Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Rethinking the 2014 Ultimate Road Trip

December, 11, 2014
12/11/14
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As is common every summer, we throw together the Pac-12 Ultimate Road Trip series to get you through the dog days. It also gave me something to do while Ted was on his book tour about Arizona foliage: Me, Myself and Cacti. The "Road Trip Revisited" has been a popular post the past couple of years, so let’s take a journey back to what we thought would be good in August compared to the awesomeness that was 2014.

Week 1

Our pick: Colorado State vs. Colorado
Result: Coach Jim McElwain’s road to Gainesville started with a 31-17 thumping of the Rams’ in-state rival.
In retrospect: UCLA and Washington State provided high drama against Virginia and Rutgers, respectively. But Cal’s 31-24 win against Northwestern would have been the better call.

Week 2

Our pick: Michigan State at Oregon
Result: The Ducks flipped a 27-18 deficit into a 46-27 smackdown. (Still not sure how Ifo Ekpre-Olomu actually made that interception).
In retrospect: USC-Stanford had plenty of drama. But considering where the Ducks ended up, I think we made the right call on this one.

Week 3

[+] EnlargeJerry Neuheisel
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel got a hero's exit after leading No. 12 UCLA to a come-from-behind 20-17 victory against Texas.
Our pick: UCLA vs. Texas
Result:: Jerry Neuheisel gets carried off the field!
In retrospect: A great win for the Bruins, and a great story with Neuheisel throwing the game-winner. What? You wanted USC-Boston College?

Week 4

Our pick: Utah at Michigan
Result: Is it actually over? Or still in rain delay?
In retrospect: The Hill-freaking-Mary happened and #Pac12AfterDark was born. Sorry Utes. Good win, but Arizona-Cal would have been the better pick.

Week 5

Our pick(s): UCLA at Arizona State/Stanford and Washington
Result(s): An ugly 62-27 blowout win for the Bruins, and a 20-13 win for the Cardinal.
In retrospect: WSU at Utah turned into quite the exciting game. But who would have tapped Colorado at Cal going into double-overtime followed by a Cal goal-line stand. A trip to Berkeley would have been worth your while this week.

Week 6

Our pick(s): Arizona at Oregon/ASU at USC
Result(s): The Wildcats hand the Ducks their only loss of the season and Scooby Wright III becomes a national name. And then a little something called the Jael Mary.
In retrospect: An unbelievable weekend! Perhaps the greatest weekend for one league in the history of college football. You had the two aforementioned games, Notre Dame’s last-minute win against Stanford, a shootout between Cal and WSU in Pullman, a last-minute slugfest between Utah and UCLA at the Rose Bowl, and Oregon State escapes in Boulder with Mike MacIntyre chasing the officials off the field! I rarely use the word epic. But this week qualified.

Week 7

Our pick: Oregon at UCLA
Result: A dud. Oregon rolled to a 42-30 win, but the game wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
In retrospect: USC at Arizona had all the #Pac12AfterDark craziness we had come to expect. A comeback, an onside kick, a missed last-minute field goal. Plenty of drama in what turned out to be the most exciting game of the week.

Week 8

Our pick: Stanford at Arizona State
Result: The Sun Devils got their vengeance with a 26-10 victory.
In retrospect: UCLA at Cal was all about drama, and Utah at Oregon State went into double-overtime. Either of those would have been the better choice.

Week 9

Our pick: Arizona at Washington State
Result: The 'Cats cruised to a 59-37 win -- their highest offensive output of the season.
In retrospect: Travis Wilson leading a game-winning drive and a last-minute touchdown against USC? Sign us up. Utes complete the LA sweep.

Week 10

Our pick: Stanford at Oregon
Result: The Ducks’ Stanford problem evaporated in the wake of a 45-16 win.
In retrospect: We don’t regret the pick. History was on our side. But Utah-ASU in overtime was by far the more entertaining game.

Week 11

Our pick: Notre Dame at Arizona State
Result: Speaking of picks, Everett Golson anyone? The Sun Devils intercepted Golson four times en route to a 55-31 win.
In retrospect: Pretty slow week. You had the infamous Kaelin Clay fumble that swung the momentum to Oregon. And Luke Falk won his first start against Oregon State. We’ll give it to the Cougs this week over 1) overcoming a fourth-quarter deficit and 2) holding a fourth-quarter lead.

Week 12

Our pick: Free pass
Result: ASU stumbled against Oregon State, Utah topped Stanford in OT, Washington fumbled one away against Arizona and USC (mostly) handled Cal.
In retrospect: This was redemption weekend for Casey Skowron, who hit the game-winning field goal against Washington, and Clay for his OT touchdown against the Cardinal.

Week 13

Our pick: USC at UCLA
Result: UCLA moved to 3-0 against USC in the Jim Mora era as the Trojans forgot to show up in a 38-20 loss.
In retrospect: This was one of the few weekends of the season without much drama. So we’ll just say we got it right with this pick ... even though no pick was really "right."

Week 14

Our pick(s): Stanford at UCLA/Washington at Washington State
Result(s): The Cardinal thwarted UCLA’s South Division hopes and Chris Petersen picked up his first Apple Cup win.
In retrospect: OK, we didn’t know the Territorial Cup was going to decide the South. Our bad. We'll try to do better next year.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 11, 2014
12/11/14
8:00
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We're not going to Moscow. It's Czechoslovakia. It's like going into Wisconsin.

Leading off

Oregon State has its coach. And while many thought that perhaps a younger coach might take the job -- with the concern that Oregon State would be a stepping-stone job -- it turned out to be the exact opposite. New head coach Gary Andersen used a head coaching job at Wisconsin to catapult himself into the Pac-12. Not a bad strategy.

Here's some stories and reaction from across the Pacific Northwest:

John Canzano of the Oregonian says Andersen is going to bring some toughness to the program. Something it desperately needed. Writes Canzano:
It's Andersen's turn in the warm seat. He comes here after playing for a Big 10 Championship, and posting a 10-win season at Wisconsin. He comes after being blasted 59-0 by Ohio State. He comes, presumably, with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who spent three seasons at Oregon. He also brings a defensive mentality, and toughness.

Oregon State players also had some reactions on social media.



Not surprising, a couple of high-profile Wisconsin running backs also had an opinion.

More Scooby Snacks

Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright can add another one to his trophy case. The sophomore took home the Lombardi Award and spoke with ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli about the honor and a couple of his favorite plays this season.

TG: What’s it been like being honored so much this season?

SW: It’s just been a great ride. I’m just having fun with it. none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for my teammates and coaches. I’m only a representative of the University of Arizona football program. This hardware, whatever you call it, I’m just excited to bring it back home to my teammates.

TG: Favorite play this season?

SW: I’ll give you my two favorite plays. Probably when I sack-stripped [Marcus] Mariota or ASU one of the first drives of the game, I stripped it, scooped it up and scored early in the first quarter.

TG: How much does being under-recruited fuel you?

SW: It definitely fuels me. times I don’t feel like working out and times you don’t feel like doing stuff. You always have to prove doubters wrong. People said I wasn’t going to be an impact player in the Pac-12, I even had some college coaches tell me to go look at Division II schools. It’s always … fueled me … My only Division 1 offer was from Arizona. I’m just enjoying it.

News/notes/team reports
With the regular season over, a number of Pac-12 players with remaining NCAA eligibility are mulling over decisions regarding whether to declare for the NFL draft. Here are some of the key decisions awaiting players from the Pac-12 North. This features some football-only evaluations from ESPN scout Steve Muench. Keep in mind that other factors also influence players' decisions.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a redshirt junior, is obviously the most prominent member of the pack with remaining eligibility, but there's a virtually unanimous consensus on his abilities: He's a top-flight NFL prospect. So here's a look around the rest of the division.

DL Arik Armstead, Oregon

It's easy to understand why the junior is seen as a valuable asset among NFL scouts: Armstead checks in at 6-foot-8, 290 pounds. That's a massive frame oozing with potential, one that could theoretically succeed along the offensive line, too. Armstead, though, has chosen to specialize in work along the defensive front, and he has worked with an Oregon front seven that's peaking at the right time with the College Football Playoff approaching. He leads the Ducks with six quarterback hits, and rumor is that he's planning to declare for the draft.

Muench's take: "Armstead is a very good defensive end/defensive tackle. He's a long, athletic kid who can develop into a pretty good defensive end at the next level. If he comes out, he'll probably go in the first two rounds just because of that frame. It's tough to find a guy who's that big who also carries his frame that well. He's athletic."

DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon

Buckner's intimidating facemask is not his only scary feature. Like Armstead, this guy is massive, as in 6-7, 290. He enjoyed a productive 2014, too, leading Oregon defensive linemen with 69 tackles and the entire team with 12 tackles for loss. Buckner's performance in the Pac-12 championship game was particularly impressive, as he led the Ducks' effort in stonewalling Arizona to the tune of 25 total yards in the first half. He might not be a household name yet, but there've been rumblings from the scouting community that Buckner could be selected in the top two rounds if he declares.

LB/RB Shaq Thompson, Washington

Thompson might be the Pac-12's most interesting draft-eligible player simply because of his versatility. He enjoyed a highlight reel year at Washington, scoring four defensive touchdowns from his original linebacker position before adding 456 yards (7.5 per carry) and two touchdowns from running back. While most experts have tabbed the 6-1, 228-pound Thompson as a defensive contributor at the next level, some think the junior has an offensive future as well.

Muench's take: "Some people are looking at him as a running back, and that's interesting to me, because he does have the size to play there. But if you're looking at defense, I think that's where he fits best, even though he'd be on the smaller side for an NFL linebacker. That's where he's most natural. The NFL needs linebackers who can match up with running backs and athletic guys coming out of the backfield, and I think Shaq Thompson can do that. Working in the phone booth is not his strength, but as a weakside linebacker, I think he won't have to come off the field. He's an athletic, rangy guy who I can see going in the high second round."

WR Devon Cajuste, Stanford

The Cardinal's passing game suffered in 2014, but Cajuste remains an intriguing prospect who has flown under the radar. Academically, he's a senior, but a redshirt year in 2011 gives him 2015 eligibility at Stanford if he chooses to use it. The 6-4, 230-pound Cajuste first earned playing time in David Shaw's offense because his large frame made him an excellent blocker outside. He then started making big catches in 2013. Stanford's staff insists that he's one of the faster players on the team, and if that speed shows up on the stopwatch, more NFL heads will turn.

Muench's take: "The size is so intriguing… I like him, I think he's a big-bodied guy who catches the ball well. I don't think he'll be a second-round pick; he'll be a day three, middle-round guy. He's a matc-up problem for smaller safeties. And if he comes out and runs a 4.5, that's going to be really good for him. If he comes out and runs a 4.4, that will be amazing for him."

LT Andrus Peat, Stanford

The 6-7, 316-pound junior, son of former NFL offensive lineman Todd Peat, has long been projected as a future high-round draft pick. He was the nation's top offensive line prospect coming out of high school in 2012, and his professional pedigree meshes perfectly with his elite size. There has been a report circulating saying Peat is strongly considering returning to Stanford for his senior year, but the big tackle says he hasn't made his decision.

Muench's take: "I hope he does come back. He was one of my favorite prospects coming into this year. He has a chance to be a really good right tackle in the NFL for a long time. But I just haven't seen the development this year. He was a top 20 kind of guy coming into this season. The biggest concern for me is his balance: He's lunging a lot and is occasionally off-balance. Guys will take advantage of that at the next level. For me, I think it's in his best interest to work on staying back on his heels more. For a guy who's so dominant with his physical ability, I'd also like to see more aggressiveness from him."

WR Chris Harper, California

A scout has called this 5-11, 175-pound junior a "poor man's DeSean Jackson." He has succeeded in Sonny Dykes' system with talented quarterback Jared Goff. This season, Harper grabbed 52 passes for 634 yards and six touchdowns. He posted remarkably similar numbers to his counterparts Kenny Lawler and Bryce Treggs (both also finished with more than 50 catches), and a series of tweets indicated that the entire trio will likely be back in 2015.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 10, 2014
12/10/14
8:00
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You feel like Marky Mark looks.

Leading off

Lots of playoff chatter this week, for obvious reasons. And another trend story that's popping up lately is how things would have looked under the old BCS system. It would feature Alabama versus Florida State in the national title game, and the Oregon Ducks, ranked No. 2 by the College Football Playoff Committee, would have had to win the day in a lesser BCS bowl game. So, safe to say, the Pac-12 has benefited from the new four-team system.

Matt Hayes of the Sporting News touches on this in his notebook column, and also hits on Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota's soon-to-be Heisman Trophy.

Here's a look at how the final rankings played out side-by-side.



And in another Oregon-esque news, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said the Ducks were the toughest opponent he faced all season. Here's what he told the BTN:
Oregon was a great great opponent, great offense, great defense, they had the uptempo offense that was pretty hard to stop. They have a great defense with a great front seven, talented DBs, and playing in Autzen (Stadium) was very difficult as well.

I remember someone saying a few weeks back that Oregon's defense was going to look a lot stronger statistically in the second-half of the season. Who was that ...?

Another major award (It's almost Christmas, I couldn't pass up linking this)

For a conference that supposedly doesn't play a lot of defense, there sure are some big-time defensive awards going around the Pac-12.

First it was Arizona's Scooby Wright III taking home the Bronco Nagurski Award. Tuesday it was UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks being named the winner of the Butkus Award.

If you haven't seen the video yet of him being surprised with the award, you can watch it here. It's as awesome as awesome gets.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

This will be Oregon's look at the Rose Bowl.

Expect Pac-12 southern chaos in 2015

December, 9, 2014
12/09/14
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The Arizona Wildcats can thump their chest all they want … at least for now. They are the Pac-12 South champs until proven otherwise. Just like Arizona State was … before Arizona proved otherwise. Just like UCLA was, before ASU proved otherwise.

Being proven otherwise, however, seems to be turning into an annual tradition in the South, which has had three different winners in the last three years. And if you thought the division was crazy in 2014, hang on, because it might plunge itself deeper into capricious insanity in 2015 and beyond.

"It's anybody's guess," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham when asked to handicap the South next season. "But I have to believe it's one of the toughest divisions in all of college football. It was very close this year, obviously. We had a lot of teams lumped up there at the top. Every year is its own entity and set of circumstances. I can't speak to next year. But right now it's anybody's guess."

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriQuarterback Anu Solomon will return in 2015 to Pac-12 South champion Arizona, but the division will be wide open.
The South heads into the postseason with five of its six teams ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25; Arizona (10), UCLA (14), ASU (15), Utah (22) and USC (24). Of course, the North continues to claim the ultimate bragging rights, having won every conference title since the league moved to a divisional format in 2011. This year was no exception with Oregon blasting the ‘Cats in the title game.

But the 2014 season saw a clear power shift within the depth of the conference. For the first time since expansion, the South had a winning record against its northern counterparts, going 15-10.

"The South has definitely resurged," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "Every game against those guys is difficult. Trying to handicap it for next year would be like trying to handicap this year. It's impossible."

Adding to the impossibility is that five of the six teams in the division are likely to return a quarterback with substantial starting experience. Barring any surprise defections, draft declarations or injuries, only UCLA will be without a quarterback with significant time as a starter.

"Once again, that means you are going to see offenses executed extremely well week in and week out," said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team is the only one in the division not ranked in the Top 25. "All the quarterbacks in somehow, someway, have broken records at their school. You're looking at quality players coming back that can score points each Saturday."

Given the Trojans historical success, it seems almost shocking that USC is yet to win a division title. Maybe that changes as the Trojans roster slowly starts to rebuild itself in the post-sanctions era. Maybe not. The trio of previous victors -- all with head coaches who were hired following the 2011 season -- show no indication of slowing down. Plus the Utes are on the rise and Colorado is putting a more competitive product on the field. The Buffs were "in" seven of their nine conference games. Anyone think they are going to be worse next year?

"The thing that can happen is any team in the South can beat any team," MacIntyre said. "I think that's where it's at. We had double-overtime with UCLA and definitely could have won it. We were in there with everyone (in the South) except USC. There's a lot of parity, but there is also high-caliber football."

Meanwhile up North, the divide might be growing. The Ducks will have to find a replacement for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota (oh come on, like it's not going to happen) and we're not exactly sure what we're going to get from the Cardinal. You have to imagine things will be smoother in Year 2 of the Chris Petersen era at Washington, but there will be losses on defense. Shaw pointed to Cal as a team on the rise, but defense will again be a concern. So outside of Oregon, you have to question which North team could do the most damage against the South. Oregon State will have a new coach. Washington State is still rebuilding. The Ducks were the only team up North to be ranked. And even if the Cardinal thump Maryland in their bowl game, the chances of them finishing ranked are slim.

"We've got a lot of guys coming back so I know we'll be in the mix," Shaw said. "But I know this, next year will be as crazy as it was this year. And in the South, I don't know who has the edge. But it's going to be exciting."

That's a safe assumption ... until proven otherwise.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 8, 2014
12/08/14
8:00
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Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes, really: pressure and time.

Leading off

That sweat on your temples ... that nervousness in your stomach ... that compulsion to clasp all of your fingers together in the shape of an "O" ... that's called playoff fever. And if you cheer for the team in Eugene, Oregon, chances are you've got it.

After months of projections and polls, the first-ever College Football Playoff bracket was announced, and the Oregon Ducks got the No. 2 seed and will play Florida State in a national semifinal at the Rose Bowl.

Here's some reaction: More bowls


The Arizona Wildcats headline the rest of the Pac-12 bowl slate with an in-state trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where they'll face Boise State. Here's a quick reaction from Rich Rodriguez in a statement from the school:
"I’m really happy for our players, staff and especially our fans. We have a lot of fans and alumni in Phoenix and hopefully everyone else in Tucson can get up there. It should be nice for the players' families, too, because it is a nice time of the year here in Arizona."

Probably doesn't hurt recruiting in the area, either.

Here’s the complete bowl lineup for the conference.
  • No. 22 Utah vs. Colorado State, Saturday, Dec. 20, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
  • No. 15 Arizona State vs. Duke, Saturday, Dec. 27, 'Devil Bowl (just kidding; it’s the Hyundai Sun Bowl).
  • No. 24 USC vs. Nebraska, Saturday, Dec. 27, National University Holiday Bowl
  • Stanford vs. Maryland, Tuesday, Dec. 30, Foster Farms Bowl
  • No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 20 Boise State, Wednesday, Dec. 31, VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
  • No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State, Thursday, Jan. 1, Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern
  • No. 14 UCLA vs. No. 11 Kansas State, Friday, Jan. 2, Valero Alamo Bowl
  • Washington vs. Oklahoma State, Friday, Jan. 2, TicketCity Cactus Bowl
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Normally, this would be a breakout item, because it's about how the coaches voted in their poll. However, we're putting it in "Just for Fun" because Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was the lone coach not to have Oregon in the top 4. And that's just funny.

Throwback Monday.

 
MARYLAND TERRAPINS (7-5) vs. STANFORD CARDINAL (7-5)
DEC. 30, 10 P.M. ET, LEVI'S STADIUM, SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (ESPN)


MARYLAND BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Maryland’s 20-19 win over Penn State -- on a last-minute field goal -- wasn’t just the highlight of the season. For coach Randy Edsall, it might have been the highlight of his Maryland career. “You all want the stock answer, of course,” he said, when asked if this was his biggest win. “But, yeah, it is. You don’t know what this means to our program.” The defense forced four turnovers, tallied nine tackles for loss and broke up seven passes. It was the first time Maryland had ever won in Beaver Stadium. No victory was bigger, but a 38-31 win over Iowa helped cement Maryland's status as a force in the Big Ten.

Season lowlights: The Terps were a heavy favorite over Rutgers in the regular-season finale, so when they took a commanding 35-10 lead in the second quarter, most assumed the rout was on. Well, most assumed wrong. Rutgers rallied to outscore Maryland 31-3 and ended up completing the unlikely comeback in a 41-38 victory. It was the biggest comeback in Rutgers history and one of the worst for Maryland. Said Edsall: “It’s disappointing to say the least.” Big losses to Ohio State (52-24) and Wisconsin (52-7) hurt from earlier in the season, but none carried a sting quite like Rutgers.

Player to watch: WR Stefon Diggs. He missed the last three games with a lacerated kidney (and an overlapping one-game suspension), but he is expected to be back in time for the bowl game. Still, nine games are all the Big Ten coaches needed to see to place him on the All-Big Ten second team. He is the playmaker of this offense, and when he’s at his best, few are better. He finished second in the conference in receptions per game (5.8) and was fourth with 72.7 receiving yards per game. Kicker Brad Craddock and defensive back Will Likely are also worth watching.

Motivation factor: Maryland was expected to be a middle-of-the-road team in the Big Ten. In a lot of ways, the conference newcomer is still fighting to prove it’s better than that. Unlike Rutgers, Maryland was expected to make a bowl game this year, so its work isn’t quite done.
-- Josh Moyer

vs.
STANFORD BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: There weren’t many until the very end. Stanford was unable to register a victory against a ranked team until the regular-season finale, when it finally put it all together to stun UCLA 31-10 in the Rose Bowl. Before that game and a 38-17 rout of archival Cal a week earlier, the Cardinal had enjoyed consistently spectacular defensive play but not enough matching production on offense. They also won Pac-12 games against Washington, Washington State and Oregon State.

Season lowlights: For a program that entered 2014 coming off four consecutive BCS bowl appearances, there were plenty of these. The first came in Week 2 against USC, when Stanford managed only 10 points on nine trips into scoring territory in a 13-10 loss. That marked the onset of severe offensive woes. A heartbreaking 17-14 loss at Notre Dame was the next gut punch. Arizona State beat a listless Cardinal squad 26-10 before Oregon pulverized them 45-16. A 20-17 double-overtime setback to Utah marked the first consecutive defeats of the David Shaw era.

Player to watch: Quarterback Kevin Hogan is the most intriguing variable for the Cardinal moving forward. The redshirt junior still has one more year of eligibility remaining, but his struggles for much of the season led a restless portion of the fan base to hope that touted freshman Keller Chryst would take over in 2015. Hogan, however, delivered a spectacular 16-for-19 performance in the season-ending rout of UCLA, which might give Shaw something to think about -- especially if he values experience at quarterback. Many eyes should be on Hogan as Stanford enters a possible transition period.

Motivation factor: The Cardinal’s 7-5 record was their worst since 2008, the year before Andrew Luck took over as starting quarterback on the Farm. Stanford’s bowl prospects were in doubt when they dropped to 5-5 after that ugly loss to Utah, but the Cardinal rebounded to finish with a pair of wins. That puts Shaw’s team in position to close the 2014 campaign at 8-5, which should be motivation enough for a squad hungry to show that one disappointing season doesn’t yank a program from the nation’s elite.
-- David Lombardi

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
12/07/14
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Pac-12 morning links

December, 5, 2014
12/05/14
8:00
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

So much for it being a slow news week leading up to today's Pac-12 championship game. The big news Thursday was the shocking and sudden exodus of Oregon State coach Mike Riley to Nebraska. That means of the non-expansion schools, Stanford's David Shaw is the "dean" of the conference ... if you can believe that.

That leaves a void at Oregon State, and the Pac-12 blog can confirm that Ted Miller is not a candidate. But it's going to be an interesting search. Here's some reaction from Corvallis to Lincoln on the hire. Grading period

What's the old saying? "D" is for diploma? Apparently it was good enough for Riley. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News published his grades for all 12 coaches in the conference Thursday morning before the news broke about Riley.

No one received an "F." But the quartet of David Shaw, Steve Sarkisian, Riley and Mike Leach were all in the "D" range. Not surprisingly, the two coaches playing in today's Pac-12 championship game had the highest grades of the 12 coaches, with Rich Rodriguez getting and "A+" and Mark Helfrich receiving an "A." Agree? Disagree? Here's Wilner's take on Riley:
Won just two conference games -- I expected four or five Ws -- and one of them was Colorado. Tough to give Riley anything lower than a D because of an injury list that stretches to eternity.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

It wouldn't be a Nebraska story if our favorite parody twitter account, Faux Pelini, didn't weigh in. Feel free to scroll through his timeline, which outlines some advice for Riley. His reaction:

Marcus Mariota, Cody KesslerUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SportswireMarcus Mariota and Cody Kessler's combined statistics: 72 touchdown passes, 6 interceptions.
The regular season is over, so it's a fine time to look at some final team statistical tallies (and a few relevant individual ones) from around the Pac-12 to evaluate how teams stacked up with each other in critical categories:

  • Oregon and Stanford clearly led the Pac-12 in offense and defense, respectively. The Ducks' 45.9 points per game were more than a touchdown better than second-place offense California (38.2 points per game). The Cardinal's 16.0 points per game allowed were more than a touchdown better than second-place defense Oregon (23.2 points per game). The Ducks showed the greatest overall balance (tops in points scored, second in points allowed), so it's no surprise they're favored to win Friday's conference title game.
  • The Cardinal, meanwhile, complemented their league-best defensive numbers with the Pac-12's worst scoring offense (25.7 points per game), so it's no surprise that they finished with an unremarkable 7-5 record. Every conference team averaged 30 points per game except Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado.
  • More on the defensive end: Cal was again the Pac-12's worst team in that category, allowing 39.8 points per game. The Bears did improve from their 2013 statistics, when they allowed 45.9 points per game. Oregon State (31.6), Washington State (38.6), and Colorado (39.0) all surrendered more than 30 points per game. Arizona State (27.7) featured the worst defense among the Pac-12 teams that finished with a winning record.
  • Of course, point totals should not serve as the exclusive barometer of offensive and defensive play. The yards per play average can be a solid efficiency measurement. On the offensive end, Oregon averaged 7.4 yards per play. Second place Washington State and Cal were way behind at 6.1 yards per play. Utah's offense finished last in this metric, averaging just 5.2 yards per play.
  • Like Oregon on the offensive side, Stanford's defense finished head and shoulders above the rest of the Pac-12 by allowing only 4.2 yards per play. The second-most efficient defense in the conference was UCLA, a full yard behind at 5.2 yards per play. USC (5.3) and Washington (5.3) both closely trailed the Bruins; Colorado allowed a league-worst 6.5 yards per play.
  • The gap between the best and worst rushing offenses in the Pac-12 is the size of the Grand Canyon: Oregon ran for 33 touchdowns while pass-happy Washington State only totaled five. The Ducks (5.4) were the only team to average more than five yards per rush, while the Cougars mustered only 2.0 per carry. Arizona checks in at 4.7 yards per rush, so the Pac-12's two most efficient ground attacks are squaring off in the title game.
  • Marcus Mariota is leading Oregon and the nation with more than 10 yards per pass attempt. The second-most-efficient conference aerial attack belonged to Cody Kessler's USC unit (8.4 yards per attempt). Colorado was way behind everyone else here, mustering only 6.3 yards per attempt. By the way, only two quarterbacks nationally finished with more than 3,000 passing yards and fewer than five interceptions: Mariota (2) and Kessler (4). Both threw 36 touchdown passes during the regular season.
  • Stanford narrowly led the Pac-12 in rush defense (3.2 yards per carry allowed, just ahead of Washington at 3.3), but their lead in pass defense was massive (5.2 yards per attempt allowed was more than a full yard better than second-place USC, who checked in at 6.4 yards per attempt allowed). Washington State's pass defense performed the least efficiently, surrendering 8.3 yards per attempt.
  • The Cardinal's defense led the Pac-12 in almost all critical categories, but USC actually bested Stanford in two big ones: third-down defense and red-zone defense. The Trojans finished at the top of the heap in both, allowing their opponents to convert only 35.2 percent of third downs (better than the Cardinal's 35.6) and 72.3 percent of red-zone scoring opportunities. Interestingly, Oregon featured the Pac-12's worst third-down defense (43.6 percent), but their offense was by far the league's best (51.3 percent).
  • Cal was the Pac-12's most-penalized team (81.1 yards per game) and Utah was its least-penalized team (49.1 yards per game).
  • Washington forced the most takeaways (27), but Oregon suffered the fewest turnovers (8), so the Ducks had the best margin in the conference (plus-15). Of the seven teams that finished with a positive turnover margin, six sported winning records. Of the five teams that finished with a negative turnover margin, only two attained marks above .500.
  • UCLA featured the Pac-12's best red-zone offense, averaging 5.4 points per trip inside the 20-yard line. Stanford was the league's worst, mustering only 4.2 points per red-zone trip.
  • Utah (52) and Washington led the nation in sacks, while the Huskies' Hau'oli Kikaha (18.0) and the Utes' Nate Orchard (17.5) led the country individually in that category. It should be noted that Orchard played one fewer game than Kikaha, so his per-game average was higher (1.46 to 1.38). Meanwhile, Arizona's Scooby Wright blasted everyone in the nation when it came to tackles for loss per game. He averaged 2.25; second place Kikaha was way behind at 1.85.

Mailbag: Sins of the all-league team

December, 3, 2014
12/03/14
8:00
PM ET
Welcome to the last mailbag of the non-bowl season. Tweet at me here, you'll feel better about yourself.

Morgan in Sunnyvale, Calif. writes: Is there any point to "All-PAC12" anymore? Seems to me like a hype indicator. Actual on-field performance doesn't matter. If it did, Perkins and Kendricks would both be first-team players. Shaq Thompson over Kendricks? Foster over Perkins? I get that the coaches are the ones who vote on this stuff, but that system doesn't seem to be working. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Kevin Gemmell: You can make a strong case for Eric Kendricks and Paul Perkins. But I don't see these selections by the coaches as egregious. Whatever argument you can make for the UCLA duo, I can see the counter-argument for Thompson and D.J. Foster. Doesn't mean it's right or wrong. Or that I agree with it. But it's defensible.

It seems shocking that the league's rushing leader didn't land on either all-conference team. I'm not sure I recall a year when that's ever happened. Perkins definitely has the edge in rushing yards with 1,378 to Foster's 1,002.

But when you factor in receiving yards, Foster jumps to 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns to Perkins' 1,579 yards and nine total touchdowns. My guess is the coaches took total production into account.

As for the linebackers -- this one I tend to agree with you a bit more on ... especially if total production is taken into account, as it was for the running backs. Kendricks had nearly double the tackles of Thompson with 139 to 71. He also had 8.5 tackles for a loss, compared to two from Thompson. Thompson, of course, had four defensive touchdowns, which I think ultimately swayed the coaches. Kendricks had one. If the coaches put a higher premium on defensive scores, then I can see why that went down the way it did. Again, not saying I agree with their selection. But I can understand it if that was their thinking.

Noteworthy, too, that the coaches opted for a 4-3 defense, which is a little interesting since the majority of the teams in the league play an odd front 3-4 (Arizona plays a 3-3-5 base). Personally, I would have a 3-4 defense with four linebackers. Then Kendricks would be on the first team and everyone (well, at least you) would be happy.

Say this for Kendricks, though, he's got his head on straight.

Alexis in Tucson writes: So much for Myles Jack winning the Heisman and being the best player in the country. Couldn't even get on the 1st team.

Kevin Gemmell: Way back in Week 1, I wrote a column about Jack and all of the preseason hype that was surrounding him.

If I may quote myself:
What if Jack is just a really, really good cover linebacker? He's not asked to do the sorts of things that [Anthony] Barr was. Barr was a bona-fide pass-rusher, a backfield menace. Jack makes his bones at or above the line of scrimmage, not behind it. What if Jack finishes the year with 85 tackles and four or five picks and the occasional rushing touchdown?

"I'm happy with that," Jack said. "That's a solid year for me."

Will the hype machine be happy with that? "Probably not."

Jack finished the regular season with 80 tackles, no picks, but was tied for second on the team seven pass breakups. He also had six tackles for a loss and three rushing touchdowns. I wasn't dead-on. But I was pretty close.

I thought the preseason narrative around Jack was a little silly. So did Jack. So did Jim Mora. I know this because both told me. The preseason expectations placed on him were simply unattainable by any player. Last year he had 75 tackles and two picks -- and that was in 13 games. He still has one more to play this year.

The hype was ridiculous. I knew it, he knew it, his coach knew it and those who follow the league closely knew it too. That doesn't mean he's not an outstanding football player, because he is. He's without question one of the top linebackers in the country. Was he Heisman worthy? No. Scooby Wright had the kind of year a linebacker needs to be Heisman worthy. And the aforementioned Kendricks was certainly the leader of that defense.

But comparing the season he had -- which was a very good one -- to the preseason expectations is ridiculous. He didn't set those expectations. "We," the national media, did. And "we" were foolish to do so.

Brad in San Francisco writes: Hey guys, I understand nothing means anything until Sunday, but a lot of the bowl projections have Arizona securing a bid in one of the NY6 bowls, namely the Fiesta. I'm curious if they're factoring in a loss to Oregon in the P12 Championship game, which I assume is the case since most projections have Oregon in the FBS playoff semifinal. I understand that Arizona won the P12 South, and congrats to them for doing so. But would a 3-loss P12 team really get invited to a NY6 bowl? And, if so, why Arizona over, say, UCLA who beat Arizona this year and also finished with 3 losses?

Kevin Gemmell: Much like I was saying in last week's mailbag with regard to UCLA, I think "style points" will play a factor. If Arizona wins, the committee has a debate on its hands. If Oregon wins, it's a lock for the playoffs. If Oregon wins big -- say 42-17 -- it's going to be tough to make a case for Arizona for one of those extra bowl games. If Oregon wins 38-35 on a last-minute field goal, then I think Arizona is in.

Arizona doesn't have a "bad" loss this year. They missed a last-minute field goal to USC -- a team that is ranked in the top 25. And they lost by 10 to UCLA, also a team ranked in the top 25. Of UCLA's three losses, two are to ranked teams, but the Cardinal aren't.

The fact that the Wildcats emerged from the South, which we can safely say is one of the two most difficult divisions in college football, helps their cause. If the Cats lose and it's a good fight, I think they'll be playing in (likely) the Fiesta.
Last month, we wrote about how the Pac-12 South had collectively overtaken the North. With the regular season over, the final numbers are in, and they're staggering: For the first time since the league's expansion in 2011, the South won the head-to-head battle against the North, and they did so in commanding fashion.

Of course, the ultimate prize still resides in the Pac-12 North: Either Oregon or Stanford has won every conference title since the creation of the two-division format. Arizona will try to change that Friday, and if the Wildcats succeed, they'll add icing onto the cake of this 2014 shift of power.

The North held the head-to-head advantage over the South for three years, but the margin shrunk in each season, setting the table for the South's takeover. With just the Pac-12 championship game remaining, the North is 9-15 against the South. Non-Oregon Pac-12 North teams beat ranked South opponents only twice this season. Both of those wins were significant, though, as they derailed their opponents' College Football Playoff hopes (Oregon State over ASU, Stanford over UCLA).

During this regular season, the combined conference record of the Pac-12 South was 30-24, while the combined conference record of the North was 24-30. It should be noted that the South maintained this advantage even while dragging around the dead weight of 0-9 Colorado. Remove the lowest teams from both divisions (the Buffs from the South and 2-7 Washington State from the North), and the disparity is even more astonishing: The Pac-12 South finishes with a 30-15 record in conference play, while the North is at 22-23.

Stanford, the Pac-12 North's second-place team, would finish in sixth place if it were in the South -- ahead of only Colorado.

What will happen in 2015 and beyond? Will the South only grow relatively stronger, or will the North circle the wagons and stop the bleeding? We'll examine future prospects in the coming days, but one thing is clear: Oregon is carrying the flag for the Pac-12 North now, and the Ducks are the division's last line of defense against total domination from the South in 2014.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 3, 2014
12/03/14
8:00
AM ET
Today will not be known as Taco Tuesday. It will be known as Freedom Friday ... but still on a Tuesday!

Leading off

The end of the season means awards season. And the Pac-12 honored its best of the best on Tuesday with the announcement of its players of the year, coach of the year and All-Conference team.

If you were shocked by any of the honors, then you haven't been reading the Pac-12 blog enough. Shame on you. No real surprises or upsets:
  • Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
  • Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year: Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
  • Coach of the Year: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  • Freshman Offensive Player of the Year: Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon
  • Freshman Defensive Player of the Year: Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC

Here are the bios for the major award winners. And here's what Rodriguez had to say about the award:
I've always thought that it was a staff award and a players award because you don't get coach of the year when your team does poorly. If anybody has been out here, they would know that I have a great staff. Those guys all deserve it.

The first- and second-team all-conference squads were also selected, along with the honorable mentions. You can click here to see the full rundown of players. (Or you can just scroll down. But it's early, and we don't want to make you work too hard).

Who is No. 1?

The top pick in the NFL draft will be highly-debated over the next few months. But rest assured, there are a couple of Pac-12 names in the mix. ESPN.com's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay had a little debate Insider. The names Marcus Mariota and Leonard Williams made appearances.

Here's what Kiper had to say:
Mariota's talent and intangibles are a good marriage and put him as a possibility for No. 1 even if the team drafting there doesn't need a QB. Someone could easily consider moving up for a player of his caliber. Williams is the most dominating and versatile big defensive lineman available, a fit for any scheme, so he's a good possibility.

Obviously, we're not there yet. Mariota has a game to play this Friday ... and possibly two more after that. The Trojans have a bowl game to-be-determined. But the draft declarations will start rolling in soon. So it's never too early to start looking at some projections ... especially when you're talking about the No. 1 overall.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Oh, the schadenfreude.



Maximus, son of Utah kicker Andy Phillips and the Pac-12 blog's adopted son, turned three-months-old yesterday. Shout out to the little man.

All-Pac-12 teams selected

December, 3, 2014
12/03/14
12:10
AM ET
With the season winding down, more accolades were given out Tuesday night. First- and second-team All-Pac-12 were announced as well as the freshman players of the year. Oregon running back Royce Freeman was named the 2014 offensive freshman of the year for the Pac-12. USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson was named the defensive freshman of the year, the third Trojan in four years to take the honor. Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly was named the conference's scholar athlete of the year.

Utah controlled the special teams, earning three of the four spots on the first team, which comes as no surprise after how dominant the Utes' special team unit was this season. It was an older showing on the first teams this season with a few three-time honorees -- Marcus Mariota, Hroniss Grasu and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. All but four of the honorees who made the All-Pac-12 first team were juniors and seniors. The four sophomores who made the first team were defensive honorees Scooby Wright III, Ishmael Adams and Su'a Cravens as well as special teams honoree Andy Phillips.

Both the first- and second-team defenses have 12 players listed because there was a tie at defensive back so five, instead of four, players were named. There was also a tie for the second-team AP/ST.

Here's a full breakdown of the 2014 All-Conference teams

All-Pac-12 first team offense
All-Pac-12 first team defense
All-Pac-12 first team special teams
All-Pac-12 second team offense
All-Pac-12 second team defense
All-Pac-12 second team special teams
Honorable mention:

Pac-12 morning links

December, 2, 2014
12/02/14
8:00
AM ET
I was lying on the grass on Sunday morning of last week, indulging in my self-defeat.

Leading off

So long Arizona State. Buh-bye UCLA. The Eliminator has spoken, and you have not been deemed worthy. There are nine teams left for playoff consideration, and not surprisingly both Pac-12 entrants are playing in this week's conference title game. Oregon is "still in contention" while Arizona is "on the fence." Should the 'Cats pull off their third-straight win over the Ducks, there will be plenty of banter about whether their résumé as a two-loss team is enough to get them into the top four.
According to ESPN's Stats & Info, two of the Ducks' three lowest-scoring games over the past two seasons occurred against the Wildcats, as Arizona's defense held quarterback Marcus Mariota to a 62 Total QBR in those games. Mariota has a 92 Total QBR against all other FBS opponents since the start of the 2013 season. The Wildcats will need help from others to reach the playoff, but beating the Ducks twice in the same season would at least make a compelling case.

We can argue that if Arizona pulls off the win. And I'm sure we will. But for now, let's just enjoy the game.

Buncha smart guys

The Pac-12 released its All-Academic team on Monday. To qualify, players must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and participate in at least 50 percent of the games. You can see the full release, including the players named to the second team and honorable mention here. Here's the first-team:

OFFENSE
  • QB, Taylor Kelly, Arizona State, RS SR, 3.31, Educational Studies (U.) Legal Studies (Grad.)
  • RB, Devontae Booker, Utah, JR, 3.38, Sociology
  • RB, Patrick Skov, Stanford (3), SR, 3.45, International Relations
  • WR, Jordan Pratt, Stanford (2), SR, 3.82, Energy and Design Engineering
  • WR, Nelson Spruce, Colorado, JR, 3.64, Business-Finance
  • TE, Connor Hamlett, Oregon State, SR, 3.24, Management
  • OL, Chris Adcock, California (3), SR, 3.54, Double: Business Admin. and ISF
  • OL, Jamil Douglas, Arizona State, RS SR, 3.95, Liberal Studies
  • OL, Jake Eldrenkamp, Washington, RS SO, 3.65, Business Administration
  • OL, Tyler Sulka, Arizona State, RS SR, 3.67, Liberal Studies
  • OL, Jake Brendel, UCLA (3), RS JR, 3.39, Economics
DEFENSE
SPECIAL TEAMS
  • PK, Alex Garoutte, Arizona State, RS SR, 3.97, Liberal Studies
  • ST, Will Hopkins, Oregon State, RS FR, 4.00, Business
  • P, Ben Rhyne, Stanford (2), 5SR, 3.86, Biochemical Engineering
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

We all saw the Mariota "Heisman" picture from over the weekend. This one is pretty good too.

 

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