Pac-12: Arizona State Sun Devils

Plenty of intrigue: UCLA at Arizona State

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
10:53
AM ET
Blame Chip Kelly and his philosophy of "nameless, faceless opponents," but a lot of coaches no longer admit that certain games are bigger than others. A top-10 matchup? Whatever: You prepare the same every week. This makes some sense, of course. Coaches expect players to always do their best, so why would their best be any better against a ranked foe?

We get it. Still, some games ARE bigger than others, such as UCLA's visit to Arizona State on Thursday night. These are two top-15 teams, and the winner the past three seasons in this matchup has won the Pac-12's South Division title.

While Bruins coach Jim Mora wouldn't play along --“We try to treat them all the same,” he said -- Sun Devils coach Todd Graham was a bit more accommodating for media seeking a "This one is huge!" angle.

“I don’t need any motivational speeches for this game, or have to worry about the kids being flat because they are going to be fired up and ready to go," he said. "This is one of the marquee games each year, and quite honestly, it’s one of the games that we always put a star by. The next two games will be very critical to our team’s success this season.”

[+] EnlargeArizona State Sun Devils
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsArizona State carried a 35-13 lead into halftime at UCLA last season and then held on to win 38-33.
Arizona State visits another South contender, USC, next, but that game will lose some of its heft if the Sun Devils falter at home against the Bruins.

Besides being a key matchup, this game is intriguing from a national sense because we don't yet know what to make of either team. Are either legitimate candidates for the inaugural College Football Playoff? Early returns have been mixed. And -- oh, by the way -- there are questions behind center for both.

Graham announced that starting QB Taylor Kelly is out with a foot injury, though he told reporters Tuesday that he expects Kelly back inside of monthlong-plus projections from reporters. That means big-armed redshirt junior backup Mike Bercovici, the likely 2015 starter, will make his first career start well ahead of projections. UCLA? While most expect Brett Hundley to return after an elbow injury forced him out of the Texas game on Sept. 13, Mora has been tight-lipped about where things stand. He wouldn't even say that the hero of the win over the Longhorns -- backup Jerry Neuheisel -- would start if Hundley isn't available.

“He’s going to play," Graham barked before the question about Hundley's status was even finished. "There’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to play.”

He later added, “Always prepare for the best one. If Brett Hundley doesn’t play, that makes it easier for us.”

The story of last season's 38-33 ASU victory in Pasadena was twofold: 1. Arizona State started furiously and then held on for dear life; 2. Hundley, as athletic as he is, couldn't avoid being sacked a season-high nine times -- a team 10-year high actually -- by the aggressive Sun Devils defense.

Arizona State rolled to a 35-13 lead at halftime but was outscored 20-3 in the second half. The Bruins also had two opportunities to take the lead in the fourth quarter. They had a first-and-goal at the Sun Devils' 11-yard line on their second-to-last possession but came away with no points, and two holding calls undid their last possession after driving into Sun Devils territory again.

The veteran Sun Devils front gave the Bruins' young offensive line -- three true freshman starters -- fits. Considering UCLA's offensive line didn't get off to a strong start this season and the ASU defense is pretty much completely rebuilt, this apparent weakness-on-weakness matchup will be critical, though obviously having the more mobile Hundley could be a big boost for UCLA.

Mora said his offensive line has improved significantly since its worrisome debut at Virginia.

“I’m happy where they are at and I’m even more happy where they are headed," he said.

UCLA certainly has been more tested. This will be the Bruins' third road game of the season against a Power 5 conference foe, and all three of their wins were not decided until deep into the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils have rolled through an overmatched early schedule, their closest contest being a 38-24 win at Colorado on Sept. 13.

While every game is critical for teams with national aspirations, this matchup will allow one consensus contender to remain unblemished while putting a substantial blotch on its rival's résumé, as a head-to-head win could function as a two-game advantage in the divisional standings.

So whatever the coaches say, this is a big one. It looked that way it the preseason, and it looks that way on game day.

ASU, UCLA battle on field, on the trail 

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
11:30
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Arizona State head coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils are doing everything they can to ensure a significant home field advantage on Thursday night when the UCLA Bruins come to town. They should, based on the past several years when it comes to recruiting, it’s the Bruins who have made themselves right at home in the Grand Canyon State.

You have to go all the way back to the 2008 class to find a year in which the Sun Devils signed the state’s top prospect out of high school. UCLA landed the top Arizona recruit in the 2013 class and comes to the desert this year featuring an offensive backfield comprised of quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Paul Perkins -- two former Arizona prep standouts who made the decision to leave the state.

Just as Graham is leading the charge for Arizona State fans to “Blackout the Bruins” on Thursday night, he’s made a conscientious effort to block them -- and any other out-of-state program -- out on the Arizona recruiting trail as well.

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- On Jan. 6, 2012, Mike Bercovici was chilling with some friends when he got a call from then-Arizona State receiver Aaron Pflugrad. There was some big news for the Sun Devils' backup quarterback. In a surprise to many, junior Brock Osweiler, the team's starting quarterback, had decided to enter the NFL draft.

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

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

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

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

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

Just as the vice president is a heartbeat from the Oval Office, so a backup quarterback is an unfortunate play away from taking over an offense. The backup quarterback is the irrelevant mop-up guy with a backward baseball cap on the sideline -- until he becomes a team's most important player.

For Bercovici, that transition happened when Kelly hurt his foot on the Sun Devils' final possession of the third quarter Sept. 13 at Colorado.

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsMike Bercovici will make his first career start against No. 11 UCLA on Thursday night.
Bercovici, who has thrown 24 career passes, will therefore make his first career start this week. As if that isn't big enough, it will be Thursday night against No. 11 UCLA.

So, yeah, big stage for a first start. But the relentlessly upbeat Graham said he is completely comfortable with Bercovici starting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, the future is now for Bercovici. It's not how he envisioned things 32 months ago, but he has too much on his plate this week to quibble with the whims of fortune.

Pac-12 Live: Week 5

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
12:00
PM ET
Join ESPN.com Pac-12 reporters Kyle Bonagura, Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller at 5 p.m. ET as they discuss the crazy finish to Week 4 in the conference and look ahead to Week 5. Don't forget that you can also ask the experts your Pac-12 questions live on the show.

ASU QB Taylor Kelly (foot) ruled out

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
8:20
PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State senior quarterback Taylor Kelly will miss the 15th-ranked Sun Devils' next game with a right foot injury, though his status beyond that is uncertain.

Kelly was injured during Saturday's game at Colorado and left on crutches and wearing a protective boot.

Senior Mike Bercovici will replace Kelly for Arizona State's game against No. 12 UCLA on Sept. 25, but coach Todd Graham has said he will not update his quarterback's status until after that game.

Kelly is a three-year starter at Arizona State and is the school's all-time leader in completion percentage. He has thrown for 625 yards and six touchdowns in the Sun Devils' first three games, all wins.

Injuries, implosion muddle South picture

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:00
AM ET
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Wait. That's been used before. But, with apologies to Dickens, it fits. The Pac-12 weekend was a tale of one division, two teams, two cities, two quarterbacks, and it was a day of thrills and it was a day of misery.

The plot certainly thickened in the Pac-12's South Division on Saturday, but not necessarily in a good way.

A week after posting a gritty upset at Stanford, USC was humiliated at Boston College, while UCLA cobbled together a win over Texas behind scrappy, ebullient backup QB Jerry Neuheisel. Neuheisel's services were required because Heisman Trophy candidate Brett Hundley was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an elbow injury. His status remains uncertain, though there was reasonable hope based on initial reports that his injury wasn't serious.

[+] EnlargeAntwaun Woods
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesUSC's shocking loss to Boston College underscored the vulnerability within the Pac-12 South division.
Our second city is Tempe, Arizona, where UCLA will be on Thursday, Sept. 25, squaring off with defending South Division champion Arizona State, which beat Colorado on Saturday but also lost its star senior quarterback, Taylor Kelly, who beat out Hundley for second-team All-Pac-12 last year. Seeing Kelly on crutches due to a foot injury -- and his body language -- probably won't fuel great expectations that he will be ready for the Bruins.

The UCLA-Arizona State game was one we eyeballed in the preseason as a major measuring stick in the battle for the South. A significant part of the appeal was the quarterback battle. That hasn't changed, only now the intrigue is whether it will be Neuheisel for UCLA and Mike Bercovici for Arizona State. A week ago, that quarterback news would have heavily favored the Sun Devils. While Bercovici isn't the runner Kelly is, he's got one of the best arms in the conference and is well-versed in the Sun Devils offense. He is expected to win the starting job as a fifth-year senior next fall. Neuheisel was widely viewed as a career backup with a well-known father -- former UCLA QB and coach Rick Neuheisel -- but his second-half performance against the Longhorns suggested he can be more than a rudimentary game manager.

Both teams have an off week, when they can either get healthy or retool their plans. The stakes continue to be high, perhaps more so after USC threw up on itself with a wet-noodle performance at Boston College. While a nonconference game doesn't affect the Trojans' Pac-12 standing, it certainly made them look extremely vulnerable heading into a much-needed bye week. Other than USC fans, the most miserable folks watching that game surely root for Stanford, which probably can't believe it lost to the Trojans just a week before.

What this implosion and these injuries reveal in a wider sense is vulnerability in the South. In the preseason, UCLA looked like a decisive South favorite. Then USC made a statement with a win over the Cardinal. Arizona State was lurking with a great offense and a questionable defense. At this point, however, none of these three teams is scaring anyone. And don't look now, but Arizona and Utah remain unbeaten and have shown flashes that suggest they might be factors in a divisional race that previously seemed limited to the aforementioned troika.

The Wildcats play host to California on Saturday. Lo and behold, the Bears also are unbeaten, and this game suddenly possesses some potential meaning it didn't seem to have in the preseason. If Cal gets the upset, it can fully erase last season's misery and start thinking bowl game. If Arizona gets the win, it will be 4-0 and eyeballing the Top 25 with a visit to No. 2 Oregon looming on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Arizona appears suspect on defense, but the offense, with impressive redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon, a good O-line, deep corps of receivers and breakout freshman running back Nick Wilson, will make the Wildcats a threat to any foe.

Utah visits Michigan on Saturday. While the Wolverines don't look like they'll be hailing in much victory this season, a Utes win would certainly raise more than a few eyebrows. While Utah's trouble hasn't been in nonconference games since joining the Pac-12, a 3-0 start would hint they are not a South afterthought, particularly if the offense continues to shine with QB Travis Wilson.

While Oregon's win over Michigan State coupled with Stanford's loss to USC only boosted the Ducks' status as North Division favorites, the South intrigue has seemingly spiderwebbed since the beginning of the season. The race appears more wide open and complicated. UCLA's visit to Arizona State remains a major measuring stick, but it's just as likely either team would sacrifice that game -- as horrible as that sounds -- to know it will get its starting quarterback back healthy for the rest of the season.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
AM ET
Time to tip our cap to those who were the best of the best in Week 3.

Jerry Neuheisel, QB, UCLA: It was Jerry’s World. The redshirt sophomore stepped in for an injured Brett Hundley and completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns as he led the Bruins in a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Texas.

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA: Perkins took a bit of the pressure of Neuheisel as he was a weapon in the pass and run game. He had 126 yards on the ground on 24 carries and tallied 69 receiving yards on five catches.

Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford: The senior recorded the first three touchdowns of the day for the Cardinal in a 35-0 win over Army. His 13 yards per catch (four receptions, 52 yards) was a game-high.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The junior compiled quite the stat line in just under three quarters of play in the Ducks' 48-14 victory over Wyoming: Two passing touchdowns and 221 passing yards on 19-of-23 passing plus two rushing touchdowns and 71 rushing yards on five carries.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: Thompson became Washington’s first player to record a fumble return score and pick six in the same game since at least 1978. He finished the game with four tackles and three carries for 16 yards in Washington’s 44-19 win over Illinois.

D.J. Foster, RB, Arizona State: The junior recorded his third-straight 100-yard rushing game, as he accounted for 147 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries. Foster also had three receptions for 52 yards and tallied his first receiving touchdown of the season as the Sun Devils defeated Colorado 38-24.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: He helped seal the game for Arizona as he rushed for 171 yards on 29 carries. He recorded the first two touchdowns of the game for the Wildcats en route to a 35-28 win, giving Arizona a perfect 3-0 record entering Pac-12 play.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:00
AM ET
Wyoming at No. 2 Oregon
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.

Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.

Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.

No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #USCvsBC

USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.

Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.

No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).

No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #ASUvsCOLO

The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.

Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."

Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah
The question for Arizona State coach Todd Graham focused on his defense. This was not a new topic. The Sun Devils are pretty much completely rebuilding their defense after losing nine starters from the 2013 Pac-12 South Division champions, and it obviously had experienced some ups and downs against second-rate competition through two games.

"We’ve just got to eliminate the mental errors and the breakdowns," Graham said. "These guys are fast and we’re gaining depth on the inside on the defensive line. We have seven or eight guys we feel good about playing. Five corners we feel good about playing. We’re getting there."

Then, after a pause, Graham added his own footnote, one that probably anticipated what his listeners were thinking while he talked about his questionable defense.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTodd Graham and ASU's explosive offense will face a Colorado defense that yielded an average of 34.5 points and 5.7 yards per play against Colorado State and UMass.
"Our offense has helped a lot, too," he said. "That helps a lot. Our offense is going to score a bunch of points."

The best defense, in ASU's case, at least in the early going, is going to be a good offense.

If you're looking for a reason why the No. 16 Sun Devils probably feel pretty comfortable about their trip to Colorado on Saturday, it's their offense. Though averaging 51.5 points per game against Weber State and New Mexico isn't exactly going to make the front page of the New York Times, it seems notable when that offense is facing a Buffaloes defense that yielded an average of 34.5 points and 5.7 yards per play against Colorado State and UMass. Against that weak schedule, those two numbers still rank last in the Pac-12.

The Buffs are young on defense and it has showed thus far, so there is no question where ASU holds a decided edge. Though second-year coach Mike MacIntyre said nice things about the Sun Devils' defense -- "I see a lot of athletes. I see a lot of players who can make plays," he said -- it's pretty obvious what is keeping him up at night this week. Asked about which player most concerns him on the Sun Devils' offense, he didn't feel a need to be specific.

"Shoot, all 11," MacIntyre said. "Their line is good, their running backs are good, their quarterback is excellent. Their receivers are big and their tight ends are good. Their offense is one of the most talented in the Pac-12, no doubt about it."

That is the issue for the Buffs as they struggle to find a way up in the South Division pecking order. They have struggled on both sides of the ball so far, and they probably need the Sun Devils' offense to devolve into a flurry of turnovers and miscues to have any chance Saturday. With running back D.J. Foster running well and receiver Jaelen Strong surrounded by a better supporting cast than last season and a physical, athletic offensive line, veteran quarterback Taylor Kelly probably feels like a lottery winner strutting down Rodeo Drive.

The Buffs are starting freshmen at both defensive ends, which is probably intriguing for Foster. That also probably means they will have to blitz to pressure Kelly, and that is dangerous because Kelly's back-shoulder fade to Strong versus man coverage is one of the most difficult plays to defend in the conference.

Still, this should be the stoutest test for the Sun Devils thus far. It is, after all, the conference opener for both. If they pass, then they can earnestly eyeball the critical Sept. 25 visit from UCLA. Both teams have a bye with which to give their preparations extra mustard.
Last week, your humble #4pac made some bold predictions about the season and how it will play out. One of the predictions was that there would be six teams in the AP Top 25 come season’s end.

Now you’ve seen some Week 1 action and maybe you were impressed, maybe you were disappointed, maybe you were confused (or maybe you were just happy that football was finally back and you didn't care what happened because "it's just Week 1 anyway," right?).

SportsNation

How many Pac-12 teams will be in the AP Top 25 at the end of the season?

  •  
    17%
  •  
    44%
  •  
    32%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,843)

But how much did the Huskies' near loss at Hawaii bother you? Was there too much hype too soon for first-year coach Chris Petersen? Or with Cyler Miles getting the starting QB spot, are you feeling OK the Huskies coming back into the Top 25? What about UCLA’s offense? The Bruins' defense did work, but the offense took a while to get started. Are you reconsidering their spot as a top-10 or Top-25 team? Or was it just a one-half glitch? Maybe Taylor Kelly impressed you like he did the AP, earning a small bump up in the standings.

And it’s not hard to imagine that big moves that could be happening after this weekend. With Michigan State visiting Oregon in a top-10 matchup, a lopsided win or loss could push Oregon higher or move it much lower. We’ve seen that snowball before against a team that has similar characteristics to MSU. And USC-Stanford could have the same effects except that one Pac-12 team’s move up the poll is another Pac-12 team’s move down.

You’ve only seen a small sliver but after seeing each team take the field, we wanted to know your thoughts on how many teams you think will be in the Top 25 at the end of the season.

Just to remind you, here were the Pac-12 teams in the preseason AP Top 25:

3. Oregon
7. UCLA
11. Stanford
15. USC
19. Arizona State
25. Washington

And when the Week 2 votes came out today, here’s how things shook out:

3. Oregon
11. UCLA
13. Stanford
14. USC
17. Arizona State

So, there’s a bit of movement from Week 1 to Week 2. When all is said and done and the bowl games are wrapped up, how many Pac-12 teams will still be standing in the Top 25?
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”

Arizona State 45, Weber State 14

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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video D.J. Foster rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns in Arizona State's 45-14 win over Weber State.
The talk of Pac-12 town this season is the quarterbacks. Yes, yes, we know.

But don’t forget the talent the league has at running back, too. The run game, after all, is what opens up the passing lanes for the signal-callers.

The 1,000-yard mark has acted as a benchmark for backs for years, so, how many Pac-12 rushers (for fun, let's include QBs) will hit the mark in 2014?

SportsNation

How many 1,000-yard rushers will the Pac-12 have in 2014?

  •  
    11%
  •  
    26%
  •  
    28%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,340)

In 2013 there were four 1,000-yard rushers: Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey (1,885), Washington’s Bishop Sankey (1,869), Stanford’s Tyler Gaffney (1,709) and Oregon’s Byron Marshall (1,038). Only one of those guys, Marshall, returns in 2014, and even he is listed in a three-way battle for the starting RB spot at Oregon with Thomas Tyner and Royce Freeman.

In 2012 and 2010 there were six 1,000-yard rushers, and in 2011 there were seven. So what exactly will 2014 bring us?

Oregon has its three-headed monster (in addition to quarterback Marcus Mariota, who rushed for 715 yards last season). Will one or two emerge and become 1,000-yard backs? Or will they split carries, gain major yardage together and not have a single guy hit that mark? Could go either way.

USC has Buck Allen and Justin Davis and Tre Madden. ASU has D.J. Foster. Utah has Bubba Poole. Could Stanford’s Barry Sanders follow in his dad’s footsteps? Or will it be Kelsey Young who steals the show at Stanford? UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley accounted for 748 rushing yards last season. Could he add a few more long runs and hit the mark? What about one of his backs, such as Jordon James or Paul Perkins?

Colorado is pretty deep, Washington has options, and Oregon State says its run game is much improved.

With all those guys, how many 1,000-yard rushers will we actually see? History says it can range greatly. But what say you?

Something to prove in the Pac-12

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
5:00
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Enough chatter. Enough previews. Enough hype. It’s game week. Time to put up or shhhhhh.

Today we’re going to take a look at players/coaches/position groups with something to prove in 2014. These are in no particular order, but each is just as significant.

  1. Hot seat coaches: While Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's and Cal coach Sonny Dykes' seats aren’t exactly roasting, it’s not like they just took the ice bucket challenge, either. The Utes have missed the postseason for consecutive seasons, and the Bears have dropped 16 straight FBS teams (11 under Dykes’ watch). Unless either has a disastrous season, the Pac-12 blog sees them back in 2015. But results need to come sooner than later.
  2. [+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
    AP Photo/Don RyanThe preseason hype has been in full force for Pac-12 QBs like Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It's now time to deliver.
     Quarterbacks: The 10 returning starters have brought a crush of national attention to the Pac-12. Now it’s time for those guys to earn it. Some are calling this the most talented collection of quarterbacks in one league in the history of college football -- headlined by Heisman trophy candidates Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. The expectations have never been higher for Pac-12 signal-callers.
  3. Stanford’s offensive line: Speaking of hype … a couple of years ago the Cardinal inked what some called the best offensive line recruiting class in the history of history. Now all five starters are from that class. Some already have significant experience. Others saw some work in Stanford’s “extra linemen” packages last season. This group has to live up to its billing for the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense.
  4. Austin Hill: In 2012, he was a beast, catching 81 balls for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns. Then an ACL injury suffered in the spring of 2013 cost him all of last season. Now he headlines an extremely deep and talented wide-receiving corps for the Wildcats in a Rich Rodriguez system that favors pass-catchers. No doubt, Hill is looking to get that first catch, first hit and first touchdown out of the way. If redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon can produce solid quarterback play, Hill could be in for another outstanding season.
  5. USC freshmen: Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn are slated at right and left guard, respectively, for the season opener against Fresno State. Ajene Harris is listed as a starting wide receiver. Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith are expected to contribute as receivers and on special teams. And with the loss of Josh Shaw, Jackson might see extended time at cornerback. Steve Sarkisian made a huge splash in his first preseason by landing a top-notch recruiting class. Now it’s time for these guys to go out and prove it.
  6. Mark Helfrich: Sometimes the burden of expectation can weigh heaviest of all. Helfirch got a taste of that last season when, despite going 11-2 and beating Texas in the Alamo Bowl, there were some who considered Oregon’s 2013 campaign an unsuccessful one. He lost to Stanford (Chip Kelly also did, twice, by the way), lost to Arizona and some off-field incidents (Colt Lyerla, Rose Bowl comments, snowball fight) became bigger talking points than what was happening on the field. On the field, in case you forgot, was a Heisman-favorite quarterback playing the second half of the season with a partially torn knee ligament. A Pac-12 championship would go a long way toward silencing his doubters.
  7. D.J. Foster: Working in tandem with Marion Grice last season, Foster rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns to go with his 653 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He’s a versatile back that Mike Norvell loves to split out and use in the passing game. But with Grice gone, Foster now takes over as the primary back. They’ll still use him in the passing attack. He’s too talented for them not to. But he’ll get a lot more work as a runner beyond the 93 carries he had last fall.
  8. Myles Jack: The Pac-12 blog has a special column on Jack coming out later this week so we won’t spoil anything. All we’ll say for now is he’s getting a ton of national love. From All-America lists to Heisman chatter, Jack is the national darling of preseason college football. Thing is, he might just be worth all of the hype. His encore season will be telling.
  9. The new guys: That the Huskies are a preseason Top 25 team speaks to how highly the national media thinks of Chris Petersen -- especially after they lost their quarterback, running back and tight end. He has his work cut out for him in a brutal Pac-12 North. But the expectations aren’t as extreme as they are for the guy he replaced. Sarkisian and the Trojans are expected to compete for a South Division title, a conference crown and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Beating UCLA would be a good start.
  10. Cal’s defense: The Bears had a rough go of it last season. No doubt. As the injuries piled up, and younger players were forced into action. The end result was, well, Cal in 2013. With a new defensive coordinator in Art Kaufman and finally a little health, guys like Brennan Scarlett, Mustafa Jalil and Stefan McClure take center stage in what the Bears hope will be a defensive revival.
The eyes of the nation have finally turned west, where the cream of the crop in signal callers has risen to the top. The quarterback depth in the Pac-12 is second to none, and everyone is talking about it.

Here's UCLA coach Jim Mora's take: "I have great respect for the quarterbacks in this conference. Many of them will go on to have great [NFL] careers, but to me, I don't think it's even close -- I don't think there is another conference that has near the quality of quarterbacks."

[+] EnlargeTaylor Kelly
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsArizona State's Taylor Kelly likes being under the radar in a Pac-12 rich with quarterback talent.
Stanford's David Shaw also weighed in: "[I've] never seen anything like this where you have multiple guys in our conference that you could say could be the No. 1 pick overall in the draft. You have multiple guys in the conference that could be All-Americans and could lead the nation in quarterback rating or lead the nation in yards and yards per attempt in touchdown passes, and that could be any of five or six guys that could do this that this year."

There's only one problem: Players such as Shaw's own Kevin Hogan and Arizona State's Taylor Kelly -- two very good quarterbacks -- get lost in the shuffle.

The league has its headliner in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. And if he's the main show, then UCLA's Brett Hundley is the opening act. He is, after all, the only other Pac-12 QB who's seriously considered a possible Heisman finalist at this point.

After those two, the conversation tends to tighten up, usually turning to the quarterbacks who are a bit different or doing one thing better than anyone else.

So people bring up Oregon State's Sean Mannion, who will likely take Matt Barkley's spot from the top of the Pac-12 career passing board ... midway through the season. They bring up Washington State's Connor Halliday. He's at the center of the Air Raid show and people want to know what it possibly looks like to average 55 pass attempts per game (about 20 more than the league average). Even USC quarterback Cody Kessler gets a little bit of love because of the Steve Sarkisian effect. Trojans fans want to watch that offense and see how it's going to change, and Kessler is at the middle of that moving puzzle.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Tommy LaPorte/Icon SportswireStanford's Kevin Hogan, who has an impressive mark against ranked teams, would be among the leaders in passing efficiency in most any conference.
Suddenly, Kelly and Hogan -- statistically, the third- and fourth-best QB's in the Pac-12 in 2013 (based on an adjusted QBR) -- are back to No. 6 and No. 7 in the conversation. And how many actually get that far in the conversation? Few.

As the nation turns to the Pac-12, football fans want to know who's best, who's next best and who's different. So Hogan and Kelly -- outside of their own respective fan bases -- are often forgotten.

If Hogan or Kelly were to be dropped into nearly any other conference, they'd be in that "next-best" conversation -- in the Big Ten behind Ohio State's Braxton Miller, in the ACC behind Heisman winner Jameis Winston of Florida State or in the Big 12 behind Baylor's Bryce Petty (though they'd be in quite the debate against Texas Tech's Davis Webb).

In fact, Kelly would've led the Big Ten in passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2013. In that same conference, Hogan would've been the most efficient passer. Kelly would've been tied for second in the SEC for touchdown passes while Hogan would've been tied for second in the Big 12 in the same category.

Still, on the East Coast or down South, there are no discussions about the fact that Hogan is 10-1 against top-25 opponents, or that he has led his team to two league championships. People don't discuss that Kelly led his team to the Pac-12 South championship last year, or that he'll likely finish his Arizona State career with more passing yards than Jake Plummer.

They don't discuss those things because they're too far down the ladder when it comes to the conversation -- and that's not their own fault.

At Pac-12 media days, Kelly told the Pac-12 Networks that he was OK with the fact that he maybe doesn't get as much credit nationally as he deserves.

"I'm comfortable with it," Kelly said. "I like being under the radar. It makes me work harder. I have a chip on my shoulders to outwork all those great quarterbacks in the country."

Like many of those great quarterbacks across the country, Kelly and Hogan will probably have the chance to play on Sundays. But the question that remains is whether their play on Saturdays this year will finally get people to start talking about these two talented quarterbacks.

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