Pac-12: Utah Utes

Expect drama from Utah-Arizona

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
12:00
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The following is a public service announcement from the ESPN.com Pac-12 blog.

Those planning to attend Saturday’s Utah-Arizona game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, or watching the 12:30 PT kickoff on ESPN, are advised to bring the following items:

  • Blood pressure medication
  • A defibrillator
  • A shoulder to cry on
  • A comforting beverage of your choice (the Pac-12 blog doesn’t judge)
Given the erratic and unpredictable nature of both teams, the Pac-12 blog thanks you for your consideration.

[+] EnlargeAustin Hill
Darin Wallentin/Getty ImagesThe Wildcats have made close, nail-biting finishes the norm.
Think we’re being too dramatic? We’re not. More nails have been bitten to the nub between watching Utah and Arizona than any other teams in the conference. That they meet Saturday in a game with Pac-12 South implications only adds to the pulse-racing dramatics these two teams have practiced in 2014.

Each team has played in six games decided by seven or fewer points -- that’s tied for the second most in FBS. The Wildcats are 5-1 in those tight games while the Utes are 4-2. Utah has also played three overtime games, going 2-1 in bonus football.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez prepped his team in the preseason for the fact that his Wildcats would likely participate in several barn burnings. And thus they were ready when things got close in Week 2 on the road at UTSA.

“We’ve got some talent, but (we knew) we’re not overloaded where we can dominate anybody,” Rodriguez said. “Plus the schedule that we play, there are a lot of quality teams with a lot of quality players. We got into that mindset that we’re ready to battle. I think it’s helped us when we’ve faced some adversity. Whether we’ve gotten down early or been on the road, our guys said hey, let’s make some plays and keep playing and see what happens.”

What happened was some of the most dramatic football in the country this season. Among Arizona's thrillers are a 36-point, fourth-quarter, time-expiring Hail Mary against Cal; a win over No. 2 Oregon on the road; a missed field goal in the loss to USC; and most recently, a successful last-second field goal to beat Washington.

If Arizona has been the Cardiac 'Cats, then Utah has certainly been the ulcer-inducing Utes. During a stretch from the end of September to the beginning of November, the Utes played in five straight games decided by six or fewer points. The highlights include a two-point win over UCLA, a double-overtime win over Oregon State and a last-minute touchdown against USC. The lowlights are an overtime loss to ASU and blowing a 21-0 lead to WSU.

Most recently, Utah won a double-overtime game last week at Stanford.

“I’d say it starts with our leadership and the senior leadership on this team,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s a great group. It’s as good of leadership as I’ve been around during my time at Utah and I think that’s a main factor in the mentality of the team and the way they are able to persevere.”

Winning these close games is unfamiliar territory for the Utes. But playing in them isn’t. Last season Utah also played in six close games, but lost in overtime to Oregon State, by a touchdown to UCLA and by a point to ASU.

“I think we’re a better football team personnel-wise across the board,” Whittingham said. “We’ve upgraded and that obviously has a lot to do with it. But between that, the experience we may have gained and the leadership, I think those are probably the main factors.”

While Utah has relied on its experience, Arizona has relied on its conditioning. You might recall way back in 2012 when Rodriguez was first hired, he famously (infamously?) called his players weak. Now it’s that physical strength that he’s banking on to get his guys through tough times.

“I think our team knew back in August, we talked about it, we knew we would probably be in a lot of tight games that would go the full 60 minutes and if anything else, we’re going to be a pretty conditioned team,” Rodriguez said. “We control what we can control and we talk about playing as hard on the last play as we do the first play and I think our guys really believe that plays a role in every game. There’s a little luck involved, too. But we’ve been in nine straight games that have gone down to the fourth quarter and our guys, to their credit, they are still playing as hard as they did at the beginning.”

Utah's specialists are people, too

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
11:00
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This has been a pretty special year for Pac-12 special teams. We wrote last week about the abundance of kick and punt returns, and several kickers have enjoyed the thrill of kicking game-winners.

Utah is widely regarded as having the best special teams in the country. Punter Tom Hackett is a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award and has been honored three times as a star of the week.

Kicker Andy Phillips leads the conference in field goals made and is second in accuracy (82.6 percent). He is also a Groza Award semifinalist.

And long snapper Chase Dominguez -- well -- I don’t think I’ve typed his name once this season. If you’re the long snapper and no one knows your name, that means you’re doing a good job.

But the trio recently showed off their skills, while also looking for a bit of respect. The following Vines show a display of their accuracy, followed by a brief message that specialists are in fact people, too.

Enjoy.

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Tags:

Utah Utes

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:00
AM ET
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.
With four entries, the Pac-12 dominates the list of five finalists for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award.

The five finalists are Hawaii punter/wide receiver/punt returner Scott Harding, Washington linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard and Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon.

The Polynesian College Football Player of the Year is given, according to a news release, to "the most outstanding Polynesian college football player that epitomizes great ability and integrity."

The finalists were chosen by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, which is composed of past college football head coaches Dick Tomey (Chairman), LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Neil Everett, NFL player personnel expert Gil Brandt, past NFLPA president and Inaugural Inductee Kevin Mawae and Hawai'i sportscaster Robert Kekaula. The committee will meet again in the coming weeks to select the winner.

The winner will be announced on December 9. The formal presentation of the award will be held at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Celebration Dinner during the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Weekend on January 23, 2015.

The Pac-12 had 15 players on the initial watch list released in July.

Pac-12 Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:00
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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
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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
PM ET
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?

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    16%
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    18%
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    15%
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    34%
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    17%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,455)

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.
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

ESPN Jr. 300: What to know in the Pac-12 

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:37
AM ET
video
The updated 2016 ESPN 300 was released on Wednesday, and 44 prospects from Pac-12 states are included, though the top two -- quarterbacks Malik Henry and Jacob Eason -- are committed to Florida State and Georgia, respectively. The Pac-12 holds commitments from 12 prospects in the ESPN Junior 300, as Oregon (three), USC (two) and UCLA (one) have 100 percent of their commitments included in the list.

Three recruits to watch

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.

Pac-12 morning links

November, 17, 2014
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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!

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
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Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 12

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It's time to start sorting out the weekend mayhem in the Pac-12, starting with a look at standout players.

Nelson Agholor, WR, USC: Last season, Agholor torched California as a punt returner. This time, he etched his name into Trojans history as a wide receiver. Agholor grabbed 16 Cody Kessler passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first USC wide receiver ever to amass 200 receiving yards in consecutive games, in a 38-30 USC victory. Agholor has teamed with Kessler and Javorius Allen to form quite the three-headed monster on top of the USC offense, and that unit will take aim at UCLA with plenty on the line next weekend.

Su'a Cravens, DB, USC: Cravens' versatility on defense has been essential to USC's success this season, particularly after the Trojans lost physical cornerback Josh Shaw. Since then, Cravens has thrown his powerful 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame all over the field, and he did more of the same against Cal Thursday night, racking up a team-high 10 tackles, 1.5 tackle for loss, and a pass break-up. Cravens leads USC with 14 TFL and two interceptions this season. He's also broken up eight passes. It's about time he earned a helmet sticker.

Casey Skowron, K, Arizona: Call it poetic justice. Five weeks after a Steve Sarkisian icing timeout nullified his potential game-winning field goal against USC, Skowron missed his first try at the gun against Washington -- except Chris Petersen's icing timeout gave him a second chance. This time, Skowron nailed the 47-yard game winner on his second chance, sending Arizona to 27-26 victory. Demons exorcised.

Henry Anderson, DL, Stanford: The Cardinal defense showed up on Senior Day, but the team's offense again failed to deliver in a 20-17 double-overtime loss to Utah. Anderson did his job, though. The fifth-year senior registered the best game of his career in his final home game, notching three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, both career bests. The numbers Anderson put up Saturday surpassed those that he had posted in the previous nine.

Tom Hackett, P, Utah: The Utes and the Cardinal engaged in an ugly three-hour, evenly matched defensive brawl. Stanford ran the ball more effectively, but Utah made up for that through Hackett's sensational punting. He racked up an astonishing 402 yards on nine punts -- an average of 44.7 per boot -- and pinned the Cardinal inside their 20-yard line six times. Thanks primarily to Hackett, Stanford's average starting field position was its 18, while Utah started from its 32. That was a significant difference in this defensive struggle.

Nate Orchard, DL, Utah: If Anderson earns a helmet sticker, Orchard deserves one too: He racked up a team-leading 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks to help push Utah's national lead in sacks to 47. The Utes actually struggled against Stanford's run game, but it seemed like Orchard constantly made a huge plays at critical junctures to stymie the Cardinal.

Terron Ward and Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State: The Beavers' dynamic backfield duo punched Arizona State's defense in the face with two long first-quarter touchdown runs, and that set the tone for Oregon State's 35-27 upset win. Ward finished with 148 yards on 19 carries (7.8 yards per carry) while Woods racked up 125 yards on only 11 carries (11.4 ypc). At the end of the first quarter, both backs were averaging over 35 yards per carry. Keep in mind that this all came against a Sun Devils defense that had been smothering the run for several weeks, and it set up Sean Mannion and Jordan Villamin (four catches, 127 yards) for passing success down the stretch.
A few things we learned this week in the Pac-12.

The South is a mess, again: UCLA is now the front-runner in the division following Arizona State's 35-27 loss to Oregon State. The tiebreaker scenarios now start to get a little confusing. Luckily, Kyle Bonagura broke it all down earlier this week. You can click here to check it out. The simplest scenario would be for UCLA to win out and face Oregon (which has already locked up the North) in the Pac-12 title game. But this league doesn't do simple. It mocks simple. It laughs at you for even beginning to hope that anything will ever be simple again. So expect more chaos in the final couple of weeks.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Brian Murphy/Icon SportswireFollowing its upset of No. 6 Arizona State, Oregon State has now gone 5-5 at home as an unranked team playing a top 10 team since 2000.
But the South is also awesome: Even though the league's best chance at landing a team in the College Football Playoff comes from the North (see below), the South continues to assert itself as the dominant division. It entered the week 11-6 against its northern brethren, and picked up three more wins along the way. Victories from Arizona over Washington, Utah over Stanford and USC over Cal improved the mark to 14-7. OSU's stunner over ASU prevented the sweep. The South is plenty deep and plenty talented. David Lombardi wrote about that last week, as a matter of fact.

And then there was one: We've been saying for quite some time that a one-loss Pac-12 champion gets into the College Football Playoff. That hope is still alive with the Ducks, who were on a bye this week. The optimal scenario of Oregon and a one-loss ASU team meeting in the Pac-12 championship game -- in essence a playoff elimination game -- is gone. Even if a South team does win the conference, it will be tough for a two-loss team to get in. Not saying it's impossible, but it will be hard. So the Ducks, once again, are carrying the league's postseason hopes.

Consider Kessler: Coaches will no doubt start penciling in their all-conference teams soon, if they haven't started already. I think it's safe to assume that Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota is a sure thing for first team. But how about second team? Something to ponder: USC's Cody Kessler is completing 70.2 percent of his throws with 29 touchdowns to just three interceptions. While the Trojans have had a fairly up-and-down season, Kessler has mostly been steady. He probably deserves a lot more national recognition than he's getting.

Home warriors: Something amazing happened this week: The home teams actually did pretty good! Coming into the week, the road team was 26-13 in conference games. But with home wins from Arizona, Oregon State and USC, the visitors “fall” to 27-16. Of course, the one team that lost at home -- Stanford -- once held the nation's longest home win streak. Chalk it up to more Pac-12 lunacy this year.

Rivalry implications: The first round of rivalry games kicks off next week with UCLA and USC squaring off at the Rose Bowl and Cal hosting Stanford in the Big Game. Lots of intrigue surrounding both games. USC is coming off a win against Cal, while the Bruins were on a bye. As noted above, this is a huge game for the South Division standings. And if the Bruins win, they can lock up the division a week later against the Cardinal. For Stanford and Cal, the winner is bowl eligible. Given that one team is offensively challenged and the other is defensively challenged, it's the tale as old as time of weakness on weakness.

Coming back fresh: Four teams had a bye in Week 12: Colorado, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State. All four have varying degrees of importance for which to play. Oregon, as noted above, is looking for a spot in the playoff. Colorado can go all Skynet and blow everything up, locally and nationally. WSU got great production last week out of Luke Falk, who is auditioning to be WSU's quarterback of the future. And UCLA, of course, only has to worry about a rivalry and a division title. Given all that happened this week nationally and within the conference, probably a good week to take a breather.

A day for redemption: A couple of Pac-12 players who starred in the role of goat in previous weeks had their moments in the sun. First, Arizona kicker Casey Skowron -- who caught his share of social media bullying after missing a game-winning 36-yard field goal against USC last month -- was the hero in Tucson for nailing a 47-yarder as time expired in the Wildcats' 27-26 win over Washington. And last week, Utah's Kaelin Clay was a national punchline for his unforced fumble against the Ducks. But Saturday, he caught the first touchdown for Utah in overtime in the Utes' 20-17 win over the Cardinal. Pretty good timing by both guys to come up big.

Corvallis, the city of broken dreams: There are trap games. And then there are trap games at Reser Stadium. Since 2000, Oregon State has the best home record in FBS football as an unranked team going against a team ranked in the AP top 10 (minimum 10 games), improving to 5-5. Chantel Jennings broke down a few of those for you earlier this week.

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