Oregon moves back into AP top 10

October, 12, 2014
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Another week, another shakeup in the Pac-12 and Oregon is again the conference's top-ranked team in the AP poll.

Thanks to their 42-30 win against previous-No. 18 UCLA, the Ducks come in at No. 9, one spot behind Michigan State, which they beat 46-27 on Sept. 6.

After becoming the poll's first-ever team to rise from unranked into the top 10 last week, Arizona fell six spots to No. 16 following its 28-26 loss to USC. The game vaulted the previously unranked Trojans to No. 22.

Neither played this week, but Arizona State moved up three spots to No. 17 and Utah four to No. 20.

Stanford, at No. 23, extended its school record of consecutive weeks in the poll to 72 following its 34-17 win over Washington State.

UCLA was the top vote-getter outside the Top 25 and Washington also received votes.

Best of the visits: Pac-12

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The Pac-12's three Saturday home games featured several significant visitors, and even though home teams went 0-3 -- hardly a surprise in the conference this season -- favorable impressions were made.

Big turnout at the Rose Bowl

It was the marquee game in the conference thus far, as Oregon met UCLA at the Rose Bowl, and the visitor list matched the hype of the game. It's always newsworthy when five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, the nation's No. 8 overall recruit, makes it out to a game, and he was in attendance Saturday.


Marshall was joined by another huge UCLA target in ESPN 300 wide receiver Cordell Broadus, who made the trip out from Las Vegas.


Like Marshall, Broadus has been fairly tight-lipped about his recruitment thus far, so for the Bruins to get him out on an unofficial visit represents a big recruiting win. It wouldn't be surprising to see Broadus make a return trip to Westwood for an official visit at some point.

UCLA hosted a few official visitors for the game, but none was more important than ESPN 300 running back Soso Jamabo, the No. 32 overall prospect. While Jamabo had to have been impressed by the Bruins rushing for 328 yards against the Ducks, there was something else that caught his eye during his visit.

Arizona wins early, loses late

Arizona might have lost its game against USC when it missed a last-second field goal, but the Wildcats won on the recruiting trail before the game even started, as they added a commitment from three-star cornerback Shun Brown.


There were also a number of Arizona verbal commitments in attendance, including ESPN 300 offensive tackle Keenan Walker.


With Brown's commitment, all three official visitors for Arizona this weekend are now Wildcat commitments. Defensive end Kendal Franklin provided Arizona fans with a number of videos of his trip that he posted via twitter, including a quick look at pregame and a shot of the three committed visitors, including Franklin, Brown and Brown's teammate, Orlando Bradford.

Big visitor for Bears

Cal couldn't keep its forward momentum going on the field, but the Golden Bears coaches are hopeful they can do enough to make a favorable impression on defensive tackle Drayton Carlberg, who was in town on an official visit. From the looks of what Carlberg had to say Sunday morning, Cal -- which is in Carlberg's top six schools -- might be able to keep itself in the mix until the end.


The Golden Bears also hosted a number of local unofficial visitors. One to keep an eye on for the 2016 class is quarterback Kevin Davidson. Though he has yet to receive his first offer, a number of Pac-12 programs are keeping in regular contact with him, and it could be just a matter of time until he grabs that first one.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
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Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
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The creatures once referred to as unbeaten teams in the Pac-12 are extinct. The South is messier than ever before, and while the situation in the North seems like it might have earned some clarity, it probably didn't. Heck, we'll probably need an eight-team playoff after all -- to determine the Pac-12's champion. All kidding aside, the action in this conference is simultaneously thrilling, exasperating, confusing, and amazing. And it's always fun to award helmet stickers when the dust settles.

David Parry, DT, Stanford: The Cardinal's defense is leading the nation in several key categories, and Parry is its centerpiece. As the big fire hydrant in the middle, he's usually too busy drawing double teams to light up the box score, but he was able to do both in Stanford's 34-17 win over Washington State. Parry tallied five hits on quarterback Connor Halliday, who staggered into his postgame press conference as a result.

Zach Hoffpauir, DB, Stanford: Halliday entered Palo Alto fresh off an FBS-record 734-yard passing performance. The Stanford defense challenged him by playing press coverage on the outside and trusting its supplementary defensive backs to make tackles in the middle of the field. That left plenty of responsibility for safety/nickelback Hoffpauir, who delivered 15 tackles, the most in a game by any active Cardinal player.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: Saturday's 42-30 win over UCLA might be the first of two trips to the Rose Bowl for the Ducks this season. If that ends up being the case, Mariota's explosive potential will be a huge driving factor. The Ducks' dual threat set an early tone with his blazing 13-yard touchdown following UCLA's early fumble, and he ultimately doomed the Bruins' defense with 75 rushing yards on only seven carries and four total touchdowns (two passing, two rushing).

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: The Ducks have a bruising bell cow in this physical true freshman. Freeman's 18 carries for 121 yards punished UCLA, and his two touchdowns put icing on the cake for Oregon, opening a 42-10 lead to put this contest well out of reach.

Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington: California moved the ball at will during their 60-point effort at Washington State last week (over 10 yards per play). The Huskies' defense stepped up Saturday, silencing the Bears to the tune of only 4.4 yards per play in a 31-7 rout. Thompson led the way with 11 tackles, and he was also the star when Jared Goff fumbled trying to sneak into the end zone. Thompson, once a Golden Bears' verbal commit, returned the fumble 100 yards in spectacular fashion to set the tone.

Cyler Miles, QB, Washington: The Huskies' defense was dominant, so they didn't need much from the other side of the ball. After only mustering 98 passing yards his last time out, Miles gave Washington plenty. He finished 22-for-29 for 273 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. That accurate and efficient performance allowed Chris Petersen's club to cruise.

Leonard Williams, DE, USC: It's easy to lose sight of fantastic USC individual contributions in the missed field goal mayhem of their 28-26 win over Arizona, but we won't let that happen. Williams played like the first-round pick that he's projected to be, racking up eight tackles and forcing a big fumble. The Trojans defense held the Wildcats to only 4.7 yards per play.

Javorius Allen, RB, USC: USC built its fourth-quarter lead behind behind fantastic running from Allen, who turned in a 26-carry, 205-yard performance (7.9 yards per carry) filled with impressive acceleration, eye-opening power, and three touchdowns. The Trojans ended up needing every single one of their scores when Arizona mounted another furious fourth-quarter rally.
A few things we learned about the Pac-12 this week:

Stanford will only be as good as its offense: No arguments here -- Stanford's defense is nasty; one of the best in the country. But the inconsistencies on the offensive side of the ball continued despite the Cardinal's 34-17 win over Washington State. After missing two more red zone opportunities Friday night (5-of-7), the Cardinal are scoring on just 68 percent (19-of-28) of all red zone appearances and have only scored touchdowns 46 percent of the time. The field goal game continues to be an adventure as well. But that defense will keep the Cardinal in games. After throwing for an FBS record 734 yards the previous week on 49-of-70 passing, Connor Halliday needed 69 attempts to reach 292 yards.

The Cougars probably aren't bowling: Washington State hasn't been officially eliminated, but at 2-5, it would have to win four of its final five games to reach bowl eligibility. Of the Cougars' remaining five opponents, four are either ranked or have been ranked, and Oregon State is 4-1. WSU has had plenty of bummer moments this year. But ask yourself this: Is the 2014 Washington State team better than the 2013 group? The Pac-12 blog thinks so. (At least this sliver of the blog does.) Of course, that brings up all sorts of metaphysical conundrums of Coug-on-Coug Couging. Still, this team is going to spoil someone's season.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressThe return of Jake Fisher at left tackle helped Royce Freeman run for over 100 yards against UCLA.
Jake Fisher for Heisman? Too much? It's pretty obvious what happens to the Ducks when at least one of their tackles is healthy. The result was a 42-30 thumping of UCLA in Pasadena that was much more of a blowout than the score would indicate. His presence made an impact to the tune of zero sacks allowed and the Ducks' first 100-yard rusher of the season, with Royce Freeman going for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Since 2007 (Chip Kelly's first year as OC), the Ducks are 57-0 in games in which they run for at least 240 yards. Marcus Mariota also looked a lot more Mariota-esque, throwing for two scores and running for two. It's a very, very solid bounce-back for the Ducks to be able to win on the road against a ranked team.

UCLA couldn't match the hype: The Ducks did exactly what they needed to do this week -- which is play like the team people thought they were. The Bruins didn't do that (or maybe they did?). Penalties (seven for 81) and turnovers (a fumble and an interception) doomed the Bruins. The Ducks were able to turn both turnovers into points -- and that ended up being the difference. Here's a troubling stat: Opposing teams have converted all six of Brett Hundley's turnovers into points this season -- five touchdowns and one field goal. Jim Mora has done some wonderful things reviving the Bruins, but his teams are 0-5 against Stanford and Oregon. The road to the conference title still goes through them.

Shaq Thompson is the first-half defensive MVP: He added his fourth defensive touchdown of the season when he returned Jared Goff's fumble 100 yards for the first points of the game. Thompson and the rest of the Washington front seven simply dominated California up front, limiting the league's No. 1 scoring offense (50 PPG) to just a touchdown in their 31-7 win. They sacked Goff three times and forced a trio of Cal turnovers. Oh yeah, and John Ross is really, really fun to watch, too.

Playing at home stinks: Pac-12 home teams are now just 4-14 in conference games. Not much more to say about that one.

Cal comes back to earth: Sonny Dykes called his team's performance "the worst offensive performance I've been a part of in a long time." After the fumble, the Golden Bears never looked like they got into a comfortable rhythm. Part of that is the aforementioned Washington front seven. The Bears had scored 119 points in the previous two weeks, but looked out of sorts. Dykes said his players didn't respond well to adversity, another part of the growing process.

Javorius Allen should never not be running the football: Saturday was another monster performance from the back who was grossly underused by the previous administration. The Pac-12's rushing leader became the first USC back in four years to break the 200-yard mark when he carried 26 times for 205 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans' 28-26 win over Arizona. In a league dominated by quarterbacks, he's making a strong argument for offensive MVP halfway through the season.

No perfection: There will not be an undefeated team in the Pac-12 this season. Arizona was the only one left. The Wildcats had been playing with second-half fire all year, and this time they finally got burned. The stage was set for yet another thrilling fourth-quarter finish, right up until Casey Skowron missed a game-winning 36-yard field goal. Of course, that came after Arizona scored late, missed a two-point conversion (twice) and recovered an onside kick. Because, ya know, it's the Pac-12.
video
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona's stay in the top 10 ended after just over a week as USC rolled into Tucson and slipped the cardiac Wildcats 28-26.

How the game was won: Arizona missed three field goals, including a potential game-winner from 36 yards in the waning moments. USC controlled most of the game on both sides of the ball, thwarting the Arizona offense in the red zone and getting the big scoring plays that eluded the Wildcats, at least until the fourth quarter when Arizona made a run and things got wild. The Wildcats scored a late TD but missed the game-tying 2-point conversion. They then recovered the ensuing on-side kick, but Casey Skowron missed his third kick.

Gameball goes to: USC running back Javorius Allen rushed for 205 yards on 26 carries -- 7.9 yards per carry -- with three touchdowns. He will extend his lead as the Pac-12's leading rusher and is getting close to a lock as a first-team All-Pac-12 performer.

What it means: Arizona going down means there are no longer any undefeated teams in the Pac-12. Every team has at least one conference loss, too. USC puts itself back squarely in the South Division race, while Arizona yields the advantage it held after winning at Oregon.

Playoff implication: The best way to get to the playoff is to win all your games. Now no Pac-12 team can do that. And it's going to take a heck of a run for any conference team to emerge with just one conference loss. While few considered Arizona a true threat for the playoff, their loss to the Trojans at home is a hit to the conference's national perception. USC's horribly embarrassing loss at Boston College means the dreaded transitive property can be applied to their Pac-12 wins.

Best play: Allen's big day started early, as he rolled to two long first-half touchdown runs. The first, a 34-yarder, got USC on the board midway through the first quarter, but this 48-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to put the Trojans up 14-6 was really something to behold.

video What's next: Arizona is off until it visits Washington State on Oct. 25. USC will try win back-to-back games when Colorado comes to town.

Washington 31, California 7

October, 11, 2014
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video Cyler Miles threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns in the Huskies’ 31-7 win over the Golden Bears.
Marcus MariotaKirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe return of left tackle Jake Fisher (75) was "huge for us," said Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

PASADENA, Calif. -- Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The NFL smart guys talk about him as a first pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Both of those dreams may come true. But if you saw the No. 12 Ducks on Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl, it's pretty obvious that Mariota is not the most valuable player wearing Uncle Phil's designer unis.

It may be deductive reasoning to say that honorific should apply to Oregon left offensive tackle Jake Fisher. But the facts are clear: (a) When Fisher played the first three games of the season, the Ducks went 3-0, averaged 52 points and Mariota was sacked four times; (b) when he missed the next two games with a left leg injury, the Ducks went 1-1, averaged 31 points and Mariota was sacked 12 times; (c) when Fisher returned to the lineup, the Ducks defeated No. 18 UCLA 42-30, Mariota accounted for four touchdowns and he never got sacked.

"He really had an awesome game," Mariota said of Fisher. "He anchored those guys. To have that guy back is huge for us."

Pardon the expression, but this was vintage Chip Kelly football. Through three quarters, the Ducks had scored five touchdowns and gained 404 yards while possessing the ball all of 17:12. It always sounds like alchemy, but it looks like pure gold. Three plays into the fourth quarter, Oregon scored again to lead 42-10.

The rest -- UCLA scoring three touchdowns in seven minutes -- really was bookkeeping, although it may have provided a smattering of sustenance to the naysayers who have chirped about Kelly's successor, Mark Helfrich.

His record of 16-3 is tied for fourth best in Pac-12 coaching history through 19 games. Helfrich is tied with Kelly and Stanford coach David Shaw. But after the 31-24 loss to Arizona on Thursday, Oct. 2, a lot of Oregon fans applied deductive reasoning to Helfrich: (a) Chip Kelly was a great coach; (b) Mark Helfrich is not Chip Kelly; (c) Mark Helfrich is not a great coach.

The loss had less to do with Helfrich being Helfrich than with what Fisher's absence did to an offensive line already thinned out by injury. Fisher should be playing right tackle as he did the past two seasons. But he moved to left tackle in August when the bodies began to pile up. Once Fisher got hurt, Oregon had to resort to true freshman Tyrell Crosby, whose play reflected both his potential and his level of experience.

"He's a little bit of a calming factor over there on the left side," offensive line coach Steve Greatwood said of Fisher. "… Jake gives us some leadership back there that I think was missing the last couple of games."

Fisher, a 6-6, 300-pound senior, is a prime example of how Kelly transformed the Ducks from a Pac-12 contender into a national power. Fisher is from Traverse City, Michigan, 2,400 miles and three time zones from Autzen Stadium. That he is not wearing maize and blue is a prime example of why Michigan has signed a long-term lease in the college football wilderness.

At the end of the 2010 season, the Wolverines fired head coach Rich Rodriguez, who had gotten a commitment from Fisher months earlier. Fisher decommitted from his state university, and Kelly pounced. Four days later, on the day that Oregon played Auburn for the BCS championship, Kelly and Greatwood called Fisher to invite him to visit Oregon.

"After everything happened with Coach RichRod," Fisher said of Oregon, "it was definitely a blessing. I couldn't have wanted anywhere else."

Fisher wanted to play against Arizona. Had the game been on Saturday, offensive coordinator Scott Frost said, he might have been ready. Maybe the College Football Playoff Committee will chew on that variable come December.

"I tried to do everything I could on the sidelines from a leadership standpoint," Fisher said. "But I wasn't able to play. I had to take the loss and move on."

Fisher began practicing with the starters on Monday. His presence helped, and so did the set of the line's jaw after the beating Mariota had taken in the past two games. Frost said his unit returned to what it has always done well. The zone-read running game worked well, which moved the chains, which provided a rhythm, which kicked in the up-tempo pace.

"Having Jake back is huge. I think he's one of the best offensive linemen in the league," Frost said. "He played like it today."

Fisher even gained 15 yards for the offense. He put sophomore defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes on his back in the second quarter, so infuriating Vanderdoes that he punched Fisher right in front of an official. The personal foul penalty moved Oregon to the UCLA 32. Four plays later, Mariota threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Tyner to move Oregon ahead 15-3.

Mariota will continue to be the face of the Oregon program, not to mention the arm. But with the return of Fisher to the field, the Ducks returned to the playoff race. They look like Oregon again.
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After its devastating home loss to Arizona last week, Oregon responded by knocking off UCLA 42-30 in Pasadena, California. Here's how it happened:

How the game was won: Oregon's offensive line dominated. Jake Fisher, who has been out since the beginning of the Wyoming game, finally returned. And his return marked a bit of a return to the way the offensive line would like to actually be playing. After two consecutive lackluster performances (which included 12 total sacks), Oregon's O-line really played impressively as the Ducks had their first 100-yard rusher this season and didn't allow a single sack.

Game ball goes to: There were plenty of great offensive performances for the Ducks, but none of them would have happened without Oregon’s offensive line. So, a tip of the hat to quarterback Marcus Mariota (passing: 210 yards, two TDs, zero interceptions; rushing: seven carries, 75 yards, two TDs), running back Royce Freeman (18 carries, 121 yards, two TDs) and tight end Pharaoh Brown (five receptions, 84 yards, one TD). But the game ball belongs to the group that made that all possible and has gone from terrible to trustworthy in just one week.

What it means: UCLA is out of the playoff discussion. A one-loss Pac-12 team making the playoff? Plausible. A two-loss team? It doesn’t happen unless the SEC self-cannibalizes, Oregon drops another game and then UCLA comes away with the conference championship. So, a lot of dominoes would have to fall.

Playoff implication for the winner: The Ducks are in the driver’s seat in the Pac-12. With how improved Oregon’s O-line looked with just the return of Fisher, the committee will need to look at the Arizona game with an asterisk of sorts as the Ducks were down three O-linemen at that time. If this is the offensive line and defensive pressure that Oregon can play with moving forward, it’ll be hard to keep the Ducks out of the playoff conversation.

Best play: Mariota has a way of turning nothing into something, even when it's his own fault. With an 11-point lead on second-and-10, Mariota fumbled, managed to recover his own fumble in stride, and then made his way into the end zone to give the Ducks a much more comfortable cushion.

What's next: Oregon welcomes Washington to Autzen Stadium. The Ducks have won the past 10 meetings between the teams. And UCLA travels to Cal next weekend and will look to avoid a three-game losing skid, which hasn’t happened since it closed out the 2012 season with two losses to Stanford and a bowl loss to Baylor.
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STANFORD, Calif. -- Yet another suffocating Stanford defensive performance led the way to a win for the home team on The Farm. Stanford beat Washington State 34-17, leading from start to finish. Stanford has now allowed fewer than 30 points in 29 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation. Louisville and Ole Miss, who own the second-longest streak, have done that in 12 straight games.

How the game was won: Stanford's defense made Washington State scratch and claw for every single yard, buying the Cardinal's inconsistent offense enough time to finally put the hammer down on the scoreboard. Following its least efficient offensive performance since 2006 (3.0 yards per play last week at Notre Dame), Stanford ran a new perimeter-oriented offense that loosened the middle of field and set up Kevin Hogan's early 39-yard touchdown throw to Eric Cotton (above). The Cardinal proved too much for Washington State's struggling defense, leading wire-to-wire.

Game ball goes to: On a night during which Stanford held Washington State's pass-happy offense to 3.3 yards per play, members of the Cardinal defense earn the game ball. We'll have nose tackle David Parry and defensive back Zach Hoffpauir share the honor. Parry frequently ruptured the Cougars' offensive line, and that allowed pressure like the kind Peter Kalambayi displayed to throw Connor Halliday out of whack a week after he comfortably threw for an FBS-record 734 yards (only 292 yards on Friday).

Stanford's cornerbacks delivered press coverage on the edges, and that left a ton of responsibility for Hoffpauir. He delivered in a big way, racking up 15 critical tackles in the open field to limit the Cougars' aerial attack. Stanford put on an open field tackling clinic.

What it means: The Cardinal's defense, which was already leading the nation giving up only 3.7 yards per play coming into the game, continues to assert itself as perhaps the nation's top unit. Stanford still has not lost back-to-back games under coach David Shaw, and the good feelings are back in their locker room behind a 4-2 record (only one conference loss) after a brutal setback against Notre Dame. Given the quality of their defense, the Cardinal certainly still have a shot at the Pac-12 North title, and this win was a mandatory step in that direction.

Washington State drops to 2-5, and that's a stomach punch to the Cougars' postseason chances. They'll now need to win four of their last five games to reach a bowl game again, and that's a tall order with Arizona, USC, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Washington remaining on the schedule.

What's next: For Stanford, all eyes will continue to be fixated on the team's offense as it moves on to ASU. The defense is a proven commodity -- and it's a championship-caliber unit. But the offense, despite showing improvement, continues to play inconsistent football even despite significantly altering its strategy to a more perimeter-oriented approach. The Cougars had great trouble with the Cardinal's broad array of weapons (12 different receivers combined for 23 catches), but penalties and hit-or-miss plays in the red zone kept this game closer than the final yards per play tally would indicate: Stanford 7.0, Washington State 3.3.

The Cougars won't face a defense as good as the Cardinal's the rest of the year, so that's the silver lining for them after a night during which every single one of their yards seemed tough to earn. The task ahead of coach Mike Leach's club is daunting, and the Cougars will only be able to deliver with significant improvements to their porous defense and kick/punt coverage units.

Watch: Lou Holtz' weekly picks

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
10:34
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video

Lou Holtz makes his predictions for Oregon-UCLA, TCU-Baylor, Auburn-Mississippi State and Ole Miss-Texas A&M.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
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Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 3:30 p.m. ET for the duration of games like Auburn-Mississippi State, TCU-Baylor and Oregon-UCLA.

In between and after the chats, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

Happy Friday.

This weekend can't possibly be as nutty as last weekend ... could it?

Follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Dominic fro Tucson writes: Now that Oregon and UCLA both have one loss. Both teams were projected to play in the Pac-12 championship and both are playing this Saturday. My question is: Will the loser of the Oregon/UCLA game be left out of the Pac-12 championship game and as a potential playoff contender as well?

Ted Miller: Probably, but maybe not.

The loser of the UCLA-Oregon game will have two Pac-12 defeats at the midseason mark, which isn't good, but a loss won't have tiebreaker impact in either division. As the Bruins have lost to Utah, they would need the Utes to lose two more times to win a South Division tiebreaker (we are not going to even wade into potential three-way ties, etc...). The Ducks' loss to Arizona doesn't hurt them in a North tiebreaker.

The first question: Could 7-2 in Pac-12 play win the North/South Division? Absolutely. Arizona is not only the Pac-12's only undefeated team, it's also the only team undefeated in conference play. But the Wildcats, who play host to USC on Saturday, still have a road date with UCLA, so Arizona's margin for error is only one game if it lost in the Rose Bowl on Nov. 1. As for the North, Oregon will be the division champion if it loses to UCLA but then wins out. So that's pretty simple.

Ergo, if UCLA loses to Oregon but finishes 10-2 overall and 7-2 in Pac-12 play and then bests the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game, I'd rate the Bruins shot as solid to be a candidate for the College Football Playoff. The strength of schedule would be impressive enough to even eclipse a two-loss team from the SEC West, particularly a team like Mississippi State, which played a weak nonconference schedule.

Same for Oregon. The Ducks as Pac-12 champions at 11-2 would have a strong resume, particularly if Michigan State ends up the Big Ten champ at 12-1.

There is so much football left that projecting forward is pretty futile. If you want a confident statement from me, however, here it is: The only Pac-12 teams that you can say are definitely not going to be invited to the CFP are Colorado and Washington State. As no other teams have more than two losses, everyone else seems to still have a mathematical chance.

And, yes, you might use that line from "Dumb and Dumber" to wrap up my thoughts here.


Tom from Seattle writes: I would like to propose a rule that no "official" polls can be conducted until ... until November 1st. With most major programs playing, well, no one in their non-conference schedule, it would seem many of the rankings are based off of last weeks rankings, rather than the state of college football that week. Arizona didn't "jump up," they were as good before they beat Oregon as they were afterward. realistically, the only polls that matter are the final polls anyway, and weekly polls give something for everyone to talk about, but I worry that speculation in September lead to deception in December.

Ted Miller: The College Football Playoff took your advice, pretty much, Tom. It's not releasing its first poll until Oct. 28, and the selection committee has repeatedly claimed it will not be influenced by the existing polls that have been infuriating everyone since August.

You note two important issues with the national polls, though: 1. They tend to stick too much to preseason expectations; 2. People love talking about polls.

The first is the problem inherent within the national polls, and the second is why the national polls continue to exist in their longstanding format. The public loves them.

And, yeah, the media sorta enjoys that Sunday boost when the polls come out and everyone feels compelled to react -- Perfect! Horrible! Conspiracy! -- to what ultimately will be absolutely meaningless within a week or two.


Steve from Los Gatos, Calif., writes: Wasn't this supposed to be the year that Stanford's offense brought back the stud TE glory days? What happened?

Ted Miller: Yes. And the production at tight end thus far is notably better than 2013. Austin Hooper's 15 receptions for 189 yards with a touchdown is already better than what the Cardinal got from the position last season, and Eric Cotton's four receptions for 72 yards sets him up to eclipse the total production from the position last season, too.

But, no, it's not like the days of Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, three current NFL starters. That troika might be difficult to duplicate over the next 100 or so seasons. And, yes, it's concerning that tight ends didn't catch a pass against Notre Dame.

The problem is not tight end, though. It's the Stanford offense as a whole. The offensive line has been underwhelming and quarterback Kevin Hogan hasn't taken a step forward as a third-year starter. The redzone offense, you might have heard, has been particularly awful.

With the talent on hand, particularly at receiver, the Cardinal offense should be better than it has been through five games, and if we are folks who believe the buck stops with the leadership, then head coach David Shaw, who calls the plays, and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, also share significant blame.

Stanford's offensive mediocrity, in other words, has been a total team effort. And a total team effort -- and maybe a little flexibility in terms of adhering to an identity -- is the only way to solve the problem.


Matt from San Jose writes: Why has Jared Goff been getting ZERO recognition from the media for the job he has done in year 2 as Cal's QB? I know the 4Pac have been talking him up in recent weeks, but there is no national recognition. He's been spurned for player of the week a couple of times, and his numbers are off the charts, yet he doesn't even have a single vote or any consideration on the Heisman tracker. Come on, 22 TDs to 3 picks (two of which were drops by the WRs) is pretty freakin' impressive, along with a 4-1 record, which could just as easily be 5-0. Interested to hear your guys' thoughts on the matter.

Ted Miller: Well, there's this from Kyle Bonagura this week. And Goff's rating in ESPN.com's Total QBR is notable.

And there's this. And our friends at the California Golden Blogs posted this headline: "Jared Goff Starts to Garner National Attention."

But, yes, Goff has yet to make a dent in the national Heisman trackers. There is a good reason for that, though. His team went 1-11 last season, and folks are only starting to raise an eyebrow at Cal's surprising 4-1 start.

If Goff continues to rate in the top-five in QBR and continues to put up big passing numbers and Cal continues to win games, he'll start to get more national attention. In fact, if he plays a key role in the Bears winning two of their next three home games -- Washington, UCLA and Oregon -- I'd guess he'd start to get plenty of national acclaim.

And there also would be an NFL scout or two raising an eyebrow.


Tim from Atlanta writes: I wonder if the extent of Oregon's defensive troubles have been at least a bit exaggerated ... WSU and Arizona have proven to be very good offensive teams, and the MSU offense has looked pretty impressive since leaving eugene. Before Armstead got hurt against AZ, the ducks had given up 3 points. and really, giving up 31 to WSU in pullman (albeit missed-PI aided) isn't THAT BAD. The O-Liine's struggles the last 2 weeks seem to be a much greater concern, as oregon should be able to win games giving up 31 to a team that just gave up 45 to Cal the game before. Seems the D is taking the fall for the O's poor performances the last 2 games.

Ted Miller: I agree to some extent. I definitely think the Ducks' biggest problem is the offensive line. I also think if offensive tackle Jake Fisher were healthy, the Ducks would be unbeaten and no one would be talking about sack numbers.

Another absolutely irrelevant observation: If the Ducks' projected starting offensive line -- including Fisher and tackle Tyler Johnstone -- was injury-free, the Ducks would be an overwhelming No. 1 right now and the Heisman Trophy discussion would pretty much be over.

"If only..." again, is a pretty stupid exercise in sports or just about anything else. But I thought I'd type that to make some Ducks feel better.

My perception of the Ducks' defense is there have been more obvious breakdowns compared to past years. When coach Mark Helfrich talked to Chantel Jennings about "miscommunication" being an issue, I thought about how good a communicator former coordinator Nick Aliotti was.

To me, "miscommunication" means coaches aren't getting their message across to players. That falls on the coaches.

Yet your larger point about the Ducks facing a number of top-flight offenses so far is valid. It's also fair to note we should expect some growing pains when you change coordinators, even if continuity was one of the biggest reason to promote Don Pellum instead of, say, hiring Clancy Pendergast.

It's too early to deliver a verdict on the Ducks' defense, just as it's way too early to deliver a verdict on Helfrich's second season. Let's see how things stack up when the calendar flips into December.


Ross from Portland writes: This is for Erik McKinney and all Pac-12 Blog Staff: So there I was, drinking my favorite Oregon Micro Beer, Black Butte Porter, and reading the Pac-12 Blog... And then I started to read Erik McKinney's Piece- "Ducks finding recruiting success by heading south." And all was fine, until I took a drink while reading the paragraph below..."Oregon's annual trip to Southern California will take place Saturday, and recruits in the area will flock to the game -- of course, UCLA's rise and recruiting prowess has plenty to do with that as well. But a visit from the Ducks is akin to the circus coming to town, billboards and all. "And so, I busted out laughing hard, when he wrote, "the Ducks is akin to the circus coming to town...". Problem is, my mouth was still all full of Oregon's finest. And I ended up spitting, actually spraying, my whole entire computer screen, wall and whole desk, from laughter while drinking the beer. Note to self: Never drink any liquids while reading the Pac-12 blog. Doing so may erupt much laughter, erupt much liquid, and create a big mess.

Ted Miller: Ross, Kevin has patented the "Gemmell Grabber" (TM) -- "Reading the Pac-12 blog ... well then expect to expectorate! -- and I'm sure he'd send you one for the very low price of $99.95.

It's a retractable computer shield that uses Bluetooth technology and a handy iPhone AP. As a bonus, it comes shaped like your favorite Pac-12 defensive back sporting his home uniform.

And if you order now, you'll get a copy of my bestseller, "Pac-12 Predictions: I guarantee [insert your team] wins this weekend!"
Here are five things to watch for in Friday night's Washington State-Stanford matchup:

Are the Cougars ready for Stanford's pass rush?

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
AP Photo/Dean HareGetting rid of the ball quickly will be key for Connor Halliday to avoid Stanford's pass rush.
Last year, they weren't, especially during the four-minute stretch of hell that Stanford imposed early in the third quarter. The score was a reasonable 17-3 when the flurry started. In the blink of an eye, Stanford hurt two quarterbacks, returned two interceptions for touchdowns and made it 38-3. The rout was on, and it all happened insanely quickly because Stanford's front seven had turned the Washington State offensive line into a sieve.

The Cougars think their line is better this year, and Cardinal coach David Shaw noted that WSU quarterback Connor Halliday is making his reads and releasing the ball more quickly this time around.

"I doubt we'll hit him as much as last year," Shaw said. "They were running a lot of deeper routes last year, and he was holding the ball longer. He's got a lot more confidence this year. He's on the same page as all of his guys now."

Shaw's analysis must be true for Washington State to have a chance in this game. Because a successful run game is the best way to neutralize Stanford's vicious pass rush, ground-averse teams like the Cougars are typically at a disadvantage against the Cardinal. That was certainly the case last year, and Halliday will have to be fast and perfect to make this go-around different.

Will the Stanford offense show signs of life?

The Cardinal posted their least efficient offensive performance of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era at Notre Dame on Saturday (3.0 yards per play, 1.5 yards per rush). They have already lost two games this season because of offensive ineptitude of some sort; against USC, Stanford scored only 10 points on nine trips to or past the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Long story short: Matters in the land that Andrew Luck used to roam have gotten really bad.

But Washington State's defense hasn't been good either, and the Cardinal see this game as potential offensive medicine. Cal racked up 60 points against the Cougars last week, and Stanford still remembers its excellent all-around performance against Wazzu last year (322 passing yards, 6.0 yards per carry).

If the Cardinal are finally able to establish a consistent running game (that's been an issue this year), the Cougars are in trouble. If not, Wazzu's aggressive pass rush can test a shaky Kevin Hogan (it sacked Marcus Mariota seven times), and that's where this game can become interesting.

The obvious matchup

Tonight's game features, statistically, the nation's best defense (Stanford allows only 3.7 yards per play) against a Football Bowl Subdivision record-setting Washington State offense, fresh off Halliday's historic 734-yard performance at Cal last week. Needless to say, this is a battle between two high-quality units that should make for a compelling watch.

Wazzu kick coverage

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's Ty Montgomery is one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country.
The 60 points the Cougars surrendered last week weren't all on their defense. Cal's Trevor Davis returned consecutive kick returns for touchdowns against Washington State, and that led Mike Leach to fire special-teams coordinator Eric Russell on Monday.

Wazzu is scrambling to assemble a competent plan in kick coverage this week, as Stanford's Ty Montgomery may be the best returner in the nation. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season and has come close to doing so on multiple occasions this year. As a two-touchdown underdog, the Cougars can't afford any more lapses in coverage.

Kickers

In the past, kicking failures have proved to be a painful Friday night theme, and both Stanford and Washington State have had issues in this phase of the game. Quentin Breshears' missed 19-yard field goal doomed Washington State in last week's 60-59 loss to Cal. Meanwhile, Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson has made only four of his eight attempts this season, and a poor snap in the rain last week proved extremely costly to the Cardinal.
Decommitments are now as much a part of recruiting as official visits and signing day. Each year virtually every program sustains its share of decommitments and does everything it can to flip recruits committed to other schools. Most of the time, the school losing the commitment can rebound quickly, either in that class or the next, and fill the void caused by the switch.

Once signing day arrives, the hand wringing over decommitments usually fades away, as coaches do everything they can to talk about the recruits who signed, rather than the ones who got away. And in the big picture, a recruit is never fully committed until he arrives on campus.

[+] EnlargeShaq Thompson
Jesse Beals/Icon SMICal's class of talented receivers will take on the Huskies and one-time Golden Bears pledge Shaq Thompson.
Occasionally, a decommitment can lead fans down a rabbit hole of "what-ifs?" that can be fun or heart wrenching -- or both -- to imagine. What if Oregon held onto commitments from both Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel? What if former Washington running back Chris Polk kept his pledge to USC? What if UCLA had junior college transfers Dominick Jackson and Jermaine Eluemunor to help along the offensive line this season?

But one of the biggest "what-if?" scenarios in the Pac-12 will play out this weekend, when the Washington Huskies, including do-it-all star Shaq Thompson, visit the California Golden Bears.

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