2011-2012: The days of Northern rule

In the first three seasons after the conference's expansion to 12 teams, the Pac-12 North ruled the league. Oregon's annual November matchup with Stanford went further toward determining the league champion than the official Pac-12 championship game held a week later.

This was most apparent in 2011, the first year of the two-division, title-game format. USC, still on postseason probation that season, had the firepower to give the Cardinal and Ducks all they could handle (they took Stanford to triple overtime and beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium). But the Trojans' postseason absence took any true bite out of the South: The rest of the division was puny, and its top qualifying option for the title game was 6-6 UCLA -- a team that had already fired its head coach in Rick Neuheisel.

When the Bruins visited Eugene for all the marbles in December that season, the game was mocked as more of a ritual sacrifice on the path to Oregon Rose Bowl glory than a legitimate championship game.

In 2012, the Pac-12 South hadn't gained much tangible ground. USC was back from its probation, but the Trojans were a significantly worse team than they were the year prior. No team from the South finished the season in the AP's Top 25 rankings (three clubs from the North did), and UCLA again packed its bags for the conference title game. This time, it came against Stanford and was more competitive (27-24) than a year prior, but the closeness may have been attributed to the fact the two teams had played just six days prior (the Cardinal drubbed the Bruins 35-17 in that one).

Simply put, very little indicated the Pac-12 South was catching up to its Northern brethren. The North owned a 17-9 record in head-to-head matchups with the South in 2011 and a 16-9 mark in 2012. Four teams from the North finished with better records than the South's title-game representative in 2011, and that number only decreased to three -- still indicative of a staggering amount of imbalance -- in 2012. The heavyweights commanded this conference, and they resided in Eugene and Palo Alto.

2013: Subtle indications of a shift

The first signs of a power tilt came last season, and that initial shift has turned into a full Pac-12 South surge here in 2014. For the first time in the Pac-12's short history, the South finished the season with as many ranked teams as the North in 2013. The rise of Arizona State, the continued improvement of UCLA, and the post-Lane Kiffin resurgence of USC gave the South three 10-win teams last year, beating the North's final tally of two (Oregon and Stanford, the usual suspects).

In terms of overall record, the North's once-wide head-to-head edge was cut to just one game, 13-12. The stage was set for a Pac-12 South statement in the Pac-12 championship game, but Stanford put those thoughts on hold when they waltzed into Sun Devil Stadium and whipped Arizona State, 38-14.

The Pac-12 North was still king, but not for long.

2014: The cataclysmic change

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriArizona freshman QB Anu Solomon should help the Pac-12 South keep trending up in future seasons.
Oregon may well successfully wave the North's flag again this year -- in fact, they're favored to again win the Pac-12 title -- but, outside of Marcus Mariota's empire in Eugene, there isn't much to write home about in the division. The South, meanwhile, has seen surges from Arizona and Utah this season to enjoy unprecedented parity. Five teams have been legitimate contenders in that division this season, all while the North has completely melted away outside of Oregon.

The Ducks have clinched the Pac-12 North with two games -- more than 20 percent of the schedule -- still remaining. Stanford, suffering through its worst season this decade, is in a fight just to become bowl eligible. Washington, which won nine games last year, has struggled to replace the firepower Keith Price and Bishop Sankey brought to the offense. Oregon State, a formidable nine-win component just two years ago, is 1-10 in its last 11 conference games. Washington State has regressed to 3-7 following a year of bowl eligibility, while California has lifted itself out of the doldrums but is still hindered by the Pac-12's worst defense.

It's all added up to this: For the first time since the conference's expansion, the Pac-12 South has a winning record over the North. It stands at 11-6 right now. Stanford, the North's second-place team, has a 5-4 overall record that would be good for sixth-best in the South, better than only bottom feeder Colorado -- and it should be noted that the Buffs are showing progress, too.

This nugget is perhaps the most staggering of all: No Pac-12 North team except for Oregon has beaten a ranked opponent in 2014.

2015 and beyond: Projecting the future

Of course, numerous variables will determine the balance moving forward. But the South looks like it'll remain strong. USC's recruiting remains excellent, and the last remnants of NCAA sanctions will soon wear off. Graham has shown to be a reliable winner at ASU (the Sun Devils have won 13 of their past 15 conference games), while in-state rival Arizona is succeeding with freshmen Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson at key positions. Utah seems to have finally rediscovered its rugged identity after a rough transition to the Pac-12, and UCLA has the talent and recruiting punch to remain formidable.

Oregon will have to successfully absorb Mariota's loss, or else the Pac-12 North will be in big trouble. Stanford's prospects are a big question mark at this point, and it's unclear if Chris Petersen will have the firepower necessary to immediately improve Washington. Cal's rise is promising, but the struggles of Oregon State and Washington State are both disconcerting for the division that once ruled the Pac-12.

Only time will tell what ultimately happens, but the South has the definite overall upper hand now.
(For link to scenarios updated on Nov. 16, click here.) With three weeks left in the regular season, it’s time to take a look at some of the possible scenarios in what is still a very-much jumbled Pac-12 South.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: if Arizona State (5-1 Pac-12) wins out, it will play Oregon on Dec. 5 in the Pac-12 championship at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The Ducks clinched the North on Saturday, and the Sun Devils are the only remaining one-loss team in the South. That potential meeting would likely amount to a quarterfinal game in the College Football Playoff.

However, if ASU slips up along the way, Arizona, UCLA and USC all have plausible ways to win the division, and even Utah isn’t mathematically eliminated.

In the case of a two-team tie, the tiebreaker is head-to-head. That part is probably understood, but where things get hazy is when there are three or more teams tied. For that we turn things over the official rulebook:
Multiple-Team Ties.

In the event of a tie for a division championship between more than two teams, the following procedure shall be used to eliminate all but two tied teams, at which point the two-team tie-breaking procedure shall be used.

A. Head-to-head (best record in games among the tied teams).
B. Record within the division
C. Record against the next highest placed team in the division (based on record in all games played within the Conference), proceeding through the division.
D. Record in common Conference games.
E. Highest ranking in the College Football Playoff poll entering the final weekend of regular-season games.

Here's where the contenders stand entering this week:

No. 6 Arizona State
Pac-12 record: 5-1
Pac-12 South record: 3-1
Wins: Colorado, USC, Stanford, Washington, Utah
Loss: UCLA
Remaining games: at Oregon State, Washington State, at No. 14 Arizona

No. 11 UCLA
Pac-12 record: 5-2
Pac-12 South record: 3-1
Wins: No. 6 Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, No. 14 Arizona, Washington
Losses: No. 23 Utah, No. 2 Oregon
Remaining games: USC, Stanford

USC
Pac-12 record: 5-2
Pac-12 South record: 2-2
Wins: Stanford, Oregon State, No. 14 Arizona, Colorado, Washington State
Losses: No. 6 Arizona State, No. 23 Utah
Remaining games: Cal, at No. 11 UCLA

No. 14 Arizona
Pac-12 record: 4-2
Pac-12 South record: 1-2
Wins: Cal, No. 2 Oregon, Washington State, Colorado
Losses: USC, No. 11 UCLA
Remaining games: Washington, at No. 23 Utah, No. 6 Arizona State

No. 23 Utah
Pac-12 record: 3-3
Pac-12 South record: 2-1
Wins: No. 11 UCLA, Oregon State, USC
Losses: Washington State, Arizona State, Oregon
Remaining games: at Stanford, Arizona, at Colorado

-------

Strictly as an exercise in seeing how the tiebreakers would work in the cases of a multi-team ties, here are a few a hypothetical situations:

Hypothetical No. 1
  • ASU beats Oregon State and Washington State, but loses to Arizona to finish 7-2.
  • UCLA beats both USC and Stanford to finish 7-2.
  • Arizona beats Washington, Utah and Arizona State to finish 7-2.

Tiebreaker steps:
  1. Because UCLA was 2-0 against the group, it would win on the first tiebreaker.
Hypothetical No. 2
  • ASU beats Oregon State and Washington State, but loses to Arizona to finish 7-2.
  • USC beats both UCLA and Cal to finish 7-2.
  • Arizona beats Washington, Utah and Arizona State to finish 7-2.

Tiebreaker steps:
  1. In this case, all three would be 1-1 against each other.
  2. They would also all be 3-2 in the Pac-12 South.
  3. Record vs. the fourth-place team is next -- we'll say it is UCLA (6-3). The Bruins beat both Arizona and ASU, but lost to USC in this situation, which would make the Trojans the division champion.
Hypothetical No. 3 (four-team tie)
  • ASU splits vs. Oregon State/WSU and loses Arizona to finish 6-3.
  • UCLA beats Stanford, but loses to USC to finish 6-3.
  • USC beats UCLA, but loses to Cal to finish 6-3.
  • Arizona beats ASU and Utah, but loses to Washington to finish 6-3

Tiebreaker steps:
  1. ASU would be 1-2; UCLA would be 2-1; USC would be 2-1; Arizona would be 1-2. Arizona and ASU would be eliminated leaving UCLA and USC. USC wins the division based on the head-to-head victory.
Hypothetical No. 4 (five-team tie)
  • ASU splits vs. Oregon State/WSU and loses Arizona to finish 6-3.
  • UCLA beats Stanford, but loses to USC to finish 6-3.
  • USC beats UCLA, but loses to Cal to finish 6-3.
  • Arizona beats Washington and ASU, but loses to Utah to finish 6-3
  • Utah beats Stanford, Arizona and Colorado to finish 6-3.

Tiebreaker steps:
  1. ASU would be 2-2; UCLA would be 2-2; USC would be 2-2; Utah would be 3-1; Arizona would be 1-3. The Utes would be the division champion.

Again, those examples are to show how the tiebreaker process works, not predictions.

For Arizona State to win: Win out and there is nothing to worry about, but if the Sun Devils do drop a game, it's better for it to be against WSU or Oregon State, because those are outside the division. ASU fans should be rooting against UCLA to protect against a potential tie with the Bruins, who hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

For UCLA to win: If the Bruins win out and Arizona State loses at least once, the Bruins will win the division.

For USC to win: Hypothetical No. 2 looks like USC's best route to the division title, and since USC lost to ASU (on a Hail Mary), the Trojans need to avoid a situation where that game would be the deciding factor.

For Arizona to win: If the Wildcats win out, they would need both USC and UCLA both to lose at least once to create, at worst, a two-team tie with ASU.

For Utah to win: See Hypothetical No. 4, which is the Utes' best chance.

Questions? Hit me up on Twitter.
Oregon leapfrogged Florida State in the rankings on Tuesday, which left us wondering: If these two teams were to meet on a neutral field right now, which team would come out with the win?

ACC writer Jared Shanker says it’d be FSU. Pac-12 writer Chantel Jennings thinks it’d be the Ducks. Debate…

Jennings: OK, let’s break this down.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesRunning back Royce Freeman has helped Oregon average over 5 yards per carry this season.
Oregon’s offense versus FSU’s defense: I’d take the Ducks by a landslide. We’ll start up front. The Seminoles are giving up 3.5 yards per rush and that’s against teams that aren’t even in the same realm as the Ducks. FSU has faced just one top-60 rushing team (NC State). Oregon, on the other hand, has the nation’s 22nd-best rushing attack, averaging 5.4 yards per rush. Against the Florida State defense -- with Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and Marcus Mariota taking off when need be -- it’d be chaos. FSU would have to bring guys up to try and contain the run, which would leave gaps open downfield and guys like Devon Allen and Byron Marshall are going to make those plays for the Ducks.

Oregon defense versus FSU’s offense: This is where it gets tricky. The Ducks' defense has struggled a bit and the Seminoles have a pretty talented QB of their own. Up front, I think Oregon would be OK as FSU has only averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt this season (and again, that’s against a weaker schedule). The secondary might struggle a bit more. The Seminoles average 8.5 yards per pass attempt and the Ducks have only played one team (Michigan State) that is currently averaging more.

Special teams: OK, so the Seminoles might have the best kicker in the country. But guess what, he scores three points at a time and Oregon is accustomed to scoring seven points at a time. In the return game, my money is on freshman Charles Nelson. He has been so impressive, averaging 17.6 yards per punt return, including two punts returned for touchdowns. Nelson hasn’t done as well in kick returns (just 19.2 yards per return), but I’ll give the Ducks the benefit of the doubt that he’d be returning more punts than kickoffs…

At the end of the day, I think FSU would be able to score against Oregon, but not as much as the Ducks would score on the ‘Noles. It wouldn’t be a blowout by any means, but a 7-10 point win would be what I’d put my money on.

Shanker: Everyone loves to quote the adage “defense wins championships” but nobody ever wants to apply it -- at least when it comes to the Ducks, with their turf acrobatics and kooky uniform combinations. Once again we’re blinded by the Oregon offense -- or maybe it’s the helmets.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
AP Photo/Steve CannonMario Edwards Jr. and the Florida State defense have shined in the second half of games this season.
But what happens to Oregon in low-scoring games, which championship games tend to be (the past six title games have averaged a total of 46.5 points)? The last time Oregon won a game in which it didn’t score 30 points was 2010. Since then, the Ducks have lost all six games in which they didn’t reach the 30-point plateau.

I’ll get to that Winston guy in a second, but I want to talk about the Florida State defense first. Yes, the FSU defense that ranks 50th in total defense.

The Florida State defense is not what it was a season ago. Nobody would argue that. However, it has the type of talent along the defensive front that has historically caused Oregon problems.

Mario Edwards Jr. was dominant against the spread last January. Few defensive tackles are playing better than Eddie Goldman. Those two defensive stalwarts are built to frustrate spread attacks.

Oregon is ranked 106th in total defense. Worse, the Ducks are ranked 125th in allowing passing plays that gain 10-plus yards, and Florida State has Jameis Winston, who has keyed FSU’s season. The Seminoles average 12 pass plays of at least 10 yards per game, good for ninth nationally.

And when this game is close in the fourth quarter, the smart money is on Winston. He’s been the best crunch-time quarterback, and there’s anecdotal and statistical evidence to support that. His QBR is 90.3 when trailing in the second half.

Faced with stopping the Arizona offense in the second half of a close game, Oregon allowed three touchdown drives of at least 80 yards.

Take away Oklahoma State’s 21-point second half in the opener, and Florida State is allowing just 9.3 points in the second half against FBS teams this season.

Those are the marks of a team that is resilient, which is synonymous with unimpressive, at least when talking about Florida State. The adjective is normally applied to only Oregon, which has rebounded so strongly from the adversity of losing … and winners of low-scoring SEC games (this fulfills the requisite SEC jab).

So, if these two ever met on a neutral field, give me the Seminoles.

Cody Kessler quietly becomes star QB

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
11:00
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LOS ANGELES -- Since the turn of the millennium, there has been no more celebrated spot in college football than quarterback at USC. It's produced two Heisman Trophy winners and household names pretty much every year, even after the NCAA kicked its jackboot through the front door of Heritage Hall. If you are a college football fan of just about any stripe, you know who the USC quarterback is.

So... who is the USC quarterback?

Most Pac-12 fans, after perhaps a short pause, went, "I know this... Kessler... Oh, Cody Kessler!" Just about everyone else drew a blank.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillUSC quarterback Cody Kessler has been able to celebrate 25 touchdown passes this season.
And yet Kessler is turning in a season that pretty much matches -- at least statistically -- the best of the USC QBs, and his name is replacing many of them in the Trojans record book.

Kessler has completed 69.7 percent of his throws while averaging 283 yards per game, with 25 TDs and just two interceptions. He is fourth nationally in both completion percentage and passing efficiency (168.2), and that efficiency number is on pace to break Mark Sanchez's season record of 164.6 set in 2008. Kessler ranks ninth in the nation in ESPN's Total QBR.

Against Power 5 opponents, his passing efficiency (164.7) is second best in the nation, his completion percentage (70.0 percent) is third and his passing TDs (21) are fourth. No quarterback in the nation has thrown as many passes as Kessler and had only two interceptions, and only one besides Kessler has thrown at least 25 TDs with just two interceptions.

Of course, ahead of Kessler in most measures and casting a long shadow is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a frontrunner for the Heisman. That isn't surprising. But it is surprising that in the Pac-12, owner the nation's deepest and most talented class of quarterbacks, it is Kessler who leads the race for second-team All-Pac-12 and not, say, UCLA's Brett Hundley or Arizona State's Taylor Kelly.

Kessler's season has not gone unnoticed, as he is one of five finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, presented to the nation's top senior or fourth-year junior quarterback, along with Mariota and Hundley.

It also should be noted his numbers shouldn't be surprising as he quietly finished the 2013 season on a notable uptick, particularly after Lane Kiffin was fired. After throwing two interceptions at Arizona State last Sept. 28 -- Kiffin was fired at LAX the same night -- Kessler threw 14 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in the final nine games, and just one pick in the final five.

"If you look at the second half of last season, I think Cody really came on with his game," first-year USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. "It just continued to build on that momentum. No. 1 is his confidence, his belief in himself and the guys around him. No. 2, we were implementing a new scheme that fits his skill set. He's been making really good decisions with the football."

This season, Kessler threw a school-record seven touchdown passes against Colorado last month and followed up earlier this month with five against Washington State while reaching 400 yards for the first time in his career.

"He doesn't take any chances, that's the biggest thing," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "They do a lot of things to make sure he's successful out there."

Leach has seen two Kesslers. In 2013, Kessler went 8 of 13 for 41 yards with an interception in a Cougars upset at USC, a notable nail in Kiffin's coffin. It has been noted frequently that Kiffin seemed to prefer big-armed Max Wittek in USC's 2013 QB competition, even though Kessler had decisively outplayed him as Matt Barkley's backup and during their spring and preseason battle. Nonetheless, Kessler has refused to take shots at Kiffin, who seemed reluctant to let Kessler throw the ball downfield, despite a talented crew of receivers.

“We had a good relationship that last year. He obviously gave me the job after a while," Kessler said of Kiffin. “[But], at times, I felt like I could do more and I wasn’t allowed to do more.”

Kessler was freed up when Clay Helton took over play-calling last season and has thrived with Sarkisian calling the Trojans' new up-tempo offense, with Helton remaining as QB coach.

Said Kessler, “I’ve really, really taken the next step with Coach Helton and Coach Sark, studying a lot more film throughout the week, knowing my opponent, knowing what look we’re going to get when we line up in what formation, knowing where I’m going with the ball each and every play.”

While Kessler's numbers have been outstanding, the ultimate measure of all USC quarterbacks is winning championships. At the very least, they need to beat UCLA and Notre Dame.

The junior almost certainly will have to wait until next year to make a run at the Pac-12 title. After a date with California on Thursday, he faces the Bruins and Fighting Irish over the next two weekends.

Here's a guess that if he beats both of them, his Q rating will go up considerably in Los Angeles and across the country.

Kickoff Show: Week 12 (1 ET)

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
10:37
AM ET
Join ESPN.com reporters Edward Aschoff, Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg and host Chantel Jennings as they meet up to talk about the shake-up in the College Football Playoff selection committee's latest rankings and the huge contests set for Week 12. They'll also take your questions.

Pac-12 Week 12 predictions

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
9:00
AM ET


Why Stanford will win: The strength of this Cardinal team is its defense, and with a one-dimensional offense like Utah coming in, Stanford will be able to take care of business. Now, don't expect some high-scoring affair, but the home team will have more points than the away team, which in the #Pac12AfterDark is pretty darn surprising. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Utah will win: Lesser defenses have stopped the Cardinal this season, and Utah doesn’t have a lesser defense. Logic says this will be a tight, low-scoring game. Utah is first nationally in sacks and second in tackles for a loss. Both defenses are great. Neither offense is outstanding. If it’s a three-point game in either direction, I don’t think anyone will be surprised. But the Utes have done a better job turning drives into points. That’s why I’m hesitantly leaning toward Utah. -- Kevin Gemmell

Unanimous picks

Arizona State over Oregon State: The Sun Devils are the better team. Yes, Oregon State has done its fair share of title-run ruining in recent memory, but it's not going to happen this season. The Beavers have too many injuries, and ASU is too strong. -- Chantel Jennings

USC over Cal: Both teams have something to play for -- USC the division title and Cal bowl eligibility -- but the Trojans are the more complete team. Factor in Cal's prolonged lack of success against the Trojans and it's hard to see the Bears pulling off an upset on the road. -- Kyle Bonagura

Arizona over Washington: Thanks primarily to the running backbone that Shaq Thompson has supplied, Washington showed some improvement offensively last week. But that unit still doesn’t pack enough punch to inspire great confidence, especially when the Huskies’ defense is now limping and unable to provide suffocating support. Anu Solomon, Scooby Wright and the gang simply have more firepower, and the Wildcats will back that advantage up in a critical game for them at home. -- David Lombardi
The working assumption going into the first College Football Playoff followed the logic we used in the BCS era: unbeaten Power 5 teams would have an edge over one-loss teams.

You know what they say about assuming.

The College Football Playoff selection committee is telegraphing its plays, making it abundantly clear that winning all your games is no longer good enough. We figured that in the case of Marshall, unbeaten and still unranked.

But when did defending champion Florida State turn into Boise State?

Pac-12 morning links

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
8:00
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I did not attend his funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.

Leading off

Thursday night football is back in the Pac-12 after a four-week hiatus. Remember what happened during the last Thursday night Pac-12 game? We had double overtime. You'd be wise to tune in. If you read our poll yesterday on #Pac12AfterDark, you'll note that Cal and USC -- the two teams playing this evening -- have featured prominently this year in the league's nocturnal nonsense.

There is plenty at stake when the Bears and Trojans kick off at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN. The Trojans are trying to keep pace with ASU and UCLA in the South Division race. Cal is trying to lock up a postseason spot after failing to beat an FBS team last year. Pretty remarkable turnaround.

Here are some stories heading into Thursday night's showdown.

Jeff Faraudo writes that line play is going to be critical for both teams. And Cal defensive lineman Mustafa Jalil is confident his group can hang with USC:
We’ve got to bring the fight to them. It’s a big challenge for the offensive and defensive lines. I’m 100 percent confident in our team. We’re ready to come down and get some of that Trojan.

A few more stories about tonight's matchup. Bowl math

How many Pac-12 teams are going bowling? Too soon to tell. As of this morning, six Pac-12 teams are bowl eligible for seven league-affiliated bowl games. As noted above, Cal can become bowl eligible tonight with a win at USC.

Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News breaks down all of the league's bowl scenarios here.

Should nine teams go bowling, it would be the second year in a row.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Were you at the ASU-Notre Dame game last week? Find and tag yourself. And if you're curious, zoom in on the pressbox, right above the "T" in Sun Devils Stadium and you'll see ESPN's Ted Miller and Ivan Maisel trolling my stories with snarky comments.

#4Pac Heisman debate: If not Mariota, then who?

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
10:00
PM ET
video
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're asking who would be the Pac-12's best Heisman Trophy candidate, if a certain Oregon QB did not exist?

David Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: USC RB Buck Allen

USC running back Javorius "Buck' Allen has been a model of consistency this season. He’s racked up at least 100 rushing yards in eight of the Trojans’ nine games, and he’s leading the Pac-12 at 124.9 yards per game. At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Allen is big enough to operate as a power back when necessary (just ask the Arizona defense, which went along for a few rides), yet athletic enough to really carve up yardage when there is some daylight to work with. Allen proved his prowess early on, when he had 154 yards -- an average of 6.7 per carry -- against a stout Stanford defense that was completely healthy (and otherwise impenetrable) at the time. Since then, Allen has been on a consistent tear that’s pointing to a future career in the NFL. There’s a strong chance that he hasn’t done all of his damage yet, either: Last season against Cal, Allen rushed for 135 yards ... on six carries. The Golden Bears are back on USC’s schedule this Thursday. Buck-le up. There’s a strong chance Allen is about to deliver big again. It’s time to start fully appreciating this guy as a true conference standout.

Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Washington LB Shaq Thompson

There are so many quality players in the Pac-12 that I can see how my colleagues would be able to make great arguments for several other players beyond Marcus Mariota. But I do think that Shaq Thompson must be in this discussion. He starts on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball and is among the most productive players at the two positions. He leads the Huskies in rushing with 456 yards on 61 carries. And on those 61 carries he has only accounted for seven negative rushing yards. That’s ridiculous. Defensively, he has one interception, which he returned for a TD, three fumble returns for touchdowns and 58 tackles and one sack. If we’re talking about a player's overall body of work, a player that has contributed significantly on both offense and defense needs to be at the forefront of that conversation.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: Arizona LB Scooby Wright

Why can’t we talk about a defensive player for the Heisman? Arizona's Scooby Wright leads the Pac-12 in tackles per game, tackles for a loss per game and is second in the conference in total sacks. The first stat makes sense for a middle linebacker. But the other two don’t. Those premium stats behind the line of scrimmage are usually reserved for odd-front hybrids and even-front defensive ends.

In other words, Wright is transcending the traditional role of the middle linebacker. The Pac-12 blog is a huge fan of Eric Kendricks, who might be the best pure middle linebacker in the league. But he’s not wrecking it behind the line of scrimmage the way Wright is.

He’s first nationally in tackles per game among Power 5 conference players, tied for first in tackles for a loss (with Washington’s Hau'oli Kikaha) and second nationally to Kikaha in sacks per game.

I can hear the Shaq Thompson argument coming a mile away. And while the Washington running backer might be the best athlete in the country -- his two-way play has detracted from his defensive numbers in recent weeks. And that’s where he makes his bones.

Like many, I’m fed up sometimes that the Heisman has morphed into the dual-threat quarterback of the year award. But if anyone wants to have a serious conversation about a defensive player for the Heisman – then in 2014, it’s Wright.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Cal QB Jared Goff

The perception of the football program at Cal took quite the hit last year as it suffered a through a season without a FBS win. With that as a backdrop, the Bears’ turnaround -- at 5-4 they’re a win from bowl eligibility -- is nothing short of remarkable. No team in the country has exceeded expectations more than Cal, which is averaging 41.9 points per game.

That’s largely in part to the play of sophomore quarterback Jared Goff, whose stats say he’s the conference’s second-best quarterback behind only Mariota. Goff ranks No. 4 in the country with 27 touchdown passes (to just four interceptions), No. 4 in passing yards and his QBR (76.7) puts him No. 2 in the Pac-12. It’s not just numbers either. His stature and physical skills make Goff the type of player that NFL scouts are likely salivating over already, but he’s still got another season before he can even consider making the jump.

If Cal had Stanford’s defense, Goff would be a major player in the Heisman discussion.

Mailbag: How to clinch the South

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
8:00
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag, we've got fun 'n' games. We've got everything you want, honey we know the names. And if you feel compelled, follow me on Twitter.

Gary in Tucson, Arizona, writes: Scenario for Pac-12 south teams to win the South are what ? Also, who controls their own destiny?

Kevin Gemmell: OK. Let me see if I can do the math on this.

The most obvious scenario is ASU wins out. With one conference loss, they control their destiny. If the Sun Devils win out, the South is theirs. If they lose, things get tricky.

UCLA, with two conference losses, would have to win out. And the Bruins have a head-to-head tie breaker over the Sun Devils. So if both teams finish with two conference losses, UCLA would win the South by virtue of that tie breaker.

Then we have USC, also with a pair of conference losses. The Trojans need to finish ahead of ASU, because the Sun Devils have a head-to-head tie breaker. They would have to win out, which includes beating UCLA. That would drop the Bruins to three conference losses and out of contention.

Then we have the Wildcats, also with two conference losses, to USC and UCLA. Arizona would have to win out, finish ahead of UCLA and USC and beat ASU in the Territorial Cup. So Arizona fans are rooting for Cal Thursday night and Stanford on Nov. 28. It doesn’t matter to Arizona who wins between USC and UCLA. But both LA schools could still close out with three conference losses.

I think that makes sense …

Also, Kyle Bonagura is going to be hitting on this a little more tomorrow in the blog.

Sean in Tempe, Arizona, writes: (Question shortened for space): Honorable PAC Blog, Thank you for your hard work and not hating my team anymore, however I would like to discuss the apparent dismissal of ASU's schedule by the SI writer in the morning links. ASU has a worse résumé than Oregon, Bama, or Baylor? Aren't TCU and ASU the only teams that have played 5 top 25 teams (at the time, I know) and come out 4-1? Is our loss worse? yes, and our team was punished for it. Baylor has played ZERO teams out of conference, and lost to an unranked WVU. This makes no sense, ASU has a top 10 win, like Oregon, and additionally has played 5 ranked teams in 6 weeks, with a 6th ranked opponent waiting at the end of the schedule and a potential match up with a top 5 opponent for # 7.

Kevin Gemmell: I’m with you, Sean. We’ve been saying it for weeks, and will continue to say it. A one-loss Pac-12 champion does not, will not, cannot be left out of the playoff.

As you note, ASU’s schedule is tougher than people are giving it credit for. As of now, the Sun Devils have four wins over ranked opponents -- and three of those four are against top 20 teams. Granted, two of those teams have fallen from the rankings -- which is a by-product of the league beating up on itself.

But if ASU wins out -- including beating Oregon (which has already locked up the North) in the Pac-12 championship game -- it would have gone 6-1 against ranked teams, including wins over a pair of top 10 teams.

Leaving ASU out would be completely unjustifiable. Ted and I hit on that, by the way, in this week’s spreecast.

It bodes well for the Pac-12 that a pair of one-loss teams exist in separate divisions. If both win out, then the Pac-12 championship becomes an elimination game. Which would be the ideal scenario for the league and its fans.

Zach in Bethesda, Maryland, writes: I'm wondering what you see as the major difference between what Coach Pete walked into vs Mora/Graham/RichRod. The latter three coaches have managed to turn things around rather quickly - not only in the win/loss column, but also beating top level teams. I realize UW lost arguably the top RB/TE in the nation, along with a record setting passer, but UCLA/ASU/UA were also teams who fired their previous coaches - UW was not. While there's still a chance (albeit unlikely after what we've seen) that the Huskies win 9 or 10 games this year, they have yet to show that they can beat a legitimately ranked team.

Kevin Gemmell: There are a few differences. First, all three of those coaches you mentioned walked into the Pac-12 South – which three years ago was a lawless frontier with no real power structure. Its marquee program – USC – was still stifled by unjust NCAA sanctions and Utah and Colorado were one year in and trying to find their footing.

The reason all three came into the South was because the South was in turmoil – hence the three fired coaches.

The North already had a pair of established programs in Stanford and Oregon. The Cardinal have dropped this season – but they still beat Washington.

Secondly, as you note, the Huskies lost tremendous production in Bishop Sankey and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and tremendous leadership in Keith Price. That’s a triple-threat not easily replaced, nor has it been replaced this season.

Finally, it all starts with quarterbacks. Jim Mora inherited Brett Hundley and has developed him into what should be a first-round draft pick. Todd Graham inherited Taylor Kelly. True, he started out third on the depth chart, but Graham and Mike Norvell developed him into an all-conference player. Rich Rodriguez inherited a veteran in Matt Scott and got by on B.J. Denker while Anu Solomon developed.

Petersen isn’t working with his guys yet. And he might not fully be for a couple of years. But the guy is a two-time national coach of the year for a reason. He’s got coaching chops. I’m excited to see where this program is in four or five years.
Luke Falk will always be referred to as a former walk-on.

It's accurate, but deceiving, and after the redshirt freshman threw for 471 yards and five touchdowns in his debut as Washington State's starting quarterback, there are probably plenty of coaches around the country wondering how they missed on him.

There was a time when it was hard for Falk to understand, too. Especially after the way the recruiting process began.

When he boarded a plane from Utah headed for Tallahassee, Florida, during the summer of 2012, Falk was anxious to get back on campus at Florida State. A year prior, he sat in the office of Dameyune Craig, the Seminoles' quarterbacks coach at the time, and received his first scholarship offer.

"He told me, ‘We want to be the first to offer you,'" Falk said. "I thought the offers would roll in after that."

[+] EnlargeWashington State's Luke Falk
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesLuke Falk completed 44 of 61 passes for 471 yards with 5 touchdowns and no interceptions in his debut as Washington State's starting quarterback.
But because Falk played in just two games as a junior after transferring from Logan (Utah) High to Oaks Christian in Southern California, and then back to Logan, they didn't. He was off the recruiting radar.

It was disappointing for Falk, but at least he had Florida State. Or so he thought.

"I went down for the camp thinking I still had the offer and they pretty much said, ‘No, you don't have the offer anymore. You didn't have junior year film,'" Falk said. "It was kind of surprising. It was a bad plane ride for me back home, but it only motivated me more."

The junior season is without question the most important for a quarterback looking to get recruited, so even after Falk threw 3,618 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior, most schools were already set. He received offers from Idaho and Wyoming, but those weren't as appealing as the opportunity to receive an Ivy League education and play without an athletic scholarship at Cornell. He settled on the Big Red, but things changed once coach Kent Austin left to become the coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League.

His options remained limited.

"I kind of got my offer pulled from Idaho with the new staff, so that's kind of embarrassing," Falk said. "Recruiting was real rough."

Luckily Washington State coach Mike Leach came into the picture late with an offer to walk on with the Cougars. Falk liked that Logan ran a similar system to Leach's Air Raid and felt comfortable after meeting with Leach that he'd have a fair chance to compete with the Cougars' scholarship quarterbacks.

"When I first came up [to Pullman] on that visit as a walk on, I met with Coach Leach," Falk said. "He said, ‘I promise you, we'll give you an equal opportunity to compete for the job.' Really right there, looking in his eye, I knew he was telling me the truth and he stayed true to his word. I got equal reps and equal opportunity."

Falk arrived in the same class as Tyler Bruggman, the country's No. 22-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2013, but largely outplayed him during the spring. His emergence played a role in Bruggman's decision to transfer in July, leaving Falk as the primary backup to Connor Halliday after last year's No. 2, Austin Apodaca, also transferred in February. Shortly before the season began -- more than three years after Florida State offered -- Falk was put on scholarship.

He'd have preferred that his opportunity for playing time came under different circumstances, but once Halliday, WSU's all-time leading passer, was lost for the season with a broken ankle on Nov. 1, Falk stepped in without any noticeable drop-off.

That came as no surprise to Leach, who'd seen enough in practice to expect as much.

"I thought he definitely would [succeed right away]," Leach said. "We saw that in camp, but then I also think that mentally he was probably further along than we expected even."

In that department, Leach said Falk stacks up well against the long list of high-profile quarterbacks to play in his system.

"As far as being calm and taking the reigns of things, he might be ahead of all of them," Leach said. "He's way up there with that."

Color Oregon State coach Mike Riley impressed, as well. The Beavers had no answers as Falk played his way to Pac-12 Player of the Week honors.

"I thought he was really poised and very, very sharp," Riley said. "He got the ball out of his hands quickly so his reads were decisive and he put the ball in a great location. Very efficient. I thought he ran their offense really, really well for a guy that hadn't played too much."

Leach stopped short of calling Falk the Cougars' starting quarterback of the future, citing other talented players in the program, but if one start is any indication of what's the come, the Cougars have no reason to worry.
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Alabama continues its long run in the No. 1 spot of the class rankings, but for the first time in a little over three months there is a new team sitting behind the Crimson Tide. Georgia moved up to the No. 2 spot after picking up its 13th commitment from an ESPN 300 prospect with the addition of Rashad Roundtree. The top-five safety prospect is the fourth secondary commitment in the Bulldogs?? class. A tall, athletic, and aggressive defender, Roundtree could potentially contribute early and develop into a well-rounded player. His best fit looks to be at strong safety, but with his range, size and physical nature he could potentially offer some versatility to Georgia??s back end.

While Bulldogs defensive addition helped them rise, a decommitment from an ESPN 300 LB led to Michigan slipping. The Wolverines?? class still has five ESPN 300 prospects, but their total number of commitments has dropped to eight and the loss of Darrin Kirkland Jr. is their second ESPN 300 decommitment in three weeks.

Nebraska saw a rise in the rankings after dipping into Louisiana for the second time in this class to land ESPN 300 WR Stanley Morgan, who is a good fit for the Cornhuskers, bringing good size, some playmaking ability and a competitive temperament to Lincoln.

Inside the rankings

Since coming to Kentucky prior to the 2013 season, Mark Stoops and his staff have brought an entirely new approach to recruiting in Lexington. The Wildcats are ahead of schedule in Year 2 and one game away from being bowl eligible, which would pay huge dividends in December when it comes time to host prospects.

The process began by taking a pro personnel approach to recruiting when it came to prioritizing staff meeting times and evaluation by coaches and support staff. In other words, the evaluation process of all prospects is a 365-day-a-year requirement when coaches and staff are not on the road. This is the approach he brought over from Florida State after working under Jimbo Fisher. Secondly, Kentucky needed to expand its footprint which is why Stoops was the perfect choice to lead this change. The state of Kentucky does not produce enough top-tier talent to support an 85-man roster which forces the staff to go outside its borders. Traditionally this would mean going south, and UK still will, but now the movement has moved north into Ohio where Stoops has roots.

In 2014, Kentucky signed 11 players from Ohio, and currently has seven players committed in the 2015 class from Ohio. Their home state will always be the top priority and the Wildcats have won that battle as of late with the signing of QB Drew Barker, DE Jason Hatcher and DT Matt Elam, but the roster needs support from a net that more widely cast.

There is renewed enthusiasm and leadership under Stoops, a renovated stadium and millions of dollars being devoted to facilities enhancements which could make for a bright future in Lexington.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

#Pac12AfterDark is amazing theater

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
2:00
PM ET
#Pac12AfterDark means different things to different people. It’s a warm kiss goodnight, or a swift kick to the shin (among other places). It’s the perfect Christmas present, or a stocking soaked with lighter fluid, burned to ashes, put in a blender and then burned again. Still for others, it’s simply mainlining Red Bull to stay awake to watch their favorite team.

But everyone can agree on this: #Pac12AfterDark means chaos.

The popular hashtag has become as much a staple on Saturday nights as SNL. And sometimes on Thursday and Friday nights, too.

It represents the far-out finishes, the freakish fumbles, the mind-melting marys and the prayers -- some answered, some not -- of the teams that clash under the lights. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Other times, it’s simply a beautiful disaster.

#Pac12AfterDark has provided college football fans – even those brave enough to endure the 11 p.m. ET kickoffs -- with some of the most exciting and dramatic moments of the 2014 season.

Here now are some of the top #Pac12AfterDark moments of the season.

The most recent -- and clearly most bizarre -- was Kaelin Clay’s unforced fumble at the 1-yard line last week against Oregon. We all know the story by now. Instead of going up 14-0, Joe Walker returned the fumble 100 yards to tie the game at 7-7. That one play perfectly encapsulated everything that #Pac12AfterDark is all about.



Arizona State is sixth in the most recent College Football Playoff Rankings. But the Sun Devils wouldn’t be there had it not been for the “Jael Mary,” a 46-yard touchdown pass from Mike Bercovici to Jaelen Strong as time expired to give ASU a 38-34 win over USC at the Coliseum. The Sun Devils trailed 34-25 with 3:02 left. Then the chaos really started.

Perhaps the origins of #Pac12AfterDark can be traced to a 10 p.m. ET start on Sept. 20, when Arizona scored 36 – 36! – points in the fourth quarter to erase a 15-point deficit and top the visiting Cal Bears 49-45 on the #HillMary. Anu Solomon aired out a 47-yard bomb to Austin Hill, who came down with it as the clock ran out. But #Pac12AfterDark can be fickle. A couple of weeks later, trailing 28-13 going into the fourth quarter, the Wildcats battled all the way back against the Trojans, recovered an onside kick, but lost 28-26 when Casey Skowron missed a 36-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.

SportsNation

What was the craziest #Pac12AfterDark moment this season?

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As we just learned from the Wildcats, #Pac12AfterDark can taketh away, but can also giveth. A couple of weeks after suffering the excruciating loss to the Wildcats, Cal found itself in a shootout against the Cougs in Pullman. That was a 10:30 ET kickoff, by the way. Connor Halliday threw for a record 734 yards and six touchdowns. And with 3:18 left in the game, trailing 60-59 (yeah, it’s the Pac-12), he drove his team down to the Cal 4-yard line. After failing to find the end zone twice (though replay might tell a different story on Gerard Wicks’ run, #Pac12officials), Quentin Breshears missed a 19-yard field goal with 15 seconds left that would have given the Cougs a 62-60 win.

Another late kick, another game involving USC. It started with Utah’s Davion Orphey returning a backwards pass 53 yards for a touchdown (a pass that everyone but Orphey and the officials, yay #Pac12officials, thought was a forward pass). There was Adoree’ Jackson’s 100-yard kick return and his strip of Tim Patrick at the goal line. Plenty of weird. But the dramatic crescendo was Travis Wilson connecting with Clay on a 1-yard touchdown pass with eight seconds left to lock up a 24-21 win.

And so we come full circle from Clay to Clay. One week #Pac12AfterDark is your best friend. The next, your arch rival. It cannot, will not be contained. If you’re kicking off in the Pac-12 after the sun goes down, all you can do is hope the drama is minimal.

But no promises.
It’s still three and a half weeks until College Football Playoff Selection Day, but no prediction in college football is ever premature, as evidenced by every unofficial offer given out to 13-year-old “prodigies.”

And so this week -- along with a fair amount of politicking -- brings a few shakeups in the rankings and a few fan bases energized (both positively and negatively) about what’s going on in the college football landscape.

No. 2 Oregon and No. 6 Arizona State are on course to meet in the Pac-12 championship game, and presuming both teams win out, the winner of that game should be a lock in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

[+] EnlargeCameron Smith
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsArizona State moved up three spots in this week's CFP rankings after sprinting past a ranked Notre Dame team on Saturday.
However, controversy still abounds as fans wonder why certain teams are ahead of others in the current rankings and how much perception vs. reality really has to do with it all.

Oregon jumped Florida State for the No. 2 position in this week's CFP rankings after beating a depleted but ranked Utah team while the Seminoles scored a comeback win over 4-6 Virginia. OK, that makes sense, and the Pac-12 can be happy it's finally getting the recognition it deserves.

But no conference fan base can ever be completely happy, and so the question is posed: What about Arizona State, the headliner in the Pac-12 South?

The Sun Devils jumped three spots in the rankings with a big home win over ranked Notre Dame. However, they still sit behind No. 5 Alabama (which beat LSU in overtime last weekend -- yes, LSU is ranked one spot higher than Notre Dame) and No. 4 TCU (which beat No. 13 Kansas State last weekend but has a loss to No. 7 Baylor).

Nothing is perfect, and since this is a process based on human evaluation, there are going to be differing opinions. We can expect this.

But what do the coaches have to say about it all?

“To me, I think you need to look at strength of schedule and who the opponents are,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “Also, how you’re playing at that time. ... So many people’s win-loss record can have scheduled three real easy nonconference games and improve [their] win-loss record real easily.”

Who could Graham possibly be talking about?

Hmmm ... let’s give it one guess.

Maybe, just maybe, Graham is talking about Florida State. The Seminoles are ranked No. 3 in this week’s committee rankings, three spots ahead of the Sun Devils. However, when looking at the common opponent -- which the committee has said it would consider -- there seems to be quite a disparity.

Last weekend Arizona State beat Notre Dame by 22 points. Yes, three-plus touchdowns. That’s a pretty solid margin of victory. However, Florida State only beat the Fighting Irish by four points.

“I think they should take into account that that’s the No. 1 team in the nation [Notre Dame] almost beat; they took them down to the wire,” Graham said of the Irish. “I think ... even though they came back, we still had a dominating victory over them.”

Graham said he believes the two biggest factors in the committee’s decision should be the strength of schedule and which team wins the conference.

Currently, both his team and the team he was previously alluding to (cough, cough, FSU) are poised to play in their respective conference championships. So they’re both good in that category.

But where the Sun Devils get the advantage over the Noles is in strength of schedule. Arizona State has faced off against three opponents currently in the top 25 of the committee’s rankings, amassing a 2-1 record against that trio. The Sun Devils beat Notre Dame and Utah while dropping -- in terrible fashion -- a game to UCLA. If they can make it to the Pac-12 championship game, they’ll have the chance to face No. 2 Oregon and truly make a statement.

Florida State, on the other hand, has faced two top-25 opponents -- No. 18 Notre Dame and No. 19 Clemson -- and walked away with close wins in both. FSU would likely meet No. 21 Duke in the ACC championship game, giving it another top-25 matchup on its resume. But really, are we comparing Duke and Oregon football right now?

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich would certainly have something to say about that.

His team has gone from No. 5 to No. 4 to No. 2 in the three weeks the committee’s rankings have existed. That was following wins over Cal, Stanford and Utah, only the latter of which is ranked in the top 25.

Even so, it sounds as though Helfrich isn’t exactly sure what will be weighed when it comes to his team’s schedule. Yes, Oregon has a loss, but it comes with a caveat -- the Ducks lost at a time when they were starting a true freshman and former walk-on at both offensive tackle positions. And yes, the committee has said it would take injuries into account. Since then, left tackle Jake Fisher has returned and the offensive numbers have greatly improved.

The Ducks are 3-1 in competition versus current top-25 teams, with wins over No. 11 UCLA, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 23 Utah and a loss to No. 14 Arizona.

Overall, this seems to be kind of what everyone expected with the first season of the College Football Playoff -- in that no one really knew what to expect, so everyone should be prepared for anything and everything.

It’ll be up to the committee to choose what it values. At the end of the day, no one -- except those committee members -- really knows how it’ll go down, and the best thing the Pac-12 contenders can do is keep winning.

“You can say you’re not going to count certain things or you are going to count certain things, but at some point someone is making an individual, subjective decision and something is going to come into play,” Helfrich said. “The biggest thing is winning versus losing. I don’t know. I don’t know the percentage to which that will actually affect anything.”

And you know what, Mark, neither does anyone else for sure.

Pac-12 playoff tracker: Nov. 12

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
9:00
AM ET
We say goodbye to Utah, but four Pac-12 teams remain in playoff contention.

Each of those four -- No. 2 Oregon, No. 6 Arizona State, No. 11 UCLA and No. 14 Arizona -- moved up in this week's College Football Playoff rankings and the rest of the country is taking notice.

Here's where they stand:

Oregon

Record: 9-1 (6-1)
Rank: 2
Next big obstacle: Dec. 5, Pac-12 championship

Reason for optimism: After the Ducks jumped undefeated Florida State to move to No. 2, it's clear the selection committee is impressed. With games against the Pac-12's worst two teams -- Colorado and Oregon State -- left on the regular-season schedule, it's hard to envision the Ducks tripping up before the Pac-12 championship game. A win against the South champion means a trip to the playoff. Take that to the bank.

Cause for concern: Injuries took their toll on Oregon during its 51-27 win against No. 23 Utah on Saturday. The Ducks lost tight end Pharaoh Brown for the season (leg), center Hroniss Grasu also left with a leg injury (his status is unclear) and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a toe injury (he is expected to return versus Colorado). One other big concern: Arizona State. Should the Sun Devils win out, they'd be a big test in the Pac-12 championship.

Who they'll be rooting for this week: Arizona

Arizona State

Record: 8-1 (5-1)
Rank: 6
Next big obstacle: Nov. 28 at No. 14 Arizona

Reason for optimism: Every Pac-12 team is ranked higher by the selection committee than the AP poll, which shows the committee values the conference. If the Sun Devils win out, do they leave out the conference champion, fresh off a win over Oregon? Doubtful. The path to the playoff is there and if Arizona State takes care of business, it should get a shot.

Cause for concern: ASU hasn't been without its close calls along the way -- Hail Mary win vs. USC, overtime win vs. Utah -- and the remaining schedule is no walk in the park. Oregon State should be a relatively easy win on Saturday, but WSU isn't an easy out if its offense is clicking and playing at Arizona will be one of the biggest games in the conference this year. And, oh yeah, Oregon.

Who they'll be rooting for this week: Arizona

UCLA

Record: 8-2 (5-2)
Rank: 11
Next big obstacle: Nov. 22 vs. USC

Reason for optimism: UCLA's seven-spot rise in the College Football Playoff rankings was the most of any team. Because of their 62-27 win against Arizona State, the Bruins have the Sun Devils to thank for their unexpected rise. That head-to-head win would serve as a tiebreaker if UCLA and Arizona State finish as the only Pac-12 South teams with two losses, which is what would need to happen for UCLA to sneak into the playoff.

Cause for concern: Even if they beat USC and Stanford to finish the regular season 10-2, would that be enough? Probably not. Too many dominoes would have to fall elsewhere for the Bruins to have a realistic chance.

Who they'll be rooting for this week: Oregon State

Arizona

Record: 7-2 (3-2)
Rank: 14
Next big obstacle: Nov. 22 at No. 23 Utah

Reason for optimism: Arizona has games against two ranked teams remaining (Arizona State and Utah) before a potential meeting with Oregon in the title game. Should they close the year with three wins against ranked teams, the Wildcats would stack up well against other top teams in the country. Plus, they've already got the best win so far this year -- against Oregon.

Cause for concern: There are nine teams ranked ahead of Arizona that would not be in the playoff if it was played today. Not exactly an ideal situation for the Wildcats' playoff hopes. Like UCLA, there is too much out of their control to expect a playoff berth.

Who they'll be rooting for this week: Arizona State.

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