Pac-12: Arizona State Sun Devils

Territorial Cup has hate and relevance

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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What makes a great college football rivalry? Two things: 1. Passionate and legitimate ill will; 2. National relevance.

Arizona and Arizona State have long had the former, with the bad feelings advancing beyond the typical state rivalry because of a handful of historical issues, including the University of Arizona fighting against "Tempe Normal School" becoming an accredited university in the late 1950s. That one still grates on Sun Devils elders, while snarky Wildcats fans will call ASU "Tempe Normal" just to be annoying.

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRich Rodriguez and the Wildcats get a shot at rival Arizona State on Friday.
Those bad feelings ticked another notch forward when Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State hired Todd Graham. They don't like each other.

They were once friends, with Rodriguez hiring Graham away from a high school job in Texas to coach at West Virginia in 2002, but that clearly is no longer the case. Neither says much about the other on the record, but during a visit to ESPN's offices by Pac-12 coaches shortly after they were hired, they stood in stony silence for several minutes just a few feet from each other without making eye contact, despite a certain charming reporter offering up some wonderful repartee that typically would inspire conviviality from even a pair of gargoyles.

That dislike extends through the coaching staffs. Arizona assistants Calvin Magee and Tony Dews, who worked for Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan, spent a single season coaching with Graham at Pittsburgh after Rodriguez was fired at Michigan. When they rejoined Rodriguez at Arizona, Graham called them "mercenaries," according to a tweet from Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Yet history and personal feelings go only so far in the national college football conversation when your team is simply battling for bowl eligibility. Or one team is good and the other shows up only as a spoiler. That has been the case more often than not in the Territorial Cup, which was first contested in 1899, 13 years before Arizona became an official state in the union.

That is where Graham and Rodriguez have most enriched this rivalry: Both teams are now good. This will be the first time they meet as ranked teams since 1986. Both are 9-2. The last time they met as teams with at least nine wins? 1975. Arizona State has posted nine wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1996-97. Arizona owns its best record since 1998.

Both are 6-2 in Pac-12 play. If UCLA should lose to Stanford in a game played simultaneously with the Territorial Cup at 3:30 p.m. ET, then the champion of Arizona also becomes the Pac-12 South Division champ and would play Oregon for the conference title on Dec. 5. Further, the winner also might set itself up to be selected as practically a home team for the Fiesta Bowl. That is, unless the winner somehow beats Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and slips into the College Football Playoff, a not outrageous scenario, by the way.

“This game is the single most important game every year for us and for our fans," Graham said. "Obviously it has a lot more meaning with both teams going for 10th win and Pac-12 South championship on the line. So, yeah, there’s a little extra to it.”

Said Rodriguez: "I don’t believe that ‘if you only win one game but you beat ASU, it’s a good year,’ but it is the most important game on our schedule because it is the rivalry game. The rivalry game is always the most important when you see it with no records. Now that we both have had pretty good years and have even more at stake, this makes it of added importance."

Of added importance to both coaches, though perhaps more for Rodriguez: Graham is 2-0 against Rich Rod since they arrived in the desert. No Arizona State coach opened his career in Tempe at 3-0 versus the Wildcats. While folks in Tucson appreciate the undeniably good job Rodriguez has done rebuilding the program, they also would really, really not like to spend a third year listening to Sun Devils fans squawking at them.

In the Sun Devils' last visit to Tucson, they overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 41-34. Last year, the Sun Devils rolled the Wildcats 58-21, a blowout win that earned them home-field advantage in the Pac-12 title game against Stanford.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenTaylor Kelly and the Sun Devils are looking to finish the season strong.
The intrigue this year is at quarterback. Arizona's starter, impressive redshirt freshman Anu Solomon, couldn't play the second half of the Wildcats' win last weekend over Utah because of an ankle injury that has been hounding him for some time. He's decidedly questionable, and senior Jesse Scroggins will make his first career start if Solomon can't play.

For Arizona State, there's senior Taylor Kelly. The three-year starter wants to finish his career 3-0 against the Wildcats. He has been inconsistent since returning from a foot injury, but he seemed to find his rhythm in the second half last week against Washington State. His life also will be easier with the expected return of receiver Jaelen Strong from a concussion.

Arizona's home-field advantage might not be much of an advantage. The Sun Devils have won five of the past seven in Tucson, and this rivalry has surprisingly not favored the home team of late. The visitor owns an 8-6 edge in the past 14 matchups, and the Sun Devils' win in Tempe last year ended a four-game winning streak for the road team.

Good news for those who like thrillers: Seven of the past 10 games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The four games before last year's blowout were decided by a total of 15 points, with a fourth-quarter comeback, two blocked extra points, a late field goal and a red zone stand being the difference.

Graham said the game is about the players, not the coaches. Rodriguez, though he probably doesn't want to be seen as agreeing with Graham, said about the same.

"There is a lot of stake," he said. "It is our 19 seniors' last home game, so I would be shocked if preparation wasn’t at an ultimate high.”

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

November, 25, 2014
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While there were a number of important visitors at every Pac-12 game this past weekend, the Rose Bowl took center stage as UCLA hosted a number of official and unofficial visitors in what was the hottest ticket of the year for Southern California recruits. UCLA kicked off its strong weekend with a commitment from an ESPN 300 prospect, while Oregon hosted a junior college standout committed to another Pac-12 program. This upcoming weekend presents an opportunity for recruiting statements to be made in rivalry games.

National links: Calm before the storm 

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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Let’s just get this out of the way: Last week in college football was kind of dull.

Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.

My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.

But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.

And it starts in two days.


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Pac-12 morning links

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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What is with everyone today? It's Thanksgiving not truth day!

Leading off

Tonight the committee will release its College Football Playoff rankings and it'll be interesting to see how it views certain team's wins (cough, UCLA) and certain team's losses (cough, Ole Miss). The Ducks, after a big win over Colorado, should be secure in the top four though it'd be quite the surprise for them to sneak in to the top spot, even with Alabama's slow start against Western Carolina this weekend.

If you saw The Eliminator on Monday morning, there were probably a few things you noticed. First and foremost, Mark Schlabach pointed out the fact that yes, we're heading into the final weekend of the regular season. And no, the College Football Playoff hasn't broken the regular season by any means. Instead, with one week to go (in most conferences), there is plenty of excitement down the stretch.
No. 2 Oregon must survive the Civil War against Oregon State.

No. 3 Florida State must get past one more regular-season game against rival Florida.

The Big Ten West, Pac-12 South and SEC East are still up for grabs, too.

So much for the playoff ruining the drama of college football's regular season.

Oregon is still listed under "In Contention" while Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA are all in the "On The Fence" category. The good news for Pac-12 fans is that no conference team did anything detrimental this weekend. The only two teams that were eliminated were Ole Miss (which lost 30-0 to unranked -- but hot -- Arkansas) and Michigan State.

Awards season

The Butkus Award (given annually to the nation's top linebacker) announced its five finalists on Monday. The Pac-12 snagged two of the spots.
  1. UCLA's Eric Kendricks
  2. Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha
  3. Miami's Denzel Perryman
  4. Michigan's Jake Ryan
  5. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith

That is one heck of a list of candidates and the Pac-12 Blog would like to congratulate all five. Seriously, these are all fantastic linebackers and players that certainly deserve to be honored after the seasons they've all had.

However, there's one pretty obvious name missing from that list: Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III. He has been an absolute monster this season and though I wouldn't want to single out any individual on that list and say that Wright deserves the spot more, it certainly was shocking to see Wright --- who averages a nation-high 2 TFL per game and ranks fifth nationally in sacks per game -- to not be on that list.

And we weren't the only to feel that way:

Diving into some numbers

According to Nate Silver's model over at fivethirtyeight.com, the Bruins' 38-20 win last Saturday was the biggest win of the weekend. Based off his model, UCLA went from having an 8.2 percent chance to making the playoff to having a 14.0 percent chance of making the playoff.

There are eight schools (again, this is according to Silver's model) that have at least a 10 percent chance of making the playoff. Here's a list of the eight programs Silver says are still in the running -- by at least 10 percent -- to make the playoff, followed by their total chance and the percent their chance increased or decreased following last Saturday's games.
  1. Alabama -- 80.8 percent, +5.5 percent after beating Western Carolina, 48-14.
  2. Oregon -- 75.7 percent, +3.6 percent after beating Colorado, 44-10.
  3. FSU -- 59 percent, -0.9 percent after beating Boston College, 20-17.
  4. TCU -- 47.1 percent, -1.8 after being on a bye.
  5. Ohio State -- 42 percent, -1.5 percent after beating Indiana, 42-27.
  6. Baylor -- 33.3 percent, +2.5 percent after beating Oklahoma State, 49-28.
  7. Mississippi State -- 32.6 percent, +5.1 after beating Vanderbilt, 51-0.
  8. UCLA -- 14 percent, +5.8 percent after beating USC, 38-20.

So, UCLA's chances don't look awesome, but if it wins the Pac-12 title, there will certainly be an argument for the Bruins being in one of the four spots. And, as far as the chances of making the finals, the Pac-12 is still sitting pretty well. Oregon has a 44.2 percent chance to make the finals (UCLA is at 6.1 percent).

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

For any media covering the Territorial Cup this weekend, Josh Kelman has you covered for your postgame story.

Eccentric twists and turns have become the primary theme of this 2014 season -- remember the Hail Mary binge, the comebacks, the upsets, the celebratory fumbles at the 1-yard line, the field goal icing drama, and the #Pac12AfterDark hashtag made to describe all the otherworldly mystery.

To remind us that absolutely nothing about the Pac-12 is normal, the stage is set for the South champion to be determined in another "only out West" kind of way: Simultaneous games on Black Friday -- the third to last day of November -- under the beating sun of 80-degree weather.

"Perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer," Henry David Thoreau wrote about the Pac-12 a good 169 years ago. "Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured, or far away."

Well, he wasn't really writing about the road to the Field of Jeans. But the point stands. The Weird West has hummed a different, fascinating tune all season long, and this last regular-season weekend promises to supply more of the same as the Levi's Stadium championship matchup is finalized.

Simultaneous explosions: Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenTaylor Kelly, Arizona State and Arizona will be scoreboard watching on Friday.
Two more detonations await before we will have fully traversed the minefield of the Pac-12 South. Fittingly, the Rose Bowl will be host to one, while the other will shake Tucson.

Both Stanford-UCLA and ASU-Arizona kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT, on Black Friday. Arizona Stadium will require high bandwidth WiFi as both the 9-2 Sun Devils and 9-2 Wildcats need the Bruins to lose so that the Territorial Cup determines the Pac-12 South. So there'll certainly be more than a few fans trying to stream the happenings in Pasadena on their smart phones while simultaneously watching an intriguing Duel in the Desert.

ASU started slowly but ended up whipping Washington State 52-31 this past Saturday, so the Sun Devils feel they're back on track following bitter disappointment in Corvallis two weeks ago. Meanwhile, Arizona did some 1970s Arnold-style muscle flexing in Utah, racking up 298 rushing yards in a 42-10 road annihilation. The Sun Devils' aggressive defense has given up its share of big runs this season, and that's a danger point ahead of a matchup with Arizona's Nick Wilson (20 carries, 218 yards, 10.9 per carry, 3 touchdowns at Utah). We'll keep an eye on quarterback Anu Solomon's status (ankle) throughout this week.

The Territorial Cup will take on truly monumental importance if Stanford successfully embraces the spoiler role and asserts itself early versus UCLA. Remember that the Bruins haven't beaten the Cardinal since 2008 -- that's the pre-Andrew Luck era stuff. Stanford clinched its first Pac-12 title run with consecutive victories over UCLA in 2012, and although their title defense has already failed here in 2014, they did shut down the Bruins' rushing attack in a suffocating win last year.

Brett Hundley's unit must show that it's made significant strides, because the Cardinal's defense looks ready: They battered Cal to the tune of a season-high five takeaways in Saturday's 38-17 win. Stanford set the table with competent offense, but the Bruins' obviously pose a greater challenge than the Bears did defensively. USC mustered only a season-low 4.1 yards per play against UCLA's defense, which is peaking at the right time.

The “rivalry”: Utah at Colorado

Let's not kid ourselves: These two programs do not have enough historical hatred for each other to truly fall into the rivalry category. Nevertheless, this is a huge contest for both squads. The Utes have lost three of their last four games, and a loss in Boulder to close the season would put a massively bitter finishing touch on a once-promising season. It'd be like finding a massive, plump orange, only to discover there's a worm inside of it.

Meanwhile, this is Colorado's Super Bowl. The Buffs are 0-8 in conference play, and this is a wonderful chance to enter a critical building offseason on a much-needed high note.

Desperation bowl: Notre Dame at USC

At one point earlier this year, matters looked so promising for both the Irish and the Trojans. Now, this historical rivalry is more about avoiding complete late-season disaster than anything else. Notre Dame has dropped four of five games (including consecutive home defeats to Northwestern and Louisville), while USC's thorough whipping at the hands of hated UCLA has Steve Sarkisian scrambling to avoid that dreaded seven-win season. The loser of this game is going to stagger into bowl season neck-deep in turmoil.

Tipping point game: BYU at Cal

All is not lost for the Bears even though the wounded Stanford beast came into Memorial Stadium to drop off a few busloads of humble pie. Cal feels that it's still ascending as a program -- the defense must improve for the Bears to take that next step -- and this nonconference finale against the Cougars is the Cal's chance to punch a postseason ticket for the first time since 2011. Remember that bowl eligibility secures extra December practice time for a program. That's potentially vital as Sonny Dykes positions his team to attempt a third year breakthrough.

Civil War: Oregon State at Oregon

The "Civil War" is my favorite rivalry nickname, so I don't think I can come up with a better way to describe this game than that simple moniker, one which illustrates just how divided the Beaver State really is. Nobody is giving Oregon State much of a shot here, but remember they're playing for bowl eligibility in Sean Mannion's senior season. There's also that whole thing about top 10 teams struggling in Reser Stadium -- one fell victim to Corvallis just two weeks ago. The Ducks must be wary: Marcus Mariota's strong Heisman push is on the line along with College Football Playoff hopes.

Some ice cream for a Pac-12 dessert: Washington at Washington State

The last game of the Pac-12 regular season will, indeed, be an opportunity for some #Pac12AfterDark eccentricity. This will offer a good representation of how geographically diverse the Pac-12 is. Whereas Friday's games in Los Angeles and Tucson are expected to experience 80-degree temperatures, the forecast for this one in Pullman calls for the mercury to dip below 30 degrees on Saturday night. This is not the end of the road for Washington, but both the Huskies and the Cougars have chances to add a positive memory to difficult seasons.

National links: Who's No. 4? 

November, 24, 2014
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We’re inside of two weeks until Dec. 7, when the College Football Playoff selection committee announces its four picks to appear in the sport’s first national semifinals.

There will be teams left out who can make perfectly compelling cases to be playoff participants. There will be voices raised and criticisms leveled regarding which program truly deserved the final spot in the playoff. This much is a certainty.

But which teams have the best chances of cracking the field? It still seems to be a matter of conjecture beyond the top three teams: Alabama, Oregon and Florida State.

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Pac-12 morning links

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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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

Best of the visits: Pac-12

November, 23, 2014
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It was an active weekend for recruits on social media, especially in Los Angeles, where UCLA turned in a huge performance in front of a number of Southern California's elite recruits. This weekend's look at Pac-12 visits through recruits' eyes on social media features stops in Eugene, Tempe, Berkeley and a whole lot of love for the Bruins in Los Angeles.

UCLA's big night

It all started with a bang for the Bruins, as ESPN 300 defensive end Keisean Lucier-South committed to UCLA well before the start of the game against USC.
Lucier-South, the nation's No. 29 prospect, had always been considered a lean to the Bruins, but solidifying his commitment was still cause for celebration in Westwood. It gives UCLA the Nos. 3 and 5 prospects in the state after not signing any of the top 13 California prospects in the 2014 class. Lucier-South was in attendance at the Rose Bowl as well, as UCLA's decisive 38-20 victory over USC made for a nice day for the new commitment. While Lucier-South was in attendance on an unofficial visit, there were more than a few official visitors in town for the Bruins. Perhaps the most important uncommitted official visitor was ESPN 300 guard Joshua Wariboko, the No. 174 prospect in the nation. He was on a visit with UCLA pledge Will Lockett and they had similar thoughts on the atmosphere on campus and at the game. Utah commit George Wilson was at the game and provided a quick snapshot. But the lasting effects from this game might be more felt in the 2016 class, which was loaded in terms of visitors at the Rose Bowl. Outside linebacker Caleb Kelly, the nation's No. 38 prospect in his class, made the drive down. Insider linebacker Lokeni Toailoa, the nation's No. 79 prospect in 2016 retweeted a number of positive UCLA messages and had this simple statement, regarding UCLA's three straight wins in the rivalry. 2016 wide receiver Theo Howard, who holds early offers from both programs, was at the Rose Bowl. Running back Damian Alloway, a new addition to the 2016 ESPN 300, at No. 206 overall, holds an offer from UCLA and wasn't shy about which direction he was leaning Saturday night. UCLA also hosted 2016 prospects Traveon Beck and Frank Martin -- the No. 132 overall prospect in his class. More visitors to Oregon

The Ducks have taken advantage of in season official visitors more frequently than any other Pac-12 program, relying heavily on Autzen Stadium's tremendous atmosphere to make an impression on visitors. This weekend, a few notable uncommitted prospects took official visits in Marquise Doherty and Octavius Spencer, but the visit to watch could be Arizona State junior college linebacker commit Davon Durant. All three prospects likely heard plenty from Oregon's committed prospects in town on official visits -- offensive linemen Shane Lemieux and Jake Hanson. Trip to Tempe

Arizona State had several interesting official visitors on campus, as ESPN 300 prospects John Houston, Stanley Norman and Joseph Wicker all made their way to Tempe. The Sun Devils also hosted committed junior college tight end Raymond Epps on an official visit. Big visitor for Big Game

Cal had a number of commits in town for the Big Game against Stanford. The Golden Bears also received an unofficial visit from 2016 ESPN 300 cornerback Treyjohn Butler, the No. 86 overall prospects who holds early Pac-12 offers from Arizona State, Cal, Washington and Washington State.

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's top recruiting visits 

November, 21, 2014
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The penultimate weekend of the regular season is upon us, and that means some serious recruiting weekends in store for several Pac-12 programs. A look at the top three recruiting visits in the Pac-12 includes one staff taking advantage of hosting its rivalry game and two others bringing in recruits to witness their final home games of the regular season.

USC at UCLA


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Pac-12 morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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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.

Pac-12 Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
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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
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?

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

Discuss (Total votes: 6,495)

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

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