Pac-12: Stanford Cardinal

Week 9 featured the first completely full Pac-12 slate in quite some time, and Week 10 boasts the same loaded docket of action. In fact, at least on paper, Week 10 is our best Saturday yet: Stanford-Oregon, Arizona-UCLA, and Utah-Arizona State all come on the same day. Whereas the past weekend brought a (small) dose of clarity, this next one should help sort out the league race to a greater extent. In fact, if UCLA finds a way to beat Arizona at the Rose Bowl, both the Pac-12 North and the South will have clear-cut leaders by the end of Saturday. But that's a huge "if" -- and that'd be a lot to ask out of the inherently Wild West. So don't worry about that yet. Just sit back and enjoy next Saturday's six-course meal. Here's the menu.

The bread basket: Washington at Colorado

Mike MacIntyre is still looking for that critical, confidence-building upset win in conference play. Victory against heavily-favored UCLA this past Saturday would have been a true milestone for his team, but the Buffs fell 40-37 in double overtime. Still, there were moral victories in Boulder: Colorado out-gained the Bruins in regulation, stayed close despite losing the turnover battle, and erased 17-0 and 31-14 deficits to force the extra frame. The Buffs just ran out of gas near the finish line. But they may be smelling blood with their next chance, as wounded Washington is coming to altitude. The Huskies have dipped below five yards per play offensively on the season (worst in the Pac-12) after a 24-10 home loss to Arizona State. If Colorado is going to win a conference game in 2014, this looks like their best chance.

The appetizer: USC at Washington State

There's been a close-but-no-cigar vibe at both schools this season, so perhaps it's fitting that both the Trojans and Cougars enter this game coming off losses. But while USC's 24-21 setback at Utah came in the final seconds, Washington State never had a realistic shot of winning in its 59-37 home loss to Arizona. Though Connor Halliday passed for 489 more yards (yes, that continues his NCAA record pace), the Cougars couldn't find their offensive footing until the second quarter, and they already trailed 31-0 at that point. So, Mike Leach's 2-6 club now must win out to just to reach bowl eligibility. Maybe their pass rush will find some room to work against a Trojan offensive line that'll be without starting left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but it's really hard to see this Wazzu defense dealing with USC's bevy of athletes over 60 full minutes.

Entree no. 1: Stanford at Oregon

A week ago, the Big One had lost much of its luster. That's what happens when one of its participants can't score. But Stanford's radical offensive adjustments (gasp, no huddle!) made for a dominant 38-14 win over Oregon State, and that re-infused the Pac-12's great war of the past half decade with some real buzz. The Ducks, meanwhile, did what we expected them to do in their 59-41 Levi's Stadium waltz over Cal. We'll keep a close eye on the status of Stanford defensive tackle David Parry (leg) this week, as he may be the determining factor when it comes to the extent of Oregon's rushing success. That variable plays right into the main event, a showdown between nation's best defense (Stanford's at 3.7 yards per play) and its best quarterback (look at that 24:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio for Marcus Mariota). Don't forget the flip side: The Cardinal's attempt to sustain offensive success may be the hinge point here.

Entree no. 2: Arizona at UCLA

It's tempting to write the Bruins off following yet another uninspiring performance. Brett Hundley's unit stalled with big leads in Boulder, and the defense surrendered 500 total yards to Colorado. But UCLA has found a way to survive and advance the past two weeks, so they're still very much in the hunt for the Pac-12 South title -- at least mathematically. There's no margin for error, though, and Arizona will test the numerous cracks in the Bruins' armor to no end. Aside from being unstoppable offensively in the Palouse, the Wildcats continued to receive critical defensive contributions from Scooby Wright III. He forced a remarkable three fumbles in that game (five now this season, no Arizona player has forced more since 1973), and we can see more of the same Saturday against turnover-prone UCLA. Wright (78 tackles) trails only the Bruins' Eric Kendricks (93 stops) in the Pac-12 tackle category, so the two conference leaders square off at the Rose Bowl.

A cold beverage on the side: Cal at Oregon State

This game may slip by the wayside while the other three with Pac-12 title implications rage on, but there's a high chance of solid entertainment value here. The Beavers' Sean Mannion needs just 194 passing yards to break Matt Barkley's career Pac-12 record, so he'll almost certainly eclipse that against Cal's porous defense at home. The Bears, meanwhile, continue to impress with their explosive capabilities on offense. Jared Goff is only a sophomore, but he's already looking like a player who can break Mannion's future passing record just two years from now. Oregon State's defense may have lost much of its early season confidence in this past weekend's thrashing at Stanford, and that's never good news before a gunslinger like Goff comes to visit.

Delicious dessert: Utah at Arizona State

It's nearly impossible to pick one Pac-12 game this weekend that has the biggest College Football Playoff implications, but this sucker holds that distinction, simply because it's the only contest in which both teams still have a realistic shot of qualifying amidst the madness at season's end. A week after Utah pushed USC aside, this a pivotal battle for South supremacy. The Utes are on cloud nine after their defining win, one that earned them bowl eligibility while simultaneously answering the massive question at quarterback (when push came to shove, Travis Wilson was the determinant). But the road only becomes more treacherous for Utah (Oregon and Stanford loom after this), and ASU is an opponent that's truly coming into its own. It's tough to judge the Sun Devils' offensive progress since Taylor Kelly was shaking off rust in Seattle's howling winds, but it's clear that Todd Graham's squad is building considerable confidence -- particularly on the defensive side of the ball. ASU must show their best performance against the run of the season to win on Saturday, because Utah's Devontae Booker has been consistently productive, even when the Utes have struggled to pass.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
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And I'm going down to Hollywood;
They're gonna make a movie from the things that they find crawling 'round my brain.

Leading off

The Pac-12 lost one of its ranked teams this week when the Utah Utes came from behind in the final two minutes to knock off the USC Trojans at home. With the win, the Utes climbed from No. 19 to No. 18 (seemed like a light bump for beating a ranked team), and the Trojans went spiraling out of the rankings. As always, Kyle Bonagura has the breakdown of what it means for the conference.

Here is where things stand in both polls heading into Week 10. The AP ranking is listed first, followed by the ranking coaches poll.
  • Oregon 5-6
  • Arizona 14-15
  • Arizona State 15-14
  • Utah 18-18
  • UCLA 25-25

And if you're curious on how some of the folks who cover the conference voted, here is a sampling: Has Utah arrived?

It would seem so. Now 6-1 with conference wins over the LA schools, the Utes find themselves as major players in the South Division heading into this week's showdown with ASU. Kyle Goon of the Salt Lake Tribune writes the biggest difference is Utah has been able to finish. From his story:
Many of the things Utah fans sought before the season have been achieved. Bowl eligibility: Check. Sweep over Southern California schools: Check. Winning on the road: Check. National ranking: Check. Beating nationally ranked teams: Check. But Utah's coaches and players are tearing up the checklist. Although they may not have expected as much early success, they're starting to embrace the idea that bigger, better things are still at stake.

Aside from Saturday being Utah's second win over a ranked team this season, the win also makes Utah bowl eligible for the first time since 2011.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun

What does the Utah locker room look like after beating USC? Click here and find out.

Best of the visits: Pac 12

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
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Stanford and Utah took advantage of big weekends, posting home wins in front of a number of important visitors. The Cardinal hosted four official visitors for their big win against Oregon State, while the Utes had several official visitors and at least one out of state 2016 unofficial visitor.

Fond of the farm

ESPN 300 safety Ben Edwards took an official visit to Stanford over the weekend and had positive things to say. After committing to both Auburn and Ohio State during this cycle, Edwards is looking hard at Stanford and several other programs.



Stanford also hosted running back Cameron Scarlett, wide receiver Trent Irwin and defensive end Kenneth Brinson on official visits.

Last-second statement

Utah picked a good time to pull out an exciting win, as commit Donzale Roddie, along with safety Tyson Cisrow, were in attendance on official visits. They were both important visitors, as Roddie is already committed to Utah but open to speaking with other programs, while Cisrow would be another significant Florida addition for the Utes.



Utah also had 2016 offensive lineman Tucker Scott on hand. The Utes were Scott's first offer and it certainly didn't hurt that quarterback Travis Wilson, who attended Scott's high school, led Utah to the win against USC.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
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Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
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Saturday featured our first full slate of Pac-12 action in a while -- there were no byes for any of the league's teams -- so there's a whole load of helmet stickers to distribute. If you thought this was entertaining, just wait for next Saturday: To begin, we have Stanford-Oregon, Utah-ASU, and Arizona-UCLA on the docket. But for now, recognition time:

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: In a game that saw 100 total points, Mariota was again the offensive centerpiece. His explosive 18-for-30, 326-yard, five touchdown effort also featured some valuable scrambling and charged Oregon's 59-41 win over Cal. Mariota did throw his first pick of the season. Still, that 24:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't too shabby.

Charles Nelson, WR, Oregon: So many different Ducks created offensive fireworks against Cal's helpless defense. See Royce Freeman (22 carries, 112 yards), Byron Marshall (four catches, 133 yards), and Dwayne Stanford (six catches, 103 yards). But Nelson's 58-yard punt return for a touchdown was the most electrifying Oregon play of them all. It'll be fun to see him in a game also featuring Ty Montgomery (honored below) next week.

Michael Adkins II, RB, Colorado: No UCLA players earned helmet stickers for their 40-37 double overtime squeak-by at Colorado (the Bruins just could not put Colorado away), but the Buffs deserve some recognition for their fight. They scratched and clawed their way back from 17-0 and 31-14 deficits to push this one beyond regulation, and Adkins II delivered 107 yards on 17 carries in that effort.

Ty Montgomery, WR, Stanford: The Cardinal's offensive strength actually comes through its combination of size and athleticism on the perimeter this season, and Montgomery is Exhibit A of that change. Aside from delivering an electrifying 50-yard punt return for a score (his second of the season), Montgomery caught six critical passes from Kevin Hogan in Stanford's 38-14 win.

Blake Martinez, LB, Stanford: David Shaw's defense continues to amaze with its suffocating ways. On Saturday, they held Oregon State's first string to a measly 2.5 yards per play. One reason the Cardinal isn't skipping a defensive beat: Martinez is blossoming in Shayne Skov's former inside linebacker role. He delivered 2.5 tackles for loss as nearly half of the Beavers' plays resulted in no gain or worse.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona: You can call him a beast, or a machine, a whatever you please. Simply put, Wright produces. He forced three -- yes, three! -- fumbles in Arizona's 59-37 win at Washington State to go along with a trio of sacks. The gives Wright five forced fumbles this year. No Arizona player has forced more in a single campaign since 1973.

Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona: Washington State's defense never had a chance against Solomon's 26-for-38, 294-yard, five touchdown performance. It would also be unfair to discount an excellent rushing performance from Terris Jones-Grigsby: 13 attempts, 107 yards (8.2 per carry). The Wildcats offense was a buzzsaw in the Palouse.

Travis Wilson, QB, Utah: Many were saying that Utah didn't have the quarterback play necessary to be a true contender in the Pac-12 South. Think again on that front. Wilson's offense took over down four points to USC with 2:08 remaining, 73 yards away from paydirt. A great sequence in Ute football history ensued, as Wilson led the home team downfield. He followed his dramatic 18-yard run with a one-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay. That came with eight seconds remaining; it sealed the 24-21 win. Clutch. Oh, and Wilson still hasn't thrown a pick. He fits with Utah's run-heavy, strong-defense formula.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: It's tough to run against USC: The Trojans hadn't allowed over four yards per carry in four straight games, and they had held opposing ground attacks to fewer than three yards per rush in three of those games. Booker's gritty 26-carry, 102-yard effort was a staple of the Utes' massive win, which was hard-fought until the very end.

Cody Kessler, QB, USC: This will be forgotten because of USC's heartbreaking loss, but Kessler was nails in the face of a ferociously aggressive Utah pass rush for much of this game. He hung in the pocket, took hits, and managed to finish 24-for-32 for 264 yards and a pair of touchdowns in this physical war. Kessler's one interception did prove costly, but that was a solid performance against a sturdy defense on the road.

Taylor Kelly, QB, ASU: Yes, the stats here are far from impressive (14-for-25, 180 yards, two touchdowns, and a costly pick -six). But it's important to consider the rainy, windy Seattle conditions while also acknowledging that Kelly -- coming off a prolonged absence due to injury -- gutted this one out to make the plays when he absolutely needed to. The best example came on the game-winning touchdown toss, when Kelly withstood a vicious hit to find Gary Chambers in the end zone. ASU beat Washington 24-10.

Laui Moeakiola, LB, ASU: Sure, the Sun Devils picked on a back-up quarterback of the Pac-12's least efficient offense in terrible weather conditions, but this was still a great effort from an improving ASU unit. Moeakiola led the way with 10 tackles, 2.5 for loss, a pair of sacks, and a pass break-up. He forced a Troy Williams fumble on one of his vicious takedowns deep in Washington territory.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
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Some things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 9:

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
AP Photo/Rick BowmerWith the win over USC, Travis Wilson and the Utes have finally erased any notion that they don't belong in the Pac-12.
Utah arrives: Utah beat USC 24-21 with a late touchdown, improving to 6-1 and 3-1 in the Pac-12. The Utes, already bowl eligible after two consecutive losing seasons, have now beaten Stanford, UCLA and USC as Pac-12 members. In fact, the Utes have wins over eight of their 11 Pac-12 rivals over the past three-plus seasons in the conference. Any residual sense of Utah being a "Junior Member" of the conference is done. Gone. And the heat on Kyle Whittingham cools quite a bit in suddenly ebullient Salt Lake City. Just imagine where the Utes might be if not for that unfortunate fourth quarter against Washington State. (Sorry for bringing that up again, Utes).

Muddled South picture should clear this week (maybe): Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah won this weekend. The Wildcats, Sun Devils and Utes have one conference loss, while UCLA and USC have two. Utah has wins over UCLA and USC, so its visit to Arizona State on Saturday is a biggie. Arizona, which lost to USC, will visit UCLA on Saturday. The winners of those two games take a big step forward toward the division crown and the Pac-12 title game. If Utah beats the Sun Devils, the visit from Oregon on Nov. 8 suddenly becomes an unexpected national matchup. If both Arizona schools win, well, the Territorial Cup on Nov. 28 could become epic. Of course, there are likely plenty of plot twists remaining.

It's a big story when Marcus Mariota makes a mistake, which tells you a lot about how good he is: Mariota passed for 326 yards and five touchdowns in a 59-41 win over California but the biggest news for the Heisman Trophy candidate was he threw his first interception of the season -- his first in 253 passes extending back to last season's Civil War versus Oregon State, in fact. That was the factoid lead, but the substance is Mariota is playing well -- and, apparently healthy -- as he prepares to lead the Ducks against Stanford on Saturday. For all he has accomplished, Mariota is 0-2 versus the Cardinal. He needs to win that game to punch his ticket to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

UCLA doesn't like making things easy: UCLA led Colorado 17-0, 24-7 and 31-14 entering the fourth quarter, but the Buffaloes didn't quit and forced overtime. While the Bruins prevailed 40-37 in double-OT, it was a slog of a win that should have been a dominant one. The Bruins are 6-2 and, at 3-2 in conference play, are solidly in the South Division hunt. But six of their eight games have been decided by eight or fewer points, including three by a field goal or less. This is a flawed team that often looks sloppy on both sides of the ball, but it's still hanging on, figuring out ways to survive and fight another day.

Stanford's offense shows signs of life: Stanford outgained Oregon State 438 yards to 221 in a dominant 38-14 win, and there's no question the 438 and 38 are the most important numbers for the Cardinal, which have paired a dominant defense with an anemic offense much of this season. But coach David Shaw shook things up a bit, using tempo and being more aggressive in the passing game and the plan worked against a solid Beavers defense. The timing for the offense shaking off its woes couldn't be better with a trip to Oregon coming up.

Pac-12 reveals a bottom: Colorado and Washington State both fell to 2-6, which means both need to win out to become bowl eligible. So big longshot. Every other Pac-12 team has at least four wins, and nine or 10 bowl teams doesn't seem unrealistic. Yet while the Buffs and Cougs appear to be the bottom teams in the South and North, respectively, it's notable that Washington State beat Utah and Colorado has pushed UCLA, Oregon State and California to the brink. Neither is a gimme, and it wouldn't be shocking if one or the other posts a major upset.
video How the game was won: David Shaw and Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren made the offensive changes they promised after the past week's disastrous performance at Arizona State. The Cardinal radically altered their formula of attack and worked from a no-huddle offense at the start of the game. They stretched the perimeter with athletic weapons Ty Montgomery and Christian McCaffrey before gashing the wide-open middle of the field with their young tight ends.

The Cardinal's offensive resurgence in the first half (8.2 yards per play during that stretch) made the job easy for Stanford's suffocating defense in the 38-14 win. Stanford held the Beavers' first string offense to just 133 total yards and an anemic efficiency mark: about 2.5 yards per play. Sean Mannion needed 316 passing yards to break the Pac-12 career passing record, but after a 14-for-30, 122-yard performance, he'll have to wait until next time to challenge Matt Barkley's mark.

Game ball goes to: Stanford wide receiver/returner Ty Montgomery. Once again, No. 7 was the best player on the field. He showed excellent hands on a crossing pattern early and extended another first-half Stanford drive on a pretty catch-and-run. Quarterback Kevin Hogan stood in against a ferocious Oregon State blitz on that play. Montgomery then delivered the absolute dagger, a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the second half. He made Beaver defenders look like they were stuck in quicksand along his route to the end zone.

What it means: Entering next week's showdown at Oregon, Stanford is operating with a drastically different offense. After Arizona State trounced the Cardinal 26-10 this past week, it was clear the Cardinal were not maximizing their abundance of offensive talent. Stanford's chances of winning at Autzen Stadium looked very slim, regardless of how well their nation-leading defense was playing. Suddenly, next week's showdown becomes all the more intriguing, especially ater Oregon's defensive struggles against Cal on Friday. Oregon State entered this game second in the Pac-12 in the total defense category, so Stanford is now playing competent offense to go along with its championship-caliber defense. We'll see if they can consistently maintain that balance.

Oregon State, meanwhile, drops to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in Pac-12 play. They're essentially eliminated from Pac-12 North competition and now face a battle to reach bowl eligibility. The Beavers host Cal and Washington State in the next two weeks, so there are definitely two winnable games left for them, but the rest of the schedule is very challenging: versus Arizona State, at Washington, versus Oregon.

What's next: Stanford's showdown at Oregon next Saturday has officially become massive. The Cardinal and the Ducks will battle it out at Autzen Stadium in a game that might well determine the Pac-12 North title. As mentioned above, Oregon State heads back to Reser Stadium licking their wounds ahead of a three-game homestand.

Best play: Stanford also did a much better job putting Hogan in his scrambling comfort zone. Shaw dialed up a designed run for him, and that turned into 37-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Hogan's powerful stiff-arm earns our play of the game honors.

video

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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We're still a week away from the in-season megavisit that will take place when Oregon hosts Stanford, but there are more than a few intriguing visitor lists in the Pac-12 this weekend. It's a weekend that could provide clarity in the Pac-12 South, and recruits will be on hand as Utah hosts USC and the Arizona schools travel to the state of Washington. Elsewhere, Stanford hosts Oregon State and important ESPN 300 prospects as we look at the top three visit weekends in the Pac-12.

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.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Happy Friday!

Leading off

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:
As noted, the quarterbacks will take center stage in the showdown. Here's a statistical breakdown of Mariota and Goff.

Pick 'em

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.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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.

Stanford has lost three games in a regular season for the first time since 2009.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Tony AvelarDavid Shaw and Stanford have their backs against the wall -- again.
 On the way, its offense has dropped to the very bottom of the Pac-12's statistical rankings. Its vaunted defense has suffered a pair of critical injuries at the position where they hurt most -- the defensive line.

And for the first time in 72 weeks (that dates back to early 2010), the two-time defending Pac-12 champion is not ranked in the Top 25.

Are we witnessing the end of this program's magical four year run, a stretch during which Stanford was the only team in the nation to qualify for a BCS bowl in each season?

"The sky is falling every single year," coach David Shaw contends. "Coaches and players don't [buy into that]. Fans can do that. Talking heads can do that. We go back to work and we try to solve our problems."

There are plenty of those on The Farm right now.

Perhaps Stanford can take comfort in its recent history during these trying times: The Cardinal did also hit rocky points on their way to those consecutive Pac-12 titles the past two seasons, after all. The 2012 campaign featured the anemic offensive performances of losses at Washington and Notre Dame, while the 2013 journey saw maddening red-zone struggles deliver gut punches at Utah and USC.

The Cardinal regained their footing both of those times. In 2012, renewed balance came thanks to a quarterback change that introduced Kevin Hogan to the starter's role. In 2013, outside help -- coming in the form of Arizona's upset over Oregon -- was Stanford's saving grace.

In both instances, though, Shaw's team maintained its championship trajectory thanks to a core of fiery veteran players, the experienced bodies who had been staples around The Farm throughout the program's entire resurgence. Shayne Skov's raspy 2012 locker room speeches came when the team's back was against the wall, and they became the stuff of Stanford legend. Ben Gardner became a rallying point for the 2013 squad after a torn pectoral muscle ended his career. Trent Murphy may not have been as outwardly vocal as Skov, but he too had a penchant for inspiring stability and constant work in the locker room.

"Just keep chopping wood," Murphy repeated after the Cardinal's 2013 loss to USC, a setback that looked like it had knocked the team out of Pac-12 title contention. "Good things will happen."

Sure enough, he was right: Good things did happen. Stanford found themselves back in (and dominating) the Pac-12 championship game just three weeks after their moment of greatest despair.

'A fascinating team'

Well, Stanford's annual pilgrimage to the land of adversity is back, 2014 style this time. And the hole to escape certainly seems deeper than the previous two. Three losses saddle the Cardinal this time. A struggling offense is again the culprit, but unlike 2012, there is no shocking salvation-via-quarterback change on the horizon. The fiery veteran leadership of players like Skov, Gardner, Murphy, and Tyler Gaffney has graduated.

 For pundits, those losses were a source of major preseason concern, with potentially trying situations like the current one being the primary source of worry. Shaw, meanwhile, agrees that his team's leadership make-up is different, but he thinks it can still be effective.

"This is a fascinating team," Shaw said. "We don’t really have [fiery players like Skov]. But our guys work like crazy. We may not have the guy who goes up there and does all the speeches and gets everybody all fired up and motivated, but we came out here Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday on our goal line day, and guys were hitting hard and hustling. It was as physical as it was in training camp."

Shaw exuded unbridled optimism at practice Wednesday, the day after he took blame for his team's offensive ineptitude by suggesting he needs to do a better job scheming to put Stanford's dangerous playmakers in a position to succeed.

"I don’t worry about that speech-making and that obvious leadership stuff," he said. "But I love the way that Jordan Richards, A.J. Tarpley and Kevin Hogan get back to work. The players are always more resilient. ... All the fans have seven days to lament. These guys have to work."

The public can begin to judge the fruits of that labor this Saturday, when Stanford has its chance to rebound at home against Oregon State. The Holy Grail -- err, the Oregon game -- awaits at Autzen Stadium the week after that. While the Cardinal's three losses have eliminated the team from College Football Playoff contention, Stanford still controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 title chase. So Shaw's team has the rather odd opportunity of playing spoiler (at least two of its remaining opponents, Oregon and Utah, are very much alive in the Playoff chase) while simultaneously chasing a conference championship.

Given the team's offensive struggles, such success certainly seems like a long shot today. But Stanford's squad is making it no secret that they're still shooting for that Pac-12 three-peat. Fittingly, Usua Amanam, their retired 2012 Rose Bowl champion, swung by Wednesday's practice, preaching the same sense of urgency that his own Stanford team had embraced to rise from the dead two years ago.

"No matter what happens," Amanam told the team. "Don’t waste one day, because at one point, you can't play anymore."

Pac-12 morning links

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home.

Leading off

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.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

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 ...

Pac-12 mailbag: South rising

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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Welcome to the mailbag. I pray come and crush a cup of wine. And follow me on Twitter.

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.
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Several Pac-12 commitments and prospects saw some significant movement in the updated ESPN 300 rankings released Wednesday. Overall, the conference holds commitments from two of the top 22 prospects in the country and 26 of the top 300. With fewer than four months until signing day, let's take a look at where the Pac-12 stands in the ESPN 300.


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Pac-12 morning links

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:00
AM ET
I like it. What's not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Good.

Leading off

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.
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. News/notes/team reports

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
10:00
AM ET
(All times local)
12:30 p.m.

UCLA at California, ESPN2, ABC

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJared Goff will look to rebound against UCLA after Cal scored just one touchdown last week.
This is the battle for bragging rights between California's top two public schools. Both teams are coming off disheartening losses, so there should be a sense of urgency coming from both sidelines. Cal must demonstrate that it can at least slow down an explosive offense to keep this competitive. However, the Bruins' defense hasn't been much to write home about, either. Expect UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and Cal QB Jared Goff to light up the Memorial Stadium scoreboard.

3 p.m.

Colorado at USC, Pac-12 Network

The Trojans escaped against Arizona with a win by the skin of their teeth when the Wildcats' last-second field goal attempt was wide right. The week before, USC lost to Arizona State on a Hail Mary. On paper, it looks as if Steve Sarkisian's team will have a chance to catch its breath at home against struggling Colorado, but if there's one thing the Pac-12 has taught us this season, it's that absolutely nothing is automatic.

5 p.m.

Washington at Oregon, Fox Sports 1

It now has been more than 4,000 days since the Huskies last beat Oregon. Washington enters Autzen Stadium armed with a sterling defensive front seven that has helped generate a nationwide-best five defensive touchdowns this season, so there's hope in Seattle that the Huskies can snap Oregon's 10-game streak this time around (Danny Shelton is the kind of big body in the middle that can neutralize explosive offenses).

The Ducks, though, are fresh off a statement win at UCLA. So while Washington is eyeing the upset, the Quack Attack is looking to make another spectacular Marcus Mariota-led splash. Keep this in mind: When it comes to avoiding turnovers, these are the top two teams in the nation. Washington has given it away only once, the Ducks just three times.

7:30 p.m.

Stanford at Arizona State, ESPN

The Cardinal showed signs of offensive life last Friday against Washington State, and they can continue developing their identity on that side of the ball against an Arizona State defense that has not been good (the Sun Devils are allowing a conference-worst 6.1 yards per play). ASU will likely need to find more offensive consistency than it did in two games versus Stanford's top-flight defense last season. Much of that will rest on the shoulders of quarterback Mike Bercovici, who has thrown for an NCAA-record 998 yards in his first two career starts. Taylor Kelly may play, but it'll probably be Bercovici working with explosive weapons D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong against the Cardinal's rugged defense.

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