Oregon, UCLA left to lick their wounds

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
12:47
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Each Sunday during the season, ESPN.com will highlight four storylines that had an impact on the College Football Playoff race.

Oregon and UCLAChris Morris for ESPN

The Pac-12 is doing some self-reflection after both of its top-10 teams suffered upsets. No. 8 UCLA missed two chances at a game-winning field goal as time expired and Utah beat the Bruins 30-28. On Thursday night, Arizona went to Eugene and beat No. 2 Oregon for the second year in a row.

Playoff picture: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
10:15
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Dear Alabama fans: Don’t sweat it.

To Oregon fans: It’s not over yet.

Hey, Sooners fans: Get ready for Texas.

The rest of the world wants to remind you that you were among five of the top eight teams in The Associated Press poll that lost in Week 6 and how the state of Mississippi conquered the entire sport in one historic Saturday. Not here. Not in this space. This is your playoff sanctuary, your reminder that not only can one loss be forgiven in the new College Football Playoff, it can be overcome.

The playoff’s selection committee loves conference champs, and every top-10 team that lost Saturday -- particularly Alabama, Oklahoma and Oregon -- can still win its respective conference. The margin for error is gone, no doubt, but playoff hopes are not. The more perplexing scenario is which of the Power 5 conferences with a one-loss league champ would be left out, and where Notre Dame fits into the picture. The Irish got a statement win over Stanford but still have to play Florida State.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsA one-loss Oregon team that wins the Pac-12 title would still have an excellent shot at making the playoff.
A one-loss Alabama team that wins the SEC title? The Tide are in. A one-loss Oregon team that wins the Pac-12? Still a great chance, but with UCLA and Stanford both losing, the Ducks’ strength of schedule took a hit. USC’s loss to Arizona State didn’t help the Pac-12, either. A one-loss Oklahoma team that beats Baylor, K-State and Oklahoma State? Lookin’ good.

Then again, so is Michigan State.

The immediate snapshot of the playoff picture shouldn’t have those programs in it, but fast forward to the end of November and it could feel like this week never happened. There are 10 undefeated teams remaining, including Marshall, which has the best chance at staying that way. TCU and Baylor will play each other this week.

The three undefeated teams in the SEC West (Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State) all still have to play each other. Auburn arguably has the toughest remaining schedule in the country, ending the regular season at Alabama.

Heading into Week 6, ESPN’s Football Power Index predicted that Oklahoma’s game against TCU was its toughest remaining game on the schedule -- slightly ahead of Baylor. With TCU now behind them, there’s reason to still think the Sooners can win out. Oklahoma’s biggest concern right now (besides Texas) is how TCU fares at Baylor this week. The Frogs have a chance to leap to the top of the Big 12.

The selection committee’s first rankings come out Oct. 28, and we’ve seen how one weekend can flip the script. Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma have an uphill battle and tough games ahead of them, but which team doesn’t? The end result will likely be four conference champions from the Power 5 in the playoff -- or maybe Notre Dame will take one of those spots -- not three teams from the SEC West and Florida State.

Amid all the chaos that ensued Saturday, all was not lost in Week 6 -- including a little perspective.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
9:00
AM ET
"Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?! Is this not why you are here?"

The Pac-12 has been blown to smithereens. Forget everything you thought you knew. See you guys next week. We’re starting from scratch.

Words cannot do justice to the insanity that was Week 6 in the Pac-12. Arizona waltzed into Autzen Stadium and won, but that was just the appetizer. Another Hail Mary finish, a new FBS passing record, and multiple instances of end-game missed field goal drama later, Cal is now alone leading the Pac-12 North while Arizona is at the top of the Pac-12 South. So, in the midst of insanity, it's time to give out helmet stickers.

Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona: The youngster racked up 92 rushing yards on only 13 carries (7.1 per touch). He also caught a critical 34-yard touchdown pass from Anu Solomon that proved to be the difference in Arizona's 31-24 win. During that emblematic play, Wilson turned Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu into "a fly on a windshield" -- if I'm allowed to steal the TV broadcast's perfect description. It's rare to see a true freshman lay the wood like that.

Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona: Wright has posted more impressive games statistically, but his performance at Autzen Stadium enters Wildcat lore because of one last, iconic play. With Arizona nursing a one-score lead, Wright hunted down Marcus Mariota and ripped the ball away with one powerful swoop, sealing a massive win and evoking memories of Desert Swarm in the process.

Terron Ward and Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State: The Beavers have been laboring to establish a consistent run game that complements quarterback Sean Mannion's efforts, and they got a solid ground effort from their tandem in Boulder on Saturday. Ward rolled up 102 yards (8.5 per carry), while Woods added 69 of his (5.3 per carry) to fuel a 36-31 win over Colorado.

Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State: He caught a game-winning 46-yard Hail Mary from Mike Bercovici to silence the Coliseum as time expired. Is there anything else that can be said about Strong's sublime 10-catch, 202-yard performance? This guy is an NFL talent, and his efforts led the Sun Devils to a 38-34 stunner against USC.

Connor Halliday, QB, Washington State: We'd already mentioned that Halliday was on pace to break the NCAA single-season passing record. Well, now he's on track to absolutely shatter it. Halliday's 49-for-70, 734-yard, six-touchdown performance set a new FBS record for passing yards in a single game. Houston's David Klinger held the previous mark (716 yards in 1990). The most astounding piece of this story: Halliday put on that aerial display without throwing a single interception, yet his team still somehow lost. Cal edged the Cougars 60-59.

Jared Goff QB, Cal: The sophomore's 527 passing yards combined with Halliday's 734 to make 1,261 total, also an FBS record. Goff's combination of pinpoint floaters and laser beams was spectacular and it was also efficient -- he averaged nearly 10 yards per attempt against a Cougars' defense that was actually coming off a solid performance at Utah the week prior. Most importantly, Cal escaped with a win. Memorial Stadium will be rocking next Saturday to welcome home Goff and his 4-1 first-place Bears. Yes, you read that correctly.

Utah defense: The Utes completely exposed UCLA's offensive line en route to a massive bounce-back 30-28 victory at the Rose Bowl. Whenever a defense combines for 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss against a team with a mobile quarterback like Brett Hundley, the entire unit deserves helmet stickers. So we're mailing a whole bunch of them to Salt Lake City, where the Utes are again sitting pretty in the midst of total chaos at 4-1. Remember, this is a team that had won only two road games over the past two seasons entering 2014. This defense has been an integral part of this season's 2-0 road start.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah: Though the Utes' defense terrorized Hundley all night, Kyle Whittingham needed a bell cow to crank out yardage and move the chains in critical situations. That would ensure that kicking stud Andy Phillips was set at crunch time. Booker assumed that role, rumbling for 162 yards on 33 workmanlike carries.
Ty MontgomeryJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesStanford couldn't really get its ground game rolling on Saturday, and lost 17-14 to Notre Dame.
It’s Oct. 5, and there’s one remaining undefeated team in the Pac-12: the Arizona Wildcats.

Cal, which didn’t beat a single Power 5 team a year ago, is leading the Pac-12 North, despite giving up more than 100 combined points in its past two wins.

These are strange, unpredictable times in college football, and there’s no place wilder than the West. It hasn’t been merely odd; it’s been damaging. No conference was hurt more by a historically volatile college football weekend: Oregon went down. UCLA went down. Stanford went down again.

The result: The Pac-12 isn’t going to have a representative in the College Football Playoff. It wasn’t the league we projected to be shut out, but that’s where we’re heading.

That’s where the Week 6 takeaways begin. Also included: Mississippi State is the most complete team in America; the day’s biggest coaching winners; why North Carolina is suddenly broken; TCU and its vastly improved QB come through; and Ohio State’s quiet move.

Next Week now



Taking stock of the Pac-12

There’s undoubtedly an impressive level of depth in the Pac-12, but that depth is devouring a shrinking group of contenders that appear more flawed and less viable by the week. After seeing Arizona need a late stop to win at UTSA and a Hail Mary to beat Cal, there isn’t great momentum for the Wildcats to continue their undefeated run. They’re young and fun to watch, but not yet a contender.

Next week’s game between Oregon and UCLA, a prime choice for “College GameDay” before both teams lost in Week 6, has been taken down from the marquee. It’s now a playoff eliminator, though both teams have flaws -- most notably their offensive lines -- that will lead to additional losses.

In surviving Washington State and losing to Arizona, Oregon looked closer to an 8-4 team than a title threat.

“They’ve got problems,” a Power 5 head coach said Friday.
video Connor Halliday set a new FBS record with 734 passing yards, but Washington State missed a 19-yard field goal attempt with 19 seconds left, giving California a 60-59 win. Cal's Jared Goff passed for 527 yards and five touchdowns in the victory. The previous single-game passing record was 716 yards, set by Houston's David Klingler in 1990.
videoSome things we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 6:

Expect the unexpected*: OK, so you didn't even have to have your TV on a Pac-12 game to experience the unexpected this weekend because insanity happened everywhere. It was the first time since the inception of the Associated Press Poll that five of the top eight teams lost on the same weekend. No. 12 Mississippi State upset No. 6 Texas A&M. No. 11 Ole Miss upset No. 3 Alabama. No. 25 TCU upset No. 4 Oklahoma. Northwestern upset No. 17 Wisconsin. Utah State upset No. 18 BYU. And the Pac-12 wasn't going to be left out of all the fun. Arizona State upset No. 16 USC, Utah upset No. 8 UCLA and Arizona upset No. 2 Oregon. It was bonkers. Everything. Was. Bonkers. We knew that this was going to be a crazy season, but I don't think anyone saw this kind of a shakeup -- in the conference or across the country -- coming so soon. But it's here. Holy moly, college football craziness is here.

*Except when it comes to Stanford -- then, expect the expected: Meaning, expect a championship-caliber defense and a struggling offense -- that's exactly what we saw in the Cardinal's loss to Notre Dame. Stanford's front seven were stout and made Everett Golson's job very, very hard. They have a reputation and they protected it in South Bend. Stanford's offense, on the other hand, was held to 47 rushing yards (the first time in more than two years the Cardinal haven't accounted for 100 rushing yards in a game) and senior Kevin Hogan completed just 50 percent of his passes while throwing two interceptions and zero touchdowns in the 17-14 last-minute loss.

[+] EnlargeJaelen Strong
Ric Tapia/Icon SportswireArizona State's Jaelen Strong catches a 46-yard Hail Mary as time expires to beat USC, 38-34.
Rich Rod gon' Rich Rod: And yes, that means knocking off a highly ranked Oregon team. His Wildcats advanced to 5-0 on the season with a 31-24 win over the Ducks on the road. Rodriguez got huge offensive contributions from some of his freshman, too, which should send some warning signals throughout the conference regarding this team's future. Redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon completed 20 of 31 passes for 287 yards (1 TD, 1 INT), while freshman running back Nick Wilson toted the ball 13 times, accounting for 92 rushing yards and two touchdowns (he also added a 34-yard receiving touchdown).

The state of Arizona owns the state of California in Hail Mary's: Week 4 saw Arizona take down Cal with a Hail Mary, and on Saturday night, Arizona State took down USC 38-34 with a Hail Mary. There must be something in the water (this is a joke, I know both states are in historical droughts) in the state of Arizona that's allowing its receivers to get up through piles of defensive backs and make these improbable plays.

This really is the year of the QB in the Pac-12, and yes, that includes backups: We've given a ton of coverage to the Marcus Mariotas and Brett Hundleys of the Pac-12, and they certainly deserve it. However, Week 6 saw some huge performances from some backup QBs, which just speaks to the depth at the position in the conference. Taylor Kelly's backup, junior Mike Bercovici, led his unranked Arizona State squad to an upset over No. 16 USC. Bercovici threw for five touchdowns and 510 yards (would've had more if not for a few key drops), including the 46-yard Hail Mary pass to win the game. Travis Wilson's backup, junior Kendal Thompson, led Utah to a 30-28 upset of No. 8 UCLA on the road. Thompson completed 10 of 13 passes for 95 yards and one touchdown, but where he really attacked the Bruins was on the ground. He took off 19 times for 83 yards and forced the UCLA defense to play a bit more honest.

Connor Halliday has cemented his name in the record books: In an Air Raid-versus-Air Raid matchup, Halliday broke the FBS passing record with 734 yards -- and the Cougars still lost to Cal 60-59. So, the Pac-12 Blog's verdict is still out on which is more ridiculous: the fact that Halliday still has an arm after throwing six touchdowns and 734 yards or the fact that he did that and his team still lost. But one thing is for sure: Halliday has cemented his legacy in college football with that performance. He did everything he could to get the Cougars the win.

The league's two best teams have two of the worst-performing offensive lines: For as much as we've talked about Mariota and Hundley, this weekend gave us plenty of reasons to be talking about the five players in front of those guys. In Week 4, Mariota was sacked seven times against Washington State, so I suppose the five sacks against Arizona were an improvement. But Mariota was injured in that Wazzu game. The Ducks are in a tough spot with Mariota. His offensive line isn't playing well so he needs to be more mobile, but he can't be more mobile because he's hurt. But if Mariota wants to get some empathy, he can just go to Hundley, who was sacked 10 times in the Bruins' loss to Utah. These offensive lines need to pull it together going forward.

Colorado is the worst team in the conference but not by much: Had the ball bounced the Buffs' way a bit more last weekend, maybe they would've come up with the win over Cal. And against Oregon State, the win was within reach. Colorado is making strides, and with Sefo Liufau commanding that offense the next two years, who knows what happens? Right now this is a team that's going to compete in the Pac-12, but it just isn't good enough to finish games quite yet. Until the Buffs get there, they'll be at the bottom of the pack.

Video: Utah QB Kendal Thompson

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
2:18
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video

Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson discusses the Utes' 30-28 win against No. 8 UCLA.

Instant Analysis: Utah 30, UCLA 28

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
2:07
AM ET
video
PASADENA, Calif. -- The Pac-12 is down to one unbeaten team (Arizona!) after Utah upset No. 8 UCLA 30-28 at the Rose Bowl.

How the game was won: A week after wasting a big lead at home against Washington State, the Utes showed resilience on the road, fighting off UCLA comeback attempts that included two attempts -- because of a penalty -- at a game-winning field goal as time expired. UCLA missed both. While there were a lot of important moments, including a clutch go-ahead drive late in the fourth after the Bruins took the lead, the bottom line was Utah's pass rush dominating the Bruins offensive line, recording an eye-popping 10 sacks.

Game ball goes to: It appears Utah has a new starting quarterback, as Kendal Thompson, an Oklahoma transfer, replaced Travis Wilson and led the Utes to the victory. Thompson completed 10 of 13 throws for 95 yards and rushed for 83 yards on 19 carries.

Best play: Utah receiver Dres Anderson grabs a 42-yard touchdown in between two UCLA defenders in the second quarter to put the Utes up 14-0.

video 

What it means: It means next week's anticipated UCLA-Oregon matchup will now feature two teams coming off losses instead of two teams front and center in the hunt for a berth in the College Football Playoff. It means that one of the Pac-12's preseason top-10 teams will have two losses before we reach mid-October. It means that the top-to-bottom quality and over-arching parity in the conference makes every weekend a gut check, even for the supposedly elite teams.

Playoff implication: While the widespread carnage across college football this week suggests that one loss won't destroy a team's playoff hopes, this was not a loss the Bruins expected to take: at home versus unranked Utah, a team that finished with a losing record a year ago. It's hard to imagine the Bruins can negotiate the rest of their schedule without going down a second -- or third time. Their margin for error is certainly reduced. The Oregon matchup, in fact, might be an elimination game.

What's next: UCLA plays host to Oregon on Saturday in a critical Pac-12 matchup, only now it's about two seriously wounded teams battling to remain in the national picture. Utah, a week after feeling terrible with the loss to Washington State, improves to 4-1 and 1-1 and now can be considered a player in the South Division race. The Utes have a bye to enjoy this win before visiting Oregon State on Thursday, Oct. 16.

Instant Analysis: ASU 38, USC 34

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
11:34
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video LOS ANGELES -- The Trojans were locked into a back-and-forth showdown with the visiting ASU Sun Devils before the fireworks really started in the fourth quarter. How did it end?

How do most Pac-12 games end these days?

How the game was won: On a Hail Mary, of course. This is the Pac-12. Pretty typical. The Sun Devils trailed 20-18 coming into the fourth quarter. But scored 20 points in the final quarter -- including a 46-yard Hail Mary from Mike Bercovici to Jaelen Strong as time expired for a 38-34 win. Even after a pair of failed onside kick attempts, they were able to force the Trojans to punt, and they took over at their own 28. A couple of completions set up the game-winning dramatics.

Game ball goes to: Bercovici did what every backup quarterback should do: take care of the football. He was 27-of-45 for 510 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. And one very, very big play at the end.

What it means: Depending on what happens with UCLA-Utah, the Bruins and Wildcats now have a firm grasp of the Pac-12 South. But the Sun Devils and Trojans are still in the chase with one conference loss each. It's going to make for some potentially interesting tie-breaker scenarios down the line. Yeah, the Pac-12 is deep.

Playoff implication: Can't rule the Sun Devils out just yet. A one-loss Pac-12 champion still has a very good shot. ASU will have to run the table and be perfect. And it will need some help if it wants to catch the Bruins in the standings.

Best play: Duh.

What's next: Another huge South Division showdown for the Trojans, who travel to the desert to face the undefeated Arizona Wildcats, the team that upended Oregon on Thursday night. The Sun Devils get the week off before they host Stanford on Oct. 18. There's talk that quarterback Taylor Kelly will be back for that game.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Ninth-ranked Notre Dame topped No. 14 Stanford 17-14 on Saturday. Here's how it went down:

How the game was won: Ben Koyack caught a wide-open 23-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-11 with 1:01 left to give the Irish a 17-14 lead. A game in which points were hard to come by featured two touchdowns in the final 3:01, with Everett Golson directing the winning drive.

Game ball goes to: Cole Luke had two interceptions, becoming the first Irish player with two picks in a game since Manti Te'o did against Michigan two years ago. The sophomore also forced a fumble and has been a huge piece for the Irish in KeiVarae Russell's absence.

What it means: Notre Dame's perfect season is alive at 5-0, as the Irish survived their first true test of the season against the nation's No. 1 defense. The Irish's young defense continued to impress and will only get better as the season moves along.

Playoff implication: At 5-0, Notre Dame's College Football Playoff hopes remain alive, with a huge test awaiting in two weeks at reigning national champion Florida State. Two-loss Stanford isn't completely eliminated, as this was a nonconference game, but the Cardinal essentially need to win out to have a chance, something that looked more possible with Oregon's struggles Thursday but less possible with Stanford's offensive ineptitude Saturday.

What's next: Notre Dame has what is essentially a tuneup for Florida State as it takes on reeling North Carolina next Saturday. Stanford hosts Washington State on Friday before it travels to Arizona State for a Pac-12 title game rematch on Oct. 18.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 6

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
12:40
PM ET
A look at Saturday's schedule in the Pac-12. All times ET.

3:30 p.m.

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame, NBC: One of six games in the country between teams ranked in the AP Top 25, Stanford takes the nation's top-ranked defense to South Bend, where the Irish have averaged 35.0 points per game over their first four games. The Cardinal's last trip to Notre Dame ended in a 20-13 loss in overtime, which preserved Notre Dame's undefeated record and later allowed it to play for the national title.

4 p.m.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
AP Photo/Eugene TannerSean Mannion and Oregon State will look to rebound against Colorado after a tough loss against USC.
Oregon State at Colorado, Pac-12 Networks: The Beavers are looking to get things back on track after a one-sided loss at USC, in which quarterback Sean Mannion was held to the lowest single-game passing total in a game he has started. Though Oregon State struggled on offense (and wasn't great on defense), Colorado's offense came alive at home against Cal. Quarterback Sefo Liufau tossed seven touchdown passes and threw for 455 yards, 179 of which went to receiver Nelson Spruce.

7:30 p.m.

Arizona State at No. 16 USC, Fox: A week ago, Arizona State looked like it had the potential to take a step toward winning the Pac-12 South, while there was reason for concern at USC. But the more we watch the more we realize that week to week, the Pac-12 can be a guessing game. This week, ASU is the team with the "can't tackle" label and USC, at home, will look to take advantage.

10:30 p.m.

California at Washington State, Pac-12 Networks: If you have ever wanted to see 1,000 passing yards in a game, this might be your chance. Cal coach Sonny Dykes was influenced heavily by WSU coach Mike Leach while on his staff at Texas Tech, and both quarterbacks -- Cal's Jared Goff and WSU's Connor Halliday -- have their respective offenses clicking. To be clear: 1,000 passing yards isn't hyperbole -- there is a legitimate chance that happens.

Utah at No. 8 UCLA, ESPN: When Oregon lost to Arizona on Thursday, UCLA instantly became the conference's best shot at making the College Football Playoff, and after last week's destruction of Arizona State, that label seems deserved. Quarterback Brett Hundley will look to help his Heisman campaign against a good Utah defense, but the game will likely hinge on what happens when Utah has the ball. The Utes' lackluster offensive performance against WSU last week raised red flags about their ability to compete in conference play. Can they flip the script at the Rose Bowl?

Video: Dr. Lou's Week 6 picks

October, 3, 2014
Oct 3
8:30
PM ET
video

Lou Holtz makes his predictions for Alabama-Ole Miss, Texas A&M-Mississippi State, LSU-Auburn, Nebraska-Michigan State and Stanford-Notre Dame.

Mailbag: Grumpy Ducks, happy 'Cats

October, 3, 2014
Oct 3
6:00
PM ET
Happy Friday... well, Oregon. Not so much, eh?

Follow me on Twitter here. Oregon fans know its the best place to cast a wide net of blame.

And I will not bow at the end of the mailbag, so as to not get ... flagged by ... oh, good grief.

Pac-12 official: Wordy and self-indulgent mailbag lead-in, 15-yards, loss of two sentences, preferably the attempts at humor, which bat about .073.

To the notes.

Andrew from Lebanon, Oregon, writes: NCAA Football Rule 9-2, Article 1(a)(1)(d) states that players are prohibited from "any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves)." Under the most strict definition of the rule, Oregon is guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct via excessive celebration. That is fine. What infuriates me is minutes later, Scooby [Wright] forces a fumble, recovers it, and proceeds to hold the ball aloft, running and high kicking to the sideline surrounded by his teammates. Not only is this celebration a more clear violation of the rule, but he also violated an additional indicator of the foul. Rule 9-2, Article 1(a)(2) asserts that "after a score or any other play, the player in possession immediately must return the ball to an official or leave it near the dead-ball spot." Don't get me wrong: Oregon's play did not warrant a win in this contest, but how can such extreme hypocrisy exist with calls like this?

Ted Miller: Remember in 2008, when Jake Locker scored what should have been a game-tying touchdown against BYU and his casual flip of the ball into the air was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct? You can find it on YouTube if you want to view it. Everybody without an agenda -- read: BYU fans or folks who hated Washington -- thought it was the worst call ever. And it was.

Why? It made the game about officiating instead of football.

Of course, the disingenuous pointed to the letter of the rule. And you could slide it under the "letter of the rule." But it was a judgment call in which the official who threw the flag showed egregious judgment.

Same with the Tony Washington bow. Same with the unsportsmanlike conduct against Arizona earlier in the game.

Officials are going to blow calls -- see the immaculate pass interference late in the Oregon-Washington State game. The game moves fast and it's a tough job. But what fans and media want out of them is sound judgment. This would be the sort of pass-fail example where you could separate those who are constitutionally suited for this job and those who want to do more than enforce rules in order to maintain competitive fairness, safety and decorum.

Sound judgment in this case would have been noting that Washington was quickly bowing to his own sideline, his teammates. If he were bowing toward Arizona -- taunting -- that would be worthy of being judged with a flag.


Lou from Phoenix writes: Ted, with each team in the North having one conference loss, this weekend is truly huge for everyone. Coug fans (myself included) are keeping our championship hopes alive. Should we be more grounded, or is this truly anyone's division?

Ted Miller: As of today, the North is wide open. While my pick, as of today, wouldn't be the Cougars, I see no reason why Washington State fans shouldn't allow themselves some hope.

For what it's worth, I'm now switching from my preseason pick of Oregon to Stanford. After watching the Arizona-Oregon game, I just don't see how the Ducks block the Stanford front seven.


Matt from Portland writes: In light of the Huskies' woeful offensive performance this weekend, how much of it can be attributed to A, Stanford's quality of defense; B, poor / inexperienced skill players on the UW offense; or C, the playcalling and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith being not quite ready for playing at the Pac-12 level?

Ted Miller: I give most of the credit to the Stanford defense, and I wonder what happened to a Huskies offensive line that was supposed to be veteran and stout.

There's no question quarterback Cyler Miles looked rattled at times, but he actually had good reason -- he wasn't getting much of an opportunity to go through his progressions.

I'm not ready to even venture into the "Jonathan Smith being not quite ready for playing at the Pac-12 level" question. Play calling is about down and distance and matchups, and that doesn't have much to do with the Pac-12 compared to the Mountain West. I also think we'll get a better picture of Smith and the Huskies' offense when it's not matched up with one of the best defenses in the nation.

It is, however, fair to be disappointed with what Washington has produced at this point of the season. It's an incomplete picture, but it's unquestionably below expectations.


Waquin from Tempe, Arizona, writes: Is it just me, or did I just feel a power shift? It is still early, but the South is looking to over take the North this year. The flagship programs of the North each have a loss to the South. Meanwhile, the only undefeated teams in the Pac-12 are from the South.

Ted Miller: A lot of football left to be played.

We knew in the preseason that the South was gaining on the North. Further, USC's win over Stanford and Arizona's win over Oregon are victories over the North's lead dogs. Further, Washington has looked mediocre and Oregon State lost to USC as well.

Still, let's not get too carried away until Oregon and UCLA cross paths next weekend. The two preseason divisional favorites might provide more clarity on this bitter, bitter North-South rival that is nothing less than a re-enactment of the War of Northern Aggression!


Phillip from Sarasota, Florida, writes: I have always been a fan of Rich Rod teams -- the guy is an offensive genius. Is this the year he wins national coach of the year honors?

Ted Miller: Rodriguez is on the sort list of best offensive minds in the nation -- that's an opinion shared by many, many coaches, by the way -- and he's certainly regarded as an outstanding head coach. What happened at Michigan was always more about institutional failures at Michigan rather than Rodriguez's shortcomings.

As for national coach of the year, I think Rodriguez is most focused on bringing his guys back to earth to prepare for USC on Oct. 11.

But if the Wildcats win the South Division, he will certainly be among the Coach of the Year candidates. At minimum, Pac-12 Coach of the Year.


Randy from Scottsdale, Arizona, writes: Ted, you owe me and every other U of A fan a sincere apology. You and your colleagues have completely disrespected us all year with these garbage predicitions. You somehow managed to not rank a single Arizona player in your top 25 players and also had a preseason bowl projection with some teams ahead of U of A that only returned two defensive players? And what was the logic behind this? Because you thought Rich Rod wouldnt pick a good QB after he turned B.J. Denker into eight wins? I want an apology and I want it today. Thanks ahead of times.

Ted Miller: I am so, so sorry.

Really.

Sniffle.
videoIf Arizona's shocking 31-24 victory at No. 2 Oregon on Thursday is indicative of the sort of spectacle ahead on this epic weekend of college football, we all might want to invest in seat belts for our easy chairs. And perhaps don helmets ourselves.

The story entering the game was the Ducks seeking revenge for last year's embarrassing blowout loss in Tucson. It also was a good opportunity for QB Marcus Mariota to look all Heisman-y in front of a national audience on ESPN, even if kickoff was at 10:30 p.m. ET. While the Ducks' injury-riddled offensive line and inconsistent defense had been thoroughly picked over by analysts, the general feeling was the Wildcats were a good but not good enough squad to take advantage. What's more, as poised as redshirt freshman QB Anu Solomon had looked during a 4-0 run, he couldn't be expected to win his first Pac-12 road start in fearsome Autzen Stadium, right?

[+] EnlargeArizona Wildcats
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesArizona turned the Pac-12 on its ear with the upset at Oregon.
So much for pregame themes and conventional wisdom, smirks college football. On a week when everything was going horribly wrong for Michigan, bitterly dispatched former Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff delivered a team that was poised and well-prepared and simply tougher than the Ducks. No one saw it coming, which means it was entirely predictable.

Yet in our unexplored new age of the inaugural College Football Playoff, the question every game between ranked or unbeaten or contending teams inspires is "What does it mean?"

The best answer is horribly lame: We don't know. Really. There's already been lots of typing, tweeting and chatter about this game, but we have no idea what this Week 6 contest means in the big picture going forward and, most notably, how it might resonate with the 13-person selection committee.

Those first rankings won't come out until Oct. 28. The best we can say at this moment is that Oregon is probably no longer a candidate for a coveted top-four spot. And Arizona, at least at this moment, is.

Oregon entered this game owning the best win in college football this season: 46-27 over Michigan State, a team that presently is ranked 10th, despite that defeat. Now the Wildcats own the best win this season. Ole Miss is going to try to steal that title on Saturday against Alabama, but there's no way the Rebels outsmart and outman Nick Saban's boys, right?

Arizona will be greeted with some degree of skepticism by pollsters in advance of the selection committee's "Hello, World" moment. The Wildcats 15 days before needed a Hail Mary pass to beat California, which didn't win a Pac-12 game last year, and had not been able to put away UTSA and Nevada until late in the fourth quarter. Yet with USC coming to town on Oct. 11, and road trips to Washington State and UCLA ahead, the Wildcats can quickly prove they are not one-hit wonders and establish legitimacy that would quash any skepticism.

As for Oregon, as dismal as this all seems -- The House that Chip Kelly Built is A-Crumbling! -- there is an immediate opportunity for redemption: a visit to No. 8 UCLA on Oct. 11.

What if OT Jake Fisher gets healthy, DE Arik Armstead's ankle turns out to be a mere flesh wound and Mariota decisively outplays Bruins QB star Brett Hundley? An impressive road win against the Bruins would certainly push the Ducks back into the national picture, particularly with the mighty SEC West also poised to start cannibalizing itself.

While Oregon seemed like the best bet to do the unlikely and negotiate the Pac-12 schedule unbeaten, the reality is that few expected the Pac-12 champion to be all shiny and 13-0 and dressed in an immaculate tuxedo for the selection committee. This conference is too hard for that. One quarter of the way in, the most notable indication was that the bottom and middle had risen up to meet a slightly stooped top third. The putative leaders -- Oregon, UCLA, Stanford, USC, Arizona State -- were each flawed teams, while bottom-feeders Cal and Colorado were suddenly good enough to scare anyone.

And Arizona, a midlander, was good enough to whip the Ducks.

There is a pessimistic side to all this for the Pac-12, starting with Oregon. If the Ducks' offensive line doesn't get a guy or two back, it won't be able to block many of the remaining teams on its schedule. While the Arizona defense is extremely well-coordinated by Jeff Casteel and plays well as a conglomerative unit, its front-seven talent doesn't match UCLA, Washington, Stanford, Utah and Oregon State. Mariota, as good as he is, can't continue to take this sort of beating -- 12 sacks in the past two games.

This defeat could be merely a sign of things to come for Oregon. What we saw Thursday night suggests two or three more losses wouldn't be shocking, and that would definitely make things difficult for second-year coach Mark Helfrich.

This, in fact, might be the state of the conference. The North and South Division champions might meet with two losses apiece. That would testify to the depth and quality of the conference, but it also might only get a respectful tip of the cap from the CFP selection committee.

Of course, we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves. Seemingly every time we try to script the Pac-12 season, we are forced to do a rewrite.

The seat belts and helmets, though, do feel like sound advice.
Stanford returns to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time since 2012's controversial overtime finish in South Bend, from which the Irish came out victorious. That game ultimately ended up deciding one spot in the BCS title game. This time, both teams are contenders for the inaugural College Football Playoff. We answer critical questions ahead of Saturday's kickoff.

1. Between Kevin Hogan and Everett Golson, which team has the advantage at quarterback?

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame quarterback Everett Golson's calmness in the red zone has led Stanford coach David Shaw to compare him to Russell Wilson.
David Lombardi (@LombardiESPN): Hogan actually owns the higher completion percentage (71) and quarterback rating by a fairly narrow margin, but a look at more details suggests that Golson is the one playing better right now. Most importantly, as Matt notes in the final answer below, Golson is doing a much better job than Hogan in orchestrating his team's red-zone offense. Stanford coach David Shaw said Golson's play has reminded him of Russell Wilson, and that's a testament to the calm control the Notre Dame quarterback has displayed this year. For Hogan, meanwhile, attaining comfort has seemed more difficult. He ran the ball a career-high 14 times at Washington, and that could be taken as an indication that he wasn't quite settled in the pocket.

2. Notre Dame has been solid offensively so far. But are the Irish prepared for success against Stanford's defense?

Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna): That's the ultimate question, isn't it? There's no doubt that this a much more dynamic offense with Golson under center, but the best team it has faced is ... Syracuse? The Irish also turned the ball over five times against the Orange, though much of that sloppiness was self-inflicted. Still, Stanford presents a tough matchup for an Irish offense that had to reshuffle its offensive line three games into the season. Notre Dame has been thoroughly mediocre on the ground and would be worse if not for Golson's ability to make plays happen with his feet when all breaks down. Saturday will reveal plenty about the Irish, for better or worse.

3. The 2012 game at South Bend was famously close. If Saturday's contest comes down to special teams, who has the advantage?

Fortuna: Ah, the wonders of FieldTurf. Notre Dame's punt return unit -- a noted atrocity during the Brian Kelly era -- has seen mass improvements this year with Cody Riggs and Greg Bryant in the backfield. Of course, the Irish are only 46th nationally (10.64 yards per return) and the Stanford team coming to town is sixth (21.22). Still, Irish punter/kicker Kyle Brindza said this week he'll try to avoid the dynamic Ty Montgomery. And Brindza -- who, it should be noted, has earned the nickname "Unreturnable" from some people in these parts for his array of touchbacks -- is on pace to break most school field-goal records. He has a knack for late-game situations, too, something the Cardinal learned two years ago. And Jordan Williamson has struggled so far this season. So the advantage here has to go to the Irish.

4. Is there one specific matchup that'll push Stanford to a win?

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTy Montgomery and Stanford's physical receivers have a definite edge over Notre Dame's small corners.
Lombardi: There are actually two matchups that Stanford really likes. The first involves the Cardinal defense, which has been the best in the country (surrendering 4.7 points per game) so far. Notre Dame has only rushed for over 4 yards per carry in one of its four games so far, and that plays right to Stanford's strength: Lance Anderson's defense is able to pin its ears back and unleash a ferocious pass rush after it's shut down the run.

The second matchup that may really work in Stanford's favor involves the Cardinal's massive receivers and Notre Dame's small cornerbacks. Montgomery (6-2, 225 pounds) and Devon Cajuste (6-4, 227 pounds) own significant strength advantages over starting Irish corners Cody Riggs (5-9, 185 pounds) and Cole Luke (5-11, 190 pounds). Stanford will certainly look to exploit that edge in the passing game, but run blocking on the perimeter is where it may enjoy the biggest leg up.

5. Is there one specific matchup that will push Notre Dame to a win?

Fortuna: In short, quarterback play. If Golson is the Heisman candidate the early oddsmakers have pushed him to be, he will have to show it against the No. 1 defense in the country and carry Notre Dame to a win. To be more specific, though, we'll go to red zone offense. Having a playmaker under center has created so many more opportunities for the Irish than in recent years. The Irish have scored 12 touchdowns in 18 red-zone trips and have come away with points on 17 of those tries. Stanford's offense has struggled inside the 20, coming away empty-handed on seven of 19 tries.

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