Pac-12: Oregon State Beavers
Friday, 7 p.m.
Oregon at California, Fox Sports 1
Saturday, 11 a.m.
UCLA at Colorado, Pac-12 Network
It's turned into another long season for the Buffs, and the journey certainly doesn't become any easier with UCLA's explosive bunch coming to town. Turnovers, though, have been a major issue for the Bruins this season. Cal scored 21 points off UCLA miscues to keep the game close last week, and that might well be Colorado's formula to have a puncher's chance at Folsom Field. For Brett Hundley's squad, this should be a chance for a tuneup before a challenging finishing stretch: vs. Arizona, at Washington, vs. USC, vs. Stanford.
Oregon State at Stanford, ESPN2
The Beavers will certainly be sniffing upset in Palo Alto. Stanford is a very vulnerable team right now: The offense is faltering, and that supersonic defense has taken two gut punches with injuries to linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That being said, the Cardinal have been excellent when faced with adversity in the David Shaw era. The fourth-year coach has yet to lose consecutive games in his tenure, and Stanford is desperate to right the ship at home.
Arizona at Washington State, Pac-12 Network
The Cougars won 24-17 in Tucson last season, but we will likely see more points this Saturday in Pullman when Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach resume battle. Arizona and Washington State are the Pac-12's two top teams when it comes to total offense. They are averaging a combined 1,091 yards per game. Since both defenses are ranked in the conference's bottom half, expect fireworks and an intriguing duel between senior Connor Halliday (who is on an NCAA record-smashing pace) and freshman Anu Solomon.
USC at Utah, Fox Sports 1
This Utah squad reminds our Kevin Gemmell of the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Pac-12 championship, and I agree with him: The Utes don't ask for much out of their quarterback (62 pass yards last week), they run the ball with vigor (229 yards from Devontae Booker last week) and they set up frequent shop in opposing backfields (nation-leading 5.5 sacks per game). Both teams have also established a hashtag for their pass rush: 2012 Stanford had #PartyInTheBackfield, and 2014 Utah has coined #SackLakeCity. So USC is tasked with beating this rugged Ute team in a raucous road environment. This game is a significant step in figuring out the convoluted Pac-12 South puzzle.
Arizona State at Washington, ESPN
There is a 70 percent chance of rain in Seattle. They call that "Dawg Weather" in the Pacific Northwest, and Washington hopes that will aid in its quest to win the turnover battle -- the Huskies are ranked second nationally in turnover margin even after last week's substandard performance at Oregon. Taylor Kelly returns to the quarterback role for Arizona State, but Todd Graham expects Mike Bercovici will also get snaps. Washington's offense has sputtered this season (league-worst 5.0 yards per play), and it will be interesting to see who gets the upper hand in its matchup with the Sun Devils' unremarkable defense.
USC at Utah
The Utes are scheduled to host at least three official visitors this weekend, led by Utah wide receiver commit Donzale Roddie. Also on hand will be safety Tyson Cisrow and defensive end Simitali Moala. Cisrow is another in a long line of Florida standouts the Utes are chasing in this 2015 class. Utah already holds commitments from three Florida preps and is well on its way to matching the five Sunshine State prospects signed in the 2014 class. This will be an important visit for Roddie as well, as the three-star recruit is being chased by Colorado and has said in the past that he'll continue to listen to other schools despite his verbal commitment.
We've got football tonight! And in true Pac-12 fashion, it features the top two scoring offenses in the conference and the league's most efficient passers. Oregon ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12, scoring an average of 43.6 points per game. Cal is No. 2, averaging 41.6 points per game. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota ranks first in the league in quarterback efficiency, and Cal's Jared Goff is No. 2. The weather in Santa Clara tonight calls for 75 degrees and partly cloudy, so don't expect an monsoons like last season in Eugene.
Here's what some folks are saying about tonight's showdown:
- Marcus Mariota has set himself apart from some of the previous Heisman winners.
- The Bears are leaving last year's water-logged loss in the past.
- Sonny Dykes said the trip to Levi's Stadium feels like a road game.
- The Ducks' defense is starting to find success in the opponent's backfield.
As noted, the quarterbacks will take center stage in the showdown. Here's a statistical breakdown of Mariota and Goff.
As always, the Pac-12 blog presents its picks on Thursday morning. And each Friday we bring some picks from national writers and folks who cover the conference. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that all the Pac-12 blog writers picked Utah to beat USC. And we all know what happens when the Pac-12 blog agrees (gulp).
But we're not the only ones. Stewart Mandel from Fox Sports is also a Utah believer:
The Trojans are the more talented team, but this is not the most favorable matchup for them. RB Buck Allen has sprung for at least 115 yards in all but one game but the Utes boast the nation’s sixth-best rushing defense. And Utah star Devontae Booker is fully capable of exploiting an average USC rushing defense. The Trojans admittedly have a huge edge at quarterback with Cody Kessler, but if Utah prevents too many long throws downfield, it should survive.
- Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman Review likes the Trojans.
- Mostly consensus for the Athlon folks, though there are a couple of dissenting opinions on Utah-USC and ASU-Washington.
- Ryan Thorburn of the Register-Guard likes the Cougs in an upset over Arizona.
- Rich Rodriguez is re-writing Arizona records.
- Todd Graham sees big things for safety Damarious Randall.
- Colorado disputes claims its offensive line plays dirty (see UCLA story below).
- Texas A&M has pulled out of its future nonconference game with Oregon and replaced it with Clemson.
- An Oregon State practice report (including some injury updates).
- David Shaw says he's going to change things up on offense.
- Shots fired; UCLA defensive lineman calls Colorado's O-line "dirty."
- Some video with USC offensive guard Viane Talamaivao.
- The Utes are no longer a Pac-12 novelty.
- Notes and quotes from Chris Petersen's meeting with the media.
- A profile of Eric Mele, who is running WSU's special teams.
What does Super Mariota really look like?
This doesn't qualify as "fun," but more of a tip of the cap to Colorado, UCLA, Navy and San Jose State, who will honor Houston offensive lineman David Quessenberry, who is battling cancer.
Yesterday was media day for Pac-12 basketball. Here's an interesting comparison between Pac-12 hoops and football. Unlike football, basketball has a little bit of DISparity.
Good to see this guy up and moving.
Cal WR Trevor Davis on giving the crowd a thumbs up after his injury last week https://t.co/Y4PDis6uVE— Mike Vernon (@M_Vernon) October 23, 2014
If you believe what Todd Graham has been saying all along -- that Taylor Kelly is his starting quarterback once he's back to 100 percent -- then you can expect to see Kelly at the helm for the No. 14 Sun Devils when they travel to Washington this weekend.
Speaking with the media on Wednesday after practice, Kelly said he feels 100 percent and is ready to go.
Here's an excerpt from Zach Buchanan's piece in The Arizona Republic:
Kelly insists he's capable of making all the movements required of playing quarterback, which in ASU's system also means a lot of running the ball on read options. If he's worried about anything, it's a bit of mental rust.
Kelly has been throwing in some capacity for a few weeks, but nothing prepares you for game action.
"The main thing I was worried about was my eyes, trusting my eyes and the game speed and stuff," Kelly said. "It's been a really great experience this week, and things are going to work great."
During Kelly's absence, Mike Bercovici led the Sun Devils to a 2-1 record with wins over USC and Stanford.
The flip side
ASU's opponent, may or may not have its starter back for Saturday's matchup. Cyler Miles is still day-to-day after suffering a concussion in the loss last week to Oregon. Redshirt freshman Troy Williams has been taking first-team reps. Here's what Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith told reporters after practice Wednesday:
I think he’s understanding and throwing the ball really accurately. That was the slight edge we thought Jeff (Lindquist)brought in the first game. And then we were really pleased at how Troy created some offense with his arm (against Oregon). He really has some arm talent, and that showed in the last month.
Williams was 5-of 10-for 37 yards against the Ducks. He rushed five times for 28 yards and a touchdown.
- Rich Rodriguez is winning. And that makes him a popular name for other coaching jobs.
- Even if Kelly does start, Todd Graham says there is room for both quarterbacks.
- Five things to know about Cal.
- Colorado has to find a way to pressure Brett Hundley.
- An Oregon practice report from Wednesday.
- John Garrettt has been calling the plays for Oregon State.
- Mike Bloomgren talks about Stanford's offense and its offensive line.
- Some video with the UCLA coordinators talking Colorado.
- Adoree' Jackson is on pace to play against Utah.
- Devontae Booker is quickly earning the nickname "The Beast."
- Washington is looking for a way to bolster the running game.
- The Cougars are preparing for a high-powered Arizona attack.
Andre Yruretagoyena talks about getting his ears pierced, running without pants and his kitten. Seriously.
You just knew it was going to make an appearance ...
Arthur in Poulsbo, Washington writes: If the Sun Devils win the rest of their games (big if), do you think the UCLA game with Bercovici's first start, will hurt their chances in getting into the playoffs?
Kevin Gemmell: I think a one-loss Pac-12 champion is a lock, whether that's ASU, Arizona, Utah or Oregon.
But since you're talking about ASU specifically, let's look at the schedule: at Washington (a team that started the year ranked), vs. Utah (a top 20 team as of this week), versus Notre Dame (a top 10 team this week), at Oregon State, versus WSU and at Arizona (a top 15 team).
Combine all of that with the fact they have already beaten two ranked teams and their lone loss was at home to No. 11 (at the time), I think the Playoff Selection Committee would look very, very favorably on the Sun Devils for going 11-1.
Here's the catch, they probably won't. And Arizona and Utah probably wouldn't go 11-1, either (they all play each other, anyway). Oregon has the "easiest" road the rest of the way, so the Ducks might end up with just one loss. But would you be shocked if they didn't? I sure wouldn't be.
A one-loss Pac-12 champion is a sure-thing. Take it to the bank. It gets dicey with a 2-loss team. But even that I think might be safe -- if the committee members truly take depth of conference and strength of schedule into account.
This is a brave and scary new world we're entering. Year 1 will go a long way toward setting some precedents.
Derek in Cedar Rapids, Iowa writes: Well, that was a brutal display by the Cardinal offense on Saturday! My question has to do with the explanation that Stanford is lacking a 220-pound back to run between the tackles, and that is the reason that the offense is so poor. Yes, Tyler Gaffney always seemed to fall forward for an extra yard last year, but how much of this has to do with an offensive line that is not (yet) living up to its recruiting rankings? If the blocking is what it needs to be, shouldn't Remound Wright, Barry Sanders and company be able to hit the hole for nice, positive gains? In other words, how much of this struggle has to do with the revamped offensive line, rather than Gaffney joining Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart in the NFL?
Gemmell: The answer to your question is yes, and yes. Yes, the Cardinal have not found a reliable back to give them, at least, 15 carries a game consistently. And yes, the offensive line has not lived up to the considerable hype it garnered when these guys were first recruited.
Does that mean they never will? Of course not. Remember, Andrus Peat is the only returning starter of the bunch. The rest of them -- while having seen a little playing time in the past -- are first-year starters.
But it's not all on the line. Because in Stanford's scheme, pass protection is a huge responsibility for the backs. And none of them have excelled in that department. For as outstanding as Gaffney and Taylor were at carrying the load, they were also very good at reading defenses and picking up blitzes. This wouldn't have happened in those days. Or this.
It is a combination of everything all snowballing into an avalanche of offensive inefficiency. You take an inexperienced line, combine it with backs who haven't done a great job in pass protection/getting extra yards and a quarterback who hasn't played particularly well, and you have the worst offense in the conference.
Mark in Phoenix writes: It was a dominating weekend for the Pac 12 South over the North. Is it too soon to remove the justifier of "so far" and declare that the Pac 12 South is better than the North?
Gemmell: By my count, the Pac-12 South is 7-4 against the North in their 11 inter-division matchups this year. Advantage, South.
Five of the six Pac-12 South teams are ranked, compared to just one team from the North. Advantage, South.
Every team but Oregon in the North has at least two conference losses, while the South has four teams with one conference loss and another with two. Advantage South.
The North has Oregon, the league's highest-ranked team at No. 6 and likely the Pac-12's best chance at making the College Football Playoff. Advantage, North.
Yes, the South is clearly the dominant division right now. That will sort itself out in the coming weeks with showdowns like USC at Utah, Arizona at UCLA and Utah at ASU. And then there are the rivalry games at the end of the year.
But outside of the SEC West, I don't think there is another division in football that is as nasty as the South.
The North has a chance to right things in the coming weeks. Arizona travels to Washington State this week and ASU heads to Washington. UCLA at Washington and Oregon at Utah in a couple of weeks will be interesting.
A rising South, in one sense, is great for the conference. The USC-Stanford rivalry is at a tipping point, as is the Arizona-Oregon matchup. There has never been a better time to be a fan of Pac-12 football. On the flip side, the power shift makes the league that much more balanced, which leads to further criticism of the league nationally.
I think back to a quote Mark Helfrich gave me a couple of weeks ago, when he said the Pac-12 has a perception that parity equals mediocrity, but in other leagues, parity equals strength.
Hopefully when the music stops and the four playoff teams are named, the Pac-12's depth will be an asset, not a deterrent.
The biggest news is that Stanford dropped out of the rankings after its 72-week run in the top-25. Sorry, Cardinal. But maybe a sweep of the state of Oregon over the next two weekends will get you back in. Kyle Bonagura went a bit deeper on the subject, which you can read here.
Here are the Pac-12 teams in the rankings. As always, the AP rank is first, followed by the coaches poll.
- Oregon 6-7
- Arizona State 14-14
- Arizona 15-15
- Utah 19-19
- USC 20-21
- UCLA 25-NR
Stanford was the only conference team to pick up any votes in the AP poll and in the USA Today coaches' poll. Washington and Stanford both received votes. Check out the complete rankings right here.
Curious how people who cover the conference teams voted? Glad you asked.
- Adam Jude of The Seattle Times.
- Kyle Ringo of the Daily Camera.
- Daniel Berk of the Arizona Daily Star.
- Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal.
- Mike Sorenson of the Deseret News.
And per usual, Heather Dinich gives you a rundown of the playoff picture following last week's football action. She has interesting thoughts on Stanford. Sorry Cardinal, but Dinich says that a three-loss team -- even if it wins the Pac-12 title -- won't make the playoff. Read on here.
Some streaks extended, others stopped right in their tracks
The Oregon Ducks continued their streak over Washington, winning their 11th consecutive game in the series. This kind of dominance in the series reminded The Oregonian's Andrew Greif of the Ducks of yesteryear as it produced a strong run game, solid QB play and, again, a win over the Huskies.
But in their play, a 45-20 victory against the Huskies at Autzen Stadium, the present-day Ducks instead resembled something closer to the grind-'em-up machine of the last decade that brought this program to prominence.
So, the 1994 throwback uniforms made quite a bit of sense, Greif explains. And speaking of those Oregon uniforms, The Huffington Post decided to go through 50 Oregon uniforms that "changed the way we see college football."
And while the Ducks were having usual success in Eugene, the Bruins had unusual success in Berkeley. UCLA hadn't won there since 1998 and it squeaked out a win over the Bears, breaking that streak.
But despite a win, UCLA isn't exactly looking like the top team many expected it to be coming into this season. Everett Cook of The Los Angeles Times writes that -- among a few other things learned in the Bruins' win over the Bears -- that UCLA continues to play down to the level of its competition.
And can we speak of streaks without at least addressing the ongoing Pac-12 road team streak? Utah and UCLA won on the road but USC, Oregon and ASU got work done at home. Does this mean that the magic of the road is gone? Probably not. With some interesting matchups this weekend (Oregon at Cal, UCLA at Colorado, Arizona at Washington State, Arizona State at Washington ... just to name a few), it wouldn't be too surprising to see some road teams walk out of opposing stadiums with a win.
And some shout outs
Let's give props where props deserve to be given. There were quite a few guys who had career days over the weekend in the Pac-12.
- Utah running back Devontae Booker started off the Pac-12 strong Thursday night, rushing for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Lindsey Schnell of SI.com writes that behind Booker, Utah is finally ready to make its mark in the Pac-12. For his performance, Booker was named Athlon's National Player of the Week.
- USC quarterback Cody Kessler set a school record and tied the Pac-12's record with seven touchdowns passes in the Trojans' win over Colorado. For his performance, Kessler was named the Walter Camp National Player of the Week.
- Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman accounted for 169 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in the Ducks' win. It was Freeman's second-consecutive 100-yard game and his best performance of the season. Here's video of Freeman discussing his performance.
- Even with a bye, Arizona moved up in the polls.
- Mike Bercovici is a big reason why ASU is so high in the polls.
- Cal receiver Trevor Davis was released from the hospital. Good, good news.
- Mike MacIntyre is working to fix Colorado's miscues.
- Pat Forde has Oregon in for his Fab Four.
- Victor Bolden is Oregon State's Mr. Versatility.
- Stanford is using monetary figures in its recruiting.
- Marcus Rios has had a way of beating the odds before his game-sealing pick.
- The Los Angeles Times gives an update on the bizarre LenDale White situation.
- Utah's starting QB? The answer is still up in the air.
- Chris Petersen says "it was too easy" for the Ducks.
- Washington State is seeking a winning attitude.
It was an ugly, gut-check, props to anyone who stayed through the first three quarters and only saw five field goals kind of ugly. It was a combined 1-of-19 on third downs at one point kind of ugly.
It was the kind of ugly that necessitates the winning team’s coach to say he thought it was "an outstanding job by our football team [of] hanging in there."
Which Utah coach Kyle Whittingham did.
They did enough. They didn’t dominate. They didn’t own the Beavers. They just won. Ugly.
And you know what? It was the kind of ugly that looks like it could be enough to take the Pac-12 South Division this season.
With everyone beating up on everyone (which displays the depth of the conference) why not Utah?
It’s not what anyone pegged for this team. The Utes were picked to finish second-to-last in the South at the beginning of the season. But in a season in which the conference has seen more than one Hail Mary decide a game and road teams go 15-4 in league play, it sort of feels like anyone -- yes, even Utah -- could sneak into that top spot if just enough goes right and not too much goes wrong.
It’s the old "C’s and D’s gets degree" frame of mind. Don’t worry about being the valedictorian, just get by.
Because that is exactly what happened on Thursday night.
The Utes -- not by design -- played two quarterbacks. Kendal Thompson, who led Utah to victory on the road against UCLA two weeks ago, completed four passes in the first half. He was sacked three times and also threw an interception. Yet, somehow the Utes were still in a 6-6 tie as they went to the locker room, thanks to their captain, kicker Andy Phillips.
Phillips, 13 of 15 this season, hit 38- and 43-yard field goals to keep Utah in what some could call a defensive battle, and others would call a matchup of stagnating offenses. Truthfully, it was probably somewhere in the middle.
But, in the first half, that was enough. Though Whittingham didn’t come to Corvallis expecting to play two quarterbacks, he decided at halftime to go back to Travis Wilson, who earned the starting job coming out of fall camp.
Wilson didn’t fare too much better in the second half. He completed five passes for 45 yards, didn’t throw a touchdown, and was sacked once. But in the second half, the run game exploded for the Utes. Devontae Booker, who rushed for 44 yards at 4.4 yards per carry in the first half, scored three touchdowns (including the winner in OT) and had 185 second-half rushing yards at 8.4 yards a pop.
Whittingham said he thinks Booker is the best running back in the conference, and Booker's 229 rushing yards Thursday -- the most by any Pac-12 back so far this season -- is a reason why.
The defense played stout, keeping Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion uncomfortable. Though Mannion completed just 56.8 percent of his passes and was sacked five times, he almost led the Beavers out of the woods. His 72-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Villamin to start the fourth quarter gave Oregon State its first lead. In overtime, with the Beavers trailing by seven, he connected on a corner fade to Villamin on fourth-and-goal.
But Whittingham wasn’t upset with the plays the Utah defense allowed.
"They're gonna give up things to that guy," Whittingham said of Mannion. "They've got guys on scholarship ... that are going to make some plays. But we made a few more than they did tonight."
Not a hundred more. Not many more. In fact, Oregon State topped Utah statistically in nearly every category that typically matters -- first downs, total offense, third-down conversions.
But the only statistic that truly matters -- which team has more points -- belonged to Utah. Because the Utes made "a few more" plays than the Beavers.
That might be what it takes to become the leader in the South Division. The conference was expected to be deep, but the cream of the crop was supposed to be a head above everyone else. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
It certainly won’t be an easy road for the Utes. Their next five opponents are ranked in the top 25. They have USC at home next weekend, then travel to Arizona State. They face Oregon at home, Stanford on the road, and close out the season against South foes Arizona and Colorado.
But if they keep doing enough on offense, enough on defense, and fielding their dangerously explosive special teams, there is a chance. It might not be an incredible chance, but it does seem silly to count them out at this point.
In the Pac-12 this season, you don’t need to be an overachieving team or have a Heisman or Biletnikoff finalist ... don’t worry about the style points.
Just survive. Just do enough.
1. A Pac-12 team will win the national championship: We wrote that Oregon, UCLA, Stanford or USC would win the national championship, and we'd like to celebrate the fearlessness of that prediction because at this point that is its strongest quality. Each member of that foursome already has at least one loss, with Stanford, UCLA and USC having gone down twice. At No. 9, the Ducks seem like the most likely team to work its way back into College Football Playoff consideration, but that might require going undefeated the rest of the way. No easy task. The Pac-12 has proved even deeper than it appeared in the preseason, while the top doesn't appear as unassailable as it did in August. We may have swung for the fences and missed with this one. -- Ted Miller
2. A Pac-12 player will win the Heisman Trophy: The Pac-12 blog is still confident. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota presents the best candidate from the league. He's yet to throw an interception, his dual-threat numbers more than qualify him and the Ducks are still in the hunt for a conference title and College Football Playoff berth. Although he's the nation's most accurate quarterback, the window for UCLA's Brett Hundley is shrinking quickly. But with names like Buck Allen and Shaq Thompson starting to emerge, the league still has a phenomenal shot at a stiff-arm trophy. -- Kevin Gemmell
3. No Pac-12 coach will be fired at season's end: The two coaches whose seats were moderately warm going into the year, Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Cal's Sonny Dykes, both have their programs headed in the right direction. That leaves absolutely no coaches in the Pac-12 in jeopardy of losing their jobs. -- Kyle Bonagura
4. Cal and Colorado will be good enough to deliver a major upset this fall: I think we can consider Cal's win at Washington State as major enough considering the kind of offensive numbers (and special-teams touchdowns) that Jared Goff and his teammates had to put up in Pullman. To win on the road against a team whose QB threw for the FBS passing record is pretty major. However, at the midpoint of the season, we're still waiting on Colorado. The Buffs came pretty close against Cal and Oregon State, which we could've considered in this category, especially with how well Cal was playing at the time. But we're keeping this prediction with Colorado. The Buffs have six regular-season games left and four of those teams are currently in the top 25. We're not counting out a top-25 takedown by Ralphie & Co. -- Chantel Jennings
5. The USC-UCLA game will be a battle of top-10 teams: OK, maybe we shot for the moon a bit with that one. But what about top-25 teams? That's still likely. The Trojans are at No. 22 and UCLA is the first team out of the rankings at the unofficial No. 26 spot. USC has only one ranked team in its next four games leading up to the UCLA showdown. Good chance it will still be ranked. Same for UCLA, which has only No. 16 Arizona as a ranked opponent on the docket before hosting the Trojans on Nov. 22. Win out and the Bruins will be back in the top 20. -- Kevin Gemmell
6. Oregon will cover the spread against Michigan State in Week 2: Annnnnd, we got one. Boom shaka laka. -- Chantel Jennings
7. The Pac-12 will go 3-0 against Notre Dame: Well, after Stanford yanked defeat from the jaws of victory -- hey, let's rush three and not cover anybody on fourth-and-11 from our 23-yard line with time running out! -- this prediction is already doomed. The question now, with Notre Dame ranked No. 5 as it heads to No. 2 Florida State on Saturday, is whether Arizona State (Nov. 8) and USC can beat the Irish (Nov. 29). We're going to stay optimistic -- I know; so strange! -- and say yes. Biggest reason why? Stanford played Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, but the Irish have to come west to play the Sun Devils and Trojans. And now's not the time to note that home-field advantage hasn't been worth squat in the Pac-12 this season. -- Ted Miller
8. Whoever starts at quarterback for Arizona will pass for more than 3,000 yards: Freshman Anu Solomon has cemented himself as the Wildcats' starting quarterback, and our initial assessment of 3,000 yards actually looks conservative now. Through six games, Solomon has demonstrated remarkable poise in the pocket, even leading Arizona to a shocking 31-24 upset over Oregon at Autzen Stadium. He has already racked up 2,136 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Since the Wildcats are on target to play in a bowl game, Solomon is actually on pace to shatter that three-grand figure while throwing for 4,628 yards and 33 touchdowns. Rich Rodriguez is developing a potent attack in Tucson, and it should only improve as Solomon accrues more experience with his talented receiving corps. -- David Lombardi
9. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan will be the Pac-12's most improved player: This prediction has not come to fruition. Through the first half of the season, Hogan has actually regressed in a key statistical area, and Stanford has struggled mightily in the red zone, a place where great quarterbacks shine. Averaging 7.7 yards per attempt, Hogan's no longer as efficient as he was in 2013 (8.9 yards per attempt) despite enjoying a much more complete aerial arsenal (Stanford's tight end position is back this year). The Cardinal's running game is not as strong this year, and that's forced Hogan to shoulder a heavier load. He averaged 15 throws per game in 2012. That number bumped up to 21 in 2013, and it has shot up to 29 here in 2014. It's become clear that this larger burden has pushed Hogan further from his comfort zone.
If Stanford can re-establish its running game and return Hogan to the play-action happy spot that gives him more opportunities to make plays with his legs, we may be able to revisit this prediction at season's end. -- David Lombardi
10. Six teams will be ranked in the final top 25 at the end of the season: Six looks like a stretch at this point and it's not because the Pac-12 might have six of the country's 25 best teams. With the level of parity the conference has shown over the first half of the season, it'll be tough to differentiate from, say, the conference's No. 5 team and its No. 8 team. That dynamic will make it significantly more difficult to have more teams in the top 25 than if there were a clear divide between the haves and the have-nots. -- Kyle Bonagura
How the game was won: Utah's Devontae Booker scored his third rushing touchdown of the game in double overtime, capping a game that was offensively challenged for the first three quarters. Oregon State's Trevor Romaine sent the game to overtime by nailing a 49-yard field goal as regulation expired, knotting things up at 16. After the teams swapped touchdowns in the first overtime period, Romaine missed on a 37-yard attempt, opening the door for Booker's 19-yard, game-winning run.
Game balls go to: Booker and Utah kicker Andy Phillips. Booker gets the nod for 229 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Phillips was 3-of-3 with a long of 46. Credit to the Utah defense as well, which wore down as the game progressed but got to OSU quarterback Sean Mannion five times.
What it means: At 5-1 overall and 2-1 in conference play, the Utes have set themselves up nicely for both a postseason berth and a potential run at the division. They already have a tiebreaker against UCLA and four of their last six games are against South Division teams (Oregon and Stanford sandwiched in between will be tough). There's also a bit of a quarterback controversy to keep an eye on as Travis Wilson replaced Kendal Thompson in the second half. Neither were impressive. For the Beavers, they need to start thinking about where those final two wins will come from if they hope to reach a bowl game.
Playoff implication: With one loss, the Utes are still in the conversation. If they can run the table, there's no way a one-loss Pac-12 champion gets left out. Question is, can the Utes -- and their struggling passing attack -- run the table?
Best play: Booker broke off a 53-yard rush with 5:33 left in the game and the Utes trailing 13-9. Four plays later, on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, he finished the drive with a touchdown to put the Utes up 16-13.
Notable: With 272 passing yards Thursday night, Mannion is at 12,012 yards for his career. He needs 316 to break Matt Barkley's career record of 12,327.
What's next: Ranked teams for both (at least ranked as of today). The Utes return home for a South Division showdown with USCUSC. Oregon State goes on the road for a North Division tilt with Stanford.
Total number of commitments: 10
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Why Oregon will win: Oregon has won 10 in a row in this bitter rivalry, and each of those victories came by at least 17 points. That’s dominance. Last year, the Huskies challenged the Ducks for three quarters at home before being overwhelmed in the fourth quarter in a 45-24 Ducks win. While Washington is closing the gap, and the Chris Petersen hire adds an intriguing wrinkle to the series, the Ducks seemed to regain their footing last weekend at UCLA. They’ll particularly need that improved O-line play to neutralize Washington’s tough front seven. But don’t despair Huskies: Marcus Mariota won’t be around when the Ducks come back to Husky Stadium in 2015! -- Ted Miller
Why Stanford will win: Stanford is just a bad matchup for Arizona State. The Cardinal's physicality on defense caused problems in both games last year and there's not much reason to indicate that won't be the case again Saturday. Stanford's offense has struggled, but there were enough schematic changes against Washington State to sense improvement is coming. -- Kyle Bonagura
Why Arizona State will win: Because there’s no way that if all five of us picked all five of the same teams this week, that we’d all be perfect. My gut says one of these games doesn’t happen the way we all believe it will. The Sun Devils are the more highly ranked team and they’re playing at home which in the Pac-12 this year means they should lose, right? So, I’m going to say they’re going to win. Despite Stanford’s tough defense, I think Arizona State has enough success against them to sneak out with a win. The Pac-12 this season has made little sense and for some reason everyone thinks Stanford is going to come in and crush ASU, so I say, what the hey, let’s pick ASU because no one else did. -- Chantel Jennings
Why UCLA will win: Don't get us wrong, Cal has a very real shot to win this game. Their offense is still explosive, and UCLA's defense has not shown that it's anywhere near Washington's caliber, the Bears' last opponent. We're still waiting for evidence that Cal's defense can stop Brett Hundley & Co. -- David Lombardi
Why USC will win: It's clear that the Trojans are significantly better than Colorado, and they're at home. Despite its inconsistency this season, USC just has too much size, athleticism, and skill to reasonably think they'll lose this game. -- David Lombardi
Pac-12 home teams are 4-14 this season, but the coaches in the conference continue to find recruiting success despite being forced to pitch their programs to prospects following home defeats. This past Saturday, Pac-12 home teams went 0-3 yet came out victorious on the recruiting trail, landing commitments and making positive impressions.
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The delicious appetizer: Utah at Oregon State
Just over two weeks ago, the Utes and the Beavers became afterthoughts on the same night: Kyle Whittingham's club blew a big lead at home against Washington State right before Mike Riley's men found themselves on the receiving end of a thorough whipping in the Coliseum.
Then the fickle face of the Pac-12 smiled. And suddenly, Utah and Oregon State have a prime opportunity to capitalize on chaos. The winner of Thursday night's clash in Corvallis will improve to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference race. With the recent extinction of unbeaten Pac-12 teams, that would equate to prime positioning in this topsy-turvy conference race. Take both of these teams seriously because they're both playing sturdy defense: The Utes (allowing 4.7 yards per play) and the Beavers (allowing 4.8 yards per play) are ranked two and three in that category behind Stanford in the Pac-12. Utah leads the Pac-12 in sacks, and that'll test Sean Mannion's release.
Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: Washington at Oregon
The 5-1 Ducks have owned the Huskies for an entire decade, and they'll need to make it 11 straight to remain at the top of the Pac-12 North. Oregon blasted UCLA's shaky defense right out of the Rose Bowl Saturday en route to a 42-10 lead and 42-30 win, but this next game promises to challenge Marcus Mariota. The 5-1 Huskies have grown up quickly on the defensive end. Just ask Cal's offense, which only mustered seven points against the Dawgs despite coming in averaging more than 50 per game.
Speaking of Mariota, he's been spectacular: 70 percent completion rate, 17 touchdowns, no interceptions. In fact, only three quarterbacks in the nation have attempted more than 100 passes this season without throwing a single interception, and all of them play in the Pac-12: Mariota, Washington's Cyler Miles, and Utah's Travis Wilson.
We'll find out if the Ducks have made true progress in fixing their offensive line woes next Saturday. Oregon hasn't allowed any sacks in three of the four games that left tackle Jake Fisher has started (he's back!), but they also haven't faced a defensive front seven of Washington's caliber. Hau'oli Kikaha (conference-leading 10 sacks) and Danny Shelton are dominant forces right now, and that's allowing Shaq Thompson to wreak havoc from the second level. Oregon will be tested Saturday, especially if Miles continues to avoid turnovers.
The proving grounds game/redemption opportunity: UCLA at Cal
Both of these teams had golden opportunities at home last Saturday, and both went up in flames early. The Bruins wilted against Oregon, while the Bears could never recover from Jared Goff's goal line fumble that Thompson returned 100 yards for Washington's first score.
So neither team was ready to take the proverbial next step, and that turns this game into a chance for atonement. It seems as if the Bruins' defense has been on a fairly steady course of regression as this season has progressed, and Sonny Dykes hopes that's the medicine for his suddenly-stalled offense. Meanwhile, Cal's defense has yet to prove that it can contain a top-shelf Pac-12 offense. We'll probably see plenty of points in Berkeley as these two clubs vie to prove they have a backbone.
Desperation Bowl: Colorado at USC
Let's make it clear that these teams are desperate in completely different ways. The Buffs are 0-3 and just clawing for a single for a Pac-12 win. The Trojans, meanwhile, sport the conference's best record (3-1). Steve Sarkisian's team, though, is starved for consistency. USC should be ecstatic that they escaped Arizona with a win -- Buck Allen (7.9 yards per carry) and Leonard Williams were fantastic. But the on-again, off-again cycle has become far too familiar in Troy, where USC has followed up massive wins with horrendous defensive no-show losses. The Trojans are heavy favorites at home against the Buffs, but a slippery roadie to Salt Lake City awaits, so they'd better find stability now.
Don't forget dessert (diamond in the rough game): Stanford at Arizona State
By the most important statistical accounts, Stanford's defense is the best in the nation (8.8 points per game, 3.6 yards per play). Meanwhile, ASU's offense isn't messing around, either (41.2 points per game, 7.2 yards per play). So this rematch of the 2013 Pac-12 Championship is setting up to be a fun Saturday nightcap. In all likelihood, though, this game will probably be decided by the performance of these teams' struggling halves: Will Stanford's adjusting offense, scoring a conference-worst 26.3 points per game, be able to consistently score against an ASU defense that's giving up a conference-worst 6.1 yards per play? The loser in the desert will face a massive uphill climb in the Pac-12 race.
Through six weeks of the 2014 season, every program has flashed at least one weakness or one position where depth is needed in a hurry. While the incoming batch of 2015 recruits won't help the prospects of the 2014 team, some will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact the following year, as they'll provide depth -- or perhaps jump into starting roles -- at positions of need. Here is a look through the Pac-12 at the biggest areas of need for each program, and the 2015 recruits on the way to provide help.
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