Video: No. 15 Arizona 59, Washington State 37

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
9:51
PM ET
video

Anu Solomon threw five touchdown passes in No. 15 Arizona's 59-37 victory over Washington State on Saturday.
video How the game was won: David Shaw and Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren made the offensive changes they promised after the past week's disastrous performance at Arizona State. The Cardinal radically altered their formula of attack and worked from a no-huddle offense at the start of the game. They stretched the perimeter with athletic weapons Ty Montgomery and Christian McCaffrey before gashing the wide-open middle of the field with their young tight ends.

The Cardinal's offensive resurgence in the first half (8.2 yards per play during that stretch) made the job easy for Stanford's suffocating defense in the 38-14 win. Stanford held the Beavers' first string offense to just 133 total yards and an anemic efficiency mark: about 2.5 yards per play. Sean Mannion needed 316 passing yards to break the Pac-12 career passing record, but after a 14-for-30, 122-yard performance, he'll have to wait until next time to challenge Matt Barkley's mark.

Game ball goes to: Stanford wide receiver/returner Ty Montgomery. Once again, No. 7 was the best player on the field. He showed excellent hands on a crossing pattern early and extended another first-half Stanford drive on a pretty catch-and-run. Quarterback Kevin Hogan stood in against a ferocious Oregon State blitz on that play. Montgomery then delivered the absolute dagger, a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the second half. He made Beaver defenders look like they were stuck in quicksand along his route to the end zone.

What it means: Entering next week's showdown at Oregon, Stanford is operating with a drastically different offense. After Arizona State trounced the Cardinal 26-10 this past week, it was clear the Cardinal were not maximizing their abundance of offensive talent. Stanford's chances of winning at Autzen Stadium looked very slim, regardless of how well their nation-leading defense was playing. Suddenly, next week's showdown becomes all the more intriguing, especially ater Oregon's defensive struggles against Cal on Friday. Oregon State entered this game second in the Pac-12 in the total defense category, so Stanford is now playing competent offense to go along with its championship-caliber defense. We'll see if they can consistently maintain that balance.

Oregon State, meanwhile, drops to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in Pac-12 play. They're essentially eliminated from Pac-12 North competition and now face a battle to reach bowl eligibility. The Beavers host Cal and Washington State in the next two weeks, so there are definitely two winnable games left for them, but the rest of the schedule is very challenging: versus Arizona State, at Washington, versus Oregon.

What's next: Stanford's showdown at Oregon next Saturday has officially become massive. The Cardinal and the Ducks will battle it out at Autzen Stadium in a game that might well determine the Pac-12 North title. As mentioned above, Oregon State heads back to Reser Stadium licking their wounds ahead of a three-game homestand.

Best play: Stanford also did a much better job putting Hogan in his scrambling comfort zone. Shaw dialed up a designed run for him, and that turned into 37-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Hogan's powerful stiff-arm earns our play of the game honors.

video

Video: No. 25 UCLA 40, Colorado 37, 2 OT

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
6:38
PM ET
video

ESPN's Heather Dinich talks about a difficult upcoming schedule for No. 25 UCLA, which defeated Colorado 40-37 in double overtime on Saturday.

Video: Utah's Automatic Andy

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
11:20
AM ET
video
"College GameDay" profiles Utah kicker Andy Phillips, who never played football or soccer and yet became one of the country's best kickers after a USA Ski Team career.
video

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Marcus Mariota threw for 326 yards and five touchdowns as No. 6 Oregon rang in the first college football game at Levi's Stadium with a 59-41 win. Cal kept it interesting for a while -- it trailed 31-28 late in the first half -- but the Bears aren't quite ready to seriously compete with a team of Oregon's caliber. Here's what happened.

How the game was won: Oregon scored and scored and scored. Then it kept scoring. For Cal to have had a chance to pull out a miracle, it would have needed a big edge in the turnover battle, but despite Mariota's first interception of the season -- which needed two Cal players to tip it first -- that didn't happen.

Game ball goes to: Oregon WR Byron Marshall. Playing 15 miles north of his high school, Marshall contributed as a receiver (4 catches, 133 yards, 1 touchdown) and carrying the ball (7 carries, 57 yards).

What it means: They are who we thought they were. Both teams. Oregon piled up 592 yards of offense and cruised in the second half, while Cal continued to show progress. It was the fourth game this year that Cal and its opponent both accumulated at least 560 yards of offense. Only one other team in the country (Bowling Green) has been involved in two such games.

Playoff implication: No change here. Oregon remains the Pac-12’s best bet at a playoff berth and is in good position as the top-ranked one-loss team outside the SEC. However, the Ducks' performance on defense will undoubtedly raise some red flags for the College Football Playoff selection committee.

What's next: Oregon (7-1, 4-1 Pac-12) hosts Stanford at Autzen Stadium next week, where it will try to end a two-year skid against the Cardinal. With two wins needed for bowl eligibility, Cal (4-4, 2-4) has an important game at Oregon State. The Bears have No. 20 USC, Stanford and BYU after that to try to get to six.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
7:00
PM ET
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 ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

Greetings. Welcome to the Mailbag.

If you are pursuing enlightenment, then go here.

To the notes.

Bryce from San Francisco writes: It's already been established that many SEC teams are a bunch of cowards, afraid to visit another conference powerhouse (no, LSU fans, Cowboys Stadium doesn't count as a road game). My question is if the playoff committee will see all these SEC teams backing out of tough games to schedule patsies and reward the Pac-12 while punishing the SEC for their scheduling. The SEC deserves to be docked for softening their schedule. And the Pac-12 should be rewarded for trying to play the best, even when other conferences are too scared to.

Ted Miller: Well, hold on now. LSU has done home-and-homes with Arizona, Arizona State and Washington in the not too distant past, and let's just say that Tigers fans have room to crow about the results, particularly those who continue to smart about finishing ranked second in 2003 behind consensus national champion USC.

In general, the SEC has significantly upgraded its nonconference schedules over the past several years and there's been a concerted effort to continue that trend going forward. LSU has led the way, but Alabama also deserves credit, while Auburn earns kudos for its series with Kansas State. Though Georgia chickened out of a series with Oregon knowing it would go 0-2, the Bulldogs did do a home-and-home with Arizona State and have scheduled one with Notre Dame while continuing their rivalry series with Georgia Tech. In 2017, Florida plays Florida State and Michigan, and Texas A&M, after dropping Oregon and USC, has added Arizona State and UCLA.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDak Prescott's Mississippi State team is No. 1 right now, but its nonconference schedule (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama, Tennessee-Martin) is notably weak compared to other playoff contenders.
The big issue for the SEC as we move into the College Football Playoff Era is not so much the nonconference slate. It's the SEC's eight-game conference schedule. That provides a institutionalized shortcut with the singular intention of avoiding competition that should operate as an automatic demerit for a contending SEC team during committee deliberations, particularly when the nonconference schedule is lacking.

I believe it will, perhaps as soon as this season, and when the selection committee confirms my belief and enrages an SEC fan base, the next SEC commissioner will push his conference to make the change.

Ah, but nonconference scheduling will be an issue this year, and I believe the committee will make it clear that cowardly scheduling has its own risks.

That brings us to the Mississippi schools as well as Baylor. While Ole Miss did take a minor step forward with a game with Boise State, even that doesn't hold the credibility it did a few years ago. Meanwhile, Mississippi State's and Baylor's nonconference schedules are a joke. They are offensive to the ideas of courage, honor, masculinity and all that is right and good. Hemingway and Maximus Decimus Meridius and Dirty Harry have personally communicated outrage to the Pac-12 blog. I may overstate things but only by a little.

What that means is pretty simple. Ole Miss, Mississippi State and/or Baylor should be significantly burdened when it comes to eclipsing a team from, say, the Pac-12 with the same record, particularly if they don't win their conference title.

So my answer is I expect the committee to provide the Pac-12 champion a positive click automatically, one that won't be available to any other conference, based on the tough nonconference schedules, nine-game conference schedules and conference title game.


Jeff from Corvallis, Oregon, writes: More an observation. Other Pac-12 schools seem to be getting better in a positive way, Utah, Cal, UCLA, both Arizona schools, even WSU is competitive! Oregon State seems to be flat-lining while other schools are trending up. Riley the most underrated coach, yeah, OK, but 6-6 or 7-4 in a season, appears OSU will be left our of a bowl this season and losing to the Ducks every season is getting old. Every season clock-management is horrible, the red zone is like our kryptonite (except for last year) and play calling is head-scratching most of the time. Getting tired of hearing that every loss is a learning experience ... shouldn't we be undefeated by now then, with all of our losses and experiences gained? I think a change is needed. I feel better now, Pac-12 Blog, that is now off my chest. ... Thanks for listening to a disgruntled Beaver fan.

Ted Miller: You are welcome.

I understand your frustration. It's not illegitimate. It's difficult to see your team struggle while your rival thrives. And I know that many who have long supported Mike Riley are starting to wonder about the direction of the program.

I have two initial thoughts. First, let's see how things play out. Plenty of season left. Second, man, I'd be more optimistic about the rest of the season if I didn't just peruse your injury list, which features a few substantial hits to the offensive (Isaac Seumalo, Gavin Andrews) and defensive lines (Jalen Grimble), not to mention a big hit at receiver (Richard Mullaney).

Hey, injuries are part of the game. Get it. Still, ask Oregon fans what might have been if it had both starting offensive tackles all season. Of course, just about every Pac-12 team has an injury sob story.

My simple suggestion is not unlike what I once told California fans about Jeff Tedford and Utah fans about Kyle Whittingham: Tread lightly. Don't be emotional. Consider the big picture. I think things had run their course with Tedford at Cal, and I think the Bears decision to cut ties after the 2012 season was entirely justifiable. I also think Utes fans might be seeing the benefits of staying the course with Whittingham this season.

You will be hard-pressed to find too many football folks who don't believe Riley is a good coach. While the Beavers were unquestionably down in 2010 and 2011, they've still posted winning records in four of the past six seasons, twice winning nine games. On the other hand, if Oregon State finishes with a losing record, the Riley critics out there can say the Beavers have posted losing records in three of their last five seasons. They will insist that the program shouldn't settle for mediocrity and that the right coach can win in Corvallis.

(I'd recommend then asking who that coach would be.)

If the Beavers do finish with a losing record, it would be justifiable to consider a change. That wouldn't be my recommendation, but it would not be unjustifiable.


Rosie from Seattle writes: Is there a problem with UW's QB situation? Cyler Miles doesn't look confident and is concussed. Lindquist seems to have fallen behind Troy Williams. I'm just curious if we see Jake Browning come in next January and finally lead the Dawgs to a victory at Oregon and a 10-win season.

Ted Miller: The Huskies rank last in the Pac-12 in passing and 10th in pass efficiency. So, yeah, the QB play hasn't been great and that is a problem for a team trying to move up in the conference and North Division pecking order. That stands out even more when you see so many young QBs over the past few years, including Arizona redshirt freshman Anu Solomon this year, doing well.

If things continue to muddle around with the offense -- it's also last in the conference in total yards and yards per play -- I'd rate the touted Browning's chances to start next year pretty good, though I'm typically skeptical of incoming players until they prove what they can do against college competition.

I'd also rate the middling play of the offensive line as an equal disappointment as the production behind center, though obviously the two are tightly knotted together.


Doug from Portland writes: Whenever I read up on who the experts have picked for the Heisman, I get a little annoyed. Mariota is a generational talent (I'm only slightly biased as a Ducks fan) and is putting up exceptional numbers in several statistical categories. But he can't seem to get past the "flavor of the week." (No offense to Dak this week and to Everett in the next.) Has the race always been this historically fickle or is this a relatively new development? Furthermore, it seems the Pac-12, which regularly produces the best professional quarterbacks ... you know, the position that has won the award a bazillion times, can't seem to score a Heisman winner these days outside of USC. Do you have to be a Trojan to win the Heisman out West?

Ted Miller: It's easy to be disgruntled when we speak in non-specific generalities, but which season bothers your most?

The only recent Heisman winner I'd rate as controversial would be Alabama RB Mark Ingram over Stanford RB Toby Gerhart in 2009, though plenty of folks wanted to invoke a character clause with Cam Newton vs. Andrew Luck in 2010. Otherwise, the winners put up such great numbers, often for teams that significantly exceeded expectations, I have no problem with how the voting went.

If Mariota maintains his present numbers and the Ducks win the Pac-12, he's going to win the Heisman Trophy.
1. How much will Oregon get some targets to its less experienced receivers?

The Ducks spent the early part of the season relying heavily on Devon Allen and Keanon Lowe, though of late we've seen players like Darren Carrington and Dwayne Stanford have the opportunity to make big plays. Having that kind of a receiver arsenal is only going to improve Oregon's chances for the playoff, and the more chemistry quarterback Marcus Mariota can build with those receivers now -- in games in which the passing defense isn't quite as strong -- the more it will pay off down the road when the passing defenses are a bit more intense.

2. How will the Ducks' secondary hold up?

Cal has the No. 3 pass offense in the nation, averaging 372 yards per game, and Oregon's secondary has been less than stellar. Opposing quarterbacks average a 63.4 percent completion rate against the Ducks' defense (103rd nationally). And on third-down passing plays, opponents have converted 44.9 percent of the time. So, Oregon's defense hasn't been stout and it really hasn't been stout in crucial situations. Jared Goff is a much improved quarterback. Given the opportunity, he's going to air it out against Oregon and the Ducks are going to need to respond.

3. What kind of numbers will Royce Freeman put up?

Oregon's freshman running back is on quite the kick. He came in with a lot of hype and he has more than backed that up. In the past two games he has tallied six rushing touchdowns and 290 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. Those aren't freshman statistics. And those numbers were put up against two pretty good rushing defenses in Washington and UCLA.

Now enters: Cal. The Bears have a good rushing defense, giving up just 133.4 rushing yards per game at 3.8 yards per rush. But those numbers are a bit skewed considering how much more teams pass against the Bears than run (teams are averaging 53 pass attempts per game as opposed to just 35 rushing attempts per game). Could Freeman have a third consecutive 100-yard game? It seems silly to bet against him at this point.

4. How long will Cal keep pace?

When things are clicking, Cal's offense can be nearly as dangerous a unit as any in the country. The Bears rank No. 10 in the country in scoring (41.6 points per game) and are built to play in shootouts, but with minimal depth on defense, those types of games also are tougher on Cal than other teams the later they go. For Cal to make a game of it, its rotational guys on defense have to give them a chance.

5. How will Levi's Stadium fare as a college venue?

Fans at Cal had mixed reactions to moving a home game to the South Bay, to the new home of the San Francisco 49ers. On one hand, it's an impressive stadium that has all the amenities a fan could want. On the other, it's not Memorial Stadium, and playing a game off-campus changes both during and leading up to the game. There's also those pesky San Francisco Giants, who are playing in the World Series on Friday night, which will undoubtedly hurt the game's attendance.

Preview: No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
1:30
PM ET
video

Adam Rittenberg looks at what to expect out of the matchup between No. 20 USC and No. 19 Utah this weekend.
video

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Tony Franklin is a fan of Tuesdays. He likes that it’s still dark when he leaves his home in downtown Berkeley around 6 a.m., and begins his walk to work. He usually stops at Starbucks and often to speak with some of the city’s homeless, including a local legend known as “Pink Cloud.”

“[Pink Cloud] told me to Google him once,” said Franklin, who is in his second season as Cal’s offensive coordinator. “He’s been on the streets for 20-something years and he’ll always have interesting insights into what’s going on with not only football, but with the world and our players.”

Another man, whose name Franklin kept confidential, used to heckle him as he walked by, yelling “Portland State, Portland State,” in reference to Cal’s only win last season. But after hearing it for two weeks, Franklin decided enough was enough.

“I finally stopped and introduced myself and he goes, ‘I know who you are … Y’all stink,’” Franklin said. “And I said, ‘You’re right.’ So we got to be friends after that.”

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY SportsCal went 1-11 in Sonny Dykes' first season. The Bears are 4-3 heading into Friday's game against No. 6 Oregon.
In Berkeley, that’s not unusual. And after a lifetime spent in the South, the 57-year-old Franklin somehow feels right at home. He appreciates the city’s eclectic nature, and says he has more friends than anywhere he’s ever lived “and they don’t care anything about football.”

“It’s so uniquely different here than any place I’ve ever been because nobody really knows who I am and they don’t care,” he said. “So [walking home from games] you get to listen to them talk about the game without them having any idea that you’re right beside them.

“That’s always fun.”

Cal football is becoming fun again, too. At 4-3, and averaging 41.6 points per game, the Bears head into Friday’s game against No. 6 Oregon at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara infinitely more watchable than a season ago. They’re a few plays from being 6-1 and a few more from 1-6, but it’s clear the program, under Sonny Dykes’ leadership, and with Franklin’s offense, is headed in the right direction.

Dykes and Franklin’s relationship dates back to 1997, when they were on Hal Mumme’s staff at Kentucky. Dykes was a first-year graduate assistant and Franklin, a longtime high school coach, was in the first year of his collegiate coaching career as the Wildcats’ running backs coach.

“I was about 40 and he was probably 26 or 27,” Franklin said. “He was single, having a good time in life, enjoying bachelorhood and learning to become a coach.”

They remained friends over the years, and shortly after being named head coach at Louisiana Tech before the 2010 season, Dykes called Franklin to gauge his interest in becoming the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator.

Franklin wasn’t really looking to move on after one year as the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee. His offense was set to return 10 starters, including the starting quarterback.

“I told him I could be bought,” Franklin said. “And when he was able to offer significantly more money that I was making at Middle, I told him I’d come.”

Franklin still had his reservations. He wasn’t keen on the concept of being the offensive coordinator for a head coach with an offensive background. He’s very particular about his process and only feels comfortable with complete control, and he made that known right away.

“I started off the first day and gave him a piece of paper and said ‘This is who I am,’” Franklin said. “I’m not easy to get along with. I’m hard to work with. I’m stubborn. It has to be my way or else it won’t work and if it won’t work the best thing to do is just fire me and let’s move on and maybe we can still be friends and maybe we won’t be.

[+] EnlargeJared Goff
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesSophomore QB Jared Goff has thrown for 2,482 yards and 24 touchdowns in seven games this season.
“I said there’s a good chance at the end of this we won’t be friends because it’s hard to have that relationship. So we were probably better friends when we weren’t coaching together than we are now.”

Dykes said he knew who he was hiring when he brought him aboard at Louisiana Tech, but felt Franklin was the best coach to lead the offense. And it is Franklin’s offense. He does the game planning, he calls the plays and he spends a lot of time alone figuring out what he wants to do. Occasionally Dykes will pop in with a few ideas, but his input is limited.

“I’m an offensive guy and it’s kind of been hard to give up some of that just because it’s what I’ve done for so long, but we think alike and we’re on the same page,” Dykes said. “That’s better for him if I do that. If I go in and give him a lot of input, I don’t think that’d be healthy for him or for us working together.”

It’s an odd dynamic, but it’s working.

The Bears rank fifth in the Pac-12 in total offense (496.6 yards per game), fourth in yards per play (6.52) and sophomore quarterback Jared Goff, with 24 touchdown passes and four interceptions, is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the country.

With five difficult games left, the Bears are no lock to reach the six-win plateau to become bowl-eligible, but the fact that they’re in contention in late October signifies an important step in the right direction.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
10:00
AM ET
video (All times Pacific)

Friday, 7 p.m.

Oregon at California, Fox Sports 1

[+] EnlargeMariota
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota and Oregon figure to be in a shootout against California.
This is a matchup between the two Pac-12 leaders in scoring offense: The Ducks average 43.6 points per game, and the Bears are at 41.6. The difference on paper -- and likely on the field, too -- comes on defense. Cal sports the conference's second-worst unit (38.4 points per game), and the Ducks have upped their defensive play to reach fourth in the conference rankings (23.6 points per game). This will be the first college football game at Levi's Stadium and comes on a massive sports night in the San Francisco Bay Area: Game 3 of the World Series will be happening there, too.

Saturday, 11 a.m.

UCLA at Colorado, Pac-12 Network

It's turned into another long season for the Buffs, and the journey certainly doesn't become any easier with UCLA's explosive bunch coming to town. Turnovers, though, have been a major issue for the Bruins this season. Cal scored 21 points off UCLA miscues to keep the game close last week, and that might well be Colorado's formula to have a puncher's chance at Folsom Field. For Brett Hundley's squad, this should be a chance for a tuneup before a challenging finishing stretch: vs. Arizona, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Stanford.

12:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Stanford, ESPN2

The Beavers will certainly be sniffing upset in Palo Alto. Stanford is a very vulnerable team right now: The offense is faltering, and that supersonic defense has taken two gut punches with injuries to linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That being said, the Cardinal have been excellent when faced with adversity in the David Shaw era. The fourth-year coach has yet to lose consecutive games in his tenure, and Stanford is desperate to right the ship at home.

3 p.m.

Arizona at Washington State, Pac-12 Network

The Cougars won 24-17 in Tucson last season, but we will likely see more points this Saturday in Pullman when Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach resume battle. Arizona and Washington State are the Pac-12's two top teams when it comes to total offense. They are averaging a combined 1,091 yards per game. Since both defenses are ranked in the conference's bottom half, expect fireworks and an intriguing duel between senior Connor Halliday (who is on an NCAA record-smashing pace) and freshman Anu Solomon.

7 p.m.

USC at Utah, Fox Sports 1

This Utah squad reminds our Kevin Gemmell of the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Pac-12 championship, and I agree with him: The Utes don't ask for much out of their quarterback (62 pass yards last week), they run the ball with vigor (229 yards from Devontae Booker last week) and they set up frequent shop in opposing backfields (nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game). Both teams have also established a hashtag for their pass rush: 2012 Stanford had #PartyInTheBackfield, and 2014 Utah has coined #SackLakeCity. So USC is tasked with beating this rugged Ute team in a raucous road environment. This game is a significant step in figuring out the convoluted Pac-12 South puzzle.

7:45 p.m.

Arizona State at Washington, ESPN

There is a 70 percent chance of rain in Seattle. They call that "Dawg Weather" in the Pacific Northwest, and Washington hopes that will aid in its quest to win the turnover battle -- the Huskies are ranked second nationally in turnover margin even after last week's substandard performance at Oregon. Taylor Kelly returns to the quarterback role for Arizona State, but Todd Graham expects Mike Bercovici will also get snaps. Washington's offense has sputtered this season (league-worst 5.0 yards per play), and it will be interesting to see who gets the upper hand in its matchup with the Sun Devils' unremarkable defense.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
9:00
AM ET
We're still a week away from the in-season megavisit that will take place when Oregon hosts Stanford, but there are more than a few intriguing visitor lists in the Pac-12 this weekend. It's a weekend that could provide clarity in the Pac-12 South, and recruits will be on hand as Utah hosts USC and the Arizona schools travel to the state of Washington. Elsewhere, Stanford hosts Oregon State and important ESPN 300 prospects as we look at the top three visit weekends in the Pac-12.

USC at Utah

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

Pac-12 morning links

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

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

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

Pick 'em

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

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

What does Super Mariota really look like?

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

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

Good to see this guy up and moving.

1. The popular knock on Utah stems from the fact that they only had 62 passing yards last week, but they keep finding other ways to win. Will the Utes’ formula be enough in a big showdown against USC this Saturday?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I say yes. Utah’s defense is going to be stout and Nate Orchard is going to have a monster game, getting after Cody Kessler. The Utes have the highest sack percentage (12.1 percent) of any team in the nation, and if we’re doing over/under for 3.5 sacks from the Utes in this game, I’m going with the over. And with Kessler struggling, the Trojans will try to lean more on Buck Allen, but bad news for Buck. The Utes have the best run defense in the conference, allowing just 2.85 yards per rush (Stanford is in second with 2.89). They’ve given up just three rushing touchdowns (tied for fifth in the country). On top of that, Utah’s special teams are going to ball out. USC has given up 13.3 yards per punt return (112th nationally) and have allowed almost one-fifth of kickoffs to be returned at least 30 yards. Kaelin Clay? Go for it … just leave out the Heisman pose this time. As long as Utah’s offense is good enough (and with Devontae Booker coming off that Oregon State performance, I’m not super worried), the Utes take care of business.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: This will be a very close game, and although this whole Travis Wilson/Kendal Thompson quarterback shuffle isn't ideal (Wilson will start this week), Utah can succeed even with an anemic passing attack. That's because a strong rushing attack and a powerful defense form a potent combination. Booker has eclipsed the 150-yard mark in three consecutive weeks (he hit 229 yards his last time out), and that forms an intriguing matchup with a USC defense that has actually been good against the run since its debacle at Boston College. No discussion of Utah's chances is complete without an acknowledgement of #SackLackCity, the location of Saturday's game. Chantel mentioned Orchard; his 10.5-sack effort this season trails only Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha nationally. On a team-wide level, no one in the nation is even close to matching Utah's sack production, which stands at 5.5 per game. Second place is 4.0 sacks per game, and the Utes are on pace to post a staggering 71.5 sacks this season. The Trojans do have the athleticism to potentially burn Utah's ferocious pass rush, but it's really tough to bet against Kyle Whittingham's unit in its raucous home environment.
2. Rich Rodriguez vs. Mike Leach: How great offensive minds square off in the Palouse. How many points will we in Arizona-Washington State?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I don’t think it’ll be quite as crazy as Cal-Wazzu, but, I think we’ll see at least 49 points combined.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Well, Cal-Wazzu is an insane standard to live up to (119 combined points), but I think we're going to see some offensive madness in the Palouse. Both the Arizona defense (allowing 5.9 yards per play) and the Washington State defense (allowing 6.0 yards per play) rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in that statistic, so that'll leave Leach and Rodriguez room to score. I have a feeling both teams will hit the 40s in this one.
3. Conversely, how few points will we see at Stanford-Oregon State? The Cardinal’s defense had great success against Oregon State last year, but Stanford's offense is the Pac-12’s worst in terms of scoring now, and the Beavers are playing solid defense.

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Twenty-eight or fewer. I bet we’ll see three touchdowns and maybe a field goal.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Stanford is favored by 13 points here, and some jokesters on Twitter have asked if the number 13 is the spread or the over/under for this one. I think we'll see more points than people expect: The Cardinal will have receiver Devon Cajuste back, and they'll be missing key defensive linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That should count for at least a few Oregon State points.
[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressRoyce Freeman has a bright future at Oregon.
4. Which freshman or sophomore in the conference will be an All-American by the time he graduates?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon running back Royce Freeman. He’s an absolute man-child. I saw him wearing a backpack one day and I thought it was a mini backpack because it looked so small on him. But then when I looked more closely I realized it was a normal backpack, it just looked mini-sized on him. But it’s not just his physical size that makes him great. He’s elusive. He’s fast. His vision is improving. And if you look at the progress he has made from Game 1 to Game 7 of the Ducks’ season, imagine what he’ll do in the next two or three years.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: I like Chantel's pick. I also think that Arizona running back Nick Wilson is doing a heck of job carrying the freshman torch. His 6.4 yards per carry leads the the top Pac-12 running backs. And even though he's not as big as Freeman, Wilson still packs a physical punch -- just ask Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
5. Statistically, Cal has the worst defense in the conference. If you could take any defensive player in the Pac-12 and put him on the Bears, who would you pick and why?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Initially I considered Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha, because any team would be better with him in its front seven. But I’ve decided to go with Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson. He doesn’t lead the conference in tackles (that’s Scooby Wright III), but he makes things happen on defense. And what I think Cal needs more than a stout pass rusher is a straight playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears have forced just nine fumbles and of those nine they’ve only recovered three. Thompson has forced and recovered three fumbles alone. I think he could make things happen for the Bears.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: The most valuable asset for a defense is a dangerous body that can attract and swallow multiple blocks, and no Pac-12 player provides more value in this regard than an athletic fire hydrant Danny Shelton: 339 pounds, 7.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss. I'll let David Shaw's father Willie defend my position: "If you give me a choice between a great cornerback and a great defensive lineman, I'll take the great defensive lineman. Because a great defensive lineman can make an average corner look great."
6. Word/phrase association.

Jennings/@ChantelJennings:

a. Pac-12 South: Ultimate chaos

b. December 6: Anyone’s guess

c. Wazzu: So close yet so far

d. Andy Phillips: Money

e. Hau'oli Kikaha: I’m glad I don’t play quarterback in the Pac-12

f. Buck Allen: Tank

Lombardi/@LombardiESPN:

a. Pac-12 South: Minefield

b. December 6: Talking scoreboard (Bay Area radio listeners understand)

c. Wazzu: Poor Connor Halliday

d. Andy Phillips: Automatic

e. Hau'oli Kikaha: A name fit for a sack master

f. Buck Allen: So why didn't Lane Kiffin play him?
Levi's StadiumAP Photo/Tony AvelarThe San Francisco 49ers are working to bring several high-profile events to Levi's Stadium.
If things work out the way the San Francisco 49ers are hoping, Friday’s game at Levi’s Stadium between Cal and Oregon will be the first of many college football games to take place at the new venue.

Levi’s will also host the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 5 and the San Francisco Bowl on Dec. 30, but a few years down the line the lineup could potentially include an early season, neutral-site game and the College Football Playoff championship. At least that’s the goal.

The College Football Playoff championship sites are set through the 2016 season, but when the request for proposal process begins for the three games after that, the 49ers plan to participate, according to the team’s director of business operations, Chris Giles.

"Myself and the leadership over at the playoff group have had multiple discussions," Giles said. "I think we can make a very compelling case that the national championship should be at Levi’s Stadium."

Located about an hour south of San Francisco in Santa Clara, the stadium is to host Super Bowl 50 following the 2015 NFL season, WrestleMania in February 2015, and is actively pursuing other high-profile events, including international soccer matches and concerts, to fill the rest of the calendar.

"The intention all the way to completion [of construction] was to make the venue a 365-day-a-year venue," 49ers chief revenue officer Ethan Casson said. "We absolutely wanted the focal point to be on our football team and the 49ers, but we just believe a venue like this with what we are doing specific to technology, green and fan experience, it would be phenomenal to program this building with high-profile events above and beyond the NFL games. That’s where college football has really resonated."

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who is on the Board of Managers for the College Football Playoff, said part of the criteria for the championship game is to rotate it among several sites and the West region "will get its fair share of games." This year’s game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, followed by University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, next season and Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, after that.

"All the fan amenities really do distinguish Levi’s as a special place to play," Scott said. "It’s a new venue that a lot of people will want to see. Media, sponsors, alumni of our schools ... it’s a big attraction, and undoubtedly it would be highly successful in the championship game mix."

Scott was impressed enough with the venue’s offerings to ditch the conference’s home-hosting model for the Pac-12 championship game and move it to Santa Clara for at least three seasons.

For Giles, who worked closely with Scott at the Pac-12 before going to work for the 49ers, the pairing between Levi’s and the Pac-12 seemed like a natural fit.

"The game is worthy of being played on the biggest stage, and now it is. It’s not just another home game," he said. "It allows us to build a festival atmosphere. Having run that game for the Pac-12 before coming here, it’s very difficult to do things that are typically associated with a game of that magnitude from a fan-engagement and auxiliary events standpoint."

The Pac-12 had operations teams on site for at least two 49ers games this season, and Scott said it will have a large contingent present on Friday. He said they also expect feedback from both Cal and Oregon to be helpful for the game’s planning process.

An announcement of a title partner for the San Francisco Bowl, which was known as the Fight Hunger Bowl last year, is expected to be made in the next couple weeks, according to Casson.

Casson, who has worked closely with the San Francisco Bowl Game Association to find a title sponsor, said the bowl’s move from AT&T Park in San Francisco, where the game has been played since 2002, and its new pairing with the Big Ten has helped drum up significant interest. He said there were about six companies that seriously looked into the title partnership and either made a bid or wanted to.

The bowl will get the fourth pick among Pac-12 teams -- after the Rose/Playoff Group, Alamo and Holiday Bowls -- and at least five different Big Ten teams will play in the game over a six-year period.

The 49ers are also interested in developing an early season series -- comparable to the Cowboys Classic in Arlington -- that would ideally create an intriguing nonconference game early in the year, but it’s unclear what the timetable is for that to become a reality.

"I’m talking with [athletic directors] on a weekly basis, and lot of what we’re talking about is 2019, 2020, 2021," Giles said.

Because of how far in advance teams schedule nonconference games, Giles said it’s easier -- at least for now -- to have a team relocate one of its home games to the stadium. That was the case for Cal-Oregon, which came about after discussions to bring this year’s Big Game between Cal and Stanford broke down late last August.

Giles said potential home games at Levi’s aren’t limited to the Bay Area’s three FBS schools -- Cal, Stanford and San Jose State -- but he wouldn’t pursue a home-game relocation from a school that wasn’t a "reasonable driving distance from the stadium."

That presumably leaves Fresno State, which is about 150 miles away, as another option. The Bulldogs played Cal at the 49ers' previous home, Candlestick Park, in 2011.

SPONSORED HEADLINES