thinking after Utah’s 42-35 win over Colorado: “I can’t believe they kicked to him.” Dunn did it again -- returning a kickoff 100 yards for the fourth time this season. It proved to be decisive points.
  • Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State: When the Wildcats turned the ball over, it was Grice who made them pay, rushing for three touchdowns (all off of turnovers) and 156 yards on 18 carries (8.7 average) during Arizona State's 41-34 win.
  • Brandon Magee, LB, Arizona State: A few different defensive players from ASU could get the nod, but Magee was on fire, notching 17 total tackles (14 solo) plus a game-high three tackles for a loss.
  • Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford: He tallied two sacks and two tackles for a loss in Stanford’s 35-17 win over UCLA -- which locked up the Pac-12 North for the Cardinal and set up a rematch with the Bruins next week in the conference championship game.
  • Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford: For the eighth time this year he provided the Cardinal with a plus-100-yard rushing performance, tallying 142 yards on 20 carries (7.1 average) and two touchdowns.
  • De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon: For just the second time this year, Thomas crossed the 100-yard rushing mark, totaling 122 yards on 17 carries (7.2 average) with three touchdowns in the Ducks' 48-24 win over Oregon State.
  • Oregon’s back seven: They tallied four interceptions, broke up four passes and kept the dangerous Oregon State receiving tandem of Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks out of the end zone.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 13

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
9:00
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Kevin went 4-2 last week. Ted went 3-3. Kevin is 61-22 for the season. Ted is 59-24.

FRIDAY

UTAH AT COLORADO

Kevin Gemmell: Even though the Utes aren't going bowling this year, revenge is still a factor after what happened in the regular-season finale last year. Folks are trying to build this into a rivalry -- and maybe it will be. But Utah has to win one first. Utah 31, Colorado 17.

Ted Miller: This will become a rivalry as soon as both teams find their footing in the Pac-12. Utah is a bit closer to doing that than Colorado. Utah 38, Colorado 20.

WASHINGTON AT WASHINGTON STATE

Kevin Gemmell: Perhaps a quick burst of life from the Cougs before we pull the plug on what has been a complete bummer of a season. But not enough to top a Washington team that has taken care of its business against a weaker back-end schedule. Washington 35, Washington State 21.

Ted Miller: One of the worst things I heard all week was the likely absence of Cougars defensive end Travis Long, a guy who has busted his butt as a four-year starter for a bad team. He deserved better, and I hope he gets just that in the NFL. If the Huskies show up with focus, they should have no problem. Washington 30, Washington State 17.

ARIZONA STATE AT ARIZONA

Kevin Gemmell: Really, really tough call here. Both teams have so many similarities. And I think both new coaches will make this a great rivalry for years to come. But Ka'Deem Carey has blossomed into one of the nation's best runners, so I'll bank on him at home in a tight one. Arizona 38, Arizona State 35.

Ted Miller: The home team has lost the past three Territorial Cups. That and my need to catch up to Kevin -- he picks first -- are the foundation of my pick here. Arizona State 38, Arizona 35.

SATURDAY

NOTRE DAME AT USC

Kevin Gemmell: The smart money says pick Notre Dame against a USC team that doesn't have Matt Barkley. But I'm going against my instincts, because the Pac-12 homer in me says "Fight On." #beLEEve. USC 35, Notre Dame 21.

Ted Miller: I don't believe. I think a very good Notre Dame team is going to come into the Coliseum and open up a can of whup-butt. If the Trojans show up like they have about half the time this season, they will get embarrassed. Notre Dame 28, USC 17.

STANFORD AT UCLA

Kevin Gemmell: Toughest call of the week by far. I can't recall a team having faced Doak Walker Award finalists in back-to-back weeks to close out a season. But if Stanford's defense plays like it did last week, the Bruins will be hard-pressed to find the end zone. Stanford 21, UCLA 20.

Ted Miller: I know that the UCLA guys are really competitive and want to win this game because competitive folks always want to win. But there's surely just this little inkling that it might boost the Bruins' Rose Bowl chances to not go to Oregon next Friday in the Pac-12 championship game, which would happen if they beat the Cardinal and the Ducks beat Oregon State. UCLA, which has already won the South Division, probably would rather visit Stanford for Take 2 six days later with the Rose Bowl on the line than go to Eugene. Stanford 27, UCLA 20.

OREGON AT OREGON STATE

Kevin Gemmell: Love everything about the Beavers this year. But I suspect a bitter Oregon team that still has a shot at the conference championship and an outside chance at the national title game returns to form (at least offensively) in the Civil War. I still see a big day for Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks. Oregon 45, Oregon State 38.

Ted Miller: I would not be shocked if Oregon State pulled the upset because of how the Beavers have played this year, consistently thwarting all doubters. But I'm still going with the Ducks because I remain unconvinced -- call me stubborn or something more colorful -- that any other team in the nation is better than Oregon, no matter what happened last week. Oregon 40, Oregon State 28.

Pregame: Oregon State at Stanford

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
11:57
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STANFORD, Calif. -- When Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes made his first career start earlier this year at home against San Jose State, head coach David Shaw ran a very vanilla offense and didn’t ask Andrew Luck’s successor to do too much.

This afternoon against No. 11 Oregon State, Shaw probably won’t have the luxury of patience with Kevin Hogan making his first career start.

Expect Hogan to attack a very talented Oregon State defense with more zone-read option running. It was a special option package that got Hogan on the field in three games earlier this year and it’s the portion of the offense he knows the best. Shaw said Hogan knows about “80 percent” of Stanford's playbook.

He’ll be running against an Oregon State front seven that is second only to Stanford against the run in the Pac-12 rankings.

Across the field, look for Oregon State's Cody Vaz to get connected with receivers Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks early and often. The duo is fast, explosive, and will test a Cardinal secondary that yields 266.1 yards in the air per game. Vaz is making his fourth career start and is 3-0 as a starter -- including a road win at BYU.

Pac-12: Who will transform tomorrow?

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
9:00
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It's crunch time for Ed Reynolds and the Stanford defense. With Oregon State coming to town in the biggest game of the season (so far), points are expected to be at a premium as the league's top two defenses square off.

So far this year, Reynolds has taken a preseason question mark and turned it into one of Stanford's greatest assets. How would the Cardinal replace Michael Thomas and Delano Howell at safety? Reynolds has answered the question with a league-high five interceptions (tied with OSU's Jordan Poyer), including three that he returned for touchdowns.

There is plenty on the line Saturday. Both teams are still in contention for the Pac-12 North and both still have a showdown with Oregon looming. And to make things more interesting, neither team is using its Week 1 starting quarterback.

So with marginally-experienced backup Cody Vaz and newly-minted starter Kevin Hogan calling the shots for their teams, it's expected that the defenses will feast. One big wrinkle, however, is that Vaz is 3-0 as a starter, has won on the road, and has the league's top wide receiver duo at his disposal.

The speed that Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks possess puts a huge strain on secondaries. Vaz has shown that he has the arm to go over the top, so keeping everything in front and swarming to the ball in the secondary will be a top priority.

Stanford's front seven should take care of an OSU rushing attack that is improving, but not yet stellar. But a complete defensive effort will be needed against the Beavers, because they find creative ways to use their receivers. Be it misdirection, fly sweeps, wide receiver screens are just a good old fashioned slant pass, Vaz will look to get his guys involved early and often.

Reynolds and Co. shouldn't be lulled by the fact that Vaz is the starter, because with the talent he has around him, damage can be done. Big, big test for the Reynolds and the Cardinal's defensive backfield.
The Pac-12 game of the week is Oregon State's visit to Stanford, and Ted and Kevin picked different winners. Kevin went with the Beavers and Ted picked Stanford.

They break down their divergent reasoning here.

Kevin Gemmell: It's not often that you and I disagree on game picks. And the fact that we're disagreeing for the same reasons -- quarterback play -- makes for a fun debate. I picked Oregon State to win on the road this week because when push comes to shove, we at least know a little more about Oregon State's Cody Vaz than we know about Stanford's Kevin Hogan.

We know Vaz is 3-0 as a starter. We know he has two of the best wide receivers in the conference (country?) to throw to. And we know he can handle the pressures that come from starting on the road. And while he's fairly green in overall experience, he's been in the program for a few years and knows the playbook. Hogan, by David Shaw's own admission, has about only 80 percent of Stanford's playbook down.

[+] EnlargeCody Vaz and Mike Riley
AP Photo/Rick BowmerHow will Mike Riley's offense run under quarterback Cody Vaz against a stout Stanford defense?
And, maybe most importantly of all, we know there is an In-N-Out Burger exactly 4.9 miles from Stanford Stadium in nearby Mountain View. If that doesn't motivate Vaz and the Beavers to an all-world performance, then I don't know what will.

The similarities between these teams are glaring -- from their offensive and defensive philosophies down to their impressive defensive statistics. Oregon State is 3-1 on the road this year, having scored victories over three teams that are either currently ranked or have been ranked. Two of those came with QB Sean Mannion at the helm. The third -- at BYU -- was Vaz's handiwork, against a team that lost by a point to Boise State and pushed Notre Dame to the brink.

While Stanford's rush defense is no doubt impressive, the Cardinal can be beaten on quick-hit slants and midrange passes. We've seen Mike Riley use this several times to make safeties commit closer to the line of scrimmage to set up deeper tosses as the game progresses. Eventually, this opens up one-on-one coverage for Markus Wheaton or Brandin Cooks over the top. And we know Vaz can deliver the deep ball along with the midrange passes.

I don't doubt Vaz will have some struggles against Stanford's defense. Ed Reynolds is playing some of the best safety in the country right now. He's smart enough not to get sucked in. But in a game that is expected to be low-scoring, all it takes is one hesitation against OSU's wide receivers and they are gone.

On the other side, a healthy Jordan Poyer is athletic enough to keep up with Zach Ertz -- the favorite target of Stanford's quarterbacks. Look for single coverage on Ertz if/when he splits out. He'll get his catches, but the Oregon State secondary is athletic and talented enough to negate his impact.

In the end, Oregon State has more weapons at Vaz's disposal, and the limited experience he does have will pay dividends.

Ted Miller: Kevin makes a strong case, and this is a difficult game to pick. Vaz has answered the call in his previous three starts. There are plenty of similarities between these teams. And differences.

Both lost at Washington in games both probably feel like they blew. Both have very good defenses, particularly against the run.

So why give Stanford the edge, particularly with Stanford's Hogan making his first career start at QB, against a defensive front that will get after him? Further, Vaz has an outstanding receiver combination; Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks will tax the Cardinal secondary. Hogan has some nice tight ends, but his receivers aren't in the same class.

There are three reasons I like Stanford:

1. Stanford is at home.
2. The Cardinal have a better offensive line.
3. USC.

What's USC got to do with this? The Trojans brought a pro-style offense to Palo Alto that featured an elite receiver combination and lost 21-14 after they lost the battle at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

I think this one plays out the same way, with the Cardinal winning the line of scrimmage.

Oregon State's most obvious weakness this year is a middling running game, one that ranks 10th in the conference. The Beavers won't be able to run against Stanford, which has the nation's No. 1 run defense. That means Vaz will have to throw the ball. Well, guess who also leads the nation in sacks?

Yep, the Cardinal, with a beastly 4.33 per game.

Vaz has faced some good defenses, and he's faced some good defenses on the road. But he hasn't faced one with as formidable a front seven as the Cardinal.

Oregon State also has a good front seven and a very good run defense. But I expect Stanford's offensive line to at least reach a stalemate. I think running back Stepfan Taylor is going to be able to grind out some yards, and that will make life easier for Hogan.

This game looks like a tight, low-scoring, defensive-minded affair. But I expect Stanford to grind out a victory.

Video: Friday Four Downs -- Pac-12

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
8:00
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Taking a look at four major issue for the Pac-12 in Week 11.

What to watch in the Pac-12: Week 2

September, 6, 2012
9/06/12
7:15
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Here are some of the storylines to keep an eye on in Week 2.

1. Who can rebound? Washington State, Cal and Colorado will all look to get in the win column this week after disappointing debuts. Each has something specific it needs to work on in Week 2. The Bears need to find a way to get off the field on third down, Colorado needs to find a running game, and Washington State needs to find a little confidence (positive rushing yards wouldn't be bad, either). And even though Stanford won last week, there was a vibe around the team that a 20-17 against San Jose State isn't going to cut it. And they are right. After this week's game against Duke, USC comes to town and then a big road trip to Washington. Cal has its big matchup with Ohio State looming as well. A lot needs to be sorted out for these four teams in Week

2. Super schedule: Some huge measuring-stick games this week against out-of-conference, BCS-conference foes (seven total). UCLA will see what they really have in Brett Hundleywhen he sees a Nebraska defense that won't be as generous as Rice. And we'll see if Arizona State and Arizona are the real deal when they take on Illinois and Oklahoma State, respectively. While it was nice to see all three win in Week 1, the big question now is whether they can all sustain it with the competition level being increased dramatically. And there are a couple more nonconference games we should mention ...

3. What about the Beavers? Mike Riley joked that so far this season feels like the training camp that would never end. As last week's game against Nicholls State was re-routed because of Hurricane Isaac, we're still not sure what we're getting with Oregon State. We know they want to run the football, and Storm Woods is the guy to do it. At question is whether they'll have success against Wisconsin. It's tough to open the year against a ranked opponent, and Riley called this one of the biggest nonconference games in school history. Also eager to see how much progress Sean Mannion has made and how OSU's passing attack led by Markus Wheaton stacks up against the Badgers. By the way, big ups to OSU, which will have volunteers from the American Red Cross at Reser Stadium to take donations that go to victims of Hurricane Isaac. Classy gesture.

4. What about the Huskies? Grrr ... the SEC. They win national championships. They dominate the rankings. Their fans come to our blog and troll with impunity. Grrr. How well will the Huskies represent the conference when they travel to Baton Rouge? Washington showed a lot of inconsistency against San Diego State, particularly on offense. And losing running back Jesse Callier for the season certainly doesn't help the situation. But when the Huskies were clicking, it was Keith Price connecting with Austin Seferian-Jenkins (nine catches, 82 yards) and Kasen Williams (six catches, 75 yards, 1 touchdown). That trio will have to have a monster game to pull off a shocker against the No. 3 team in the land.

5. Desert defense: Some interesting matchups when you look at Arizona and Arizona State's competition -- particularly at the quarterback spot. How will the Wildcats fare against Oklahoma State freshman quarterback Wes Lunt, who actually saw less field time last week than Marcus Mariota? The Sun Devils might or might not face Illinois starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who has been out with an ankle injury. Head coach Todd Graham said they are prepping to face Scheelhasse, though there's a good chance (depending on which update you read at any particular hour) the Sun Devils could be seeing Reilly O'Toole.

 

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