Pac-12: USC Trojans

Injuries, implosion muddle South picture

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Wait. That's been used before. But, with apologies to Dickens, it fits. The Pac-12 weekend was a tale of one division, two teams, two cities, two quarterbacks, and it was a day of thrills and it was a day of misery.

The plot certainly thickened in the Pac-12's South Division on Saturday, but not necessarily in a good way.

A week after posting a gritty upset at Stanford, USC was humiliated at Boston College, while UCLA cobbled together a win over Texas behind scrappy, ebullient backup QB Jerry Neuheisel. Neuheisel's services were required because Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury. His status remains uncertain, though there was reasonable hope based on initial reports that his injury wasn't serious.

[+] EnlargeAntwaun Woods
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesUSC's shocking loss to Boston College underscored the vulnerability within the Pac-12 South division.
Our second city is Tempe, Arizona, where UCLA will be on Thursday, Sept. 25, squaring off with defending South Division champion Arizona State, which beat Colorado on Saturday but also lost its star senior quarterback, Taylor Kelly, who beat out Hundley for second-team All-Pac-12 last year. Seeing Kelly on crutches due to a foot injury -- and his body language -- probably won't fuel great expectations that he will be ready for the Bruins.

The UCLA-Arizona State game was one we eyeballed in the preseason as a major measuring stick in the battle for the South. A significant part of the appeal was the quarterback battle. That hasn't changed, only now the intrigue is whether it will be Neuheisel for UCLA and Mike Bercovici for Arizona State. A week ago, that quarterback news would have heavily favored the Sun Devils. While Bercovici isn't the runner Kelly is, he's got one of the best arms in the conference and is well-versed in the Sun Devils offense. He is expected to win the starting job as a fifth-year senior next fall. Neuheisel was widely viewed as a career backup with a well-known father -- former UCLA QB and coach Rick Neuheisel -- but his second-half performance against the Longhorns suggested he can be more than a rudimentary game manager.

Both teams have an off week, when they can either get healthy or retool their plans. The stakes continue to be high, perhaps more so after USC threw up on itself with a wet-noodle performance at Boston College. While a nonconference game doesn't affect the Trojans' Pac-12 standing, it certainly made them look extremely vulnerable heading into a much-needed bye week. Other than USC fans, the most miserable folks watching that game surely root for Stanford, which probably can't believe it lost to the Trojans just a week before.

What this implosion and these injuries reveal in a wider sense is vulnerability in the South. In the preseason, UCLA looked like a decisive South favorite. Then USC made a statement with a win over the Cardinal. Arizona State was lurking with a great offense and a questionable defense. At this point, however, none of these three teams is scaring anyone. And don't look now, but Arizona and Utah remain unbeaten and have shown flashes that suggest they might be factors in a divisional race that previously seemed limited to the aforementioned troika.

The Wildcats play host to California on Saturday. Lo and behold, the Bears also are unbeaten, and this game suddenly possesses some potential meaning it didn't seem to have in the preseason. If Cal gets the upset, it can fully erase last season's misery and start thinking bowl game. If Arizona gets the win, it will be 4-0 and eyeballing the Top 25 with a visit to No. 2 Oregon looming on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Arizona appears suspect on defense, but the offense, with impressive redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon, a good O-line, deep corps of receivers and breakout freshman running back Nick Wilson, will make the Wildcats a threat to any foe.

Utah visits Michigan on Saturday. While the Wolverines don't look like they'll be hailing in much victory this season, a Utes win would certainly raise more than a few eyebrows. While Utah's trouble hasn't been in nonconference games since joining the Pac-12, a 3-0 start would hint they are not a South afterthought, particularly if the offense continues to shine with QB Travis Wilson.

While Oregon's win over Michigan State coupled with Stanford's loss to USC only boosted the Ducks' status as North Division favorites, the South intrigue has seemingly spiderwebbed since the beginning of the season. The race appears more wide open and complicated. UCLA's visit to Arizona State remains a major measuring stick, but it's just as likely either team would sacrifice that game -- as horrible as that sounds -- to know it will get its starting quarterback back healthy for the rest of the season.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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Wyoming at No. 2 Oregon
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.

Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.

Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.

No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #USCvsBC

USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.

Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.

No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).

No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #ASUvsCOLO

The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.

Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."

Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah

Pac-12 Week 3 predictions

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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Why Washington will win: Pointing out that Illinois trailed in the second half in wins against FCS Youngstown State and Western Kentucky usually would be reason enough to pick Washington.

However, because the Huskies also played close games with a lower-level FBS team [Hawaii] and an FCS team [Eastern Washington], the first point is somewhat negated. Now that coach Chris Petersen has two games to evaluate his personnel, there's reason to believe Washington -- playing at home -- will take a step forward. -- Kevin Gemmell







Why USC will win: Is anyone really expecting the Trojans to follow up a win at Stanford with a loss to Boston College? After coasting in Week 1, the Trojans took a punch in Week 2, counter-punched and are now a top 10 team. Leonard Williams is getting healthier (bad news, Golden Eagles), and Buck Allen has climbed into early-season Heisman conversations. The Trojans will simply overwhelm BC with their athletes. -- Gemmell



Why UCLA will win: The Bruins have shown they can win a game with defense (that was Week 1). They’ve shown they can win a game with offense (that was Week 2). With a little bit of the pressure off the Bruins, who have slid down to No. 12 and don’t seem to have as much fanfare as in the preseason, Jim Mora said he expects a looser UCLA outfit. A complete game on both sides of the ball would be a good start. Against an ailing Texas team, that doesn’t seem like that far of a stretch. -- Gemmell



Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils’ impressive offensive display over the first two weeks has done nothing to dispel coach Todd Graham’s preseason proclamation that this would be his best offensive team yet. The lack of quality competition makes ASU still a bit of an unknown, but there should be no problems against Colorado, which still has some ground to make up before it can expect to beat other Pac-12 teams. -- Ted Miller



Why Arizona will win: Arizona doesn't have Brock Hekking and his beautiful, beautiful mullet, but at the end of the day, an '80s hair icon doesn't win a football game. A team does, and Arizona is going to win this one behind big performances from quarterback Anu Solomon, as he gets quite a few of his receivers involved, and running back Nick Wilson, who'll pick up another 100-yard game.

But let me make it clear: Nevada does win the '80s dance party following the game. Sorry, Wildcats. -- Chantel Jennings

Pac-12 morning links

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
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There he goes. One of God's own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

Leading off

Remember all that chatter in August about how good the quarterbacks were in the Pac-12? Well, it was also in July, and June ... pretty much since last season ended. The quarterbacks driving this quarterback-driven league certainly deserve their spotlight. But lest we forget, there are some guys who can also do some damage on the ground.

John Marshall of The Associated Press looks at some of the teams in the conference who are also tearing things up on the ground. Marshall goes into detail on the running games of four teams in the league, including Arizona State:
The Sun Devils also have a pass-first perception that isn't exactly true. Since coach Todd Graham arrived three years ago, his focus has been on establishing a strong running game to set up the pass. The Sun Devils have had success doing just that with a variety of backs. This season, it's D.J. Foster's turn. A high-profile local recruit, he spent his first two seasons playing multiple positions so the Sun Devils could take advantage of his versatility.

Arizona, ASU, Washington, Utah, Oregon and USC are the six teams that are averaging more than 200 yards per game. However, perhaps the most interesting element of this story is who isn't mentioned. And that's Stanford. While the Cardinal have never been the team that put up obscene rushing numbers, they certainly have set the standard over the last few years for power running. And they've produced a 1,000-yard rusher every season since 2008. Bizarre seeing the Cardinal ranked 10th in the conference in rushing offense. But as Marshall points out, it's still early.

Individual hype

Some high praise in a couple of different articles about Pac-12 players Wednesday. First, CBS' Dennis Dodd profiles UCLA's Myles Jack. He cites an NFL scout who calls Jack the best athlete in the Pac-12.

Also, Stanford coach David Shaw joined the NFL's college football podcast and compared wide receiver Ty Montgomery to former first-round pick Irving Fryar.
"This guy needs to touch the ball every single way as humanly possible," Shaw said. "Just because he’s that kind of an athlete. He’s that kind of a dynamic football player. We have to make it hard for defenses to key on him … There is one name some of the younger listeners might not know very well, but I spent a year with Irving Fryar in Philadelphia. You’re talking about compact, physical, explosive. Irving ran a 4.3 coming out of college, coming out of Nebraska, and he would run over somebody and then run around them."
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The smile hasn't changed, eh? Good for you, KP.


Something to keep an eye on in 2015?

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
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video Oregon made the most noise on the field and the recruiting trail this past weekend, posting a win against a top-10 team in front of a number of potential impact recruits in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Elsewhere in the conference, USC made a statement with a big win and UCLA did the same with a big offer.

Early Offer: B1G's losses will hurt 

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
10:23
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Ohio State and Michigan State likely won’t see any effects of their defeat’s this weekend, but two Big Ten recruiting coordinators believe others like Michigan, Purdue and Northwestern could be hurt by the non-conference losses. Plus, USC should be able to gain some momentum against Stanford after beating the Cardinal. We also continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.


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Best of the visits: Pac-12

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
4:07
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[+] EnlargeSeth Green and Taj Griffin
Courtesy of Seth Green's familyThe Ducks had a good showing for 2016 target Seth Green and Oregon commit Taj Griffin.
When it comes to visit weekends in the Pac-12, Oregon stole the show on Saturday, as no Pac-12 program brought in as many big-time recruits to witness an atmosphere as impactful as the one provided by the Ducks. While part of that was due to the opponent and the buildup surrounding the game, Oregon capitalized on hosting an impressive group of recruits, making a statement with both the 2015 and 2016 classes. Also represented in this look at the best visits of the weekend is Utah's big win against Fresno State and UCLA's closer-than-expected victory over Memphis.

Green visits the green and gold
While Oregon had a number of official visitors from the 2015 class, the Ducks also hosted 2016 ESPN 300 quarterback Seth Green on an unofficial visit. Green was able to take a photo of himself with Taj Griffin, an Oregon running back commit and ESPN 300 recruit. Green also tweeted, "Where great teams go to die" #WTD, a reference to a story written in the Michigan Daily in 2003, after No. 3 Michigan visited Autzen Stadium and lost to the Ducks.

Locked in to Oregon

The Ducks hosted ESPN 300 defensive backs Marvell Tell and Micah Abernathy over the weekend, and likely received some significant help in recruiting them from committed safety P.J. Locke. In fact, the Ducks had at least three committed recruits on campus for official visits this weekend, as Locke and offensive lineman Brady Aiello (pictured in Locke's tweet, below) were joined by offensive tackle Calvin Throckmorton.
Utes host big in-state target

It's always a positive thing when a significant in-state target spends a Saturday on campus, so Utah coaches had to be happy that mammoth offensive tackle prospect Brandon Bowen took in the Utes' thrashing of Fresno State. Bowen holds offers from several Pac-12 programs, including Colorado, Oregon State and Washington State, but Utah appears to be in solid position.
Bisharat sees slugfest

While wide receivers love watching wide open offenses, it's likely that a 6-foot-2, 200-pound running back, such as 2016 recruit Beau Bisharat, enjoyed what he saw from Stanford and USC on Saturday, as running games took center stage in a low-scoring affair. Bisharat, who holds early Pac-12 offers from Cal, Colorado and Washington State, tweeted a photo of his view of the game.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, who dropped a heartbreaker, 13-10, Bisharat followed that tweet later in the day by retweeting USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward, who took a picture of the scoreboard following the game.

Martin sees more than just a game

For 2016 ESPN 300 offensive lineman Frank Martin, Saturday night didn't just result in the memories of an entertaining game between UCLA and Memphis. The big tackle and No. 166 overall prospect also finished the night by earning his 10th offer, this one coming from the Bruins.
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STANFORD, Calif. — USC coach Steve Sarkisian has a firm set of expectations when he coaches against Stanford.

“They don’t give you much,” he said. “You have to earn everything you get in all three phases.”

He certainly wasn’t expecting a smooth trip to Stanford Stadium, where the No. 14 Cardinal carried a nation-best 17-game home winning streak into Saturday's Pac-12 opener. Sarkisian has coached against the Cardinal enough in the past several years to understand a trip here is never easy.

The fact that the Trojans needed to overcome sloppy play, 10 penalties and the ejection of All-Pac-12 linebacker Hayes Pullard to win 13-10 actually fit what Sarkisian thought was a more plausible script.

“We had a feeling as a team that this game was going to be this type of game,” he said. “We just kept talking about continuing to fight through it and continuing to fight on and keep playing and keep playing through the adversity, which we were anticipating.”

Ultimately, two plays made the difference.

The first was a career-long, 53-yard field goal from Andre Heidari to put USC ahead by three with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. The second was a blind-side sack and forced fumble from linebacker J.R. Tavai in the final minute that returned the ball to USC and sealed the victory.

There will be a lot to get cleaned up, but in his first big test as coach at USC, Sarkisian couldn’t have been happier with a passing grade.

Stanford, on the other hand, is left wondering what went wrong. For long stretches, the Cardinal looked like the vastly superior team. It moved the ball effectively -- both through the air and on the ground -- and was physical on defense but simply failed to capitalize on the opportunities it created.

On each of its nine drives in the game, the Cardinal advanced to at least the USC 32-yard line but lost effectiveness the deeper it drove.

[+] EnlargeJustin Davis
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJustin Davis' first-quarter touchdown run was USC's only TD of the game, but it was enough to emerge with a huge victory at Stanford.
Kicker Jordan Williamson, who became the school’s all-time leading scorer last week, missed field goals of 49 and 26 yards. On what could have been two other field-goal attempts -- from 46 and 49 yards into a stiff wind on the other side of the field -- Stanford elected to punt.

“Against a team that is not really moving the ball a whole bunch on us, why take the chance [and kick]?” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “You want your defense to stand up and keep the field position. I'm going to keep making those calls. I feel great about our defense.”

That mentality factored into his decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the USC 3-yard line late in the third quarter -- only to see freshman fullback Daniel Marx come up short.

“The problem in the red zone right now is me,” Shaw said. “I've got to get back to work and make sure we're doing things that our guys can do [and] put them in positions to be successful.

“It's not about being a genius, it's not about orchestrating all kinds of other things; it's about going down there and executing our plays," Shaw added. "We had opportunities. We didn't take advantage of them. When we had a guy open, we had a protection issue. When we had the protection, we didn't get the guy open.”

The bottom line is USC made the plays when it mattered. Stanford did not.

What that means moving forward is irrelevant, but the Trojans have to like where they sit. With a favorable schedule coming up -- the Trojans have Arizona State at home and miss Oregon -- USC is currently projected by the ESPN Football Power Index to have a 10-0 record headed into its game with UCLA on Nov. 22.

“What Coach Sark has done for this team -- got these guys believing not only in him, but each other, everybody involved in the Trojan family -- is unbelievable,” USC quarterback Cody Kessler said. “I’m so happy to be a part of it.”

Stanford faces an uphill battle to claim its third consecutive Pac-12 title but needs to look only to last year to realize it’s possible. The Cardinal emerged from the Pac-12 North a two-loss team a year ago -- with one of those losses to USC -- before they won the conference title game and advanced to the Rose Bowl.
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STANFORD, Calif. -- It’s not surprising that frustration was the main point of discussion after No. 14 USC beat 13th-ranked Stanford 13-10 in a constipated slog Saturday afternoon at Stanford Stadium. The surprise, though, was who was standing on the USC sideline voicing that frustration.

Trojans athletic director Pat Haden was summoned to the sideline late in the third quarter, after head coach Steve Sarkisian decided his annoyance with the officiating crew was going to get him kicked out of the game or perhaps render him incapable of coaching his team while expressing the true breadth of his displeasure.

Sarkisian’s solution was to summon Haden to the sideline from his luxury suite -- “mid-hot dog,” Haden joked -- to do the arguing on Sarkisian's behalf. The sight of Haden, a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee, stalking the sideline in his gold pants added yet another bizarre episode to the ongoing saga of USC football.

USC had issues with the officiating for much of the game, but Sarkisian’s frustration apparently got the best of him after a delay of game penalty following Andre Heidari’s 25-yard field goal with just under a minute left in the third quarter. The penalty was called because Sarkisian was standing too close to the field when the ball was snapped. Sarkisian was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing that call, and the 15 additional yards moved the kickoff back to the 10-yard line.

At that point, Sarkisian says he feared getting a second unsportsmanlike call, which comes with an ejection, so he asked someone on the sidelines to summon Haden. According to Haden, someone in the USC compliance department texted him from the sideline -- a low-level NCAA infraction -- and informed him of Sarkisian’s wishes.

"Obviously, I had gotten an unsportsmanlike penalty, and I was incorrect," Sarkisian said. "You can’t be in the white at any time, and I was in the white on the field goal. At the time I vehemently disagreed with the call, but by the letter of the law, I was incorrect.

"I didn’t feel like I was in a position to continue to discuss that with the officiating crew. I felt like I was better off having Pat get in between and make sure everybody knew what was going on. I was in a frame of mind, I was in a competitive mode, and I just felt like it was the right thing to do."

Haden stood the rest of the game inside the players’ box on the USC sideline, frequently no more than a few feet from Sarkisian. Despite being photographed and filmed speaking with the officials in an animated fashion, Haden categorically denied he was arguing.

"By the time I got there, it had all been worked out," Haden said. "I was just an innocent bystander. There was a funny flow to the game. Just funny."

Asked if he felt he had overstepped his bounds as AD by arguing with officials from the sideline, Haden said, “I wasn’t arguing with the officials. Officials and athletic directors can disagree, and I’m usually wrong. … I’ve never been asked to go down [to the sideline], so when I was asked, I went down. Whatever penalty was called, they’d hashed it out and Sark said, 'I was wrong.'"

The unsportsmanlike call on Sarkisian was followed in quick order by a helmet-to-helmet late hit called on USC linebacker Hayes Pullard, whose ejection was upheld after review.

On the sideline, Haden told ESPN’s Heather Cox, "I got a text to come down because Sark wanted to talk to me. He felt the call on him was unfair, and the referee explained he had warned him, and that’s why he got the penalty, but it’s been a really frustrating quarter with the penalties, believe me. We got the right answer, we can move on and have a good fourth quarter."

Asked after the game if he was concerned about the appearance created by a member of the selection committee on the field engaging the officials, Haden shook his head and said, "I’m the athletic director of my team as well."

Video: USC coach Steve Sarkisian

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
7:10
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video 

USC coach Steve Sarkisian talks about the importance of his team's defense following the 14th-ranked Trojans' 13-10 win over No. 13 Stanford on Saturday.
On a chalkboard, the base offenses of Stanford and USC probably look very similar. Both derive from pro-style philosophies and principles. But if games were played only on a chalkboard, you’d have no idea just how different they really are in application.

When the No. 14 Trojans head to No. 13 Stanford on Saturday for the Pac-12 opener for both teams, the game will feature USC’s up-tempo attack versus Stanford’s methodical ground-and-pound approach.

Think of it as pro-style versus pronto-style.

Last Saturday in Steve Sarkisian’s debut as USC's head coach, the Trojans ran a conference-record 105 plays in a 52-13 pasting of the Fresno State Bulldogs. Leading the charge for the Trojans was quarterback Cody Kessler, who completed 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a fifth score as the Trojans amassed 701 yards of offense -- their most in a game since 2005.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
Juan Lainez/Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesCody Kessler will try to keep the USC offense humming at Stanford.
“They were what you want to start the season with,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “They were efficient and explosive. Sometimes you get one without the other, but they were both. Cody played well. It’s obvious he’s got some weapons. Like us, they turned the ball over too many times and had some first game issues. But when you watch them play, they can go up-tempo, they have great personnel, they’re big on the offensive line. They are tough to crack and get after the quarterback like we like to because they are big up front. It was an impressive thing to watch.”

Impressive indeed. But duplicating that kind of success will be a chore against the Cardinal. Known for its stout defense and ability to keep offenses sidelined (it held Oregon to just 58 plays last season), Stanford will try to play the ball-control game. Shaw & Co. have their own idea of tempo. And it’s speeding up the game by slowing it down.

“They are a lot more multiple than people give them credit for,” Sarkisian said of Stanford’s offense. “Everyone wants to focus on when they go to their big package and bring in the [extra] offensive linemen. But they do stuff out of the traditional pro-style. They do stuff out of two-tight-end sets. They do stuff out of three-wide-receiver sets. They give you a lot of different looks, and they execute their stuff really well.”

It's also worth noting that Washington integrated this scheme USC deploys last year, when Sarkisian was the coach there. And the Huskies totaled 489 yards of offense in a 31-28 loss to the Cardinal in Palo Alto.

"Tempo" is a word you’re probably going to hear a lot on the telecast and read a lot following the game. Because whoever establishes tempo is, in essence, dictating the flow of the game. And for as much credit as USC’s offense deserves in the first week, Shaw said it’s the USC defense that deserves as much of the praise.

“If you don’t stay on the field on offense, they are going to run a ton of plays,” Shaw said. “For me, that’s not a function of tempo, that’s a function of playing good defense and getting Fresno State off the field very quickly with a bunch of three-and-outs. Small time of possession, very few plays, and that gives their offense more opportunities with the ball. [USC defensive coordinator] Justin Wilcox is as vital to how many plays they get on offense and how many points they get on offense as what they do on offense. USC is a very good defense. One of the best in the country. And they are going to give that offense a lot of opportunities.”

Last Saturday, the Trojans forced Fresno State into three three-and-out drives and six punts. Stanford forced UC Davis into nine three-and-outs. Offensively, Kessler was the model of efficiency on third down, completing 9 of 10 passes for 111 yards and a pair of touchdowns on third down. Davis was just 1-of-13 on third-down conversions against the Cardinal and didn’t cross midfield until the final play of the game.

And when you throw in the fact that Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is 10-1 in his career against ranked teams and that the Cardinal are riding a 17-game home win streak (including nine straight against ranked teams) and that the series has been a thrill ride of late, you have all the trappings for another fantastic showdown.

“It’s been really, really good football,” Shaw said of recent games with USC. “When both teams have been ranked or one team has been ranked, it doesn’t matter.”
Here's what to watch in the Pac-12 in Week 2.

Which Pac-12 team is facing the most pressure Week 2: Oregon, Stanford or USC?

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: No doubt, all three are facing a lot of pressure. But I’m leaning toward the Trojans simply because their bar has now been set extremely high. Oregon’s game obviously has playoff implications. But if they can’t get through the Pac-12, none of that will matter. Yes, that game is big. No, it won’t help them win the league, which should be priority No. 1. Stanford is the two-time defending champs. You want the crown? Come take it. Enter the Trojans, who have had as rollercoaster of a season so far when you combine what happened on and off the field. The Trojans looked like a top 10 team last week. Can they do it against a defense that is going to punch back?

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: A strong case can be made for each team, but I'll go with Oregon because of what the game means for the conference as a whole. Because it's by far the most high-profile nonconference game involving the Pac-12 this season, Oregon's performance will, by default, be the single-most important game in determining how the conference is perceived nationally. I think we'll see the eventual Pac-12 champion have at least one conference loss and still be a virtual lock for the playoff. If Oregon were to win the conference and have two losses (including Michigan State), that would leave things up to chance.

[+] EnlargeCyler Miles
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonCyler Miles returns for the Huskies after serving a one-game suspension.
Which is the game you’re most interested in watching outside the big two?

Gemmell: Call me crazy, but I’m really looking forward to the Friday night showdown between Washington State and Nevada. Obviously, the Cougs defense needs to get off the mat after giving up 215 yards on the ground. Up next is the underrated yet always dangerous Cody Fajardo, who threw for 303 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 68 and a score. I think WSU’s offense will overwhelm the Pack, but it’s going to be interesting to watch how the Cougs defend Fajardo, seeing as they’ll be facing a few dual-threat quarterbacks this season.

Bonagura: This one was easy for me: Washington versus Eastern Washington. Yes, I realize it's an FCS-FBS game, but this EWU team has the talent to be competitive against most FBS teams. The primary reason for intrigue here is to see how the return of quarterback Cyler Miles affects how the Huskies look on offense. Obviously last week's showing against Hawaii didn't inspire much optimism about the direction of the offense, but all will be forgotten if Miles comes in and has a big game.

Which team is on upset alert?

Gemmell: Everyone needs to be on upset alert at all times -- but especially early in the season as we learn more about teams. With that said, Washington better figure some stuff out. Eastern Washington isn’t your run of the mill FCS team. They are ranked No. 2 in the FCS top 25 and have already played twice (scoring 56 and 41 points in their first two games). Washington’s quarterback play should improve with Cyler Miles at the helm. Washington is clearly the better all-around team with the better athletes. And the hope is that the Week 1 jitters will all be worked out. Because if they aren’t, Eastern Washington is a team that’s had a taste of success against FBS teams and they will pounce.

Bonagura: Last week, Oregon State struggled with FCS Portland State and Hawaii nearly beat Washington. Those results are enough to indicate this week's Hawaii-Oregon State game is a prime upset candidate.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBrett Hundley and the UCLA offense will need to improve on their Week 1 performance.
Which team or player needs to rebound most in Week 2?

Kevin Gemmell: No question in my mind, it’s the UCLA Bruins. Offensively, things went about as bad as possible in Virginia. The makeshift offensive line looked leaky, the wide receivers were dropping balls and the Bruins were anything but efficient. I believe the Bruins are a much better team than they showed. But nationally, critics are starting to backpedal on the preseason praise. The Bruins need to regroup in a big way and start showing they are a team worthy of top 10 status.

Bonagura: Yeah, it's UCLA, no question. For a team that became a trendy pick to make the playoff, last week's win was about as deflating as possible. However, it did allow for an entertaining line of questioning on the sideline from coach Jim Mora that made it into this week's episode of The Drive on the Pac-12 Networks. To offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, Mora said: "Ney Noel, do you guys think you'll ever score?" Then to QB Brett Hundley: "Hey Brett, do you guys plan on scoring today or what?"

Most intriguing matchup (player versus player/player versus position group)?

Gemmell: Looking forward to seeing Oregon State’s red zone offense back in action. Last week against Portland State, the Beavers were just 1-of-9 in touchdown opportunities when they got inside the opponent’s 20. And while they were 6-of-9 overall, Mike Riley knows five field goals (and three missed opportunities) aren’t going to cut it in the Pac-12. Finishing drives has to be an area of emphasis for the Beavers as they head into Week 2.

Bonagura: I wrote about it earlier today, but USC DL Leonard Williams versus Stanford LT Andrus Peat will be the one I'm watching for. It's rare to see potential top-5 picks square off on the line in a college football game -- here's to hoping it happens as many times as possible on Saturday.

Week 2 would be a surprise if ... (fill in the blank)?

Gemmell: ... the league loses more than two nonconference games. I think the Pac-12 has the superior team in every nonconference game. But that doesn’t always mean they’ll win. This league has taught us that there are always a couple of teams that will underperform for one reason or another. On paper, the league should sweep. But we know better. So who is it going to be the team that trips over itself this week? Prove me wrong, Pac-12.

Bonagura: ... Oregon doesn't end Michigan State's streak of 28 consecutive games holding its opponent to 28 points or less. Hard to see that streak continuing against a healthy Marcus Mariota on the field at Autzen Stadium.
The Stanford-USC game has evolved into one of the best rivalries in the conference, if not the country. It seems like every year both teams up the ante on thrills and heartbreak. This year, the Trojans head to Stanford ranked No. 14, while the Cardinal are No. 13.

While this series dates back to 1905 -- and there have been plenty of outstanding games along the way (Jim Plunkett in ’70, the tie in ’79), the series became a different animal starting in 2007 when the 41-point underdog Cardinal shocked USC at home.

Here are snapshots of the ’10-’13 games. Earlier today we looked back at '07 through '09.

Oct. 9, 2010

Stanford Stadium
     
  • Final score: No. 16 Stanford 37, USC 35
  • The setup: After trading blowouts the previous two seasons, the 2010 game kicked off what would be a fantastic string of close finishes.
  • Key play: Stanford’s Nate Whitaker connected on a 30-yard field goal as time expired.
  • Remember this? Whitaker almost wasn’t the hero of this game … but the goat. He had missed an extra point after Stanford went up 34-28 on a touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Doug Baldwin. The Trojans took a 35-34 lead with 1:08 to play. But Luck drove the Cardinal 62 yards in seven plays to set up Whitaker’s game-winner. There was also this (I had to watch at least five times).
  • Quotable: "I knew I had to make it," Whitaker said. "There wasn't too much else going through [my mind] except it was my chance to redeem myself and give the team what it needed."
Oct. 29, 2011
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
  • Final score: No. 4 Stanford 56, No. 20 USC 48 (3OT)
  • The setup: Luck had returned for another season, and the Cardinal were cruising under new head coach David Shaw. The Trojans had been stunned earlier in the year by Arizona State but were still considered a very formidable opponent -- and by far Stanford’s greatest test to date of the season.
  • Key play: With Stanford leading 56-48 in triple overtime, Curtis McNeal was hit at the line of scrimmage by Terrence Stephens. The ball flew forward out of McNeal’s hands and into the end zone, where A.J. Tarpley jumped on it end the game. McNeal's costly fumble overshadowed a phenomenal 20-carry, 145-yard performance with two touchdowns.
  • Remember this? It almost didn’t get to overtime. With the score knotted at 27-27 and 3:51 to play, Nickell Robey intercepted Luck and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown, giving the Trojans a 34-27 lead with 3:08 to play. That also prompted an announcement reminding fans not to rush the field following the game. Stanford players later recalled hearing the announcement and being quite perturbed at the assumption.
  • Quotable: "No excuse, I just fumbled," said McNeal. ”I feel like beating myself up, but I've just got to keep pushing. I'm going to face worse things in life. I just have to keep my head up."
Sept. 15, 2012
Stanford Stadium

     
  • Final score: No. 21 Stanford 21, No. 2 USC 14
  • The set up: The Trojans started the year No. 1, and Matt Barkley had returned for his unfinished business. Having lost three straight to the Cardinal, this was supposed to be the year the Trojans seniors broke the Stanford curse. The Andrew Luck-less Cardinal were expected to take a step back. They didn’t.
  • Key play: Josh Nunes dropped a perfect ball to Zach Ertz, who made one cut and went 37 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, putting Stanford up 21-14 with 10:20 left in the game.
  • Remember this? In the final eight minutes of the first half, there were four interceptions (two from Barkley and two from Nunes), and three of them came on three consecutive plays. Points off of turnovers? Zero.
  • Quotable: "It's not the end of the world," said USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "We'll get back on the plane, go home and we'll get better."
Nov. 16, 2013
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

  • Final score: USC 20, No. 5 Stanford 17
  • The set up: On the heels of Stanford’s 26-20 win over No. 2 Oregon, the Cardinal were in the driver’s seat for a second-straight conference title. USC had faced a tad of turmoil with the firing of Kiffin (his quotable from last season feels more ominous now, doesn’t it?) and rebounded under Ed Orgeron. The Cardinal would eventually win that second-straight conference crown. But only because they got help from Arizona. Not because of what happened in Los Angeles.
  • Key play: USC kicker Andre Heidari connected on a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining to put the Trojans ahead 20-17.
  • Remember this? The Cardinal failed to score on their final six drives -- including a 75-yard drive down to the USC 6-yeard line, where Kevin Hogan was intercepted by Dion Bailey.
  • Quotable: "Obviously there's going to be some decisions made here after we play UCLA,'' Orgeron said. "That's out of my hands.''
Back in 2007 new Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh seemed pretty foolish when, like a bombastic Don Quixote, he trash-talked USC and coach Pete Carroll. For no particular reason, he volunteered to a reporter that Carroll would soon bolt for the NFL. Then, at Pac-10 media day, a smirk flickered across his face when he archly announced that USC "may be the best team in the history of college football."

When challenged about his motives, he unveiled what became a program catchphrase: "We bow to no one at Stanford" -- pretty much saying he didn't give a rat's tookus if he bothered USC, Carroll or anyone else.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Matt SaylesThings started getting testy between Stanford and USC when Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll were at the helm.
Great fun ensued, of course. That first season, Harbaugh and Stanford shocked USC 24-23 as a 41-point underdog behind a backup QB, ending the Trojans' 35-game home winning streak. Any chance that would be viewed historically as college football's version of Halley's Comet was squelched in 2009 when Stanford drubbed USC 55-21, aggressively running up the score in the fourth quarter, including a gratuitous attempt at a 2-point conversion.

"What's your deal?" an irritated Carroll famously asked a smug Harbaugh during a wonderfully ungenial handshake.

Nonetheless, we had no idea what the actual deal would become between USC and Stanford. Early on, Stanford's success appeared to be a curious and anomalous run, a surprising reversal of fortune that briefly thickened the Pac-10 plot but seemed certain to be only temporary. Carroll and Harbaugh would both bolt to the NFL, where their personal rivalry has remained just as spicy. USC's short-term future was burdened with NCAA sanctions. Stanford's future seemed burdened by, well, being Stanford, the most elite academic institution playing FBS football.

When David Shaw, a polished Stanford graduate, ascended from offensive coordinator to replace Harbaugh, few imagined he'd maintain a top-10 program. There was a suspicion that Harbaugh built what he did because he was crazy enough to make it happen. Shaw was way too normal.

Yet here we are, two days away from a renewal of what has become the Pac-12's most meaningful cross-division rivalry. While Stanford-Oregon mostly has decided the Pac-12 champion the past four years, there's been little drama in their actual games, with only the 2012 contest being an actual nail-biter.

Three of the past four USC-Stanford games have been decided essentially on the game's last play, twice by field goals, once in triple-overtime. Average margin of victory in those four games? Five points. National importance? Stanford may have played Florida State in the BCS National Championship last year if not for being upset 20-17 at USC. In 2012, USC was ranked No. 2 in the nation before Stanford exposed the Trojans 21-14, starting a spiral from which former USC coach Lane Kiffin never recovered. QB Andrew Luck became Andrew Luck during thrilling Stanford wins in 2010 and 2011.

Both teams are star-laden NFL pipelines. Stanford, the two-time defending Pac-12 champ, enters this game ranked 13th, just a little annoyed at how Oregon and UCLA have grabbed the biggest preseason headlines in the conference. USC is 14th, a team with fewer than 60 available scholarship players but as gifted with its starting 22 as just about any team in the nation.

Both crushed overmatched foes last weekend and looked impressive in doing so. The Trojans added a wrinkle for this go-round by switching from their long-standing pro-style scheme to an up-tempo offense under new coach Steve Sarkisian, who notes "up-tempo" isn't a transition from a power to a finesse attack, only a means to create more touches for his talented skill players.

If the football part of football wasn't enough, if we needed to introduce some new drama and personalities at loggerheads to liven things up, it's worth noting that Shaw and Sarkisian engaged in a public war of words after last year's Stanford-Washington game. Sarkisian, then the Huskies' coach, accused Stanford of faking injuries in order to slow down his up-tempo offense, going so far as to specifically point a finger at Cardinal defensive line coach Randy Hart. Shaw wasn't happy with the accusation, and he opened that week's Pac-12 coaches teleconference with a lengthy and strongly worded statement.

"I believe it's unprofessional to call out an assistant coach on another team," Shaw said. "It's unprofessional and it's disrespectful. The only D-line coach that I know of that's ever instructed players to fake injury works at the University of Washington."

That would be controversial coach Tosh Lupoi, now working at Alabama, who was suspended in 2010 while at California for instructing players to fake injuries against Oregon. Sark, however, never backed away from his assertions.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillSteve Sarkisian has his hands full with off-the-field drama at USC, but Saturday's game at Stanford is at the forefront of his worries this week.
While it might be fun if Sarkisian and Shaw continued to eyeball each other's throats, that doesn't seem to be the reality. It appears, rather, that they have agreed to disagree and let the issue die. Though they both admit they haven't revisited the conflict in order to make a formal peace, they also pointed out they've spoken amiably multiple times since then -- a couple of times, in fact, within range of reporters -- and they claim to respect and like each other.

"We had a disagreement in the heat of the moment; both of us have moved on," Sarkisian said.

Offered Shaw, "There is no animosity whatsoever."

Still, one suspects there are at least some residual fumes from this squabble, since a few Stanford players also took issue with Sarkisian's accusation.

There is another Shaw on the sidelines of this game, though figuratively: USC CB Josh Shaw, who last week went from heroic to notorious. Coupled with Anthony Brown calling Sarkisian a racist after the running back quit the team -- a charge that has been supported by absolutely no one -- USC was dealing with substantial tumult and unfavorable national headlines last week. It may have been a bit surprising that the Trojans overcame those distractions to efficiently dismantle Fresno State 52-13, setting a Pac-12 record by running 105 plays.

An easy way for Sarkisian to change the narrative around his program and to win over Trojans fans who remain skeptical about his hiring is to beat the Cardinal on Saturday. Winning cures just about everything in college football.

In any event, even without Harbaugh and Carroll sniping at each other, we know the deal between USC and Stanford. It has endured as an annual battle imbued with drama and meaning, with the winner Saturday likely pushing into the top 10 and announcing itself as a Pac-12 and national contender.

And who knows? Maybe the postgame handshake will offer up another memorable exchange.
Last week, your humble #4pac made some bold predictions about the season and how it will play out. One of the predictions was that there would be six teams in the AP Top 25 come season’s end.

Now you’ve seen some Week 1 action and maybe you were impressed, maybe you were disappointed, maybe you were confused (or maybe you were just happy that football was finally back and you didn't care what happened because "it's just Week 1 anyway," right?).

SportsNation

How many Pac-12 teams will be in the AP Top 25 at the end of the season?

  •  
    17%
  •  
    44%
  •  
    32%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,843)

But how much did the Huskies' near loss at Hawaii bother you? Was there too much hype too soon for first-year coach Chris Petersen? Or with Cyler Miles getting the starting QB spot, are you feeling OK the Huskies coming back into the Top 25? What about UCLA’s offense? The Bruins' defense did work, but the offense took a while to get started. Are you reconsidering their spot as a top-10 or Top-25 team? Or was it just a one-half glitch? Maybe Taylor Kelly impressed you like he did the AP, earning a small bump up in the standings.

And it’s not hard to imagine that big moves that could be happening after this weekend. With Michigan State visiting Oregon in a top-10 matchup, a lopsided win or loss could push Oregon higher or move it much lower. We’ve seen that snowball before against a team that has similar characteristics to MSU. And USC-Stanford could have the same effects except that one Pac-12 team’s move up the poll is another Pac-12 team’s move down.

You’ve only seen a small sliver but after seeing each team take the field, we wanted to know your thoughts on how many teams you think will be in the Top 25 at the end of the season.

Just to remind you, here were the Pac-12 teams in the preseason AP Top 25:

3. Oregon
7. UCLA
11. Stanford
15. USC
19. Arizona State
25. Washington

And when the Week 2 votes came out today, here’s how things shook out:

3. Oregon
11. UCLA
13. Stanford
14. USC
17. Arizona State

So, there’s a bit of movement from Week 1 to Week 2. When all is said and done and the bowl games are wrapped up, how many Pac-12 teams will still be standing in the Top 25?

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