As much as USC coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford coach David Shaw would like to downplay their very public back-and-forth last season stemming from Sarkisian’s accusation that Stanford faked injuries, there is no avoiding the lingering effects.

Former Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner -- one of two players Sarkisian accused of faking injuries -- made that clear with a not-so-subtle joke on Twitter in the aftermath of the Josh Shaw fake-hero saga.

Clearly some tension remains.

Moments after Stanford's 31-28 win went final, Sarkisian told KJR 950-am in Seattle: "Their defensive line coach [Randy Hart] was telling them to sit down. I guess that's how we play here at Stanford, so we'll have to prepare for that next time."

Next time is this week.

When contacted by, Gardner said, more than anything, he was surprised by Sarkisian’s comments.

“Obviously, all of this is in the past, but we always pride ourselves at Stanford in doing things the right way and we try speak positively about our opponents and give credit where credit is due,” he said. “It was disappointing. To call out senior captains, guys like had been there a long time, and our coaches ... I felt like he was questioning our character and our integrity without really the background knowledge about us.”

The shoulder injury he suffered against the Huskies didn’t immediately hold Gardner out of any games, but it progressively got worse and eventually required season-ending surgery. Despite missing the final six games of the season, Gardner was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and was drafted in the seventh round of the NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He'll miss this season, too, after dislocating his shoulder twice in training camp, which also required season-ending surgery.

To their credit, Shaw and Sarkisian have both seemingly moved on.

"We never talked about it again. It was over. It was in the past," Shaw said Tuesday. "[Sarkisian] and I sat together at lunch and breakfast a couple times and talked about a bunch of other things. Our wives are getting to become good friends; they know each other well. There’s no animosity whatsoever."

When asked if he and Shaw had patched things up, Sarkisian echoed what Shaw said.

"I think, first of all, I have a great deal of respect for David as a coach and as a person," Sarkisian said. "We had a disagreement in the heat of the moment and I think both of us have moved on. We’ve seen each other on different occasions since then. We were in Hawaii together at an event. We haven’t spoken on it and I think our relationship is fine. We’ve moved on."

Kickoff for Saturday's matchup between No. 14 USC at No. 13 Stanford is set for 3:30 p.m., ET on ABC.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
If there is anything more exciting than bowl projections after one week, I haven’t seen it. Maybe one or two things … mixed competitive potato farming … root canals … etc.

You know these are coming every week, so just bear with us.

We don’t have much data to work with. I’m thinking a couple of things might get sorted out when USC travels to Stanford next week. And there will be some critical games to keep an eye on in the future (Utah vs. Washington State on Sept. 27, Cal at Washington State on Oct. 4, etc.).

Just a refresher of how things work in the new College Football Playoff era: After the four playoff teams are picked, the selection committee will also pick at-large games for the Fiesta, Peach, Orange and Cotton bowls.

The flexibility in bowl arrangements might shake some things up also. Some conferences have moved away from the traditional “in-order” selection process and moved to a “tier” process.

It’s early, so if you see your team listed, great. If you don’t, don’t get into too much of a huff yet. (What am I thinking? Of course you're going to get into a huff.)

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Stanford
Valero Alamo Bowl: UCLA
National University Holiday Bowl: USC
San Francisco Bowl: ASU
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Utah

*-At large
The Michigan State defense is a big, bad run-stopping, pass-blocking, interception-causing machine and everyone knows it. The Spartans' rise to the top of college football over the past few seasons has been very, very impressive and a big reason behind that are the minds of head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who've been coaching together for more than a decade.

Today on Grantland, Chris B. Brown broke down the Spartans' defense and what it needs to do to slow the prolific and impressive Oregon offense. It's incredibly well researched and informative and the Pac-12 blog is highly recommending this read for anyone who's planning to follow this game and the huge implications that are on the line for the College Football Playoff (meaning, all of you).
Against Oregon, all of Michigan State’s defensive principles will be tested. [Marcus] Mariota and the Ducks’ coaching staff have undoubtedly spent the summer devising ways to muddle the reads that Michigan State’s safeties, linebackers, and cornerbacks have to make. But that’s not going to scare the Spartans. Dantonio and Narduzzi have been doing this together for a decade-plus, and no matter the foe, they’ll play their brand of defense.

Read more here on how the two plan to stop the Ducks.

USC QB Cody Kessler will play Saturday

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
LOS ANGELES -- USC quarterback Cody Kessler missed part of practice to undergo a procedure on one of his toes.

[+] EnlargeCody Kessler, Adoree' Jackson
Harry How/Getty ImagesCody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns against Fresno State, one to Adoree' Jackson.
Kessler says he'll be fine to play when the 14th-ranked Trojans (1-0) visit No. 13 Stanford (1-0) on Saturday.

Coach Steve Sarkisian said Kessler was bothered by a toe injury throughout USC's 52-13 victory over Fresno State last weekend. Kessler was named the Pac-12's offensive player of the week after passing for a career-best 394 yards with four touchdowns and rushing for one.

Sarkisian says Kessler couldn't get the unspecified procedure done on his toe until Tuesday morning.

"He got it cleaned up, and we expect him to be ready to go for the ballgame," Sarkisian said.

Kessler is beginning his second season as USC's starting quarterback. He started all 14 games last season as a sophomore, passing for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Backup Max Browne ran the Trojans' first-team offense at practice in Kessler's absence. The redshirt freshman said he would be ready to play extensively if necessary, and USC didn't change its practice plan with Browne under center instead of Kessler.

To read the rest of this story, click here.
As far as the Pac-12 is concerned, there wasn't much of a shakeup in the first AP poll of the season that took actual games to take into account.

Oregon remained at No. 3, followed by No. 11 UCLA, No. 13 Stanford, No. 14 USC and No. 17 Arizona State. Washington, which began the season at No. 25, fell from the rankings after its narrow win against Hawaii.

Here's a closer look at the fluctuation of teams:

No. 3 Oregon: After receiving one first-place vote in the preseason poll, the Ducks received five this week. Only top-ranked Florida State (46) has more first-place votes than Oregon, which hosts No. 7 Michigan State this week. It will be the first nonconference matchup between top-10 teams in the history of Autzen Stadium. Oregon is just three points behind Alabama in the rankings.

No. 11 UCLA: Fell four spots from No. 7 after its 28-20 win at Virginia. Georgia (6), Michigan State (7), Texas A&M (9) and Baylor (10) are the four teams that jumped the Bruins.

No. 13 Stanford: It was hard to really learn much from the Cardinal's 45-0 win against UC Davis as far as how the team stacks up against the nation's elite, but it's still mildly amusing to see a team fall two spots with that kind of performance. Of course, it's also easy to explain considering the teams that jumped them -- Texas A&M and LSU -- both beat teams that are still in the Top 25.

No. 14 USC: Of the ranked Pac-12 teams in Week 1, USC had the best performance compared to what expectations were going into the game. The Trojans picked up about 100 points in the poll and moved up one spot.

No. 17 Arizona State: Like Oregon and Stanford, ASU treated its FCS opponent as expected. The Sun Devils are up two spots and were passed only by Texas A&M.

Washington: The Huskies received 34 votes, down from 130 in the preseason, which technically puts them at No. 34.

Arizona: The Wildcats picked up four votes after dismantling UNLV. And if you must know, that's good for No. 44.

Oregon State: After overcoming a halftime deficit against Portland State, the Beavers, who had 10 preseason votes, no longer have an AP support. However, the performance was good enough to pick up an extra vote in the coaches' poll -- jumping from four to five votes. Go figure.

The College Football Playoff committee, responsible for selecting the four teams to play in this year's inaugural playoff, will release its first Top 25 rankings Oct. 28 on ESPN.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2

Mariota is a model of efficiency at QB

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota is one of the top dual threats in the sport.
Entering Week 1, Marcus Mariota was the favorite to win the Heisman, according to the ESPN Heisman Watch.

Mariota did not disappoint in his first game. He was responsible for 310 yards of total offense and four touchdowns, despite not playing in the second half of Oregon’s 62-13 win against South Dakota State.

Throughout his career, Mariota has been one of the most efficient and consistent FBS quarterbacks. He has ranked second in the FBS in Total QBR in each of the last two seasons.

His 87.3 career Total QBR is the second-best for any player with at least 20 starts in the last five seasons, behind Johnny Manziel.

Mariota has an FBS-high 13 games with a Total QBR of at least 90 since 2012.

Mariota makes Oregon go
The Ducks have been one of the most efficient offenses in the FBS, ranking third in this category in each of Mariota’s first two seasons.

They have scored on an FBS-high 45 percent of their drives since Mariota became the starter, best in the FBS.

When the ball is snapped to Mariota, Oregon averages 7.5 yards per play, the second-best for any quarterback who has taken at least 500 snaps (Jameis Winston is No. 1).

The Ducks have gained at least 10 yards on 28 percent of their plays with Mariota at quarterback, which is also second to Florida State and Winston.

Mariota makes plays
Mariota has been responsible for 82 touchdowns in his career, most for any Pac-12 player in the last three seasons and sixth-most for any FBS player.

During that time, he was responsible for at least three touchdowns in a game 18 times; only former Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch has had more such games.

Mariota takes care of the ball
Mariota has 10 career interceptions, tied for the third-fewest for any player with at least 20 starts during the last three seasons.

The only active player with at least 20 starts and fewer interceptions than Mariota is Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who has 502 fewer attempts. Mariota set the Pac-12 record with 343 consecutive passes without an interception.

Mariota can run
Mariota has rushed for 1,510 yards in his career and has averaged 7.3 yards per carry. Almost half (49 percent) of his carries have been designed quarterback runs.

On such plays, Mariota leads all Power Five quarterbacks with 10.1 yards per rush and is second to Braxton Miller with 17 runs of 20 yards or more.

Mariota is often not touched on these plays until he is well past the line of scrimmage, as he averages 8.2 yards before contact.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Jameis Winston has already begun putting together a highlight reel of Heisman-worthy clips. The video of his touchdown run against Oklahoma State in the season opener went viral as he hurdled over his own teammate and juked opponents like a video game.

This weekend, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will get his chance to do the same against visiting Michigan State (6:30 p.m. ET) -- a primetime game, a quality opponent, and a full four quarters (most likely) to pull a rabbit out of his hat for one play or another.

And the fact that it'll be against one of the nation's best defenses could look pretty good to Heisman voters if Mariota is able to put up some big plays.

Last season, Michigan State had the best defense -- statistically -- in the nation, holding opponents to just 251.9 yards per game, including just four yards per play. The Spartans allowed just 12 passing touchdowns and held opposing quarterbacks to a 47.5 percent completion rate.

"They're a great defense," Mariota said. "They're really good at what they do. They put their players in good positions to make plays."

Up front this season, the Spartans feature the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Shilique Calhoun, who goes by the nickname "Bane" (as in the masked villain from "The Dark Knight Rises"). The defensive line also features defensive end Marcus Rush, who's one of the Spartans' more underrated players.

The middle of the field saw some loss for the Spartans in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, however, MSU returns Taiwan Jones as well as young talent in Riley Bullough (younger brother of Max) and Jon Reschke.

But the "No Fly Zone," which is what the Spartans' secondary has come to be known as, is what Mariota will go up against. Darqueze Dennard is gone but Trae Waynes hopes to be the next lockdown corner for the Spartans. And at safety, Michigan State features two-year starter Kurtis Drummond and R.J. Williamson.

Mariota said the Spartans' defense doesn't really remind him of any Pac-12 defense in particular, but he's expecting to see a lot of man coverage because Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi definitely trusts his defensive backs to make plays on the ball.

"We'll have to communicate up front and make sure we're good in our protections," Mariota said. "And try to take our shots."

Mariota certainly took those shots against South Dakota in Week 1, averaging 19.1 yards per completion. But the Coyotes' defense is nowhere near as tough as what the Spartans will present.

And with a younger crop of receivers, it'll be interesting to see how the Ducks divvy up the targeting among the players. Against South Dakota, Ducks running back Byron Marshall was actually the leading receiver, but 11 different players caught passes during the game.

That number will certainly decrease as the Ducks key in on go-to receivers as they prepare to face the Spartans, but how much the rest of Mariota's statistics decrease will be much more interesting and important for Oregon and the Heisman race.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
The Oregon Ducks made the biggest splash on the recruiting trail over the weekend, landing a commitment from ESPN 300 athlete Malik Lovette. The Ducks had the nation's No. 276 prospect on campus for an official visit and sealed the deal rather quickly. Elsewhere, it was a fairly quiet weekend for the conference overall, as three Thursday games, two Friday game and several away games left only four programs hosting Saturday contests and even fewer official visitors.

Planning for success: Washington

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
What has long been assumed, is now official: Cyler Miles will start at quarterback for Washington.

Even before Jeff Lindquist struggled in the Huskies' 17-16 win at Hawaii, Miles was the odds-on pick to take over after serving a one-game suspension for his role in a post-Super Bowl fight. But as Saturday's season-opener progressed, any potentially lingering doubt disappeared.

[+] EnlargeJeff Lindquist
Eugene Tanner/Associated PressJeff Lindquist's struggles against Hawaii has opened the door for Cyles Miles to claim Washington's starting quarterback job.
Petersen addressed the decision with local media Monday.

“We’re going to give [Miles] a chance to start and get him back in the mix and see what he can do,” Petersen said.

The first-year coach said the move was made after taking into account how Lindquist played and what he'd seen from Miles during fall camp. If Lindquist had played better, this still likely would have been the result, but by completing just 10 of 26 passes for 162 yards, there was no real decision to be made.

"If guys are producing and playing well, they should play more," Petersen said. "And if certain guys aren’t -- whatever position -- then other guys should maybe get an opportunity to go. Certain guys don’t like their roles and I can appreciate that, but if they want to change it they’ve got to change it in a certain way."

From a talent perspective, the switch to Miles is an immediate upgrade. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, the dual-threat sophomore gives the Huskies one of the more physically gifted quarterbacks in a conference loaded at the position. However, there's a lot more that Petersen likes about his game.

"I think he commands the field pretty well," Petersen said. "I think he has a really good feel for what’s going on. It always comes down -- to me -- to decision-making and accuracy. I hope that he takes a good step forward in that department for us.”

In relief of Keith Price last year, Miles connected on 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

What remains to be seen is to what degree he's grasped the playbook and has a command of the offense. As part of his punishment, Miles was away from the team during spring practice and spent fall camp playing catch-up.

“I think he’s close. We were out there today practicing," Petersen said. "We were doing something and we gave him a signal. The whole offense knew it. We were going fast. The whole offense knew it and he was like, 'What is that?' ... There are certain things that we’re still getting him up to speed with.”

On the surface, playing a FCS opponent seems like the perfect way to break in a starting quarterback, but Eastern Washington figures to present as stiff challenge. The No. 2-ranked Eagles are expected to challenge for a national title in the division and have a dynamic quarterback in junior Vernon Adams Jr. Adams Jr. has accounted for 84 touchdowns, which is eighth all-time in the Big Sky Conference.

Pac-12 morning links

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
Leading off

Week 2 brings two of the most anticipated games of the college football season, with Michigan State traveling to Oregon and Stanford hosting USC. Nationally, most are calling the Sparty-Duck game the No. 1 nonconference matchup in college football this year. The Pac-12 blog agrees. And we know what Stanford and USC have been like the last few seasons. It's a good week to be a Pac-12 fan. Here's what some folks are saying about the matchups.

Athlon Sports on Oregon-Michigan State:
We don't really know anything about either team after lopsided victories in Week 1. Sparty crushed poor Jacksonville State 45-7, while the Ducks routed lowly South Dakota 62-13. This is the ultimate contrast in schemes with Marcus Mariota leading one of the nation's most powerful spread attacks and Pat Narduzzi directing one the gnarliest defensive units in the land.

And their take on Stanford-USC:
Look for quarterbacks Kevin Hogan (204 yds, 4 total TD) and Cody Kessler (394 yds, 4 TD) to build on excellent Week 1 performances. Stanford is looking for revenge after a late-season upset at the hands of the Trojans in Los Angeles a year ago, and the loser will fall a game behind higher-ranked division contenders.

Sports Illustrated previews the MSU-Oregon game as well, with a focus on what this game could mean for the playoff selection committee down the road:
The ramifications of the result from Eugene will transcend what Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun do on the field, as the season’s marquee non-conference game provides precious data points in comparing the Big Ten and the Pac-12.

And our own Ted Miller hit on this yesterday.

Bowling talk

One of the bolder predictions in the preseason came from Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports, who pegged the Washington Huskies as the team to beat in North. Here is his weekly notebook with news and notes and his opinion from around college football. Top to bottom, it’s a good read with plenty of Pac-12 goodies in there. But the one most readers will stop on are his predictions for the six bowl games on New Year’s Day, which still include Washington and UCLA.
Am I feeling a little skittish about my UCLA and Washington picks right about now? Of course. Will I be swapping out Michigan State for Ohio State this time next week? Quite possibly. But I’d like to watch more than one game before jumping to any grand conclusions. After all, a year ago Auburn barely survived Washington State at home in its season opener and Michigan State could barely move the ball against Western Michigan. They wound up a combined 25-3.
Tune in

For all of your audio needs, you can check out the Solid Verbal podcast. They recap a lot of what happened in the Pac-12 (starting at about the 38:20 mark). Among the topics:
  • Some praise for California.
  • Should we freak out about UCLA?
  • Washington's struggles.
  • Washington State-Rutgers.

Worth a listen if you have the time.

News/notes/team reports

*I posted the updated depth charts last week for each team. Is that a weekly feature you guys want? Tweet at me and let me know.

Just for fun

Never hurts to keep an eye on this:

Nice to see Cal players celebrating.

Pac-12 QB Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
The Pac-12 typically has great quarterbacks and good depth at the position, but the 2014 season is particularly stacked behind center. With 10 returning starters, including a handful who are expected to be All-American candidates and early NFL draft picks, it’s almost difficult to keep up with who’s doing what to whom’s secondary.

No worries. We’ve got you covered. Each week, we will provide you a top-five ranking of the Pac-12 QBs.

Now, it won’t always be a 1 to 5 ranking according to the expected pecking order at season’s end or NFL draft lists. It will react heavily to the preceding week. And we’ll try to spread some love. If our ratings seem inconsistent and they frustrate you at times, well, we just feel so horrible about that.

Honorable mention:
Brett Hundley, UCLA, Connor Halliday, Washington State, Taylor Kelly, Arizona State: Three big names end up here after being outshined by others, at least for one week. Hundley was victimized by poor offensive line play at Virginia and mostly played well under intense pressure, but he gets hit for he and his team falling well short of expectations. One offensive touchdown ... really? Halliday gets a hat tip for putting up huge numbers in a loss, but it was a disappointing season-opening loss. Ergo, only a hat tip. Kelly put up solid if unspectacular numbers against a terrible opponent.

Pac-12 names players of the week

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1

USC quarterback Cody Kessler, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks and Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay have been named the Pac-12's players of the week.

Kessler is the offensive player for posting a career-high 394 passing yards in USC's 52-13 win over Fresno State. He tossed four touchdown passes and also rushed for one.

Kendricks was named defensive player of the week for a 16-tackle effort in UCLA's 28-20 road win over Virgnia. The Bruins turned in three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter, including an interception that Kendricks returned 37 yards for a touchdown. Kendricks, who was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week, also forced a fumble that led to another touchdown.

Clay took home this week's special-teams honors for returning a pair of kicks for touchdowns in Utah's 56-14 win over Idaho State. The first was a 46-yard punt return late in the first half. Later in the game he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. He became the league's first player since Cal's Deltha O'Neal in 1999 to score off a punt and a kicker return in the same game.

Washington to start QB Cyler Miles

September, 1, 2014
Sep 1
After serving a one-game suspension in the season opener, quarterback Cyler Miles will start for the Washington Huskies against Eastern Washington, coach Chris Petersen announced Monday.

[+] EnlargeCyler Miles, Bishop Sankey
Jaime Valdez/USA TODAY SportsWashington QB Cyler Miles will start for the Huskies against Eastern Washington after serving a one-game suspension.
Jeff Lindquist started for the Huskies against Hawaii on Saturday as Miles was sidelined as punishment for his role in a fight on Feb. 2. Lindquist completed just 10 of 26 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown as Washington escaped with a 17-16 win.

Petersen's decision to start Miles following his suspension has been widely expected for weeks. Miles appeared in eight games in relief of Keith Price last season and completed 37 of 61 passes for 418 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

He did not take part in any team activities following an altercation after the Super Bowl until being reinstated to the team on May 14.

At Pac-12 Media Days, Petersen said he was happy with how Miles responded after being suspended in February.

"He's done everything right, without question, or he wouldn't be with us," Petersen said. "Guys make mistakes, we all know that, certainly in that age group. We always say that the age group we're dealing with, for the most part, is the dumbest age group in America.

"It just happens to be so public. Guys make mistakes, but the important thing is that we learn from it," Petersen said.
Marcus Mariota and Connor CookAP PhotoThe performances of Marcus Mariota, left, and Connor Cook will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's Oregon-Michigan State game.
There will be no "real" Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 2015. The "real" Rose Bowl, whose purity previously had been diluted by the BCS, is a casualty of the College Football Playoff this season. While that will make many of us old fogies wince, the only constructive response is to embrace change and recognize the fulfillment of decades-long clamoring for a playoff was inevitably going to kill off some cherished institutions with its birth.

As a consolation prize, however, the college football gods have given us No. 8 Michigan State visiting No. 3 Oregon on Saturday. It's a Rose Bowl matchup the first weekend of September, with the (alleged) Big Ten best versus (alleged) Pac-12 best. With Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller out for the season and UCLA's less than scintillating performance at Virginia, this one has gained further traction as a potential CFP selection committee barometer for both teams and both conferences.

No, there will be no sunset behind the San Gabriel Mountains at Autzen Stadium, but there likely will be rosy fingers of meaning extending from whatever happens Saturday. For one, an early-season victory over a top-10 team in a nonconference game is exactly what the selection committee claims it will pay homage to. As an optional challenge boldly undertaken outside of the rote bureaucracy of conference scheduling, this game should serve as a badge of honor for teams trying to distinguish themselves to 13 judges in a conference room Dec. 7.

Ah, the committee. We can be fairly certain that, for better or worse, the great "Transitive Property of College Football" will play a role in its deliberations, and that is the perception prize the Spartans and Ducks will battle over in addition to the scoreboard numbers.

If Oregon wins, it will thereby -- transitively -- be better than any team the Spartans beat over the remainder of their season. If Michigan State ends up the Big Ten champion at 12-1, the Ducks will be viewed as the de facto Big Ten champs -- at least if the Ducks do well enough over the rest of their season to merit such an overreaching (overreacting?) designation. This playoff math would be rendered less relevant if Oregon, in this scenario, meanders to a 10-2 finish and fails to win the Pac-12's North Division.

The same goes for Michigan State, perhaps even more so because the rest of its schedule is not as demanding. If the Spartans beat a Ducks team -- in fearsome Autzen Stadium, the Pac-12's toughest road venue, no less -- that goes on to win the ostensibly SEC-ish Pac-12, their bounty could be a defensible claim to the top perch in two Power 5 conferences. That is, of course, if they take care of business over the entire season.

So the function is almost a transference of the Rose Bowl's typical season-ending meaning, just without any of the cool pageantry. A further twist is that both teams after the game become each other's biggest fans, with both winner and loser wanting the other to make the result a more impressive measure of itself.

Not that you'll hear Ducks coach Mark Helfrich or Spartans leader Mark Dantonio celebrating this sort of curlicue thinking. They've got teams with big goals, including playoff goals, but placing this game on such a pedestal could make a loss feel catastrophic within the locker room. Then what about the next 10 or 11 games?

“[This is] game No. 2. We have 10 games after that. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves," Dantonio said. "It’s not an end-all either way. That’s going to be a measuring stick game for us. Where are we at? Who are we? It will give us a little more of a sense of identity early in the season.”

Once you get past going John le Carré on potential selection committee intrigues, the football part of this football game is pretty cool, too. Although the teams share a team color of green, that's pretty much where the commonality ends, and even then, Oregon long ago went ludicrous speed on the notion of team colors and sartorial standards.

Speaking of ludicrous speed, Oregon, you might have heard, plays fast and furious on offense and piles up yards and points like a frenzying school of pirañas. Meanwhile, Michigan State, as you know, plays defense like a thick wall of titanium. Wall? It's more like an impregnable box -- with walls slowly closing together.

Last year, Oregon ranked No. 2 in the nation in total offense (565 yards per game) and No. 4 in scoring offense (45.5 ppg). Michigan State ranked No. 2 in total defense (252.2 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring defense (13.2 ppg). The Spartans also enter the game knowing they beat the Pac-12 team that beat the Ducks, given that they dispatched Stanford 24-20 in the 2014 Rose Bowl.

Of course, an over-reliance on what happened the past season is one of the greatest weaknesses in so-called college football punditry. The first weekend has already shown us that projecting forward based on returning starters and extrapolated improvement is an inexact science. Both Oregon and Michigan State are missing key players from 2013 on both sides of the ball. They also have shiny new players ready to glow.

Still, the circumstantial evidence suggests both teams will lean on their obvious strengths on Saturday. The Ducks and quarterback Marcus Mariota, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate, rolled up 673 yards without really trying in an opening win over South Dakota, while Michigan State's defense throttled Jacksonville State 45-7 yielding just 244 yards.

The obvious only goes so far. The game ultimately might swing on the secondary quantities. Spartans quarterback Connor Cook has been surging since the middle of the past year, and he was darn near perfect in the opener and actually earned a perfect rating of 100 in's Total QB Rating. Oregon's defense has long been given short shrift, despite ranking among the nation's leaders and sending numerous players to the NFL.

The sum conclusion is that, while we will go Rose Bowl-less this season, this is a game that has plenty to offer, both in football on Saturday and in potential micro-analyzed meaning as the season progresses.