Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Five things to watch in Saturday's matchup between No. 5 Oregon and Stanford.

1. Oregon offense vs. Stanford defense: A supersonic matchup

The first three installments of this Stanford-Oregon rivalry focused on a battle between two high-powered offenses: The Cardinal featured Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck, while the Ducks lit up the scoreboard under Chip Kelly. Starting in 2012, the Pac-12 North clash took on a decidedly different tone as Stanford's defense morphed into an elite unit. Suddenly, the headline attraction was Oregon's blur attack against the Cardinal's stifling defense. That's what we're going to get again here in 2014, and the matchup may be better than it's ever been. Stanford's defense has never performed so well statistically (they're leading the nation allowing only 3.7 yards per play), while Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is leading the nation with his 192.2 quarterback rating. Simply put, this is another round of a supersonic matchup, and it's the first time that both clashing entities have been ranked No. 1 in the nation. So don't let the Cardinal's three losses fool you: This particular battle is in its prime.

2. Can Oregon get the Stanford monkey off its back?

Mariota has never beaten the Cardinal as the Ducks' starting QB. And in all of those losses, the weapons around him were far more experienced than what he's working with now. However, players like running back Royce Freeman, Devon Allen and Dwayne Stanford -- though inexperienced -- could be what Mariota and Oregon need to get past this Stanford roadblock. In the past two years, Oregon has lost to Stanford in two different ways, according to Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. In 2012, he said, the Ducks didn't play very well and they also didn't play very hard. In the 2013 matchup, he thought his team played hard but didn't finish well in the chances they had. Can they play hard and finish this season? So far the offense has done a pretty good job of that and the defense has done enough, too. But they haven't put it together like that against Stanford in a while. Could this be the year?

3. Stanford's decimated defensive line

In a piece earlier this week, we discussed the formula that Stanford's defense has successfully employed to stop Oregon the past two seasons. In 2012, that plan was rooted in dominant, block-swallowing play along the defensive line. In 2013, since the Cardinal's defensive line was decimated by injury, Stanford's linebackers took on greater responsibility. Well, the Cardinal is again battling serious health concerns along the defensive front here in 2014. Versatile lineman Aziz Shittu has just been ruled out for the rest of the season, while David Parry -- the critical rock in the middle -- is questionable for Saturday because of a leg injury.

If the 305-pound Parry does not play, the Cardinal will be forced to rely on 255-pound true freshman lineman Harrison Phillips, which can spell huge trouble against a suddenly-bruising Oregon rushing game (Royce Freeman doesn't run like a true freshman, and David Shaw admitted that was "disheartening"). If Stanford can't stop the Ducks' rushing attack, well, you know what's next ... his initials are 'MM.' Mark Helfrich is certainly hoping to see the domino effect. The Cardinal's defense is vulnerable if they can't stop the run, so their health up front is a key variable in this game.

4. The pressures on both sides of this game

If Oregon walks away with a win, there's a really good chance the Ducks move into No. 4 after this weekend, considering the Nos. 3-4 matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss on Saturday. But with a loss, the Ducks drop and a two-loss Pac-12 championship team making the College Football Playoff doesn't seem likely. If the committee had to choose between a two-loss SEC team (even if it's the second in the playoff) and a two-loss Pac-12 champion (even if the only team considered), the scales would probably tilt toward the SEC. On the other side, you've got Stanford who could salvage -- at least emotionally -- part of this season by a) ruining Oregon's and b) avoiding a fourth loss, which would be the worst since the 2009 season when Stanford lost five games and c) pushing themselves ahead of Oregon in the North with no losses to North teams (but each would have two conference losses overall). Which team is going to be able to handle those kinds of pressures better?

5. Which Stanford offense will show up?

Will we see the Cardinal attack that laid massive eggs against USC, Notre Dame and Arizona State? Or will we see the completely revamped unit that sliced like a hot knife through Oregon State's butter this past weekend, averaging 8.2 yards per play and also scoring from the red zone before garbage time? Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren orchestrated a major rehaul of Stanford's offense before last week's game, and the resulting focus on perimeter athleticism (combined with a healthy dose of tight end action over the middle) seemed to make an excellent use of the Cardinal's personnel. The Ducks' defense hasn't been great this year, so this will be an interesting litmus test for both teams. Stanford will either replicate last year's ball control success by moving the chains in new ways, or Oregon will capitalize on a Cardinal offense that hasn't found a consistent identity yet this season. That fork in the road may end up determining this game.

Happy Halloween in the Pac-12

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
11:00
AM ET
Happy Halloween, Pac-12.

This holiday seems perfect for a conference that has had so many tricks and treats already this year.

So, to celebrate, we've looked around the conference and picked out some possible costumes for teams, coaches and players.

For example, this year Arizona is going as Stanford (Oregon's apparent Kyrptonite). Stanford is going as Utah circa 2013 (three losses by Week 7). Utah is going as Oregon (injury bug strikes). And Oregon is going as a flamingo. Because really, a duck going as a bird is just some irony I'd love to see.

Oh, and also, Washington State is going as a pirate. Just because. Here are some other options for teams:

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJared Goff and the Golden Bears have been surprisingly improved this season.
Freddy Krueger (team not to sleep on): Cal. We all knew they'd be better than last season, but who could have predicted that they would be a possible bowl team with four games to go? At Week 5 in the season they were just a Hail Mary away from being undefeated. Jared Goff is one of the most improved players in the nation and he's leading a team that has Sonny Dykes in some coach of the year discussions. Cal has lost three games in a row, but they managed to put up 41 points against Oregon and almost beat UCLA at home. Oregon State? USC? Stanford? You've been warned. This team is not one you can sleep on. The 2013 team? Maybe. But this 2014 version is so different.

Boo (boo): Oregon's offensive line. Remember when this was going to be Oregon's best position group this season? Since then, the Ducks lost starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone, who had come into the season with 26 starts under his belt. Then the coaching staff moved right tackle Jake Fisher to fill Johnstone's spot and back up Andre Yruretagoyena into the right tackle spot. Then Yruretagoyena got hurt. Then they moved true freshman Tyrell Crosby into right tackle. Then Fisher got hurt and Crosby moved over to left tackle and former walk on Matt Pierson moved to right tackle. Follow? Don't blame you if you don't. Oregon's one loss came with huge inexperience on both sides of the line. If the Ducks were 100 percent healthy that game, do the Wildcats still win? Who knows. But the game itself probably would've looked quite a bit different.

Graveyard: Colorado. Sorry Buffs, but you're winless in the conference. You've been snake bitten, we'll give you that. Double overtime losses to UCLA and Cal? That's just rough. But the good thing about a graveyard on Halloween is that corpses come back to life and with four more games, there's always a chance.

Trick: Washington State. The Cougars were supposed to be one of the most improved teams in the league this season. With third year coach Mike Leach at the helm and Connor Halliday finally coming into his own, they were supposed to be a darkhorse in the north. Well, the trick is on us. Wazzu sits at 2-6 overall after most of us anticipated the inverse at this point in the season.

Treat: The Arizona schools. ASU and Arizona were picked to finish third and fourth in the Pac-12 South, respectively. Instead, they're leading their division with huge wins over the teams that were supposed to be dominating everyone. And you know what makes these teams even more treat-like? In the conference of quarterbacks these two programs have given us some of the most interesting quarterback storylines of the season. No one was talking about Anu Solomon last July. Now? Now, he has 2,430 yards and 20 passing touchdowns. And Arizona State has provided plenty of spice too. When Taylor Kelly went down Mike Bercovici kept that team relevant and led the Sun Devils to a huge upset over USC. What a treat for those teams and anyone who watched.

Pac-12 costume ideas:

For the Pac-12 refs, we have a few different options considering the amount of hate you've gotten from some fans this season. It was hard to find other people and things that are as notorious as you, but here's a possible list:

1. LeBron James circa 2010, and the entire West Coast can be the city of Cleveland.
2. Justin Bieber, and the entire West Coast can be the entire West Coast.
3. Brussel sprouts.
4. The song "Call Me Maybe."
5. The Internet guy who shows up two hours late.

Or, just go as a zebra. You already have the outfit.

  • Washington State QB Connor Halliday: Mighty Mouse. His extreme strength is displayed by the fact that his arms are still attached to his body after three years in Leach's offense.
  • UCLA coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich: Those people who fight at a nice restaurant.
  • USC RB Buck Allen: A wrecking ball.
  • UCLA QB Jerry Neuheisel, ASU QB Mike Bercovici: Ronnie Bass from "Remember the Titans." Like Bass, Neuheisel and Bercovici came in for their injured starting quarterback and led their teams to victory.
  • Utah's special teams: The exceptional middle child. The oldest child is always the most mature and doted upon -- that's your defense typically. The youngest kid is always so cute and everyone pays the most attention to it -- that's your offense. Then there's the middle kid who is usually forgotten. That's the special teams. But every so often there's a middle kid that's a piano prodigy or knows how to code at 7 years old or wins every spelling bee. Yep, Utah's special teams win every spelling bee. … For those who are curious, some notable and accomplished middle children: Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates.
  • Washington's Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson: The Three Musketeers. "Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures," Alexander Dumas wrote. I'd say that sums it up. Though none of these players are very quarrelsome, they certainly seek (and excel in) hazardous adventures.
  • Oregon State WR Victor Bolden: Jay Leno. You gotta feel for a guy who's expected to come into Brandin Cooks' spot. Kinda like Jay Leno coming in to Johnny Carson's role at "The Tonight Show."

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
10:00
AM ET
All times Pacific

10 a.m.

Washington at Colorado, Pac-12 Network


The Buffaloes are desperate for a conference win, and given Washington’s horrendous offensive struggles, this looks to be their best remaining chance. The Huskies can still wreak havoc defensively, though, so they’re the favorites entering this game. Cyler Miles will be back under center for Washington, which will try to escape Boulder with greater ease than UCLA, who beat the Buffs in double overtime, did last week.

1:30 p.m.

USC at Washington State, Pac-12 Network


Connor Halliday's passing yardage totals continue to light up box scores on a weekly basis, but Cougars losses are piling up just as quickly. Washington State must win out just to finish .500 this season, and that outcome appears highly unlikely. USC might be hurting after a close loss at Utah that also cost them left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but there’s a lot here for Wazzu to handle between Cody Kessler, his explosive targets, and Javorius Allen.

[+] EnlargeHenry Anderson
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsWill Marcus Mariota and Oregon solve Stanford, or will the Cardinal pluck the Ducks again?
4:30 p.m.

Stanford at Oregon, FOX


Don’t let the Cardinal’s three losses fool you: This is still a titanic match-up between the nation’s most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing only 3.7 yards per play, best in FBS) and its best quarterback (Marcus Mariota’s 192.2 rating is No. 1). However, it’s the other side of the ball that might ultimately decide the winner in the Ducks’ revenge effort. Stanford’s offense, though recently revamped, is averaging a league-worst 14.7 points per game on the road, while Oregon’s defense has not been airtight this season.

7:30 p.m.

California at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network


Sean Mannion will likely break the Pac-12’s career record for passing yards in this game, as the current mark, held by USC’s Matt Barkley, is just over 200 yards away. Fittingly, the quarterback on the other side -- Cal sophomore Jared Goff -- has a legitimate shot to re-break that record if he’s still around in two years. This one will be fun because it features two talented quarterbacks and an air of desperation, as both teams need a win to stay on reasonable track for bowl eligibility.

Arizona at UCLA, ESPN

It’s put up-or-shut up time in Westwood. The Bruins have squeaked by two lower-tier Pac-12 teams in Cal and Colorado. The road becomes more difficult with resurgent Arizona visiting. The Wildcats fired on all cylinders at Washington State last week, and Anu Solomon is certainly excited to test the shaky Bruins defense with the likes of Nick Wilson and Austin Hill. Meanwhile, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III has forced five fumbles this season, while UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has turned the ball over eight times. Keep an eye on the Bruins’ ability to protect the football.

8 p.m.

Utah at Arizona State, Fox Sports 1


So, how much has Arizona State’s defense — particularly its stoutness against the run — improved? We’ll find out when Utah’s Devontae Booker (leading the Pac-12 at 166 rushing yards per conference game) tests Tempe to wrap up Saturday. The Sun Devils had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight games before stifling Stanford. Washington also had some success against them on the ground last week (but none through the air), so this duel in the desert represents a true litmus test for both teams. The winner will be in excellent position when it comes to the race for the Pac-12 South crown.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday! And Happy Halloween!

Leading off

Friday means picks! Big picks, small picks, upset picks and more. The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning with a little debate among the higher-profile games. And as we do each Friday, here are some picks from national writers and those who cover the conference.

The FOX pair of Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman are in sync with their Pac-12 picks. Both like Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona to beat Stanford, Utah and UCLA, respectively. Here is Feldman's take on the ASU-Utah matchup:
As good as the Utes D is playing, I think ASU QB Taylor Kelly can handle the heat. The Sun Devils have had fits dealing with the run, and Utah's Devontae Booker has been outstanding, but look for ASU to be able to give more focus to containing him since the Utes’ passing game is hampered further without leading receiver Dres Anderson (out for the season with a knee injury).
Big Board update

ESPN's Mel Kiper has released his latest Big Board projections, and as of right now, the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft will be from the Pac-12. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is No. 1 overall, followed by USC's Leonard Williams. Here's Kiper's take on the Oregon quarterback:
He combines above-average accuracy and anticipation with an ability to get through his progressions and elite athleticism. How well he can take apart a defense with tools other than his legs matters in terms of how he is viewed as a prospect, but his ability to throw on the run or simply take off and pick up chunk yardage is a major plus.

It's an insider piece, so I can't give away the farm. (Hint: my password is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Safe to say these two aren't the only Pac-12 players who appear in his top 25. There are five more (Washington fans, you'll be pleased).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Lisa Horne, proprietor of PigSkinGrind.com, offers up some awards and highlights thus far this season. She's a Heisman voter, so for what it's worth, she taps Mariota for having the top Heisman moment so far.

Speaking of Mariota ...

Tale of the tape: Stanford vs. Oregon 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
5:00
PM ET
video
While Stanford's trip to Oregon this weekend has lost some of its preseason luster, it's still a matchup of two Pac-12 North and recruiting powers.

When contemplating the career arcs of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan over the last two years, there has been a “Yeah, but…” element for each.

Mariota is again a Heisman frontrunner and one of the most accomplished quarterbacks ever to grace the green. Yeah, but those Stanford games …

Hogan has led the Cardinal to a couple of Rose Bowls, but has had his struggles with consistency. Yeah, but those Oregon games …

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMarcus Mariota has one final chance to beat Stanford, Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
When the teams meet Saturday at Oregon in a critical Pac-12 North showdown, Hogan will not be in the secondary when Mariota is on the field. Nor will Mariota be playing linebacker when Hogan is reading the defense. Yet quarterback play has helped define this game over the last couple of years as much as any defensive stand or overtime field goal.

Hogan’s legend was born on Nov. 17, 2012, at Autzen Stadium. Still in a post Andrew Luck haze and unsatisfied with the results of Josh Nunes, Stanford turned to Hogan to make his first career start at home against Oregon State. A week later, he made his first road start in Eugene and helped engineer an unlikely 17-14 overtime win over the No. 1 Ducks. It was not a game the Cardinal were expected to win.

A year later at Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal knocked off the No. 2 Ducks 26-20. Again, Oregon was the favorite.

“Kevin has played probably two of the best games of his career against us,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.

Against Oregon, Hogan is completing 65 percent of his throws with one touchdown, one interception and a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Conversely, Mariota has completed 57 percent of his throws against the Cardinal with three touchdowns, one interception and zero rushing touchdowns. Stanford -- the only Pac-12 team Mariota hasn’t beaten in his decorated career -- has been his Great White Buffalo (said in a whisper).

“Last year Marcus certainly didn’t play his best game, nor did everybody around him contribute to his best game,” Helfrich said.

Fair to assume, too, that his knee injury had something to do with it.

The quarterbacks once against take center stage this weekend as the No. 5 Ducks look to move up in the College Football Rankings. Stanford, the two-time defending league champs, is looking just to stay in the North Division race.

“It goes without saying our game plans are completely geared around Marcus,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We have that much respect/fear of him. It is respect. He is the focal point of what we do and the focal point of what they do. At times we’ve been able to contain him. We’ve been able to harass him.

“But in every game, there’s a streak where you can’t do anything about it. He gets out of the pocket and takes off. He makes a couple of great throws. He moves the team down the field in three plays and scores a touchdown. It’s understanding that that’s going to happen at some point during the game. And when it does happen, we give respect to a great player and we come back and try to get after him again.”

Stanford’s best weapon against Mariota the last couple of years has been its offense’s ability to sustain drives and the defense’s ability to get off the field. In the two previous meetings, Stanford converted 52 percent on third down, while the Ducks converted just 25 percent.

It’s that same consistency Hogan has shown the previous two years that Shaw is hoping for out of him on Saturday.

“I think the biggest thing is being opportunistic,” Shaw said. “If something was there he was getting the ball out of his hands and throwing it. If nothing is there pulling it down and running it. Being very decisive. Converting on third-downs. Controlling the ball and controlling the clock. It’s hard to separate Kevin from the entire offense. But that’s pretty much what’s been good about what we’ve done.”

Meanwhile, Mariota has gracefully answered all Heisman questions before and during the season, though he has made it quite clear that the stiff-arm is the furthest thing from his mind. Still, many voters -- both of the Heisman and Selection Committee variety -- will look to this game to see if he and the Ducks can cure their recent Stanford woes.

And when we look back on this era of Pac-12 football in a couple of decades, Mariota’s accomplishments won’t be whisked away. Nor will Hogan’s Rose Bowl appearances be redacted. Question is, will we still be saying, “Yeah, but ..."

Pac-12 morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
8:00
AM ET
Don't you draw the queen of diamonds boy, she'll beat you if she's able;
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.

Leading off

At this point in the season, any injury to a starter can be crippling. And in the ridiculously competitive Pac-12 South, it can be downright devastating. Earlier in the week we learned that USC would be without left tackle Chad Wheeler for the rest of the season. Wednesday, another impact player was lost for the year when Utah announced that wide receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
“We feel bad for Dres. It’s heartbreaking for that kid. He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s poured everything he had into this program for five years,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “Nobody’s outworked him. Nobody’s done more for us than Dres during that period of time. He’s taken care of business on and off the field. He’s got his degree already in hand.”

Here are some reactions:
The Utes, very much in the thick of things in the Pac-12 South -- and even the playoff conversation -- enter one of the toughest stretches in the country. After this week's trip to ASU, they are home to Oregon, at Stanford, home to Arizona and at Colorado to close out the season. According to FPI, the Utes have the second-toughest remaining schedule of the 25 ranked teams and the eighth toughest in the nation.

Heisman update

Catching you up on the Heisman race, which could take a turn this weekend with Stanford heading to Oregon, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is nearly neck-and-neck with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. In the latest ESPN.com poll, Prescott leads Mariota by a single point.

Here’s how it shakes out (followed by total points):
  1. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (45)
  2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (44)
  3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (18)
  4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (13)
  5. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (11)

No other Pac-12 players are receiving votes. Here’s guessing that if Mariota can finally get over his Stanford hump, he’ll enjoy a nice bump.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

I guess yesterday was National Cat Day? To which my beagle says, meh. The tweet is still funny, though.
D.J. Foster bringing his media skills to practice.

Mailbag: Playoff-bound Utes?

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
7:30
PM ET
video
Welcome to the mailbag. Please stay for the punch and pie. And if you feel like it, follow me on Twitter.

Emily, who was formerly from L.A., writes: Unhappy Trojan here, but I have to admit Utah was a really good team. Question that calls for speculation: if Utah beats Oregon - assuming both teams win this coming weekend (yes, I know that's a lot to assume) - do you think the Playoff Committee would recognize Utah as a team worthy of the playoff? Or would taking down Oregon completely knock the PAC-12 out of the running?

Kevin Gemmell: I think the same train of thought that applies to Oregon also applies to Utah, Arizona and Arizona State. A one-loss Pac-12 team will not be left out of the College Football Playoff. This is why we have people now and not computers. At some point, someone in that room will stand up and say it’s absurd for a one-loss Pac-12 champion to not be included. Question is, will there be one?

Since you’re asking specifically about the Utes, let’s break them down. They already have wins over two ranked teams. If they win out, they will have beaten ASU, Oregon and Arizona -- all ranked, and all in the top 15. Two of their wins would also be against Michigan and Stanford. The Michigan win doesn’t carry the weight it used to, but at least one person in that room will be swayed by a win at Stanford.

Now, what’s the likelihood this actually happens? Pretty slim. The Utes have the second-hardest remaining schedule of the 25 teams according to FPI (8th nationally) and their chances of winning out are .8 percent. And things got a lot tougher with the news this morning that receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the year with a knee injury. That taxes a passing game that already had issues.

But whether it’s Utah, Oregon or one of the desert schools, any of them would have a more-than-presentable résumé to make a case for playoff inclusion with just one loss.


Jeff in Sacramento writes: When is the last time Oregon lost 3 straight to the same team? For instance, if Oregon were to lose to Stanford, this would be the third year in a row. When is the last time that happened?

Kevin Gemmell: It took a ton of sleuthing and cross-referencing and spreadsheets, but I have your answer.

Actually, I popped open the Oregon media guide and found it in two minutes because it’s more recent than you’d think.

Before Oregon had a Stanford problem, it had a -- wait for it -- CAL PROBLEM! That’s right, the Bears were the thorn in Oregon’s side in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Before Oregon picked up its sixth-consecutive win over the Bears last week, it was Oski owning Puddles. In those three years, two of the wins were by double digits. Two wins came in Berkeley and one at Autzen.

Here are the links to the three games so you can relive the heroics of Nate Longshore and DeSean Jackson and wallow in the shortcomings of Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Johnson. 2006, 2007, 2008.


An anonymous Huskie in Cougar Land writes: Why can't Pac-12 teams schedule good opponents? Other than Oregon playing Michigan St and UCLA playing Texas, I can't count another Pac-12 team playing a team from a power five conference with a winning record. Why do we have to be such wimps? It's quite simple why nobody thinks the Pac-12 can compete with the SEC: they don't play anyone good! Imagine Oregon playing Alabama. Or Stanford playing LSU. If they played tougher opponents, they would not only get the credit they need - and want - but could also vault themselves into national prominence.

Kevin Gemmell: You might notice a trend … and that’s other schools ducking out of their obligations to play Pac-12 teams. It takes two to dance, otherwise you're just pulling a Billy Idol. The Pac-12 has been willing. But their partners haven’t been.

Like, for example, Texas A&M recently leaving Oregon at the altar, or Georgia pulling out of its Oregon game a few years ago. Or Notre Dame trying to get out of its obligation at ASU. By the way, this is the second year in a row that three teams from the Pac-12 play Notre Dame. Wouldn’t consider them wimps. And for what it's worth, Rutgers and Virginia are a couple of Power-5 teams that look bowl-bound.

But to ease your concerns, here are a few matchups we have to look forward to in the coming years (all information via fbsschedules.com):

  • Arizona: Mississippi State in 2022 and 2023.
  • Arizona State: Michigan State in 2018 and 2019; LSU in 2022 and 2023.
  • Cal: Texas in 2015 and 2016; North Carolina in 2017 and 2018; Auburn in 2019 and 2020; TCU in 2020 and 2021.
  • Colorado: Michigan in 2016; Nebraska in 2018, 2019, 2023 and 2024.
  • Oregon: Michigan State in 2015; Nebraska in 2016 and 2017; Ohio State in 2020 and 2021.
  • Oregon State: Michigan in 2015; Ohio State in 2018.
  • Stanford: Notre Dame annually.
  • UCLA: Texas A&M in 2016 and 2017; Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019; LSU in 2021 and 2024; Michigan in 2022 and 2023.
  • USC: Notre Dame annually; Alabama in 2016, Texas in 2017 and 2018.
  • Utah: Michigan in 2015.
  • Washington: Michigan in 2020 and 2021.
  • Washington State: Wisconsin in 2022 and 2023.

So as you can see, there’s not a single Pac-12 team that doesn’t have a notable Power-5 opponent (or independent Notre Dame) coming up on the schedule. Some are immediate, some are a few years away. Schedules are made years in advance. Sometimes they turn out to be great showdowns. Sometimes they are clunkers. And sometimes they just fizzle. But you can't accuse the Pac-12 of not being aggressive in its scheduling.

This first year of the College Football Playoff is going to be interesting, because we’ll see how much the selection committee really takes strength of schedule into account. And we’ll likely see teams adjust future schedules accordingly.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
8:00
AM ET
The hurt doesn't show;
But the pain still grows;
It's no stranger to you and me.
(I know you totally just did the drums in your head!)

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! And the people rejoiced. All 12 teams are in action again, so here are the most current depth charts for each team (except, as you know by now, UCLA, which doesn't do a weekly depth chart). As always, I've made some notes below.
Notes (lots this week) News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Happy birthday, coach.

Three years ago, after Oregon had run circles around Stanford en route to a 53-30 victory, a dejected Andrew Luck uttered the famous phase.

"We have an Oregon problem," he said.

[+] EnlargeKyle Murphy
Zach Bolinger/Icon SportswireAndrus Peat (No. 70) and Kyle Murphy will lead Stanford's offensive line against a tough Oregon defense in their Week 10 matchup.
That night marked the low point in the extraordinary resurgence of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era.

But a new Stanford defense was born in the aftermath of Oregon's dominance, and the tables soon turned in shocking fashion. Just one season later, the unit had gone from Oregon's punching bag to the Ducks' kryptonite.

Suddenly, two straight Cardinal wins later, Oregon had a Stanford problem.

The Cardinal won the annual matchup 17-14 in overtime in 2012. They then opened up a 26-0 fourth-quarter lead in 2013 before withstanding a furious Ducks rally to win 26-20. So Mark Helfrich faces the challenge of reversing Oregon's fortunes against Stanford.

Here are the primary ingredients of the Cardinal's success against the Ducks over the past two seasons, along with a look at how these key puzzle pieces might apply to this 2014 renewal of hostilities.

Defense: Dominant play from the line

Oregon has averaged over 45 points per game each of the past two seasons, but Stanford has held the Ducks to an average of 17 points per game in the two meetings in that span. The formula for the Cardinal's defensive success has actually been relatively simple: It's been been rooted in commanding play along the defensive front.

In 2012 at Autzen Stadium, Stanford enjoyed exemplary performances from nose tackle Terrence Stephens and fellow defensive lineman Henry Anderson, whose positional versatility allowed him to shuffle between spots on the line and keep the Cardinal's big boys fresh. They, in turn, blasted the line of scrimmage, and that hit Oregon's explosive offense where it hurt. Stanford was able to limit the Ducks' running game and pressure Marcus Mariota without blitzing, and that allowed the second and third levels of the Cardinal defense to stay honest against the pass. The result: Stanford won despite losing the turnover battle 3-1.

In 2013, the Cardinal hoped to follow a similar formula, but their defensive line came in decimated by injury. Anderson and nose tackle David Parry both played at less than 100 percent, while Ben Gardner was already out for the season. Stanford responded by applying an effective Band-Aid: It worked to funnel all the Ducks' offense to the middle of the field. This put a massive added burden on inside linebackers Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley to make plays, and they gobbled up their chances. Skov registered the game's signature play when he stripped De'Anthony Thomas at the 1-yard line to keep Oregon off the board and shift momentum to the Cardinal sideline.

So how does this all apply to 2014? Well, Stanford's defensive line again looks to be wounded this time around. Aziz Shittu will miss the game, and Parry -- the unit's centerpiece -- is questionable with a leg injury. If Parry doesn't play, it will be a challenge for Stanford to execute its past formula. Oregon may enjoy more daylight in the running game against the Cardinal reserves, a unit that includes 255-pound true freshman Harrison Phillips. That's potential mealtime for bruiser Royce Freeman, and his success can open things up for Mariota's arm.

Offense: Drive-sustaining success

In 2012, Stanford somehow beat Oregon on the road despite going scoreless on 10 straight possessions of its own. The injured 2013 Stanford defense needed a little more help from its offense and got that through a mauling ground performance. The Cardinal rushed 66 times and threw the ball only 13 times. Tyler Gaffney racked up a school-record 45 rushes, and that helped Stanford finish 14-for-21 on third down and control the clock for nearly 43 minutes of game time.

The Cardinal don't have a big power back like Gaffney anymore, and that deficiency is good news for an Oregon defense that used the offseason to get stronger in an attempt to avoid repeating its 2013 fate. Stanford will have to sustain drives in different ways this time around, and its radical new offensive approach last week will be put to the test.

Defense: Speed and discipline on the back end

Before 2012, Stanford didn't have the athleticism to catch Oregon if it made a mistake near the line of scrimmage. That's why points for the Ducks would always burst through the floodgates after strong Cardinal defensive starts. Since 2012, though, Stanford has developed elite athleticism throughout its linebacker corps and secondary. This was readily apparent when reserve safety Devon Carrington ran down Mariota on a diagonal to save a touchdown two years ago.

Elite meets elite: 2014 marks the first time in the Stanford-Oregon rivalry that the nation's most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing an FBS-best 3.7 yards per play) meets the nation's most efficient quarterback (Mariota's 192.1 rating is the best in college football). Mariota should certainly be champing at the bit after reports claimed a knee injury slowed him down at Stanford last season.

Special-teams success

In 2012, overtime came down to field goals: Alejandro Maldonado's try clanged off the upright, while Jordan Williamson overcame struggles to nail the game winner. That came after Stanford punter Daniel Zychlinski enjoyed the game of his career, repeatedly reversing field position for his team's defense. When it comes to Stanford-Oregon, don't discount the importance of special-teams plays. After all, they made a significant difference in the Cardinal's favor in 2012, and they kept Oregon in the game in 2013 (blocked field goal returned for a touchdown).

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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video
The Pac-12 saw a new commitment and a flip on Sunday, while Stanford and Utah took advantage of important recruiting weekends and focus is already shifting toward a huge upcoming visitor list for Oregon.

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National links: Beware the big day 

October, 28, 2014
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Welcome to terrific Tuesday. Or terrible Tuesday. All depends on your perspective.

The College Football Playoff selection committee began deliberations on Monday in Grapevine, Texas. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long will unveil to a most curious audience the first-ever CFP rankings.

It's a historic time -- and surely chaotic.

Marc Tracy of the New York Times, in assessing the moment, writes that “historians will most likely date the end of the era of good feelings to 7:31.”

With that in mind, some advice for fans from the Big Ten to the SEC:

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Pac-12 morning links

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.

Leading off

Time for our weekly check-in with The Eliminator, everyone's favorite (or not) weekly segment. The latest victim is USC, which dropped its third game of the season on the road at Utah. Per the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, USC has now lost 15 in a row when trailing going into the fourth quarter.

So who is left? As the first batch of playoff rankings are set to be released Tuesday night (4:30 p.m. on ESPN for us West Coasters), the Pac-12 still has five teams that are either in contention or hanging on. Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State still qualify for the "In Contention" category, while Utah and UCLA are "On the Fence." Some thoughts on the Utes:
OK, it's time to call the Utes a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 South. Utah became bowl eligible for the first time in three seasons by knocking off No. 20 USC 24-21 at home Saturday night. The Utes scored the winning touchdown on quarterback Travis Wilson's 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds to play. If the Utes keep winning against their upcoming schedule, they'll be a legitimate playoff threat (and they'll have earned it).

Should be much to debate when these folks release the first rankings.

In defense of Sark

All those going after USC head coach Steve Sarkisian need to slow your roll, so says Chris Dufresne of the L.A. Times. For whatever blame you want to throw on the Trojans' first-year head coach, Dufresne is quick to remind us that the blame can sometimes fall on the players not performing an otherwise acceptable decision from the coach. From his column:
No one weeps for Steve Sarkisian because he makes a fortune, yet the first-year coach does have the misfortune of presiding over a whiny, entitled franchise in the shameless era of dingbat social media. He also is chopping wood, well under the scholarship cap, in a Pac-12 that has never been better. Not every Trojans fan wants Sarkisian sacked for being 5-3 through eight games, but even one is too many.

He's not wrong, especially when you consider the Utah game and the fourth-and-2. Even though there's altitude, it still would have been a 40-plus-yard kick into the wind. And it only would have tied the game. Every coach has their own metrics for when to go on fourth down. I'm guessing most of the league's coaches would have done exactly what Sarkisian did.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Baby announcements have become quite the rage. Last week at practice, Cal assistant coach Pierre Ingram and his wife Dani found out they were having a boy through the magic of colored cupcakes. Pretty cool video.

Some highlights from Arizona's win over WSU. (Look away, Cougar Brian, look away.)
Marcus Mariota, Kevin HoganEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesQBs Marcus Mariota, right, and Kevin Hogan meet again Saturday in one of the nation's best rivalries.
It all changed in 2009. Since the turn of the century, the Ducks had essentially owned a struggling Stanford squad, winning seven straight by an average of 23 points. But in 2009, a rookie quarterback for the Cardinal changed the way people would view Stanford football.

Andrew Luck threw a pair of touchdowns and the Cardinal beat the No. 7 Ducks 51-42, igniting what has become one of the best intra-division rivalries over the past half-decade.

As the teams prepare to square off this week, here’s a look back at how things have played out over the last five games.

Nov. 7, 2009
Stanford Stadium

  • Final score: Stanford 51, No. 7 Oregon 42
  • The setup: The freshman Luck was already turning heads with wins against No. 24 Washington, UCLA and ASU. The Ducks, in their first year under Chip Kelly, were riding a seven-game win streak and were coming off a 47-20 thumping of No. 4 USC.
  • Key play: Uh, every time Toby Gerhart touched the ball? He rushed for a school record 223 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries.
  • Remember this? It was offense galore as the teams combined for 49 first downs and 1,075 offensive yards.
  • Quotable: "We got beat by a better team," Kelly said. "If you say we got caught looking behind or looking ahead, it takes away from Stanford. Stanford is a heck of a football team."
Oct. 2, 2010
Autzen Stadium

  • Final score: No. 4 Oregon 52, No. 9 Stanford 31
  • The setup: The revenge-minded Ducks blasted their way through the season (including Stanford), in what would be a run to the national title game. This was Oregon’s first game of the season against a ranked team, and the defense had posted two shutouts in its first four games. Stanford was coming off a road win at Notre Dame the week before. This would be the first time the schools met as ranked teams.
  • Key play: Darron Thomas had just scored on a 6-yard rushing touchdown to tie the score at 31 early in the second half. But the momentum swung when Chris Owusu fumbled and Eddie Pleasant returned it 51 yards to the Stanford 3-yard line. LaMichael James scored on the next play, giving Oregon its first lead after trailing 21-3 early.
  • Remember this? With the Cardinal trailing 45-31 late in the game, Cliff Harris intercepted Luck at the Oregon goal line for a touchback. Three plays later, LaMichael James scored on a 76-yard touchdown run.
  • Quotable: "Wasn't our day today,” said Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh.
Nov. 12, 2011
Stanford Stadium

  • Final score: No. 6 Oregon 53, No. 3 Stanford 30
  • The setup: It had been building to this. The Cardinal had essentially trucked every team they played, save a dramatic 56-48 triple-overtime win at USC. Oregon had recovered nicely from its season-opening loss to LSU and had won eight in a row. Luck was the Heisman front-runner and new coach David Shaw had pushed all the right buttons so far. The Cardinal were riding a 17-game home winning streak.
  • Key play: Trailing 29-16, the Cardinal were still in striking distance early in the second half. Stanford had just forced a three-and-out, but on their first play of the ensuing drive, Isaac Remington sacked Luck, forcing a fumble, and Brandon Hanna returned it to the Stanford 12. On fourth-and-2 at the Stanford 4, James delivered a 4-yard touchdown/knockout blow, putting the Ducks ahead 36-16.
  • Remember this? The Cardinal couldn’t keep their feet. Part of it might have had something to do with the slippery James, who rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns. But, per reports, the Cardinal hadn’t cut the grass for four days with the hopes it would slow Oregon. Instead, you had Stanford receivers and defenders who couldn’t keep their feet.
  • Quotable: "We were slipping. They were slipping. I just ran fast," said James.
Nov. 17, 2012
Autzen Stadium

  • Final score: No. 14 Stanford 17, No. 1 Oregon 14 (OT)
  • The setup: The Ducks were rolling with new quarterback Marcus Mariota kid at the helm. They had won 10 straight to start the season and nothing, it appeared, would stand in their way of reaching the BCS title game -- let alone a Stanford team it had beaten twice with Luck. And who was this Kevin Hogan guy, making his first career road start in Eugene? The Cardinal had already dropped games at Washington and at Notre Dame. A third-straight win against Stanford, by another big number, was the probable outcome.
  • Key play: Where do you start? The Jordan Williamson game-winner in overtime? The controversial Zach Ertz touchdown catch? The hustle play by Devon Carrington to bring down Mariota on his 77-yard scramble? Or the missed block by De'Anthony Thomas on Carrington that would have sprung Mariota? (Oregon would fail to score after going for it on fourth-and-2 at the Stanford 7). Take your pick.
  • Remember this? Oregon was riding a 13-game winning streak, the longest in the country. Further, the Ducks had scored at least 42 points in all 13 games.
  • Quotable: "It hurts, and as I told them, you'd like to have some words that would take the pain out of it, but there aren't," said Kelly. "We'll feel bad for a little bit of time and we'll bounce back from it."
Nov. 7, 2013
Stanford Stadium

  • Final score: No. 6 Stanford 26, No. 2 Oregon 20
  • The setup: For the second-straight year, Oregon was undefeated heading into the Stanford game. And again, the Ducks were putting up big numbers under new coach Mark Helfrich, having scored at least 50 in six of their first eight games. Stanford’s lone smudge was a loss to Utah in Salt Lake City. National championship hopes were high for both teams. Little did we know, however, that a week earlier in a win against UCLA, Mariota had injured his knee. His lack of mobility would be a major talking point after this game.
  • Key play: On Oregon’s second possession, the Ducks were turned away on fourth-and-goal at the Stanford 4 when Mariota missed Bralon Addison. Early, yes, but Stanford then marched 96 yards on 12 plays, eating up 5:59 and capping the drive with a 2-yard Tyler Gaffney touchdown. He carried the ball nine times on that drive, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.
  • Remember this: Much like Gerhart in 2009, Gaffney was the workhorse this time around, carrying a school-record 45 times for 157 yards and a touchdown. Though he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, he earned every one of them.
  • Quotable: "We rode him like Secretariat," said Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren.
Week 9 featured the first completely full Pac-12 slate in quite some time, and Week 10 boasts the same loaded docket of action. In fact, at least on paper, Week 10 is our best Saturday yet: Stanford-Oregon, Arizona-UCLA, and Utah-Arizona State all come on the same day. Whereas the past weekend brought a (small) dose of clarity, this next one should help sort out the league race to a greater extent. In fact, if UCLA finds a way to beat Arizona at the Rose Bowl, both the Pac-12 North and the South will have clear-cut leaders by the end of Saturday. But that's a huge "if" -- and that'd be a lot to ask out of the inherently Wild West. So don't worry about that yet. Just sit back and enjoy next Saturday's six-course meal. Here's the menu.

The bread basket: Washington at Colorado

Mike MacIntyre is still looking for that critical, confidence-building upset win in conference play. Victory against heavily-favored UCLA this past Saturday would have been a true milestone for his team, but the Buffs fell 40-37 in double overtime. Still, there were moral victories in Boulder: Colorado out-gained the Bruins in regulation, stayed close despite losing the turnover battle, and erased 17-0 and 31-14 deficits to force the extra frame. The Buffs just ran out of gas near the finish line. But they may be smelling blood with their next chance, as wounded Washington is coming to altitude. The Huskies have dipped below five yards per play offensively on the season (worst in the Pac-12) after a 24-10 home loss to Arizona State. If Colorado is going to win a conference game in 2014, this looks like their best chance.

The appetizer: USC at Washington State

There's been a close-but-no-cigar vibe at both schools this season, so perhaps it's fitting that both the Trojans and Cougars enter this game coming off losses. But while USC's 24-21 setback at Utah came in the final seconds, Washington State never had a realistic shot of winning in its 59-37 home loss to Arizona. Though Connor Halliday passed for 489 more yards (yes, that continues his NCAA record pace), the Cougars couldn't find their offensive footing until the second quarter, and they already trailed 31-0 at that point. So, Mike Leach's 2-6 club now must win out to just to reach bowl eligibility. Maybe their pass rush will find some room to work against a Trojan offensive line that'll be without starting left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but it's really hard to see this Wazzu defense dealing with USC's bevy of athletes over 60 full minutes.

Entree no. 1: Stanford at Oregon

A week ago, the Big One had lost much of its luster. That's what happens when one of its participants can't score. But Stanford's radical offensive adjustments (gasp, no huddle!) made for a dominant 38-14 win over Oregon State, and that re-infused the Pac-12's great war of the past half decade with some real buzz. The Ducks, meanwhile, did what we expected them to do in their 59-41 Levi's Stadium waltz over Cal. We'll keep a close eye on the status of Stanford defensive tackle David Parry (leg) this week, as he may be the determining factor when it comes to the extent of Oregon's rushing success. That variable plays right into the main event, a showdown between nation's best defense (Stanford's at 3.7 yards per play) and its best quarterback (look at that 24:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio for Marcus Mariota). Don't forget the flip side: The Cardinal's attempt to sustain offensive success may be the hinge point here.

Entree no. 2: Arizona at UCLA

It's tempting to write the Bruins off following yet another uninspiring performance. Brett Hundley's unit stalled with big leads in Boulder, and the defense surrendered 500 total yards to Colorado. But UCLA has found a way to survive and advance the past two weeks, so they're still very much in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title -- at least mathematically. There's no margin for error, though, and Arizona will test the numerous cracks in the Bruins' armor to no end. Aside from being unstoppable offensively in the Palouse, the Wildcats continued to receive critical defensive contributions from Scooby Wright III. He forced a remarkable three fumbles in that game (five now this season, no Arizona player has forced more since 1973), and we can see more of the same Saturday against turnover-prone UCLA. Wright (78 tackles) trails only the Bruins' Eric Kendricks (93 stops) in the Pac-12 tackle category, so the two conference leaders square off at the Rose Bowl.

A cold beverage on the side: Cal at Oregon State

This game may slip by the wayside while the other three with Pac-12 title implications rage on, but there's a high chance of solid entertainment value here. The Beavers' Sean Mannion needs just 194 passing yards to break Matt Barkley's career Pac-12 record, so he'll almost certainly eclipse that against Cal's porous defense at home. The Bears, meanwhile, continue to impress with their explosive capabilities on offense. Jared Goff is only a sophomore, but he's already looking like a player who can break Mannion's future passing record just two years from now. Oregon State's defense may have lost much of its early season confidence in this past weekend's thrashing at Stanford, and that's never good news before a gunslinger like Goff comes to visit.

Delicious dessert: Utah at Arizona State

It's nearly impossible to pick one Pac-12 game this weekend that has the biggest College Football Playoff implications, but this sucker holds that distinction, simply because it's the only contest in which both teams still have a realistic shot of qualifying amidst the madness at season's end. A week after Utah pushed USC aside, this a pivotal battle for South supremacy. The Utes are on cloud nine after their defining win, one that earned them bowl eligibility while simultaneously answering the massive question at quarterback (when push came to shove, Travis Wilson was the determinant). But the road only becomes more treacherous for Utah (Oregon and Stanford loom after this), and ASU is an opponent that's truly coming into its own. It's tough to judge the Sun Devils' offensive progress since Taylor Kelly was shaking off rust in Seattle's howling winds, but it's clear that Todd Graham's squad is building considerable confidence -- particularly on the defensive side of the ball. ASU must show their best performance against the run of the season to win on Saturday, because Utah's Devontae Booker has been consistently productive, even when the Utes have struggled to pass.

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