Pac-12: Arizona State Sun Devils

Arizona and Arizona State don't like each other, but they share one commonality. They both like their current football coaches. That's good for everyone, both inside and outside the battle for the heart and soul of the Southwestern desert. It means their bitter battle -- the Territorial Cup -- might be on the cusp of something that makes a rivalry truly great: national relevance.

[+] EnlargeRodriguez/Graham
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona State's Todd Graham (left) and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez are all smiles after their new deals.
It should inspire grins that both schools announced contract extensions and raises for their football coaches on Wednesday. Neither, apparently, wanted to yield the news cycle to the other.

Arizona State gave Todd Graham a one-year extension and a $300,000 raise, his $2.7 million salary now ranking in the top half of the Pac-12. The contract will run through June 30, 2019.

Meanwhile, Arizona is giving Rich Rodriguez less but is being more creative. Rodriguez's base salary will get a boost of $220,000 to $2 million annually, but the university also is considering a significant retention bonus based on a $17.68 million stock offering from a booster.

From the Arizona Daily Star:
The proposal, which will be voted on by the Arizona Board of Regents next week, offers [athletic director Greg] Byrne 20 percent share of the stock, while [basketball coach Sean] Miller and Rodriguez will get 35 percent each if they meet the retention criteria: Each needs to stay at UA at least four years and cannot leave voluntarily before eight years in order to receive it.

Under the stock’s current value, Byrne would receive a bonus of $3.536 million while Miller and Rodriguez would each earn $6.2 million if they met the retention criteria. At the end of eight years, the three could keep the stock or sell it.

But let's not get bogged down in the numbers, other than to at least note that Graham and Rodriguez should pick up the tab the next time they take you to dinner.

Graham is 18-9 after two seasons. He led the Sun Devils to the South Division title last fall and a final national ranking. He's recruiting well. But it's just as notable that a program long known for lacking focus and discipline -- both on and off the field -- has become among the best at both within the conference. Academics and citizenship are up. Penalty flags and arrests are down.

Graham has his critics. He's probably not ever going to win everyone over. But he's doing it right in Tempe.

Rodriguez, with a lot less talent, has nearly matched Graham, going 16-10 with a pair of bowl victories. He, however, is 0-2 head-to-head in the rivalry, something that makes Wildcats fans a bit grumpy.

Rodriguez is widely considered within the business to be one among a small handful of true offensive innovators. While some dwell on his failed tenure at Michigan -- a hopeless mismatch that was aggravated by a dysfunctional athletic department and a sabotaging Lloyd Carr -- Rodriguez's track record speaks for itself. He's one of the 10 or 15 best coaches in the nation.

Both schools have good coaches who fit, and administrators and boosters know it. They want them to stick around. Both programs seem headed for consistent spots in the Top 25. While the South Division is rugged, particularly with a rising UCLA and USC emerging from NCAA sanctions, both should be in the thick of the divisional race most seasons.

When both teams are good, a rivalry is better. That appears to be where these two are headed. That means more national relevance and, therefore, more national attention. That is good for both schools, at least as long as one or the other doesn't establish a strong pattern of dominance.

Finally, this Pac-12 blogger truly enjoys that every time he's in Tucson or Tempe he's rapturously surfeited with snipes and gripes about the other program. We expect this joy only to increase as this pair moves up in the national pecking order, thereby marinating traditional bitterness with meaningful stakes to wrestle away from each other.

Pac-12 lunch links

May, 28, 2014
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I know we usually start with song lyrics, but in honor of the extraordinary Maya Angelou, who passed away Wednesday morning, I thought it'd be appropriate to start Wednesday's lunch links with one of my favorite quotes from her.

"I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back."

Now, on to the links.
Without a doubt, every game matters.

With few exceptions, a single game doesn't define a season. A great victory can be deflated by an upset the next weekend, while a crushing defeat can be redeemed by an inspired effort later in the season.

While the Pac-12's national title contenders -- we won't name names -- need to win every game (or just about every game), you can point to a stretch of games on the schedule that appears to be defining. In terms of a team's goals, that stretch is most critical.

We've defined a "key stretch" as three games, though we will allow for those three games to come among four.

ARIZONA STATE

Key stretch: Oct. 4 at USC, Oct. 18 vs. Stanford, Oct. 25 at Washington

Why it’s critical: Not the kindest stretch, is it?

These three games could be the difference between finishing third or seventh in the Pac-12. The two games in this stretch that appear to be less difficult are on the road, and Stanford will travel to Arizona State. The Sun Devils haven’t beaten the Cardinal since 2008, and though Stanford had a rough second half in the 42-28 regular-season victory over ASU last September, it will look to down ASU again en route to what the Cardinal hope is a third consecutive Pac-12 title.

If ASU picks up a win over USC and then sweeps Stanford and Washington, the Sun Devils could set themselves up nicely in a four-game heading into the Territorial Cup, looking for another win over Rich Rodriguez.

However, if ASU goes 0-3 or 1-2, that four-game stretch suddenly looks much, much tougher. A trip to Oregon State suddenly becomes a must-win and the finale with the Wildcats might be a win that would salvage a season rather than put a nice bow on top.

The USC-Stanford-Washington stretch could mean the difference between possibly playing for a Pac-12 title (shooting high here, I know, I know -- they’d need to get some help from UCLA) or another trip to the Holiday Bowl.

Other key stretches:
Over the last two weeks we’ve been taking a look at some players who had big springs for their respective teams. Some are upperclassmen finally coming into their own, some are younger guys taking advantage of open spots on the depth chart, while others are leap frogging some older players and making a name for themselves. Regardless, there were plenty of impressive performances in the Pac-12 this spring. All of these players are going to play a big part for their teams this fall, but which player do you think will be the most crucial to his team’s success in 2014? Rank them 1-12 here.

Here’s a breakdown of the players we’ve profiled over the past two weeks:

Arizona: WR Cayleb Jones -- The Wildcats might have the deepest wide receiver group in the entire conference, but could a Texas transfer become the most important one of the bunch? With a year spent studying the offense and learning from the sideline, Jones could be a major factor.

Arizona State: LB D.J. Calhoun -- The early enrollee ended the spring listed as a starter with Antonio Longino at the weakside linebacker position. With the Sun Devils trying to replace three starting linebackers, could Calhoun become a significant contributor as a true freshman? Seems likely.

Cal: RB Daniel Lasco -- Lasco found himself taking some extra reps this spring as Khalfani Muhammad (last season’s leading rusher) split time between the Cal track and football teams this spring. During his career he has been slowed by injury, but now that he’s finally healthy and taking more reps, could he battle Muhammad for the lead spot this fall?

Colorado: WR Bryce Bobo -- Colorado fans should feel encouraged by Bobo’s spring game performance (five catches, 132 yards) as they head into the summer wondering who can replace Paul Richardson's yardage. It’s highly unlikely that it’ll be one single player, but could Bobo carry a large part of it?

Oregon: WR Devon Allen -- When he wasn’t running for the Oregon track team this spring he was running circles around some Ducks defensive backs. The redshirt freshman could prove to be a huge player for Oregon as they look to replace last season’s top-three receivers as well as injured Bralon Addison’s production.

Oregon State: WR Victor Bolden -- Could Bolden be a possible replacement for some of the yardage lost by Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks? He has seen most of his time on special teams, but could step up as a big contributor in the fall as QB Sean Mannion looks to have another very big season for the Beavers.

Stanford: DL Aziz Shittu -- The sophomore, who can play every spot on the defensive line for the Cardinal, has received high praise this spring. Coach David Shaw said Shittu was, “probably the player of spring for us.” If it’s good enough for Shaw, is that good enough for you?

[+] EnlargeNelson Agholor
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsHow will USC wideout Nelson Agholor follow up his stellar 2013 season and excellent spring?
UCLA: CB Fabian Moreau -- He was a big contributor to the Bruins last season but during this spring season Moreau became a better leader for UCLA. Coach Jim Mora has given Moreau high praise and if the Bruins are able to take the South Division title next season, a bit part could be because of the breakout year Moreau could have.

USC: WR Nelson Agholor -- Chances are if you’re a USC fan, you know who Agholor is. If you’re not -- then he was the guy who played opposite Marqise Lee. But this spring Agholor took the steps to go from good WR to great WR, and next fall, the fruits of his labor could be on display for the entire conference to see.

Utah: RB Devontae Booker -- Booker is right on the heels of RB Bubba Poole, as displayed by his spring game performance (2 touchdowns, 19 carries, 103 yards). But between Booker, Poole and Troy McCormick, the Utes could have a three-headed monster at running back that Pac-12 teams would not enjoy having to face.

Washington: LB/RB Shaq Thompson -- He was the second-leading tackler for the Huskies last season so it wasn’t a defensive breakout spring for him. But considering he started getting offensive reps, it was a breakout spring for him as a running back. UW needs to replace Bishop Sankey’s yardage, could Thompson’s spring give him a jump start to do so?

Washington State: WR Vince Mayle -- The converted running back had a big spring for the Cougars. This spring Mayle got close to becoming quarterback Connor Halliday’s safety net. Considering Halliday threw for more than 4,500 yards last season, being his safety net would mean major, major yardage next fall.
And I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more.

Pac-12 lunch links

May, 20, 2014
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Sail on silver girl. Sail on by. Your time has come to shine. All your dreams are on their way. See how they shine.
The 2014 NFL draft has come and gone and taken some of the best Pac-12 players with it. But, there is still a lot -- A LOT -- of talent left in the league for the 2014 season, including several underclassmen who finished in the top 10 in different statistical categories last season.

Here’s a breakdown of the top returners in the Pac-12:

[+] EnlargeHawaii Bowl
AP Photo/Eugene TannerSean Mannion leads a group of returning Pac-12 QBs that is the envy of the nation.
PASSING YARDS PER GAME
1. Sean Mannion, Oregon State, 358.6 yards per game (1st in Pac-12 in 2013)
2. Connor Halliday, Washington State, 353.6 yards per game (2nd)
3. Jared Goff, Cal, 292.3 yards per game (3rd)
4. Marcus Mariota, Oregon, 281.9 yards per game (4th)
5. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State, 259.6 yards per game (5th)
6. Brett Hundley, UCLA, 236.2 yards per game (7th)
7. Cody Kessler, USC, 212.0 yards per game (8th)
8. Travis Wilson, Utah, 203.0 yards per game (9th)

  • Of note: We keep talking about how strong the Pac-12 quarterbacks will be next season, but the fact eight of the top-10 passers from last season will be back in 2014 is a bit ridiculous. Last season, the SEC didn’t have anyone who averaged more than 350 yards per game. Its only player who averaged more than 300 yards per game (Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, 316.5 yards per game) is gone. The Big 12 had one player average more than 300 yards per game (Baylor’s Bryce Petty), and he’s back for 2014. But between the ACC and Big Ten quarterbacks, there wasn’t a single one that even averaged more than 300 passing yards per game.
RUSHING YARDS PER GAME:
1. Byron Marshall, Oregon, 86.5 yards per game (5th)
2. Tre Madden, USC, 63.9 yards per game (7th)
3. Michael Adkins II, Colorado, 59.4 yards per game (8th)
4. Thomas Tyner, Oregon, 59.2 yards per game (9th)
5. Brett Hundley, UCLA, 57.5 yards per game (10th)

  • Of note: The top two rushers last season were both underclassmen who declared early for the NFL draft (Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey and Washington’s Bishop Sankey). The third- and fourth-ranked rushers were both seniors. This is a rare category where two players from the same school are both in the current top five and last season’s top 10. However, it’ll be interesting to watch the position battle between Marshall and Tyner to see which finishes this season as the Ducks’ top rusher, and that player could likely be at the top of this list come season’s end.
RECEIVING YARDS PER GAME:
1. Dres Anderson, Utah, 83.5 yards per game (4th)
2. Jaelen Strong, Arizona State, 80.1 yards per game (5th)
3. Chris Harper, Cal, 77.5 yards per game (6th)
4. Bralon Addison*, Oregon, 68.5 yards per game (8th)
5. Ty Montgomery, Stanford, 68.4 yards per game (9th)
6. Nelson Agholor, USC, 65.5 yards per game (10th)

  • Of note: For as strong as the conference is in returning QBs, there are a lot of notable receivers not on the list. The top three receivers in the league are gone, and even though Mannion and Halliday averaged more than 350 passing yards per game last season, they don’t have a single returning receiver in the top 10. The conference doesn’t have a returning receiver who averaged more than 100 yards per game in 2013.
[+] EnlargeAddison Gilliam
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiFreshman Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam (44) led the conference in tackles per game in 2013.
TACKLES PER GAME:
1. Addison Gillam, Colorado, 8.9 per game (1st)
2. Eric Kendricks, UCLA, 8.8 per game (3rd)
3. Jason Whittingham, Utah, 8.1 per game (6th)
4. Derrick Malone, Oregon, 8.1 per game (7th)
5. Tyrequek Zimmerman, Oregon State, 8.0 (T-8th)

  • Of note: Gillam, who was a freshman last season, joins Mannion in the select group of individuals who led in a statistical category in 2013 and is back for 2014. In this group, Zimmerman is the only non-linebacker.
INTERCEPTIONS:
1. Steven Nelson, Oregon State, 6 (T-1st)
2. Marcus Peters, Washington, 5 (T-5th)
3. Greg Henderson, Colorado, 4 (T-9th)
4. Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Arizona, 4 (T-9th)

  • Of note: Quarterbacks, feel free to sling it. With only a handful of defensive threats deep, some signal-callers are going to feel much more confident sending a ball down field.
SACKS (TOTAL):
1. Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington, 13 (2nd)
2. Jacoby Hale*, Utah, 6.5 (4th)
3. Tony Washington, Oregon, 7.5 (T-9th)

  • Of note: We’ve talked a lot this offseason, and even in this story, about how good the quarterbacks are going to be this season. Well, here’s one more reason why they’ll be so good -- so few pass rushers return. Two (maybe three) of the top 10 from last season are back. Kikaha, who was second in the Pac-12 last season to Stanford’s Trent Murphy, will be the likely frontrunner for sacks leader in 2014 and he’ll have the opportunity to go up against some of the best QBs in the league -- of the eight returning top-10 quarterbacks, the Huskies will face six.

* Denotes a player who suffered a severe injury that could keep him out of the 2014 season

Pac-12's lunch links

May, 19, 2014
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The dream of the '90s is alive in Portland. The dream of the '90s is alive in Portland. The tattoo ink never runs dry.
And so we will have a Pac-12 championship game at a neutral site.

Levi’s Stadium is going to give fans a new experience for the Pac-12 championship game and the opportunity to travel to a city that wouldn’t have been on their travel list before. The stadium itself is in Santa Clara, Calif. -- about one hour outside of San Francisco and 10 minutes from the San Jose (Calif.) International Airport.

SportsNation

If the championship game were to become a rotating-site event, where would you most like to see it hosted next?

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    38%
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    11%
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    28%
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    23%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,804)

But this got the Pac-12 blog thinking. If league commissioner Larry Scott ever decided that it would be a rotating neutral site for every season’s championship, where would you most like to see the game?

So we racked our brains and came up with three other stadiums. These three stadiums all fit a criterion, which we established. First, it must be a neutral site. As much as we love the view at Husky Stadium or the feel of the Rose Bowl, neutral means neutral and since we can’t go to Switzerland, our options became a bit more limited.

Second, it would need to be a sizable stadium with the growing interest in the Pac-12 conference, so we looked in the 65,000-plus seating level. And third, it needs to be in a favorable city. A championship game is going to bring an influx of football fans and those fans need food, drink and entertainment.

Thus, we came up with three fantastic options that span the entire west coast and give an array of options for football fans.

1. CenturyLink Field, Seattle. Though the obvious headliner for this stadium is the Backstreet Boys’ reunion tour (May 22, tickets still available), this would be an excellent choice for the Pac-12 championship game. The stadium seats 67,000 but can be expanded to 72,000 for special events. The field is fantastic and is the home of the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders FC. The city of Seattle is a gem. Where else can you visit the original Starbucks, the Space Needle, Pike Place Market and go for an underground city tour all in one day? The main deterrent would be the weather. The average low in Seattle in December is 36 degrees and the average high is 47. So if fans are looking for a tropical getaway (and the Seattle Aquarium just isn’t going to do it for you), then this wouldn’t be the best place. But for a fan who wants good football, a great stadium and fantastic food and drink, this could be a very viable option.

2. Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver. Again, a great city, a great venue and another great option for the Pac-12 championship game. Like Seattle, it is a city that wouldn’t feature a tropical climate in early December (Average high: 43, average low: 17), but haven’t you ever watched the fans at Lambeau Field and wondered what it was like to bundle up and watch a game? (No? OK, fine.) But imagine the satisfaction you could get walking into the stadium and shouting, “Omaha! Omaha!” Similar to Seattle, it’s an easily accessible city and one that people would have no problem spending a few days in. Between the live music, the Denver Art Museum and food options, you can’t go wrong. And if you have a free day before the big game, head out to the mountains and get in a day of skiing or snowboarding.

3. Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego. All right, so here’s an option that would bring fans to a location where they wouldn’t have to worry about packing a parka. In December, temperatures range between 48 and 65 degrees, on average. So for those who would gripe about the Pac-12 North teams having such a huge advantage if the game were to be played in Seattle or Denver, this might be the best option for you. The stadium seats just over 70,000 and has 19,000 parking spots on site (the most of these three options). And who doesn’t want to visit San Diego? Between the opportunity to quote Anchorman, a trip to the world-famous San Diego Zoo or the USS Midway Museum, there’s plenty to see and do.

Pac-12 recruiting roundup

May, 15, 2014
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With spring football done and the Pac-12 coaches hitting the recruiting trail, we figured it was time to check in on how each team is faring with its recruits.

Here's a look at where each school stands:


Arizona

2015 commits: 6
Players: Keenan Walker, OT, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Taren Morrison, RB, Mesa, Ariz.; Darick Holmes Jr., RB, Westlake Village, Calif.; Finton Connolly, DT, Gilbert, Ariz.; Alex Kosinski, OG, Larkspur, Calif.; Ricky McCoy, TE, Fresno, Calif.

2016 commits: 2
Players: Trevor Speights, RB, McAllen, Texas; Shea Patterson, QB, Shreveport, La.



Arizona State

2015 commits: 6
Players: Brady White, QB, Newhall, Calif.; Morie Evans, ATH, Huntsville, Texas; Bryce Perkins, QB, Chandler, Ariz.; Nick Ralston, RB, Argyle, Texas; Tony Nicholson, ATH, Grand Prairie, Texas; Raymond Epps, TE (JC), Yuma, Ariz.

2017 commit: 1
Player: Loren Mondy, DE, Mansfield, Texas


Cal

2015 commits: 4
Players: Austin Aaron, WR, Napa, Calif.; Greyson Bankhead, WR, Corona, Calif.; Malik Psalms, CB, Chino Hills, Calif.; Lonny Powell, RB, Sacramento, Calif.


Colorado


2015 commits: 3
Players: T.J. Fehoko, DE, Salt Lake City; N.J. Falo, OLB, Sacramento; Dillon Middlemiss, OG, Arvada, Colo.


Oregon

2015 commits: 4
Players: Taj Griffin, RB, Powder Springs, Ga.; Zach Okun, OG, Newbury Park, Calif.; Jake Breeland, WR, Mission Viejo, Calif.; Shane Lemieux, OT, Yakima, Wash.


Oregon State

2015 commits: 3
Players: Tyrin Ferguson, OLB, New Orleans; Kyle Haley, OLB, Anaheim, Calif.; Treshon Broughton, CB (JC), Tustin, Calif.


Stanford

2015 commits: 3
Players: Arrington Farrar, S, College Park, Ga.; Christian Folau, ILB, Salt Lake City; Rex Manu, DT, Mililani, Hawaii


UCLA

2015 commits: 7
Players: Josh Rosen, QB, Bellflower, Calif.; Alize Jones, TE, Las Vegas; Tevita Halalilo, OG, Moreno Valley, Calif.; L.J. Reed, WR, Elk Grove, Calif.; Jaason Lewis, ATH, Virginia Beach, Va.; Bolu Olorunfunmi, RB, Clovis, Calif.; Victor Alexander, ILB, Jacksonville, Fla.


USC

2015 commits: 5
Players: Chuma Edoga, OT, Powder Springs, Ga.; Ricky Town, QB, Ventura, Calif.; David Sills, QB, Elkton, Md.; Taeon Mason, CB, Pasadena, Calif.; Roy Hemsley, OT, Los Angeles


Utah

2015 commits: 7
Players: Jake Grant, OT, Scottsdale, Ariz.; Tuli Wily-Matagi, ATH, Kahuku, Hawaii; Donzale Roddie, WR, Paramount, Calif.; Chayden Johnson, K, South Jordan, Utah; Brandon Snell, WR (JC), Miami; Corey Butler, WR (JC), Wilmington, Calif.; Zach Lindsay, OT (JC), Kaysville, Utah


Washington

2015 commits: 3
Players: Jake Browning, QB, Folsom, Calif.; Trey Adams, OT, Wenatchee, Wash.; Myles Gaskin, RB, Seattle

2017 commit: 1
Player: Tathan Martell, QB, Poway, Calif.


Washington State

2015 commits: 5
Players: Thomas Toki, DT, Mountain View, Calif.; Austin Joyner, RB, Marysville, Wash.; Tyler Hilinski, QB, Upland, Calif.; Kameron Powell, S, Upland, Calif.; James Williams, RB, Burbank, Calif.
Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies. Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly. A girl with kaleidoscope eyes. Cellophane flowers of yellow and green towering over your head.
ESPN’s Todd McShay released his Way-too-early 2015 mock draft on Wednesday, giving a very early look into the future of some potential NFL draftees next season. Once again, the SEC leads the way, putting 10 players in the first 32 picks of McShay's first mock draft.

McShay predicts the No. 1 draft pick being a defensive lineman just like the 2014 draft. Only, instead of coming out of the SEC, he believes that defensive lineman will be one out of the Pac-12, USC's Leonard Williams.

McShay put eight Pac-12 players in the first round, including three top-10 picks. The ACC is behind the Pac-12 with seven picks, though six of those are from Florida State. The Big Ten has four players on the list while the Big 12 landed three.

Oregon leads the way for the Pac-12 with three players in the top 20 picks -- cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, quarterback Marcus Mariota and center Hroniss Grasu. USC got on the board with two players in the top 32 while UCLA, Stanford and Arizona State each had one player.
The NCAA released its annual Academic Progress Rate (APR) on Wednesday.

In order to compete in championships during the 2014-15 season, teams need to earn a 930 average over the previous four years or a 940 average over the previous two years.

Stanford is the Pac-12's headliner. Last year they led the conference with a rating of 978. This year, they lead with an increased APR of 978. The two schools to make the biggest jumps in their multiyear rates were UCLA and Washington, which both increased their APRs by 13.

Ten Pac-12 football programs reported an improvement. The two teams that didn’t show improvement were Oregon State and USC. However, all of the Pac-12 teams will be eligible to compete in this year’s championships. Across the country, 12 teams were penalized, 10 of which were given postseason bans.

Here’s the ranking of the Pac-12 APR with last year’s multi-year rate in parenthesis:

Stanford: 984 (978)
UCLA: 979 (966)
Utah: 970 (963)
Washington: 967 (954)
Arizona: 960 (956)
Oregon: 958 (951)
Colorado: 955 (946)
Oregon State: 950 (957)
Washington State: 944 (942)
Arizona State: 941 (937)
USC: 941 (945)
Cal: 938 (935)

To search APRs by school, sport, etc. click here.
Now, Watergate does not bother me. Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth.
The scheduling partnership between the Pac-12 and Big Ten might have ended before it started, but teams in both leagues continue to end up on each other's schedules.

The latest matchup features Michigan State and Arizona State, which Tuesday announced a home-and-home series in 2018 and 2019. Arizona State will host the first matchup on Sept. 8, 2018, and the Sun Devils will visit Spartan Stadium on Sept. 14, 2019.

Pay attention, SEC and ACC. This is called a solid nonleague matchup. If the playoff selection committee has a backbone, you'll need these to make the top four after recently voting to remain at eight conference games. Both leagues are requiring their members to play at least one nonleague game against a major-conference foe, but the quality of those contests, aside from annual rivalries like Clemson-South Carolina and Florida State-Florida, remains to be seen.

Fans of both Arizona State and Michigan State, meanwhile, get nine league games plus this appetizing intersectional gathering. The Pac-12 already plays nine league games, and the Big Ten will go to nine in 2016.

MSU adds ASU to a slate of nonconference games that features Oregon this season and next, Notre Dame in 2016 and 2017, Miami in 2020 and 2021 and Boise State in 2022 and 2023. The Spartans also had a home-and-home series scheduled with Alabama, but the Tide opted to cancel it.

Arizona State has upcoming games against Texas A&M (2015), Texas Tech (2016, 2017) and LSU (2022 and 2023).

Bottom line: Both teams are in good shape, schedule-wise, for the playoff.

These games are a long way off, but if coaches Todd Graham (ASU) and Mark Dantonio (MSU) remain in their positions, it creates an intriguing offense vs. defense matchup. The teams have met just twice before, as Michigan State won on its home field in 1985 and Arizona State defended its turf the following year.

Some Big Ten fans will wonder why Michigan State scheduled Arizona State after what happened to Wisconsin last season at Sun Devil Stadium. It will be interesting to see if Michigan State asked for Big Ten officials -- customary for the road team at most venues -- for the 2018 game. Arizona State is 9-0 at home against Big Ten foes.

After the scheduling alliance dissolved, there was some concern the historic ties between the Big Ten and Pac-12 would fray. It has been just the opposite, as the leagues this year will begin playing two more bowl games (Holiday and Fight Hunger) and have several upcoming series like Michigan State-Oregon, Nebraska-Oregon and Wisconsin-Washington. Northwestern is set to play Stanford six times between 2015-22, and Michigan plays two Pac-12 teams in 2015 (Utah and Oregon State) and another (Colorado) in 2016.

Another good matchup has been added. Will it help or hurt the Spartans and Sun Devils in their quest to make the playoff? Time will tell, but fans of both teams should be excited about the series.

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