Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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We're still a week away from the in-season megavisit that will take place when Oregon hosts Stanford, but there are more than a few intriguing visitor lists in the Pac-12 this weekend. It's a weekend that could provide clarity in the Pac-12 South, and recruits will be on hand as Utah hosts USC and the Arizona schools travel to the state of Washington. Elsewhere, Stanford hosts Oregon State and important ESPN 300 prospects as we look at the top three visit weekends in the Pac-12.

USC at Utah

The Utes are scheduled to host at least three official visitors this weekend, led by Utah wide receiver commit Donzale Roddie. Also on hand will be safety Tyson Cisrow and defensive end Simitali Moala. Cisrow is another in a long line of Florida standouts the Utes are chasing in this 2015 class. Utah already holds commitments from three Florida preps and is well on its way to matching the five Sunshine State prospects signed in the 2014 class. This will be an important visit for Roddie as well, as the three-star recruit is being chased by Colorado and has said in the past that he'll continue to listen to other schools despite his verbal commitment.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

We've got football tonight! And in true Pac-12 fashion, it features the top two scoring offenses in the conference and the league's most efficient passers. Oregon ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12, scoring an average of 43.6 points per game. Cal is No. 2, averaging 41.6 points per game. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks first in the league in quarterback efficiency, and Cal's Jared Goff is No. 2. The weather in Santa Clara tonight calls for 75 degrees and partly cloudy, so don't expect an monsoons like last season in Eugene.

Here's what some folks are saying about tonight's showdown:
As noted, the quarterbacks will take center stage in the showdown. Here's a statistical breakdown of Mariota and Goff.

Pick 'em

As always, the Pac-12 blog presents its picks on Thursday morning. And each Friday we bring some picks from national writers and folks who cover the conference. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that all the Pac-12 blog writers picked Utah to beat USC. And we all know what happens when the Pac-12 blog agrees (gulp).

But we're not the only ones. Stewart Mandel from Fox Sports is also a Utah believer:
The Trojans are the more talented team, but this is not the most favorable matchup for them. RB Buck Allen has sprung for at least 115 yards in all but one game but the Utes boast the nation’s sixth-best rushing defense. And Utah star Devontae Booker is fully capable of exploiting an average USC rushing defense. The Trojans admittedly have a huge edge at quarterback with Cody Kessler, but if Utah prevents too many long throws downfield, it should survive.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

What does Super Mariota really look like?

This doesn't qualify as "fun," but more of a tip of the cap to Colorado, UCLA, Navy and San Jose State, who will honor Houston offensive lineman David Quessenberry, who is battling cancer.

Yesterday was media day for Pac-12 basketball. Here's an interesting comparison between Pac-12 hoops and football. Unlike football, basketball has a little bit of DISparity.

Good to see this guy up and moving.

Stanford has lost three games in a regular season for the first time since 2009.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Tony AvelarDavid Shaw and Stanford have their backs against the wall -- again.
 On the way, its offense has dropped to the very bottom of the Pac-12's statistical rankings. Its vaunted defense has suffered a pair of critical injuries at the position where they hurt most -- the defensive line.

And for the first time in 72 weeks (that dates back to early 2010), the two-time defending Pac-12 champion is not ranked in the Top 25.

Are we witnessing the end of this program's magical four year run, a stretch during which Stanford was the only team in the nation to qualify for a BCS bowl in each season?

"The sky is falling every single year," coach David Shaw contends. "Coaches and players don't [buy into that]. Fans can do that. Talking heads can do that. We go back to work and we try to solve our problems."

There are plenty of those on The Farm right now.

Perhaps Stanford can take comfort in its recent history during these trying times: The Cardinal did also hit rocky points on their way to those consecutive Pac-12 titles the past two seasons, after all. The 2012 campaign featured the anemic offensive performances of losses at Washington and Notre Dame, while the 2013 journey saw maddening red-zone struggles deliver gut punches at Utah and USC.

The Cardinal regained their footing both of those times. In 2012, renewed balance came thanks to a quarterback change that introduced Kevin Hogan to the starter's role. In 2013, outside help -- coming in the form of Arizona's upset over Oregon -- was Stanford's saving grace.

In both instances, though, Shaw's team maintained its championship trajectory thanks to a core of fiery veteran players, the experienced bodies who had been staples around The Farm throughout the program's entire resurgence. Shayne Skov's raspy 2012 locker room speeches came when the team's back was against the wall, and they became the stuff of Stanford legend. Ben Gardner became a rallying point for the 2013 squad after a torn pectoral muscle ended his career. Trent Murphy may not have been as outwardly vocal as Skov, but he too had a penchant for inspiring stability and constant work in the locker room.

"Just keep chopping wood," Murphy repeated after the Cardinal's 2013 loss to USC, a setback that looked like it had knocked the team out of Pac-12 title contention. "Good things will happen."

Sure enough, he was right: Good things did happen. Stanford found themselves back in (and dominating) the Pac-12 championship game just three weeks after their moment of greatest despair.

'A fascinating team'

Well, Stanford's annual pilgrimage to the land of adversity is back, 2014 style this time. And the hole to escape certainly seems deeper than the previous two. Three losses saddle the Cardinal this time. A struggling offense is again the culprit, but unlike 2012, there is no shocking salvation-via-quarterback change on the horizon. The fiery veteran leadership of players like Skov, Gardner, Murphy, and Tyler Gaffney has graduated.

 For pundits, those losses were a source of major preseason concern, with potentially trying situations like the current one being the primary source of worry. Shaw, meanwhile, agrees that his team's leadership make-up is different, but he thinks it can still be effective.

"This is a fascinating team," Shaw said. "We don’t really have [fiery players like Skov]. But our guys work like crazy. We may not have the guy who goes up there and does all the speeches and gets everybody all fired up and motivated, but we came out here Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday on our goal line day, and guys were hitting hard and hustling. It was as physical as it was in training camp."

Shaw exuded unbridled optimism at practice Wednesday, the day after he took blame for his team's offensive ineptitude by suggesting he needs to do a better job scheming to put Stanford's dangerous playmakers in a position to succeed.

"I don’t worry about that speech-making and that obvious leadership stuff," he said. "But I love the way that Jordan Richards, A.J. Tarpley and Kevin Hogan get back to work. The players are always more resilient. ... All the fans have seven days to lament. These guys have to work."

The public can begin to judge the fruits of that labor this Saturday, when Stanford has its chance to rebound at home against Oregon State. The Holy Grail -- err, the Oregon game -- awaits at Autzen Stadium the week after that. While the Cardinal's three losses have eliminated the team from College Football Playoff contention, Stanford still controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 title chase. So Shaw's team has the rather odd opportunity of playing spoiler (at least two of its remaining opponents, Oregon and Utah, are very much alive in the Playoff chase) while simultaneously chasing a conference championship.

Given the team's offensive struggles, such success certainly seems like a long shot today. But Stanford's squad is making it no secret that they're still shooting for that Pac-12 three-peat. Fittingly, Usua Amanam, their retired 2012 Rose Bowl champion, swung by Wednesday's practice, preaching the same sense of urgency that his own Stanford team had embraced to rise from the dead two years ago.

"No matter what happens," Amanam told the team. "Don’t waste one day, because at one point, you can't play anymore."

Pac-12 morning links

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home.

Leading off

If you believe what Todd Graham has been saying all along -- that Taylor Kelly is his starting quarterback once he's back to 100 percent -- then you can expect to see Kelly at the helm for the No. 14 Sun Devils when they travel to Washington this weekend.

Speaking with the media on Wednesday after practice, Kelly said he feels 100 percent and is ready to go.

Here's an excerpt from Zach Buchanan's piece in The Arizona Republic:
Kelly insists he's capable of making all the movements required of playing quarterback, which in ASU's system also means a lot of running the ball on read options. If he's worried about anything, it's a bit of mental rust.

Kelly has been throwing in some capacity for a few weeks, but nothing prepares you for game action.

"The main thing I was worried about was my eyes, trusting my eyes and the game speed and stuff," Kelly said. "It's been a really great experience this week, and things are going to work great."

During Kelly's absence, Mike Bercovici led the Sun Devils to a 2-1 record with wins over USC and Stanford.

The flip side

ASU's opponent, may or may not have its starter back for Saturday's matchup. Cyler Miles is still day-to-day after suffering a concussion in the loss last week to Oregon. Redshirt freshman Troy Williams has been taking first-team reps. Here's what Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith told reporters after practice Wednesday:
I think he’s understanding and throwing the ball really accurately. That was the slight edge we thought Jeff (Lindquist)brought in the first game. And then we were really pleased at how Troy created some offense with his arm (against Oregon). He really has some arm talent, and that showed in the last month.

Williams was 5-of 10-for 37 yards against the Ducks. He rushed five times for 28 yards and a touchdown.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Andre Yruretagoyena talks about getting his ears pierced, running without pants and his kitten. Seriously.

You just knew it was going to make an appearance ...

Pac-12 mailbag: South rising

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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Welcome to the mailbag. I pray come and crush a cup of wine. And follow me on Twitter.

Arthur in Poulsbo, Washington writes: If the Sun Devils win the rest of their games (big if), do you think the UCLA game with Bercovici's first start, will hurt their chances in getting into the playoffs?

Kevin Gemmell: I think a one-loss Pac-12 champion is a lock, whether that's ASU, Arizona, Utah or Oregon.

But since you're talking about ASU specifically, let's look at the schedule: at Washington (a team that started the year ranked), vs. Utah (a top 20 team as of this week), versus Notre Dame (a top 10 team this week), at Oregon State, versus WSU and at Arizona (a top 15 team).

Combine all of that with the fact they have already beaten two ranked teams and their lone loss was at home to No. 11 (at the time), I think the Playoff Selection Committee would look very, very favorably on the Sun Devils for going 11-1.

Here's the catch, they probably won't. And Arizona and Utah probably wouldn't go 11-1, either (they all play each other, anyway). Oregon has the "easiest" road the rest of the way, so the Ducks might end up with just one loss. But would you be shocked if they didn't? I sure wouldn't be.

A one-loss Pac-12 champion is a sure-thing. Take it to the bank. It gets dicey with a 2-loss team. But even that I think might be safe -- if the committee members truly take depth of conference and strength of schedule into account.

This is a brave and scary new world we're entering. Year 1 will go a long way toward setting some precedents.




Derek in Cedar Rapids, Iowa writes: Well, that was a brutal display by the Cardinal offense on Saturday! My question has to do with the explanation that Stanford is lacking a 220-pound back to run between the tackles, and that is the reason that the offense is so poor. Yes, Tyler Gaffney always seemed to fall forward for an extra yard last year, but how much of this has to do with an offensive line that is not (yet) living up to its recruiting rankings? If the blocking is what it needs to be, shouldn't Remound Wright, Barry Sanders and company be able to hit the hole for nice, positive gains? In other words, how much of this struggle has to do with the revamped offensive line, rather than Gaffney joining Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart in the NFL?

Gemmell: The answer to your question is yes, and yes. Yes, the Cardinal have not found a reliable back to give them, at least, 15 carries a game consistently. And yes, the offensive line has not lived up to the considerable hype it garnered when these guys were first recruited.

Does that mean they never will? Of course not. Remember, Andrus Peat is the only returning starter of the bunch. The rest of them -- while having seen a little playing time in the past -- are first-year starters.

But it's not all on the line. Because in Stanford's scheme, pass protection is a huge responsibility for the backs. And none of them have excelled in that department. For as outstanding as Gaffney and Taylor were at carrying the load, they were also very good at reading defenses and picking up blitzes. This wouldn't have happened in those days. Or this.

It is a combination of everything all snowballing into an avalanche of offensive inefficiency. You take an inexperienced line, combine it with backs who haven't done a great job in pass protection/getting extra yards and a quarterback who hasn't played particularly well, and you have the worst offense in the conference.




Mark in Phoenix writes: It was a dominating weekend for the Pac 12 South over the North. Is it too soon to remove the justifier of "so far" and declare that the Pac 12 South is better than the North?

Gemmell: By my count, the Pac-12 South is 7-4 against the North in their 11 inter-division matchups this year. Advantage, South.

Five of the six Pac-12 South teams are ranked, compared to just one team from the North. Advantage, South.

Every team but Oregon in the North has at least two conference losses, while the South has four teams with one conference loss and another with two. Advantage South.

The North has Oregon, the league's highest-ranked team at No. 6 and likely the Pac-12's best chance at making the College Football Playoff. Advantage, North.

Yes, the South is clearly the dominant division right now. That will sort itself out in the coming weeks with showdowns like USC at Utah, Arizona at UCLA and Utah at ASU. And then there are the rivalry games at the end of the year.

But outside of the SEC West, I don't think there is another division in football that is as nasty as the South.

The North has a chance to right things in the coming weeks. Arizona travels to Washington State this week and ASU heads to Washington. UCLA at Washington and Oregon at Utah in a couple of weeks will be interesting.

A rising South, in one sense, is great for the conference. The USC-Stanford rivalry is at a tipping point, as is the Arizona-Oregon matchup. There has never been a better time to be a fan of Pac-12 football. On the flip side, the power shift makes the league that much more balanced, which leads to further criticism of the league nationally.

I think back to a quote Mark Helfrich gave me a couple of weeks ago, when he said the Pac-12 has a perception that parity equals mediocrity, but in other leagues, parity equals strength.

Hopefully when the music stops and the four playoff teams are named, the Pac-12's depth will be an asset, not a deterrent.
video
Several Pac-12 commitments and prospects saw some significant movement in the updated ESPN 300 rankings released Wednesday. Overall, the conference holds commitments from two of the top 22 prospects in the country and 26 of the top 300. With fewer than four months until signing day, let's take a look at where the Pac-12 stands in the ESPN 300.


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Pac-12 morning links

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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I like it. What's not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Good.

Leading off

The biggest news is that Stanford dropped out of the rankings after its 72-week run in the top-25. Sorry, Cardinal. But maybe a sweep of the state of Oregon over the next two weekends will get you back in. Kyle Bonagura went a bit deeper on the subject, which you can read here.

Here are the Pac-12 teams in the rankings. As always, the AP rank is first, followed by the coaches poll.
  • Oregon 6-7
  • Arizona State 14-14
  • Arizona 15-15
  • Utah 19-19
  • USC 20-21
  • UCLA 25-NR

Stanford was the only conference team to pick up any votes in the AP poll and in the USA Today coaches' poll. Washington and Stanford both received votes. Check out the complete rankings right here.

Curious how people who cover the conference teams voted? Glad you asked.
And per usual, Heather Dinich gives you a rundown of the playoff picture following last week's football action. She has interesting thoughts on Stanford. Sorry Cardinal, but Dinich says that a three-loss team -- even if it wins the Pac-12 title -- won't make the playoff. Read on here.

Some streaks extended, others stopped right in their tracks

The Oregon Ducks continued their streak over Washington, winning their 11th consecutive game in the series. This kind of dominance in the series reminded The Oregonian's Andrew Greif of the Ducks of yesteryear as it produced a strong run game, solid QB play and, again, a win over the Huskies.
But in their play, a 45-20 victory against the Huskies at Autzen Stadium, the present-day Ducks instead resembled something closer to the grind-'em-up machine of the last decade that brought this program to prominence.

So, the 1994 throwback uniforms made quite a bit of sense, Greif explains. And speaking of those Oregon uniforms, The Huffington Post decided to go through 50 Oregon uniforms that "changed the way we see college football."

And while the Ducks were having usual success in Eugene, the Bruins had unusual success in Berkeley. UCLA hadn't won there since 1998 and it squeaked out a win over the Bears, breaking that streak.

But despite a win, UCLA isn't exactly looking like the top team many expected it to be coming into this season. Everett Cook of The Los Angeles Times writes that -- among a few other things learned in the Bruins' win over the Bears -- that UCLA continues to play down to the level of its competition.

And can we speak of streaks without at least addressing the ongoing Pac-12 road team streak? Utah and UCLA won on the road but USC, Oregon and ASU got work done at home. Does this mean that the magic of the road is gone? Probably not. With some interesting matchups this weekend (Oregon at Cal, UCLA at Colorado, Arizona at Washington State, Arizona State at Washington ... just to name a few), it wouldn't be too surprising to see some road teams walk out of opposing stadiums with a win.

And some shout outs

Let's give props where props deserve to be given. There were quite a few guys who had career days over the weekend in the Pac-12. News/notes/team reports

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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12:30 p.m.

UCLA at California, ESPN2, ABC

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJared Goff will look to rebound against UCLA after Cal scored just one touchdown last week.
This is the battle for bragging rights between California's top two public schools. Both teams are coming off disheartening losses, so there should be a sense of urgency coming from both sidelines. Cal must demonstrate that it can at least slow down an explosive offense to keep this competitive. However, the Bruins' defense hasn't been much to write home about, either. Expect UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and Cal QB Jared Goff to light up the Memorial Stadium scoreboard.

3 p.m.

Colorado at USC, Pac-12 Network

The Trojans escaped against Arizona with a win by the skin of their teeth when the Wildcats' last-second field goal attempt was wide right. The week before, USC lost to Arizona State on a Hail Mary. On paper, it looks as if Steve Sarkisian's team will have a chance to catch its breath at home against struggling Colorado, but if there's one thing the Pac-12 has taught us this season, it's that absolutely nothing is automatic.

5 p.m.

Washington at Oregon, Fox Sports 1

It now has been more than 4,000 days since the Huskies last beat Oregon. Washington enters Autzen Stadium armed with a sterling defensive front seven that has helped generate a nationwide-best five defensive touchdowns this season, so there's hope in Seattle that the Huskies can snap Oregon's 10-game streak this time around (Danny Shelton is the kind of big body in the middle that can neutralize explosive offenses).

The Ducks, though, are fresh off a statement win at UCLA. So while Washington is eyeing the upset, the Quack Attack is looking to make another spectacular Marcus Mariota-led splash. Keep this in mind: When it comes to avoiding turnovers, these are the top two teams in the nation. Washington has given it away only once, the Ducks just three times.

7:30 p.m.

Stanford at Arizona State, ESPN

The Cardinal showed signs of offensive life last Friday against Washington State, and they can continue developing their identity on that side of the ball against an Arizona State defense that has not been good (the Sun Devils are allowing a conference-worst 6.1 yards per play). ASU will likely need to find more offensive consistency than it did in two games versus Stanford's top-flight defense last season. Much of that will rest on the shoulders of quarterback Mike Bercovici, who has thrown for an NCAA-record 998 yards in his first two career starts. Taylor Kelly may play, but it'll probably be Bercovici working with explosive weapons D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong against the Cardinal's rugged defense.

Revisiting Pac-12's 'fearless predictions'

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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Anu Solomon, Marcus Mariota, Kevin HoganGetty Images, USA TODAY SportsThe Pac-12 blog revisits some of its preseason "fearless predictions" to see how they stand at the midway point of the season.
At the midway point of the season, the Pac-12 bloggers decided it was a good time to revisit some of the blog's fearless predictions for 2014. How'd we do?

1. A Pac-12 team will win the national championship: We wrote that Oregon, UCLA, Stanford or USC would win the national championship, and we'd like to celebrate the fearlessness of that prediction because at this point that is its strongest quality. Each member of that foursome already has at least one loss, with Stanford, UCLA and USC having gone down twice. At No. 9, the Ducks seem like the most likely team to work its way back into College Football Playoff consideration, but that might require going undefeated the rest of the way. No easy task. The Pac-12 has proved even deeper than it appeared in the preseason, while the top doesn't appear as unassailable as it did in August. We may have swung for the fences and missed with this one. -- Ted Miller

2. A Pac-12 player will win the Heisman Trophy: The Pac-12 blog is still confident. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota presents the best candidate from the league. He's yet to throw an interception, his dual-threat numbers more than qualify him and the Ducks are still in the hunt for a conference title and College Football Playoff berth. Although he's the nation's most accurate quarterback, the window for UCLA's Brett Hundley is shrinking quickly. But with names like Buck Allen and Shaq Thompson starting to emerge, the league still has a phenomenal shot at a stiff-arm trophy. -- Kevin Gemmell

3. No Pac-12 coach will be fired at season's end: The two coaches whose seats were moderately warm going into the year, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Cal's Sonny Dykes, both have their programs headed in the right direction. That leaves absolutely no coaches in the Pac-12 in jeopardy of losing their jobs. -- Kyle Bonagura

4. Cal and Colorado will be good enough to deliver a major upset this fall: I think we can consider Cal's win at Washington State as major enough considering the kind of offensive numbers (and special-teams touchdowns) that Jared Goff and his teammates had to put up in Pullman. To win on the road against a team whose QB threw for the FBS passing record is pretty major. However, at the midpoint of the season, we're still waiting on Colorado. The Buffs came pretty close against Cal and Oregon State, which we could've considered in this category, especially with how well Cal was playing at the time. But we're keeping this prediction with Colorado. The Buffs have six regular-season games left and four of those teams are currently in the top 25. We're not counting out a top-25 takedown by Ralphie & Co. -- Chantel Jennings

5. The USC-UCLA game will be a battle of top-10 teams: OK, maybe we shot for the moon a bit with that one. But what about top-25 teams? That's still likely. The Trojans are at No. 22 and UCLA is the first team out of the rankings at the unofficial No. 26 spot. USC has only one ranked team in its next four games leading up to the UCLA showdown. Good chance it will still be ranked. Same for UCLA, which has only No. 16 Arizona as a ranked opponent on the docket before hosting the Trojans on Nov. 22. Win out and the Bruins will be back in the top 20. -- Kevin Gemmell

6. Oregon will cover the spread against Michigan State in Week 2: Annnnnd, we got one. Boom shaka laka. -- Chantel Jennings

7. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame: Well, after Stanford yanked defeat from the jaws of victory -- hey, let's rush three and not cover anybody on fourth-and-11 from our 23-yard line with time running out! -- this prediction is already doomed. The question now, with Notre Dame ranked No. 5 as it heads to No. 2 Florida State on Saturday, is whether Arizona State (Nov. 8) and USC can beat the Irish (Nov. 29). We're going to stay optimistic -- I know; so strange! -- and say yes. Biggest reason why? Stanford played Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, but the Irish have to come west to play the Sun Devils and Trojans. And now's not the time to note that home-field advantage hasn't been worth squat in the Pac-12 this season. -- Ted Miller

8. Whoever starts at quarterback for Arizona will pass for more than 3,000 yards: Freshman Anu Solomon has cemented himself as the Wildcats' starting quarterback, and our initial assessment of 3,000 yards actually looks conservative now. Through six games, Solomon has demonstrated remarkable poise in the pocket, even leading Arizona to a shocking 31-24 upset over Oregon at Autzen Stadium. He has already racked up 2,136 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Since the Wildcats are on target to play in a bowl game, Solomon is actually on pace to shatter that three-grand figure while throwing for 4,628 yards and 33 touchdowns. Rich Rodriguez is developing a potent attack in Tucson, and it should only improve as Solomon accrues more experience with his talented receiving corps. -- David Lombardi

9. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan will be the Pac-12's most improved player: This prediction has not come to fruition. Through the first half of the season, Hogan has actually regressed in a key statistical area, and Stanford has struggled mightily in the red zone, a place where great quarterbacks shine. Averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, Hogan's no longer as efficient as he was in 2013 (8.9 yards per attempt) despite enjoying a much more complete aerial arsenal (Stanford's tight end position is back this year). The Cardinal's running game is not as strong this year, and that's forced Hogan to shoulder a heavier load. He averaged 15 throws per game in 2012. That number bumped up to 21 in 2013, and it has shot up to 29 here in 2014. It's become clear that this larger burden has pushed Hogan further from his comfort zone.

If Stanford can re-establish its running game and return Hogan to the play-action happy spot that gives him more opportunities to make plays with his legs, we may be able to revisit this prediction at season's end. -- David Lombardi

10. Six teams will be ranked in the final top 25 at the end of the season: Six looks like a stretch at this point and it's not because the Pac-12 might have six of the country's 25 best teams. With the level of parity the conference has shown over the first half of the season, it'll be tough to differentiate from, say, the conference's No. 5 team and its No. 8 team. That dynamic will make it significantly more difficult to have more teams in the top 25 than if there were a clear divide between the haves and the have-nots. -- Kyle Bonagura

Pac-12 North recruiting roundup 

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
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At the halfway point of college football's regular season, there is still plenty to be decided both on the field and on the recruiting trail. The Pac-12 placed six programs among the top 40 recruiting classes in Wednesday's updated class rankings and conference recruiting classes contain as many as 24 -- Arizona -- and as few as nine -- Stanford -- verbal commitments. This update offers a look at where each Pac-12 North program stands with its 2015 recruiting class, including its top prospect and position of strength, as well as a look at where things are going well, and not so well, for each class.

Cal

Total number of commitments: 10

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Pac-12 Week 8 predictions

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
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Why Utah will win: Duh, the Utes are on the road. Is any further explanation needed? I like the confidence Utah is playing with. I like that they are a three-phase team. And I really, really like the sack-happy Utah front seven against an Oregon State offensive line that hasn't fully come together yet. The Utes have established a strong running game that will exist regardless of who is handing off the ball. OSU's offense is yet to really come together. And unless you've got a defense like Stanford's, averaging fewer than 30 points per game will eventually catch up with you. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Oregon will win: Oregon has won 10 in a row in this bitter rivalry, and each of those victories came by at least 17 points. That’s dominance. Last year, the Huskies challenged the Ducks for three quarters at home before being overwhelmed in the fourth quarter in a 45-24 Ducks win. While Washington is closing the gap, and the Chris Petersen hire adds an intriguing wrinkle to the series, the Ducks seemed to regain their footing last weekend at UCLA. They’ll particularly need that improved O-line play to neutralize Washington’s tough front seven. But don’t despair Huskies: Marcus Mariota won’t be around when the Ducks come back to Husky Stadium in 2015! -- Ted Miller

Why Stanford will win: Stanford is just a bad matchup for Arizona State. The Cardinal's physicality on defense caused problems in both games last year and there's not much reason to indicate that won't be the case again Saturday. Stanford's offense has struggled, but there were enough schematic changes against Washington State to sense improvement is coming. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: Because there’s no way that if all five of us picked all five of the same teams this week, that we’d all be perfect. My gut says one of these games doesn’t happen the way we all believe it will. The Sun Devils are the more highly ranked team and they’re playing at home which in the Pac-12 this year means they should lose, right? So, I’m going to say they’re going to win. Despite Stanford’s tough defense, I think Arizona State has enough success against them to sneak out with a win. The Pac-12 this season has made little sense and for some reason everyone thinks Stanford is going to come in and crush ASU, so I say, what the hey, let’s pick ASU because no one else did. -- Chantel Jennings

Unanimous picks

Why UCLA will win: Don't get us wrong, Cal has a very real shot to win this game. Their offense is still explosive, and UCLA's defense has not shown that it's anywhere near Washington's caliber, the Bears' last opponent. We're still waiting for evidence that Cal's defense can stop Brett Hundley & Co. -- David Lombardi

Why USC will win: It's clear that the Trojans are significantly better than Colorado, and they're at home. Despite its inconsistency this season, USC just has too much size, athleticism, and skill to reasonably think they'll lose this game. -- David Lombardi
It'd be easy to take a passing glance at the box score from Stanford's 34-17 victory last Friday and discount the offensive improvement on it with a simple dismissal: "They were playing Washington State's defense."

Yes, that would be the same lower-tier Cougars' unit that was less than a week removed from bleeding 60 points at home against Cal.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsKevin Hogan and the Cardinal offense are working to improve on their 26.3 points per game average by capitalizing on a perimeter rushing game plan.
But chalking up Stanford's season-high 477-yard (7-per-play) performance to weak defensive competition involves ignoring promising changes in an offensive approach that the Cardinal employed.

The problem

Stanford's attack was a jumbled mess throughout the first half of the regular season. The Cardinal lost a game against USC because they managed only 10 points in nine trips to or past the Trojans' 35-yard line. They dropped another contest to Notre Dame because the offense mustered only 3.0 yards per play and 1.5 yards per rush, the worst marks of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era.

A once-vaunted power running game looked decidedly average, quarterback Kevin Hogan's play suffered as a result of a heavier throwing workload, and the Cardinal found themselves on the outside looking in to the College Football Playoff discussion despite featuring the nation's top defense (8.8 points per game, 3.6 yards per play).

The main problem seemed to be Stanford was slow to adapt to its new offensive reality: Though they no longer had a 220-pound power back and road-grading offensive line, the Cardinal kept trying to preserve their backbone around the interior run. Notre Dame's defense exposed Stanford in this way: That game's anemic 47-yard rushing production suggested the Stanford offense was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

When the run failed in blustery, wet South Bend, Hogan fell out of his comfort zone. A mobile quarterback who had fed off play-action and the ability to make plays with his legs looked like a fish out of water having to emulate the pocket-maestro role of a thrower much like Peyton Manning. Stanford receivers dropped passes, too. Hogan finished 18-for-36 for 158 yards, his worst career performance in terms of completion percentage and yards per attempt.

Stanford's adjustments

This much is clear: Hogan needs the basis of a consistently successful running game so that he can play his style of football from the quarterback position. His average passing attempts per game have increased from 15 to 21 to 28 in three seasons, all while Stanford's red zone efficiency numbers have taken an inversely related dive. The Cardinal scored on 100 percent of their red zone possessions after Hogan took over in 2012, but that number is down to 68 percent (119th in the nation) this season.

Those are symptoms of an offense cracking at its core. In Stanford's case, that core is the running game. And that's exactly what the Cardinal showed promising signs of fixing their last time out against Washington State. The final box score read 33 carries for 193 yards (5.8 per carry), but the film showed much more than that.

Stanford's first run between the tackles did not come until the final play of the first quarter -- a massive departure from the old phone booth strategy of the Harbaugh-Shaw era. The Cardinal ran a heavy dose off-tackle instead, avoiding the scrum inside and maximizing the new strengths of their running backs on the outside. Barry Sanders immediately racked up 50 yards on two runs that bounced to the perimeter, and the running game was back.





Combine Stanford's smaller, shiftier running backs with their massive wide receivers (Devon Cajuste weighs 228 pounds while Ty Montgomery checks in at about 225 -- both over 40 pounds heavier than the average Pac-12 cornerback they typically block), and it's clear the Cardinal is a team built to exploit matchups on the perimeter. The table above supports that: Though the offense has rushed outside the tackles 36 fewer times than it has inside the tackles, it's racked up more total yards, more touchdowns, more 10-plus yard rushes, and more 20-plus yard rushes on those outside runs.

The perimeter-oriented game should be the basis of Stanford's new offensive identity, and a shift to it was apparent against Washington State. While the backs worked the perimeter, the passing game did the same thing, setting up numerous quick screen passes to athletic receivers in space. In that way, Stanford further exploited its blocking advantage outside and utilized talents such as Christian McCaffrey, who's at his electric best when the scheme gives him space.

That's also the way that Hogan rediscovered his comfort zone. With a firm rushing threat to work with, the entire field opened up for a Stanford passing game featuring plenty of weapons. On Friday, Hogan completed 23-of-35 passes for 284 yards -- to 12 different receivers.

That's a true sign of a healing offense. And though Stanford still sits in the Pac-12 cellar averaging only 26.3 points per game, there's a strong chance it'll rise in those rankings in the season's second half. It should just take a firm commitment to Friday's adjustments down the stretch.
We've reached the season's halfway point, and we may actually know less about the Pac-12 than when the year started. The road team has won 14 of 18 conference games so far this season, the South has turned into a gigantic free-for-all in which five of the six teams still harbor legitimate hopes of winning, and the North picture isn't too much clearer. Oregon and Stanford appear to again be on a decisive collision course there, but it'd be foolish to just assume that in a time when consistency does not seem to be allowed. Plus, both face tricky tests in another intriguing slate this week. So, it's time to circle the wagons and do it all over again.

The delicious appetizer: Utah at Oregon State

Just over two weeks ago, the Utes and the Beavers became afterthoughts on the same night: Kyle Whittingham's club blew a big lead at home against Washington State right before Mike Riley's men found themselves on the receiving end of a thorough whipping in the Coliseum.

Then the fickle face of the Pac-12 smiled. And suddenly, Utah and Oregon State have a prime opportunity to capitalize on chaos. The winner of Thursday night's clash in Corvallis will improve to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference race. With the recent extinction of unbeaten Pac-12 teams, that would equate to prime positioning in this topsy-turvy conference race. Take both of these teams seriously because they're both playing sturdy defense: The Utes (allowing 4.7 yards per play) and the Beavers (allowing 4.8 yards per play) are ranked two and three in that category behind Stanford in the Pac-12. Utah leads the Pac-12 in sacks, and that'll test Sean Mannion's release.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: Washington at Oregon

The 5-1 Ducks have owned the Huskies for an entire decade, and they'll need to make it 11 straight to remain at the top of the Pac-12 North. Oregon blasted UCLA's shaky defense right out of the Rose Bowl Saturday en route to a 42-10 lead and 42-30 win, but this next game promises to challenge Marcus Mariota. The 5-1 Huskies have grown up quickly on the defensive end. Just ask Cal's offense, which only mustered seven points against the Dawgs despite coming in averaging more than 50 per game.

Speaking of Mariota, he's been spectacular: 70 percent completion rate, 17 touchdowns, no interceptions. In fact, only three quarterbacks in the nation have attempted more than 100 passes this season without throwing a single interception, and all of them play in the Pac-12: Mariota, Washington's Cyler Miles, and Utah's Travis Wilson.

We'll find out if the Ducks have made true progress in fixing their offensive line woes next Saturday. Oregon hasn't allowed any sacks in three of the four games that left tackle Jake Fisher has started (he's back!), but they also haven't faced a defensive front seven of Washington's caliber. Hau'oli Kikaha (conference-leading 10 sacks) and Danny Shelton are dominant forces right now, and that's allowing Shaq Thompson to wreak havoc from the second level. Oregon will be tested Saturday, especially if Miles continues to avoid turnovers.

The proving grounds game/redemption opportunity: UCLA at Cal

Both of these teams had golden opportunities at home last Saturday, and both went up in flames early. The Bruins wilted against Oregon, while the Bears could never recover from Jared Goff's goal line fumble that Thompson returned 100 yards for Washington's first score.

So neither team was ready to take the proverbial next step, and that turns this game into a chance for atonement. It seems as if the Bruins' defense has been on a fairly steady course of regression as this season has progressed, and Sonny Dykes hopes that's the medicine for his suddenly-stalled offense. Meanwhile, Cal's defense has yet to prove that it can contain a top-shelf Pac-12 offense. We'll probably see plenty of points in Berkeley as these two clubs vie to prove they have a backbone.

Desperation Bowl: Colorado at USC

Let's make it clear that these teams are desperate in completely different ways. The Buffs are 0-3 and just clawing for a single for a Pac-12 win. The Trojans, meanwhile, sport the conference's best record (3-1). Steve Sarkisian's team, though, is starved for consistency. USC should be ecstatic that they escaped Arizona with a win -- Buck Allen (7.9 yards per carry) and Leonard Williams were fantastic. But the on-again, off-again cycle has become far too familiar in Troy, where USC has followed up massive wins with horrendous defensive no-show losses. The Trojans are heavy favorites at home against the Buffs, but a slippery roadie to Salt Lake City awaits, so they'd better find stability now.

Don't forget dessert (diamond in the rough game): Stanford at Arizona State

By the most important statistical accounts, Stanford's defense is the best in the nation (8.8 points per game, 3.6 yards per play). Meanwhile, ASU's offense isn't messing around, either (41.2 points per game, 7.2 yards per play). So this rematch of the 2013 Pac-12 Championship is setting up to be a fun Saturday nightcap. In all likelihood, though, this game will probably be decided by the performance of these teams' struggling halves: Will Stanford's adjusting offense, scoring a conference-worst 26.3 points per game, be able to consistently score against an ASU defense that's giving up a conference-worst 6.1 yards per play? The loser in the desert will face a massive uphill climb in the Pac-12 race.

Pac-12 Show (4 ET)

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
11:53
AM ET
Pac-12 reporters Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller review this past weekend's games, including USC's upset of Arizona, and look ahead to Week 8. They will also answer your questions live on screen.

video

STANFORD, Calif. -- Yet another suffocating Stanford defensive performance led the way to a win for the home team on The Farm. Stanford beat Washington State 34-17, leading from start to finish. Stanford has now allowed fewer than 30 points in 29 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation. Louisville and Ole Miss, who own the second-longest streak, have done that in 12 straight games.

How the game was won: Stanford's defense made Washington State scratch and claw for every single yard, buying the Cardinal's inconsistent offense enough time to finally put the hammer down on the scoreboard. Following its least efficient offensive performance since 2006 (3.0 yards per play last week at Notre Dame), Stanford ran a new perimeter-oriented offense that loosened the middle of field and set up Kevin Hogan's early 39-yard touchdown throw to Eric Cotton (above). The Cardinal proved too much for Washington State's struggling defense, leading wire-to-wire.

Game ball goes to: On a night during which Stanford held Washington State's pass-happy offense to 3.3 yards per play, members of the Cardinal defense earn the game ball. We'll have nose tackle David Parry and defensive back Zach Hoffpauir share the honor. Parry frequently ruptured the Cougars' offensive line, and that allowed pressure like the kind Peter Kalambayi displayed to throw Connor Halliday out of whack a week after he comfortably threw for an FBS-record 734 yards (only 292 yards on Friday).

Stanford's cornerbacks delivered press coverage on the edges, and that left a ton of responsibility for Hoffpauir. He delivered in a big way, racking up 15 critical tackles in the open field to limit the Cougars' aerial attack. Stanford put on an open field tackling clinic.

What it means: The Cardinal's defense, which was already leading the nation giving up only 3.7 yards per play coming into the game, continues to assert itself as perhaps the nation's top unit. Stanford still has not lost back-to-back games under coach David Shaw, and the good feelings are back in their locker room behind a 4-2 record (only one conference loss) after a brutal setback against Notre Dame. Given the quality of their defense, the Cardinal certainly still have a shot at the Pac-12 North title, and this win was a mandatory step in that direction.

Washington State drops to 2-5, and that's a stomach punch to the Cougars' postseason chances. They'll now need to win four of their last five games to reach a bowl game again, and that's a tall order with Arizona, USC, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Washington remaining on the schedule.

What's next: For Stanford, all eyes will continue to be fixated on the team's offense as it moves on to ASU. The defense is a proven commodity -- and it's a championship-caliber unit. But the offense, despite showing improvement, continues to play inconsistent football even despite significantly altering its strategy to a more perimeter-oriented approach. The Cougars had great trouble with the Cardinal's broad array of weapons (12 different receivers combined for 23 catches), but penalties and hit-or-miss plays in the red zone kept this game closer than the final yards per play tally would indicate: Stanford 7.0, Washington State 3.3.

The Cougars won't face a defense as good as the Cardinal's the rest of the year, so that's the silver lining for them after a night during which every single one of their yards seemed tough to earn. The task ahead of coach Mike Leach's club is daunting, and the Cougars will only be able to deliver with significant improvements to their porous defense and kick/punt coverage units.

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