Recruiting class rankings: Oct. 22 update

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
5:00
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National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert joins ESPN’s Phil Murphy to break down updates to the ESPN class rankings in the wake of updated player evaluations with the ESPN 300.

To read the full class rankings, click here.
videoSo maybe all the hubbub and Apocalyptic thoughts that came crashing down on Eugene and all of Interstate 5 and up through the Cascades a few weeks ago were a little bit of an overreaction, no?

But oh, how quickly the tide changes. Because in just two weeks, Marcus Mariota has led the Oregon Ducks from pandemonium to the Promised Land (with some help from a few other top teams being upset) and back into the good graces of the football gods. Not bad, Marcus, not bad -- just 16 days to go from a hopeless team to a heroic one.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota has helped Oregon stay in contention for the College Football Playoff by completing 70 percent of his passes.
“Ah, but [insert SEC West QB name here] could do it in 15,” someone argues. But, that’s fine. Because the SEC can do what the SEC wants to do.

At this point, the Ducks just need to insulate and take care of business because they’re likely in control of their own destiny. According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Oregon has a 21 percent shot to win out. That's third-best among one-loss teams, behind Ohio State and TCU, which both have a 26 percent chance.

And with one game to go until the College Football Playoff committee releases its first set of rankings, Oregon solidified itself as the Pac-12’s banner holder.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t major issues that could still be exploited, and coach Mark Helfrich is the first to admit that.

“There’s a ton we can improve upon, for sure,” he said on Sunday night after watching his team’s game film from its dominant win over Washington.

Such as ... tackling. That has looked better these past two weeks, but the Ducks are still giving up far too many big plays. Oregon has given up 119 plays of 10 or more yards so far this season. You want to know who else has given up that many plays of 10 or more yards?

Purdue and Toledo. In very few cases in college football -- when it comes to statistics -- do you want to be on the same list as those two teams.

As the weeks progress, the Ducks are doing a better job communicating and getting helmets to the ball. But still, of the 1,182 rushing yards the Ducks have allowed, 610 have come after contact.

So, you can decide whether it’s more worrisome that more than half of opponents’ rushing yardage has come after Oregon (tries to) tackle or the fact that through seven games, 572 rushing yards have come before an Oregon defensive player has even gotten to the ball. Or, everyone can just agree that it’s bad news when the Oregon defense allows other teams a 4.3-yards-per-rush average and a 65 percent conversion rate on third-down rushing attempts.

But, it can get better (well, at 120th in the country in third-down rushing defense, it can’t get much worse).

Defensive coordinator Don Pellum has been on this staff a long time, and he knows that this group can play much better than it has. Defenses always take longer to jell and with so many new faces on that side of the ball and D-lineman Arik Armstead hopefully healthy for good, maybe the learning curve will kick up a notch.

But the offense finally seems to be clicking. And though Helfrich wants to downplay the return of offensive tackle Jake Fisher, the skies have looked dramatically clearer for the Ducks since Fisher got back to bookending the left side of the line and protecting Mariota’s blindside.

In Oregon's games against Arizona and Washington State, with Fisher out, the Ducks' average rushing yardage was just about even with what those two teams had given up coming into those games. Meaning, it was average. An average team will not reach the playoff.

But when Fisher returned, the Ducks averaged 1½ times the rushing averages that UCLA and Washington had given up coming into those games. That’s the kind of performance the committee wants to see. It’s not all about statistics, but when Royce Freeman is rushing for 100 yards and Mariota is completing 70 percent of his passes, they’re a hard team to ignore.

And that’s exactly what the Ducks need to be: Hard to ignore -- and not just because their uniforms are flashy.

So, why not Oregon? That’s the question the committee will ask itself as it sits down to look at the résumés of the top 20 or so teams.

It’s a team that knows how to be nationally relevant, but it’s also a team that knows what it feels like to slip out of that conversation.

Two weeks ago, it seemed like that might happen. But the loss to Arizona doesn’t carry as much weight now, as there’s a certainty that at least two one-loss teams will be in the playoff.

Oregon is in the conversation. The Ducks are the ones who are going to decide whether they keep themselves there or not.
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Seven games into the 2014 season, Connor Halliday's numbers border on the absurd.

He’s throwing 63 passes per game, the highest rate in NCAA history. His 478 passing yards per game are topping college football’s single-season mark. And anyone who has glanced at the box score from his record-smashing 70-attempt, 734-yard effort against Cal three weeks ago knows what it’s like to rub eyes and re-read in disbelief.

“If any of our quarterbacks threw half as many passes as him, they’d need to ice their arms,” Stanford coach David Shaw laughs.

Yet here Halliday is, coming off Washington State’s bye week, ready to resume firing away.

The senior is in the midst of a historic campaign. At his current rate, Halliday is on pace to throw for 5,733 yards through 12 games. Former Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons -- another Mike Leach product -- owns the FBS single-season passing record set in 2003 with 5,336 yards through 12 games. Symons finished with 5,833 yards after the Red Raiders' bowl game.

Through little fault of his own, Halliday will likely only have 12 games to make his mark. The Cougars are buried in a 2-5 hole, and bowl eligibility seems to be a long shot. That has pushed Halliday’s flirtations with history out of the limelight.

“As a quarterback, I’m judged by how many points we score and if we win the game,” Halliday said after the Cougars’ latest setback, a loss at Stanford Oct. 10. “So I’ve got to figure that out.”

That’s a noble mea culpa; perhaps a vintage mark of a true leader. But there’s something patently unfair about it. After all, the quarterback position has most definitely not been Washington State’s fatal flaw in this disappointing campaign. The real blame here should lie with shoddy defensive and special-teams play, not Halliday’s blistering passing pace.

Perhaps the most unfathomable shame came three weeks ago in Pullman, when the unthinkable happened against Cal: Halliday threw for those 734 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions -- and lost 60-59. He drove the Cougars into position for the game-winning score, only to see a missed 19-yard chip shot field goal sully his all-time performance.

“It really doesn’t mean too much,” he said. “It’ll be fun to look back on it when I’m 30 years old.”

And just like that, in a moment emblematic of Halliday’s under-appreciated season, history was brushed under the rug.

The ingredients that made the record-breaker

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesWith 63 passes and 478 yards per game, it's a wonder Connor Halliday's right arm can still function, let alone excel.
As Halliday’s Cougars emerge from their bye week aiming to make one final surge toward bowl eligibility (they’ll need to win four of their last five to get there), it’s a good time to lift up that rug and appreciate all that’s under it. Years of development and fine-tuning have served as the cornerstones of Halliday’s assault on the record books. The eye-popping results of Leach’s Air Raid system may have desensitized college football fans, but make no mistake: It’s not easy to average nearly 500 passing yards per game, and the intricacies behind that ability are worth a closer examination.

Halliday began playing his position when he was just 5 years old, thanks in large part to his father, Duane, a former quarterback at Boise State. Halliday’s first record came his senior year of high school in Spokane, when he broke former Cougars great Mark Rypien’s league passing mark. Then came college football at Washington State. It wasn’t until Leach’s arrival on the Palouse in 2012, though, that Halliday’s full potential was unlocked.

“That first offseason (under Leach) was awful,” Halliday said, recalling that his new coach didn’t initially trust him. “I remember those practices. If something went awry, the offense immediately got 30 up-downs.”

Toward the end end of spring ball, though, Leach had begun to develop faith in his quarterback, and he communicated it in subtle ways. Halliday noticed that whenever there was offensive discombobulation, Leach would wait quietly and allow his quarterback to sort the situation out instead of stepping into the fray himself.

That trust was the foundation of the Air Raid’s multi-option approach at the line of scrimmage.

“Leach doesn’t put a guy out there as his quarterback until he trusts him,” Halliday said. “Because once [the quarterback’s] out there, [Leach] can only suggest stuff. Whoever is playing quarterback has the best look at the defense and the best look at the leverage.”

For all intents and purposes, Halliday is Leach’s offensive coordinator on the field. The head man only signals in one passing option. As Halliday approaches the line of scrimmage, the quarterback has three options based on the defense’s alignment: He can check to a run, he can stick with Leach’s pass play or he can design his own throwing option.

Halliday estimates that he breaks from Leach’s suggestion about 45 percent of the time.

That illustrates a remarkable amount of freedom and responsibility for a college quarterback. And along with his notably quick release, those are vital ingredients behind Halliday’s ability to frustrate opposing secondaries. Against Stanford, even though his offensive line faltered under the weight of the Cardinal’s ferocious pass rush, Halliday converted four consecutive fourth downs.

“We had the perfect defense called against him every single time,” Shaw said. “But that ball just came out so quick. We couldn’t stop it.”

The nation’s leading defense ultimately overwhelmed Halliday’s supporting cast, but even that unit was repeatedly flummoxed by the lanky senior who has become a living, breathing piece of a fascinating aerial assault.

A record chase and a season to salvage

Even as trust, precision, quickness and accuracy have taken Halliday’s game to new levels in 2014, he’s the first to admit that statistical success will fall on mostly deaf ears if the Cougars don’t start winning immediately. Arizona visits Martin Stadium this Saturday, and that kicks off a final five-game gauntlet that also includes dates with USC, Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington.

It's clear the record chase takes secondary importance in Halliday's mind. This is a fifth-year senior who’s played through a five-inch laceration of his liver, and he’s not done scratching and clawing yet, even if a disappointing ending short of bowl eligibility may seem likely.

“The only thing you can do is lead the guys,” Halliday says. “I guarantee you I’m going to keep playing hard, and I can guarantee you that I’m not going to quit.”
Washington defensive lineman Danny Shelton is third in the Pac-12 with 7.5 sacks and is a huge part of what the Huskies have been able to do defensively this season.

His team is coming off a road loss to Oregon but welcomes No. 14 Arizona State to Seattle on Saturday. Shelton chatted with the Pac-12 blog earlier this week and took questions ranging from his Huskies to his husky (yes, he owns a husky).

Halfway through the season, what’s your grading of the Washington defense?

DS: B+. I feel like we just haven’t really dominated like we can. We’ve missed too many tackles in every game we’ve played. We let a lot of teams score. We’ve had a lot of mistakes and a lot of missed opportunities and that’s something that great defenses shouldn’t have.

[+] EnlargeJuicy and Moni
Danny SheltonWashington defensive lineman Danny Shelton's dogs Juicy and Moni.
Your team is coming off a loss to Oregon. At halftime, the Ducks led by 22 points and had amassed 380 yards of offense. What were the conversations like in the locker room at half?

DS: Just to keep our heads up. We had the second half to take over and we wanted everybody to focus on their job. We didn’t want people to be like super humans and do other people’s jobs, that just tears up a defense. I feel like if we would’ve kept playing like we did in the first half we would’ve had serious problems at the end of the game.

[Note: The Huskies allowed just 77 rushing yards and 97 passing yards in the second half, though they still gave up 17 second-half points.]

You’re balancing a lot (teaching, classes, an internship), what has that balance been like this season?

DS: Kind of tough, but I never really want to show that it’s tough. It gets stressful, but I find time in my day to relax and try to get my mind off everything. I like to have complete focus on what I’m doing at the moment so when I’m at football practice I’m going to be locked in and when I get home I want to be completely focused on my dogs, just relaxed. When I go to class, be focused on class and my internship. Just trying to stay consistent with focusing.

How do you relax?

DS: Watch movies. Take my dogs on a walk. Listen to music.

When you said “focused on your dogs,” I assumed you were referring to your Husky teammates. You mean you actually have four-legged friends?

DS: Yes. I have a husky (Juicy) and a pitbull (Moni).

How did you come to own two dogs as a college senior?

DS: Really, I just wanted more responsibility. … That’s when I got my pitbull. I got her leading into my junior year. I had a teammate that I was living with and we would switch of taking care of her. I got her when she was a baby, so it was a point in my life when I had to grow up and act more like an adult, eliminate distractions. … That was part of my change. And then late in my junior year I decided I wanted to get another puppy with my girlfriend. At the time it seemed smart, but it has been kind of tough. We’ve been doing great.

What’s the hardest part about owning two dogs as a student-athlete?

DS: It’s having the energy to take them out and play. I get home and I’m tired from my day and I take them out for a walk. They’re super hyper when they get back inside. They want to play but I’m too tired to take them to the park. They run around my whole house. My mom would probably not be proud of it. It’s a little messy.

You’re No. 5 in the nation in sacks. Your teammate Hau'oli Kikaha leads the nation in sacks. What’s practice like with you two?

DS: We always kid around. We just like having fun. I don’t know about Hau’oli, but I never really think about the national statistics. I just have fun competing against Hau’oli. Every Sunday or Monday when we meet up and go over game film we tally up who had better production. It’s always a competition between us. It’s just fun. It’s kind of like a brother rivalry.

Let’s play a word association game. I’ll give you a teammate or coach or yours, you tell me the first thing that pops to mind…

Coach Chris Petersen: Life changer
Defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski: Old school
Hau’oli Kikaha: Eight the great
Shaq Thompson: My son
Jaydon Mickens: Spontaneous
John Ross: Too fast
There’s nothing quite like the first time your newborn son evacuates all over a wall at 2 a.m. This is what Andy Phillips is currently dealing with. So no, a little crowd noise at the Rose Bowl or a little rain at the Big House isn’t really going to rattle him, thank you very much.

As Utah’s kicker grows into fatherhood – his son Maximus is now seven weeks old – he’s learned to put the things that matter in life into perspective. While his football career can be high-pressure/high-stress, it's -- for lack of a better pun -- child's play compared to the responsibilities he has at home.

[+] EnlargeAndy Phillips
AP Photo/Alex GallardoNothing seems to faze Utah kicker Andy Phillips.
“I’m only seven weeks into it, but nothing fazes me,” said Phillips, 25. “Whether it’s poop all over the walls or pee everywhere or waking up at 2 a.m. to give him a bottle, there is nothing more demanding than taking care of a child. I get to football and it reminds me how blessed I am to have an opportunity to play this sport. My wife, my family are all so supportive.”

By now, most people who follow the Pac-12 have heard the tale of how Phillips, a former member of the U.S. Ski Team, became Utah’s kicker despite any previous football experience. After several video exchanges with former special-teams coordinator Jay Hill (now the head coach at Weber State), Phillips was invited to camp as a walk-on. He sent videos to every school in the state, but Utah was the only program that bit. Good call, Utah.

“He’s a great weapon for us,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s a big contributor for us week in and week out. He’s not your typical kicker.”

Indeed. Phillips was skiing competitively at 5 and internationally by 12. He was racing in Europe by 15 and at 17 he was named to the U.S. team, where he spent five years.

That competitive drive is alive and well on the football field. He ranks among the nation’s best kickers in almost every category and his field-goal accuracy has earned him the nickname “Automatic Andy.” He’s 13 of 15 overall and 9 of 11 from 40-plus yards. He ranks sixth in the nation in scoring at 10.8 points per game.

But it’s more than field goals. More often than not you’ll see Phillips flying down the field trying to make the tackle on kickoffs. A lot of kickers talk that talk, but few back it up. Here’s an example of Phillips backing it up.

“I don’t like to shy away from contact,” Phillips said. “I’ve got pads and a helmet on for a reason. I might as well use them. I’m an aggressive safety. If there’s a hole that opens up, it’s my job to fill that hole. I like to get in there and knock people around a little bit.”

He also knows his limitations. Kicking was the obvious choice, having grown up with a soccer background. Yet Whittingham said if Phillips wasn’t a kicker, there are several other positions he could play, simply based on his athleticism.

“I have to temper him and tell him to stay back and be the safety guy,” Whittingham said. “He would love to go in and get in the mix.”

Phillips isn’t cocky enough to think he could just stroll in and start playing, for instance, linebacker.

“Not growing up with the sport and competing at this level, I understand there are so many instinctual things these guys learn growing up with the sport,” Phillips said. “No one can jump in and be a ski racer at 18 or 19 because there are so many things you learn growing up, you can’t learn it all in a year. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what a linebacker has to learn his whole life or what a running back has to learn.

“… With my ski racing background, I learned my whole life how to be mentally tough. How to handle pressure situations. How to adapt to uncomfortable situations. I think that gives me a huge advantage in the kicking game.”

And that athleticism allows him to do something most other kickers can’t – the one-man onside kick, which he pulled off against UCLA a couple of weeks ago. It started as an idea he and Hill came up with last year. Phillips worked on it for a week before trying it live in practice.

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“We did it 15 times and I was able to recover it all 15 times without failure,” Phillips said.

Added Whittingham: “He’s not the first guy we’ve tried it with, but he’s the best guy at it, without a doubt.”

The Utes have a critical Pac-12 South showdown this weekend with USC coming to town. Then again, from here on out they are all critical as the Utes look to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2011. They move forward with the confidence knowing they’ve got one of the best kickers in the country on their side.

“If you strive to the be the best at everything you do in life, whether that’s school, golf, religion, soccer or football, all of those translate to one another,” Phillips said. “If I’m in a pressure situation in football, if that’s something I’ve faced in another aspect of my life, I’m going to be able to overcome it.”

USC, Utah among most underrated units 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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Cody Kessler and Utah defenseIcon Sportswire/USA Today SportsStatistics show the battle between USC's offense and Utah's defense will be one to watch.
One of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend takes place in the Pac-12 South, a showdown Saturday night between the USC Trojans and the Utah Utes. With a victory, USC would be the first Pac-12 team in either division to five conference wins. Utah looks to remain undefeated against the Pac-12 South division as it begins a brutal five-game stretch against the league’s best.

The game is intriguing from an advanced stats view, as well, a head-to-head battle between one of the nation’s best offenses and one of the best defenses. Traditional box score statistics might not recognize the matchup as particularly remarkable. USC’s offense ranks 28th nationally in points per game and 31st nationally in yards per game. Utah’s defense ranks 35th in points allowed and 55th in yards allowed per game. But those raw numbers don’t account for the strength of opposition faced or the context of play and drive efficiency.
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Several Pac-12 commitments and prospects saw some significant movement in the updated ESPN 300 rankings released Wednesday. Overall, the conference holds commitments from two of the top 22 prospects in the country and 26 of the top 300. With fewer than four months until signing day, let's take a look at where the Pac-12 stands in the ESPN 300.


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Top trap games remaining for contenders 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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Oregon didn't see Arizona coming. Baylor was blindsided by West Virginia. Now those teams' playoff hopes are damaged, if not totaled.

It's often the surprising losses -- the trap games -- that derail promising seasons. Just ask Oklahoma State (Iowa State) in 2011 or USC (Oregon State) in 2008.

As for 2014, here are the most perilous traps remaining down the stretch for the top six in the AP poll. That includes Mississippi State, FSU and Ole Miss, the three remaining undefeated Power 5 teams.

1. Ole Miss
Trap game: at Arkansas (Nov. 22)
When they go to Fayetteville, the Rebels will essentially be coming off two open dates (they play Presbyterian on Nov. 8). But Arkansas still presents a classic look-ahead scenario, because Ole Miss has the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State the following week. The "biggest Egg Bowl ever" chatter is buzzing now; just imagine what it will be like a week before the game. If the Rebels' focus is waning, Arkansas is good enough to punish them for it. Mark it down: The Razorbacks are going to end their 16-game SEC losing streak this season, and it wouldn't surprise me if it happened in an impactful game. Mississippi State (Nov. 1) also should be on high alert. Arkansas will slow down the game. Even if Ole Miss isn't running as much up-tempo this season, pace is still something the Rebs want to dictate. The timing and matchup are as dangerous as it gets.


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Pac-12 morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! All 12 teams are in action this week -- no byes. Actually, it will be like this for the next two weeks. So that's exciting! Here are the most current depth charts for all the teams in action this week, save UCLA, which doesn't post a weekly depth chart. As always, I'll note any significant changes below. Notes
Heisman updates

Usually in this space every Wednesday, we've been linking the straw poll from Heismanpundit.com. However Chris Huston, friend of the blog who runs that site, has put it on hold while he does some work for the official Heisman site. We wish him the best.

So today we'll update you with the ESPN.com Heisman poll. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota still sits behind Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. But he closed the gap last week with his performance against Washington.

Here's how the latest poll shakes out, followed by their total points:
  1. Dak Prescott (47)
  2. Marcus Mariota (42)
  3. Melvin Gordon (25)
  4. Tie: Amari Cooper (9)
    Jameis Winston (9)

Prescott and Mariota were the only players receiving first-place votes. Looks like it's a two-man race to the finish.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

A cool behind-the-scenes photo journal of UCLA's trip to Cal.

Bravo, Oregon fans. Bravo.



The Trojans will rock these shiny new lids on Saturday.

With more than a third of the votes in this week's Pac-12 Blog Play of the Week vote, Oregon receiver Dwayne Stanford's 16-yard touchdown catch stole the show.

It's not really surprising considering how ridiculous of a play it was. Yes, it might not have been a game-winner like Devontae Booker's was, and he used both hands, unlike Cal receiver Chris Harper. But Stanford managed to jump, turn, go over two Husky defenders, spin some more and then come down with the TD to give the Ducks a 35-6 lead.

Not bad for his first touchdown against an FBS opponent.

"I told Marcus to put it up to where only I can catch it," Stanford told The Oregonian. "That's what we got to do. When we have the opportunity to make plays, we got to take advantage."

And did he ever. For that advantage and that play, Stanford gets the nod for the Week 8 winner for the Pac-12 Blog's Play of the Week.

Reader reaction:

 

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Friday

No. 6 Oregon vs. California at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
  • Oregon has scored 79 points off turnovers, most in the conference.
  • Oregon has gained 61.9 percent of the possible yards on offense, most in the conference.
  • Cal leads the nation in touchdowns in conference games (26).
  • Oregon true freshman RB Royce Freeman has scored 12 touchdowns, most in the conference.
  • Cal QB Jared Goff ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 with an 80.8 QBR, which ranks No. 6 nationally.
Saturday

No. 25 UCLA at Colorado

  • Colorado is second in the Pac-12 averaging 49.3 pass attempts per game, but allows a conference-low 1.71 sacks per game.
  • The Bruins have had 13 drives of 80 yards or more, the most in the Pac-12.
  • UCLA picks up at least one first down on 82.4 percent of its drive, second-most in the Pac-12 behind Arizona.
  • Colorado has gone for it on fourth down 22 times, the most in the Pac-12.
  • In goal-to-go situations, both UCLA and Colorado have both scored touchdowns on 11 of 13 attempts with two made field goals.
Oregon State at Stanford

  • Stanford is tops in the conference in yard margin per game in Pac-12 play, averaging 113 more yards than its opponents.
  • Stanford has committed four turnovers in the red zone-- six teams in the conference have committed none.
  • Oregon State averages the most seconds of possession per play in the conference (28.3), but is followed closely by Stanford (28.0).
  • Oregon State scores on 37.2 percent of its drives, while Stanford is at 31.4 -- two of the three lowest rates in the Pac-12.
  • Stanford did not lose to Oregon State during its school-record 72-week streak in the AP Top 25 that was snapped this week. The Cardinal's last loss to Oregon State came in 2009, when it was unranked.
No. 15 Arizona at Washington State

  • Opposing defenses have committed 17 penalties against Arizona, the most against any Pac-12 team.
  • Arizona averages the fewest seconds of possession per play in the Pac-12 (20.1).
  • Arizona RB Nick Wilson owns the Pac-12's longest rush of the season -- an 85-yard touchdown run against UTSA. Only two other players have a carry longer than 57 yards yards.
  • Three WSU receivers – Vince Mayle, River Cracraft and Dom Williams – have a reception of 84 yards or longer. Of the rest of the conference, only Arizona (Cayleb Jones and Austin Hill) has more than one.
  • WSU punts on just 29.5 percent of its drives, the third-lowest percentage in the Pac-12.
No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah
  • Utah averages 4.83 drives per game without a first down, the most in the Pac-12. USC averages 3.86, the second most.
  • Utah RB Devontae Booker averages 187.7 yards rushing in conference games, the second most among Power 5 running backs behind Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (217) ... and USC's Buck Allen is far behind. He ranks No. 6 (149).
  • USC QB Cody Kessler is among the most accurate quarterbacks in the country. His completion percentage (69.5) ranks No. 5 and his interception percentage (0.4) is No. 3.
  • Utah (5.18) and USC (5.36) rank No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in yards per play allowed in Pac-12 play.
No. 14 Arizona State at Washington
  • Washington has turned the ball over on just 3.4 percent of its possessions, the lowest rate in the Pac-12.
  • Arizona State is one of five teams in the country averaging over 320 yards passing and over 190 yards rushing on offense.
  • Arizona State’s defense has committed 11 penalties that resulted in first downs, second fewest in the country.
  • ASU averages 6.74 yards per play, which ranks second in the Pac-12 and 15th nationally.
  • Washington averages 181.4 passing yards per game, the fewest in the Pac-12.
Past weeks

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Criticism and questions are swirling around Stanford following another anemic offensive performance in Saturday's 26-10 loss to Arizona State, and coach David Shaw is taking full responsibility for the team's struggles on that side of the ball.

“I’ve done a poor job of structuring our offense so that our guys can be successful," Shaw said Tuesday. "We have to utilize our personnel better."

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsKevin Hogan is completing only 54.5 percent of his passes over the past three games after completing 71 percent in Stanford's 3-1 start.
Stanford has dropped to the Pac-12 cellar in terms of scoring offense. The Cardinal are averaging only 17.6 points per game against Power 5 competition, roughly two touchdowns below the Pac-12 average (30.2 per game). In Tempe, Stanford managed only 10 points, 288 yards of total offense, and 4.7 yards per play, all figures that paled in comparison to what Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado accomplished offensively against Arizona State. The Sun Devils had surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in four straight games, but Stanford -- once feared for its powerful rushing attack -- managed only 76 yards on the ground.

Shaw said quarterback Kevin Hogan, who finished 19-for-39 against a steady diet of Arizona State pressure, is receiving a lot of unwarranted blame for Stanford's struggles. He instead suggested that the Cardinal coaching staff has not successfully tailored its offensive approach to put Hogan and a bevy of playmakers in position to succeed.

"I’ve got to help our guys so they can just be the great athletes they are," Shaw said. "We’ve sputtered too many times. I need to adjust accordingly... We've got too good of personnel in our offense to score [so few points]."

Shaw would not elaborate on intricate details of Stanford's potential offensive adjustments, but the attack has come under fire for relying heavily on its traditional power rushing, play-action oriented approach even though it has become increasingly apparent that the team's decrease in size at the running back position has made that strategy less effective. In the past, Stanford has enjoyed the services of bruisers such as Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. Now, the Cardinal seem to enjoy comparative advantages on the outside instead, behind big receiving talents Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and a trio of young tight ends.

Shaw said he wants to capitalize on that without drastically altering Stanford's scheme midseason.

“I’m taking this one personally because I look at our guys, and I’ve got to help them," he said. “I have to find a way to utilize our personnel better. I just have to.”

Stanford has partially reopened a competition at right guard. Although Shaw said Johnny Caspers has played well enough to keep his starting spot there, Brendon Austin is getting an opportunity to earn playing time.

The Cardinal host Oregon State this Saturday in what promises to be a test for the team's staggering offense: The Beavers rank second -- behind only Stanford -- in the Pac-12's total defense category. The Cardinal's heavily anticipated visit to Autzen Stadium looms the week after.
Arizona StateChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesArizona State head coach said Taylor Kelly, right, will regain his starting job once he is healthy.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham said if quarterback Taylor Kelly is ready to play Saturday at Washington, he will start for the No. 14 Sun Devils.

Kelly has been out since breaking his foot in a 38-24 win at Colorado on Sept. 13.

"This is Taylor's football team," Graham said. "He's earned that."

The Sun Devils (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) have gone 2-1 during that stretch with Mike Bercovici at the helm. In three starts, Bercovici has completed 63 percent of his throws for 1,243 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

He had a five-touchdown performance -- which included a last-second, game-winning Hail Mary -- on the road at No. 16 USC. And he threw one touchdown and no interceptions in the 26-10 win last week over No. 23 Stanford.

"I'm not a head coach that's going to change quarterbacks up very often, especially one I've won 22 games with," Graham said. "If he's ready to go, which I think he will be, he'll go. That doesn't mean Mike won't play. We're not the same team we were before Taylor got hurt. I think we're better because of how Mike has developed."

In the first three games, Kelly had thrown six touchdowns with no interceptions and rushed for two more.
videoAnd so goes the carousel of quarterbacks at Utah. But don't call it a two-quarterback system because that's not what this is at all.

“We’re waiting for somebody to separate themselves and really take ownership of the position,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of his Travis Wilson-Kendal Thompson conundrum.

On Monday, Whittingham announced -- after initially saying he’d keep this information closer to his vest going into this week -- that Wilson would be the starter for No. 19 Utah this weekend against No. 20 USC.

[+] Enlarge Kendal Thompson, Travis Wilson
Chantel Jennings/ESPNUtah QBs Kendal Thompson and Travis Wilson speak to reporters after Thursday's win over Oregon State. Wilson will start for the Utes against USC on Saturday.
“We have had some back-and-forth the last couple weeks and it wasn’t by design,” Whittingham said. “Bottom line: We would love for one of them to take ownership and become the guy, because I’m not a two-quarterback system fan. I haven’t seen that work well very often, if ever. So we’re trying to get that separation but they’ve got to play themselves into that separation."

Wilson led the Utes to victory in the Michigan game, but Thompson kept them in it when Wilson had to exit early in the second quarter to have an injury checked out. When Wilson struggled early against UCLA, Whittingham turned to Thompson, who led the Utes to a huge upset win over the then-No. 8 Bruins, prompting Whittingham to start him last Thursday against Oregon State. But when Thompson had a lackluster first half, Whittingham decided to give Wilson the second half. And then Wilson led the Utes to a double-overtime victory.

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It’s not “some” back-and-forth like Whittingham said. It’s a lot of back-and-forth. And for a top-20 team that’s headed into the seventh game of its season, having a problem of abundance at quarterback is basically like having no one at quarterback.

Either Wilson or Thompson needs to secure himself as the starter going forward if the Utes want to compete for the South Division title. This you-go-no-you-go shtick is only going to carry the Utes so far.

Wilson has completed 63 of 111 passes for 833 yards (7.5 yards per attempt) and seven touchdowns without an interception. Thompson has completed 28 of 47 passes for 301 yards (6.4 yards per attempt), two TDs and two picks. But with what Thompson lacks in passing he makes up for with his feet. He’s the team’s second-leading rusher behind Devontae Booker, with 51 carries for 164 yards and one touchdown.

Whittingham said that both players are handling the competition well and that he’s making sure neither player feels as though he has “too short of a leash.”

But the truth of the matter is that the leash is getting shorter for the entire team the further this competition goes into the season. They’re two different quarterbacks, both with their own pros and cons. And with Wilson getting the start against USC this weekend, he’s going to have the next shot at becoming the man for Utah.

History says it might not stick, but seeing how quickly things can change for that position at Utah, maybe Wilson will finally step forward and secure the job for good.

“It’s got to happen on the field and we have to see one of them take charge and that’s what we’re hoping happens now,” Whittingham said. “One of them needs to just go ahead and take charge and take the position and run with it.”

Video: Best Of The One-Loss Teams

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:45
PM ET
video

ESPN college football reporter Adam Rittenberg breaks down which one-loss college football team is the best of the lot.

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