Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 14

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

Friday, Nov. 28

12:30 p.m.

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

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

Saturday, Nov. 29

10 a.m.

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

12:30 p.m.

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

1:30 p.m.

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

5 p.m.

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

7:30 p.m.

Washington at Washington State, ESPN: The Cougars played well as they built up a 24-21 lead at ASU last week, but turnovers helped knock the wheels off in the second half. Still, Mike Leach's club smells opportunity here: This Apple Cup is in Pullman, and Washington is a weaker opponent than the Sun Devils. The Huskies' Cyler Miles played efficient football last week; Chris Petersen will ask for more of the same out of his quarterback so that Wazzu's Luke Falk (601 passing yards vs. ASU) stays on the sideline. Falk did turn the ball over last week, though, and the Huskies are known to generate takeaways from time to time (24 this season).

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPN crew scattered throughout the nation.


TUCSON, Ariz. -- Shortly after leading Arizona to a 42-35 win over archrival Arizona State on Friday, a red-letter victory that had the additional reward of earning the Wildcats the Pac-12's South Division championship, coach Rich Rodriguez fielded a question about his team finding a way into the inaugural College Football Playoff.

You could see the wheels in Rodriguez's mind start to rumble. Perhaps a quote from Shakespeare would be appropriate on this day when his scrappy team ended up atop a rugged division -- the SEC West of the West -- few thought it would win back in August? Or maybe some Tennyson would give his charges their due?

[+] EnlargeScooby Wright
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriScooby Wright helped Arizona seal the Pac-12 South title with two sacks on Friday.
Ah, Arizona's playoff possibilities? "There's a chance -- you ever seen the movie 'Dumb and Dumber?'" Rodriguez said.

Yes, the laughing media gathering seemed to indicate, it had. And there is a chance if Arizona bests No. 2 Oregon next Friday in the Pac-12 title game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. The Wildcats, ranked 11th in this week's CFP rankings, almost certainly need some help from teams rated above them, but they already received some of that when UCLA got blown out by Stanford, thereby making the Territorial Cup stakes the South. They'll need the selection committee to be broadminded enough to see a potential 11-2 record against the Wildcats' schedule as being among the best four bodies of work this season -- as in better than what some one-loss teams did. And Arizona also has a bit of a Baylor problem with its weak nonconference slate. But, yes, Lloyd Christmas, we're saying there's a chance.

First things first, though: the Ducks. That game in itself is pretty darn interesting. As much as folks talked about Oregon having a "Stanford problem" after losing to the Cardinal in 2012 and 2013, the Ducks' more recent issue is the Wildcats, who are riding a two-game winning streak in the series and -- oh, by the way -- handed Oregon its lone defeat this season on Oct. 2 -- in a shocked Autzen Stadium, no less.

"Our guys should have a little confidence because we played pretty well against them the last two times," Rodriguez said.

The team that beat No. 13 Arizona State will have a chance against the Ducks. The Wildcats got 178 yards rushing and three touchdowns from true freshman running back Nick Wilson, while redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, questionable before the game with a foot/ankle injury, turned in a poised, mostly efficient performance with a pair of touchdown passes, including a 20-yarder to Samajie Grant that provided the winning margin.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats defense continues to produce timely plays, with All-America candidate Scooby Wright leading an attack that produced seven sacks and two turnovers. Wright rolled up a game-high 13 tackles -- nine solos -- with two sacks and five tackles for a loss. One of those sacks came on the Sun Devils' final possession, one that concluded with a fourth-down stop on the Wildcats 40-yard line, which sent the sold-out crowd into hysterics.

"We were flying around out there like there was no tomorrow," was Wright's assessment.

Last year, Arizona State buried the Wildcats 58-21, which gave Sun Devils coach Todd Graham a 2-0 lead against Rodriguez in the Territorial Cup. It also capped a regular season in which the Sun Devils captured the South Division crown. This was the programs' first meeting as ranked teams since 1986. So there was a lot at stake, both in emotional and tangible terms.

While Rodriguez previously had not been one to drum up the importance of the rivalry, his tune changed a bit afterward.

"You try not to put too much pressure on a rivalry, but let's be honest -- there is," Rodriguez said.

Whatever happens in the Pac-12 title game -- the Ducks figure to be double-digit favorites, even with the Wildcats' win this season -- winning the South by beating Arizona State was a big moment for Rodriguez and the Wildcats, who might end up in the Fiesta Bowl even if they lose to Oregon. The program hasn't reached double-digit wins since 1998, but now there's a sense that the Wildcats and Sun Devils are going to be crossing paths as ranked teams on a fairly regular basis going forward.

At least as long as Rodriguez and Graham are calling the shots.

Said Rodriguez: "We're not there yet but we are on our way."
video In one of the most important Territorial Cups in the history of the rivalry, the Arizona Wildcats held on for a 42-35 home win over Arizona State. With the victory, combined with UCLA's loss to Stanford, the Wildcats win the Pac-12 South Division. Here’s how it all went down in Tucson, Arizona.

How the game was won: With sensational plays on offense and some timely plays on defense. The teams went back and forth and were tied three times, though the Wildcats never trailed. Ultimately, it was Samajie Grant's second touchdown reception of the game -- a 20-yard hookup from Anu Solomon midway through the fourth quarter that extended Arizona's lead to 42-28 -- that was the difference on the scoreboard. Arizona State had one final drive, but the Cats defense stiffened, and ASU never cracked the 40.

Game ball goes to: Two candidates from Arizona. Offensively, you can’t say enough about freshman running back Nick Wilson, who carried 24 times for 178 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, linebacker Scooby Wright continued to show why he's one of the best players in the nation. He tallied a game-high 13 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for a loss.

What it means: The Wildcats are the South Division champions for the first time since conference expansion, it's also Rich Rodriguez's first victory in the Territorial Cup, and, of course, a date with the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara, California, next Friday.

Playoff implication: A win over Oregon and a conference championship would certainly gloss up the résumé of a two-loss team. Conference championship games will play a key role in determining the top four teams for the College Football Playoff -- or so we're told. The Wildcats have a 3-1 record against ranked teams and would be 4-1 with a second victory over the Ducks if they win the conference title.

Best play: There were a few of them. Was it Jaelen Strong laying out on a 50-yard reception? Or his one-handed touchdown catch? Maybe it was the scoop-and-score for each team. Maybe it was Grant's 69-yard touchdown, on which he made several Sun Devils miss on what should have been a 10-yard slant. Any one of Wright's tackles for loss or sacks would qualify. So many good ones to choose from.

What's next: The Wildcats are the only team to beat Oregon this season (the Ducks close the season at Oregon State on Saturday), winning 31-24 at Autzen Stadium back in October. The Sun Devils, last year's South Division champs, await their bowl destination.
How the game was won: Stanford exited "6-5 underachiever" territory and morphed into "we're the two-time defending Pac-12 champion" mode. Maybe playing at the Rose Bowl reminded them of their good offensive twin. David Shaw and Mike Bloomgren assembled a perfect game plan that put quarterback Kevin Hogan's strengths on full display. The Cardinal finally delivered a balanced offensive performance against a Top 25 team (234 pass yards, 202 rush yards), and their defense did its normal stifling job, holding UCLA to a season-worst 3.9 yards per play.

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

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

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

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

Stanford-UCLA: Five things to watch

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
Here are five important questions ahead of Stanford-UCLA.

1. How will Stanford fare minus Ty Montgomery?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Who has the special teams advantage?

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

Stanford's Jordan Williamson has connected on 13-of-19 field goals this season; UCLA's Ka'imi Fairbairn has knocked through 15 of 19. Advantage on paper: Bruins. Advantage on Saturday: We'll see.
Five things to watch in the 2014 edition of the Civil War.

1. How both teams can manage their emotions and this week. There’s always a lot of emotion going into this game. Add to that the importance of what both teams are playing for -- continuing the quest for a berth in the College Football Playoff for Oregon, bowl eligibility for Oregon State. Add in Thanksgiving week, which always throws the schedule off just a little bit and, suffice it to say, this is no normal game despite the fact that everyone involved is going to try and play the “we’re treating this like every other game” card. The truth of the matter is that this isn’t like every other game. Can Oregon finish? Can Oregon State dig deep and reach the postseason? We’ll see.

2. Who’s in at running back? Both teams have a few question marks at running back. Oregon doesn’t know whether sophomore Thomas Tyner will be playing or not. If he doesn’t play then the Ducks will look to a combination of Royce Freeman, Kenny Bassett and Byron Marshall. If Tyner doesn't play, Mark Helfrich would have Marshall tote the ball a bit more, with Bassett picking up any leftover carries from Marshall and Freeman. For the Beavers, it’s still uncertain whether or not Storm Woods will be playing. Terron Ward and Chris Brown are both out for the season so if Woods (who was in a non-contact uniform at practices this week) is out, then the Beavers will be looking at a fourth-string running back. Not exactly what Mike Riley would want against a Ducks rushing defense that has given up just 4.2 yards per rush this season.

3. Can Oregon stay healthy? Win or lose, Oregon will be playing in the Pac-12 championship game next weekend. And if the Ducks beat the Beavers and win the championship, Oregon’s argument for a spot in the College Football Playoff would basically be unbeatable. But in order to beat Oregon State and the Pac-12 South champion, Oregon needs to be healthy. If there are any more injuries along the offensive line or to any of Oregon’s key stars, there might be a bit more space for a TCU, Ohio State or Baylor to sneak into the top four.

4. Big plays. One of the main ways that Oregon State was able to upset Arizona State a few weeks ago were with explosive plays. All four of the Beavers' touchdowns on their scoring drives were on plays of 20 or more yards, including touchdowns of 78, 66 and 67 yards, respectively. The Ducks defense has given up its fair share of big plays this season -- 49 plays of 20 or more yards and 179 plays of 10 or more yards -- so the Ducks need to keep Oregon State in front of them. But the Beavers are in the exact same boat. Like the Ducks, Oregon State has given up 49 plays of 20 or more yards, but it has only given up 157 plays of 10 or more yards.

5. Be thankful for these quarterbacks. Hey, the game is just two days after Thanksgiving so let’s still be thankful. But really, how many rivalries across the country have been able to have this kind of QB play and these type of players start in their programs for several consecutive years? The Ducks and Beavers fanbases should be grateful that Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota have been the leaders of these teams the last few seasons, and there’s no reason why both fanbases can’t share in a bit of gratitude for these two players on Saturday. There are definitely other players on both sides of the rivalry who deserve credit and recognition, but few players have handled the attention and pressure of their programs with the grace that these two have.
Happy Thanksgiving, Pac-12 blog readers. Thanks for hanging with us this season and stay along for the ride as we close out this crazy, crazy year in Pac-12 football.

This will be the only post of the day. So don't get back online. Don't check your phone for anything else coming from us. Go spend some time with friends and family. Go take some time to be thankful. Go eat some food and drink some drink.

We'll be back to it tomorrow and on the road this weekend, covering the final weekend of the regular season. Not sure where the year has gone, but boy are we thankful there has been so much to write about and so many of you who care to read.

Happy Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving is a special night. Jimmy Walker used to say dy-no-mite, that's right.

To the notes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 14

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
Here is another random accounting of stats related to the Pac-12.

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

Past weeks
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Week 9
Week 10
Week 11
Week 12

#4Pac: What I'm thankful for in the Pac-12

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
Jaelen StrongRic Tapia/Icon SportswireArizona State receiver Jaelen Strong catches a Hail Mary to beat USC on Oct. 4.

Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we're asking what each Pac-12 reporter is most thankful for from this Pac-12 season.

David Lombardi/@LombardiESPN:

I'm most thankful for never knowing what's going to happen next. College football is notoriously unpredictable, but the 2014 Pac-12 has taken this volatility to the next level, before proceeding to pour gasoline all over it. Every Saturday, Larry Scott lights the match.

First came the Hail Mary epidemic. I'm pretty sure that Pac-12 football viewers will never look at that prayer of a play in the same way again. Furious comebacks, iced kickers, confused officials, epic quarterback performances, mind-numbingly painful turnovers followed by 100-yard fumble returns, and just a whole bunch of general nonsense came next. This season, Pac-12 road teams are a combined 29-20 in conference games. That puts at least some kind of statistical value on the eccentricity that we're dealing with here. With a crazy closing weekend and a title game still ahead, the unpredictability isn't over yet. That's a rush, and I'm thankful for that.

Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings:

Ted and I answered this question in the #6pac last week and I think I'll stick to my original answer. I'm so thankful for back-up quarterbacks. Can you imagine how different this season would be if the conference didn't have this kind of depth at quarterback? What if UCLA hadn't had Jerry Neuheisel to turn to when Brett Hundley went down at Texas? What if Mike Bercovici hadn't been the Sun Devils' star in late September and early October? How fun has it been to watch Luke Falk emerge at Washington State, and how much excitement has his presence brought to that fan base after losing Connor Halliday in such a disappointing manner?

At this point, would it be so crazy to imagine that whomever steps in for Anu Solomon on Saturday could lead the Wildcats to victory? Coming into this season we lauded the Pac-12 for being the conference of quarterbacks. Now, with one week left in the regular season, I don't think any college football fan across the country can deny this league's depth.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell:

I'm most thankful to be covering the most exciting conference in college football. It's chaotic, it's mind-bending and it makes about as much sense as Thanksgiving in July. But it's hard not to love it.

From the Hail Mary's, to the last-second field goals, to the missed field goals, the Pac-12 has provided amazing theatre in 2014.

The road teams (29-20) will finish with a better record in conference games this season. The Pac-12 leads all conferences in scoring, but expect the postseason All-American teams to be littered with defensive players from the West Coast.

Very little about this league makes sense. Heading into last week's matchups, there had been 34 games involving Pac-12 teams that were decided by a touchdown or less. Last week? Zero. And that included Arizona vs. Utah, two teams that had played in more tight games than all but one team in the country.

This league never lacks in the surprise department. And as a writer trying to make sense of it all, I'm thankful that sometimes I can't. Rather, I just sit back and savor the chaos.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN:

From a neutral perspective, it's hard to ask for a better season than the Pac-12 has provided this season. So looking through a football lens, I'm thankful the boring moments have been significantly outweighed by the exciting ones. Seasons like this don't come around very often.

In 49 conference games, 22 have been decided by one score, five went to overtime and two were decided on Hail Mary's. Oregon's Marcus Mariota is on his way to becoming the conference's first Heisman winner since Reggie Bush in 2005, Washington State's Connor Halliday broke the FBS single-game passing record and the Pac-12 South delivered a five-team race for the division title. Even the teams on the bottom half of the standings have stayed relevant late into the year.

To this point, there's not much within reason that could have added to the overall intrigue. Here's to a happy, healthy Thanksgiving to everyone in Pac-12 land any beyond.

Hopefully the final stretch matches what has been building since August.


David Shaw loves the Rose Bowl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take 2: Notre Dame vs. USC

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
Notre Dame and USC look to salvage disappointing seasons Saturday at the Coliseum. Both teams have four losses apiece. Both also have young teams that return plenty of talent for 2015.

So which team is closer to a national title? Matt Fortuna and Kyle Bonagura debate.

Fortuna: One needs to just look at Notre Dame's starting 22 from this past Saturday to see what the near-term future could possibly hold for this program: Seventeen of those players have eligibility remaining for next season. That does not include Sheldon Day and Joe Schmidt, two of the Irish's top front-seven players, who were sidelined with injuries. That also does not include end Ishaq Williams or corner KeiVarae Russell, both of whom might return next season after serving academic suspensions this fall.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
Harry How/Getty ImagesGoing into his first Notre Dame game as USC's head coach, Steve Sarkisian is trying to get what has been an elusive eighth win.
Of course, Notre Dame's 7-4 record suggests that there is plenty to improve upon, and things are far from rosy right now in South Bend. Still, they are a competent holder away from likely being 9-2. And when they are at full strength, they showed just how close they might really be to an elite team, taking defending national champion Florida State] to the wire in Tallahassee. Bumps were expected this year with a young defense and a new coordinator in Brian VanGorder, and injuries (and costly offensive turnovers) have only made the situation look more dire through this three-game losing streak.

Still, with so much coming back and with so many younger guys being forced into bigger roles now, much will be expected from the unit in 2015 — as will be the case with Everett Golson and the offense, which is bubbling with potential (and, at times, production) but at times cannot help but trip over itself and give the ball away.

Bonagura: It’s actually going to be pretty tough to differentiate between the teams because their stories this season and how they’re positioned for the future are so similar. The one major difference is that USC has been up against a stacked deck because of NCAA sanctions that have limited its scholarships.

The Trojans came into the season with just 65 recruited scholarship players (85 is the maximum) and have not had more than 57 of them available for any game this year. That lack of depth has required first-year coach Steve Sarkisian to give significant playing time to 11 true freshmen, eight of whom have combined for 45 starts. For comparison’s sake, 18 of USC’s 22 listed starters this week have eligibility remaining -- although receiver Nelson Agholor and defensive lineman Leonard Williams are widely expected to leave early for the NFL.

Despite all that, it took a Hail Mary (against Arizona State) and a touchdown pass with eight seconds left (against Utah) to prevent the Trojans from winning the Pac-12 South, which had five of its six teams ranked in the College Football Playoff rankings just last week. There’s no reason to believe this team won’t be a more dangerous threat to compete for the Pac-12 title next year, which would put it in the playoff and national championship mix.

Matt, Sarkisian said this week that the USC-Notre Dame game is arguably the biggest rivalry game in college football. I think that’s a stretch -- and seemed like strange timing, considering the Trojans just lost to UCLA -- but I’m interested how in it’s perceived on the other side. Notre Dame obviously has a lot of rivals, so where does this one stack up?

Fortuna: Well, we all know Michigan is not a Notre Dame rival, right? Just ask Irish fans, who are oh-so-happy to tell you that they no longer need the Wolverines … right after they shell out record-setting ticket prices to see them.

But Michigan became a casualty of the Irish's ACC scheduling agreement because of a clause in the series' contract. And both schools are probably better off for the time being, considering the national scheduling flexibility each now has, and considering the fact that each has no shortage of annual rivalries anyway.

The Wolverines have Ohio State and Michigan State. Notre Dame has Navy, Stanford and, of course, USC, the biggest of them all.

It is hard to think of a rivalry that can compare to this one when you consider all of its unique factors: Non-league, non-regional, brand names. And yet in many ways, these programs are so similar: Rich histories, constant recruiting battles, fake drowning nephews and fake dead girlfriends …

Still, no team gets Notre Dame fans riled up quite the way USC does. They are raised on disliking that team from L.A., more than anyone else. From the Bush Push to Lane Kiffin, there is plenty of hate. And likely an underlying respect: These programs have the most NFL draft picks. They have seven Heisman Trophy winners apiece. They each have 11 claimed national titles.

They are massively successful, and they are certainly in position to be that way again by the time they meet next year in South Bend, Indiana. But what about this year? What do you think is the biggest carrot the four-loss Trojans are playing for Saturday as they face a fellow four-loss rival?

Bonagura: This is one of those games that shouldn't require much motivation. Even if they played in an empty high school stadium, you get the sense that the game would matter a lot. That said, losses to UCLA and Notre Dame in back-to-back weeks wouldn't be the way to build momentum for the program -- recruiting, fan support, general development, etc. -- at the end of Sarkisian's first season. It's only one game, but 8-4 just has a different vibe than 7-5, and the last thing Sarkisian needs is another seven-win season.

There's also the added element of what the game means for the Notre Dame vs. Pac-12 series this season. The Irish got by Stanford on a late touchdown pass, but turned in a poor showing at Arizona State a couple weeks ago, leaving this to serve as a rubber match of sorts. Since 2004, Notre Dame is 18-13 against Pac-12 teams and has won five of the last seven.
LOS ANGELES -- The ascension of UCLA running back Paul Perkins to becoming the Pac-12's leading rusher didn't come from a late surge or a couple of otherworldly, 300-plus-yard rushing games. Much like the way he runs, it's been a solid and consistent effort each week.

"He's not a flashy guy at that position," said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. "He's a grinder. But you look up, and without even noticing, he's got 100 yards rushing and you wonder when that happened."

With one week left to play, Perkins leads the Pac-12 with 1,265 yards. That's good for 14th nationally. But hot on his trail are Utah running back Devontae Booker (1,255) and USC's Buck Allen (1,244).

[+] EnlargePaul Perkins
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesCan UCLA's Paul Perkins (No. 24) take the title of the Pac-12's regular-season leading rusher?
It was Allen, actually, who led the league in rushing heading into last week's SoCal showdown between the Bruins and Trojans. But Perkins surpassed him with 24 carries for 93 yards, compared to Allen's 14 carries for 60 yards.

Who takes home the honors as the league's regular-season rushing leader is still very much up for grabs. With just 21 yards separating the trio, there is plenty of room to debate how things might play out over the final weekend.

Conventional wisdom says Booker might have the best chance, since he faces Colorado this week and the Buffs allow a league-worst 211.7 rushing yards per game. Colorado is the only team in the conference allowing more than 200 yards on the ground each week. Allen will see a Notre Dame rush defense that ranks 55th nationally, allowing 157.7 yards per game. Perkins might have the toughest trek of the trio. He faces a Stanford squad that leads the conference and is 14th nationally at 112.8 yards per game.

Perkins has only four 100-yard rushing games to his credit -- including a season-high 190-yard effort in a loss to Oregon. However, he's rushed for at least 80 yards in all but one game this season. His 2014 low is a 78-yard performance in a 17-7 win against Arizona.

"Ballin' man, he's ballin'," said quarterback Brett Hundley. "It's great to see someone I grew up with and played with have so much success. He's done a great job for us."

Hundley and Perkins ran track together as kids growing up in Arizona -- though Perkins would rather not line up side by side and race his quarterback these days.

"I don't like running against slow people," Perkins playfully jabbed. "He's a great athlete. But he's definitely not faster."

All joking aside, Perkins wasn't particularly up for talking about himself. Rather, as any good running back does, he praised the offensive line -- a unit that has taken substantial heat during the course of the season.

"Every week, he comes to play," said UCLA coach Jim Mora. "I think he'd be the first to credit his offensive line and his receivers downfield. But he's the one running the ball, and he's doing a nice job of it."

Stanford coach David Shaw also praised UCLA's line play -- as well as its rushing attack as a whole.

"I think it's the dedication to the running game and how physical they are up front," Shaw said. "You have to account for the quarterback as a runner also. As soon as you don't account for the quarterback, he takes off and he rips off a 25-yarder also. The way their run game is put together, the way that they block up front, how physical they are, it makes the entire group tough to stop. And the runner himself, he breaks tackles."

The implications of Friday's season finale are significant. If the Bruins win, they'll lock up the South Division and earn another shot at the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game. If they lose, the winner of the Territorial Cup between Arizona and Arizona State (being played simultaneously, thank you picture-in-picture) will clinch the South.

And chances are if the Bruins can beat Stanford for the first time in the Jim Mora era, it's going to take another steady and consistent performance from Perkins.

"He's amazing, it's ridiculous how good he is," said wide receiver Devin Lucien. "He can slow down defenses and make moves in small spaces like I've never seen before. It's something special. He's going to be a great running back. He already is. He's got a solid future."

Oregon not only Pac-12 team eyeing CFP

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
The first rule of College Football Playoff is you talk about College Football Playoff.

The second rule is you assume nothing. Well, that's completely wrong. The entire -- and endless! -- discussion involves projecting ahead, making assumptions about teams winning here or winning there.

So that's what we're going to do here.

As is quantified here by the inimitable Sharon Katz of ESPN's Stats & Information, UCLA is squarely in the playoff hunt, even as a two-loss team trying to eclipse one-loss teams, such as TCU, Baylor, Ohio State and Mississippi State.

She notes: "If UCLA were to beat Stanford and Oregon, the average current FPI ranking of UCLA’s 11 wins would be 33, the best in the nation." Then she concludes, with a question: "[If UCLA were to win out,] could the committee really leave a two-loss Pac-12 champion, with the hardest schedule in the nation, out of the playoff?"

The answer is no.

UCLA as the 11-2 Pac-12 champion will be in the playoff, and there's nothing any other bubble teams can do about it. There are two reasons -- the most important reasons, ones we've seen bandied about incessantly in regards to the selection committee: 1) merit, 2) best four teams. The Bruins would have earned a spot based on a demonstrably superior résumé, including a victory over the Ducks which would function as an eraser for one of their two defeats. And the Bruins would pass the sight test as one of the four best teams by posting the most distinguished win of 2014 on the last day of the season (over No. 2 Oregon).

I already hear the whining out there. Hush. There is no counterargument that is valid. You have lost out to the cruel mistresses of facts and logic. So we are not going to waste time with folks who insist on fighting a losing fight only because of the colors they wear on Saturday.

The more spicy issue is the Territorial Cup. Say UCLA loses to Stanford, and the winner of No. 13 Arizona State at No. 11 Arizona on Friday becomes the Pac-12 South Division champions. That's where things get interesting.

That is this week's only matchup of top-13 teams, meaning the winner can post the weekend's most meaningful victory. In the scenario with UCLA losing, that also means the winner could post the final weekend's most meaningful victory -- again, over No. 2 Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. Consecutive weekends of meaningfulness! The selection committee surely will imbibe that like a 22-year-old single malt.

Arizona's strength of record currently rates 11th and Arizona State's is 13th. Those two ratings would skyrocket, while other teams vying for a top-four spot would slide.

But how could the Wildcats/Sun Devils make up so much ground? Well, we've seen teams gain incredible traction in human polls with a run of wins that seemed impressive at the time. Mississippi State went from unranked to No. 1 after beating LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. Of that troika, Auburn, at No. 15, is the committee's only presently ranked team, and Texas A&M and LSU play on Thanksgiving Day hoping to avoid a fifth defeat.

So clear-thinking folks, which we are sure committee members are, would see the Wildcats/Sun Devils as worthy of a rapid climb based on veritably impressive wins validated by a season's worth of work. Conversely, in the 20/20 vision of retrospect, the Bulldogs' rise would be a fun, if temporary, illusion worthy of nostalgia -- "I remember when our Bulldogs beat No. 2 Auburn!" -- but certainly not justifying a playoff spot.

What about other teams trying to insinuate themselves into the playoff? Unless Auburn upsets Alabama, Mississippi State's only remaining game is against flagging, No. 19 Ole Miss. TCU has Texas and Iowa State, a pair of unranked teams. Ohio State has its rivalry game with Michigan and then a matchup with either No. 18 Minnesota or No. 14 Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Baylor has Texas Tech and No. 12 Kansas State on Dec. 6, a matchup that could significantly bolster the Bears' case.

Ah, but Baylor has its pastry-soft nonconference schedule holding it back. If it comes down the the Bears and, say, Arizona, then the Pac-12 team is surely ... er... what? The Wildcats played UNLV, UTSA and Nevada in its nonconference schedule? Well, cut off my legs and call me shorty, that's not a very Pac-12 thing to do.

It's fortunate that Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne has a great sense of humor. He'd surely be amused -- just like the folks at Baylor -- if the committee cited that weak slate as the reason the Wildcats got left at the altar.

In any event, this is probably all idle speculation. A few more major plot twists are nearly certain. Based on history, at least a couple of the teams in the top-eight fighting for positioning are going to go rear-end-over-tea-kettle, including a member of the top-three that has been practically written into the playoff with an ink pen.

But if you retain anything from these scribbles, it must be this: The first rule of College Football Playoff is you talk about College Football Playoff.