We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team’s nonconference opponents in 2014. (Note, we'll take a break from the series for a couple of days to focus on media days coverage. We'll pick up with UCLA on Friday).

STANFORD

UC Davis Aggies, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Ron Gould (5-7), second year
  • 2013 record: 5-7, 5-3, Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Eight offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Gabe Manzanares was the Big Sky newcomer of the year season, rushing for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also earned third-team all-conference honors along the way.
  • Defensive headliner: An all-conference honorable mention last season, linebacker Steven Pitts posted 74 stops, including a team high 11.5 tackles for a loss. He also had four sacks to go with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • The skinny: Cal fans might recall Gould from his days with the Bears, where he helped develop, among others, Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. The Aggies return four of five starters on the offensive line and a talented running back in Manzanares. The defensive line needs to be rebuilt and they have to replace quarterback Randy Wright. Expect Davis to rely heavily on the run game.
Army Black Knights, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Jeff Monken, first season
  • 2013 record:3-9, Independent
  • Returning starters: 10 offense, 16 defense (that’s not a typo, that’s what they list).
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Terry Baggett led the team with 141 carries for 1,113 yards and eight touchdowns last year, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and 92.8 yards per game.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive lineman Mike Ugenyi led all of Army’s defensive linemen last year with 39 stops, including 6.5 tackles for a loss and a sack.
  • The skinny: Despite the coaching change, the Knights will continue to run the triple-option. Monken tallied a 38-16 record when he was at Georgia Southern and advanced to the FCS semifinals three times before helping the team transition into the Sun Belt Conference and FBS play. Army didn’t exactly give Stanford trouble last year. But it wasn’t a walk-over for the Cardinal, either.
At Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Saturday, Oct. 4
  • Coach: Brian Kelly (37-14), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 9-4, Independent
  • Returning starters: Five offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Center Nick Martin, recently added to the Rimington watch list for the nation’s best center, missed spring ball recovering from a knee injury last season. But when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best in the country.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback KeiVarae Russell returns after posting 51 tackles last year, including 1.5 for a loss. He had one interception and led the team with nine passes defended while also recovering a fumble.
  • The skinny: This will be the first of three games between Pac-12 schools and Notre Dame, who face Arizona State and USC in November. The last time these teams played in South Bend, well, you remember. It was a controversial ending that kept the Irish undefeated. But it also fueled the Cardinal’s Rose Bowl run. No doubt, David Shaw & Co. haven’t forgotten.
Thoughts: The Cardinal have an unusual layout to the first half of their season. They open with a nonconference game and then have a conference game in between the other two for the first six games. They have the Trojans in between Davis and Army and a trip to Seattle in between Army and the visit to Notre Dame. Stanford has some of its toughest games on the road this season -- including trips to Tempe, Eugene and Pasadena, and factoring in a trip to South Bend isn't easy. It’s also probably frustrating for local fans to see the Bill Walsh Legacy game with San Jose State put on hiatus. And hopefully the schools can come to an agreement to bring that game back. But for now, the Cardinal should be able to handle Davis and Army. The Aggies probably won’t provide a very good proxy for the Trojans, so Stanford had best be ready to work in Week 2. The Notre Dame game is just a fun rivalry that will likely feature two ranked teams. There are two wins here for sure, and more than likely a third if the Cardinal can shake off the South Bend demons from 2012.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
2:30
PM ET
I’m never gonna look back, Whoa-Oh
Never gonna give it up, No-Oh
Just don't wake me now
(Ooh, Ooh-Ooh, Ooh)
This is gonna be the best day of my life.
Tags:

Pac-12

At Big 12 media days on Monday, Baylor Bears coach Art Briles discussed the popularity of Baylor QB Bryce Petty, going so far as to say that even someone who works at a Dairy Queen in Salem, Oregon, would know who Petty was.

 
It was a nice line. Too bad it wasn’t true.

A Portland radio station checked with the six Dairy Queen locations in the Salem area. No one knew who Petty was.

So the Pac-12 blog was wondering whether the reverse would be true. Petty might not be known in Oregon, but would Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota be known in Briles’ area? Would Mariota’s notoriety stretch to the deep ends of this great country? Would even people in Waco, Texas, know Mariota?

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBaylor QB Bryce Petty may be popular among the Big 12 media, but his popularity at Dairy Queens could use some work.
Long story short: No. Of the three Dairy Queens in Waco (pulled up on a Google search), two lucky workers -- including one who works at a Dairy Queen near campus -- picked up the phone today and were asked a very simple question: Do you know who Marcus Mariota is?

No and no.

But here’s the kicker. The followup was: Do you know who Bryce Petty is?

Same answer. No and no.

The good part for Briles is that this probably means his star quarterback isn’t frequenting the ice cream shops around town. And, depending on your own personal feelings on dairy desserts and their effects on one’s on-field play, this will either make you like Petty slightly more or slightly less.

The bad part for Briles is that he was wrong. Very wrong. Not only does someone who works at a Dairy Queen a couple thousand miles from Baylor not know who Petty is, neither do people who work within a couple miles.
Pac-12 media days start Wednesday at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California, and your entire Pac-12 gang -- we're going by either #4pac or #pac4, we haven't decided yet -- will be there soaking in the evasive and cliched quotes while plumbing for revealing and interesting nuggets to share only with you.

There are plenty of topics to cover, from the perhaps unprecedented quality and experience at quarterback, to two new coaches who have familiar faces, to the new four-team College Football Playoff.

Arizona, California, USC, Oregon, Washington State and Utah will appear on Wednesday, while Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Stanford and Colorado follow up on Thursday. You can see the players on hand and the schedule here. Yes, this is the first time the Pac-12 has spread out its preseason media event over two days.

The preseason media poll will be released Wednesday, and the Pac-12 blog is going out on no limb guaranteeing you that Oregon will be picked to win the North and UCLA will be picked to win the South.

As a public service, we've decided to provide you a cheat sheet so you can contemplate the world as a reporter might. Below, for each of the conference's 12 teams, are questions that are sure to be asked, less warm-and-fuzzy questions that should be asked and idle bits of whimsy that the Pac-12 blog wishes would be part of the proceedings.

(Unless otherwise noted, the questions are intended for the head coach).

Arizona Wildcats
What will be asked: Can you give us an idea of your pecking order at quarterback?
What should be asked: What did Wildcats fans say to you this summer about being 0-2 against Arizona State?
Whimsical interlude: If Todd Graham and Donald Sterling were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?

Arizona State Sun Devils
What will be asked: Who will step up on your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: You turn 50 in December: Do you expect to retire as the Sun Devils head coach?
Whimsical interlude: If Rich Rodriguez and Justin Bieber were being attacked by wolves, whom would you save?

California Golden Bears
What will be asked: What's your team's attitude after going 1-11 in your first season?
What should be asked: What are specific mistakes you made last year that contributed to your team's struggles?
Whimsical interlude: Compare and contrast your hometowns of Big Springs and Lubbock, Texas, to Berkeley.

Colorado Buffaloes
What will be asked: Is your team ready to take the next step in the Pac-12?
What should be asked: What is your program's chief deficiency and how are you addressing that in recruiting?
Whimsical interlude: Just thinking out loud here but, Ralphie, are you certain she has no remaining eligibility?

Oregon Ducks
What will be asked: How is quarterback Marcus Mariota going to be better this season compared to last?
What should be asked: What were some of the challenges and transitionary pains you've learned from after replacing a larger-than-life coach in Chip Kelly?
Whimsical interlude: Marcus, here are five loaves and two fishes. There are a lot of hungry reporters here. So, you know, do your thing.

Oregon State Beavers
What will be asked: How does the offense change without wide receiver Brandin Cooks?
What should be asked: Is it possible for the Beavers to catch up with Oregon without the kind of support the Ducks get from Nike founder Phil Knight?
Whimsical interlude: Sean Mannion, please recreate for us the worst temper-tantrum you've ever seen Coach Riley throw.

Stanford Cardinal
What will be asked: Who is going to step up to lead your rebuilding defense?
What should be asked: The media has again picked Oregon to eclipse you, the two-time defending Pac-12 North champions. Is that a slight to your program and if not how do you interpret it?
Whimsical interlude: Jordan Richards, you are a public policy major. Please compare and contrast the deontological perspectives of Kant, Mill and Rawls.

UCLA Bruins
What will be asked: How do you manage all the hype and high expectations that surrounds your team and quarterback Brett Hundley?
What should be asked: What do you need from the UCLA administration to maintain and build on your present advantage in your rivalry with USC?
Whimsical interlude: Jim, what does your dad think of the new college football PLAYOFFS?

USC Trojans
What will be asked: How will your up-tempo offense work while you have depth issues due to scholarship limitations?
What should be asked: What mistakes did you make at Washington that you'll avoid at USC?
Whimsical interlude: Steve, what would be the most interesting revelation if you, Pete Carroll, Jim Mora and Lane Kiffin went out for drinks?

Utah Utes
What will be asked: Explain how your quarterback situation sets up with Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson and how each fits in new coordinator Dave Christensen's offense?
What should be asked: Have Utah fans underestimated how difficult it would be to move up from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?
Whimsical interlude: You've had six offensive coordinators in six years. Please match each with one of Snow White's seven dwarfs, assuming that this stupid question automatically makes you Grumpy.

Washington Huskies
What will be asked: What was it about Washington that lured you away from Boise State?
What should be asked: What did quarterback Cyler Miles tell you about his role in two separate fights that occurred after the Super Bowl?
Whimsical interlude: OT Ben Riva: You are the only offensive lineman here. There are eight quarterbacks, three receivers and a bunch of defensive guys. First, what's the worst prima donna behavior you have witnessed? And, second, is this pretty much an offensive lineman's seventh level of hell?

Washington State Cougars
What will be asked: With a veteran quarterback and a deep corps of receivers, what's your expectations for your offense this fall?
What should be asked: Did your job get more difficult or easier with the hiring of Chris Petersen at Washington?
Whimsical interlude: Connor Halliday & Darryl Monroe: Here is a 10 question quiz on your coach's book about Geronimo, which I'm sure you've read. You have two minutes. Go!
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 7. (And FYI, the road trip will go on hiatus for a couple of days in lieu of media days coverage).

Friday, Oct. 10
  • Washington State at Stanford
Saturday, Oct. 11
  • USC at Arizona
  • Oregon at UCLA
  • Washington at California
  • Byes: Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, Utah
My choice: Oregon at UCLA

Why: This one is a no-brainer -- even with an enticing showdown of USC going to Arizona.

For starters, there is a very strong possibility that at least one of these teams will be ranked in the top five and there’s a good chance that both will be ranked in the top 10. That means there will be huge national interest in this game. Second, when the preseason media poll is released tomorrow, here’s guessing that Oregon will be the preseason favorite in the North and UCLA in the South. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how it’s going to play out. But projecting from July, you have what are perceived to be the two teams that will play in the Pac-12 championship game squaring off in Pasadena the second week in October.

And the other major storyline, of course, is the quarterbacks. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley have already received considerable preseason Heisman hype. And that’s only going to increase as the season wears on and as they (presumably) put up monster dual-threat numbers. Of course, there’s really nothing either of them can do while the other one is on the field. But this will still be billed as a matchup of Heisman hopefuls and likely top 10 draft picks.

For the Bruins, this is a big one. If they want to be considered an elite Pac-12 team, these are the kinds of games they are going to have to start winning. For as great of a job as Jim Mora has done since coming in, he hasn’t beaten Stanford or Oregon -- the two best teams in the league. If UCLA wants to announce itself to the rest of the country, beating Oregon is a nice way to do it.

On the flip side, Mark Helfrich has a team that many believe is equipped to make a run at the College Football Playoff and beyond. A win sets the stage for another classic showdown with Stanford a couple of weeks later and puts them in the driver’s seat for tops in the conference. A loss, however, could put the Ducks and Helfrich on uneven footing.

Long story short, the winner of this game takes a commanding lead atop the Power Rankings with showdowns against Stanford yet to come.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

OREGON STATE

Portland State, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Nigel Burton (18-27), fifth year
  • 2013 record: 6-6, 3-5 Big Sky
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: During the past two seasons, quarterback Kieran McDonagh has rushed for 775 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with more than 4,000 passing yards and 29 scores.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Aaron Sibley is the lone returning starter in the secondary. He was an all-conference honorable mention last year after posting 42 tackles, 1.5 for a loss and one interception. Has all-conference potential this season.
  • The skinny: The Vikings lose a talented running back in DJ Adams, but the offense still has a lot of explosion after setting six school records last season. Defensively, there is some work to do with only four starters returning. This is the first of two meetings between the league and Portland State, which also faces Washington State on Sept. 13.
At Hawaii, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Norm Chow (4-20), third year
  • 2013 record: 1-11, 0-8 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Offensive lineman Ben Clarke earned all-conference honorable mention honors last season and has started 24 games the past two seasons. He’s one of four returning starters on the offensive line.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Jerrol Garcia-Williams posted 67 tackles last year, including three for a loss and a sack. He also forced a couple of fumbles.
  • The skinny: We hit on Hawaii during the Colorado post last week. That will actually be the third game for the Warriors in the 2014 season against the Pac-12. They open at home against Washington and then get Oregon State a week later. Hawaii hasn’t beaten a Pac-12 team since topping Colorado 34-17 in the 2011 season opener.
San Diego State, Saturday, Sept. 20
  • Coach: Rocky Long (25-14), fourth year
  • 2013 record: 8-5, 6-2 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Six offense, four defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quinn Kaehler returns at quarterback after taking over starting duties last year – where he passed for more than 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns to nine interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Oft-injured defensive back J.J. Whittaker was able to put together a complete season last year and rewarded the Aztecs with a team-high three interceptions, including a critical pick-six in the team’s win over Boise State last year.
  • The skinny: The Aztecs lose a huge chunk of production with the departure of running back Adam Muema. But Long has this team competing for a Mountain West title. It took a bizarre turn over events for the Beavers to win last year’s game at Qualcomm. Recall, SDSU was up 30-21 with five minutes left before an OSU touchdown, followed by a Steven Nelson pick-six and a Ryan Murphy interception in the final three minutes locked up the unlikely comeback.
Thoughts: We’d like to think Oregon State will jump out to a 3-0 start to the season. But we’ve been fooled before. The Beavers have dropped two games in the last three seasons to FCS foes -- Sacramento State in overtime in 2011 and the 49-46 shootout against Eastern Washington last year when the Beavers started the season ranked No. 25. So take the following analysis with a grain of salt: The Beavers absolutely should start the year 3-0. They have an elite quarterback, a running game they hope will blossom and experience on all three levels of the defense. Are they a perfect team? Absolutely not. They have holes like everyone else. But their holes shouldn’t matter against the likes of Portland State and Hawaii. San Diego State, however, is a surging Mountain West team. The Aztecs have gone to four straight bowl games (including 3 for 3 under Rocky Long) and pushed OSU to the brink last season. But the schedule works out that the Beavers have two games then a bye before wrapping the nonconference slate with SDSU at home. Then it’s off to USC to start league play on Sept. 27. The Beavers will be favorites in all three games so thinking 3-0 isn’t lofty. It’s expected.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
2:30
PM ET
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

Our Pac-12 media poll ballots

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
1:00
PM ET
Every year, the Pac-12 polls media members on how they predict the season will turn out. Sometimes there is a pretty strong consensus. Sometimes there is not. The Pac-12 blog expects there to be strong unanimity this go-around, as our four ballots suggest.

All four of us picked Oregon and UCLA to win their respective divisions. All of us picked Oregon as the Pac-12 champion. Kevin's and Ted's ballots are exactly the same, which might be a good thing for Ted, considering that Kevin's 2013 ballot correctly predicted the finish of all 12 teams.

By the way, Kevin has never, ever, ever brought that up since the end of the 2013 season, notwithstanding his voicemail celebrating that fact, his copywriting "Mr. Pac-12 Perfect Predictor" and the giant billboards he erected in all Pac-12 towns and cities. To quote Uriah Heep, Kevin remains "the 'umblest person going."

For those believing the Pac-12 blog merely goes with the flow, recall that the 2013 Pac-12 media poll picked Oregon and UCLA as the division winners, while Kevin and Ted went with Stanford and Arizona State.

(Insert smug look).

There are some differences here between your Old Men and the New Blood, most notably the bottom two finishers in the South. There also are some differences in the placement of Oregon State, Washington and Washington State in the North, and USC and Arizona State in the South.

Here's Ted Miller's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Kevin Gemmell's (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Oregon State
5. Washington State
6. California

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Utah
6. Colorado

Champion: Oregon

Here's Chantel Jenning's (You can follow her on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. ASU
3. USC
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon

And here's Kyle Bonagura (You can follow him on Twitter here).

North Division
1. Oregon
2. Stanford
3. Washington
4. Washington State
5. Oregon State
6. Cal

South Division
1. UCLA
2. USC
3. Arizona State
4. Arizona
5. Colorado
6. Utah

Champion: Oregon
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 6

Thursday, Oct. 2
  • Arizona at Oregon
Saturday, Oct. 4
  • Arizona State at USC
  • Utah at UCLA
  • Oregon State at Colorado
  • California at Washington State
  • Stanford at Notre Dame
  • Bye: Washington
My choice: Arizona at Oregon and Arizona State at USC

Why: Another Thursday night game means we have the chance to for another two-for-one.

We capped last week's two-part road trip in Seattle. I'm just going to assume that no one has to work that week, so it's time to take a leisurely drive down the I-5. We'll start in downtown Seattle and you can either floor it to Portland, or maybe take the 205 for some nice stops along the Columbia River. Kick around Portland for a few days and then head to Autzen Thursday night for a rematch of one of the most shocking games in the Pac-12 last season.

Arizona's 42-16 thumping over the Ducks wasn't only the signature win of the Rich Rodriguez era, it knocked the Ducks out of the Pac-12 championship game and subsequently a BCS bowl game. It was as shellacking from start to finish. Rather than trying the slow-it-down/grind-it-out method others have tried against the Ducks, the ‘Cats matched Oregon speed for speed.

A great subplot to this game is Arizona's stellar wide receiving corps going against one of the best defensive backs in the league in Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. But besides him, Oregon has holes to fill in the secondary, which makes that an intriguing game within the game to watch.

Friday morning, hop on the 5 and don't get off for 861 miles. That should take you right to the Coliseum where the Trojans will also have revenge on their mind against the Sun Devils. Recall last year's beat down that led to the dismissal of Lane Kiffin.

But what makes this game so significant is the South Division ramifications. It's widely believed (at least in the preseason) that UCLA is No. 1 in the South pecking order with ASU and USC in a virtual tie for the No. 2 spot to challenge the Bruins. ASU and UCLA will have already played. If the Sun Devils won, they'd need this game to defend their South crown. If they lost, they would need a win to keep pace with the Bruins.

As for the Trojans, this would be a first step toward reclaiming the South. And with a lot of offensive firepower on both sides of the ball, this has the potential to be one of the more entertaining games of the season.

We considered Stanford's trip to Notre Dame. That nonconference game is always a fun one and, depending on the records of both teams come October, the national pundits will no doubt be eyeballing that one. There is also the battle of the “raids” with Cal at Washington State. And last year's UCLA-Utah game was a squeaker.

But with two high-powered offenses squaring off on Thursday night and a huge South Division showdown on Saturday, we opted to keep it in conference this week. All in all, this is a solid couple of days of football.

Mailbag: Alabama scheduling

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes.

Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.

Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.

While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).

That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.

Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.

You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.

What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.

Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.

Mickey: That was easy.

Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?

Mickey: They was hand-picked!

Rocky Balboa: Setups?

Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!

Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.

My prediction for the game? Pain.




Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?

Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.

First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.

You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.

Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.

As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.

There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.




Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)

Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.

The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.

Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.




Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?

Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.

If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.

Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.

And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.




Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.

Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

OREGON

South Dakota Coyotes, Saturday, Aug. 30
  • Coach: Joe Glenn (5-18), third year
  • 2013 record: 4-8, 3-5 Missouri Valley
  • Returning starters: Eight offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Trevor Bouma is back after rushing for 781 yards and three touchdowns on 164 attempts last season. He’ll be the offense's focal point.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Auston Johnson was one of the top tacklers last season, recording 69 stops, including 10.5 for a loss and seven sacks.
  • The skinny: Glenn, formerly of Wyoming, among other stops, was pulled out of retirement to coach his alma mater. After a one-win season in 2012 (winless in conference), the Coyotes upped their total wins to four. It’s still a rebuilding process, but there is some good athleticism with guys like Kevin Earl and Jasper Sanders, who have moved between several offensive skill positions as Glenn tries to put all of the pieces together.
Michigan State Spartans, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Mark Dantonio (64-29), eighth year
  • 2013 record: 13-1, 8-0 Big Ten
  • Returning starters: Seven offense, five defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Connor Cook burst on to the scene last year during Michigan State’s Rose Bowl run, tossing 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns to six interceptions.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive end Shilique Calhoun was the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year after posting 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. He also forced four fumbles and tied for the FBS lead with three defensive touchdowns.
  • The skinny: The Spartans' heralded defense from 2013 must replace two of their greatest linebackers: Denicos Allen and Max Bullough. Offensively, 99 percent of their 2013 rushing yards are back, including Jeremy Langford, who led the Big Ten with 18 rushing touchdowns. It’s not the same team from last year, but it’s still a very, very good one that should compete for the Big Ten title.
Wyoming Cowboys, Saturday, Sept. 13
  • Coach: Craig Bohl, first year
  • 2013 record:5-7, 3-5 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Six offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Dominic Rufran is back after hauling in 75 catches for 960 yards and eight touchdowns last year. He posted four 100-yard receiving games last seasons.
  • Defensive headliner: Junior defensive end Eddie Yarbrough was a first-team All-Conference pick last season after leading all Mountain West defensive linemen with an average of 7.4 tackles per game. He also tallied 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss.
  • The skinny: The Pokes are starting anew with Bohl following two bowl appearances in five years under former coach Dave Christensen (now the Utah offensive coordinator). Bohl had tremendous success at the FCS level, leading North Dakota State to the last three consecutive FCS national championships and he was honored as national coach of the year in 2012 and 2013. His Bison teams were 7-3 against FBS teams and he was an assistant on Nebraska’s 1995 and 1997 national championship teams. No doubt, he’s got coaching chops. But it might take some time to build up the Cowboys.
Thoughts: With annual sky-high expectations, anything short of a 3-0 start to the year for the Oregon Ducks would be a major disappointment. Second year head coach Mark Helfrich has already been a victim of expectations after the Ducks failed to qualify for a BCS game last season. And with Marcus Mariota returning to lead the offense, the feeling in Eugene is playoff or bust. The Ducks get all three of these games at home, so that will help. There’s no real threat with South Dakota or Wyoming. If by some act of Zeus the Ducks do lose one of those games, then we’ve all seriously overestimated the Ducks and what they are capable of this year. The Michigan State game, obviously, is the big one. It’s being touted as the top nonconference game of the 2014 season with massive playoff implications. A 3-0 start for the Ducks means they are in the thick of the playoff hunt heading into the conference opener at Washington State. Anything less would be met with a hail of criticism.

Pac-12 lunch links

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 5.

Thursday, Sept. 25
  • UCLA at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 27
  • Oregon State at USC
  • Colorado at California
  • Washington State at Utah
  • Stanford at Washington
  • Byes: Arizona, Oregon
My choice: UCLA at Arizona State and Stanford at Washington

Why: For the first time this year, we have a full set of just conference games. And that’s exciting, because there are some good ones. And because of the Thursday-Saturday scheduling, we’ve got ourselves a 2-fer.

Oregon State at USC is going to be fun with Manning Academy quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler squaring off. Colorado at Cal is intriguing for power ranking purposes, as is Washington State at Utah.

But on the first leg of our two-game Week 5 trip, we’re making our first stop in Tempe to see the game that has essentially determined the Pac-12 South division the last couple of years. And it might be the swing game again this season.

The Sun Devils are the defending South champs after taking it from UCLA, which won the division in 2012. The Bruins are the likely favorites this year and looking to take it back.

And the last two meetings have been thrillers. In 2012, it was Taylor Kelly who drove the Sun Devils 56 yards in six plays to give ASU a 43-42 edge with 1:33 left to play. Then Brett Hundley returned the favor, moving UCLA 60 yards in 12 plays to set up Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 33-yard field goal that lifted the Bruins to a 45-43 win as time expired.

Last year, with the Bruins trailing 38-33 and 3:21 left, Hundley wasn’t able to duplicate the magic as the Sun Devils defense stifled him on the final drive. Of course, that was after ASU had built up a 35-13 lead at halftime and almost gave it up in the second half. But a win is a win.

When the preseason media poll is revealed next week, chances are UCLA will be picked to win the South, most likely followed by USC and then ASU. The Sun Devils aren’t going to give up their crown without a fight.

And speaking of critical intra-division games, we’re going to hop on a flight Friday morning up to Seattle, grab dinner at El Gaucho, and then watch Washington host the Cardinal on Saturday. (Or you could drive it … 1,428 miles from stadium to stadium).

Recent history isn’t always great precedent, but given how the last two games have gone, this one could be equally thrilling. The 2012 showdown at the CLink was one of the most deafening games I’ve ever covered -- pro or college. And it was the game that launched Bishop Sankey from backup-turned-starter into a bona fide playmaker.

And of course there were the controversies of last year’s game -- the allegations of fake injuries, a critical replay, Austin Seferian-Jenkins' dropped pass on third down, Ty Montgomery’s monster returns etc. And though Washington’s coaching staff has changed, this meeting has turned into a stellar North matchup the last couple of seasons and worthy of a spot on the road trip.

You can catch the rest of the road trip here.
We continue with our series looking at each Pac-12 team's nonconference opponents in 2014.

COLORADO

Colorado State, Friday, Aug. 29 (in Denver)
  • Coach: Jim McElwain (12-14), third year
  • 2013 record: 8-6, 5-3 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: six offense, seven defense
  • Offensive headliner: LT Ty Sambrailo has started 37 games (tied for most on the team) and is getting a lot of preseason love and hype. A lot of folks think he’s got a bright NFL future.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Max Morgan returns after totaling 134 stops last year, the most by a CSU player since 1996. He’s a captain and regarded as a coach on the field.
  • The skinny: Quarterback Garrett Grayson needs 1,959 yards to become the school’s all-time leading passer. He’s a veteran, the Mountain West’s top returning passer, and he has two receivers and Mackey watch list tight end coming back. On the flip side is a talented linebacking corps and a veteran secondary. This is not a Rams team to be taken lightly. (And no, Washington State fans, I won’t bring up the New Mexico Bowl again. Oops, I guess I just did).
At Massachusetts, Saturday, Sept. 6
  • Coach: Mark Whipple (49-26 from 1998-2003), seventh season
  • 2013 record: 1-11, 1-7 Mid-American
  • Returning starters: seven offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner: Wide receiver Tajae Sharpe hauled in 61 catches for 680 yards and four touchdowns last season.
  • Defensive headliner: Linebacker Stanley Andre returns after posting 111 tackles, including six for a loss and a sack to go with one forced fumble.
  • The skinny: Whipple was hired in January to the post he held from 1998-2003, when he guided UMass to an NCAA I-AA national championship and two other postseason appearances. In between he had stops with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Miami. UMass opened upgraded facilities and Whipple will return them to the pro-style system that helped them earn three A-10 titles when he was there before.
Hawaii, Saturday, Sept. 20
  • Coach: Norm Chow (4-20), third year
  • 2013 record: 1-11, 0-8 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: Seven on offense, six on defense
  • Offensive headliner: Running back Joey Iosefa led the team with 590 yards and five touchdowns last season. And he’ll be running behind a line that returns four starters.
  • Defensive headliner: Defensive back Ne'Quan Phillips returns after earning all-conference honorable mention honors last season, where he had 64 total tackles while nabbing a pair of interceptions and breaking up six passes.
  • The skinny: Things have not gone well for the Warriors since Chow has come aboard. They have just two wins over FBS teams in two seasons, and were winless all of last year up until the season finale, when they pulled off a 49-42 win over Army. They have to replace quarterback Sean Schroeder, who tossed 28 touchdowns and 2,960 yards last year. But the continuity on the line will be a plus.
Thoughts: It’s not unreasonable, Colorado fans, to feel like your team should be 3-0 in nonconference play. These are three winnable games. Colorado State is going to be a good early season test. Throw in the rivalry factor and you have an emotional game to kick off the season. That’s why we tapped it for our Week 1 Ultimate Road Trip. It’s going to be a good one. Massachusetts is in rebuilding mode and Hawaii is yet to get off the mat. The Buffs are in Year 2 of the Mike MacIntyre system. And they showed some fight in Year 1. The expectations become a little more serious now. No one expects Colorado to compete for the South title yet. But beating a pair of Mountain West teams and a MAC team that went 1-11 last year shouldn’t be too much to ask for. If Colorado goes 2-1 in nonconference, that wouldn’t be devastating. But anything less than that would be surprising. And 3-0 shouldn’t be an unrealistic expectation.
For his career, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion has officially carried 84 times for minus-498 yards. That's an average of minus-5.9 yards per carry, for those scrambling for a calculator. He has one career rushing touchdown. It came in 2011 and was, naturally, a 1-yard score. Of course, those numbers are deflated by the 61 times he's been sacked. But you get the idea.

Sean Mannion isn't a runner.

And in a conference silly with running quarterbacks and Heisman hopefuls and unprecedented depth at the position, Mannion is the old-school prototypical pocket passer. Big (6-foot-5). Sturdy (220 pounds). And productive to the tune of 10,436 career passing yards and 68 touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Steve Conner/Icon SMISean Mannion's skilled pocket game will probably make him the Pac-12's all-time leading passer by Halloween.
By the time you're buying your Halloween costume, Mannion will probably be the Pac-12's all-time leading passer. And yet that almost seems blasÚ with excess of quarterback talent in the league this year. He's not a Heisman frontrunner, or, as we've already established, any kind of runner for that matter. That hype belongs to Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley.

He wasn't first- or second-team all-conference, despite 4,662 passing yards and 37 touchdowns in 2013. Those honors went to Mariota and ASU's Taylor Kelly. Heck, even Stanford's Kevin Hogan, who operates a pro-style scheme, broke through because the coaching staff designed a special read-and-run option package for him. And with "raid" quarterbacks Jared Goff and Connor Halliday, Mannion isn't even the only pocket guy.

No question, Mannion has NFL talent. He was given a third-round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory Board. And with another strong year, he might develop into a first-round talent, given his frame, his understanding of the pro-style offense and his skill set. But in the Pac-12 pecking order, where exactly does he fit in?

"I don't really know. And to be honest, it's not something I spend a lot of time thinking about," Mannion said. "I don't think about pecking order. I feel like when I'm playing well and at my best, I'm as good as or better than anyone. But all I'm worrying about is being the best Sean Mannion I can be. But I also know I'm as good as anyone when I'm at my best."

It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Mannion, who won skills competitions at both the Elite 11 camp and the Manning Passing Academy. To claim the crown at the Manning Camp, he had to connect with moving golf carts moving at distances of 10 and 20 yards and a "deep ball" cart. Not surprising, Mannion went 4-for-4 on the deep ball. He did, after all, spend all of last year throwing to Biletnikoff winner Brandin Cooks. And Cooks is faster than a golf cart.

"Yes, he certainly is," Mannion said. "But it was more about getting the ball out of your hand fast and getting your grip and getting rid of it."

This time last year, Mannion didn't even know if he'd be Oregon State's starting quarterback, let alone go on to have a record-setting season. A 2012 quarterback competition with Cody Vaz spilled into the 2013 summer, leaving many to wonder if Mannion would ever develop into an upper-echelon quarterback. He proved more than capable last year, re-writing school and conference records along the way.

"Right now, I feel like I'm as prepared as I've ever been," Mannion said. "Even last year with the whole controversy or competition or whatever, at that time, I felt like I was as prepared as I could possibly be. It was a little tough because you weren't really sure what was going to happen Week 1. But now I'm able to take a deep breath and not worry about that and just keep preparing."

And that means improving on those skills that make him an intriguing NFL prospect. Like getting the ball out quicker -- a skill he shored up at the Manning Academy. It also means playing to his strengths. And Mannion knows what his are ... and aren't. So while other notable Pac-12 quarterbacks will be getting it done in the air and on the ground, Mannion will stick to what he does best.

"College football has transitioned so much more into the spread and the shotgun and running quarterbacks," he said. "I'm not a big runner. So I think I landed in the right spot. There are still a lot of good pro-style systems out there. And this has been, for me, the perfect fit."

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