Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Pac-12 morning links

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:00
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It's Baltimore. No one lives forever.

Leading off

Rankings are starting to get awfully important now. As we head into the final week of the regular season, there is plenty of jockeying going on. And how the rest of the country sees things will likely play a role in how the College Football Playoff selection committee sees things.

The Pac-12 had a setback in the rankings last weekend with lackluster performances from Utah and USC. Both of their non-competitive losses bounced them from the rankings, leaving the league with just four teams left in the top 25. Kyle Bonagura has the conference perspective here. The good news is that all four teams are ranked in the top 15 -- so the best the league has to offer is getting its due. Here are where the four teams stand in the AP and coaches polls (AP listed first).
  • Oregon 2-3
  • UCLA 9-10
  • Arizona 12-12
  • ASU 13-13

As always, here are how some folks who cover the conference voted in the AP poll. Playoff chatter

In this week's look at Pat Forde's "Fab 4," Oregon is seated nicely at the No. 2 spot, where he projects the Ducks to face Mississippi State in the Rose Bowl.

His take on the Ducks:
The Ducks continue rolling at a high rate of speed, winning their sixth straight Saturday -- all of them by double digits, all while scoring at least 42 points. They jumped on hapless Colorado 30-3 in the first half, upped the lead to 44-10 in the third quarter and then used the fourth as mop-up duty. In combination with Oregon's pileup of strong wins, its lone loss (31-24 to Arizona on Oct. 2) has only gotten better as the season has gone along. The Wildcats now are 9-2 and remain in contention to win the Pac-12 South and have a potential league championship rematch with Oregon.

Worth noting that he also has UCLA as a team still worth consideration. If the Bruins beat Stanford on Friday, they will lock up the South and force a rematch with the Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game. If the Cardinal beat the Bruins, then it's winner take all in the Territorial Cup.

News/notes/team reports
Stanford snapped a two-game losing skid with a 38-17 thumping of rival Cal on Saturday. Here's how it happened:

How the game was won: Stanford sealed this victory with 12:31 left to play when its sturdy defense forced Cal to turn the ball over on downs. The Bears had begun to generate some mojo following an onside kick recovery, but this game was about the Cardinal clamping down and forcing five turnovers after their offense supplied a multipossession lead. Stanford rushed for 204 yards and passed for 214.

Game ball goes to: We have to give out two game balls today because this was such a balanced Stanford effort. Remound Wright delivered four rushing touchdowns (last done by Toby Gerhart in the 2009 Big Game), while linebacker Blake Martinez intercepted two passes and forced a fumble during the defense's aggressive showing.

What it means: Although the program lost luster this season, Stanford will head to a bowl game for the sixth consecutive year. The 6-5 Cardinal have notched their sixth consecutive six-win season, tying their longest streak since the Great Depression. The 5-6 Bears must win their finale against BYU to earn bowl eligibility.

What's next: Stanford moves on to its regular-season finale at UCLA, which will be an especially intriguing game if the Bruins get by USC on Saturday night. Cal still has a shot to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011. The Bears must beat BYU next week.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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After two weeks on a diet, a jam-packed Pac-12 slate is back Saturday. Here's the rundown:

10 a.m.

Washington State at Arizona State, Pac-12 Network

One word: early. This game kicks off at 11 a.m. local time, but keep in mind that the Cougars' body clocks will still be set to the Pacific time zone. Mike Leach said that Washington State's hotel pregame routine will start between 5 and 6 a.m. It'll be a chance for fans to watch the Pac-12 while munching on pancakes, French toast, or -- my favorite -- crab Benedict. And it'll be a chance for ASU to wash away the horrible memory of last week's 35-27 loss at Oregon State as quickly as possible.

12:30 p.m.

Arizona at Utah, ESPN

By lunchtime, there should be a craving for a good dose of backfield pressure. #SackLackCity should be a fun place for the Wildcats' Scooby Wright to visit: He's ranked in the top three nationally in sacks and tackles for loss, so why not put him on the same field as the Utes' Nate Orchard, who's currently at the top of the sack heap? Defensive star power is the name of the game here, but keep an eye on Arizona's Anu Solomon: He must step up to the challenge of the Rice-Eccles crowd.

1 p.m.

Stanford at Cal, Fox Sports 1

Stanford's offense has been bad, but the Cardinal have found a way to score against shaky defenses this season (they've been terrible in games against ranked teams, averaging only 11.4 points per regulation in those contests). Well, good news for the Cardinal: The Golden Bears are worse than shaky on defense (39.2 points, 518 yards per game). Bad news for Stanford: Cal is at home, and it is smelling blood. Let's see what gives in the 117th Big Game. Oh, and that matchup between Jared Goff and Lance Anderson's top-ranked Cardinal defense isn't too shabby, either.

1:30 p.m.

Colorado at Oregon, Pac-12 Network

The best team in the conference meets the worst team in the conference. Prediction-wise, that's about all that needs to be said about this one. Some extra, slightly unrelated food for thought: Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre asserted that the Pac-12 South was the best division in college football, better than even the SEC West. Imagine how absurdly strong the South would be if Oregon were in it, too (I bring this up only because the SEC's top team, Alabama, happens to reside in the powerful West).

5 p.m.

USC at UCLA, ABC

Statues have been vandalized, airports have received photogenic lighting decorations, and statues have been arguably vandalized some more by duct tape (intended to protect them, but still, that's going to be a pain to remove, right?). The pregame rituals of rivalry week were fun, but it's time for some actual football with Pac-12 championship hopes on the line. The matchup of Brett Hundley and Cody Kessler is fascinating one, as is the battle between USC's frontline explosiveness and a UCLA machine that appears to be peaking at the right time.

7:30 p.m.

Oregon State at Washington, ESPN

The Beavers need one more win to earn bowl eligibility for Sean Mannion in his senior season. It's amazing what one good week (paired with a bad one) can do: Both of these teams have lost four of their past five games, but the feeling surrounding Oregon State is much more positive than the one in Seattle. The Beavers notched a huge 35-27 upset win over ASU last weekend, while the Huskies dropped a bitter 27-26 decision to Arizona. Both have a chance to finish forgettable seasons on a high note.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
8:00
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

As we do every Friday, we focus our attention on some picks. Only two weeks left (not counting the bowl games). Six are already bowl eligible, two more will punch their ticket this weekend (the winners of the Stanford-Cal and Oregon State-Washington games becomes bowl eligible). So we'll have at least eight. But nine or 10 are still mathematically possible. But we'll worry about that when we have to.

The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning. Chantel Jennings went against the grain in a couple of picks and Kyle Bonagura likes the Trojans. Other than that, pretty unanimous.

As we do every week, here are some predictions from folks who cover the conference and college football nationally.

The Fox Sports tandem of Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel both like the Bruins in a tight game. Here's what Feldman had to say:
Brett Hundley wrecked the Trojans last season with his legs and arm, and he was very sharp in carving up USC two years ago. Despite how well Cody Kessler, Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen are playing, my hunch is the Bruins have enough athletes on defense to contain them to get away with a win. UCLA 31, USC 30.

Here are some other thoughts: Halliday update

Injured Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday spoke about the specifics of his injury for the first time Thursday. We had one report here on the blog. He also shared his frustration over the injury and the hope that he'll be playing football again within five months, which would put him in line to participate in WSU's pro day.

Here's a quote from Halliday from a story in the Spokesman-Review:
I think the hardest thing was just how close I was to being healthy throughout the year, going to the combine, getting to do all that stuff. That’s what I’ve been dreaming about since I’ve been able to dream so that was the frustrating thing: I was just three games away from that.

Halliday was putting up monster numbers. We know this because he's still leading the Pac-12 in passing with 3,873 yards and 32 touchdown passes. Here's the full transcript of Halliday's conference call with the media.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The Cal band continued its annual tradition of invading the San Francisco Chronicle, which is kind of funny.



I don't know what this is or what it does ... but I think I want one.
When they met a year ago, Cal and Stanford stood at polar opposite ends of the spectrum.

The Golden Bears were mired in a season of 1-11 despair. They didn't beat a single FBS team throughout their entire 2013 journey.

The Cardinal, meanwhile, were again shooting toward the Pac-12 pinnacle. Arizona upset Oregon on the day David Shaw's team walloped Cal 63-13. The 50-point obliteration represented the largest margin in Big Game history. It catapulted Stanford into the Pac-12 championship game and eventually the Rose Bowl.

A lot can change in less than a calendar year.

Cal and Stanford are ready to renew hostilities for the 117th time, and though the Cardinal are still the favorite Saturday, their 5-5 record suddenly stands in a dead heat with the Bears.

[+] EnlargeStanford axe
AP Photo/Tony AvelarPlayers celebrate with The Stanford Axe in 2013 after beating Cal for the fourth consecutive year.
In the 362 days since one of the biggest mismatches in their rivalry's history, Cal and Stanford have zoomed in opposite directions. Sonny Dykes' program has made significant strides under sophomore quarterback Jared Goff, while Shaw's fragile post-Andrew Luck success has vanished on the offensive end. The Bears still struggle mightily on defense (last in the Pac-12) while the Cardinal still excel on that side of the ball (best in the Pac-12), but both teams' overall complexions have driven them to the same late November spot: a .500 record.

Objectives moving forward

The next goal for Cal involves clinching bowl eligibility, and the Bears can kill two birds with one stone by winning Saturday, as that would also restore some balance to a Northern California war that Stanford has commanded this decade. This much has been documented: The Cal offense built around Goff and Daniel Lasco is good. But the Bears must show meaningful improvement defensively to get this job done, as they made Stanford's mercurial offense (8.6 yards per play) look like the 1994 San Francisco 49ers last season. Cal has given up 39.7 points and 518 yards per game this season, last in the Pac-12. But the Cardinal's offense has regressed significantly this season, and Dykes seems confident that his defense has improved enough to meet the challenge this time.

"We're a better football team, and we're certainly better defensively," he said. "The numbers haven't necessarily been where we want or need them to be, but we're a lot better than we were. ... Last year we had to commit extra guys to the box and we were susceptible to a lot of big plays. We're constructed differently now. Our ability to hold up against the run will give us a better opportunity this year."

While Stanford is reeling, they're also viewing this game through a lens of opportunity --with a seasoning of desperation. Nose tackle David Parry acknowledged the Cardinal's season -- one that started with College Football Playoff aspirations -- would be a failure without at least one win in the final two games. Receiver Jeff Trojan was more forgiving -- "It's tough to say anything is a failure when you've grown with so many people in the program," he said -- but the senior recognized that a chance to play for the prized Big Game trophy overlapped with Stanford's desire to salvage this forgettable season.

Perhaps Trojan's comments before last year's contest, which also came after a brutal loss, best illustrate the Cardinal's approach heading to Memorial Stadium.

"We aren't very fond of [Cal]," he said. "They stole our Axe and I don't like them for that."

So, because bitterness remains because of an 1899 theft that has been part of rivalry lore in three separate centuries now, it's safe to say that Stanford -- the wounded bully -- relishes a 2014 opportunity to show its cross-Bay nemesis that it's still in charge.

With Goff on an upward trajectory as he approaches his junior season, Cal is expected to continue its charge upward -- especially if defensive challenges are at least partially answered. For Stanford, then, there's a real sense of urgency to circle the wagons and make a rigid stand now, when talent and depth advantages both still favor them. The Cardinal have their own explosive offensive stockpile maturing for next year and beyond -- perhaps along the lines of Christian McCaffrey -- and setting the table for the upcoming wave is of utmost importance.

The winner of this contest earns bowl eligibility, and the extra preparation time associated with that is a big first step in the foundation of the future. Regardless of any potential bowl destinations, this is the type of game that can set a tone for the long offseason of work ahead for both programs. They're on opposite trajectories now, and this Saturday's clash can either hasten or alter the directions of both shifts.

Cal and Stanford have reached the tipping point, and there's more than an Axe at stake.

Pac-12 Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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Why Stanford will win: Stanford winning the Big Game would be a sure-thing if I had predicted Cal to win -- as Bears fans know, my pick is like getting handed a condemning black spot from a pirate, a la "Treasure Island." But there is something to be said for the physicality of Stanford's defense being able to contain Cal's offense, as Washington's front seven did. I also suspect Stanford will get Good Kevin Hogan in this game, which should be enough to get the Cardinal bowl eligible in an otherwise disappointing season. -- Ted Miller

Why Cal will win: I like this matchup: A great offense against a great defense, and a "meh" offense against a "meh" defense. Yay, Pac-12 football! But I think Jared Goff is going to come up huge for the Bears. I'm giving the nod to the team that has more positive vibes, rather than the one dealing with disappointment. That's what I've learned from the West Coast. -- Chantel Jennings

Why USC will win: It just wouldn't feel right if the Pac-12 South finished without another change of course. Look for Cody Kessler to turn in another big game and the Trojans to avoid a three-game losing streak to UCLA -- something that has happened just three times in the series' history. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why UCLA will win: With Buck Allen and Nelson Agholor exploding on a regular basis, USC may have more top-level flash (don’t tell that to Brett Hundley, though), but UCLA has the depth advantage in this game. The Trojans’ late-game struggles have to be cause for some concern here, especially since the Bruins have been playing their best football as of late. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon State will win: The Beavers are riding high and bowl eligibility is on the line in Sean Mannion's senior year. Last week, the Beavers played for pride. This week, it'll be to give their leader one extra game in an OSU uniform. They clicked last week and I think that will continue. I think the Beavers are going to leave Seattle with a win and extend their season one more game. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Washington will win: In losing Terron Ward, the Beavers lose a running back, a leader and a special teams contributor. That’s a big deduction this late in the season for a team not overflowing with playmakers. Combine that with a talented Washington front seven and the Huskies feel right in this one at home. Now, if Cyler Miles can just hold on to the dang ball. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

Why Utah will win: Home-field advantage might not mean as much as it used to in the Pac-12 this season, but I think the crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium fuels Utah's nation-leading pass rush. It will be enough to push the Utes to victory over an Arizona offense that’s still young at key positions. -- David Lombardi

Why Oregon will win: When the best team in the conference plays the worst team in the conference, it's easy to pick the winner (even in the Pac-12). It's only a question of how much the Ducks will win by. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils are going to be eager to bounce back from their loss in Corvallis and pick up win No. 9 against Washington State. Look for a better performance from Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster, who rushed for just 51 yards against the Beavers. -- Chantel Jennings

Pac-12 morning links

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
8:00
AM ET
I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for.

Leading off

The USA Today annual database of coaches salaries, which was released Wednesday, always draws plenty of debate. Coach "X" is overpaid. Coach "Y" is underpaid. Whatever your stance, one thing is for sure ... coaches salaries are at an all-time high. And thus, the expectations are equally high.

Here’s how things shape up for the Pac-12 coaches, based on total compensation.
  • Chris Petersen, Washington, $3,681, 720
  • Rich Rodriguez, Arizona, 3,298,500
  • Jim Mora, UCLA, $3,250,000
  • Mike Leach, Washington State, $2,750,000
  • Todd Graham, Arizona State, $2,702,960
  • Kyle Whittingham, Utah, $2,200,000
  • David Shaw, Stanford, $2,012,666
  • Mike MacIntyre, Colorado, $2,010,150
  • Mark Helfrich, Oregon, $2,000,000
  • Sonny Dykes, Cal, $1,808,000
  • Mike Riley, Oregon State, $1,510,008
  • Steve Sarkisian, USC, N/A

When talking to some coaches last February for a story about potential coaching changes in the future, a few of them expressed to me that the main reason coaches only get three years now is the salaries. It used to be a coach would get at least four years -- one full recruiting cycle -- to turn a program around. Yet schools also have to spend the money to attract coaches, especially rebuilding projects. With the pressure to produce immediate results, it stands to reason that the heat gets turned up after Year 2 or 3. For now, it looks like everyone in the Pac-12 is reasonably happy with their coach, so it's unlikely we see any unforced moves in the offseason.

Player of the Year

The 15 semifinalists for the Walter Camp Award, given annually to the top player in college football, were released Wednesday with three Pac-12 players on the list.
Not to be overshadowed, the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top running back, was also released Wednesday. USC's Buck Allen was the only Pac-12 player named a semifinalist.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

If you watch one video of a punter pinning opponents inside the 10 today, make it this one.

Here's injured Buffalo Bills linebacker and former Duck Kiko Alonso chillin in some snow, because, well, why not?

Recovery

A video posted by Kiko Alonso (@elbravo_50) on


Some more Big Game motivation.

Mailbag: Oregon vs. ???

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
8:00
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Welcome to the mailbag, where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came. If you feel so inclined, follow me on Twitter.

Derrick in Omaha writes: Who should Oregon fear the most in a Pac-12 champ game? I don't think we need a highly ranked opponent, just one we can beat. Tough to beat UCLA twice, but USC is looking pretty good, too. And Arizona has had our number the last few years.

Kevin Gemmell: The simple answer is this: Fear everyone! There is no easy out.

Whoever the Ducks end up playing, they are going to get a unique challenge. But let's go down the line and look at the five teams left and what sort of trouble they could present the Ducks. (Relax, this is in alphabetical order).

SportsNation

Which South Division team could give Oregon the most trouble in the Pac-12 championship game?

  •  
    16%
  •  
    18%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    34%
  •  
    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,491)

Arizona: The Wildcats have the benefit of beating Oregon twice in the past two seasons. Could they pull it off thrice? Oregon is a different team than the one that lost seven weeks ago. It's healthier in some places, but not in others. And as you note, it's hard to beat a team twice in one season. But the 'Cats seem to know something no one else does. If Arizona wins again, they should take a bow. (Ohhh ... See what I did there?)

ASU: The Ducks didn't see the Sun Devils this year. But you've got to think the matchup with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Jaelen Strong (assuming both are at full health) would be a marquee storyline in this game. ASU will blitz, because that's what ASU does, and if they can keep Marcus Mariota contained, they'd have a shot. That's a big if, though.

UCLA: The Bruins have the experience of having already seen the Ducks once this season. But they had no answer for Royce Freeman, who really blossomed in this game with 121 rushing yards and two scores. But UCLA's Paul Perkins, though kept out of the end zone, rushed for 187 yards on 21 carries -- an average of 8.9 yards per touch. That could be a problem.

USC: Really good running back. Really good receiver. Really accurate quarterback who doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Really athletic defense. This one is intriguing. ...

Utah: The final score, 51-27, wasn't indicative of how close that game really was. The Utes were within a field goal with 11 minutes left, and we don't know what would have happened if the Utes had gone up 14-0 instead of the infamous 7-7 swing.

All five matchups have their pros and cons for the Ducks. Let the debate begin.




0006shy in Los Angeles writes: Hey Kevin, is it time for the rest of the country to admit that the Pac-12 South is the toughest division in college football? Five teams -- five teams! -- are still in contention to win it. Talk about cannibalizing! Sorry Sec West, your propaganda doesn't work over here on the BEST coast. With teams like Arkansas (one conference win in two and a half years), A&M (no defense at all), LSU (couldn't complete a pass even if the existence of the universe depended on it), and the Mississippi schools (eight non-conference games combined, zero against Power 5 teams), you're a distant second.

Kevin Gemmell: I think the rest of the country has, in fact, woken up and smelled the Southern goodness. That's why there are five Pac-12 South teams ranked in the most recent College Football Playoff poll with UCLA (9), ASU (13), Arizona (15), Utah (17) and USC (19). But it's not just the committee. All five are also ranked in the AP poll and the coaches' poll. So there is wide recognition that the South is deep.

That five of six teams from one division are ranked in the top 20 is awfully impressive. But for the sake of comparison, it's worth noting that the SEC West has four ranked teams and three of them are in the top 10 and all four are in the top 15.

So the question then becomes quality vs. depth. No doubt, the South is a deeper division. Even with seven teams compared to six, I'd take the bottom half of the South over the bottom half of the West any day. But does the South have more quality at the top than the West?

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre has some thoughts on the subject, which you can read here.

For kicks, let's quickly look at the potential matchups of the top five from each division (we're going by rankings):
  • Alabama (1) vs UCLA (9)
  • Mississippi State (4) vs. ASU (13)
  • Ole Miss (8) vs. Arizona (15)
  • Auburn (14) vs. Utah (17)
  • Texas A&M (NR) vs. USC (19)

I think on any given day you have the Pac-12 South going 3-2 and the next day the West going 3-2.

So to answer your question/comment, I think the South probably has a slight edge. But that's also coming from a Pac-12 writer. But I think "distant" second might be a little too extreme. It's pretty neck and neck.




James in Corvallis writes: What are your thoughts on Jordan Villamin after the OSU upset? He has a size/speed combo that OSU hasn't had in recent memory. Could he be something special? It would be nice to have that one-two punch with Bolden and Villamin.

Kevin Gemmell: Interesting to see this question pop up, because I just asked Mike Riley about Villamin on Tuesday's conference call. And I know Chantel Jennings has a Pulitzer-worthy feature coming out on him for tomorrow, so look for that.

I'm not necessarily ready to speculate on anybody's future -- especially a wide receiver when a quarterback transition is going to occur in the very near future -- but it's fair to say he's made the most of his opportunities.

First, his measurables are outstanding. At 6-4, 240 pounds, he's certainly got the kind of frame that can give defensive backs fits. In the first five games, he had just three catches for 32 yards.

But since Richard Mullaney went out and Villamin's role has increased, he's caught 26 balls for 479 yards and four touchdowns. He had huge performances against Cal (9-140-1) and ASU (4-127-1) and appears to be gaining more confidence with every game he's played.

And that's exactly what Riley said when I asked him about him: more opportunities have led to greater confidence.

He's still a pup and learning the speed of the game. But I'd look for him to play a big role in the final two regular-season games and potentially a bowl game if the Beavers can get there.

Tale of the tape: Stanford vs. Cal 

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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Heading into the season, the Pac-12 rivalry game likely to be separated by the most distance in the standings was the Big Game. With Stanford looking to challenge for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff and Cal looking to escape the conference cellar, the fact that these two teams are playing for bowl eligibility this weekend is somewhat surreal. It's a similar story on the recruiting trail as well, as these two programs have the fewest number of verbal commitments in the conference, as Cal holds 12 commitments and Stanford just 10 -- though Stanford holds the edge in ESPN 300 prospects at three to one.

The recruiting rivalry between these two programs is interesting in that they aren't separated by much distance, but don't overlap in their chase for the same prospect as often as you might expect. Stanford -- arguably the most national recruiting program in the country -- has commitments from players from 10 states, while eight of Cal's dozen commits hail from its home state and there might not be a true recruiting battle between these two for any prospect in this class.

Instant impact recruit
Here we are, two weeks left in the regular season, and the Pac-12 once again has a team in contention for a national championship.

But let’s be honest ... does anyone actually feel good about the prospects? Oregon -- the league’s brightest beacon of hope -- retained its No. 2 spot when the latest College Football Playoff rankings were revealed Tuesday night.

With games against Colorado (2-8) and Oregon State (5-5) remaining -- plus an opponent still-to-be-determined in the Pac-12 championship game -- the Ducks seem to be in good shape for a spot in the national semifinal in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. A 69-percent chance, if you trust the ESPN metrics.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesThe path to the College Football Playoff seems straightforward for Royce Freeman and Oregon. But recent Pac-12 history has not been kind to teams in the Ducks' position.
The case for Oregon is compelling. Since losing to Arizona, the Ducks have won their last five games by an average of 21.6 points and have three double-digit wins over FPI Top 25 opponents -- the most in FBS. With the country’s most efficient offense led by the most efficient quarterback, it seems safe to at least start looking up hotels in the greater Los Angeles area.

But Pac-12 fans have learned to live in a world where the other shoe dangles delicately -- amassing potential energy before delivering a knockout blow at terminal velocity. We’ve seen teams with stronger resumes than the 2014 Ducks pull off amazing feats of yoga just so they could kick themselves in the rear.

In other words, Pac-12, you’ve teased us too many times before.

You know what you are, Pac-12? You’re the last number on a lottery scratcher that doesn’t hit. You’re the ace that pops up when you double down on 7-4. You’re the high-priced steak that’s undercooked and over-seasoned. You’re the last episode of The Sopranos. So much anticipation and build up, followed by an unsatisfying and jarring cut to black.

As my colleague Ted Miller likes to uncouthly say, you yak on yourself this time each year.

Will this year be different?

We thought it would be last year, before Stanford beat Oregon, USC beat Stanford and Arizona beat Oregon.

We thought 2012 would be different, until the Stanford beat Oregon.

We thought 2011 would be different, until Oregon beat Stanford and USC beat Oregon.

You can go all the way back to the league’s last national champion in 2004 and find an instance of foot-shooting almost every year. USC and Oregon did it in their national championship games in 2005 and 2010, respectively. The 2008 Trojans -- a team so ridiculously loaded with future NFL talent -- crashed and burned in Corvallis in the third game of the season. The computers never forgave them.

But before that, there were the Trojans gagging in 2006 with a mid-season loss (again in Corvallis) and a season-finale loss to UCLA. You can even go back to ’98 and dredge up the would-be UCLA-Tennessee national championship that never happened, courtesy of Miami.

We’ve already seen it with Arizona State’s collapse last weekend in Corvallis. How neat and tidy would it have been for the league to have two one-loss teams playing in the championship game with a spot in the playoffs on the line? But that’s not the league’s style. It prefers messy.

Had the Sun Devils pulled out a win last weekend, do you think the Beavers faithful at Reser Stadium would have been chanting “P-A-C, P-A-C” like some other conference we know that holds itself in such high regard? Of course not. This league’s coaches rarely talk about what’s good for the conference. They want what’s best for their own team -- national perception and conference pride be damned. And for the record, this fifth of the Pac-12 blog is just fine with that.

Colorado isn’t going to yield the floor to the gentlemen from the great state of Oregon. Nor are the Beavers gracefully going to step aside and accept their seventh straight loss to the Ducks. Those teams want nothing more than to dust the college football landscape with thermite and watch it burn.

Nothing is a lock. Nothing is even close to being a lock. If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that the worst may be yet to come.

Or maybe this year will be different. Maybe the Pac-12 will hit that third lottery number, pull that face card, and savor that high-priced steak. Maybe this is the year the league’s national title hopes don’t have a Sopranos-esque ending and simply snap to black. Because the league clearly has one of the best teams in the country. And it would be a shame if things just cut off right in the middle of

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
10:00
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video
With only three Pac-12 games on Saturday, it looked as if it could be a light recruiting weekend in the conference. And while there wasn't much in the way of visitors, Stanford hosted two intriguing unofficial visitors and Sunday brought some significant news in the way of a commitment and a new name for Pac-12 recruiting fans to put on their boards.


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Pac-12 morning links

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
8:00
AM ET
Nervous?
Yes
First time?
No, I've been nervous lots of times.

Leading off

The College Football Playoff will release its new rankings tonight, and it's a safe bet that Oregon will still be in the top four after being on bye last week. Projections have had them as high as No. 1 and as low as No. 4. If The Eliminator has anything to say about it, the Ducks are still in good shape. The Ducks are one of eight teams still listed as "in contention."
For No. 2 Oregon, the mission is now simple: Don't screw it up. The Ducks suffered November losses in each of the past three seasons that prevented them from playing for a BCS national championship. Oregon's path to the playoff isn't entirely clear -- it still has regular-season games left against Colorado on Saturday and at Oregon State for the Civil War on Nov. 29, as well as the Pac-12 championship game -- but it would be a surprise if anyone can knock off the Ducks. Since losing to Arizona 31-24 at home on Oct. 2, Oregon has scored at least 42 points in five consecutive victories.

But the Ducks aren't the only Pac-12 team still hanging around. Three others -- Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA -- remain "on the fence." The Wildcats have a tough South Division road game against Utah. The Sun Devils will look to bounce back against Washington State and UCLA and USC square off at the Rose Bowl in a rivalry game with plenty of regional and national implications.

Awards season

The Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the nation's top receiver, announced its 10 semifinalists Monday. Almost half of the players are from the Pac-12. Here's the list:
The award has resided in the Pac-12 the last two seasons, after OSU's Brandin Cooks won it in 2013 and USC's Marqise Lee took it home in 2012. You can check out the receiving stats here to see how the four stack up against the competition.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Must be rivalry week.

 
The 2014 Pac-12 season is like great cinema. Last week, I drew comparisons to "Gladiator," and how could I not? The league does host games in the Coliseum and folks are, in fact, entertained.

That parallel might have been too simplistic.

Just a few days ago, we seemed destined for a clear-cut final battle between Oregon and Arizona State. But as we've hit the home stretch, it's apparent this Pac-12 story contains more twists and turns than Lombard Street. It's time to shift cinematic comparisons. "Fight Club," "Shutter Island," "Memento," "The Empire Strikes Back" -- pick your favorite startling ending. Because it appears Tyler Durden may be orchestrating how this sucker wraps up, particularly in the Pac-12 South. The next stunner has yet to be revealed, but it's again time to make sense of it all heading into next Saturday:

Breakfast with the Pac-12: Washington State at Arizona State

Brace yourselves... for a Pac-12 kickoff at 10 a.m. PT. The Sun Devils will go from one end of the extreme (7:45 p.m. PT kick in their 35-27 loss at Oregon State last week) to the other, although it should be noted that this one starts at 11 a.m. local time in Tempe. Still, that's an early chance for ASU to right the ship after this past weekend's disaster in Corvallis. The Sun Devils had been consistently improving their run defense on a weekly basis until the Beavers' Storm Woods and Terron Ward both lit them up with 100-yard performances. As a result, Arizona State's defense is still a volatile question mark, and this week's get-back-on-track test comes against young Washington State gunslinger Luke Falk.

A tasty lunch: Arizona at Utah

Delicious indeed. The Wildcats needed a minor miracle (see an unnecessary Washington fumble and kick-icing backfire) to pull out a 27-26 win over the Huskies this past week, and they're still very much alive in the Pac-12 South race because of it. Arizona needs to win out while hoping for a USC loss this Saturday and a UCLA loss the week after that, which would lead to an Arizona rematch with Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. This weekend is a sweet matchup against Utah, which again played excellent defense in its 20-17 double-overtime win at Stanford. The Utes may also still have a chance at the South crown in a hypothetical five-way tie that's too confusing for my brain to process, so I'll let Kyle Bonagura break down that situation. Long story short: This will be a huge game in the electric Rice-Eccles Stadium environment.

Diamond-in-the-rough game: Stanford at Cal

The Cardinal have tumbled from the nation's elite to a team fighting to attain bowl eligibility, while the Bears have risen from complete inferiority to meet Stanford in the same place. The paths of these two rivals intersect at 5-5, just one win shy of that six-win postseason plateau. So, yes, a surface-level examination says this is solely a Big Game between a pair of .500 football teams. But the most dazzling explosions are often produced by entities coming from polar opposite directions, careening toward one another at blazing speeds. Can Cal end its Axe-less drought (since 2009) or will Stanford prolong its dominance of this Bay Area battle? The matchup of the Cardinal's conference-worst offense (23.9 points per game) and the Bears' conference-worst defense (39.7 points per game) will likely determine the answer to that question.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: USC at UCLA

This gem needs no more hype. It is the traditional rivalry of Los Angeles, and it comes with an enormous amount at stake beyond that. The Bruins again control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South race, and talk of a College Football Playoff berth for them has resurfaced. The Trojans aren't in a horrible position, either, although they'll need some things that are out of their control to go their way to end up at Levi's Stadium for the Pac-12 title game. This pairing of UCLA (which seems to be playing its best ball at just the right time) and an explosive USC attack (see Nelson Agholor's second consecutive 200-yard receiving performance in the Trojans' 38-30 win over Cal) sets the table for a beauty in Arroyo Seco. The Bruins' Brett Hundley may get most of the hype, but remember that USC's Cody Kessler is the nation's only quarterback to have attempted more than 300 passes with fewer than four interceptions.

Desperation bowl: Oregon State at Washington

Yes, the Beavers are coming off a potentially season-saving upset win over ASU, but they're still one win shy of bowl eligibility. With the Ducks looming in the season finale, this chance in Seattle is their best shot to earn a postseason berth. So this is a must-win without technically being a must-win for them, if you catch my drift. The Huskies, meanwhile, are thirsty to erase the putrid taste of their 27-26 loss at Arizona. It appeared as if Chris Petersen's team had finally put together a complete performance, but the Huskies passed on a late chance to kneel out most of the clock and fumbled away the game instead. This is Pac-12 Hail Mary territory, so maybe there are even tougher ways to lose than that, but the point remains: Both teams are starved for one more win.

A time to take care of business: Colorado at Oregon

The Ducks are massive favorites over the Buffs at Autzen Stadium. Oregon has already clinched the Pac-12 North and is on track for a College Football Playoff berth as long as the Ducks do what's expected of them: Beat inferior opponents in the final two weeks of the regular season. Of course, a tougher Pac-12 championship game looms after that, but that's a worry for another time. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich must first use this stretch as an opportunity for his wounded team to heal and, of course, win. Colorado, meanwhile, is scrapping for just one Pac-12 win this season. The Buffs have this opportunity against the Ducks and one versus Utah remaining. Both are daunting.
StanfordEzra Shaw/Getty ImagesAfter playing in four straight BCS games, Stanford is now just trying to be bowl eligible.
In the quiet murmur outside the losing Stanford locker room on Saturday night, a reporter asked James Vaughters if he felt the Cardinal defense had played well enough to win.

The senior linebacker, still dazed after the double overtime loss to Utah in his final career home game, paused for several seconds.

It seemed like an eternity.

Vaughters' anguish was palpable as he pondered the question. His unit had recorded another one of its vintage performances, holding the Utes to just seven points in regulation while ransacking the backfield to the tune of 13 tackles for loss.

"No," Vaughters finally muttered in a quiet, defeated fashion. "We didn't."

In that one, long moment, the bleak realization was as painful as it was clear. This was a 2014 Stanford football saga of wasted opportunity.

When viewed from afar, the idea that the Stanford defense didn't do enough to win, of course, is preposterous. But that's how badly reality has been skewed on the Farm this season: Smothering the opposition to the tune of a meager 4.1 yards per play, forcing punts on 90 percent of their regulation possessions, and holding a team to more than 100 rushing yards under its average total is no longer enough for consistent success.

That warped reality has been around far longer than just one game.

The Stanford defense is leading the Pac-12 by significant margins in every key statistical category. They've been at or near the top of the national heap throughout the entire season in these criteria, too. Regardless, bowl eligibility for the 5-5 Cardinal is in serious doubt, and defensive leaders like Vaughters must agonize over details after their sterling performances frequently come up short.

The vexing story plays on repeat, and the Stanford offense is at fault.

The Cardinal attack, shaky at best since Andrew Luck left after the 2011 season, has taken a complete nosedive this season. It's now painfully clear that the presence of a power running back (Stepfan Taylor in 2012, Tyler Gaffney in 2013) was the aging, drying glue barely holding the offense together.

Without a 220-pound bowling ball, Stanford's house of cards collapsed more quickly than Frank Underwood's version will next year.

The team's 23.9 points per game ranks dead last in the Pac-12. The Cardinal is averaging a meager 11.4 points in its five contests against ranked teams. The offense is ranked No. 125 (out of 128 FBS teams) in red zone scoring efficiency, coming up completely empty-handed on one third of its trips inside the 20 yard line.

"You know, if I knew exactly what this team needed, I'd give it to them right now," coach David Shaw said. "It's not like we don't play with emotion. It's not like we don't play with energy. It's not like we don't work."

A small bit of that work shows: The Cardinal's talented offensive line generated a solid push against Utah's sturdy run defense, leading Stanford to average five yards per carry. But a steady stream of mistakes elsewhere again obliterated any positives. Bad drops, bad Kevin Hogan throws, bad penalties, and bad fumbles -- Stanford's fumble rate has nearly doubled this season, from 1.4 to 2.7 fumbles per game -- have all combined to stall the offense.

The problems are not isolated. Mistakes are sprouting up in all corners, and that's a telltale sign of a fractured system. In Stanford's case, it appears as if the offense is suffering from a perpetual identity crisis, uncertainly trying to cling to an angry David DeCastro-led past at times, while struggling to adapt to an explosive Christian McCaffrey-dominated future at others. There's blue chip talent on this team that seems better suited for work in space, but the Cardinal hasn't been able to firmly drive forward with the determined conviction of the past.

The fallout has been disastrous: It's led to crippling mistakes and a .500 record that's disheartening to fans given the team's elite defensive performance.

Cracks in the offense were evident in each of the past two seasons -- red zone scoring failures likely cost the Cardinal chances to play for a national title in both 2012 and 2013 -- but matters have reached a boiling point now.

It has spiraled down to a matter of bowl eligibility. Stanford will have to beat either California or UCLA on the road to reach the six-win plateau, and that marks a jarring fall from four consecutive trips to BCS bowl games. It is especially difficult since the defense has statistically improved this season.

"Our guys work hard," Shaw said. "They work as hard as anybody."

At this point, that work has been buried under a mess of uncertainty. Only two chances remain for the Cardinal to salvage at least some of their efforts. Otherwise, senior leaders like Vaughters -- pillars of the team's phenomenal defensive success of the past three seasons -- will leave the program on the same dazed note that they left Stanford Stadium on Saturday.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
8:00
AM ET
All the vampires walkin' through the valley, move west down Ventura Blvd;
And all the bad boys are standing in the shadows, and the good girls are home with broken hearts.

Leading off

It's a new week, which means a new set of rankings. Chaos continues to ring throughout the land, as well as in the Pac-12 South ... the toughest division in all of college football.

Half of the Pac-12 is ranked this week -- and five of those six teams hail from the South, which was thrown into further turmoil Saturday night with Oregon State's win against Arizona State. As always, Kyle Bonagura has the league breakdown here.

And here's where things shape up for the conference this week. The new College Football Playoff rankings will be unveiled -- with much debate, no doubt -- Tuesday. You can see the complete rankings here. As always, the AP result is listed first:
  • Oregon 3-3
  • UCLA 11-12
  • Arizona State 13-14
  • Arizona 15-13
  • Utah 20-21
  • USC 24-24

And as we do every Monday, here's a look at how some folks who cover the conference voted on their AP ballots. Northern misery loves company

If you land on Dan Wolken's Misery Index, chances are things have gone very, very wrong. The USA Today writer picked a pair of Pac-12 teams for this week's index, both of them from the North Division.

First, his thoughts on Stanford:
... but fans have to be a bit concerned about the backslide this year to 5-5 and the possibility the Cardinal will miss the postseason for the first time since 2009. Yes, that's right -- with games remaining at California and UCLA, Stanford is on very thin ice to make a bowl game, which would be a true disappointment considering they were expected to contend for the Pac-12 title.

And now Washington:
Coincidentally, this is the first time he's lost five games in a season as head coach. And unlike in Boise, where Petersen had enough goodwill built up to survive a rough patch or two with his fan base, he's starting from scratch with Washington fans. So far, he hasn't shown them much.

Both teams are still one game short of bowl eligibility. And as Wolken mentions, Stanford has to get it done either against rival Cal or UCLA. The Huskies have two shots left with OSU at home this weekend and then a trip to Pullman in the Apple Cup. Wouldn't be shocking if either team is left on the outside.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Good call, coaches.

It's on!

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