Rich Rodriguez, Larry CokerIcon SportswireRich Rodriguez and Arizona should be wary of the challenge posed by Larry Coker's UTSA team.
When you first saw UTSA on Arizona's 2014 schedule, you probably had two reactions: 1. Who the heck is "ut-sa?" 2. Look at the Wildcats loading up their schedule with patsies again.

We're now guessing that perception has changed, at least for folks who bothered to check out last week's scoreboard. The ole Roadrunners of UTSA, coached by former Miami head man Larry Coker, went into Houston's fancy new stadium and slammed the Cougars 27-7.

UTSA held Houston, among the preseason AAC favorites, to 208 total yards. The Cougars had 26 yards rushing. Check that: It was minus-26 yards rushing, much of the backward portion coming from four sacks. The Roadrunners forced six turnovers.

Call it a horrible open house for the Cougars if you will, but the Roadrunners certainly look like the nation's best program -- at least in the category of programs playing just their fourth year of football.

When you toss in that Arizona is going to be on the road Thursday with a redshirt freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon, making his second career start and first in front of unfriendly fans, well, this one looks a little dangerous. Coach Rich Rodriguez, whose team beat UTSA 38-13 last season, said the Wildcats are fully focused and are aware this doesn't figure to be a cakewalk.

"Looking at the Houston score and watching the film over the past few days has got our guys' attention," Rodriguez said. "It wasn't just a big win. It was a big win on the road in a tough environment. They completely took over that game."

While the Roadrunners aren't loaded with talent, they are loaded with experience. Phil Steele, in fact, rated them the nation's most experienced team, with 19 starters back as well as a large group of 2013 letter winners, including 18 fifth-year seniors.

On the plus side for the Wildcats: One of the new starters is quarterback Tucker Carter. Though he's a senior who saw action last year, the JC transfer doesn't have much more experience than Solomon.

Solomon had an auspicious debut against UNLV. After a slow start, he regrouped to complete 25 of 44 passes for 425 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 50 yards. He led a Wildcats offense that piled up 787 yards, a school record.

While a first road start for a youngster is typically a concern, Solomon has a reputation of being unflappable.

“He’s always been calm and collected and never gets too flustered," offensive tackle Mickey Baucus said. "He had a couple of overthrows in the first half, and then he settled down and had the game he had. He reminds me a lot of Nick Foles, because he never got too rattled when the game wasn’t going his way. I think Anu is going to be fine. He is going to have a calm and collected attitude and he’ll do well.”

When Arizona scheduled UTSA, getting two home games for this visit, it probably seemed like a walkover. Now it seems like a test, particularly of a young QB's poise.
The Stanford-USC game has evolved into one of the best rivalries in the conference, if not the country. It seems like every year both teams up the ante on thrills and heartbreak. This year, the Trojans head to Stanford ranked No. 14, while the Cardinal are No. 13.

While this series dates back to 1905 -- and there have been plenty of outstanding games along the way (Jim Plunkett in ’70, the tie in ’79), the series became a different animal starting in 2007 when the 41-point underdog Cardinal shocked USC at home.

Here are snapshots of the ’10-’13 games. Earlier today we looked back at '07 through '09.

Oct. 9, 2010

Stanford Stadium
     
  • Final score: No. 16 Stanford 37, USC 35
  • The setup: After trading blowouts the previous two seasons, the 2010 game kicked off what would be a fantastic string of close finishes.
  • Key play: Stanford’s Nate Whitaker connected on a 30-yard field goal as time expired.
  • Remember this? Whitaker almost wasn’t the hero of this game … but the goat. He had missed an extra point after Stanford went up 34-28 on a touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to Doug Baldwin. The Trojans took a 35-34 lead with 1:08 to play. But Luck drove the Cardinal 62 yards in seven plays to set up Whitaker’s game-winner. There was also this (I had to watch at least five times).
  • Quotable: "I knew I had to make it," Whitaker said. "There wasn't too much else going through [my mind] except it was my chance to redeem myself and give the team what it needed."
Oct. 29, 2011
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
  • Final score: No. 4 Stanford 56, No. 20 USC 48 (3OT)
  • The setup: Luck had returned for another season, and the Cardinal were cruising under new head coach David Shaw. The Trojans had been stunned earlier in the year by Arizona State but were still considered a very formidable opponent -- and by far Stanford’s greatest test to date of the season.
  • Key play: With Stanford leading 56-48 in triple overtime, Curtis McNeal was hit at the line of scrimmage by Terrence Stephens. The ball flew forward out of McNeal’s hands and into the end zone, where A.J. Tarpley jumped on it end the game. McNeal's costly fumble overshadowed a phenomenal 20-carry, 145-yard performance with two touchdowns.
  • Remember this? It almost didn’t get to overtime. With the score knotted at 27-27 and 3:51 to play, Nickell Robey intercepted Luck and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown, giving the Trojans a 34-27 lead with 3:08 to play. That also prompted an announcement reminding fans not to rush the field following the game. Stanford players later recalled hearing the announcement and being quite perturbed at the assumption.
  • Quotable: "No excuse, I just fumbled," said McNeal. ”I feel like beating myself up, but I've just got to keep pushing. I'm going to face worse things in life. I just have to keep my head up."
Sept. 15, 2012
Stanford Stadium

     
  • Final score: No. 21 Stanford 21, No. 2 USC 14
  • The set up: The Trojans started the year No. 1, and Matt Barkley had returned for his unfinished business. Having lost three straight to the Cardinal, this was supposed to be the year the Trojans seniors broke the Stanford curse. The Andrew Luck-less Cardinal were expected to take a step back. They didn’t.
  • Key play: Josh Nunes dropped a perfect ball to Zach Ertz, who made one cut and went 37 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, putting Stanford up 21-14 with 10:20 left in the game.
  • Remember this? In the final eight minutes of the first half, there were four interceptions (two from Barkley and two from Nunes), and three of them came on three consecutive plays. Points off of turnovers? Zero.
  • Quotable: "It's not the end of the world," said USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "We'll get back on the plane, go home and we'll get better."
Nov. 16, 2013
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

  • Final score: USC 20, No. 5 Stanford 17
  • The set up: On the heels of Stanford’s 26-20 win over No. 2 Oregon, the Cardinal were in the driver’s seat for a second-straight conference title. USC had faced a tad of turmoil with the firing of Kiffin (his quotable from last season feels more ominous now, doesn’t it?) and rebounded under Ed Orgeron. The Cardinal would eventually win that second-straight conference crown. But only because they got help from Arizona. Not because of what happened in Los Angeles.
  • Key play: USC kicker Andre Heidari connected on a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining to put the Trojans ahead 20-17.
  • Remember this? The Cardinal failed to score on their final six drives -- including a 75-yard drive down to the USC 6-yeard line, where Kevin Hogan was intercepted by Dion Bailey.
  • Quotable: "Obviously there's going to be some decisions made here after we play UCLA,'' Orgeron said. "That's out of my hands.''

NFL scouts eye Williams vs. Peat

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
1:00
PM ET
Leonard Williams, Andrus PeatAP Photo, Icon SMILeonard Williams and Andrus Peat are among the top NFL prospects in all of college football.
STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford has become a frequent stop for NFL scouts traversing the country for the top college talent. For coach David Shaw, who spent nine years as an assistant coach in the NFL, those are visits he enjoys.

The conversations help Shaw gauge where the stock of his own players stands, and perhaps more importantly, give him informed opinions on players he’ll be charged with scheming against. One of his major takeaways is especially relevant this week with No. 14 USC coming to The Farm to play No. 13 Stanford.

“You ask [the scouts] the question ‘Who is the best offensive player you've seen? Who is the best defensive player you've seen?'" Shaw said. “Some of them said [Stanford receiver Ty Montgomery] on the offense. Some said some other guys, which is great.

“All of them said Leonard Williams at USC [on defense]. It's not just me, everybody sees it.”

Williams rolled his ankle in practice Tuesday and didn’t practice Wednesday, but even at less than 100 percent, the 6-foot-5, 300-pound physical freak will have the Cardinal’s full attention on Saturday. The Stanford coaching staff learned its lesson a year ago in USC’s 20-17 upset in Los Angeles, when Williams played despite a lingering shoulder injury.

“We didn't think he'd play last year,” Stanford offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “Not only did he play, but he played in a big way. He adversely affected our game plan. I can tell you that.”

And that performance came against a veteran offensive line that sent four players to NFL training camps this year, including a pair of draft picks in guard David Yankey and tackle Cam Fleming. This time, Stanford is still green in trenches. Talented, sure, but one game together against UC Davis wouldn’t exactly qualify as ideal preparation to face a player of Williams’ caliber.

That’s where Andrus Peat comes in.

What Williams represents as an NFL prospect on the defensive line, Peat does on the offensive line. At 6-foot-7 and 316 pounds, the junior is a prototypical NFL left tackle and also a potential top-10 pick in the 2015 draft.

“He’s a fantastic player and prospect,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Knew about him coming out of high school. Went to Stanford and they have just continued to develop him like they’ve done with the linemen in the past. I think he’s obviously become, if not the leader, then one of the leaders of that offensive unit and it shows in his play, but it also shows in his demeanor and body language.”

A year ago, there weren’t many opportunities to see Williams, who lines up at multiple spots on the line, and Peat go head-to-head, but it figures to happen at times on Saturday. When it does, count on NFL scouts to be watching closely.

“I can't wait,” said Bloomgren, who also coaches the offensive line. “Every chance they get to line up on each other, I hope USC puts him there and I don't think our guy will back down and I don't think any of our guys would back down from him. But that's going to be a pretty epic battle when 70 [Peat] goes against 94 [Williams].”

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay ranks Williams as the No. 2 draft-eligible prospect for next year’s draft, but, like Peat, Williams has another year of eligibility remaining if he chooses to use it. McShay’s evaluation of Williams projects him at defensive end in the NFL and colleague Mel Kiper Jr. agrees.

“If Williams doesn't wow you with quickness on the edge, realize he's 290-plus pounds and won't get pushed around even if he moves inside,” Kiper wrote. “At his size, he's a special athlete who could line up as a defensive end and drive a tackle back or line up on the outside shoulder of a guard and create problems with power and quickness as well. He's the kind of disruptive, versatile lineman who can succeed in any system.”

Both McShay and Kiper rank Peat among the nation's top-10 prospects for next year, but it's still too early to forecast whether Peat or Williams will head to the NFL after this season.

For Shaw, the Peat-Williams matchup is intriguing, but he'd just assume any future meetings between the two players occur on Sundays.

"Hopefully Leonard will be a top-5 pick this year and hopefully Andrus will be a top-5 pick next year," Shaw said wishfully.

Even when Williams is lined up away from Peat, it should provide for good theater. Stanford's offensive line is as highly touted a unit as any in recent memory despite its collective lack of game experience. How it fares against USC's front seven should provide some insight into how the Cardinal's season will progress.
The Stanford-USC game has evolved into one of the best rivalries in the conference, if not the country. It seems like every year both teams up the ante on thrills and heartbreak. This year, the Trojans head to Stanford ranked No. 14, while the Cardinal are No. 13.

Though this series dates back to 1905 -- and there have been plenty of outstanding games along the way (Jim Plunkett in ’70, the tie in ’79), the series became a different animal starting in 2007 when the 41-point underdog Cardinal shocked USC at home.

Here are snapshots of the '07-'09 games. We'll look at '10 through '13 later today.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Matt SaylesPete Carroll, left, and Jim Harbaugh had some memorable exchanges while in the Pac-12.
Oct. 6, 2007
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

  • Final score: Stanford 24, No. 2 USC 23
  • The setup: It was Year 1 of the Jim Harbaugh era at Stanford. The Trojans were ranked No. 2 in the country and were riding a 35-game home winning streak. Stanford entered the game with a 1-3 record, having been blown out already by UCLA, Oregon and ASU.
  • Key play: Making his first career start, Tavita Pritchard connected on a 10-yard touchdown pass with Mark Bradford on fourth-and-goal with 49 seconds left to give the 41-point underdog Cardinal the victory. Pritchard, half jumping/half throwing off his back foot, just tossed it up and Bradford came down with it.
  • Remember this? In order to get into the USC red zone, Pritchard first had to overcome a fourth-and-20 at the USC 29. His go-to man was Richard Sherman, who made a 20-yard reception to set up first-and-goal at the USC 9-yard-line.
  • Quotable: "To give it up like this is a shame, it is crushing to me," said USC coach Pete Carroll. "Give credit to Stanford. They did a heck of a job and we made a ton of mistakes. We need to find ways to make plays and go back and find the right combinations."
Nov. 15, 2008
Stanford Stadium

  • Final score: No. 6 USC 45, Stanford 23
  • The setup: The Cardinal were slowly making gains under Harbaugh. Nothing earth-shattering yet, but getting better. The Trojans had won six straight (a stunning loss at Oregon State in September ultimately kept USC out of the BCS championship game) and were looking for some revenge.
  • Key play: Already leading 31-17, the Trojans delivered the knockout blow when Mark Sanchez connected with Stanley Havili on a 50-yard touchdown strike to put the Trojans ahead 38-17 halfway through the fourth quarter.
  • Remember this? The Cardinal had just gone up 17-10 in the second quarter on Anthony Kimble's 1-yard run. On the ensuing kickoff, C.J. Gable went 93 yards to knot the score at 17-17 and steal back Stanford’s thunder. The Trojans would go on to outscore the Cardinal 28-6 in the second half.
  • Quotable: "I felt like we owed them something," linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "They came into our house and got one from us. I definitely feel like we owed them a favor."
Nov. 14, 2009
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

  • Final score: No. 25 Stanford 55, No. 11 USC 21
  • The setup: A plucky young quarterback named Andrew Luck took the helm for the Cardinal, who were on the upswing. Having already dropped a close game to Washington and a blowout loss to Oregon, the Trojans were out of the conference title hunt.
  • Key play: The game wasn’t out of hand yet. With the Cardinal up 35-21 early in the fourth quarter, Matt Barkley was intercepted by Sherman, who returned it 42 yards for a touchdown, putting Stanford ahead 41-21.
  • Remember this? With 6:47 left to play and the Cardinal ahead 48-21, a two-point conversion attempt after Toby Gerhart's third rushing touchdown of the game failed. Sparking the following postgame exchange between coaches ...
  • Quotable: Carroll: "What’s your deal? You alright?"
    Harbaugh: "Yeah, I’m great. What’s your deal?"

Pure gold.

Kickoff Live: Week 2 (1 p.m. ET)

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
10:17
AM ET
To watch Kickoff Live on you mobile device, click here.

Join ESPN.com reporters Adam Rittenberg, Heather Dinich, Ted Miller and host Chantel Jennings as they discuss the biggest games of the upcoming weekend and answer your questions.

 
Back in 2007 new Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh seemed pretty foolish when, like a bombastic Don Quixote, he trash-talked USC and coach Pete Carroll. For no particular reason, he volunteered to a reporter that Carroll would soon bolt for the NFL. Then, at Pac-10 media day, a smirk flickered across his face when he archly announced that USC "may be the best team in the history of college football."

When challenged about his motives, he unveiled what became a program catchphrase: "We bow to no one at Stanford" -- pretty much saying he didn't give a rat's tookus if he bothered USC, Carroll or anyone else.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Matt SaylesThings started getting testy between Stanford and USC when Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll were at the helm.
Great fun ensued, of course. That first season, Harbaugh and Stanford shocked USC 24-23 as a 41-point underdog behind a backup QB, ending the Trojans' 35-game home winning streak. Any chance that would be viewed historically as college football's version of Halley's Comet was squelched in 2009 when Stanford drubbed USC 55-21, aggressively running up the score in the fourth quarter, including a gratuitous attempt at a 2-point conversion.

"What's your deal?" an irritated Carroll famously asked a smug Harbaugh during a wonderfully ungenial handshake.

Nonetheless, we had no idea what the actual deal would become between USC and Stanford. Early on, Stanford's success appeared to be a curious and anomalous run, a surprising reversal of fortune that briefly thickened the Pac-10 plot but seemed certain to be only temporary. Carroll and Harbaugh would both bolt to the NFL, where their personal rivalry has remained just as spicy. USC's short-term future was burdened with NCAA sanctions. Stanford's future seemed burdened by, well, being Stanford, the most elite academic institution playing FBS football.

When David Shaw, a polished Stanford graduate, ascended from offensive coordinator to replace Harbaugh, few imagined he'd maintain a top-10 program. There was a suspicion that Harbaugh built what he did because he was crazy enough to make it happen. Shaw was way too normal.

Yet here we are, two days away from a renewal of what has become the Pac-12's most meaningful cross-division rivalry. While Stanford-Oregon mostly has decided the Pac-12 champion the past four years, there's been little drama in their actual games, with only the 2012 contest being an actual nail-biter.

Three of the past four USC-Stanford games have been decided essentially on the game's last play, twice by field goals, once in triple-overtime. Average margin of victory in those four games? Five points. National importance? Stanford may have played Florida State in the BCS National Championship last year if not for being upset 20-17 at USC. In 2012, USC was ranked No. 2 in the nation before Stanford exposed the Trojans 21-14, starting a spiral from which former USC coach Lane Kiffin never recovered. QB Andrew Luck became Andrew Luck during thrilling Stanford wins in 2010 and 2011.

Both teams are star-laden NFL pipelines. Stanford, the two-time defending Pac-12 champ, enters this game ranked 13th, just a little annoyed at how Oregon and UCLA have grabbed the biggest preseason headlines in the conference. USC is 14th, a team with fewer than 60 available scholarship players but as gifted with its starting 22 as just about any team in the nation.

Both crushed overmatched foes last weekend and looked impressive in doing so. The Trojans added a wrinkle for this go-round by switching from their long-standing pro-style scheme to an up-tempo offense under new coach Steve Sarkisian, who notes "up-tempo" isn't a transition from a power to a finesse attack, only a means to create more touches for his talented skill players.

If the football part of football wasn't enough, if we needed to introduce some new drama and personalities at loggerheads to liven things up, it's worth noting that Shaw and Sarkisian engaged in a public war of words after last year's Stanford-Washington game. Sarkisian, then the Huskies' coach, accused Stanford of faking injuries in order to slow down his up-tempo offense, going so far as to specifically point a finger at Cardinal defensive line coach Randy Hart. Shaw wasn't happy with the accusation, and he opened that week's Pac-12 coaches teleconference with a lengthy and strongly worded statement.

"I believe it's unprofessional to call out an assistant coach on another team," Shaw said. "It's unprofessional and it's disrespectful. The only D-line coach that I know of that's ever instructed players to fake injury works at the University of Washington."

That would be controversial coach Tosh Lupoi, now working at Alabama, who was suspended in 2010 while at California for instructing players to fake injuries against Oregon. Sark, however, never backed away from his assertions.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillSteve Sarkisian has his hands full with off-the-field drama at USC, but Saturday's game at Stanford is at the forefront of his worries this week.
While it might be fun if Sarkisian and Shaw continued to eyeball each other's throats, that doesn't seem to be the reality. It appears, rather, that they have agreed to disagree and let the issue die. Though they both admit they haven't revisited the conflict in order to make a formal peace, they also pointed out they've spoken amiably multiple times since then -- a couple of times, in fact, within range of reporters -- and they claim to respect and like each other.

"We had a disagreement in the heat of the moment; both of us have moved on," Sarkisian said.

Offered Shaw, "There is no animosity whatsoever."

Still, one suspects there are at least some residual fumes from this squabble, since a few Stanford players also took issue with Sarkisian's accusation.

There is another Shaw on the sidelines of this game, though figuratively: USC CB Josh Shaw, who last week went from heroic to notorious. Coupled with Anthony Brown calling Sarkisian a racist after the running back quit the team -- a charge that has been supported by absolutely no one -- USC was dealing with substantial tumult and unfavorable national headlines last week. It may have been a bit surprising that the Trojans overcame those distractions to efficiently dismantle Fresno State 52-13, setting a Pac-12 record by running 105 plays.

An easy way for Sarkisian to change the narrative around his program and to win over Trojans fans who remain skeptical about his hiring is to beat the Cardinal on Saturday. Winning cures just about everything in college football.

In any event, even without Harbaugh and Carroll sniping at each other, we know the deal between USC and Stanford. It has endured as an annual battle imbued with drama and meaning, with the winner Saturday likely pushing into the top 10 and announcing itself as a Pac-12 and national contender.

And who knows? Maybe the postgame handshake will offer up another memorable exchange.

Pac-12 Week 2 predictions

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
9:00
AM ET


Why Arizona will win: If you pick Arizona, are you only going with Power Five conference bias? Maybe. After all, UTSA looked great last week in dismantling Houston on the road. The Roadrunners are a veteran team that played a competitive game last year at Arizona, and it should be a big night for them playing a marquee foe at home. All that said, we watched the Wildcats stomp UNLV last week, and new quarterback Anu Solomon looked fantastic in his first career start. While it's a new experience playing on the road, he's a cool customer and shouldn't flinch. Also, the Wildcats' defense looked pretty stout -- stout enough to provide ample support for a high-powered offense. -- Ted Miller



Why Stanford will win: I went back and forth on this before deciding Stanford's national-best 17-game home winning streak was too impressive to ignore. Confidence level: 2/10. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan might have struggled against the Trojans last year, but his track record against ranked teams -- he's 10-1 -- suggests he'll be ready. Either way, expect it be close: The last four games in this series all have been decided by one score. -- Kyle Bonagura

Why USC will win: I also went back and forth on this one before deciding on USC for a few different reasons. First, yes, I know Leonard Williams was injured this week. But even an injured Williams is better than most defensive linemen in the conference. Heck, give me a Williams in a boot or a club cast or an eye patch and I’d still probably pick him in most one-on-one battles. Second, Steve Sarkisian is a good coach and he knows how to game plan against David Shaw. Last season, Washington lost to Stanford, 31-28, behind a huge performance from Ty Montgomery. USC’s defensive backs are better than what Sarkisian could employ last season and I don't think Montgomery and the Cardinal receivers will have as much success. And in 2012, Sarkisian’s squad beat Shaw’s squad. Third, sometimes you’ve got to take a chance. USC, back me up here against the rest of the #4pac. -- Chantel Jennings



Why Michigan State will win: The Spartans beat the team that beat the team last year, outlasting a Stanford crew in the Rose Bowl that had dispatched the Ducks in a key North Division battle. Moreover, we think Michigan State is better this year. The defense, led by coordinator Pat Narduzzi, is not only talented, but it knows its identity. With extra time to prepare, the Spartans' defense has been able to train its eyes to see through the Ducks' sleight of hand. It will be able to at least contain the Ducks. But the biggest difference is on the other side of the ball. MSU quarterback Connor Cook has been on a run since midway through the 2013 season, and he will be able to attack the Ducks' rebuilt secondary. We also think the Spartans will be able to run against the Ducks. The Spartans have played in many big venues. Autzen Stadium won't scare them, and it will be quiet Saturday evening. -- Ted Miller

Why Oregon will win: The Michigan State/Stanford comparisons are fair, but let's not forget Stanford gave up 40-plus points to the Ducks in three straight seasons before finally adjusting the last two years. Michigan State undoubtedly will benefit from that blueprint, but there's no way to adequately prepare for the nation's best player, Marcus Mariota. With Autzen rocking, the Ducks will roll and Mariota will emerge as the clear Heisman favorite. -- Kyle Bonagura



Why Washington will win: There's no question that quarterback play was a factor in the tight game against Hawaii. The addition of Cyler Miles, who is coming off a suspension, should help rectify that. He's got some experience and is extremely athletic. Also, Washington's front seven -- despite its Week 1 showing -- still has to be considered one of the best in the conference. Chris Petersen said he liked that his team had to face some adversity early. And the tight victory will probably serve the Huskies well going up against the No. 2 team in FCS football. -- Kevin Gemmell

Upset alert: Washington State at Nevada: Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo must have been licking his chops as he watched what Rutgers running back Paul James did to the WSU rush defense (173 yards, three touchdowns). The versatile dual-threat quarterback, who threw for 303 yards and a touchdown last week while rushing for 68 yards and a score, is in his fourth season and is as dangerous as they come. We know Washington State is going to score a lot of points. But if the Cougars can't find a way to contain Fajardo, he could single-handedly keep Nevada in the game. And once it gets to the fourth quarter, well, who knows? -- Kevin Gemmell

More consensus picks: Washington State over Nevada, Colorado over Massachusetts, Utah over Fresno State, California over Sacramento State, Arizona State over New Mexico, UCLA over Memphis and Oregon State over Hawaii.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 4, 2014
Sep 4
8:00
AM ET
No, Phil, he's not all right. A man does not refer to Pat Boone as a beautiful genius if things are all right.

Leading off

We have football tonight! Rejoice.

Arizona (1-0) is on the road at UTSA (1-0) in a rematch of last year's game which the Wildcats won 38-13 in Tucson.

There's been a lot of buzz for what coach Larry Coker has been able to do with the Roadrunners. If you have time for a really nice long form read, check out what USA Today's Paul Myerberg wrote earlier this week about UTSA.

Worth noting also that Arizona starting running back Terris Jones-Grigsby might not be available for the Wildcats because of an ankle injury.

From Daniel Berk's story in the Arizona Daily Star:
Jones-Grigsby was limited in practice at the start of the week, but said he was fine and the coaching staff was just being cautious.

If he is unable to play, true freshman Nick Wilson will likely start in his place. Wilson had seven carries for 104 yards and a touchdown against the Rebels in his first career game. He rushed for an 85-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

Last week in the season opening win over UNLV, Jones-Grigsby rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown in a 58-13 blowout of the Rebels.

Top Duck

ESPN's Todd McShay says Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the No. 1 draft prospect of 2015 Insider. It's a good breakdown of Mariota. Here's an excerpt of what McShay has to say (note: this is an Insider piece, so only the coolest of the cool have full access):
Mariota might be best-known by fans for his ability as a runner, and he'll remind people of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he's in the open because of his long stride and deceptive top-end speed -- defenders regularly take poor pursuit angles against him, and the next thing they know he's gone. He also has the ability to escape pressure in the pocket and above-average elusiveness. He puts a ton of stress on the defense with his legs.

Mariota gets a huge test this week against a gritty and celebrated Michigan State team. Many are calling this the No. 1 nonconference game in college football this year. And the many who say that are right.

And if you're looking for some additional analysis on this game, checkout yesterday's spreecast with myself, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller. If you want predictions, skip to the end (but you really should watch the whole thing. Rumor is Sundance is considering it for the category of best three-person spreecast in Week 2 talking about Pac-12 football. Fingers crossed.)

More Oregon-MSU

If you're looking for a more nuts-and-bolts read, Coy Wire of FoxSports has a really interesting breakdown of why Oregon's read-option is so efficient and what Michigan State has to do to shut it down.
Shutting down Ducks QB Marcus Mariota and the read-option will be priority No. 1 for the Michigan State. In the Spartans’ victory over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game last season, Ohio State racked up 273 yards on the ground with a run game that has many similarities to Oregon’s.

Any time someone talks about slowing down the Oregon offense, there are going to be obvious comparisons to Stanford. Given what the Cardinal have done the last couple of seasons, that makes sense. It's a true clash of styles that should make for a phenomenal game.

Former Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti offers his thoughts here on the Pac-12 Networks.

And by the way, this game isn't just important for this weekend or even this season. It could be huge for years to come. And here's why:



Tune in
  • Our Kyle Bonagura will be on the air in South Carolina tomorrow at 1 p.m. PT talking Pac-12 football. Tune in here.
  • I was back on the air yesterday with ESPN Radio in Salt Lake City. You can hear that here.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

I just thought this was funny.

 

UCLA's Steven Manfro out with torn ACL

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
11:14
PM ET
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA running back Steven Manfro will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, a school spokesman said Wednesday.

Manfro was taken off the practice field on a cart after injuring his knee Tuesday. The junior was part of the No. 11 Bruins' three-man rotation at the position with Paul Perkins and Jordon James, and he often was featured as a receiver out of the backfield. UCLA spokesman Steve Rourke confirmed Manfro's injury Wednesday.

Manfro caught 37 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns over the past two seasons and was featured on special teams.

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said Manfro is "an awesome young man that was very valuable to this football team, but there will be somebody that steps up."

When the Bruins host Memphis at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, freshman Nate Starks is likely to take Manfro's spot in the offense, offering more size than Perkins and James at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds.

To read the rest of this report, click here.

Mailbag: UCLA concerns

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
9:00
PM ET
Welcome to the halfway point of Week 2 (or the eve of Week 2, depending on what colors you wear).

Lots of UCLA questions and concerns this week. So let's get to it. As always, follow me on Twitter.

All Hype? In Oakland writes: I know only time will tell...but Hundley's decision to return to school may hurt him financially, a' la Matt Barkley and have him slip in the draft considerably. Ironically, SC/Barkley also had high expectations and was a Heisman candidate. A bigger concern, may be whether Hundley can remain healthy throughout the season, especially if the O-line & receiving corp doesn't improve! Hundley wishes he had a couple of Cal's receivers. Time will also tell if Virginia's D was actually good or if UCLA's offense was really that bad. This should Not have been close considering Virginia went 2-10, 0-8 (conf.) last year.

Robert in New York writes: As ugly as the game was for UCLA on Saturday, everything else aside, I still think that UCLA would have covered the spread if it weren't for so many penalties. The Bruins have been one of the most (if not, the most) penalized teams in the Pac-12 and the country under Jim Mora. In previous interviews, he's brushed the penalty issue aside... Do you think this is something Mora needs to start taking seriously? And how exactly do you do that as a coach?

Kevin Gemmell: A couple of UCLA questions, but I can blend them together in one answer.

First, let’s start with the question of Brett Hundley and his performance. And I think we can all agree that most teams in the country would like to have Cal’s receivers. (And we’re not on the bandwagon … we’ve been hyping this group since May ’13.)

No doubt, the injuries on the offensive line played a bigger role than we thought. That Jake Brendel, Simon Goines and Conor McDermott were not available definitely played a part in the offensive mishaps. But only a small part. Because Hundley’s wide receivers didn’t do him a ton of favors.

And still, he completed better than 60 percent of his throws (20 of 33) for 242 yards with no interceptions (or touchdowns) and he ran for 39 yards and a score. Not eye-popping Heisman numbers. But not horrendous on a stat sheet.

Let’s not be too knee-jerky with the Bruins (or anyone else after Week 1, for that matter). They went across the country and beat a Power 5 team on the road. There’s still something to be said for that. They took the appropriate drop in the national and Pac-12 blog power rankings. Let’s see what happens this week and then in back-to-back games against Texas and ASU.

Regarding his decision to come back, the Pac-12 blog will never, ever, ever criticize a young man’s decision to either return to school for another year or leave early. (OK, one time Ted did criticize a player for leaving early … which was justified … and then he re-worked his thoughts the next day … which was also justified.)

He wanted to get his degree, have another year of playing with his teammates and try to help finish what he started. That’s admirable. Just as it was admirable when Matt Barkley made his decision to return. He felt like he owed the program one more year. Who are we to criticize them for their decisions in life? And just because Barkley wasn’t a first-round draft pick, doesn’t mean his career is a complete failure. The NFL is the ultimate proving ground. If he was good enough to be a starter, he’d be starting. Plus he’s got a four-year deal worth $2.7 million with almost half a million guaranteed. It’s not like he’s panhandling on the streets of Philly.

The NFL is enamored with dual-threat quarterbacks right now. And Hundley is one of the most athletic individuals I’ve ever seen. He’s a special player. I don’t see him dropping simply because the players around him fail to perform.

Injury is another animal. We can’t predict those. We know Hundley has been on his back 92 times in his career (including the five sacks from the Virginia game). He knows how to take a hit. But there are a lot of injuries that can’t be controlled. So let’s stay classy, regardless of fan base, and hope for the best for all players.

Now, on to those pesky penalties that Robert was inquiring about. There are some coaches who believe penalties are a reflection of discipline – and thus a reflection on themselves. Todd Graham is one of those guys. Mora isn’t. He doesn’t like them. He tries to correct them, but he doesn’t spend a ton of time worrying about them.

It’s like in basketball. Some teams are good at shooting free throws, others aren’t. The ones that aren’t practice like crazy (I know, because I’ve sat through practices for seasons at a time watching bad free throw teams practice) and they just don’t get better.

I don’t have a good explanation. Is it likely that one time that might come back to bite the Bruins in the backside? Maybe. Maybe this was just a bad first week all-around and we’ll see improvements in Week 2. Does he need to take it seriously? I don’t know. However Jim Mora coaches his team, it seems to work. He’s 20-8 and has a South Division title.




David in Calgary writes: Hi Kevin! Great to see CFB back on my Thurs-Sat docket. Based on how USC/Stan/UO/MSU played last week, which game do you find more intriguing? USC/Stan or UO/MSU?

Kevin Gemmell: Obviously, the rest of the country is huge on the Oregon-MSU game. And I am, too. Can’t wait to watch it.

But history tells us the Stanford-USC game has an opportunity to be epic. Four of the past five games have come down to the final minute. Three times it’s come down to the last play. You throw in the David Shaw/Steve Sarkisian verbal fisticuffs from last year and the stage is set for high drama.

If Oregon wins, they probably move into one of those top two spots. If the Ducks lose at home, I could see them falling into double digits. Whoever wins the Stanford-USC game pops into the top 10. So the national ramifications of both games are obvious.

Here’s the thing: If Oregon beats Michigan State but falls to a conference opponent along the way, how much will this win sway the selection committee? The best way to punch a ticket to the College Football Playoff is to win your conference. Oregon can’t do that by beating Michigan State. Then again, neither Stanford nor USC will win the conference with a Week 2 game. But they could wind up in a hole. That’s what makes that game more intriguing in my mind.
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.

Sometimes we'll be playing devil's advocate for a specific team, player or idea.

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

Today, we're identifying the Pac-12 player we're each most interested in seeing perform in either of the league's marquee Week 2 matchups: Michigan State at Oregon and USC at Stanford.

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

[+] EnlargeMariota
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota will be on a big stage in a game with playoff implications.
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: Not to go out on a limb here, but the most important player in the Oregon-Michigan State clash is the guy with the biggest name on the marquee: Mariota. Players and coaches will often tell you that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games. Mariota is a big-time player and this is a big-time game, so he needs to make big-time plays in Autzen Stadium to lead his team to victory.

Mariota is the Pac-12’s leading Heisman Trophy candidate. Some might call him the national favorite for the award. In the last two seasons, he’s put up huge numbers. He’s produced consistently against an unquestionably tough schedule. But what he lacks is a true signature performance. Sure, he was the MVP of the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, but his numbers there were more efficient than spectacular. He led fourth-quarter charges last year against Washington, UCLA and Oregon State, but he’s also been muted twice by Stanford with national title hopes on the line.

This is his national moment. Oh, there will be plenty of nationally ranked challenges ahead in Pac-12 play, including that dastardly Cardinal defense looking to shut him down for a third consecutive year. But if Mariota shines against a dominant Spartans defense, not only would he jump to the fore of the Heisman discussion, the Ducks would become College Football Playoff favorites and worried fans would suddenly feel much more comfortable with second-year coach Mark Helfrich.

Stanford QB Kevin Hogan

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Through nearly two years as a starting quarterback, Hogan has developed a reputation as a big-game player. Before last season's Rose Bowl, he was 10-0 as a starter against ranked teams -- including his first four career starts in 2012 -- often coming up with key plays in crucial situations.

However, during that span the Cardinal weren't as reliant on Hogan as they figure to be this season. This will be his first real test without an established running back to carry the load and he will need to play much better than he did against the Trojans a year ago. In USC's 20-17 victory in Los Angeles, Hogan completed 14 of 25 passes for 127 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns -- arguably the worst game he's had since taking the reigns from Josh Nunes.

It would be a waste of time to put too much stock in how the Stanford offense looked against UC Davis last week, but it's still worth noting that the Cardinal's passing game looked decidedly more advanced than its rushing game. If that trend continues against the Trojans, it should be a telling sign for the rest of the season.

USC DE Leonard Williams

[+] EnlargeLeonard Williams
Ric Tapia/Icon SMIUSC's Leonard Williams could be a nuisance for Stanford's young offensive line.
Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: The Cardinal thought they were going to get out of the Coliseum last year without having to see Williams, who was nursing an injured shoulder at the time. But he played, posting seven tackles and a fumble recovery along the way. We all know what happened last year. Now Stanford hosts USC with four new starters on the offensive line. Williams was as huge force in last Saturday's victory over Fresno State with seven tackles, an interception and two pass breakups.

“Leonard really sets the tone for us up front,” said USC coach Steve Sarkisian. “It’s a great thing when arguably your best player plays with the most effort. It sends a real message to the rest of your defense.”

We need to see how this high ankle sprain will impact his performance. But even at 80 percent, Williams is one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the country.

It’s going to be fun to see if Justin Wilcox keeps him on Stanford’s All-American offensive tackle Andrus Peat, or if he shifts him from side to side. Stanford certainly will account for him, but they’ll also work their game plan regardless of where he lines up.

Oregon RB Byron Marshall

Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I’m interested to see Byron Marshall play because I think this game will truly give a picture of his role in the offense throughout the season.

While he might not end up leading the Ducks in rushing yards, hey could well lead them in receiving yards. He did against South Dakota (eight receptions, 138 yards, two touchdowns). But that was a blowout; the game against Michigan State likely won’t be. So Is Marshall really going to be targeted as much in the passing game, or were the coaches just trying to get his sea legs under him? Was it all a rouse so that the Spartans would have to plan for that kind of a wrinkle? He’s definitely one of the Ducks' most valuable players and they want to keep him on the field, but in what capacity?

I think Oregon’s game against Michigan State will give us a much clearer vision.

Future Ute? Kicker's first baby suits up

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
3:42
PM ET
Utah's Andy Phillips is an interesting guy.

One of the best kickers in the country, he's a 25-year-old sophomore who speaks fluent Norwegian after serving an LDS church mission there; was a U.S. Ski Team member from 2007-11; hadn't played in a football game until joining the Utes as a walk-on; and whose parents went to (gasp) BYU and whose wife Megan was a cheerleader for the rival Cougars.

As of Tuesday, he's also a dad. And by the looks of it, little Maximus Andrew Phillips will not be following his mom and grandparents to Provo.

And don't think the Utah program hasn't already noticed. Future kicker, perhaps?
Win No. 1 of the season wasn't exactly one to celebrate for UCLA.

Yes, the Bruins' defense was brilliant, scoring three times to lead the charge over Virginia, but as Jim Mora succinctly put it afterward, "it wasn't pretty offensively."

Players marched into the locker room after the 28-20 win with little enthusiasm, a somber scene more befitting a loss.

[+] EnlargeBrett Hundley
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsUCLA's offensive line left QB Brett Hundley scrambling all game long at Virginia in Week 1.
Sophomore center Scott Quessenberry, starting in place of injured Jake Brendel, even took time to thank his defense for cleaning up after his own mistakes.

This may still have been the start of a magical season, but UCLA's offense certainly did its best to temper all that early enthusiasm.

"As a team, the sky is the limit," quarterback Brett Hundley said, "but we can't shoot ourselves in the foot and make mental lapses like this. We have to come out and perform."

And that has to start with the offensive line.

In reality, the Week 1 matchup with Virginia was destined to be a struggle. The Bruins may have arrived with a gaudy No. 7 ranking, and Virginia was coming off a 10-loss season, but the Cavaliers still featured a ferocious defensive front, led by linebacker Henry Coley, and coordinator Jon Tenuta has made a career of testing the mental toughness of opposing linemen. Meanwhile, UCLA was coming off a season in which it allowed the most tackles-for-loss in the Pac-12, had questions surrounding the ground game, and was beset by injuries up front.

The early struggles, in other words, were no surprise to the coaching staff.

"I looked out there one time," Mora said, "and our right tackle's a sophomore, our right guard is a sophomore, our center is a sophomore, our left guard is a freshman and our left tackle is playing his first game for us."

It wasn't that UCLA didn't anticipate problems, it's that the offense -- particularly the line -- didn't execute the solutions.

"I know there's going to be a lot of concern about our offensive line," Mora said, "and it's warranted at this point."

It's warranted because Hundley was sacked five times, warranted because Virginia racked up 11 tackles for loss (15 percent of UCLA's total plays), warranted because seven of the Bruins' first 11 rushing attempts went for a loss or no gain before Paul Perkins jumpstarted the rushing attack in the third quarter.

The end result was a game plan that was largely abandoned as the Bruins faced one third-and-long scenario after another. They needed 8 yards or more to convert on 7 of 18 third downs in the game.

"Our whole keys to victory was stay on schedule, keep ourselves in third-and-medium or shorts," offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "So I'm like, who wants to call plays around here?"

There are, of course, explanations, too. The flight across three time zones and early kickoff wasn't ideal. The injury to Brendel had ripple effects across the line. Even the defensive highlights helped keep the offense from getting into a rhythm. But when it was over, no one seemed interested in looking for excuses.

"I didn't do a very good job of coaching my guys or calling plays, and my guys didn't do a good job of executing," Mazzone said. "Were there outside influences? Who knows? Who cares? We have to overcome those things and do a better job."

That may start with getting healthy.

Mora said Brendel, who suffered an MCL injury three weeks ago, is on the mend. Simon Goines should return from an ankle injury in a few weeks. Younger players are getting reps, and Hundley has added a level of stability to the offense that should help navigate some early obstacles, just as he did Saturday against Virginia.

Perkins' strong second half offers encouragement, too. The sophomore tailback finished with 80 yards on 16 carries, and while Mora said he expects a timeshare to continue with Jordon James, there's hope that the tailbacks can limit the workload for their QB.

"[Hundley] is a very good runner, but we don't want that to be our running game," Mora said. "I'd like to see us establish a little more rhythm with our offense."

But Week 1 wasn't really about what UCLA wants to do. If anything, it was a crash course on what the Bruins hope to avoid this season, and they still managed to emerge with a win.

UCLA also knows it may not be so lucky the next time.

"There are a lot of things we have to correct," Hundley said. "We had those moments you could see it, but it was the stuff that shot us in the foot. We'd start something, and then we'd hurt ourselves. We have to cut that out, and we'll be fine."
If you’re a Big Ten fan, then you’ve been looking forward to a certain Week 2 matchup all offseason: No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 8 Michigan State.

It’s offense vs. defense, Marcus Mariota vs. Shilique Calhoun, unstoppable force vs. immovable object. There’s a lot to be excited about, even on a national scale. Since 2005, only nine games have featured two top-10 teams duking it out this early. There’s a reason "College GameDay" has decided to descend upon Eugene, Oregon, after all.

Can the underdog Spartans pull it off? Will Oregon’s offense run rampant? Those answers won’t come for another few days, so we decided to take a closer look at those other nine games. Historically, how have games of this magnitude gone down, how often does the underdog win -- and how often do these teams move on to success?

Take a look:

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson -- Aug. 31, 2013

The favorite: Georgia by 2.5 points

The outcome: Clemson 38-35. This lived up to its hype of being a closely fought shootout. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd proved to be the difference-maker. He threw for three TDs, rushed for two more and totaled 312 yards.

End of season ranking (Clemson): No. 8 (11-2, 7-1 ACC). Beat Ohio State in Orange Bowl, 40-35.

End of season ranking (Georgia): unranked (8-5, 5-3 SEC). Lost to Nebraska in Gator Bowl, 24-19.




No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan (Arlington, Texas) -- Sept. 1, 2012

The favorite: Alabama by 11

The outcome: Alabama 41-14. The Crimson Tide opened the game on a 31-0 run, and Michigan never really stood a chance. The Wolverines’ first six possessions ended with four punts and two interceptions. They moved the ball 24 yards on those drives.

End of season ranking (Alabama): No. 1 (13-1, 7-1 SEC). Won the SEC championship and beat Notre Dame for the national championship, 42-14.

End of season ranking (Michigan): No. 24 (8-5, 6-2 Big Ten). Lost to South Carolina in Outback Bowl, 33-28.




No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU (Arlington, Texas) -- Sept. 3, 2011

The favorite: Oregon by 3.5

The outcome: LSU 40-27. This was billed as a top defense (LSU was No. 12 in total D the year before) vs. a top offense. But the game came apart for the Ducks when De'Anthony Thomas fumbled on consecutive drives deep in his own territory. LSU scored touchdowns on both possessions.

End of season ranking (LSU): No. 2 (13-1, 8-0 SEC). Won the SEC championship but lost to Alabama in the national championship, 21-0.

End of season ranking (Oregon): No. 4 (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12). Won the Pac-12 championship and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, 45-38.




No. 3 Boise State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech (Landover, Maryland) -- Sept. 3, 2010

The favorite: Boise State by 1.5

The outcome: Boise State 33-30. This one could’ve gone either way. With 1:47 left, Boise State QB Kellen Moore engineered a five-play, 56-yard touchdown drive to give the Broncos the advantage. Virginia Tech turned the ball over on downs on its next possession.

End of season ranking (Boise State): No. 9 (12-1, 7-1 WAC). Lone blemish was a 34-31 overtime loss to Nevada. Beat Utah in Maaco Bowl, 26-3.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 16 (11-3, 8-0 ACC). Won ACC championship but lost to Stanford in Orange Bowl, 40-12.




No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech (Atlanta) -- Sept. 5, 2009

The favorite: Alabama by 6.5

The outcome: Alabama 34-24. The Hokies led 17-16 after three quarters, but the fourth quarter was all Alabama. The Tide outscored Virginia Tech 18-7 in the final 15 minutes. A fumble on a kick return didn’t help matters for Tech.

End of season ranking (Alabama): No. 1 (14-0, 8-0 SEC). Won the SEC championship and beat Texas in the national championship, 37-21.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 10 (10-3, 6-2 ACC). Beat Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, 37-14.




No. 3 USC at No. 8 Ohio State -- Sept. 12, 2009

The favorite: USC by 6.5

The outcome: USC 18-15. With 7:29 left in the game, Matt Barkley drove the Trojans downfield for a touchdown and two-point conversion. They ate up 6:10 on the drive, and Ohio State responded with a turnover on downs.

End of season ranking (USC): No. 22 (9-4, 5-4 Pac-10). Beat Boston College in the Emerald Bowl, 24-13.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 5 (11-2, 7-1 Big Ten). Won the Big Ten and defeated Oregon in the Rose Bowl, 26-17.




No. 9 Virginia Tech at No. 2 LSU -- Sept. 8, 2007

The favorite: LSU by 11

The outcome: LSU 48-7. LSU racked up 598 yards of offense, and this was a snoozer from the beginning. LSU found itself up 14-0 just 10 minutes into the game, and the Hokies converted just two third downs the entire game.

End of season ranking (LSU): No. 1 (12-2, 6-2 SEC). Won SEC championship and beat Ohio State in national championship, 38-24.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 9 (11-3, 7-1 ACC). Won ACC championship but lost to Kansas in Orange Bowl, 24-21.




No. 1 Ohio State at No. 2 Texas -- Sept. 9, 2006

The favorite: Texas by 3

The outcome: Ohio State 24-7. It was the first regular-season No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in a decade, and the Buckeyes never trailed in this game. Troy Smith threw for 269 yards and two TDs, while the defense held Texas to less than 20 points for the first time in 21 games.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 2 (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten). Won the Big Ten championship but lost to Florida in the national championship, 41-14.

End of season ranking (Texas): No. 13 (10-3, 6-2 Big 12). Beat Iowa in Alamo Bowl, 26-24.




No. 2 Texas at No. 4 Ohio State -- Sept. 10, 2005

The favorite: Texas by 1.5

The outcome: Texas 25-22. With 2:37 left in the game, Longhorns QB Vince Young found Limas Sweed for the go-ahead 24-yard TD. It was a back-and-forth affair; Texas jumped out to a 10-0 lead but the Buckeyes led at halftime 16-13.

End of season ranking (Texas): No. 1 (13-0, 8-0 Big 12). Won the Big 12 championship and beat USC in the national championship, 41-38.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 4 (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten). Won part of the Big Ten championship and beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, 34-20.
With No. 7 Michigan State and No. 3 Oregon looming, the Pac-12 blog got to thinking about other games of similar magnitude over the past decade.

After taking a look back, there's only a few others that -- when they were played -- match the pedigree of Saturday's game. Dating back to the 2004 season, there have been just four other games involving a pair of teams ranked in the AP top-10.

In that same time period, there was a total of 21 games between top-25 teams. USC was involved in the most (7), followed by Oregon (3), Stanford (3), Cal (2), Oregon State (2) one each for Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington.

In chronological order, here are 10 of the most anticipated nonconference games of the past 10 years. The criteria for inclusion was simple: both teams had to be ranked and there could only be one matchup between the same teams. The second part eliminated No. 9 Cal vs. No. 23 Tennessee in 2006, No. 3 USC vs. No. 8 Ohio State in 2009 and Stanford vs. Notre Dame in 2011 and 2013 -- all of which would have been great choices, but would also have made for a less interesting look back.

Half the winners from these games finished the regular season undefeated.

(*-denotes ESPN's "College GameDay" was at the game)

2005 -- No. 5 LSU 35, No. 15 Arizona State 31: In Les Miles' first game as the coach at LSU, future No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell helped the Tigers erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win. LSU finished the year No. 6, while ASU fell out of the ranking for good in Week 6 after losing back-to-back games to No. 1 USC and No. 25 Oregon.

2005 -- No. 1 USC 34, No. 9 Notre Dame 31*: Remembered simply as the "Bush Push" game, USC quarterback Matt Leinart scored a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds thanks to a memorable shove from running back Reggie Bush. USC went undefeated the rest of the way until losing to Texas in the Rose Bowl; Notre Dame finished ranked No. 9.

2006 -- Oregon 34, No. 11 Oklahoma 33: Oregon QB Dennis Dixon scored a touchdown with 1:12 left, the Ducks recovered a controversial onside kick moments later and scored another quick touchdown take the lead. The game wasn't settled until Oregon blocked a 44-yard field-goal attempt as time expired. Oregon eventually fell from the rankings in Week 11 and Oklahoma finished the year ranked No. 11.

2007 -- No. 12 Cal 45, No. 15 Tennessee 31: A year after losing to the Vols in Knoxville, WR DeSean Jackson and RB Justin Forsett led Cal to a big win against Arian Foster and Tennessee in the season opener for both teams. Cal climbed as high as No. 2 in the rankings before finishing unranked and Tennessee finished No. 12.

2007 -- No. 1 USC 49, No. 14 Nebraska 31*: USC led 42-10 at one point and rushed for 313 yards as a team. Coincidentally, Nebraska Sam Keller was ASU's QB in the 2005 game against LSU. USC finished No. 3; Nebraska lost six of its final seven to finish 5-7.

2008 -- No. 1 USC 35, No. 5 Ohio State 3*: QB Mark Sanchez and the Trojans handed Ohio State its third-worst loss in 20 years. USC finished No. 3; Ohio State finished No. 6.

2009 -- No. 14 Boise State 19, No. 16 Oregon 8: Chip Kelly's first game as the Oregon head coach was remembered mostly for LeGarrette Blount's postgame punch, but it also doubled as the first game in an undefeated season for Chris Petersen's Broncos. Both teams actually improved their rankings by the season's end: Oregon finished No. 13 and Boise State No. 4.

2010 -- No. 6 TCU 30, No. 24 Oregon State 21: A year after narrowly missing out on a berth in the Rose Bowl, Oregon State opened the year with a tough loss to Andy Dalton and the Horned Frogs in the second Cowboys Classic. TCU finished undefeated and ranked No. 3; Oregon State went 5-7.

2011 -- No. 4 LSU 40, No. 3 Oregon 27*: One of just two meetings between top-5 teams on this list, Oregon's mistakes proved costly against LSU in the third Cowboys Classic. LSU went on to play for the national title and finished ranked No. 2 and Oregon won the Pac-12 and finished No. 4.

2012 -- No. 7 Notre Dame 20, No. 17 Stanford 13*: As previously noted, any of the Stanford-Notre Dame games over the past three years would have qualified, but this one was played with the most on the line. If Stanford had won, the Cardinal would have finished the year a solid candidate to play for the national title. Instead, Notre Dame finished undefeated before losing that title game to Alabama. Stanford went on to win the Pac-12 and finished ranked No. 7.

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