Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
10:00
AM ET
The regular season's grand finale is upon us. Here's a look through Black Friday and Closing Saturday in the Pac-12:

Friday, Nov. 28

12:30 p.m.

Stanford at UCLA, ABC: The Cardinal are the two-time defending Pac-12 champions, but they're now in a position to play spoiler to UCLA's title bid. A win locks up the South for the No. 8 Bruins and keeps them in contention for the four-team College Football Playoff. Stanford will be without offensive star Ty Montgomery (shoulder), so UCLA figures to have a good chance to beat the Cardinal for the first time since 2008.

[+] EnlargeNick Wilson
AP Photo/Steve DykesIn Arizona's last three games, RB Nick Wilson has rushed for more than 100 yards in each contest.
ASU at Arizona, Fox: If UCLA slips, the Sun Devils and Wildcats are both ready to pounce on the opportunity to win the Pac-12 South in this Territorial Cup. Let's rephrase that: If UCLA slips, this can turn into the biggest Territorial Cup ever. A division championship and a Levi's Stadium date with Oregon would be on the line. Key matchup here: Arizona freshman running back Nick Wilson against ASU's volatile run defense.

Saturday, Nov. 29

10 a.m.

Utah at Colorado, Pac-12 Network: The Utes are slipping badly and the Buffs are 0-8 in Pac-12 play. There's certainly hope in Boulder after Arizona drubbed Utah 42-10 in Salt Lake City last week. Kyle Whittingham's club is staggering, and Colorado's Mike MacIntyre -- who strongly feels his program is making progress -- would love nothing more than an uplifting win entering a critical offseason.

12:30 p.m.

Notre Dame at USC, Fox: This is another contest pitting two clubs coming off losses. The 2014 season has taken a turn for the worse on both Figueroa St. and in South Bend, but one of college football's most storied rivalries is an intriguing watch regardless. The Irish will be playing this game without Sheldon Day and Jarron Jones, their two best defensive linemen. They've given up 30-plus points in six straight games for the first time in their 126-year history. Yes, that's Javorius Allen licking his chops.

1:30 p.m.

BYU at Cal, Pac-12 Network: The Bears have one more crack at securing the bowl eligibility that will earn them vital December practice time. The opponent is BYU. The Cougars have won three straight games in their effort to salvage what once looked like a season of complete misery following Taysom Hill's injury. But those wins came against shaky competition: Jared Goff's unit should move the ball against a BYU defense that surrendered 55 points to Boise State.

5 p.m.

Oregon at Oregon State, ABC: There's plenty on the line in the Civil War: While the Ducks battle for a College Football Playoff spot and a Marcus Mariota Heisman trophy, the Beavers will scrap for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's final season. Remember the upset havoc that Reser Stadium can wreak. Oregon is certainly the better team, but nothing is guaranteed heading into Corvallis.

7:30 p.m.

Washington at Washington State, ESPN: The Cougars played well as they built up a 24-21 lead at ASU last week, but turnovers helped knock the wheels off in the second half. Still, Mike Leach's club smells opportunity here: This Apple Cup is in Pullman, and Washington is a weaker opponent than the Sun Devils. The Huskies' Cyler Miles played efficient football last week; Chris Petersen will ask for more of the same out of his quarterback so that Wazzu's Luke Falk (601 passing yards vs. ASU) stays on the sideline. Falk did turn the ball over last week, though, and the Huskies are known to generate takeaways from time to time (24 this season).
video
How the game was won: Stanford exited "6-5 underachiever" territory and morphed into "we're the two-time defending Pac-12 champion" mode. Maybe playing at the Rose Bowl reminded them of their good offensive twin. David Shaw and Mike Bloomgren assembled a perfect game plan that put quarterback Kevin Hogan's strengths on full display. The Cardinal finally delivered a balanced offensive performance against a Top 25 team (234 pass yards, 202 rush yards), and their defense did its normal stifling job, holding UCLA to a season-worst 3.9 yards per play.

Game ball goes to: Hogan. It has been a rough season, but he was sensational. Hogan completed his first 12 passes and finished 16-for-19 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and a spectacular 224.4 quarterback rating. The Cardinal set the post-Thanksgiving table for Hogan beautifully, allowing him to find a rhythm early by running on his own (seven carries, 46 yards) and throwing to tight ends. He then burned UCLA downfield.

What it means: Stanford, the two-time defending Pac-12 North champion, has successfully played spoiler and eliminated UCLA from Pac-12 South title contention. This was its seventh consecutive win against the Bruins, the longest UCLA losing streak against any program. UCLA finishes its regular season 9-3, and the Cardinal has partially salvaged a disappointing year, entering bowl season at 7-5.

Top play: Hogan's 37-yard touchdown pass to Devon Cajuste in the second quarter gave Stanford a 21-10 lead. The two-possession advantage was critical for the Cardinal defense, which used the cushion to lock down the Bruins with suffocating sideline-to-sideline play and a ferocious pass rush.

video What's next: The Pac-12 title game is no longer in the cards for the Bruins, and bowl destinations are yet to be determined.

Stanford-UCLA: Five things to watch

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
12:00
PM ET
Here are five important questions ahead of Stanford-UCLA.

1. How will Stanford fare minus Ty Montgomery?

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesStanford, which struggles to score against ranked opponents, faces UCLA without the versatile Ty Montgomery.
The Cardinal offense has ranged from bad to inconsistent this season, and they'll be playing against UCLA's peaking defense at a significant disadvantage: Multipurpose star Ty Montgomery will not be playing because of a shoulder injury.

Montgomery is by far Stanford's leading receiver; his 61 catches are nearly double the second-best individual output (32). David Shaw has also used No. 7's powerful yet speedy frame to run the football (Montgomery is averaging 6.2 yards per carry). Remember that Montgomery has been a dangerous returner, too. In summary, the Cardinal won't have their Swiss army knife.

This isn't good news for a Stanford team that's averaging only 11.4 points in regulation per game against ranked opponents this season. The Cardinal must combine the efforts of Francis Owusu, Christian McCaffrey and Michael Rector to make up for Mongtomery's missing production.

2. Who will play better, Brett Hundley or Kevin Hogan?

The popular pick here is obviously Hundley, because he is the quarterback who has made clear statistical strides in all three years as the UCLA starter. Hogan has been significantly shakier this season, and now he must prove that a decent big-game performance last week (15-for-20, 214 yards) was not just the product of facing a bad Cal defense. Hundley has plenty to prove, too: In last year's loss to Stanford, he threw two interceptions and averaged only 4.9 yards per attempt.

Both athletic quarterbacks will be tasked with remaining composed against defenses that are playing their best ball of the season.

3. Can Paul Perkins see success against the Stanford run defense?

Perkins is now leading the Pac-12 in rushing with 1,265 yards (an average of 5.9 yards per carry). Well, guess what? Stanford's rushing defense also leads the Pac-12. It's allowed only 3.2 yards per carry. The Cardinal's overall framework is oriented around stonewalling the run. Whenever defensive coordinator Lance Anderson's unit accomplishes that, its pass rush is unleashed, and the resulting quarterback hounding can create takeaways (see Cal's five turnovers last week).

Last year, UCLA mustered only a season-worst 74 rushing yards against Stanford, and that was Hundley's recipe for disaster. The Bruins managed only 10 points, their worst performance of the season.

4. Will we continue to see the good UCLA defense?

When it comes to opponents' yards per play, the Bruins' defense has posted its two best outings of the season in the past three games. Their recent suffocation of USC was particularly impressive: The Trojans mustered only 62 rushing yards and 4.1 yards per play.

One of the keys to UCLA's defensive improvement has been improved play and pressure from the defensive front. If this trend continues, the Bruins should be able to prevent Stanford from establishing a balanced attack. That's something Cal failed to do last week (204 yards rushing, 214 passing for the Cardinal). This is a critically important variable this week because Hogan is so reliant on the play-action pass for aerial success. Asserting ground success is a must for Stanford. Their offense has proven to be too unstable otherwise.

The UCLA defense will have an essential say in this matter.

5. Who has the special teams advantage?

When it comes to special teams efficiency ratings, both UCLA and Stanford own mediocre ranks beyond the top 50 teams in the nation. Neither has commanded the field-position battle particularly well. If this game does turn into a close defensive struggle, though, kickers may come into play (they certainly did when the Cardinal beat the Bruins 27-24 in 2012's Pac-12 championship game).

Stanford's Jordan Williamson has connected on 13-of-19 field goals this season; UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbairn has knocked through 15 of 19. Advantage on paper: Bruins. Advantage on Saturday: We'll see.
Thanksgiving is a special night. Jimmy Walker used to say dy-no-mite, that's right.

To the notes!

John in San Jose writes: How could all of you supposed experts or idiots pick Utah over the Cats? Don't you watch the games? Not one of you gave the Cats a chance in Utah and they blew them out.

Kevin Gemmell: First off, quit trying to sweet talk us, you silver-tongued charmer you. That won't get you anywhere.

[+] EnlargeBrian Blechen, Nick Wilson
AP Photo/Rick BowmerPerhaps we were guilty of overthinking -- or overwatching -- with our unanimous forecast of a Utah win over Arizona.
I can't speak for the rest of the blog, but I have to admit, I was a little surprised that all five of us picked Utah. I went back on forth on that one.

I always love the "don't you watch the games?" criticism. Because, actually, that's all we do. And I usually watch them multiple times (thank you Pac-12 Networks' Football in 60). And in this case, it's BECAUSE I watch the games that I leaned toward Utah.

When making picks, all we can work with is the information we already have. If I had a copy of Grays Sports Almanac, things would be different. Biff Tannen and I would be sucking down cocktails on a yacht somewhere.

Considering Arizona and Utah had played in six games this season that had come down to a touchdown or less, that led me to believe it would be a close game. And in close games, especially with a warm-weather team going to a cold-weather climate, I thought my rationale was sound.

Obviously, it wasn't, because the Utes got rolled. Perhaps I was overthinking it? I'm sure there were plenty of people in the world who picked Arizona to win. But I'm pretty sure few actually saw a blowout.

My record in Arizona games is 8-3 this year. I whiffed on the Oregon game, I picked them to beat USC and they let me down (where were the "thanks for the support, Kev" mailbag letters then, huh?) and I whiffed on Utah. The only time I picked against them and won was UCLA.

As you can see this morning, I picked them in Territorial Cup. If they lose, I want my "thanks for the support, Kev" mailbag letter from you, John.




ST in Boston writes: Should Oregon have that perfect season by finishing with both a Heisman and CFP trophy, which has historically done more for recruiting (the top single player award or the top team award)? And stats on that?

Kevin Gemmell: I'm not sure if that is quantifiable. And if there is a study out there about it, I haven't seen it. So this is just an educated guess.

I would say that the opportunity to win a national championship would be the larger draw for recruits on several levels. If you play for a team that's in the national title discussion, it's already a high-profile program.

High-profile programs offer bells and whistles such as upgraded facilities (most of which have awesome locker rooms, weight rooms, practice facilities, player lounges and barber shops), uniform diversity and national TV exposure. It almost feels like playing for a title contender is an afterthought to some of the perks of going to an upper-tier program.

Just because you go to Ohio State or Notre Dame or USC or Oklahoma, doesn't mean you're going to win a Heisman. Heck, Army has more Heisman trophy winners than Texas.

I recently visited Utah and got a tour of the new facilities. The message was that recruiting happens the second you walk in the door. Even when a recruit is waiting alone in the lobby (which is awesome), he is being recruited by his surroundings.

So based on what I've seen, the prospect of a national championship would likely be the bigger draw. Just my take.




Andrew in La Crescenta, Calif. writes: Personally, I believe if UCLA beats Stanford this Friday they would be guaranteed a New Year's Bowl game regardless of the outcome of the Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon would be ranked so high that I can't see the Bruins dropping more than a couple spots if they lose. Any thoughts on this?

Kevin Gemmell: I like the wishful thinking. But there are a few things to consider. Let's suppose that UCLA wins the South and loses to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. What then?

You have a three-loss team that would have fallen out of the top 10. Style points, I believe, will matter. If the Ducks come out and win 42-10, I think the selection committee would be hard-pressed to pick the Bruins for New Year's Day game. If they lose in overtime by a field goal? That might be a different story.

And say it's a 35-24 game -- not a blowout, but not exactly a nail biter. Is there a chance the committee names the winner of the Territorial Cup -- which only has two losses -- to one of those secondary games? If the Wildcats smoke the Sun Devils, or vice versa, they'd be 10-2 and likely in the top 10.

This is all uncharted territory, so the word "guarantee" shouldn't be thrown around loosely. And let's not forget that UCLA ... or Arizona ... or ASU could end up beating Oregon. I don't want an Oregon championship to come off sounding like a forgone conclusion. Because it's not.

Is it possible that three Pac-12 teams play in those games? One playoff and two secondary? Maybe. Perhaps the Ducks play in the national semifinal after edging the Bruins, who play in a secondary game and the Territorial Cup winner at 10-2 also gets in. That might be overly wishful thinking. But I'm not ruling it out.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 14

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
7:30
PM ET
Here is another random accounting of stats related to the Pac-12.

Stanford at UCLA
  • Stanford is minus-6 in turnover margin in Pac-12 games, but is just minus-4 in points off turnover margin.
  • UCLA running back Paul Perkins leads the Pac-12 with 1,262 yards rushing, which is the second-most for a UCLA running back over the last 10 years.
  • Stanford is one of 20 teams in the country to allow 11 or fewer touchdown passes this season.
  • Only nine teams in the country have allowed more first downs due to penalty than UCLA (26).
  • In conference games, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has rushed for 492 yards, which is the most in the Pac-12 and fifth-most among Power 5 quarterbacks.
Arizona State at Arizona
  • Arizona has scored 87 points off turnovers in conference games, the most in the Pac-12.
  • Over the last three seasons, ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly ranks fifth in the country with 75 touchdown passes.
  • Points per drive: Arizona 2.39; Arizona State 2.45.
  • Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III is the only player in the country with at least 13 sacks and four forced fumbles.
  • Arizona State's penalty margin (minus-26) is tied for the fifth-best mark in the country.
Notre Dame at USC
  • USC has forced five turnovers in the red zone, the second-most among Power 5 teams.
  • USC leads the Pac-12 with 81 third-down conversions.
  • USC's red zone touchdown percentage (72.7) ranks third among Power 5 teams.
Oregon at Oregon State
  • Oregon has scored 40-plus points in six straight games and gained more than 500 yards of offense in its last five, both are the longest active streaks in the country.
  • Since being sacked 15 times in his first five games, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been sacked just 10 times over the last six games.
  • With 1,050 rushing yards, Oregon running back Royce Freeman is the first true freshman in school history to crack the 1,000-yard mark.
  • Oregon State has averaged 30.3 points in the Civil War since 2004.
  • Oregon State's third-down conversion percentage is 30.9, which is the worst in the Pac-12, while Oregon has the best (52.4).
Washington at Washington State
  • WSU ranks last in the Pac-12 with a minus-12 in turnover margin in conference games.
  • WSU receiver Vince Mayle's 1,159 receiving yards in conference play is the third-most over the last 10 years.
  • Washington's John Ross ranks second in the nation with 760 kickoff-return yards.
  • Washington leads the nation with seven defensive touchdowns.
  • Washington outside linebacke Hau'oli Kikaha leads the nation in sacks (17.5) and tackles for loss (23.5)
Utah at Colorado
  • Utah kicker Andy Phillips has eight field goals of 40-plus yards in conference games, which is twice as many as any other kicker in the conference.
  • Utah punter Tom Hackett leads the nation in punts downed inside the 20 (34) and 10 (19).
  • Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with four kicks returned for touchdowns.
  • Colorado has allowed 20 sacks this season, which is the fewest in the Pac-12.
  • Colorado's Nelson Spruce is tied for the national lead with 101 catches.
BYU at Cal
  • Quarterback Jared Goff finished the Pac-12 season with 3,070 yards. He's just the fourth player since 2004 to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark in conference games.
  • Cal has never played in a bowl after starting the season 5-6.
  • Cal running back Daniel Lasco needs 15 yards rushing against BYU to become the sixth Pac-12 player to rush for 1,000 yards this season.

Past weeks
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12
David Shaw loves the Rose Bowl.

"I close my eyes and see the blimp shots," he says.

His Stanford program has had a chance to become familiar with college football's most iconic venue, playing three games there over the previous two seasons -- including a pair on New Year's Day.

In an intriguing twist, the 6-5 Cardinal won't be ringing in 2015 in the Arroyo Seco, but they will make their return visit to Pasadena this Friday with Rose Bowl aspirations still on the line -- for their opponent.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Tony AvelarDavid Shaw and the Cardinal can salvage a sobering 2014 season with an upset of UCLA.
The two-time defending Pac-12 champions have failed in their 2014 quest for a three-peat, but Stanford isn't tapping out yet -- not with a chance to make a potentially season-salvaging statement against UCLA, which will be gunning to clinch the Pac-12 South title against them.

"Obviously, we had a whole lot of higher hopes for this year, and that's the frustrating part, because there are missed opportunities there," safety Jordan Richards said. "But we can't focus on the past. We have to go 1-0 this week."

That also happened to be the firm message coming out of Berkeley last Saturday, where the Cardinal responded to the first-ever consecutive losses of the Shaw era by manhandling Cal 38-17.

Even a close win at Memorial Stadium would have set more alarms off on the Farm. But Stanford flexed its muscles, overwhelming the Bears with speed and power on both sides of the football. Their offensive performance was balanced (214 passing yards, 204 rushing yards), and their defensive showing was violent (constant pressure, five forced turnovers). It all ended with a mercy kneel-down near the Cal goal line.

Now comes the million-dollar question: Can last Saturday's well-rounded Stanford power -- the one the Pac-12 became so familiar with throughout the past four years -- deliver a similarly robust performance against a better opponent, one that isn't the Pac-12 cellar when it comes to defense?

So far this season, the answer has been no. The Cardinal's defense has been sturdy, but the offense has averaged only 11.4 points per regulation against ranked opponents.

No. 8 UCLA is, of course, a ranked opponent.

The Bruins are more than that: They're playing for the trophy Stanford currently holds. They're still in contention for the College Football Playoff. They're coming off one of their most impressive showings of the season, a dominant 38-20 scourging of archrival USC.

The roles have reversed: Stanford, a team that carried a target on its back ever since its ruthless 2010 Orange Bowl run, suddenly has a chance to play spoiler. It's uncharted territory for a roster that knows nothing but BCS bowl game runs. Prior to this season, the Cardinal had gone on those four straight times.

Stanford players insist that this new, unfamiliar angle is not affecting their approach for this regular-season finale.

"We're not into the whole spoiler thing," Richards said. "We're not winning games for Arizona or ASU's sake. We're playing games for our own sake."

And from that perspective, there still is a little something left on the table. Last week, the Cardinal earned bowl eligibility, guaranteeing extra December practice time that will be valuable for a team that'll require serious reloading next year: As many as nine defensive starters will be gone. And aside from instilling confidence that Stanford can still deliver against higher-tier opponents, a win against UCLA would keep the Cardinal on track for an eight-win season.

In other words, a drop to 6-6 and a bowl game loss would be a brutal tumble for Stanford, but an 8-5 overall finish punctuated by a head-turning "we're still here" win would brighten the Cardinal picture in the larger scheme of things.

But this a supremely difficult hinge point for Stanford, especially since the Cardinal will be missing their best playmaker in Ty Montgomery, who suffered a shoulder injury against Cal. Shaw said they'll try to re-create Montgomery's Swiss Army knife production through a combination of Francis Owusu, Christian McCaffrey, Michael Rector and Jordan Pratt, but here's the bleak reality: This is a matchup of the Pac-12's worst offense against a talented, peaking UCLA defense.

Shaw is longing for the Cardinal to deliver their first truly complete performance of the year. If Stanford is indeed able to deliver that vintage showing, they can throw a massive final wrench in what has already been a wild Pac-12 race. Folks in Tempe and Tucson would certainly be thrilled.

That's the bigger picture. The Cardinal's focus, though, remains on the smaller one -- and not on the public's idea that this showdown with UCLA is an opportunity to play spoiler, or to solidify a frustrating 2014 with a signature win.

"I may sign couple autographs postgame for some kids," center Graham Shuler said. "But a fat offensive lineman's signature is the only signature I can give on Friday. That's for someone else to decide.... We just need to play our best ball, and I think we're capable of that."

Pac-12 morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
5:00
AM ET
We've got another holiday to worry about. It seems Thanksgiving Day is upon us.

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

Leading off

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

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

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

MAXWELL AWARD: Given to the top player in college football (as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota -- 3,103 passing yards, 32 TD, 2 INT, 597 rushing yards, 97 carries, 9 rushing TDMississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott -- 2,1714 passing yards, 23 TD, 10 INT, 891 rushing yards, 171 carries, 12 rushing TD
  2. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon -- 254 carries, 2,109 yards, 25 TD
BEDNARIK AWARD: Given to the top defensive player in college football (again, as considered by the Maxwell Football Club and voting panel).
  1. Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III -- 126 tackles, 22 TFL, 12 sacks, 5 forced fumbles
  2. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa -- 43 tackles, 18 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
  3. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley -- 24 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble
RAY GUY: Given to the top college punter. Yards per punt season average follows each finalist's name.
  1. Tom Hackett (Utah) -- 46.5
  2. JK Scott (Alabama) -- 46.8
  3. Scott Arellano (BYU) -- 44.6
  4. Scott Harding (Hawaii) -- 41.5
  5. Austin Rehkow (Idaho) -- 47.8
  6. Justin Vogel (Miami) -- 44.0
  7. Tyler Wedel (Northern Illinois) -- 41.9
  8. Cameron Johnston (Ohio State) -- 43.6
  9. Drew Kaser (Texas A&M) -- 44.4
  10. Alex Kinal (Wake Forest) -- 43.8
OUTLAND: Given to the top interior lineman (offense or defense).
  1. Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown
  2. Auburn center Reese Dismukes
  3. Iowa tackle Brandon Scherff
DAVEY O'BRIEN: Given to the best college quarterback
  1. Mariota (see stats above)
  2. Prescott (see stats above)
  3. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin -- 3,021 passing yards, 24 TD, 5 INT, 122 rushing attempts, 548 yards, 7 TD
JIM THORPE AWARD: Given to the top defensive back in college football.
  1. Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 7 pass break ups
  2. Alabama safety Landon Collins -- 75 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 INT, 5 pass break ups
  3. Louisville safety Jerod Holliman -- 32 tackles, 2 TFL, 13 INT, 3 pass break ups
News/notes/team reports

Pac-12 morning links

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
8:00
AM ET
What is with everyone today? It's Thanksgiving not truth day!

Leading off

Tonight the committee will release its College Football Playoff rankings and it'll be interesting to see how it views certain team's wins (cough, UCLA) and certain team's losses (cough, Ole Miss). The Ducks, after a big win over Colorado, should be secure in the top four though it'd be quite the surprise for them to sneak in to the top spot, even with Alabama's slow start against Western Carolina this weekend.

If you saw The Eliminator on Monday morning, there were probably a few things you noticed. First and foremost, Mark Schlabach pointed out the fact that yes, we're heading into the final weekend of the regular season. And no, the College Football Playoff hasn't broken the regular season by any means. Instead, with one week to go (in most conferences), there is plenty of excitement down the stretch.
No. 2 Oregon must survive the Civil War against Oregon State.

No. 3 Florida State must get past one more regular-season game against rival Florida.

The Big Ten West, Pac-12 South and SEC East are still up for grabs, too.

So much for the playoff ruining the drama of college football's regular season.

Oregon is still listed under "In Contention" while Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA are all in the "On The Fence" category. The good news for Pac-12 fans is that no conference team did anything detrimental this weekend. The only two teams that were eliminated were Ole Miss (which lost 30-0 to unranked -- but hot -- Arkansas) and Michigan State.

Awards season

The Butkus Award (given annually to the nation's top linebacker) announced its five finalists on Monday. The Pac-12 snagged two of the spots.
  1. UCLA's Eric Kendricks
  2. Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha
  3. Miami's Denzel Perryman
  4. Michigan's Jake Ryan
  5. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith

That is one heck of a list of candidates and the Pac-12 Blog would like to congratulate all five. Seriously, these are all fantastic linebackers and players that certainly deserve to be honored after the seasons they've all had.

However, there's one pretty obvious name missing from that list: Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III. He has been an absolute monster this season and though I wouldn't want to single out any individual on that list and say that Wright deserves the spot more, it certainly was shocking to see Wright --- who averages a nation-high 2 TFL per game and ranks fifth nationally in sacks per game -- to not be on that list.

And we weren't the only to feel that way:

Diving into some numbers

According to Nate Silver's model over at fivethirtyeight.com, the Bruins' 38-20 win last Saturday was the biggest win of the weekend. Based off his model, UCLA went from having an 8.2 percent chance to making the playoff to having a 14.0 percent chance of making the playoff.

There are eight schools (again, this is according to Silver's model) that have at least a 10 percent chance of making the playoff. Here's a list of the eight programs Silver says are still in the running -- by at least 10 percent -- to make the playoff, followed by their total chance and the percent their chance increased or decreased following last Saturday's games.
  1. Alabama -- 80.8 percent, +5.5 percent after beating Western Carolina, 48-14.
  2. Oregon -- 75.7 percent, +3.6 percent after beating Colorado, 44-10.
  3. FSU -- 59 percent, -0.9 percent after beating Boston College, 20-17.
  4. TCU -- 47.1 percent, -1.8 after being on a bye.
  5. Ohio State -- 42 percent, -1.5 percent after beating Indiana, 42-27.
  6. Baylor -- 33.3 percent, +2.5 percent after beating Oklahoma State, 49-28.
  7. Mississippi State -- 32.6 percent, +5.1 after beating Vanderbilt, 51-0.
  8. UCLA -- 14 percent, +5.8 percent after beating USC, 38-20.

So, UCLA's chances don't look awesome, but if it wins the Pac-12 title, there will certainly be an argument for the Bruins being in one of the four spots. And, as far as the chances of making the finals, the Pac-12 is still sitting pretty well. Oregon has a 44.2 percent chance to make the finals (UCLA is at 6.1 percent).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

For any media covering the Territorial Cup this weekend, Josh Kelman has you covered for your postgame story.

The Pac-12 Conference acknowledged that its instant replay crew did not have a necessary amount of indisputable video evidence to overturn consecutive calls at the goal line in the third quarter of Stanford's 38-17 win over California.

A conference-issued statement read that "there was not enough evidence through video replay for the instant replay crew to overturn the second and third touchdown calls made by the officials on the field."

The calls in question came during a bizarre stretch late in the third quarter. Cal was trailing 31-7 when the replay booth overturned three straight touchdown calls. A string of penalties also mingled with the unusual sequence of reviews, and the Golden Bears ended up settling for a 38-yard field goal to make the score 31-10.

On the second down play, Cal quarterback Luke Rubenzer appeared to reach across the goal line with the ball as Stanford defenders were stopping him, but officials ruled he was down short despite the absence of a clear side camera angle to capture the effort. That's the lack of visual evidence that the Pac-12 acknowledged Monday. A look from the end zone pylon toward the play in question probably would have been very helpful there.

The third down play involved a pass from Jared Goff to Kenny Lawler, who grabbed the ball near the pylon before falling forward across the goal line. The ball bobbled out of Lawler's firm grasp as he hit ground, and replay officials ruled that he didn't hold on throughout the entire process of the catch, so the pass was incomplete. Although the conference did not say so explicitly, it seems that the Pac-12 deemed there was not enough visual evidence to assert that Lawler did not make a "football move" before he bobbled the ball. Such an interpretation would have made the bobble irrelevant and led to the conclusion that Lawler's touchdown should have stood.

The Pac-12 finished its statement by writing "the replay crew will be held accountable for the errors through the Conference's disciplinary process."

After the game, Cal coach Sonny Dykes said the overturned calls were "shameful." The Pac-12 has faced a significant share of criticism relating to poor football officiating this season, and Monday night's statement appears to be a response to at least some of that flak.
Eccentric twists and turns have become the primary theme of this 2014 season -- remember the Hail Mary binge, the comebacks, the upsets, the celebratory fumbles at the 1-yard line, the field goal icing drama, and the #Pac12AfterDark hashtag made to describe all the otherworldly mystery.

To remind us that absolutely nothing about the Pac-12 is normal, the stage is set for the South champion to be determined in another "only out West" kind of way: Simultaneous games on Black Friday -- the third to last day of November -- under the beating sun of 80-degree weather.

"Perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer," Henry David Thoreau wrote about the Pac-12 a good 169 years ago. "Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."

Well, he wasn't really writing about the road to the Field of Jeans. But the point stands. The Weird West has hummed a different, fascinating tune all season long, and this last regular-season weekend promises to supply more of the same as the Levi's Stadium championship matchup is finalized.

Simultaneous explosions: Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenTaylor Kelly, Arizona State and Arizona will be scoreboard watching on Friday.
Two more detonations await before we will have fully traversed the minefield of the Pac-12 South. Fittingly, the Rose Bowl will be host to one, while the other will shake Tucson.

Both Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, on Black Friday. Arizona Stadium will require high bandwidth WiFi as both the 9-2 Sun Devils and 9-2 Wildcats need the Bruins to lose so that the Territorial Cup determines the Pac-12 South. So there'll certainly be more than a few fans trying to stream the happenings in Pasadena on their smart phones while simultaneously watching an intriguing Duel in the Desert.

ASU started slowly but ended up whipping Washington State 52-31 this past Saturday, so the Sun Devils feel they're back on track following bitter disappointment in Corvallis two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Arizona did some 1970s Arnold-style muscle flexing in Utah, racking up 298 rushing yards in a 42-10 road annihilation. The Sun Devils' aggressive defense has given up its share of big runs this season, and that's a danger point ahead of a matchup with Arizona's Nick Wilson (20 carries, 218 yards, 10.9 per carry, 3 touchdowns at Utah). We'll keep an eye on quarterback Anu Solomon's status (ankle) throughout this week.

The Territorial Cup will take on truly monumental importance if Stanford successfully embraces the spoiler role and asserts itself early versus UCLA. Remember that the Bruins haven't beaten the Cardinal since 2008 -- that's the pre-Andrew Luck era stuff. Stanford clinched its first Pac-12 title run with consecutive victories over UCLA in 2012, and although their title defense has already failed here in 2014, they did shut down the Bruins' rushing attack in a suffocating win last year.

Brett Hundley's unit must show that it's made significant strides, because the Cardinal's defense looks ready: They battered Cal to the tune of a season-high five takeaways in Saturday's 38-17 win. Stanford set the table with competent offense, but the Bruins' obviously pose a greater challenge than the Bears did defensively. USC mustered only a season-low 4.1 yards per play against UCLA's defense, which is peaking at the right time.

The “rivalry”: Utah at Colorado

Let's not kid ourselves: These two programs do not have enough historical hatred for each other to truly fall into the rivalry category. Nevertheless, this is a huge contest for both squads. The Utes have lost three of their last four games, and a loss in Boulder to close the season would put a massively bitter finishing touch on a once-promising season. It'd be like finding a massive, plump orange, only to discover there's a worm inside of it.

Meanwhile, this is Colorado's Super Bowl. The Buffs are 0-8 in conference play, and this is a wonderful chance to enter a critical building offseason on a much-needed high note.

Desperation bowl: Notre Dame at USC

At one point earlier this year, matters looked so promising for both the Irish and the Trojans. Now, this historical rivalry is more about avoiding complete late-season disaster than anything else. Notre Dame has dropped four of five games (including consecutive home defeats to Northwestern and Louisville), while USC's thorough whipping at the hands of hated UCLA has Steve Sarkisian scrambling to avoid that dreaded seven-win season. The loser of this game is going to stagger into bowl season neck-deep in turmoil.

Tipping point game: BYU at Cal

All is not lost for the Bears even though the wounded Stanford beast came into Memorial Stadium to drop off a few busloads of humble pie. Cal feels that it's still ascending as a program -- the defense must improve for the Bears to take that next step -- and this nonconference finale against the Cougars is the Cal's chance to punch a postseason ticket for the first time since 2011. Remember that bowl eligibility secures extra December practice time for a program. That's potentially vital as Sonny Dykes positions his team to attempt a third year breakthrough.

Civil War: Oregon State at Oregon

The "Civil War" is my favorite rivalry nickname, so I don't think I can come up with a better way to describe this game than that simple moniker, one which illustrates just how divided the Beaver State really is. Nobody is giving Oregon State much of a shot here, but remember they're playing for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's senior season. There's also that whole thing about top 10 teams struggling in Reser Stadium -- one fell victim to Corvallis just two weeks ago. The Ducks must be wary: Marcus Mariota's strong Heisman push is on the line along with College Football Playoff hopes.

Some ice cream for a Pac-12 dessert: Washington at Washington State

The last game of the Pac-12 regular season will, indeed, be an opportunity for some #Pac12AfterDark eccentricity. This will offer a good representation of how geographically diverse the Pac-12 is. Whereas Friday's games in Los Angeles and Tucson are expected to experience 80-degree temperatures, the forecast for this one in Pullman calls for the mercury to dip below 30 degrees on Saturday night. This is not the end of the road for Washington, but both the Huskies and the Cougars have chances to add a positive memory to difficult seasons.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:00
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It's Baltimore. No one lives forever.

Leading off

Rankings are starting to get awfully important now. As we head into the final week of the regular season, there is plenty of jockeying going on. And how the rest of the country sees things will likely play a role in how the College Football Playoff selection committee sees things.

The Pac-12 had a setback in the rankings last weekend with lackluster performances from Utah and USC. Both of their non-competitive losses bounced them from the rankings, leaving the league with just four teams left in the top 25. Kyle Bonagura has the conference perspective here. The good news is that all four teams are ranked in the top 15 -- so the best the league has to offer is getting its due. Here are where the four teams stand in the AP and coaches polls (AP listed first).
  • Oregon 2-3
  • UCLA 9-10
  • Arizona 12-12
  • ASU 13-13

As always, here are how some folks who cover the conference voted in the AP poll. Playoff chatter

In this week's look at Pat Forde's "Fab 4," Oregon is seated nicely at the No. 2 spot, where he projects the Ducks to face Mississippi State in the Rose Bowl.

His take on the Ducks:
The Ducks continue rolling at a high rate of speed, winning their sixth straight Saturday -- all of them by double digits, all while scoring at least 42 points. They jumped on hapless Colorado 30-3 in the first half, upped the lead to 44-10 in the third quarter and then used the fourth as mop-up duty. In combination with Oregon's pileup of strong wins, its lone loss (31-24 to Arizona on Oct. 2) has only gotten better as the season has gone along. The Wildcats now are 9-2 and remain in contention to win the Pac-12 South and have a potential league championship rematch with Oregon.

Worth noting that he also has UCLA as a team still worth consideration. If the Bruins beat Stanford on Friday, they will lock up the South and force a rematch with the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If the Cardinal beat the Bruins, then it's winner take all in the Territorial Cup.

News/notes/team reports
Stanford snapped a two-game losing skid with a 38-17 thumping of rival Cal on Saturday. Here's how it happened:

How the game was won: Stanford sealed this victory with 12:31 left to play when its sturdy defense forced Cal to turn the ball over on downs. The Bears had begun to generate some mojo following an onside kick recovery, but this game was about the Cardinal clamping down and forcing five turnovers after their offense supplied a multipossession lead. Stanford rushed for 204 yards and passed for 214.

Game ball goes to: We have to give out two game balls today because this was such a balanced Stanford effort. Remound Wright delivered four rushing touchdowns (last done by Toby Gerhart in the 2009 Big Game), while linebacker Blake Martinez intercepted two passes and forced a fumble during the defense's aggressive showing.

What it means: Although the program lost luster this season, Stanford will head to a bowl game for the sixth consecutive year. The 6-5 Cardinal have notched their sixth consecutive six-win season, tying their longest streak since the Great Depression. The 5-6 Bears must win their finale against BYU to earn bowl eligibility.

What's next: Stanford moves on to its regular-season finale at UCLA, which will be an especially intriguing game if the Bruins get by USC on Saturday night. Cal still has a shot to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011. The Bears must beat BYU next week.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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After two weeks on a diet, a jam-packed Pac-12 slate is back Saturday. Here's the rundown:

10 a.m.

Washington State at Arizona State, Pac-12 Network

One word: early. This game kicks off at 11 a.m. local time, but keep in mind that the Cougars' body clocks will still be set to the Pacific time zone. Mike Leach said that Washington State's hotel pregame routine will start between 5 and 6 a.m. It'll be a chance for fans to watch the Pac-12 while munching on pancakes, French toast, or -- my favorite -- crab Benedict. And it'll be a chance for ASU to wash away the horrible memory of last week's 35-27 loss at Oregon State as quickly as possible.

12:30 p.m.

Arizona at Utah, ESPN

By lunchtime, there should be a craving for a good dose of backfield pressure. #SackLackCity should be a fun place for the Wildcats' Scooby Wright to visit: He's ranked in the top three nationally in sacks and tackles for loss, so why not put him on the same field as the Utes' Nate Orchard, who's currently at the top of the sack heap? Defensive star power is the name of the game here, but keep an eye on Arizona's Anu Solomon: He must step up to the challenge of the Rice-Eccles crowd.

1 p.m.

Stanford at Cal, Fox Sports 1

Stanford's offense has been bad, but the Cardinal have found a way to score against shaky defenses this season (they've been terrible in games against ranked teams, averaging only 11.4 points per regulation in those contests). Well, good news for the Cardinal: The Golden Bears are worse than shaky on defense (39.2 points, 518 yards per game). Bad news for Stanford: Cal is at home, and it is smelling blood. Let's see what gives in the 117th Big Game. Oh, and that matchup between Jared Goff and Lance Anderson's top-ranked Cardinal defense isn't too shabby, either.

1:30 p.m.

Colorado at Oregon, Pac-12 Network

The best team in the conference meets the worst team in the conference. Prediction-wise, that's about all that needs to be said about this one. Some extra, slightly unrelated food for thought: Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre asserted that the Pac-12 South was the best division in college football, better than even the SEC West. Imagine how absurdly strong the South would be if Oregon were in it, too (I bring this up only because the SEC's top team, Alabama, happens to reside in the powerful West).

5 p.m.

USC at UCLA, ABC

Statues have been vandalized, airports have received photogenic lighting decorations, and statues have been arguably vandalized some more by duct tape (intended to protect them, but still, that's going to be a pain to remove, right?). The pregame rituals of rivalry week were fun, but it's time for some actual football with Pac-12 championship hopes on the line. The matchup of Brett Hundley and Cody Kessler is fascinating one, as is the battle between USC's frontline explosiveness and a UCLA machine that appears to be peaking at the right time.

7:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Washington, ESPN

The Beavers need one more win to earn bowl eligibility for Sean Mannion in his senior season. It's amazing what one good week (paired with a bad one) can do: Both of these teams have lost four of their past five games, but the feeling surrounding Oregon State is much more positive than the one in Seattle. The Beavers notched a huge 35-27 upset win over ASU last weekend, while the Huskies dropped a bitter 27-26 decision to Arizona. Both have a chance to finish forgettable seasons on a high note.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

As we do every Friday, we focus our attention on some picks. Only two weeks left (not counting the bowl games). Six are already bowl eligible, two more will punch their ticket this weekend (the winners of the Stanford-Cal and Oregon State-Washington games becomes bowl eligible). So we'll have at least eight. But nine or 10 are still mathematically possible. But we'll worry about that when we have to.

The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning. Chantel Jennings went against the grain in a couple of picks and Kyle Bonagura likes the Trojans. Other than that, pretty unanimous.

As we do every week, here are some predictions from folks who cover the conference and college football nationally.

The Fox Sports tandem of Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel both like the Bruins in a tight game. Here's what Feldman had to say:
Brett Hundley wrecked the Trojans last season with his legs and arm, and he was very sharp in carving up USC two years ago. Despite how well Cody Kessler, Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen are playing, my hunch is the Bruins have enough athletes on defense to contain them to get away with a win. UCLA 31, USC 30.

Here are some other thoughts: Halliday update

Injured Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday spoke about the specifics of his injury for the first time Thursday. We had one report here on the blog. He also shared his frustration over the injury and the hope that he'll be playing football again within five months, which would put him in line to participate in WSU's pro day.

Here's a quote from Halliday from a story in the Spokesman-Review:
I think the hardest thing was just how close I was to being healthy throughout the year, going to the combine, getting to do all that stuff. That’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I’ve been able to dream so that was the frustrating thing: I was just three games away from that.

Halliday was putting up monster numbers. We know this because he's still leading the Pac-12 in passing with 3,873 yards and 32 touchdown passes. Here's the full transcript of Halliday's conference call with the media.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The Cal band continued its annual tradition of invading the San Francisco Chronicle, which is kind of funny.



I don't know what this is or what it does ... but I think I want one.
When they met a year ago, Cal and Stanford stood at polar opposite ends of the spectrum.

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

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

A lot can change in less than a calendar year.

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

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

Objectives moving forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cal and Stanford have reached the tipping point, and there's more than an Axe at stake.

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