videoUCLA coach Jim Mora said he's going to "push it as far out as you can" before making a decision on whether quarterback Brett Hundley will start Thursday night against Arizona State in Tempe.

Hundley injured his left (non-throwing) elbow in UCLA's 20-17 win over Texas on Sept. 13. The Bruins had a bye last week and Mora has been tight-lipped about the status of the All-America candidate.

Sometimes it goes right up to kickoff before you make that decision," Mora told reporters after practice on Tuesday. "In the NFL you have to declare a guy inactive or active, at this level you don't. We just take it as far as we can and make the best decision for the player first, and the team second."

Mora said Hundley has practiced, but has been limited.

Through three games, Hundley is completing 70.4 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and an interception. He's also rushed for 74 yards and a score. Jerry Neuheisel replaced Hundley against Texas to lead the Bruins to a dramatic fourth-quarter victory, throwing two touchdowns on 23 of 30 passing.

The winner of the last two showdowns between ASU and UCLA has gone on to win the Pac-12 South Division, with ASU winning last year in Los Angeles and UCLA winning at ASU in 2012.

"It's not like anyone is trying to pull anything over on Todd Graham, because you're not going to pull anything over on Todd Graham," Mora said. "They are preparing for UCLA. They are preparing for schemes and plays and tendencies. I'm sure they are assuming that Brett is going to play. That's what I'd be doing. And I'm nowhere near the coach that Todd Graham is. They'll be ready regardless."

Mora is right. Graham is expecting Hundley to play.

"If Brett Hundley didn't play, it would totally shock me," Graham said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference. "But that makes it easier for us. You better prepare for the best one. Not taking anything away from the backup quarterback, but Brett has some skills that are really, really special.

"People are going to run their offense pretty much. But what he does is he adds so much to it when the plays don't work. His ability to extend plays, pull the ball down, throw the ball 70 yards downfield, across the field on his back foot, if he doesn't play, that makes things better for us. ... He's going to play. There's no doubt in my mind he's going to play."

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 5

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

No. 11 UCLA (3-0) at No. 15 Arizona State (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12)
  • UCLA is scoring on 28.2 percent of its drives, while ASU is allowing points on just 20.9 percent of its drives. Conversely, the Sun Devils are scoring on 52.4 percent of their drives and UCLA is allowing points 27.5 percent of the time.
  • Turnover margin so far this year: Arizona State plus-5; UCLA minus-1.
  • ASU RB D.J. Foster is the only running back in the country averaging more than 9 yards per carry (9.44 ypc) with at least 50 rushing attempts.
  • ASU's Jaelen Strong and UCLA's Jordan Payton are two of the most relied-upon receivers on the Pac-12. Strong has accounted for 37.8 percent of ASU's receptions and Payton 30.8 percent for UCLA.
  • Since coaches Todd Graham (ASU) and Jim Mora (UCLA) took over in 2011, the Bruins are 10-10 on the road and ASU is 17-5 at home.
Colorado (2-2) at California (2-1, 0-1)
  • Cal's Sonny Dykes and Colorado's Mike MacIntyre have coached against each other every season since 2010 when Dykes was at Louisiana Tech and MacIntyre at San Jose State. Dykes won the first two games, but MacIntyre has taken the last two.
  • Colorado WR Nelson Spruce ranks No. 3 in the country in reception (37) and has not dropped a pass.
  • First-half scoring margins: Cal plus-77, CU plus-7. Second-half scoring margins: Cal minus-33, CU minus-23.
  • Cal QB Jared Goff ranks No. 8 nationally in QBR.
  • The Bears have lost 15 consecutive games in Pac-12 play ... and opened as an 11.5-point favorite.
No. 16 Stanford (2-1, 0-1) at Washington (4-0)
  • Something's got to give: Washington is averaging 41.2 points per game; Stanford is allowing just 4.3 points per game.
  • Stanford WR Ty Montgomery has 22 catches on 24 targets, which is the best catch percentage (91.7) in the country among receivers with at least 20 targets.
  • Washington leads the conference in fumbles recovered on defense (5); Stanford's offense has lost the most in the conference (also 5).
  • Since David Shaw became the head coach in 2011, Stanford has only lost its first road game of the season once ... at Washington in 2012.
  • Since 2010, Stanford (.842) and UW coach Chris Petersen's previous program, Boise State (.833), are two of the five winningest programs in the country.
Washington State (1-3) at Utah (3-0)
  • Four WSU receivers (Isiah Myers, Vince Mayle, Dom Williams and River Cracraft) rank in the top seven in the Pac-12 in receiving yards.
  • Utah's Kaelin Clay leads the nation with three return touchdowns (1 kickoff, 2 punt). Vanderbilt's Darrius Sims has two kickoff-return touchdowns, but has eight more attempts than Clay, who has just two total.
  • WSU QB Connor Halliday leads the nation with 1,901 yards passing (475.3 yards per game) ... Utah is allowing 210. yards passing per game.
  • Utah's points margin per game ranks No. 5 nationally (and first in the Pac-12) at plus-30.0 per game.
  • Utah leads the all-time series vs. WSU, 7-6.
Oregon State (3-0) at No. 18 USC (2-1, 1-0)
  • USC has won 33 of the last 37 vs Oregon State.
  • Offensive points per game: USC 32.0, OSU 31.7.
  • Oregon State take the most time per play in the conference: 29.9 seconds on average. USC averages 23.9, which is tied with Cal for third-most.
  • Both USC and Oregon State have had 40 offensive drives, and both have punted 14 times.
  • Through three games last year, Oregon State was averaging 46.3 pass attempts a game. This year, that number has dropped to 37.7.
Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
As Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion inches closer to becoming the Pac-12's all-time leading passer, it looks like he might need a couple of more completions to get there than originally thought.

A "book-keeping" error on the part of the league, as reported by The Oregonian, shows that current all-time leader Matt Barkley actually has 12,327 career passing yards, not the 12,274 yards he was believed to have at the end of his career with USC.

It's only a difference of 53 yards, which could equate to one deep ball or a few bubble screens and slants. Either way, Mannion, who has 11,339 yards, now needs 988 more passing yards to set the all-time record after throwing for 275 yards in a win last week over San Diego State.

Through three games, Mannion is averaging 301 passing yards per game, which ranks third in the Pac-12 and 17th nationally. He's completing 67.3 percent of his throws, with four touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.

Heading into Saturday's game at USC, Mannion is third on the Pac-12's all-time passing list behind Carson Palmer (11,818).

Pac-12 QB Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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The Pac-12 typically has great quarterbacks and good depth at the position, but the 2014 season is particularly stacked behind center. With a few All-American candidates and early NFL draft picks, it’s almost difficult to keep up with who’s doing what to which secondary.

No worries. We’ve got you covered. Each week, we will provide you a top-five ranking of the Pac-12 QBs.

Now, it won’t always be a 1 to 5 ranking according to the expected pecking order at season’s end or NFL draft lists. It will react heavily to the preceding week. And we’ll try to spread some love.



Honorable mention: Travis Wilson, Utah: Statistically, Wilson didn’t blow anybody away at Michigan (14-of-20, 172 yards), but that’s because he didn’t play the entire game. An ugly, neck-contorting fall in the second quarter made viewers grimace, but Wilson returned to lead a critical Utes’ touchdown drive in the third quarter. His gutsiness alone deserves mention, but the efficiency of Utah’s offense after Wilson’s return to the lineup is what really stood out Saturday.

Inactive Week 4: Kevin Hogan, Stanford; Cody Kessler, USC; Taylor Kelly, ASU; Brett Hundley/Jerry Neuheisel, UCLA

To see last week’s rankings, click here.

College football's top 10 QBs

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
1:39
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video
Week 4 provided yet another reminder of the wonderful uncertainty and unpredictability of the college game.

And suffice to say, the drama tends to center on the guys taking the snaps. Shortcomings at quarterback have leveled the playing field among Power 5 and Group of 5 programs, and several breakout performers on under-the-radar teams have emerged to steal the spotlight.

So as we pass the season's one-quarter mark, my updated list of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football will reflect all of the upheaval, from the emergence of Kenny "Trill" Hill to the unfortunate decisions of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

While current productivity remains at the forefront of my thought process when compiling this list, each passer's NFL projection is equally important.

With that in mind ... Seeeet. Hut.

For the full list, click here Insider or become an Insider today.
videoHistory might look back on the 2011 season and call it The Great Pac Purge. In a matter of weeks, a third of the league's coaches were out of a job.

Mike Stoops didn't even make it through Arizona's season. Rick Neuheisel didn't coach UCLA's bowl game. Dennis Erickson was fired prior to the Las Vegas Bowl, but coached the Sun Devils in a loss to Boise State. And Paul Wulff was dismissed after winning just nine games at Washington State in four years.

Then came the hires. Two big names and two “huhs?”

Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach, cast outs from their previous jobs at Michigan and Texas Tech, respectively, were considered home run hires for Arizona and Washington State. They were offensive innovators whose unique schemes would mesh perfectly with the offensive reputation of the conference.

Todd Graham at Arizona State and Jim Mora at UCLA were met with more of a hesitant golf clap than the raucous applause of the other two. Alright, let's be honest. The Graham hire drew groans and the Mora hire was perceived as borderline baffling. One was a program hopper and the other, with almost zero college coaching experience, was supposed to recruit Los Angeles? Against USC?

But as Winston Churchill said, history is written by the victors. And from the ashes of those firings came an influx of coaching talent that upped the ante for the rest of the league. And all four programs are in better shape than they were following the 2011 season. Of course, some are in better shape than others.

Per ESPN Stats and Information, there are 21 active FBS coaches who started at their school prior to the start of the 2012 season. Six of those coaches have at least 20 wins so far. Three of them are from the Pac-12 -- Mora, Graham and Rodriguez.



Two of those coaches will square off this week in a game that has been the tipping point in the South Division race the last two seasons. Arizona State hosts UCLA Thursday night in a blossoming rivalry.

Mora and the Bruins got the better of the Sun Devils two years ago in Tempe when Brett Hundley orchestrated a game-winning field goal drive. Last year ASU jumped out to big lead at the half and then held off a late charge to lock up the South.

You could make the argument that South was wide open after 2011 with USC still feeling the impact of sanctions, Utah still adjusting to life in the Pac-12 and Colorado trying to climb out of the basement. The timing was perfect for one or two of the new coaches to establish their foothold.

In the North, Leach hasn't enjoyed as much success as the other three. But his 10 wins already surpasses the nine that Wulff had during his four-year stretch. And the Cougars went to a bowl game last season -- something they hadn't done in a decade. You need only watch the scare WSU put into No. 2 Oregon Saturday night to see what type of a team the Cougars can be under Leach.

While the 2012 coaching class infused an already good coaching corps, it's worth noting that all four had quarterbacks already recruited or ready to go. In an age where three years is the new standard by which coaches are measured, that's a colossal advantage. But that's not to say this group can't recruit, having brought in talent like Myles Jack, Jaelen Strong, Vince Mayle and Anu Solomon.

However, they aren't without criticism -- particularly when it comes to signature wins. Leach is just 1-7 against AP Top 25 teams, with WSU's landmark victory being a 10-7 win at USC last year (though most will say the 2012 Apple Cup qualifies as landmark). Rodriguez is 3-7 against Top 25 competition, though last year's Oregon beat down stands out as signature. Graham is 4-5, but more importantly, 2-0 in the Territorial Cup. Mora has the best record at 5-5 and has beaten USC twice, though he's 0-3 against Stanford and 0-1 against Oregon.

None of the four are going anywhere soon unless it's by choice. They all have spearheaded programs for new or upgraded facilities (some of which are already in place) and each coach is already on his second contract.

That Washington State fans are groaning over the slow start, wanting everything to be Leachy-keen, shows that his presence has elevated the expectation level. Graham and Mora already have a South title and Rodriguez produces some of the most exciting offensive football in the country. See the Mary, Hill.

The 2012 class of coaches raised the national perception of the league, and also the stakes. The Pac-12 is as deep as it's ever been, the roster of coaches from top to bottom is at its peak and, as Oregon learned, there are no easy outs. Their presences makes their teams, and every team in the league, that much better.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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video 
It was a strong weekend for Pac-12 recruiting, as the conference added two potential impact commitments and several programs hosted important visit weekends. While Utah and Washington emerged as obvious winners, UCLA extended an interesting 2016 offer and both California and Washington State looked to take steps forward with recruits.

Planning for success: Utah Utes

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Through their first three games, the Utah Utes are clicking in all three phases. But it’s the last phase in particular -- special teams -- that have people thinking that maybe the Utes can make some noise in the Pac-12 South.

As Utah heads into conference play this week -- opening its fourth season as a Pac-12 team with a home date against Washington State -- it ranks among the nation’s best in several special teams categories. Kicker Andy Phillips, punter Tom Hackett and return man Kaelin Clay have all been outstanding through the first three games, as have the units that block and/or tackle for them.

First, the numbers:
  • As a team, Utah leads the nation in net punting. Opposing teams have returned 15 punts a total of 4 yards, giving the Utes a 46.67 net average. Hackett is third nationally with an average of 48.3 yards per punt.
  • In the return game, Clay is seventh in the country, averaging 23.8 yards per punt return in six attempts. Let’s not forget about his two touchdowns, either. Utah ranks second nationally in kickoff return with an average of 33.5 yards plus one touchdown (by Clay).
  • And Phillips is 5-of-6 on field goal attempts with a long of 50 yards.

Now, these aren’t sexy stats. Net yards per return doesn’t get the blood pumping the way touchdown passes or sacks do. But they win football games. Consider that 19 of Utah’s 26 points in Michigan came by way of special teams -- four field goals from Phillips and Clay’s 66-yard punt return.

"All three phases started kicking in,” said Utah wide receiver Dres Anderson on Utah’s win. “Our defense was doing great all game. Kaelin did great along with the punt return team. In the third quarter, the offense got everything going, and we started getting first downs. When you start getting first downs, everything starts to roll after that."

With the Michigan win the Utes improved their nonconference record to 11-1 since joining the Pac-12. Only Arizona, Oregon and Stanford (with one nonconference game remaining this season) can claim that kind of success.

Now the Utes will look to improve their Pac-12 record -- which stands in contrast to their nonconference showing at an unimpressive 9-18 (yes, quarterback injuries, we know, we know).

After WSU, the Utes go on the road for three of their next four with trips to UCLA, Oregon State and ASU with a home date against USC tucked in between.

“I think we're winning games because everyone has each other's back and everybody knows where they need to be,” said linebacker Jared Norris. “If somebody is out of place, then you have your brother that is going to make up for you. Home or away, I don't think it will matter this season. It's all about the trust we have in each other."

If the Utes can keep up all three phases, they are going to be a tough beat -- regardless of the venue.
Tags:

Utah Utes

Pac-12 morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Leading off

The Eliminator is a cruel mistress. And this past weekend she claimed another victim. Add the California Bears to the "Better Luck Next Year" category after Arizona's dramatic come-from-behind victory on Saturday in Tucson.

Here's what Mark Schlabach had to say about the Bears:
If Clemson blowing a late lead is "Clemsoning," what in the world do you call what the Bears did at Arizona on Saturday night? Cal blew a 31-13 lead in the fourth quarter, giving up 19 points in the final 3:30. The Bears surrendered a 47-yard Hail Mary on the final play of a 49-45 loss.

Obviously, the playoff hopes of the Pac-12 didn't rest on Cal. While the Pac-12 blog likes what it sees from the Bears, let's get to a bowl game first before we start talking playoffs. That leaves the league with five teams under the "still in contention" category: Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. Oregon State, Stanford, USC, Utah and Washington are all "on the fence."

Speaking of playoffs, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports weighed in with his weekly four-team projection and still has the Ducks as one of the top four teams.

What's on tap?

Athlon Sports projects the top five college football games this week, and two of their five are in the Pac-12. UCLA's trip to Arizona State -- rife with QB injury intrigue -- tops their list. And with good reason. The winner of the UCLA-ASU game has gone on to win the South Division the last two years.

They are also eyeballing the Stanford-Washington showdown. Here's why:
One of these teams has to start looking like a Pac-12 North contender, right? Stanford has been inept in the red zone, and Washington is letting bad teams hang around.

This should be an interesting matchup because both teams have struggled with consistency. Normally Stanford is the master of clean, efficient play. And when another team plays inconsistently, the Cardinal pounce. But neither team has really played up to its potential yet. The Pac-12 blog is confident they've both just been saving it for this game.

News/notes/team reports
  • Cal's blunders were Arizona's gain.
  • The Sun Devils are expecting to see Brett Hundley.
  • Some grades for Cal's game against Arizona.
  • Slowly but surely, the Buffs are making progress on offense.
  • Devon Allen emerging as a big-play threat for Oregon.
  • When Victor Bolden went down, other OSU receivers stepped up.
  • "Grades" for Stanford's bye week.
  • Tough break for the Bruins, who lose Randall Goforth for the season.
  • Adoree' Jackson narrows his focus during the bye.
  • Some new faces have been big contributors for Utah.
  • The roundup from Chris Petersen's Monday meeting with the media.
  • Some grades from WSU's game against Oregon.
Just for fun

Not necessarily fun, just gnarly.

 

So far, I'd say so:

 

Ex-safety Brian Baucham sues USC

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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LOS ANGELES -- Former USC Trojans cornerback Brian Baucham is suing the school and former coach Lane Kiffin, alleging he was forced to play in a game while ill.

A law firm representing Baucham, AgnewBrusavich, said the suit was filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Baucham claims he suffered "cardiopulmonary damage" and "brain injury with neurocognitive deficits" after he played against California at the Coliseum on Sept. 22, 2012. Baucham's lawsuit claims he was ill and dehydrated before the game, but was "forced" to play by Kiffin.

"USC and head coach Kiffin were clearly negligent and acted with conscious disregard for Brian's welfare and safety by forcing him to play ... despite his verified medical history and seriously ill condition," said Bruce M. Brusavich, Baucham's attorney.

Baucham, who had sustained a concussion two months earlier, collapsed on the field in the fourth quarter against Cal. He was taken to a hospital by ambulance and spent several days on a ventilator.

To read the rest of this Associated Press report, click here.
video
Young baseball players frequently dream of a situation in which they come up to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning with the bases loaded and their team trailing by three.

The football equivalent here might be a Hail Mary attempt that comes with time expiring and a club trailing by less than a touchdown.

Austin Hill faced that scenario on Saturday, though he didn't exactly daydream about it as a child.

"I never envisioned it," he laughed. "I always like to win comfortably."

Well, Saturday night's furious finish was anything but comfortable. Arizona trailed Cal 45-43 with four seconds left. From the Bears' 47-yard line, a field goal would have been a 64-yard try (exactly the NFL record), so that was out of question. The Wildcats were left with only one option, so coach Rich Rodriguez turned to divine intervention.

Well, not really -- but it turns out that the Arizona coaching staff's hand signal for "Hail Mary" happened to involve clasping the hands together in prayer fashion.

"That was the signal for this particular game," Hill said. "But they could have made up any signal, and I would have known what to run."

That would be a sprint straight to the back right corner of the end zone.

At the snap, Cal only rushed three linemen, leaving Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon with plenty of time to wait for his receivers to set up shop in the promised land.

Solomon's 73rd and final pass of the night was also its most majestic, a soaring 50-plus yard lob that might have brought down rain had the game not been played in the cloudless desert.

Hill made it to the ball's landing spot.

"Halfway, and then three-quarters of way [into the throw's flight], I knew the ball was coming to me," Hill said. "I was just hoping no one bumped into me, or hit my elbow, or jumped on top of me so I could secure the catch."

Though bodies jumped, pads crashed, and players fell in one chaotic end zone instant, none of the above happened. Hill secured the ball. Arizona Stadium entered a state of delirium. A 36-point fourth quarter had fueled a sensational comeback victory.

"Don't ever go home early," a beaming Rodriguez told a TV camera afterward.

Hill's grand finale is our Pac-12 play of the week poll winner. It won in a landslide.

On Monday, the "Hill Mary" still had Arizona buzzing as Hill went to class in Tucson. Fellow students offered their congratulations. Campus was energized by a moment the Wildcats won't soon forget.

And Hill may or may not still be holding that game-winning football, which he continued to clutch as he jogged off in Saturday night’s mayhem.

Questions and answers for Pac-12 South

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
6:30
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With the Pac-12 schedule beginning in earnest Week 5, we at the Pac-12 blog identified one question that each team has answered thus far in a satisfactory way, and one that still needs to be figured out. Next up: The Pac-12 South.

Arizona

One question that has been answered: Will the offense be OK with freshman QB Anu Solomon?

The Wildcats rank No. 5 in the country in total offense (593.5 yards per game) and are averaging 42 points per game. Yeah, that’ll work.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Will early-season success translate against better teams?

At 4-0, Arizona is where it wants to be, but close games against UTSA, Nevada and Cal make it tough to gauge where the Wildcats stack up with the upper echelon of the Pac-12.

Arizona State

One question that has been answered: This is a difficult one because the question answered already has a new question posed and it relates to the offense.

The question answered was that the Sun Devils will have one of the most prolific offenses in the Pac-12 this season. Then QB Taylor Kelly got hurt and we've yet to see how his backup, Mike Bercovici, will fare. Still, we can say for sure that RB D.J. Foster is proving to be a more than adequate replacement for Marion Grice.

One question that hasn’t been answered: How good will the defense be?

We still don’t know if the Arizona State defense will be any good, at least whether it will be good enough to support an A-list offense and get the Sun Devils back to the top of the South Division. With the conference schedule ahead, starting with UCLA on Thursday, this question should get answered fairly quickly.

Colorado

One question that has been answered: Will Colorado find a viable replacement for the explosive and departed Paul Richardson?

Yes, yes, 1,000 times, yes. Nelson Spruce went from being a solid possession receiver alongside Richardson last year to a bona fide star in the Pac-12. He already has 37 receptions and seven touchdowns -- which matches the seven he had for his career coming into this season. He’s averaging 14 yards per catch and has posted 100-plus yards in three of four games this season.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the defense make plays in the red zone?

Heading into Saturday’s game against Hawaii, the Buffs were last in the league in red zone defense and the only Pac-12 team to not record a red zone stop. Teams are now 17 of 17 in trips to Colorado’s red zone -- and 12 times those drives have ended in touchdowns. The good news is Hawaii made three trips inside the CU 20, but came away with three field goals. Pac-12 teams won’t be as forgiving. The Buffs' D needs to find a way to make a stand.

UCLA

One question that has been answered: How will the Bruins' defense cope with the losses of coordinator Lou Spanos and linebacker Anthony Barr to the NFL?

So far so good. While the sack numbers haven’t been there post-Barr the defense has bailed out the struggling offense, though the Memphis game was pretty forgettable.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Will the offensive line improve?

If it continues to struggle as it has through three games, the Bruins won’t win the South Division. Simple as that.

USC

One question that has been answered: Is Cody Kessler the right fit for Steve Sarkisian’s offense?

You can’t argue with the results. Right now Kessler is completing 71 percent of his passes (71-of-100) for 846 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s fourth in the Pac-12 with an adjusted QBR of 83.9 -- which is 14th nationally. There aren’t many coaches who wouldn’t take those numbers through three games.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Will the zone-read defense be a season-long issue?

Boston College crushed the USC defense with it to the tune of 452 rushing yards. While there are some identity issues the Trojans need to work out offensively, opposing coordinators have to be looking at what BC did and wondering how they can exploit this. They’ll see read-option from ASU, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Cal (with Luke Rubenzer) and UCLA -- plus a balanced attack from Oregon State this week and Air and Bear raids in consecutive weeks. There is a lot of offense coming up against a defense that suddenly looks unstable and leaky.

Utah

One question that has been answered: Who would be the player (or players) to step up in the pass rush in the absence of a graduated Trevor Reilly and an injured Jacoby Hale?

Reilly had accounted for 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss last season while Hale registered 6.5 sacks and 10 TFL, but the Utes have replaced them on a committee basis -- Nate Orchard 4.5 sacks, 5 TFL), Jared Norris (2 sacks, 4 TFL) and Hunter Dimick (2.5 sacks, 3 TFL).

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the Utes sustain this nonconference momentum through Pac-12 play?

A 3-0 start, especially with such an impressive win over Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend is nothing to short change. However, Utah has had good starts before -- 3-1 in 2013, 2-1 with a win over No. 25 BYU in 2012 -- but the wheels have always started to fall off in conference play. In 2012 the Utes finished the conference schedule with a 3-6 record and in 2013 they finished with a 2-7 Pac-12 record. The 2014 league season isn’t exactly kind but will this momentum carry over? Could they pick up three wins in conference play and find themselves bowl eligible?

Questions and answers for the Pac-12 North

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
4:15
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With the Pac-12 schedule beginning in earnest Week 5, we at the Pac-12 blog identified one question that each team has answered thus far in a satisfactory way and one that still needs to be figured out. First up: the Pac-12 North.

Cal

One question that has been answered: Will Cal be competitive? The Bears have taken the biggest step forward in the conference and can no longer be written off as an automatic win for teams looking up and down their schedule. Saturday's loss to Arizona was a heartbreaker, but the progress is obvious.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the defense hold up for four quarters? In its two games against FBS teams, Cal has allowed 13 total points in the first half and 60 points in the second half. That disparity needs to be rectified.

Oregon

One question that has been answered: Will Oregon be OK without Josh Huff, Bralon Addison and De'Anthony Thomas? The answer is yes, yes, yes -- a resounding yes. And that’s nothing against those three players, because they’re all very talented. But between the Ducks’ three-headed monster at running back (Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall) and their small army of receivers led by Devon Allen and Keanon Lowe, the Ducks are doing just fine for themselves.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the offensive line pull it together and protect Marcus Mariota? The Heisman hopeful was sacked seven times Saturday night in Pullman, Washington. SEVEN. TIMES. It is a little more understandable when you consider a true freshman was starting a left tackle and a former walk-on was starting at right tackle. Now, we know the mantra that every backup prepares like a starter, but it’s clear the Ducks are struggling after losing Tyler Johnstone, Andre Yruretagoyena and Jake Fisher. Mariota won’t be 100 percent by the end of the season if he’s sacked seven times a game. That falls on the offensive line.

Oregon State

One question that has been answered: How will the Beavers try to replace Brandin Cooks? “Try” is the key word here, as it’ll be nearly impossible to completely replace Cooks' 128-catch, 1,730-yard, 16-touchdown virtuoso performance of 2013. But in its attempt to pick up the slack, Oregon State is running the ball more effectively (Storm Woods and Terron Ward are averaging more than six yards per carry) and Sean Mannion has a new favorite target: Victor Bolden, who has 18 catches after only grabbing nine all of last season.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Will Oregon State’s rushing defense be better than last year’s? Mannion-to-Cooks was great in 2013, but the Beavers floundered to a .500 regular-season record when their defense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The unit gave up 5.1 yards per rush last season, and the results haven’t been particularly promising so far in 2014 (allowing 4.7 yards per carry against Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State), but a veteran-heavy front seven still has a chance to post significant improvement. USC’s Buck Allen will provide a hefty challenge this week.

Stanford

One question that has been answered: Will the losses of key contributors on defense, including coordinator Derek Mason, hurt Stanford’s defense? So far, a resounding “no.” The Cardinal are proving that nasty defensive success is more about scheme and cohesion than it is about star power. A finally healthy defensive line duo of David Parry and Henry Anderson has spearheaded a suffocating unit with no glaring weakness: Stanford has already pitched two shutouts and is surrendering only 4.3 points per game. The Cardinal are also leading the nation by registering a sack on 12.5 percent of opponents’ passing attempts.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Who is Stanford’s go-to running back in the post-Tyler Gaffney era? David Shaw is still going with the four-man committee approach, and receiver Ty Montgomery has even received some carries because he’s the only one big enough to replicate the 220-plus-pound size Stanford used to enjoy at the position. The Cardinal would probably like to establish an identity soon because their lack of a go-to weapon has contributed to enormous problems in the red zone (No. 124 nationally in scoring efficiency there).

Washington

One question that has been answered: Will the Huskies be fine at quarterback in the post-Keith Price era? Cyler Miles has been solid, though the level of competition ratchets up considerably Saturday with Stanford’s vaunted defense paying a visit. Miles has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes and has yet to throw a pick. Meanwhile, the Huskies have introduced a new offensive wrinkle that’s allowed backup Jeff Lindquist to rush for a pair of touchdowns.

One question that hasn’t been answered: How will Washington’s relatively young defensive backfield hold up? Again, so far, so good -- though Georgia State racked up 233 yards of total offense while Washington slept through Saturday’s first half. But freshman Sidney Jones and the rest of this unit will be tested against the dangerous aerial threats of the Pac-12 North. It does look like veteran Marcus Peters is ready to make plays for the Huskies on the back end. He recorded two picks this past week. Washington’s nation-best 19 sacks have certainly made life easier for the team's defensive backs, too.

Washington State

One question that has been answered: Could Connor Halliday be smarter with the ball? Now, he hasn’t had a flawless season, but if Saturday’s close loss against Oregon told us anything, it’s that Halliday can really excel in this offense when he, his receivers and his offense line key in. He threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes and not throwing a single pick (just the third time that has happened since the start of the 2012 season) against the No. 2 team in the nation.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the Washington State team that showed up against Oregon show up for every game the rest of the season? If the team that challenged Oregon -- the one that sacked Mariota seven times, doesn’t throw interceptions, rushes the ball with enough success -- shows up every game, the Cougars will be competitive and have winnable games against Utah, Arizona, Oregon State and Washington. Could they pick up a win over Stanford, USC or Arizona State and still be bowl eligible after their 1-3 start?
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- On Jan. 6, 2012, Mike Bercovici was chilling with some friends when he got a call from then-Arizona State receiver Aaron Pflugrad. There was some big news for the Sun Devils' backup quarterback. In a surprise to many, junior Brock Osweiler, the team's starting quarterback, had decided to enter the NFL draft.

And that is how an article began in advance of ASU spring practices in March 2012. Thirty-three months later, Bercovici can still recall exactly how he felt upon hearing the news of Osweiler's departure.

“It was an opportunity I had been waiting for my entire life," he said this week.

In 2011, Bercovici had beaten out Taylor Kelly for the backup spot. That made him a slight favorite to win the job over Kelly and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank in advance of the 2012 season. When spring practices ended, Bercovici was viewed as slightly ahead of Eubank, with Kelly a fairly distant third option.

Things changed. Dramatically. Kelly won the job -- coach Todd Graham even admitted at the time that it was a surprise -- and has played his way onto Arizona State's all-time top QB list over two-plus seasons. Bercovici has had to settle for being considered one of the conference's more talented backups, not that Bercovici ever got comfortable viewing himself that way.

“My hunger to be a starting quarterback hasn’t changed since I lost that competition," he said.

Just as the vice president is a heartbeat from the Oval Office, so a backup quarterback is an unfortunate play away from taking over an offense. The backup quarterback is the irrelevant mop-up guy with a backward baseball cap on the sideline -- until he becomes a team's most important player. For Bercovici, that transition happened when Kelly hurt his foot on the Sun Devils' last possession of the third quarter Sept. 13 at Colorado.

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsMike Bercovici will make his first career start against No. 12 UCLA Thursday night.
Bercovici, who has thrown 24 career passes, will therefore make his first career start next week. As if that isn't big enough, it will be Thursday night against No. 12 UCLA.

So, yeah, big stage for a first start. Of course, the relentlessly upbeat Graham said he's completely comfortable with Bercovici starting.

“We feel like we’ve got one of the best one-two quarterback combinations in the country," Graham said.

“He’s one of the last guys I’m worried about," he added later. "If this happened to any other team -- or any other team I’ve had -- it would be devastating to you.”

There's a significant distance, however, between being theoretically good and proving it on the field. While Bercovici is well-versed with the Sun Devils' offense and has an undeniably strong arm, he remains an unknown commodity. The chief concern with him is he too often believes he can use that strong arm to fire a pass through a window in the secondary that isn't much larger than a key hole. He knows this just as well as his coaches. In fact, he recalls how it might have cost him the job during 2012 preseason camp.

“At the start of camp, something in the minds of every quarterback is not turning the ball over," he said. "That’s what we stress here at Arizona State. If you go back and look at film, I threw two interceptions. I knew, from there I was playing catch-up. Taylor didn’t throw any interceptions.”

Said offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, “That’s huge. That’s part of his development. Obviously, he has a tremendous arm. He can make every throw on the field that needs to be made. But it’s also understanding progressions and getting to when it’s time to go to that next progression and taking what the defense gives you.”

Bercovici can't try to overcome two-plus years of frustration on every pass, on every drive. Against UCLA, he needs to distribute the ball to his playmakers, of which he has plenty, and not force the action. Although he might get a few more shots downfield -- and fewer runs -- than Kelly, his first priority is to protect the football. Considering the past two games between these two teams have come down to the last possession, every miscue figures to be as critical -- if not more so -- as every big play.

It's probably a good sign, then, that Bercovici doesn't sound like a guy looking for personal vindication.

“I feel like it is my duty to have no setbacks with me at quarterback," he said. "It’s my duty to make sure we’re still undefeated when [Kelly] comes back. I owe that to him, and I owe that to the team.”

Such thinking shouldn't be too surprising, considering Bercovici's decision not to transfer already revealed him to be an unselfish guy. While many college quarterbacks quickly go looking for starting jobs after losing a competition -- Eubank is now the starting quarterback at Samford in Birmingham, Alabama -- Bercovici opted to stick it out. Yes, he thought about leaving, but those thoughts lost.

“Obviously, those thoughts race through your head, but it [would have been] a bitter taste to put on different colors," he said.

While the present is big enough for the 15th-ranked Sun Devils, there also is the future. Bercovici stuck around because he saw himself as the starter in 2015, when Kelly heads to the NFL. If anyone knows that's not a given, though, it's Bercovici. For one, there's a potential challenge from touted incoming freshman Brady White.

Playing well and winning while Kelly is out for what might be a month or more would, obviously, significantly bolster his case for next year. Bercovici knew that question was coming.

“In theory, it would," he said. "But for these seniors, these guys I’ve been around for four years, it’s their time right now. My 100 percent focus is I want to be the best quarterback I can be on Thursday night for those guys.”

In other words, the future is now for Bercovici. It's not how he envisioned things 33 months ago. But he's got too much on his plate this week to quibble with the whims of fortune.

Pac-12 Live: Week 5

September, 22, 2014
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Join ESPN.com Pac-12 reporters Kyle Bonagura, Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller at 5 p.m. ET as they discuss the crazy finish to Week 4 in the conference and look ahead to Week 5. Don't forget that you can also ask the experts your Pac-12 questions live on the show.

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