With more than a third of the votes in this week's Pac-12 Blog Play of the Week vote, Oregon receiver Dwayne Stanford's 16-yard touchdown catch stole the show.

It's not really surprising considering how ridiculous of a play it was. Yes, it might not have been a game-winner like Devontae Booker's was, and he used both hands, unlike Cal receiver Chris Harper. But Stanford managed to jump, turn, go over two Husky defenders, spin some more and then come down with the TD to give the Ducks a 35-6 lead.

Not bad for his first touchdown against an FBS opponent.

"I told Marcus to put it up to where only I can catch it," Stanford told The Oregonian. "That's what we got to do. When we have the opportunity to make plays, we got to take advantage."

And did he ever. For that advantage and that play, Stanford gets the nod for the Week 8 winner for the Pac-12 Blog's Play of the Week.

Reader reaction:

 

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Friday

No. 6 Oregon vs. California at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
  • Oregon has scored 79 points off turnovers, most in the conference.
  • Oregon has gained 61.9 percent of the possible yards on offense, most in the conference.
  • Cal leads the nation in touchdowns in conference games (26).
  • Oregon true freshman RB Royce Freeman has scored 12 touchdowns, most in the conference.
  • Cal QB Jared Goff ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 with an 80.8 QBR, which ranks No. 6 nationally.
Saturday

No. 25 UCLA at Colorado

  • Colorado is second in the Pac-12 averaging 49.3 pass attempts per game, but allows a conference-low 1.71 sacks per game.
  • The Bruins have had 13 drives of 80 yards or more, the most in the Pac-12.
  • UCLA picks up at least one first down on 82.4 percent of its drive, second-most in the Pac-12 behind Arizona.
  • Colorado has gone for it on fourth down 22 times, the most in the Pac-12.
  • In goal-to-go situations, both UCLA and Colorado have both scored touchdowns on 11 of 13 attempts with two made field goals.
Oregon State at Stanford

  • Stanford is tops in the conference in yard margin per game in Pac-12 play, averaging 113 more yards than its opponents.
  • Stanford has committed four turnovers in the red zone-- six teams in the conference have committed none.
  • Oregon State averages the most seconds of possession per play in the conference (28.3), but is followed closely by Stanford (28.0).
  • Oregon State scores on 37.2 percent of its drives, while Stanford is at 31.4 -- two of the three lowest rates in the Pac-12.
  • Stanford did not lose to Oregon State during its school-record 72-week streak in the AP Top 25 that was snapped this week. The Cardinal's last loss to Oregon State came in 2009, when it was unranked.
No. 15 Arizona at Washington State

  • Opposing defenses have committed 17 penalties against Arizona, the most against any Pac-12 team.
  • Arizona averages the fewest seconds of possession per play in the Pac-12 (20.1).
  • Arizona RB Nick Wilson owns the Pac-12's longest rush of the season -- an 85-yard touchdown run against UTSA. Only two other players have a carry longer than 57 yards yards.
  • Three WSU receivers – Vince Mayle, River Cracraft and Dom Williams – have a reception of 84 yards or longer. Of the rest of the conference, only Arizona (Cayleb Jones and Austin Hill) has more than one.
  • WSU punts on just 29.5 percent of its drives, the third-lowest percentage in the Pac-12.
No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah
  • Utah averages 4.83 drives per game without a first down, the most in the Pac-12. USC averages 3.86, the second most.
  • Utah RB Devontae Booker averages 187.7 yards rushing in conference games, the second most among Power 5 running backs behind Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (217) ... and USC's Buck Allen is far behind. He ranks No. 6 (149).
  • USC QB Cody Kessler is among the most accurate quarterbacks in the country. His completion percentage (69.5) ranks No. 5 and his interception percentage (0.4) is No. 3.
  • Utah (5.18) and USC (5.36) rank No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in yards per play allowed in Pac-12 play.
No. 14 Arizona State at Washington
  • Washington has turned the ball over on just 3.4 percent of its possessions, the lowest rate in the Pac-12.
  • Arizona State is one of five teams in the country averaging over 320 yards passing and over 190 yards rushing on offense.
  • Arizona State’s defense has committed 11 penalties that resulted in first downs, second fewest in the country.
  • ASU averages 6.74 yards per play, which ranks second in the Pac-12 and 15th nationally.
  • Washington averages 181.4 passing yards per game, the fewest in the Pac-12.
Past weeks

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Criticism and questions are swirling around Stanford following another anemic offensive performance in Saturday's 26-10 loss to Arizona State, and coach David Shaw is taking full responsibility for the team's struggles on that side of the ball.

“I’ve done a poor job of structuring our offense so that our guys can be successful," Shaw said Tuesday. "We have to utilize our personnel better."

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsKevin Hogan is completing only 54.5 percent of his passes over the past three games after completing 71 percent in Stanford's 3-1 start.
Stanford has dropped to the Pac-12 cellar in terms of scoring offense. The Cardinal are averaging only 17.6 points per game against Power 5 competition, roughly two touchdowns below the Pac-12 average (30.2 per game). In Tempe, Stanford managed only 10 points, 288 yards of total offense, and 4.7 yards per play, all figures that paled in comparison to what Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado accomplished offensively against Arizona State. The Sun Devils had surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in four straight games, but Stanford -- once feared for its powerful rushing attack -- managed only 76 yards on the ground.

Shaw said quarterback Kevin Hogan, who finished 19-for-39 against a steady diet of Arizona State pressure, is receiving a lot of unwarranted blame for Stanford's struggles. He instead suggested that the Cardinal coaching staff has not successfully tailored its offensive approach to put Hogan and a bevy of playmakers in position to succeed.

"I’ve got to help our guys so they can just be the great athletes they are," Shaw said. "We’ve sputtered too many times. I need to adjust accordingly... We've got too good of personnel in our offense to score [so few points]."

Shaw would not elaborate on intricate details of Stanford's potential offensive adjustments, but the attack has come under fire for relying heavily on its traditional power rushing, play-action oriented approach even though it has become increasingly apparent that the team's decrease in size at the running back position has made that strategy less effective. In the past, Stanford has enjoyed the services of bruisers such as Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. Now, the Cardinal seem to enjoy comparative advantages on the outside instead, behind big receiving talents Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and a trio of young tight ends.

Shaw said he wants to capitalize on that without drastically altering Stanford's scheme midseason.

“I’m taking this one personally because I look at our guys, and I’ve got to help them," he said. “I have to find a way to utilize our personnel better. I just have to.”

Stanford has partially reopened a competition at right guard. Although Shaw said Johnny Caspers has played well enough to keep his starting spot there, Brendon Austin is getting an opportunity to earn playing time.

The Cardinal host Oregon State this Saturday in what promises to be a test for the team's staggering offense: The Beavers rank second -- behind only Stanford -- in the Pac-12's total defense category. The Cardinal's heavily anticipated visit to Autzen Stadium looms the week after.
Arizona StateChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesArizona State head coach said Taylor Kelly, right, will regain his starting job once he is healthy.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham said if quarterback Taylor Kelly is ready to play Saturday at Washington, he will start for the No. 14 Sun Devils.

Kelly has been out since breaking his foot in a 38-24 win at Colorado on Sept. 13.

"This is Taylor's football team," Graham said. "He's earned that."

The Sun Devils (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) have gone 2-1 during that stretch with Mike Bercovici at the helm. In three starts, Bercovici has completed 63 percent of his throws for 1,243 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

He had a five-touchdown performance -- which included a last-second, game-winning Hail Mary -- on the road at No. 16 USC. And he threw one touchdown and no interceptions in the 26-10 win last week over No. 23 Stanford.

"I'm not a head coach that's going to change quarterbacks up very often, especially one I've won 22 games with," Graham said. "If he's ready to go, which I think he will be, he'll go. That doesn't mean Mike won't play. We're not the same team we were before Taylor got hurt. I think we're better because of how Mike has developed."

In the first three games, Kelly had thrown six touchdowns with no interceptions and rushed for two more.
videoAnd so goes the carousel of quarterbacks at Utah. But don't call it a two-quarterback system because that's not what this is at all.

“We’re waiting for somebody to separate themselves and really take ownership of the position,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of his Travis Wilson-Kendal Thompson conundrum.

On Monday, Whittingham announced -- after initially saying he’d keep this information closer to his vest going into this week -- that Wilson would be the starter for No. 19 Utah this weekend against No. 20 USC.

[+] Enlarge Kendal Thompson, Travis Wilson
Chantel Jennings/ESPNUtah QBs Kendal Thompson and Travis Wilson speak to reporters after Thursday's win over Oregon State. Wilson will start for the Utes against USC on Saturday.
“We have had some back-and-forth the last couple weeks and it wasn’t by design,” Whittingham said. “Bottom line: We would love for one of them to take ownership and become the guy, because I’m not a two-quarterback system fan. I haven’t seen that work well very often, if ever. So we’re trying to get that separation but they’ve got to play themselves into that separation."

Wilson led the Utes to victory in the Michigan game, but Thompson kept them in it when Wilson had to exit early in the second quarter to have an injury checked out. When Wilson struggled early against UCLA, Whittingham turned to Thompson, who led the Utes to a huge upset win over the then-No. 8 Bruins, prompting Whittingham to start him last Thursday against Oregon State. But when Thompson had a lackluster first half, Whittingham decided to give Wilson the second half. And then Wilson led the Utes to a double-overtime victory.

Follow?

It’s not “some” back-and-forth like Whittingham said. It’s a lot of back-and-forth. And for a top-20 team that’s headed into the seventh game of its season, having a problem of abundance at quarterback is basically like having no one at quarterback.

Either Wilson or Thompson needs to secure himself as the starter going forward if the Utes want to compete for the South Division title. This you-go-no-you-go shtick is only going to carry the Utes so far.

Wilson has completed 63 of 111 passes for 833 yards (7.5 yards per attempt) and seven touchdowns without an interception. Thompson has completed 28 of 47 passes for 301 yards (6.4 yards per attempt), two TDs and two picks. But with what Thompson lacks in passing he makes up for with his feet. He’s the team’s second-leading rusher behind Devontae Booker, with 51 carries for 164 yards and one touchdown.

Whittingham said that both players are handling the competition well and that he’s making sure neither player feels as though he has “too short of a leash.”

But the truth of the matter is that the leash is getting shorter for the entire team the further this competition goes into the season. They’re two different quarterbacks, both with their own pros and cons. And with Wilson getting the start against USC this weekend, he’s going to have the next shot at becoming the man for Utah.

History says it might not stick, but seeing how quickly things can change for that position at Utah, maybe Wilson will finally step forward and secure the job for good.

“It’s got to happen on the field and we have to see one of them take charge and that’s what we’re hoping happens now,” Whittingham said. “One of them needs to just go ahead and take charge and take the position and run with it.”

Video: Best Of The One-Loss Teams

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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video

ESPN college football reporter Adam Rittenberg breaks down which one-loss college football team is the best of the lot.

Week 8 Pac-12 QB Power Rankings

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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Cody KesslerKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsCody Kessler set a USC single-game record with his seven passing touchdowns against Colorado.


The Pac-12 is loaded with talent at quarterback this season to the point where it seems like the conference is a hoarder and really good QBs are in abundance. But this is the way we like it. And the other conferences can keep hoarding whatever they like as long as the signal-callers stay west.

Every week we'll provide you with a power ranking of the conference's top quarterbacks, heavily considering the QB's most recent game.

Drumroll please...

Inactive Week 8: Arizona's Anu Solomon and Washington State's Connor Halliday.

For Week 7's rankings, click here.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
10:00
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video
Even without a public commitment, the Pac-12 was full of recruiting news this weekend, as every home team hosted visitors and ESPN 300 prospects made their way to each Saturday game. Elsewhere, Arizona State extended an offer to a 2017 quarterback and Utah has a chance to make a big statement.

Oregon has one game left before the College Football Playoff committee releases its first rankings of the year.

Currently, the Ducks sit at sixth in the AP Poll, but with a strong showing Friday night they could certainly move up. However, there probably won’t be any major leaps considering the slates of the five teams that sit ahead of Oregon (No. 1 Mississippi State at Kentucky, No. 2 FSU at Louisville, No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU, No. 4 Alabama at Tennessee and No. 5 Auburn vs. South Carolina).

But the committee has said that they’re going to give a look to any team in the top 20. So even if Oregon doesn’t move up, that doesn’t count them out of the committee’s first ranking for the group of four. It also doesn’t count out No.’s 7-20, either, though. So a strong performance this weekend is necessary in order to leave the committee with a good impression of these Ducks.

And in order to do that, here are four key playmakers -- outside of Marcus Mariota -- that need to have big games on Friday against Cal.

1. WR Byron Marshall

Strange to call a guy who had a 1,000-yard rushing season “emerging,” but he has a new role on this team. So in a big way he is emerging as a new kind of playmaker for the Ducks. Marshall gives the Oregon offense the ability to mess with defensive coordinators. When defensive coordinators call their defensive sets, it’s based on the offensive personnel. And when Marshall is in there, DC’s need to basically guess at whether he’s going to rush or split out. Technically, the Ducks are referring to him as a wide receiver , but against Washington he recorded just as many rushes (five) as he did catches. Marshall needs to continue to prove his versatility in the offense and be that headache for opposing defenses.

[+] EnlargePharaoh Brown
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsPharaoh Brown causes match-up problems for defensive coordinators.
2. TE Pharaoh Brown

Of late, Brown has sort of been similar to Marshall in the fact that defensive coordinators don’t really know what he’s going to do. He led the Ducks in receiving yardage against UW. In the last two games he has accounted for more receiving yards than he did in Oregon’s first five games. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich has complimented Brown for how much he has matured in the past year and though his silly penalties the last two weeks might not show that, if Brown continues to mature -- both emotionally and as a player -- he’s going to be a guy that can tear defenses up. The committee would like to see that.

3. LT Jake Fisher

Fans can play the “What if” game with Oregon’s offensive line all day but it won’t change what the Ducks have now, and Fisher is a huge part of that. In the three games that Fisher missed (he left early in the Wyoming game so we’ll count that), the Ducks didn’t exceed expectations against the given defenses. Coming into the Oregon game, Washington State had given up 4.0 yards per rush and the Ducks averaged 4.1 yards per rush in that game. Coming into the Arizona match up, the Wildcats had given up 3.6 yards per rush, Oregon averaged 3.5 yards per rush that game. On top of that, Mariota was sacked 12 times in those two games. Since, the Oregon run game has excelled -- the Ducks averaged 6.3 yards per rush against UCLA, the Bruins had given up 4.0 yards per rush coming into that game; the Ducks averaged 4.4 yards per rush against Washington, which had only given up 3.1 yards per rush -- and Mariota has only been sacked three times. Keep Mariota healthy and the Ducks have playoff hopes. A lot of that falls on Fisher.

4. DL Arik Armstead

The Ducks needed to rebuild its defensive front coming into this season and Armstead was supposed to be a huge part. And he has played a good role in that effort. After accounting for just 17 tackles last season, the junior has already matched that total this season despite missing time due to injury. He has also tallied four tackles for a loss, one sack and four quarterback hurries. But it’s not enough if the Ducks want to have a dominant defense. Oregon needs to be much, much better up front and Armstead needs to play a bigger role. The Ducks are giving up 5.6 yards per play and are allowing teams to convert on 30.8 percent of their plays (96th nationally). He has had a solid season so far but the Ducks need a playmaker on the defensive line, one that can do it all. With his combination of size and athleticism, he seems to be a great candidate. But, the proof is in the pudding and the committee is going to need to see some bigger plays -- especially up front -- out of this Oregon defense.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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The exodus is here, the happy ones are near;
Let's get together before we get much older.

Leading off

The Eliminator blew through the Pac-12 this week with brimstone and hell-fire, slashing its way through a quarter of the league. You can now add Stanford, Oregon State and Washington to the teams officially out of a contention for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. After holding on by their roots, paws and teeth, the Cardinal, Huskies and Beavers all suffered losses that the Eliminator deems too significant to recover from. Her justice is swift, if not fair. Here's some thoughts on the Huskies:
Losing 11 consecutive games to Oregon is pretty bad, but losing in the manner in which they lost to the Ducks was even worse. Oregon dominated in every facet of the game, and Washington proved that Chris Petersen's first season in the Power 5 is not going to be like his first season at Boise State.

So who is left? Arizona and Oregon are the two Pac-12 teams still listed as "In Contention" while Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah continue to dangle "On the Fence."

Cardinal seeing red

As noted above, things haven't gone swimmingly for the two-time defending conference champions. Athlon Sports took a look at some of the issues facing the Cardinal. And if you're looking on the offensive side of the ball, there are more than a few. They key in specifically on the offensive line:
The most likely reason Stanford’s offense has been struggling this season may be due to the fact the Cardinal had to start an almost entirely new offensive line this season. Stanford lost four starters up front, as well as a starting tight end from 2013. Good teams tend to have experience and depth on the offensive line, and that does not appear to be the case for Stanford this season and it is showing. Stanford has allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 73rd nationally.

Also from Athlon, a look at some crazy Pac-12 stats, and why the Utes must be taken seriously in the South.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun (the pucker-up edition)

By now, you've probably seen "The Kiss", a moment of celebratory passion between ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici and his girlfriend, who also happens to be an ASU cheerleader.



Here's a little story on the lip-locking moment. The Pac-12 blog isn't quite ready to place it among history's best kisses ... like this one ... this one ... or this one. But it ain't bad. However, you must remember this ...
A slight sense of normalcy returned to the Pac-12 this past weekend, but fear not -- it's still plenty weird out West. Home teams actually posted a winning record (3-2) this past weekend, improving their season season mark to a still-dismal 7-16.

Stanford, the two-time defending champion, is staggering, so Oregon has established a grip on the Pac-12 North. Meanwhile, let's not pretend we have a bead on the minefield that is the Pac-12 South. Four teams are tied at the top in the loss column, and a fifth -- preseason favorite UCLA -- hovers right behind them with two losses. It's a mess of epic proportions.

With USC visiting Utah this weekend, we will see some moving and shaking in the South. Let the horse race continue around the second bend. Here is Week 9:

The delicious appetizer: Oregon vs. Cal (at Levi's Stadium)

A couple weeks ago, Cal enjoyed its time in sole possession of the Pac-12 North lead, but that stay was as short-lived as most expected it to be. Though Jared Goff has emerged as one of the league's elite passers (9.1 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, four interceptions), the Bears are hindered by a defense that struggles to tackle in critical situations. That was the story of their 36-34 loss to UCLA, even though a trio of Bruins' turnovers kept that game close. It's also bad news entering a matchup with an Oregon team that is beginning to fire on all cylinders. The Ducks blasted Washington 45-20 behind four touchdowns from true freshman Royce Freeman. He is a six-foot, 230-pound tank -- exactly the type of player who can turn the Bears into falling dominoes.

Goff will need to deliver an epic performance in his duel with Marcus Mariota. Combined numbers for these two: 43 touchdowns, four picks.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: USC at Utah

Salt Lake City hosts a de facto College Football Playoff elimination game. The Arizona State-Washington battle in Seattle might have shared this designation had the Huskies found a way to get it done at Autzen Stadium, but they were run out of the building. So USC (5-2 overall) and Utah (5-1 overall) square off in the Pac-12's marquee Week 9 game. This one is fun on many levels: The Utes are coming into their own as a rugged defense (allowing 4.7 yards per play), while the Trojans are brimming with offensive confidence following their 56-28 win against Colorado, during which Cody Kessler threw a touchdown pass on 27 percent of his attempts (his seven touchdowns broke Matt Barkley's school record).

This game also features the Pac-12's two most productive running backs: USC's Buck Allen (130 yards per game) and Utah's Devontae Booker (124 yards per game). Buckle up, Rice-Eccles Stadium will be shaking.

The proving grounds game/redemption opportunity: Oregon State at Stanford

Week 8 was bitterly disappointing for these teams. The Beavers lost 29-23 at home in double overtime to a Utah team that managed only 62 passing yards, and Stanford managed less offensive production against Arizona State than Weber State, New Mexico, and Colorado. Talk about a reversal of fortune: The Cardinal's 26-10 loss to the Sun Devils came on the very same field where they dominated offensively and won the Pac-12 championship last season. Judging by margin of victory, that was their worst setback since falling 53-30 to Oregon in 2011.

Unless Stanford figures it out offensively, points will likely be scarce in this game. The Cardinal's defense still leads the nation allowing only 3.8 yards per play, and it has proven to be a rough matchup for the Beavers' offense. Meanwhile, Oregon State's defense has been surprisingly efficient, surrendering 4.9 yards per play (third in the Pac-12), so it's unclear if 13.5 is the spread or the over/under in this one.

Opposing directions bowl: Arizona State at Washington

The Sun Devils delivered a fantastic all-around performance in their 26-10 pounding of Stanford, and the Huskies were on the receiving end of a 45-20 whipping in Eugene. So both clubs are trending in opposite directions here, but they are still a combined 10-3. Washington is desperate to right the ship at home, where its havoc-wreaking defense (nation-best five touchdowns) thrives. Meanwhile, Arizona State has another chance to solidify legitimacy after two straight energizing wins. A week after facing Stanford's anemic attack, the Sun Devils face a Washington offense that is ranked dead last in the Pac-12. That is medicine for a once-struggling ASU defense.

Where great offensive minds meet: Arizona at Washington State

Time to change gears: With Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach squaring off, there should be no shortage of total offense on the Palouse. The Cougars are desperate; they need to win four of their last five just to make a bowl game. Connor Halliday is already on pace to shatter the FBS single season-passing yards record, and Anu Solomon brings less gaudy numbers but a better 5-1 record into this game. Both teams are coming off bye weeks, so both offensive game plans should be beyond polished Saturday afternoon.

The afterthought: UCLA at Colorado

The Bruins overcame severe sloppiness in their 36-34 win at Cal, and Colorado never had a chance in the 56-28 loss at the Coliseum. At 0-4 in conference play, the Buffs are desperate, and it's tough to spot a win on their remaining schedule. The Bruins must iron out their galling turnover issue (quarterback Brett Hundley has been responsible for eight giveaways -- opponents have scored touchdowns off seven of them) and frequent trouble with defensive breakdowns. Folsom Field might be a good place to start that process, because a home showdown with Arizona waits UCLA after this one.

Recruiter Rankings: Oct. update

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
3:21
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Tony HughesAP Photo/Don Juan MooreMississippi State's Tony Hughes has had a big hand recruiting the team that has risen to No. 1 in the rankings.


The recruiter power rankings examine which assistant coaches have already done damage on the recruiting trail in the 2015 class. Beyond looking at how many four- or five-star recruits a coach lands, the rankings take into account the needs those recruits will fill at the next level.

With the season and official visits off and running and more than 200 players in the ESPN 300 having already committed, the coaches are working extra hard to bolster their classes.

Previous rankings: Feb. 6 | April 17 | June 19 | Aug. 25 | Sept. 22



To read this month's update, click here Insider.
Week 8 was great. As always, here are your choices for the Pac-12 Blog's Play of the Week. All were impressive, but which was head and shoulders above the rest?

1. Why use two hands when you only need one?

video
With Cal trailing by three, and the Bears with their second attempt at the endzone from the 7-yard line, Cal junior receiver Chris Harper caught a one-handed touchdown pass over UCLA defensive back Ishmael Adams (who's not new to the Play of the Week vote, but usually isn't the one being beat in the play). It was a nice throw from quarterback Luke Rubenzer, but Harper displayed great athleticism in going up for that ball, controlling it and bringing it down with his right hand.

2. Oregon's own [Dwayne] Stanford problem

SportsNation

Who had this week's Pac-12 Play of the Week?

  •  
    15%
  •  
    34%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    22%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,290)

Oregon sophomore receiver Dwayne Stanford elevated over both Kevin King and Sidney Jones to come down with his first touchdown against an FBS opponent in his career. It was a perfect ball from quarterback Marcus Mariota and Stanford's leap, catch and spin for the score -- which gave the Ducks a 35-6 lead -- certainly deserves a spot in this week's vote. Stanford's catch was even bigger for the Ducks as Mariota begins to look for new weapons in the receiving game with Bralon Addison still out and Keanon Lowe, his most experienced receiver who returned this season, having sat out the last two games. Stanford finished the day with five catches for 55 yards, including this little 16-yard beaut.

3. No. 7 for No. 6

video
USC quarterback Cody Kessler tied the Pac-12's and stole the USC school record for touchdown passes thrown in a game … seven. Yes, this coming from a quarterback who often gets put on the backburner because there are just so many guys to talk about in this conference. Though all seven touchdown passes were impressive, we're going with his record-breaking toss for many reasons:
  • He displayed plenty of calm in the pocket while Colorado had a pretty solid pass rush going on.
  • The throw itself was put in the perfect spot so only his receiver could get it.
  • Steven Mitchell's diving catch for it was just the cherry on top.
4. Book it for Booker

Running back Devontae Booker had a huge night on Thursday for the Utes. With not much happening in the air, he got it done on the ground for Utah, rushing 32 times for 229 yards and three touchdowns. But the vote this week is for his 19-yard rushing touchdown in the second overtime to seal the win for Utah. The play itself might not have featured as many ankle breakings as others this weekend, but to thrive under that kind of pressure and get a road win in the Pac-12 (which seems pretty common these days, I know) is good enough to get on the vote. Booker -- who flew under the radar coming into this season -- is now second in the conference in rushing yards per game (123.7) and third in all-purpose yards (146.2).

5. An Oregon Grand [Byron] Marshall

Technically, Byron Marshall is a wide receiver now for the Oregon Ducks. But don't tell that to the ankles he broke on Saturday as he rushed in a 23-yard touchdown. Though it was a receiving touchdown, it was his performance after the catch that gets him on this vote. His change of speed and direction got two Husky defenders to look silly before he bulldozed his way into the endzone through three more Washington players (and an Oregon player, too). On the day, Marshall accounted for five carries for 30 yards and five catches for 48 yards.
From the mud, muck and mess that was the first seven weeks of the Pac-12’s 2014 season, a smidgen of clarity started to creep through in Week 8. Like a Socratic archetype emerging from its cave, slowly, but surely, we’re starting to see the light.

By no means, however, are things back to normal -- whatever normal looks like in the Pac-12. Stanford, the two-time defending conference champion, lost to Arizona State, a team it had thoroughly dominated twice last season. And while the Cardinal still might rise from the ashes of their own blunders, for now it appears more likely than not that we’ll have a new league champion.

However, there were some things that actually made sense in Week 8, shocking as it may seem. USC dominated a weaker opponent. That made sense. Oregon continued its winning ways over Washington, extending its streak to 11 over the Huskies by 17 or more points. That made sense. Three of the five home teams won. That sort of made sense. But the road team is still 16-7 in conference play. That still makes no sense.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe Ducks reasserted themselves as the Pac-12's best hope to make the College Football Playoff.
Oregon’s performance against Washington, complete and convincing, temporarily restored the natural order of the preseason -- a simpler time when most people projected the No. 3 Ducks as a playoff team. Saturday night, Oregon sent out a 45-point message that was unmistakably crystal clear: We’re still here.

As the Pac-12 engages in its annual act of self-consumption, the doom-and-gloom prognostications that the league would be left out of the first College Football Playoff might now seem premature. No word yet on the total number of torn ACLs from knee-jerk injuries.

And as the fires burned through the night in Morgantown, West Virginia, the Big 12’s chances of a playoff berth, too, may have gone up in flames. The Pac-12 may be a bunch of cannibals, but at least the Big 12 has the decency to barbecue itself first.

Indeed, it's the Ducks who hold the Pac-12's playoff future in their delicate, webbed feet.

“We have to be nastier,” said Oregon center Hroniss Grasu, looking ahead to the coming weeks. “We have to come off the ball and finish the plays. Our playmakers, our running backs, our skill guys are going to make the defenders miss and extend the plays, so we have to keep on working on finishing.”

Finishing hasn’t been Oregon’s strong suit the past couple of seasons. Following explosive starts in 2012 and 2013, the Ducks’ national championship hopes were derailed by Stanford two years ago, and again by the Cardinal in 2013. The Arizona stumble last season didn’t help, either. We'll see if this season's comes back to bite them.

But for now the Ducks must once again pick up the proverbial postseason flag and carry it for the conference. Per ESPN Stats & Info, since its loss to Arizona earlier this month, Oregon’s projected chance of winning the Pac-12 has actually risen by more than 20 percentage points. How does that make sense? The rest of the league has been munching on itself. Every other team in the Pac-12 North has at least two conference losses, so with the way the Ducks have performed in the past two games against UCLA and Washington -- plus their remaining schedule -- FPI projects that Oregon has a 88 percent chance to win the North.

Take that with a grain of seasoning of your choice. The Pac-12 has a funny way of making statistics look silly.

If Week 8 brought us a dusting of clarity, look for more in the coming weeks, especially in the South. Four teams head into Week 9 with one conference loss, and five of the division’s six teams are ranked in the latest AP Top 25 poll. The next two weeks brings us showdowns like USC at Utah, Arizona at UCLA and Utah at Arizona State. And of course there’s still the battle for Los Angeles and the Territorial Cup looming. One way or another, for better or worse, the South will sort itself out.

And when it does, Oregon will be there waiting. At least that’s what we believe after Week 8. By the end of Week 9, we might end up right back in the mud and the muck and the mess.

Pac-12 Show (4 p.m. ET)

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
10:00
AM ET
Pac-12 reporters Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Kyle Bonagura review this past weekend's games, including Oregon's win over Washington and Arizona State's win over Stanford, and look ahead to Week 9. They will also answer your questions live on screen.

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