Stanford Football: Rose Bowl

This week we ranked the Pac-12's nonconference games. There's little question which is the best and most anticipated matchup.

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Which is the second-best Pac-12 nonconference game in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 5,445)

If the idea of Michigan State, the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion and a likely top-five team, visiting Oregon, another likely top-five team, doesn't get your juices flowing, you are probably a zombie, and the proper authorities will be alerted.

But which is the second-best game? Or the one you're most excited about? We see five options. Three involve Notre Dame.

Here's how we previously framed those games.
  • Stanford at Notre Dame, Oct. 4: This has become a strong, national rivalry. The last time the Cardinal played in South Bend, the ending was highly controversial -- the Fighting Irish wouldn't have played for the 2012 national title without a boost from the officials. This game likely reveals the team that is a College Football Playoff candidate.
  • Notre Dame at USC, Nov. 29: It remains the greatest intersectional rivalry in college sports. It would be a good idea for first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian to win this one, as it's a good way to win over his fan base.
  • Notre Dame at Arizona State, Nov. 8: The Fighting Irish tried to get out of this game. They also beat the Sun Devils last season. Arizona State should be plenty motivated in front of what is certain to be a packed house.
  • UCLA vs. Texas, Sept. 13 (Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas): Texas is breaking in new coach Charlie Strong in what is really a glorified home game. UCLA is only trying to announce itself as a national title contender. While the Longhorns are down, they won't lack talent.
  • Utah at Michigan, Sept. 20: Here's a good way for the Utes to announce their return to relevance -- a trip to the Big House. Utah certainly won't be intimidated. It won in Ann Arbor 25-23 in 2008 on its way to an undefeated season. It also lost 10-7 in 2002.

Tradition, obviously, makes the Fighting Irish a draw for national eyeballs, and USC and Stanford are traditional opponents, with the matchup with the Trojans being one of college football's great showcases.

But when something doesn't happen often, such as the Irish visiting Arizona State, that adds some juice.

Speaking of juice -- again -- UCLA's national title hopes could receive some with an impressive performance in front of a huge, antagonistic crowd in the NFL's marquee venue.

And, finally, the Big House is, well, just that: One of college football's most famous venues. The Utes could make some national noise -- and make life really, really difficult for Wolverines coach Brady Hoke -- with an upset victory.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State was one of the nation's hottest teams heading into the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford. It had won seven in a row, the longest winning streak in the conference. Further, it was playing at home, where it was 7-0 with a 28-point average margin of victory. The Cardinal's only two losses came on the road.

That was reasonable grounds to believe that the 11th-ranked Sun Devils would fare better against No. 7 Stanford than in their Sept. 21 meeting, a 42-28 Cardinal whipping that wasn't nearly as close as the final score suggests.

Nope.

Stanford did its smashmouth Stanford thing, and Arizona State was pretty helpless to do what it wanted to do in a 38-14 victory that will send the Cardinal to its second consecutive Rose Bowl, this time opposite Big Ten champion Michigan State.

"They dominated the game -- beat us in every way you can," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said.

And how does Stanford dominate? Said Graham, "They destroyed the line of scrimmage."

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Gaffney got Stanford off to a fast start with a 69-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
That's Stanford's thing. While many teams are spreading out defenses and outflanking them while going up-tempo, Stanford just lines up and tries to knock you over. It's not always pretty. But when Stanford is playing its best, it often renders all schematic complexities used against it irrelevant.

Arizona State had a plan, one that it thought would make things different this time. But it couldn't get started because, as Graham said, Stanford was destroying the line of scrimmage.

"I mean, they've made changes, but the way this team operates and the way we function, it's about us," Cardinal linebacker Shayne Skov said. "Offenses will change, but what matters is what we do defensively and offensively. We have to set the tone. We never want to adjust or have to adapt. We want to be the ones setting the tempo and forcing people to adjust to our style of football."

The Cardinal is now 11-2 after playing one of the nation's toughest schedules. How good are they in big games? Stanford is 10-0 in its past 10 games versus AP-ranked opponents, including 6-0 this season.

It's fair to ask how Stanford lost two games, to Utah and USC. But you won't get many excuses from the Cardinal.

"We bring the effort every week, but we didn't get the results we wanted," Skov said.

Stanford doesn't only grind it out, however. It got its first of nine plays of longer than 20 yards on its first possession when running back Tyler Gaffney slipped around the Sun Devils defense and ran 69 yards for a touchdown.

Gaffney would go on to rush for 133 yards on 22 carries with three touchdowns, earning game MVP honors. When the Cardinal went to the Rose Bowl last year, he was a professional baseball player watching from the sidelines in Pasadena. His return to the team, spurred in large part because of that game reigniting his football itch, is a big reason he's going to play in the Granddaddy himself.

"This is exactly why you come back," he said. "This is what you play for."

He now has rushed for 1,618 yards and a Pac-12 high 20 touchdowns this season.

"There is no question that Tyler Gaffney has been the heartbeat of our offense all year," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Gaffney, you just watch him play, and he gets stronger and stronger. He just drags guys."

While Gaffney was the offensive star, junior quarterback Kevin Hogan's performance was perhaps more notable. He has been up and down this year, but he was decidedly up against the Sun Devils, completing 12 of 18 passes for 277 yards and a score with no interceptions. He also rushed for 24 yards.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
AP Photo/Matt YorkQuarterback Kevin Hogan accounted for 301 yards and a touchdown in directing the Cardinal offense.
"With some of those step-up in the pocket throws and runs, those are huge plays, and we don't win without those plays," Shaw said. "Kevin's got ice water in his veins."

Of course, in contrast to many Pac-12 teams, the Cardinal is defense-first. Stanford held an opponent to 20 or fewer points for the seventh time in as many games. The Cardinal has held opponents to 20 or fewer points in 20 of its past 25 games.

Stanford outgained the Sun Devils 517 yards to 311 and outrushed them 240 to 138, with the Sun Devils getting more than a third of their yards on the ground from a 51-yard first-quarter touchdown run from D.J. Foster. The Sun Devils' other score came on a short pass that Foster turned into a 65-yard touchdown play.

Shaw admitted there was some big-picture, retrospective thinking in his locker room leading up to the game. Stanford, which went 1-11 in 2006, is on an unprecedented run of success, as it becomes the fifth -- and final -- team to go to four straight BCS games.

"I told the players what was at stake," Shaw said. "What was at stake is their legacy."

That legacy is a very specific set of skills. It's simple. And just a bit brutal.

Explained Skov: "We're going to come after you offensively, defensively and attack the line of scrimmage. It's what we do, and we were successful today."

Today and for four consecutive seasons that featured 46 victories, most of which looked a lot like the 2013 Pac-12 championship game.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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1. Stanford: With the win over Notre Dame, Stanford defeated its sixth ranked opponent in a single season for the first time in school history. It also clinched its fourth straight 10-win season. The Cardinal had just three 10-win seasons all time before this streak. They have a chance to secure a second consecutive Rose Bowl berth on Saturday at Arizona State.

2. Arizona State: After blowing out Arizona, the Sun Devils have won seven in a row and are 7-0 at home this season with an average margin of victory of 28 points. If Stanford thinks the Pac-12 title game will be anything like the Sept. 21 game in Palo Alto, it will be in for a long night in Tempe on Saturday.

3. Oregon: The Ducks showed grit winning in the fourth quarter against Oregon State, but it's also fair to say that performance didn't look anything like the September-October squad that dominated on both sides of the ball during an 8-0 start. It seems likely Oregon will eclipse the loser of the Pac-12 title game for the Valero Alamo Bowl slot because of its national brand.

4. UCLA: UCLA's second consecutive win over USC means just what the Bruins and coach Jim Mora said afterward: They own L.A. It's also meaningful that they bounced back strong after the disappointing loss to Arizona State. Next challenge -- other than the bowl game -- is to dominate recruiting in Southern California.

5. USC: Here's a guess that the loss to UCLA likely leaves interim Ed Orgeron outside looking in as far as becoming the Trojans' next coach. Losing to both Notre Dame and the Bruins weighs down a résumé, no matter how much better the product was post-Lane Kiffin.

6. Washington: Steve Sarkisian and the Huskies got over the 7-6 hump with an eighth win in the Apple Cup. Win a bowl game and Sark and company will face a much more positive offseason compared to last year.

7. Washington State: Despite losing the Apple Cup, the Cougars are clearly on an uptick under Mike Leach. A bowl win, of course, would accelerate the upticker.

8. Arizona: It seemed as though the Wildcats used up their A-game in the upset win over Oregon. Rich Rodriguez has posted two solid seasons in Tucson, but going 0-2 versus the hated Sun Devils prevents Wildcats fans from feeling satisfied.

9. Oregon State: The Beavers' preseason worst-case scenario was the possibility of a major second-half slide. That came true, see five consecutive losses. This team needs a bowl game -- to win a bowl game -- just to wash the bad taste out of its mouth.

10. Utah: Lots of offseason questions for the Utes after a second-consecutive bowl-less season, but the chief one is at quarterback. Getting back to a bowl game in 2014 depends on it.

11. Colorado: Even while losing at Utah, it was clear that this team took a big step forward in Year 1 under Mike MacIntyre. The Buffaloes darn near notched a huge comeback on the road, showing fight until the very end. A 4-8 season and 1-8 finish in Pac-12 play might not feel very good overall, but this team is much improved compared to 2012. Now, can it take a big step forward in 2014?

12. California: There is no where to go but up, and Sonny Dykes needs to make some tough calls on his staff. The Bears could energize their fan base with some recruiting wins, seeing that none of those came in Pac-12 play.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 13 in the Pac-12:

Team of the week: Arizona played with near-perfect execution in all three phases while upending No. 5 Oregon 42-16. While the lead to that game was the Ducks' listless effort, the Wildcats deserve plenty of credit for getting after Oregon and closing the deal with authority. The win certainly thickened the plot for the Territorial Cup on Saturday against the Wildcats good buddies in Tempe.

[+] EnlargeSamajie Grant
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesReceiver Samajie Grant (three catches, 38 yards) and the Wildcats jumped all over Oregon early and routed the Ducks.
Best game: Arizona State looked like it was going to blow out UCLA. Then it looked like it was going to choke in the second half. Yet the Sun Devils pulled themselves together just in time and kept the Bruins out of the end zone on their final two possessions in a 38-33 victory. The Sun Devils are a Territorial Cup win away from playing host to Stanford in the Pac-12 title game, which could yield the program's first Rose Bowl since the 1996 season.

Biggest play: UCLA faced a third-and-6 from the Arizona State 7-yard line with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, but QB Brett Hundley was sacked by Sun Devils LB Chris Young for a loss of 13 yards. Bruins kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn, who beat Arizona State with a last-second field goal a year ago, then missed the 38-yard attempt that would have closed the gap to two points.

Offensive standout: Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey rushed for 206 yards and four TDs on 48 carries in the Wildcats' upset win over Oregon. It was his 14th consecutive 100-yard-plus rushing game, an active streak that now is tied for longest by an FBS player over the past 10 seasons (Jerome Harrison, 2004-05). His 48 carries is a new school record and the most so far this season by any FBS running back. He had just two negative yards. He became Arizona's career rushing leader with 3,913 yards, eclipsing Trung Canidate (1996-99). He also set a new school record for career touchdowns with 49, surpassing Art Luppino (1953-56).

Offensive standout II: Stanford WR Ty Montgomery scored five touchdowns in the Cardinal's blowout Big Game win over California. He rushed 31 yards for a score and had TD receptions of 50, 12, 72 and nine yards. He finished with five catches for 160 yards.

Defensive standout: Arizona State LB Chris Young had three sacks and a game-high 13 tackles (12 solo) in the Sun Devils' win at UCLA. The sacks cost the Bruins 27 yards, and two of them came on the Bruins' final two desperation possessions in the fourth quarter.

Defensive standout II: Washington CB Marcus Peters had six tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Huskies' blowout win at Oregon State.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Harry How/Getty ImagesArizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly was 20-of-27 for 225 yards and a touchdown in the Sun Devils' win over UCLA.
Special teams standout: Washington kicker Travis Coons was 2-of-2 on field goals with a long of 44 yards against Oregon State. He also was 9-of-9 on PATs and had three of his four punts killed inside the Beavers 20-yard line.

Smiley face: The state of Arizona: Both the Wildcats and Sun Devils posted impressive wins on Saturday, thereby making the Territorial Cup as meaningful as it has been in years.

Frowny face: The state of Oregon: Both the Ducks and Beavers posted embarrassing performances on Saturday, thereby making the Civil War the least meaningful it has been in years.

Thought of the week: It's great that the Pac-12 is deep. It's great to have nine bowl-eligible teams. But the most important take-away from the conference's late-season swoon in the national picture is this: THE NINE-GAME CONFERENCE SCHEDULE. If the SEC and ACC refuse to play nine conference games, the Pac-12 must -- absolutely must -- revert to an eight-game schedule as we move forward with the four-team playoff. It's simply not fair that on a weekend of major Pac-12 match-ups, most SEC teams are giving themselves a week off with cupcake foes.

Questions for the week: Will rivalry week produce any upset thunderclaps? If USC beats UCLA, that's a thunderclap because it would make Orgeron a frontrunner to become the Trojans' next permanent coach. If Arizona beats Arizona State, that's a thunderclap because the Wildcats would show they are certainly not yielding state dominance to the surging Sun Devils, who would have a much better shot at the Rose Bowl at home in the Pac-12 title game rather than at Stanford. If Washington State beats Washington, that's a thunderclap because Huskies fans might run out of patiences with Steve Sarkisian. If Oregon State beats Oregon, that's a thunderclap because Ducks fans would seriously start to question first-year coach Mark Helfrich. If Colorado beats Utah, that's a thunderclap because the Buffaloes would eclipse the Utes in the Pac-12 pecking order and make Kyle Whittingham's seat hot. And if Notre Dame beats Stanford, that's a thunderclap because the Fighting Irish would be crowned Pac-12 champions by the court of public opinion after also beating ASU and USC.

Pac-12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 12 in the Pac-12.

Team of the week: USC started with a great plan against Stanford. Then it played smart, disciplined football and executed that plan. And when Stanford looked like it was asserting itself, the Trojans persevered, making clutch plays at the end to beat the Cardinal 20-17. USC is now 5-1 under interim coach Ed Orgeron, looking nothing like the sloppy, uninterested team from the beginning of the season.

[+] EnlargeMarqise Lee
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesMarqise Lee caught six passes for 83 yards in USC's upset win over Stanford.
Best game: On a mostly ho-hum weekend, USC-Stanford wasn't decided until the final moments. Moreover, the stakes were high. Stanford was knocked out of the lead spot in the North Division and the Trojans are now squarely in the South race.

Biggest play: Was it the athletic interception from freshman Su'a Cravens that set up the final USC drive? Or was it the fourth-and-2 completion from Cody Kessler to Marqise Lee for 13 yards to the Stanford 35-yard line on the game-winning drive? Or the 47-yard field goal from Andre Heidari? Each was critical in the final turn toward USC in the fourth quarter.

Offensive standout: Colorado WR Paul Richardson caught 11 passes for 140 yards in the Buffaloes' 41-24 win over California, which gave them their first Pac-12 win since September 2012. Richardson broke the school’s single-season receiving record, eclipsing the record previously held by Charles E. Johnson. He sits at 1,201 receiving yards, which ranks second in the Pac-12.

Defensive standout: Stanford OLB Trent Murphy had eight tackles, with four coming for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble against USC. The Cardinal lost, but it sure wasn't Murphy's fault. He now leads the Pac-12 in both sacks (12) and tackles for a loss (18).

Defensive standout 2: Arizona State safety Robert Nelson had two interceptions -- one he returned 23 yards for a touchdown -- and a fumble recovery in the Sun Devils' 30-17 win over Oregon State. He also had five tackles.

Special teams standout: It has been a long season for Heidari, but he was the difference for the Trojans in their upset win over Stanford. He kicked a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds to play that provided the winning margin. He also kicked a 23-yard field goal and was 2-for-2 on PATs.

Smiley face: We'd gush more about Orgeron's leadership at USC, but there at least needs to be a hat tip to Washington State and coach Mike Leach going to Tucson and grabbing a much-needed victory with some late-game heroics from QB Connor Halliday. His 25-yard TD pass to Isiah Myers for the tiebreaking touchdown with 2:15 to play gave the Cougars a 24-17 win, keeping their bowl hopes alive.

Frowny face: As impressive as USC's win over Stanford was, it probably wasn't very popular among 10 other Pac-12 teams. Oregon, of course, is thrilled. The Ducks now control their North Division destiny and Rose Bowl hopes. But Stanford's losing makes it unlikely the conference will have two BCS bowl teams, which means every conference team lost about $500,000 when the Cardinal went down. It will be the first time since 2009 conference ADs won't enrich their coffers with that extra check.

Thought of the week: Arizona State and UCLA have a recent history of disappointing their fans and falling short of expectations. But guess what? Both teams are 8-2 and ranked heading into their critical showdown Saturday. They are about where optimistic preseason expectations placed them after 10 games. Both have showed resolve under second-year head coaches. No matter who wins Saturday, both programs seem to be on a decided uptick.

Questions for the week: Who salvages their season? Several Pac-12 teams' seasons are on the brink, and two games in particular are of note: Washington visits Oregon State and Washington State plays host to Utah. As far as the Huskies and Beavers, the loser of that game will officially be able to call its season a disappointment. The Huskies would then face the specter of another 7-6 season -- or worse -- and that could make Steve Sarkisian's seat pretty hot. The Beavers would be set up to lose their final five regular-season games after a 6-1 start, pending the result of the Civil War against Oregon. Utah needs to win in order to keep its bowl hopes alive, and failing to reach a bowl game for a second consecutive year would have folks getting chippy in Salt Lake. The game is not a must-win for the Cougars' bowl hopes, but they'd probably rather not hang their hopes on the Apple Cup the following week.

Oregon-Stanford: Respectful rivalry grows

November, 4, 2013
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David Shaw Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsStanford coach David Shaw is 1-1 against Oregon and 30-5 overall.

Stanford had just torn the hearts out of Oregon and its fans inside Autzen Stadium. The Ducks' unbeaten season had ended in shocking fashion. National championship hopes had been kicked to the curb.

"It's such an honor to come into this stadium and beat a phenomenal team," the Stanford quarterback said after the victory.

A gracious, classy and perhaps rare take from a college player. But no, that was not Kevin Hogan talking about the Cardinal's 17-14 overtime upset of the Ducks in Autzen Stadium last Nov. 17 that ruined the Ducks' drive for a berth in the 2012 national title game. It was Stanford's backup quarterback, Chris Lewis, talking about the Cardinal's 49-42 win in Autzen Stadium on Oct. 20, 2001, that ruined the Ducks' drive for a berth in that season's national championship game.

Lewis' postgame quote, however, generally sums up the Oregon-Stanford series, which Thursday night again will be the Pac-12 game of the year. There appears to be little animosity and a good dose of respect between the Ducks and Cardinal, who both own road wins as underdogs against each other in the past three years.

Though they are very different institutions, playing football in very different ways and, well, dressing very differently while doing so, the rivalry between the Pac-12's top two teams in the past four seasons doesn't include much ill will compared to the rivalries between Oregon and Washington and USC and UCLA.

Perhaps it should, at least in terms of what Stanford and Oregon have taken away from each other through the years, and not just during their recent and simultaneous rise to join the nation's elite.

Nine times since 1964, Stanford has handed Oregon its first defeat of the season. Twice it was the Ducks' only defeat. Without a loss to Stanford in 1995, the Ducks would have played in a second consecutive Rose Bowl in Mike Bellotti's first season.

Oregon has returned the favor of late as Stanford became nationally relevant. The Cardinal lost just one regular-season game in both 2010 and 2011. To Oregon.

Stanford's win in Autzen Stadium last year was shocking in many ways. The Ducks had owned the Cardinal and Andrew Luck the previous two years, so much so that in advance of the 2012 season, Stanford coach David Shaw openly admitted his team had an "Oregon problem," though he reasonably noted that the entire Pac-12 shared the Ducks conundrum.

Yet, as stunning as it was to witness the Cardinal shut down the Ducks' offense last November, the 2001 game eclipsed it 20-fold in terms of sheer nuttiness.

While some of Oregon's younger fans might not remember 2001, the older ones surely slapped their foreheads upon seeing the name "Chris Lewis" again. In that contest, the unbeaten and fifth-ranked Ducks were seemingly cruising, leading 42-28 in the fourth quarter at home, with Stanford quarterback Randy Fasani knocked out of the game in the second quarter.

But things went haywire in the fourth quarter, particularly on special teams, when Stanford blocked two punts and recovered an onside kick. Still, it appeared the Ducks would prevail 42-41 when they blocked the potentially game-tying PAT.

Unfortunately for Oregon, quarterback Joey Harrington was turning in his only poor performance of the season. On third-and-1 from Oregon's 30, Harrington was hit by safety Tank Williams, and his throw was picked off by diving defensive end Marcus Hoover at the 33 (it was Harrington's second interception of the game). After Stanford scored the go-ahead TD, Harrington, who had led nine fourth-quarter comebacks in his career and was popularly known as "Captain Comeback," threw four consecutive incompletions from the Cardinal 37.

The normally straightforward Associated Press report noted that the game "had everything but aliens landing on the Autzen Stadium turf."

Oregon, one of the earliest victims of a BCS controversy, went on to finish No. 2. Bellotti showed up at the Rose Bowl, host of the BCS title game, to watch Miami stomp overmatched Nebraska, a team that was blown out in the regular-season finale by Colorado, a team the Ducks had crushed in the Fiesta Bowl.

Yes, there were a fair share of what-ifs from the Ducks, not unlike last year, though it's worth remembering that Miami team was one college football's all-time great squads.

Of course, things were much different for both Oregon and Stanford in 2001. Neither team had established itself as a consistent national power. In fact, both would go through significant downturns thereafter, particularly Stanford.

In 2007, both programs made inspired decisions that inspired initial befuddlement among media and fans: Bellotti hired Chip Kelly away from New Hampshire, an FCS team, to coordinate his offense, and Jim Harbaugh was plucked away from San Diego, another FCS team, by Stanford. Harbaugh brought along Shaw to coordinate his offense.

As isolated events, the Stanford-Oregon game on Oct. 20, 2001, and some buzz-less coaching hires in 2007 didn't resonate nationally. But from a long-term view, they are notable dots to connect for what has become one of the nation's best and most meaningful rivalries.

Even if the teams don't provide much cartoonish trash talk to foment the hype.

Mailbag: Are Oregon fans the worst?

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

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To the notes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ted Miller: Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Graham contract; Angry Badgers!

September, 20, 2013
9/20/13
5:30
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Welcome to the week 4 mailbag. It will be done in sanskrit.

Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter. It's this new Internet thing that just might work out.

To the notes!

Scott from Norfolk, Va., writes: Todd Graham really does seem like a great fit at ASU and he really did seem to bring about a very positive and much-needed cultural overhaul to the program. That said, doesn't his contract extension and raise seem a little premature? He's great so far, but "so far" is only 15 games, in which he's 10-5. Dennis Erickson was 12-3 in his first 15 games. I have to imaging this increases Graham's buyout (though I haven't seen direct mention of it, perhaps you can inform us as to whether that's true?), so isn't ASU unnecessarily limiting its options down the road here? Or am I overreacting and this is par for the course (and it's only fair that if coaches are now getting fired after two years they should also get raises on the same time scale)?

Ted Miller: I see this as a renewal of vows, Arizona State and Graham making it clear to everyone they are happy -- at present -- with each other (and let's also note the same can be said for AD Steve Patterson, whose contract was also extended).

Of course, we all know college contracts often end up getting broken, one way or another. A coach can leave for a big-money job, at which point the new school often picks up the buyout tab, or boosters can get so worked up about a surprising downturn that the school decides to eat the contract and move on. And, yes, sometimes extensions bite a school in the butt -- see Colorado with Dan Hawkins and Iowa with Kirk Ferentz, two coaches who got big-money extensions that proved too expensive to buy out when things went south.

This new contract isn't a big risk for either party. Graham's current contract runs through 2016, this new one runs through 2018. He wasn't given a 10-year deal that could expose Arizona State should the Sun Devils start losing two years from now. As for Graham, his buyout of $1.5 million isn't terribly big. Chip Kelly's buyout at Oregon was $3.5 million.

Another interesting detail, though, is Graham is forbidden from taking a Pac-12 job through the life of the former contract. If I were a Pac-12 AD, I 'd always try to get that written into a head coach's contract. It's a good way to protect program secrets. Not saying any Pac-12 program would ever have any.

But, yes, if Texas wanted to hire Graham, it could easily handle the buyout, even though this extension is intended to prevent Graham's name from getting aggressively thrown into the rumor mill.

Why now? Well, you might have noticed the rumor mill already is starting to grind. From the ASU perspective, just about everything Graham has done thus far with the Sun Devils has been positive, and that's not just about winning.

Kevin, as you know, spent a lot of time with Graham and his staff last week. I think the picture he paints is of a highly functioning coaching staff with a strong, driven, organized leader running the show.

I know media members aren't allowed to write nice things about Graham. Kevin's and my problem is we actually have spent enough time with him to actually know what we are talking -- and writing -- about.




Sam from Sammamish, Wash., writes: I am noticing some chippiness of late between long-time conference allies, the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. Here is a link to a story about Sark thinking on the fly about where to practice on Friday prior to the game in Chicago. What the story neglects to mention is Northwestern University decided to deny UW access to its practice fields less than 24 hours prior to arrival because it would give their Big Ten brethren Illinois an unfair disadvantage. Add this questionable gesture or lack thereof to the Wisconsin/ASU officiating debacle and methinks there may be some outright animosity building up?

Ted Miller: The Rose Bowl conferences are business partners, but that doesn't mean they aren't rivals who desperately want to win and claim superiority. That sometimes involves gamesmanship, which is what it appears Northwestern did in this instance.

Here's what coach Steve Sarkisian said on the matter:
“It’s an unfortunate situation. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of love lost right now between the Big Ten and Pac-12 right now, quite honestly, especially after the Arizona State-Wisconsin game. So it is what it is. Pat Fitzgerald and I exchanged some comments, and we’re fine. I don’t know where it’s going to go from a conference level. It was unfortunate, but in the end, I think it was a positive. It just kept lending to, there’s no distractions for us on this team. If we have to walk through the streets of Chicago to a park in downtown Chicago with a light pole in the middle of the field to practice, we’ll do it. And our guys didn’t skip a beat. It actually worked out really well for us. It’s not a big deal for us anymore. We’ve moved on.”

Oh, well. I've got a really high regard for Fitzgerald, so he gets a pass from me. Sark and Huskies fans might feel differently.

The bottom line is Washington beat Illinois 34-24 and the Pac-12 is 3-2 versus the Big Ten. So pffft to our friends from the Midwest.




Bill from Portland writes: What are the odds of USC and Texas meeting in the Holiday Bowl, and if they did, would those be some of the hottest hot seats in college football? P.S. How crazy is it that in the same year it is a good possibility that USC, Texas and Nebraska may be looking for new coaches at the same time?

Ted Miller: Those certainly are some A-list jobs that might open up by season's end. Suffice it to say, there's already plenty of chatter about how those potential openings might go.

It's certainly not that long of a shot that the Trojans and Longhorns could play in the Holiday Bowl -- or the Alamo Bowl for that matter -- for the first time since their epic national title game after the 2005 season, albeit in far different circumstances. Of course, both teams will need to climb a bit in their respective conference's pecking order to make it happen, particularly 1-2 Texas.

That said, I'm not sure either team would embrace the idea, though both would like an invitation to a quality bowl game. After all, the theme of most advance stories would be: Look how the mighty have fallen!




Lee from Ripon, Wisconsin writes: You are so incredibly stupid it is beyond belief. To compare a judgment call (pass interference) with a failure of the game officials to call a play by the rules defies basic logic. Of course basic logic is obviously beyond you. But when you make statements that are factually incorrect, you really display your stupidity. The Pac-12 is the only major conference that uses officials from its league for home nonconference games. The other conferences have the game officials in essence travel with the visiting team. The game officials that worked the ASU at Wisconsin game in 2010 were from the Pac-12. The referee was the same individual who worked the Ohio State at Cal game Saturday night. It was NOT a Big Ten official who missed the pass interference call that you are basing your fallacious argument on; it was a Pac-12 official. If you weren't so fricking lazy you would have checked this out prior to making a factually incorrect statement; it is called research. I will be sending this email to the president of ESPN and suggest that they fire your sorry butt. An individual too fricking lazy to do basic research and as a result base an "argument" (what you stated doesn't meet the definition of a sound argument, but obviously the explanation of what qualifies as a sound argument is way beyond your severely limited mental capacity) isn't qualified to be a sports reporter. You aren't even qualified to be a dog catcher, or a member of the Bush cabinet. Hell, you aren't even qualified to be a Pac-12 football game official.

Ted Miller: Thank you for your interest in the Pac-12 blog. We value your input. Please press one for customer service, two for new accounts ...

Lee, you are correct. I am stupid and lazy. That has never been so clear until this week when many Wisconsin fans showed up to help become smarter-er. But, to be honest, your world of Badger sophistication frightens and confuses me. I read "factually incorrect" and I want to bury my face into my blankie. I read "fricking lazy" and "research" and I want to know, "Where did these highfalutin concepts get created... The Kollege Klub?"

But there is one thing I do know.

That referee Bill LeMonnier led a Big Ten crew on Sept. 18, 2010 inside Camp Randall Stadium for Arizona State's visit to Wisconsin.

I guess I'm just lucky my computer is connected to the Internet-S.




Don from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: Ted --Please pass this on to Kevin -- seems every time I try and click on "send email to Kevin" it displays your smiling face. Is this part of your evil scheme?I wanted to commend Kevin on his very fine profile of Todd Graham. It was well written, informative and unflinching. As a Stanford fan, and Stanford having not played ASU since 2010, I had kind of lost track of the program (although certainly the Graham hire made news). So with the game coming up this week, it was time to get into Graham and the program a bit, and Kevin's piece filled out everything very nicely. Pac-12 blog rocks!

Ted Miller: I have many evil schemes. This is not one of them, though now I'm sort of wishing it were. A guy can never have too many evil schemes, right?

Yet just two seconds ago, I was gazing at Kevin's Clooney-esque mug.

Did you click here? There are two places to send your Pac-12 mail, one to me and one to Kevin.

Typically, if you are angry and want to insult us, those notes should go to Kevin. If you want to write how great the Pac-12 blog is, those notes go to me.




Jesse from Portland writes: I know of your long gripe with the word, "Natty." However, an Oregon player first invented that word. And since it has gone global in it's usage, though originating in Oregon, we claim that word. If you actually took the time to visit every single sports forum and blog, you would quickly see that this word is used by every single fan nationally describing the NCG. It has become a universal word and has so for three years now. Get with the times. You are getting old. The only people who hate that word are Oregon haters, cause they know a Duck invented it. And because it was first invented by a Oregon player, we are NOT going to to stop using that word, not now, not ever! We are the only Pac-12 team to go to a Natty in the last eight years. And we are projected to make another one this year. So we have every right to use that word. So Natty, Natty, Natty, wish you were at the Natty. Natty is here to stay. Both now, forever and into all time. It is a Oregon thing, going to a Natty. And unless you are a Duck, you just cannot understand. You Natty old reporters ... don't like the Natty? Well ... go Duck yourself then. Natty times are here to stay!

Ted Miller: (A sigh ... and then a slow clap ... everyone in the coffee shop slowly stands and joins in).

Video: Rose Bowl, Notre Dame vs. Stanford

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
9:30
AM ET
video
In 1925, the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish outlast the Stanford Cardinal 27-10.

Most important game: Stanford

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
4:00
PM ET
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.

And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.

We're going in reverse alphabetical order.

Stanford

Most important game: Nov. 30 vs. Notre Dame

Why it's important: Now wait a minute before your heads explode.

SportsNation

Most important 2013 game for Stanford?

  •  
    7%
  •  
    76%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,254)

Yes, Stanford's Nov. 7 visit from Oregon is the Cardinal's most important game. Without question.

It very likely will determine the Pac-12 North Division crown. It also seems possible the winner will thereafter become a participant in the BCS title game.

So, yeah, Stanford-Oregon on Thursday night will be about as big as it gets among all 2013 college football games. That unassailable idea is the very reason I am typing this and not Kevin, who I could feel smirking through the phone at me while I made the case for Notre Dame.

Then why the heck am I typing this? Well, a big reason is that on Wednesday we'll do the "Most Important game: Oregon," and then we'll hyperventilate about the potential Ducks-Cardinal Game of the Century.

About 60 percent of this is an avoidance of redundancy.

But blogging expediency is not the only reason. There is concrete grounds for this. Really!

Here's the logic: 1. Stanford has played in three consecutive BCS bowl games, so getting to another will not represent a significant step forward; 2. Last year, Stanford beat Oregon, won the Pac-12 outright and won the Rose Bowl, so doing that again will not represent a significant step forward; 3. There is only one significant step forward the program can take.

Stanford, which could begin the 2013 season ranked in the top three, almost certainly will need to beat Oregon to play for the national title. The same, of course, could be said for the Ducks.

But if you compare Oregon's and Stanford's schedule, you might notice something. While the Ducks have a nice home game with Tennessee the first month of the season, they do not play a marquee nonconference game against a potential top-10 team.

And so we have Stanford.

Not only does the Cardinal have a marquee nonconference game against a potential top-10 team, it has the game ON THE LAST DAY OF THE REGULAR SEASON.

And, well, it's Notre Dame, which makes it bigger, at least in terms of aesthetics, than if it were, say, against a top-10 West Virginia squad. Yes, aesthetics matter. If Stanford ends up in a beauty contest with another FBS team with the same record for a spot in the title game, beating Notre Dame, which played for the national title last year, to end the regular season probably would hold significant sway with voters.

And what if the Fighting Irish are in the national title mix, too?

Wait... there's more!

I seem to remember Notre Dame and Stanford playing last year. How did that end? Lookie here: Revenge angle. That's fun.

Further, let's just say Stanford goes unbeaten until losing to Notre Dame the final weekend of the season. Then the Cardinal win the Pac-12 title game -- yeah, that game also would stand between Stanford and a national title game berth -- and the Rose Bowl over a Big Ten team.

What would folks across the country say and write? Notre Dame > Stanford. Stanford > Pac-12. Ergo, Notre Dame > Pac-12.

So the Pac-12's self-respect also could be on the line (unless, of course, USC beats Notre Dame).

The way to look at this is 1A (vs. Oregon) and 1B (vs Notre Dame).

For a magical season to happen, Stanford needs to win both. Losing either will feel horrible. And losing to Notre Dame after beating Oregon might actually feel worst of all.

We can consider that bridge if we get there.

Pac-12 coaches not among the elite?

April, 10, 2013
4/10/13
10:00
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Everybody loves rankings lists, and college football fans -- by necessity -- seem to like lists even more than average folk.

So we have Athlon making another list. First it ranked Pac-12 coaches. Now it ranks all 125 coaches for FBS programs.

Obviously, any ranking like this is highly subjective, as Kevin noted with his notes on the Pac-12 coach rankings.

I really like Athlon's top three. That would be mine. If Chip Kelly were still at Oregon, I'd rank him third, but he is not.

After that? Well, there were some head-scratchers.

LSU's Les Miles way down at No. 24? New Arkansas and former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema buried at No. 25? Vanderbilt's second-year coach James Franklin way up at 17? Three words: No, No, No.

There is no conceivable way to rank Franklin ahead of Miles, WHO HAS WON A NATIONAL TITLE!, nor is it reasonable to rate Franklin over Stanford's David Shaw, WHO HAS WON A ROSE BOWL, nor Bielema who owns THREE BIG TEN TITLES and won 68 games in seven years at Wisconsin.

Franklin? He's done some nice things at Vandy, making a terrible program respectable, but please identify for me a signature win from 2012? Or 2011. I'll wait here.

Yep. Nada.

Just last season, Shaw, who is No. 1 in the Pac-12 but only 20th in the nation, beat Oregon, which finished ranked No. 2, and WON THE ROSE BOWL. He's a muffed field goal away from winning consecutive BCS bowl games.

Vanderbilt, winners of the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl over the doughty NC State a year after losing to Cincinnati in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, took advantage of a weakened SEC East, and it's notable that the one adventurous nonconference tilt ended up a double-digit loss at Northwestern. You know: The so-called slow Big Ten.

And I think Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is a bit high at No. 12, too.

(Deep breath) OK ... I'm OK.

Anyway: Here's how Athlon ranked the Pac-12 coaches in the nation (national rank).
  1. David Shaw, Stanford (20)
  2. Mike Riley, Oregon State (21)
  3. Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (22)
  4. Todd Graham, Arizona State (29)
  5. Mike Leach, Washington State (31)
  6. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (44)
  7. Steve Sarkisian, Washington (45)
  8. Jim Mora, UCLA (54)
  9. Kyle Whittingham, Utah (55)
  10. Sonny Dykes, California (56)
  11. Lane Kiffin, USC (57)
  12. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (73)

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan, as a redshirt freshman, made his first career road start against No. 2 Oregon in Autzen Stadium, the most inhospitable venue in the Pac-12. Entering the game, the Ducks had won 13 games in a row overall, the nation's longest winning streak, and they had won 26 of their past 27 games at home.

With Andrew Luck playing quarterback the two previous years, Stanford teams that would finished ranked in the top-10 had suffered blowout defeats against the Ducks.

So when Hogan led Stanford to a 17-14 win -- of course, with a strong assist from a superlative defensive performance -- it seemed liked a time for celebration and euphoria. If there ever was a moment for a young player to whoop and holler and then wear a Cheshire cat grin in front of the media, this was it.

Yet here was Hogan sitting at the postgame interview table looking... bored? No, that implies some degree of rudeness. Sedated? No, that implies something unnatural. Poised? Yes, but that also implies something more practiced than how Hogan appeared as he provided brief and humble answers to questions in his signature monotone.

Sleepy? Hmm. That feels, perhaps unexpectedly, accurate. Let's combine poised and sleepy and say Hogan was "sloised."

Hogan would go 5-0 as the Cardinal starter after taking over the sputtering offense at midseason, with his final victory giving Stanford its first Rose Bowl win since 1972. His play was steady and efficient, but rarely flamboyant. Sort of like the young man himself.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesQuarterback Kevin Hogan ran for 263 yards and two TDs last season, averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
When you ask Hogan's teammates about him, about whether he lets his hair down when the cameras aren't around or has a secret dark side, you're met with an amused grin.

Said linebacker Shayne Skov, a demonstrative sort, "You don't get much out of him much of the time."

Other than winning, which is nice. Oh, and Stanford is widely viewed as a top 2013 national title contender because many expect Hogan to give the Cardinal a lot more in 2013.

The 2012 season was largely the "Year of the Young QB" in the Pac-12, with first-year starters such as Hogan, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and UCLA's Brett Hundley turning in outstanding debut seasons. The 2013 campaign projects as something different. What will these guys do for their encore?

The most interesting one might be Hogan, 2.0. While Mariota, Kelly and Hundley put up big numbers in high-powered, up-tempo offenses last fall, Hogan was mostly a game-manager for the Cardinal's physical, run-first attack.

Yet with a year of seasoning, you'd expect Hogan would be champing at the bit to showcase his passing skills.

Hogan doesn't do champing at the bit.

"I'd love to hand it off every time again if that's what gets us first downs and touchdowns," he said. "Whatever they need. I like winning. Whatever it takes to get that."

Good answer. But Stanford is no longer trying to win 10 games or end up in the top-10. Coach David Shaw admits he's thought about the program making the proverbial next step from conference champion to national champion. That requires eliminating the one or two losses that speckled the Cardinal's previous three seasons, which it's worth noting is the best run in school history.

That means Hogan becomes capable of taking a game into his own hands when things are slightly off on either side of the ball. That means in those close games where two or three critical plays go horribly wrong, Hogan steps up and takes corrective action with two or three plays he creates from the ether.

"The big thing for Kevin is taking the next step as far as knowledge and understanding," Shaw said. "He's going to work hard. He's very selfless. He's very team-oriented. We're to the point now where we can give him more to do, more things in the passing game, more things to handle at the line of scrimmage."

Stanford likely will remain a run-first team in 2013, in large part because it might have the nation's best offensive line. But with questions at tight end and improvement at receiver, there's a good reason Hogan said his primary focus this spring is getting better at throwing the deep ball. The Cardinal running game will be that much better if opposing secondaries are fretting about getting beat over the top, thereby limiting their leaning into run support.

Another aspect of Hogan's game worth watching: His running. He rushed for 263 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and not exclusively on scrambles. The 6-foot-4, 225 pounder is agile and not easy to bring down, and the Cardinal isn't afraid of throwing a few designed quarterback runs at a defense.

"His athleticism is our bailout," Shaw said. "His ability to run changes defenses."

The 2013 season will feel different for Hogan and Stanford. For the team, it will face a season rated as a top title contender by just about every pundit with few legitimate doubters. Each of the previous three seasons, that was not entirely the case. As in: How can they possibly replace Toby Gerhart!? Jim Harbaugh!? Luck!?

And the spotlight will burn much brighter on the understated Hogan.

That might not test his innate poise, but it could prove grating and distracting.

"There's going to be a higher amount of pressure on him, but he needs to just embrace it," Skov said. "Expectations are going to rise. But he's more than capable. So embrace the higher demands and pressure. I'm sure he's going to deliver. He did it time and time again last year, and he's only going to get better."

One thing working in Hogan's favor is the type of school Stanford is. As Luck often noted, Stanford's student body isn't the sort to go gaga over a quarterback. Luck, in fact, barely created a stir when he hung around this spring. Johnny Manziel might be forced to take on-line classes at Texas A&M to avoid to paparazzi, but that won't be the case for Hogan. He said his budding star turn in 2012 didn't earn him a fan club on campus that he's noticed.

"I wouldn't say it's changed too much," he said. "That's one of the things about this school. There's so much going on and there are so many people doing great things that people congratulate you after winning games, but they treat you like any other student. That's one of the nice things about being here. Being able to stay myself."

Hogan, Shaw and the Stanford players talk mostly about winning the Pac-12 and getting back to the Rose Bowl. They say that's something they can control with their play on the field. The national title game is something that includes outside forces, such as the final year of the BCS computations.

So Hogan said repeatedly it's all about getting back to Pasadena. Next question: "You do know the national title game is in Pasadena, too, right?

Sloised Hogan, "Yes."
David Shaw Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesThe Cardinal adopted a blue-collar attitude under Jim Harbaugh (not pictured) and David Shaw and became national title contenders. Now that they've found success, can they stay hungry?
STANFORD, Calif. -- The first step in Stanford's national ascendancy was wearing blue shirts a mechanic would wear at the gas station. The message then-coach Jim Harbaugh was trying to deliver was simple: Sure, Stanford is one of the nation's elite universities, chock full of members of the privileged class. But the football team wanted to adopt a blue-collar mentality.

It was such an obsession for Harbaugh that he once congratulated a reporter for noticing the Cardinal seemed eager to sneak in a few shots after the whistle blew.

That was good enough for 8-5 in 2009, Year 3 under Harbaugh. It was the program's first winning record since 2001.

Over the next three years, however, Stanford won 35 games and lost five. The Cardinal were a missed chip-shot field goal from going 3-0 in BCS bowl games. Yet during that span the locker room theme was a lack of national respect. Players saw doubt from every angle: Could the program survive the loss of Toby Gerhart? Surely things are done now that Harbaugh is off to the NFL? A team simply can't replace Andrew Luck, can it?

Oh, and Stanford has an Oregon problem.

Doubts were addressed. Wins piled up. The Ducks were plucked in their own house last November.

Now it's the spring of 2013. Much to everyone's chagrin on the Farm, respect has arrived. Now just about everyone views Stanford as a top national title contender. Even SEC fans seem to tip their hats to the Cardinal's bruising brand of run-the-ball-and-play-tough-defense football.

Ah, but this is where the "C" word comes in. Stanford coach David Shaw knows his biggest enemy is complacency. His team taking winning for granted. His team feeling entitled. His team, well, acting like USC a year ago.

[+] EnlargeStanford's Kevin Hogan
Richard Mackson/US PRESSWIREThe Cardinal welcome back 16 starters, including quarterback Kevin Hogan, who was 5-0 after entering the starting lineup.
"You can't talk your way into winning games," Shaw said. "The circumstances that surround a game never matter. Only the game matters. We've done a good job as coaches here really beating that into the players' heads. The first question I asked guys before we started spring football was 'Are we collectively hungry?' You have to have that hunger."

Said linebacker Shayne Skov, "People have finally started to notice what we've been doing around here but we have to stick to the same plan we've had every single year, the same method. Guys are still hungry."

Hunger is good because talent is not the question. The Cardinal, which starts its second spring session April 1, welcomes back 16 starters from last year's Rose Bowl champions, including quarterback Kevin Hogan, who went 5-0 as the starter and was the quarterback of record in the clutch 17-14 overtime win at Oregon.

But returning starters doesn't tell the whole story, particularly on the offensive line, where four starters are back. Stanford has a troika of extremely talented sophomores who are fighting for starting jobs or at least playing time.

Andrus Peat -- 6-foot-7, 310 pounds and two years ago the nation's No. 1 prep offensive lineman -- is the likely starter at left tackle, which allows Morris Trophy winner David Yankey to move inside to his natural guard position. There are NFL teams that have weaker combinations on the left side of their line.

Meanwhile, Kyle Murphy is pushing Cameron Fleming at right tackle and is certain to see action at multiple positions and act as a sixth O-lineman when Stanford goes "big," as it is wont to do. Inside at guard, 317-pound Josh Garnett is in the mix, which could allow veterans Kevin Danser or Khalil Wilkes to take over at center.

However this crew stacks up, it's getting tested by the Pac-12's best defensive front seven. Suffice it to say, when Stanford goes full-go in practice, things get pretty salty.

Stanford's two biggest questions -- tight end and running back -- don't seem to worry many folks around the program. The return of Tyler Gaffney from pro baseball eased concern at running back, while there's young talent at tight end, not to mention a deeper crew at receiver.

Of course, Stanford is sharing its "national title contender" label with a familiar foe: Oregon. Winning the Pac-12's North Division might turn out to be nearly as difficult as winning the national title. But the Cardinal bucked its Oregon problem last year, and that victory still resonates, both as fact and symbol.

Every Stanford player or coach (or fan) quickly picks up the story when someone refers to the biggest play of that game, and perhaps of the college football season: Backup safety Devon Carrington slipping by De'Anthony Thomas to catch Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota from behind to prevent a long touchdown run in the first half.

"That play exemplified the heart and determination we are going to play with," Shaw said. "There also were multiple times we had a guy in space with Kenjon Barner and we tackled him. Last couple of years, we missed that tackle. You miss that tackle, and it's over."

Oregon could no longer simply outrun Stanford. And if Oregon can't outrun Stanford, no one can.

Stanford may still view itself as a blue-collar team, but it's moved into college football's penthouse. The question is no longer can it stay there. The new question is whether it can take the next -- and final -- step up.

Taylor gains tough yards in Rose Bowl win

January, 1, 2013
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AP Photo/David HoodSenior running back Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal won their first Rose Bowl since 1972.
The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl Game Pres. by Vizio, their first Rose Bowl win since January 1, 1972. Below is a look at how the Cardinal won their eighth straight game and why the Badgers' loss continued a discouraging trend for the Big Ten:

• Stepfan Taylor gained 50 of his team-high 88 rush yards after first contact in the Rose Bowl, including 32 of his 39 yards in the fourth quarter. It was his most yards after contact in the fourth quarter of any game this season and thanks to his touchdown in the first quarter, Taylor scored on the ground in five of Stanford’s final six games of the season.

• Stanford allowed a season-high 119 yards on carries inside the tackles in the first half against Wisconsin (5.4 yds per rush), including 76 yards on inside runs by Montee Ball. The second half was a different story, however, as Wisconsin gained just 13 yards up the middle and averaged just 1.4 yards per carry including just eight yards by Ball.

• With the loss, Wisconsin became the third team all-time and the first since Michigan from 1976-78 to lose the Rose Bowl in three consecutive seasons. The Badgers’ run is part of a stretch that has seen the Big Ten lose nine of its last 10 Rose Bowl appearances. The only Big Ten team to win a Rose Bowl during that span was Ohio State on January 1, 2010 against Oregon.

• Stanford did much of its damage on first down against Wisconsin, gaining an average of 8.2 yards per play and scoring both of its touchdowns on first down in the game.

The 8.2 yards per play marked the second-highest first-down average for the Cardinal in a game this season (8.5 versus Arizona) and was the most allowed per play by Wisconsin in a game since it gave up 11.5 to Oregon in last season’s Rose Bowl.

• Ball’s performance was not forgotten in the defeat as he rushed for 100 yards for the 10th time this season (tied for second most in FBS) and scored the last of his FBS-record 83 career touchdowns.

The Rose Bowl marked Ball’s 26th-career game in which he rushed for at least 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, most in the FBS since his freshman year of 2009. With the score, Ball also became the first player in history to score a touchdown in three separate Rose Bowls.

Mason builds defensive power at Stanford

November, 28, 2012
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Stanford's defensive performance against Oregon on Nov. 17 was a thing of beauty.

In a 17-14 overtime victory, the Cardinal held the Ducks 157.6 yards below their season average, 127 yards below their season rushing average and, most important, 40.5 points below their season scoring average.

The Cardinal was disruptive. It didn't let Oregon's speed get around the edges. It controlled and filled gaps. It forced the zone-blocking Ducks' offensive line backwards. It tackled well, not allowing yards after contact or catch. It didn't let up for 60 minutes, as so many seemingly strong defensive performances against Oregon tend to. And when Oregon busted its one explosion play on the evening, backup safety Devon Carrington made sure it was a 77-yard Marcus Mariota run to the Stanford 15-yard line and not a 92-yard TD scamper that might have changed the game.

[+] EnlargeDerek Mason
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinStanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason is a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach.
The man behind that defense is Stanford coordinator Derek Mason, a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach, and a guy who's name is bouncing around as a budding head coaching candidate.

What was the secret to the Cardinal solving the Ducks?

"We worked extremely hard at making sure we were going to be who we were," Mason said.

That's not as simple as it sounds, particularly against the Ducks, but it's something the Stanford players cited after the game as well.

"We took a greater focus on ourselves this time," linebacker Shayne Skov said after the Oregon game. "We didn't try to make too many adaptations to our own system. We were going to do what we do."

Yet what Stanford does has changed through the years. Significantly.

In 2009 -- Jim Harbaugh's third season -- the Cardinal was a plodding unit that ran a 4-3 and gave up 27 points a game. Enter Vic Fangio, who installed a 3-4. That same year, Mason took over the Cardinal secondary.

When Harbaugh and Fangio bolted for the San Francisco 49ers, new coach David Shaw handed the defense to Mason, who shared coordinator duties in 2011 with Jason Tarver, who is now running the Oakland Raiders' defense.

Let's just say Stanford's defense now looks sort of like its own thing, Mason's thing.

Explained Mason, "It's sort of morphed into something that is a little more …" Mason didn't finish the thought -- he started talking about defending spread offenses -- but we will: Funky, unorthodox, flexible. And effective.

Stanford's defense is talented, particularly its front seven, where a handful of guys have a chance to play on Sundays. It's notoriously physical, certainly the Pac-12's most smashmouth unit. And it's sound and disciplined. It doesn't blow a lot of assignments. That's very Stanford-y.

Yet Mason also hasn't been afraid to show some "what the heck is that?" looks to an offense, looks that seem to befuddle even experienced quarterbacks such as USC's Matt Barkley.

The results is this: Stanford is No. 1 in the nation in run defense (71.3 yards per game), sacks (4.42 yards per game) and tackles for a loss (9.25 yards per game). It's also 11th in the nation in scoring defense (16.92 ppg), despite playing a number of the nation's best offenses, something that can't be said for a number of other highly rated defenses. It's eighth in third down defense (29.53 percent).

"It's a containment run defense predicated on making offenses left handed and earning the right to rush the passer," Mason said.

In other words, the Cardinal stops the run, sacks your quarterback and gets off the field.

That's what happened last weekend against UCLA in Stanford's 35-17 win. The Cardinal held the Bruins to 73 yards rushing and recorded seven sacks and nine tackles for a loss.

It was textbook Stanford, which has held eight of 12 opponents below 100 yards rushing this season.

Yet Mason isn't completely believing what he saw in Game 1 with the Bruins. He said he thinks Game 2 on Friday in the Pac-12 championship game will feature a lot more offensive wrinkles from UCLA coordinator Noel Mazzone.

"There are some things they didn't show," Mason said. "It was obvious. I see it as a totally different game."

Mason specifically cited the quarterback run. Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley has rushed for 282 yards and eight TDs this season. His legs are weapons, and the Bruins didn't showcase them last weekend.

While UCLA and Stanford's potential first Rose Bowl since after the 1999 season are the immediate motivations and goals, Mason is aware that his name is bouncing around as a potential head coach. While it's clearly a future goal, he doesn't seem to be in too much of a hurry to race out of Palo Alto in order to chase the first opportunity that comes his way.

"I'm so in love with what is happening here with our players," he said. "I truly believe I am where I'm supposed to be."

Mason seems to like things on the Farm, where he's been growing a West Coast defensive power.

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