Pac-12: Utah Utes

There is a literal and figurative parallel between his defense and his program when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham talks about "closing the gap."

As evidence by its 6-1 start, No. 17 ranking and standing within the Pac-12 South, it’s clear Utah has "closed the gap" between the Mountain West Utes, the Pac-12 Utes and the Pac-12 competition. That is the figurative gap.

The literal gap exists between the offensive line, the quarterback and the running back. And it’s in that space that the Utah defense has laid waste.

[+] EnlargeGionni Paul
Adam Davis/Icon SportswireLed by a talented defensive front seven, Utah is 6-1 and leading the nation in sacks this season.
Defensive stats are tough to compile in an offense-heavy league like the Pac-12. So the fact that the Utes rank No. 1 in the country in sacks -- averaging five per game -- and second nationally with 9.4 tackles for a loss per game speaks to the quality of talent the Utes have up front.

"We’ve got good players, and that’s where it all starts," said Whittingham. "If you want to know the basis of the whole thing, it starts with good players. We’ve got guys up front who are physically gifted."

They are long and rangy. They are stout and strong. They are fast and vicious. And they like to hunt. That is why Utah’s front seven has emerged as one of the best in the league and the country.

For obvious reasons, defensive end Nate Orchard gets much of the ink. He is second nationally in sacks and third nationally in tackles for a loss.

Also ...

"He’s an athletic freak," said defensive end Hunter Dimick, who plays opposite Orchard. "Plain and simply put. He deserves all of the recognition he’s getting."

We would be remiss if we didn't mention that the national leader in both categories is Washington’s Hau'oli Kikaha, and Arizona’s Scooby Wright is second nationally in TFLs. (Isn’t there some sort of stereotype about defense and the Pac-12? Oh well).

Three Utah players -- Orchard, Dimick and linebacker Jared Norris -- rank in the top seven in the league in tackles for a loss and the top eight in sacks. But as any Utah man would say, the defense is only as successful as the offense and the special teams.

That has been Utah’s recipe in 2014. Punter Tom Hackett buries a team inside the 10. The defense goes out and makes a stop or forces a turnover, Kaelin Clay posts a big punt return and the offense gets points. Wash, rinse, repeat.

"The defense can’t play great without the offense helping us out in the field-position game or scoring and taking some of the pressure off of us," Dimick said. "The offense has helped us out a great deal. The special teams has helped us out a great deal. The emphasis on all three phases is so important here. Great defense is a result of good offense and good special teams."

Typical Utah. You try to get a guy to talk about how good the defense is and all he wants to do is talk about the special teams.

Some of Utah’s success can probably be attributed to the even-front scheme it plays. As more teams nationally and within the conference trend toward the odd-front 3-4 (or variations), the Utes have stayed true to four down linemen throughout the years, as what was once the norm has become an oddity. Whittingham has always made it a priority to go heavy on defensive linemen during recruiting. He considers it his strongest position group, so he would rather have four of them out there than three.

"That’s where we are heavy, that’s what we’re going to play," Whittingham said. "We want as many of our best players on the field, and up front is definitely our strong suit."

That has also created depth across the defensive line, giving Whittingham and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake plenty of combinations to play with. Combine that with an aggressive linebacking corps and you see why 12 different Utah defenders have recorded at least half a sack, and 19 have TFL credits.

The Utes have also been spending more time in a 4-2-5 nickel defense -- sometimes using it as their base. Whittingham said this was a philosophical shift to combat the spread offenses in the Pac-12. The extra defensive back clogs the secondary, allowing Utah’s front to pick up coverage sacks.

Now bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011, the Utes head to Tempe this week with (somewhat) control of the Pac-12 South in the balance. ASU ranks fourth in the conference, averaging 36.6 points per game. The Utes are second in points allowed, holding teams to 21.6. Something has to give.

"It all comes down to trust," Dimick said. "Like coach always says, do your 1/11th. If you do that and trust the guys around you to do their job, that’s when we have success."


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Utah Utes

Pac-12 morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
8:00
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Don't you draw the queen of diamonds boy, she'll beat you if she's able;
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.

Leading off

At this point in the season, any injury to a starter can be crippling. And in the ridiculously competitive Pac-12 South, it can be downright devastating. Earlier in the week we learned that USC would be without left tackle Chad Wheeler for the rest of the season. Wednesday, another impact player was lost for the year when Utah announced that wide receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
“We feel bad for Dres. It’s heartbreaking for that kid. He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s poured everything he had into this program for five years,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “Nobody’s outworked him. Nobody’s done more for us than Dres during that period of time. He’s taken care of business on and off the field. He’s got his degree already in hand.”

Here are some reactions:
The Utes, very much in the thick of things in the Pac-12 South -- and even the playoff conversation -- enter one of the toughest stretches in the country. After this week's trip to ASU, they are home to Oregon, at Stanford, home to Arizona and at Colorado to close out the season. According to FPI, the Utes have the second-toughest remaining schedule of the 25 ranked teams and the eighth toughest in the nation.

Heisman update

Catching you up on the Heisman race, which could take a turn this weekend with Stanford heading to Oregon, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is nearly neck-and-neck with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. In the latest ESPN.com poll, Prescott leads Mariota by a single point.

Here’s how it shakes out (followed by total points):
  1. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (45)
  2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (44)
  3. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (18)
  4. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (13)
  5. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (11)

No other Pac-12 players are receiving votes. Here’s guessing that if Mariota can finally get over his Stanford hump, he’ll enjoy a nice bump.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

I guess yesterday was National Cat Day? To which my beagle says, meh. The tweet is still funny, though.
D.J. Foster bringing his media skills to practice.

Mailbag: Playoff-bound Utes?

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
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video
Welcome to the mailbag. Please stay for the punch and pie. And if you feel like it, follow me on Twitter.

Emily, who was formerly from L.A., writes: Unhappy Trojan here, but I have to admit Utah was a really good team. Question that calls for speculation: if Utah beats Oregon - assuming both teams win this coming weekend (yes, I know that's a lot to assume) - do you think the Playoff Committee would recognize Utah as a team worthy of the playoff? Or would taking down Oregon completely knock the PAC-12 out of the running?

Kevin Gemmell: I think the same train of thought that applies to Oregon also applies to Utah, Arizona and Arizona State. A one-loss Pac-12 team will not be left out of the College Football Playoff. This is why we have people now and not computers. At some point, someone in that room will stand up and say it’s absurd for a one-loss Pac-12 champion to not be included. Question is, will there be one?

Since you’re asking specifically about the Utes, let’s break them down. They already have wins over two ranked teams. If they win out, they will have beaten ASU, Oregon and Arizona -- all ranked, and all in the top 15. Two of their wins would also be against Michigan and Stanford. The Michigan win doesn’t carry the weight it used to, but at least one person in that room will be swayed by a win at Stanford.

Now, what’s the likelihood this actually happens? Pretty slim. The Utes have the second-hardest remaining schedule of the 25 teams according to FPI (8th nationally) and their chances of winning out are .8 percent. And things got a lot tougher with the news this morning that receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the year with a knee injury. That taxes a passing game that already had issues.

But whether it’s Utah, Oregon or one of the desert schools, any of them would have a more-than-presentable résumé to make a case for playoff inclusion with just one loss.


Jeff in Sacramento writes: When is the last time Oregon lost 3 straight to the same team? For instance, if Oregon were to lose to Stanford, this would be the third year in a row. When is the last time that happened?

Kevin Gemmell: It took a ton of sleuthing and cross-referencing and spreadsheets, but I have your answer.

Actually, I popped open the Oregon media guide and found it in two minutes because it’s more recent than you’d think.

Before Oregon had a Stanford problem, it had a -- wait for it -- CAL PROBLEM! That’s right, the Bears were the thorn in Oregon’s side in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Before Oregon picked up its sixth-consecutive win over the Bears last week, it was Oski owning Puddles. In those three years, two of the wins were by double digits. Two wins came in Berkeley and one at Autzen.

Here are the links to the three games so you can relive the heroics of Nate Longshore and DeSean Jackson and wallow in the shortcomings of Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Johnson. 2006, 2007, 2008.


An anonymous Huskie in Cougar Land writes: Why can't Pac-12 teams schedule good opponents? Other than Oregon playing Michigan St and UCLA playing Texas, I can't count another Pac-12 team playing a team from a power five conference with a winning record. Why do we have to be such wimps? It's quite simple why nobody thinks the Pac-12 can compete with the SEC: they don't play anyone good! Imagine Oregon playing Alabama. Or Stanford playing LSU. If they played tougher opponents, they would not only get the credit they need - and want - but could also vault themselves into national prominence.

Kevin Gemmell: You might notice a trend … and that’s other schools ducking out of their obligations to play Pac-12 teams. It takes two to dance, otherwise you're just pulling a Billy Idol. The Pac-12 has been willing. But their partners haven’t been.

Like, for example, Texas A&M recently leaving Oregon at the altar, or Georgia pulling out of its Oregon game a few years ago. Or Notre Dame trying to get out of its obligation at ASU. By the way, this is the second year in a row that three teams from the Pac-12 play Notre Dame. Wouldn’t consider them wimps. And for what it's worth, Rutgers and Virginia are a couple of Power-5 teams that look bowl-bound.

But to ease your concerns, here are a few matchups we have to look forward to in the coming years (all information via fbsschedules.com):

  • Arizona: Mississippi State in 2022 and 2023.
  • Arizona State: Michigan State in 2018 and 2019; LSU in 2022 and 2023.
  • Cal: Texas in 2015 and 2016; North Carolina in 2017 and 2018; Auburn in 2019 and 2020; TCU in 2020 and 2021.
  • Colorado: Michigan in 2016; Nebraska in 2018, 2019, 2023 and 2024.
  • Oregon: Michigan State in 2015; Nebraska in 2016 and 2017; Ohio State in 2020 and 2021.
  • Oregon State: Michigan in 2015; Ohio State in 2018.
  • Stanford: Notre Dame annually.
  • UCLA: Texas A&M in 2016 and 2017; Oklahoma in 2018 and 2019; LSU in 2021 and 2024; Michigan in 2022 and 2023.
  • USC: Notre Dame annually; Alabama in 2016, Texas in 2017 and 2018.
  • Utah: Michigan in 2015.
  • Washington: Michigan in 2020 and 2021.
  • Washington State: Wisconsin in 2022 and 2023.

So as you can see, there’s not a single Pac-12 team that doesn’t have a notable Power-5 opponent (or independent Notre Dame) coming up on the schedule. Some are immediate, some are a few years away. Schedules are made years in advance. Sometimes they turn out to be great showdowns. Sometimes they are clunkers. And sometimes they just fizzle. But you can't accuse the Pac-12 of not being aggressive in its scheduling.

This first year of the College Football Playoff is going to be interesting, because we’ll see how much the selection committee really takes strength of schedule into account. And we’ll likely see teams adjust future schedules accordingly.
Recruiting junior college talent can be a constant gamble of possibly adding a fully developed body, ready to provide immediate help and cover any depth concerns, and the possibility of missing entirely on getting the recruit admitted academically or getting a prospect with a limited window of opportunity who still isn't ready to contribute.

But one game this weekend -- when Utah travels to Arizona State -- will provide a perfect look at what successful junior college recruiting can do to the fortunes of a program.

Close to 20 players on each of the Arizona State and Utah rosters have junior college experience, and several of those will have a big say in Saturday’s final score.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
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The Pac-12 saw a new commitment and a flip on Sunday, while Stanford and Utah took advantage of important recruiting weekends and focus is already shifting toward a huge upcoming visitor list for Oregon.

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Pac-12 morning links

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
8:00
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I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that.

Leading off

Time for our weekly check-in with The Eliminator, everyone's favorite (or not) weekly segment. The latest victim is USC, which dropped its third game of the season on the road at Utah. Per the folks at ESPN Stats & Information, USC has now lost 15 in a row when trailing going into the fourth quarter.

So who is left? As the first batch of playoff rankings are set to be released Tuesday night (4:30 p.m. on ESPN for us West Coasters), the Pac-12 still has five teams that are either in contention or hanging on. Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State still qualify for the "In Contention" category, while Utah and UCLA are "On the Fence." Some thoughts on the Utes:
OK, it's time to call the Utes a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 South. Utah became bowl eligible for the first time in three seasons by knocking off No. 20 USC 24-21 at home Saturday night. The Utes scored the winning touchdown on quarterback Travis Wilson's 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds to play. If the Utes keep winning against their upcoming schedule, they'll be a legitimate playoff threat (and they'll have earned it).

Should be much to debate when these folks release the first rankings.

In defense of Sark

All those going after USC head coach Steve Sarkisian need to slow your roll, so says Chris Dufresne of the L.A. Times. For whatever blame you want to throw on the Trojans' first-year head coach, Dufresne is quick to remind us that the blame can sometimes fall on the players not performing an otherwise acceptable decision from the coach. From his column:
No one weeps for Steve Sarkisian because he makes a fortune, yet the first-year coach does have the misfortune of presiding over a whiny, entitled franchise in the shameless era of dingbat social media. He also is chopping wood, well under the scholarship cap, in a Pac-12 that has never been better. Not every Trojans fan wants Sarkisian sacked for being 5-3 through eight games, but even one is too many.

He's not wrong, especially when you consider the Utah game and the fourth-and-2. Even though there's altitude, it still would have been a 40-plus-yard kick into the wind. And it only would have tied the game. Every coach has their own metrics for when to go on fourth down. I'm guessing most of the league's coaches would have done exactly what Sarkisian did.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Baby announcements have become quite the rage. Last week at practice, Cal assistant coach Pierre Ingram and his wife Dani found out they were having a boy through the magic of colored cupcakes. Pretty cool video.

Some highlights from Arizona's win over WSU. (Look away, Cougar Brian, look away.)

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 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
The MUSS was out in full force in Salt Lake City for a critical South Division showdown between Utah and USC. The Utes pulled off the 24-21 win in dramatic fashion. Here's how it all went down at Rice-Eccles.

How the game was won: With a lot of sweat and soon-to-be-sore muscles. It was a physical game with four lead changes. But it was the last one that stuck. Travis Wilson engineered an 11-play, 73-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay with eight seconds left.

Game ball goes to: The Pac-12 blog believed that if the Utes got "marginal" quarterback play, they would have success against USC. It's why the blog unanimously picked Utah to win. Well, they got marginal quarterback play for most of the game and outstanding quarterback play out of Wilson on Utah's final drive. He finished the game 18-of-32 for 193 yards and the one touchdown pass. But his poise and athleticism were on display during his 18-yard scramble that set up first-and-goal and the game-winner.

What it means: The Utes are in control in the Pac-12 South, but they have a vicious schedule looming. With win No. 6, Utah is now bowl eligible after missing the postseason the last two years. For USC, which already has a loss to ASU in the South, its chances of winning the division have taken a serious hit.

Playoff implication: The Utes are still in the conversation. The Pac-12 blog firmly believes a one-loss league champion will be one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff. Win out, and the Utes will be there. But given the schedule ahead, that's easier said than done.

Play(s) of the game: There were a lot of big little moments. Third down conversions, fourth-down stops, etc. Steve Sarkisian's decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 late in the game will be highly debated. But for as much flak as Utah's quarterbacks have taken over the last couple of weeks, you have to say the combination of Wilson's run and subsequent game-winning touchdown qualify. Adoree' Jackson's 100-yard kick return does not go unnoticed.

Up next: Both teams are on the road. The Utes, who are a perfect 3-0 away from home, make the trip to Tempe, Arizona, to face the Sun Devils. That has South drama written all over it. The Trojans make the trip to Pullman, Washington, to face the Cougars, where they'll try to avenge last season's 10-7 loss to WSU in Los Angeles.

Video: Utah's Automatic Andy

October, 25, 2014
Oct 25
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"College GameDay" profiles Utah kicker Andy Phillips, who never played football or soccer and yet became one of the country's best kickers after a USA Ski Team career.

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.


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Pac-12 morning links

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
8:00
AM ET
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.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
8:00
AM ET
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 ...

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