A 6-pac of questions for Week 13

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Every Thursday two of our writers gather ‘round the water cooler to discuss six pressing issues in Pac-12 football, aptly named the #6pac. Today, Ted Miller and Chantel Jennings debate…

1. The Arizona-Utah game has a lot on the line in regard to the South race. How is that game won?

[+] EnlargeSolomon/Wilson
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsThere's no question that Arizona-Utah comes down to Anu Solomon (12), but how he performs involves a battle of wills.
Miller: Utah isn't going to transform offensively, so it wins the way it has won all year: With its defense and special teams. For Arizona, it needs to approximate a draw at the line of scrimmage, which it didn't do against Washington, even though it got a W. Yet it might come down to whether the Wildcats get good Anu Solomon -- Washington State and Colorado -- or bad Anu Solomon -- UCLA and Washington -- which we've seen alternate over the past four weeks.

Jennings: I'm with Ted on this one. Only, I don't think the Solomon that shows up is dependent on Solomon. I think it's got to do much more with what the Utah defense makes him. And I believe they're going to make him very uncomfortable. The Utes' defense is closer to a UCLA or Washington type, so I think Utah will get to him and, like so many other games this year, the game will be won by Utah won with some serious defensive intensity.

2. Oregon State is playing for bowl eligibility at Washington this weekend. Do the Beavers get it?

Miller: I like the Huskies at home. I think the Washington defense gets good pressure on Sean Mannion, and the offense, which took a step forward versus Arizona, is at least adequate.

Jennings: Why not Oregon State? The Beavers' defense looked good against Arizona State and Sean Mannion has found chemistry with receivers. Terron Ward isn't playing but I think Storm Woods is going to have a big game on the ground. Bowl eligibility is on the line and though OSU delivered a huge upset at home against Arizona State, I don't think it'll happen against Oregon. Mannion knows this is his best chance at bowl eligibility and I think he's going to get it.

3. Thanksgiving is creeping upon us, what are you most thankful for in the Pac-12 this year?

Miller: I am most thankful for #Pac12AfterDark. No other conference has produced more nuttiness than the Pac-12. Things are rarely predictable, and even when they are, they aren't boring.

Jennings: Backup quarterbacks. Guys like Jerry Neuheisel, Mike Bercovici, Kendal Thompson (or Travis Wilson, depending on how you look at it) and Luke Falk have all made this season's group of quarterbacks even better and deeper than we could've imagined.

4. At this point it looks like Oregon is the league's best chance at a national title. What team would the Ducks not want to face in a semifinal?

Miller: The only team I don't like as a matchup is Alabama. The Tide is big and physical on both lines of scrimmage. They remind me of Stanford when it was still Stanford, and we know how that gave the Ducks trouble before. Oregon certainly could use some good injury news on its lines, particularly on offense.

Jennings: I agree that a tough defense is a worry, but I think what would be more worrisome for the Ducks is actually a high-powered offense. Basically, what team could beat Oregon at its own game? The Ducks have scored 62 touchdowns this season but three other schools who are in playoff talks aren't too far behind -- Ohio State (59), Baylor (59) and TCU (58). Of those teams, the one that has accounted for the most plays of 10 or more yards is Ohio State. So I'll agree with Ted on Bama, but I also have to throw the Buckeyes in the ring.

5. We've got a few rivalry games this weekend, what has been the most exciting rivalry you were ever a part of?

Miller: Well, I covered Auburn way back in the day and those Iron Bowls were something to behold, even though the Tide and Tigers weren't doing too much when I was down there in the mid-to-late-1990s. I also can remember more than a few thrilling Apple Cups, including a time I was among the poor fools getting pelted by bottles and other random objects during a near-riot at Martin Stadium.

Jennings: I'm going way back to my high school days -- not to a game I covered, but to one of those small-town rivalries that movies are made about that I was actually a part of. My high school was only good at boys' cross country (which isn't exactly riveting to cheer for) so my senior year, when our boys' basketball team was actually kind of good, it was the thing to do on Friday nights. We played our rival (essentially the exact same town just 10 miles up the road) and it was this heated, intense, spiteful type of games. We ended up winning by two on a last-second floater in the lane. Everyone tried to rush the court (fail) but it was one of those movie moments that I actually lived through. Very cool. Very John Mellencamp-ish.

6. We're three weeks from the championship game -- what team does Oregon face?

Miller: I'm going to say UCLA, and I think there's still a strong possibility it becomes a "play-in" game for both teams with the College Football Playoff.

Jennings: I'm also saying the Bruins. But at this point, I think the only Pac-12 team with a chance to get in the playoff is Oregon.

WSU QB Connor Halliday has broken leg

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday broke his lower leg against Southern California, not his ankle as was widely reported.

Halliday, the nation's passing leader, said Thursday that he broke his tibia and fibula when a USC player fell on his leg early in the Nov. 1 game. He says the break was closer to his ankle than his knee.

Coach Mike Leach had told the media that Halliday's ankle was broken.

Halliday said doctors predict he will be running in three months and should be fully recovered in about five months. He plans to try out for the National Football League, which has long been his dream.

Freshman Luke Falk has filled in for Halliday, and will lead the Cougars in this Saturday's game at No. 13 Arizona State.

In nine games this season, Halliday completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,873 yards, with 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He threw for an NCAA record 734 yards in a loss to California, and was on pace to set other national records when he was injured.

Halliday said he and Falk have been teammates for two years, and that he is pleased by Falk's stellar performance in relief.

"It's such a cool feeling to see a guy you feel you helped along the way play so well," Halliday said.

Halliday said he expects to be ready to work out for NFL teams in the spring.

"I will do everything I can to make this a reality," he said.

He is grateful for the support he has received from Washington State fans.

"It means the world to me that people take time out of their day to say a couple of kind words to me," Halliday said. "It shows how strong Cougar Nation really is."

Halliday put up some astonishing numbers in Leach's Air Raid offense, including an NCAA record 89 pass attempts against Oregon last year. He expected Falk will break some of those records.

But the perpetually rebuilding Cougars never had a winning record with Halliday at the helm, and he expects his passing stats to be his legacy.

"It shows I was an explosive quarterback," Halliday said. "When we got rolling there was not too much other people could do to stop it."

Halliday said he knew as he was being tackled that he would likely break his leg. He was twisting away from the tackler, a position he had been in many times in his career. His brain was telling him to move his foot, but he could not because the foot was trapped.

"I heard it happen," he said of the break.

The break is not too painful now, except when he rehabs.

"There's nothing I can do about it now," he said. "I've got to get ready to hopefully have a career at the next level."

Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
Scooby WrightMark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsScooby Wright on being a two-star recruit coming out of high school: "It definitely fires me up."
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Scooby the Underdog wasn't supposed to be a five-star recruit.

His story still could have turned out well, perhaps really well, if such a rating had been bestowed upon him. Phillip Wright III still had enough drive, enough work ethic, enough "Humble Scooby," as Arizona teammate Will Parks says, to be great if everyone thought he would be great.

But would he be this great? Would Arizona's sophomore linebacker be a front-runner for Pac-12 defensive player of the year, a guaranteed All-American, and a finalist for the national defensive player of the year (Nagurski Trophy) and the Lombardi Award, if he heard how good he would be in recruiting? Would he be the face of an overachieving team, ranked 15th nationally, filled with similarly overlooked players?

"I told our staff," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said, "we've got to find as many Scooby Wrights as we can. Whatever he was so-called out of high school, you can't say he wasn't a five-star for us."

Wright was a two-star recruit, as his Twitter handle, @twostarscoob, reminds everyone, especially the Pac-12 coaches who viewed him that way coming out of Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa, California. A recruiting process that brought more angst and anger than enjoyment didn't light the fire inside Wright, but it fans the flames every time he plays.

Cal didn't want him. He recorded 18 tackles, including four for loss and two sacks, and a forced fumble in Arizona's win against the Bears.

Washington dragged its feet. Scooby's answer: 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, in last Saturday's win.

"He plays with that chip," said Matt Dudek, Arizona's director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel. "Like, 'I wasn't good enough for you. Now I'm going to have 19 tackles against you. I'm going to steal the ball three times.'"

When Arizona offered a scholarship in June 2012, Wright had been scheduled to attend camps at Oregon and UCLA. He thought: They never gave me the time of day. Why would I go?

He ended an upset of Oregon on Oct. 2 with a sack-strip-recovery against star quarterback Marcus Mariota. Arizona lost to UCLA, but Wright recorded 19 tackles, 4.5 for loss and three sacks. His numbers against the Pac-12: 84 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and five forced fumbles.

"It definitely fires me up," said Wright, who leads the nation in tackles for loss per game (2.1) and forced fumbles (5), and ranks third in sacks per game (1.2). "I went to all those combines and stuff. People always questioned my athleticism. I had one of the highest SPARQ scores in the country, like 112.

"It definitely motivated me more, being overlooked."

The overlooked label seemed to suit Wright, even before it was attached. With some exceptions, those told they are great don't approach football like he does.

[+] EnlargeScooby Wright III
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsArizona's Scooby Wright has terrorized Pac-12 foes this season, totaling 84 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and five forced fumbles.
As an eighth grader, Wright woke up his father, Phil, at 5:30 a.m., four times a week to get a ride to the high school. He would lift weights with the varsity players for an hour, hop back in the car, shower at home, and then head to the other side of town to his middle school for classes.

While at Cardinal Newman, Wright was the last player off the practice field. When he did leave the field, he and defensive coordinator Matt Di Meola would work on pass-rush techniques in Di Meola's backyard, or watch film. They spent many Sundays together, too. By the eighth game of Wright's sophomore year, he was Newman's best player.

"I don't know if we've ever seen a kid attack it like that," Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin said. "Scooby was just fanatical. You just think if someone works that hard, it has to work out."

Maybe Wright would have had the same drive as a four- or five-star recruit. But the snubs sharpened him.

"That stuff just ate at him, killed him. That stuff makes him work harder," said his dad, Phil, who coaches softball at Santa Rosa Junior College. "It seems crazy, but he wants to keep proving himself. I don't think it’s because he's mad and upset. He wants to prove people wrong.

"We always laugh and call him 'The Waterboy,' with tackling fuel."

Pac-12 opponents always will be lit matches for that fuel, but Wright's fire burns for Arizona.

He's the team's most recognizable player, both because of his game and his name. The quick backstory: Phil Wright, hoping to avoid the confusion he endured with his own father, started calling his son "Scooby" at a young age. It stuck.

"Ninety percent of people in his high school didn't know his name," Phil Wright said. "The only thing that says Phillip Wright is his driver's license."

He will always be Scooby at Arizona Stadium, where more fans are donning "Scooby's Crew" T-shirts. The T-shirts started with family and friends, but the increased demand led Phil to make several hundred more, and different versions.

Scooby has the fame he never had in high school, although he is not totally comfortable with it. Two days after the UCLA game, he was informed he had won his second consecutive Pac-12 defensive player of the week award. His response: "I don't care. We lost."

Still, he takes nothing for granted.

"He walks up to me after every game and says, 'Thanks for believing in me,'" Dudek said. "He doesn't want to be anywhere else."

Former Wildcats assistant Tony Gibson, now West Virginia's defensive coordinator, first identified Wright in spring 2012. The staff loved his high school highlights, but Rodriguez, aware of Wright's few suitors, wondered, "What are we missing?" He concluded the others were missing out and offered Wright, hoping no one would pick up the scent.

Wright committed June 21, his parents' anniversary.

"It really happened within a week," he said. "I never looked back. There was no gray. They were super straightforward, like, 'I want you.'"

Three days after graduation, Wright arrived at Arizona's campus. He started at outside linebacker as a true freshman and recorded 83 tackles, 9.5 for loss, but "played kind of blind." He wasn't used in pass-rush situations with four down linemen.

So he kept working.

"He was like a young Marine," said Parks, a Wildcats safety. "Most young guys come in timid. He's just got that energy, that Scooby mentality."

Wright is now a fixture in Arizona's third-down package, playing both defensive end and linebacker, as he did in high school. He's the only FBS player in the top 25 averages for tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles.

"It's just something he has a knack for," safeties coach Matt Caponi said. "He's not the most mobile guy, but he's got that nonstop in him."

Wright corresponds with Tedy Bruschi, who, like Wright, was a lightly recruited player from Northern California who landed at Arizona. Bruschi became a two-time consensus All-American, leading the "Desert Swarm" defense.

"Tedy Bruschi was Scooby Wright before Scooby Wright," Rodriguez said.

Bruschi played on good teams, but Wright wants to lead a great team.

The two-star underdog wants to take Arizona to a five-star resort where it has never been: the Rose Bowl.

"That'd be the ultimate goal," he said. "Nobody's going to come back in 20 years and say, 'Oh, you had 20 tackles in this game.' If your team wins, that's all that matters in the end."
Oregon State redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Villamin knows not to waste opportunities.

After all, he spent all of last season as a non-qualifier at Oregon State after believing he would be eligible. But the rug was pulled out from under him shortly after he got to campus and learned that an online class he had taken in high school wouldn’t count in the NCAA’s guidelines.

Because of this, Villamin spent last fall, last winter and last spring training by himself. He would watch every single practice to get mental reps, but he promised himself that when he finally got a chance to be on the field, be a part of the team, he would make an impact.

[+] EnlargeJordan Villamin
Steve Conner/Icon SportswireJordan Villamin has totaled 479 receiving yards and four TD receptions over the past five games.
"It was tough," Villamin said. "At most points, I didn’t feel like I was a part of the team, like I was an outcast. ... It didn’t feel like I was a part of the team because I wasn’t out there grinding with them. I wasn’t out there going through the hardships that they were going through. I was just sitting back and watching. That was really, really tough."

At the beginning of the 2014 season, those opportunities were few and far between as he was behind junior wide receiver Richard Mullaney, who accounted for 788 receiving yards the previous season.

But that all changed when Mullaney went down in the Utah game with an elbow injury. Mullaney is unlikely to return in 2014.

"It took me a little bit to realize that I was actually in," Villamin said. "But then I was like, 'OK, I have to help the team.'"

Though offensive coordinator John Garrett doesn’t want anyone to crown Villamin as anything too quickly ("He has a long way to go," Garrett said. "We don’t need to declare him James Lofton just yet."), Villamin's numbers since the Utah game have been outstanding.

"He just embraced the opportunity," Garrett said. "I think the biggest thing for him was that he didn’t get awed by the situation and freak out like 'Oh my gosh, I’m now a starter in the Pac-12, I wasn’t even eligible last year.' He just said, 'Hey, the ball is coming to me, I’m going to catch it.'"

And with the Pac-12’s all-time leader passer, Sean Mannion, throwing balls his way, catch it he has.

His 479 receiving yards since Oct. 16 place him ninth in receiving in the FBS during that span (though some receivers have only played four games in that time frame) and there are only nine receivers who have scored more touchdowns that Villamin's four during that span.

Villamin has two 100-yard receiving games in those five appearances and is averaging 18.4 yards per catch.

It is pretty impressive for a guy who is essentially a true freshman. What has been the biggest difference for him?

"I’m a lot more confident," Villamin said. "I went through a lot of early growing pains in those games gaining the experience of actually going out there and doing it. ... I’ve come out a lot more confident and feel like I can play in the Pac-12, and just when my number was called, I tried to make the play."

Coach Mike Riley agreed. He said, "It’s really just getting a chance to play. ... He has played more and more, and he has made some plays. He’s getting I just think more used to the competition that he’s up against in our league. That’s probably the biggest key for him."

Now Villamin and the Beavers face another tough test. After finding a way to upset No. 6 Arizona State last weekend -- Villamin tallied one touchdown and 127 yards on four receptions -- Oregon State now heads to Seattle to try and secure bowl eligibility.

The Washington defense has been strong this season, but it has struggled against the pass, giving up 274.7 passing yards per game. If the Beavers can find a way to the postseason, it might be in the hands of a Villamin, a guy who really has been making the most of his shot.
When they met a year ago, Cal and Stanford stood at polar opposite ends of the spectrum.

The Golden Bears were mired in a season of 1-11 despair. They didn't beat a single FBS team throughout their entire 2013 journey.

The Cardinal, meanwhile, were again shooting toward the Pac-12 pinnacle. Arizona upset Oregon on the day David Shaw's team walloped Cal 63-13. The 50-point obliteration represented the largest margin in Big Game history. It catapulted Stanford into the Pac-12 championship game and eventually the Rose Bowl.

A lot can change in less than a calendar year.

Cal and Stanford are ready to renew hostilities for the 117th time, and though the Cardinal are still the favorite Saturday, their 5-5 record suddenly stands in a dead heat with the Bears.

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AP Photo/Tony AvelarPlayers celebrate with The Stanford Axe in 2013 after beating Cal for the fourth consecutive year.
In the 362 days since one of the biggest mismatches in their rivalry's history, Cal and Stanford have zoomed in opposite directions. Sonny Dykes' program has made significant strides under sophomore quarterback Jared Goff, while Shaw's fragile post-Andrew Luck success has vanished on the offensive end. The Bears still struggle mightily on defense (last in the Pac-12) while the Cardinal still excel on that side of the ball (best in the Pac-12), but both teams' overall complexions have driven them to the same late November spot: a .500 record.

Objectives moving forward

The next goal for Cal involves clinching bowl eligibility, and the Bears can kill two birds with one stone by winning Saturday, as that would also restore some balance to a Northern California war that Stanford has commanded this decade. This much has been documented: The Cal offense built around Goff and Daniel Lasco is good. But the Bears must show meaningful improvement defensively to get this job done, as they made Stanford's mercurial offense (8.6 yards per play) look like the 1994 San Francisco 49ers last season. Cal has given up 39.7 points and 518 yards per game this season, last in the Pac-12. But the Cardinal's offense has regressed significantly this season, and Dykes seems confident that his defense has improved enough to meet the challenge this time.

"We're a better football team, and we're certainly better defensively," he said. "The numbers haven't necessarily been where we want or need them to be, but we're a lot better than we were. ... Last year we had to commit extra guys to the box and we were susceptible to a lot of big plays. We're constructed differently now. Our ability to hold up against the run will give us a better opportunity this year."

While Stanford is reeling, they're also viewing this game through a lens of opportunity --with a seasoning of desperation. Nose tackle David Parry acknowledged the Cardinal's season -- one that started with College Football Playoff aspirations -- would be a failure without at least one win in the final two games. Receiver Jeff Trojan was more forgiving -- "It's tough to say anything is a failure when you've grown with so many people in the program," he said -- but the senior recognized that a chance to play for the prized Big Game trophy overlapped with Stanford's desire to salvage this forgettable season.

Perhaps Trojan's comments before last year's contest, which also came after a brutal loss, best illustrate the Cardinal's approach heading to Memorial Stadium.

"We aren't very fond of [Cal]," he said. "They stole our Axe and I don't like them for that."

So, because bitterness remains because of an 1899 theft that has been part of rivalry lore in three separate centuries now, it's safe to say that Stanford -- the wounded bully -- relishes a 2014 opportunity to show its cross-Bay nemesis that it's still in charge.

With Goff on an upward trajectory as he approaches his junior season, Cal is expected to continue its charge upward -- especially if defensive challenges are at least partially answered. For Stanford, then, there's a real sense of urgency to circle the wagons and make a rigid stand now, when talent and depth advantages both still favor them. The Cardinal have their own explosive offensive stockpile maturing for next year and beyond -- perhaps along the lines of Christian McCaffrey -- and setting the table for the upcoming wave is of utmost importance.

The winner of this contest earns bowl eligibility, and the extra preparation time associated with that is a big first step in the foundation of the future. Regardless of any potential bowl destinations, this is the type of game that can set a tone for the long offseason of work ahead for both programs. They're on opposite trajectories now, and this Saturday's clash can either hasten or alter the directions of both shifts.

Cal and Stanford have reached the tipping point, and there's more than an Axe at stake.
Each week, Adam Rittenberg takes you inside coaches' conversations in Inside Access , but we can't fit everything everyone said in one place. So here are some nuggets that didn't fit in the column, but are too good to be ignored. In today's notebook: Brett Hundley's growth, BC's defense, Missouri's Shane Ray and Colorado State's Rashard Higgins.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsBrett Hundley's performance this season has been overlooked, but his numbers are impressive.
Hundley’s continued growth at UCLA
You don’t hear Brett Hundley’s name in the Heisman Trophy conversation, while his primary preseason competitor, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, is the favorite to win it. Hundley’s numbers are excellent -- 72.1 percent completions, 24 touchdowns (17 pass, 7 rush) and 3,111 yards (2,547 pass, 564 rush), but there’s a perception that he leveled off this season.

Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone doesn’t buy it. Just because some of the more common Hundley images this fall show him harried or on his back -- he has been sacked 29 times, tied for 12th most nationally -- the junior has continued to develop.

“You hear he’s holding the ball, he’s taking too many sacks,” Mazzone told Inside Access
Brett Hundley, Cody KesslerAP PhotosBrett Hundley and Cody Kessler will be fighting for individual awards and the Pac-12 South title.
It's safe to assume that when the postseason awards are handed out, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota will once again be holding top honors as the league's First-Team All-Conference quarterback.

Second-team, however is still up for grabs. And this weekend's rivalry game between USC and UCLA might move the debate. There are only two quarterbacks in the conference who are completing more than 70 percent of their throws -- UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley (72.1) and USC quarterback Cody Kessler (70.2).

And while there are plenty of dynamic players on both sidelines, it's the quarterbacks who typically take center stage in this rivalry.

"I think a big part of deciding that stuff will be in this game," Kessler said. "Brett has played really well this year. He's one of my good friends and he's done a great job. I'm happy for him. This game will probably help define that. Not just the all-conference stuff. But some of the other awards and the Battle of LA thing. This game has a lot of emphasis on the quarterbacks and it's going to be a fun competition."

The league's two most accurate passers took different routes to get to where they are heading into Saturday. Hundley had a "competition" in the spring of 2012, but easily emerged as the starter before the season began and he hasn't looked back since. Kessler's road has been more serpentine as he had to win over two different coaching staffs (and multiple head coaches) along the way.

No one is going to confuse the two. They play very different styles, run different schemes and bring unique skill sets to their teams. But coaches who have seen both this season agree on the same thing: Both are very good at what they do.

"Very different style, but equally effective," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who was on the winning end of both games against the LA schools. "Both of them are tremendous talents. I believe both will play a long time in this sport beyond college. Kessler is more of a traditional, pocket, NFL type guy. Hundley is very dynamic and can run the football as well as throw it. They are both great leaders and do a great job in their respective systems. Should be a great matchup."

Even the way they handle pressure is a contrast in styles. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kessler is completing 57.4 percent of his throws when he's under duress, which is tops among Power 5 quarterbacks. Conversely, Hundley ranks second among Power 5 quarterbacks with 391 scramble yards. One sticks in the pocket, the other uses his legs to make plays downfield.

"I think that Kessler is really doing a nice job executing that offense and taking care of the ball and not making mistakes," said Cal coach Sonny Dykes, who dropped both games to USC and UCLA. "Hundley can make a lot of plays with his feet. In some ways, he's probably at his best when he can freelance a little bit. But he's certainly capable of being a pocket guy and he does that well. I think his talent really comes out more when he's forced to make some plays with his feet and sustain some plays. They are very different that way, but they are both playing at a high level with two different styles. But both are good at what they do."

Worth noting that both also have very strong run games supporting them. USC's Buck Allen leads the conference with 1,184 rushing yards. UCLA's Paul Perkins is right on his heels with 1,172 yards.

And yet for as much credit as Kessler gets for staying in the pocket and Hundley for leaving it, both aren't too bad when the roles are reversed. Kessler will never be a tuck-and-run guy, but he can improvise if needed.

"He has that in his arsenal," said USC coach Steve Sarkisian. "… He probably doesn't get enough credit for being as good of an athlete as he is. But I think we'd all prefer for him to stay within the system and utilize his reads and throws."

And Hundley -- who leads all FBS quarterbacks in completion percentage -- has to be a good pocket passer for those kinds of numbers. And when the Bruins throw on first down, he's completing nearly three out of every four passes (74.8 percent).

Of course, these two aren't alone in the quest for all-conference honors. Cal's Jared Goff and Arizona's Anu Solomon will get strong consideration. Even injured WSU quarterback Connor Halliday still leads the league with 32 touchdown passes and 3,873 yards.

But neither is all that concerned with that right now. Both teams are still fighting for the Pac-12 South title and a date with Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.

"There is always going to be a lot riding on this game," Hundley said. "It's the end of the season and typically both teams are doing well. This is usually the game where the South is decided and this year it's no different. We respect them as a team. They've put together a good season. We've done the same. It's two well-respected teams and we're going to go out there and put on a show."

Kickoff Show: Week 13 (1 p.m. ET)

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Join ESPN.com reporters Heather Dinich, Ted Miller, Adam Rittenberg and host Chantel Jennings as they discuss the current race for the four College Football Playoff spots, the Heisman race and the biggest games of the weekend.
With four entries, the Pac-12 dominates the list of five finalists for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

The five finalists are Hawaii punter/wide receiver/punt returner Scott Harding, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard and Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon.

The Polynesian College Football Player of the Year is given, according to a news release, to "the most outstanding Polynesian college football player that epitomizes great ability and integrity."

The finalists were chosen by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, which is composed of past college football head coaches Dick Tomey (Chairman), LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett, NFL player personnel expert Gil Brandt, past NFLPA president and Inaugural Inductee Kevin Mawae and Hawai'i sportscaster Robert Kekaula. The committee will meet again in the coming weeks to select the winner.

The winner will be announced on December 9. The formal presentation of the award will be held at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Celebration Dinner during the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend on January 23, 2015.

The Pac-12 had 15 players on the initial watch list released in July.

Pac-12 Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Why Stanford will win: Stanford winning the Big Game would be a sure-thing if I had predicted Cal to win -- as Bears fans know, my pick is like getting handed a condemning black spot from a pirate, a la "Treasure Island." But there is something to be said for the physicality of Stanford's defense being able to contain Cal's offense, as Washington's front seven did. I also suspect Stanford will get Good Kevin Hogan in this game, which should be enough to get the Cardinal bowl eligible in an otherwise disappointing season. -- Ted Miller

Why Cal will win: I like this matchup: A great offense against a great defense, and a "meh" offense against a "meh" defense. Yay, Pac-12 football! But I think Jared Goff is going to come up huge for the Bears. I'm giving the nod to the team that has more positive vibes, rather than the one dealing with disappointment. That's what I've learned from the West Coast. -- Chantel Jennings

Why USC will win: It just wouldn't feel right if the Pac-12 South finished without another change of course. Look for Cody Kessler to turn in another big game and the Trojans to avoid a three-game losing streak to UCLA -- something that has happened just three times in the series' history. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why UCLA will win: With Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor exploding on a regular basis, USC may have more top-level flash (don’t tell that to Brett Hundley, though), but UCLA has the depth advantage in this game. The Trojans’ late-game struggles have to be cause for some concern here, especially since the Bruins have been playing their best football as of late. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon State will win: The Beavers are riding high and bowl eligibility is on the line in Sean Mannion's senior year. Last week, the Beavers played for pride. This week, it'll be to give their leader one extra game in an OSU uniform. They clicked last week and I think that will continue. I think the Beavers are going to leave Seattle with a win and extend their season one more game. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Washington will win: In losing Terron Ward, the Beavers lose a running back, a leader and a special teams contributor. That’s a big deduction this late in the season for a team not overflowing with playmakers. Combine that with a talented Washington front seven and the Huskies feel right in this one at home. Now, if Cyler Miles can just hold on to the dang ball. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

Why Utah will win: Home-field advantage might not mean as much as it used to in the Pac-12 this season, but I think the crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium fuels Utah's nation-leading pass rush. It will be enough to push the Utes to victory over an Arizona offense that’s still young at key positions. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon will win: When the best team in the conference plays the worst team in the conference, it's easy to pick the winner (even in the Pac-12). It's only a question of how much the Ducks will win by. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils are going to be eager to bounce back from their loss in Corvallis and pick up win No. 9 against Washington State. Look for a better performance from Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster, who rushed for just 51 yards against the Beavers. -- Chantel Jennings

National links: Expand the playoff? 

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
The first four teams to ever make the College Football Playoff have yet to be determined. But the backlash against the committee has been so intense, people already are suggesting ways to fix the system.

ACC commissioner John Swofford spoke Wednesday at a weekly Durham (N.C.) Sports Club meeting and said eight teams would be "ideal" in a playoff format.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Pac-12 morning links

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for.

Leading off

The USA Today annual database of coaches salaries, which was released Wednesday, always draws plenty of debate. Coach "X" is overpaid. Coach "Y" is underpaid. Whatever your stance, one thing is for sure ... coaches salaries are at an all-time high. And thus, the expectations are equally high.

Here’s how things shape up for the Pac-12 coaches, based on total compensation.
  • Chris Petersen, Washington, $3,681, 720
  • Rich Rodriguez, Arizona, 3,298,500
  • Jim Mora, UCLA, $3,250,000
  • Mike Leach, Washington State, $2,750,000
  • Todd Graham, Arizona State, $2,702,960
  • Kyle Whittingham, Utah, $2,200,000
  • David Shaw, Stanford, $2,012,666
  • Mike MacIntyre, Colorado, $2,010,150
  • Mark Helfrich, Oregon, $2,000,000
  • Sonny Dykes, Cal, $1,808,000
  • Mike Riley, Oregon State, $1,510,008
  • Steve Sarkisian, USC, N/A

When talking to some coaches last February for a story about potential coaching changes in the future, a few of them expressed to me that the main reason coaches only get three years now is the salaries. It used to be a coach would get at least four years -- one full recruiting cycle -- to turn a program around. Yet schools also have to spend the money to attract coaches, especially rebuilding projects. With the pressure to produce immediate results, it stands to reason that the heat gets turned up after Year 2 or 3. For now, it looks like everyone in the Pac-12 is reasonably happy with their coach, so it's unlikely we see any unforced moves in the offseason.

Player of the Year

The 15 semifinalists for the Walter Camp Award, given annually to the top player in college football, were released Wednesday with three Pac-12 players on the list.
Not to be overshadowed, the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top running back, was also released Wednesday. USC's Buck Allen was the only Pac-12 player named a semifinalist.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you watch one video of a punter pinning opponents inside the 10 today, make it this one.

Here's injured Buffalo Bills linebacker and former Duck Kiko Alonso chillin in some snow, because, well, why not?


A video posted by Kiko Alonso (@elbravo_50) on

Some more Big Game motivation.

Can USC reclaim its perch atop the Pac-12?

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19

LOS ANGELES -- Fifth-year senior tight end Randall Telfer signed with USC in 2010. It had long been his dream to be a Trojan. His favorite player? Reggie Bush.

True freshman Adoree' Jackson signed with USC in 2014. The native of Belleville, Illinois, grew up with no attachment to USC -- until he saw video of Reggie Bush, who became his favorite player.

Telfer knew USC faced NCAA sanctions when he signed, but he didn't know how severe. That understanding only hit him after a 50-0 victory over UCLA and 10-2 record in 2011 was followed by ... nothing. No bowl. Little national relevance. Jackson knew of USC's NCAA sanctions when he signed, but he also was aware the scholarship penalties expired with his recruiting class. As a first-year player, he knows no difference between USC having 85 guys on scholarship and 65, at least not yet, and he's got enough on his mind playing both ways as a true freshman.

These two, veteran and new Trojans, connect as starters for a 7-3 team trying to backdoor its way back into the Pac-12's South division race and mutually eyeballing archival UCLA on Saturday. They connect as the before and after of sanctions brought on by Bush's misdeeds. They connect on their extensive playing time with little depth surrounding them due to scholarship reductions. They connect on a hopeful yet uncertain future for the program. They connect on their continued esteem for Bush, who was formally disassociated from the program as part of the NCAA sanctions.

To read the rest of Ted Miller's story, click here.

#4Pac: Most intriguing rivalry game?

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're asking which rivalry game each reporter is most excited to see?

David Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Cal vs. Stanford

Here's a recipe for entertaining theater: Take two rival programs on opposite trajectories and have them collide. Stanford is diving fast coming off the pinnacle (a Rose Bowl season), while Cal is picking up steam coming from the nadir (1-11 misery). It’s fitting, then, that both teams are 5-5 at this point of intersection. Technically, they're in the same spot when it comes to record, but aside from that, their situations couldn’t be any more different.

The Cardinal brings the Pac-12’s worst offense into this game, while the Bears own the conference’s worst defense. Something has to budge in that matchup of extremes, right? This game should be significantly more competitive than last year, and the Bears should enter angry, too: Stanford put up a Big Game record 63 points in 2013 and posted the largest-ever margin of victory in the rivalry’s century-plus long history.

Cal’s on the upswing now, and Stanford is clearly vulnerable, so this features everything a legendary rivalry should: a chance at vengeance, pride, and a boatload of history. Oh, and a victory clinches a postseason berth for the winner. It’s been a while since Big Game meant so much to both programs.

Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon vs. Oregon State

I'm most excited to watch the Civil War. For me, I think it'll feel a lot like my Michigan-Michigan State rivalry roots -- two great programs about 40 minutes from one another. Throughout the state of Michigan you split allegiances and I think that's true in Oregon as well. I would say the same of USC-UCLA, but there's so much else competing for people's attention in Los Angeles. Having been a part of the Michigan-MSU rivalry, I'm excited to see how this Oregon-Oregon State one stacks up. Plus, there's always the chance the Beavers pull off another upset and dash the Ducks' playoff hopes.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: Cal vs. Stanford

I grew up watching the Big Game, so that one will always be near and dear to me. I never had a favorite team, I just enjoyed the pageantry of the rivalry and the history of loathing between the schools.

A former colleague of mine at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mark Zeigler, was one of the key instigators in producing the fake Cal newspaper. I love the history of the Immortal 21 and the Phoenix Five.

This year’s offers an extra dose of drama because the teams meet right in the middle of differing trajectories. The Bears, building off their winless-against-FBS-teams season, boast the No. 2 offense in the conference. But they can’t stop anybody. The Cardinal have the worst offense in the league. But their defense is fantastic.

Though Sonny Dykes won’t be named the Pac-12 coach of the year (I don’t think), he deserves some recognition for what he’s been able to do in turning the program around so quickly.

I was asked in a recent radio interview if the Cardinal might come out flat because they’ve had such a down season. The answer is, obviously, no. This is not a game teams come out flat for. Both teams are fighting for postseason berths and given the different styles they play, the stage could be set for one of the more dramatic Big Games in recent history.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: USC vs. UCLA

Each rivalry has its own unique aspects that make it appealing, but this year the answer is clear: USC at UCLA. With the Bruins needing two more wins to clinch the Pac-12 South and USC also in contention, there won’t be a Pac-12 rivalry game with higher stakes this year. And after UCLA came in at No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday, there’s still a plausible route for the Bruins to be one of the four teams left standing. That ends the discussion.

There’s always going to be something about the UCLA-USC game that other rivalries don’t have as a result of the schools’ locations. The campuses are about 13 miles apart and both fall within the Los Angeles city limits, making it without question the best crosstown rivalry in the country. That doesn’t necessarily make it better than, say, the Apple Cup -- Washington and Washington State are nearly 300 miles apart -- but it does give it an added dynamic that other games don’t have.

As for the actual game, the quarterbacks -- UCLA’s Brett Hundley and USC’s Cody Kessler -- would have made it interesting regardless of the stakes.

Mailbag: Oregon vs. ???

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
Welcome to the mailbag, where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came. If you feel so inclined, follow me on Twitter.

Derrick in Omaha writes: Who should Oregon fear the most in a Pac-12 champ game? I don't think we need a highly ranked opponent, just one we can beat. Tough to beat UCLA twice, but USC is looking pretty good, too. And Arizona has had our number the last few years.

Kevin Gemmell: The simple answer is this: Fear everyone! There is no easy out.

Whoever the Ducks end up playing, they are going to get a unique challenge. But let's go down the line and look at the five teams left and what sort of trouble they could present the Ducks. (Relax, this is in alphabetical order).


Which South Division team could give Oregon the most trouble in the Pac-12 championship game?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,732)

Arizona: The Wildcats have the benefit of beating Oregon twice in the past two seasons. Could they pull it off thrice? Oregon is a different team than the one that lost seven weeks ago. It's healthier in some places, but not in others. And as you note, it's hard to beat a team twice in one season. But the 'Cats seem to know something no one else does. If Arizona wins again, they should take a bow. (Ohhh ... See what I did there?)

ASU: The Ducks didn't see the Sun Devils this year. But you've got to think the matchup with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Jaelen Strong (assuming both are at full health) would be a marquee storyline in this game. ASU will blitz, because that's what ASU does, and if they can keep Marcus Mariota contained, they'd have a shot. That's a big if, though.

UCLA: The Bruins have the experience of having already seen the Ducks once this season. But they had no answer for Royce Freeman, who really blossomed in this game with 121 rushing yards and two scores. But UCLA's Paul Perkins, though kept out of the end zone, rushed for 187 yards on 21 carries -- an average of 8.9 yards per touch. That could be a problem.

USC: Really good running back. Really good receiver. Really accurate quarterback who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Really athletic defense. This one is intriguing. ...

Utah: The final score, 51-27, wasn't indicative of how close that game really was. The Utes were within a field goal with 11 minutes left, and we don't know what would have happened if the Utes had gone up 14-0 instead of the infamous 7-7 swing.

All five matchups have their pros and cons for the Ducks. Let the debate begin.

0006shy in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kevin, is it time for the rest of the country to admit that the Pac-12 South is the toughest division in college football? Five teams -- five teams! -- are still in contention to win it. Talk about cannibalizing! Sorry Sec West, your propaganda doesn't work over here on the BEST coast. With teams like Arkansas (one conference win in two and a half years), A&M (no defense at all), LSU (couldn't complete a pass even if the existence of the universe depended on it), and the Mississippi schools (eight non-conference games combined, zero against Power 5 teams), you're a distant second.

Kevin Gemmell: I think the rest of the country has, in fact, woken up and smelled the Southern goodness. That's why there are five Pac-12 South teams ranked in the most recent College Football Playoff poll with UCLA (9), ASU (13), Arizona (15), Utah (17) and USC (19). But it's not just the committee. All five are also ranked in the AP poll and the coaches' poll. So there is wide recognition that the South is deep.

That five of six teams from one division are ranked in the top 20 is awfully impressive. But for the sake of comparison, it's worth noting that the SEC West has four ranked teams and three of them are in the top 10 and all four are in the top 15.

So the question then becomes quality vs. depth. No doubt, the South is a deeper division. Even with seven teams compared to six, I'd take the bottom half of the South over the bottom half of the West any day. But does the South have more quality at the top than the West?

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre has some thoughts on the subject, which you can read here.

For kicks, let's quickly look at the potential matchups of the top five from each division (we're going by rankings):
  • Alabama (1) vs UCLA (9)
  • Mississippi State (4) vs. ASU (13)
  • Ole Miss (8) vs. Arizona (15)
  • Auburn (14) vs. Utah (17)
  • Texas A&M (NR) vs. USC (19)

I think on any given day you have the Pac-12 South going 3-2 and the next day the West going 3-2.

So to answer your question/comment, I think the South probably has a slight edge. But that's also coming from a Pac-12 writer. But I think "distant" second might be a little too extreme. It's pretty neck and neck.

James in Corvallis writes: What are your thoughts on Jordan Villamin after the OSU upset? He has a size/speed combo that OSU hasn't had in recent memory. Could he be something special? It would be nice to have that one-two punch with Bolden and Villamin.

Kevin Gemmell: Interesting to see this question pop up, because I just asked Mike Riley about Villamin on Tuesday's conference call. And I know Chantel Jennings has a Pulitzer-worthy feature coming out on him for tomorrow, so look for that.

I'm not necessarily ready to speculate on anybody's future -- especially a wide receiver when a quarterback transition is going to occur in the very near future -- but it's fair to say he's made the most of his opportunities.

First, his measurables are outstanding. At 6-4, 240 pounds, he's certainly got the kind of frame that can give defensive backs fits. In the first five games, he had just three catches for 32 yards.

But since Richard Mullaney went out and Villamin's role has increased, he's caught 26 balls for 479 yards and four touchdowns. He had huge performances against Cal (9-140-1) and ASU (4-127-1) and appears to be gaining more confidence with every game he's played.

And that's exactly what Riley said when I asked him about him: more opportunities have led to greater confidence.

He's still a pup and learning the speed of the game. But I'd look for him to play a big role in the final two regular-season games and potentially a bowl game if the Beavers can get there.



Saturday, 11/22