Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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SEC Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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Will Arkansas ever give up another point? For the second consecutive week, the surging Razorbacks shut out a Top 25 team, as they continue to move up the SEC Power Rankings. Outside of that, the day mostly held true to form, as most squads got ready for rivalry week by hosting FCS teams.

Edward Aschoff, David Ching, Sam Khan Jr., Greg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough contributed to these rankings.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 13

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In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Dorin Dickerson, No. 74 in 2006 class

Dickerson came out of West Allegheny High in Imperial, Pennsylvania, as one of the most highly coveted prospects in the region with offers from Iowa, Michigan, Penn State, Pittsburgh and more as a versatile athlete that was best with the ball in his hands. In June 2005, Dickerson chose Pittsburgh over Michigan in a recruitment that was always the Panthers' to lose. Dickerson’s father, Randy Dickerson, played college basketball at Kansas State.

Dickerson was a jack of all trades for Pittsburgh. As a freshman in 2006, he saw action in eight games as a wide receiver and in the return game.

Dickerson made the move to linebacker as a sophomore in 2007. He played in 12 games as a reserve, as well as being a fixture on special teams.

Another position change happened as a junior. Dickerson made the move back to offense and settled in at tight end where he played in 13 games with two starts catching 13 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns.

Dickerson’s senior campaign was by far his best at Pittsburgh. He hauled in 49 passes for 529 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games being named to various all-conference and All-American teams.

Following his senior season, the Houston Texans selected Dickerson in the seventh round (No. 227 overall) of the 2010 NFL draft. He is now in his fifth season in the NFL having been on the roster or practice squad for six teams.

Honorable mention: Nigel Carr, No. 74 in 2008 class. After signing with Florida State, Carr ran into trouble off the field and enrolled at Alabama State. In two years for the Hornets, he posted 73 tackles, three sacks and interception. Carr was a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as an undrafted free agent.

Playoff picture: Week 14

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No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State are the closest things to locks for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Should all three of those teams win out -- which, of course, is no guarantee -- they should finish the season in the top four of the selection committee’s rankings.

It’s that coveted fourth spot that remains the greatest debate.

“It's also fair to say the differences between teams four through seven -- Mississippi State, TCU, Ohio State and Baylor -- are narrow, very narrow,” committee chair Jeff Long said Tuesday. “There are more games to play and these teams are knocking on the door, and they're not the only ones.”

Here’s a closer look at those teams still “knocking on the door” and how Week 13 affected their playoff chances:

Mississippi State

Pros: Although many other top teams struggled against lesser competition, the Bulldogs took care of business in a 51-0 dismantling of Vanderbilt. Mississippi State needed to win with style, and the game was never in doubt. “If you don't think we controlled that game,” quarterback Dak Prescott told The Associated Press, “then I don't know what you're looking for."

Cons: Ole Miss self-destructed in a 30-0 loss to Arkansas, the second straight opponent the Razorbacks have shut out. That doesn't bode well for Mississippi State, which is teetering on the edge of the bracket and has just one win over teams currently ranked in the selection committee’s top 25 (Auburn). The Bulldogs finish the season on the road against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and their résumé could have used another boost, but the Rebels should drop out of the top 10 after suffering a third loss.

TCU

Pros: The Horned Frogs were off to prepare for Thursday night’s Thanksgiving game at Texas, but they were still helped by K-State’s Thursday night win in Morgantown and Minnesota’s 28-24 win over Nebraska. For the fourth straight week, TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor, and Long said it was because “strength of schedule is an important factor that came into play, and [Baylor's] body of work is not quite comparable in the view of the committee.” That Minnesota win has a lot to do with it, and it keeps looking better. Until Baylor adds a convincing K-State win to its résumé, there’s no reason to think the committee will reward Baylor's head-to-head win over TCU.

Cons: Ohio State won again. The Buckeyes were pushed by an unheralded Indiana team, but they clinched the Big Ten’s East Division and earned a spot in the conference title game. Ohio State is one team both Baylor and TCU need to be worried about, as the Buckeyes jumped Baylor in the committee’s rankings last week.

Baylor

Pros: The Bears beat Oklahoma State and have now won three straight since their Oct. 18 loss at West Virginia, which is one result the committee has held against Baylor in its comparison to TCU. Baylor also benefited from K-State’s Thursday night win in Morgantown. The Bears need to punctuate their playoff résumé with a season-ending win against a highly ranked K-State team at home Dec. 6. If Baylor and TCU both win out, the Bears should wind up on top.

Cons: Ohio State, which jumped Baylor in the rankings last week, won again and clinched the Big Ten’s East Division in the process. Baylor also didn’t beat Oklahoma State as convincingly as TCU did, but that's splitting hairs: Baylor won 49-28, while TCU beat the Cowboys 42-9. The committee will compare results against common opponents. Baylor's biggest problems are its nonconference schedule and the loss at West Virginia.

Ohio State

Pros: The Buckeyes beat Indiana to clinch the Big Ten’s East Division, and Wisconsin also won at Iowa, putting the Badgers one victory from clinching the West Division. Ohio State should be able to avoid an upset against a middling Michigan team this coming week. There’s certainly no margin for error after the Week 2 home loss to Virginia Tech, but if Ohio State can pull off an impressive win against a ranked Wisconsin team to win the Big Ten title, that loss to the Hokies just might be forgiven.

Cons: It was an underwhelming first three quarters against the Hoosiers for the Buckeyes, who had three turnovers and continue to struggle with ball security. Every other bubble team the Buckeyes are up against found a way to win, too.

UCLA

Pros: After an impressive 38-20 win against USC, the No. 9-ranked Bruins are now in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 South Division. UCLA can clinch the division with a win against Stanford on Friday. If the Bruins lose to Stanford, Friday’s Arizona/Arizona State winner would win the division. UCLA remains the Pac-12’s best hope at getting a two-loss conference champ in the playoff. If the Bruins can beat Oregon in the conference title game, they should have at least three wins over teams still ranked in the committee’s top 25.

Cons: Those two losses. The Oct. 4 home loss to Utah took another hit this weekend when Arizona trounced the Utes 42-10, dropping Utah to four losses and out of the division race. Utah will also likely drop out of the committee’s top 25.

Group of 5

Pros: Marshall, Memphis, Northern Illinois, Colorado State and Boise State all continued to win. Undefeated Marshall didn’t win any style points against UAB, but the Thundering Herd remain the only undefeated Group of 5 team.

Cons: The selection committee hasn’t ranked a Group of 5 team for three weeks, citing strength of schedule as the main reason. There’s nothing left on Marshall’s -- or any other Group of 5 front-runner’s -- schedule likely to change that reasoning.

“Again, Marshall's body of work, their strength of schedule, what they've done to this point in time, the committee does not feel that they warrant being ranked in the top 25,” Long said last week. “Again, they're very close. We've talked a lot about Marshall, we've talked about Boise State, Colorado State, Memphis, Northern Illinois -- all Group of 5 teams that are good teams and that we've certainly discussed.”

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 13

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It was a good weekend to be a running back, and a trio of signal-callers staked their claim for the future. Here are the Big 12's top performers for Week 13:

Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine: The numbers say plenty: 34 carries, 427 yards, five touchdowns, 12.6 yards per carry. But it was a record-setting day for the true freshman, who broke Melvin Gordon’s week-long record for single-game rushing yardage in the FBS in OU's 44-7 win over Kansas. Perine also became the first player in FBS history to rush for at least 200 yards in both halves of a single game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Vision, physicality, durability, speed ... Perine has it all.

Oklahoma blockers: Sure, the Sooners' offensive line deserves the bulk of the credit as Perine repeatedly cruised untouched into the Jayhawks' secondary. But the Sooners' fullbacks, tight ends and receivers deserve their share of the accolades as well because Perine doesn’t have eight carries of 20 yards or more without downfield blocking by OU’s skill players. OU’s starting line of Daryl Williams, Ty Darlington, Adam Shead, Nila Kasitati, Tyrus Thompson built the foundation and fullbacks Aaron Ripkowski and Dimitri Flowers built upon that foundation.

Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes: The Red Raiders might have something in the true freshman quarterback who spurned professional baseball to play in Lubbock. Making his third collegiate start, Mahomes was 23-of-35 for 325 yards and four touchdowns with one interception in Tech’s 34-31 win over Iowa State. He was clutch in the fourth quarter, leading the Red Raiders on a touchdown drive to take the lead then converting a key third down with a 9-yard run to seal the win on the next drive.

Iowa State RB Aaron Wimberly: The Cyclones running back averaged 5.4 yards per carry in the loss. He had 19 carries for 102 yards and two touchdowns. He also added three receptions for 22 yards. Wimberly was a consistent threat for ISU’s offense, helping the Cyclones finish with 569 total yards.

Texas Tech RB DeAndre Washington: A dynamic running threat for Tech all season long, Washington had 20 carries for 186 yards (9.3 yards per carry) and one touchdown. He added two receptions for 51 yards and another score. He becomes the first Red Raider to rush for 1,000 yards since 1998 (Ricky Williams) and the seventh in school history.

Baylor RBs Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin: The Bears' pair of running backs combined for 219 rushing yards in Baylor's 49-28 win over Oklahoma State. Linwood had 21 carries for 113 yards and one touchdown. Chafin had 21 carries for 106 yards and three touchdowns. On a rainy night at McLane Stadium, Art Briles' squad turned to the running game and the Bears' running back duo didn’t disappoint.

Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph: The Cowboys may have found themselves an answer at quarterback for the final game against Oklahoma and beyond. The true freshman finished 13-of-25 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first collegiate game. OSU’s 28 points was its most since a 37-20 win over Iowa State on Oct. 4.

Kansas State WR Tyler Lockett: The Wildcats' dynamic playmaker had 321 all-purpose yards in K-State's 26-20 win over West Virginia on Thursday night. Lockett had 10 receptions for 196 yards and added a 43-yard punt return for a touchdown. Week in and week out, Lockett makes a strong case to be known as the Big 12's toughest player to stop.

West Virginia QB Skyler Howard: The junior college transfer came off the bench to pass for 198 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 15 of 23 passes to spark a late rally by the Mountaineers and could get the opportunity to see more time behind center in WVU's final regular-season game against Iowa State next Saturday.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 13

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All six Pac-12 games on Saturday were decided by at least three scores. For that, Pac-12, I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul ... but here are some helmet stickers.

Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: Kelly and the Sun Devils got off to a horrible start against Washington State, but that's but a distant memory after the senior finished strong in a 52-31 victory. He completed 12 of his final 14 passes for 188 yards and four touchdowns.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: The freshman ran for a career-high 218 yards on 20 carries with three touchdowns, including a 75-yarder, in Arizona's 42-10 victory over Utah. As Wilson goes, so do the Wildcats. Arizona is 8-0 when Wilson rushes for 19 or more yards.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: In his final game at Autzen Stadium (probably), Mariota turned in a typical performance: 24 for 32, 323 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and ran for 73 yards and another score on eight carries in a 44-10 victory over Colorado. His 42 touchdowns this year (passing and rushing), breaks Matt Barkley's single-season Pac-12 record from 2011.

Blake Martinez, LB, Stanford: Martinez recorded two interceptions and forced a fumble to help Stanford force five turnovers in a 38-17 victory against California -- the most it has forced in a game since Nov. 27, 2010 against Oregon State. He's the first player with two interceptions in the Big Game since Cal's Nnamdi Asomugha in 2001.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: Hundley threw for 326 yards, accounted for four touchdowns and broke Cade McNown's school record for total offense (now at 11,353) in the Bruins' 38-20 victory over USC. He's also the first UCLA quarterback since McNown to win three consecutive games against the Trojans.

Cyler Miles, QB, Washington: Miles turned in his best performance of the season, completing 18 of 23 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns without an interception to help the Huskies become bowl eligible with a 37-13 victory over Oregon State.

Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State: Mayle showed why he's a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award with 15 catches for 252 yards -- his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season. He cracked the 100-catch mark in the game (101) and set WSU's new single-season receiving record (1,404 yards).

SEC helmet stickers: Week 13

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The slate of games wasn’t as dramatic as we’ve had in recent weeks but there were still some good individual performances worth highlighting in the SEC on Saturday. Among them:

Nick Chubb, Georgia: The freshman only carried the football in the first half on Saturday, but that’s all the Bulldogs needed in their 55-9 win over Charleston Southern. Chubb had nine carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 12.6 yards per carry. It is Chubb’s sixth consecutive game of more than 100 rushing yards and despite backing up Todd Gurley the first half of the season, he is second in the SEC in rushing yards (1,039) to only Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne (1,276). Only Gurley (7.4 yards per carry) averaged more yards per tote than Chubb has this season (6.8).

Jeff Driskel, Florida: The junior has had more than his fair share of struggles in Gainesville but capped off Florida’s home schedule with a nice performance coming off the bench to relieve Treon Harris, who left with a bruised knee. Driskel scored four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) and was 9-of-11 passing for 164 yards in the Gators’ 52-3 win over Eastern Kentucky. The victory clinched bowl eligibility for Florida.

Markus Golden, Missouri: The senior defensive end said last week that he’s 100 percent healthy after playing through a nagging hamstring injury that bothered him for weeks, and it shows. He picked up two sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, six total tackles, recovered a fumble and had two quarterback hurries in Missouri’s 29-21 win over Tennessee. Golden has four sacks in his last two games and 7.5 for the season. He showed relentless effort, not just in rushing the passer, but pursuing tackles well downfield away from his customary defensive end spot.

Skai Moore, South Carolina: Moore tied for the team-lead with nine tackles and had two interceptions for the Gamecocks on Saturday in their 37-12 win over South Alabama. Moore returned his two interceptions for a combined 71 yards. The effort was part of a five-turnover performance for the South Carolina defense, the first time the Gamecocks have posted that many in a game since last November, when they had six vs. Clemson.

Martrell Spaight, Arkansas: The entire Arkansas defense was great in its 30-0 shutout win over Ole Miss, but the senior linebacker was at the heart of the effort. He had a team-high 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one pass breakup and one quarterback hurry. Spaight was hitting hard and was all over the place in the Razorbacks’ win, which was their second straight shutout and made them bowl-eligible.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 13

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Here are the men whose play stood out above all others during another wild weekend in the ACC:

North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams: Williams turned in another outstanding game, keying a 45-20 rout of favored rival Duke on Thursday. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, adding 98 rushing yards and two more scores on 21 carries. His 374 total yards gave Williams 3,499 total yards on the season, breaking Bryn Renner's single-season UNC record (3,394). Williams also has 32 touchdowns he has been responsible for this season, which also breaks Renner's single-season record (29 in 2012).

Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: Greene hauled in eight passes for 106 yards, and FSU needed every single one of them to extend its winning streak to 27 games and keep its repeat national title hopes alive. The Seminoles beat Boston College, 20-17, and Greene etched his name into the school record books Saturday, as his final catch helped him break Ron Sellers' FSU record for career receiving yards. Greene now has 3,613 career receiving yards, and the senior now has a personal-best 75 catches on the season. He still has at least three games left in his Noles career, too.

Wake Forest linebacker Marquel Lee: When you engineer a defensive effort that holds a team scoreless in regulation -- one that ends with your first league win of the season, no less -- you get recognition here. Lee, a sophomore, had a game-high 12 total tackles, including three for loss (2.5 sacks) and one forced fumble. The Demon Deacons shocked Virginia Tech in double overtime, winning 6-3.

Louisville running back Brandon Radcliff: Radcliff ran wild in the second half, carrying the ball 15 times for 129 yards and a touchdown in Louisville's 31-28 win over Notre Dame. He finished the day with 17 carries for 136 yards and a touchdown, the leader of a Cardinals rushing attack that set the tone for the day, finishing with 229 yards on the ground.

Clemson defense: There are too many people to name here, so the Tigers' defense will have to share this award. Yes, it was against Georgia State, but Clemson had nine different players record a tackle for loss, and three different players record an interception in the 28-0 win. The Tigers held Georgia State to 155 total yards of offense, the fifth different opponent they have held under 200 yards this season. This was also Clemson's second shutout of the season, marking its first multi-shutout season since 1998.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 13

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Recognizing the best and brightest from the penultimate week of the Big Ten regular season:
  • Ohio State WR/PR Jalin Marshall: A week after he was nearly the goat at Minnesota, Marshall saved the Buckeyes' bacon in a sluggish 42-27 win over Indiana. Marshall gave Ohio State the lead late in the third quarter with a 54-yard punt return, then added three more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, all on catches from J.T. Barrett. Marshall became the first Power 5 player with at least three receiving touchdowns and a punt return score in the same game since Justin Blackmon in 2010, and he was the first to do all that in the same half in the past 10 seasons.
  • Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: The Hoosiers lost the game, but we just have to single out Coleman for yet another brilliant performance. He ran 27 times for 228 yards and three touchdowns, including a 90-yard score and a 52-yarder, to become Indiana's single-season rushing leader. He deserves to be a Doak Walker Award finalist.
  • Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner: With David Cobb sidelined in the second half with a leg injury, Leidner had to carry the offensive load for the Gophers at Nebraska. And he did just that, rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in a crucial 28-24 victory that kept the Gophers alive for the West Division title. That included the game-winning 2-yard score with 3:25 left. Leidner also also completed 8-of-17 passes for 135 yards, none bigger than a 38-yard strike to KJ Maye in the fourth quarter.
  • Michigan State WR Tony Lippett and RB Jeremy Langford: These two guys went out in style on Senior Day. Lippett, who played cornerback earlier in his career, played there and at wideout during a 45-3 blasting of Rutgers. Lippett had a pair of pass breakups on defense and caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. Langford, meanwhile, carried the ball 16 times for 126 yards and two scores. He now has rushed for at least 100 yards in his last 15 games against Big Ten opponents, with one more to go.
  • Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: Iowa did a great job most of the day bottling up the Badgers star. But Gordon is so good that he still finished with 200 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in the 26-24 road win. With the game in the balance, Gordon showed off his receiving with two big catches (including a 35-yarder on 3rd-and-13, with Kinnick Stadium coming unhinged) and finished it off with the game-winning, 23-yard touchdown run. Even on a day when he somehow lost his FBS single-game rushing record after just a week, Gordon was truly Heisman-worthy.
Head-coaching changes are on the way, certainly at Florida and likely at Michigan, but do not overlook key coordinator moves potentially on the horizon.

Which programs should make a hire, and which are the likeliest to do so?

Virginia Tech fits both. Those close to the program were unsure last month about offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s future, but failure to score in four quarters Saturday against Wake Forest is a death knell.

The Hokies lost 6-3 in double overtime to the Deacons, an inexcusable and improbable loss that drops them to 5-6. With only Virginia remaining, the rivalry game will determine whether the program’s streak of 21 consecutive bowl games will extend another year.

You’d think Loeffler would get a pass for the offense’s issues, given the magnitude of injuries and youth Virginia Tech has dealt with this fall. I’m told, however, that head coach Frank Beamer has concerns about the inconsistency of the play-calling and flow. Beamer has become more vocal in recent weeks and implored Loeffler to call more run plays and make the offense more digestible for all the young, inexperienced players forced into action.

In 24 games (13-11 record), Loeffler’s offense has averaged 4.94 yards per play. That’s 109th in the FBS. Last in that span? Wake Forest.

Beamer, embattled at this point, has to make a move for one final run at the ACC.

With a number of returning offensive players, including several returns from injuries, there are reasons for hope in 2015. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer was serviceable before his injury. With a new offensive plan and consistency, the Hokies could give Beamer that rebound run.

Where would I start? Well, Kurt Roper is on the market, and Florida’s demise had very little to do with him. He might be more spread-oriented than recent machinations, but perhaps that divergent philosophy is what the Hokies need.

Knowing the division from his Duke days, he’d be an asset. Having spent some time around him, I think he’d be a snug cultural fit.

Here are a few other coordinator spots to monitor

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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A few things we learned this week in the Pac-12.

South Division picture clearer: With UCLA's 38-20 whipping of USC and Arizona's 42-10 bludgeoning of Utah, the Trojans and Utes are out of the South Division race. So it comes down to UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State on the final weekend of the regular season to see who plays North Division champion Oregon on Dec. 5 for the Pac-12 title. UCLA controls its fate: It wins the South if it beats Stanford on Friday. If UCLA loses to Stanford, the winner of the Territorial Cup on Friday is the Pac-12 champion. Funny thing: Both games are 12:30 PT kicks, so they will be contested simultaneously, which means the Sun Devils and Wildcats likely will be doing some scoreboard watching during their rivalry game.

[+] EnlargeEric Kendricks
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsUCLA rolled over USC 38-20, which gave the Bruins three straight wins in the cross-town rivalry.
Battle for L.A. goes to UCLA: UCLA has now won three in a row against USC for the first time since it won eight in a row from 1990 to 1998, so Bruins third-year coach Jim Mora has officially established a trend, even if this was Steve Sarkisian's first go-around over the Victory Bell. This was a big one, with both teams ranked and the South Division still available for the taking. UCLA, by the way, also keeps its hopes for a berth in the College Football Playoff alive -- hopes that will be pretty good if they win out and take the conference crown over Oregon. Next big question: Who wins the L.A. recruiting battle? By the way, USC has a lot of guys coming back in 2015, while UCLA will be breaking in a new QB with Brett Hundley likely heading to the NFL after he provided Bruins fans a troika of L.A. rule during his tenure. With UCLA rising under Mora and USC now free of NCAA sanctions, this rivalry should only get better -- as in, more nationally relevant.

This is the biggest Territorial Cup in a long time: Arizona and Arizona State, both 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Pac-12, will meet in the Territorial Cup as ranked teams for the first time since 1986. The most recent time both teams had at least nine wins was 1975 (ASU 10-0, Arizona 9-1). The South Division is still undecided. Next Friday, with everyone stuffed with turkey, this will be great fun in Tucson. Big question, though: Will Arizona QB Anu Solomon, who left the Wildcats' win over Utah with a lower-leg injury, be available?

Newly bowl eligible: Stanford's 38-17 win over Cal and Washington's 37-13 win over Oregon State made each team bowl-eligible and gave the Pac-12 eight eligible teams. Cal and Oregon State still can become bowl-eligible on the final weekend. Cal needs to beat BYU at home on Saturday, while the Beavers need to end their six-game losing streak in the Civl War against state Oregon.

Cal is much better, but Stanford still rules the Big Game: Cal and Stanford entered the Big Game with matching 5-5 records, but the Cardinal made a dominant statement and won their fifth in a row in the series. That means no Stanford senior will experience life without The Axe. Entering the game, it was a matchup of a good offense (Cal) versus a good defense (Stanford) and a bad offense (Stanford) versus a bad defense (Cal). We learned Stanford's good defense is better than Cal's good offense, and its bad offense is better than Cal's bad defense.

Washington State's freshman QB Luke Falk has lots of potential, but he hasn't yet arrived: Falk was impressive coming off the bench to replace an injured Connor Halliday against USC and had a brilliant starting debut at Oregon State and a strong start at Arizona State, when the Cougs jumped ahead 21-7 against the Sun Devils. But things went haywire thereafter, and Falk started looking like a freshman. He committed five turnovers (four picks and a fumble) in a game the Cougars lost 52-31. He threw for 601 yards and three TDs, and he has shown plenty of good things that point to a strong future running Mike Leach's offense. But the performance in Sun Devil Stadium showed he's still got ways to go, which really shouldn't be surprising.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Naturally, UCLA coach Jim Mora would have preferred his Bruins be a pristine 11-0, having already locked up the Pac-12 South ahead of next week’s season finale against Stanford.

But let’s be honest. When you hoist your sails in Pac-12 waters, you’re going to hit a couple of rocks.

UCLA took on water midway through the season with back-to-back losses to Utah and Oregon, and the national media just assumed the S.S. Bruin was unsalvageable.

But the Bruins bailed the water out. And five wins later -- including their most recent 38-20 pasting of USC Saturday night -- No. 9 UCLA once again finds itself hanging around for a spot in the College Football Playoff. And while swallowing a pair of home losses never sits well, perhaps the silver lining of the mid-season defeats is that the national media turned its oppressive stare away from Westwood, giving the Bruins the space they needed to grow into the team that throttled its rivals at the Rose Bowl Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeMyles Jack
Chris Williams/Icon SportswireFor the third straight season, UCLA punched USC in the mouth and defeated the Trojans by double figures, a streak that hasn't happened in nearly 60 years.
“I don’t know if it was the external pressure as much as it was the pressure we put on ourselves,” UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. "We’ve got a young roster. They wanted it so bad. I dare to say too bad, to the point where they were pressing. This team has been built upon these guys trusting each other and loving ball and they almost lost that a bit in that mid-season lull. We dropped a couple and we swore to get back to who we are and not care about what everyone else thinks about us.”

Saturday night, UCLA looked every bit the dominant team many thought it would be when the Bruins were tapped as the No. 7 team in the country in the preseason. The defense was vicious -- sacking USC quarterback Cody Kessler six times and picking up eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Trojans, who averaged 35.2 points per game coming into the game, were held to just 20 points.

Offensively, quarterback Brett Hundley shook off an early pick-six and ended up 22-of-31 for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a 15-yard score.

And let’s not overlook the fact that the Bruins are now 3-0 against USC in the Mora era. To boot, all three wins have come by 10 points or more. The last time that happened was 1953-55, a time period that saw the Bruins win the UPI national championship in 1954.

Mora took all of two sentences to relish the significance of the win.

“We don’t bask in moments,” he said. “We’ll just move on to the next moment.”

The next moment involves a Stanford squad that is 3-0 against Mora. With a victory Friday the Bruins will clinch the Pac-12 South and face the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If they lose, then Saturday’s Territorial Cup between Arizona State and Arizona will determine the division champion.

Schematically, the Bruins didn’t make any drastic overhauls when they hit their two-game skid. They took the leash off Hundley and gave him more freedom to run. And they put more of an emphasis on their base offense. But for the most part, the UCLA team Saturday -- from an X's and O's standpoint -- was the same that won Aug. 30 at Virginia.

“Those two losses feel like 100 years ago,” offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. “That doesn’t mean I’m not [upset] that we lost both. I think we’ve seen the offensive line really improve over the last month. And the glass half full is that maybe we’re a better football team because of those losses. The kids refocused, and we went back to our base, and we figured we’d just get good at what we do.”

It sounds simple enough. The result has been a spike in the national rankings and UCLA’s second win over a top-20 team in its last five games. And the Bruins are sure to climb again when the new rankings are released Tuesday, given their win over the No. 19 Trojans and Ole Miss’ loss to Arkansas.

Of course, just like when his team was ranked No. 7 in the preseason, Mora was in no mood to talk about the playoff.

“I talk about the Pac-12 championship,” he said. “We have to win Friday. If we can win Friday, we will have another shot to win the Pac-12 championship. I don’t talk about that other stuff.”

And yet the “other stuff” can’t be ignored. Because if the Bruins were to win the conference, it would include a win over (likely) No. 2 Oregon and give them a compelling case for being the best two-loss team in the country. And if a conference championship counts for something -- as the selection committee claims -- the Bruins would have a very strong argument for inclusion.

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