Pac-12 morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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We've got another holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.

I haven't even finished eating all of my Halloween candy.

Leading off

Depth Chart Wednesday! Depth Chart Wednesday! Depth Chart Wednesday! Let's get to it. Note: UCLA doesn't celebrate Depth Chart Wednesday. Awards season is in full swing

OK, there are a lot of these to get through, but stick with us. We can do it together.

There's a very good representation of the Pac-12 among these lists. If a Pac-12 player is a finalist, he's listed as the first name on the list (just an FYI).

MAXWELL AWARD: Given to the top player in college football (as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota -- 3,103 passing yards, 32 TD, 2 INT, 597 rushing yards, 97 carries, 9 rushing TDMississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott -- 2,1714 passing yards, 23 TD, 10 INT, 891 rushing yards, 171 carries, 12 rushing TD
  2. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon -- 254 carries, 2,109 yards, 25 TD
BEDNARIK AWARD: Given to the top defensive player in college football (again, as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III -- 126 tackles, 22 TFL, 12 sacks, 5 forced fumbles
  2. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa -- 43 tackles, 18 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
  3. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley -- 24 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble
RAY GUY: Given to the top college punter. Yards per punt season average follows each finalist's name.
  1. Tom Hackett (Utah) -- 46.5
  2. JK Scott (Alabama) -- 46.8
  3. Scott Arellano (BYU) -- 44.6
  4. Scott Harding (Hawaii) -- 41.5
  5. Austin Rehkow (Idaho) -- 47.8
  6. Justin Vogel (Miami) -- 44.0
  7. Tyler Wedel (Northern Illinois) -- 41.9
  8. Cameron Johnston (Ohio State) -- 43.6
  9. Drew Kaser (Texas A&M) -- 44.4
  10. Alex Kinal (Wake Forest) -- 43.8
OUTLAND: Given to the top interior lineman (offense or defense).
  1. Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown
  2. Auburn center Reese Dismukes
  3. Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff
DAVEY O'BRIEN: Given to the best college quarterback
  1. Mariota (see stats above)
  2. Prescott (see stats above)
  3. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin -- 3,021 passing yards, 24 TD, 5 INT, 122 rushing attempts, 548 yards, 7 TD
JIM THORPE AWARD: Given to the top defensive back in college football.
  1. Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 7 pass break ups
  2. Alabama safety Landon Collins -- 75 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT, 5 pass break ups
  3. Louisville safety Jerod Holliman -- 32 tackles, 2 TFL, 13 INT, 3 pass break ups
News/notes/team reports
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No team in the top seven of last week’s College Football Playoff Rankings lost, and the selection committee obviously saw nothing to prompt a change in that order this week. So, we’re right back where we were last Tuesday night, except that there are now only two weeks remaining for any upsets to occur.

[+] EnlargeOhio State
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioOhio State is sitting pretty with two weeks left in the regular season.
With no possible head-to-head matchups between the current top seven, there’s a possibility they could all win out -- but not a good one. The Football Power Index says there’s a 10 percent chance that those teams go 7-0 this week, and barely over a 1 percent chance that they go 13-0 between now and Dec. 7 (Mississippi State would play only one more game if Alabama wins Saturday). In fact, FPI gives only a 14 percent chance for Alabama, Oregon and Florida State all to win out.

Each forthcoming loss among the top teams could make the selection committee’s job a little easier. But for now, let’s look at the committee’s worst-case scenarios.

In the unlikely event that the seven all run the table

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
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Headed into the final week of the regular season, eight Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible, and California and Oregon State remain one win away.

Cal has a significantly easier path to win No. 6, hosting BYU on Saturday, while Oregon State must get through rival Oregon in Corvallis. If the Golden Bears win, it will likely impact where rival Stanford -- which beat Cal 38-17 -- ends up in the postseason. Even though Stanford beat Cal and travelled well for BCS bowls over the past four seasons, the Cardinal’s small fan base and demonstrated lack of enthusiasm this season doesn’t make it an attractive team for bowl officials.

Oregon remains at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, while No. 8 UCLA remains within striking distance of the top four should it beat Stanford, then Oregon.

Here's our weekly attempt to map out where the Pac-12 teams will end up come bowl season:

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual): Oregon
VIZIO Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Arizona
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
Foster Farms Bowl: Arizona State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Utah
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: California*
At-large: Stanford

*Needs a win to become bowl eligible
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For the first time this season, the top seven teams in the College Football Playoff Top 25 have remained the same, as determined by 11 members of the 12-member selection committee (Mike Tranghese was sick and unable to travel to Dallas for the meetings).

No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Mississippi State each won in Week 13, and in spite of another close win for the Seminoles, FSU did not drop another spot. The only difference at the top was that No. 8 UCLA, No. 9 Georgia and No. 10 Michigan State all slid up one notch to take the spot of Ole Miss, which sank nine spots to No. 19 after being shut out by Arkansas.

Here's what the bracket would look like today:

NCF Playoffespn


TCU is still the first team on the bubble at No. 5, followed by No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Baylor. No. 11 Arizona jumped four spots, and No. 17 Missouri is up three spots. Another big mover was No. 18 Minnesota, which rose seven spots after beating Nebraska.

The biggest surprise this week was that not one but two Group of 5 teams were ranked: No. 23 Boise State and No. 24 Marshall. It was a controversial call, as Boise State is a two-loss team just one win away from clinching the Mountain West's Mountain Division, and Marshall is the only undefeated team remaining in the Group of 5. Marshall has already clinched the Conference USA East title.

Marshall is ranked No. 19 in the latest Associated Press poll, followed by No. 21 Colorado State and No. 25 Boise State. This is the first time since Week 10, when East Carolina was ranked in the selection committee's first Top 25, that the Group of 5 has been represented in the CFP rankings.

That would make Boise State the frontrunner to represent the Group of 5 in a New Year's Six Bowl.

As for the other major bowls, here's a projection based on the current rankings:

The Orange Bowl lost the ACC champion (FSU) so it gets the next highest-ranked ACC team, No. 16 Georgia Tech. The Orange Bowl then selects the next highest-ranked nonconference championship team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. By contract, displaced conference champs from the SEC and Big Ten don't go to the Orange Bowl. That would pit the Yellow Jackets against No. 10 Michigan State because the committee would look to avoid a rematch with No. 9 Georgia.

Here's what New Year's Eve and New Year's Day could look like, based on today's rankings:

Dec. 31

12:30 p.m. ET -- Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl -- No. 9 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor

4 p.m. ET -- VIZIO Fiesta Bowl -- No. 23 Boise State vs. No. 8 UCLA

8 p.m. ET -- Capital One Orange Bowl -- No. 16 Georgia Tech vs. No. 10 Michigan State

Jan. 1

12:30 p.m. ET -- Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic -- No. 5 TCU vs. No. 6 Ohio State

5 p.m. ET -- Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual -- No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

8:30 p.m. ET -- Allstate Sugar Bowl -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
With more than half the votes in this week's poll, Oregon redshirt freshman receiver Darren Carrington earns the top spot for this week's Pac-12 Play of the Week.

For a catch like this, there's no better way to explain it than to say, just watch the video.

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From the peanut gallery ...

Stanford coach David Shaw said Tuesday that standout wide receiver Ty Montgomery would not play Friday against UCLA because of a shoulder injury.

Montgomery, Stanford's leading receiver with 61 catches for 604 yards and three touchdowns, left last weekend's game against California with what Shaw described as a right shoulder sprain following the 38-17 victory. Shaw said he remains hopeful that Montgomery would return to play in a bowl game.

"Ty will be out of this game," Shaw said during Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches' teleconference. "He will not play this game and hopefully we'll get him ready for the bowl game, which looks like a distinct possibility."

Shaw said Montgomery made an effort to insert himself into Stanford's lineup this week, but the staff determined the "prudent" course of action would be to hold him out of Friday's game. Montgomery does have an injury history on the shoulder.

X-rays on the shoulder came back negative Saturday, and Montgomery was scheduled to undergo an MRI this week.

Friday's game has significance in the Pac-12 standings. While Oregon has already secured the North Division, UCLA would win the South with a victory over Stanford. Should the Cardinal win, the winner of Friday's Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State would win the division and face the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game.

ESPN.com's David Lombardi contributed to this report.
USC recruiting is in need of a significant shot in the arm after the Trojans’ performance at the Rose Bowl this past weekend. But the good news for USC fans is that the Trojans are in position to do just that, thanks to a handful of significant visitors who will be in town to watch USC host Notre Dame.

This weekend presents a slight departure from USC’s official visit plans for the past few years. In fact, the five official visitors scheduled this weekend appear to be more than USC hosted on in-season official visits during the 2012, 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes combined.


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UCLA has one game remaining in the regular season, but it sounds as if star quarterback Brett Hundley already has decided that this will be his final year playing for the Bruins.

Hundley said Monday on "The Jim Rome Show" that UCLA's victory over USC this past Saturday was likely his last foray against the archrival Trojans.

"The conversation keeps coming up," Hundley said. "I've got my degree. I've done everything I wanted to do here. I've left something really, truly great, and I feel good."

Hundley is a senior academically, but he redshirted his true freshman season in 2011, so he could return for the 2015 season.

If he doesn't, the NFL beckons next. Some scouts have questioned Hundley's accuracy and decision-making, but the 6-foot-3, 226-pounder's explosive dual-threat performances, size, athleticism and general trend of improvement have earned him lofty draft projections.

Hundley has been rated as the third-best quarterback prospect in the 2015 draft class by ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr.

Hundley has passed for 2,873 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. His interception numbers have decreased in each of his three seasons at the helm of UCLA's offense, and his 160.5 quarterback rating is good for sixth nationally this year. Hundley has also rushed for 566 yards this season.

The Bruins (9-2) are in the middle of a heated chase for a Pac-12 South title and a College Football Playoff berth. If Hundley can lead the Bruins to a win Friday over Stanford, the stage would be set for a Pac-12 championship game pitting UCLA against Oregon. That would pit Hundley against Marcus Mariota, another hot quarterback prospect who's also expected to enter the 2015 NFL draft.
Sometimes an answer to a question is so good, there’s no need to write around it and it can stand on its own.

On the Pac-12 teleconference Tuesday, California coach Sonny Dykes was asked about the evolution of the spread offense and how it has impacted the running game. For those of who you like the schematic details of the game, the Pac-12 blog thought you’d really enjoy Dykes’ answer. This fifth of the blog certainly did.

The question was posed by Ralph Russo of the AP. Here is Dykes' uninterrupted answer:
I think when the spread first started coming in, there were two completely different philosophies on the spread offense. When you came up in the Air Raid tree, when it was spread-to-pass, part of probably the foundation of that was wide splits in our offensive line to create a wider edge from a pass protection stand point. What happens when you do that is it limits the schemes that you can run from a run-game perspective.

I think as a result a lot of guys that came up in the Hal Mumme tree, myself, Mike Leach, Dana Holgorsen, Art Briles to a lesser extent, guys like that that were together at different places, I think we all felt like we wanted to have a little more run game and as a result the splits of the offensive line started changing a little bit. Instead of being really wide, they got closer together.

What that did was it allowed pulling [linemen] and that type of thing. It’s different now. A lot of guys that were spread, throw-the-ball-guys, have come to the conclusion that we’re going to be a lot better if we can run the football. And as a result the line splits have gotten smaller which has allowed more blocking schemes to evolve.

Then the opposite of the spectrum was the spread-the-field-to-run-the-ball guys, which was Rich Rodriguez and that tree. They had a different approach. They were a very complicated run game, or a diverse run game, and a pretty simple pass game, where we were just the opposite.

I think what’s happened is everybody has kind of merged a little bit more. Like the Oregon thing. Oregon was the same way: spread the field to run the ball. Oregon’s passing game has gotten more diverse. Our run game has gotten more diverse. As a result, some people have started to come more toward the middle and maybe not be as extreme as they have been in the past.

I think a lot of the teams that have been traditional passing teams or coaches that have been traditional passing coaches have come to the conclusion that it’s really important to run the ball.

For the record, Cal running back Daniel Lasco is sixth in the conference with 985 yards (5.4 per carry) and he has 12 touchdowns, tied for second in the league. As a unit, Cal is 10th in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 147 yards per game. However, its 21 rushing touchdowns is third behind Oregon (31) and UCLA (22).

Week 13 Pac-12 QB Power Rankings

November, 25, 2014
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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, based mostly on that QB's most recent game.

Drumroll please ...

For Week 12's rankings, click here.
Rodriguez/GrahamGetty ImagesIt hasn't taken long for Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham to build Pac-12 contenders.


TEMPE and TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Territorial Cup isn't college football's most famous rivalry trophy, but it is the oldest, dating to 1899. Thirteen years later, Arizona achieved statehood.

The silver-plated cup, over a britannia base metal, goes to the winner of the Arizona-Arizona State football game each year. The cup has been in the desert for more than a century, but it didn't originate there -- it was manufactured in Taunton, Massachusetts.

Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez aren't from around here, either. Neither man had strong ties to the state or its universities before taking over programs at Arizona State and Arizona, respectively.

They brought fresh approaches from foreign soil, and they have boosted two programs dripping with potential into winners. Arizona and Arizona State both enter Friday's Territorial Cup with at least nine victories for the first time since 1975, when both schools were in the WAC. Friday's showdown at Arizona Stadium marks the first Territorial Cup since 1986 where both teams are ranked in the AP Top 25. The winner would claim the Pac-12 South if UCLA stumbles against Stanford on Friday at the Rose Bowl.

So how have two outsiders marked their territory in just three seasons? Aggressive, proven schemes have helped. So have strong assistants and shrewd recruiting.

But more than anything, Graham, a Texan, and Rodriguez, a West Virginian, are demanding coaches who have brought structure and diligence to programs that previously lacked those qualities.

[+] EnlargeRodriguez/Graham
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinTodd Graham and Rich Rodriguez have brought discipline and desire to the desert, and the result is a Territorial Cup that features two Top 25 teams for the first time in nearly 30 years.
"It's kind of a laid-back culture here," Arizona State defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "You've got these nice resorts. People have their retirement homes here, and the weather is great. People want to be outside riding their bikes and going for walks. But [Graham has] brought this blue-collar, tough work ethic to these kids.

"It's so different, it works."

Graham quickly points out that people retire in Florida, too, but he describes the program he inherited as "extremely undisciplined." ASU was the nation's most penalized team in 2011, the year before Graham arrived. The Sun Devils ranked 114th in penalties in 2010, last also in 2009 and 112th in 2008.

In Graham's first two seasons, ASU finished 10th and 24th nationally in fewest penalties per game. This season, the Sun Devils are 22nd and lead the Pac-12 in fewest flags by 13.

"No one on our team is going to get a personal foul," offensive lineman Christian Westerman said. "If a guy gets a personal foul in practice, he's pretty much going to sit out the rest of that practice. It's a stupid penalty, and that's how you lose football games.

To hammer home the point, ASU brought in Pac-12 officials during the offseason for an extensive rules tutorial. From targeting to intentional grounding, rules change each season, but Sun Devils players are adapting.

"Until you put that kind of emphasis on it, I don't think kids really respect how important it is," offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. "Everybody in the country preaches 'Don't get a penalty,' but unless your kids really believe in that and buy in to that, you'll probably get what you've always had."

Arizona also reduced its penalties total, rising from 114th in 2011 to 81st in Rodriguez's first year and 12th in 2013. Like ASU, the Wildcats don't beat themselves, ranking in the top 15 nationally in fewest turnovers lost and turnover margin this season.

The program's "Hard Edge" motto goes beyond the must-see clips on YouTube. It symbolizes the way Arizona plays, the type of player Rodriguez wants to recruit and the way the staff has had to recruit.

"Most of our connections are from the East Coast and Florida," co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith said. "When we came out here, we had to start from ground zero. You didn't know anybody. You had to go out and beat the pavement."

Arizona has made inroads both in the state and especially in California. The Wildcats' 2014 recruiting class ranked 23rd nationally, two spots below Arizona State's.

"We'd like to think we're appealing to anybody, but to think we're going to get 25 five-stars, it's not going to happen," Rodriguez said. "You've got to do a great job of evaluating and finding guys that fit what we want. We call them OKGs -- our kinda guys."

Wildcats sophomore linebacker Scooby Wright III is the ultimate OKG, a small-potatoes recruit whom Arizona identified before anyone and who leads the nation in tackles for loss and ranks fifth in sacks. He's the latest undervalued prospect to blossom under Rodriguez, who helped guide Pat White, Steve Slaton, Denard Robinson and others to stardom.

"It's almost like 'Moneyball,'" said Matt Dudek, Arizona's director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel. "I've got one, and no one else has him. Five-stars are great, but that means you're better at convincing your kid to come to your place.

"With this one, you found a diamond in the rough."

Rodriguez

We'd like to think we're appealing to anybody, but to think we're going to get 25 five-stars, it's not going to happen. You've got to do a great job of evaluating and finding guys that fit what we want. We call them OKGs -- our kinda guys.

-- Rich Rodriguez
Coaches have long considered both Arizona schools diamonds in the desert. Growing up in Alabama, Sun Devils tight ends coach Chip Long wondered why ASU couldn't be a national power. Norvell remembers the first time he saw Sun Devil Stadium, from the window seat of a plane landing at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport.

He marveled at the venue, nestled between mountain buttes.

"You always say, 'God, that ASU job is just a gold mine," said Chris Ball, Arizona State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. "Why can't they win?"

Arizona State has no shortage of built-in advantages, but also challenges.

"You need discipline here," Ball said. "It's the largest school in the country. People come from all over the United States. There's a lot of distractions."

Graham's hard-driving style has resonated with players, and the results -- 27-11 overall, 19-7 in the Pac-12 -- are unassailable. ASU ranks fifth nationally in average turnover margin (plus-1.09 per game) and seventh in fewest giveaways (11).

"I really liked his discipline factor, how well he kept the program," said Westerman, a Chandler, Arizona, native, who transferred to ASU after two years at Auburn. "Coach Graham doesn't let anything slide."

Rodriguez also is demanding, and his track record -- four Big East titles, a 2006 Sugar Bowl win -- raised the bar for an Arizona program still seeking its first Rose Bowl appearance. After consecutive eight-win seasons, Rodriguez has the Wildcats still alive in the competitive Pac-12 South race.

"That kind of success, we all adapted to their style," safety Will Parks said. "It's bringing that energy, that East Coast swag over to the West Coast swag. It makes one whole big swag."

Arizona ranks third in the league in points allowed (24.6 PPG).

The Wildcats have been especially gritty on the road, stunning Oregon in September and crushing Utah on Saturday.

Rodriguez battled many things in his turbulent three-year run at Michigan, including entitlement, which he acknowledged both during and after his Wolverines tenure. His challenge at Arizona, which hasn't had more than eight victories since 1998, is teaching players how to win.

"These guys have been open to what we're teaching and what they're learning about football," offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. "It's been fun that [entitlement] has not been here."

Friday's game will be fun. In-state rivalries always are, and this one, while often overlooked, elicits strong emotions.

Arizonans will be locked into every play.

Thanks to the two outsiders walking the sidelines, so will the rest of the country.

Video: Rivalry Week -- Notre Dame-USC

November, 25, 2014
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Notre Dame and USC are looking to bounce back from losses in this year's rivalry game.

Territorial Cup has hate and relevance

November, 25, 2014
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What makes a great college football rivalry? Two things: 1. Passionate and legitimate ill will; 2. National relevance.

Arizona and Arizona State have long had the former, with the bad feelings advancing beyond the typical state rivalry because of a handful of historical issues, including the University of Arizona fighting against "Tempe Normal School" becoming an accredited university in the late 1950s. That one still grates on Sun Devils elders, while snarky Wildcats fans will call ASU "Tempe Normal" just to be annoying.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRich Rodriguez and the Wildcats get a shot at rival Arizona State on Friday.
Those bad feelings ticked another notch forward when Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State hired Todd Graham. They don't like each other.

They were once friends, with Rodriguez hiring Graham away from a high school job in Texas to coach at West Virginia in 2002, but that clearly is no longer the case. Neither says much about the other on the record, but during a visit to ESPN's offices by Pac-12 coaches shortly after they were hired, they stood in stony silence for several minutes just a few feet from each other without making eye contact, despite a certain charming reporter offering up some wonderful repartee that typically would inspire conviviality from even a pair of gargoyles.

That dislike extends through the coaching staffs. Arizona assistants Calvin Magee and Tony Dews, who worked for Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan, spent a single season coaching with Graham at Pittsburgh after Rodriguez was fired at Michigan. When they rejoined Rodriguez at Arizona, Graham called them "mercenaries," according to a tweet from Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Yet history and personal feelings go only so far in the national college football conversation when your team is simply battling for bowl eligibility. Or one team is good and the other shows up only as a spoiler. That has been the case more often than not in the Territorial Cup, which was first contested in 1899, 13 years before Arizona became an official state in the union.

That is where Graham and Rodriguez have most enriched this rivalry: Both teams are now good. This will be the first time they meet as ranked teams since 1986. Both are 9-2. The last time they met as teams with at least nine wins? 1975. Arizona State has posted nine wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1996-97. Arizona owns its best record since 1998.

Both are 6-2 in Pac-12 play. If UCLA should lose to Stanford in a game played simultaneously with the Territorial Cup at 3:30 p.m. ET, then the champion of Arizona also becomes the Pac-12 South Division champ and would play Oregon for the conference title on Dec. 5. Further, the winner also might set itself up to be selected as practically a home team for the Fiesta Bowl. That is, unless the winner somehow beats Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and slips into the College Football Playoff, a not outrageous scenario, by the way.

“This game is the single most important game every year for us and for our fans," Graham said. "Obviously it has a lot more meaning with both teams going for 10th win and Pac-12 South championship on the line. So, yeah, there’s a little extra to it.”

Said Rodriguez: "I don’t believe that ‘if you only win one game but you beat ASU, it’s a good year,’ but it is the most important game on our schedule because it is the rivalry game. The rivalry game is always the most important when you see it with no records. Now that we both have had pretty good years and have even more at stake, this makes it of added importance."

Of added importance to both coaches, though perhaps more for Rodriguez: Graham is 2-0 against Rich Rod since they arrived in the desert. No Arizona State coach opened his career in Tempe at 3-0 versus the Wildcats. While folks in Tucson appreciate the undeniably good job Rodriguez has done rebuilding the program, they also would really, really not like to spend a third year listening to Sun Devils fans squawking at them.

In the Sun Devils' last visit to Tucson, they overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 41-34. Last year, the Sun Devils rolled the Wildcats 58-21, a blowout win that earned them home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game against Stanford.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenTaylor Kelly and the Sun Devils are looking to finish the season strong.
The intrigue this year is at quarterback. Arizona's starter, impressive redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, couldn't play the second half of the Wildcats' win last weekend over Utah because of an ankle injury that has been hounding him for some time. He's decidedly questionable, and senior Jesse Scroggins will make his first career start if Solomon can't play.

For Arizona State, there's senior Taylor Kelly. The three-year starter wants to finish his career 3-0 against the Wildcats. He has been inconsistent since returning from a foot injury, but he seemed to find his rhythm in the second half last week against Washington State. His life also will be easier with the expected return of receiver Jaelen Strong from a concussion.

Arizona's home-field advantage might not be much of an advantage. The Sun Devils have won five of the past seven in Tucson, and this rivalry has surprisingly not favored the home team of late. The visitor owns an 8-6 edge in the past 14 matchups, and the Sun Devils' win in Tempe last year ended a four-game winning streak for the road team.

Good news for those who like thrillers: Seven of the past 10 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The four games before last year's blowout were decided by a total of 15 points, with a fourth-quarter comeback, two blocked extra points, a late field goal and a red zone stand being the difference.

Graham said the game is about the players, not the coaches. Rodriguez, though he probably doesn't want to be seen as agreeing with Graham, said about the same.

"There is a lot of stake," he said. "It is our 19 seniors' last home game, so I would be shocked if preparation wasn’t at an ultimate high.”
Two clear front-runners have emerged in the 2014 Heisman Trophy race: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon. Which player should win the award? Pac-12 reporter Kevin Gemmell and Big Ten reporter Brian Bennett debate it.

Brian Bennett: Kevin, to prove there is no anti-West Coast bias, I'll let you go first. State your case in 150 words or fewer why Mariota deserves the Heisman.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesOregon QB Marcus Mariota's 42 total touchdowns -- with still a game to go in the regular season -- is a spectacular feat.
Kevin Gemmell: Awww, that's really generous of you B-squared. But I don't need 150. I need only seven: "He's the best player in college football." This could be an exercise where we go back and forth listing the merits of both players. Of which there are many. And I like the fact that a non-quarterback is getting deserved Heisman hype. Unfortunately, this is the wrong year for it. So rather than listing all of the reasons why Gordon should win the Heisman (we can do that later, if you really want), I want to know why you think Mariota shouldn't.

BB: You're right that Mariota might well be the best player in college football. But if the Heisman simply went to the best player, we'd just give it to the NFL's No. 1 draft pick every year. It's supposed to go to the player with the best season. And Gordon is putting up one for the ages.

He rushed for 2,000 yards faster than anyone in history. His current 8.3 yards-per-carry average would be the highest ever. He will soon become one of just three running backs ever to record 2,000 yards and 30 total touchdowns (he needs only three more TDs). And he might just eclipse Barry Sanders' hallowed single-season rushing record.

At the very least, Gordon will likely finish with the second-best season by a running back of all time. How do you not give the Heisman to someone who does all that? And has Mariota created any "Heisman moments" like Gordon's 408-yard day vs. Nebraska?

KG: I'm glad you brought up single-season performance. Because with four more touchdowns last week, Mariota has accounted for 42 total this season -- the most of any player in Pac-12 history. You want to talk about a season for the ages? Think of all the offensive talent that has strolled through the Pac-12 over the years. Annually it's the most prolific offensive conference in the country -- and this guy (with one more regular-season game left) has already put up the most prolific offensive season in league history.

I'd call his 318 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan State Heisman-esque ... or have you B1G guys forgotten about that one? But we both know the Heisman isn't about a "moment." You said yourself it's about the best season. And 32 passing touchdowns with just two interceptions -- while playing against some of the most pressure-heavy defenses in the country, is how you build a Heisman season. Not a moment.

And since you're tapping into some history, let's go back a decade and look at how Mariota's current season stacks up. Our QBR metrics -- which measure how well a quarterback has performed against his competition -- go back only 10 years. But Mariota already has a better season than Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton (all Heisman winners, by the way), Colin Kaepernick, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Pat White and on and on. I bet if we had the historical data, it would show Mariota is having one of the best quarterback seasons in the history of college football.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 408 against Nebraska, is averaging a phenomenal 8.3 yards per carry.
And if we can agree that quarterback is the most important position in the game (and I think we can agree on that much), how then can you not give the Heisman to the guy having one of the best historical seasons ever at the most important position?

BB: Mariota is a spectacular player. No argument here on that. (Though I might point out that Ohio State's J.T. Barrett also has 42 touchdowns in a much less offense-friendly league. Hmm.) But it bugs me that the Heisman has become the sole province of quarterbacks. Defenses stack as many men as possible in the box against Wisconsin, which doesn't throw the ball well, yet Gordon is still averaging 9.95 yards per carry in his past seven games against ranked teams -- basically a first down every carry! It's much harder to tailor a defense around stopping a dual-threat quarterback.

We may never see a season quite like Gordon's 2014 again, and his numbers speak for themselves. I think one thing we can both agree on is Mariota and Gordon are both otherworldly players. Any way we could split the Heisman in half this year?

KG: I'm with you 100 percent. I too get peeved that the past few years the Heisman has devolved into the dual-threat quarterback of the year award. And a lot of that has to do with the advancement of the spread offense. These quarterbacks are putting up numbers that seemed unreachable even 10 years ago.

I hear you loud and clear on Gordon. And I can come up with 2,109 reasons why he's the runaway Doak Walker winner. Not even close. He's spectacular. And most years, I'd probably be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you because I do believe the award has become too quarterback-driven.

This year, however, the voters should and will get it right by handing it to a dual-threat quarterback. From statistical measurables, legacy numbers and team success, Mariota is without equal.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
10:00
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While there were a number of important visitors at every Pac-12 game this past weekend, the Rose Bowl took center stage as UCLA hosted a number of official and unofficial visitors in what was the hottest ticket of the year for Southern California recruits. UCLA kicked off its strong weekend with a commitment from an ESPN 300 prospect, while Oregon hosted a junior college standout committed to another Pac-12 program. This upcoming weekend presents an opportunity for recruiting statements to be made in rivalry games.


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